Friday, June 10, 2011

White Noise

Here I am, cliffside along the north fork of a Washington river, one touted as the least polluted in the state. The setting is idyllic: comfortable home balanced on a cliff above the river, surrounded with rain forest cedars, fir, and ferns. A bald eagle flies by at eye level, her nest a quarter mile up-river. Osprey screech, patrol and perch along this stretch of water. They fly below my chair here on the deck. Great blue heron drags his ceremonial grey through the shallows next to a deep pool, turning fishing into an artform. Blue-black stellar jays jump and sprint and zip through the woods, balancing here, stabbing there, in a frenetic forage quite out of place with this spot's serenity. A water dipper does her amazing snorkel tricks in the rapid river below me.

One of the many reasons I love this spot is the ambient noise of the river. The river is omni-present, day or night, with windows open or closed. The river's noise blocks out other, less serene, sounds, like the many trucks hauling rock and soil up the hill just yards away from the house and the whiney motorcycles on the river road below me.

The river sounds mask all that I don't want to hear, all the sounds of my fellow humans who also savor this precious part of the planet. It's "white noise" for this serene spot.

I really like the phrase "white noise," as it connotes a sense of purity and good intention. It conveys the idea that this noise will sooth, not harm, the listener. That's very different from the outrageous blast of ad that shatters my calm while watching a television show. That is not white noise; that is the blackest, most evil, most treacherous noise I know of. White noise is very different from the deep thump of base coming from a low-riding Honda two blocks from my house. It's very different from the inane chatter spurting from a truck's radio, blather I cannot escape at a downtown intersection.

I like and use white noise. My white noise machine offers several choices. I can zone out with crickets, light rain, surf, heart beat, or non-descript steady burr. Any of these can wipe out for me the distractions of intermittent rattle from my environs. I can pretend I'm somewhere else or just lose myself in the redundancy of the vibrations coming from this small device.

White noise is, I think, big business. Searching for white noise info, I came across a site that offers these white noise water options:

Spring Water
Big rushing waves of water in a stream
Lapping water and engine noise as longboat cruises down river
Water filling sink at rapid pace
Big rushing waves of water in a stream
Water dripping at a medium pace
Big, frothy splash in an indoor swimming pool
Water lapping and splashing against boulders
Ocean surf sound with whales singing.
Medium rain on concrete or pavement in a quiet city
River, rooster and birds
Early morning by a river with dog and birds.
River flowing over rocks
Ducks quack and splash around in a pond
A chorus of frogs in a pond
Creaking boats, lapping water
Trickling water from a mountain spring
Forest ambience after rain shower with ocean surf in the background
Slow single drops of water
Waterfall (many sizes)
Rain dripping onto a rain gutter with the sound of cars driving on wet street
Waves (waves can jump, soar, surge, swell, spray, drip or pound)
Water trickle (with sewer / car sounds)

I'm thinking I can find just about any white noise related to water that I want. I'm thinking I won't order the white noise of water trickle with sewer and car sounds. It's true: I prefer the original white noise, the cascade of river I'm enjoying right now, but I feel comforted understanding that so many options of white noise are available to me. I'll sleep better just knowing that.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Why Flowers?

After a trip to two cemeteries this Memorial Day weekend, I started thinking. Each cemetery was fastidiously prepped for its annual cascade of flowers. Greens were intense. Edges were sharp. Walks were swept clean. The stage was set. Bring on the blooms.

But why flowers? Why do we make this annual tribute to the memory of our loved ones with flowers? Why stake out the cemeteries with baskets, vases, shapes, and sprays of roses, carnations, lilies, daisies, delphiniums, iris, lilacs, and peonies?

Blooms are, in fact, a part of most of life's important rites of passage: births, confirmations, graduations, weddings, anniversaries, illnesses, awards, and deaths. Why, I wondered, are these fragile creations are such integral parts of our stay on this planet?

I read lots of pieces about the topic, learning that flowers were deemed to be important to human health in the first century AD. A few centuries later, flowers of certain colors were thought to be effective in healing specific ailments, with red blooms helping blood-related maladies and blue blossoms helping to calm patients. Even now blue blossoms are thought to aid in the resolution of stress and addiction issues.

Much research has shown the benefits of having flowers in healing situations, such as hospitals and sick rooms at home. Some research has shown that flowers can assist in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease. Workplace studies have shown that the addition of flowers and plants can reduce stress and increase productivity.

And some research I read found positive impacts of floral arrangements in helping a society deal with trauma. Evidence came from Japan, after World War II, and the United States, after the September 11, 2001 attacks. This doesn't surprise me. Images of the massive flower banks following the deaths of John Lennon and Princess Diana attest to the value of floral expression of a group's grief.

Flowers at funerals are common in most religions, I learned, with the exception of orthodox Jewish ceremonies and those of some Islamic sects. One explanation I read of blooms' absence in Jewish funerals is the requirement that burial comes immediately after death. Since the body would not linger and decay, there was little need for strongly scented flowers to mask unpleasant odors. So a logical reason for massed flowers at funerals was initially for the comfort of the living, so that the smell of decay would not mar the ceremony.

Research conducted by the funereal floral industry has strong data (surprise) supporting the positive impacts of flowers on survivors. Flowers provide a reminder of the transitory nature of life, of the beauty of the departed's character, and of the promise of the bliss of the hereafter. Plants are deemed to be especially valued as long-term reminders of the loved one and as markers' of the solace and support offered to the grieving family.

So the vase of deep purple iris and the cheery basket of tulips and daisies that I placed on my father's gravestone and memory marker comfort me. They remind me of his dedication to his family, of his desire to create fun experiences for us over and over and over, of his devotion to his lovely wife Mary.

And the stunning arrangement I lay gently on my husband's marker at the veterans' cemetery strikes deep. The spread of white mums and carnations is reminiscent of his incredibly sweet innocence. His mother once told me that he didn't believe that people would ever lie and I found evidence of his deep trust in other humans. He was shocked and hurt when people he trusted were deceptive. The stunning dark blue larkspur sprays in this arrangement epitomize for me his reverence for the natural world, his dedication, both at home and work, to preserving the resources of this planet. Center stage of this arrangement are star gazer lilies, their deep pink petals in shocking contrast to their white surround. These are my favorite lilies, as they are fun, vibrant, and strong. Their aroma is a spicey clove blend. Like my late husband, these lilies turn heads, make gazes linger. They testify to his humor, his brilliance, his good looks. He was an incredible astronomer, a stunning star gazer, he was.

Joined together with millions of others this holiday weekend, I offer up the delicate, transitory glimpse of floral beauty. I am so grateful for the chance to mark joyful memory with delicate bloom, so glad I can grieve serenely with flowers.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

A Sacrifice of Buntings

Last spring lazuli buntings visited my yard and they were spectacular. Their intense blue feathers, set off by a bib of rich bronze, transformed them into flying jewels. A year ago, I wrote about them:

"In the past few days I have been blessed to watch brilliant lazuli buntings peck good seed from my feeders and drink clean water from my bird baths. I am sorry if you have never seen a lazuli bunting up close. They are stunning: tropical turquoise, coral, and white dress these sweet finches. Their flash of blue through the garden is absolutely hypnotic. I've stationed myself at windows, perched myself on a futon in the sunroom, peered from behind living room drapes, just so I could gaze at these gorgeous birds."

This year is different. This year I'm enduring birder envy, as a dear friend a couple miles away is posting pictures of the eleven lazuli buntings visiting her yard and I am seeing none in mine. I find myself sitting in the sunroom while knitting, glancing up between stitches to see if any are at the small feeder or splashing in the birdbath. None. I move to the kitchen and spy to see if any are perched at the large feeder. None. The giddy antics of American goldfinches are delightful to watch, as they fly a roller coaster track through the yard and hang their beautiful yellow selves upside down on the thistle feeder. Beautiful. But they are not lazuli buntings.

My lucky friend who's hosting eleven buntings gave me a valuable tip: she said that a collection of buntings has been labeled a decoration, a mural, and a sacrifice. How wonderful and mysterious to have such vivid collective nouns for these gorgeous birds! Who makes these terms up? Who decides which labels will stick?

I did some study and found verbal delights. Some collective bird nouns are very apt. For example, a group of starlings is called a chattering or a murmuration; a group of geese in flight is called a wedge and that same group on water is called a gaggle. Jays gathered together are called a party and chickens, a peep. A group of turtle doves is called a pitying. These terms make sense.

Some collective bird nouns are lyrical and lovely. Have you ever seen a bouquet (of pheasants) or a charm (of hummingbirds) or a wisp (of snipes) or an exaltation (of larks)? But others are less favorable. When ravens gather, they are called an unkindness or a congress. I wouldn't want to be tagged with either label. Gathered crows are called a murder, while a group of herons is named a siege. Peacocks together are aptly called an ostentation.

Other terms I looked at didn't seem to have clear reasoning related to human views of the birds. Would you name a group of raptors a cauldron? Would you call gathering of parrots a company? Would you think that kettle is a fine label for a bunch of nighthawks? How about the word knob? Would you apply that to a group of widgeons? Not sure I understand...

I'm enchanted by these collective nouns, these group names given to birds by curious and imaginative folks over hundreds of years. And I am ever so grateful for the lazuli bunting, whose presence in my birder friend's yard spurred her to share bird words, which started this linguistic quest. I think I'll step outside now and scan the yard for a sacrifice of buntings.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Time Lapse

I left the house on Wednesday afternoon and returned the following day, about 27 hours later. What the heck happened while I was gone? Changes were so significant that I really wanted a time lapse photograph of my yard for that brief period.

You see, spring's been reluctant this year. Teasing sun one day, then growly clouds and wind and rain and even snow days thereafter. Warm afternoons, then frosty nights. Unevenness, but consistent in that spring remains in the lower realms of temperature and pleasure.

So when I trekked to the airport this week, I expected to return to the status quo. Yard perched on the edge of spring, ready to jump into the grand excess of bloom but not quite there. When I returned, I saw that my yard had moved ahead without me.

The small aspen grove was just grey and white when I left. The catkins had come and gone. The heart and initials I'd carved five years ago were clearly visible, right behind the upright log I use for a seat inside the grove. The cotoneaster spread its gawky branches on the north side of the grove, with no indication of brightening up for a spring show. The pine behind the grove stood somberly, as it has since I planted it.

But when I returned the aspen grove was a dazzle with that delicious green of new leaf, a green so intense that it almost hurts the eye! All the aspens grinned with their heart-shaped green baubles; they just looked giddy. I sat on the log seat in the grove and was covered by canopy, a salad-green duvet of brand new leaves.

The flower bed lining the south side of the house was all about anticipation when I left. Gladioli spears were poised for action. Violas had completed their debutantes' dance; the novelty of being first blooms out was gone. And the peonies, all seven of them, just looked a bit grumpy, like they were tired of doing this annual climb from dark soil to bright light.

But when I returned the flower bed was invigorated, primarily because of peony action. Looking along the long narrow bed, I saw monsters, deep burgundy claws climbing skyward. The fingered peony leaves were stretching higher and higher, opening up like sharp-nailed limbs of prehistoric beasts. I could not believe how the plants had grown in just one day. I wondered if I could catch some of that movement if I just sat there without blinking, staring at these amazing plants seeking the sun. I've pondered similarly in Decembers when an amaryllis bolts out of its pot, hellbent for the sky. Would it be possible to actually see the inch or two being added each day? Should I invest in a flower bed web cam to capture this miracle?

Like the aspen grove and the peony bed, the rest of my yard also amazed me on my return. When I left, a fan of green leaves filled one side of an island meandering across the lawn. When I returned, the buxom buds of white tulips huddled among the leaves like peasant women. They are now ready to burst open, to take off their kerchiefs and display dramatic cores of buttery yellow and black.

The spirea shrubs were nondescript when I left. When I returned, one was ablaze with rufous-colored leaves, while the other was sporting tiny banners of chartreuse. The four Cecil Bruner climbing roses were just tatters of thorned branch and dessicated leaf when I left. Now they are looking energized, with some green rising in their rusted limbs. The vinca minor along the berm are now laden with deep violet blooms and hundreds of bright leaf buds raising their hands in answer to an invisible teacher's question of "Who wants to bolt across the berm first?"

And, yes, the dandelions arrived while I was gone. Of course they were here when I left, but their glorious spikey faces were hidden in tight buds. Not now. Now they are impudent punks blaring their defiance at me.

The bolt of springtime that hit my yard in my absence makes me grin. It seems I never tire of checking out the performance in my yard. Who knows what I'll find out there this afternoon?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Buds...the Rest of the Story

What a difference a few days, some sun, and some heat make! Last week my writing about buds was pretty much cerebral, exploring them, not so much in the vivid circus of their home, but in the quiet of the library inside. Today it's visceral. What a difference!

The season has popped at my house. Last Sunday's tight fist of lilac bud is now a community, a choir of purple blossom doing its final dress rehearsal before the Big Show. Last Sunday's knobby pear tree now can't wait to prance its fluffy stuff; each bud is swollen with anticipation. Last Sunday's forsythia was a gawky bundle of sticks against the fence. Today it's a spray of yellow sun.

And the hellebores! Where last week, dozens of burgundy buds were hanging their winter-worn faces, this week the blooms are fanned in a delightful parasol of mauve and pale yellow-green. The bold pops of crocus now have their brazen daffodils buddies, punctuating the green expanse of front yard.

In this delightful week I've spent about six hours pruning, raking, mowing, and trimming in my own yard and a half hour planting my mom's early vegetables. My hands have loved getting down and dirty. I thought, this week, about the research my daughter shared with me, that kids who grow up in rural areas have fewer allergies as a result, it's thought, of lots of contact with soil, thus buiilding immunities. Adults who garden may see the same benefits. Gardening can be more than a psychic healer. It can keep the body well.

On Friday my skin loved the contact, not just with soil, but with sun: tank top and shorts were my uniform as I worked on correcting any vitamin D deficiency. For decades we've been trained to prevent Old Sol from making contact with skin and now we're being told that many of us have too little vitamin D and need to get out more. I can do this. Lizard I can become, basking away winter's indoor weariness in spring's lovely sunshine.

Ah, popping yellow flowers, deep brown earth, toasty sunned shoulders. What an incredible week it's been! What sweet pleasure the first real week of spring brings. It's no longer just thinking about the potential of a blooming yard. It's seeing, smelling, hearing, and feeling reality, a gorgeous reality. I give thanks for these abundant April blessings!

Sunday, March 27, 2011


I'm getting antsy here for some serious spring weather. This morning's run with my golden retriever was lovely but frosty, with a view of fresh snow dusting the foothills. I think it would be okay if winter signs faded, allowing buds to really pop.

I am intrigued by buds. They embody potential, what might be, enthralling possibility. As I wander my yard, I peer at the buds of dogwood, magnolia, aspen, pear, and willow. Each wrapped bundle is a gift: a present that will soon make its grand entry.

I go inside and read about buds. Botanists talk about buds in intriguing ways. For example, calling buds terminal, axillary or adventitious is just referring to where they choose to land on the plant, whether at the top of a stem, in the axil of a leaf, or elsewhere, like on a trunk or a root. If I were a bud, I'd prefer to be described as adventitious rather than terminal. Wouldn't you?

The appearance of buds is set forth with a vivid set of descriptors. Buds can be scaly, covered, naked or hairy. Buds that are hairy can be either scaly or naked. Now, I don't think being described as scaly is a good thing; it sounds too reptilian which, in our culture, is not positive (apologies to my herpetologist friend Frank). But to be both scaly and hairy just doesn't sound attractive. If those adjectives described me, I'd be looking for some laser removal pro, followed by good moisturizer.

Buds' status also determines how botanists describe them. Buds occupy roles described as accessory, resting, dormant, latent, or pseudoterminal. I'm thinking that none of these titles enhances self-esteem. If you were to choose your status from this selection, would you really be satisfied with dormant or latent? I cannot ever see myself happy with the status of "pseudoterminal," even if I knew it meant that I might be like a persimmon bud, having sympodial growth in which a terminal bud dies and is replaced by a closer axillary bud.

And then there are bud functions. I thought I understood what buds do: they get things ready for the show of flower, fruit, leaf, et al. Guess it's more complicated than that. Some buds' function can be described as "vegetative," which means they only contain vegetative pieces, like an embryonic shoot with leaves. Okay, but I thought all buds, in fact, all plants, are made up of vegetative pieces. I'm puzzled and so read further.

I find that, if a bud isn't functioning in a vegetative manner, it could be doing so in a reproductive manner (having the embryo of a flower) or it could be functioning in both a reproductive and vegetative manner at the same time (having both embryonic leaves and flower). This is making some sense to me, as I conclude that some buds are really good at multi-tasking.

My bud-study is clouding my head, confusing me, messing with years of intense bud observation. I think I'll quit reading. I think I'll just go back outside and peer at the buds in my yard. I really don't care if they are they are pseudoterminal or adventitious or hairy or scaly. I am just excited about the gifts that they are set to unfold.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sea Thoughts

Just spent four days on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The surf below our cabin was a frothing cauldron the entire time we were there, with car-sized rock being pummeled non-stop by rolls of sea. We could see sea from the deck, the yard, the hot tub, the dinner table, the living room, the bedrooms, the "office" and the guest house. We could hear the rumble of surf all the time, a soothing white noise, occasionally punched with the crashing roar of a surfer's dream.

Since we were 150 feet above the water, we didn't fret about tsunamis. But in transit, in town, we were very aware of the threat that coastal folks face 24/7. Signs broadcasting hazard zones and escape routes and instructional brochures reminded visitors like us that complacency about the ocean could be a fatal error. Baristas compared their preferred routes if an alarm blared. Volunteer emergency workers reviewed a recent drill.

Sobered me out my dreamy idealization of the sea. The astounding videos and satellite images of Japan seared my mind, reminded me that this incredibly soothing waterbody can be a giant of unimaginable destruction. Each wave that I tracked to its foamy dissolution took on a duality, a polarity of beauty and ferocity. Annie Dillard's writing came to mind, as she zeroes in so often on that dichotomy of the natural world. Her introduction to "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek," in which she describes the bloody pawprints of her cat tracking across her nightgown, exemplifies that contrast. The pawprints, evidence of a recent kill, look like roses. Nature is incredibly beautiful and incredibly cruel.

The ocean is incredibly beautiful and incredibly cruel.

That thought stays with me. Yes, I was blessed this week to savor images of this amazing union of water and continent's edge. Yes, I'll turn to those images in memory and tiny videos when the land-locked location of my high desert home seems too confining. And, yes, I'll be reminded again of both the demonic and soothing character of the sea.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Practicality of Prayer

Just spent almost four days with a sweet deaf dog in a spot where silence reigns. Those blissfully quiet days got me thinking, thinking about the importance of prayer. While I was there, I did my morning routine of barefoot prayer to get my day going. The grass wasn't frozen and the prayers were longer in this temperate clime. While I was there, I gave thanks for the wonder of my food. Organic, vegetarian, local food was my fare, purchased from a fine market near my nest. While I was there, I offered pleas for the well being of those loved ones whose lives are marred by cancer and Alzheimer's and addiction. While I was there, I asked for help for myself, help to stay on track, to keep on making a difference in folks' lives every day.

While I was there I knitted. The yarn was a lovely green/blue blend, looking hand-dyed, with an appropriate color name: Reef. I knitted Reef into a soft, comfy sweater that I'll use through the spring and summer. As I knitted, I prayed. I tried to infuse each stitch with a blessing. I tried to pulse each stitch with the peace, the serenity of this place. My hope was that, when I finish this sweater and wear it, I will be ensconced in the calm of this green spot. My prayer is that the frenetic worry and fuss of my common day will be replaced by the soft quiet of rolling hills and birdsong. That was my prayer as I knitted.

Praying while knitting is pragmatic. It's looking forward to a garment that protects, that shields, that somehow imparts good things to the wearer. Praying while knitting is also like using a rosary or prayer beads. It's giving the routine motion of thread over, pulled through a cosmic meaning. Each touch, a new prayer.

"What practicalities other than knitting have my prayers addressed?" I wondered as yarn whirled around me. I thought of the guidance from my treasured grief counselor.

I had told her about fearing for my daughter's well-being at 3:00 on a certain Wednesday and finding out later that, at 3:00 on that certain Wednesday, an idiotic driver had changed lanes without looking, forcing my daughter onto the shoulder of the road. My grief counselor talked to me about my strong spiritual connection with my daughter and the importance of using that union soundly. She asked me if I believe in the power of prayer and I assured her I do. She said, "Then you believe that thoughts can impact events?" I assured her I do. She then said, "Be careful what you think about your daughter, lest you inadvertently impact events. Instead of fretting about your daughter's safety while she's driving, send her an angel of alertness."

I really like that idea and I do it often, particuarly when I know that my daughter's town has nasty winter driving conditions. "Here, let me send you an angel of alertness," I pray. "I know you are an excellent, defensive driver and that you watch oh so carefully for inattentive, aggressive, dangerous drivers who may cause you harm. I add my prayer of alertness to your solid set of tools."

I like the practicality of that prayer, like an emergency flasher in the trunk or a five gallon jug of water in the garage or a couple hundred dollars tucked away in case a power outage cripples ATMs. That prayer, and many others I send, are not glamourous, dramatic pleas, but simple messages of good intent, simple charges of psychic energy directed at bringing good things to this world.

Recently my dog Sadie was ill, not able to keep her food or even water down. I took her to her fine vet and followed his advice. I felt confident that, with the medical care, the vigilance at home, AND the prayers sent for her recovery, she'd be back to her goofy self soon. I did not want to catastrophize this infirmity into something terrible, as some of my friends did. I did not want to pray her into a dark corner. So my Sadie prayers zeroed in on boosting my running buddy back to her "normal" hyper energetic state, sending powerful thoughts that she'd be on track in days. And she was. Don't know how much of the credit my prayers should get. Don't care. She's back at it, running as fast as she can, loving every blessed minute of each sprint.

The practicality of prayer: knitting peace into a garment, girding my daughter as she drives, helping my dog get back on track. Prayer is one of the hardworking staples of my life, something I need and use each day. I give thanks for the gift of prayer.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Sounds of Silence

Sitting in Oregon, listening to rain pummel the roof, I'm reminded how much I like silence. I cherish the chance to listen to sounds not made by humans. This trip finds me in a lovely home in the country. The sounds I hear are made by wind, rain, or animals. Occasionally a car goes by, but the unpaved road is distant and drivers are few.

Last night I heard an owl tap its soft telegraph into the blackened air. Then I listened to chickens, turkeys and a pig settle down for the night. It was an intriguing sonata. I couldn't see them, but could just hear their rustling, grunting, and pipping. During the night I heard not a thing: a delight. This morning I listened to a rooster crowing. It was a cheery greeting, not a wake-up call since I'd been up for two hours, but a jubilant declaration of the newness of the day.

Later in the morning I heard birds eat. Debonair juncos flashed their white and grey garb along the ground, chipping as they discovered seed. Blue flash of jay from one tree to another tracked sharply in the quiet air. Robins bobbled their joy at discovered bugs. Far off, geese vees brayed their flight plans.

I'll be at this quiet retreat tomorrow and the next day and will cherish each hour of quiet. The place has sophisticated TV / dish / sound equipment. Don't care. Don't need to figure out how to use it. Can do without human sound just fine, thank you very much.

Years ago my late husband and I paddled into Canadian wilderness and, for three joy-filled days, heard no human sounds other than ours. No planes, no trucks, no cars, no radio, no TV, no chatter. Just us and the loons and the fish and the chipmunks. We couldn't believe how therapeutic the silence was. We could hear our hearts. We could hear our breath. We could hear our thoughts.

Few places on earth offer such silence. We are bombarded by the rattle of humanity, wherever we turn. And so I cherish these days spent in silence, spent oddly enough with a small white dog who is deaf. Each hour of this quiet time will be stashed in my memory bank so that, when inundated by the din of my tribe, I can make a small withdrawal and savor these sounds of silence.

Sunday, February 20, 2011


Last week I spent two days out in the yard, trimming perennials, gazing at new bulbs' green spears, giving thanks for the many wonders that re-appear year after year. Sunshine wrapped around me in a blanket of sixty degree air.

This morning snow is falling and the berms, the beds, the paths I cleared last week are frozen and white. It's been a week of psychotic weather.

Snow, hail, rain, and low sunlight merged here on Wednesday afternoon, leaving a trail of crunched cars and unhappy commuters. One pile-up involved 18 cars. Folks were blinded by brilliant sun bounding off prisms of water and ice.

On Friday Sadie and I lolled all afternoon in the sunroom as grumpy storms huffed by. Thunder roared and wind slashed at tree limbs. Hail walloped the yard, drumming loudly on the sunroom's metal roof. Sadie and I just hunkered together and enjoyed the excitement of it all. Moments later, all was still. Awhile later, the white pellets were gone, as though nothing had happened.

Mid-week, my cousin in Utah reported that three huge pines in her yard were uprooted by wind and beaten down by snow. Her neighborhood wore its destruction like a raggedy war refugee.

Snow fell in the rainforest of the Pacific northwest, nothing as bad as the weeks of white chaos two years ago, the horror that my daughter describes as "Snowapaloosa." But snow fell where it's not supposed to, in the temperate fir and cedar hills of Portland and Seattle.

Yesterday we were warned to get into bomb shelters at five pm to avoid the winter storm barrelling toward us. Never did see that brute, just cold, windy, spits of sleet.

Although the intensity of the week's weather out this way could be blamed on global weirding, I'm inclined to say that it's just spring. Spring weather in my mind is psychotic. It's bi-polar. It's schizo. It's manic and depressive. It knows nothing of nuance. It's all about extremes.

That is one of the things that makes spring so much fun in this country. You never know what the day will bring and so must be prepared for all: chains, Goretex, packs, Tevas and sunscreen.

With the important exception of the distress it causes for people like my cousin, this bold, annoying weather is a bit enchanting. It reminds me of the grandeur of the natural world and how insignificant we human types really are. I don't mind being subjected to a little of the pscyhotic behavior that is springtime.

Saturday, February 12, 2011


Am just getting over a nasty respiratory bout. Ticked me off that I got it, being the fanatic about handwashing, door handles, sneezers, etc. that I am. But the week I spent feeling less than optimal was a valuable chapbook. I was reminded of some important lessons.

One thing became apparent. I am so blessed to have good health, to be able to do the very many things (ie, the three jobs, the things for family and friends) I do. It goes without saying that, each day, I get up, I work, I work, I work, I work. Then I go to sleep. Then the next day, same drill.

When my health is compromised, I'm annoyed at my inability to take on the daily challenges. Come on! You can do this! Get over it! Come on! Hate being frail. Hate reconizing limits of my capabilities. When my late husband drove me from high mountain country to the state's capitol for appendicitis surgery, the surgeon was puzzled at my making the trek and asked him "Is she stoic about pain?" My spouse said that indeed I was. It's true. I really don't want to be inconvenienced by illness or pain, thank you very much.

Being sick also made me think of limits. I recalled my dad's anger when diabetes stepped in and set up fences for him. He was not a happy camper and being around him in this phase was not blissful. I remember wondering what it would be like, to have lived a life with no limits, no hurdles, and then to find out that, indeed, there were things that could not be done now. Don't think I'd handle that very gracefully.

I also thought about my late husband. A man cursed with a chronic, painful disease in his twenties, he went about life's work with an amazing optimism and joie de vivre. He just took in stride the daily anguish, inconvenience, torment of his disease and kept on keepin on. I once asked him if he was bitter that his youth was robbed by the onset of his disease. He was so matter of fact: "And what good would that do me?" Yes. What good indeed. There was work to be done. There were resources to be protected. There were things to be built. Get on with it.

Maybe it seems extreme that I would reflect on his courage and stoicism when I merely have a respiratory infection. Maybe I'm being a bit melodramatic. But I don't think so. I think that those of us who have been blessed with ongoing good health, with the ability to take on each day's new challenges, without hurdles of pain, respiratory difficulty, or medicinial side effects, should kneel each morning and give thanks. We should offer our sincerest gratitude that our bodies do their bidding each day, that we are able to keep on keepin on.

And that is what I have learned from a week of being sickly.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Sun Spots

I recently spent some time in Solana Beach, just north of San Diego. What a fine break it was from the freeze of my town's January. My daughter and I walked in the sun, sat in the sun, soaked in the sun, reclined in the sun. She said we were in full lizard mode and I agree.

It felt so good, letting the warm rays wrap around limbs that have been cloistered in fleece and denim for months. We both tossed good judgment aside and let the sun toast our albino skin to bright pink. The "farmer tan" and swimsuit lines were proudly flaunted for a couple of days.

I really liked the intense colors of Solana Beach, particularly the brilliant whites, deep blues and crazy oranges in the area's nonstop sun. So festive, so goofy, so energizing. One neighborhood we walked through had delightful tile artwork along the street. A long tiled landscape in startling colors graced the front of one home. Another home integrated a wavey mosaic along the streetside fence. Shells and glass merged with blue tile in a carnival of color and light that ran all along the width of the home's lot. White stucco houses provided stunning backdrops for bronzed hardware (like a door's gargoyle), raggedy palm fronds, and brilliant tropical flowers. The reptilian blooms of the bird of paradise plant made me giggle, with their crazy spears of bright orange jousting from a purply core.

A few days in that marine sun was probably enough for us. My daughter and I both agreed that, as lovely as the climate and setting are, we prefer our own spots. She savors the soft, green moisture of the Pacific Northwest and I enjoy the intense span of temperature and season offered by my home in the high desert. She made the comment that there was too much sun for her in this seaside town. I thought about that as I flew home. For decades, I've wanted to live in Crete, to perch in a stuccoed white home atop dark rock, peering down at azure sea and up at azure sky. But I'm thinking now that I would only like that sharply contrasted setting for awhile. I'm thinking that maybe my daughter's observation about overabundant sun might temper my enjoyment.

I think I'll savor the sunnied brilliance of my sunroom today, knowing full well that dark grey days will soon come along to provide some vivid contrast. I think I'll enjoy my home's special sun spot, knowing that its presence is fleeting this time of year.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Cloud Running

Today I woke up to a persistent drip from the rainspout on a corner of my house. Now, in the living room, I hear the drip from a rainspout on another corner of my house. These are sounds I like a lot.

When Sadie and I went outside for our early morning stretch and for my barefoot prayer, we were met with sweet moisture. The air cuddled my face gently. No wind, no harsh chill, just very pleasant moisture.

Soon we will run in this light rain. We'll trek across soggy grass, feeling the goosh of weight against saturated ground with each step. We'll slide along the muddy trail, with me hugging the edge of the path, where vegetation provides a bit more stability. We'll lope along the road from the lacrosse field to the subdivision, enjoying the cushy feel of steps on bark chips suspended on a bed of very pliable wet soil. Then we'll wrap our trek up, winding on the lovely grassed edge of the subdivision, enjoying the serpentine design of this manicured urban path.

Unlike many in this sun-drenched part of the world, I really like this rain. I like knowing that plants are getting the wet nourishment they need, without having to wait for it to melt. I like seeing the intense colors that rain nudges out: greens are deeper, browns are almost black, reds of cotoneaster berry are vibrant. I like smelling the rain-soaked air. My nose welcomes each gentle inhalation, so different from the bitter burn of last week's 13 degree air. I like feeling light rain on my skin. Its touch is like butterfly wing. A friend posted that running in light rain is like running through a cloud and I like that image.

I think I'll climb out of my pajamas, get my running clothes on, herd my dog into the car, and head on out to do a little cloud running. Such an ethereal way to welcome this blessed day, to open up to this week of ample opportunity.

Friday, January 7, 2011


For 2011 I resolved to forcefully loosen my attachment to anger. Spent way too much time and energy in 2010 with that ugly thing. So it's been delightful in this first week of the year to recognize just how important connections with others are in helping sidestep anger.

Yesterday found me hugging, laughing and tearing with a stunning woman whose mother is recovering from brain surgery. The warmth, prayers, and love wrapping this connection are truly amazing. Why? Because this woman and her mother are in my life as a result of shopping. They own an elegant store that I frequent. They have helped me with many creations, sharing with me their passion for superior quality and soaring art. I am quite blessed to connect with these two women.

The photo above is a snippet from a sorority picture taken long, long ago. I'm surrounded by three women (those without glasses) who have re-surfaced in my life after decades of separation. Connection has been made via Facebook and it's been a joyous bond for me. I am thrilled to read the blog of one, a fiber artist of incredible talent. I am tickled to read the postings of another, a vibrant soul who creates a trail of sunshine. I am touched to read the postings of another, gazing at her stunning photographs and smiling at her gentle strength. Never thought that my sorority would pop up again in my life. I joined Alpha Omicron Pi for a practical reason: I was living off campus and thought it would be a fine way to meet other students. I would have never guessed that, many decades after my "being Greek," I would connect daily with my sorority sisters. I am quite blessed to re-connect with these awe-some women.

Connection has been a delight in my neighborhood, a small street of modest 50 year old ranch-style homes. Two new babies have energized the block filled with silver-haired residents. Dog-lovers create conversation on evening outings with their fuzzy pals. A beautiful neighbor in her 80s inspires us with her sparkling humor and joie de vivre, not to mention her incredible Greek pastries. I am quite blessed to connect with those living around me.

And this year promises the gift of long, lasting friendships. This week my vibrant friend and former business partner and I shared our goals for the year, videoing each other in sweet "contracts" about our intentions. Last week a talented photographer and friend for decades helped me honor my mother on her 85th birthday. A friend who has known me since I was in grade school makes me grin, sigh, and pray, as he honors his daughters and fights for social causes. One of the most gorgeous creatures I've ever seen will share a meal with me monthly this year, a routine we've treasured for several years now. I am quite blessed to connect with these precious friends.

And then there are the daily connections inside my home, with the sweetest man ever made and that fuzzy golden buddy of mine, Greenleaf Sadie Sue (her AKC name). These roomies make every day special for me, handing out genuine greetings of hug, kiss, wiggle, and cuddle. I am quite blessed to connect with these two housemates.

Connect: yes, that's one thing I'll do this year to keep anger at bay. Wondrous bonds in my life will help trigger smiles in 2011.