Friday’s Offering: Forecasts

(Photo by Cynthia Guenther Richardson)

The river hastens without desire or regret,

carries remnants of gleaming heat with

a forecast of chill whipped and stirred.

Rains huddle at the horizon in silver-bunched blueness.

Splashes of warmth do not keep up with

night’s drama, a cape thick with crickets,

their songs wrapped about me.

I close my eyes to hear and feel.

Leaves whisper and fall, kiss feet and face.

Within these months has come

a stutter of healing, invisible, slow.

At the edge of wounds are signs of strength:

sleep still and deeper, bursts of laughter,

the sound of your confusion no longer

so raw to my heart, if still startling.

I accept that you wander, surprised,

in a vaporous land with fewer borders.

You fumble and shrug, embarrassed-

for a lifetime you designed and wielded time.

We still understand one another.

But sometimes I wish you would stride

down all the paths with me,

your hand in the crook of my elbow,

mine in yours, no words needing excavation,

with nods of encouragement for the redhead

who sits alone looking for happiness.

We already have carried it between us, sister,

and hoarded its beauty for all that lay in wait.

I was more expert at preparing for poverty.

But who ever expected such hungering now?

Who could have imagined this wilderness lay ahead?

I make my way toward you, arms opening,

and you hand me a mother of pearl hummingbird

with a tender smile:

“You still love these birds, don’t you? You can have mine.”

(For those with dementia and those who love them.)

Friday’s Poem: Instuctions on Life Saving

In the interest of retrieving lives, obscure or otherwise,
a refresher on the following procedures:

we will row the boats down a rough river
hitch up our pants and hike high ridges
climb ancient oaks to puzzle out plans
gather fruits and celebrate succulence
crouch in wild grasses, praise redwinged blackbirds
hunt for stones and lost beads for our adornment
lug water to forgotten snap peas and tiger lilies
place a child’s palm in ours with kisses on cheeks
conjur equations that design new music
hang out in coffee shops and close our eyes
sink bare toes into sea-carved sand
note all tears slipping from heart to eyes
whisper in ears one mantra or nonsense
welcome midnight and the owl’s shadow flight
hang onto each other and lean back in a circle
shout praise and pleas to unperturbed mountains
find more endings that give birth to beginnings
pick random shards to make a thousand bowls
to swamp with life-light, then pour into the dark

and may our blood run salt-sweet-steady,
and minds crackle with the power of discovery
and souls be seeded with courage and patience

to salvage crushing times and deep, daring tales we inhabit
and even one who wanders misunderstood or failing just below an
exquisite horizon where nobody thought to look:
Call out.
Listen.
Answer.
Go forth.

Tuesday’s Thoughts: The Farewells We Make

I have been on a few lovely meanders recently. I had hoped to share decent beach photos and experiences. I still intend on doing that. Just not now. I have had many good intentions the last few years, then had to change my plans. Alter my expectations. It’s the way it is: none of us is protected from a halt-and-change-route kind of life, and we have to do it many times, at that.

Within the next 12 hours my sister Allanya’s partner, Skyler, will be leaving this realm for the next. It was not unimaginable that it might be sooner than later–she has been unwell for years– but not this soon. And I was hoping not this way. Oregon has the legal option of a physician-assisted death. And this is Skyler’s decision.

Of course, I have been mired in quandry– as have most who are part of the extended family. And some numbness. I can’t begin to sort out all my thoughts and emotions regarding this determination after her being in hospice care a short time. I have been trying to make it somehow align with my view of living and dying in my confused brain for a couple of weeks; it was to have happened in July. Then the date was changed. Suddenly last week on the way home from our beach trip I was informed I had to soon say goodbye to her. Yet another family member.

There has been no time to “prepare” myself. How does one do that in this circumstance, really? How do we ever prepare for death of those that have taken up time and space in our days and nights, our hearts? There are many sorts of death, and have been mourning a few of them– in this country and abroad. And now at home. What do I do with the plunge into the depths of it?

I breathe fully as I awaken another day, and meditate, pray and walk, listen to music, write, reach out. Everyday things can reshape so much. Another human being can soften the blows some.

She–Skyler– will be the eighth person to die in a few years. Many of you know we lost a granddaughter only last spring. My family is shrinking each year, to the point where I almost wonder when another must leave us…It happens usually in the spring. Beauty arrives; death follows. It is a river of grief and I float in it more than I think I can manage, but it is a most human thing. We all must do it; we learn how to do it.

I don’t make any judgment of her choice, even if I understand almost nothing of it and I don’t like it. I can note that Skyler is in her eighties, has been ill and in pain for many years with many ups and downs. I believe she has thought of this long and hard and believes this is best. But it still doesn’t seem simple. It doesn’t add up right now in some meaningful way I can grasp or feel fine about. Perhaps one day, perhaps never. But it is just not my life or death. I have cared about the woman my sister has loved. I will miss her and cherish the good memories shared. But right now I am confounded as well as feeling the sadness creep in as I anticipate a very hard day tomorrow. And the others after.

I am much more focused on my sister, her impending gigantic loss and compounded sorrows. It’s a grief she has tried to fend off… even if she has also worked on accepting such a possibility for years. I will spend alot of time with her for a long while to come, driving across the city whenever she wants me there. I imagine packing lunches and sitting outdoors in the sunshine with her. Telling her stories and hearing hers. Walking her dog through lush grass. Crying, crying, and holding her. (Waiting for her laugh, triggering it. She has the best gutsy laughter. But that will come again later and not for a long time.)

The thing is, I soon gain medical power of attorney for the rest of Allanya’s life because she has dementia. I am five years younger than Allanya and yet I am now helping manage her life more and more. She was a powerhouse and I still feel that in her, her strength and intelligence. She is lucid and present and cheerful–until just lately–if also increasingly lacking decent short term memory. I will be needed in ways I cannot even anticipate, though she is living in a good assisted living residence.

I cannot know how she is truly experiencing this. We are as close as sisters can be, the very best friends. But still her mind and feelings are not mine; her life has changed in essential ways and will be more altered so soon. I cannot understand this wholly. We will weep and weep more. But I seek ways to build better bridges to her heart and mind so I may continue to walk with her during the coming years.

What this all means to me and our family goes far beyond this clumsy language. But I wanted to share this much; I know I am not the only person in these situations. We are called to be expansively loving and courageous and also strong when family members–or, yes, others–need us more and more. And so I will do my best to answer that call again.

If I don’t post here for awhile you now know why. I will write and post as I can. I have truly missed being here regularly, as well as reading more of your great blogs this spring.

I sure hope you seek and find the illuminating, small wonders, and grab and share every good moment with those you love, and just keep on keeping on. It is a such mammoth mess of a world…we need to survive heartaches the best we can and discover more ways to love life even more. To do good work and cherish what matters most.

At least, that is what I aim to keep doing, moment by moment. Tears are not the worst part. Not honoring life with compassionate presence and curious attentiveness may be the worst, I think.

Til next time…sending good will out to you.

Friday’s Poem: Into Kingdom of Flowers

(Thoughts as Skyler Journeys to the Beyond)

What grief have flowers? They live in ecstasy.

Every curve and angle, design and hue

is cast upward from dirt and granted freedom.

I with scant wisdom am humbled.

What can they offer in harrowing times as

wounds of our hearts threaten to

undo even sutures of hope?

You have known that tearing. But I say

the flowers shine forth. They create a music in color.

They grace the gloom with a waltz of unfolding.

They wrap our spirits in a field of goodness and plenty.

Bees find their way there; you see they know the honor.

I have walked among these, their rainbowed

blooms caressing my skin as if they know

such moments have kept me alive.

The slanting light limning wild grasses.

A wind that rattle-dazzles leaves.

Scents of secret life rising at daybreak

and lingering beyond the blue hour.

The flowers, though all exposed beauty, are not afraid.

How much innocence can a person lose

and yet be tugged back by a single petal

that offers itself to eye and nose?

This velvety part, that stem and leaf–

such medicine that I am brought to my senses,

conduits to pulsing numinosity of God.

One day for us all, you know, it

comes down to deep simplicity:

rain or moonlight, root or stone,

feather or beetle or cloud,

a palm cupping sun’s heat–

then circuitous breath, our very breath

seeps out to join the river’s.

And when it is over and discussed

the vivacity of life keeps company

with more under arches of trees.

When I leave, I want what is left

covered with wild flowers and gossamer light.

Transformation leaves what counts,

disperses what does not.

It comes down to usefulness.

And reverence.

Wonderment has carried me to this

and someday, farther.

Here it has all been said and done for you;

you found shock of love, of strife, inertia.

Made of it more, and less.

But this moment between times as we wait,

the gathered blossoms grant entry

to their kingdom’s favor,

to brazen and elegant and rare delights

where tears like dewdrops are silent,

sweet or not, but welcome.

I will look for you there.

Monday’s Meander on Tuesday: Stunning Red Rock State Park (Plus, My Surprise)

As you can see, I am leading with a blurry but happy photo of me taken when visiting Red Rock State Park, the last part of our trip to Central Oregon. Not because I think the picture is special. Rather, because my admitted self-image does not currently match up with X-rays and MRIs. I must have thought I could bypass various aspects of this qging body; I might have had rose colored glasses on too often.

Sitting on the fence that day three weeks ago, I didn’t feel like someone with a major knee issue. I was a little tired and very thirsty–that sun was nearly scorching my skin. But I wasn’t fending off bothersome pain after a nice walkabout. Those who’ve read my blog are aware I had a medial tear of a meniscus (right knee) in January and have been working with that ever since. To little avail, though a cortisone shot diminished the worst pain after two months’ physical therapy. Which I had to quit as it was the wrong thing to pursue, it turns out. I managed increasingly better after the injection (but it made my face and neck beet red and was itchy several days). I have from the start kept up with daily walks if possible –but after that they were faster and farther and even on hilly terrain with just a tad lingering soreness.

I know this sort of injury is common for lots of active people and so wasn’t that concerned; I had another tear 4 years ago and it healed up. But then came further consults with orthopedic surgeons about that jagged tear. I had the second one yesterday. The first doctor did not inform enough or clarify a timeline for a plan so I sought another’s opinion. I learned I have some degenerative arthritis on part of the knee in addition to a difficult-to-fix tear at the root of the injured meniscus. Bottom line is I will– this year, likely– need a partial knee replacement. I so appreciate the second surgeon being clear and frank about things. And we will talk again in awhile unless things go south faster than hoped.

But–what? Hang on a minute– I didn’t even know I had any, much less significant, arthritis! Sure, a crunch here and there, sometimes a sudden pain. But nothing impossible. I push to override discomfort, anyway, then go my merry way, whether that’s good or not. So this was a shocking reveal. (I still don’t know what will happen with the irregular tear–that procedure didn’t sound so nice/simple. Partial knee replacement with that repair may occur at same time.)

Ok, maybe a little discomfort in the semi-lame knee….enough walking for one day. (And where’s the iced tea? Just snap the pic, will ya?)

I can’t quite sort out or elucidate feelings about it; this isn’t a creative nonfiction piece, and I have to sit with the information awhile. I ponder this: I felt strong and well before this last injury. I have dealt with pain alright, overall, tried to take care of myself and looked forward to an effective treatment plan. Well, reality is what it is. And any fix that will help me stay active outdoors and for longer is the better news. I am grateful for what all I do not have and am counting on more healing, in time.

On to the good stuff: Smith Rock State Park, which spreads out at 3200 feet above sea level. (We met our granddaughter and friend and also her mother there for a last visit.) It is renowned for sport rock climbing of all sorts and levels. Made of volcanic rock–basalt and tuff– the peaks are intriguing colors and shapes. Hard to imagine the upheaval and profound alterations that occurred with the eruption(s).

I regret I wasn’t able to descend into Crooked River valley to hike those miles of trails, nor climb among rocky abuttments this time. You can spot in the distance a few rock climbers and hikers. Paths wind all about below, which I plan to revisit–it’s an exhilarating hike!

The trail you see above travels up and then down and around the river’s length. I am zoomed in here. The shot below gives more perspective on the descent, as well as height of pinnacles. If you look closely, you can see one person walking at far left on the trail by the river; there are a few others barely visible on far right end of trail that are mere specks.

Below, there is a rock climber inside a crevasse farther at right side of the rocks. Look for a white shirt half in shadow. Hard to spot–I did have a telephoto lens–in the car!…

Fanily insert shows Granddaughter Avery, Marc and me; Avery and her friend on an upper trail; people at right looking down toward river valley, left of shot.

I love the textures, shapes, colors of the high desert. And the sweet-sharp fragrances everywhere.

The afternoon began to melt away in the heat and beauty. We had four hours to drive. After saying a fond farewell to our Avery we started back home. Here are a few parting shots from along the road.

We passed through Warm Springs Reservation on the way to the Cascades. Whenever I do, I think of the clients I counselled while working in addictions/mental health treatment. I was once employed by a Native American organization and it was an experience that changed me, meeting people from multiple tribes, witnessing the palpable suffering and learning about their survival; learning a few of many traditions, hearing their music, and feeling their great desire for wholeness. I still have some beadwork sliped into my hands by some women clients who completed treatment succesfully. I was given a beautiful painting by a well known Native artist…but couselors shoould not take such gifts. The director decided to keep it since I wasn’t American Indian, anyway– and it was valuable. That hurt a bit, but I wonder how the male artist fared once back home.

This rugged land–and all the rest– was once theirs. The lossses were and are grave; the Native peoples are traumatized and it carries forward generationally. I ponder it even now–our country too often seems to not consider the impact of all this. And we cannot forget.

This trip–about which I have posted for four weeks– was only three days but stuffed with interesting experiences and fun hours. Marc and I will be getting away more this summer. Actually, we are off to the beach on Sun. so I won’t be posting next “Monday’s Meander.” But the following week: some choice Pacific Ocean stories and shots!