Sunday, May 12, 2013

Flotsam and Jetsam: Leaving the Blog

Do you know the difference between flotsam and jetsam? I didn’t. It’s a matter of intent. Flotsam is accidentally lost, jetsam is that which is intentionally jettisoned. Both wash up on ocean beaches; both inhabit our lives.

I began this blog a bit accidentally. I didn’t purposefully purchase a garden project; it just came with that cute house I bought in North Carolina in 2007, after a loss that was not intended. Restoring the garden accidentally saved my life. Lessons learned snuck into my journal. A writing teacher casually mentioned blogging. I was intrigued and dabbled in putting my learnings out there for others to read. I added photographs; first a couple with each post, then one per paragraph. Before I knew it, the garden, the writing, the photography, the blog had insinuated themselves into my life.
And now I have realized this: My passion for writing this story, and my loyalty to it, is distracting me from my obsession to write about this year in my childhood home with my mother. To learn about and write about growing old and how to relate to those who are already there. One year ago this month I jettisoned the garden. Reluctantly, as I am sure most jettisoning is. Usually, in order to move on, something has to be let go. Now I am jettisoning the blog.

This blog has been my lifeline for three years. It seems longer; I keep trying to make it four with creative math. Begun on May 21, 2010, it was my first ongoing public writing. I was exploring gardening and being single and paying attention and thoughtful writing. 150 posts. That you have read it, and sometimes commented on it as you found meaning for your own life from it, has been more affirming and gratifying than you know.

I have also made friends through the blog. One, Amelia, lived on the other side of the country from me. Now we live in the same state. She also has a blog, and recently she wrote this:

“My newest realization about why I write is that it has become a promise I make to myself. It is a promise to reflect on my day, to pay attention to little thoughts that keep appearing in my brain and need to be teased out and integrated into my thinking more fully. Composing and playing with words helps me exercise my intelligence as I work to choose the correct word and construct meaningful sentences and phrases. Writing with some regularity is therapeutic gardening for me. I can till, and weed, and plant and reap. I feel more alive because of it.”

All of that is what writing this blog has been to me. Writing as therapeutic gardening has been my justification for continuing a garden blog after I left the garden. It is why I have been so reluctant to let this blog go, though I have considered it before. Will I stop paying attention? Will I stop trying to tease out the oddities and inspirations of everyday life? Who will I be without it? But this blog has become comfortable. And like a beloved career, it is keeping me from seeing what it is keeping me from. It is absorbing the energy my new obsession needs to become a passion. It is keeping me from teasing out other things and integrating them into my thinking.

Last May I left my garden, but I decided not to leave my
garden blog. I would, I figured, find other gardens. And I have. And my new garden is much bigger than my quarter acre in North Carolina. It has mountains and ocean, valleys and hills. I have clung to the blog this year to get me through the transition to my new home, to see it, and to keep me connected to you. Now it’s become a crutch that I need to learn to walk without. I think I will grieve. I don’t deny that. I do not do well with clean breaks from meaningful relationships. But until we grieve, we can’t move on.

So, thank you dear readers. Thank you for your loyalty and your encouragement, of which there has been much. Look for me here:

I publish Morning Sentences, photographs, and my other writing on my website, including my blog about life with Mama. I expect I will post about my view from the garden from time to time. Or reinvent the blog one day. I am open to possibilities. I do not want to jettison our connection; you can sign up on the site to follow me, if you wish. I hope you will.

"As I look back on my life, I realize that every time I thought I was being rejected from something good, I was actually being re-directed to something better" (Martin La Spina). I hope that applies to jettisoning something that has been very good for me.

See you in the garden.



Sunday, May 5, 2013

Random Assignments

I went on a driveabout yesterday on a beautiful May day in the Pacific Northwest.

Poplar plantation
I pick up my journey latte from the friendly guys at the Cup a Joe drive-thru near I-5 and head south on the interstate for a few miles, then turn west on now familiar Route 6. I note that the straight-in-all-directions poplar plantation is in full-out leaf now, its beauty a little less stark. Turning south again to Kelso, then west toward the coast, I get lost a couple of times, but eventually find my way back to the path.

I am heading ultimately for Astoria, a town on
Willipa Bay
a hill in Oregon overlooking the mighty Columbia. I may or may not get there, it doesn't really matter. Though I didn't know it yet, the majority of the day is going to be spent on Long Beach Peninsula that extends between the Pacific Ocean and Willipa Bay from Cape Disappointment, the southern most point of land on the Washington coast where the Columbia River shoots into the ocean and Lewis and Clark hung out, to Leadbetter Point to the north. It intersects with Hwy 101―that most beautiful of US highways―near the town of Long Beach. At 28 miles, it is the second longest continuous sand beach in the world. (The longest is in Bangladesh.)

Harbor I can't remember or find name of
I run into a little market to get a drink to go with the turkey sandwich and sweet potato chips I packed. I pass a college-age guy stocking shelves who asks how it's going. "Great," I say. I inquire after his well-being, because that's what you do. He grins and sincerely says, "Livin' the dream!" I walk on by then stop and turn: "Wow," I say, "that's really something!" He nods. I think to go back after I get my diet coke. I want to know how stocking paper towels at Sid's Market in Long Beach (which is, in my opinion, a truly boring beach, though I know my taste in beaches is mostly limited to me), is his dream; but he has moved on. I suspect it has nothing to do with the job. (I would think the Scrapbooking / Espresso / Tanning shop would be more interesting, myself.)

I drive north to the end of the road then walk
Over the dunes
out the path over the dunes to the nearly deserted beach. No kite-flying here, or go-carts; most people don't stray far from the path of least resistance or highest entertainment value, in this case Long Beach. I eat my lunch on a single bench at the edge of the dune, watching for any endangered snowy plovers that signage promises is or could be nesting there. Seeing none, I walk up the beach hoping to get to the end. I walk a mile toward the lighthouse before deciding it's too far. On the way back to my car, on the wide low-tide beach, I find myself, for the first time in my life, deep-down feeling what it would be like to have a dog for a companion.

Lighthouse at Leadbetter Point
Determined to see where ocean and bay
converge, I head down the road to an access point and drive on the sand back up the beach to the lighthouse and encounter a "drive no farther" sign. After my previous two-mile walk, I am done with beach walking. I still want to get to the end, but I will save it for another time. A time when I will explore Lewis and Clark National and State Park at the south end more, too; when I have a Discover Pass and maybe a tent. I do get to Astoria, but just drive through.

As for the rest of the week, in yoga I unhappily found myself next to a heavy
Mt. St. Helens over Columbia from Astoria
breather. He's about 70, and I know his practice is his prerogative; but damn it, it affects my practice. Virtually every exhale for a hour is expelled forcefully through his mouth. I try to block it out. I can't. I try to let it go. I can't. About mid-way through the hour of this too-gentle class, we do a single down dog and I look past my belly button through my legs to the young woman behind me. She has the most beautiful tattoo I have ever seen: bleeding hearts vining down her upper right arm. I want one.

Tulip fields
I took Mama to the DeGoode Farms in Mossyrock; featuring tulips right now. It was a bright sunny day, and she can't see in the sun. She said, "all I can see is color." I said that is pretty much what there is to see." Tulips of all colors among green leaves under blue sky.

Eagle with the long view
This post is kind of random. It has been a random week. In fact, my life is feeling a little random. I will find my way back to the path; and just keep seeing what I see along the way.

I listened to a recorded book yesterday, a memoir by a woman who survived the 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka, while her husband children, and parents perished. The recorded book before that was one in which a single childless woman became guardian of a teenager she barely knew. Random and random.

Mt. Rainier from Jackson Highway
I don't believe we are assigned a life by our deity of choice, it seems far too random for that. Healthy or sick; lucky or unlucky; happy or unhappy; heavy breathers or those with flower tattoos. Life is just random. I am healthy, lucky, happy, and no more likely to breathe heavily in yoga than to get a tat. Though the bleeding hearts tempt me... And maybe I will get a dog someday... Or move to the left side of the country. Now that would be random.

PS: As I choose photos for this post, I notice it has been about the big picture lately, rather than close-up detail. And, as is often the case, the ultimate destination (in this case Astoria) is often not not where we spend much time. Life as metaphor.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Fulness of Spring

Thursday night, after a beautiful and warm spring day, I sat on the slope of the yard in that twilight zone just before dark and silently waited for the full moon to float out from behind the hill and climb that lone fir that stretches up so tall it almost scrapes the sky and that the moon barely escapes getting caught in before it rises over the valley. The world is so ugly the past two weeks, it can hardly be borne. And then a beautiful spring week. And then the full moon.

My mother is in her 52nd spring at her home in the
woods on the side of the hill. She knows where all the random trillium will come up, if not when to watch for it. I’m sure she once knew not to start the vigil many weeks too early, but when you are waiting for your 97th spring and don’t know how many are left you might get just a little impatient, too. We all want one more spring.

News came this week that a young couple at my church in Raleigh were victims of violence. The 29 year old woman died the next day. Even when you are only 29 you don’t know how many springs are left. Probably we should all be a little impatient and stop putting off whatever we dream about. If you want to sit on the grass and wait for the moonrise, you should do it.

In a rare display of asking for what she wants, Mama asked my daughter and daughter-in-law to take her for a walk in the woods when they were visiting last weekend. She wanted to visit the trillium and see if the toothwort was blooming.

I walked through the woods this week, too; something I haven’t done enough since my return to my childhood home. As is often the case, Mama inspired me not to wait, or spring will end without having seen it. The toothwort is blooming, the trillium is dying. The white trillium turns pale pink and then deep rose as it leaves us. (Just as an aside, I watched an interview with Raquel Welsh that afternoon; she isn’t fading as she ages, either.)

While I have vivid memories of young childhood at our home by the bay in Olympia, my little sister’s playground was this woods on the hill. Mama told Emma and Wynne the story of walking Rebecca through the woods and down the hill to catch the school bus when she didn’t want to board at the end of the driveway and ride the long route around the back of the hill. When they would get to the spot where the vine maple arches over the trail, she would say, “Let go of my hand, Mommy, so I can skip through my fairyland.”
Things change. The fairyland is brighter since the surrounding area was clearcut, several years ago now. There is a lot of blowdown from winter storms over the years since, without the big trees for protection. Forked branches hold up weak ones, just as friends support loved ones no longer able to stand alone. The ancient puncheon road on the trail finally rotted away to nothing. Some of the trails have been allowed to return to the wild and there are some new ones. But the thin branches still arch across the trail right there in that spot. The birds still sing to each other in the trees as I pass quietly through. There are still fairylands, if we can let ourselves believe.

We did warrior pose in yoga on Wednesday, first toward Capitol
Lake glistening through the windows under the spring blue sky, then reversing to face East Olympia unseen beyond the back wall of the room. It was a reminder that though the confines of the room often feel safer, more contained and manageable and known, we can’t stay here inside the four walls. There is no warrior self where there is no risk. We are all part of the world.

And the fulness of spring is out there, too.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Kindness Love Believing Joy Beauty

It doesn't feel like these words apply to this week. Hate Pain Despair Fear Mayhem are more in keeping. Boston, Texas, airline technology meltdown, a trespasser walking past my open window after bedtime (don't tell Mama), a friend's husband diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer, floods and stormy weather, a congress making unbelievably bad decisions.

In fact, kindness, love, believing, joy, and beauty are hard to apply to any week in other parts of the world, where violence and poor health and senseless death are facts of daily life―a truth we in this country like not to think about. My friend Christina Baldwin's blog this week is a reminder of the stories we don't look at, on a day we are glued to one story playing out in Boston. "Let’s have a moment of silence, not dancing in the streets. Then let’s talk more deeply about these issues than we did a week ago."

But there was light in-between, too. Another writing friend, Joanna Powell Colbert, posted her own Reverie in Between that brought tears to my eyes (and includes chocolate). And there was patience at the airport (at least the one I was in). And positive energy for the sick. And hundreds of helpers in Boston and Texas. And generosity of spirit in times of tragedy. And cooperation. And a quick 911 response (blasting my recurring nightmare―that no one answers 911―out of my subconscious). And there was spring.

Sometimes the ugly side of life is more in our face than other times, like winter is a season that is more in our face than the other seasons. Winter is hard work, physically and emotionally. And then comes the flash of faithful spring. Sometimes we overlook it in our relief that an end to winter is in sight, and in our rush to just get to summer. It would be easy to overlook beauty in this week of heartache and ugliness. It would be easy to think we don't deserve spring.

Still another friend, Elizabeth Hudson Willingham, says in her recent blog post that sometimes we just have to take a break from all that wants to pull us into the depths. Spring pushes us toward love and kindness. It just can't help it. We need spring's renewal now more than ever. And the beauty in the world deserves our attention. The words of my friends and others that came to me this week and the evidence of spring in Washington and North Carolina make my heart sing.

"Kindness covers all of my political beliefs. No need to spell them out. I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this and am happy I lived long enough to find it out" (Roger Ebert).

A brilliant speech by Maurice Williamson in New Zealand's Parliament in support of their gay marriage bill surfaced on the internet this week. "All we are doing here is allowing two people who love each other to have that love recognized by way of marriage...I promise you right now, if we pass this bill the sun will still rise tomorrow...'Be ye not afraid' (Deuteronomy 1:29)." Take a listen here.

"There comes a time in our lives when we are called to believe the unbelievable. If we allow ourselves to believe, we open the door to the infinite possibility of who we might become" (Ann Linnea).

"5:30 a.m. The sky is pale,
not gray, not white, just the color of a cool glass of water.
I walk through wet grass, my toes getting wet through my shoes,
soon my pant legs are soaking.
My cheeks become moist as my breath condenses on them
and my hair clings to my neck.
Finally I just stand in stillness and drink in the morning.
What is it about seeing more light at daybreak that fills me up and sends me off into the day with joy bubbling like soda pop beneath my skin?" (Amelia Bacon, Wake Up and Write)

As I write today, I am so grateful for my writing friends and their words filled with kindness and love and believing and joy and beauty. And for the dear ones who turned their lives over to spend time with me on my recent trip to North Carolina; and for those who made it possible for me to go. And for the promise and beauty of new life in my two home states. I am a lucky girl.

"Somewhere each day we have to fall in love with someone, something, some moment, event, phrase. Somehow each day we must allow the softening of the heart. Otherwise our hearts will move inevitably toward hardness. We will move toward cynicism, bitterness, fear and despair. That's where most of the world is trapped and doesn't even know it" (Richard Rohr).

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Watching for Openings

The full moon kept me awake Wednesday night. Well, probably too much caffeine kept me awake, but the moon entertained me. It was a mostly cloudy night after a partly sunny day. There wasn’t much open space for the moon, but it was trying. I first noticed it about ten o’clock, after I turned out my light. The moonrise was stage left, behind the house and the trees; but its spotlight cut a swath over the valley, as brightly as its sister sunrise greets the day. And then it was gone. Too much cloud cover.

At eleven o’clock, tossing and turning, I turned toward the window again. The moon had found an opening and the pale orb slid silently into it, peering out at the earth below. “Oh. Wow.” I said. Yes, out loud. I left my bed and slipped barefoot out into the warm somewhat humid night to be in the presence of the mystery. Back in bed, I watched as the moon passed by the cloud hole, or the cloud hole passed by the moon, and was gone again. It found one more opening, caught behind the fir tree, then that was it. I kept opening my eyes to look for it – that’s the part where the moon kept me awake – but the rain started soon after that and it did not reappear. I finally drifted to sleep and dreamed of openings.

The sun has been shining all week. Except Wednesday – yoga day, drive to Olympia day – it was supposed to rain. It rained Tuesday night and again Wednesday night, so I guess that fulfilled the forecast. I don’t quite have the terminology here down yet: when a day qualifies as partly cloudy, mostly sunny, mostly cloudy, partly sunny. But Wednesday was all the above. The sky (unlike today, which is all blue, and I am writing outside) was constantly changing. It is one of the things I love about this place. Anyway, it did not rain during daylight hours on Wednesday as the clouds shape-shifted in and out; an opening I needed.

My day in Olympia always opens me up, especially when it is not overcast and foggy (though I love that too): the drive through the prairie where the sky is big, the tall straight firs point all eyes upward, and there are glimpses of Mt. Rainier on a clear day. Puget Sound’s Budd Inlet pushes its finger into the city and beckons me out into the open water and on to the vast open ocean. Another day I will follow that call. And yoga always opens my breath and my body that somehow get closed off and tight the rest of the week.

I like to read other people’s blogs, to see what is on their minds and where I might find inspiration (another word for opening). I discovered some new ones this week. One told a story about children’s soccer games, and how children huddle around the ball as it moves up and down the field. Bumblebee Ball we called it when my children were new players and the team swarmed around the queen – mostly watching the best player kick the ball around. It is not a winning form of play. The team the blogger talked about, though, was the best kindergarten team in the league. What was the secret? Why was there no swarming? The coach told them to look for open space; the coach said that was where they would find the opportunity. “Oh. Wow.” I said. Yes, out loud. I’m contemplating on that one.

One of my favorite bloggers, Amelia, has been following a challenge to post something on her blog, Wake Up and Write, everyday during March. Speaking of looking for the opening. When you blog regularly, or write a morning sentence, carry a camera everywhere you go, or do anything creative with discipline, you really have to watch for openings. It takes a certain awareness of life that otherwise might go unnoticed. Amelia has been writing around the theme, “One Pilgrim’s Progress.” This poem, Being a Pilgrim by Mark Nepo, has been her opening into the practice this month:

To journey without being changed

is to be a nomad.

To change without journeying

is to be a chameleon.

To journey and to be transformed

by the journey
is to be a pilgrim.
We are all on a journey, there is no getting around that. The challenge, I think, is to recognize it as opportunity. To be transformed is to allow ourselves to watch for the openings and have the courage to move into them.

It is Easter. Easter is a time for transformation, for openings, for new life. It is not just a day. In the liturgical calendar it is a whole season. Lent is past (though personal Lent may go on for a while longer), and it is time to watch for Easter openings. Maybe it is time to ramp up the journey, to check the map, to exchange the old map for a new one. Another blog I found this week, thanks to another blogging friend, Joanna, introduced me to some opening up questions. I’m going to be studying on them in the next weeks.

What is my unique purpose?

How am I releasing the magic of the moment?

How am I venturing into uncertainty?

How am I focusing the power of my intent?

How am I supporting growth?

How am I learning to see the invisible?

How am I returning my gift?

How am I keeping my energy clear and bright?

Happy Easter openings, whenever and wherever you discover them.

I am leaving this week to embrace spring in North Carolina (though I’m no longer sure it has anything on spring in the PNW), to visit friends and old haunts, and to squeeze my grandsons. I will take a two week break from My View from the Garden to give my spirit an opportunity to watch for new openings.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

A Long Lent

Life was out of kilter this week. I’m having trouble finding my center. The present is mocking: Where did everybody go? What are you doing that’s meaningful? You are a loser. And the future is thundering for answers: What now? What next? Who is walking with you? How will anything grow in your garden if you don’t plant anything? My head spins.

Thunder, which I love, is a rare occurrence in the Pacific Northwest, and there was a mention of it in Wednesday’s afternoon forecast. Hope springs a turtle. At the end of a yoga practice that thankfully didn’t kick my butt like the one the week before, just as we settled into the quiet of savasana, the rumbling started. It came from the north, from the Pacific Ocean, picking up the tempo over Puget Sound, rolling down Budd Inlet. It wasn’t the booming marching band of thunderstorms in North Carolina, but the orchestral kettle drum approach. As it grew closer, a ratatatting rain began on the roof. It crescendoed over the building, the rain pounding, the bass drum finally joining the timpani. Inside the Yoga Loft, under my blanket, I am aware only of the sound and of being safe and dry and warm in the dark belly of the earth. I am aware only of being. No questions, no answers.

At the exact moment the teacher begins bringing us back into the awareness of our bodies – gentle movements of fingers and toes – the storm moves off over Capitol Lake, the rumbling becomes a memory and the rain returns to a gentle patter and then ceases.

It is a reminder that it’s still Lent. When we get quiet, as the past nine months have been for me (a long Lent), we hear the storm. When all about him, Jesus’ enemies were plotting his death in the most degrading way possible, Jesus was listening to his inner self. Yes, he was anguished, and in the quiet of those 40 days, he was forced to face his fear and his anger; and he was quietly preparing, staying calm, asking questions, expecting no answers.

The vernal equinox was Wednesday – light and dark in perfect balance. The weather was perfectly balanced, too: equal parts of sunny blue skies and rain, sleet, hail, and snow. Sometimes I would like not to have the darkness and the stormy weather, but the balance is necessary – and sometimes the balance is imperfect. It is in the dark that I see what needs to be looked at. In the garden, most of the perennials are still safe and warm in the dark belly of the earth. They will emerge when they are ready; buds will open when it’s time. I will plant when the earth warms and the light returns.

Stay warm, stay dry, stay safe. Remain still. Leave the storm to rage out there. Breathe through the thunder. There are no answers yet. Lent will be over when it’s over. 

Easter will come bringing resurrection in its time. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Fragments 2

I finally got back to the soil on the spectacular Saturday afternoon last. I cleaned out the garden my sister built, then left five years ago. There is more clean up in a garden in the woods than in the sedate city garden: fir cones and twigs that break off the brittle lichen-covered maples in the winds that howl as they sweep across the side of the hill all winter.

While the inside of the 50-year-old, 60s-modern house has had several changes over the years (Fragments 1), as I work I note that the outdoor landscape that my parents created with love shows the passage of time. The heavy wheelbarrow purchased before lighter weight materials were created. The moss- and lichen-covered old trees that used to be moss- and lichen-covered young trees.

The big leaf-maple memorial sculpture that sits on the stump of the tree my father climbed to see the view of Mt. St. Helens before he chose this property and that I climbed as a child. The mountain itself, a third shorter than it used to be. The birch tree my parents planted soars into the clouds now. The brick steps that I helped my father build are covered with moss. The crossbeam bolted between two trees no longer holds the high-flying wooden seat and rope swing.

There is no longer a treehouse in the maple tree at the edge of the property, built for the grandchildren so long ago that it rotted out. The fire pit where many a salmon cooked over the coals was long ago filled in, I don’t know why. Just above it, up the slope, is the spot that used to be occupied by the oil drum we burned the trash in. The acrid smell of the narrow plume of smoke as it drifted up into the atmosphere while I watched it burn down to ash comes back to me now. It was one of my favorite chores because it took me outside, and what child doesn’t love fire?

The chalet barn for our fat brown-on-white pinto mare, Scout-who moved to a retirement farm after we children all left-the white scrolled balcony now absent, rotted and on the ground below. A quarter of her pasture has returned to forest. The section of original fence left behind the new fence that now looks old and that my father and my teenaged son-who now has two sons of his own and lives on the side of a hill in the Appalachian Mountains-were building when my dad went inside with chest pains, three days before he died.

The trees on the hillside adjacent to our property that my sisters and I hiked and played in-another owner’s cash crop-were clearcut many years ago. I was home for a visit when the chain saws started, a sound I could hear in my chest that hurt my heart and made me weep in sorrow. The west view is better now. The barn no longer sits in front of a dense woods, but is backdropped by a fistful of firs that my father traded for a few he owned elsewhere. The noble fir by the driveway that I recall some worry over-that it would be poached for a Christmas tree-is, well, no longer a concern.

My children don’t have a childhood home, we moved so often. They were not even born in the same state. I am sad for them, and glad for the summers they spent at mine and the memories of their own made here, with their Nana and Papa, on the side of the hill.

My childhood was beloved. This home on the hill, built and tended with love and care by my parents, is beloved by all of my family and continues to serve well. If it could talk, it would say:

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.

(Late Fragment by Raymond Carver)