Before his Monday off James asks, "How about a hike?"

With the season almost over I might have expected this. His lovely fiancee, Kimi, is back at school in Washington. I'm needing to create my long to-do list and get things accomplished, but a hike only takes up one day. How can I refuse? Especially now that it's become nostalgic.

Still, I'm reluctant. "I have a little phobia," I remind James. "But yes, let's go."

The day's a bit forest-fire smoky, but by the time we reach these woods the sky is clearer. Our light will continue bronze-tinted, the hills and the mountains gray-blue.

When he was 15, James wanted to hike every minute. That was the year we almost could.

He was growing up, following me along the trails. Receiving his P.E. credits for school, engaging with geology, topography, the solar system touching earth. Where would this lead him? A mother wonders, imagines. Forest ranger? Astronomer? Maybe a professor someday.

Now he's 24. He wants to study this forest trail because he learned there was a fire here a century and a half ago. He wants to see how it grew back. Today I'm following him. Fortunately, at first the path is steadily ascending, not too steep yet. I'm not in shape for hills like I was nine years ago.

The woods are quiet. We don't talk much. After a while, I bring up theology; it's what I always do. I like a definition I read this past week. From Christopher Veniamin's The Orthodox Understanding of Salvation: "Theology is the description of our encounter with God." I express to James some of my descriptions. He responds with his own thoughtful thinkings.

Now the trail grows steeper, so I'm busy puffing. James gets farther ahead, and then he kindly slows. "Do you want to rest?" he asks.

"No, keep going." If I stop, I'll have to start again.

We do pause at last for James to check his book. It's one by author/hiker William Sullivan, whose adventures inspired my son at 15 and gave us the scoop on many hiking options. I'm not real grateful for all the winding, graveled roads I navigated to different trailheads. But for the views, the euphoric accomplishments, oh yes, I appreciate you, Bill S.

It should be a half mile now to Rooster Rock. I shuffle forward. Step, step. My fingers' pulse pounds my water bottle. Step, step. Maybe I can't do this. Was labor and delivery any easier? Step, step.

James points out how the forest has changed, from the moister region below to a much drier climate up here. At first we were passing rhododendrons. Now over there is a madrone tree.

I try to muster interest. My head is down and my lungs must be collapsing. James offers a salal berry and I decline. Step, step.

We're almost there. The trail levels briefly, plus there is a puff of breeze. Yay. Then, even better, a noise from above. "What animal made that sound?" I ask.

James glances back to see my grin. He knows I recognize laughter. He also knows any other live sound would send me into a panic.

I prefer, more than I ever did nine years ago, to see lots of people when I hike. It's been weird having a phobia develop. That twist in the pit of my stomach. Anymore, whenever I enter the wilderness it's there. I constantly look back. I fear sometime I'll see a bear or cougar, and my thoughts spiral. It's the unknown factor; it's facing my lack of control.

Today we find a group of young women welcoming us to our viewpoint. They're engaged with lunch. James and I examine the forested canyon and the smoky blue beyond.

I ask the other hikers if I can take their picture for my blog, and they seem happy to pose.

What could ever go wrong? I feel that way, having reached the goal. Yet, being me, I ponder the long way down.

Waiting for James to check one more spot of interest, I practice the art of the selfie, blustered and sweaty though I be.

I hear a growl. It's my stomach. The way to lunch is down, and I'm glad to venture it, along with twisty fearfulness and hunger and my grownup son.


living room scholar

I’ve seen a freshly wiped dining table, Bibles reflected in the gleam, waiting. Heard the doorbell, smiled, guided, sat. Prayed inwardly while Tim spoke. Young men, dark suits, Books of Mormon. “Do you know for sure you’re going to heaven?” we asked.

Our preparation: the Christian Research Institute, which Walter Martin founded. Our story, before marriage, listening to dear Walter on cassette tapes in the car. Our hearts enlivened when he spoke with love for God.

One time the young men brought their elders with them. Good debate ensued. A Mormon elder told me I was quite a Bible scholar. “No,” I said, but inside I smiled.

A few years later, among new friends in a setting of seekers of truth, someone called me a real student of the Bible. My landscape shone. Every expression must come from this — root, bark, and leaf — I thought. This means everything.

I’ve heard Tim set kindling early in the woodstove, the crack of flame, heavy hinges creaking. I stumbled out to him, slippered and with tousled hair. Folded legs on carpet. It couldn’t be, yet, here, I asked it. “Will it be all right if I go into Orthodoxy with you?”

Glory to God for All Things
Glory to God for All Things

Reputation, if ever such was, disappeared. A step into mystery. Water and oil and wine. Believing a Body — spiritual, St. Paul wrote long ago — can feed me. Believing the Blood is holy, blessed, true drink. This, something greater than the Temple, out of sight of eye, but real. Gospel, in Person. “I am with you always.”

Knowing for sure I’m not heaven-worthy, this corrupted gleam, this blaze. I’ve glimpsed the end of dreaming, beyond my front door. I stumble. Again I climb.


leavings and twinings

My left arm hugs my middle, against the first morning chill in a long while. The mug in my right hand steams. I stand near our old satellite dish, where beans climb and lush leaves fill varied spaces. The neighbor's apple tree reaches giant arms, shaking off final, fragrant Gravensteins. Sunlight parts shade. Canadian geese gab on wing, commuting west from river to wetland.

An hour ago I picked up Edmund and received my first real hug from him. His gaze so full. His joy. Now he and his parents ride to Portland. Their flight this afternoon, their east coast life resuming.

Near my feet transplanted lupine thrive. California poppies will open later in sunshine. Mexican sunflowers are orange splashes beneath the window. Kiwi leaves entwine behind the clothesline; berry plants arch branching vines toward the gate.

My grandchild's embrace lingering around my neck, I glimpse a remembered view. There's only plain grass, a clothesline, and a hole. Another child, pacifier gratified, watches his daddy, Tim, pouring cement. This boy takes moments to explore the deck boards, to gaze upward and wonder about clouds. At a distance the truck backs in through the gate, the black pole is set in place and the dish erected. He takes it all in.

I pin clothes and chase a puppy and guide the toddling boy away from dangers. Like Edmund's parents, I feed and cuddle and scold and can't ever really pause to hug myself near the backyard dish with my warm mug, at least not before days of do-it-yourself satellite programing have long passed.

My toddling boy has grown up, has found his joy farming south of town, and has given us beans climbing grape vines which climb the apple tree. His nephew plants new memories each moment for my daughter to absorb. She'll ponder them one day, beneath whatever twining vines may rise.


my love

As a child, when I dreamed about adulthood I pictured myself on a deserted island with animals. Maybe playing my flute in a tree. My friends dreamed about their weddings, while I fantasized seeing my name on a book cover.

Dating Tim at 17, I expected to be letting him go the day he would be transferred cross-country by the Navy. I resolved I would not cling. He had been a friend in childhood; we had realized we cared a lot for one another. But I was destined for college and whatever academic island I might sail to. Tim was...well, he was someone and something I knew wouldn't come along again. But he would do fine without me, so I might as well accept that.

After Tim left, I wrote him to make it clear he was free. I didn't mention how incredibly difficult I was finding it to hold my resolve. The gigantic ache in my middle made every love song on the radio cause for suffering. Now I knew why people crooned about their broken hearts.

Tim wrote me a letter that crossed mine in the mail. It resides in my file cabinet today, along with many others sent during our, as it turned out, long distance engagement. In his letter, Tim expressed his shared suffering, his ache for me. It was very romantic.

We didn't know what lay ahead. I couldn't articulate my reasons, my instinctive knowledge that only with Tim would I have a chance.

We were destined, it turned out, for incredible failure. But what a teacher disaster can be. And afterward, sometimes, there are precious gifts, not the least of which is deep humility, abiding care and gratefulness. Not to mention our children. Now, also, a grandchild. Edmund is someone and something I know won't come along again.

This morning Tim had already gone through the front door to his bike, and I lingered, as usual, waiting to watch him ride out of sight. He is free, always, to go (I'm grateful he does the work to pay the bills). I enjoy life on my "island", with our remaining animal, where my name goes with my words that satisfyingly fill small spaces.

This morning, even though we'd already kissed goodbye (after exchanging cards that, for once, were both rather romantic), I burst out the door to tell him, "I love you more than when we met." Which is, I recognized, obvious, since we first rode his trike together. So I added, "More than ever." Because it's true.


follow the sun

Sunflowers lately are capturing my attention. James planted them, of course. The best Tim and I ever did, gardening-wise, was help bush beans grow and release garter snakes for slug control.

Last weekend I hiked in the sunshine with relatives, viewing mountains and a lizard.

Our forested Spencer Butte is a great spot, right in Eugene's back yard.

I hadn't thought before about what can happen if someone hikes the mile trail to the top and then has a problem. Of course, paramedics come to the rescue. Four or five passed us Saturday on our way up. They moved at a clip. Good exercise, I'm sure.

The men returned not much later, walking downhill with a family group. No one looked injured, thank heaven. I'm guessing someone got overheated; it was 90 degrees or so out.

Tim's 78-year-old Uncle Larry was with our party. He wanted to go clear to the top, and that surprised and slightly worried me. After the paramedics went by us the second time, Larry pretended a lament: "Now my help won't be waiting for me up there." He continued on, quite capably, and reached his goal.

Next post, if I get to it by the proper date, the subject here will be my journey of 35 years married to Uncle Larry's nephew.


musings and whinings

The other day a friend asked me if I've made a lot of new friends at my new church.

Before I go on about that, though, I will show you the critter I saw on this week's dragonfly morning.

He (or she) was relaxing near our first open sunflower.

James has planted several sunny flowery varieties around the yard this year, so we'll see how they all turn out.

Now back to my friend's question. I carried it inside myself in a rather whiny fashion. I couldn't respond the way I wished, I felt, owing to the fact that my questioner is a dear friend from the "old" church. I was out helping her canvass neighborhoods during her campaign for state legislator. I am proud of her for running for office, and I did appreciate her kind concern regarding my recent doings.

I'm guessing there may have been pain in the question, too. Maybe I ought to interpret her words as saying, "Are you happy, Deanna, after making that choice to go find other friends? Were you really so tired of us that you had to leave? Or do you sometimes wish you would have stayed with us?" Surely I should have asked her right then if that's what she meant.

Not long ago, I listened to a recording made last summer at a Gutenberg seminar. The speaker (who was responding to another speaker) said Gutenberg is a place where a person can make a statement to the group like this: "Hey, I believe stuff; it's like this....Now, anybody wanna make fun of me for it?" His implication was that then reasonable dialog would ensue.

It's a very good wish. I've learned there are many reasons why it can only rarely happen. For me, a big reason it didn't was my inability to articulate what was going on when I left. But I did give it a really good try with several people, including the dear friend I volunteered for the other day. Dialog did not happen, because, well, my friend had no interest in my turn to Orthodox Christianity. My move had to have hurt her. It had to feel like rejection.

From my end, I came to recognize something I've never related to before. Why a woman might blog about her first marriage's end and afterward the discovery of another love, superior to the first. Yet she still aches for the marriage she lost. I hadn't understood such a story until the past few years happened.

I also had never thought in a certain way about what Jesus said regarding a man who discovered treasure buried in a field. The man went and sold everything to obtain that field. I had always loved the story, the treasure-finding. But I hadn't thought so much about the selling.

I wonder now if the man started out thinking he might need to sell a few things, maybe even most of his stuff. But then came the realization: it all had to go, or there was no way to possess the treasure, the thing of such value as he had never dreamed existed. Of course he did it. He had to. I can hear him explaining to an incredulous friend (who is reasonably saying, Why are you being so foolish?). He stammers, "I can't express it; if only you'd been there. You'd know. I--I gotta go."

If I help my friend some more with her campaign, I hope to express to her that I didn't leave her and all my other friends because I was seeking new ones. The ache is still strong, the grieving of the loss of our dialog, of connection beneath the surface. If I hadn't had to leave with every fiber of my being, I wouldn't have.


cool morning

After I followed James around the garden this morning, I remembered to hang out clothes. And there was this little friend, already hanging out.

I love it when the light works with a live thing and with my fumbling tries at pictures with my little Canon SX160.

Here are some more from before the temperature ascended:


take the long way

Years and years ago on the 5th of July I carried our young cat, Obsidian, to the beach early in the morning. Tim and I had just moved to North Bend, Oregon, and the day was brilliant. So quiet, too. "Sid" hadn't seen the ocean before (it's possible he never did, being preoccupied with this giant sandbox in front of it). I had a feeling he and I would be alone on the beach, and I was right. There were remnants of fireworks strewn hither and yon, but no doggies, no parties, no people.

I recalled Sid's and my adventure this morning, as I set out on foot to reach the church in time to help with the first Saturday neighborhood breakfast. I wondered if I would see anybody. Soon enough there was a man in a cap, carrying his fishing pole, moving off the bike path down to the river's edge. His profile expressed a quiet intention toward trout for brunch. I considered taking a photo of him, but I didn't wish to intrude.

Next came a man on his bike, a woman on hers. Greetings were exchanged. A woman walking, wearing sunglasses, as I have come to do lately, late in life, perhaps, but these days I tire of squinting.

Then appeared an osprey, dipping and wheeling. I tried to swing the camera his direction in time but only caught blue. Oh, well, the river stayed put (in a manner of speaking).

Last night I climbed into bed before dark. Tim's been working crazy hours doing vacation relief, so he wouldn't be home till later. Already the world outside was booming, but I knew I was tired enough to sleep well. Tim sometimes tells the story of once back in North Bend, when I was tired enough, and a huge windstorm blew through. Tim sat up watching transformers explode across the bay while I went on sleeping.

I wanted to be up today in time to eat my breakfast, water plants, and walk to the church. I don't always make it to serve at this monthly event. Today there would be fewer regular helpers than usual. The meal's recipients are mostly homeless people from "The Whit", our eclectic neighborhood. I've spent my share of awkward moments at previous breakfasts, trying to learn the ropes. Serving food isn't a natural gift; I was fired after one week of waitressing years ago. But this morning I did my best not to dread making the attempt in my slow, distracted fashion. Wandering to the breakfast at my own pace consoled me.

I scanned Goose Island for inhabitants.

They were up and at breakfast, too, I think.

I pondered the morality of feeding those who might be less fortunate. It seems to me this scriptural adage to do for others must be the most straightforward, and the least self-conscious, method of trying to make the world better. My experience, anyway, has made it clear that every Cause, every Change I have tried to be part of, every Answer to our culture's problems turns out to be complex and fraught with problems. It seems I can only come up with ways to Give the world something different, or to Take Away something wrong. The reason I get all excited and informed and sharing words in capitals is because my Giving or my Taking Away is from my own mind, and my idea, even if I'm coming up with it in committee, is limited in vision and scope. The Idea might solve one thing, but it does nothing to solve something else, and sooner or later there will be a Terrible Thing associated with the aspect of solving I personally have promoted.

Whereas fixing a meal with care and inviting people to come in and be served is fairly direct. Even if I'm awkward at it, the deed gets done; tummies get filled. Laughter and relaxation come about in the context of breaking a fast together. That's what happened (it was in the process of happening already by the time I arrived at my church) this morning. I realized I could handle pretty well wandering among the tables offering cups of OJ or Cran-Raspberry to people, so I did.

It was a brilliant, thirsty morning.


earthiness in view

Out watering plants for James (who is away) this morning, I paused under the clothesline and caught site of this:

Life on a mullein stalk. Who knew? So much going on, between little beetles and busy bees.

I'm not posting much lately, for various reasons. First, my grandson is in town for the summer (his mom and dad came along, too, and so my daughter is not blogging much, either).

This past weekend, Edmund and I hung out by the cat door:

Amazing the spaces I start remembering to clean when this guy comes over.

Another reason for my absence here is we've had relative happenings: a cousin visiting, a family gathering, preparations going on for more visitors, and then my parents have both been sick. I now know well the route between most of my parents' doctors' offices and the pharmacy and Winco.

One gift that comes from much waiting in waiting rooms is a moment here and there to write. So I have. Here and there.

Right now I ought to clean my kitchen and fill in blanks on financial pages. But, my parents doing better, I'm playing at blogging, with respites for grateful observations of earthy, living things around me.


in the garden

I'm querying James. He is patient. I point to the plant nearby, the one that's grown taller than me.

"Is that the seaberry?"

"Sea buckthorn, or sea bok choy."

"Oh, yeah."

"How about those yellow ones over there? I'm sure you told me. They look so much like snapdragons."

"Yeah, they're weeds."


"Escaped ornamentals."

I may never get all of everything straight: the aronia berry, the giant sage, the several different currant varieties. I do know the blackberries. Not missing the thorns.

So liking the jungle out there.