Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: Find the Welcome, Wherever You Are

I am back to travelling mostly by magazine and video, and it isn’t too bad. I have often been tantalized by pictures of foreign places, of turquoise waters slapping glistening beaches; jagged mountains contrasting with plunging canyons; grass-dancing plains with endless sky; apparently jewel-encrusted snow and hulking icebergs; boggy moors and emerald, undulating hills. Book my trip! And, too, there are such possibilities within fascinating sprawl of cities and cozy, tidy villages. What lives must be led there, what treats await, doors opening into another way of living.

I know people who have enjoyed vast far-flung travels. I would go here and there if I could, but content myself with passing visuals that enable my imagination’s many returns. Luckily, I can mentally insert myself into what I see–likely most do the same. Thus, I can “arrive” so many places, and have a partial experience of what is out there. During childhood I read magazines like National Geographic, Life or Look (awhile ago…) and developed a more voracious appetite for learning. I found this akin to getting on a train and reaching out to the greater world. It was a way to transport my “imaging mind”.

By comparison, my quotidian home views are perhaps modest. From the windows of our home on the west side are towering sitka spruce trees and big leaf maples, so thick sunlight barely sneaks onto the balcony with several yearning-for-more potted flowers. The trees provide a fine cooling effect as temperatures rise to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. We are built into a steep incline; being high up, this view offers a sneak peek at townhouses below and vivid patches of sky. In the distance are mountains, less visible until winter.

A partial balcony view
Another nearby view

On the east side of our place is a narrow winding drive, but there are more spruce trees lining the way and mostly hidden residences. Generally, we are in extensive woodlands. It is Oregon; we are located within a metro area embraced by trees, rimmed by mountains. Unlike one of my beloved sisters who cut down several pines about her mountainside house, oddly complaining she could see little else and it was too shady, I never tire of any sort of trees.

My realization is that although I can’t travel far these days, I’m not so discontent–in truth, never bored with the Pacific Northwest, as I often unabashedly state in my posts.

Since we left the city and moved here, I was surprised, though, to see only a handful of folks walking regularly. More go out a short time with their dogs. Now, by cars noted, I surmise many work at home–or not working at all. I wonder what they do–we live in a privacy-prized place. People are less easily connected with now. Children’s happy shouts may shake the silence–or stillness is punctured by wails if rarely. Some nights adult voices dial up. Yet I hear an owl or two as I fall asleep. Quietness can feel palpable the long days and nights, a genial companion. When cars pass down the hill, it is a fleeting rumble. This area can give off a dreamy quality. I am acutely aware we are set apart since our last neighborhood, fascinating and lovely, was part of a buzzing, traffic-jammed, densely-packed Portland.

It is more than a pretty place. It is a world within many, and an abundance of natural designs rippled outward. The extinct volcano upon which we live is bounded only by inattention or attention, what we do with what is experienced. Nature provides inestimable opportunities to consider more than meets the eye. (I confess I also love the clean lines of typical older Northwest architectural styles; even grander houses blend into landscape, semi-secret sanctuaries.)

Marc looks for oak galls that are discarded, which he collects. Wasps lay parasitic larvae on a part of the tree and then inject a hormone into tissue that creates a round, hard protective growth. Oddly, one can make ink from these, and Marc is into making natural inks. (Then making pens to use the ink.) He also is on the lookout for good rocks anywhere we trod. His collection is gathering… he knows a few things by now. (And shares finds with my son, an true wilderness rock hunter.)

We both admire all the varieties of birds, mostly small and always industrious, unique in plumage and behaviors. Cooper’s hawks call fairly often in one spot and we spotted two last week. When attempting to photograph them, they were just too camouflaged high on branches. They watched me as I watched them, attractive and stealthy, strong hunters. Their high pitched calls sail, silvery and piercing at once. There are also downy woodpeckers, northern flickers, juncos and spotted owls as well and some visit our feeder and nest close by. (Sad to say baby juncos drowned in their nest, made within a hanging confetti plant after a deluge early summer). Hummingbirds are a favorite, and love my fuchsias. I have much to learn and but it is treat to watch the birds anywhere.

During a pandemic, such low-risk activities are good entertainment. I am fortunate to live here and take advantage of its wonders. I’ve shared many day trip outings, too, in WordPress posts. We don’t remain inside long– even books and computers are taken outdoors in good weather. If we are stuck here for a lot longer, we will be quite alright. Or find other solutions.

The truth is, I’ll always be alright in my core–unless totally unable due to circumstances beyond total control. For one thing, it is not a foreign experience to endure difficult places and circumstances: in very inhospitable hospitals; in rundown abodes (a tiny chicken coop converted to a dwelling before tiny houses were on trend); in miles of neighbor-less countryside; in places where my life was in jeopardy; in a neighborhood where gunshots and gang action were common–we got good at hitting the floor; without little food and/or no heat in winter; and homeless for weeks or months.

One quite unusual situation was living in a state park, first in a park lodge, then in two millipede- and other insect-infested, rustic cabins for two and a half months with five kids. No reasonable houses were available in a rural Tennessee area after a job transfer. But it worked out okay. Any shelter with water…well, anyone can manage with basics.

I have gotten intimate with a life lacking pride and artifice. Every place I landed presented an opportunity for self-knowledge and greater gains.

Sure, I’ve lived in more gracious situations in these 70 years, a few that remain happy to recall. They are also good to write about. But since I don’t know what next year will bring–Marc being one more person to lose his job due to COVID-19 downsizing–it is better to recall how one adapts further. We may retire to a tiny cottage somewhere far from here, who knows? It may be harder than that.

Clearly, people possess a mammoth urge to survive; we overcome what appears daunting, even disabling circumstances. We make things do, make even better out of very little. We can manage to find our way during shut down resultant of a virulent contagion. In fact, we are fortunate if we have a place that is safe.

I find–no matter where I am–there are a few things to consider:

  1. There are goodhearted and fascinating people to connect with in some manner, even if only to observe and wonder over. Hopefully to swap stories with and appreciate. And flora and fauna to learn about if you tend that way.
  2. There are ever changing sights to seek beyond your nose, just look out a window. (If only the sky. Clouds are marvelous with changing hues and shapes, gradations of dark and light–and indicate weather, too.) Magical things are await to be explored, no matter how weird or inconsequential it may seem to another. There is never a dearth of ways to contemplate how and why we connect to the greater universe each day. The infinitesimal miracles of creation, as our senses and busy brains are springboards to greater knowledge. Practice quietness, and listen.
  3. Indoor spaces are what you make of them. Let in more light. If small, use your ways and means to enlarge upon it. Get organized and pare down. If your place feels a bit shabby, make a picture, place colorful pictures from magazines on walls, add nature’s decor. If big and empty, turn it into a place of refuge by honoring chosen areas with what you value, even candles, sweet grass, incense, a humble bouquet, a chime for the wind outside. Open your arms, dance, make music so that your body finds its better balance and joy. Let creatures be happily around/with you. Breathe in that space. And fill time with ideas, even dreams for a hopeful future. And here, too, gentle stillness will keep you well. Finally, read to escape or enliven, make for something for fun not perfection, try new hobbies, meditate and pray, offer up songs–and include others. Thank them for being there… you are less alone than many. Make a phone call–the human voice is a pleasure to hear, a lifesaver sometimes.
  4. You in entirety make a physical space what it is: your attitude and personal vision will alter it. If you’re sullen and bleak, so will be your home. If you find relief even in smallest happiness, it will grow. If you have gratitude, you cannot forget what matters most. If you offer hope to others it will color your world, too, with expectancy of healing and wholeness. You will expand beyond circumstance. Reach out.
  5. I am never entirely alone. Nature is attendant, for certain. But for me the omnipresent, numinous power of Divine Love, of God is here, is there. I can’t persuade anyone to believe in this; we each find our own way. It shapes my living and creating, seeking and growing. It enables trust in living hour to hour, if needed. I acknowledge the world and its terrors. But this does not discount my faith in both humanity and God’s wisdom and the universal pulses that connect all. I admit I feel as if visiting here, at times; likely it is so for everyone. Wayfarers, we are. In the meantime, we can be authentically ourselves and aspire to more. We can be present for one another–is this not doing good? It is a reflection of God-ness: to not be stingy with kindness, forgiveness.
  6. The world isn’t a static place and human beings are in a state of flux internally, externally. Life is a mighty change agent as we participate in the process of building, dissembling, recreating, pursuing worthy solutions. Either we utilize forces of mind and soul, or we do not. We gather resources and share them, or do not. We brainstorm, push on. Prepare while waiting until we can do so once more.
  7. Patience is required of us in tough circumstances of any sort, as well as insight and a modicum of courage. And if generosity of heart can tip a balance, we are better off to trust one another–more so now, in a time when greater energy and flexibility are needed to keep on.
  8. All of this is not too much to ask of myself. Ourselves. I have survived other trials, as have you. We awaken, if all goes well enough, to a new day. The world’s history attests to human resilience and perseverance, even amid pestilence and war and natural destruction.

So, back to unknown vista where I shall not go: I don’t travel far these days. But neither do I feel imprisoned in a time or place. I don’t have to go far to find inspiration and peace. There remains energetic human imagination. Impulses of spirit to seek more beyond the moment. Powers of body to adapt, keep on, recover, be strengthened even when damage may be wrought. Some may not, this is also true. It is grievous–we play out our mythic cycle of being born, living and dying. To be human is to know the wrenching away from it all, too.

We have the capacity to become more than survivors of the times. We can become forces for regeneration, rebuilding, greater equity of human lives. It takes persistence and faith to believe in change, even enough for this day.

I muse often in this time of crisis as I walk the woodlands: how to find the grace in every circumstance, and make the weaving of my life denser and varied. How to share compassion–the deeper, richer hope of it. The whole of things as opposed to simply small pieces I can see. Each morning I return to waking sunlight and leave it with heart and soul intact, not just this reaching, plodding body. My truest self is, then, my permanent residence. And the welcome mat is out.

Monday’s Meander: Welcome to My Neighborhood

A scene along Old River Road.

Summer has hit full force, with the good and not so good. City center protests for 53 days that now have brought federal troops’ presence, for one, have ramped up local worries….And I need nature all the more.

It has increasingly gotten very hot and dry here. Where to meander? When we considered where to ramble over the weekend, we decided to keep it very local and mostly ventured along the river again. That late July Oregon sunshine burned too fiercely for me; it was a slower, sweatier time time out and about. It may rain for 7 months, but when the summer arrives it brings plenty of blue skies radiating sharp heat! (Not any rain to talk about until October or November.)

Since I worked hard on another piece of writing today, this post will be short and sweet. I have scads of photos of our surrounding woodsy/ riverine/suburban Portland area and local trails we walk. Though I have at times featured shots specific to a larger topic, there are scads more that you might enjoy – these are fairly random random but, hopefully, a refreshing assortment.

A Gabriel Park trail, close to our city.
The ole Willamette River.
It really is nearby–a view from a Cook’s Butte trail.
“Our” woods to call home.
Community gardens

Monday’s Meander: To the Seaside We Go!

Finally. It has been ten months since we visited the Pacific Ocean, despite it being barely an hour and a half away. You know how it was back then–there was work, family obligations, trails to traverse in any direction, activities of all sorts to jump in and enjoy. But being outdoors is now perhaps the best way to engage with many bountiful offerings. And we have waited for opportunities to partake of the pleasures–i.e., the fewer knots of people (sadly), the better. The time felt right; off we went.

Neskowin

Marc and I met up with a daughter and her family at ocean’s edge for starters in Neskowin, a village of 170. Neskowin Beach State Recreation Site features a long lovely beach and Cascade headland with good hiking trails. Our goal this time was to breathe the salt sea air, walk beaches for miles, casually rock hunt, enjoy surfer activity and admire the might of ubiquitous waves rolling in. And enjoy the twin toddler grandchildren’s first real experience of the Pacific Ocean. (Only indirect photos of them–safety first.) You can see pleased Grandpa Marc in the red enjoying them; the other two are the protective, loving parents. (We wore masks around family, an abundance of caution–later we did not with few people near us.)

I was amazed that one ran laughing into the water often and tried a couple sand snacks, while her sister more enjoyed squeezing the fine sand between her toes and toddling about. But they sure were happy, as were we all.

A few more shots of Neskowin Beach before moving on below. First up is Proposal Rock, well known in Oregon. A hotel on this beach capitalizes on the theme.

There are always reminders to beware of sneaker waves; never turn your back to the sea, never let your kids go out unsupervised.

After the twins and parents had enough fun, Marc and I moved north up the central coast. We had seen only smatterings of people on the beach thus far, but Pacific City/Cape Kiwanda was another story. You will note swimmers and surfers, while the actual beach was nearly crowded. We stepped out for only a few moments then headed for Oceanside, a favorite place.

We arrived about 6 pm and availed ourselves of Oceanside’s fine beaches as the sun began to sink bit by bit. Dramatic, thickening clouds bunched together–no rain while on the beach, a miracle, but it became windy and chillier. And broodingly mesmerizing, which I love about the sea.

That’s right, get a shot of the photographer/writer, too.

Marc searches for rocks around/inside shallow caves as they are often left behind as the tide recedes. We used to find an abundance of amber or clear agates on this section of beach but not in a long while.

A couple bird-watching.

Three Arch Rocks National Wildlife Refuge is a bout a half mile off the shore of Oceanside. Many seabirds live there. Birds include cormorants, Western gulls, storm petrels, tufted puffins, and pigeon guillemots and in the past, tufted puffins and common murres. But Bald Eagles’ comeback has caused them to swoop in and disturb their habitat and prey upon the colonies and many have moved on. Numerous stellar sea lions make this their northernmost breeding site around the huge rocks. (We saw none this time.)

Below a few shots of seabird havens. Graceful cormorants are lovely to see in action.

We always hate to leave Oceanside and as it was we didn’t depart until 8 pm. We lingered and bid farewell–until next time.

Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: Over the Ramparts We Go?

It was my intention to get up at a decent hour and head to the coast with Marc for at least a look-see. It was to be a considerable consolation to visit the Pacific Ocean for a day since we are not yet taking a hoped for road trip through eastern Oregon and Idaho. It meant I’d re-post a piece from a few years’ back, something I’ve rarely done in ten years of writing and posting on WordPress. But for such a great reason.

I just wanted out. To embrace some real freedom. Out of our home, out of our city, released of some of the binding constraints imposed by Times of a Most Terrible Virus. I had read about “quarantine malaise”, and I considered that it might be creeping up on me a couple weeks back. This day trip was a healthy act of self-care–for Marc and for myself. Blue skies predicted! The roaring lull of big waves guaranteed! Piney forest air plus sea salt=a thrill+peace. An equation for a span of pleasure.

Over the ramparts we go, then! Face the relentless threats semi-armed and mostly fearless! Off to sea and its radiant, wild delights!

However, life is a chameleon that will trick you despite solid strategies to avoid any such tricks.

Last night a chronic health condition flared badly and as usual with bad timing it followed me to bed, where I attempted to fall asleep, not fooled by my desire to do so. This is not a new thing; I have years of practicing the inexact art of living with insomnia. I sometimes am victorious without any aids; most often I sweat it out. But I can give in and take half a pill of something that seems much more benign than not halfway resting. Luckily, when I finally seek an aid, a little medicine goes a long way toward a triumph. This is noted for those of you who haven’t followed me long: I am several decades past being a drinking, pill-popping part-mad woman, a user of self defeating escape routes. For any reason. Some nights I nearly (but not truly) regret that–at wide eyed 4 a.m.–but persist in the ways to wellness. (I might add that I savor Sleepytime or Tension Tamer tea nightly, perhaps even Kava tea a couple hours before bedtime.) I know where I am headed by 11 or 12, and it isn’t always kindly there, no sweet rocking chair drowse, despite a fine book.

But I am lying there (alone–made the smart move long ago as he also has sleep issues) with intermittent punching of pillows to reshape/ reposition them, re-smoothing sheets (or even re-tenting the top sheet about my head), re-settling limbs into a tolerable degree of discomfort, listening to and shushing hidden innards griping–yes, lying there and thinking: This is not what June was to be. As if that would be a revelation to anyone in the world. I repeat a variation silently. This is not the life I had hoped for at 70. As if it was planned for by the 7, 17 or 37 year olds, the middle aged folks and beyond when one might feel a tad more secure or at least on near horizon. All humanity has been aghast at what lies beyond their door–and also inside it, at times. What on earth is next? I shall not fear– but fear I do now and then, as one does.

I get too hot, toss off a a layer. But the vexations begin even as prayers are recited with earnestness. And any whiff of gratitude is often noted on the bumpy night path. I can still breathe, no coughing or fevers, I am okay, overall, so far, and we have food to eat, and family not far.

Last night I was fortunate: it was not even 2 a.m. when I last looked at the clock. Which I do try to not look at, but I tend to count how many hours I will need to function. Say, at 2 I will still need at least 6 –until 8 or 9 in the morning–to function reasonably well. But this is not often fulfilled on that kind of night. Rather, hit or miss, take what you get and be glad to awaken feeling like an only slightly less than average older human, overall. I might get to sleep at 2 awaken at 5, finally sleep at 7:30 again, get up at–gasp–10. It is a messy way to live in some regard but works well enough if it must.

But not this morning did I roll out of bed and feel fit enough. I surmised I may not have deeply slept, at all–a blur of soreness and uncertainty, getting up and down, reading, trying to not check my phone, then at last almost acquiescing to sounds of the fan on low and a meditation app on repetitive ocean waves. And there is a fragrance diffuser that releases something like a lavender scent. It wafts about, then lingers only briefly as if reluctant to bear witness to my wrestling. There is a small lavender sachet under my pillow, though–a back-up.

All this did not spare me of dreamy fragments and waking exhausted. (I always wonder what planet I was on, what was that room crammed with people who looked like escapees from an old fashioned carnival?)

I came a bit more awake. The heralding sun sneaking through slats designed a stripey pattern across carpet and skin: a show of shadow, light. I watched it move, barely–I don’t see well without help–and it shimmered. But it was really the first morning I have lain there (since March) and had this thought: why must I push off bed covers and press feet to ground and run water for a shower and get dressed to greet the day? How is this day any different from all those that ran, pranced, crept, and slogged before it? But I kept on and dash it all to any doubts that came.

The high ramparts I saw in my mind were daunting, the views a mixture of dismal and enticing. It took me awhile to think that over and then: was I depressed? Not really; no classic symptoms. Generally speaking, depression and I are not cohorts much. The feeling has been different… lazy, dumbfounding in its ordinariness yet with streaks of strangeness. Distracted even when engaged. Maybe I was only in need of a break from all the reality we are forced to reckon with day in, day out.

So I didn’t look at the news on my iPhone before getting up–well, for just a moment. That helped only a little. Texting my son, then, about a casual family Father’s Day gathering in a big park didn’t help, either–I am glad of it but worry. I am sure we will try hard to stay six feet apart, we will wear masks, though my son tends to fight against a harsh reality made rougher with harsher impositions as if it was a fight quite worth winning. He likes to be in control, I get it. One of his sisters barely gets out, anymore–she works remotely–but naturally craves safe liberation. Well, agreed and agreed, my adult children.

I yawned and got up by crawling from one side of the bed to another–less walking required–slid down to the floor where soles of feet quite woke up, found the en suite and splashed cold water on my face, then turned on a steamy shower. Breathed. Dressed, brushed hair. I was doing it despite resistance and grumbling, achy spots. On to another day, sans leisurely trip to the coast for the time being. Probably best to stay off the beaches awhile longer, avoid any clumps of people there, anyway, I decided, though didn’t half believe it.

By the time I headed downstairs Marc had long been up and at ’em, doing what he does each morning. He has developed a marvelous cleaning routine since he lost his job–disinfects every vital area; 27 drawer knobs and 8 light switches; tidies up his work station for use; sweeps the balcony of anything fallen abundantly overnight from pines and maples and who knows what all, then checks every vegetable and flower. We have likely intolerable (sorry) kale, we have promising snap peas, and tiny leaf lettuce and faltering tomatoes and more in clay pots. My flowers seem happier as rain lessens somewhat and temps warm. (Though it rained so hard one night it recently drowned my confetti plant and three baby birds therein…awful to confront. Marc did this for me…) My hydrangea is soon to pop open in blues, the geraniums are coming along.

Sometimes Marc can be heard from far off singing out there, talking to a bird–or something. I call out but he doesn’t remotely hear me from the kitchen so I boil water and pop a bagel in the toaster. Several minutes more pass and he’s singing possibly opera, possibly his own made up song. His sweeping is new, as is his very presence, various ways and means.

Over the years of our marriage, he has been gone 500-75% of the time on business trips. And then was gone 14 hours days when working locally. Who is this man in my home? I admit this occurs to me… He has led one life while I have led another–quietly, industriously– except for week-ends, and only when he is in town. A shock when you realize you married at 30 (second for us both) and all those minutes and hours swept by full of kids and work and moves and then– solitude at last. And now you are 67, 70 respectively. What actually happened with all that, and now what? Another vexation at points. But I have thousands of photos to more clearly identify who we were and gradually became. (Same with five children.) It comforts me to look at them; I know what we have been through and achieved yet need reminders.

Because right now I might feel puzzled by my own face in a mirror– Cynthia, seeker of clarity, swimming through the murk of the 2020 Miseries. His attractively aging face? Getting used to it more and more. Even he must get used to it since he is not in dress shirt and slacks, now, and a black hoodie is perhaps a kind of relief, or a solace. And all of it a shock to his system and mine. Retirement is planned. Suddenly being unemployed is a hatchet falling but just missing you, leaving one breathless awhile.

It is a blessing and a conundrum, being at home together all the time. I can spot a similar congenial dullness or slight wariness in other couples’ faces. We all want to be good spouses, supportive more than ever for one another–but… “Could you please watch that show in another room? Also, leave the candles on that table as they were–try ear phones for your music more–and, oh, please stop interrupting me…”

Such togetherness is unknown territory but we prefer to have some fun. So, of course, getting out to the beach–anywhere at all–is a great idea. Better than Scrabble much of the time.

None of us had time to prepare mentally much less physically for a pandemic. We once had the nerve to think all was not so bad, even all was well. It is the deciding factor in nearly all we do. There are stringent limitations. Whole countries have been stopped in their tracks. Amazement at that, though we know it is the right way way to have responded. So, follow the rules and bide our time and yet we chafe at it. Social, questioning humans want to get up and go, mix things up, hang with others, explore places. The very thought that I cannot go somewhere any old time or chat with a neighbor without worrying about swapping germs–it adds up, a creeping unrest and then underlying surrender–both tiresome to cope with daily.

No, we cannot just “over the ramparts and off we go”, off to battle with something invisible but too often overpowering. There are some well suited to the battle, our true warriors of science and medicine. The rest of us adapt and observe the action; we try to ready ourselves the best we can for what comes. We live as we must live, working our brains to consider the previously inconceivable. We get up and do what we do in a blind faith that we will make it alright til bedtime, then get at it again… God or/and lucky chance willing.

I admit to feeling ashamed more than is comfortable. I can’t say I suffer so; there are fewer discomforts than so many have. I am not a medical employee or other front line worker facing often dangerous days and nights; I am not ill with the virus; I have enough decent food and requisite paper goods today. I might not in time have all that but today I am standing on rocky but stable ground, in a life still woven in part of good moments, basic comforts. So I try to alleviate guilt in small ways, help others– but it never is quite enough. Then I get out of my head, try for better.

Endurance and stamina as a way of being: this comes to the fore as I eat breakfast on the dappled balcony among trees. Flexibility of thought, and creativity of spirit. Patience and acceptance of what cannot be changed soon. If I am a little wearied by things–more than some, far less than others–I also have motivation to make each day better. Even this morning despite a weight of burdensome something.

We decide to take charge and go to the wide river, follow it like one follows the intelligent lead of a favorite teacher. I act as if I have energy and somehow it fills me enough that I make an hour and a half with Marc in and out of woods, past unique houses and a variety of boats, past teens splashing and laughing, and older people smiling at their roused and thankful dogs, and singles speeding by on racing bikes or running, hair flopping, many hands and smiles signaling hello. This is how it happens, how I rediscover what it good for me–even writing this simple post is a balm. It’s all in the living, one moment after the other, in any satisfying way it can be managed. The harder times, I pause, then just hold on–or let go as seems best.

Tomorrow I am meeting my best friend, a born fighter with significant battles already won. We’ll sip tea even in the new warmth of June, chatter away at six to eight feet apart, take to the winding park pathways, and laugh easily despite life’s harm and worry. It carries us better through the rest of it all. It makes us stronger and happier, and that matters even more these times.

Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: What I Love, i.e., How I Thrive

Astoria, OR. by the Columbia River

The deep center of this body–where we live in the many parts that make us and more– sometimes recoils and grabs hold of belly, ribs, heart and solar plexus at the same moment: speechless depths of misery and longing, at once. It pierces, reaches beyond the cellular to spirit. The universe seems to open and close, an accordion of sadness, and want. Stunned. I move around that current all day, navigating my way, but if at night I make my nest, rebuild a tent of pillow, sheet, bedspread and settle in. Then start over again. Silky or raw half-dreams, ponderings here to there. Eventually a facsimile of sleep. Then three or four hours later, repeat.

Are we not all trying hard at times to even sleep, not only more but peacefully so to awake and fumble our way better into another day, perhaps even take charge of it? Are you, as I, struggling in this worldly morass much of the time lately? It is fatigue of relentless adaptation, that push for coping–but also a need of connection and peace. Or a moment of frivolity in the midst of multiple, severe realities. At least it is likely here, the land in which I reside.

How do we manage to live with all the changes and difficulty? The fury and the despair out there that comes to haunt us, too? But everyone needs better than managing it all.

I was going to write a lighter personal essay about something I love, about how some smaller thing is a good trick that keeps me even a bit better afloat. Say, thrift shop vases of fresh-cut flowers. Oregon State Park hikes. Bach cello concertos. Singing along with Eliane Elias, dancing. Yet none of this is quite the crux of my need to write today. I am writing about coping with the world’s increased demands, its violence and grief, its obfuscations, its lies–and that asks me to name what counts the most.

What is a major element that enables me to withstand testings, disappointments, worries, losses? The quickest answer is my faith in Divine Love, God within/around us. That is always foremost or I would not be here writing.

But then came this: imagination. And it’s cousin, curiosity.

One of the first times I realized imagination wasn’t only for creating a story or music and had practical uses was when I was a young girl playing baseball with neighborhood kids. I found myself trying to imagine what it looked like from different bases and the pitcher’s mound when looking back toward me, a batter. I tried to imagine what they were going to do. It was odd, perhaps, but I felt as batter and hopefully home runner that it might help. And it did the more I practiced this switching perspectives, even if it was imagined. I had more confidence and in time was better able to anticipate reactions, which aided my choices.

Imagination influences us daily, in everything we enact or think. It is pervasive even without our fully knowing it as we consider possibilities and try to find answers to a series of minuscule or mammoth problems in our personal and professional endeavors. It intervenes on our behalf as we dream, seek to understand another, set up goals, test theories, develop new inventions. I think of imagination as a partner, as well as an aspect of my personality that motivates me to seek authenticity and depth in what I learn. I can become a healthier person with such help and, naturally, create better. It expands who I am by virtue of its pervasive presence, and its interesting array of offerings–which can be accepted or rejected or used as springboards.

We use imagination not only to give life in our minds what we cannot directly experience with our senses. We imagine connections and study those ideas, synthesize them for insights and solutions. We construct a future goal and then utilize imagined steps along the way, developing a structure by which to tackle the chore. Failure of one option is a possibility that just isn’t usable; we move on, the imagination considering an alternative.

Empathy seems a result of this creative force, for if we allow ourselves to imagine how it must be to live as another person we start to understand the individual or the group. Then we can develop the ability to see the world differently with greater caring and sense of shared humanity.

We can entertain ourselves imaginatively, of course, by daydreaming,letting the mind roam wherever it will. Or casually participating in various activities for hours–movies or other arts, games, socializing with new friends. We try to interpret and engage with them in some way that answer questions and stokes the imagination further. Observations alone can be entertaining–we all speculate on who that platinum-haired person we see walking the Great Dane at 8 am, noon and 4 pm really is, or what that conversation about a judge, missing lawyer and a July deadline might lead to– we will imagine it if we like.

The plasticity of the mind is a grand thing. Born with a vast curiosity, we’ll use it constantly unless forbidden for some absurd or terrible reason. I suspect even then it will come to our defense, drive us toward more questions, potential answers. How fortunate we are to have that innate desire to explore and gather information seen and unseen; the capability to conceptualize, construct entire stratagems to gain greater ground. Intellectual curiosity coupled with imagination discover theories that can split open a universe within or without us.

I have felt my entire life that my imagination was a basic necessary tool to keep my self in decent working order. And to find fulfillment. Joy. It not only kept me alive in devastating circumstances–we have to be able to first imagine possible relief and the light returning to hope even a bit–it has led me into a life that has been richly interactive with many levels of experience most every single day, even in harsh times. (I had to think about that, but find it essentially true.)

Using imagination is a rescue tactic. I can step into a picture, a story, a poem of my own making, a view before me, a random conversation, a different perspective, a fledgling idea, a framework for tomorrow. Nearly all things can be tolerated for a time with constructive use of imagination. It can aid in keeping one on more even keel– thus, healthier and sane at the core despite pressures and pains. If in dire circumstances, what we can imagine, we can live for and aim to more fully realize in this three dimensional world. It also takes us beyond what seems mundane and useless.

Yes, it can also help devise an answer erroneously; make inferences regarding events that may have no grounds for truth; lead me down a primrose path that goes in circles. But I still have free will and choice and my human curiosity will seek another way out, a new conclusion, a deeper look. Besides which, imagination does not insist I keep only my own company. I can be alone with it and be entirely happy. But I can also find others’ knowledge and wisdom. I can call upon anyone that will allow me to ask for help. For another idea. A helping hand. A spiritual opportunity. An inspiring jog to my suddenly lethargic mind. Without imagination, I’d be far less likely to believe a viable option was to reach outward, as well. And it would be much harder to keep on keeping on.

What I love is the human capability to wildly or meticulously imagine anything desired, and talent for seeking the unique spark in all life. We can freely consider and embrace the intriguing or unexpected. And for me that means honing in on the good in all others, imagining the best rather than the worst. Though this has not come easily some years, it still comes to me as I pause and ask more questions. I keep eyes and spirit open as I need to live thoroughly, thoughtfully.

It is true imagination can snag, boomerang and sting; it can make me seriously reassess my intelligence and courage so that I must start again, take different chances. Yet I let my imagination consider the beauty of a panoply of possibilities to lead me forward. There is more to gain than lose, always. Otherwise, there are too many empty gaps. And that is akin to missing the boat while traveling this spectacular river of life.

I believe everyone wants to be in on such a journey. If I can think of it and pray for it, I can extend a hand or speak up, clarify imaginings as I help with a few more hopes and dreams. Perhaps they may even come to resemble a finer reality.

The Columbia River