Saturday, December 29, 2012

Remembering Renie

Oil Painting: "Birch Trees" by Tatiana Yanovskaya-Sink / From Russia with Art

Three years.

My friend Renie drew her last breath three years ago. She was so young. And so alive. And so loved. She chose her way out, not by hurrying death in any way, but simply by being present for it. Courageous beyond belief. Cancer took over her liver, and it was not an easy way to go.

But before that and a good while back we worked together for five years. Amazing woman. Gifted writer. A spirit so free, so unfettered by convention, it's a wonder she stayed earth-bound as long as she did. She was never easy to track down and I'm not given to calling people for help, but amazingly, during my darkest, most difficult why-is-this-happening-to-me moments, she never failed to answer my distressed phone calls. Oh, honey, that's SO big. And I was off and running and she was listening with her low coos and her OhHoneys. Nothing I said, no amount of despair, no level of wretchedness turned her away.

A mutual friend often organizes events to remember and to honor Renie. I can't bring myself to go to a single one. I just haven't found the courage to show up for the level of grief I fear I'll encounter in a group lament for our friend.

So I remember her quietly. 
And here. 

Maybe someday, I'll be a big girl.
But not today.

Renie loved rocks, water, and trees. 

Here's a snippit from Robert Frost's poem Birches

. . . I'd like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willingly misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth is the right place for love:
I don't know where it's likely to go better.
I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.

Stay awake, Jax . . .

Vigilant is the word that comes to mind when I think of Jax, a fine Alaskan Husky sled dog. He's normally on his toes and ready for action. Jax is a member of a pack I recently took care of while their man was away. And on this stay, Jax decided he could let down his guard and relax a bit. I considered this a great honor!

Here he is doing his best to stay awake.

Night, night, sweet boy . . .

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Red ball rhumba!

I have a kind friend who lets me take care of his sled dogs when he goes out of town.

It does my soul good to spend time with these delightful creatures. Especially since I don't have my own beloved THREE BLUE EYES sled 6-dog team anymore.

I just spent 2 weeks out in the country with Libby, Jax, Qimmiq, Tillie, and Lanie (who, technically, isn't a sled dog, but who's counting!) and thought I'd share a little of the fun!


Friday, October 26, 2012

A moment of grace

Picture a steely gray late afternoon sky, a fine mist falling, and choppy waves making a few white caps on Lake Superior along the shore of Two Harbors.

Ginsberg and I scramble along the slick rocky shore near the lighthouse park, me picking up stones, Gins toying with pieces of driftwood. As we return to the parking lot, Gins locks his eyes on a gaggle of geese just down the beach.
I stop and quietly say his name 3 or 4 times until he finally looks up at me. I tell him we will be leaving the geese alone, and he complies. We walk toward the car and I notice a very very old man sitting in his battered red station wagon, parked near mine. His window is down and he is looking at Ginsberg.

As we get closer, he says in an eastern European accent: "Beautiful beautiful dog." I thank him and get a better look. His skin is gray, there is no color to his lips. He looks almost waxen but his eyes are blue and bright. I mention that Ginsberg is a husky, and he says, "Yah, I know huskies."

I bring Ginsberg over to the man and he puts his paws on the edge of the open window. The man pets him. I am surprised by this, because Ginsberg can be somewhat reserved with strangers. The man says again, "Beautiful beautiful dog." We're quiet for a few seconds.

And then the man says, "What beautiful beautiful friend, what beautiful company God gave us with the dog, yah?"

He has just said in his eastern European accent the exact sentiment I've had these past few days in the north woods in the company of sled dogs. I agree with him and find that I have nothing else to add. He's said it all.

And so I tell him I must leave. He looks me in the eyes now and says slowly and sincerely, "Thank you for your company."

I can't remember the last time someone has thanked me for my company. It makes me cry.

I drive back to the cabin, in the quiet, grace, and company of my blue-eyed Alaskan Husky. And God.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

For the Daniels

On election day, Minnesotans will be voting on an amendment that, 
if passed, dictates that marriage is only legal between one man and one woman. 
Something is amiss in America when we use constitutional powers
to restrict freedoms rather than guarantee civil rights.
It's time to speak up.

For the Daniels

The most remarkable museum exhibit I have ever seen was an interactive installation called “Daniel’s Story.” If memory serves me right, I took my children to see it at the Field Museum in Chicago years ago, back when we were almost poor.

Walking through the exhibit, we entered the life and environs of Daniel, a Jewish child living in Europe during the Holocaust. First we came into his home, listened to music of the time, saw the books he read. And then we heard the radio and the chilling messages of hate issuing forth. Soon we traveled through a tunnel, walled on both sides by lifelike murals of Nazis carrying rifles and of their angry dogs. We could hear shouts from these oversized uniformed men and menacing barks, and the effect was terrifying. We then moved into the ghetto where Daniel lived briefly amid lice and filth before he was shipped by cattle car (another terrifying simulation) on to the concentration camp where he presumably died. Upon leaving that portion of the exhibit, we entered rooms where children were invited to create tiles that captured their emotions. The tiles were added to a wall, and the display was monumental.

But what stays with me to this day was a set of simple hinged panels in a row, intended to be read left to right. Together, the panels depicted the slippery progression of bias to discrimination to ethnic cleansing and, ultimately, to genocide. Atop each panel were words reflecting increasingly stronger sentiments that one might hear to degrade and debase some group of “others.” Children lifted the panel to find words they could use to speak up for the targeted group. The final panel said, “All (fill in the blank) should die. Underneath that panel was the phrase: “Too late. You should have spoken up sooner.”

It’s this exhibit that motivates me to speak up today.

In my very ordinary brain, the sexual orientation of my children, my nieces, their friends, or anyone’s seems as much a matter of fact as their shoe size or eye color. It just is what it is, same as the rest of the cards in the deck that life has dealt them. (I know how glib this sounds, but hear me out.)

Would I disown a child because he wears a size 12 not a size 9 sneaker. Would I lose one minute of sleep about it? Would I evict my daughter because she has hazel irises and I have brown ones? Would I shed a single tear of sorrow if she announced she would marry another person with hazel eyes? No, of course not. The very idea is so nutty it leaves me almost speechless. Almost. Because to not speak up when any form of discrimination is at play is rather dangerous, isn't it? So, though I normally flee from conflict like a fly from a swatter, I am entering the fray because conscience won’t let me stay silent any longer.

I'm not as clueless or insensitive as this may sounds. OK, I can be insensitive. There was the time when my hetero-then-bisexual-then-legally-married-to-a-transgender-man-whom-she-dated-when-he-was-a-woman friend chided me for not having a rainbow sticker on my office door to indicate that I was GLBT-friendly and I just wanted to smack her. But I only smack flies and mosquitoes, so I put the sticker up. My friend was correct, I conceded, but it just seemed silly to advertise that I was OK with people who partner with people of their own gender, as unnecessary as advertising that I’m good with people who "wear size 12 shoes" or who "have hazel eyes. (It was and still is necessary, but it maddens me that it is.) I know I still sound glib and I know how serious the human-rights implications are, but still, hear me out.

What I don’t grok but clearly see happening is that gender-orientation stirs the kind controversy that makes people propose constitutional amendments that codify discrimination, except that I know that fearfulness will always be among us, and there is some aspect about this matter of fact that taps some serious fear buttons to the point of serious hostility. I can’t help but wonder if, perhaps, some amendment supporters are so conflicted about their own sexual orientation and leanings, even to the point of self hatred, that they must enshrine heterosexual unions in our sacred legal code to prevent themselves from exploring their own identity. Stranger things have happened.

Of the positions I have heard, the two most salient in my opinion are (1) concern about procreation and (2) erosion of virtue.

1. Procreation
I fully concur that human intimacy is a divine gift, not to be messed with lightly, and that the privilege of bringing children into this world pings our most ancient strings of DNA code, as it should if our species is to survive. But, dear God, what does it really matter what gender one is oriented to legally share one’s life with? As a species, we’re in no obvious danger of turning off the spigot of procreation on this planet, that’s for certain. Like frantic gerbils, humans just keep adding offspring to it! (Have you ever seen too many gerbils in a cage? Not recommended.) 

2. Virtue
If we’re worried about people turning away from the Word of God, the dogma upon which so many of us congregate and use to guide our actions, we best look at what we’re doing for and with young people in our everyday lives, and in particular, I suspect our sparse churches, temples, mosques, and meeting houses ought to be ramping up environments that young people find divine, rather than embedding in our constitution matters of marriage.

For the love of all that is good in humankind, why is marriage even an issue?

And, further, why are beautiful young souls evicted from their families, tossed to the streets to be preyed upon by unscrupulous people, and battered, often destroyed by cruelty? I do not take lightly hate crimes against people whose sexual orientation is deemed out of the norm by certain groups. And like the panels in Daniel’s Story shows us, there is a dangerous progression from legalizing any kind of prohibition that denies the rights of any group of people, and we must speak up before it’s too late.

So enough already. ENOUGH! As pollyannaish as it sounds, I just want this brouhaha about gender orientation and marriage to be over. It is wrong. It is unnecessary. And it distracts our attention from the other things that divide and harm us--like poverty and cooking the life off our planet and horrific, preventable diseases that disfigure, blind, and impoverish people in equatorial countries, and warfare.

Thinking of you Daniel, and voting no,

Kathleen Kimball-Baker

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The carousel of time

Newlyweds RockStarSon and Julie of the Sapphire Eyes. Photo: Louisa of Rivets and Roses. August 25, 2012

Lyrics by Joni Mitchell

"And the seasons they go 'round and 'round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We're captive on the carousel of time
We can't return we can only look behind
From where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game . . ."

Father and Mother of the Groom. Photo: Linda Baumeister. August 25, 2012

"And the seasons they go 'round and round'

Father and Mother of the Groom. Photo: Self timer. August 1980

"We can't return - we can only look behind from where we came"

And it's all good.

Monday, May 14, 2012


What magnificent day Sunday was! While my beloveds prepared a lovely breakfast for Mother's Day, I took out my camera, walked around our little cottage, and captured the world of springtime. 

We've had a most unusual spring, with all the usual milestones happening about a month early. Does this portend a long summer, a long fall, a long winter, or none of the above? Nature always seems to have a way of balancing herself out, so it will be most interesting to see where the scales tip.

Meanwhile, a few images from our lovely spring . . .

"Hello? Anybody down there?"
Fade to gray 
Can you see the wee "comet"
All systems go for take off
Gossamer seedlings
"Is this the party to whom I am speaking (snort, snort)"

"Am I blue . . . over you . . ."
May the lightness of spring travel with you throughout the week . . .

Monday, April 30, 2012

More than politics, so much more

Lakota model baby carrier with porcupine-quill embroidery, North or South Dakota, ca. 1880. Photo by Walter Larrimore, NMAI. (12/2308)
I had a full day all to myself, deadline free, in our nation's capital yesterday. It was magnificent. And not simply because it was my birthday and I treated myself to crab cakes at Legal Seafood, but because of something much grander.

I've visited DC many many times. It's even the place where I first fell in love. And truth be told, I fell in love again yesterday.

This time, with the city and what it embodies.

No, this is not a homage to democracy or freedoms or patriotism.  Well, maybe it is about patriotism, but defined a bit differently.

What set the butterflies atwitter in my tummy was beauty. I spent 90 minutes surrounded by it. I visited the National Museum of the American Indian, one of the Smithsonian's newer buildings.

It's recommended that you begin your tour of this wildly curvaceous museum on the 4th floor, where you enter a wondrous cave-like setting with twinkling stars and little alcoves where the cosmology of many first nation peoples is told in sounds and images. You move on from there to learn more about the people and the art and traditions and history.

I did not have enough time for a full visit, but what I saw made me realize something I'd never considered before.

So often history is taught or told to us in a way that is so terribly fraught with conflict, epitomizing the very worst of humanity. It divides us into the victors and the defeated, haves and have nots, dead and alive. But as I walked through this museum, I felt a sense of unity, not so much a unity of politics or ideology or laws. I felt pride welling up to be part of the trajectory of America, the one that began with the first nations and encompassed new people from afar and continues to do so.

I realized that through the tears and the bloodshed and the diseases and all the horrors we can imagine or choose to ignore, the truth is that we the people of this country have shared the land. No, we have not shared equally, and we have not always shared kindly. But we each have walked the land, been fed by the land, drawn into our lungs its breath, slaked our thirst with its waters, and buried our loved ones in its soil. We've done so in our own times and in or our own ways. But we've done so.

We are united in this strange and beautiful way. And I am so proud to have shared the land with the rich traditions, blessings, and beliefs of our country's first peoples.

Our capital holds for us -- so that we may immerse ourselves fully and freely in it -- the great treasure of our nation. It provides for us the context for this treasure. It reminds us what is good and beautiful about our time here, and it warns of the wrong turns we have taken and may well take again. I do hope everyone finds a way to imbibe of the treasure and the lessons. They truly are remarkable.

And may the rivers our experiences upon this land flow into a great force of protection and love for those who come after us.


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