Summer Winding Down


It rained, and rain is in the forecast through the week-end. It’s only 62 degrees this afternoon and I can see the mountains across the lake and the wispy fingers of white clouds that hang low in front of the blue hills. We’ve closed windows in the house now to keep out the chill rather that the wildfire smoke. There are warm and sunny days forecasted on the horizon, but they will be squeezed between a parade of low pressure systems out of the north, and we will remark how you can sense Autumn’s chill behind the heat now. I had to drive up to Whitefish first thing this morning for a CT scan at their hospital, and was surprised that the summer traffic was gone. I arrived so early that I filled the time by walking along their trail system through the cattails, admiring the cloud-shrouded Swan Range to the east. The notch with a view into Glacier Park was filled with clouds and all aglow, backlit by the white light of a clear sunrise. There was a fenced-in flower and vegetable garden along the trail–the Planetree Healing Garden–where sunflowers grew up and through the wooden lattice. After all the years of working in hospital administration in the past, and my experience of being a cancer patient, in which I stared out at a healing garden from my transfusion recliner, I must admit I have an unflattering cynicism of such projects. But, I opened the gate and went along the flagstone path and took photos of Fall flowers, squash and baby melons. It was a lovely morning, actually.

Was it just a few weeks ago–as we lived in a snow globe filled with smoke– that I wrote life had gone to hell in a hand basket? Since then, the California wildfires have exploded, as has the Delta variant, now getting the children. In the first days of in-person school, my yet-to-be-vaccinated ten year old grandson has had a positive Covid case reported. While I order a shipment of N95 masks, Montana has made it illegal for any business to require Covid vaccinations as a condition of employment. A “human rights issue” they say. The news of Haiti makes me think they must be truly cursed with yet another earthquake and hurricane. The images from Afghanastan have forced me to turn off the TV, remembering the Saigon images seared in my brain, and reminding me that I once was young and innocent.

These are just hard times. A neighbor of ours from long ago, Courtney Martin, writes a beautiful blog, “The Examined Family”. This is in addition to several stunning books, including her latest, Learning in Public. She entitled a recent blog post, ‘Letting there be room for all of this” and it’s felt like a mantra to me as we all slog through these uncertain days…

‘Letting there be room for all of this’

a meditation on this uncertain moment

“We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.” ― Pema Chödrön

Some dear old friends from Colorado–who actually used to live right next door to Courtney when she was growing up–just left, after a week long visit. We made ‘room for all of this’ together with much laughter and with our tears. It was a healing time. I’m grateful for this relief in our weather, and I picked up the first fresh sweet corn this morning from the farm, on my way home from the hospital. Somehow, I guess, we just have to make room for all of this to happen, however we can.

Spent, by Mark Doty

Late August morning I go out to cut
spent and faded hydrangeas—washed
greens, russets, troubled little auras

of sky as if these were the very silks
of Versailles, mottled by rain and ruin
then half-restored, after all this time…

When I come back with my handful
I realize I’ve accidentally locked the door,
and can’t get back into the house.

The dining room window’s easiest;
crawl through beauty bush and spirea,
push aside some errant maples, take down

the wood-framed screen, hoist myself up.
But how, exactly, to clamber across the sill
and the radiator down to the tile?

I try bending one leg in, but I don’t fold
readily; I push myself up so that my waist
rests against the sill, and lean forward,

place my hands on the floor and begin to slide
down into the room, which makes me think
this was what it was like to be born:

awkward, too big for the passageway…
Negotiate, submit?
                           When I give myself
to gravity there I am, inside, no harm,

the dazzling splotchy flowerheads
scattered around me on the floor.
Will leaving the world be the same

—uncertainty as to how to proceed,
some discomfort, and suddenly you’re
—where? I am so involved with this idea

I forget to unlock the door,
so when I go to fetch the mail, I’m locked out
again. Am I at home in this house,

would I prefer to be out here,
where I could be almost anyone?
This time it’s simpler: the window-frame,

the radiator, my descent. Born twice
in one day!
                In their silvered jug,
these bruise-blessed flowers:

how hard I had to work to bring them
into this room. When I say spent,
I don’t mean they have no further coin.

If there are lives to come, I think
they might be a littler easier than this one.

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