By the Big Thompson River

By the Big Thompson River in Estes Park, Colorado, we spent last night in the Spruce Lake RV Park with Tom and Tish, our friends from Casper, Wyoming. Today is their sixth anniversary, and, as is their tradition, they held a brief meeting and decided to go for another year. We are staying in their brand-new fifth-wheel 34-foot Titanium RV. Compared with the little Rialta we had several years ago, the Titanium is Versailles on wheels. You don't have to duck your head anywhere, and the main room's ceiling is too tall for me to reach without jumping. It has two TVs and hookups for a washer and dryer.

Darlene and I remembered the sweet freedom of spending time in RV parks, where the views, like this one, do not fit my usual sense of aesthetics. But all these big white boxes jammed in next to each other contain people who seem to be moving through life with simple calm and good spirits. "I'd forgotten how nice it is to be in such clean bathrooms and to be among such friendly people," Darlene said on returning from the bath house. I woke up early after a good sleep in the roll-out sofa bed and did some writing at the dining room table. In an RV park it seemed perfectly appropriate to begin the day playing a video game, so I fired up a new one my mother found out about, Nintendogs, where you talk into the Nintendo DS to train a puppy. I kept stating "Pokey" in a firm voice, which drove Darlene crazy as she was reading her novel, so I had to go out to the truck to continue the training. That there was a real puppy in the house might have made it seem ridiculous to be training a digital one. But in an RV Park, anything goes. One rig's sign read, "If it's not fun, why do it?"

As I worked on my writing, I watched a woman in a neighboring RV fire up her grill next to the picnic table. She cooked bacon while her husband stood nearby, smoking a pipe. They looked to be in their 70s. I couldn't hear their conversation. They were dressed warmly for the chill of the morning air. It was an incredibly cozy little scene, well-suited to an anniversary day for our good friends from Wyoming.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Claire takes Fifi for a run around a brilliant flower garden at Alamo Placita Park in Denver a couple of days ago.

A Sobering Setting

The Denver Diagnostic and Reception Center (DRDC) sounds like a wholeness and hospitality spa, but it's actually a state prison off Havana Street. It's where I help lead AA meetings for inmates twice a month when I'm in town. Last night's meeting in Unit 4 tested my own serenity, because a couple of guys delivered long monologues that didn't have much to do with the program of recovery. I let them run their course and tried to listen instead of interrupt. In Unit 2, it was a completely different story. Of the 20 inmates gathered in a circle in the meeting room, at least 10 seemed genuinely interested in a way to break the cycle of addiction that had resulted in their confinement. The meeting was quiet, attentive, and moving. You never know what people might get out of one of these sessions, which plenty of guys attend simply to have an hour out of their cells. What's certain is that every single time I drive away from the visitors' parking lot, I feel less likely to pick up a drink than I did when I arrived.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Woodward Way

Kes Woodward rolls up his portrait of me Tuesday morning prior to my carrying it very carefully home in a FedEx tube from La Conner. The painting is now at the framer's, and by the end of next week will adorn the wall of our living room in Denver. In a posting on his blog yesterday, Kes made a comment which intrigues me as a guide to my own work. "I never seem to know what I'll work on next until I find myself doing it," he wrote, describing his spontaneous decision to work on the portrait. The key to this credo's effectiveness in Kes's career is that he works A LOT. He arrives at his studio overlooking the Swinomish Channel each morning with the precision of a banker. He begins work immediately on SOMETHING, and he keeps painting all day, except for phone call interruptions, which he answers as if he has all the time in the world.

I like the Woodward way of diving into work without elaborate planning. My own work is often burdened by the belief that some perfect plan of work exists, but that I've missed it. This leads to a gnawing sense that, whatever I'm working on, I should be doing something else. For example, right now I should be working on my Wazee nonfiction piece instead of this blog posting. Well, maybe not. Maybe it won't be time to work on the Wazee project until I find myself doing it. What a concept!

A Lucky Bat

Kes, Missy, Eli and I were sitting out by the rock cliff next to their home yesterday evening when a bat swirled slowly around the big shade umbrella and then vaguely drifted toward the house. The front door was open. The bat flew in. As we cautiously walked through the house, looking mainly up, in the high white places above Kes's paintings, Missy, who is a pediatrician, gave a matter-of-fact account of the treatment for rabid bat bites, which are so soft you can't feel them. The treatment calls for 21 days of shots in the stomach.

I discerned no panic in the household. And within five minutes, Missy spotted the tips of the bat's wings peeking out from beneath door of the closet next to the front door. Kes immediately appeared holding a long-handled little net which appeared to have been saved for just such an event. He gently opened the closet door, placed the net over the bat and then flipped the creature out into the evening. We returned to our round little table to finish our drinks and cheese.

I know Kes well enough to know that the calm order of his life and especially of his paintings does not come without some inner turmoil. But to be in the presence of the order of his life is deeply healing and inspiring. The bat rescue is one I will remember as a perfect metaphor for this family of peaceful giants. I don't know how Missy spotted those tiny black wing tips hiding in the most unlikely place of the house. I feel a pedestal rising here, so I'll wind this tribute down. When I came up to the big living room-dining room-kitchen this morning, Kes had a coffee maker set up with a cup, ready to hit start. He and Missy are off at the athletic club, working out in their daily routine. If I weren't here, they would then head to town, he to his studio to paint and she to her office at their friend Len's home, to work at their art dealer business. I am so happy to have had a chance to spend some time here. I feel like a bat who flew in and was gently helped on my way by the beauty of habit and hospitality.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Arriving in La Conner

This was the view yesterday evening from the home of Kes Woodward, my friend who is hosting a meeting of the WESTAF executive committee here in La Conner, Washington. Kes and his wife Missy and later their son Eli moved from Fairbanks, Alaska, to here in January after a long sojourn in the arctic north. Their home clings to a steep hillside overlooking Puget Sound, and inside the white walls are full of Kes's clear, wild, intelligent landscape paintings.

When I arrived at his studio in downtown La Conner yesterday I saw myself looking at me from the wall. Last week he painted a transparent acrylic, which looks just like a watercolor, 28 inches by 20 1/2 inches, three times life size. This image of myself seems to contain elements which I have not claimed yet in the self-portrait that I carry around in my head. So the painting feels like a prophecy, a vision of what it would be like to quit fighting my demons and to wholeheartedly accept their presence in my mind and face. Kes studied every photo of me he could find in the blog archives, as well as several he had taken himself. The two most striking elements, he told me, were how my left eyelid drops lower than the right, and my thin smile, which is always crooked. He began painting the eyes first, then the mouth, then the rest of the details which life so far has etched on my face, like wind and storms and sun on the bark of a birch tree.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Claire took her first ride in the Segway knapsack yesterday afternoon in Denver. She enjoyed the view but preferred to romp on the carpet of thick grass in Skyline Park, a block and a half from home. She made the acquaintance of Shadow, a silky terrier who was visiting from Boulder, as well as a homeless man who came to life on a park bench when he saw Claire running toward him, thinking he was me.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

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