Monthly Archives: April 2020

A moment in time

I rise each morning with hobbled knees, cramped feet, and rubber legs. I draw a breath of the sweet Delta air and give thanks.  Whether to the universe, a divine being, or the persistence of my own good luck, I offer more than one mumbled phrase as I boil the water and seep the grounds.

On my front porch, in pajamas, robe, and slippers, I lift my face to the tender rays of sunlight. I strain to follow the trill and warble of birds flitting from branch to bough in the meadow.  

On the drive to town, I slow to watch the broad pan of hawks across the pale sky.  Along the empty highway, egrets pick their way through a stubbly field.   The river runs beneath the bridge and drifts toward the sea.  A small boat rises and falls with its constant current.

Reversing course in the afternoon, I pass a flock of sheep gathered near the levee, shorn of their winter coats.  Then I brake.  I slowly lift my camera, one eye on the side view mirror, the other squinting overhead.  I nearly make the shot.  Close enough, I deem; slightly blurred, but nonetheless a testament, documentary evidence of my most opportune timing.  Like the awestruck object of Jenny’s sudden kiss, I demand my tribute:   I once lingered here; and in the moment, I saw this sight; and I will be forever changed.

It’s the twenty-seventh day of the seventy-sixth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Glad Encounters: Restoring my faith in humanity one episode at a time

A week ago, I had an online discussion with someone at my cell phone carrier.  My phone had died and I wanted to exercise my upgrade.  The website has a huge load of dynamic graphics and defies my shortish attention span.  I thought the live-chat might be easier.  An hour on hold via chatbox; an hour debate with someone named Joshua. . . and a wild devolution into violent communication (as defined by Marshall Rosenberg) later, no new phone.  

But food for thought.  I have plenty of cogitation time, so I started ruminating.

Yesterday I did a few chores, hammered away at trying to input my banking information, and sat on my porch reading in the Delta sunshine. 

I reached out to my bank with a request for transfer.  The automatic voice disconnected me after I slogged through a myriad of choices.  I re-dialed and this time got a Jersey voice belonging to a young man named “Kevin”.  He deftly navigated the transaction.  While we waited for confirmation, I told him that I had once driven to the Jersey shore to see Frankie Valley and the Four Seasons.  He gasped in glee and told me that five years ago, he and his siblings gave their parents tickets to the Four Seasons for an anniversary present.  We ruminated on the smallness of the world.  I asked if his parents were still living, and he said only his mother.  Tell her she did a good job with her son, I said.  He promised that he would.  

I walked a bit in the afternoon, my phone tucked into the pocket of my jeans.  It rang once, my sister Joyce’s photo flashing on the screen.  I held the phone close to my ear and continued to take small steps along the gravel, smiling at the sound of my sister’s happy voice.  I waved to my neighbor Margaret; waved again to someone in a car whom I didn’t recognize, and turned back towards home with energy to spare.  I heard my mother’s voice instructing me on how to guage the correct distance for a stroll.  I remembered a poem which I wrote years ago.  “How to Go For a Walk in Loose Park on a Sunday Afternoon”.  It began with my mother’s caution:  “Only walk half as far as you think you can go”.  I leaned my wooden stick against the cedar shingles and went inside to get a glass of water.

My neighbor Derek Campbell passed by twice, once each way.  Both times, he stopped to chat from the road.  On his way back, we idled away fifteen minutes sharing our respective, divergent views on the world in the charming, cordial way that I have so enjoyed during the two years that he and his wife Kelly Pipe Campbell have lived here.  I will sorely miss them when they leave for Montana next week.  (Follow their #tinyjourney @tinyhousebigsky.)

As we talked, Kelly came into view around the back of my vehicle.  She laughed a little and said, When you didn’t show up, I figured you were down here talking to Corinne.  We continued chatting for a few minutes, about their move; and about Kelly’s 96-year-old grandfather whom she will not get to see before they leave because of the shelter-in-place.  Then they walked away, their smiles fading last like that of the Cheshire Cat.  I savored the enjoyment as I sat sipping water, my book fallen away into my lap.  The lingering grins of my lovely neighbors found their way to my face.

It’s the twenty-fifth day of the seventy-sixth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.



Lost along the levee

For most of my life, I have feared being lost.  I trace this anxiety to a frightening sojourn in the dark behind the door of a movie theatre after my family saw “Babes In Toyland” in 1961.  Perhaps my need for control extends to the act of matriculating the byways of my mundane existence.  Whatever the cause, I have been known to cower against the car door during the most harmless of drives.

But when I moved to the California Delta, I found myself compelled to explore.  Whether from loneliness, boredom, or curiosity, I slid behind the wheel and journeyed in whatever direction I fancied.  If the sign to town pointed right, I turned left.  I began taking pictures, first crouched on the shoulder bracing myself against the fender; but of late, from the car window and even through the windshield.

Today I explored Tyler Island, unexpectedly leaving paved road to travel along a river where social distancing meant standing twenty feet apart with fishing poles extended.  Here and there, egrets and herons picked their way along the rough edges of the bank.  Red-winged black birds took flight in the wake of my engine’s rumble. 

Two hours and a quarter tank of gas later, I descended the driveway of the park.  I sat in my car for a little while, listening to the mourning doves through the open window.  Then I went inside and poured a cup of cool water, which I took out onto my porch.  I closed my eyes and let the breeze caress my cheeks.  I did not flinch when a hummingbird flitted past, making its way between my feeders and the neighbor’s garden.  After a few minutes, I rose, took up my walking stick, and started down the gravel road along the meadow.   The sun slowly descended in the western sky as I made my way across the bridge and back home.

It’s the nineteenth day of the seventy-sixth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

“Lost Things” 

OH, I could let the world go by,
Its loud new wonders and its wars,
But how will I give up the sky
When winter dusk is set with stars?
And I could let the cities go,
Their changing customs and their creeds,—
But oh, the summer rains that blow
In silver on the jewel-weeds!

— Sara Teasdale

Please note: All images are watermarked; and are copyright C.Corley2020.  Thank you.

Gut-Punch / Recovery

I had another setback today.  An earnest young doctor explored my health history via video conferencing and hazarded a few guesses which could turn my world upside down.  I let myself collapse into worry and stress over the situation.  I reached out to someone who sent comfort mixed with gentle observation about my difficult nature.  I died a thousand quiet deaths reading his words.

Then my phone died.  I waded through the online customer service without success.  I surrendered, struggled back down to the first level and started on chores which I should have been doing all afternoon. To round out an absolutely stellar day, I tried to pull a wedged book from a shelf and toppled backward, crashing into the door.

Luckily those years of falling lessons which my mother insisted on getting for me prevented serious injury.  I stunned myself breathless and lay on the WELCOME mat, noticing that its writing faced inward.  Not very welcoming, I thought, gritting my teeth and willing my lungs to kickstart.  When I could breathe again, I hauled myself vertical using my little bench as a lever.  I murmured thanks to my father for his sturdy copy of my great-grandfather’s original design.

I struggled into a sweatshirt and shoved my keys in a pocket.  With a firm grasp on the walking stick which Katrina brought me from Colorado decades ago, I took myself out into the California sunshine and forced myself to do a partial circuit, down to the corner and back.  As I approached my house, my neighbor Billy heralded me.  We spent a few minutes talking about the shelter-in-place order, and whether we will ever return to a normal life.  There among the many pots of flowers which he stood watering for another neighbor, Billy and I agreed that some things needed to change.  We fell silent for a few minutes . 

Billy said, I hope the world rises from this pandemic a better  place than when it fell.  Or words to that effect; and I agreed with him, then bade him good evening and took myself back into my tiny house.

It’s the seventeenth day of the seventy-sixth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

The Answer

When I go back to earth
And all my joyous body
Puts off the red and white
That once had been so proud,
If men should pass above
With false and feeble pity,
My dust will find a voice
To answer them aloud:

“Be still, I am content,
Take back your poor compassion—
Joy was a flame in me
Too steady to destroy.
Lithe as a bending reed
Loving the storm that sways her—
I found more joy in sorrow
Than you could find in joy.”

This gallery collects a few photos taken over the last week that I had not yet used, all taken in the California Delta.  Please enjoy. 


Please note:

All photos are watermarked, and are copyright C. Corley 2020.  Thank you.

Pandemic Pictures from the Car

A while back I found myself reflecting on how it would be to have to see the world only from the driver’s seat of my car.  I’ve spent much of my life listening to the dire prognostications of doctors.  Dead before college, one cautioned.  Bedridden at 25, another warned.  Six months to live, two convinced me, in tandem, twenty-two years ago. 

I believed each one.  It stood to reason that they would eventually get it right.  So how would it feel, being unable to pull myself even clumsily onto the sidewalk and walk along the edge of the field?  During my free time in my early California days, I drove around the islands here, taking pictures from my car.  I studied the images, trying to get a sense for the limit of that narrow focus.  It’s bound to happen, sooner or later, right?  If the spasticity doesn’t get me, won’t I fall and hurt myself too badly to regain ambulation?  Could I tolerate the eternal view from the window of my RAV?

This evening I drove home in the quiet of a pandemic world.  Few cars stirred the dust on the asphalt.  The sound of birds drifted down to me from high in the towering trees.  I raised my lens again and again, idling with the serene river on one side and the lush fields on the other.  A hawk turned its gaze on me, unconcerned.  A mother owl seemed to focus on the glint of my camera’s eye.  When I pulled into my lot, in front of my tiny house, I could not help feeling that somewhere in this awful situation, I have managed to find some good.

It’s the fifteenth day of the seventy-sixth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Reflections of a Non-Christian on Skipping Easter

My recent blog entry elsewhere on my militant anti-Christianity  draws mixed reviews.  Those who understand its inclusive message praise what I said.  Those who believe that the Bible dictates rightness and wrongness blast me. 

But I’m not here to preach; rather, I’m here to praise.  

As we head into the traditionally celebratory weekend, the need to practice physical distancing demands that Church-goers find other ways to worship.  Those who mark the rebirth of the world with Easter egg hunts and baskets of candy face the same challenge.  Oddly, then, we’re all in this together.  Congregations will yield to nuclear clusters.  Those of us who live alone will drink iced tea on our porches or stroll through  fields with sunshine softly settling on our shoulders.

Stripped of its trappings, Sunday shines into a grim month decorated only by nature’s splendor.  I like that.  I will grasp my walking stick and venture out onto the circuit which surrounds my community.  I will lift my hand in greeting to my neighbors.  I will raise my face to the sweet touch of gentle breezes.

We are only skipping our familiar rituals.   The meaning behind those rituals will endure.  No virus can kill our convictions.  No order of the governor can prohibit joy.

It’s the tenth day of the seventy-sixth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Posted here for my friend Judy, the poem which my mother had on her refrigerator:

I Didn’t Go To Church Today

I didn’t go to church today,
I trust the Lord to understand.
The surf was swirling blue and white,
The children swirling on the sand.
He knows, He knows how brief my stay,
How brief this spell of summer weather,
He knows when I am said and done
We’ll have plenty of time together.
— Ogden Nash

What I (Re)Learned About Myself In This Pandemic (So Far)

Last night I walked through the park where I live and along the levee road.  I quietly sat on a wall.  Birds sang around me.  I shed a few tears for the passing of one of the singer-songwriters to whom I have turned for comfort in dark hours.  I stood six feet from a group of my neighbors to marvel at the glorious full moon.  I closed my door against the chill after three gracious young men walked me home through the meadow, one strumming his guitar and softly serenading.

As I settled for the night, I realized that these three weeks of living in an altered reality have drawn some truths from deep within me.  I share them here.

  • I still do not like mean girls (of any age).
  • I need to take a refresher course in Non-Violent Communication (to avoid becoming a mean girl).
  • The careless ease with which birds dwell high above our structured world fascinates me.
  • The plain simple goodness of a loyal friend moves me beyond all comprehension.
  • One-hundred ninety-eight square feet suffices.
  • I no longer desire to tolerate bigotry, dishonesty. arrogance, or cruelty.
  • I don’t want to complain about the behavior which I will no longer tolerate it but neither will I stand silent while such behavior wounds innocent people.
  • My scars have not fully healed; but neither do they remain open wounds.
  • I am not crazy.  Awful events occurred.  I can move beyond them, but I no longer doubt what I saw, heard, and felt; nor will I stand silent when someone says people don’t talk like that; people don’t act like that; you must be exaggerating.
  • I choose joy.  Still.  My goal:  To be the best possible version of myself imaginable.  And yes:  People DO talk like THAT.  Not for nothing did the Honorable Peggy Stevens McGraw once take judicial notice that I am relentless.

It’s the eighth day of the seventy-sixth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

For no particular reason, here is a montage of pictures taken on Andrus Island over the last few days.  My neighbor Noah took one of the “pink moon” shots through the trees.  Enjoy



I keep my jewelry in a large wooden box and a hodgepodge of smaller ones.  I have the usual collection for someone of my age and lot in life — tarnished silver chains;  my mother’s garnet pin; an assortment of broken bracelets; my grandmother’s long strand of jet beads; some nice pieces that I’ve been given as gift over the years.

Amid the rubble, I find a few gems:  The blue earrings which my sister Joyce gave me to wear in her wedding when I was fourteen; the little mother-of-pearl ring that my son bought for me in North Carolina with his vacation spending money when he was twelve; a little music box that used to be on a key chain. 

My godmother gave me that key chain.  I don’t remember much about her.  A face comes to mind, framed in crisp brown curls from overnight rollers worn under a scarf.  Kind eyes.  Smiling lips.  I have no idea if what I recall matches reality.

I wind the little brass knob and depress the switch.  Tinny music fills the quiet of my house.  I strain to recognize the song.  It eludes me.  I play it for the Google lady.  She tells me that she cannot find a close match.  An expected sorrow overtakes me. 

I lift a little stone from one crevice.  I’m sure my son gave it to me, so long ago that he will not remember.  We would have gone to the rock store on Friday night.  He would have lifted a handful of shiny gems from a deep bin on a round display.  His small hands closed around this one, this very one, and slid it into a velveteen bag.  A jewel for you, Mom! he cried, triumphantly.  He counted out his money for the clerk.  We left the store, his small hand in mine.   When we got home, I put the little stone into my jewelry box.  It has been waiting for me all these years.

Night has fallen around me.  The world has grown quiet.   I gather everything and carefully stow it all away, wrapped in velvet, nestled among the memories and dreams.

It’s the fifth day of the seventy-sixth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Evening on the first of April

Once again I leave the park not long after daybreak to pull onto the levee road and stalk the crows.  I hover in my car under utility poles and on the edge of the field.  I watch the lumbering machines and the unconcerned seagulls.  I do not understand why they venture so far inland.  Once in a while they lift into the air and flutter a few feet forward.  They walk among the tender shoots, framed by the wild flowers blurred in the foreground.

In the trees which rise above the slough I see two crows.  I strain to capture the curve of their wing and their raised beaks.  Across the way, I study a hawk through  my lens.  His feathers tremble in the morning wind.  He turns his head.  I swear he studies me.  Then he gazes once more into the western sky.  I put my car in drive and inch slowly down the roadway.  I do not want to startle him.

A lone heron leans over the slough. He bends low.  Perhaps he takes a drink; maybe he finds the reflected eye and searches for a glimmer of his own truth.  I sit for quite a few minutes waiting to see if he intends to step into the water or launch towards the narrow bend beyond my sight.  But he just stands.  He has patience enough for the likes of me.

The days eases by without much fanfare.  I can still work.    Today we orchestrated a signing for a man who called on Tuesday, desperate to check on the status of his will.  My platelets are low, he said, in a clear firm voice.  I don’t think I can wait.  He has cancer.

He and his wife both wore the special masks, the ones we’re told cannot be found.  They have just been at his doctor’s office and come bearing a letter authorizing him to be in our office due to exigent circumstances.  We all use hand sanitizer.  Before he arrives, we wipe everything down with bleach cleaner.  After he and his wife have left, bearing the binder of executed documents, I stand in our hallway.  I have no words.

Later I trade texts with my son.  He tells me yes, he is still working, having been designated as essential by the governor of Illinois.  In the moment, I feel both proud and terrified.  My son, the union organizer.  Essential to the workers of Chicago.  I want to wrap him in cellophane with a steel straw for an air hole.  I respond with one word, Good.  I whisper into the quiet of my house: May God keep him safe.  One of the angel ornaments on my railing vibrates a little.  I think she knows.

It’s the first day of the seventy-sixth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.


Life has loveliness to sell,
All beautiful and splendid things,
Blue waves whitened on a cliff,
Soaring fire that sways and sings,
And children’s faces looking up
Holding wonder like a cup.

Life has loveliness to sell,
Music like a curve of gold,
Scent of pine trees in the rain,
Eyes that love you, arms that hold,
And for your spirit’s still delight,
Holy thoughts that star the night.

Spend all you have for loveliness,
Buy it and never count the cost;
For one white singing hour of peace
Count many a year of strife well lost,
And for a breath of ecstasy
Give all you have been, or could be.