Ursula Gone

IMG_E2462In the last letter she wrote me, back in September, 2017, she knew she had to harbor her strength and described herself as being “stove-in.” That dear friend with whom we had traveled, the four of us, to so many corners of the earth, recognized we probably wouldn’t be together again. This picture was taken at the bottom of the world, aboard the Terra Australis, at one of many meals we were served. It’s formal compared to so many other images that flood our minds now, but her wonderful smile is there.
She ended that last letter this way:

“ …Here’s the litany.  But it’s for the bad hour.  You won’t need it, out at sea, with forests going by and glaciers looming ahead!

xo u

A Litany for the Bad Hour


I am the desert
I am the sea

I am the high hills
and the river in the valley


I am rain
and the earth that drinks it

I am sunlight
and the leaves that live on it

I am stars
and the nothing between them


I am what I have always been
and what I will always be

(I have not seen this published anywhere else, so I will add this, for her:
© Ursula K. Le Guin, 2018)

She wrote it just this way, with no punctuation. When I found it, looking back over her letters the day after she died, it came with her voice, almost a comfort. The forests and the glaciers she refers to in her note were ones we had viewed together, and I had a sense of continuity and blessedness that will persist for good.

unnamed (4)Tom and I were aboard a Holland-America ship from Seattle to Alaska and back, a trip we had made with Ursula and Charles twenty-five years before. Then, we left from Vancouver, B.C., going up and back by the inland passage. It was the first of those many trips, and I think confirmed our feeling that we did well together.

I didn’t realize until much later that these embroideries Ursula was inventing and making during those trips would come to be mine, one by one.

In the writing group I’m with this term, our task this week is to discuss chant and mantra. Ursula’s Litany for the Bad Hour is now in my head and runs itself whenever I pause and “go inside.” So it becomes a mantra, given, and for any hour.

Feeling All of a Piece


(From a Facebook post today on my account, which you can find by clicking HERE.)

In the middle of a Facebook conversation with Roger Dorband and others this morning, I left to go get the paper and another jug of water. As I went out the door and turned to the car, there was a mountainside lit up and made to glow by the sun that had just risen.

Tom and I spend these days differently now than we did fifty years ago, reading aloud, finding a place to draw, my reconstructing for him the pattern of the days, since his mind no longer fits the pieces together in a way that makes sense, and it baffles him occasionally. We’ve come south by train for a few weeks of sun and warmth.

Today we may take a cab to the museum since the Film Festival will make parking impossible. I can anticipate and remember the many times and exhibits we’ve loved there, and I’ll have to remember how to rebuild just enough of that for Tom so he can look forward to it too. Otherwise, it must seem to him like plunging off into a terrible void.

I realize how this medium allows me company and conversation I really need. It puts me right in a friend’s kitchen, sharing thoughts and laughter, some resignation, hugs and observations we’ve done before and will do again. Real conversations by phone, like last night with Hester, are life-lines, too. It begins to feel all of a piece.

From Borrego Springs, California