three women

I know a woman whose heart was sick. She was being prepared to receive another heart. Maybe another small, gentle woman’s heart, tucked into her chest, ready to keep beating and give my friend new life.

I was up late the night she got word. Your heart is ready; it’s time. Later still, I sat in meditation. May she have joy, may her heart be healthy, may she heal and thrive, may she have peace and find freedom.

When I meditate, it’s not unusual for an image to flow across my interior field of view. In the quiet desert night, it’s not unusual for that image, dreamlike, to become more real than real.

I said a solid goodbye to the longest and strongest (I thought anyway) love of my life that way.

But my gentle friend, blonde-haired and younger than I am…at the word freedom, I swear I saw her floating over the mountains, so ethereal (she was ethereal, in truth), almost transparent, long blonde hair trailing in the dry wind.

It was wondrous, yet I felt sick. I knew, but I didn’t want to know.

I woke up in the morning to messages that she had died after the surgery. Just like that. Gone.

I didn’t know her face to face; I knew her face to face, virtually.

But I cried real tears on and off, on and off all that day. Longer.

That’s how so much of the online chronic illness community works. Some of us only ever know one another that way, virtually. Some of us cannot travel. Some of us have so very little money, so few resources. I am luckier than some. Others feel they are luckier than I am.

I know another woman whose heart was sick. She was energetic and positive and deeply compassionate. She rarely talked about her heart and how delicate her health was. She mostly cracked jokes and talked about her adventures with her beloved dog along with her plans for the future, and she never, ever gave up on anything that I know about. This young woman was vital, straightforward and she was sweet, too. She had just begun an new job. Everything looked to be a big “go” for her. I expected to hear about job escapades in the near future, adventures on her new job. She sure lived life to the fullest.

The other morning I awoke to messages that she had died. Just like that.

In the last post on this blog I was feeling reflective (or something like that) over how fragile life is. How unexpected it is.

This young woman was another virtual friend. Her memory is still as wrenching as it is sweet. I was told that over the last couple of weeks she was making an effort to tell all of her closest friends how much she loved them. She blows me away, she just does.

I know yet another woman whose heart was sick. She worked where I work. She also raised horses. Lots of horses. I knew her as a teacher and a colleague. I took her classes for fun. She loaned me hilarious books of dirty French.

When I was preparing for graduate school she had helpful advice. She found me a job on campus for a while before I was qualified to teach there.

She had a heart transplant and recovered, ready to take on the next phase of her life. She was surviving several really serious chronic illnesses; she had survived the transplant; she fell and broke her femur while traveling after the surgery. She survived that.

She was broadsided by cancer. She never gave up, as I saw it, but bit by bit, her body was overwhelmed. She held out until her last mare had foaled. That was her stated goal. That was what happened.

So there it is. Inspiration and fear. Beginnings and endings. Mystery.

Right now I’m burrowing deeper into the winter darkness hoping some kind of light will shine out of my dreams. I’m hoping that I can learn better to instill some kind of happiness into the deep and the mystery of all of this. To inspire and be inspired. Now. With whoever is standing next to me. Virtually or in the flesh, even.

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letting go, again

It’s not that I believe nothing good will happen in my future. It’s more that I’m still letting go of all those dreams of the past.

It’s not that I’m unable to glimpse other possibilities. It’s more that I’ve spent so many years moving in a certain direction that inertia keeps me going.

This is the perfect time of year to find where exactly I want to go. Things in the natural world tend to go underground. What’s above the surface is watchful and purposeful.

I’ve spent too much time beating myself up for not being younger and more conventionally ambitious.

I’ve raised eight kids. I’ve built two micro-farms. I’ve established a land-based learning center. I’ve gone to grad school, worked as a desert archaeologist, and I teach in a college.

On this track, I developed some ideas about where all of this might take me. I watched it all blow up in my face a few years ago. “We wrecked it in our own backyard,” as the poet said.

I’ve been digging deep and it tends to take me deep into the past.

I’ve been looking at how earlier experiences connect to my current experiences.

It’s bittersweet, for sure.

I guess all of this shit is compost for composing this new life.

There are some things that I’d been an arrow aiming for that simply are not going to happen.

I have friends who say “don’t say that!” “Don’t say it won’t happen!”

Some of the same friends who don’t want to hear me say that I’m old.

But really, friends, some things are not going to take form right now, not at my age, not in the current economic and academic environment of my world. And I’m not young anymore.

All this really means is that other things will move more easily into this vacuum. And that I know where I am in the continuum of this life.

Things change. People come and go. Other people get sick. We get old. Depending on which day you catch me, I’ll tell you different things about how I feel about “getting old.”

Mostly it is what it is. I’m working against a deadline. I know a helluva lot about deadlines. I’ve got this one.

That part is good. Maybe I’m not as ambitious as some people might like me to be. That doesn’t mean I don’t like to work. I do. I’ve got one piece of work that I really enjoy and I’m paid a little to do it. I have another piece of work that I don’t get paid in money to do, but I’ll never stop doing it, as long as I’m able.

None of this is enough to support me, so I have to fill in the blanks. I have to find more “work worth doing,” as John Holt put it succinctly.

I miss doing art. I feel it tugging at me. In fact, I can feel my bones getting ready to turn in my grave if I don’t do something about that longing for art.

And, yes, I know gardening is art. I think that has sustained me over the long haul. But. Still. I know there is more.

So in these two weeks, while I recover from this god-awful virus or whatever the tests show it is, and before I go back to work, I am going to do a lot of sitting.

I’m going to just sit and let the waters clear. I’m going to see what I can see. There’s a future, out there somewhere in January, and I want to see clearly enough to walk into it.

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rainy season

It’s not raining in the desert yet. I wish it were.

It’s me. I’ve been crying in those still moments in the early morning and in the evening.

I’m not sure what this lack of ease and well-being is.

When I sit with it, letting it be, I know it’s despair about the immediate future.

What I’m scared and teary about is the imminent prospect of going back into the county welfare office. And I’m worried about losing my modest but helpful ACA Silver healthcare plan. It’s the fear a mother has of losing her home. It’s the fear an older, single, underemployed woman with medical issues has for the future.

When June rolls around my income will be decimated, by more than half. The two youngest kids will be on Medicaid and I suppose I will be too. I console myself with the thought that I’m racing against the calendar to get some medical issues taken care of for me and for Erin before then.

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Why cry?

It just happens. There are actual stresses on my body from all of these surgeries. Back to back, just get them done. I may be anesthetized one way or another, but the body knows. My body knows it’s been pummeled. The body has one memory and my head has another. I know some of the tears are instinctive, my body talking to me about these well-meaning assaults on its integrity. I can just accept this and let these tears come and go. After all, I’m grateful for the surgeries. Two years ago I thought they might not happen.

Tears from pain are a different story. These I can sit with, too, and it sometimes helps.

Then there are the tears of discouragement. These are harder to sit with.

I tell myself that I’ve made it through more than three years as the suddenly single head of a household. I congratulate myself for managing even though I’ll never see a big portion of the support ordered by the judge.

The horrifying moment of realizing I was not only a woman alone (that’s one thing, isn’t it?) but a woman abandoned with still-minor children (that’s a whole different can-o-worms), that moment was really a whole long season of realizations. The uncertainty and fearfulness of that season is back.

On a good day, I smile and feel that I can take on what I need to in order to get by. Thank goodness the state of California is persistent about child support. They’re freaking bulldogs and it has helped.

Sad that a court advocate told me the hard truth: “you can file for the spousal support, but in cases like this it’s so hard to collect.” Sadder that I chose to live for so many decades as a planet orbiting an inconstant sun to finally be rewarded with being tossed off into the deep and the dark.

Sailing out here in the darkness, I have to generate my own light. I’m like a little comet who doesn’t feel ready to burn out quite yet.

I suppose that’s why I’ve been shedding many of these tears, unbidden.

After working so hard at so many things, I still find myself on the tenuous edge of American poverty.

Life is unpredictable. We can’t count on rewards that make sense in a logical or even plausible way. I have accepted that.
The tears are like the rain that still falls after the big winds of a high desert storm blow through.

snow coming

I’m beyond middle-aged by anyone’s standards. I’ve done all kinds of work, from waiting tables and carhopping to laboratory research and teaching. I’ve written magazine columns. I’ve farmed. I’ve raised a boatload of kids.

My mother called me a dreamer. I think I’m practical, sometimes too much so.

I know what it means to be a first generation college graduate in a working class family, working and going to school, raising kids and going to grad school.

I have some perfectly serviceable degrees. I have a good education. I have remarkable children and some wonderful grandchildren. I have some pretty amazing friends, even though many of them are scattered around the world. I have owned and operated two drylands farms. I’m living on one right now, in a house with an evaporative cooler for summer and a woodstove for winter. I have countless amenities in this house. I don’t usually feel like an older woman hovering at the poverty line. My youngest kids, who live here, certainly don’t either. But I know what’s in the bank and what’s coming my way each month. I know what’s owed and what’s about to be owed. I mentally list the numbers in an OCDish way. I’m telling myself to stop that.

There are so many of us who list the numbers every month and they barely add up. Take a bit away and then what?

Can you stop the mental listing?

I continue to wonder why I am not finding my way into work that is both meaningful and can support us. I wonder whether I’m not creative enough. I wonder whether (as a friend of mine tells me) I’m not thinking big enough.

Are your passions big? Are they big enough to carry you across the weird times? That’s what I’m thinking about now. How can that work?

Bad things happen. Good things happen. These days I’m going to weep at both.

I don’t feel depressed. I just find myself crying. And that’s fine, I suppose.

Maybe when June finally comes around and I have to face the inevitable, I’ll find ways to rest at ease.

I hope you are at ease this evening.

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heedless no more?

Everything in our bodies is interconnected; I couldn’t tell you specifically and scientifically how some of the feedback loops work, but I can see that they do work together.

My doctors tell me they do. Which is interesting because it’s so rare to have any of those doctors talk to one another.  They will all talk to me about how the major organs are connected or the nerves connected to the eyes, and the heart, and on and on. Once, when I needed surgery, one specialist wanted to communicate with my cardiologist. He needed to perform a procedure and he didn’t want me to “die on his watch.” Whew. So glad he talked to the heart guy. And look, here I am. I’m still here.

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If a doctor tells me he’ll back me up 100% when I try medical cannabis for the pain that nothing else will relieve, then I’ll grab that advocacy, those tender mercies in both hands.  No, really. I’m not being entirely ironic, I mean it. Thank you, Doc.

And I’ll take advocacy where I can find it.

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In this body there’s an ongoing series of lessons on the impermanence of life.

Everything changes.

When I was younger, I really expected different outcomes at this point in my life.  We all do.  Like someone said, it’s the difference between what we expected and what showed up at the door.  That’s the story of my life.

I’ve never spent much time deeply pondering the path.  I’ve pondered deeply while on the path but not so much the path itself.

I just have tended to go.

I threw my bags in the car and drove from Ohio to the California beach with a young love. He had a job waiting, I didn’t. We had the where-with-all that 21 year olds in that day needed. And we were fine.

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Some years later I woke up in the morning next to another young love and we drove to Long Beach and married later in the day.

I had eight children, one by one, and grew a small farm and birthed and taught my babies and youngsters at home, one year at a time.

I wrote some columns on unschooling and science for home educators. I gave some childbirth classes.

I became an archaeologist and embraced all that entailed (and it really did entail a lot) because I happened to fall in with a group of archaeologists who wanted me to join them.

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I neglected every signal flashing and every buzzer buzzing as my marriage slipped through my hands over the course of I don’t even know how many years.

My father may have called me heedless at some points in my life and he was mostly right about that. If it’s possible to be heedless about some parts of your path and mindful about other parts, that has been my way.

Watershed moments that tugged me closer to mindfulness, closer to sitting with the moment?

Losing our first micro-farm and the dream attached to it.  Deciding to confront the lies and deceptions surrounding me, beginning about 2000, maybe. That didn’t really bear any fruit for at least a decade though, if then. I used to be very good at not facing some of the facts. When all those chickens finally came home to roost, I think I changed some of my ways.

The Moon Over a Waterfall by Hiroshige.

The Moon Over a Waterfall by Hiroshige.

What else?

A virus damaging my heart. Yes, definitely a watershed moment. The inability to find the kind of work I was trained for after one final trip back to the church of the higher mind, for that final piece of paper. Uh huh. And being smacked by a chronic disease with equally chronic pain. Yep.

So. Everything changes.

I have a book on my Kindle whose title is something like “Aging as a Spiritual Practice.” It’s not a bad book, as Buddhist-oriented books about aging go.  It doesn’t put me off by a too-heavy handed “self-help” flavor. And it doesn’t piss me off by featuring too many well-heeled older people who have ample choice and keep saying “it’s not just about the money.” For some of us, a little more of the money might make a little less of the suffering.

(Maybe I’ll change how I feel about that last sentence given a little more time. Maybe I’m wrong.  And I am very grateful for the Affordable Care Act. Yes, I pay a premium for my youngest offspring and myself. Yes, it can get frustrating, the bureaucracy. But, oh what a difference from being uninsured for all that time.)

All the things I’ve put off sitting with are surrounding me now, as I grow older.

Moment by moment, breath by breath. The sunlight on my face. New colors revealed to me after my first eye surgery. Wow.

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I want to focus more. I want to be less heedless.

I’m trying to find that thin line between living mindfully with pain and the relentless suffering that can come with pain. Pain, suffering, all of it has to do with being human.

Life is never really simple. Not for anyone.

Posted in gratitude, Life changes, spiritual ecologies, unschooling | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

drought in the desert

The very dry summer of 2014 has turned into the dry fall of 2014.

It’s the desert, it’s supposed to be dry, they say.

When you’ve lived in the high desert for decades, you begin to think in terms of dry and then dry.  And then even drier.

In my yard, the figs are drying up. Last year, so many figs!

It’s been a bad year for the orchard. It started out well.  Plenty of apricots and the other fruit trees looked good. A good start.

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Then came the winds. And more winds — winds that knock the young fruit off the trees and nothing to be done about it. As the trees get older, they’ll shelter the fruit more.

The apricot that yielded so much fruit is my oldest fruit tree, besides the nectarine. The nectarine fed the birds this year because the fruit was plentiful but very dry.

There’s only so much water I want to use in a drought. When that fails, I move on to planting new plants. More herbs.

Note to self: begin extra heavy mulching of all orchard trees and fruiting shrubs.

I’ve noticed that as the hot, dry days are turning into cool dry nights, some of the plants in my yard are having a second springtime. We haven’t had rain, but with some irrigation and the cooler nights, the seasons become confused.

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The Lycium berries may come back. The bushes dropped many of their leaves in the dry summer but they are re-spouting.

It’s all terribly unpredictable. It’s always been unpredictable, so this is whatever is beyond unpredictable.

What’s going on outside of our conservatively watered small acreage?

Look what happens in the mountains when it’s dry.

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Our southern California mountain forests are overcrowded with trees. We’ve been confusing unhealthy and overcrowded forests with good resource management.

And drought increases the activity of bark beetles in pine forests.

These pines. Bark beetles kill the trees and turn them into flash fuel for fires.

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Above, that’s part of the forest close to my house. We go there sometimes.

It’s depressing. So many pine trees are dying.  The dead fall is being cleared out. I suppose that part is good.  And it’s better to look at a clear ridge and the sky than dead trees.

san gabriel hike hillside

I miss the ridges with their trees standing like sentinels.

So farm failure and drought and bark beetles.

I’m working on restoring the greenhouse with the help of some friends. The metal frame was wonderfully constructed by farm day people. It stands, but the plastic has been completely shredded by high desert winds.

The new plans involve cement blocks, mortared with desert adobe, plastic shrink wrap (industrial size), and corrugated roofing panels. Maybe this will stand through more than a season.

Barley is next.

barley grows

There’s a hopefulness in planning any kind of new garden. Maybe the desert will get it. Maybe something beautiful will happen. Maybe there will be some food.

What are you planning this winter? Or planting, if that’s your thing?

Posted in agroecology, climate change, Nature, resilience, sustainable agriculture | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

not my friend

I was reading someone’s blog today and she set off a spark that’s turned into a fire of agreement.

She talked about deep betrayal in a way I have only edged up to.

She addressed something out loud that I’d only kept inside the deepest part of my heart.

I suspect it’s because friendships on so many levels mean so much to me.  Friendships with my peers and with their parents, in some cases, got me through my childhood, my adolescence, and beyond. Friendships are still helping me though.

Burning a bridge of friendship is a serious thing for me. I have never done it lightly or easily.

Friendship is sacred. Except when it’s not.

And the “not” is what I have to acknowledge.

I’ve hit a point in my life where I’m not going to mince words. All of the airy fairy, so nice, and so compassionate words aside, someone did this.

I know what someone says.  I didn’t fail someone. Someone made some choices and did this.

If you are related to someone, I can exclude you from this rant. That’s different and I get it. You’re related, it’s okay. I can still love you.

But.

If you aren’t related to someone and chose to be friends with us when we were together and now want to be friends with both of us, forget it.

Ain’t gonna fly. When you made that choice, I lost a friend. That’s all. It’s just that simple.

heart-on-fire

 

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downsize

I’m looking at master’s students’ course plans. I have two master’s students right now.

They are lovely course plans and I’m looking forward to working with these particular students.

Both students asked about changes of direction in some part of their initial plans. It was nice to let them know that the school and their individual departments are open to those kinds of changes.

So I began to think about my own recent course corrections.

I’m actively downsizing.

I don’t seem to be able to do it quickly enough. I’m impatient about it and being too hard on myself. I suppose I need someone to tell me that these kinds of changes are okay and all happen when the time is right. Or something.

Mostly I hope my course corrections will work themselves into a decently functional life plan.

Does it look like I'm downsizing?

Does it look like I’m downsizing?

Does it really?

Does it really?

Posted in Adjuncting, Life changes, resilience | Tagged , | 4 Comments