September 24, 2018
Observing the natural world around me has always been my escape. I can’t deny the reverie in which I lose myself when I become distracted by nature. I am just so happy to live in a place where I am inundated with opportunities, even if only for a few moments, to let myself slip away into the beauty that surrounds me. It is literally my sanity and those times when I found myself living in places that I lived without immediate access to the woods or farmland, were a literal hell for me. Here I recall a few moments of wonder and reflection from this past week:
I stare for a while, contemplating how it could be that the turning of the leaves would begin on the first official day of fall, so subtly in the beginning, only to suddenly burst into color in the days ahead. I wonder how it could be that another autumn is now upon us? Fifty-one Autumns I have experienced in this life and while the days can be most difficult at times, something about the changing of seasons brings hope and expectation. I reckon that if I ever lose that kind of hope, then life will become pointless. It is, in fact, hope that inspires us to accept today and look forward to the future. Hope is a byproduct of faith. Even the Bible says “Hope deferred makes the hear sick”, a lesson that everyone knows to be true.
I hear the music of the stream outside my bedroom window; day after day it flows past our house at the front of our property. It joins with another stream that flows across the neighbor’s meadow where his huge draft animals quench their thirst just before that stream comes through a culvert under the road, joining with ours to form Roads Creek. From that point, the creek continues to swell until it pours itself into Laurel Creek. I think about the words of poet, Mary Oliver, “"It is the nature of stone to be satisfied. It is the nature of water to want to be somewhere else." I don’t want to be anywhere else; I only want to be here, but I do enjoy listening to the sounds of the water as it travels to new destinations.
I throw my head back and look to the tops of the majestic pines that cover the steep bank to the southwest of our home. I wonder just how old they are and how long they will remain. I have heard some of the big trees as they crash to the ground for no apparent reason, other than the fact they just could not hold on any longer and lost their grip on the steeply sloped sides of this mountainous terrain. I contemplate holding on when the storms rage and then falling apart when the storms have subsided. I can relate to those old pines. At some point, with time, those pines will be gone. Someone will cut them down, they will die of natural causes, a storm will finally topple them over one by one, or they will simply just lose their grip, let go, and crash to the ground. Yet, under the branches of those old pines, smaller, younger pines are ready to take their place. Who am I to question the natural order of things and the passing of time?
I watch the flock of Eastern Wild Turkeys who are all back together now after a period of nesting for the hens. The juveniles that survived long enough to leave the nests and become part of the larger flock are learning the ways of their older and wiser family members. For long periods of time they hang out in the meadow beside our house or the neighbor’s meadow across the road. They are so comfortable with our presence that they almost appear to be domesticated at times. Sometimes I walk so close to them that I can look into their eyes while they tilt their heads to the side, staring at me intently with curiosity but ready to bolt if I move suddenly. The birds are so fragile and yet so resilient. Somehow, they manage to survive and thrive in spite of the natural predators who continue to try to destroy them. People are no different, rising above and continuing to live in spite of the pain that others have inflected upon them.
I listen to the methodical sound of the cattle pulling grass from the earth and grinding it between their teeth. I sooths me standing among these gentle, maternal creatures. The calves run and play with full bellies, like children who have never known fear, pain, loss, illness or hunger. I wonder why it is that our cows ended up with us in a place where they do not have to scrounge for their next meal and where they receive loving care. I wonder why so many, animals and humans alike, have to suffer in places where they don’t have enough to eat and where no one cares for them. It’s like some crazy lottery where the lucky ones win and everyone else simply can’t catch a break. It’s easy to pass it off with the word “blessed” but then that indicates that all those who do not have enough are somehow not in God’s favor. I don’t believe that. I have stopped trying to explain it away. It just is. What I do know is that those of us who call ourselves “blessed” have a great responsibility that comes with our abundance. Like the parable that Jesus told in the New Testament, one day we will be asked to show what we did with our “wealth” and with our “talents”. I am sure I have failed more tests than I have passed.
I look intently at the leaves and the unique shape of the Chestnut tree that Mike spotted not too far from our house at the end of a neighbor’s driveway. As I look at the tree, I think about the history of the American Chestnut trees in this area, and how they were once common and so much a part of the every day life of the people living in this part of the Appalachian Mountains. The fruit of these trees helped to feed the free ranging hogs of the mountain communities and those hogs put food in the bellies of many who struggled to simply get by. The timber from these trees provided a source of income to many until the chestnut blight destroyed nearly all of the trees. The American Chestnut Association is working hard to backcross American Chestnut trees with other varieties in order to produce a disease resistant tree that will not succumb to blight. The trees fascinate me and I wonder as I look at the tree filled with fruit if this tree has what it takes to hang on, and continue thrive, or will it like so many others, succumb to blight and die.
I feel the cool, lush grass under my bare feet as I hold a ladder for Mike as he cleans out the gutters at church. With nothing between my feet and the earth, I feel grounded. I am taken back to my youth when I rarely wore shoes and my feet were as tough as leather. I am thankful my mother, whose life ended suddenly and far too soon that September day, allowed me to run free as young child. I played inside often, but my memories are not of being indoors, but rather of running through the tall grass, picking wild flowers, staring at the clouds, sifting sand through my fingers, climbing trees, gathering berries, feeling the creek water tickling my ankles, jumping in the autumn leaves, watching the flames of a camp fire, building igloos and snowmen in the winter, and breathing in the fresh air of every season. I wonder how different my life would have been had I not had those experiences and I give thanks that my mother, who only had seven years to love me before she left this earth, never tried to stifle my need for the outdoors but let me run barefoot, get as dirty as I could possibly get, and encouraged my curiosity and explorations. It is amazing how feeling the grass under my feet can transport me back in time and bring a feeling of peace.
I watch as night falls suddenly now. One minute the sun is there and the next it has slipped behind a ridge and darkness fades into “the holler” where we live. There is a mocking bird that sings loudly outside my kitchen window without fail each evening as night approaches. Not long after he stops singing, an owl calls from somewhere up in the pines. The traffic on the road in front of our house slows to almost nothing when dark descends, and the stillness is the perfect background for the night sounds making their way into our home. This is my cue to let the business and worries of the day slip away like the sun that dips behind the mountain ridge. Tomorrow the sun will rise and opportunities and responsibilities will as well, but for a few hours I am allowed to let it all go and rest.
October 1, 2018
Mostly, these past two weeks, I have been trying to manage my health. Frankly, I hate it. I don’t want to think about it and that is why I have found it so difficult to put my fingers to the keyboard and write. I saw a meme from a writer’s group that I follow and I saved it as my lock screen on my computer.
“There is no wrong or right, just write.”
There are times when the words fly so quickly through my brain that my fingers can hardly keep up. There are other times when finding the words is like trying to sort through a big laundry basket full of everyone’s socks and when they are finally paired together, there is inevitably one missing that simply can’t be found. So, this morning, after not posting a journal entry last week, I am trying to empty the basket, make order out of the individual pieces, and toss the extras into a drawer where hopefully they will one day be reunited with their match or at least become a somewhat useful dust rag.
Mike went to Staunton on Monday and I remained in Laurel Fork to take care of things here. I missed him. I no longer like to be away from him after sharing so much time with him the last two years. Yet, I still can value my alone time and I make the most of it. Silence doesn’t bother me and I seem to fill all my time alone and wonder at how quickly the time passed. Such was the case this week. Before I knew it, three days had passed and I drove Mike’s mom’s truck back to Verona so that we could return it to her. It was an opportunity for me to see the grandchildren and that is all that I did while I was there. Unlike every other trip where I have squeezed as much into the day(s) that I am there as I possibly can, I made a conscious effort to not take on any responsibilities and simply just rest and enjoy the grandchildren. We were not able to see Hudson and Ella who were at school, but we did spend a little time with Analia before she left for school and we got to spend some time with the babies. Rory, the eighteen-month-old always makes us laugh with her antics and pure joy at life. We have not been able to be with Teagan, the newborn, much and we took the opportunity to drive to Harrisonburg so we could hold her for a while. All the babies have always adored Mike and Teagan is no exception. She gazed at him and made faces as he talked to her. It was really sweet. I drove up Wednesday evening and road back with Mike on Thursday evening. We made it back home before dark so that we could take care of the cattle and chickens and make sure that Princess got milked.
Friday, we had to take our car that has been sitting for four months to the Ford dealership where they finally got the part for the airbag recall that left us driving a rental vehicle (paid by Ford) for four months. It will be nice not to have to make that mandatory three hour round trip every month to Roanoke to trade out rental vehicles. While we were in the area, and since we had to wait on car repairs, we went over to Boone’s Mill to the produce auction. I was able to buy some locally grown cabbage at a very reasonable price and brought home three, bushel bags of it. I will be freezing some and making the rest into kraut. There is no hurry on it, because the cabbage will keep in our cellar for a while. I was also able to pick up some reasonably priced mums and the best deal of the day was the flat of miniature pansies that I bought for seventy cents! While we were at the auction, one of the German Baptists (a sect very similar to the old order Mennonites both in religious beliefs and dress) who helped to form and operate the auction asked Mike if he would be interested in taking a position within the organization. I know it is something near and dear to Mike’s heart and something he really wants to do but the distance (three hours round trip) and the commitment to at least two full days a week from early spring until late fall are things that have to be taken into consideration. I told him that I would support whatever he decides. If it is something he wants to do, then I don’t want to see him pass up the opportunity.
We also stopped by to look at the Guernsey cows that I have been admiring for some time. It was our third time to see them and every time we have gone with the intention of picking out a cow that I would bring home with me. This trip, I concluded that I could not find the right Guernsey because Guernsey cattle just are not right for me. At least, they are not right for me at this time in my life. I will stick with my Jerseys.
Saturday, Mike wanted to go to our regular auction in Galax. They have not had a sale for several weeks. I wasn’t feeling well but went, knowing that he most likely would not go without me. I spent a good bit of time in the car at the beginning, which I don’t mind. I take naps and read books. I remind myself of my grandpa when I do that. He was more of an introvert. He loved people and enjoyed his time not only in the pulpit but “fellowshipping” as he liked to say. But, he spent many hours absorbed in his books or working alone. When my grandma would want to go out and shop or run around, he was content to see her active and happy while he sat in the car and read a book and took naps. I am the same way with Mike. I can be perfectly content waiting on him while he socializes.
Sunday morning, I woke up feeling even worse and needing to stay close to home to deal with the physical symptoms of my recently diagnosed IBD. I did very little Sunday, taking it easy and resting. I am paying more attention to my body and what it is telling me than I ever have before. I have always been one to just “push” myself through and get as much done as possible even if I didn’t feel like it. Recent months have shown me that at least for now, I have to pay attention to the signs that I need to rest, relax, and eat responsibly, otherwise I will lose days in bed and possibly end up spending thousands of dollars in medical expenses to get things back under control. It’s not a place I like to be and doesn’t fit into my lifestyle, plans or personal approach to life. However, it is the hand that I have been dealt. I have spent some moments quite saddened with the realities that I am facing and I have experienced extreme frustration over how this illness has manifested itself recently requiring me to no longer ignore it. However, I am very aware of how fortunate I am on so many levels and I have still hold to the hope that with rest, time, and eating responsibly, I can enter into a long period of remission and recovery. There are new fears along with this diagnosis, now realizing that individuals who have this type of autoimmune/inflammatory condition have a higher risk for colon cancer and other extreme complications that can arise as the body attacks itself. I push the fears aside knowing that there is a worst-case scenario but there is also today and today is not only manageable but precious and filled with blessings and opportunities. Each day, I am thankful, even more than ever, for what I CAN do and for what this illness HAS NOT taken from me. I have much for which to be thankful and lots of hope for the future.
As I type this, the morning sun is shining through my bedroom window. It is welcomed after so much rain and so many cloudy days. It’s a new day, a new week, and a new month. September is always a difficult month for me but October brings with it the thrill of autumn, my favorite season of the year. The natural world knows that a season of letting go is necessary and following that is a season of rest
when the grass is brown, the trees are barren and the earth often lies under a blanket of snow. Leaning in to the natural order of things makes a whole lot more sense than fighting the inevitable, and there is a lot of wisdom to be gained from acknowledging the natural world around us.