Hope Borne on Wings

geeseoctober

geeseoctober2

geeseflying

Sometimes I am startled out of myself,
like this morning, when the wild geese came squawking,
flapping their rusty hinges, and something about their trek
across the sky made me think about my life, the places
of brokenness, the places of sorrow, the places where grief
has strung me out to dry. And then the geese come calling,
the leader falling back when tired, another taking her place.
Hope is borne on wings. Look at the trees. They turn to gold
for a brief while, then lose it all each November.
Through the cold months, they stand, take the worst
weather has to offer. And still, they put out shy green leaves
come April, come May. The geese glide over the cornfields,
land on the pond with its sedges and reeds.
You do not have to be wise. Even a goose knows how to find
shelter, where the corn still lies in the stubble and dried stalks.
All we do is pass through here, the best way we can.
They stitch up the sky, and it is whole again.
~Barbara Crooker from “Sometimes I am Startled Out of Myself” from Radiance. © Word Press, 2005.

When it feels like the world is rent in two,
and the gulf into which I topple
too wide and dark to climb without help,
I can look to the sky
and see the stitching there
the careful caring line of connection
drawing me out of my hole, startled and grateful
to be made whole.
Hope is borne on wings:
may I fly threaded to others.

geesesouth

sunset11221415

An Ode to Earth Day

allalone

I’m still groggy every morning when I step out my front door onto the porch to make my way down a  gravel driveway to get the newspaper. More often than not, it is still quite dark out at 5:15 AM.  More often than not, my slippered foot lands on something a little crunchy and a little squishy and a lot icky on the welcome mat in front of my door.

The front porch cat, as opposed to the back porch cat, the garden shed cat, the hay barn cat, the horse barn cat and the 3 stray cats, predator that he is, leaves behind certain remnants of his prey’s….uh, body parts.  Mousey body parts or birdie body parts.  I assume, from the consistency of this little carnivore compost pile, these are unappealing to the kitty, so become the “leavings”, so to speak,  of the kill. Typically, it is a little mouse head, complete with little beady eyes, or a little bird head, complete with little beak, and something that looks suspiciously green and bulbous, like a gall bladder.  I don’t think heads or gall bladders are on my preferred delicacy list either. And they are certainly not on my list of things I like to wear on the bottom of my slipper.  Yet I do and I have.

I’m perplexed by this habit cats have of leaving behind the stuff they don’t want on the welcome mat, even the occasional whole shrew or field mouse, seemingly untouched by claw or incisor, but yet dead as a doornail on the doormat.  Some cat owners naively think their cats are presenting them with “gifts” –kind of a sacrificial offering to the human god that feeds them.  Nonsense.  This is the universal trash heap for cats and a testimony to their utter disdain for humans.   Leave for the human the unappetizing and truly grotesque…

So humanity is not alone of earth’s creatures to create garbage heaps of unwanted stuff.  Not only cats, but barn owls are incredibly efficient at tossing back what they don’t want out of their furry meals.   Our old hay barn is literally peppered with pellets, popular with high school biology classes and my grand-nephews for dissection instruction.  These dried up brown fuzzy poop shaped objects are regurgitated by the owl after sitting in one of its  two stomachs for a number of hours.  Bird barf.   It’s fairly interesting stuff, which is why these pellets (which we recycle by donating by the  dozens to local schools) are great teaching material.  It is possible to practically reconstruct a mouse or bird skeleton from a pellet, or perhaps even both on a night when the hunting was good.  There is fur and there are feathers.  Whatever isn’t easily digestible doesn’t have much purpose to the owl, so up it comes again and becomes so much detritus on the floor and rafters of our barn.  Owl litter.  There should be a law.

Then there is the rather efficient Haflinger horse eating machine which leaves no calorie unabsorbed, which vacuums up anything remotely edible within reasonable reach, even if reasonable means contortions under a gate or fence with half of the body locked under the bottom rung, and the neck stretched 6 feet sideways to grab that one blade of grass still standing.  The reason why Haflingers don’t eventually explode from their intake is that Haflinger poop rivals elephant poop pound for pound per day, so there must be a considerable amount ingested that is indigestible and passed on, so to speak–like part of a tail wrap, and that halter that went missing… you know, like those black holes in outer space–that’s what a  Haflinger represents on earth.

This is quite different from the recycled “cud” of the typical herbivore cow who regurgitates big green gobs of  grass/hay/silage to chew it  again in a state of (udder) contentment and pleasure.   If humans could figure out how to recycle a good meal for another good chew or two, the obesity rate would surely drop precipitously.   So would attendance at most happy hours. But then, how many skinny cows have I seen?  Probably as many as purple cows.  I never hope to see one, but I’d rather see than be one.

In my daily walk through life, I have my share of things I unceremoniously dump that I don’t want, don’t need,  can’t use, or abandon when I only want the palatable so the rest can rot.  Today is Earth Day, and I feel properly shamed and guilty for my contribution to landfills, despite my avid recycling efforts for the past 40 years.  Nonetheless, I am in good company with my fellow carnivores and omnivores who daily leave behind what they don’t want or need.

I now need to figure out that herbivore cud thing.  I can go green and just might save on the grocery bill.

bobbie9614

Poised

maplebud

mapleapril2

Just before the green begins there is the hint of green
a blush of color, and the red buds thicken
the ends of the maple’s branches and everything
is poised before the start of a new world,
which is really the same world
just moving forward from bud
to flower to blossom to fruit
to harvest to sweet sleep, and the roots
await the next signal, every signal
every call a miracle and the switchboard
is lighting up and the operators are
standing by in the pledge drive we’ve
all been listening to: Go make the call.
~Stuart Kestenbaum “April Prayer”

 

The buds have been poised for weeks
and then, as if responding to the conductor’s downstroke,
let go of all their pent up potential~
exploding with energy
enough to carry them to autumn
when again they let go
and are gone.

 

mapleearly

mapleWWU

maplegarage

mapleleftovers

Dull Roots Stirred

lilacsunrise

chestnuttexture

April is the cruelest month, breeding
lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
memory and desire, stirring
dull roots with spring rain.
~T.S.Eliot from “The Wasteland”

Cruel
as it reminds us
of what could have been,
how life can rise miraculous
from the dead.
So we must die to ourselves first,for what is meant to be,
could be
and will be.

mossapple

lichenbuds

lilacsunrise2

A Raggedy Wandering Gypsy

dandyyellow

litfrombehind

April is like the raggedy, wandering gypsy lad of the fairy tale.
When he moves, streaks of gold show beneath his torn garments
and you suspect that this elfin creature is actually a prince in disguise.

April is just that.

There are raggedy, cold days, dark black ones,
but all through the month for a second, for an hour, or for three days at a stretch you glimpse pure gold.
The weeks pass and the rags slip away, a shred at a time.
Toward the end of the month his royal highness stands before you.
~Jean Hersey from The Shape of a Year

I avoid mirrors now as I age, knowing I’m clothed in rags, thinning here, thickening there, sagging and stretching, wrinkled and patched up.
Still, if I look closely past the rags and sags, I see the same eyes as my nine year old self peering back at me.
The lightness of youth and freshness may be disguised, but it is still there.
Every once in awhile, I glimpse pure gypsy gold.

sunsetpeek

sunset41815

frontyardspring

When the Light Left

sundown

From my six week psychiatric inpatient rotation at a Veteran’s Hospital—February/March 1979

Sixty eight year old male catatonic with depression

He lies still, so very still under the sheet, eyes closed; the only clue that he is living is the slight rise and fall of his chest.  His face is skull like with bony prominences framing his sunken eyes, his facial bones standing out like shelves above the hollows of his cheeks, his hands lie skeletal next to an emaciated body.  He looks as if he is dying of cancer but without the smell of decay.  He rouses a little when touched, not at all when spoken to.  His eyes open only when it is demanded of him, and he focuses with difficulty.  His tongue is thick and dry, his whispered words mostly indecipherable, heard best by bending down low to the bed, holding an ear almost to his cracked lips.

He has stopped feeding himself, not caring about hunger pangs, not salivating at enticing aromas or enjoying the taste of beloved coffee.  His meals are fed through a beige rubber tube running through a hole in his abdominal wall emptying into his stomach, dripping a yeasty smelling concoction of thick white fluid full of calories.   He ‘eats’ without tasting and without caring.  His sedating antidepressant pills are crushed, pushed through the tube, oozing into him, deepening his sleep, but are designed to eventually wake him from his deep debilitating melancholy.

After two weeks of treatment and nutrition, his cheeks start to fill in, and his eyes are closed less often.  He watches people as they move around the room and he responds a little faster to questions and starts to look us in the eye.   He asks for coffee, then pudding and eventually he asks for steak.  By the third week he is sitting up in a chair, reading the paper.

After a month, he walks out of the hospital, 15 pounds heavier than when he was wheeled in.  His lips, no longer dried and cracking, have begun to smile again.

****************************************************************************************************************************

Thirty two year old male rescued by the Coast Guard at 3 AM in the middle of the bay

As he shouts, his eyes dart, his voice breaks, his head tosses back and forth, his back arches and then collapses as he lies tethered to the gurney with leather restraints.  He writhes constantly, his arm and leg muscles flexing against the wrist and ankle bracelets.

“The angels are waiting!!  They’re calling me to come!! Can’t you hear them?  What’s wrong with you?   I’m Jesus Christ, King of Kings!!  Lord of Lords!!  If you don’t let me return to them, I can’t stop the destruction!”

He finally falls asleep by mid-morning after being given enough antipsychotic medication to kill a horse.  He sleeps uninterrupted for nine hours.  Then suddenly his eyes fly open, and he looks startled.

He glares at me.  “Where am I? How did I get here?”

“You are hospitalized in the VA psych ward after being picked up by the Coast Guard after swimming out into the bay in the middle of the night. You said you were trying to reach the angels.”

He turns his head away, his fists relaxing in the restraints, and begins to weep uncontrollably, the tears streaming down his face.

“Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.”

*********************************************************************************************************************************

Twenty two year old male with auditory and visual hallucinations

He seems serene, much more comfortable in his own skin when compared to the others on the ward. Walking up and down the long hallways alone, he is always in deep conversation. He takes turns talking, but more often is listening, nodding,  almost conspiratorial.

During a one-on-one session, he looks at me briefly, but his attention continues to be diverted, first watching an invisible something or someone enter the room, move from the door to the middle of the room, until finally, his eyes lock on an empty chair to my left.  I ask him what he sees next to me.

“Jesus wants you to know He loves you.”

It takes all my will power not to turn and look at the empty chair.

**************************************************************************************************************************************

Fifty four year old male with chronic paranoid schizophrenia

He has been disabled with psychiatric illness for thirty years, having his first psychotic break while serving in World War II.   His only time living outside of institutions has been spent sharing a home with his mother who is now in her eighties.  This hospitalization was precipitated by his increasing delusion that his mother is the devil and the voices in his head commanded that he kill her.  He had become increasingly agitated and angry, had threatened her with a knife, so she called the police, pleading with them not to arrest him, but to bring him to the hospital for medication adjustment.

His eyes have taken on the glassy staring look of the overmedicated psychotic, and he sits in the day room much of the day sleeping in a chair, drool dripping off his lower lip.  When awake he answers questions calmly and appropriately with no indication of the delusions or agitation that led to his hospitalization.  His mother visits him almost daily, bringing him his favorite foods from home which he gratefully accepts and eats with enthusiasm.   By the second week, he is able to take short passes to go home with her, spending a lunch time together and then returning to the ward for dinner and overnight.   By the third week, he is ready for discharge, his mother gratefully thanking the doctors for the improvement she sees in her son.  I watch them walk down the long hallway together to be let through the locked doors to freedom.

Two days later, a headline in the local paper:

“Veteran Beheads Elderly Mother”

*************************************************************************************************************************************

Forty five year old male — bipolar disorder with psychotic features

He has been on the ward for almost a year, his unique high pitched laughter heard easily from behind closed doors,  his eyes intense in his effort to conceal his struggles.  Trying to follow his line of thinking is challenging, as he talks quickly, with frequent brilliant off topic tangents, and at times he lapses into a “word salad” of almost nonsensical sentences.  Every day as I meet with him I become more confused about what is going on with him, and am unclear what is expected of me in my interactions with him.  He senses my discomfort and tries to ease my concern.

“Listen, this is not your problem to fix but I’m bipolar and regularly hear command voices and have intrusive thoughts.  My medication keeps me under good control.  But just tell me if you think I’m not making sense because I don’t always recognize it in myself.”

During my rotation, his tenuous tether to sanity is close to breaking.  He starts to listen more intently to the voices in his head, becoming frightened and anxious, often mumbling and murmuring under his breath as he goes about his day.

On this particular morning, all the patients are more anxious than usual, pacing and wringing their hands as the light outdoors slowly fades, with noon being transformed to an oddly shadowy dusk.  The street lights turn on automatically and cars are driving with headlights shining.  We stand at the windows in the hospital, watching the city become dark as night in the middle of the day.   The unstable patients are sure the world is ending and extra doses of medication are dispensed as needed while the light slowly returns to the streets outside.  Within an hour the sunlight is back, and all the patients are napping soundly.

The psychiatrist, now floridly psychotic, locks himself in his office and doesn’t respond to knocks on the door or calls on his desk phone.

Stressed by the recent homicide by one of his discharged patients, and identifying too closely with his patients due to his own mental illness,  he is overwhelmed by the eclipse.   The nurses call the hospital administrator who comes to the ward with two security guards.  They unlock the door and lead the psychiatrist off the ward.  We watch him leave, knowing he won’t be back.

It is as if the light left and only shadow remains.

total eclipse

A Case of the Dwindles

sunrise41715

sunrise417152

“Morning without you is a dwindled dawn.”
Emily Dickinson

I’m finally adjusted to our children being grown and away from home: I no longer instinctively grab too many plates and utensils when setting the table.  The laundry and dishwasher loads patiently wait several days without being too full and the tidiness of their former bedrooms is no longer disturbing as I pass by.

Even so, I need to know that living and loving is actually happening under this roof and that all is well.

It has been two days since my husband went out of town for a work-related conference and I’ve been knocking around an unbearably empty and quiet house, talking to myself out loud and looking for things to do and people to take care of.

I have a serious case of the dwindles. The cure will arrive back home tonight.

I realize, like the fading of a dwindled dawn, these are cycles to which I must adapt, appreciative for the reminder of what I have living with and loving you every day and what you restore in me.

But for now, it’s clear: time without you diminishes me.

sunrise417151