Friday, August 24, 2018

Messages With a Groove: Balam Apju-Bats

This is a video from Balam Ajpu, the Mayan HipHop group I talk about in Chapter 16 of Yoga Mama's Buddha Sandals. Few things are as powerful as pure, soul-derived music. 

Friday, June 29, 2018

God Sends Durango Bud Light: Living With The 416 Fire Part III

We're going on a month of living with this crazy ole 416 fire. Last week, we thought we'd dodged the bullet But the hot temps and wind have the fire roaring again. The past couple of nights, the smoke has been so thick the hazardous air meters have been peaking and we're all keeping our windows shut at night, even though June is seeing temps average in the 90s. We're all keeping spirits high, though, and the outpouring of gratitude for the firemen holding the fire from town has been tremendous (Except me accidentally kicking one in the head the other night, but that's another story.).

So about that dodged bullet: As Hurricane Bud began stirring things up out at sea we were told that the storm wouldn't help the fire, and if it did, it would bring with it disasterous mud slides almost as bad as the fire itself (which, not to tempt fate, but I have a hard time imagining.). We were told that the only thing that would help was a slow, steady rain for days, the likes of which never come to the Southwest in June. But then it did.

Bud kicked and blustered and threatened a big ole walloping storm, then, like a good person with a bad temper, calmed down when it rushed upon land, causing little to no damage in Mexico, or anywhere else, as it marched straight for the Southwest. Hurricane Bud was downgraded to a tropical storm, earning the new comic title of Bud Light.

If you know me, you know I'm no fundamentalist, no member of any church. But if you've read my book, you also know that I am a strong believer in God and a believer in miracles. I can't see last week's storm as anything but. Even the Weather Channel came just short of calling it exactly that: 

"Bud's remnant moisture also brought rainfall into the Desert Southwest, which is unusual for June. According to Kristen Corbosiero, associate professor of atmospheric science at the University at Albany, "from 1958 to 2003 there has never been a tropical cyclone that tracked as far north as Bud and brought moisture to the U.S. Southwest in June." Hurricane Bud Recap, The Weather Channel, June 15, 2018

Yet, while the outpouring of gratitude for the firefighters has been tremendous, no one's said much of anything about our major moisture miracle nor from whence it might have come (besides from the South) nor to who else they should perhaps send out a big Thank YOU! So this blog is mine. Thank you, God, for our sweet reprieve last week. Like ungrateful children. sometimes we forget to say thank you for the biggest gifts, too eager to start playing with them. 

Smoke is once again boiling over Hermosa Creek. It settles into our Valley and surrounds our homes each night, a noxious blanket I don't know how the wildlife is surviving. I accidentally left a door cracked last night and woke up to a smoky house again, which reminded me that I meant to write this. I meant to say thank you. 

I want to stress that I DO NOT think the latest weather is a punishment for not saying 'Gosh, Thanks.' Again, if you know me, you know that I don't think God's that petty, not in the least. But, it's never to late to say thank you, and wouldn't it be nice if we got a poster or two on the wall thanking the maker, as well as the firefighters? Maybe even saying thank you FOR the firefighters? And keep the gratitude coming for the firefighters. They've been out there a month now and while some might be getting a bit weary of showing gratitude, remember that they are getting tired, too. But they don't have the luxury of stopping, nor would they think of giving up on your home and our town. 

So here's my toast, to the fire fighters and God Almighty. From the bottom of my heart, Thank YOU. This Bud's for you. 

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Sorting Through Essentials When Your House is About to Burn Down: Living with the Durango 416 Fire Part II

In the middle of a forest fire might seem like a peculiar time to unfriend your sister, but I think that's what I just did. I don't mean unfriending from Facebook. She's never accepted my friend request so that's not even possible. I mean from my actual life.

Now that I'm experiencing it, it makes perfect sense that I would cut ties while I've got a forest fire breathing down my backyard. Wandering around my house with a haze of clever smoke that's found it's way through cracks I haven't yet found and sealed, I'm photographing my belongings in the event my house burns down and I have to prove to the insurance company that I really owned this and that. I'm choosing which ones I'm actually going to carry away in the car with me, and which ones money can actually replace. In the process I'm learning there's a lot that I can do without, and there's a lot that weighs me down and drains me. It's an interesting exercise to conduct when all of your thought processes are taking place in your amygdala, otherwise known as your most primitive, survival-driven lizard brain.

I'm sorting between my daughter's toys (from birth (moved four times) to stuffed animals she got for her birthday a few weeks ago, our favorite books, shoes, sweaters, files, photo albums, climbing equipment...why not family members, too? Granted, a few weeks from now, perhaps, when the rains have come and everyone is safe and dandy, I wonder if I'll regret this, but right now? Not a bit.

Last week, i sent an email (because that's how my F-ed up family communicates, almost exclusively) about the fires. I sent a video of the billowing smoke that my daughter and I were among the first to spot while out garage saling. Nothing. No response. This passed Monday, I sent an email talking about what it was like to live in this cloud of smoke and helicopters. I told them how scared we all were. I asked them to pray for rain.

No response. Finally, a day later, I get an email from my Uncle saying he'd pray for us. From my sister and my mother: Not one word.

If you've read my book, you know our relationship has never been what you'd call close. It's barely civil. My sister and I haven't even seen each other in person in over 5 years and I haven't heard her voice in 3. We've barely spoken since my parents got divorced. I'd grown accustomed to this bizarre, arms-length sisterhood and didn't really think it bothered me that much anymore.

Our family has never been overly affectionate. I remember as a child lying at my mother's feet while we watched movies and slowly trying to inch closer to her for chance she might lay her hand on my head, for that rare moment she might pet my back. If I was a plant I would have shriveled up and died.

I'm not telling you this story so you'll feel sorry for me. Don't. If you did read my book you'll see I'm having an amazing life, full of adventure and love. I'm telling you this so you might understand unfriending my sister from my life. I never said it doesn't hurt. Hurts bad.

After years of struggling to be a part of our messed up family, getting absolutely no response from my sister or mother...well, truth is, being part of this arms-length family has become more painful with time, not less. It's painful to struggle to remain a part of it. But I struggle because...well, they're my family. And we don't really have much. It always seemed like it would be worse to have conversations with people who ask, "Do you have any brothers and sisters?" And to try to evade revealing how the relationship was so toxic I had to disconnect it. But lately? People are leaving our family not so much from family deaths as from opting out. My cousins, one by one, stopped talking to their parents. I've hung in there, if for no other reason than to try to imagine to myself I actually have a birth family. (Again, don't feel sorry for me. I have an amazing husband, daughter and puppy. I've MADE a wonderful life.).

But after getting no response about the email for several days, and operating almost completely from that ole lizard brain, I did something I should have done a long time ago. I let loose with this email:

"Really? Bobby is the only one who responded??? And you wonder why I moved out West and never came back? When I lived in Memphis I heard from no ONE. EVER. Lana, you didn't call me for 5 or 6 years. I don't think I've heard your actual voice in several years now. Mom, I saw you maybe once or twice a year and when I did, you acted like it was the worst thing that could have happened to you that day, and it's how you've acted every time I've visited from Colorado, too. The last couple of years you act like me going to the time and expense to come see you is mild compared to the inconvenience to you to make time for me when I do get there.  I'm really starting to wonder why I've ever bothered."

I should probably mention I'm still Lizard braining it, so posting this entire thing might be a questionable decision. My husband cautions that I might burn bridges. Right now, in this state. I'm not out to burn bridges. I'm lobbing grenades. 

Anyhoo. My response from my email? My mother "excused me" (by email) because I was obviously so freaked out by the fire. She still expressed no actual concern. She warned me not to put things in email (or blogs) when I'm upset because those words are difficult to erase. 

Now, I can't be certain of this, but in times like these, aren't families supposed to call and console, encourage, or something??? As a mother now myself, I know that's exactly what I would do. I'd probably be on a plane to be by her side or urge her to come to mine. 

In my time of need, my mother, on the other hand, warns me not to say things that might upset anybody. Well why not? Cause I might damage our families fragile bonds? That I might be cast out of their warm embrace and they might not be there for me when I need them? Let me tell you, I've had a lot of hard times in my life (again, see my book ) and they haven't done diddly squat during any of them. Actually it's been worse than that. There responses have been about the way they have been during this crisis: Furthering my sense of isolation and driving the heartache deeper. Abandonment issues? Yep, got 'em in spades. 

My sister and I exchanged ever escalating emails to the point that the last email signaled the end of our relationship. Will I change my mind after this is all over? Will I regret sharing this with you? Frankly, it feels so good to say it out loud, to finally stop trying to figure out what I've done wrong and decide that they're wrong, to believe in my stance so strongly that I'm willing to open it up to challenge. Bring it. Right now, I examine this relationship. What is it? What is this family that communicates primarily through email and shrugs, gloats or SHUNS in times of need. It's dirty, dusty and barbed, difficult to handle, really too prickly to hold. It's something I just have, that just sits there as part of my existence but doesn't nourish my life. Quite the opposite. If I reach for it, it hurts me. Throughout my life, despite my best efforts, I struggle with the emptiness, the longing, the self-doubts and self-criticism a life of being treated with something that feels more akin to disdain or aversion than familial love brings. It has made me strong. But it also continues to wound and scar. Parts of my psyche, of my self-perception, have been on fire all my life and I've been struggling to hold onto them, to drown the embers, but the fuels just keep coming.

With limited resources, the Firefighters out there on the actual ridges have to choose where to make their stands and when to let stands burn. Maybe I should too.  

Donna Stewart is a freelance writer, researcher and author of Yoga Mama's Buddha Sandals: Mayans, Zapatistas and Silly Little White Girls. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

What's It Like Living Down The Street From the Durango 416 Forest Fire??

(video taken by me and my daughter, first day of the fire, minutes after it started.) 

What's it Like Living Down The Street From the Durango 416  Forest Fire?

I live in Durango, Colorado, home of the roaring 416 fire. The past couple of days, friends and family are asking, "Are you safe? Are you leaving? What's it like right now?" 

It's pretty damned surreal. Last week, when the fire was just a wee 8,000 acres, I was online encouraging everyone to still come to Durango. I told them the fire wasn't defining us. That we still had so much to offer as a town, including a relatively safe place from which you could view the incredible spectacle that is a forest fire. I'm not doing that this week.

I'd gone away for the weekend and as we were driving home Sunday night, you could see the boiling, frothing smoke from the fire from almost three hours drive away. It looks like a volcano erupting. Not just drifting smoke, but moving, folding, rolling smoke, in varying shades of gray - and sometimes orange billowing hundreds, maybe thousands of feet into the sky. 

It's a very unsettling feeling to see such a sight where you know your home is on the horizon...and you're still driving straight for it. 

Once we reached home, it was bizarre. People are just going about their lives. They're wandering main street, riding bikes, kayaking down the river, playing with their dog, running errands...with this enormous, menacing plume of smoke hanging over everyone's heads. Okaaaaayyyyyy.

We unpacked from camping and joined the multitude trying to maintain some semblance of normalcy with this big beast hanging over our heads. We went paddle boarding.

But the beast doesn't just hang. Sunday night I accidentally left a window open. I woke up at 2 am, choking on smoke and fumes, eyes stinging, nose and throat burning.  I woke up my husband, daughter and dog, and ushered everyone into the guest room, the one room where the smoke hadn't reached. We were having difficulty breathing and I wanted to go outside for fresh air, but outside was even worse. There was no where to go. My heart pounding, I struggled with terror trying to decide what to do while keeping it together for my daughter. Despite the burning eyes, nose and throat, she was giddy at her new sleeping arrangement: a sleepover with Mom, Dad and the Dog all in one room. 

I've been pretty scared since then. 

Our home is surrounded by huge, beautiful Ponderosa Pine trees. I have a dozen within ten feet of my house. Needles and limbs are in piles all over the place. They're piled because I've been trying to clear decades, or centuries, of build up off the ground since we moved in last year. The fire is still seven miles away as the crow flies, but the plume comes right over our house. As does the squadron of helicopters going to and from their fuel source. Every few minutes during the day, we're shaken by the rumbling, thawking sound of the helicopters and get a pretty good idea of how hard they're working because, at times, it sounds like a war zone. 

At night, cooler temps cause the smoke to settle towards the ground and our house, and town, are enveloped in this thick, noxious cloud. I don't know how wildlife is surviving, but they are. We still hear and see birds and deer. Cows, sheep, and horses, like their distant human cousins, go about their days as they normally do, meandering fields and rolling in dust. I have no idea what they do when the cloud sinks to the ground for the night and the air becomes acrid and angry.

In the morning, the sun shines through the smoke giving strange, orangish light. The cloud starts to lift and by around 3, you can almost not smell it. That's when you open all your windows and try to get some fresh air in the house before you have to shut it all down for the nightly return of the smoke.

I've rarely been this scared. When I can't fight the curiosity anymore, I go look at the fire to see how much closer to town it's stormed. Every time I see it, my heart races, and from deep within my DNA comes the urge to get the hell out of here. In those moments, it takes A LOT to overcome the intense urge to run the other direction. But I'm still here. We're still here. And GOD BLESS THE FIREMEN WHO ARE MAKING SURE OF THAT.

This fire won't destroy us. It won't destroy Durango. Not it's beauty, not the incredible spirits of it's courageous people. When this is all over, come see us. There's no place like it in the entire world. I think when the smoke lifts today, I'll take my daughter paddle boarding.

Donna Stewart is a freelance writer, researcher and author of Yoga Mama's Buddha Sandals: Mayans, Zapatistas and Silly Little White Girls. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Summing up a week in Mexico in five Quotes

If there's one thing I've learned from jungle travel, it's don't open your door in the middle of the night to a knocking monkey.

Sure, it's all fun and games til someone gets bit in the head.

That gentleman there, the one that keeps falling out of his kayak, the one with the midwestern pigmentation...

Boasting and full of bravado at 9:45 a.m. : Oh hell yeah! I just got out of a riptide. Reality setting in a 11:45 p.m.: Oh hell! I got caught in a riptide and it just came out of no where! Knees knocking.

Grab it! Yeah, I think it bites, but I'm pretty sure it's not poisonous.

Humor aside, it was an amazing week in a beautiful country with beautiful people. Amo Mexico.

Donna Stewart is a freelance writer, researcher and author of Yoga Mama's Buddha Sandals: Mayans, Zapatistas and Silly Little White Girls.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

The Black Panther Movie: I'm Just Going to Say It.

Photo by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash
Black Panther just became the third highest grossing Marvel-release film of all time in the U.S., outpaced only by The Avengers and The Avengers: Age of Ultron (two of my favorite movies). I’m a marvel junkie. And an action movie junkie. So much so that even my husband says he wouldn’t mind the occasional romantic comedy every now and then. 

This is kind of unusual for a girl, I know, but if you’ve read my book, you get it. And it’s not really that unusual. Humanity’s had a crush on superheroes since story tellers have been spinning yarns. What was Hercules (circa 2000 b.c.) and the other demigods who fought on mortal behalf, if not superheroes? How about Beowulf (circa 1000 a.d.) who used his super strength to rip the arm off the monster Grendel? Humanity has always needed its heroes.

The Black Panther brings it: talented actors, action, compelling characters, good triumphing over evil, cool tech, plenty of heart…yep, this movie’s got it all. But I think there’s more to its popularity. I think it’s a movie we all need.

For one, it’s an antidote. Growing up in Memphis, Tennessee, I was surrounded by racism in some of its ugliest forms and from all colors. Whites who hate Blacks, Blacks who hate Whites. Browns, Beiges, Yellows, and Reds who all hate each other and Whites and Blacks. But Memphis, like much of the world, also has, I believe, an even larger majority from all colors who want to see racism in all forms end. I belonged to this faction and I believed with all my heart that I didn’t have a racist cell in my body, especially since I'm part Cherokee and therefore, multi-hued myself.

My trip to Chiapas (the subject of my book Yoga Mama's Buddha Sandals: Mayans, Zapatistas and Silly Little White Girls) was the first time I glimpsed how living in a world with racism, however subtle, had impacted me deep within my psyche; how it had sunk in its ugly tendrils like a virus, quietly influencing me in ways I still don’t fully recognize.

The Black Panther is not just heartening, fun entertainment. It’s not just a long overdue movie about a Black superhero. It’s also a poultice that draws these subconscious poisons to the surface where they can be recognized and rectified. 

Several times during the movie I was distracted by arguments that seemed to come from…well, from someone who thinks differently than I thought I thought. “Why do all the bad guys have to be white?” I found myself asking. “How come all the white characters but one is a bad guy?” “How come there aren’t more white people in this movie?” Where did THAT come from??? Sound familiar? We ALL need this movie. This is what I don’t believe: I don’t believe it is possible to live in this society and not be influenced by its biases and some of those biases are flat out wrong and need to be confronted before we can fully move forward. As we confront and dismiss these toxic mental parasites, the Black Panther gives us a new message to soothe the raw, exposed psyche. Or maybe I speak only for myself. Maybe I make much ado about nothing?

Either way, I plan to go see the movie again for two reasons: 1) so I can see if those thoughts have any more fight in them and reckon with them if they do and 2) It’s a damn good movie, worth seeing again.

Donna Stewart is a freelance writer, researcher and author of Yoga Mama's Buddha Sandals: Mayans, Zapatistas and Silly Little White Girls. 

Friday, October 13, 2017

How to Exorcise the Bogeyman: Mulling Over the Clean Power Plan

Photo courtesy of Thomas Roberts

By Donna Stewart, article originally prepared for San Juan Citizens Alliance.

How to Exorcise the Bogeyman: Mulling over the Clean Power Plan

“With this bellows I will pump the flames of this fire which looks like from Hell, and witches will flee, straddling their brooms…and when this beverage goes down our throats, we will get free of the evil of our soul and of any charm.”

In some Japanese rituals, evil spirits are warded off by throwing roasted soybeans. The Irish started the ritual of dressing up and carving pumpkins to ward off evil spirits and since the eleventh century, some Gaelic tribes ward off evil spirits by chanting the above conxuro (incantation) during the Queimada, an ancient ritual that involves drinking from a flaming pot of very strong distilled wine, coffee, sugar, lemon peel and coffee beans. I’m game.

Halloween’s coming up and goblins, ghosts and ghouls are parading around homes and towns, especially D.C.. Remember that movie, The Last Rain Forest? Remember Hexxus, the evil pollution-chugging ancient spirit of destruction who thrived on poison fumes and oil spills?, With the latest intention to repeal the Clean Power Plan, I’m starting to wonder if monsters like Hexxus could be based on real characters. Ahem.

Here’s “some” good news about that: According to the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and a few other semi-reputable news outlets, many of the nation’s largest power companies are claiming that even if the move to eliminate the Clean Power Plan succeeds, they’re planning to move forward laying the groundwork for renewable energy and nothing will change that simply because clean, renewable energy makes the most economic sense.

With what’s at stake, it seems like only the bogeyman or some other evil spirit would try to send  us back to the days of black lungs and smoggy (er) skies. Colorado Governor, John Hickenlooper, says the repeal won’t matter in Colorado because we’ll exceed the Plan’s guidelines anyway. Colorado is already closing coal plants and developing infrastructure and jobs in renewable energy.

 “We have dramatically cleaner air and we are saving money. My question to the E.P.A. would be, ‘Which part of that don’t you like?’” Hickenlooper noted in a recent New York Times article.

In an interview with CBS, Janet McCabe, a Senior Fellow at the Environmental Law and Policy Center and one of the architects of the Clean Power Plan, said “This administration is doing all kinds of things to try to prop up this industry but we’re finding that because of increased cost, increased automation…there are all kinds of reasons why the coal industry is not thriving.”

By repealing the Clean Power Plan, by stepping back from Paris, “This administration is basically telling other countries, Okay, you can be the global leaders, and you can make the money that WILL be made by investing in a clean energy future.”

Wind farms and solar farms are already developing all over the U.S. with impressive ROI. In Fowler, Indiana, energy giant BP opened three wind farms, reviving an economy that was considering opening up a waste dump in an attempt to generate jobs. BP’s farms have resulted in $17 million in payments to the county and $33 million invested in roads as well as creating over a hundred permanent, professional pay grade jobs. A recent Department of Energy survey found that this year there are 374,000 solar induastry jobs while only 160,000 people have been employed by the Coal industry.

Another consideration to ponder: Right now, China leads the world in renewable energy development and manufacture. Want more of that here? Let’s chant away some evil spirits. The EPA has a 60 day public comment period before a final decision will be made. You can take a moment to make a comment here:

But wait! How about locally? Is LPEA ramping up plans to bring green energy to our fair city? Why don’t you ask them? Start chanting. Write, Call, or show up to meetings and ask them where we are and share your thoughts: email: or call: 970.247.5786 or 888.839.5732

Bippity Boppity BOO! Happy Halloween!

Donna Stewart is a freelance writer and author of Yoga Mama’s Buddha Sandals: Mayans, Zapatistas and Silly Little White Girls, available at local bookstore, public library, or Barnes&Noble. You can see more of her work at