I’ve been residing in a big city again for the past week and some, and it’s been good, even in the context of COVID and 2020. The charms of city life in a pandemic do suit me better at this age, in my sixties, than they would if I were half that.
For one thing, the city is dialed back enough to lessen the stresses. The streets, while by no means vacant, are quieter. Enough of the citizenry are being conscientious about the pandemic (using masks, and making room for one another), that it’s restored a bit of my faith in humanity. Down on the Georgia coast, there’s much less concern shown for one another.
We walk almost everywhere here. Out on the streets, the elders are the best about masking. The younger and more privileged people seem far less concerned about spreading the plague than the older and less well-to-do. But, overall, it appears that more than half the people walking around are at least trying to suppress the spread.
The young and the restless seem to pose the greatest viral threat. On my walk yesterday, an open-air tour bus blew past me, packed to the gills with partiers, all twenty and thirty-somethings, drinking and listening to a comedian’s guide to The Uptown. Not a mask among them, so, I guess the back of the bus was The Hot Zone for the whole ride.
Call me overly-cautious, but I don’t even drive with my vents left open. Behind that party bus, I think I’d just turn to take a different route.
Late last evening we were startled when what sounded like gunfire from an armed skirmish rattled our windows. It built in fury for several minutes before we realized it was fireworks over the baseball stadium perhaps a half mile from us. We learned that the Charlotte Symphony had hosted a concert for first line health care providers. The stadium seating was limited to 750 attendees for the event. It’s normally 10,000+.
How hard is it to downsize? And what can help you get through it?
After a month of merging the contents of our now-sold house in Georgia into our already-furnished condo in Charlotte, NC, I can report that it is possible, but not easy. Questions arise, like, dear God in heaven, do I REALLY possess 30-plus tee shirts, dating as far back as 1976? Or, ok, I remember buying one recliner, but how did we ever end up with FOUR? And, What does it say about us that we possess no fewer than eleven devices intended to open a wine bottle? …Although, admittedly, those did see a lot of use over the past four weeks.
It’s worth noting, too, that this wasn’t just the contents of a 3300 square foot house that needed shifting. It was also the accumulated stuff you might gather over 25 years in a 2500 square foot hangar. Two riding mowers, three work benches, four bicycles, rakes, shovels, implements of destruction, automotive tools, old batteries, cinder blocks, lumber, plumbing supplies, and on, and on…
Yes, it was a gargantuan task, but what did we learn?
What’s the take-away?
Well, for one, emotional attachments to “stuff” are pretty much toxic. While I do love the sentimental rush I get by going through old drawers and bookcases, it bears reflection that those old mementos have been marinating for decades in darkness. And only now to elicit that murmured “aww”. After trashing about three cubic feet of fuzzy photos of inexplicable locales and strangers, I felt light as a feather. Likewise for a closet full of old theater tickets, gimme hats, business cards, and mix tapes.
For another, no human being should ever have a favorite pillow, towel, or pair of sneakers. Such objects, if so favored, have undoubtedly worn out long before the bond was formed. And, oh, by the way: Take a look around, and you’ll realize that you possess no fewer than six pairs of worn sneakers, another four of bedroom slippers, and two of hiking boots, alongside a linen closet with dozens of towels, and a gaggle of lovely new-ish pillows. It’s time for change! Out with the old, in with the new!
Finally, what’s the most important thing?
Giving things away is much more satisfying than boxing, shifting, and keeping them.
I had an old piano; an upright Baldwin from the 1930’s, with yellowed ivories and worn ebony flats and sharps. I’d rescued it from the basement rec-room of a friend long ago, and lovingly refinished it. I took lessons, but never quite learned to play with any facility. When my daughter expressed a desire for it, I was very happy.
When her crew of friends who came to help move it were done with loading, I encouraged each of them to choose a piece of art from the house to take as a thank you. It gave me peace and joy to know that those objects would be kept in the light, and viewed with pleasure by these people and their friends. The alternative was storage in darkness.
Take those superfluous cork pullers, and all the whatever else… take it straight to Goodwill Industries, and help others to uncork some wine.
2020 is not my year. I realize it’s really not anybody’s favorite year, except maybe the makers of N95 masks. But as far as my life goes, this year really sucks. I had 68 really great years so I shouldn’t be complaining. Many people—my own parents included—don’t make it that far, healthy or not.
Let me sum up.
In March I had abdominal pain which led to surgery for a 14-cm kidney cyst removal in April. I have scars from belly button to around my side. It meant no running for a while—hell, I couldn’t do a single sit-up for weeks. I admit to much greater empathy for anyone undergoing major surgery now. Said cyst might have been prenatal and simply not bothered me till it got so big it started squeezing other bits of me out of the way. I don’t know how many stitches there were on the inside, but there were a heck of a lot of staples on the outside. (Normal kidney cysts, by the way, are 5-10 mm.) I’m released from care now and all is well on that front.
Or it was till June 13 when I started running again. And then fell. So now I have memory loss—I still don’t know where it happened or how I got back to the condo in Charlotte. Thankfully, a friend was there to make sure I didn’t do anything really stupid, like ordering 100 pairs of my favorite running shoes on a shopping binge. Which is just as well because now I’m walking and of course running shoes aren’t suitable for walking long distances.
Then along came August. I went for medical checkups not suspecting anything at all was wrong. But it turns out I have polyps in unmentionable places—wait, I’m a grown-up, I can say it—anal polyps, that have to be surgically removed because they’re painfully close to nerves in said unmentionable places. Painful being the operative word. Surgery—painful, embarrassing, and most definitely necessary—is scheduled for right smack in the middle of when we intended to be moving from one house to another, two states away. I’m confused—is that a good thing or a bad thing? “Honey, I can’t lift this box of tissues. Can you get it for me?” is sort of a good thing. “Honey, I can’t poop. Help!” is not so good.
The next day I found out I’m 1.5 inches shorter than I used to be. I was in denial—how can I be that much shorter and not notice? I mean, I don’t go around kissing Elliott that often anymore, but surely I would have noticed if I’d bussed his chin instead. But no. I can only conclude he’s 1.5 inches shorter as well. Alas, I have osteoporosis. I’m not believing it until I stand next to my daughter, who was excited some years ago when she magically ended up a slight bit taller than I. But with covid-19, it might be a while before I can check that one out. Also, because of said kidney issues (see above), I need to see an endocrinologist to make sure I get the right medicine for the osteoporosis. Sigh.
And today I found out I have melanoma. Granted, it was caught early—I do go for yearly skin checkups. And I get points because I’m the one who called attention to it. But it’s on my arm, and there will be surgery involved. And stitches, more stitches. Soon, I’ll be looking like FrankenAnn. How did I go from 68 years with no stitches to a gazillion stitches in one year?
I eat healthy—mostly vegetarian, but occasional steak and BBQ lapses. I exercise regularly and I’m training for my sixteenth marathon. I don’t smoke, and I don’t drink to excess. Usually.
I’m kind of afraid to go to another doctor this year.
A long time ago (in a galaxy far away), when I was still living in Michigan with six younger siblings, once in a while my father would insist on a poetry night. Each one of us kids would have to recite a poem before dinner, and the younger you were the easier it was. The flip side of that was, I always had the hardest. Usually I would choose something flippant, like The Spider and the Fly. But the last one I remember doing was Oliver Wendell Holmes’s The Last Leaf on the Tree. For some reason, it seems appropriate now. I think my brain is the last leaf on my body’s tree, I guess. Of course, if that’s not true, I’d probably be the last to know.
The Last Leaf
By Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.
I saw him once before,
As he passed by the door,
The pavement stones resound,
As he totters o’er the ground
With his cane.
They say that in his prime,
Ere the pruning-knife of Time
Cut him down,
Not a better man was found
By the Crier on his round
Through the town.
But now he walks the streets,
And looks at all he meets
Sad and wan,
And he shakes his feeble head,
That it seems as if he said,
“They are gone.”
The mossy marbles rest
On the lips that he has prest
In their bloom,
And the names he loved to hear
Have been carved for many a year
On the tomb.
My grandmamma has said—
Poor old lady, she is dead
That he had a Roman nose,
And his cheek was like a rose
In the snow;
But now his nose is thin,
And it rests upon his chin
Like a staff,
And a crook is in his back,
And a melancholy crack
In his laugh.
I know it is a sin
For me to sit and grin
At him here;
But the old three-cornered hat,
And the breeches, and all that,
Are so queer!
And if I should live to be
The last leaf upon the tree
In the spring,
Let them smile, as I do now,
At the old forsaken bough
Where I cling.
I think I must be feeling a bit self-centered today, so excuse this mess. Somehow, it helps to put this all out there, knowing there’s only a half-dozen people (if that) who read our blog anymore.
Maybe my lesson in all this is “Empathy.” Having been blessed with good health for so long, I tended to lose patience with those who focused on their own health, even if I never (I hope) showed it. So if you’re losing patience with me today, I totally understand. I’ll get over this. It’s just a bit much today.
And as Seth Myers says in closing, “Stay safe. Wash your hands. Wear your mask. We love you.”
Revisiting the habit of writing is like trying to resume any exhausting activity that’s good for you, like aerobic exercise, or stretching. So easy to abandon, and difficult to pick up once more. However, the exhaustion is a false impression (one hopes), and the benefits for health, mental and physical, assert themselves in time. It only feels like heavy lifting at first.
Were there good reasons to have neglected this blog? No. And yes.
No, in that I’ve had access to ample time. Since my last post I’ve retired. The nature of time has changed remarkably for me. My days are full of it.
But yes, too, in that the trickle of passing time has become a rushing torrent; a veritable fire hose blasting past me. I brew my morning coffee, blink, and watch the sun setting.
A friend resumed writing after a long hiatus just today, and inspired me to do so, too. He spent a few words reflecting on why he’d stopped, but concluded saying, “I will end the excuses here. I simply did not write, which is also ok.”
Retirement is as full of needful and wasteful actions as working life, except one gets to chose them. That, and choosing the proportion of necessary to capricious effort falls to me. I’ve not been a good steward of those choices consistently. While it’s fine to review a news-page in the morning, do I really need to read WaPo, the New York Times, and The Guardian, all three? Do I absolutely need to hear what Stephen Colbert said last night? AND Seth Meyers, too?
Maybe I should clear the pine straw off the roof first.
And, certainly, I should resume the practice of writing, and maybe sharing that with the winds of the internet. More content to follow!
Elliott and I have long been searching for something we can do together once he retires. At one point–a long time ago–I thought that might be flying, but the older I’ve gotten, the more frightened of that I’ve become, much to Elliott’s disappointment. Quilting isn’t really Elliott’s style, nor is running. Well, he runs–but he much prefers to do so by himself or just the two of us; races aren’t his thing. For me, however, the energy of a race and all of its people give me added energy. So, running’s out. Although we both like to read, that’s more of a solitary pleasure. Kayaking’s okay, but limited by weather and tides. We both vetoed golf, hunting, and a whole host of other ideas, for one reason or another.
Then we got invited to visit our friends Beth and Eric on their sailboat. I’d never been sailing before, and it was a perfect weekend. Slowly, the idea of getting our own boat took root. In June 2016, Elliott and I both attended the Windward School in Fernandina Beach for a weeklong sailing school, where both of us earned our ASA 104 certificates. (School isn’t nearly as easy as it used to be, let me tell you! Engine mechanics requires a bigger brain and a heftier vocabulary than I have, I’m afraid.)
We started visiting marinas wherever we went, drooling over sailboats, learning what we could about what we wanted and didn’t want. A well-maintained and gorgeous boat, Integrity, was just 25 feet long and we theoretically could step the mast ourselves if we wanted to join friends Cherie and Chris on the Great Loop–but sleeping would have been cramped and there was no kitchen. The Sneaky Tiki was gorgeous and everything we wanted, but a bit out of our price range. A 45-foot Bruce Roberts gave us a lot of room–but was probably more than two novices could easily handle. While Elliott searched and queried, I waited for the boat that would shout, “Pick me! Pick me!”
Sailing friends Kate and Fabio tied up in Jacksonville, just across the pier from Kathryn. Elliott visited the two of them, and it turned out the owner was getting ready to put Kathryn on the market. She’s a Tartan 37, and has had only the one owner since her manufacture up in Ohio in about 1980. We indicated our interest, and set up a sea trial a couple weeks later. She sails like a dream. Smooth, gorgeous, and definitely worth waiting for. I heard her say “Pick me!” loud and clear.
Like any good prospective boat owner, we’re having a survey done, in mid April. Boat surveyors act like home inspectors, checking into and under all the nooks and crannies that newbies like us wouldn’t think twice about. “See these bubbles here? That might indicate a bit of rot under the paint.” “Compression check shows one of your cylinders isn’t…doing its cylinder thing.” (Have I mentioned how I don’t understand engine mechanics…yet?)
Hopefully, Kathryn will pass her survey with flying colors. We’ll be down there that day, shadowing the inspector. If all goes well, she’ll get a new coat (or two!) of bottom paint, as long as she’s out of the water. And the next step will be moving her closer to us…and that means sailing!
After Oregon and Ann’s sisters, we made our way south and east. Our route was very fluid, which is the way I like it best. I’m happiest when the plan is largely unplanned, and chance has a chance to work. In a word, serendipity is permitted to be the guide.
A circle of long-ago friends had converged on Palo Alto, California in the salad days of the tech and dot-com boom. They’ve been mostly out of touch, but through facebook we’d reconnected in that pleasant, vague way the social nets work. Doug Kalish had graciously invited us to “drop in” when he’d noticed we were hosting up in Oregon, and so, arriving in California, we did.
Doug was a good friend of my brother (seniors when I was a sophomore in high school), and his wife, Donna, a classmate of mine, and the best friend of a girl I dated back then. That girl, Vicky Reich, lives in Palo Alto, too, and hearing that we were visiting, stopped by with her husband, David Rosenthal, to say hello after the zesty fish tacos Doug and Donna had whipped up for our dinner. Meeting Donna’s sister, Debbie, added to the party. It was great fun to re-connect! ; to see how much and how little life has changed us all; to see the achievements of truly good people leading fine lives.
The next morning after a breakfast frittata and a bracing walk with Doug, we packed back up and drove north and east to Yosemite National Park. Yosemite proved to be a difficult park to enjoy that day, in part because of its size, and because it was a “free day”( very crowded!), but also because we got a late start on our way, and had scant time to explore. The dryness of the season, and five years of California drought made for a parched view of Yosemite’s splendors. Feeling frustrated, we climbed out of the valley taking the eastern route at dusk into nightfall, and found a room at Bishop, CA. In the dark, we’d blown on past several points of interest Doug had recommended. The obvious remedy to those omissions and the poor job we made of seeing Yosemite is to return and hike them properly some day soon.
From Bishop, we took Hwy 266, a back road route up and over the mountains that define the western boundary of Death Valley. This was a twisty and challenging two lane road, and every other car we saw seemed to be a jeep. The landscape was dry, but not barren, and certainly not without bright colors. The road was lined with yellow blossoms of what looked like eastern ragweed to me, but is probably something else. The geology was volcanic, with magma cores, and lots of basalt and obsidian formations. In the distance were bands of rich reds interspersed with white and sand shades.
Driving along we read to each other from ‘Little Heathens’ by Mildred Armstrong Kalish, a gift from Doug written by “Millie”, his mom. It’s rather wonderful; a memoir of growing up on an Iowa farm during the depression. It’s full of details so very similar to my own mother’s stories of childhood in Oklahoma in the same years.
On our way, we took special note of a small cluster of stone block ruins that flashed by on our left as we descended into the heat of Death Valley, itself. Traffic and a sharp curve prevented us from stopping, but we were able to identify the place as Palmetto, Nevada, a twice-failed ghost town from the silver rush days of the territory. Started in the 1860’s, the town was stripped away and moved as the silver ran out. With new silver claims discovered in 1903, the town was rebuilt, but failed again in a few short years.
Our route carried us south, through Las Vegas, where I idly wished for a ‘Museum of Fear and Loathing: A strange and savage commemoration of Hunter S. Thompson’. Alas, there is no such place. We stopped briefly on the shore of Lake Mead, but never caught as much as a glimpse of the Boulder Dam. We finally pulled off of I-40 and on to Route 66 at the town of Seligman, Arizona. Seligman’s special charm derives entirely from the famous road it clings to.
We found an inexpensive room at the Romney Motel. It was clean, and provided everything we required, and offered a discount at Lilo’s Grill, a wonderful family dining experience just five minutes by foot from our digs. After supper, as we started our walk back, we found the “blood moon eclipse” rising on the horizon directly in front of our path. It was a fine dessert to top our day crossing the desert.
I’m posting from Jacksonville, Oregon under a waxing moon up a ridge overlooking pine and sage forest. This is the home of one of my sisters-in-law and her husband. It is her birthday and we are having a slow food meal, extended courses of Asian food lovingly prepared by Gary, my brother-in-law. Ann’s family is warm, talkative, and close. Opening Meg’s presents should be hilarious. It’s nice to hang out with them.
The camper which sheltered us in such style over the last two months has been turned over to its new owner, a nice woman from Burlington, Washington. We gave the keys to her in a parking there, and hit the road south on our way to visit with Ann’s three sisters in Bend, Ashland, and here.
Kate, Ann’s youngest sister, is a professional wrangler and horse trainer in Bend.We spent half a day visiting her ranch there. She works in wild horse rescue, and is perhaps the most passionate person about her work I’ve ever met. Every horse she introduced us to was saved from slaughter and the meat packers. (Yes, horse meat is processed hereabouts, for shipment to Europe, mostly.) She is an amazing person.
Sue is Ann’s sister in Ashland, and we lunched with her earlier today, and had the fun bonus of meeting her granddaughter, Ellie, and her mom Gretchen who we hadn’t seen since her wedding three years ago. Many family smiles and hugs were traded over soup and melted cheese sandwiches. Sue is a healthcare professional and educator, with hundreds of patients indebted to her for her skill.
It’s of more than passing interest that there are three mountains overlooking this region, called The Three Sisters: They are called Faith, Hope, and Charity, and they grace western Oregon’s horizon in a line. Ann’s three sisters- Kate, Meg, and Sue, and their families, are beacons for Ann in this region, the heartland of her tribe in the west.
The wished for endgame to our summer-into-autumn on Orcas Island has happened: This morning we found a buyer for The Clipper motor home, and will turn over the keys in TWO DAYS. This was fairly sudden. We didn’t really expect to find a buyer, but Craig’s List and the posters we displayed here and there have been more effective than we expected. I’ve fielded some ten inquiries, and shown the camper three times in just a week.
Yesterday morning, I had a nice chat with a young woman who said to expect a call from her mom later on, and, indeed, her mother rang me up and we chatted for almost an hour about the features and finer points of The Clipper. She rode out this morning from the mainland on the earliest ferry, with daughter and grandson in tow, and graciously listened to my pitch. Fifteen minutes after that, she put down a deposit on a fair price, and said they’d come back for it on Monday. Pow, just like that! So now we are cheerfully eating everything in the fridge, and thankful that I thought to pick up packing cartons the last time we visited the grocery store.
The road home will take us into Oregon so Ann can visit her sisters, then on into California and Nevada. We expect to see a friend or two passing through Arizona, and will make our way to Plactidas, New Mexico to return our borrowed station wagon. With luck and good weather, we hope to spend a day seeing friends at a Balloon Rallye near Albuquerque. And then it will be time to pack the Comanche, and begin the flight across the south to make our way home to Georgia.
It’s been an amazing time, hiking and serving other hikers here at Moran State Park. I’m very grateful to the Friends of Moran for the chance to do all this, and to Ann for finding the opportunity, as well as encouraging me to jump on board.
As I write this, we are 11 days from leaving Orcas Island. The time has flown by, and we still have a lot to do before we leave. Primary among those items is the decision on how to dispose of the RV if we don’t sell it between now and then. (Day before yesterday, we listed it on Craigslist and posted notices on bulletin boards all over the island.)
We know we can store it here for a reasonable fee, but then what do we do? Try to sell it from afar? Come back and retrieve it? In many ways, selling it before we go makes a lot of sense because that would tie up loose ends, but even then, in my daydreams, I’m trying to find ways to come back to the island. (Family reunion? Retirement? This has been an awesome–in the best sense of the word, full of awe–experience.)
Orcas Island is a phenomenal place. The people–undoubtedly tired of the 800,000 tourists who come traipsing through here each year–have been uniformly gracious and friendly. The scenery–no matter where you look– is spectacular. The lifestyle is thoughtful and mindful, rather than the mindless rushing about of regular life. Crime is almost nonexistent. The arts flourish here. There are no chain stores (well, I did see a NAPA Auto Parts) and, compared to most of our lives, that is no drawback at all.
Stationed up here on top of the mountain, the weather is a little cooler and wetter than I’d like–but I hear it’s warmer and sunnier down at the bottom, so maybe that’s not as much of a drawback as it seems. (We’re looking at five days of cold and rain coming up–naturally, on our days off when we’d like to get things done.) I’d like to do more running–flat, road running, not this trail running nonsense that eats up my knees, both inside and outside–and I’ve seen several gravel paths running through and near town.
I feel a sense of community with this place. I don’t know how well it would stand up to day-in, day-out, year-round living, but I sense it would be abundantly pleasant. Even allowing for the “grass is always greener” effect, it’s far better than the mindless existence so many of us settle for.
But I am only one half of a couple, and it takes two to make things work. I think Elliott agrees with me on much of the above, but perhaps not enough to drop everything and move. And moving might destroy the dream. There are tough decisions to make. What I’d like to do is grab all the people I care about and move them here with me too–but that daydream is unrealistic.
Home is where the heart is, and part of my heart will always be here on the island, no matter where I’m living.
After a truly wet and chilly week bracketing Labor Day Weekend, the sun returned to Orcas Island, much as it has been throughout August. The rains were sufficient for Moran State Park to remove the campfire ban, but the season here is now largely over, and the number of campers but a fraction of last month’s count. Cabin fever had me itching for a hike.
On a day trip to Deer Harbor, I’d noticed the trail heads, north and south, for Turtleback Mountain Preserve. This block of wilderness, although somewhat smaller than Moran, is its equal for hiking beauty. The preserve boundaries encompass Ship Peak and Turtlehead mountains, with well groomed trails ascending from the south end trail head past vista after vista. I was hiking with our friend, Darlene, one of the summer volunteers, and also one of the ice cream “wenches” at the Moran Park’s ‘Sugar Shack’.
Turtleback is less well known than Moran, and even in peak season will give one a very quiet experience in the wild, with much less hiking “traffic” than the Moran trails carry. Climbing up the South and West Overlook trails, I was surprised to find madrona trees of much greater girth than you typically see on the shorelines of Orcas Island, and at an elevation much higher. The overlooks encompassed the full length of West Sound, dotted with sails and ferries.
We stopped at Ship Peak for a rest and a spot of lunch. At this point, one crosses a ridge ascending Turtleback, and the views overlook the populated interior of Orcas Island, with a patchwork of farms, hayfields, orchards, forests and vineyards extending all the way to East Sound and North Beach. It’s very different than most of the vistas seen hiking at Moran State Park, which reveal only forest lands extending to the eastern water passages, the mainland, and Vancouver Island.
Had we gotten underway earlier in the day, Darlene and I would have turned west above Ship Peak, and made the climb up to Turtlehead mountain, but the days were getting shorter, and our exit plan from the park entailed walking down to the NORTH trail head, and hitchhiking back to the car, parked at the south end. I didn’t want to be thumbing a ride too close to sunset, so we turned east at the branch leading up the highest mountain at the preserve.
Even so, there are two overlooks with wonderful vistas along the north trail, Waldron Overlook and North Valley Overlook, followed by a steep descent to the trail head.
I informed Darlene that my secret superpower is hitchhiking, stuck out my thumb, and the very first car stopped and gave us a ride all the way back to the south end trail head. Our chauffeur was a lovely lady, the proprietor of the Blue Heron B&B, with a sweet old Labrador retriever. She went out of her way to deliver us to our car, and we shared a fun conversation as we rode.
Turtleback Mountain Preserve, although less well known, is one of Orcas Island many splendid treasures, and must be seen.