What Lies Ahead

When I was little, I worried a lot. About things that had a .000001% chance of ever happening where we lived, like tornadoes or earthquakes. Things my Father called non-questions. He shut me down with that statement whenever I’d finally driven him to the point of exasperation, though he was still kind about it. But there was one fear that neither parent could ever quell.

For my first 14 years, we only took driving vacations, and only within North Carolina or to West Virginia to see my grandmother. (Except for a few train trips down to Florida to see my other grandparents when I was very small.) As my Father worked at the University, we took Spring Break when school took Spring Break, which was usually in March. My parents would load up the car and drive to the Outer Banks, staying in Buxton where the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse sat on the point, shining its beacon as a warning to ships far out in the treacherous seas off the easternmost point in the state.

Palmetto-Peartree Reserve, a lovely
place that terrified a child-me.
Image from The Conservation Fund

It was a drive that felt like forever. We didn’t have a big four-lane highways back then. We took two-lane state highways, passing through rural farmland. I remember seeing so many old white abandoned houses that I wanted to grow up to rescue. We would stop in Willamston and have lunch at the Shamrock (it’s still there), and I always had stuffed flounder (it’s no longer on the menu), which was one of my “special occasion” meals growing up. I can still recall the wood of the captain’s chairs at our four-top, and the art on the paneled walls after all this time. After lunch, the drive turned from farmland to swampland, trees deep dripping with moss in uninterrupted mystery. What we were skirting is now the Palmetto-Peartree Preserve and the Alligator River National Wildlife Reserve, but back then, to a child, it was just the creepy swampland. Then suddenly, the swamp ended and we were heading over the bridge, through Manteo, across another bridge, and onto Whalebone Junction, where we turned right on Highway 12, which runs the length of the upper Outer Banks.

And that’s where the trouble started. Or more accurately, where I started being a particular pain in the ass.

By now, it was usually dusk. Not only was it a long drive from Durham, when you added trying to pack the car and two kids, stopping for lunch, and keeping to the speed limit, which my Mother did, the day was well faded by this time. Car headlights approached us as we traveled the 60 mile stretch of oceanfront road that was frequently washed out by Nor’easters or hurricanes. And therein lay the cause of my fears. Always, all the cars — all of them — were coming towards us. And we were the only car heading in our direction.

I was frequently near hysterical about this, absolutely convinced that something disastrous had happened at our destination, and that’s why everyone was coming towards us. They were all sensibly running away from the tragedy/monster/peril. But we were going towards it. Here we were, an innocent family, blithely travelling straight to our doom. Driving unknowingly right into the greedy, vicious maw of the beast. From my shotgun position, I kept swiveling around to see if there was anyone behind us, but no, there wasn’t. Just a long string of refugees from the terror ahead, passing by us, unable to gesture or indicate what was out there. My parents had enough of my nonsense after about 20 miles, so I would shut up and sit silently, staring into the darkness and girding my loins for our fate. As I recall, my brother, E-bro, was singularly unhelpful in this situation, but that’s what older brothers are for.

Of course, we would always live to tell the tale, reaching our haven of the Tower Circle Motel without being devoured or destroyed. Mr. Jack Grey would have left the light on for us and the door to our unit unlocked. There were no monsters or secret storms, just the sound of the crashing waves and the reassuring beam of the lighthouse flashing in its silent, trusted rhythm. We went on to spend a week with books and games and music and walks on the cold beach, times that I treasure. But every year, I went through this anxiety, without fail, until I grew out of it. I can’t remember how old I was when that happened. Curiously, my nephew had the same fear when he was small. That takes my mystical mind a-roaming to things like soul families and past lives. Did my nephew and I share a life long ago where we had a legitimate fear of something that destroyed us? Sounds a bit far-fetched, but one can’t be sure. I’m just glad that fear is a memory and that I’ve done a complete 180, going anywhere fearlessly and perhaps too often disregarding what might lie ahead. Roads, day or night, are made for adventure.

What Lies Before Us is a Joy and a Mystery.

Daily gratitudes:
Plans
No change fees on plane tickets
Nearing vaccine eligibility
My baked salmon
Getting called for Jury Duty!

Quote of the day:
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” — William Shakespeare



The (Sometimes) Weekly Wednesday Poem

This is one of my favorite poems, and it does double duty today, as it is written by an Irishman.

When You Are Old by W.B. Yeats

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

Daily gratitudes:
Blue skies
No shoveling today
Excellent colleagues
Cold pillows
A touch of Larceny

Quote of the day: “Some ghosts are so quiet you would hardly know they were there.” — Bernie McGill

After the Storm

After the storm, after the slow start that led to so many social media posts slamming and demeaning meteorologists, after the quiet, steady, falling snow, after the winds whipping drifts five feet high, after the trees were firmly and politely bowed with their cold burden, after all that…
Comes the crisp, clear, pure sky, the dazzling contrast of white against azure, the sun valiantly shining but futile in melting, the silence of usually busy streets disrupted occasionally by the clinking roar of a plow, the creaks and plops of those trees shedding dollops of snow, the woman wading through the depths of an alley to free her Bungalow from its magical slumber….

Daily gratitudes:
That I’m strong enough to shovel myself out
The beauty of undisturbed snow
A dent in our drought levels
A warm sunset in a cold sky
Hot baths and good books

Quote of the day: “The snow fell as softly as a poet’s tears.” — Kevin Ansbro

Mt. Anticipation (A Weekly Friday Poem)

Slivers of sun peek through sodden skies
As the tender tendrils of spring
Tremble in the breeze.
deceptive wind
deceptive warmth
teasing clouds
Where is it coming from?
Where is it going?
How strong
How stubborn
How painful
How powerful
How tragic
We wait,
Me
and the harbingers of spring
tentatively tucked up
for whatever the storm brings.

Daily gratitudes:
Tuna steaks
A day warmer than expected
My pirate mask
Friday
A quiet day

Quote of the day: “Snow falling soundlessly in the middle of the night will always fill my heart with sweet clarity.” — Novala Takemoto

The Sorrow of Today

Today, my youngest stepson would have turned 26. We lost him to suicide almost two years ago, another date that we mark with grief as we pass through the years. He was a complex and magnificent soul, with so much to offer. But as we all do, he found it hard to get out of his own way. The hopelessness and futility that feeling can engender became too much for him to bear.

M marks his birthday by dining at our son’s favorite restaurant, accompanied by his picture. He buys our son a glass of wine, and leaves it untouched. To date, M does not want me to accompany him on this modest pilgrimage.

I feel somewhat detached from my own grief about his loss. I think that’s defense mechanism that I have built, particularly around losing him. I have seen my hopeless, raging grief spill out at sunset by the side of a mountain river. I know it’s there. I just don’t know how to manage it, particularly in the face of M’s deeply painful, life-changing sorrow. My grief lives tucked away on a shelf so that I can be strong with him, for him, in the face of his.

Losing a child, at any age and regardless of the relationship you have with them, means losing so much more than just their being, their day-to-day existence, your interaction with them. It means losing the future. Your hopes, prayers, and dreams for your child vanish in an instant. You grieve that loss as well. I chastise myself for the opportunities I missed with our son, the promises I didn’t get around to keeping, the unintentional hurts I may have caused him. It’s impossible not to ask myself if I contributed to his choice. Or if there was something I might have done that could have prevented it.

His joy in his life was as real as his struggle. I hope with all my heart that where he is now, he can freely feel all the joy, and that the struggle is gone. As my belief supports, I trust that he and I will have a chance to get it right in some other life. In the meantime, M and I honor the day of his birth in our own ways, and honor him daily with remembrance, and prayers that his spirit has found some peace.

Daily gratitudes:
Jasper the Great Pyrenees
Two horses playing “I’m gonna eat your face”
Wind chimes
Having Ice Melt on hand for our upcoming snowstorm
Sending presents

Quote of the day:
“May the stars carry your sadness away, 
May the flowers fill your heart with beauty,
May hope forever wipe away your tears,
And, above all, may silence make you strong.” — Chief Dan George

The Dog Bar

I am dogless and have been so for over a decade. But I love them passionately, all of them, regardless of age or breed. I (like most dog owners) had the absolute BEST DOG IN THE WORLD a number of years ago — Tug. He passed away as a consequence of cancer and I miss him every day. There have been others – J.T., Champ, and Roscoe, with Roscoe being the only remaining pup. He lives with his Alpha Dog ex-Pat, and he’s getting on in years. I’ve never been home enough since I’ve lived alone to feel like I’d be able to give a dog the care he or she would deserve, though I’d be overflowing with love.

When I lived in the Cottage, we had the pleasure of the Big House’s pug, Poppie, for company. He would wander in whenever he wanted and explore the delights of the garbage. Since I’ve lived in the Bungalow, I’ve co-habitated with cats, so no dogs were allowed. As we move to the Retreat, we expect that our travels will take us away from home too much for a dog. We should also learn how to live together (and get our cats to live together) before we introduce another living being into the mix.

In a perfect world, I’d win the lottery, buy a huge tract of land, and make it a home for senior dogs, giving them all the comfort and adoration they deserve in their golden years. That’s the dream. Living in reality, however, I find that I need that my spirit needs the company of dogs and since I don’t have my own, I must seek them out. They have the best souls, so pure-hearted. The dog park is within walking distance, but I feel like a real creeper when I go to the dog park without a dog to interact with other people’s dogs (not the people, just the dogs). So that’s out.

There are often dogs at the wonderful coffee shop two blocks over, but without fine weather, sitting on the patio, where I can interact with the dogs is not an option. Besides, people keep their dogs close by when they’re there. There’s Home Depot about 10 miles away and I can sometimes get a dog fix there, but again, people are there with a purpose and usually don’t want to dally about with a woman who just wants to pet their dog.

Fortunately, we are blessed with a Dog Bar at the far end of our Main Street, run by a lovely couple who are alumni of Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. The place has opened up some as COVID-19 restrictions are eased, although it still has a lot of rules that apply to people, but not to dogs. I was lucky enough to score a seat at a barrel in the outside dog yard the other day, when I realized that one of the reasons I was out of sorts was because I had not pet a dog in at least two weeks. Unacceptable.

Entering the dog yard, I was immediately greeted joyfully by no fewer than six dogs. They acted as if I was an old friend that they hadn’t seen in years – it was lovely. (I’m going to believe that they saved that greeting just for me, not for any other patrons.) I do think they instantly know that I, being an animal shaman (in training), understand them. I smiled more broadly beneath my mask than I could remember doing for weeks. Dogs just have that effect, don’t they?

It was impossible to get all of their names. Cooper, the beagle mix, did not leave my knee for most of the time I was there. There was a lovely black and white fellow who nestled between my thighs. Two corgis (brothers), one with a tail (which I had never seen on a corgi before), who could walk under the picnic bench seats without being aware of their lack of height. A shy greyhound rescue who was quick to get a little panicked when overwhelmed, but who had made great strides in socialization. Domino, an imp with a harlequin face. A small rat terrier. A Bassett mix. I could go on and on. Everyone raced about playing, occasionally marking territory or pooping. Owners were quick to hand with their little green bags before any other dog could snack on such deposits.

Bliss. I sat nursing a glass of wine and petting dogs until the sun went down and it was too cold to be outside. My faith in the ways of the world according to dogs had been restored. We’re expecting somewhere between 10 to 40 inches of snow between tomorrow and Monday, so I doubt I’ll be venturing out there again for a while. Oh, but I do so look forward to my next visit, with all the best dogs.

Cooper.

Daily gratitudes:
Blue skies
The five-second rule
My truck
The return of the birds
Saving veggie scraps to feed the bunnies in the snow

Quote of the day:
“Dogs do speak, but only to those who know how to listen.” — Orhan Pamuk

Paws Crossed

No words today, just paws.

Daily gratitudes:
Cleaning out closets
Cognac Beef Stew
That the sun sets after 6:00 p.m. now
The blade of grass in the yard
Books

Quote of the day: “I had a friend once who looked at his library and discovered that even if he completely stopped filmmaking (he was a filmmaker too) and just decided to read the books he had in his library, it would take him until he was 100 years old. He was a little bit panicked. But he was courageous. He went out of his house. He went to the bookstore. And he bought ten books.” — Alain Resnais

The Weekly Friday Poem: Gone

Since this seems to be how things are flowing, weekly original poems will now appear on Friday.

Gone
My feet have walked these streets
these paths
these hills
Climbed this mountain.
Does the soil remember
the imprint of my sole?

This town no longer knows me
nor I it,
its open earthiness drowned
in vats of chic microbrew pubs
and the inch of wine called a glass
in expensive eateries
where pretentiousness is
disguised as humble entrees.

The elders here are as hidden
as the sun sinking behind the peaks,
the shadows of their light
highlighting brief, vivid
memories across the cold snow.

There is no place for any of us
here now.

Daily gratitudes:
Canadian geese laying in the snowfields
Pigeons snuggling atop the lamp post
Lemon ginger tea
That I had the privilege of knowing Millie
Blue skies

Quote of the Day: “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” — Elie Wiesel

The Death of an Appliance

While I am accustomed to charring things accidentally in the kitchen, I’ve never actually killed an appliance. I did accidentally destroy a china monkey hanging from the ceiling in the Cottage during the Great Smoke Detector Debacle of 2010. And when I moved out of the Cottage, my landlady inquired as to whether there had ever been a fire in the oven — I had to hesitate because there had been a fire or two ON the stove, just not exactly IN the oven. Yesterday, though, the microwave died.

In my defense, the microwave was old. At least 11 years old. So I’d prefer to think that I was its Death Doula (part of my future career plan), and not a murderer responsible for its demise. I thought it was having a glitch three days ago, when I put a cup of coffee in it and after a minute and a half, it came out cold. Later in the day, I tried heating soup, and it came out warm, but not hot. In the Bungalow, there are a myriad of eccentric electrical systems. For example, when I plug in the television in the living room, the ceiling fan comes on, but the television doesn’t. So I just assumed it was another transient house quirk. Those happen all the time.

Yesterday, when I put some soup in the microwave for lunch, there was a startling POP as it started running, but it ran for its required three minutes. And then it died. The soup was lukewarm. I checked that the breaker it was still on (that’s been an issue before). Walking into the bathroom, which shares a wall with the location of the microwave outlet, it smelled like an electrical short. I made sure the wall wasn’t hot, hoping there was no fire smoldering in said wall, and the scent of burning wires dissipated. The microwave was finally gone. It was a good appliance and served me, and Niece 1 before me, well.

I was raised in an era when microwaves did not exist. When you wanted to reheat something, you put it in a pot on the stove, or a dish in the oven. I didn’t have one through college either. But now (decades later), we are a society that can’t wait for things to heat on stoves. It has to be hot in minutes, when we want it, without delay. Shifting back from that mentality is a challenge, and one I’m fully prepared to admit that I didn’t want to face, partly because I don’t have a dishwasher and hate doing dishes. Who wants more dirty dishes?

Fortunately, I had been banging around in the garage just before lunch, in search of M’s and my Blue Willow china to take up to the Retreat, and had come across the microwave that I had when I lived in the Cottage over a decade ago. What perfect timing! Digging it out from behind the bicycles, over the ottoman, and off the shelf from underneath empty moving boxes, between the heavy bag and the BMW, I had hope. It was tucked up in newspapers, with its little round tray intact (the whole unit is a tiny thing, especially compared to its predecessor) and when I plugged it in, it was perfect. Not as strong as my old workhorse but completely serviceable.

The nicest thing about this experience, aside from the fact that my need for immediate food gratification can continue to be fulfilled, is the newspapers Li’l Wave was wrapped in. At first, I crumpled them up to put in the recycle bin, but then a headline caught my eye. A near drowning at a public pool that no longer exists in a nearby town. No victim named, and the three-year old girl was already well on the road to recovery when the paramedics arrived, but this was still the small town newspaper headline. Next to it, was a large, lovely color picture of a mare and her new foal, with, essentially, a birth announcement from a local farm. All ten years ago. I wonder what those horses look like today? That little girl is in middle school now. Does she remember?

I am unfolding the packing newspapers to look through them to see how things have changed, for a glimpse back to what was a simpler time, even though it was only a decade ago — not that long. It was a time when I was trying to rebuild my life and I had a lot of hope. And Spring was coming. The world doesn’t look at all the same now. My life looks very different, and it’s a happy different. The snow is blowing outside the picture window tonight, and I’m cuddled up and warm. It’s all good.

Daily gratitudes:
The older gentleman’s shock and joy at the price of asparagus
Beating the snow home
Talks with K
A good night’s sleep
Wind chimes

Quote of the Day: “A trip ends. A journey doesn’t.” — Mr. Boehmer

Holding Fast: A Weekly Thursday Poem

Holding Fast

Hold me as the stars fall
into the sea blue pools of your eyes,
edged with aspens in the fall.

Hold me as the Milky Way shines
its burnished light upon the waves
while lanterns drift into the night sky.

Hold me as the moon changes
its passionate face from full glowing
to reckless, rigid sliver.

Hold me as the steam rises
from the heat of the waters
and the warmth between us.

Hold me as the planets gaze
back at us in envy,
longing to be paired as we are.

Just keep holding me.

Daily gratitudes:
MKL
Homemade soup
Blue skies
The waiter at Efrain’s
Wrapping up in a warm robe

Quote of the day: “No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new doorway for the human spirit.” — Helen Keller