Monthly Archives: May 2021

Sunday Challenge

I set out at eight-thirty this morning, with no particular destination at first.  I only planned to head east and find lunch in a lovely little town or buy a few groceries to eat by the side of the road.  I ended my eastward travels in the parking lot of the Priest Station Cafe, just twenty miles or so from the entrance to Yosemite.

I could have kept going but my heart pounded so hard in my chest that I allowed myself to turn westward.  The road to that point had sorely challenged my natural fear of heights.  I stopped in both lay-bys on the climb; and knew as surely as I sat with clammy hands and pounding pulse that I had to get to the bottom without facing those harrowing turns.  Old Priest Grade took me down with a certain swiftness on the diagonal.  I avoided the hairpin curves and the sight of sharp drops and staggering vistas.

I spent most of the day in my car, driving past enormous beauty, clutches of holiday tourists, and small town folks just going about their business.  I had a mediocre lunch in Angel’s Camp, in a cafe owned by apparent anti-maskers, one of whom declaimed to a man at the counter that they didn’t believe in the damned virus anyway.   A family across the aisle finished their food rather quickly, pushed their masks back over their faces, and paid their bill.  The father winked at me on the way out the door.

I stopped at a flea market and bought a small present to add to my son’s birthday box.  The proprietor had a mild cardiac incident while I shopped.  He collapsed into his chair and dug a pill out of a brown bottle.  He, too, wore no mask.  He, too, had spontaneously expressed disgust at the powers-that-be who dictated such mandates for “no good reason”.  When I asked if I could help him, concerned about the sheen of perspiration on his forehead and his grey pallor, he told me that the pill would work.  To my question, he replied, “I don’t know what it is, something the doctor gave me.”  I did not comment on the irony. 

I came into the park just after four.  My neighbor stood in her garden, feeding her many plants.   She complimented my hat.  We talked about hummingbirds and birthdays and the shock of having adult children.  I bade her good evening and went inside to take off my boots and see if I had gotten any good photos, knowing that I had taken so few.  I hurried down from the lofty elevation too quickly to record the terrifying beauty of the place.

The day convinced me that I’m not meant to live so far above sea level.  As I sat on my porch this evening, a mourning dove called from the wires over the levee road.  A boat sounded its horn out on the river, probably coming into a slip at our marina.  Baby birds chirped from somewhere behind me.  I live in a lovely place, quite magical in its own way.  I might stay here for many years.  But if I leave, it will not be for a mountain retreat.  My own heart cannot take the challenge.

It’s the thirtieth day of the eighty-ninth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.


In Which I Follow Staying Up Too Late With Getting Up Too Early

My friend Aneal Vohra and I at the VALA Gallery. Photo courtesy of Penny Thieme.

As I planned my westward retreat four years ago, I chanced to spend a lot of time with a photographer / videographer friend in Kansas City named Aneal Vohra.  With Aneal, I saw the 2017 solar eclipse from a farm in Hutchison, Kansas.  Aneal had scouted the anticipated path of totality and selected the spot that he craved for his work.  Then he charmed the farm-wife into letting him stage his professional gear and shoot the entire eclipse from her front yard.  

The memory of that day eternally dwells in my heart.  In addition to being just four months before my scheduled two-thousand mile move, the total eclipse occurred on the 32nd anniversary of my mother’s death. 

I approach that date with massive trepidation each year.   Someone once asked me how long it takes to recover from the loss of a parent.   “Forever,” I instantly and fervently replied.  I hoped the coincidence of dates might give me something more positive with which to associate August 21st after three decades of mourning. 

I could not have asked for a better companion for the event than Aneal.  A man of extraordinary intellect and immense talent, Aneal favored me with a host of facts about the eclipse as well as allowing me to squint through his expensive cameras.  He also scouted a couple of local shops where we acquired a few trinkets in honor of the day.  I still keep my travel toiletries in a hand-made silk bag adorned with the sun and a laminated business card from its maker.

During our eight hours together, Aneal gave me a bit of brotherly advice.  With his side-training as an intellectual property paralegal, he talked of how I should copyright my blog entries.  But he also spoke about California; and change; and his belief that I would thrive out of Kansas City even though both of us love the area.

Towards the end of the afternoon, Aneal casually alluded to my habit of searching the internet for pictures with which to illustrate my blog.  He delivered a pointed, perfect side-eye.  “How would you feel if I stole snippets of your writing to caption my photos,” he asked.  My heart fell.  I nodded; I allowed as how he had a point; and then clumsily switched subjects.  For my pains, I drew another mild glance followed by a little smile.

A year later, living in California but flying back and forth while I finished my guardian ad litem trials, I had coffee with Aneal Vohra at an Overland Park, Kansas Starbucks.  At some point in the conversation, something he said reminded me of his mild admonishment about illustrating my writing with other people’s photographs.  When I went back to California at the end of that trip, I ordered a beginner’s digital camera, a Canon PowerShot.

I will never be a technically proficient photographer.  But having the Canon has given me an excuse to pause and examine my surroundings.  I’ve learned to look more closely at everything; at the river, at the birds of prey; at the egrets; at the nodding blooms on my overgrown succulents.  I spend a lot of time alone.  I carry my computer and my camera on all of my coastal retreats (along with various volumes of Kansas City poetry, of course).  I strain to frame the lonely fisher-folks and the clusters of swimmers.  I study fathers with their small children and buckets of sand.  I snap shot after shot of sunsets and geese and the majestic ships that pass on the Sacramento River, the San Joaquin, and west of here, on the Bay.

Last night, I stayed outside until well after ten, trying to do some small measure of justice to the full moon.  I tendered the results in last night’s blog entry, which you can find here.  Though I did not intend to try to capture the four-a.m. lunar eclipse, three hours before dawn found me outside on my porch with my tripod, a small flashlight, and my trusty Canon set on Automatic.  

I know as surely as I know the familiar touch of the keys beneath my fingers that none of my photographs of the May full moon can hold so much as a flickering birthday candle to anything which Aneal probably produced last night  But I took them.  They are mine — my record of a rare and stunning sight in the southern sky over the California Delta, on a warm, quiet spring night.  I will never win an award with any picture that I take.  But I hope that somehow, at some point, my friend Aneal Vohra will watch these two slideshows and smile.

That will be all the reward for which I could ever yearn.

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

Blame it on Midnight

As much as I would like to believe myself capable of rising at 3:30 a.m. and hauling my tripod outside, I feel certain that I will not.  I did catch a few amateur photos of the full moon tonight.  I feel quite proud of myself.  None of my frames would pass muster if scrutinized by the likes of my photographer friend Aneal Vohra in Kansas City.  He would, however, give me high marks for effort.

Midnight draws near.  My body sags from the burden of slogging through the day.  Dishes have been done.  Morning will slam against me before I quite realize what has taken place.  So I will sleep, now; and leave the recordation of the lunar eclipse to the professionals; unless, of course, I happen to awaken at just the right time.  I won’t mind if I don’t.  I shall enjoy the plethora of photographs of the pink moon that will flood my news feed in the morning.

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

Sunday Serenade

In the Delta where I live, wind tosses the trees with deliberate abandon this spring Sunday morning.  With the ringing in my ears, the sound of the fan in the bathroom window, and the light twitter of birds, the wind’s voice serenades me.  The noises rise and drop.  A bold crescendo; a soft andante.  

Another Friday has slipped away without my making the appointment for the low-cost hearing test to which Medicare entitles me.  I strive to understand my resistance. 

I’ve been hearing-impaired since age 15. My grandfather tested my ears at my mother’s request with the equipment he had for my grandparents’ hearing aid business.  He called her from the kitchen while I nervously paced the living room.  She’s not ignoring you, Lucy, he assured my skeptical mother.  

I don’t know why I didn’t get a hearing aid there and then.  My grandparents would likely not have charged my mother, so I assume that the loss did not at the time warrant remediation.  Over the intervening years, it has worsened.  I’ve been urged to correct my hearing with aids.  The expense inhibited me.  The last estimate for the kind which I need surpassed five grand per ear.  

But now I can afford the co-pay that my government insurance demands, $500 – $700 per aid.  I’m reluctant, though.  The chronic noise in my ear keeps me company.  I’ve grown accustomed to missing most of the conversation around me.  Perhaps the emotional constraints on my full participation in life finds safe harbor in my inability to hear conversation.   I’ve also heard daunting stories about the overwhelming wave of sound upon correction, however wonderful the experience eventually becomes.

I want to hear, I really do.   But frankly,  I’d also like to experience one day of complete normalcy, with legs that stride forward with abandon and a heart that beats sure and strong.  The barest whisper would not escape me; the subtlest note from the violin in the back row lift my spirit.  I’d walk for miles, scale mountains, scamper into rocky crevices, and crest a young river’s wildest waves with oar held high above the ring of my laughter.

Perhaps I resist correcting one of my body’s many failings to avoid the stark contrast with all of those flaws which I can never remedy.  I wonder, though, how much louder the voice of my Pacific would call to me, if I could truly hear.  And would the note of sorrow sound more deftly in the voice over my telephone?  Would joy ring more truly through that tiny amplifier?  

When the next Friday comes, I shall make a one-item to-do list for my day away from my full-time employment.  Make appointment for hearing test.  A small thing, but one step in the direction of recovery from the twisted road which life has given me.

It’s the twenty-third day of the eighty-ninth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.


Thursday’s Child

Thursday seemed to bludgeon me with its cranky souls and its windy weather.  I rose early, near five a.m., as the sun crept through the transom and danced off the cobwebs.  Making my way down my narrow stairs, I paused to watch two spiders tango with a ray of gold.  I thought the day held promise, despite my creaky back and the shudder in my lower legs.  I was wrong; but I cannot be blamed for that brief burst of enthusiasm right after coffee.

Now I’m home.  The quiet competes with the constant ringing in my ears, some kind of company, I suppose.  Cold seeps through the open windows in my little sitting room, battling its cozy allure and possibly winning.  I stand in the growing gloom and think about this quest, my desire to be an uncomplaining soul.  The seeming futility of it nearly makes me smile.

I was born on Labor Day Monday but I have never felt like a Monday’s child, fair of face.  I feel more like Thursday’s child, with a longer way to travel than the whole lot of them.  I sink onto the loveseat and think about everything that I’ve done since I moved to California.  Thoughts of the ocean, the vineyards, the hours that I’ve spent driving in the Delta overwhelm me.  I lean back against the embroidered coverlet that I got from my realtor as a tiny-house-warming present after she had yelled at me in the driveway of my bungalow back home.

I’ve never liked that damned blanket, to be honest; even though it’s actually quite lovely.

 I know, as certain as I know each nuance of the ever-present pain which courses through my body, that tomorrow will be another day, perhaps even a better day.  I look around this sweet little refuge.  I think, Maybe you just need sleep.  I shake myself and rise.  I tell myself a cup of tea always makes the world look brighter.  I say it out loud:   A cup of tea makes the world look brighter.   I’ve got the blues, tonight, that’s all.   I tell myself that, over and over.  Just make yourself a cup of tea, you’ll get there.

I’m hoping that I don’t have much farther to go.

It’s the twentieth day of the eighty-ninth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Steve Earle and Emmylou Harris performing Steve Earle’s song, “Goodbye”


Between the light and the shadow

I walked across the meadow this afternoon.  A wind rippled through the crowns of the towering oak.  The scent of cut grass wafted around me.  I raised my face to the sweet kiss of sunlight.

My eyes followed the sweeping arc of a hawk’s wide wings.  He disappeared in the teardrop branches of the old willow at the eastern edge of the meadow.  I lowered myself onto a picnic bench and studied the dance of the breeze across the weeds at the edge of the creek.

The call of a ship coming through the deep channel pulled me from my reverie.  I rose and continued toward my house.  I climbed the steps and leaned my walking stick against the cedar shingles.  I went inside, closing the door against the noise of trucks out on the levee road.

My mother warned me there would be days like this, when my heart yearned for lines yet to be written by defter pens than mine.  She sat across from me at lunch one day, in the height of my carefree college days.  She did not break the flow of my excited rambling.  When I paused, she raised her hand and touched my cheek.  Slow down, she cautioned.  You’ll burn yourself out. 

I stood in my kitchen as the light began to fade outside my window.  I pulled the curtains closed and wrapped my arms around my body.  I closed my eyes.  I drew a slow deep breath.  For a brief moment, my spirit rose  into the unbroken expanse of blue.  My lungs slowly emptied.   I turned toward the counter to start my supper as the sun’s last light cast dancing shadows into the room around me.

It’s the sixteenth day of the eighty-ninth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Tiny Troubles

This morning I lost my temper because I couldn’t bend over to retrieve a pair of shoes.  When I finally got them out, I started jerking baskets and boxes from the cubbies and casting them to one side.  Eventually a little pile accumulated on the square of rug in front of my miniscule closet.  Then I became frantic over a brooch that I wanted to wear.  I pulled all the sweaters out of the basket under my bed.  I finally found the missing pin and went off to work in a disgusted cloud, leaving the mess behind me.

That’s never a good thing in a 200 square-foot house.  As I started the car, I told myself that I’d straighten the whole lot after work.   A good chance at a fresh organizational plan, I muttered.  You’ve got too much stuff anyway, you know.  I scolded myself all the way off the levee, over the bridge, and into town.

Of course, I came home exhausted and practically fell asleep over dinner.  I promised. . . I will just sit down for a minute.   An hour later, I woke to the ping of a message coming through.  My head had fallen sideways against the back of the love seat.  I’m not as young as I used to be.

Now dishes beg to be washed.  Clothes that dried on the ladder rack need to be folded and stowed.  The heap of shoes and whatnot from the morning’s tantrum sits unmoved on the rug.

A scroll through the evening’s news reminds me of the appallingly inconsequential nature of my tiny life.  The little cupboards might offend me but the four walls keep me secure from the night.  I’m not an infant left with a half-dozen other forlorn children on the southern border.  I’ve not been abandoned by my Party for calling out the naked Emperor.  I have no need to stand in an ICU waiting room while my beloved draws a jagged mechanical breath.  I don’t live in  one of the nations still ravaged by this damned pandemic.  People are not dying around me.

Hello.  How are you?  I’m fine.  I’m just fine.  A little ragged around the edges, but blessed and cherished by a host of angels.  And you?

It’s the eleventh day of the eighty-ninth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

My Pacific.


Of Life, and Death, and Unexpected Angels

I meant today to be filled with fresh air and self-care.  Instead, I spent the day driving from one reminder of mortality to another.

On waking, I checked my phone for messages and saw a notice that a friend had lost her battle with cancer.  Amanda Hall hired me on contract during my first year in California.  I had sent my resume to her office-mate, who had no need of me and gave my name to Amanda.  I took her call as I was going into a restaurant on the Loop.  I’m a new lawyer, she told me.  I’m old, but a new lawyer, and I need a mentor.

I worked in her Elk Grove office for four months, until an opportunity for nearly full-time work arose much closer to home.  But Amanda and I remained friends.  I went to her wedding, and from time to time, she called upon me to help her write a brief or noodle out a particularly sticky situation with one of her cases.  Last year, amid her second round of chemotherapy at the height of the pandemic, she and her husband drove down to give me a pound of coffee beans for my birthday.  We found a restaurant serving carry-out and sat by the river, talking about her treatment, her practice, and her chickens.  

It’s difficult to imagine the incredible loss her husband must feel.  Though in their fifties and together for a decade, they’ve been married a little more than two years.  I had watched him study Amanda as she talked about her illness.  His eyes grew dark.  A line formed around his mouth.  That’s love, I told myself.  That tremble in his chin; that’s a powerful force.  He’d die instead of her if he could only find a way.

This morning as I drank my coffee, I remembered  the lovely smooth taste of the brew I made from Amanda’s beans.  I scrambled two of my farm-fresh eggs, thinking of the times she brought eggs from her laying hens to the office for me.  Oh, Amanda; your goodness will surely be missed.

I took to the highway by eight-fifteen, and set my GPS for Jackson, California.  I filled my tank east of Lodi, where Highway 12 hits 88.  I made Rosebud’s Cafe in time for a second breakfast.  As I ate, an old man carrying a violin case walked back and forth on the sidewalk.  He never stopped:  down, all the way to the corner by the Serbian bakery.  Up,  past the Rosebud and my little outdoor table.  I tried to get a photograph as he approached but something in his face stayed my hand.  I captured a glimpse of his retreating figure.  He never opened the violin case. He never paused.  

I looked for a park that called itself Mt. Zion but my GPS took me onto private property and a road which dead-ended alongside an empty outbuilding.  I turned around, cursing the feeble technology, and headed instead to Indian Grinding Rock State Park.  As I stood in the museum trying to understand the ranger’s description of the accessible trail, a thin woman jostled my arm.  Excuse me, didn’t I see you in Jackson, she asked.  I admitted to the possibility.  You had eggs, she commented.  I wanted food but the line was too long.

The lady followed me out of the building.  I stopped at my car to discard my jacket and watched her walk to her own vehicle, thinking that she would leave.  But we met again a few yards along the path.  I got my cane, she announced.  It’s not as nice as yours but I hurt my knee.  I stepped off the curb in Jackson.  She paused.  My husband died six months ago, she said, as though that explained about her knee.  Now I’m alone.

I sat on a bench and pulled out a bottle of water.  The woman continued walking, then briefly turned back to me.  Have a nice day, she said.  I wished her the same.

A family came by.  Two little boys scampered ahead of their father while their mother cautioned against damaging the reconstructed huts or the ceremonial building.  The older child lifted his brother onto a log, although neither seemed big enough for climbing.  I closed my eyes and thought about my son; my little brothers; my nephews, my son’s friends, my friend Katrina’s grandsons.  All the boys whom I have known, whom I have held dear to my heart.  Silence gathered around me, broken only by the gentle whisper of the wind in the pines.

After my visit to the grinding rock, I headed south on 49, wanting to see Angels Camp.  I detoured at the turn-off to the Upper Mokelumne River, since my home sits near the place where the Lower Mokelumne joins the San Joaquin.  I parked above its rushing water and stared at the drop from the pavement to its banks.  A skateboarder stopped short and asked if I needed help.  She  deftly secured her board under one arm and held the other out to guide me over the rocks and down to the clearing by the side of the river.

I’m Corinne, I told her.  What’s your name?  

“Angel,” she replied.  

After my visit to the river, I continued toward Angels Camp.  There,  I lingered over coffee and  dessert at a Spanish cafe.  I felt no urge to start towards home.  But the afternoon began to yield to evening.  I headed for the Delta.

A few miles west, traffic slowed.  My stomach clenched; a car sat perpendicular to the roadway.  From behind me, a woman ran forward, zipping an orange vest over her narrow frame.  A man held his hand to stop my car where it stood.  A form staggered from the smashed vehicle and fell against the embankment.  Traffic slowly inched forward in the eastbound lane.  I rolled down my window.  A driver coming towards me said, There’s a man in the roadway, don’t be in too much of a hurry when you come through.

My turn came.  I crept forward.  A small group of huddled figures bent over a still form.  My hand rose of its own accord, touching my forehead, crossing from shoulder to shoulder.  Death lingered at that place.  My heart cried for a mother whose son might not come home tonight.

I meant to photograph the hills beyond Angels Camp and the plains of Stanislaus County.  But I could not.  I drove  through the majestic hills, down their western slope into the valley, then north into the heart of the Delta.  As I entered the levee road, a flock of crows passed overhead, casting their dark shadows onto the fields of Andrus Island.

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

Mother, Oh Mother

Night settles around me, a soft swathe of silk in the cool of the evening.  I’ve passed the hours with indolence customary to Friday —  reading an old British novel, sitting in the battered wooden rocker eating an orange.

The day started early, with breakfast in Sacramento.  A woman from home — true home, on the banks of the Mississippi where I started this funny life — stopped the night on her way to see her daughter.  Though we had met before now, our lives had barely touched and not for decades.  Yet we chattered like old friends.  The waiter took our picture.  I examined the photo later.  But for a certain difference in height and coloration, we might have been sisters and certainly could be mistaken for kin.

I came south by the back road, along the river.  I saw no one, and spoke not a word.  Back at the park, I chatted with the woman who works in the office.  At my site, I exchanged pleasantries with a neighbor.  But the rest of the day met me on my own, silent, thoughtful.

My breakfast companion asked me what year my mother died.  1985.  To be precise, 6:55 a.m. on 21 August 1985, twenty days shy of her 59th birthday, 15 days before I myself would turn 30.  As I gazed on the calm surface of the river this morning, a certainty flowed through my veins.  My mother would have liked this place. 

She would have stopped her car on the banks of the Sacramento and studied the wildflowers.  At her urging, we’d detour down every little sideroad, over every ancient drawbridge.  We’d buy oranges from the trucks parked along the road in Walnut Grove and fresh eggs from the organic farmers.  Here at Angel’s Haven, Mom would take a broom to my little deck and scrub the vinyl porch chairs.  She would know why my gardenia bears more and more yellow leaves.  Her strong brown hands would chase the spider webs from the pottery in the transom window.

My mother had her first child in 1947 and her last in 1959.  Between one or two, a pregnancy faltered and failed.  She bore impossible burdens with incredible grace.  She skipped like a girl despite the heavy burden of an alcoholic husband in an era when domestic violence had not yet been christened as such or given rise to an unfortunate industry.  You didn’t talk about what happened at home.  You just endured.

One day a church lady leaned over me and tweaked a curl.  She pinched my nose and said, “You’re a cute little thing, your Daddy must love you.  What does your Daddy do, honey?”  I said what I knew at age five, what I had heard my mother murmur to her sister.  “He drinks.”  The woman gasped.  I had no idea why she blushed and moved away in the church parking lot.

My mother hurried me home, telling me that I should not talk about my father like that.  I wouldn’t understand what I had done until much later, when I stood outside our home on Halloween, the snow softly falling on our yard.  Through the front window, I could see my father sitting on the couch.  My mother, one of my sisters and her boyfriend, and my older brothers stood in a ring around him, dark shadows of anger staining their faces.  I was a sophomore in high school.  My father had been missing for a year or two.  We did not know, or care, where he had gone. 

I slipped from the car of the parent who had given me a ride home just as my brother Mark eased out of the front door to meet me.  He had my mother’s wallet gripped in his hand.  “Mom says to hide this,” he told me, and thrust the thing against my chest.  At that moment, a siren rose high in the air above the town.  I had forgotten about the chaos of having a drunk for a father.  I stood in the cold and wept, snow swirling around me, while the Jennings police crossed the driveway and asked what was happening.  I gestured.  They went into the house just as my friend’s father drove away.

The next summer, I stayed out all night for the first time.  A classmate and I met up with some public school boys who took us to an apartment.  Nothing happened; at least, not to me, and not to my knowledge.  But I had lied to my mother.  When I didn’t appear by breakfast, she called the home of the girl with whom I’d told her I was spending the prior night, and discovered my treachery.  When the boys delivered me to the doorstep, my mother said, “Go to your room.”  She didn’t lecture.  She stood in the doorway of the bathroom while I washed my face, then told me she was disappointed in me.  It hurt more than all the beltings my father had ever administered to the backs of my crippled legs.

I finished college in December of 1976 and moved to Boston.  I had applied to graduate school and wanted to establish myself before classes began in the fall.  Instead, I fell into a crowd of actors who drank too much and slept with each other’s girlfriends and boyfriends.  By August, I crawled home to St. Louis, settled into my old bedroom, and started back with the last man I had dated before leaving town.

In January of 1978, I had a miscarriage in my mother’s bathroom.  I bled for a half an hour behind the locked door.  Finally, I let my mother come into the small room and put me in a warm bath.  She wanted to take me to the emergency room.  I slipped under the foamy bubbles and sobbed.  While she mopped the floor, I dried myself with one of our old towels.  I let her wrap me in a flannel nightgown and tuck me into bed.  I slept for two days while she kept everybody else from bothering me or asking what was wrong with me.

I got pregnant with my son Patrick on Halloween in 1990.  I knew his father wanted nothing of children, having had a daughter die at birth two or three years before we met.  He couldn’t handle any more loss.  I would be raising the child on my own.  I mourned his choice for my son, but for myself, I despaired because I would be going through my pregnancy without my mother.

Lucille Johanna Lyons Corley had a way of making you feel as though everything you said bordered on brilliance or wild, rollicking humor.  She listened with a singular intention that bolstered your belief in the virtue of your theories or the attainability of your pie-in-the-sky dreams.  Everything my mother did received her full focus.  Despite the certain fatigue which must have dragged her down for most of her married life, she rarely refused any request put to her by one of her children.  She dyed Easter eggs, carved pumpkins, stood bail, explained the silver market, and guided our hands in the rich yeast bread dough of her maternal Austrian heritage or the rounded kibbeh of her father’s Lebanese kitchen.

Before I left Missouri, I went to my mother’s grave for the first time since the year we buried my brother’s cremains beneath my parents’ headstone.  A cemetery worker helped me find the site, overgrown and untended.  I knelt to place a little glass jar of water with a few wildflowers.  I traced my mother’s name with the tears that slid down my face.   Songbirds twittered in a distant tree.  Mother, oh mother, I have such need of you, I whispered.

I have no plans for this Mother’s Day.  My son lives two thousand miles from me, so there will be no brunch reservation, no corsage to pin on my dress for church.  I have a different life than that.  There will be a card; maybe a phone call; and my sister Joyce will doubtless send a text.  Happy Mother’s Day to my baby sister, she will say.  I love you! she’ll add.  I will walk the meadow behind my house and watch the hawks fly through the pale blue of the Delta sky.  I will think of my mother.  As evening draws near, I will find somewhere to watch the setting sun spread its amber glow on the western horizon.  When night has overtaken our little island, I will go inside and ready myself for sleep.

It’s the seventh day of the eighty-ninth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.




Tiny Adventure

Catherine Kenyon must accept full responsibility for my obsession with the Pacific Ocean.  She told me about Pigeon Point Lighthouse some six years ago.  At her suggestion, I thoughtlessly rented a car in March of 2015 after a trip to Stanford; and drove over the mountains in search of the Pacific Coast Highway.  On that fateful, fearful trip, of which I have elsewhere written, I crested a ridge all of a sudden and gasped at the immenseness of the mother sea.

Since that weekend, I have found myself drawn westward when my thoughts grow dark and dire.  The sound of the ocean soothes me.  I do not need to linger long; an afternoon, half a morning, an hour.  I walk a bit.  I find a bench.  I throw a few dollars into the local economy and take one or two pictures.  I breathe.

Today I drove south from Pacifica down to Santa Cruz.  I saw a solitary seagull on a picnic table at Pescadero.  I eavesdropped on a first date at Davenport, where a young man told a friendly sort of girl about his daughter.  Down the road, I spied the child herself, holding the father’s hand while the date and her dog walked ahead.  I took their photograph from my window and smiled for the next few miles.

There comes a point in each coastal sojourn when I know I must leave.  I bid farewell to the sea and turn east.  Today I went through Bonny Doon.  I might have made an easy trip of it, except for a rockslide and an unfortunate detour.  My GPS lady sent me in circles before setting a course for home by way of the pigtrail over the hills to the highway.   I imagined I could hear my friend Alan White singing his “City and Mountain” song.  I know that’s not the title but the lyrics went round and round in my head as I took each dog-leg and hairpin curve.  You’re at home in Colorado, hiding out among the pines.  I am only home where I can hide among the neon signs. . .Yes I know you love me darlin’, like the sparrow loves the sea. . . But I know you love this mountain more than you ever will love me.  

Blast it all — is it “sparrow”?  I’ve never seen a sparrow on the coast, not this one, anyway.  Maybe my memory has played an enormous trick on me.  But I kept hearing that song, over and over, the whole time I was lost in the mountains today.  You’re the mistress of the mountains.  I’m the master of the streets.  I can’t ask you to come with me.  You can’t ask me not to leave.

Alan wrote that song in Arkansas, about some woman or other whom he met there, long ago, when we were both impossibly young.  Or maybe not.  But the real pigtrail does take one over the Ozarks from Fayetteville to Little Rock, through tall pines just like the ones which towered over my tiny adventure coming home from Santa Cruz.  I made that trip many times, a lifetime ago.  I’ve never once thought of it since, until I got lost in the sun-dappled hills today, east of Bonny Doon and west of San Jose.

I returned to civilization before six; and pulled into my parking space by seven.  The sound of the sea rang gentle in my ears.  The good salt of the ocean air still burnished my skin.  In the quiet of my house, I think about my Pacific.  I reckon this sight of her will hold me for another little while.

It’s the second day of the eighty-ninth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

There are 35 photos in this gallery.  I did not remember to re-size them, so please be patient.  Enjoy.