October is my favorite month, and I say that as someone who likes all the months–even February. When I was a child, I tried to like November the most because it is my birthday month, but October wins every year (see my post from 10 years ago here). In the fall I feel nostalgic: I miss my mother and father and a growing host of others. So, there is a little sadness, but–northerner in my bones–I always feel happy about preparing for the ice and snow of winter (whether it comes or not). I have been making bread again and wandering through the beauty in my neighborhood.
I have so many people and things to be grateful for and so many things to be worried and sad about that I find my thoughts and feelings ricocheting around in my aging brain. Because I feel lousy today (two negative Covid tests so far, but, who knows) I am trying to settle down and write. Note: It is now two days later and I am still feeling a little weary, but now I have bored myself so thoroughly, that I am writing again.
Grateful I know I have written this litany before, but here it is again: Family, friends, nature.
Worry and sadness Some part of me has felt worried and sad since the 2016 election. I take that back: I was worried and sad before, after Sandy Hook in 2012. Surely, I thought, we will change our laws and our society now. I had similar thoughts after Abu Ghraib. Heck, I thought things would change after Mai Lai. I must have told you this before as well: I thought we good-hearted and idealistic people would put an end to war (and ethnocentrism, inequality, etc. ) back in the 1960s. I am, of course, reeling over the pandemic, Ukraine, Uvalde and all the rest.
I also worry and sometimes feel sad about those on the my “grateful” list. I worry about my family near and far, friends here and there, and nature everywhere.
My assignment In high school, I was noted among my friends as a “stable” person. Not sure what that actually meant. Most of the time through the years, I have continued to be a glass half-full sort of person. I lean toward the hopeful side. I think I lean that way because my loved ones modeled that stance for me and it has helped me throughout my life. So, now, that I have used this post to clarify my thoughts and feelings, I need to drink from that half-full glass again. My soul drinks in words, photos, and music.
I have been thinking about William Wordsworth lately. That’s partly because my friends Donna and David will be walking in the Lake District this June, but also because my brother Dan loved Wordsworth. Plus, I think Wordsworth has some words for us:
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.—Great God! I’d rather be
A pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn. (circa 1802)
Photo and music
“Because,” John Lennon and Paul McCartney, 1969
I find myself thinking of the other two springs of our pandemic (e.g., the last trip to the museum in March 2020, the relief with the second vaccination in March 2021). Now, I think about war and children, family and friends–many here and some gone away. Some mornings, I find it hard to get out of bed. This week, however, I can still blame it on the recent change to Daylight Savings Time. I do, by the way, get out of bed–usually by 6:15 A.M. or earlier. I have my coffee and toast with peanut butter and banana, I do my old person stretches as the sun rises, and then I try to do useful things through the day. Generally, the more I do, the better the days are. Now that the weather is warming and the daylight is increasing, I feel more hopeful–in spite of the loneliness of missing far away family and friends, sickness, war, and social strife. I think I am feeling more happy because it is spring in this still beautiful world. Happy Spring!
When I first considered writing this article, I briefly thought about calling it just “New Year, 2022.” This would be my snarky comment about the state of the continuing pandemic, our national politics, climate disasters, and just about everything else. My terse title would say: nope, not expecting happy things this year either. Almost immediately, though, I remembered that snarky and cynical don’t look well on me. More importantly, I see that all jumbled up with my weariness and anxiety are bits of happiness (or contentment or, at least, acceptance).*
January 31 As it is, I have put off finishing this post until the last day of the month. Luckily, Lunar New Year is beginning, so I am coming in just under the wire. Here is a list of things that make me feel better about going into a new year. I need this list to remind myself of all the good parts of my life.
The people abide. I walk by playgrounds and I see children playing as they always do. Parents are keeping an eye on the kids as parents do. Every time we go to the National Mall, Tom and I see people enjoying the museums, gardens, the ice rink, and food trucks. Despite the continual dose of disturbing news–let alone the wars and rumors of wars–I see helpers and kind people around me every day. I see the workers at my condo and my local grocery store, and those who seek out and help all the lost and lonely ones.
My county still has heart. Tom and I first moved to Arlington County, Virginia in June 1978 and have lived here on an off since. Our children went to school here. In the 1980s we lived a couple blocks from Arlington CentraI Library where I worked part-time. Later I taught immigrants and refugees in Arlington. We were here on September 11, 2001 and saw the Pentagon burning. Again, three decades later, we live a couple blocks from Central Library. Now, in Covid times, Central Library has free WiFi for all in the parking lot, a food pantry, a vegetable patch, and is surrounded by a native plant garden. Most importantly, perhaps, is the library’s strong stand as a safe place for everyone in the community.
Nature comforts me. I find both wonder and solace in the plants, animals, rocks, and sky that I encounter.
Dawn comes. Every day we see the morning light. We follow that light through the day until it is evening. All the light warms us.
We have family, friends, music, and food. I remember the many good parts of my life. I also remember those who have gone. I have listened to Tom play Mozart sonatas almost every day of the pandemic and I feel lucky. It’s the time of year when I remember “Auld Lang Syne.” I shiver or cry or both when I hear the song. I want and need that cup.
For old acquaintance be forgot
And never brought to mind
Should old acquaintance be forgot
In the days of auld lang syne?
For auld lang syne, my dear
For auld lang syne
We’ll drink a cup of kindness yet
For the sake of auld lang syne
Hope is still around here somewhere. So many words from the wise ones exhort people to live for the day, be in the present, etc. I am on board with that-not that I can do it all that much. I still spend plenty of emotional time in the past and the future, and I am not sure that is all bad. Just a couple of weeks ago, I made camping reservations for early June in Arizona and Utah. Tom and I don’t know how we will feel or how things will be shaping up with the pandemic. We don’t know much of anything. However, we remember the places and people we love from the old days. Maybe we can get to the North Rim another time. Maybe we can visit Capitol Reef and camp on the Aquarius Plateau. Maybe we can go back to Fishlake National Forest and be near Pando (a clonal colony of quaking aspen considered by some to be the largest single living organism on earth) one more time. Maybe we will drink a cup of kindness again with the friends of our youth (now of our age). I am hoping.
I recently bought a new head lamp. I am hoping it will lead me through dark nights to bright dawns.
*If I were grading this essay, I would comment on the need for more specific language than “happiness” or “contentment.” I hope the examples and the photos add some heft to the words. Happy New Year! (Added 1/31/2022: Chúc mừng năm mới).
This summer–like all the other summers I’ve known–seems beautiful.* Even with the loss, the sickness, the uncertainty, the worry, the fires, the floods, the wars, and all the rest of it, I am trying (fitfully, I admit) to see some good in this world. I do see it in my stalwart family and friends and in the sky, plants, and animals. I don’t have much to say, at least much that is new, but I hope you enjoy the photos.
*Sometimes I find it difficult to be hopeful without sounding like some superannuated, prissy Pollyanna. I really don’t think I am a Pollyanna; I think I am more of an inveterate idealist. Whatever I might be, I still find myself sad and angry quite often. For example, yesterday I discovered that someone had ripped out the two pink fuzzybean plants off a trellis in Hillside Park. I had transplanted these plants from Arlington’s native plant nursery last fall. I watched the plants as they came up in late spring and cheered them on as they grew up the trellis and spread wider and wider flinging out their green leaves to the wider world. Did someone think they were getting rid of noxious weeds? Was some person or persons just wreaking a little casual cruelty on the park? I don’t know, of course, but I was sad and angry. It was a petty little anger amid the current sorrows of the world and of humankind. However, the hopeful part of me is wondering now whether the plants will grow back from their roots in another season. I wish them well.
I started writing a post in early April–it is still in my drafts file–but I got annoyed by WordPress’ new publishing format and let my words and photos dangle in the airless vault of the Internet. Even though “technology” was featured in two of my most recent job titles, I am somewhat of a Luddite. However, I do think that as programs, platforms, applications, and what-all become more streamlined and standardized, it is possible that creative work can become overly lockstep. Enough of my carping excuses for my procrastination: I want to write about spring before Memorial Day!
I might have shaded the truth a bit (above) about the reason/s for my procrastination. What is slowing me down is that I keep thinking about the almost 600,000 people who have died of Covid-19 in the United States and the millions more around the world, and about those who loved and cared for them. Also, I live 4.5 miles away (by foot) from the U.S. Capitol and I was under curfew on January 6, 2021. That spooked me and saddened me. Before the Inauguration, Tom saw an armed gunboat patrolling the Potomac River near Georgetown. When the celebratory fireworks began on Inauguration night, I worried that our country and its institutions were under attack again. I continue to be gobsmacked by lies, disrespect, viciousness, and what-all. Also, I feel somewhat discomfited about how lucky I have been through all this mess and about the–mostly–good spring I have had.
- I have been wanting to tell you this for awhile: For months, I got through each day by getting the next day’s coffee ready ridiculously early, like at 1 p.m. I wasn’t sure I had the emotional energy to get the coffee machine ready before bed, let alone the next morning. Not a solution to any problem, but, and this is the truth now, having the coffee ready to go helped me feel ready for whatever might be coming the next day.
- I don’t usually pray, but I do try to send good thoughts and love to our children and their families every night. Some nights, I fall asleep before I finish my good thoughts.
- It has been almost nine weeks since our second vaccinations. Tom and I have been lucky to see and hug many family members and friends. We have been to Shenandoah National Park, Williamsburg, Pittsburgh, and Shaker Heights, Ohio. We have more jaunts in the works. Now, we are staying fairly close to home. Later, we don’t know where we will go. We are still waiting to find out which way the wind is blowing.
- We have had a beautiful spring here. I think we always have beautiful springs wherever we are, but this season has been another one. On April 26 on Theodore Roosevelt Island I noted these flora and fauna: Carolina wren with oak catkin in mouth, another C wren?, another wren or warbler???, mallards, heard red-winged blackbird, several birds I couldn’t identify, turkey vultures, robins, sparrows, lots of minnows from bridge by the marsh, cabbage butterflies, other butterflies–slight possibility of a zebra swallowtail?, pawpaws-no flowers, tall meadow rue, lots of garlic mustard, Virginia waterleaf, Hartford fern?, horsetails. As usual, I had a few questions about what I observed. I can report that I have now seen some blooming pawpaws and that the tall meadow rue is going into flower. Note: All these nature words aren’t just small items on a useless list; they keep me close to the ground where–even in difficult times–I feel safe.
Spring did come after that difficult winter and now summer is about to follow. The 17-year cicadas are tuning up around here and the roses are coming out. I hope to see some of you soon. So long (as my Dad would say) and best wishes.
I started this article a week ago during Arlington’s small bout of snow and ice. I couldn’t seem to figure out how to effectively reconcile my homebound (from weather and pandemic) current self with younger versions of me who always loved to be out in the snow and ice. I didn’t want to have to find the words for all those winter feelings I didn’t feel this year. (See Winter: January 1, 2019 for some of my words about winter). Today, I realize that I don’t need to dig for those words and feelings anymore. I have received my first Covid-19 vaccination, I have walked five miles today, buds are plumping up on the witch hazel in Hillside Park, and spring is coming soon. Before spring arrives in earnest, I want to share some words and photos about my favorite refuge during this winter of our pandemic and social disunion.
This winter, I have been walking often on Theodore Roosevelt Island, which is 0.8 miles from our condo. It’s not the ponderosas on the North Rim or the slickrock in Canyonlands, but I do love this tiny little bit of the national park system, just as I love the other parks.
While TR Island is only 88.5 acres, heavily visited (over 160,000 people visit yearly), and cheek by jowl with our hyper-urban Rosslyn, Arlington neighborhood, when I am on the island I find respite from this distressing time. I would have thought that walking here on this island–a little over a stone’s throw across the water from the Kennedy Center–would be much different from walking on the North Rim or in Canyonlands, but, somehow, it feels much the same. I glimpse a red-bellied woodpecker, I see the mallards paddle around the marsh, and I marvel at the fungus on the stump. I want to hug the beech trees. The underbrush all mixed together with water, snow, and leaves reminds me of the lakes of my childhood. I find solitude on the island’s Upland Trail. Seeing the Paul Manship statue of Theodore Roosevelt lifts my spirits. None of the U.S. presidents have been without flaws, but, still, on every trip to the island, seeing the statue, of Theodore Roosevelt, who signed the Antiquities Act of 1906, eased some of my pain related to the presidency of Donald Trump. Time after time in these last months, while my mind and heart were filled with worry and sadness, my feet headed toward the island where my body, mind, and heart revived.
I keep meaning to go to the island early in the day with my binoculars. I want to sit on a bench on the boardwalk and listen to and watch the birds. I think I will go next week. Soon enough, I will be hearing the frogs.
I hope you are vaccinated or will be soon. I hope you will be able to visit loved ones soon. I hope spring will come soon for us all.
Thursday morning, I thought of a title for my latest (this is it) post: Hope in the Time of Pandemic. At 9:30 A.M. while Arlington County staff and volunteers were restoring native habitat in a corner of a little park [Benjamin Banneker Park) formerly covered with invasive bamboo, this self-assured title sounded about right.
A few hours later, I decided that my nod to Garcia Marquez was too flippant when more than 250,000 people have died in our country. So, I thought I would call this article Hope and I wished that word would be appropriate and accurate.
Then, Thursday afternoon the news came about the mess in certifying the Wayne County, Michigan presidential votes. I took this issue to heart; I was born in Wayne County. I did not feel hopeful at all. Now, I didn’t have a name for this piece I was trying to write.
And so it has gone these last months: I am hopeful; I despair. My mind, heart, and gut seesaw.
Friday and today, Saturday, November 21, I feel more balanced. I am seeing the hopeful signs again: in my family and friends, in nature, even (sometimes) in the news.
I realized, again, that I do better when I am close to the ground. When I tuck in the native plants, cold soil invigorates my senses and my hope revives. The fall palette–heavy on yellows and browns–calms my soul. In the evening, the early darkness comforts me. The concurrent bonus for this early darkness is that Tom and I watch beautiful dawns from our living room almost every morning.
My condolences to the families and friends of those who have fallen ill and died. My thanks to all those helpers out there. Like Mr. Rogers’ mother told him to do, I do look for the helpers and I see them out there all around.
Note: I dithered so long that the title of this article originally was “September 2020.”
I think of my mom and dad every day and–almost without exception–that makes me feel happy and as contented as I am able to feel these days. Autumn is a little bit different, though. Sometimes, in the fall, I really miss them and I feel sad. This feeling doesn’t usually last long, but this year it is worse. No surprise there, I think. I miss my brothers and their families. Tom and I see all of our children in Zoom meetings and–every couple weeks–most of them outside at a park. I pet the little dog, Randi, but I also want to hug the children. Tom and I–socially distanced/masked–see some of our friends, but I miss our dear ones far away.
I am fine enough, and I think I am lucky. I mostly try to be grateful.
I don’t want to leave you with the memory of my carping, so below are several photos I’ve collected in the clouds, mist, and sunshine of September and October. Love, Lynda
Note: I began this post the last week of May 2020. I had an idea to write about things that comfort me in, as they say in those T.V. ads, “these uncertain times.” I have been thinking about these uncertain times. I thought about the plagues of Europe I had read about. I thought about the Navajo Nation. I miss being with my children, but I know I am lucky; I just can’t hug them right now.
Then, things fell apart (even further than they ever have since January 2017). How can a pandemic with over 100,000 dead not be first on my list of sorrows this morning? I feel like I am back in the uncertain times of my youth, circa 1967-1968, but worse.
I need comfort even more today and I hope I can offer some respite for a few minutes.
About seven or eight years ago I asked my sister-in-law Judy if she would teach me to knit and she said sure. I have always admired my relatives and friends who could knit, crochet, and do other crafts. I thought I would enjoy knitting while I talked or watched T.V. Lord knows I could use the comfort and calm that such activities are supposed to provide. I bought enough soft brown (mostly) alpaca yarn to knit Tom a scarf. You will see below how far I got on the scarf. I wanted to concentrate on my knit/ purl tasks, but sitting with my family on reunion weekend, I just couldn’t. The words were more important to me than the task, I guess. Back home, I asked my friend Robin to help me back on track a couple of times, but I did not understand. I did not persevere.
A couple of years later when my friend Donna heard this story, she offered to teach me to crochet instead. I tried. Donna was very patient. She told me there were YouTube videos I could watch to help me when I forgot–again–what I was supposed to do. You can see how far I got on whatever I was making below.
While I have not yet learned to do calming and lovely crafts–no March sister here knitting socks for the Union Army while waiting for Marmee to come home–I can do some things that comfort me some in these times.
I love nature and I love writing lists. Related to that, I have–sort of–wanted to be a naturalist for about 50 years. So, I love writing lists that include plants, animals, and specific tidbits about nature. I recently started a list describing the flora and fauna of Hillside Park, a nearby little public park where Tom and I volunteer. Just setting up the table and starting to list the trees helped me feel more relaxed than I had in days. Here is a sample from the list:
|arrowwood viburnum||Viburnum dentatum||yes|
|black cherry||Prunus serotina||yes|
|fragrant sumac||Rhus aromatica||yes|
|black locust||Robinia pseudoacacia)||yes|
|catalpa||Catalpa speciosa||yes||blooming now; end of May|
|kousa dogwood||Cornus kousa||no|
|mulberry, prob white||Morus alba||no||if this turns out to be red mulberry, it is a welcome native, but not likely, I think|
Books about trees comfort me. Last week, Among the Ancients: Adventures in the Eastern Old-Growth Forests by Joan Maloof reminded me of old forests I have walked in. Just writing this now, this morning, calms my anxious heart a little.
Like so many others, I have been doing quite a bit of baking these last months. Actually, I have needed to curtail this urge somewhat because a) while we do exercise and take walks, there has been a great deal of sitting while reading, watching T.V. and, for me, compulsive solitaire playing b) we don’t have the metabolisms we had back in the day when I would bake a treat every day.
Even more than my baking, watching Tom cook old favorites–remembering happy times with family and friends–comforts me. Both my appetite and my heart have been satisfied with Tom’s meals: Lasagna, albondigas soup, chile verde, meatballs and tomato sauce!
I don’t think listening to music calms me down; more like it excites me, makes me cry, and, sometimes gives me the shivers–but those reactions provide their own comfort. Mostly, we listen to classical music, but lately we have also been listening to folk and rock, too. Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Doc Watson, the Beatles, even the Beach Boys (Good Vibrations), have caused that sharp intake of breath.
I have been thinking about Leonard Cohen these last several days. The song I am particularly thinking about is Democracy. I hope Leonard is right and that someday (soon) , “Democracy is coming to the USA.” This idea comforts me and I still (mostly) believe it. Please be well. Please be safe. Peace.