All posts by GretchenJoanna

About GretchenJoanna

Orthodox Christian, widowed in 2015; mother, grandmother. Love to read, garden, cook, write letters and a hundred other home-making activities.

Thoughts in my heart and in a box.

A few months ago as I was following my usual route along the paved bike path, I heard hammering nearby, and peering through the trees across the creek I saw a man on the opposite bank working on some kind of cabinet. I stopped and called over to him and his wife who was nearby, “What are you working on?” and though we couldn’t see each other very well we raised our voices and they told me about their project and invited me to take part. Though the object of their carpentry had been in that place for many years, I’d never noticed it before, and from that day until now I never took the trouble to respond to their invitation.

This morning felt very leisurely to me, a day with no appointments or commitments, no one to care how long it took me to get home from my walk. I admired the field along one leg of my excursion…

… and when I started back toward the creek I thought again about that spot across the stream. The reason I hadn’t visited it in all these months is that it’s not easily accessible unless you live in the mobile home park on that side. By the time I find myself across from its approximate location and it comes to mind, I am usually far from a way to it. The people I met had built it with the residents of that community in mind: it’s a place for sitting and thinking and for writing down one’s thoughts, to add to the collection in the “thought box” they had built for their parents and other residents.

Steps lead down from that neighborhood, but the more obvious and public way to that destination is blocked by a chain link fence. Today I slowed down and kept my eye out for a way across the water to that side — in late summer there isn’t much flow — and I found a vague path through the foxtails and over the little stream across rocks that seemed to have been brought and piled in one area.

I climbed up to the unpaved path closer to the stream and soon reached the little meditation spot. The chair is upturned so it won’t collect dirt or rainwater.

The box has been fitted with a heavy lid, roofed with composition shingles ! and inside, bright velvet banners hang down from the underside of the lid. A ziploc bag holds 3×5 cards, some of which have been written on. I didn’t take the time to read on this visit. Maybe next time I will sit and ponder and write something myself.

As I went on my way and the yellowing leaves drifted down over my path, I remembered the first time I self-consciously felt the season changing and noticed the effect of the beauty of creation on my soul. I was eleven years old and maybe it was the first time I’d walked by myself down to the river that was about a mile from our house through the orange groves.

It was at this time of year, and some trees that may have been cottonwoods were blowing in the breeze. The water was low in the river, and the plants among the river stones were drying up. I walked very solitary along a dirt road that ran there, and I was glad.

I took no notes on that experience when I got home, I took no pictures. I just was, in the day. And the gifts of that holy afternoon became a part of my self and of my memory, so that I could receive them again this morning. God is so good to me! Maybe when I go back and put my thoughts in that box, they will be these thoughts.

When I got to the end of this path that I’d never walked on before, I was below the bridge that I normally would be walking on, in the spot where I one time looked down on women collecting watercress. And there was some watercress still, and a stretch of concrete by way of a ford over a second creek, leading up to the main path again.

In the jungle of plants down there I saw some bedraggled pennyroyal, one more surprise of the day.

 

“For the beauty of the earth, for the beauty of the skies,
For the love which from our birth, over and around us lies;
Lord, our God, to Thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.”

The happening illimitably earth.

I wanted to go walking on the earth this morning. It was still dark when sleep left me, so I waited a little while, and put some water in the fountain, and saw a perfect half moon in the seemingly illimitable sky. It had rained in the night and the air was damp and cool, but not at all cold.


I walked half a block, and looking east, I saw the prelude to the sun’s birthday.

Along the redwood-lined path, I sniffed the woodsy scent; I walked along the mowed hayfield where the essence of sage-y weeds was carried in the humidity. And then along the creek, with swampy smells wafting across the way.

And the sky! It was big. God was big and so rich toward me, in His earth and creation, His presence. My senses were not adequate to the feast and I knew I would be drunk before breakfast. Glory to God in the highest! It was the birthday of (my) life and love.

i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings; and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any – lifted from the no
of all nothing – human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

–e.e. cummings

My Delta Sunflowers are big, and as they grow tall they break and fall over, so I have cut some, and made tangled and droopy bouquets that seem to be better suited to the patio table than the kitchen counter, where the flowers hung down and dropped little piles of pollen on the stone, on the appliances, whatever.

The lamb’s ears need thinning. My two species are so different! Here are the new ones, after cleaning up, in the front yard:

And here are the old survivors that keep growing just as vigorously, and even make flowers. But they look scraggly by comparison. I have to love my old vintage ears more; because they are thinner and gangly, they don’t make a convenient nest for the earwigs the way the fat and lush ones did this summer:

I found plums on the Elephant Heart Plum trees after all. First I spied one on the ground from the kitchen window: “Hey! That’s a plum!” So I went out right away and picked it up, and rummaged through the two trees to see if I had missed any others. I found three more fruits that didn’t seem to be quite ripe, hiding very effectively. So I ate the one that had fallen, and it was yummy. Since then I’ve been out twice to check on the other three, and they are nowhere to be found.

But our recent heat-smoke-humidity wave has started my figs ripening. This was the first one, which I discovered on the day when it had overnight turned from green to black. After taking its picture, I ate it, and it was everything a fig should be: juicy and sweet and more refreshing than a glass of water.

This is tasting touching hearing seeing breathing – yes.

Back home in the same direction.

DAY 6: Even though this is our departure day, and I have much to do — or maybe because of that — I linger in bed this morning and savor this cozy little part of my cabin experience. I wonder where that mouse ran to… don’t suppose a mouse would start making a nest in my suitcase overnight… hope not. My lips are really chapped, from the dry air. I haven’t looked at the weather station much but I did notice humidity of 25% yesterday.

We are all up and packing, cleaning, eating breakfast at the same time. The children eat leftover pancakes heated on a stovetop toaster. I have jerky and leftover cold green beans with pesto. No microwave here, so even my tea gets cold and I wouldn’t want to dirty another pan to reheat it.

Everyone ponders when they might next be up here. The Professor is hoping their family might come back every other year; Scout was lobbying for twice a month! But snow prevents us from using it more than three or four months of the year. I might return as soon as next week, but I might not. I may be all tripped-out and too weary from this year’s bounteousness of traveling.

I am cleaning my windshield — amazed that I remembered to do this — when four-year-old Ivy comes up and says, “Can I help you with that, Grandma? I can do your side windows; you can do the high parts and I’ll do this part down here.”

“Well, okay, thank you, Sweetie, that will be nice  to have those clean, too.” I hand her a paper towel with Windex on it and she starts wiping. “Dad told me and Scout to help you and Mom as much as we could.” 🙂

My dear family drives off, after Pippin has accomplished 90% of the cleanup. A few last details… I’m almost out the front door when a chipmunk runs past me into the cabin. Oh, dear! I try to get on the other side of him to herd him back to the open door, but he runs into the back bedroom and disappears. My brother is due to arrive sometime this day — will I have to wait for him to help me?  Mice are always with us, but I can’t lock up with a chipmunk in here.

While I muse over this and check my phone one last time before leaving the wi-fi, the little guy scampers down the hall and out the door. Whew.

I drive away from the lake and down the mountain, enjoying the quietness for one more hour at least — I won’t turn on my audiobook until I get out of the forest — and the smell of the trees. Today it’s the usual piney flavor that they exude especially on warm days, but when I arrived last week in the thunderstorm, oh what a mix of earth and plant smells the rain brought out; just breathing it put the essence of Nature Girl right into me.

That afternoon upon first entering the forest at about 5,000 feet elevation, I’d been puzzled about the smell, which was unfamiliar. It didn’t have any of that piney edge to it, and it was sweet and toasty. I wondered if the thousands of dead trees were changing the chemistry of the aromatics. But after a half hour, the distinctive incense cedar scent came in the window, and I recognized it as having been one element of the strange smell. I suppose that with all the different trees, shrubs and flowers that are blooming and fading, each day’s bouquet in each microclimate is bound to be at least a little bit different.

I stop to take pictures of granite expanses, with giant trees sprouting out of crevices… get back in the car, turn the key, the engine hums, and Bam! the Kinks are blasting, “All day, and all of the night!” What on earth? Why did my stereo suddenly come on, and what station could possibly transmit here? I gather my wits from where they’ve been bounced all around my skull, turn down the volume, the song changes…. I realize it is iTunes playing, through my new stereo’s Bluetooth function. “My” iTunes is 90% my late husband’s collection, which I haven’t spent any time adapting to my own kind of music; I never even listen to iTunes.

shrub I see on the way down

 

I begin to wonder if an angel turned it on, because for the next hour as I listen to the shuffle, it’s a sweet reverie I float in, reminded of times when he would play certain ones saying, “This is for you, Gretchen.” R&B love songs like “Always and Forever” by Heatwave: “I’ll always love you forever.” Atlantic Star’s “Always”  includes a line about making a family who “will bring us joy for always,” something I have just been experiencing these last few days; I think over all the joy Mr. Glad and I shared over our children.

Sierra Vinegarweed

Now that I am thinking about him, I remember the time my husband and I stopped along this very road just to cut some manzanita branches to take home for Mrs. C. What a job that was! We staggered far up the bank through loose sandy soil so as not to uglify the least bit the view from the road, and all the bushes were surrounded by a stickery plant that impeded us greatly. But we accomplished our errand.

Even Kate Wolf’s “Across the Great Divide,” though it is melancholy indeed, evokes for me truths and realities of loss and change, and more importantly, of hope:

Where the years went I can’t say
I just turned around and they’ve gone away

The finest hour that I have seen
Is the one that comes between
The edge of night and the break of day
It’s when the darkness rolls away

And it’s gone away in yesterday
Now I find myself on the mountainside
Where the rivers change direction
Across the Great Divide

Here I am driving on a mountainside myself, thinking on things that have in one sense “gone away” with the years. But Love remains. Though my life has changed drastically in the last three years, its direction has continued steady, thanks to Christ, “the true Light that enlightens every man,” Who will finally roll away all the darkness. I think about this quote, too:

What shall pass from history into eternity? The human person with all its relations, such as friendship and love.
-Father Georges Florovsky

Various things happen to slow my descent, like being stopped while a tall dead pine is felled and crashes in the forest right across my line of vision. Slow logging trucks, road work, my own stopping to snap pictures… I see lots of Sierra Vinegarweed and spend ten minutes watching bees and butterflies drink at the flowers.

Also, I’m very relaxed and wanting to put off as long as possible the moment when I leave the last tree behind me and find myself in the baking and bare foothills. That’s when I will switch to my audiobook, leave my happy meditation, and count my Mountain Diary as concluded.

(I returned home just last night.)

If you missed previous posts in this series, you can go back and start HERE.