Uncategorized

Patience

My brain on pandemic mode – not as clear and crisp as it can be, but bear with this story, you may find something helpful in it. 

My parents retired 18 years ago to a beautiful, but remote, town in Maine. They built their dream home on ten acres of forest land abutting a lake. Even though they were a five hour drive away, in some ways I have learned more about them since they moved away than I did in a lifetime of living under the same roof.  As an adolescent and teenager, and into early adulthood, I was forever trying to get away, to set myself apart, to find my own space. When they moved away, we all got some perspective. Being together as a family was less frequent and took on new meaning. One of the greatest joys for me was watching them bloom at a time in life when a lot of us dream of slowing down. Not my folks! My father learned how to downhill ski at age 65 and it became his passion. He took me out on the slopes one Spring and taught me how to ski. I was in my 40’s and quite intimidated by it all. That day I discovered he   is a wonderful instructor- patient, kind and fun-loving. With his gentle encouragement, I gradually left the bunny trail and took on steeper slopes. At the bottom of each run, we grinned at each other and said, “Let’s do it again!” I lost count of how many runs we made that day. My parents also spent their time hiking, boating, fishing, kayaking, and biking. Most shocking of all to me was when they bought a snowmobile and took to the trails with their friends, having cookouts deep in the forest. Visiting them was like going to a resort (in fact their town is a popular resort area). They became active in church; my mother was president of the women’s organization. Mom played Mah-jong once a week and had lunch out with her friends. She took up quilting and designed the most beautiful quilts for her children and grandchildren. As I write, I am leaning back on one of mine, which depicts a beautiful brown and navy patchwork scene, the center of which is three bears walking in a row. She named it “Bear Country” because we tend to see a lot of bears pass through our property in Springtime. She is nothing less than an artist. I would think, “Who ARE these people?” As the years passed and the three of us kids got bogged down with our own responsibilities, growing our own families, and we more and more had to stay close to home, to our kids, and our jobs, the number of visits we made up North became less frequent. My parents settled into a routine of regularly visiting us, making the trip down several times a year. Holidays centered around New Hampshire and we all enjoyed when my parents came to stay. I would visit them twice a year, usually early in the year, and sometime in late Summer or Fall. Dad and I would snowshoe in the woods, or take long walks, and I would spend time chatting over coffee and knitting with Mom. In the evening we would play cutthroat Scrabble games at the kitchen table, sipping wine and snacking on my Dad’s precious snack mixes aka, “Grampy Snacks”. My Dad would make killer ice cream Sundaes. And we would talk for hours on end. Life truly was good.

When the pandemic shut us down in March, my parents had just spent a week visiting us all in New Hampshire. Mom and I went the hairdresser together and I remember reversing roles and lecturing her on using hand sanitizer in the car, and getting a little aggressive about not allowing her to open doors, and such. We didn’t know a lot about this virus at the time but I did know she was at risk due to her age. I became the Mom, and to her credit she just smiled her patient smile and tolerated my bossiness much better than I would have, had the situation been reversed. The last social thing we all did together was attend my niece’s basketball game, sitting shoulder to shoulder in the bleachers, laughing and cheering. The next day, my parents drove home. We had no idea what was coming. Since then, (like many families) we have  missed some big milestones:  my Dad’s 80th birthday, Easter, my parents’ 60th wedding anniversary, Thanksgiving, and of course, most likely Christmas. I saw my parents in person once, in a parking lot, when I drove a couple hours to meet them in Portland where they go to doctor’s appointments. We masked up and sat in our cars with the windows open. My mother broke the rules and hugged me when she got out of the car, and my Dad followed suit. I still feel those hugs. I keep tem in my pocket to get through the hard days. On the hard days, I worry about my parents, living alone in their remote town, unable to socialize, except for one other couple in their “bubble”. Their lives have changed so drastically, yet, whenever I call them, or FaceTime them, they are cheerful, smiling and talkative. My mother speaks of the big celebration we will have when this is all over. I wanted to find a way to visit them safely; they told me just to wait. Lately, I have been reflecting on them, and it very slowly is dawning on me what an example they are still setting for us kids. My mother always would tell me, “Patience is a virtue.” I must have heard that a million times during my life. I was such a broody child, teenager and young adult. She would have none of it. “Get off the pity pot” was another favorite saying of hers. I remember getting into a big argument with my father as a young adult, complete with door slamming, yelling, and storming out. I collapsed into tears on a dining room chair, and my mother started laughing. I couldn’t believe it. Laughing at my despair, at my Dad’s and my inability to get along! “What is so funny?” I demanded.  “You two!” she said. “You should just see yourselves!”  I thought she was being so unsympathetic. Now I realize, she always has had the ability to see the bigger picture. The wisdom to understand that disagreeing, even arguing, was a healthy part of navigating relationships, and also a sign that two people truly care for one another, enough to fight for what we felt was right for the other, even if we were misguided, or even, a lot of the time, for me anyhow, wrong. I realize the lesson was not lost on me and how I learned to stop taking flight on people when the going got rough. Because of that, I have a good marriage, not perfect, but the kind that is built on a foundation of mutual respect and the result of the heavy lifting required when two fiercely individual people stick it out. She always had faith in us, her family. Every morning I lived in her house growing up, she would wake me up by saying “Rise and shine!” with a smile.  I would reply, “I’ll rise, but I won’t shine!” and thought myself extremely clever. My father once told me, “Your mother is the most optimistic and kind person I know.” Then he added,”But don’t mess with her family – then all bets are off.” That about sums it up. She and my father got through thick and thin together, and family was everything.

We are all so weary of this pandemic, and so sad. The holidays are not going to be the same this year. When you cannot see your family, when you can’t have what is so precious to you, it is just human nature to want it all the more. We feel scared, cheated, despairing, and everyone reacts in their own way to those feelings. I turn inward at times like this; I hibernate with my books, my writing, my animals. Lately I find myself not even feeling like doing that. There are days I sit in my chair, staring into space, thinking of nothing, really. Then I shake my head get up and try to do something constructive. Putting thoughts to paper is difficult these days; the path from my brain to the keyboard seems broken. The thoughts are swirling, each pounding on the door, and a few manage to slip under the door, but most of them just stay bottled up. This too shall pass.

This morning, one clear thought escaped and here it is: Listen to your Mom. Follow your parents example. They have lived through many dark times. They learned of hardship early in life. Their parents instilled stories of their own hardships from the depression, the wars, immigration from the old country. My parents know about hard times. They know how to be patient. If they can do it, then so can I. We will get back to some sort of normal. We just need to have faith. And remember this, “Normal is just a setting on the washing machine.” –Nancy Campbell, aka Mom.

Fall, poetry, Summer, Uncategorized, Writing

Fallen Apples

Trees sigh and shed tears of yellow leaves onto the breeze. 

Sad, for the passing of summer.

The leaves having soaked the lemony summer sunshine up

Into their veins, yet in vain

For the sun is not eternal, and none of us are immune from dying. 

Except, perhaps, the thousands year old boulder excavated a hundred years ago, where I sit, holding an apple up to my nose, eyes closed. (You can’t really smell an apple unless your eyes are closed) Cinnamon, clove, citrus and the earthy scent of raw honey. 

Red jewels with shiny skins the apples lie in the golden and green grass like treasures. Prepared for sweetness, I bite the smooth hard skin and it bursts beneath my teeth with a snap and a flood of tartness breaks the spell the scents have put me under. 

Autumn has crept up as usual, to spring in front of us and wave her red-gold-orange-flag to dazzle by day and enchant by night with a crisp diamond studded sky, as if winter is not far behind. 

I can’t stop the seasons.

But I can still take the broken apple to the barn and share it with my friends, the horse, and the donkey, and we can still bathe in the warm honey sunshine. 

See the dust rise up from the hay bales and dance in that last fools gold light of summer. 

Summer, Uncategorized, Writing

Life at Low Tide

Ah, the multifaceted, unique ocean. She defies all expectations as surely as she exists. At 6am, July 21st, 2019 in Tiverton, Rhode Island, the beach is as barren of human life as a shipwreck. The dew points are in the 70% range, meaning, the air is like a sweaty tee-shirt cast off by a roadside flag man at the end of an August workday. Yet the ocean breeze carries the salty breath of the advancing tide to blow valiantly on one’s perspiring face, bringing temporary relief. The water itself rushes in vain to encircle humidity swelled ankles, and as it recedes, it tickles the toes with a promise to be right back and try again to provide respite. Alas, the ocean is as warm as bathwater. But if her temperature does not refresh the body, the playful antics, and displays she puts on possess the power to sooth the human soul.  A rock in the sand makes a perfect seat for the brave soul who awoke so early to attend the show. Behind the single rock bench, an imposing, black-walled cliff momentarily shades the seething July sun. The slightly cooler air beneath the cliff smells of decayed seaweed and salt. Along the greenish horizon, a single fishing boat putts along, noisily trawling the shifting waters. The fickle acoustics of the water amplifies the annoying hum of the motor. The ocean competes and triumphs. Her deep green waters roll and pitch, hurling themselves into a fit of waves that crash with a familiar drawling roar against shiny black rocks. Droplets of surf leap above the rocks, and a cascade of diamonds shower down, glinting in the sunlight like so many cast away jewels. They disintegrate into creamy white sea foam. The lone audience member dips her feet into the water and a sea foam frosting glazes her painted toenails.

Where is everybody? The beach is so empty, one can imagine they are the sole survivor of some catastrophic event. If you overlook the obvious inconveniences and sorrows and loneliness such an event would incur, one could imagine a life of days floating on a tranquility that comes from within. A cleanness of mind derived from the absence of other human voices. Voices that all too often criss-cross over one another in conflict, hatred, and fear. The show is over. The lone survivor grabs her sandals and walks onward to the north end of the beach. The tide has delivered a bounty of ocean detritus. Piles of minuscule pink and orange shells glisten in the sun. There is less rock and more sand on this end of the beach. Barefoot walking is pleasant. Heels strike hard, damp sand, and the impact vibrates up through the spine and against the eardrum. The sound is hollow and scarcely perceptible. The sun cuts through the humidity and lays a its burning talons on the back of the neck. The survivor’s path swerves into the shallow water, seeking even the slightest hint of coolness to make the blazing heat more tolerable. Sweat beads form on her hairline and drip steadily down her face, her neck, into her ears. Up ahead, a set of giant rocks form a line into the water. A yellow sign stands in the sand, beckoning. Is it the end of the walk? Is it a warning? No, it states one is entering a nature preserve area. Foot traffic only. She walks on. The sand becomes powdery and deeper, dotted with single spikes of sea grass poking up here and there. There are tidal pools full of rocks, shells and seaweed. One could wade and find treasure. Maybe later. The beach comes to a point and turns a corner to the left. On the right, several sea birds lounge on a rock jetty. The ocean drowns out any sound they may make. For now, they are still life birds. They are a postcard-like backdrop to a random tuft of tall green grass. 

The survivor rounds the corner to discover the ocean here turns itself into a river. A little spit of sand at that point reveals footprints, both human, and dog. But a wary glance in all directions for at least a mile reveals no hint of human life. Only hazy blue sky, sand, water, and tall grasses. A sudden movement startles; a pterodactyl with a huge wingspan rises from the far bank of the river. It is so big that it casts a momentary dark shadow over the sun. The creature lands about 30 feet further away. It is not a pterodactyl. It is a heron. The survivor has disturbed its fishing expedition. The heron shakes its jagged feathers and settles itself back to the task at hand. The sun is rising higher in the sky and sears through the torpid haze of the morning. The walk back daunts her. The survivor turns back. As she passes the footprints on the spit of sand, she wonders, where did the owners of the footprints go? The tracks seem to appear from nowhere, nothing leading up to or away from them. Did two ghosts materialize from the ether to haunt the last place they inhabited? Did she disturb them, causing them to vanish in haste back to the heavens? When one is a lone survivor on an empty beach on a hauntingly beautiful July morning, anything is possible.

The walk becomes less leisurely. Thoughts of civilization distract the survivor; a mug of coffee, a soft seat in a high-back chair, her feet up, the drone of an air conditioner. As she passes one cottage, she sees a man standing in a kitchen, coffee in hand. Their eyes meet through the picture window. She averts her eyes, not wishing to intrude, but before she does, the man gives a nod and a small smile. Relief washes over like a sparkling wave that breaks into tiny diamonds within her heart. It is simply the beach that is absent of people. One can smile to oneself and feel good about that.

Still Life Birds