had been a hard year. These fifth graders had tested and used
every asset, every fuse, every alternate mental wellspring I
On the last day of school, at the evening graduation ceremony for all
the fifth graders and their families, I took my turn at the lectern,
only to be interrupted by an unexpected event - my entire class stood
as one of the fathers came down the aisle and handed me a large
thick brown envelope. Inside was a check for $150, and a
signed by all my kids, saying, “We know we were
hard, but we worked for this. We want you to buy something
wonderful just for yourself. Inside the envelope, signed by
each child’s parents, was an accounting of which jobs had
been done to earn their contribution to my check.
lowered my head, and then, unable to stop, rushed
into the middle of all of them and embraced each kid. It was
mayhem. When the audience quit clapping, and I got control of
myself, I approached the podium, and began again.
promise all of you, my best kids in this school, that I will find
every garden store on the way up to my cabin - the very one most of
you visited because it was your reward for reading over 3,500 pages
of library books - and I will plant and name a columbine for each and
every one of you.”
It was a wet evening in the
high desert that late May.
Two weeks later, I kept my
promise, arriving at Anima, the tumbled down wooden cabin that lived
up to the old cliche: if sompin’can go wrong, it will, toting
four flats of the beautiful, graceful Rocky Mountain
Columbines. Their cornflower blue and white heads
cordially off thin, but tough stems. They echoed the sky that
the water pipes blew, the toilet overflowed, a critter had wintered
over, and a tree was down over the driveway. Days later after
all was righted, I toted those flats across the little wooden
bridge and, stood beside the white wedding veil Lake Fork stream, and
kept my promise. Each child was planted in that rich,
loam, close enough to water, but far away enough not to be swept away
by the yearly June snow melt from Wheeler Peak and its companions -
highest in New Mexico, last hurrah of the Rocky Mountains.
Years drifted by without my permission.
summers ago was the first time in a very long while that I was able
to go to Anima, and be there just for myself. I’d seen my
husband, Robert go where he needed to be. We’d walked a
punishing road for years until Lewy body dementia took him to that
better place. When I stood there on the
I was met by an unbearable symphony of beauty - Rocky Mountain
Columbine crowding the Lake Fork Stream were nodding their
hello-welcome back heads in the breeze, greeting
I made my way down, sat amongst them, not on them, finally taking
handfuls of my white wedding vail stream to wash a teary, muddied
face. I spoke every kid’s name, stunned at how I could
remember each, now including Robert’s. Finally, I
rose and went into the cabin to make it mine again.
Over the weeks, I’d put down the mop, quit the vacuum, stop
dusting or window washing, often to just visit my kids -
talking and singing to them. One afternoon, the thunder
the lightning crashed and the rain gushed off the metal roof.
The stream rose and tumbled brown in a frantic effort to rid itself
of the extra tumult. When it passed, I went outside and saw all the
kids bent down from it, and one columbine, head submerged, was
enduring through that mighty stream rush, bravely, nodding this way
and that, its stem near to breaking.
me, little one. You’re like me,” I whispered,
inching closer to the gush, reaching down. “I’m so
sorry for you. You were so beautiful.
so beaten over.”
next day, when the sun wandered effortlessly down the steep mountain
side, lighting the stream, I saw the columbines begin to stand once
more, but the little one caught in such a torrent, was still
By mid-afternoon, it had pulled itself up, not without injury, going
to a somewhat better place. I went to its aid, found a
and propped it up.
was the beginning of my lessons from my kids - now my teachers - the
columbines. They taught me it takes time to stand
after a terrible storm, but stand they and I must.
choice. No hysterics. No sorry-for- myself drama.
the weeks, on my alone journey, I realized, I wasn't alone.
kindness and love of my daughters, my friends, their
and sometimes perfect strangers became my V-stick to standing
straighter. Young bankers took my hand and were
with my tutoring, Social Security people always told me how sorry
they were for my loss, and I felt they really did
Do care. I learned that the world is full of wonderful people.
brain was taken, 40 minutes after his last breath. Today, the
dozens of slides harvested from it teach University of New Mexico
medical classes daily because he had clear and perfect
representations of both Lewy Body and Alzheimers. His
for me, is my greatest joy, because I know he lives and
teaches, going on in beauty, like our marriage, like my life
Last year, I was on a hike in a Santa Fe
Wilderness with new friends. All of us belong to the
Albuquerque Senior Hiking Club. Perched on a high
rock beside a waterfall, eating a peach, looked at
somebody took me to the most expensive restaurant in town,” I
said, chuckling, “It wouldn’t even come close to this
lunch, here, on this rock, with you guys, with this peach
dripping down my elbow!”
“I know, one gal
answered. “I don’t know how or why, but every time
I see a stream, or a waterfall, or the mountain, it’s as
if I’ve never seen it before.”
did we start living in the moment?” I asked. “Everything
new? More precious?”
of age,” another said quietly, “If we’re lucky, we
see with new eyes?”
at each other, knowing truly, as senior citizens, how deeply
all shared these words.
out, hands in back of my head, I faded back to my teachers, my kids,
the columbines, knowing that each and every time, each and every year
I have left on this earth, each and every trail, each and every bud,
blossom, each and every day, night, sunrise, sunset, it will be as if
I’ve never seen it before.
my little bent over columbine? She went on - curved over the
stream, nodding gracefully, propped a bit, always looking all
In the end, I like to think she made seeds for new life.
Perhaps they were taken by the stream, and perhaps the wind cupped
and scattered them onto the rich mountain earth - just like Robert’s
gift. I know that being who I am now is like that
columbine - I make seeds and scatter them to the world because by
enduring, walking on with determination, I inspire a younger world.
it shall it is with me,” I often whisper to her.
“Thank you, my teacher. I got a V-stick too, to prop me
up. But, lately, I’m standing pretty straight up towards
our beautiful sky.”
Over the years, many of my 11 classes of fifth
graders have found me again through Facebook,
and now texts. They are all my columbines now. In
summer of 2013, Isabel placed Robert’s ashes under the bench
he’d built for her years back, naming it “Just for Two.”
He lives beside the Lake Fork. This year, Wild Mountain
Lockspur grow graceful and tall beside the bench - just as he was.
Four days ago, I, and
four of my friends summited 13,161 foot Wheeler Peak. One
of us wanted to do this to celebrate her 70th birthday. Our
baby is 65, and I'm the eldest at 78. Throughout the difficult
ascent, young people stopped us constantly expressing awe, then
encouragement. That encouragement closed the circle and gave us
the determination to make the top. Like my little columbine -
the circle is complete, and new blossoms unfold; like rich adventures
in people's lives.
we always help make circles complete.
write to an author, please type his/her name
the subject line of the message.)
Preservation Foundation, Inc., A