A late afternoon in November, home territory. Walking as one is meant to, arms swinging, head swiveling from this to that, feet sure and frisky on leaf-strewn sidewalks. A veil of frostiness overlays an opulent sunshiny sky. The taste and sight of all is clear to the tongue, bright on the retinas. I can feel the atomic life within each cell, a complexity of heat and light as it stirs, an energy of miracles. Brain to heart to sinew fires frissons of electricity.
I look up. Sky cradles a moon that silences the blueness, a small signal of dusk shading transparency. Cold dashes my face, snaps at my heels, scours thoughts. Red and orange, blue and green and yellow: this coloration of life is like a buffet of delicacies, a sustenance of happiness, I think. Spirit billows and thins, a swinging door from earth to universe, all that imbues this day. I gorge myself on aliveness.
The high nests are brittle, birds on the wing gone to exotic places, to beauty of other trees. Except for the crows who cannot bear to leave, and tend to one another, mark my passing with shrill greetings. Suddenly I long for cardinals flaring against wintry plains, festooning treetop bony limbs with their artful attention and a promise of hope, rejuvenation, celebration. I blink at fiery leaves in piles and see strong wings rustling. The birds of my childhood left long ago and yet they still sing.
My lungs fill with this gorgeous air, then my throat closes on a sprinkling of tears: that elegance of snow in Michigan, which fell like manna, yes. And, too, a shroud that nonetheless glistened as it shielded the dead. A desolation of white finery, the land stark but at peace. We attended the grave site as shy visitors, more speechless than prayerful, knowing you were aloft by then. What has exited cannot be called back. And who would want to? This amazement of our doing and being is a sliver of the whole. You are no longer akimbo in the midst of the chaos. But free, yes, that was what you awaited.
The new snow, a veil of tenderness, its cold melted by our soft breath and warmth of this skin that keeps us intact, whole, as long as needed. We touched one another lightly, fragile in the chill and emptiness. Reminded of ties that bind tightly in life, so loosely at the end and we fail to accept either sometimes.
But here, as I continue my blissful Oregon walk, so empty of snow, of dying, of grief, I find all the gifts of the day and its messages: Be not forgetful of the abundance given. Be not greedy for more. Be not angry at loss, for out of loss also comes renewal. Be not wistful for what is done and gone. Be not quick to forge barriers where none are even needed. Be never afraid to live life with passionate love of its entirety. For we are alive this long and no longer.
Be in this momentary grace, treetops whisper as they play catch with the moon, they who see much, keep secrets.
This late afternoon of dying leaves and glow of moon and remembrance of snow, heart deeply beating, body tall and strong, spirit and mind leveraged by a persistent joy. For all of this, I am grateful.
I went to a Celtic Festival last week-end and had a grand experience with their version of Samhain. A Gaelic festival, it is thought to have been initiated about 2000 years ago, at the end of harvesting and beginning of winter. Thus, it notes the changeover from summer to winter, from lighter to darker months. and occurs about halfway between autumn equinox and winter solstice. It is believed that the veil between this world and the other world is thinnest on October 31-November 1 and spirits pass through. Ancestors were honored and spiritual or other harm was hopefully warded off with costumery and vivid masks. This, as one can see, relates closely to our Halloween when folks dress in scary or fun outfits and venture into the night for a bit of revelry and treats.
I am part Irish (the common “Kelly” is my mother’s father’s family name) and feel kinship with the traditional music and dance. So, when I discovered a Celtic festival was taking place an hour away I was all in. One of the first things noted was a flag depicting six Celtic territories of Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Cornwall, Isle of Man, Brittany–and the seventh noted is Galicia, (Spain), which apparently has been disputed. I would enjoy learning the definitive conclusion on this, if anyone knows.
The festival took place in the Spinning Room located within the Willamette Heritage Center, created by the Mission Mill Museum and the Marion Co. Historical Society. The old woolen mill was established in 1889 by Thomas Lister Kay, and has been well-preserved. A few more buildings from a missionary enterprise (that sought to convert the Native American population during 1834-44) were relocated from a site 13 miles north along the Willamette River. Those photos will be shared later. You will note a life-sized sculpture of a sheep, the creature whose lush wooliness underlay the booming business.
These are a few initial pictures of the grounds.
The buildings and grounds are marvelous; we enjoyed exploring all day in between festival events.
Marc and I wandered about the cheery gathering, shopping for a few goodies at the marketplace in the Spinning Room of the Mill Building. We looked at the wool and noted the processes required to make the yarn and enjoyed watching a friendly woman spinning.
And saw kilt folding by Eric Chandler as he demonstrated how men traditionally folded and put on their kilts. He noted that his shirt was on backwards–so he righted that. I lack technical language to explain all this so will simply share what was observed. (A last picture of it being draped over his shoulder did not come out well.)
Entertainment was enjoyable, from Gordon Munro the enthusiastic storyteller to a singer and dancer (Brian O’hAirt and Maldon Meehan) who performed sean-nos, a more casual, free and intimate style of Irish dancing and singing, if I understood correctly. They are quite accomplished. And I am ready to take classes!
Even though I’d hurt my knee recently it has been healing well so I impulsively joined in as the ceili dance got underway. The fine band Biddy on the Bench played for us. It was well worth the effort it to meld with the cheerful crowd, people helping one another learn. I have been to one other and hope to attend Portland’s monthly ceilidhs. This time, after 15 minutes the tender knee required me to sit out the rest, though I tapped my happy feet and bounced about!
This is music and dance after my own heart. I wished my mother was alive and could have been there with us. Edna Kelly Guenther loved a good gathering and merriment and told stories about big and little things in life that I feel no one can match.
Afterwards we strolled about and looked at and in the mill and missionary structures.
A few pleasing shops shown below are in the above building; we ducked in to get out of rain. Our favorite was the bookbinder shop and Spencer, the book binder’s son who now runs the shop, shared some of his trade and how much he loves his work.
Buildings that stand to the right of the mill area include houses from the 1840s and Pleasant Grove Presbyterian Church from 1858.
We have come to the end of our Samhain Celtic Festival outing and a big thanks to the Ceili of the Valley Society.
But the real Samhain starts tonight. Have a safe and happy one (or Halloween) if so inclined. And welcome a good winter–our rainy season has begun in earnest here!
Every year I revisit Bridal Veil Falls where, in 2001 while hiking, I experienced the heart event that garnered me a diagnosis of aggressive coronary artery disease. I was literally brought to my knees by the proverbial “elephant on the chest” that gorgeous early September afternoon. I was 51; my doctors were not optimistic about the future. After stent implants I entered a difficult period in body and soul, but labored long and hard to regain health. It’s possible to take this disease in hand, and for the heart to become even stronger.
It’s been a thrill to once more vigorously hike the trails in Columbia River Gorge as I please. As I trek to the Bridal Veil Falls especially, it is easy to count abundant gifts of life with deep gratitude. The pictures posted are of that waterfall. At the top of the steps to a viewing platform, I collapsed. For a couple of years following my fateful hike this trail frightened me and I could not face it down. Soon I had had enough of intimidation and began to seek it out in August or September to celebrate staying alive. I am about set to head out this year once more.
I love it there: the heady scents of damp earth and dense forest, the rush of water and wind-singing leaves, the birds chorusing and my heart and feet and legs carrying me up and down the rocky paths. I love that the place remains in its wild variations, its cyclical nature and its impartial acceptance of my visitations. I am filled with more joy each year I set out on the trail to Bridal Veil Falls.
(If you are interested in learning more about heart disease, as well as recovery and health maintenance please search for my series entitled “Heart Chronicles” on this blog.)
Dot-to-dot magazines: I was crazy about the cheap newsprint drugstore ones on the children’s rack that cost under a dollar, and successfully lobbied my mother to allow one as a treat. I kept them close at hand longer than one might expect a child-soon to become-a-youth to enjoy them. Whether each page held a fine design of flora and fauna or simple geometric patterns, of easy-to-harder labyrinths or children and grown-ups doing ordinary things–I wanted to have at them.
Pencil sharpened, poised above the page, I studied the few or numerous numbered dots, I predicted the pictorial outcome. Yet felt a thrill, anyway, when bringing it to fruition whether right or wrong. It was like watching a Polaroid snapshot gradually come to life, or colored inkblots on a folded paper develop into a surprising picture as the paper is opened. All I had to do was follow the numbers, dot-to-dot-to-dot– and lo! a small puzzle solved, a rendering awakened. It was simple, relaxing entertainment. I felt far more stimulated and accomplished when doing “word search” features(often included in the magazines), but that was not the goal. The point was to engage in a task (of questionable long-term value) that gave me happy respite. Besides, I was a visual child and creating any sort of graphic design, even dot-to-dot ones, was blissful.
I miss those but I know they can be bought at a news stand. One can even purchase nice books filled with such games. I recently looked them up online. To my surprise, there appeared a large variety of intricately created dot-to-dot designs. They seem like works of art when completed–you can color them, too, and proclaim the picture your own. And those adult coloring books are impressive, as well. There is a profitable market out there in response to demand.
How nostalgic, even enchanting, these pastimes. And how bittersweet that we so crave simpler things, sweeter times, our days or nights softened by the soothing neutrality of such engagements. It is easy escape. Some comfort that costs little but gives generously for a half hour, an hour, as long as we desire. We seek it out as we need it, just as we did as children or youths, then extend our search as adults. It is certainly not always found on the internet or other electronic entertainment sources people flock to with a thirst for something more, bigger, better.
Sometimes it all requires pausing to simplify. Or we are perhaps forced to reassess our options. If we pay attention to our life needs, we will reach out to see what is there, who is there. And we may be surprised by the results.
The past several months– defined by family illnesses, life challenges and ultimately, two family deaths– I have been more persistently musing over connection. To human beings. To our places in the world and universe, to the natural world and to one’s creative muse. To divinity. These are what matter to me. And what I have felt more deeply than ever. Yet my thoughts and experiences have been fractured unexpectedly; my quiet, pedestrian life has been interrupted, shaken up, re-ordered. It has been a period spent swaying between deepened solitude, a slide into a well of quietness, and the more active desire for the company of others. Ordinarily, I would write more hours (perhaps even journal), resurrect meditative and freeing art activities, seek out more music (or create with singing or other instruments, find a computer program for composition), get much more physically active. I have read a lot. These are some of my coping skills, life’s joys. But the changes experienced have required travels and looking outward as much as inward. Being with people, and often witnessing exhaustion etched on faces, eyes revealing shards of anger and waves of anguish. And yet, there have been laughter and tenderness enough to cover us with a softening kindness. Perhaps common human sorrows underlie part of that alchemy.
If you have read my summer posts, you know my older brother died rather suddenly. Then I flew with my spouse, Marc, to North Carolina, traveled through several states to Michigan for an in-law’s memorial and back to N.C., then finally to Oregon again. I flew to Colorado for a week to visit a daughter and her partner, got altitude sickness near the end of all the fun. Then to the Oregon coast for a beach “time out” with and for Marc. The day we got home from that heaven, we attended another memorial at a crowded pub for my jazz musician brother.
Everywhere there have been family members to console and be consoled by, to join hands in what seems an ever-shrinking circle. I have thought of blood ties and of family married into and how they both help hold up the world for me, with me. How they fill my life with colorful moments and surprising reveals. How their lives are so needed in the full constellation of my life, in the balance of what matters most. When one leaves the earth, their unique space is created, not to be filled again. Their lack of physical presence is as a shadow that passes through a doorway from here to there and further than I can quite see, most of the time.
How to maintain the old stable connectivity when people I have known and loved? My parents are gone; one sister; one brother, a sister-in-law. Another sister has mild dementia and sitting across from her recently, she faded before me a moment and I was frightened. Who else? When? How does one prepare one’s self? Of course, we cannot. We only can live daily and when things change, when we lose another someone, we accept that reality slowly, heartbeat by heartbeat.
I again think of those dot-to-dot books. How one stroke could take me to another dot and then a another and another. How I have the choice to lift my pencil and be done right then or to keep that line going to complete the picture–before turning the page. How like living a life…
Though everything, I have been in touch with friends or they have called me, sent me notes, shared a meal with me. I don’t now have but a few, decades-long close friends, but they have been here for me as I am, for them. But one friend is also ill and every passing year is a gift. The others may or may not stay in Portland as not so far ahead, retirement may dictate designing another life in another place altogether. Anything could change. And does. And there can be loneliness in any circumstance.
Portland is becoming massively populated. Expensive. I had to go downtown on an errand and was on a busy thoroughfare I don’t often traverse. I looked up and around at every stoplight. The stores and houses that had been demolished, the cavernous, even monstrous new buildings being erected…it stunned me. After living here since 1992, I have watched small waves of new residents arrive. The last 2-3 years people have rushed to the city and looked for housing where all the action is, “close-in”, as we call it. Some suburbs are also expanding and real estate is hot. But Portland has firm boundaries and the only place one can go is up, so the high rises continue to rise at a rate that keeps many of us breathless. It’s only a matter of time–I keep waiting to hear of it–that my small five-plex will also be sold for a gazillion and as many or more fancy, shiny new condos will inhabit this space. We must migrate to a more affordable elsewhere.
Progress. You have to house the people as they keep coming. I was initially housed in one of my family’s rental homes–fortunate even then. And I hang on to our current comfortable spot a little longer. But how to stay connected when landmarks are altered or removed, when neighborhoods take on a whole new flavor, when your neighbors are often nameless when you barely even blink?
The keys to continuity in a fast paced life have to be resilience and adaptability. Going where the new dots go to see where it all ends up. Or creating one’s own new page. It takes curiosity as well as stamina, tolerance as well as brainstorming.
My husband longs to retire in Michigan, preferably in northern MI. on one of the countless alluring lakes, or even one of the Great Lakes (which are nearly like the ocean but, of course, are not). I understand the pull to that enveloping country, a place that lives vividly inside my mind and heart. But I don’t get why some actually return to their old hometowns. I suspect we cannot reasonably return to the past to embrace it as our present–but people do it, and apparently it works out. It has to be the desire for familiarity as our world becomes more unfamiliar in vital ways. And that hope of connectivity. I may have to move. I research various cities that might suit us as we age, in case we are priced out completely in Portland in a few short years. I’ve moved many, many times since I was 18. And there has always been several somethings or someones that made each move enriching. But I had to keep my ears and eyes open. Make the effort required. I was seldom alone and not for long–I raised five children. But there were always their own needs and wants. Now they’re adults and the architects of their own dreams, searching for the next ones. Though I am happy when they (and their fast-growing kids) include me/us, they owe us nothing.
So I have started to take stock once more, since these continued losses and attendant changes. What is truly left me now? And how can I keep myself in better touch with people? With meaningful activities? This life in all its generous experiences… I have had plenty of the bad and I don’t ever want to miss out on the good stuff. I have a strong desire to share it with others, though I have a penchant for significant solitariness so suitable to writing/creative work. I need to keep looking for options, despite my many forays and sometimes ending up faltering. I worked for a very long, time as a counselor. But I also have participated in numerous writing and a few vocal groups; tried Meet Up groups; engaged with various churches (will get more involved in the current one); taken dance and Tai Chi classes plus joined gyms; taken college classes; been active for decades in recovery groups; done some volunteer work; attended many writing workshops and conferences…well, there is more but that covers the main actions taken so far.
But there is much more I can do. Discovery happens if I just take action– new or old talents and interests to expose and encourage, knowledge to glean, service work to do, friendships to root out and nurture, places to explore in this and other cities and towns, within bountiful nature here or elsewhere. That is how I will stay connected in a way that continues to fill me and then overflow, hopefully, to others.
Because I was taught well long ago to take what life brings you and make something decent of it. To see possibilities and do something useful with them. Make a slim, winkled dot-to-dot magazine fun, give it some oomph. Plunk a melody on the piano, see what develops. Out of the mess, assemble order. Out of the ruins, create anew.
High aspirations, perhaps. But sensible, as well, to me.
As a child, when my family took trips across country in our crowded car (seven of us in that family, too), my mother would point to the landscapes and towns, observe the streets, shops and people and say, “Look out your windows! What do you see? Isn’t that interesting!” And my father would slow down, park and we’d pile out, run to the historical site, or a riverside park for a picnic or walk about a town green and gawk at stately statues, or even visit a strange church if it was a Sunday and sing old hymns with the rest and later have a chat. Just passing through, have agood afternoon. And then we’d tumble back in the car, play word games or sing our harmonized songs the next hundred miles, or tell stories, or be roustabouts, but finally we’d fall sleep that night in some cheap motel, side by side. Full up. Content enough with that day’s adventure and ready–come what may–for the next.
All people, I discovered, are complex human beings in need of home, hearth, good work and a modicum of happiness to share. May I never forget that most primary connection.
View a few pictures of downtown neighborhoods of wacky, wonderful Portland as it tears down and rebuilds:
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…
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.
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.
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…