Sunday, June 24, 2012

Going Off Map

It should be built by a mountain stream that flows to the Pacific…and nothing should obstruct our view of the beautiful, snow-capped mountains.”
            — Phoebe Goodell Judson

In preparation for my cross-country trek, I added Navigator to my cell phone plan. As I played around with it this week, I thought, “I need to name this voice that is going to navigate the country with me.” Immediately, Phoebe came to my mind.

In 1853, 99 years before my birth, one of my ancestors in a branch of my paternal grandmother’s lineage, Phoebe Goodell Judson, crossed the country by wagon from Ohio to Washington Territory. She was 21, married, and had an infant daughter, Annie. Her parents and nine of her ten siblings, including her twin sister, had gone two years before (her brother followed Phoebe later). Unbelievably, her parents and siblings (except her twin who went to the Oregon Territory) settled in an area now called Grand Mound, Washington, between what would be Olympia and Centralia, my childhood homes following the migration of my parents from Michigan and Tennessee more than 90 years later. Shortly before her death at the age of 94, she published her memoir of her insight on life as a pioneer woman, called A Pioneer’s Search for an Ideal Home. The book drew from her journals, begun the day they left Ohio.

My copy of the book is in a box, now in a mini-storage unit in Centralia﹣ and my memory of reading it years ago is faded﹣so I turned to the internet for facts. The book is available on Amazon, and she has a lengthy Wikipedia entry! She was quite an amazing navigator of her times. During the five weeks she and her husband spent in a hotel in Missouri while building their wagon, she argued with the landlady on the use of slaves in the establishment, believing it to be very wrong. During the Indian Wars in the Washington Territory, the family holed up in the fort in Claquato (Claquato is now the site of the historic cemetery where my father is buried). After the wars, Phoebe overcame her fear of the Indians, who had massacred many of her friends and neighbors, learned the Chinook language fluently, and won their friendship. She and her husband adopted an orphaned Chehalis Indian boy and went on to foster-parent several other children. Not finding the scenery up to the criteria of her ideal home in the area where her family settled, and unwilling to settle for less, Phoebe and Hudson eventually left her parents and siblings and moved north, almost to the Canadian border, and founded the town they named Lynden.

Adding to the serendipity, Phoebe and Holden were married on June 20, my birthdate 103 years later. Their second child was born on June 26, my sister’s birthday. As I, too, go off my familiar map, I think Phoebe is a fitting navigator and companion for the journey. I have crossed the country by car several times, and have long said I had another time in me. I didn't know it would be by myself (save for Smudge and Phoebe and a host of thoughts and prayers), and I didn't know it would be one-way. I am going off map. I think that is what true adventure is.

I read this quote in a novel a week or so ago, “When the ferry rounded the bend, Seattle was in front of them, a steel and gemstone tiara set above Elliott Bay. The sky on this early morning was rose-colored, tinged in aqua blue at the horizon. Mt. Rainier rose elegantly above the city, deigning on this day to be visible.” I don't know if Phoebe's ideal home criteria was purely visual (fertile soil was certainly important, but they found that in their move from Grand Mound to Claquato and it wasn't enough); but this sentence made my heart leap up. Am I going in search of the ideal home, or am I just going home? Is the ideal visceral, rather than physical? Is our first home our ideal, regardless of where it is? I don't think so for everyone. Not for Phoebe, obviously.

And the big question, the one that has been languishing on the page of my blog notes and on my mind for months, "Will I be at home, or will I be a fish out of water?" Or am I some sort of evolved fish that secretly likes living out of the familiar, off the map? Will Washington be too familiar? Will I be an unfamiliar me in a familiar place? I do know that every time I have visited during the last three and a half decades, it was wrenching to leave. More than a year ago, daughter Emma sent me a card of encouragement﹣not wanting me, I guess, to back down from making this move. It said, "Sometimes right back where you started from is right where you should be." I kept it on my refrigerator until I left my house three weeks ago.

I may be going back where I started from, but I am not the person I was then. I expect that from the vantage point of the me with all of my experiences these 35 years away, it will all be enough unfamiliar to fulfill my need for change and adventure; but with that deep-rooted recognition of home. In Gods of Noonday, Elaine Neil Orr wrote, "My bones were made in Africa...I have learned...that the future is behind us." My bones were made in the Pacific Northwest. I have always hoped that the ashes of my bones, at least, would return someday. I am glad to be going intact.

On Mother's Day, my mother shared with me that my sister had sent her flowers. They were gifted from northern Virginia, shipped from California, and arrived in Washington packed with a vase; no water. The buds were closed tight, with instructions for helping them open after they arrived at their destination. As I am cut from this garden, separated by time and distance from my family of dear friends, I anticipate arriving at my new home with my buds closed tight. I look forward to finding what I need for nourishment and receiving that which will open me back up.

Last night, after a beautiful send-off from my family of friends, I dreamed of introducing visitors to Mt. Rainier. I leave this morning with Smudge and Phoebe. First stop: meeting my new grandson.


Postscript: Follow me across the country on Facebook. I will change my cover picture daily. Several of you have asked about my route. Phoebe took a northern route; mine will be south and will be dotted with connections with dear people from many parts of my life. Three nights in Asheville with son Nicholas and his family and dinner with former Pullen co-worker Ben. I will take a day trip into the Smoky Mt. Nat'l Park, where over my life I have camped with my family of origin, with former husband Ed, with Ed and children, with just children, with former partner Patsy, and by myself. Next stop, a night in Dickson, TN, west of Nashville via Byway 26/70, with  niece Lori. Then however long it takes to get to Albuquerque (two nights?) via 26/70 until I decide to hop on I-40 for the duration. Two nights with Raleigh friend Dori, then a right hand turn to Denver. Two nights with Apex friend Charly and a visit with Raleigh friend Porter. A night (?) on the road, then a night in Boise with my sister's college roommate Vicki. Next stop Centralia, where I be welcomed by my mom, Rebecca, Emma, and Wynne. And where I will hang up my keys.

Thank you to Laura and Abbie for sharing their home for the past three weeks. Thank you to Pam for getting my car in top shape and to Dr. Barbour for caring so well for Smudge and her glucose ups and downs this month. Thank you to Grace, Santi, and Vee for throwing me a fabulous party in Grace's beautiful tree home. Thank you for the time, and the meals, with so many friends over these weeks. Thank you to those who came to my sendoff and for memories, goodies, and gas cards! Thank you to those who are coming to Cafe Carolina in a few minutes to see me off. And to all of you who are reading this, thank you for your love and prayers that will accompany me on the Venture. All signs point west.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Starting at the End

“What we call the beginning
is often the end.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.” TS Eliot (Part 1)

Twenty-four years in North Carolina is at an end. In one week, I will turn my windshield toward the west; and keep on going until I reach the ocean (almost). In a few minutes I will attend Pullen Church for the last time, after finding sanctuary there nearly 19 years ago. I have been looking toward the start of something new; but there can be no beginning without an ending. And so, the end of my years in North Carolina is where I start from. This week I am looking back, as I prepare to look ahead.

My life, all our lives, is a garden. I cannot thrive without sun and rain. And I have had both in abundance over these years. The passion flower and the catbrier grow in my garden. There is no perfect 
in a garden, and certainly there has not been in mine. But I like where I am. Kristen Armstrong said "clinging to the past is no way to live. We need both hands free to embrace life and accept love, and that’s impossible if one hand has a death grip on the past." I loosened my grip long ago, accepting that what dreams I might have had for one path were not going to be attained. But there are other dreams and other paths; and my hand has opened wide.

My children grew up here. It was a good place to raise children. And I am proud of them for moving on to places that suited their adult selves; places their father and I explored with them and showed them how to love. My marriage and my self as I knew it ended here. And my authentic self was revealed here; and in spite of pain and bumps, I am proud of myself for stumbling on along my path. All four of us in my dear family that now includes many more have moved into our own fullness and not stayed mired in past hurt.

Yesterday I visited Oakwood Cemetery to say good-bye to all my friends there; people I did not know in this life but have come to love: Mary of my garden; Ouida clearly a powerhouse in her too short life; Elizabeth who suffered too much grief; Mabel who died on my 11th birthday; still beloved Ashley Nicole who should have been graduating high school but is forever five; elderly statesman Bartholomew whose bust towers before the sunrise; and Emmie, Johnnie, Annie, and their two infant siblings whose parents endured unbelievable loss.

There is a lilac on a fence in Cameron Park﹣I think there was a photo of its intertwining vine in a previous post﹣that was cut down this week so the fence could be painted. To move on, roots and vines have to be untangled and disengaged. It is a painful necessity. At the moment of my father's death, just after Father's Day and my birthday, 17 years ago, I was walking through an incredible dance of hundreds of fireflies. My sister believed it was Daddy telling me that he loved me, and that he had let go of his disappointment and anger at the choices I had recently made for my life. My last week in my garden, as I sat on my patio, a firefly came right up in front of my face and hovered there blinking before darting off again. A dear friend, who knew and remembered the story of 17 years ago, opined that it was my father calling me home. This week, as I sat on the sofa inside my borrowed home, a firefly brushed my face, telling me it was time to make an end and move into my beginning and that all will be well.

I have been thinking about what I will miss about my time in this state, and what I will not. I am a bit surprised that the love list is so much longer than the not love list. Maybe embracing the positive is part of saying goodbye.

I will not miss:
Hot summers
Plaintain weed






Air conditioning, and the need for it

I will miss:
Nicholas, Kristy, Max, and Ethan
My banana tree


Crepe myrtle trees

The Appalachian mountains

Passion flowers on my fence

The church windows in my garden

My bedroom under the eaves

Montreat campground site #29
The Fresh Market
Oakwood Cemetery
Cameron Village

Tufted titmice

Pullen Church

Julie’s yoga, a block from work
Ceiling fans, whether or not they are needed
The outdoor tables at Cafe Carolina
Most of all: my friends

“We do not mind our not arriving anywhere nearly so much as our not having any company on the way.” (Frank Moore Colby) We do need before, during, and after friends. Friends who love us and accept us no matter what; and who let us love them no matter what. I am grateful for mine. Thank you Santi, Grace, Vee, Laura, Katie, Charly, Dori, Suzanne, Gayle, Dorothy, Laurie, Mel, Katherine﹣my before, during, and after friends; my company on the journey.

Ben, upon reading my post A Thread Runs Through It, wrote the following lines. I have been holding onto it for this looking back into fullness and forward into mystery:

Like a silk worm
looking back, the thread
looking ahead, empty space
and continuing to move into it
trusting yet wondering
and creating
yet more thread

And now I turn my face to beginnings.

"We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.” TS Eliot (Part 2)

Things I will fall in love with again:

Being near family
Fir trees

Cool summer mornings and nights
Snow-capped mountains
Driftwood-strewn beaches

Living on the side of a hill﹣Up!

The trails through the woods of my childhood
Rainy days (to a point)
Fog in the valley

The way the color green smells

New old places to explore

When I took this photo in a Seattle community garden last summer, it was my future that was shadowy. Today I turn toward the path in the sun. I am not finished with this Venture called life.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Shall We Dance?

I read the story in Reader’s Digest, and I haven’t read the Digest in decades. But the story has stuck with me through the years. The multistory office building was burning, and its occupants streamed down the stairwells, parting to get around the woman standing frozen at the top of a flight of stairs. Finally a man stopped beside her and said quietly, "You have to go down." She replied, "I can't." He said again, "We have to go. Now." "No!" she repeated, "I can't do it." "I'll do it with you," the man said, taking her arm. "But I'm scared," she cried. To which he said, "Then do it scared."

The title of this post was going to be, "Doing It Scared," but yesterday, sitting in the Cafe Carolina garden as the sparrows hop around me, reading Saturday’s chapter in Walking in This World, I ponder on Julia Cameron's thoughts about restlessness. Restlessness can be frightening; often we don't know its source, or what it is calling us to. It is our tendency, I think, to ignore it; wait it out so we can go back to our routines. If our life is humdrum, lacking innovation, at least it is familiar and understood. But Julia says, "Restlessness means you are on the march creatively. The problem is, you may not know where…" and that is disconcerting and scary. She says, "When we listen to our fears with tenderness and care, when we accept them as messengers rather than as terrorists, we can begin to understand and respond to the unmet need that sends them forward. The next time you are restless, remind yourself it is the universe asking 'Shall we dance?'"

It occurs to me that restlessness and fear are dance partners. We feel restless and we know something is suggesting a change. And we are afraid. We dance around the inner malcontent, alternately trying to hear and wanting not to hear what it is that is calling us. Whether we admit it or not, it is fear that insists that we stick to our routines, insists on linearity. I wonder if we often dress that fear up in fancy dress and call it "responsibility." It is irresponsible to even consider changing what is working well-enough. After all, we have a family; co-workers; a mortgage; the lawn needs to be mowed... Besides, thinking about options and change is overwhelming. And what if we fail and lose it all? How irresponsible and stupid is that? Julia: "But [the One Who is More] is not overwhelmed. And if we fail at Plan A, God has an endless supply of Plan Bs. There is always a fallback plan, and a net. Faith to try again is the net. Ignoring the urging, we will, most likely, still get to our destiny; but when we are willing to [listen to the distant ill-defined music and irrational promptings], we will get there sooner."

The photo I took of my cone flowers, before I left my house for the last time, reminds me that our new ways of being don't begin in full bloom. A lot of rain has to fall and sun has to warm our face before we are fully transformed from seed to fullness. The garden is not in hurry. Why are we?

When he learned that I was leaving my employment and North Carolina, a church member who is a pilot offered to take me somewhere in a VSP (very small plane). It sounded terrifying to me. And thrilling. And isn't that what adventure is? Both of those-fear and excitement-dancing together? It is my year to venture; I say yes. I figure I will do it scared. As it turns out, though there are some bumps and buffeting as we fly through an unavoidable cloud bank, the fear is powerfully overshadowed by the thrill. Saying "yes" is really the scariest part. We fly west to Asheville and meet my family for dinner; and as the sun sets in the pink sky garden, we fly back home to the moonrise.

My mother is a worrier; always has been. I think she worries that I don't worry. We are going to live together for a while. I am worried that her tendency to worry will rub off on me. I consider the difference between fear and worry.

Fear is being afraid that my car, with its 205,000 miles, won’t carry me and Smudge across the country. I take it to my favorite mechanic (Village Auto Werks) and Pam and Greg check it out from stem to stern. And I upgrade my AAA membership so I can be towed more than three miles without taking out a loan. Worry is obsessing about a car hydroplaning across the center line and hitting me head-on; and then, if I survive, landing in a hospital in God-Knows-Where, Texas; and my insurance won’t cover it because I am out-of-network; and no one knows I’m there and I have forgotten how to contact them-or forgotten who "them" is; and what happened to Smudge? You get the picture. Fear tells us what we need to think about so we can take resolving steps. Worry spirals us out of control into ridiculousness, and there’s not a damn thing we can do about it anyway. Except not go, and miss the adventure of a lifetime.

A story on NPR this week fascinates me. "How do mosquitoes avoid being killed by raindrops?" (And who knew anyone cared?) Raindrops, afterall, weigh 50 times more than the mosquito, and are like plummeting comets falling all around their teeny bodies. A team of mechanical engineers checked it out. What they discovered is that the mosquitoes don't try to avoid the drops, they hitch a ride. For a fraction of a nano-second, they dance with the drop before letting it go and moving on. Huh, they don't try to avoid the very scary dangers that lurk in their universe, they embrace them. The danger is, however, if they are too close to the ground they risk getting crushed between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Perhaps that is what results when we put off our dreams, our inner restlessness-when we stay too close to the safety of the ground for too long. We get stuck.

When we came down out of the sky in the VSP and got in the truck to head home on the dark road where deer and other scariness lurk, Jonathan said, "Now for the dangerous part." Safe or not, I am leaving the well-known ground. I am choosing to dance-and to fly. I am following my dream, my inner restlessness, to return to my heart home. I don't know what it is going to look like; I am just taking the first step. I will learn the dance as I go. I am doing it scared. I leave two weeks from today. First stop Asheville, to meet my grandson Ethan; who danced-not fully formed, but in his perfect beginning-into this scary, beautiful world yesterday.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Little Gardens Everywhere

I had notes for my 101st blog post about my last days in the garden at 609 Edmund Street, but I have deleted nearly all of them. As I write this, I have left that garden, and I am looking forward. I said my goodbyes to each room and each garden before I went to the closing. I returned for the cat and got back in the car without revisiting anything. It didn't belong to me anymore.

What matters is what remains. I fell in love with the world in my garden-in the growing of things and the watching for new life; in the bird song; in the passing of the seasons. On Memorial Day, I took a vase of gardenias and hydrangeas to Mary's Oakwood grave. Flowers that she planted decades ago; and that remain in the garden today. My heart and soul, too, will linger in the walls of the house and the dirt in the garden, mingling with Mary’s. And now those rooms and that garden are open, empty, ready to receive John and Meredith’s love. "At some point you just have to let go. Move on. Because no matter how painful it is, it’s the only way we grow" (Grey’s Anatomy).

I am growing into my temporary residence in Five Points. I have new places to walk, with new gardens and different flowers. The first morning I head out for a walk at 6:00, stopping at Third Place for coffee. I learn they have $1.50 lattes on Tuesdays. A new weekly treat, for three weeks! Last night I travel on foot to a movie at the Rialto and return among crowds of happy movie goers and diners under the nearly full moon. I feel full. One day I will enjoy dinner at Lilly's Pizza, but in the meantime the aroma is free to all passersby. I discover, after plans were made to stay with Laura, that I had two options to stay in friends' empty residences. For a moment I regret not knowing and choosing differently. But what I am doing is just right. Learning to live again in a house with other people is a Venture itself; and the urban neighborhood is a whole new experience. It is a perfect transition.

I am not in limbo, though it is easy to think so. I can see today's date and the approximate date of my departure from North Carolina on one calendar page now. My job is for two more weeks, my current home is for three. I am embracing three weeks. Three weeks without the constant calling of yard work, cleaning, projects, grocery shopping and meal preparation (I have lots of eating invitations). Three weeks to explore what to do without the constancy of life as I have known it. I intend to live it.

“The thing most feared is that everything will stay the same” (The Most Exotic Marigold Hotel). I do not do well with a life in which everything stays the same; though I haven't always chosen the changes in my living-change has chosen me. And really, nothing stays the same for any of us; but we tend to be afraid of altered lives, I think. So we cling to what stays the same and close our eyes to transformations as if to make them go away. Children leave home and we work around the hole, trying to ignore it; putting a fence around it lest we fall in. We forget to look for little life-giving alterations in the necessary dailiness of our living. I confess, though, that I am more afraid of sameness.

There are little gardens everywhere: at 609 Edmund, in Oakwood and Five Points, in the Pacific Northwest. Life is a garden. We plant. We pull up. We plant again. And we bloom. "We all in the end-die in medias res. In the middle of a story. Of many stories" (Eulogy for Steve Jobs, by his sister, Mona). Am I leaving in the middle of a story? I don’t think so. I think my story here is finished; it’s time to start a new one. It is like reading a really great book-the kind you hate to finish-and yet it does end. And you go in search of another really great book. And all the time the favorite books are stored in your heart. Someone will argue that I am simply moving to another chapter. I don't think so. New book, same author.

The belongings with which I make my dwelling place a home is in a truck on its way to the place I will make my new home. One day new friends will join old dear friends in the marrow of my bones, in the soil of my garden. There is going to be another garden. The new garden will grow what I plant. I am excited to see what comes up.