It had been a stormy couple of days. I mean: wind advisories (gusts to 45 mph), flood warnings, not the usual redundant pitter-patter of fat drops we usually have. I stood on the balcony, eyed the skies beyond rooftops and tree crowns. Sooty, formidable clouds were on a race to another quadrant of the city. There was a loud irritating noise. Something the rain struck created a hard metallic drumming. It had kept me up half the night and accompanied day hours. I went back inside, watched for the sheerest let-up of the downpour. When it came I put on rain gear and went outdoors to identify the culprit, hoping it was not just the rain thrashing gutters making such a racket.
It was an empty metal cube that once held cocoa mix. Odd to have jumped out of a recycling bin but it was a relief to deposit it where it belonged. No more banging to keep me awake. The rain is always welcome. Except for destructive flooding, and the landslides in various spots of our Pacific Northwest, and the muck and detritus it all can leave behind. Still, it is Oregon. We experience this sort of havoc during wet winters and springs.
The air felt milder where I lingered under our apartment balcony. A good walk was in order though it was late afternoon and what little light remained would soon diminish.
My usual steady good cheer had been in shorter supply for a while. A number of challenging life events have plagued everyone from nieces and daughters to sisters to brother and brother-in-law as well as my own cardiac scare. But early December has been hard. So the somber weather was in concert with me and I was drawn into the storm. As I stepped away from sheltering buildings, the wind whipped my hair and I snugged close my coat hood.
And then I found many good reasons to follow my impulse even as rain lashed out at everything and me.
Comfort. Irvington District is orderly, substantial and inviting. It has been designated an historic place. The houses were first built and occupied during the late nineteenth century by a diverse group: merchants, doctors and lawyers, lumbermen and cannery owners, steamboat captains, civil servants and more. They are rather big places, festooned with gardens that tantalize eye and mind, set on larger lots. Often painted colorfully, they are like gems among monochromatic foliage to me. The streets reflect history even as improvements are made. Everywhere are overarching and diverse trees, graceful architecture that includes generous verandas, flower and vine-laden trellises and fences, garages whose often-flat roofs harbor mini-gardens or lounging areas. There are still iron rings attached to curbs for long-ago horses (now with toy horses often tied up). The streetlights are well placed but do not blare upon on my moseying.
I’ve often thought of moving from our newer apartment as there is some redevelopment ahead; it has been too long in one spot, perhaps. But this neighborhood has been my home. There is great comfort in walking these streets. Not many were out that day, though a few walked bedraggled dogs and a handful of kids rushed home after school. Most nodded or spoke a greeting. Of course there are the resplendent gardens and architecture including Queen Anne, Arts and Crafts and Colonial Revival styles, the Victorian with gingerbread embellishment: stunning. But these are family abodes. This alone gives me pleasure, to know that folks play basketball together, youth skateboard and bicycle about; whole blocks throw parties in the streets in warmer weather. Make the effort to decorate with whimsical yard art and also for a holiday or any other celebration. This is a community that builds tiny free libraries on front yards for passersby to use; fly bright banners from porches; install poetry posts with copies of famous or personal poems for walkers to read or take home.
As I went on, soft lights illumined bay windows, those made of stained glass or set in unusual shapes. I could see a person here and there setting a table, working at a desk, standing by a brightly-lit Christmas tree. Then there were gay decorations, voluminous, radiant along darkening blocks, dressing up houses and trees. I walked on as the wind came up.
Hiking boots. That’s right, my Columbia brand rain-proofed, heavy-soled, lace-up boots. They are not very flexible but they hold feet just right. In warm weather I choose to be barefooted or wear minimal sandals but in winter, boots are best for walking in chilly rain. They’re friendly on my feet, sturdy, cushioned but supportive. They protect my left foot, injured first on a steep forest hike last spring and harmed further by a simple barefoot pivot. After two and a half months in an orthopedic “soft boot” that gripped like a vise, I finally was freed a few weeks back. Said foot yet readapts to freedom, and not always happily. Hence, sturdier foot apparel is a boon. The worn, treated suede with rubber, rather expensive boots make it possible to enjoy my daily power walks in winter. The infrequent foot discomfort is bearable, the after effects minimal now.
Those boots (plus a pair of lighter trail shoes), in effect, have saved me. Not walking, not hiking, was an emotional and physical challenge during a time when a family crisis dominated. Without my daily doses of serotonin, dopamine and adrenaline well-pumped through all systems, I struggled to maintain well. I know the body holds deep, ancient wisdom. It will care for us if we care for it, if we heed its cues and take action.
Walking can fix, to one degree or another, most problems if you are able to do it. Ask my cardiologist the most important key to my having outlived a ten year lifespan prognosis following early heart disease at 51: daily devoted rapid walking. I know it keeps me better balanced in all ways.(Other posts are solely dedicated to walking, if interested.)
On to the third thought I had while walking as dusk fell about.
Quietness. There occurred a performance of jazz-riffing raindrops, improvisational movements of air, wetness, tree limbs, mini-flash flooding and my own body moving, moving, moving. Not many others crossed my path. The streets were devoid of typical busyness as darkness crept forth, then gathered itself. Drivers I did see stopped more often so I could safely cross streets. The unrelenting rain and unpredictable wind did not encourage most outside. They were inside, dry and at ease, cooking dinner, tending families.
Storm drains were backing up; puddles becoming small ponds. Jumping over manageable ones and detouring around others, I began to wonder about the crows, now silenced–if they were huddled unseen in trees or if they had flown to better temporary shelters. I half-missed their commands and harping, the commentary on every step I took. But the longer I walked, the rushing, shifting sounds of water falling created a dense hush. It was a stormy winter’s eve and I floated through it. It was all absorbed, was as if being held in a whorl of suspended time. Branches bowed and danced. Rain, deepening darkness, myself being helped along by the wind. No more thought. No more restlessness, only rhythm of feet, legs, arms; breathing in, out; heart muscle responding with little zigzags, then steadily.
I had the neighborhood to myself as evening painted the landscape sterling grey, then charcoal. The aloneness found within nature’s capricious theatre filled me with a gentling calm. Solitude, so resonant. I felt cradled in peace.
Feelings. No matter where I go outdoors, if there is sky, a few growing things, the freshening breezes, then I find my way back to the Creator and myself. As long as I can move or repose under the mysterious canopy of the universe, I move beyond my small self toward much that is larger, better. The connection vis-à-vis sensory input and personal detritus’ output is inevitable. It redistributes the essence of soul and body, mind and emotion. It clarifies what matters.
So all this can bring me to a refined state, a kind of clarity emotionally where the truth of anything cannot be avoided. In the rain-storming winter as I walked my heart knew what it felt and what it could hold and what it could let go. And so I wept. wept for what little I know and do not know, who I have lost and who I have not yet lost. The raindrops visited me with might and sweetness, bathed my face so tears could join the rain, salt water to fresh, an anadromous movement to allow renewal. Simple sorrow rose up to the surface and fell from me. I knew again in my center that all things change and in the end it is not truly one thing or another, it is just part of the whole.
Faith and hope, for me, grows in the living of my prayers. I cannot cling too tightly to this world because its suffering may bend ’til it breaks us, and eventually we will leave it, anyway, all of us. But neither can I keep from loving it. The people in it, its peculiar offerings. I weep when others are in pain, and sometimes, too, when they inhabit joy. And when they leave.
When you walk in the blinding rain within the refuge of darkness you can cry and no one knows. You can cry out and not even the birds will answer. Such weeping likely never goes unnoticed by God. But it is not usually so big a matter that the rain stops and the sun comes out, either. The sky, after all, is freeing its own burdens.
Coming home. After the walk–my silver and black velvety gloves soggy, jeans saturated, raincoat a deepened blue from all that wetness, boots dry inside but heavier, face rinsed of makeup–after all this, I go back home. And the heat wafts through the rooms as soft lights are turned on; the tea kettle is fired up until it sings. I dry out my dampened clothing and get busy. The radio is tuned in to classical music. My husband comes in the door while I am writing and sipping from a mug of robust Bengal Spice tea. He calls out a greeting and I answer, later will share a hug. This way of life easily fills me up. I toil and play and write within its overflow of wonders.
These were my reasons to walk in the winter-born rain yesterday. Tomorrow will bring me other good ones. And off I will go.
This post was written with thoughts of Christmas and family.
In memoriam for:
Marinell, my sister, and for Roland, my brother-in-law. Ned, father of my first two children. Reid, my nephew. May all rest in the realm of perfect Love.
And with love and gratitude for all the rest of my family. You are treasures who are more valued each year and remain in my daily prayers.
Your beauty defines and fills your souls; your courage manifests in lives richly lived although it can sometimes seem a walk through a maze of narrow passageways.
And blessings on all who know the wear and tear of being human and, too, the glory of it.
I had planned diverse undertakings for the summer but, as often occurs, my plans were shaken up like so much dice, tossed and rearranged. The new design has been a bit of a revelation.
The time has been partially shaped by bloomings of floral beauty; lulling, salty seashores; and dry, pungent forest pathways. And writing about what fascinates or puzzles, whatever tracks me down during night dreaming or micro-trances that come and go during wakefulness. You know, when that word, phrase or character rises up from subterranean recesses of mind and holds the writer enrapt by a teasing bliss. I’d always rather be outdoors writing or researching but there have been remarkable heat and drought this year. It can make one shudder.
Defining life by such redundant heat in the usually temperate Pacific Northwest is a valid, at moments scary, thing. It is not a diaphanous heat that turns all languid; it scorches all and encourages vast wildfires. It hurts pale uncovered flesh. To defend myself I have at the ready copious pitcher-fulls of herbal iced tea, at least SPF15 for ventures out, and an air conditioning unit for relief as needed. I write and sip, read and sip, scrub things and sip, at times feeling half-drunk on a chilled homemade brew of sweet peppermint and decaf black teas.
But there have been unexpected events regarding family stirring up responses like grief over my sister’s passing, deep concern for an adult child, a blood-slowing weariness. Health impediments have further challenged. I feel compelled to hole up inside following early morning moseys. A darned big toe got tendonitis–who would have thought?–and halted hiking. And dental woes have lately set my head reeling.
And yet. And yet when my inner reserves have threatened to simmer away to empty, refreshment is not far from reach. I know from experience how to find relief like a water diviner, replenishing the well. First there is daily prayer for healing and guidance and gratitude notations. There are kind friends and stalwart family with whom to share it all. Of course, imagination’s array of doorways open onto rich respite with a jazz riff or a symphony, a tale to be read or heard, little renderings of texture/color/form, a twirl that morphs into a dance across the floor. Where there is life, there is curiosity and its counterpart, amazement.
But nature, first and last, gives far more than receives from me. I do not own a garden plot. I mostly enjoy urban patches of land and flora and fauna if not out in Oregon’s storybook countryside. I seek and find each with appreciation. I cannot tell you how much happiness emerges from a scattering of wildflowers or mossy stones heaped at the base of a giant plane tree. The bees loving the lavender plants make me smile despite a fear of stinging things. Dew in early hours kisses a spider’s web, a poppy petal, secret squash planted on a corner. What saves us is often not what we think but a blue poppy might be it. I am a ready attendee, a witness who is loyal to nature’s programs. Little or much of it can right my world.
One evening after we finished watching a fascinating television program about Cuban cars and my spouse headed to bed, I remained restless. I piddled about until a vague but distinctive sound surfaced from a dull rumble of diminishing traffic. I pulled aside a filmy curtain. Held my breath. Listened.
“Come here!” I called to M. down a hallway.
“Why? Tired…” came the response.
“What?” He shuffled out to the living room.
I beckoned so he sidled up and followed suit, placing his ear against the screen window.
“Let’s go outside.”
“I’m already half undressed.”
“Aw, come on. I’ll go alone, anyway, you know.”
He put on his Keens and shorts and out we went in search of the crickets.
Beneath the towering American sweetgum tree we tried to locate the source of familiar sound. We stood before several bushes but the chirping seemed to ping-pong about the area.
“I haven’t heard them right here before, have you?”
He shook his head. We looked up. It seemed to emanate from the sweetgum branches. Was that possible? A cricket in the tree, on some branch? I had never heard a tree cricket, or had I? The chirping was fairly loud yet there seemed to be only a singleton. A frisson of energy swept up my back. As a raucous group walked by I stifled the urge to call out, “Quiet! Cricket concert in session!” I could have said mating song; that may have stopped them.
But there were more; I could hear them chorusing from around a corner. The hunt was on.
We tracked several loud ones communicating something important–perhaps: stay away from my girl–under bushes half a block down, a place we hadn’t found them before. Again, people tramped by without comment but I suspected they wondered why are those old folks squatting before the bushes?
I was puzzled. “They moved? Let’s go to the main meeting place they gather yearly and see if they came back.”
I was hopeful, even believed they would be there under large corner thickets of greenery where they congregated. It had been ten years that a large cricket community cohabited there. But as I crept up to the site, all was still. We patiently waited a few minutes, as movement can silence them. Disappointment came. Why would they move? Did someone exterminate them? Did they find better real estate? The silence seemed boundless other than a car coasting by and another couple who may have been asking what we were doing standing stock-still beneath an apartment’s dark window. More likely they were chatting about their own affairs. Maybe they had never heard the crickets sing at this corner, though it seemed impossible to have missed.
I felt displeased. M., also stumped, indicated however that it was time to return home. Yes, but first I had to find where the corner group had moved.
“How do we determine an old group? Don’t you know crickets come and go? They’re insects.”
A voice of reason when I am on such a search is one to be ignored. I followed the faint aural indicators that floated upon the darkness. Soft cool air rested on my skin. How I loved walking in the darkness, its pleasures so unlike daylight’s. Amber lights glowing in windows. Hushed voices of those on porches. A plaintive infant call for gentling arms. A random cat racing across our path, starting a skirmish with another in secret places. Life seemed clothed in a finer subtlety, punctuated with fresh flair. I heeded the allure of more crickets but I would have followed much, walked deeper into the night as I had many times before.
And then we came to a grand structure, one of many historic homes in our neighborhood. We couldn’t quite make out if the crickets had taken to bushes or trees as their singing was voluminous, rich in tone, urgent and wondrous.
“They moved,” I whispered. He knew better than to argue. I stood enraptured by the lulling cadence, repetitive chirupping that filled the night. I tried to imagine the up to three hundred “teeth” on wings that are rubbed to create sound, their tiny bodies an instrument. The courting and calling songs always seem to me songs of splendid accord. More crickets to come! But I hear as humans hear, with equal parts delight and ignorance. I was only an audience member.
I stood with eyes closed. It was hard to leave. I wanted to lie down beside them–wherever they were!–and have them sing me to sleep. A random nostalgia for campgrounds rose up, harkening back to my twenties when it was a common event. It all had to do with comfort and tranquility, a simplicity to life that can be misplaced while straightening out life’s knotty problems. I get tired of being so earnest in my efforts; why do I feel so much must and can be solved? Why not heed nature’s lessons, letting instinct guide more? Better to accept my small part in the grand scheme knowing it is counted, but not more than all others. I can relax since I am not the only one on the job. God and the crickets are fully engaged and the world turns as usual.
By the time we got home, I had an impulse to sleep on the back balcony in hopes of hearing more. It was not to be; I have too little space to accommodate potted plants and me. But the evening concert had restored me to a better state, where all is in right balance if I rediscover it, take it within and let it do its magic.
Weary? Impatient or disgruntled? Go out and seek evening’s offerings, have a good listen to the crickets. If you don’t have any nestling close by in shrubbery or trees, listen to a recording. You will hear a voice of the universe in their tireless singing. Small, sacred beings living a short time of the earth, like you.
An imperturbable demeanor comes from perfect patience. Quiet minds cannot be perplexed or frightened, but go on in fortune and misfortune at their own private pace like a clock during a thunderstorm.—Robert Louis Stevenson