four-oh

Decades.  Big round counts of ten.  Natural for us to notice, perhaps on account of our similarly numbered fingers and toes.planted

I remember being so excited to turn ten.  Two digits.

As the years have wound on, I’ve begun to take notice of more than the cakes (though the cakes are still great fun, maybe even more fun since I can make them myself).  Sometime in my twenties, I started making annual inventories around birthday times.  What happened in the last year’s go-round?  Where have I been?  What’s changed?

Anyone who knows me much, or follows this blog closely, might have picked up on the fact that it’s been a helluva year in my life.  Two of the four people who raised me as parents have died, as well as a few more friends near and far.  I’ve carried responsibility around the process of one of those deaths, and it has been a far less than easy process.  The experiences, altogether, have been a fairly big shake-up of my world view and life in general.

But I’m still pretty psyched to be where and who I am.  Forty years is beginning to sound and feel like the middle of my life.  I am feeling the heft of myself as a somewhat more substantial person.  No longer so young, uncertain, inexperienced.  Still able, willing, strong, and more stable than I ever was before, just seasoned now by a few more trips around the sun.bday3

There’s enough of life’s road behind me to gain at least a little perspective about where I come from, and the road ahead, though it is still flexible, has more form now too.  That youthful desire to understand and KNOW EVERYTHING has faded into a more gentle curiosity.  What a relief to find that I still grow, learn, progress without those flames licking my heals.  I may have lines around my eyes now, but I’m grateful to have left adolescence and early adulthood behind.

This past year, I began to witness more clearly in myself and those around me the workings of this mid-life transition.  As the dreams of our younger years are realized, they become much less dreamy.  Sometimes they dissolve altogether, leaving muddy puddles of regret, or weedy patches of disappointment.  Sometimes they never precipitate at all, and whole new realities sprout around us without warning.  The person we married ten years ago isn’t the same one we’re sharing a home with now.  I recognize myself in that ten year old girl thirty years ago, but only from deep down inside.  We all change.  It won’t necessarily be easy, but it can be very good.bday2

And, the longer we live, the more people around us pass away from living.  Surviving those deaths changes the way we carry on, and helps us get a grip on the fact of mortality.  Sometimes the air around me seems thicker with the presences of the people who have gone on, whose memories and presence linger in mine.  That thickness of the atmosphere is cumulative, and more tangible when I visit my grandfather, and others in their upper years.  Some carry it hard and heavy, and others with sweetness, but it looks like a natural part of the maturation process.

I guess that’s what I’m exploring here.  Maturity. Some qualities of maturity, in my opinion include: an open-eyed acceptance of the way things are, an un-shirking attitude toward whatever work is at hand, and staying power for the variable courses of family and community life, for starters.  I’m not claiming to be a perfectly mature person, or defining when maturity begins or should begin. Far from it.  I really feel like I’ve just begun to lay eyes on the fact of its existence.  But I can feel and see, from here, that maturity, in all its outward and inward characteristics, is no cause for fear or shame.  It is strong, and beautiful, and necessary in its strength and beauty.

In the larger world of our wild mammalian kin, gray and white hair are indications of a creature who has reached an age not of frailty, but of full power and strength.  Makes sense to me.  I got a few white hairs while I was traveling the world in my twenties.  But raising children gave me more, and the past year has really accelerated the silver streak.  And those things that have contributed most to the whiteness of my head have also contributed to the wisdom of my heart.  No complaints there.

I am still a little vain.  Sometimes the lines on my face and white streaks in my hair bug me.  When I brush my hair back, and Lulah exclaims “Oh Mama, I can see all the white that way!”, I used to brush at a different angle.  But more and more, I can smile in return and say, “That’s just OK.”

It is OK to be just the age we are.  And that means you, too.bday1

they were right

green berryI didn’t see it happen, but I saw the day go by. That morning, making the rounds, I noticed that the blackberries were all still pink and red. Looking nice, but nothing new. Later that sunny afternoon, on my way to pick some lettuce, I looked again. This time the center berry of every four bunches or so was dark, shiny black. Ripe. It happened that fast.ripe blackberry

Two days later, the same thing happened with the tomatoes.ripe tomato

That’s when I knew the old folks had been right all along. Life really does speed up. I remember as a child and young adult hearing my elders say that the years seemed to go faster as they grew older. It didn’t make a lick of sense to me then. Now it does.

And really, it’s mathematical fact, backed up, as usual, by life experience. Our children growing, playing, and stretching themselves upon the seasons set the example perfectly. One year in the life of a three year old is one third of his life. One summer in that life is a loooong time. A year in the life of an eight year old, one eighth of her life, is still a pretty good chunk. But she has enough experience to know that summer is precious and variable and well worth savoring, especially with friends. I remember that feeling, even now.fairies in a line

One-fortieth of my life is passing by this year, and that is starting to sound kind of small. Of course, hopefully, the fraction will only get smaller. The longer we stay, the quicker that trip around the sun seems. As this quickening becomes more and more real to me, I’m adjusting, learning first not to panic.  I’m also beginning to think that we should rejoice in those long moments of agony that accompany waiting, just for the nature of that slowness of time.

Of course, a summer is still a summer. There’s nothing that changes about the length of the days or months themselves. Only our perception. And that’s what the numbers can’t tell us.

I will not quantify the nearly painful burst of flavor from that first blackberry. There is no acceptable measurement for the joyful sweat that beads from the cut of the first crisp cucumber. And no accounting for the sweet purple jelly from the inside of a fresh tomato. It would be like trying to capture the silence of a newborn baby sleeping, or the exuberant laugh of a happy child.boys at play

So the old folks were right all along. They probably knew we’d catch up to their way of seeing things eventually.

I hope you’re all enjoying the fruits of the season while they last. Fast or slow, summertime is ripe now.sunny field

beautiful moments

I believe that life is an up-hill walk. At first glance this statement may not cast me as an optimist, but please don’t judge me so quickly.  I believe we were made for this up-hill walk of life. The further we go, the better the view. Sometimes the grade is easy, sometimes it’s steep. If we’re fortunate, we can get to the top of our climb and enjoy a good view and appreciation of our journey before we catch a passing cloud, or dissolve into the great blue sky, or however we want to view our departure from this lifetime.moon sky

It is fair, in my view, to say that life is a lot of work. I think most adults would agree. Much of the work of life can be enjoyable. There is a certain pleasure in the action of learning and growing, and, if we are so fortunate as to be occupied with works that we enjoy, there is satisfaction in a job well done. But no matter how we feel about it, we spend a lot of time with our hand on the plow, literally or figuratively. Sometimes it takes everything we’ve got to just stay on track and keep moving forward. Modern life hasn’t eased the way much. We have MORE of most everything, except time. (If you want to study on these thoughts about work and life, I would refer you to Wendell Berry’s essay collection What Are People For?.)

But there are moments when we are pulled from the groove – when circumstances call us to lift our heads from our works, and absorb the beauty at hand. Those beautiful moments are plateaus in the endless upward spiral climb.

In yoga class, the experience is open to everyone. Teachers, bank tellers, dentists, social workers, scientists, mothers, grandmothers, daughters (sometimes a father or a son, too), homesteaders, dancers, athletes, dreamers all alike come to get strong, and to relax. I watch them change in the course of an hour. The quality of their movements change. The sound of their breathing makes a comfortable rhythm with their movements and by the end of our time together, we are all ready to be still. The fidgeting fingers rest. The faces smooth of their efforts and worries. It’s a shared restfulness. Beautiful moment.

After such a winter as this last one, there are finally enough warm days in a row to draw the whole family into the garden. We pull up the row covering and examine the soil. We dig and clear and plant a bed of radishes and arugula. The water doesn’t feel so cold on our hands anymore, and the childrens’ winter tender feet are toughened on the old plants and new stones that the earth has burped up. I’m busy digging out a stand of Johnson grass that we neglected to eradicate last summer. It nearly took out the chives. I’m amazed at the depth and breadth of those strong, juicy roots. If only they were tasty! But then, look at the earthworms. They’re looking pretty good too. So alive.

Beautiful moment.worm

I’m trying to maintain a knitting practice, even as the days grow longer and there’s more to do. I knit row after long row of dark grey, peppered with some lighter fuzz. It’s soft and pleasant. Then, after much contemplation, I decide to add a long stripe of red. I’ve looked at the skeins side by side, but it isn’t until the colors blend on the sticks that I really feel the effect of them together. Beautiful moment.red and black

It’s been a long week of homeschooling. Neither of us has always been on our best behavior. Lulah asks if she can do a special project of her own, and I agree. She sets a stage, dons an old-timey costume, and gives a lesson to every doll and bear available in her self-made one room school house. She teaches addition facts that equal ten, some basic reading, and asks each pupil to write a verse of his or her own. Then she reads them aloud. A favorite: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

Beautiful moment.teacher

He’s been inside and outside, muddied a few pair of pants and managed to spread matchbox cars and legos across a large percentage of the floor. He has also threatened to eat his sister’s head off if she messes with his building project, even though he hasn’t worked on it for hours. I’ve avoided the crowded floor space by cooking dinner, and I’m almost done. “Hey Levon, it’s time to eat, time to put the legos away.” I pause after the announcement, waiting for resistance, I have to admit. “OK, Momma!” he hollers, and scoots over with a truck in each hand to load up the lego box. Beautiful moment.levon working

The onions have sprouted and now they stand tall. As I water them, admiring their strength, I think about the mulched bed where they will be planted. I think of their roots growing down into the soil. I imagine their bulbs swelling in the lengthening spring days. I think of their thick green tops drying down in the summer, the joy of stringing them up for the winter, the smell of sizzling onions on the way to seasoning a curry.onions

There are more beautiful moments to come.

I hope you will pause and take them in, too.first daffodil