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Continuing Conversations on the Human Spirit

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Amazing Discoveries

I love this job! It has often afforded me the opportunity to take a peek into other’s stories and discover the person behind the moment of meeting. 


There was the Country & Western Singer struggling with alcohol and yearning for one more admiring crowd with whom to share his talent. Then there was the high wire electrician who I met on his daily rounds caring for an elementary age daughter, assisting in classes and helping out at his church.  How did he come to such a tame existence, you may ask? He was blown from a high electrical platform in a Georgia nuclear plant when someone accidentally caused the core to drop into the reactor. Kzroom!  I met him at what turned out to be the end of is life after he struggled and finally succumbed to radioactive burns for over ten years.  He was a kind and heroic soul. There was the baseball scout and world traveller who I met between a trip to Vietnam and planning his next trip to Paris.  Voracious reader, he researched broadly his next adventure. Unfortunately he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and chose to heroically meet it head on, without chemo, and make his final journey in style. I have chauffeured ex-talkshow hosts, University Professors, County Deputies, massage therapists, cosmetologists, teachers, ministers, talented and industrious street people and many hourly workers about their daily role serving others in the Grand Valley.


Yesterday, however, I met another unusual rider. He boarded on a previous run to be delivered to a Walmart Neighborhood Grocery. As he returned home we began a brief conversation. I asked how long he had been riding a wheelchair. “Several years,” he replied. He complained about the ravages of old age, a recurring theme among transit passengers. “I worked for a Silicone Valley aerospace company,” he replied. “Was head of HR, drew a six figure salary.”


I looked at his disheveled figure, crumpled in an electric wheel chair with white plastic grocery bags strung over the handles. What a comedown I thought. Six Figures to subsistence living. “What Happened,” I asked as I unloaded him. 


“Had a heart attack, then another. I tried to return to work but I couldn’t keep up the pace. I become a victim of diabetes having lost his right leg just below the knee. We lost our home and likelihood of other employment. The bottom just fell out. It happened relatively fast. Subsequently we decided to leave California and move closer to kids. So here we are.”


“Here he is,” I thought, “living in a subsidized apartment in a strange new world scraping by on a monthly disability check.” 
“I’m 74,” he continued.  No one wants to hire me at my age.
“I can see how it feels the bottom dropped out.”


I finished releasing the anchors on his chair so that he could move toward the lift. I stepped to the door. He turned his chair and three of the six bags he was carrying caught on the safety bar ripping holes in their bottom, a cruel emphasis to his discouraging tale. 


I picked up and repackaged his meager food items, positioned his chair on the lift and helped him de-board. Chairs are the least favorite devices to transport. Drivers have to be very careful and attend to strict procedures to assure safety. Once on the sidewalk my new friend turned and drove off promising to see me another day.


At 77, I understand his observation of old age. I often feel like I am teetering on a quivering precipice uncertain about the future and wondering how much longer I can hold the line. The meeting of our stories, however, was strangely affirming, reminding me to appreciate life daily for as long as it lasts. 

Surprise Submittal

A diminutive hobbled creature leaning on his rustic staff can often be observed waiting to cross intersections or attempt mid street jaywalks in our city. His crinkled emotionless expression appears, patiently gazing straight ahead, depicting Grumpy of the Seven Dwarfs, awaiting a large enough break in the traffic to signal opportunity. One of our permanent homeless personalities surveying the corridors, sorting through dumpsters and quietly offering another view of life to on-rushers hurrying to their next “important” appointment. 


Driving these same streets for nine plus years I have often observed him entering downtown from across Broadway bridge hobbling slowly from some historic injury complicated by age. He is burdening a weathered backpack and clinging necessarily to a sturdy staff scavenged from some river encampment. Occasionally boarding a bus, he mostly walks, looking like the bell ringer of Notre Dame, quietly moving past upscale diners behind wrought iron fences at downtown restaurants or weaving through sidewalk minglers admiring art on the street. Moving slowly and observantly without a word. 


Not long back our friend boarded my bus, fumbled with one freehand to uncrease a dollar bill to pay fare, but to no avail. “May I help,” I asked extending an open palm. He paused, and for the first time, in our sporadic relationship, he handed me the bill. “Some of these bills are so worn that it is difficult to straighten them out. There we go.” I responded as the payment was made.


“Thanks,” muffled his response as he dropped the remaining coins in the machine. 


It was a simple connection that seemed to signal the beginning of a new chance for our relationship. Heretofore my greeting and questions had apparently landed on deaf ears, but now, ever so slightly, something new was beginning. I have learned to take these things slowly, not to blurt in as is my usually gregarious manner. I have learned to watch observant for the other’s lead. 


Our first meeting some years back was in the dead of winter. Snow packed the sidewalks and ice jammed the curb gutters. It was a miserable day for passengers and drivers alike. Our friend stood in a waiting line to board. I remembered seeing the him the previous day as I passed around him from behind coming from the Colorado National Monument. Today, however, I met him face to face. He looked down, as he shuffled slowly forward. Next up, he fingered coins in his worn jeans and plopped the correct change in the machine. My eyes dropped to his feet and caught notice of his toe-less footwear. He wore socks, but had cut the toes out of castoff old work shoes. He shuffled past. Every time I have encountered him since he has worn similarly constructed shoes. On one occasion he had secured some relatively new work boots that would have warmed his feet all the winter, the next day they were toeless.


His grumpy demeanor seams more a defensive strategy than anything else. He has been disabled and homeless as long as I have known him. Both conditions make him vulnerable to quicker stealthier operators.  Homeless persons will not betray their private information to anyone due to the fact that they have been vandalized and abused when they let their guard down. Their major personal protection is what they know that no one else does, therefore they are not forthcoming. When they are asked where they live they may say, “The shelter or the mission.” if they do. Otherwise they may say the river or, I move around, or with friends or nothing.  They have learned the hard way how vulnerable one can be if others know their hangouts. He is not perennially angry or grumpy, to the contrary, he is just meeting life as it comes and feels more comfortable behind the defense.


Passengers generally pay him little attention as long as he controls odor and alchohol. Both are a menace to sociability. Once a passenger exited complaining that he left a wet seat. Another with child in tow, asked if he was alright. Teens after school would complain about his ordor or gruff nature. Our buses, however, are for everyone not just the people you like to be around. There are limits, but drivers are not hygene police and so one may find their personal limits broadened when they board.


This week I pulled into the downtown terminal and saw him waiting on one of the metal benches. Surprisingly he was thumbing the pages of a thick paperback novel as he waited.  “Got a good book” I began. He held it up so that I could see the cover. “Wow,” I said, “it would take me forever to wade through that, though it looks interesting. You are about half through it.” His next response was so precious I just had to write about it. 


He looked up at me making rare eye contact,  “Yeah, I get into fantasy.”


I was floored. A fantasy reading, homeless, disabled, hunchbacked, hobbler. I could not believe the response. That he was reading a novel of that size in and of itself was a surprise to me, but that his reading material was more akin to some millennial student blew me away. In an very quick reality check, I had my own fantasies set straight and felt a subtle sense of hope for the world. 

A Sence of Pilgrimage

In the work of a living poet the dominant personal myth may, in early or even in mature work, be in formation; the poet himself does not yet know the whole story — if he did, he would stop writing. . . . Yet from the first his bent, his cast of imagination, has declared itself. “THE SENSE OF PILGRIMAGE”

BOB NASH

“I study up on countries that I plan to visit,” responds a boarding passenger. Toting a stack of books. He appears slightly out of his element. He sits quietly in the seat directly behind me. I’ve come go know him as Bob, we remain on first name basis. He daily boards for a brief trip to the library, then home. The Pubic Library is the computer source for many of my riders, seeing Bob board with books under his arm is a relatively rare occurrence sight, since most simply surf the internet or check their email.

Bob, a gentleman of distinguished older age, usually sits quietly half way back as to not invite conversation from the driver. Having, at one time, also been a bus driver, he knows how distracting a simple conversation can be along a busy route. Mine is one of the busiest. Today, however, the bus relatively empty, and the traffic less complex, Bob decides to talk. He re-positions himself within earshot.

Usually wearing a baseball cap, gentleman’s khaki shorts and calf length athletic socks, Bob appears to be more sophiticated than most. I see him daily boarding from the library or the university travelling to a stop that serves small appartments and prebuilt homes.

“In the fall you would call this ‘Indian Summer’,” he offers.

“Certainly unseasonably warm,” I affirm. “Not like February.”

“Nope.”

“What country you researching now?” getting back to his books in hand.

“France. Going to Paris in April … spend a month.”

“Wow,” short response being best. I do have to drive.

“Been to Rome, Vietnam, Thailand, and India.”

“You researched each?”

“Yes, gives me a project and makes the experience richer. Vietnam was the country I have liked best so far … spectacular country, everything is so green … lush.”

I have been Bob’s driver for two years, and have learned that he has been a baseball scout in the minor league, and in more recent years a tour bus driver before settling in Grand Junction. He is an avid reader (over 100 plus books a year, if you can believe it), has completed two novels but not attempted publication. Bob is single and lives alone, does not own a car, does not dine out. He has no local family and draws a meager retirement income which he saves to invest in travel.

Don’t expect to see Bob on your expensive group tour to Paris. He will travel frugally, baseball cap and Bermuda shorts, investing only in those things that will create the experience he desires. He will be finding an apartment off the beaten path in the center of the historic city. He will be the tourist you meet standing quitely in museums for hours actually reading the exhibits and displays. Should you be fortunate enough to encounter him, a simply smile and a cheerful “hello” may illicit a thoughtful round of questions that will happily embellish your appreciation of what you experience. He will then turn and vanish into the crowd having contributed a few moments of delight in your busy itinerary.

Do I sound enamoured with Bob’s approach to life, well maybe a little. His focus on simplicity has enabled him to experience moments deeply. I would more accurately say, I resonate with Bob in many ways, but my interest is really a celebration of the array of passengers that people my life daily. I don’t have time to sit at length with a cappuccino or linger over a latte, but I appreciate the repeated brief encounters and how they enrich the lingering moments of each day.

Epilogue

One day in early September Bob boarded late in the day. The bus was empty and he sat close behind me. “They have found Pancreatic Cancer,” he announced. “I’m considering the options for treatment,” he continued in sober direct tone.
“What are they offering,” I asked.
“The usual,” he replied,

“Radiation or Chemo.”
“What are your chances for full recovery?”
“It may extend my life a few months, but they will make me sick and miserable for much of it.”
“Huh”
“Yeah”
“Lot to think about, huh.”
********

Not long after, Bob boarded a busy bus. He ran his pass and confided, “Not going to take the treatment. Checked myself in to Hospice Palliative Care. I’ll live until I die!”
“Big decision Bob.” I replied.
” good with it,” he went to his seat.
*****
Fall months flowed slowly. Bob would board now and again. Some days he would be waiting for another bus and would cast a knowing glance my direction. Others, he would wave me on waiting for the next bus. As the weather changed he seemed more susceptible to cold and wet. I found him shivering on a bench waiting for another on more than one occasion. His face gradually began to betray weight loss gradually growing more gaunt with each passing day. He, however continued living life much as he had. Ever the sports enthusiast, he would join into conversations about the Mavericks, or the Broncos. Well versed in professional sports, since his years as a baseball scout, others listened to his well studied opinions. Boarding with a hand load of books or his familiar folded Daily Sentinel tucked under his arm, he never flagged in interest of national and world events.
One day, however, in late November, he boarded asking where my bus went. He seemed confused and disoriented. Since that moment his acuity ebbed and flowed. Then, like a great oak falling deep in the forest unnoticed by most hurrying to workday appointments, he no longer came to board.

Brother, I’ve seen some

TRANSLATED FROM THE HINDI BY ARVIND KRISHNA MEHROTRA

Cultutes Collide

Harvey Leakey, writer for the Canyon Country Zephyr, a great grandson of John and Louisa Wetherill, white traders and friends to the Navajo residents of the Four Corners area, wrote the attached thought provoking article

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1LIEWn8ScQqLkucG_YNkveFdw_b2s1eQX/view

Slim Woman of Kayenta…by Harvey Leake | Canyon Country Zephyr

Anthropologist Harvey Leake researches his family myths.

www.canyoncountryzephyr.com/2018/02/05/slim-woman-of-kayenta-by-harvey-leake/

Olajto

I recently completed a Pilgrimage to Monument Valley in Southern Utah. This region of the Colorado Plateau, characterized by a cluster of vast sandstone buttes, is between 5,000 & 6,000 feet above sea level. The desertine valley shares the boundary between Arizona and Utah on the northern edge of the Navajo Indian Reservation.

Continuing my interest in the lives of Women Adventurers, I recently read the story of Louisa and John Wetherill of Kayenta, the first white traders to settle the area and I wanted to visit their original trading post at Oljato, if it could be found. After a few initial

You will have to leave,” the Navajo leader, Hoskininni Begay (Hashké Neiniihí Biye’: Son of Giving Out Anger), ordered John Wetherill on March 17, 1906 when he rode up to the water hole known to the local people as Oljato (Ooljéé’tó: Moonlight Water).

wrong turns, we eventually found the right road. Drove ten miles west of the Golding Lodge only to have the pavement end. From there a gravel wash board beckoned us. We continued but when the gravel turned to red powder and our wheels began sinking, we concluded the location of the post would forever remain a mystery.We turned around to start home unfulfilled and yet trying to convince ourselves all had not been in vane when, gleeming before us, on a distant hillside announced white letters spelling Oljato. Just to the left of the sign, actually naming a small service community for park workers, stood quietly in Cottonwoods, the remains of the Wetherill Trading Post covered by red clay silt from a small cross roads. This was the ancient Spring of Moonlight Water. No signs or depictions that this was the fruition of John Wetherill’s pilgrimage seeking the mythic location, or simply the first site established by a white trader to the area. It was a quiet intimate moment. Pilgrimage complete.

FOUR CORNERS

UTE TIPI CANYON LANDS

Fall trip to Four Corners area through which I was attempting to connect with my recent reading about the lives of the Wetherill family and their relationship with the Navajo people near Kayenta, AZ.

We spent two nights at Canyonlands Ranch north of Blanding. Walking the night trails under infinite galaxies sprawled overhead, we came upon this amazing tipi. What an incredible scene.

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