Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Living My Life: A Letter to My Readers


Dear Reader,
I’ve had no time to write an essay this past weekend because I’ve been too busy living my life. You know, trying to be present to every moment—even the tired ones. My granddaughter Maya, her two-year-old son Karik, her hound dogs Zoe and Marley, her amiable husband Wes and her father-in-law John all came on Friday night and filled up all the floor space in my guest house. “Pappy” (Karik’s grandpa) slept in the loft.

Wes and John are trout fishermen, and they occasionally come my way to fish in Spruce Pine and Bakersville. They left at dawn on Saturday morning; Maya and the budding young fisherman Karik followed to watch for a couple of hours. After that, they mostly hung out with me. The presence of relatives of course leads to multiple family visits. Robin and Tammy were at my house chatting with Maya and drinking tea in the late morning. After naptime, my granddaughter-in-law Polly and six-month old Ginger arrived for lunch and more visiting. The two little cousins paid great attention to each other, and their young mindfulness was inspiring. Karik stays in a day care while his parents work and is used to being around babies. He was gentle and attentive with his little cousin. She in turn was responsive: smiling, giggling and watching with her amazing concentration.

I sat in a chair nearby and luxuriated in being a great-grandmother to these two beautiful, intelligent and amiable progeny. The two mothers chatted around the edges of the required parental duties: nursing, changing diapers, speaking words of caution or praise. Both mothers were lavish with the hugs and kisses (even to me). My dog Nigel wisely retreated to a safe spot under the dining table in close contact with my feet. His reward came later in the afternoon when he got to romp and run with the hounds in his fenced-in yard. While Maya monitored the activity, I sat on the deck and laughed.

The weekend wasn’t just about family; it was rich in community contacts as well. Saturday afternoon there was a workday at the local food co-op and Robin, Tammy and my grandson Miles all pitched in. At supper time Maya and her gang (except for the dogs) went off to Spruce Pine for pizza. I joined Robin and Tammy at the Celo Community Center for a pasta supper —a fundraiser for the Celo pre-school. The food was good, but the real attraction for me was the chance to talk with neighbors and friends that I don’t often see anymore. Just as I luxuriated in watching the eager faces of the little ones in the afternoon, I loved looking at the relaxed middle-aged faces of people I’ve known for thirty-five years in some cases.

On Sunday morning, the fishermen took off soon after sunup and planned to be back by about four. After morning tea Maya and Karik and I set off to visit a few craft studios that were open as part of The Highway 80S Art Hop. We went to see the work of several of our favorites and even did a little gift shopping. Once again we all took naps, and then I made a risotto with peas, manchego cheese, shallots, and parsley for lunch. Soon the fishermen returned and after a whirl of packing and checking to make sure nothing was left behind, they headed down the mountain for their respective homes.

The richness of my life is a constant source of wonder to me, and I find it is easy to live in the now moments when they are made precious by the presence of family, friends of long standing and interesting neighbors. However, much as I love the hustle and bustle of Celo weekends with occasional houseguests, it is the quiet and solitude of my daily country home that sustains my spirit and my health.

All the best, Donna Jean

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

My Transition to Fall Starts with the Iron

On workdays my father wore a fresh, clean shirt, crisply ironed by my mother. She was proud of her ironing skills and started teaching me when I was nine. I began with napkins, dresser scarves, runners, and antimacassars. The following spring, Mother was sick and called me to her bedside to say that I would have to iron Daddy’s shirts. I was nervous because I had never ironed anything so complicated. I called Mother’s friend Ruth Reber and asked for help. She told me to bring a few shirts and come on over to her house. Patiently she taught me how to iron a tailored shirt and then watched and corrected me as I finished the ones I had brought. Two months later my mother’s illness was called a nervous breakdown, and she went to stay with a friend who had the time and space to take care of her. She was sick for five months in all, and I became proficient at ironing shirts.

Last week I changed out my seasonal clothes, putting away the summer sundresses and other garments and getting out jumpers and tailored blouses—my winter wardrobe. Then I set up the ironing board and ironed my blouses, which are made just like my father’s shirts but in feminine fabrics and colors and a little more ease in the front. Remembering Ruth Reber, I picked up the hot iron and began to smooth away the wrinkles, following the same instructions, and enjoying the transformation from wrinkled to pristine collars, back yokes, fronts, backs, sleeves (giving special attention to the little tucks) and then the cuffs.

Lately there’s been a change in the air, the light, and nighttime temperatures, which have been consistently lower. It’s time to put away the anklets and fill that drawer with knee socks. Soon I’ll exchange the cotton sweaters for the wool. Yesterday I walked by the river and noticed the changing leaf colors along the road. The intense hues of dahlias and chrysanthemums are matched by the amazing display of goldenrod this year. In the early morning there are many more squirrels darting across the road and chattering in the trees. Walkers and runners pick up the pace in the cooler air, and trucks loaded with split logs for fire wood are going by my house on Grindstaff Road.

In my yard the plants that will delight my eyes late into the fall are getting ready. The plumes of the Pampas Grass are fluffy and full, the bulbous lime green hydrangeas are radiant as the angle of sunlight changes, and the sedums have finished their progression from pale pink to brick red. Nature kindly gives us the gift of gradual change from the sometimes-intense heat of summer to the biting cold of winter.

For nearly twenty years Margot Rossi* has helped me stay healthy with acupuncture and Chinese herbs. At the same time she has taught me a lot about the very different way the Chinese approach wellbeing. Her comments often included thoughts about the effect seasonal change has on us. Recently she connected a health concern I had to the coming of fall. When I decided to write about the change of the season, I asked her to come up with a sentence or two that captured her thoughts. She sent me a little essay which started with winter, moved through spring and summer and finally to this lyrical explanation of the impact of fall.

The transition from summer's bounty, communion, and warmth to fall's release is a difficult one particularly for those of us who relish the joys of being together, connected, alive, active, and blossoming. Fall is a time of tuning inward, turning away from all that outward display and energy, attending to what is essential and letting the rest go. We end up drawing down into our roots and reconnecting with our own selves. For some this is a daunting process: what if we can't accept and cherish ourselves the way we are? What if we discover we don't really know who we are, why we are here, what's the point?

Of course the beauty of letting go of the material world and the distractions of an active, extroverted life is that we can come inside to reconnect with our essence, our most precious resource. This can give us inspiration and encouragement (also an attribute of fall) to start anew and live into heaven. The autumn of one's life has the same purpose— extract the essence: who am I, truly; what am I about; how have I lived; what shall I pass on to future generations in order to lift them up; how can I spare my family the karma to resolve what I was not able to resolve; how can my life help my community evolve; how has my life helped my community evolve thus far?

When I fell last January on Tybee Island I thought I’d never go back, but even though my recovery is not complete, I have rented a charming house for six weeks. Being further south and on the ocean mitigates the winter blast and keeps me walking. Yet no matter where I am I enjoy the reduced options of fall and winter, and the increased time available for solitary pursuits.  I feel the need to adjust some of the patterns and circumstances of my life in order to maintain an expansive feeling in the face of contracting physical resources. The contemplative season of earlier dusks, later dawns, and inclement weather encourages me to stay inside and think; it gives me the mental and spiritual space to do that work.

As I ironed the blouses and corduroy jumpers and folded the light fabrics of summer to put in the empty storage boxes, my heart was singing a softer, slower tune. Happily I began to feel the seasonal change inhabit my body.

*Margot Rossi’s website
Possibilities website

Next post: 10/15/2013