Category Archives: Health and Long Life

Crying in the forest

It has been awhile. Too long actually. And with the passage of time comes inevitably the melancholy when the memory is revisited. It is has been too long since she hiked in a pine forest, Ponderosa Pine to be specific. Each step forward, each thought, each memory is enough to make her cry. The Sunshine filtering through the needle laden branches, the soughing and lowing-strong but not howling-is urgent in the wind and she cries for what was, feels a touch of anguish for what could have been and was not. Every sensation she feels calls her to weep. The present beauty is devastating. It evokes memories of what has passed. She realizes, even as she puts one foot in front of the other, she is still clinging to the past, still trying to figure out how to fix what went wrong, how to make things right. Perhaps it is time to let go of the past and move into the future-her very own future. The fresh air and evergreen trees seem to nudge her forward. But the thought of what the future can be is painfully dazzling. Can she really leave the past behind? Is it right to let go and move forward?

Twenty steps forward the beauty subtly changes. Without warning she steps into a part of the woods that has been ravaged by fire. Scorched from the ground up to about 20 feet high on the bark of the pines. Burned pieces of log litter the ground like the remains of a giant’s campfire. It is not clear who or what started the fire. It happened. Yet, there is still beauty here. She notices that the trees grew, continued to move forward. Forgetting what was behind – unashamed of their blackened scorched trunks –the trees were green at the top, reaching toward the sky without slackening their pace. Brilliant fall-colored foliage peaked out here and there along the ground. She stops in her tracks to contemplate. If the forest can survive a fire and move on, so can I. So can you.

IMG_20171001Burnedforest_095135281

 

 

The Extended Work Day

It had been a long work day. Much had been accomplished – including the requisite and unscheduled altercation with a defensive employee resistant to change. But now it was an hour before quitting time. Sunshine beat down and a strong breeze careened down the street. Doors were open everywhere; two to the warehouse, four and a hatch on each of the two Toyota Highlanders backed up to the loading ramp right next to an open Jeep with a full capacity gear basket on top.

Tables? Check

Projector and Screen? Check

Membership materials? Check

Cooler? Check

Tent? Check

Sleeping Bags? Check

Three of the principals of the organization are about to experience an extended workweek, but who is complaining? Camping for work. Travel on the clock. Head ‘em up; move ‘em out! The great outdoors beckons.

The best season ever

It is fall and I am nearly giddy. Something broke in me yesterday. Some chain or bondage or oppression – I think it was the heat. Today I took my morning walk and rejoiced at being alive, stopped and talked with my neighbors, started to think I will survive this leg of my life’s journey. Over these past 10 years of being alone and single, I have often pointed out that Nature loves you back. I go for a walk; I am refreshed. I take a long hike; I am restored. Yes. Nature loves me, feeds me and cares for me. But Nature does not coddle. Nature can be brutal. This year I have been in the desert. This year I felt Nature abused me with the heat – and then turned around and comforted me with a lake. But that is behind me now. The weather has turned. It is nearly time for sweaters and hoodies. Definitely time to plan those long weekend hikes to all the beautiful places.

 

The year I learned to love to swim

This is the year that will go down in my record book as the year I learned to love to swim. It is odd to think that I never really embraced the water until this year. What is even harder to grasp is that I am past sixty. This feels more like my prime. Admittedly, I am a late bloomer when it comes to loving the water.

I learned to swim in the first place in the ocean, on a sandy USO beach with clear azure water, on Guam. I was thirteen. Before that I was fearful, too tense to float, lacking trust in my teachers, the water was chilling. But at thirteen I was hot and humid and miserable and the water was tropic and very accessible.

My instructor was a tall lean Filipino, kind, encouraging, insistent. He put us through our paces and laps with confidence. Float. Fin water. Tread water. Swim out to the raft. Dive back in and swim to shore. My brother was the youngest in our class. I certainly did not want him to score ahead of me.

What I called swimming, my parents called dog-paddling. The motion I loved most was lying on my back and finning water, legs straight and arms pumping, propelling me to shore.

Given the choice of beach versus swimming pool? No contest. On a beach you can dive off a raft into 15 feet of transparent aqua-hued water and swim with the tropical fish. You can float face down until you run aground when your chin and chest drag the sand. You can lie on your back and fin water until you beach yourself like a body canoe.

During all those ensuing decades between passing my Red Cross swim test in 1968 and the present 2017, I may have averaged going to a pool and swimming once a year.

This summer, I picked up a swimming habit. I have lost count of the number of days I meander off the highway after work. I slough off my office wear in favor of swimsuit and walk straight into Lake Powell. I keep going until water meets my chin. And then, I tip back and repose, buoyed by the water. I rest, looking at the blue, blue sky and the lovely clouds. And I fin water, bringing my arms from cross down to sides, up my sides and back to cross again, alternately propelling myself and pausing to gaze at the sky and the approaching sunset. Long, leisurely strokes. One. Two. Maybe as many as thirteen. Finally, I run aground in the sand and prop myself up on elbows to scan the rock formations on the horizon – arches and buttes in desert pastels.

‘Cause when it’s too hot to hike, you learn to love the lake.

A trickle or a flood

San Juan River, Bluff Utah, May 2016
San Juan River, Bluff Utah, May 2016

She sat on the banks of the muddy San Juan, in the shadow of a bighorn sculpture and watched the river roll away lazily to the Southwest. It made her long for the beach. That is where the river was headed, after all – to join the mighty Colorado at Lake Powell and finally empty into the Pacific Ocean.

But she knew something the river did not yet know; it would never make it to the ocean. It was headed for the beach, but along the way destined to recreate, irrigate, hydrate, relax and refresh millions of people. Somewhere, 50 miles or so short of the Gulf of California, the river would trickle to a stop.

Desert Bighorn sculpture in memory of author Ellen Meloy
Desert Bighorn sculpture in memory of author Ellen Meloy

So she pondered this truncation, this travesty, this unavoidable change of plans people foisted on the river and she asked herself, “How are you doing on your own bucket list? Are you headed for the beach? And whether you ever make it to the beach, will you restore and refresh and recreate and relax? How much of you will be absorbed and diverted into the schemes and needs of others? How much of the landscape of your life will you beautify along the way?”

Live. Love. Laugh. Learn. You do not know if your end will be part of a cataclysmic flood or simply trickle away.

The Retailing of Mother’s Day

In the late seventies I worked in the women’s sportswear department of a locally well-known and respected retail store. Our biggest sales day of the year was the Saturday preceding Mother’s Day. Everyone has a mother – 100% of the population – and most take time to remember and honor her at least once a year through gifts or our presence.

Christmas Eve runs a close second in record retail, but Christmas shopping is often fraught with chaos; noisy crowds, toys that screech, having to find something for everyone when not everyone has needs and some of the things on Santa’s list have not even been invented yet.

Part of the joy of shopping for Mother’s Day is there is only one person to shop for. Most mothers receive well and are not too picky. They are quite practiced at receiving dandelions, broken robin’s eggshells and refrigerator pictures. I have only one mother and it is a joy to try and find just the right thing to delight her. Gifts are part of my love language and I love to give. Turns out however, that delighting her is no easy task. She’s a little concerned about the cost of things and the value of my time and she does have her style standards. Nevertheless, I ploughed through two shopping trips this year.

The offerings were especially good with regard to color and fabric and cut. I found several things that suited her needs to a T. I even went back for more. As she revolved in a new skirt and blouse, dad and I complimented her. “It’s very nice,” she said, “I got a gift in the mail from your brother today too. But we are going to have to put a stop to this gift giving.” “Why?” I asked. “Why would we stop now just when we are old enough to afford to give?”

Happy Mother’s Day to you and yours! May we never stop giving and receiving. May we always have the joy of finding just the right thing for a special person.

Whoa! What just happened?

In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus is handed a shotgun and calmly drops a mad dog. His daughter Scout thinks something like, whoa, what just happened? She had never seen a gun in the house, much let alone in her dad’s hands. She did not know her father had been a dead shot from his youth.

I lived for a time in Edmonds Washington – in the bowl. Weekdays, I worked with extracted body parts in a medical facility. There was no refreshment I loved better on a weekend than to walk the half mile to the beach-the edge of the sound-the freedom of a ferry port that could take you away on a moment’s notice.

On the beach was a small quirky thrift store that supported the attached senior citizen center. I was 55, so in a way I qualified for all the benefits. The center boasted a vintage linoleum tiled dance floor / concert hall and a cafeteria that hosted Grey Gourmet a few days each week. But it was the thrift store that could distract me – at first.

One Saturday as I browsed the blouses, books and unique kitchen gadgets assembled, I heard live music – a guitar, a mandolin – coming from the regions beyond retail. I picked my way to the hall that accessed the curtained restroom stalls and passed beyond to the next available room. I poked my head in the door to listen. “Hi!” called the guitar player and evident leader. “I heard the music,” I stated.

“We’re a seniors oldies band. We practice every Saturday morning.” I smiled.

“Are you a musician?” For the next 90 minutes, Vern called chords and I played along to some Elvis songs and other oldies I had never heard before. Hits caught in the gap between my mother’s generation and mine. On my way back home, I mused, “Whoa, what just happened?”

I practiced with the band for a couple months before my departure for Colorado. We played a Sunday dance or two in the ballroom – fish bowl conspicuous. My portion of the take was $3.00.

On an odd midweek day off I strolled Olympic Beach unshowered and barefoot with my corduroy pants rolled up a la Tom Sawyer. Suddenly, a voice hailed from the observation deck of the senior center. It was Craig, the 91-year-old ladies man from the Sunday dances.

“Cherry! Cherry!” He called, “am I glad to see you! Come in, come in quickly.” I obeyed. “Come. See the piano. We always have sing-along before our meal on Tuesday. Our pianist did not show today.”

Turns out Craig was the leader of sing-along. The usual pianist was retired after years of pleasing crowds in Branson. The darkness of dementia had overtaken her. Some days she forgot which song she was playing and launched into a medley. Sometimes she simply forgot to show-up.   The seniors gathered around the piano and commenced the enjoyment of oldies I didn’t know and harmonies with which I was intimate. 20 minutes later the Branson pianist arrived, taxied by a daughter my age. I graciously took my leave. On the walk home I murmured, “What just happened here?”

I never quit on my music. Invited, I will play any piano, anywhere, any style. Whatever style I am playing at the moment is my favorite style of music.   There have been nursing home gigs, years of folk music with elementary kids, decades of private students and plenty of church praise and worship. There are intervening years of enjoyable jobs that seem to have nothing to do with music on the surface, but are inextricably woven to music via location – the beauty and inspiration of a dock on the bay or a Rocky Mountain high.

So recently, I have found myself moonlighting with a John Denver tribute band. Evenings, I keep my habit of enjoying an hour of piano before bed. On my days off, I practice feverishly. The John Denver originals are familiar friends. The current pieces, written in a style and spirit honoring John Denver, can be quite intricate and challenging. Just this week, I had a break-through with a lead-in reminiscent of the Eagles and Desperado.

Quiet joy, like happiness, overtakes you when you least expect it. Rising from the piano bench I muttered, “Whoa, what just happened?”

 

Cremate me, then throw the concert of the century

She wanted to die doing something she loved. And she loved hiking in beautiful places. Each time she hiked, she made her peace with the God of the Universe. On that particular day, she thought about dying. This is a beautiful place, she thought. I am comfortable here alone, in my solitude. I would be okay with dying here, although I am feeling quite healthy. But, if I should die, would my grown kids know what to do? Would they shed needless tears or spend useless money? Would they cry over the fact that I died alone, out in the wild? Tears of grief should only be shed because they miss me and loved me. There is nothing wrong with dying (or living) in solitude. Would they feel compelled, out of grief, loss or guilt to spend money on useless things like caskets and plots and headstones? Ah, there it was, the challenge of dying without money. It is expensive to die in a hospital. It is expensive to die on the trail. It is expensive to die in your sleep. It is expensive to legally dispose of a body no matter how and where that body breathes its last. Therein she was not ready to die. She had little money to leave to her descendants and less still that she was willing to have them spend on the dead! Money should be spent on life! What she did have in abundance to leave with them was music and a love of music. She had birthed, raised-up, trained and then released; not one, not two, but three passionate musicians to the world. Different genres, different eras, different goals, yet all three saturated with acute audio receptors, secure pitch, word-smithed lyrics and throbbing rhythms. Music told the story of her life and her contribution to the lives of others. And this is what she wanted to communicate to her offspring:

Cremate me. Scatter my ashes in a beautiful place. And if you choose to spend money, let it be on musicians. Throw the concert of the century. Tune the piano! If there are any black limos, use them to ferry musicians. Pack them full of instruments and bands. Let the music be well-prepared and well-performed. Skip the church and choose the concert hall or the amphitheater.  A church building does not add one bit of holiness. For that matter, skip the speakers and preachers. Do not. Do not go down the moralistic route of speakers who try to shame, blame, coerce or manipulate the audience into a change of heart or lifestyle. The only kind of speakers I want to celebrate my life are those necessary for amplification of sound. Let the virtuoso string players play their adagios. Let the pop vocalists belt. Let the guitarists and drummers rock. Let the gospel choir sway and stack up the harmonies. Let the pipe organ thunder Bach. Let it be music well-prepared and well-performed. Fill the time with musical memories. Let the music comfort and speak. A good piece of music needs no explanation. Cut the preaching. Nix the manipulation. Play the music. Tell the story with music. Love and support the musicians. Take a trip down musical memory lane in my honor. Take a hike in a beautiful place. And I shall be at peace.

An abandoned house and a kept house – the tale of two households

She lives in an abandoned house and spends her days away, searching for jobs, and her nights shivering under extra comforters because there is no warmth in an abandoned house. Another person sleeps there too, and is employed. But still, whether the occupants are at home or at work the house is abandoned, for you see, something that would make that house a home is missing. No one fills the role of keeper of the house. There are two who huddle there. It would seem they could come up with an understanding of how to make that house a safe haven or even a comfortable temporary harbor. But plans are most successful when everyone concerned is on board. A team of one becomes exhausted without reciprocity from the other.

Meanwhile, in the same state, two other unrelated and unattached people occupy a large house. They both work and they both travel frequently. The house is often empty of people – but never abandoned. Both people are housekeepers. Broken things get fixed. Needs of the house are addressed as a means of meeting the needs of people. Both principal occupants are agreed that a stitch in time saves nine and that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Both the principal occupants understand the value of beauty and cleanliness in making a house a place of refuge, renewal and restoration for all who lodge there. The house is a place of welcome for all who pass through, whether for tea, dinner, or a temporary bed.

All four of the persons living in the two households share a philosophy in common: people are more important than things. All four verbally champion: “Use things, love people.” (The polar opposite, of course, is to use people and love things.) Yet, in an attempt to emphasize loving, some ignore or neglect material things. Notice how the two in the second household operate: Needs of the house are addressed as a means of meeting the needs of people. How much more effective and efficient it is to use things to love people!

She got a head start on her goals this year

She got a head start on her goals this year and it happened most inadvertently.

“It is time,” said the inner voice.   “You’ve got to be kidding, “ she responded. It is not even December yet and you want me to set goals? Make New Year’s resolutions?

No. No resolutions. Resolutions are too often harsh, guilt producing, reminiscent of things you did not accomplish, places you did not carry through. You said it – it is not even December yet. So, how about just giving thanks? Let’s take a grateful tour down memory lane and accentuate the positive. What have you accomplished this year? These years? To this point in life? Have you done the things you wanted to do? Have you pursued your dreams?”

“Well,” she replied, “I love to make music. I’ve never been famous or even well known for my virtuosity, but I have made hundreds of vintage folks at retirement centers happy with my smooth and relaxing piano melodies. I never went on tour with the band, but it’s hard to feel any regrets. All my offspring are musicians. I have written musicals, staged musicals and invested in the lives of thousands of elementary age people both in the classroom and as private students. I sang. I danced a little. I played lots of keyboard, a few wind instruments, a little percussion. I can die happy. I suppose if I did have a regret it would be that I never learned strings.”

“Wait a minute,” said the inner voice. “Why does that have to be a regret?”

“It doesn’t.” she said. She reached for the guitar that sits next to her piano while simultaneously Googling guitar lessons.

She got a head start on her goals this year and that is how it came about that she could sing “Silent Night,” and accompany herself on the guitar before the end of 2015. Now all she has to do in 2016 is keep those callouses hardy through daily practice.

There are times when resolution means closure. And then you start the next grand movement. What next? What do you want or need or aspire to? There is a fresh year ahead. What is your next desire? Often, renewed desire begins with thankfulness. I am thankful for the music in my life. I am thankful for the circuitous road travelled. I anticipate the next bend in the road!