Friday’s Passing Fancy/Photos: Hail the Clouds and Their Country

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Now I am home, though still a little tired and saturated with images and thoughts of the last minute trip. Though we flew to North Carolina, a few days later we had a drive to make. The car trip to Michigan from North Carolina was 14 hours last Friday. The next day was spent with family and attending the memorial service for my sister-in-law. Then the third day: back another 14 hours on many roads and five states from N.Carolina to Virginia, W. Virginia, Ohio, MI., then reversed for return. I often passed the time–I read as well–staring out the window as my husband drove. (I’d have been happy to drive but he was caught “in the zone”, and refused my help. Next time it shall be different; he was too tired to endure this stretch of time behind the wheel. But when he makes his mind up…)

It recalled the road trips I’d taken with my parents and siblings as a child around our country, how excited I felt about each place we went. I gawked at the world, happy even though squashed between four siblings in the back seat. Each town was a story even then, every landscape a magnetic space. Everything crackling alive. And it still is, amid the dying…

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Marc and I talked on the way there with some banter; we knew it would not be easy the next day. But we fell silent often, thinking of this second loss in two months. And our old lives in Michigan (several decades ago) and those places to which one cannot ever really return for long, not once grown up and gone. And yet those places and times cling like a tenacious aura of the Past, sometimes bright, sometimes dark.

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Seeking relief, I filled myself up with natural scenarios beyond the window, sometimes letting out the dry chilled air-conditioned air and letting into the car little gusts that dripped with humidity and was deeply hot: upper-90 degrees F.hot. It smelled good to me, as if rain that has been held back so long it has to sneak in, delicious-green and heady. And heavy.

I was struck, as I always am when traveling these areas, by the endless rise and fall of deciduous trees (far fewer conifers there) that took over foothills and parts of the Appalachian Mountains. Such abundance! The land rose up, split into graceful mounds, spread out in valleys and turned over this way and that, revealing  changing light dabbed that daubed the landscape. I watched and snapped pictures, mesmerized. The clouds were astonishing, utterly magical they are from place to place. We also got through a sudden, bombastic thunderstorm.

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So this is what I have today: pictures of daring cloud formations, rolling hills amid such old mountains and fecund, open farmland (with “corn at least knee-high by 4th of July”, as they say). A few bugs may be smearing windows. Not the best pictures, I am sure. They are more half-dreaming images of my perceptions along the way. The land and sky were witness to my sorrows and wonderment. And I, a willing audience for their dramatic displays. This life. This earth. The curious existences everyone does lead. And ever-reluctant me, traveling here and there, anyway– and I’m not even done yet for July, two more trips to go!

If you want a variety of sustenance, travel a little bit, or even take a decent walk. And if you want to see where I went, come along…

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Wednesday’s Word: Great Ocean, Take My Grief

I wanted to write a short story today. I really did, something richly arresting, bright-toned but real. And almost did, as my writing habits are so ingrained a story would have let me shape it and set it free upon this page. Yet what sort of story would it have become?–for elegies of loss are lately becoming a deafening refrain.

But my sister-in-law passed away this afternoon from the damage wrought by that heinous thing, cancer. She has been one of my valued sister warriors. A survivor of life’s harrowing and strange times. A woman whose heart had such breadth and width, whose mind was tough, quick, coiled and ready to work. Any work–even work for abandoned or forgotten creatures. She stood steady amid the draining minutiae of living and knew how to yet find the glimmers of good.

We haven’t seen each other much in decades; we moved, they moved, days rushed us forward, took time away from us. We visited her and my brother-in-law last autumn in Michigan. She was frail then, and persistently alive. Quiet as in a cocoon yet available as she could be. We used to talk a mile a minute, smoking and drinking coffee. Laughing. Her eyes missed nothing, spoke of all she did not say.

I think she still missed nothing of importance. She listened well. But no more.

This is the second loss in a month. First, my brother Gary, now Sherril. The ache is a flame that cannot cauterize such pain; it can feel like danger, this diminishing of the heart’s natural fullness. The remainder after death: an abyss of a surprisingly darker sort. And in it  the rising volume of sorrow. Tears can barely do their job, there are too many, and yet not ever enough.

I know, of course–how can we avoid knowing it despite attempts to do so? it waits in our personal realm, our daily news — that we live. And then we die. But each time a dying takes something out of us, a gigantic thing not a small one as it leaves the new absence. Like a drowning in the wake behind a mighty ship. We struggle to keep afloat despite the impulse to slip under. I think some days I am weeping for the world, not just my family, not just friends, but all of us.

There is this bone-deep yearning for more time, more love and stories, more moments when you even do no t one noteworthy thing…. but simply be with one another. Experience has such quality if we only give it its due. Nothing should be ignored or wasted, not the hurt, not bafflement or even outrage. Never the energy of compassion, the ease of simple appreciation. No words ought to be tossed here and there or out the window as if they are useless, or recyclable. They are not, not ever, not really. They are potent. Meant to tell us things we need to hear–and to say. Otherwise, we require the sort of silence out of which Divine Love, a harmony we do not even understand can rise. Inform us of more that needs to be known and done.

The words that she and I shared were quite good enough, even really good. Those conversations, those times are held close, pull me into them as if only yesterday…A dry wit. A rapid fire comeback. We exchanged lines that rang with our truths hidden in a raised eyebrow and fast look, little truths that swelled inside our words with balloons of life and respect.

We always wanted Sherril and my brother-in-law, Bill, to come to Oregon, explore the Northwest, share adventures and belly laughs and even music we might make right here, but it just never got to happen. So today I am posting pictures of the Pacific Ocean that Marc and I enjoyed Sunday for Father’s Day.

I am wanting sea spray to flick its feathery tails at Sherril, for glossy sunshine to slide about her being, the great blueness to carry her far and to whole soul joy. But she is already there, wherever she is. I’m just counting on it.

Let a hallelujah love transform you, be ever prefect as the perfection that fills each star and all gaps between. Oh warrior sister you’ve made it through this quick bitter this long sweet life and now it is done it is done

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Wednesday’s Words: Leaving San Diego (Plus Two More Unexpected Occurrences)

Dramatic sandstone cliffs at at beach within Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

This is not the last day spent in the San Diego area but it seems a good final post about our felicitous trip.  I thought of it all often since our return, realizing it was meant to restore, buoy and fortify us. That is the pleasure of travel, even in one’s home country or closer yet to one’s home. Getting out and away has the effect of an elixir, only better, as such changes of scenery can awaken the too-comfortable mind, startle the senses and arouse the spirit to greater appreciation of human life as well as nature.

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve is a quick trip to La Jolla. The area, comprised of 2,000 acres of Torrey pines and pristine beaches, is a southern maritime chaparral. It is home to this rarest native pine in the U.S. Before tackling the short trails above, we enjoyed this stretch of the Pacific Ocean’s protected beach (California’s beaches are not all public as they are in Oregon). The sandstone cliffs are steep, textured by wind, water and tectonic plate shifts over innumerable centuries. Large flocks of pelicans were feeding and flying about as though with uniform and often urgent industry–remarkable to observe. They are so large yet graceful, as all birds, in flight. A young lady was embracing waves and sunshine as we strolled–tempting, though!

We drove to top of the cliffs to immerse ourselves in views while checking out this unique maritime chaparral. The first view looks out over La Jolla and the ocean. We stopped at the Torrey Pines Lodge, now Visitor Center-Museum, Pueblo revival in style. It was built from 1922-23 thanks to Ellen Browning Scripps, a newspaper woman and philanthropist. From 1908 until her death in 1932 she championed this reserve and bought more acreage to add to it. Torrey pines survive difficult conditions of drought and sandy earth, storms and unrelenting heat. Their roots reach down to 246 feet in search of moisture and to get a good hold on these windblown cliff tops.

Then onto the trails which meandered through cacti, namesake pines and other chaparral growths, lizards, flowers. It was, to me, a sort of beautiful desolation up there…

The sunlight amid gathering clouds kept us riveted for a long while. There were near-rhapsodic moments of opalescent, shimmering light cast upon the Pacific. Multiple shots of such beauty were unavoidable! It was not easy to pare it down to these… It was windy, wild, a little forlorn, mystical; heavens and earth and sea exerted full power as I stood steady but small.

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By the time we headed back down, the clouds gradually began to clear and the sun resumed its potent heating up the air and our Northwestern-pale skin. La Jolla shone in the hills and San Diego was inviting in the distance.

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The beach and surrounds gave us a vivid view at last glance.

This was, as all our outings, satisfying. However, our very last day was spent on Coronado Island, right across the bay, over the bridge from San Diego. This was a visit I had quite looked forward to from the start. The town of Coronado offers many delights, not the least of which are renowned beaches of brilliant white sand due to a mineral, Mica. It was a pleasure to wander about the resort area as well as the rest of the charming streets full of sights and restaurants where we enjoyed a good lunch at an outdoors table. There are many elegant homes and gardens to take in. The world-class Hotel del Coronado was built in 1888 and is designated as a National Historic Landmark. It has offered luxe bread and board to countless famous and infamous people over the years.

I regret that I have no photos, however–of which there were a multitude–other than this one courtesy of Wikipedia and one my husband took of me at the hotel. The tree behind me is a dragon tree. It was a backdrop in the film “Some Like it Hot” with Marilyn Monroe, filmed at the Hotel del Coronado in 1958. (Please find it in a bigger photo as it is impressive.) Would that I could mimic a Marilyn Monroe pose and attitude but alas!

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By Nehrams2020 at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2983855

The final reveal of a couple more odd things that happened while on this trip: my trusty camera was stolen. Hence, all last day photos were lost. I was more than a bit upset when arriving back in Oregon that my deeply appreciated Fujifilm camera was nowhere to be found. I suspect it was taken at our hotel, as that is where I last saw it, lying on the bed. I’d asked Marc to grab it as my arms and hands were full but it was unlike me to not double check and pick it up if he did not. Rushing too fast to the airport, I guess.

We, of course, called the hotel but were informed nothing was reported left in the room. We called the car rental agency-no camera. I realized I never carried it on the plane, so didn’t bother to check with the airline.

I thought how the trip had rockily begun with a dissatisfactory room. How I had been tiptoeing about barely corralled sorrow from past and current losses. Then I contracted food poisoning the night before my birthday celebration. A few grim moments. Yet the ensuing times had become so much happier, richer in experiences.

So I had to talk myself away from that new, only material loss. Put matters into perspective. We had been offered, unexpectedly, shelter in the amazing Presidential Suite. My birthday had come and gone without further incident–another year winning the fight with heart disease. We had enjoyed several good meals. We had availed ourselves of sights pleasing, informative and entertaining. We had rested up as well as played each day.

It was, after all, just a camera. I could buy a new one. And have.

But there is a last surprising event (that I am half- afraid of mentioning): our entire trip ended up being “comped” (excepting a few meals sought when out and about). No charges for hotel food, rooms or car garaging and valet. Neither were there any car rental costs beyond gas. As many who have read the posts on this trip, we used many rewards points accumulated from my spouse’s extensive business travel–a perk of his hard work. But we did expect a few costs, of course, and it was not to be. I am truly grateful –not due to the money, no, but due to our more hidden needs. The getaway gave us stamina and gratitude to endure the sudden loss of my brother… and now another family member is critically ill.

Sometimes you get what you don’t even look for in life; this was the gift of deeper sustenance. I hope you enjoyed this trip with me–there will be more before summer is done!

 

Wednesday’s Words: Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala

Despite still feeling foggy and low following my brother’s recent death, I am glad to share some photographs of our visit to California’s first Mission Church, established in 1769. It somehow feels appropriate in that I am quietly musing about life lived by us humans, how our lives unfold and bloom and pass away so quickly.

This place is marked by calming hideaways and corners and lovely plantings. I was glad to see a statue of the tireless, brilliant and compassionate St. Augustine–a fascinating person I discovered in childhood– in the serene garden. He presided over a clear pool of water, hands reached out to birds and bees and all–and flowers left by visitors. I nodded at him as I snapped pictures.

I am not Catholic so perhaps experienced all of it differently than one who is, though this active church is open to all. It emanated a beautiful,  meditative feel of refuge and prayer. But it also was built in the home territory of large numbers of Native Americans who had resided there for thousands of years. Father Junipero Serra, aged 52, accompanied a party for a second Spanish land expedition and founded the Mission at Presidio Hill. Five years later it was moved to a better site. The history is complex and can be found on their website, here: http://www.missionsandiego.org/visit/history/

But I offer several moments I had the pleasure of experiencing as we wandered about the church and grounds. First the past and current sanctuary used for services and its immediate surrounds. The old ways and lives seemed to whisper to me as I paused to take it all in. The breezes were soft inside the thick walls.

The courtyard and garden was breathtaking to me. I found it hard to leave but enjoyed further meandering trough shadow-bathed corridors, then into splashes of Mediterranean-hot, clear light.

 

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As we paused in walkways, more markers of the past were observed with uneven flooring and windows, crooked doors, arches that opened to more maze-like areas or gardens. One could well imagine both the activities and quietude here.

 

We moved into the sting of heat and blinding light to find an outside walkway or two, then found our way out. It was a good visit to the Mission Church, but we were ready for a hike at Torrey Pines State Park–perhaps next week’s post!

 

 

 

Death’s Sorrow, a Song that Sings Without Invitation

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Gary Guenther

Why, sometimes, bother to write at all? Words have their own impulse to sound themselves, like small and large gongs shuddering under our hands. But mostly tonight I write only because what else can I possibly do?

My older of two brothers, Gary, age 79, had a massive heart attack Thursday night or Friday morning, then perhaps another, and was placed immediately on life support. Then passed this morning, with our help. We sat hunched about, stood staring, immobile, wept and wondered, spoke to his likely unhearing ears, held his hands or feet. And so soon! he was gone.

My brother of magic music hands and hard-headed ways and large living. A well-educated man and a self-taught man, a person who could not get enough knowledge.

I had just visited with him three days before–after he had been ill for several months and in hospital often. But that day he seemed so far from the verge of death. No, he was so much better than he had been in many months, in all known ways. Clear and more at ease, his severe congestive heart failure and bi-polar illness episode well treated. Thinner, a man once tall and broad-shouldered now smaller, folding in and out as his gestured and leaned.

Hearing this tonight, now: his saxophones and clarinets and flutes talking mad and mellow music; his buoyant singing tripping over tables and faces, those great old standards, swing, Gypsy jazz. Sizzling, shuffling, deep dipping, high scaling notes; the swirl, punch, laugh of the wild and pensive being you have always been.

I want to say: Speak to us, tell us the plaintive truths. Tune up the atmosphere with songs made to be freed. Make a ruckus but not a terrible one, an ebullient one.

Please.

You could say anything. Raw or tender, frightening or confounding, irritating and illuminating and just plain curious and so riveting to me.

My brother’s photographic memory, phenomenal, the vast ranging information, philosophy and science, arts and politics and world history, a myriad opinions and dreams and intuitions and more. The several hundreds of films he critiqued, copied, shared. The music he mentally cataloged, spoke of with eloquence, voice rat-a-tat-rat-a-tat, slip-sliding along: it mesmerized me sometimes–as it did even him. I would call and sing a song’s–jazz, classical, pop–first few measures and he would tell me its title, give me the words if they were forgotten. My own phone wizard of music quizzes.

He was the first one who read my first attempt at a novel and when he said how much he appreciated it, how he believed in my writing, I was stunned, as he read a couple books or more a week, and read diverse choices, read well. He could understand my story’s or poem’s underground lives, the crisscross of meanings. Like he also knew I was a dancer who mostly didn’t dance. A singer who cut off my love affair with music to survive in the greater and much harder world.

And I knew more of him than he thought I knew and he knew this eventually. But I also knew very little, much less than what others even said, the good and the not good. I was just watching, hearing in my own way, from soul and gut. And I only write what I know, what I feel; what else can we offer but our own truth…

Welcome to my house, I said (what matters to me is being blood). Welcome to mine, he said. So we came/went and enjoyed.

His baked beans, his ham and potatoes, missed already. His cigar-smelly, liquor-in-a-glass, sweat-tinged, tiny music club room in the back yard. Instruments galore, whole and in pieces, stereo and radio, small open window so the chickens could pop in and out of his place, then his partner’s studio. His good bare feet took him everywhere. White mane of hair and rumpled hats. The fascination with not only instruments but cars and motorcycles, like Dad. Appreciation of small things, the value of what was used and tossed that he then took apart and repaired. How he liked dogs and cats, their very animal-ness, his affinity. Cared about the forlorn; I have heard them speak of him. Loved his partner’s good rich art and her–so long.

I don’t know how I cared for someone this much, about whom I usually saw so little. He left home for University of Michigan when I was 7, got two degrees, taught at a prestigious college and worked at mental health clinics. But later he lived right down the street.I pass by their house every day almost. I have stopped in on a whim. and it was good to greet him, share a hug, sing a little tune. He thought I might perform with his band some years ago. No, but I heard them play several times, so good I danced, a happy fool, in my chair.

Did we always see eye-to-eye? No, but please, forget those tenacious family issues, everyone has them despite best attempts at denial or correction. Everyone can say yes or no to what they want to hold close. I have so much learn, but being a family member is something not hard for me. Maybe because I trailed along behind the four older ones, I’ve loved them from close to the ground with its gravity, closer yet to the heart because I am the person I am. And I cannot not love with entirety, little pest sister who grew up to be this person, a full human being.

We had that perfect three hour visit last Tuesday. It truly was. So long it had been. I was so glad he was up and about though shaky-legged, that he shared such conversation as hoped for. I got to take him to the grocery. We talked possible vegetables and the preference for darkest chocolate and bad-tasty chicken strips and three big cartons of puddings as he zipped around in an electric cart. I could not get him to buy oranges but did get him to buy bananas. We laughed as he drove fast but not too fast to tip over displays; he had good corner control. People smiled, nodded at us; we smiled back. He was so appreciative of the deli man’s careful way, making up a whole new batch of chicken strips for him. The lady next to us suggested it with a twinkle in her eye. Gary liked that. He said the big box would last him the week; the savory-greasy aroma gave him a grin.

And yes, the talk of musicians and favorite places in Mexico where he still wanted to live, maybe November he’d get there again, that was paradise to him, heat and colors and simpler ways. Then, old friends he had seen come and go, people who had worn shirts and socks he had given them, why not, and money, it comes and goes, it’s the way it should be. And what of my writing now, what would come later, what did I think? Write, Cynthia, keep going.

Finally, his not being able to play music, anymore. Heartache, dulled under resignation. And of God, once a useless topic to him, now of meaning. An eruption of so many possibilities.

His round hugs and three kisses the last day, happy at last. And: see you next week for the ultrasound, Gary! And I was thinking of how soon Marc and I would make a pot of good pasta and hefty salad for our table and Gary would be able to join us again and we’d all talk like we had all night long. we’d all prayed. It felt like an answer to fervent prayers.

But we never know anything for certain, we do know that–then are surprised.

This is what I miss tonight: what we will not now do together, what could have been possible since he got better… after the interminably long illness stopping things, separating all…How time and opportunity have faltered and forsaken me once more. Though it is finally accepted, anyway. With appreciation– for what we’ve enjoyed, or never get over it.

Did he leave, finally, the material world because his music was to be played and shared no more? Or he was just worn out, finally burdened by breathing, the surfeit of song and sorrow and stitched up things? Such agony he knew, such joy. It can be soul-tiring to live hanging onto a grand bright kite of life and looking down to see a whole messy, stupendous scene yet still ask relentless questions with no definitive answers. Then, finally, to become servile under the dictator of illness. And under the new rules of aging that no one truly briefs you about, it’s often just everyone for themselves calling out an embarrassed help now and then.

And the bullying of the years’ errors, what a villainous thing it can be. I know some of that waste. Hard to proceed without assistance or it can drive you to the edge. We all need it or are lying to ourselves. He got the help–despite his intention (with his daughter’s insistence and devotion to his aid). Our prayers, my good Lord, how hard can one pray…. Are we not all worthy and unworthy and ever needing transformation? I believe God saw his hand out and came forth and my brother opened the windows and then a door. It changes things. It did change things.

Life is carried in many ways here. Can feel like a back-bruising pack of odds and ends, dreams and demons, wounds and wonders. Shadows. Miracles. Breaths un-breathed and hissed and whispered, heart beats jumping and waltzing, finally resting on a too-long pause…

You, my brother: done here.

Yes, that Stairway to the Stars, Gary. Come on now, sync with the new rhythms. Flee to peaceable places. The Light loves you no matter what, I swear to you the angels speak in a kaleidoscope of tongues, sing crystalline choruses, are like jewel-bright fires dancing as the pathway opens.

It all will be revealed, now go.

Going up now, don’t let go of those who love you until a sonorous bell rings long and loud, then you will see.

And here I am waving, Gary, I am waving at you, still.

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