Staying Strong


A dear writer friend and I went in search of oaks and acorns this week after a lovely lunch at my favorite local coffee shop. The walk was a welcome reprieve from the swirling chaos of horrific news and bad human behavior that we futilely attempted to recognize and understand over delicious fare, supporting the hardworking small business that bravely hopes to make a living in a fickle and uncertain industry.

The weather was amazing. If ever there was a reference picture for a perfect fall day, this was it. A slight, crisp breeze with the hint of cider, clear autumn-blue sky lacking summer’s haze, spots of ruddy blush as the leaves turn. I had a specific tree in mind for my friend to see, one that I pass every day on my morning walks before my hot cup of reward at that same coffee shop.

I call her The Grandmother, the ancient one who all the others surround. She existed before the military fort was built over a hundred years ago and wisely left standing when the army cleared the land. From her carefully manicured limbs, you can tell she’s been well cared for and honored through the years.

Towering over the rest of the former parade grounds, she doesn’t need the maples’ flashy foliage or the fir trees’ decorative pinecones to assume her throne with quiet dignity. On this particular day, her leaves had yet to turn gold, although the afternoon light that hit the highest branches already suggested a change to come. How many years had she worn her golden crown, I wondered as I pulled my head back as far as it would go.

Her acorns were few, a job left to younger trees as part of their service in exchange for her wise counsel. No doubt her roots connect to all, not just the young oaks, but to maple, gum and walnut trees that dot the landscape. She sends them messages of reassurance and fortitude earned from more than a century’s experience with drought, wind and lightning. She has seen preparations for war, and still remembers the young soldiers who stood in formation beneath her boughs, never to return.

On a late afternoon, I too stand under her protective shade and wish that she could share with me, with all of flailing humanity, the truth of what she has seen, an impartial telling of our human history from the view of one whose heartbeats send out the sap of life-affirming support through underground capillaries of ancient understanding, to those who are right or wrong, deserving or not.

And in her presence,  I humbly ask for guidance, knowing that in these turbulent times we all need to call on the strength of oaks.

The Downsizing Dozen: Following Your Feet

Autumn
Here in our new home of communal living, exercise options are abundant. There’s a pool and jacuzzi (about to be closed for the winter), fitness center, and even half a basketball court in addition to the local Y and miles of walking trails and bike paths. Combine that with a tiny amount of storage space in the single-car garage where we fully intend to shelter our vehicle, and you can guess which type of equipment was jettisoned first in our move.

A whole host of balls, bats and mitts was sent away to greener playing fields. One football, the only inflated basketball (for the new court, of course) and our beloved wiffle ball set were kept, as well as my husband’s modest bag of golf clubs to see if he can renew or even revive that particular pastime. If not, then they will follow their obsolete brethren to other well-manicured pastures.

But so far, despite all the tempting new choices, walking remains our main form of exercise. An embarrassing number of cool summer days and a cloudless blue beginning to fall have pulled us from our device screens and out the door. We find our feet wandering into local parks and public areas, or strolling to errands we used to complete by auto, as the soles on our sneakers wear down to a satisfying thinness.

Back in the bad old ‘burbs, walks were limited to a close-minded neighborhood orbit, and shoulder-less local roads became too inhospitable to navigate, even in midmorning’s deserted hours when most everyone had gone off to work and school. Our bikes gathered cobwebs full of possessive spiders while rusting in a spacious two-car garage. To tell the truth, we can’t remember when we sold them, it was so long ago.

Perhaps as we put miles of exhaust behind us and treat our environmental elders with respect, ever-green Santa may reward us come December, and we’ll awaken to discover shiny forms of alternative transportation among nature’s gifts, the chrome of our intentions still un-smudged, and brand-new handlebar tassels glittering in fresh, unpolluted air.

Once a month for the next twelve, I’ll feature another step in the downsizing journey that didn’t just begin when we sold our suburban house and moved to a small walk-up apartment in June of 2014. This shift to a simpler life has been years in the making, and I hope you’ll join me in my family’s quest to get down to basics. My inaugural post entitled Giving It All Away was featured in July, and Make It Stick in August.

Falling Leaves

Letting Go #17

Lately, I’ve been watching the leaves let go of their trees, making the ultimate sacrifice. They allow that final separation, release from the source, the severing of the umbilical cord, to swirl gently toward the ground and join the multi-colored crowd. This letting go must happen. In October of 1996 while living in Kansas City, I saw firsthand what happens to trees when winter comes too soon, and the weight of the snow-laden foliage splits trunks in half, and strips away branches that have taken a lifetime to grow. I drove along streets lined with twisted limbs and stumps for weeks, pushed into piles waiting for the clean-up crews to haul away and make giant mountains outside the city.

This October during my “nine” year practice of letting go, another member has left our family. A cat who has lived with us for thirteen years finished her journey last week. I made the decision (with help from my vet) to release her from the agonies of liver disease, even as she was desperately trying to live and share her life with us. I was touched by how she stubbornly refused to leave us, even though her lot had been a hard one. She had never adjusted to the other dogs and cats who joined the family and she became the scapegoat for everyone’s pent-up frustrations. I have to admit, she made a spectacular victim, screaming and hissing whenever another pet even glanced in her direction. But she always won me back with a little hug around the neck, and a purr that would give a chainsaw run for its money.

Even as I grieve for the two furry companions I have lost this year, miss the daughter who is off at college, and endure the stings of loss while purging the outgrown toys of my old hobbies and habits, I am envious of the relief that must be felt during release–and anticipate the slow swirling journey after the letting go.