The Wonder of True Friends

I just started reading a wonderful memoir. The way I found it is even more interesting. I had been thinking about how much I love this song by the Dixie Chicks. Take a listen. It’s well worth your while…

I found a way to explore northern Thailand as a college student in spring 1974!

Yep, “taking the long way” is a great description of my life. I have always been quite independent and, as one close friend in Salt Lake observed, ‘zealous’. When I focused on something new, I could usually make it happen, in spite of the fact I rarely had any money. As you might guess, in the midst of all of that, I have had only a few true friends, because I was always taking off to some other state or foreign country for a new adventure. When I decided it was time to go do something different, I simply did it. How many relationships can keep up with that lifestyle?

But back to the amazing memoir: “Let’s Take The Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship” by Gail Caldwell. Since I loved the title “Taking the Long Way” I looked it up and found it had been already “taken” by Gail Caldwell’s book. Then I had to find out more, so I checked it out of my local library.

This is a well-written memoir by a Pulitzer Prize winning former chief book critic for the Boston Globe. How’s that for credentials? And yes, it is a wonder to read. Here Gail eulogizes the kind of close, true friendship that one rarely finds in one lifetime. What are the chances of finding that one true friend who practically knows what you are thinking and what you may say next? She also beautifully describes the way so many of us writer, introvert-types jealously protect our independence and solitude. Gail begins by defining herself as “a gregarious hermit” and then wonders how she finally met “someone for whom I wouldn’t mind breaking my monkish ways.” Ah, don’t we all know that fine line between loving our freedom and yet deciding to let one worthy friend into our life.

Friend in Chinese

I found this memoir particularly poignant because I only have a few true friends in my life right now. Only one friend made the effort to stay in touch emotionally when we moved down here five years ago, and Mike is the friend of a lifetime for me. What does that mean? For me it means absolute trust that this friend loves and respects me, to the extent that we can easily disagree and argue, but love and loyalty is always solidly beneath. That bottomless loyalty is the greatest prize in my life. I need to know that this is someone who would never betray or doubt our intimate life together, and will certainly be there at the end of my life if possible.

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A Brief Lesson in Garden Love & Plant Diversity

I was raised by Dr. Jack L. Carter, a well-known botanist in this area, best know for his books “Trees and Shrubs of Colorado” and “Trees and Shrubs of New Mexico.” I never wanted to be a botanist. My interests ran more towards Asian history in college, after a few months living in Thailand at age 19. But as it turns out, my new garden at 7,000 feet, is where I now go to find meaning, happiness, comfort and solace.

This catmint took two years to start looking this big and happy!

I love everything about going out to visit my plants each morning. I want to see what’s blooming, what’s thinking about it, and which plant needs some help from me to be happier with their placement in the garden.

I have had gardens all over Boulder, Fort Collins and Loveland Colorado. From this I have learned that all gardens take time to develop and grow in their own way. Only start a garden if you have a few years to watch it develop of its own accord. You need to learn the native plants in your area and gain the awareness of which critters eat what. I spent a couple years walking around La Veta before I started my own garden. There you can quickly see what may survive constant deer nibbling, plus rabbits, etc. I have also incorporated a number of native plants from our surrounding acreage. Some just turn up in the garden and I let them stay. Others I have transplanted.

This spring we have a abundance of this plant along the county roads and just about everywhere, which is curious because I don’t remember seeing a lot of it before this year. After consultation with my favorite botanist friend Jan, we decided it is called Penstemon augustifolius.

From the very beginning I knew I wanted to bring some Penstemon strictus into my new garden, common name Rocky Mountain Penstemon. I had great experiences growing it in my Loveland garden a number of years ago.

My garden in Loveland was my primary solace in the spring of 2001 when my marriage fell apart. I started a garden because I love growing things around me and I knew even then that:

Action is the greatest antidote to despair.

Eighteen years later I will share with you an essential insight into how life works. When life seems meaningless, find some part of your life that you can transform. I have transformed ugly screened-in porches into beautiful sun rooms and empty lots into native plant gardens. Find a way to make something beautiful around you. Do it today! Because:

Beauty is the garden where hope grows!

Sky Garden Thoughts

The past few weeks since my brother John left, have been quite trying. First I got bronchitis, then our kitty Charlie died, and now Mike has bronchitis. When it rains, it pours! Then yesterday I took a bad fall onto concrete directly on my knee. These kinds of experiences leave me wondering “What’s next?” but in a bad way…

Neither Mike nor I had ever had to euthanize a pet before. We couldn’t believe what was happening at the time, but Charlie was suffering so much with no solution but death. And yes, Mike had to bury Charlie himself down below our home. It seems we have started our own pet graveyard.

The thought that stuck with me after watching our cat first get a shot to help him relax, and then one to help him let go of life, was exactly how close we all are to death at any moment of our life. It hit me with radical clarity how we spend our whole life misunderstanding and fearing that moment of death, and then it is over so quickly. The line is truly fine and gloriously final.

Then my mind continued to the thought: Most of our conceptions at the beginning of life were quite haphazard. How many of our deaths will be the same?

That is why I love spending time in my garden right now. The silence except for the bird calls, the morning chill, the bright flowers that pop up one morning and leave just as suddenly. This is the natural cycle of life and death on planet earth. This is what we signed up for when we were conceived. We come, we experience and we go.

“We’re all just walking each other home…” – Ram Das

Dirt Work and Family

Early morning pastel in Spanish Peaks County…

It’s been all dirt work around our home lately! My brother John, a self-described ‘dirt guy,’ came in Sunday and he has truly spruced up our sky garden area.

After proper leveling, provided by John, we added pavers and gravel to the lower-level of the garden to give it an even finished look. More plants to come in soon around the bird bath…And so many native plants are just starting to bloom after that big snow last week! We also put in a few new trees. Perfect time for my parents to visit today.

John is a man of very few words. He always has been, but even more so since he lives alone along Oak Creek near Sedona. When I asked him this morning why he likes to work in the dirt, he answered: “It’s organic.”

Let yourself be moved!

Follow your heart – listen to what you care for – connect with fierce compassion. Lean into what you love – serve what you value – let yourself be moved. Allow guidance from the great fullness of life to inspire your actions.

Gratefulness directs us into the territory of the heart. When we tune into our deepest cares for the world, we are moved to be: Advocate. Friend. Ally. Guardian.

Large or small, notice what you love and take a stand for it. A tree. Oceans. Justice. A child. Humanity. Animals. Diversity. Peace. Life needs us to be protectors. We are with you, ever-grateful for the opportunity to love and serve the world...

Jeff Chemnick’s Aloes in Wonderland in California!

Here’s a man who decided he loved plants, especially all kinds of succulents, including cacti, as well as palm trees, dragon trees (Dracaena draco) and Queensland bottle trees (Brachychiton rupestris). But Jeff’s real specialty is cycads, specifically Mexican cycads. Jeff is now a leading expert in the field and has one the largest private collections.

Choose your own passion and then go for it!

Earth Day 2019: What is the “State of the Air” Where You Breathe?

Although we may rarely think about the “state of the air” where we live, what we breathe in and out everyday does have a gigantic impact on our long-term health. And as the annual “State of the Air Report” comes out from the American Lung Association, let’s focus on your oxygen for just a few minutes.

Unfortunately, this is when most of us tune out. We say to ourselves, “I don’t smoke so I’ll be fine.” WRONG. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, refers to a group of diseases that cause airflow blockage and breathing-related problems. COPD makes breathing difficult for the 16 million Americans who have this disease. Millions more people suffer from COPD, but have not been diagnosed and are not being treated. Go check your state for deaths from COPD:

There are times when I’m certain those around me hear my severe coughing and think, “Geez, why doesn’t she quit smoking?” I have never smoked cigarettes and yet now, at age 64, COPD dominates my life. And incidentally, 20% of Americans with COPD never smoked. Sometimes when others ask me if I smoked, I am tempted to respond with, “No, but I did breathe…”

I have had reoccurring bouts of bronchitis for decades, don’t know why except that I have lived in some very polluted cities like Seattle, Salt Lake City and Boulder, not to mention Bangkok, Taipei and various places in China. I can no longer tolerate much air pollution at all. I just cough, permanently .

Go check out your county for air pollution levels!

When you can’t breathe, nothing else matters!


What makes us who we are today?

I was struck the other day by this quote from Dr. Phillip McGraw. In my opinion, “Dr. Phil” is a wise man disguised as a TV personality.

“What I’m doing now is a culmination of everything I’ve ever done”

I have been in the midst of a “career” change for the past few years, since moving out into the Colorado countryside. I know, how can you change careers when you are already retired? But in some ways this change is more important to me than anything I did back when I was struggling to make a living.

That quote from Dr. Phil made me start thinking about the lifetime of influences that have brought me to this exact moment in time. I never gave much thought to the major influence my father has had on my interests until now. He has been an influential botanist, president of the National Association of Biology Teachers at one time, and author of some important books like “Trees and Shrubs of Colorado.” So, is that why I love living in nature and gardening at 7,000 feet with native plants now?

My Mom became a master of plant photography and Photoshop to assist my Dad in his book production. They together created “Common Southwestern Native Plants,” a lovely identification guide. Oh, maybe that is why I have recently decided to focus my future energies on photography.

The West Peak from the La Veta Public Library, 4/18/19

I believe we sometimes try to make our lives more complex than they really are. Look around you? What is influencing your world view right now? What is so close you almost don’t see it? Is that what you should turn your attention to right now, while you still can?