#floraandfaunafriday, Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually Wildlife Refuge, cattails, cherry blossoms, crows, Flora & Fauna Friday, flowering current, heron, merganser, Olympia, signs of spring, skunk cabbage, spring in the PNW, tree frog, Washington State Capitol
What the well dressed are wearing in the Capitol City this spring.
The writing circle I have the honor of facilitating just finished up another series of legacy writing. I shared one of our exercises a few weeks ago that several readers enjoyed doing themselves (if you missed it, you can find it here: Where I’m From). Here is another one.
It is simply a list of some of your favorite things—current and/or drawn from memory—using all your senses. Set a timer for 15 minutes (or 12 or 20 or whatever), and start writing without stopping, without censoring; you can improve it later, adding descriptive words. The prompt came from a legacy writing workshop I attended on Lummi Island last autumn with Tammy Coia. It’s an exercise in recognition of a rich life.
Here is what I wrote. Now you try!
What I Want Never to Forget
the heady aroma of alpine trees at Mt. Rainier.
the trust in a child’s hand taking mine.
the concentration in my father’s face as he pushed a board across the table saw.
the pungency of the peaked pile of golden sawdust.
the infectious belly laugh of a baby.
walking in the silence of an old growth forest, listening to history.
my mother’s gnarled hand resting on my middle-aged one.
the slam of a wooden screen door.
lying on my stomach to drink from a glacial stream, before it wasn’t safe.
the earthy scent of the dry forest after rain.
the quiet plip plop of the canoe paddle on a still lake.
the patter of rain on the roof.
the pound of rain on the roof.
the unconditional love of a child.
the euphoria of standing on top of a mountain ridge.
the safety of my small hand in my father’s large one.
the promise of imminent snowfall.
the warmth of a cat curled in my lap.
the gloriosity of a sunrise behind the mountain.
the first cries of my newborn babies.
the spray of water on my face from behind a waterfall.
the full moon sailing from behind the trees at the end of the valley.
the pounding surf and the tinkle of the shifting smooth round stones.
the woodsy fragrance of a campfire.
the exuberant hug of a child.
the sweet juice of a mango dripping down my chin.
the exploding starburst of orgasmic ecstasy.
the promise of sun burning through fog.
the giddy anticipation of heading out on an adventure.
running out the back door to play, before I knew caution.
meeting a grandchild for the first time.
biting into a crisp apple just plucked from the tree on an autumn day.
spooning with a lover.
the thrill—and relief—of an A on a test.
landing in Seattle to mountains and tall firs after too long away.
the star-filled sky.
a whispered “I love you” in my ear.
laughing until I cry.
sun on my face after a long winter.
fireflies, crepe myrtles, and southern thunderstorms.
the love in a warm hug.
kicking red and gold leaves.
time spent with good friends.
soaking rain after too long without.
the “new discovery” delight on a child’s face.
the coyote’s howl, the owl’s hoot, the peeper’s chirp.
the amazement and love on my grandson’s face when he met his baby brother for the first time, and touched his tiny hand.
rounding the last curve in the trail and bursting from the trees into a high alpine meadow of wildflowers.
my mother’s last whispered “I love you.”
What I want never to forget, even as I forget all of this, is that I lived every moment. That I was curious. That I paid attention.
I have only just begun Mary Pipher’s new book, Women Rowing North, but I already know it’s timely. For one thing, while I’m still playing on the floor with my youngest grandsons, it takes me longer to get back up. The day I never gave a thought to before, is now in my awareness: it won’t be tomorrow, but someday I’m going to have to stay in the chair.
By our sixties,” Pipher writes “we may think the way we did in our forties, but our bodies don’t act that age…Until we understand how short life is, many of us make the mistake of thinking our routines will go on forever.
In December, I had my annual Medicare wellness exam and the blood test showed I was “borderline pre-diabetic.” And some borderline something was going on with my liver. I was shocked. There were a few degrees of separation from a full-blown problem, no panic needed, but I have rarely had a negative anything in a health exam. The picture of good health is what I have come to expect.
For the liver function: less alcohol and no Tylenol. For the glucose levels: reduce carbs to 20 grams per meal and, though they didn’t say, cut added sugar. I have been meaning to lose weight, you know how that goes. Now I had a more dire incentive than just wanting my pants to fit.
I started reading about foods with carbs, reading labels in the grocery store, and asking Alexis for a carb count before I put something on my plate. Foods I thought were healthy are high carb (low fat yogurt and granola, fruit); foods I thought were less healthy are low carb (eggs, cheese, butter; fat counteracts carbs, eat bacon, pair cheese with the apple, use full fat yogurt and whole milk in coffee). My favorite foods are terrible (anything in a tortilla; get low-carb ones). I decided to educate myself and eat smarter rather than go all crazy with a regimented diet and see what that got me when I went back for another blood test. I would adjust as needed.
Remember the first rule of the wilderness,” Pipher points out, “Don’t panic.
As for the liver thing, I never use Tylenol, which only left wine, the only alcohol I regularly consume. Nor do I drink white, which is higher carb, so I couldn’t just switch to red. My options for improvement were limited. I reduced my four-ounce nightly glass to three, and skipped some days; and made sure it had at least a 14% alcohol content (also lower carb count). I did not give up my Sunday night pizza (though I switched to wheat crust) or my weekly café bagel with blog writing (changing to full fat cream cheese, which is just flat out counter intuitive).
Two months later, when I returned to the phlebotomist for a follow-up blood draw, I asked to weigh myself on the same scale I’d been on in December. I had lost 15 pounds. Yehaw! The blood test results showed my glucose and liver function were back in normal range. Phew!
It was a wake-up call, and I’m awake now. I’m grateful. My new normal: pay attention to what I put in my mouth; I am rowing north, and I’m not going to float back downstream for the duration. I have stopped assuming I am going to continue to enjoy good health without any effort.
I heard an interview with Mary Pipher on NPR. She said the verb in the title of her book is rowing, not floating, because those of us on this river are going to have to do some work.
I returned to my mother’s garden two weeks ago. I hoed out more weeds and moss—discovering pretty much the whole bed has moss right under the surface, which I left—and decided to cover it with mulch for this season. Maybe next year I will add new soil…or someone will. For now, at least it looks less like an abandoned DMZ. We’ll see if any perennials return.
After hauling and spreading twenty-two bags of mulch, my left trapezius muscle was screaming the next day. You know, that one at the shoulder blade that makes it possible to move your arm and neck? Nearly two weeks later, after twice daily ibuprofen, heat and cold, and the massage ball, it still keeps me awake at night, pain radiates down my arm and into my neck by day. I might have to take stronger steps. I’m discovering how energy sapping even relatively mild chronic pain is. I have new respect for the polymyalgia my father suffered. Yes indeed, rowing north.
Here at the end of March, I can no longer deny the arrival of spring tasks. Last weekend, I readied some of the raised beds in the garden. I even amended the soil with one part each vegetable matter compost, vermiculite, and peat…well, peat substitute, I can’t lift the bag of peat. I never do that. I’m more of an “if it grows, it grows on its own” kind of gardener; which is to say, not really a gardener. I don’t know what got into me.
I weeded more of the boxes than I had planned to though, and wore out before I got the early seeds in the ground. Yesterday I reluctantly dragged myself out ahead of the rain. I planted lettuce, spinach, kale (I’m going to force myself to like it this year), carrots, parsnips, and beets. Then I went back in the house and, as the rain began in a perfect synchronicity of seeding and watering, I took a nap before building what will possibly be the last fire of the season. If no-guilt naps are part of the trip north, I’m not all that displeased. Like Adrian is discovering, it’s a balancing act. (See how I got a photo of my grandson in?)
I’ve been waiting for years for a good place to tell a story my friend Elizabeth shared with me. She had been seated on a plane next to a 98-year-old former Ziegfeld Follies “girl.” In their conversation, she told her rather impatiently:
You’re always the person you were when you were born; you just keep finding new ways to express it.
Attitude may not be everything, but it’s a lot, Pipher says. Attitude, gratitude, resilience: the superpowers of those of us who really can’t claim to be middle aged any more. Having spent the last nearly six years of end of life with my mother, I am not completely in the wilderness. I have a bit of a road map. Though being a companion on the route she took, I may take a somewhat different one for myself. Resilience was her superpower, but she struggled with attitude and gratitude.
The weeds are out of the garden boxes, but the enclosure is still a mess. It needs to be mowed, the bricks are asunder—thanks to the mole (also all the mole tunnel entrances are exposed, making for a Swiss cheese sort of effect)—but all that will have to wait. I’m busy rowing. And napping. And being grateful that I am able to live in this place for now. I don’t need to see the whole picture, just enjoy what’s in front of me.
It’s been a spectacular week in the PNW. I had the week off from my usual Monday/Tuesday trip to Seattle for time with grandchildren because my sister from Virginia was in town. We three sisters spent Monday painting trim for our house renovation and, after dinner, going through several small boxes of audio and VHS tapes. I found some treasures to add to my growing stash of material for my new writing project—a video and an audio tape of family reunions—a reel-to-reel that includes footage of my 5th birthday party, which I think was the costume one, and the Weyerhaeuser ads that featured my father shown on NCAA football coverage in the 70s; but most of the rest were non-keepers.
Tuesday, though, I went on my first adventure of the season. It was the last day of winter, and my father’s 102nd birthday. I picked an easy hike to ease my body in, and because it was close by and I wasn’t getting my customary early start so I could see my sister off to SeaTac. (Alas, no Road Trip Latte.)
The Porter Falls trailhead in Capitol Forest is just 45 minutes from home; and the falls at the trail’s end only a bit over a mile in. I’ve driven into Capitol Forest, but never hiked, so the first adventure was a newbie. I had the road and the trail all to myself: just me, the moss and licorice fern covered trees, the filtered sun across the sword fern understory, the birds, and the constant rumble of the tumbling river, er “creek.” Except for the water feature, it is not unlike the woods behind my house, but it was good to be away from the tasks that distract me at home.
I sat at the falls, where two branches of the creek rejoin to continue their downward rush together, and ate some of my lunch—an experimental homemade trail bar (needs chocolate chips, what was I thinking?) and apple slices— while contemplating eddies, then headed back to the car.
I wound upward for a while through the labyrinth of logging roads, through clearcuts that opened a commanding view of the Olympics. I got a little lost making my way back down toward Highway 12. Capitol Forest is a 110,000 acre trust land that has multiple entrances on all sides, connected by DNR logging roads that wander sign-free around the mountain. One has to pay attention to landmarks at intersections to get back out the same way you came in. I didn’t. I was grateful for my new dependable car.
Back down in the valley after the unintended sidetracks, I picked up the creek that had rushed down the mountain, but here spreads out in a placid meander through pastureland before joining with the Chehalis to become a real river headed for the Pacific.
There was still plenty of day left, so I decided to go on to Lake Sylvia State Park outside Montesano and hike another short trail a friend explored last week. I’ve never been to Lake Sylvia either, or into Montesano—a cute small town with many beautiful historic homes, it turns out.
Lake Sylvia is a small lake with a 35-site campground and a swimming area. Perfect, I’m thinking, for a camping trip with the Littles at some future Camp Gigi. I ate the rest of my lunch on the picnic table at Site 5, my pick for a solo campout, maybe soon!
The hike around the lake was even shorter than Porter Falls, but completely different. The Porter Falls trail is through an old conifer forest, nearly a rainforest, along a fast-moving creek. Lake Sylvia has more hardwood rising up through marsh with skunk cabbage just beginning to bloom and waiting for the promised trillium to show up next to a placid lake.
It was exhilarating to be out again after the long winter. The rains are returning—and we need it, less than an inch in March to date—but I’m already plotting my next adventure when the sun shows up again. I turned toward home past a sacred grove of ancient trees that looked as if, if I placed both palms flat against just the right one, I would be whooshed back in time.
And now spring. Time to start a new thing, adventuring and a new writing project; and let go of the old, the memoir manuscript is out of my hands for now. I wish I could let go of yard care, but I continue to try to see it as a privilege, to see it as lighter than air.