Saturday, February 26, 2011

Wisdom from a Refrigerator Door

Another Friday at my friend's ranch: a labor of love, never a chore. A storm just rolled through, the air is crystal clear. I can see Mt. Tamalpais from the window seat where I'm working in the morning sun. I grew up on that mountain and to say I have a connection is an understatement, but that's a story for another day.  

Today I've been going through papers and organizing spaces. One of the last tasks of the day is to remove some photos from the refrigerator door that friends have requested. I come across four words typed in capital letters on a piece of white paper stuck between pictures.

What do they mean? No doubt something different to all who read them.
  • For Trisha they were guidelines for one unafraid to pursue life and dreams on her own terms.
  • They're learning tools for some, life can be pretty simple if we don't muck it up.
  • My grandmother would say "Honey, leave your baggage at the door and get on with it. No time for regrets:  shoulda, coulda and woulda are only excuses for a life not lived to the fullest. What are you waiting for?"
  • For me it means live every day with eyes wide open and a passion for:  
laughing at myself

"Hunting Ladybugs While Completely Invisible"

fearlessly taking on challenges, changes and chances


being a force to be reckoned with


and creating the freedom to chase my dreams

"Freedom Horse"

Diane Ackerman "I do not want to get to the end of my life and find that I just lived the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well."

Bill McKenna "Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming -- WOW-- What a Ride!"

So take a look at your agenda and the mile long to do list. Now simply walk away from it and do something spontaneous that will make the day for someone.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Inspiration Sometimes Comes from Odd Sources

I was looking over a section of my friend Trisha's library yesterday and saw a piece of folded, yellow tablet paper stuck between two books. One of her delightful quirks was that she was never without a pen and a yellow pad. She was ecstatic when she found out the "note pad" on her IPhone was also a yellow lined pad.

We talked often of travel and adventures. Some adventures we took together, some were shared stories of adventures with other friends. Losing her last Fall was a wake up call to all of us on just how tenuous a hold we humans have on this thing we call life.  

Trisha was the hub of an extraordinary wheel and her friends the spokes. Through her loss we have found each other. As we have talked, visited and emailed over the last couple of months we find we are all on a similar journey: one that has us re-examining priorities, not sweating the small stuff and making plans for adventures, a "just do it" state of mind has taken root.


Here in lies the serendipitous and intertwining nature of yesterday's library find, a quote from Ray Bradbury.

"Half the fun of travel is the aesthetic of lostness"

"The Road"

I've always been fond of the bumper sticker that says "I'm not lost I'm wandering" and to quote Anatole France "Wandering re-establishes the original harmony which once existed between man and the universe."

"The Happy Wanderer"

No wonder my parents were on the road for a decade, they got it! How many wake up calls does one need? It may be a different truth or destination for everyone, but it is the journey that is important. Pass go, pick up your $200 and step off the Monopoly Board.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Day 4 ~ Coming Home

One of the things that always impresses me about driving across Nevada is that it seems there is only endless open space between you and the edge of the world (I found this incredible photograph after I wrote the words).

"Nevada's Edge'

When you finally reach that edge you realize it is a set of bluffs, or foothills or a mountain. The climb brings you to yet another crest and once again you are facing endless open space. It's a wondrous land: beautiful and dangerous, charming and unforgiving. Imagine coming across this vastness in a covered wagon or on horseback. 

"Magestic Mountains"

Visualize the emotions of reaching the Sierra's after endless miles of the sagebrush sea. A rare breed of fearless men and women explored, travelled and settled in this land including, I'm proud to say, some of my own hardy ancestors.   

When we drove from Reno to Elko on the way to the Gathering it was late afternoon and the sun was already behind the Sierras. The desert was beautiful but monochromatic.

"Nevada Desert"

When we hit the road this morning we are immediately taken by all the colors we missed coming in. The desert is now backlit with the rising sun and is totally three dimensional. Some of the hills and outcroppings are vivid colors, some black as coal. Some look like they have indeed been there for an eternity and others look as though they were just delivered. The landscape plays with your mind and your eyes.

"Nevada Mountains"

One thing I forgot to mention is that we saw the legendary singer/songwriter Ian Tyson on Thursday. Though in his mid-70's now he continues to ranch, tour, record and write. Carol purchased his new book "The Long Trail" about his life. As we started the 300 mile journey to Reno she began to read it aloud. When the scenery was too good to miss I'd let her know and she'd put it down for awhile.

We stopped in Reno for gas and lunch and were treated to a hit and run hail storm. Once back on the road the weather lightened up and Carol read until dusk, then we listened to music the rest of the way home. I'm now after Carol to finish the book so that I can bring it home to finish the story.

A great adventure and plans for next year are already on the calendar. Life is short, take time out to experience something new and at the same time old. You won't regret it.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Cowboy Poetry Gathering ~ Day 3

It's a wee bit crisper this morning, 20 degrees, so we make it easy on ourselves and toddle across the parking lot to JR's for breakfast while the Jeep windows de-ice in the morning sun. We meet up with our friend Michael after breakfast and head out to the trade shows.

"Raku Vase with Horsehair"

The shows are at 4 different venues around town. A couple were easy to find, two were not: one in a small hotel conference room and another well hidden up the stairs to nowhere at Stockmans. I'm an artisan and have done fairs for over 20 years. There is something to be said for having all vendors at one place. It focuses shoppers on the artisans not the task of getting to the venues. It may be a matter of what space is available for the trade shows, with so much going on during the week, but I decided to email the Western Folklife Center and make the suggestion anyway.

"Bareback Rider"

The variety and quality of the work offered was astounding: handmade saddles and tack, quilts, cards, clothing and jewelry, custom boots and hats, furnishings and frames, lamps and sculptures, plus all varieties of wall art from photography to etchings. Each of us came home with a treasure or two.

"Desert Rose"

We took the afternoon off to rest up for the evening concert. Carol and I discovered a great little Italian place for dinner called Luciano's near the center of town. The concert opened with poetry and stories and closed with Wiley and the Wild West.  Wiley is the consummate performer: he has a great voice, is an amazing yodeler and has more moves that Dwight Yokum and Mick Jagger combined. We were either rolling in the aisles with laughter or at rapt attention enthralled with lyrics that told amazing stories of the West, of ranching, of rodeo and the characters that made it happen. A perfect closing to a grand adventure.

"Abandoned House in Montana"

No early night for us though, we again decide to play the penny slots and both Carol and I walk away with pockets jingling. Still not tired we decide to pack most of our stuff so we can get an early start in the morning to head for home.  Dreams of horses and the prairie.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Cowboy Poetry Gathering ~ Day 2

Bounced out of bed at 6am and hit the showers, 5 hours sleep and fresh as daisies. As we head to breakfast we're thinking heatwave, who needs a down jacket, it's up to 24 degrees this morning! The dry cold of the desert creates beautiful ice patterns on the Jeep windshield. Definitely not the wiper strangling sticky mush we get with frost in northern California, but we still need to crank up the seat heaters and defroster and patiently wait until we can get a move on. The strategy for tomorrow ~ park on the side of the hotel that gets first sun. Wise women learn quickly!

"Morning Ice Crystals"

Coffee and breakfast then we're off the the Great Basin College Theater to spend the morning at the "Song Swap" with Paul Zarzyski and Wylie Gustafson.


We're entertained with stories, poetry, music and how the collaborative process works. Wylie's new album "Raven on the Wind" features a number of lyrics written by Paul. The audience was brought into a discussion of how to keep the Gathering, and this genre of poetry and music alive. One woman asked if either artist was mentoring young performers, another suggested bringing stories, songs and poetry to the schools to expose students to a way of life most only read about. It's powerful to have those you admire listen to you and take an idea into consideration that may become part of a solution.


Our afternoon was spent at the Elko Convention Center for recitals, lectures and readings. Each of the presenters reeled in their audiences hook, line and sinker: making us think and leaving us with a desire to learn more. 
After a relaxing dinner we head out to the G Three Bar Theater at the Western Folklife Center. The best venue so far and two great shows: at 6:30 Acoustic Poetry with Paul and Wylie (can you tell we love these guys) and at 8:30 a triple threat: young and talented singer/songwriter Adrian, cowboy poet and story teller Leon Flick and singer/songwriter Dave Stamey. Both shows bring the house down. 

After the concerts we toddle back to the hotel, to wired to sleep we entertain ourselves on the visitor friendly penny slots. Too much fun!

So are you starting to get the picture? It's been a 10-12 hour marathon and we've come away more energized than when we started. We run into friends from around the West at the different venues. The contacts are "more drive bys than visits" according to my friend Margo, but we all understand, it's the nature of this event. The gathering is hard to explain, it just needs to be experienced. Put it on your bucket list!

Oh, did I mention it was going to be 80 degrees in Sonoma County today. This is early February, right?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Cowboy Poetry Gathering ~ Day 1

Good Morning Elko, Six hours of sleep and 22 degrees: okay I can run with that. At least there's no snow, a rarity this time of year. 

Task #1: Carol and I sit down to look at the schedule of events (mind you this is a 15" x 18" ~ 8 column affair for each day of the Gathering). Our strategy is to circle events we have tickets for and then check out all the free events we want to see. Too many incredible options, but some how we make decisions for Thursday.

Task #2: Dressing for the occasion. This is an art form unto itself. Boots, Wranglers, belt, cowboy shirt, vest, jewelry, jacket, and a scarf properly tied. Yes, no, yes, no, perfect - we are finally ready to head out for breakfast with the girls. Most of us cross paths occasionally but rarely have the opportunity to gather in one place since we come from Idaho, Nevada and California.  


Now fed, we dive into Thursdays menu for the mind: The keynote speaker is Judy Blunt - a gifted writer and eloquent speaker who captivated the audience with her story of growing up in a rural Montana ranching community and leaving ranch life to follow her dreams of becoming a professor. I look forward to reading her memoir Breaking Clean.

We attend a number of Cowboy Poetry sessions throughout the day. The audiences are supportive of poets young and old, first timers and seasoned professionals. There are reciters who bring historical poems to life with mesmerizing voices. We are taken on journeys that teach some and remind others of the dedication and tenacity of ranchers not only here, but around the world, who cling to a lifestyle that is often thought of in historical terms but in fact remains a vibrant way of life for those willing to take a stand. These small ranchers feed nations and survive against all odds, be it the weather, predators, or government.  


One of our favorites is Montana poet Paul Zarzyski. We got a chance to attend several of his workshops. He's a former bronc rider, now a poet and entertainer. His work runs the gamut from historical to hysterical, sublime to ridiculous, sensual to lyrical. There is indeed something for everyone.  

"Bronc Rider"

On the Western Folklife Center website there are pod casts from some of the performances and on the list of entertainers you can listen to a selection from each. Well worth a little of your time. The link is

Elko footnote: Drivers actually stop for pedestrians, something nearly unknown in these parts!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Road to Elko, Nevada

I've never been one for Interstate Highways, I've always preferred roads less travelled, the blue highways on maps. We were, however, on a 550 mile mission to reach Elko by early evening so that meant Interstate 80 was our choice.

Once you leave California and in particular Reno it's a whole different world, one of wonder and wide open spaces. The speed limit is 75 and calls for cruise control, a real treat for a California Girl corralled at 65 most of the time.

This is rough country ~ ruled by the elements and settled by a hardy breed of men and women who prefer rurality. The cowboys call it the "sagebrush sea" a land that is both desolate and beautiful, quiet and alive, charming and dangerous, and not for the faint of heart.


My travelling partner Carol and I are just getting to know each other, brought together by our late friend Trisha. A mutual friend of ours, poet and teacher Ken Rodgers, just published a new book of poetry called Passenger Pigeons. Carol brought it along and read it aloud. It was a great way to pass the time and when the scenery got spectacular she'd stop for a while and we'd just enjoy the road. By the time we reached Elko we'd finished to book.

We arrived in the early evening, unpacked, had some dinner and played the penny slots for a bit before hitting the hay around midnight. Thursday was going to be an event filled adventure beyond my expectations.