Wednesday, July 27, 2011
The soft soil under my bare feet is both damp and warm. I stand rolling plump purplish pearls between thumb and index finger, one at a time, dropping them into the bucket belted at my waist. The one lone chickadee whose lunch I interrupted when I came out into the garden has long since flown. My mouth is full of blueberry nectar. My teeth wait patiently for the next frosted orb to pop.
One of the gifts of this strange summer is a very late crop which has somehow fooled the robins into leaving me the first picking of blueberries. Every other year I've had to wait until they got their fill and make do with the second or third round of ripening. I never mind sharing, but still enjoy the rare treat of the best my blueberry bushes have to offer.
The sun plays hide and seek behind the clouds, and the wind seems to be in on the game in gusts that reveal the light in increasingly long stretches. I absorb the heat into my skin, through the top of my head, like parched earth soaking up rain. And for the first time in days, I'm able to release my breath fully.
The reality of the next chapter of my life grows larger and more certain with each day that falls away. I look at the bright side, count my blessings, don't borrow trouble. I embrace each new day for the gifts it brings. I focus on the positive: being with kids, an income, the fact that I'm good at this thing I thought I'd never have to do again. And still the sadness works its way to the surface, and it will be heard no matter how hard I try not to give it power.
In the stillness of my blueberries I remember a June day two years ago when I was so full of joy and hope and determination. I was surrounded by an abundance of love and support; there was no way I wasn't going to fly where I meant to go, and beyond. I remember a year of adventure: agents queried, classes taken, classes taught, learning about the world of publication, making new friends, writing every day and feeling like a real writer to my bones. I remember a second year, this last one, that held as much darkness as the first year did light: realizing it's going to take longer to write this book than I'd ever anticipated, coming face to face with economic realities, a series of deaths, and now living with the impending loss of both freedom and the original shape of my dreams.
Popping a handful of blue sugar into my mouth I recall the long conversation I had yesterday with my friend and new teammate Kelly. Her presence in my life is one of those incongruities that leave no doubt about the presence and intervention of the Divine. Our story started this way. And now she's my guide back to a place I don't want to be. I couldn't ask for a better companion for this leg of my journey. We talked about kids and calendars and projects. She answered my many questions with patience and humor. We laughed—a lot.
My fingers gently tug berry after berry into the bucket. Wind stirs the tops of the trees and the clouds are magically gone. Sun keeps me company. Earth holds me, grounds me. I hold it all in this moment: gratitude to my generous friend, grief at one more loss, a flicker of anticipation at what the unknown future might hold.
Thursday, July 21, 2011
"Deb, come here." The tension in Walt's voice told me I was being summoned to see something I'd be sorry to miss if I didn't move. I hurried into the dining room where he was looking out the bay window through binoculars. On the far end of our field, perched in a large Douglas fir, were two owls—my owls. Out in broad daylight, pretty far from the meadow where I usually see them.
Walt had come in just a few afternoons before with an owl feather he'd found in our yard. (I do know how lucky I am to be married to someone who offers me gifts of sightings and feathers.) And yesterday, not too long after watching the owls preen and perch, as I was looking for a gift to offer a friend, I realized I have an abundance of owl feathers. Enough that sharing didn't feel like a sacrifice (although for this friend, I would have made the sacrifice gladly).
Spotting the owls for the first time last summer was one of the highlights of the season for me. Since then they've become a regular part of my life. I listen for them whenever I'm outside, or for the screeching jays that tell me they're near. My summer days start with their sleepy squawks. My winter days start with their mating hoots and calls.
I'm just beginning to realize that owls have joined the ranks of eagles and hawks and the myriad of songbirds that provide color and music to my days. No longer a novelty. A regular every-day occurrence. Still thrilling to behold.
When I catch a glimpse of one flying away from me, just a second or two too late for the full experience of owl flight, it no longer feels like I've missed something irretrievable. I know there will be another time, another sighting, and probably sooner rather than later.
The sheer glory of living a life in which abundance is measured in feathers and wings and avian variety is a gift beyond measure. To know that whenever I step outside I can expect to have my breath swept away by some small miracle of life. Each one is a tiny explosion of joyous light in the darkness of this grieving time.
Seeing my owls, knowing they're nocturnal and not that easy to spot under any circumstances, makes me consider what else exists in the trees and air around me. Birds, critters, possibilities that are just beyond my sensory grasp.
A fine definition of faith. A certainty of the existence of that which you can't actually see or experience sensually. Faith made stronger by the unlikely, unexpected, but regular appearance of my owls. If I know such wonders as great horned owls and their babies, bald eagles soaring over my head, hummingbirds peering into my eyes with curiosity, it seems easier somehow to trust in the existence of all the wonders I haven't yet met.
Monday, July 18, 2011
For twenty-four years on this summer morning I awoke not seeing the unfolding day. My vision turned inward as I wondered: What does she look like? Who is she with? Is she happy?
Did she miss me? Did she wonder where I was, what I looked like, if I was happy? Could she feel my love and longing from whatever distance separated us?
Happy Birthday, my daughter, I would whisper throughout the day. And while for the rest of the year I wouldn't allow myself to dwell, on this day my heart would open as fully as possible to knowing my child was out there somewhere. Blowing out candles on a cake prepared by another mom.
I imagined her at one: chubby legs, gleeful smile, reaching arms. A darker-skinned, curly-haired version of myself at that age. I imagined her at five, starting kindergarten: eager to learn, bravely facing a world away from home. I imagined her at sixteen: beautiful, spirited, on the cusp of an easier life than I could have given her.
On Kathleen's eighteenth birthday I imagined her beginning her search for me as she prepared for college and a career.
When she really did find me the spring before she turned twenty-five, I was certain we'd spend every birthday together from that time forward.
By July of that year she'd already begun the reaching out and withdrawing that would become the hallmark of our relationship. There was always a good reason she wasn't available to spend the day with me. One involving her children or her parents. One I couldn't argue against for the simple reason I had given up all rights to her and could only accept what she was willing to give. There were always promises of next year.
For her twenty-fifth birthday, our first in each other's lives, I bought her a ring. A ruby. Her birthstone. I wanted her to have something she could wear every day that would remind her how much I loved her. How much I'd always loved her. When she cancelled our plans at the last minute, I put the ring away, thinking I'd give it to her the next year. It sat in a drawer for a number of years before I finally mailed it to her. Still hoping that next year would be different.
Sixteen years of hoping. Sixteen years in which I could at least picture her clearly, and hear her voice or see her words.
Last year when she turned forty I wrote this and emailed her and told her I'd like her to read it. I meant it as an offering of understanding and love. A reaching out to embrace her. She saw only the acknowledgment of her mental illness and pulled even farther away.
I woke up this morning to a dawn in which I once more wonder where she is. What happens to the spirit of a young woman who feels too much pain to continue to live? As I send my heart out into the pinking sky, searching for some sign of her, I find only emptiness and sadness in the fog softened air. To have come full circle in this way leaves me spinning.
I wonder now how her daughter is, and her other mother, on this day. Her two sons. Her ex-husband. I wonder if she can, wherever she is, finally feel how loved she is. If she sees how much she's missed. If she knows peace.
Friday, July 15, 2011
It's one of those friendships where you can't remember ever not being friends, even though you know the beginning wasn't that long ago.
I knew her first as a parent. Sandi's older daughter was in my (all time favorite) fifth grade class. Sometime in the two years before I had her younger daughter (whose class I also adored), we discovered a sisterhood that has only grown stronger over the last dozen years or more. My first clear memory of us is a lunch during which we shared Readers' Digest condensed versions of our stories. I can still feel the delight I realized as so many of our life experiences overlapped.
She was working as a teaching assistant, and was one of those helping and involved parents all teachers treasure. Then she became a teacher herself, was hired before the ink was dry on her certificate, and eventually became my teaching partner.
We had so much fun. We shared ideas, supplies, solutions to problems with each other. We held each other up when the weight of the job got to be too much for one person to bear alone. We pushed each other's buttons from time to time (much like sisters), but never lost our connection or our desire to work together. Then I changed districts and we lost touch for a time, except for a random email now and then and an annual antiquing expedition.
Sometime in the last couple of years, our emails became more frequent, and we found our friendship waiting for us right where we'd left off. It hasn't lost any of its magic, and has perhaps even acquired more. She asked me the other day if I'd read a particular book, one not that well-known. I had just ordered it from the library, and neither of us was that surprised because it's not the first time that's happened.
Sandi wanted to start a blog, so we spent some hours together as I helped her set it up (one of my favorite things to do). For a long time, she was shy about having anyone read her writing, even though she's a brilliant writer with amazing stories to tell.
Finally, my great friend Sandi is ready for a larger audience. She's housebound right now recovering from knee replacement surgery, and the writing she's doing about that experience will make you wince and laugh and be very grateful for limbs that work well.
I hope you'll give yourself the gift of her stories and visit her at Flying into the Light. I promise you won't be sorry.
Monday, July 11, 2011
His needs are few: a ball, shadows to chase, the companionship of his pack. He finds ecstasy in the scent of deer, swimming for a stick in the river, and belly scratches. He grins wildly when one of us returns after a long day. He is the picture of abject defeat when an invitation to play is not responded to with enthusiasm.
Like Dug the dog in the movie Up, his weakness is squirrels. He'll explode out the back door, into the bird area, ready to chase, before he's even checked to see if there are any squirrels there. Since there almost always are, he's rarely disappointed. He's never caught one, but I'm not entirely convinced he couldn't if he really wanted to.
It's all or nothing with this dog. Full tilt or catatonic. He still will not obey automatically—there's always a space of time, sometimes long, in which he decides for himself. He'll do anything for a treat, though, whether commanded to or not. Sit. Lie down. Sit. Speak. Lie Down. Sit. All in a dizzying routine during which his bright eyes never leave the desired treasure.
He's the earliest bird in the house. His inner alarm is highly accurate, but has no adjustment for weekends or mornings I might want to sleep in. My day always starts with the sound of his ninety pounds hurtling down the stairs and his nose bumping whatever part of me he can reach easily.
He is single-minded—persistent in a way that defines faith. If he wants a thing, he believes it will happen if only he waits long enough or asks loudly enough. He seems not to know about impossible. It doesn't matter whether it's convincing me it's time for his walk, or time to play, or he needs loves—he's certain it will happen.
This is a dog who has never met a stranger or an enemy. Every new person is both his friend and a potential playmate. He willingly shares his toys, even with the canine companions of human visitors. He never lets rejection interfere with his friendliness, and always gives people as many chances as it takes for them to recognize the gifts he offers.
Sharing a home with three cats is not something all dogs could do with as much forbearance as he. He tolerates Emma's romancing of his face and curling up between his front legs. He avoids Cooper (won't even look at her) because she's been known to hit for no good reason. And when Grace decides she wants his food, he backs away (and looks longingly for me to rescue him).
Just looking at Toby lifts my heart. His magnificence, his quiet power, the light he radiates. His smell feels like home. Stroking his ears, still so much like angel's wings even in adulthood, soothes all the way to my center. It's impossible to be with him and not smile. The comfort he offers, the joy he creates, just by being his grand doggy self is a gift beyond measure.
Wednesday, July 6, 2011
Part of the trail Toby and I take has become so overgrown I only know it's there because we've walked it so many times. Bracken ferns tower over my head and wrap me in a soft embrace of fronds and pungent, almost-sweet perfume. Sunlight filters through just enough to illuminate the green, but the wind that keeps me company like another playful puppy doesn't follow me into the thicket.
There's no room for anything else in this space except sound: a soft insect buzz; the gruff gronking conversation of the raven pair who showed up in my sky earlier this summer; Toby crashing through the brush in search of scent. I am cocooned, and very very still.
Walt and I have spent the last few days trimming trees in our yard. Old Douglas firs whose lower branches block light from neighboring planting areas. A newer sequoia, one of the first things we planted when we moved here twenty summers ago, grown far beyond our earlier envisioned boundaries. A red twig dogwood that exploded from a one-gallon clump into a small forest of its own.
I've always been reluctant to remove even a few branches from our trees, unwilling to give up the shield and security they provide. Pruning has always felt so brutal to me. The removal of living parts. Going from lush wild growth to controlled cut angularity. But things have finally reached the point where I recognize that if the trees don't get trimmed, other plants will die from lack of sunlight and overcrowding.
The work itself was pleasant and satisfying, even with sore muscles and the unavoidable scrapes and bruises. The results were surprising. Because we'd been intent on creating light for smaller plants, I hadn't really focused on what else was being opened up. Our view beyond the fence line has been expanded considerably. In the back yard, we can see a neighbor's place clearly at the far side of our field. A place of cute outbuildings and bee boxes and a huge garden. A sight that both soothes and brings smiles.
In the front yard, for the first time ever, we can see the top of our immediate neighbor's house just behind the cedar fence that backs the sequoia. It was that sight that got my attention.
I love our neighbors, but I don't love seeing their house. For a few minutes I wished hard that we could put back a few of the branches we'd worked so hard to chop off. This was exactly why I'd always been so against trimming. And I couldn't even blame Walt because I'd been right there with him.
As I stood staring at the offending housetop, my focus shifted ever so slightly. I saw the rich red trunk of the sequoia fringed with sword ferns at its base. I saw the smoke bush already reaching toward the new light. I saw open ground ready to receive new life. I realized that eventually I'll see only green again, but it will be healthier, more diverse, richer.
Caught in the spell of the prehistoric ferns, a part of me wants to stay right here in this moment forever. No pain. No loss. No fear. Nothing but now. But I get restless, and I haven't heard Toby for a bit, so I move forward into a clearing that is as blue and open as the trail was green and enclosed. Against that brilliant backdrop that opens to forever is a trio of leafless twigs, upon which rest two dragonflies. My old friends of a couple of summers ago, here now reminding me of their message of renewal and insight—the end of illusion and clearer vision into life's realities.
Gifts of light, given as grace, received with gratitude.