Blog entries are now on my new website: http://elenadiazbjorkquist.com/.
Little Lalo licked a Black King Snake that crawled into the kitchen yard yesterday, and Tito thought he was a snake and swallowed a round tail whole before I could stop him. The adventures of Ebony and Ivory in the desert.
I’ve blazed trails all over our two acres of Sonoran desert that wind around the mesquites, palo verdes, saguaros, ocatillos, and tall stands of nopales. The trails make our walks longer and the dogs love running the trails, but today, Tito was in a halter because of his behavior yesterday. If I hadn’t chased him all over our land, to try pulling the squirrel out of his mouth and seen him swallow it whole, I would never have believed it. He wound up in the front driveway and put his head up and gulped. Down went the squirrel. I don’t even know if it was dead or alive. All day I worried that Tito would get sick but today he was fine. After the incident yesterday, he ran to our boundary fence and barked furiously at the neighbor dogs that were barking at him. After their owner called them off, Tito pranced back to me as if to say, “See I protected you!”
Now about Lalo licking a snake—thank goodness it wasn’t a rattler. He was curious I guess, but it could have turned out differently if it had been a rattler. Lalo didn’t like what he tasted and backed away quickly, but a rattler could have struck him even faster. I’d seen the King Snake a few weeks earlier or maybe its mate, stretched across the path near the gate. I think it lives in the bushes under the mesquite tree. It crawled into the garden through the drain hole in our stuccoed hay bale wall. When Lalo backed off, I saw the snake vibrating its tail like it had rattles on it. It was trying to scare me into thinking it was a rattler.
My friend, Shirley, had a King Snake in her garden. She called a snake exterminater, but the snake was gone. He looked in one of her sheds and found three big pack rat nests, empty. Apparently the snake took care of the pack rats. He told her she should buy the snake a beer. Now she wants the snake to come back and live in her garden to keep pack rats away.
It’s the time of year when we desert dwellers (and people who live in the city) have to watch out for snakes. They love the heat and they’re out and about, unlike the human dwellers who go out in early morning before the heat of the day to run our errands. I’ve only seen three rattlers on our land in 13 years, one on the driveway that Kurt almost stepped on getting into the car, one in our garage, and a gigantic rattler on the low part of our land near the wash. Firemen took away the one in the garage and the others crawled off to who knows where, hopefully far away!
I hope Lalo had enough with the lick to know to stay away from snakes and Tito learned that swallowing squirrels whole can cause tummy aches. He finally threw it up that evening.
There have been many losses in my life, my great-grandmother, my grandparents, my aunts, my uncles, several cousins, my mother, my father, several friends, my birth town, my former homes, my second baby, and now this past week, a classmate and a dear friend.
Mike Stanley was a Morenci High School classmate. We didn’t hang out in the same crowd in high school, only said a few words to each other at reunions, but when I found out Mike had leukemia, I sent him a card I’d painted and he responded by email. We emailed back and forth a few times and he called me. We talked for almost an hour. We caught up on each others lives since graduating from MHS. Mike lamented, and I with him, that we hadn’t connected earlier because we both loved art. Mike had a stem cell transplant and for awhile it worked—probably gave him several extra months. He sounded so strong when we talked that I thought he’d beat the odds so I was surprised to hear from his partner, Bob, that he was in hospice. Mike sent me a last email before he passed but I never received a response to my long reply.
My friend Dena was a family friend we’d known since we moved to Petaluma in 1971. She was 90 years old and had cancer. You’d think that knowing her age, we would have expected her to go soon but it still came as a surprise. Dena was the lab clerk at the hospital where Kurt was the chief lab tech. She was a single mom, having lost her husband in an automobile accident. She raised her 4 children and supported them and her mother-law with earnings from her job.
We moved from Petaluma to Anderson Valley, but our friendship stayed true. Dena always referred to herself as Mama Dena when she wrote to us. We’d become her “adopted” children. She moved from Petaluma to the Bay Area when she remarried. She didn’t consider getting married until her last daughter was married. At that wedding, she introduced us to Gino and asked for our blessing. We were so honored and happy for her!
Dena took care of Gino’s mother until she passed away. They moved to El Dorado County and we used to go visit them there. In his last years, Gino suffered from post-polio syndrome so Dena took care of him. They always stood at their driveway to wave good-by and the last time we saw Gino, it was there on that driveway. The last time we saw Dena, she waved good-by to us by herself. We promised we’d come back as soon as we could to visit, but life got in the way. My dad had another heart attack and I was his caregiver until he died. In the meantime I had breast cancer surgery, then back surgery, but this summer we were planning to go see her again. We didn’t go soon enough.
Saturday at the Mujeres Writing Conference, Kurt came to videotape our “Unsung Women” performance and when we were alone in the hallway, he told me that he’d gotten a call from Dena’s daughter that she’d passed away. I broke down crying the same way I did for my mom and dad. Kurt apologized for telling me at that moment because he wasn’t going to do so until I got home. I’m glad he told me because at my friend Rita’s poetry workshop, I wrote an elegy for Dena.
Losing these two friends is a reminder to me of how precious friends are and to treasure every moment I have with them. Also, that I need to stay in touch more often with friends who are far away because one never knows what will happen.
Rest in peace, Mike!
Rest in peace, Dena!
The past couple of weeks I’ve been making trails in our two acres of Sonoran desert. It involves a pickax and a leaf rake—the former to dig out the noxious weeds that make the “velcro” seeds that cling to the dog’s coats and my socks and the latter to shape the trails. The pickax weighs 2.5 pounds according to the stamped number on it but it’s the right size for me. When it feels like I’m slinging a 20 pounder, then I know it’s quitting time.
I’ve been a trailblazer most of my life ever since my childhood in Morenci. My brother and I played with his toy cars and my favorite part was making the roads that we “drove” them on. Our deal was that I would play cars with him during the day and he would play dolls with me in the evening. I never told him that I loved playing in the dirt making roads even more than I liked playing with dolls.
Trailblazing was in my genes. The miners built their houses in Morenci on mountains so there were no sidewalks or streets to get us from one house to another. Instead, there were little trails, well-worn dirt paths that led to places people frequented. To go from our house to my grandmother’s house, we went on the same path each time. Our family trail intersected with others that led to friend’s houses. I don’t think someone carved the trails with rakes, they just formed from years and years of people walking the same paths until they were well-defined.
I stopped playing with dolls a long time ago, but I never stopped making trails. My first house after I married Kurt was a rental on a farm in Northern California. We lived there a year and I enjoyed planting a garden and making paths to get to and from the house. When we bought our first house in San Jose, I landscaped the lot. I dug the dirt, planted trees, bushes, flowers, veggies, and helped my husband lay brick for a patio. Even though it was in the suburbs and not a big yard, it allowed me to use my passion for moving dirt. Yes, I admit that is the appeal of making trails. Moving dirt and leaving my imprint on it.
Our next house had a bigger yard and again, I was able to landscape it myself. New houses in the suburbs have the advantage of bare earth to start with. I went all out with my trailblazing skills to connect the various sections of the yard. When we moved to Petaluma to a five-acre farm, I was in seventh heaven! Finally I had lots of land to make trails and plant gardens. Having a large expanse of dirt to work with, I could think in large terms about where the trails led to, how I could curve them so that vistas would come as surprises when you followed the trail.
We later moved to 40 acres in the Mendocino County redwoods and that’s where my trailblazing hit its peak! I landscaped two and a half acres around the house with paths, veggie garden, berry patch, flowerbeds, orchard, vineyard, and even a lawn. I worked on paths leading to our large pond in the lower 40 where I put in a trail around the pond. Another trail led to the upper pond and little trails led to secret forest glens where I could sit and enjoy nature.
Another of my passions connected with the trail blazing is pruning. Trailblazing in the woods involves pruning trees. The thing about pruning trees is that they don’t stay pruned so it’s a yearly job to make sure there are no over-hanging branches to disrupt smooth passage.
My trailblazing on this piece of desert I now call home was on hiatus for a few years because of health problems, but this Spring, I resumed my passion. Areas that I’d cleared and made paths through were overgrown. The desert has its own idea about planting trees and cacti, especially the ocotillo. Ocotillo branchlets “jump” and plant themselves where they want, including the top of your head if you’re not careful. Not one to cut down a mature ocotillo or even a baby one, I choose instead to curve a path around them. The land, palo verde trees, mesquites, saguaros, and cactus determine my landscaping and so my trails have a natural look to them.
In a way, my approach to the desert is reflective of where my head is at now. I pay more attention to everything around me, disturb living things as little as possible, and create areas where I can sit and enjoy everything around me—plants, birds, lizards, and even the huge black snake that crossed my path yesterday.
I’m excited to be receiving the Arizona Humanities Council Dan Schilling Humanities Scholar award this evening! Kurt and I are picking up Linda (who nominated me) and traveling up to Tempe from Tucson. We’ll be meeting our son, Adam and attending the reception for Rita Dove and the award winners before Rita’s lecture. I’m looking forward to meeting Rita, a Pulitzer Prize Winner and Poet Laureate. What a great honor to share with my loved ones!
I’ve been waiting until the Arizona Humanities Council made the official announcement. On April 12th, I will be receiving the AHC Dan Schilling Public Humanties Scholar Award.
The award recognizes a humanities scholar who has enhanced public awareness and understanding of the role that the humanities play in transforming lives and strengthening communities. I am so honored to receive this award and the recognition for my work in the humanities!
Celebrate National Poetry Month
Sharing Words, Changing Worlds
Pulitzer Prize Winner & Poet Laureate
Thursday, April 12, 2012
Tempe Mission Palms
60 E. 5th St. Tempe, AZ 85281
5:30 to 6:30 P.M.
$50 per person
Reception includes hors d’oeuvres, dessert, and hosted bar.
Lorraine W. Frank Lecture & Humanities Awards
6:30 to 8:30 P.M.
FREE & Open to the Public
The 2012 Humanities Awards Winners
Each year at the lecture, the Arizona Humanities Council honors individuals, organizations, or businesses for their contribution and advancement of the humanities with Humanities Awards.
The recipients of this year’s awards are Elena Diaz Björkquist and Nancy Dallett of the Dan Shilling Public Humanities Scholar Award and the Arizona Town Hall of the Juliana Yoder Friend of the Humanities Award. Please join us for the presentation of the Awards at the lecture.
Yesterday time was right for me! I anticipated delivery of my new iPad, even had a dream about it. I greeted the UPS guy and signed for it. He told me he’d already delivered many and had more to go. I told him I much preferred getting it delivered to my door than standing in line at the Apple Store. I later heard on the news that the line formed at 3 AM. I couldn’t get the iPad out of the box fast enough! The first thing I did was to put it in the new leather case I bought for it to make sure it fit. It did. Then it was getting it set up with the Cloud and apps I wanted for it. Kurt got my old iPad and he set it up for his use. We had us an iPad day!
In the afternoon, I received a phone call to tell me I was the recipient of a prestigious award for my work in the humanities! Of course I was thrilled. To get public recognition for something I do out of love for the arts and humanities is like chocolate frosting on a doughnut. The announcement won’t come until early next month but as soon as it does, I’ll post it here. Thank you to my Comadre Linda Leatherman who nominated me and to my colleagues Rosi Andrade, PhD and Sally Stevens, PhD who wrote letters of support.
By evening I thought the day couldn’t get any better but as I was playing with my iPad, I got a phone call. My husband Kurt and I are going to be great-grandparents! Our granddaughter, Gabby is going to be a mom in October.
Three wonderful happenings in one day! The time was right for all of them!