You see, Oklahoma is kind of like an obnoxious cat…

Oklahoma has nothing but tumbleweeds, someone who had obviously never been here sneered the other day. I have seen tumbleweeds in New Mexico, Texas and Wyoming but never in Oklahoma and found myself in the surprising position of defending this place. Do you know, I said, that Oklahoma, mile for mile, is the most ecologically diverse state in the country, do you know it (I can’t bring myself to say WE) has four distinct mountain ranges, cypress floodplains and alligators, tall grass prairie and bison, high desert plains and prickly pear? Do you know that half the birds in the fifty states spend time here?

I  cannot or will not call this my adopted state, any more than I would have called the cat known as the fifteen year blight on my existence my adopted cat, in spite of certain family claims to the contrary. Rather, like the relationship between the cat and I, we developed a system whereby one learned how to exploit the resources of the other and the other learned to tolerate the existence of one it cannot obtain freedom from.

My husband and I, from opposite ends of the Mississippi  (though both of us have lived here longer than in our home states),  decided, since we never achieved what he calls escape velocity, to become acquainted with the land. Yesterday we started in the Northeast corner with the Tall Grass Prairie Preserve. Bison. Prairie Chickens. Bald and Golden Eagles. After a summer of drought, which stunted the tall grass such that it looked like short grass, it rained. No birds. The bison made themselves considerately visible by crossing the road. Twice and in no hurry to let us pass. We learned the Prairie Chickens are best watched in Spring during their mating ritual or Winter when they make tasty meals for the eagles. Fall brings color and migratory birds. We picked a bad time, meaning plenty of time with the volunteer answering our questions and, of course, with the Bison.

On the way back we plotted trips for Elk viewing in the Southeast and debated the chances of spotting migratory whooping cranes at Great Salt Plains Lake in the North. We talked about regrets over not getting to know Oklahoma better when my daughters were young instead of, like the cat, making jokes at its expense and trying to keep it out of our bed. And like the cat, scratching and yowling at the door till we let it in, our efforts were ultimately futile.

Dad took us on day and weekend trips around Minnesota when we were young. I have seen pictures that prove it and he tells stories – You remember when and no, really I don’t, not much, anyway. And he can’t believe he went through all that trouble and the best I can do is think I recall walking across the Mississippi River at Itasca Park, but maybe I just remember seeing the photograph. Yet, Dad, being Dad expects us to remember these trips, bright and clear in his mind. And he does and he would even if he were six because that’s the way his mind works. He told me that his neurologist asked him to remember five words, like they always do, only Dad didn’t just remember those words ten minutes later, he still remembered them two months later and for all I know he still remembers them today and he thinks everyone remembers stuff  like he does or should. The long rambling point of this is, we did take the girls places like parents do and maybe some of it they liked and some of it they didn’t. The one and only camping trip I took them on was mainly memorable because I learned that the Dodge Caravan does not have unique keys to unlock and start the vehicle. The reason I know this is because on the way home from the Black Hills, I filled up with gas and went in to pay, leaving the girls in the car. I came back out and the girls gave me a peculiar look.  A man in an identical van unlocked our van and started it up before looking over and seeing my younger daughter sitting next to him in the passenger seat. This is the sum total of what my kids remember from that trip. I hope they remember a little more from the Teton/Yellowstone trip.

The thing is, I’ve come to realize, you go on trips with your parents, they expose you to stuff they think is important and then you do the same with your kids not because they are going to enjoy it the same way you are or even to remember it but because, later, they maybe appreciate it with someone else and, yeah, you wish they loved it the way you do and loved it with you but that isn’t going to happen. I taught my younger daughter how to pee in a forest and taught my older daughter that she could live and sleep in a tent without makeup or a shower for a day or two. At the time I thought it was going to kill all of us. Much to my surprise, my older daughter loves to camp and my younger daughter wants to be an archeologist. Now I’m free to learn about Oklahoma with my husband. In spite of what my kids say, however, I am never going to own another cat.


I don’t know why I’m telling you this

Some memories you lose and others pick at you like an obnoxious neighbor who won’t move away.

The cattle prod the father of my children and I find in our front yard one morning. Saying it must be a message for him. Fifteen years later I think maybe it wasn’t.

The jazz festival in Chicago. When I am stopped and asked do I want to buy a nickel bag? When I ask how much can you buy for 5 cents? My companion drags me away…

The first day of first grade, for the first time, when I meet two other girls who share my name, thinking that cosmically connects us. One of the Lauries wets her pants and I hate her because she shames us.

In Rocky Mountain National Park with my husband and daughters, looking at the elk, exclaiming “Did you see the rack on that one?”

In fourth grade when the boy I had a crush on moves away and brings cupcakes for the class his last day, when I was out sick. Says he will come back to bring mine. Waiting.

The month of the bats, August, the first one blows in one of our bedrooms after a storm. Over fifty that month. My dad and older brother, kill them with badminton rackets, the bats cry like kittens.

My first body cast for scoliosis. Kid throws a snowball at my back, the wooden thud. Its echo.

For Your Eyes Only. A phone call one snowy day that she answers tells me he isn’t.

The award in college chemistry for Most Illegible Lab Report.

The award on internship for Fewest Inhibitory Neurons.

Giving my first lecture. Standing on top of the bunny hill. Same experience, different locations.

My first job – restaurant, kitchen work, dare the cute jock to squeeze the ketchup packet, measure the square footage a half inch by one and a half inch pack covers. Clean the ceiling.

Again, first job, food prep, still under the influence from night before, day the health department inspector walks down the stairs with the boss, just as I turn the mixer on high when low was called for and cover them in pancake batter.

Once again, first job, waitress, spill hot water on nice customer, male, sensitive area.

When I discover that pregnancy disrupts center of gravity, astonishing myself and several onlookers with a sudden impulse to run at seven months.


On Death, Cavities and Excavation

7 A.M. and Nancy begins her nursing shift, gets her patient assignment, medications lined out, halts, looks up to nowhere, to last night when she went over to Jerry’s house with her daughter, saw every card and letter she ever gave him on the kitchen table. She told her daughter to stay put and walked down the stairs to the basement where he was hanging. She didn’t know what to do. She didn’t know what to do after they took his body away, so she shows up to work.

Navajos, morbidly afraid of the dead, have burial  quickly and seldom speak of the person lost. Those of the Jewish faith sit Shiva, a practice of speaking of and honoring the deceased for seven days after burial..

Five years before Matthew Shepherd is strung on a barbed wire fence outside of Laramie, Steve Heyman, a University of Wyoming Psychology professor (and Jewish) is picked up outside a gay bar in Denver. He is scraped off an interstate highway on the morning of Nov. 1, 1993 and identified by dental records. Within two days, his effects are removed from the UW Psychology Department. No one sits Shiva for Steve, I hear for political reasons.

We train people to fear mourning and they become proficient in avoidance and panic disorders. They want to fill a cavity, when the work of excavation hasn’t begun. We have this idea that we need to medicate the so-called negative emotions – fear, sadness, anger and so we run from them, which is akin to running from a dog – the more you run, the more they are going to follow you. Who have you known who has actually started crying and “never been able to stop?” We dole out promises, platitudes and pills to the bereaved trying to make ourselves feel better. I have been working with a young man for awhile who has experienced a horrific death in his family. He is so proficient at running that he is terrified all the time, terrible panic attacks. The odd thing is, he has never had a single panic attack in my office when we talk about what he is afraid of, which, of course, is death. Funny thing, isn’t it?


This morning I saw someone suggest “incentivising removal of cedar trees” as a fix for global warning. I wondered, in my ignorance, if cedar trees metabolize like cows, producing excess gas. It wasn’t until much later I considered context and sarcasm.

I have always said (as do my daughters) that I prefer the company of men because they are more straightforward than women. It doesn’t occur to me to consider which category I’m in.

Yesterday, cooler weather – meaning ninety-something, allowed me to work outside. My job is to plant, then yank and cut. We have one south window, in what was a daughter’s room and is now empty. Outside the window is a narrow side yard, where nothing grows, so there is no reason for me to look.  We bought some furniture yesterday to put in there, so I looked. What grew there required both the little pruners and big loppers. It was going to take just a minute, so I didn’t bring my gloves. But, as long as I was out there, I remembered what my husband said about the rosebushes…

I wonder if we would love roses less if they didn’t make us bleed?

My husband is the bundler and I’m not talking financial packages or internet. I did warn him to wear his gloves.

Today we look like we own cats.

I bought the furniture mostly to keep my daughters from taking the most comfortable chair in the house when they come over, which is almost every day. The most comfortable chair was in my study. Now the most comfortable chair is in the spare bedroom. I left my Kindle there last night. I’m planning a new garden to improve the view.

Blown Glass

Occasionally, my husband and I have gone to Tesuque Glassworks to watch the glassblowers work. I love how everything is named – the gaffer works in a hotshop and uses a blowpipe, with which he grabs a gob of molten glass that looks like fiery bubble gum or taffy. The gaffer blows through the blow pipe or swings it like a slightly mad baton twirler and rolls and flattens on a marver. The first furnace of three is a furnace, the second, glory hole, the third, annealer. My favorite word is parison, which is an elegant word for partially blown glass. There is pontil, gathering iron, tweezers, paddles, all for adding, shaping and managing the glass. The process is dance between heat and glass, gaffer, technique and time and there comes a point if everything doesn’t meet, vase, plate or cup will end askew or shattered. Perfect and it will be a plate  big as the sun and costly or taffy encased in a marble.

Once, I interviewed a man applying for disability, who had been burned, the skin of his face melted like a child’s crayon left in the sun to become a slippery run on the table or coloring book. My hands itched to pour his face back into its mold the way we once took old wax or stubs of crayons, melted them in a double boiler and poured them into baby food jars for candles, the way we still sometimes stick our fingers in hot wax then peel it embossed with our fingerprints.

Tonight the sky is relentless. Smoke is on the horizon, fires doused and reigniting. Out of our price range, a rosy pink swirled blue glass sunset shatters and sets over a hill.