Category Archives: Uncategorized

Memorial Sunday

I drove three hours to eat an egg salad sandwich by the side of the road overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

I could have gotten there sooner if I had taken a direct route.  But I wanted to see the small towns of wine country, north of home and heading west.  I slowed for every cluster of Sunday strollers.  I studied the families standing six feet apart, wearing face masks and patiently waiting for their organic espresso.  Shuttered businesses flanked diners serving take-out.  Wineries boasted drive-through sales.  Everywhere, people eagerly called to one another as though they had not seen another human face for weeks.

I hit the Great Coastal Highway just after eleven, turning north to drive through Jenner.  In a lay-by, I opened my lawn chair and spread a napkin on the hood of my car to sort my lunch.  To my left and right, other folks did the same.  A father lifted his little girl so she could stare at the vastness of the Pacific through the embankment of wild flowers.  Enjoy your lunch! he called to me.  We’re going to do the same!  His daughter waved as he buckled her in the back seat of their van, while his slender wife watched in silence, her eyes tense over a lace kerchief tied around her mouth and nose.

I did not linger long.  I rolled my windows down and headed south with the breeze ruffling my hair and my own anxiety melting away.  When I had been driving east for a while, I saw a road to a county park.  I turned from the highway.  I had a second sandwich and a tangerine sitting on a rough picnic bench.  By the time I left, four people had grouped around the second table, between me and the parking lot.  I had left my face covering in the car.  As I passed, they each raised their bandannas.  I’m so sorry, I mumbled.  You’re fine, the older gentleman said.  We’re all fine, it’s okay.  I stood a few feet from them, and asked from where they had come.  Petaluma,  he told me.  Beautiful day, isn’t it?  

I agreed.  They all nodded, smiling with their eyes as I moved around them.  

I turned the car down HIghway 12 and made good time back to the Delta.  My lunch at the ocean had done just what I needed.  The sea’s presence spoke to me; and the kindness of strangers eased my way.

It’s the 24th day of the seventy-seventh month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

The photos in this gallery appear in the order in which I took them.  The series begins with three bird pictures followed by a glimpse of the flag at half-mast outside our volunteer fire department.  Following these, you’ll see the coastal shots.  As I made my way home, I took some inland views, trees and vineyards.  Back in the Delta, I finished with another shot of a bird taken in the same tree as the morning photos.  “Welcome home.”

Time on my hands

I spent an hour and a half on the phone with a lady at Blue Shield who possessed a wealth of minutia about Medicare supplements, except the tiny detail of whether the vision coverage would pay for the prisms in my glasses.  She covered everything else, though, including the potential price spread if I called other companies.  As my current provider, she could create the application and send it to me for DocuSigning.  My next call netted the welcome information that my Medicare enrollment had been authorized and my card mailed two or three weeks ago.  I should call back, Heather told me, if I did not see it within the next ten days. I promised I would and told her to stay safe, the startling and new way in which we all close our conversations these days.

At the end of those calls, I found I had time on my hands.  I used five minutes to check my mail (no card) and exchange pithy observations with a couple of my neighbors.  Another half an hour saw lunch made, a YouTube video watched, and dishes done.  Suddenly, four days loomed ahead of me and I had no idea how I would consume them.  Would I fritter them away, as I seem to have squandered most of 2019 and the first quarter of this pandemic year?  

I dragged myself, my laptop, and my Canon with its broken lens cap out to the deck.  I gazed behind me as a hummingbird flitted from my feeder to my neighbor’s flowers.  I caught a blurry photo of him at which I stared, fascinated by the line of his small feet.  I followed the quarter-inch to his beak, buried in a blossom while he fluttered his wings to stay level.

One click over, I discovered a photo of a hawk that I took on the way home yesterday, and another of a blackbird on a utility pole.  The casual usurpation of human accoutrements continues to fascinate me.  Today, sitting on  my deck, I wonder if I could fare as well as these wild unfettered creatures.  They tack around the barriers which we scatter before them.  They rise higher.  They skirt ungrounded wires.  They flick their wings and lift their bodies to impossible heights, above the fetid funk clinging to the low lying clouds of the Bay.  They leave us earth-bound, standing in the feeble light of our open car doors, straining to capture the grandeur of their flight.

A songbird twitters from the eaves of my neighbor’s house.  Leaves flutter to the ground as a woodpecker drills away at the rough trunk of an ancient oak.  My neighbors shrugged when I voiced envy of their weekend camping trip.  “There are plenty of tents to be had,” Noah observed.  I could drive to the ocean.  I would have to find an open Jiffy Lube, and some way to get gas with a faulty flap door which requires two people for deployment.  With hotels closed from here to Marin County, I would need to sleep in my car, or drive all evening to get back home.  The risk would have huge payoffs. I might just do it.  Tomorrow, maybe; or Sunday.  

But for now, I sit on my plywood 8 x 8, next to my shallow porch, outside my tiny house, and dream of ways to spend the hours of time on my hands.

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

Foul weather friends

I stood outside my house at dusk a few nights ago. An unmistakable glow flooded the horizon.  On clear nights, sunset flashes brilliant purple and gold against the trees.  But that evening, heavy clouds had begun to gather to the north, edges kissed with the gentlest of pink.  As the breeze rose, blackbirds settled for the night across the meadow, one last twitter as they tucked their heads beneath their wing.  

Driving home from work that evening in a brisk Delta wind, I stopped to photograph a hawk clinging to a naked branch.  I cannot fathom why he didn’t seek a sturdier perch.  He glanced over his shoulder, seeming to watch as I snapped his picture through my windshield.  The wind bashed against him.  I wanted to open my window and offer him safe harbor.  Instead I shifted gears and drove away, hoping that his survival skills would carry him through the night.

The rain began to beat against my metal roof as I closed the door, tapping its rhythm, a song the words of which I strain to recall.  I stood beneath the feeble overhead light, imagining the creatures in the park:  The feral cats; the coyotes; the baby owls just venturing out along the branches. Where can they hide from the storm?

I suddenly thought about the expression “fair weather friend”.  I understand its bittersweet connotation.  I think I’m more of a “foul weather friend”, the one to whom you turn when you need advice, a listening ear, or a mild suggestion.  You might not exactly trust or admire me.  You won’t fear my judgment though.  Perhaps you have a low enough opinion of me that you don’t worry about looking shabby in my eyes.  Maybe you remember that I’ve stumbled, badly, publicly, so many times that my reputation as a cripple rivals anyone.  That kind of person surely knows a thing or two of trouble.  Someone like me won’t criticize your fashion, your fears, your poor choice of lover, or the lousy hair color you got from a box.

We don’t have thunderstorms in the Delta, not often anyway.  The wind can ravage our meadow; the rain pummels these tiny dwellings.  But it’s a quiet sort of deluge which soaks the ground.  I lie awake and listen to the dance of rain my roof beneath the heavy night sky. I fall asleep to the clatter of my wind chime against the good Missouri cedar of my walls.

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

You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby

Those who have only recently discovered this blog might not be aware of its origins and purpose.  A little background should prepare you for this post.  If you are not new, and recall why and when I began #myyearwithoutcomplaining, skim downward.  

In October of 2013, my mother-in-law Joanna MacLaughlin died after a six-month descent into the murky quagmire of dementia.  I spent those months as part of a group of family members who provided care and companionship.  Her gentle decline moved me in ways which I had not experienced since my own mother’s last illness nearly thirty years prior.  

At her service, the priest honored me by reading a blog post which I had written about Joanna.  But he also shared his experiences with her, Among other observations, he remarked that he had never heard her complain.  His comments resonated with me.  I resolved to try to get through an entire calendar year without complaining.  Already an avid blogger, I intended to start a new blog, one in which I reported on my efforts.  I wanted to be accountable but also to encourage others to make the effort.

I started on 01 January 2014.  But 2014 had other plans for me.  Gut punch after gut punch challenged my resolve.  By the close of that awful, lost time of my life, I realized that I had to keep trudging forward.  My daily public journal of my endeavors became these chronicles of my #journeytojoy.  Eventually, I sold my house, built Angel’s Haven, phased out my law practice, and moved to Northern California.  Here, I have found so much beauty that even in the saddest of times, I feel myself drawn to peacefulness.

But I have never lost sight of my original goal:  To make it through a calendar year without complaining.  Nor have I attained it.  Along the way, I have learned that complaint takes a myriad of forms, verbal and nonverbal.  I have rooted out my nastiness and striven to embrace positivity.  I have not always succeeded.  I have never stopped trying.

More than a year ago, I visited my son in Chicago.  I had been to Kansas City and gotten some belongings from storage that I wanted to ship to myself.  He left me at a UPS and went to another store.  I assume he thought he could let his 63-year-old mother make a simple transaction without his 27-year-old guidance.  James James Morrison Morrison Weatherby George Dupree would have simply shaken his head, taken my hand, and done the deal for me.  I know I read that poem to my son during his childhood, probably a hundred times!  

Like most adult survivors of childhood violence, I harbor strange, unhealed wounds.  I pull the bandages off from time to time and apply clean salve.  I keep them from festering.  Occasionally, I add a little natural antiseptic:  A cup of tea on my porch; a half-hour reading Timothy Pettet or David Arnold Hughes.  If all else fails, I throw my cooler and my bag from Guatemala in the back of my Toyota and head for the coast.  I sit on the bluff wrapped in a shawl and listen to the song of my Pacific.

In that UPS, I strained to keep a civil tone as the young man told me first, the price to pack and ship the quilt and other items would be $50.00.  As I handed him my debit card, he announced that he had been mistaken, the total came to  $75.00.  I had been unemployed all year and living off savings.  Penny-pinching had not yet taken hold but I had to be careful if I didn’t get a job soon.  So I said, How did it go from fifty to seventy-five, and he replied, “Oh, I meant, $150.00,” and I drew a sharp breath.

Now one of my curses is that I roll through every unpleasant encounter with the unshakable conviction that I am to blame for any difficulties.  The courses and workshops which I took to be a guardian ad litem taught me how this happens to children of chaotic households.  My intellectual understanding does not quell that first instinct to apologize.  I stayed silent.  I thought over the tripling of the cost.  I imagined my son shaking his head and sighing, that he couldn’t leave me alone for ten minutes without my having an argument or bursting into tears.

I picked up the unwieldy stack of everything that I had wanted to ship and told the clerk that I could not afford the price he now sought to extract. I asked him if he could hold the door open for me.  He refused.  I staggered away from the counter.  Unfortunately, one side effect of having a neurospastic gait is that it worsens under stress or strain, physical or emotional.  Moreover, I can’t open a door and hold an armload of bulky objects.  I asked him again; he refused again.  He didn’t move from behind the register, even though I was the only customer and he, one of two employees.  

Eventually, I did start to cry; and he did relent and open the door, just as I leaned against the jam and pushed it with my foot.  The door suddenly swung away from where I leaned. I fell into the empty space.  My burden shifted.  A dish that my son had made in kindergarten fell to the ground and shattered on the sidewalk just as Patrick approached.  

I still feel absolutely terrible about that encounter.  I tried reaching out to UPS but the clerk told another story; that he had made a simple error and I had been unreasonably upset.  My word against his, and me convinced that somehow, someway, it had in fact, been my fault.

Nearly two years have gone by since then.  I still cringe; still run the dialogue in my mind and try to write a better ending than my salty tears and my son’s worried look, the pall over our lunch.  I tell myself a thousand times, “don’t sweat the petty stuff”. but mostly I just wish that I did not feel so bad whenever I ask someone to help me and they resent my need, or fear treading where angels have abandoned.  I keep my head down.  I deem myself unfit for polite company.  I ask little.  I give as much as I can, hoping that any bad karma will resolve itself on balance.

Last week, I tried to buy some fresh eggs at a local market.  Because of social distancing, the store has rearranged its layout and built a barrier in front of its cash register.  I could not get my groceries under the shield. I strained to reach the ticket to sign.  Because I had been having a difficult day with my physical issues, I lost my balance and fell against the counter.  The clerk made no move to help.  She just stood, watching, silent.  I might as well have been invisible.

I went home and unpacked my groceries.  I thought about that UPS guy, two years ago in Chicago.  I asked myself, are you just unlucky?  Do you have a sign on your forehead that says, “I cry easily, go ahead and be rude to me? ”  Am I imagining things?  Is this just how humans behave, and I see it as unacceptable?  Did I do something to deserve this?  Am I making a mountain out of a mole hill?  Is it my fault?

Crazy thoughts like these plague me.  They have, all of my life.  Sometimes about these seemingly insignificant events, but often about cataclysmic happenings, like marriage, sickness, my clients’ cases, and the geo-political crises of our times.  Perhaps my life holds too many long silences.  Along with war, poverty, the plight of immigrants, and every deadline that has ever loomed in front of me, I worry about each small encounter.  I strain to treat people with enough courtesy that they will feel better about themselves.  I examine everything I do and say.  I scrutinize my tone, my phrasing, and my expression.  I analyze my motivations.  I just want to do the right thing. I just want people to feel good.  

I also want to be treated with courtesy.   I can’t think of myself as a victim, because the indelible lesson of my childhood screams my complicity in my own demise.  My Catholic upbringing drives me to perfection.  But wait, I tell myself.  Is it too much to ask them to adjust their layout in the smallest way, so that you don’t fall trying to pay for what you need?

Anyone who experiences anxiety will recognize this constant battle.  Marshall Rosenberg would suggest that I find a way to make a request of the store, leaving them free to decline.  I decided to try.  Maybe others would benefit from my effort.

I messaged the store, mildly and calmly explaining what I had experienced.  I did not make any inflammatory statements about the clerk.  I kept it factual, and simple.  I explained how the new set-up challenged me. I realize the clerk herself wanted to practice physical distancing.  I tried to keep these unusual times in mind.  The store responded, thanking me for letting them know.  To me, the exchange seemed satisfactory.

Yesterday, I got a message that they had received a supply of the local eggs which I buy there.  They wanted to gift me with a dozen, to thank me for reaching out to them.  I could not believe their kindness.  I stopped on the way home from work today.  I got a few items which I can only buy there — local fermented veggies, Washington aspargus, my favorite gluten-free snackage.  I gave my name to the lady at the counter, and she came out from the back with a nicely wrapped package.  When I got home and opened it, I found a dozen local eggs and a lovely candle.  I put the candle on my kitchen shelf.  I made myself an omelet, and sat at my pretty table, thinking that maybe, just maybe, life might be worth living after all.

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

Three gone, because I made an omelet.  Stay safe everyone. Choose joy.

#JustBreathe

Of a morning, one can find me on my porch, wrapped in a shawl, hands warmed by the mug of coffee.  The mourning dove on its perch seems to sing my heart, low, rhythmic, sad.  A robin trills from the tree across the meadow.  Small songbirds light on the branches, nestled among the tender leaves of spring.

In the afternoon, I drive down Jackson Slough, slightly mindless.  Wind buffets my car. I clutch the steering wheel.  A sudden strong gust sends me skittering across the pavement.  Overhead a bird of prey struggles against the draft.  I watch as the Delta winds beat him back towards the fields.  He spreads his great wings.  I signal.  I stop along the broken shoulder.  A motorcycle eases around me and continues forward.  I stretch my neck and  strain to see far above the road.  Feathers flutter.  I can’t see his eyes through my lens; but I trace the sharp edge of his beak.  He drifts back, caught on a current.  He’ll fall.  I’m sure of it.

With a mighty lunge, he dives into a tree on the other side of the slough.  The branch sways; the leaves quiver.  

A driver taps his horn as his truck moves around my car.  A long breath shudders through my body.

The wind shakes the house all night but when I wake, stillness greets me.  The sky spans soft above the park.  I never tasted anything so good as the dark hot coffee, never saw anything more beautiful than the wide arc of the sea gulls overhead.

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

Every Mother’s Child

I became a daughter as easily as some people swear, or laugh, or throw accusations against a wall hoping that the mud will stick.  My mother said her labor was easiest with me.  I entered the world on the day and at the approximate time expected.  September 5th, 1955, at five minutes past nine.  My father celebrated my 9/5/55 birth with 9-0-5 beer from the store down the street from our house.

My mother settled a modest amount of expectations on me as I grew.  She did not expect me to walk after my illness.  I surprised her by struggling to my feet and toddling around on tender legs.  After that astonishing feat, my mother tentatively encouraged finer skills.  I read at three and a half.  I learned to make potato pancakes at five or six, standing on a stool in the kitchen.  I took a job babysitting a family of seven or eight kids when I started high school.  I enrolled in an AP History class.  My mother assumed that I had a good foundation for modest success.

Her dreams for me stopped at greater goals.  She did not think that I would ever marry.  She discouraged me from taking dance class.  She gently steered me from strenuous activity like sports or hiking.  She wanted me to push myself, but with reasonable restraint.  She trusted me, but knew my limitations.

During my mother’s last months, she made a teddy bear for me to give a future grandchild.  She used leftover purple flowered cotton from one of her scores of wrap-around skirts sewn from the same pattern year after year.  She gave him a little turned-up nose and cross-stitched eyes.  She chose purple so it could work for either gender.

I was two weeks shy of my thirtieth birthday on the day my mother died.  I cried myself to sleep for months with that teddy bear clutched in my shaking arms.

Becoming a mother turned out to be a lot more difficult.  My son Patrick’s birth followed several miscarriages, each more frustrating and painful than the last.  But his actual entrance to the world took twenty-seven minutes.  A doctor and a midwife performed the surgery, counting stitches, counting instruments, chattering about the doctor’s septic system troubles as they coaxed my son into the sterile surgery theatre.  He entered laughing.

I made a lot of poor decisions during my son’s childhood.  I daresay he had to overcome my weaknesses and the foolish choices that seemed reasonable at the time.  I gave him what I could; and tried to include room enough for growth and exploration.  I pushed my sorrow beneath the surface; beat back the pesky demons; and invited a village into the fluid  parameters of his world.

My mother taught me to sing, and make Austrian pancakes, and iron handkerchiefs.  She notched her chin an inch or two higher when adversity crashed against her.  She never felt sorry for herself — or if she did, I never saw it.  When we walked in her garden a few months after her cancer diagnosis, she told me that an angel had come to her in a dream.  “He said I had a year,” she told me.  “He said it would be a good year, full of life and the sound of my grandchildren’s laughter.  I can live with that,” she concluded, unaware of the irony lacing her statements.

When Patrick was about a year and a half, we lived in an apartment in Kansas City.  The door opened to a hallway.  Every Sunday, the newspaper guy burst into the building and tramped up and down the stairs, tossing a paper in front of everybody’s entrance.  One week, in the dead of winter, the wind howled as the delivery man swooped into the building.  Patrick stood by the window in his little romper.  He pushed aside the curtain and watched as the van drove away.  Then he turned and said, I get the paper Mommy!  Your legs don’t work very good!  

He stood on his tip-toes to turn the lock.  He strained to get the latch undone, and pushed the door a few inches outward.  Bending, he hoisted the fat newspaper against his chest, and dragged it into the living room.  He got it as far as the edge of the rug before it slipped.  As we collected the pages, he kept telling me, over and over, I got it for you, Mommy.  Patrick got it for you.  He never really stopping getting things for me.  He dragged laundry baskets, grocery bags, and suitcases across the floor of our house and down our sidewalk.  He climbed stepladders to reach things which I could not, until he surpassed me in height.  He never refused any request his mother made of him.  Maybe I asked too much.  Being an only child must be an awful burden at times.

I was not the best mother, but I have raised a damn fine son.  Patrick never met my mother.  She died six years before his birth.  But I see a glimmer of her strength in him.  I see her kindness, and her compassion, and her resilience.  He has the Lucille Corley sense of humor, a little wicked but never mean.  Most of all, he has her unfailing sense of dedication to those whom he loves.

She would have been as proud of him as I am.

I will not see my son for Mother’s Day.  He lives half way across the country.  I got a card from him with a sweet message written in his left-handed slope.  I put it on the wall next to a picture of my mother.  It looks good there.

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

Fare Thee Well, My Friends

When I sold my house, closed my practice, and moved to California, my life became tiny in countless  ways.  Today it shrank a little more, and with a bittersweet note that clings to the waning hours of this spring Friday.

Derek Campbell and Kelly Pipe-Campbell started their #tinyjourney in Washington.  They spent a year building their home, then came south to be with Kelly’s family.  By and by they made their way to Park Delta Bay, with their pup Ella and a rascally kitten named Louise. 

Their house became iconic in this community.  Its tall beauty graced G-Row.  Its inhabitants did no less.  Kelly’s sweet nature and Derek’s wide grin flavored our days.  They helped start the weekly dinners which became our social mainstay.  Derek hauled their game collection to the clubhouse and got us all in the competitive spirit. 

I don’t think any of us would be as secure and stable in our homes without Derek’s carpentry skills.  He started by leveling my house and others.  Louis and Helix got a window.  Tiles came to adorn the perimeter of my kitchen sink.  Cupboards here and there took on a new sheen. Laurie’s house grew cozier with a custom build.

They toiled in our community garden.  They did favors, and shared ideas, and talked about their lives and the challenges which they had overcome.  I once came upon Kelly bent over a sewing machine, making new cushions for a couch that Derek was building for their home, so that Derek’s parents would be more comfortable.  Kelly radiated patience as she worked.  I envied her calm.

Derek and I had more than a few run-ins over political and social issues.  But voices never raised in anger.  He earnestly quoted sources that I later studied.  He listened to what I had to say.  I know that I irritated him with my liberal views.  A couple of times, I backed down from a weak retort.  But we stayed friends.  More than once, he lifted me from the ground after I had fallen.  When I got sick at the beginning of this pandemic, he brought me groceries.  He would not accept reimbursement.  He waved away my thanks.

We knew the day would come when their tiny journey would take them from our meadow.  It does not seem right, as Noah said.  There is a TinyHouseBigSky-shaped hole in our universe.  But with the rest of us, here at Park Delta Bay, I wish them safe travels,  fair seas, and following winds.  Tonight I walk on a floor that Derek laid with Kelly’s help.  I rest in a sitting room which Derek created. My neighbor Robin cooks in a kitchen with cabinets that Kelly refinished.  Each of us can point to something Derek built.  Each of us can tell a story about Kelly and Derek at Mei Wah’s, or sitting on someone’s deck at sunset.

When I walk in the morning, I will stand in front of the spot which they occupied for the last two years.  I will gaze across the meadow into the tall willow.  Perhaps a bird will rise into the blue sky.  I will think of Derek and Kelly, in Montana, where the wild horses run.  Then I will continue on my own small circuit, half as far as I am able, and then, back home.

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

Follow Derek and Kelly as their #tinyjourney continues: @TinyHouseBigSky

#MyPandemicView

For weeks I have delayed refilling prescriptions.  Reluctance to journey into Lodi settled over me.  Would empty streets greet me?  Could I bring myself to wear a mask into CVS? 

Finally I could wait no longer.  Empty bottles nudged me into action.  I left my house at 9:00 a.m. on Friday.  Instinctively I threw my camera onto the passenger’s seat.

A half mile from the park, I glanced out the window and gasped.  A heavy freighter inched its way through the deep channel of the San Joaquin.  I braked in the middle of Brannan Island Road.   At the particular spot, I had no option.  Lose the shot, or force oncoming cars to go around me. I raised the lens and fumbled with the settings.  A pick-up rose in my rear view mirror but I persisted.  They tacked around me; I raised my hand and saw the flick of an answering gesture.  They understood.

Around the loop, I glanced across the island.  My heart stopped when I saw that the ship had kept pace with my circuit.  Once more, I came to a halt.  Once more, I raised my little camera.  The world stood still for that amazing moment.  Then I journeyed forward, my heart a little gladder for the glorious gift of a Delta morning.

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

 

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 IRS.gov 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.