Category Archives: history

Rigo

Some of you knew, and others of you maybe guessed, that I had come to visit Kate this month so that I’d be present for the birth of a grandchild. He has arrived, a little brother for Raj, and has expanded our family and our hearts. I have never been more blessed to share in this kind of history-making.

Back in the 70’s and 80’s when my friends and I were in our childbearing years, many of us decided that we wanted to give birth at home, where we could enjoy the miracle event in a warm and quiet environment surrounded by our dearest people. In hospitals in those days,  various inappropriate medical protocols were routinely applied to women and newborns, as they still are in some “modernizing” places in the world.

Most of my likeminded peers found doctors and lay midwives to attend births; a few did it without any outside help. One doctor in our county attended my first child’s birth in a hospital, and three at home. Kate was my last baby, born at home with a certified nurse-midwife in attendance. We usually liked to have two or more other women at hand to help with household or birth-related tasks as well. Maybe to watch older children, bake a birth day cake, fetch things for the midwife or make up the bed with clean sheets afterward.

I was one of these friends who was happy to be called, often as a sort of lay doula whose only training had been on-the-job, and from my own experience. The cultural setting of a certain time and place gave me special opportunities, and Providence enabled me to take advantage of them.

These blessings have continued as my own daughters have asked me to be with them in the hospital when they give birth. I’m aware that not every grandmother gets this kind of invitation; so often we are the ones who take care of older children when a younger sibling is coming into the family. Even in cases where we might fit into the birth plan more directly, it doesn’t always work out. Joy asked both her mother and mother-in-law, and it was impossible for either of us, four times.

I am supremely grateful for these experiences. To accompany a woman on her birth journey, to wait together as women have done since the beginning of time, feels like a sacred trust. Waiting on God and waiting for the process to unfold, from the first signs of labor until the child is placed in her arms… it is such a privilege. And it never gets old, seeing a child emerge from the womb.

For a long time now, the births I have waited for and witnessed have all been in hospitals. These days most of them are peaceful and geared to the needs of the families more than to hospital efficiency, and sometimes I even have a rocking chair to rock in while we wait and pray, or chat quietly. Or sleep, as Kate and both of us fellow-waiters did for a while before this child decided to get on with it.

And when he did push out and take his first breath, the momentous moment passed without a nod at its passing. The next moment was full of jubilance and awe. We laughed, and wept. Everyone admired the little round head. Soon he was snuggled up to Kate,  looking all around, and suckling. A human’s skin is never so soft as when he is fresh from the womb; then begins the lifelong drying-up process. But not to worry — there is plenty of softness at the totally out-of-this world level for a couple of months, and we are smooching him as though by our kisses we drink from the fountain of youth.

I’ve nicknamed the tiny guy “Amerigo,” or “Rigo” for short, for purposes of my blog, after the cartographer and explorer Amerigo Vespucci whose (latinized) name was given to the New World.

Welcome, little Rigo! God bless you as you begin your explorations!

Pink flowers are not all she gives.


It may not have been fellowship exactly, but my time today with my fellow creatures the plants was intimate and  lovely, and I spent hours pruning three of the trees. That is something God does to us, and maybe that’s why it makes me feel particularly tenderhearted toward my horticultural “children.”

First the plums, for which I had to move up their solstice pruning a week because I won’t be here at the summer solstice. Lots of other weeding, feeding, planting — and naturally, trying to take pictures of insects. I was eating breakfast in the garden when I noticed syrphid flies on the toadflax, and wondered how I could ever have confused them with bees. They don’t have the same flight pattern at all, and they even buzz more like flies.

 

The last thing I did was to spend an hour with the manzanita bush that I’d named Margarita a few years ago, about the same time I told her history. (You can see more pictures of her via that link.) It was this task that brought me into the sweet communion with the plant that is enjoying her 15th spring on the property! I can tell she is happy because she’s putting out lots of new green leaves, while the berries are still mostly green, too. I must never have paid much attention to this tree in other Junes, because I hadn’t seen the contrast of the new growth with the old leathery leaves, many of which are turning brown, which is normal.

In order to survey the wandering branches and find the dead wood and make decisions about how to thin Manzanita while keeping her twisty and graceful form, I must have walked around and around her a dozen times, noticing and snipping twigs and whole branches that were revealed as needing removal, one by one with each changed view. I mused about how she has grown and changed; countless parts of her have died and been cut away, but she gradually has become a little taller. Since her youth when I realized that she wanted to grow northward, time and again I have helped her to do it in a nice way, and every year she gives me pink flowers for Valentine’s Day.

She is a dear.

Lifting the eyes without horror.

In White Road, Olga Ilyin writes her memoirs of the years 1919-1923 in Russia. I am not very far into the book, but I want to share a short passage describing one Siberian winter morning as she was fleeing eastward with the White Army and some members of their families. Each night they would billet with sympathetic peasants, and move on the next day.

“It was one of those windless mornings…when the air is frozen to the crispness of glass and every sound engraves itself on the darkness with such precision that you can trace its outline with a pencil.

“I had just come on the porch of our cottage. I loved to be the first one to come outside with Bibik [her baby] to steal a moment of quiet before the noise and movement of departing troops, to gaze at the stars overhead, and listen to my footsteps on hard-packed snow fall into silence like notes of music.

“And yet, how could I? For these were the same stars I had watched with horrified eyes on the night when I fled from home; the same stars at which my father had looked from an open truck just a week later when a firing squad drove him to where he was shot. Never again, I had felt, could I lift my eyes without horror to this unyielding gulf between God and man, hammered in by myriads of frightful metallic nails. So, why should I come out to catch a moment to be alone with them? How was it possible that again the stars should reassure me of the wonder of life, telling me that nothing great could really be broken or vanquished? At least within us.”

Boundaries and Ages

A few weeks ago I tagged these two poems from the Japanese, to read again. Just now I notice that the poets were contemporaries of each other, and that in both poems there is the needed attention to the poet’s experience, but also reference to political or historic settings. Even though I probably miss many poetic allusions and metaphors because of my unfamiliarity with the realm of Japanese literature, I find these more interesting and thought-provoking than the more minimalist haiku.

The writers who create and give us their creations are also fascinating to me. It’s nice to be able to read a bit of biography, but you know that they are telling the most important things in their poetry. Both here are considered haiku poets. Takami was arrested for Marxist writings and communist activities while at university, but later recanted, and years later became director of the Japanese Literature Patriotic Association. In addition to his poetry he published various memoirs including 3000 pages of wartime diaries.

The minor planet Kusatao was named for Kusatao Nakamura in 1994.

 

AT THE BOUNDARY of LIFE and DEATH

At the boundary of life and death
what exists I wonder?
For instance, concerning the boundary of county and country,
during the war, on the border of Thailand and Burma,
although I saw it when I crossed through the jungle,
nothing unusual was found in that place.
There was nothing like a boundary line drawn.
Also at sea when passing directly over the equator
nothing special like a beacon mark was visible.
No, at that place was the wonderful dark blue sea.
On the Thailand-Burma border was a wonderful sky.
On the life-death boundary too might there not be something hung like a wonderful rainbow,
even though my surroundings
and also my self
were a devastated jungle?

-Jun Takami (1907-1965)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sailing in autumn,
being inside
one huge and deep blue disk.

In the baby carriage,
onto the joggled apple
continuing to hold.

Falling snow!
The Meiji period, far
away it has gone.

Greenness everywhere
and inside it my own child’s
teeth starting to grow out.

-Kusatao Nakamura (1901-1983)

 

(The ocean painting is detail from a print by Hiroshige, “The Whirlpools of Awa.”)