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

I am the desert
I am the sea

I am the high hills
and the river in the valley

ii

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

iii

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

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(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

On the Road Again

IMG_1185Heading south by train to Los Angeles, then on by car to Palm Springs and Borrego Springs. Thanks to Julia and Hannah for getting us to the station. That bridge rising above the mess, looking like sails. Weighing anchor?

Some snippets from the past days:

12/23 – Lunch with nephew Billy Buell and his wife Sheryl Moller visiting from New York City.  Every minute, every conversation, overheard, laughs, hugs, speeches (none more than half a minute but full of a lifetime of meaning) is part of us now. IMG_2323

The next morning: I love waking up and lying in bed letting images from the day before reconstitute themselves in my head. And I love leftovers for breakfast. The paper whites tower over my head, still smelling good, as I sit and eat my delicious, reheated Vietnamese sandwich and look out from the warm kitchen to the still snowy, monochromatic, below-freezing outdoors.

25508194_788249961362647_1500528714409087983_nIf I hadn’t walked out to get the paper, cutting up to the road through the field, letting the car sit, running, to melt the ice on the windshield, I never would have seen this Christmas Rose, in bloom in the snow. There it is, a sweet Hellebore, right by the Poetry box, where I put it, doing just what gave it its nickname.

12/21 – From the very Western rim of the country, on this Shortest Day, the sun is not yet over the rim of the horizon at 7:41 AM. But from here, a window in a hotel in Long Beach WA, we can watch the clouds brighten.

25508168_787404514780525_4411221494084772008_nOn our minds are all those people whose lives are changed (and some of them ended) because an engineer was “distracted” and was taking a train around a curve at over twice the speed limit. And also on our minds are the millions of people (including ourselves) whose livelihoods are threatened by the parts of this “tax bill” they yet barely understand: withdrawal of medical deductions is only one. But the sun still comes up. And we still dearly love our friends.

From the after 8 a.m. sunrise, we actually changed rooms: they had put us at the far back corner with a non-working elevator, and when I finally said, “Wait a minute!,” this morning, they scurried around and had us moved to a main floor, oceanside apartment in about 10 minutes. Fair enough. A 90 yr. old with about 1/4 mile plus stairs to go in case of fire did not make sense.

IMG_1165We spent time in a wonderful junk/antique shop, where we found just the easel we needed, and left there just as we were getting really cold (no heat in a barn-like space) to come home for our sushi lunch, brought from New Seasons yesterday. We like this place partly because the art on the walls is presentable, even nice.

25399160_784839508370359_6004177353887922289_n12/15 – A tough little volunteer tree from our front yard, with candles to light the way, through dark times, and into light, for all of us. We’re just listening to Britten’s “Ceremony of Carols” on SiriusXM. I want to tell all my friends to turn on the radio. We sang it all over Europe in the summer of 1952. One of the great choral works.

 

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12/6 – This sculpture may not have many more years to live in its present site. The stump it lives on is 45 or so years old and has already partly fallen away from under the flat stones we capped it with. I love the way the sun lit up the insulator glass this morning.

12/4 – These are brave. Sasanqua Camellias start blooming in November and go on through snow and ice, all the way to February. A good thing to hang onto right now.

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11/27 – Every once in a while, we need a dose of the Gorge, and specially now after these communities were hard hit by the fires in September and need the business. So we came up the Columbia and spent two nights in our favorite Best Western in Cascade Locks. This was the view West from our balcony, past The Bridge of the Gods, just as the sun was setting. And here we are only three weeks and a little bit till the Solstice.24131542_777235545797422_5291419398019118307_n

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Giving of Thanks

unnamed (3)When I said this little German poem last night to Ashley Clark, what I remember of it, we were at her family’s table, feasting yet again.

Du bist mein, ich bin dein:
Dessen sollst du gewiss sein.
Du bist verschlossen
In meinem Herzen:
Verloren ist das schlüsselein
Du musst für immer drinnen sein.

(Translation:
You are mine, I am yours.
You can be sure it’s true.
Into my heart, I’ve gotten you,
Locked its lock,
Lost the key,
So you’ll never get back out, you see.)

That’s the way I learned it, never saw it written down, from Madeleine Somers, a kindly lady with white hair, twinkly eyes, and a soft voice who lived across Rte. 44 from us. That was the only street through Pomfret, Connecticut in 1943. Mrs. Somers’ husband, Levings Somers, had come out of retirement to help my dad by teaching in a time when all the young men had gone off to WWII. They were well into their seventies; I think he had been head of a school in Avon, Connecticut.

I hope my frequent visits to their house, probably mostly unannounced, were a portion of the pleasure to them that they were to me: a lonely little 8-9 yr. old with pigtails, devoted to an almost saintly couple with no children. Mrs. Somers never was at a loss for things to do. We potted plants, cooked, must have talked about books, as I read voraciously even then.

When we found a dead Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker, she helped me find a taxidermist in Putnam to get it stuffed. She showed me how to take apart a horse chestnut bud in spring to see how all the parts, the complicated flower bud and the first leaves, perfectly formed, were waiting there inside the sticky covering.

In this household where our talk ranged from Dmitri Hvorostovsky and his untimely death, to wild boars and their increasing presence in the wild in Oregon, here suddenly in my mind were Madeleine and Levings Somers. Their kindness and their quiet intelligence were alive in the room.

We’ve been blessed with other kindnesses lately, every one a “small plank in a small bridge” in this tortured world.

This is a video our son Dexter made of a celebration on November 11th. We called it A Joint Hurrah, marking milestone birthdays for Tom and me (90 and 85), and bringing together so many of the artists and other friends who are such a wonderful part of our lives. It was a wonderful, joyful gathering.

And now we add another joy and another “plank”: Jamie Elsbury and our son Tom will marry in June. Love and growth and change are delightful to be a part of and to be near.

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Off to Chicago!

MONDAY — Good morning from the new St. Paul-Minneapolis train station! I’m having my first cup of coffee looking out across the river at the about-to-be sunrise. We will only be here for 20 minutes, and then on to Chicago.

We’re headed there for six nights, just because we’ve never spent time in Chicago. Have two opera performances and one play — all matinees. (There’s the sunrise – 7:33 a.m.) And lots of plans to relax, go to art museums, take the architectural tour by boat, and do things friends have said “you MUST do!”

Once you come all the way from Oregon, Minneapolis feels very close to Chicago, so of course I wish our Minneapolis friends could come down and spend a day or two with us, but I realize that is outlandish. But it’s a nice thought anyway.

22310694_756645014523142_4656387037384516754_nLast time we came this way, a year ago, the peaks in Glacier Park must have been partly covered in cloud, because we don’t remember this brilliance. They are tired in Havre, MT of having people pronounce their name wrong, so they’ve made a large sign near the station that says “HAVE-er”.

This being 85 and 90 is weird, and the wobbling and jerking of the train presents real hazards, but we’re managing. They bring your meals so you don’t have to struggle to the dining car. And this time we got two roomettes, right opposite each other, instead of the “handicapped” compartment, which means we both have lower berths. That is a great relief to me, since I had been the one climbing up to the tiny upper berth.image2 (1)

Will go get Tom some coffee. He is just up and has come across to join me in my little cubicle.

TUESDAY — Happily eating supper in Room 329 at our handy Best Western in Chicago. And it started POURing about a half an hour after we arrived. People so helpful. Red cap took us on his mechanized cart all the way out to the sidewalk taxi stand from Union station.

22310702_757363141117996_2947318342541092400_nWEDNESDAY — A morning at the Art Institute. The Frank Lloyd Wright windows were next to the elevator. They’re a contrast to the color and life in all those beloved paintings: Seurat, Van Gogh, Monet…they were all in it together. And Balzac with a great tummy as Rodin saw him in this one.

Below a slideshow with  more pictures.

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Why Can’t We Respect End of Life Directives?

It has been 20 years since the enactment of Oregon’s Death with Dignity law, and 30 years since I was involved in the creation of Hospice House, now Legacy Hopewell House, yet still we hear the swirl of emotional, philosophical and legal questions surrounding end of life issues.

Again I read recently about Nora Harris, the former librarian from Ashland who had filled out an advance directive and told family and friends she didn’t want measures taken to prolong her life after she started showing signs of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Even with this directive, she was being spoon-fed at the nursing home where she lived, and a judge ruled against her husband who said that’s not what he or Nora wanted, even though she could no longer communicate.

This is very close to home, although in my own case we don’t have a family history of Alzheimer’s. I’ve been concerned at how often physicians and nurses prefer to err on the side of what they consider caution, ignoring a person’s written refusal of medical care and putting that person on life-support in spite of instructions to the contrary.

The Physician’s Orders For Life-sustaining Treatment (POLST) and the electronic registry were developed following just such a case, one in which the person’s instructions were not found in time. This happened while I was still on the Advisory Council of the Center for Ethics in Health Care at OHSU. My own mother also was “coded” in defiance of her do-not-resuscitate (DNR) order, put on life support which then was discontinued at our request as soon as we arrived.

Along with the POLST, perhaps a person could video instructions and place the video with the documents. It might be harder for a judge to justify countermanding instructions if the person was looking him in the eye, albeit on film.

The distinction between “medical care” and “basic care” is specious, but it has been used here. The state is essentially forcing feeding, offering food so of course the mindless person opens her mouth.

Those who rule that an Alzheimer’s patient must be spoon fed contrary to that person’s stated wishes are committing a form of abuse, the more reprehensible in that the person can no longer speak for herself. Most facilities would continue to charge the family between $4,500 and $5,500 a month. If a family member chose to take the person home or to a Hospice, once the state has gotten involved, there could be endless wrangling. It is inexcusable!

 

A Belated Wedding Celebration Post

20246475_725008807686763_3145205600030122645_nIn this picture, our granddaughter Hannah, newly married to Soren Clark, lets Noah and Lily (her niece and nephew) have a close look at the Chinese Bride’s Necklace, now worn by four generations of us, which I hadn’t realized she would do. It was a joyful day.

We could hardly absorb the beauty of the day, the people, all as it unwound. There was music, clear air, wonderful friends.

The ceremony was held August 22 at Penybryn, where the Strong-Buell-Carr family has lived for 134 years. The reception was at the home of cousin Mabsie and Steve Walters at the end of the driveway.

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