I guess my feet know where they want me to go Walking on a country road ~ James Taylor ♫ (Country Road) ♫
We didn’t last too long out there, but we hadn’t had a walk since December 15th — because of all the holiday preparations and a long visit with family and bad weather — so we decided to go anyway, in spite of the temperature being 21°F/-6°C. With the light northwest wind the feels-like temperature was 10°F/-12°C. But the sunshine was bright and abundant!
The brief moments I took my hand out of my glove to take these pictures were enough to turn my fingers painfully cold. Even quickly sticking the fingers back in the Thinsulate glove didn’t help. (All my other thermal layers were working superbly, though!) So that sent me back to the car to warm my hands in the warm air from the heater. Sigh. After we got home I looked online for some warmer mittens and will try them out as soon as they get here…
In our hurried pace back to the car we encountered an elderly man walking in the opposite direction. He gave us a very wide berth. We exchanged muffled good mornings but it was obvious that some of us are still trying to stay six feet apart, much like we were at the beginning of the pandemic. It made me reflect on how it was the same way with people when the Black Death was spreading in Scandinavia around 1350.
Fourteen days later Kristin saw for the first time one sick of the plague. Rumor that the pest was raging in Nidaros and spreading through the country-side had come to Rissa — how, ’twas not easy to understand, for folk kept their houses, and every man fled to the woods or thickets if he saw an unknown wayfarer on the road; none would open his door to stranger-folk. ~ Sigrid Undset (Kristin Lavransdatter: The Cross)
Although we had a lovely visit focused on our family for the holidays there was the background worry about the continuing spread of covid. The positivity rate in Connecticut was 9% before the visit. After they left we saw it jump from 15% to 18% to 20% to 22% to 24%. We may be “done” with this pandemic but it certainly isn’t done with us. Our town has gone back to indoor mask mandates.
I may be crazy, but we’re expecting a snowstorm, a good old-fashioned nor’easter tomorrow, and I am looking forward to it!!! Perhaps I should be careful what I wish for but it would be nice to feel a little bit of normal for January for a change.
Latest statistics: New London County now has 16,753 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Of those, 80 people are currently in the hospital and 364 have lost their lives. That’s 10,105 new cases since December 6 when I last reported. I’m kind of surprised that I haven’t thought of updating the statistics for almost 2 months.
Connecticut’s positive test rate is now 3.64%. 9% of Connecticut’s residents have had their first dose of vaccine. I’m getting antsy. So far individuals over the age of 75 can make appointments to receive their vaccinations. Waiting impatiently for it to be 65+ for Tim and who-knows-when for me (being only 64)…
Connecticut has had 7,020 deaths since the pandemic began. We lost 8,500 in the 1918 Influenza Pandemic. I hope we don’t match or go past that number before this is over. 😟
I’ve been having trouble with one of my eyes. I had a flasher episode for several days late in December and when I got a clear bubble shaped floater a few days later I decided to put my fear of COVID-19 aside and headed to the ophthalmologist. I went back for a one month check on Thursday and everything is looking okay so far. The doctor said the month and the year following a flasher episode is the danger zone for damage to retina. So I have to go back in three months for another check. In the meantime, the floater looks less like a bubble and more like a blob of diffused light. She says the floater is actually shaped like a horseshoe.
Tim says his floaters are dark specks. I mentioned this to the doctor and she said the clear ones are more serious. But she’s cautiously optimistic that the situation has resolved itself.
At first I was finding the floater too distracting to do any reading but my brain seems to be getting used to the mysterious blob and sometimes now I don’t even see it. So I started reading a wonderful story, The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden, which my daughter and son-in-law gave me for Christmas. It’s been a long time since I’ve read any fiction and this reminds me of Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset, but set in medieval Russia rather than medieval Norway. I’m loving it so much!!! It’s a wonderful distraction from the pandemic and the weather.
Mourning doves have been visiting me off and on since my mother died twenty-eight years ago. They seem to arrive when I could use a little encouragement. When I used to garden one would often sit near me and watch me as I worked. Once one walked with me all the way from my garden to the swimming pool in our complex. Lately one comes to sit on the balcony almost daily and coos for as long as an hour at a time. I find her company very comforting.
Sunday morning I decided to try to photograph her through the sliding glass doors and was thrilled with the results. She didn’t seem to mind posing. I know they are plain birds, but that’s exactly why I find them so beautiful! I love them the same way I love my gulls.
In this sad world of ours, sorrow comes to all; and, to the young, it comes with bitterest agony, because it takes them unawares. The older have learned to ever expect it. ~ Abraham Lincoln (Letter to Fanny McCullough, December 23, 1862)
When I first read the Lincoln quote six years ago, after my father died, I remember thinking how true it was. When my mother died I was so young it came as a terrible blow and I needed therapy to work through the grief. By the time my father died it was no longer such a shocking experience. I deeply felt the pain of loss, but it wasn’t unexpected.
We now have 36 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our town. There are moments I feel terribly anxious about this. It’s starting to sink in that it may be be many months or even more than a year before it will be safe to visit our grandchildren again. As it stands now, I don’t think I will feel free from danger before there is a vaccine. But we are trying to make the best of it and even find a sense of humor at times.
I find myself wondering how my parents would respond to the coronavirus pandemic. I imagine they would probably be just as blindsided as the rest of humanity. But since Mother Nature sees fit to send me such a sweet comforter as this lovely mourning dove I will stay grateful.
It’s not true that life is one damn thing after another — it’s one damn thing over and over. ~ Edna St. Vincent Millay (Letter to Arthur Davison Ficke, October 24, 1930)
The Millay quote has been one of my favorites for a long time. It amuses me and helps me to laugh at the ironic situations I think I find myself in. The coronavirus pandemic feels unprecedented, and perhaps it is in my lifetime, but not at all in the history of the world.
In the trilogy Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset, the protagonist, Kristin, dies from the Black Death at the end. It’s one thing to read about plague statistics in history books, quite another to experience what it must have been like while reading the words of an excellent storyteller. It comforts me to know others have felt the same fear.
Being a highly sensitive child, whenever I would lament about the sad things happening in the world my father would sigh and advise me, “‘Twas ever thus.” When my mother was dying of cancer and my heart ached for her suffering he would gently remind me that “every creature struggles for life.” He was a naturalist and scientist who taught us compassion for animals and people, but also prepared us for loss. Whenever one of our pets died he would tell us to “remember the good times.” I am so grateful for the lessons he taught me.
‘Twas ever thus — from childhood’s hour I’ve seen my fondest hopes decay, I never loved a tree or flower but ’twas the first to fade away. ~ Charles Dickens (The Old Curiosity Shop)
In August our daughter Larisa had the opportunity to travel to Norway with her cousin, Erin, to visit Erin’s friend, Johanna. Larisa gave me permission to post some of her pictures!! One of my passionate dreams, when circumstances allow, is to visit Norway, the land of some of our sea-faring ancestors. Although Johanna didn’t live by the sea, the mountains offered more than enough beauty and scenic vistas to satisfy my curiosity for now… Larisa brought me a treasure: one of the flowers she picked in the field (below).
According to Wikipedia: “A stave church is a medieval wooden church with a post and beam construction related to timber framing. The wall frames are filled with vertical planks. The load-bearing posts (stafr in Old Norse, stav in Norwegian) have lent their name to the building technique.” There is a replica of one at the Norway Pavilion at EPCOT in Disney World, which I have visited four times.
Raised by a genealogist, Larisa knows that pictures of cemeteries are essential souvenirs to bring back from any country visited.
Show me your cemeteries, and I will tell you what kind of people you have. ~ Benjamin Franklin
The first time Larisa showed me the picture above, I got butterflies in my stomach because it seemed so very familiar. I saw that same reaction portrayed once in the movie The Motorcycle Diaries. When Ernesto “Ché” Guevara took in the spirit of the ruins of Machu Picchu, he wondered, “How is it possible to feel nostalgia for a world I never knew?” I knew exactly what he meant. It is the same feeling I also had when I walked into the stave church replica at EPCOT.
And of course it also made me think of Sigrid Undset and her books Kristin Lavransdatter and The Master of Hestviken. And the Kristin Lavransdatter movie directed by Liv Ullmann.
Thank you, Larisa! You have given your mother a most wonderful gift!
When we have house guests, more often than not we wind up taking them on a little trip to one of our very favorite places, the Book Barn, a huge used bookstore, with two satellite stores, in Niantic, Connecticut. Most of our guests are eager bookworms and they come away impressed and smiling with arms full of books. Even more often we go, just the two of us. Today we made it there early, ahead of the rain, so now we’re back home and happily tucked in for a rainy afternoon.
Lately I’ve felt like a dormant bookworm waking up from a long nap, like Rip Van Winkle, discovering that a lot has changed while I was dozing. I can’t believe how many books I’ve read the past couple of months and what sorts of things related to reading can be found on the Internet.
Clicking around from blog to blog this past week I was amazed to find that there are more than a few blogs about books, just books, and there is a social network named GoodReads, and site called the Historical Fiction Network. Not to mention many websites devoted to some of my favorite authors. There will probably be a lot about books in the future of this blog, but I’m not going to limit myself to this subject. But for now, to celebrate my reading revival it seemed like a trip to the Book Barn was in order…
When we go to the Book Barn we usually go our separate ways, Tim favoring science fiction and I love exploring historical fiction, among other things, like genealogy and consciousness. Greedy thing that I am, when we meet up my pile of books is usually higher than his, no matter how much I set out to come away with fewer books than he does…
The store is actually a huge three-story barn and several smaller buildings and makeshift nooks and crannies surrounding it. Cats roam freely inside and outside. One can snuggle up in a chair with a cat if one so desires… Gardens filled with ornaments and baubles line the paths between the buildings. Two goats have an enclosure to themselves. The business even expanded to two “downtown” and “midtown” branches, ¾ and 1 mile away.
When I was in ninth grade, many moons ago, I had a few “defining moments” about reading and writing that left an impression on me.
My English teacher said that we would be spending a good part of the school year reading the Bible as literature. That kind of excited me because my father was an atheist so I knew nothing about the Bible, except that my maternal grandparents loved reading the same passages of it every night while they were separated and attending different colleges. Seemed very romantic to me! So in class we studied the Hebrew scriptures pretty thoroughly. When it came time to start on the Greek scriptures, to my shock and disbelief, the instructor announced that this part of the Bible was obviously written by delusional people so it wasn’t worth covering. Excuse me?? Our last weeks were spent studying science fiction, at which I turned up my nose. The teacher – don’t even remember her name – told me in no uncertain terms that science fiction was written by very intelligent people and enjoyed by very intelligent people. I was not convinced at that time, equating it with the trashy stuff it seemed my then boyfriend liked to read. Still can’t get into it much, although husband and sons and even daughter have tried to warm me up to it. And yes, they are all very intelligent! 🙂
I also took Creative Writing in ninth grade. Turned in a short story assignment and the teacher – can’t remember his name either – asked me to see him after class. He told me my short story was very well written and that I should consider becoming a writer! Couldn’t believe my ears! He also told me I should read a John Updike novel, because I had a similar writing style. Don’t remember which one I tried to read, but I disliked it. I couldn’t see the similarity in any way, shape, or form!
Adults are so hard for confused ninth graders to figure out!
When I was in tenth grade, we were living in Greece and I attended an international high school. When we were asked to write a short story, out of laziness, or maybe I really did want a second opinion, I turned in the same short story I wrote in ninth grade. Again it was praised, and this teacher wrote some very helpful comments about why she thought it was good, for which I am grateful, even if I still feel a little guilty about my deception.
And the memory losses of middle age are sometimes hard to fathom. When my children were very small I read a James A. Michener novel, and I’ve been trying desperately all day to remember which one it was. None of them ring a bell of recognition. But I did read one and remember being very impressed when I learned how much meticulous research he used to do before writing each book. It was that book that made me realize how much I love the historical fiction genre and how much respect I have for the authors who do the research so thoroughly. Sigrid Undset comes to mind, and a book I couldn’t put down this past week, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, by Lisa See. Surely there are many others.
I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions. ~ James A. Michener
My darling husband startled me when, out of the blue, he explained to the owner of the Book Barn that I was taking these pictures for my blog. I wanted to crawl under a rock But the owner said, “That’s wonderful! We welcome the exposure!” So if you are ever close enough to make a trip, be sure to stop in!
For more pictures, a slide show can be found on the Book Barn website.
Mid-May I started re-reading The Master of Hestviken tetralogy and this morning I finished the last volume, The Son Avenger. My reason to begin reading it again was that I remembered loving the descriptions of the natural surroundings and the inner thoughts of the characters living in medieval Norway. Or so I thought. What stood out quickly to me in the first volume, this time around, was all the waiting Olav & Ingunn had to do to get matters settled so that they could finally be together.
In my “Eternally Terminal” post I commented on the waiting again, and connected it to the waiting theme in my current life situation. Little did I realize that the theme would keep coming around again and again in the four volumes. Waiting. Some things cannot be rushed.
Like many of the other characters, Olav was not to have a quick or easy death. He had a stroke and could no longer speak or use one side of his body. His son and daughter-in-law did their best to care for him as he lingered on for a few years. When Olav felt his death was near he struggled, inch by inch, to drag himself outdoors near dawn one morning without his family hearing him. He wanted to see the fiord once more. He finally climbed high enough to find a spot where he could see the water and the sky and be with nature. The next two paragraphs took my breath away:
The immense bright vault above him and the fiord far below and the woods of the shore began to warm as the day breathed forth its colours. Birds were awake in woods and groves. From where he lay he saw a bird sitting on a young spruce on the ridge, a black dot against the yellow dawn; he could see it swelling and contracting like the beats of a little heart; the clear flute-like notes welled out of it like a living source above all the little sleepy twitterings round about, but it was answered from the darkness of the wood. The troops of clouds up in the sky were flushing, and he began to grow impatient of his waiting.
He saw that all about him waited with him. The sea that splashed against the rocks, rowan and birch that had found foothold in the crevices and stood there with leaves still half curled up – now and again they quivered impatiently, but then they grew calm. The stone to which his face was turned waited, gazing at the light from sky and sea.
What a profound moment of intense awareness… It reminded me how when playing in the woods as a child I never felt alone, sensing and delighting in the energy of the trees, my friends. I now feel I was led to read this book again so I could pick up on this message about waiting. Patient waiting is definitely not one of my strong points! I’m impatient for my father’s suffering to end.
I’m also impatient for menopause to arrive, because I’ve been assured, by older women who have been through this and by my neurologist, that my hormonally triggered migraines – and they are the worst of them – will disappear. Every time I go several months without a period my hopes climb a little higher, only to be dashed as they were yet again last night.
Both these things I wait so impatiently for are part of nature. Maybe like Olav I can learn to become more aware of all of nature waiting with me. To let nature calm me down and soothe my frustrations.
Poor Olav. When his family discovered him missing they came looking for him and when they found him unconscious they carried him back to his dark little bedroom and there he died a couple of days later. They meant well…
Whenever I make the hour drive north to sit with my father, I use the time to listen to my iPod play list, set on shuffle. It’s kind of like drawing cards, I listen for messages in the string of songs it “selects” for the day. Since I have 1,328 songs on my “car” play list, there is always something “new” to contemplate. Or, if Dave Matthews’ The Best of What’s Around comes on (I have fourteen versions of it, including studio demos and live performances), I might hit the repeat button again and again to energize myself with the sentiments expressed for dealing with an often discouraging situation.
Yesterday I started connecting some dots… Last week I wrote about changing perceptions and mentioned the tetralogy by Sigrid Undset, The Master of Hestviken, a story about the lives of Ingunn and Olav, set in medieval Norway. I mentioned all the waiting the characters had to do. This week I started and finished the second book, The Snake Pit, and started the third, In the Wilderness.
I’ve noticed that most of the blogs I like to read have a theme or a focus, like art, history, nature, photography, places, poetry, quotes, writing, etc. And at times I feel left out because I can’t seem to find a theme for my blog. Others seem to have more time to pursue their interests, careers and dreams. But at this point in time my energy is focused on waiting!
Last month, when writing about the volcano in Iceland I observed that years ago people used to respect the power of Mother Nature and they did their best to live in harmony with it. It seems like today we are determined to carry on with our plans with no regard whatsoever for the weather, the seasons, the climate, or natural disasters.
Well. Isn’t dying a part of nature? Doesn’t it sometimes take a very long time to die? Am I doing my best to live in harmony with this reality? In The Master of Hestviken, when a character became incapacitated or gravely ill, his or her family would take turns “watching with” the one who was bedridden. Sitting by the bedside of a dying loved one was an honor and not considered a waste of time. Surely other pursuits were neglected and other plans put aside, but that was the way it was done. Even if a person lingered near death for years, like Ingunn did at the end of her life.
So I think this will be my focus, what I think about and what I observe around me as I “watch with” my father. Emotionally refreshed, I arrived at the house my parents built themselves when I was a preschooler, and went inside.
After greeting everyone, I went to use the bathroom. I couldn’t help noticing next to the toilet what appeared to be a plunger made out of a silver-toned metal. Huh?? Could not comprehend what I was looking at… So I picked it up to move it out of the way and it started ringing very loudly! It was a huge bell!! It struck me so funny – what on earth was a bell doing next to the toilet? The more I laughed the more it clanged and I heard my sister asking, “What is she doing?” and then my brother-in-law teasingly inquired, “Do you need some help in there?” Haven’t laughed so hard in ages!
Turns out it is Dad’s new bell to ring when he’s alone and needs someone. The little bell he had previously just wasn’t loud enough to wake anyone up and it was getting to be too hard for him to pick up and grasp. Beverly found this “Captain’s Bell” somewhere and now he’s back in business.
Now that I had arrived my brother-in-law took off for parts unknown and the grocery store. As he is the primary care-giver, a trip to do errands and go food shopping is a real break for him that he enjoys. My sister had been up much of the night with Dad, so she went upstairs to take a nap. And I brought Dad’s bell back to him and began “watching with” him. We talked for a little, he’d ask about the book I was reading and I’d tell him a bit about it and then he’d fall asleep. Twenty minutes later he’d wake and ask another question and then he’d fall asleep again.
After a while, the cat, Bernie, started yowling to go outside. Dad suggested I take him for a walk in the woods, so I did, knowing that monstrous bell would wake my sister if he needed anything. Bernie and I had a splendid walk! I had hoped to encounter Harriet, a wild turkey hen who has been hanging around lately. I think we heard her, but I couldn’t see her.
Something else was new in the house. My parents had always used space between the studs in the wall of the stairway going down to the basement for storing canned goods. I did a double take as I walked past the opened basement door. My brother-in-law had dry walled and painted the stairway and added shelf paper under the cans! I thought of Kathy’s ‘playing with your food’ blog and snapped a picture of it. 🙂
In the evening we were all amused by the antics of two adorable baby red squirrels who couldn’t figure out how the adult red squirrels made the jump from the tree to the bird feeder. No good pictures – they’re fast little things!
The joke in our family is that Dad is eternally terminal. (Fear not, he finds this very amusing coming from a family with a delightfully dark sense of humor.) His “little” sister, who is 80, came to visit him from Maryland last week. She says he’s like a potted plant. Every time it seems to be almost dead it revives with a little watering and/or plant food. Maybe he’s a succulent. There’s no way of knowing when the end will come, but I feel a little more settled now about making the best of whatever time there is remaining, the best of what is now. “Watching with” Dad.
Have you ever watched a movie or read a book when you were young and felt one way about it, and then watched or read it again 20-30 years later and felt a much different way about it?
One particularly striking time I noticed this it had to do with the movie, On Golden Pond. I must have been about 24 the first time I saw it and I identified completely with the daughter, Chelsea, and her many complaints about her difficult childhood. But when I saw it again, in my 50s now, it amazed me how petty she seemed to me now, and how much empathy I now had for her aging parents, Norman and Ethel.
This came to mind earlier this week when we went without power for 24 hours due to an electrical updating project at our home. I remember loving the tetralogy by Sigrid Undset, The Master of Hestviken, a story about the lives of Ingunn and Olav, set in medieval Norway. Again, I identified with Ingunn and her chronic health problems and the descriptions of her inner world. So I decided to start reading it again during those 24 hours off the computer.
I’m three-quarters of the way through the first book, The Axe. What surprises me is that I do not remember all the trouble this orphaned couple had coming together or how long it was taking for their marriage to come about. There was a lot of legal uncertainty, a clash between the age-old laws of the land and the new laws the new church was trying to set up. A lot of waiting. The author is skillful drawing the reader into the agony of the waiting. I had forgotten how tangled and frustrating the situation was!
The other surprise is that there are so many characters in the story that I’ve got an almost unbearable urge to write a genealogical outline for the main families, just to keep the relationships straight in my mind! No doubt these details didn’t interest me in the past… But I have discovered that I am not the only one interested in the cast of characters, there is a list of the characters and their relationships at Wikipedia! I’m amazed…
It feels wonderful to be immersed in a very good book again.
Watching the news last night, about all the flights grounded because it is too dangerous to fly through volcanic ash clouds, got me thinking… Years ago people used to respect the power of Mother Nature and they did their best to live in harmony with it. It seems like today we are determined to carry on with our plans with no regard whatsoever for the weather, the seasons, the climate, or natural disasters.
One of the things I loved about reading Kristin Lavransdatter and The Master of Hestviken was how Sigrid Undset portrayed the characters waking up in the middle of the night and knowing what time of night it was by the subtle sounds they heard outside and the feeling they got from the depth of darkness around them. Imagine being that in tune with the earth!
In Jane Smiley’s book, The Greenlanders, a mother poignantly explains to her son why his grandfather doesn’t have to do any chores:
After a long day, folk rest at night. After a long summer, folk play games and sit about in the winter. After a long life folk sit about the fire and stay warm, for the chill of death is upon them, and even the thickest bearskin can’t keep off the shivering. ~ Jane Smiley (The Greenlanders)
Life is a mixture of positive and negative things, a delicate balance. On a walk in the woods we see the process of death and decay right along new growth and mature life. It’s more natural than a garden, where unwelcome plants are weeded out, and dead ones discarded as soon as possible. Once we went to a butterfly conservatory where my young friend asked a curator how long the butterflies lived. Usually a day or so was the answer. What happens to the ones that die? They’re swept up every morning. So all we see is the beauty, the dying part is hidden from our awareness.
I’ve been hesitant to blog the past couple of weeks because so many “negative” things are disrupting the rhythm of my life, and it seems a shame to whine about it. But perhaps negative things can be discussed without whining? More as part of the ebb and flow of life? Sometimes I think we pay a price for trying to carry on as if nothing has happened. Maybe we need to go to bed when it gets dark early, maybe we were meant to sleep more in the winter. Maybe we need to accept the universe and stay home when Mother Earth says we should not be flying…
Our little spaceship creates some very big dark clouds sometimes. So why should we expect to sail through our lives without limits on our plans and our share of disappointments and grief to endure? Yes, it would seem I’ve got a rather large dark cloud following me lately, but in the words of my favorite songwriter…
Isn’t it strange how we move our lives for another day Like skipping a beat What if a great wave should wash us all away? Just thinking out loud Don’t mean to dwell on this dying thing, but looking at blood – it’s alive right now, deep and sweet within, pouring through our veins Don’t beat your head, dry your eyes Let the love in there There are bad times, but that’s okay Just look for love in it ~ Dave Matthews ♫ (Pig) ♫