My “comeback” into the land of the mobile has slowed me down but opened me up. A few evenings ago I thought I would soak in my favorite time of day. I am a big fan of the “Spring Forward” part of Daylight Savings Time. To me the slow roll in to night is welcomed. I was standing on our south facing porch when I heard bird song that was not familiar to me. It was complex with a variety of sounds and pitches. Every time I heard it it was just the same.
I spotted the soloist perched at the very top my neighbor’s tree. The silhouette of this Birdie Pavarotti clone was highlighted by the cobalt blue background. Every few seconds the exact same call would go out. I could not resist and gave him a very poor response from my below average whistling skill. I could tell it threw him off as he offered up a beautiful retort. This call and response went on for a couple of minutes. Then he flew off to a perch further away. He got back into his own solo.
I have no idea what kind of bird he is. I have never heard anything like it. I now check to see if he is there. Twice I have had choir practice with him. I just went to check and I think the cold has made his singing take a break.
I really find myself bonding with this bird. I know life is fragile and he might just be migrating through. I am “batching it” right now as grandma MK is on double grandkid duty in California. I have yet to get too bored, and finding connections and entertaining moments like my bird buddy helps. It just hit me that I have a record mode on my IPhone. I hope I have one more chance of hearing this beautiful tribute to creation… and can record it so that I might listen again and again. The recording would go right next to the frog choir I recorded from Calaveras County, California.
Today on my first time driving in over a month, I chanced upon four geese blocking the road in the Wash Park neighborhood. I have always maintained the ethic that geese have the right of way. More than once I have been stopped on a busy urban thoroughfare by a parade of geese taking their sweet time going across the road. It’s sort of like being stopped by a train, time to take a deep breath and turn up ‘Classic Vinyl’. Today’s interruption was close up and interesting. Three of the geese sped right along but their companion, who was dragging its left leg, was more than limping. They made it across and I was teleported back to about 1990 in Alamosa.
We lived out west of town on a ‘farmette’. To get to the main highway you had to head south to HWY 160. One of the great things about living out there was people had livestock. Our neighbors on the corner had six Canadian geese that they had domesticated. You would often see them walking in single file around the property. Five of them were intact but the sixth was missing a leg. How does a one-legged goose walk? Boing, boing, boing, and boing. This animal, like a three legged dog, had adapted to it’s situation. I was always amazed how well it did at keeping up, although it was always last.
Well, yesterday I spent an hour with my Primary Care Doc who, after a long series of questions and exercises, that included plenty of input from Mary Kay, gave me the all clear to go back to work and drive. Today, as I watched the wounded goose struggle, I went immediately to my condition of the last 34 days. As I shared last week I found myself semi-incapacitated. For the first time in my life I pondered what immobility looked and felt like. I will share that it was a state of low grade terror. As I watched the goose dragging its leg across the street, I was cheering every step.
I will never again run, climb, skip or ski. But I will never take walking for granted. Today returned to a bit of a normal Saturday routine, although a very slow one. I give thanks for that courageous goose and its buddies who reminded me of the importance of tenacity and making use of what we have… boing, boing, boing, boing.
For the last four weeks I have been taking an “unintentional sabbatical”. On my way to Tulsa to receive the honor of a lifetime—Phillips Theological Marshall Award— we stopped in Enid, OK to spend the night and connect with my college roommate. In my family I am known for my pratfalls, and crashes, to the point of slipping on my own banana peel. This crash was an innocent walk across the dining room of my hotel lobby. I am not quite sure how I did it, but my left toe stumbled on a slight raise in the floor. I managed to crash into a ‘high top’ with my right ribs and then smashing to the floor with my left knee.
I remember shouting from the floor at a guy who said, “Call 911”, “No”!!! Later that morning we began the final leg of the journey to Tulsa. By the time we got there we knew we had to go to an Urgent Care. Nothing was broken but I had a huge hematoma on my left leg. NOTHING was going to deter me from the awards ceremony. It did not disappoint. I knew I had to get back to Colorado so we took off two days early. A trip that normally takes nine hours turned into fourteen.
Then the days were back and forth with the Kaiser team. “Mark, you can’t go to work or drive until we meet on Feb. 24th”. Thank goodness Mary Kay is a fantastic RN or I would have been in a Rehab Center. I have been a captive patient with a woman who never stops thinking of projects, and keeps me going on my PT.
About a week ago she brought up the idea that has come up at least twice a year since we moved here. “Mark, could we go through the shoes that you can no long wear and give them a new home”. This time she got the answer she had been pushing for. “Ok”.
So I was sitting in my amazing chair that raises, lowers, adjusts and puts me to sleep. Within 10 minutes of my willingness to “de-shoe” there were 23 pair of shoes sitting in front of me. Check out the picture. I agreed to let go of all of them but a vintage pair of Nikes that I am giving to my grandson.
As I looked at the shoes, each of them had been part of my life for the last 40 years. There were the wingtips that I got married in. Shoes I walked through Israel, Europe, China, Latin America. Shoes that went on thousand of walks. Some of these shoes spent 11 years in the San Luis Valley, 18 years at South Broadway Christian, and six years in Greeley. They have been with me in the depths of grief and the heights of celebrations. The boots climbed my first—14er. I am now down to slip-on Sketchers. I appreciate them but something is lost on “style points”.
I am slowing getting better. I will never take walking for granted again. Nor will there ever be a pair of shoes like my Ecco walkers.
So this morning I was headed out to my regular downtown Saturday meeting. I grabbed a Cliff Bar off the top of the garage fridge and took my first bite. I heard that strange crunch of a foreign object in my mouth. Oh oh, there it was—a piece of tooth. As I was driving into town I made my call to Dr. Kate, my dentist for the past 24 years. “Come on in Mr. Pumphrey anytime before 12:30”. Believe it or not I was excited to see my dentist.
One of the realities of the ‘aging process’ is that you get to watch yourself fall apart in slow motion. I relate to the recent TV ad where the guy falls apart one limb at a time. Every few months another ‘something’ breaks. One call to Dr. Kate and the repair job begins. In a day of corporate medicine, ‘assembly line’ care- giving, my trips to the dentist are refreshing. I am treated like a person, a friend, and not a slot in the schedule.
I read an in-depth article about an 80–year long study by Harvard University about the number One key to a long, healthy and happy life. Bingo—Loving relationships and a sense of community. Which leads me to a concern I have about the future. I know that I share this concern with many of you. Even as I write this I realize I am speaking to a “blogosphere” grouping of folks that are connected through my meanderings. I just checked my Facebook account and it tells me I have 1,621 ‘friends’. Now I am not dismissing how I have enjoyed connecting with new and old acquaintances, or networks, or friends of friends. However, there is nothing like sharing a meal or a cup of coffee in a face to face space.
I left Dr. Kate’s office with a repaired ‘premolar’. What was even better was the time I got to spend with her and her assistant, Simon. Painless dentistry is okay, but what is better is spending time with a professional who really listens and cares.
I suspect those of you who have been following my “finding the extraordinary in the ordinary” over the past seven years, have picked up that I am a bit of Real Coloradan Snob. I proudly confess that I am!!! My brag list is pages long. It contains: I was at the very first Bronco game in 1960, and there is a creek in Blanco Basin named after my grandmother Opal. I remember driving up I-25 the week it was completely opened from Pueblo to Denver. There is nothing that will get my hubris going about my pedigree more than conversations about skiing. My first ski trip was on a weekend up the Lake San Isabel road to Glen Broden’s own personal ski resort. This WWII vet installed a rope-tow up the side of one of the Greenhorn Mountains. I was nine years old, armed with lace up boots and wooden skis with cable bindings. It was a YMCA outing complete with meagerly trained ‘instructors’. A rope tow consists of a rope-tow dragging along the ground that you grab with one hand in front of you, and the other grasping the rope behind your back. You would then squeeze your hands on the rope and if your arms stayed in their joints, you would shoot up to the top of the hill for a clumsy dismount.
In 1962 Monarch Ski area opened complete with both a T-Bar and chair lift. My dad became an investor and I still have a life time pass there. That same year Vail resort opened. I remember skiing there that year. There were only two buildings in the entire Vail valley. For the next 50 plus years I was blessed to ski all over Colorado and New Mexico. There is nothing like a morning with blue sky and fresh powder. There is a deep sense of freedom and peace that comes with skiing from the top of the mountain to the bottom.
Now my dive with me into “progress is not always”. What was once an experience that was affordable for many, is being reduced gradually to something for the privileged. Believe it or not, there was a time that skiing in Levis was considered cool. I know I sound like a character from my version of “Grumpy Old Men”. The reality of the ‘monetizing of anything fun’ is the Achilles Heel of capitalism— says the guy who paid $200 for his 1984 Bronco tickets and now pays 12 times that amount for the same.
My last run down the mountain was unplanned. It was eight years ago and I was on the top of Steamboat Mountain. My skiing partner had a
medical emergency and I followed the ski patrol toboggan all the way down the slope. He got through a horrible attack of altitude sickness and I hung up my skis. My bad knees basically said “you are done”.
Tomorrow is New Years Day. Our family tradition during my growing up was to book about 10 rooms at the Circle R Hotel in Salida for a week. My parents and their friends all had “adult” rooms and at least 20 kids were allowed their own space. Every morning we would have breakfast at the Spa restaurant before heading up to Monarch Mountain. I came to know every inch of that top of the Continental Divide perch.
In 2001 we took my dad, Bill’s, ashes up to Monarch’s ‘Sleepy Hollow’ to sprinkle them by a tree in a blinding snow storm. I will never forget the young guys getting my 79-year-old mom up there in a snow cat to join us as we put Bill to rest. We then skied the rest of the day… and had great Italian food that night in Salida. From that day on I was able to ski at Monarch a number or times. There is a beautiful Spruce tree where his ashes were placed. I would stop there and give thanks for the dad who made sure all four his kids got out on the slopes before ever going himself. Onward and Upward… and Happy New Year, Mark
Thirty six years ago I moved to Alamosa, CO which is in the center of the San Luis Valley. “The Valley” is the world’s largest Alpine Valley. I would call it a giant terrarium that sits one and one half miles up in altitude. It is 60 miles wide from East to West, and 120 miles long from North to South. Of the three routes into The Valley, you get to choose between Wolf Creek Pass from the west, Poncha Pass from the north and La Veta from the east. By far and away La Veta gets the most traffic, as it is the pathway to the front range.
Over the years I made hundreds of trips over La Veta. Most of our family lived in Pueblo and it was not unusual, between personal business and all things ministry, that I would go over the La Veta thirty or more times a year. It is a stunningly beautiful journey. Often there will be elk and mule deer everywhere. I once saw a battle between a mother deer with her fawn and three coyotes. I had no idea that the spin kick was perfected by a deer. I watched the battle go on for at least 10 minutes, then I decided to intervene. I walked right to the coyotes and scared them up the hill. Momma deer took her fawn and ran up the north mountain while I kept Wiley and his gang at bay. I have no idea whether or not they escaped, but it gave me a sense of satisfaction.
I have seen bear, fox, bobcat and antelope on my times up and down the pass. I was once in the most horrendous spring blizzard where I followed a snow plow at a snail’s pace for miles. Two years ago there was a huge fire that swept over thousands of acres surrounding the pass. In two years nature has already begun a rather spectacular rehab project, as new life is popping up everywhere.
A few weeks ago at the top of the pass I watched a real cowboy riding his horse—hat, chaps and all. However, there was something different about this scene. Upon a closer look he was talking on his cell phone. It just did not fit. What would John Wayne say? “Pilgrim, put that thing away lest I blow it out of your hand”!!!
My usual meditative Friday afternoon lap swim was interrupted by the familiar sound of 200 kids on Thanksgiving break. The lap pool sits next to two pools that are designed for kid fun. The squeals, laughter, chatter and the general cacophony that is a universal sound filled the air. As long as my I was face down on my lapping the sounds were muffled, but when I touched the wall to turn around the relentless exuberance remained. My 42 hour-long laps were rewarded by time in the giant hot-tub, which even put me closer to the pool party. About every three minutes there was an ear splitting squeal. A guy in the tub said, “That kid does that every time he goes down the water slide”. This opened up a conversation among five strangers in the hot tub about the universal sounds that come from playgrounds, or swimming pools. I shared that no matter what country I was in, the sound was the same. Whether it was school yards in China or Costa Rica, there was not discernible difference in sound. We lived for five years across the street from an elementary school. We could sit our on our deck in the morning and have our coffee and be serenaded by the same sounds of childhood joy. In a world that seems off its axis, my heart was joyfully recalibrated with kid-joy. Onward and Upward, Mark
O some of the great privileges of my life in pastoral ministry are the opportunities I have to be present at every transition in a person’s life. Today I was honored to preside at memorial service for a marvelous person. Judy was a woman of many gifts. At the core of her being Judy was a teacher. Her death was a result of her desire to live. She faced a surgery which carried with it a 50/50 outcome. From the start she was clear that she would rather die living than live dying. Without the surgery death lurked every day at her door. She knew the odds when she entered into the very complicated all day operation. Death won, but it took nothing from a life very well lived. Now I want to talk about teachers. My first teacher was Mrs. Hance, who ran her 1st Grade classroom like a drill sargent. It must have worked because I learned how to read and do math in my head. I have been very fortunate to have had many great teachers from the first grade, through a doctorate. My grandmother was in the first graduating class at what is now the University of Northern Colorado, that allowed women to go to school. Her first teaching job was at a one room school in Blanco Basin, Colorado. School ran from April to October as the winter was so challenging. You can take the teacher out of the classroom, but then wherever they are becomes a teaching moment. I loved staying with my grandparents where Opal was always the teacher. Whether she was correcting my grammar or setting up crafts projects, 1851 Royer St. in Colorado Springs was a place of learning. So my mother, sister, daughter son, daughter-in-law, nephew , cousin and niece-in-law are all teachers. All of them love teaching and students love them. All of this reminiscing about teachers almost makes me want to go back to school. Thanks again Judy for reminding me no—for teaching me about the importance of a lifetime of learning. Onward and Upward,
Well, I have taken a three week ‘blog leave of absence’ but I am excited to be back. I was on a 10 day road trip to Texas to visit daughter Amy and the grandkids. Mattias, who is now a freshman at Tarelton State, invited us to his new home to see his place and go to jazz band practice. By Texas standards it is a middle sized University—with about 13,000 students. We drove to the campus and began our search for Mattias. We arranged a meeting spot and he came zipping on his electric skate board. He said, “The hard part is finding parking and we have to deal with “Dorothy” He began to describe the all powerful Dorothy who is the ‘boss of all parking’ at TSU. “She is relentless, she loves giving tickets, and she cuts no one any slack. Last year she gave the president a $25 dollar ticket which he paid. She starts out at 8am in her little white cart and hands out tickets all over the campus until 5pm. She eats lunch in her cart over by the student center where she picks off unsuspecting victims”. I was disappointed in that I never saw Dorothy.
We saw his dorm which, if you haven’t seen college “dorms” lately, will create a bit of “We never had that—JEALOUSY”. If it were an apartment in Denver it would rent for about 3K a month. It comes complete with a 74” HD TV, private room, kitchenette and furniture. We headed over to the fine arts center after artfully dodging Dorthy with my handicapped pass. It was nearly 5pm and we decided to take our chances with Dorothy and with encouragement from Mattias’s professor, we parked in the faculty section. He said, “She never comes here after 3—she lurks around the athletic complex”.
We got to go listen to the Jazz Band rehearsal. Tarelton is noted for an outstanding music department and we were not disappointed. I heard great music and instruction that gave both music education and history as to the various artists and composers to which we were listening. The highlight for us was being able to hear our grandson “T” play the lead sax for the classic “Pink Panther”—which came complete with a history lesson on the composition.
I was a bit nervous returning to our car as The Legend of Dorothy lurked in my mind. We made it!!! We were free and clear with no yellow tags placed on our windshield.
You have to admire the Dorothys of this world—they do their job. I asked “T” to describe her to me. “Well, she is about 5’3” with grey hair. She wears a blaze orange vest with a badge”. I could see her in my ‘mind’s eye’. I asked “T” if she was well known on campus. He said, “Everyone knows Dorothy, she is an icon”. If you want to become famous to 13,000 students, do your job.
Maybe because my last name is Pumphrey which I admit is quirky, I have had an affinity for pumpkins since I could remember. Pumpkins are never called Humpkins but I have been called Mike Humphrey for more times than I can count. I am not sure what the allure is for the golden gourd, which used to come in only one color. Now orange is still the color of choice but there are now white, blue, warty (a hybrid cross with a diseased looking gourd) and sizes from almost micro pumpkins to the 1300 pounders. Simply stated by this “Autumn Lover”—pumpkins make me smile. My three to four times a week drive to Greeley takes me on the NW Parkway. There is still some farm land on that route and in 2017 during my first year, I noticed two big fields to the south in which probably 80 acres of pumpkins were planted. Sure enough, when mid-September came the vines died off to reveal a “pumpkin extravaganza”. It was a self serve pumpkin patch, which sometimes had dozens of folks looking for the perfect pumpkin. After Halloween there were still thousands of “unchosen” orbs lying out in the field. What came next were the cows. My now departed farmer friend from Pueblo filled me in on pumpkin farming. Mind you, that during the high holy days of October, DiSanti Farms sometimes sends two semis a day loaded with pumpkins up I-25. Nearly every year of my 18 at South Broadway the truck dropped of a couple of huge bins as a donation. This is a paraphrase of what Jimmy told me about pumpkin farming. “It is the easiest thing we raise. You water them maybe three times, and as long as you don’t get hail they raise themselves. The harvesting is a bit hard because it is all hand work. What we don’t harvest we turn the cows loose on. They love those things. In one week there won’t be a pumpkin in sight”. You beef lovers just think you are gettin ‘corn fed’ beef— be ware you burger might taste a lot like a Pumpkin Latte. Which now leaves me to the ‘vegan pumpkin cheese cake’ I just consumed. I am not much for coffee creamer but ‘pumpkin spice’ will get me every time. I am a pie lover and pumpkin will often be my sin of choice. MK makes a mean pumpkin bread and granddaughter Sofia is a pumpkin muffin consumer.
One of my favorite memories of church fun were the nights that a group of us would gather to carve up about 30 pumpkins. We used them to decorate for the organ “Spooktacular” that we held for years in that beautiful South Broadway Christian Church historic Victorian sanctuary. The Great Hall smelled of pumpkins for days. To have almost three dozen Jack-O-Lanterns in that space in which a brilliant organist (Frank Perko, also from Pueblo) preformed, with an overflow crowd, filled my Pumphrey/ Pumpkin heart. We had 9–News there to show that even churches know how to have fun. I am not much of an artist. I got a ‘circle-D-Minus’ in wood shop. I think I got maybe a C— in Metals. However, you put a pumpkin on a table in front of me and my inner Michaelangelo comes out. Well, I might not be that great but I have made more than one Jack-O-Lantern that brought smiles… after all, that is what pumpkins were made for. Onward and Upward, Mark