A Hard Walk

Inspired by reading Dianne Homan’s Walk Your Own Camino and a recent hike close to home.

The Physical Camino

September 24, 2020

Townsend's solitaire seen at the travertine falls
Townsend’s Solitaire

Yesterday Kent and I took a walk in the Sandia Mountains on a trail I always thought of as moderate, although it goes steadily up for a couple of miles, and the switchbacks start to seem endless before the trail reaches a lovely flat spot where we once camped.  From this place, where a large long-fallen log provides a place to sit, one can choose to continue up on the South Crest Trail which winds around and if followed far enough will lead over 20 miles to the north end of the mountains; or one can take, a bit to the right, the CCC trail, an unmarked, unmaintained (although none of these trails seem to have had any maintenance in the 20 years I’ve been walking them) trail that is much shorter than the Crest Trail, but heads straight up the mountain, providing a real test of stamina and, especially on the way down, a challenge to the knees.  A third choice, the Upper Faulty Trail goes right and north, passes through some lovely stands of Ponderosas and makes fairly gentle ups and downs across some small arroyos and through pleasant open woods, eventually intersecting with the Lower Faulty Trail, which can be taken farther north or back to the Lower Crest Trail, meeting it below the switchbacks, a quarter-mile or so above the travertine falls.  There are a couple of steep descents on the Lower Faulty, the worst one on loose scree that descends precipitously to the junction with the Crest Trail.  That was the route we chose, and it was at that last descent that I panicked.

I was already very hot and tired and my knees, feet and even my hip joints were beginning to hurt.  I was terrified of slipping because there was nothing to stop a long slide to the bottom, so I braced myself with my poles, testing them each time I planted them, hoping they would not slip, and that my feet would not slip when I placed each foot carefully in what I hoped was the next safe spot.  I was so hot on the sunny slope that my eyes began to burn from the salty sweat that ran into them.  My shirt and shorts were also damp.  Why had I not brought my bandana, that could have doubled as a face mask and kept the sweat out of my eyes, or at least wiped it from my face?  The face mask hung uselessly from my wrist, as there were no other people on the trail, and I was so hot.  My lips were dry, but happily I found a chap-stick in my waist pack.  My water was almost gone.  When I finally reached the end of the descent I was shaking and lightheaded, so we paused for a while in the shade.  We had another mile or so to go to the parking lot. The trail was rough with irregular rocks, requiring careful attention to the placement of each step.  At the travertine falls there is a short-cut with another steep descent in full sun – this one not so slippery, and not so long, but I was terrified going down, all the same. 

By the time I reached the shady rock at the bottom where Kent waited for me, I felt terrible.  Shaky and hot, I took off the hat that was stuck to my damp head.  My hair was wet and stiff with salt.  I panted, felt lightheaded, and suddenly nauseous.  We had only a tiny bit of water left.  I drank most of it and wanted more.  We sat there for a very long time, watching the birds (Red-breasted Nuthatches, Stellar’s Jays, a Townsend’s Solitaire) flitting through the trees and visiting the slight the trickle of water in one small section of the dry travertine.  A gorgeous Abert’s squirrel, his light tail waving and his black ears erect, scampered up the rough stone.  I leaned forward and rested my head on my hands on my poles, wondering how I’d gotten so out-of-shape and so old that this trail was so hard.  After what seemed like a long time, I started to feel better, took deep breaths, stood up and slowly continued the rest of the way to the parking lot without feeling worse.  There was an unopened bottle of water in the car, and although it was as warm as hot tea, I gulped down half of the bottle.  When we got home, Kent made a pitcher of lemonade and I downed 3 huge glasses.  I looked up my symptoms on the internet and read about heat exhaustion caused by dehydration and overheating during strenuous exercise.  Next time, I will take extra water, some electrolyte tablets, and my bandana.  According to my phone we walked just over 6 miles in about 5 hours, although the trail guide gives the distance as closer to 4.5 miles.

I thought about moments on the Camino, when I faced similar challenges and moments of despair.  The most recent Camino from Arles to Toulouse just one year ago had many steep ups and downs, often very rocky.  Steep descents in loose rock are my least favorite parts of any walk, and there were many on this route.  I remember standing at the top of a hill, seeing the village we were heading for a heart-sinking distance below, and wondering how I would ever manage to get down.  My despair was deepened by the fact that the last sign had said it was only 4 km to the village, leading me to think the day’s journey would soon be over.  I was not expecting two km of precipitous descent. 

During these times of physical trial on the Camino and on other walks, I often wonder why I am doing this.  Perhaps because it feels so good when I stop?  But I think there are other reasons.  I am testing myself and my endurance, and I’m putting myself in the position of many walkers who are walking now and who have walked in the past who have had no choice, whose way Is hard, life-threatening and challenging.  I remember walking through endless mud on my first Camino, ten years ago, thinking I was paying for my sins.  If our Caminos were just “walks in the park” we would have no stories to tell, and no challenges to test ourselves and make us strong.  We experience humility and awareness of our human frailty, which I hope brings us closer to all life and to God.

Morning Thoughts

July 9, 2020:  The First Tomato

I am up early this morning, enjoying delightfully cool hours that should be quiet, but are not. For some reason the sound of traffic is loud, not only from I-40 half-a-mile away, but also from the surrounding streets. I water the potted plants in the patio, which are blooming profusely, thriving on Miracle Gro. I fill the fountain, eye the bird feeders (which also need refreshing) and wander out to the three tomato and half-a-dozen basil plants in the bigger yard. I water them, too, and when I bend down to feel the reddest tomato, it slips off the vine and into my hand. It is ready.

I return to the kitchen and touch the overly large peaches in their protective carton.  The house is warmer inside than out, and the peaches (not from the garden) are softening. They must be eaten.  No hardship in that, although I was hoping to save some for the family visit in a few days.

Our orchard’s peaches, along with the apples, plums, pears, and many of the cherries, froze this spring when unusual warmth was followed by sudden cold, dashing our hopes, just as the sudden onslaught of the Coronavirus rearranged our lives.

The family comes in four more days.  What should be a purely joyous time is filled with uncertainty.  All visitors from out-of-state are required to be quarantined for fourteen days.  What does this mean for us?  Both families have been careful for months now.  We will welcome them into our “bubble.”  I’m longing to hold Zia on my lap and read him stories and hold Rumi in my arms again while he is still a baby.  We will welcome and embrace our loved ones without social distancing, come what may.

Reading with Zia

Three weeks later: August 1, 2020

The family has come and gone.  They filled the house with youth, chaos, love, and laughter for ten days.   The cruel spring had turned into an even crueler summer, aside from a brief flicker of hope in early June.  We hold on to the possibility of meeting again, somewhere between here and San Francisco for Christmas, but that time seems so far away.  Baby Rumi will have had his first birthday, and I will have missed most of his delightful babyhood.  We’ve folded up the inflatable swimming pool, put the box of wooden blocks back in the closet, and piled the books into a stack. The house is quieter and neater now.  I wish it weren’t.

Life seems to be standing still, but it’s not.  It is divided into before and after, like the times before and after Ed’s cancer diagnosis, when our lives and our perspectives changed in an instant.  Then, as now, there were moments when we almost forgot, when we tricked ourselves into thinking the diagnosis wasn’t real and life continued much as it always had.  Tucked away now, in our cozy home and expansive garden, we sometimes forget that the world outside is no longer the same.

We met our lawyer this week, to sign amendments to our wills.  I changed out of my shorts and t-shirt, making an effort to be presentable and somewhat business-like.  I even put on a bit of lipstick, forgetting it would be invisible behind my mask.  Maybe eye make-up will be the next big thing?  But will anyone even see our eyes?  Will we ever get dressed up again for anything? We met in the lobby; our lawyer dressed as though for a comfortable Saturday at home.

August has arrived, a month that marks the final weeks of summer and the gradual transition into fall.  What will fall be like this year with no State Fair, no Balloon Fiesta, and almost certainly no Halloween?  I am mourning the end of life as we have known it, uncertain whether it will ever come back; and if it does, how will it have changed?  It came back after the 1918 flu and roared into the 1920s.   It came back after the plagues in the middle ages and sparked the Renaissance.   But it is hard to remain hopeful when everything appears to be spiraling downward, one disaster after another: politics, climate, and angry divisions among people who should be helping one another, not squabbling.  But, “hope is the thing with feathers.”

I escape, reading Kent’s life on boats; in my imagination still inhabiting that good-old-world, which in retrospect resembles a paradise lost that we did not appreciate when we had it; and that shocked us with its unexpected demise.  We are editing the stories and letters from the years when Kent and Pam “ran away to sea,” during a previous time of crisis in our country and in their lives.  We might ask if there has ever been a time that was not one of crisis.  We have so much to do, and like Alexander Hamilton we are running out of time.  Who will tell our story?  We write as fast as we can, but the garden beckons.  It, too, constantly changes and needs loving care.

I am thankful for the cool nights and early mornings of New Mexico.  Should I snuggle under the covers for a bit longer, or get up and enjoy the coolness, the flowers, the birds, and a tomato that has ripened over night?  Perhaps a bit of both?  Quo vadis?

Sometimes life in Coronavirus times seems to move at a snail’s pace, and sometimes one day blends into another, and we wonder where time has gone.

Companions on the Way

June 27, 2020

As I stepped into the patio this. morning, flocks of house finches and other small birds who had gathered at the new pigeon-proof bird feeder, scattered into the sky like flung confetti.  I felt a bit like St. Francis, with his bird companions.

Recently thoughts of “companions on the way,” upon which I reflected in an email sent from my Spanish Camino in 2010, have returned during this time of social isolation.

While I sat in the sun beside the cathedral in Santiago, “along came a French couple I´d met several times during the walk.  We finally exchanged names and emails.  I had been reflecting on the importance of companions on the pilgrimage and on the road of life.  How unexpected they sometimes are, and how important.  I thought about how no one goes with us all the way.  Some remain with us longer and become dearer, while others are with us for a short time, but may be no less dear and important in their own ways.”

Some companions are with us for most of our lives.  Some we would not have not chosen but seem to have been chosen for us.  There are some whose names we recall frequently and some whose names we have forgotten.   Some we mourn for having left us too soon, and some we will leave too soon.

Jesus said to his disciples, “Where I am going, you cannot follow,” which is what happens when our loved ones leave us.  He also said, “My peace I give to you,” and “I will be with you always.”  But the disciples were left alone, nevertheless.

Each of us must ultimately walk alone.  Our companions on the way may sometimes be thorns-in-our sides and sometimes treasures.  Some are soul-mates, and others are people with whom we just happen to be thrown together.

Eleanor from our cancer care-givers writing group wrote to me near the beginning of my 2010 Camino, that the entire group sent me energy and prayers during the silent meditation before writing.  I had forgotten this until I re-read those emails.  Perhaps it was their energy that kept me going during those first difficult days?  Most of the members of this group are still part of my life.  We gather every so often to talk and write. We have moved beyond the challenges that faced us as caregivers and we now live new lives and face new challenges.

I have three friends from high school – who were not my closest friends from those days – with whom I regularly keep in touch. Three of us, including me, have lost spouses. I treasure the continued presence of these companions from my youth, even though I have been blessed with a new husband with whom to share these late-life years.

Today is the birthday of my two children, born four years apart. Their father Ed died when they were in their early twenties.  They remain my companions in joy and grief as I share in their achievements and their sorrows.

Anne, my amazing library assistant, became one of my closest friends.  After a more than year-long struggle with cancer, that she chronicled with grace and insight through her CaringBridge account, she died suddenly at the end of April this year.

It has been hard to write about her.  I’ve tried to write about objects that remind me of her, like a beautiful bar of soap with the image of a bee with translucent wings pressed into it.  It is quite a marvelous construction.  I can hear her exclaiming over its beauty and ingenuity.  She gave this beautiful object to me, her friend, and now it sits beside my sink, used often during this time of frequent hand-washing, reminding me every day of her friendship and her love of life and beauty.

Oddly, it is often when I am walking that seemingly unconscious triggers call forth memories of friends and family, as vividly as the videos and pictures that also bring those long-gone to life. They are indeed with me always.

I am reminded of special kindnesses, even fleeting ones, often from strangers.  Sometimes a smile, a touch, a helping hand, or a sympathetic ear means so much.  On the other hand, a curt dismissal, an insult, or a refusal to help diminishes me.

It is easy to take out our frustrations on others, to blame to criticize, and to consider ourselves superior.  But that is not the way to promote harmony in this world that is already so full of hostility and hurt and so much in need of healing.  Anger begets anger, love, love.  So, let’s be thankful for our companions on the way, and try to respond both to those who hurt us and those who treat us with kindness, with love.

The birds, too, are our companions, even the greedy doves we try to keep from devouring the food set out for the smaller ones.  The pigeon-proof feeder allows the doves to scavenge the seeds spilled on the ground.  We no longer shout and wave our arms, scaring off the little birds as well as the doves.   All of our lives are happier now.

Night and Morning: Being Tucked In

Ditchbank silhouettes

June 9, 2020

After last night’s brisk wind, the morning was fresh and cool as we walked along the ditch banks.  There is often a certain progression in my thoughts as I walk, not guided by me, but seemingly birthed from the motion of my legs, the swing of my arms, the pounding of my feet, and the quickness of my breath.

This morning, thoughts overflowed.  I thought of Philip Young, the gifted English literature professor from whom I took a class on Hawthorne and Melville long ago at Penn State.  One day he said, “I am rich!” referring to his fertile mind.  “I give you a footnote.  Others would write an article, but I have so many ideas, I can give them away in footnotes.”  I was feeling rich myself in those days, newly pregnant with my first child, but I had a hard time coming up with an original and compelling idea for my final paper.  Because I was a librarian, I had done endless research.  What could I say about one of these authors that had not already been said?  At last, pre-occupied and immersed in creativity, I had one small idea in response to Hawthorne’s short story, “The Artist of the Beautiful,” a story about the artist’s creation of a mechanical butterfly (which is smashed by the infant of the woman he loves) and the essence of creativity.  I no longer remember what my small idea was, (probably something about babies, butterflies, and nature versus human invention), but it was enough to satisfy Professor Young

So, this morning, I, too, was rich.  First, as we walked, I shared ideas with Kent about the memoirs of his life on boats, which I am editing.  Then I practiced, as I often do when walking, reciting (1) “The Lord is my Shepherd,” (2) “The Road not Taken,” and finally, (3) “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.”

At the turn-around point, looking over the green fields and t riverside trees to the volcano Vulcan, which along with several others marks the skyline west of Albuquerque, I did my usual standing yoga poses and stretches. It was while heading back, after half-an-hour of motion that, as usual, my thoughts began overflowing.  This is why I think walking is the cure for everything.

I thought about a friend who had gone back to the Catholic Church from the Episcopal church.  I wanted to ask her more about why, and I wondered what differences between the two might matter to me.  “Mystery,” maybe, and “Authority.”  The priest who presided at the Aquinas Newman Center on the Sunday following the dismissal of the Dominicans, had proclaimed, “Church was made for man, not man for the church.”  I despised those words and the top-down practices they represented.  I began weeping a few minutes into the service, left when it was over, and never went back.

Then I thought about the Compline (late night) service I’d attended via Zoom twice in the past week, and how comforting it was, like being tucked in by my mother and my aunts when I was a young child.  “Now I lay me down to sleep…” and “Good-night, sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite.”   I wondered, did I do this for my children – tuck them in with prayers and give them a sense of security?  The words of the Compline service were comforting and soothing in this time of sadness, upheaval and uncertainty.  “The Lord Almighty grant us a peaceful night and a perfect end,” the service began.  And later:

Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.
For you have redeemed me, O Lord, O God of truth.
Keep us, O Lord, as the apple of your eye.
Hide us under the shadow of your wings.
— The Book of Common Prayer

I think I slept more soundly last night that I had in a long time, like a young chick sheltered under its mother’s wings.  The words and prayers, in the lovely language of The Book of Common Prayer resonated with me.  One of my favorite nighttime prayers, which we didn’t say last night, is from The New Zealand Book of Common Prayer:

Lord,
It is night.

The night is for stillness.
Let us be still in the presence of God.

It is night after a long day.
What has been done has been done;
what has not been done has not been done;
let it be.

The night is dark.
  Let our fears of the darkness of the world
and of our own lives
rest in you.

The night is quiet.
Let the quietness of your peace enfold us,
 all dear to us,
and all who have no peace.

The night heralds the dawn.
Let us look expectantly to a new day,
new joys,
new possibilities.

In your name we pray.
Amen.

I thought of Shakespeare’s “Sleep, gentle sleep, that knits up the raveled sleeve of care.”

Ha! I misremembered, conflating two different sayings, “Sleep that knits up the raveled sleeve of care,” from MacBeth, and “O sleep, O gentle sleep, Nature’s soft nurse, how have I frightened thee. That thou no more will weigh my eyelids down, and steep my senses in forgetfulness?” Henry IV, Part 2.

And, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”  Matthew 6:34

Now, “Morning has broken, like the first morning.”  Eleanor Farjeon

My ideas have bubbled over.  I have a day’s work ahead of me, which I will tackle with energy gained from my walk and strength from my good night’s sleep.  When the day is over, I will no longer have “miles to go before I sleep.”  Night will one day come to each of us.

Birthday Reflections: May 29, 2020

Birthday lunch in the sunny patio.

It’ s my birthday morning.  Seventy-six years, twenty years into the 21st Century, and more than two months into the coronavirus lockdown.  Grandson Zia just turned three, and when he is my age, it will be 2093.  I won’t be here for sure, and most likely his parents won’t be either.

I haven’t been able to write during this pandemic.  The days and weeks seem to slip one past another with no clear boundaries.  Every two weeks we have irrigation water.  The cleaning ladies come on the weeks we don’t water, and the trash must go out every Wednesday evening.  St. Michael and All Angels has morning prayer via Facebook or Zoom at eight on Monday through Friday, and Sunday service each week at nine.  We have not met in person since early March.

A large multicolored cat just walked along the top of the wall under the grape arbor and crept down into the Catmint around the fountain.  What is it doing here?  Lured perhaps by the birds, the lizards and the water?  It has vanished as stealthily and silently as it came.  I’ve not seen this cat before, or at least not for a very long time.  How often does it visit us without our knowledge?

Ten years ago today I celebrated my birthday by inviting friends; some for breakfast and others for dinner, as they couldn’t all come at the same time.  I cooked early in the morning and again in the afternoon with some quiet time in between.  It was one of my favorite birthdays.  It was good to create my own celebration and do things for my friends rather than have them do something for me, as I knew no one else would plan anything.  I had returned from the first half of my first Camino from Le-Puy-en-Velay, France to Pamplona, Spain just a week before.

Birthday dinner 2010 with friends and my son Jesse in the patio.

It had been three years since Ed’s 81st and our last birthdays and wedding anniversary together.  He put a bit of birthday cake to his lips and tasted a sip of champagne, but he was no longer eating.  Four days later he was gone.  This is a poignant time of year for me.

Better, perhaps, to remember our joyous wedding thirty years before that, with its wedding cake plus two birthday cakes, and friends and families gathered around in State College, Pennsylvania.

Giddy with happiness we set out in Ed’s venerable Volvo wagon, the wedding bouquet of peonies from our friends’ garden wedged between the seats. We were off to Shenandoah National Park where we camped and walked among the Mountain Laurel and Rhododendrons.

May 29, 1977: a wedding cake and two birthday cakes.
Leaving in the Volvo, May 29, 1977

For thirty years we celebrated our birthdays and our wedding

anniversary together on this same day.  We had no regrets.

So, here I sit this morning at the old oak table we bought together, where we shared so many meals with family and friends.  It was at this table that Jesse, Psyche and I wrote farewell notes to Ed, to be slipped in with him along with red roses from the garden when we accompanied his body to the crematorium.

I woke early this morning, seeing the pink light of dawn through the unshaded bedroom window.  I cuddled with the sleeping Kent.  My mind was full of thoughts of the significance of this day, and I could not go back to sleep.  When rose-gold light hit the upper branches of the towering cottonwood that had been little more than a sapling when we moved here twenty-nine years ago, I got up and wandered out into the garden, thinking how fortunate I am to occupy this beautiful piece of earth.  A few finches flew from tree to tree and hummingbirds flitted from shrubs to the feeders.  The fountain was silent.  A passenger jet crossed the southern sky, heading west.  We haven’t seen too many of them these days.

There is a faint hum of traffic from the freeway, and now another plane flies over.  The world is waking up, and the coronavirus pandemic is becoming the new normal.

I am up early enough to catch the morning prayers at St Michael’s.  I’d never gone when I would have had to dress and drive to attend.  It is quite lovely to be able to do this from home.

Our hair is growing long.  It has been six months since I had my last haircut just before baby Rumi was born in November.  We are not unhappy with this quiet life.  We are editing Kent’s memoirs of his years living on sail boats. I am working on photos and trying to organize my computer files. I still have so many projects to do, I need at least another year or two of self-quarantine to make significant progress.

Yet, I long to travel again.  Will I ever walk another Camino?  Will my body keep going?  Will my mind?  I already find myself unable to remember things it seemed I could once recall with ease, and I forget things I thought I’d never forget.

I go outside to look for the cat.  Did it climb another wall, go through the heart-cut-out in the bottom of the gate, or run around the house to the front?  I’ll never know.

The fruit trees have finished blooming, most of the fruit killed by a sudden frost.  There will be only a few sweet cherries this year, and no plums, peaches, or apricots.  There may be a very few apples.  But the pomegranate is blooming now, and the roses.  Life is good.  Happy birthday to me.

Note: the news of the tragic murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis policemen on Monday, May 25, had not yet reached me as I wrote this.  Since then, everything has changed again, and I would not be able to write now what I wrote then.  The sadness I felt on May 29, seems self-indulgent in light of what has happened in the past week.  More later.

Trip to Sweden 1939

28 April 2020

While cleaning up computer files during this time of sheltering in place, I stumbled upon a Powerpoint I had made 13 years ago, and completely forgotten.  The subject was my mother’s trip to Sweden in 1939, on the eve of World War II.  The PowerPoint was based on her diary and photos from her old photo album, black pages with photos fastened in with corners. 

At one point she writes to her father, “39 of the 40 pictures turned out,” calling to mind how very different photography was then then now.  She visited Helsinki (Helsingfors) where the 1940 Olympic Games were to be held.  Those games were cancelled because of the war, not to be held in that Olympic stadium until 1952.  Her diary and photos depict a vanished world that was about to be turned upside down.

Her passport has a notice that travel to Spain was not allowed. Spain was in the midst of its brutal civil war.  She traveled in a suit, as did her father.  Women wore hats.  She would never return to Sweden, although I made trips there and visited some of these same relatives in 1979 and 1991.  The powerpoint contained pictures of my visit in 1991 with my husband Ed and our two children, who were eight and twelve years old at the time.

I visited again in 2008.  Those pictures and the original scans from the 1939 photo album are posted on Flickr.

1939

2008

I converted the PowerPoint to iMovie, and added music. Enjoy!

Life, Death, Taxes, Birthdays and Iguanas: April 15-20, 2020

Birthday Party via Zoom

April 15, 9:30 am

The birthday cake is in the oven.  I have twenty minutes to write.

Today is grandson Zia’s third birthday.  We will be celebrating soon via Zoom, with his family at home and his aunties in Dubai and Bangladesh.  This is not how we thought our lives would be today.

Three years ago, I was participating in a Good Friday pilgrimage in downtown Albuquerque, stopping at stations of the cross that represented the suffering of Jesus in our modern world: among them a women’s shelter, the county jail, and the courthouse where volunteers accompanied asylum-seekers to their hearings.  I was anxiously awaiting the birth of my first grandchild, who should have arrived the previous week.  During the readings at the women’s shelter my phone issued a silent flash.  I took a quick peek.  The long-awaited baby was on the way!  Suddenly this solemn Good Friday was filled with joy and anticipation.  Life and death on the same day.

I thought of Zia’s Grandpa Ed, whom he has never known, and how he would have been thrilled with this tax-day dividend, a gift from his youngest daughter.  And I thought of the second Grampy Kent at home, not yet aware of the news.  He would share grandparenting with me (the only biological grandparent).

Today I received an email from dear friend Jenny.  She lives in Australia, which has suffered the double whammy of devastating fires and now coronavirus.  She wrote that today is her mother’s 90th birthday.  She, her husband and her Mum celebrated at home with cake and several festive meals, shared with family and friends via Zoom. Jenny and Jim were family to us during our year in Melbourne thirty years ago.  Her Mum and Dad invited us to share the Christmas festivities with their extended family at their lovely cottage near the beach.  None of us could have predicted we would be celebrating the birthdays of a 90-year-old and a three-year-old via Zoom on this day in 2020.  In 1988 we had a computer, on which we typed letters, printed them, and then mailed from the post office.

I have been thinking of Noah and the Ark.  Like Noah, we do not know when our quarantine will end, nor do we know what the world will be like when we return to it.  Just as when we experience the death of a loved one, we wait for life to return to normal, eventually realizing that there will be no return to normal.   Life has forever changed; and we must painstakingly create a new normal.

For Noah and his family, the isolation on the ark was a chance for a fresh start. The sinful world of quarreling people had been washed away, drowned in the flood.  I suspect, sadly, that Noah’s new normal very quickly became the same-old-same-old, with all the faults and flaws of human nature all too soon returning.  How glad they must have been to exit the ark after forty days and forty nights, despite the challenges that lay ahead. 

[Buzzer went off: cake done. Here is a very short video of the birthday celebration.]

April 18, morning

I look at the April calendar, marked with events we won’t be doing in places we won’t be going.  My heart is heavy this morning.  I can’t believe that I mis-wrote Amazon (the river, not the gigantic online company that has become part of our everyday life) as Amazoon when I sent a link to my photos from the Amazon.  What kind of Freudian slip was this?  Amazoon – a zoo?  Are we all creatures in a zoo or museum as Brenda Shaughnessy imagines in “Gift Planet,” featured this morning on Knopf’s April “Poem a Day” imagines.  We live in a world shaped by humans, for better and for worse.  We are married to our planet Earth, and there is no divorce but death.   Or, perhaps it was Amazoom slipping into my fingers as I typed, reflecting our new life with Zoom – a virtual reality—is that an oxymoron?

Dear departed Beezus

Meanwhile our president, our leader, sows rebellion and dissent.  Divide and conquer is one of the oldest tricks in the book.  Wild dogs are on the loose, and we poor sheep shelter in place, trembling, under the care of an unreliable shepherd.  Have you ever seen an angry sheep – perhaps a ram?

April 15 has come and gone.  For the first time ever, I have not submitted my tax return. I am sure the government needs the extra money (which we always owe) and will use it wisely when it is finally received.

April 20, 2020, afternoon

Today is the five-month birthday of the second grandson.  It has been three months since I last held baby Rumi (named for the poet and mystic).  Even though I was present at your birth, we do not know each other the way I knew Zia, whom I visited for several days each month during his first year.  I long to hold this sweet baby body.  Smiling and waving and sending baby-talk through Facetime is not the same.

Baby Rumi at two months

Five days have passed since I began writing these reflections.  Every day is like another.   The sky is bluer than I’ve ever seen it.  I’m editing pictures from the Galápagos, now, and I find the inscrutable faces of the iguanas particularly fascinating.  They eye me with a sideways stare, their mouths are shaped like enigmatic smiles.  They are living descendants of the dinosaurs – of powerful, terrifying dragons and serpents – who in European tradition represent monstrous enemies to be tamed or slain, but who, especially in Chinese tradition, also represent wisdom.  What might you say to us, iguanas, in this time of coronavirus?  I am fascinated by your seemingly irreconcilable combination of beauty, ugliness, and mystery.  What can we learn from you?

Smiling iguana: What can we learn from you?

Catching up in the Time of Coronavirus: April 16

Long walks in nearby open space provide exercise and respite.

It is now a full month that we have been sheltering in place, separated from the hugs of friends and family. We have been ordering groceries online, cooking at home, taking walks, attending meetings and church services via Zoom and streaming, and worrying about what the future holds. It has also been a time to catch up.

I’ve been organizing computer files and photos. I finally have edited and organized several albums from our January and February 2019 adventures traveling around Colombia by bus. I had earlier edited pictures from the first week of that trip, fom Bogotá to Bucaramanga, but now I’ve continued with Mompox (inspiration for Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s 100 Year of Solitude)

2019-01-18-27 Colombia Mompox-Cartagena_2

https://www.flickr.com/photos/manga_mom/albums/72157713879027781

Cartagena https://www.flickr.com/photos/manga_mom/albums/72157713879100956

2019-01-18-27 Colombia Mompox-Cartagena_105

Medellin

2019-01-27-28 Medellin_6

and many more, concluding with a lovely Valentine’s Day back in Bogotá

We celebrated our three-year-old grandson’s birthday yesterday, via an international Zoom party:

Zia’s Third Birthday

Coninuing our stay-at-home traveling, we have been editing Kent and Pam’s accounts of their years living on board sailboats, with a working title We Ran Away to Sea.

Grief, Pilgrimage, and Saint Patrick’s Day

17 March 2020

Grief: For the world transformed by the coronavirus pandemic, grief for the world we didn’t think we’d lose so suddenly, and perhaps irretrievably.  I grieve for the loss of my freedom to travel, to visit friends and family, to live as I please.  I grieve for the people of the world who are much more impacted than I have been so far:  for those who are ill, those who have lost their incomes, and their loved ones.  For Those who cannot, as our president admonishes us, “enjoy your living room.”

Yet, as I walked the ditch banks this afternoon, I thought of my life as a pilgrim, and how the pilgrim learns to accept whatever happens – learns that there are things that can be controlled and those that cannot.  The hardy group of American Pilgrims on the Camino who gathered last weekend on the shores of spectacular Lake Tahoe, adapted to ever-changing circumstances as news of the pandemic and subsequent regulations assailed us.  Travel to Europe was suspended, the Spanish Camino de Santiago closed and all pilgrims ordered to return to their homes, while a series of ever-bigger snowstorms caused many, including me, to depart from Lake Tahoe before the end of the Gathering, when a break in the snowfall presented an opportunity to cross the mountain passes.

So, here I sit, home now for twenty-four hours, thinking of all this as I listen to a recording of the great John McCormack singing Irish songs I’ve known and loved since my youth.  They are melancholy, as the lovers are parted by distance and death.  I’ve put on my shamrock necklace, even though I am not Irish, despite a hint of Celtic in my DNA.  But I have children who are one quarter Irish, and my first husband Ed had an Irish twinkle in his eye and a lilt in his voice that perhaps came from his mother, Ellen Mildred Courtney.

My intention for this Saint Patrick’s Day was to celebrate with my daughter Psyche, her husband Saad, and my two adorable grandchildren, ages almost three and almost four months.  But, alas, San Franciscans are “sheltering in place,” and to visit seemed foolhardy, if not impossible.  I long to be with them, because despite my lack of Irish heritage, the days surrounding Saint Patrick’s Day are important ones that are associated with momentous turning points in my life.

In 1973, in Tucson, Arizona, I celebrated completing my comprehensive exams for a master’s degree in English literature by throwing a party for which my mother made Cornish pasties and I baked a cake which I decorated with a picture of Saint Patrick driving the snakes from Ireland.  A reference librarian searched at length for details or an image of this legend, which we never found.  I begged her to stop looking; and was embarrassed to tell her it was only to decorate a cake – not for some serious research project.  Only after I became a reference librarian myself did I understand how librarians love the thrill and challenge of such searches and don’t want to to quit even when their patrons say, “Enough.”

Just four years later, on March 16, 1997, I first laid eyes on Ed Philips during my very first meeting of a Unitarian singles group in State College, Pennsylvania.  We had a brief conversation, but there was something about him that caused me to write in my diary that very evening, “If God wants me to marry Ed Philips, so be it.”  We were married on May 29 that same year, which was both of our birthdays, eighteen year apart.

In my kitchen hangs a beautifully framed group of photos.  An inscriptions reads:  Paquimé, near Casas Grandes, Chihuahua, Mexico, visited by Linnea Hendrickson, Helen Williamson, Jeanne Howard, and Ross Burkhardt, March 17, 1999.

The day before we departed on this trip, we found a puddle of oil under my car in Jeanne’s driveway.  Helen and I stayed an extra night in Las Cruces, so the car could be repaired.  We had had a celebratory traditional Saint Patrick’s Day dinner with Jeanne and Ross and assorted family the previous day, topped off with Irish coffee.  Now, as Helen and I drove alone across the remote, windswept roads of northern Chihuahua, we sang lustily along with John McCormack, a poignant memory, now that Jeanne (friend, adventurer, and trip and party organizer like me) is gone, and Helen (the first person I called upon Ed’s death) speaks to me no more.

Almost three years after Ed’s passing in June 2007, it was time to fulfill the vow I’d made while he was dying, to walk the Camino de Santiago de Compostela.  I was planning to walk in September, starting somewhere in Spain, depending how far I thought I could walk in three or four weeks.  But in February 2010, I began reading Conrad Rudolph’s Pilgrimage to the End of the World, which filled me with a burning desire to walk from Le-Puy-en-Velay, in France, a distance more than twice as far as I’d intended to walk.

At a Christmas Eve party in 2009 – another event organized by Jeanne – I had met Kent, the “typewriter man.”  In February, he had driven all the way from Las Cruces to Albuquerque, and I’d guided him to the junk stores and antique shops to look for typewriters. We had continued to correspond via email.  Then in March, I decided it was time I hosted, as I often had with Ed, a Saint Patrick’s Day dinner, with corned beef, cabbage, Irish songs I had printed so everyone could sing, and even a Saint Patrick’s Day trivia quiz.  As I assembled my guest list the ratio of men and women was unbalanced.  Why not invite Kent?  He could always say no.  I sweetened the invitation by suggesting he spend the night and we go hiking the following day.  I was still pondering whether I could possibly fit in a walk starting in France in April and May, before I had to be home for events in June and July.

Kent came, and that evening everyone had to leave the dinner party early, leaving the two of us alone by eight p.m.  What to do with an evening stretching before us?  We visited, then went to bed in our separate rooms, to be ready to arise early to hike.  We took two cars, leaving one at the Embudo trailhead and another at Three-Gun-Spring.  It was a fairly strenuous hike up over the pass that connected the two trails.  I was testing myself, my new boots, pack, and hiking poles.  Could I really take off to walk in France?  That hike decided it – three weeks later I was walking alone in France, and writing to Kent (on computers with French keyboards that had z’s where the a’s should be).

That afternoon after our walk, we sat in my backyard eating leftover plum cobbler before he headed back to Las Cruces.  He looked around the large yard and said, “I really l like your place.”  It was so comfortable and companionable having him there, my heart gave a little leap, and I felt, “I think he belongs here.”

It would be another year before he came to stay, but that Saint Patrick’s Day was a turning point, and the beginning of a new beginning.

So now, after our ditch walk, and be-decked with shamrock necklaces, we are about to sit down, not to corned beef and cabbage and cobbler, alas, and without the company of friends, but to bacon-lettuce-and-tomato sandwiches, still happy to have each other in this broken world.