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Archive for the ‘Reflections on the everyday’ Category

Have you noticed?  You are getting older.  So am I.

At my annual physical recently – a systems check of moving parts. cardiac, respiratory, gastrointestinal, musculature, neurological, and dermatological.  Blood pressure — the force at which blood courses through veins to keep major organs fit.  Blood pressure is a Goldilocks statistic — neither high nor low is just right.

In concert, these systems create the song that is you. Regardless of age, the collaboration of those systems, and that song, is changing, even now. The breath and thought of today cannot be the same tomorrow.

The pithy slogan “Change Happens,” reminds those with concretized views that change comes to each life.  The deeper truth is we are change, conditioned upon those beautiful physiologic systems and the environments in which we find ourselves.

Sudden or chronic illness, or accident, drives home the message. If lucky, we are allowed to live within the one body granted us until it ages out of the game. Generation after generation until humans are no more.

Life is anguish for some, joy for others, maybe most of the time somewhere in between. Bridging the space between sky and earth, our bodies are the gift that allow us to feel, express, reflect, participate. They ferry us where we want to go on the planet, in its waters, and above.

Experience is the natural and sometimes hard-won aim of biological life.  When systems fail and the body slumps, the kernel that is us trills on, star stuff once again. The drama, accomplishments, losses, and possessions mean naught but as the memories of others that will fade in time.

At dawn, noon, or dusk, mind the blood, mind the body, and enjoy your glorious time while it lasts.

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Some are pushed by the past onto the road of their lives.

Still others drawn forward by a subtle half-light image.

The aims of each will be different.

One pulled by the future, one pushed by the past.

Which, I wonder.

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I watch my hands finger the small bootie once worn by my children. The tag inside reads “6/12 months.” This was a first shoe for two toddlers just learning to walk.

I see my fingers move, thinning, loose skin on the back of my hands piling up and relaxing. These are ‘doing’ hands.  I have thoughtlessly relied upon them forever.

My children are decades into their lives now. One grew into shoes he used to walk completely out of my life.  The other wears shoes that keep him in motion, learning, building, and exploring.

And here remains the small bootie and the hands that helped those tiny feet touch down on the earth so very long ago.

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A furry paw twitches, breath quickens, a tail flicks.  Dream-chasing rabbits in a game of hide and seek.

It’s quiet now.  The dreamer passed on to the Great Grassy Yard today.

The name was Bond.  James Bond.

Great shaggy head, those furry paws ran the Great Grassy Yard in this world until age took its toll.

Everyone thinks their dog is special—and they are right.  James brought energy to my family that had been missing forever—that is pretty heavy lifting for a dog.

Or a doge.  James was an AKC Champion Shiba Inu, contributing many puppies to the world in his years at stud.  And then he whirled into our lives, a pal to all with a driving interest in squishing squeak toys while rolling upon them, four paws in the air.

The man himself is no longer, but his soul lives on. He passed at home where he used to run, surrounded by flowers, butterflies, sky, trees, and the wind.

Of James, no truer words were ever spoke, “He has been a life force for friendly tolerance.” Few of any species can say the same.  I will miss you James.

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Up the gentle green hill, mid-morning sun dapples through the leafy ring around this landscape. Pick up speed running down again, laughing, arms akimbo, making fluttering shadows in the sun.

What’s it all for?

Once many of us ran our own green slopes when young.  Half a century later, probably few of those young’uns do.  For me, time has collapsed, my future passed, and the timeless summer day comes again. If only for the exhilarating run past sun, shade, and flower on a peerless blue sky day.

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There are many type of gardens, most improve with age.  And sometimes age says more about the gardener than the garden.

For as long as I recall, my mother kept a fair-sized garden at the house where I grew up.  Only the second place she ever lived, her garden welcomed many varieties and the occasional native plant, long before native plants were popular in residential gardens.

It was not until my mother was into her 70’s that I learned she did not come to gardening on her own.  It was the chain-smoking, bottle-blonde older neighbor with an affinity for Yorkie dogs that introduced her to the hobby. The neighborhood was new then, mostly rancher homes with no landscaping save  for the barren hardscape of a construction zone.

Mother of two when she moved in, eventually two more children came along, and the garden began to take shape.  Phlox, lilies, ornamental shrubbery, scrub oak, columbine, and a host of perennials came and stayed for the duration. A few larger trees arrived over the years, an Austrian pine, Linden, Quaking aspen, Hawthorne, and Mountain Ash, several of which remain today.

My mother was reliably found in the garden, enriching the soil year after year with a cup or two of peat moss in each planting hole, dipped out of a colorfully painted tin cup that was old even when I was young.

The gardening styles of my mother and I are wholly different.  While my mother established and tended the mainstays of her garden for decades, I cultivate changeability, welcoming volunteers, being romanced by new introductions, stalking my garden with a trowel in one hand and unexpected entrant in the other, looking for the right spot–or sometimes any spot. Her garden was steady, mine forever shape-shifting.

My mother retired some time ago, her garden figuring prominently in each day after that.  She volunteered for years at the local botanical garden, and there is a bench there that bears her name. When I visited home, we walked and talked in the garden, discussing plants and their habits.  As any gardener knows, one of the secrets of a garden is its timelessness.  There is no before, or after, there is simply the face of the garden as it is now.

I visited again last August.  In her 90th year, my mother does not have a great deal of short term memory.  There had been talk of a move to assisted-living, as aging in place with assistance simply wasn’t enough anymore.

After I arrived, we chatted inside the house. I had the discomfiting feeling that my mother could not altogether place me. While I was used to reintroducing topics or people, this was something different.

As we spoke, I glanced out the picture window that takes in a terraced garden in the back of the house.  The garden, long home to a community of robust plantings, was three-quarters covered by an invasive grass, beautiful in the breeze, but entirely hiding the differentiated species that may yet be struggling there. Startled, I asked her about the grass.  She looked out unperturbed, saying only that it grew well there.

Though lovely, the grass is homogeneous, smothering wherever it grows, it has nothing to say and little to show.  A metaphor of the mind, the grass had overtaken the decades of detail of the life that tended it. The gardener is no longer in residence.

A few weeks later, my mother moved into a beautiful assisted living facility.  There are kind people, good meals, and interesting activities.  She adjusted well, with help, over time.  There is a sunny courtyard in which to walk and the garden that I thought she would miss does not come up in our telephone conversations.

COVID-19 is stalking the residents of assisted living and nursing facilities throughout this country.  Family visits curtailed, packages quarantined, employees tested for symptoms on each arrival. But like seeds of invasive grasses, the progenitors of COVID-19 are rarely seen, showing only after the virus has taken hold in a fragile human ecosystem. Like everyone around the world, we can only wait.

On my next visit, I will bring starts of some of the plants in her garden with me, and her garden will live on, far from its original setting. That is the way with gardens, even when the gardener goes home.

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Rain falling on a sloped skylight gently shrugs distant treetops downward.  But it is raindrops on the skylight, not the trees, that are falling.

From below in a beautiful protected space, tears fall down my face. I will be okay. It is the tears that are falling, not me.

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Driving into my neighborhood on Thursday afternoon, I noticed a pile of leaves by the side of the road.

Cold weather took many trees by surprise and there remain leaves blowing about, stacking up, and blowing off again.  This pile seemed different.

Slowing down, I saw an adult opossum, curled on its side, jaw slack in a half-smile.  Sadly, it wasn’t playing dead this time.

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Playing Dead

Lying half-curled on its side in leaf debris, head limp, jaw open in a reflexive curled smile, the full grown opossum was dead.

My two dogs, neither youngsters, danced around it, lunging, grabbing it in their mouths, and throwing it back down. By the time I got there, I surmised my female dog had done what she usually does with rodents, birds, or in this case, a marsupial—a forceful shake and the neck breaks.

Because of the potential for these nighttime encounters, the female goes out on a leash in my fenced backyard, otherwise she is impossible to corral, hunting is her thing. My male dog, her dad, is bigger, but not as twitchy fast.

Once I got my female stuffed in the house, I ran to stop him from pouncing on the body, mouthing it, and throwing it around. A nightmare vision of the opossum returning fully vitalized with angry eyes and pointy teeth gnashing at my dog and my hands ran through my head.

Finally separated, my thoroughly insulted dog was difficult to push in the door, but we got there.

The opossum lay prone, unmoving. I apologized to it and made plans to dispose of the body in the morning, hoping there was truth in the slang, “playing possum.”

Playing dead is common. People do it all the time in relationships, jobs, and in the face of overwhelming aggression. For humans it exacts a serious toll, the burial of honest reaction, hope, potential, and pleasure. But for some, it means survival.

For opossums, it means the same. When I looked 45 minutes later, it was gone.

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Life is a highway, I’m going to ride it all night long…”

So says Tom Cochrane in the song blasting across the common area of a university on Move-In day.

Volunteers offer help, parents tote packages, the sound of luggage wheels.  Some lines at the check-in tent, but many frosh passed through last night.

The clock tower chimes 9:00 AM.  SUV’s jockey for position. Change is in the air at colleges across the US on Move-In day.

At this eastern university, aspiration goes to ground as the realities of the school year take shape.  New roommates, shared spaces, the dual challenge of new curriculum and creating an identity outside of familial glare.

Traffic is picking up.  The Yard teems with stories.  Parents engaged in the shuffle or standing clear, pondering the end of one era, and the beginning of another. Newly minted freshman are on the move.

“Don’t stop believin’, hold on to that feeling…”

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