Building a Nest 

  

I started today like I always do: I went out with Wally the dog, camera in hand, hoping something spectacular awaited me when I turned from our driveway onto the street. It’s not hard. The Rocky Mountains are straight ahead and are as changeable as I am on any given day. Some days they’re golden, other days they’re red. Most days, they’re just sitting there offering their grandeur to whoever is looking.

This morning, there was nothing special about the mountains. Patches of snow on their peaks looked sick and dirty from the dust that’s been stirred up by the wind recently. I was disappointed. I hadn’t slept long enough. I needed the mountains to do something dramatic to wake me up.

But just as my hopes went flat, the male robin building a nest outside our bedroom window looked straight at me from a tree in our front yard. I’d never seen a robin stay put like that. Clearly he’s used to me.

Like pigeons, Robins rarely excite me anymore. But to have a pair building their nest on the side of our house is a whole different thing. We find ourselves cheering them on, watching for them in the morning, and checking on them throughout the day. When I was waking up early yesterday morning I saw their shadows flying back and forth through the shades in our bedroom. They were already going through the motions of life: working hard, gathering materials, and doing the best they could with what they’ve got. There’s even a long string of blue plastic running through their nest. I wonder what it took for them to get it there in one piece.

When I got home with Wally I checked on the female. She was in the nest stretching her beak to feel the 25-mile-an-hour winds that made holding my camera difficult. Her simplicity and purpose were clear. It was a good reminder on a Monday morning.  

Reminder - a Little bit of Forrest to make you smile 

Yesterday I looked at a video my friend Franco Vogt did during the Woodstock Book Fest last weekend. The producer of the festival, Martha Frankel, asked audience members to go backstage after one of the panels and stand in front of Franco’s camera for what she called a mug shot. No one knew why, including Martha. But as with so many spontaneous acts of creation something did come out of it: a short video that was posted on Facebook last night. The pictures were shot in black and white and included a lot of people I know so it was fun to watch. Naturally, I waited for my image to fly across the screen hoping I looked decent, or good even, since this thing was being posted for the world to see.

            A few hours later, my friend Debra posted an image of herself from that same video. Somehow she’d figured out how to isolate a single image, snatch it from the series, and post it for her friends to see. Her efforts made me want to do the same. So I did. I went frame by frame, found myself again, and learned what a screen shot is and how to take one.

            What I found was a gift.

            For the first time I saw Forrest in a picture of myself. It’s really made me smile today. And of course, it reminded me of all of you. I thought you might enjoy seeing the similarities. It’s something about our scrunched up mouths…

            Happy Spring!

            Love,

            Bar

        

              

Images that lift the spirit 

 

Today there was bad news in Las Vegas, news we've almost become numb to. To counter it, my friend Doris Dembosky sent a blog filled with pictures that lifted my spirits: a blossoming sunflower, an aspen leaf turning to gold, the Sangre de Cristo Mountains covered in snow. Her email worked for me so I thought I’d spread some goodness your way in case your heart is heavy today too.

Yesterday afternoon, I watched from a distance as two herd of pronghorn (often called antelope) figured out how to be in the same field with a herd of deer.

Everyone got along fine but I could see the jitters. Eventually everyone got back to business as usual:

Yesterday morning was intense. The snow had just fallen and the sky was ominous.

No more moisture fell but plenty of wind blew.

Not to be outdone, this morning the mountains had a whole different mood.
The changes here keep me alert and alive. 

Just a week ago, the same field looked like the image below.

It reminds me that I can count on change, because it's true: I can.

In her book, Evensong, my friend Gail Godwin wrote a chapter called "Shield the Joyous." She took the title from an Episcopal prayer that includes words to protect the grieving, the lost, and those who care for the dying, as well as others in need. Including the words "shield the joyous" in the prayer reminds us that on verdant days, we must prepare ourselves for what might come next.

Likewise, when days are long or dark, we can rely on the knowledge that light will follow. 

With love from ever-changing Colorado. Bar

The Ups and Downs 

Like so many people, I suffer highs and lows. Not the clinical kind — at least that’s what I tell myself. I’m not on meds to even-out my moods. I’ve always thought I managed my low times pretty well. I have confidence that they’ll pass soon enough. And the high times are so enjoyable I’m not willing to give them up.

When I woke up this morning my shoulder hurt, my back was cranky, and the nagging voice of disquiet in my brain was at full volume. When I finally got outside with Wally (our dog), I ran into a friend who was out walking, too. He’s an older gentleman, a man who lives much the way I do. He’s an artist, a loner with a social streak, and an inward looking guy. We often bitch and moan with one another about all the things we wish were different around here. Our little town frustrates us both. It’s too conservative, there aren’t enough young people, and we can count on one hand the number of people who are other than pink-skinned. Both of us are longing for diversity, longing for activity, and the stimulation that comes with, say, a college town. To our credit, we see the irony of our complaints. When we lift our eyes we see miles of tall green grass, endless Colorado sky, and a pristine view of the Rocky Mountains.

We could move somewhere else, of course, except we'd have to give up the freedom and affordability that come with rural life. Some days it feels like a trap. Other days we feel like the luckiest (and smartest) people in the world. My guess is everyone feels this way at times.

So what do we do?

My friend and I always end our morning rants by agreeing that finding joy in the work we do is the best way to improve our crappy moods. He’ll go out with his camera later today and document the people and things that are good about living here; I’ll sit at the piano and continue to work on Beethoven’s “Sonatina in F,” and the day will end where it began: in bed with a soft pillow under my head and the chance to begin again tomorrow.

Courage 

There are lots of reasons for my absence these last seven months. Like so many artists, my reasons for creating anything were challenged by the election results in 2016. Many of us were asking ourselves if our work needed to be more political, less political, more about hope, less about anger, more about how to move through a world that was not the world we’d hoped for, or, if it was better if our work was left undone. In terms of this blog, the honest answer for me was better to leave it undone.             

When I don’t stay in touch, though, I miss you. I know it sounds corny, but just knowing you’re there has always done me a world of good.

Instead of writing here, I’ve been practicing the piano and working on a book that I hope will be done later this year. Happily, three of my stories have already been, or are about to be published. The first two were published in two separate volumes called Stories of Music (Timbre Press, 2015, 2017) the third will be published by Bycopa Literary Review in July. All of the stories from the book are about my songs, songwriting, and how things I’ve done, or which have happened to me, caused my songs to be written. I like the book a lot. It feels like I’ve been writing it since I started creating music in the ‘80s. How songs are written and why they are written, has always fascinated me. And because I am who I am, the songs I write have always been the most interesting to me. I know that sounds narcissistic, but I think most artists feel that way about their work. I hope they do! What I mean is that a creative person (and that includes all of us) is most passionate about their own work. I don’t see how it could be otherwise. How would we have the energy to carry on with our work without that passion?

Last week my friend Donna Miller lent me a notebook of articles she’s written for the 99 Club, which is an organization that supports women pilots. Women Pilots! H                         ow exciting is that? Women Pilots make up 5% of the worldwide pool of commercial aviators. I bring this up because Donna writes about Courage in a way that inspires me. Can you imagine what it would take for anyone to learn how to fly and then to take an enormous machine with 130 passengers or more, into the sky and back down to the earth. Donna’s courage and commitment to excellence reminds me to continue doing what I love, always working towards something new and better.

The world is unsettled. The silver lining is that the turbulence gives me an opportunity to create a life that’s meaningful despite what’s going on around me. That’s always been the challenge, it’s just clearer now, and that’s a good thing.    

    This gorgeous creature is one of 30 or so who rests in the trees above 2nd Street here in Westcliffe, Colorado

            

 

A New Kind of Love 

Since early November I have struggled with how and what to write. For the last seventeen years, since the inception of this blog, I’ve opted to remain apolitical believing that Love is more powerful than any message I might write about the right or wrong way to move forward politically.

            The last post I sent out included a new version of my song “Love is the Reason.” When I recorded it, I felt sure that Hillary Clinton would win the election a few days later. As a supporter of hers, I wanted to remind my self and others to be inclusive (and not smug) as her administration got to work. When things turned out differently, however, I found I wasn’t able to feel love for the other side the way I hoped I would when Hillary won. Realizing my own shallowness was a pretty big shock for me. It made me – and continues to make me – question my previous work and all the work I might do in the coming months and years. Was love really strong enough to overcome my differences with others? Was the love in my heart big enough to include those I was suspicious of? Did their hearts deserve my love?

            These are heady questions that I think a lot of us are dealing with now. I don’t have any answers except to continue asking questions of myself, and to continue with the work I love. In addition, I’m becoming more of an activist. I want to speak up about the things that are important to me. I want my gay friends to know I have their back, and my Muslim friends, too. I want my Congress People (all men out here) to know that accessible women’s health care is important to me, and that health care for all is too. I’m calling them, emailing them, and organizing events so that others can easily do the same. I want the world to feel like it did to me on January 21st when so many of us went peacefully to the streets to say out loud This is not the world I envision. I want kindness and diversity to exist together. Millions of people proved it was possible and it thrilled me to the core. The photographs of all of us from around the world restored my hope, something that had drained from my heart.

            Every day, I see a version of the mountains in the photograph above. Some days the mountains are clear; some days they are covered in clouds. Some times the sky is blue; other days it is swirling with grey and white disturbance. The planet is awesome wherever you are, but it's glory is clear and visible every morning when I walk our dog, Wally. I want this world to be preserved. I want everyone to care – consume less, take notice more often, develop empathy and kindness above all else.

            During these days of divisiveness, I want to remember what music does for me, what writing stories does, and I want to do more of both. I want to do my part to create more beauty, and to create a world I want to live in. 

Our Town 

The last two weeks in our town have given me lots of reasons to love living here.

The New York Times, CNN TV, and US News and World Report have all done feature stories on the Darkness of our sky out here. We’ve worked hard (or our friends have worked hard) for Westcliffe, Colorado to be designated one of the world’s few Dark Skies Communities. That means we’ve committed to keeping the sky dark by minimizing the light we throw off at night. Stars are harder and harder to see in our densely populated world. Here, there is no problem (save a cloud or two) seeing all the stars you could hope for. On the bluff at the end of town, locals have installed a powerful telescope so visitors can get even closer to the universe above and around us.

This past weekend my husband and some other noble volunteers put together the first of what we hope will be an annual event called Wet Mountain Western Pilgrimage. From Friday morning through Sunday afternoon, town folks and visitors could take themselves on a self-guided tour to various sites around our valley. A person could learn about Ute Indian history at Bear Basin Ranch, they could learn about weaving at Historic Beckwith Ranch, they could learn how to train a horse, like I did, at Music Meadows Ranch. Or they could hear stories delivered by the people who were there when Willow had a one-room schoolhouse. That same room was filled with nostalgia when 40 of us got there on Saturday afternoon. We danced with brooms, we laughed at the old songs they taught us, and we teared-up, or at least I did, watching an 85-year old man joyfully tell us about life on the family ranch when he was growing up: riding a horse to the wooden school building we were sitting in, leaving early when the snow started piling up, and making friends with the boys and girls he grew up with and still leans on everyday. I’m sure those days were harder in many ways, but the simplicity and affection warmed my heart.

Then last night a miraculous dinner convened in the center of town. Over 1200 people showed up carrying bowls of soup, pasta, bread, and beans. In a county that has only 4200 people, seeing 1200 of them in one place at one time was something special. Community Dinners are cropping up all over the place and I recommend you host one in your neighborhood. Nothing else but dinner happened. There were no speeches, no prayers offered, no opinions expressed, just a whole lot of people enjoying each other’s good cooking. It rained a bit as we ate but no one moved. We just kept eating and the rain passed. The kids from the high school volunteered to serve and clean-up, and within three hours the place was back to its old self, no sign of the dinner except for porta-potties, tables and chairs, waiting to be picked up.

Sometimes I question why I live in a far away place like this. But then weeks like the ones we’ve had recently make me grateful to be here. 

 

Community Dinner last night in Westcliffe, Colorado.

These were our tables, numbers 33 - 35, in the foreground.

Behind me were tables # 36 through 145!

In support of joy 

My writing friend Annie Scholl is writing an article about writing for Huffington Post. A week ago she reached out to me and a few other writers with a questionnaire about our writing habits. She’d heard we don’t write everyday like so many writing coaches and teachers insist we must. She wanted to know how we feel about that. I feel strongly. I write when I feel like writing and I don’t write when I don’t feel like writing. Probably my writing suffers as a result, but that’s ok. Yes, I’d like to be better at it, but I’d also like to be better at living freely and not worrying so much about whether I’m as good as I could be.

It also happened that I was doing my first-ever musical in town this past week. I didn’t think I was going to enjoy it as much as I am. We have 3 more shows this weekend. The last time I was involved in community theater was in junior high. The local group put on The Sound of Music. I was on the crew moving sets around and I loved every moment. I still know all the words. It makes me wonder why I haven’t done this kind of thing all along. Several people told me I reminded them of Julie Andrews this week. It made me smile. 

Annie’s questionnaire and my doing the play this month have made me think about why I do what I do. It’s all been so much fun. What I’ve enjoyed most is the relaxed playfulness of it all. There’s no pressure to be anything more than we are. We’ve worked hard, laughed a lot, and there are plenty of crooked dance steps and lost lines in every show, but the overall experience is joyful. I think that’s why I don’t write or play the piano everyday. I don’t see the point of writing or creating anything when I’m not enjoying it. 

As luck would have it, I finished reading a book this week that addressed this issue. Muriel Barbery is a French writer whose books are translated by Alison Anderson. I loved Burbery’s first  book: The Elegance of the Hedgehog, so I was determined to finish this second book, Gourmet Rhapsody, which I didn’t like as much. (The writing is exquisite, but the story revolves around food and wine, neither of which I’m particularly interested in). The main character is a renowned food critic who is on his deathbed. A single flavor from his past is haunting him. He can’t remember what it is and he’s desperate to know before he dies. The book is a catalogue of his favorite meals and their contexts. I wanted to know what his obsession was so I kept reading. My tenacity paid off. In the final paragraphs, he remembers the simple croquettes he ate as a boy –plastic-wrapped cream puffs he’d bought at the supermarket. (I think of the Tastykake butterscotch krimpets my mom got for us). After decades of snobbish writing about all the fine foods he’d eaten in his lifetime, he admits to himself, “I could have written about chouquettes my whole life long; and my whole life long, I wrote against them. It is only in the instant of my death that I have found them again, after so many years of wandering.”

When I read that I wondered how much wandering I’ve been doing. 

                

 

L - R: Bev Allen, the director, and my nemesis in the play; Brooke Parrent, aka Olivia; and Katie Schepmann, aka Poppy. Katie and I did a duet called "Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better" Bev and I sang "For Good" from Wicked. Brooke sang "And I'm Telling You" from DreamGirls. 

A Post I Never Thought I'd Write 

One of the things we deal with in our small town (650+ in town, 4000+ in all of Custer County) is the fact that we know each other by name, or at least by the circles we travel in. There’s the cowboy circle, the Baptist Circle, the Lutheran Circle, the Liberal circle, the rich folks (or come-here people) and the poor folks. We don’t overlap much, and there are other circles besides, but we’re aware of one another, that’s for sure.

Like the rest of the country, our little town is split in two with a vague and shrinking gray area in the middle: God and Guns to the Right, Community and Inclusion to the Left. I lean strongly leftward as you’ve probably figured out. 

Years ago, when I started what is now called a blog, and even before that when I started writing and performing my songs, I made a decision to keep politics out of my public life. I still feel strongly about that commitment. Kindness and all the things that go with looking at life from another’s point of view is more powerful than any political statement I could ever make. That doesn’t mean I have no point of view. I do. It just means I keep my thoughts to myself, talking only with friends and family when it feels right to do so.

Yet here I am. Here we all are. And for the first time I feel like I must speak. If I don’t, I’ll hold some of the responsibility if things go wrong.

My parents are 87. They were alive when Europe went from plain old Europe to a dangerous Europe because of one man’s misguided ego. I believe the United States could be headed in a similar direction. Most of you reading this are probably in agreement with me already. If you’re not, please think long and hard. Hatred leads to violence. Openness and compassion, although harder to attain, ultimately lead to the kind of world that allows us to get up in the morning, stretch our limbs, and be grateful for all we have. Please. Denounce the messages that Donald Trump is sending. They are harmful and hurtful to all of us.

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