As the sun rises over the horizon I am content not knowing what this day, and the days following, will bring. Eclipses come with warnings from many cultures and practices. There have been many cautions these last few years that played out in real time, when some form of alternate reality replaced what had been known until then. This process continues.
There was a small chunk of the eclipsed moon missing around 4:30 a.m. on the coast of Maine. It’s cold: yesterday’s 70’s now replaced by a 40 degree chill, far more suited to the calendar.
I’ve chosen, or it became obvious, it was time for me to rethink this time of life and what, if anything, could be done to improve or rectify what I’ve perceived as deterioration. The blessing, the joy, of living in such close proximity to the ocean fulfilled a dream that felt beyond possible. Coming here, I did not once think of what might come “after”. Is that now? Do any of us possess certainty after Covid, after years of divisive politics, our personal climates so altered as to be unrecognizable?
In these last few weeks many of us began to experience the weather conditions as anomalies, as a first hand feel of climatic alterations. This has not been “Indian Summer” which comes after cold. There’s been no cold. Rains of monsoon quality fell followed by substantial days of warming. New buds are on the impatiens in the pots planted last May and the diascias unique pinkness has burst forth in profusion from plants shriveled by the summer’s drought. But it’s November. There’s not yet been a killing frost.
Into the unknown we hurtle: Elections. Climate. Geography. Connections. The awareness isn’t necessarily a desire to return to what was but instead, to turn to improving what’s improve-able. There are absolutely no guarantees for anything henceforth.
Everything is in motion, even if Fall’s movement is towards the great sleep of winter. The transitions of nature as well as politics are particularly large at this juncture in time. So, too, are the transitions in our personal lives as we struggle to incorporate the gargantuan shift brought about by the Covid virus which, itself, keeps transitioning. (Five shots and counting….) I’ve referred to this as landing in an alternate universe many times in these last nearly-three years. There are huge examples of potential and current transitioning from the coming possibility of the permanent and deliberate destruction of the American Republic to the killing and displacement of peoples and geographies by the actions of Putin. If “nuclear” anything becomes a reality then this reality shift goes to a place that truly is unimaginable.
There are zillions of tiny losses/ shifts/ transitions in our daily lives as well, constantly updating reminders of how this is not back then—pre-Covid—when store shelves stayed stocked, when we could resupply our stash of favorite crackers, or shampoo, or even cream cheese. Now what we seek is often unavailable or simply beyond our budget. You may assign political party blame for the upwardly stratospheric cost of food and supplies. I blame the “we’ve suffered too long and will now correct our balance sheets” unrealistic greed or philosophy of capitalist business heads. The core of what will tear our government and communities apart can be described with one blanket word: inequality. I see this as global and inevitable. You cannot have such vast gaps in income disparity (which allows a median salary between worker and CEOs to be 670-to-1) without major riffs in societal structure.
For all the seriousness of this, my daily reality is brimming with transitions dictated by age and health. Despite this I’ve been looking from my car window seeing glorious Fall color the likes of which I’ve not seen in years. What a lovely visual of transition; losing oneself in beauty is balm for troubled thoughts. We each age differently and many of us who used genetics to forecast our futures are getting big surprises—in both directions. The reasons are too vast to name so we live with, or die with, our own unknowns. The bow shot of Covid has been “you just never know”.
My pressing question these days is “How do we transition gracefully?”. I’ve entered a new stage of shedding stuff. The excesses of my physical life gave way for a desire to hone things down to basics. Throughout this process one difference that age is bringing to this process is to stay aware that memory is often related to and triggered by objects of meaning. It will be easier if I can limit this to the small stones and shells I gathered in my travels, each with a memory of the circumstances of their gathering along with the trace memory of joy in the structure of small things of nature. I asked permission of the rocks before they ended up in my pocket (nearly always). Now they are my treasures along with two other categories of sacred things: writings (such as letters or journals) and photographs. Each of these are unique to each person and both further this discussion of transitions by offering direct proof. I struggle with the accoutrements of living. How do I know if I will need pots and glassware and linens if I have no idea of what comes next in terms of geography or circumstance. These are Whew-Transitions looming large and often unfathomable. One step at a time knowing the truth of what a long ago roommate said “All decisions are made with too little information.”
Not one of us is free of continual transition; Covid or not, politics or not, this awareness was always with us even when we were not brave enough to see it. How do we navigate when it engulfs us?
Perhaps we humans, as a species, realized we came to this extraordinarily beautiful jewel of a planet in a universe so vast that when we nightly looked at the stars we were reminded we were nothing more than dust specks. Instead of feeling joy in our being here amongst the other glorious creatures—the animals, plants, the skies, rainbows and sunsets—we aligned with our fears and our insecurities and fought with one another for tiny vestiges of superiority.
We, as a species, have done such harm. Rather than coming together to celebrate being, we divided and divided and divided again, factions against factions, making up “races”, insisting on gender hierarchy, and using killing as a way to shore up our puny, scared selves. Using superiority as a shield we attempted to separate ourselves from other living beings all around us, a monumental error of insecurity.
All that was necessary was trust. Prophets came to open our hearts and minds yet our flaws turned these teachings as weapons against one another.
We did not—have not—learned that trust, love, compassion, cooperation, respect and sharing are all we ever needed. All dividers were false flags. It was a test. We failed.
There are acts of kindness amongst us, fleeting moments of awareness of deeper purpose and caring, each and everyone a reminder of what really matters, yet the mass of awfulness is an obsessive force spread by media, our shiny objects of bad behaviors drawing us away from our inner selves that long for love which we know must be present. Somewhere.
I am only beginning to understand that our individual experiences of sorrow, loss, pain, disease are actually pathways that open us to others. Those who have not (yet) gone through this process are easily identifiable in their confidence and belief they are not like others particularly like those in obvious distress as evidenced by a lack of material resources, by evidence of non-health, and by so many more tiny markers of judgment. Separators. Us versus them. How thin that line of perceived safety really is. Once crossed and fully experienced the reward of “troubles” can be understanding; compassion; “There but for the grace of god, go I.” Such knowledge / awareness is hard earned but for those willing to go deeper the gift of such experience would not be surrendered or exchanged. The false tinkling of laughter, of condescension, the bubble wrap insulation or whatever form that seems easiest route, is a ruse.
Take your sorrow, your pain, your rough and uneasy road and bless it for the vision and knowledge which it allows. All around you are travelers on the path. Sharing the sorrow is a heart opening, a true healing, a blessed opportunity.
In this aging process I’ve been seeing the parallels between myself as a young child to my now being on the other end of life. Mirrored issues, like reactions to foods and the business of mobility, are the obvious issues however, I realize that a rollavator (a fancy version of a walker) is not the aging equivalent of bike training wheels. Rollavators allow freer movement as they support aging backs or stiffened knees making freer and faster movement possible. However, they won’t become obsolete as the body strengthens and improves balance as training wheels do. Rollavators aren’t going to enable strength, they are a replacement for strength which was once present. They are also carriers of objects that pull on back or knee muscles enabling moving stuff like laundry and other stuff around the house. They serve as just one example of what was and movement that is taken for granted by all but those whose movements are impaired.
Western medicine is not an easy fit in advancing age, geared as it is to a concept of improvement. At a certain point procedures or treatments strain credulity or at least the balance of experienced pain versus reasonable outcome. Alleviation of pain for example, is now caught firmly in the hyper vigilant rules swirling around addictive drugs so all but off-the-scale pain is caught up in the “take ibuprofen or Tylenol” for aging conditions that have long since blown past the helping capability of those OTC drugs. There seems to be no middle ground between Physical Therapy (as muscle building) and “spa” therapy in terms of massage. PT’s are too well trained to use or be properly compensated for their talents for frequent visits for soft tissue muscle relaxation while the “Massage businesses” cater to pampering. I’ve yet to find a middle ground where an older person could get help with muscle knots by a person who knows older bones cannot withstand the pounding of too intense manipulations.
I watched my Mom develop foot problems and now I, too, get to know what that feels like after never once in my earlier life having knee, leg, or foot problems. Are there places other than nail salons that know how to care for painful old feet attached to legs that have trouble working? Spa treatments such as polished nails and bubbly leg rubs are sidebars to correcting the ravages of thicker nails that dig into flesh, and knowing how to fix that can make walking again bearable, a nearly instant corrective that will reappear after a couple of weeks.
For all the awakening of physical and physiological body issues at hand each pales in comparison to the reckoning formed out of bad choices and undone deeds concerning the plight of loved ones now passed. Oh for do-overs! I understood nothing and thus I limited my actions which may well have made a huge difference in the quality and meaning of the life of my loved ones. Instead, I kept in my lane and as now I re-play those choices and I am just beginning to face my selfish choices that robbed all of us the deep connective tissues of being human. I blew it. My daily existence is filled with thoughts and out loud pleas of forgiveness. This was the path which I chose to follow, with far too little awareness and compassion, and knowing the power of my own worth by playing a caretaking role.
Living with this sobering awareness alters everything and is far too little, far too late.
Snipets of dreams floated to theThe adds msurface but they were actual memory fragments intended to either shed light or stir up questions.
While in library school I worked full time for the college which included regular shifts at the Reference Desk. The undergraduate college was (and still is) a woman’s’ college but male students from a nearby engineering school like to spend their library study time in proximity to women their age so they often used our library to study in the evenings. While I was the Reference Desk person on one of those evenings, a young man approached the desk seeking help as he was unsure of how to research his topic for his first academic paper. He was an International student by accent and demeanor. I, literally, walked him through each step of the research process, using printed indices (this was a few years short of digitized information) and then on to the cabinets of microfilm, explaining how to use the readers for the microfilm reels, and then how to print out the articles he needed. Throughout this mini crash course on the academic research methods of the time, I repeatedly stressed to him that he must annotate every one of the sources he was about to use. Every printout was to carry the author, article title, journal title, place, full date of publication, and page numbers. He was bright and quick but his undoing, and mine as it turned out, was that he apparently decided that only some of parts of the process he was hearing were worth retaining. There was an underlying attitude which I interpreted as related to my being a woman. It wasn’t a stretch to “read” the situation or his attitude. He considered it his prerogative to measure the worth of my instruction, to decide for himself if what I was saying was important. He was free to ignore what did not suit him. On another evening days or weeks later he again appeared before me at the desk demanding that I produce the publishing information which, having been completely ignored by him, had not been recorded so therefore could not be included in either footnotes or bibliography, a cause (explained to him by his professor) for a failing grade for his paper. The manual nature of gathering the necessary research was straightforwardly smooth. However, reversing the process was like looking for needles in a haystack, time consuming and exceedingly difficult. Not once did he take any kind of responsibility for his failure to heed the initial instruction nor were thanks given as I helped him with his agonizing process of retrieval. Never mind that he was not a student at the college where I worked; I was a woman whose job was to fix his mess.
Years later at another college, now fully credentialed as a Reference Librarian, a professor sent me her young student from Afghanistan who was caught in the same belief system concerning the value of women. She had tried to instruct him in the necessary steps of writing an academic research paper but his resistance had worn her out. She called me and asked if I would work with him.This was at a time when the war in his nation was with Russia, long before the U.S quagmire there. Somehow this young man had gotten out of that country, alone. Later, and with help, his drive and intelligence earned him sponsors which enabled his enrollment in this expensive and academically challenging college. But once again having instructional help to aid him in the necessity of research techniques became difficult. He was admirable and likable, but his blinders preventing any recognition that a woman was worthy of intellectual, academic help nearly brought his professor and me to our knees.
During my years at that Reference Desk a routine part of my job was attaching barcodes to college IDs so the holders of these IDs could check out needed materials from the collections. There were a few outstanding moments, all performed within the boundaries of the American Library Association’s strict code of privacy. Holding to that principle I can still safely share some moments of profound respect, or shock, or awareness of a few memorable exchanges. Here are some standouts:
On an ordinary evening shift I asked the student standing at the desk with an ID with no barcode. I proceeded to ask for the necessary, routine information. Home city? “Srebrenica”. This was at the height of the war there, in 1995. My face remained impassive but my heart was fracturing withholding my unasked questions and concerns for that student. Just the name of that city brought images from nightly newscasts: murder, rape, sniper fire, and massacre. How did that student who was standing in this quiet, shared space ever get here? How could this young person be standing in front of me as a student at an American college, expected to be doing demanding work? I was humbled by her very presence. [For a reminder of those times see: https://www.britannica.com/event/Srebrenica-massacre%5D
Over the years I changed quite a number of names on IDs necessitated by gender transitions by both students and faculty. I thought of each person as a brave and intrepid soul. For each newly altered ID I added an intangible, imaginary, “glue” to each barcode, a wish for strength and perseverance.
One evening I was approached by a new professor who also needed a barcode. Again there was the address question. He told me he was at the college for one semester having come from Tehran as a Visiting Professor. Such a soft and quiet voice. Such a humble demeanor. How I longed to buy him a cup of coffee or invite him to dinner so I could ask him how he had gotten to where he was now at a time our countries were at a standoff. For the next few months I’d see him in the library from time to time, always unacknowledged of course, the code of privacy remaining intact while my questions slowly died.
There were famous, and not the quite or not quite yet famous, writers who would appear suddenly, followed by rushing away with the needed code. Under determined anonymity many names and faces are gone from my memory banks. This was how I understood what was necessary to do my job professionally. I think that far more than once my face quickly became blank in an attempt to not show my surprise or delight.
I was certainly less human (and humane) than I wanted to be, but that was how I’d been trained. There were professional boundaries that were sacrosanct. Now so many years and so far away from that environment I now get to rethink other possibilities.
All of these thoughts came swirling in the night allowing me a form of specific self forgiveness for now I do not need to remember to read the “shoulds”, the nitty gritty recent scholarship times about slavery, genocide, and atrocity. In these, my late years, having even one person standing across from me whose history could have easily been a micro experience of similarly large tragedies did it’s job in opening my awareness. I learned, from one being at a time, even if we never exchanged specifics.
We humans have wrecked havoc and continue to do so at what now feels an alarming increase in scope and place. Is being in the presence of just one person whose life has been disrupted in such ways enough or do we need entire armies of them? I have answered my question for myself. I leave the larger histories to others.
An article in yesterday’s NY Times caught my attention:
“How ‘Fairy Tale’ Farms Are Ruining Hudson Valley Agriculture”
“Farmers are losing properties to wealthy buyers from the city, while leasing land from the new owners can feel like a “modern-day feudal system.” By Elizabeth G. Dunn Photographs by Gabby Jones. June 9, 2022 Updated 1:59 p.m. ET”
I lived in the Hudson Valley for 27 years and watched the agricultural movement grow. By the time I retired I was buying almost all of the food I ate from the farm stands and the Sunday Farmer’s’ Market. The orchard fruits were spectacular and the growers truly wonderful, very hard working, people. From May until late into the Fall my produce bags were brimming and there was fresh fish, eggs, meats, and dairy products direct from local sources to add to the bounty. It wasn’t always the cheapest way to eat but freshness and taste (and nutrition) surpassed all else. Winters of grocery store produce became dreadful.
I left the area before Covid hit but I’d been there through the fear years after 9/11 when real estate was being gobbled up by urban dwellers from further south, scared they were not finished with panic situations. They were right. But their unequal buying power did real damage. According to this new article the well minted are now buying farmland which they want to remain picturesque. They want dual purpose barns where animals can be housed, then moved to accommodate wedding receptions. Having moved a fair amount of pig and chicken manure from a small barn on a Vermont homestead for a few years I can assure you manure and bridal attire are not compatible. We can chuckle together at the folly in this story but therein lies a deep truth we are all avoiding: having money does not make you smart. The food on your plate did not get there easily or with pristine hands. And the true price of things often has little to do with money at all.
Who will feed the growing world populations? We are just getting glimpses of the tragedies to come as nations dependent on harvests from Ukraine will not be there as backup. This is the tip of a very large iceberg. If local, state, and national governments do nothing to tip the balance of who can buy what land and use it for whatever purpose, we will see starvation spread.
There are all kinds of damage to the land which sustains us. Trendy ornamental plants replaced native species, the home and food for pollinators whose numbers have declined in alarming leaps. There is no end to our ignorance. We think of land which we buy as ours! to do with as we see fit, only our vision rarely contains what is, has been, and will be, required. Guns and wars are only two ways to hasten human die-off. What don’t you or I know about why the increasing numbers of deer are now taking over suburbia or showing up regularly in the middle of town and why their presence and the increasing presence of other “destructive” critters are so damaging to those who want to grow some of their own food? What are we thinking about when not wanting to mask or to travel like we used to? There are so many questions in so many areas we are not bothering to ask much less answer as long as things stay pretty. So some want fluffy white sheep grazing in green meadows without the unpleasantness of poop or the brutalness of birthing, or to be reminded of the harshness of life and death which is all around us? Plants, animals, people, air, water…..
Rich, poor, or in between we will live these fairy tales until reality bites. Then we will howl like banshees complaining of how unfair it all is.
Memorial Day was founded to remember those who fought in war and gave “the ultimate sacrifice” but today my thoughts are centered on the Grandmothers. Wars have, mostly, been started by men and until the fairly recent past, mostly fought by men as well. The Grandmothers go forgotten although they often bore the burdens of those wars in ways men never once considered, but wars were hardly the only burdens they carried.
The photo here is the Grandmother I, and all of her other grandchildren, never met. She died at age 36 about to be discharged from a state mental hospital, circumstances unknown. Her eldest child, my mother, was thirteen and her fourth and last child, my Aunt Betty, was three. Family members have attempted to uncover records for her hospitalization and death but were told “there was a fire and all records were lost”. Was there anyone of her generation who knew the whole story? If so, none of us ever heard more.
Today I learned from my cousin who has the interest, talent, and persistence for genealogical research, that a journal and graduation record of our shared Grandmother was found. She had attended McGill for a couple of years. As her first child was born in 1922 college would have been an outstanding achievement for a woman of her time. What then is her story? Whatever the tale, it took place in context of her time when women did not have autonomy or agency. I think of her not only as an individual but as a woman bounded by the societal mores of class and gender because even now we must see our lives within these contexts.
Over time I have come to understand that we hear each other’s stories in ways that relate to our own experience. If you choose to stop at the point I’ve told you my direct blood relative died in a mental hospital that is your choice and I will only slightly wince. If however, I think of the line of history of women branded as hysterics or witches, understood in the context of the prevailing times, not as individuals with intelligence, knowledge, longings, and worth but as objects that fit into whatever worked in the world of men in the time that they lived, the possibilities of her story take on very different meanings. In this light, I question my Grandmother’s situation and wonder about the circumstances, the hows and whys she was in that hospital rather than with her family.
This photograph, which needs restorative work, haunts me. The intelligence of those eyes hold mysteries I, and all the progeny which came after her, will never know.
This remains the case for all our kin even those who are a part of our daily lives. We do not know what is carried, what longings or experiences are hidden in their hearts and minds, but the Grandmothers in particular carry their pasts holding or telling their secrets selectively or not at all, like shadows we cannot see.
I am not a Grandmother nor will I ever be, yet I, too, carry these things.
Ramadan, Easter, and Passover are all being observed in a small period of time. From an article I read today this convergence has not happened since 1991. Without such knowledge any one of us would still understand there are masses of energy in motion altering the world we thought we once knew. Human behaviors in so many places have gone beyond reasonable or understandable. We are struggling, as individuals, as families, as citizens. After years of political divisiveness the concentric rings of strife moved into a global pandemic and now a land war has been perpetrated by yet another old man caught in the throes of yesteryear, caught inside his old man visions of power and glory while innocents on both sides carry impossible burdens because of his actions. The most naive amongst us can easily see how such a possibility must cease to exist.
The round moon rises over the ocean and the path of its light reaches me through the windows. In the midst of April the night is still in the 30’s. Snow is in the forecast headed eastward. The virus alters yet again and case numbers rise daily. The gloom of these last few years seems more than sufficient yet I doubt it is yet nearly enough for we humans to truly change our ways.
I began writing this blog before the world flipped to an alternate universe. My initial thought was to share the experience of living close to ocean wildness, to observe and comment on the natural beauty and power of the water, the movement of weather, of sunrises, of the creatures who made this landscape home long before we humans altered the land and upended the balance of things. The life I intended, of course, was upended as was everyone’s. I found in this place both solace but also unexpected and incredible loneliness as the virus drove us into lockdown and separation. After more than two years I find myself with less and less to say. My thoughts deepen but my observations now feel shallow; repetitive. I wanted to learn and share what this remarkable place brought forth. This natural world is as beautiful as ever but I find our human world is not. I find my understanding is failing me as my aging body struggles. I am not one bit closer to mind/body oneness. Using words and pictures has been my way to share what made sense, what was (and is) beautiful.
Now, at this moment in time, I’m am bowed. Engulfed. My adherence to this once a week sharing is flailing. When—if—my vision clears and I can make better sense of what I see, I will write and send photos in this space. Now it’s time to breathe, to enter the calm, to repair that which is possible, to enter the convergence of healing we all so dearly need.
It was actions that verified the presence of Spring as the weather has been slow to warm although just yesterday I found chives poking their way through the extra mulch I’d used in attempt to give the plants some winter protection. What joy there is in those first signs of new green life poking out of the dirt.
By “actions” I mean I suddenly found myself going through drawers and storage bins looking to discard what had begun to irritate by the late days of full blown winter. Even though the house was still too cold, the state of the too-often-worn favorite wool sweaters had become dreadful so off to the dry cleaners they went and, now cleaned, they are headed to the cedar chest, the summer keeper of all things wool. Soon to go is the outdoor porch furniture destroyed by salt air, needing a final trip to the transfer station’s dumpster. The table and chairs are beyond repair, the layers of peeling rust is unfixable despite my limited budget for replacements. Metal cannot withstand the corrosion that has pitted metal indoor everythings much less any form of metal with outdoor exposure.
It seems like Spring’s urges means everything is up for possible discard. Kitchen towels, stained and fraying, have now been relagated as cleaning rags. What will be the next target? Time runs out on such projects as soon as warmth arrives and we switch to the “time-to-be-outside” mode. Sunshine on skin, even carefully monitored, seems a desperate need about now.
My guess is your furry companions are also shedding and winter fur and hair is showing up everywhere requiring frequent vacuuming. Have you also been sorting and tossing? (No, not the beloved critters, just the overwhelming evidence of their presence.)
I’d like to shed masking and the resulting damnable foggy glasses which has been a constant annoyance for so long now. How we need to rejoin friends freely and without safety concerns but there are reports of a new variant’s rising. This is when shedding needs thorough thought. A fourth vaccine? (The so called additional ”booster”?) Even with that for us older folk caution is the rule.
Perhaps what needs shedding the most is the darkness of human behavior, allowing the light of kindness and compassion free reign amongst us all. There seems to be endless examples of horrid human behavior and yet worldwide awareness seems to be growing out of the images of the truth of the complete insanity of war. What could possibly be better than a shift to understanding war as a solution for anything? Ever.
In a wonderful conversation, a friend challenged me on my idea of “Beauty” with the suggestion that finding beauty involved judgement. I had said something along the lines of “beauty was like fuel to me”. By that I meant that noticing beauty feels like random awareness, a visual experience of joy.
Never have I even considered that finding beauty was a process of deciding what was beautiful versus what wasn’t. It has always been, for me, a one way flow. Beauty often appears as a sudden flash, almost always visual.
I understood that if I stuck to using words I would not be able to communicate what is in my heart and mind concerning this subject so it’s off to the photo archives to attempt to illustrate my thoughts with images.
There seems to be a widening discrepancy in how much information is personally acceptable when horrible events are happening daily. Many feel the need to turn away because of how awful information affects them, physically and/or psychologically. I find myself turning to the opposite view by seeking material presented or written by very knowledgeable people. (The part about the quality of source becomes a critical distinction.) Folks blathering and parroting partially informed or blatantly political propaganda wears everyone out, raises blood pressure, and anxiety levels. “Scholarly” sources change that. I don’t subscribe to the current “everyone’s opinion counts” viewpoint. I don’t think many of us would purposefully seek medical help from someone not steeped in years of training. I honor that same principle when it comes to history or geopolitical complexities. Seeking knowledgeable sources allows me to think then rethink what is going on thus digging beyond, or beneath, the horror. The challenge, of course, is finding such sources.
Here comes my hypocrisy. Within this past two weeks I found myself in a situation that slammed home the point. I had been watching huge flocks of birds gathering daily out in the waters in front of this house. For five years now I’ve been focusing on what I could learn by simply watching the bird (ducks, mostly) behaviors on a daily basis. Other than using ID-ing guides or websites, I avoided delving into wildlife biology or ornithology tomes for deeper information. In other words, I was “using my intuition” rather than knowledgeable sources.
One morning the numbers of birds was extraordinary, larger than I had seen in the five years I have been here. I wanted to post documentation on a fabulous birding site called MAINEBirds on Facebook. I tried for a panoramic photo and failed. Then I tried shooting a video which I couldn’t seem to upload. In the end I sent one of four photos I’d taken of one of the four rafts (the new term I’d learned for such grouping of birds.) I had referred to these large flocks as being Common Eiders, the species I’d watched out there for five years. Immediately I was corrected by someone who had been out here the day before telling me the birds out there were Scoters not Eiders. I reacted badly.
It took me a few days to understand how I had erred. I’d not used the binoculars to ID those rafts. I made an ill-informed assumption. I wasn’t one hundred percent wrong as at least one of the rafts were Eiders, mostly males. At issue was a piece of information I did not know: apparently Common Eiders have been disappearing along the Maine coast causing much distress and concern among birders, so while I was thinking that the thriving Common Eider flock I’d been watching all this time had actually been taken over by other species, particularly Scoters. I’d committed a classic error: I’d not consulted knowledgeable sources. Now I understand that while I was not completely wrong, I was mostly wrong.
What does this do to my information gathering theory? It proves to me that each of us cannot be experts, even in some of the things we dearly love. It proves to me that searching for accurate information is critical for understanding be it politics or nature. What we don’t know CAN hurt us as well as others.
It’s time to get out the crank that enables me to open my mind. It reminds me that sharing good source material by knowledgeable experts is always necessary.
Note: Here’s the link to a particularly good source for information on the Ukrainian situation. It’s long and worth the reading time.
At least it’s March although thinking that March is a lessening of horrid weather was challenged by one of those FaceBook memory things which popped up. I’d written about the March 3rd Nor’easter in 2018, the storm with the 25 foot waves, a reminder that March is never the easiest month of the year.
Years ago I remember first noticing the deepening of the shadows of trees by late February an indication that the sun was gaining strength daily. By March the sun’s rays pack a real punch noticeable where there are good windows facing south or east or generally on porches or in cars. Our bodies instinctively lean in to those brief moments of light’s warmth and strength. This year after having gotten to the other side of January and February arriving in March seemed significant. It has been an unexpectedly hard winter because of frequent dips into bitter cold, perhaps even more difficult then in deep snow years. Heavy snowfalls don’t usually happen in very low temperatures whereas heavy snows come in the warmer 20’s when the snow is full of moisture and heavy to shovel. Deep snow is also soft and quiet. Deep snow can insulate which is in contrast with screaming winds which tear at the plants and trees, blow birds off course, and leave one’s nerves on edge after hard blows for days at a time.
Weather used to be a passion of mine but it turns out to have another side like everything else. Now I relish the sunny days. Hunkering down through long cloudy or stormy days has become a real challenge. Maybe that’s a normal part of aging or perhaps it is more specifically pandemic related. This is where the tedium comes in. Even in the pandemic’s chaotic beginning, beginning in March 2020, I scoffed at hearing mention of the time we’d be “getting back to normal” knowing there would be no such thing. It has taken both luck and attention and work to stay virus free which has also taken a toll. Still, if we or friends, family, and loved ones stayed healthy it was clear that was a blessing. It may be more so as research learns more about the affects of long Covid along with everything else.
Perhaps it was less work living alone (well, nearly alone) than those who had continual daily contact with family but we’ve not yet begun to measure the affects on the isolation of the older population. We are only just beginning to see the edges of what may have come out of remote learning and/or not being physically present in school. We are now seeing the toll of those in their prime working years and those who are part of what now has been labeled “The Great Resignation”. We may not ever catch up with all of this as those of us on the planet now see the looming possibilities of expanded war and nuclear threats. And then there’s the climate issues that are a part of every location.
Tedium is a mark of the fortunate.The days stretch out moving fast and slow both at the same time. Good days can be measured by doing a puzzle on the sun warmed porch. Bad days may mean no driving and watching end of the driveway filling in, a barrier to getting out, while everything else is blown clear. It’s a challenging tracking what day of the week it is. Days and nights run together. Topsy turvy seems normal.
Is that actually my complaint? To be aware sufficiently to know I am bored with the sameness of things, of the repetitive nature of the days piling into weeks? The world has turned into chaos with flourishes of madness. It’s not always helpful to compare your our lives to the lives of others except when seeing images of people fleeing from tanks and shelling. That clears the head instantly. Tedium has turned into grateful thanks.
I don’t think many of us thought we’d ever see a land war in Europe. Wasn’t that over by 1946? What is being unleashed feels unprecedented. We are moving into uncharted territory.
Tedium may actually be another description for a particular kind of peace, a true blessing.
We protect our soft white underbellies with everything we’ve got yet sometimes, there we are, unexpectedly wide open without intention, exposed in ways we don’t think we can handle.
There are good and bad parts about aging. The bad parts you can imagine: physical pain through various ailments; worry when the word you seek slips just out of reach; an entirely different relationship with ice and snow. We all have our lists. The good parts creep up slowly probably so as not to startle us unnecessarily. What if these new insights prove flighty?
There can be such relief knowing you do not, can not, have all the answers. The more you experience the stronger the sense of mystery becomes. Best of all is realizing that not one being on the planet possesses THE answer. To anything. . There are those that might have thoughts on the matter that you’d like to be true but proof positive is not possible regardless of education, status, wealth, fame, or spiritual reference. We each seem to have a capacity to rise to greatness as well as to fall spectacularly often taking others with us.
Ever so slowly I began to realize finding fault with others had far more to do with me and my process than anything someone else brought to the table. I started to hear stories from people I was learning to trust and within those stories was embedded the experiences that had formed who they were. If my personal experience was far different from someone else that meant there was an opportunity to see the world in a different way. What isn’t necessary is to drop what you know or fall into line with their thinking, or to even accept their conclusions. What hearing another’s story allows in us is the realization that if we had been in their shoes (or skin) we might well have reached the very same conclusions, or made the same decisions. We each have our own experience and if that other person had been in your place they might feel as you do now. This isn’t sympathy nor empathy. It is not exactly compassion either, but it stretches us to a place closer to understanding.
Thus opens our great vulnerability. The only guarantee is that staying here much more than a century is impossible. We are beholding to others as we grow. We are affected by the actions, thoughts, and words of others throughout our life here and none of us knows with certainty what, if anything, comes before or after. Whether we comprehend the intersections we come to with each other, I most want to believe that we, each and every one of us, are doing the best we can with what we know at any given moment. Yup. Even the bad guys.
What a challenge that thought brings as our world now seems so full of chaos and strife. What can we do when individuals and nations are at each other’s throats?
I saw a way through a week or so ago, when a contentious conversation moved from throwing g words into telling snippets of our life’s stories to each other. what had been contentious transformed into searching for commonality and connection by the simple process of listening. It was a tiny thing and a huge one all at the same time.
I’ve felt vulnerable since that morning, however, as if too much was revealed, as if too much was at stake. I do not remember what I said nor how it was that I jumped into the middle of the fray. Remorse followed even though my actions had been formed in a place beyond thought, a place I can trust. Now I want to pull myself back into my den; my courage has failed me. Getting anywhere near being judged by others or encountering barriers in communications with others leaves me shaking.
Will there ever be a time in life, in this here and now, when that particular vulnerability does not carry so much hurt?
When asked to say something about ourselves to a group of strangers we often begin our reply by naming where we live, or listing our marital status or the number of children we have, or what we do for work. Rather than being a starting point for understanding these fact recitations can easily be pathways for stereotyping, as superficial ways to divide us rather than as a starting point to bring us together.
* How could we alter our standard responses so they might lead to building bridges rather than walls? Could we begin by saying “My favorite color is blue” or “I loved Thai food from my first bite of spicy hot noodles with cucumbers and peanuts sprinkled on top”?
*Could we say “I got a dog when I was ten, a Cocker Spaniel puppy who died because her kennel had been infected with distemper.. It was a lesson on how fleeting, how precious, life was, perhaps before I was ready to understand such things.
”Could we say “I grew up on a large lake and when I was ten I would sit by the water writing poems but my mom never saved even one of them”? Could we say “I once raised pigs and chickens for food and I ate them but some time before I made friends with a cow being raised for meat and when it was slaughtered I never ate it nor did I eat beef for more than twenty years after.” What reasoning made me separate cows from chickens or pigs?
* What information can we use which would open ourselves to connections with one another? Sometimes I think we are all out circling our fields looking for trouble. We seem to want to strengthen our fences or build higher walls, to create impenetrable barriers. Why do we feel we need to do that?
* I’ve noticed recently how often people reference movies as if movies are the reality and our lives are fiction. Why does it feel listening to someone making such references that what is on a screen carries more substance than the elements of his or her own life? Why is it that actors are often mistaken for their characters, their on-screen romances are more real than the spouse and children to whom they return when the filming is over?
* How has money become the determining factor in measuring the worth of a human being? How does anyone arrive at a place where he or she has so much money they think they can do anything they want to others? How did we create a world where one person can amass more wealth than entire nations? Was that vast wealth earned by labor? Creativity? Exploitation? Did we earn it through the work of others? Can you name someone who started out poor who became incredibly rich? How did that person make that happen? Can you think of anyone who managed that path without exploitation? (I can think of only one that might fit this criteria.)
* Why do people in power (which mostly means old men) think they will be in charge forever while others who are also aging find themselves pushed to the edges as their bodies and minds deteriorate? How many really old (mostly) men in politics and government believe they can still effectively hold office into their late seventies, eighties, or more and act of if they believe they never will be replaced despite evidence the world which they once knew is long gone? Their determination to continue the course that they once thought worked actually doesn’t and hasn’t for a very long time. Think of the names of such men, heads of state, incapable of rising to new challenges such as climate change or immigration. Why are they able to hang on to their positions?
* How, after a reasonable course of recorded history, is any one person allowed to make decisions that jeopardize others on a mass scale be it via health care politics, personal grudges, or by starting wars that will displace or kill millions?
*And last, because I am now an old person, why does everyone seem to pretend that everyone here will live forever rather than the absolute that everyone will eventually die? Even when some believe they have a direct line to Truth about this process the beauty is that not one of us here knows the answer to the mystery of whether there is a place we go to or whether we drop into nothingness when our physical bodies cease being.
The rocker Jim Morrison wrote “No one here gets out alive”. That is the only solid truth we know from the moment we come into being. I think of this as a great gift, a mystery, a freedom, which might make a great difference if only we were brave enough to face it.
On a Zoom this week there were traveler’s tales of places and experiences to stretch a limited (most always car bound) explorer’s mind. It reminded me that from a distance we cannot truly experience where we have not stood. There is a quality to the air. There are smells we don’t know. There are foods that are far outside of what we think of as consumable. There are customs, and rules, and etiquettes we never knew existed. But primary are the unexpected norms of topography and weather systems. That is the nature of Geography.
Living in an environment which is new to us it often takes us a long time for a sense of knowing. This only becomes a part of our knowledge much later and only if we pay attention.
In a borderline teensy town in Northern Vermont I learned about wind. The geography was a high plateau and I did not expect that wind would be such a huge part of living in that landscape. Winters there brought snowdrifts that reached above the tops of cars, where impassible drifts blocked the one road in to and out of town.
The spring winds jeopardized new garden plants put in the ground after the last frost and they required protection or the wind would kill them in a matter of days. I used what was available—gallon plastic jugs, over a hundred of them, which I dragged to the garden’s edge by attaching them to a long rope and pulling hard. They were awkward to handle but cheap, gathered from friends who bought store milk for their families.
Each plant had its own jug as a sort of mini greenhouse, anchored by soil packed around its base. The jug was not removed until the stalk of the tomato or pepper plant had become strong and the leaves began crowding one another inside the container. Such accommodations were necessary to grow a family’s food supply under harsh conditions.
My mistakes, my ignorance about weather, of wind and geography, of currents and fast moving air was duplicated or compounded when I moved to Maine’s coast many years after living in Vermont. Once more in this new place I underestimated the power of wind and its incessant battering, particularly in the winter months. Tonight, once again the wind slams into the south side of the house, shaking the walls. Ear plugs would be wise but they would also block out warning signals, although that didn’t work because sometime in the last couple of weeks a very large rock slab was tossed on to the lawn along with quite a substantial scattering of shale shards. Despite my usually hyper alert attention to the possibility of such conditions, I missed the wave or waves that threw these rocks onto the lawn. My guess is that it happened in the dark of night. This evidence increases my awareness that, indeed, the house, our belongings, our very bodies could be similarly tossed by a rogue wave or a too high tide with intensely powerful surf. That’s something to think about. (Or not.)
But still, geographic and weather ignorance can be countered by research. Wind and wave are the two major aspects of a coast’s ecosystem. But winds here exceed my previous experience in landlocked Vermont. Routine winds or gusts of 40, 50, 60 mph or more can happen any time although winter is the most likely season for their appearance on the Northeastern Atlantic Coast. I wonder if I had been born here would these winds still agitate me the way they do as one storm follows another?
Today would have been a “reprieve” day as it was in the 40’s after yet another bout of single digit temperatures. Instead the wind rose and pounded the rocks, the ledge, and the houses facing the water for most of the day. Outdoor time was brief or non-existent.
I am weary but the chances of sound sleep will be iffy without those ear plugs.
Who knew that the end of your life years could feel never ending the days follow one after another so much alike they form a bland ball of no beginning and no resolve just the forever rolling of one into the other
What choices would any of us have made if we had understood the magnitude of this coming this house by the sea seemed so inviting so full of opportunities of discovery revelation amalgamation the timeless soothing of wave and sound of shifting color of cloud and water an occasional flight pattern of beloved birds who live here in this place where I have come to borrow solace
Instead there was turbulence of an alternate universe flipped during some night dipped into sudden isolation and seemingly irreversible
I find myself sinking under the weight of myself literally and metaphorically my mind struggling with the most mundane parts of living
I wonder if being so alone is itself enough to make this experience so different from those with contact those still with hope those who have careful purpose with fear itself kept at bay by touch and occasional laughter
Whatever this is I somehow agreed to be here during this time although most days I struggle with why that should be
This should not be about limited footsteps or the movement within a few rooms nearly always too cold even in summer when the longing had been for expansion of thought and a move toward wholeness
This is about denial and limitation this should not be about a physical body wracked with pain movement so arduous sleep only rarely possible when it is oblivion which is longed for
What is this time outside of time this denial of our humanness which takes such comfort in proximity and hugs and smiles when instead we travel in whorls without meaning without direction unintentional emotional detachment
I guess I’ll go feed the birds a marker of time’s passing as another storm has come the hawk will come again today or tomorrow and will feed itself on the birds whom I entice with seed the painful cycle of survival repeating endlessly
The morning after the storm there was brilliant sunshine sparkling on the waves and the snow drifts. Evidence of high winds were illustrated by the patches of bare ground in close proximity to sculpted drifts. Unexpected, was the still frozen snow inside the house very close to a heating duct and the vent to the clothes dryer which spit out frozen particles when the dryer was turned on.
When fierce winds encounter barriers (like a house built on a rise) the force of impact creates what appear to be mini tornado swirls which slam into whatever stops the forward momentum. When such a wind is carrying a heavy snowfall the results can be dramatic.
This was “merely” a winter nor’easter. It was not a flood or an earthquake that tore the house from its foundation. It was not a fire which consumed everything in its path. There are so many means of destruction and this latest storm was not anything like that. But still, the following morning when it was All Things Bright and Beautiful outside my spirits were low.
Hunkering down requires a lot more energy than is obvious. The house was cold and I’d retreated for many hours under warm covers. There were only a brief few minutes of outside exposure in an attempt to video nature’s power. Any exposed skin was in pain after less than three minutes. All clothing was coated in seconds of snow being driven by furious winds. There were no thoughts that movement outside was possible. Attempts at seeing the road from the house confirmed predicted whiteout conditions. The worry about the power holding was an underlying hum.
So where was next day elation that the storm had moved on? Coastal weather systems move more quickly than inland storms, especially the storms that seem to get snagged by mountain tops. Getting through the tough parts on the shore only requires steadfastness for a matter of hours because storms move rapidly when encountering the vast sea. Yet what I felt the following morning was a kind of storm hangover that had nothing to do with alcohol.
Most of us have had life experiences that required us to be fully on top of a situation. If you’ve experienced an accident or a threat you may have been surprised at your reaction after the event was resolved. Such reactions can manifest physically such as a shaking of the body or a sudden profound cold. “After” can also be manifest by reactions of the psyche, as if you understand in some recess of your being, the crisis is over and you can now let go.
We often expect too much of ourselves, denying what should be obvious, shutting down as a way to recover and letting go of the bulwark we gathered when it was needed. And those winds? I learned a few days late that a wind gust out here was clocked by someone owning an anemometer at 71 mph.
The road to self-nurture can take a lifetime. We walk it one step at a time.
My ruts are running so deeply I feel lost and way over my head. I’m a “go look at the view from the top of the mountain” type of observer and have never had much tolerance for routine or repetition. Thankfully this trait came with a bonus—I have also been really good at keeping myself occupied, My love of puttering and organizing have always kept boredom at bay. Now, the challenge of these bitterly cold days of January are draining my abilities at both seeing long range and staying engaged and occupied. i suspect you are fairing far better than I, especially if you have been living with dearly loved others.
In the first Covid-present winter, the one where we actually began to recognize we were in worldwide trouble, the challenge was to suck it up and do what was right to keep ourselves and others safe but the actual first Covid winter was when the scientists and the medical and public health professionals knew their worst fears were about to unfold. So that makes this Covid Winter #3 and we are depleted and exhausted. But perhaps this is not your experience. if so, is there a chance I could learn from you?
Do you remember that small window between our vaccinations and the beginnings of the Omicron Variant, that almost home free card we thought we possessed which would open our lives back to allowing movement, travel, hugs, and blessedly sacred contact ? That promise, that surge of vaccination hope brought family gathered around Thanksgiving dinners and sped us along toward the current torrent of cases and the realization by many of us who had only known a friend of a friends who had contracted the virus. Now, friends, family, or even ourselves, have contracted the virus. We may have direct knowledge that counters that “it’s like a bad cold” crap. We are seeing breakthrough cases with dire consequences. There is explosive contagion. There is no guarantee whatsoever of an ending to this plague, only continuing evidence that this is one nimble virus determined to stay alive, migrating, and altering it’s invisibility cloak so that reported symptoms almost feel concocted they are so varied. Only they aren’t (concocted, that is). The ways in which this virus can affect a human body challenges the most knowledgeable medical practitioners and it will most likely take researchers years to see the whole picture.
Will a month from now, out of the bitter cold and icy wind grip of January, bring hope and change? Can we hang on until whatever needs to happen, actually happens?
Throughout this time of pandemic I’ve questioned which age group has taken the brunt of it’s conditions. For a long time I believed it was the young children and the teenagers who had paid the heaviest price. Now I find myself believing it is possible that we elders have lost the most because we have run (or are running) out of time. Three years is a long time when every precious bit of mental and physical health are attempting to hold on. There are nearly daily reports of the passings of those illustrious and great great but it’s not only the greats who are passing in droves.
Perhaps a leaner, less populated planet is required. I offer no Balm of Gilead, nor can i suggest a magic elixir. My apologies to those who want lightness and laughter as I’m out of both. I crave conversations about serious subjects, examinations of thought that deepens and broadens the sense of existence and the inevitable “why”. This seems as good a time as any to dig deep and ponder.
As there seems to be in every part of our lives for a couple of years since the pandemic tossed us all out of our usual orbits, the intensity of this particular January is not yet letting up. It was 1 degree last night with a 30-40 mph wind, as cold as I’ve experienced elsewhere where that kind of weather was routinely anticipated. This morning sea smoke was blowing faster than the moving waves beneath it, while off shore gusts were pushing additional sea smoke perpendicularly against that flow. It was beautiful to watch because there was brilliant sunshine and iridescent waves.
I have taken to speculating if this beautiful house by the ocean was built as a summer residence or if the timing of the build put it before the awareness, so hard earned in the oil crisis of the 1970’s. The windows on the north and west sides of the house are single paned and the insulation is not up to current standards. I know that because those winds flow through the walls. Forced air heat cannot possibly keep the house even remotely warm under such conditions. The gas insert in what was a wood burning fireplace has a electrical blower but that room also has a cathedral ceiling with a long since dead ceiling fan and that room is the location of the one thermostat for the whole house. Using the fireplace means the heat generated from it is the cause of no heat getting to the other rooms in the house. In addition the room where I sleep has two heating ducts neither of which is operational. It may be the coldest room in the house also because the staircase to the basement level of the house which has loads of leaks with zero weather stripping and large gaps above interior doors off the garage spaces runs right next to my room’s entrance.
As an aging person my body has lost its ability to generate heat. Recently in an AARP publication there was an article that stated older people need to live where the temperature is in the 68-70 degree range. I know a number of older people attempting to live with their thermostats set at 62 degrees or lower. At 62 hypothermia is a possibility but heating costs and environmental concerns far exceed the possibility of using fossil fuels to keep a living space that warm.
From having lived in even colder geographies than coastal Maine my wardrobe still contains a number of thick wool sweaters and I’ve a good number of sets of long underwear which can now be worn in public as leggings as well as under those sweaters. Wool helps even if my drier skin is now itchy upon direct wool contact. None of the usual merchants carry wool goods any longer with the exception of occasional wool socks popping up. I speculate on possible reasons for this wool garment shortage and have settled on the cost and availability of wool as well as having the skills to care for wool garments, hardly a toss in the washer-dryer thing. Climate change does not mean the need for warmth has passed. On the contrary, it is meaning that climatic conditions are becoming more erratic and more extreme, with wild swings of both colder and hotter.
Does owning your own home help? Yes or no, depending on your retirement income and backup funds. When younger and far more mobile did you include the possibility of pandemic conditions where staying in your own space 24/7 was going to be a requirement? If you kept up with newer technologies in HVAC you may be better prepared than most. Heat pumps are being installed everywhere but I’m not knowledgeable enough to know if they can help during severe bouts of cold and heat. Wood heat is now a no no in many places because of particulate pollution. I carry permanent lung damage because of smoke inhalation along with fond memories of being that warm on -20 degree days plus the marvelous experience of cooking on a wood fueled kitchen range.
There are wisely sound folk now living in net zero houses. Not nearly enough of them. Are those houses toasty?
I’m doing what I can but on many days it is not enough so I climb under covers with an electric blanket mid-day.
Not much moves outside between three and four in the morning when it’s 4 degrees.
I’m up wandering the house in the darkness, the cold air in the room is finding its way under the covers keeping me from sleep.
I tuck my bare feet under the kitchen cabinet next to the heating duct blowing hot air from the furnace, after checking the unheated porch, with the frigid tile floor, just wanting to see if it is below freezing out there. Almost. Not quite.
There’s cloud cover tonight no stars but instead a bright moon How can it be so cold with overcast skies?
In the early gray morning the little birds will come to the feeders needing fuel to stay warm. I hope the hawk stays clear so there will be no more fluffy pale feathers in clumps to sweep up along with the empty shells of sunflower seeds and peanuts.
The birds, hawk included, need protein We humans need the sweet juice of oranges or grapefruit or lemons shipped from warmer places, miracles of modern life. Our bodies need vitamin vibrant citrus in these long days of winter especially this year.
Still. This new form of virus seemingly passes through walls so once again we huddle alone day after day without knowing what comes next., ReplyForward