Wednesday, August 10, 2016


            The workmen are finished. Thanks to daily rain my damaged lawn is repairing itself. No more mud and crud. My house is in order. Trees are planted. I’m weeding the neglected flower beds.

            Two-or-three-or-several times a week I am rendered speechless with gratitude when a-hit-me-over-the-head-look-at-how-different-my-world-is-than-it-coulda-woulda-been. Whew.

            Think about it. I grew up in Harlem, Montana in the 50’s and 60’s. A trip to Chinook was a big deal. The Harlem News used to report when so-and-so motored to Havre to visit relatives, told us who sat around the table, what the happy family had for dinner and assured us that a good time was had by all. Great Falls was another country. Any place further away was out of our world.

            Life was hard but expectations were easy. As a girl I was expected to marry a Valley farmer like my Dad, have kids, bake bread, grow a garden, put up green beans, all of which I dutifully did. It’s a good life. But after ten years I hit a wall and turned left.

              After many walls and a circuitous route in and out of Montana more than once, I’ve landed in a mountain valley near Guadalajara. Yesterday I told my friend Jerry in Idaho, “I can truthfully say I’ve never been happier.”

            Happy, yes. An interesting concept. I doubt “happy” has anything to do with geography. Or people. Certainly not with acquisitions and money. I’ve never been more alone. I’ve never had less stuff. It’s an inside job and I have no explanation, logical or magical.

            Today a young woman I know called me to thank me.

“For what?” I asked.

            “You taught me that you cannot put shoes on a shark.”

            My mind immediately conjured a cartoon “Jaws” wearing red Converse high tops.

            I am speechless. I don’t remember saying anything like that. In fact, I’m puzzled what “shoes on a shark” might mean. We never know how somebody else will take meaning from what we say or do.

            But, maybe, just maybe, that is my secret from myself. Maybe I have quit trying to put shoes on my shark.

            It is possible that this person I am, this Sondra, is more myself than I’ve ever been, shorn of any pretense, any need to be or do or appear other than I am. Warts and all.

            Summertime and the living is easy. I look up and the first thing I see is an orange hibiscus blossom. I take a deep breath and smell jasmine. A striped green lizard is crawling along my brick wall. A tub of mangoes sit on the counter, waiting for me to slice and freeze for pies throughout the year. My first guava is ripe. Josue gave me pomegranates from his tree.

            While we were weeding through my flower beds this morning, Leo said to me, “This place looks so different since you came. It is beautiful. I like to just sit and look.”

            Dinnertime this evening I’ll join Lani and Ariel and my cousin Nancie for ribs, Mexican style.

            Know what? If I were still living in Harlem, I’d be saying the same things. Hollyhocks instead of hibiscus. No lizards or exotic fruits. But I’d surround myself with beauty because beauty makes me feel good. I’d be having dinner with good friends. I’d be glorying in the sunset, different sky.

            I like where I am. This woman from little ol’ Harlem, Montana never dreamed she’d end up living in Mexico, no matter how many left turns she took in life.

            Shoes on a shark? I wonder what I meant?

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door

August 11, 2016

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