Sunday, August 28, 2011

Noticing Change

I am stuck in a Carole King song. The earth moved under my feet early in the week, and Saturday the sky came tumbling down. I was just minutes back to work from Ridiculously Gentle yoga on Tuesday when the earth belched in Virgina and the buildings shuddered in North Carolina. Saturday I am huddled in my house, windows wide open, riding out the far edge of Hurricane Irene. I don't wish harm to anyone or to their property, but selfishly I am loving this. Rain hammered on the roof all night long, but stopped at dawn. I am glad at noon when it rains again. (I am a true north-westerner. I love me some rain.) The garden loves the all-night rain, too. This morning there are blooms on flowers that had been dried up. Everything is bigger, stronger, and brighter.

But moving on to my personal storm track.

Finding it increasingly hard to get to my favorite yoga class on Mondays, the last couple of weeks I have resorted to a Tuesday class, the above mentioned Ridiculously Gentle gentle yoga. But always when I go to an unfamiliar class with an unfamiliar teacher, I learn something new--when I can get over the class being too easy or too Not Julie. There is a lot of stretching in gentle yoga, and especially in the Ridiculously Gentle class. As we move from one hip opener to the next, holding each for several breaths, Carol gently says, "Notice the change." And I do notice. I am opening up more with each pose, and not just in my hips.

Stillness. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable to be still. No earbuds, no FaceBook, no texting, no book, no TV, no knitting. So maybe the poses aren’t challenging, but maybe the lack of movement is. Maybe having to notice the change is. In vinyasa, which my classes don’t do much of--thank god--one pose flows quickly to the next. I am always looking ahead to the next moment, so I don't have to think about the one I'm in. In RG yoga, I don’t know what’s coming next. I am forced to feel my discomfort. What anxiety or dread is lurking Deep Down Inside that I keep at bay by staying one step ahead of it so it can’t rise to my notice? How can I get to a Deep Down better place, if I don’t let the dis-ease make itself known? Maybe I should keep going to the Ridiculously Gentle class.

And then along came Friday. Favorite Julie's beginning yoga. I go to this class because I feel I need the challenge, not because I enjoy it. And this week is the hardest class I have been to since I started my yoga practice. (At least that is what it seems like on Friday.)  Too many lunges, I can't like lunges. And too much vinyasa. It is painful; there isn't time to breathe. I feel incompetent. And old. Tell me why I was complaining about the RG class being too "easy"? And it doesn't help that I am late and get stuck in front of the door. Very much not feng shui, and in an unaccustomed quadrant of the room to boot. All uncomfortable. And oh my god, what is this nonsense? I am right next to Yoga Goddess who has no bones in her body! I know you are supposed to ignore what your neighbor can do, but who can ignore YG? Excuse me? Is that her head between her calves, boobs to locked knees, wrists on the floor in her standard forward fold! No, it is not the knees that are supposed to be folded, as mine are. Is that her flat hand on the floor and her knee in her armpit in extended side angle? Good god. Are there no rules about who can be in a BEGINNING yoga class?

Like Claire Dederer (Poser: My Life in Twenty-three Yoga Poses), I insist to myself that I can't do chataranga, along with pretty much everything else we do in this class today. “What happens when you tell yourself that you can’t do something that you are asked to do over and over every day? The facts may be that you are strong; but it happens all the time: We make decisions about ourselves and our lives that are not based on fact… We go through our lives believing in [our] essential weakness.” So after I fail miserably on the whole vinyasa thing, and don't even try chataranga (because, you know, I can't do it) and just automatically let my knees intervene as I lower my "looks like the top of a push-up" body to the ground, we get to half moon pose. I'm so pissed at how hard this class is when I have had an unusual-for-a Friday frantic morning and really need a calming, renewing yoga class, that I forget I can't do half moon balancing pose, either. Ohmygod, I'm sort of doing it!

A friend is having a very hard time at work. She texts me late one night, reaching out because she knows I love her and care that there is a storm raging inside her. Too often we keep our pain to ourselves; feeling perhaps that reaching out is weak. We humans are just ridiculous sometimes. Later she says I helped her so much by being there. I say she helped herself by inviting me in. She feels better after sleep--we often do. But she pays
attention to her pain anyway. She doesn't let feeling better keep her from noticing that something has shifted in her. She makes a decision that will be forward movement in her journey. That's what letting ourselves be with pain can do. It can get us to the next place. It has been apparent in my life that movement comes far more readily during adversity and discomfort than during times of contentment. Be still and listen.

The idea for this post began Friday morning when Irene was churning toward North Carolina. As I go out for my early morning walk, I try to get Smudge the Cat to go out. She is usually at the door as soon as she has had a bit of breakfast, but this morning she hangs back, lounging on the coffee table. I finally get her to join me at the open door. She stands beside me and hisses at the exposure to the humid close air, and will not be coaxed out. Later I hear stories about the horses in Central Park and animals at the Washington Zoo and locally that were highly agitated several minutes before Tuesday's earthquake, even scores of miles from the epicenter. Animals notice subtle change. We humans have to be hit in the head with it, and even then don't always notice it. If we do we would just as soon ignore it. Like new yoga poses, change is painful. Or is pain just another name for whatever is unfamiliar in our lives?

I love weather, and I am addicted to TV coverage of unusual weather events. It is running in the background as Irene blows herself around outside. I moved the empty birdfeeder closer to the house and out of the elements Friday night, but birds of all size and hue are looking for it. So I fill it and move it back out for them. All afternoon cardinals, titmice, chickadees, blue jays, mourning doves, towhees, and thrashers dine. I feel like I should be providing wine and appetizers. I keep donning my rain jacket and going out to take pictures of the wind and rain. You really can't capture wind and rain. At least not with my camera. There is probably metaphor in that. Let me know what you come up with. A far away friend FaceBook chats with me this stormy day and shares with me, like my friend the other night, the storm swirling within her. I am thinking about both of these wonderful and strong friends--and feeling honored to be trusted with their personal storms--when Greg Fishel, the local TV meteorologist, states that which is hard to remember in the midst of a hurricane: “The storm always has to end.” Ride it out, then stop and listen to what it's telling you.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


I was supposed to be heading to Santi’s house for dinner when I went out to get the waste cans from the curb and walked past the grape tomatoes and picked a bowlful, which made me notice the marigolds that needed to deadheaded, which reminded me that the roses had been in want of deadheading all week, and then I thought I should take Santi some zinnias, and that’s when I noticed the monarch begging to be photographed. I suppose it could be a good thing to stick with the plan, but so much beauty would be missed. To say nothing of the tasks that wouldn't get done.

I have never been very good at making plans. Well, that isn’t quite accurate. Actually, I’m overly good at making plans--and lists--(I AM a "J" on the Myers Briggs scale). I’m just not very good at sticking to them. I wonder, sometimes, how my life might have been different if I had stuck to the original plan. Or at least the second plan. Or the third. Boring, I think. I kind of feel sorry for people who make a plan in early adulthood, even childhood, and don’t stray from it their whole lives. And I kind of envy them knowing what they want and going for it, bypassing all those bothersome distractions calling them to take a divergent path.

I took the Myers Briggs Type Indicator when I was in graduate school, just before my 40th birthday. I was off the scale on the rigid vs. la-la / J vs. P preference. It wasn't long after I graduated that I made my first big stray from The Plan, and then another, and then still another. When I retook the inventory a few months ago, twenty years later,  I am nearly center on that indicator. I consider that a victory. I am allowing myself to be more spontaneous. Or maybe I just answered the questions differently, because I want to be more flexible. In any case, there is something to be said for knowing how you want to be and doing what you can to reroute undesirable habits or traits. We are not stuck, unless we allow ourselves to be.

Of course I realize there is a difference between getting sidetracked in the garden and choosing the road less traveled. The word sidetracked implies that you eventually get back to where you started. I did get to Santi's house, and not too far behind schedule. When we take the other path we can't ever go back, as Robert Frost says. We can sometimes, if we want, get back to the original plan; but we are different for having taken the divergent road. Which I guess begs the question, is the road different? Sometimes I wish I had not taken that side road that beckoned to me, but that is not to say I have regrets. I did what I needed to do. Just sometimes I wish I hadn't needed to, or that I hadn't noticed the other path. But there is no sense in going down that road. "I am telling this with a sigh..."

I am reading "Poser: My life in twenty- three yoga poses," recommended to me by Yogi Julie, in part because it takes place on Phinney Ridge in Seattle--up the hill from Green Lake where Emma lived when she moved across the country. The author of the memoir and her husband seem to see themselves as sidetracked from their writing careers by the birth of their child and parenthood. As the idea of sidetracking has been swirling in my head this week, I recognize that motherhood is the one thing in my post-college life that was in my original plan. I am so glad I didn't get take a divergent road before that was fulfilled.

When I empty my compost container this week I discover the Brussels sprouts I had given up for lost--as in not going to bear fruit--and thrown on the compost a while back, is still alive, and has little sprout nubbins up the stalk. Just like it is supposed to. What the heck, I replant it in the garden. I chose a little sidetrack for it; maybe it needed the cooler, richer soil. Who knows. And who knows when a seemingly random sidetrack is just what we need.

It finally gets cool enough to sit on my deck this week after work--with mosquito spray. I want to run for my camera when I see the setting sun slanting through the center of the tree grove in the back yard, the tops and bottoms in shadow; but I realize that some things just can’t be photographed. They are meant to be soaked up in the moment, and not saved for eternity...except in my mind’s eye. Like the rising sun casting light in the very tippy top of the trees as I sit in that same chair with my morning coffee. Or the deafening cicada chorus that starts at exactly 7:58 PM. Or the smell of basil leaves beside my chair. Or rosemary when I pull my hand across it as I walk past a bush hanging over the sidewalk. Or the moon. (Okay, this random bit of writing is a tangent. An editor would cut it.)

I said in last week's post that I do believe if you don't make plans for yourself, others will make them for you. Make your plans, but stay watchful and open. Exercise your J and stay open to your P. No one is one or the other. Strive for balance in all things. We can't know ever who we might have been if we had taken a different path. All we have is who we are. My hope is that I live fully the path that I am on and watch for all the forks, peering into the undergrowth, in case I might want to follow one and see where it leads. 

               "I shall be telling this with a sigh
               Somewhere ages and ages hence:
               Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
               I took the one less traveled by,
               And that has made all the difference."

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Borrowing Trouble

Seeing the picture should have eased my worries. And it did, partially. The fact is, I had no reason to worry in the first place, really; but that is what parents do. When Emma signed on for the Peace Corps five years ago, I knew she was a strong and courageous young woman already. I abandoned any thought of her being shy and retiring when she was about three years old and ran up to the counter at McDonalds to get more catsup for her eight-year-old brother’s French fries. But a village in the middle of Tanzania? Are you kidding me? Then came the photograph. She is standing under a baobab tree in the required, though unaccustomed, long colorful skirt demonstrating to a large circle of dark-skinned villagers how to put a condom on a wooden penis she asked a woodworker to make for her. (I pause at the thought of that request in a way that can only be described as pregnant.) She is instructing them in Swahili, while a translator repeats her words in their tribal dialect. If she can do that, I figured, she can take care of herself. What I was most worried about was that she was me. Of course she is not, or she wouldn’t have been there in the first place.

Our children are not us. Sooner or later, they will make their way in the world as their own selves. We teach them what we can, and then we let them go, to continue the journey on their own paths. I spent some time with a friend recently. She was trying resolve the difference between worrying about her teenage daughter and being concerned. I think it is a valid difference. Worry is a negative force in which we attempt inside our heads to avoid real or imagined threats. Worry focuses on the problem. Concern, on the other hand, is worry turned positive; a focus on the solution that drives us to do what we can about a situation, and let go of just letting what we can't control eat away at us. We watch our children flounder and out of our love for them we are concerned. We may help them visualize their future, what they want, how they think they might get there. And then we let go. Worry holds that false sense of control in our gut where all it can do is destroy us.

I've never been much of a worrier. I do think it’s a hobby for some people, though. (An idea borrowed from a book I just read.) Maybe we worry when we are feeling in doubt of our capability for excellence, when we don't trust our ability to solve a problem and come out on the other side. Maybe we borrow trouble when we flat out don't want to do the work. Maybe it gives us something to think about when we don’t know what else to do. We are afraid, and worry is a cycle of inefficient thoughts whirling around that fear. When we start listing all the ways a good idea could go bad, we rob ourselves of the energy to visualize it going well. When I lie in bed in the middle of the night hashing and rehashing a problem or an irritant, it gets under my eyelids and holds them open. When I am able to let the movie stop running in my head and focus on what I might do about it, I fall asleep. The furies that come to visit in the night are bored with solutions. Darned hard to remember that in the middle of the night.

My mother is the Queen of Borrowed Trouble. I think it is her hobby. I don't know why that is. I think she feels little in control of her living, so it gives her something to do. The fact is, though, she has taken control of her living in ways that are amazing to me. There has been no evidence, that I can see, that her worst case scenarios have ever come to pass. She had a difficult childhood, and she rose above it. She lived through my father's absence during the war; and through the Great Depression. Not easy times, none of them. But she came out on the other side. It could have gone differently, of course; and still she would have come out on the other side. Her three children's lives may not be what she thought they would be, but she is proud of who we are. She and my father loved each other for more than 50 years. She did everything she could to prolong my father's life when his heart began to fail him. She cared for him well. But she could not control his dying. He was in charge of their lives during their marriage--at least on the surface; one might have thought that she would fall apart without him. I suspect she thought that. But she has not. At 95, she has taken care of herself and her home for 16 years all by herself. And still she worries. She worries about her finances, her health, the septic tank, trees falling on the house, the house falling apart, the garden not blooming, why she can't get her brain around her new computer. And she will not be dissuaded from her worry. Even by overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

And my mother has concern for the environment. Ah, and there is the difference. I never hear her verbalize worry about it. And why is that? Because she is doing what she can do for it. She joined the Sierra Club when my for-profit-forestry father hated the Sierra Club. She recycled before it was fashionable. She fought to save trees on the hill on which she lives, so that future generations would have wild places of beauty close to home. She is solution-oriented, rather than problem-focused when it comes to the environment.

Meanwhile, back in my garden. My roof leaked after the lovely rain of a week ago. I worried and I stewed. I was surely going to have to replace the roof. It would cost a fortune. Why is there not someone in my life to take care of this so I don't have to? Then I stopped, and I called someone. He came and patched it. I paid him, and that is that.

Overheard yesterday at the cafe by a man too loud, but nevertheless, bearing a message worth repeating: “This day, here, in the middle of August is a gift. It is just a gift.” And it is, more and more as the day goes on. A day as close as it gets in the NC Piedmont to an all day rain. Maybe better, rain and sun, rain and sun. The roses glisten; the bees, drunk on nectar, can’t motivate themselves to leave the cosmos. And Friday’s enormous orange moon will be full when evening falls. There can be no worries this day that can overshadow the gift. They must be let loose, if just for the day.

Worry is expenditure. If you put a penny in your pocket every time you seize a moment of joy, and give it back to the universe every time you worry about something, how many pennies are left in your pocket at the end of the week? Try it.

I am done with watering the garden. They are on their own. It happens every summer. With or without my watering or as much rain and I think there should be, the sun annuals are doing beautifully. The perennials flounder when it is dry and bounce back when it rains. The ones that aren't going to make it for the long haul succumb whether I water or not. They really don't need my help. My worry for them is worthless. I do clean out weeds yesterday, perhaps as pennance for being gone for two weeks. I fill the bird feeder and put a new block of suet in the hanger, empty since I went on vacation. I haven’t seen the birds for the week I have been home; they return almost immediately. I am glad to see them. Yesterday I observe a male cardinal beak-to-beak-feeding a baby. I am so lucky.

My eye catches a sparrow at the cafe yesterday, sitting motionless in the hedge. Eventually she starts looking around her, swiveling her head to observed goings on and preening her bosom. I have rarely seen a bird stay in one place for so many minutes. Was she a juvenile? Not yet knowing that she was supposed to keep moving in a constant search for food? I sit and watch her: she on her branch in the hedge, I in my chair under the red umbrella--neither of us worrying about the passage of time.

The stock market is a veritable roller coaster this week. Standard and Poors dropped the US credit rating; everything affects the market. On the way to my cafe this morning I hear an analyst on NPR say that it is human nature to start disastersizing in such a scenario. And yet, he said, if worst case scenarios tended to come to pass, we would have been eaten by saber tooth tigers a long time ago. He adjusts his own investments only when his life changes, not when the market or the world changes. Good advice I think. I don't worry about money in my future, either. What is the point? It will be what it will be. I do believe that if we don't make plans, plans will be made for us. I do look ahead. But I try not to sweat the details.

"Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow. It empties today of its strength." Corrie Ten Boom

Postscript: Just as I finished this post, except for the pictures, the unthinkable happened. I spilled my java across the Mac's keyboard. Somehow I have seen it happening in my head in the past. Somehow I have not borrowed that trouble, lying awake at night picturing it. And now, here it is.

Worry begins to build a nest in my gut. I engage in half decent head talk. "I have a protection plan. I can't change what just happened. I will take it to the Apple Store's Genius Bar (they are the geniuses, not me!) when they open." I occupy myself for two hours, then pack the exterior backup that I finally stopped procrastinating getting one month ago, and am at the door when it opens. Now, 15 minutes to wait. Now they have Mac in the back. Five minutes. And now, bad news: it is toast, or java, in this case. And Apple Care doesn't cover Really Stupid Things. Goodish news: they will sell me a new computer for about half the retail price. (It's just money. They make it every day. And yesterday I even got some of it: an unexpected gift that exactly covers the unexpected expense.) Really good news: I have been thinking about taking my backup drive in to see if it's worked, I have no idea; but hadn't quite gotten around to it. I hold my breath while the Genius confirms that it's all there. I have only two things on it since I backed it up a week ago. A half dozen photos that that I have already retaken. And an important piece of revision writing. It would be lost, but I emailed it on Thursday to my summer writing instructor. It's in my email file. You make the plans that you can,  and then you let it go. And sometimes just flat out get lucky.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

You Can Go Home Again...

...just don't expect it to be unaltered.

Several months ago, daughter Emma sent me a card that says, "Sometimes right back where you started from is where you belong." I have just returned from a visit to where I started from, the Pacific Northwest, specifically Washington. I have been away, except for visits, for 35 years; and still it is my soul home.

In my growing up years, my parents and two sisters and I spent many hours at Mt. St. Helens. We camped and canoed at Spirit Lake and picnicked and picked wild huckleberries on the pumice-strewn slopes of the mountain. St. Helens was a gem of beauty in the Cascade range back then, before May 18, 1980. Small, graceful, and perfectly symmetrical, it was an accessible mountain, in a sense. We could go right up onto the slope in our shorts and tennis shoes; crampons, pick axes, and ropes were not needed. In my memory it didn't have walking trails, or huge alpine meadows like Mt. Rainier does; or a lodge with a restaurant and gift shop. You couldn't buy ice cream or soft drinks at a snack bar, or sit in front of an enormous fire place; I don't even remember bathrooms. There weren't a lot of people.

We could see the mountain from our house, too. In fact, when Daddy was scouting out places to build a house, he climbed a big leaf maple tree on the side of a hill to get above the trees to see the view. It happened to be a clear day, and what he saw at the end of Saltzer Valley, was Mt. St. Helens.

The mountain is changed now, as all things change. It has a hole in its perfect slope; the old growth forests are turned to ash and blown away. Spirit Lake is a shadow of its former self. But the mountain is coming back. When my mom and I visit our old friend week before last we find a wildflower garden amidst the twisted and shattered gray tree stumps. We discover that the dome in the hole in the mountain, the hole which could once swallow the space needle, has grown to make the crater convex rather than concave. It is taking on more the shape of Rainier, which erupted 5000 years ago, leaving a similar tear in its side that no one talks about, because it has "always" been that way. It also has a visitor center with bathrooms. And lots of people. There are no huckleberries, but there is a new lake––Coldwater––that is serene and beautiful. The lake is there because the mountain changed.

I spend hours walking around Wallingford, the Seattle neighborhood where Emma lives with her partner, Wynne. In mid-summer, unlike in Raleigh where the heat has reduced our gardens to the hardiest survivors, the flowers are spectacular. Some of them are familiar and many are not. The gardens in the Emerald City, the city of seven big hills and innumerable small ones, are crammed into rocks and retaining walls. Flowers and vegetables grow in curbside strips between street and sidewalk. Though they are visually unfamiliar, the gardens feel like home.

Emma and Wynne live in an altered schoolhouse. The Wallingford Center was, from 1904 until the early 70s, the Interlake Elementary School. After sitting vacant for many years it was saved from destruction and is now the home of shops and studio apartments with enormous windows. The oak staircases are worn at the ends from generations of small feet tramping up one end and down the other. There is soon to be a reunion of people who attended the school. They will find it altered, and beautiful. On a tour of my alma mater, the University of Washington, with Emma, we make an incredible discovery. After growing up on the other side of the country, her work office is literally around the corner from her dad's college apartment and her mom's post-college duplex.

Emma, Wynne, and I drive aboard one of the Evergreen State ferries (name altered, only God know why, to Washington Ferry System) for a Puget Sound crossing to explore Whidbey Island. On the way to the ferry we stop at their favorite vegan-donuts-to-die-for that won some best-donut-in-the-universe award, and deservedly so. (Yumminess is rivaled the following week by Mollie Moon's raspberry balsamic and lavender honey ice-creams.) We fall in love with the town of Langley and traipse around the Loganberry Festival out in a field in the middle of the island. Oddly we see no loganberry anything.

While in Seattle, I visit with Amelia, my cyber-friend who stumbled on this blog several months ago and wrote to me. I responded and we have been reading each others' blogs and emailing ever since. It is lovely to sit at table with her. Amelia is a Headstart teacher, and writes about life in her classroom. Her writing is a garden ( She writes in her post after our visit, "I find the intimacy that develops between readers and writers of blogs to be intriguing... Publishing and reading blogs has my heart traipsing about the world and over thresholds I will never see with my eyes. I have become like writers everywhere: sprinkling crumbs on the ground, leading one another over new pathways." We are like old friends, making easy conversation. This is why we write. This is home.

I ride the rails (a genius idea) in the observation car of the Coast Starlight to Centralia, 80 miles south of Seattle, to visit my mom and my sister. Rebecca has purchased and beautifully renovated an old building on the town's main street and is transforming a crumbling parking lot into a sculpture garden. It is now her home, and the home of Hubbub, a contemporary home decor/gift/jewelry art house ( Her store and her courtyard would be a garden, even if there were no flowers.

The house where I spent the second half of my childhood is not a great deal altered on the inside; but the outside is different. The crates, buckets, and cans full of stones, shells, and driftwood we couldn't bear to leave at the beach over the years are still piled under the carport shed. But the maple tree Daddy climbed, and I climbed with my book to escape unnoticed among the leaves, succumbed to old age a few years back. It had been cabled together for years to keep its huge double trunk from splitting. But disease and decay finally brought it down, as all things must end. My 95-year-old mom has beautiful flower beds now, not the same ones I remember––they are in places I once had to mow. I wish they had been gardens then. The apple trees my dad refused to plant until after I had left home, because "If I had planted them ten years ago, they would be bearing fruit now," are bearing fruit. Proof that it is never too late. 

I was home for a visit some years ago when the chainsaws roared in our guts as they began clearcutting the forest where I played, rode horseback, and mapped trails––cutting new ones where no feet had trod before. My parents were instrumental in saving a large area of those woods, getting the city to buy and preserve it. The rest is coming back now. Altered, and beautiful.

I turn into the driveway of the four-plex on Ford's Prairie where I began married life 36 years ago. Where we looked out over a cow pasture through the sliding glass doors at the back, there is now a two-story apartment building a few feet from the door. The row of trees at the "new" high school, from which my class of 1970 was the first to graduate, are enormous. The duplex where my first boyfriend lived is now a single unit. I sent Marc a picture, and even he didn't recognize it. The tiny grocery next to his house, where had I been a senior at the old high school nearby (long since torn down), I would have been allowed to frequent at lunchtime, is boarded up.

Mother and I drive to Olympia, home during the first half of my childhood. We visit the old post office, another building scheduled for destruction, but saved by being put on the National Register of Historic Buildings. It is now the charitable giving offices of the Secretary of State. I had forgotten or didn't realize that my mother worked there, on the second floor, as a secretary in the National Park Service office. I only remembered my father's office being there, when he worked for the Forest Service Experimental Research Station (or some such). You know how sometimes you don't really remember things cerebrally, but rather in your body? I am six––or five or seven––and after a day of shopping we visit Daddy. Climbing the open curved marble stairs to the second floor, and then then the enclosed stairs to the attic offices, I pull one of those flimsy cone-shaped cups from the holder by the water cooler and fill it up. I hold it very carefully, because if it is squeezed the water erupts out of the top. Maybe I am not so careful. I ask for, and we receive, a tour of the building not open to the public. My mother recognizes her office. I recognize the stairs. It is altered, but it feels like home.

We visit Priest Point Park, where I loved to play when stopped there after my big sister's piano lesson. My favorite and clearest memory is of the double swings. There are several there now, but one has a moss covered roof and seems to be in a protected area. Could it possibly be the original? We drive out to South Bay, where we lived. There is the school where I imagined myself second grade queen of the flying rings. The rings are gone, the school remodeled––or perhaps rebuilt.
There is the low-tide mudflat of a fork of the south bay of Puget Sound. It looks just the same, though surely the water routes have changed many times. There is the Dockins' family's ramshackle house, looking much the same. And there is our...oh my god. It is gone. The sweet little house with the "new room" Daddy transformed from the garage and the porch my mother's trailing roses grew over. The last time we were there, the split rail fence Daddy built was gone––no doubt it rotted and fell apart; but now there is a tall privacy fence, which cannot hide the McMansion behind it; with an equally big garage or barn or what the hell is that? The neighbor's house is gone too, to make room for the monstrosity. Okay, we did not need to see that. Altered, and not good. Coming back out we pass the country store. Fully expecting a convenience store to be pumping gas on the site, we are stunned again to find the store, built in the 1930s, intact. We nearly weep with relief.

I return to Seattle from Centralia, after the Tuesday morning small-town-charming pet parade at the Carnegie library, and spend the morning with my camera at Pike Place Market, a very old public market that was threatened while I was a student at the University of Washington. I signed a petition to save it, and it is now one of Seattle's most popular tourist destinations, as well as a favorite gathering place of locals. I take pictures of people, street artists, fruit and vegetables and berries, fresh cut flowers and gardens-on-a-pole, and fish. I wish I could digitally preserve the smells of the market: the international foods and fresh bread, the flowers and seafood. The market is pretty much unaltered, at least visually. (Hopefully it is structurally more sound.)

The Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges, still ring the city. Mt. Rainier, which will one day––any day now, in fact––erupt again, for now still rises from time-to-time over the city. It peeks up over the shipyard on the Sound, rises above the industrial zones, pops into view as one rounds a curve. "The mountain is out!" is the celebratory cry of natives when the often overcast days clear to the bluest skies you've ever seen and the mountain reveals its spectacular self. It does not alter––yet––but like home, it is not always evident. We don't go there on this trip because there is still too much snow. Perhaps the result of global weather change. I guess it is altered.

My home in Raleigh when I return, is a bit altered. A teenager has been living here in my absence. My things are not quite in the same places, and she has left behind a few items that have not been in my home for some time. It makes me laugh. My garden is still struggling to survive the dreadful heat. My home is a bit altered, but it is still mine. For now.

Pondering the Immensity of Change
A mountain collapses
A superheated stone-wind roars across the land,
wave upon wave of pumice and ash erupt,
all this in a few hours' time,
and on such a scale it challenges our comprehension.
     Now the change comes more slowly.
     The pull of gravity and the erosive action of rain sculpt a new landscape.
     A forest gradually returns, revealing the process of renewal.
     Once again nature's subtle rhythms prevail. 
         Until the next time...
(Interpretive sign at Mt. St. Helens)

One of the benefits of aging that I most love is that, if we pay attention, we become a witness to the large and small changes in the world around us as we travel through time and space. And from the smallest flower stamen to the grandiosity of mountains, it is all so interesting. Like Dorothy learned, "home" is transformed by the journey. We are transformed by the quest. The landscape alters, we alter. Or do we become more ourselves?