Thursday, September 17, 2020

Pickleball in the Time of Covid

 “That it will never come again is what makes life so sweet.”

― Emily Dickinson

“You mustn’t wish for another life. You mustn’t want to be somebody else. What you must do is this:
“Rejoice evermore.
Pray without ceasing.
In everything give thanks.”
I am not all the way capable of so much, but those are the right instructions.”

― Wendell Berry, Hannah Coulter

So far, it's been 6 months. We thought it would be 2, maybe 3 weeks. "No masks, no worries" morphed into "masks, hand sanitizers, distancing". Then they were on to bending the curve with quarantining followed closely by devastating economic suspension. Rules and regulations proliferated. Common sense ebbed. Fear flourished, confusion reigned, lives were turned upside down.

Meanwhile, our own daily routines remained relatively stable. We had no jobs to be furloughed; no children home from school. Our pantry is always stocked, our toilet paper stash was flush. We could cook, or fish;  Joe could work on home repairs and I could work on the garden. And we could play pickleball. We made do with phone calls or emails or texts to family and friends. We all hated Coronavirus, and wished that it would be over soon.

Strategies for the future, at least as I remember, slowly evolved. Like the frog in a pot of water with the heat slowly turned up, we were eased into thinking the process needed another couple of weeks, then the rest of the month, or the maybe the summer, or the year. Vaccine teases were scattered throughout. "The Science" kept changing it's mind about when and where the danger lay. Meanwhile, numbers- regardless of whether they actually added up- were always rising. 

What used to be normal now seems very far away. I really missed my children and grandchildren. I wished I could see my girlfriends at cards on Friday nights, or visit friends who were mourning a loss. 

While the weeks of waiting dragged on, it dawned on me that I was beginning to wish away my whole life while wishing the Covid plague would end. But there's no dispensation for time lost; no guarantees this plague is the last; no pixie dust to make wishes come true. So I am following yet another route back to the beginning again. Pay attention! Count the blessings before you! Don't wait!

In June I went ahead and took the opportunity to visit Susan and Saultopaul a few months after Carl's death. I had not seen her or the farm in several years and I missed both. It was a two day drive  across to western Georgia, punctuated by a stop at another Susan's in SC. We all prepared carefully, and had been living mostly isolated lives anyway.


I was rewarded for my efforts with a wonderful, warm and new look at that gorgeous farm thru the eyes of it's new mistress.  We walked, talked, cooked and ate our way thru the significant and insignificant topics of the day and the world. We read. We made art. We did not wait. 
I also checked in at the garden house on the lake both out and back. That is always a comfortable visit full of beautiful scenery and captivating conversation. So nice to touch base there.

Just this month, my wonderful husband and friends threw me a surprise birthday party. It was appropriately distanced physically, but warmly close and cozy socially. It was a bit of a risk, but we could sit out on the deck on what just happened to be the first cool night of the fall season. It was loud, chatty, delicious, hilarious. There was drinking.

I have never been so surprised; never wanted to share an evening with friends more; never made a better memory to savor. My birthday wasn't going to wait, but thank goodness those lovely people did not, either. 


And then, of course, there was pickleball. Early on, Carole said pickleball would save us. We could be outside, we could get exercise, fresh air and some laughs. We could maintain at least some of our friendships, and make sure those friends stayed safe. Even during the worst of the lockdowns, Joe and I could play together and still get all but the social benefits. 

Now we are back to playing as often as possible. We made it thru the heat of the summer, and  look forward to the cool breezes of fall, and even the cold dark of winter to continue our play. We've all gotten much better at the game. We've gotten much stronger physically. We count on the exercise, the interaction, and the laughs. We appreciate every opportunity to gather and play. For us, pickleball makes the "new normal".

I have said before how lucky we are to live where beauty surrounds us. And in that spirit, I am making a point to appreciate each and every day. We're not waiting to love the sunrise, or the moonrise, or the spectacular, yet completely different sunset from yesterday's. We all feel that way, and share pictures and tales about dolphins, eagles, lightning storms, morning mists.

There is only one thing now that we will wait for. When we've safely crossed over into the new year, we will have another grandbaby. Boy or girl, it doesn't matter.
Vaccine or no vaccine, mask or no mask, distance or no distance. More than anything else I can think of, this baby represents the hope for the future we all need; the light at the end of that very dark tunnel we are in. Until then, and after....there's pickleball.

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean- 
the one who has flung himself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down,
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what should I have been doing?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do 
with your one wild and precious life?


Saturday, April 25, 2020

The End of an Era

Art is a little bit larger than life - it's an exhalation of life and I think you probably need a little touch of madness.
Laurence Olivier

When he spoke, he was definitely southern. But don't be fooled. His wit was light years ahead of his own voice. He had a big head full of big ideas. He was busy; always busy. He was larger than life; legend; chef; the King.

Early on, I was faced with the prospect of leaving a voice recording on his home phone. I got this message: 
" You have reached the Cofers. Please leave your name and number at the beep. We would prefer verse or song." 
To say I was a little afraid of him would be an understatement.

We started small. I would visit Susan. Carl would be working. I would visit Susan at the farm. Carl would be busy. Little by little, I began to know Carl by learning to love that farm.

First of all, I need to say that it wasn't just any farm. It was hundreds of pristine acres in the valley of the NW Georgia mountains. The view from the house- a reconstructed antique log cabin- held 300 degrees of mountain ridge: Pigeon Mountain to the east, and Lookout Mountain wrapped around to the west. The field in front led down to a beautiful man made pond with a perfectly scaled church and school house to represent a vista across the valley. They were props, but they were perfect.

The farm had cows, but not just regular cows. Carl had longhorn cattle grazing the pasture. He said he liked the look of them, and when he started, he planned to grow a few for the annual county rodeo. He had a big red bull named Lucky, who "got lucky" with many of the cows across that valley. By the time Lucky passed, the herd had gone from white to almost pure red. I don't know that they have the annual rodeo in Walker County any more, but the farm still produces Longhorns.

Imagine walking down a path in the woods next to a stream. When you emerge, you see this little cabin across the field that was original to the property. This picturesque little gem was tucked in long ago at the end of the lower field, but was used at first as a weekend base for the Cofer family. The Buckhead lawyer and his wife and children spent every weekend for years in and about a one room cabin without plumbing or power.

Other buildings came along over time, including the house on the hill. Each addition - guest house, studio, office - was also made from old reclaimed log cabins, in keeping with the rest of the fiefdom.  There were hand split rail fences, hand painted signs, old fashioned whirlygigs on fence posts. 

As Carl had more time, he began more extensive projects around the farm. He heard, for example, that there were small abandoned churches in Newfoundland going unused. So he went up there, bought one, had it taken apart and shipped back to the farm. He and Susan placed it precisely where it would feel cherished and at home, and filled it with congregants again for all sorts of occasions. 

There was an area on the property that had strata of huge limestone pieces near the surface of the soil. Carl began to take his backhoe there to dig pieces up.

First monoliths, then stone sculptures of fish, dogs, whales, and men appeared around the farm.  

Then a labyrinth of smaller stones, meant to hold the attention of the walker while opening the door to spiritual centering  and greater creativity. 

Finally, a mini Stonehenge materialized at the bottom of the hill, equally in scale with the schoolhouse and little church.

I am sure there are a million other stories of projects and production. I am now happily savoring the times I got to tag along. We were there when they laid out the labyrinth and just after the new covered bridge opening. We did some painting at the barn on Hog Jowl road. We bumped over the fields and up the hills to see the new acreage. He took us to The Pocket in spring, and Rock Town in the fall. He marched us out to see the full moon at night, and to see the sun rise over Cofer knob in the morning.

By now you must have the picture. The man had vision. He had drive. He had a common sense perspective, and a sense of humor about it. He knew what he wanted, and he went after it. 

In the beautiful film by John Summerour ( Saultopaul, Carl said he liked having a quest.  Surely one of his most successful missions was to find the consummate mate. On his own road to Damascus, I think Susan was the bolt of light that changed the man.

And so in Saultopaul, one can see the fine details of their quest to embrace nature, history, art, and each other in a creative life. The land was his medium, and he was a master.
I believe that quest included the opportunity for both he and Susan to share their vision and home with lucky ones like me and my family. For that, we will all be forever grateful, and also changed.

I will remember "FDR....Pick your bird." Good advice, indeed, and a fitting epitaph. But I also found this quote from Robert E Lee. In remembering Carl, this seems to fit.  I don't think he would mind if I used this one, too.

“Shake off those gloomy feelings. Drive them away. Fix your mind and pleasures upon what is before you. All is bright if you will think it so. All is happy if you will make it so. Do not dream. It is too ideal, too imaginary. Dreaming by day, I mean. Live in the world you inhabit. Look upon things as they are. Take them as you find them. Make the best of them.
 Turn them to your advantage.”
― Robert E. Lee

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Nana has Magic Shoes

"You don't stop laughing because you grow older. 
You grow older because you stop laughing."
Maurice Chevalier

In these days of vicious politics, plunging stock markets and scary infections, it is nice to have a comfortable place to turn. Down here in way eastern NC, we have a degree of isolation that feels safe. 
In addition, all the old ladies in our group have been preparing for years with gloves, masks, disinfectants. We had to !!  Our new cherubic grand babies were trying to kill us!
We've also got stockpiles of food, outdoor containers of fresh greens,
plenty of wine. But in my opinion, the best safeguard we have is pickleball.


In the past year our group of friendly, outdoorsy neighbors has started playing a game that is a cross between ping pong, tennis, and badminton. It is easy enough for old people, but will give you a real workout. The rules are a bit obscure, and the scoring seems designed to be an exercise to prevent dementia. It gets the competitive juices flowing. It gets (almost) all of us out in the fabulous fresh air regardless of temperatures. It has become an obsessive pleasure we need not even feel guilty about!

We've had our learning curves. There have been a few falls, bumps, bruises. There are minor complaints about knees, hips, tendons. You know....the kind of topics we were gonna be talking about anyway, but with the game happily in common. 

We've indulged in clothes and equipment and shoes revolving around pickleball. Just recently one of our regulars, who had fallen early on in play, got a new pair of shoes to steady herself. All of a sudden, she could get to every ball. She could volley cross court. She could return a laser serve with equal speed. Maybe she was just getting incrementally better. But we were convinced there was magic in the shoes.
A new grandmother superhero was born that very day. 

Another of the regulars is tall and extremely coordinated. That serves her well when she comes to the net to volley. We've nicknamed her "the Wall". She can get to most any ball whether the paddle is in her left hand or right- and she uses both. When "the Wall" approaches, she is rather intimidating. Most of the time I am already laughing when she gets to the net. Once in a while I can get a ball back, but I usually dissolve after that. It's hard to take a mean swing and a giggle at the same time. 

There are plenty of other characters, quirks, and anecdotes I could recall. Most all of them are funny. Bad bounces, bad bumps in the crummy cement court we play on, goofy swings, absolute misses, forgotten scores all add to the hilarity. It gets worse when we're getting tired. This is the most serious game not to be taken seriously; the team sport that relies solely on the good nature- not the skill- of each individual. It is an exercise we relish to build our muscles and our mood. 

While waiting for an end to the election cycle, or a beginning of the new vaccination cycle, give me some buddies on the pickleball court. Because, as someone once said, 

"Laughter is the best medicine!"

Monday, September 9, 2019

Zen and the Art of Blueberry Picking

Direct your eye right inward, and you'll find

    A thousand regions of your mind

   Yet undiscovered.  Travel them and be

 Expert in home-cosmography.

 Henry David Thoreau

There are a couple of places about an hour from here where you can pick your own blueberries. Now that I am retired, I have the time for adventures like this, and the inclination to explore more. It doesn't hurt that I have like minded friends who will join me.

So we go to see what the story is....where and how would you go about picking your own? After a little asking around for directions to get to the available fields ("Well, you go down to the end of this road, then take a hard left, then down to the third driveway, then turn down the road between the third and the fourth driveway and you'll come to a shed....") we found our way to the "pick UR own".

Once at the shed, a jolly middle aged woman greeted us. She gave us instructions, buckets to hang around our necks, and a supportive sendoff.
We walked down the row away from the shed. Bush after bush held plenty of green berries, but nothing remotely blue. So at the end of that long row we turned around, and began again, heading back toward the shed on an inner row. Bonanza!!

It seems easy. Reach up, pull blue berries off. Put in bucket. Repeat. Not rocket science. We chattered like noisy birds as we started. Then things began to get quiet.

It is hard to explain unless you are actually doing it. You reach up, pull the blue berries but leave the green, drop them down into the bucket, then begin again. Focus on the top of the bush. Reach up, cup a cluster with your palm, gently wiggle and pressure the blue into your hand while leaving the green. Sweep that arm down with a handful, lift the bucket up with the other hand. Lower the bucket, and raise the first arm to the top again for another go. Continue.

By the time you've got the basics, you'll notice that you've already got your eye on the next few you will pick, then maybe other bunches that might also fit in that descending hand. You'll notice that the "bucket" hand has already begun it's rise as the berry hand comes down. A step towards the next bunch. A step back. A hand outstretched, bucket lowered. Green berries, pink berries, oh, here are big blues. The moves in this dance become more fluid, less deliberate. Stretch up, breathe in. Lower down, breath out. The rhythm is the thing.

How long? How many bushes, how many berries, how many steps? I have no idea. The bucket was full. I looked around, waking up to the rows, the paths between, the sounds of traffic, birds, other pickers nearby.

Merriam-Webster defines zen a state of calm attentiveness in which one's actions are guided by intuition rather than by conscious effort, lost in the rhythm of the tasks at hand.

Now you can try to find that state in Yoga class. You can meditate. You can study the current phases and fads in mindfulness techniques. Or you can capture that calm attentiveness in a field of blueberry bushes on a beautiful early summer day, rejoice in the practice, and come home with a bucket of berries!

for Carole

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Breakage and Bonding


I go down to the edge of the sea.
How everything shines in the morning light!
The cusp of the whelk,
the broken cupboard of the clam,
the opened, blue mussels,
moon snails, pale pink and barnacle scarred—
and nothing at all whole or shut, but tattered, split,
dropped by the gulls onto the gray rocks and all the moisture gone.
It’s like a schoolhouse
of little words,
thousands of words.
First you figure out what each one means by itself,
the jingle, the periwinkle, the scallop
full of moonlight.
Then you begin, slowly, to read the whole story.      MARY OLIVER

I have been reluctant to talk about the hurricane last year. There are several reasons for that. First, the name of that storm was Florence- my given name. Worse than that, my friends conveniently and maybe even affectionately called it Hurricane Flo. Put yourself in my spot. This was the worst hurricane to come along in many many years on the SE coast, and there it is- Hurricane Florence, or Flo for short- all over the headlines.
If I had to give my name over the phone, the person on the other end now knew how to spell it without my help. If I tried to charge something, they'd look at my card and say " the hurricane. I bet you get that a lot". Uh huh.
Now many around here drop the term hurricane altogether, and just refer to Flo. you mean me, or the hurricane when you refer to that bit of damage?

There were other reasons to avoid the subject. I wasn't even there when the storm hit. My greatest anxious moments were in front of the weather channel broadcast, not the actual weather. It was three weeks and plenty of conditioning time before I actually saw what had happened.
We had some damage. Mostly the dock and the basement that we did not prepare very well before we left. There were lots of power tools dead that Joe miraculously revived, lots of bits that should have been thrown out long ago, a few that had to go this time.
What we lost pales in comparison to what many friends suffered- caved in roofs, flooding in 2 stories, sopping insulation, furniture trashed. I had a bit of survivor's guilt, to tell you the truth.
Looking back on it, I should say with some amount of pride that our beautiful community has many dear and dedicated folks. The joy of living here, plus that shared experience with others here, has taught me a sense of place. These are the events that weave the material of deep friendships; of a bond to something bigger.

What I learned about us here last year makes me want to talk about the hurricane this year. We watched the weather for weeks, and carefully prepared much better than last time. We stayed at home this time, and witnessed the power of nature's fury first hand.

We had a little more damage than last time. Our dock needs major repairs. The siding on the house needs major replacing. My garden has walked the plank for the third time.
Cleanup is messy, muddy business. Power was off, water from the pump was temporarily unavailable, sun was out and temps were rising. No matter. By now we believe we are all in this together. We inspected houses for neighbors who had evacuated. We reported back to them. We checked in on friends to see how they fared. They checked on us. We planned post Dorian parties as soon as everyone could be ready. We discussed how we could do it even better next time, and what we should do to make the house even more ready for the tough times. We silently gave thanks.

A friend said "This view is why we live here despite the few days we get from hell."

Another says "We live in National Geographic live".

Studies say living closer to nature makes one happier and healthier.



I put it this way while talking with one of my Grandmother friends.

Here is a picture of the gorgeous sunset following Dorian's departure. It occurs to me that this water is like your grandchild. When the kid turns bratty and throws a tantrum, you just want to walk away. Then it gives you this big sweet smile, and you turn to mush. 

That's what they call "the rest of the story".

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Name That Tune


Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me; 
Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see 
A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings 
And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings. 

In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song 
Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong 
To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside 
And hymns in the cosy parlour, the tinkling piano our guide. 

So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamour 
With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour 
Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast 
Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past. 

A room full of 60 to 70ish women who gather to play cards on Fridays.chatted and nibbled on the goodies assembled. 

It had been a while since we'd gotten together. The hurricane had put a dent in schedules, houses, and priorities. But it was high time we got back to cards and we were ready.

Usually the TV is tuned to some generic music playlist station from the cable stations. Sometimes Alexa plays Pandora or Spotify. How we listen to music has all changed so much since I started collecting albums. So much easier to let some someone else do the algorithms 

Last night Carole queued up the tunes by modern methods. This time it was whole albums of some of my favorite 70s artists -unshuffled just the way I once knew them.

So we played, ate, talked, laughed, forgot whose turn it was,.At least one of us was too hot. That's pretty much how it goes every time. The music usually stays in the background. 

In spite of every effort I could muster, I quietly sang along with Joni Mitchell,
and crooned with Judy Collins. In that room, I was arranging cards in suits and sets. In my head, I was brooding and sketching in my dorm room; huddled in someone's apartment listening to music; electrified at the concert.adventures.

The power music has to put us back into precise places and moods is remarkable. I always thought smell was the most nostalgic of the senses. But the older I get, and the uglier the news, the more I lean on music to put my mind in the place it needs to be. 

I can walk the beach with meditative 

New Age instrumentals, or charge thru grass cutting on high blast with a little

 Fleetwood Mac
or Rolling Stones. 

I have even turned around a whiny grandson moment with just my phone and a recording of "You Can't Always Get What You Want".

 Even now if he starts to whine, I can start to sing it and he laughs.

As the future shortens, and each moment becomes more precious, music seems to be able to tie little pieces of my life into larger spans. Sometimes it is nice to be able look back, even without weeping for the past. Sometimes it is nice to have it to hold on to as I move forward. Wherever there is a room full of cheerful women my age, with Joni Mitchell playing in the background, I know I am grounded; I am home.

Music when Soft Voices Die (To --)

Music, when soft voices die, 
Vibrates in the memory— 
Odours, when sweet violets sicken, 
Live within the sense they quicken. 

Rose leaves, when the rose is dead, 
Are heaped for the belov├Ęd's bed; 
And so thy thoughts, when thou art gone, 
Love itself shall slumber on. 

Monday, August 27, 2018

Lucky Enough

If you are lucky enough to live on the water, 
you are lucky enough.
Unknown Author

I was upstairs when the doorbell rang. It was too late for the mail lady to be delivering, and most everybody else would text before dropping by. I could see thru the blinds that she was turning to leave by the time I opened the door.

She was young and petite. It was hard to say how young. She was old enough to drive, old enough to have multiple tattoos and a small nose ring. Her eyes were dark pools, her curls were of silky brown hair, and her smile was as soft as a child's. "Girl" seemed right for the short shorts and half T shirt.

She turned abruptly as I opened the door. I must have looked puzzled, because she immediately started to introduce herself, or rather her mission, as she wrung her hands.

"I know this is going to seem weird, I mean, I don't usually do anything like this. I hate to interrupt you but I just thought I might take a chance. I mean, if you were nice enough to give me a few minutes. Would you mind if I took a quick look, I mean, could I ask...." I opened the door wider and backed up to usher her in.

"I grew up spending every summer here with my grandmother. Everyday between the end of school and the beginning of the next year I was here.....WOW! This looks incredible! Wow! It looks so different!"

 "You remember that the deck used to go all the way around", I said. We just enclosed the part that was covered to add a dining space, and more room for the kitchen."

"I almost thought you had turned the house around. But yeah, I used to ride my bike around and around the deck".

We spent a little time talking about the new kitchen we had put in last year. Yes, she noticed the front of the house looked different but she still recognized it. When we bought the house, was that big square chopping block still there? Are Mr Jim and Miss Betty still next door? His brother? I like your garden.  Do you like flowers? My grandmother really liked flowers. That room right there was my room. The one with the glass doors overlooking the water.

"I came here every summer until I was about 12 or 13. Then my grandmother and my step-grandfather got a divorce. I never saw this house again." A pause as she looked around a little more.

"Would you mind if I went out on the back deck?"

"No, sure, come on." I led her across the living room and we walked out to the water side of the house.

"Oh, it looks just the same as I remember it. It is so beautiful."

Then a look back at me. "I was on my way to pick up my grandmother. She lives in Harlowe now. My mother is getting married again this weekend."

Then a look out again at the water. "I was having a really bad day. So on the way I just decided to stop by here. I knew it was a long shot, but I just had to try it. Thank you so much for letting me see it again."

Another far away look, so I said, "Why don't you just spend a little time reminiscing. I can leave you alone out here".

"Oh, would you mind? That is so nice of you. If I could just have a few minutes, it would be so helpful." She sat down on the top step, knees to elbows, head on hands, and stared out at the water.

I went back inside and sat down at the computer. I had never heard anyone talk about a grandchild in this house. I knew about the couple, the ugly divorce, then finally the death of the man. Wonder what had gone wrong today?

I glanced back out at the steps. Rain had moved my visitor from the step to the porch swing, but her gaze had not changed. She moved the swing a bit as if riding the ripples in the water. She almost seemed to hold her breath, diving deep and long before surfacing; then deep again.

At this pace, I began to wonder if she had lost track of time; maybe if she would even be able to walk away. Then I heard the back door open, and her cheerful voice say, "Thank you so much for letting me spend a while here. It was just what I needed."

She walked across the room and out the front door, down the steps and across the yard to her car. I don't think she ever turned back to look again. Whatever it was, she left it here. She wasn't fighting it anymore. She must have learned how to do that from the water long ago, when emotions were fluid and flexible.

I walked back out onto the deck and smiled. My soul is already sticky and stiff and I am just learning. Feels like maybe I am on the right track in the right place. 

“I have been feeling very clearheaded lately and what I want to write about today is the sea. It contains so many colors. Silver at dawn, green at noon, dark blue in the evening. Sometimes it looks almost red. Or it will turn the color of old coins. Right now the shadows of clouds are dragging across it, and patches of sunlight are touching down everywhere. White strings of gulls drag over it like beads.

It is my favorite thing, I think, that I have ever seen. Sometimes I catch myself staring at it and forget my duties. It seems big enough to contain everything anyone could ever feel.” 
― Anthony DoerrAll the Light We Cannot See