The Art of Doing Nothing

I am self-employed.  Like many self-employed people, I have a couple part-time jobs to keep things flowing when I’m not writing or painting.  Today is one of those wonderful days when no other jobs or responsibilities are pulling at me.  My schedule is blessedly free.

I have been looking forward to a day like this so that I can get caught up—on revising my book, painting a new painting, making some necessary phone calls, etc.  There’s quite a list.  And yet I find myself completely uninspired.

I finally took myself outside to the deck for a couple minutes.  I journaled about how I was feeling.  Do I analyze my resistance?  Push through it?  Or do I honor it?

My energy was so low that I decided to simply honor this resistance and not do anything at all.

What a concept!  How often do we, in this often very frenzied culture, allow ourselves to do nothing?

I sat in a deck chair, resting my feet on a rail, one foot propped on another.  And I didn’t do anything.

I did casually notice the lovely trees surrounding me.  I noticed the blue sky and the warm sun.  I was aware of the sound of the stream softly flowing about a hundred yards away.  But other than that, I did nothing.  I was in a total yin place.  My yang had gone on vacation.

It was blissful.

I used to live about an hour and a half away from the shore.  Like many of my friends and neighbors, I would visit the shore a couple times a year.  There is absolutely nothing so relaxing as lying on a large towel on the beach, the sun shining down upon you, and the sounds of the surf rocking you to sleep.

Well, now I live a little over a thousand miles away from the nearest shore.  It’s not quite so easy to just jump in a car and get to the nearest sea.  But I discovered today that sitting out on the deck is actually pretty darn nice.

I can wear whatever I want (or don’t want, as the case may be), have a glass of whatever I want by my side,  and let the rays of the sun caress my body. Then, if I get too hot, I can simply move into the shade.

Suffice it to say, “doing nothing” necessitates me leaving the cell phone inside.  Far away.

This is what our dogs and cats do all the time.  Not to mention lizards, snakes, lions, and other animals.  Why do we humans feel we don’t deserve the same consideration?  Why do we only let ourselves do this relaxing thing if we’re on vacation or retired or at the end of a very busy day?  (And many of us have trouble doing it even then!)

I suspect I sat outside for only about half an hour.  But it restored and revived me.  (Look!  I found the inspiration to write!)

One night, about fifteen years ago, I had an incredible dream.  In this dream my body was guided to wherever it needed to go and whatever it needed to do.  I didn’t have to consciously make decisions, I had only to wait until the guidance kicked in.

It was an exquisite dream.  When I was coming to wakefulness I found myself worrying that I’d never be able to sustain that sweet feeling.  But it turned out, for at least that one morning, I could.  I simply allowed myself to do or not do whatever my body did or did not want to do.  And it was a delicious feeling.

Of course I know that many of us do not have this luxury much of the time.  But the truth is we could allow ourselves the luxury of doing nothing more often if we chose.  We don’t have to make ourselves a slave to “getting things done” all the time, every hour of the day.  We could allow ourselves more time on the deck, the sofa, a hammock, or the bed if we chose.

And if our current lifestyle and schedule do not allow for this kind of relaxation, might it not be time for a little restructuring?

Blessed be, everyone.  Enjoy some totally non-productive time  today “just being.”  You are enough.

 

http://www.cynthiagreb.com

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“Deathiversaries” and Post-Death Birthdays

Mom n Dad laughing

What do you call a birthday when that person is no longer on this earth?  I guess it’s still the anniversary of his birth, although we are no longer counting the years he has lived.

Dad’s birthday is April 30th.  I wrote the first draft of this piece back in February on the first anniversary of his death.  But then I set it aside to read it and revise it later.  And “later” turned into another month.  And now I’m dusting it off one more time.

It’s not easy to remember death.

There are so many wonderful, wonderful things to remember about Dad: his teasing and horsing around; his affection for his wife, kids, and especially his grandchildren; all his years of hard work supporting his family and never complaining; his love of naps; the way he always had time for his family; his dedication to the churches he attended and served; all the little vacations we took together; his love of food; his gregarious personality; his gratitude; his love of nature.  I could go on and on.  But sadly, I seem to be stuck in an endless review of his last few months.

If he had started to drastically decline and then simply continued that decline, I think I could have accepted that.  After all, death comes to each one of us, and after several years suffering the indignities of Alzheimer’s, I’m sure, at some level, he was more than ready to let go of this life.  As a matter of fact, for several months, while he was still living in his home, he would repeatedly tell us, “I’m ready to go home.  Please take me home. Please take me home.”

We had thought he was confused and couldn’t remember that this was his own home.  We tried in vain to convince him that this was the home he’d built with his own two hands when the rancher had become too small for his burgeoning family.  We pointed to all the pictures of the family on the mantle.  We said, “See?  There we all are!  This is your home.”  But it made no difference.  He was caught in a sad loop, not realizing he was in his own home.

At least that’s what we thought at the time.

It was heartbreaking for us as well as frustrating.  We had worked really hard to make sure he stayed home as long as possible.  So over and over we tried to convince him that he was home.  Only a week ago did I realize we were absolutely doing the wrong thing.

I had been a spiritual counselor for two different hospices, so I should have known better.  Unfortunately, I had never read the book Final Gifts during my time at those hospices.  If I had read it then, I would have understood that often dying people speak in metaphors.  Instead of dismissing Dad’s comments as the mark of a very confused man, instead of trying to re-orient him to this earthly consensual reality, we could have been brave enough to say, “Dad, are you talking about your heavenly home?”

I cry to think how much peace we could have given him if we had opened the door to this conversation.

When he was admitted to the nursing home in November of 2013, he had definitely declined further, but he was still walking, talking, and eating.  Then he fell and suddenly he couldn’t walk or eat on his own any more.  Suddenly he also began to exhibit very bad tremoring, shaking and sudden jerking which the doctor believed was an indication of more advanced Parkinson’s.

The jerking was heartbreaking to see because it had come on so suddenly and it completely interrupted his ability to rest.  Rest had always been very important to Dad, but even more so as his Alzheimer’s escalated.  It was as if he just needed to escape from the world for a while because it had become way too confusing for him.  For a while, he was sleeping, off and on, about fifteen hours a day.

Because of those horrible jerks, we started Dad on this medication that relaxed his body so the jerks would cease.  But unfortunately it also meant he was rather “out of it” a large portion of the day.  The nurses hated giving him that medication because just as he was coming back to himself, talking and joking around, it was time for the next dose.  We didn’t know what to do.  But it seemed he was safer and calmer, as well as more rested, so we opted to keep him on it.

Then something happened that took the matter out of our hands.  He fell into a bad fever.  He got so weak he could no longer safely eat anything.  Even drinking became hazardous.  And so they had to discontinue the med.  There was no way to safely give him anything.

And then, miracle of miracles, he got better!  His eyes were open, he was talking again!  We were so relieved.  And the Parkinson’s symptoms never came back!

By this time, we had put Dad on hospice care.  And because of the lingering effects from the fall, his prolonged fever and his lack of food, he had become very, very weak.  Once in a while they tried to walk him down the hall, an aide on each side and one behind him with the wheelchair in case he needed it.  But generally he was in a geri-chair (a kind of cushioned chair/lounge chair, like a recliner on wheels) or in bed.  And he began to get a bedsore, which often happens when people are lying down most of the time and not getting enough nutrition or circulation.

During this time I continued to agonize.  Should we take him off hospice so he could get some physical therapy?  Did he have a chance at recovering if we pushed him a bit?  Would he be able to walk again?  Should we try to take him out to breakfast? (This was one of his favorite things in the world, although it was increasingly less pleasant for the rest of us because he would become agitated when the food didn’t arrive right away or if the waitress wasn’t prompt enough bringing refills on his coffee.)

Dad kept going up and down, up and down.  I could never figure out exactly if he was dying or just going through a momentary dip in his health.  I kept on second-guessing our choices.

Then one day he came down with another fever.  This time he didn’t recover;  he was gone by the next morning.

Ironically, only two days earlier, I had called the hospice social worker so I could talk over whether or not we should take him off hospice so we could get him into physical therapy again.

I had assumed this fever would be similar to the last one – unpleasant, but temporary.  Instead it was one of several signs of his approaching death.  I wish the hospice staff or one of the nurses would have recognized the signs and given us a heads-up so we could have been around him while he was still conscious that last day.  I wish I had recognized the signs.

I had been with Dad until about 2:00 pm.  I left when he appeared to be more at ease.  I wish I had stayed.

I’m sure a lot of us do this when our loved ones pass.  We wonder what we could have done differently.  We wish we had been there more, shared our love, withheld our anger.  Fortunately, I know Dad knew how much I loved him.  And I’m also grateful we only had one episode of anger toward one another in my whole life.  I realize that this is a tremendous gift.  But I have been having trouble letting go of those last three months of his life.  I can’t seem to let myself be at peace about it all.

Perhaps writing this right now will help to shift that.

Sending you love, Dad.  Maybe we can start counting the anniversaries of when you went Home.  Congratulations on so successfully completing your life here on Earth.  And congratulations on completing your journey Home.

You are not forgotten.  We love you still.  And always will.

 

http://www.cynthiagreb.com

Kudos and Kindness for the Caregivers

I know so many people who are caregivers.  Or who have recently been through an extended period of caregiving.  Some were caring for an aging parent or parent-in-law.   Some were caring for a beloved spouse.   Some were caring for an ailing child. Some were employed as a caregiver.  Whatever the case, I salute them all.

Caregiving is not easy.  Especially for those who do it day in and day out, without cease.  It can be physically demanding, as there is often a lot of lifting and transferring involved.  But mostly it is emotionally and often spiritually draining.  Many care to the point of collapse.

Many people are pushed into the role when someone they love is declining in health and rolling toward that ultimate gateway.  Caring for someone who is dying is hard.  Even for those of us who believe in an afterlife, to face the loss of someone beloved is gut-wrenchingly difficult.

I have cared for and about many hospice patients in my role as a hospice chaplain and bereavement counselor.   I’ve cared for my own parents for several years, including my dear father who passed last February.  And I’ve cared for several clients on a private basis.  Of the six clients I’ve cared for in the last two and a quarter years, all have died.  I can tell you from experience, it takes its toll.

But right now I’m especially thinking of those I love who are caring for or have cared for their spouses.   I truly cannot imagine that pain.

My dear Aunt Louise has been caring for her husband for quite a few years now.  His mental capabilities were floundering and so she had to remain with him all the time to make sure, for instance, that he didn’t turn on the water at the sink and leave it running until it flooded the bathroom.  Or that he didn’t disassemble some needed piece of equipment and leave it lying on the counter in pieces.  In addition, she was the one who had to listen to endless repetitions of stories told over and over and over again.  The stress of caring for him became so pronounced that she had a stroke from which her speech has still not completely recovered.

My elder friend Carol cared for her soulmate for several years as his Parkinson’s steadily progressed.  This tall, vital, virile man to with whom she had been wildly in love had become curled up in his bed, able to do very little with his body, but with a mind that was still quite sharp and a spirit full of gentleness and wisdom to the very end.  Carol willingly gave up all her time to assist him with his daily needs.  Paid caregivers, including me, would come in for a few hours each day to help with bathing, etc., but Carol was the one who remained always nearby, always attentive, always loving with an endless love.  It has been over a year since his death and she still wears black, still actively grieves.

My friend Vince cared for his beloved wife for many years as first her body and then her mind began to falter.  He willingly and lovingly cooked all her meals – even making bread and healthy cookies from scratch on a weekly basis.  He did all the laundry, kept the fire going in the winter, bought the groceries, transferred her on and off the toilet, made sure she got her meds and sufficient fluids.  He was devoted.  And he did it all way beyond the endurance of most of us.  Until he hit the wall.  Like many of us, he did it till he no longer could.

Many of us hit the wall before our loved one passes.  We try so hard, we love so much, and then suddenly we crash and burn.

I, too, hit a wall.  I had been living with my parents so that I could assist them both – my mother who had had a heart attack and small stroke plus long-term diabetes plus edema and urinary tract infections, and my father who had early Alzheimer’s.  I willingly and lovingly did it for sixteen months, though I was in a state of complete exhaustion most of the time.  Then one day I took Mom out shopping at her request.  After about half an hour, she became too weak to stand—right there in the middle of a large department store and far away from any chair, far away from the exit, far away from the car.  I was trying to get her to stop because I could see what was coming.  She wanted to keep going not just because she loved to shop, but because she wanted to buy something for me.  Ironically it was this wanting to do something nice, that ended up being the straw that broke the camel’s back.

The next day I broke down.  My sister-in-law, who helped a great deal, had stopped in.  When she went to hug me, I held on tight and found myself dissolving into tears.  Between sobs  I said, “I just can’t do it anymore.”  And from that moment on she stepped in to try to get some paid caregivers on board.

Another friend was caring for her beloved mother who had Alzheimer’s.  She did it for years.  She cared beautifully and lovingly.  And she, too, hit a wall.  She, too, after years of selfless service got to a breaking point.  She wrote a letter to her family, left it on the table, then just left.  (She did come back after a couple days.)

It is not unusual for some of us to get to a point where we just can’t do it anymore.  But I also know people who were able to hang in there until the very day their loved one died.  I will always have the utmost admiration for those who were able to be so present for so long.  Each one of these people, and all the millions I don’t know, have surely earned a place in heaven.

How can we support these people?  According to MetLife, “the number of people taking care of an aging parent has soared in the past 15 years. MetLife estimates that nearly 10 million adult children over age 50 now care for an aging parent….  In 2008, 17 percent of men and 28 percent of women provided such care, which is defined as helping with dressing, feeding, bathing, and other personal care needs. This level of help goes well beyond grocery shopping, driving parents to appointments, and helping them with financial matters. And it’s more stressful as well.”  (http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/the-best-life/2011/07/18/10-tips-for-caring-for-aging-parents)

The kindest thing we can do when someone is in this situation is offer a little help.  Be specific.  Don’t just say, “If there’s anything I can do….”  Offer to sit with the parent (or whomever) for a couple hours a week so the caregiver can have a break.  Or offer to pick up some items at the grocery store or bring over a cooked meal.  All of this really does help.  Especially any bit of respite which can be offered.  Especially if the respite can be offered on a regular basis.

Most caregivers feel like they’re all alone.  They don’t know how to ask for help and so they just slog along, day by day, due the best they can in spite of unending fatigue and stress.

Yesterday I ran into a friend who had been caring for an extraordinary 97-year-old woman.  This woman had been a dynamo—fighting for women’s rights, tirelessly championing various causes.  She even drove a car up to the age of 96.  (Though I don’t recommend that!)  But then, finally, she become ill and quite weak.

My friend confided to me that one day he had been wiping her back side.  (Sadly, he said, she just couldn’t do it anymore.)  Then he had an epiphany.  He said he realized what an honor it was.  It was the equivalent of kissing the feet of a guru.

I love that.  If only we could all learn to treat one another with such respect.

Our elders are worthy of that respect.  And so are those who care for them.  Bless them all.

 

 

Unconditionally Loved

May to JUne 2014 043

Do you sometimes forget how loved you are?

Right now I am staying at the home of friends looking after their beloved pets while they’re away. I’m greatly enjoying this opportunity.  This morning I posted on Facebook about how incredibly sweet it is to be surrounded by such “tail-wagging, tongue-licking, purry love.”  A friend responded, “Aww…. You’re  loved by all beings, Cynthia!”

Tracie’s comment really hit home today.  I am often aware of, and extremely grateful for, the love of friends.  But I knew she was talking about not just human and tail-wagging friends, but leafed and rooted friends, shining winged friends, celestial friends, spirit friends…  You know, the whole shebang.

I am finding that extremely comforting this morning.

I love resting in the knowledge that I am loved as I am, flaws and all.  I love knowing that angelic beings, God Beings, will dearly love me even when I eat too many carbs, for instance.  Or gain a couple pounds as a result of those carbs.   I love knowing that even when I not terribly productive or financially very solvent, I am loved.  If I say the wrong words at times or do something less than saintly, I can rest knowing that I am still loved.

I do believe there are Beings capable of unconditional love.  Generally speaking, most humans are not that capable.  But Divine Beings?  Yes, that is their forte.  I am loved. We are loved.  Why?  Because we are!  Because we are humans and we try the best we can—struggling, fumbling, laughing, loving, messing up, trying again, occasionally doing something amazing, then messing up again.

I can just see angels gazing at us from dimensions unseen, smiling fondly as we fumble our way through, thinking, ‘Aren’t they sweet?  Look how hard they try.’  I know that what they really want is for us to be happy.  Not a hedonistic screw-the-planet happy necessarily, but a love-life happy.  And yes, if we can help make the world a better place while we’re at it,  so much the better.  But I know they know that life is a process.  We are here to learn.  None of us get it right all the way all the time.  We are, after all,  human.  By definition, we are fallible.

But fallible is not unlovable.

Thank goodness.

Finding Home

Two years ago, exhausted from a cross-country car trip of 2,000 miles, I finally turned east on T Road and headed toward the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, toward what was to become my new home.  Two mountains lay ahead of me and they guided me like beacons.  I couldn’t stop staring at them.  I kept taking pictures of those magnificent mountains through the windshield of my old Plymouth.

February 2013 347

I was heading toward a new home, one I had never seen except for in a couple of pictures sent via phone.  I was to be the nighttime caregiver of a delightful 92-year-old woman I had yet to meet.  I had been given the opportunity to be of service to this lovely woman in exchange for rent.

Fourteen years earlier, a psychic had told me I didn’t belong on the East Coast.  She said it was too dense energetically, too materialistic, and too close to my family, who held me back.  She told me there were other places on the planet that would be better suited for my spirit.  The first place she mentioned was this tiny mountain community known for its spiritual centers.  And lo and behold, without ever intending it to happen, through grace and synchronicity, I found my way here.

Ria was right.  This place fills my soul with joy.

What do I love about this place?  Let me count the ways.

  1.  I love the beauty that greets me every day as I gaze out my windows, walk out my door, drive into town.  Tall, majestic mountains to the east, distant mountains to the north and west, and between them a vast and beautiful valley.  I love the way the evening sun often glows on the mountaintops.  October 2013 450
  2.  I love the enormous sky vaulted overhead, the brilliant blues, its resplendent sunrises and sunsets, the way I can watch rain fall in several parts of the valley at once, the incredible canopy of stars at night.  I love how many rainbows are seen here.  May 2014 383
  3.  I love the deer that greeted me that first day and who every day calmly walk among the trees, along the creeks and across the road knowing that here they are safe.
  4.  I love the coyotes that sing in the mornings and evenings.  I love now and then catching sight of their wild spirits as they trot through the desert grasslands.
  5.  I love the birds that sing in the mornings.  I love the jays, the magpies, the crows, the songbirds, the bluebirds. I love the owls.
  6.  I love that there are elk and bear and pronghorns roaming these mountains, this valley.  I love the scampering chipmunks and the prairie dogs that poke their heads up along the road.  I love that people sometimes catch sight of bobcats and porcupines.
  7.  I love the fresh mountain air and how snow which falls can still look clean and white a week or two or three later.
  8.  I love our springs and beautiful, clear creeks.  I love how good our water tastes.  I love that there are healing hot springs just a short drive away.
  9.  I love that we are blessed with sunlight most days.  I love that even on a winter’s afternoon, when the sun shines, a sweater or light jacket is often enough to keep me warm.  Colorado May '13 085
  10.  I love how blessedly quiet it is at night or on still, snowy mornings.
  11.  I love that there are few lights to mar the sacred darkness of night.
  12.  I love that there are no traffic lights.  I love that people can stop in the middle of the road in town and talk to a neighbor.  I love that people lift a hand or a couple fingers in greeting as they pass one another on the road.
  13.  I love how this community cares about one another.  I love that we have organizations and systems in place to help one another when someone has an accident or gets Stage IV cancer or even simply needs someone to pick up a prescription or help watch a toddler.
  14.  I love how we stay in touch with one another on Facebook groups. I love how even though we are fewer than 1,000 people, there is still always something to do:  a yoga class, an open mic, a hike, a benefit, a band at one of the local eateries, a workshop, a retreat,  a full moon fire, a knitting circle, kirtan, a talking circle, a forum about death.
  15.  I love that we are a spiritually eclectic yet inclusive group of people.  I love that I can often find the same folks at a Hindu fire ceremony, a Lakota-based sweat lodge, an Easter sunrise service, or meditating at a Buddhist retreat center. I love imagining all the chants, prayers and mantras that are being sung, repeated, and prayed throughout this sweet place.  I love seeing prayer flags hanging everywhere.  I love that all paths are accepted here as long as they are based in love and respect.
  16.  I love that this is an educated and visionary community.  I love how many solar panels I see, how many straw bale homes there are, how many woodstoves, how many greenhouses.  I love how so many people are committed to a better world and to “thinking globally, acting locally.”
  17.  I love that, though we are small, we have sufficient amenities:  a grocery store, a hardware store, organic produce and health food, a post office, a bank, a library, a laundromat, and a liquor store.
  18.  I love that there are many who make soap, candles, sage bundles, herbal extracts, scarves and sweaters, gluten-free baked goods, soups and tamales.  I love how many artists and musicians and healers live here.  I love how many people build their own homes.  We are a talented group and relatively self-sufficient.
  19.  I love that on any given day one can see fabulous dreadlocks on both younger and older people, Buddhist monks in crimson robes, healthy gray-haired retirees,  high school students companionably walking together along the road, parents with a barefoot toddler or two in tow, beautiful yoginis, hikers with backpacks, dogs, someone playing a guitar or riding a horse.
  20.  I love how people greet one another and talk to one another in the lines at the bank and post office.  I love that the impatience so often found in cities is not so rampant here.  I love how many people hug here.  I love the smiles.

I could go on and on.  But you get the idea.

There are wonderful places to live on this planet.  And I am so grateful to have found one of them.

Happy two-year anniversary to me!!!

Making Peace with Her Dying

Today I received word that a friend has entered that brave lonely path that leads toward death.  She has had several false starts on this road before, but this time her daughter-in-law told me it feels different.  She is now refusing food and drink.  So yes, it seems my friend has chosen her time and it is fast approaching.

When I heard the news I felt heartsick, not necessarily because she would be leaving this earthly plane, for I understand our time here is limited.  I was sad because I am 2000 miles away and the earliest I could possibly get to her would be at minimum, eight days away.  I am sad because in five short months she and I have become dear friends and because there is love between us and because I want to be there to offer comfort if I can and because I want to say goodbye.

Vera is one of two women I have helped care for over the course of this past year.  Most of the time she didn’t need a lot of support—some assistance bathing, some simple meal preparation, some support walking, or when she was especially weak, transferring her to and from a wheelchair.  In between these tasks and some simple cleaning, we would chat.  We enjoyed one another.  It didn’t matter that we were 35 years apart in age.

One of Vera’s favorite things was when I massaged her feet.  She had never experienced that particular luxury before I came into her life, and without fail, it would make her purr with delight.  I also massaged her hands and eventually even her head.  She was surprised how delicious a good head rub could be.  Of course I had to be especially careful not to ruin her lovely white-curled coiffure.

My favorite memory of Vera is the time I drove her to a diner forty minutes away.  She and I are residents in a little town of approximately 1500 people.  There are three restaurants in town, only one of which I knew was to her particular liking.  So I decided it would be a grand adventure for us to travel to this particular diner instead.

This particular eating establishment was run by a woman probably in her early 60’s who knew how to make some decent food, and even better, bake some incredibly delicious breads and desserts.  So Vera and I that day had the pleasure of chatting amiably while driving through the great San Luis Valley of Colorado and then continuing to enjoy one another’s company while sampling some truly tasty soup, toast, French fries, and delicious homemade pie.  She loved it; I loved it.

When I heard the news about Vera’s recent downturn this afternoon, I sat for a while in the car in the driveway and allowed the sadness to fill me up.  While sitting there, I gazed at the branches of the trees against a blue sky and the colorful collection of birds and squirrels munching on birdseed, and I then allowed myself to feel a spark of gladness.  There can be both sadness and gladness all in the course of a few breaths.  Sometimes it’s a choice we make.

When I was ready to come inside, I was greeted by the cacophonous joy of the two dogs in my care who wildly adore me.  It’s hard to be sad amidst all that lovestruck jumping and wagging.  I let the dogs outside and then I sat in a chair in the welcome patch of sun shining through the front door.  I practiced breathing in and out, like a gentle wave rolling up on the beach and then pausing for a moment before sliding back into the sea.  I sat in that lovely sun, which had been hiding for many wintry days, and I knew that whether I was able to be there or not, all would be well.  It was clearly out of my hands.  Vera would leave when she and God decided the time was right.  And Vera would know I loved her whether I was physically present or not.

All is well.  All is well.

 

Eulogy for the Land

February 2011 028   I grew up in the southeastern corner of Pennsylvania one hour north of Philadelphia.  I was close enough to the city to be able to regularly go to great museums or concerts or the zoo.  But I seldom did.  I was a country girl through and through.  This is not to say I was a hick.  No, I was a nature lover.  Probably from the day I was born — on a warm April day with cherry trees in full blossom.

I am home right now visiting the land of my birth.  I am visiting my family and friends and I am reacquainting myself with the land.  Fortunately, there are still pockets of land — large fields (mostly cultivated,) patches of woods, ponds and streams, and some old farmhouses hundreds of years old.

I am feeling appreciative of those farms today.  It is largely due to these farms that there is any land left to enjoy at all.  So much has been gobbled up in the name of development.

Blech.  I hate that word.  Thanks to “development,” hundreds of family farms have bitten the dust.  Cookie cutter McMansions costing hundreds of thousands of dollars each spread like a cancer across this land I have loved.  If people built their own homes on an as-needed basis, or hired a contractor to build them, this land I love would not be too different from that of my childhood.  But no, instead wealthy companies offer farmers millions of dollars to build hundreds of homes which then attract new residents eager to live in such a lovely pastoral place.  Only of course it becomes less and less lovely the more people who arrive.

I am so grateful for the farms that hold out.  How much courage it must take to say no to an offer of a million or more dollars!  How tempting it must be to give up the hard backbreaking days that begin every day at dawn and continue on till dusk, day after day with never a vacation day in sight.  For who can find someone who even knows how to milk cows, let alone someone who is dependable and willing to get up in the wee hours of a cold morning to begin the job and then repeat it all again twelve hours later?

Sadly, most farmers can no longer afford to pay the taxes on the land they own.  Or their children are no longer interested in living such a challenging and unappreciated lifestyle once their parents are ready to retire.  When I was growing up here, many of my friends and even my own cousins were farmers.  But now this area is largely Yuppy Heaven.  This area yells wealth.  People with simple lifestyles and un-fancy clothes and cars  are a definite minority here.  Or at least they are certainly more hidden than they once were.

So I am grateful for the farmers who find a way to eke out a living.  I am grateful for the food they grow.   I’m grateful for those who sell it to us at local markets.  I love buying food from real people instead of these huge agribusiness corporations who are all in bed with Monsanto, spraying horrible poisons on our land and then planting seeds genetically modified to grow in that poisoned land.

I am even grateful for the “gentleman farmers” — those New Yorkers who come down to Bucks County on weekends to live in their beautifully restored historic farmhouses with their beautiful woods, beautiful deer, beautiful ponds.  If it weren’t for these New Yorkers, there would probably be little land or pastoral places of beauty left.

I used to live in one of those beautiful old farmhouses.  It had been owned by the Clothiers — the Clothiers of Strawbridges and Clothier, the once famous Philadelphia department store.  It was a grand old house with huge original wooden plank floorboards, thick stone walls with 12″ deep windowsills, beautiful old carved moldings around the doorways.  There was a large pony barn, an original springhouse, and a wonderful wraparound porch complete with porch swing and the rocking chair I’d hinted at wanting for my birthday.

There were beautifully manicured flower gardens along lovely low stone walls, there were tall stately tulip poplar trees, one of which bore the quintessential tire swing.  There was a lovely spreading copper beech tree, a sloping lawn, a creek complete with lots of frogs which squealed and jumped no matter how quietly you tried to sneak up on them.  Perhaps best of all, there was a 55-year-old Olympic sized swimming pool.

We — my not-yet husband, his sweet young son, and the three housemates we had so that we could (barely) afford this beautiful estate — used to throw the most amazing parties in the summer.  They were multi-generational parties.  The kids would usually play in the barn or swim, the elders would play cards near the cool stream, and everyone in between would swim or play volleyball, frisbee, or guitar while drinking beer or rootbeer from kegs.  Two or three times a summer, more than a hundred people would revel in the bounty of food and friends, music and nature, warm sun and fresh air.

I used to love watching the fireflies come out in the evening, listening to the bullfrogs and the owls, and watching the clouds float by while lazing on a raft or inner tube in that pool.  In many ways, it was an idyllic time in my life.  Sadly, life’s simple pleasures were interspersed with many discouraging township meetings where I and a few of my neighbors valiantly fought the development that was supposed to be built around us and the neighboring reservoir.

I miss the land of my youth.  I miss the acres of corn I used to walk through on  balmy summer nights with my boyfriend.  All that land is now filled with four-bedroom homes.  The wetlands I used to walk through as a young married woman is now also developed.  I used to love to straggle through the overgrown fields, gazing at the butterflies, listening to the cry of the hawks, looking for the heron nest high in the trees at the edge of the water, hoping to catch a glimpse of the babies.

Sometimes I imagine what this land must have looked like hundreds of years ago, before the arrival of the Europeans and their conquering of both the land and the people who had once lived in such close harmony with it.  It must have been magnificent, filled with thousands and thousands of square miles of woodlands and streams.

My great grandmother was Helen Keen Jamison.  I’m guessing        way, way back I had some keeners among my ancestors — those women who learned the fine art of mourning the dead.  Many times I have wished to hold a memorial service for the land which is buried beneath the houses, the roads, and the stores.  I have longed to cry and keen the loss of all that wild and wonderful beauty.

Meanwhile, whenever I am privileged to see some of that beauty, I give thanks.  I think the land hears me deep inside its silent heart.

December 2013 165

 

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