Thursday, December 31, 2020

End of the year

So where does the end of 2020 find you? If you're like me, i.e., counting yourself lucky right now, you're basically in the same place as you were for most of the year: You're staying in, limiting trips out in public, while your social life consists mainly of texts and Zoom calls with friends and family and the occasional brief chat with the checker at the grocery store.

I've started thinking of how 2020 has changed me, and while much of the year was a bit of a rough ride, I've actually found a new-found acceptance of the way things are and the limits life is currently demanding of us all. That's the last stage in the Kubler-Ross cycle of grief, right? As Americans, we're taught from birth to fight, to hold off acquiescing, or accepting anything other than total victory. Fighting and rebelling seems a part of our national culture, our DNA, and has been from the get-go. But as life teaches us, often the only escape is ultimately through surrender and acceptance. And so it is with 2020.

I've lowered my expectations for every day, and it's been very freeing, honestly. What I don't get to today gets put off until tomorrow -- or whatever day I feel like doing it (within reason). I think one of the biggest changes is that I don't beat myself up over things not getting done. Things like the kitchen taking seven months (and counting) to complete, or the times I've turned the car around in a store parking lot and left when I realized it meant the store was more crowded than I was comfortable with, have all trained me to not get too wrapped around the axle when something I'l planned on doesn't happen whenI thought it would. 

Health cooperating, there's always tomorrow. Or the day after. I guess sometimes learning to live with less even means less expectations of oneself, which is kind of a surprise bonus gift bestowed during a difficult time.

Big Ag and I have also settled into a lovely little routine of him going upstairs to his new home office to work during the day, and me staying downstairs and doing chores. We often take a walk at lunch now. And after adjusting to being around each other almost 24/7, we have hit a groove where that no longer feels like too much. It took awhile-- we both value our independent time spent doing our own thing -- but 2020 changed us and made us better able to spend large chunks of time together.  Probably good practice for retirement.

As the year passed we saw more and more friends become ill, and more and more friends' parents went into hospital and actually died from COVID. That's the generation that's been hit the hardest -- the one right above ours. But you know, even with that, we've also seen life go on in positive ways, too. Babies being born. Zoom weddings and baby showers. 

2021 will be a year of shifting back to "normal," assuming we don't face any COVID or other health challenges. With our baskets now largely empty of the things we did before -- concerts, brunches, vacations and events -- all of us will start putting things back into those baskets as the year progresses. I don't know about you, but I'm going to be a lot more circumspect as far as what goes back in. Maybe not in terms of types of activities, but in terms of their amounts. Less may be more from now on. I've come to enjoy the weeks when I have nothing whatsoever scheduled except whatever I choose to creatively do around our property. I hope I don't relinquish that time too quickly or easily in favor of just being busy and occupied.

So wherever you are, I hope you are healthy, happy and prepared to finish the crazy ride 2020 has been, as we move towards brighter days. Stay well, and I hope whatever ends up in your basket for 2021 is both meaningful and nourishing, both physically and emotionally. 

Happy New Year!

Hoping 2021 is less of an odd duck than 2020 was. 

Friday, October 30, 2020

Bend there, done that

While my sinuses are not equipped to live there full time, I do love the high desert. Even in California, I often found myself torn if offered the choice between a day at the ocean or the desert. It's no different in Oregon, where beauty resides on both sides of the Cascades.

We spent the day in Bend last week and enjoyed the gorgeous fall colors. I think my favorite thing about Oregon is the autumn season. It starts in late August and is still going strong at the end of October. And despite getting a lot less rainfall than we in the Willamette Valley do, Bend still has plenty of colorful autumn trees!

The Three Sisters as seen from the east.

Black Butte, made famous by Bend's own Deschutes Brewery's Black Butte Porter

And just some lovely fall color in the park near Mirror Pond

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Requiem for a forest

 Last week we decided we needed a mental health day and drove to Bend for the day. I'll post some photos we took in Bend in a few days, but I wanted to first post some photos of the areas we drove through which were burned by the Beachie Creek Fire from last month (the one which had us on evacuation notice). It has been described as a "once-in-a-century" fire, burning about 200,000 acres. As we drove through, we saw tree stumps and areas of forest still smoldering, even after four inches of rain and six weeks of time. 

I'm glad I got to see this beautiful forest before it burned, because my guess is that it's going to be many years before it looks even close to what it did before, if ever. I heard a news report the other night that said a fire like this takes the forest it burns about 150 years to recover. So I won't be seeing it, obviously.

The strangest thing was the way the fire checkerboarded across the landscape -- taking this house, this tree, and sparing that one, so randomly. At the higher elevations near the peak of the Cascade range, the destruction was much more complete -- not a fern, a pine cone or a tree remaining.

Here are a few shots of the destruction:

You can see the destruction, all the way to the top of the mountains.

Here you see more of a checkerboard pattern, with some trees left alive.

Still smoldering, six weeks later.

Miles and miles of it. So sad. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Safe at home


Well, our fire evacuation orders are lifted, we are unpacked and settling in to Part Two of 2020's "Apocalypse: September Edition."  Part One was fire, and Part Two consists of air you can taste, smell and even grab handfuls of should you be brave enough to venture outside. It's thicker than Labor Day barbecue sauce, with the same smoky flavor. 

But of course I'm just grateful to have a house to come home to, after these fires. And really, saying we've come home is misleading, because we never left. Not even for milk or gluten-free crackers. We were that afraid that the fire might start moving again and we'd be locked out of our neighborhood, and we have pets and livestock to think of. So we stayed put and prayed. We were lucky this time; everything that belongs to us or is loved by us was spared. Many were not so lucky.

This year ... am I right? Just when you think you've gotten a handle on things, it throws you a wicked curveball in the shape of a conflagration fire, a hurricane, or a sharknado or two. We're just missing an earthquake to really wrap up the year properly, but we still have three months to go so don't lose hope yet. 

In the next century, anthropologists, historians and other scholars will spend entire careers studying this year's history and its impacts. There will probably be entire university departments of 2020 Studies. Professors will ask each other upon meeting, "So, which quarter do you specialize in?"

Really, I wonder how most of us will look back on this year.  For those of us 50 and above, it will hold little storytelling value, as almost everyone we know will have lived through it. But for those young people, say 30 and under, they will be the ones who tell the story of 2020 to their kids and grandkids, all of whom will have the good fortune of being too young to remember it. They will also (if they're old enough) be able to tell the story of 9/11, the Great Recession, Hurricane Katrina, and the tsunami that devastated the areas around Indonesia. That's a lot of disaster to have witnessed in to just 20 years. No wonder Millennials are a different sort, who value entrepreneurship above all. Gotta rely on yourself, because who knows what will happen with the rest of the world tomorrow. I get it.

Anyway, life marches on -- for us personally as well. My stepson got married on Saturday, so there was a Zoom occasion to celebrate. We came off evacuation status that same afternoon, so there was good news all around that day. And despite the smoke, I've still been able to can eight quarts of tomatoes. So life goes on, just in it's own weird 2020 way. Thanksgiving and Christmas should be interesting, filled with colorful holiday face masks and offbeat, roundabout travel itineraries, as people roadtrip it to grandma's house via car or maybe train. No holiday concerts or performances of The Nutcracker, but still plenty of eggnog to be spiked and prime rib to be roasted. 

Pretty soon our blue skies should return, too, hopefully not too late to silhouette all the autumn leaves on the trees. And until then, just remember we are almost 3/4ths of the way through this long, strange year. Hoping 2020 ends with a whimper instead of a bang but let's face it, we'd better not count on anything at this point. Stay sharp and be on the watch for sharknadoes on the horizon.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020


 Labor Day was a holiday that was unusual in the typical ways all 2020 holidays have been so far. We didn't have friends over, but did some barbecuing for ourselves, and stayed home. In the evening the winds came up, which was bad news because there was a fire in the wilderness east of us, but we went to bed without too much worrying.

By morning, everything had changed. Big Ag and I both slept in, thinking it was still night, but at 8:30 we realized the clocks were right had never gotten light.

We awoke to this apocalyptic scene:

Basically the sun never came up because the wildfires to the east of us exploded overnight, heading in our direction. We checked with Emergency Services for our county, who told us we were already at a Level Two evacuation request, meaning we needed to be packed and ready to go at any time. Level Three means GO NOW. So we spent the day packing our vehicles, making everything ready inside not only for our valuables and sentimentals, but also for our livestock. 

We had two things working in our favor. First and foremost was our background as Californians. Long ago, we'd put together three emergency checklists in case of fire -- what to take if we were given 5 minutes to evacuate, one hour to leave, or several hours to pack up. So we worked off the several hours list and got everything packed.

The second thing that helped was that we'd moved all the livestock from California to Oregon with us, so we knew how to configure the car to fit everyone in comfortably. It was just a matter of putting it all back together like we were moving again. 

As of right now, we are still sitting at a Level Two emergency, so we're waiting to see what happens and if/when we'll have to go. We actually plan on leaving once the town next to us goes to Level Three. We won't wait until we are. Until then, I'm trying to keep busy by grocery shopping, canning tomatoes, washing the smoke taint out of my hair, and praying.

If you are the praying sort, we could certainly use yours right now, as we wait to find out what we'll be asked to do.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Summertime, and the projects are....

...plentiful. The projects are plentiful. And that's OK, because once the rainy season comes it will be nice to have all this done. Basically we have about two more months before the rains really set in, which is enough time to finish the outdoor projects we need to before heading indoors to a nice cup of tea and a fire. 

It sounds strange, but one of the things I like best about Oregon is that there is little to no winter gardening. In California we grew our lettuces, carrots, broccoli and cauliflower in the cooler months. I used to plant onions in fall for a December/January harvest. Last year I did the same thing and the onions weren't ready until spring. So for me, that was Mother Nature's way of telling me that in winter, things rest here. Including people. Fine by me. 

For now though, the tomato and cucumber harvests have just started coming in, which means canning. With no working kitchen, this is a challenge, but luckily I have a hot plate inside and one gas burner on our outdoor barbecue, so between them I can get it done. My grandmother said "it's always good to know how to make do with what you've got" and as you probably already know, grandma was/is always right.

And we've had some other, fun projects to work on as well. Big Ag finished the garden fencing and gate leading to the vegetable garden. Eventually we will be putting a nice door on this, but are not sure of the design yet so we'll wait and see how the spirit moves us. 

I got some awesome mason jar solar lights from my son for my birthday, so we hung those, along with two lanterns I got on Amazon. They all make cheerful light at night without using any electricity, and they shut off at dawn. I won't keep them up year-round, but in summer it sure is nice to see them.

I also finished my first barn quilt here, which we'll hang on the tall side of Big Ag's shop once the shop itself is painted in a few weeks. I have a couple of smaller quilts planned for elsewhere around the property, including a compass rose for our pump house. They are so much fun to work on.

I guess if there's one upside to COVID it's that with people being home more, they are working on their homes more. Just doing their personal part of keeping America beautiful I guess. Happy to be a part of that.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

The Gift of the Saturn Return

In this past month, I celebrated a milestone birthday within the maelstrom of all that's going on in the world right now. It was weird, but ultimately, also meaningful. While I'm not a believer in astrology, it's still worth noting that I'm in the middle of the one astrological observance I do give some credence to: The Saturn Return.

The Saturn Return is so named because the planet Saturn returns to the same place in its orbit around the solar system approximately every 29 years or so.  So for each person, Saturn comes back to the same spot in the solar system it was in when you were born on the cusp of your turning 30, 60 and 90 years of age, respectively. 

To astrologers, when Saturn returns to the general region of the sky it was in at your birth, it's considered an auspicious time; a time of reflection and/or upheaval, a rite of passage -- of remembering the things you came into the world to do, and of assessing the progress you've made on the road through life. It can be a turning point, when people set off in different directions than the one they had been going in.  Saturn was the god of both old age and renewal. And from birth to age 30, then 30 - 60, and finally 60 - 90, every time Saturn returns to the position it was in at your birth, it heralds a new era of your human experience beginning. 

We humans spend about a third of our life as young people, the next third as mature adults, and a last third as elders and sometimes even ancients of the tribe. Of course some live longer than 90 years of age, while others do not even make it to the end of their third and final Saturn Return. But in general, for anyone who makes it to age 60 or so, the start of the final third of life is undeniable proof they're closer to the conclusion of their journey than to the start of it.

Ghost Tree

As sobering as that is, I actually like the idea of the Saturn Return because, just like with pregnancy, life really can be divided into trimesters -- first, second and third. In pregnancy, the end of the third trimester ends in birth. In life, the end of the third trimester ends with death, or maybe with our birth into the afterlife. 

Food for thought, indeed.

Back to how this year's birthday factors into all this, there's no question that being away from friends and family during this time of starting my last third of life has been very difficult. And so I decided if I couldn't see my family, the least I could do was see the other birthday constant in my life -- the ocean.

Ghost Forest

When times are challenging, the beach always helps bring back proper perspective for me. The ocean was here before I came, and will be here after I'm gone. Everything I see there -- trees, animals, aquatic life, people -- all come to earth awhile, spend some time, and then leave, just like I will. And ultimately, even the ocean will one day end, and so will our solar system, Saturn included. 

It's good at times like this to take note of the rhythms of nature, which occur regardless of what else is going on. I saw the tide going in and out. I saw the "ghost forest," which are the remnants of a forest of trees felled by a huge tsunami 200 years ago. I saw sand crabs and starfish and otters. In short, I saw lives present and past, all as temporary as my own. The living proceed on with life's business. The remnants of the dead stand to remind us we're not here forever.

So what is life's business, exactly? I think for us, it means that if we are better and wiser people by the time we hit our second Saturn return at 58-60 years of age, then we've done OK. It's easy to judge yourself more harshly than that and to focus on all your past mistakes and wrong turns, but look at the world. To improve amidst the decay and disorder of the industrial, man-made world is no easy task. 

And so I'm starting my third Saturn cycle trying to keep it simple: Less anger, more love. Less impatience, more wisdom. Eventually, more family and more friends back in the mix again, once we're through this strange time. 

And until that happens, I will continue my walk on this earth, under the night sky where Saturn hangs along the plane of the ecliptic in a familiar place, and alongside the vast ocean which always seems to be there for me, no matter what.