Beautifully Blue

Beautifully Blue © Joan Z. Rough, 2002

Beautifully Blue © Joan Z. Rough, 2002

“This is the way I feel inside. Turmoil in twisted knots. Beautifully blue. And Black. And Purple. A bruise. But one that will heal to be more like the smaller, green outer pages,  Still somewhat chaotic but fresh and very much alive. Still breathing. “

I made this collage in my journal and wrote those words on July 18, 2002.  I was a year into taking care of my mother as her health declined. I invited her to come to live in my house. I thought I could help her through her final years. Bill thought it was a good idea, too.

On a day when Bill was leaving for a week in New York, Mom fell and broke her wrist. I was left alone with her to deal with her pain, her depression, and her growing neediness. It was not a life threatening situation. But it was an inconvenience. I felt overwhelmed and abandoned. I wasn’t ready to be a caretaker. I had no idea what I was doing. I had panic attacks, slept only a few hours each night, worrying about my mother.  I was angry about the disturbance in my life, about Bill being gone. I wanted Mom to go away. I didn’t think about what she was feeling.

It was the beginning of a steep learning curve that brought me to my knees on many occasions. I was constantly confused and wanted out. But at the same time I wanted to take care of her. There were moments when I knew I was doing what I was supposed to be doing. And times when taking care of her meant the world to me.

In the car one day as I was driving Mom to see her doctor, she sighed and said, “If those old trees could talk it would be interesting.”  I was deeply moved by what she said. She never talked about her emotional state during her last few years. I wasn’t ever sure that she was processing what was happening to her. But when she spoke those words, I knew that she was thinking about life and death and the passage of time. Later that evening I took her words and wrote the following poem.

 She Said

“If those old trees could talk it would be interesting.”
And so we sat and listened.
She began to tell her own story
And when she was finished
The trees bowed to her in the wind.
The river never slowed its pace.

Looking back and rereading what I’ve written in my journals, I often feel guilt and heartbreak. But also very grateful. There is beauty in pain as well as healing.


DSCF0750On this day thirteen years ago, I wrote the following entry in my journal.

“I love the winter landscape when the eye of God seems to be everywhere, and snow is a white backdrop for the dark forms of trees.  I see things I never notice in the summer … fallen trees, leaning trees, trees growing up tall and straight. The tension in the patterns. When there is no snow, we see only gray on gray, brown on brown, black on black. The smallest details fade, melt into the background. Today would be a perfect day to go for a walk in the woods, to pay special attention to the visual structures the snow provides.”

DSC01859While I love bold colors and the warm seasons, when the garden is filled with flowers over a lengthy span of months, I also love the contrast of winter. It is when there is snow on the ground and the trees are bare, that I become aware of black, white, and the multitude of grays in between. I consider the composition of the landscape that I miss during the other seasons when it is hidden by foliage.

At no other time of year is the structure of the natural world so observable. Just a few days ago, when the sky was an ashen gray and rain splattered through the gutters along the roof’s edge, I examined the silhouette of a trees dark branches against the colorless sky. From my window, I marveled at the way the limbs spread out into empty space. I was reminded of blood vessels in the human body or the bronchioles within our lungs, that branch out from larger vessels, then taper off, narrowing into the smallest of twigs where buds burst forth as spring unfolds.

As I work on my memoir, I read through old journals … words that I wrote long ago, during other seasons of my life.  I am struck by the patterns and structure … the way my thoughts form on the page. Though time speeds by and I am miles from where I was thirteen years ago, the footprints and observations I chase after remain as they were and the mysteries I follow never end.

Do you keep a journal?  Do you go back and read them again, years later?  What do find that has changed?  What has stayed the same?

Power, Loss, And Impermanence

Loss is a fact of life.  Impermanence is everywhere we look.  We are all going to suffer our losses.  How we deal these losses is what makes all the difference.  For it is not what happens to us that determines our character, our experience, our karma, and our destiny, but how we relate to what happens.    

Lama Surya Das

 A week ago last night, Central Virginia was hit with a Derecho, a wide-spread, straight line wind storm associated with a fast-moving line of showers and thunderstorms.  We were not alone.  Maryland, the DC area, and West Virginia also were hit hard.  Trees fell on houses and cars, killing two in our area and thirteen people statewide, leaving millions without electricity for days and days.  Some are still making do in their unlit homes.

My son, Mark, lives out in Ivy, a small community about seven miles west of here.  He finally got power back this morning.  He, his wife Jane, along with Max and Fergie, their two Scotties, stayed in a motel for a couple of nights and then went home to their cool basement.  Jane has since gone out-of-town to visit a friend.  We invited Mark to come and stay with us, but he just likes being home, even though he had to read by flashlight and couldn’t cook much except on the grill.  I understand.  I’m the same way.

Bill and I, on the other hand, were watching a movie when the storm hit.  The wind seemed rather wild, but not as terrible as it apparently was.  The lights and TV flickered on and off for about half an hour before we gave up and went to bed.  In the morning, we discovered that the power had been off for about an hour during the night. There were lots of leaves and branches down in the yard and one huge branch from a nearby Sycamore was blocking the road.  It was removed a couple of hours later by the City work crew, and we went about our lives, doing what we normally do, feeling extremely fortunate.

We’ve also been living through a heat wave for about two weeks, with temperatures in the high nineties or over the one hundred degree mark, with the heat index at one hundred and five to one hundred and nine degrees. It’s not comfortable to be out or indoors if you have no power.  People up and down the East Coast, as well as throughout the Midwest have been suffering.

While we were comfortable in our air conditioning, out in the county, acquaintances of ours hunkered down through the storm.  He was in the last stages of life because of cancer and Hospice would be arriving to help keep him comfortable as his body slowly shut itself down.

The storm had wreaked havoc in their area, blocking off their driveway and the roads to town.  They couldn’t get out and nobody could get in.  With no electricity and air conditioning, and with the situation being what it was, friends arrived and cleared a path so that they could get to town.  Our neighbors, good friends of theirs, and ours, away for the summer, gave them access to their home as long as they needed to be there.  On Thursday, the power at their home was finally restored and they went back.  Within a few hours, Jay died, peacefully in his own bed.

It’s interesting that we call the electricity that warms and cools our homes and lights the dark, Power.  Perhaps it is one of those things, along with bombs and rockets, that has made our country so powerful in the world.

But we really don’t have power or control over much.  We can make threats to take out those who wish to disrupt our way of life, but in the end everyone loses.  To me, the only real power exists in the forces of nature.  No matter how much wealth we have, nature will have its way with us, bringing destruction in the form of tornadoes, fires, and earthquakes.  It can also bring rebirth in a gentle, soothing rain that waters the crops that we depend on for food and sustenance.

In the end, the only power we possess is in the way we respond to the destruction and loss we all, in one way or another, experience. To step forward in a time of crisis and help those in need is power.  To fight the fires now burning throughout the west is power, whether there is loss of  life or not in the fight.  It is nature’s way.  We are all born into the blood and gore of life and we all die the same way, whether we have ten million dollars in our pockets or not.  A starving child in India is no different than Donald Trump.   The only difference is in the way they spend their time between birth and death.

I send blessings and thanks to all of those who have and will always help in times of need.   I live amidst a large group of heroes.

My Summer Garden

The back yard.

The artist is the confidant of nature,  flowers carry on dialogues with him through the graceful bending of their stems and the harmoniously tinted nuances of their blossoms.  Every flower has a cordial word which nature directs towards him.  – Auguste Rodin

It’s been a perfect spring for reworking the garden.  Throughout May rain has been abundant with regular showers during the late afternoons and the dark of night. Just a few nights ago we had well over an inch of rain which came down fast, heavy and loud, leaving the new additions to my gardens dancing.

Most of the work is done for the summer except for continuous weeding and deadheading to keep the blossoms coming. There is space available for more plants but I wait to find the one that calls my name as I walk past it at the nursery. Or I might marvel at one in someone else’s garden and then do an all out search to find it.

Keeping the garden moist enough so that the plants thrive is another chore throughout the warm season.  In the past I’ve been guilty of over watering many plants causing them to die because they don’t like wet feet.  So this year I’m being extra wary, using a meter that tests the moisture level of the soil when it’s looking too dry.

When we bought this house almost two years ago the bank out front was covered with low growing junipers. They were green year round and were easy to maintain, but not colorful or interesting.  Last summer they started turning brown but then came back to life in the fall.  This spring there was a massive die-out and we removed them all, replacing them with a much more interesting selection of plants with the help of my gardening mentor, Maria. She and her sons have worked with me for years, doing the big, heavy jobs.

The front of the house with newly planted bank.

This year she redesigned the front bank and did all the planting. Many of the them came from Maria’s own nursery as well as from Lowe’s, where at this time of year their plant benches are overflowing with low-priced shrubs and flowers. The secret is to check in daily to see what new goodies have been delivered.

I took on the gardens in the back of the house. There is another bank above the driveway but it’s not the back breaker the one out front is.  Most of it’s in deep shade, which I love. I also added a few annuals to a sunny location for cut flowers.  I love Zinnias and Cosmos. They add boldness and grace to any flower arrangement.

Every morning as I look out into the gardens my heart swells with joy. Simply passing through from the house to the garage, any darkness of mood disappears as I take in the colors and textures around me.  Yellow day lilies, hardy white gardenias and purple coneflowers offset by a riot of soft and sharp greens make the day bright even if the sky is steel-gray.

The shade garden out back.

There is so much more to come as the season progresses and I find myself on the other side of summer.  Late bloomers and fall colors hold until the last leaf drops and the flowers go to seed.  I’ll fill an album with photos as the summer passes, so that next January when it’s cold and dark, my inspiration will continue.  Without my garden I become disconnected, unable to write or paint. It fills me with life, love, and keeps me centered. It feeds my soul.

 I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers.  – Claude Monet

A reblooming day lily.

PS  I found the quotes above on one my very favorite blogs. Check out Terri Windling’s artwork and words here.