It’s time for someone else to enjoy the bedroom suite my parents purchased circa 1964. At least that’s when I got their old dresser for my first-ever room of my own. They bought the old one when they set up housekeeping after the war, purchased from a hotel going out of business.
I used that dresser for 48 years, until I moved back across the country six and a half years ago. My mother didn’t want me to take it back in 1976. “It’s mine,” she said. She finally relented, realizing it had become more mine than hers; and I began homemaking with it too.
I’ve changed its look twice. The first time I removed the blue-grey and Dijon-mustard marine deck paint my father covered the natural finish oak with; updating it. I reattached the mirror with the arms that of course he had kept for 30 years after altering the heavy mirror to hang on the wall, and changed the chrome knobs he put on in favor of something more in keeping with its original period. The second refurbish included painting the drawers and mirror frame black and changing the knobs again; updating it.
I guess my mother and I were both sentimental about it; I have kept it all these years. Now it has come out of storage and back into use, and I’m so happy to see it again. Someday, when she has room for it, I will make my daughter take it. My modest wardrobe doesn’t need that much room, and it has to stay in the family. (Heirlooms are hell.)
Meanwhile the Early American reproduction dresser and mirror, along with bedside tables and bed, have been donated for use by someone who will, I hope, be as ecstatic to have them as I expect my mother was. There was a lump in my throat when the guys from the charity carried it out. It’s the bed I crawled into when I had a bad dream, next to my mother on the far side. It’s the bed my parents slept in together for 30 years. It’s the bed she died in.
The chair my mother rocked her babies in stays with me.
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.
- Follow the star to where it leads.
- Embark on the journey, however long or difficult.
- Open yourself to wonder along the way.
- Bow down to holy encounters in messy places.
- Carry your treasures and give them away freely.
- Listen to the wisdom of dreams.
- Go home by another way.
For three of the last five school years, I have driven into Seattle on the Alaskan Way viaduct nearly every Monday to care for one or the other grandchild, and back across the next day. Trust me when I say it’s been the highlight of the drive, otherwise traveled on Interstate 5.
This week was the last time. The high roadway flanked on one side by Puget Sound with the sparkling Olympics on the horizon (on clear days) and ferries, cruise liners, and barges and the Emerald City on the other side closes permanently this weekend. When it’s torn down, the penthouse dwellers will have their view unsullied by the eyesore of the roadway far below them; and the lowly commuter will travel underground in a two-mile long yellow tunnel.
In the three weeks while they connect the north end of the tunnel with Highway 99, the 90,000 cars that travel the viaduct every day will be on already overcrowded I-5. Next week I’m not going. Then I will figure out some alternate timing for the duration. And will they really get it done in three weeks? Remember Bertha, the tunnel driller that got stuck?
I won’t miss the elderly short tunnel at the end of the viaduct. Remember when it collapsed on Grey’s Anatomy a few seasons back? Or the real life time not too long ago when the automatic sprinklers came on and drivers couldn’t see a thing? Then there was just last month when I drove it and the “tunnel closed, do not enter” lights came on when it was too late to abort and I had to sit in the full tunnel until whatever closed it was cleared trying not to hyperventilate.
I will brave the tunnel (I am not fond of any long tunnel, think Princess Diana) until it becomes a toll road in June or so. When my weekly gig is over forever when school’s out (another sadness), I will probably just do the crappy interstate drive through the city on the occasional visit to the Littles to avoid the toll. Or maybe I’ll just get the darn Good to Go pass.
A cloud and I commiserated together as I drove the last few miles to the viaduct on Monday, after the relief of exiting I-5.
On Tuesday evening, I approached the lower deck of the viaduct for the last time, heading back home. Goodbye old friend.
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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!