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I could have titled this post “dostadning,” but not many would know what it meant. It’s a hybrid of the Swedish words for “death” and “cleaning.” A close relative of the thus far better known KonMari method of “tidying up,” dostadning advocates the proactive and mindful clearing out of possessions before death, thus saving the children the onerous task of making decisions about what to keep and what to throw or give away. You can read all about it in the book, “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning,” by Margareta Magnusson, which I haven’t read yet.
It’s what my parents didn’t do. They weren’t classic hoarders, but disciples of the Post Great Depression Method of Keeping Everything. Ev-er-y-thing. I did the KonMari clean-out with my own belongings before I moved across the country in 2012—way before the Netflix show—and I’ve done it a couple of times since then, including this week in my own closet. Yet now I’m stuck with my parents’ accumulation. It’s a classic Baby Boomer nightmare.
One thing leads to another in this old house, sometimes in reverse order. The first week in March, hardwood floors are replacing a patchwork mosaic of dirty beige carpet, green carpet, water-spotted tired oak, and red shag.
Before that happens, there are three rooms and six closets to paint. And before the closets could be painted, they had to be cleaned out. (I painted the last closet this week. If a snow apocalypse happens this weekend as predicted, and I can’t go to number three grandson’s fifth birthday party—which likely won’t happen anyway—I will be sad; and the last room will get painted.)
To be fair, my mother was aware of the burden being left to her daughters. She wanted to clean out, but at 96 when I arrived on the scene, it was far, far too late. “I thought,” she told me one day as I was standing in the open doorway going out someplace, “you would help me clean out the house. And then there was Emma and Wynne’s wedding and it didn’t happen.” The wedding was two weeks after I moved across the country.
According to a formula I found online—square footage of the house times average height of the “stuff” gives you cubic yards of treasure times .8 to 1.5 (wo)man hours per cubic yard to dispose of it—it was not going to happen in two weeks, even if I hadn’t been acclimating to a new home and roommate and preparing for a wedding. And one of those women was 96 years old and hadn’t been able to part with an overload of paperclips. We once spent a morning cleaning out two small dresser drawers and all that got thrown away was what I sneaked out unnoticed. Enough said.
Marie Kondo’s signature question is “Does it spark joy?” One of the important questions Magnusson poses in her book is: “Will anyone be happier if I save this?” And there lies the question. Will someone?
I loved a memoir titled, “They Left Us Everything,” by Plum Johnson. (It’s in transit between libraries so I can read it again.) As I recall, when all was said and done after completing the overwhelming task of cleaning out their parents home, Plum Johnson and her siblings were unexpectedly happy. They didn’t want to keep the stuff, but holding the bits and pieces of their parents’ lives and their own childhoods in their hands, did spark joy. (I guess that’s mixing the two theories.)
Does dostadning sanitize the real emotions following the death of a parent by erasing too quickly the evidence that they walked the planet? That the original family unit once existed? That the parents existed before the children? Even as I make space for my own life in this house—which I have to do or go mad—my sisters and I will log light years of time travel exploring the corner of the house where I’m stashing everything. It’s about to explode. If a bowel blockage killed our mother, I hope the constipation in the storage room doesn’t kill us.
When I cleaned out the last closet, I found another large box of slides to go with the other large boxes of slides. I wonder if there will be time before we die to look at them. Or will we leave them to our children to deal with?
I can’t begin to imagine what my parents set aside to put in the canister labeled “Time Capsule, Open in 2025.” The whole house and its two outbuildings is a time machine, covering almost a century. I’m trying to imagine them choosing what to include more than 20 years ago. Was it their thought that everything else would go before they did? But no, they left us everything.
Here is a tiny sampling of what I found in the closets.
I need to open a museum.
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The two old apple trees on my property are difficult to harvest—growing on the side of a lumpy hill. Six fall off the tree and bounce down into the underbrush for every one that lands in my apple picker basket. They need to be pruned, but the same lumpy hillside makes that task difficult too.
I don’t know when they were planted. I only know the family lore, that they weren’t planted years sooner because, my father said, “if I’d done it ten years ago there would be apples now.” But finally he planted them anyway and they provided applesauce to my mother for decades.
When I started keeping a list of books I have read or listened to, I almost took a page from the apple tree playbook. I had read so many books in my life—going back to the Boxcar Children and Island of the Blue Dolphins, and the other many pages of words that filled my childhood—and didn’t keep a list, what was the point in starting so late in the game? It will never be complete, I reasoned. But choosing not to get sucked into the apple tree vortex, start I did. Nineteen years later, there are 905 books on my list; evidence that I am a reader. It’s never too late to start a thing.
Four of the last few books on my list are color-coded “favorites.” It’s been a bumper couple of months. For the record, the four are Educated, a memoir by Tara Westover of growing up with hard-scrabble fundamentalist parents who didn’t want her to become anything, but she did in spite of them; Becoming, Michelle Obama’s memoir of growing up poor with parents who taught her to reach for the stars, and she did because of them; Where the Crawdads Sing, a novel by Delia Owens about a girl abandoned by her parents who raises and educates herself; and an inspiring memoir, Unshattered: Overcoming Tragedy and Choosing a Beautiful Life by Carol Decker, who left the hospital months after giving birth to her second child, blind and with three amputated limbs due to sepsis, and learns to appreciate what she has rather than grieve what she lost.
It was sheer coincidence that the last books of 2018 and the first ones of 2019 have been about resilience and strength to do a new thing. Now I’m left to figure out what I’m to take from that.
I’ve been reading my aunt’s letters home from her years as a nurse in the European theater during WWII. As I was when I read those my parents wrote to each other, I’m anguished that I never knew to engage in conversation with her about her life before I knew her. I am knowing her now, through the letters, and I’m grateful they exist. Like my mother during those years when she was making a life on her own, my aunt’s independence and sense of adventure back then doesn’t match the person I knew and loved. It’s like reading about someone else. Who were these fierce women?
I want all of them back. I have questions. I want the stories I wasn’t told. I want to know the mother—known only to me as an old woman—who inspired my aunt and father and lived so deeply in their hearts, the love and admiration and concern and gratitude flowing from their pens onto paper that took weeks to reach her. I want to know my mother’s mother, whom my mother came to appreciate only in hindsight. Two daughters raised so differently, yet—like Tara and Michelle—with much the same outcome.
I want back the years when they were here. But we don’t get years back.
I made a list on the last day of the old year of my accomplishments in 2018. In the face of all that begs to be done in a year’s time, of intentions set and not realized, it feels important to dwell on what did happen. I keep it in my desk drawer and pull it out when I feel overwhelmed by the present to remind myself that much is accomplished, even when much stays on the to-do list.
On my current list, before the winter cold and wet turns to sun and warmth, is preparing the upper floor of the house my parents built for new floors. It’s more than just moving furniture out and finding a place to put it for a week (I’ve not yet figured out how I’m going to manage those tasks), but painting rooms and closets and cleaning out the last vestiges of my parents’ 55-year occupation.
I will hold things in my hands and, if I don’t love them, thank them for their service, acknowledge the beloveds who left them languishing in the top shelves of closets, and send them to a new home. (In most cases, the new home is the bloated, constipated storage room downstairs. Cleaning out that room is another task, when my sisters want to give up some of their lives to help me. Right now I just keep the door firmly closed.)
Yesterday I filled two boxes with items from the shelves of the kitchen broom closet so I could put clean color to the marred formerly white walls and shelves. I think I will not add the three yard sticks to the box of yard sticks in the storage room, printed with the names of hardware stores and flooring businesses; they feel like kindling to me. I will hold each of the other items in my hands and carefully choose what goes back in. I will return to the broom closet the tiny cabinet I loved in my childhood that was relegated to the basement at some point—still full of odd tiny things.
When I feel snowed under by the tasks—clearing trails, finding someone to prune the apple trees, cleaning out a closet, reading wartime letters, revising my memoir, starting a new writing project, planning for my upcoming writing circle, moving toward the next phase of my business venture, a new website, picking up my ukulele, going on an adventure, or sitting still and reading a book—I will remember not to look too far ahead. The sunrise over the valley reminds me that every dawn is the beginning of a new day, the one day I have. Whatever I do in it is enough.
When I get to longing for the missing generation of my family, I look at these letters; hold the stuff in this house in my hands; feel my parents’ love for me, my sisters, and each other; offer gratitude; and write about all of it. They are here with me and in me. Their time is past—a long time in the case of the four women and two of my other aunts, with a median age of 97 years—but mine is right here, right now.
The stress and expectations of the holidays are over. Snow could still happen. Winter has not yet worn out its welcome. It’s too early to dread the tasks of spring. Sunrises are spectacular. There is fog. Rainy cocooning days are abundant, yet interspersed with crisp sparkling sunny ones—but not too many. What’s not to love about January in the Pacific Northwest?
True, the spring-is-not-imminent bubble is broken when seed catalogs show up in my box, and when my neighbor starts pruning his apple trees and mine haven’t been attended to in four years.
Last weekend, much to my regret after a stormy week, the sun came out and the temperature rose. After ignoring it for a couple days, I couldn’t avoid spending Sunday outside when I really wanted to stay in and paint a wall or work on my newest writing project or finish reading my book (Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens—a beautiful book).
I wasn’t going to go crazy. I was just going to accomplish one long-avoided outdoor task: get the St. John’s Wort under control. I am missing the stone retaining wall buried under it. It was harder than I anticipated. It did not pull easily, even out of rain-saturated ground; and pulling it from the downhill side of the wall caused the large stones to drop and roll, endangering my feet; and necessitating carrying them back up the slope.
I gave it up after realizing it was going to wreak body havoc and I can’t take ibuprofen because I’m having everyone’s favorite cancer prevention procedure this week—and I don’t mean mammogram. I left the piles I had created, that didn’t put a dent in the job.
I moved on to cutting down the large dead rhododendron to add to the pile my helpmate is going to pick up for disposal soon. (He came on Monday! Two pickup and two trailers full. I created it all.)
I do love opening up space, which is kind of what January is about for me.
Dragging the branches up to the pile, returning for more again and again, I tried to turn a blind eye to all the other tasks that need to be done before the commencement of spring adds to the list. Only sheer willpower kept me from sitting down in the driveway and crying. It’s too much. It needs a blanket of snow—out of sight, out of mind. I should live in Alaska. Or Siberia.
My mother, after my father died, hired people to do it all. I don’t have her resources. She did a yeoman’s job keeping up the house and the myriad repairs needed by an aging structure. She hired it all out; but as evidenced by the complete files she kept, it was a huge task. She got multiple quotes then followed workers around—probably with a clipboard—checking on their work, inevitably writing letters of complaint to superiors, challenging the cost, making follow-up phone calls.
Not me. I have a hard time asking for help for something I can do myself. It’s not a virtue. But when I hire someone (by webbing out from one person I like to the next), I tend to trust them to know their trade and to set a fair price. Maybe I could use a wee bit of my mother’s micromanagement, but so far this is working for me.
Returning to the St. John’s Wort to pick up my piles, and rake storm debris out of the yard—dumping the loaded wheelbarrow over when a bolt fell out of a leg—I wondered how my father did it all. I had asked my mother if he hired any help. “No,” she said, “never. And it killed him.” We’ll never know if it killed him or saved him, but what I really want to know is did he resent the time the endless tasks took him away from his beloved workshop and creative endeavors?
This property was my parents’ life. I see that now. It had to be. I love it beyond measure, but it can’t be my life. My mother dealt with the overwhelming tasks beyond the yard by saying, “I didn’t want it to look like a park.” I’ve believed it was her rationale for letting go of what she couldn’t deal with. I do want it to look like a park; and it’s in danger of looking like back country wilderness if left on its own. But I’m overwhelmed. Hard choices are going to have to be made. I don’t know that I’ll make it to my 2027 exit plan.
Piles and branches picked up, fir needles and cones blown out of the carport and across the parking zone to add to the wet needles and leaves that need to be scraped off the edges of the driveway before they turn to soil, I was ready to call it a day. Then I remembered the roof. Holy crap. After the not-quite-epic Epiphany Storm, it had to be cleaned off. Sighing, I dragged the ladder down the stairs, positioned the wheelbarrow for dropping into from the top, threw the broom and bucket onto the roof, and climbed up. It was a mess. I shouldn’t have left if for last, when I was exhausted.
I took two of my mother’s extra-strength Tylenol, only slightly past expiration, plugged in the huge heating pad I finally found for her too near the end of her life, and was in bed at 7:30. How many days until the rain comes back? Could it stay January for a few more months?
P.S. The dreadful procedure is over—”yucky,” as the littlest little is fond of saying—and all is well. The drugs were good, and I got to spend the afternoon napping instead of working outside. Unlike pulling blackberry vines, I won’t have to repeat that for a long time.
Today the rain is back. Yehaw!
To Love January
I clasp January to me giddy
with hope for its newborn
cry that clears away the worn
out year like so much tinsel
carted off to storage.
I love January’s uncluttered room,
its freshly laundered calendar innocent
and white beneath a pure blue sky
grazed by bone-clean trees.
To love January is an acquired taste,
like learning to let the tongue curl
around the slow, sweet burn
of Tuaca’s golden fire.
I do not want to wait for April to fall in love,
July to run with a salty sea,
October to be crowned
in color. I want to drink it all in now
when everything is possible
and I and the world are infants again
babbling, listening for birdsong.
(Thank you to Joanna Powell Colbert and those before her for sharing this poem.)
It was a calm evening, with a faint rainbow and a sunset that took me off my route home to bask in its beauty. From home, it was showier to the east than to the west. Maybe I should have had a clue that something out of the ordinary was coming.
I didn’t know there was a storm brewing—”worst of the winter so far with wind gusts of 50-80mph causing massive power outages”—until I saw a Facebook post just before I headed to bed. Great.
It hit at midnight on January 6, Epiphany, the celebration of the climax of the magi’s quest. It was thunderous. Fir cones hitting the roof sounded like bowling balls. The lowest branch of the fir tree outside my bedroom window waved wildly—the branch I have regretted not including in those I had removed to open the view. At 12:25 a BOOM had me upright in bed; coinciding with the eerie silence of a power outage. Not a tree, I know that sound. A transformer, I assumed.
Branches hit the roof with a thud, then skittered off when the next gust wailed across the valley and over my hillside home and into the grove of trees on the other side of the house. Loud crashes had me clean out of bed twice, but there was no where to go. I desperately wanted to be in the basement where maybe I wouldn’t hear every cone and branch that hit the roof; but I had a guest in the Airbnb.
I wasn’t terrified, but I was anxious. I felt vulnerable, and desperately wanted it to end. I was at the mercy of nature, and there was nothing I could do about it but wait it out. When it finally stopped ninety minutes later, I prayed it wasn’t the eye of the storm. It’s not a hurricane, I told myself; there is no eye. Please, please don’t let this be an eye.
Epiphany: a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something.
It was the end and I fell into fitful sleep some time later. There was no reason to get up before daylight; it was dark and cold. And there was no coffee.
The power finally clicked on shortly after 8:00—just as I was lighting a fire—with Alexa informing me that my WiFi was disconnected from a power source. She knew the power was back before I did.
I pulled up a chair and sat by the fire until I ran out of wood, then reluctantly dressed and headed out to clean up the yard and driveway. It took all afternoon. I hauled a loaded wheelbarrow full from two sides of the house up the driveway to the collection point. I threw that much more from the other two sides over the retaining wall into the DMZ on the east side of the house. A large branch—big enough for firewood—was probably one of the crashes I heard as it hit the overhang and fell into the narrow space between the house and the carport. I dragged it down the steps to the firewood rack to cut up later.
Another loud crash was no doubt the stepladder falling off the side of the shed. I returned it to its place, and left the strewn plastic plant pots—that I keep meaning to take to the transfer station for recycling—where they lay for now.
The driveway debris was daunting. I didn’t know where to start; but, as always, I just began. It had to be done. It was one of those times I wished for a partner in this adventure.
Epiphany: an intuitive grasp of reality through something (such as an event) usually simple and striking.
The storm debris doubled the pile of rhododendron prunings I had stacked last month in my driveway’s turn around/additional parking area. There will be more before the winter is over, and I know my limitations. I can’t pitchfork it all into a trailer and all back out at the transfer station. Besides, I don’t have a trailer. I would have to ask for help, and that’s hard for me. And it needs to happen before the next storm makes it overwhelming.
It was a lesson in doing what needs to be done in the moment regardless of other plans. I wonder how the hundred acre wood got along—there are always trees down in there—but trail and meadow clean-up can wait for another day.
I hauled a load of firewood from the grove at the edge of the meadow down to the wood rack by the house, then went back up the driveway for the rake and saw. Returning to the house, the eagle caught my attention. It glided back and forth behind the fir, coming close then moving farther back, then close again. I’m doing it, Daddy. Thank you for being here.
Epiphany: an appearance or manifestation especially of a divine being.
When I got back to the house, I sent Chris—the generous man who mows the meadow for me and for my mother before me—a text message to see if he and/or his son could haul it off at their convenience. He wrote back immediately. “Yes! Sooner rather than later.” I do have partners.
Epiphany: an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure.
I checked in with my elderly neighbor. He said I was next on his storm report list. He was fine, without his hearing aides during the night he didn’t hear the three large trees that fell in the woods right behind his house that would have scared the daylights out of me. Without people with chainsaws, his access to the trail he walks with his dog several times a week—still, at 92— is cut off.
I emailed the president of the Friends of Seminary Hill, of which my parents and my neighbors were founding members, asking if the Friends could help. He wrote back immediately. In the meantime, I will invite Robert and Gracie to accompany me on another route to his familiar trail.
I continue to live on this wild piece of property, caring for it, sharing it, loving it as my parents did. And following the star wherever it leads.
“Without the quest, there can be no epiphany,” Constantine E. Scaros.
A friend shared a newsletter from Abbey of the Arts. I think this storm and its aftermath touched on each point (detailed in the newsletter) of the lessons of Epiphany.
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New Year’s Eve
I pruned the rhododendrons by the front steps this week. Drastically pruned them. I love how it opened up the front of the house. Like trimming up the fir tree on the other side of the house two years ago, I feel like I can see beyond the present that sometimes closes in around me and out into the what’s next. And I wonder what might grow with more light.
And then I felt bad. Did I make a mistake? No, I didn’t ask “her” permission, as a friend queried. But if I had, the conversation might have gone something like this.
“My dear rhododendron twins. You have been growing here beside these steps for some decades now. And except for this past summer after my mother died, you haven’t bloomed for many years. You seem like you might be yearning to get back to your roots and start anew. Could I be right about that?”
“I feel weighed down by the responsibility to hold up all these branches,” she replied. “The birds don’t nest in me any more, I don’t bloom any more. My soul is buried down here where even I can’t find it. I’m tired. And they are holding me back from what might be next.”
“But you did bloom beautifully last year. It was incredible.”
“I wanted to honor your mother, who planted me, back when she was young. It seemed fitting that when she died, I should pay my respects. Really it took everything I had. Like the surge of lucidity and energy some of the dying have before the end.”
“I’m thinking of cutting you way back. You will be very exposed until you put out some new growth.”
“It sounds vulnerable, for sure. But I think this is the year, this is the time to step out into the world and take a risk. It may take me a few years to get comfortable, and I’ll probably wish I could just hide again and not have anyone scrutinizing me, but it will get better. And like your mother now, I will be full of energy and new life again! Go for it!”
And so it is. With the rhodies and with me as the sun sets on the last day.
I sit in candle and tree and fire light on the last night. I have written down and ceremonially burned what I want to let go of as the new year begins. No more remaining tight in the bud of fear, as comfortable as hiding is.
I make another list of 2018 accomplishments and successes. It is much longer. It includes sending my mother on, fulfilling my promise to care for her to the end.
I’m finishing up Michelle Obama’s excellent memoir, “Becoming.” She says of moving from her loving and encouraging, but always financially struggling, family into the opulence and spotlight of the White House (and even long before, when she went to ivy league colleges), she felt like an imposter.
Each time I have stepped out of my comfort zone I have literally told myself I have no business in the place I have put myself; and it has held me back from taking the next step, paralyzed by fear of someone finding out I’m not good enough.
And so, my mantra for 2019 is: ‘Am I good enough? Yes, I am.’ (Michelle Obama)
These two days of looking back and looking forward have become my consistently favorite days of the year. I did not—haven’t for many years—stay up until midnight. I do not revel or watch a ball drop. I don’t want company nor invitations. I sit here in the firelit room in the waning hours of 2018, aware that soon it will no longer be the year in which my mother left. And I weep. Was I good enough? I hope so.
The moon out the windows is waning too. And the fresh cuts on the stubs of rhododendrons are exposed to tonight’s sub-freezing temperature. Tomorrow I will look to my goals for 2019 that will send me spiraling, exposed, beyond what is comfortable. Will I be good enough?
New Year’s Day
As the sun rises on the first day I sit watching the shifting sky and letting the shift occur in me too. Out of the dark comes the technicolor dawn.
Along with a walk in the woods adjacent to my home, I sit by another fire contemplating what I want in the year ahead. As I have for several years now, I do my friend Joanna Powell Colbert’s new year tarot spread with her beautiful Gaian deck. Usually the cards and my interpretation of them bring up thoughts that are spot on responses to the seven questions. This year’s is very confusing. Maybe that in itself is a response.
I dream in the new year with a list of intentions. Joanna, my favorite earth mystic, soul guide, and friend, says keep your list to just three or four goals. Otherwise you set yourself up for failure. I have seven. I think they are all doable if I just decide I want it enough. Though there is the one that’s on my list every year, and I haven’t done it yet. Walk more in the woods I loved as a child, and learn the names of what lives there, as my mother knew. Ironically “Explorer of Earth” is the card I drew in the “what do I leave behind in the new year” position.
As Joanna says of the turning of the year, “[This is] a time when the old no longer seems to fit, but the new is only a dream.” And so it is with the rhododendrons and with me. The space has been cleared, the seeds of an idea have been planted. And now we water and fertilize and wait and see what will bloom.
Will I be good enough? Yes, I will. Will I succeed or fail? Time will tell, but it won’t turn on a lack of planting and pruning.
With a garden you never know for sure what will or won’t happen—whether anything, in fact, will grow…We’d asked everyone to watch what we were doing. Now we had to wait for the results. (Michelle Obama)
And the sun sets on the first day. And now the work of the new year begins.
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An acrostic poem for the new year.
H opeful is the way I am choosing to begin this new year. It’s so much lighter than despair.
A new year is a good place to take a break to look to the future, to set goals and intentions, to peek around corners.
P erhaps there are frightening things there, monsters in the closet and such,
P erhaps, though, the monsters are really just wanting to be friends.
Y ou get to decide, I get to decide, we each get to choose how we see the world, how we see ourselves.
N ew year’s eve I sat in candle light, wrote down what I wanted to let go of, and burned it in the fire place. Bye, bye “not good enough.”
E ven as I did it the words “you are an imposter” lurked in my head.
W hat I said was, “Go away. You get in the way of wonder and wow and I don’t want you here.”
Y ou never know what’s going to present itself in coming days and months, you just meet it head on.
E very dawn is a new opportunity to turn your world on its ear.
A m I good enough? Yes, I am! Go on,
R abble rouse in your own life. Dream big. Then go for it!
I don’t decorate my Christmas tree the same way each year, and this year my thought was to go minimalist. It’s kind of a minimalist year. My Seattle family is off to Virginia on the Sunday night red eye. My local sister works her make-it-or-break-it-at-Christmas retail business until well into the evening everyday in December right up to Christmas Eve. My Virginia sister and family aren’t arriving until Christmas night.
And my mom is gone.
Maybe just lights, I thought. But, as is my born-in-childhood custom, my tree is not a perfect full-figured cone affair, manicured well beyond its natural shape on a farm; and there was a good-sized hole that lights could not fill. Kind of like the hole the absence of my parents—newly enlarged by my mother’s death in April—has left in my heart.
“Hang your stocking there,” my daughter said. Good idea! And so I dragged out the box of decorations after all. Turns out there were more holes, and I hung three stockings for three daughters, for Three of Earth.
Of course, I also had to set up my snow person crèche with its many visitors to the manger. Because it’s my favorite thing. You know that question, “what would you hate to lose in a fire?” designed to help you get at what physical things are really important to you? My list is extremely short, but my snow person crèche is on it. The guest circle expanded when I moved back into my childhood home and now includes Playskool Bus wise people, hand-painted ceramic angels, cricket musicians, and “dish garden” flamingos. Other childhood favorites have been schlepped from home to home for many years: the broken plastic reindeer, the polka dotted cat on wheels, the skating snow people candles, a chipped snow globe.
Once the box of decorations was out I decided to add “just a few” ornaments. Dragging out another box—and fishing through my mother’s boxes—my Christmas tree is all angels, birds, flying reindeer, and stars. In honor of my mother, wherever you are. May you soar.
May you each experience joyous celebration of loved ones who walk the earth with you, and may peace and thanksgiving fill the hole left by those who have departed.
#ilovewhereilive, #ThreeofEarthFarm, big leaf maple, living in my childhood home, neighbors, Notes from Three of Earth Farm, remembering mother, reminiscing, Seminary Hill Natural Area, Three of Earth Farm, walking in the woods
I’ve been thinking for some time it’s been too long since I saw my neighbor and one of these days I needed to go knock on his door with muffins or homemade soup. At 91, he has had some heart health issues this fall. I’ve been concerned, I check in with his daughter now and then, but I’ve not rung his doorbell for a while. You know how it is, best intentions.
I’ve been thinking for some time it’s been too long since I walked in the woods. How many times have I promised myself to get in there at least once a week? You know how it is, best intentions.
After Thanksgiving weekend with the Littles and their moms here at Three of Earth Farm, I didn’t go to Seattle for my weekly 30 hour gig away from home―including five hours driving time―and by Tuesday it already felt like I had an expanse of time not usually available. When the rain stopped and the sun unexpectedly came out, I went out in my orange rain boots to check on the supply of firewood left to lie in the woods near the house when the man I hired to cut and split a fallen tree just stopped working on it.
After seeing there is indeed still a lot of wood scattered about that’s small enough for burning if I pull it out from under branches and blackberry vines and wheelbarrow it down the trail to the rack where the supply is rapidly diminishing, I spontaneously head across the meadow to the trail by the barn to walk in my mother’s playground. She didn’t hike in the mountains like I do, but hour for hour, she spent far more time on the trail than I.
Reaching the main trail, I see Robert coming toward me. He has walked the trails most every day for years, but for the past several months I was thinking he wasn’t able to. I’m ecstatic to see him out and about again. His dog Gracie trots down the trail toward me. I’m not a dog lover, but I am very fond of Gracie. I put my arms around her broad neck and pull her in close; then give Robert a hug when he reaches us.
We stand on the trail and talk. I have no where else to be and nothing else I need to be doing that is more important than this. Robert had emailed me a month or two ago that he had discovered an apple tree on the trail he’d never noticed before; spotted it because it bore a single apple. I haven’t figured out where it is and I ask him now. Turns out we are standing under it. It’s spindly and unformed, imitating the miles of vine maple in these woods. No wonder no one noticed it. It’s near where there were remnants of a rotting ancient puncheon road when I was a child, the boards that kept the wagon wheels from sinking into mud on alleged cattle drives through here, returned to soil now.
Robert muses that a wagon driver—or maybe a child sitting on the back, legs dangling—threw an apple core out and a seed took hold. The single apple was good, he says, maybe a Gravenstein.
We go on to reminisce about our former neighbors. The Holits were a German couple, still with thick accents even after decades in the States. I told Robert I remembered making fudge with Margaret at Christmas, standing on a stool in front of her stove stirring the bubbling chocolate. When their house was cleaned out, after they moved to California to live near their son, I happened to be home and acquired the spoon we used to stir the fudge, it’s end worn down from years of scraping the bottom of the hot pot. He tells me, when the home sat empty for a time, he found a box of silverware overlooked on top of a beam in the basement; and later a box of sample awards ribbons from, presumably, Gene’s father’s family business in Germany before WWI in a dark corner, and something (I’ve forgotten what) with the Kaiser’s picture on it.
Robert remembers helping Gene cross the steeply sloping road to get his mail out of the box. Paying it forward, as it turns out, he says, as now the Holit’s niece, who raised her children in her aunt and uncle’s house, brings Robert his mail. (I really need to get my newly purchased mailbox painted and back in its rightful place between theirs.) We’re silent for a moment then, remembering times and people who are gone.
He tells me another maple tree fell recently behind his house. These damp woods that were my childhood playground are so old. The big leaf maples are nearing the end of their long lives, their grey crowns broken and leafless. They are host to mosses and licorice fern, adding to the rain forest feel of these woods. Lichen clings to everything, making the forest look like a host of hoary old men.
I go on to Staebler Point, and Robert and Gracie continue their trek home. I turn back toward the house as the clouds drop into the trees, rendering the forest mysterious and a little spooky in the mist. As I walk back through the now empty arching vine maples where we had stood talking, I realize that, like my mother and father and the Holits and Robert’s wife Sandy, someday Robert will no longer grace these woods with his presence. Like the maples, we all come to the end.
I’m hanging up my coat as the earlier rains return, pouring onto the roof I need to clean off again. Just a pocket of time, snatched for a rendezvous in the woods with a neighbor. I vow—again—to stop by more often, and hope I run into Robert and Gracie.
I found this poem when I Googled big leaf maple (acer macrophyllum). Overlooking the exclusive language, it seems a serendipitous find.
A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds.
A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy
reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.