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Stepping Out

Jordan Pond House and Hike around the Pond (5)

Stepping out with friends Monica and Susan in the beautiful state of Maine!

Blog Post #50 Thursday

I very seldom travel. I forgot how.

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I guess that’s an exaggeration, but not by much. I used to get in the car at 6 AM, drive straight through and pull up in front of my parents’ home sixteen hours later having covered exactly 1,000 miles from my door to theirs.  I could do this virtually blindfolded. I had my gas station stops timed to within minutes. After pumping my gas, and squeegeeing off the mashed bugs who should have known better than to hitch a ride on my windshield, I greeted with the same fondness reserved for old friends the clean bathroom stalls that bade me rest a moment, and bathe my hands, arms and face in cool, clean sink water. Each towering mountain, the heat-scorched desert, the acres and acres of pastureland, and the seemingly endless road stretching down that long, one-point perspective to the horizon were as familiar as my own backyard. I’d lost count how many times my family and I had made that same trip. It was second nature to us—like kids riding bikes around the neighborhood.

But the past few years I’ve stuck like a leech close to home, draining the lifeblood of travel out of my soul, but with good reason. I had an aging father who needed me. As time passed, he needed more time and attention, and I became more sedentary as a result, and less and less mobile. The time came when he needed constant attention. My husband Brad and I played musical chairs at his side. Sometimes, after work, Brad would relieve me so I could run an errand or visit a friend. These activities were mostly local, and were mostly brief. After a while, even short trips to the grocery store became a nuisance. For the most part, I was content to be home.

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Brad and me sitting in my usual spot. You can see my dear father resting in his chair in the background. (2016)

I’ve always been a homebody. It’s in my nature and always has been. I’m a snail, loving home so much I carry it with me wherever I go. If I walk out the door, a bag of “stuff” goes with me (books, sketchpad, writing paper, pencils, extra clothes, sweaters, snacks—just stuff). I keep a backpack of stuff in the car for emergencies, too. No matter that I’ve yet to use the roll of toilet paper, toothbrush, stash of outdated food and stale granola bars, bottles of hot, stagnant water, flashlight (with extra batteries), first aid supplies, deck of cards, and a plethora of other necessary items from home stowed inside. I might need them, and so the pack continues to occupy its spot in my trunk until … well, forever. (I have plans to rotate the food…one of these days.)

Of course, it’s hard to need these kinds of items on a trip when you don’t go anywhere.

My dear father passed away a year and three days ago. Even after he was gone, I found my desire to go out almost nil. The fact was I had spent so much time sitting quietly at his side, I not only didn’t much care to go out, I didn’t realize I could go out; I had, in fact, forgotten this was a possibility. It didn’t occur to me to walk out the door. I had forgotten there was one. Yes, I saw it. I opened and closed it occasionally. I knew it was useful in admitting others, but the idea of using it as a portal to other places had completely escaped me.

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Our front door…the one I wasn’t using to go anywhere

It took time, but eventually, I found that there was a life for me outside of the house. I could go for a walk. I could run to the store—on a whim, if I wanted to! I could visit family and friends in neighboring towns while Brad was at work. I could do these things! But I still found myself somewhat paralyzed at home. Not because I was afraid to go out, but just because I was out of practice. It took a year to really understand just how much freedom to move I actually had.

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Then, one day, a trip that I’d been talking about for years and years with friends Monica and Susan resurfaced, like the boulders that grow in the town where I live. You think they’re gone because these rocks are out of sight—undisturbed and forgotten. Then, you do just the tiniest bit of digging, and there they are, sitting above the ground before you: hard, unmoving, eternal. The question of this trip was a boulder buried deep in the ground of my “never will dos.” For the first time in all the years we’ve contemplated this trip (I’m talking decades, here) I found that I had no reason in the world why I couldn’t go. For the first time EVER, the kids were all grown, I was not tied to a job, I had the needed funds, and I was free to come and go. I could go, if I wanted to. And I did want to. It was time. And so Monica and I got online at the same time and bought airfare to the other side of the galaxy! Well, that is an exaggeration. But for all the traveling I had done, or rather, hadn’t done, we might as well have booked flights to Jupiter! I have to admit I was a bit anxious about making this trip. We were going as far from Southern California as was possible while staying in the Continental United States. We were going to a remote little log cabin in the middle of Maine! For someone who, in the past two years had barely walked out the front door, this was galactic.

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Susan’s beautiful home in Maine (Photo by Monica Wilson)

Weeks before the trip I belabored my poor friends with questions. Would I need a raincoat? An umbrella? What kinds of shoes should I bring? (Water sandals!?) What in the world are those? (Yes, I live in a cocoon.) Will it be hot? Will it be cold? Did you say mosquitoes?! What would I like to do there? Bar Harbor? (Yes, I’ve heard of that. In Summer Magic, Hayley Mills’ on screen cousin, Debra Walley, said, “Well, if you must have Maine, why not Bar Harbor?” That was the extent of my knowledge about Maine, and Bar Harbor.) Sure, Bar Harbor sounds great! Acadia? Why not? Lighthouses? How quaint, yes! Cute little coastal towns? Absolutely! And so it went…plans were made, and I collected stuff from home to drag along with me…including my pillow, and a smaller pillow I call my “knee pillow.” Have to have my pillows. Can’t go away from home without that part of home with me! Oh yes, Monica, it’ll all fit in my carry-on. You’ll see!

 

Me searching for sea glass on the sand bar for which Bar Harbor was named, and other pictures of that beautiful area (Photo by Monica Wilson)

 

After the restful night’s sleep I did NOT get, before our flight departed LAX at the delightfully early hour of 6:30 AM, (did I say delightfully? Whoops! Big typo. I meant to write frightfully), I awoke at 3:00 AM, leaving my house at 3:45 for Monica’s. One barely recognizes Southern California at 3:45 in the morning. I zipped over those highways like a marble down a slide, since no one else in their right mind was on the freeway at that absurd hour! From Monica’s house, Monica’s husband, Jeff, graciously agreed to drive us to the airport, depositing us at our gate an hour and a half early for our flight to Newark. (There are no direct flights into Bangor.) Los Angeles Airport was jam-packed with traffic and travelers. Apparently, every other car we had met on the road during the middle of the night was also on its way to the airport, because the traffic we had managed to escape culminated in a massive jam-up in LAX’s terminal queue.

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Yes, this! Only imagine this in the middle of the night!

Once in the terminal, we easily found our way to the gate, which was undergoing construction—the only place in the airport without AC. (We counted our lucky stars that we were there at 5:30 AM instead of in the heat of the day.) Our seats were about two-thirds of the way back in an enormous plane. When cattle call was announced, true to form, the thundering herds stirred, and plodded through the cattle guards in two ponderous lines (corralled down from four lines) cramming to get on board. Flight wranglers with strained smiles herded passengers into two long rows onto the plane. If your seat was on the opposite side of the plane from the row you found yourself in, you had to merge into a bottleneck of cross “traffic” to get into the right row. (If we thought we’d missed the traffic on our way to the airport that morning, it definitely caught up with us on the plane.) At any moment, I expected to hear one of the wranglers burst out with,

music-note-clip-art-music-note-clipart-3 “Whoop-ee-ti-yi-o, get along little doggies, It’s your misfortune and none of my own….”

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Here we are, being herded into the plane along with the other passengers. (Photo by Michelle Floyd / Arizona Sonora News)

I felt sheepish as Monica scrutinized my carry-on, knowing I’d packed half my house, and my two pillows within. When she heard I was packing my pillows, she decided to check a larger bag in order to take her pillow along, as well, but alas, her pillow didn’t fit. I assured her my pillow was made of down, and squished way down into a tiny, compact bundle. (A good reason to call it “down.”) Still, my bag was so stuffed, if bumped just right, I’m pretty sure it would have exploded. I also had a (soggy) un-squished Subway sandwich for our lunch, my raincoat, a sweatshirt in case I got cold on the plane (I did), a pair of shoes, my purse, a quart baggie of toiletry items, and reading material to last a decade among other things stowed in a backpack (which was categorized as a “personal item.” This, too, might have popped open if pressured.

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Me with my “personal item” backpack–stuffed full (this is on another plane later in the day)  (Photo by Monica Wilson)

 

At last, we got settled into our seats, and waited till the cows came home, but the plane wasn’t taking off. After quite some time, a man with a backpack moseyed up the aisle from the back and exited the plane. More waiting. Finally, a distinctly blurry voice came over the loudspeaker saying that the passenger who exited was sick and wasn’t going on the flight. More waiting to take off. (We presumed the wait was because they had to untangle and retrieve the man’s suitcase from the cargo bay.) Monica suggested comforting thoughts like, “He easily could have left something behind on the plane—did they do a thorough search? They really should have everyone get off the plane and check!” At first, these ideas were lost on my untraveled, not-so-savvy pea brain. I was thinking that if he left something, he’d just have to do without! It wasn’t until we arrived in Newark that the gist of what she was suggesting sunk-in and lodged in my psyche—anchoring there, while collecting barnacles of unsettling ideas to fester.

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A starfish savvy seagull on the sand bar at Bar Harbor (Photo by Monica Wilson)

 

As I said, the plane was enormous, second only to the Spruce Goose in girth and length. Seats were eight across, grouped in twos by the windows and four abreast in the middle. We occupied two in the middle section, with me on an end and Monica in the middle seated next to a boy and his father. Monica, with her quick powers of observation noted the boy was not only reading, but reading a book written in French! When the boy’s father got up to use the lavatory, Monica seized the opportunity to find out more about the boy. He readily engaged in conversation, speaking in English with that conspicuously French accent that makes the speaker appear to be gargling as he speaks, or in desperate need of clearing his throat. He was from Paris, and had a distinctly Parisian look—you know, something about the eyes, nose and mouth. He and his father had been sightseeing all over the west—Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, the Bay area to name a few. In a few weeks, those two had covered more territory than the Millennium Falcon traveling at light speed, and he had a collection of photographs exceeding that of the Smithsonian to prove it. Again, at light speed, he scrolled through a plethora of pictures on his iPad stopping on a dime at his favorites. Personally, I found it hard to distinguish one picture from another. Every picture looked like frames in an epic roll of movie film. He seemed a very nice young man, and mature for his twelve years, judging from the way he so ably and amiably communicated with Monica.

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Once in Newark, we had a connecting flight to catch, but again we had to wait for the thundering herds to exit the plane. It was about as organized as a riot—people trampling over themselves and jostling into each other to make their next flights. As soon as we got off the ramp, I told a flight attendant at the gate that we needed to get to such-and-such a gate in a matter of minutes. She told us to go to a different gate where a bus would take us to our departing flight. We threw wistful glances at the women’s restrooms as we passed like speeding bullets, and hustled through the airport to said gate (I, with my stuffed carry-on and overstuffed backpack, moved like a pack-mule on steroids). Just as we arrived at the gate, a door opened to the outside where, down a flight of stairs, a bus was waiting. My carry-on thumped and thudded as I wrestled it down the stairs, (worrying it might strike the edge of the step and the contents pop open like a tube of Pillsbury rolls), and we scurried onto the bus. We were driven at a moderate speed over the tarmac skirting the terminal to the backdoor of our flight’s gate. Exhaling our thanks to the driver, I manhandled my lead-filled bags into submission out the door, and we hustled up the stairs and into line for the last leg of our flight to Bangor, all just in the nick of time.

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This is the tiny plane we flew on from Newark to Bangor.

We were dismayed to see a toy plane parked at the gate! My carry-on was deemed too large for the toy-sized cargo bins, and swept away from me as if by magic. I was promised its quick return upon arrival in Bangor. As we entered the aircraft, Monica and I cast surprised sideways glances at each other, noting the half-dozen individuals sitting in a line of single seats (one seat per row) to our right, before the plane opened up into a large cracker box having divided rows with two seats opposite the single-seated passengers. I was seated on the aisle seat in our row, Monica by the window. I could just as easily see out the window belonging to the passenger across the aisle as I could through Monica’s, and with less inconvenience to her. Our flight attendant was a jolly sort—very casual compared to the strictly business, cattle rustler attitudes of the attendants on the first flight.

 

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Maine from the plane window. Absolutely beautiful!  (Photo by Monica Wilson)

Thunderstorms had been predicted, but thankfully they did not materialize. (A literal answer to my prayers.) The flight was uneventful, quiet, and quick. We watched out both windows, sometimes Monica’s, sometimes the one belonging to the young man sitting across from me (who was from Maine and was eager to get home), to see a panorama of green unfold beneath us. Small, cleared patches of land appeared from time to time into which a house was tucked as if on a Monopoly board. Large, blue lakes (which we later learned were called ponds) dotted the landscape in abundance.  We thrilled to think that soon we would be on the ground and traversing the wonderland of lush green beauty, the quaint coastal towns, and the captivating wilderness of the state of Maine! We landed in Bangor just less than an hour later. We waited quite some time immediately outside the plane on the passenger boarding bridge with two or three other passengers for our carry-ons to be retrieved. The official said they were extremely busy in Bangor that day, having two planes on the ground at the same time! (Monica concealed a big city snicker when she heard this remark.) Finally, we were in the terminal, heaving a sigh of comfortable relief at the small, quiet, empty airport, and, more particularly, at the sight of the quiet, empty, clean woman’s restroom just a few feet away.

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Monica and me at the Bangor Airport

We had a wonderful visit with Susan, her partner Steve, their cat, nine Husky sled dogs, flittering lightning bugs, bunnies, foxes, deer, and other abundant wildlife, lush greenness, a sky full of twinkling stars, the hope of seeing a moose, canoeing on the glassy pond by their house, hiking, sight-seeing, eating great food, attending the theater, watching lobster boats, walking breakwaters, visiting lighthouses and quaint little coastal towns, visiting national and state parks, and talking about anything and everything. The time sped by.

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Susan, me, and Monica walking the mile-long breakwater to Rockland Lighthouse

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Rockland Light  (Photo by Monica Wilson)

 

Jordan Pond House and Hike around Jordan Pond (3)

Bouldering on the trail skirting Jordan Pond in Acadia National Park (that’s me)  (Photo by Monica Wilson)

 

 

Canoeing on Whetstone Pond (10)

Lobster boat and trappings in Bar Harbor (top)    Susan teaching me to row a canoe on the pond near her home (directly above)  (Photos by Monica Wilson)

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Some of the summer “camps” along the Pond  (Photo by Monica Wilson)

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Susan and Monica portaging the canoe after our ride

I bought the very thinnest souvenirs I could find to bring home to my family. Even so, they wouldn’t all fit in my carry-on, even though I squished my pillow down to a fraction of its normal suitcase size. Monica graciously offered space in her large checked bag for my overflow, and we returned home happy as clams to have made this wonderful trip together! (I’ll spare you the details of the flights home.)

 

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(Top) Lakeshore House Cafe and dock, (directly above) Monica so wished to see a moose, but we did see moose signs!  (Photos by Monica Wilson)

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Some of the beautiful scenery near Susan’s home  

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These wild roses smelled like cloves! De-lish!

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Monica kicking back at Lakeshore House Cafe

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Susan and Monica in the quaint seaside town of Camden

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Three crazy ladies who went to see “Those Crazy Ladies In the House on the Corner” at Lakewood Theater in Madison

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Susan, Steve, me, and Monica inside Lakewood Theater

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Our last evening together at Susan’s house in Maine

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Post Script. So now I’ve learned I can leave the house. I can go places and do things again. I learned that the “never will dos” are a figment of my imagination, and that I can do if I just open the door and walk out of it. On a par with the travel kind of doing is traveling outside of my little world via writing my blog. I have only written three blog posts this entire year besides this one. I’m hoping that as the fog in my brain clears as to stepping out, I will step out onto the page more often as well.

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© August 4, 2017

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear friends, for reading.

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The Volunteer

Blog Post #41

mojave desert

Mojave Desert

This year, our otherwise fruitful garden looks more like the Mojave Desert. After much deliberating, my husband, Brad, chose not to plant his favored vegetable garden because of the amount of water it would require during a time of serious drought. Reluctantly, he sacrificed his annual indulgence of thick, red, juicy slices of homegrown garden tomatoes to go on his homemade bread spread with a generous layer of homemade basil pesto. We still have the bread and pesto, but let’s face it—eating a grocery store tomato is like biting into a bar of soap. I was sad when he told me his plans, because I know how he looks forward to this summer delicacy each year, often eating his healthy, tomato-y treat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, all in the same day!

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A few months ago, our grandson, Max, came to do some yardwork and weed the neglected garden plot. As I was showing him what he needed to pull-up, we found a small tomato plant had pushed its way up through the soil and was competing with the weeds for sun and for the gentle showers that were the gift of Kind Providence throughout the winter and spring. I put a stake in the ground next to the little volunteer tomato plant to identify it, and told Max to pull up everything but the tomato. I was excited to show it to Brad when he got home from work!  However, it’s hard to beat “Nature’s Son” when it comes to anything having to do with the natural world. He had spotted it long before I did.

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Hobble Creek Canyon, Springville, Utah

I’m not sure why I thought I could see it first. Eons ago, when we were dating, Brad would be driving up Hobble Creek Canyon in Utah at forty miles per hour, and would point to a mountainside from here to the North Pole, exclaiming, “See those deer on the side hill?” I’d strain my eyes in the general direction he pointed. I saw the mountain all right; I saw trees in abundance, but no deer. Squinting like an utterly bewildered four-year-old intently focused on the night sky at the end of her dad’s pointed finger as she tried to locate Cassiopeia, I’d say with frustration, “WHERE?”  To which he’d once again point in the general direction of Lake Erie and cry, “Those little white things—on the side hill!” “NO! I don’t see them!” I’d cry, desperate, now.  “There!” he’d announce with greater intensity and heightened pitch. Again, I’d stare wild-eyed at the mountain looking for the white things, with one eye wandering (like ‘Mad-Eye’ Moody) toward the road—since someone needed to look at it. Finally, after whizzing by that blur of mountainside, he’d back up the Ford Bronco and pull to the side of the road.

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Old Ford Bronco similar to the one Brad drove

After ten more minutes of straining, at last, I could see the teeny-tiny, spots that were deer way off in the distance, their little white tails sticking up in alarm—as if they knew Mr. Telescope Eyes had caught them in the act of bathing. I marveled each time this happened. (I came to realize his eyes were sharp enough and trained enough to spy those bitty camouflaged specks of deer on the mountain while watching the road at the same time. I don’t know how he did it, but he did it dozens and dozens of times.)

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Lone mule deer on side hill. Imagine trying to locate this deer with the state of Vermont between you and the mountainside.

And I thought he hadn’t seen the little tomato plant….

The Volunteer

 

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The Volunteer

 

As I washed dishes, I watched the little tomato plant from the kitchen window. Moved by its courageous efforts, I went out to admire its deepening red fruit. It stood there, alone, but triumphant in that deserted garden—a monument to the strength and tenacity of a lone, little seed. The thing that most touched me was that this little plant had volunteered. It hadn’t been carefully coddled as a seedling, nor had it been transplanted like a start from a nursery. Someone else had not made the decision. It had sprung up of its own accord, against the odds, amidst neglect, and among weeds that were strangers and competitors of all it required to thrive. Not only did the little tomato plant forge onward and upward, alone in the world, it spread its leaves out and gathered in the rays of the sun, amassing strength and power to benefit its fledgling roots, asking nothing of anyone, and defying naysayers. That would be enough to admire, but that’s not all. This little volunteer is producing fruit. I counted twenty-eight tomatoes in various stages of development on its branches last evening. It volunteered in order to bless others—in a sense, the ultimate sacrifice: to give its life for its friends.

 

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A second volunteer

As I walked back toward the house with my camera in hand, pondering the little tomato plant, I noticed another volunteer. Bedecked in brightly colored regalia, it called to me to notice its offering—that of beauty and cheer. I smiled as I crouched down to take its picture. Living up to its name, little Johnny Jump-up had done just that. I realize some consider this little viola a weed because it springs up readily all over the place and with very little assistance. I see it as one of those volunteers who, tiny as it is, spreads its exuberance and optimism in the least likely places—growing just as well in topsoil as in cracks in the cement. I welcome its offering and praise its purple badge of courage for forging ahead –smiling in the face of the danger presented by its location in the sidewalk.

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I walked through the rest of the yard and was surprised to discover other characters who had long been there, but whose alter egos I hadn’t discovered before.

The Encroacher

 

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The Encroacher

All along the walls of our backyard are encroachers—vines that began growing in someone else’s yard, then gradually, stealthily, snuck-up on ours. They have now climbed and spread their leafy tentacles over the wall. Repeatedly we’ve cut them back, but without regard for our wishes, they continue to march over the wall like another wave of infantry ready for combat on the field of battle. They are determined, and ruthless, weakening the fence on the east until it has taken to leaning, and creeping onto and over the ground on the south. They care not for what we think, or what we want. I resent their pushiness. It’s not as if they’re volunteers—springing up from the ground from a forgotten seed like our little tomato.  No, they’re well-established old-timers—“The Good Ol’ Boys” of the plant world—who, with their cronies, push their network of intolerant “plantism” into our yard where they’re completely unwanted.

The Fighters

 

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The Fighters

In the yard, there’s an old, cement fountain bowl that my father made four decades ago, but cast aside because it wasn’t perfectly round in shape. (I say cast aside, not threw away. There’s a difference. My parents were of the depression era mindset that you don’t throw things away.) In time, my mother filled that old fountain with dirt and planted it with succulent plants and cacti. It sat for years in the corner of the yard on the kitchen side.

When Brad and I moved home a decade after my mother’s passing, I relegated the failing fountain succulent planter to the opposite end of the yard, filled it with fresh dirt and planted it with a variety of pretty flowers and greenery. It looked beautiful that first season, but the drought and heat took their toll and all of the plants died. I thought.

I found that each spring, drought or not, up pop these lovely little purple dwarf flowers  (Nierembergia Caerula) in a corner of the ring. They pay no heed to their location on the nether side of the yard, near the basketball court where they’re bound to get pounded at times, and where water comes in small increments—especially in that old cement bowl. They stand up shouting for respect—respect for their resilience, for their determination to survive, and for their beauty. And deservedly so. They’ve fought root and stem for their right to survive and I applaud their perseverance and admire their beauty!

The Pleasers

 

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The Pleaser

My artichoke plants have really worked hard to please. It isn’t their fault that they were planted in the middle of an ant metropolis, or that they were planted just when we were learning how expensive water is in our community, or how serious the drought had become. And it certainly isn’t their fault that their husbandmen were inexperienced with artichokes and did not know how to take better care of them so their fruit would be moist and tender. They have given their all to produce. They’ve grown to enormous proportions, producing more than twenty artichokes on a single plant. They are amazing! Unfortunately, they are tough to eat, even when picked young. Artichokes can be a labor-intensive dish to prepare (the way my mother taught me is labor intensive, but delicious). After trying to cultivate, harvest and prepare them several years in a row, I have now retired our artichoke plants.

But they are Pleasers. Brad cuts them down to the ground, and they immediately begin growing back with large and flourishing leaves. Soon more artichokes appear. I look at them and sigh. Right now, with the dynamics of our lives, I don’t have the time, energy or patience to wrestle with those tough, spiky, ant-beridden buds only to be disappointed by their toughness. Being the pleasers they are, they don’t give up there. No! After growing to the size of softballs, the buds open up their pointed petals, and begin to produce the most beautiful, soft to the touch, lavender flowers related to the thistle family. Showy? Yes! Worth the wait? Absolutely! They found a way to please—if not epicuriously, then by appealing to one’s sense of mystery, beauty and art.

The Old Stalwart

 

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The Old Stalwart

Walking back toward the house, I stopped and contemplated the great, old Peruvian Peppertree casting its cooling shade umbrella-like over the patio. For close to fifty years it has stood firm and immovable, enduring years of plenty, and years of neglect (during which time my elderly father mourned the loss of my mother), as well as undergoing hefty pruning over the decades. The Old Stalwart created a beautiful canopy for our eldest daughter’s wedding reception twenty years ago, and now, protects my father’s great-grandchildren who play under its branches from the searing rays of the sun. With quiet dignity, it stands apart, a giant beacon of hope, strength, and endurance.  It is both mighty, and serene. It is friend, and grandfather, and it is beautiful to me—like an old friend.

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Each time I walk through the yard—even though relentlessly affected by drought, or maybe because of it—I see our garden in a new way. Mother Nature’s creations are not wimpy, or cowering, but endure with a strength and resilience that demand respect and inspire awe.

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Stopping once more to gaze with admiration at The Volunteer, I am flooded with gratitude to that little tomato plant. I wonder if the seedlings from which it sprang have infused within their DNA the hours of tender-loving nurturing and care Brad gave their parent plants, and are returning the favor in kind. I think Brad will relish every single bite of those precious few tomatoes this year, and they will be the sweetest, most precious ever because they were freely offered!

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“Freely ye have received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:8)

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Einstein Quote

The True Measure of a Man

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© June 3, 2016

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear Friends, for reading.


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A Sheltering Tree

Blog Post #38

Friendship is a sheltering tree

If you ask a second grader to draw a picture of a tree, the odds are the result will consist of a brown trunk (long, thin, brown rectangle) with green leaves on top (a round splotch of green), and maybe some apples (small red spots)—don’t all trees have apples? I’ve noticed that adults sometimes perpetuate the idea that this is how trees are drawn. It has become a bit traditional, and almost generally accepted, that trees have brown trunks topped by green leaves.

When I was in third grade, we moved to a community that still had many acres of orange and lemon groves. Naturally, we learned about orange trees and smudge pots in school. As part of the lesson, our teacher asked each of us to paint a picture of an orange tree. I was new to the area, and didn’t really know an orange tree from a oak, so I painted a brown trunk with the roundish green blob at the top, and colored the usual red spots orange in the leafy top. I’ll always remember the teacher holding up Julie Wilson’s painting of an orange tree, and being completely surprised and impressed. Her painting had a tree consisting of a large irregularly roundish leafy area that went almost to the ground, with only a tiny bit of trunk showing at the bottom. The leaves were laden with oranges throughout. It was beautiful. (I think she may have included a smudge pot in the picture, too.) Obviously, Julie had looked at and “seen” orange trees as they really were. On our next drive through the north part of town where the orange groves were, I noted how accurate her painting of an orange tree was compared to the cartoonish and generic painting I had made. How different orange trees were shaped from other trees—or, more accurately, from what I had assumed all trees looked like. I was determined to pay better attention in the future, but sadly, that didn’t always happen.

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I began to notice that all trees were not the same, and that, in fact, if you really look at the details, you’ll find an astonishing variety. In addition to an assortment of colors, you’ll discover differences in overall shape—some sprawling with sturdy, gnarled trunks and umbrella-like canopies, others tall, graceful, and straight with willowy, softly undulating ribbons of leaves. Contrasting textures are also obvious–some with mottled or pealing bark, striations and deep grooves, geometric patterns, and contrasting darks and lights. The combination of texture, color and shape create breathtaking and beautifully varied effects.

Although there are many examples of monochromatic color schemes in nature such as may be found in ocean, dusk, dawn, and nighttime scenes, nature also uses a broad palette of complementary colors.

 

Nature is bold. She paints stark, snow-laden mountaintops against brilliant sunset skies, blazing vermilion rock formations arching over a brilliant backdrop of blue, yellow and purple pansies, and red tomatoes against deep green foliage.

Nature doesn’t limit herself to one texture or one shape either. A tree–a Brazilian peppertree, for example, such as line the parkway of my street–has multiple textures and shapes, from the rough and deeply grooved trunk to small, greenish-yellow, oval, pinnate compound leaves, and tiny round pepper seeds that turn from green to red to brown (and, incidentally, burn the lawn with their heat). In addition to a peppertree’s varying color and texture, the trunk weaves its way upward, its branches writhing in a twisting tangle of knotted masses. (Hardly a straight stick of a trunk with a green ball at the top! Although, to be fair, if you look at the bottom of the trio of pictures below, from a distance, the peppertree does appear to fit that description.)

If you were to describe a Brazilian peppertree, an orange tree, and a Quaking Aspen, you would have to give very different descriptions. Still you could describe all as having roots, trunks and leaves.

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As creatures of nature, people are more complex than trees, yet many find themselves characterized as “trunk and leaves,” after all, people all have heads, arms and legs. At a glance, people may appear to be objects: dumbed-down, over-simplified caricatures of what they really are. (She’s pretty. He’s tall. She’s mean. He’s old. She’s a gossip. He’s cocky. She’s shy. He’s self-centered.) How many a tall fellow has been asked if he plays basketball–as if his height is his only defining characteristic?

Quercus_robur Oak

These observations are likely arbitrary, biased, and viewed through a flawed lens. One may choose to believe over simplifications one hears via rumor or gossip, or one hazards at first sight, because it resounds with one’s own preconceived ideas. Such claims may satisfy for the moment, but also may be mostly false. They may appear correct, based on circumstantial evidence, but unfounded when the whole truth is known. At first glance, there are always—always—unknown quantities of information. In most cases, the observer failed to look close enough to see all the colors, all the textures, and all the shapes, to see the combination of these as one uniquely whole “tree.” There’s the possibility the observer didn’t even know what the whole “tree” really looked like, and didn’t bother to find out. Almost certainly, the observer wasn’t perceptive or empathetic enough to have walked the proverbial mile in the others’ shoes. In other words, he or she didn’t really know the tree.

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I have been guilty of seeing people as “trees”—brown trunk, leaves on top. When I was young, it was mostly: she is popular, he is smart, etc. That was all I knew of some people. How sad that is. How sad that I was too shy, too backward, to delve a little deeper, to walk a little closer and really look at the tree, at its roots, its differing shades and nuances of color, of personality, of ideas. I missed a lot because I based so many of my impressions on a glance at a tree that I was too shy or afraid of to know or to understand!white willow

I have been fortunate enough to meet some of those “trees” again later in life, and to “see” them anew, after maturing enough to have genuine interest in them instead of fearing them, and appreciating them instead of weighing their strengths against my weaknesses. How silly I was when I was younger!

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Southern California Orange Grove

I went from seeing thin, rectangular brown trunks topped with green circles (maybe with red or orange spots) to seeing deeply complex root systems, sturdy, varied and profoundly textured trunks, and wide canopies of sheltering, beautiful and intensely colorful leaves. When I inspected and comprehended the true nature of each individual tree, and saw the beauty therein, I wondered how I ever missed the innate wealth of each. I really began to appreciate people as uniquely beautiful, strong and intricate. I began to appreciate each individual soul as the amazing “tree” it is.

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Social media (i.e. Facebook) has helped me reconnect with people I had forgotten that I once knew. Recently, I reconnected with a girl I knew in elementary school. I never thought she liked me back then. (Brown trunk.) She was stuck-up and popular. (Leaves on top.) She wasn’t interested in being my friend. (Red spots.) All I saw was a generalization of the tree, not the real person. And what I concluded was false.

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One day I saw this girl’s picture on the Facebook post of a mutual friend, she still looked young and beautiful. She had a lovely smile, and looked content. I wondered what weathering had shaped the tree rings of her life. I became interested in her textures and the shades and tints that colored her life. I decided to make a comment, and I truthfully told her how lovely I thought she looked. Next thing I knew, we were corresponding back and forth. She was sweet, kind, and interested. We talked about our folks, our families, and our friends. She was not what I had believed her to be so many years ago. I’m sorry to say I had carried those old ideas in the baggage compartment of my mind for years. I felt ashamed of the petty views I’d had. (Then, I wondered if she had seen me as trunk and leaves before, too. Thankfully, I’ll never know.) But what a waste! I’m happy to report that I have grown into more of a “tree admirer” over the years. I now truly make an effort to see people (and trees)—really see them, and all the magnificent uniqueness and beauty each has within and without.

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A lone and unique Oak tree

“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity… and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself.”

― William Blake

My First Blog Post EVER!

“To dwellers in a wood, almost every species of tree

has its voice as well as its feature.”

― Thomas Hardy, “Under the Greenwood Tree”

 My First Blog Post EVER!

“In a forest of a hundred thousand trees, no two leaves are alike. And no two journeys along the same path are alike.”

― Paulo Coelho, Aleph

End Piece

© May 14, 2016

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear Friends, for reading.