When you look at a weather map, meteorologists draw lines they call “fronts” that are boundaries between two masses of air at different temperatures. Fronts look like distinct lines on a weather map, and sometimes in the big Texas sky we can actually see them pass through.
The colder air usually collects under clear skies, while warmer air gathers under cloudy skies. When a cold front moves through, the front appears to push the clouds out of the way bringing cold air behind the front. I believe this sky picture shows a warm front (though I would welcome a correction from a meteorologist), coming over our front pasture. A warm front in winter works like nature pulling a blanket of clouds over you to tuck you into bed.
Boundaries like fronts are so curious. You might think two air masses would just mix together and settle in at the weighted average temperature of the two original masses. I have a lot of other ideas about what air should be doing, but air is not paying attention to my ideas. It has its own behaviors, and those include forming boundaries between one air mass and another.
In our relationships we might merge together as just one thing. The word “couple” captures that idea, two people who are now one entity. But even in couples a boundary remains between us. Some things only one person experiences. The other person can be having a different experience of the same set of events.
In your caregiving situation you may be a couple, but you are having quite different experiences. Your partner must come to terms with having a condition that erodes his capacity, renders him dependent, and eventually causes his death. That is pretty tough stuff. You must cope with his neediness, his confusion, your exhaustion, and your sorrow in losing him. That is no picnic either.
You might think the compassionate carer would do what she can to remove the boundary and to experience all she can with her partner, but there is no dissolving the boundary. He is the patient and you are the caregiver.
Despite your love for one another the boundary between you is now a protection for you both. Maintaining your separateness helps you not dissolve with sorrow every moment, so you can cope with all the demands of giving care. Your separateness helps you come to terms with the loss you experience daily, and will know more fully when he is gone.
The boundary between you isn’t better or worse than not having one. It is just how it is. If you were the best person in the world, it would still be that way.
This winter day, I wish I could tuck you into bed, and pull a warm blanket up over you. Since we are not together, make sure you tuck yourself lovingly into bed tonight.
Our neighbors to the south are currently in possession of 22 hens and one slightly overwhelmed rooster. Suffice it to say they have an abundance of eggs, which they generously share. These are a couple of their beautiful girls. The warm brown ones are Rhode Island reds. I don’t remember the other kinds, but I love the pattern on the feathers of the black and white one.
The chickens live in a large open-air coop with a half dozen cozy little nesting boxes. They lay white and brown and green eggs, depending on their kind. When I went into the coop to take pictures, they were curious and welcoming and unafraid.
They eat grain and all manner of kitchen scraps, composting them instantly into a rich fertilizer for the garden, which last summer produced the world’s most prolific okra. Perhaps these ladies are the reason why. It is so sensible to convert this season’s leftover vegetable scraps into next season’s fresh vegetables, and chickens do the processing to make that all possible.
Chickens help you deal with the garbage, especially the stuff that smells bad if you let it sit. They work rather like a friend who is a good listener. Life has a way of handing out some yucky stuff along with the good stuff, and you can get submerged under the difficulties if you don’t have a friend who will listen.
The compassionate listening of a friend is how we process our unattractive scraps into usable food for the soul. Funny too how it is listening that does the work, not advice giving. We actually don’t need someone to tell us what to do, and our ideas of what other people should do are often not useful to them. Empathic listening, though, is relationship gold.
When you have a friend who is a good listener, who lets you be where you are instead of telling you who or how you should be, you have found something really precious. Next time you are with friends acknowledge a good listener if you have one.
If you have a friend who loves to give advice, tell her you would love her to listen and support you without advice giving. See if she’ll give it a try. An ordinary relationship can grow into something more nurturing and helpful, but it might take a nudge from you.
Make sure you have a way to process any emotional garbage in your life. A friend who is a good listener is as good as a couple dozen chickens for getting the job done.
These yellow berries are about the size of cherry tomatoes. They are the fruit of western horse nettle, a lavender flower with five petals and a yellow center. When we make natural wreaths for the door, this yellow berry makes a beautiful splash of color.
It is fun to contemplate how inside each berry is the potential for hundreds more flowering plants. I hope when these berries dry and split they will cast so many seeds that we’ll grow whole fields of these flowers. You never know, though. They are competing with other seeds. What mix of flowers comes up in the spring depends not just on the seeds, but also on the conditions of sun and clouds and wet and dry.
About six months from now I will post a picture of the wildflowers in the spring. It will look like Monet came in the night with his paintbrush and put flowers in the fields. Then you will see what these simple yellow berries are capable of doing.
Don’t underestimate yourself, even if you are just a little yellow sphere. Things are going to look worse before they get better. Bright yellow will fade to a muted brown. Pods will crack and split. You won’t even notice that anything beautiful is happening, but this is a vital part of having beautiful wildflowers in the spring.
I cannot promise that something good will come from all the hardship in your life right now, but I think this is right. The crap of today composts into fertilizer that becomes the flowers of tomorrow.
In this winter of your life experiences, as your color fades and things burst open, what look like inconspicuous little bits of nothing now may be seeds with the potential for sprouting in time into something lovely. I wish this for you more than anything else in the world.
My new phone can get wet! Apparently it is made to go underwater because the most frequent reason that people gave for needing a replacement phone was they dropped it in the toilet. Imagine all those awful toilet drops resulting in the goodness of a waterproof phone.
I wondered whether the camera would still work under water, and I knew you wouldn’t want a picture of what is in the … well, never mind. I headed down to the creek.
This picture is the result of my setting a ten-second delay on the phone, clicking the shutter and quickly submerging the phone in the creek. There is no time to aim, and the fish head for the shadows as soon as there is a splash. They got used to my silly splashing and after awhile some stayed for the photo shoot.
I have been looking at this creek for ten years, and am amazed to see what is under water. It is like a whole new world, all fuzzy and green. This got me thinking about what things might be in my world that I might see with a new perspective.
I remember when I was caregiving for my aunt who had Alzheimer’s, the assisted living facility asked her about signing a medical order to prevent her from being resuscitated if she were to die. I didn’t want her to sign it and told the administrator that if everyone in the facility were to die I wanted them to resuscitate my aunt first. My aunt picked up a pen and signed the order saying, “When your time is up, it’s up.” She clearly knew what she was signing.
On the surface my aunt was confused about bills and names and faces, but underneath she was crystal clear about life and death. She knew what she wanted. It mattered to her, and she stepped beyond her limitations to weigh in.
It is hard to know what lies beneath the surface when someone you love has a terminal condition, especially if they are mentally compromised. Maybe like my creek, they are teeming with life in there, but it just doesn’t get to the surface. Maybe the life does break through to the surface, like it did when my aunt signed her documents.
Since you can’t know, and you are the one making the decisions, you are just doing the best you can for yourself and for your loved one. There is no perfectly right path. Today you are to forgive yourself for the mistakes you have made and for the ones you will make in the future.
If armadillos weren’t real, they would have been invented by a cartoonist. They are just that surprising and cute all at the same time. Armadillos don’t see at all well, which has kept me hopeful about sneaking up on one to take a picture. They have a great sense of smell, so you have to approach them from downwind.
After a few failed armadillo safaris to get a good picture, I was driving into town when there by the side of the road was Fred, the Christmas armadillo. Yes, yes, I know it is Christmas and we’ll get to that, but first I am going to finish my story about Fred.
So Fred was walking by the side of the road out in broad daylight, like he was a runway model hoping to attract a photographer. I leaped out of the truck in the middle of the road and walked slowly toward him taking closer and closer pictures as I went. He let me get quite close and then got to wondering. This is the moment when he thought there might be something around worth sniffing. He sat up on his haunches and sniffed hello.
He must have decided I was friendly enough, since he didn’t run, but he ambled back toward the fence, where I later found several dug out entrances to his burrow. Fred has armor on his back and tail, but he has a soft underbelly where he is vulnerable. In that way Fred is like most of us.
It is Christmas and today you are to gift yourself with the best day you can. Today is the day to use the bubble bath or take the walk or leave the dust bunnies under the couch. If you are with family, let other hands do the work. If you are alone, leave the work for another day and treat yourself to the kind of day you wish for.
Peace on earth starts when that tight place in your chest unclenches. It fills your heart and radiates from you outward. You cannot know how far it will travel, but it will reach me here. Blessings for peace, dear one, beginning with you.
Mint smells heavenly. I put some in the garden years ago, and it actually flowers and drops seeds. I wasn’t sure the mint had survived the dry spell and I didn’t want to check on it and get the bad news, so I checked on it during the rain last week. Here you see it, all perky and green with raindrops on the leaves.
This isn’t my only patch of mint. There are several clumps nearby, all descendants of the small original sprig I put in from I’m not sure where. It’s spearmint, which has a wonderful cool flavor good for summer tea. I also like a few leaves in my lemonade.
I have never harvested, dried, frozen, or otherwise preserved the mint. That just seems like too much work. When I want mint, I take how much I want from the plant and leave the rest. If there is no mint growing when I want it, I go mintless until it comes up again in the spring. But here it is December and we still have mint.
I would love to have a big enough clump of mint to attract the bees when it flowers, but we are just not wet enough for that. Imagine, though, the taste of honey made from mint blossoms. There is a related plant called horsemint that grows wild in the fields. I’ll send you pictures in the spring, but it has the same square stems and leaves pointing four directions. Maybe my bees will make honey from it in the spring.
As I’m writing to you from here on the back porch, I can hear Mark inside, picking the guitar and singing something I have never heard before. He makes up things on the fly like that. Sometimes I wonder where the music was before it comes burbling out of him.
I am hoping today that you will be tough like my mint, surviving till the rain comes and somehow weathering the recent freezes. Whether this is a hard day or an easy one, find some nice scent to remind you of mint, maybe mint tea or mint gum. If your dog recently had a close encounter with a skunk, you will need something stronger. A lovely citrus scent would be good or a pine scented candle.