We were alone for the afternoon, and so we walked around the lake, slowly, savoring the warmth of that Indian summer day. She patiently waited for me each time I stopped to take another, and another, and another. We watched flying creatures of all kinds enjoy a large patch of asters (I’d never before seen a Buckeye butterfly). Just as I was zooming in on the center of her web, a spotted orbweaver zipped past my lens and encased a newly-caught fly in a death cocoon, and I felt pity and awe and guilt in equal measure.
At work or church I would say that the view was breathtaking, that the climb was invigorating, that watching the sun rise over blue mountains was moving, and I would mean every word. But what I would whisper to you in the quiet is this:
…she reclined like a queen on a cushion of stone and watched birds of prey circling beneath her…
…he grappled with fear and emerged a victor, unafraid to look down…
…I drank in the cool forest air, knelt to feel the stubble of giant fern leaves broken by the careless, traced the initials of lovers carved into the bark of a bent tree…
I saw your ghost standing at the top of the steps last night.
(your dark hair reflected the beams of that hunter’s moon)
You looked down, head tilted, smiling. You walked a few slow paces, stopped.
I watched you move from the corner of my eye but did not turn to face you. My ears filled with the roar of my own heart’s blood and I heard nothing else.
The hours between then and now are thin, brittle sheets that crumble in my fingers when I try to reclaim their utility.
“It cracks me up that you took pics of all of the messy places,” she texts.
“Those are all of the beautiful places,” I text back.
And it’s true. Every corner of her home held beauty. All things burst green with the late northern spring in the Oran Valley. We stayed at her place even though she was away, but her family members that remained at home were charming and perfect hosts.
Bruce gathered eggs from the hens’ favorite corner of the barn (why they don’t lay in their coop, no one understands, but chickens are complicated people) and served them up for our Saturday morning breakfast. Tilly had each of us (in genteel rotation) hurl a chunk of tree bark into the brush for her to retrieve. Monty caressed my girl’s neck with his? her? forked tongue and was a welcome, dense, comforting weight in her hands. Not about to be superseded by Thomas Merton, Jag pushed my book aside, curled up in my lap, and dug her claws into my thighs, teaching me something new about pain and pleasure.
(And then there were those chickens. I couldn’t stop myself–I took about 900 pictures of chickens that weekend. Why? I have no idea, but who wouldn’t take pictures of giant pet birds that wander around outside the house and inside the house and start making noise at 4:30 AM and keep going all day?)
When we were away from the house doing family things, attending the events for which we’d made the trip north in the first place, we talked about what Tilly, Monty, Jag and the chickens might be up to back at the house. And when it was time to leave, certain of us planted kisses on all things canine, feline, and anguine, and there were tears, and long pauses while taking one last look up the hill before closing the car door.
Weeks later, I stand in the kitchen while the tulsi steeps. I reach out and touch each picture and remember sweet birdsong, the squeak of trampoline springs, the crack of a bonfire, the quiet of a stairwell.
- I could barely believe the beauty of Manhattan Beach. Lemon trees and succulents in nearly every front yard, warm and fragrant breezes, my feet in soft sand after a painfully long winter.
- I’d never before attended a wedding held outside in the rain, but now I can heartily recommend it: huge smiles peeking out from under dripping raincoat hoods and umbrellas, steam rising from the pavement, the sound of water all around.
- I made a cake, sewed a colorful bunting and watched a newly minted teenager dive into blue water over a long weekend.
- Bonum est praestolari cum silentio salutare Dei.
I step away from this space for long periods of time for many reasons. Lately I’ve wanted to be more creative in the physical realm versus digital. Over the past few months I have made a tangible shift in habits and possessions at home, unloading the unnecessary to make room for the analog.
- I started an analog notebook. It’s a fuchsia Moleskine notebook, and I am filling it with pressed flowers, photos taken on instant film, and my words.
- I have a homely, stately little Smith-Corona typewriter now, purchased from a nice woman who had owned it since high school in the 60’s, and I incorporate its use into my analog journaling. My daughter was so taken with my typewriter that we bought its fraternal twin just a few weeks later. She uses it to write her biology homework, of all things. It can get pretty loud in our house when we’re both typing away.
- More and more often on the weekends and in the evenings I’ve insisted on vinyl and reading instead of mindless TV blaring in our sole living space.
I’ve been slightly obsessed with bifurcated sleep patterns for about two years, loving the idea of breaking my night’s sleep into two distinct blocks with meaningful, analog-y stuff in the dark middle, and am so tempted by the idea of an unplugged home (without veering too close to the edge of the ridiculous). I know that this yearning for what used to be does border on pointlessness (from the New Yorker, The Pointlessness of Unplugging). But for me, one who spends all day staring at computer screen for a living, I need to spend whatever hours are left around the edges of work NOT looking at screens.
Surgery would never be my first choice to treat any dysfunction. But sometimes our bodies need raw, physical intervention to function properly, and are opened, and our insides are rearranged by skilled doctors with the best of intentions.
As I write this, a loved one of mine is snuggled up in his bed, recovering from his second surgery in three months. Nothing life-threatening, but surgery nonetheless. His recovery will include several days spent in bed, followed by several weeks of crutches and physical therapy. I’m by no means an expert on natural healing (really I have so much to learn) but I believe in the power of preventative care, am learning more and more about nutrition as medicine, and am wide open to ancient and naturopathic healing wisdom. I thought it might be worth sharing about how I prepare our home for convalescence, and the natural remedies I use to encourage rest and healing.
A calm and serene environment
Before the period of convalescence begins, I make sure to thoroughly clean the bedroom where my loved one will recover. I remove clutter, wash, fold and put away laundry, and clean off all surfaces with a non-toxic natural cleaner. I also wash the bed linens and dry them on the line outside, to bring fresh air and a bit of nature inside. Once my patient comes home from the hospital, I tuck him or her into a bed that smells of sunshine. I also vaporize a mixture of orange, patchouli and ylang ylang essential oils to create a peaceful vibe in the room.
A plan for things to do
Hanging out in bed can be a little tedious, once the novelty wears off. I always check out a stack of new-to-us books from the library for my patient to read. Once a trip to the television becomes possible, we choose a movie series and spend the next few days and/or evenings watching a movie while snacking on freshly-popped organic popcorn. Family favorites include the Back to the Future trilogy and the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings movies.
Nourishing food for healing
Again–I have so far to go in this department, but do have certain items that I keep on hand when someone has a need of healing. We drink several cups of organic tulsi tea each day, incorporate organic turmeric into our diet via golden milk or vegetable curries, and make smoothies with whey protein and green superfood powders (thanks to my stepdaughter for the recommendation) to get some semblance of greens into even the most reluctant of bodies. We supplement with multivitamins and vitamin C drink mixtures as needed. It’s good for me to remember that even the tiniest of baby steps in this area moves my family forward towards better health.
A way to get clean
Eventually after a period of extended convalescence we all reach a point where we long for a nice, hot shower. I’ve found all kinds of neat products at Walgreens that keep incisions of all shapes, sizes and locations dry. But waterproof dressings aside, you don’t have to purchase a bunch of medical equipment just to assist your patient with bathing. For me, helping an injured loved one into the shower is a precarious ballet that includes strategically placed towels, a waterproof limb cover from Walgreens and a small plastic step stool from IKEA sitting under the water stream, ready to be repurposed as a shower seat. It feels wonderful to put on clean clothes and towel off sweet-smelling hair for the first time after surgery.
A good night’s sleep
We all know sleep is necessary for healing. Melatonin, no screens for the 1.5 hours before lights out time, and adequate pain control all contribute to a good night’s sleep. I don’t hesitate to give the pain medication prescribed by the doctor, as pain really does interfere with rest. Once pain is under control, we move to over the counter pain relief, but we are in no rush to stop taking stronger medicine because of fear.
I can say with certainty that these measures are a great comfort to a person weakened by pain and dependence on others. I prepared in this way for my own surgery a few years ago, and was much more comfortable during my recovery than if I’d been surrounded by mess, in pain, and bored to tears.
We take the Metro to the National Mall to watch the Arsenal of Democracy World War II Victory Capitol Flyover. We walk to the western slope of the Washington Monument grounds and stake our claim. A black dog sits nearby and pants in the bright sun. We eat our simple picnic lunch on a blue plaid blanket in a dense forest of legs, lawn chairs and tripods. My girl passes the strawberries around, one eye on the sky.
The first warbirds appear just to the right of the Lincoln. He raises his binoculars to his eyes. I hear the clicks of a thousand camera shutters. Veterans and distinguished guests are gathered for a service at the World War II Memorial below. The public address system shouts sentiment, fills in the space between flyovers. I feel the engines in my chest, and close my eyes to imagine war, death, and life, the sound of victory rattling my ribcage.
When the last formation passes, the speaker asks the crowd to stand for Taps. All of the chatting and clicking stops, and we are hushed and reverent as we listen. As the last note falls away, I sweep one finger behind my sunglasses to wipe my eyes.
On our way back to the Metro station, we wander through the farmer’s market and make new friends. We cool off underground as we wait on the platform for our westbound ride home. As the train heads towards Rosslyn I say we’re under the river now, so they can imagine the car full of fish and current.
Other garden notes:
–> Killed my seedlings that were started way too late by overfertilizing them. Too much love, hyper-vigilance, overparenting, the story of my life. But I found some lovely heirloom transplants at my friendly neighborhood garden center and adopted them.
–> Lettuce is growing and I cannot wait for the first homegrown salad of the season.
–> Peas, melons, peppers, cukes, herbs, they’re all growing away, but this time I am determined to avoid a jungle mess, and so am studying pruning techniques.
–> My garden is child’s play compared with the restorative agricultural work being done by my Regrarian heroes, but we all must start somewhere.
The first friend I ever had, someone who came into my life when I was just three years old, sent me these two photos taken on our first day of kindergarten. I cannot get enough of the Donnie and Marie? Luke and Leia? lunch box I am carrying, or the crazy 70’s get ups, or her blond pigtails, and can you believe the adorable red flower I am holding for my teacher? We were so little and sweet, and had no idea that bus steps were supposed to be taken single file. We were innocents, pure in intention, ready to love and be loved, a universe of possibility in tiny packages.
I spend hours in the garden. I weed the beds and tie the bamboo supports with fresh twine. I spread black gold from my illicit compost pile over the turned soil. For a while I listen to music, then I listen to the wind, then I just listen. I feel gratitude for the warm sunshine and cool air, for a functioning (if aging) body, for the worms and dirt, for the smell of the wild mint and chives made fragrant by the cut of my spade.
But I also ache: for a little farm to tend with my gentleman farmer at my side; for the quiet evening conversation that often follows a long day spent outside; for sweet words of poetry whispered back and forth by the light of the full moon.
So many below freezing days, and then this storm of heavy and wet snowflakes that stung our cheeks as we walked. The pond, transformed by a layer of ice and snow, was a white meadow ringed by bare trunks. I snapped a few photos and then the wind told us it was time to turn back. Just as we started on our way home, I looked down and noticed: she’d worn her purple sneakers instead of her boots. Silly girl.
My interrupted photographs illustrate the Winter 2015 issue of online literary nonfiction journal Brevity Magazine. Creating images to accompany others’ words is a privilege and a responsibility, as the pairing can either add to or detract from the storyline. Consequently, I clucked over this project like a mother hen, and gave it the majority of my spare time in November and December, to the dismay of those I love. Now this project is out in the world, and I bend to the task of redemption.
When I am an old woman, I will be a milkweed seed pod drying in the sun, wrinkled and spotted.
You will pull me open on the seam until my silver-white floss pushes through, and you’ll blow my sweet, tender seed to the wind until I am an empty shell.
[Published on fiftywordstories.com.]
Electric fans move the air inside the main building and I wander through three levels. A man browses through silverware on the ground floor. I see him again on the second floor, looking at a small wooden puzzle box. And then we’re on the third floor where the air is thin. We are spirits looking for lost possessions.
Eyes closed, my hand wraps around a small glass bottle that once held a tiny bouquet of buttercups.
All of the silver, all of the linen, all of the brass and the wood and the glass, every small and large thing wears a fragile coating of dust and soul and each thing wonders
who will ever love me again
My girl and I walked between buildings in our townhouse development and found a patch of fragrant honeysuckle at the edge of the woods. I washed the blossoms, then steeped them overnight in simple syrup, following the directions and proportions found in this blog post. The syrup is lovely mixed with soda water, poured over ice with a squeeze of lemon or sprig of mint.
Not a fancy hack at all, just functional and needed. I love the look of IKEA’s faux sheepskin rug TEJN draped over my FRANKLIN stool, but it never wanted to stay in place. I had to reposition the thing fifteen zillion times a day. The fifteen zillion and oneth time I pulled the fake fur up and over the seat back, I noticed that the edges matched up pretty well on both sides of the pointy end. I threaded a large needle with thick polyester-covered cotton thread, sewed the edges together on both sides, and made a pocket out of the entire end of the skin. The rug still drapes well but no longer slides off of the back rest.
I bought a fluorescent light fixture with two full-spectrum grow bulbs and installed it in our basement pantry. I made pots out of newspaper and we planted seeds. I water them twice a day and imagine them tall and strong in the sunshine.
A beautiful fog. The pull of memory. I close my eyes and live a thousand lives.
Once a week I make bone broth.
I strip the chicken carcass bare, throw it into the pot, cover it with clean, cold water. Throw in the wing, leg and thigh bones.
The chicken feet are alien and I can’t bear to touch them without wearing thick purple kitchen gloves
(chicken feet with little brown calluses on the bottom, like people feet after a long summer of walking barefoot to the swimming pool)
but they add glucosamine, chondroitin, and minerals to the broth and so I throw them in.
Floppy, forgotten celery from the back of the fridge. Onion peelings, two dried bay leaves and garlic whacked with the side of a kitchen knife. I read that apple cider vinegar helps to extract the minerals, so I splash some into the water and cover the pot with its lid.
The soup pot bubbles for 24 hours. The house smells sweet and meaty, and the windows fog and our sinuses open.
When cooled, the broth is thick with gelatin. I heat up spoonfuls with peas, sauteed cabbage, cooked potato, leftover millet, and chicken meat, and call it soup. This broth will boost the immune system, Italian grandmother-style. This broth will remineralize teeth and soothe aching bellies. This broth will steam from mugs on the cold, dark days of December.
I’m experimenting with through the viewfinder photography again. I find that I still love the feel of the old Kodak and the distortion and noise introduced by the dirty lenses and mirror. I love the brokenness and imperfection and mess.