Archive for May, 2012


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!


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Desert path

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.

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