A Woodlands Easter Morning

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Mist rises from a farmer’s pasture across the street from our gate shortly past sunrise on Easter morning.

A few days ago I almost pulled the plug (again) on this space for sharing. I was feeling inadequate and disconnected; restless and jumpy. I hadn’t been keeping up with what everyone else is (or isn’t) writing. This is a cycle. I recognized it for what it was, and just left things alone. What I mean is, for once in my impetuous blog life, I didn’t screw around with it, and figured time would show me the way. As Mother used to say, “When in doubt, don’t.”  After walking the woods today, I feel incredible gratitude that you are all still there writing, posting, and sharing your photos and your art, and that I am, too. I’m grateful I didn’t touch that delete dial and waited instead for the moment to pass. Thanks for sticking with me.

SUNRISE

I stand at the glass front doors, drink hot coffee from a small clear class mug, and watch a yearling whitetail deer graze alongside three heavy-set, bearded turkeys. I’ve seen this quartet before; sometimes playing a bumptious game, a cross between tag and king of the hill. This morning they simply share a grazing space, a circle of winter-browned turf with a fine growth of bitter weeds and sweet spring grass.  After a time, they wander off into the green clearing to skim seeds from the tall oats, wheat and rye planted last fall.

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This is one of those transitional spring mornings, almost too cool at 7:00 a.m. for short sleeves.  Colors are copper, chartreuse. The dull red of the old tractor, seen from the corner of my eye, tugs. Patched up and limping, it has the heart of a lion, if a tractor might be said to have a heart. Another season, maybe two. And then? There are worse fates than to become an object d’art on the landscape, or taken by vines and nested in by wrens.

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I have looked at the slick advertising purveyed by the developers of created towns for the active near old showing off wide sidewalks, fountain-spouting reclamation ponds disguised as landscaped water features, club houses with gleaming steel mechanical horses, and activities designed to deflect aging minds from the fact they are dying and PDQ. Videos show youthful bodies with well-coiffed gray hair zipping around in electric vehicles. EVs are ever so much more stylish than Golf Carts. They kayak at dawn, run, play all sorts of games, drink wine, dine out, and dance under the stars. Fencing lessons, anyone?

Some days I wonder if we are missing something by walking the same path every day, solo or accompanied only by one another. I laugh typing this. Sounds like something only a fool would say. And yet, I suppose some might wonder at our continual fascination with this leaf, that rough-looking lizard, that lemon yellow flower no bigger than the end of my pinkie; our deep satisfaction with living out of sight of neighbors. Most mornings, I only wonder what lucky star I was born under, to live like this. 

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Red-blanket lichen looks like thick, bright paint on a live oak tree branch, a homily of symbiosis.

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Trees all along the gravel road to the gate seem painted with calligraphic symbols . Come along. This way. This way. Don’t worry. You’re not lost.

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The vine-strangled magnolia we rescued last year is bursting with growth tips all along every branch. I am moved; inspired.

Family’s coming over for supper tonight, so I won’t have time to post the mid-morning walk until late tonight or tomorrow. See you then, and hope you’ve had a good day, too.

A New Year’s Eve Wild Mushroom Tour

And why not? I have to go jump in the shower to get scrubbed and ready for kids and grandkids to join Buck and me for a New Year’s Eve “bring your own pizza” party. There will be all varieties, from artisanal to gluten-free and fully-loaded. We’ll have a blast, from ages 13 to 75.

After they leave, I’ll play around some more with fonts and colors, then say my first piece in the new year. Depending on how long they stay tonight, that piece may not get spoken until    mid-day tomorrow.

Meanwhile, I would not that ye have come to this page for nothing. So, here (ta da) is a semi-brief photographic tour of some of the coolest mushrooms in the woods. Buck and I noticed them about two weeks ago when we were out walking.  Something  was knocking many of them over like in a way that looked petulant. You’ll see.

Happy New Year — see you tomorrow and we’ll begin again!

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The Best Is Yet To Come

This is an early wish to you all for a Merry Christmas and a thrilling New Year. That man and I are up to some (more) mischief and I am highly unlikely to be blogging for awhile. I’m buckled up. It’s going to be a wild ride.

Love, Beth

The Comfort of Being Known

I look at the photo I impulsively snapped yesterday of this tender man so essential and dear to me and know that the expression on his face and in his eyes is for me and me alone in the world; that it wells up in him from our more than thirty years together as lovers, dreamers, builders, and best friends who each bring unique gifts to the table of our long marriage. No one has known me, or ever will, like Buck. And we will never have enough time to get it all said. But we try, oh how we try, and therein is great joy.

We wonder about the whether and whither of life after death. Do we want to go if we are not together? Will the wisdom gained in loving be used in some ineffable stream of human consciousness? Will we say goodbye or merely farewell? Will death be silent or a crush of voices from the past or something else entirely beyond our imagination? What holy man can tell us? Perhaps a young one, with the certitude of youth.  I only know the journey together is sweet like ripe berries, deeply nuanced, rich, satisfying, and draws out the best within me. I have been showered with a sky full of lucky stars. My heart feasts on gratitude daily, and its storehouse is full for the duration.

There is an oasis in downtown Pensacola that had gotten lost in the slipstream of our memory. We rediscovered it yesterday, when Buck said, “Let’s go see what’s happening at Seville Quarter. Maybe they’ll feed us lunch.”  Apple Annie’s Courtyard at Seville Quarter was dappled in sunshine and shade on this cool, crisp day. Our server, Anne, let us select just the table we wanted and then tossed a snowy white tablecloth in the air like a master pizza chef so that it came down lightly on the round cast iron and glass table.

Buck ordered a cup of house-made seafood gumbo and the salad bar (laden with lovely artichoke hearts, pickled okra, cherry peppers, and other delights). I ordered a bowl of gumbo with a smidgeon of rice . It came in a traditional shallow, wide, white bowl and was accompanied by sliced French bread.  It was the best of New Orleans’ French Quarter, right here in our own little town.  Anne, a warm and gracious person, hugged us on our way out and wished us a Happy Thanksgiving. We’ll be seeing her again next week for a repeat of that seafood gumbo and the ambiance of the courtyard.

Wherever you are, whether or not Thanksgiving is a part of your cultural tradition, I know that every day with a grateful heart is happier than any day without one. As to what comes next, I can’t believe that this is all there is, even though on a personal level it’s surely enough. I believe at the very least that our small flickers of energy will pool with others for a brighter light.  I’ll eat a bite of Pomegranate Cranberry Sauce today and wish you the very best of all this astonishing life has to offer and teach.

 

Not Quite Out of the Woods

Flying free in the woods is much more felicitous than being shrink-wrapped in the supermarket.

FUNNY HOW WE SPEAK OF SOMEONE being “out of the woods” as a sign that they are out of danger from a health crisis and yet when I see the wild turkeys so at ease in the woods on this Sunday before Thanksgiving, and I consider my own ease there as well, it is clear that for the turkey to be shrink-wrapped in a supermarket refrigerated case or me sky-dropped into a concrete canyon, to be “out of the woods” would be lethal for the turkeys and uncomfortable for me.

Thank you for the comfort of your words and prayers for my sister. She has just been moved down a notch from intensive care. There has been brain surgery to relieve pressure from swelling in the unforgiving skull.  There have been seizures. One day we conversed on the phone and the next she could not speak at all, and all the faces she beheld were as if they were strangers rather than her own good sons. During the past sixty hours, her ability to speak, to read, to think and to remember her loved ones and friends, has returned. The joy I felt upon hearing her slightly creaky voice, sometimes reaching for a word or phrase, is quite indescribable.

Buck and I talked once about creating video conversational interviews of one another to preserve the essence of light in the eye, timbre of the voice, body language and the je ne sais quoi that makes us us. We really need to do this for each other, against the day.

We walked the woods today. It was warm in the sunshine and a tad chilly in the shade, the sky electric blue. I hope you enjoy this little slideshow of our walk.

When a Sister Falls

THE SPACE BETWEEN MY LEFT EYEBROW AND HAIRLINE HAS GROWN TENDER  from the absent-minded circles I’ve been drawing on it for days now. I can’t stop replaying the awful image of my oldest sister falling onto the concrete floor of her son’s garage. Sometimes the fall is slow, like time-lapsed photography. It seems almost gentle, her left hand reaching for the ground at the last moment, her left hip and knee absorbing what they can. Other times, the fall happens fast, like a movie, and all I see is the point of impact, her left forehead. And I hear the sound usually described as a “sickening thud.”

I first learned of Ann’s fall the night it happened, October 19, from her youngest son. She was in neurological intensive care with a brain bleed, but conscious and lucid. The family tom-toms spread the news, and we all communicated in various ways. The neurosurgeon on scene in that central Florida hospital told Ann and her sons that if the bleeding continued over the next several hours, a craniotomy might be necessary to relieve pressure from brain swelling. If the bleeding stopped and the hematoma stabilized, then a period of watchful waiting would begin, after which it might be necessary to drill burr holes to remove the hematoma.

“A burr hole  for subdural hematoma is performed to remove a hemorrhage (blood clot) from around the surface of the brain.  The location of the blood clot is beneath the firm covering of the brain known as the dura mater, and is therefore called subdural hematoma.  Generally, when a blood clot is moderately old (at least two to three weeks), it may  be drained through a small hole in the skull, and a large craniotomy flap (opening in the skull) might be avoided. 

The patient will be taken to the operating room and put to sleep under general anesthesia.  The head will be partially shaved, to expose the area of operation.  The head may simply rest on towels, or it may be placed in three fixation points (Mayfield head pins).    The area where surgery is to be performed is then “prepped and draped” using an antibiotic solution.  Next, the surgeon will make an incision, and reflect the scalp over the area of the hematoma.  Then, an air powered drill is used to make a hole in the skull.  The dura mater (tough covering of the brain) is then opened.  The hematoma (blood clot) is now seen, and the surgeon will irrigate some of it out, and may pass a drain around the brain to provide post-operative drainage.  The surgeon will then close the scalp.”

Reference from Neurosurgery, P.A., Houston, Texas 

I was amazed to be able to speak with Ann on the phone that night, and incredibly relieved to hear her scratchy voice telling me, “I don’t know what happened. I didn’t trip over anything. I guess I just got tangled up in my own feet.”

Late that night, the good word came that the pool of blood had stopped moving. No middle of the night surgery.

After several stable days in intensive care, she was moved to a regular room, and then to a rehabilitation center to wait until the brain healed without surgery, or it was deemed safe to drill the burr holes to relieve pressure and remove the hematoma. Management of such an injury would be complicated with any patient, but a 75-year-old, diabetic woman with a bad heart propped up with two stents is especially delicate. Blood thinners attenuate brain bleeds.

All the while, Ann’s headache remained severe and steady, but her mental status had been clear. Until yesterday. Following a physical therapy session, she returned to her room, went to sleep, attempted to answer a phone call from one of her sons, and couldn’t find words. I think the medical term for this loss of language is aphasia. It resolved quickly, but she was taken by ambulance to the nearest hospital, where a scan revealed a small trickle of new bleeding.

Ann’s a feisty redhead, a widow now for several years. We shook our collective heads and said, “You go, girl,” when she climbed risers to sing with her church choir the day after having a heart stent put in several months ago. Even now, her main interest is getting back home to her own cooking, her granddaughter, and her church buddies — who are burning up the phone lines and the road checking up on Sister Ann. The docs kept her busy yesterday with an EEG, EKG, another CT scan and a panoply of other tests. Even in her pain, the retired registered nurse in her keeps an eagle eye on her meds, looks at the scans and her own chart. I imagine there are some lively bedside debates when opinions diverge.

Fingers crossed, sister. You’ve still got a lot of risers to climb and hymns to sing.

Nature and Novel-Writing

I LEARNED SOMETHING FUNDAMENTAL about perspective more than twenty years ago when my late mother-in-law was in the hospital with a series of complex medical issues. When the surgeon arrived in her room, it was with a swagger quite astonishing for such a chubby, short man. After briefly examining her swollen belly and theatrically flipping through her chart, he announced his decision to schedule surgery immediately.  Buck moved so quickly into the doctor’s space that the little man swayed backward. Buck spoke two words, crisply enunciated: “No knives.”  The surgeon blinked, put down the chart, and vanished.

Each of the medical specialists who were called in on the case had an internal bias about the solution when they came in the door. To the surgeon, the solution was a knife. The nephrologist insisted that Buck and I immediately tour the Dialysis Center to help prepare Lois for his recommendation. The cardiologist wanted to do exploratory angioplasty. The infectious disease specialist warned us that he was concerned she might have bacterial meningitis and urged us to race to her home and scrub it and ourselves down with anti-bacterial agents. He wanted to quarantine her room until lab test results were obtained.

In one of our absences from her room, a visiting Baptist had his own solution to her condition. He was so determined to save her 81-year-old Presbyterian soul that poor Lois roused herself from near coma to call for a nurse and have the presumptuous piss-ant ousted.

Well. That was a long time ago. Lois survived those encounters and went on to have a few sunny days before we lost her on June 15, 1995. My memory of her this morning is as sharp as that bright green leaf in the photograph. It stands out from the black and white background one expects from old snapshots.

Writing a novel is teaching me about perspective, too. When one gets involved in a project like this, almost everything appears to have extraordinary meaning that connects back into the writing.  Everyday events turn into metaphorical rune castings and tarot readings, heavy with symbolism, treasures I spirit away to my desk for further revelations.

Two days ago, I opened the sliding glass door from our bedroom onto a patio overlooking the pool. I stood motionless as soon as I saw a young hen turkey inside the fence alone. She appeared to be distressed, and was running up and down the fence line. I saw the rest of the flock of roughly twenty birds outside the fence, feeding and moving slowly on toward the woods west of the clearing around the house. It was then I heard two completely different calls: one from a turkey — possibly more than one — outside the fence; the other from the young hen who apparently thought she was trapped.

In her state of extreme anxiety, the hen paid no attention to me. A volley of calls to assemble with the flock and her repeated distress calls continued. She finally ran up the incline from the fence to the edge of the concrete around the pool, then back down again. Then she ran up the incline again, turned around, took a few running steps, then lifted off, easily cleared the fence and rejoined her clan. Moved by this display, I slipped back inside to stalk around the house and ponder.

I BEGAN TO THINK OF MY CHARACTER, GRACE, her mother, Claire, and the man Grace falls in love with, Jess. Grace never had a flock, Claire made a life-changing poor decision and left hers when she was still a teenager, and Jess belongs to a multi-generational flock that he fears is being displaced and he can’t do anything about it.  I realized with a pop of surprise, that I am writing about myself at different stages. Why should that be a stunner? And yet, it is.

Wild Turkeys by the Swimming Pool

Buck noticed them first. Two wild turkeys swaying, trying to balance themselves on top of the six-foot chain link fence around our back yard. Those two hopped down onto the ground inside the fence. The rest of the flock waddled in through the gate I had left open the other day when I was going to mow one last time for the season but didn’t because some small mow-stopping mechanical thing went wrong with the old John Deere and so I left it sitting where it stopped, outside the gate under an oak tree.

We have been seeing this group two to three times a day for several weeks. They normally circle the clearing between house and woods, darting enthusiastically at seeds and bugs. It’s hilarious to watch them run around on the driveway. I can almost hear the click-click-click of their steps. Yesterday, however, is the first time they’ve come exploring into the fenced area out back. The only reason we have a fence is that county code requires a swimming pool to be enclosed. Seems kind of silly out here on a hundred acres of woods, and looks ugly, too, but in our litigious society, the fence has to stay. Guess I better go close the durn gate, too.

The pool has an automatic vacuum system we call “the blue streak.” It is subject to rear up and spray water in your face or wet your clothes when you’re innocently walking by. Buck and I surmised that big turkey leaning over toward the pool may have seen movement from the blue streak. I’ll bet if it wiggled around and sprayed them, there would have been some kind of squawking, hissing, and flying. Sure would have been fun to watch. Still, we were highly entertained when two hens moved around each other in circular dance steps so lovely and formal I swear I could hear a string quartet accompaniment.

The turkeys spent almost an hour in the backyard exploring what was for them virgin territory. They eventually wound up by my motley assortment of bird feeders near the eastern border of the fence. The feeders draw zippy chickadees, angry-eyed fat doves, cardinals, titmice, goldfinch, and all sorts of tweets my brother Wally (see his gorgeous new blog, Our Florida Journal) could identify.

September’s End at Longleaf

Yesterday morning I walked our woods for the first time in more than two weeks. There were several cool nights while we were away; enough to tinge these oak leaves the colors of autumnal hydrangeas. Today, noisy rain has enclosed me in the sconce-lit dreaming space of my study, where I wear a soft old sundress and pink slipper socks, and drink pomegranate-infused green tea.

Every Blazing Star stalk in the woods seemed to come with its own bee yesterday. The drunken bees were slow and heedless of a camera-clicking person.

The forest was strung with dancing garlands. I wonder if they have tiny bulbs inside that light up at night?

A mushroom with strep throat? Blushing? Don’t believe I should touch or taste this one.

Haven’t you ever had one of those days when you were just too tired to hold your head up a minute longer?

Of course, if you stay down too long, somebody may move in.

Tiny yellow flowers sprinkled as if from a Lilliputian’s basket are everywhere I look. Who wouldn’t be cheered by these bright sprites?

I let a  rafter of 18 turkeys move through the clearing in front of the house before heading out for my walk. They bounded along, stopping every few steps to lunge at something on the ground, either a bug or a seed.  A young deer calmly watched as I moved into the woods. She probably grew up right here and has most likely seen me many times before. Our home, hers and mine.