Monday, January 22, 2018

The River

When we moved here, I knew I would be leaving behind a lot that I loved and thrived on.  If I could choose one word to describe my old world, that word would be "access".  I lived in a medium-size city of 70,000 that, despite its university and commuters to the Bay Area population, managed to hold on to its small-town atmosphere.  Every July 4th and Christmas, the downtown area was shut down and Turlock turned into "It's a Wonder Life".  For a short time, we could all be George Bailey and savor the friendships and joys of community celebration.  Turlock is also a gateway city to Yosemite National Park.  Travelers intent on visiting there might overnight there, which brings me to this week's topic.

It didn't take me long to realize that for all that I left behind, I gained something of great value - the Mississippi River.  Mark Twain called it "the lawless river" and its ever-changing passage and vistas have created the backdrop for our lives from one season to the next. I've come to fall in love with the river and whenever we are near the end of Ward Ave., the Pirate, without my asking, drives down to the riverfront. So far, I've discovered driftwood, rusted chains, and barges moored right next to the bank so close you could literally walk up to it. Yesterday I discovered a raft of Blue Bill ducks floating near the riverbank near Bunge.  Grain must have scattered into the water creating a feast for the waterfowl.  They lifted, glided, and then skittered to a touchdown on the water, moving from one feast to the next.  You really can't plan such an event. Pure luck was my companion in that moment. What an amazing sight.  

In my seven months here, I've discovered the river's highs and lows, its moods, and how quickly they can change.  I've seen beaches exposed and then covered again. I've learned about levees, locks, dikes, and flood walls, and the differences between them.  Barges have become my new trains.  We used to live between two train corridors both of which mostly carried freight, everything from petroleum products to cattle.  To the east, a commuter train ran between Bakersfield and Sacramento, as well, right down through the middle of the valley. In what might have been my most exciting moment, the replicas of the Nina and the Pinta, two of Christopher Columbus' ships, sailed passed our riverfront.  That is one of my regrettable misses.

Reading Mark Twain's book, Life on the Mississippi is like reading a history of this mighty river.  Riverboats, steamboats, and rafting live large on the pages of Twain's books.  Mule pulled boats were a common mode of transportation.  My favorite picture, at the Roundhouse, presents one of these boats which really looked like an oversized raft.  Riding on a barge might be a big no-no these days, but mule pulled boat rides can still be had in LaSalle, Illinois and I smell a road trip this year.

What I see from the end of Ward Avenue or from the Caruthersville Bridge, can't begin to unlock the mysteries of our river.  But these glimpses DO unlock my imagination. I've learned to admire, respect, and have a healthy fear for our river.  It could become OUR gateway to an improved economy.  I can't take enough pictures to satisfy my love for this river and I'm betting visitors, if only they had a place to come, would love it too.

Just as Turlock is just two hours from Yosemite, our river is right on our doorstep.  The end of Ward Avenue has the beginning of everything. There is a park. Bar-be-cue celebrations happen there.The fishing ramp, so underused,  would lure avid fishermen to our little town.  This unpolished jewel is our gateway to making an enormous difference in my adopted community.  If only others would see it. But from where I sit, newbie that I am, the downtown potential is ignored and left to languish by those who could make a difference. It isn't for want of imagination or will but from empty buildings neglected by owners and a city administrator exhibiting a total lack of interest in building a bridge to the future. Ask yourself, how much more could Caruthersville be if neglect could be overcome and will and imagination were given free rein?

Sunday, January 14, 2018

In the Gray Time

It has been hard to concentrate recently, much less focus on anything.  Three weeks of family illness, my immobilization, a heavy dose of homesickness and winter's gloom have all contributed to a feeling of malaise that is hard to shake.  After a while, you feel like river fog has wrapped itself around you, blocking out the light of day.

When I was prepping for snow and ice, I was wishing there was some sort of checklist for stocking food.  I'm sure there is, somewhere on Google, but pain and discomfort kept me off my laptop during the time when the planning and prepping should have been happening.

 And what do you do if you lose power and you have an all-electric kitchen?  I think I have a Coleman camp stove around somewhere in the garage but do I have propane?  Worse yet, if I do have propane, does the stove even work?  It's been literally decades since it's been used.  I suppose, at a minimum, it needs a good cleaning.

So . . . there is a lot I don't know about and literally, have no idea what to do.  Friends have been excellent sources of information and guidance but there just is nothing that can prepare you for the feeling of icy, hard-packed snow beneath your feet and especially when you are just beginning to feel steady on your feet again.  

Except for Thursday's medical appointment, today is the first day I've been out in a week.  Today I learned what salt looks like on the church steps.  Nancy and Byron kindly picked me up for Mass.  I am definitely going to need driving lessons for navigating snowy roads.  It was cheering to be around people again and the church was warm and snug.  It felt like God was giving me a hug. Coffee afterward added to the uplifted feelings.  I'm convinced that cabin fever is one part being stuck inside and three parts missing the companionship of friends.  

Adding to my total lack of preparedness, I knew I was running low on things in the kitchen.  It never occurred to me to ask for help but apparently, that is what people think of first around here. So thank you, Byron and Nancy, for thinking for me and offering to take me to Hayes before taking me home.  The cupboard isn't quite so bare anymore.  

When I had myself convinced I would have nothing to say this week, the cobwebs miraculously cleared. The fog lifted and I saw my way to gratitude for the friends who help so generously.  But now it has started snowing again.  I suppose there will be a couple more months of this to look forward to.  The next time I'm out, I'll do better at stocking up.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Baby it's cold outside

Coming from the California valley, we get our fair share of cold weather.  I've lost plants in the brief freeze periods that visited us and during December and January, it wasn't unusual to see all my succulents protected by dome-shaped covers, sheets, and towels to save them from a frosty death.  Orchards and vineyards are dotted with smudge pots in the relentless battle to save fruit, nut, and olive bearing trees, as well as grape vines, from a killing frost that could devastate fragile blossoms and emerging fruits.  If you have noticed fluctuating costs in your fruits, over the years, you can chalk it up to a killing frost and a battle lost in a bad winter. 

Winter was also a period of time when I would make small alterations to my clothing habit.  Going out in the low to mid 40's with just a light jacket or a blanket shawl was general enough for me to be comfortable.  The sandals changed to shoes but no socks.  If it rained, there was the umbrella, hooded rain jacket optional. And the shoes where actually a concession to not slipping on rain wet surfaces.  Granted I was a bit extreme.  Other, less hearty individuals, layered up, pulled on socks and wore gloves.  My son was worse than I was.  Sandals were basically year round.  His first year of grad school, in Ohio, didn't phase him.  Sandals it was Fall, Winter, and Spring.  Even I thought that was a little crazy.  Of course, that can be chalked up to youth.  Later, years of living in Oregon and then Indiana taught him the virtue of shoes, socks, layering, hats, coats, and gloves. These are lessons I still am learning.

Learning these lessons haven't been easy; first I had to figure out why 32 degrees in California didn't feel like 32 degrees here. Thirty-two degrees is COLD, down to the bone and stiffen up the knees cold.  So why? A temperature is a temperature, right?  Well, no.  Not really.  First off, cold in California is dry.  The relatively low humidity of cold air in my old home meant that conduction of heat off a body was slower.  A body retains heat longer.  High humidity and low temperatures, on the other hand, create bone-chilling cold. 

Socks soon became a staple in my wardrobe.  Along with socks, gloves now stay in my purse.  They don't get set aside. They DO NOT get lost.  Two scarves are used when one would have been just fine in past winters.  And layering is necessary.  Repeat that. NECESSARY.  

The thing about weather is that it's not just cold, damp winters.  It's also high humidity springs and summers.  That requires clothing combat of a different sort.  Apparently, the mosquitoes in California didn't like me.  I never got bit.  However, their Missouri cousins like me just fine.  In fact, I am very tasty considering the bites I encountered my first summer here.  The worst of it was the bites on my feet.  I've already decided that socks and semi-enclosed shoes will be my new footwear.  And I really don't care how hot and humid it is.  The pants will be long.  The t-shirts will have long sleeves. And I will be covered, head to toe in DEET.  

Saturday, January 6, 2018

California Dreaming

One of the pleasures of my California memories is the back road drives my brother and I would take. He'd pick me up and we would head east, into the foothills, with no particular destination in mind. My brother is the person I miss the most from back home. And saying I miss hIm a lot doesn't really express the depth of the loss of his companionship.

This morning he called me as he started off on one of his jaunts and we took a virtual roadtrip together. It's raining a heavy mist, this morning in the valley, and the windshield wipers are whooshing back and forth on the window, reaching from his phone to mine.   All the while, he kept me abreast of the passing scene - cattle, almond orchards, brown hills being touched with a hint of emerging green.

A best of all - he sent me this picture. I know exactly where he is.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Driftwood, then and now

Certain things go hand in hand when I reflect on my California memories.  Two of the most prominent are driftwood and fog.  Growing up in San Diego, the fog was as normal as breathing.  There is a mysterious whisper in the air and sounds travel great distances. Conversations can be overheard leaving no sense of direction as to where the hushed murmurs are arising from.  The warning sound of a foghorn moans mournfully, casting out a repeated signal on the fog washed beaches of my memories.

Countless times, I walked on fog-embraced beaches, fog so thick, it was gray and sunless at noon.  My only company was a few other fog walking devotees, driftwood, seashells, and the remains of giant kelp.  Driftwood was something I viewed as in endless supply.  Picking it up, feeling it, smelling it, returning it, was all part of the beach walking ritual.  Back then it never occurred to me to keep it.  Once I moved away from the ocean, I became acquainted with fog's valley cousin but unlike the seashore, the valley fog had no driftwood.  I began to discover what I had missed.  And then, on another foggy day, next to a different body of water, I rediscovered driftwood.

Like the Pacific Ocean, the Mississippi River has a lively and unpredictable life.  Good weather shows running currents and occasional floating debris.  Like the ocean, much of the debris is hidden underwater.  But, unlike the ocean, its currents run very visibly like rivers within rivers, breaking up a multitude of fragments, great and small, that have broken from some birthing place now unrecognizable.  River driftwood had washed up at my feet, on a completely unexpected shore.

The end of Ward Ave. has a boat ramp and I'll occasionally walk to the bottom of the ramp and dip in the tips of my shoes.  In the heat of summer, sandals dipped into the river make for a much more satisfying experience but winter's cold discourages such indulges on bare feet. What it doesn't have in short supply - at least for the moment - is driftwood that has been thrown up high upon the boat ramp's rocky embankment.

Like softly finished gems, thrown upon the river shore, trunks, limbs, branches, and fragments just lay there waiting for me.  I felt ambushed.  The Pirate, meanwhile, waited for me in the car with no idea of what awaited him.  As I happily arrived with four bits and pieces, he opened the back door of the car, smiled at me knowingly, and took them off to their new home. 

I'm already mentally weaving a wall hanging for one and seascapes of tiny houses, boats, and cliffs are evolving for the others.  And, the pirate has already acknowledged that come spring he will be there holding a box while I load up with winter's bounty that is next delivered to my riverfront door.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Hobbled but Happy

Six months here. First Christmas in our last home. Family coming in. Excitement. Preparations. Ready. Set. Oh, no!

On my best day I have to pay attention to my feet. My history of tripping, stumbling, and falling is legendary. My knees have paid the price and at least one California friend started keeping a list of my face plants.  My most recent encounter with a hard surface was in the hallway of old Sacred Heart School right here in town. That left me a bit addled and my left knee, again, used and abused. But I really hadn't seen anything debilitating for twenty years. That's when a fall resulted in a broken ankle.

While my most recent fall didn't result in as long a sustain injury and recovery as a broken ankle, it was equally painful and incapacitating.  It all started innocently enough, as such thing generally do. I stepped out on the back porch, turned to catch a door to keep it from slamming and that did the trick. My body went in one direction, my left knee went in the other.  Such a small thing, but what a big result. One trip to the ER later and I find my leg wrapped and strapped and me confined to a wheelchair for at least five days.  And now, on Christmas Eve, I sit here counting my blessings.

It is moments like this that forceful remind me of the importance of family and connections of friendship.  The help I've received during a time of year that is so busy as been invaluable. My pirate morphed into a pirate prince, my daughters and sons took up the slack on everything.  A friend pointed me in the direction of a wheelchair I could borrow and another drove to Dyersburg to pick up the leg immobilizer I needed to protect my knee for the next week.

Considering the unexpected pain and  inconvenience of it all, I had to laugh at myself. Only I would choose, no matter how involuntarily, Christmas time to learn more lessons about love of family and love of neighbors.

Wishing you all the best and the blessing of a very Happy New Year

Sunday, December 17, 2017

A Servant's Heart

It will be four years ago in January that the pirate and I started an almost three months journey to not only a deeper understanding of ourselves but also a deeper understanding of what God was calling us to do; how he was calling us to be.
We were living a three-month domestic mission here, participating and serving in mission life with Sr. Darlene Presley, a member of the Glenmary Missionary order.  We left here in late March 2014.  In that time we gained an increased and richer prayer life, greater knowledge of the truth of the Bible, and a deeper awareness of what we were personally reluctant to face and embrace.  Mission life is often not pretty but the joy of serving is always present

It was also the first step I would take in acknowledging the possibility of life away from California, away from everything familiar along with everyone I knew and loved.  Like the story of the rich young man in Mark 10: 17-31, we sensed that God was expecting us to give up a lot.  

Materially, it seems like no matter how much I got rid of, it was not ever enough but the people and attachments to places, when left behind, are well and truly gone.  It was painful for me for a long time.  However, moving here permanently opened up opportunities we never imagined doing back home.  We are now close to both of our children and our grands.  The relatively short drives to Indianapolis or Nashville keep them very present in our life.  

Don has fulfilled a dream of returning home and is living out the dream in his dream home on his dream street.He has embraced the volunteer life and is avidly interested in the politics of this small town.  Front-burner passions have been moved to the back burner as priorities have reshuffled themselves.  His book has taken a back seat and working in the community has taken on greater importance.

I resisted the idea of living here and between my parents, now passed, raising children, and working, there was much to keep us away.  However, when our daughter told us she, her husband, and our precious grands were leaving to move to Tennessee to build a better life, I could not pack fast enough and arrange for our move here.  God gave me the push I needed.  

My husband yearned to be here and separation from my grands was unthinkable. I saw the challenge and I took it.  In a way, He was asking me to give up everything and everyone I knew, just like the rich young man.  As much as I loved my California friends, moving was as necessary as breathing. And now, the life we are building here is so unexpectedly rich that I want them to have that too.  You see, I know something of their hopes and dreams and if I can find contentment in a small town with so many challenges, I know that following their dreams would be equally rewarding for them.

In this Christmas season, such a wonderful time of hope and joy, my wish for all of you is to identify your dreams; retrieve your dreams if they have been set aside.  Step out and do the thing that will put you on the road or even farther down the road you may already be on to making yourself the best person you can be while serving others.  Take those dreams into the future and practice perfecting them throughout the year.  You will be amazed at where the road may lead you.

Thank you to the many who have welcomed me so warmly.  I've taken a few stumbles but life has a learning curve, even at my age. So, at this time, I want to wish everyone the happiest of Christmases, a bright New Year, and lots of loving each other far into the upcoming year and into the far off distant future.

The River

When we moved here, I knew I would be leaving behind a lot that I loved and thrived on.  If I could choose one word to describe my old world...