Saturday, July 27, 2013

This Other Time, This Other Self 2*

We have had a run of cool weather here, balmy days and crisp mornings. Today's temperature at 7:00 a.m. was 50°.

I went outside early to string the clothesline and breathe deeply of the chill morning air. If I didn't think of the calendar proclaiming itself to be July, I would have easily have said it was September or even October.

The brisk morning air triggered memories of other times, other Aprils.

First Glimpse

Back in my childhood, for a span of several summers, I went away for a week to a summer camp in a nearby county. The camp was run under the auspices of the Lutheran church (LCA, I believe, back in the days when the designation mattered). It had a two strings of log cabins, one for the boys, one for the  girls. I think there were eight of us to a cabin, in bunks of two. The cabins had the names of biblical women—Deborah, Sarah, Rachel. Our counselors were all college students from Capital University, a Lutheran institution in nearby Columbus.

There was a large dining hall and a small arts building. There was an outdoor "theatre" (a stage and rows of log seats), and a snack shack/post office opened only at certain hours. A trail past the dining hall would take you to an outdoor chapel and, on down the hill, the campfire circle. There was a small swimming pool and a vast open field that dropped down to a creek before rising up again.

I am sure there were hot, muggy days at camp. After all, this was Ohio in July we are talking about. But I remember the crisp
Th outdoor chapel, 1969
mornings, much like this morning, where eight girls would squeal "it's cold!" and burrow in our suitcases for sweatshirts before heading to the dining hall for breakfast. We would walk quickly against the chill, all the more delicious for it being the height of summer.

Fireflies, spirited games of "Capture the Flag," which the college boys dominated fiercely, dining hall songs while we all snaked around the walls waiting to reach the head of the line. "We Are Climbing Jacob's Ladder" around the campfire, watching the sparks soar heavenward, and seeing the Milky Way spilled across the sky over our heads.

And those delicious, crisp mornings, just like this morning.

Second Glimpse

Paint me a summer weekend in the mid 1970s, somewhere in a small Wisconsin town close to the Illinois border.  It was a village really, a cluster of summer cottages strung around a small lake.

There was a get-together there that weekend, hosted by the parents of a college acquaintance. A dozen or so of us drove north from Chicago, converging on the cottage with our sleeping bags and frisbees and swimsuits. There was a large, quasi-potluck meal, there was singing around the bonfire late into the night. Someone had a guitar and played and sang a passably good "Rocky Raccoon."

The next morning was crisp and chill, much like the mornings here right now, much like those long ago camp mornings. Three or four of us rose early while the sun was just lighting the sky, donned our suits, and headed to the lake, a short, unpaved block away. We willed ourselves into the water, flinching at its cool kiss before submitting to the water once and for all. We swam our way to morning and to breakfast.

It seems strange now to be sitting here at the kitchen table, peering back almost 40 years (the lake) and on beyond some 45 years ago (the camp). It is today's chill air that pulls me back, rushing me headlong into those other times, those other selves.

*My first This Other Time, This Other Self post can be found here.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Changing Landscape

I just this week had a medical tremor rattle my landscape. A routine test lead to a second still fairly routine test. That one avalanched into a decidedly not routine interlude with two technicians and the head of radiology all studying a screen while I lay still, trying to remember how to breathe.

Finally the doctor spoke. "I think everything is fine. I'll write a report after I study the pictures and send it to your doctor." The head of radiology has a slight stutter and I thought apropos of nothing how perfect for him to practice in the one part of the hospital where he would have the least daily contact with patients.

The whole episode shook me more than I want to admit. Even though I live in Cancerland, where I know the terrain is as prone to quakes and collapse as anywhere in California, I still jump when the ground starts swaying. My morning calm had crumbled with the "you're probably okay" prognosis, a comment to which I kept adding a silent "but" to complete the pronouncement.

Complete it? No, open it wide to the "what if?" scenarios.

I am trying hard not to go down the road of "what if?" because lately my energy levels have started rebounding, thanks to Dr. Pat and her recommending I take large doses of Vitamin D. In fact, I am feeling so much better that I am starting to wonder what to do with my time.

Okay, I confess. I am not back 100% yet. There are still days when I will suddenly drop for a nap, including in the middle of writing this post. But overall I have regained enough ground I am starting to have both time and energy, instead of just time.

It is time to turn my hands to something, but what?

As I have noted before, I don't do crafts. I famously don't sew. I have no artistic skills (as in painting, sculpting, and fiber arts). I don't sing, play a musical instrument, or dance. (Recently, Warren and I observed—for the Symphony—a gathering of amateurs who come together monthly to group dance to traditional English music. What a gentle group of people. I have no desire to join them, but I admired their focus and pleasure.)

Should I learn a language (I am noticeably inept in that area)? Learn the names of the birds that fill our yard and trees? Maybe I should study bees?

Maybe I should become a gourmet baker? Maybe just become a master pie maker?

Maybe I will return to the monthly Legal Clinic in some capacity, ending my self-imposed medical sabbatical. Or I may figure out other ways in which to serve the Clinic.

And maybe I will write more.

Recently I sat in one of our downtown coffee shops with my friend Mel, who also writes, albeit not as much as she wants. We talked about how difficult it is for either of us to value ourselves enough to set aside time for writing. We agreed it was a matter of respecting the writing and respecting our desire to write.

So maybe I head into the rest of summer balancing writing and pie making.

The tremor I opened this post with is likely just that: a tremor and not a portent of some larger problem. But while the walls were swaying, I could think only of time, as in time remaining. It reminded me that the sand in my hourglass runs swifter than many and that I want to live deliberately during the time that remains.

And now that my energy is rebounding, I might just be able to do that.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Bees Are Back

The bees are back.

The rudbeckia (rudbeckia nitida) is in full bloom finally, and it is once again Bee Central. Given the devastating collapse of commercial bee colonies nationwide and the greatly diminished number of wild colonies, I was afraid they would not return this year. The later we went into July and the scant number of bees that appeared, the lower my hopes and expectations fell.

But I came home late afternoon today to find the bees crawling and buzzing, working the flowers over furiously.

Making hay while the sun shines, so to speak.

I hope the bees fertilize my zucchini plants while they are at, as the zucchini have been sending up blossoms that open, linger hopelessly, and then drop off for lack of pollination. When I saw the bees in the rudbeckia, I promptly moved all three pots of zucchini plants next to the flowers.

I all but cheered when I saw several bees drop down to the zucchini and start mining the blossoms.

In an increasingly fragile world, where economies, nations, and environments are as shaky as the commercial bee colonies, the return of the bees bolsters my hope for the future. Maybe it is silly to stake my hopes on such a small thing, but I have appeared silly before.

Emily Dickinson wrote "'Hope' is the thing with feathers." Not in my world. In my world, "Hope" is the thing with wings. And right now Hope is having a fine time in my flowers.

Sunday, July 21, 2013


Rubbery. Lot of chewing. Some hints of spice, but even that was flat.

Supper last night was a last minute what-can-we-make-from-what-we-have kind of arrangement, neither of us (read: I, April) having made plans for something better. The main course, ringed by leftovers, was bratwurst excavated from the freezer. Clearly, the bratwurst had resided there way too long.


It was the first meal in the hotdog/sausage family that I'd had since the June road trip. An onslaught of general GI disorder had finished off that meal spectacularly and my enthusiasm for tubed meat has been in remission ever since. Now I was shoving pieces of it around my plate.


This morning we ran to Home Depot early, before breakfast. At the head of the contractors' checkout was a soft drink cold case. These were not just any old soft drinks, but rather certain Coca-Cola products. The case signage read "Heche en Mexico. Un sabor de casa" (Made in Mexico. A taste of home"). Inside were glass bottles of Sprite and Fanta Orange (the Coke being sold out), presumably made with cane sugar and not high fructose corn syrup. Given the scant handful of bottles remaining in the case, clearly someone was buying, even though there was a larger cold case of American bottled, substantially less costly plastic liters of Coke products not more than ten feet away at the end of the checkout.

Homesick laborers from Central America, perhaps?  Clearly someone looking for a taste of home.

That phrase has stuck with me all morning. Even though I am home (figuratively as well as literally), I am wondering what home tastes like. Certainly not the bratwurst from last night. The zucchini bread I have been baking and stacking in the freezer? The tomatoes ripening in the garden?

I don't know.

It is a cool morning as I pen these words to type out shortly. A week of high temperatures was broken by a line of storms that moved through yesterday and wiped away the hot air. The cicadas are just starting to keen in the morning sun.

I mentioned to Warren yesterday that the summer insect triumvirate was here: cicadas, fireflies, katydids, the katydids having just took up their raspy night duty this week. They sketch in my summer, with sights and sounds, in ways that my palate is currently missing.

Looking for the taste of home, accompanied by the chatter of the cicadas.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Faith in the Future

It has been another one of those days, when the blend of weather and personal schedule have come together perfectly. After days (weeks) of rain, we are now experiencing a string of cool, sunny days. The house is wide open with breezes blowing through, the laundry is hanging outside, and I have a stretch of afternoon where my immediate chores are done and I can now sit back and let time flow through my fingers.

Among the many recent reads was an excellent collection of essays about women friends, She Matters by Susanna Sonnenberg. I culled this quote from her: "When I leave the house, I prepare unconsciously for the pleasant social exhaustion of an intimate city."

That quote was my morning today.

I met my dear friend Margo downtown for coffee midmorning. I had laced my errands around our time together. From the first errand to the last, I was immersed in that pleasant social exhaustion of which Sonnenberg writes. To wit: the security guards at the county courthouse ("Hi, April, how's it going?"), the clerk in the Clerk's office ("Hey! Haven't seen you for awhile! How are you feeling?"), a farewell chorus from the security guards as I left ("Have a great weekend, April!"), a stop at the Symphony office en route to the library (and a kiss for Warren), and city staff in the Utilities office where I paid the water bill (another wish for a great weekend). As Margo and I sat at the long coffee bar that faces the street, I waved at a coworker walking by. Heading back to my car post-coffee, I passed a secretary from a downtown insurance office that I have been in and out of often ("How are you feeling? You look great!"). At the grocery, the greeter was a longtime fixture in our community, working post-retirement to help a family member through a medical crisis. We talked about the family member (doing better), about me, about the community.

All of the morning was interconnected, all of it was shot through with community and that pleasant social intimacy.

I'm home now. At the library, although I was there only to pick up one book on hold, I could not resist and came away with an armful (to add to the armful already at home). At the grocery, the school supplies caught my eye (school starts mid-August this year in this area). Single subject, college ruled, 70 sheets wirebound notebooks were 17¢ apiece.

17 cents.
Miss Ramona Dawn, age 10 months old! 

I bought five. These are what I use for my writing.

Earlier Margo and I had talked about grandchildren. Margo and her husband Gerald became grandparents twice over this spring when their two daughters had their first babies within weeks of one another. Of course, we also talked about Ramona, now ten months old (ten months!) and poised on the edge of toddlerhood. I spoke of the distance from here to her; Margo's grandchildren are within a half hour of here. Margo voiced an idea, "Well, when Ramona is 8, she can fly unaccompanied and come visit you every summer!"

That is a delicious thought and one I had never had. Briefly my mind flitted to whether I would still be around when Ramona turns 8. That thought returned as I walked to my car after the grocery store, but in an entirely different way. As I unloaded the five notebooks, I suddenly saw them for what they really were.

Yes, obviously, they are a bargain. I may even buy more. But they are also an act of faith in myself—that I will continue to write after a long fallow stretch, that I will fill up these five notebooks and five more after that, and five more after that, and so on into the future until Ramona is indeed 8 and on her way to visit Grandma April in Ohio.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Water and Sky

Saturday night was the second of two holiday concerts for the Symphony, this one up at Put In Bay on South Bass Island in Lake Erie.

It rained on the 4th of July here in Delaware. Yesterday it rained up at the lake as well, forcing the concert inside. We loaded and unloaded equipment and instruments in the rain. But by the time we were on the ferry back to the mainland, the rain was more or less over.

The sky was dramatic, full of low clouds changing colors as the evening faded. I found myself at the side of the ferry watching the waves and the clouds go by. I found deep solace in staring across the lake, scanning the sky, and watching the backwash churn away from the ferry. My thoughts spun away as effortlessly as the waves.

I needed to be alone. In the midst of community, as Symphony volunteers mingled and chatted and laughed, I needed solitude. I wanted the sky and the lake and nothing else. I let my thoughts spin out, no patterns in any of them, all of them scudding away with the clouds.

It is about 30 minutes from dock to dock by ferry. Soon enough the lights of Catawba rose into view. Soon enough I could make out the dock lights. Soon enough we would be back on land and headed home.

The dock lights grew brighter and came into sharp focus. My thoughts wound down into a quiet murmur as the ferry slowed and came into harbor.

It was a quiet drive back to Delaware. The three of us in the truck were tired and ready to end the day. Fireworks from rural communities kept lighting the horizon; we grew too silent to point them out. We all wanted to get home, we all wanted to come into the harbor of our own lives.

Sooner or later, we all need a place to dock.