Trailing clouds of glory…

image source:google images

image source:google images

Seventy-five degrees, blue skies, birds twittering their songs in the trees with leaves swaying in the breeze, it’s a perfect Southern California fall day.

I go out and put water in the flower petal shaped birdbath for Mother since she hasn’t been feeling well.  She loves being outside, keeping the bird bath clean and filled with fresh water, but she’s out less and less these days.  Anyway, I add fresh water to it, right?  And above me, somewhere in the long, leafy branches of the apricot tree, a bird starts putting up a racket.  And I do mean racket, if you get my drift.

It’s a funny sound for a medium sized bird with red on the top of the head, a white throat, gray chest and black wings.

“Quack.  Quack.  Quack.”  Or if you prefer, Wikipedia says, “waaka, waaka, waaka.”  Sounds like “quack” to me.

I come back inside and the silly bird gets louder and louder.  The next time I look there are three of them at the bird bath.  Acorn Woodpeckers, so Mother says.

“Do you think that bird called his family to tell them there’s water in the birdbath?”  I ask.

Mother makes her way over to the kitchen window, her cane clunking right along with the quacking outside the open window.  Plunk, quack.  Plunk, quack.  Plunk, quack.

“Maybe so,” Mother says, “I’ve seen four of them at the birdbath, and two are young ones.”

They fly before long but the yard, which had been quiet until I turned on the water, is now filled with Sparrows and Finches poking around in the grass and there’s a busy squirrel moving up and down the fat, old trunk of the Apricot.

The quiet and the still has been replaced with chitter-chatter and an infinitesimal undulation of teeming life.  Bees and Hummingbirds vie for the prominent spot at the feeder; flies flit, butterflies dip and sway, ants march along the path, spiders swing on invisible threads and over the fence, the neighbor’s dog yaps.

Sunday afternoons have always meant no pressure to accomplish anything of significance and so I sit on the wooden bench rocker with the sun warming the top of my head and my skin.  The birds were startled when I came out, but the longer I sit still all the movement in the yard, trees and bushes returns.  I’m drowsy in the sun.  A kite floats overhead, its tail trailing just above the fence.  I reach up and catch the tip and am aloft.  As I look down, our patch of green shrinks until it’s just a tiny dot in the middle of the curvature of the horizon.

I see now how infinitesimal my grasp on life has been.  How small my dreams that only lived among the known heights and depths of what I could see and touch and hear and taste.  This blue ball in the swirling black expanse studded with twinkling dots is but a speck in all the universes that stretch to infinity and on and on.

I must go higher.  I urge to go higher but I am impotent as my balloon has no inertial dampeners, no life support, no sublight engines.

I lose height.  I float downward; the dots of green, the dark of mountains, the blue of the ocean, the black of its buried depths rush towards me; the tip of skyscrapers fly past and become giants once again.  I recognize the Apricot branches and aim for the back yard rocker where this trip started.

I’ve seen the heights, so what will change?  What will I believe?  What will drive me on through each day now that I know the truth?  Will I be satisfied again with being comfortable when someone else needs food or clothing or comfort?

No.  I cannot be happy with just getting by when unknown possibilities are there for the nurturing.  I cannot be buried with the stress of the temporariness of an aging body, a dying world.  I cannot allow the stresses and concerns of the tangible consume all my time and effort.  My thoughts flit back to the vastness of space and time.  There’s more; there’s a universe more; seek it, reach for it.  I find myself agreeing with Wordsworth,

“Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory
Do we come From God, who is our home:”

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Raining Apricots

image:google images

image:google images

Apricots.  Falling from the tree with loud plunks as they hit the H/A unit; sometimes arriving whole and only slightly dented or bruised at the point of impact; sometimes smashed flat, the sun kissed skin split wide and the goldenish-orangey inner flesh oozing out, its juice running rivulets through the dust and leaves on the metal casing.  Those that missed the H/A unit and landed in the grass,often look deceptively perfect until turned over to reveal the flesh half eaten away by birds and  the remaining half now crawling with ants and buzzing with mites.

The wastefulness of this drives Mother crazy and because it drives her nuts, guess who also gets to go nuts?  Me, of course.  I’m ok with the birds and the bees and the squirrels and the bugs getting a few of the apricots, after all, that’s fewer that we have to deal with, right?  But, no, not Mother.  She remembers all the years when the tree provided lugs and lugs of fruit and Daddy climbed the ladder and used the nine foot fruit picker pole and that was a sight to see, believe you me.

This went on for twenty-five plus red years, Daddy got the fruit in and Mother blanched and iced and cut off the peal bandage and poured in the FruitFresh to keep the apricots from turning brown and then they were sealed in freezer burn containers and stacked in the stand-up freezer in the garage.  And when the freezer was iceberg full and Mother’s energy gone, lugs of apricots went to the church and all the people steeple happily took home a bag full.

And Daddy and Mother were grateful for the apricots and grateful for the plums, both the purple plums and the green plums, and Daddy planted Thompson seedless grapes along the east fence and Concord grapes next to the house along the east fence and Daddy plowed up a section of the yard and planted tomatoes and planted cucumbers and planted squash and daily he weeded and he watered and he fed the plants and he and Mother reaped a harvest.

image:google images

image:google images

It was always fun to come visit in the summer or early fall when there was this fruit and vegetable bounty.  I could indulge in eating and go home satisfied and somehow evaded all the work involved or if I visited during the winter, there were containers of plums or apricots from the freezer to go along with dinner.  My nieces in Northern California remember the fruit years best of all the grandchildren because in those years, Daddy and Mother made sure to pack up the fresh fruit bounty when they went traveling along that black ribbon that wound north, pulled along by an invisible tie that drew them hungrily to their grandchildren in an arrival made sweeter with bright apricot and purple plum and green and concord grape lushness.  Their fewer but longer trips following undulating mirages across the desert to New Mexico and Texas and Tennessee were trips too far for taking fruit very often so those grandchildren did not know what they had missed.

Its thirty years this summer since Daddy and Mother first moved in and began their affair with fruit.  The yard is changed now.  The small apricot and the green gage plum and the purple plum trees aged and dried up and had to come down.  The large apricot tree has some dead spots and while it is still huge, it produces fewer and fewer apricots these days.  In fact, this year, the apricots are few and small and for once, I agree with Mother that I should get out and get the fruit before the birds and the bugs and the bees and the squirrels do because this year’s crop is not very large.  Still, large enough that unless some get prepared and into the freezer, they will go bad.

And so, today, Mother got up a little earlier to attack the apricots.  She washed the plastic freezer containers and pulled out the largest stock pots and sorted apricots and said,

“You’re going to help me.”

“I am?”

This was new.  All those years of preparing fruit, she had never needed help.  Nor was I ever interested in learning the craft.  This is puzzling to her; so foreign to her experience; but she’s not trying to teach me, today she’s trying to get a job done before she fatigues out or is in too much pain to go on.  I bring in a ten pound bag of ice from the freezer and carry the stock pots brimming with water to the stove and turn on the burners.  When the water has boiled, I carry a pot back to the sink and pour it over the apricots she has washed.  She sets the timer and in just a few seconds we’re dumping out the boiling water and dumping the apricots into an ice bath, then lifting the apricots out of the water and into the empty stock pot.  And she begins to peel the apricots and place them in the freezer containers.  I go back to what I was doing on the computer and I hear her sighing and moaning and fussing about feral cats in the yard irritating the birds.

“Wouldn’t it be easier if you sat down?”

“Yes,” she sighs heavily, “but it means pulling out the cutting board and getting the stool over here and finding something for me prop up my feet and it’s just too much work.”  She stops peeling apricots and tries to stretch the kink out of her shoulders but her scoliosis keeps her crooked and there’s nothing that stretches that out.

I pull out the cutting board, balance it on the utensil drawer, get the kitchen stool and a small stool for her feet and find a large towel for her lap and in less than three minutes she’s seated and ready to continue.

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

I go back to the next room where I’m working at the desk and she starts telling stories about years of apricots and fruit they took to people and people who shared fruit with them and her sighs and moans have stopped.

“All done.”  She says.

I clear off the cutting board and move it so that she can get up and I help her off the kitchen stool and when she has taken a few moments to straighten herself out, she reaches for her cane and says,

image:Mother's garden

image:Mother’s garden

“I’m going to go survey my kingdom.”  And she heads for the back door and the yard and the flower garden.

“Good idea, Mother.”

And so we’re done with apricots for another year.  They’re ready to go to the freezer; the grapes won’t be ready ‘til mid or late summer, and the peach and nectarine trees that Daddy planted, but never got to taste of their fruit before he died, will be ready in the next two months and the apples sometime in the fall and the grapefruit around Christmas or the first of the next year.

Mother struggles with the loss of her productivity and the loss of the familiar of all the years with Daddy when they worked side by side.  As for me, I struggle with all the work that has little meaning for me; and I get irritated at how slow she moves and at her ready view of any event through the lens of a worst case scenario.  Sure, I enjoy the fruit, but very much of it and my blood sugar does flip-flops and besides, there are so many other things I’d rather do with my time than pick and clean and take care of fruit.

How ungrateful is that, God?  I’m living in this bounty and looking right past the blessing while Mother is slowly moving beyond this blessing to her eternal blessing with You and she’s already grieving the leaving.  I guess we’re both a pretty good imitation of the human condition, God.  Thank you, that there’s You to lift us up above our pettiness and remind us to look beyond ourselves and see that it all comes from You.  Thank you, for the fruit and the work that it takes.  And suddenly I see how like the human condition that is – that things worth having take work.

Oh for the bravery of the Wild Outdoors

humingbird

image:birdsandblooms

You’ve seen hummingbirds, right?  Minute things whose wings go faster than you can see, know what I mean?  They’re like a blur, they move so fast.  And the colors!  Jewel tones, like deep green and red and purple; they’re like, wow, just gorgeous, get my drift?  And they’re drawn to red things, right?  So the feeder in Mother’s garden is red on the top and the bottom,can you picture it?  And she makes this red, sugary water syrup and the tiny little things are drawn to it.  They hover over the yellow, daisy shaped holes in the base and drink with their little bodies making tiny up and down movements.  In the heat of the summer, the bees are drawn to the feeder pine and they swarm around the little holes, which means the hummingbirds have to brave the bees to get any of the sugary water syrup and I feel for those poor little hummingbirds because not only do they have to eat several times an hour to survive, now they have to fight the battle of the bees taking all their nourishment.

Is that fair?  Is life fair?  Is there any place I can go to get nourishment that doesn’t include some battle against some force that wants to defeat me?  Will I have the strength and courage to keep up the fight for what I need?

image:thriftyfun

image:thriftyfun

Oh, for the bravery of the jeweled colored hummingbirds,                                                                    oh, for the bravery of the loud, buzzing, bright yellow and black bees,                                                                                                                                                                                 oh, for the bravery of the feral cats who stalk the jeweled colored hummingbirds in Mother’s yard,                                                                                                      who ignore the loud buzzing of the bright yellow and black bees,                                                                                                                                                                    those feral cats who’ve got our movements down                                                                                                                                                                                             who know to run when we come outside;                                                                                                                                                                                                                oh, for the bravery of the wild outdoors.

It wasn’t always this way.  In the gauzy memory of my childhood, my stalwart father’s cheerful, loving spirit hovered over our home as its benevolent and strong protector and my ever present Mother in her dutiful homemaker role made a safe and loving canopy for my brothers and my sister and I to grow; in those days our sanctuary included cats and a caged bird or two and there was harmony for both species.

But somewhere along the way, Mother decided that the back yard should be a bird sanctuary, so she had Daddy get her a stone bird bath, shaped like a huge concrete flower on its concrete stem and most days, she went out to clean out the birdbath and put in fresh water and she kept the hummingbird feeder filled and she determined to chase away the feral cats in the yard to keep them from stalking the birds.

image:ehow

image:ehow

At the merest sight of a cat, she rushed out as if she too had wings, all the while yelling or hissing at the cats and the yard erupted in the black and gray blur of running cats and a great cloud of bird wings rose from the grass to the fence and to the trees where they squawked loudly at the whole commotion.  These days, Mother has lost her wings and her movements are slow and ponderous, punctuated by her cane’s thunk and the times she gets outside are fewer, face it bud, it happens to the best of us, but this doesn’t change her worry, know what I mean?

No, what happens now, if you get what I’m saying, is, now she frets and fusses and tries to hiss at the cats through the window or bangs on the wood part of the back door to scare them off.  Or, she does try to slowly get outside and I’m sitting there, trying to write, and I’m thinking, how can I write with all this going on around me?  Is this part of the test of being a writer, being forced to find the concentration amid all the distractions?

image:fanpop

image:fanpop

I resist the urge to try to take over the task for her, resist trying to alleviate her stress, to make her situation better.  In truth, she’s the only one who can decide to let go of the things that make her nuts.  I can’t fix that for her, so I am resolved I will not let her stresses make me nuts.  I let go. I envision the hummingbird and I take flight.  I will fly unafraid as on the wings of a writer.