30 September 2014

Two Haikus

The Dacha at the End of September
The dog dreams below.
Aloft a porthole ajar,
And glitter above.

Also Aloft at the End of September
Potato bugs roam
Curious but only two
More cool than icky.

one-fingered on my phone

27 September 2014

The Giant's Lament

(I've long had a secret sympathy for the mistreated and misunderstood giant at the top of the beanstalk. Here is a glimpse into his side of the story.)

The Giant's Lament

Jack climbed up me stalk today, and stole me Honky Sal away.

She squawked and flapped and tried to run, but in his sack the knave Sal flung.

I stood up tall and I let loose:

"FEE FIE FOE FUM! I smell the blood of an Englishman! Be he alive or be he dead, I'll grind his bones to make my bread!"

But Jack just sneered, and took me goose!

He must've known me threats were fake. Who really would grind bones to bake?

Blech! Not me! I'm a vegetarian!

Jack is small, but he's a meany!

I am BIG!

But I'm a weeny :-(.

one-fingered on my phone

25 September 2014

Main Floor Exterior Walls Framed!

These folks are *really* not slow. I can't wait to WALK THROUGH MY HOUSE on Sunday afternoon! Seriously, this is A.W.E.S.O.M.E. As usual, pics at the end here. You may have to refresh your browser to see the new additions; that's what Ian found on his phone yesterday.

24 September 2014

Full Speed Ahead . . .

People around here--the Seattle area, that is--keep making surprised noises about how quickly our home project is moving along. My grandmother asked yesterday if they work when we're not there--and YES, is the resounding answer. On Sunday afternoon before we came back down, I took a couple pictures, from above, of Ian playing his carcordian in the future cellar. This morning, two days later, they're framing the main floor walls. Never again will we be able to look down into the basement (knock on wood!). Astonishing!

Pictures from Burke from the last two days and this morning now posted here, at the end of the list.

22 September 2014

17 September 2014

Where I Belong

It has been a busy summer in my world, full of delight and despair, euphoric certainty and soul-crushing fear. I have lived this summer widely as well as deeply--in Seattle and on Orcas; in Portugal showing my parents my favorite places; at home showing foreign friends the Pacific Northwest; with friends and communities on their own wild rides.

In mid-June, I had my last chemotherapy treatment. I was sitting in my bed, in a little private room, drinking my coffee and doing my crossword puzzle, thinking in the back of my mind of what I definitely needed to get done over the next five days. It's a busy time, building a home and readying another for sale, amongst all the usual chores of day-to-day life. I had, sometime just before this, scheduled "RECOVERY DAY" in my calendar for one day--every three weeks--after my infusion. It took five days to actually recover, but as usual, I was going to power through. Near the end of my 3-hour infusion stay, my nurse delivered my tumor marker results from the previous afternoon's blood draw. 

I glanced at them, not really concerned. I've always gone down while on active chemo, easing toward normal, and that's what I expected to see again.

That is not what I saw. My tumor markers had gone up.

I felt the briefest prick of tears, and realized, all of a sudden, that I could no longer gauge my health on those numbers. Slightly deeper than that, and more sobering, came the knowledge that chemotherapy was no longer helping me more than it was hurting me.

So I quit, for good this time.

"I don't ever, ever want to do chemotherapy again!" I sobbed, terrified, a few days later, to my spirit counselor/friend, who was helping me get to the bottom of this torture, self-inflicted, that I was daily subjecting myself to. Instantly my body filled with what felt like a flood of sparkling helium--I was buffeted and lifted by the incandescent golden torrent. It felt like a firehose of energy shooting into the top of my head and one into the soles of my feet, freeing my heart.

The euphoria from this choice--of this fundamental decision to follow my own, personal, inner truth: I AM NEVER DOING CHEMOTHERAPY AGAIN--lasted five days, coincidentally the same length of time as the stagnating feeling of chemo recovery.

For those five days I was on top of the world--I was completely without fear or anxiety. My arthritic thumbs stopped aching. I scaled the rock climbing wall like a gecko. I felt the wonder, and the deeply soothing relief, of knowing that I was SAFE here, now, on this planet. 

It was intoxicating, and it didn't last.

I was given that gift of giddy freedom by Grace, I thought, as the balloon began to lose its loft. That euphoria, that clear, unmuddied joy, *that* is how the human being is meant to go through life. But now, I realized, it is my work to find it again. I KNOW the end goal. Clean emotion. Trust. Revelry. Universe, Great Mystery, help me get there. 

As time has passed this summer, I've felt increasingly frantic about my chances for life (although repeating my mantra: I will never do chemotherapy again--always brings a rush to my heart). My logical conscious mind thinks "I'm running out of time!" whereas my trusting creative mind knows that there is always enough time to be ready for whatever is next. "But what if what's next is DEATH?" my logic mind cries. Then so be it, my trusting creative mind replies, unflustered. They have not been communicating well with each other of late. 

In my search for healing I've been spending more time on Orcas this summer; going there instead of Idaho for long swaths of outside time, and reveling in my ability to work with the land however I want, because it is my responsibility, and I can choose. I have found an acupuncturist on Lopez, and a therapist on Orcas, moving my physical, 3-D team up from the Seattle area to my forever home. 

Orcas has allowed me the space and stillness to begin to safely plumb my own dark, scary depths. I finally recognized, this summer, the breadth of my grief for my father. When he died, 22 years ago, I lost my best friend, my champion, and the one person who I knew would always have my back. Ian is too interwoven with me, too close to this struggle, to offer the promise I have most needed: YOU WILL BE OKAY. 

My choices: 

To capitulate, to surrender, to give into my fears and return to chemotherapy, even though I know it will kill my spirit at least as fast as my body.


To brave the unknown.

Both choices felt like a choice for death. But then, my mind chimed in, reasonably, all choices lead to death. In that case, why not choose the one that's more fun? Why not, indeed? I know--I know--deeply and fundamentally, that choosing to live, choosing to THRIVE, should be easy. But I couldn't get there. 

In Portugal two weeks ago (days after a sobering brain MRI), much to my surprise, I came to grips with another huge loss I've experienced in my life. Triggered by information from back at home, I found myself raging with a poisonous, rabid, nauseating jealousy and grimly putrid satisfaction--the kind of humiliating emotional storm that we habitually tamp down and gloss over--I'm not the kind of person, we say, who thinks such awful things about people I love! But instead of veering away from the cesspool, this time I dove into it. Under the roiling acid hung a deep, heavy pool of anger and grief that, amongst all the other losses of a typical young adult life, cancer had taken away my children

Seven years before, in the same little Portuguese village, Ian and I had been trying for a family. I raged and wept at his loss, as well as my own, and felt the crushing irrelevance of a barren, childless life. 

It's not fair, cancer. And I'm here to tell you: doing your logical best to get over it--"I won't want what I can't have"--doesn't work. 

But this is all part of the Circle of Life, and consciously attended pain eases as well as euphoria does, and as the Portugal trip wound to a close I was able to see two important things about creation: 1, that it wasn't until now, age almost-42, that I feel emotionally and spiritually ready to truly nurture a child; but 2, creation is vast, and there are infinite ways to bring new life into our world. 

Much Life, at its best, took place on Orcas last weekend. Suffering from jet lag and anxiety, I nevertheless made the drive up with Spackle last Friday, knowing that Orcas was where I needed to recover my equilibrium. On Saturday I hosted my father-in-law and his lady friend, including taking them on a slow tour of the land in Nublu, and pointing out my woods projects and the resting place of my mother-in-law's ashes, in the copse next to Hoover; and sharing with them at dinner that night my decision to quit chemo. My brother and sister-in-law, whom I haven't seen in years, came to visit the land and chat with Burke (while the parents toured other areas of the island), and enjoyed a spectacularly beautiful day for their seaplane rides. 

Sunday and Monday I spent blessedly alone, doing what whim suggested. This was largely snoozing and consulting various oracles, to help me continue on my journey to know, and therefore heal, myself. I resumed Amelia, who had been left behind for recent travel. It was not difficult to decide to stay Monday night and take the 7:15am ferry to my Seattle-area appointments yesterday.

The reward was life-changing. 

As I felt my tension release Monday evening, my anxiety about My Choice dissipate into the quiet around me, I looked inward, to where I stood, teetering, balancing, on a tightrope strung between two lakes. On the left, the roiling, stinking, acid-green horror of chemotherapy; on the right, an unknowably deep abyss. I'm scared, said my inner skeptic, unable to believe that I could survive the leap into the Unknown. I know, said the rest of me. I'm scared, too. 

I drew four Tarot cards: within, without, above, and below. Within, The Sun, XIX*. The sun sometimes blinds you, I thought, thinking about the searing light of the weekend weather. Maybe the abyss isn't endless darkness; maybe I'm just temporarily blind to what it is. And beyond that: Use your SUN to light the way of your ideal path. YOU light up the darkness, you yourself. That abyss has in it what YOU want to see; you are the life-giving Sun, and you are the light-receiving Earth

Spackle and I took our treats--peanut butter Kong for him; raspberry soda for me--outside to bask in the deepening twilight, and imagine what it would be like to illuminate the life I choose. I saw Nublu parked nearby, a quiet glow in the waning light. I saw beyond, up the hill, the foundations of my forever home; nearby, the Dacha; to the north, the reaches of our land. 

This is mine, I suddenly thought, with my whole being. THIS IS MINE. I tasted the words, considered the preposterousness of the conceit: that I had any claim to such beauty. Because it IS beautiful; the most amazing, heart-wrenchingly perfect place that I can imagine. 

For as long as I live, I belong here. I felt the glowing golden roots of my soul shoot deeply into the ground and into the rush of the earth-energy meridian that surges through Crow Valley. I sat in a bliss of delighted wonderment, alternately sobbing and laughing at the absurdity of such unbelievable good fortune.


This was different from my top-down recognition, the aren't-I-lucky-to-have-the-chance-to-steward-this-land understanding. This was a foundationally different experience, and I had burst into a torrent of weeping, because I had finally found my place in the world. I am not just here because of what I can do for the land, for the community, for the island; I am here also because of what IT can do for ME. It is symbiotic, our relationship, and profoundly cleansing and fulfilling. 

I had not realized how adrift I felt, and how lost, and how that underlying feeling of irrelevancy shaded every decision I made. What should I do with my life? Who cares? Play some KenKen. Should I choose chemo or not? Who cares? Reread The Blue Sword, yet again. Should I do this? Who cares? What about this? Whatever. 

We are building our dream, forever home, on Orcas Island, largely because of the money I inherited when my father died. 

He did have my back, after all. 

I'm going to be okay. 


*I never got to the other three cards that night
This song, by Imogen Heap, is pretty much what I'm feeling (just listen to the music; the graphic is an out-of-focus, unrelated picture)

12 September 2014

An Encounter at the Co-op

I was grocery shopping midday yesterday, filling my basket with fruits and dairy and other things available in vast, shimmering quantities here in the US (injudiciously forgetting that both Ian and I are leaving today; him for a meeting in Spokane, Spackle and me for a long weekend on Orcas), when I came upon a slightly disheveled, middle-aged blond man perusing the bulk snack foods.

"Foxy," I said to him, as I came to a stop in front of the dipped pretzels.

"Excuse me?" he asked, with some surprise.

"Your pants," I said, gesturing to his wrinkled, vulpini-printed lounge pants. "Foxy!"

"OH!" he said. "My last name means "fox", so I bought these. Actually," he went on, "my lawyer says my first name means fox, too . . ."

[His lawyer! Interesting!, I thought, noticing that he was missing his left-most incisor.]

"so I'm Fox Fox!"

"Indeed!" I said.

Wishing each other a nice day, we parted company, me moving on to produce; Fox Fox deciding on a snack and filling his bag.

05 September 2014

A Story With Sheep

A Roman Bridge in Gimonde, in the Back of Beyond in Portugal.

Trás-os-Montes, the northeastern province of Portugal, is a mountainous country idyll steeped in ancient tradition. So steeped, in fact, that many traditions carry on today. We have seen at least three donkey carts in use, with one of those coming down the highway this morning, and another turning out onto the highway from the road in front of our hotel's restaurant an hour later.

We're staying in a new addition to A. Montesinho's lodging options, this one a 3-bedroom apartment fashioned out of an old farm building. 

It's still a working farm, and I accidentally caused quite the kerfuffle amongst the flock of ewes yesterday afternoon. Or rather, I would have if they were not being herded by such a consummate professional.

I had been prowling the fields and the wooded river bank, and was on my way back to our apartment, when a flood of recently-sheared ovelhas, tended by a middle-aged woman and an exceedingly businesslike white herding dog, began pouring through the open gate I was headed for. The sheep and the dog caught sight of me at the same time, and before the alarm of the flock could turn into panic, the dog gave several sharp barks, and instantly the ewes were one large white oval, packed tightly together, grazing again, having completely forgotten that scary things exist in the world.

For my part, I slowed my walking and continued toward the gate in a wide circle around the white oval. The dog, Bambi (I learned this morning), seeing that his charges were behaving, began trotting purposefully toward me, hackles raised. From a football field away the woman waved at me to stop moving so I did, standing calmly and still as Bambi approached.

I heard the woman say "Não, só uma senhora,"--it's only a lady--and realized she was taking on her phone, explaining the barking to someone.

A moment later, responding to a sign or a call that I didn't notice, Bambi turned away and went back to his duties, misplaced foreigners forgotten. I took several pictures of the masterful workmanship, and then made my way through the gate when all was clear.

As l started up the other side of the fence toward home I came upon an elderly man, clearly of the farm.

"Peço desculpa!" I said. I'm sorry!

"Não faz mal," replied the old man with a friendly smile. It's okay, don't worry.

"The ewes know me," he went on in Portuguese, "so they're not afraid of me. But they don't know you!"

"Não quero --I flung my arms around and made an indiscriminate fearful noise, not remembering the Portuguese for "to scare"--as  ovelhas!"

The man grinned at my demonstration and nodded, and wished me a good afternoon.

I was so impressed with that dog! He would've won any herding competition, anywhere. Really fun to see!

one-fingered on my phone

02 September 2014

The Most Picturesque Town Square in the World

Guimarães, the small city Mom and Marsh and I are staying in tonight, is one of the most beautiful places I've been in the world; made all the more exquisite by how harrowing our journey was getting here today.

We drove here today--the birthplace of Portugal--from Cascaís, which is near Lisbon, and about a five-hour drive. If you drive steadily.

I had forgotten, when I made our plans for this week, that a small country doesn't necessarily mean tiny. I had also forgotten that when Ian and I visited here 7 years ago we had rented our car in Porto--less than two hours away.

Jet lag, general anxiety, gut issues,  some difficulty with maps and road signs and smart-phone driving directions (very stupid phone, in this case); a long stay at a turnpike rest stop for me to sleep the drooling sleep of the internationally exhausted; the necessity for Marsh to then take over driving from me for a time, and then us getting mired down in hilly, cobbled Coimbra's traffic with the poor man at the wheel of a gutless stick shift, with no Portuguese sign-reading skills, and no experience driving in the country that vies with Greece for Europe's most dangerous roads; a refreshing (enough) stroll through Coimbra University's Botanical Garden (Coimbra University is the second oldest university is the world that has been in operation full-time, starting in the early 1200's); a short discussion of whether or not we should forfeit our lodging in Guimarães (still about 2 1/2 hours further along) and try to re-navigate the narrow, winding streets of Coimbra in search of alternate lodging; but deciding ultimately to go on (I had recovered and the drive seemed way easier to me than a search for a room would be the), where we got to experience  insane drivers (I was going 90 with the flow of traffic, at one point, and two Mercedes flew by me going at least 150, one car-length apart, barely able to keep to their lane) . . . where was I?

Well we made it; Mom and Marsh's room looks out over the idyllic square; we covered two cafe tables with local specialties around 8:30 pm (about 30 minutes before the locals started trickling in to eat) and ate them all, and I am delighted to be here :-)

And now I will sleep.

one-fingered on my phone