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Looking out my Backdoor: Staring at a blank piece of paper

Here I am again, sitting at my computer, staring at a blank page of paper that’s not real paper, waiting for inspiration to write, to share with you, the latest happenings in my real life.

And one of the most real things that occurs to me is guilt. I feel guilty. Real good ol’ Catholic guilt.

Let’s take the little things first. Every day it rains, here on the high plateau surrounded with mountains in central Mexico. Beginning in June, through July and now into August.

The elders in this area say they haven’t seen rain like this since they were children. We’ve been experiencing extended drought for years. Finally the aquifers are being replenished, though it takes more than one rainy season. In September I’ll be grumbling again about how dry it is. Dry from September until June.

Meanwhile, I’ve been pruning and plucking out plants plagued with curly leaf, black leaf, rust, green mold, black mold and white smut. These are not scientific descriptions but words I use to identify problems induced by too much rain. Much of my bucket garden rotted in the pots. I’ll replant in September.

Where is the guilt in this? Obvious, I would think. I am only too aware that you, my friends up north, cannot breathe through the drought induced dust, the smoke from out-of-control range and forest fires, while watching crops wither on the vine or be decimated by grasshoppers. In the evenings lightning starts more fires than rain can put out. In Glendive, where my daughter lives, today one can wade across the Yellowstone River.

Guilt is neither reasonable nor unreasonable. It simply is. Okay, that’s one guilt.

Another guilt is generated by our high school class reunion, now officially cancelled, again, due to the pandemic, the smoke and fires, hospitals full up, the dangers of travel. I had already made the decision not to travel this fall, so why the guilt? See above.

My two classmates from Oregon, the planners for our reunion, had to cancel two years in a row. I’m relieved to not have to make excuses for myself for not going had they continued. I would have made the circle, Oregon, through Washington and Montana.

Of course I miss you all. It’s been two and a half years since I’ve been with friends and family. That’s a long, long time.

Next guilt: Yesterday, Kathy took Richard to the emergency room. He’d collapsed. We don’t have a definite diagnosis yet but evidently something might be misfiring in his heart. Richard is one of the strongest men I know. He’s probably quite calm through this crisis but Kathy isn’t. Nor are we, his friends.

Later the same day, Lani who has been in Idaho with her daughter, had a stroke, was taken by helicopter to a hospital in Spokane, and had surgery. More than that, we don’t know. Her husband, Ariel, is beside himself and thank goodness we are here to keep him calm, urging him to get more information before making any flight decisions to go where he probably would not be allowed in the hospital to see his wife.

Just as I sat down to my blank paper which is not paper, my phone rang. Another friend is care-taking a friend of his through emotional and physical crises. He just needed an ear. And to know I am okay. But mostly, he needed an ear.

Survivor’s guilt? Not really but perhaps a second cousin once removed to survivor’s guilt.

I sat myself down for a good strong chin wag. Guilt, I figure, is a costly luxury, not a necessity. I pretended I was my Grandma giving me what-for when I was a child over my latest error in judgement. A little grim but that soon set me on a different path.

A word or two of comfort, a little heart-felt care, a little prayer. It doesn’t change the world but it changes me.

I woke up this morning, still breathing, still alive as far as I can tell. I walked outside to greet my dog Lola and the sun, in that order. I took a deep breath of the morning air, fresh with a spicy redolence of wet earth happy with itself.

Today is another blank piece of paper.


Sondra Ashton grew up in Harlem but spent most of her adult life out of state. She returned to see the Hi-Line with a perspective of delight. After several years back in Harlem, Ashton is seeking new experiences in Etzatlan, Mexico. Once a Montanan, always. Read Ashton’s essays and other work at Email [email protected].


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