Archives for category: Flora and Fauna

I am struggling with our world, especially my own country. The Republic National Convention just finished yesterday. Last night, reality television star and real estate mogul, who spews obvious lies and naked hatefulness, accepted the nomination for President of the United States. Every day since his campaign was announced, it has been like waking up in a world with rules and structures that I can’t understand. And then there are the terrorist acts abroad as well as the acts inflicted on our own citizens due to institutionalized racism.

These are not the only problems in the world or in my personal world but they weigh very heavily on me. This morning, I woke up after a series of nightmares. I could feel my heart beat racing. It was tangible. I could not only feel it from within, but it was vibrating my fingers, held over my chest.

I did not want to get out of bed today. I felt unmotivated, scared, and sad. I am not depressed or suffering from an anxiety disorder but I have the sense of light fog and quivery-ness that are cues for me to engage in self-care. So I got up, got dressed, and walked outside.

It had rained all night. The air was heavy but cool. It was cloudy, but I could see lightness behind the clouds, the kind of lightness that suggests a sunny afternoon to come. I remembered to bring my camera. The light was not that great, but I took my photos, anyway. It is hard not to appreciate summer flowers, close up. The dahlias are in bloom. The sunflowers are at their peak.

I often let my mind wander and try to stay in connection with my senses when I walk. I find that instead of feeling, thinking, or sensing less, I feel, think, and sense more. I have a wide variety of experience on my walks and this is very grounding to me even though some of the thoughts and feelings I experience are troubled. Mindfulness is not about blocking out. I continue to learn that it is about being open and to experience life in a way that is real but does not produce suffering.

As I was walking along the sidewalk in my neighborhood, there was a tree branch within reach. It was one of our wonderful evergreen trees, the branch of a hemlock. They have downward pointing boughs that are soft and flexible. I reached my hand up and softly grabbed it. It was still wet from the rain. In touching it, the newness, life, and health were tangible. It filled me with calm.

With just a moment of full engagement, I felt reconnected with what is beautiful.

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I started writing this post while at the Palm Springs Airport waiting to board the first flight back to Seattle, which is my home. My family and I had just enjoyed the long Thanksgiving weekend in the southern California desert.

I have long associated Palm  Springs with wealthy retirees and mid-century modern style, a place where the Hollywood elite used to live.

I chose Palm Springs as a 50th birthday trip due to its proximity to Joshua Tree National Park. It’s not that I don’t like the other offerings of the area, the style, the history, or the architecture. I love those things. But what I also love and what I needed for this trip was to in nature and to be in the sunshine.

I had never visited this part of the country.  We flew into Palm Springs in the late morning. We flew into a valley surrounded by mountains. The mountains were right there. Close. Really close. I had no idea. I was smiling as I lugged my cooler full of food to the rental car. (My allergies mean that I can’t eat at restaurants and there was no way I was going to waste time in California at the grocery store, especially on Thanksgiving Day.) We drove to the rental house, ate a little lunch, and my daughter, who hates traveling and doesn’t suffer in silence, retreated to her room. It was just after noon.

You know what is open on Thanksgiving besides grocery stores? National Parks. I looked at my husband and said, “Let’s drive to Joshua Tree.” We climbed into our rental car and drove past more and more mountains, mountain-shaped stacks of rocks, wind farms, and tumble weeds. We arrived at the entrance to the park and pulled over.

Joshua Tree is full of surreal beauty, of endless marvels to behold, despite the fact that it is a very harsh land with not enough water most of the time and too much at others. In the summer, it is incredibly hot. There is not a lot at Joshua Tree to support life even on a beautiful cool November day. And yet there is life, tucked into the lifeless rocks and in the soil, which could kindly be described as “poor”.

This is Joshua Tree in it’s quiet stillness. I am from a mountainous area and I know what the majesty of mountains can mean. Where there are mountains, there are the edges of geologic plates, those seams in the Earth’s surface that prove to us that there is no such thing as solid ground. There are earthquakes. There are volcanoes. There is a sizable section of the southwest border of Joshua Tree that runs right along the southern tail of the famed San Andreas Fault. I got a look at it from a vista overlooking the mountains and Coachella Valley. I could see it! Honestly, despite the fact that I live in a part of the world that is considered to be geologically dangerous and have happily camped on top of the large caldera also known as Yellowstone National Park, being so close to that fault was a tad disconcerting.

This area is an area of natural disaster. It is an area of famine and devastation. As I was hiking, I couldn’t help but think about how this area is not only beautiful despite past devastation but in large part, because of it. And yet, I was having a marvelous time. To be honest, I have found myself worn down lately by the onslaught discouraging and heart-breaking national and world events. A lot of people are being violent and hateful. Actually, there will always be individuals who commit violent and hateful acts. This is sad but what I find nearly heartbreaking and stretched to my limits to bear is the violence and hatefulness of our culture. Dealing with individuals is one thing. Trying to change sick and dysfunctional aspects of a culture, is another endeavor entirely.

Lately, I have found myself more discouraged. I have found myself to be more harshly judgmental. Harsh judgment is incompatible with compassion. I strive to be a peaceful and compassionate person. I have found myself struggling to maintain my balance. The change is not dramatic. I’m not flailing but I feel more effort of my daily life. When I was in Joshua Tree, I found balance and peace. The stark and beautiful landscape pulled me into the present and into a state of mindfulness.

I have been practicing mindfulness for about 3 1/2 years now. I’ve been walking most days and taking photos for about that long, too. I try to eat healthfully. I try to post regularly to this blog.  I’ve lost a bit of steam and focus. I have been contemplating strategies to help me renew my efforts and avoid losing further momentum.

Last night, my friend Rachel, who is also one of my major college mentors, posted on Facebook. “I want to start a cyber commune. Any ideas?” I suggested that we start a FB study group to do a mindfulness meditation program together. She asked me to lead it. Seeing the opportunity to refocus my mindfulness practice, I immediately agreed. Within 5-10 minutes and with my agreement, Rachel had set up the group and we started inviting people. I identified a self-guided online program last night.

I don’t want to spend so much time looking at the fault in the valley, wringing my hands, and hoping for rain.

Joshua trees and rocks in Joshua Tree National Park.

Joshua trees and rocks in Joshua Tree National Park.

 

Keys View Point.

Keys View Point.

 

From Keys View Point, overlooking Coachella Valley and the San Andreas Fault.

From Keys View Point, overlooking Coachella Valley and the San Andreas Fault.

 

 

 

I am more comfortable giving than receiving emotional support. Nonetheless, I have found my self being “a friend in need” more than not recently. I have also been working a lot, trying to keep my head down, and keeping myself busy. It worked to a certain extent then it didn’t.

I had also planned a busy summer with lots of fun activities, spending time with friends, spending time with family, and spending time in nature. I was very much looking forward to spending three days with friends from out of town. I knew that it would be fun, they would have fun, and there would be some light and easy times.

And then it happened. I lost track of myself, my fatigue, and my anxiety. The beginning of the visit was marked by my anxiety and the bags under my eyes. I wasn’t fooling anyone. I was tired. I have slept solidly through the night once in the last two months and sometimes I am awake for a number of hours. Not sleeping well takes a major toll on me. I took on more than I could handle comfortably and then life gave me much much more. And I didn’t ask for enough help and when I didn’t do it in the way that solicits a whole lot of empathy.

Lo and behold, after a brief but intense temper tantrum, I got my shit together and focused on having a break from my daily grind, spending time with dear friends and with my husband. I had a wonderful three days. I went to mountains and islands. We talked and laughed. The tight worry in my chest and the cotton in my brain eased. I remembered what it is like to have relaxed joy.

Then I came back to my regularly scheduled program of life. I immediately picked up on the stress and anxiety in my household. Initially, I felt disappointment that I was getting wound up again so quickly. Then I remembered that I have skills. I have things to try. I started using paced breathing, a technique to strong emotions quickly. It worked. Today, I am feeling the anxiety again. And now I am writing, another strategy that helps. My heart is slowing and I am finding myself more and more in the present moment as I type these words.

I am a friend in need and I got the support I needed from both other people and from my own internal resources.

Today, I am grateful for my family.

Today, I am grateful for my friends.

Today, I am grateful for nature.

Today, I am grateful for my tenacity.

 

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I am on vacation with my family in British Columbia, Canada. Until yesterday, we were staying in Ucluelet, an incredibly beautiful place on the sea. We’ve spent a fair bit of time on boats. There was the Washington State Ferry ride from Anacortes, WA to Sidney, BC. There was a boat tour to see humpback whales, of which we saw several including one named, “Pinkie”. I thought, “Holy crap, please don’t tell me that this whale got it’s name to promote breast cancer awareness.” No fear, friends, her name is pinkie because she has a pink underside, which I was able to see with one of her great lunges out of the water. Unbelievable!

One of the boat rides we took was to Meares Island, off the coast of Tofino. It is a tiny island with giant trees. We spent two hours hiking on short but difficult trails before going back to the shore to wait for a small boat to take us back to the Tofino. Dennis, the captain of this 4-seater, was a character and regaled us with tales from the local area, most of which I believe were actually true.

Dennis pointed out a tiny island, “This island is for sale for $850,000.”

I don’t have that much money, but still, less than a million for a whole island? Plus, there is the Canadian/U.S. exchange rate, which today would knock nearly 25% off of the price. And it was a beautiful little place, not far from the large island of Vancouver. I could see two or three houses on it. What a deal. What a find. What an idyllic place to live.

I was gazing upon this little lump of paradise on a beautiful sunny day. Then I thought of living that close to the sea. Then I thought of the winter storms that are here. I also thought of the steep rocks on the side of the island. I wondered how many houses have fallen into the water! I suspect that keeping a house in shape there would cost a fortune, not to mention require a great deal of time and effort to maintain. Then there is the fact that it is located in one of the rainiest parts of the world.

Every moment and every thought were real. This island is idyllic. It is dangerous. It is costly. It is beautiful. It is miserably wet. This has been a wonderful vacation, by and large. I have reconnected with my family, with nature, with much needed rest and adventure. But travel is also exhausting and at times quite difficult.

Yesterday, I experienced the swell of good times, like catching a good wave of meeting delightful people and traveling through incredible natural beauty. But there were also times, when I got the shit kicked out of me, pummeled over and over, in that way that at the time, I fear that I will never get my head above water.

Fortunately, this did not last the whole day and even in the midst of my misery, at one point, I was able to shift out of it enough to get some perspective and hope that the situation could change. The wave that I was being pummeled by was the difficulty of parenting.

The sea is beautiful, powerful, and always changing.

I like on that little island whether I pony up the $850,000 or not, whether I wanted to or not, whether I planned for this or not, whether it suits my lifestyle or not.

Sometimes this feels like the greatest blessing and sometimes it feels dark and scary.

I don’t know what today will bring. My family is sleeping in.

Today, I will remind myself that every feeling has a beginning and an end. Every feeling lasts only about 30 seconds as long as we don’t respond to it in a way that keeps it firing in our brain. When I think of this, I realize how powerful our brains are. Our brains can sustain a swell or break it.

This is not easy power to exercise but it is possible. This possibility creates a sense of safety and hope for me today. I will try to remind myself of this.

Today is my last full day of vacation.

I have only one more full day of sightseeing to endure or enjoy. To a significant extent, a powerful extent, I have a say in how this plays out.

In the meantime, I’m going to reconnect with some of my photos from the trip, which gives me joy and peace. Perhaps they will bring you the same.

 

DSC02421On the ferry from Anacortes, WA to Sidney, BC, looking toward Canada.

 

DSC02449Anemone from the Ucluelet Aquarium, a small gem, in which they catch and release animals from local waters, every season.

 

DSC02514Part of the Wild Pacific Trail, Ucluelet, BC.

DSC02545I was enchanted by these puppets, designed by First Nations artists. This bear, holding a salmon, was designed by a Haida artist. It contains a teaching, “Be strong. Take care of those who are less strong.” I thought it was beautiful and adorable so I bought it for my friend, Greg’s grandkids. Then I immediately sent him a photo of it so that I wouldn’t get tempted to keep it for myself. Then I bought one for myself a few days later!

DSC02596Cox Bay, Tofino, BC.

DSC02671Meares Island.

 

DSC02682 (1)An unexpected twist on a deer fern. Meares Island.

 

DSC02703 (1)Bald eagle, Tofino.

DSC02715Middle Beach, Tofino.

DSC02785Coombs Market, famous for the goats that graze on the sod roof. Alas, I was too busy socializing with my friends, Kathryn and Nel, below, to remember to take a photo!

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It is very warm and dry here for Seattle. I’ve captured some lovely summer sights on my walks around the neighborhood. I thought I’d share a few with you. I hope you are enjoying nature and the outdoors!

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I was walking around my neighborhood the other day, as I do nearly every day. I don’t always take the same route and I don’t always plan it out in advance. But this was a route I’d taken many times. When I am walking, I typically keep my eyes on the trees and the flowers as well as watching out for cars and for uneven pieces of side walk that stick up. (I have tripped many times.)

It was a clear sunny morning. I happened to look up along the horizon. There was the top of Mt. Rainier looming above. I don’t remember ever having seen it on this route. But perhaps, I was not looking at the right time. I have spent 40 of my 49 years living in this part of the world. It is only a 30 minute drive to the house in which I grew up. I have seen Mt. Rainier many many times, thousands of times.

I couldn’t even see the whole mountain. Nonetheless, I gasped and reflexively put my hand to my chest. The mountain itself, though about 100 miles (160 km) away, is incredibly majestic, even in partial view. There is some disagreement, but standing at 14, 409 feet (4392 meters), it is the highest mountain in the U.S. outside of Alaska. Even from my neighborhood in Seattle, I could see the sun glistening on the ice of the glaciers. America, the Beautiful, right in front of me.

I have been working pretty hard lately, working more hours than I had planned to at least for the next couple of years. But I have my reasons and some of them, like the fact I am having to work more to cover a marked decrease in my collection rate for my business, are not pretty.

Some of the reasons, however, are pretty. I am working more to help pay to take more vacations. This month, my husband and I will spend a childless five nights on the Oregon coast. Next month, we will drive across the border into Canada to visit parts of Vancouver Island that we have not previously visited as well as reconnecting with the city of Vancouver, which is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been. I take another couple of days off to go hiking with John’s aunt and uncle, who will be visiting us for the first time in Seattle. In August, I am taking time off to visit with dear friends from out of state. In September, my family travels to North Carolina for a much anticipated wedding and a celebration of our kid’s 17th (!!!!) birthday!

Then the plan is for the work-a-thon to end. No worries, I am already scheduling patients in September and I am taking care to go back to my old ways of not working full time hours. My energy level typically drops in late October, anyway, as the daylight hours grow shorter. Today, we will have 16 hours of sunlight. I’m not coming home from work in the dark. I have been gardening and doing home projects, like getting my home organized again!

But it is true that when I work more hours, I tend to live less in the present, to keep my head down, shoveling. These are also times of greater stress, when it is easy to borrow trouble in life and to expect bad things to happen.

It is good to look up to the surprise of a mountain’s majesty. It is important for me to remember that there are good surprises in life.

My husband and I took a three hour drive to get up close and personal with Mt. Rainier a couple of weekends ago.

My husband and I took a three hour drive to get up close and personal with Mt. Rainier a couple of weekends ago.

When I was a little girl, we made May baskets at school, which were usually a cone made out of construction paper with a paper strip looped on the back as a hanger. Each year, I took them home, filled them with flowers from the yard, and carefully walked to the neighbor’s house. As I recall, I mostly walked to the same neighbor’s house, Myrtle Anderson’s, hung the basket on her door knob, knocked, and then ran away. They were not so random acts of kindness.

I have long enjoyed giving gifts to people. I notice the things that people like over the course of the year and file it away in my mind for future gift reference. Sometimes I give people gifts “just because”. When I was in college, I had a boyfriend who was often awkward about accepting gifts from me. They were small things, really. I knew that he liked to play cards so when I took a ceramics class and made him a mug decorated with a heart, a club, a spade, and a diamond. It was just one of the things that I made. The rest I kept for myself. When I asked him when his birthday was, he wouldn’t tell me. It was one of many arguments that he and I had over seemingly really silly things. He actually told me that I didn’t argue enough. Anyone who knew me when I was in my early adulthood would appreciate the uniqueness of this characterization. He was not comfortable with affection or gifts. When he told me that he thought we should break up, I didn’t argue. I agreed.

The following fall, I met the man who would become my husband. As I’ve written in the past, John was dating someone else at the time and in the process of a somewhat messy break up due to the fact that his girlfriend was out of the country for two years, on a religious mission. They communicated by letter. Their relationship had been in poor shape when she left.

John and I started dating the following spring. Our first kiss was on April 25th, 1988. I decided to make a May Day basket for him. I went to the University Bookstore and bought two colors of paper. (Hubby tells me now that he thought I used blue and green. I don’t remember.) I carefully measured and drew lines on the paper as a guide for cutting. I wove the strips into a basket; I remember it being surprisingly large. I made a handle for it and filled it with tulips.

I was excited when I made the gift as I often am when I am making something for someone I love. There is an enthusiasm full of hope and energy. But I was also nervous that he wouldn’t like the gift or would feel that it was “too much”, that I was “too much”.

I walked into his apartment with it. I greeted him with, “Happy May Day!” He smiled, “Thank you, those are beautiful.” Then he gave me a kiss. In short, he acted as if I had given him a somewhat random act of kindness that he very much appreciated. He acted like giving a gift to your boyfriend was a normal and healthy thing to do. This is when I learned that he could accept my love. I hoped that it would last for a long long time.

John is leaving tomorrow for an eagerly awaited ten day trip to the canyon lands of Utah. He is traveling with his stepfather, Don. They will have a marvelous time and I am very happy for him. They have not taken a trip, just the two of them, since 1993 when they went to Tanzania together.

I woke up this morning, missing him even though he hasn’t yet left. When I noticed that it is May 1st, I thought back to the basket and the flowers. So as part of my walk, I stopped at the Thriftway and picked up six bunches of locally grown tulips. When I gave them to him, he thanked me and remembered our first May Day together.

May 1st means a lot of things. To some it is just the first day of May. To others, it marks the day of a birth or a death. To others, it is a time to advocate for workers. All of these things are true. To me, it marks the newness of spring and the joyful discovery of love given freely and freely returned.

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I love flowers. I love smelling them. I love looking at them. I love taking photos of them.

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People occasionally make comments about my flower photos that are sexual in nature, though using big vocabulary words. Sometimes a flower is just a flower, People! As I mentioned previously, April is “Poetry Month” at Bloedel Reserve. There are poems written on signs throughout the reserve.Here is the last poem I want to share with you from my visit there.

 

And the day came when
the risk to remain tight
in a bud was more
painful than the risk
it took to blossom.
-Anais Nin

 

Well, I’m sure that to Anais Nin, a flower is just a flower.  Let’s think about Anais Nin and what she liked to write about. Hmm. Maybe not. Now I’m not saying that this poem is NOT about flowers or ONLY about sex. Let’s just say that I think that sex is a part of it.

Sex is a part of flowers. Their sex parts are on full display. Stop snickering. Be adults. This is basic birds and bees stuff. Creation is beautiful. For flowers, it is okay for them to be out in the open about it, too. Flowers are simple beings who despite depending on a whole different kingdom of creation to reproduce, do not have baggage or require privacy.The other day, I came upon a pink dogwood tree. It was in magnificent bloom on the left side and had just a smattering of blooms on the right side. It was a beautiful tree but it definitely looked more alive on one side than on the other. I immediately thought, “My body is like that tree.”

Due to my right-side mastectomy and TRAM reconstruction, I have very little sensation on the right side of my torso. I would say that my right breast has no sensation but I did start feeling itch a year or so ago. Today, as I write this, I notice that I can feel pain if I pinch myself. This is new. My abdomen has been healing over the last two years since it was harvested for tissue to make a new breast and it is waking back up, gradually, from the outside in.

Although we may not always be cognizant of this fact, a flower is a sexual creature, as are all living things. A woman’s body is not just a body. Sensation matters. While I am happy with the choices that I made in the treatment of my breast cancer as well as the choices I made with reconstruction, the loss of sensation from a sexual health standpoint is not something that was raised by my surgeons. I raised it myself based on reading that I had done and my husband’s question to my breast surgeon about whether a bilateral mastectomy was indicated.

Women are not just women. We are sexual beings, even when we are done having children. We don’t want to shorten our lives we have but we also want to enjoy our loved ones as much as we can.

This is another poem I read in the woods while visiting Bloedel Reserve earlier this month. It is a good reflection for me today.

The Art of Being

The fern in the rain breathes the silver message.
Stay, lie low. Play your dark reeds
and relearn the beauty of absorption.
There is nothing beyond the rotten log
covered with leaves and needles.
Forget the light emerging with its golden wick.
Raise your face to the water-laden frond.
A thousand blossoms will fall into your arms.
-Ann Coray (2011)

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Yesterday was a gloriously sunny spring day. Actually, it was like a summer day. It was 77 degrees (25 degrees C). I was taking my daily walk in a different neighborhood than usual. A light breeze carried the scent of lilac, bearded iris, and wisteria. At times, I could see the mountains and the sea. At one point, I passed a man working in his yard. I greeted him, “Beautiful day.” He looked at me, smiled broadly, raised his palms toward the Heavens and exclaimed, “This. Is. Seattle.” I replied, “Yes, the city at its very best.”

It is gray today and considerably cooler. I am wearing long sleeves and walked from my car wearing my waterproof and hooded trench coat.

This. Is. Seattle.

The statement is as true today as it was yesterday. And yes, I am using the weather as a metaphor.

And yes, you are no doubt familiar with this metaphor.

My daughter is a very bright and sensitive teen. She is as cynical as Hell with liberal doses of wit. Just yesterday, she responded to friend of mine’s sincere compliment, “Aren’t teenagers GREAT!?!, ” with “No. All we do is complain about you guys ruining the economy and being close-minded.”

To her, the negative aspects of life are more real, at least from an intellectual standpoint. I was the same way at her age; it is part of growing up, realizing that the world is complex and largely uncontrollable. That part of reality sucks.

But it is part, not the whole. I come back to this metaphor time and time again as well as to just the thought that almost no situation is all good or all bad. A lot of my blog posts are about this very topic, staying positive, but realistic. Staying in balance.

I almost didn’t write this post because I thought that the theme was too much of a cliche. Then I realized that there are things that never get old like saying, “I love you” or giving someone appreciation, or even TALKING ABOUT THE WEATHER. Those are actions that tie us to our loved ones and to our communities as a whole.

I repeat these thoughts, the importance of seeing both the positive and negative, the good and the bad, the painful and the joyful, because they tie me to my own mental health. My life is not going to be about pink ribbons. But it’s also not going to be a black out of light. If there’s a flower to to look at, I am going to do my best to see it. If there a need for compassion, I will do my best to give it. If there’s a loss, I will do my best to grieve it.

This.

Is.

Life.

Geum.

Geum.

Nemophila.

Nemophila.

The roses will be at their peak in about a month.

The roses will be at their peak in about a month.

The bees have been back for awhile and the lavender has just begun to blossom.

The bees have been back for awhile and the lavender has just begun to blossom.

George Lakoff

George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (cnms.berkeley.edu).

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