Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Bittersweet Ice

We lost my second sister in December, just before Christmas. Her death affected me deeply and made for a difficult transition between the usual joy of the season and grief. My eldest sister flew to spend the holidays with us as usual, and step by step we embraced each day together, treasuring the time as never before, knowing full well that a part of each of us was now missing.

We are, and always have been, a scattered family. Now flung across six states, we do what we can to maintain contact and some degree of connectedness to each other. Because of this, the holiday season, and the weather, my brother-in-law and three nieces wisely decided to put off a family gathering to remember my sister until late January. It had been ten years since our family had all been together and I yearned for this connection now, as never before. Death can do that to a person.

Determined to make it to New Mexico no matter what, we built an extra day or two into our travel plans, just in case. The weekend before we were to leave, a major storm began to gather strength somewhere far out in the Pacific. This is not all that unusual, as most of our storms approach from the southwest, carrying relatively warm, moist air. Western Washington is well-known for its rainy climate and this is why. But if one of these heavy, wet, air masses should collide with a frigid one moving down from Canada, the result can be a wallop of a storm with high winds, snow, ice and all that goes with it. The day before we were to leave, this is exactly what happened.

Living where we do, there are several ways to get to SeaTac Airport, which lies midway between Seattle and Tacoma. You can "drive around" by way of Tacoma (and its well-known Tacoma Narrows Bridge) or take a ferry from Bremerton or Bainbridge Island into the heart of downtown Seattle and secure a ride from there. When the small bus company that "drives around" cancelled all runs due to icy conditions, we decided to risk driving to a ferry in our heavy duty vehicle. At 5:30 AM, with a friend in tow to drive the truck back home, we did just that - slowly and carefully, to be sure, but we made it. Downtown Seattle was glazed and deserted with nary a cab in sight. But we had booked a ride with a company that guaranteed to get us there, and before long a huge black SUV approached the curb and loaded us in. Another slow, careful drive delivered us to the airport.

OF COURSE we had checked everything out via the Internet before leaving home, and everything was in "GO" status! Once at the airport, however, it was obvious that this was not exactly the case. The place was crowded with long lines of people trying to re-book cancelled flights, which seemed to be most of them. Ours was one of the few not cancelled, so we checked our bags, secured boarding passes, and whizzed through the practically empty security station.

I have never come to rely on a cell phone - my husband and I possess one between us and rarely use it. For this momentous occasion, however, with seven of us flying and two of us driving across hundreds of miles, these little miracles of communication became invaluable. Thirty minutes before boarding, they cancelled our flight. We re-booked for a flight two hours later, which was also cancelled. We booked a third flight for the next morning and somehow managed to reserve a room at a nearby motel. Looking back, I'm not sure how this happened, as all the airport motels had been booked solid since the storm wreaked its havoc. Serendipity, I guess, but we were extremely grateful and decided to have lunch before retrieving our bags.

Bellies full, bags claimed, motel courtesy van caught, and snug in our room, a flurry of phone calls and emails got everyone up-to-date on each other's whereabouts. Everyone (except us) expected that day had arrived, was resting, visiting, and would gather for a family dinner out that night. We would tip-toe through snow and ice to a Denny's across the parking lot, but anticipated a family dinner the next night. Tired, but content, we enjoyed a quiet evening.

I had to slip back outside to try to capture the wonderland spread before us in this mundane, big city parking lot. This storm, unwanted and retched as it was, had coated everything in a thick, transparent layer of ice.

I lingered far longer than I planned, totally entranced by the beauty of crystalline branches, buds, leaves - each reflecting the lights, other icicles, and their own color from within.

I thought of my missing sister - how she would have loved this! Soon, we would gather with her family, honor her memory, and maybe then this ache in my heart would lessen...

Transfixed, delighted, and exuberant, I arrived back in the room to be greeted with yet another email - morning flight cancelled. An hour on the Internet revealed what we had feared - all flights booked.

I called my niece and we tried, between us, to figure something out. "You could take the train to Portland and fly out of there..." No, the train is not running due to downed trees and branches on the tracks; anyway, all flights out of Portland are booked... "You could try for Saturday morning...." "No way could we get there in time for the service...we've tried everything we know of, we just can't make it." Finally, we just cried together - time, space, memory and grief running together in long streaks down my face.

The next morning began no better: the 3:30 AM wake up call that we had requested, and then cancelled, was not cancelled and woke us up; my sister called at 4:00 - she had not talked to my niece and thought we'd be on our way to the morning flight. We slept a bit more, then roused ourselves to the sound of planes taking off - evidently the ice had begun to melt...

Now I was feeling cheated and really angry. Back to the airport we went, this time to catch the Airporter back home. They can cancelled all morning runs, but would begin at noon. As we waited, visiting with other would-be passengers, there were huge blasts which reverberated through that end of the terminal. Looking up, we could see ice on the skylights and what appeared to be cracks. Police cordoned off the area, fearing falling glass, although we did not see any. Ice melting off of a higher roof had let loose; we later learned that seventeen windows had been broken. By the time the bus arrived, 45 of us were clamoring to board - luckily, they'd sent two buses.

Tired and out of sorts, we settled in for the two-hour ride. Wiping a small opening in the condensation on the window, I viewed a world that was foggy, white and wet, reminding me of a drippy version of Dr. Zhivago. After about an hour, traffic slowed to a crawl and the driver announced that, due to falling ice, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge was closed - for an indeterminate time. Our driver thought quickly and took an exit to a McDonald's, so that we could all grab a bite to eat, use the restroom, and not be stalled in traffic. We waited... still no news on when the bridge would open. The only thing to do was to return to Seattle, take a different ferry across Puget Sound to reach our highway so that all the passengers could be delivered to where they needed to go. Of course, by the time we hit Seattle, it was going-home time on a Friday night!

Traffic was bumper-to-bumper and I felt disheartened and totally drained; it would be after eight in the evening by the time we finally got home. Suddenly, our cell phone rang - it was my sister calling me from the family dinner. We talked a bit, then she held the phone out so that everyone - brother-in-law, nieces, great nieces and nephews could yell "Hello- wish you were here!" Well, I certainly did too, but in that dark, cramped bus heading to nowhere, even with more tears running down my face, I felt loved and included. Across time, distance, and weather - that's what families are for.

Glass sculptures pictured here are from Fluent Steps by Martin Blank

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Space in My Heart

An empty area
(usually bounded in some way between things)

It was interesting that I found it where I did - at the "end of the line" so to speak. There, on one of the multitude of rocks scattered along the edge of the river, I happened upon it quite by accident...

I have no idea who placed it there, but there was no doubt as to what it was - a perfectly shaped heart formed of small colored rocks. It was not alone, having been carefully placed about equidistant from two other formations placed on other rocks: a grouping of bright green leaves, weighed down by a smaller rock, and two words formed of small pebbles , "te amo" - I love you.

After many years of dreaming, this past Fall my husband and I finally made it to a few of the American Southwest's most spectacular national parks. That particular day was our time to "do" Zion, in southwest Utah, and we were more than ready to see it. We had begun early, catching a shuttle bus and leisurely riding to the far end of the road to take the Riverside Walk along the North Fork of the Virgin River.

The day was perfect for hiking - crisp, clear, and quiet. This trail is an easy one and winds along the river for a mile before the river becomes the trail. We did not plan to continue up the river, so took our time simply enjoying all that nature had to offer there.

At the point where the trail ended, we visited with a few other hikers and watched the more adventuresome ones take to the Narrows Trail up the river. Although I do enjoy visiting, I'm one who also just enjoys the great outdoors as it is, which is often fairly quiet. And so, while my husband continued visiting, I wandered along the river, taking in all of its nuances, which led me to the small heart.

An area reserved
for some particular purpose

And so, as is often the case with me, my mind began to wander - to the who, where, and why of things. Had young lovers passed this way earlier, finding it impossible to pass up the opportunity to express themselves to each other? Perhaps it had been the playful creation of children, or of visitors from some other place in the world, immersing themselves in the freedom of an area much different from their everyday lives. Was this a message left for someone in particular or for anyone who happened to find it?

I found odd assortments of pebbles on other rocks - were there more formations or "messages" to be found? In the end, I decided that it really didn't matter who put it there, or why; what did matter was how it affected me. I have seen a great many pictures of heart forms that others have found in nature and I know that some people specifically look for those. I am not one of them. I can think of only one other time and place where I saw one. Those two times, and others unrelated, have moved me profoundly because these are messages we all need to receive.

The interval between two times

What, exactly, is the human "heart"? Is it the same as a soul or something different - something pulsing, sustaining, feeling, empathizing, growing, shrinking, opening and closing? I do know that I follow mine often, and have since I was a child. Being raised in the "Big Sky" country of Montana, I was surrounded by open space.

Surely influenced in part by this land, my parents encouraged a certain amount of openness in me - honesty, loyalty, understanding, acceptance, and trustworthiness. Do not lie, especially when you're at fault; always do what you say you'll do; be patient and kind with all, especially those who are less fortunate - physically, mentally, and emotionally. Do what you think is the right thing, even if your friends do not; look deep inside and follow your heart - if you are conscientious you will not go wrong. I have found that, although it is not nearly that simple, all of this is pretty good advice.

Any location
outside the Earth's atmosphere

No matter how big my heart might be, it cannot function alone - neither can I. I treasure the times when I can be alone, but am seldom lonely, for I am full to the brim with friends and family. I treasure and enjoy those who are nearby; those who are not here are still with me, in my thoughts, my memories, my heart... Most of all, there is that supreme power, infinite wisdom, God, whatever you wish to call it, that surrounds, grounds, and connects me. I do not pretend to understand what this power is all about, but it do believe that it creates a vast amount of space within my heart - and within yours. It is up to us to fill it.

The unlimited expanse
in which everything is located
"The boundless regions of the infinite."

Words in bold italics are from:

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Guilty by Association

The squirrels are in trouble at our house, big time - $2,400 worth! And they have paid a heavy price...

In all honesty, I think we asked for it. Well, some of it at least. We are animals lovers and over the years have enjoyed feeding and observing wild birds. Anyone who does this knows that squirrels come with the bargain, whether desired or not. They simply show up one day, and, like the birds, pass the word on somehow to their fellow squirrels. There is quibbling, to be sure, but somehow they work it out so that most of them get at least a portion of what they come for. And, as with us human cousins, what they get soon leads to what they want - MORE of everything!

So here we have the wonderful little native Douglas Squirrels or Chickarees. For some time, we've enjoyed their antics and haven't really minded the sunflower seeds they go through, except during those times when they feel compelled to bury them everywhere. We have learned not to leave fabric tablecloths or chair pillows out for long as they tend to become nest lining. Mostly, their damage has been minimal and we've learned to live with it.

A couple of years ago, however, we did observe one squirrel in particular running back & forth between our carport and the woods with a mouthful of what looked like chewed-up yarn. Careful observation and inspection led to the car, but we could not see any obvious damage. That squirrel was run over on the road soon after and we forgot all about it. Then, last summer I noticed a small pile of insulation on the back seat of the car. Still, no sign of damage elsewhere - until the fan began to make strange noises when running. We took the car in and damage was found - extensive damage. The repairman told us that "some rodent" had chewed into the fan box, wiring, and much of the insulation lining the hood. To reach, and replace, all of the damage required taking out the entire dashboard. Parts and labor added up to a tidy sum. And so, war was declared on the dear little creatures. They have been unceremoniously removed, gently and otherwise, until only a few remain. Doubtless, their numbers will again increase in time.

Sadly, we don't even know for certain that they caused the damage - mice and rats have been known to do the same thing. We merely declared them "guilty by association". This is something unbelievably easy to do and we all do it from time to time, sometimes with animals, more likely with our fellow humans. It is completely understandable that when we feel wronged or damaged we want to strike back. Sometimes this is justified - more often it is not.

Do not testify against your neighbor without cause,
or use your lips to deceive.
Do not say, "I'll do to him as he has done to me;
I'll pay that man back for what he did."
Proverbs 24:28-29