Monday, August 29, 2016

Earthy Endeavors - Persistent Passion

Twenty-five years ago, my husband and I moved to a home situated on 1/4-acre of unkempt land. When I attempted to fashion some flowerbeds that first spring, I discovered the soil was mostly hard-packed clay. Clay soil has many nutrients but it's almost impossible to get plants to grow--at least the plants I wanted to grow. It becomes slippery when it's wet and packs hard as cement when it dries out. 

I decided to begin "composting in place," which meant digging our kitchen garbage (including coffee grounds and filters) directly into the ground. About twice a week I would take a full one-gallon can to the would-be-garden areas, shovel and pick-ax down a foot or so, dump in the veggie scraps and coffee grounds and firmly tamp dirt over the soon-to-be-compost. 

The next spring, having done this composting for almost a year, I discovered the two large areas that received the compost material now contained loamy, fertile planting soil! Oh the joy! Off to the plant nursery I went!

And so it continued for the next 10 years. Composting in place over and over and over again (and yes, visiting the plant nurseries over and over again!). Trees, flowers, vegetable garden (and I) all thrived. 

As the plants grew and I reconnected more and more with the earth, as I worked in the gardens I came to love so much, I began to dwell on life cycles and the ways in which we humans impact nature (most often to its detriment and, in turn, to ours). 

It was during this time that I began to think long, deep thoughts about my own life cycle. I felt certain my demise was a few decades away, however, during the previous two decades three beloved family members had died and, according to their wishes, were cremated. 

I hadn't done any research about the cremation process. At that time, it simply seemed a valid and sensible way to dispose of a lifeless body; and the idea that loved ones could scatter the ashes in meaningful places (as we did) seemed touching and comforting. 

However, as the years rolled by and the plot of land that had once been so sterile and weed-choked, bloomed, blossomed and burgeoned, I decided that when I died I wanted to be buried on that land. I knew, from research, that that is legal but one has to receive the approval of the contiguous homeowners (yes, I understand why, but won't go into that detail here!). 

The marriage didn't bloom and grow as profusely as the flowers and in 2001 I left that home and husband and all the beauty both once held for me. What did not leave me, as macabre as it may seem, was the thought of being "composted in place" when I die. 

During the following 12 years of apartment living I always had at least a dozen pots on the deck, all overflowing with flowers (and even, in some cases, small trees!). However, I could not compost in place and, difficult as it was for me to do, I put kitchen scraps down the disposal. 

Luckily, fortunately, blessedly, for the past three years I've lived in a home with a small front and back gardening area. This property, even though on a smaller scale, had exactly the same uncared-for grounds as the former home: patches of weeds and clay soil. 

It's taken some sweat and toil on the part of this eight-decades-old person, some willing labor from my sons and daughters-in-law, many trips to the nursery and, yes, three years of composting in place, but the front and back yards are finally becoming the mini-showplaces I envisioned.

Now, back to the idea of being interred in the soil and among the flowers of my home. 

In a poem by Patty Tana, titled "Post Humus," she speaks of scattering her ashes in her beloved garden and of red, ripe tomatoes (my favorite!). I've loved the glee and lilt of Tana's piece of prose ever since I discovered it several years ago. I've taken the liberty of replacing her name with mine in the copy, below: 


Scatter my ashes in my garden
so I can be near my loves.
Say a few honest words,
sing a gentle song,
join hands in a circle of flesh.
Please tell some stories
about me making you laugh.
I love to make you laugh.

When I've had time to settle
and green gathers into buds,
remember I love blossoms
bursting in spring.
As the season ripens
remember my persistent passion.

And if you come in my garden
on an August afternoon,
pluck a bright red globe,
let juice run down your chin
and the seeds stick to your cheek.

When I'm dead I want folks to smile
and say, "That Marlene, she sure is
some tomato!"

James Lendal Basford wrote in Seven Seventy Seven Sensations (1897), "We all feed from Mother Nature's breast until weaned by Death." I like the idea of giving back to Mother Nature. 

In a 2011 TED Talk, designers Jae Rhim and Mike Ma spoke of "The Infinity Burial Suit" that turns dead bodies into clean compost. These suits are now being sold and the more I read about it, the  more certain I am that I want to be on the A-list for one! I may not "land" in my own garden, but wherever it is, if I'm composting naturally, I'll be giving back to Mother Nature. 

While I thought that I was learning how to live,
I was learning how to die. 
~Leonardo DaVinci

Note in the last paragraph "The Infinity Burial Suit" and information about clean compost are both linked for in depth reading.

Monday, August 15, 2016

A Suitcase of Pride

Maybe it's not "'pride" that makes me feel embarrassed and a bit sad when I see photos of myself ... my true self ... nowadays. There's the sagging jawline, the wrinkled face and no-longer-taut, trim arms. They are the photos I didn't know were being taken and so, I didn't "pose" for the shots. I'm not fooling anybody, I know that. I also know those who love and care for me likely don't notice all the flaws. 

I've always been hyper-critical of myself. Maybe what I often feel these days is a deep sadness for what was; for the young girl (and even the older woman) who received so many compliments on her looks and her carriage (and yet, never, ever believed them! When I see some of the old photos, I fall into the eyes looking back at me and wish, deeply wish, I could go back and honor that lovely, and most often lost, younger woman).

What brought on this latest bit of musing? A dear, sweet young woman took some snapshots of me and posted them on Facebook. It wasn't really me she intended to showcase, of course, but the year-and-a-half old child in my arms. My great-granddaughter. That one, she was the focus. In the thoughtful process of creating a memory, my granddaughter-in-law inadvertently slammed home to me just how much I have aged and there's no denying it. 

There's no haircut, makeup or clothing that will assuage or cover up the effects of aging. Go ahead, some who are reading this: tell me I'm being too harsh on myself; tell me you don't feel there's any reason to accept being "old." You know what? Why not? Why the hell not? 

Every woman who finally figured out her worth, has picked up her suitcases of pride and boarded a flight to freedom, which landed in the valley of change.

There's freedom in this acceptance, in living in this "valley of change," but I doubt I will ever completely empty my suitcase of pride. I know my mind won't stop exploring and delighting in discovery and I will continue to honor my still vibrant intellectual abilities. My family and friends will always and ever be considered my highest, most-loved treasures. 

As Sophia Loren said, "There is a fountain of youth. It is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. ... learn to tap into this source ... ."

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Incomparable Comparisons

It's five women at a dinner party, hosted by a woman we all knew, but we four did not know each other. Introductions all around, small talk, getting to know one another. Our ages ranged from approximately 50 to 79. 

All women but one were college-educated, three were retired, although one still worked part time, and one devoured adult education classes at the local university. 

We are enriched by our reciprocate differences.
~Paul Valery

Each of us brought something to add to the meal. One women was a vegetarian, one a vegan, one gluten-intolerant and the other two vowed they enjoyed and ate all foods ... omnivores to the core! Three drank wine, two did not.

We moved to the dining room and the obviously thoughtfully arranged dinner table. Then we noticed that, at each place setting, the hostess had put a rock or a polished stone. When someone commented about this, the hostess simply said it was a last-minute thought, adding that she loves and collects small pebbles and rocks, keeping them in a wooden bowl on the table.

Before we began our meal, we were asked to pick up our polished stone or our organically shaped rock, hold it in our hand and share with others what we felt when we held the object. 

Well, who knew? We all, every one of us, said we always liked rocks, stones, pebbles, and several of us said we, too, collected them. Around the table, one after another, we expressed everything from a childhood memory involving colorful stones picked up and put in our pocket, a beach trip when we were newly wed and our partner found an agate that exactly resembled the one now in our hand, a tearful recollection of the pebbles a child brought to her now-deceased mother and a memory of a geologist father who taught his daughter about natural rocks, stones, minerals and crystals. 

Image result for stones
During our meal we discussed when we might gather again, and where. Almost at once, two of us mentioned the Rice Northwest Rock and Mineral Museum, just 25 minutes west of Portland. The other three, upon hearing a bit about the variety and the displays, agreed they'd like to visit. The date was set.  

On that Saturday, we met for lunch at a nearby cafe and then drove on to the museum. Again, any differences in our lives, our ages, our connections, faded away as we spent the next four hours touring the museum; sometimes self-guided and at times one or two of us joined a tour, absorbing, learning and being fascinated by the vast and unusual collections at the Rice Museum. 

If it weren't for the rocks in its bed, the stream would have no song. 

~Carl Perkins