Monday, September 26, 2016


Originally published on October 16, 2014

I love Autumn. 
Everything about it is enticing:  the brightly colored leaves, the crisp and cool air, the beautiful fall flowers that bloom in my garden.  I enjoy wearing a comfy sweater while hiking at the park and I'll often pull on a pair of handwarmers to hang around on the sun porch as the days I'll be able to enjoy it rapidly dwindle.  This is the time of year I bake cookies and apple dumplings and quick breads of all kinds.  My cats cuddle more and rekindle their friendships as they stroll around the house looking for a warm sunbeam.
Yes, there's much to revel in this time of year, but this time around, I find myself a bit melancholy.  Like many Midwesterners I know, I'm experiencing a bit of PTSD related to last winter's howling winds, sub-zero temperatures, and a record-breaking eighty-five inches of snow.  Yes, I love autumn, but this year...for the first time in my life...I'm not looking forward to what will follow.
This past spring, it took a long time before I put my snow boots and mittens and shovel away, before I knew for certain it was safe to really believe warmer weather was here to stay.  For weeks I worked in my garden, remembering daily the endless hours of shoveling, the kindness of neighbors who helped me dig the ice and drifts from my downspouts, and the horrifying nights I sat up worrying about my furnace when the temperatures dipped to -17 degrees. 
Finally, around Flag Day, I began to enjoy what has been a lovely, if not cooler-than-normal summer.  But I'll take that.  It's been a joy to create a darling fairy garden near my front porch.  To sit in the back yard and swing to my heart's content while I read books and research a new novel.  To ride my bike here, there, and everywhere around town.  But now, it doesn't seem like it was nearly long enough, and I long to stave off what's coming next, if only for another month or so.

When I was in eighth grade, my Language Arts teacher introduced me to the Iliad and the Odyssey, two books that opened my eyes to the cycles of life, death, war, peace, and everything in-between.  Mrs. Peterson graciously spent many a lunch hour in her classroom with me, eagerly answering my questions about the plot, the plethora of gods and goddesses and their roles and lessons in our modern life.
My favorite was the story of Persephone, the goddess often called "Kore" in her youth, who was stolen by Hades one afternoon as she frolicked in the flowers while her mother, Demeter, stood by helpless to save her.  Hades took Persephone as his intended wife to his land in the Underworld and Demeter, the goddess of the harvest, left her responsibilities to the earth behind while she frantically searched for her daughter.  Preoccupied with her grief, Demeter left the land to desiccate and die.
In the meantime, although Persephone was horrified to be separated from her mother, she eventually grew accustomed to her marriage and to the Underworld, finding that she was a benevolent greeter of those who entered death and darkness at the end of their lives.  Eventually her father sent a messenger to Hades and demanded the release of Persephone, and Hades agreed, but with a price to be paid.  Before setting his wife free, he gave her some pomegranate seeds to eat which magically bound Persephone to the Underworld for a portion of the year.  So Persephone returned to her mother who in turn rejoiced and the earth awakened and flourished.  Then six months later, when Demeter had to relinquish her daughter to fate, the harvest withered and winter came once again.
Persephone's story represents the cycle of birth and death and the ability to embrace and celebrate them both.  Each year, I'm reminded of the mystery of the little deaths in my own garden -- the wilting leaves, the yellowing stalks, the energy of the plants returning to the earth, to the underworld where their roots remain steadfast and strong.
And I know that some of the deepest transformations, the most powerful growth comes from what lies beneath the surface...beyond what our eyes can see or our hands can measure. 

A couple of weeks ago, a friend and neighbor gave me an exquisite clay flower pot in the shape of a Greek woman's head.  She's a delicate reminder of Persephone, who, in the summer will hang on my house near the side door I use the most, and in the winter will rest on a shelf in my basement near the treadmill where I will run to keep warm during the long, dark winter months.
Seeing her calmly waiting for spring will remind me that all things will change eventually.  The snow, the ice, the bitter winds.  My fear of death in any sense of the word.  The loneliness that can creep in when I struggle with cabin fever. 
In the end, all things must pass.
In the midst of winter, each day will be what it is meant to be, just as each day in the springtime and summer is destined for its own joy and beauty.  I can embrace both life and death, knowing that as the seasons change and bring new growth, so too does my own quiet life in the Heartland.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Still here

Eight years ago I was contemplating my next move.  I had just turned forty-two and was living in Big Sur, California.  After a long, drawn-out process, Esalen Institute had offered me a position as the Garden Manager and I was eager to start a new chapter in my life.  Alas, there were too many strings attached in order to make it work.  I spent many sleepless nights lying on the deck outside of my hut, listening to the ocean dash against the cliffs, wondering if I should stay or if I should leave.  The consequences for each choice would mean an incredible leap into the unknown, but by then I was no stranger to risk-taking.
On a sunny afternoon, I walked back to my place on the farm to rest in the sun.  The garden shift had been exhausting and I was too tired to hike in the canyon.  Too tired to talk with my friends.  Too tired to think.  Instead, I spent an hour gazing at my surroundings, memorizing the aromatic scent of the pine trees, the majestic shape of the Santa Lucia mountains, the pounding cadence of the surf. 
Remember this, I told myself.  Remember this moment, so that no matter what happens, no matter what you decide to do, this place and time will be yours…always.
Three weeks later I left Esalen, but not before I had carefully placed a sand dollar in the lap of a peaceful Buddha statue where the garden crew gathered every morning before the harvest.  On the back I had written, I’m right here, knowing that a part of me would still remain in Big Sur long after I had returned to Toledo.  
It took three long years before I was able to finally cut the cord on my hopes of returning to Esalen.  Three years to finally understand that to leave pieces of myself scattered in the past across time and space was like splintering my soul.  It was time to call every part of me more fully into the present so that I could finally move forward and embrace a new way of being.

Last week, Danta and I celebrated landmark birthdays as we both entered new decades.  He turned ten on Thursday and I turned fifty on Friday.  To celebrate, I picked up Danta and Satish after school, then drove to meet their mom and older sister at Cold Stone for some ice cream. 
Along the way, I mentioned to Satish, “I’m really excited about what you told me a couple of days ago.”
“What?” he asked, looking up from his book.
“That you only have to grow one inch and gain six pounds before you can sit in the front seat,” I smiled.  “You’ll be up here with me before you know it.”
He gave me a shy smile.
“I know I often say how much I miss the fun things we did when you were younger,” I told them both.  “But I really like it that you’re getting older and we can talk about all kinds of things.”
“Like Harry Potter books!” Danta beamed.
“That’s right!” I nodded.  Then I smiled at Satish.  “And I’m so thankful you taught me how to use Power Point.  Can I show you my project when I’m done so you can help me tweak it?”
“Sure!” he replied. 
As we headed west toward Cold Stone, I remembered something I had said to Satish a few years previous: "You know what I love most about being with you on your eighth birthday?"
"What?" he asked.
 I hugged him close.  "Knowing that I'll still be here for your ninth birthday...and your tenth...and your eleventh...and your twentieth and thirtieth and fortieth..."
Satish joined in and we counted by tens up to one hundred.
"How old will you be when I'm a hundred?" he asked, tilting his head so he could see my face.
"One hundred and thirty-seven," I said, lifting my brows in amazement.
Without missing a beat, Satish shook his head.  "You'll be dead by then."
I chuckled, loving how clearly realistic my little friend can be.  "You never know...I could come back as one of your kids.  No...I'd like to be around and see your kids," I said, winking.  "Maybe I'll be one of your grandkids."
Satish shrugged.  "Or you could be a cow."
Now, chuckling to myself as we pulled into the parking lot, I thought about the sacredness of cows in the Hindu culture, as they are symbolic of the earth.  A cow gives and feeds, representing and supporting all life, so in many ways, they also represent all animals.  What a compliment from a child who I consider to be much wiser than myself. 
Later on, over bowls of mint-chocolate-chip and cookie-dough ice cream, I said to Danta, “From now on you and I will always have the same last number in our ages!  Welcome to double digits!”
“Oh, yeah!” he brightened.
What a joy and a blessing to know that as the years go by, I’ll still be here to watch Satish and Danta grow from soccer balls to car keys to high school diplomas to their freshman years in college.   To know that every step of the way, I’ll give what I can, supporting them with my presence, my enthusiasm, and my love. 
Even when I’m 137.

A few weeks ago I was talking about my trip to Sedona with a group of friends.  “Eventually I’d love to spend part of the year there, and part of it here,” I smiled.  “Who knew I could love the southwest so much?”
“When would you want to be in Ohio?” Brenda asked.
“I’d go to Arizona from February through August and come home for autumn and early winter.”
Brenda nodded.  “I’d never want to live anywhere that didn’t have a change of seasons.”
“Me, too,” I said.  “Living in California in the fall was strange.  The only way I knew it was autumn was when someone put pumpkins in the lodge.”
“Living where there’s a change of seasons reminds us of the passing of time,” Brenda replied.  “It gives you a perspective that other places can’t.”
“That’s so true,” I smiled.  “Surviving long Midwestern winters makes me so much more appreciative of springtime.  And after this long, hot summer, I’m truly going to enjoy every moment when the days get shorter and the nights are cooler.”
These days I sure am. 
Bar none, it’s the most wonderful time of the year…for me at least.  Like that afternoon on the deck at Esalen, I’ve been soaking in every single moment I can be outside before the season quickly changes and autumn breezes blow through my hometown.  Yesterday I took the time to quietly sit in the backyard, enjoying the bright colors of everything in full bloom, the cornflower blue sky, the crickets chirping all day long.  As twilight fell, the air changed and I went inside to grab a light jacket for the first time since last May.
Sitting on my swing, I thought about all the things that have happened in the past several years, things that have led to my desire to enter a new decade with an open heart.  I thought about the people and places I’ve let go of, the ones who’ve let go of me.  I thought about how the past fifty years have molded my life experiences and how I now want to break the mold in order to create a life that’s more open, spontaneous, and whole.  I thought about the sand dollar I had left in Big Sur all those years ago and know that the words I had once written have long since faded into white.  After all this time, I'm finally home.
Then again, I never really left.  I’m still here, walking peacefully on this earth.