"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Sunday, October 21, 2012


The dairy I spent the latter half of my childhood on was seven miles from town. That seven miles was often the reason I couldn't go to parties or go to the beach and hang with friends in the summer, at least until we were old enough to drive. I begged to be allowed to walk into town, was told it was too far, unsafe, "No!" But one summer day when I was in my early teens Mom said yes and I walked those seven miles along the highway with a friend.

There's a lot I don't remember about that day, but what does stand out for me still is the sense of total freedom and the intimacy with everything I walked by. Daisies seemed more exotic, as did the Canadian thistles and tansy that also dotted our fields at home. Dogs rushing to the edge of properties barking fiercely made us laugh with relief once we made our way past. The wind of cars rushing by, headed in the opposite direction to possibly the Canadian border, rocked us and whipped our hair and made me feel so alive.

That walk gave me access to the adventurer in my soul I'd only found previously in the depths of my imagination. I remember the arrival in town was a little disappointing. Even though my legs were rubbery, my feet were blistered (cheap flipfops not good hiking shoes), and my nose would peel in the days to come, I would have walked all the way to Spokane 80 miles farther with just the littlest bit of encouragement.

In the nearly half century since then walking has been my meditation, my exercise, my solitude, my everything.

The summer I was pregnant with Kathleen and as alone as I'd ever been, I walked the streets of Spokane every day for hours, finding comfort in my body's movement and the sense of relief from the oppressive heat of my attic room and the shame that threatened to consume me.

In the years between Kathleen and the cult I roamed the streets of Seattle, Great Falls and then Spokane again. When I moved to Portland, I rode a bike for a while, but found that two wheels and the balance and attention required to stay alive on them were nothing like traveling on the power of my own two legs. So I got rid of the bike and walked Portland as well. On those walks I imagined myself living in the beautiful old homes I passed. I prayed endlessly to be changed and to be loved. I inhaled the fragrances of flowers, and often took them with me as company for the rest of the walk.

I almost always walked alone, although much much later I came to understand I was accompanied on every single walk of my life by the Creator of the mysteries I absorbed with each step.

Even during the cult years I found bits of time here and there to escape into long wandering walks. Shortly after my marriage a golden retriever named Jesse came into our lives, and my walks took on a purpose. I found wild trails nearby our suburban home on which I would let him off-leash and I would watch the seasons change and be delighted with small scurrying thing and larger flying ones.

When that life and my marriage disintegrated, I began running. Mile after mile after mile around a high school track until my shins stung and my lungs ached. I ran everywhere, but found pleasure only in the accumulation of miles and the escape from myself. Running kept me safely separate from the world, my feelings, and the Companion of my walks whom I'd felt I betrayed when I left the cult.

Then I met Walt, and the walks began again. At first on the wild trails of our suburban neighborhood with a new golden retriever named Kelly. Then, when we moved to the country 20 years ago, on the miles of trails of nearby Lewisville Park with Kelly, then Riley (another golden) for the ten years of his life.

When we got Toby five years ago I found the park walks were too hard. In part it was his strength and stubbornness. But looking back, the decision to take the shorter paths closer to home had more to do with my own increasing pain than it did with Toby.

My right hip became a constant aching presence in my life. I ignored it as best I could for a long time. Then sought every alternative treatment possible, and did all I could to take care of it. Until one day I realized I was avoiding walking because it hurt too much. Where I used to park as far away from my destinations as possible so I could walk farther, I found myself avoiding places altogether if I couldn't park close by. Walking across my classroom seemed impossible and I made the kids come to me more and more. Shopping for groceries I got even more efficient than I'd ever been before, and if I forgot something on an aisle I'd already passed, it had to wait until the next trip.

What had once been a light and lively gait became a Lurch-like limp that inspired one of my students to say recently that I looked like a penguin.

The injection that provided enough relief for me to enjoy Belize this summer as though nothing was wrong wore off in three months. And so I find myself, at sixty, with a date to receive a new hip. In three weeks, I'll turn myself over to a surgeon who will remove a part of me that has served me so well for so long and is finally worn out. He'll replace it with a modern contraption of metal and ceramic that is meant to give me back my ability to make my way through the world on my own two feet, powered by my own two legs, freely and pain-free.

I'm as prepared as I can be for this new adventure. I feel deep gratitude that I live in a time and have the resources that make the replacement both possible and almost an ordinary event. I feel even more gratitude for this hip that finally wore out, and I'm sad to be saying goodbye to her. I will welcome her replacement and learn to love her as well.

The one thing I'm struggling most with right now is the fact that I'll have to use a walker for a couple of months after the surgery. I know it's not a rational thing, but I can hardly bear the mental picture of me shuffling along, pushing that metal contraption in front of me. I see old, decrepit, crippled. And even knowing that walker is going to be my ticket to independent walking, I'm having to breathe my way through the thought of it.

Walking saved me. I've found my true self in those miles, found freedom, found a God who loves me and understands me. The miles strengthened my body without my trying. And when I picture myself as an old woman, I see someone like Mary Oliver who strides out into the wilds of the world discovering the magic and wonder and beauty there until I draw my last breath.

I will make friends with the walker about to come into my life, not because she's someone I'd ever consider friend material, but because I need her to restore the most important part of my being to me. And I will soon be a walker again in every important sense of the word.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Capturing Color

Gray has returned to us, just in time to provide the perfect backdrop to fall colors that are more vivid than any I can remember in recent years. I wandered into my yard yesterday morning, camera in hand, determined to capture as much of the color as I could. It's an annual ritual. I have probably hundreds of pictures of the dying flames of summer, and none come close to actually reproducing what my eyes see and my heart feels. Yet that doesn't stop me from trying.

As I snapped the sunset maple and the parrotia and the sumac and the blueberries and the burning bush my mind kept going back to the colors of last weekend. Then I found a perfect rose in the midst of all the fall splendor and that took me straight to memories of the women I shared the weekend with. 

A group of blogger friends met at an incredible house on a sweet island. We knew each other through our words, and the instant bonds that were formed in real life were absolute proof to me that the written word exposes both heart and soul in ways we might not ever realize. 

Some of us had met previously, but this group of six women, all in their sixties, with uncanny life connections, had never gathered as a unit before. A bystander would never have guessed from the nonstop chatter, the endless smiles, the frequent laughter. 

We all got lost on our way to meet each other. Two of us weren't technically lost, but thought we were, which turns out is pretty much the same thing. The other four had gotten really lost, the result of too many directions and a number of wrong turns. What was amazing was that our first contact of the weekend happened while two of us were on a ferry the rest of the group was waiting to catch. 

Fall was in full glory on Vashon Island, and we had a ringside seat to its beauty, illuminated under unseasonably sunny skies. Our home for the weekend was a three story, fully-restored, 1930s farmhouse. The air was redolent of the scent of lavender. Mt. Rainier stood faded and majestic in the distance like a sentinel watching over us. Water surrounded us, a soothing and envigorating presence, blessing us at every turn. 

I spent some time one afternoon wandering the grounds of Lavender Hill Farm, camera in hand, determined to capture the color and beauty of the place. I picked an apple and ate it, savoring the crisp and juicy wildness. I picked late raspberries and ate them, too, delighted with the pops of summer tartness on my tongue. I cut lavender, stopping often to look back up the hill to the porch where the rest of the women sat. 

As the youngest of the group I felt their presence above me like a protective shield. Wisdom, love, understanding, acceptance, curiosity, openness - all radiated toward me. Wandering in solitude, seeking color and magic, held in the larger hand that is the gift of aging women whose light shines as brightly as the fall colors do against the backdrop of graying skies. 

When I downloaded the pictures from our weekend, not one really captured the friendships, the color, the powerful energy our coming together created. They will, however serve to refresh the vivid splashes of memory I've carried with me all week, when they fade, as they inevitably will. 

I see DJan, the oldest of the group, just a few weeks left in her sixties. Beautiful, serene, and incredibly fit, she hikes and jumps out of airplanes and writes about all of it. She makes aging something to be looked forward to, to be envied even.

I see Linda, whom I'd met once before, and felt drawn to instantly. Since retirement she's traveled more than most people do in a lifetime. She says she's not adventurous, but shows no fear about facing any challenge before her. She inspires me to pursue  my own travel dreams with more intention. 

I see Jann, whose dry wit is even sharper in person and whose irreverence and honesty had us all laughing to the point of tears. She reminds me that truth does not have to hurt, but instead can bring light and lightness to any situation.

I see Sally, traveled the farthest from Colorado, the one whose words had offered me healing comfort in the weeks after Kathleen died. Fellow members of a terrible club, our bond all stronger for that, we found our sisterhood went beyond the deaths of our daughters. 

I see Sandi, my dear dear friend and sister of my soul. A fellow member of that terrible club, yet she is one of the most generous, open and loving people I know. We traveled together, coming and going, our friendship somehow strengthened through our contact with the other women.

All women in the fall of life, yet all full of flashing, flaming light that radiates both heat and the brightest colors imaginable. 

So while my camera cannot quite capture the full palette of fall, and my words will not quite capture the magic of our weekend, the woman that I am radiates more fully, more brightly, because of my time with five women whose vivid colors will shine forever in my heart.

Sandi, Sally, Jann, Linda, DJan