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

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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

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

Hail in the Garden…yikes!

We’ve got a major storm passing through southwest Idaho as I write. It started at our house with some of the biggest hail I’ve ever seen, (including during all my years in Iowa, a state which can throw up a doozy of a thunderstorm.)

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Evidently, we got off lucky.  Down in Jordan Valley it was golfball-sized, and there was one report of baseball-sized hail.  Good-bye windshields.

The hail we got here was big enough to decimate my squash patches though.

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But Bert, Bertha, Beatrix, and all the other winter squashes are okay.

I tried to take a video during the worst of the hail fall but screwed up and only got a couple of seconds.  Here’s an earful of what it sounded like though.

It was all pretty exciting and I…big thunderstorm fanatic that I am…actually loved the whole thing. The hubster laughed when I told him so and commented that thunderstorms are the only thing in existence that could trash my garden and leave me happy about it afterwards.

copyright Dia Osborn 2013

 

Thoughts From The 2012 Yuletide

Cal and Dia sitting in a tree

(A rare photo of the two of us together taken this summer. BTW, the light emanating from our foreheads is enlightenment, not sun glare.  Don’t be fooled.)

We send out an annual Yuletide letter with our holiday cards each year.  This is it…and the sentiments it contains hold true for all of you as well.  Here’s wishing love and good will to all mankind.

Here’s wishing you the best of the season as we head down the final stretch of the year!  As usual, we sincerely hope you’re either thriving from the gifts or coping well with the stresses these holidays tend to bring, depending on which it is for you this time around.  At its best this season includes the spirit of caring and looking out for those more vulnerable.  For anyone who pulled the vulnerable straw this year we’d just like to say thanks for giving everyone else the chance to step up and don their better selves.  May we all take turns and strive to do both with as much grace as we can muster.

Last year was the first Yuletide season in nineteen that I didn’t write this letter or send out cards for which I apologize.  It was something of a short straw year for me. Nothing catastrophic fortunately, just a couple of scares, but it left me with nothing good to say so, per my mother’s perennial wisdom, I said nothing at all.  We really missed everyone though and want to thank all our card-exchange friends for still sending us your cards even when you didn’t get anything back.  They were more appreciated than you know.

On the news front nothing much changed around here this year except that Cal and I took up flatwater kayaking.  He’s been dreaming about it for quite a while now so I finally surrendered and entered into the spirit of the thing since it certainly beat the alternative of getting a motorcycle.

It’s been amazing actually.  I’ve never done much with boats and had no idea how different the natural world feels from the water.  It’s more mysterious somehow and I can see why sailors talk about the sea as a mistress.  I’ve felt it once or twice myself…that sense of an ephemeral feminine presence…only it felt more like a mother than a lover to me.  We’ve had some extraordinary experiences ranging from gliding over water so clear it was like floating in space to trying to rescue an abandoned gosling floating in a boat lane.  But my deepest impression so far comes from the night we went kayaking up at the reservoir in September under the harvest moon, paddling along trails of rippling light surrounded by looming mountain shadows.

Pretty much everything about paddling at night was new and unnerving, but the most curious thing happened a couple of hours out when I first heard some strange, strangled sounds coming from the shore nearby.  I had no idea what was making them but felt vaguely uneasy, wondering if whatever it was could swim out and reach us.  Then we heard the whirring sound of wings launching into the air…a lot of wings…after which we heard them coming out across the water straight for us.

When Cal and I talked about it later we found out both of us thought the same thing at first: Oh shit! Bats! Initially, we couldn’t see anything because they were hidden against a dark mountain background but once they streamed out across the sky we saw a couple hundred of them with wingspans the size of herring gulls.  I nearly panicked thinking BIG bats! but then realized they really were herring gulls.  I should have felt relief I suppose but instead the previous vision of being attacked by giant bats switched to grisly images from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (thank you oh fear-generating machine of a subconscious mind.)  They must have noticed us out on the water…two awkward, splashing, fish-shaped things…and grown curious enough to fly out and investigate.

I felt pretty helpless sitting there…paddle clutched across my lap, bare head laid vulnerable to a sky full of sharp beaked shadows…but when they reached us all they did was wheel around, their ranks dividing in half to carve opposite, banking turns against the moon glowing behind them.  They were maybe twenty feet over our heads, close enough to hear the wind moving through thousands of feather tips, and my fear finally dissolved as we watched an unearthly sky-dance unfolding above us…a movement as graceful as any ballet.

It was a murmuration, an example of that mysterious communication among birds that lets them fly and wheel and turn as one, and as Cal and I leaned back in our kayaks surprised and slack-jawed, we watched rolling, rippling patterns of movement being woven into the sky.  Their synchronization was so flawless they looked like a single organism up there…some strange sky creature mimicking the fluid properties of the water below…endlessly dividing into multiple streams that peeled off and curled away only to swing back around and seamlessly join again, swelling and surging anew each time. They circled and swooped above us like that for maybe a minute or so until, their curiosity evidently satisfied, some invisible signal was given and they turned back towards shore all together, hanging there silhouetted against the moonlight for a few lingering moments before disappearing into the shadow of the mountain.

Afterwards we just sat there, stunned and stilled.  The whole thing seemed so primal…an ancient gift from the night and moonlight and water and sky…and I could feel it stirring some dim genetic memory inside me, like I was receiving an ancestral message of some kind.  Only of what, I really couldn’t tell you.  Maybe a simple reminder that, even in times of dark uncertainty, there’s still a mysterious, winged grace that can launch and locate me if I just clutch my courage tight enough and keep looking up.

This year…with the world looking as rich in uncertainty as it does right now…we hope that you, too, get to experience something unexpected and mysterious and breathtaking in the midst of it all, something that suspends all fear for a few heartbeats and leaves you reeling with wonder.  That kind of thing can help a lot with the rest.  It truly can.

As always, our continuing love and best wishes for you all.

Dia and Cal

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copyright Dia Osborn 2012

The Titanic and Something Mysterious Going On in the Dying Rooms

(Image from the blog Corazon’s Corner.)

I indulged in a day of lunch and theatre with an old friend from the hospice I used to work with recently.  Les Miserables.  Music to knock your socks off and blow your hair straight back…especially as we were sitting in the first row directly in front of a two-story speaker.  I couldn’t hear for an hour afterwards but I didn’t want to either, at least not until my body finally stopped vibrating with the memory.

It was a beautiful afternoon spent with a dear friend doing wonderful things.

He used to be the social worker for our small hospice before the owner died and everything fell apart so naturally, over lunch, we spent some of our time reminiscing about the old days.  We got to talking about dying and death in general and, before I had a chance to say anything, Dear Friend blurted out.

“Everyone is SO obsessed with death!”  He seemed excited which, for Dear Friend the Placid…the Even…was startling.  “It’s all you ever hear about!”

He went on to complain about the constant, battering stream of drug commercials, all the news coverage of new medical research that only ever talks about mortality rates and never about quality of life.

The assumption seems to be that if a person is alive, then of course that’s better than being dead…no matter what.  Even though when you actually talk to people on the street, the majority say that after a certain point of escalating suffering and loss (that quality of life thing again) they think they’d really rather just go ahead and die.

It was such a relief to me, to hear somebody else say it.  And it struck me again, how those who have worked around hospice generally wind up coming to the same conclusion.

Dying just isn’t that scary for us anymore.  We’ve seen it.  We’ve been around it a lot.  It’s become our familiar and we’ve made our peace with it.  We know we’ll be doing it and that’s no longer a problem.

Over time we came to see how dying fits into the grand scheme of things and how, more importantly, it can actually top off a life in a way that rights some of the wrongs that were made.  We’ve seen first hand, multiple times, how dying can deepen the beauty of a life, spread that beauty around to others, and even leave that beauty behind as a legacy of good that lasts a very, very long time.

Unlike a lot of people who say they know they’re going to die, we REALLY know it, and the knowledge has largely freed us from the constant, underlying fear that people usually don’t even realize they’re living with all the time.

What IS still scary though, even to us, is all the possible wrong choices around dying that are available in today’s world, choices that we know can make dying a lot harder, make the difficult parts of it even worse than they already are.

They’re choices that are proliferating at a blinding speed, too, that are being pursued, promoted, and paid for by that same deep, unconscious fear of dying that’s basically running everything at this point.  Our medical institutions and research facilities, our public health policies, our hospitals and doctor groups, our politicians, and our insurance companies have all evolved around this one, central terror of dying to the point where mortality rates have become the key measure by which everything else is judged.

Dying…and desperately avoiding it…has long since gobbled up the majority share.

There are a few people scattered around who, like Dear Friend and I, can see this, and some of them are even people in high places with a lot of influence.  Some of them watch the teetering tottering mess with the same dismay that we feel, while others rub their hands together with glee, jump into the chaos, and do what they can to further, then capitalize, on all the fear.

It’s a mess.  It reminds me of that classic scene sequence from the movie Titanic, where the iceberg has been hit, the ship is half sunk, and her decks have finally collapsed into a chaotic, milling scene of abject human terror and despair.

It’s quite grim.  The movie makers did a good job there.

And then…and then.  They do something magical.  The camera abruptly pulls back from the closeup coverage of all the chaos and noise, moving to a more distant, mid-range kind of shot from up in the sky and the noise and chaos are instantly reduced.  We can still hear the screaming but it’s now far away and less disturbing.  The ship, in all it’s eerie, glowing destruction is much smaller now, it doesn’t overwhelm us anymore, framed as it is by a huge sweep of dark, silent ocean that somehow manages to contain and quiet it all.

It’s true.  A larger perspective always helps.

But the magic isn’t over yet.  The camera suddenly pulls back again, to an even farther point up in the sky, a place so high that we can now see not only the vast ocean containing the tiny ship, but the vast night sky containing the vast ocean that contains the tiny ship.

From that height we can’t hear anything anymore.  Not a single visual or auditory detail of the tragedy is left and it’s a relief to be removed from it like that.  To be offered a perspective, a scope of time and place, so vast that it easily contains and cradles even that much suffering.

I think about it a lot, why spending time in the dying world helped to alleviate my own fear of it, and I think it’s because this same kind of thing happened.  Somehow, by being there with them—each rare and beautiful dying person—by laying my own hands on their quivering bodies and fears and dreams, it made the camera inside my eyes magically pull back, too.  Little by little, day after day, mostly to a midrange place where I could still hear and see all the suffering, only surrounded by a great stillness.

But then every once in a while, for some reason that I still don’t understand, (probably love come to think of it…love can do a real number on perception) my eyes would pull back farther than that, out to a place full of twinkling stars and deep time.  And in those moments the people I was looking at, the homes I was working in, would fall away into profound silence while everything started to glow.

The wasting body beneath my hands, the faces around me crumpling in pain or anger or grief, all the dying room litter of soiled wipes and used commodes, of sweaty, wrinkled clothing, ice chips, and pill cups, would transform into something that was simultaneously exquisite and heartbreaking—as if everything, all of us, were turning into a giant constellation of stars that were just hanging there, glowing and guiding, in some other kind of vast but invisible night sky.

Although no.  Not turning into.  It wasn’t so much like we were becoming a constellation of stars.  It was more like that’s what we’d always been but then we forgot, consumed as we are most of the time by the engaging, delightful, overwhelming barrage of all life’s little details.

And for those few luminous moments, I’d stand gazing around me slack-jawed and wide-eyed, my hands frozen in whatever task they’d been doing, my breath suspended with the wonder of what I was seeing.

And then whatever was causing it to happen would change and the camera in my eyes would zoom back into mid-range again, the glowing would disappear, the noise would resume, and I’d be able to move again.

Then later, when I’d leave the dying rooms and walk back into the noisy, chaotic world of regular living, my eyes would zoom back into close range again which, frankly, is where they are most of the time.  I’m usually just as overwhelmed by details as the next person.

But even though those strange, glowing moments were brief I can still remember them vividly.  I can return to them and touch them, over and over again, whenever I need to.  Those seconds of looking at the world from somewhere farther away and higher up, from a place where every ordinary, everyday, stinky, crumpled, decaying thing suddenly looked like a miracle and a gift.

And just remembering it, I’m surprised all over again each time.  Overcome.  It makes me fall head over heels in love with life yet again because somehow I still keep forgetting just how BIG this all is.  Big enough to tenderly hold not only the nubile and lovely, but the terrified and aching as well.

Big enough to contain even dying.  In the end it all really is just a blink.  A beautiful, hard slogging, transcendent, soul crushing, miraculous, grief filled, fascinating, bewildering, breathtaking, fragile, prostrating gift of a blink.

Thank God it eventually ends.  Who could take this kind of fabulous beating forever?

copyright Dia Osborn 2012

I’m more afraid of being overtreated for dying than I am of dying from it.

I’m still plugging away at completing the old advance directive I started way back in February.  I know a lot of people say just do it….  

Just.  Sometimes I hate that word.

Although frankly, I didn’t think it would be that big a deal when I started either.  But clearly, my inertia is telling a different story.  The hubster and I actually filled out the forms months ago and, as expected, that part really wasn’t a big deal.  We educated ourselves, we weighed our choices, we made our decisions, and we wrote it all down.

Check.

It’s the next step that’s killing me.  All the follow-up conversations I’m supposed to have with loved ones, alternate medical proxies, and anyone else who’s likely to get involved if I ever hit the point where I can’t make medical decisions for myself.

Fear is a powerful, powerful thing.

But finally, last week I sat down with the friend I’ve asked to be my medical proxy in case the hubster can’t do it and we started feeling our way through the labyrinth together.  It was a fascinating conversation and helped me to really boil things down to my own bottom line.  After some initial flailing and panic while trying to explain, there were a couple of important realizations I came to that helped settle me back down.

A FEW BASIC TRUTHS ABOUT MYSELF:

1)  What happens to the hubster and kids during that kind of crisis is as important to me as whatever is happening to me.  I love them and I don’t want their needs or wishes disrespected or ignored anymore than mine.  Even though it’s not my first choice, I’m absolutely willing to go through some additional suffering and linger for a while longer if they need the extra time.

2)  Money is a very big issue for me.  I do not…DO NOT…want a massive wealth transfer happening at the very end so that nothing’s left afterwards for the hubster and kids.  So don’t anybody feel guilty about considering the financial consequences of any decision.  In fact, feel guilty if you don’t.

3)  Control is an illusion.  All I can do is try and communicate now the best I can.  In the end though, whatever is going to happen, will.  I need to try and remember that, breathe, and surrender again. (And again and again and again.)

4)  The one, single, most important, overriding principle I need everyone to remember and steer by is this:  I’m more afraid of being overtreated for dying than I am of dying from it.

So in a choice between erring on the side of choosing too little intervention or choosing too much, always, always, always err on the side of too little.  I’ve lived a huge and magical, unexpected life full of wonder, surprises, love, companionship, adventure, learning, and near constant amazement.  From a distance, I haven’t really minded the pain all that much.  If I was to go tomorrow, I’m so very, very, very good and grateful with it all.

So the bottom line is you don’t have to worry about cutting me short.  You can’t.  It’s impossible.  Honestly?  I kind of can’t believe I made it this long.  You guys just take whatever time you need…(just again, sometimes I love that word)…to get your hearts wrapped around the whole thing and say your good-byes, and then let me go.

And remember…I love you.  I’ve always loved you and I always will.  There are some things that can’t be killed.

copyright Dia Osborn 2012

Starling Murmuration: Sometimes, Someone Gets Lucky and Then Shares

This brief footage is absolutely extraordinary.  I’ve seen small flocks of starlings doing this before but nothing like this.

The murmuration begins at around 26 seconds but I was also fascinated by the fact that these two women are canoeing in the weather and through the terrain that they are.  I’ve almost always experienced the most wonder and awe…seen the most unusual, even miraculous, things…when I’m out in inclement weather, or twilight or dark, or intense cold, or in other conditions that keep most people away.

I’m not sure why that is actually.  Kind of curious.

Anyway, if you have two minutes, watch and marvel.  It’s truly something to behold.

My Son Is Too Old To Colonize Mars

Just when you think you know somebody, they can still surprise you.

I was chatting with my twenty-nine year old son on the phone the other night and discovered two things about him that I didn’t know before.

1)  He’s leaning towards atheism. (Which is both disconcerting and kind of cool.  We don’t have one of those in the family yet.)  And

2)  If he had the chance to be among the first to colonize Mars, he’d jump.  No questions asked.

Of course, as his mother, I went straight to neediness when he confided the latter piece of information. “But…what if you could never come back to earth? Would you still want to go?”  My fear of abandonment in old age was showing.

He didn’t hesitate.  “You bet.”

I clutched at my heart for a second then sighed.  I suppose it’s my own fault for teaching him to be truthful.

In case anyone is thinking that this is a ridiculous conversation, it’s really not.  There are actually a number of plans on the table for colonizing Mars.  In a brief article on The Norwegian Space Centre website (for the government agency under the Ministry of Trade and Industry) it says that the earliest date mentioned for moving to Mars in official papers is 2019.

In another article on The Daily Galaxy, the author sites evidence of Mars colonization becoming an imperative of the new U.S. space strategy taking shape under Obama.

And Stephen Hawking, the renowned British physicist and author of A Brief History of Time (among many, many other books), is a strong supporter of space colonization in general.  In fact he believes that, with the poor resource management so far displayed on Earth, human life simply won’t exist long-term without it.

 “Life on Earth,” Hawking has said, “is at the ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster such as sudden global warming, nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus or other dangers … I think the human race has no future if it doesn’t go into space.”

But keep in mind he also said, while talking about the possibility of other intelligent life in the universe:

“Personally, I favour the second possibility – that primitive life is relatively common, but that intelligent life is very rare…Some would say it has yet to occur on Earth.”

Which kind of begs the question of why save us at all, but I guess there’s no explaining species loyalty, which is an instinct-thing.  (Which then loops us back to the question of intelligence, which is a mental hamster-wheel thing.)

The project that got my son dreaming about all this in the first place involves a Dutch start-up called Mars One that’s planning to fund the first colony on Mars in 2023 with the proceeds from a reality show documenting the whole thing.  Before you laugh (which was admittedly my first reaction when he brought it up) check out their website.  A realistic Mars shot is evidently a lot closer than I understood.

Luckily, before I donned the black veil and started throwing ashes on my head, my son sadly explained that he was already too old to participate in any of these projects.  Turns out that, while he may be as scary smart, technologically astute, and space visionary as the best of them, it’s not enough.  Thankfully nubile youth is also required.  Which means it will be some other unfortunate mother standing at the dock in 2023 waving her crumpled little handkerchief good-bye.

My son will be stranded to die right here on Earth with me.

Oh for godsakes…what a horrible thing to write.  (In case anyone was wondering where he gets his deplorable truthfulness from.)

On a brighter note, evidently Virgin Galactic (that Richard Branson, I tell ya…) is actually booking seats for space flights now and my son feels that this is an adventure within his reach. I have to admit, if I had a spare $200,000 sitting around I’d be tempted to join him and book a flight myself.

Now, for the record, I adore, a-d-o-r-e, this planet and would never, ever leave her, even if a gigantic asteroid was about to annihilate us all and I was offered the last remaining seat on the only spaceship out of here.

I’m really not kidding when I say I want to die at home.

But to be able to go up and just orbit around her a few times?  To see with my very own eyes the Blue Planet, this exquisitely beautiful, miraculous place that we all get to share in, live on, suckle from, contribute to, and be a part of for however long it lasts?

Now that would be something.

copyright Dia Osborn 2011

The Little Gosling That Couldn’t and How The Kayak Got Her Name

This one falls under the heading of “strange and magical things experienced while kayaking.”  My twin interests of paddling and dying paired up for a brief dance last weekend.

On Saturday we strapped the kayaks to the car and drove out to a canyon area that…long, long ago and far, far away…had a creek running along the bottom of it.  But one day the Army Corps of Engineers came along and built Lucky Peak dam and, lo and behold, the canyon became a long finger of the resulting reservoir instead.  (A change that unquestionably sucked for everything that lived down there at the time, but turned out to be a boon for municipal water storage and boating of all kinds.)

We got up at 5:30 to beat the power boats and water skiers and were rewarded with the stillness and solitude that only goes to the early risers. (Which I normally am not.)  We started at the tip of the long finger and paddled along for an hour and a half, gazing up at basalt cliffs and the clouds of wheeling, flitting birds that make their homes there.  Later we discovered a small but breathtaking cove with lichen covered cliffs rising straight from the water and a couple of tinkling, tiered waterfalls cooling the already hot day.

And then, as we finally neared the end of the narrow canyon and prepared to enter the main body of the reservoir itself, we sighted a pair of Canadian geese shepherding twenty-three, brand new goslings in a tight bunch between them (count them! twenty-three!!) and we immediately swung the kayaks out into deeper water, giving them as wide a berth as possible out of concern for those unpredictable, wide-eyed, bits of fluff.

By that time the power boat traffic had picked up in the main reservoir and a few of them were turning into the canyon, roaring and dragging their bouncing, scooting loads back up what we’d just paddled silently down.  The clash of water-recreational cultures had begun and it was now time to share.

The hubster and I had gotten separated somewhere along the line, with him paddling along one side of the widening channel heading for the main marina, while I followed the line of cliffs on the other side, gazing up and studying the geology.  Deep down I knew I was going to have to cross eventually, to join him, and navigate the boat traffic in the process.

But I didn’t want to….I just didn’t…and some deep, stubborn thing inside me dug in and grabbed on with it’s toes.  I didn’t want to go to the marina.  I didn’t want to deal with the boats.  I didn’t want anything to do with the human world at all because I knew it would break the spell I’d fallen under earlier in the canyon…of water and wings, rhythm and rock.

So I ignored his lead and kept to my own side until, just up ahead, I was distracted by something strange floating on the water.  It wasn’t the occasional driftwood or flotsam or jetsam bumping past my boat.  It was soft brown and upright and I soon realized that 1) it was a lone gosling drifting perilously close to the wakes from the main boat lane and, 2) that it belonged to the gaggle of other goslings we’d passed earlier, back up the canyon, but had somehow gotten separated.

I never really decided to do it.  On the contrary.  It happened with no reflection whatsoever and entirely without my consent.  My arms simply paddled the kayak around behind the gosling, turned the bow back up the canyon, and started to patiently, relentlessly herd him along the base of the cliffs after his family.  Just like that.

Looking back now it’s amazing to me, how my perception could change that much in a single breath.  How a world as populated and noisy as the reservoir was, could suddenly telescope down to a single, tiny, bobbing life like that.  My vision went tunneled and everything else ceased to exist…the power boats, the hubster, time.  It’s funny.  Over the years and on into menopause, I’d forgotten what a fierce thing the maternal instinct can be and what odd things can invoke it.  But in an instant there she was again, up on her hind legs with claws spread, just like old times.

It’s nice to know the hormones still work.

The spell deepened.  As I paddled slowly…s-l-o-w-l-y…along, nudging, urging, heading off, backing up, turning, resting, then urging the little gosling on again, I started to feel a strange kinship with all the Canadian goose mothers I’ve watched over the years as they guided their own babies along.  It was like there was a second, phantom world gradually superimposing over the first, one where the yak was turning into a plump, feathered body and the paddle, a long, stretching neck.  It was an odd sensation, that tactile feeling of goose-ness settling over me, but I welcomed it anyway for the additional skill and information it lent me.

The gosling wasn’t doing well…at all…and I soon realized why he had been abandoned.  He was weak and getting weaker.  The effort required for him to swim ahead of my kayak was clearly a lot and he also suffered occasional spasms of some kind of palsy.  I wondered if he was born with neurological damage or if he’d been caught in the wake of a boat right out of the egg, maybe dashed against some rocks or injured in some other way.

At some point it dawned on me that the little guy wasn’t going to survive, and my mission changed from saving his life to reuniting him with the family so he wouldn’t have to die alone.  By this time the hubster had noticed my preoccupation and come over to check out what I was doing.  As soon as he saw the gosling he joined my efforts without a word and together we urged the tiring baby forward as gently as we could.  But the gosling was so weak…and the going so achingly slow…that eventually the hubster decided to paddle up the shoreline to try and find the family.  To perhaps herd them back down towards us if he could.

I began crooning encouragement to the gosling, who was pausing to rest with increasing frequency, and he seemed to respond to the soft, loving sounds.  He stopped and looked up at me a few times, relaxing a little, and started trying to follow the edge of the bow as I held the careful distance between us that I’d maintained the whole way.

And then something happened that took me entirely off guard.  A spasm of palsy struck the gosling that was so strong his bowels emptied into the water.  And as I sat there waiting for it to pass, watching the small patch of white refuse sink and disperse beneath the surface, the baby suddenly turned towards me…disoriented, overwhelmed, and unable to continue…and swam straight for the hand that I instinctively lowered into the water.

He never hesitated but climbed right in, balancing there among my careful fingers as I lifted him up and nestled him protectively in my lap.  And as he sat there quietly, exhausted, I started paddling in earnest, heading for an inlet about a quarter mile up the canyon where the hubster was signaling that he’d found the rest of the goose family.

I honestly don’t know how to describe the strange mixture of emotions and instincts that had taken possession of me by that time.  I don’t really understand it myself.  There were flashes of stories going through my mind, stories I’d heard of other mothers from other species who had done the same thing I was doing.  There was a female gorilla in a zoo somewhere.  The one that picked up an injured human child who had accidentally fallen into her enclosure and cradled it against her, protecting it from an aggressive male gorilla that could have done further harm.  There was a Labrador Retriever bitch that a friend of mine once owned, who patiently, lovingly nursed a litter of orphaned kittens to term, taking them on as her own when the mother cat had been killed.

There are other stories, too, of this particular phenomenon—of surprising cross-species interactions filled with tenderness and generosity–and these stories tend to both puzzle and delight all of us who hear them.  I wonder if it’s because maybe, each time, they hint that we’re not quite as different from each other as we thought.  Or that we’re not quite as alone as we feared.

What I do know is that sitting there in the kayak that morning with a beautiful, dying gosling across my thighs, I suddenly understood with crystal clarity how those other animal mothers could behave the way they did.  I got it, how an innocent life falling from the sky, however damaged or brief, can instantly become the only thing that matters.  How the kind of terrible vulnerability they present can trigger the most primal of instincts…and what a good and sacred thing that is.

By the time I reached the hubster in the inlet where the family was resting, the gosling was sinking into permanent disorientation.  He was actively dying and, as I cupped him in both hands and placed him back into the water, he kept trying to swim the wrong way.  He didn’t seem to see or hear the other geese as they clacked and shifted uneasily at the end of the inlet, and we weren’t quite sure what to do.  We didn’t want to get any closer out of concern for the other goslings, but at the same time we wanted to guide our own little guy near enough to the others to have a chance to see and join them.

Finally, the two adult geese seemed to notice the gosling swimming near us and one of them raised its wings a little, making alert and angry goose noises and moving aggressively in our direction.  At this our little guy seemed to clear the fog for second and see them and he turned to swim down the inlet in their direction.

For a brief and dazzling moment, I thought everything would be okay.

But it wasn’t.  Everything started going wrong.  Instead of crossing the water towards the family on the right bank, the dying gosling hugged the opposite shore.  His head wobbled with palsy, his swimming grew increasingly erratic and aimless, and with a sigh I recognized all the signs.  He was losing awareness of the physical environment around him as he commenced the final stage of dying.  He was going light…entering that luminous border world around life that has to be crossed on the way out.

I’d also made a classic mistake with the adult geese.  Forgetting everything I know, I’d projected all my human emotions onto them and childishly expected them to welcome the gosling–which they’d already abandoned once–back into the fold.  Far from the joyful reunion I’d imagined, the parents herded the other babies as far away from the injured gosling as possible, actually moving them down the inlet towards us.  I realized they were willing to risk a dangerous level of closeness with humans rather than get anywhere near the dying gosling and, too late, I remembered about that other, harsher instinct that also lurks inside us all.  The one that whispers mistrust of all things sick, misshapen, or dying.

It’s the one that always errs on the side of caution in order to avoid contagion and preserve life.

Strangely, I accepted the unexpected turn of events with no more rational thought than I’d given to anything else that had happened.  That deep, clawed thing inside me simply fell to all fours and ambled off.  Nothing felt wrong or sad to me, still sitting under the spell of primal things as I was.  It just felt done.

I watched for one lingering moment as the blinded gosling bumped his way up the inlet and then, when the hubster suggested we get going, I turned my kayak without a word and followed him.  We needed to get out of the way of the way of the other geese and besides, I couldn’t chase the gosling down to try and cradle him at the last.  It would only have frightened and traumatized him as he died and that wasn’t allowed.

There’s an instinct for that one, too.

I’ve been haunted by that morning ever since, by the image of that strange, breathless moment when a mortally wounded gosling turned and, against every instinct, swam straight into my hand.  The memory of it fills me with both wonder and questions.  I don’t understand why he did it.  I don’t know whether it was a gesture of desperation and disorientation, or a moment of recognition and trust.  And there’s no way I can ever know, because I think there are some things we’re only supposed to ponder, not solve.

But even though I can never know for him, I can know for me…from my side…and I know this much:

That in his brief and tiny time here, the miracle is that I found him at all.  He was so infinitely small floating alone there in that vast body of water, and a later start, a different trajectory or speed, something as simple as a longer gaze up at the cliffs, would have made me miss him completely.  I’ll never know whether the crossing of our paths turned out to be a better thing for him or not, whether my efforts ultimately eased or increased his suffering.  I can only hope that I did more good than harm.

But whatever it was for him, it was most certainly a gift for me, one of the rarest in fact, to be placed in my secret treasure box full of sparkling things.  It was an encounter full of the dizzying reminder that life is beautiful, yes.  Without doubt.  But it’s only in opening up to let all the world’s shadows and all the world’s light pour inside to fill me, that life transforms from the merely beautiful into an enchanted, shimmering place of wonder, seen with ever widening eyes.

Epilogue: I’ve been secretly chafing ever since our first kayaking adventure when the hubster bravely towed that fishing boat back to shore and earned his kayak its name–Tug Boat.  I wanted a good name for my kayak, too, but after his naming adventure, everything I came up with sounded made-up and lame.  Unearned.

But there was a moment in the middle of shepherding the gosling, when he was still in the water and my yak and I were jockeying around him, trying to guide and protect him both, when the name came to me out of the blue, like it had been whispered in my ear.  

“Mother Goose.”

And that was how the kayak got her name.

copyright Dia Osborn 2012

Gosling image above is from Wikipedia

When Vacations Turn Hard Left: Kayaks and Snow

We hauled the boats up to our usual haunt…the family cabin next to the Sawtooth National Recreation Area…to paddle the various glacier carved lakes over Memorial Day weekend.  We woke up the first morning to a perfect day for kayaking.

Absurd, no?  We laughed and laughed at this joke on ourselves.  We later learned that out of the last twenty-five Memorial Days in Stanley, Idaho, only two have been warm and sunny.

The morning snowfall turned to spitting rain for most of the day and then, in early evening, we got a surprise window of clear skies.  The air temperature shot up into the low fifties and, after some nervous waffling over warm soup, our impulses got the better of us and we decided to go for it.  We learned we could strap the kayaks on the car, load all of our gear, and suit up in exactly twenty-three minutes.

This was our reward:

Not bad, eh?  That’s the view looking down to the very end of Redfish Lake which is about five miles long.  Here’s one more shot of it with the hubster and Tug:

That was as far as we dared go that day.  The sun had just set behind the mountains and we still had to paddle an hour back to our launch site.  Neither of us were excited about trying to load the boats in the dark.  Nevertheless, we both secretly dreamed of coming back and going all the way to the end of the lake, if for no other reason than to sit at the foot of those gorgeous peaks and gaze up in slack-jawed wonder.

But the next day was a total bust weather-wise.  Rain all day…ALL day…turning to another four inches of snow overnight.  No surprise windows for us, I’m afraid.

Our worry started to shift from a concern that we might not get to paddle again to a fear that we might not be able to drive from the cabin back out to the highway.  The winding, steep dirt road that connects the two can get irritable and uncooperative when saturated.

The last, full day of our vacation dawned to (wait for it…wait for it) more rain and spitting snow.  We watched as the heavy, gray squalls entered the long valley from the north then rolled on down, engulfing the mountain ranges on both sides and dumping everything on us as they passed.  This went on over and over and over again, all day long.

But then, in late afternoon, there was a…well, not a window exactly.  More like a brief pause.  A slightly longer gap.  Hardly noticeable in fact, but we decided to load everything up and go down to the lake to watch and wait anyway.  You know.  Just in case.  The hubster especially wanted to go and it seemed better than giving up for good.

The hubster later confided that he knew if he could just get me down onto the water, my own impulsive side would take over from there.  There’s a little dance we always do in situations like this…when he wants to jump in and take a risk, but I’m not convinced that it’s safe.  He’s really kind of brilliant about it.  Rather than trying to get me to “go for it,” his strategy is to nudge me along in incremental baby steps.

At home:  Come on, sweetheart.  We’ll just drive down to the lake and see.  We can always turn around and come back home.

At the lake:  Come on, sweetheart.  We can just sit here a little bit longer.  And by the way, I really don’t mind if you don’t want to do it.

Rolling down the window:  Look, sweetheart!  It stopped raining.  You want to just walk down to the beach and look around before we go home?  I promisewhatever happens, I’m fine with it.

He eventually got me down to the water’s edge but it was a young family staying at the lake lodge…also waiting hopefully for some kind of break in the weather…that tipped me into the boat.  They were on the dock near the rental station, the kids begging Mom and Dad to go out on the paddle boat…clutching, pulling, pleeeeeeasing…and finally, after three long, sodden days of whining, the battle-weary parents caved.  The current squall passed and the next one hadn’t arrived yet, so they all clambered aboard.

The children were beyond ecstatic and the parents were clearly relieved to give up the fight.  Their happy, joyous voices carried across the water to where we stood and, as I watched them paddle and splash around the small, buoyed area surrounding the dock, a kind of stealth, emotional transfer traveled along on the back of the noise.  It was like a computer virus downloading, installing, and rebooting inside me, without my ever realizing what was going on.  The first I knew of it’s presence was when I suddenly looked at the hubster, grinned, and heard the words coming out of my mouth:

“Okay!  Let’s do it.”

Totally irrational, I know.  The happy family never got farther than twenty feet away from the dock. We, on the other hand, paddled the whole five miles down.  (The hubster was right again…getting me into the yak was the real hurdle.)  We pushed through successive squalls of rain and…once…sleet, and…once…snow, all the way down to the pristine and secret, holy bay of bays that we stumbled upon at the very end of the lake.

It blew our minds.  It was that beautiful.  Even the hubster had never seen it before and he grew up on that lake.  (Evidently, ten miles round trip was just too damn far for his father to paddle a canoe full of wiggling boys.)  We had of course been down to the almost-end a hundred times over the years, to the lonely dock where the shuttle boat from the lodge drops off/picks up backpackers and day hikers every few hours during the summer.  But we’d never continued on around the small and innocuous promontory of land that separates the big lake from the tiny bay.  We couldn’t.  We didn’t have boats.

Until now.

Those far off mountains in the photos above towered over us…rising up from the water for thousands of feet through a layer of steep pine forest…while the melting snow coming off their peaks fell back down again in cascading, musical, multi-tiered waterfalls.  The clouds and mist shifted constantly across the rocky crags and sheer cliffs above, while the silence of the place was so heavy that it eventually stilled our tired arms completely.

We just floated for a while, staring around in wonder while slowly, slowly filling back up again.  We hadn’t known we were that empty.  I think it’s hard to tell sometimes, just how much has been drained out of you into the busy activities of regular life, until you get a chance to sit still in a place like that and feel the outgoing flow reverse again.

I don’t know.  Maybe we were stupid and impulsive to paddle that far in weather that unstable.  I honestly don’t know.  I’m not experienced enough yet.  It was certainly cold and wet but we were prepared for that…wetsuits, wool, and rain jackets…so really, that part was not a problem.

Wind is what can pose a real danger with kayaking but the day’s squalls, for all their blowing around up high, never reached down into the bowl of that lake, never generated more than an occasional mild breeze rippling the water.  In fact, a few times when it stopped raining, it was like we were paddling over crystal clear glass.

I guess all I can really say is this:

If we were stupid to go out in those conditions then, clearly, sometimes luck goes to the idiots.  There wasn’t another boat out on the lake the whole time we were there.  No raucous voices drifting across disturbed waters.  No motoring, crisscrossing wakes to block our wondering view of the submerged, ghostly boulders and tree trunks that litter the entire coastline.  Nothing to scare off the otter that stopped it’s gliding play among the rocks to watch us float past, curious and unafraid.

And neither was there anything to jar the profound and surprising reverence we felt back there in the bay for those rare moments…when all the bad news and angry voices and scary, unfolding events of the world grew small and still and far enough away that we could finally relax and remember again.  That we’re okay.  That we were always okay.  That we will always be…in some hard to define but deeply reassuring way…totally and truly okay.

Yesterday…the day we returned to Boise for a resumption of our other, busier lives…dawned sunny, warm, and clear.  Perfect, perfect, paddling weather.

Of course.

We laughed and laughed at the great joke of it all again, then waved good-bye to the mountains and drove away.  Only the difference was that, this time, we felt like we were in on it.

copyright Dia Osborn 2012

Falling Into Enormity

Lucky Peak Reservoir by Boise, Idaho.  Photo by Karthik Chinnathambi 

(Side track:  I’m still going to write about the first influence on our fear of death as I promised in the last post, but something came up and I wanted to write about it before I forgot. Editor.)  

Ever had one of those moments when the blinders peel back and you suddenly look at the world around you like it’s the first time you ever had eyes?

I had one yesterday.  We were out for our second adventure with the kayaks and, in spite of every reason for it not to, everything felt perfect.  The weather was supposed to be overcast, windy, and cold.  Water levels are low so the part of the reservoir where we’d initially planned to paddle was high and dry.  We got started late and then the scramble for an alternate place to launch made us even later.  And the launch site we did eventually find involved an awkward climb down to the water and broken glass on the shore to boot.

But somehow, none of it got to us.  We didn’t care.  Not because we were trying to stay positive or anything, but because that’s just how we woke up.  We were excited to hit the water again whatever the circumstances, so we brought extra layers of warm clothing, stayed flexible, stepped gingerly, and eventually found ourselves paddling along under much better conditions than we’d expected.  We were gazing up at sunshine and basalt cliffs, green mountainsides covered with wild, black-eyed Susans, and the sweet scent of blooming bitterbrush on a very, very mild breeze.

Turns out the Weather Man was wrong.  Go figure.

Towards the end of a long, lovely paddle we found ourselves a little way up the river that feeds the reservoir, and we finally beached near a grassy meadow to pee.  (Interesting activity in a wetsuit, BTW.)  It was an amazing spot, secluded and silent, surrounded by steep hillsides covered with Ponderosa pine and jutting rock spires.  Once we’d relieved ourselves we just stood there in the middle of the meadow staring, breathing in the heavy scent of pine, watching cumulus clouds blow across the narrow strip of sky above us while a bald eagle flew in and out of it’s nest in a towering, old growth pine.  It was something to behold.  It truly was.

And then, because I was so damn moved by it all, I started to sing, although it wasn’t even a song really.  Just a melody and some made-up sounds because I didn’t know a real song with words that came anywhere near doing justice to the place.  Maybe a hymn could have done it, but I didn’t know any.  Or better yet, a song from the Shoshone Paiute people who were on this land first and took better care of it, but I didn’t know any of those either.  So I made up my own half-song/half-prayer kind of thing, something that sounded more or less like how I felt, and while I was singing it everything around us seemed to get very quiet.  Kinda eerie.

But then I ran out of song so I stopped, and it was just a few seconds afterward that it happened.  That moment I mentioned earlier.  The one where I fell into enormity.

Everything sounded unnaturally still, the way things always do when you stop making noise in a really silent place.  I watched as the last of my song settled down to the grass like an old leaf falling, or a layer of dust.

And then, right after that, the wind started.

We heard it first like a low, sweet note that seemed to come from everywhere all at once, and when I looked up into the branches of a Ponderosa pine standing nearby, I suddenly remembered that what I was hearing was the sound air makes when it moves gently through pine needles.  It hit me in a flash; the mechanism of that sound, the wind through needles, was the exact same mechanism at play when I was singing.  It was the same air moving over my vocal cords and, coming out of left field the way it did, the thought kind of stunned me.  I felt a sudden and surprisingly profound kinship with that tree, a sense of shared beauty that instantly dwarfed my usual identity as a human being.

Please understand, it’s not that I didn’t know the facts before.  Of course I did.  I’ve heard the wind blowing through pines all my life and I learned the mechanics of sound in elementary school.  But that prior knowledge must have only penetrated as far as my head because I never felt the tactile, gut-level sense of sameness before, of what this tree and I were both doing.  Somehow, I’d always thought that because I was a human being, my sounds were different.  Higher.  I was singing, whereas the trees were just making noise.  It was a shock to suddenly realize that I was just making noise, too.  It was only because it was my noise that I knew it meant something.

Then the wind swelled through the canyon, catching the leaves of a copse of young cottonwood trees, making a higher, rustling sound that worked in exquisite counterpoint to the sweet note of the pines.  I felt my heart swell with it, too, and then noticed all the birdsong kicking up, various honks and calls and peeps and cries, and those sounds struck me as a kind of staccato punctation to the deeper melody laid down by the trees.  And after that…well…I pretty much just floated away in slack-jawed wonder, lost in the ebb and flow of the wind and water and the unearthly music they were making.  I was fighting back tears and retained just enough awareness of human world protocols to turn my face away from the hubster in embarrassment.  But other than that I fell deep and hard into another world that was a whole lot bigger.

I don’t know.  Standing there listening to the rich, tenor sound of wind through pines…for all the world like the french horn section at a premier symphony orchestra…I guess I finally just fell out of my head.  The sounds flowing through the canyon turned out to be the very song I’d been trying so hard to sing moments before, only times a thousand.  No.  A million.  It was like they’d all been standing around…the trees, the birds, the mountains, the wind…quietly amused, listening to me struggle to find the right music.  And then, when I couldn’t, they stepped in to play it for me.

It was such a gift, and I think I started crying because I felt…just a little bit…like I didn’t really deserve it.  Like there I’d been standing, subconsciously believing that I was all that.  More evolved than any of them, with a song that was more complex and meaningful because I was human.

Fortunately, none of them seemed to care.  They just circled me up and sang me into their bigger world anyway, and I got to realize where I was wrong without feeling shamed for it.  Which actually, when you think about it, is quite a trick.  I wonder if I could learn how to do that?

This canyon is actually in China, but it sure FELT like this.

copyright Dia Osborn 2012

Christmas isn’t always merry and New Years isn’t always happy. And that’s okay.

Life wasn’t designed to conform to a strict holiday schedule.

Somehow, someday, everyone who lives long enough will hit a rough year, and maybe this was one of those years for you.  You might…for very good reasons…be feeling sad or lonely, uncertain or frightened, angry or bitter, overwhelmed or numb, and I’d just like to say that if you are, whatever you’re going through and however long it lasts, you’re still just as welcome in this Season of Miracles-That-Come-In-The-Night as everybody else.  In fact, maybe even more so.

Because feeling low doesn’t mean there’s not still gratitude or appreciation, wonder or love, lying underneath.  It just means that those things are buried and resting temporarily, like a landscape hidden beneath a mantle of snow.  They’re down there waiting patiently while winter does its different yet equally important job.

I guess this is one of those holiday seasons for me.  The last year held a variety of hits and scares that were tough for me to navigate and, while none were catastrophic and all will eventually work themselves through, the cumulative effect evidently took a lot more out of me than I realized. This is the first Christmas since 1995 that I haven’t written my annual Thoughts From The Yuletide letter to slip in with our Christmas cards because, with all the good will in the world, I just couldn’t burrow down to where my hope and light are usually cached.  (And I wasn’t about to send out the crap I was digging through to get there.)

So, since the main bulk of my twinkling words remained out of reach this year, I thought I’d borrow somebody else’s instead (along with music and breathtaking photography.)  Because whether I can currently reach it or not, this is what always lives in the deepest place inside me, and it’s what I always wish most for you, too:

copyright Dia Osborn 2011

Blip 3 From The Book and Sugar Plum Fairies

Happy Thursday!  I’m actually getting Friday’s post in a day early this week.  Still working on the writing class and trying not to get distracted by the blog.  In that spirit, the following blip is from a section of the book where I describe a walk we took along an Oregon beach during some residual storm surge.  The echoes of dying are just about everywhere, if only we allow ourselves to listen.

We stayed close to the cliffs rising at the back of the beach, scanning their sides for escape routes just in case.  The litter of driftwood at their base was a wildly tossed collection of enormous pilings and giant tree trunks ripped free from prior moorings by lashing waters of extraordinary force.  The evening before they’d all rested in settled places, tumbled long ago to fit tightly along the feet of the cliffs, bone dry and sun bleached, high above the tidal reach.  But after the night’s wild surf they were tossed about and water soaked.  Embedded with wet sand.  Some of the old pieces had been picked up and scattered down the beach or washed away entirely, while other ones were only freshly arrived.

Picking our way we came across the damp carcass of a sea lion, headless and beginning to decompose.  At first I mistook her for driftwood but as we drew nearer I saw tufts of fur still clinging to her skin and I was irresistibly drawn to her.  Kneeling, I placed my hand on her side, the damp flesh still soft, giving way beneath the pressure as if she was exhaling.  I felt a mixture of wonder and horror and grief, marveling that I, Dia…woman of Idaho, of inland rivers and sweet water lakes…was touching a sea lion. I might as well have found myself next to a unicorn or griffin.  She was miraculous to me, sleek and tapering, and I ran my hands above the contours of her body, sweeping them along her back and sides, over the folds of her torn fins as if my hands were somehow remembering the deep waters gliding over them.  Endlessly, fluidly tender. 

I wished that her head was still there.  I looked at the wound and was chilled by the neat edges of severed spinal bone where someone had clearly sawed through it.  I felt agitated murmurs fluttering up from the sand around me and I shared in the distress, made uneasy by those who move easily in the darkness, desecrating the dead.  

I spoke to her gently, whispering final words of farewell and gratitude.  But then a sneaker wave rushed up, driving Cal and I onto the higher rocks behind her.  We watched as the water surrounded and lifted her, washing her back down the beach out into the waves where she swam again one last time, headless and vulnerable.  She got stuck, tossing about in the turbulent zone where ingoing and outgoing waters meet and I wished she could somehow get past the waves and return to deeper waters.  We stood helplessly as she tossed and rolled, back and forth, trapped and jostled in the limbo zone created by conflicting tides. 

But finally, when I could barely stand to watch anymore, a strange, lone ripple of current heading away from shore washed past her and for a moment it seemed like whatever was left inside her washed away, too.  I thought I glimpsed a shimmering sea lion, whole again and beautiful, swimming just beneath the surface, riding that ripple back out to sea. 

And then it was gone.

I’d like to end this post on a completely different kind of beautiful note. Here’s a video of a couple of Polish musicians playing Tchaikovsky’s Sugar Plum Fairy on the most surprising instrument.  It’s both entertaining and exquisite.  Enjoy!

copyright Dia Osborn 2011

A Blip From The Book and A Love Story That Feeds The Earth

I’m participating in a tele-writing workshop which runs through the middle of January so I’m transferring most of my writing attention over to the book for the next six weeks.  (A badly needed redirection I might add.  As most of you probably know, blogging can get a little addictive.)

What I thought I’d do to keep up here is post bits and pieces of whatever I’m currently working on for the book as well as (of course) any other odd and unrelated beauties I stumble over during one of my inevitable distracted periods.  Today, I have one of each:

Here’s a passage from the book that talks about what I went through after the first time I told someone they were dying:

“But even though that’s what I would have preferred, there was no time left for it.  To question slowly requires time, but what if Elsa wanted to know before it was too late?  What if she wanted me to tell her?  What if she said that to me because she saw me as a person who would be straight with her and deliver the news, bad as it was?  Someone who would help her understand what was happening and alleviate her growing confusion?  Help her back to the core and strength of who she was; a woman who preferred the truth.  Who preferred straight dealing.  Who didn’t want anyone to protect or pity her.  A woman who needed someone to respect her strength and treat her like a competent human being rather than an invalid.

There were other times, other days, when I offered slow questions.  Like the day I asked her if she knew that I worked for hospice, or the day I asked if she believed in an afterlife.  Those questions were my bait, asked with the hope of luring her into a conversation about what was happening to her, but on those days she clearly didn’t want to know.  She shrugged them off and changed the subject, letting me know she wasn’t willing to discuss it. 

And I respected that.  I wasn’t attached to her believing that she was dying.  I had no problem with her passing away in the midst of denial if that’s what she preferred.  I was a little uncomfortable when she talked about all the things she’d do when she got better, uncomfortable pretending…but not much.  If that’s what she felt like she needed then I was O.K. with it. 

After all, it was about her.  Not me.

But then that moment came and it blindsided me, when she finally wondered.  When she looked at her belly and stroked her long-fingered hands softly along the sides and said in that small, bewildered voice, “I don’t know why I’m not getting better this time.”  And for one brief, fraught moment she was clearly lost.  Vulnerable.  As if she’d thought she was traveling through familiar terrain and suddenly looked up to find herself in strange surroundings.  Pausing. Suddenly uncertain.  Puzzling softly.

“It’s never lasted this long before.”

It was a fork in the road.  A split second when she could have gone either way, back into denial or forward into truth.  For a heartbeat, a blink, a breath she was open.  Lined up.  In range.  Positioned to receive a message should one happen to come and in that brief moment the responsibility for making a choice of whether to send that message or not fell on my shoulders.

Fuck.

In the moment it seemed so simple…because I would have wanted the truth if it was me, because she had just told me how she preferred straight dealing, because that was how we had been with each other all along…I chose to tell her that it looked like it was her time to go.  That she was dying.  And because it was my choice, my responsibility, and my burden, I was required to look into her eyes and see what it means to strike a mortal blow.  To snuff out hope.  To feel her hand suddenly slip from mine and watch her fall silently away into a dark abyss, her eyes stricken, locked on mine as she grew smaller and smaller.

Is that my penance here?  Is that the asking price for dabbling around the brink of infinity?  Is it a stern reminder that I need to tread more carefully?  That grace is love, yes, but also incomprehensibly vast and unknown and terrifying?  Somewhere in the back of Elsa’s eyes I saw something looking back out at me and warning:  Be careful, Dia.  Always be careful with one another.

Was I wrong to say anything?  Should I have withheld the information and kept my mouth shut?  I don’t know.  I don’t know.

I don’t know.”

Breathe…don’t forget to breathe.

And then here is an oddly beautiful thing I found and just had to share.  It’s a video by Louis Schwartzberg called Wings of Life that “is inspired by the vanishing of one of nature’s primary pollinators, the honeybee.”  It’s absolutely breathtaking…slow motion cinematography of brief and tiny lives…and I highly recommend watching it if you’re feeling any heaviness after reading the above blip.  It’s really just all part of the same Life, y’know?

copyright Dia Osborn 2011