Monthly Archives: February 2019

Still life, with fog and traffic jam

I’ve flirted with vegetarianism since my teens.  My mother discovered the turmoil which hamburger caused my belly and scaled back on my meat consumption.  In college, I considered myself what we then called “lacto-ovo vagetarian”, meaning that I ate dairy and eggs but no meat, fish,or fowl.  Later I phased white meat and bacon back into my diet, and for decades, that’s how I ate. In 2014, I went back to my original version of being a veg-head, which purists now call “vegetarian” as distinguished from “vegan”.   It’s not a matter of principle for me.  It’s just what my body prefers.

But once a year since then, I’ve nodded to pescatarianism at a table overlooking the stunning view where the Russian River meets the endless glory of my Pacific.  Yesterday I made the annual voyage, starting early in the morning from Geyersville, where I had spent the night in a quirky retreat dedicated to the Goddess.  After a luscious carb-load at Flaky’s in Healdsburg, I headed west, encountering flooded roads, misty hills, and surreal moments, including one stuck behind a crew shoveling a mudslide from the roadway.  I spent the day on Highway 1, cleansing my spirit, replenishing my resolve, and breathing the song of the sea in deep, greedy gulps.

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

 

Reimagining myself

At ten or twelve, my brothers coaxed me into wading in the Meramec River with them.  One walked ahead, one behind, both earnestly promising to catch me if I stumbled.  I shivered in the swiftness of the current.  My mother never took us camping at the height of summer.  She didn’t like the crowds.  We headed to the woods, the mountains, to Elephant Rock State Park, anywhere, but only off-season.  Too cold for swimming, really, though we often had the campgrounds to ourselves.

On that day, I did stumble, and my brothers did leap forward and haul me to my feet again.  I sank my eight-dollar Converse tennis shoes into the mud as I scrambled to the bank.   My hair tangled down my back, a mess of damp curls, soaked by my dip.  One brother held my shoulders while the other warmed my hands.  “All right?” they asked.  I nodded.  We slipped back into the water and started forward while my mother watched from in front of the tent and my father stoked the fire.

I’ve never been an outdoors sort of person.  But these days, I hang out of my car window and let the rain spatter my face as I strain to frame an egret before some random noise startles him.  I pull to the side of the road and and straddle embankments to shoot a rainbow over the roadway.  I stretch the limits of my rudimentary Canon as I huddle in my car.  The highway traffic barrels past while the nearest sheep chews a stalk of grass, idly gazing in my direction. 

And more:  I scroll through hundreds of images, wishing that my hands did not tremble, that I could control my startle reflex, that I had kept the lens pointed upward just that second longer.  All the while, the wind blows, the snow geese call to each other across the fields, and whatever understanding of myself I might have had disintegrates. 

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

 

What I Did For Love

The winds started again last night. I woke at one a.m. to the sound of their sweep across the meadow.  We lost an old willow tree in the last storm and now I fear that others will bend to the breaking point.

My intimate friends know that I do not like Valentine’s Day.  I suffered a personal trauma in 2014 which began on the morning of February 13th, reaching its crescendo late in the next day, and reverberating for the last five years.  Like a keen cymbal, its vibration lingers.  I do not begrudge anyone their  own romantic celebrations.  But I associate the day with devastation.  In the wildly unlikely event that I ever find another partner, I will ask that we pick some other day to celebrate our passion.  April 1st maybe; or December 7th.  Why not redeem one of them instead?  Let February 14th fend for itself.

I do not regret anything which I did for love.  In fact, I take comfort in my own efforts to honor those for whom I hold a strong regard.  For love, I have endured anger, cleaned vomit, climbed mountains, and sat beside sweaty beds holding bony hands.  For love, I hauled garden soil and plant cuttings in a plastic tub on a luggage dolly into the locked ward of an Alzheimer’s unit so my mother-in-law could sink her hands into rich earth one last time.  For love, I maneuvered my way past long lines of voters to get deputized as a voter’s assistant so my father-in-law could cast a Republican ballot and lend his voice to a landslide the day before he died.  For love of my favorite curmudgeon, I wrote a long letter to Senator Pat Roberts mandating that he honor the slim reed of faith which a dying man placed in him and his colleagues.

I don’t regret a single moment.  Nor do I regret getting clean, forswearing complaint, or pushing my son to any pursuit which took him away so he would not be stuck in his mother’s house.  I find that any time I acted from a place of love, I chose another step in the direction of my own salvation.  Love stands as both the most selfless and selfish of motivations.  I embrace each end. I release the butterfly so that I may have a glimpse of its glory, however brief, however fleeting.  The sight of its rise into the endless sky rewards me enough to convince my soul to endure the loss.

Under the beat of the winter rains on my metal roof, I gaze around the little home which I have created for myself here.  The sun strains to glimmer through the wide bank of heavy clouds. Some might see this day as gloomy, but the earth needs the nourishment of this blessed rain.  The spring crops will drink more deeply; the fall harvest will be more bountiful.  I can endure a little mud for the sake of a farmer’s gain.

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

What I Did For Love, from “A Chorus Line”

Experiential Reference

My friend Laurie and I agree that we accept people’s foibles but do not necessarily wish to allow the impact of those foibles on our psyches.  She pours a glass of chardonnay.  We sit in the comfortable warmth of her electric fireplace, our bellies full of good food and the pleasant feeling of kinship.

Around eight, I pick my way across the rough surface of the lot between us, watching above for the soar of a hunter owl.  Back in my house, I scan the photographs which I took on my way to work today.   I need to do something about the tilt.  But I wouldn’t know the shot had a crooked aspect if I hadn’t been there, standing on the side of the road.  I couldn’t find the proper framing if I had no experiential reference.

I reflect back on the conversation at dinner.  Both Laurie and I had reached points in our respective lives at which we could no longer tolerate screaming.  We talked of the peace which eventually followed after each of us took that stand.  I see again the twinkle in her eyes, the small smile as she leaned back and raised her wine glass.

Then I download a couple of photographs and put my mind to the editing process.  I can’t help humming as I work.

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

 

Nature’s Glory Speaks For Itself

My friends: 

This evening, I give you the words of a poet to accompany these photos of a splendid creature to which my friend Laurie Crosson Erceg alerted me as it hovered on a pole high above the community building at Park Delta Bay. 

Though the picture speaks for itself, Tennyson’s short, powerful piece seems fitting.

Enjoy.

It’s the tenth day of the sixty-second month of My [Endless] Year [Learning to Live] Without Complaining.  Life continues.

The Eagle
BY ALFRED, LORD TENNYSON

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ring’d with the azure world, he stands.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.

 

 

P.S. Yes, I know this is not an eagle.  And I live not by the sea but in a river delta below sea level. 

New Year

The Chinese heritage remains strong in the community where I live. In the mid-eighteen-hundreds, nearby Isleton and Locke both were populated by cohesive groups of Chinese people.  Their influences can still be seen. I spent a few hours today celebrating Asian New Year.  I take this evening’s reflective inspiration from the intriguing notion that I can start fresh.

Rain patters on my metal roof. Occasionally the lights dim as the power wavers. I sit snugly in my tiny house thinking of all that has been and all that might be. Despite some struggles, this evening I have no complaint.

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

 

The snow geese landed in the fields on Andrus Island again this evening.

#Gratitude

Tonight I want to share a list of goodnesses which I have experienced this week.  I cannot figure any other way to stay true to this mission right at the moment, so, here goes:

  1. This afternoon the office assistant where I work successfully organized, copied, and timely mailed a huge stack of strange forms in a file on which I’m trying to accomplish something that I’ve not done here in California.  It took me quite a while to determine the appropriate process.  It required five different forms, all of which had to be copied multiple times, sorted, and served.  Her effort truly demonstrated her awesomeness.
  2. The orchid plant on the reception counter at the office has two delicate lavender blooms with several more buds.  I enjoy watching the unfolding of the flowers each day.
  3. I needed a change in medication and I succeeded in getting what I needed after only four days of effort.
  4. My blood level for this month hit a near-perfect mark after several months of chaos.
  5. The manager of the Park carried some packages to the car for me even though she has no obligation to do so.
  6. We had several sunny days, balmy and pleasant.
  7. I got an actual letter from a friend — with a hand-written envelope, even!  In the mail!
  8. I watched a small group of sandhill cranes flying over the Sacramento River, majestic and regal, rising on the afternoon wind.
  9. A blue heron lingered in a nearby spillway long enough for me to get several clear photographs.
  10. The new medication has begun to abate the symptoms for which I needed it.
  11. I won a game of Yahtzee on Sunday and enjoyed playing with two of my neighbors, along with a five-year-old girl who managed to keep us all in high spirits with the intensity of her concentration on rolling. (“Be quiet, I’m trying to think about sixes,” she told me.  Adorable!)
  12. Several clients of the firm for which I work expressed gratitude for my efforts on their behalf.
  13. I awakened every morning so far for the last sixty-three years, five months, and two days.

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

The Kindness of (Not Quite) Strangers

My father often claimed to have lived near Tennessee Williams in his childhood.   His assertion doesn’t quite mesh with the facts, since my father was born in 1922, the year that Mr. Williams left St. Louis.  The apartment building   in which the Williams family lived, upon which Mr. Williams based scenes from The Glass Menagerie, sits just over a mile from the block on which sat my father’s boyhood home.  The latter location became the site of the Chancery office of the St. Louis Diocese, a fact which I find enormously ironic for infinite reasons.

I feel kinship with two of Mr. Williams’ anguished heroines, Laura from Menagerie and Blanche from A Streetcar Named Desire.  Laura tenderly stumbles through an unfortunate misunderstanding with an intended gentleman caller.  The play’s end sees her standing before a candelabra, leaning to extinguish both flame and any hope of happiness.  From the wings, her wandering brother tells her to “blow out your candles, Laura. . . For nowadays, the world is lit by lightening”.

Blanche struggles with a madness born of unrequited longing for what she perceives as normalcy.  When the psychiatric team comes to usher  her away, she thanks them, remarking that she has always depended upon the kindness of strangers.  I cry every time.

Each day, I stop at the Park kiosk for mail and packages. The manager, Kim, hoists them out the door and onto my back seat.  She does not need to do so; it’s not her job.  But she follows a heart compelled toward goodness.  If I pull into my parking space when my nearest neighbors have gone walking, one of them often calls out to see if I need help.  At community events, I park my car near the clubhouse, and someone instantly  steps outside to carry my bags.

These people have their own lives and obligations.  We’re neighbors, not kin; though some of us have personal interaction enough to call each other “friend”. For the most part, though, I go for days on end without a visitor, and no one here owes me anything.  Yet if I had a problem with my house, I wouldn’t have to step farther than fifty yards to find someone willing to come to my assistance.

I don’t yearn for the cold and snow.  I’ve grown accustomed to the quiet of the Delta, with its night air broken only by the hoot of the great horned owl.  Though I never thought of myself as anything but a city girl, I certainly do not long for the smell of commerce or the blare of traffic.  I do miss my art space, and the potential that my friend Brenda will come briskly knocking at my door on her way home from work.  But the rhythm here falls upon my shoulders like an old familiar sweater.  The kindness of (not quite) strangers rises to sustain me when uncertainty threatens my calm.

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

 

 

You Have Not Eaten An Orange Until It’s One That Is Fresh From A Tree

I rummaged around in my small fridge last night, trying to find something to eat.  Behind a tub of hummus and a loaf of GF bread, I find a lone orange, one of several given to me a few weeks ago by my neighbor Jessie.  She traded some beets from our Community Garden for citrus from the trees of folks who live in nearby Isleton.

I pulled the orange out, and studied it.  Three weeks?  Would it still be good?  I thought about the fruit trucked from Mexico to Missouri, which comprised the sole offerings in the store where I shopped for a couple of decades.  Surely this orange started fresher than anything I bought in Kansas City, I told myself, and started to remove the peel.

A few minutes later, I realized that you have not eaten an orange until it’s one which came fresh from a tree not ten miles from your house.  I don’t even like oranges — not really.  I once flipped over on a bike for lack of understanding how to use hand brakes.  The only thing I had consumed that day  had been a glass of orange juice.  The impact of my head on the road caused a concussion which started my stomach heaving.  I haven’t liked oranges since then.

Grapefruit, now, that’s a different story.  And tangerines; or tangelos; or those little Cuties which kids like.  Regular oranges, not so much.  Until now.  Until I eased each juicy segment from the center fibers and bit down on them, letting the sweetness fill my mouth and run a little down my chin.  Oh, what a boon you’ve given me, young Jessie!  And how lovely this fine offering, how perfect, how refreshing, at the end of a dreary, weary day.

Now I have only store-bought fruit of which to partake this evening.  Still, it’s California-grown, so one can only hope it might be somewhere near the divineness of last night’s treat.  A woman can dream.

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

Read  here about the author of this quote.

Where Were You For Super Bowl LIII?

Make no mistake.  I did not get the sports gene.  If you ask me who my favorite team is, I will tell you the 1967 St. Louis Cardinals.  Born and raised in the city on the Mississippi, I got Cardinals tickets for every A on my report card during elementary school.  We cheered for Gibson, Brock, Cepeda, and Javier until our parents told us, “That’s enough now, you’ll make yourselves hoarse.”

Having spent the first thirty years of my life on one river, I spent the next thirty on the west side of the state.  I’ll be #foreverblue, loyal to the Royals;  and sometimes, I still wear red on Fridays for the #Chiefs.  Not that I care about the actual play, but home town pride creates a certain level of excitement that we carry with us everywhere we roam.  I watched the Chief’s play-off game through the Google Lady, asking her every few seconds, what’s the score.  She and I both died a little at the end.

The park in which I live had a Super Bowl party three or four weeks after I moved here, January 2018.  Nervous, alone, and worried about making a good impression, I hovered in the background.  I have no clue who played or won.  But I will remember the afternoon as my introduction to #deltalife, and to the community of Park Delta Bay.

This year, though — oh what a difference!  I know about a third of the full-time residents by name.  I wave to the right and left driving in or out.  I take the place for granted sometimes.  It’s where I live.  It’s home.

Angry at the entry of the Patriots into the game, nonetheless the Super Bowl Committee threw themselves into planning.  As for myself, I got chips, guac, salsa, and carrots.  I brought the oil and popcorn for the machine.  Somebody grilled hot dogs.  Another person brought 7-bean dip.  Wings appeared, and sliced sausages, and a plate of brownies.  Eventually the counter in the community room groaned under the weight of the potluck provisions.

I won the pool. I have no idea how.  I picked five boxes and the person collecting guesses initialed for me.  I spent the afternoon playing Yahtzee with Teresa, the lady who lives five lots to the east of me; Sally from the far side of the park; and a five-year-old girl named Ella who turns out to  have mad dice-rolling skills.  Each adult won a game. Ella played as a team with Teresa.  Sally got the only Yahtzee!  We must have had more fun than the group watching the football game, because we got scolded for being too loud three times.  By sports fans.  Now that’s what I call a party.

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