Tag Archives: widowhood

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.

I map the topography of love.

Yarrow blooming in front garden.

March is the month that my husband fell asleep in the Lord, two years ago now. My experience of bereavement is all over the map, following the topography of the seasons and the holidays and whatever physical ailments fall on me.

Most of the time I am happily swamped by a myriad of plans and activities, and tasks I’m behind on. But sometimes the absence of my husband when I lie down and when I rise up, when I go from room to room or when I come home from a walk, is like a huge and strange presence.

March always features Lent, which is a mercy, because that is an opportunity to focus on prayer, which keeps me in the present, where my husband and I are both living in the Kingdom of God. I can put our marriage in historical perspective and in the context of eternity.

This year once again I cooked for 100 people, with the help of several dear friends, an agape meal after last Sunday’s Divine Liturgy, as a memorial for my husband. I made the same menu as last year. We had so much fun cooking on Saturday that I completely forgot to take pictures.

But the night before, I had been soaking 20# of Great Northern beans to make the Greek Beans , and I took pictures of them soaked and being dried off on a tablecloth. They have to be dried off a bit so you can sauté them in olive oil before stewing them. Neither of the photos shows the whole 20#.

I also borrowed some pictures from last year that are pretty much identical to the scene from last week.

garlic and bay leaves
Preparing tarragon for cabbage salad.

Partly because of Lent, March is always very busy. Not all Orthodox churches are able to celebrate a full calendar of services, partly because many parishes have only one priest, and he might also have another job. But God has arranged for me to be where I can be nourished and helped a great deal by praying in church and receiving Communion several times a week during Lent. We have so many services that no one can attend all of them.

Yellow freesias starting to bloom in the distance.

 

March is when the garden takes off. If I didn’t have my garden, what would my life be like? Would I keep a tidier house? Pray more? Probably neither. I am always happy in the garden – and it’s a good place to pray, without a doubt. Better to have a garden that is somewhat neglected than to have no garden.

I started thinning the lamb’s ears with the help of a kneeling bench
that my cousin Renée gave me.

I used to not like Euphorbia (above),
but now that it is falling over my own garden wall I find I am quite fond of it.

lovely lithodora

The native currant bushes (ribes) aren’t very bushy,
but they are three times as tall as last year.

Bay tree (Laurus nobilis) in a pot.

The first week of Lent I started out grumpy. But Lent is a good cure for that. I have since been given wonderful gifts of thankfulness. God has let me see how all through my life He has abundantly provided for me, and He continues to do this every day. When I think of the love that has been given me in my childhood, my marriage, my children and my friends – and now the Holy Orthodox Church that is “the fullness of Him that fills all in all,” my cup runs over.

No doubt I will lapse into grumbling and self-pity before long, and have to repent again (That’s what life is for!) but the view of my widow’s world from this mountain on which I stand at the moment is quite beautiful, and it’s a Happy Spring.

I began this post yesterday, and then went out to pull weeds and deadhead flowers. I was kneeling in the mulch by the yarrow when the florist delivery girl walked up with an elegant vase for “Gretchen.” Lilies, roses, carnations, blue flowers, sweet smells… Before I could get it into the house I started weeping, not being able to guess who would do this – it could be anyone, in God’s world that is full of miracles, and seemingly brimming with people who care about me. But it was my children and their spouses, with an early remembrance of their parents’ wedding anniversary:

“Mama, these are sent in celebration of you and Papa, and with love for you,
from your children.”  See what I mean about that landscape?

At the dark dream of the year.

I am learning to live, glory to God — though I’d never thought of it just that way until reading this poem. Its allusions to giving birth I can relate to, though I’m thankful I was able to accomplish the material form of that work when I was in the “glory of the flesh,” young and strong. Now that I am in the autumn of my life, now is when as a widow I have to rise to the less tangible demands, which before I had thought of more as a re-creation than a rebirth.

cardinal-ornament

It used to be that January was the dark dream of the year for me, but judging from the last few weeks, I think that in the years to come the ramp-up to Christmas might prove to be the season when it’s hardest to stay tuned to Christ’s birth in me, as He,

At the iron senseless time, comes
To force the glory into frozen veins…

Maybe it’s a stretch to apply these metaphors to my situation. But all the traditions of getting ready for Christmas — the planning for gifts, the shopping and cooking and decorating, Christmas caroling, all in a context of wood fires and sweeping of leaves and walks on brisk mornings — I have to learn to live on my own now. “Everything changes,” and I have been born into a new and strange existence. The natural impulse is to wish to sleep ever and to dream of springtimes past.

But as Christ is born in me moment by moment, I’m the farthest possible from “on my own.” If I could live in this reality, truly live in Him, instead of in the unreality of memories that are phantoms (human beings themselves can never fall into the category of Memories), it would be a constant breaking out in a glorious freedom that encompasses calm and warmth and joy, the fullness of God. I’m in the process — I am being born, ever so slowly:

To bear new life or learn to live is an exacting joy
The whole self must waken; you cannot predict the way

It will happen, or master the responses beforehand.
For any birth makes an inconvenient demand…

I feel that I could feed off this rich poem for the next several months! It is a great gift to me; I hope you enjoy it, too. May your Advent waiting be fruitful.

scout-angel-chimes-12-14

CHRISTMAS AND COMMON BIRTH

Christmas declares the glory of the flesh:
And therefore a European might wish
To celebrate it not at midwinter but in spring,
When physical life is strong,
When the consent to live is forced even on the young,
Juice is in the soil, the leaf, the vein,
Sugar flows to movement in limbs and brain.
Also before a birth, nourishing the child
We turn again to the earth
With unusual longing—to what is rich, wild,
Substantial: scents that have been stored and strengthened
In apple lofts, the underwash of woods, and in barns;
Drawn through the lengthened root; pungent in cones
(While the fir wood stands waiting; the beech wood aspiring,
Each in a different silence), and breaking out in spring
With scent sight sound indivisible in song.

Yet if you think again
It is good that Christmas comes at the dark dream of the year
That might wish to sleep ever.
For birth is awaking, birth is effort and pain;
And now at midwinter are the hints, inklings
(Sodden primrose, honeysuckle greening)
That sleep must be broken.
To bear new life or learn to live is an exacting joy:
The whole self must waken; you cannot predict the way
It will happen, or master the responses beforehand.
For any birth makes an inconvenient demand;
Like all holy things
It is frequently a nuisance, and its needs never end;
Freedom it brings: We should welcome release
From its long merciless rehearsal of peace.

So Christ comes
At the iron senseless time, comes
To force the glory into frozen veins:
His warmth wakes
Green life glazed in the pool, wakes
All calm and crystal trance with the living pains.

And each year
In seasonal growth is good — year
That lacking love is a stale story at best
By God’s birth
Our common birth is holy; birth
Is all at Christmas time and wholly blest.

-Anne Ridler

 

(Bottom photo by Pippin)