Mustering hope & good cheer

mustering home and good cheer-3 - 1

05.25.20

I wonder if on the other side of coronavirus, scholars will write papers and create graphs to illustrate the predictable emotional trajectory our lives took over the course of this crisis.  Like the “Cultural Shock” graph Joy put on her blog, during the time they lived in Finland, maybe there will turn out to be a pattern of emotions and behavior that many of us experienced in the same way.  My sister told me last week that she, and everyone she knows, was experiencing a severe case of the “grouchies”. My week was also an irritable one in which every little decision became a problem that required advanced calculus in order to find a solution.  Things like what to make for dinner.  For the first time, after nearly three months, I entered stores and faced strangers who were not wearing masks, when I shopped for my flowers at the greenhouses.  I went into a small liquor store in which there were no other customers, but the man at the cash register was not wearing a mask, and at the dry cleaners drive-up window, I mistakenly used her pen to sign the credit card slip instead of my own.  I don’t know how many times I wiped everything down in my car, my purse, the steering wheel, and drove home with all the windows down despite 52 degree temperatures.  I was so emotionally and physically wrecked that I was in bed by 7:30.  I felt just like the old Peanuts cartoon that showed Charlie Brown lying in bed next to Snoopy, with the caption, “It’s too peopley out there.”

The whole experience sent me down a rabbit hole for a couple of days in which all I did was walk around the house doing nothing, despite the short list I create each morning for focus.  It was another rainy and cool week–in fact, the totals coming in for this month show we’ve had double the usual amount of rain and temperatures are 10-15 degrees cooler than normal.  Just one of those weeks.  It’s still cloudy here on Memorial Day, no boats on the lake, and rain coming in again tonight.  But, the temperatures are forecasted to be flat-out summer by mid-week, and Don is preemptively worrying that the snowpack will melt too fast and there will be forest fires come August.  I can’t believe he can even think that far into the future.  My sister and I regularly exchange emails with inspirational quotes, and in one from last week, there was the line, “mustering hope and good cheer,” and I thought about how tiring it is to “muster”.  But, we do.  And, as you can see from my photo, there was some good cheer in gathering up my lilacs this morning.

On the Other Side by Lynn Unger

Through the looking glass,
down the rabbit hole,
into the wardrobe and out
into the enchanted forest
where animals talk
and danger lurks and nothing
works quite the way it did before,
you have fallen into a new story.
It is possible that you
are much bigger—or smaller—
than you thought.
It is possible to drown
in the ocean of your own tears.
It is possible that mysterious friends
have armed you with magical weapons
you don’t yet understand,
but which you will need
to save your own life and the world.
Everything here is foreign.
Nothing quite makes sense.
That’s how it works.
Do not confuse the beginning
of the story with the end.

Stalled out

stalled out - 105.18.20

Our weather has stalled out.  Here’s the NOAA report for this week.  In the forecast discussion, they say that next week we’ll likely have even more rain, and there is no global indication that things will change before the end of May.   It’s like the coronavirus–we are in a holding pattern, stuck in limbo, waiting for a positive change, fearful there won’t be one.

The weather icons actually don’t tell the whole story.  It looked much like this last week, and many mornings it rained or had dense fog, but by late afternoon, it turned into a warm and sunny day with the bluest of skies, white clouds, greenest new leaves, and it was 7:00 before I could drag myself inside to make dinner.  At bedtime last night, after a beautiful afternoon, there was lightning and thunder, which is always incredibly exciting at the lake.  So good things are still happening, and June is on its way.

It’s the time of lilacs and I’m beginning to spot hints of pale lavender on bushes, which I will stealthily cut in the weeks ahead in vacant fields and deserted alleyways.  Born in the month of May, they have always been my flower.  There was that famous tall birthday cake my mother made me, frosted with purple lilac flowers, when I was a lonely teenager.  And, in the years I lived in New England, the days were perfumed for the entire month.  Everywhere you looked, there were weather-beaten lilacs that looked to be a hundred years old, bent over by heavy arms full of blossoms.  It’s Fletcher’s birthday today and I always think of the lilacs which were in bloom in Colorado, where he was born.   I stayed at my sister’s house in Eaton, and each morning I drove on a narrow farm road, west to Ft. Collins so I could help out the new Mom.  The setting sun would be at my back when I returned, and I often stopped to break off a branch from an abandoned lilac bush, and set it on the dashboard.  Its sweet scent filled my tender heart, broken open by the astonishing love I felt for my first grand baby.  Rain or shine,  in this crawling, anxious, slowed down time, here come the lilacs, which can fill an entire day with the smell of all summers/the loves of wives and children.

Lilacs, by Amy Lowell

Lilacs,
False blue,
White,
Purple,
Color of lilac,
Your great puffs of flowers
Are everywhere in this my New England.
Among your heart-shaped leaves
Orange orioles hop like music-box birds and sing
Their little weak soft songs;
In the crooks of your branches
The bright eyes of song sparrows sitting on spotted eggs
Peer restlessly through the light and shadow
Of all Springs.
Lilacs in dooryards
Holding quiet conversations with an early moon;
Lilacs watching a deserted house
Settling sideways into the grass of an old road;
Lilacs, wind-beaten, staggering under a lopsided shock of bloom
Above a cellar dug into a hill.
You are everywhere.
You were everywhere.
You tapped the window when the preacher preached his sermon,
And ran along the road beside the boy going to school.
You stood by the pasture-bars to give the cows good milking,
You persuaded the housewife that her dishpan was of silver.
And her husband an image of pure gold.
You flaunted the fragrance of your blossoms
Through the wide doors of Custom Houses—
You, and sandal-wood, and tea,
Charging the noses of quill-driving clerks
When a ship was in from China.
You called to them: “Goose-quill men, goose-quill men,
May is a month for flitting.”
Until they writhed on their high stools
And wrote poetry on their letter-sheets behind the propped-up ledgers.
Paradoxical New England clerks,
Writing inventories in ledgers, reading the “Song of Solomon” at night,
So many verses before bed-time,
Because it was the Bible.
The dead fed you
Amid the slant stones of graveyards.
Pale ghosts who planted you
Came in the nighttime
And let their thin hair blow through your clustered stems.
You are of the green sea,
And of the stone hills which reach a long distance.
You are of elm-shaded streets with little shops where they sell kites and marbles,
You are of great parks where every one walks and nobody is at home.
You cover the blind sides of greenhouses
And lean over the top to say a hurry-word through the glass
To your friends, the grapes, inside.
Lilacs,
False blue,
White,
Purple,
Color of lilac,
You have forgotten your Eastern origin,
The veiled women with eyes like panthers,
The swollen, aggressive turbans of jeweled pashas.
Now you are a very decent flower,
A reticent flower,
A curiously clear-cut, candid flower,
Standing beside clean doorways,
Friendly to a house-cat and a pair of spectacles,
Making poetry out of a bit of moonlight
And a hundred or two sharp blossoms.
Maine knows you,
Has for years and years;
New Hampshire knows you,
And Massachusetts
And Vermont.
Cape Cod starts you along the beaches to Rhode Island;
Connecticut takes you from a river to the sea.
You are brighter than apples,
Sweeter than tulips,
You are the great flood of our souls
Bursting above the leaf-shapes of our hearts,
You are the smell of all Summers,
The love of wives and children,
The recollection of gardens of little children,
You are State Houses and Charters
And the familiar treading of the foot to and fro on a road it knows.
May is lilac here in New England,
May is a thrush singing “Sun up!” on a tip-top ash tree,
May is white clouds behind pine-trees
Puffed out and marching upon a blue sky.
May is a green as no other,
May is much sun through small leaves,
May is soft earth,
And apple-blossoms,
And windows open to a South Wind.
May is full light wind of lilac
From Canada to Narragansett Bay.
Lilacs,
False blue,
White,
Purple,
Color of lilac.
Heart-leaves of lilac all over New England,
Roots of lilac under all the soil of New England,
Lilac in me because I am New England,
Because my roots are in it,
Because my leaves are of it,
Because my flowers are for it,
Because it is my country
And I speak to it of itself
And sing of it with my own voice
Since certainly it is mine.

 

Happy Birthdays

Birthday month - 105.12.20

After this dazzling sunset last night, it’s raining this morning and looks to be that way all day, as well as tomorrow.  We’ve had lots of good sunshine in recent days, so this is an okay change.  You would think that after these weeks and weeks of sheltering at home, reading books, and doing much of nothing, a rainy day would not be so welcome, but, I didn’t mind seeing the rain pouring off the roof when I opened my eyes early this morning.  It’s a great day for soup making, more reading, more of nothing, and an excuse for a cozy fire and candles.  Such a day, in the life of coronavirus, doesn’t ask much of me.

We have five family birthdays in the month of May, starting with me, last Friday.  My day began with a beautiful early morning walk on the lake bed, just the two of us, out there on the vast expanse of sand.   After a night’s misty rain, the budding cottonwoods along the bank filled the air with their heavenly scent.  We watched a pair of eagles, heard Sandhill Cranes, and a Wilson Snipe’s constant call.  When we got to the Flathead River, we could see how it was now beginning to flow over the lake bed, filling it up with melted snow from the mountains in the background.  There was something so magical to actually watch it happen, in real time.  I spent the day in Happy Birthday phone calls, text messages, emails, funny videos and cards, which literally filled the entire day.  I don’t think I read the day’s bad news–at least that’s how I already remember it.  For dinner, Rita had a little pizza birthday party on her front porch.  It was a happy day.  Don’s birthday was yesterday and he spent it mowing the lawn, and roping himself up on the roof so he could sweep off pine cones and needles.  It was also Rich’s birthday over in Billings, where it was snowing.  I think I won.

In a few more days, it will be Fletcher’s 19th birthday (NINETEEN!) and Duncan’s 16th, which fills me with memories of having been there on the days they were born, and the profound joy it’s brought to my life to love them.   Fletcher has just been back with his family in Billings for a little over a week, after spending nearly two months in Berkeley with Val and her family, when Western Washington closed due to Covid.  My youngest grandson, Eamon, adores his oldest cousin, and was always thrilled to go for bike rides and walks with him.  When his Mom asked what they did on their walks, Eamon told her that they tried to name the spring flowers–which, of course, is what grandmas always teach on walks with their  young grandchildren.  On my birthday,  Duncan texted me a photo of an allium flower that had budded in the backyard of the rented house in Billings, which they’ve recently moved into.  Years ago, when he and Anna had just started elementary school, I would walk them there in the mornings on my visits, and in springtime, we would look for budding flowers.   Once, there was a tall spindly purple one, which I didn’t recognize, and told them I would google it, and report back when I walked them home.  It was an allium gladiator, and we three sat at their kitchen table and each drew a picture of it.   I didn’t mention that it’s from the humble onion family and its Latin translation is garlic–we all thought it was beautiful.   In Duncan’s text, he wrote, “it’s our flower and I’m so glad I can look at them every day and think about you!”  I’m telling you, here in the time of coronavirus, when something makes me cry every day,  it was the happiest of birthdays for me.

The Ponds, by Mary Oliver

Every year
the lilies
are so perfect
I can hardly believe

their lapped light crowding
the black,
mid-summer ponds.
Nobody could count all of them —

the muskrats swimming
among the pads and the grasses
can reach out
their muscular arms and touch

only so many, they are that
rife and wild.
But what in this world
is perfect?

I bend closer and see
how this one is clearly lopsided —
and that one wears an orange blight —
and this one is a glossy cheek

half nibbled away —
and that one is a slumped purse
full of its own
unstoppable decay.

Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled —
to cast aside the weight of facts

and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world.
I want to believe I am looking

into the white fire of a great mystery.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing —
that the light is everything — that it is more than the sum
of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do.

Now it is May

May 2020-2 - 1

05.03.20

It was a beautiful May Day.  In the Celtic traditions, it’s called Beltane and is one of the eight pagan holidays which are considered turning points in the year.  It’s a time of year in which the veil between the human and supernatural worlds is at its thinnest.  It’s a good day for magic.  I must say, when the setting sun cast its glow across these tiny violets, which were standing so bravely between the stones on our terrace, with a cold wind blowing them to and fro, there was magic at my house.

All week long I’ve vacillated between, “wow, we’ve made it to another month” and, “here we go again, another month.”  So many good things happened in my little personal life this week.  Rita and Lee brought a pizza down, and we sat on the covered porch in the rain under wool blankets, six feet apart.  A bonafide social occasion, after all this time.  Two evenings in a row, a trio of huge sub-adult grizzlies meandered down our yard and crossed the stone terrace.  The hummingbirds are back, and a pair of loons are calling to one another at the end of our dock.  The first mixed green lettuces were available at the opening day of the Kalispell’s Farmers Market, and Rita picked up two bags for me.   And, Fletcher is now home to his family in Billings and they are all together, for the first time in 2020.

Yet, despite how I’ve radically reduced my consumption of bad news, there is just bad news, everywhere, all the time, hovering over us, and the anxiety of an uncertain future will be with us for a long time.   In all the discussion about curves and peaks and spikes of the coronavirus, the term “plateau” seems the most appropriate.  We are stuck on a high mountain plateau, exposed to the elements, and unable to locate a trail which will lead us down to safe ground.

And, now it is May.   It’s a beautiful month, midway between the beginning of spring and start of summer.  I think spring has been particularly gorgeous this year.  Most of my life, I’ve rushed through spring, wanting to hurry through its temperamental weather, its cold winds, and get to summer on the other side.  But, in this slowed down time, as Emily Dickinson wrote, “A Light exists in Spring/Not present on the Year”.  Have those new green leaves ever had so many yellow undertones?  Have there ever been so many robins singing?  Has the lake ever been so aquamarine in color?

A Light exists in Spring…
by Emily Dickinson

A Light exists in Spring
Not present on the Year
At any other period-
When March is scarcely here

A Color stands abroad
On Solitary Fields
That Science cannot overtake
But Human Nature feels.

It waits upon the Lawn,
It shows the furthest Tree
Upon the furthest Slope you know
It almost speaks to you.

Then as Horizons step
Or Noons report away
Without the Formula of sound
It passes and we stay-

A quality of loss
Affecting our Content
As Trade had suddenly encroached
Upon a Sacrament.

Just the two of us

just the two of us - 104.27.20

Joy and family left yesterday for their drive home to Billings.  It was blustery and spring-time cool most of the week they were here, but we had one day early on when I sat out by the water to read, and Duncan and Anna lounged at the end of the dock in the warm sunshine.  We had a game night, a movie night, drove down the east shore of the lake for a picnic by the water in Polson, and, on their last night, we saw the new crescent moon and bright Venus shine in the twilight sky.  There was a bit of making art by painting and drawing.  Anna and Joy emptied my chaotic spice cabinet, consolidated the duplications, and carefully alphabetized the spices, and evenly spaced them on the shelves.  And, then, the week was over, they drove away, and it’s back to just the two of us, to shelter in place.

There’s always a chasm in my heart when family leave, before I can settle myself back into the quiet solitude here at the lake, but I felt especially sad to say goodbye yesterday.  I feel like we’ve been through a lot together, since their move to Finland on the first of January.  We were the only family members who were able to visit them, see their apartment, their schools, the grocery store.  It’s been their journey, of course, but as I told Joy, nearly every day for four months, she sent an email and recounted their adventures and misadventures in Finland.  When the pandemic broke out, first thing, in dawn’s early light, I would check the computer, holding my breath for reports on Anna’s illness, her visit to the hospital, and their struggles to get back to America.  Now, that chapter in their lives has been cut short, and the new chapters are yet to be written.  Like the pandemic itself, so much has been lost, and we don’t know how the story will be written going forward.  I am saddest for our teen-agers.  Already in foreign territory–no longer children but not yet adults–the loss they must feel in direction, in their future, must weigh heavy.  Is that what they are texting on their phones day and night?  Sometimes, they send me their Spotify playlists and I listen to the lyrics to see if I can glean what they are thinking, and I often conclude that they are simply feeling like Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

It’s the kind of day I like here, late in the month of April–a pleasant 50 degrees with light rain showers moving across the lake.  I walked down to still water this morning and heard the loons calling out to one another.  I’ll make a soup for dinner this afternoon and read by the fire while it simmers.  In thinking about Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, I found Judith Viorst’s adult book, Necessary Losses, high up on one of the bookcases in our library.  Judging by the wrinkles and tears of the book cover, I gave it quite a once-over, back in the mid-80’s, when I was dealing with loss and unknown territory in my own life.  She introduces her book…”In fact, I would like to propose that central to understanding our lives is understanding how we deal with loss. I would like to propose in this book that the people we are and the lives that we lead are determined, for better and worse, by our loss experiences.”

At the end of the book, I’d dog-eared another passage:

“We lost not only through death, but also by leaving and being left, by changing and letting go and moving on.  And our losses include not only our separations and departures from those we love, but our conscious and unconscious losses of romantic dreams, impossible expectations, illusions of freedom and power, illusions of safety–and the loss of our own younger self, the self that thought it would always be unwrinkled and invulnerable and immortal.”

Her words feel especially true, in this time of coronavirus.

 

Quiet times

quiet times - 104.19.20

It’s been a quiet week of mellow spring weather.  There were a few blue sky sunny afternoons in which I had my cocktail out on the bedroom porch next to Chatpeau, and one evening, she preferred to stay out there rather than join us inside.  It’s been lightly raining this morning, and the robins were singing in full song on my walk, anticipating the worms which would soon appear.  Forsythia made a cheerful patch of bright yellow amidst branches that are just about to burst open.  They’ve mowed some of the greens on the golf course and the smell gives such hope for summer days to come, for times to change.

After all this time of coronavirus, we have a predictable structure to our days.   I pick up groceries which are delivered to Rita’s porch on Mondays.  Wednesdays, I pick up a box of produce and homemade bread, curbside, at the local Max’s Market.  Sunday mornings at 8:00, Don braves the nearby IGA to purchase beer, which is the moment it’s legal for them to sell it.  There are intermittent have-to-go-inside stops at the state liquor store for whiskey and wine.  Now that the hardware stores have curbside pick up for the various projects Don is working on, we could avoid all human contact, if we just gave up alcohol.  Well, that’s not going to happen.

The highlight of the week for me is the Zoom Family Game Event, which Sarah organizes on the week-ends.  With Joy and her family back in this country, we are a rowdy crowd of 12, gathered in our separate spaces, pints of beer visible in the adults’ hands.  We all play and laugh at our silly answers and cheer for who nailed it.  Eamon, the youngest, and I, the oldest, compete for last place–the nuances in questions often go right by him, and I’m not quick enough–and it’s a tight race.  When the games are over, and the kids begin to get restless, we discuss what each of us is having for dinner that night, and what movies or shows we’ve been watching.  Lately, we are beginning to look pretty ragged and scruffy.  Everybody’s hairdos are in need of professional help, and the list of ailments is growing longer.  Val’s neck is still sore and it’s moved down her back; Sarah’s cheek and eye is swollen from a bug bite; I now have a new stye in my other eye; Joy does not know why all the life has gone out of her hair.  I ask how the online classes are going for the kids, and there’s either a sullen shrug or thumbs down response.  It feels too exhausting to discuss our unknown future, and after nearly two hours, the air in the party balloons has leaked out, and it’s time to go make dinner.

On to another week, with a big change here.  Joy and her family complete their 14-day quarantine tomorrow, and they are moving in to the lakehouse.  It’s another step forward on their long journey from Finland.  They’ve found a home to rent back in Billings, starting on May 1st, and during their shelter in place stay at our house, they have many logistics to sort out in getting furniture out of storage to set up home, and getting Fletcher back from California–with probably another 14-day quarantine when he arrives.  I hope they will find a soft landing here, and even solace, in the peacefulness by the water.  Nobody got sick in their 14 days of quarantine, and for all the struggles yet to come, I am deeply grateful for our health, our safety, and all the love that lives in our family.

“Solace is the art of asking the beautiful question, of ourselves, of our world or of one another, in fiercely difficult and un-beautiful moments. solace is what we must look for when the mind cannot bear the pain, the loss or the suffering that eventually touches every life and every endeavor; when longing does not come to fruition in a form we can recognize, when people we know and love disappear, when hope must take a different form than the one we have shaped for it…”    David Whyte, Consolations

Hideout

hiding2 - 104.12.20

I do think the weather gods took pity on us this last week.  There was warmth and sunshine and the solace of still waters.  There were afternoons by the water that were so quiet, we felt compelled to whisper.  The loons are back and we heard their haunting call for the first time, and the osprey have returned, as well as a few barn swallows who appear to be scouting out the place.  The supermoon was the star of the week, visible in the afternoons, then lighting up the sky all night, and lingering over the water in the pink dawns.  I’ve been so grateful for our hideout here at the lake–a respite from the news and the sadness and anguish of so many, in yet another coronavirus week.

Joy and her family safely made it back from Finland on Monday, and have been quarantined in a Kalispell airbnb.   I knew we wouldn’t be able to be with them for their 14 days under lockdown, but when I went to drop off some food, Joy said to leave it on the table on the front porch, and rather than open the door and yell out to me, she said we could talk on our phones and she would look out through the big picture window so I could see her.  Of course, we can’t be too cautious, but it made me feel sad, and on my drive back home, I remembered the story their paternal grandfather used to tell about how when he was six years old, his mother was dying of tuberculosis, and he could only look at her through glass French doors.  April 9th was my own father’s birthday, and I had a sudden heartache as I remembered his big belly laugh.  Such is the grief that doesn’t hide well in times like this.

I’m starting an online seminar with David Whyte, one of my favorite Welsh-Irish poets and authors.  He’s been doing regular readings from his living room, which are posted on Facebook, and just listening to his voice is “finding ground” as he would say.  One of the recent readings, from his book, Consolations, which is a resource I turn to time and time again, is called “Hiding”.  Perhaps this is a new way to think about hiding out…

HIDING

Hiding is a way of staying alive. Hiding is a way of holding ourselves until we are ready to come into the light. Even hiding the truth from ourselves can be a way to come to what we need in our own necessary time. Hiding is one of the brilliant and virtuoso practices of almost every part of the natural world: the protective quiet of an icy northern landscape, the held bud of a future summer rose, the snow bound internal pulse of the hibernating bear. Hiding is underestimated. We are hidden by life in our mother’s womb until we grow and ready ourselves for our first appearance in the lighted world; to appear too early in that world is to find ourselves with the immediate necessity for outside intensive care.