There’s a gravel road off Highway 89 in Grand Teton National Park that leads to a creek and a beaver dam. The pond the industrious beavers have created conveniently reflects the Grand Tetons in the distance and it makes for a quiet and scenic spot for photographers to capture the beauty of the mountains. The thing is, you can take hundreds of pictures of views like this but when you look at them later they never quite measure up to the real thing. There were times on the trip when I had to force myself to put my camera down and just be in the moment, to take in my surroundings without trying to “capture” something in my viewfinder for future screenings. Looking back on our vacation I know we didn’t do enough of that. We ran from one end of the park to another looking for animals and views to photograph, we hiked up a mountain, our goal was to make it all the way up and we did. At the top of the mountain we took a few pictures, drank the remains of our water, and then headed quickly back down. We wanted to experience as much of the park as we could knowing we may never get back there…plus we needed lots of pictures for the photo album I was planning to put together once I got home!
We are a busy, goal orientated society. It’s the American way to keep your eyes on the prize, to see and take and always be on the lookout for the next challenge, the next conquest. The older we get the faster the years seem to fly by and I can’t help but wonder if that’s because we are always seeking, always counting on tomorrow to bring us the better job, the baby, the love, the good health, the closure, the peace of mind, that dream vacation and whatever other dreams our little heart’s desire. We say it’s the journey that really matters yet we spend much of our lives chasing the results. I like how the photographer in my photo has stepped away from his camera. Perhaps he is waiting for the light to be perfect before he takes the next photograph, but I hope not. I hope he was enjoying the moment, not looking forward or backward, but simply looking out.
I took this photograph over the weekend during a family barbecue. Aunt Bessie is 98 years old. My new granddaughter Brooklyn is only 8 weeks old. When I look at the two of them it feels as though I am looking at the whole of a woman’s life – the history of girlhood and school days, of friendships and lovers and work and marriage, the fierce new love a young mother feels when she holds her sleeping child, and the fierce grief a woman lives as she strokes her dying husband’s hand. Can you see it? All that has happened in the creases and lines of Bess’s beautiful face, and all that is yet to come in the smooth angelic face of my baby granddaughter. A life nearing its conclusion and one that is just beginning. The circle of life, strung out between their two ageless spirits like the glistening white pearls of Aunt Bessie’s necklace.
All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on. ~Havelock Ellis
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As I write this post, I am thankful that September has arrived in Michigan and gifted us with a lovely late summer day. I’ve planted mums in the flower garden by the mailbox, planned a barbecue for the holiday weekend, and yet I can’t help but think about the fragility of life this afternoon. My daughter texted me last night that her and her partner have to put one of their beloved cats to sleep this week. A friend called to tell me one of the week old baby twins born to the son of another close friend is gravely ill, a blogging buddy has been asking for prayers for neighbors who lost their five year old daughter in a backyard swimming pool accident, and this month is bittersweet for me and my family as we will mark the one year anniversary of my mother’s passing. On Sunday, when I asked my father if he wanted to do anything on the 30th to commemorate the day, he silently shook his head and I suddenly felt how alone he has been for the past twelve months. My sister and I have made an effort to see my dad every week, and we talk about my mother often, but still, after fifty-one years of marriage I know there aren’t enough dinners or walks down memory lane that can change the fact that his wife is no longer sitting on the couch across from him reading her books with her little dog Ellie curled up on her lap.
Several weeks ago my dad woke up at dawn. When he looked toward the foot of his bed he saw the misty outline of a woman standing there, just looking at him. She was wearing a long white dress and he couldn’t make out her face. All at once, his two dogs who sleep in the bed with him, woke up and began barking in the direction of the ethereal figure. After a minute or two, my dad got up and took the dogs outside to try and settle them down. When he went back into his bedroom the woman was gone but the dogs were still nervous and it took them quite some time to go back to sleep. My dad said he would have thought it was a dream if the dogs hadn’t apparently seen the woman too. He said he assumed the figure was my mother.
So I don’t know, maybe my father isn’t alone. Maybe all the tender moments shared, all the joy filled beginnings and the sad goodbyes, all the threads of love and longing and regret that join each life to another, maybe all these things really do survive long after we are gone. And just maybe, if you are very lucky like my father, when you feel most alone they will gather together in the haze of the early morning light and give you peace. That is my wish for my friends and family on this bright September day, peace in knowing that it doesn’t matter if a life is measured in days or in years, in good health or in trial, each life is worthy and perfect just as it is – beginning and ending with one small breath.
Last Sunday while on our butterfly hunt, my husband and I came across these handsome fellows grazing in a nearby field. They are African Watusi, and I couldn’t help but wonder how they have adapted to our harsh Michigan winters coming from such a warm, dry climate. The lazy days of August are coming to a close here but they are feeling much more like the cool crisp days of October and I’ve caught myself saying at least it’s not snowing several times already! I do believe that my life would be much easier, happiness much closer at hand, if I could adapt to change like the beautiful horned cattle in the photo above apparently have. I want to learn to embrace not only the crazy weather patterns here in Michigan, but also the roller-coaster ups and downs of this thing called life. In two weeks I’m turning fifty and the one year anniversary of my mother’s death is coming up at the end of September. I can’t believe I’m that old and that my mom has been gone for a year already. I’ve never been very good at accepting change, at “going with the flow” as they say, but I’m making a real effort to improve on that skill. I have to of course, because change is inevitable in every life and as we grow older the ride only speeds up and those peaks and valleys only grow taller and much deeper. My birthday gift to myself is going to be to learn to let go, to put my hands up in the air, feel the wind on my face, and enjoy the rest of the ride for as long as it lasts:)
It’s not so much that we’re afraid of change or so in love with the old ways, but it’s that place in between that we fear . . . . It’s like being between trapezes. It’s Linus when his blanket is in the dryer. There’s nothing to hold on to. ~Marilyn Ferguson
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This is Jake. A couple of times each summer, Jake comes over with our friends Ann and Shirley and he goes for a swim in our pool. He has trained us humans to throw a ball into the water and he swims out after it – we repeat this drill over and over again. We love to watch Jake chase his yellow tennis ball because he does it with such complete joy and abandon. When I go in the pool it has to be warm enough. I try not to get my hair wet because I don’t want it to get frizzy and I’m afraid the chlorine will turn my expensive highlights green. I don’t really have a bathing suit I like, you know, that elusive swim suit that makes me look ten pounds slimmer and ten years younger? I want to be like Jake. I want to jump into the pool and enjoy the feeling of the cold refreshing water as it washes over me. I don’t want to worry about my hair or what I’m wearing or how my body looks. I guess what I’m saying is I want to live like a dog, content with the simple delights that each moment brings, unaware of the past and unafraid of the future. Hmm, maybe the next time we’re sitting out by the pool I’ll have Mr. bookbabie toss a jar of Sanders Hot Fudge Topping into the deep end and we’ll see what happens;)
I think we are drawn to dogs because they are the uninhibited creatures we might be if we weren’t certain we knew better. ~George Bird Evans
See other (not quite) Wordless Wednesday participants here.
Teaser Tuesday asks you to : Grab your current read, Open to a random page, Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. Do you ever fall into a non-reading rut? I’ve been having a hard time getting into any books for quite awhile. I pick up a novel and start it but nothing really grabs and holds my attention. I know it’s not the fault of the books, my brain just feels “burned out”, if that makes any sense. When I thought about participating in Teaser Tuesday I looked around and saw my Frommer’s Montana & Wyoming tour book sitting next to my computer so that’s where I got my teaser from today. We’re thinking about going somewhere for my 50th birthday and I’ve decided that we need a vacation that is more about nature and renewal than a big city adventure like the one in Paris I was trying to plan. We’ve never been to Europe, and while we still plan to go someday, neither one of us feels like we have the energy (or the cash) to take that kind of trip right now so we may grab our cameras and head for the wide open spaces of America’s west instead!
Here’s my teaser: Grand Teton brags of its soaring mountain scenery; Arizona’s Grand Canyon flaunts its imposing expanses. But Yellowstone enchants with a more subtle beauty, hinting through its very diversity the changes undergone during a volatile, explosive past. As I was typing those two sentences it struck me that maybe I’m a little like Yellowstone. Maybe we all are. Life can be very challenging at times. Nobody gets through it without “stuff”, and some of that stuff is volatile and explosive and it changes us along with the simple passage of time itself. Our bodies get older, they sag a little here, ache a little there and as our past grows longer our list of sorrows grows too. Of course, so does our list of joys. The diversity of our experiences, the ups as well as the downs, truly are the stuff of life that make our lives both bountiful and beautiful.
That’s a photo from my wedding day, thirty years ago today. I pulled it out of an album, scanned it, and then adjusted the color, taking out the yellowed tone of the old paper with a simple click of my mouse button. I still have my wedding dress, I don’t know why, it was certainly nothing fancy. I bought it off the rack, I couldn’t see spending a lot of money for a dress I’d wear for only one afternoon. I’ve moved it many times over the years, from house to house and closet to closet. Like the photos from our wedding day, it’s yellowed and a bit faded and I don’t know how many times I’ve picked it up and began to stuff it in a bag for donation, but I could never quite bring myself to do it. My mother saved the dress she wore that day too, she loved that dress. Near the end of her life, after illness caused her to lose enough weight so she could fit into it once more, she asked me to find it just in case an occasion came up for her to wear it again.
I’ve been married for thirty years, in a matter of days I’ll become a first time grandmother, in September I’ll celebrate my fiftieth birthday. Looking down at my hands as I type this post I see my mother’s hands. The skin is beginning to get that crepey loose look to it and the truth is it surprises me to think that those hands are attached to my body. I suppose if I could I wouldn’t mind clicking my mouse button and tightening up a few things, perhaps doing away with some wrinkles here and there while I’m at it. But you know, there’s not one day from the past ten thousand days with my husband that I would change. The good days, and even the not so good days, are strung out behind us like the tail of a kite, steadying our marriage and keeping us on course. I guess that’s why I hang on to my little yellowed wedding dress, and why my mother kept her favorite dress stashed in the back of her closet for so many years. They carry the footprints of our memories, a diary of new beginnings and of slim healthy young bodies, of ten thousand more days stretched out in front of us like so many promises.
Happy Anniversary Mr. bookbabie, there’s no one else I’d rather crawl in bed with at the end of a long, tiring day…See other Wordless (and not so wordless!) Wednesday participants here.
Last year we spent Father’s Day at my sister’s house. My mom was still here, very ill and struggling, still hoping that her battle with lung disease would have a happy ending. My son and daughter-in-law were reeling after losing their first unborn daughter to kidney disease, and my one year old niece Aryielle was just home from the hospital after becoming critically ill and having been diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. A year later we are going to brunch with Andy and Meagan, the onesie in the photo is for our son who is expecting a daughter any day now. This afternoon we’ll go to my dad’s house, barbecue some chicken, and watch two year old Aryielle run around the backyard, healthy now but forever dependant on finger pricks and insulin to remain so. It seems that time really does fly, whether you’re having fun or not. Happy Father’s Day:)