Notes From A Tripod

(Another take on my knee injury a couple posts back…)

The doctor reviews my MRI and informs me it’s a wear injury- a polite way of saying you’re getting old. The cartilage in my knee has worn thin from age and a simple turned ankle on a hike tore the meniscus which led to a stress fracture to the head of my femur.   “Stay off your knee for 4 months, non-weight bearing- crutches.  Watch that left hip.  It shows low bone density.  Don’t gain weight.   We’ll go from there.  No surgery, no easy fixes. See you after the first of the year.” Appointment concludes.  Crabby surgeon departs.  I remain in a state of shock.

What the doctor didn’t tell me is how to cope with this loss, this massive change in my life- no walking and no clear path to recovery, no dangling hope. All he sees is the injury and not the humanity surrounding it.  The quick fix laparoscopic surgery I expected disintegrated into months of recovery with no clear resolution.  My world shrinks from a universe to the size of an orange.  Will I get to walk or hike with my friends again?  Will I ever again see the tips of my cross-country skis cut through sparking snow?

Every day humans are faced with diagnoses, injuries, and other nasty things that upend their lives instantly.  It can be a lonely path to navigate.  Every day you’ve got to stave off the demons and keep on going, reframe your life, lower your expectations.  For me being a highly creative person and very goal-oriented, this is a challenge.  My big native plant garden project? – canceled until further notice.  Travel?  I don’t think so. Grocery shopping, housework?  NO. Cook?- barely.  This is my first major injury in six decades of living.  I am such a beginner

After weeks of flapping my wings against my cage, I’ve had to revise my life.

Focus on what I can do…

Get a new doctor (check)

Write

Draw

Read

Watch movies

Sing

Play guitar

Swim

Ride my bike

Get outside

Clean out some drawers

Breathe

Meditate

  • I have to remember to ask for help (hard).
  • I have to permit myself to pamper myself- hire a housekeeper, get a massage, buy audiobooks, get a therapist. (hard) 
  • Be humble- I just ordered a wheelchair as my back aches from weeks of crutches.
  • I have to allow myself some days of just being pathetic even though I know things could be worse. (easy)

I emerged from the doctor’s office that day feeling my mortality diminished

but still, I felt a pulse

and I had to drive home to beat traffic.

Said the tree to the sky

My limb is broken

I will have to find a new way

To dance with the wind

Artwork and poetry by the author

See my other blog on sustainable living at OneSweetEarth.blog

Does Your Work Matter?

I frequently find myself questioning the worth of my creative endeavors.  It’s like being on a tight rope and then making the mistake of looking down and then falling.  Truly am my own worst critic.

Today I received a gift via Austin Kleon’s newsletter in my inbox to help counter those doubts.  Thank you, Austin for posting these wonderful words of wisdom from Martha Graham…

A story about meeting choreographer Martha Graham for a soda, as told by Agnes de Mille in Martha: The Life and Work of Martha Graham:

I confessed that I had a burning desire to be excellent, but no faith that I could be”.

Martha said to me, very quietly: “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. As for you, Agnes, you have so far used about one-third of your talent.”

“But,” I said, “when I see my work I take for granted what other people value in it. I see only its ineptitude, inorganic flaws, and crudities. I am not pleased or satisfied.”

“No artist is pleased.”

Ok..let’s get on with it then!

The Zen of Whitewater and Black Holes

Behind the fabulous raft trip in my previous post was my knee injury I had sustained last spring on a hike by twisting my ankle on a rock. The “no big deal” turned into months of pain.

My orthopedic surgeon told me not to go.”I’m going “ I told him.  He looked at me sternly and said “be sure you have  someone help you in and out of the raft.”  No worries.  In my mind, my knee was already shot.  Why stay home and be depressed while missing a trip of a lifetime.  Plus, it’s hard to injure yourself by watching the scenery go by in a raft.  Yes, there was that white water kayaking but I am experienced and the guides took care of all the camp chores.  No regrets. ( I did purchase that Life Flight insurance beforehand, though.)

The MRI results came in after the trip- worse than I thought.  I had a stress fracture in the head of my femur and a fully torn medial meniscus in my left knee.  My doctor said he didn’t think he could do anything for me.  WHAT?  “Stay off of it for four months and see me after the first of the year.”  Now I had already been severely impacted for months and this news was devastating.  I thought I’d have laparoscopic surgery and then presto!-be good as new.

Having a serious injury or illness is a humbling experience.  One day you’re fine and the next your life is turned upside down and full of pain. Walks are a thing of the past.  Daily chores seem monumental. Currently, I’m hobbling around on crutches hoping that the new doctor I will see soon is more creative and compassionate than my former one.

I’ve had numerous traumas in my life –  “black holes” I call them, fraught with frightening unknowns. This qualifies as one. Will I get my life back anytime soon? To get out of black holes it helps me to use a whitewater kayaking analogy.  It’s the same skillset I use in a big rapid but it also works to keep me from psychologically tipping over.

  • Gather my confidence.
  • Have on all my safety gear but rather than a helmet, floatation vest, first-aid kit, and a rope bring along friends and family, a journal, meditation, and spirituality.
  • Research the river ahead of time – research the condition.  Don’t rely on the medical profession to explain everything..
  • Keep up my momentum – my boat is more stable than I think.
  • Go with the flow.
  • If I tip over, hang onto my boat and paddle, find an eddy, and rest before getting back in.  It’s hard to be up all the time.
  • Get back in and keep on paddling – hard.

Aging, injury, trauma –  it’s all a wild ride.

Class 3

The sound of big water

I sit upright

pulse quickening

paying full attention with my body

the rapid comes into view

I spot my line

scouting for boulders, whirlpools

obstacles

that could flip my boat

The current grasps me firmly

taking me up, down, up, down

waves splashing over the bow

drenching me with exhilaration

as I paddle with intention

through a chaos of whitewater

knowing if I keep my balance & focus

my kayak will find its way to calm waters

where I turn

look upstream

raise my paddle with both hands

and laugh

On the Lower Salmon River, Idaho

Artwork by the author

Visit my other blog about living sustainably at onesweetearth.blog

Notes on a Wild River

Me enjoying the scenery

The Salmon River in Idaho is the longest free-flowing river in the lower 48.  Its unpolluted waters cut through rocky canyons dotted with white sand beaches, and peppered with exciting rapids and a plethora of wildlife.

Earlier this Sept. my spousal equivalent and I had the privilege of joining other family members to spend 4 nights and 5 days on this lovely river on a fully guided raft trip courtesy of Salmon Raft based in McCall, ID.  A fully guided trip means that a group of lively 20 somethings take care of all your needs- among them navigating the rafts, cooking fabulous meals, doing the dishes, and loading and unloading your gear.  Our crew were champs, always smiling and gracious even after a long day of rowing. I was a raft guide as a young woman one summer in Arctic Alaska so I know how hard a guide can work.

Jack, one of our fearless raft guides

The gear boat went ahead in the morning so when we arrived at our campsite everything was set up including our tents. Our job was to enjoy the view from the rafts, learn about the geology, wildlife, and history from our guides, swim, and fish.  Two small inflatable kayaks called “duckies” were available for the more adventuresome. We are kayakers so paddling these little “sport car kayaks” were a highlight of our trip.

With a knee injury, I had to pass on a hike to a historical cabin and a bit of cliff jumping but I did get to a waterfall close to the river.  We spotted several bands of big horned sheep and a golden eagle overhead. I read the stories of the rocks in the canyons of columnar basalt and serpentine imagining their formation during volcanic time millions of years ago as we floated past. Then the ever changing river was captivating, from placid swirls of current and eddies to raucus rapids. Going through them were like wet bucking bronco rides waves spashing over us as we hung on laughing.

In camp, we read, napped, and enjoyed pleasant conversation during meals and over cards and games of dominoes.  There was no cell phone service. We were blissfully unplugged and relaxed.

Columnar basalt on the river

I so enjoyed the comradery of this trip, the chance to be fully immersed in nature, kayaking through rapids, poking around on the beaches for interesting rocks and treasures, and the opportunity to just BE. It’s a treat to go to sleep to the lullaby of a river and wake to the call of canyon wrens announcing a new day. Why go on a cruise when you can enjoy the magic of a wild river?  I highly recommend it.

a farewell gift I made for our guides

“The Art of Noticing” a Book

Pay attention, be astonished, tell about it.  Mary Oliver

I notice small things.  This probably started when I started birding and identifying plants in college.  Little brown birds become wrens, those spikey white flowers in a bog become bog orchids, rocks in a canyon tell stories.

As I slow down and notice things around me, the world becomes less chaotic.  When my cell phone is left behind and the portal to insanity shut off I can sit on the porch step and notice the honey bees probing in the flowers of autumn joy sedum and the variety of clouds in the sky.  Noticing helps me to be a more imaginative writer and artist.

A book, The Art of Noticing by Rob Walker, recently came to my attention via Austin Kleon’s blog.  I checked it out from the library recently and have been impressed by the plethora of unique activities that will get the novice and experienced noticer into prime form.  Enjoy taking a color walk, documenting odd things from a road trip like gas stations, writing a review of manhole covers or fire hydrants, start drawing, write a field guide to the dogs in your neighborhood, write a poem about the items for sale in the check out line of a store, stop talking and inventory what sounds you hear.

If you need help downshifting into observation mode this book has the tools to do so.  Who needs Facebook and Instagram for entertainment when one knows how to notice?  As a new hardback it’s around $15, or check it out from the library as I did.  Everyday life will become full of new adventures.

When All Else Fails, Bake a Pie

It’s late summer and the berries are ripe and the apples are coming on.  My sweetie and I have a tradition of riding our bikes down the road on a summer’s evening when the air is cool and picking enough wild blackberries to make a pie

Now, I am not the best pie baker, and sometimes I have been known to purchase a crust (Trader Joe’s is the best) but this time I dove in and made a gluten-free crust.  We both agreed it was pretty good.  Raymond likes Ice cream on his pie and I prefer yogurt.

Now the thing about eating a fresh-baked pie is that it’s pretty hard to be depressed about the world at large when you’re digging into a warm concoction of sweet berries and crust.  In that moment nothing exists but the pie and the people enjoying it.

Entering pie bliss…

Never baked a pie?  Don’t be intimidated.  Have someone show you how to bake the crust, watch a YouTube video or just buy one.  The fruit part is easy and it must be fresh!

Pie makes people happy. They should serve it at peace negotiations. Sit down at the table and serve the slices to the ones you care about. Serve with coffee, tea, and ice cream, or whipped cream if you prefer. Spread a little joy one pie at a time.

(sketches from my day planner)

Learn about the history of pies by watching this video

The Garden Gazette

This is my alternative news outlet lately…

The Garden Gazette

Off with the news

out to the garden

plenty of good tidings to report there

The red of ripe tomatoes

peeking from a tangle of foliage

zucchini lurking like green submarines

below the surface of splaying leaves

a raspberry to pluck here and there

the green beans are longer than yesterday

maybe tomorrow for dinner?

dangling cucumbers play hide and seek

eluding my grasp

the sunflowers have opened their cheery faces

to the delight of probing bumblebees

the eggplants are ready to pick!

This is a better way to begin one’s day

in the company of bees

to the whirr of hummingbird’s wings

to the gifts of my labors

the earth brings forth

Trying to Keep the Glass Half Full

I’m trying really hard to stay positive as the news gets grimmer and grimmer. The Delta variant and now Afhanistan on top of everything else. A good friend of mine gave me the prompt “unprecedented” to write about. We’ve been hearing a lot of that word lately. Here’s my take….

Unprecedented

temperatures

draught

wildfires

storms

flooding

hospitalizations

deaths

homelessness

violence

misinformation

division

threats to our democracy

pollution

extinctions

PLEASE

can we all come together

sacrifice

give

work for the common good

for this nation

this world

this planet

that would be

unprecedented

Mural Magic

A much younger me, mid 1990s, Four Corners Elementary School, Salem Oregon

As children, most of us have been told “Don’t color on the walls!”, but it is so satisfying to have such an expanse waiting to be graced with marks made from your small hands.

I did get my chance as an adult.  For a number of years I was an artist in residence in an assortment of schools in a three-county area.  At times there were opportunities to color on walls creating murals with a cadre of small hands.

In the beginning was a wall..

Now that I’m retired from all manner of teaching and the monetization of my artwork, I have a chance to color on my own walls.  A boarded-up window on the outside of my detached studio building has been calling to me for a makeover.  Numerous ideas swirled around my head for months.   A cheery window scene was my ultimate goal.   I sketched out many thumbnails but nothing seemed totally right.  One thing I knew for sure, I was going to paint a black crow on the right side of the piece to disguise a hole that birds had enlarged for a nesting nook.  Also I wanted my tuxedo cat, Zander in the picture along with a teapot, cup, and some flowers (I have this thing about teapots).  I nixed the sun at the top in favor of a compass, a symbol that shows up frequently in my images.

Ultimately I settled on a basic design, a color scheme, and sketched it out on the wood.  Procrastination settled in as perfectionism (fear) took over. Then I decided the worse thing that could happen is I would paint over what I didn’t like.  So I got going.

I worked on the mural bit by bit in the cool of the evenings as the heat wave here in Oregon made it unfeasible to work during the day in the hot sun.  Eventually, I finished- yesterday!  In all I only painted over one vase that was bright orange, changing the color to more of an understated coral. 

I love this mural because it is personal to me and adds a happy focal point to an otherwise  boring wall  My next goal is to doodle all the way up my stairwell.  Let’s see how that goes!

Finished mural

Writing Like a Great Horned Owl

photo by Pixabay

photo by Deb Broocks

There was this magnificent great horned owl that lived in the hayloft of the barn, part of the old farmstead that became the Nature Conservancy field station on the Zumwalt Prairie in NE Oregon. A month ago I spent a week there as a participant of the Outpost writing workshop sponsored by Fishtrap, a non-profit writing organization located in Enterprise (see my previous post, Writing the Zumwalt Prairie).

Occasionally we would see this stately bird from its perch at the hayloft’s opening scanning for prey and looking down on us sternly from above.

Owls are unique in that they can rotate their heads 180 degrees in each direction.  Their feathers are constructed in such a way to facilitate silent flight and their eyes are 35 X more sensitive than the human eye needing only 5% of the light we require.  Add to that their extremely acute hearing and you have an extremely adept hunter.

Dissecting owl pellets

Since owls typically swallow their prey whole, they have a daily ritual of regurgitating a tidy package of fur, bones, feathers, and the like into one tidy package known as an owl pellet.  When one dissects an owl pellet you can piece together the skeletons of the small rodents, and birds they consumed.

During our writing circles with our teacher /poet Kim Stafford, he encouraged us to always be paying attention with all our senses as we experienced the prairie around us, being mindful not to disregard the other visitors to our psyche as well.  He stressed to capture those thoughts and inspirations on paper or voice memo before they escaped us- much like the owl and its prey.  These morsels of observation are what feed us as writers.  Kim is never without a small notebook and pen.  I often saw him jotting things down as he went about his day.

To be any kind of creative it is important to pay attention from wherever our perch may be.  Writing, (or sketching)  like an owl is the essence of personal expression.

Writing on the Buckhorn fire lookout

Owl Pellets

 by Alanna Pass

I am learning to write like a great horned owl

I sit on a high perch

so that I may swivel my head in all directions

observing, listening, smelling

for inspirational prey

I leave my perch at a moment’s notice

a presence detected

with a silent swoop I spread my wings

extend my outstretched talons

and snatch my prey before possible escape

I bend head to toes

open my hooked beak, extract this morsel

and swallow it whole

repeating this routine until I feel a blissful sense satisfaction

Then I rest

to coalesce all my inspirational prey into one tidy parcel

until complete

I project my written pellet into the cosmos

to land at the feet of others

with the intention that they may also

experience the wonders, the truths, the inspirations

that I have lovingly collected, digested, and presented

from my perch with a view

art by the author