Author Archives: rebsuebauder

High Summer

07.17.21

One of my doctors said this week, “Well, summer is over for me with the arrival of the smoke.” She has asthma and is especially sensitive and has cancelled her camping reservations and cycling race entries for the remainder of the season. The local weather forecasters report that fire season has started a good couple of weeks early this year, and the national headlines can’t stop reporting on the western heat and long-term drought. My California family arrives in a few days, and have packed their N95 masks and one of their air purifiers. After last year out there, they are not strangers to what it is like to live through forest fire season, but my grandson has asthma and I am very worried.

It’s not that it’s unexpected. Already, people are throwing out past years as particularly bad ones, and, in truth, it’s rare not to have some days of fire and smoke. But, as Don says, “Those of us who live in northwest Montana are terrified each year about forest fires.” For the first time in the twenty years we’ve lived at the lake, he ordered a pump and hose to access lake water to hose down the roof, in the event we were to lose electricity to our well in a wildfire. (He did confess, however, that this new pump would be useful in case the neighbor’s pond stayed frozen long enough for him to resurface the ice for his winter ice skating!).

It used to be that we could emotionally prepare for fire season, when it came in the middle of August, and kids went back-to-school shopping, and we could count on snow in September to end it all. Now, like Covid, National politics, and the widespread violent upheaval around the world, we’re living through a time in which we don’t know how to prepare. As one of the weather broadcasters said on the local NPR station, “I think it’s hard for us to realize that we’re literally living through conditions that we haven’t experienced before.” It all seems so hard, so uncertain, so frightening.

Early the other evening, sitting in my favorite wicker chair in the shade by the water, with a glass of white wine over ice, I was thinking about my doctor declaring that summer is now over for her. I get it. But, quitting on Summer–that shortest of seasons which is steeped in the best of our childhood memories, and so bittersweet in the nostalgia of innocence and youth and dreams of our future–just felt terribly sad. While I thought about these things, a cool breeze wafted off the water, motorboats hummed out on the lake as they pulled skiers behind them, and all manner of birds flew in and out of bushes, and high overhead on the thermals. Chatpeau lay in the cool green grass at my feet. And, despite the haze, the air was clear enough to see the outline of white clouds. This isn’t so bad I thought. Even in forest fire season, summer can give us lovely moments, here and there, to hold on to.

It’s now High Summer, already past the midpoint. As I went to bed last night, I could no longer see across the lake for the smoke haze. Waking up early this morning, the air quality graph indicates we are just on the edge, hanging in the balance, between healthy and unhealthy for sensitive groups. The NOAA weather forecast continues to suggest that the monsoons from the southwest will likely reach here mid-week, bringing possible drenching rains. As in all things during these uncertain and dangerous times, our charge is to keep Hope alive, sometimes found in the smallest of moments, like a lucky summer evening. Or, like the robins chirping out my kitchen window this morning, before I close up the house and hermetically seal it against heat and smoke build-up.

The Best Time of the Day, by Raymond Carver

Cool summer nights.
Windows open.
Lamps burning.
Fruit in the bowl.
And your head on my shoulder.
These the happiest moments in the day.

Next to the early morning hours,
of course. And the time
just before lunch.
And the afternoon, and
early evening hours.
But I do love

these summer nights.
Even more, I think,
than those other times.
The work finished for the day.
And no one who can reach us now.
Or ever.

July 2021

07.01.21

It is so damn hot. I’m letting Chatpeau spend the day sleeping on our bed, instead of looking like she’s dead from heat stroke out on the porch. Just north of us in Canada, they reported 300 extra deaths yesterday, attributed to the record-breaking hot temperatures. We’ve had hot days in the past here at the lake, but it’s always cooled down at night. I can count on one hand the number of times I didn’t need to put on a fleece or a sweater as the sun lowered in the western sky. Now, at 10 pm, when we reverse the hermetically sealed house by opening all the windows before bed, it’s still been 85 degrees. The ceiling fan is on high, in an attempt to draw air in from the woods, which will finally drop to 66 degrees at dawn’s early light. Then, before 10 am, it’s time to close all the windows again. It feels like we’ve been forever in the orange colored Heat Advisory Zone on the NOAA map, and they are predicting that in the next ten days, there will be an 80% chance our temps will be 10-15 degrees above normal, and 50% chance we will not have any soaking rains.

I read a headline the other day about how this heat feels like an “existential threat”, that climate change will cause this historic Pacific Northwest Heat Dome to occur more often. Streets have buckled in Portland, water and electrical grids are being stressed across the west, people are dying. Add the fact that now LA is back to requiring even vaccinated people to mask up in crowds, because of the Delta Covid variant, and it can truly feel like the apocalypse is upon us. While preparing dinner, we often watch BBC’s Outside Source, and a quick tour of news around the world is enough to lose your appetite.

In the light of a new day, this first morning of July, and with the hint of a few clouds across the lake, it’s a point of fact that when it’s been 100 degrees in town, it’s only 90 here at the lake. The water temperature is close to 20 degrees warmer than usual for this time of year, and a dip in the lake is footsteps away from the porch. You can’t really climb into bed until the sun has gone down around 10 pm, and by the time you’ve flossed and brushed your teeth, the temperature outside has begun its drop–slowly, but surely.

By 6:30 this morning, I realized I could sit with my computer and coffee out on the porch in cool air, and quit complaining about the heat dome for awhile. In the quiet of birdsong, I remembered this poem I saved, long ago, long before I had a bad hip or the brain injury from a stroke. I thought about the line that says how life lets you choose the way you have your eggs and your coffee. It’s good to be reminded that “This is what life does”, in the middle of it all, before the day gets hot again, before you read the bad news headlines, before it lets you begin a new month of summer.

Starfish, by Eleanor Lerman

This is what life does. It lets you walk up to 
the store to buy breakfast and the paper, on a 
stiff knee. It lets you choose the way you have 
your eggs, your coffee. Then it sits a fisherman 
down beside you at the counter who say, Last night, 
the channel was full of starfish. And you wonder, 
is this a message, finally, or just another day?

Life lets you take the dog for a walk down to the 
pond, where whole generations of biological 
processes are boiling beneath the mud. Reeds 
speak to you of the natural world: they whisper, 
they sing. And herons pass by. Are you old 
enough to appreciate the moment? Too old? 
There is movement beneath the water, but it 
may be nothing. There may be nothing going on.

And then life suggests that you remember the 
years you ran around, the years you developed 
a shocking lifestyle, advocated careless abandon, 
owned a chilly heart. Upon reflection, you are 
genuinely surprised to find how quiet you have 
become. And then life lets you go home to think 
about all this. Which you do, for quite a long time.

Later, you wake up beside your old love, the one 
who never had any conditions, the one who waited 
you out. This is life’s way of letting you know that 
you are lucky. (It won’t give you smart or brave, 
so you’ll have to settle for lucky.) Because you 
were born at a good time. Because you were able 
to listen when people spoke to you. Because you 
stopped when you should have and started again.

So life lets you have a sandwich, and pie for your 
late night dessert. (Pie for the dog, as well.) And 
then life sends you back to bed, to dreamland, 
while outside, the starfish drift through the channel, 
with smiles on their starry faces as they head 
out to deep water, to the far and boundless sea.

Summer Solstice 2021

06.21.21

“Summers had a logic all their own and they always brought something out in me. Summer was supposed to be about freedom and youth and no school and possibilities and adventure and exploration. Summer was a book of hope. That’s why I loved and hated summers. Because they made me want to believe.” Benjamin Alire Saenz, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

While most of the west had been under the big heat dome, we had pleasant 75 degree weather with clear skies and a new crescent moon. Fletcher and his girlfriend stayed with us for nearly a week, soaking up the cool air before their move to Tuscon later this month. They kayaked, paddleboarded, had s’mores at the campfire, and the four of us had a lovely sunset cruise on the lake in our old aluminum fishing boat, motoring along on still water under fluffy white clouds. “Summer has arrived”, Don and i kept saying to each other, as if it is was a complete surprise–that somehow we had made it this far, again.

The first official day of summer began with rain and a chilly 52 degrees, but, by the end of the longest day, it was gloriously green and sunny and 70 degrees. I drove Don and two sailor buddies down to Dayton early in a clearing rain, to get our sailboat into the water, and their three hour sail up to our house had perfect winds and sunshine. We all met later for dinner over on the other side of the lake, and when we drove home after 9 pm, the yellow canola fields glowed under a still bright sun and the three-quarters moon was stark white. It felt like darkness would never come. In spite of everything, it’s summer again, and like everything since the pandemic closed down the world as we know it, it’s hard to get my head around the fact that we are in a new season now.

We’ve met up with friends who’ve also been vaccinated, we’ve eaten dinner outside at restaurants a few times–we even did that flight to California to see our family. But, outside that bubble we’ve lived in for a year and a half, it all feels so fragile, so tentative. Everyone seems to be looking for missing employees. If it isn’t the local restaurants, it’s American Airlines announcing they are cutting hundreds of flights because they are short of workers. A friend showed up at an urgent care clinic yesterday and was told sorry you have to wait, but we are down five employees who are staying on unemployment. Even the spectacular success of the vaccine (so far) is muted when most of the world does not have access to them. The big heat dome last week reminded us of climate change and forest fires and lack of water. Who really believes there is such a thing as getting back to “normal”.

Sigh. What is there to do but let go of “normal”. There was a lot that was wrong with our “normal” anyway. This new season has its lessons for how to live in this world, like all the other seasons in the past, and forevermore. There is so much to love in summer–a season so short up here in the north country. As Mary Oliver tells us, we must “hold it against our bones”. Happy summer!

Every year
everything
I have ever learned
in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires and the black river of loss whose other side
is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know. To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

–Mary Oliver, New and Selected Poems, Volume One

June has arrived

06.04.21

How can it be, just a week ago today, we caught an early flight to Seattle, then on to Oakland where Sarah picked us up at the airport, and we spent the Memorial Day week-end with our California families. After all this time cloistered at home in the pandemic, we got to hug the grandkids, see how they’d grown and changed, walk by the house Sarah and Nick just bought, play ping pong on the outdoor table that Santa delivered to Valerie’s patio, meet the new kitty, sit in the sunshine drinking beer, talking and laughing. There was an outing to watch the Oakland A’s, a tennis match at the nearby park, Don’s driving lesson with Norah, and Sarah and I looked at hundreds of paint chips as potential colors for their new house. How could that have only been four days.

We had left home in cold rain and returned to record high temperatures of 90 degrees in town, and hot enough at the lake to run the ceiling fan at night. Our suitcases have not yet been unpacked, but Don put the screen doors on the French doors across the front of the house, the red umbrella over the outdoor table, the wicker chairs down by the water. Old friends from Colorado were here to greet us when we arrived home, and we spent their two days sitting in the shade on the front porch, telling old stories, catching up. At dinner the last night, Tom–87 years old, nearly deaf and blind, and poised to fall down when he stands up–toasted how lucky we were to be healthy enough to be together on a beautiful evening by the water.

Now, we are alone again, to settle back into home. I hobbled along for a little walk yesterday and found that the irises had bloomed during our short trip. I called the nursery to let them know we’d be picking up the big geranium plants they’ve been growing for us in the greenhouse. And, there was a summer thunderstorm that began about 4:30 this morning. The birds were chirping, and then they’d be quiet after a lightning strike and rumble of thunder, then chirp again until the next one. Rain fell for a short time and poured off the roof out my bedroom window. I think nocturnal thunderstorms are magical. In fact, their origins are so mysterious that in 2015, NOAA gathered a group of scientists to study them in a project called Plains Elevated Convection At Night (PECAN). How do they form at night without the sun’s heat? Seasonal temperatures are just around the corner, but summer has rolled in already. Time is moving along and every morning–if we can pay close attention– we get a chance to “swim along the soft trails”.

Morning Poem, by Mary Oliver

Every morning
the world
is created.
Under the orange

sticks of the sun
the heaped
ashes of the night
turn into leaves again

and fasten themselves to the high branches–
and the ponds appear
like black cloth
on which are painted islands

of summer lilies.
If it is your nature
to be happy

you will swim away along the soft trails

for hours, your imagination
alighting everywhere.
And if your spirit
carries within it

the thorn
that is heavier than lead–
if it’s all you can do
to keep on trudging–

there is still
somewhere deep within you
a beast shouting that the earth
is exactly what it wanted–

each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
lavishly,
every morning,

whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy,
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray.

Lilac Time

05.21.21

Lilacs–that most nostalgic of blossoms. They bloom in alleys and in deserted farmsteads, and the bushes seem to be the most bountiful when they’ve been abandoned to the past. They’re in bloom only ten days or so, and no matter how much cutting and pounding I do of their woody stems, they last but three days on my dining room table. Each year on this blog, I talk about the birthday cake decorated with lilac blossoms, which my mother made for me in a lonely teen-aged time. And, that Fletcher’s May 18th birth coincided with the explosion of lilac blooms in northern Colorado, and how I picked them to ride with me in the car that month, as I drove between Ft. Collins and my sister’s house in Eaton. I picked the ones in this photo from the alley behind my primary care doctor’s office. A staff member comes out to your car and asks you Covid related questions, takes your temperature and makes sure your mask is in place, and then tells you she’ll be out to get you when it’s your turn. I escaped from the car long enough to break off a few bunches, and put them into my water bottle.

The dry heat wave is over. Finally, finally, clouds and moisture arrived and I can see the snow line on the mountains across the lake. We’re just west of the winter advisory zone, and, happily for late May, our precipitation will be in the form of rain. Already, Don is wailing that we won’t catch up on our deficit, but a few small puddles have accumulated and it smells heavenly out there. Making soup is always good for my psyche, and I appreciate any help I can get during this stroke recovery. Joy forwarded a great-looking recipe yesterday for artichoke-asparagus soup, which seems like a nice spring transition. The pile of books I bought to see me through my ordeal awaits me, covered in a layer of dust, as I’ve been outside looking at the water, the sunsets, and, I guess, just watching the grass grow.

There’s an old lilac bush up our road, behind an abandoned trailer-house, and I can see purple blossoms from the car as I drive down. Memorial Day is right around the corner, with the start of summer and all its energy and frenzy and happy times. I’d best take my clippers up the road and take advantage of this clandestine opportunity to bring fresh lilacs into the house, and allow their heavenly scent to bring in all those memories of such happy days to fill my home.

The Happiest Day

by Linda Pasten

It was early May, I think
a moment of lilac or dogwood
when so many promises are made
it hardly matters if a few are broken.
My mother and father still hovered
in the background, part of the scenery
like the houses I had grown up in,
and if they would be torn down later
that was something I knew
but didn’t believe. Our children were asleep
or playing, the youngest as new
as the new smell of the lilacs,
and how could I have guessed
their roots were shallow
and would be easily transplanted.
I didn’t even guess that I was happy.
The small irritations that are like salt
on melon were what I dwelt on,
though in truth they simply
made the fruit taste sweeter.
So we sat on the porch
in the cool morning, sipping
hot coffee. Behind the news of the day—
strikes and small wars, a fire somewhere—
I could see the top of your dark head
and thought not of public conflagrations
but of how it would feel on my bare shoulder.
If someone could stop the camera then…
if someone could only stop the camera
and ask me: are you happy?
Perhaps I would have noticed
how the morning shone in the reflected
color of lilac. Yes, I might have said
and offered a steaming cup of coffee.

Birthday Month

05.12.21

Rita has long declared that her birthday is the entire month of April. I believe she originally came to this thinking many years ago, to allow her mother more time to get a birthday card sent to her for a timely arrival on her actual birthday. My gift from Rita, for the May 8th birthday this year, was to arrive home from a night in Spokane to find my kitchen window box filled with flowers for the summer days to come. Don said, “I think this is the nicest thing anyone has ever done,” and I reminded him that, “no, she did this for me in 2005 when I arrived home from cancer treatment in Denver, to recover in the remains of summer.” Rita knows how to do birthdays.

It was a grand birthday celebration in Spokane, with an afternoon beer and lunch at a new downtown brewery, sitting by open garage doors on a sunny spring afternoon, people-watching safely distanced customers. Dinner, at our very favorite fine dining bistro, also felt safe in a newly constructed booth with our waiter masked. I never choked on my food–which had been a big concern of mine, even though I was discharged from swallowing therapy–and I had two glasses of champagne, and a fabulous coconut cake. After over a year, it felt like our Covid PTSD stayed in the shadows. This year’s birthday was not guaranteed, after my stroke in March, and the beautiful cards, calls, and texts from family and friends could not have been more loving, and I think I cried with each of them.

May is a huge birthday month in our circle. Don’s and Rich’s are May 11th, then two grandsons celebrate later in the week, and John finishes off the month with his. As the first to come along, and as the elder in the family, I always get the best and brightest celebration. Don spent his special day by driving into town at 6:00 a.m. to attend to his volunteer bookkeeping job, then coming back home to pick me up for a trip back into town for a visit to the orthopedic surgeon. While I spent two hours in the clinic getting a steroid injection into my troublesome right hip, he slept in the car, gathering his energy for a day of various chores near and far from the house. Everybody has to find celebration in their own way, and it is definitely tricky as we age. “At least it’s not the alternative” has ceased to be humorous for a long time now.

I had hoped to bake a cake for Don, but with the pain in my right hip, the best I could do was to make his favorite peanut butter cookies, so I could sit down and ice it during the 14 minutes each cookie sheet was in the oven. I’d missed my David Whyte webinar, with our trip to Spokane, so I tuned into the recording while I iced my hip. His series began back in May 2020 with the title of Vulnerability and Courage, and I’ve participated every month since then, always moved deeply by him reading his poems, which I never truly understand, but it doesn’t matter that I do. As he has said, poetry is not about some thing–it is the thing itself.

This May’s series is entitled Self Compassion. He tells the story of hiking in the Himalayas, alone, as a young man, and being paralyzed by fear to cross a rickety wooden bridge across a deep ravine at 11,000 feet, and how an old woman with a basket of Yak dung on her back, gives him a namaste greeting, then confidently crosses over to the other side. He followed her to safety, and then she seemed to vanish, just disappeared altogether from the trail. Soon, he came to the oldest monastery on the Annapurna Circuit, in the little village of Braga, and upon entering, was terrified by the ancient wooden Buddha statue guarding the door, threatening and beckoning the traveler to enter. He finished the webinar by reading a poem he wrote after this experience at Braga. I thought it was a lovely way to think about birthdays and getting old, and the self-compassion we need at this time in life.

The Faces at Braga, by David Whyte

In monastery darkness
by the light of one flashlight,
the old shrine room waits in silence.

While beside the door
we see the terrible figure,
fierce eyes demanding, “Will you step through?”

And the old monk leads us,
bent back nudging blackness
prayer beads in the hand that beckons.

We light the butter lamps
and bow, eyes blinking in the
pungent smoke, look up without a word,

see faces in meditation,
a hundred faces carved above,
eye lines wrinkled in the handheld light.

Such love in solid wood—
taken from the hillsides and carved in silence,
they have the vibrant stillness of those who made them.

Engulfed by the past
they have been neglected, but through
smoke and darkness they are like the flowers

we have seen growing
through the dust of eroded slopes,
their slowly opening faces turned toward the mountain.

Carved in devotion
their eyes have softened through age
and their mouths curve through delight of the carver’s hand.

If only our own faces
would allow the invisible carver’s hand
to bring the deep grain of love to the surface.

If only we knew
as the carver knew, how the flaws
in the wood led his searching chisel to the very core,

we would smile too
and not need faces immobilized
by fear and the weight of things undone.

When we fight with our failing
we ignore the entrance to the shrine itself
and wrestle with the guardian, fierce figure on the side of good.

And as we fight
our eyes are hooded with grief
and our mouths are dry with pain.

If only we could give ourselves
to the blows of the carver’s hands,
the lines in our faces would be the trace lines of rivers

feeding the sea
where voices meet, praising the features
of the mountain and the cloud and the sky.

Our faces would fall away
until we, growing younger toward death
everyday, would gather all our flaws in celebration

to merge with them perfectly,
impossibly, wedded to our essence,
full of silence from the carver’s hands.

_______________

May 2021

05.02.21

Every day, this is more green in the woods. The Paper Birch at water’s edge, which we sit under for shade in the summer, is leafing out every single day in the warmth and sunshine. The rivers and streams will soon be flowing with snow melt and the lake level will begin its annual rise. Don can hear the frogs on Saxton’s pond when he goes up to feed the kitty in the garage at dark, and the loon is making its haunting call on the lake in the early dawn. The Canada goose couple swam by the other day with three new little babies between them. Spring moves along no matter what is happening to us human beings.

I’m moving along in my recovery as well. I finally had an appointment with the vascular neurologist, who I’ve anxiously waited to see now for the past six weeks. I wanted him to read my palm and tell me my fortune. It was, overall, very promising, as he felt that I could see really significant improvement by early July. Just in time for the start of summer here in the north country. And, the speech pathologist told me Friday afternoon that she was ready to discharge me one week early, as I am coming along so nicely and can–very carefully–eat most foods again without choking.

Realizing I could now eat Friday night pizza, I went through the drive-up after my therapy appointment and bought us the usual. As I was driving home, I felt a bit unmoored to think I wouldn’t see the therapist again. Three times a week, for six weeks, I’ve sat in front of her for 45 minutes, as she watched me through a face shield, her mouth and nose covered in a mask, while I made 150 swallows of food I was directed to bring from home. I can only imagine what I looked like to her–eight electrical stimulation leads taped to my neck and an ace bandage wrapped around my head and neck to hold them in place. She used a counter to record the swallows, and in-between times, we talked about my stroke symptoms, and her daughter’s track meets, my grandchildren, how overworked she is, and we wrote recipes down for each other. Then, poof, she’s out of my life. She works four ten-hour days, seeing different patients every 45-60 minutes, and I am sure we all just whizz quickly through her busy work day. But, it feels like a relationship to me, which has abruptly ended. This is the person, after all, who taught me “rescue breathing”. I am reminded of those two weeks of lonely nights in the hospital, when a nurse would come into my room for vitals and to administer medications. It was rare I would have the same RN more than two nights in a row, but about every third night, Adam would be the nurse who showed up. Maybe he was one of the many traveling nurses, as he didn’t appear to have a relationship with the various CNAs who accompanied him into my room, like the other nurses did. He was always very quiet. But, every time he left my room, he looked at me so kindly and asked me if there was anything he could do for me, and he squeezed my foot. And, he was the only nurse who remembered to turn off my lights and shut the door. I would have liked to have said goodbye to him.

Well, we’ve moved on in this troubled world, making it to May 2021, and many things are truly better. This summer has loomed so promising in our imaginations with the accelerated rate of vaccinations. I hope it is what we’ve hoped it will be. In our forecast, for this merry month of May, rain is predicted at the end of the upcoming week. Whether we get a soft rain or a soaking rain, it will be most welcome, to prepare the grass, the trees, and the flowers, for those longed-for summer days to come.

There Will Come Soft Rains, by Sara Teasdale

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound;

And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum trees in tremulous white,

Robins will wear their feathery fire
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree
If mankind perished utterly;

And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,
Would scarcely know that we were gone.

April is winding down

04.25.21

At the end of this week, we will be done with the “cruel month” of April, and starting the Merry Month of May. The weather has unleashed winter’s remnants across the Rockies this month, leaving snow on my friends and family in Colorado, and thrashing loved ones on the eastern side of our state. Rooftops down here at the lake were covered in snow Friday morning, and cold rain showers pounded the roof overnight. When the low clouds lift off the water, I’m sure we’ll see the snow line at 5,000 foot. And, yet, this photo reflects many of the afternoons we’ve had this month. Most days, even with grapple or snow dusting the lawn, hours of bright spring sunshine have glowed through our French doors in the living room. Don has cleaned the windows twice this month on the lake side of the house, and the wicker furniture is now out on the porch. We haven’t sat out there yet, but it’s waiting for us, and Chatpeau is enjoying her naps on the wool blanket covering the love seat cushions.

Of all the lessons to be gleaned out of Springtime in the Rockies, patience and hope are certainly at the top. “Adopt the pace of nature; her secret is patience.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson.) My stroke recovery is in synch with the pace of nature in springtime. When I put my feet on the floor early this morning–like many mornings, I think for a nanosecond that it will feel like solid ground, and this storm in my life is over. I looked out the window to the blue light and heard the rain, and was reminded that nature’s pace, is nature’s pace, not mine. It helps somehow. And those branches, dripping with rain drops out my window, are ‘fiercely wanting, just a little more of life’– just like I am. Our skies are predicted to be clear in two days, just in time for the full supermoon, a kind farewell from April.

From Fourth Sign of the Zodiac by Mary Oliver

Late yesterday afternoon, in the heat,
all the fragile blue flowers in bloom
in the shrubs in the yard next door had
tumbled from the shrubs and lay
wrinkled and fading in the grass. But
this morning the shrubs were full of
the blue flowers again. There wasn’t
a single one on the grass. How, I
wondered, did they roll back up to
the branches, that fiercely wanting,
as we all do, just a little more of
life?

One month later

04.11.21

It was one month ago today that we went to the hospital and learned that I was having a stroke. It feels like a lifetime ago. The last of the three girls left this morning, and we are alone to manage things ourselves. When Sarah arrived, just as I came home from the hospital, there were sunny and cheerful afternoons and we sat together on the bench by the water, and I was so grateful to be home, so optimistic about the summer days just around the corner. Even Easter was a pleasant day. But, yesterday, Joy and I cut short our walk when the grapple snow and hail pelted us in the face in a fierce and mean wind. The NOAA weather forecast this morning talked about how the temperatures will be 15-20 degrees below normal at the start of the week, with persistent winds.

There is no surprise in this fickle spring weather, and it matches up quite appropriately with my grind of therapy appointments and irritation at the pace of healing and recovery. And, after the pandemic, this slow “return to normal” fits right in with the tedious, frustrating time we are all in, still battered by a ‘cold wind’. Even with vaccines, we are warned about emerging out of our dark winter, to restrict non-essential travel, and not to gather indoors without masks. In our captive homes, which we are anxious to escape from, collective grief hides in the corners. Wasn’t it in The Waste Land where T.S. Eliot wrote, “April is the cruellest month.”

And, yet, late this afternoon, Don and I went for a walk, ahead of the squalls we could see coming across the lake, and I came upon my first daffodil of the season. It was such a small thing, but it felt like a ”profound change” and just what I needed on this day, one month later.

Spring and All, by William Carlos Williams

By the road to the contagious hospital
under the surge of the blue
mottled clouds driven from the

northeast—a cold wind. Beyond, the
waste of broad, muddy fields
brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen

patches of standing water
the scattering of tall trees

All along the road the reddish
purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy
stuff of bushes and small trees
with dead, brown leaves under them
leafless vines—

Lifeless in appearance, sluggish
dazed spring approaches—

They enter the new world naked,
cold, uncertain of all
save that they enter. All about them
the cold, familiar wind—

Now the grass, tomorrow
the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf

One by one objects are defined—
It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf

But now the stark dignity of
entrance—Still, the profound change
has come upon them: rooted they
grip down and begin to awaken

Here Comes April

03.31.21

I have been home from the hospital a week now, and we’ve settled into a kind of rhythm. It’s taken all three of us–me, Don and Sarah–to master the medication regimen. After an initial miscalculation of one of the drugs in the first days, and the scary rise in blood pressure, all three of us get involved in my twice daily ingestion of pills, some cut in half, and spread out on the green cutting board, as we double check the bottles for directions and the sheet of paper given to us by the doctor. I choose a delicious flavor of pudding to get them down my still dysfunctional throat. I may be the only person to have gained weight on a pureed diet. Between the milkshakes and Cream of Wheat with a big dollop of butter and heap of sugar in the middle, I am getting plenty of calories.

Now that I’m home, and starting to put the pieces together of what has happened to me since March 11th, I sometimes worry about this new journey I am on and what will become of me, as I lie awake in the bewitching hours of the night. Other than two times in which I dreamed I was falling, there have been no dreams in my nighttime head, and I am so used to wonderful adventures up there. But, the bedroom has been filled with luminous moonlight this past week, and when I close my eyes, instead of stories in my brain, there’s a slow-moving video of beautiful scenes which flow by in a clockwise direction. Last night, there was a winter forest with meadows glittering in the moonshine. Sometimes I’ve opened my eyes in the morning and thought for a moment that maybe this was all a bad dream. Even so, I can tell throughout the day that I am incrementally improving.

It’s been a thoroughly predictable end to the month of March with sunshine and snowflakes, calm water and raging winds. Part of our rhythm in this week has been late afternoons in the living room with streaming sunshine through the glass doors. I’m usually lying on the sofa, and Sarah sits in the big chair facing the water, with Chatpeau lying at her feet on the ottoman. We talk about how we can maybe put the kitty in her backpack when she flies home to California on Friday. As bedtime approaches during the lovely l’heure bleue , and the three of us sit together by the waning fire, the conversation is a soothing hum as my eyes begin to close.

Tomorrow we move into April. I used to grumble about April as a frustrating transition month between winter and summertime, full of wind and showers and too much cold. April requires patience and faith, reminding us that that there is, indeed, a ‘necessary and cyclical giving away,’ and belief that we will arrive in an unfolding new life.

“We are constantly astonished to find, that fully one half of any life and any conversation is mediated through disappearance and loss, which means that most human beings, not quite believing that this could be true, are at war with reality at least half of our time on this earth. Making peace with this necessary and cyclical giving away in our moveable, transient, hardly touchable world, is not only to make peace with our very selves, but to further our journey along the pilgrim journey of generosity, of giving the gift which to begin with, is hidden even from ourselves. Our vitality is linked to our vulnerability, to our willingness to be undone as much as to do, to let go as much as to take on, to allow ourselves to be found as much as to seek, to find our arrivals in having made great departures, even against our seemingly conscious will.” David Whyte