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)

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Fragments 1

It is peculiar living in the house of my childhood. I am tossed back and forth between the past and the present, and I sometimes daydream of an imaginary future-what might it look and feel like if it were really my home and not my mother's.

The first seven stairs from the basement to the landing still creak, the next seven up to the main floor do not. I still sneak up them sometimes, skipping treads on the lower set and stepping lightly, not wanting to wake my mother, even though there is no longer any chance of it, her hearing aid on the bedside table.

The oil furnace in the laundry room next to my bedroom bangs and groans as it comes on, the aluminum expanding with the sudden blast of heat at 6 a.m. every morning, summer and winter; no need to consult the clock. Voices still carry through the heat registers between the floors, mostly my mother’s on the phone or with her morning caregiver; sometimes I can almost hear my father’s voice, long silenced. The voices and footfalls and kitchen sounds no longer wake me up, as I rise before my mother these days. And now also I hear my mother’s night breathing through the baby monitor that connects my bedroom downstairs to her’s upstairs, a stark reminder of what has changed.

The old paneled door on my father’s original workshop, unlike the hollow modern doors in the rest of the house, was salvaged from somewhere or other and still squeaks as it always has; the ill-fitting knob still rattles. It still has the “Stupidvisor” sign on it-one end attached with a tack, one end taped-we children thought so hilarious when we gifted him with it, letting him know that he may be in charge at his work, but at home he was just our funny daddy. Each time I open that door the sound is as familiar to me as my own voice. My mother says she thinks she will ask Dan to paint it. Why, I ask, after half a century in this house and who knows how long in its previous life? I tell her I like it as it is, with all its history.

The room itself no longer smells of sawdust and varnish, since Daddy moved his shop to a new space over the carport after he retired, and it became my mother’s craft room with its worktable bought from JC Penney where it displayed bolts of fabric before Penney's moved out of downtown Centralia. Now the room is mostly storage (as is the replacement workshop). A shelf still stores the white-painted, compartmented wood boxes Daddy made to hold our camp kitchen needs; long empty. The pegboard with my organized father's outlines of the tools that used to hang there, the ghosts of what was, occupies the wall next to the workbench that still holds miscellaneous screws and string and things in its drawers.

The house is a museum of my dabbling life in arts and crafts: the first grade plaster imprint of my hand, over my mother’s dresser; the clay leaf I made in fourth grade art and the tiny vase I made on the wheel in a community art class after I moved across the country, on the shelf above the kitchen desk; the stenciled letter holder and the paperweight (I suspect it is really an ashtray–how the times have changed) with my 5th grade school picture behind the glass, on the desk; the glazed clay tiles stamped with things found in nature hanging on the wall – a 
project I found in Better Homes and Gardens when my first child was a baby; the crewel pillow (the only crewel I ever did) in the chair in the guest room; the work of my cross-stitch period after my second child was born, mostly moved-thankfully-to less prominent spots; the photo art quilt of my parents’ courtship and favorite places, on the headboard of my mother’s bed and 3-D fabric art, on the organ shelf-empty nester projects. And, still at it, the felt birds I just completed to hang from the dining room light fixtures that my father created.

Much has changed over the years, too: the floor coverings, the painted, papered, and back to painted walls; the addition of blinds on the windows that span the front of the house; most but not all the furnishings; repurposed rooms. Newer pots and pans have joined the old Revereware, crowding the cabinets because nothing is thrown out.

In spite of all that is the same and all that gradually changed over time, though, in these past nine months, it has come to feel like my current home more than my childhood home. Perhaps that’s a good thing, since it is my home right now; but I do kind of miss returning to that other home once or twice a year and being thrown into the past.

Come back tomorrow and I will take you outside.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Morning Sentence

Dawn cracks open the door
to the valley
lets the light leak in
to waken the cows
and the wild geese
she dusts off the mountain
and illuminates the cobwebs
that float through the treetops
and in her final task
before turning the work over to Day

sends the moon to bed.

I am late to my blog cafĂ© Saturday morning, I couldn’t leave the hill. It is so beautiful. I woke in a bowl of vichyssoise so thick I knew Dawn had her work cut out for her. She is determined in her morning task, though, and doesn’t give up. Tomorrow she can be a sleepyhead, but today she will get the job done in a timely manner. Gradually the soup lightens, though it is no less opaque. Finally she gets the tiptop of the far hill dusted off, only to have it enveloped again as she blows off another one.

I head for my car reluctantly, but I don’t like to miss the quiet time at the coffee shop. Then with a shake of my head, I tell myself the coffee can wait, Dawn lingers for no one. I throw my bag into the car and turn back toward the valley side of the house. I have no clue what I am going to muse on in this weekly writing space anyway, and I don’t want to miss the fog sinking into the valley leaving me and the mountain high above the fray.

Sun is beginning to stream through the trees on the dark east side of the house, streaking obliquely through the fog highlighting the ferns and the fir branches where it hits them like featured actors on a dry ice stage. I round the house to the valley side to something I have never seen before: the sky is robin’s egg blue, the lower hills and valley are still obscured in fog, but for a slowly clearing veil that opens revealing the valley floor. It is as if Dawn blew a hole through the fog to let the valley dwellers know the day is coming, to hold tight. Just as my camera battery dies, she inhales and the hole closes back up. Later, when I look at the photos, I am reminded of the movie houses of my youth when the heavy velvet curtains parted and the movie began behind a sheer curtain that lifted to bring the picture into clarity.

I struggle to let the beauty speak for itself in the moment, not let my inability to capture it with my camera distract me from enjoying it. My mother says she has never seen a hole  in the fog either. I spend a few more minutes walking with her up the driveway. The chilly air is crisp and clean; just breathing is rapturous joy. Up the driveway, there is no sign of the fog. Once I get to town, there is no sign of the sky. I say a heartfelt thank you for the opportunity to live on the side of the hill. It will not always be so.

After our walk I make one more trip to the back side of the house. Everything is socked in again. I head down to town knowing that now Dawn will make quick work of her duty: one final blow from the belly into the diaphragm up through the throat and out her mouth in a silent ohm and she will pass the work on to the Day shift.

I made the right decision not to rush into Day. Dawn is deserving of attention and is, in fact, my favorite part of the 24-hour cycle. As I write this (on Saturday), I am aware that tomorrow will be different. The rains are returning for one thing. And Dawn won’t come until it’s time for Day. And Day will still be plugging on when I am ready for Twilight. I am not a fan of the early days of Time Change. But change happens, there is no stopping it. Dawn reminded me today not to let the moments and the experiences slip by without notice while I rush into the next one. We don’t get them back.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Welcome Abroad!

"Good morning!" I said.
"Where are you from?" he said, sans warmth, and
"Where are you going?" he said.

For lack of a better answer, I said I was going to the Peace Arch (which, I know now, is a stupid destination).

"Why are you crossing here then," he said, with no attempt to conceal his disdain, "instead of at the Peace Arch?"

I did not say because I'm a shunpiker; I'm not on the interstate and don't want to cross there. I divined that as unacceptable answer. I just said I'd been in Lynden and this crossing into Canada was closer.

He looked skeptical; I felt like a criminal, or an idiot.

"Go ahead," he said rolling his eyes and returning my passport. Clearly, since I didn't have any weapons, according to me, in his mind I was merely an idiot.

Reluctantly leaving Kale House, I had left Everson mid-morning and driven to Lynden, the town founded by my ancestor Phoebe Goodell Judson and her husband (remember my GPS I named Phoebe before taking off across the country last summer?). It is a very conservative town, first inhabited by Dutch Reformists. There appear to be more churches than anything else in the small town. I looked for the bronze sculpture of Phoebe and Holden, without success. The girl in the convenience store said she had lived there all her life and not heard of it. I undoubtedly knew more about the history of her town than she did.

I did find their graves before I proceeded north through the valley and past the neat arches of raspberry farms and on to the road that runs parallel to the border, the US road on the right, Canada on the left.

AT&T welcomed me abroad, if the border patrol was less than thrilled to have me. When I returned at the more acceptable crossing, I realized I could have told him I was at that crossing because in a toss-up between a 30 minute wait and a two minute wait he won, an insubordination that probably would have resulted in a strip search.

I have never been able to convert to metric, and I sure didn't want to get a speeding ticket in Canada. How fast is 80km/hr? I figured cutting it in half was a conservative estimate and close enough. Then I realized my oh so smart international Honda had it right there on the speedometer.

Per gallon gas prices in Canada don't end in 9/10ths. I saw .7, .8, even .0. And prices in each town are pretty much the same at all stations, unlike a town in Washington earlier in the day with a twenty cent difference at stations on adjacent corners. Other than that and speed limit signs it was hard to tell I was in a foreign country: Wendy's, McDonald's, Starbucks, Hampton Inn, Staples. Well, there was that mountain range that wasn't the Cascades that are normally to my north; and that body of water to the west that wasn't Puget Sound or the Pacific Ocean but the Strait of Georgia.

After the cold rain and hail on Saturday, and early clouds on Sunday, the day was spectacular. I drove north for a while on 13, then turned west on 1A, then south on 15 to White Rock. White Rock is a narrow, crowded beach town with the  Strait on one side of Marine Drive and shops and restaurants on the other. And lots of people on a warm sunny Sunday afternoon in March. I moseyed along it until I encountered a detour sign that turned up the hill. I'm talking hill here. Nearly straight up, first gear with running starts at the cross streets. Houses on the cross streets that I can't even imagine the cost of living in. I parked and walked a bit, took a few pictures, then headed for the Peace Arch and the line to cross the border. I didn't figure out how to walk to the Arch-not by going to the Peace Arch Park. The arch is between the north and south bound inspection stations.

A moment of panic at not being able to find my passport, resulted in turning out of the line (thankfully before I was too far in) and into a parking lot that might have been the way to get to the Arch. It had fallen between the passenger seat and the door. Finally getting to the front of the line, the guard came out of his booth and walked to the back of the car. He didn't do that to the cars ahead of me. I briefly wondered if the other border patrolman had put out an APB on the idiot going to the Peace Arch but crossing a few miles to the east. He asked where I was from, where I had been, and why I had driven all the way from Centralia to take a picture at White Rock. And what happened to my front license plate. Uh, hmm. Uh oh. I bet that was the one that was in the middle of the road at the railroad tracks in Centralia a couple of weeks ago.

I left feeling like a criminal AND an idiot. And waiting to be pulled over.
I continued on my off interstate way to Ferndale, then took I-5 to Hwy 11. Chuckanut Drive snakes high above Samish Bay south of Bellingham. The San Juan Islands are in the far distance, lesser islands closer. I saw two more bald eagles soaring above me. The water sparkled at low tide, exposing the oyster fields. It was a glorious day to be.

I must say, it felt good to be back on American soil. I would rather be a criminal on home turf than abroad.

Saturday, March 2, 2013


A year ago this week, I put my beloved little house on the market, subjecting it and myself to the Change that comes with Venture. I miss my house with its cozy bedroom under the eaves. I miss my global purple, eccentric lime, and bittersweet orange doors. I miss 
the garden that I created out of my own sweat and strength and creativity. I miss the purple door-gate into the back yard and watching for the familiar sedums and hostas to emerge from the dead winter. I miss turning the soil and adding the compost that came from my own kitchen waste and the Black Kow that came from Lowes. I miss planting the summer annuals and the vegetables after what I hoped was the last frost and sometimes was not. I miss the cardinals and the titmice at the blue stained glass feeder on the deck outside my back door. I miss that it was all mine.

The dirt I have been dropping my coffee grounds onto all winter needs to be turned. The  mama and baby deer have walked through it, eating the bird food; I'm sure they would like me to plant something that would be more pleasing to their palette. And the moles and the slugs are waiting for their favorite tender plant parts, too. But it’s not my garden, and I still don’t have any interest. To paraphrase Ann Linnea in her book, Deep Water Passage, that I just read with amazement at her courage, both physical and emotional: Over here on this side of the country, on this side of my new life, I am trying to learn in a new way. Wait. Rest. Listen. Move forward out of the confidence of my own well. I have made several life-altering movements in the past, and I have found my way through the passages. I will again. In the last change, it was the garden that showed me a new way. This time it will be something else.

Over the past eight years, I often had the urge to take off on a weekend morning and just go someplace. But I could never find any territory I wanted to explore. I don’t love the southern Atlantic beaches and it was too far to the mountains and there was nothing in the North Carolina Piedmont that beckoned. In my new home there is no end of day trips I want to take. I am marking the roads I have traveled on my map, and it is turning orange. I think I could explore some county road through the hills and valleys every week and not weary of it.
This weekend I headed north. Way north. As far north as America goes. As I drove up highway number 9, paralleling Interstate 5, I bemoaned missing the photographs I wanted to stop and take to preserve the memory forever. But the route was a little too well traveled to pull over, and besides I was running late to meet friends for lunch in Bellingham, friends I met because I am a writer and so are they. So I had to satisfy myself with just enjoying in the moment the snow-patched hills that rose behind one of the many small lakes that dot the landscape here, their tops disappearing into the clouds. My eye observed the perfect vertical shot of water, hill, and sky as it flashed by. I smiled in the knowing that they would have been called mountains where I came here from; here they are just hills. And there would have been no way to capture for posterity the bald eagle that flapped out of the trees and made its ponderous way across the road right in front of me at windshield height, its snow white head, piercing eyes, and hooked beak leaving no doubt of its identity. WOW! Thanks!

Last night as I wrote this, I was in a lovely bed and breakfast in the tiny town of Everson, about an hour from the Canadian border. A mother and daughter, living together, own Kale House, where they make art and provide a warm welcome to travelers who find their way here. I sat in front of a gas fire with a glass of wine, wrapped in an afghan after soaking in a claw foot tub. The walls were painted nearly the same two-tone color I painted those in the house I miss, and the love seat that just fits me made me long for the one I have in storage. Perhaps I will get it out.

There was WiFi, but I didn’t think to ask for the password. I had a moment of disconnection panic, but instead I wrote and read and enjoyed the solitude as rain and then hail splat and pinged noisily against the west windows. Later I went to sleep to the music of the spring peepers through the open window. It would take more than a single evening to learn to relax into the certain kind of rest that comes of disruption of all routine, even that which I enjoy. But this is what I had, and I leaned in.

Next destination: Canada. (To be continued...)