I’ve been feeling a little low lately. More than a little, some days. And though I can easily list excuses for my mood, no good reasons exist. Whether my complaints are work-related, or due to weather, loneliness, energy level, global warming, politics or the fact that I saw five dead animals (one frog, two snakes, a chipmunk and a bird) in the road on one morning walk, it’s not enough. Others are experiencing the same, or worse. Even I have had it worse, at times in my life, and handled it better.
I look for reasons to explain the mood, but the mood comes first. Often for no reason at all. I wake up one morning with a cloud hanging over my head. I know what to do, as I’ve dealt with depression for much of my adult life. I maintain my daily practices of walking, writing, and spending time in the fresh air. I keep lists of daily accomplishments so that, when it seems I’ve done nothing of value, I can prove myself wrong. I try to fit time into my day for calm reflection. I hug the dogs. Most of the time, this keeps me on an even keel.
Sometimes, the sadness lingers. Then my mind works to justify it. The world lends a hand. Any news on any day could serve to justify a dark mood. And my life, which is not perfect either, jumps right in to help. I have too much to do, and I’m so very far behind. At work, I am unappreciated, unrecognized and probably under-paid. Weeds grow in my garden. There’s got to be more to life than what I’m experiencing, I say to myself. There’s got to be something better than this.
When I woke up this morning, the fog had lifted. A summer breeze cooled the room. Over a cup of green tea, I wrote three longhand pages in a snap. I didn’t have to think long or hard over what I was grateful for. Rosa Parks joined me on the chair. I poured my first cup of coffee into a sunny yellow mug.
I checked my mail, but not the news. I walked two miles with the dogs. Because of the breeze, and the cooler air, I walked without my usual shroud of mosquito netting. And was not bothered by bugs. Blackie Chan made me laugh out loud by running ahead, then circling back just to hear me say, “Good boy!” Four deer crossed the road far ahead of us.
Coming back down the driveway, pink hollyhocks and orange day lilies offered a riotous greeting. In the garden, I gathered two ripe tomatoes, one green pepper, a dozen green beans and a handful of raspberries. As I cradled the morning’s bounty in my two hands to bring it inside, I thought, “What could be better than this?” Indeed.
What can wait…and what cannot. It’s a way to delay what needs to be taken care of, a way to juggle too many obligations and necessary tasks. It’s a manner of procrastination. And though it’s not a fun game, I’ve been playing it for as long as I can remember. This week, with all of the busy-ness of summer here on Beaver Island, I’ve been juggling plenty. Eventually, though, nothing can wait.
The bananas, nestled in a glass dish on the counter, are fine; they can wait. Then, suddenly, their skins are turning dark and they need to be turned into muffins right away. Every day, I pick cherries as they ripen on the tree; I’ve saved them in several covered bowls in the refrigerator. Until this morning, when they were threatening to turn to wine if they weren’t dealt with. So, today, I cleaned and pitted eight cups of pie cherries. They are simmering, stove-top, in a sugar syrup right now.
“Getting groceries can wait,” I say as I put it off from one day to the next. Until I run out of dog food, and I can’t delay any longer. “Getting gas can wait,” I tell myself as I drive right past the gas station. Until the red light warns me that it really shouldn’t be put off another single day. “The lawn can wait,” I’ve been saying as I watched it grow while I tended the garden, walked the dogs or picked cherries. Now, it is on the long list of things that cannot be put off any longer.
“Paying bills can wait,” I said, as I prioritized other tasks. Now, the first of the month is just days away, and those payments have to go out immediately. “Preparing for my workshop can wait,” I told myself all week while busy with other things. Now, the workshop is scheduled for tomorrow afternoon, and there are a dozen things I have to do to be ready for it. “Sleep can wait,” I told myself when I stayed up late two nights in a row to finish framing artwork (a job that could not wait any longer!). Today, when I have a hundred jobs planned for this day off, I slept until nine o’clock this morning.
Procrastination, the way that I do it, has several negative consequences. First, I tend to take on too much, as I’m such an expert at juggling. Second, eventually things have to be dealt with, and it’s usually at the last minute. That means that everything, even tasks I would find pleasant, are being taken care of only when they have reached a state of urgency. And third, it often happens that several things “come due” all at once. Like today.
Sometimes it feels like grief and sadness will overwhelm me. It seems that the world has become a callous, bitter and mean place. The evidence is impossible to ignore.
The news is filled with misery and anger and vitriol. Governments everywhere are in turmoil, with uprisings and revolts around the globe. The president of the United States is mad at almost everyone, and almost everyone is mad at him right back. There are ugly, shameful things going on here. No matter how many telephone calls I make, letters I write and petitions I sign, I feel helpless to make change.
Local conversations lean toward gossip, sarcasm, and complaints. The days are too hot…and then it rains. Are we all tired of each other…or just tired?
Customers file in to the hardware store with death on their minds. They want to kill all the spiders, or rodents, or snakes. They want to kill every dandelion, or blackberry bramble or weed. “The killers are all in the first aisle,” I say, over and over, every day, sending them to the shelves of traps and poisons, herbicides, pesticides and noxious fumes. The other day, I heard, “I got lucky: the winter snow and wind knocked over a whole bunch of trees on my property, saved me the work of cutting them down.” I wanted to cry.
Yesterday my newest and best behaved little dog, the one who tries hardest to please me and always comes when he’s called, abandoned our walk to wander down the neighbor’s driveway. Then refused to come when I called him. Then, when I went in to retrieve him, and right after I said what a nice little dog he was, he snarled and snapped at their sweet little girl!
On top of all that, I am pretty sure I have crossed the line: there are now more people that I have known, and loved, and lost…than people that are still here, known and loved, in my life. The dead accumulate.
Some days, when too much work or too little rest leaves me exhausted, it is easy to let it overtake me, to feel buried by the sodden gray blanket of it all. It is a fight to rise up out of all the misery.
Last evening as I was gathering up windfall from the yard, I noticed a bird on the ground under the little cherry tree. It fluttered, but could not fly. Maybe it had fallen there after colliding with a window. I moved away, to keep the dogs from seeing. Damn windows, that fool the birds.
I brought out a shallow dish of water. A burst of flapping wings warned me away, but I slid the dish in close before going back inside. Later, when Darla noticed the movement and pressed her nose to the window and growled, I diverted her attention with a treat and a belly rub, and kept her inside.
Much later, I glanced up from the book I was reading. A movement caught my eye. I looked toward the spot under the cherry tree just in time to see the bird flutter, flutter, shake his head, then burst up onto his feet, then hop, hop, hop…and then fly!
Tuesday, I had to go to the mainland, to the hospital, for a screening procedure. I scheduled my flight off the island for 10 AM, so that my morning wouldn’t be too hectic. My appointment at the hospital was set for two in the afternoon, and my return flight was 4:30. I made arrangements to use the car that my cousin keeps on the mainland.
Because I’d be off and back on the same day, in roughly the same time that I’d be away for work, it wasn’t necessary to tell the dogs any different. I had time to walk them before I left. There would be plenty of free time for browsing or relaxing or shopping before my appointment, and time to get groceries afterward. It should be an easy trip. I hated to count on it, though, because there’s always lots that could go wrong.
This is a busy time of year all over northern Michigan, and the little town of Charlevoix is no exception. They have major traffic congestion in the summer, compounded by a bridge on the main street that opens to let boats pass underneath. In the last couple months, the bridge has been stuck in the open position at least twice, for hours at a time, necessitating a lengthy detour. Under the best of circumstances, automobiles and pedestrians can make it difficult to get from one end of town to the other.
The last time I went over for a mammogram, the technician was mean. She snapped at me for not getting into the position that she was doing a poor job of describing to me, but clearly wanted me in. I was unprepared for rudeness so, instead of standing up for myself, I struggled to please her, and crept out of there feeling inept and ashamed. Then, put off scheduling another mammogram for longer than is recommended.
Monday night, I lay awake, trying to prepare myself. Traffic would be fine. If it made me too nervous, I could just park in a central location and walk. As for the technician, I would be ready. I planned my response, to be delivered with confidence and only a hint of sarcasm, as soon as her attitude deemed it appropriate.
“I’m sorry to be flat chested,” I planned to say, directly. “I’m sorry that, with age, my breasts have tended to gravitate toward my armpits. I’m sorry for many reasons, not the least of which is because it obviously makes your job so much more difficult. And it’s kind of a crap job to begin with, isn’t it?”
Having gotten her attention with empathy, I’d add a bit of sharing. “I have kind of a crap job, too. It’s not always fun, and it’s often damn hard. But I do it, because it’s my job. And I don’t take my frustration out on my customers. I’d appreciate it if you’d show me the same courtesy.”
Too pumped up from creating a plan for my anticipated problem to sleep, and having introduced the thought of my job into my restless brain, I went on to write an imaginary letter to my boss. I mentioned how discouraging, and bad for morale, it is – right in the middle of a killer-busy season – for him to talk about his plans to start dissolving the inventory before the end of summer, and shut down the business for the winter. He might presume he’s giving us fair warning, but what it sounds like is, “Ha-ha, you bunch of screw-ups, you’ll all be out of a job before long!”
Finally, at around three in the morning, I was able to fall asleep. Then I overslept. Not so much that I missed my flight, but enough to put “hectic” back in my morning. After one quick cup of coffee, I threw on my mosquito netting and took the dogs for their walk. Then a quick shower, dress, put out morning medicine and treats for the dogs, and out the door. In plenty of time…with a big sigh of relief.
The plane ride was lovely. Then I had a cup of coffee in a cute new place while reading the newspapers that were available there. I worked two crossword puzzles while drinking my second cup. I made a trip to the big thrift store, and found pants and shirts that meet the requirements for work, and for a working vacation I’m taking in August. I stopped at the bookstore, just to look, though I am not in need of books. The drugstore next, for a few essentials, and one bottle of jasmine-scented bubble bath. I bought two magazines, and paged through them over a BLT at lunchtime.
I got to the hospital a little early, and was moved through registration without delay. The technician that called me in for the mammogram was not the same Nurse Ratched-like character I remembered from the last time. This woman was cute and friendly. She had a nice smile, and bright red hair done up in braids. She gave excellent instructions, apologized for the discomfort, and never scolded me once!
Next, the grocery store, to take advantage of sales, and generally better prices than can be found on Beaver Island. Fresh blueberries, three pints for five dollars! A big bag of pistachios. Two perfectly ripe avocados. One rotisserie chicken. A Ciabatta loaf. Handmade wild mushroom ravioli!
Then to the airport, and home. An enthusiastic greeting for the three dogs, who were glad to see me, too, then I unloaded the car and put away the groceries. A happy walk through the woods was followed by dinner for all, and an early bedtime.
Trips to the mainland are nerve-wracking affairs, fraught with the possibility of discomfort or disaster. Sometimes, nothing goes wrong at all. Sometimes, like Tuesday, a trip to the mainland is a mini-vacation, refreshing and rejuvenating…and just exactly what I needed!
We have arrived at summer on Beaver Island! It’s obvious at the hardware store. Last week, we hooked up the air conditioning, and the complainers have gone from, “Will summer ever get here?” to “It’s too damn hot!” It’s clear in my garden, where pole beans are suddenly climbing poles, and flowers are bowed over from the heat.
In my house, I have finally opened all the windows. Opening the kitchen windows is a seasonal ritual that is pondered, debated, and put off until I’m absolutely sure that summer is really, truly here. Though most of the old windows in my house have been replaced with more modern double-pane versions that easily slide open or closed, that’s not the case in the kitchen.
The kitchen windows were already old, being replaced in someone else’s house, when I grabbed them up for mine. The wood is swollen, and springs are missing. They slide sideways, with great difficulty. The cupboards make them difficult to reach. Plastic, bubble wrap and duct tape covers their surface in an attempt to make them more air-tight when it’s cold.
Opening the kitchen windows involves removing all of that excess, plus taking down the dozen or so baskets that hang there. I need a short ladder, a rubber mallet and a wood chisel. Sometimes I have to stand in the sink, to gain leverage. I bring the hand vacuum along, for the dead flies, spider webs and chips of putty and paint that I’ll find in the channels. Once those windows are open, they stay that way until October!
Last week, with daytime temperatures in the eighties and nights warm enough to trade my usual covers for a simple sheet, I opened the kitchen windows. That has made me especially aware of the change in temperature this week
The sun shines warm and bright all day, and the beaches are busy with folks that have time to revel in it. When the sun goes down, though, it gets considerably cooler. By the time I’m ready to call it a night, I’ve turned off the little fan in the bedroom, and closed the sliding glass door. I put the light-weight comforter back on the bed, and opt for the flannel pajamas.
When I wake up, though it’s warm and cozy in my bed, I can feel the chill in the air. For three days in a row, the temperature has been in the mid 50’s (that’s about 12 celcius!) when I got up in the morning! If there’s any breeze, it feels like a winter wind when the kitchen windows let it in.
I put the heater on in the bathroom. I’ll put on sweats to walk the dogs. Meanwhile, though, I add a robe and slippers to what I’m wearing. I pour hot coffee. And I think about how much I love these cool summer mornings.
I have a tendency, maybe you do, too, to live my life as if I’m travelling a long road.
I can look back, and I sometimes do, to see where I’ve been. Sometimes, when I’m feeling thoughtful or melancholy or nostalgic, I can contemplate all the twists and turns that brought me to where I am right now, and many of the encounters I had along the way. Most of the time, the view is short. What happened yesterday, or the day before.
I can look ahead, though the future is uncertain. That’s where hopes and dreams can be found. That’s where plans and expectations abide. It’s where all the things that I’m afraid might happen, or that I hope will happen, or that I should make happen live.
I spend far too much time in that vague space. I rarely do anything, no matter how momentous, without immediately thinking, “Now, next I should…” Whether I’m doing housework, creating in the studio, or working outside, it seems I am never done.
Yesterday, I spent three hours pushing my little mower through the tall grass in my side and back yards. For the first time this summer, all of my grass was mowed. And it looks great! And yet, I didn’t allow myself more than a single minute to feel satisfied. Right away, my mind went to the things that still needed to be done.
So, I then trimmed around the fire pit, worked on weeding the flower beds, moved a bunch of stones, hauled away some brush, and watered the garden. As I drifted off to sleep, I thought, “Damn, I didn’t get those fruit trees planted!” Today, I planted the fruit trees.
There is still plenty to do. Grasses are taking over the flower beds. I could spend a whole day working with the string trimmer around shrubs and beds and edges. The rake could take up another day, and the leaf blower another. The climbing rose is crawling over the walkway. Weeds are poking up through the straw mulch in the garden…Enough!
There has got to be a time when I can just be finished. When I can look around this road I am on, and appreciate the place I am at. When where I have been or where I am going is less important than what is right here, right now. In fact, no matter what has brought me here, and despite what might lie ahead, this is all I really have. And it’s enough.