Sunday, October 30, 2011

Following Moon Shadows

I miss Cat Stevens. I saw him in concert in college; he and his piano rose up out of the stage. Or was that John Denver? And a guitar? I do remember Robert Louis Stephenson and his Garden of Verses: “I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me. What can be the use of him is more than I can see.” One of the few poems I memorized as a child.

I love shadows. They are temporary art. Found art, Dori would say. You happen upon them, enjoy them, and then they shift, disappear, maybe come back at exactly the same time the next day. Or not, depends on the clouds. The thing about your own shadow is that you can’t hold onto it. You see it; it’s just there, right in front of you. Tantalizing then taunting you. You follow it, chase it, and it stays just ahead of you. You turn and it jumps behind you, and follows you until you turn again.

“Beware that you do not lose the substance by grasping at the shadow.” (Aesop) 

Dreams are kind of like shadows. You think you see exactly where you are supposed be and you follow what looks like the path--what you thought you saw--but you can't ever quite get to the destination you envisioned. Dreams have a way of being not quite specific, and full of obstacles. My sister has a dream--a calling, she says. It's not coming to pass exactly the way she has been hearing it. Callings are a little shadowy, too--by intention, I think. Perhaps the One Who is More is into shadow games. Having a spot of fun with us. Perhaps She just puts the shadow out there and leaves it to us which way to turn. If we try to take it too literally, to grab the shadow and not let it get away, we lose the part we were meant to hold onto.

Have you ever thought about the fact that shadows are always shades of gray? Their "colors have all run dry." Life is the trip that is in full spectrum Kodachrome, not the shadow. And life pretty much never takes the path we planned, or saw ahead of us. The sun shifts, the big tree gets in the way, a cloud casts a shadow. But if we keep the sun at our back the shadow can be our guide, it can keep us grounded; our feet and the shadow's feet are always together. Even if we turn around, it is behind us, pushing us onward. Or beside us, walking with us; our feet always together. I want to tell my sister to look down another path; don't cling to the one you're on. Let go. God will go with you.

Charly returned to snowy Colorado this week. She has been touring Europe for ten weeks; five weeks with a friend, and five weeks alone. Except she was never alone. She made friends wherever she went. And she kept bumping into the same people in very different places. She met people from other countries; and she met people from Colorado and California, where she grew up. One attended her school's rivalat the same time she was a high school
student! That person, from across the room in a Croatian restaurant, recommended the squid. She stayed in hostels--some decent, many not-so-much. For two nights she stayed in a regular hotel, and met no one. She could hardly bear the loneliness. As I read that blog post, I found myself thinking that is what I would gravitate toward--stay where I will meet no one, and stay away from places where I would have to engage. Yeah, be my shadow instead of my Self. People like Charly will save the world. (I know, you are thinking, "It must be nice..." Let me assure you that Charly has very little money; just different priorities about what is important. Choices we can all make in our own way. This is her way.)

There is a man who keeps coming to the Cafe on Sunday mornings. He has decided that I am a good person to talk at. He is a world famous photographer-- as he likes to tell me at every encounter. He launches into accolades of himself each week and, though he knows I write and I have showed him two of my own photographs that happened to be on my screen when he approached, he never asks about my work. How not to be a Charly. My theory is  he didn’t get affirmation as a child, now he pushes praise for himself on every captive audience. Still trying to convince himself of self-worth. (And here he comes; time out.)

The cold came this weekend--early. And, for now, I expect temporary. While it is raining lovely rain, I get my bathroom cleaned, and that feels kind of good. I am disappointed when the sun comes out in the afternoon. I do go out, though, for a tour of my garden. Daffodils are emerging. And I discover that the Lenten Rose that seemed to be dying has new growth pushing out of the ground at its center. You just never know what will come up when you push aside the old ideas of what "should be." But I want to be inside on this first cold day. I create a Cat Stevens station on Pandora, light candles, have tea with Laura, then wrap in my afghan.

I have had this quote on my page of Things I Save for My Blog since the season-ending episode of Grey's Anatomy last spring: "The worst deception we practice is on ourselves. Which is why sometimes it takes us a while to realize that the truth has been in front of us the whole time." That shadow is right there in front of us. The deception is that it is the truth; but it has no color, it is just a guide--a friend. We are the ones with the movable feet. It goes with us, not us with it. All we have to do is stay in the Light as we explore the twists and turns.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Bittersweet Orange

I sold my beautiful blue Schwinn scooter late yesterday afternoon as the sun was setting. I bought it five years ago, a year after a relationship ended. Some might say it was my mid-life crisis--and I couldn't afford a sports car. I prefer to name it mid-life reassessment, transition, movin' on. Whatever you call it, the scooter and the mid-life escape from the box made me happy. I suppose it was a gathering up of the past, too; my first bicycle was a hand-me-down blue Schwinn. Other things make me happy now: my garden, my friends; and I haven't been riding the Blue. It was time for it to go. I put it on Craigslist and sell it to a young couple who love it on first sight; the ride up the street seals the deal. I can see it in his eyes, and in her voice. They are so excited. And so sweet, they promise to take good care of it. Its empty spot in my driveway this morning makes my heart hurt just a little bit.

My Sunday blog post has swirled in my head all week. One of the things I most love about this weekly discipline is that sometimes I get to Friday, and often even Saturday, with no clue what I am going to write about. And then, suddenly, there it is. I learn to trust. More rarely I know what I will write about early in the week, and experiences through the week fall into that early knowing. I see patterns. That is what happens this week.

It started last weekend, when I get a dozen orange paint chips for the back door. I am sure one should not choose paint color based on the name, but Bittersweet Orange keeps calling to me all week, as I go around and around among the options. When I moved from the pink ballerina bedroom I shared with my little sister into my own room in junior high (my first memorable age band transition), I chose lime green (not unlike my side garden door) for one wall. My dad painted it my choice for me, but then and forever after called it Sick Cat Green. I have never seen that description on a paint chip; paint namers know it's all in a name. The guy mixing my paint Thursday says he truly believes they take the same color and name it six different things so as to appeal to the most people. That makes me smile. I suppose choosing by name makes as much sense as anything. I accessorized that long ago lime green bedroom wall with orange. It kind of astounds me, and makes sense, that I find myself back to Eccentric Lime and Bittersweet Orange.

So much of life is bittersweet. Major and minor moves and job changes, whether voluntary or
not-so-much; children leaving home to spread their wings as we raised them to do--even if not always in ways we dreamed for them; relationships’ endings, voluntary or not; seasonal transitions in the garden. Not much is black and white, good or bad.

Troops, President Obama announces this week, will be completely out of Iraq by the end of the year. A war perhaps we should never have been in at all. And Mu'ammer Gaddafi is gunned down. Some think he got what he deserved; others wanted him taken alive to trial, perhaps thinking he would suffer more. I think those he persecuted over the decades would have suffered more than he would have, in a trial dragging on for years. He died as he lived; seems appropriate, in this case, to me. There will be no autopsy, which has raised a cry. People want to know how he died. He died of an evil heart and a sick mind. What more do we need to know? I am more interested in how he lived. I would want to study the emotional wounds of his heart and look for abnormalities in his brain, not at gunshot angles and bullets. How did his little baby life develop into a career as an evil dictator? I heard it reported that his last words were, "Don't kill me! Don't kill my sons!" I find that fascinating. Was there sudden understanding in that moment? Did he see a flash of connection between his imminent violent death and his own brutality and atrocities? Did his third eye see the fathers and sons, the mothers and daughters whose lives he cut short? Probably not, but I wonder. We will never know. Revenge is sweet, but it never really erases bitterness. Forgiveness does, but that is so hard for us mere mortals.

I am super-sensitive lately to the passage of time. For years time seems to have flown by when I look into the rear view mirror: when did my children become adults? When did I get to almost 60? How has it been five years since my sweet grandson was born? (Why do I never get to see him? I am struggling this week not to be bitter.) Makes you want to break into song, doesn't it? "Sunrise sunset, sunrise, sunset; 
swiftly fly the years. One season following another, 
laiden with happiness and tears." Gag. But it’s only been lately that I have been quite this aware of the swift flight in the present. Mondays gallop into Fridays; Saturdays morph back to Mondays. And where are the seasons going? It's like time lapse photography. Last week I was pulling up pansies and planting vinca and impatiens, and putting zinnia seeds into the earth. And this month I am planting pansies again and waiting for first freeze to kill the zinnias, when I will bury more bulbs in anticipation of spring. The emerging peony I got so excited about last spring--wasn't it yesterday?--is descending. I don't know what is happening to the Lenten rose. It was the first plant I put in the garden I created around the deck. I planted it three and a half years ago, during the second Lent in my home--having bought the house during Lent, it felt just right. It has remained evergreen, even putting out new growth in the fall. And this autumn it seems to be rotting away. Maybe they have a short life expectancy; maybe it is just time for this one to move on. I don't know. But it makes me sad. Every season, though, has its own surprises. The perennial sunflowers in a garden on my route to work burst out this week. Just when you think the blooming season is done and gone, there they are.

This  week I get two peppers--one red, one yellow--off the plants that didn't produce when it was supposed to, when the temperatures were hot. The yellow plant has a half dozen babies on it. It seems impossible that the babies will mature this late. Although there are two 79 degree days in the forecast for this week, there was a chance of frost last night. It didn't happen, but it is just around the corner. I make chili and a chicken pot pie for my freezer this week. No more pasta primavera with garden fresh grape tomatoes and basil, and avocados. Though I squeeze in a few minutes this week, evenings on the deck after work with wine and book will  be over for good soon. Two weeks until the time change; and even if it is occasionally warm enough, I will be leaving work in the dark. Along with pumpkins and gourds, I buy a rack of firewood at the Farmers' Market yesterday; soon it will be time for fireplace, candles, and knitting. Before I know it, I will be anticipating the possibility of snow, in place of hoping for a summer day that isn’t sweltering and sticky (and one is about as rare as the other here). Bittersweet transitions.

Yesterday, while paint dries, I pull ground ivy. I love to pull ground ivy. It is so easy to remove, and it clears my head as it declutters the garden. I hadn't noticed that the English ivy is creeping back. The first step in creating my garden was to remove bag after bag after bag of English ivy. It was cathartic back then. It was the beginning of clearing my heart to make space there for what might come next. The Ivy Chronicles was first thing I wrote as I began seeing the garden as a metaphor for life, and discovering writing. So I pull the English, too. Making space really isn't that hard. You just have to be willing to let go. As I look back, I am a little wistful about that time of beginning again; I have a restless soul. I loved the empty garden canvas spread out before me, waiting for me to pick up brush and palette. And I am so happy to be in such a different place than I was when the garden reclamation began with pulling ivy. I love observing the maturing garden. There is much to be said for feeling settled.

Finally, the State Fair. A dear friend asks me to go with her. I have convinced myself over the decades that I hate the fair; I haven't been in years and years. Harboring Fair Hate makes me feel old, though, and bitter. So I say yes. What the hey. Maybe I just needed an invitation and a nudge to step outside myself. I have fond memories of the Southwest Washington Fair. It was small and sweet. The kitchen knife demonstrations, with eager housewives gathering around to watch the magic; the ferris wheel; the garden vegetable art displays; the Presbyterian Snack Shack, where I took a turn working each year when I got old enough. I won a ribbon once or more with my dish garden entries. Maybe it's like Christmas: it loses its magic with age. But I go. We eat NC State ice-cream and my friend gets a bag of her favorite fair food--maple syrup cotton candy. We do not eat deep-fried butter or Kool-aid or anything else. We watch the pig races and ride the carousel. My mind's eye sees the photograph I have of me in my father's lap on a carousel horse at the Washington state fair in Puyallup. And another toddler in his lap on a Pullen Park carousel horse , his now 32-year-old grandson. The fair is not so bad. I don't need to go again.

As I walk through the cemetery at dawn one morning this week, I come upon a tree shedding its brilliant red dress. The leaves litter the ground. I lift my camera for a picture. As I move to snap it from another angle, a maintenance cart drives into my peripheral vision and a worker jumps out with a rake. I move on before I have to watch him remove the "ground clutter." Our past, clutter and all, is part of who we are. The leaves on the ground are a visual memory of the season past and a symbol of the ever-forward motion of time. Children, friends we grow old with, maturing gardens are our visual memory of what has gone before. There is no need to throw out the recollections, even when it hurts a bit to remember what is gone. The passage of time is bittersweet, but without the memories there would be no sweet. 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Eccentric Lime

I wonder if I am becoming an eccentric in my aging. It's a word with conflicting definitions and synonyms. One definition refers to an unconventional person, and the other to being off center. I figure I am somewhat unconventional, if being a single gardening fool female homeowner who spends an hour or two at the cafe on weekend mornings and loves to be at home of an evening is unconventional. But I am very centered. Bizarre, freakish, and crackpot seem over-the-top. And the online dictionary lists "spinster" as an example of an eccentric. What Ever. As I painted my front door magenta last Saturday, I wondered if passers by were whispering about the odd woman who would do such a thing. And when, on pretty much any weekend, they see me on hands and knees digging in my garden, do they consider me eccentric? What do they think of someone who would plant a banana tree and pull out the Raleigh-sacred azaleas and box elder wannabes to plant roses and elephant ear caladium?

“At 20, we worry about what others think of us. At 40, we don’t care what they think of us. At 60, we discover they haven’t been thinking about us at all.” (Jock Falkson) I read that yesterday at the cafe and laugh out loud. Then go home and paint the door to the side garden Eccentric Lime.

I have a collection of photographs of yard art taken over the past couple of years on my walks through the hood. I keep thinking that one day, perhaps in the middle of summer or winter, I will have nothing to say about the garden and I will share them with you. But so far I haven't run out of things to learn in the garden. Some of them are beautiful, and some are quirky, wacky, and outlandish. Some are plain tacky. All I consider eccentric, by one definition or another. But one this week I must share. My daily drive home, and frequently my walks, take me past the Succulent Garden. Now these people are eccentric. And I'm pretty sure people talk about them. I do. To myself. The garden is full of all things prickly, sharp, and oversized. I am not a fan of succulents. I dug up a yucca in my garden and was very happy when Gwen and Joe next door dug out the cactus on the other side of our fence. The cottage on the corner of Boundary and East Streets is 
dwarfed and nearly hidden by the garden. I remember a children's book in which the garden overtook the house, and this scene reminds me of that. The cacti are even in the strip between sidewalk and curb. It is a very bizarre plot of land. I'm glad that Oakwood hasn't banned it, though, in their fanaticism to remain historically authentic. Maybe the owners are from Texas, and have tried to bring a little sense of soul home to their lives. Who am I to judge. One plant at the corner screams to be looked at right now. It stretches 12 feet skyward and looks like an asparagus on growth hormones. In the past two or three weeks it has been sprouting a bouquet that opened this week. I call it Bride of Frankenstein. I recommend to you a field trip.

Yesterday, as my door dries between coats, I continue the distasteful task of pulling out the summer annuals to plant the winter/spring ones. It nearly kills me, but I do it as one must with an eye to the future. I bring in the handfuls of the Flower I Can Never Remember the Name Of, the ones that dry nicely, and plant two more flats of pansies and johnny-jump-ups. I uncover another of those dainty crocus-like flowers. Reward. I accidentally dig up and rebury some bulbs. Something to look forward to in the spring. I leave the back row of vinca and that above unnamed flower. I'm not going to plant pansies back there anyway, so they can stay until they freeze. That's where I will start with the spring planting, so I can leave the pansies in the ground longer. I am brilliant.

The winner of the Extra Effort Award in my garden (in a good way, which disqualifies the passion flower that is, well, oversexed in its efforts) is a tough pick. The zinnias are certainly putting out, for example, in an extroverted way. (I still can't bring myself to pull them.) But my EEA choice has to be the perennial salvia. It has bloomed its introverted little pink hearts out all summer long. From the moment it emerged in the spring, it has never stopped; not for drought nor heat nor neglect, all of which have been in high supply this year. I highly recommend it for a sunny spot in your garden.

Have I mentioned that I love fall? My sister sent me a
blog link this week, and I read this, “Autumn is the season that ignites my blood, that energizes my imagination, that puts me in touch with the wonder of being in the world like no other season.” That's how I feel. Summer in the south is the only season I really don’t much like. Perhaps part of what I love about fall is that there are three whole seasons until summer. Of course, summer bores into fall, and it cheats spring by starting too soon; but still…. I love the way the garden retreats in the fall--retreats to gather
energy to return in the spring. I love the way the spring flowers reemerge in the fall, too, for a fleeting second  season. I discover violets blooming this week. (I missed them in the spring because the damn deer ate them.) I have mentioned the spring phlox before that is gathering steam. The camellia bush is blooming and full of buds; and the maybe-it's-spiderwort, but not where I planted it, is blooming its little brilliant blue winged-insect flowers (the color of the black bench I painted this summer). The roses keep putting forth. I don't know when they stop, since they are new. As long as the days are warm and the first freeze can hold off, I suppose the garden will keep on blooming.

So if I am eccentric for loving my garden and watching it for what grows and painting my doors the colors of the garden (I can't really think of anything in the garden that is black--so why should my doors be?), I gladly and proudly inhabit the word. I love the way water droplets on a spiderweb in the grass blades, when I water my newly-planted annuals, sparkle like diamonds in the sunlight. The garden is full of wonder, and I make no apology for spending time looking for it. When Frank Lloyd Wright presented the plans of one of his best known works, Fallingwater, to the inhabitants-to-be, E.J. Kaufman said "I thought you would place the house near the waterfall, not over it." Mr. Wright replied quietly, "E.J., I want you to live with the waterfall, not just to look at it, but for it to become an integral part of your lives." When my hands are in the dirt, planting life, I am an integral part of my life and the life around me, not just an observer. I am not building a life to be revered from the outside, but full of energy from the inside. Yes, I am centered.

And if passersby look at my magenta and lime green doors, and whisper about the oddball occupant, they are just jealous.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Global Purple

The scariest thing I have done at my house (well, other than having a hole cut in the brick wall to enlarge a window; but I didn’t execute that, therefore I was not responsible) was digging a ten-foot diameter hole in the back yard to build a patio that I didn’t know if I was capable of completing. I guess I also pulled the carpet off the stairs and painted them orange. That was risky. But last weekend when Grace, as she was getting ready to pull away from the curb in front of my house, threw out, “You know, Gretchen, the only part of your house and garden you haven’t made you is the front door,” I knew it was time to take another risk. It’s not that I never thought of painting the black door--I have been wanting to practically since I moved in. I don’t know why it has felt so intimidating. It’s not even the first time I have painted a front door, though I just this minute realized that. It's just that the front door is so out front. It makes a bold statement about me to the world as it passes by, like new glasses (which I also got this month) or a new hair style. It's an Extrovert thing to do, and thereby against my nature.

Oh, I had a plethora of Very Good Excuses. Can’t decide on a color. There is a very narrow, well, doorway of time, when all the natural elements converge perfectly: not too hot or too cold to leave the door open all day; not humid, not pollen season, not windy, not buggy. I also had to be in a creative mood and be feeling brave and be able to be home all day. And the moon needs to be in the seventh house and Jupiter aligned with Mars. And...

Patti Digh (Creative is a Verb) tells of seeing an instruction painted on the shuttle bus lane on the airport tarmac, YIELD TO AIRCRAFT.  "Yes indeedy," she says, "that seems like fine advice. A 26-passenger shuttle bus versus a 545,000 pound Boeing 777 aircraft." Pretty clear who has the upper hand there. Still, we seem to need signs--really loud signs--before we can see the obvious.

 "And let this be a sign unto you, you shall Yield to Aircraft, for it is a good idea that is bigger than your fear." Grace is right. There may have been a time when black seemed like an acceptable color for my front door. And leaving it as is is clearly the path of least resistance, which I have a penchant for when it comes to many things. It was the same time I needed to put up a fence, paint the door in the fence relatively unobtrusive periwinkle purple, and close it behind me as I hid from view in the back yard. As I turn from Grace's car and look through the riot of annual color in front of the house; the non-traditional, in-your-face, making-a-statement banana tree at the corner; and the roses where there used to be boring evergreen shrubbery, it is as obvious as the full moon on a cloudless night that the door is not me. And in that instant when it is no longer a decision, but a no-brainer to which I need to yield, I see the color--the Purple Heart on each side of the steps.

The weather forecast for the weekend is 70-something degrees, no rain or wind in sight. The nights have been cool, the bug count is way down. My fear is trumped by excitement and can-do courage. And I am yearning to be creative. The planets are aligned. At Ace Hardware after work on Friday, with my leaf from the Purple Heart in hand, I go straight for Global Purple. Because I am me, I get half dozen more color chips; but I know Global Purple is the one.

Saturday after breakfast, I get my car inspected, buy another flat of pansies at Logan's (no time to circle the parking lot at the Farmers' Market to save three bucks) and three perennials--hey, they are on sale if I buy three--and purchase my quart of Exterior High Gloss Global Purple Front Door Paint. I am set to stay home the rest of the day. I jet hose the door and wipe it down, tape the windows, remove the house numbers, and decide not to dismantle the lock and handle because I know how hard they are to put back on (I am brave, but not stupid). I prime--I don't want my brilliant Global Purple deadened by an undercoating of black. While the primer dries I plant my new purple coneflower, asters, and trailing phlox (maybe the latter will thrive in the side garden where little else has done well). I discover the single mystery flower that comes up every year under the pyracantha; it always surprises me. The toad lily is even
more amazing than it was last week. And the Persian Shield, an iridescent version of the Purple Heart, is dazzling. I pick the last of the basil for my Saturday night pizza, and will top it off with the last six grape tomatoes that have been on the kitchen window sill. Fall in the South is such an interesting time of emergence and submersion.

And now it is time to return to the door. I am past the point of no return. I put on the first coat of color. It is really bright. I feel a little sick. No turning back, I tell myself. You are committed. Or is that Should Be Committed? Done. I walk away and turn to face it. The first coat, with the white showing through, is not the color of Purple Heart or the paint chip. I breathe through the second-guessing fear as I plant the pansies. All will be well, I chant in my head. I put on a second coat late in the afternoon. Much better. I think the door is laughing with the release we all feel when we come out from behind our fear. Oh, maybe that is me laughing. Today I will lay on a final coat.

Now the little periwinkle purple birdhouse stand on the porch looks dull next to the dazzling door. I immediately know it must be painted Tropicana Rose Orange, like the perfect bud on the bush next to it. And half a can of paint from my stairs is right there on top of my water heater. I paint it then and there. Some actions take four years to gather courage for, some take four minutes. No agonizing, no procrastinating. Just go for it. Yes, sometimes you are going to fuck up. Get over yourself.

My sweetheart brother-in-law, Peter, who celebrated his 60th birthday yesterday, lost his job on Wednesday. Well, he didn't exactly lose it (what a ridiculous term), it was taken from him. No, he was released. (Releasement is my newly-minted word to replace retirement.) He has been a senior, high security clearance, IT program manager, contracted by the Federal Government, for lo these many years. He and my sister have been thinking and dreaming, if not exactly planning, to move back to the Pacific Northwest for nearly a decade. And have as many excuses not to take the leap "yet" as I do for my door. They have been slowly getting their house ready to put on the market--or just to enjoy more for themselves--but I have heard no declaration of "X is the time." It's scary. I know. Girl, do I know. But even the fact that both their children are now living in Seattle, has not gotten them there. I tell Peter that, however well-hidden in a content-disguising box, however elaborately wrapped, this is a birthday gift of the highest order. The YIELD TO AIRCRAFT sign is now screaming from the tarmac. The stars are aligned. It is time to paint your life Global Purple.

What are you waiting for? Live like you are dying. You are. It is time to paint your life Global Purple.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Sunrise in the Rearview Mirror

It's that time of year: yo-yoing temperature, shortening daylight hours barreling toward the winter solstice, the expectation of color change, pumpkin/mum art at the Farmers' Market, cleaning out the garden, trying to decide when to pull the summer annuals and get the winter ones into the still-warm ground. And at work it's budget and pledge time, which means year-end then year-beginning procedures are not far behind. And that all adds up to long days at work.

The long work days start earlier than usual this year. In past years three people--me not being one of them--do the budget spreadsheet and multi-piece mailing to 600 households. This year, with a short staff and a new treasurer and finance committee chair, it has fallen by default to me. There is no one around who even knows I don't generally do this particular task. I work over 60 hours, not counting the four trips to the church on Saturday to check on the churning copier. Instead of a morning walk to watch the sun rise over the cemetery, I start the car in the dark each morning. On Wednesday, as I head down Hillsborough Street, I glance in my rearview mirror. And there is the giant orange orb, rising over the Capitol. It takes my breath away.

At the same time I am listening to the story on NPR about the Saudi woman sentenced to ten lashes for...driving. It’s not a law on the books, but a religious edict and a “societal norm” that bans women from getting behind the wheel of a car. I can understand, vision is greatly diminished by the burqa; they might, accidentally of course, run down a cleric. Rumor is that King Abdullah, who has decreed that women may vote in future elections (well, four years from now, which may be the next election since the one this week is only the third in the country's history), may have overturned the sentence. Someday the religious edict against gays marrying are going to seem, in retrospect, just as outlandish. In the meantime, hopefully the conservative push to write discrimination into the states' constitutions will fail. At least I can drive a car; and no one in my world thinks physical flogging is okay. We take so much for granted.

"Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear." With temperatures in the mid-80s and July-level dew points all week, it's hard to believe that autumn is around the corner. The plummet Friday night to the 40s, makes a believer of me. It's coming, and coming fast. A trip to Farmers' Market seals the deal. I ogle the huge pumpkins and the displays of fall vegetables. I buy a mixed flat of snapdragons (for the first time) and violas. The day is coming fast when the zinnias and vinca will not be spectacular. The question, as always, is when can I bear to pull them. I have pulled the marigolds; perhaps I can squeeze this first flat in. I look for firewood at the Market, but there's not much yet. It can wait.

In the Cameron Village parking lot, I observe a most unexpected event. An elderly woman opens her car door, then walks away from it and deliberately steps on several acorns caps to hear the delightful crackle they make. Then she gets in her car, closes the door, and goes on her way. I am enchanted.

Seeing the sunrise behind me has gotten me thinking about the surprises and delights (and disappoint- ments) of the summer. I had a wonderful vacation in the Pacific Northwest, spending several days with Emma and Wynne, wandering the streets of their Wallingford neighborhood with my camera and making muffins for them; and doing what they do when they are not working: beer at the corner bar where they are known, Wii (my first time!), Scrabble (they trounced me), bowling (held my own), babysitting the adorable Xelli and Decca; and a ferry ride to Whidbey Island. Then a surprise delightful Amtrak ride toward time with mother and sister. I discovered that you can go home again and it is a wonderful journey.

In the garden my banana tree continues to delight. It is taller each year, and blasts above gutter level this year. The annuals are their most beautiful; I am especially excited by the volunteer cosmos. I feel like a real gardener when plants I didn't plant this year fill the garden. My first foray into vegetable gardening meets with mixed success: the summer squash with their beautiful blossoms and bountiful fruit is gratifying. Brussels sprouts, peppers (there are some on the plants still, but not maturing), and eggplant are disappointing. Still, the old-skin eggplant bloom makes the planting worthwhile. The grape tomatoes are all I need, but there is no late season bowls-full of green ones to make the yummy soup recipe I discovered a year ago. I pick the last handful of pitiful-looking fruit for my Saturday pizza; today I will pull the rest of the vines. And the basil, though enough, was not lush and full. No pesto. Sometimes just enough is all we get.

The passion flower that blooms for the first time probably wins the prize for stun-value. And the elephant ear caladium that isn't supposed to return unless you dig up the corms and keep them warmish over the winter (I didn't) gives me most satisfaction; although the Persian shield and red/green coleus that I rooted in the house last winter and replant make me pretty darned happy. And when it is too hot to be in the garden, I try my hand at painting flowers. My friend Roberta's flowers on window glass panes hanging on the fence around her amazing garden inspired me. She, however, is an artist, so I didn't imagine that my attempts would match up to hers. And they don't, but never-the-less, I surprise myself with how well mine turn out.

On the downside, along with a tornado passing a half mile from my house and snapping trees in the cemetery and the surprising earthquake, are dumping a cup of coffee in my laptop, a leak in the roof, and knee surgery. As for the first two--it's just money. The bank account is relieved of any heft it might have been enjoying, but all is well. And the knees, the surgery takes care of the immediate problem--and another drain on the bank--but both knees are making their presence known now. They are announcing what is coming and can't be stopped: advancing age. I guess I might as well get used to it. Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear.

A dear human being died this week. Wendell Manuel was a full-bearded man with a wicked sense of humor who seemed as unlikely as anyone to don a ministerial robe on Sunday mornings. He was the minister of the progressive Presbyterian church that was the shining spot in the four years my family lived in Starkville, M-I-crooked letter-crooked letter-I-crooked letter-crooked letter-I-humpback-humpback-I. Wendell baptized Emma and made me laugh through the time in purgatory--at least on Sundays. The past couple of years he has suffered horribly a Job-like existence. Parkinson's disease, three kinds of cancer, and a bagful of minor inconveniences--like pneumonia, a feeding tube, and lesions in his mouth. He wrote regular status updates and emailed them out to his broad constituency of friends and former parishioners in Virginia, North Carolina, and Mississippi, where he and Quinn returned in retirement to be near their sons. And each lengthy email was filled with his wonderful humor as he described all sorts of horrors no one should have to endure. An amazing man. Rest in peace, dear Manuel; and good life to you, sainted Quinn, who cared for Wendell and her elderly mother through it all.

This week I find the toad lily blooming! I have been watching for it. It is a bloom that rivals the passion flower in outrage- ousness. And that it opens at the end of the season, makes it all the more special. You have to wait for it. Yesterday I do something I rarely think to do. Stop. Lie down in the grass. Look up. I lie down under the banana tree and watch the clouds float by in the Carolina blue sky. I love clouds. And did I mention that I love my banana tree? Planting it was one of the more radical things I have done in my garden. A friend whose opinion I valued tried to talk me out of it. It's not natural in Raleigh, North Carolina. Sometimes I just don't feel like following the rules, and being predictable. There are three gardens in my walking radius that have banana trees and I wanted one. I ignored the talk and went for it. And it makes me so happy.

Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear. Sometimes we have to look back to see what’s coming up and what the new day will bring. Dream big. Dreams may be closer than they seem. Plant the banana tree. The small things may turn out to be the big things.