Morning rituals help me center myself for each new day. Since moving out into the southern Colorado foothills with few neighbors, I feel privileged to be able to view an unobstructed sunrise every morning as a part of that ritual.
Often I think, “It won’t be amazing today” and then I turn around in my bed and see something like this.
Living here has made me even more grateful for my life and that it has led to this place full of love and acceptance. It has also led to some tough physical challenges for me. The simple act of breathing has become more and more difficult. I can no longer live without supplemental oxygen. For a while we wondered if it was lung cancer.
There is nothing like the ‘c’ word to make you sit up and take notice, and the challenges of simply breathing every day naturally call my attention to my own mortality. Many years ago I was a follower of Stephen Levine, a well-known poet, author and teacher best known for his work with those with life-threatening illnesses. For over twenty-five years, Stephen and Ondra Levine provided emotional and spiritual support to those who were dying and their caregivers. I highly recommend his books to you. I went to hear him speak in Boulder once for an all day event. That was the beginning of my own internal conversation about my own death. I still enjoy listening to his meditation called:
“Take each breath as if it were your last”
I used to feel so afraid of death. Then my experience of moving quickly in and out of consciousness with a traumatic brain injury provided some strange reassurance. Death is simply the final loss of consciousness. Death is inevitable and really quite simple. I accept it now, and try to love each day that I have left to be alive.
I need to imagine myself in the future doing what I love. For me, now, that is a radical act of courage.
Only at the ripe old age of 65 do I now see how much I have suffered from apparently terrible experiences, which turned out to be the key to all of my present happiness. It does take a really long time to see this, but if you keep living your best life and paying attention, you will learn this eventually.
My worst experience happened at age 24 when my lover of two years left me for the friend I had introduced him to. To my 24-year-old mind and heart, this was the worst thing that could ever happen. I loved him so much and he just dumped me like a bad habit. Decades later I spoke to him about this experience we shared, and he told me his terrible depression ruined so many relationships for him.
And yet I still “carried a torch” for him: “The idiom to ‘carry a torch’ for someone first appeared in the 1920s. To carry a torch for someone means to remain in love with someone even though they have rejected you, to pine away with unrequited love.”
Just a few months after he rejected me a second time at age 49, I met Mike and fell “head-over-heels” in love. “This phrase originated in the 14th century as ‘heels over head’, meaning doing a cartwheel or somersault.”
Yes from our first date, which lasted over ten hours (!) Mike and I were partners for life, seeing the world in similar ways and even perceiving the world at about the same rate of speed! How lucky were we to find each other, when we lived ten miles apart along the same road that ran from Loveland to Fort Collins Colorado.
Sixteen years later I can assure you, that was our lucky day!
But somehow I still kept thinking about my loss at age 24. Finally, just recently, I realized how much of a delusion my old love was for me. With all proof to the contrary, I still thought he should love me. And worse, I denied that his depression was so great that it might have ruined our life together. Instead I now live a friendly, stable, balanced life with a man who loves me completely and absolutely.
Love is not rational. The heart wants what it wants. But few would deny that being with Mike for the past sixteen years has been wonderful for me.
We have found a beautiful place to live and a peaceful, happy existence together. That is what fortunate is all about…
For the past five years, just over 40 million Americans moved each year, or about 13 percent of us. Most moves are local, either within the same county or within the same state. Within-county moves accounted for 65 percent of all moves in 2019, while moves between counties in the same state accounted for 17 percent, according to the federal government’s Current Population Survey (CPS) data.
We moved from one of the northern most counties of Colorado (Larimer) to one 50 miles from the New Mexico border in 2014. Larimer County’s population has grown over 30,000 residents since then, while Huerfano County may have gained 200 residents. The only reason Huerfano has not lost residents since 2014, when it reached less than 6,400, is the beauty of the rural areas west of Walsenburg.
When we moved here from a nice suburb of Fort Collins, I experienced extreme culture shock, and most of the residents we talked to could not believe we had chosen to leave Fort Collins for here. I gravitated to hanging out in La Veta even though we lived in Walsenburg while having our solar home built in the foothills, halfway between La Veta and Walsenburg. I did not find Walsenburg residents particularly friendly to outsiders, and La Veta people seemed a little more welcoming. I later learned that most long-term residents here don’t like newcomers and don’t think they’ll stay, so they choose not to invest in friendships with them. I’m sure you see the self-perpetuating prophecy in this. La Veta was not super friendly either, but at least I did meet some nice people there.
Six years later, I continue to try and understand this area and its resistance to newcomers and new businesses. At first it really bothered me, especially when our next door neighbor offered friendship at first and then decided to hate us within six months for no apparent reason. After a few years I didn’t care as much because we were so happy in our solar perch with phenomenal views in every direction. As of today I only have one close, local friend and she is wonderful.
We have had to adjust to many differences between city and rural life, but being able to order almost anything on the Internet has made all the difference! I would say if you are very independent of mind and truly celebrate natural silence and beauty you may end up loving it here. However, trade offs must be made. None of our restaurants are stellar and most are closed down now. No pizza deliveries here! You need to like cooking and have a few different avocations than city people, avocations like hiking, camping, gardening, photography and the arts.
As far as the differences between Walsenburg and La Veta go, Walsenburg has one of the highest crime rates per thousand in the U.S.
“The 2016 crime rate in Walsenburg, CO is 628 (City-Data.com crime index), which is 2.3 times higher than the U.S. average. It was higher than in 98.0% U.S. cities.”
Just about everyone I have met there has been robbed. I cannot find a crime rate for La Veta, but it’s very low. The main difference you will find in Huerfano County is that land prices east of La Veta average around $5,000/acre or less, and those in the higher mountains can be well above $50,000/acre.
Springtimeview from our solar perch!
The apparent draw to this area, including ourselves, is that you can still find inexpensive rural land with tremendous views for reasonable prices. Just remember there are very few decent jobs here and most of this county is above 7,000 feet, which can challenge the breathing of many lowlanders.
Want to learn more about moving here? I kept a journal of this process:
Why we decided to move here after first checking out Ecuador (!)
The difficulties of renovating our old home and leaving our old life behind.
The culture shock of very small town living.
Building a passive solar home in a rural area,
and so many other challenges & adjustments to be made when you choose living rural.
To continue my train of thought from my last post, I choose to believe that we humans are uniquely supplied with a brain and conscience so that we might go beyond our reptilian or primal brain. Yes, we must maintain our innate and automatic self-preserving behavior patterns, which ensure our survival and that of our species. But I know we can be so much more!
A part of my learning at Naropa University in Boulder, was the study of higher levels of consciousness, most notably with Ken Wilber. There I learned of the research into what can happen in the human mind when we are able to shut off the constant thinking, wondering and worrying, reaching beyond this primal state of mind.
Buddhist monks have shown us that we can achieve an infinitely expanded true self through deep meditation. This is in accordance with Buddhist philosophy, which focuses on being liberated from one’s insignificant self consciousness to attain a higher state of being, thereby reaching an “infinitely expanded true self”.
The Buddha taught that consciousness is “like a stream of water” with different layers or levels. Mind consciousness is the first level, using up most of our energy. Mind consciousness is our “working” brain that makes judgments and plans; it is the part of our consciousness that worries and analyzes. The brain is only two percent of the body’s weight, but it consumes twenty percent of the body’s energy. So using mind consciousness is very expensive. Thinking, worrying, and planning take a lot of energy.
“We can economize this energy by training our mind consciousness in the habit of mindfulness. Mindfulness keeps us in the present moment and allows our mind consciousness to relax and let go of the energy of worrying about the past or predicting the future.” – Lion’s Roar
As strange as it may seem, my own trauma brain injury in 2008, helped me to access this higher level of consciousness more easily. Partially because I don’t have the energy to think and worry as much as I used to, I can simply slip into a state of mindfulness as I choose. Call it what you will, this is a great relief! I tire quickly with too much interaction or “thinking” and then I give up and just live in the present.
I have also found living close to nature to be quite mind liberating. City life kept me in a constant, often unconscious, state of anxiety and vigilance. It took me a few years of living away from cities and most other people to relax that vigilant mind state and just be here now. Sometimes I may still feel sudden city anxiety, but I quickly recognize it as not needed and let it go.
Those who know me, know that I find most human behavior exemplified in the 2012 Disney Nature film Chimpanzees. Go watch it and you will learn the simplicity of how most of us behave and why. Protecting our young is the female role in nature. Aggression against others is the male role, especially when it comes to defeating our enemies. This is human nature or our natural behavior when confronted with the many challenges of life.
What is not natural is non-violence in the face of violent opposition. In fact it seems counter-intuitive and certainly not in our best interests. And yet, Gandhi defeated the most powerful colonial power on earth with these methods. Martin Luther King also championed this response to hate-filled, deadly mobs. Even that Capital policeman who seriously considered shooting at the rioters who were attacking him on January 6th, decided that his best means of defense under the circumstances was to tell them he was human and had children instead. This probably saved his life.
But this method did not save the lives of Gandhi or Martin Luther King. The “might makes right” assassins murdered them both. They were both quite clear that this would probably happen. Witness the many strong American advocates for racial justice. Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King knew that they would probably die at the hands of assassins, but this did not deter them from walking the talk everyday. Not one of them lived to be 40 years old. These were the human leaders who decided to believe in something far more audacious than brute force. It wasn’t about more powerful guns and bombs for them. It was about taking a stand against those who had no sense of fairness, equality and integrity. Those who felt boundlessly insecure about their place in the world. Those who simply said: “might does make right.”
Democracy is also a force that stands stubbornly above the simple and stupid assumption that whomever has the most guns wins. Democracy is based on the idealistic assumption that we can each have our say at the voting booth and then have a peaceful and civilized transition of power in our country.
Amazingly, this system has worked for decades, until a few ill-informed, hate-filled white-supremacists led by the craziest president in American history, decided might makes right. That mob crime scene at our capital was a sacrilege, a violation of all we find sacred about this country. I cannot imagine the day I would break down the doors and windows of my capital and destroy so many symbols of our democratic system of government. In other countries these traitors would be summarily shot.
How ironic that the system these anarchists hate so much, is the exact same one that will save their lives!
I see now that my own parents never bothered to get to know me as an adult. Perhaps they thought mistakenly that they knew me as their child, even though they barely knew me through adolescence. And the sad part is, now it is too late.
I know now that my Dad, who died this past March, did not know me at all. He thought I was not-so-smart, a very bad planner and certainly not ambitious. As it turns out his idea of ambition and mine were just quite different. Most unfortunately, my Dad, the well-known Colorado botanist, never appreciated my interest and skill with native plants. Mike overheard him comment in….
… my beginner garden back in March of 2018, “This is just going to be a bunch of weeds!”
He thought I had no idea what a native plant was, or how to grow them. Little did he know that I was already planning with Mike the terraced hardscaping of this slanted slope, and what would grow best here in terms of water needs, critters, etc. Yes, a few of my experiments have not worked out, but overall…
I am quite proud of the product of Mike, John Carter and my own burgeoning efforts! (June 2019)
And as far as my other ambitions go, I have always refused to see myself as a loser. My brother John and I are the first Carter generation of what I now call “spiritual seekers.” Making lots of money and receiving accolades from many was never in the plan.
Finding eventual spiritual peace with Self, others & nature was the plan.
This past Christmas with my mother was a revelation to me. As she slowly recedes into dementia, I now see she will never “know” me either. I am still her “little Laura Lee,” her youngest daughter. She loves to look at pictures of us together when I was a baby, her last one.
This leaves me wondering how often it is that parents invest the time to truly know how their kids turned out. Is it a fear that their children didn’t turn out so well, that keeps them from asking? Are they afraid it will seem too intrusive, like an invasion of privacy? Or do they just prefer not knowing.
Please don’t assume that you already know your child completely and stifle your impulse to truly know them on a deeper level while you are still around. Don’t assume you know them intimately. Ask them open ended questions like:
“What are you searching for in your life? What means the most to you right now?”
Every time I spend time with my mother now, I see increasing signs of her slipping away from me. Our conversations aren’t as friendly and light. Her affect seems flat. I feel no joy there. The mother I remember is absent. She refuses to wear her hearing aid, so it’s difficult to tell how much she is taking in of our conversations. She refuses to see a neurologist about these changes. I am left wondering how long she will be able to engage fully with us.
Alzheimer’s disease of course comes to mind. Five million Americans now suffer from Alzheimer’s. It is the most common form of dementia.
According to Alz.org, symptoms may include:
Increased memory loss and confusion.
Inability to learn new things.
Difficulty with language and problems with reading, writing, and working with numbers.
Difficulty organizing thoughts and thinking logically.
Shortened attention span.
Problems coping with new situations.
“The future ain’t what it used to be…” – Yogi Berra
These thoughts lead naturally into wondering about myself after one moderate traumatic brain injury (TBI) and a few concussions. Every brain injury is different depending on what part of the brain is damaged and how severely. In my case, I have had concussions before and after my TBI. The later one is probably a result of losses in coordination.
According to a study from the National Center for Biotechnology Information:
“Traumatic brain injury remains a major problem in modern societies, primarily as a consequence of traffic crashes and falls. In the United States alone, an estimated 1.7 million people sustain a TBI annually, of which 275,000 require hospitalization and 52,000 die.”
Moderate to severe traumatic brain injuries
Moderate to severe traumatic brain injuries can include any of the signs and symptoms of mild injury, as well as these symptoms that may appear within the first hours to days after a head injury:
Loss of consciousness from several minutes to hours
Persistent headache or headache that worsens
Repeated vomiting or nausea
Convulsions or seizures
Dilation of one or both pupils of the eyes
Clear fluids draining from the nose or ears
Inability to awaken from sleep
Weakness or numbness in fingers and toes
Loss of coordination
Cognitive or mental symptoms
Agitation, combativeness or other unusual behavior
Coma and other disorders of consciousness
Over the past 30 years, research has linked moderate and severe TBI to a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia, years after the original head injury. According to recent studies,
I was introduced to Colorado at the ripe old age of twelve when my Dad decided to take a new job in Boulder. A move from Emporia Kansas to this mecca of hippie culture in 1966 moved me fast forward into a new way of seeing. I’ll never forget the time some guy on “The Hill” offered me acid at age thirteen. I much preferred candy at The Country Store on Broadway at that age. For us the culture shock was just beginning!
A couple years later we moved to Colorado Springs so my Dad could take a job at Colorado College. From one of the national centers of hippie culture to a majorly conservative military town, how shocking for our young, vulnerable minds. Between Fort Carson, The Air Academy, Peterson Air Force Base and NORAD, the military presence was hard to miss, and our teachers in junior high and high school were often retired military officers. My brother John, the natural rebel, had the most trouble with the conservatives there. He got suspended from school for wearing a peace symbol around his neck! We all wore black armbands when members of the Ohio National Guard fired into a crowd of Kent State University demonstrators, killing four and wounding nine on May 4th 1970. This was the first time I protested anything.
“Tin soldiers and Nixon coming, we’re finally on our own. This summer I hear the drumming Four dead in Ohio… ” – Crosby, Stills & Nash
Then I went to college for short periods at Colorado College (2 years), University of Northern Colorado (1 semester) and CU-Boulder in quick succession. What was I seeking? To understand Asia and learn Chinese after living in Bangkok at the end of the Vietnam War.
Over the years after college I lived in Asia, on the West Coast (Seattle), near the East Coast (Cornell University) collecting graduate degrees and worked at a number of university libraries. But Boulder always called me back. I felt safe and comfortable there. After one of my most harrowing years, studying Chinese at the Stanford Center in Taipei, I found myself sitting there wondering where I should move next. I chose Boulder, a place where I always felt safe and comfortable. I ended up with a position at CU-Boulder libraries for a few years.
So really the theme of my life has been, go out and explore the world, then return to Colorado for safety and reassurance…
The crowning glory of my love for Colorado has been our move six years ago down to the foothills west of Walsenburg. With an astounding view of the Spanish Peaks and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, out in the country, far from all people noise, that’s the Colorado I love best! I have climbed peaks, run rivers. even biked a few off-road trails, but now I’m happy just looking outside and dreaming of past adventures…
“The world is full of magical things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” – W.B. YEATS
Tomorrow,Monday the 21st will be the darkest day of our year. This is the day with the fewest hours of daylight, marking the start of astronomical winter. After this solstice, days will begin getting longer and nights shorter as spring approaches.
The word solstice is derived from the Latin word sol (“sun”) and sistere (“to stand still”), because at the solstices, the Sun appears to stand still. The seasonal movement of the Sun’s daily path (as seen from Earth) pauses at a northern or southern limit before reversing direction.
The Winter Solstice in Human History
The winter solstice was a special moment in the annual cycle for most ancient cultures back to the neolithic. Astronomical events were often used to guide activities, such as the sowing of crops and the monitoring of winter food reserves. Many cultural mythologies and traditions are derived from this.
This is attested to by physical remains in the layouts of some ancient archaeological sites, such as Stonehenge in England and ceremonial structures in New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon. The primary axis of these monuments seem to have been carefully aligned on a sight-line pointing to the winter solstice sunrise and the winter solstice sunset at Stonehenge.
In the midst of gathering darkness, light becomes ever more valued…
The winter solstice was immensely important, because the Ancient ones were economically dependent on monitoring the progress of the seasons. Starvation was common during the first months of the winter, January to April (northern hemisphere) or July to October (southern hemisphere), also known as “the famine months.” In temperate climates, the midwinter festival was the last feast, before deep winter began. Most domestic animals were slaughtered because they could not be fed during the winter, so it was the only time of year when a plentiful supply of fresh meat was available. The majority of wine and beer made during the year was finally fermented and ready to drink at this time.
For me, this Winter Solstice has even more meaning, following one of the worst years in American history. This Solstice gives me hope that next year will be so much better in so many important ways! 🙂
My intuition told me to go back and look at some previous photos from six years ago, when we were building our passive solar home in the foothills of southern Colorado. Sure enough, December 17th six years ago was the day we put decking on our roof.
Unless you’ve built something yourself, you may not appreciate the idea of “drying in” your structure, but this is major, especially in the middle of winter in Colorado.
I remember when we drove up here, there were workmen all over the top of our house in very cold weather, working their asses off! Our contractor brought all his friends over to work on a Saturday to get this done. What was amazing was how comfortable they all seemed up on that roof! A snow storm came in later that day…
But the roof got covered and we were halfway to being dried in.
We got so excited about the smallest progress back then, after taking five months just to get approval from the county and our slab poured properly for passive solar heating! They forgot the insulation for the slab at first, but Mike got on them for that!
The windows came next! It was finally looking & feeling like a home!
But there were still a million more details to work out…
but we got her done and moved in on the first of August 2015.
Then we rested while staring out at our spectacular view, for months, none stop!We cannot get enough of this even years later.The silence is magnificent!