Thursday, September 9, 2021

Let It Be


Some things in life cannot be fixed. They can only be carried.

MEGAN DEVINE 


I've been trying to spend more time and energy writing. After months of this, I am now beginning to see that the algebraic formula for this is x < or =  0, when x is defined as creative writing.

I have excelled at all sorts of other creativities. I have cooked up some genuinely excellent meals, and shared them enthusiastically with friends. I've done some fun and satisfying watercolors recently

and have lots more in mind.  Those paintings are often inspired by the natural world around me, and of the many many photographs I have taken of that world.

I'll stay up late, wake up early, lean out windows, hike high, kneel low to get the shot I want. 
 


Sometimes, it turns out to be just right. All the while, I continue mulling over and not getting anywhere with my writing

 
I have also been gardening up a storm, and have gotten back into propagating in a big way. As always, the work is hard and hot, but the rewards are both instant and ongoing.                                           
There's plenty of really good time to ponder ideas, too. But it seems that being sweaty and dirty and outside most of the day has also provided me with the excuse to not be writing....again.

When writing my blogs, I like to find little pieces of everyday life that strike me as worthy of a few words. I can usually put together a piece without too much trouble, then edit and edit and edit once I have the main pieces of the puzzle in place. I have had just such an idea from real life in my head for over ten years, but I wanted to write it as a longer piece "when I had time". I hoped that as I worked on it, I would figure out how to maneuver the pieces into a picture that made sense. But I am now bound to say, I am stuck.

 You see, the story is a series of facts that send the plot very clearly into one direction- all generous, warm, kind, nourishing. Then out of nowhere, without a hint, absent any clue, it crashes into a crushingly abrupt and sad end. I've spent hours, days, weeks researching the main topics- Catholicism, the mortuary business, depression, family loyalties, care giving, retirement. I've talked to others who know the story in case they can turn over a few rocks hiding something. I can't find that "Aha" moment that explains it all.

I like things that make sense. I have taken the facts and turned them inside out to look for connections. I have approached them as if the end were the beginning. I've even considered whether I could make this a sci-fi story, with everything turning out of bounds and unnatural. Could I invent all sorts of psychological details to cram in that could make the bare bones flesh out correctly; could I change the main character to fit the outcome? None of these options worked. I need the plot, the character, the setting to pave the way to the end. But it was the end, after all, I could not reconcile.

 I suppose I can say that I have learned something about telling a story, even as it remains untold. I have explored exercises that one might employ in such a composition. I've done the research, I've made outlines, I've manipulated the various parts of the story, written brief sketches. Now I have to do the hardest part- I have to acknowledge that this is a real life story I can't change. Every day I struggle with trying to make it different is a day I can't mourn and move on. So, here I am, back on the blog, conceding my loss and liberating my imagination. If all goes well, I can start soon on my short story idea exercises with a little more abandon, and with a little less load.


Acceptance

When the spent sun throws up its rays on cloud
And goes down burning into the gulf below,
No voice in nature is heard to cry aloud
At what has happened. Birds, at least must know
It is the change to darkness in the sky.
Murmuring something quiet in her breast,
One bird begins to close a faded eye;
Or overtaken too far from his nest,
Hurrying low above the grove, some waif
Swoops just in time to his remembered tree.
At most he thinks or twitters softly, 'Safe!
Now let the night be dark for all of me.
Let the night be too dark for me to see
 Into the future. Let what will be, be.' 


ROBERT FROST


Friday, March 5, 2021

The Year of Almost Living Dangerously


We all hope danger may be overcome;
but to conclude that no danger may ever arise
would be in itself extremely dangerous.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN


Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure.
The fearful are caught as often as the bold.

HELEN KELLER


I just got my second Moderna vaccination. It was a cold rainy day, but we happily headed out to Siler City - 3 1/2 hours away - to get in line to be "safe" again. Our county Health Department has been hopelessly behind on the technology and organization it takes to manage a widespread vaccine rollout, but others have not. My daughter snagged my appointment through UNC Health, but there are other groups in Eastern NC doing a marvelous job making vaccines available to those that are in jeopardy. Some continue to wait to be called. To me, every day missed is one we've all been begging to get back..

It was around a year ago when our lives changed. We didn't know it, yet. A strange new respiratory disease was in the news. Probably, it had come from China...Wuhan, to be exact. It was a virus speculated to have jumped from bats to pangolin to humans. Where was Wuhan? What was a pangolin? Bats?? Ick. Although exotic sounding, the first reports from Dr Fauci himself said there was no need to worry about widespread infection, especially in the US. No mention then of the dreaded P word....no, not pangolin, but pandemic. My daughter and I went to a much anticipated Wailin Jennys' concert with just a little trepidation. We had no idea it would be the last live music concert we would enjoy for many many months to come.

 I remember I was planning to visit the cousins' beach house to give them a hand with some landscaping. There were, at the time, warnings AGAINST wearing masks and FOR washing hands like a surgeon. These small steps morphed into Amazon packages left in garages for days, or wiped down with alcohol, or not even ordered at all. Shutdowns of travel, plant nurseries, and even the Spring Break beach itself soon made my trip impossible. At the time, we all agreed we would wait for a week to see what happened. No worries, we could all just take off a week and partake of the full March Madness coming up. It would be great! Until it wasn't.

Meanwhile, my Georgia Bulldawg baseball team was off to a fabulous start for the first time in years. I so enjoying listening to the games while working in my garden, much as I had done for years at the nursery. The cadence of the game of baseball was the perfect match to potting plants, sowing seed, even weeding. Regardless of the actual temperature, baseball meant that spring was here. Good memories, great anticipation and now a good team brightened my days. And then the season was cancelled, done, just like that. Thinking back on those details, I see that I really had no idea what the next year would be like.

A week grew into weeks. Weeks grew into months. "Flattening the curve", first to slow overcrowding of  hospital space and then generally to slow the disease began to break the rhythm of all daily lives. Schools extended spring break for a week or two. At the time it seemed more like an extra few snow days, but without the sledding fun. Then schools adopted remote learning. "Zooming" was the new thing. Kids stayed home to zoom, and parents were forced to stay home because of the kids there, or because Zooming was for working adults, too. Businesses stayed open until asked to close. If they stayed open after being asked to close, then soon they were forcibly closed. Well, except for grocery stores, or big box stores, or liquor stores. People had to eat, and apparently drink, and use hardware and power tools. Now they also must wear masks, continue to wash hands, and "socially distance". I hadn't lost a job or started homeschooling, but even I started to feel the pinch.  My life hadn't changed much from the former retired self to the current one, except that my weekly Friday night card games were cancelled, as were occasional dinners out or friends over, or visits with my children and grandchildren. Imperceptively, my security level was changing. Dangers lurked around every contaminated corner. Here are some, not necessarily in any order:


Food became a focal point of every day. We couldn't eat out any more, so meal planning was necessary. That required a lot of thought.....about food.  Although I was playing lots of pickleball, I used that exercise as a good excuse to eat and drink more than usual, and certainly more that necessary. Creating something, celebrating anything seemed to take on more importance, and was always accompanied by cocktails, wine, and maybe even liquors. Food and drink became a momentary comfort, a cure for boredom, a creative outlet.  The "COVID quarantine 15" (lbs) was real, and I was susceptible. Putting pounds on is easy. The burden of taking them off would be much harder. Thanks to my children and husband, I released that mass and more with Noom.  Noom's slow, steady, sensible weight loss process harnessed some of my attention, relieved some of the boredom, and gave us all a healthy focus for creativity in the kitchen. We became one big support group for each other, and found real comfort that old fashioned way.

Facebook, the only social media I use, looked more interesting as actual social contact waned. But as the pandemic dragged on, the political season was just beginning to get cranked up. As reflected in my Facebook feeds, the pandemic was considered anything from ficticious to hopeless. So I had to secretly hide those "friends" from my view. Then the politics!! I don't care whose side you are on, just get out of my face! I am trying to stay calm here. So I had to dispense with those "friends", too. By then I was just down to a few pet pictures, crevice garden posts, and Mike's Weather Page. I am sure come hurricane season, Mike and I will resume our friendship, but for now, I find I am much happier without Facebook.





"Togetherness" was more pervasive, and maybe a little tricky for some. Working at home, keeping kids at home instead of sending them to school, cooking and eating at home, no playdates, no adult dates proved to be wearing on some family bonds. Joe and I didn't have that problem, but from afar I watched my sweet 5 year old grandson become gloomy, grumpy, and gruff. As hard as everyone tried, that little boy needed the companionship and stimulation he got at school. No amounts of video time, Lego presents or parental attention could suffice. He even agreed to be tested multiple times for COVID, wear a mask, and wash hands if he could just come visit with us for a week. My daughter said she hadn't seen him that happy for months. Eventually his school started back, and overnight he became that adorable silly charming boy we all loved. As fall approached, his parents mulled over the kindergarten he was supposed to attend. There was no guarantee about school opening, so instead they begged his current day care "school" to keep him another year. 

A few other parents asked too, so when school agreed to put on a small contingent of kindergarteners, they happily signed him up. 

Meanwhile, the Massachusetts offspring did remarkably well thru the spring layoff. Zoom learning made her miss her friends, so they opted for a million online games, learning pods, videos. When summer came, they cashed their stimulus checks in for a nice outdoor pool, a deluxe tree house/ swingset/sandbox, and some outdoor patio furniture. School started back in fall with plenty of precautions that worked. I know she is happier at school. But who knows? The NE winter is long and unforgiving and 

the holidays lacked their usual jollies. Out of the blue, but with testing and quarantine forethought, my daughter and my 5 year old granddaughter made their way from MA slowly down to visit for about 10 days. It was surely the new year pick me up we all needed. We went to the beach at least some part of most days. We looked at boats, we read books, we cooked, we made Coronavirus pinatas for the coming "Crush COVID" parties, we painted, wrote Valentines, we enjoyed the sunsets. It was the perfect geographic cure for that home that had become just a little too tight for well-being. And it didn't hurt ours, either.

There were other alarming moments we all endured. We shared toilet paper or yeast or other necessities when empty grocery shelves and limited closet supplies unrolled anxiety. 

We cut each others' hair, or cut our own hair, or lied about how good  long shaggy locks looked. 

We ordered too much on Amazon, yet were convinced that we were saving tons of money staying home and doing nothing. 

We dared to start painting again, or writing, or knitting, crocheting, weaving, welding. That too had it's terrifying moments, but also tremendous periods of calming and soothing production; a counterbalancing force of control from within.


Death
actually touched many of us during the past year. COVID was responsible for some. Generally, my age makes me more vulnerable to losing friends and family every day, and certainly this year was no exception. The excruciating part of these casualties came not just with the losses themselves, but with the missed opportunities to share the grief. Hospital and communal living visits were not allowed. Funerals were pared down to graveside services with immediate family only. Saying goodbye is better done in person, with other shoulders to lean on. 

I can't say that I solved that dilemma, but I did find a few ways to extend my hand to those who might need one.



Again I must say that I have not really suffered much during this pandemic. But to the extent that I was squeezed a bit, I hope I can also say that I learned something. While trying to do the safe things for self and family, it seems we must also remember to behave with common sense, kindness, a sense of humor, and personal responsibility.

 Through no fault of our own, we were forced to give up some- or a lot- of control over our lives. But, as it turns out, the control is very often in one's head and in one's heart. It is pretty simple really-



  " If you have a lemon, make lemonade".

Carnegie, Dale How to Stop Worrying and Start Living




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.

      I       
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?


MARY OLIVER 1992

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 (https://www.buildsxsemagazine.com/2016/08/saultopaul-documentary-film-john-henry-summerour/titled 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