Monthly Archives: December 2018

Out among the wild

The broad sweep of a flock of migrating blackbirds rose above Jackson Slough Road as I drove to work this morning.  I brought the car to a halt, contemplating leaning out of the window to take a photograph.  In the end, I continued on my way.  Sometimes beauty stands on its own.  It needs no documentation.

Streaks of amber spanned the sky as I returned to the island.  I resent my time away.  I like the river, timeless and mild with its old rusty relics and the squat houseboats.  I think I could live on the water.  I would set a folding chair outside and commingle with the superior beings — the sea lions who stray inland, beyond the brackish water; the gulls; the trumpet swans who settle on the clumps of trees keeping to their own kind.  I’d learn their languages and call to them across the evening air.

Coyotes roam our park.  We don’t see them but we acknowledge their superior claim to the land.  Those of us with pets keep the indoors.  We didn’t lose many vegetables to critters in the Community Garden this summer.  The creatures evidently don’t require our assistance to survive.

Everything thrives in Northern California, from the crows in the harbor to the mounds of hyacinth floating under the draw bridges.  It’s the same on the coast.  I walk along the paths of the hostel, pausing now and then to let the lizards skitter from one side to the other.  They take no heed of me.  I might as well be invisible.  But neither do they bite me, or leave their droppings for my wayward feet.  I could live there, out among the wild.

On the high ridge at the end of the road by the beach at Point Reyes, I watched a falcon circle overhead.  He studied me.  I felt mildly insulted that he didn’t bother to swoop down for a closer look.  I resumed my journey, only slightly ashamed that I raised my walking stick skyward, as though to say, I dare you!   The falcon lifted his wings and flew, out to the open sea.

It’s the twelfth day of the sixtieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Blackbird seen at HI Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel

Paul McCartney, “Blackbird”

And so this is Christmas

As I pulled into my spot this evening, holiday lights shone from the houses of Delta Bay. I sat in my car for a few moments, the strains of NPR fading as the engine calmed.

In a few days, I’ll celebrate my actual year anniversary here.  The date seems anticlimactic.  I gauge my tenancy from the date that the house arrived in November.  Yet I spent the first night in Angel’s Haven with December waning.

My son arrives next Tuesday, a few days ahead of his own one-year mark — his first visit to his mother’s new home.  When he saw the sleeping loft at the north end of Angel’s Haven, he said, “Ah, my bedroom.”  A pang seared my heart.  A long-ago overheard conversation rose in my breast.

“Patrick, where’s all your stuff?” asked Jacob, standing puzzled in the back bedroom doorway. 

“No,” my son replied.  “I’m here, in the room I had when I was two.”  Jacob turned, puzzled.

  “Every time my Mom gets married, I have to move my room.”

They didn’t see me standing on the stairs, my hand to my mouth, willing myself to remain silent.

This final time, I sold the house in which all those rooms stood.  I left his childhood on a Brookside street and drove as far away as I could get from all those memories, the good and the bad.  I condensed my living space and by the stroke of my intention, snipped away everything he knew.

I’ve hung lights and decorated the miniature tree which he brought for me last year.  I’ve dangled the old ornaments from the stairwell.  His Baby’s First Christmas cup and the little elves with which he played as a child sit on the bookshelf beneath the home-made paper ornaments with Chris and Caitlin Taggart’s school pictures glued to them.  I’ve done what I can.  So, this is Christmas, now, here.  The rest lies in the wide and merciful expanse of my son’s forgiving heart.

It’s the tenth day of the sixtieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.



Reclaiming my time

The rain patters on the roof and I think, Where did the day go?  Our sky dawned heavy with fog, or smoke, or the lingering dew of the Delta valley in which we sit.  But the wind whisked that weight back towards the ocean and our spirits rose.  We walked, we visited from house to house, we drank tea in the open air.  The sound of the neighbor sanding a plank of live-edge drifted down the row.  I breathed easy.

As the sun set, the heaviness overtook the sky and the storm broke.  Saturday slipped away unnoticed, without a backwards glance. Darkness enveloped me.  I scrambled to compensate for the hours squandered in idle conversation.

Over an evening mug of coffee, I reflected on the years which have flitted by as quickly as today has done.  I reclaim my time.  I yielded for too easily, to the wooing voice, the easy walk, the insubstantial friendship.  My eyes have been pried open.  I see what I have done.  Was it my folly or the treachery of others that brought me to this moment, to the wrinkles of time stamped on my face?

My only consolation lies in the promise made twenty years ago, to a little boy who asked if I would die before he got big.  No, Buddy, I assured him. I’m going to live to be 103, and I’m going to nag you every day of your life.  Forty more years between today and the fulfillment of that pledge.  I cannot restore the vigor with which I met the past, but I can summon the joy which once propelled me forward.

It’s the eighth day of the sixtieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Why did the egret cross the road?

A refrain rambled through my head all day.  Sparked by a message from someone whom I adore in Kansas City, Cindy Cieplik, the positive affirmation chugged its way around a loop typically shrouded in billowing smoke from an antiquated coal train.  I can always count on Cindy to spread joy.

I worked half of the day, hammering at injunctions and letters, fighting a corrupted Outlook file that won’t be fixed until next week.  A fly had followed me into the suite.  Other than it and me, no other sentient being stirred.  I worked alone today.  A little after one, I called it quits and headed to the Loop, with a lazy stop at Robin’s Nest, the local thrift store.

All the while, the pleasant refrain inspired by Cindy’s early morning post drifted through my brain.

As I turned onto Brannan Island Road, a white flutter halted me. I watched as an egret gazed over the San Joaquin.  It turned and stepped in front of me, skittering back when a car came from the other direction.  I held my breath, filming as he lifted the spindles of its legs to forge forward.  I had to drop the phone at the tap of a vehicle’s horn.  The noise startled the bird and it lifted its wings, rising to the tender  air of winter and out over the river.

I don’t know why he crossed the road in the first place.  But I remain humbled by the chance to have watched it happen.

It’s the seventh day of the sixtieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

You Will Be Found

Every once in a while, something scrolls past in social media which resonates.  It reaches through my soul and grabs the essence of my being.  With a jolt, I wake to a new realization, born from the inside, manifesting itself outward.  In that moment, I feel beyond validated, wildly more than refreshed.  I feel redeemed.

Then again:  Usually the flashes of video offer crass humor or cute animal tales which barely grasp a second of my attention.  But still:  They get me looking.  Once in a while, the next entry draws me into its magic.

Tonight my neighbor Laurie came to dinner.  Over home-cooked soup and white wine, she told me about her new adventure, the week she spent with her grandchildren, and seeing her son for the first time in two years.  After she left, I read a few emails and scrolled through Facebook.  I saw an irate exchange between one of my Kansas City friends and a disgruntled right-leaning Trump supporter.  I read a blast directed at me by someone whom I value for posting a joke that he considered out of place.  I sighed; so much pain in the world.  So much indignation.

Then I had a moment where I ignored one video but start looking at the next, and the next, and the next til all of a sudden BAM.  Something got to me.  Not my usual cup of tea but I could not resist.   I played the song over and over.  I went upstairs and opened YouTube to hear it through a better speaker.

Laurie and I talked of signs this evening, of manifesting our intentions.  I must have been more awake than usual because this time, the Universe did not need to hit me on my pointed head.  Message received.  I’m still smiling.

It’s the fifth day of the sixtieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.





I Forgave You When You Done It

My erstwhile sister-in-law Linda Overton passed to her greater reward this week.

Linda had one son, James; four brothers — Chester, J.D., Alan, and Rick — and a handful of grandchildren whom I never met.  She is also survived by her beloved daughter-in-law Tina, and various nieces and even a nephew.  She had many friends, of whom I am humbled to have been considered one.  Her husband Frank predeceased her, as did her parents.

Linda worked for me years ago.  She’d be the first to admit that she struggled with the basic responsibilities of the job, but she gave her presence in my office a certain sparkle and my clients enjoyed talking with her.  I showed little patience for her shortfalls.  She taught me one of my favorite sayings of all times.  When I would limp back, rueful, embarrassed; and apologize for snapping, she’d smile and say, “I forgave you when you done it.”

Linda became a faithful reader of my blogs.  She often commented and occasionally sent me notes.  She had a whip-smart mind.  I never understood why she didn’t pursue jobs or education that would challenge her brain, but I suppose circumstances and the era of her birth mitigated against those efforts.  Linda never bore anyone a harsh word as far as I know.  She played a wickedly fierce game of Words with Friends, beating me way more often than not.  She loved and was wildly proud of her son and his children.  She cherished everyone around her.

Linda brought a joy to my heart that did not dawn on me until long after I left her orbit.  She reached out to me this year, expressing good thoughts, asking after my health and my new life.  We exchanged confidences.   I reiterated my regret at not being kinder to her, all these years ago.  She reminded me — “I forgave you when you done it.”  I certainly did not thank her enough.

I’m two thousand miles from where any service for my departed sister Linda will be held.  I will think of her though.  I will reflect on the lesson which she taught me.  I will be grateful for her and for the grace which she shared.  May she rest in much-deserved peace on the shores of a gentle river in the paradise which she longed to see.

It’s the fourth day of the sixtieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.


Tequila Sunrise

When my limes ripened, my friends Eric and Shari came for Margaritas.  They taught me how to blend them, something that I had never done.  Our conversation reached far, as we nibbled cashew cheese and home-made guacamole.

Shari and Eric revved the engine on their RV and moseyed on down the highway last weekend.  That’s how it works here.  Some folks stay for months on end; others for a few weeks; and some, for long enough to stake a claim to the hearts of those whom they meet.  I held their small vehicles hostage for a day but I could not tether them.

I’m feeling every inch of my life today.  My right hip aches where an Oldsmobile parked itself forty-five years ago.  The face of the firefighter who held my hand as his cohort fired the torch to cut away the crushed metal rises in my mind with each twinge.  I can catalog the days of my life in injuries:  My broken hand, my wrenched elbow, the splintered arch of my foot, my crushed knee, a snapped ankle, the gash in my leg from a shattered light dome.  One child, three marriages, four states, six cities, working on seven decades.

The sun rises here with unbearable beauty.  The birds sweep across the horizon in patterns which must make sense to them.  Soon the cranes will arrive, and the geese, and the trumpet swans.  It’s getting on for Christmas.  The new year crowds the calendar.   I no longer have any sense of connection to the circumstances which motivated this blog.  But I keep moving.

It’s the third day of the sixtieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.




Another Rainy Sunrise

The juxtaposition of rain with the hope of a crimson dawn brings me to the writing loft, where  my window bears an eastward view.  The pattering of raindrops on the steel roof comforts me.  My neighbor’s car engine hums into life.  Beneath me, an alarm begs to be silenced.  I rest my mug on a shelf in easy reach and flex my hands above the keyboard.

I worked until ten last night.  On deck, a brief asserting the right of a man neither biologically nor legally determined to be a child’s father to support her grandparents’ request for guardianship.  We mothers have an easy time of claiming the right to determine our children’s path.   No one can deny the easing of that small body from our own, the detachment of his first best source of nourishment as we greedily cradle him to the second.

But men don’t have that unwavering immutable proof.  The law and society force them to tortured machinations when they desire to bear the name of “father” even as society protests any who shirk the role.  Though we take them to task as a gender for their brothers’ failures, nonetheless, we set a rash of barriers over which they must hoist themselves for the privilege.

Thus has this case become contorted.  A man just wanting to let his deceased partner’s mother and stepfather continue rearing their daughter might have his voice silenced.  He might not be heard because he did his best to parent without benefit of lab findings or judicial fiat.  The irony sickens me.

So I spent half of Friday and far into the evening learning relevant law in this, my adopted jurisdiction. I don’t have a license to speak on his behalf but I’ve contracted with one who does.  She represents the grandparents.  The court has shown a disinclination to accept the father’s nomination of the loving couple to stand in loco parentis.  Failing his testimony, the pair stands on equal footing with competing petitioners from a less desirable branch of the family, folks who have been known to express chagrin at the girl’s bi-racial heritage.

My outrage at this potential emerges as the deepest and most defensible form of complaint.  Does this judge not understand the plight of the fatherless children of the world?  Can she not see the genuineness of this man’s offering?  Does she not realize that he accepted his obligations from the outset, as well as he could, within the context of his own limitations?  He comes to visit.  He buys gifts, and food, and clothing, as often as his earning power allows. He reads with her.  He does homework.  Her mother brought the child to visit him in prison, and took him into their home upon his release.  He never needed to see the paper with the cold stamp of 99.9% or hear the court’s pronouncement.  She calls him “Daddy”.  He holds her hand.  He comforts her.  He calls her “daughter”.

No one speaks for the child, who did not get an attorney appointed for reasons which I cannot comprehend.  The father cannot afford an attorney to brief these late-raised issues.  The task of cobbling together seemingly inapposite cases with helpful languages falls to us mid-trial.  I woke at 5:30 this morning.  I’ve had breakfast.  I’ve energized myself by watching Stephen Colbert interview Michelle Obama.  I’m on my third cup of coffee.  It’s another rainy Saturday so no lovely weather tempts me away.  I take up the batch of printed case law.  A just result lies at the end of yet another tortured road.  And so  I begin.

It’s the first day of the sixtieth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.