Monday, March 28, 2016

What We Leave Behind

It's windy here again in paradise. Just a few minutes ago I Googled "Least windy place in Ventura County." The palm trees are blown out like windsocks, all their fronds pointed in one direction. It was impossible to walk on the beach this morning, and at least one day last week left me wondering if I'd scratched my corneas by trying. But there was a morning or two wherein I could inspect the wreckage wrought by wind and waves. It looked like this.

Gulls mining the wreckage

There's one of everything on the sand on a day like the one above. One sock. One glove. One shoe. A plastic shovel. A sand toy of some sort. An immense tree trunk. Bungee cord. Pair of glasses. Shorts. A t-shirt. A tire, a towel. And there were quite a few large crabs. Hence, the gulls.

The day I got my eyes full of sand there were petals. Rose petals. There was quite a trail of them, staggering on and on as if Ophelia had wandered there before throwing herself into the deep. I couldn't seem to get a good photo of the big picture of the entire winding road of yellow, pink, peach, white, and red. 

I always wonder about the flower petals I find on the sand. It's a thing. Quite regular, especially on Mondays. Maybe a wedding. Maybe the scattering of someone's ashes. The effect is definitely ceremonial.

I've been doing my own dig through the wreckage. But unlike many people my age, I'm not collapsing under the weight of a parent's probated house stuffed to the rafters with possessions that have lost their meaning. My mom moved around. She broke up housekeeping and then broke it up again and again. By the time she made it to my house in California and then left here for a nursing home in Iowa, all I was left with was a closet shelf of boxes.

It was solemn and joyful and mysterious and surprising to open those boxes. Oh, there were boring parts and maddening parts, but there were beautiful sweet notes in greeting cards, so clearly chosen carefully for her. There were coins saved for no apparent reason, and hundreds of pretty postage stamps torn from letters. Old photos, of course, our baptismal certificates, and trinkets. But this was my favorite thing:

My mom never made it beyond the 8th grade. She began a string of jobs after that--most of them are mentioned HERE.

We all leave a trail behind us when we leave this life. Some of it wreckage, some of it rose petals.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Poetry Report

From poem-a-day/Academy of American Poets



Walt Whitman

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Wednesday Beach Report

The wind is blowing here in its usual merciless way. Sand in the eyes. Waves too big for an underfed sea lion trying to haul out onto the sand to get warm. "Wait," I said to the man with a gaggle of kids. They were all carrying sticks in the harmless way that kids do. "Don't let them get too close." I think he thought I was worrying about the kids. I explained that we didn't want the kids to scare the sea lion back into the water. "It's cold," I said. "See how skinny it is. It's coming out of the water to get warm. I'm going to call the rescue hotline right now," I said, pulling out my cell phone. I became someone with authority to him then. He commanded his kids back from the surf. But it was too late. The sea lion was washed into the waves, too weak to even swim. Which I suppose made it a bad candidate for rescue in the first place. I consoled myself with that. And the fact that another family now knows about starving sea lions.

I had a dream last night. Flying like a kite in a tireless wind, I caught only the tail end of it before I woke, mumbling. I said something to my father. He said something to me. Something about my mother.

I don't remember my dreams often. But a night or two after I returned home from Iowa, I had a terrible nightmare. There were plot twists galore, betrayal by friends, and when I lay helpless on the floor, a zombie grabbed my foot and began to drag me away. Help me. Help me. Help me. I whimpered in a tiny voice that took every ounce of my strength. I've wondered if the zombie might be my mother. Weird, I know. But I don't believe in zombies, and she is the most recent loved one to have crossed into that other world. Maybe she wanted company.

On a more encouraging note, I came home from Iowa, and my son and his family came to visit the very next day. We went whale watching and the water was as flat as glass. We saw sea lions, and two kinds of dolphins, and gray whales.

Heron in the harbor

Dolphins, not sharks
whale's tale

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Report from Pillville: the last report

Ethel Catherine MacDonald 9-18-1924 to 3-13-2016

My mom left this world in the wee hours of this morning. I was in Iowa at her side. In the days since her decline a few days ago, her room was full of family and friends. We visited and told stories, and even though she couldn't join the conversation, we think she was listening. 

I was alone with her as her breathing slowed just after 1 a.m.. "You've had a good long life," I said. "Lots and lots of people love you." Her breathing became so shallow it was barely noticeable, then she left us.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The State of the State of Margaritaville

Last night I had the opportunity to gather with a group of writers for the first time in a long time. I listened to colleagues read their work and read a story of my own. There was delicious food and a crockpot of hot toddies promising their own warm buzz. It seems like a dream now, but it was real-- the amazing Amanda McBroom sang to us, each of her songs its own story. Afterwards I drove home through the rain to my quiet house, sinking into stories true and imagined, pondering how good it feels as a reader or writer when we are drawn quickly into the deep middle. I slept a lot today, turning a new story over in my head, resisting the urge to talk about it. Write it, don't tell it to us, a favorite teacher used to say.  It never ceases to amaze me that so much wreckage can be made sense of and turned into something new.

It's been a slow process these months since my mom has left my house for me to realize that I am free to come and go, stay out late, spend a day in bed if I like. I miss her though and wish that I could see her more often. But it's completely obvious what a good choice it was for her to go back to Iowa where there are so many family members to visit her.  I'm glad I wrote down the stories she told me while she was living here, or someday they might feel like a dream too.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016