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, April 30, 2017

The arc of a life

Sky and blossoms
When I left my yoga class on Friday, I happened to look up at the pretty blossoms and saw the clouds behind, making a beautiful scene. Since I always have my cellphone with me, I snapped this picture and continue to look at it and enjoy it. A moment in time that will not come again.

For some reason I cannot name, I have been inordinately happy for days now. I wake up with a smile on my face, and I snuggle into bed with a sense of contentment, my body tired but amazingly free of unusual aches (I always have some, but nothing bothersome). I know this period is temporary, but for that matter, isn't everything? I plan to enjoy it for as long as I can.

I've been thinking lately about the arc of one's life, how we all start out as infants and progress through decades of life into old age, if we're lucky. I'm there, I'm old now, and I notice that I think of people I've admired through film and television and how they are dealing with growing older. Yesterday I happened to watch a couple of episodes from the mid-1990s of Star Trek: Voyager, with Kate Mulgrew playing Captain Janeway. I have been a fan of all the Star Trek series, from the original 1960s with Captain Kirk and the half-Vulcan Spock, all the way through the series spinoffs, which started with Patrick Stewart playing Captain John-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Voyager is the only one that had a female captain, and I think Mulgrew did a great job.

What struck me while watching those old episodes yesterday is how much Kate Mulgrew has psysically changed. She began filming Orange Is the New Black a few years ago, a fairly new series in its fifth season. It's an original on Netflix and the season is scheduled to air in early June. (I read that hackers have just released ten of the episodes because Netflix refused to pay a ransom.) In the Voyager series, Mulgrew was slim and athletic, and now, twenty years later, she's gained a good deal of weight and I don't think she works out much any more. Twenty years doesn't seem like that long a time to me, but you know, it really is in the arc of a life.

We usually have a short span of around eighty years of life, so twenty years is a full quarter of that time, and we go from infancy to adulthood in the first quarter, have a career of sorts in the second, then become mature and move into retirement in the third quarter. Now that I'm in that last quarter (from 60 to 80), I realize that I've gained a great deal of perspective that just wasn't available to me in the earlier part of my life. And I wonder how it ever happened that I got this old while I wasn't paying attention. Nevertheless, here I am, and at the present moment I am enjoying every last little bit of it.

* * *

I stopped by the library the other day to pick up a book that I'd put on hold and had arrived in the library. The library often puts up a display of timely books, and I saw one on gardening. Of course right now that's what everybody who gardens is thinking about, as April is almost over and it's time to get those plants into the ground. I picked up one of the "Chicken Soup for the Soul" series, this one on gardening. If you're not familiar with these books, they are short inspirational pieces that I find to be a nice bedtime book. Although they tend to be a little more saccharine that my usual fare, it's nice to pick up the book and read a little. Often they bring a tear to my eye and I often admire how easily the writers are able to tell a story in so few words.

Anyway, I was reading it yesterday and was interested in one article about an event that began in 1884 in Tombstone, Arizona. Two young Scottish immigrants married and moved to Tombstone the following year. Needless to say, it was quite a different environment for the young wife, Mary, so her family in Scotland sent her a care package.
In the spring of 1885, a large box arrived from Mary’s family in Scotland. Carefully packed inside the box, Mary found plants, bulbs and cuttings from the beautiful garden that she missed so much – heather, purple columbine, tulips, daffodils, and several rooted cuttings of the White Lady Banksia rose that she had planted as a child. As a token of the friendship so important to the young bride, Mary gave Amelia one of the cuttings. The two friends planted it near the woodshed in the back patio of the boarding house. Amazingly, the Scottish rose tree flourished in the Arizona desert.
Of course I went online to find out the story of that rose tree, which is now considered to be the world's largest. Who would have thought that a tea rose from Scotland would flourish in the Arizona desert? Well, it did, and the story of the tree is here, if you want to learn more about it. The above quote is from that website. Tombstone not only has the world's largest rose tree, but it also holds a rose festival every year to celebrate roses in general and that tree in particular. It now covered around 8,000 square feet and is supported by a series of beams to create a shady area underneath the now-enormous trunk. Take a look:

Fortunately for the rose tree, it's not limited to the short life span of humans, so it's impossible to know just where it is in the arc of its life. But who would have believed that it would grow so large in such an inhospitable climate? And it all started from a small cutting sent across the ocean to a homesick young wife more than a hundred years ago.

During my long life, I have had periods where I was intensely religious, and others where I was rather indifferent to religion. Since I moved to the Pacific Northwest nine years ago, I have found my religion in the outdoors, going once a week on a hike into the woods in the winter months and in the High Country during summer when the snow has receded. The magnificent Old Growth trees that I am privileged to admire are scattered throughout the area. Some of them are close to a thousand years old, and if there were not such a thing as a timber industry, they would grow much older. Everywhere I go, I see the remnants of huge trees that were harvested long ago, and the forest has grown around them. Some of them have become "nurse logs" that nurture young trees and gradually sink back into the soil. It is impossible not to feel sadness for the loss of those magnificent old giants.

The arc of a life well lived, though, is pretty much what all of us aspire to. Death and decay come to all living things, some in a short time, and some in the span of centuries. It is what it is, and I find myself incredibly grateful for the arc of my own life. It has been filled with thrills and chills, as well as loss and love, but as it continues in my later years, I have a garden to plant today, friends to visit at the coffee shop, and the luxury of a laptop and the ability to create a post out of thin air, with only my mind, heart and soul to guide me.

However it is that I came to enjoy this Sunday morning activity, somehow it's been years now and I'm still creating. My partner lies sleeping next to me, the tea is inevitably gone, and the day beckons. Whatever you find to fill the arc of your life with, I hope today is a high point, or that a spark of enjoyment comes to you somewhere during these hours. Until we meet again next week, I hope you are well and happy. You never know what tomorrow will bring, but today is the only present we have. Blessings from my little corner of the world.


Linda Reeder said...

I awoke just about the time you pushed "publish' on this post. It looks to be another dry, or mostly dry, day. We'll head out for our walk after breakfast.
At lunchtime we'll be in a restaurant meeting a fourth cousin of Tom's who Tom discovered through Ancestry.com. She will bring her father and they will share photos and family history. I'll listen and ask questions.
Afterward we hope to visit the Bellevue Botanical Garden and stroll through the beauty there.
With some warmth expected this coming week, we plan to get some of the vegetable garden ready for planting and maybe plant a few seeds. We'll work on our patio pots and start moving things out of the greenhouse.
Yes, the outdoors is my cathedral too. Spring time makes me happy. Thanks for sharing your thoughts in another inspiring post.

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

Like you I find a connection to nature around me. When I studied the era of romanticism in history I loved how it was expressed in Western music and literature. I began to figure out that my soul is somehow tied to that movement. Both in French and German literature I am drawn to it. In music and ballet as well and even art. I am not a Star Trek fan. I suppose it didn't click with my notion of reality? I really was grabbed by Star Wars though. And I do like Avatar to a certain degree. The acts of violence in all are an issue for me. I guess playing in war ruins affected my point of view. I hate how we can be so violent and destructive. Thankfully we are born with a sense of hope and that helps to move me along the arc. Thanks for another inspirational insight.

Marty said...

You're right, as you so often are - I too have insights now that I didn't have 20 or 30 years ago. I was too busy rushing around through life to think much about it, I expect. I'm glad for your current burst of happiness. I've found that I've mellowed out a bit now, no longer having those intense moments of anger or frustration, but also, sadly, rarely feeling the intensity of overwhelming joy. The good thing is that I'm so mellow now that the loss doesn't bother me much!

Arkansas Patti said...

Ooh, I hope that burst of happiness is contagious. Seriously, delighted you are enjoying such a feeling of well being. Milk it and just wallow in it.
I am a Trekkie also and enjoyed each of the series. Don't get OITNB for which I am glad now. I always hate seeing a favorite actor suddenly appear older. It should happen slowly as it does to us.
Keep that glow going as long as you can.

Anonymous said...

You seem happy and content with your life, and I hope you will continue to be so. Aloha from Hawaii.

Elephant's Child said...

I am thrilled that your emotions are stuck on the happy setting. Long may it stay that way. And yes, grateful for the insights I am gaining as my life ebbs away. Learning is such a gift.

Gigi said...

Never question when you are happy - just enjoy it, is my motto.

Funny that you brought up gardening today - I spent a good portion of the afternoon working in the backyard - the end of the "cleaning" up project is in sight. Hopefully, in the next week or so I will have returned the yard to the way it should be and can then start adding in my own touches.

I LOVE the story of the rose tree!!

Have a wonderful week, my friend. xo

Tabor said...

Spring seems to bring out the inspiration and perspiration in us all.

Marie Smith said...

Perspective of the last quarter of life is well earned. it gives a wisdom which helps one enjoy the simple things, a walk, a shared meal, time with a child, Enjoy every minute! You inspire me, Jan.

Red said...

The arc of life is a great metaphor. We are elderly and have lived a good life. I'm sure you feel the same as I that for some people their life was cut short.
Keep on feeling happy!

Mom of 3 said...

I've been reading your letters for a long time now, but haven't posted until today. I really enjoy them and I thank you for sharing your life.

I am a woman of faith who doesn't talk of religion. Religion is the church building, its bylaws, its fallible members. Faith is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I think many people confuse the two.

Rita said...

I love-love-love the story of the rose tree! Wow!

I am now in that last piece of the long arc, too. Seems to be a time for relishing everything--past, present, and future. I seem to be more grateful as the years go by. This was a fantastic post! Enjoy your day. :)

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

Just love these Sunday posts! Nicely done.

Linda Myers said...

I love how interesting life is after 60!

Dee said...

Dear DJan, thanks so much for including the link to the informative page on the rose tree in Tombstone. It's amazing to me; I simply never realized a rose could grow like that.

As to the span of life: I'm 81 now and realizing how precious my days are as I write my blog about letting go of control and simply going with the flow. I'm finding that each day I'm more able to simply be in the moment, which for me is both the present and Presence.

Yesterday I began to work again on polishing the convent memoir. When I'd finished two chapters, I went to the kitchen to make a cup of tea. And suddenly, standing by the window in the sunlight--which hadn't been present in the overcast sky for over a week--I felt buoyed up--buoyant. I felt inundated by happiness.

And I realized anew that writing for me is really prayer. It is a time when I live in the present. There is no past or future; there is just the now of the word. It is a time when I am, as Kario wrote this week, mindful. That feeling stayed with me. And I think that both you and I experienced a taste of the deep down Oneness that is part of the span of our life.


Cynthia said...

My partner's family built the Rose Tree Inn and still owns it and the rose tree! I was so surprised to see it on your blog. My partner grew up in Illinois but spent every summer at the Rose Tree with his aunt, uncle, and cousins. We have lots of family photos posed under the blooming rose tree but I've never been there when it was in bloom. Apparently you can smell it from quite a distance. The reason the rose flourished in this desert climate is that there is an underground spring beneath where it was planted.
Thought you might enjoy this additional information.