The Return of the Hometown Girl

Photomontage: Seattle Area IconsThis past summer’s middle expedition of the three trips took us Home. A visit to Seattle and environs to reconnect with family, since two of my three sisters, my parents, and my spouse’s parents all live within about 40 minutes’ drive of each other in the same lovely neck of the woods where both he and I spent most of our growing-up years. His one brother and my third sister were both coming out to the Pacific Northwest with their respective spouses this summer as well, so while we hardly felt we got to more than say Hello and Goodbye to everyone in the short stretch of two weeks, it was a rare thing to get to even see them all in the same year, let alone in the same part of the world. A gift, on a grand scale, that, and one we knew we must relish to the full.

A side-benefit of this little jaunt was returning to our roots. My husband had lived other places than the Seattle area for slightly more time than I had by the time we moved to our present north Texas digs, but that region was, remains, and ever shall be our rooted home in many ways. So it was a pleasurable plus for us that our family out there took to the idea of playing Tourist in our own familiar places so nicely. It’s struck me more than once that it’s a bit of a pity that so few of us take advantage of the most famous and characteristic places and activities, sights and signs of the places where we spend the majority of our time, at least unless we have visitors who request such things. So my sisters, his brother, and our parents all indulged this homesick wish on our part to revisit those things that had colored our youth and shaped our loves over so many years.
Photomontage: Hometown Girl

We took a boat tour with my parents and siblings that I’m sure had more out-of-state visitors than locals on it, just to see Seattle and its environs from the Puget Sound side and to cruise leisurely through the Ballard Locks, where the salmon were due, imminently, to make their own annual sojourn up the ladder to their ‘roots,’ to spawn and renew. We wandered the Alki neighborhood and beach, where my grandparents’ apartment was in years long gone a wonderful place to visit not only them but the sun, the sand, and the “ice cream cone lady,” a miniature of the Statue of Liberty that still stands on the beach right across the street from where they lived then. We ate fresh local fish and chips and/or Dungeness crab at every turn. We went up to the trails at Paradise on Mt. Rainier for a sunny afternoon with Mom and Dad Sparks. My sisters and brothers-in-law and I went on the Seattle Underground Tour, a trip through the history of Seattle’s original incarnation before the whole town was demolished by fire in the nineteenth century and rebuilt on top of its own ashes, phoenix-like.

Most of all, we breathed in that familiar blend of resinous tree exhalations, saltwater spray, rich volcanic soil, wildly prolific blooms, and strangely electric, ozonated quiet that makes my heart skip like a young kid in tall grass. And we did so in the company of those we have loved the longest, those who love us for no apparent reason other than that we are family. Home and family are what we make of them, yes; they’re also the things that make us who we are, when we remember to let them. It’s good to revisit that, once in a while.Photo: Space Needle in Sun

My Little Night Music

Invocation

From the settling of the evening to the whispering of dawn

Lies a tenebrously winding way that wanders bleakly on…

What’s ahead is hid in veiling; what has been, lost in a mist,

And with strength and spirits failing goes the wayfarer, who kissed

Fond farewell to all familiars, bade goodbye to every known,

And set off to see tomorrow; now it seems all hope is flown.

But a flicker in the darkness sparks the vision of a wing,

And the silence now is shattered as a voice begins to sing!

Glorious, the song is lifted in its swelling, sweet refrains,

And the wayfarer is gifted with new courage in his veins.

What a loveliness is in it when such music comes along

To illumine every minute; what great powers in a song!

When the journey seems unending and the dark rules every vale,

For whoever needs the tending, let me be

A nightingale.Digital illo: Nightingale

Oliver Sacks & Other Friends I have Never Met

Digital collage illo: RIP Oliver SacksRIP Oliver Sacks (1933-2015).

Many of you who have been visitors to my blog for some time know that Oliver Sacks has for many years been one of my heroes, a deeply admired person because of his almost superhuman intelligence, his incredible breadth and depth of interests in a miraculously polymath-painted life, and most of all his quietly humane character. He lived a life so full of remarkable adventures, of openness to thought and passion, and seemingly endless ability to express his unique insights and experiences in language that was both approachable and lyrical that it seems ridiculous to believe all of this was only part of the substance of one single person’s life.

He died yesterday after a life that he self-described most aptly as that of being a perpetual Explorer, and I think that he will always, even in death, in some ways remain unchanged from the otherworldly spirit that he was on the terrestrial plane. His interests, while so many of them were decidedly practical and rational in his approach to them, were at bottom more genuinely in the philosophical realm of How, Why, and What-if than strictly scientific, a matter all the more notable because of his stated distaste for the perceived veils and distractions of organized religion. He was, indeed, sometimes criticized by fellow scientists, particularly in neurology (his central area of study), for being more interested in writing about and even, supposedly, exploiting the experiences of his patients and subjects than in performing and documenting the hard science that might explain and even cure them, but that, to me, was precisely his greatest strength and gift: that by translating the coldly factual into story form and making a simplified narrative both more approachable by and engaging to a wide readership, he made all of these disparate character studies and discoveries—both his and others’—far more meaningful and important in the lives of a whole generation who would otherwise have no reason to concern ourselves with or even grow to love this strange inner world of neurology and what it means to our being human.

All of this is only a small part of what endeared Dr. Sacks to me, as it clearly did to the tens of thousands who wrote him letters, consulted him, and studied and lauded his manifold accomplishments during his colorful life. Most of all, because he more and more fearlessly allowed us into his own inner life, to see how he himself experienced this complex, lovely, infuriating, and mysterious existence of ours, we were allowed to see him as a peer and a flawed, eccentric, humorous, and daring person all at the same time. This kind of intimacy is rare, for most of us, even with our closest companions, so being given so freely, vividly, this relatively unvarnished view into his inner workings made me join those thousands in thinking him a unique brand of Friend. We will all bear this loss. Yet we will all continue to benefit from the wonderfully ethereal quality of our presumptive Friendship, as well; he will remain with us in his books, the documentation of interviews, film, and all sorts of other recorded parts of his life and work, and of course, in the intense spirit of exploration that he fostered in himself and admirers alike.

I say these things here not only because of the unparalleled character I think Oliver Sacks shared with so many of us in his life, nor merely because I always found him a rollicking, endearing, and thought-provoking Good Read. It’s because his life and his death, for me, underscore what I have found to be profoundly true and increasingly obvious in my own smaller sphere of living: that what is universal in us transcends simple explanations or first person contact and allows us to befriend and treasure others who may share in daily life very little strong commonalities but remain in this larger and more complicated universe unimaginably interconnected. I have friends through this very blog who, though I have not met you and may never have that privilege on this earth, feel as bound and happily related in our mortal way to me as those who keep my physical company and speak to me face-to-face each day. I understand these connexions, however slightly, better because of the work and words of Oliver Sacks. It seems to me that his peculiar genius, despite his own avowed struggle with emotional incoherence or remoteness at times, was to find through studying, learning, expressing, and teaching others about the supposedly quantifiable attributes of the brain’s workings, a sweet, lasting, truly human kind of love.Digital collage illo: Oliver's Rainbow

In a Perfect World

Photo: In a Perfect WorldIf the universe were flawless, life within it ideal, and I supernally fine, I would arrange so that my dear, darling spouse could have the most beautifully untroubled and magically rich existence in history. When he woke up every morning, angels would fan him with their wings while serving him pizza and ice cream to his heart’s content and he’d never get uncomfortably sugar high no matter how many slices or scoops he ate. He would be wafted from rehearsing one unnaturally skilled and committed choir to another, each accompanied by the finest instrumental resources available anywhere, all the while enjoying the acoustic majesty of whatever stupendous space he desired at the moment. He would flit effortlessly to every city, country, and continent next on his wish list to make music or just to wander and rejoice in the culture and landscape, the people and history and endless other gifts of each dreamy locale, until he longed to be whisked to the next. He’d have a glorious day hike on Mt. Rainier any day he wanted, no matter where he was for the rest of the day.

And all of this would find him accompanied by me—but the fabulous, unimaginably sweet and brilliant and supremely good-humored version of me. Probably nicer to everybody than I have ever been, but especially to my husband. I might even be a good enough singer to qualify for one of his incredible choirs. If we wished. In a perfect world.

Especially today, it’d be nice to think he could exist in this perfect world. It’s his birthday, and I wish him every good thing on every day, with a plus-plus-plus-sized wishing on his birthdays. Sadly, no luck on that front. He woke up to the gentle breeze of my snoring, no angel wings. No sugary treats—homemade chili for dinner. Well, okay, a bit of chocolate for dessert. The choirs and ethereal travel…all of the other infinitely sweet wonders I wish were mine to offer him in vast quantities for every day of his long and deliriously happy life…only a dream, in this imperfect world.

But the love we share makes my world a greater joy, and I’m here to say that I hope that I can get better with each passing year at returning the favor. If all the perfection I can offer my beloved is to love him as best I can for as long as I live, then that’s what I’ll wrap up in silken tissue and a bow for now. He’s pretty tolerant of imperfection, I find, and that’s perfect for me. Happy birthday, my love.

Rough & Ready

Photo: Rough & Ready 1

Feeling ragged as an old mop lately? I rely on my cadre of kindly supporters to help me untangle my life.

If you’ve been reading the posts hereabouts in the last few days, you know I am no tough customer. I quailed as much at the thought of waking my poor sleepy spouse up in the middle of the night as at having him take me to the emergency room, let alone facing the fear of the unknown pain in my guts. And that was all for what might be the least horrific attack from a kidney stone in history, for all I know. Certainly I am as stunned (albeit happily so) as the follow-up caller from the surgical center when I say that I haven’t taken so much as an over-the counter mild painkiller since emerging from the happy haze of anesthesia yesterday afternoon.

The mountains of incredibly, indelibly kind and compassionate notes and calls I’ve received since airing my tiny miseries to you all are a true embarrassment of riches. I am grateful beyond your imaginings for the uplifting warmth and steadiness of your collective response to my discomfort and fears, and I treasure that surrounding goodness more than I can ever adequately say. But I feel more than a little sheepish, too, for being such a baby when I know that many, many who have offered such sweet and patient care and thoughtfulness to me in my weakness have also suffered far worse pain, deeper trials, and greater danger than anything I’ve faced in my whole charmed existence.

I look around me at the heroics of the people I love and admire, the friends, neighbors, and  companions who go about your business in the guise of ordinary mortality and hiding your bravery and strength behind the rugged facades of everyday occurrence, and I am slightly abashed. Slightly abashed, and very moved. You lay down your work and take time out of your already busy days to send off a word of comfort, an ethereal hug, a generous thought in my direction, and suddenly I feel myself filling with strengths and hopes that were not my own to begin with, and I am touched to the core with joy at my wealth and good fortune.

I am not nearly bold enough to manage the easiest of lives without endless help. You, who are so much more rough and ready in spirit, are always there to offer it to me. I thank you.

Photo: Rough & Ready 2

Whenever I feel like I’ve been tied to the railroad tracks, my friends come riding in to save the day.

Short & Sweet

Digital illo from photos: Dark Waters

Waves of sorrow will pass soon enough…

The interlude between uneasy emergency-room visiting and the expected, probably not too fun, Expulsion of a certain little hunk of rock from the Paradise of my innards is a brief one, but it’s amazing how lovely it is to feel pretty good in between times. The stone has kindly opted to not move during this intervening couple of days, and I am grateful! It meant, among other things, that I felt well enough to deal with a heap of post-hospital laundry, tidying up the general wreckage of a house neither of us has been free to visit much in the last week, and just admiring how lovely it is to have an ordinary day. I fully intend to be a poster child for pain-free, speedy resolution to kidney stone fun, but I have to be fair and say that I’ve already had about the shortest and easiest passage through this little form of bedevilment anybody could have. And I am cognizant, more than ever, of how incredibly fortunate I am not to face the chronic or the deepest forms of pain.

Remind me of that when I’m whingeing about my suffering later. Because, being human, and being a pretty unspectacular specimen of the species as it is, I will. I apologize in advance. But I really, truly, and with all of my heart thank everyone who has been so stupendously kind and supportive when I do get all misty-eyed over my supposed sorrows and tribulations, because it’s you who make any and all of it bearable. And keep it, despite my foolish self-centeredness, in perspective.

Joy for the day!

Digital illo from photos: Time to Make Waves

Let the happiness and love wash over us all!

I’m an Excellent Driver

Yeah, No. I’m no more an excellent driver than I am a fabulous navigator (said Miss-lexia!), let alone than the character in the movie Rain Man who made the claim.

But for the moment, my spouse is stuck with me as his chauffeur. It’s a rather novel experience for us both, having me do all the driving, as in addition to my complete lack of any sense of direction, I am not especially fond of driving, and am generally delighted to be spoiled by his driving our one car 99% of the time. He rather likes driving, and is more skillful at it than I—and more tolerant of my passenger-seat critiques than I am of his—so our usual arrangement of him driving me everywhere generally works just fine.

But he had arthroscopic surgery on his knee last week and until the swelling is completely healed and his knee more flexible again, it’s my turn to do him the favor for a bit. He’s certainly earned the privilege of being shuttled around awhile. And it has occurred to me that as the perpetual passenger I get to enjoy much of the local scenery and sights in ways that he rarely has the chance to see, when he’s constantly focused on getting us safely from Point A to Point B. It made me glad there was a pretty sunset this evening while we were coming home from points south around dusk.

And I did get us here safely, so I suppose excellence in driving is something of a relative thing, after all.Photo: On the Road