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Posts Tagged ‘quiet living’

It is that time of year when I take my slouch hat off its peg, step into my old green Wellies, head out into the garden, and contemplate shallow graves.

Last week, heavy winds cracked a twenty-foot long limb on the windward side of my blue spruce. As the limb fell the fifty or so feet to the ground, it took three lower limbs with it, all landing with a surprisingly hushed whump amongst the periwinkle. Sadly, one of the falling dead took half of a Japanese maple with it, but thankfully the maple, like the spruce, will survive.

This week, while the wind and snow and rain took a well-deserved breather, I donned my gear—the aforementioned slouch hat and Wellies, plus a billhook, machete, and saw—and made my first foray of the year out into the gardens to address the damage.

My garden in winter is not a lush thing. Though greenery still abides—the mostly moss-green lawn, the leathery green of the swordleaf ferns, the deep green of the periwinkles, and the blue-green of spruce and noble fir—on the whole the garden is spare and somewhat barren. The maples, the fruit trees, the ash and sweetgum, the lilac and willow, they all stand naked and unadorned. Remnants of last year’s blooms—gooseneck, crocosmia, spirea, and rose—huddle with their kind, shriveled and brown, ready for my pruner’s knife. And this year, of course, there was also the pile of timber that the southwesterly gales had so unkindly sent down from the canopy.

As I worked, wielding my blades, hacking branches from limbs, twigs from branches, my thoughts wandered and it struck me that though I usually think of my winter garden as a place of stasis, of rest and preparation, in truth it is more a place of death. My winter garden, amid the snows and rains and gusts of wind, is a locus of liminality where the world waits, caught between one life and the next, existing in both and in neither. All that was of the Year Gone By now lies in a shallow, leaf-strewn grave, ready to rot and return to the earth, while the Year To Come lies ready to burst forth from that very same earth, grave and cradle both.

My New Year’s Eve is not the chimes at midnight, the fireworks’ boom, the pop of champagne. This is my New Year’s Eve, this long turning-over, this slow walk from yesterday into tomorrow, when I can bury the mistakes of my past in the hopes of reaping the future wisdom that grows from their bones.

Life is a cycle, of birth and of death, but life is also cycles within that cycle, patterns within patterns, an intricate and delicate complexity that forms our years, our days, our breaths, the beating of our heart.

It’s not just a garden.

It never was just a garden.

k

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Winter.

A lot of complaining gets done in winter.

lot of complaining.

People around here are summer junkies. They spend months of the year pining for the sunlight, the warmth, the outdoors-y camaraderie of our twelve weeks of summer. They look back on July and August with a nostalgia bordering on delusion, as if it was a different era, a time out of legend when life was simpler and everyone smiled. Lost from their memory are the sleepless nights spent buffeted by the manufactured wind of oscillating fans, and of dodging from air-conditioned cars to air-conditioned offices in order to avoid the “unbearable” temperatures of 90+ degrees. They remember only the hikes, the cookouts, and those pleasant short-sleeved days when birds sang the sun from its bed, when the breeze brought a hint of salt from the Sound, and when wine-infused evenings lasted until tomorrow. (more…)

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‘Tis the season to be grateful.

Gratitude, I have found, is a very powerful tool. It has the power to relieve my stress and infuse me with joy. It increases my empathy for others. It restoreth my soul.

I have much for which I am grateful: good health, a sound mind, a solid income, a safe home, a well-suited and loving partner, and an interesting and quirky group of friends. Oh, and my cat; she’s a hoot.

For me, though, gratitude didn’t come easy. It took practice.

I was raised to see only the flaws in my life, those elements which could be improved upon, especially in myself. As a result, for most of my life, when I would look around, I’d only see what needed to be fixed, not what had been accomplished. In the beautiful wilderness of my back garden, I saw only the weeds. Though I have nine published novels, they only represented my failure to catch on with a larger audience. And as to my cooking skills, well, in them I only saw what I lacked when compared to other, more inventive chefs I know. Across all my successes, only the lost opportunities were visible, the deeds left undone. With this mindset, it was really difficult to feel grateful about what I did have.

But then I started practicing gratitude, actually forcing myself to see the good in things. Eventually, I began to appreciate what I had more and, as that increased, the primacy of the flaws decreased, for gratitude really is a zero-sum game. I can’t appreciate something and obsess about its flaws at the same time. I can still see the flaws, of course, but by being grateful for a thing, I take it as it is, not as how I think it should be.

Once the seed of gratitude takes root, it sticks with you, and those flaws? They are transformed from negatives into opportunities to make the whole even better, even more worthy of gratitude. I still want to improve what can be improved, but the little things—the dandelion among the roses, my lack of mastery with sauces—they stay little things; I no longer inflate them beyond their true importance.

So, during this season of holidays, where we wrap up our gifts as well as the year in general, I heartily encourage you to stop, take a few moments, look around, and concentrate on the good parts of your life, for there are many, even when things seem pretty bleak.

There is good in every day, and in every yesterday, and in every tomorrow. Cherish it.

Onward.

k

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During times like these, when the world is screaming along at Mach 2 with its hair on fire (which, I think it fair to say, it is currently doing), we must not be afraid to practice some self-care.

Take a breath.

Step to the side.

Look up, look around.

Take note of something that pleases you. Music. Art. Nature. Your kids. Your partner. A piece of work well done.

Relax for a bit. Just a few moments of indulgence. Something just for you. A respite from the chaos, the frenzy, the tragedies large and small.

I’ve needed a lot of self-care lately—an escape from the cruelty I see each day—and have found it in a very unlikely place.

Rugby.

(more…)

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My cathedral is made of trees, but it has seen the downslope of my attention. Its pillars are still sound, standing strong through storm and summer heat, but the branches and leaves of its soaring roof have become crowded, ragged, thick with deadwood and duff.

Its nave and transept, too, once clear and open, are now overgrown as the plantings set down in years past have grown relentlessly upward, reaching out, filling the vaulted space.

The reason for this deterioration has been my inexhaustible neglect, piled year upon year, as life and events sapped me of my faith, my devotion, my love for this quiet place. Leaving nature to do as nature does has only compounded the situation, as self-sown volunteers sprang up in open spaces, and Seattle’s often rough sea-borne winds snapped off limbs twice as long as I stand tall, dropping their five-stone weights from the canopy down onto the hapless undergrowth below. (more…)

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It’s taken a year. Or as close as makes no difference.

Last year, I initiated a purge. As part of making the (involuntary) transition from office-jockey to a full-time work-from-home employee, I pulled my office apart, replacing the major furniture and culling the—there’s no other word for it—junk that had accreted over the years. Books, letters, electronics, avocational equipment, mementos, I put absolutely everything on the block, and a lot of it went out the door.

Out the office door, that is.

It didn’t quite make it out the front door.

Just to the garage. (more…)

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It’s pruning season, again. No, not for my roses or my fruit trees (that’s February); it’s the season to prune my Facebook friends list.

During the year, my list accretes new names—distant relations who pop up after an auntie mentioned a connection, or a friend of a friend who saw a comment I made or who remembers my name from school days—and some of them work out fine. Usually, though . . . not.

Thus, with each new year, along with cleaning out old utility bills from my filing cabinet, I now also review my friends list with an eye toward clearing out the dead wood. (more…)

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