Friday’s Poem: Instuctions on Life Saving

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

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

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

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

Tuesday’s Thoughts: The Farewells We Make

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Til next time…sending good will out to you.

Friday’s Poem: Into Kingdom of Flowers

(Thoughts as Skyler Journeys to the Beyond)

What grief have flowers? They live in ecstasy.

Every curve and angle, design and hue

is cast upward from dirt and granted freedom.

I with scant wisdom am humbled.

What can they offer in harrowing times as

wounds of our hearts threaten to

undo even sutures of hope?

You have known that tearing. But I say

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

They grace the gloom with a waltz of unfolding.

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

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

I have walked among these, their rainbowed

blooms caressing my skin as if they know

such moments have kept me alive.

The slanting light limning wild grasses.

A wind that rattle-dazzles leaves.

Scents of secret life rising at daybreak

and lingering beyond the blue hour.

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

How much innocence can a person lose

and yet be tugged back by a single petal

that offers itself to eye and nose?

This velvety part, that stem and leaf–

such medicine that I am brought to my senses,

conduits to pulsing numinosity of God.

One day for us all, you know, it

comes down to deep simplicity:

rain or moonlight, root or stone,

feather or beetle or cloud,

a palm cupping sun’s heat–

then circuitous breath, our very breath

seeps out to join the river’s.

And when it is over and discussed

the vivacity of life keeps company

with more under arches of trees.

When I leave, I want what is left

covered with wild flowers and gossamer light.

Transformation leaves what counts,

disperses what does not.

It comes down to usefulness.

And reverence.

Wonderment has carried me to this

and someday, farther.

Here it has all been said and done for you;

you found shock of love, of strife, inertia.

Made of it more, and less.

But this moment between times as we wait,

the gathered blossoms grant entry

to their kingdom’s favor,

to brazen and elegant and rare delights

where tears like dewdrops are silent,

sweet or not, but welcome.

I will look for you there.

Friday’s Poem: My Father’s Shoes

I cleaned grassy streaks and smudges

from my tennis shoes, scrubbing,

exacting each swipe around toes,

knowing tomorrow they will just go lousy

with evidence of spring again–

when I recalled you setting up the shoe shine kit

to clean your chestnut-colored wingtips

or trusty black Florsheims.

I wondered what all got cleaned off as the

edgy aroma of shoe polish all waxy in round tins,

filled the air with its magic and your industry.

Maybe a rim of dust from an auditorium clung on,

or dabs of dirt from an outdoor concert venue.

It’s mountain mud that gets caked on my soles,

detritus snatched from serpentine paths,

odds and ends decaying at riverfront.

But your important wooden box held

one foot then another atop a foot-shaped platform

as you slathered on polish, rubbed it smooth

then deepened its color with stubby brush

and then took the buffing cloth,

seesawed over supple leather in

a rhythmic shuffle of hands,

toes given special attention.

Each shoe was held to the light with

your deft-fingered hands stuffed inside.

Oh, they gleamed clean and fit as fancy footwear.

It was a mission completed; you smiled at me,

saying have to put your best foot forward

and chuckling, but it was a motto you lived.

Maybe you polished your shoes each week

because the kid you were owned a good pair for church

another for school; best to care for things scarce and in demand.

Best to look like whoever you are meant to become: you,

a musician, conductor, teacher, administrator,

a man your parents were proud of without saying so,

the whole person your wife always knew you were.

It’s true you wore other shoes to the garage

and yard, on the tall ladder where you perched

above grass as I steadied it near the bottom,

Mom hollering be careful, Lawrence!

as if you were a neophyte.

Every couple years you scraped and painted

our house so it was freshly dressed

in optimistic yellow, bouyant turqouise.

I think you wore deck shoes (you liked to sail) or

scuffed Rockports beneath loose coveralls.

This was all long before you no longer painted

and your hearing faded and a quadruple bypass,

before your eyes widened in fear then shone

like separate bodies of light as you

rounded the corner to God

and I stood by your bed fixed by your stare,

saying, it’s alright to let go–go Home, you are loved.

But before then it was lots of things,

yes, it’s a shoe shine kit I recall today,

your shoes all restored. You went to work

in suit or tux to shape and lift each note,

steady on the podium, swaying like a man dancing,

ushering forth music from orchestra, symphony, band.

How those shoes glowed, how they slid, tapped;

how much beauty and good they brought forward,

feet happy to carry the man, my father.

But, too, I think as I slip on my sneakers

for another woodsy walk in peace–

even the old ones worn on high rungs,

your toehold sure in the simmering summer sun–

even those quite did the job.

Monday’s Meander: High Desert Museum

A major observation that one makes about high desert– besides hopscotch carpets of sagebrush and such pungent scents– is the sharp dryness of things. All seems to crackle underfoot; air is stripped of moisture for the most part. In a short time, my skin and hair feel the effects—skin parchment-like, hair becoming flyaway. Brittleness reigns. Yet, there is something attractive about this landscape. It’s aridity and semi- monochromatic austerity lend a spareness best seen in open range, but also is notable where the western juniper, ponderosa pine, larch grow. But as small things are discovered, another world is revealed.

The High Desert Museum is a good place to experience this. Opened in 1982, it exits to encourage people to consider the history of this high desert area–part of the Columbia Plateau– and how people have interacted with it.

We hurried through indoor exhibits– we’d visited before and had limited time. The outdoor exhibits have been improved and I had to be outdoors–it was a lovely day.

Follow in my footsteps as we head outdoors during a slideshow, below. You’ll note there is evidence of a riparian part of high desert–so crucial to this land– with small creeks. (There’s an exhibit with deeper water for two river otters, not an uncommon critter in Oregon.) But everywhere are reminders of high fire danger–it was well posted–and I thought how those trees and shrubs could be immediate fire timber and kindling. Evidence of fire as we crossed the Cascade Range came to mind, as well as wildfires near our home once.

You’ll note, at the end of the slideshow, a replica of a sheepherder’s wagon in the 1880s; it is reminsicent of wagons in which pioneers crossed the continent to settle the West. Or, rather, resettle, since Native Americans lived and worked here for so very long….

The draw for us this visit was the Miller Family Ranch and Sawmill. Though a fictional family, the reconstructed settlement is typical of a ranch for white homesteaders who claimed and worked land in Central Oregon in the1880s. The climate is not very hospitable; life was difficult. We moved between a barn, cabin, corral, bunkhouse, root cellar, and sawmill. There would have been cattle tended and horses on open range; we noted chickens and a chicken house. During summer months there are reenactments of the lives lived in such a homestead then.

For current residents of this part of Oregon, ranching is still a primary part of the culture and economy.

By this time, indigenous land had already been explored and occupied by people such as trappers, missionaries, and surveyors. Native people were forced to sign treaties or removed– or dealt with violently. Native rights retained did allow descendants to still hunt, gather and fish in areas they used to inhabit so freely. Visiting the ranch reconsturction brought up conflicting issues and feelings, with much to consider, as usual, when I revisit American history. (Every country has its painful history but it doesn’t help much to think on that, either–especially these days.)

It was a good day well used and we were ready for a meal and a restful evening. For next week’s blog I’ll take you to Smith Rock, one of the more impressive sights I’ve seen in Central Oregon. The land opens up as you drive from Bend, and mountain vistas are clear on a sunny day. Then jagged and often reddish rocks and pinnacles of the State Park are revealed. A very small teaser is below.