Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: Living a Peak Life

Photos, Cynthia Guenther Richardson 2019

This morning I sip from a mug of Chai tea on our expansive balcony above terraced land, looking around and down the sudden slope, then beyond to shadowy foothills. I close my eyes. This resident wind is tender or sharp, easy or pushy. My hair swirls about; dashing along my neck a tingle of coolness is ruffled with warmth. The rising land still holds its rocky, earthy muskiness–out of which a coyote or skunk may emerge as if from hideaways–and floats upwards. A brighter fragrance–far-drifting new cherry tree flowerets?–joins in. Air currents are full of promise and mystery–palpable power–as it weaves through firs and red alders, grazes ubiquitous ivy which climbs over hillock and gully.

A hammer contacts wood in chirpy rhythmic fashion. The drone of a circular saw thrums beneath hammer’s affirmative strikes. Someone is stapling shingles, another broadly mowing. Soon a dog, then two and three voice approval or perhaps dissent. Robins and crows compete, flit and swoop then call and respond. Mourning doves utter throaty yet subtle refrains. Squirrels chit and chatter, rush along tree limbs. Of which there are so many my mind feels forested with greens and browns. The woman next door is sweeping her balcony, long strokes that make me think she is distracted by the horizon. My eyes fly open.

Two orange butterflies dance a romance in mid-air. There is, as ever, a veritable feast for the vision. Verdant land, with more to be revealed by the looks of budded limbs. A gleaming blue sky paints space above Coast Range foothills; they proudly reveal simple elegance. In the distance, a motorcycle–Harley-Davidson cruiser?–speeds up, drives on then downshifts, rounds a curve for steep descent to the valley, belches a satisfied growl. Soon a child spirals across a street, there is hard contact and response of a basketball, while a father’s laugh is reassuring of his love.

All of these spring signs have given me joy for as long as I can recall. Contentment is close to follow a shock of giddiness. Spring was not very gentle in my childhood Michigan and could be problematic despite the dreamy fever it brought. In Oregon, it sneaks into being, a balm spreading upon day and night, a surprise of sunlight here and there, a slow drying out of air and dirt and then more colors popping out. Blooms never really end here, but they prevail with more gaudiness and grow bigger in heat.

March in 2019: the advent of spring arrives after last acts of spotty snowfall or icy drizzle. It follows, for me, more death knells, then illnesses and pain which riddled my psyche as well as flesh. Added to the mix was a frustrating moving experience (and costly), undercut by rounds of sleeplessness. Spring is a relief even when it seems overdue, even if it feels lean. I can wait long no matter what. I rub the cocooning wintry dark from dim eyes. I reach for rejuvenation and find it. I look, behold.

But I studied the mirror the other day (not recommended after hard winters). Deeper and more lines bracket eyes and mouth from all that gritting of teeth (those left) and squinting of bloodshot eyes, a daily praying for strength and courage, shameless pleading for a truly good rebound. I am looking–becoming–older. And I am moving on, if not free of body’s complaints then pleased with more upsurges of energy. And a deep motivation to embrace our new home as well as the future and what it will offer (our daughter’s twins, for two wonders; care of both soon to be nervously/attentively/happily experienced…). I can do anything I must do, believe anything I desire to believe in. I make my own life become what it shall. The aching inside and out will lessen or be accepted, managed. Not only the great scheme of nature is resilient. We human animals daily take part, too, and we try hard until the very end, even excel at the labor of it.

So, spring arriving like an exquisite hope come true has made the demands of winter worth enduring–as it is for any who dwell within a land that brings chilly/rainy/dark/snowy winters. It is the soft singe of heat that is longed for, a soothing flutter of wings, the rustle and sweep of things growing in designs and hues that break through after hibernation.

When I walk here, I see snow-capped Cascades on the eastern side of where I live. At this surprising 800 feet–after living at sea level for over two decades–it feels like we reside in a grand high place. I see: resplendent Mt. Hood. A reshaped-by-volcanic-spews-yet-lovely Mt. St. Helens. And is it Mt. Baker there, too? Glimmering white crowns above jagged granite blues of enormous ranges. One cannot help but be raised up by peeks into beauty while moving through sunshine.

There is a system of trails atop these undulating hills. I explore them daily, pull on trail or tennis shoes and take off as if I know where I’m going. I trust that I will find my way. I have a good inner compass, am not floundering in wilderness. I recall landmarks as I go. There are fine houses interspersed among pathways and briefly admired, but trees and creatures captivate me. Swing of arms and squared thrust of shoulders, two light feet and an elongated back take me where I care to go. Mind as clear as spring water follows this beat; chest fills with heart’s power. I clamor my way up and up winding, steep ascents and then I rest, gulping piney air. I hope to find musical brooks; there is a lake and the meandering river nearby. I lack nothing much, if anything. (Perhaps the sea, a short drive away.)

My well-seasoned body is regaining strength and new boldness with daily forays. My spirit is flooded with pleasures. I sink into bed with thankfulness. How much can the flesh and being hold of sorrow and elation and wonder? So much. So much. We need to welcome it all, open the windows and doors of home.

Who could have known what we needed was such a change, then guided us to such a good place? In the core of my being that constant hunger for forested land and wilder creatures with an outdoor life right within my reach rang loud and clear. My husband, Marc, also believed more nature with its authenticity and intrigue was needed. Now. So here we are. The city is close enough, while we awaken each day feeling far from it.

I came home the other day sweaty, my hair tangled, hands a little dirty, my brain and camera stuffed with ideas and images. I will take you with me as I learn the places and ways here. Enjoy now a little of what I have just begun to know.

Moving Days

Despite my sudden absence lately, I have not foregone my usual posts without regret. I have had a dental problem to encourage to better heal just as we became mad-busy with preparations for vacating of our decades-long home for a new one tomorrow. So significant lingering pain (plus inability to eat well) has underlain the constant energy output of sorting/tossing/packing, conducting household and other business, and developing a clear strategy for our near future. We will remain in the Portland metro area but in a quite different setting. And finally I have resolved to make it as welcoming as this old place, and to discover all the possibilities that await us in a new area. It is not easy to let go of all the good we have welcomed and shared while here.

The benefits of moving, of course, include taking a leap of faith and learning about people not yet met; natural environments not explored and enjoyed; and putting in place routines and activities that accommodate fresh obligations, choices and surprises awaiting us.

I feel fortunate we’ve enjoyed a congenial, stable lifestyle for 25 years in a close-in city center neighborhood. And it is also designated as a historical one that is both lovely and inspiring architecturally. And the gardens–divine, lush. But there i a rush of new building going on; our five-plex will be sold sooner than later and the who know what.

Any neighborhood has its history, its stories, and we will slowly root out those threads that connect one thing to another. It is people who make a place what it is, after all–that, and the land that it grows into and with.

This move is largely due to our youngest daughter expecting twins in April. She is a medically high risk mother– and a successful career woman who is fiercely independent. My son-in-law is a fine husband for her, smart, kind and dependable. But this time I will answer the call as I have not since her youth. And I will be caring for twins a few days a week when she returns to work for quite a while. If that is not an adventure, I don’t know what is. Two new human beings come to earth…what an honor to be up so close and personal. And what a lot of work, of course, that we will all tackle together!

We have another daughter living near the new place who will undergo major surgery next week; this may mean a few weeks of recuperation. We have invited her to stay with us until she is feeling stronger once more. We are taking this a day at a time with her. And it will be such a pleasure to have two daughters closer to us again.

So writing may become more sparse beginning the next month or so; that could be difficult for me. But it is just as likely that writing will remain just what I desire and need to do, so I’ll manage it even in small bits despite tiring times. Well, I may have to start a new blog about “Twin Grandmothering” escapades…

I have been musing over how rich and fascinating a life I’ve had raising five children–then being frequently involved with some of their own children. And all this for a young woman who had nary a thought of becoming a mother at 23. I was a bit of a spitfire then, drawn to the arts with soulful devotion as well as enjoying various intellectual and political pursuits, and quite in love with my new husband the sculptor. I, then, found it perplexing that I was gaining weight as we crisscrossed the western states one summer in our old El Camino. Many months later–just 6 and a 1/2, actually–I was unprepared when our first child was born. Outside a blizzard covered the hometown as the tiny one struggled to gain a greater foothold on the earth at a mere 2 and 1/2 pounds. That she survived in the early seventies when limited technology could offer so little to save preemies…it was a miraculous event to behold. And the start of a rather strange, wonder-filled life, woven of worry, mundane labor and supreme delight. A life of great humbling “otherness”–it was about adoration, and welfare of children. No longer just my spouse, my own self. It was revelatory, as it is for every new parent.

So at sixty-eight, another door is opening as another swings shut: a new home, new babies, new chores and joys. Finding my way once more, learning as I go.

I will write and photograph as often as possible–and share with you appreciated readers as I can. I hope you are creating somehow daily–what is a life but incremental creations? I will look forward to your  inspiring offerings often.

Be well and open to sharing of good love; be ready to experience the small, curious, stunning moments that help shape our lives along with lessons of loss or the odd detour or unsettling bewilderment. We are in it for the whole messy, colorful story, are we not?

 

Wednesday’s Words/ Nonfiction: Teeth and How They Can Rule

Due to an unpleasant dental matter and another tomorrow–the actual extraction–I lack great inspiration today. Sometimes I think my dental escapades have more power over me than I can admit. I give more time and energy to them than I would like. Like today. As every Wednesday, I would love to be writing at length–several hours. But a lower left aching tooth has another idea. Enthusiasm can depend on pain-free vitality–it often corresponds to sharp mental faculties. And good humor.

“This is not what I need right now,” I mumble while leaving my dentist’s office. Dr. K. probed and examined, came up with the plan. Not pleasing but essential.

I hightail it to a favorite coffee shop–called, humorously, Insomnia–and order an Aztec Mocha, half-caff, almond milk, no whip. Then add a huge piece of cinnamon coffee cake. My reward, always. Plus I may as well indulge, as tomorrow will be another story. I slurp, nibble and smile despite the numb left side of tongue and face.

I had an issue with that tooth a few months ago; we had planned a lovely new (second) crown. But other experiences interfered: three deaths (loathe to bring this up again but they sure impacted life) and required travel, my husband’s sudden and lingering illness, the holidays with adult children and grandkids, a monster cold virus that held me hostage, diligent house hunting, then a random staph infection. Now I am packing and addressing tedious details of moving. Keeping in my sights my “true north” so I stay the course.

And now a small dental crisis…so it goes. One must cope–so many of life’s events are not very convenient. Writing time will be brief; tomorrow I will rest after the troublesome thing is pulled.

But now I realize I’ve already written a personal essay that states what fits for today. It’s about the first dentist I came to tolerate after my one childhood dentist (who I well admired–charming and excellent) and after that, forty years of dentists that I did not whatsoever. Then Dr. K showed up on the scene and all was better than I ever expected. Not that it is a thrill to go. There is still that slight resistance–a subtle urge to get up and slip out the door– as I settle into that chair. But I say my dental prayer. And she remains kindly, attentive, at times funny, ethical and expert at her work. She has completed very fine work with my problematic “pearly off-whites.” (She even fashioned new front teeth for the hairline-fractured ones; this triggered tears as I peeked in the mirror.) And since she believes in Divine Love–she says her own prayers before work– that compassionate attitude toward life makes an authentic difference.

So it follows that I care about Dr. K., her family (I have met a few folks) and the dentistry practice. How many dentists treat patients as part of their extended personal community? And make your teeth better as well as make you laugh? (“Here is that gold from the crown,” she said today as she handed it to me. “Go pawn it for good money!”)

Yes, I’ll heal up once more–such resilience our bodies have– and will inevitably see her a more this year. I keep faith despite lousy dental genes.

I have a few bites left of coffee cake, a last sip of cooled Aztec Mocha–so please enjoy this story from 2014: The Scary One With That Power Tool Might Be an Angel

 

 

 

Wednesday’s Nonfiction: An Intersection of Lives

The thing about moving house and home is that past, present and future vie for attention and, mostly, all at once. About the time it’s perceived as inevitable–papers signed, money given, changes of address completed, boxes being filled–the magnetic center of your life is yanking you back to the current abode and security. Then the past nabs you as you shuffle and muse over odds and ends. And presto! -you’re afloat in “what once was,” even dreaming of surprising segments. Then you try to imagine again the new square footage–the very shapes of rooms and placement of windows, even slant and foliage of the land– and how to grossly simply it all. And how to like it, come what may.

At least for me, all this is becoming apparent as I plot and plan with Marc. We are determined to be rational adults during the entire process; we have nearly failed a couple of times already. It has been 25 years here. It is what we know–and enjoy. It is the familiarity which tops the list, I suspect, though vast neighborhood gardens, logical grid of streets and rambunctious style of the city life–these all count so much. Yet circumstances plus a big chunk of family devotion have brought us to this moment. Our current small, well situated building will be sold sooner than later. And one daughter is having twins soon while another is having major surgery. Reasons enough to– having scouted the new domain–compare movers’ estimates.

We have fantasized about moving (once or twice nearly taken action) for…well, at least ten-fifteen years. That is a lot of looking along with balancing pros and cons. There always presented some reason the timing wasn’t right. The kids joked that we’d always talk of it but never vacate. 

This time, after months of intensive searching, one of the first places seen has become the one we’ll transform into a den in the wilderness. Sort of. I mean, it sits on a high ridge. The view is fir trees and a bit of valley. Welcome to the southwest frontier, as our son-in-law jokingly said. Not a joke, exactly, as my daily walk will preclude an easy, carefree romp. It will require a trudge to get onto hilly trails–even fetching mail, for that matter, will be a chance to exercise. I have this glowing picture in my mind, though: I am smiling, I am breathing in fresh piney air, arms pumping to generate momentum and blood flow so my brain is oxygenated and thrilled and then thigh muscles sneakily yell at me and lungs tighten– but I am happy, yes! I am moving with grace and enthusiasm as sweat makes a beeline down back and chest and my heart is kicking at my ribs. Yes, made it up another 75 feet! Good for me and all.

Speaking of which, the new place is at 500 feet which contrasts with the current sea level…from the valley to hilltops. It is weirdly–with all the nature about– a more suburban community. But we can still drive to Portland’s downtown in perhaps fifteen minutes if we luck out with traffic.

Truth is, this is one reason we chose the new place: a rich beauty of quietness, trees, views. And it is much closer to the daughters we will see often. The one blossoming with twins I will be with daily a long while as new mothering starts to fit her like a beloved, comfy garment. I am hoping my grandmotherly skills are still up to par–our youngest grandchild is now 13– but some things are embraced in faith, with best intentions grounded in love. We’ll learn by doing, all of  us.

For Marc, a drive to work or the airport will lengthen. We don’t speak of that much yet. It is what it is. He was the first to feel more strongly that the place should be our new one. He is worn out by an insomnia worsened by the cacophony of passersby, sirens, homeless rooting for bottles and cans in bins, bar visitors making known their delights and miseries as they careen down the street at 2 a.m. (Yes, it is a “good neighborhood” but it is the real city.) Whereas, I lay there contemplating what stories can come of all that, and watch the night sky that is wondrous even with its city-lit sheen. This is some of what we are leaving. And I concurred with Marc. We have lived in countryside a few times over the decades; this is out of city proper and offers another scene.

And though it has plenty of space for us (plus family meals, friends visits), it’s strangely lacking decent storage, so I must not be self-indulgent as I start sorting. We can rent storage–it seems so many do that these days–but why hang onto what is outmoded, unnecessary?

Back at my tasks, then, I find the past comprises a whole lot as I toss out ancient  reading or sunglasses; a hundred sweet birthday cards that just cannot be kept; many articles I should have read, then recycled already; silly scribblings of once-younger grandkids; a bunch of decades-old prom and recital pictures of our five; even yellowing report cards. I like to keep pictures torn from magazines and other colorful paper items… for collages that are sometimes made. My small drawings and paintings- keep or shred? How many pens and paper clips do we need? Old bill receipts? The piles grow. My massive wooden desk is like a magic object: the more I pull out, the more paper/office supplies/miscellaneous expand. And the past beckons me so that dreamy pauses become as frequent as decisive action.

When did I-we-live all this life, gather such stuff?  Know all these people (friends, family’s multi-generations, co-workers, acquaintances, also husbands)? I know I took things in hand but the events sure took me in hand, too. I stand up and utter: Gaaack!

How did the kids just…become themselves? Oh, well, it happened despite our interference and attentiveness. Was the child in the bold red gown, Cait grinning from the stairwell, minutely aware she was to be a chaplain helping the aged? How about my tiny preemie, so quiet her hands spoke for her as she built things, patiently created fresh realities… Naomi became a sculptor and an advocate for many. Aimee full of dancing passion and a spirit of justice, still a deep heart whose persistence is mighty. Alex, the one percolating twins, started out life with a rare disorder,  is courageous and ambitious, full of quirky energy. Joshua, the firebrand? A born athlete who thinks outside the box, has survived near-death more than once. Of course, these flawed but loving adult children–though not all nearby–are with me always. It is not the stuff they left for me to muse over and organize but their very existence that takes up much room within me. And I am not crowded by that.

The last time a big move was completed it was from a two-story four bedroom house. We dragged all with us, found places to keep it, hide it, lose it. (Will I locate those other socks? a lost earring? that poem?) Now, much will be let go. Material things can be weighty, a superfluous anchor for spirit and mind when both desire freedom. I am hoping someone else will utilize many books, clothes, tools, unloved furniture, those mugs that don’t excite me.

Loves, losses, hardships, revelations and such mundane moments, too –it all comes forth as I riffle through my old writings (and those family members wrote and shared), sort scads of old photos, eloquent letters and quick notes from my strong, thoughtful mother and tender sisters. Examining my father’s signature stamp for his correspondence and instrument invoices, I wonder why on earth I still have that useless thing. How do I rid myself of special Valentine’s Day cards that Annie, my artist sister-in-law, has created for years? Or the sheaf of postcards that Naomi and I sent back and forth, each inscribed with a sentence, poem, dream–a story that we made together with replies? The music mixes Alex made for us, some on which she was joyfully singing. The collection of bells that my mother started and gave me. My cello, asleep in its case.

It gets harder the more I stop to consider it all. Only things, I tell myself, let the life that was lived just be at it’s ease.

And please may my family not have to plow through an abundance of unnecessary stuff when I am gone for good.

Ordinarily, I do not linger in the past–despite the fact that many of my narrative nonfiction pieces revisit the past somehow. It is material for writing within a set time frame; I delve into whatever waits to take its place on a blank screen. My daily life is greatly consumed with the moment, the present needs and experiences–as is true for most, I suspect. And as I get older, I don’t think more of the past, contrary to what an over-60 stereotype indicates. There is far much to yet discover and immerse myself in; such an abundance of moments to celebrate–and work out and share. I think rather little of the future, as well–just enough so I can plan for certain events. But not so much that I become riveted or stalled by what good or ill may or may not occur. It is worth little to me to try determining a life that has created its own wild, then improved trajectory. My decisions matter, yes, but only in part. The rest is up for grabs.

So this is the thing: like a confluence of divergent tributaries, all simply merges. It is powerful, this life making its way and taking me into and along with it. In the midst of more significant change, where past and present and future intersect, I continue to find a new balance as best I can and join the lively movement forward. It is tedious and exhilarating and maddening. But I’m up for it, an hour at a time. Thank goodness I can write about such domestic adventuring. I’ll keep you posted on interesting starts and stops along the trip. And show you my perspective of the terrain I come to know. Here is to uncharted territory and trying to live this life well!

A Weekend’s Quick Pick: Finding Home

This is a woman on an unassuming balcony that has served her well for 23 years. It overlooks a peach-colored house and the glittering, rambunctious city. And the balcony will be missed and it will miss her, perhaps. They have kept each other company this long: part of a lifetime.

This is the place she has gathered family and friends, let stories step forward to speak, danced barefoot in a blue skirt to music resonant in belly and brain, risen in the softening wash of dawn, sung to herself. Lain face upwards, hands open, staring at nothing after heart disease got her early and was told she might have a few years more. Which did not undo her, even weighted with fears. Got busy, a kind of salvation for much of human living. Sought to cheer others, another act of mercy for the woman who offered, not only a few others.

She gathered stars as they breathed in the cave of the dark; when did they not see all and give their all, wasn’t it their destiny? Could she aspire to any less in the end? And so she faced matters as they came hand, gave hope more space. Let God keep her, whole or not.

This is where she has lathered and spun two thousand socks and kitchen towels, saved ruby red petals that fell from geraniums in the wake of streaming rain. Where the books have lived clandestine lives and language admitted her to its domain with beckoning phrase and whisper, where her own language circuits rattled her teeth with odd feats and loosened dreaming..and night welcomed her, made garlands around the moon and her shoulders.

 

This is a place the years have been plumped and embroidered with many hearts, children or grown ones,  such hands opened and hands filled with spillage of love and barren with loss, an agitation of wants and needs, a palette of feeling and music that has risen from sky and the dense, sweetening earth.

The ache of being exposed to more love coupled with its miracle and the pleasure of more willingness: she was no longer a victim of anything. Two feet to stand on, two knees to kneel. This was what the place gave her: opportunity to transform, renew.

This was a place that was supposed to be just a change station, a slow, muscular crossing from one aspect of life to  another, a temporary platform for ideas and goals to be challenged and completed. And then left behind on the serpentine trail.

But it was not.

It was a steady embrace, a safe abode for time shared–even time given away. A galaxy of small things that startled, the relentless unknowns surrounding what seemed often a small, leaky boat carrying such few tools alongside the rowing woman.

And a larger tale wrote itself from humility’s gentling hurt, then from stillness amid rushes of hope. A revelation, this wide spot in the powerful river upon whose banks she built a life in a long slow reveal. Ordinary weeping, laughing, watching and waiting, simplest doings; surprises of living make their marks, a deepening identity. She stirs and rises to greet more.

And more change so soon. Why resist when acquiescence, adjustment, reconstruction all underlay the physics of living things? Of women and men?

A new home will fit itself about her, a daily insistence of tasks, and faith and patience will illumine. She will reconfigure doubts, smooth out contention, just breathe. Place fresh geraniums and old on a new, bigger balcony. Where can this woman live that some unexpected folly or a plan of victory do not happen? What human cannot make a found patch into a home? Even the beetles, even the moss. The eagles and Arctic foxes. Even those all alone in their wandering do it. The brave young, the tempered old. It is managed each day by greater or smaller so she can do it; it will be completed again.

Every one sooner or later leaves for something or someone else, or migrates due to wanderlust or seeks out of desire. Rebuilds to survive. No being is static, even if they believe it so. Step, pause, leap, slide, turn, hang on, reach, thrive. Create.

Yes, another wayside, a still unknown beginning, but there are these that entice: giant fir trees atop a bluff, wind like a call and response, sleekness of coyotes slipping undercover. More liveliness aroused–two whole new beings from a daughter’s unstoppable faith and petite belly. The work and the play of it arriving with anticipation, unbridled energy. Goodness abounds. The woman will gather bird songs and new slant of light, sigh inside darkness and bring babies’ coos close. Open up that heart, something tells her, let it match more rhythms with this living.

The place will slowly become a home, another way to the center of things. Is not the way of the earth and those who dwell here for this short human span?

That woman: myself. Readying for more. Preparing to learn and adapt, allow these happenings as my soul hesitates and rises. I want to stoke a good fire and create another circle for the hearing and telling of this and that. There is forever another story. May I live it as a willing conduit.

I must remember: Love is the path that makes a way in the wilderness; I am another pilgrim who seeks, is sought; finds, is found. The home I best inhabit is the one I carry within and also beyond.