[photo at feeder taken this morning...shy bird=blur. I can watch them all day from the sofa three feet away but let me stand up...The photo of bird in hand is a Rufous found by my dog Shadow, on the ground/my front lawn on mother's day 2009. He ate and flew off. Only the Annas stay here through winter, though.]
Maybe I can stop worrying about the hummingbirds. It has been uncharacteristically cold for Port Townsend, for about a week now. I actually brought the hummingbird feeder in night before last because it was frozen solid. Though I waited until nearly midnight, I still worried because I had heard that hummingbirds have to eat just about constantly to serve their high metabolism and stay alive. And I don't have any idea how many other people around here feed them during the winter. Needless to say, there is not a lot blooming right now to provide natural food sources. So I worry, as I have in winters past, that the little Annas Hummingbirds that I saw feeding at dusk will all drop from the cedar tree and arbor vitae, frozen and dead, in the dark of night.
I woke up yesterday morning at 5 and quickly hung the nectar feeder back outside. I half hoped to see a little line of them hovering, waiting expectantly for breakfast to be served. I waited a few minutes. Nothing. I fed the fur herd here inside and went back to bed. At about 9 I came back to the living room and saw that the feeder had already frozen, nearly solid! Yet two hummers were feeding, one at a time as they do here, so there was still a little nectar at the bottom of the frozen mass. Generally these birds do not tolerate sharing a feeder. I had put out two all summer and the birds still fought, zipping from one side of the house to the other,scolding the daylights out of one another. I bought two so I'd have a spare ready when this freezing happens. But the second feeder, with its more bulbous shape, proved impossible to clean reliably so I've thrown it out. Currently there's just one glass feeder with a red base and yellow plastic flowers at the feeding stations. It's been neat to see one hummer come and feed then just sit, watching the second bird light and feed. When bird #2 finishes it invariably chases bird #1 away. But since bird #1 was waiting and watching for this it seems like a different game than the wild competitive flights of summer.
A couple of days ago I decided to make a fresh batch of nectar, hoping a more full container would take longer to freeze. So often it happens that when I'm ready to do this I start questioning my memory about the ratio of sugar to water. Today I printed out the recipe, again, and put it in the front of a newly compiled notebook of clipped recipes so I will not keep fretting that I'm inverting the proportions and either making them drunk or malnourishing them. I got this recipe from The Smithsonian migratory bird site so we know it's right:
4 parts water to 1 part sugar, mixed. THEN BOIL this to kill any bacteria. COOL. (I make 2 cups water to 1/2 cup sugar, generally)
That's it. No coloring required.
Now, why might I be able to stop worrying about the hummers dying in the frigid night? The Smithsonian site says they are capable of something called torpor. This is different from hibernation in that it's short term. But hummers can go into this state of torpor when they are unable to maintain their toasty 105 degree body temperature. Unbelieveable, isn't it? Having held one this summer I can tell you they really are nearly weightless and obviously that doesn't give them much to work with if they're in a freezing environment. So, torpor. Very cool. Yeah. And a great relief to worrying me.
For some of us, traveling somewhere new and exciting requires a passport. For some of us it requires courage. I'm thinking of a Madeline Peyroux song: Don't Wait Too Long. The line I love is: If you think that time will change your ways, don't wait too long.
When I was very ill and the fear that I might be dying came over me, the honest to goodness first thought I had was: Damn! I never went to Ireland. Well, that takes cash and it's just not in the cards yet. I hope I get there. If I don't, that's okay. Perspectives shift when your body has failed and you realize every moment could be your last, could be anyone's last.
Maybe this is true even in Lucy the cat. Background: Her tumors are clearly growing. She's clearly shrinking. We're in a pattern of three visits a week for fluids to keep her comfortable and steroid shots, a cocktail of two kinds now, twice a week. Three times a day she gets what the vet calls pain juice. It's colorless, odorless, given orally and it keeps her comfortable. I make sure we don't run out. At med time she also gets a drop in each nostril to keep her breathing as her nose runs pretty much constantly. In fact if it quits running I go on a booger hunt to unclog it for her. It's always the right side. She actually comes to me now several times a day to get her nose wiped. If I'm not handy she uses the duvet cover which is now known as Lucy's hankie. Yeah, it's a good thing we sleep alone. I changed the linens the other day and an hour later there was a huge crescent of snot near my pillow because, of course, when I'm not there reading she curls up in "my" spot.
Further background: Lucy and Lisa Miranda (who died this summer) have been living in my bedroom/bathroom since the Virginia cats wore out their welcome with our friends in Virginia and came back to live with us. Lucy and Lisa never liked the interlopers who joined our household in Hampton VA. PJ was too needy and too much of a lap hog. They didn't buy Smokey's story of multiple surgeries for a broken paw and he's too much of a lap hog too. And both Virginia boys were far too frisky, played "chase" and tumbled and wrestled. Girls from Connecticut might do those things but they like to do them in their own time and way. And then came Gracie. The final interloper. Too. Damned. Cute. They mostly coexisted in the three story house in Hampton. And when we moved here only the Connecticut cats, Lucy, Lisa and Spike, moved with me. The three Virginia cats moved in with a family who knew and loved them there. For four years. Then circumstances changed and they had to move back in with us. Well, I wasn't having them adopted out to strangers!
And that's when Lucy and Lisa moved into my bedroom/bathroom. We like to think of it as "the suite." It's small, but there's a big window. And a bed. And a big closet to explore in which I created a kind of cat secret hideaway. And a cat tower by the window. And a bathroom where there are litter and food dishes. We've lived with this arrangement for four years or so and the girls have not wanted to come out and mix with the other cats. Lisa died in July and Lucy was showing no interest in coming out then either, so I knew Ineeded to spend more time in there with her. In June she'd taken a fall and knocked a fang loose and gotten an inefection, so maybe she just wasn't feeling very social and that's why she hasn't come out sooner. But why now does Lucy decide to woman-up and come out of the bedroom to explore?
I'm not leaving the door open because the Virginia cats would eat all of Lucy's food and take over all the best perches. But when I go out of the bedroom sometimes Lucy decides to go with me. To my continued surprise, because she has to be feeling vulnerable when she's this close to death, she's come out to explore a few times now.
She talked at me this morning, as she has the past few days, for about two hours before I saw any hint of light in the sky. We did meds, I wiped her nose, we cuddled. Still, she yakked. I decided to go feed the rest of the herd and she was lickity split on my heels. She's not edging out, she's not creeping cautiously through the door, she's strutting right along, passing me! And them! She IS intimidated by Shadow sticking her head through the gate and oh boy does Shadow want to get her! But this morning I went through the gate to feed Shadow and let her outside so she'd at least be out of the way for a bit. Then I fed The Three. When I looked around for Lucy and couldn't find her, I went back to the main bath where The Three are fed and out popped Lucy from behind the shower curtain! She stepped out of the tub and walked right through the gate. Did she know the dog had gone out? I don't think so. I think she really isn't too worried about risk these days. She went straight to Shadow's water dish and had a good long drink. Then she started back down the hallway to our bedroom.
I tried coaxing her and Lisa out for about two years, hoping we could work out a truce. I tried having a cat door in my bedroom door, with Lisa and Lucy wearing collars that allowed them in and out. But PJ picked the lock. And the girls were so darned nervous about it all. So I had given up. But this little dying cat just hollered again, so I opened her door and she's tried three times now to get to the bathroom, but the big black Labrador head craning through the gate towards her successfully intimidates and impedes. She'll get about four feet down the hallway, still about six feet from the dog, and she'll even lie down for a bit. But then she heads back to the bedroom. I think I'll try letting her out every time Shadow goes outside. And after my shower I'm definitely going to see if she wants to check out the tub again. Clearly she wants to venture outside her safe space now. I can't know, really, if Lucy's exhibiting courage. It seems that way to me. Or maybe it's just the steroids.
Post Script: This morning, a day after my original post, she came out before the dog went out so I quickly grabbed Shadow's collar and escorted her outside. When I came in I got the two photos above of Lucy drinking from Shadow's dish AND sampling her food! Don't worry, Shadow wasn't out in the cold for long. : )
I've saved this Nuala O'Faolin (pronounced Noolah O'Fwahlin) quote that I love: "She thought she could hear time passing. But its passing did not soothe the ache that possessed her. She waited. . . She never doubted that what she was waiting for would happen." Sometimes the resonance is so existential. Then on days like today you drop someone off at the ferry and turn around to come home, maybe in time to make second service at church and BAM. Traffic stops.
The Hood Canal bridge has opened for a submarine or a floating taco stand or a Navy issued dolphin or sea lion. And hundreds of cars stretch in front of you, and soon behind you, waiting for the bridge to open. I turn off my engine and give thanks for the fact that I've brought the apple breakfast pie in a basket in the back seat because it came out of the oven too late to have it before we left home. Then I realize I'm not hungry. I'm a little chilly sitting there with the engine off, but I'm not hungry. And it's raining out so I don't really want to get out and walk about to try and warm up, either. I figure I'll watch other folks for a while and maybe invite someone in for coffee cake as we wait.
The young couple in the BMW in front of me slip out of their car for a smoke. The girl looks a little worn for her tender years. I call out asking if the bridge is open. The pimply faced skinny guy with no ass to hold up his precariously hanging denims answers me: "no, the bridge isn't open." Which tells me he isn't used to the bridge. When we say "open" we mean the drawbridge has been opened to let something pass. Not "open" for travel. I decide these are not coffee cake-worthy people but not because they don't get what "open" means in this context. I just don't want the smell of cigarette smoke in the same car with Apple Breakfast Pie's yummy cinnamon sugar overtones.
Then a truck door a few vehicles behind me opens up and a dog bolts out and starts patroling the long line, snout to the ground. A few minutes later a beefy guy about six feet tall wearing a cowboy hat saunters along behind the hound emitting two sharp little whistles every now and then. The whistles are meant to convince the rest of us that his dog will come back to him. Any second now. Really. About five minutes later the dog prances near my car and sits, looking back down the line, waiting for his whistling man to catch up. Yeah, I think we know who's in charge here. Probably not right to offer coffeecake to the dog and not the man.
All this while the lines grow longer and people begin to get a little impatient. A few vehicles pass the line then slow, suddenly, as if realizing too late what was going on, then pull a "u" turn and drive to the back of the line, turn around and get in the queue. But after a bit longer one truck a few cars ahead of me pulls out of line and drives off. Seconds later another truck, from a few spots behind me, screams out of line and forward, then veers sharply into the vacated slot. "Right," I think, "because when this line starts moving you're THAT much closer to ......WHAT?" And then we do start moving, quite slowly as traffic has been stopped in both directions, of course. As we crossed the bridge I look up the canal and down and see only one smallish boat heading up, pretty far in the distance. On the other side of the water I'm surprised to see a line of vehicles stretching for miles, I think at least six miles, in fact, up the hill and nearly to the turn-off to town.
So today I missed church. But some days are for going slow, I figure. And for watching how people respond to being slowed down. And for not necessarily sharing your coffeecake.
I am blessed with a fine nose and I can tell you that the aromas you purchase to scent your home are not, regardless of their labels, “Woodlands” or “Rain” or even “Autumn Spice.” Right there next to a busy road this morning I smelled a pine so sweet as to compete with the nearby apple tree, which I imagined – but which was actually not (I checked to see) - hung with glistening red candy apples.Maybe today the outdoor scents are heightened because of the gusting windsbut every little ways we walk on the road and dirt pathways presents a new bouquet to tickle my nose while I float through those invisible clouds of heaven on earth. At the edge of the path to the beach, cedar wins out, heady, exotic - standing right here next to the asphalt. Not twenty feet along the path I encounter some delicious spice I’ve never smelled beforeThen water-scent, fresh as dew falling off the salal and winterberry - I’m convinced that I could be led by this to an idyllic freshwater pool though none exists near here at all. In a low spot on the trail is an earthy, moist aromatouched with something more, I don’t know what –the yellow fallen leaves perhaps?But even on hands and knees, face to the groundI cannot source it. I push my head into the bushes along the trail, rub my cheek into tree bark - nothing yields the scent that wafts out and finds me as I walk along, through several different worlds, as far as my nose can tell -a fairy tale bakery, invisible, must account for the vanilla and lighter spice or some secret spa where weary people luxuriate in thick white robes next to gurgling fountains in an aromatherapy room. Walking home, each scent is reconfirmed, none was imagined, all are real and yet I think tomorrow’s walk will not yield the same for it has never been quite like this before – not as piney, or cedar-spicy and there is certainly never candy apple air except when the fair is in town.Almost always as I walk home, I crowd my dog so she is forcedto brush against a rosemary or lavender plant. She thoroughly resents it, butlater at home, on the floor, I bury my face in her fur and we, both of us, heave a deep-hearted sigh.
I've been thinking of Janet Dallett's "When the Spirits Come Back" which is a great little book about depression. It helped me through a long one, years ago. I remember it being about acceptance of the malady, sinking into that reality, feeling what you feel and sitting with it until you come out the other side. I'd better read it again because I know it's much more involved than that. And just as surely I know that this is not that kind of depression. It's a low place in my road, for certain, but it feels like a natural and necessary response to grief.
Writing about it and having friends respond is helping me a lot. I realized when I was very ill a year and a half ago, that, though I live alone, I am not alone. I am living in community with generous and loving people who take time to notice, to read, to hear, to sense and to respond. And the notes from those loving people have helped me, help me still. To hell with puritan ideals. To hell with being stoic. It's harder, in a way, to risk seeming weak or damaged and say that you hurt. That's what I've been doing, in person and here, and I don't think what I'm getting in return is pity. What I feel come back to me is understanding and empathy and loving support. This is a way to grow. By listening to what others share with me, I may be able to learn how to live with the pain of deep loss. It's been a good choice to skip some dinners out, to stay home more, to skip the film festival - listening to the voice that says "be quiet, still, wait a while." Just as it is healthy to walk the dog and to buy the bargain little kayak at the church sale. Clearly I am not in a deep depression if I am able to remember and act on the things I know are good for me.
So of course I said yes when a friend invited me to go to Seattle on Sunday. I'd been avoiding crowds in my own town but I said yes to this offer because I knew it would be good for me. I let go of some responsibility, worked a little harder to be able to leave my animals in comfort and security for a few more hours than usual, and I went. We ate blueberries and talked as we drove to the ferry. There were crowds of people on the ferry and the street, but not a crowd of those who know me or might want to talk with me about this or that: I did not have to be present for anyone or focus on any particular topic. My friend is a close one and he was not going to press me to talk.
We got to the museum early and found our way to the Wyeth exhibit. We had very different responses to the work but I felt fine in my own skin, sinking into what I was seeing and feeling and drawing nourishment from those canvasses. I have an ability, which serves me well, to enjoy what is and still want more. I love Wyeth's realism and light played against a certain hard perspective. On the other hand, I wanted to tell him "paint your wife's face too! DON'T pull a hat over it and say that makes the painting better! It doesn't! And the dog is too far away from her. I don't think the dog would sit that far away." So what happened there? I was enlivened, engaged, brought out of myself, and further in, all at once. Art is powerful stuff. I took my time with it so that I have a lot of details in my memory from sitting with those works, little tidbits I can pull up and think about when I am hungry again.
Walking to the Imogen Cunningham exhibit we lingered a while over some modern sculpture. One called "The Beggar" pulled my heart right out of my chest. It's hard to describe the ache I felt looking at the seated, stretching forward beggar, his hand extended, at that moment, just to me. I wanted to put my hands on his back, say "sit up, let me look in your face and know you." I have always had this yearning to touch sculpture when I see one that moves me. It's almost like the pull at the top of Niagara, but without the fear. It's pure longing. And then we were at the Cunningham exhibit. At first I thought "these are rather dark. How interesting that she cropped them this way. I have photos better than these." And then, of course, I began to see them for the time and place they were made in and that she was extraordinary and I opened up and let my critical mind take a back seat and finally I saw the all of it. The beautiful candids of children playing on concrete sidewalks; the famous people brought to human light. Steiglitz' slyly shifted eyes as he stood before O'Keefe's Black Iris. Which famous men were open and filled with energy, which were hiding, stoic before the lense. And I gasped in surprise and delight to see her magnolia, so incredibly close (f64) and detailed and un-flowerlike, as if what I call a magnolia is really a more highly evolved being or world.
After that exhibit, I felt satisfied with what I'd taken in and my friend said he did too. We walked to an Indian restaurant I've enjoyed many times and ate some good food. Then we walked in the sunshine a while and went on to the theater where we saw a loud and passionate play about football, family love and war. It was a little like being hit by a truck. We didn't really enjoy most of it. Afterward, we walked to the market and Beecher's cheese shop where my friend bought some wonderful aged cheddar and blue cheeses and quince paste and we watched the cheese makers at work behind the glass wall. As we started to walk to the ferry he reminded me that we had bought cookies at a bakery there before and stopped so I could see what they had. I got a "monster" gluten free cookie which I'd completely forgotten existed, and he got a small cookie as well. A pleasant walk to the ferry left me okay to deal with being in the huge crowd of sports fans as we boarded.
Arriving on the other side of the water early, I suggested a stop at a little place I like on the water and my friend, who'd never been there, went straight to my favorite item on the menu, which involved a thoughtful screening on his part as he's not a vegetarian. I'd thought we were just stopping for a glass of wine but we shared the Sweet Papas Latina and some red wine and talked there next to the surreal water, painterly in the evening light, and even saw two otters swimming. As we'd done once before, we talked so amiably that we lost track of time and, though we had been early on our schedule, found ourselves now late. We had a day of living in our moments and taking in the world around us on what he kept teasing me was "our last perfect day."
Grief and sadness. We have to go through it and through it and through it and find a way to live with the reality of death. Some days, like Friday and Saturday just past, I will feel like there is no salve for these wounds. But here's the thing: I knew even then that I was not alone with it. Since my mother died, a few people - some of them total strangers - have taken a moment to look me in the eye and in the heart and tell me some small thing they remember from their experience after their mother died. The most recent one, from a new friend, echoes my most common feeling after death. It' a variation on feeling that the deceased is going to walk through the door at any moment. She finds that on Sundays she still wants to call her mom. That happens with me, though on random days, as I had to call many times to catch mom in her room. She was often "downstairs" as she put it, though the facility was on one level. She'd be playing bingo, visiting with friends, taking in concerts and such. Now, as then, I'll be walking along the Larry Scott Trail with Shadow and reach for my cell phone to call her. We had so many sweet little conversations the months before her stroke and death. So many times I reminded her of how I see her in my daily life, my choices, my best behaviors. So many times I told her she was a good woman, a good mother and that I admired and loved her. Two weeks ago I reminded myself to get a birthday card and gift in the mail to her so they wouldn't be late - then I remembered she was already gone. On her birthday someone happened to ask me how old my mom had been when she died. "She would have been," I began, " ....oh, she would have been 86.....today." Tears come into my eyes at these moments. The other day after I learned that my friends' dog Willie had died, I got in the shower and sobbed, then realized that I had no idea who I was crying for at that moment.
I feel much more peaceful tonight. The museum was exactly what I needed today, and sharing it with a friend was perfect. That sculpture of the beggar gave me somewhere to put some of this ache. Art is wonderful that way, isn't it? It gives and it gives us a place where our feelings can resonate and deepen. And it does all that without any chance of our being misunderstood or pitied in the process. Our friends, our people, our community - trusting our hearts to them is a bigger risk. Yet I don't live in the museum. This grieving time creates a good lesson for me, an extension of the lessons from the time when I was so ill and frightened of dying. My friend Carolyn said it best when she was in her final month of life: "I tell you, when you're sick you need community! When you're in a foxhole of any sort, be it literally in a war or figuratively sitting homeless on a rooftop in New Orleans, it's not rugged individuality you need!"
Today it all hit me. All the losses of the past couple of months and the echos of those further back piled into me as if I'd braked too suddenly in traffic. I don't know why. I think it began coming on last night and today I just couldn't shake it. Even getting up early, going to the church rummage sale, third in line, and buying a great little kayak for $125 didn't break the flow of what's going on inside me. I tried thinking about places I'd go in the kayak. I looked online for a spray skirt for it. I took Shadow down to the Larry Scott trail by the water between the boatyard and the mill and we walked through a picture perfect blue sky day with soft lines of white clouds trimming the sky over the water. Nothing helped. I just plain feel sad.
I walked through my world today like some alien, invisible visitor. I've been missing mom, wishing I could call her. I've been missing my sons and tried calling each of them last night but both were in their cars and unable to talk. That's when something shook loose, I think, and the sorrow just overwhelmed me. A happy dog, pleasant people, beautiful surroundings - none of it mitigated the low that took hold of me.
The annual film festival is this weekend. Last year I raced around to 11 movies over the weekend and loved it. This year I haven't wanted to even go down and try to get into one film. I'd like to see a lot of them but I don't actually want to go now and be with people. I can't fathom focusing on it, acting like everything's okay. My heart is aching. And after helping to bury my dear friends' dog this week and being told there's no hope for my now oldest cat, Lucy, I am reminded that love means heartache, eventually, every time.
So how do we stay open? How do we keep loving and stay engaged in our lives, knowing that death and sorrow and partings will just keep coming, more often, the older we all get? Right this minute I'm picturing my mother, moments after her death, peaceful at last, with two of her friends, one seated on either side of her, looking straight ahead while each held one of her hands. My sister and I took in those lingering moments and promised remembrance. We and Mom's friends were honoring the transition of a life and we took it into our own lives one last time.
Remembering that moment does help me now. It's not like traffic. It's not like it all came to a screeching, unexpected halt and I was thrown from the car. True, some of these losses have been unexpected but many have not been. The price of loving is ultimately letting go but none of us are ready to do it most of the time.
I was not ready for my friends Carolyn and Loretta to die a few years ago. Or Bill Dunning's suicide. Or for the startling suicide of my neighbor Mike, who made sure I was there so he would not be alone when he pulled the trigger. Those were all traumatic endings. But Mom, my neighbors Ray and Marjorie, all were in their 80's and we can't any of us be shocked by their leaving. Still, death is a challenging thing to accept. We feel disloyal to the dead if we are ready or accepting of their death. And the longer we have someone to love the harder it is to let them go.
If I can rise up from the mourning, then lay back down into it as I need to, knowing I will get up again, maybe this very intense period of loss will teach me some grace and I'll get a little further down my own path towards acceptance and gratitude. I have so much to be grateful for, having had the chance to know and learn from and love so many people and lovely animal friends too.
Tomorrow a friend is taking me to Seattle to the art museum. We'll see Imogen Cunningham's photos and Andrew Wyeth's paintings. Maybe I'll fill myself up again and feel nourished. Maybe it will be a day when I reconnect, for a while at least.
Once a year we gather here, on pilgrimage, to learn from sages, firebrands. We are anointed, as we come and go, by the Lindens. Some years, at this moment, the trees rain white petals. This year they are nearly done, yet the fragrance lingers. My head brushed the leaves and spent blossoms as I made my way to the theater to listen to the masters teach. Now I find myself walking under them, again and again, like a deer at an apple tree, neck craned, devouring the last scent of the season. Because I met the Lindens late in life, they surprise me every year. Next year, I promise myself, I will come in time to walk beneath the raining blossoms like a bride beginning life again.
D.D.'s locked out of her van and needs a ride home to get her spare keys. "Better stop at my house, first," so we do for a minute then back out of the drive, on our way. Sunny day, windows down, drinking in summer by the bucketful. Fill up now to make it through strings of gray days that are sure to come, that in fact might interrupt summer in a heartbeat. Seconds from the driveway my head jerks left. Through the window, sight follows sound rising pyramidal from an unmown field, a cacaphonous black cloud. "Wha..?" out of my slack jaw." Then "EAGLE!" He's not ten feet away, five feet off the ground, emerging from the black murder, crows swirling in his wake. He and we veer right, trailed by mad fury. Limp in the hunter's grasp, a white gull swings in some weird state of lifeless grace.
Shadow counts. Not like a clever horse pawing the ground, but as nature. And she connects me to nature in different ways. When we walk she is scent oriented, sometimes overlooking a deer that is observing us because she is so focused on her nose-to-the-ground. She has an insatiable desire to hunt. She must not be very good at it because she has never brought me any prey, though clearly she is doing her best. When she has escaped the yard she invariably returns covered in poop, which I'm pretty sure instinct tells her to roll in so as to disguise her own scent as she's hunting. In any case, her few escapes have brought her home empty-mouthed. All the time she spent in the backyard before the fence came down surely might have netted her a bunny or a squirrel, but no. Still, at 8 years old and coming up on three full years with me she has, to my knowledge, failed as a huntress. Yet she persists in her vigilance. As a vegetarian who never wanted a dog and only brought her home from the shelter to keep her from being euthanized, I find it a little hard to be linked so closely with this enthusiastic carnivore. Yet I am completely in love with her.
So I have been feeling guilty about not walking with her since Wednesday. A series of events, one involving Shadow (see Woman of a Certain Age blog) left me limping. But our walks have been so wonderful lately that I miss them terribly and I feel awful for her not having the exercise she needs. So yesterday, after finishing up two volunteer projects, I took Shadow to the beach and threw a stick for her. The waves were high and constant and she was in doggy disneyworld. She leapt and frolicked and swam like a dolphin, carried the sticks to shore, ready to do it again and again. She has been so unbelievably patient with me, only occasionally vocalizing her despair at being cooped up, that it was thrilling to see her let loose and fly through the water and over the sand. This is a dog with arthritis in her rear legs but daily walks have apparently made her capable of occasionally frolicking. This morning-after she is showing no signs of ill effects from the romp/swim.
Again, she got me to the beach, to breathe deeply of the good sea air and let any tensions wash out of me. Outtings like this with Shadow are another way in, another way of getting out of my small self and into the larger world. I am so fortunate to be linked to her.
Okay, the truth: I wish I had money to travel. But right now I don't. I might not ever, who knows? And at 61 the idea of waiting to see is not very appealing. But I'm not going to go into (further) debt over it. So, here's the great news - I had a little epiphany the other day. I wasn't worrying over the lack of vacations, or funds, but was engaged in my daily practice of walking. After being very sick a year ago I have built up my walking distance. The first mile was tough, and painful, and slow. Building up to two miles was just as tough. But now I find I can easily enjoy a three or four mile walk and it's not taking any longer to walk three miles than two miles took. Four is a luxury and I'm beginning to crave it. The day of the epiphany I was on a three mile, by the clock, hike at the fort. I say by the clock because I've timed myself on flat land and can walk a mile in between 16 and 22 minutes. I tell myself I need a minimum of 20 minutes walking to count a mile, and that should be pretty brisk.
So during this recent three mile walk I had a three minute revelation. We'd climbed to the field at the top of the hill at Fort Worden and Shadow was straining her leash to peer over the edge of the bluff, stretching longingly towards the water, far below us. Seeing her among wild roses and waving grasses, the green translucent water below and the hush hush hush of the waves, the little boats out sailing, Mount Baker in the distance, the San Juans in the mist, I realized that I live in a place similar to the lovely Block Island where I twice vacationed and imagined how sweet it would be to live somewhere that beautiful. I say I realized it. Of course I already knew. I'm not dense or unaware. I knew. But at that moment I took it all in and it seemed real to me, at last. I imagined what it could be like if I allow time and bring a blanket and a book in a backpack and lay in this meadow once a week, or more, to read - at least on these glorious summer days.
As we walked away from the meadow and bluff, along a narrower path crowded with wild roses I thought about the fact that I did not bring my camera this day. Sometimes I do, but there are times we need to let our eyes and mind be the camera...we take in so much more, naked, than we do with that box between us and the view. Some days are for saving, some are for savoring. Besides if my eye is the camera first, the moving camera, taking in the greater views, the depth, the breadth of it, and melding that with the scent of wild roses layered on the breeze, how much sweeter the stills will be this winter when I look at them and remember.
My first summer here, one morning I woke at dawn. I drove to North Beach, sat on a driftwood log and watched otters cruising back and forth, breakfasting. Then one by one they swam to shore, toddled out onto the beach and began grooming in the dawn light. That was eight years ago. Now I have a dog and walk every day, which allows for some interesting sights. Last week while walking on the Larry Scott Trail with Shadow, heading back to the parking lot from the Mill section of trail, I saw a couple walking toward us. Suddenly the guy lurched and hit his companion in the shoulder, then pointed towards the water's edge. Following their gaze I saw an eagle rising off the water near the shore. I'd never been that close to an eagle. It's fanned white tail feathers, up close, were breathtaking, but that was just the beginning of the show. The eagle stayed low over the water and circled back, flying in my direction along the shore's edge. Then I saw his target, a large otter standing on a rock, eating a fish. The eagle came down on the otter and had both sets of talons on its back but either couldn't get a grip or couldn't lift the heavy critter because he quickly flew onward. The otter slid into the water, shaking off the grasp of those claws, but came back up, a bit closer to shore, stood on another rock and finished his fish. This was the closest and best view I've had of an otter, as well - thanks to the daily walk! By the way, otters around here are river otters, not sea otters.
Eagles are common in this area and are always hunting. A couple of years ago I was heading to the post office on a Saturday morning before driving out of town to see my son. At an intersection a couple of blocks from the main post office, I saw a pick up truck at a stop sign but with no one in it. That seemed odd but as I put my eyes back on the road I saw a man and woman standing in the street about a block downhill, looking up towards my approaching vehicle. Following their eyes, I looked to my right and saw an eagle, standing by the side of Harrison Street, not five feet from my car. It was tearing apart a crow. Friends told me later that crows taunt eagles terribly, but I gotta say....it's obviously not much of a match.
I found this after logging on in order to see a friend's account. I'd forgotten all about rivertothesea, started a new blog and then ran into it. Now I've got them connected with the new account so here goes:
This title came from a couple of facts. One, my first email account was firstname.lastname@example.org. When I dropped that I had so many friends who knew me by riverwoman that when one particularly dear friend asked me not to drop it, I used it with my new email account and continue to have an olympus.net account with riverwoman attached to it. I came up with riverwoman because back then I lived in a log house on land that bordered the Farmington River in Connecticut. And I'd spent a lot of happy hours on that river. When I left Connecticut to move to Virginia I had mixed feelings about it. I sat on the dock on the river one day and envisioned myself as an otter, diving deep, swimming the river until it reached the Connecticut River, then the Hudson, then following the shoreline to the Chesapeake Bay. Hence, rivertothesea.
My plan now is to use this for writing focussed on my connection to nature. I'll begin with a little story about a walk through the woods and an encounter that got my heart rate rising. And we'll see where we go from there.