I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Life stages

I am always struck when I come over to this blog, preparing to write, when I look at the pictures of me on the banner. Having absolutely no idea what to write about today, but with lots of possibilities stirring around in my head, I stared at those pictures for a long time, thinking. Last night I picked up a journal I wrote in early 1982, wondering who I was then. It's almost embarrassing when I see the naive, sweet person who wrote in there, not the me of today at all. Or is it?

At that time, I had recently experienced a strong religious conversion and was praying and meditating all the time. My wonderful cat Fopaw and I and lived in a basement apartment in Boulder. My half-time job at the National Center for Atmospheric Research was secure. Life was good. That conversion and the years I spent contemplating the possibility of entering a convent, spending Holy Week in prayer and contemplation during those years -- it all seems to have happened to another person. Those years are still inside me, though. Today I don't even attend a church of any kind, and so much has happened to me during those almost-thirty years.

It got me to wondering about the passage of time. Changes come into my life so imperceptibly, to my body, that I don't notice or comment on them, which I guess is natural. The stages of a woman's life are usually thought of as happening in three or four parts. The version I like best is Virgin, Mother, Warrior, Crone. It's empowering to think of those years after motherhood to be in a sense fighting to become an authentic person. The only one of these four that I would change is "Crone," since the sense of that word to me is not just an old woman, but a hag, a disagreeable old crone.

However, in looking up the meaning of the word, I found a reference to a book I read long ago, Joseph Campbell's The Hero With a Thousand Faces. It reminded me that Campbell links the crone to the Fairy Godmother. What a different image comes into my mind with THAT change in wording. The actual meaning of the word is "old woman" and I certainly can identify with that. The young girl who wrote in my journal was in her mid- to late thirties, what I now think of is the prime of life.

Rather than thinking of myself as a different person, though, looking at the handwriting and reading the words I wrote thirty years ago, I see the stepping stone of sincere searching for meaning that I was reaching for in all those religious meditations. It culminates in the person writing here, in this blog, today. This morning, still dark outside and with my partner stirring next to me, I can give thanks for the earlier Me and know that her journey is filled with adventure, discovery, tragedy, and contentment.

This week I will have my 68th birthday. As the oldest sibling in a family of six, we are all still here on the planet, and we are all in relatively good health. My parents had the equivalent of two families: three girls were born within seven years and then they stopped having any children until I was sixteen, when they had three more in quick succession. The last two were born after I had married and left home. My very youngest sister, Fia, just had her 48th birthday and is a grandmother. Being twenty years older than she is, I can wear the mantle of "crone" or "fairy godmother" with pride and look forward to what life experiences still lie ahead.

Although I don't pray or meditate in the same formal sense that I did thirty years ago, the attempt to make contact with God paid off. Today it seems natural to hear the Voice in my heart that assures me the path to wholeness is firmly planted beneath my feet. When I stray off the path, I am very aware of it and quiet contemplation helps me to find my way back.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Cold and snow

The cold and snow moved in overnight on Friday, canceling my usual Saturday morning walk and making it necessary for me to use my broom like a snow shovel. I broke up the ice in the birdbath and cleared enough of the porch to put some bird seed out for my birdies. Yes, I worried about them all night, thinking of them huddled in some branches trying to keep from being blown away by 45-mph winds and staying warm in below-freezing temperatures.

Sometimes I wonder about the propensity I have to worry about things I can't do anything about. It was a problem last year when I closely followed the web cam of the hatching of an eaglet and watching his parents care for him. I worried when they were gone for too long, hoping nothing had happened to them, and then I was heartbroken when the little eaglet (who was no so little by then) died of pneumonia just before he was ready to fledge the nest. I have been unable to appreciate web cams looking into wild nests since then.

My grandmother was a worrier, and my sister gave me a quote that has served me well: "Worry is a misuse of the imagination." I think of that and then come up with other imaginative ways to worry anyway. The abrupt change in the weather makes me fearful for all the wild creatures in our local woods, but they have been managing quite well without me or my worry since long before humans were even around.

Yesterday, Saturday, I took the bus to town because the roads were frozen and slippery. Since there is no bus service on Sundays any more, I will only venture out on my own two feet today. Our temperatures are not projected to get above freezing, even in the daytime, for the next three days, so the streets and sidewalks will remain treacherous. This part of the country doesn't seem to put much sand on the streets, and walking around town on sidewalks covered with several inches of ice wasn't much fun yesterday.

I remember so well being amused by my grandmother whenever she would come up with things in my life for her to worry about. I remember telling her not to worry, and she would respond, "Well, somebody has to; you don't!" As if there was a need to manufacture scenarios of possible calamity or something dire would occur. And now I have become just like her!

Last night, however, I went to bed feeling satisfied that I had done my part in keeping my birdies safe: they ate more birdseed than ever before in one day; they drank water from the birdbath since all the other water around was frozen solid, and I pictured them in roosting in the trees last night with full bellies, which allowed me to snuggle into my down comforter and sleep quite well, in spite of all the cold and snow.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Our furry friends

I had a synchronicity of sorts this morning, when I started reading the posts my blogging friends have put on their sites since I last visited. One of the nice things about Google Reader is that I can choose to peruse them quickly or visit the site to leave a comment and see how the post is laid out on the page. My friend Star has a post this morning about a ginger cat of hers, Jasper, who has gone over the Rainbow Bridge. And then the very next post that came up in the Reader was from Judy titled "All Our Pawsome Friends" that informed me about a worldwide moment of silent meditation to remember our furry friends, those here and those who have gone before us. It is scheduled for 3:00pm (Pacific Time) today, and Judy's link gives more information if you want to learn more.

It was my sister and brother-in-law Pete who first introduced me to the concept of the Rainbow Bridge, which is a comforting myth about where our beloved animals go when they die, and how we will all be reunited when we ourselves pass over. Since the Christian Church, especially the Catholic Church, doesn't believe that animals have souls and therefore are gone forever when they die, I think this is a fine remedy to that cruel belief. If love is what life is all about, where is there more perfect love? How can it be gone forever?

Of course we won't ever know the answer to that in this lifetime, but the synchronicity got me to thinking about animals in my life who have been particularly special to me. When I was young, in my early teens, we had a dog I loved immoderately. He was a stray that adopted my parents on a golf course in Puerto Rico. A small terrier mix, we named him Mulligan and he was with our family for many years. One of my favorite memories of my time with him was blackberry picking in Georgia. The woods around our house had lots of wild berries, but also lots of snakes. Mulligan would run ahead looking to scare away any snakes that might threaten me.

He was also one of the smartest dogs I've ever known. Mulligan was as much a family member as any of us, and I can still picture him in my mind. I don't have any pictures of him, but if my sister reads this and sends me one, I'll put it in here. He lived with us in Puerto Rico, California, Texas, and Georgia. His selfless love for each one of us still feels present in my heart. He taught me that you don't have to hold onto grudges or see any family member with anything but love.
Mulligan with my leg on left (thanks, Pete!)
I don't have any pets at this time of my life. When I started skydiving, that passion consumed me completely, and gave me so many options to travel, that it wouldn't have been fair to anyone to have a pet. In my thirties and forties I almost always had a cat, and my dearest one was Fopaw, an all-black cat that was a talker (must have had some Siamese in her). She was long gone by the time I started skydiving. Then I married Smart Guy, who has never lived in a home with a pet, and my job at work changed so that I was traveling a great deal, so I haven't had a cat in twenty years. There is a feral cat who hangs out in our neighborhood here, but I discourage his visits, since I am now feeding the wild birds who come to my porch. It satisfies me a great deal, and we both appreciate watching the bird population who have found us.

Just now, thinking about the birds, I stopped writing while I checked the feeders on the front porch, as the sun is now just beginning to come up. With the time change, the sun arises around 7:15am and sets around 4:30pm, a nine-hour day on its way down to seven hours before we reach the solstice in late December. The birds find a place to roost about a half-hour before the sun goes down and come to breakfast just before sunrise. The juncos are the first to arrive, then the chickadees, sparrows, nuthatches and goldfinch. The woodpeckers and flickers have no schedule I've been able to figure out; they show up to delight me at various times of the day. And our juvenile hawk, who sees my front porch as part of his territory, comes around at least once a day. When he shows up, the porch grows suddenly quiet and empty of other birds. Sometimes he lands on the railing and usually before I can get my camera aimed at him, he's gone. A magnificent bird.

My life has been immensely enriched by all of the furry (and feathered) friends I have known over the years. I think of how many people all over the world who feel the same way, and I give thanks for the opportunity to have known them and to have shared my life with myriad incarnations of love.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Extra hour day

Today it will seem like I get to have an extra hour, since Daylight Saving Time ended this morning. It's funny how my mind works: there is no difference in the length of the day, but it seems like it. Now in the mornings it will be light out when I walk to the bus, and dark earlier. Here in Bellingham, the sun will set at 4:40pm, and by the end of December it will be dark before 4:00.

I have been asked by many of my friends here if the darkness bothers me. It seems that many people really suffer from the short days, long nights, and often-rainy winter weather. I'm not sure if I will one day feel that pain, but so far, I've enjoyed the warm cozy long evenings and have taken up knitting. Of course, my computer and the feeling of connectivity through my news blogs and the more than sixty-odd blogs I follow from all over the world certainly help. Through the internet, I read about the adventures of my virtual friends, most of whom are older, like me, with the occasional young mother whose children I love to read about and who fill another need. At the coffee shop four days a week, I visit with Leo, who I have watched grow from a baby to a toddler. He comes over to me with his latest book and plops it in my lap. He's beginning to talk now and knows my name. It means so much to me to see his beautiful, bright little face smile at me when he sees me.

The last few days I've woken from sleep with a positive attitude. I don't know what causes it exactly, because sometimes I wake with a pervasive sadness. It helps to remember that whatever feeling I have today is fleeting. It gets better, or it gets worse. I wonder if my age has anything to do with it. When I was a young woman, I couldn't ever feel that my situation would change; it felt permanent. Maybe this is one benefit of getting older: your perspective becomes larger, more expansive, and more forgiving of the human condition. It also becomes more precious, since I know that the length of my life is mostly behind me, and the years ahead are limited. That's okay.

I went to the endodontist this past week to get a root canal, since the crown I got in June has not settled down. My dentist had given me a referral, so I decided to have an expert assess the situation. His prognosis is that, for now, it's not necessary. He told me what to watch for, and said it may not ever stop sending me a twinge of shock now and then when eating or drinking. I also learned that 25-40% of all crowns will eventually need root canals, and as one ages, that percentage continues to increase. Things wear out, and our teeth are not immune. I remember when I was little, almost every person who was my present my age had dentures, and now it's not very common at all.

That reminds me of a woman I met when I was on a trek in the Peruvian Andes. My friend Marla and I were on a week-long trek into the mountains, and we followed a donkey trail to a little village named Colcabamba that our guidebook said was a good place to replenish our supplies. Well, nothing came into that village except by burro, so we were oddities indeed, two women arriving by foot. We were taken in by a wonderful Quechua matriarch, given a place to sleep and food for our journey. The woman and I had some common language: we both spoke some Spanish. I learned that we were the same age, 38. But she looked ancient, and when she smiled, she had only three or four teeth that showed, and all of them were dark and rotten. No endodontists here. No dentists, either. The Quechua chew coca leaves like we use coffee, and they also chew them with lime to release the active ingredients in the leaf. This wreaks havoc on their teeth. So even at a relatively young age, my friend in the Andes was not going to keep her teeth. But I will never forget her. I wonder if she is still alive, thirty years later.

I followed the mid-term elections closely this week, and I was so pleased that Senator Murray here in Washington won re-election. It was touch and go for awhile, and I had braced myself for the worst. Although the Democrats took it on the chin, I did my small part and voted for my local Dems. The health care bill was touted at the main reason we lost the House, but for my part, I am glad they passed it, even with all the political carnage it cost us. We only had a small window of opportunity, and what was passed was so weakened by compromise it hardly resembled the public option I hoped they would pass. But the foot is in the door, and I don't believe it is possible to repeal it. I hope it will be strengthened as the years go by, for the sake of my young friends, like little one-year-old Leo, who deserves to have affordable, accessible health care when he gets sick.

Well, that's the state of my world here on November 7, the day I get an extra hour. What's going on in your little place in the vast Universe?