The sky today is a mosaic of grays, sparkling whites, and veins of crystal-clear blue. The sun finds her way between all the patterning, and casts crazy shadows that dart across the garden. This morning the streets had that mellow scent of fresh rain. All of these delights are the offerings of autumn, sending a calling card of slanted shadows and a few golden leaves in advance of her arrival.
I’m happy to see her come! Autumn has always been my favorite season and I thrill to hear the wild geese once again singing their homage to the coming cold moons. In Medicine Wheel teachings, fall sits in the west, bringing the energies of harvest, and of both grief and celebration: What thrived? What blossomed and then unexpectedly died on the vine? What have we gathered to fill our larder for the coming winter and will it be enough? Can we hold all these colliding energies in our hearts simultaneously?
This Autumn, my housemates and I have been surrounded by unexpected deaths of friends, pets, folks dear to us, and those who orbit our lives as as treasured acquaintances, or complete strangers yet dear to our good friends. The deaths came swiftly, one upon the other.
At first, we slipped into grief as Cody, the eldest of our dog tribe, died of cancer. Then we fell into astonishment as the numbers began piling up.
Spent Queen Ann’s Lace with a hardy yarrow defying the brown.
I wander the garden now, and see the soft fingers of death enclose the annual weeds, and send the perennial plants into hibernation. I say goodbye to the milkweed stalks, knowing I’ll see them again come spring. Gold is the color of autumn, and red, too, but closer to the ground, beneath the watching eyes of the tall maples and alders, brown is the color that surrounds me. Dark browns, tans, prickly brown seed heads, sagging brown flower heads, beige leaves curling to a crisp.
Autumn gives us this glimpse of leave-taking, of perishing, and of moving on in spite of what we know awaits all of us at some point or the other. At 38 years, I was told I had perhaps a year or two of life left to me. And even then, I knew the diagnosis would be my greatest gift: Brushing so close to that coldest of moons where none awaken into spring gave me a startling perspective that changed and enriched my life more than I can say. I’m a better person for it.
Are the yellowing elderberry leaves better for it? Or the bumble bees whose season is nearly done, their young queens the only ones who may survive the winter? What about the butterflies in their chrysalises now–the ones who will not find their wings come spring? And the berries unpicked on the vine, shriveled and bringing their sweet juiciness to no one? Are they all the better for it?
I don’t know, but I know I am better for witnessing them, for truly seeing them. Their teachings are honest and true, encompassing both mystery and harshness, and stirring up emotions in me that remain unnamed for now. Whomever springs up from the brown ground or the stone pile come spring, I will celebrate, trusting that those who took leave–whether bee, or root, or winged–have left the whisper of their essence behind. They never leave, I think, but their offerings change form into compost, or food for some hungry one, or fertile soil for my heart’s sweetest longings.
May I come to grieve the celebration, and celebrate the grieving–all one thing. All one thing.
I’ve watered this all summer. I thought it was a weed, but then it turned into this just yesterday! Autumn has her mysteries!
This is something I wrote months ago, and forgot to post...
On a cold morning in late winter, I was overcome with an urge to take Carter to the forest, and to walk as slowly and exploratively as I wanted. I did not expect nor desire to go far. I simply didn’t have the strength yet. So, I grabbed my phone, my walking stick, and my dear walking companion and headed off. Often, I post the photos with brief descriptions on my FB page, but this time, I wanted to go deeper into how I “see” and experience the forest when I am alone.
My mother had a green coffee mug with the word “Simplify” written across it in white block letters. It had been her life’s motto, and it served her well. In her final years, she lived in a small senior apartment on an income of $1,100 a month social security. She managed to pay for senior lunch meals, cat litter, groceries, and all her other bills and still had money left over at the end of the month.
I need to find where I stashed that green mug, because its message has come home to roost with me this year. January was the month that I got out of a month-long stay at the hospital, left my home of ten years, and moved permanently—and with shocking swiftness—into a small studio apartment on the ground floor of my best friend’s three-story home.
A small assortment of family photos makes the journey with me.
I left not only my house, but also my marriage, my gardens, my dreams, my dog, and pretty much all of my previous adult life. Mostly, health issues forced it. My doctors tell me that many of their older patients are struggling with what to do with a life that no longer fits in the face of physical or mental frailty. Mostly, they say, their patients resign themselves to a life they no longer want nor can manage. None of their patients, they tell me, do what I did, which was leave everything and begin a very modest, frugal reconstruction of everything I’d been and done. “Not at this age…” they say. “At this age, they just give up…”
I have no idea why I was able to make such a radical, fast, and total life change. But I’ll ascribe it to this: one other time in my life, I suddenly got the message that the life I had been living was over. It was when I was living in the Grand Tetons of Wyoming, and a thought drifted across my mind from out of the blue: “Perhaps the mountains are done with you now.”
My first piece of “real art” purchased from a Teton gallery is a memory of those years.
I’d been Rocky-Mountain-obsessed since the age of six, and my identity was completely tied up with those brittle sharp Teton snow peaks and the enduring currents of the Snake River. Done with me? Surely, you jest! But it was no jest, and I left the Rockies five months later with my husband never looking back.
That thought that had floated into my mind at that time came from some very deep place, deeper than bone marrow, deeper than consciousness. It seemed to morph out of the mystery of the cosmos itself, and once it made itself known, it became my truth: The mountains were done with me.
This sudden move from my old life I am making now came from that same mysterious place, where something numinous knows better than we what is required. I left the hospital knowing I’d have an income of $1,200 social security to live on—impossible in the pricey Northwest. I figured I might be living in a cardboard box on the city streets, but even that didn’t deter me. My old life was done with me. Again.
A new place to sleep, under the quilt cover made for me by my housemate, Debbie.
Within a week of my hospital exit, the opportunity arose to become a housemate of my friend and her husband, seemingly out of that same mystery that had ended my previous life. None of us were expecting this. It simply became. And I found myself looking at a lovely 12-by-17-foot space of clear walls, windows, and wooden floors. A bathroom was next door.
The green mug skimmed across my mind, blinking “Simplify” in large block letters. In the chaos of life collapse, I needed to furnish this unexpected space with what was most important. How to condense the life I’d lived down to its barest and most essential?
Well, it’s been an odd journey. Going back to MillHaven, my old home, has felt dreamlike, as though I’m a ghost there wandering amongst what was. I hurry through my infrequent visits, grabbing old stuff of mine that feels meaningful: my mother’s stainless steel bowl, my medicine pipe, a soup pot, Dinky’s cat food bowl, a literal armful of clothes, a small carpet, a container of kitchen utensils.
Old photos and art have filled my car trunk, feeling as necessary to my journey as air. Gifts from friends long loved and gone found their way to the new space. Two pieces of furniture: an old gate-leg table and an antique secretary desk came along. My friend Debbie supplied a bed and a cozy recliner, some end tables, and some lamps.
My old secretary desk, and a wall of treasured bee things.
The dizzying swiftness of my life morph didn’t accommodate much planning. So here I am now, just barely three months into it all, surveying what came here to my new room (nicknamed The Fortress of Solitude), and what didn’t. I have time now to ask myself what I miss and what I don’t.
Strangely, I miss nothing from my old life. What I feel in the course of shedding so much is a profound sense of relief and lightness of being. So trust that if the mystery says you are “done,” well…you are done. I wonder if indeed this is the way to jump-start a new life—by not planning and letting your gut decide what follows you and what stays. What would you take? What might you leave?
When I was at my most ill, this print reminded me of who I was at my core: A lover of bees, protected by wolf spirit.
My living situation is unusually advantageous in that I have the “main house” to use as needed. It is a bit like a co-housing situation in that the main floor that houses the living room and kitchen (along with a TV room, library, and piano room) is shared space. If I want to cook something big, I do it upstairs. All three of us visit there, and share most meals and morning coffee or tea.
A garden space of spirals and small paths…
I’ve been granted garden space, and the stewardship of a nice, thriving stock pond. In many ways—all of them lucky and unintended—my life as it settles here may look much like my old life but much, much smaller. I find that my passions remain: I may begin teaching again about bees and gardens, but on a smaller scale. My garden can be measured in feet rather than yards. I’ll have two bee hives instead of six to tend.
A skep to be filled come spring…
My health limitations can be managed here because my responsibilities are few. My life is small and simple enough to be joy-filled now, rather than stress-filled beyond my bearing. I didn’t expect to be living in a small village of three, and I would say that a condensed life (any life, really) is better with supportive friends and helpmates.
My village now includes a squadron of tadpoles, just hatched…
I like my life so much better in one room than I ever did in a house. Each item that came with me is precious, from the soup ladle of my dad’s, to the serving spoon from my grandmother. Everything in this sun-filled space has a tender story connected with it, a memory of wonder, a sheath of respect embracing it.
It remains to be seen how I’ll do on $1,200 a month. And how long this period of my life will last. In these elder-hood years, life can shift in an instant, and so I treasure every minute now of peace and joy, knowing that everything changes, all the time.
A place to write and to muse…
Simplify is my motto now, and I wish I’d arrived a that perspective years ago. If life were to ask this of you, would you be grateful, terrified? I truly would love to hear!
I’m writing this very personal piece because I’ve been traversing a path that has pushed me into the potential and the terror of change, and I’m talking about big climate change here.
A new view of the world…read on!
Climate change is not something that is only happening “out there.” As the world goes, so do we because we are part of Earth, and many of you may be feeling your inner climates shift, heave, and blow. I have gone through a huge climate upheaval these past few months. My shorelines are rearranged. For awhile, there was nothing but cyclone after cyclone. I lunged across the barrier of what is socially acceptable, and am now living with days of sunlight scattered with regular ground tremors…
I want to share this story as honestly and gently as I can, in hopes that it may give you courage if your own geography buckles and breaks apart.
Those of you who have followed my writing for years know that I have struggled with MMD (major depressive disorder) for decades. Sometimes it is bearable, sometimes it takes stays in a mental hospital to keep me going.
For these past two years, MMD sent my mind into an exceptionally black hole and my body into what felt like pure paralysis. I could not eat, I could not think, I could no longer tend house, garden, or marriage. I was bedridden, with tremors, dizziness, weakness and bile-making fear.
Somewhere during this time period, I scarcely remember when anymore, John and I decided to build a small apartment on our property that we could manage to live in and tend. His son would take over the main house at MillHaven and help care for us. John has lived with a multitude of chronic health issues including chronic pain for many years. We both knew we could no longer live as we did. The tiny house still is not completed, but we trusted the plan was sound.
Dinky contemplates his own changes…
In early December, I took a further deep dive into into the blackness, and came to believe that suicide would be my only path forward. This is common with MDD, as depression’s goal is always to kill you. And so I checked myself into a mental hospital for the third time in ten years as a last resort—a last and final hope to get me to the finish line of the completed tiny house, and some helping hands living in MillHaven proper.
Those of you who have never had to voluntarily commit yourself to a mental unit are blessed to never have experienced trying to find hope and salvation in hell. Whatever the medical world says, mental health care is hideous unless you have lots and lots of money and can afford private care. These hospital units are understaffed, often poorly staffed. The patients are a boggling mix of addicts, psychotics and seriously mentally ill people off the streets, parole violators, and depressed people like me. All of us are tossed together there for medications, interventions of many sorts, and all of us are sent out on our way too swiftly, and with little care of where we wind up.
Perhaps because I was old and gray, and near death, the center where I would spend the next month took pity on me and extended my stay from the normal 8-10 day rollover. My prayer was that they could find a mix of antidepressants that would work for me, and give me guidance on how to best live my very marginal life.
I was quickly disabused of the idea that I would get any guidance, as the social workers were so slammed with patients that I saw mine very rarely, so I changed my prayer to one for just some good drugs.
In climate change, they speak of “tipping points.” I thought that I had already passed that indicator and was in the sea-levels-rising stage, but I was mistaken.
Three days after I landed in what I call the Looney Bin, My husband told me over a brief phone call that his son had decided for unforeseen reasons he would not be moving into MillHaven. “I don’t know what we are going to do,” John said.
It was a quiet phone call with no real indication of imminent continental colliding. But that call—that call—was my tipping point.
I hung up the phone and my life exploded into pieces. I shuffled back into my room in a crazy trance, my head deciding without my input whether to dive into a psychotic break, or throw me gasping onto some unknown shore.
By some act of grace alone, it chose the shore. I plopped down on the edge of my bed with the rubber mattress and plastic pillowss and said out loud to an empty room, “I can’t go home anymore.”
The moment those words hit the air, everything inside of me gut-clutched and spasmed into the shape of a hitherto unknown map. It felt instant, but perhaps I was spinning for hours. When the tsunami settled, my vision of how I had been living clicked into a sudden and riveting clarity: I knew in my very bones that I had long passed the place of living with the responsibility of home and garden and the daily is-ness of adult life. What had I been thinking? These things—only hours before major sources of my identity—suddenly fell away. I lost all attachment to them. “That was the past…” my mind said. “That way is gone now…”
Imagine a new world order…
The lava flowed when I tried to explain this to John. He was completely blindsided, as I would have been if our situation were reversed. “What are you doing?! Why??” he shouted across the phone lines.
I didn’t have good answers. All I could say at the time was, “I have to do this. If I want to live, I have to do this…” How could he possibly understand? I hardly could myself.
Meanwhile, as Christmas came and went, my inner continents sorted themselves a bit. Surprisingly, I found myself able to eat normally after four years of struggle. The new medications began kicking in and the brain fog that had engulfed me for several years began to blow slowly away as fresh breezes asserted themselves. I was still on the walker, and so dizzy I dropped to my knees often and fully passed out once. My hands shook so badly, it was hard to move spoon to my mouth without losing most of the contents along the way.
The stress of the tectonic shift was gigantic, and yet I had never been as certain about anything in my life as I was about this: I could not go home. That was all that I knew for sure. My marriage? Where to live? How to live on a tiny income alone? While my outer world flooded and metaphorical tornadoes raged all around me, I was shockingly calm on the inside.
“Put yourself into the current, and trust,” my heart murmered one rainy morning. And since there was nothing else I could do, I let go and allowed myself to make tentative plans. When I finally left the Looney Bin, my dizziness left as well and I was sure-footed stepping onto the train to head back to my town. Somehow, I had arranged two-months-worth of a roof over my head with various friends.
I hoped that I’d find something more permanent in that time period that I could afford. I imagined myself in a small trailer somewhere, or in a tiny senior apartment, or a room in a house, or in assisted living. In my less trusting moments, I imagined myself in a large cardboard box on a curb.
I’ve read about what can happen when you completely let go of something. Not just wish or think about letting go but when you take that leap and have utterly no idea if there will be a bridge beneath you, or a bottomless abyss.
Beneath me was an unforeseen bridge. My new bee corner…
The weather on the home front was cataclysmic. My psychiatrist said, “You know, not many people will understand this.” She told me that many of her clients were in very similar situations with both of them falling downhill, knowing the situation was killing them, yet they stayed until death or the hospital took them and charted their involuntary course forward.
“Do you know anyone who has done what I’ve done?” I asked. “No. No one. What will you say to people who can’t understand this?” she queried. “I’ll say that when the airplane is going down, you need to put your own oxygen mask on first.”
A few weeks later, my FaceBook friend, David, posted this:
“Letting people be wrong about you or a situation while keeping your peace and focus is the most misunderstood power move you will ever make.”—Morgan Richard Olivier
If I could remember to say that I would, but the airplane quote is easier to recall, and it remains true for me.
Fast forward two months: Has my climate settled into a “new normal” or are ice storms still raging? Well, both. The strong current of life I’ve been riding took me swiftly and surprisingly into an unexpected permanent living situation with a dear friend and her husband. I have a large private room in their home, and pay a monthly fee toward food and utilities. Dinky my old cat has moved with me. It is perfect for me at this stage of my life and health. These dear friends—angels, really— have turned over a corner of their large pollinator garden to me and my bees. I also am managing a frog pond here.
New garden space!
This all came about with no advance planning or even hoping. It arrived in my life like a “God-plop,” leaving me stunned, humbled, and wondering how I ever fell face-first into such blessed goodness.
I also said “yes” to an opportunity to teach bee classes again this summer. Because my living quarters are small and my responsibilities few, I am able to use my still limited energy for joy and wonder again.
A new frog pond to tend!
Much remains unsettled. Climate change takes time, and there are many earthquakes around fault lines. While I would never recommend such an abrupt course shift as I’ve taken to anyone, I would also say, if it needs to be, follow the current and trust. Trust those old adages that when you finally crack the light comes in, that when you hit bottom there is nowhere left to go but up, that only empty hands can be filled with new possibilities.
Facing this blank page, I’m a bit cowed. It’s been months since I wrote anything but a FaceBook post, and with the calamities colliding in my life, I’m not certain my ability to write has survived. Let’s see: Continue reading →
I have been trying to get the gumption to let my yard “go.” Many of my friends would say that I’ve already done that, as MillHaven’s gardens are pretty wild as is. I leave all the weeds, and little here could be misconstrued as “managed.” The borders are amorphous at best, and birds are always planting new seeds each year, so we never know what will show up.
Yet for all this messy joy, I’ve had a pretty heavy hand in the yard for years, pulling grasses, moving plants from here to there, and trimming back all the tall things so they won’t flop over in midsummer. I mow and weed-wack as needed, and try to maintain some semblance of order.
This was our hillside when we’d been here a year or two….
Still, a small voice inside has been whispering, “Just let it rewild itself. Get out of the way.”
Last year was a rough year health-wise for me and my husband. There were many days we worked hard simply to prop each other up through the days, and everything from housekeeping to cooking to yard work all pretty much stopped. We lived on TV dinners and canned soup. Carter’s fur-blobs rolled through the house like tumbleweeds. The yard exploded with tall grasses and entire tribes of lemon balm that snuffed out many established perennials.
Last summer we saw a heat dome that took our temperatures up to 117—unheard of in the Northwest. Then came a winter with several hard freezes. Through it all, I could only look outside and fret over my inability to be on my feet in the yard. I pondered whether we would have to move to a smaller place as I was clearly unable to keep up with MillHaven. And I had no idea—still don’t—if I will ever be able to manage this small house and city yard.
Having had cancer, I know painfully well that if you don’t have your health, you don’t have much. And health has been eluding me for the past three years especially. Doctors still have no idea why my lethargy is so all-consuming, leaving me with only a very few hours—on good days—where I can be active and moving.
Some on my medical team encourage John and me to move into senior housing, or assisted living. This is something neither of us can bear, so I’ve been working hard to find help to keep me and MillHaven functioning.
Then, seemingly out of the blue, a wonderful young couple have pretty much taken us on as extended family. They come and work with and for us at least weekly and there is simply nothing they can’t do: construction, house maintenance, yard work and tree trimming, pet care, and the list just keeps on going. Creative beyond measure, and funny as heck, Sean and Chandra have been angels sent by a kind universe, and we are in awe that they have decided to “keep and eye” on us.
With our own heath in such disarray, I decided that this would be the year I needed to get bolder with letting the yard go wild. At first, Chandra and I decided to do pretty much nothing with all the green beings, and see what happened. But as we head into June, I’ve realized that there are still things we need to do so that we can continue to walk across the hillside.
Late and continuing rains have made MillHaven grow like crazy. While the flowers are slow in coming, all the greenery has been simply rampant. Plants that normally reach to my calves are up over my knees now. Many others will be over my head by the end of June. It really is a jungle out there!
New path through the hillside. Foxgloves, sedum, grass, Herb Robert, hemp agrimony, and an iris or two…
Our small concession to actual gardening has been to pull really tall grass, and to yank out the lemon balm plants before Millhaven becomes a dense forest of this lovely mint who simply can’t contain herself. But by leaving all the rest, we’ve discovered so much more life in the yard: This spring, I found a nest of baby garter snakes on the hill, and we have so many, many more songbirds! Insects are everywhere, inviting even more birds. Bumble bees and mason bees abound, along with some new bees I’ve never seen before.
sidewalk strip with milkweeds, columbine, sedums, plantain, and too many weeds to count.
I posted a small bulletin board in the front yard, explaining that my yard is not for pretty, but for life. Rather than make a lovely garden, I am making lovely habitat that encourages nesting sites for birds and bugs, and low ground cover that allows critters to slip safely and unnoticed through the plantings.
Front yard–the wildest place of all with no paths, and no plan save welcoming everything.
And…it all makes me just a bit nervous. A lifetime of conventional gardening makes for a bad habit of wanting to intrude too much into the workings of Nature. And I can see with my own eyes this spring that Nature always does a better job than I can ever aspire to.
So, I’m doing my best to keep my gardening tools in the drawer for the most part. I celebrate each spider, snake, and buzzing thing in the yard. I cherish new bird songs morning and eve, and delight in whatever plant makes a new arrival here. This year, we’ll be having a small field of evening primrose who planted herself all over last autumn. And the frogs have had many nights of singing passion in the bathtub pond, resulting in dozens and dozens of pollywogs.
A neighbor walked by the other day and said, “Wow, I love what you’ve got going on here! It’s insane—but in the best way!” Perhaps this all might encourage you to set aside a part of your own garden and let her rewild herself. You may be surprised at what she has to show you!
I awoke this morning to the sounds of seagulls outside. It took me a minute to remember I was not in my own bed, but snuggled into a warm bed in a seaside Air B&B. The day before, hubby John blessedly was able to “capture” a Covid vaccine. I could not, but managed to find an appointment for Saturday.
After John got his shot, and Krystal (the friend and angel who agreed to house sit for us) swept in and grabbed up Carter for a morning run with her pup, we headed for Seaside on the coast. It was a long drive through alternating rain, hail, and snow.
8am in downtown Seaside. I have no idea how these downs survive the lockdowns…
NOTE: For some reason, FB will not allow me onto its site anymore. This may be a glitch of some kind or it might be a message from the Universe, but I’ve decided this: I’ll do my best to get back onto FB, mostly so I can tell everyone I’ll be leaving. I’m setting up a MeWe page for myself and wen it is ready, I can aim you there if you would like to follow me and keep up our conversations. Meanwhile, I’ll be communicating more with my blog, so be sure to sign up here for new posts.
Today, I’d like to share some surprises and little miracles with my healing journey, in the hopes that there is something in here that may help you in your own healing. Because we are either in the process of healing, or in the process of decay. It is that simple. You either lift yourself into healing, or you abandon yourself to the pit where you sit and suffer and wonder why. But the motion forward never stops, so it will carry you either up, or down. Your choice. Ouch, yes, but your choice.
Perhaps many of you saw this on my FB page. I purchased the print from marissaquinn-art.com. I felt that the print was a part of me. The old crone with the long braid, graced by bees. After the print arrived, I noticed the paw of the wolf wrapped gently about the woman’s kidneys, and how a bee floats inside the woman’s kidney area, bringing healing.It is a powerful piece of art I will be reflecting with for a long time.
On a cold morningwhen hubby John was off on his own adventures, I was overcome with an urge to take Carter to the forest, and to walk as slowly and exploratively as I wanted. I did not expect nor desire to go far. I simply don’t have the strength yet. So, I grabbed my phone, my walking stick, and my dear walking companion and headed off. Often, I post the photos with brief descriptions on my FB page, but this time, I wanted to go deeper into how I “see” and experience the forest when I am alone.
My mother always told me that it was good to have a life bordered by regular daily routines. She learned will power and firm resolve when she was in the Hitler Youth in Germany. The Youth program was all about self discipline and strong bodies. Hitler was growing a powerful army out of those school children.
My mother’s grammar school teachers taught her the importance of daily calisthenics, and of handwork and needlework. Far into her 50s, she would do pushups, sit-ups, and jumping jacks at her bedside each morning. And her entire Wall Street wardrobe from back in her early years was all knitted by hand, seemingly spilling out of the large basket of yarn she kept by her living room chair. She made coats, two-piece suits, blankets, dresses, and all my baby clothes… Continue reading →