barney’s nails are popping, its layers are peeling back even more, rust is gathering on surfaces subjected to air and moisture. this is not a surprise. barney has been outside in the sun and the rain and the snow and ice and wind and humidity and drought for almost ten years now. a decade has a way of peeling things back. i wonder what barney might look like in another decade or maybe two. its soul will be intact; its boxy exterior will be falling away, opening strings, hammers, soundboard to the world. and always, its soul, present, true.
barney is no less beautiful now than the day it arrived in our yard. in fact, as it changes, its transformation is a metamorphosis into an aged piece of art sans any expectations. it stands as a stalwart symbol of constancy in our backyard. it reminds me that soul is resilient, fluid. no matter the weathering, the chippies and bunnies nesting, the birds stopping off to rest, the squirrels sitting and taunting the dog. no matter only eleven white endpieces of keys are left. no matter the line of popped nails in a row along its upright top. its soul – exposed – carries on, aged and stronger than before.
“this is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing i know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness.” (mary oliver)
if barney needed to express itself, tell stories of its past, the narrative of a life of a hundred years, it would merely stand and speak – firmly planted. time and nails have loosened its jointed wood and the container of a million tales, and have – figuratively – unlidded the top of the shoebox under the bed or on the top shelf of the closet. every story counts and, as we sit in the backyard, we pay attention. we listen to barney, giving credence to its voice, glad that even in its aged appearance – and its agedness – it is not silent.
in ways i can’t explain, i can feel the nails popping.
and the snow fell gently in the woods, rendering it muted, like the tones of ansel adams’ pine forest, snow.
it was breathtakingly beautiful.
snowflakes slid from the sky, landing on our faces, our eyelashes, our hats and scarves and coats.
everything slowed – a 78rpm record playing at 33.
stretched out into slow motion, we stood and gazed up into the trillions of perfect flakes.
and, in the way of water – a balm, worries washed away and all that was left was peace. achingly gorgeous, we stayed in it, in the serene, a cloud, unwilling to leave the soft-focus-world moments, the snow sanctuary.
“know that the universe is always conspiring in our favor.” (paulo coelho)
littlebabyscion is ready. i washed it and vacuumed it and wiped out the inside, reorganizing its small storage spaces, checking to make sure the necessities were there. we travel always with a small tool kit, duct tape (this is from experience), twist ties, rubber bands of all sizes and a big maglite flashlight. light is always good on a dark highway, but the light was barely discernible when i checked it, so i changed the batteries and put extras in a small bag that also has jumper cables and a quart of oil, things we have determined to be practical. in the winter there are a few additions, a few things that my sweet poppo always made sure i carried along. but it’s still late summer, so the extender snow brush/scraper can hang in the garage just a bit longer and the kitty litter doesn’t need to come along. littlebabyscion is ready to go to the shop today and come home later with a muffler that doesn’t make noise. (to muffle: to make quieter and more difficult to hear; muffler: a device fixed to the exhaust of a motor vehicle to reduce engine noise.) it waits patiently in the driveway until The Time.
the people who know – like our mechanic, the exhaust system shop, our plumber, our electrician, the drain experts, tree services, gardening wizards, the company we will choose to be our mason – they are like lights in the darkness. along with their expertise and the wisdom of friends who have beentheredonethat we survive the normal – and not-so-normal – challenges of home and car ownership. it would seem rare – a person without some sort of concentric circle of informants surrounding them in problem-solving and decision-making. asking questions, asking for advice, seeking information are the basis for learning and, it seems, every day is an opportunity for that. (and we haven’t even mentioned the whole changing-bodies piece of this life-thing.)
we stood outside on the deck, the only light from a few torches and the bonfire across the yard; we gazed at the sky. it seemed thousands of stars gazed back at us. the james webb telescope has delivered photographs of space back to us here on this planet, a place that feels big but is merely tiny in the vast. seeing billions and billions of light years away, i read that the webb captures not just the birth of stars but, also, their last dances. it is hard to wrap your head around looking back in time in such a profound way. the light goes on and on. and on.
we each build a framework around ourselves. none of us exists without the other, really. at a time when our purple-mountain-majesty-land continues to be divided and people fight for control and power and are practicing efforts serving to undermine, marginalize, divide further, it would seem prudent to remember the tiny-in-vast. transience.
we can be the light for each other…in so many ways. or we can snuff it out and try to go on without. the stars are watching.
always prepared, always planning ahead for possible big bangs, my poppo would vote for light.
right now – in this quiet early morning – i can hear the chippies at one of the birdfeeders. there’s a certain metallic sound as the seed, disbursed by scrambling tiny feet on the edge of the feeder, hits the metal chipmunk-squirrel-prevention plate below. i’m pretty certain the chippies giggle every time they jump from there to the edge of the feeding trough. there is an abundance of seed in this feeder and they know it, returning time and time again to fill their adorable cheeks, run off, run back, jump, giggle, gorge, run off, all on repeat.
that is what i wish for my children, the imperative: an abundance of seed. to know that there is always more out there for them: more possibility, more to learn, more adventure, more challenges, more successes, more love. to always know that they are rooted and capable. to always know acceptance and compassion and support and fairness. to know that they can be confident in the world, always. to know that, whether they need it or not, i will always be their biggest fan and will always hope for their biggest and littlest wishes to come true.
i knew, even as an adult, that my parents were cheering me on. i knew that they did the hard work of letting go as i moved away. i knew that they were ever-present – and still are. i knew they wished all good things for me and held steadfast during all hard things. their love was a perennial birdfeeder, infinity-abundance-filled and there whenever i needed it.
i used to text both of my grown children every night to say goodnight. somewhere along the way it was brought to my attention that this might be a tad bit annoying. though i, personally, would adore hearing from my sweet momma every single night – especially now – i realized that she would also have respected it had my desire been for her to not continue this practice.
i stopped my goodnighttext practice, but i didn’t stop my goodnights. they are now just simply silent kisses blown in their direction, like dandelion fluff on the wind. infinity-floating and always here.
the sun passes its solar noon and starts inching down toward the horizon, the light spilling from it rapturous. golden rays bathe everything in their path and we marvel as we drive past the fields, talking about the trees catching the light.
toward the end of daylight, as the sun is almost down, the grasses, feathery plumes waiting to soak it in, stand in the spotlight and we marvel looking out the front window, walking out into the back yard.
we walked through the gallery, admiring the work on fresh white walls, framed by white woodwork, windows looking out onto the lake, old wood floors warm and well-trod. the spiral staircase, the built-in cabinetry, the spotlights and architectural elements caught our eyes. we marveled at the play of light through the chandeliers.
the tree we have deemed THE tree this year looks nothing like a typical christmas tree. it is one of the limbs from the big old maple tree out front, a beloved sentry whose large, low-hanging branches were chopped to allow room for the supersized utility equipment a couple weeks ago. i had saved this branch from the pile that was set for the dump truck, pulled it aside up close to the house. the guys looked at me funny when i asked them not to take this branch, to leave it there. sunday we brought it in – which is much harder than it sounds as its branches stretch out far, embracing air and light and our doorway is not oversized. we felt somewhat like stars in the movie “christmas vacation” as we attempted to stand the tree up in our living room. though the ceiling is quite high (–) it was higher. a saw here and a saw there and we placed it in a big clay flower pot with rocks we brought home from dory lake and aspen and a brick from the old patio. we stood back after futzing with the angle of the pot and drew in our breath.
sculpturally stunning, it is bark against white, stark and proud. i wound lights around its trunk and i could feel this big old tree branch smile. i wrapped a piece of black glittery mesh-fabric around its base and thought about how much our babycat loved chasing the sparkles each year around the base of our trees. i hung one tin star off a branch. i futzed a little more and stood back, again.
the sun streamed in the windows the next morning and the tree stretched in its light, yawning from the night. i believe its branches have opened even more than they were – embracing its new place, no longer sadly tossed aside. a new purpose.
we might have missed it. the opportunity to have this year’s tree be an actual piece of what-was-happening-in-our-lives, to honor a well-loved and well-known companion. to have a gorgeously simple harbinger of the festivities of the season. we might have gone to a tree lot. or costco. or target.
we might have missed it. the marvel. but we didn’t.
we settled into the ritual with ease. sundown came and we gently removed the tiny wax bits that were left in the menorah. we drew new candles out of the box, placed them in their spots, sparked the shamash, lit each day’s wick, reciting either the words we had researched or blessings we spoke into the universe. when the last night came, as we watched the flames dance in glassware on the table and in the window, we sang. we made up the song and intended it as words of gratitude and a wish for light in all. it has become a new tradition we will continue…there cannot be any reason to not add rituals into the darkness.
we found it to be a time of quiet, these moments as we sat and watched the flickering. we sat, silently, for the menorah was small and the candles only lasted the requisite half hour or so. but a half hour, taken as sweet lull in the day is a good reminder to be still. our days, this season, all will us to go faster, faster. yet, it seems, the best way to move into the rest is to pause.
we made dinner after we celebrated our little festival of lights. sometimes with a favorite cd, sometimes with the local chicago holiday station, music floated around us. though i love singing along to carols, and so many of our old albums conjure up piles of memories, i’ve noticed that the instrumental versions of these gently wrap around us, slow us down a little.
when 20 was over for dinner i mentioned that. “instrumentals would be nice,” i observed as yet another pop singer acrobated her way through a simple carol, over-cadenza-ing into the stratosphere. both 20 and david stared at me like i had lost my mind. they hesitated and then one of them said, “duhhhh.” i stared back, “it’s-not-like-i’m-going-to-put-on-my-own-albums-geeez.” they rolled their eyes.
in a more-is-more faster-and-faster society, there is something to be said for decelerating. there is something about simplifying. there is something about lighting candles and reciting ancient peaceful blessings. there is something about taking the time for quiet and taking the time for celebration. there is something about staring into the reflection of years past, of the week, of today.
we watched the wispy trails of smoke as they faded into the rest of the evening.
and so, september has arrived. and the texture of day for many is changed. fall is around the corner; the cooler mornings whisper that to us, ushering in – with little fanfare – the color transformation of leaves, the waning of the garden, the ultimate fallow of winter.
autumn is my favorite. and as i look to it, i see transition rising out of the horizon. undefined, but transition nonetheless. unfolding.
i got a letter a few days ago from the insurance company handling my wrist injury from falling. they have decided to stop my treatment. as of right now.
back in july they hired a physician to do an IME – which is the acronym for, ironically, “independent medical exam”. don’t be fooled by the word “independent” for when an insurance company chooses and hires and pays a physician time and again to do medical exam reports for the insurance company that wishes to stop paying for treatment, that physician is questionably “independent”. in an unsurprising result, the physician, who has not been the treating physician all along, gave them the verbiage they were looking for and BAM! they instantly wrote-a-lettuh to me discontinuing my medical treatment.
to say that i was disappointed would be to grossly underexaggerate the complex and intense emotions that came with opening that envelope. my own froedtert hand specialist and stellar OT, who both recommend continued treatment, have helped me make much amazing progress – as a professional musician who kind of uses my hands in lifelong work – and i am now able to bend my wrist to 60 degrees from the initial 20 when i started with them. it’s not the 85 – 90 degree forward range of motion of a normal wrist, but i guess the insurance company et al have decided it’s plenty. wow. and wow.
so the texture of my days will change as well. i’ll try to translate exercises and stretching my OT has done to home, without the benefit of specialized therapy center equipment or knowledge or her hands aiding my movements. and undefined transition will rise out of the horizon.
and we’ll see. things will unfold as they unfold. and summer will turn to fall. and fall will become winter. and we’ll see.
“when she transformed into a butterfly, the caterpillars spoke not of her beauty, but of her weirdness. they wanted her to change back into what she always had been. but she had wings.” (dean jackson)
“trust the wait. embrace the uncertainty. enjoy the beauty of becoming. when nothing is certain, anything is possible.” (mandy hale)
i had an IME on tuesday. an IME is an independent medical exam. it is a brief exam ordered by an insurance company and the physician is both chosen and paid for by that insurance company. it is defined as an independent assessment of an injury or illness, in my case, my wrist, and the determination by the doctor-chosen-and-paid-for-by-the-insurance-company-paying-for-treatment will be placed next to the reports of the medical hand specialist and the occupational therapist who have been treating me consistently for the last five months. a basic review of articles about IME reveals that the insurance-company-paying-for-treatment will pick the report they wish to concur with and that will decide if there is to be future, in this case, my future, treatment. so be it.
there is nothing to do now but wait.
my OT is wonderful. she has encouraged me, pushed me, held me accountable and she has brought me from twenty degrees of forward right wrist movement to fifty-five. this is big news, since, at first, six degrees was all i could muster. brutus and my OT have caused me much pain, but what’s that saying? no pain, no gain. we have worked hard. and, in the way of hard work and healing, there are things i can do now that i wasn’t able to do a few months ago. and there are things i fear i will never be able to do again. uncertainty.
there is nothing to do but wait.
sometimes i wonder what life will look like in a year or two years. i wonder what i will be doing. if i looked back a year i would never have guessed back then what this year would have looked like. no, last july looked very different than right now. it just suggests that truly everything is uncertain, that everything is in the act of becoming, in the middle of the fire, maybe everything is ashes transitioning to riches over and over again. possibility, evidenced in tomato plants bearing fruit on an old barnwood potting stand, evidenced in a nest-home created in a birdhouse hanging empty for years, evidenced in the smell of the rain bringing cool on a summer morning.
there are times, when you are simply going about your business, going about life, that you don’t expect change. you don’t expect to be thrust into ‘different’. times when you find out the caterpillars were talking about you all along. after reeling from the surprise, after trying to grab the wheel to stabilize, after railing about the unfairness of it all – for life does not seem to be fair, you find yourself out of the deep, dark water – in the shallows.
and in the shallows there is abundant life, abundant food, abundant shelter. in the shallows we can rest and nourish and breathe. we can sit in uncertainty and the unknown. we can imagine new. because anything IS possible.
there is nothing to wait for and everything to wait for. it’s now.
i imagined just that. staring at the flames flickering in the wind, taking in the perfect and imperfect of our lives. with the sun setting and the firepit column dancing, a rare quiet night in the neighborhood, it’s easy to lose yourself into the flicker.
the column just made its way into our backyard. it is not large. at merely 22″ it is portable and does not take up much room. there are not a lot of things i see while browsing that i lust over. this small tower-of-fire, however, was one of those things. it was not at a pricepoint i could justify, so i watched it.
sometimes when i watch items – or look at them time and again in a catalog – the yearning for that item goes away. as an artist, this is necessary, as buying whatever-suits-my-fancy is not reality. so it is convenient that my appetite for whatever-it-is is sated simply by looking at it over and over again. but the fire column didn’t fit under that category.
we don’t buy things willy-nilly these days. everything takes deliberation and an intention for the item’s use. and in my mind’s eye, i could see this firepit giving us countless hours of ambience on our deck – our sanctuary – the place we will spend most of our free time this summer. i started to give it some serious thought.
and then . . . there was a flash sale. thirty percent off. i stopped pondering, ordered it and picked it up at the store.
we really love it. funny how this tiny firepit elevated our space. we have surrounded ourselves with simple things out on the deck this year. inexpensive pillows – for the first time – on furniture that dates back and back, furniture that was handed-down, re-purposed, a wrought iron table and chair set i have painted time and again. an old door we pulled out of the basement storage room leans against the house next to a ficus we re-positioned from the sunroom. a couple old stepladders act as end tables. old barnwood and pipe hold our precious tomato and basil plants. there are a couple adirondack chairs on the patio and our wood-burning firepit; a chiminea is tucked over by the garage.
we read an article about a man who designed his outdoor space. it was pretty gorgeous. somewhere in the article the author shared the cost of this patio-deck-extravaganza: $550,000. five-hundred-fifty-thousand-dollars. seems slightly high to us; ours was just shy of that.
i seriously don’t know what we’d do if we had five-hundred-fifty-thousand-dollars to spend, but i’m guessing it wouldn’t be spending it on our outdoor space. though our grass isn’t perfect and the textures of our patio and pond and cement and stone pad don’t necessarily coordinate and dogdog has holes he loves to dig, we find this space brings us peace.
we gaze into the small flames of this tiny fire column and feel the darkness drop out of the sky around us. we are grateful for these moments of reflection, the moments when we see how perfect it all is, even in the midst of imperfection. we sit back, awash in the ahhh of having pillows behind our backs, watch the fireflies and a couple swooping bats, look at dogga laying quietly on the deck near us and take stock of our good fortune.
in the in-between times. we are there. not at the beginning, not at the end. we hardly know what to call this interlude of time – so many differing points of view, so many differing approaches to life and the living of it. untitled.
this pandemic entered our lives a few months ago. we know little about when it will end. in this nebulous state, we try to cope. not-knowing, we wake each morning to a new day, unsure of which day it is, the fog of repeated sameness fading as the sun’s light opens our eyes.
surely in the middle of all of this there are the day lilies of the garden – the hardy survivors of too much rain, too little rain, too much attention, too little attention, too many weeds, too few nutrients, invasive plants trying to subvert this robust champion. the tall perseverants of the green, they rise up, ever joyful.
surely in the middle of all of this there are the moments that are the day lilies.
for me, there was a video-chat with my grown children, separated by distance and by a healthy respect for safety. these moments were the breath i so needed, a chance to see their faces, hear their voices. for me, there was the hike along the river trail, a cooler-than-normal breeze on my face, the sounds of birds and swaying cattails. for me, there was the social-distanced outdoor visit with treasured ones, laughter and stories punctuating our time together. for me, there was a quick phone call with a forever pal, a series of blurry oh-my-look-at-this-bear-off-my-mountain-top-porch-ten-feet-from-me-right-now texts with a dear friend. for me, there was talk of which thru-hike to take, which rv we would purchase, for, in any circumstance we find ourselves, dreaming is good.
in the middle of all of this, the interlude between before and after, it is incumbent upon us – for our peace of mind, in the fuzzy liminal space of enduring and persisting – to find the positive orange day lilies.