Monthly Archives: January 2022

Murphy’s Law Monday

I should have known that Monday would nearly be my undoing.

I spent most of Sunday on the internet changing the auto-pay settings for 23 payors to whom I shell out money every month.  This prime example of no-good-deed-going-unpunished flowed from making a contribution to a fundraiser for someone’s funeral.  Within minutes, my card had been hacked and my phone chimed with warning after warning.  I found myself praising the angels for fraud protection even as I cut the card in half and starting the process of rearranging my life.  

So much for Sunday, sweet Sunday.

I describe myself as a morning person but that strictly applies to my personality.  My corporal existence protests the dawn.  With that schizophrenic battle raging, I brewed French roast coffee and scrambled eggs, then sat down to read the grim news of the weekend.  My stomach soured.  I finished dressing and drove through a grimy fog across the bridge to the small town where I work.  Within minutes, I discovered that the internet didn’t want to cooperate and my printer had taken an extended weekend offline.  I looked at the stack of files on my desk and shook my head.

Shortly after five o’clock, I finished an hourlong call with an accountant and gathered my belongings, spent and weary.  I pulled my body along the sidewalk and lowered myself into the driver’s seat of my car as gingerly as my degenerated spine would allow.  Balancing on the better of my two bad hips, I navigated the car out of the city and over the bridge.  Back on Andrus Island, I passed workers struggling with broken equipment and a fallen tree.    I crested the hill on Jackson Slough Road  south of Owl Harbor at the precise moment that the sun let its evening blessing streak across the Delta sky.  As I stopped the car and reached for my camera, I sighed and thought:  Well, that just saved some part of a day I had rued.

It’s the thirty-first day of the ninety-seventh month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Fading Days

The figure lying against the white sheets seems a pale sketch of itself. I stand a few feet away, scanning for somewhere to place the bag that I already regretted bringing.  A roll table pulled over to the bed provides a place for the main event.  The gentle frenzy settles down to a whispered fluttering as the reading of the documents begins.

When the witness arrives, I pull a metal chair over for her heavy frame.  The patient’s caregiver steadies that chair and then rests the witness’s walking stick against the wall, next to mine.  I lean over and murmur a few words of explanation.  In the bed, a trembling hand lifts to hold a page.   Comes the pivotal question:  Are these three people the ones you want to manage your finances if you become incapacitated or die?  The eyes flutter.  A voice more sure than I expected laments, I wish I only had one child.  He does not mean that, of course; one could see the love he had for all five of them in the steady way he intoned their names when asked, in that ritual testing of competence that we legal types visit upon the elderly and the infirm.

In my supporting role as notary, I prop a journal on the maple side table for the two credible witnesses to sign.  Then I step to the side of the patient on whose behest we have all assembled.  His eyes seemed sleepy from the distant corner in which I had been hovering, but they turn to study me as I hold out a pen.  Now you just need to sign my book, I say, in the quiet, firm voice that I tend to use when I want to sound respectful but understanding.  I don’t write very well anymore, he responds.  My heart skips a beat.   It doesn’t have to be pretty, I reply.  It just has to be here.  A ghost of a smile assures me that the mind still functions.  He comprehends my lame attempt at levity.

I hold the book with one hand and use the other to mark the signature line.  He raises the pen and presses it against the page.  I watch the names form.  There is no mistaking the truth of his lament.  His writing has deteriorated; I’ve seen executed documents from a decade ago and know that once he signed with confidence.  But one can discern the letters.  He lowers the writing instrument and closes his eyes.  He has done what he wanted to do.  He can sleep.

I’ve seen enough people near the end of their lives to know that this soul will soon end its earthly existence.  Perhaps not tomorrow; maybe not next week; but soon.  I gather the tools of my evolved trade and move away, letting his grown children and long-time companion take my place.  I step outside, carefully, cautiously, because I have fallen at the home of a stranger and loathe the ensuing flurry of anxious activity.  I have no desire to mar the fading days of the beloved being whose body has been besieged by cancer.  

In the car, I huddle against the passenger door and think about my mother.  Cancer took her too, more than half my lifetime ago.  I close my eyes and feel the rhythm of the wheels and the road.  I wonder who will gather around my bedside when my time comes.  My son, my friends, a kindly aide?  I feel a tear rise beneath my lashes and make some idle irrelevant comment to distract myself, as the sun begins its slow and steady descent to the western horizon.

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

Morning on the Delta

Fog seeps across the river valley in the early morning hours as the moon sets and yields to the sun’s bolder rays.  I stand on my porch and listen to the keening of the crows in the trees over the levee road.  Water drips from the bare branches of my Japanese maple. I wonder for the hundredth time whether it will survive the weird winter weather of the California Delta.  I raise my lens and aim its feeble eye towards the bold birds as a sharp crack rises from the center of the island and sets them to their frantic chatter.

I catch myself despising the hunters.  The touching timeless journey of the snow geese brings the flock into their ruthless sights until January wanes.  I resent each retort.  A shudder rolls through my frame.  I turn from the uneasy contemplation and go back into my house.  An inner dialogue haunts me.  How can you kill these majestic beings? I protest.  We shoot to eat, the hunter complains.   My vegan cousin’s voice overlays the argument, reminding me that I persist in consuming eggs and butter with the bulk of my plant-based diet.  The lover who disdained our relationship because I did not respect all life spares one keen and resentful glance as he leaves the bitter plane of compromise.  

The kettle boils.  I pour the steaming water over coarse grounds and watch the fluid drip into the carafe.  Outside my tiny house, the full light calms the birds.  I sense their rise as one.  I envy the company on which they can rely.  Their steadfast flight across the island brings them to a place which I can only sense.  I do not know where they spend their waking hours.   They must have found somewhere magical to lure them through the lingering wisps of fog.

The eggs form soft curdles in the pan.  I smear the last of the jelly onto thick slices of sourdough toast.  The outside air grows quiet, while inside, unbroken perpetual silence surrounds me.  I close my eyes; then lift the warming coffee to my lips. 

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

In which the sun sets on my expectations.

I spent all of 2018 flying back and forth to Kansas City trying cases and closing out my law practice.  A certain numbness settled over me.  I wore a smile at either end of the journey.  The friends who had populated my Missouri days provided berth and company.  The judges thanked me for my service to their courtrooms.  In California, neighbors whom I barely knew waved as my car pulled into its spot in front of my tiny house on wheels.  The little succulents which I bought for a quarter at the semi-annual garage sale in a local over-55 community outgrew their coffee mugs and lifted thick fronds to the air.

In time, clutter began to fill the cupboards in my new home.  Baskets appeared to hold household items purchased to replace necessities cast aside during my over-zealous downsizing.  Carpenters remodeled my first floor and added to the narrow porch.  One old comfortable porch rocker yielded to another.  A hanging plant stand sprouted on the edge of my plywood 8 x 8 deck.  Then that deck got cut a few feet to yield to a neighbor’s need for utility access.

My writing loft morphed into a small bedroom.  Across the air, dust gathered in the sleeping loft as the pandemic and his own obligations suspended my son’s annual visits.  I found a couple of cabinets, one maple, one crackled decoupage, to hold bathroom sundries and wineglasses.  On a trip back home, I unearthed art pieces that I thought had vanished and rescued my grandmother’s jewelry box.

Now I cast my eyes about my world and wonder if I should drag a couple of boxes into my house for a new round of divestiture.  In the mornings I stand with coffee staring at the overgrown plants, eager for warm weather and a bag of fresh potting soil.  The twenty-one inches of hanging clothes space spills over into the room, taunting me, urging me to pare down my embarrassing sweater collection.  An uneasiness overtakes me.

A few months after I moved to California, one of my tonier colleagues at the Jackson County, Missouri family law bar set a cup of coffee down in front of me at counsel table.  I watched a couple of your YouTube videos, he remarked.  So, what’s it really like, living in a trailer park? 

I studied his face, assessing the sincerity of his interest.  I sipped the hot liquid, letting its steam rise into my face.  I closed my eyes, reflecting on my hours of driving around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, across Andrus Island, over the Georgiana Slough, through Walnut Grove and the little town of Isleton. 

 The sights of my adopted home flickered before me like a well-worn family video.  The snow geese rose and made their way from one field to another to satisfy some inexplicable instinct.  The egrets stepped behind the tractor as it cut its culvert through the harvest.  Below the levee road, hyacinth floated downriver.  Seals swam from the brackish water through the steady stream of the east-flowing rivers.  The old couple walked down Brannan Island Road, lifting their hand to my passing car.  Hawks dove into the low-lying branches.   My little house crouched in the middle of a row of other tiny houses on a broad circle at the west side of twelve wooded acres.  Waves of amber light streaked across the sky as the Delta wind buffeted the boats docked for the night and tied against the pier.

I opened my eyes.  The  lawyer waited, tapping one foot in its gleaming buffed leather.  I smiled.

It’s exactly like you would think, I told him.

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

In My Sister’s Words

Sometimes I lack words to articulate the wrench in my gut.  Yesterday morning I spied a hawk on a utility pole adjacent to a farmer’s field on Jackson Slough Road just south of HIghway 12 on Andrus Island.  I stopped to photograph the bird.  When I got home and uploaded the picture, his deep stare into my lens startled me.  In that moment, I felt incredibly insignificant.  A poem by a St. Louis sister came to me.  While my feeble utterings can never rise even to the level of her poorest fare, we share a hometown so I dare to claim some connection. 

For a moment, I will let my sister’s words speak for me. 

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

There Will Come Soft Rains
Sara Teasdale – 1884-1933

(War Time)

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;

And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white,

Robins will wear their feathery fire
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree
If mankind perished utterly;

And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,
Would scarcely know that we were gone.


Of books, and words, and sunset

From an early age, I roamed around with my nose stuck in a book.  Doctors had told my parents that I would never walk, so my father did me one of his few favors and taught me to read at the age of three.  A shy kid who came out of an early illness with a gimpy gait, I clutched a pencil and scribbled in spiral-bound notebooks.  By late elementary school, I incurred the wrath of the nuns by writing book reports on obscure Henry James novels and the science fiction favored by my older brothers.

I wake every morning with words tumbling from my brain.  Later, as evening falls, I open a book and settle into a rocking chair.  Perhaps I better relate to the ghosts in my old stories and the lively folk in British mysteries than I do to my neighbors and kin.

After a day of grousing in the back office of the firm where I strive to add value, I drove home tonight under a pink-tinged sky.  I pulled onto Jackson Slough Road as a burst of crimson shot across the western horizon.  I sat in my car and stared.  I remembered a book which I read in eighth grade, about a boy whose father died in war.  He and his mother crafted a new existence for themselves in the New Mexico community which previously had been their vacation retreat.   He rose above his grief.  He found his way.  

I studied the sleek curve of Mt. Diablo in the distance, watching over the California Delta with a quiet and serene strength.  My eyes traced the bold streaks spreading across the sky.  I rolled down the window and listened to the sounds of night on the San Joaquin.  Then I took myself home.

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

Red sky at night, Sailor’s delight.  Red Sky at morning, Sailors take warning.


I will not lie.

Some days sparkle; and some days subside into an impenetrable fog from which I struggle to extricate myself.  On the morning after a wretched night of savage pain; on the tail end of a long stretch of absolute silence devoid of human contact; when I strain to see a path in the gloom of a self-imposed darkness — in such times, I must bite my tongue to avoid the inevitable articulation of gross dissatisfaction.

On those dreary days, I seek solace where I can.  I stand on my porch and watch the snow geese in their perfect formation.   I drive the levee roads and study the gentle ripple of the winter river.  Books comfort me.  A bowl of raspberries reminds me of spring at home.  I peel a mandarin orange and sigh at its exquisite blend of tang and sweet.  I wish my siblings the best of days via text and smile at the instant click of appreciation  from the casual iPhone users.  

On my drive today, I marveled at the exponential increase of birds in the Delta.  Geese forage in the fields.  Ducks drift down the San Joaquin, the Mokelumne, and the Sacramento.  Hawks perch on the power lines.  I slowed to search for egrets in the inlets.  A crane rose from a marshy meadow; I stopped to follow its graceful flight.

When I came home, I pulled the Christmas decorations down and stowed them in the cupboard for another year.  This simple, expedient task did not lighten my mood.  I sat in my rocker, in my little nook, staring at the art on my walls.  This beautiful land teems with life and intriguing differences from my landlocked past.  So much promise surrounds me,   I closed my eyes.  I counted my blessings.  After a few minutes, I rose and went into my tiny kitchen to start my dinner.

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

A ship headed to Stockton on a foggy morning, January 2022.