Off the Cuff

by Shelley Fowler

June 4th, 2008

Before I hit the milestone,

I hit a brick wall conjured up in the bathroom mirror.
It was this past Sunday – the day before my 50th birthday. I had just loaded up the purple toothbrush with extra-whitening Crest. As I opened up my mouth and began brushing my teeth, I looked at my reflection in the mirror. I stopped brushing mid-action, and as the white toothpaste eased its way between my lips I wondered who in the world was the woman peering so quizzically back at me!

The shape of the face was familiar, as were the soft hazel eyes. But, when had gravity snuck in and begun tugging at bits and pieces, and from whence had the lines and creases arrived? And, perhaps most perplexing, why were they suddenly magnified and defined so clearly on the mirror’s surface? As though they hadn’t been there yesterday, or last month, or last year.

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Yes, it was at that telling moment that I actually felt old – for the first time in my life! And looking at my reflection, I had to (finally) admit my youth had silently taken flight without me being fully aware of its leaving, and there was no way to get it back. And so I hit the brick wall of time full force and quite ungracefully, and bloodied my spirit in the process. I spent the rest of the day before my 50th birthday feeling anything but beautiful and vital. And I didn’t do my aging face any good either, since I did more frowning than smiling, and more crying than laughing.

 

Then came the dawn that heralded my 50th year of life upon the earth. I awoke from some fuzzy dream and stared up at the puffy white clouds that floated against the blue background of the bedroom ceiling. I didn’t stir for a long time, but just laid there, soaking up the cheerful songs of the birds outside the bedroom window and thinking early-morning thoughts. Then I stretched my arms towards the clouds….and asked God to forgive me!

I had spent the previous day bemoaning the effects of time upon my physical being. And by doing so I had thrown aside and forgotten the fact that I am a very fortunate and blessed being. For I am alive! I am whole, strong, resilient, loving, loved and lovely…no matter how old or creased or worn or wrinkled I may be – or become. God’s light is in my soul and His peaceful joy is in my spirit and there was no time to wish for a way of turning back time! No, indeed! It was time to say, “Thank you, God!” while truly appreciating the gift of another sunrise!

And so I returned to stand in front of the bathroom mirror, all sleepy-eyed and one year older. But, unlike the morning before, I didn’t look with disdain upon my reflection, or wonder who in the world I had become. Instead, I reached out and tenderly touched the face of the woman staring back at me from the mirror. I smiled at her and watched how her soft, hazel eyes sparkled in response. I then blessed each line and crease, each bit and piece that has shifted with the passage of time.

And as I picked up the purple toothbrush and added a dab of Crest to its bristles, I reminded myself that just because the calendar dictates the fact I’m now half a century old doesn’t mean my spirit has to comply. For after all, I feel like I’m 37.…and I think that’s where I’ll stay for awhile!

 

 

 

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May21st 2008

 

 

It was last Sunday evening and it was time for me to keep a promise I’d made not only to myself, but also to Shiloh, Sweet Pea and their cousins, Max and Annie. It had been way too long since we had banded together as a merry crew of adventure seekers, and way past time that we revisited and rediscovered the simple beauty of the Munson.

With tails all a-wag and eyes a-sparkling, the dogs bounded from the confines of the Ford pickup before I could shut off the engine. Sweet Pea instantly caught the scent of a gray-coated jackrabbit high-tailing it across a patch of the family ground, and she yipped her delight as she tore off in hot pursuit of the creature. Keen-eyed Shiloh joined her. And it was quite a race..for about a minute! The fleet-footed jackrabbit scored the victory.

As the dogs danced ahead of me, and with the warm southern breeze caressing my face and spirit, I relaxed into the familiar cadence of my steps and the rhythm of my heartbeat. Clear down to my toes, I breathed in the freshness of the prairie air and ‘golly-eyed’ the wonderfully flat horizons lying so peacefully beside the azure-blue and cloudless sky.

I then noticed I wasn’t walking alone. My companion was my own shadow, and it was reminding me to practice better posture! We walked a ways in companionable silence, both of us standing much taller and with our shoulders thrown back. And then I stopped, faced my shadow and took a long look at who I am, what I believe, and where I’m going (and want to go) in life. I heard echoing in my mind, “I’m not where I want to be, but thank God I’m not where I used to be.” And so, I raised my arms towards heaven and me and my shadow celebrated our existence! I also thanked God for all the blessings I acknowledge and all the blessings I sometimes miss on my daily walk through life. And then I reminded Him (and myself) that I trust Him not only for and with my life and next breath, but also with the lives of those whom I love and cherish.

Just then I noticed the dogs had stopped their wanderings and were congregated around a black object lying amidst the golden blades of grass. They were in a circle and taking turns flipping on their backs and wriggling their bodies near the black thing, which turned out to be the fur-lined hide of a long-dead skunk! And there, beside the hide were all the bones of the little skunk, bones once covered with sinew and muscle, but now bleached white (for the most part) by the sun’s rays.

I was fascinated by the treasure nature had laid out before me. There was the curved, intricately knit together spine, a divine jigsaw puzzle of hundreds of bones. And on either side of it were two shoulder blades that were practically weightless and whose shape made me think of miniature sand dollars. Delicate ribs, no thicker than a toothpick, were lying all around. And I was quite intrigued by the still-intact hinged joints of the skunk’s ankles. Such tiny bones, much like the spine, and put together so perfectly. The foot bones were capped by sharp, black claws, and on the underside, and still attached, leathery foot pads that had once cushioned each step that skunk had walked through its short life.

I could have, maybe should have, left all the bones of the skunk’s skeleton lying there upon the prairie grass and allowed them to be scattered by time. But, I didn’t. Instead, I reverently gathered up the spine, feet, some ribs and the shoulder blades and carried them back across the mile I had walked.

I know. To many folks, the bones of a lowly skunk wouldn’t be considered a treasure. But, to me they were like fine pieces of art. Art created not by man, but by God. And art that deserved appreciation.

I had to laugh by the time we all got back to the pickup, for I wasn’t the only one who had found a treasure. Max had in his mouth part of the furry rawhide of what appeared to be a rabbit and Shiloh had found a rather large bone belonging to who knows what, which he proudly and promptly dropped at my feet.

I gathered up our bounty from nature, gingerly put each piece in the bed of the Ford, and then we headed back to town, a spent band of adventure seekers, all stinky and grinnin’ from ear to ear!

 

 

 

 

 

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April 30th 2008

 

 

 

I well remember the time when I was loath to pack my bags and head out from Boise City to anywhere. I was by no means agoraphobic, but I just didn’t feel the need to frequently adventure beyond the county line. It seemed like everything I desired was corralled within the boundaries of Cimarron County.

And then my comfortable world was altered. Two souls I dearly loved found their wings and went flying off to heaven. And although I was so thankful that their earthly suffering was behind them, I also felt a profound tenderness of loss within my heart. Soon after that I suddenly lost the fellowship of a person whom I had walked beside for over a decade.

Thus, I felt like I had lost part of my ‘reason for being’, my comfort zone, as well as my sense of responsibility. It was during that time I did much soul-searching and seeking for my life’s purpose. As I walked those dusty roads west of town day after day reestablishing my equilibrium, little did I know that God was getting ready to show me a new path and ‘reason for being’. He stretched out His hand and asked me to trust Him to lead me not only further down the country road, but also beyond the county line.

So, should God tap you on the shoulder or speak to your heart when you’re searching for your purpose, I suggest you first listen, then trust, then jump in with both feet!

No matter where your ‘county line’ lies, you will be blessed when you walk across it. I promise you will find not only renewal for your soul, but also a brand new song for your heart to sing!

Driving the flats and then the hills between Boise City and downstate on a weekly basis affords me much time for thinking about a plethora of subjects and ideas.

And lately, one of the subjects has been politics and politicians. How can I not help but think about such things, what with all the constant news coverage on the candidates vying to be our next president?

Well, in all my musing I’ve decided that the next time I see a shooting star I’m going to make this wish: a media black-out that commences the first day of June and runs until the day we all go mark our ballots in November!

By now it is quite evident where all the candidates stand on all the issues. Big issues, small issues and personal issues. And just think how many millions (or by now, billions?) of dollars could be saved, or spent on worthy causes, instead of campaigns and campaign ads proving the unworthiness of the opponents. Plus, we wouldn’t have to listen to Hillary and Obama rangling for top billing. Instead, we’d just be surprised to find one or the others name on our ballot and go from there.

I know, I know.just fanciful wishing from a woman who has grown weary of what makes our country great – the political process. Which isn’t to say I’m going to stop keeping my eyes on the heavens, looking for that shooting star!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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April 16th 2008 

 

 

 

I don’t know about you all, but lately I’ve been hearing a lot about what is being termed “2012”. Coming from different sources and angles, many scientists and researchers believe that is the year many cataclysmic changes are going to occur on our planet.

The first time I heard about the subject was in connection to the Mayan calendar and its predictions. The next show I watched presented the Biblical view and how prophecies converge with the scientific findings. So, it isn’t just some odd ball theory being thrown about by those folks who predicted the end of the world with the dawning of 2000.

There are many natural things already taking place that bring creedance to the concept. For years now, the magnetic poles of the earth have been shifting. And sun spots have been going in cycles. Gamma rays are shooting through space and towards earth. And along with all these threats, there looms predictions of a collision with a meteor, more earthquakes, as well as hurricanes and volcanic eruptions as the axis of the world does a little wobbling. And on 12/21/12 our globe will be in direct alignment with the center of the Milky Way, which is supposed to create a massive surge of energy.

I hear all these opinions and facts. I absorb the scenarios and possibilities. And a friend adds a dose of reality into the mix by reminding me the Mayan calendar may be off a little, and all these things could happen on either side of 2012!

Thus, while the dogs and I enjoyed a walk along the rutted road at the Munson a few days ago, many thoughts and potentials tumbled around in my mind. And by the time my brain was finished mulling over the subject, I had polished a few opinions, even as I found more questions than answers.

And so, I let myself imagine that the predictions are right on the money. Which means we all have but four years of reasonably peaceful life left to live.

And then I thought, “What would I do with the finite time between now and then?”.

Would I become more materialistic or more humanitarian? Would I cleave to my routines and safety nets, or would I dare to live out my dreams and desires? Would I hunker down with my arms crossed, fearing the future and dreading the end? Or would I fling wide those same arms with joy, thankful to be alive each minute? Would I choose to walk upon stony ground with a stonier heart, while despair and disappointment festered within my soul? Or would I seek the soft ground of peace and hope, turning my attention away from myself and towards loving other souls while there was still time?

I was watching the dogs loping across the field of golden grass when I was stopped in my tracks by a realization that followed the questions.

My “2012”-and yours – could perchance occur tomorrow, or three years or (should the dire predictions be wrong) three decades from now! The end of our lives is not set in stone.

And so, with the Oklahoma wind as my witness, I pledged an oath to God that I would live each day as if it were my last! I would not go so fast that I missed the beauty of the stars and the sunrise. I would not go so slow that I didn’t give voice to my loving heart. I would hug and I would pray, I would dance and I would sing, I would laugh and I would cry when the spirit stirred within me. And I would look neither backwards nor too far ahead, choosing instead to appreciate each moment!

Just then, just after I determined all these things, I felt the voice of my grandfather, Pa French, speaking to me from across time and space. I closed my eyes as I heard him lovingly say, “Remember, Daughter. This is the day which the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it!”.

Yes, this day – not tomorrow and not down the road – is all we possess! I pray that with each day I am blessed with life, I will remember to rejoice to be glad in it!

May each of you do the same….as we all walk towards 2012!

 

 

 

 

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“Oh, sing to me of Spring, Of nature flowing free. Of daffodils upon the hill, and red-breasted robins in the tree.”

These words are part of a short poem I wrote a few days ago as I witnessed – with great gladness – the advent of a new season. I don’t know about any of you, but I have been begging the lilac bushes to bloom, as well as the elms, the redbuds and even the dandelions.

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I’m not sure why I have been so eager for warm weather and lots of sunshine. It’s not like we had a terribly long and hard winter in Cimarron County. There were no bad blizzards, no ice that clung to the ground for over a month, no howling winds or week-long lows. But, for some unknown reason, it seems like Spring had to be nudged, prodded and finally dislodged from the grip of old man Winter this year! At least that’s how it felt to me.

Thus, I am quite awash in thankfulness when I notice the delicate magenta hue of the redbud and the hint of green upon the limbs of the elm trees. I smile when I walk past one of my many lilac bushes and see tiny leaves, knowing that the next time I pass that way the bush will be full with the promise of purple flowers that give off such a sweet scent. I stop and admire the daffodils and the tulips that are working their way up from the earth to once again bless our eyes with their colorful existence. And I am impatiently waiting for the sun-yellow flowering of the forsythia bush that sits beside my driveway.

And I do believe that the birds of the air are also happy that their world has made it past another equinox! Gray mourning doves are softly cooing, merry robins are chirping, God’s little sparrows are tweeting and the grackles – well, the grackles are just being their own comical and raucous selves, strutting along the side of the road and bugging the heck out of all the other birds!

And then there are the bovines and horses, the goats and dogs and one funny-faced donkey, all of whom I pass by on my travels. I smile when I see herds of cattle splayed out against a backdrop of emerald wheat, their calves playing with one another. Or there will be a pasture with a trio of horses gathered near the fence, and I notice how their manes are ruffled by the warming breeze as they seem to talk among themselves. Or I’ll see a couple of dogs companionably walking down a dirt road early in the morning, knowing they’re checking out their newly-green realm and looking for a rabbit to chase.

As I am wont to do, I honk the horn in greeting as I pass by all of them, and perhaps it is my imagination at work, but they each seem to be like me – beaming with joyfulness for the return of Spring!

 

 

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It appears I have two canines with a penchant for eating wood! Their names are Shiloh and Sweet Pea, and at their current rate of consumption, I figure there will be many holes along the bottom of my fence by Summer’s end.

So, I’m putting out an offer to any of you with some old (even rusty) hog wire that you need to get off your hands! I’ll take it! Since I’m rarely home during the week, and should you happen to have it in the back of your pickup, you can drop it off in my driveway and then leave me a message and I’ll send you a check. (Only in small-town America would such a suggestion work!) Or, leave me a message and I’ll pick it up when I’m home.

This past weekend, having no wire at my disposal, I decided to assign a guardian angel to stand between my kids and the remaining and still whole fence boards. I figured Shiloh and Sweet Pea would be fearful of the angel’s ankles and would thus stay confined within the yard. Or so I thought! Sunday evening Shiloh came walking towards me from across the yard. His tail was wagging, and I noticed the glint of victory shining forth from his brown eyes. I also noticed there was a gnawed-upon golden sandal dangling from the corner of his mouth. At the same moment, his dear sister, Sweet Pea, began barking from outside the fence! Score: Dogs 1 Angel 0

(Note: last paragraph was written on 04/01/08.)

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It appears I have two canines with a penchant for eating wood! Their names are Shiloh and Sweet Pea, and at their current rate of consumption, I figure there will be many holes along the bottom of my fence by Summer’s end.

So, I’m putting out an offer to any of you with some old (even rusty) hog wire that you need to get off your hands! I’ll take it! Since I’m rarely home during the week, and should you happen to have it in the back of your pickup, you can drop it off in my driveway and then leave me a message and I’ll send you a check. (Only in small-town America would such a suggestion work!) Or, leave me a message and I’ll pick it up when I’m home.

This past weekend, having no wire at my disposal, I decided to assign a guardian angel to stand between my kids and the remaining and still whole fence boards. I figured Shiloh and Sweet Pea would be fearful of the angel’s ankles and would thus stay confined within the yard. Or so I thought! Sunday evening Shiloh came walking towards me from across the yard. His tail was wagging, and I noticed the glint of victory shining forth from his brown eyes. I also noticed there was a gnawed-upon golden sandal dangling from the corner of his mouth. At the same moment, his dear sister, Sweet Pea, began barking from outside the fence! Score: Dogs 1 Angel 0

(Note: last paragraph was written on 04/01/08.)

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************

 

 

It appears I have two canines with a penchant for eating wood! Their names are Shiloh and Sweet Pea, and at their current rate of consumption, I figure there will be many holes along the bottom of my fence by Summer’s end.

So, I’m putting out an offer to any of you with some old (even rusty) hog wire that you need to get off your hands! I’ll take it! Since I’m rarely home during the week, and should you happen to have it in the back of your pickup, you can drop it off in my driveway and then leave me a message and I’ll send you a check. (Only in small-town America would such a suggestion work!) Or, leave me a message and I’ll pick it up when I’m home.

This past weekend, having no wire at my disposal, I decided to assign a guardian angel to stand between my kids and the remaining and still whole fence boards. I figured Shiloh and Sweet Pea would be fearful of the angel’s ankles and would thus stay confined within the yard. Or so I thought! Sunday evening Shiloh came walking towards me from across the yard. His tail was wagging, and I noticed the glint of victory shining forth from his brown eyes. I also noticed there was a gnawed-upon golden sandal dangling from the corner of his mouth. At the same moment, his dear sister, Sweet Pea, began barking from outside the fence! Score: Dogs 1 Angel 0

(Note: last paragraph was written on 04/01/08.)

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