in the great pause we are experiencing, things have risen to the top.
they are the cardinals on the fence, the house finch sipping from the dogdish, the hummingbird at the feeder, dogga sleeping on the deck, the smell of sauteing onions and garlic, ice water in a glass, the sun rising out the sunroom window, the play of first light on our quilt, the sound of the trail under our feet, the mayapple flowers tucked in and peeking out from the canopy, the piney scent through the stand, the repeating arvo pärt on the cd player, photographs, the gurgling pond out back, bunbun and the chippies, glass doorknobs, the basil plant on the potting stand, the first coffee, a hot shower, lavender soap, open windows, butterflies, five-year-aged cheddar and sips of wine, writing next to each other, repeated ritual touchstones in our week, unrushed hugs, the squirrel highway, the sound of a text on the phone, anticipation, generosities, idiosyncrasies, the peonies, sunny days of little humidity, the feel of old wood floors under bare feet, hagstones, smooth worry rocks tucked in our pockets.
and with these things of absolute greatness, we slow down and – in the way of centripetal forces spinning, spinning, around, around – we center. and wait.
we went back to the beach. it was only our third time there but it’s beginning to feel familiar. we know the driftwood to lean back against, the curve in the shoreline where the waves break. the sand is warm, the breeze off the lake is cool; it’s a perfect combination and we’ve brought sandwiches along. we walk with our heads down, searching for hagstones and beach glass. it’s a sanctuary minus the trappings – physical and emotional – one often finds in buildings with sanctuaries.
each rock is intriguing. there are infinite shapes and sizes, rocks of all imagination. i pick up more than i tuck away, but i appreciate the spectrum of diversity and i wonder where they have been before they arrived on this lake michigan shoreline. what’s the story behind each stone, behind the tiny bits of glass, behind the wave-beaten-smooth pieces of brick. each narrative counts.
we brought a book but we didn’t read it. we hadn’t started it yet. we do that later in the day. rebecca makkai’s “the great believers” – a good read for pride month, a profound novel highlighting the aids crisis starting early to mid 1980s. there are places familiar to us in this book – chicago, boystown, door county – we find it easy to immerse as we read aloud. we are transported in time – back to those days of early recognition of this dreadful viral infection. human immunodeficiency virus has not ceased and there are still millions of people with life-threatening and chronic symptoms. there are stories familiar to us in this book – for we are both artists and we both finished our undergrad work in the early 80s. there are people familiar to us in this book – though these are characters, in life they have been our friends and, now, they are the friends of our son, the tight-knit unconditionally-loving LGBTQ community. they are all treasured and unique hagstones and beachglass – gorgeous in human form.
the stash of rocks ended up on the dining room table, all fanned out on its worn surface. they are glorious bits of a stunning day. the stone that looked like a guitar pick with a feather beret cap stayed on the beach. i took it home in my camera instead.
we have plans for the next time. more snacks. maybe swimwear.
we have plans for pride in chicago. more compassion. maybe tie-dye.
we are merely two people walking on a vast beach, among zillions of beautiful rocks of all sorts, zillions of people of all sorts. it’s all familiar. it’s all unfamiliar. but it’s all a sanctuary under one sun.
it doesn’t seem quite possible – this time has flown by.
our cherished dogga is beginning to show signs of age…slowing down a bit, sleeping more, not always waiting at the door, but meeting us there as soon as he hears us walk in.
i guess aussies are typically with us for about twelve years, with some maybe as long as somewhere between 13 and 15. if we could vote, we’d vote for one of those, so long as he felt well in those years. because, like you, we know that the next two years will fly by as well. and that just makes us cringe.
the wander-women-thru-hiking-superstars-in-our-book once spoke about their plans for the future. they had downsized and sold off homes, sold off stuff, bought an rv named “biggie mama”, planted it in colorado springs and now travel all over thru-hiking, exploring and adventuring. they talked about their summers, the time of their biggest adventures. last year they were going to bike across the united states, but their plan got waylaid and they decided to set it aside when they felt unsafe on the roads which had no provisions for long-distance bicyclists. they said – not verbatim – that they wanted to use their summers wisely. if they – at around 60 and 65 – had another 20 good summers or so, then they wanted to use them in the happiest of ways, feeling centered and grounded in their plans.
another 20 good summers or so.
that made me stop.
it made me wonder about my sweet momma and whether she, in the last twenty years of her life, thought about the potential of those last twenty years. she moved on to the air around us at almost-94, so those last twenty years or so started in her 70s.
in her last years i saw momma often. and david met her on nine trips we made in her last eighteen months. they became fast friends. but what about before that? what about in all that time i lived in wisconsin and she lived in florida? i wonder now.
did she think about this tiny fact: because of distance and travel expense and busy schedules and all that life places in our actual and emotional way, that if i had only been able to see her once a year in her last twenty years, she would have only seen me twenty more times.
it’s a sobering thought.
and it applies to all of us. even more so because we don’t have any guarantee about the number of years – or summers – we actually have.
and so, i’m thinking that living like our beloved dogdog: exuberantly happy to see us each time we re-enter the room, full of love and not-even-one grudge for anything we may have done, missing us when we are apart, a curiosity perspective willing to learn any new trick, anxious to be around us simply to be around us – without expectation, eager to go along anywhere we are going, truly unconditional – may be the best way to live ANY amount of time between now and the wind.
and it grew and grew. up from the forest floor, where it was surrounded by decaying leaves and bits of branch. next to the big meadow and not far off the beaten trail, it pushed its way past the low grasses next to it.
this wildflower – a somewhat historically unloved taproot – with an abundance of early spring juju, kept sprouting up, up. it looked around to see many just like it. suddenly, it was surrounded by a village of yellow flowers – each maybe a bit hard to discern from the other.
but the flower still knew it had a place in the world.
and so, it held its bloom until it was time to close and then it grayed. it stoked up seeds and waited for the right time to release them, a puff of magic.
and then it bent its head to the sun, content in its cycle on earth, knowing it would be back and that – for a time – it had been a wild giraffe.
surely it would garner a bidding war. “post-old-fashioned” – a contemporary art piece. a beguiling installation.
how could it be any less engaging, any less valuable, any less a statement piece, any less desirable than the fresh banana duct-taped to the wall? the first banana (with the used duct tape, i’m guessing) sold for $120,000, followed by more bananas and rising prices. and – it expires! one cannot keeeep the banana piece (called “comedian”) around unless one loves fruit flies and smush.
instead, “post-old-fashioned” is meant to be enduring. the orange peel will shrink and dry, but will remain – likely – bug-less. and the cherry stem…..well, it is likely to outlive all of us.
“post-old-fashioned” is a work of active art that is conceptual and timeless and we could certainly provide a certificate of authenticity and directions for proper display. i cannot imagine any true wisconsinite without this piece or, perhaps, any wisconsin bar without it.
any curator who can go on and on about the benefits of purchasing the long strand of jute with the kitchen sponge hanging off of it should surely be able to conjure up the joy of owning “post-old-fashioned” in its three-dimensional option or a limited edition print of the work.
were it not for the teasing of the hike&spike foursome – and, also likely, the up-north gang – renowned experts in the field of old-fashioneds – i would list it, enter it in contests, send it to galleries. each week – post-hike – in the spike section of our hike&spike – i could add to a burgeoning collection of pieces dedicated to the afterglow of the old-fashioned.
watch out. i’m about ready to follow in the clearly-brilliant footsteps of italian artist maurizio cattelan, who explains, “the banana is supposed to be a banana.”.
it’s simple. there’s only one pertinent question about this work, an old-fashioned supposed to be an old-fashioned.
middle-aging is tougher than you think. it’s a time of tinylittlechanges and some prettybigchanges. your body starts to betray you, despite your best efforts to keep it going. the messages all around us are dedicated to making us feel that Youthful is the only worthy look, that fit and slim and silky is the only worthy body. our body image begins to slowly sink, just as our blue jean waistline begins to rise. it’s all one big test – and it’s prettydamndifficult sometimes to stay centered and grounded.
lingerie is one of those testing devices. just at the time you may be leaning a little less two-by-four-pancake-flat and you suddenly have a tad bit of – whoa – cleavage, and those sweet and sexy b-cup (wow! b-cup? seriously?) brassieres might be an option, your upper arms begin doing the whinga-whinga thing. i mean, really? there is no justice there. and here – raised in these body-conscious-united-states – it all becomes a disappointment.
try starting a new relationship in middle age. there are many challenges – people become more and more engrossed and invested in their own “way” of doing things – so that is obvious. but then, there’s the thing…you pull out old photographs and say, “this is what i used to look like in hiphuggers, in a bathing suit, in silk. i just wanted you to know.”
we were watching something on television the other night. the skims commercial came on. kim kardashian was the model. suffice it to say this is most-definitely-not dedicated to the older-middle-age gal watching. their other iconic top fashion models are no less fetching. though, truth-be-told, this is no different than other sexualizing advertising campaigns – like kate hudson’s fabletics or victoria’s secret. sigh.
in the meanwhile, i’m grateful to have fallen for a guy who is steeped in reality-based bodies, whose approving glance i see time and again, and who, clearly, loves burlap.
mama dear made rag rugs. i still have a few of them. for a long time, a rag rug served as a faux tablecloth on the kitchen table. eventually, after years of washings, the stitches loosened up and i tucked it carefully into the drawer of a cupboard in the dining room.
my grandmother also made yoyo quilts. she took outgrown clothing and bits of leftover fabric bolts and cut circles from them. sewing a running stitch along the perimeter she pulled and it gathered into a rosette-round. hundreds of rosettes later, even thousands, she stitched them together into quilts full of visceral memories of moments spent in party dresses or aprons or simple a-lines. yoyo quilts sell on etsy for a few hundred dollars, but i would never sell mine.
some day i’d like to make a yoyo quilt. i had envisioned my children cherishing one made from clothing they wore as little ones, but i realize that their level of thready is nowhere near mine, so i will have to make the quilt for myself. i have saved their clothing to do just that – tiny overalls, sweet sundresses, toddler leggings, mini blue jeans, printed onesies and receiving blankets – for a yoyo or even for a traditional quilt, both projects which seem like mindfulness exercises even with the tedious work needed to create them. someday.
we walked into the door of the farmhouse. it was our second time there. i remembered it as homey and just perfect for what we needed – as a gathering space for the family, the rest of whom were staying in a hotel. i remembered the blue walls, the chalkboard cabinet doors with messages, the photographs. i remembered the cheer.
but i had forgotten about the rag rugs. instant bonding.
in early morning, the sun rose past the horizon, peeked under the porchroof, around the adirondack chairs and the swinging platform, past the sleeping gracie-cat and up and over the fern perched on the rusty-red outside cellar doors.
but at just the right time, in later afternoon, it curled around the silo and the barn out on the west side, streamed in through the screen door and bathed the old wood floor and the rag rug in light. like a spotlight on something simply beautiful, it called out to be noticed.
i wonder how hard it is to make a rag rug. mama dear never showed me how she made them. i suppose i could take them out of the upstairs closet where they linger, waiting for the right chance to use them again. maybe i could figure it out. it can’t be too very difficult to discern the process. but my grandmother was a talented seamstress and i remember mama dear sewing and sewing, her hands moving quickly – at her singer or with needle and thread – and talking, talking, talking as she sewed. the only time she didn’t speak was when she would (don’t try this at home) store pins pursed between her lips. i thought that straight pins needed ‘spittin’ on’ in order to use them. it wasn’t for a few years until i learned that my grandmother was not spitting on the pins before she used them. perception – as a child – is a funny thing. what i did understand was how much she made things for all of us. no spit needed, just lots of love.
rag rugs and quilts and wood floors. they go straight to my heart.
it stands on a small-town iowa hillside. it’s been there well over a hundred years, this carved headstone at almost-the-highest-point of the pioneer cemetery. in front of us, the earth falls off into fields and fields of green. if you didn’t know it was there, you wouldn’t know it was there.
we spent the afternoon on the lake michigan beach, searching for hagstones and leaning against a big piece of driftwood watching the waves. mostly deserted, the stripes of soft sand, rocks, aqua, blue sky were serene. we had stumbled upon this beach, discovering it. if you didn’t know it was there, you wouldn’t know it was there.
there is a spot high in the mountains surrounded by lodgepole pines, the scent strong and inviting. it is cool under the canopy of trees and the log sits next to the stream in a bed of pine needles. an upstream glance reveals a snow-covered summit; downstream is a tiny waterfall. it is a slice of heaven. if you didn’t know…
another spot, a different mountain, we have hiked past the aspen stands and are past the end of the trail. we sit on rocks and play in the brook that swims past us, curling around red rock and granite. there is little noise, save for the babbling. if you didn’t know…
high on the edge of a deep canyon, the sun set over us as we echoed our voices into the deepening dusk. my daughter brought me here and it will always be a pinnacle moment in my heart. that very spot – that canyon – that sunset – that breeze – that stillness – that echo – that power – that humbling – that love – is profound. but if you didn’t know…
places that have made an enduring impact. places unmarked by signs, specific places many do not even know exist, they are carved into my mind’s eye. places – specific spots – of relative anonymity. places that changed me.
it is likely that hillside, that beach, those mountains, that stream, that brook, that canyon will maybe last forever. they will certainly be there long after i will be here. it’s sobering. it gives one pause for thought. it seems a natural hop and skip to: if you didn’t know i was there, you wouldn’t know i was there.
but the hillside, the beach, the mountain stream, the end-of-trail brook, the canyon became a part of me, of the stuff in my tapestry. and, in symbiotic turn, i became a part of them, of those spots.
and somewhere along they way, we have done the same – a tiny part of us has become a part of someone else and they a part of us.
i used to know someone who really despised redundancy. this person would interrupt and say, “you already told me that” or “i heard that already”. ask them about their day and they would reply, “same-old-same-old.” it was hard for me – a new yorker – born into repetition and long-story-telling.
d and i sat on that iowa porch only four days, but it doesn’t take long to grow fond of something beautiful.
in front of us – facing east – were two trees. beyond the trees were fields. before they were mowed down, the fields were wildgrasses green with sunny yellow flowers. in the distance – quite a ways off – was the road. a country highway, it was populated by many pickup trucks, an occasional sedan, rarely a semi and, at one point, more booming harleys than we could count.
the light changed during the day. no surprise there. the sun rose to the left of the trees and burned its way into the sky. the trees glimmered and reappeared through the early morning thin layer of smoke from wildfires in canada, jetstreaming its way into the heartland. it was bright in midday and then the sky took on the echo of the western sunset. at night, the trees were still a presence, silent, rooted strength.
i took many photographs of these two trees. they were somehow very comforting and reassuring; it was a time of memorial for columbus and emotions were all over the place. and the trees stood there, steadfast.
they watched us all gather and eat and talk and reminisce and play bags and run with oversized bubble wands. they watched us hula-hoop and dance in the grass and drag chairs following the sun and escaping the wind. they watched us wander and take pictures, play with gracie-cat, pour wine. they watched – as trees do – and we watched them back.
i love each of the photos of the two trees on the east side.
it was the last night. we stood out on the porch and then out in the east field, the farmhouse behind us. the dark of iowa-night rained down on us as we peered into the sky to see the constellations. we could feel the “last” of the last night. but out there, on the horizon – in the way an ellipsis works – the ellipses had a reminder: it’s never really over. the horizon lights suggested the story would be trailing on and on – up till now and then dot-dot-dot…
the story dot-dot-dot – without definition, without a distinct end, unrestrained – keeps on…
last week’s time in iowa and return home gave us grounding…reminders…learnings. feet firmly planted…spine tall…solid and trusting, we intentionally rearranged our thoughts – trying (because it’s not easy and it always takes the work of trying) to put aside worry and angst, instead centering on being steady and calm. the decision to not panic. the ellipsis of keeping on…
the impermanence sticks with us.
and we know it doesn’t matter that there is rust on our hubcaps or that our countertops are chalkboard/food-safe-wax-painted-wood. we know it has no bearing on real life that we don’t wear trendy name-brand clothing or that we actually like $2.50 old navy flipflops. we know that leftovers nourish us just like restaurant fare and we are not worried if we never get to sit at the table of a three-star-michelin. we know that there are wines of great robust but we continue to sip apothic and splurge on the new broadside (paso robles) we found. the ellipsis of keeping on…
the transitory taps us on the shoulder.
gathered, we listened to stories of the past, suddenly way long ago. we went to the pioneer cemetery high on a hill overlooking planted cropfields. the 1800s were just a moment ago there. and, just as the years fly by, we know that the incandescent kite we each fly has fragile filmy threads. our hands – holding the moment – age before our eyes. the ellipsis of keeping on…
the ephemeral sounds harmonic overtones we can hear.
we gaze at the peony buds in the backyard. they will soon bloom – in their sweet time – and they will stun all who walk by. their beauty will not be forgotten. each one has opened to the sun and told its own story. each one. and then dot-dot-dot…