surprise endings

For many years in late summer I have enjoyed a week in the cool, forested North Carolina mountains in the heart of the Blue Ridge. It’s kind of a reset. On the surface my life appears stress-free… I am retired, my son is grown and living a happy, successful life on his own. But stuff does happen. Things build up. So these precious few days alone in the cooler air seem to clear my head and I get maybe not a do-over but a restart.

This is usually in prelude to a visit with my family at a beach south of where I live. We’ve been meeting there for the past ten years, for a week at a little inn where the same families come back each year. For better or worse it is our “family vacation” and I always look forward to it.

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Until Lily.

Two weeks ago today we were outside for the last perimeter check before bed. The people on the other side of the fence behind my house have a super-aggressive dog that loudly charges the privacy fence between us. Rescue dog Lulu, all 20-pounds of terrier responds in kind. Rescue dog Lily, somewhat protective of her little sister wandered over to be sure aggressive neighbor dog failed at her efforts.

Then Lily quickly walked back by me and sat down. Hard. I looked over at her. “Lily?”

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She turned to me. “Can you come over here?” I asked. She rose, painfully and with a pronounced limp came over to me.

No. But yes. The other acl is now torn.

So no plans. Cancelled the little mountain cabin the end of this month (I’d planned to bring Lily and Lulu this year). The only pet sitter I trust Lily with declined staying with her, understandably concerned about the intensive care Lily will require after her surgery.

I have not yet told my family I won’t be joining them though I have cancelled my reservation at the inn.  There is a reason for everything.

I reflected on life, years ago in my chaotic vortex, newly divorced, sudden responsibilities of single parenthood, jobs, schools for my son, sitters, car maintenance, the whole aspect of LIFE that happens for everyone but I had never had it all. And I believed that. I believed it was all on me.

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Bit by bit, mistake by mistake I gradually learned I could depend on God. No matter what it was… a new clutch for my car, an unexpected medical bill, leak in the ceiling. No, God did not come here to fix these things Himself. But He gave me peace. He strengthened me when I wanted to run away. He helped me persevere, gave light and calm in the storms.

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And I remembered my feeble prayers! Sometimes just a faint, “Help, please!” And He did. He heard me. He strengthened me. Every time. For any reason, crisis or not. He truly never left me. He keeps His promises, even when we forget, ignore, disbelieve or panic. He doesn’t give up on us.

My prayers in those times weren’t great. Sometimes I don’t think even I believed them. But He did. Because what or how or why I prayed them was not the point. His faithfulness is all that matters.

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So Lily and I will get through this. And about the time she is finished with her physical therapy and beginning to be strong the weather will have cooled enough for her to enjoy her walkies again.

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a compendium

Since rescue dog Lily’s surgery in early January progress has seemed very slow. She was not permitted to use her leg for about 6 weeks after, then very limited. She was not allowed to go for her beloved car rides so life became uncomplicated, and rather boring.

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This week we have ventured out more. The azaleas are just coming into bloom which is really good because the famous Azalea Festival is this weekend, complete with the Azalea queen and her court of azalea belles (I’m not kidding), hoop skirts, Citadel cadet escorts and all. The parade was this morning and though we were completely awash with rain yesterday it held off today, just cloudy and very humid.IMG_0928.JPG

The fanatic dog was out in full force, with intrepid rescue dog Lulu eager to meet his challenges. Fortunately he did not get over his fence this time, either.

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All the rain has left many swampy puddles and try as I might I can’t keep Lily and Lulu out of them, nor can I convince them it isn’t real drinking water.

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The crazed wisteria vine must cover about half an acre and it is in full bloom. The fragrance is heady.

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Wild blueberries are in bloom! I miss them every year, the birds are way faster than I. Maybe I will get a sample this year.

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For years I have heard that the new growth on pine trees begins a few weeks before the Sunday that commemorates the resurrection of Jesus. As it gets closer they begin to resemble crosses just before. Here is a small native loblolly pine which I will try to watch and see.

Anyway, a relatively uneventful week, but progress.

Onward and upward.

 

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nourishment

Before rescue-mix husky Lily’s surgery 3 weeks ago she relished her food. No sooner had I put her bowl down for her than she had vacuumed up every morsel. Even during the 2 weeks before her surgery after the injury. She ate everything.

She has always been all about food.

So part of the reason she tore her acl was her weight. This is my fault and I need to correct it. After all it’s not as if she can get her treats out of the cupboard. So I have been trying to be careful.

But her regular food? Completely turns her nose up at it. After her surgery the vet changed her food which might be part of the problem. She’s never been picky though, so I had no concerns when they sent me home with an enormous 30-pound bag of kibble that this would be a problem.

Most days though, later in the day she will go to her bowl and quietly eat her food. So maybe she just wants me to think she doesn’t like the change.

When I was little every Sunday after church my grandparents who moved from New York to be nearby would join my family for Sunday dinner. These were my mom’s parents (I never met my father’s, they were in Colorado, a long way from North Carolina), and I adored them.

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I was a picky eater. After everyone had finished, even dessert there I’d sit, my plate with remnant peas or whatever it was I did not care for staring back at me and as everyone else left the table I was told I had to sit until I finished my plate. My grandfather always sat with me.

He would not berate me, maybe offered a word or two of encouragement, but the important thing, for me, was he thought enough of me to not want me to be ashamed. Or alone.

This is something I think many of us do not understand. We have our comfy homes, our lovely friends and we do not see the ones who are alone. In our comfort we simply don’t see them.

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Nourishment comes to us in so many ways. Our physical food, the joy of a familiar voice, the wag of a dog’s tail, a favorite symphony, an unexpected note in the mail, a good book, a phone call from someone checking in, the family member who remembered something and wanted us to remember, too.

There is a hunger though, deep in each of us that no one else and nothing else can fill but God. His love that has known us since before we were born. He is with us every moment. In our fast-paced lives we may try to fill this empty need with many things… human attention, any number of substances that are bad for us or, at least, in excess are not good. All of which are fleeting, inconsistent at best and capricious at worst.

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So we move forward, day by day. We make our plans, work at our jobs, all the while knowing ultimately it is not we who are in control.

I know this for certain when I put Lily’s food in her bowl.

hidden blessings in lessons

My father, though generous and kind was a perfectionist. No one is really perfect, but he wanted us to believe he was and he expected it of others. Hard to please. He was in his late 80s before he told me he was proud of me which came as a complete and utter surprise. So much that all I could say in response was that I was proud of him, too.

So for many years this high bar was the source of a lot of frustration.

My ex-father-in-law I can recall often said, “don’t do as I do, do as I say do.” Though he was one of the most humble men I have ever met.

I have learned many things. Just watch as a dog struggles to dislodge a rawhide chip or some other much-wanted morsel from under something. Until all efforts are exhausted they will go at this with persistence showing no anger or impatience.

So this week my two rescue dogs, Lily and Lulu and I were finishing our long walk when I threw a stick for Lily, a favorite game of hers. As she turned to go after it she yelped and came limping back, her left hind leg dangling uselessly. Not far from the car I helped Lily into the backseat praying the whole way home it was not her ACL.

It was.

Her vet scheduled her surgery for January 8 and sent us home with two prescriptions for pain.

She occasionally looks up at me with her “Walkies?” face and I sit by her and pet her soft fur and explain we can go for walkies but not today. In nature the injured, sick and aging are often left behind their pack. I reassure her that she is still loved and she will be ok.

When we go outside I have learned to walk more slowly so as not to rush Lily. I notice things. I can feel tension drain away. I feel more rested. I am more present with Lily, with myself, the air.

IMG_0810.JPGMarquise Amaryllis that I noticed blooming this week

I am realizing that even though I have been retired for over 10 years I need to slow down more. Like Lily I can no longer push myself as I once did, or I shouldn’t.

I have 4 steps onto my front porch. Lily can manage getting down much better than she can climb. So I help her as she steps up each step one at a time. How many times I have cried out to God when I find myself in a mess or situation that leaves me helpless.

And each time He has shown me the way.

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 Your ears will hear a word behind you, “This is the way, walk in it,” whenever you turn to the right or to the left.”  –Isaiah 30:21 NASB

 

forest bathing

or…. nice, long walk in the woods

This is a thing. Who knew? Asian countries have been doing this for years. It calms and soothes. Gives peace and balance to your mind. Some walk leisurely through, others find a spot to stop, absorb the fulness of the forest.

My mother discovered summer camps were an easy way to get us out from underfoot as children. I learned my favorite aspect of this childhood torture was the hikes they took us on and so I have loved the outdoors. I guess our counselors thought this was a great way to push us past the point of exhaustion so we’d sleep (wrong). I loved those walks.

When my dad moved our family from the south to New Jersey in a corporate transfer he and my mom found a house in a rural area (now Johnson & Johnson headquarters) with five wooded acres and a rambling stony brook. In hot summers I’d find a spot under the leafy shade, watch fish swim in the cool, clear water of the stream.

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But forest bathing. I never connected why I was so drawn to walks in the woods. There is something safe about being dwarfed by tall trees, leafy or stark. The theory is the leaves in summer emit moisture with their shade enhancing the cooling effect. For me I am happiest to be in a place where life exists mostly in and of itself. The toxic carbon dioxide humans exhale trees and plants thrive on. In exchange they return the favor with a clean supply of oxygen. Well, clean I suppose is relative to where you live. It seems a privilege to hear the private songs of birds, watch squirrels scramble for acorns. Something transportive yet so simple.

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Rescue dogs Lily and Lulu and I drive in early morning and arrive before dawn so we see and hear the waking of the day. Seems such a small thing, but pure in its moment-to-moment changing. We can barely see, then gradually colors appear. The green grasses and pines, the browns and greys of dormancy, the few bright-colored leaves that have not yet fallen. And in its stillness like a conductor raising his baton, the orchestra poised to begin yet another beautiful symphony.

And we get to be a part of this.

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winter sleep

It makes sense, the days are shorter, it’s colder (in most places), plants go dormant. So there’s more inclination to sleep, or to want to sleep.

Not for me this week. Hurricane Florence took out a couple of fence panels that I had to replace. The installer guys said the wood had to cure for 6-8 weeks before I could paint so I did that this week. I forgot how long it takes to paint a fence!

I thought I’d get a jump on Christmas card and package mailing. Everybody had the same idea. Probably a good idea to avoid the post office from Thanksgiving till New Year’s.

An email this week had one of the coolest (no pun meant) pictures I have ever seen. There are many places I want to see before I can either no longer get around or see in general. I have been to some, the Grand Canyon was the top of the list, and another isn’t really a place so much as a thing. I would love to see auroras. So this picture is a phoenix aurora–

unnamed.jpg The picture was taken someplace over Norway recently, the photographer is Adrien Mauduit. Auroras are ephemeral, they shimmer and move with beauty. If you visit this photographer’s twitter page there are nothing but auroras, some in motion.

So though plants and most of nature sleeps, geomagnetic storms (coronal mass emissions from our sun) do not. And every summer throws its tantrums in the form of thunderstorms, hurricanes, tornadoes, and all seasons have something to keep us awake. Right now it’s a winter storm making its way across the midwest to the NC mountains. At least I sure hope it stops there.

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When I took rescue dogs Lily and Lulu to their favorite walking park today, a nature preserve about 15 miles north, I noticed the overpasses and bridges have all been salted but not the roads. Which usually means not much in the way of icy is expected.

I hope this is true. Anyway, staying home sounds like a good idea this weekend.

He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” Psalm 121

she thinks the car is that way

Rescue dogs Lily and Lulu and I have several parks where we like to walk. Lily is a great walking companion and can manage 2 or 3 miles. Lulu, being smaller therefore having much shorter legs is not. So sometimes we drive to wherever we are going for a walk.

This particular day Lulu was dragging her feet. Even squirrels did not interest her. We had come to this park but came in through an entrance we don’t normally use. So the only shortcut is a path through the woods. When we come out on the other side if we go in a certain direction we will have to walk the trail that goes completely around the park again.

A couple of ladies walking the opposite direction noted Lulu’s reluctance to keep pace with Lily and smiled, “she doesn’t seem too happy about her walk today,” one commented.

“She thinks the car is this way,” I replied. “It isn’t.”

So we went on.

To distract Lulu I headed for another pathway entrance into the woods again. She was having none of it and found a bench.

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Another morning we walked along the now-deserted beach, since summer people have gone. Lulu is not happy at all about the sand that gets between her toe pads. So this walk did not take very long. Not even a  large collection of shorebirds, mainly gulls and pelicans interested her.

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Which got me thinking… I know a group of finches is a charm, it’s a murder of crows, a wake of vultures, a banditry of chickadees, and a dance of herons. So I looked up pelicans, which are a pod, scoop or squadron. I like their being called a squadron because they fly just like fighter jets, in a v-formation, low over the surface of the water and dive sharply to go after their prey.

Even so, Lulu was not impressed as I was and soon a few other beach walkers disturbed the birds enough to set them back into flight.

It’s funny how we tend to personify dogs as though  we know what they are thinking. We love them, and want them to be comfortable and happy. I know their companionship for me has been one of warmth and ease. I have never been without a dog in my life. And each dog is different. But one characteristic is profoundly evident in each one: they love. As utterly dependent they are on their person, there is a sense of comfort and freedom about them that gives me peace.

Even when Lily makes her silent demand for “walkies”

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No spoken word could be quite so insistent.

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