Author Archives: rebsuebauder

Morning on Election Day

11.03.20

The Peace of Wild Things, by Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Hanging on

10.28.20

When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hang on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.” Harriet Beecher Stowe

Everybody I know is just hanging by their fingernails right now. Covid numbers continue to explode, and in this conservative Valley, you are likely to encounter your fellow citizens without a mask if you go anywhere. Not that we go anywhere, but people send me photos. Adding a dose of misery to life, our septic system backed up for three days and we suffered way out of proportion to the problem. That’s another sign of just hanging on–any problem can send you over the edge. For serious problems, I have family members in Colorado with Covid, and my immunocompromised brother in Hawaii just tested positive. A dear friend flew to Chicago to be with her mother who is receiving end of life care. I can barely keep up with the emails from friends, as we weep and gnash about this presidency and his administration, and chew our fingernails in fear of the election results next week, lose sleep over its aftermath, watch in horror to learn another Black man has been shot by the police. This is a “tight place” we are in.

You can tell from my photo that the cold front did hit us. Our temperatures went down into the single digits and the lingering beautiful red and golden leaves flash-froze on the trees. Compared to most of Montana, we had only four or five inches of snow, but ice has coated our stone steps for days. Everybody has railed against this early blast of winter, in times that are already hard. There’s light drizzle dripping on us today, and we are under an “air stagnation” alert all week. The fog which hovers over the lake feels appropriately dreary.

In an upbeat footnote, when the septic line was repaired yesterday, and I could use the bathroom, and finally wash the piled up dishes, I was euphoric. To use warm water and wash my face this morning felt like the greatest luxury. NOAA reports confidence is high “this Fall season will moderate after the recent wild weather with afternoon highs potentially reaching into the 50’s in many locations.” While it’s exhausting to keep mustering hope, somehow–together–we hang on as the tide may turn. I have gone back to this poem for comfort…Sometimes

Sometimes – Sheenagh Pugh

Sometimes things don’t go, after all,
from bad to worse.  Some years, muscadel
faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don’t fail,
sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.

A people sometimes will step back from war;
elect an honest man, decide they care
enough, that they can’t leave some stranger poor.
Some men become what they were born for.

Sometimes our best efforts do not go
amiss, sometimes we do as we meant to.
The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow
that seemed hard frozen:  may it happen for you.


Moving inside

10.16.20

“October extinguished itself in a rush of howling winds and driving rain and November arrived, cold as frozen iron, with hard frosts every morning and icy drafts that bit at exposed hands and faces.” 
― J.K. Rowling

The rains did come. Now, for the month of October, we are 291% above normal in precipitation and the mountain tops are covered in snow. It was as if the maroon velvet curtains were pulled across the stage, after the final performance of Indian Summer. We did have a beautiful sunny 50 degree day here yesterday. Don spent most of the time high up in the blue sky above the roof, scraping off moss that has collected over nearly twenty years. He’s been up there for weeks, harnessed to 100 year old trees, tediously scraping away, making incremental progress it seems to me. But, I know he likes it up there–he tells me about the interesting birds going by overhead, the shifting winds out on the lake. I guess it’s a nice way to escape all that is happening on earth. I’ve been doing as many chores outside that I can think up, putting away cushions and furniture, badminton rackets and boat shoes. I cleaned ashes out of the fire pit down by the water yesterday, wondering if we will really have any friends come over in their parkas to share a socially-distanced cocktail. Maybe there will be some time before everything is dripping with rain or covered by snow.

Under the cover of darkness, our neighbors pulled out early yesterday morning, and never said goodbye. I saw a light on around 5 am, and thought maybe Carl had gone hunting. But, their gate up on the highway was locked and all the geraniums on the lakeside porch were gone. We felt sad. Don was a bit concerned that back in June, when we turned down their invitation to have dinner–explaining our Covid-19 precautions–we had insulted them. They are not really ‘friends’–our politics are so divergent that an enormous chasm keeps us separated–but they are very good neighbors, and over the years, we’ve enjoyed a summer meal together to catch up after their winters in Florida, chats across our docks, family updates. Carl always leaves us some of his tomatoes on the front porch. I texted them late in the day, saying goodbye and safe travels, and they replied they had just checked into a motel in Casper, Wyoming, and sent photos of the snowstorm, and we both said we were so sorry we couldn’t socialize at all this summer, and maybe next year.

The winds are raging again this morning and squalls are coming across the lake. The dreaded east winds are predicted to rage through here late in the night, dumping more snow in the mountains, causing power outages, and perhaps a dusting of snow in the valleys. There is a snow icon on the NOAA site for days to come, and long-range forecasting suggests the possibility of a genuine polar front late next week. With the pandemic and election fears, it feels like a long winter is ahead. I’m already getting those “Best Christmas Ever!” catalogues in the mail right now–nearly outnumbering the election propaganda. They all go directly into the recycling bin.

So, I’m moving inside, to our warm and cozy home. We’ve had our first crackling fire, the wool plaid throws are draped over chairs with extra ones stacked on the bench. I’ve kept the summer furniture arrangement in the living room, with the sofa looking directly out to the lake, and it’s been pleasant to sit there and watch the waves. And, with the afternoon sun so low in the sky, it casts golden light across the amber-colored fir floors, and fills the room with a magical glow. I bought a craft table from Home Depot so I can spread out with my drawing and painting supplies, which I dabble in when the spirit moves me. I set it up in the dormitory room upstairs where I can sit on the window bench and have the light from behind me shine on my easel. It’s my favorite room in the house, a once upon a time space, where all the grandchildren have slept through the years. I think I’ll like going up there in the deep dark days of winter, a little retreat for myself. I’m doing my best to Be Ready.

You Reading this, Be Ready, by William Stafford

Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?

Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?

When you turn around, starting here, lift this 
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life –

What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?

Indian Summer

10.09.20

NOAA weather discussion at the start of the week:

.DISCUSSION...And the beat goes on, yet again the Northern Rockies
will relish in a near perfect fall day. High temperatures will
flirt with record highs on Wednesday, along with light afternoon
breezes, and just a hint of haze creeping in for north central
Idaho late afternoon. Not much will change through the end of week
with the exception of increased west and southwest winds on
Thursday, and possibly haze and smoke increasing each day from
regional fires.

If smoke and haze do develop, never fear, a strong cold front on
Saturday will clear out the Northern Rockies. In addition, a
change from monotonously warm and dry weather to cool and wet will
occur.

Only a meteorologist would describe our Indian Summer days as “Monotonously warm and dry weather”. It has been glorious and feels like a gift from the gods to balance out the implosion in Washington, the dramatic rise in our local Covid cases, the collective anxiety which feels like a threatening storm barreling down upon us. Sarah and Nick were here for 24 hours last week-end, and I realized after they drove away, that in the time they were here, there was not a gripping in my stomach nor heaviness in my chest. They were a respite from my over-arching anxiety. We laughed, told stories, took a lovely Fall walk together, and it just felt like hope somehow.

The cold front predicted is moving in this morning with strong winds. I watched from the dock as Don and his friend sailed our boat south for winter storage. As the sails caught the wind, they heeled over dramatically, and I was glad to be on the shore, and very glad that Steve is an experienced sailor. It was a melancholy feeling to watch them disappear from view, a tiny white speck on this enormous lake. It’s another marker that summer is truly gone. Burger Town has put up their “Closed for the Season” signs and the Timbers Motel sign now reads “See you in the Spring.” The friendly Hutterite farmer, always in a black suit, who sets up a farmstand every Friday next to the carwash, said today that it was the final one for the season. He apologized to me that there were no more peaches left, and suggested I perhaps get another jar of his pickles, to enjoy over the winter season.

This is always how it feels in October. The season of farewells. It’s all so beautiful in the ‘dying time’, and I am looking forward to the rain, the brisk coolness of future days, the smell of woodsmoke in the fireplace, and making soup every night. I find comfort in John Muir’s words about the hopefulness in this season and how the ‘seeds all have next summer in them.’

In the yellow mist the rough angles melt on the rocks. Forms, lines, tints, reflections, sounds, all are softened, and although the dying time, it is also the color time, the time when faith in the steadfastness of Nature is surest… The seeds all have next summer in them, some of them thousands of summers, as the sequoia and cedar. In the holiday array all go calmly down into the white winter rejoicing, plainly hopeful, faithful… everything taking what comes, and looking forward to the future, as if piously saying, “Thy will be done in earth as in heaven!” John Muir

Light in Autumn

10.01.2020

“I must say, it helps to be in a pandemic, having been self-isolating for many months and anticipating more of the same–it makes supper with friends around a table feel like a great luxury. Life feels more precious, knowing that danger is in the air. Creating one perfectly beautiful day is a heroic achievement, all the more so for occurring in the midst of an ugly presidency and a savage disease.” Garrison Keillor

Now it is October, and oh how beautiful our skies have been. Last week’s rain showers washed away the smoke, and now we are having a splendid Indian Summer. The days have been heartbreakingly beautiful. I start the mornings down on a rock by the water, a kitty on my lap, to watch pink light fill the sky and water. And in the evenings, with long golden sunsets, I go out to the dock to find the evening star, and get a glimpse of light in the East where the moon is rising. All night long, the Harvest Moon fills our bedroom with clear white light. Each day, I declare that there has not been a more beautiful day.

Just in time for October, the full moon was orange when it set across the lake this morning. Smoke from western fires has silently drifted in, creating a haze which only intensifies Autumn’s golden light during sunsets and moonsets. I know that ‘nothing gold can stay’, but, still, this Autumn light feels so necessary during these troubled times with ‘growing darkness’ in our country.

Lines Written in the Days of Growing Darkness by Mary Oliver

Every year we have been
witness to it: how the
world descends

into a rich mash, in order that
it may resume.

And therefore
who would cry out

to the petals on the ground
to stay,
knowing as we must,
how the vivacity of what was is married

to the vitality of what will be?
I don’t say
it’s easy, but
what else will do

if the love one claims to have for the world
be true?

So let us go on, cheerfully enough,
this and every crisping day,

though the sun be swinging east,
and the ponds be cold and black,
and the sweets of the year be doomed.

Autumn Equinox

09.22.20

Today, the night is as long as the day. As autumn officially begins, we are now equally divided between the light and the dark. There’s an old folk legend that says if you catch a red or golden leaf as it drops mid-flight during the equinox, you won’t catch a cold in the winter. Maybe, it works for Covid-19 as well–I’ll be looking up. I bought a little pumpkin yesterday for the kitchen window box, to cover up all the spaces between the flowers where the deer have been feasting. I’m going to collect a bunch of red fallen leaves and nestle them next to the pumpkin, in celebration of the equinox. I can’t let this important day carelessly pass by. In the Chinese tradition, white is the color of autumn, and I have plenty of white candles for tonight’s darkness. Weeping is the sound of the season, and now is the time to weep for things you have lost.

Thankfully, out my window this morning, it does not look at all like this photo I took last week. The weather fronts that rolled through last week end have largely dissipated the dense smoke which encased us for well over a week. We obsessively checked the air quality, hourly, to see if we were still in the red zone, and except for brief walks down to the water to check out the “view,” we stayed inside. Our sailboat looked like a ghost ship, stranded between earth and sky without a horizon line to orient itself in place. I thought of how pilots in those small planes without proper instruments, are prone to crash when they can’t see the ground in dense fog. When we went to bed at night, we turned on the ceiling fan to move some air in our hermetically sealed house. With no visible lights across the lake, no moon light, no star light, I had dreams I was in a coffin. Such are the times we live in right now.

And yet, this is the start of my favorite season. The weather gods are predicted to bless us with off and on rain all of this week, which is a grand transition from summer to fall. We’ll have a month of gold and crimson against blue skies, wool sweaters, hot Irish whiskey. We move on, we move on.

A Song for Autumn by Mary Oliver

Don’t you imagine the leaves dream now
how comfortable it will be to touch
the earth instead of the
nothingness of the air and the endless
freshets of wind? And don’t you think
the trees, especially those with
mossy hollows, are beginning to look for

the birds that will come—six, a dozen—to sleep
inside their bodies? And don’t you hear
the goldenrod whispering goodbye,
the everlasting being crowned with the first
tuffets of snow? The pond
stiffens and the white field over which
the fox runs so quickly brings out
its long blue shadows. The wind wags
its many tails. And in the evening
the piled firewood shifts a little,
longing to be on its way.

Whiplash

09.11.20

I had planned to write about the wild whiplash weather we had last week-end. About how we drove to Billings on Saturday in 104 degree temperatures with forest fire plumes exploding along I-90 and smoke blowing across the highway, and how on Monday’s drive home, it was raining and snowing and the mountains were dusted by the time we got back. The wild weather so added to the nervousness and anxiety of our time. And, I had also planned to talk about the stunningly clear and beautiful days we’ve had at the lake this week, in which “you just want to cry,” as Don said, and the quiet and gentle sunsets we’ve watched from the dock, now well before 8 pm. But, with California’s smoke so dense that the sun can’t get through, and one out of every ten persons in Oregon is preparing to evacuate, and smoke is settling in here today…and, then–today–it’s 9/11. I can’t find the words I was going to write.

Except, that I loved visiting our Billings family, finally, and seeing where they now live, and talking with Joy about decorating ideas, should they buy the house they are renting. And, watching Duncan do back flips in the backyard, and Anna sparkling as she introduced us to her very tall boyfriend. Chatting with Fletcher about his final days of work, and how he and his roommates will stay in our quarantine cabin next week on their drive back to Bellingham. And sleeping at the Millers’ empty home, which holds decades of memories of our friendship, and watering their tomatoes in the garden, under tall trees swaying in the breeze.

These are trying times we live in and it’s exhausting to have the weight of climate crisis, political distress, and pandemic, all at the same time, bearing heavily down upon us. Wouldn’t it be nice to hide in a corner until it’s safe to come out.

I recently finished her newest collection of poems, The Ledger, by Jane Hirshfield. In talking about her book last March, on Sciencefriday.com, she said:

“I would rather grieve than be numb and I’d rather face into the wind than hide in a corner and not be part of the largest questions we all are facing,” she says.

“I see no way for human beings to change course that doesn’t begin with awareness and doesn’t begin to see with your eyes open and to feel with a vulnerable heart so to a great extent this is a book filled with grief  and trying to scry the darkness that’s coming. But it also is a book trying to, in some way, account for the unaccountable and try to at least take measure of what is the right way to live in these times. The answer is, of course, the only answer — you live as if what you do could make a difference.”

In any year, at my age, there is always grief lingering underneath the lengthening shadows of September, as the sun gets low and and we begin preparations for the long dark and silent winter on the horizon. It’s much harder, in these troublesome, apocalyptic days. Yet, what is there to do but awaken to each new day, doing the best we can–despite our vulnerable heart–and be aware of what is beautiful, in spite of it. Things will change, no matter what we do or don’t. Just yesterday, I heard the returning loons out on the lake, preparing for their journey south, and doing what they know to do every year, year after year, forever. The disruption of our lives, and the distortion of Time, makes it easy to forget–and take vital comfort in–the dependable seasonality of this short life we’ve been given.

Although the Wind…by Izumi Shikibu, translated by Jane Hirshfield

Although the wind
blows terribly here,
the moonlight also leaks
between the roof planks
of this ruined house.

Suddenly it’s September

09.01.20

August finished off in fine style. Sitting in a sling chair on the stones at water’s edge, there were a couple of evenings in which it was tears-in-your-eyes perfect. The temperature, the dappled shadows of the paper birch tree, the clear sun and soft breeze made it feel like all was right in the world. Yesterday–August’s finale–we awakened to a soft rain which rinsed away any lingering fire scent brought in by the big winds. I wore a wool sweater, the furnace came on, and I made my first pot of soup. Suddenly, overnight, it became Fall. As I read the tea leaves in the NOAA weather forecast for the weeks ahead, we might get a bit of Indian Summer, or we are just as likely to be subject to a series of cold Alberta Clippers. Anyway you look at it, Summer is closing her door.

Back in March, when the coronavirus began to terrorize us, I remember thinking how if we could just make it through to summer, things would be better. We could see one another outside on walks and hikes, and gather together–six feet apart–in lawn chairs in the yard. It would feel pretty normal. Well, it never has felt normal, of course. There’s nothing normal about not hugging one another or not sharing food, or keeping guests out of your home. There’s nothing normal about being afraid to be near someone you love. How lucky we were to have the California family join our bubble and be with us for most of the summer.

I was cleaning and decluttering the kitchen the other day, and came across the spiral steno pad we keep on the Irish sideboard. In it were the messages we wrote to one another: “We are out on a walk and back about 10:30.” “Out on a bike ride and back at noon.” “I couldn’t resist going for a kayak on this beautiful morning–I went south if you are looking for me. Signed Mama. PS. Eamon you can wake up Cormac if you need him.” There were pages of weekly menus in Valerie’s handwriting. Eamon had written down his chores with a tally of how long they took, and how much money he had earned. And, there was a score sheet from back in April, in Joy’s handwriting, of the Pass the Pigs game we played in our living room one night, after she and her family had to abruptly leave Finland and return to the U.S. Anna had been to the hospital there, quite ill, just before they had to make what felt like a perilous journey to Seattle. Then the 14 day isolation in an airbnb near us, before they finally came to stay with us, until they could find housing back in Billings. I remember that night how we listened to each other’s music on Spotify as we played Pass the Pigs.

Did I already say how lucky we’ve been? In spite of the fear, the loss and the sadness, we have not been alone at our house.

Sometimes, by Sheenagh Pugh

Sometimes things don’t go, after all, 
from bad to worse. Some years, muscadel
faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don’t fail, 
sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.

A people sometimes will step back from war; 
elect an honest man, decide they care
enough, that they can’t leave some stranger poor.
Some men become what they were born for.

Sometimes our best efforts do not go
amiss, sometimes we do as we meant to.
The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow
that seemed hard frozen: may it happen for you. 

Late August 2020

crazy - 1

08.26.20

The iPhoto program on my computer occasionally displays a photo from some file saying, “on this date…”. My iPhone actually comes up with a little movie of photos from some distant year, set to random music. I usually find these annoying as I would prefer to remember what I want to remember, when I want to remember it. But, this photo which I took last August, captures how surreal, spooky almost, that life feels right now. We were in Spokane–probably for one of Don’s bike races–and had a lovely walk one morning around the newly refurbished Riverside Park downtown. I remember thinking how strange it felt to see the old carousel now behind glass, and how the horses looked trapped in an endless loop, round and round, cut off from the world.

Of course, here we humans are, a year later, trapped by a virus. I miss our loved ones, fear for our teachers and grandkids back in school, and worry if one of us so much as sneezes at our house. Add the suffocating wildfire smoke blanketing the western states, and now Hurricane Laura today in the Gulf Coast–threatening to have an “unsustainable storm surge”–it’s no wonder so many of us are on edge, grumpy and irritable. And, I’m not even talking about the overarching despair about this president, or our fears about the upcoming election, let alone Black Men shot in the back, and armed “citizens” in the streets fighting protestors.

I try and just focus on the weather. I was reading a novel the other day in which two of the characters had endless discussions about the weather, so they wouldn’t have to have a real conversation. Some people click on the headlines every hour, but I check the NOAA site and Accuweather and the Weather Channel. If I see a shift in the waves on the lake, I go back to the computer and try and understand the winds aloft, or the closed low pressure system up north, or how the California smoke can reach us. And, of course, this late in August, there are now so many signs of Fall, which always lifts my spirits. I walked up our road a few days ago to cut some lavender thistle for a vase in the dining room, and every time I stepped into a shadow, I could feel that distinct coolness which reads autumn. There are long golden shadows in the afternoons, and different flocks of birds seem to be gathering together in bushes and trees, getting ready for their big flight south. The leaves on the trees are making a new clacking sound when they blow in the wind, and Canada Geese are gathering into V’s over the yellow stubble in the wheat fields. The mornings are darkening fast–maybe too fast–it brings such melancholy and sadness to bid farewell to our short summer. But, there is peace in noticing that the earth is, indeed, faithfully turning on her axis, that the quarter moon is high in the night sky, and we will keep going round and round, just like always.

Blackberry-Picking

BY Seamus Heaney

Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full,
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard’s.

We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn’t fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not.

Mornings

mornings - 1 (1)08.18.20

After a week of chilly and very windy days, it’s summertime hot again.  Although we complain, it feels to me like the weather gods have given us more time.  Time to cling to ancient summer memories when life felt golden.  Time to remember life before Covid.  Time to just sit in the shade on the porch and read a new novel.  Maybe, I just have more time now, with family returned to their homes and vacationing friends back on the road.

I’ve been taking my final cup of coffee down to the beach in the mornings to sit on one of the big flat rocks.  Chatpeau always bounds down the lawn after me, and jumps on my lap, covering my white terry cloth robe in her black hairs.  We feel the sunlight come up over the mountains at our backs, illuminating the tip of the sailboat and slowly making its way down the mast, to the water.  As the boat gently bobs,  the shine sometimes gets dim and sometimes there is no reflection at all.  It feels very much like the swing of emotions all day long, as we go between dark and light.

My grandchildren are now returning to school in its various hybrids between online and in-person classes.  Both Joy and Rich are required to stand in front of their classrooms this week, in front of masked students who maybe stay far enough apart, who, hopefully, are not silently shedding a viral load, in a state that has now run out of testing capacity.  After restless nights, and the early dawn reading of bad news, these peaceful mornings at water’s edge are a balm to the soul, and remind me that every morning is a new beginning, a new chance, and the possibility for renewed hope.

Meditation for the Silence of Morning by Adam Clay

I wake myself imagining the shape
of the day and where I will find

myself within it. Language is not often
in that shape,

but sentences survive somehow
through the islands of dark matter,

the negative space often more important
than the positive.

Imagine finding you look at the world
completely different upon waking one day.

You do not know if this is permanent.
Anything can change, after all,

for how else would you find yourself
in this predicament or this opportunity,

depending on the frame? A single thought
can make loneliness seem frighteningly new.

We destroy the paths of rivers to make room for the sea.