31 July 2010


My family held a small memorial service for my mom today out at her family's plot in Kennett Square (west of Philadelphia), and much to my surprise I did not fall apart. I was even able to speak at our little graveside service (no minister, per Mom's and Dad's request). Even though I hadn't prepared anything to say (figuring I would not be able to keep my composure) I was able to talk about my mom's creative spirit that awed but also inspired me, her especially close bond with sisters Carol and Judy in recent years, and her all-too-brief but sparkling years as Granna Extraordinaire to Lazarus and Maggie. It was a near-perfect day of sunshine and moderate (for here) humidity, and I think the loosely structured service was what my mom would have preferred (well, maybe... she was a very structured, organized person, but wouldn't have wanted a big fuss with Pomp and Circumstance). It definitely seemed more comfortable than a traditional service for those of us who gathered to remember and pay tribute to her. My grandparents, their respective parents, and several great-aunts and uncles are buried here. Although this service didn't include interment, we sprinkled a handful or so of Mom's ashes on the grave of her beloved great-grandma Robinson. This woman, who legend has it once climbed into my mom's playpen to soothe and then play with the restless toddler my mom surely was, died when Mom was just 4 years old yet left an inextinguishable light in Mom's heart. I hope they're hugging each other tight in heaven tonight.

We then went for lunch at a lovely restaurant down the road; I was able to get some family portraits and will share them tomorrow. I am so blessed with wonderful family and, despite the awful circumstances, am grateful to be able to see them again and to hear their stories about and love for my mom. Many thanks to them all, especially to Aunt Carol and Aunt Judy for making arrangements and cousin Jenny for bringing the colorful roses for us all to lay down in memory of Mom.

29 July 2010

"The first day of the rest of our lives"

Window on Delancey Street (Society Hill), Philadelphia, July 2010

200 Block of Delancey St., Philadelphia
My dad, my brother, and I are grieving together yet in our own ways. On the "first day of the rest of our lives" as Dad put it yesterday, my brother took a long bike ride out to the Philadelphia suburbs and back, my dad stayed in and watched movies, and I took a photo walk. I ended up walking some of the same routes that I have walked for 25 years, often with Mom; she loved walking and went just about everywhere on foot, and among her favorite routes was Delancey Street between 2nd and 4th Streets. Three Bears Park between 3rd and 4th almost always has children there -- my kids have played there during our visits -- and is just one of Philadelphia's many green spots. This is a beautiful city, and I found much peace walking today. I was a bit lonely, though; I miss Mom and our many walks together along these streets, most often to run errands but sometimes just to get out and talk. It seemed easier, more comfortable to talk while walking together than just sitting; Mom always had so much energy, an energy I don't quite possess, but we both have always had a compulsion to be outside, which is probably why we enjoyed our walks together so much.

I also went up to Washington Square, one of Philadelphia's four original city squares (the other three are Rittenhouse, Franklin, and Logan), a great place for people-watching and just meditating. One of my favorite trees is here: a gigantic sycamore, one of the many that line Philadelphia streets and offer cool shade in summer and beautiful variegated bark all year. We do have them in New Mexico, but nothing like this one.

Tonight after dinner I watered and weeded my mom's garden, which has always been a work of art in itself but suffered greatly this year when a few weeks of dry weather came in during their visit to New Mexico. Mom took such care with her garden; like me, she immersed herself in the process of choosing and tending plants, placing ornaments, and patiently evolving a design as plants grew and changed over the years. Since Dad plans to sell the house there isn't much point in replacing the plants that have died, so tomorrow I'll put on her gloves and take them out. Just another thing she had to let go when she left this earth, and another thing for us to miss about her. Her climbing rose, the same variety as the one below that I photographed in Washington Square today, did survive and in fact is thriving, which pleases me very much.

28 July 2010

A Tribute to Mom

Deborah (Gail) Lincoln Lear, 1942, Philadelphia, PA
Happy baby! (spring or summer 1941)
My mom passed away early this morning, just after midnight, after a two-year battle with ovarian cancer. My dad had called me Monday afternoon to tell me she wasn't doing well, so I snagged an early flight out of ABQ on Tuesday and made it to her bedside by mid-afternoon, in time for her to rally a bit and recognize my voice when I took her hand and told her I was here. I was stunned at how much "spark" she had lost in just the three weeks since I'd last seen her, but when she opened her eyes and looked at me, trying to speak (she could barely breathe by then), I still caught a glimpse of it, and smiled and told her I loved her.

Christmas 1941 (she looks like my Maggie...)

As the evening progressed, her breathing became more and more labored as her chest cavity and then her lungs filled with fluid. My brother and I went home to grab some dinner and a shower but a nurse called back almost immediately, telling us this was the end. We had just another two hours with her, each of us on one side of her holding a hand and telling her how much we loved and thanked her, and my dad by her head or softly rubbing her feet. She was heavily sedated by then and it was sometimes excruciating to watch her struggle a bit more each moment to catch even the shallowest breath. I kept telling her it was okay to let go, that we would miss her terribly but would take care of things; people probably say this more to have something to say than anything, but it was so hard watching her struggle so and not be able to do a thing to help her.

A high-school portrait, 1954 or so
Finally, just after midnight, with me, my dad, and my brother by her side, Mom drew and then released her last breath. In that endless moment disbelief and relief mingled, then were washed over with a tidal wave of sorrow. It is still not really comprehensible; we said goodbye to her several times, including this morning at the crematorium, but... the mind seems ill-equipped to absorb this reality. My brother and I are staying with my dad at their Philadelphia home, which is, as my brother puts it, "all Mom" -- soon after she and my dad moved in in 1985, she began dismantling the 1950s and 1970s renovations and restoring it to its 1860s origins as much as possible. Her hands, along with my dad's (and my brother's in some places) worked and smoothed the plaster that restored the walls after she ripped out the horrid fake-wood paneling. Her vision expresses itself in everything from the curl of the staircase to the perfect placement of treasures from her family and years of discriminating, creative collecting. As I write this on her computer, a mobile of origami cranes that I gave her in 1986 or so dances in the window nearby, and clay sculptures that my brother and I made for her in elementary school sit next to a paper-bag puppet that Lazarus made for her in kindergarten.

Mom, 1962
It comes in waves. I have been scanning and processing pictures from her childhood and early years of marriage and parenthood, and when I pause from the technical work, which absorbs me so well, it hits me again: she is gone. She isn't coming back. She fought courageously, even knowing it was probably a losing battle, and didn't want to let go because she did not want to leave us and her many projects, especially her unfinished oil paintings. A few weeks ago, as she grew weaker and her pain increased, she told my dad, "I thought I had more time." We did, too, Mom. God do we miss you. Mercifully, you are no longer in pain, and we who are left behind can ride the shockingly turbulent waves of grief together. As my father put it this morning, grimly, "Today is the first day of the rest of our lives." It will be okay, but it will always have a huge gap in it. Huge. As life goes on, new experiences and memories will squeeze in around the gap and maybe lessen the ache a bit, but it will never disappear.

26 July 2010

Fly Away

"Eventually... Spring," art quilt by Desiree Bowman

This beautiful art quilt is now on my bedroom wall; it's my gift to myself for... persevering. I awaken to it every morning (and lately in the middle of the night) and meditate on both the beautiful colors and composition and on the meaning: eventually, spring returns. Yes, it's summer now, and I am reveling in the warmth and sun and rain and flowers and all of it. But part of me has been living in winter for over three years now, and while I know things eventually turn, and they will because I'm working hard on my life foundations, some days I wonder if this metaphorical winter of my life will ever end. It will. I know this, because I have faith, which transcends fear if we uncage it. But some days, I can't help myself, I wonder.

In the meantime, life happens. And death, too. I fly to Philadelphia tomorrow (instead of Friday) because my mom now has "hours, maybe a few days" left. I pray that I make it in time. I have never been to this place before, this place of losing a beloved one, and so like everyone else who finds themselves here I am flying blind. Stunned. I had to say goodbye to my kids and my dog this evening; the kids get it (Lazarus more, Maggie less) but Lucy just doesn't, and she looked so bereft when I closed the door on her at my ex's house. I wouldn't have left her there except that she and the kids need each other right now... so I tell myself. Now I'm home, packing, coming across a few of Mom's things in the laundry, and the 4-year-old in me is wondering if I take them with me and bring them to her, will she magically wake up and be okay? Some would say she will wake up in another place, a greater place, magically healed and whole again. I can go with this... I don't think I can bear the alternative right now.

25 July 2010

Mi Familia, One Last Time

Lazarus, Dad, Mom, and Maggie, 5 July 2010, Albuquerque, NM

For the last few weeks of their stay here in New Mexico my mom was at the UNM Hospital trying to get her pain and nausea under control and to get strong enough for another course of chemotherapy. I took the kids up to visit her and, wanting to make the day special, she dressed up and met us away from her hospital room so we could have a fairly normal, comfortable visit.

Two days after I took this impromptu family portrait, Mom and Dad flew back to Philadelphia by medical transport, and Mom spent another two weeks at the Penn Hospital hoping they could do something, figure out a way to fix this awful thing that was taking her away from us far too quickly, far too soon.

The plan was, the kids and I would say "Goodbye for now" that sunny Monday in Albuquerque, then go to Philly and visit her in a few weeks once she was settled and feeling better.

That made it bearable for all of us. I firmly told myself this was just a temporary goodbye for Mom and the kids, that she wasn't saying Goodbye to her beloved grandchildren forever but just for a few weeks.

Dad, Mom, Maggie, and Laz, June 2009, ABQ
But part of me knew better, and I made sure to get some pictures because, well, everyone looked great and happy to be together and we hadn't had a family photo opportunity in some time. The picture at right, taken  last summer at the ABQ Botanical Garden, is less than optimal because Laz kept looking at a bug on the ground, and my beloved Konica-Minolta had just gotten its fatal lens scratch the week before. Mom didn't want to be in the picture because she felt very self-conscious in her head scarf (her first round of chemo had, as predicted, caused her to lose her hair) but I insisted because, you know, family pictures are essential. The last family pictures I had were from the year before; the one below was taken in May 2008 during a picnic at my parents' property just north of town.

Dad, Mom, Laz, and Maggie, May 2008, near Magdalena, NM

(Yes, I know I'm never in the family pictures. But I'm the Great and Powerful Oz, always behind the lens, so I'm in the pictures in spirit. Or something like that.)

So it was time for a new family picture. Not the last, I told myself. But it was, as I knew deep in my heart it would be, because I will be going to Philadelphia by myself later this week. It hit me last night that in order to be with my mom during her last days, I have to leave my children behind; she doesn't want them to see her like this, and neither does my ex-husband. I guess I agree but, God, what a choice. Should young children be allowed to remember their beloved Granna as vital and engaged, or to see the reality of life and, ultimately, of death? Since I don't really know the answer to this question, and other people involved are insisting on the former, I will with hesitation and sorrow leave them behind as I make this journey.

It is raining today. Steadily, as it has for several days now, soaking the earth and bringing the clouds in close and tight around us. The garden I planted for Mom on Mothers Day this year is thriving, the range is greening up, and the ditches and dirt tanks are filling up with water and spadefoot frogs who sing at night to celebrate their two or so months of life above ground.
Celebrate what you have. Celebrate it now. Celebrate it often.

22 July 2010

Summer Storms

Near South Baldy summit, northeast view, July 2010

Sap on Ponderosa, Timber Peak Trail, July 2010
Yesterday's hike in the Magdalenas has stayed with me all day today and is even sustaining me after some bad news about my mom tonight. There's a reason "going up to the mountain" so often represents not just a physical quest but a spiritual one; the two often go together, and certainly did for me yesterday. Although my main objective was simply escape, I also wanted a good high-altitude workout for aerobic conditioning (I tend to get light-headed during mountain hikes, in part because I have very low blood pressure) and to practice my landscape photography. The workout was a big win; not once did I get dizzy because I paced myself and stayed very well hydrated. The landscape practice, not so great; I learned a few things (I need to figure out how to compensate for the big difference in light values for sky and land; and I need a single, major focal point) but still prefer close-ups. In any case, I really like some of the shots I got yesterday, so I'll keep at it; this old dog can always learn new tricks...

Magdalena Mountain meadow, south(east?) view, July 2010

21 July 2010

Up the Mountain

The bestest hiking buddy ever (and a nice view, too), near South Baldy, Magdalena Mtns., July 2010

Summer in the meadow at 10,000 feet
Feeling pissed off and disillusioned and not wanting to stew in it all, I went rambling instead with my dog and my camera and ended up on top of the world... this part of the world, anyway. After lunch I headed into the Magdalena Mountains via Water Canyon and followed the steep, sometimes-perilous road to the South Baldy trailhead. Once there I couldn't hike far because thunderstorms were approaching from both east and west (this is our stormy season, after all), so I hoofed it to the almost-summit near the Magdalena Ridge Observatory to see the storms off to the west, then dropped down into a beautiful meadow where I took lots of flower shots (of course) and Lucy lolled around and snapped at bees.

After contemplating the flowers for a while, I drove to the Timber Peak Trail and took a serious hike on what is now my new favorite trail in the Magdalenas (there are many, so I'll have to test more to be sure). The image below shows the view towards the south (South Baldy is off to the right of this view) and captures fairly well the steep descent from this ridge into the east fork of Sawmill Canyon (I believe, if I'm reading my topo map correctly). Lucy flushed a deer from just above the trail and I was astounded to see it bound straight down the hill into the thickets below, a good 500-foot descent in a few seconds.

Looking south from the Timber Peak Trail, Magdalena Mountains, July 2010

At an elevation of over 10,000 feet the air is thin, but aside from a few steep scrambles this trail is fairly level until the end (which I saved for next week). Along the way it offers stunning views from both sides of the ridgeline that leads up to Timber Peak. The shot below shows the winding road that ascends from the flats near the top of the image, between the end of the mountains and the small ridge to the north. I get a bit acrophobic every time I make this drive but the drive down wasn't nearly as bad as the drive up, perhaps because I felt so serene from both the beauty and the exertion of the hike.
View towards the east (roughly) from the Timber Peak Trail, Magdalena Mtns., July 2010

Sometimes escape is the best medicine... in fact, I happen to believe it is most of the time. Memo to self: everything happens for a reason, and ending up on a mountain top for the afternoon and evening was exactly what I needed. Lucy and I will sleep well tonight, and I'll have more pics (mostly macro, which I still prefer to landscapes and probably always will) tomorrow.

16 July 2010

In the Kitchen Garden: Natural Pest Control

Praying mantis (Mantis religiosa), July 2010

Today was a great day for spying on garden life, thanks in large part to my friend Nicole's sharp eyes; in addition to this praying mantis (who is quite likely the same one Maggie saw as a smaller "baby mantis" a week or two ago) we saw numerous ladybugs and a Monarch caterpillar, the latter on one of my fennel plants. Not an aphid in sight, and in fact all of my plants seem pest-free despite my absolute ban on chemical pest control. I was amazed at how unphased this creature seemed by my lens, which was just inches away; it did crawl under the sunflower leaf it was on for a moment (below right) but was back up on top by the time I put my camera away. No doubt surveying dinner....

I've been a bit quiet this week because school has started up again and the kids are here for the week and need extra TLC because they really miss Granna and Grandpa (who went back to Philly last week). I plan to get out and about next week to practice my landscape photography (here's a great tutorial that I plan to study carefully), and to have some serious fun as well as get some great shots of the beautiful New Mexico landscape. We call this the Land of Enchantment for good reason....

12 July 2010

2010 Magdalena Old Timers Parade, Part 3: Sweethearts of the Rodeo

Rodeo Sweethearts, Magdalena, New Mexico, July 2010

What's a Western small-town parade without the queens, princesses, and sweethearts? Every year these ladies dress in their finest, gussy up their horses with ribbons and glitter (I confess I always wanted to ride a prettily decorated horse when I was a kid, though I was happy to ride at all), and smile and wave sweetly to the crowd.

2009 Socorro County Rodeo Queen (Why can't I find her name in news archives?)

Many of these ladies are also accomplished rodeo contestants, honor students, or otherwise highly engaged in their communities; and the rodeo queen, princess, and sweetheart crowns often come not just with accolades but also scholarships to give them a leg up on their futures.

2009 Miss Alamo Navajo, Latanya Apache of Alamo

Being always and forever obsessed with horses, I must admit I glance briefly at these sparkling, accomplished ladies and then stare long and longingly at their beautiful steeds. Miss Alamo Navajo's paint horse (above) is especially striking in both appearance and bearing, and the heart on the forehead of Little Miss Rodeo's mount is just like the one I painted on my favorite horse model lo these many years ago. I never thought about adorning myself, just the horses... but I'll agree that the pretty costumes and sparkly hats make for a fine show indeed.

2010 Little Miss Rodeo New Mexico, Teghann Rose Gonzales of Socorro

11 July 2010

2010 Magdalena Old Timers Parade, Part 2: The Kids

Riding on the buckboard, Magdalena Old Timers Parade, July 2010

As I go through my photos from yesterday's parade (I'm still not even halfway through; I got a LOT of shots), my heart leaps when I see images of kids that capture their essential characters and their excitement at riding or walking in the big parade. The parade includes families from town, the area ranches, and the Alamo Navajo Reservation; political candidates, mostly local and a few state-level; and area art, cultural, and other groups. Kids abound both in the parade and on the sidelines, where they scramble to gather up the handsful of candy tossed from the cars or floats. Those in the parade are often dressed up extra-special, and I particularly enjoy seeing the traditional Navajo attire and jewelry, the latter often passed down across many generations. I noticed this year that only the girls and women were dressed as such and then realized this has largely been the case for most if not all of the past seven years I've attended this parade. In past years groups of girls and women also danced traditional Navajo dances during the parade, but I didn't see that last year or this year, and miss it. In any case, the kids really make the parade special, so here are some more shots. Tomorrow, the other stars of the show: the horses.

"Daddy said to throw the candy to the other kids, but what about us??"

10 July 2010

2010 Magdalena Old Timers Parade, Part 1: The Queens

I absolutely love the Magdalena Old Timers Parade, and I especially love that the Queen is always an older woman from the community. I have lots more pictures to post but have to go see the kids in a play in Socorro, then have dinner with my good friend Christine. Enjoy your weekend, everyone.

08 July 2010

Here Come the Old Timers!

Clark and friends on the Golden Spur Saloon "float" at the Magdalena Old Timers Parade, 2008

Magdalena's annual Old-Timers Reunion starts tomorrow and runs through the weekend, featuring rodeo, arts and crafts, music, dancing, and the always-entertaining Old Timers Parade. I'll be there with my camera; I've gotten some good shots over the past few years and look forward to a great shoot this year. The shot above is one of my favorites; these are not actors in costumes but real-life characters in this western town at the edge of nowhere. I look forward to this great diversion and will be sure to post some pictures of it next week.


02 July 2010

And now...

Mom's house; June 2010
My mom decided one day two years ago, a few months before her cancer diagnosis, to build small stone houses out on their property north of town. This is the one she finished. I usually happen upon it along one of the arroyos on the property when I take Lucy or the kids out there for hikes; it's safely out of the water's reach even at the height of our summer rains, and it has a lovely view of the Magdalena Mountains to the south and the Bear Mountains to the north.

Mom so wanted to build a real house on their property, a big house to live in, where she could host parties, make and show art, spend time with the grandchildren as they grew, and just stare at the mountains and enjoy the quiet. She won't get to build that house. In fact, she will never see even this small house again, and it absolutely breaks my heart. My mom has so many dreams, so many unfinished projects, so much left to do. And now she has maybe a few weeks left, weeks of uncertainty and grief and forever-goodbyes. We haven't been able to find the care she needs here in New Mexico (which is just unbelievable to me), so she wants to go back home to Philadelphia, in main part to be with her sisters and other family.

This is so unfair. It always is.

There is a house built out of stone
Wooden floors, walls and window sills
Tables and chairs worn by all of the dust
This is a place where I don't feel alone
This is a place where i feel at home

And I built a home
For you
For me

Until it disappeared
From me
From you
And now, it's time to leave and turn to dust

(Patrick Watson/The Cinematic Orchestra)