A Fitful, Furtive Poem

So much sleep.

Sleep like puppies sleep; fitful, furtive, with frowns.

Strange noises come and tiny movements are constant.

Picking at clothes, slurred speech, the tiny rivulets of her hands formed by 88 years of experience.

When I look at her hands, I am reminded of another grandma’s hands: so deeply carved in sinew, bone and vein.

Drawn across the skeleton, skin so thin like an onion’s wrapper.

Tonight she wouldn’t respond to me, and I had to roll her little body over and do my checks, all the while letting her sleep.

No more medicine, no more doctors, no food for two days, hardly any water.

Today I spoke to her husband’s photo and told him it is time for him to come get her.

Taking Care of a Dying Person

I remember when I first met MawMaw, she told me to keep Cody on the straight and narrow. To be honest, she kind of scared me: this tiny, old person with a perm was clearly no woman to challenge. Over the years, though, I learned that tough exterior covered an extremely sweet person who felt herself to be much worse than ever could be a reality. She has given me and Cody so much, and so, when the time was right, we moved her in to our tiny, old house, and here she remains, in the slow and strange process of leaving the planet.

Last week was hard; it started with conversations with her dead sister Tootsie about Steve (her also dead husband) going out to the chicken coop in Bossier City only to discover a snake, would you imagine? We advanced to an admission of being afraid and a night of nightmares and everyone being awake trying to coax MawMaw back to our reality from one of her own. She sleeps with a little boy but doesn’t know who he is because she has never seen him. But, the last two days have been clear and almost normal. Her “symptoms” if you can call them that follow the pattern written out in the hospice folder. Perhaps we are within days, or weeks, perhaps not. No one seems to know anything specific about this mystery we call dying.

Taking care of a dying woman who cannot walk and who is bedridden while teaching 8th graders and trying to complete my first semester of grad school is very hard, and everything is suffering. I try to not take it all so personally: I feel defeated and grumpy all the time. I feel overwhelmed and sad and worried and anxious; I have a short temper with my students. I hope that will change, for their sake and mine. It is not their fault, after all, that they are teenagers.

She tells me funny stories sometimes, and sometimes I do nice things like give her a facial with lovely oils to soothe her “onion-skin” as her nurse calls it; paper-thin, almost translucent, and apt to dry out and tear if we aren’t careful. She still has her sense of humor and she winks at me when she is being wicked. I appreciate that very much. When she gets upset I ask her to tell me things about her children when they were little and about Bill (her husband) and when they got married, and how he built their house for $6000. Many times now, she doesn’t remember the details.

I have been watching her sleep and she reminds me of a puppy right now: moving, twitching, frowning and smiling as she remembers…something. I feel she is reckoning with her life at the moment, when both awake and asleep. She said the other day she wished she had been a better mother.

This process is slow, and it is also fast. Sometimes it feels like longer than 4 months, and then I realize how short 4 months actually is. So much has changed for us; our marriage is better for this experience as we actually have learned both to communicate and to take care of/appreciate the other one. We say “thank you” more and give each other breaks when things are hard: walk away even, or just kiss one another or hold each other’s hand rather than trying to prove something. These are good things.

As I type this, the north wind is blowing around the house, as it likes to do on some winter nights. I wonder how much longer she is with us, and if the wind will take her away one evening. I know the wind is a woman, and she a harbinger of change, especially in winter. We all talked about death the other day; we are all on the same page. We will be all right when it happens. Like she says, she has to get to heaven to be with her mama again, and her sisters, her brother, and her husband.

Such a mystery this life.

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am in a thousand winds that blow,
I am the softly falling snow.
I am the gentle showers of rain,
I am the fields of ripening grain.
I am in the morning hush,
I am in the graceful rush
Of beautiful birds in circling flight,
I am the starshine of the night.
I am in the flowers that bloom,
I am in a quiet room.
I am in the birds that sing,
I am in each lovely thing.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there. I do not die.

– Mary Elizabeth Frye

Transitions and Transformations…

BastropCountyTX1920sMap

I love old maps, don’t you? Can you see Elgin up there near the top?

The other day I drove in my burgundy Ford F-150 pickup truck to downtown Bastrop. I love driving the truck down the country roads of Bastrop County: they are wide and open and go past field after field after field. I see cows and trucks and tractors, enormous circular bales of hay, old cars and trucks, houses, trailers and water towers. I have always valued driving time as thinking time; the only time this is not true for me is when I am stuck in terrible traffic and then I just feel frustrated and defeated! But country driving always gives me a sense of clarity, distance, perspective and tends to be a generative process in the ideas department.

2d3905_7a3dfda4eef942008ded014e8ea4ad94_mv2_d_2991_2445_s_4_2

Bastrop County Courthouse in 1930

The Bastrop County Courthouse (and Jail it turns out) is a beautiful, old building in the center of town. There were lots of people standing around the entrance, waiting for their docket times I suppose. I walked up the center sidewalk and noticed that a petrified tree stands to the right, sparkling in the sunlight. I asked a man where the County Clerk’s office was, and he pointed me to a small, carved pine door that looked more like a cuckoo-clock facade than an office entrance, but enter I did and found myself in room after room of age-old filing cabinets, lining the walls. The ladies sitting at desks were very kind, and I had my businesses (the farm and the jewelry studio) filed in no time, stamped, and, I suppose, entered into one of those large files along the walls.

The wind had been blowing as I got back into the truck, and I always take the spirit of the wind as a woman communicating something each time she blows and whistles about. Most of the time, I take her message to be one of, “get used to change” or, when she is especially vociferous, “a change is a-comin’!”. I try to look up and breathe in the wind, as if I will glean something else from the scent, or temperature, or force of it.

As I have gotten older, I am committed to understanding that the only constant in this life is change, and that we can fight it, or not. I choose not, and for this I can be considered flighty. My mother calls me a willo’-the-wisp, and I don’t think that either categorization is quite right. Do I follow the river of my life, ever-attempting to stay in the boat? Yes. Do I run from idea to idea? No. Perhaps I used to, but doesn’t everyone, in one way or another, do that in their days of youthful indiscretions and blindness? I would say so, even to people who think that they had it all figured out in their twenties and did things “the right way”. Those folks make me laugh a bit.

The herb farm has begun, I think that is what the wind was telling me, and upon its wings I will be carried forward. It is amazing to be able to dream an idea into reality. I am very lucky to be in my boat on this great river, and I hope I am able to continue my journey for years to come. Today is a short musing on transitions and transformations: I am also lucky to have the grounding force of a little brick house in Elgin and a very sweet man to have dinner with in the evenings. It helps this Goldberry take stock of the beauty of the day, and the understanding that tomorrow may be very different. The clarity of the present is, perhaps, all we really have.

143926-primary-0-440x400

Wind from the Sea, Andrew Wyeth 1947

Racing and Hunting

NSGB1903PL13005

Early on a late September morning: foggy, damp, warm but a slight chill lingers. A very quiet town: also very dark. Slowly a few cars creep along the streets: coming, going, searching, watching. It is the time when everyone and everything is calming down and people don’t seem to know what to do with themselves. Rushing here, running there, overexerting energies to fill now empty spaces.

TWELVE

The five colors blind the eye.

The five tones deafen the ear.

The five flavors dull the taste.

Racing and hunting madden the mind.

Precious things lead one astray.

Therefore the sage is guided by what he feels and not by what he sees.

He lets go of that and chooses this.

What a Difference a Year Makes

dan photos september 2013 114At Rockefeller Gardens

I have a neighbor named Jill; she and her boyfriend are about to go to Florida for the winter, but she came over to chat tonight and betrayed The Secret, the thing that you are not supposed to say out loud when you live here: she said, “this place is hard when you’re alone, by yourself, that’s for sure.” (Her boyfriend, Bobby, is already on his way to Florida and she has been solo now for about a month. She also said she’s staying til November 20th and at this point, has no idea why.)

The stores all closed this past weekend, the weekend of Halloween, and many of the year round places are taking some time off. This is not hugely significant to me, as I spend most of my time at my house or at my friend’s houses, but it is strange to think of this island, so abuzz with activity all summer, as literally shutting down: closing doors. I keep noticing the dark curtains pulled close across all the windows of the summer houses and interpret it as a metaphor for this place.

What does that mean? I honestly have no idea, just am mulling over the loneliness factor of living here for a second winter. People here pair up, hardly anyone is single, and I think the reason is that the starkness and the harshness of staring down the barrel of a long, cold winter, is just too much for any one person to seriously be able to handle. Perhaps people like the North Pond Hermit love the loneliness and isolation, and I do, too, for many, many hours and even days during the winter.

But I miss strangers, strangely. I miss the surface level interactions you have with people in cities: with the guy that works at the coffee shop, or the bartender at the pub. I also miss seeing people on the street and smiling at them or just saying hello, knowing that will be your only interaction with them for the rest of time. Here, in winter, you know almost everyone to the point of being actual friends, and having conversations every time you run into them. Now, this may sound magical and sweet, and it is, but sometimes I just want to be anonymous as I walk around the towns, and there is no anonymity here. You, your business, your quirks, are all on public display and a topic of public conversation.

To meditate for too long on one’s existential loneliness is probably not a good idea, but places like this tiny island do force you to think about the Big Ideas, the life issues that we all must confront at some point: what gives our lives meaning? What messages are we putting out there for all the world to see? What does accountability mean? How do we really communicate with those we love? What is community? Family? Truth in relationships? How do you balance independence and a desire for companionship? Are you doing it right? The last question is, of course, a joke, but these are the questions floating through my mind tonight, a night of cooler temperatures, a rare solar eclipse in the morning, and our first snowfall coming sometime tomorrow.

Today, whilst driving through the park, listening to the hum of a very loud engine, I saw hundreds of naked beech trees. Silent, tall, skinny, with knobby trunks, they are deep grey with black blotches. Growing in stands, or groups of trees, they dazzle the eye with their sheer number and monochrome. Beyond the stands of trees are great granite outcroppings, covered with lichen in various shades of green. Almost gone are the colors of spring and summer: green and grey are highlighted in the fading light, in the absence of leaves and flowers.

from school laptop 2012 093From Outside, Looking In! Photographer Unknown

Spring Fever

“I respect kindness in human beings first of all, and kindness to animals. I don’t respect the law; I have a total irreverence for anything connected with society except that which makes the roads safer, the beer stronger, the food cheaper and the old men and old women warmer in the winter and happier in the summer.”

Brendan Behan

Feeling the seasons change in your bones, and in the bones of others, is a rather mystifying experience. All day today, in my travels over and across this island, people said the same thing to me: “are you enjoying the weather?” because, of course, we all are. It is amazing to feel the sun and warmth return after such a long time: my journal reflects our first snowfall from November 9th, and here we are April 4th, and although we may get another snowstorm or two, I think it is safe to say that winter is resolutely over, and spring is here. This season of spring is so short here in Maine: a mere two months, mid-April to mid-June, and then of course the shortness of summer, too, mid-June to beginning of September, then fall and winter find us, again.

But enough about that.

Spring fever is in the air: birds are singing about it, plants are bursting forth communicating their connection to our Earth and our position in space relative to the Sun, beautiful people near and far are catching each other’s eyes, gardeners are sweeping back the layers of leaves left on the ground after so many months. Ice is melting to reveal moss, no ferns or leaves just yet, but we all know they are lurking under there somewhere.

march 2013 7The Tarn, still frozen, two weeks ago!

Driving home from Bar Harbor today, I took the scenic route and noticed the sunshine on the top of Dorr Mountain, and followed the light all the way down the cliffs edges and onto the surface of The Tarn. When I was a little girl, we used to fish in The Tarn, but I don’t remember catching much. Today, the sunlight seemed to burnish the golden-colored reeds leaning out of the dark blue water. A mere few weeks ago, those same reeds were held up and in place by white ice, the same ice that spread across the surfaces of all the ponds and lakes, and up mountainsides and dripped off ledges in suspended animation.

This afternoon, the glow of spring seemed to beam off the surface of The Tarn, clearly communicating that warmth is back, the sun has returned. During the sunset, as I drove the long way home through Otter Creek, and then took Cooksey Drive onto the Hill of Seal Harbor, over and through the wooded, mossy roadway, lined with the granite walls of the fancy peoples’ houses, the light remained a bronze-y, brass-y, gold, a colour that left us for so long. The last time I remember it was in the fall, one bronze morning.

Transitions, even joyful ones like this one, are difficult because your rhythm and routine is disrupted; it takes a while to regain the swing of things when the environment is fundamentally changing. I have said it before, but this place connects you so strongly to itself. You are quite literally a part of the landscape and you feel its shifts within your body and mind. For the last few days, the only way that I can channel this shifting energy, this cacophony of nature expanding and exhaling and returning to us after sleeping for six months, is to handle stones and place them in a path, to feel their rough texture, their weight in my arms.