Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: A Simple, Safe Dwelling in the World

Shelter: home. It informs my dreams, attracts my eye everywhere I roam, and pulls me to books, websites and magazines that focus on architecture and design. Then add surprises of outdoor spaces, no matter how humble. Between my interest in public green space and city buildings, tall or small apartment complexes or different types of houses–I am frequently awash in dreamy, impassioned (if casual) learning. It’s all about various living spaces for humans (and their critters). Habitats matter to everyone, and for different reasons, the first of which is basic shelter.

I feature them in my fiction writing; a character’s surroundings can be powerful at most, or help provide story impetus. The lifestyles often reflected by his or her dwelling and territory, their choice to be inside or out, to be in one room or another or to leave familiar spaces altogether–all this helps move the story, flesh it out.

It is likely I was born into this area of interest, as I grew up in a small city where architecture was important. Midland, Michigan gave us several illustrious citizens, not the least of which was Alden B. Dow, a well-known architect. The son of Herbert H. Dow, founder of Dow Chemical Company based in that city, became an apprentice to Frank Lloyd Wright. He designed 600 projects of many types throughout the US. and 130 were built in Midland. His ideas were considered progressive, even daring–the buildings were glass, stone and wood-informed in newer ways at the time, to fine effect. He sometimes brought nature indoors with water features and trees. There was a strong respect for surrounding land, how the whole integrated when this was not commonplace. His philosophy was “A Way of Life CYcle” and based on his belief that every individual is creative, and that making a structure that is harmonious within and without it is paramount.

I had ample opportunities to enjoy these buildings–civic centers, libraries, business offices, churches and temples and schools, as well as houses–each day. Some of my friends lived in them; I attended events in others. They drew me in. They were beautiful in their organic simplicity, their integration into nature and simple functionality. Alden B. Dow’s own home and surrounding gardens and other acreage is idyllic (which may be accessed on line–check out https://dowgardens.org/). I often visited; you will see why if you choose. So, perhaps the seed was sown for an abiding curiosity about architectural/landscape design as a youngster–my eye observed deeply, my heart and mind followed.

This morning I perused photos of a lake house with flat rooftops on which grow wildflowers and grasses, and felt happy to study them. I sent the images with my daughter, Naomi, who has a great eye. The contemporary one-story has an interior filled with natural textures and there is so much glass a nearness of trees and water is seen at every turn. My sort of house–well, one type, since I have several favorites. Clean lines, brightened by sunlight and muted by shade; nature in evidence; environmentally sound. The patio seemed higher, and the stone of floor and fire pit was substantial. I can imagine meals there, wind ruffling my hair. What a handsome design it is.

As I was looking it over I told Naomi, an artist, that she’d make a very good architect, and she went along with that. She’s a working sculptor, and utilizes many modalities. (She’s also an art professor working hard to figure out best ways to teach 3D art online at a university now.). Like her father, also a sculptor, and her brother, a “maker of things”–even both sets of grandparents, in a few ways–she possesses that innate grasp of visual art. And has an extra sense regarding a material’s potential. Naomi possesses a scientific mind and a highly developed aesthetic view, in my (motherly) opinion. Add a wide ranging curiosity and persistence that seems crucial to being an artist. Passionate about layers of meanings, yet dispassionate in execution of ideas–I get that, too, as a writer.

So, then…I can see her building houses and other structures–the scale would suit her well. But she is doing what she does. For example, she has been making fascinating cyanotypes (a photographic printing process); she also has been working with with indigo dye on various fabrics. Additionally, she and her brother also grew up learning some construction trades, as their father had his own business. (To get an idea of her work, check out Naomi J Falk@invisible sculpture)

It excites me to see what my children are creating-they become the teachers, I am the learner. Josh recently mined fire opals with his wife in Southern Oregon; they make jewelry. He never is idle, always making new things. And I, too, want to create more, while being a wordsmith remains my primary method of giving substance to ideas. I sometimes wish it was more, or different.

People like Naomi or Josh possess some of the wherewithal to cast a net further for more building/designing possibilities. Of course, to become a working architect usually requires a degree. (Myself—not so much. Though I have the love of visual arts and architecture, but not training–does studying painting 3 years in university count?) Yet I wonder if we might come up with a plan that’d translate into a reality.

Josh and I talk of it as well as Naomi. He lives in a pleasant house with a big yard that has a crazy mix of a trampoline, small pool, huge vegetable garden, projects of all sorts (new skate ramp being built of cement and wood, furniture refinishing, cutting/smoothing rocks/crystals, starting seedlings, painting/drawing, designing skateboards, making small Buddhas out of plastic or wax, plus he often is fixing something broken–I can’t keep track of the heaps or ideas.) But he wants to buy land in the country, build his own house, then one for Marc and me. We’ve discussed tiny houses, dome houses, yurts–more manageable. I once showed him a sketch of rambling, connected pods that made a sort of “compound.’ It seems practical.

We appreciate a variety of spaces; the many we’ve experienced help inform a future plan. We may well never live together as some cultures do encourage. It is all shared with love. My family knows I miss living in a house, at least some days, though the townhouse apartment is lovely, in the woods as I long desired.

Habitats…one’s personal domain in an often too-cramped world. We all want one. Need something no matter how humble. And in these times, that often a dire need carries more weigh emotionally. I consider where I live…and where others live right now. And the fact that scores have lost or are about to lose housing due to COVID-19 and the financial cataclysm it has caused. Oregon has put a moratorium on evictions for another several months. But eventually they will have to pay back rent. Or may lose houses for good due to to missed mortgage payments.

I was headed to another part of our metropolitan area when I came upon block after block lined with makeshift dwellings. Temporary–i.e., easily movable–dwellings made of cardboard, tarps, plastic bags cut apart and taped together, odd bricks or wood scraps crisscrossed by fabric or towels. There were not that many there just three months ago. The conditions appear miserable, barely tolerable. Those who seek help have increased. As I waited at a light, I saw a man in the middle of a four lane road with his dog on a tight leash; he was feeding his pet companion bits of croissants–sharing his scarce food. His cardboard sign pleaded for money. How much can I give? I look, nod, smile, give what I have on me, later to another charitable organization. But it’s never enough. I can’t give a safe home, or meal after meal. Every person should have a spot to claim as one’s own, and not along noisy, often dangerous, fume-filled streets.

Homeless needs have been a concern in our city for decades. My mental health and addiction-impacted clients were frequently living on the streets, so I came to understand hardships faced–and the hearty resilience it takes to survive extraordinary stresses daily. Navigating the social services system was often fraught with frustration that could plunge them into despair–or a return to cynical resignation. Now how many unsuspecting folks are forced to evacuate homes and take up a tent or sleep on an abandoned couch at roadside, or find an empty business doorway? Underneath highway overpasses becomes a place to live, or an empty parking lot as more businesses are closed. A vacant lot, under a bridge, along side highways. And we have forests surrounding our city, within which people do manage to live awhile.

It is a huge crisis, though Oregon has done a lot to help, building pockets of very affordable micro housing units and tiny houses, more subsidized apartment buildings. But the people they house often have mental health problems. There are also many women fleeing domestic violence, often with children–this violence is on the rise since the virus showed up. Much of this I can empathize with, having had brushes with similar issues once upon a time. More than you might believe, there isn’t such a great distance separating one from security and safety, ending up poor, homeless.

And this has remained a fear of mine, I admit, even at age 70. I do not know–nor does anyone–what the future may hold. I live my life smack in the middle of the present but am not foolish enough to ignore any possibility since Marc was one who became unemployed due to his company downsizing due to lost business resultant of the roaring virus. This, despite a great career, despite planning on retirement in a few years. As has happened all over the country, the world.

One of the reasons (though not the primary one) I consider the beauty and function of a good house is other than just a fascination with design of structures, uses of land space and a sensitivity to environment. I have moved more times than I care to count; I recall telling someone 18 times, but that was decades ago. Between raising a large family–first I had two, then three children, then welcomed two non-biological additions–and costs for various basics as well as unexpected medical needs–and more job transfers for Marc and my lack of a completed college education (when it still meant something), financial downturns in the US economy with attendant losses…well, not easy to afford a house, then. We put it on the back burner. Time flew by. My life–my life, perhaps–could be encapsulated via its history of houses/ other dwellings. I left my parents’ stable two-story home at 18, the age many do.

I do not expect to buy a house now. I still considered the idea but with all that is happening in my country, no. Not everyone in the USA can manage to buy a house much less continue to buy others. In fact, millions do not.

I have to backtrack to say we did purchase an attractive, big-family-sized, A-frame house (with a few leaky windows) on an acre in in Tennessee when I was in my early thirties. It was not our plan, as Marc worked at that plant for about two years. But we got it for a good price in a seller’s market, then sold it later in a buyer’s market–so about broke even. I loved that house, was loathe to leave it. We discovered that a decent family home in our new area of transfer was not affordable. “Riskier than usual” is not a way to live when you have a family of seven. Years passed; we found houses that worked well enough, if not for keeping.

Years later when they kids were grown I received an inheritance. I determined to buy another house. However, I had also just had a heart attack and was not working, though Marc was. The real estate people told me that since my health was not good at such a young age, I might never be able to work again. Read: perhaps I should seriously reconsider. I was flabbergasted by this. I had not thought of myself as being unable to to add to our joint income again. Everyone around me seemed to agree with this weird idea of “wait and see.” And since the first houses considered were not to my liking, anyway, I became discouraged. No one supported me with a “go for it” cheering on– I confess it was needed right then. I felt very low about my goal not being met. Still weakened and in cardiac rehab, I simply gave up, one of the few times I’ve caved spectacularly. That money went to more places than I expected over the next few years. And it did take me nearly three years to work full time again, though health never stopped me again. I simply retired after many more years.

I never imagined this dream would utterly fail. Do I regret it? Yes, I do. I think how much my mother would have loved me to purchase a place–with her generosity. Then, too, there was that niggling subterranean humiliation–how could I not own property when my siblings all had for eons? Didn’t everyone else I knew, also? I mostly ignored the sting of it, while admitting another spacious yard and house to bring over family and friends would be my big wish come true.

But I also know how to make a home out of any place: by being welcoming and positive, upping the cozy factor with love not necessarily things (or not expensive items). So if it has four walls, I can manage fine–and also count myself fortunate. If I’ve not owned great properties, I’ve had ways to make many work for us well. And I feel less attached to all material goods. You may have security one day but not the next. And if you don’t own something beloved and fantastic, the impending loss is much less vexing.

My sister, Allanya has bought and sold a dozen or more places and rehabbed as many (often for investment, including two century old homes to turn into commercial buildings). She now lives in a well appointed and staffed retirement community with her partner. It was a wrenching decision to give up their house on a corner lot overlooking Portland. It was peaceful, gazing towards distant mountains, all the lights twinkling below in city center. We had many family get-togethers with lots of food passed around in the colorfully-decorated rooms, or on the deck enveloped by tall trees. Not surprisingly, she doesn’t like her new digs much, though she’s adapting more or less. Nor the idea that since she has dementia and her partner has increased health problems, an assisted living unit decision is likely to occur soon.

I know her dearly and well–she’s always been spirited and adventurous, a woman living in the center of her power, a woman of faith and strength made for expansive living. Ultimately, she will be alright in a smaller apartment with more care. But I see how it hurts her, and I am sad for her.

So I don’t like to jog her memory about where we live, nor do I bring up the past houses, the fun she had renovating. I don’t want to unearth sorrow when she still laughs easily, and there is life to be lived as kindly as possible. But I hope to bring her to visit once more when our world is safer from this disease. How pleasurable to serve her iced mint tea from the blue butterfly-decorated, Swedish pitcher (that I bought for our mother decades ago, used daily), a plate of fresh maple pecan scones and a dark chocolate for each–favorite treats she now rarely gets. We’d pass the day on my balcony overlooking firs and maples, surrounded with plants and flowers. She once was a camper, told a tale about meeting a bear…But we’d speak of much and little, making snarky comments as we debated politics, sighing or laughing over nothing important.

That is my idea of a home–rather ordinary, really, similar to an experience shared by people everywhere. Marc and I share our current habitation with much appreciation. Even in rough times–or especially.

Meanwhile, my youngest daughter, Alex, is saving for her family’s first home…and we keep swapping ideas and pictures. A house for toddler twins and their parents–exciting prospect to look forward to again!

The (even modest or old) habitats I pour over–they will call to me always. Craftsman, ranches, bungalows, log cabins, saltbox, Federal, Georgian, Cape Cod colonial, Victorian, adobe, Mediterranean, contemporary and industrial–the list goes on. I like features of them all. When I read and observe them, I become transfixed, enlivened, investigative about the how/what/ where and, of course, try to imagine the “who” that dwells therein. I sink into those worlds, fill up with expansive inspiration, then tuck it all into my brain. For the joy of it.

And, too, revisit in slumberland as I wander strange hallways and floors, seeking a route to somewhere I am always looking for and perhaps oddly expect to find: an even better, more tantalizing place amid landscapes in this world. And beyond. Doorways to foreign and exquisite vistas; a sturdy stoop or grassy hilltop to sit upon, to think and dream, to gather wisdom and love. To offer a true welcome. And a window sash to lower when a storm stirs up, then to open when the wind sweetens and is tender again.

Though I did not become the architect I, in youthful exuberance, dreamed of being…I am not unhappy. Find me grateful once more.

Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: Lessons from the Past

Yesterday I returned to our old neighborhood in search of abundant flower gardens. I found a few, but, honestly, it is only early May so those were rather high expectations. Lots of vibrant rhoddies and azaleas. I can’t say I was disappointed. The sights were worth revisiting as the warm, lemony sunlight of mid-day soothed and cheered me. But it was more than the flowers, I have to admit. Perhaps I was looking for our more carefree days before the coronavirus, my husband’s recent and surprising job loss, and the very unstable future in our country–and the world.

It was good to walk down those streets, to recall the years we enjoyed an overall comfortable, interesting life. To see people chatting on their porches–we have fewer porches where we now live–and see children playing on the street, even if at arm’s length, as they played basketball and rode bikes and drew colorful hopscotch diagrams. Our current environs rarely include big porches facing wide streets, and there are fewer children about–we live in condo country and also among wooded homes that tend to be more secluded in the hilly acreage.

As Marc and I strolled about NE Portland, pointing out changes and what has remained the same, I thought as I often do that one never knows what the future holds. I’ve long felt this is an aspect of being human that’s exciting: around every corner–every single new day–there is something about to arrive that will challenge or thrill or enlighten. There is new information to be gleaned, an experience worth embracing. At the very least, one that offers a glimpse into the kaleidoscope of our living, and potential wisdom for the next part of the journey. I am not the sort of person who hides (for very long) but who steps forward to see what is next. I want to know things. Despite it being a bit of a risky proposition at times to just step outside and wave hello, I’m doing it.

So I yet choose to welcome the new day. However, I’ve had to remind myself of this during the shut-down of our country, and as we seem to be considering a very gradual re-opening…which concerns so many of us. I admit my cozy blue-and-cream-flowered quilt is tempting to pull up to my chin another fifteen minutes. But I get up before too long. Get fully dressed. (I still take a a moment to choose clothes carefully as I like certain colors at certain times. Old habits…)

Yesterday while cleaning I came across a small journal. It was as if I was to review what I’d lived the past year. It is one of many journals begun and soon abandoned; after 40 I ceased to be an avid diarist so the vast majority have been repurposed, or completed ones tossed long ago. But not this one.

The only entry was written on 2/1/19, a month before we moved from our established city area home to a SW Portland suburb. I read it over slowly.

It seemed I’d had a difficult dream the night before, and during it I felt we were being pushed out of our home, intruded upon by strangers, and sent packing to unknown lands. I couldn’t figure out how to orient myself via four true directions of the compass in my mind, a strange occurrence as I tend to use an instinctive sense of direction. But it had panicked me and I came to a startled awakening. This does seem a most obvious dream to have about moving. And I wrote:

“How odd to feel so lost in that dream… I came to waking too late after being suddenly jarred to consciousness three other times: the ceaseless planning, the work of it, the new locale and its issues, the costs of moving, the details to manage alone while Marc works. Disruptions and requirements that seem a tsunami of change. One more month until we must start afresh–yes, among tall pine trees on a high ridge. It will not as before. The suburbs have always sent me hightailing it in the other direction…

“What does a woman need to live a rich and fulfilling life, regardless of upheaval? Far less than one imagines, materially. I look through my books; surely they are one essential good. I must choose wisely for the smaller space. I finger scores of pictures, tons of old CDs, small treasures here and there…what matters now?

“It is only a change of house. I have done it so many times in my life! Yet I sometimes tremble as I prepare for this one. Why? Does one habitat mean more than the next? I will go simply forward, find my way, as always. Oh, dear God, I surely hope.”

Did I sense any of what lay ahead? I thought we were moving close to our daughter and son-on-law so when they had precious twin girls–high risk for various reasons– we’d be only five minutes away instead of thirty due to traffic jams and distance. But it seemed like something else was afoot despite all the reassurances we had. There came upon me a weight of dread at times, and an urgent need to get our lives in good order. To deal with whatever was coming: it felt as if I was preparing for something far bigger than any of my ordinary plans.

I didn’t know my daughter would suffer from nightmarish postpartum depression for three months, and that a good, solid recovery would take another three. She recently published an essay on her experience; it was harder and scarier than I, her worried, praying mother, even witnessed and I saw a great deal. The beautiful twins’ arrival and first months’ was not to be that happiest of all events during which we’d share energy and time and love in a simple, straightforward, constant manner. It was, in truth, harder than anything I’d ever thought it could be. To see my daughter sink and struggle day in and day out with her mothering and her perfect babies was so painful I couldn’t speak of it…only weep privately. We were not able to be the easy going grandparents in and out of their lives effortlessly as I had experienced with other grandchildren. Yes, I was there for hours several times a week, and my husband and I took care of each other, too. And the babies thrived. In time, life started to slightly brighten and if shadows fell again, the horizon was more discernible; more illumined ways and means came to us with each day’s coming.

And my daughter got better; she labored at it with intense energy, used every resource available, sought support and welcomed daily help. We all learned and adjusted even as there were times of deep pain and worry. I found I understood fewer of my son-in-law’s parenting perspectives as I helped with the babies three days and more each week. In time, since he was not working , he was able to leave and get other things done, or get a needed respite. My daughter had returned to work but sometimes I just glimpsed her on my way out. She was worn out and determined to settle back into routine. I sure had to learn about caring for twins and their family needs on the run; we sometimes compromised a little. The babies were snuggled, fed, diapered and adored. I saw how incredibly strong my daughter–and her husband–were and are. To parent requires courage; to parent with extraordinary stresses requires a warrior spirit and hope beyond hope.

Adversity can do damage but it can also make one very strong, can expand and enlighten person; it can make one tougher yet more tender, at once. I think we each experienced some of that as we plunged on, got past the hardest weeks.

I discovered things about myself as a mother, and as an individual–how much more I was willing and able I was to endure greater fear and uncertainty, how much more love came forward when I felt tapped out, how much deeper my faith in God would become. How I will not give up my belief in better times, even now in my later years after sorrows galore, not give in to fear or worry or pain for more than a small time. But I let my deepest heart feel it all.

There was nowhere to run, after all. I was living it with them all, was smack in the middle of our real lives. I was not going to turn away from not only the crises but the miracles.

There are times we must, I think, allow ourselves to feel our brokenness, to admit our frailty so that we can be ready for more healing once again. Because it comes if we embrace the process. If we are ready to grow further as individuals. And looking back can only help us understand a bit more. The rest is staying steady as we can in the moment and moving on.

We have lived in our woodland home now for over a year. It is a place that has come to so well suit us. I see how important it has been to have vast reserves of nature’s wonders right outside our door; how much more healthy to have miles of sinuous trails for walking or short hikes; how soothing the river with its timeless flow of waters; how cleansing the winds from the western mountain range and foothills. It is quieter in all the right ways, and birdsong never ceases to bring a smile as I awaken. It is gentler here, and we have needed that.

I feel gratitude daily, even moments of joy despite these chaotic times, and deep grief for those who are suffering. It'[s all of it, isn’t it, our human living? And we will keep on, until we do not. I have come close to death several times, and each time I wonder how it happens that we each leave or we stay. But today remains the gift right now.

I don’t know if we will live here beyond next March. Who knows where we all will be this time next year? It has always been unclear, hasn’t it? This time it is a viral scourge, next time it may be something else entirely we must face and cope with. It depends now on how COVID-19 rules our culture, economy and health, yes. And if my husband will find another good job or if we can or simply must retire sooner than later. If we can remain fit and able as we have been, overall. But every place I’ve had to move– despite challenges– knowledge has been gained, fun has been had, friends made. I hope I have left some good will. Wherever we are, we lug ourselves along, as the saying notes. So I best take care of my soul, mind, and body–this life I still have depends on it. So I draw nearer to those I well love. I still offer my kind greetings and support to friends and neighbors–and you, dear reader, if you will have it via my weekly stories.

Blessings to you, do not despair but find the good in the living you do.

Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: No Changes, No Gains

I was a different person several hours yesterday. I’m not referring to the fact that, one day to the next we are, of course, not utterly the same inside-out. No, I felt like someone I didn’t well recognize, pacing the perimeters of our new home, flitting one thing to another. Or maybe I recognized myself in an oblique way but I didn’t like that version much.

The view beyond a  huge window held my attention well–a new bird feeder draws chickadees so far, a random squirrel is foiled, and the hummingbird feeder beckons hummers. The gathering greenness is captivating. Then again the multitudinous odd tasks kept me moving. Only I’d start one, then  another and then another and retrace my steps as if I had ADHD, which I do not. Up and down the stairs, in and out of rooms, cleaning, ordering, moving things about, throwing in a load of laundry, sitting to read a few minutes. My mind and body buzzed. Well, perhaps the chai tea, then a couple hours later a cold brew coffee…?

But it was more than that. I felt aggrieved and penned in by our new address. The place seemed to have shrunk overnight. Ceilings too high, paint hues subdued to a sleepy monotone, rooms facing wrong directions, a kitchen with sleek black counter tops–who thought of that? Every day as I descend stairs to the living area all is resonant with shadow and silence, waiting for me patiently though I barely know these forms or sounds, the habitat’s nature nor the day’s intent. Yes, loveliness everywhere, too. So what will this move bring–and what can I bring to it?

But at that moment rational thought was not trumping nerves on edge. Why is it hard to change familiar environments? Really, to change at all? Nothing is static in nature or life, not for long. We are as fluid as we allow ourselves to be. Still my innards were jumpy enough that I needed to calm this sudden scuffle with reality, being uprooted and replanted. A couple of days ago I was content and delighted; to be so at odds with my life was unexpected and unwanted.

Let me recap Tuesday afternoon blow by blow…

******

I want to run despite having a sore little toe from so much steep hiking about. Something to alter physiological responses to sudden awareness of change. So I throw on my jacket (after not finding my keys so grab the spare set). Do we need food? Should I cruise by the post office with a couple of bills? And what about the new library–shouldn’t I have seen it by now? All three are on my mind as I set out by car and follow  my nose. I know the main road down into town. And I try to go somewhere new several times a week to figure out the lay of the land out here, so far from the maze of the rambunctious city I have known and loved so well. And recently up and left.

The curve of roads, rollicking hills, blur of trees. My head does not clear. Traffic is heating up a bit–we are in a smallish-woodsy-suburban place, yes, but still a city.  I had left the house during mid-day. Which lane to get in? Oh, construction up ahead. Now what as the road splits off? No one drives slowly here, to my surprise. Steady hands, breathe slower, look at the signs: no anxiety necessary. I rarely get lost and even if…there is the GPS if I choose to use it (usually would rather not). I have been on these streets before; I have a good natural compass; I will find my way. All about are buildings I am only cursorily familiar with, landscaping foreign and lush. It is this visual information I seek to gather and memorize and yet I am still distracted as I drive.

I breeze into and out of the post office driveway and pop bills into the mailbox–surprises me. But it does not soothe me.

Once in the new grocery, I pick my way through produce to breads to freezer section, getting each thing on my short list. I bypass the cold brew coffee. The store is a small maze I learn to navigate. Once done, I get in line. People often dress a bit differently. The woman ahead of me is close to my age but very tan, fitter than fair in early April, very blond. I suspect she flew in from the Caribbean last week. I glance about for a crunchy-granola nature-loving boomer and spot a few and relax smile. But when I check out I think this is a different grocery and look for my rewards card. Oh, not there, am here. I ask for cash and stuff the receipt and small bills, smile and share pleasantries–the cashier was lovely– and load up the car trunk. I am still abuzz with uncertainty and, well, stress.

Next: gas up the car. A relief to find my favorite brand across from the grocery. I slide in,  pull the gas cap lever–only it is the trunk release. The congenial guy who gasses up the car closes it for me and I get the right lever second time. I smile graciously but feel twitchy again, as if my teeth are clenching–are they?–and my tricky neck has a tough knot. I turn the key enough to listen to the jazz station, working at the tight muscle of my shoulder. Study the conifers’ treetops, how the wind moves through the branches and the blue sky pulses with sunshine and feel better. The man says “Ma’am?” and seems to have been holding my receipt out to me a few seconds. I take it, thank him with cheery courtesy, move out the exit, pull up to the stoplight. And hope fervently I don’t turn too soon or late on the yellow light. Streets don’t follow much of a city-type grid here even at intersections, but curve into each other–have to keep eyes peeled. Anticipate.

I roll down two windows completely and let newness of April sweep through, muss my hair. I may not have a convertible but it feels close enough. In a mile I turn onto a road leading to the quaint downtown. The library is not far from corners with buildings I recognize. There’s a neat sign with arrow: LIBRARY. A wave of relief arrives as I breathe in fragrant air and head to the last stop. It is if I have made it to absolute safety. Books: I know this sort of place so intimately, nothing can ruin the day now.

The late afternoon brings me back to myself and yet I feel invisible while roaming the stacks, checking out the wood-and-glass contemporary building, the placement of materials. Everyone here has a romance going with books and learning new things, like me. I speak to a couple of librarians. (“Why are all fiction subgenres shelved together?” “Well, it’s an experiment; so far, pretty good outcome.” “Hmm.” We will see how I like it, why not?)

I check out two mysteries, a literary novel and two documentary DVDs for four weeks. It doesn’t matter if I get to them all. It is the orderly ease of a library, the smell of books snugged up against one another, and information and intrigue at one’s fingertips. There is a symmetry to this physical,intellectual and emotional space and I get to be in it. The live wire of my jarred neurology is grounded once more; so am I. Tension and worry are vanishing.

Getting home is nothing at all. I know the way. If I didn’t, I would find one. I can adapt. I can fit the need with solutions or ask the right questions of someone who has them. The human brain is resilient, even when pushed to the limit, even when worn out and befuddled and spooked and lost. Much if not most of the time, there is some action to take that can result in a positive reaction, even a solid fulfillment of the goal.

Last week I was winding along a labyrinth of trails by our home when a companion asked how I seemed easily to find my way without any map. I was surprised. Besides having an apparently fine sense of direction, there is faith in my ability to figure out puzzles. I have pretty decent visual memory. I also utilize intuitive cues. If there is doubt, it is another problem to address and another choice can be made. I pay attention to info gleaned and I want to stay safe–but one never gets anywhere if afraid of internal or external unknowns.

There is many a tunnel that takes a walker through woods and under roadways, and where it leads I do not know until I find myself in a  new spot. The paths always surprise me as I go with the twists and turns. It’s part of the excitement, not being clear where I am heading. If  didn’t enter that tunnel, I wouldn’t get to discover the surprise. If I didn’t turn that direction, I’d miss out on a rocky creek, a flower, a unique house that peeks out from dense bushes and trees, that woodpecker so high up. The birds seem to follow; rather, I try to follow them. Every now and then I see someone coming who lifts a hand in greeting, who nods and smiles or rushes by with a lumbering dog that half-drags them up the next hill. I don’t lollygag as it is exercise, neither do I keep my eyes to ground. I want to experience it all.

So when we decided a move was necessary, I was scared but undeterred. (I’m not generally a covers over the head person when there’s a bump in the night or a bad dream; I get up, turn on a light or get a big stick if instinct dictates.) So I knew that if I kept my eye on the end goal while doing the work required, and looked for support from God, friends and family, I would find a right relocation for the current needs. Body, mind and heart would direct me as I commandeered helpers and agenda. Besides, change is to the brain and spirit as synovial fluid is to joints: we have to get going, keep moving to stave off the discomfort resultant of disuse. And that goes for adaptation skills, old and new. I would rather take a chance than do nothing, try out something new than be stuck with the same old thing. Yes, I was anxious yesterday and that library stop was the ticket to full relief–but that was yesterday and today is today; things work out in one fashion or another. And how fun to explore a new library with different titles showcased and unique ways of doing things. Despite challenges of change, it creates differences that enrich and expand and, thus, keep life vibrant.

Last week-end we headed up to the peak of the extinct volcano we live on (there are many in the area). Nansen Summit, at 975 feet (we live at about 800 feet) tops Mount Sylvania, an ancient volcano on the Boring Lava Field. It was mentioned to me when we moved in so Marc and I took off in search of it. As we climbed and climbed, the early spring sun soon heated us to a fine sweat as leg muscles and hearts whinged a bit. It is a rapid, steep ascent as so many paths are. We didn’t know the extent of what awaited but we finally emerged from woods into white-bright sunshine.

First, there are mega houses way up there. But otherwise, what a good pay off: 360 degree views of the Tualatin River Valley, Mt. Hood (though it was mostly hiding in clouds as it often does) and foothills (West Hills) of the Coast Range. You will note the weather station and radio telemetry antenna as well.  We enjoyed hanging out on a couple of benches provided for rest and meditation, then had a much easier descent.

Truth is, we are already starting to love it here.

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?