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In a February Mood

Saturday, February 1, 2020

There comes a point, after weeks of ungodly dark and dreary days, unbroken by any hint of sun or warmth, when one's own company wears thin.

It takes a lot to break me down, probably because I now have something concrete against which to measure any sadness, especially the slight, niggling sadness brought by dismal weather. So what. It's gray for months on end. My friend Hank said that bad weather looks worse when you're looking out the window. Get out in it. It takes a surprising amount of fortitude to go out, looking for adventure, when the light is as flat and dull as a mall parking lot.

But we do go out. We have to put some miles on the dog, and on me. I decided to follow my nose and pick a road I'd never been down (or, in this case, up). 
It's not hard to find those around here. 

To get there, we walked past this old jewel, moldering in an overgrown field. I've paid several visits to this house, but they've been in summer. I like to poke around abandoned places to see what denizens of their gardens have survived the neglect.

You can't kill a ditch lily, even if you try. Ah, this was a beautiful day at the old place, a not-February day. I had fun snooping around the foundation and outbuildings. Just the reflection of a blue sky in the window cheers me.

But now we are here in February, in the weeks before the woodcocks get back, and this is what we get: gray and brown and wet and not much else. Living here, I realized as I gazed at it this evening, would have been problematic even when the place was tended. Whipple Run lies between the house and the road, so you have to ford it to get out, and ford it again to get home. Not a big deal now, but let it rain torrents for a few days, and you've got a situation on your hands. 

Water will do what it will. It seeks the lowest point. Thus, what was once a driveway is now a streambed. We have a way of inviting water down our paths. We grade them until they're lower than the surrounding land, and water will always oblige us,  running in to take the low road. 

My boots were not up to the fording, so we walked on. 


Ah, February, you old, cold, wet blanket. Are you trying to outdo your nasty sister January? 

I wonder what's up this road? 

First there was a pool with a nice sandbar, a little oxbow backwater. I scanned the muddy trunk of the drowning tree and found what I was looking for: mustelid tracks.
Hoping for otter, I settled for mink. Mink will do.

A light rain pattered on the surface of the water. We pressed on anyway.

Turns out there wasn't much up this road but woods, which was fine with us.

When I got to the top of the hill some messages came in on my phone. 
 Phoebe had rented a little smart car on La Gomera for the weekend and done some exploring. While I trudged down a muddy road in Appalachia, gazing at a house bound only for rot and ruin, she had made a pilgrimage to find a wee chapel she'd once spotted from far below. 

She was not disappointed. There it stood, sharp as an amethyst in the clear Atlantic sunshine.

And the climb up there had looked like this. Oh, what I'd have given to take that hike with her!

And she and Oscar had ended the day like this:

Oh, to be young and in love. 

I'll take middle-aged and still alive, with everything more or less still functional, because it's what I've got.

What is it that keeps us in place? Why do I choose to live in a place that weeps all winter long? Why does my daughter choose to live in the sunstruck glow of a rocky island, the sea all around her? That second question needs no answer.

Why does it not occur to me to leave, to strike out for someplace new?
I search for answers, and find I don't want to leave here. I'm scratching and clawing away at my house, throwing out what I don't need (nearly everything); trying to get it back in repair, so I can stop worrying about the rot and malfunction of it all, and enjoy it instead. It's a goal. The old furnace seems to need about a grand a year just to keep running; I've replaced everything you could replace on that damn thing.  I'm having new siding put on the tower, rooting out the wall rot on the north side (and wherever else it comes up.) Braced for the worst.

 I love working in my studio, starting new projects, watching for my old jay friends, and dreaming of seedlings coming up in only a couple more months. And then it will be garden time, and there's no place I'd rather be in garden time. And just as it's garden time, I'll take off on a book tour (see left sidebar of this blog). So there are things to look forward to, and boy do I look forward to them.

I'm choosing to vary my life with travel, to give myself enough outings to counter the sameness of remaining in place. I feel the press of time, the impermanence of my stay on this earth.  I have become one of those women who travel more, because they suddenly can. But I also travel more because I need to. I get so much more out of it than ever before. 

I'm trying to be kinder to myself, knowing that I'm still grieving. Something like this doesn't go away in a year. It becomes part of you, and it colors your outlook, not necessarily in a bad way all the time. It makes you grateful to be here. It makes you so happy to feel joy again, when it happens. It makes you expect less of life, having seen how easily it can be grabbed away. So when something good happens, you're just bowled over that it was so good. And when bad things happen, you measure them against the mother of all bad things, and they don't look that bad to you. Still, you're always looking over your shoulder, and I don't expect that to change. You have to keep an eye on something that big.

As the anniversaries, big and small, portentious and life-changing and merely depressing, parade by in my psyche, I find myself walking over to gaze at the house where Bill lived for a short time, where he grilled and laughed and played music, then suffered and died, finally leaving the suffering, and us, behind.

 I don't know what I expect to find by going over there. There's nothing I'll get from it but little  shards of memories, the sharp ones that dig in. There's no one to tell me I should stay away, so when I'm drawn there, I go. The place seems so much smaller, so diminished, without him in it. And he's not there. I sense nothing of him there. 

But I keep going. I guess I'm looking for a connection, the same one I'm looking for when I walk to his grave each morning. What doesn't seem right to me is that there should be nothing of him left here. The kids struggle with that, too, that feeling of being left alone. He had such a big soul, such a huge appetite for life, that it seems there should be a trace of that still around. Seems like he should be tossing the treetops on a still, wet day.

 Nothing moves, and not a bird sings. 


Waller a bit longer girl. That’s the way of grief. Go sit in the groanhouse.


Yes, this weather is a tad bit depressing, I'm north of you and same scenery...blah that is... But a few weeks ago I finally gave myself a humongous treat and read my copy of "Saving Jemima", what a fantastic read, you are just amazing. Your paintings are superb, and no one can match your descriptions. Thank you for the surprise toward the end that you had seen him again! I can't wait to send my sister in law her copy for her birthday! Thank you so much for such a wonderful book.

Take care of yourself and that awesome dog, Curtis, who definitely is perfect! I think of you often with prayers.

Lucy (Troy, Ohio)

A beautiful tribute indeed.
God bless.

Those days are the worst, when it feels like they really just absolutely left you; not one satisfying signal of their presence. I question everything on those days. You wanna know something though? Tomorrow will be better... ❤🍃🌅

He's there. In all of each of your memories and stories. In photos. In your and Phoebe's writing. In his writing. Not so substantial as bodies and buildings, but there. I'm searching for my now-dead parents in our family photos, in journals and letters I inherited, written by them, to them, among them, and finding pieces of the people they were before I was born and after. Constructing a palimpsest, bits of mosaic tile, into which to fit my memories and construct who they were as they morphed through their lives. I'd like to write it all down someday, so they live beyond my and my siblings' partial and different and sometime false memories. Sounds like something right up your alley.

Those we have loved and are lost to us cannot be found in the objects they leave behind. Not in their clothes, cars, houses... none of that. They are only to be found in our memories of them and in our dreams of them. As long as we remember them, they still exist on some level. When everyone is gone who knew them... then they are finally gone as well. It has always been thus, but it only is affirmed when we lose someone dear to us. That is why it is useless to keep a person's things as "mementoes" of them; they can never be found there, but only in one's memory... which requires a good deal less storage space.

The one-year anniversary is probably the nadir. The sadness will probably never leave, but it will lessen in time. There have been times when I've said, "I don't think I can ever be happy again." But one's heart and mind are resilient. And one's memory can be blessedly vague.

Posted by mimimanderly February 2, 2020 at 3:53 AM

You enrich my world with your musings. Feel my love!

My dad died of mesothelioma four months after diagnosis at 64 years old. After he died in Minnesota, we all felt his presence for a good while. I felt it even when I returned to my little efficiency apartment in Alexandria, VA — which was a bit disconcerting at times. Then I had a dream where he was sitting and beckoned me to him saying it really was him and that he was fine and to stop worrying about him. I never felt his presence again. After my mom died over 20 years later, she was just gone. No feeling of her around at all. I believe she was ready to go. She wasn’t leaving behind a spouse and all her nine siblings had gone before her and her children were all middle aged and doing fine. I truly feel Bill knows you all will be fine, he no longer has to worry about you worrying about him. He has moved on with his mom and dad...

This so tugs at my heart, Julie. The dark days of winter and ongoing relentless gray pulls us down the way that blazing glory of a sun pulls us up and out of our sadness. Almost a year has passed since Bill left. A year... we burn a yahrzeit candle on that day for our loved ones. It burns for 24 hours. It's a way of trying to contain the grief, while the light flickers. Travel is good in so many ways. I'm glad you are taking good long looks around. It's still beautiful out there.

Oh, Julie. You've said it all. Mood: this post.

My son has been gone exactly five years. But, in my mind and heart it feels like hours. I see him everywhere. I like to go into his old room and feel him there. When I garden, I plant where he played with his hot wheels in the dirt. Every single day at work, I see him there with his newborn children. It’s true. Life goes on and me reluctantly with it! I have so many joys ... an amazing daughter and a gaggle of delightful grands.. trips to the cabin... shelling in Sanibel.. but my beautiful boy is alive and inside me along the way. Hang in there, Julie. ❤️

This post should be in the dictionary under "Melancholy." It's the perfect definition.

Sometimes the most incredible photographs or paintings are a contrast between dark light and bright light. There's very little of that in January and February. It's mostly flat. In working with those who grieve, the second year is often reported as harder than the first. I have found that to be true. I applaud you, allowing your life not to be flat but a beautiful image of both dark and light. We live in a society that is expert with not gravitate to any distraction. Being alive is worth it all...I think that's one thing that draws me to your writings and to your life...because you live it with all that it brings your way. I want to exemplify that, myself.

No way around, only through. But spring will come.

Julie - I was feeling a bit blue this evening - not for any good reason but, after reading your post, I felt so much better. You're a true nature therapist and your walk, while filled with grays and blacks, was filled with the beauty of your honesty. Thank you so much for the gift.


Very moving post, Julie. You have beautifully articulated what so many of us are going through.

What a beautiful tribute to the season, Bill, and your grief. Nothing in the universe remains static, but constantly changing. The treetops will move again, the skies will clear, the birds will sing, and I would imagine Bills spirit will come dancing through your life once again.

This is beautiful, your meditation on loss, sadness, the dreariness sometimes of winter, and the way we find things (or allow things) that keep us hopeful, that keep us going in the midst of the tough times. Thank you.

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