The Magnitude of Small Things

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I was moving at a spritely pace through my neighborhood, damp air heated up by sudden sunlight. I took off my gloves and stuck them into a side pocket as I talked with my older sister on my cell. As I wound through the neighborhood, my eyes feasted on purple, white and golden crocus; rosy daphne flowerets; stray daffodils and vivid green sprouts pushing up through sodden grass. Ah, good cheer abounded. Dear A. sounded robust, present. Peace came over me. She’s been coping with cumulative effects of multiple concussions over the past year (major car accidents). She’s the only sister I have left–just hearing her lively voice is a welcome event.  She rang off as I sped up.

Strong, energetic: I felt much better than yesterday after a phone call from my mother-in-law stirred up worry. It had led to unsettling contemplation of aging, finances, various persons’ uncertain futures and finally the unstable world. Later,  simple sandwich was eaten in the to the fanfare of a televised singing contest. My spouse has been travelling again so there was no one with whom to share criticism or delight. Frankly, it was a relief to get to bed, a fine mystery novel in hand, knowing I could start anew the next day. I was determined it would be a better one.

When I awakened, I felt more optimistic again. I carried out my usual habit of praying and meditating on what was good and meaningful and how I could improve my day and anyone else’s. Next came the daily power walk. Sunshine slid through the slate grey density of clouds, no deluges yet. It’s now March, the calendar states. I should be able to leave my velvety lined gloves home, but I’ve still had to carry them everywhere. I have a condition, Raynaud’s, that causes my hands to become and remain painfully cold when exposed to  temperatures under 55 degrees; I keep them covered half the year. But today I decided to take a chance, allow them bright sunlight’s rare, warm touch.

I went farther than usual–legs, heart, mind were inspired by a lovely day. There were hilly areas to tackle, beautiful architecture to admire. My camera got busy. I was thirsty and found a peppermint in the pocket where my gloves were stuffed. Heart rate higher but steady, breathing easy, legs powering as if they could carry on forever. I ran across another busy street.

And then the sun retreated once more. I reached into the pocket for my gloves. And pulled out only one. I had not stuffed them in deep enough, nor zipped the handy zipper. I went back to the corner where I had crossed–it had to have fallen out there.  But it was not to be seen. I jogged across and started to retrace my steps. I scoured every sidewalk, peered into bushes, at the bottom of fences and between mossy rocks, in driveways; street gutters, by recycling containers, on steps. Since I walk fast, that glove could have ended up surprising places. I was sure I would find it.

The same thing had happened on another walk in 2014, at which time I also wrote a post. ( https://talesforlife.wordpress.com/2014/01/10/case-of-the-velvety-glove/)  I am a decent finder of misplaced items. A distinctive glove, very soft black and silver with a paisley pattern, should not be tough to see. Of course it would pop up again. It had to; it is the only pair of decent gloves I have.

I had been walking nearly an hour, was more thirsty and now hungry. Though energy wasn’t depleted, frustration began to simmer. Where was it hiding? I was halfway through the return walk with eyes scanning every which way, circling back to peruse a missed shadowy spot. And then I stopped. Why was this becoming hard?

It occurred to me I was talking to my sister until that point. I experience a strange semi-blindness about surroundings while on a phone, sometimes even while talking with someone right beside me when I walk or drive…I might even miss a turn (though not truly critical information, fortunately). I figured that was the culprit: not consciously noting every detail along the way when talking, as usually when walking I pay close attention, camera readied. Thus, I couldn’t safely pull to the fore every street and turn I’d made… Was it this corner that turned onto 26th? Was it perhaps 27th, farther down? Or was I on the other side of the street? My usually good visual memory now gave me a hazy picture at best. Other strollers and joggers passed by. I must have looked half-mad as I pivoted then tuned again; paused, then started in another direction. I even retraced those steps as I was sure it was one street, then more certain of another. I tried to note anything I took a snapshot of but crocuses appear quite similar to one another, muddied grass with mossy rocks much like other spots. I studied houses and gardens which I know like my own hand after twenty-plus years living here. And yet I could not say for certain, after a point, of anything. And no glove was anywhere.

I was fighting to believe I would yet discover it, waiting for me along the way. The next few blocks I felt privately embarrassed by all that time (I was out an hour and a half, nearly two by then) and sweaty efforts. My shirt clung to me from fifty degrees temp and relentless walking. And all for the mate of a pair of gloves that cost twenty-five dollars. But I have had them for three and a half years. And I really like them; they work perfectly well. I slowed, took a deep breath, shook out hunched shoulders.

Why was it so important I find something of such ordinary, ever minor, value? Well, they’re my favorite gloves, of course. But it is also how I came to get them.

One autumn week-end in 2013, Marc and I went to Cannon Beach, a favorite beach town. He had been working way too hard, travelling a great deal. We found ourselves on edge, restless for different reasons. How profoundly we needed a getaway. So we were full of anticipation: our special spot, right by the grandeur and music of our gorgeous Pacific Ocean. We looked forward to a beach fire or two; meandering strolls and explorations; seashell, stone and agate hunting. Sleeping in and eating out. But I had somehow forgotten my gloves and the weather could be very tricky.

The first store I came to offered an array of unusually soft gloves that were lined with excellent insulation. I liked them at first glance. They seemed too fancy for random outdoor purposes but Marc insisted I chose a pair. I studied an array of patterns, fingered the velvet texture. When I chose the black and silver paisley design, I felt oddly happy. My hands were warm again, protected by gloves that were an unusual choice for my practical bent. Marc said they were perfect for me. Off we went to the beach. Our week-end was as good as we had hoped.

So perhaps that’s the real story. Why I feel I need that small soft glove. Yes, it’s for warm hands. But he has been working so hard again. Even after a year when his full steam ahead career–and our ordinary days and nights–was interrupted twice by a life-threatening health matter. A reverberating shock for us. It has been addressed but there he goes onto one more plane, gone to put out another “business fire”, to fix what others need done to keep things going. Sometimes he expects to come home, then at the last minute he cannot. At this point–forty plus years in his field–it begins to erode that life-encompassing oomph. He, in truth, has a passion for what he does. Yet the grind, that adrenalin-increasing pressure is intense.

I am used to this after all these years. I go on as usual while I also keep waiting. Waiting to simply catch up, hang out. Waiting to make family plans. Waiting to get something done that I cannot complete alone. Waiting to address long-term vital matters. I make most decisions without him as things need to get done. I am good at operating on my own. I have many interests and enjoy solitude more often than not. I don’t often feel truly lonely with friends and family around. This is the reality we have lived and will until he stops working…some day, I think!

And yet. Sometimes it can be the smallest things that exert the most power. That bring us to the truth of the matter. That glove. I think of it out there on the sidewalk or street getting walked on, run over, wet and dirty. It bothers me. It may even seem nutty or sentimental, but I want it back. And I also want to return to Cannon Beach–or Yachats, Manzanita or Oceanside. Where we will take in salt-tinged, cleansing breaths; talk at our leisure or not at all; make a fire of driftwood as the sun goes down. Read poetry and whatever else to one another. Hold hands as we walk at an easy pace, syncing our strides. Share found treasures at the edge of rippling sand. Hear the ocean telling us to step outside of time, feel the power, hear the music of other realms. Hike deep into forests that cling to coastal mountains and know the trees have been here so long they have seen it all, uphold so much more than we can see. I am immersed in a unity of elements, am right here within it, and am happy. As is Marc.

It is the small things that can have surprising effect, sometimes a remarkable impact. They can make a difference in quality of health, the experience of a day, a peaceable home life. In creative work, a career trajectory, and in a relationship.

I do miss his company. Also my lovely, warm, so velvety glove. I am likely to go out tomorrow and have another look around. It could turn up, why not? But if the search is futile, I’ll return to the little shop and look for a new pair–alas, not the same I am certain– to protect my hands. Then we will take to the beach, absorb renewal as the tides rise and fall within the mesmerizing sea.

 

Please enjoy a few pictures of the 2013 trip. It is a great place in every season but the mountainous roads we need to traverse can be treacherous in winter.

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Friday/Saturday Quick Picks: Surprise Snow!

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The virtuosic snow
arrives, wild angels
astride streamers of bitter air,
here to surprise, sweeten,
to rearrange time into
measures of northern beauty,
billowing with memory of
more innocent desires.

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I missed out on my Friday posting as we had a major power outing. It had snowed on Thursday, then moving into Friday sporadic sleet joined in and finally robbed the area of power and safe mobility. There was nothing for it but to acquiesce and find ways to entertain myself and stay reasonably warm. Driving anywhere to cozier digs was not a great idea with black ice just starting to slick up byways. My adult children were snug elsewhere but I determined to stay put.

Still, I longed  to walk some in the brisk air before things worsened. After all, I grew up in Michigan; Oregon displays of snow in the Willamette Valley are not that fearsome. Our Cascade Mountains get an abundance; skiers and snowboarders hie thee to Mt. Hood and other gorgeous peaks. So I had a very ordinary goal–to blink away lovely snowflakes, see whiteness decorating all, to get exercise. It started well with snow still fresh and light, but suddenly the wind took on more edgy iciness. After a mere 20 minutes the mess began to cling to jacket, gloves and hat. My face stung and fingertips were numb. My old hiking boots were holding up but traction had worn off more than I thought. Thank goodness for decent balance; I got home safely.

The power did not return. The next eleven hours were alternately spent in the car warming up and charging my cell phone, digging out and lighting many candles as night descended, reading, gazing out our windows as pellets smacked the street and then snow that, I felt, fervently wanted to be rain swirled about in a crazy dance. I recalled childhood romps and how much they shaped my well being and sense of joy in the outdoors and my body. However, the heat in my place is electric and it got quite chilly. I sat swaddled in a thick throw plus my heavy fleece, with half-gloves on my hands and my slippers wishing they were mukluks.

I texted my husband, on business in Mexico: “cold and lonely” (dang it, Mexico!), then retreated to bed under weighty blankets by midnight, candlelight gleaming in the dark, a fine book in hand. Then, candles snuffed, good sleep at last. At 1:30 in the morning the radio (which I’d been listening to, forgotten about after power left) in the living room rang out with alarming force. A seriously classical chorale brought me to galloping consciousness. I bolted from bed to turn it off, as well as a few lights that were finally shining. Then snuggled back into a warm welter of coverings and slept until late.

All’s well that ends well! Here, a few pictures that tell some of the day and eve. Today we are back to regular rain and a bit of brighter sky. That’s the Northwest!

 

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Whatever the Weather

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The robins wouldn’t stop their racket. I rolled over and pulled the coverlet over my head, pulled my pillow closer over my ears, and longed for winter’s snow-insulated quietude. The breeze snaking its way through the partly opened window was heavy with the scent of earth awakening, richly warmed. Spring had come again and I was not ready at all for its insistent, brilliant beauty. The exquisite unfolding of the new season felt painful. I dreaded its arrival, as I knew once more I would be doing battle with my emotions. Perhaps my life.

That scene arose from fifty years ago as I moseyed around my neighborhood. I was taking photographs, a happy outdoor activity, when the rain started. It had swept in from the east  but it wasn’t a concern. My waterproof parka accompanies me six months of the year in Oregon. I am a rain aficionado, one who counts its varieties of music as some of the best. And if my jeans get wet, they will dry. So I kept snapping away, noting three sets of boys playing basketball in their respective streets despite the downpour. They weren’t the least bit fazed, either.

More blossoms had begun showing off in January; there are some flowers year ’round but not so many fancy ones. The temperatures rose in the past month, and now have held steady in the fifties or higher. As I framed camellias, daffodils, tulips and their jewel-toned neighbors for pictures it struck me that I hadn’t hidden from spring in a few decades. The birds sing just as loudly here and now and I fling open windows wider to see what they’re up to. In March or April the sun, like a forgotten love returning home, brings excellent tidings. I line up my sandals. dig up t-shirts and turn off the heat for good.

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It has been decades since weather or season has really disappointed, daunted or weighed me down. I found my place and it fits me like custom-made attire. I know some folks move to the Northwest in sparkling blue summer and are dismayed when the rains arrive, but it wasn’t so for me. I first explored this corner of the country when I was eighteen, living with an older sister in a cabin on a lake just outside Seattle for a year. The moment I stepped off the plane it was as if my soul had found its earthly dwelling place so deeply did it speak to me. I was liberated. The topography and geology of mountains, ocean, lakes and rivers; the vast temperate rain forests; the active and inactive volcanoes that mightily redesigned landscape; the fecund valleys, high desert and seashore; greenness like a magic balm with its scintillating atmosphere…Well, it is easy for me to rhapsodize. The Northwest is where I returned twenty years later (and had longed for it all that time). I have stayed over twenty more, will die here if I have a say in it.

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For some of us, there is a land that moves us, and a time that is right to find it. As a youth I imagined the clouds on mid-Michigan’s horizon were actually mountains and I instantly felt better. Any time my family and I traveled into higher elevations with trees and sky galore my pulse quickened. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy the four seasons of the Midwest. Our lives were dictated by nature’s ways in autumn, winter, spring and summer. And I was attuned to them in some primeval way.

But spring. It was not welcome despite everyone else rejoicing when the last of dirty and ice snow melted in the gutters, when the lemon-yellow forsythia bloomed and robins again pecked the earth for fat worms. For me, it brought an up-welling of anxiety, lethargy, moodiness; being visited by loneliness and the specter of depression. Something inside me wanted to escape, to cry out, abandon sweetness and beauty, to seclude myself where no one could find me. But I went to school, I rode my bike, laughed and talked to friends, participated in after-school activities, studied the arts and academics–all the things a teenager might enjoy.

But I also looked over my shoulder fall day, even when I knew there was nothing to be concerned about. When I rode my biked over to a friend’s house, I rode hard to arrive faster. When I went to the little corner store where we all bought candy and soft drinks, I examined each car as it drove closer, then passed by. A walk in the woods alone meant taking a risk; fascination with nature was overshadowed by amorphous fears. And when back home I often retreated to my room and clung to all that kept me afloat–writing and reading, music, art, prayers memorized and created, fervent dreams of a safer, happier future.

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There was a reason for all this. In warmer weather I felt  the most vulnerable. For too long as a child I had been doggedly shadowed, picked up from the street, stolen from safety and comfort by a man who was my abuser until he finally was sent far away, never to return. But it didn’t matter that the past was gone. I lived a kind of double life as victims often do, a busy, engaged teen in public, withdrawn in private. Post traumatic stress disorder lingers and can turn poisonous without healing help. Thus, from spring until autumn I was on guard, unable to rest well, a long arm’s length away from sharing what I imagined could be a carefree life with others. The family doctor prescribed sedatives to relieve insomnia and nightmares, to soothe my daily life. And so, addiction’s subterranean lifestyle began. It did ultimately end–when I was ready and found the keys I needed. And as health and wholeness returned, spring came back to me in all its glory, like a creature who had blinders removed. It was surprising, a bonus.

This is not a sad story nor a tale of regret. I share a life that has turned and turned, has witnessed tiny and huge miracles, a life that has spun incandescence from the taut nerves of a rocky childhood and youth. I want others who may suffer from burdens to be assured there is relief, there is even the gift of laughter waiting. There is hope today in my living and being because there never was not hope. God still walks with me because God never detoured. I eagerly open my eyes to be shown Divinity in the most ordinary moments and within the lost and suffering. I am mesmerized by the solutions and creations of countless hands and hearts. And I step out each day without the old hyper-vigilance. I feel strong and sturdy within and without.

If you find spring temperamental or even a menace with its new beginnings, its softness and romance, its grace and charms like darkness upon your shoulders, hold on. We can make our internal weather fair or stormy. And times do change. Search for a way out of your cavern. Call out for a hand. Do not let the beauty of this world give way to the pressure of its pain. Find a place to start anew, to call your little spot of paradise. Make your country among the bravely living. Discover the constancy of wonderment as you lay down your fear. Let God’s love be your ballast and you will be steady throughout all seasons of your living.

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