COVID-19, Friends, Nature

Hunkering down

“Shakespeare wrote King Lear while he was in quarantine for the plague.” This has been circulating around social media the past couple of days. “Yay for Shakespeare,” I say but my brain is so full of viral thoughts there’s room for little else, especially writing. 

My house is a mess. Cleaning is on the list for tomorrow along with writing up notes about cat care in case of emergency and reviewing my will. Morbid but necessary items that will help me sleep at night. 

Sun shines, rain blows through, more sun. The hellebores are blooming, vinca, lungwort. Crocuses have gone past. Daffodils are up and will bloom soon. Trees, water, dirt, insects, birds, critters. “We have a possum in our garage,” a neighbor says. Life in its rhythms. The cat loves the longer days, the sun, my being home to let him out. I stroll the yard and he runs to me, twines around my legs, meows, trots behind me as I keep moving.

I’m in contact with friends more than usual, even though we meet via phone calls and emails rather than face to face. Without the usual distractions life simplifies—home, friends and loved ones, time in the garden, walks through the woods. 

Will I be able to center into this time? Breathe, ease the fretting, slow down, row gently through the days?

This isn’t all that different than my usual life, I say. I often have strings of days with no engagements in the calendar. I’ve set things up that way deliberately to give me time for reflecting and writing. But… But…There’s always an alternative to solitude–a coffee shop to sit in, lunch with a friend, a library or bookstore to browse, a movie to go to.

I focus on finding my way through the day to day—how to shape the hours, carve a pattern in the day. I poll my friends: What are you doing today? I make yogurt, think about baking bread. I wonder where I put my spare fabric that I could use to patch a favorite pair of jeans.

But mortality is knocking on my door more urgently than ever. Older adults are more likely to die from this virus than younger ones–I hear this over and over. What does this mean for me? For my friends and family? The world feels precious. My daily walks yield small treasures–tree bark like an elephant’s skin, feathery bright green new growth, water rushing over rocks after a morning of rain, late afternoon sun on the river.  

An email arrives from my cousin in San Francisco. They’re staying home, life is quiet, they’re watching the birds at the feeder, planting their gardens, writing letters to get out the vote. Another email from friends in England. I make a note to contact my friends in Chicago. Webs of connection. All of us figuring out how to move through these days.

I try to relish the simplicity, cherish the strong connections, revel in the moments of breathing and moving, feeling the chilly air on my face, the soreness in my hip that says I’m alive and kicking, savoring the soft fur on my cat’s back, his warm body curled close to mine, his head butting my leg as we stand in the middle of the slowly resurrecting gardens. 

Crafts, Family, Friends, Home

Is it done yet?

“Have you finished that afghan?” Jean asked during one of my last visits with her before she died. I didn’t see her often in her final months but each time I visited she asked about the afghan that sat in my knitting bag, two-thirds done. 

I don’t remember what prompted me to start this project, which is actually a lap blanket rather than an afghan. Did I imagine it wrapped around my own knees on winter nights? I already have an abundance of woven or fleecy or hand knitted options for knee warming. At various points in the years since I started it I’ve considered possible recipients, hoping that the deadline of holiday gift giving would spur me on. But it continues to languish. 

Jean was a long-time friend—and my knitting guru. An artist with needles and yarn, she encouraged me to stretch my skills, take on intricate stitch challenges, branch out from scarves to knit a sweater or hat, ruthlessly rip back to fix mistakes. We spent many chilly evenings sitting at her dining table, a fire crackling in the woodstove, knitting and talking while scarves, hats, sweaters, and shawls grew. 

I learned to knit when I was nine or ten. My cousin was visiting and my mom, desperate for ways to keep us occupied, sat us down with balls of yarn and knitting needles and set us to work making garter stitch potholders. Sporadic forays into knitting in my young adult years mostly resulted in half finished projects. I did eventually finish an orange wool scarf made with yarn I bought in Ireland on a two-month England and Ireland exploration the summer after junior year at university. The bright wool knit up nicely in popcorn stitch. I wore the scarf a few times and then left it in a restaurant that immediately went out of business and the scarf became the property of the creditors. 

Mom was an accomplished knitter, regularly producing sweaters and vests and scarves to keep us all warm. She knit American style—and that’s what she taught me. I’ve since been told this is an inefficient method but in her hands it was fluid and fast. I can still see her sitting on the couch, eyes on a TV show, fingers flying as she inserted the needle, wrapped the yarn, slipped off the stitch, row after row. 

I have an afghan that mom made—she made several and gave them to family members scattered around the globe. Mine is shades of green and each square is a different stitch pattern. I also have several scarves, a hat, and a sweater I made for myself. And maybe this winter I’ll finish and bind off the lap blanket—and imagine Jean saying “Well, finally!”

Family, Friends, Grief, Uncategorized

Lapis for love, for friendship

Welcome to the new home for my blog. I will continue to post short musings, reflections, glimpses of day-to-day life, and garden updates. I might also branch out. Thoughts about writing? Poems that move me? Links to music? Book reviews? Anything is possible so stay tuned.

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I recently met a new friend for coffee. I was feeling shy, as I sometimes do, so I wore the lapis earrings that once belonged to my friend Fran, who died in 2006.

A couple of years before Fran died, when she was in the middle of living with an aggressive cancer, she and her husband travelled to the southwest. She returned with lapis earrings for her friends—the ones she gave me were shaped like small fish. Lapis for love, for friendship, she said.

I wore them one winter day not long after she gave them to me. I had on a high-collared coat and scarf. When I got in my car at the end of a meal with friends, I realized I was missing an earring. I poked through piles of slush around the car, groped under and around the car seats, went back inside the restaurant to search our booth. No earring. I was bereft.

After Fran died, her husband invited her friends to choose items from her jewelry box. I immediately spotted a pair of lapis earrings she’d bought for herself on that southwestern trip and took them home with me; I wear them often, especially when I feel like I need a friend’s helping hand.

Shortly before Fran died, we talked about death and dying. Was there an afterlife? We were both skeptical. But I remembered the experience I’d had after my mom died, the strong sense all that summer that mom was near me as I navigated buying a house, moving, making a nest for myself, all while grieving for her. I told Fran about this. If there is an afterlife, will you come back and let me know? I joked.

I’ve had no Fran sightings. Just memories and the earrings.

Things have power. My sister died in December; in January I flew to England for her IMG_0371funeral, which took place in the village church just down the lane from the house she’d lived in for over forty years. She was buried next to her husband in the cemetery behind the church.

I both dreaded and welcomed the funeral—dreaded being far away from home when I needed the comfort of friends, welcomed the opportunity to say good-by to my sister in the place she most loved.

On the day of the funeral, I wore a necklace that had belonged to my mother, a scarf my sister gave me, earrings my mom had given me. Wearing these items I could feel my mother and sister standing on either side of me, holding me in that cold church and then at the grave high on a bright chilly hill.