Sunday, May 24, 2020

Pandemic? Life Has Not Changed All That Much




Greetings from the couch
in the parlor
in the house 
on the mountain.
It’s spring here
just like it was last year 
and the year before,
bringing migrating birds 
and blossoms that may freeze 
or may not. 
It doesn’t matter all that much,
the deer eat the flowers anyway.
Two anomalies:
we have migrating Baltimore Orioles this year
and the oak leaves 
are over two weeks late.
But the frogs still peep.
The turkeys still gobble.
I still procrastinate.
Upon waking, 
I still pray the Lord’s Prayer.
For years we have joked 
that our home is the perfect place 
to hide out from the world.
It’s surreal to think that 
that’s actually what we are doing
because not all that much is different.

Our shelves have always been stocked.
We have extra staples
so we don’t need a trip to town:
flour,
sugar,
eggs,
milk, 
and dark chocolate almonds.
Eleven miles both ways saves a gallon of gas.

We already were hand washers 
and sometimes washed to the songs 
playing in our heads. 
For Denny it usually is Crosby, Stills, and Nash.
For me, today it was Bob Dylan’s
“The Times, They Are A’Changin’” 
but I don’t really like Dylan
so I switched to Michael Card’s 
“I Will Bring You Home.”

We were already unemployed 
and by that I mean retired.
The days of the week 
were already mostly meaningless.
Weather is more important in how we spend our days—
if it’s raining, 
we work inside.
Dry? 
Outside.

We already had relatively low standards of dress,
comfy and practical,
that prompt us to 
start pajama time in the late afternoon.

Masks do not bother us— 
masks are actually a relief 
because you aren’t expected 
to recognize people in masks,
a plus for people with prosopagnosia 
or “face blindness.” 
That would be Sue and Brad Pitt.

We are not dependent on beauticians.
Sue has cut her own hair for decades*
and often trims Denny’s hair 
and his eyebrows.
Denny would not need sunscreen 
if his eyebrows were allowed to run wild.

We were already receiving virtual hugs 
and video visits.
We can have LEGO adventures
with the grandgirls in Taiwan
without even bending over.

We still see a lot of friends on Sunday mornings, 
though now they sit in Zoom boxes 
instead of pews.
Gary Magee still makes us laugh.

We hear of people using pandemic time to clean closets;
Denny already cleaned his closet regularly
to make room for the wild comfy shirts
that Sue used to bring him on Mondays 
upon return from Goodwill.
Only 79c!
He is a zealous cleaner.
He even threw out Sue’s chicken suit.
“It was an accident.”

We rarely attended sporting events or concerts.

We already were spending too much time online.

We already distrusted governmental decision-making.

I had hoped that the current situation 
would help to develop a daily habit of flossing
since our dentist office has been closed 
but, alas, tooth maintenance hasn’t changed.

I do drive more slowly, though.
When you don’t get off the mountain often,
there is so much to see!
Every trip becomes a field trip, 
with detours for swamps 
and eagle nests 
and trilliums
and heron rookeries.
I also drive more slowly 
because of that whole “avoid the hospital” thing. 
(That was good advice 
even before 2020.)
I also keep hand sanitizer in the Jeep,
something I have never done before.
I am still theoretically against hand sanitizer, 
but it seems prudent currently.

Here on the mountain, 
we are hardly aware of inaudible crashings 
and foundational changes 
in the world as we knew it.
But we sometimes step in mudholes of grief,
stumble into ditches of fear,
take deep breaths that turn into sobs,
and get homesick for a lap to climb into.
Then we remember Michael Card
singing the words of God:
“In this fearful fallen place
I will be your home.”

We recommend finding a comfy couch,
settling in,
and listening to Michael’s comforting voice--
or you could go to a sink 
and scrub your hands.
When the music fades,
you will be clean enough for a snack.
We recommend dark chocolate almonds.

“I Will Bring You Home”
by Michael Card




*Sue's haircut video may be seen on FaceBook, April 3, 2020

Saturday, April 18, 2020

I Am Now an Old Woman


Last week, Denny asked if I wanted to ride along 
while he dropped something off for a friend.
“You bet!” I said. 
I grabbed a coat and ball cap 
and was glancing in the mirror
when it struck me:
I am now an old woman.
Not because of my grey hairs
or the wrinkles around my eyes
and lips
and chin.
Not because my neck could flap in the breeze 
like a bassett hound leaning out of a truck window.
Not because, due to my age, 63, 
I am considered high risk for COVID-19,
but because of what I was wearing:
a purple coat and a red hat.



Jenny Joseph’s “Warning” 
has been duct taped to a cabinet
in the basement for years, 
a reminder to embrace a life 
of serendipity
of adventure.
It begins 
When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
Exactly what I saw in the mirror.



Except that red ball cap does suit me.
The brim gives shade and holds sunglasses,
the color is a bright spot on dark days,
the printing “Dead Horse Point”
reminds me of austere Utah beauty
(though it was sad about those horses). 
It covers my hair on bad hair days, 
heck, on good hair days too. 
I love my red ball cap.



The purple coat  
my friend Leslie and I found 
on a weekly trip to Goodwill.
It was long 
and washable
and cozy
and it fit me,
characteristics I admire in a garment. 
But it was purple—
I have never liked purple
except in sunsets 
and violets
and the lips of small children 
who insist on swimming 
at Parker Dam before August.
It also had a small burn mark on the sleeve. 
Leslie suggested that I could sew a button over the burn.
Hmmmm. 
And it was only 79c.
I renamed the purple “indigo," 
bought the coat,
and got out Grandma Maud’s button jar.
One lone button on a sleeve 
would look a bit strange,
but many buttons would be an Artistic Statement. 
I sewed a colorful chorus line of buttons up the damaged sleeve,
then added natural shell buttons,
number buttons,
armadillo buttons,
buttons marching in patterns
and buttons running amok,
with star buttons exploring the hem.
My purple coat won first place in “Button Craft”
at the Pennsylvania Farm Show,
the winnings paid the purchase price ten times over,
and now I have a cool prize ribbon 
living in the pocket.



Jenny’s poem continues
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick the flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit.
You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.
But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.
But maybe I ought to practise a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

I noticed that many other lines were now applicable as well.
And I shall spend my pension...
Being recently retired, 
I now get a pension,
but I buy grapefruit juice 
and garden gloves
and Croc sandals
and butter because butter makes everything better,
Julia Child said so.
and press alarm bells...
Did you know that 
if you place your fingers just so 
that you can ring six doorbells at once in Lowes? 
Truth.
and make up for the sobriety of my youth...
Pretty sober! 
Baptist till eighth grade,
then Christian and Missionary Alliance,
then Wesleyan.
None of them smiled on alcohol or dancing 
and I had dancing in my bones,
skills itching to be developed.
In subsequent years,
the kitchen has seen some pretty creative moves,
and were it not for coronavirus
I’d be taking a clogging class.
And pick the flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit. 
I have done both with the grandgirls.
You can wear terrible shirts 
and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
or a whole container of dark chocolate almonds
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes
and bird nests
and snake skins
and pottery bowls
and theater programs
and Hallmark reindeer that look like moose.
But maybe I ought to practise a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

The only person surprised was me.



You may enjoy watching Jenny Joseph read “Warning” here.


Sunday, April 12, 2020

Sunrise


We started the jeep as the sun came up
and watched the sun rise three more times 
as we moved in and out of hill shadows.
The last sunrise was at Mount Joy,
at Denny’s parents' grave.
Denny’s major childhood Easter memory
is hearing his dad enthusiastically singing 
“Up From the Grave He Arose!”
and he wanted to spend Easter morning with Walt.



My own childhood memories of Easter 
involve Norman Rockwellian tables 
with tulip centerpieces at Grandma Maud’s House 
containing ham, 
scalloped potatoes,
and sour cherry pie,
which I miss immensely,
and also memories of wearing pinchy shoes
and uncomfortable slips, 
which I don’t miss at all.

One the way home from the graveyard
Denny and I recalled other Easter memories—
Sunrise singing with One Way Street 
on the ski slope in Treasure Lake.
A trip to Houghton 
when we had to pull over quickly for Luke, 
who had been sitting in the back seat 
eating every bit of chocolate from his basket.
Singing in a thatched church 
in a cornfield in Tanzania 
to the accompaniment of swishing feet, 
ululations, 
and percussion on a plastic bucket.
In Oxford’s University Church 
where one man’s “Whoopee!”
echoed in the cathedral.

To the list of memorable Easters,
we can now add 2020.
In social isolation, 
we Zoomed Sunday school,
sang duets online,
and listened to N.T. Wright’s sermon from 2019.
He was talking about some pivotal moments in history:
the Enlightenment in France,
the founding of America.
I pondered our present situation 
and wondered if the future will see 
this time as a pivotal point in finances, 
in government.
But nothing, NOTHING is as pivotal as Easter morning.
The stone was rolled away.
The veil was ripped from top to bottom.
Past and future both were fulfilled 
in one move from death to life.

The world is weirdly, wildly different right now, 
but each day the sun still rises, thankfully 
and, 
even more thankfully, 
the Son has risen,
is risen.
Indeed.


Friday, April 10, 2020

Coming and Going and Coming Again

At sunrise 
the snow was up to the chickedees’ knees 
as they waited for Denny to fill the feeder.
Every Friday that the feeder is full 
is a good Friday for them.
On Good Friday, 
we think of Jerusalem
and the rootedness of that place 
to the center of The Story.
We think of the fall of man
and restoration, the Messiah. 
Of shrieking defeat 
and incomprehensible victory 
in one weekend.
Of the ancient mysteries 
and the not-yet mysteries.
Travel is impossible now,
and we feel the uncomfortable chafing 
of being caught between 
the ancient 
and the not-yet.

Now it is afternoon. 
The birds go have come 
and gone 
and come again.
The raucous redwings
do not practice social distancing
and are wing to wing with the doves.
Peace.
I am couched, 
trying to ponder the holy 
and feeling inadequate. 
I struggle to hold my mind to task
and have recurring thoughts of cookies.
This very day eternal things are happening, 
spiritual, 
medical, 
financial, 
governmental,
things that are changing life as we know it.
Jesus seems like the birds,
coming
and going
and coming again.
When?
Feels like soon. 
Whenever, may we be ready, 
worthy because of the Good Friday sacrifice of Jesus 
and the daily grace of God.

I think I’ll celebrate with a cookie.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Palms and Prayers and Prickly Pears




My palms are almost back to normal.
A few days ago, celebrating the return of spring to the Mountain,
I neglected to put on gardening gloves
before cleaning the leaves surrounding
the prickly pear cactus.
Poor decision.
I tried to fix the painful situation.
I used a scrubbie on my palms,
tried to pull the spines out with tape,
then taped over my hands
to lessen the chances of moving the spines.
Later, while on Zoom for my Wildlife lab,
I set it to audio only
and, unseen by the prof,
multitasked by pulling at the spines with tweezers.
Yesterday we planted one hundred White Spruce seedlings
and most of the remaining spines came off
inside my leather gloves.



It was a beautiful day for planting.
Sunny sky.
Slight breeze.
Upper forties.
I carried a bucket of three-year-old seedlings
about twelve to fifteen inches high,
their hearty root systems soaking in several inches of water.
Denny would poke a hole into the ground with the spud bar
and I would untangle a seedling
and hand it to him.
He would kneel,
tenderly tucked the roots into the hole,
then use the flat end of the spud
to force the soil around the roots.
On to the next!
After watching Denny kneel with the first trees,
I decided his kneeling shouldn't go to waste.
"I am going to pray for people every time you kneel," I announced.
He chuckled. "You always need a system."
"Nevertheless!"
I started with immediate family members,
then extended family.
We worked our way through church pews,
the County Historical Society,
Denny's old teaching colleagues,
then mine.
After one hundred trees, we still had people left to pray for.
Luckily, there are more trees to plant tomorrow.



I have been thinking about prayer more recently.
(Pandemics are like that.)
For years, I have wanted to know how prayer works.
and hope "Physics of Prayer 101" is offered in heaven.
But recently I've wondered
what is the most effective way to pray regarding COVID-19?
Do we pray that the power of the blood of Jesus
will overwhelm the virus?
Do we ask for protection? Healing?
(For whom?
Ourselves?
Our family?
Our friends and neighbors?
Our nation?
Beyond?
I pray a five-year-old's prayer:
"God bless everybody in the whole wide world!")
Do we pray "Thy will be done"?
Do we ask the Holy Spirit to intercede for us when we can only groan?
Do we figuratively rest on Jesus
like a newborn sleeps on daddy's chest?
I have prayed all of these ways this week,
prayers that rise like incense to heaven.

If I am remembering Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles correctly,
(and I may not. It's been forty years.)
Taran, the protagonist,
meets creatures who are weaving his life story
into a tapestry.
He is unimpressed.
There are knots
and frayed yarn ends
and no design is evident.
He is disgusted
and wants to give up on his life
and on the creatures,
but then they tell him that
he is only seeing the back of the tapestry,
that the front is an exquisite work of art.
His hope returns.
I need to reread those books
and Psalm 23.
I will hold them with my mostly spine-free palms
and fall asleep on my Father's chest
knowing that I am only seeing the back of the tapestry.

"I have not forgotten you!
See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands."
Isaiah 49:15-16



Rest well, friends.











Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Goodbyes and Winnie the Pooh


Two chapters remain in The Complete Tales of Winnie the Pooh.
Two evenings remain unscheduled before the grandgirls return
to their side of the world for a year,
perhaps two.
Their first week in the USA,
Anna and I went to Goodwill
and found a EH Shepard stuffed Tigger
(not the Disney Tigger).
Lucy immediately claimed him.
A whisker trim and a good washing--
which made him loopy,
somewhat like his tiger cousin Hobbes--
and he then joined Lucy's foxes
and became a bedtime buddy
and substitute pillow.


The Hundred Acre Wood we created last year
has been often re-explored
from the seat of the four wheeler.
Pooh and Uncle Rabbit are still engrossed
in their long conversation
at the foot of a mid-sized oak.
They stay rrrrrrreally still when the girls pass by.

Presently, Paul and his family are visiting friends in eastern PA
and I am catching up on laundry,
spacing out the loads because
even though we have had lots of rain
the well recovers slowly.
I was rolling towels
(Anyone else do that?)
and putting away clothes--
only four pairs of socks (it IS summer)--
and thinking about Winnie the Pooh.
Lucy's nickname is now "Tig"*
and I wondered which character I am most like.
When in college, I travelled upstate New York as Roo
with my roommate Holly as Uncle Rabbit,
but now I relate to Owl,
who thinks he knows everything
and bluffs when he doesn't.
He spells his name WOL.
I saw Denny as Pooh because he is so faithful and steady.
When asked, Denny agreed that he was Pooh,
but his reasoning was that Pooh sits around a lot
and always likes to have a little something around eleven.

The grandgirls' last day here will be Saturday,
the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.
Next week we will see the same moon,
just not at the same time.
And while I am having a few Eeyore thoughts,
these Pooh quotes come to mind:

"If there ever comes a day when we can't be together,
keep me in your heart,
I'll stay there forever."

"How lucky I am to have something
that makes saying goodbye so hard."





* Anna has gained a nickname, too.
She is Pip (chawming!)
as we also read Pippi Longstocking 
and James and the Giant Peach
among others.








Friday, June 14, 2019

Bigfoot Sighting


For years, Rockton Mountain has been known 
as a possible home for Bigfoot. 
We first heard of the the possibility over a generation ago 
when a Rockton woman found footprints near her pond 
and, upon further investigation, 
discovered some fish were missing. 
She concluded that this was the work of Bigfoot.
Why?
“Those footprints were an inch deep. 
My husband’s footprints are only a half inch deep 
and he’s a big fella, 
so the thing that made these footprints 
has to be bigger than my husband.”
And so it began.

A man returning from a New Year’s Eve party 
briefly saw something in his headlights. 
Bigfoot? 
One has to wonder what else he saw on the way home, 
but that same night, 
a woman who had NOT been drinking 
also saw an unidentified something in her headlights.
Later, a local jogger saw an unidentified creature cross the highway. 
Could it be a bigfoot?

Half-eaten roadkill?
Bigfoot.
Peculiar smell? 
Bigfoot.
Damage in your garden?
You guessed it. 
Bigfoot.

Even though primatologist Jane Goodall 
supports the possibility 
of the yet-unconfirmed ape-like creatures, 
we remained skeptical.
Over the Mountain restaurant, 
a mile from our house, 
advertised an upcoming meeting 
of The Bigfoot Society. 
We smiled condescendingly when we drove by 
and declined to attend.

And then the mystery invaded our lives.
At 2:20 on June 4, 2019, 
we were driving down the mountain 
toward the Anderson Creek bridge 
when I saw the silhouette of a bent over old man 
waiting to cross route 322. 
Behind him was the Moshannon State Forest, 
and in front of him, where he must have parked his car, 
was a spring at the bottom of a very steep, rocky mountainside. 
I watched him walk quickly and furtively across the highway. 
It looked like he was carrying something. 
I assumed he had picked up something that had blown from his vehicle— 
the day before I had watched a man 
retrieve an errant propane tank— 
but I could not see his vehicle 
as the highway curved and obscured my view. 
In ten seconds we reached the spring at the bottom of the mountain, 
but when we got there, 
there was NO vehicle. 
There was NO old man,
and there is NO WAY that a human could 
climb that mountainside in ten seconds.



“Whoa!” I said.
“Whoa what?” said Denny.
“I saw an old guy cross the road 
and then he just disappeared... 
I can understand why some people believe in Bigfoot 
because I have NO IDEA how to explain what I just saw.”
“Are you sure you didn’t see a deer?”
My vision is not what it once was, 
but I know a deer when I see one.
“Deer have four legs. What I saw was on two legs, bipedal.”
I enthusiastically continued to think about 
and then discard possible explanations 
until Denny reminded me that it was possible to think silently, 
a subtle suggestion.

When we saw friends that night, 
I told them of my Bigfoot sighting.
They smiled skeptically but admitted, 
if anyplace around here would have a bigfoot population, 
it would be on Rockton Mountain. 
Mary Kay listened attentively, 
then asked, “Are you sure it wasn’t a bear?”
I assured her that the creature was walking on two legs,
but later that night, eyes wide open, 
I contemplated her remark again
and padded downstairs 
to enter “bear walk two legs” in a search engine. 
It. Moved. Exactly. Like. My. Bigfoot.

I phoned a friend, a retired Penn State Wildlife professor, 
and asked him if a bear would walk across a highway on two legs. 
“That would be highly unusual,” he responded, 
“but it is possible...”

So now I think my Bigfoot sighting 
was really a highly unusual bear 
crossing the highway on two feet. 
Two big feet. 

But I could be wrong.