Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: Over the Ramparts We Go?

It was my intention to get up at a decent hour and head to the coast with Marc for at least a look-see. It was to be a considerable consolation to visit the Pacific Ocean for a day since we are not yet taking a hoped for road trip through eastern Oregon and Idaho. It meant I’d re-post a piece from a few years’ back, something I’ve rarely done in ten years of writing and posting on WordPress. But for such a great reason.

I just wanted out. To embrace some real freedom. Out of our home, out of our city, released of some of the binding constraints imposed by Times of a Most Terrible Virus. I had read about “quarantine malaise”, and I considered that it might be creeping up on me a couple weeks back. This day trip was a healthy act of self-care–for Marc and for myself. Blue skies predicted! The roaring lull of big waves guaranteed! Piney forest air plus sea salt=a thrill+peace. An equation for a span of pleasure.

Over the ramparts we go, then! Face the relentless threats semi-armed and mostly fearless! Off to sea and its radiant, wild delights!

However, life is a chameleon that will trick you despite solid strategies to avoid any such tricks.

Last night a chronic health condition flared badly and as usual with bad timing it followed me to bed, where I attempted to fall asleep, not fooled by my desire to do so. This is not a new thing; I have years of practicing the inexact art of living with insomnia. I sometimes am victorious without any aids; most often I sweat it out. But I can give in and take half a pill of something that seems much more benign than not halfway resting. Luckily, when I finally seek an aid, a little medicine goes a long way toward a triumph. This is noted for those of you who haven’t followed me long: I am several decades past being a drinking, pill-popping part-mad woman, a user of self defeating escape routes. For any reason. Some nights I nearly (but not truly) regret that–at wide eyed 4 a.m.–but persist in the ways to wellness. (I might add that I savor Sleepytime or Tension Tamer tea nightly, perhaps even Kava tea a couple hours before bedtime.) I know where I am headed by 11 or 12, and it isn’t always kindly there, no sweet rocking chair drowse, despite a fine book.

But I am lying there (alone–made the smart move long ago as he also has sleep issues) with intermittent punching of pillows to reshape/ reposition them, re-smoothing sheets (or even re-tenting the top sheet about my head), re-settling limbs into a tolerable degree of discomfort, listening to and shushing hidden innards griping–yes, lying there and thinking: This is not what June was to be. As if that would be a revelation to anyone in the world. I repeat a variation silently. This is not the life I had hoped for at 70. As if it was planned for by the 7, 17 or 37 year olds, the middle aged folks and beyond when one might feel a tad more secure or at least on near horizon. All humanity has been aghast at what lies beyond their door–and also inside it, at times. What on earth is next? I shall not fear– but fear I do now and then, as one does.

I get too hot, toss off a a layer. But the vexations begin even as prayers are recited with earnestness. And any whiff of gratitude is often noted on the bumpy night path. I can still breathe, no coughing or fevers, I am okay, overall, so far, and we have food to eat, and family not far.

Last night I was fortunate: it was not even 2 a.m. when I last looked at the clock. Which I do try to not look at, but I tend to count how many hours I will need to function. Say, at 2 I will still need at least 6 –until 8 or 9 in the morning–to function reasonably well. But this is not often fulfilled on that kind of night. Rather, hit or miss, take what you get and be glad to awaken feeling like an only slightly less than average older human, overall. I might get to sleep at 2 awaken at 5, finally sleep at 7:30 again, get up at–gasp–10. It is a messy way to live in some regard but works well enough if it must.

But not this morning did I roll out of bed and feel fit enough. I surmised I may not have deeply slept, at all–a blur of soreness and uncertainty, getting up and down, reading, trying to not check my phone, then at last almost acquiescing to sounds of the fan on low and a meditation app on repetitive ocean waves. And there is a fragrance diffuser that releases something like a lavender scent. It wafts about, then lingers only briefly as if reluctant to bear witness to my wrestling. There is a small lavender sachet under my pillow, though–a back-up.

All this did not spare me of dreamy fragments and waking exhausted. (I always wonder what planet I was on, what was that room crammed with people who looked like escapees from an old fashioned carnival?)

I came a bit more awake. The heralding sun sneaking through slats designed a stripey pattern across carpet and skin: a show of shadow, light. I watched it move, barely–I don’t see well without help–and it shimmered. But it was really the first morning I have lain there (since March) and had this thought: why must I push off bed covers and press feet to ground and run water for a shower and get dressed to greet the day? How is this day any different from all those that ran, pranced, crept, and slogged before it? But I kept on and dash it all to any doubts that came.

The high ramparts I saw in my mind were daunting, the views a mixture of dismal and enticing. It took me awhile to think that over and then: was I depressed? Not really; no classic symptoms. Generally speaking, depression and I are not cohorts much. The feeling has been different… lazy, dumbfounding in its ordinariness yet with streaks of strangeness. Distracted even when engaged. Maybe I was only in need of a break from all the reality we are forced to reckon with day in, day out.

So I didn’t look at the news on my iPhone before getting up–well, for just a moment. That helped only a little. Texting my son, then, about a casual family Father’s Day gathering in a big park didn’t help, either–I am glad of it but worry. I am sure we will try hard to stay six feet apart, we will wear masks, though my son tends to fight against a harsh reality made rougher with harsher impositions as if it was a fight quite worth winning. He likes to be in control, I get it. One of his sisters barely gets out, anymore–she works remotely–but naturally craves safe liberation. Well, agreed and agreed, my adult children.

I yawned and got up by crawling from one side of the bed to another–less walking required–slid down to the floor where soles of feet quite woke up, found the en suite and splashed cold water on my face, then turned on a steamy shower. Breathed. Dressed, brushed hair. I was doing it despite resistance and grumbling, achy spots. On to another day, sans leisurely trip to the coast for the time being. Probably best to stay off the beaches awhile longer, avoid any clumps of people there, anyway, I decided, though didn’t half believe it.

By the time I headed downstairs Marc had long been up and at ’em, doing what he does each morning. He has developed a marvelous cleaning routine since he lost his job–disinfects every vital area; 27 drawer knobs and 8 light switches; tidies up his work station for use; sweeps the balcony of anything fallen abundantly overnight from pines and maples and who knows what all, then checks every vegetable and flower. We have likely intolerable (sorry) kale, we have promising snap peas, and tiny leaf lettuce and faltering tomatoes and more in clay pots. My flowers seem happier as rain lessens somewhat and temps warm. (Though it rained so hard one night it recently drowned my confetti plant and three baby birds therein…awful to confront. Marc did this for me…) My hydrangea is soon to pop open in blues, the geraniums are coming along.

Sometimes Marc can be heard from far off singing out there, talking to a bird–or something. I call out but he doesn’t remotely hear me from the kitchen so I boil water and pop a bagel in the toaster. Several minutes more pass and he’s singing possibly opera, possibly his own made up song. His sweeping is new, as is his very presence, various ways and means.

Over the years of our marriage, he has been gone 500-75% of the time on business trips. And then was gone 14 hours days when working locally. Who is this man in my home? I admit this occurs to me… He has led one life while I have led another–quietly, industriously– except for week-ends, and only when he is in town. A shock when you realize you married at 30 (second for us both) and all those minutes and hours swept by full of kids and work and moves and then– solitude at last. And now you are 67, 70 respectively. What actually happened with all that, and now what? Another vexation at points. But I have thousands of photos to more clearly identify who we were and gradually became. (Same with five children.) It comforts me to look at them; I know what we have been through and achieved yet need reminders.

Because right now I might feel puzzled by my own face in a mirror– Cynthia, seeker of clarity, swimming through the murk of the 2020 Miseries. His attractively aging face? Getting used to it more and more. Even he must get used to it since he is not in dress shirt and slacks, now, and a black hoodie is perhaps a kind of relief, or a solace. And all of it a shock to his system and mine. Retirement is planned. Suddenly being unemployed is a hatchet falling but just missing you, leaving one breathless awhile.

It is a blessing and a conundrum, being at home together all the time. I can spot a similar congenial dullness or slight wariness in other couples’ faces. We all want to be good spouses, supportive more than ever for one another–but… “Could you please watch that show in another room? Also, leave the candles on that table as they were–try ear phones for your music more–and, oh, please stop interrupting me…”

Such togetherness is unknown territory but we prefer to have some fun. So, of course, getting out to the beach–anywhere at all–is a great idea. Better than Scrabble much of the time.

None of us had time to prepare mentally much less physically for a pandemic. We once had the nerve to think all was not so bad, even all was well. It is the deciding factor in nearly all we do. There are stringent limitations. Whole countries have been stopped in their tracks. Amazement at that, though we know it is the right way way to have responded. So, follow the rules and bide our time and yet we chafe at it. Social, questioning humans want to get up and go, mix things up, hang with others, explore places. The very thought that I cannot go somewhere any old time or chat with a neighbor without worrying about swapping germs–it adds up, a creeping unrest and then underlying surrender–both tiresome to cope with daily.

No, we cannot just “over the ramparts and off we go”, off to battle with something invisible but too often overpowering. There are some well suited to the battle, our true warriors of science and medicine. The rest of us adapt and observe the action; we try to ready ourselves the best we can for what comes. We live as we must live, working our brains to consider the previously inconceivable. We get up and do what we do in a blind faith that we will make it alright til bedtime, then get at it again… God or/and lucky chance willing.

I admit to feeling ashamed more than is comfortable. I can’t say I suffer so; there are fewer discomforts than so many have. I am not a medical employee or other front line worker facing often dangerous days and nights; I am not ill with the virus; I have enough decent food and requisite paper goods today. I might not in time have all that but today I am standing on rocky but stable ground, in a life still woven in part of good moments, basic comforts. So I try to alleviate guilt in small ways, help others– but it never is quite enough. Then I get out of my head, try for better.

Endurance and stamina as a way of being: this comes to the fore as I eat breakfast on the dappled balcony among trees. Flexibility of thought, and creativity of spirit. Patience and acceptance of what cannot be changed soon. If I am a little wearied by things–more than some, far less than others–I also have motivation to make each day better. Even this morning despite a weight of burdensome something.

We decide to take charge and go to the wide river, follow it like one follows the intelligent lead of a favorite teacher. I act as if I have energy and somehow it fills me enough that I make an hour and a half with Marc in and out of woods, past unique houses and a variety of boats, past teens splashing and laughing, and older people smiling at their roused and thankful dogs, and singles speeding by on racing bikes or running, hair flopping, many hands and smiles signaling hello. This is how it happens, how I rediscover what it good for me–even writing this simple post is a balm. It’s all in the living, one moment after the other, in any satisfying way it can be managed. The harder times, I pause, then just hold on–or let go as seems best.

Tomorrow I am meeting my best friend, a born fighter with significant battles already won. We’ll sip tea even in the new warmth of June, chatter away at six to eight feet apart, take to the winding park pathways, and laugh easily despite life’s harm and worry. It carries us better through the rest of it all. It makes us stronger and happier, and that matters even more these times.

Monday’s Meanders/Photos: Dilly Dallying Snow in Green Places

White lace lays upon the usual vibrant greens in the Northwest and contrasts with signs of a slow but certain spring. I know this spattering of snow on the ground doesn’t impress, but that it is there at all is not so usual in the Willamette Valley. It snowed perhaps two inches or more 3 days ago but I grew up in Michigan…snow isn’t a major event to me. Since it has been warming to the 50s and higher, I didn’t expect it to last three days! My walks have been a bit slick and frigid–and then today it reached 60 degrees Fahrenheit. I still required a medium weight jacket, unzipped and flapping in a wind that often slices through the woods here at a whopping 800 feet.

Cascade Mountain Range

Since everything is shutting down around here, I treasure even more my long meditative–or not so meditative–walks. I found some pretty spots and a couple of comical ones.

A few families were out and about–not as many as I expected with schools closed. May all the kids stay safe, be fed, and make good use of this time despite the constraints and worries.

Ivy, ivy everywhere–looking more like usual

I was tickled to find that snow people–near pretty cherry blossoms– built a couple of days before were still standing, as if engaged in a sort of paused pantomime or mock battle, or perhaps an interrupted conversation. One snow fellow/gal was slumped on a stone bench, contemplating trials of spring–or, perhaps, simply snoozing. One never knows–they may do a few things after created by enthusiastic but we quick-to-discard-toys human beings… and then surrender to the sun.

Mt. Hood in the distance

Here’s hoping for good health for you and yours, and that you can find some peace during these troublesome days and nights. We will carry on the best we can manage and try to keep ourselves and others safe, I do pray. Seek fresh air; look for small wonders. It always helps.

Monday’s Randomness/Poem: Hold On

This may appear all that is left

after the lifeblood’s power is sown

in places so needed, its source emptying, an echo

as your voice is thrown into midnight or dawn,

when everything that could take you to

the core of need and fear and desire and loss

has done so, then again done so deeper.

That is when to wait, to pause and gather

the lost bloom of your life, cradle it in hand,

feel its riffling curves, its dense symmetry

and memorize its lushness as the center of you

expands and you cannot deny

the ineffable joy

nor it, you

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Wednesday’s Word: Hideaways in the Other Reality

Me in the forest

Whenever there is a hole or other opening within an ancient tree trunk or stump, or when a huge crooked root beckons, I try to fit inside or under, compacting my smallish frame smaller so as not to get snared by  slivered wood or unknown bits. It’s best to avoid massive spider webs but unlikely that I’ll avoid their creators as I wedge myself in. After all, they thrive in Northwest forests, as well as scores of other bugs (very few mosquitoes, however) –and ubiquitous slimy slugs. I am on neutral terms with arachnids, though I’ve been bitten and at times not appreciated results. This happens least often when I am rambling about woodlands. I fit myself in with a peripheral awareness of other creatures and fill my nostrils with the powerful pungency of wood and loamy earth.

I crouch down, hands on thighs, and look about. It is semi-dark. Snug. The light above or beyond the tree and me is caramel-toned in fall and summer, a grey opalescent in winter, and green-yellow in spring. Birds seem livelier, brightly chirping and serenading as they flit above and around, or my ears hear better  from the center of a tree. At this size and from this angle, I feel less intrusive there. I may rest in the insects’ hollow and this gives me pause, that I am so much bigger than they. I rest on spongy earth where mushrooms dot the landscape, garter snakes slip by and bees swoop and squirrels freeze then skitter off with their chittering. My breath is still, heart is quiet. I can stay this way a long while: at rest though alert, awake to this world even while captivated by powers mysterious, immense even if not always working in my favor. A big shiny black beetle trundles past my feet. The forest air rests on my tongue–savory, sweet-sour. I feel moved by the abundant density of life. It is beautiful and warm here, in this tree, in this solitariness, under canopies of leaves and sky.

Until I can see two feet and a long knotty branch used as a walking stick. Marc, my spouse, has waited long enough. Am I going to get up and out of there? I rouse myself and half-crawl out, then unfold myself, brush off the crumbs of dirt and pieces of wood, the webby coating on a sleeve. He thinks I am slightly daft–this obsession I have for smaller spaces in the outdoors, or for climbing beneath or up onto a big root or branch. I even sometimes ask for photos. I can’t say just why–I just know it gives me pleasure to recall being in those lovely spots, to feel that much closer to nature’s ways.

But it all started when I was growing up, this interest in discovering a unique spot, making a nest of my own, holing up in smallish spaces.

In a house full of people–seven of us in a two story, three bedroom place with one bathroom plus a half-finished basement–being cramped for space was a way of life. I saw friends’ bigger houses (some of my friends even had their very own bedroom, not one they shared with one or two other sisters, swimming pools and so on) but ours was homier. In fact, it was cozy and attractive to me, filled with interesting objects as well as persons. (Not just family or an occasional neighbor but Dad’s music students or customers who needed him to appraise and sell or repair instruments and people from church and my parent’s bridge partners and good friends or visiting musicians or school teachers there for luncheons/dinners and siblings’ friends as well as mine–well, it got tight, alright.) The doorbell and phone were forever ringing. Music took up residence in the rooms and talk floated about heads and people moved around furniture or sat in it or pulled out a chair at the long dining table so it got crowded, too.

In winter, when I was indoors more, I escaped under our baby grand piano in the corner of the living room. There I could watch people come and go but also read a book, trace a picture, make lists of names for characters in my plays, hum a new tune I had learned, play with dolls, make tents and houses for them with scarves with the aid of books, listen to those who played piano and watch their feet work the pedals, the vibrations entering my bones as the piece reached a crescendo. I also listened in on more private conversations, a favorite activity. (Or took a nap until age six or seven.)

Less satisfactory was the area in front of a heating register; it was on the wall behind an armchair. This spot did meet dual needs–warming as well as half-hiding me. But it was easy to get in the way as it was by a door leading to stairs so there was foot traffic; I could also get squashed if someone moved the chair back.

The best resort was the outdoors. I’ve written before of the giant maple tree with our regular swing and a rudimentary trapeze; of its sturdy branches which acted as steps that carried me aloft, one sturdy stretch of leg at a time to the very top. Talk about a fine look-out. I could see way across the small tree nursery behind our bush-and-fir-lined back yard, past the Benfers’ huge vegetable and flower garden, over the rooftops of another two-story house, a small medical office and beyond to the pretty subdivision on Richard Court and Manor Drive. And that Michigan sky!–much greater than one might imagine and full on goings-on with chameleon clouds, moveable light and later, glints of a trillion tiny stars. The cars I spotted on Ashman Street swished by, oblivious.

There was a certain crook made of two branches that held my weight well so I wedged myself there. Despite a need to shift every few minutes, I was content. Undisturbed and nearly invisible. Surrounded by robins, a cardinal or blue jay, wrens and sparrows all came and went as they pleased. Freedom felt democratic there. I could just be, dream of anything, imagine myself anywhere–a tall ship was a favorite. My world was full to overflowing within the natural intimacy of a tree’s branches, as if I was made to fit. I just belonged there.

And also in the northeastern corner of the yard’s bushes and pines. I had a couple of weathered, handmade benches–one like a table, one a chair– made of 4×4 wood remnants from the garage. There were variously dolls, notebooks and novels, art supplies, a ukulele, tea sets, snack and lunch detritus, a weak magnifying glass, a miniature flashlight, thermos of tea or water, forbidden matches, a stained old toss pillow and a cast off sheet for a makeshift door or more “seating” for buddies. It could hold maybe three if they pressed into undergrowth. The hideaway was full of branches that had to be tied back to enlarge the space and to be kept from poking out eyes. With all the pine needles on the ground, the place was so heavy with their perfume that I could smell pine for days on my sweater and jacket. Damp pine and warm, layers of fresh or old pine. It would get shadowy and then darker long before the outside darkened. Quieter than anywhere else on the property. There was the advantage of also being able to slip out and hightail it right across Stark Nursery’s land if I didn’t want to stay put or was eluding siblings who came poking about. There I would pretend I rode horses or carried on epic battles or slipped into a netherworld. My hideout was my fort of safety when pursued by ghosts or intruders, those either imaginary or real.

I tried to make another private cubbyhole at the end of the front porch. Alas, it was too noisy with nearby streets, people who stomped up and down the steps with annoying regularity. Plus, there were red juniper berries there that my mother was worried I’d eat like a scavenging explorer. I did pick them; I never ate one, certain I’d die. I also would make a mess behind those ample bushes; that wasn’t going to happen in our front yard. But I still sometimes hid there to watch the world between branches, especially during winter when it became igloo-like with snows. (I’d also make snow caves alongside our street after the snowplow made towering drifts.)

Often I roamed the 24 acre wooded park, Barstow Woods, a couple of blocks from our house. The winding trails and creek offered plenty of nature to examine, a whole territory to explore or to play hide and seek in with my friends. I was as at home there as I was on my own city block; it was a safe place back then. And I learned much about trees and animals and plants each summer as a “day camper” with other kids and adult counselors.

The northern parts of Michigan were visited often, and there I was just as accustomed to running wild on dirt side roads and trails, playing in the light-dappled woods and finding my way back, moving according to sensory input. And dwelt in happiness all those places.

Since those days of fearless play I have lived in the country a few times though never long enough. But I have always been drawn to it, awed, enchanted and daunted by it. Sometimes as an adult, I can become afraid of sounds and shapes I can’t identify and unexpected events that occur no matter the time of day or weather, no matter if I am alone or not. (Like the unseen cougar I learned later was in the area but that I felt along the trails.) Generally, I am secure in my instincts and there are many spots that accommodate me. The open rolling fields of the Midwest and its northern woodlands; the dense, humid hothouse of the South; the tinder-dry, quirky vastness of the Southwest, the rainy wilderness, mountains and high desert of the Northwest: they have each called to me. And I have found my place even in the hardest life circumstances. There is always a hollow near a waterfall or a gaping hole in an aged, giant tree. A river bank that offers green bushes where I can kneel, watch the current carry leaves and twigs, ducks and stones.  And Pacific Ocean beaches with huge driftwood piles to sit on and within, and headlands with caves to settle into.

I live in the city but I am never far away from landscapes other than densely packed blocks. We have Forest Park. At over five thousand acres and stretching eight miles on hills above the Willamette River, it is one of our nation’s largest urban nature reserves. And other city parks and wildlife preserves are varied and well kept. A mere twenty-minute drive takes me to the Columbia River Gorge, a designated National Scenic Area where wildlife, waterfalls and rivers and rocky buttes flourish amid the Cascade Range, miraculous with beauty. When multiple wildfires ravaged that vast acreage last year I wept, sick at heart. This summer I will finally venture out into it once more.

Every one of us needs a place to find serenity, to be at ease apart from the world’s pressures, its craziness. And we are animal beings who need our comforts, spiritual beings who need deeper sustenance. For me, it is more often than not in the welcoming outdoors, within nature’s arms. But I am told that even in sleep I pull close the blanket and quilt, up over nose, to or even over shuttered eyes, making a little tent. Please don’t awaken me; I am a creature well nested and deeply at peace. Nurtured yet freed. I will emerge restored and bright eyed when good and ready.

Find your refuge