Season of Perpetual Fire

open wood stove

Ashley only, all the way

Say it isn’t so, except it is. At least the good thing about burning piñon, a variety of wood I never even heard about before moving to northern New Mexico, is that it’s so dense, a hefty log laid inside the venerable Ashley hippie hero wood stove from the ’60s will leave a hot pile of coals aglow till morning. Whereupon you load more piñon inside and lo, it starts up again all by itself. Sometimes a single match can help accelerate the process if it’s smoking, but be careful. Then all you do is shut the door, wait until the pipe starts “cricking,” and attempt to stop the runaway volcano in its tracks by closing down the draft. If you’re lucky, it just sits there incandescing for a couple of hours and no one burns the house down. If you’re not, extraordinary measures may be called for which I won’t discuss, except to say that every year some poor Texan up in Angel Fire thinks he knows the ropes and blows the stove to kingdom come. Living on the frontier is not for amateurs or people who skipped physics.

Oh, yes. You also have to climb up on the roof and knock the soot down from the chimney with a long stick or a length of chain you twirl around, maybe once a week or two, or else you’ll learn how chimney fires work. This procedure is best initiated before you see the stovepipe bleeding smoke inside the house, because you might not wake up in the morning. Just as well, I guess, because a cord of piñon costs so much.

But damn, it does burn great.

Callie Watch

Callie the Wonder Cat

Oh the stories we will tell

We almost put her down on Friday. That was really hard. The vet had to give us the proverbial “minute to yourselves” three times before we said we’d take her home for the weekend to say goodbye and bring her in on Monday. I just couldn’t face deciding then and there and driving back with an empty carrier. (Don’t do this to me now, it’s just too much.) The thing is, she’s 17 years old. Since the doc knocked out her kidney infection six weeks ago with antibiotics, she recovered nicely for a while and then resumed her downward spiral, losing half the weight you see above. I can’t even brush her now because the metal comb hits all the bones.

When we called on Friday morning for the appointment, she hadn’t eaten anything for two whole days. Friday evening we came home with kitty steroid tablets and an appetite stimulant you smear inside her ear, this by way of informally testing whether she’s presenting renal failure or the something-something cancer thing the doctor mentioned—if she eats at all, it’s likely not her kidneys—and to give her a little boost to see how she responds. As it happens, I misread the directions and gave her a double dose of appetite stimulant! Ninety minutes later she was ravenous. It was like a miracle. She acted five years younger, time stood still, and everybody had a good night’s sleep. On Saturday she slowed down a bit, then didn’t eat a thing all day until just a few minutes ago.

So today was difficult again. You look at her and know she won’t recover much, though my sense is that if she eats and doesn’t look so ready for the grave—if she’s happy—then of course she gets to hang around. We know it’s almost time to let her go, but I’m glad we didn’t give the go-ahead on Friday afternoon. I’ll call the vet tomorrow and see what’s what. My inclination is to finish out the meds if she’s still eating, so maybe just a little while. I keep thinking she’ll go outside and meet the Coyote of Transformation, but all she does is eat grass, come back inside, and barf. She helps me pick which piece of wood to use to start a fire in the wood stove, did you know?

Poor baby. [sigh] Damn cat is gonna make me howl.

Gallup

truck in Gallup

We buried her uncle in Phoenix, as the saying goes. A memorial service for Roger, the favorite, cremated and sealed in a vault. There were palm trees and Canada geese and cousins galore, an avalanche of emotion for the love of my life. On the way home we learned that another uncle had died, this one the last, up in Iowa. Of Tom it is said he survived World War II but not Shirley.

On the first leg of the trip we bivouacked in Holbrook. The wifi worked not, there were freight trains all night, and we threw the free breakfast away. I confronted the manager who’s probably dead now. (When I checked out I saw she’d been crying.) Uncles, motels, so much wreckage and blame.

On the way back near Gallup a Hampton Inn beckoned. The staff were all Natives and lifted the place. The decor was healthy and did not offend. The room was attractive and calm. After all we’d been through, mostly all right but exhausting, it felt like a home to us just for one night. We stood there in shock with our bags on the floor, grateful but mortal and done. I remembered my wife in the car, counting the years between her and her uncles. Surely it’s not over yet, but those numbers, my God. She was so happy the room was so nice. I hugged her and thought of how fleeting it was and I cried.

Sunday Feature

inside the old adobe

Got way too good at looking for trouble like my daddy taught me. I mean, you probably think that view’s askew, but soon it’s like an old damn shirt and you won’t see the cobwebs. Anyway, here we are in heaven. Good to understand that. God’s living room, I call it, and everyone’s allowed to rearrange the furniture. “Is this all there is?” Well, yes. No doo-dah angels waiting in the wings. Heaven, I tell you. Everything. Right here.

Gonna take a little trip to Arizona. I love being able to say that. About 600 miles each way and I have scheduled overnights. Very uncharacteristic. But Brad’s Desert Inn in Holbrook for 60 bucks a night plus “free earplugs for the train noise” pulled me in. You get to park right in front of your room, too. The other day I looked up my mother’s old doublewide in that “mobile home retirement community” in Tucson where the residents ride golf carts flying huge American flags to the edge of the desert to let their chihuahuas shit in the cactus, only reason I’m not sitting there now for $59k, thank you Jesus for the nails. The Google Earth view was recent enough that I could see how the idiots who bought it cleared out all the native plants along the west side of the only property in the whole damn place that actually borders a natural arroyo. I used to visit when she was sane and watch javelinas and Gambel’s quail go marching through there of an evening. Helen would put out leftovers to attract them, but it’s all gone now.

Meanwhile, I’ve decided to be helpful instead of scared. The jury is still out on that, but hey I wrote some words.

What Do You Do?

What Do You Do? post image

What do you do when you see, when you finally see? When you see that you’ve always seen and constantly ignored the bleeding obvious? When she hurts this much and it’s all your fault? When she gave you everything and you kept asking for more? What the hell do you do?

“If you were a different sort of woman, you’d have killed me by now.”

“I hurt…”

“I know… It’s my damn turn and I’ve put it off so long…”

“I hurt…and I don’t know what to do…”

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