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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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.
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Mama would be so pleased. For the first time in my six summers here, I didn’t miss the trailing blackberry season. Every year she would ask me if I’d been berry picking, and I would roll my eyes and tell her no. She never asked in time, and I never thought about it. They come in mid-summer, unlike the later-bearing Himalayan, and—also unlike their wicked stepsisters—are hard to find.
The gigantic Himalayan grows along the road, in urban Seattle, in my rhododendrons, up into the trees next to the driveway. The canes with bear-claw-size thorns that reach out and grab at everything that passes anywhere close can grow a freakish 20 feet a year. And you can’t kill them.
The trailing sweetheart, though, meanders determinedly along at ground level, snaking across the trails I cleared and cleared again and cleared again. They tangle up at the edge of the meadow with their hairlike briars that unaggressively scratch skin, but not in the garden, they know their place. They only bear fruit where there is light. They love clearings, sprouting up after a logging operation; but when the trees grow back, the vines annoyingly keep growing, they just don’t bear. So finding a good patch of vines doesn’t mean there will be berries, the tricksters.
They don’t grow in clusters, hanging like bunches of grapes as the Himalayan do. With them, you reach for one and your bucket is half full without moving. They are the ones I picked when I was 14 and sold by the pound to a restaurant to make money for a ticket on the Coast Starlight to visit my aunt and uncle in California. The lazy man’s berry. The native variety requires you to take five steps into the middle of a thicket because you spotted one berry from the trail under a leaf. If you are lucky there might be one more you didn’t see hiding near it and maybe a couple more if you really stretch.
The native Western trailing blackberry is known for its intense flavor and kind of blackberry-meets-raspberry color. Well, not really that known. They are not so prolific as the invasive introduced Himalayan, which connoisseurs—such as my mother—say are crap, not even worth eating with their bland non-flavor and giant teeth-sticking-in seeds. Bigger may fill up your bucket faster, but it doesn’t equal better. But it fills up your bucket faster, you see my point.
My mother was a picky picker zealot, every year intrepidly finding the elusive berries for her killer blackberry cobbler that might have been the reason her daughters traveled back home from across the country every summer. She disdained the Himalayan and refused to eat the jelly I made, even though I strained out every seed for her. She had her caregiver buy blackberry jelly at Safeway while my half pints languished on the pantry shelf.
Anyway, I digress. I went out this morning ahead of the heat, hoping I was also ahead of the bear. “Our” bear, which I haven’t seen for two years, but I have seen evidence of in the meadow many times, was spotted in the woods on the Fourth of July, eating berries along the trail. I went out hunting a few days later—after Camp Gigi—but didn’t find any. But this week my neighbor said she’s been picking in her lower 40, so I determined to get out there again.
I grabbed my spare bear whistle and stuck it in my pocket and headed out at 7am. I covered the bottom of the coffee can berry bucket—one of those my dad made back in the day for blackberries in the woods and huckleberries at Mt. St. Helens—which is cause for a small happy dance celebration, before I even left my property. I had to pull out the sticky “bed straw” weed to even get at the vines.
The whistle must have fallen out there because I didn’t have it when I got onto the trails, after nearly tripping over scat in the meadow. Knowing bears have sensitive hearing and because I can’t whistle—more’s the shame—I sang. “I love to go a-wandering, along the mountain trail, and as I go I love to sing, my knapsack on my back. Valderie…” well, you get the idea.
I waded into the stickery patches, stretching for the elusive fruit, turning over leaves, gingerly pulling aside vines. I decided not to walk several feet out the vine-covered log over a small ravine to get the one ripe berry I could see, though I have done so in the past. I’m going hiking tomorrow, I have my limits to what I am willing to risk injury for. Today one berry was not it.
I walked a mile and a half for an hour and a half to get a quarter of a bucket of black gold. I did not see the bear. I cleaned my treasure, spread them on a pan for freezing. Hopefully when I return from a visit to the Littles and a hike in the Snoqualmie region closer to them than to me, I will find more to add to it so I can make a cobbler. I hope Mama would approve.
Going to miss this irrepressible little guy. Fortunately, he lives close by! We’ve had a great time.
Me: “I love you so much, Elliot Hill!”
E: “I love you more, Gigi!”
Me: “I love you more than the stars in the sky!”
E: “I was just going to say that!”
E: “But I love my baby brother more than I love you, Gigi.”
Me: “That is as it should be.”
We checked almost everything off our list, and had some surprises to boot.
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It’s been an aggravating week of technology failure, including (still unresolved) loss of internet at home. On the up side is WiFi is back at the Manor, and along with it, Alexa is back in Mama’s room. She loves Alexa. Visitors are treated to her rendition of Star Spangled Banner. Now I just have to learn how to program her to do things that Mama would enjoy and that would be helpful. More technology. Ugh.
I’ve had a full two weeks of guests in the Airbnb, a good thing; and lots of cleaning, laundry, and baking.
The happy news is the rains stopped on Monday and rather than do the yard and garden work that is getting out of hand, I got out of town for a drive through the valleys of Lewis County to Grays Harbor and the edge of the continent.
And a best friend from Raleigh made a 24-hour visit on her way to British Columbia. On the way from and back to the airport, we stopped at Nisqually Wildlife Refuge. In between walked in the woods behind my home. We talked and talked, diving quickly into the depths of our lives. I love where I live. And I miss my dear friends. A few hours with Grace reminded me of the loss.
And then there is this…