Now that it’s winter the creek is full. Upstream is so full that water is spilling over the driveway, making a small waterfall into the pool below. The water splashing into the creek makes a wonderful sound and likely also aerates the water for the fish.
This is obviously no Niagara Falls, but when I hear the water splashing it makes me feel like all is right with the world. Nature runs in cycles of scarcity and abundance, and a waterfall suggests there will be enough water for the fish and other creatures. We will make it through the next hot summer. The sycamore seed balls that I threw in the creek yesterday might sprout, and someday sycamores might grace the creek banks.
Our climate here is hot and dry much of the year. Abundant water doesn’t promise abundant times, but it is a fundamental element of hope for a rich carpet of wildflowers in the spring.
Hope is the thing that pulls us through hard times when we might otherwise despair. Caring for a loved one with a terminal illness is one of the hardest human experiences. Without hope for your patient to recover, you might have a hard time not succumbing to despair.
Life can rob you of hope for your loved one, and living on false hope is generally unhelpful if at any level you know the hope is false. I can hope my leaky faucet will repair itself, but I know that is not realistic. Pasting a happy face on a dismal situation does nobody any good. Sometimes you just need to call the plumber.
If hope is to pull you from despair, it must hold the possibility of some real good. If the big hope of a cure for your loved one is not realistic, choose a smaller hope. You might hope to laugh with him today. You might hope to have a break from her today. You might hope the pink rose bush will bloom in time for a bouquet for your niece’s wedding. You might hope to see a bright red cardinal this afternoon.
If you have a realistic hope of some small, beautiful thing will you share it? Your small hope may spark the hope in the heart of someone you don’t even know. Together we might pull through these cold winter days to a flowering spring.
As I finished writing this, a pair of red cardinals landed in the pecan tree by the porch. Perhaps Glenda, the goddess in charge of minor miracles for caregivers, has awakened from her nap.
Up the road from the Bossy Spa is largely ranch land. Ranchers cultivate some of their land, ploughing and sowing seeds and harvesting, but they leave some of the land untouched with natural thicket and forest and scrub, providing nutrients for the soil and habitat for beneficial plants and creatures.
Along the side of the road by one rancher’s thicket is an old sign, tilting from years of neglect. The sign holds a clear and prophetic message: No dumping. Violators will be prosecuted. No landowner wants his pristine land covered with other people’s garbage.
There are some parts of yourself that you grow and cultivate, like things you learned through education or when honing your skills for your profession. Maybe you are intensely curious about weaving and you invested a lot of time learning about this. You also have parts of yourself that you leave natural. You might have a latent talent for playing the cello, but you haven’t even picked one up, so your natural ability is undeveloped.
It is easy to ignore those natural areas inside yourself. You are not really sure what is in there, and you are accustomed to relying on the skills you have developed, but these wild, uncultivated parts of yourself are important. They hold the promise for who you might become.
We can easily get trapped in the “end of history myth,” the false belief that we have been on a journey through our lives and have learned things along the way. That journey has brought us to the present moment and here we are with all we have learned, now complete.
You are not complete. You are still evolving and growing and learning. As you develop you will come to believe that some of the ideas that you hold now are false, and you will replace those with new ideas. Only the most doggedly closed-minded person avoids this experience, and you are not that rigid, closed person.
Those wild lands inside you will be the source of your new ideas, beliefs that will sustain you through what is to come. As such your natural, uncultivated self must be defended and protected.
The sign is just right. No dumpling. This means nobody’s garbage gets dumped on you. This does not mean the Universe will stand between you and the dumpers. If you post the sign, you enforce it to defend yourself. People can find somewhere else to dump their emotional garbage, their drama, their problems. NOT ON YOU.
Violators will be prosecuted. That means you will take action if somebody dumps on you. You will use some of the precious energy you have, even though you may be depleted from caregiving, and you will take action to be sure that dumping doesn’t happen again.
You have enough to do already, taking care of your job and your family and your community, in addition to caring for your loved one who is not well. Have you been looking for a sign to tell you how to manage all this? Here it is.
We were on a photo safari up the road from the Bossy Spa, when I came upon the neighbors’ cow quite close to the fence. At first it looked like she was lying alone in the grass. She looked relaxed, so I hoped she would let me photograph her. As I walked closer taking pictures I saw what you see here: two more pairs of fuzzy black ears. A calf lay on either side of her. Their bodies were so small they were hidden by the tall grass.
The mama actually allowed me to get quite close. She came up to the fence and put her big black nose over it to sniff out my intentions. The calves stood up and came within a few feet of me, always staying behind her, but curious and unafraid. I took pictures of all, which I will share with you, but this is the exciting moment when I realized something super cute was about to appear.
Sometimes ordinary times conceal wonderful moments. Seeing a cow in a pasture is pretty much a regular day for us. Investigating that scene is what produced the marvelous sight of these fuzzy black ears in the grass.
You have done some wonderful investigating to make good things appear in your life. You have stuck with the idea of getting some help. You have made sure you will have a break, and not just one day a month, but multiple times a week. You are still sometimes exhausted, but there is no better way of navigating your circumstances than what you are doing.
Some days things are really terrible and your person pulls things out of the trash that you were trying to throw away and sets them on the bench in the front hall, and gets super mad and refuses when you ask him to throw them away. Even those days hold the possibility for you to find something sweet and good.
Cultivate your curiosity today. Look for the wonderful popping up beside the ordinary. Look for the good hiding beside the terrible. You won’t always find it, but sometimes you will, and it will be worth the looking.
The locks around the Bossy Spa are just good enough to do the job, but no fancier than they need to be. This is the lock on the paddock where we feed the horses. We clip the rusty metal gate to the leaning cedar post.
The aluminum gate you see at the back opens into a covered area where the horses and sheep can take shelter from rain. The paddock where we feed them is to the right.
Despite the simplicity of this setup, it is pretty secure. The horses haven’t figured out how to unlatch the lock, which is not a given. It didn’t take them long to figure out how to open a fancier latch purchased from the hardware store. We learned of their creativity when we saw them coming down the street toward us on our way home. That panicked scramble is another story for another day, but suffice it to say this lock is good enough.
Imagine our surprise this morning when the horses showed up in the front pasture this morning, the other side of the gate. We investigated to see what had happened. Same story as the time last year when the sheep got out. We had left the gate open.
We all like to feel secure. It can be tempting to arm our life with complicated locks, a moat, a drawbridge, and retinal scanning devices, but the truth of the matter is we are all quite vulnerable. Nowhere is it promised that we will be safe from harm.
Years ago I read Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chodron, an American buddhist nun. Paraphrasing a thought from that book that stays with me these many years later: Visualize yourself hanging out over the abyss, held by the thinnest of threads that could break at any moment. Now come to peace with that.
Vulnerability is our situation. We do what we can to ensure a secure life. We may save money toward retirement. We may take steps to exercise and eat healthy foods. But every person who has ended up as a caregiver knows his vulnerability, knows her ineffectiveness in keeping her loved one safe from harm.
There is nothing you could have done better. There is no better lock you could have installed to make this not happen, dear one. Really there isn’t.
Robert Louis Stevenson famously said, “Our business in life is not to succeed, but to continue to fail in good spirits.” That seems like a stretch goal for a caregiver, but it embodies the right sentiment.
On a recent walk with Annie and Ginger, the furry personal trainers at the Bossy Spa, I kept spying this lovely lavender daisy-ish flower, waving in the breeze on its delicate stem. It made for a beautiful sight, but a terrible photo, with everything all blurry and smeared.
After myriad unsuccessful attempts to get a clear picture for you, Glenda, the minor goddess in charge of good things for caregivers, graced me with a vivid photo of none other than the Bossy Spa’s signature creature, the lowly moth, gathering nectar from the flower. You can even see her delicate legs and antennae. Never mind all the rumpled grassy bits behind it; I am designating this as a small miracle.
In native American cultures people would choose a totem animal as a spirit guide. That is all I know about the practice, but you have figured out already that Bossy Spa has an unorthodox spiritual mythology. The moth is hereby declared our totem animal to watch over us in times of trouble.
The appearance of our totem moth today is an auspicious sign. She arrives right when you are struggling with something that you just can’t get to work. She graces you with something better than what you were reaching for.
My cinco de mayo rose is unaware that it is too late in the season to bloom. Ignorant of the farmers’ almanac or the weather forecast, it has put out a few blooms. I love the way the deep crimson gives way to the bright yellow center and how the dainty petals overlap one another.
I had the idea of recreating some of the beautiful patterns in nature in silk scarves. How hard could it be? Once I made the scarves my outfits would look as lovely as flowers or feathers or other beautiful patterns from nature. I got some white silk and silk dyes and started experimenting.
After watching some YouTube videos I plunged into my first project. I would mix my own colors, so I just ordered red, yellow, and blue. Mixing colors gave me frightful results. Dyes are different than paints. I ordered some non-primary colors to augment my palette.
I have been dyeing fabrics for several weeks now, which pretty much makes me the household expert. I have gotten consistent results with solid colors, but when I add patterns and multiple colors the fabric and dyes have minds of their own. They go where they want, and not where I imagine them in my head.
Despite my lack of success, I am making progress, and progress makes me happy. One day I hope to greet you at the door of the Bossy Spa with a scarf as beautiful as this rose. For now, though, the rose picture makes a better gift.
Forgive your failures today.