I’m finding it hard to write. My mind is so full of things it wants to say that it has created a logjam like the drainage stones I sometimes put in the bottom of a pot for a plant, the pressure of one against the others keeps them all captive and unable to slip through the hole.
So I make attempts to organize the information:
Letters to my mother—
Why did you have to leave when I wasn’t ready for you to go? Why was there so little time at the end, and that taken up by the necessities of life drawing down to an end like the last stingy trickle of shampoo squeezed from a bottle held upside down? I wish I would have known thirty years ago what I know today and then maybe I would have taken the time to really know who you were.
Observations on how the world has shifted, and why nothing seems the same.
Deliberations on what to do next to find meaning in what often feels like a purposeless life.
I could do a whole study on “things.”
Why do we have so many things? How can we just exit and leave everything behind? Should I begin to get rid of my prized possessions now so that my children won’t have to make heart-wrenching decisions as to whether my books get sold, donated, or stored in a box in someone’s basement? And is someone walking around today in my mother’s green spring sweater? So many things. We buy because we think we need. We keep in case someday we might need. Or someone gave to us because they thought we needed or would like to have. Poof. We exit. And yet every thing that we kept, bought, were given, held dear, or merely tolerated, is left sitting on its shelf, in a cabinet, or in a drawer. Unclaimed freight.
Why do the things we leave behind plague me so?
Contemplations on the age-old question, what is it all about?
My world has shifted and my mind is full, yet I remain largely speechless.
But the crimson on the wing of the blackbird shines red in the sun to me. Still.
Reposted from ChristineMGrote-author.
I was sitting at the kitchen table this morning watching a robin enjoy the hanging planter full of garden refuse that I left for the birds as a kind of discount store or bonanza.
We had already cleaned all the old dried leaves and winter garden refuse from the ground, and Mark covered it all with a rich, crisp layer of mulch, leaving slim pickins’ for nest-building birds.
I patted myself on the back. If I wouldn’t have created this hanging basket for them, what would the robins have done?
As I watched out the window, I noticed a rustling in the leaves near the top of a tree. A little squirrel emerged with a leaf-laden twig in its mouth and scampered across a few limbs, then up the trunk of a dead tree where I saw she was happily building a nest. It’s a dead ash tree, technically on our neighbor’s property. They plan to have their dead ash trees removed this year. I don’t believe there is anything I can do to save the squirrel, the nest, and any babies that arrive, beyond hoping that the tree-cutters won’t come too soon.
Yesterday I walked out into our garage and was startled by a small bird in there. I think it was a juvenile wren. One of the two garage doors was open, but the little guy couldn’t seem to find his way out. I spent the next hour or so trying to help him leave. I adjusted both garage doors to try to give him space above and below the door to leave. I moved the car out of the garage so it wouldn’t get in the way. I talked and chirped to the bird, showed him the way out, chased him around the garage with a broom to try to direct him out, and tried to catch him in a sheet.
At one point after I had gone back inside for a few minutes, I found two other wrens in the garage. They left immediately upon my return and my hopes that one of them was the little guy were soon dashed when I heard him chirping. But I was encouraged that I was not the only one trying to rescue the baby.
Eventually I was able to lower the window blind behind him, reach in and catch the little guy in my sheet-covered hand. I patted myself on the back for returning him to the wild.
What would he have done if I wasn’t here? I wondered.
If I wasn’t here at all, then maybe my house and garage wouldn’t be here either. And the natural progression of that kind of thinking led me to the question, What if all the humans left?
The birds would still be here. The robin would find nature-provided nesting materials all around.
The squirrels’ new home would not be in jeopardy.
And the little bird would never have found its way into a place it couldn’t leave.
When we were driving to Hocking Hills a few weeks ago, we passed an abandoned property on a country road. I first noticed the rusted, decaying car near the road. Then I saw the decrepit house further back in what was becoming woods. The rectangular property lines were clearly discernible where the neighboring properties, still being tended, ended and this abandoned property began, as if a surveyor had pounded in stakes at the corners and strung a wire around. The grass was long, trees and bushes were sprouting up throughout. The semi-hidden car and the house were falling apart in pieces on the ground. The earth was reclaiming its own.
I don’t know how long the abandoned property has stood there, but my guess is that it hasn’t been all that long in the whole scheme of things.
If the humans left, the earth would reclaim its own in short order most likely. And the birds, the squirrels, the deer and all the creatures would have their paradise without us.
In New Orleans, billboards advertising demolition companies pop up along the roadways and capture my attention. I’ve never seen these signs deep in the heartland of the Midwest where I’m from, far from the hurricane shores.
Katrina “x’s” are still visible graffiti on doors and walls, evidence of a search for survivors, victims, for the dead.
The rescuers and home search teams marked the top of the x with the date. Then traveling clockwise around the x, they marked the current hazzards they found within, the number of victims or dead bodies they recovered, and the identification of the search team.
Some home owners have preserved these records, according to one survivor, as a “reminder to all, that man and all his things are fragile in the face of raw nature, and that our lives are fragile and can be changed or taken from us in an instant.” (Understanding the Katrina X)
For the tourist from the midwest, the x’s are grim reminders of the death and devastation viewed over 24-hour news channels when New Orleans’ lower ninth ward, previously little-known, gained world-wide recognition. And sadly so.
Nearly eight years ago the flood waters roared over the levees, turning family yards into empty lots.
Concrete slabs are evidence of a house that was or a new one that will be.
Dark doorframes sans doors, and windows bereft of glass, identify a home as a lost cause, abandoned.
Doors and windows are boarded up. Closed. No entrance here. No sign as to whether an owner will someday return and reclaim.
Decorative wrought iron railings guard a disintegrating home that no longer contains a family or possessions that need to be protected.
New homes are being built. The hardy and the strong, those who will not be defeated return and demolish, reclaim, rebuild, and start again.
Various organizations like Brad Pitt’s Make it Right have stepped in to help make it right. And new homes in the devastated area rise like a breath of fresh air.
But the evidence of Katrina remains in the lower ninth ward. The decay is wide-spread and within site wherever you look.
How will this area ever recover? So much destruction in an area with little evidence of the money required to rebuild.
Who are the owners of the homes left to rot? Where are they now?
And why would someone who could afford to buy property choose to buy here, one wonders, with so many reminders of the devastation, destruction, and death, that remain?
I hope for the sake of the courageous residents who would not be defeated that with time the lower ninth ward will reemerge as a solid neighborhood.
There is a lot of work still to be done.
If you would like to read more about the New Orleans 9th Ward, I found this book as I was searching for information. I thought it looked good. Let me know what you think if you read it. Untold – The New Orleans 9th Ward You Never Knew by Lynette Norris Wilkinson.
We’re visiting our son, daughter-in-law and two young grandchildren in St. Louis for a few days. Grandpa and I are babysitting while my son and DIL work for a few days. I predict needed naps in my future, but life doesn’t get any better than this. When I hold my darling little 6-month-old granddaughter in my arms and she looks up at me and smiles, I wonder how anyone could simply not fall head over heels in love. Sometimes thoughts of my mom intrude and bring a wave of sadness. I so wish she could have met and been able to enjoy our little granddaughter. But I try to do what Mark says he does, and let the sad thoughts pass on through. I try not to dwell on them. Life is a mix of happy and sad.
I thought I’d take this opportunity to try to get my photos posted from our New Orleans trip way back in February. I’ve got this plan to create pages of the places we’ve been and I’m falling behind. In fact, I was behind before I started.
I’ve already posted After Mardi Gras, and shown you the Garden District. I’d still like to show you the photos from the WWII Museum, the Ursuline Convent and the Ninth Ward. But today I’m taking you to the French Quarter.
In the slide show below you will see pictures of the streets and throngs of people in the French Quarter the day we were there. You’ll see ironwork, historic street signs, historic buildings, and a statue of Joan of Arc. I got a shot of Lafitte’s Bar as we drove past, and you’ll see the wharf right there in the midst of the French Quarter. Of course a trip to New Orleans wouldn’t be complete without stopping at the Cafe du Monde for beignets. If you’ve never been there, the beignets reminded me of funnel cakes, another weakness of mine. We had to make a second trip to the French Quarter to get another chance at the beignets. That covers the food portion of the program.
The fear came from our brief jaunt down Bourbon Street where we were confronted with voodoo shops. Perhaps I have read too many novels about New Orleans and voodoo, or maybe it was simply the energy I felt on the street. But the killing blow was the two men sitting on the street corner trying to make money to bury what they claimed to be their dead dog, which they had on display, in an open suitcase. ( I realize it was probably a stuffed dead dog, but still.) That creeped me out. We got off of Bourbon Street at the next corner and headed to Pat O’Reilly’s bar where we quenched our thirst with Hurricanes, New Orleans style.
The whole day was fun, but in particular we enjoyed the street performers.
I hope you enjoy the slide show.
I feel my past slipping away like a landslide, the topsoil steadily moving down behind me like a carpet pulling everything with it into the deep dark void. Unstoppable. Taking the houses, the trees, and me.
“Who took the Adams’ Bible?” my aunt wants to know. “There was a big ruckus over that Bible. It landed in the hands of an alienated family member. Aunt Flo finally got it back and your mother got it from her.“
I scanned all the black and white photos in Dad’s leather album from his time in the army in Germany, transcribing all the little handwritten notes on the backs.
“Me standing at attention. Shaner messed this up. He didn’t tell me I was shadowed.“
“This is my equipment that we had to carry most of the time. I took it Sunday when we had inspection.“
“We had a demonstration yesterday and here is a shot taken right after the air force dropped some napalm on the target before the tanks and big guns moved in. It was some show.“
“Me sewing up a pair of shorts. The general is coming to inspect. (It didn’t do any good. We failed.)“
Mom’s framed wedding portrait with a telegram from my grandfather to my dad in Germany.
“Congratulations. It’s a little girl. Arrived at 9:30. Everything okay.“
I scanned all the photos of Mom and my sister in the back of Dad’s army album that I never realized were there.
“She’s got her eyes open a little bit more here. Isn’t she the cutest thing you ever saw?“
“This is where I give her a bath. Right by the stove. I turn the burners on so it will be nice and warm for her.“
Mom and Dad’s memories, recorded on film, sent across the ocean, returned home, arranged in a photo album, held in place with black photo corners.
Envelopes of color photos from the trip to D.C., my grandmother’s 90th birthday party, Mom and Dad’s 50th anniversary. Grandchildren.
I’ll keep the things they saved from their parents. Photos, marriage licenses, death certificates. A hand-written diary from Mom’s grandfather and his farming days.
I’ll put it all in the cedar chest with their high school graduation photos and yearbooks; with the outfit Mom wore in the photo with her great-grandson just two years ago, and Dad’s captain’s hats from his pontoon days at the cottage at the lake.
Little mementos. Articles of genealogical interest. Sentimental items.
I’ll store them all away, for what purpose I do not know. Small fragments of a past that is no more.
Where do I go from here?
When I decided to write about blogging, I did what I often do, I went online to find out what I could.
That’s not entirely honest. I googled it and check two links.
I found an article in New York magazine on line called The Early Years by Clive Thompson which was basically a timeline of the history of blogging. Did you know that the first blog, ever, was created by a college student in 1994? Almost twenty years ago.
Quite a few years ago my oldest son told me I should start writing a blog. I didn’t listen to him at the time, much to my chagrin. If I had maybe I could have proftted from being one of the early people in.
Did you know that people actually made money off of blogs? You probably did. I’m always the last to know.
But like so many other things, it helps to be popular if you are already famous. We like to follow people who have been proven to be well-liked by other people. The same goes for authors. We like to read authors who are the best sellers. They don’t have a problem getting an agent or a book contract. Same goes for famous people. Just check out the tables in your local B&N. But you already know that.
Clive Thompson talks all about it in Blogs to Riches: The Haves and Have-Nots of the Blogging Boom also published in New York magazine.
I never intended or expected to make money with my blog.
That’s probably a good thing, too.
I started the blog to encourage myself to write regularly, even every day, and to start creating an online presence. Just a little over two years ago on January 21, 2011, I started my blog with a short post, A New Start with Clean House, that mentioned both my mom and Arthur. Arthur is still with me. Mom is not. I still write about both.
My second post, Missed Opportunities, was about the red fox that I saw run through our yard, but failed to capture on camera. I still have missed opportunities, but now I keep my camera on a shelf in the kitchen where I am sometimes able to catch the wood ducks, the pileated woodpecker and the owl, the groundhogs, my most recent good catch – the scarlet tanager, and even a red fox.
I saw this female wood duck this morning. I think she was looking for her mate. They’re usually together.
My third post, Fiddles radio broadcasts, signing off and iPads, was one of my all-time favorites. Very few people read it.
I tried to find the stats. I went to “all posts,” and then filtered for the date. I clicked on the miniature bar graph in the column that says “stats.” I had one “syndicated” view. I have no idea what that means, but it can’t be good. Truthfully, after rooting around a bit on my stats page, I don’t have any idea how many hits that page actually got. I’m not going to obsess about it.
I continue to tell myself I shouldn’t be concerned with my stats anyway. I continue to not listen.
But a blogging acquaintance, compatriot, friend (what are we to each other anyway?) named Sue Dreamwalker commented on that post and continues to comment occasionally to this day. She has a nice post up today about May Day. So while some followers come and some go, she has stayed with me. I’d like to say thank you to Sue and all the rest of you who joined me early and have stuck around. Another shout out to Nancy at Spirit Lights the Way for lighting my way early on. And while I’m at it, I have to mention the amusing William at Speak of the Devil who continues to hold the esteemed position of being my number 1 commenter.
But I digress.
They say to have followers you have to be a follower. Which sounds a lot like friendship to me. And over the months, now years, that I’ve blogged, I continue to contemplate how this approach can possibly work unless you are satisfied with a static, relatively small, but loyal group of bloggers. A little blogging community. I’m not criticizing that, I’m just saying that if it becomes nothing more than a quid pro quo, your reach with your blog is limited to the amount of time you have to read and comment on others’ blogs. Which also depends on how long-winded your blogging friends are. You can see I will not fair very well in this system, because it becomes fairly obvious fairly early, that you can visit many photographers’ blogs in the time it takes you to read one lengthy, well-written or not, story on a writer’s blog.
This is a dilemma for me.
I started my blog when I was researching how to publish my memoir Dancing in Heaven.
After reading articles online, I realized that to publish a book, either by agent and traditional publisher or by myself, I needed an online presence. After I wrote Dancing in Heaven, I fully intended to seek an agent and publish it through traditional means. My mind changed. But the journey gave me a lot of fodder for my blog.
The advice I heeded was that I needed to build a platform, which at the time I read it was a completely foreign concept to me.
I started a blog.
I’ve read other advice more recently, that if you are a writer, you will serve your goals better by not spending time blogging, but writing instead. I think there is probably some truth in that position.
But I’ve also read that if you are a published author, you need to have a blog where your readers can learn more about you and communicate with you.
But then, I’ve read that if you want to have a successful blog, you need to pick a topic, carve out your niche, and stick to it.
If you’ve ever held a digital camera in your hands, running around a sunlit garden or walking through a park filled with birdsong, you already know that snapping photographs is a lot more fun than sitting at a desk doing the hard work of translating your thoughts from your brain through your fingers and the keyboard to a computer screen. Just saying. So maybe I get a little distracted at times.
I organize and generate pages, primarily for my own use, and simply because it feeds my OCD nature, but the occasional visitor finds them useful at times. Particularly the bilateral knee surgery documentation we did. People have thanked me for that one.
What I really think is that there is way too much advice out there on the web, well-meaning though it may be. My head is spinning. Yours may be too after reading this disjointed post.
My solution is to do what I usually do in these cases. I trust myself. I trust my judgment. And I trust my heart. And thankfully I am married to an outstanding provider, so I am not obligated to make money from my writing in order to be able to feed myself. Which I should be doing a lot less of anyway if I want to listen to the advice about weight, health and nutrition.
I started blogging to force myself to write everyday. I’d grade myself at maybe a C on that one. Because, like I said, the photography has been enticing. And I don’t really consider my photography blogs “writing.”
The commaraderie and support that I received from followers, friends, and commenters I found invaluable as my family entered crisis control in the beginning of December with the diagnosis of my mom’s cancer and through the next intense weeks before both of my parents’ deaths in January.
I struggle with keeping up. I question what it’s all about. I wonder about the best use of my time.
My world was turned upside down when my parents died. I had devoted a lot of time and concern to their care. My foundation was badly shaken. And even though Mom and Dad were well past the days of doing anything of consequence to aid or assist me, they were two people in my life who always loved me no matter what, who always believed in me. And they were gone. That is a tremendous loss.
As I try to make meaning out of my life, I’m asking the question. Where do I go from here?
At first the path to rock house was a gentle walk through the
cedar hemlock trees. (According to the signage at Cedar Falls, there are no cedar trees at Hocking Hills State Park.) Then we encountered the steps and more steps and hilly terrain. It was one of those deals where you get halfway down and wonder if you will be able to make it back out. But it was worth the trip.
Although Arthur was a competent and enthusiastic hiker, the jury is still out on whether he is going to be a frequent traveling companion. Perhaps a trip once a year or so is all he requires.