Sunday, January 22, 2017

Women's March, Riverside

When I first heard of the Women's March on Washington, I thought, "That's going to be a lot of women," and I looked forward to seeing the event unfold on television from the peace and safety of my living room. (As an introvert, being in a crowd is challenging, to say the least. I simply shut down and become nearly catatonic.) Then I learned there would be a march in Los Angeles, which I thought would draw a significant crowd but demonstrably smaller. (Boy, was I wrong.) I also thought my daughter might go, depending on the weather, and if she went (and drove), I could probably summon the courage to go (mostly because I'm extremely proud of her, and that joy would empower me). Then a friend on Facebook sent me an invitation to "like" the Women's March taking place in Riverside. I clicked on the page, read the description of where the march would take place, and let me tell you (if I can) how profoundly that affected me.

In the summer of 1970, I got my driver's license, which was the one saving grace of that summer. I was sixteen. The summer before, my mother had married my wicked step-father, and we had moved from Orange County to the Riverside area. Throughout the year following that event, I warded off countless unwanted leers, touchings and attempted violations by my mother's husband. I appealed to my mother—to no avail. Getting my license meant leaving the house at night. There was a Christian coffeehouse, The Gathering Place, on Sixth Street in Riverside in those days. It was my safe haven and best excuse. Once my mom had been there and determined that it was a nice place for Christian young people to hang out, she let me go as often as I wanted (and also because, let's be honest, my presence in the home was causing a great deal of tension in the new marriage she was determined to make a go of). I would drive to the coffeehouse, stop in long enough to drink a cup of coffee, then walk the outdoor mall for hours—until I knew my mom and the pervert she married were sleeping.

As soon as I saw that the Riverside march began on Sixth Street, I knew I had to go. That's what this was all about. At sixteen, I had no one to turn to, no one to speak up for me as an advocate. I wanted to march with other women who were willing to speak up. I wanted to march for the girl I was at sixteen.

I arrived early and parked easily. (Though the city has changed a great deal in terms of gentrification, I can still find my way around the Mission Inn and library pretty well, despite the fact that it's been almost fifty years since I used to bum around down there.) As I walked toward the mall, I joined other women—and men and children and some pretty adorable dogs—who would be marching as well.

A man was playing Dylan's "The Times They Are A'Changin'" on the guitar and singing, and I was reminded of the times I would bring my own guitar to this very spot, carrying it over my shoulder like the hippie I was, settling in on a spot of grass to sing "Blowin' in the Wind." At the thought of that, remembering the lonely, isolated, troubled girl that I was back then, I felt a lump rise in my throat and nearly broke down weeping.

Instead, I shook off the ghosts of the past and gave myself something meaningful to do in the present. I started taking pictures. The guy pictured below was with Rise Up, California, and any time I began to feel overwhelmed emotionally, I glanced back to see him standing there, a strong yet unassuming man who happened to be wearing a pink "pussy" hat on his head, clearly here in support of women. He gave me hope.

And Sister, let me tell you, so did all the women who showed up. The city had given event planners a permit for 500 people to march. 5,000 showed up. There were signs everywhere, and when I realized I wouldn't be able to snap photos of all the ones I loved, I decided to go live on Facebook and simply stream what was going on. That's when it all became real to me, when I began to share photos and clips on social media and people responded with comments and likes and hearts. In the first hour, over one hundred people had watched the live stream. My daughter (who was forced by heavy snowfall on her mountain to remain at home, alas) sent me a text letting me know that she was watching—and that my granddaughter, away at college in Anchorage, Alaska, was also marching—in snow and freezing temperatures. If I had nudged myself out of my comfort zone on a bright sunny day to participate, she had leapt frozen feet first into the icy darkness to take part, which I thought was absolutely heroic (which you should, too, even if she's not your granddaughter). 

These pictures I took look like a party compared to what marchers endured in Anchorage. But hey, they still had a great time!

The photo below was taken as we marched, so the quality is poor, but I liked the idea of this--Let's make sure we're inclusive:

And this sign nearly had me weeping again:

All Saints Episcopal Church is where I was married in 1972. It is the place where my spiritual journey began. Once upon a time, a nineteen-year-old kid who liked to draw comics started leading a Sunday night fellowship there. His name is Greg Laurie. He's now the pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, one of the largest churches (in terms of membership) in California, if not the entire country. Greg and I were once good friends, but I can no longer get in to see him. Alas, that is a story for another time, another place. But getting back to All Saints: Hell yeah, they mean it when they say, "Everyone is welcome." These ladies had gone into the top tiers of a parking structure so their sign could be seen by the multitudes.

As we walked, I was a single person weaving in and out of families with kids in strollers, some people pushing disabled folks in wheelchairs, and large groups of friends who came to walk together. Two older women walked ahead of me for awhile, holding hands, leading a toy poodle that trotted along in a cart because her back legs were paralyzed. I wanted to get a photo, but they were walking too fast for me to keep up. And then I walked beside this gentleman for awhile:

Again, forgive the quality; I was walking and didn't want to interrupt to ask for a photo--he was explaining to his grandsons, with great earnestness, how "gender shouldn't matter--it should never matter" when people are trying to accomplish things.
His wisdom and tenderness with those boys just about swept me away again. Oh, to have had a father or grandfather who would have cared for me in such a way. And he is so, so right; gender should never matter. Women should be seen as capable individuals, not judged like every day is a beauty contest they are forced to participate in whether they want to or not. Certainly we deserve respect. At times it appears we will only get that respect if we demand it. So be it. I am no longer the young girl who suffered in silence. Come at me, Donald Trump, or anyone else of your ilk. Go ahead. Make my day.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017


In our quest to lose weight (well, my quest; Thomas is pretty darn fit for a nine-year-old dog), Thom and I have been taking long walks out in the country. Truth be known, we could hang around here at our senior community; there is plenty of level walking space and the views are spectacular:

But we like to get out and walk a lonely road where Thomas can sniff some wild animals and I can lose myself in further plot points for the book project I'm working on. Last weekend we walked three miles down a dirt road that took us past meadows and tall old oak trees. I stopped to take this photo after we saw a large animal—a coyote or bobcat—make for the trees when it heard us coming:

Today we went exploring, finding a new trail that begins in the hills above my little town. I'd taken Thomas up there on a drive, just looking for fireroads and other places to walk. What we saw was an old jeep trail that eventually became a single track, it appeared, so we came back today to walk down it and find out.

Usually what I discover when I find a spot where I can park the truck near a trailhead is that other folks have been happy to find such a place as well—so they can dump their old mattresses, furniture, TV sets and whatnot without having to go to the landfill and pay a fee. Sigh. So I always put mental blinders on for the first hundred yards or so, just chatting with Thom and overlooking the fact that some folks are just bound to pollute where they live.

I think of Robert Frost nearly every time we venture out this way. There's always more than one way to go, and I'm always struck by the lines "Oh, I kept the first for another day!/Yet knowing how way leads on to way/I doubted if I should ever come back." I find myself telling Thomas aloud, "We'll come back here. We'll come back here so we can go that way next time." That's the cool thing about living here and being retired; it's going to take me quite a long time to discover all the possible hiking trails.

So today the first trail we followed led us only up a hill—the steepest hill I've been up in a long, long time, so steep that we had to descend with great care and caution. And I was ever so grateful for how far Sgt. Thomas Tibbs has come in his training and adjustment to life as a writer's dog. "Walk slow, Thom," I told him, a command I began teaching him from the time I brought him home. Most of the time, we both want to walk briskly down the trail, to see how much we can discover and how many calories we can burn. But sometimes we need to go at a snail's pace, and I wanted him to understand that. So he led me slowly and carefully back down the dead-end hill, and just as we neared the bottom, I discovered the biggest piece of malachite I've ever found.

Malachite is a green stone found around the world and in the Southwest United States, especially in Arizona. I've found small pieces on my hikes before, but this one was much bigger. And there it was right smack dab in the middle of the road, glistening in the new morning sun as the frost from the previous night began to evaporate. I whisked it into my pocket. Here it is on a green plate (for comparison):

I keep saying I'm going to get a rock polisher so I can pretty up my stones. They look pretty fabulous when they're gussied up. If you click here, you can see some Google images of them.

For the quad workout and the discovery of the malachite, I felt our walk had been productive after we'd only been out a half hour. But on the way back to the truck, we discovered another road, one that looked... less traveled by. We walked down it about a hundred yards, just far enough for me to snap the photo below. Then we headed back. We'll keep that one for another day.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Pound for pound

In the five weeks since Thanksgiving, I’ve gained five pounds. It started with this:

For those of you who slept through math class, that’s a pound a week. A pound. If it doesn’t seem like much, imagine hefting a one-pound package of ground beef in your hand. Then imagine finding a spot on my mid-section in which to stick it. Do that four more times. (No, the weight is not evenly distributed throughout my body; it’s all right there around my middle.) If that still doesn’t seem like a lot to you, consider the fact that, by Thanksgiving, I had already gained five pounds in the previous five weeks after hurting/probably breaking (we’ll know when the MRI results are in) my foot, which meant my two-to-three-mile daily walks were limited to a very slow stroll around the block.

If you know me well enough to have seen me in person, and you’re thinking to yourself right now something along the lines of “Oh, you could put on five pounds and no one would notice” or “Well, you’ll easily lose the weight after the holidays,” please humor me by reading the remainder of this post. Because you’re wrong inaccurate on both counts.

I would notice. I do notice, I mean. I know I’ve gained weight by the way my clothes feel and by the way movement feels. When I say “movement,” I mean the way it feels to trudge up a steep hill in hiking boots or to attempt the “forward fold” position in yoga. There is a certain freedom of movement that comes with a lean body weight, and it’s a feeling I learned to love as a kid, when I could still swing my leg easily over a bike seat or the saddle on my horse. Now, when my body is round, I feel every step on a long hike, especially when trying to push myself up a hill. Hell, I already struggle with malformed lungs. It’s just adding pain to punishment when you put an extra ten pounds in my backpack, so to speak.

Also, I don’t own two separate wardrobes, one for when I am round and one for when I am not. Thus, I am uncomfortable in my clothing until I take off the weight.

Which leads me to the second often heard remark—that I can “easily” lose the weight. Really? “Easily”? No. Never. (Well, once, actually, a year and a half ago when I had C. Diff after I had taken antibiotics for pneumonia and I ate approximately zero calories over the course of two weeks. And with the effects of the C. Diff, that was almost like negative numbers in terms of the calorie totals. So I guess, yeah, that was “easy;” I just had to literally starve myself while experiencing please-kill-me-now pain. Pretty sure I don’t want to do that again, even if it means rapid weight loss.)

Losing weight is hard. I don’t care who you are. Chris Christie. Oprah. Adam Driver (aka Kylo Ren; Driver recently lost 40 pounds from his already skinny-ass frame in preparation for his role in the movie Silence).

My mama’s genetics have given me longevity, great skin, an analytical mind—and a predisposition to obesity (all of which I have passed on to my daughter and she has passed on to hers). Of course, I really won the DNA jackpot in this regard because my proud Irish pa also carried the same predisposition. So boom—once I crested the hill of 30, I began to pack on weight—easily—and struggle determinedly to take it off again. Just. like. Oprah. (Well, except without all the life coaches and therapists and Dr. Phils. Man, I could’ve used Dr. Phil a few times.) Like Oprah, I “love bread.” I love it so much I bake my own. And I eat it. Nearly every day. Which is fine when I’m at my target weight and I’m following my normal routine of walking/hiking/biking/yoga/weight training. It’s a caloric seductress when I’m also eating Christmas cookies and fudge and See’s chocolates and candy canes and pecan pie and (cheese) tamales and one or two or sixteen other treats I only eat at this time of year. And yes, it’s only once a year, and I’m pretty good at clearing it all out by January 1 by giving it to my grandkids. Then someone says, “Oh, I didn’t see you at Christmas so I’m giving this to you now. Happy New Year!” and hands me this:

So what do I do? How do I get back to the weight that lets me swing my leg over my bike or bend at the waist and touch the floor? What IS the secret to weight loss? It’s this: ELEM. Eat Less Exercise More. That’s it. That’s how you lose weight. Period.

Now, I know there’s other stuff to know. Like how BAD it is for you to binge diet or eat only watermelon for a week or drink only green smoothies for ten days (which, in real life, almost killed my brother, like, for real and actually dead—almost). And that your body has a “set point” at which it would love to stay (mine is 135), so you have to be patient when it seems like you’ve been going without fresh, homemade bread for two weeks AND HAVEN’T LOST A SINGLE POUND. And yeah, sugar is addictive. So are salty-crunchy snacks. (No kidding—look it up.)

All of that is great to keep in the back of your mind (and I know Oprah’s trainers and counselors are reminding her of those things on a daily basis). But on Weight Watchers (bless them; it’s really a good program), here’s what she’s practicing: ELEM. Yep. One of the most powerful women in America is doing exactly what I’ll be doing to lose the weight. She’s eating less (smaller portions of what she loves to eat, and probably better choices, so yes, bread, but maybe not the tiramisu) and she’s exercising a bit more. Or a lot more. I don’t know, Oprah and I haven’t chatted lately.

So after I clear the house of all the incredible stuff I get to eat from November through December (including the chocolates packed in ice and sent to me from France, so fancy they have their own drawstring bag—yes, I do have nice friends), I will study my portions for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and I’ll cut back for a while. And, I’m happy to say, I’ve already started back into my walking/hiking regimen. Three days ago, Thomas and I walked a mile and a half. Yesterday we walked a mile down a country road and a mile back in bright sun with a view of snow on three separate mountain ranges surrounding us. (Getting outside to exercise is the best way for me. It’s just depressing to walk, walk, walk on a treadmill indoors, though I’ll do it if I have to.) The weight will come off—slowly, as it should. By spring I should be much closer to my ideal weight.

By the way, if you’re thinking it might be easier or better to simply forego all the sweet stuff during the holidays, let me just add this tiny bit of full disclosure… and I’m only telling you this because we’re friends, dear reader, and I feel safe with you. I wouldn’t share it with just anyone:

The Dark Days are really difficult for me both emotionally and psychologically. As we move toward the winter solstice, I often find myself becoming deeply sad, in some years, clinically depressed. It’s not important why. It just… is. Treating myself makes me feel better. Am I ‘eating my emotions’? You betcha. And that’s ok. Certain types of cookies and candies are reminiscent of holiday times with my family, with my grandma who was a round jolly woman (except on those times when she did some binge diet and got skinny and snapped a photo and then started eating again--see photo below). I may get sad because it’s too dark or too cold to sit on the patio in the swing and read books or write stuff, but then I remind myself that there’s a chunk of homemade fudge with my name on it sent all the way from Ohio from friends who love me, and I rally. I eat the fudge, and I think fondly and lovingly of Bill and Stephanie (or Bob, if I’m eating the Z chocolats), and I chuckle. Because I know that I’m setting myself up for some really long walks in the country with my dog. But really, is that such a bad thing?

This is how I remember my Grandma Lila--round and sassy and always with a pet parakeet.

Same Grandma, now rockin' the weight loss.

Good job, Grandma! You're beautiful (round or lean)! Love you!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Hope is the thing with feathers

"In Buddhist thought, hope is considered dangerous because it's not about what's happening right now; it's about the desire for some future outcome." –Eva Saulitis in The Sun magazine

There's been a lot of talk about hope lately. Those whose candidate won the presidential election talk of 'having hope,' while those whose candidate lost are encouraging each other not to 'lose hope.' I've been ruminating on it a lot—mostly because I've been reflecting on the legacy of Barack Obama... and the "audacity of hope."

The first definition of "audacity" is "the willingness to take risks," (which, as Americans, we would applaud). But the second definition has a less positive connotation and suggests rudeness or impudence. Thus Obama's catch phrase can be interpreted two ways: "Let's be willing to take risks in order to bring about the change we need!" or "Whether you want us to intrude with our new way of doing things or not, we're here."

It seems—to me, at least—that these days everyone is interpreting everyone else, and no one is really listening. Unless the other person is saying exactly what we want to hear or what we believe, we tend to, at best, tune them out and, at worst, shout them down or shut them up.

Oof. I've gotten really tired of it, of watching people beat each other up verbally while closing their minds to any consideration of the other side. If we hope for anything, it should be to cease the contention and simply begin a conversation. That's the only way change or peaceful coexistence will ever take place.

But hope seems ephemeral to me. And I find myself leaning toward that Buddhist idea of it—that hoping only leads us to dwell on what may or may not happen in the future. And that distracts us from living in and appreciating this moment we're experiencing right now.

One of my dearest friends is currently battling Stage 4 metastatic cancer. I pray for him daily. But it's not a prayer for healing, and I'm not going to say—to him or anyone else—that I'm hoping for his recovery. Because, as I said, hope is a transient thing, too ethereal for any worldly purpose, an emotion lacking in any substantive use. No, rather than "hope" for him, I think I prefer to embrace an attitude of gratitude. Whatever the future holds for him, I pray that he has the strength to face it and that he is surrounded with love as he does.

I pray this for all of us in the new year. That instead of hoping for change, we accept and embrace what we have—all the good and beautiful things that we have—just as they are today. That in this day, in this hour, in this moment when we are pausing (if only ever so slightly) to reflect upon the year that has passed and consider the one that is looming, we breathe deeply then open our eyes and try to see what is before us, open our ears and try to hear those things that will bring us to true harmony and understanding—whether they sound grating at first or not.

Buddhism teaches that life is suffering, and that we suffer because we want. In 2017, I don't want to spend any time or energy dwelling on what I don't have. I want to try to choose, in each new day, to appreciate every single precious thing I do have, whether it is something as trivial as a good cup of tea or something as eternal as the legacy of my children. I am modest in material possessions but absolutely abundantly rich in daily blessings, so much so that, when I stop to consider my wealth, it makes me feel magnanimous enough to allow others to have ideas that differ from mine. Yes, I want to change their minds, and I passionately want to do so if what they believe brings harm to anyone who has been marginalized in our society. But in order to do that, I realize that I have to hear them first, to listen before I can speak. If I have any "hope" in this new year, that is it; to listen before I speak, and to see all the good things that have been laid at my feet.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Celebrating Sugar Plum

Happy Solstice! Normally I would be writing a post about it, but today is a very special day in my little fur-family, so I'm wholly focused on that (and eating the fudge that animal lovers Bill and Stephanie Keaton sent me).

Indulge me for a brief moment while I muse on a day long ago....

The black cat legacy began in 1989. My orange tabby, Sweetheart, died that year, and I was so grief-stricken without her, my teenaged daughter took it upon herself to comfort me by giving me a kitten—a tiny, mewling, big-eared goofy looking, fluffy, black kitten. "I picked the runt," my daughter said. "I knew that's the one you'd want." She does know me very well.

We christened her (the cat, not my daughter) Calpurnia. (That would be the Calpurnia from To Kill a Mockingbird, not Shakespeare's Calpurnia from Julius Ceasar.) She grew into a dainty little princess who slept on my bed at night. A few years later, along came the mini-panther, Boo (who has been written about extensively, both here and in a Chicken Soup for the Soul book). Suffice it to say, he was black as well.

Fast forward to 2006, the year Calpurnia died. Again I found myself grieving for the little dragon who would rule the bed at night with her teeth and claws, making sure Boo understood that his role was to guard my feet. As mean as she was to him at times, though, he missed her.

Which brings us to today's celebration.

Ten years ago (good grief, seriously? a decade?!?) I walked into the Petsmart in Upland and asked if they had "any black cats." I was directed to the tiny Plexiglas condos where the rescue group, H.O.P.E., kept kitties who were available for adoption on display. There was one black cat, a female... who looked like she'd been the runt of the litter.  She was stunted, with short little legs, and she was missing about two-thirds of her tail. (No, she wasn't born that way. Yes, there are people that cruel. Enough said on this happy post.)

At that point, the nice cat ladies at H.O.P.E. had been trying to find a home for her for a year. She and her kittens had been rescued from the street by a good Samaritan and handed over to H.O.P.E. Her two beautiful daughters had been adopted, but no one wanted the not-so-friendly mama who was still very touchous about anyone petting her near her tail.

"She'll bite you," they warned me.

"I'll take her!" I told them. "What's her name?"

"Sugar Plum," they said.

Oh good heavens. Who names a ferocious little black cat "Sugar Plum"? That's the stupidest name for a cat ever (except maybe Marshmallow for a white cat).

(My grandson, Ben, with his cat, Marshmallow... about 1998.)

I didn't say that to the nice cat ladies. I said, "Where do I sign?" and I took that little cat home.

The first night, she jumped right up on the bed, like she knew this was her place, and I sat musing about what to name her. That musing continued on for days. See, she was supposed to be "Scout." That would've been perfect, right? Following the To Kill a Mockingbird theme, she was a tough little girl. But my best buddy Doug had a cat named Scout already, and since he and I spent most of our time talking about our cats, it just would've been confusing. And so poor little Sugar Plum—now "Sug" or "Sugie" or "Black Devil Cat" (to Sgt. Thomas Tibbs)—was never renamed.

For years, she slept at the foot of the bed, and Boo slept on my chest or curled into my armpit.

And then Boo died. (Enough said and forgive me while I type really fast to get past this part.) And Sug began sleeping under the covers, curled into my side. Of course, by then we had moved to Mt. Baldy, and it was very cold at night from, say, October to, say, June. The longer we lived on the mountain, the more I realized how important it was that Sug had lived as a street thug prior to her life with me. It saved her life on at least one occasion. She faced down bears at the French doors. Chased raccoons off the back deck. And leaped high into trees when suddenly chased by the neighborhood Golden Retriever. Her favorite game when we lived there was to sneak down to the basement at night, scoop up a mouse in her jaws, carry it carefully up three flights of stairs to the loft where we slept, then let it go so she could chase it around the room. At midnight.

(Where she ended up after T.J. chased her.)

I've gotta say, I think she really missed that game when we moved back down the mountain.

Imagine: This little six-pound cat has lived somewhere on the street in Upland, in a tiny condo at Petsmart for many, many months, in a three-bedroom house in Rancho Cucamonga, in a 1600-square-foot cabin in Mt. Baldy, in another three-bedroom house in Ontario, and now here in Calimesa, where she is the smallest of my fur children and definitely the one in charge. We call her "the dowager queen," as she is aging but still has all power. In fact, on January 9 (a very special birth date in my extended family), she will be twelve years old.

Sug still plays. She loves her catnip mousies (which, to her small frame, are more like ratties). She also loves strings, ribbons, rubber bands, plastic bracelets and any paper I place on the table near her cat grass. She tells me what time to get up (4:00a.m.), what time to go to bed (8:00p.m.) and when to plug in her water fountain (every waking hour). She doesn't love her sister much (poor Purrl!) and she really hates having a dog in the house (especially after being chased and treed by T.J.), but she tolerates all this nonsense because she knows that twice a day—naptime and bedtime—I will lie down on the bed and she will assume her rightful place, purring me to sleep.

I have absolutely no doubt that when Sug decides she's had enough of this crazy world, Purrl will take over the queen's role. For now, though—and I hope for a very long time—things remain status quo. Cats are great friends. And black cats have always—always—brought me good luck in the form of love and companionship.

And as a further note here, I have to mention how proud I am of my grandchildren, two of which have recently adopted cats—black, of course. That's the way we roll in this family.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Walking toward the light

As I write this, I am sipping caramel hot cocoa (Swiss Miss--you can shake some sea salt on the top to make salted caramel and oh my Buddha, is it decadent). Sugar Plum, The Dowager Queen (as we refer to her here in the castle) is curled on her own office chair beside me--on her own soft pillow, as all queens should be accommodated. Purrl is... I don't know, but my bet would be that I'll find her wherever I find Sgt. Thomas Tibbs. Tommy is curled in a ball somewhere, sleeping, as he is worn out after our hike. Let me begin again....

A week ago, Thomas had to be seen by a vet because of an ear infection. At the old house, I would simply call my Home Vet, Dr. David Lebovic, and he would stop by in the afternoon, administering shots or whatever we needed. Now that we're out here, it's time Thom got past his terror of all things new and actually visited a vet's office. He did, and he was a champ through it all. When we got home, I reached down to remove his collar and, wonder of wonder, he stretched his face up to mine and touched noses with me. This is a dog who turns his face away if I get too close. This is a dog who holds a grudge for two or three days or a week if he's been hurt or frightened. This is a dog who never learned how to give affection. But when he kissed my nose, I knew he was saying thank you. That ear must've hurt really bad. He knew we went through all that with the doc so he could feel better. Dogs... are so great....

And I've been recovering, too--from my injured foot, from John's death (see previous post), from the insanity in the world. (Well, I don't guess I'll ever recover from that until I leave this place.) Today was a fine day, though, with both of us feeling better. So we headed off to Bogart Park, a ten-minute drive away, and started down this road at about 4:15.

By 4:25, the sun's light was a glow rather than a shine, and some of our trail was in shadow already.

A few moments and a steep hill later, we turned to see this view to the south. 

The photo doesn't capture all the color, all that the eye can see--the deepening shadows in the woods contrasting with the rosy hue of the sky. And if only I could include the scent of the wild sage and aging oak duff here! We stood for a moment and listened to the woodpeckers talking companionably as they settled in for the night. Then we turned and walked back to the truck in the dying light.

All told, it was a thirty-minute interlude of exercise, fresh air, some pretty scenes and a whole lot of endorphins. Thomas and I will both sleep well tonight.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Tis the season...

I didn't write a blog post in November. In fact, I didn't write a single thing (except a one-page journal entry) for the entire month. Although I had several writing projects going, and I'd said that I was going to do NaNoWriMo, I didn't, and I pretty much abandoned everything regarding writing. Or singing. I didn't sing, either, which is pretty unusual for me.

While everyone else was weeping over or celebrating the results of the national election, I was learning that a close family friend had taken his own life. So yeah, as time periods go, November really blew. In most years, November is a good month for me (despite the dreaded time change and the ever-expanding darkness). Our family celebrates a big Thanksgiving at my brother's house, and I see people I don't see the rest of the year. But this year my brother had the stomach flu... and certain family members were unhappy with other family members.... You know, typical family stuff (though in other years, we've been great at setting all that aside).

So Thanksgiving was canceled, essentially. And John opted out of a life that was fraught with pain and loneliness. And my son, who had originally planned to stay a week with me, ended up staying for two. When I returned from driving him to San Diego where he will hop a flight back to Ohio, I told myself this: "You may now return to living inside your head."

Because that's what it takes for me to produce anything on the page. I have to ponder, contemplate, muse and reflect. I have to be still in the silence and listen to what my heart is singing about. Whatever the song turns out to be is what I am feeling. All that is left, then, is to determine why I am feeling what I am feeling.

My son has been gone nearly twenty-four hours and mostly what I have heard is silence. I did not hear the owl calling last night nor did I hear the coyotes howling. The churning of the washer and the hum of the refrigerator are all that are breaking through.

I don't know what to think or feel or say about John's death. Of all my friends who struggle with the darkness, he was the least likely on my list to finally say, "I'm done." I'm trying not to feel guilty. (If I'd called more often... made more of an effort to go see him....) Intellectually, that's wasted energy; it wasn't my fault, was not my decision, and it certainly won't change things for John. I think I'm also trying not to feel relieved or at least admit to those feelings. John was a big, hard man and he lived a big, hard life (to riff off of Eddie Vedder's song). Once his body began to break down from all its years of hard living, his pain was monumental. And he wanted to be loved. He desperately wanted to find exquisite, transcendental, romantic love (as we all do, really, if the truth were told), but that had proven to be an elusive dream... and he was nearing seventy. I'm sure he felt his time had come and gone, and there was little left to live for. The last several times we'd talked or spent time together, he'd cried. He wanted to go off-roading in his 4x4 truck and take long motorcycle rides on his Harley, and he wanted to do all that without feeling stiff and tired and achy the next day. And he wanted to fall head over heels in love. In short, he wanted to be young again. I wish on all that is sacred to me I could have helped him do that. But I couldn't.

I guess I'm glad Thanksgiving was canceled. It would not have been the same without John's booming laughter (followed by his horrendous chronic smoker's cough) at the table. It's almost like the Universe felt my pain and said, "You know what, let's just skip this one. Next year will be better."

Next year will. Time will give me opportunity to muse and reflect. And hey, back there a couple of paragraphs ago, I think I started to hear a song.