Claustrophobic but Joyous and Free

I just watched an exuberant, freeing kind of Youtube video and thought I’d share it here for anyone feeling, perhaps, a little suffocated today…(by anything really, it doesn’t have to be lack of air. For instance I’ve felt suffocated by things as various as failure, fat, saunas, speaking up in front of strangers, and a hyper-inflated sense of responsibility. Really, so many things can suck up available oxygen.)

Fear is usually involved, at least for me.

Well, here’s an example of people facing into some big fear and people helping them do it. The Marine Discovery Dive is an event out of Malaysia that takes a group of physically disabled people scuba diving every year in order to free them from the usual limits placed on not only their bodies, but their minds and spirits as well (which, let’s face it, is where the most severe disabling usually takes place.) There’s a lot, a LOT, of joy in this. Watch and breathe:

It reminds me of a hospice patient I once worked with who was dying from a disease similar to ALS (I can’t remember the name now) which was relentlessly shutting down his autonomic nervous system. As he felt it progressing, and knowing full well where it was headed…he was a highly intelligent man…he sometimes felt like he was being slowly buried alive inside his own body. Not a pleasant sensation by all accounts.

Well, we had a counselor working for the hospice at the time who’d been learning about different kinds of “energy” work for lack of a better term. In any case, she tried it out on this patient and lo and behold, it actually helped alleviate the growing sense of claustrophobia he was struggling with so, needless to say, he became very attached to the treatment.

Fast forward a couple months and said counselor, preparing to leave for two weeks of vacation, asked me if I’d take over while she was gone. I was reluctant because, frankly, what was involved felt a little strange and embarrassing to me. However, when the patient started adding his own earnest entreaties…well, who can say no in the face of that kind of raw need?

Which is how I found myself one afternoon standing over the body of said patient where he was reclining in…well…a recliner, eyes closed. I was waving my arms back and forth over him in the prescribed manner feeling very much like a five year old solemnly pretending to be an ocean tide. Awkward? Yes. Lame? Felt like it to me.

And yet, and yet. He responded to it in spite of my resistance. He gradually, visibly relaxed, the fear lines in his face smoothing, the tension in his body loosening to eventually disappear. There was a look of profound peace that settled over him and even I, Little Miss Judge-It-All, could eventually feel a kind of tactile, tangible silence in the room.

It wound up being a pretty profound experience for me (not that I remotely mattered at the time but, still, it was nice to think about afterwards.) The whole thing wound up wreaking havoc on a set of mental limits I was tenderly suckling without even realizing it, while simultaneously opening me up to the possibility of more possibilities. (Why in the world that seemed so threatening is a mystery, but there you have it.)

What I took away from that experience, and what I take away again from watching the blossoming transformation in the faces of the disabled divers in the video, is that much of the potential for real freedom and joy…the genuine article…lies inside our own minds. My patient’s physical disease didn’t go away but the way he was experiencing it completely changed for a little while. And neither did the disability of any of these divers go away and yet, they all seemed to feel liberated…transformed…in spite of the limits. Maybe it wasn’t a permanent transformation but it was certainly a start, and God only knows what a start can lead to. I’ve seen entire sidewalks…parking lots even…eventually overgrown from a single, tiny weed starting in a single, tiny crack.

So I know…I can feel it…that even though the people in this video are exploring frontiers (disability, like dying, is very much a frontier to me) that I haven’t visited yet myself, it doesn’t mean the things they’re learning aren’t supremely important for me to learn too.

Which is why I write it down here under the guise of sharing it with you. Really, I suspect I’m just archiving it where I can find it again, but if you get something out of it, too? All the better. Have at it, my friends. I think there’s more than enough to go around.

When snow comes peeking in the window.

Snow window

We had a major winter storm blowing for most of this last trip up to the family cabin. I’m guessing there was only a couple feet of new snowfall but fierce winds blew it into big drifts and that’s what caused all the fun. We do so LOVE weather, the hubster and I! This is a view through a back window. The door, just a couple feet over, is completely blocked and will just have to wait till spring thaw to open again.

Winter is our favorite time of year to vacation up here, which some people understand completely and some people never will. I think it’s similar to dog people and cat people. The guy who’s getting ready to replace our fence down in Boise was excited and congratulatory when he found out we were up here during the storm, while a friend from L.A. just shakes her head and says, every single time we come up, I wouldn’t do it. I’d freeze to death. And yet she skis (in winter, on snow!) so I’m confused. What’s the difference? Is winter not just as cold when you’re hurtling down a mountainside at 30 miles an hour? In fact, isn’t it even colder with the wind chill?

People. Personally, I don’t think we’re anywhere near as rational as we like to think. More like big bundles of unconscious bias in fact, overlaid with a very thin veneer of reason which is of course the part we preen ourselves on and strut about holding up to one another because it makes us feel so special.

 I do it myself. Which is totally ridiculous, I know, but it can’t be helped. Oh well. We humans are just so incredibly absurd and vulnerable, y’know? And there’s so much to love in that.

The Camera Phone and the Dilettante Photographer: Part 2

In Part 1 I think I mentioned that I’m a little fixated on skyscapes. (I’d probably be fixated on starscapes, too, but night photography requires a level of skill that is clearly, judging from the deplorable quality of my photos, lacking.)

Most of the great skyscape photo opportunities I get are from the front deck of the hubster’s family’s cabin in Stanley, Idaho. It’s a breathtaking view and, as far as results are concerned, highly ego inflating. You can’t take a bad picture from the place, you just can’t. I challenge anyone to try. It’s a favorite playground for the Northwest weather gods who are forever romping around, rolling in from one end of the valley or the other, or spilling over and between the mountain peaks, or rising up from the early dawn river as fog, or shooting down between a crack in dark clouds as ethereal, roving spotlights. It’s amazing and kind of spellbinding. The first time I ever visited the cabin I just sat at the front window staring outside for three days. (It was also the first time I ever met the hubster’s family who, fortunately, forgave me. They’re pretty proud of the place.)Carpe Musings

Shaw mesa winter storm lighting

Version 2

Shaw mesa dramatic storm front copyTired yet? But I have so many more. Sigh.

These last two were taken by the hubster. The first is morning fog filling up the deep valley between the mesa we perch on and the mountain range on the other side:View this morning B copyAnd the last is…well, we have no idea what this is. It’s a phenomenon we’ve only ever seen up at the cabin this once. It was a column of light that shot up unexpectedly from the setting sun. It was HUGE. The photo doesn’t capture that part. And most odd, lasting about two minutes from the time we first saw it.Morning light column over Sawtooths copySorry for the enormous size of the photograph. WordPress changed the download media feature while I was gone and I haven’t figured out how to resize yet. As mentioned…dilettante. 

The only other time I’ve seen this column of light was on the morning Obama came to Boise to speak while campaigning for his first election. It shot up into the sky from behind the Boise mountains directly over the Taco Bell Arena where he was scheduled in an hour’s time and, between you and me, I think it was an expression of total Idaho flabbergast. A Democratic presidential candidate campaigning here? It was as astounding as if a migrating flamingo had been blown off course and landed in one of the ponds over in Katherine Albertson Park. Even the sky was surprised at such a turn of events and it shot up a great big exclamation point of light before it remembered itself and regained its poise.

I would love to know what causes it though. Any ideas?

copyright 2016 Dia Osborn

The Luminous Nature of Life

Here’s another great quote, only from Carl Jung.  

“Life is a luminous pause between two great mysteries, which themselves are one.”

I ran across it this morning and it knocked my socks off because it so exactly describes the experience I kept having while working with the dying. It appeared so obvious in that setting, the luminousness.

I mean it was fascinating enough watching all the tricks and ploys life uses to extricate itself from the bodies that have housed it for years and years, but what I wasn’t expecting was the faint radiance I kept seeing in people’s solar plexus towards the very end. It looked for all the world like the glow of a rising sun starting to burn off a dense morning fog.

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(By Brocken Inaglory – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, $3)

I came to think of that radiance as life itself and it always changed me for a little while after I saw it, relieving me of some deep and nagging fear that I’m not usually aware I even feel. It was nice. This morning reminded me of it again, only this time as sandwiched between two great mysteries. How great is that?

Well done, Carl. Thanks.

 

 

Great Quote from E.B. White

“I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.”

What a beautiful and humorous summation of the paradox we all face!

I love this guy; author of Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little and an eccentric man who struggled at times with anxiety and depression. Like most writers it was hard for him to determine when a piece of writing was actually “done.” (The bane of rewriting for all of us, that one.) But unlike most writers, he would sometimes panic after slipping a finished manuscript into the mailbox and go to the Postmaster General at the Post Office begging to have it back. This anecdote always makes me feel a little more accepting of my own writing fears.

For a quick peek inside the brilliant, funny, and deeply humane mind of the man, here’s a brief letter he wrote for the editor of Charlotte’s Web:

E.B. White’s Fantastic Letter About Why He Wrote “Charlotte’s Web”.

The camera phone and the dilettante photographer – Part I

I come from a long line of woman photographers, one of whom was even talented enough to earn money at it around the turn of the last century. (That would be great great Grandma Atta, who was also an avid fisherwoman with scoliosis who used her crutches to swing over streams and keep her hems dry, and who also, BTW, divorced a difficult husband in an age when that just wasn’t done and raised three girls on her own. I would love, love, love to have known this woman but must settle for her genes instead.)

And while the family photographic enthusiasm has continued unabated through the generations, the skill seems to have peaked with Atta so that the ratio of good pictures to bad has steadily fallen. Which is a bummer for me and my brother since we’re the family photo archivists who have to store the vast cache of pictures and slides for their historical value, no matter how bad they are.

How many sunsets, Grandma? Really?

Fortunately for the children that will follow me, though, things have gone digital and it’s now easy-peasey to delete the hundreds of bad photos I have to take in order to get one that’s at least semi-interesting. And since, like my mothers before me, I favor taking pictures of landscapes and objects rather than living, breathing family members (reducing the genealogical value to pretty much zero), it’ll also be easy-peasey for said daughters to store everything on a single thumbdrive that can then be easily overlooked in a box and accidentally tossed without every having to feel guilty about it the way that I have.

I’m a big, big fan of digital.

Anyway, I’ve been collecting a variety of snapshots on my camera phone for a while now and lately wondering what, oh what, to do with them? Then, today, I found a blog post on the site of one of my favorite bloggers, Coming to terms with my iPhone – Part I over at Rangewriter – What Comes Next?and suddenly I remembered that I, too, have a blog! Cobwebby with neglect, true, but still, a blog. So I, too, can post my photographs online where they’ll be stored…nay, immortalized…forever and ever, despite any deplorable lapse in appreciation or taste on the part of my careless, self-absorbed, future daughters.

(Then again, is a little bit of guilt really so bad?)

So here’s one taken late last winter when the water levels in Lucky Peak reservoir were still quite low.

Lucky Peak Beached boat

Whoops. Did somebody forget something?

And then here’s another shot of Lucky Peak reservoir on a weathery sort of day, also last winter. (Where my grandmother loved sunsets, I love blustery skyscapes…which also all tend to look the same after awhile, as you’ll probably notice in future posts. Consider this a disclaimer.)

Lucky Peak dramatic lighting

copyright Dia Osborn 2015

Editor’s note: I got a photographic editing suggestion from Rangewriter (who’s a serious photographer BTW)!! Time to step up my game a little and try something new.  Here’s the beached boat again only with a little less sand to cross to get to it. Easier. (Like feet, like eyes I guess. Makes sense.)

Lucky Peak Beached boat

Little Roadside Shrine Stories

One often sees, alongside the winding, treacherous mountain highways that populate much of Idaho, little memorial shrines where some unfortunate motorist ended their life. It’s never clear what actually happened (accept for one understandably bitter memorial a few years ago siting a drunk driver as a causal factor) but the modest displays usually include some version of a cross or wreath and at least one plastic flower bouquet lovingly selected, I imagine, with an eye towards longevity in a harsh climate.

My heart always breaks a little as our car whizzes past these vignettes of sadness and loss, while that common well of human loneliness we all share sends up a few more disturbing memos. Death happens. Loss happens. Grieve for them Dia because your turn will someday come.  

I often hear ghosts crying from these places and I’ve learned not to fight it anymore because it’s too much effort and they cling anyway. It’s become easier to just let their shattered longing go ahead and touch me, to hold the dead and the stricken against my heart for a moment and then gently, tenderly lay them back down in their shrine to await the next unsuspecting car.

I’ve found that really, in the end they don’t want all that much, these ghosts, just a moment of remembering, and not only for their loss. They also whisper stories about the depths of their love and over time, as I’ve relaxed, the love stories have come to dominate the stories of loss for me.

The hubster and I recently stumbled across this little memorial shrine just off the two lane road that leads from the state highway back to Redfish Lake up near Stanley, Idaho. It’s very curious and a bit of a mystery to me–kind of a cross between the usual little roadside shrines and a regular grave. It actually reminds me of some of the informal yet clearly beloved graves we found in the Quinault Cemetery over in the Olympic Rainforest, only it’s on the side of a public road where I don’t think regulations would allow a burial of remains. Perhaps ashes were scattered somewhere in the area.

Angel headstone at Redfish Lake

It also had a simple cross standing over it, man-sized, with a cap and dog tags hung there. Someone put a lot of loving care into the crafting of the plaque which captures a life through an endearing set of images rather than the usual quotes and statistics.

Headstone close-up at Redfish Lake

I don’t know, there was something about this particular remembering that was different than anything else I’ve seen. It spoke so much more of life than death to me…and was the more poignant for it. The meat cleaver is an interesting touch, no? Balanced by the whisk on the other side, thank god. And the brilliant colors in the butterfly and blooms capture the wildflowers of spring in the area. Whoever this was, they were only twenty-one years old when they died but from the looks of it I’m led to hope that it was a very full twenty-one years.

I can hear the ghosts crying again as I study these photos…oh my heart. I’m glad and grateful this person was here for a little while, whoever they were, and that they were so clearly loved. Our lost companion.

copyright Dia Osborn 2015

Of Furling, Unfurling, and the Great Mystery of Timing

Well, it’s been almost seven months since I lasted posted, way over my deadline. Whoops. Fortunately, it’s not like I’m not getting paid for this or anything so no harm done.

I lost my voice there for a while, during all the aftermath, and didn’t feel like writing anymore so in the end I just didn’t. Simple enough. But lately I’ve been getting the niggle again, to express myself in this lovely, endlessly adaptable language we all share, which both surprises and, I admit, relieves me.

The whole process reminds me of the snails I used to love so much when I was growing up. How I’d place one on the palm of my hand and then sit still and watch it’s slow and graceful slide across my skin, the waving, tubal antennae that I’d gently touch just so I could see them telescope down into themselves, tucking away for temporary safety into the snail’s translucent little head.  And then I’d wait, breathless, and count the seconds until they slowly, magically…for no apparent reason that I could ever ascertain…start to telescope back up again, a glorious and tiny display of snail-curiosity and snail-hope reaching back out into the world and waving around, feeling outside itself for the next thing.

(Here’s a lovely little video blending the grace of snail-world with an original piano piece. Really, it’s endlessly amazing to me how whatever moves you, there’s someone else out there who’s moved by it, too.) 

The returning of my urge to write feels a lot like that, and I don’t understand why now? with the timing of this anymore than I understood it back with the snails, but there you have it. I guess sometimes we don’t really need to understand, things just happen when they happen anyway, and every exhale is always followed by another breath.

Well, except one exhale of course. Let’s not forget that one.

Anyway, yesterday morning I walked out of the house to head out into the world, my antennae waving around in the air above my head, only to be greeted by a sky full of the undulating song of Canadian geese in flight.  It stopped me dead in my tracks as I gazed up and watched the dark, flying V’s approach and pass over and then recede again, their song receding with them. Then as suddenly as I was frozen I felt myself released, so I started for the car only to find a little Mallard duck couple waddling up the driveway toward my feet which instantly froze me all over again.

They didn’t stay very long, this pair. I spoke soft words of welcome and affection to them but all they really wanted was bread so they eventually turned around and waddled back down the driveway towards the next door neighbor’s house where their panhandling is usually rewarded.

Really, it’s such a complicated zone, this transition area where the wild and human worlds meet, full of so much error and so much tender longing. I admit, it can be difficult to know what’s right sometimes.

And then, with their departure, I felt myself released again and finally reached the car to head off deeper into a day where my antennae telescoped up and down, up and down all day, with the contact.

Frankly, I find that the human world doesn’t maintain the same cautious distance that the wild one does. At all. When I’m around people the antennae-hits tend to come with more velocity and frequency, which is harder for me and which I’m working to find a fix for. There are just way too many frozen moments at this point, way too much time spent waiting to internally unfurl again, which has got to change if I’m going to get anything of substance done.

There’s much to learn here, clearly, but today at least I’m writing again and it feels good. ‘Nuff said.

p.s. Happy Birthday sweetheart. Today is a very, very beautiful day for me because you were born. May it be even more beautiful for you.

 

A helpful greeting for a rough day…

image

The girls next door lose their tennis balls over the fence all the time, which Dane the mangy rescue mutt then chews into uselessness. This cheerful bit of mastication greeted me this morning when I opened the drapes.

His name is Claude and he presents me with a little study on the qualities of absurd happiness. I’m growing attached.

copyright Dia Osborn 2014

Moving On: A Stop-motion Music Video by Ainslie Henderson

My son just sent me a link to this music video with the brief message, “This video reminded me of something you might like.” He knows me so well, my son.

Thought I’d pass it along because it’s just that good. Here’s a tiny, four minute, very compelling story told in yarn…yarn!…of all things. It’s a tale of life and love and loss, joy and birth and death, about being fully human I suppose. Who knew that a simple textile could be so damn eloquent? This kind of creativity just knocks my socks off.

Selfie in Hells Canyon

The hubster and I spent most of last week in Hells Canyon tent camping for the first time in decades. (It went well. Fantastic in fact, so we’ve decided to plan another trip.) While hiking on one of the trails through the gorge below the dam we got a wild hair and took a selfie…mainly because it’s the only possible way we were ever going to get a shot of both of us in the same frame. It was fun and, surprisingly, turned out halfway decent considering we’d been camping for four days with accompanying grime build-up.

Here it is.

Cal & Dia on Snake River Canyon

Truly though, the surrounding scenery looked better. For example:

The canyon

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The snowcapped Wallowa Mountain range

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A wild rugosa in bloom

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Cascara sagrada leaves (from the tree whose bark gives us the active ingredient in ExLax. Gaze and be grateful.)

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Our campsite (just prior to departure so sans tent, etc.) with Sherpa Pepe and the Kayak Twins

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And an alpine rock garden on top of one of the many peaks

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Did I mention it was wildflower season? It was wildflower season.

We also saw a couple of mountain goats, nesting bald eagles, and a brown bear but alas, being no wildlife photographer, I was unprepared and missed the opportunities. Oh, there were also bats. And a head full of ticks…no, two head fulls…but we were way too frantic trying to rip them out again to even think about taking pictures. No rattlesnake sightings though, even though the canyon is full of them, and thank God for that.

copyright Dia Osborn 2014

An & Ria’s #First Flight: The difference between courage and fearlessness

I love, love, love corporate advertising that reveals something beautiful about us as people. When I watch the kind of commercial that Vodafone created below, I feel like it’s a fair trade–my time and attention for their insight. If they did business in Idaho I’d even consider switching carriers if their product was as decent as their advertising.

This little ten-minute video follows two elderly Dutch women as they prepare for and then take their first flight. It’s delightful on way too many levels to list them all here, so I recommend you just watch it and settle into your own take on it…prepare to smile!

But one of the things that caught my attention was the great example it offers on the difference between courage and fearlessness. Here. See what you think.

When I was younger I always assumed courageous and fearless were just two words for the same thing. That essentially they both described the act of being brave. But as life went on and events required me to face some major, crippling fears of my own I gradually came to understand that there’s a huge…HUGE…difference.

Fearlessness is essentially an absence of fear, no courage is required if a person isn’t afraid to begin with. Ria was fearless, which is a lot of what made her so delightful to watch (not to mention that grin and contagious laugh.) For her, the whole thing was a grand and fantastic adventure, low on challenge, high on learning and fun. I think most of us long to be like Ria.

Courage, on the other hand, is more of a rare flower that can only blossom in the light of fear. Otherwise, it stays dormant…unnecessary and unavailable.

For that matter, even when fear is present courage can remain dormant anyway. The instinct can be so overpowering to play it safe and it can be so much easier to just stay home, even if one risks eventually falling into paralysis that way. Courage seems a little mysterious and ephemeral actually, as though it requires a remarkable confluence of events to finally spark it, but what that spark will be there’s no way to know until it actually happens.

I thought An was the more courageous of the two, because even though she was deeply afraid of flying she still summoned the strength to climb on that plane in spite of it.  She seemed to be the more vulnerable of the two with the greater challenge to overcome, but maybe that’s why, once they were up in the air, I found her quiet wonder as she gazed out the window to be the most moving. Certainly, with the phobias I’ve endured, I understood why she wept when she spoke of the beauty of it all later.

Secretly, I think I long even more for An’s courage than Ria’s fearlessness, although to be honest I think everyone probably has a little of both lurking inside them.  I suppose my real job is to just go ahead and delight in any periods of fearlessness I experience and then be really, deeply grateful if I’m frozen and that mysterious spark of courage ignites to help get me moving again.

copyright Dia Osborn 2014

 

Today I am…

Today I’m both a little fearful and a little in love.

I’m a little fearful that I may be bad somehow…a sneaky shadow from childhood no doubt, still creeping along the ground of my life trying to keep a low profile.

But I’m a little in love with my snail shells, too.

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Snails and I also go back to childhood, only in a better way. I used to spend hours and hours with these tiny friends of mine, placing them on the palm of my hand to wait however long it took until they finally worked up the nerve to peek out again…oh-so-cautiously…checking to see if the coast was clear before spilling out to explore my hand.

Honestly the level of trust required for that really knocked my socks off.

I used to find these companions in a thick groundcover of pickleweed growing on the semi-desert hillside behind our house. My snails loved the succulent jungle it provided and I’d go out on the back patio alone to pick the slimy, slug-like creatures off the leaves and cradle their impossibly fragile shells in my hands, waiting for those two graceful antennae to reappear and wave around, reaching, feeling for something…anything really…to touch. They didn’t seem to care what.

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I was fascinated by their antennae and the way they looked like they belonged underwater, slow and undulating and tube-ish and transparent. They reminded me of the multiple tendrils of sea anemone, how they drift in ocean currents, only my snails antennae waved gracefully all on their own. I thought…and still do…that it’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.

They were also one of the most vulnerable creatures I’d come across. Their squishability was breathtaking to me, their supposedly-protective shells totally useless, which I still consider odd and unfair and a little deceptive from a destiny standpoint to the point where I feel a little betrayed for them.

Which is why their willingness to reemerge over and over again, no matter how many times I touched their antennae and drove them back into their shells…mostly gently but sometimes a little harder, a tap, to find out just how long it would take them to try this time…blew me away. They never gave up, these ridiculously flimsy creatures. Never quit trying. Never spiraled down deep into their shells saying Fuck it. Who needs this shit? I’m staying put.

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Their curiosity won. I used to watch them for hours, secretly longing for their kind of snail-trust. I was over-the-moon smitten with these guys.

Which is why I eventually carried a handful of them into my bedroom to put in the brand new plastic jewelry box my mother had given me for my birthday. They were a treasure to me, exquisite and beautiful and full of hope, and I couldn’t have cared less that they left snail tracks all over the red, synthetic material lining the inside, the slime staining the fabric while slowly drawing it into permanent wrinkles as it dried.

Turns out my mother cared though, and she was furious when she found them. She didn’t realize what they looked like through my eyes and, falling into that perilous abyss of misunderstanding that ever-gapes between adults and children, she returned them to the patio, built a little pile with them, and buried them in a mound of salt. I felt responsible for their deaths. And very bad.

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Of course, my mother was aghast when I explained to her in later years why I’d been collecting them, and she apologized to me over and over, feeling responsible and very bad, too. But then I knew my mother always loved me like that. I never once doubted that she’d regret it once she realized what happened. Not that she’d love them like I did, because to her they were still snails, but I knew she’d cherish and mourn them with me because she loved me that much.

Sometimes I feel like I was her little snail and my childhood was full of that same kind of thing, with Mom tapping on my antennae and then watching, fascinated and patient and smitten every time, as I’d peek back out and then spill into her hands. Sometimes, sure, she tapped my antennae a little too hard and I’d wind up curled inside for longer than usual, but in the end I could and would always come out again. I could snail-trust with her. That was her gift to me.

I miss her.

Today, I’m a lot in love with my mom.

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copyright 2014 Dia Osborn

A Little Post-Olympic Joy From Russia

This fabulous flash mob video from Moscow is a great reminder for me that Putin and the Oligarchy don’t define the true Russian people anymore than Washington and its incredibly malfunctioning Congress define us. I’m pretty sure that on the whole we the people, of any nation, just want to be free and happy…preferably together.

Here’s how some Russian people did just that recently. (Maybe it would help if all our government leaders got together like this? I bet THAT video would go viral.)

Of Storms and Stars, Whales and Grief

“People gonna be okay, storms never come to stay, they just show us how bad we need each other…how bad we need each other.”

— Mark Scibilia

I’ve been at something of a loss for words over the last few months with the successive hits that mine and the hubster’s families have been taking. Two suicide attempts by young members (one successful and one thus far not) as well as the dignified and loving departure of a beloved elder seem to have taken their toll on even my desire to talk about dying.

Who would have thought?

But this morning I came across an old Yuletide letter I wrote back in 2002 and the tender perspective expressed in it helped me remember the rich beauty and wonder I once found in the rooms of the dying, sprinkled in among all the horrors. Reading it again reminded me that what I saw back then is still true today…the dying world really does contain profound and graceful gifts…even if I can’t currently see any of them in the aftermath of recent events.

suppose this is where some faith helps. I needed reminding that the stars still hang up there in the depths of the night sky and that they’re just as luminous and lovely as ever. Certainly once this storm has spent all its fury and the clouds have finally cleared I’ll be able to find them again.

In the meantime, I can always read my old stories. 

I thought I’d go ahead and paste in the old Yuletide letter here, just in case anyone else is slogging through heavy weather and hoping for a break. Maybe it can help.

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Dear everyone that we hold with deepest affection:

 Cal and I (and all unbeknownst to them—the kids) send our warmest greetings in this season of silence, celebration and relentless Christmas catalog barrage.  Here in Idaho’s banana belt we’re experiencing an inversion—a meteorological event where the warmer air at higher elevations traps the colder and dirtier air at lower elevations and those of us down under reap the harvest of all our months of collected carbon emissions in the form of smog.  A ban on wood burning is currently in effect in the valley so the cord of wood we just split stands leaning precariously by the garage while the fireplace waits cold and patient.  Cal’s primal and eager impulse to poke around in a nest of flaming materials is temporarily thwarted so for his sake I hope a low-pressure system returns to the area soon.

 This year seems to have flown by faster than any year before (a trend we’ve been noticing of late) and I suspect that it speaks to the fact of our aging.  When I think about it, it seems logical enough.  Between the two of us Cal and I now have almost 94 years of collected living to our names with all the learning and memories, laughter and heartbreak, wisdom and foolishness that that much life of necessity contains.  Think about it for a second.  When held up and compared to such an accumulation of time how long can a single year really take to pass after all?  Sometimes I think of an old-growth redwood or an ancient mountain peak or a star and I wonder what a year seems like to them.  I imagine it would be like a breath or a blink.

 A solitary heartbeat lost in aeons of warm and pulsing rhythms.

 Two great things happened this year for us.  One was a cruise to Alaska—a generous gift from Cal’s dad up one of the most magnificent coastlines I could ever imagine—and the other was the work I began with hospice.  Somehow the two are closely entwined although I’m not entirely sure how. 

The cruise was something of an enigma for me.  It was our first time and in preparing for the trip I found myself conflicted around issues of the seemingly decadent opulence of American spending and a very real anticipation of fully immersing ourselves in it. 

The food was everything I’d ever heard it would be.  We ate lobster and shrimp and French dishes and baked confections in lush dining rooms with scores of people waiting on us hand and foot.  All we had to do was ask (frequently we didn’t have to ask at all) and nothing was denied us.  There was even one climactic moment when we were sitting with our aperitifs at a linen-covered table, gazing out a huge window at the dark and choppy waters we sailed through when suddenly, Cal said, “There’s a whale!”  And when I turned to where he pointed a giant humpback suddenly breached about twenty-five feet off the side of the ship, surging up into the air with a mass and drive that staggered the imagination.  As it rose it gracefully spiraled 180 degrees, arching its body back and outwards as it twirled in a movement that looked like some kind of liquid ecstasy, before plunging back into a whitened maelstrom of water to disappear again beneath the surface.

 I felt overwhelmed by the wealth of it all—both the riches of human civilization and the priceless treasures of the wild.  Cal and I tended to forego the lure of bingo and Broadway shows, naturally gravitating toward the decks and railings of the ship where we spent our time watching the mountains and islands and vast tracks of forest gliding by.  During one shore-leave we hiked on a mountain in Juneau, climbing up beyond the hordes of camera-snapping, cruise-line tourists (no doubt attempting to elevate our own camera-snapping activities to a higher moral plane) and on into the mist and muffled silence at the top where I sang to occasional marmots and ptarmigans who tipped their heads in curiosity. 

Throughout the seven days we saw harbor seals whelping, bald eagles flocking, glaciers calving, and ice so old and compressed that it had turned a luminous color of blue.  At the peak of the cruise we sailed up a fjord (I felt such a smug sense of satisfaction to finally experience the thing that carries such an exotic name) and on that morning I stood alone out on the deck for hours, shivering in the drizzling rain and cold breezes, held spellbound by the sheer, green cliffs rising up from icy waters—their towering heads hidden by clouds, their sides split time and again with plunging waterfalls fed by spring-melting snows—and in the cold, wet, wildness of it all a silence of great age, of vastness, weighed upon me, somehow aging me, too.  Lending me a temporary grace that I suspect only comes enduringly with advancing years.

 And I recognize the same vast silence I felt that morning each time I sit by the bedside of someone dying.  It’s such a paradox to me, the moments that exist—tucked in among the bathing and dressing and care of wounds, among the laughter, overwhelm and expressions of tremendous sorrow and tenderness, among the changing of oxygen tanks and long hours of just listening and listening and listening—when I feel that same great weight of grace I felt in the fjord pressing down upon me again.  Whispering to me of an indescribable beauty of great depths and muffled echoes and mist.  And in spite of the moments of horror and heartbreak, I feel strangely uplifted. 

I’ve come to wonder if much of the difficulty in dying lies in the necessity of having to give back all the many and deeply treasured gifts we’ve been loaned for the process of living.  There’s so much to love in a lifetime be it brief or long, so much to wonder at and remember and touch with trembling fingers one last time. There are all those whom we love and our many achievements, the mountains and moonlight and extraordinary beauty of the world, the gifts of walking and laughter and being able to feed ourselves and go to the bathroom alone, and in our last moments the necessity of returning even the gifts of sight and touch and breath.

But in the end, while the gifts themselves must be returned, somehow the deep love and gratitude that they forge within us remains, growing ever more quiet and measureless upon being freed.

 I remember again the brief instant of that breaching whale.  The suddenness of it and surprise, the delight and the awe, the twisting, the power, and the arc of it’s body that seemed to express not so much purpose or deep import as a simple moment of sheer and unbridled joy.  A moment of irrepressible delight, driving it to rise high and higher for an instant of unforgettable and breathtaking splendor.  And so I’m coming to think of life.  Something so brief and unpredictable and extraordinary surging up from invisible worlds, rising within us with such drive and vitality and joy—learning through us, loving through us, touching and being touched for what amounts to only a fleeting heartbeat in the vast rhythms of creation—before ultimately returning once again to the deep and gentle mystery of the waters that are its source.

With our newly graying hair and sagging bodies we wish for you all, this year and always, that each moment of the great wounding and joy of Life will be just such an arc of unforgettable beauty.

With all our love,

Cal and Dia