In Memory of Sara Jackson Lavender

Sara Jackson Lavender

Billy here. When we left the high desert of the Zuni Mountains to embark on a road trip to the Great Lakes, I had no idea that I would be at my Gramma’s bedside for the last week of her life instead of driving across the country.

I had dreamed the night before we set forth that Spence and I were driving and we literally hit a brick wall. We laughed about it, thinking we had already hit it, with what felt like our breakneck speed in life all year. But we soon left the thought behind as we made miles with our jeep packed for an adventure of indefinite length. We took what we could possibly fit: the camp kitchen, the guitars, a couple of crates of books, a suitcase of art supplies. The rest we left behind, ready to find something new and watery. We reached Palo Duro Canyon, the “Grand Canyon of Texas” and pitched camp. A thunderstorm soon swept in and kept us up well after the fireworks finale of “Texas” the Musical at the park’s amphitheater. We rejoiced with the storm, for it was the first real rain we had heard in months, even though we hardly slept.

Rainbow at Palo Duro

The next morning we drove up out of the canyon and as cell phone service returned I received word that the woman I know and love as grandmother Sara, who lives with my mother just north of Dallas, was not doing well. My mother seemed concerned but calm. Sara was 102 years old and there have been previous time periods of uncertainty about how much longer she would live only to be followed by a lively spring back into life. We ended the call with a a decision to keep going as normal and she wished me good luck on the trip to Michigan. But as we approached the Texas border into Oklahoma, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was going a direction I would regret. I couldn’t bear the thought that my Gramma could be actually dying this time, and while I was passing through the state only hours away. This woman had raised my mother and cared for us even though she was not related to us. She had always been kind and loving. I remembered over Yule feeling that my visit then would be the last time I would see her. I became overwhelmed with grief in the car and wept. I called my mother back and told her we were coming home.

Through more rain we made it to Denton before dinner. As soon as I laid eyes on Gramma Sara I knew that I would stay with her until she was gone, for I knew it would not be long. She held my hand and reached for me, but she was already departing. In a sense, I had truly seen the last of her over Winter Solstice. She kissed me on the cheek but her eyes were milky and distant as the stars. Her skin was as soft and delicate as tissue paper. She was done speaking, seeing, hearing and eating. Soon she stopped drinking water. We slept in the room next to her and could hear her coughing and moaning. She seemed to be pleading and bargaining, frightened to let go just yet. We arranged the arrival of my siblings, but it would take a few days for them all to get here around work schedules. Hearing her confused wailing, a state of altered consciousness, was the hardest part. She was not in pain, but stepping onto this Rainbow Bridge to the spirit realm was doubtlessly taking great courage, as much as leaping into outer space.

There is so much resistance in Western culture to in-between, unquantifiable states such as stepping over the threshold of death that we are not taught how to make the journey. But it is exactly these states that bring us to who we are, merely vibrating energy so complex we seem opaque and solid. But we are the veils that cover the Big Bang. Some of us are more translucent than others or at certain times and we think of the light that is coming from these people as belonging to them, but it is the glow of the cosmos shining through them. The doorways and twilights are places and times we see that light shining through. I felt the love of my friends and family: we were all there for each other, making feasts and toasts. My best friend brought sweet potato pie and enchiladas and love limitless. My closest friends showed themselves to be closer. I was sitting on Gramma’s heart side when her body gave out and she took her last breath. My mother and younger siblings wept around me, but I felt a lightness. Gramma was free and timeless. I saw her as she looked in the old photographs with bright red lipstick, dancing around the with the love of her life, Gus Kapitansky, who died from an injury in the Battle of the Bulge. She had already let go perhaps hours ago and her body was only breathing from memory.

Miss Jackson

Sara’s obituary reads:

Sara Jackson Lavender was born in Groom, Texas on May 18, 1912 to Lavencie Jackson and Flaura Pennington. Born at home with a stillborn twin and weighing only two pounds, she was kept alive in the breadwarmer oven. Lavincie was a Methodist circuit riding preacher on the horse and buggy and Flaura was a writer. Sara went on to complete a bachelor’s in art at Normal College, now called the University of North Texas, in 1939 during the Great Depression. She took the highest paying job she could find teaching at the Gulf Oil Camp in Pyote, Texas, which later became the Rattlesnake Bomber Base, where Enola Gay was harbored after dropping the bomb on Hiroshima. She taught double sessions in first grade, which included hunting for scrap metal with the class for the military’s use. She also worked on the base as a courier shuttling officers on a motor scooter with a sidecar. She was G.S.O. “Girl of the Month” in April 1948 for her active work volunteering in the army hospital, hostessing dances and teaching english to foreign brides to servicemen. She had as many dates as she wished with pilots every week, but the one she loved, Gus Kapitansky, was injured in the Battle of the Bulge and she was referred from one hospital to the next without success and never found him again in life. She taught first grade and special ed in El Paso for 35 years. In 1964 she met the 3 year old Caranina, whom she later adopted and raised as her her own child. She married Ernest Lavender in 1982, but he passed in 1985. She was preceded in death by her sibliings John Paul and Martha. She is survived by niece Marsha Jarvill, daughter Caranina Lavender, grandchildren Shannon, Billy, Angel, Ariel, Nicholas and Niechele.

If your people did not die, the world would fill up and there would be no place for you to live. When you die, you will come back to Shipap to live with me. Keep on traveling and do not be troubled when your people die.

– Cochiti Earth Mother

Sara was in a book called They Also Served: Women’s Stories from the World War II Era. She is in the Seeds of Feminism chapter and when asked at the end of her interview what her effort for the war was, her reply was simply: “I was a teacher.”

 

 

Spence here:  I feel honored to have met Gramma Sara on two other occasions, and even more honored to be there with her and the rest of the family during her journey! Having never sat with someone who was dying, I felt it was a unique time to learn more about her and the ways in which death is like traveling to somewhere else, unknown. Gratefully, I visit “ghosts”, “spirits”, “others” who have passed over, in my dreams, which is something I don’t talk about openly with people. These recurring visits happen while I am supposedly sleeping. They have been happening since I was a child. I often go to where they “live”, and visit for most of the night. While sitting with Sara, holding her hand, I had an overwhelming feeling of calm, knowing that I would be able to get to know her better later, through our visits in my dreams.  I look forward to visiting her when the time comes.  I don’t believe relationships are a one time event, or that they  necessarily follow a linear time signature. The same people we know have been in our lives many times over. I really appreciated all the love and support of Billy’s friends and family.  I was so glad we were able to be there.

The tracks of our ancestors have been wiped away by the Great Forgetting. It’s not up to us to replant their exact footprints, but to make our own, equally original tracks.

-Carl Cole

Farewell to the Blue House on the Hill

Billy here. We have spent a lovely few seasons in Candy Kitchen, New Mexico with neighbors who are now our family. Over the last year or so we have been taking care of Max’s house on the hill and recording an album, Human Thinking Animal, which is now out on the internet! You can listen to it on Soundcloud here. We built a little shower shack we dubbed the “Cleanhouse” because we wanted to use the solar shower water for cherry tomatoes and peppers we would grow in the shower shack. We never quite got as far as growing anything yet or even hooking up the water catchment, but the showers were wonderful! We released the album, said farewell for now to our New Mexico family and hit the road with our jeep packed for the summer’s adventures to visit friends, family and large sparkling bodies of water. So now that we’re back on the blog roll, we’ll be posting every Wednesday!

Spence here: Our last month in New Mexico was a whirlwind. I am exordinarily proud of Billy for getting his album done, in the midst of visiting friends and family, packing and house detail. I feel really honored to have had the opportunity to play on the album.

What can I say except that I am a changed person from when we first landed in Candy Kitchen, NM. The generosity of the people there is unlike any experience I have had. A true neighborly feeling of care and consideration, as well as an “anything goes” attitude about people’s differences makes it a unique piece of planet. I want to thank each friend and neighbor for all the help and love extended to us while we were there (and while we continue to be gone, as guardians of Max’s land, some of our stuff and our mail!) I appreciate what the desert has taught me as well as the people. I appreciate the space I had to teach myself some things also. I have never had so much time and space for art and creative thought as I have had in New Mexico. There are so many amazing gifts I can take with me, however, one that I am thinking of in this moment in particular is the feeling that people everywhere have the capacity to be this generous and open. The fact is, we all have this within ourselves to create our worlds and walk the talk. Since my experiencing this tenderness over the last two years, I know we can extend that hand of kindness and community wherever we go. Still, I already have a heavy heart and miss the people. We shall be back!

Chaco Canyon Spring Equinox 2014

 

Spence here: Thank you for perusing our site once again! The huckleberries are back on the road and currently trying to catch up with documenting this year’s adventures. In the Spring we took an amazing trip to Chaco Canyon. The condition of the dirt road out to Chaco was surprisingly good, however, I was still thrilled we had purchased a jeep last summer. The weather during the day was warm and dry, but the nights dropped to the single digits after the sun went down. Luckily, a cute family visiting from Flagstaff, Arizona, camped next to us and invited us over to share their big campfire. We talked at length about the environment, climate change, getting back to the land and how families can raise kids in a society which values monetary success above all else.  To celebrate the Spring Equinox, we decided to bear witness to the sacred sunrise at Casa Rinconada, a gigantic kiva ruin. The view at sunrise included a direct alignment through two doorways, matching up exacting with a vertical wall of rock on the horizon. The thoughtful and precise placement of the buildings was astounding, for peoples’ deemed “primitive” by Western standards, (which as a label, has always bothered me.) The information the rangers provided for us during the tour, (we had to have a tour at that time of the morning, since the park wasn’t officially open yet), was paltry.  I am not sure if it is the fault of the rangers or the park service, or the fear of speculation/lack of fact,  since no one seems to have a definite answer to what happened to the Ancestral Puebloan peoples of that time. The insistent denial that drought did not play a part in their “disappearance” however, was ridiculous. The Chaco River which used to flow through the canyon on a regular basis, if not all year, was dry as a bone as our time of visit and hadn’t flowed in quite some time…years.  Drought conditions in other areas may have affected peoples’ travelling to Chaco as well, as migrating to wetter areas may have turned their attentions. Another interesting thought about the area was the people may have realized their powers were becoming too great and thus intentionally walking away from the great houses and villages. (Many kivas had been closed in with bodies sacrificed and burned, something the rangers definitely weren’t willing to discuss.) The sites are still sacred to the people of the area, with ceremonies still being held and ancestors being reveled and honored.  Perhaps some respect has been show in not revealing the information, as it has more to do with tribal affairs than Western curiosity.) The visitor’s center at Chaco mostly focused on the archaeological education of the Westerners who came to excavate the site. According to local author, Craig Childs, who grew up in the Four Corners area, as a people, the Ancestral Puebloan (“Anasazi” is a pervasive term used to lump all the distinct tribes of people of that time period together, which is actually considered derogatory by the descendants–Ancestral Puebloan is preferred) never actually “disappeared”, but have evolved into other native groups, who continue to be marginalized in our current North American world view. Childs has written many intriguing books on the desert, its native peoples and travelling through the lands on foot. House of Rain has the most detailed and researched information of the vast network of ancient roads, kivas, great houses and villages, including Mesa Verde, the Gila Cliff Dwellings, Hovenweep and Bandelier. (The Secret Knowledge of Water, Finders Keepers and House of Rain are my favorite books of his.)

 

Billy here. While at the Gila Cliff Dwellings, our first trip of the year in January, I picked up an absolutely wonderful book called Original Instructions: Indigenous Teachings for a Sustainable Future. Containing contributions from such leaders as John Mohawk and Winona LaDuke, it speaks to all of us about what it is to be a human animal. It may be my favorite book in years.

It takes an entire lifetime to pull myself back into the present. Our culture is so obsessed with speed and new, shiny things that we forget the simple turns of the seasons. Once our ancestors celebrated the shifting of the seasons, sun and moon with song, dance and feast in stone monoliths and mead halls. We had time to sit out of our daily chores for several feast days a year to absorb our literal place in the cosmos. To simply take account of where the sun, moon and stars are in the sky. To notice the air and the state of the trees. Are the oaks leaves budding out yet? Are the ants awake? And where in the cycle are we in our own lives? So every solstice and equinox, at the very least, I make an effort to watch the sun rise and set, to sit and have the patience to be where I am. This takes gentleness with ourselves, for unless we are of the dying hunter gatherer tribes, we each have at least a foot in the fast current of human technocracy: blogging, phones, cars, factory goods. It has been a mission of mine since I was very small to become independent of the industrial empire. I drew maps of the village where I would live in the forest when I was seven: where the blacksmith would be, the water wheel, the huts. But decolonization starts in our own hearts, minds and mythology. Mythology was taught through the stars and stories in every culture there is. If we lose touch of our connection with those star stories, we are lost in the rivers between worlds. Our current time of moving forward and leaving tradition behind is not evil, we are learning  some important lessons about the institutional oppression of women, children and our non-human brethren. But there will come a time when we will also recognize the wisdom of thinking with our hearts as well as our minds, using our minds to recognize static repressive beliefs and to move beyond religious fanaticism. There are things we must leave behind as we evolve, such as slavery and hatred of the other, but there are things we will inevitably return to: that we are part of nature. And as long as we think we are separate from her, we will behave just like the cell that forgets it is part of the larger body and reproduces uncontrollably.

Wedding Ceremony!

 

On the Lunar Eclipse, April 14, 2014, at 1:20 a.m., while looking through the telescope, Billy proposed marriage. I was delighted and surprised, but not really surprised, as I knew I had wanted to be with Billy for the duration of our lives for a long time. In New Mexico, it is legal for gay people to get married, so on May 25, 2014, before departing on another long cross-country journey to visit friends and family, we had our intimate ceremony. It was held on Maxwell von Raven’s land in New Mexico, amongst the pinon pines, with Liz Herron as our lovely officiant and our wonderful neighbors Tony and Eden as witnesses. Billy’s sister Shannon was there as well, which was very special, and helped me to feel the love and support of all of our family and friends emanating through her presence. The following was read at our wedding:

Kahlil Gibran’s poem On Marriage, from The Prophet:

You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.

You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days.

Ay, you shall be together even in the silent memory of Spirit.

But let there be spaces in your togetherness.

And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.

Love one another, but make not a bond of love:

Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.

Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.

Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.

Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,

Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.

Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.

For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.

And stand together yet not too near together:

For the pillars of the temple stand apart,

And the oak tree and the cypress grow

Not in each other’s shadow.

To Billy:

When we met,  I knew then

We were soul mates before we were born.

How many lifetimes have we been together

Or been kept apart?

You wrote to me once,

Of only wanting to lead me

Home to myself,

I knew then

We would be together

Again.

Once more we will walk together

Home.

Healing and opening our hearts along the way.

Billy, you have always been born

Overflowing with love, over many lives.

It is a great gift.

But the greatest gift you offer us all

Is the present reminder

That we are all born overflowing with this love.

This spring, coming up from the Earth, the dirt,

The roots, our feet, from the creatures and the

Sun itself.

You help us feel it, just by being.

This is all we are meant to do…feel this love.

I’m honored, committed, thrilled, trusting,

Excited and curious,

To wondrously walk this path with you.

Keep holding my hand and I will hold yours,

Through all the woods of each life.

Love Spence

To Spence:

May our love bring us home to ourselves

And may it spread outward like a ripple on the lake,

So that all we do is the song of this love.

May we wake up singing this song

And fall asleep dreaming this song.

We were born with this song in our hearts,

For it is as old as the first star.

We will die with this song in our hearts,

For with you I remember that between us

Is that hollow place

That creates the space for this song to sound.

And with you I remember that life itself

Is love made manifest,

Water & light joined,

And all that is, every vein of an hour,

Is the joy of this song.

My love,

The harmonies our hearts weave

Now that they have cast off

Our fear & shame

Is the fugue of dawn

We have wept to behold

In our darkest of nights.

And now we are free

To take wing with the birds

And sing

For as long as breath

Gives us voice.

Love, Billy

I take you to be my partner in life, my constant friend, and my love from this day forward. In the presence of the Great Spirit and the ancient spirits of this land, and with the love of our family and all our transformations, so that our love may guide us to deeper presence. I promise to love you unconditionally, to support you in your journey, to honor and respect you, to laugh with you and cry with you, and to cherish you for all time. As I give you my hand to hold, I offer you my life to share. What may come I will always be there.

Now you will feel no rain, for each of you will be shelter for the other. Now you will feel no cold, for each of you will be warmth to the other. Now there will be no loneliness, for each of you will be companion to the other. Now you are two persons, but there is only one life before you. May beauty surround you both in the journey ahead and through all the years. May happiness be your companion and your days together be good and long upon the earth.

I now pronounce you partners in life and love. Now you may kiss your legally wedded spouse! Now let us raise our voices in celebration and blessing of this great union and this special day!