March 2012 Archives
When I moved to my new residence four months back, freshly laid off from my previous job and still unemployed, I joined the local newcomer’s club to meet other women and engage in interesting social activities.
Little did I know it would be so therapeutic.
A few months back an exploration group within the club took a tour of a local monastery and winery. The experience was so intoxicating that I determined not to miss a single future event if at all possible. This month the leaders of the group chose as their destination the North Table Mountain Ecological Preserve (locally known as “Table Mountain”), a basalt mesa 1,590 feet in elevation that formed from a lava flow many eons ago. About 100 miles north of Sacramento, California, this wildlife sanctuary is renowned for its gorgeous wildflowers and waterfalls this time of year.
Today, March 28, was the day. So last night I gathered together all my rain gear, specialized clothing and accessories in preparation for any kind of weather. At the last minute I stuffed sunscreen and sunglasses into my fanny pack, convinced they would be unnecessary. Although I was never a Boy Scout, I always followed their motto of being prepared. This time was no exception.
Because the weather had been “iffy” for the last few days, I wasn’t sure if this outdoor venture would be canceled. A storm blew in during the night that woke me up. Most storms don’t have that effect on me, but this one sounded like a tsunami had hit my bedroom window. The first thing that came to mind was, “This trip is history.” But when the day dawned bright, I saw a special light in the sky I hadn’t seen for quite some time. And it wasn’t raining. Looking out the window, I saw my neighbor packing her car for the trip, so I knew she was of the same mindset: Let’s go! So we met our five fellow hikers at a local parking lot and headed out for the unknown, equipped for the unexpected.
When our tires hit gravel at the parking lot, the place looked deserted. In fact, the spectacle resembled a scene from the Hound of the Baskervilles, with thick fog slathering the swampland and a brisk breeze forcing us to zip up and brace for arctic air. Despite the drifting mist and the whipping wind, we had it together. From parkas to waterproof hiking boots to walking sticks to moisture wicking clothing, we defined the word “troopers”. My adventurous spirit kicked into high gear: if I’ve beaten breast cancer twice, fought the demon of lymphedema and slayed the dragon of relationship betrayal, I could easily master this outdoor challenge.
As we made our way from the parking lot to the first waterfall, we sloshed through some marshes that tested the integrity of our footwear. All boots passed with flying colors: no one turned back due to soggy socks. Cameras made their way out of backpacks and pockets as we trekked along, attuning our eyes and ears to the sights and sounds of this magical moor-like place. The shifting fog and clouds forced the orange frying pan poppies to close up for business. I don’t blame them. Supposedly the sun had to be shining for an hour before they would dare open their petals. But we did hear the satisfying call of meadowlarks perched in oak trees, witnessed two mysterious cocoons on rocks, and jumped for joy at the sky lupines, goldfields, popcorn flowers–and a variegated weed resembling the ubiquitous coleus plant.
We didn’t have the time or wherewithal to visit all six waterfalls. But the ones we did reach provided stunning Kodak moments due to the recent torrential rains. During the last half of our hike the sun did poke its head out of the clouds from time to time, making me glad my sunglasses and sunscreen weren’t left sitting on my kitchen counter.
As we traversed streams, sidestepped bogs, and climbed up and down rocks on the undulating landscape, we came to realize civilization was not much more than a stone’s throw away. A lone house loomed when we ascended a hill. On our way back we took a shortcut through barbed wire that served some human purpose. And we saw several cattle grazing along the green slopes. The cows play an important role in this delicate ecological balance: if they don’t eat the grass, the grass will overtake the flowers–and then tour buses will have no reason to grace the area.
The lushness of the greenery and the scattered rocks and other stone formations bore an uncanny resemblance to the Emerald Isle that my friend and I were privileged to tour last May. In particular, it brought to mind the Burren in Western Ireland. An hour’s drive from Galway, the 50-square-mile limestone plateau making up the Burren is a unique and thriving ecosystem. Contrary to Table Mountain, with its wildflower season spanning from late February to April, the best season for wildflowers in the Burren is early July. While the land formations differ widely, the ecosystems of Table Mountain and the Burren share many similarities. I’m reminded how connected we are despite geographical distances.
I’ll be forever thankful I ventured out early on this cloudy day to join six adventurous gals. Fast friends, we proved ourselves willing to let our hiking boots get muddy from swamps and streams to enjoy the natural wonders in Northern California. The experience contributed greatly to the healing of my memories and my spirits–and I have some new hiking buddies. What better way to spend a morning?
Have you had a social outing that has stuck out in your memory? An adventure that went beyond the cultural pale? Do you find the sights and sounds of nature to be restorative or healing?
Although I’ve addressed this subject in the past, I believe it’s worth revisiting. Downsizing and decluttering have become major industries in the U.S, an affluent country known for its packrats and knick-knackers. Websites and books abound on the subject. Decluttering tips (a countless number) can keep the diligent occupied for weeks. When do we have time for real work? For which we get a real paycheck?
Like it or not, I’ve joined the sorority for scalebacks. The hazing proved brutal. How does one go from a four-bedroom, five-bathroom manse to a two-bedroom apartment? With much trepidation.
On moving day my rented storage unit quickly told my U-Haul dolly, “I’ve reached my limit. That’s enough bric-a-brac. I’m not in that space. You’ll have to pick on a unit twice my size.”
Pending user-friendly weather, each day I would park my Prius beside my unit, ready to tackle a new set of boxes. A pecking order of priorities soon became apparent. Knickknacks inherited from my parents quickly topped the “easiest-to-dispose-of” list. Already having culled through them a few years ago, I found they could sustain another round of cuts, as if I were an employer laying off more unsuspecting workers. The heirlooms ended up in a thrift store or consignment shop, way-stations more than willing to repurpose them.
Next on the list were sewing and crafting supplies and the trusty sewing machine I had kept since the ’70’s. At this point in my life season I had to decide on hobbies worth pursuing (did I really need rubber stamps bought years ago at a Stamp-It house party?). The sewing machine ended up at a local Sew-and-Vac store that donates pre-owned machines to schools. A quilter friend gladly accepted the craft and sewing accessories. Avocations I chose to keep included painting and playing ukulele. So my Prius gladly transported art and music supplies to my apartment, where they sit waiting for their owner to pay them attention.
Number three in priority? Decorations and other home decor. Wall hangings and silk floral arrangements had adorned my former abode in lavish display. I had a spray for every season and holiday. What to do with the excess? Hi-ho! Hi-ho! It’s off to the American Cancer Society thrift store, I go!
A decision on the disposition of board and other games that my sons and I enjoyed in earlier days needed more time. Last weekend I sorted them into piles of keep, discard, and donate. I wept at giving up the Star Wars game that the kids had laughed over. That whole happy era was gone, dissolved in a decade of sadder years.
The decisions became increasingly more difficult. It was down to greeting cards, mementos and photos.
In my apartment I sat down at my only table with shoebox upon shoebox of greeting cards. With a box of Kleenex at the ready, I braced myself. Picking up the first one, I glanced at the artwork and opened it to Hallmark poetry ending with a handwritten note from a friend who was sorry I had another diagnosis of cancer. I went on. I read over love letters from one who no longer loves me. I read thank-you cards from kids I transported on field trips. I read home-made cards that my sons created in school. I read over cards that friends and family sent me on my 40th and 50th birthdays and when I got cancer, the first and second times. Some of these dear souls have drifted out of my life, while others have stayed with me through all my ordeals and still comfort me in times of grief. I found my mother’s hand-painted cards, watercolor wonders bursting with bonzais and peacocks. For his twenty-fifth birthday, I recently sent my son a fold-out castle card from his grandma’s collection.
In the end I saved only the hand-made cards. Proud as I am of having stored all those greeting cards people sent me over the years, I have to honor the limited space I have. In my new season, space = money.
Now I was down to truly sentimental items. I’ve yet to deal with the mementos (for example, my father’s World War II medals and the flag that draped my father’s coffin, folded and presented to me as I stood, numb with pain, at the burial ground). But at least I’m facing the monumental task of going through about fifty photo albums and as many framed photos. Like the one of me pictured here in the fifties, lovingly colorized by my mother.
Do I keep any of these photos or simply scan them and save digital images? Some yellowed photos of ancestors are not identified on the back, lost to time. My sons and brother don’t want to be saddled with volumes of albums rarely to be seen. They have no storage room of their own. yet they don’t want me to toss them. I could pay a service to scan and organize them, but don’t want to spend the money. So instead I slowly but surely empty album upon album of fading photos and enter them into i-clouds of virtual memory. It’s an enormous task: scanning, labeling and organizing my parents’ albums covering their whole lifetimes, as well as my own pre-marriage and family albums.
At this stage in my life, before my sons have their own homes with storage room, I never thought I would have to give up so much. Haven’t I given up enough by way of cancer and relationship breakdowns? By way of financial setbacks? How can I just throw out such memories?
I believe this exercise resembles my experience when I first went to Europe after college. About to leave to go back to the States, I decided to take one last look around Brussels before heading for the airport. I thought that if I never returned to Europe again, at least I would have an impression of the buildings and people imprinted somewhere in my memory banks. And I do, despite the ensuing decades. The same will happen at this juncture of my life, except that I also have digital replicas of the experiences. For anyone who is interested enough to look.
Our treasures aren’t here on this earth, anyway. Rust, mold, or moths will get to them eventually. So I won’t store them up. I’ll just make new friends or renew old friendships. Relationships are much more rewarding than a candy dish I treasured when I was thirty. I like Oprah’s list on decluttering relationships reproduced below:
- Relationship to self—good riddance to decisions that don’t support self-care, self-value, and self-worth.
- Relationship to others—do the people in your life give you energy and encourage your personal growth, or block that growth with dysfunctional dynamics and outdated scripts? If they don’t support you as a loving, open, free, and spontaneous being: Goodbye!
- Relationship to emotional life—out with stagnant patterns that no longer serve you.
- Relationship to work—not only reducing the “clutter” of paperwork, inefficiency, and overcommunication, but also striving to create a balanced workload and make your work invigorating, inspiring, collaborative, and empowering to others.
- Relationship to nature and play—seeing these as expressions of love and opportunities to fill your life with truth and joy.
Experts warn not to let your guard down: don’t let closets and drawers fill up again with new trinkets and impulse purchases. Purge from time to time. Do the same with relationships that aren’t working.
So there’s my dimwit’s rundown on downsizing. Do it with trepidation. But do it!
My haiku from the Cancer Center Creative Writing course:
Amidst stored clutter
Treasured heirlooms ponder fate
Good Will loses bid
Have you had to sort through sentimental items? If you had to discard any of these, did you mourn their loss? How do you store your memories?