During the months since last I wrote here (at the end of February), I’ve been reveling in the annual miracle of spring blossoming into the fullness of summer in my garden, the meadow and around Ojai. Yet, until today, I’ve not felt moved to chronicle either that unfolding or my own.
Along with the many other droppings-away of years-old rituals and habits that began for me last November, writing here almost monthly has no longer felt as organic as it once did. Lately, I’ve needed simply to be immersed in whatever I’ve been drawn into. It’s felt as though coming away from the immediacy of my life to reflect on or write about it would interfere with its natural course. I’ve not wanted to step out of the flow. For no particular reason I can discern, it now seems right to do that, so here I am.
Last month, the gardeners cut down the almost chest high wild grasses in the meadow along with a first-in-ten-years-here sprinkling of wild lupine. Now, the returning annual carpet of pale pink wild morning glory is punctuated with random clumps of golden California poppy, purple-headed artichoke and blue common phacelia (that, in my past ignorance, I’ve called bachelor buttons). The kitties, losing their stalking veld, have at last ceased acting as seed-dispersal units daily depositing all manner of stickers throughout the cottage. Without the high grasses the meadow, as always, looks vaster.
The garden in containers around the cottage is at its lushest. Lavish greenery serves as background to so much vibrant color: roses in red, deep pink, yellow, butterscotch, lavender and magenta; gallardia, rudebeckia, milkweed, nasturtium, day lilies, marigolds, kangaroo paws and dahlias in yellows, golds and oranges; platycodon, petunias, lavender, lantana, freeway daisy, lisanthus and Lily of the Nile in shades of purple; dianthus, lisanthus and Shasta daisy accents in white; begonias in deepest reds.
At the moment, Bok choi, arugula, mustard greens, cress, bronze leaf and romaine lettuces, three kinds of kale, cherry tomatoes, Persian cucumbers, along with peppermint, spearmint, rosemary and two kinds of oregano provide for daily salads and sautéing greens. Hanging baskets of strawberries offer a small handful of ripe berries every morning.
The mini orchard at the edge of the meadow provided mulberries and a first (mini) crop of blueberries last month. There are tiny Meyer lemons, baby apples of two varieties, a very few still-green Mineola tangelos and a bounty of baby persimmons all still slowly developing. The plum, apricot, Mandarin orange, Persian mulberry and ruby red grapefruit trees are growing well even though not yet bearing fruit in this, their second year on the property. A Bearss lime tree that seemed moribund after the January frost has recently started setting forth new branches; so glad I hadn’t yet dug it up!
The frost-devastated jade, schefflera and split leaf philandenron plants have abundantly re-leafed as have the sage, mint and freeway daisy plants that I cut back just a couple of weeks ago (they’d all gotten too leggy). Everything grows so quickly in these long hot days, despite a much-reduced watering schedule. We’re all finding ways to conserve water use in the face of this terrible drought and, so far, my garden is managing to thrive on less water than it’s been used to in the past.
Last month the crickets returned to the meadow after their winter absence. A new (or returning) mocking bird has taken up residence and discovered it likes the resonance that comes with performing its hilarious repertoire while perched on the metal cap atop my chimney. The hawks and their nattering crow companions are around in renewed numbers.
The garden is always a reminder of death and rebirth, of growth that’s invisible or underground for long or short periods of time before blossoming forth again. In the middle of our endlessly busy, always in motion, more-bigger-faster-done-with-it-yesterday cultural craziness, this reminder is so healing, so affirming of the naturalness of seemingly fallow time. And, it reveals again and again that cycles of cutting back (by frost or pruning shears) strengthen and prepare for new growth in its own time.
This reminder brings me daily comfort as I deepen into doing less and less of anything in these months since the shift in me last November. That shift had come on the heels of almost two years of resting-on-my-laurels after the intense seasons of getting both my book and the workbook out into print. For all the endless clamor in the healthy-aging media about the importance of developing both new mental and physical challenges and strong social networks as well as the similar messages about the importance of getting out in public to market one’s books, all I’m up for doing these days is hibernating: reading, being with (and by) my self and my sweet kitties and – only if and when the spirit moves me – tending the garden, the seed feeding- and humming-birds; walking and doing the occasional bit of yoga/free weight/Pilates/restorative exercise. The stretches between serious housecleaning grow longer and longer. Though I automatically keep up with the kitchen and bathroom surfaces and do daily cat-hair removal with my trusty static brushes, sticky rollers and stick vacuum, my tolerance for dust keeps expanding. A bone-deep need for order in my space keeps the cottage always looking/feeling neat and tidy despite the thickening layers of dust.
There are projects waiting for my attention: making replacement slipcovers for all the furniture in the studio (the Ikea bedspreads stockpiled in the shed waiting to be cut and sewn); making new covers for all the sun-bleached throw pillows (the yards of caramel, black and white mud cloth waiting there as well); replacing twenty ten-year old solar path lights with the new ones stowed in my shed; some further writings about the process of healing the legacy of woundings from the neglectful, abusive, cold or mean parenting by damaged mothers; some writings on the importance of allowing our selves to feel, honor the messages of and safely release our anger; possibly putting together a chapbook of the shorter, more recent essays written for the Compassionate Ink Facebook page. At the moment, it all feels like too-much-work. I have no inclination to address any of it. I trust that at some point, just as I’ve turned up here to write this, an organic flow will move me into any one of these projects.
I‘m fascinated by how comfortable and freeing it feels to not be pushed by having these projects waiting in the wings. For many years, I’ve been dedicated to waiting for the energy to organically emerge and lead me into any doings. Still, having or seeing things in my life or space that needed addressing could push me to trying to instigate the arrival of such energy. Now, despite having these several clear to-dos in the background, I have no yearning for the get-up-and-go to rise in me. This feels to be a more-profound-than-ever surrender into allowing Spirit/my deep self to be in charge.
Part of this surrendering has included having less contact with even the precious women in my tiny circle of intimate friends. Though we all live in our lives deeply connected with our selves, at times merely hearing tales from their busier, more complex and peopled lives can feel exhausting/overwhelming. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been simply tending the various living beings in and around my cottage. I still have occasional, mostly by phone, visits with my dear friends, random street-meet conversations with women I know while I’m wandering around town doing errands and spend about 17 hours a month with the dear clients I see on two days every other week. Yet, I realize that, more and more, I’m inclined to get what little social fix I might want from dipping in and out of being with the characters in the books I’m reading or listening to on CDs.
Sometimes, briefly, I slip into outside-eyes, momentarily wondering if it’s really okay to be this pulled away from everything and everyone. Yet, since this withdrawal feels so incredibly nourishing and right-for-me-now, such outside-eyes concerns fall away quickly. I’ve no way of knowing if this is simply an indeterminate fallow season, prelude to some new cycle of moving back out into the world/connection or whether it’s a path that I might continue on for the rest of my days. I don’t seem to care one way or the other and that pleases me.
Amazingly enough, the Grandmothers arrange to take me on learning journeys even in my much-narrowed Universe. One morning this past month, I woke to discover the four hummingbird feeders outside my desk window densely carpeted with bees. The hummers couldn’t get near the feeding ports and there were random bees coming into my study through the gap that I leave between the French doors so the kitties can come and go as they please. I was kept busy doing catch and release of visiting bees all morning. Since, for these last dozen years, I’ve been highly allergic to bee stings (always carrying an Epi-pen to prevent going into anaphylactic shock), this was not a workable situation. Nor was waiting till the bees left for their hives at dusk. Instead, I found a local bee specialist who, for a sizeable (but well worth it) service call fee, came by within the hour to take down the mobbed feeders and shake loose the bees.
According to this kind man – who hangs sugar water feeders on his property for the bees that live in hives there – the bee population in Ojai is in distress, struggling to find adequate nourishment in the midst of our severe drought conditions. Some scout bee had obviously found the bonanza of my eleven feeders filled with sugar water and (as I remember learning in graduate school) gone back to its hive to do a waggle dance that communicated to its hive mates the exact coordinates they’d need to find their way to this bounty. Now here they all were!
Oh, the challenges of feeding hummingbirds and orioles! Though I’d long ago solved the problem of marauding ants by using ant moats (hanging water-filled cups from which the feeders then descend), the bee problem was perplexing. One possible solution: taking down the feeders for a period of time so the bees learn not to come there any more. Unfortunately, doing this would give the hummers the same message. Not, for me, an acceptable option.
Instead, briefly, I tried a set of smaller-capacity dish feeders whose design supposedly makes it harder for the bees to reach the sugar water that hummers, with their long tongues, would be able to reach. The bees persisted, sigh! Someone on Google suggested using peppermint, lavender or citronella oil in the moats of these dish feeders; bees supposedly are repelled by these scents while hummers could care less. Alas, this approach regrettably led to numerous bee-drownings in the moats filled with water and drops of the peppermint oil that was meant to repel them, sigh! Every day, Google research brought new possible solutions; none of them worked. I persisted, nonetheless.
Then, a Japanese gardener on Google and the local bee specialist provided the perfect answer. A sort of if-you-can’t-beat-‘em-join-‘em plan. So, I am now feeding bees as well as orioles, hummers and seed feeding birds. Using a more concentrated sugar solution in them, I hung three new formerly-hummingbird-now-bee feeders in the persimmon tree at the near edge of the meadow but not too far from the patio. The idea: have the sweeter solution entice the bees away from the patio feeders so that the hummers could have unimpeded access again. Alas, once the ants found these new feeders, the bees avoided them. Mayonnaise on the hangers helped keep the ants away till three more ant moats arrived from Amazon. Now, at last, the hummers can, un-harassed, get at their feeders (the larger capacity ones that, unlike the dish feeders, work for both the hummers and the orioles). The orioles feed on the patio but also at the bee feeders when the bee population there abates intermittently throughout the day.
The whole process of figuring out what to do reminded me of something I once read about gardening: “weeds are what we call the things that are growing where we don’t want them to be growing.” The bees were being a nuisance only when they were somewhere I didn’t want them to be. I didn’t want to get rid of them; enough of them are dying off already. I just needed them to know their place here. Now they do. It was interesting to see that though I was perplexed until I found a resolution, I never felt annoyed or angry at the bees; I understood they were only trying to find nourishment and survive.
Anger at them only came much later. I’d been being so careful around the bee feeding area, mindful to not agitate or threaten them so I they wouldn’t sting me. Then, on a Saturday a month ago, getting down off the ladder (barefoot) after re-hanging a feeder on the patio, I stepped on an unseen, moribund bee. (Even before all this business with the bees, I’d occasionally find a dead or dying bee on the patio.) Of course, it stung me – on the bottom of the middle joint of my big toe.
I got so pissed! It felt so unfair. This bee clearly hadn’t gotten the memo about what a Good Samaritan I was being to his tribe.
I absolutely hate what it feels like after I give myself the shot of epinephrine – which I, nonetheless, always do immediately. Taking some Benadryl, vibrating with the speediness of the drugs as I gathered what I needed to take care of my self at the Emergency Room (always where one goes after taking the shot that immediately jacks up your heart rate and blood pressure as it averts the anaphylactic reaction to the venom), I, while pouring my take-along tea, scalded my hand. Crying with frustration and agitated from the drugs, I calmed my self enough to drive the two miles to the hospital. There, the usual drill: blood pressure, heart and oxygen monitoring till my heart rate (120) and blood pressure (180/66) returned to normal. This trip it took almost three hours for that to happen. Fortunately, I had my tea, a sweatshirt for warmth and a good book. And, our small-town, recently remodeled, quite beautiful, well staffed and never busy ER is as good as it gets as a place to hang out when you must. Unfortunately, despite the meds, I still was having lots of allergic all-over itching for a good part of the time. They couldn’t give me a Benadryl shot because I’d be driving my self home. It seemed more bother than I was willing to go through to get someone to come take me home and then have to deal with both the people contact and the issue of retrieving my car. So, I made do with ice packs piled onto to the worst of the itchy areas. It was good I hadn’t had any pressing plans for my day.
I couldn’t believe it when, just exactly three weeks later, I got stung again! This time I was way over on the far side of the property doing my laundry when a bee flew up my pant leg. I knew not to rub at it but, when I pulled my pants away from my body hoping to give it more room to escape, I obviously scared it into stinging me on the back of my thigh (my right side this time). Oddly, I was much calmer about all of it this go ‘round. Came back to the cottage for my shot and some Benadryl, doing calming breaths the whole time as I again (but without incident!) prepared my take-alongs and headed to the ER. The sting felt less painful and the drug-speediness seemed more tolerable this time. The ER nurse and the intake people couldn’t believe I was there again. Well, neither could I. This time everything went back to my normal levels (72 and 108/60) within a half hour and I left for home just an hour after arriving there. Apparently, all stings are not equal. The venom from the dying bee was way more intense than that from the in-my-pants bee. And, the calming breathing helped me not get so wound up from the epinephrine. Still, I was pretty pissed that I’d gotten stung twice in three weeks even though I’ve now been feeding hordes of bees for many weeks and been so mindful around their feeders and of where I put my bare feet. Ingrates!
There was a distressing sidelight to this misadventure. After using my Epi-pen for the first sting, I went to the pharmacy to replace my inventory (it’s always safer to have two around in case one doesn’t do the trick). I keep my prescription with Rite Aid so that I’m in a nationwide computer and could replace my pens anywhere I might be when I’d need to do that. They come in a two-pack and, this past November, I’d had to replace the two unused but expired pens I had on hand then ( a not-uncommon experience) . I was shocked at the time to hear that, even with my Plan D Humana drug discount, the cost to me was $350.00. The previous two-pack, purchased a year before that, had cost $250. I’d thought, even at $250, the pricing was outrageous; especially since, without the drug plan discount, it would cost almost twice that. This time, another seven months later, the replacement cost was $375: utterly insane. People who can demonstrate indigence can usually get this sort of essential drug free or at nominal cost by going through whatever time-consuming rigmarole the specific drug company might require. Fortunately, I’m among the people who can actually afford such a price. But, what about the whole, huge number of people in between: those who don’t qualify as indigent but who can’t handle such an exorbitant fee for a life-saving medication for themselves or their children who have any sort of serious allergies. I can’t believe how crazy and out of control Big Pharma is.
Despite living in a world that gets crazier every day (Donald Trump running for president; unarmed African-American men being shot by police almost daily; ethnic cleansings in so many places; lunatic shooters showing up weekly; ISIS and Boko Haram creating murderous havoc) I’m filled with enormous gratitude for the blessings in my life: for being able to, and feeling free to, live the outlier way that feels so nourishing to me; for (my bee-sting adventures and allergy-eyes exhaustion notwithstanding) feeling healthy, strong and happy both with my life and with who I am at seventy-four and a half; and, perhaps most of all, for having issues as minimal as the bees-in-the-hummingbird-feeders be, at this moment in time, the biggest challenges I have to face. I know this may not always be the case, but I’m delighting that it is for now and for however long it may continue to be so.
That’s all there is to tell about life in my little corner of paradise at this moment. Wishing you gentleness….