Ways to Cope During Social Distancing

do you see this feather sky?

THERE IS SO MUCH TO SAY, and also nothing to say, about the feels we’re all experiencing during this scary, awful pandemic. It reminds me of a recurring dream I’ve had for years in which I’m standing silent as I watch a Tsunami approach. Typically in the dream I am the mother or caregiver to an infant I need to keep safe; I’m facing off with this massive wall of water that I can see coming and it is getting larger and closer and I have only moments to commit to whatever it is I am going to do to save this baby. Almost always my solution is to put the cooing sweetie (and accompanying blanket) into the clothes dryer and close the door tight, as if this will be water-safe, as if the force of the wave will come and the dryer and the enclosed baby will bob right up to the surface and the wave will recede and the dryer and its babe will have been deposited right back in place.

My mind does not exactly figure all this in the dream; things happen fast and I just think: DRYER. And I do it. And if there is more to this story–if the dryer has actually worked or not I can’t say for certain even if my sense is yes. Because I never dream the end, or if I do, I never remember it. Instead I wake up, or else I move on to another dream, or maybe–and this is coming to me as I write this–maybe the ending of the dream is too painful for it to stay with me in my waking hours.

Anyway. My point is I feel now as I feel in that dream: aware, afraid, and certain I need to do something in these moments before full force arrives.

WE’VE BEEN SHELTERING IN PLACE, Tim and I, as I’m certain have you. On Day One I decided that in addition to the precautions we are taking to stay healthy physically I would need to focus on emotional health, as well. And for me, in this situation, this would require planning and intention. (I know myself well enough to recognize that left to my own devices, my response to this crisis would be to go hard, head-down, into one project or another.) And so I took a minute to jot down a list of things to do each day that I believed would contribute to my own well being. Since that time my practice has become to take to my journal each night, to write a bit about my day, and then to note the icons of the things from this list I have done. I like recording via the icons–somehow the act of reproducing those tiny sketches is therapeutic, and it also brings some levity to pages filled with a great undertone of worry. And let me be clear: There is no reason to score-keep. I do not consider my list TASKS TO BE COMPLETED. I consider them gifts, gifts I am giving myself during all the uncertainty; tiny little ways I am creating a new sense of normalcy and routine.

And for me it has been a godsend, I will tell you that. We are in the mountains for a time where life is blessedly remote. And while my days are overfilled right now with good, important work for the clients our firm is helping shepherd through this crisis, I find it is the Daily List that keeps my feet on the ground, that brings a small sense of balance to a time and circumstance I find impossible to process.

SO HERE GOES.

Here is my list, in hopes it will inspire you to create one of your own.


The Daily List

  • morning devotional
  • vitamins
  • a little exercise
  • something to help someone else
  • something fun/funny
  • gratitude list of three
  • video chat with at least one person
  • one #goodnessrising (I need to tell you about this!)
  • get outside
  • hear Eliza’s voice
  • a little reading
  • post on Instagram (hopeful/fun), The Daily Grace
  • a poem, aloud, just before sleep
  • prayers (for all, and for a specific list I am keeping)

The Weekly List

  • church, online
  • Daily Grace post that’s encouraging or helpful , or a Grace Notes newsletter
  • email update to the choir WEDNESDAY
  • talk to: (I have a list of friends here)
  • connect with family
  • connect with someone who is alone

Every Chance

  • offer encouragement
  • extend grace
  • thank first responders

THERE IS A LINE in the Sara Bareilles song, Orpheus, that comes at me with so much power and force right now–a song that I have on constant repeat these days, and a line that has taken up residence.

WE DID NOT GIVE UP ON LOVE TODAY.

That is what Sara sings.

We didn’t. We won’t.

Sending so much love and every good wish to you today, and in the days and weeks to come.

Be well, friends —

Cathy

PS: I’ve created a scan of this list, including my incredibly unprofessional icons, if that would be helpful to you. Just click the button to instantly download.

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This is a (mostly) true story.

THE OTHER NIGHT, not long after Tim had gone to bed but long enough for him to be soundly asleep (60 seconds give or take)–I tiptoed in to join him. My own teeth brushed, my face washed and layer upon layer of promised youth moisturizer applied, I slipped between the covers then reached to turn off the lamp and settle into one of my favorite moments of the day: the calm and relief of a dark room that’s quiet; the gentle mist of a diffuser; the soft smell of lavender, floating through the air. I took a long, slow breath, exhaled, and readied my body for sleep.

Then I remembered: Temperatures were dropping. We’d had a spurt of warm weather lately and I had removed the quilt beneath our spread. Now there was a return to winter which meant no matter how much I wanted to convince myself otherwise, the odds were 100% I’d wake up during the night and I would realize I was cold and I would not fall back to sleep until I was warm.

And so I got up, fumbled around in the dark to locate the quilt, and gingerly, so gingerly, spread it across the bed.

I got back in.

I nestled. My pillow wasn’t quite right, so I reached back to adjust it. This is more difficult than it sounds, there being a pillow sweet spot that on rare occasion will allow just the right amount of support in just the right places for a back sleeper to actually fall asleep on his or her back, eureka. But it is elusive, and to be clear, I would rather sleep on my stomach, or my side, or really in any position but on my back WHICH I HATE but which I am truly giving the old college try these days as it is better for your body, experts say, and your spine, and your face which otherwise bunches up and pooches and wrinkles, SO THEY SAY.

(Also medical professionals have told me this back sleeping is a really important thing for me given previous shoulder surgery.)

So. I get the pillow almost right when I realize I do not have the corresponding smaller pillow that goes under the knees to minimize undo pressure that can compromise one’s lower back.

I get up, find the damn thing, get back in bed, struggle to get it properly positioned under my knees, rework the head pillow which is not in the exact perfect spot but is close enough and I close my eyes.

I squeeze them shut.

Then I remember the mouthguard that bless it is right there on the night stand but once I reach for it and return to this exact spot my back will nevertheless require all the repositioning once again.

My arm goes out. My hand hits my glasses that bang against the pretty tray I keep them on at night, which wakes up Tim, who says in a faraway sleepy voice, Babe. Everything all right over there?

I might have cussed, and I for certain made a pointed comment about how frustrating it is to be getting older and to have so much to take care of, about how glorious it was to be young when we just frigging got in bed. He didn’t agree or disagree but simply rolled to his other side, where within 30 seconds this time, he snored.

Oh, I was worked up.

I was lying there in the dark worked up, as happens when you get something on your mind in the night and it takes on monstrous proportions, I was lying there in the dark worked up and thinking about ALL THE THINGS like how fast time flies and how the body ages and how–given all that–right at this very moment I was actually the youngest I would ever be, ever again. I was thinking about the realities of being 60 and how it feels to me like I am 16 or 28 or maybe, on a bad day, 40–even if my body insists otherwise.

Yes I was quite worked up, and a little sad, and more than a little bit mystified by it all.

THE FEELING LINGERED when I arose the next morning. I am not proud of this, as I am a healthy human and I hold a deep awareness that of all the gifts, good health is the one to be most grateful for. And in the bright of daylight I also held a very clear understanding that health and aging are two different things, even if they are inextricably linked and often wound tight around each other.

And the truth is: I am healthy.

(The truth is also: I am aging.)

I hate even writing that.

AND THEN I WENT to my computer to begin my workday, and right there in my inbox these words from Ann Voscamp were waiting to greet me.


Every single day has a bit of its own now-traumatic stress disorder. It’s not just the life crises that are traumatic. The mirror can be traumatic — and time and aging and life can be traumatic for us who are made to breathe eternity.

But maybe: The point is that your life is meant to be spent.

The point is that your life is meant to be used up and every wrinkle means you are wringing out the good of the wonder of this thing called life.


I thought of that a thousand times that day, and in the days since.

YOUR LIFE IS MEANT TO BE SPENT.

It’s a beautiful thought, comforting, reassuring even if it doesn’t do one thing to change the realities of how difficult it is to age.

How difficult it is to accept aging.

But I am clinging to Ann’s words, nonetheless, believing that if I live my life this way, if I “spend out,” at least I will have lived more worthy of the gift.

Which is the point, anyway.

Right?

I mean, it is the point. I know this.

(Still it doesn’t do one dang thing about the realities of confronting that stranger in the mirror.)

XXOO

ps: I should tell you this story is not “mostly” true. It’s all true. It’s all embarrassingly true.

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Waiting. (Which has resulted in, quite possibly, the worst New Year’s blog post ever.)

AND SO IT IS a new month, in a new year, in a new decade*. It is a season that has found my soul unusually quiet, unusually uninspired.

I have not made a list of resolutions, for one. Nor have I made the counter list “Things From Last Year I Am Proud Of,” ** an idea which came to me last January and an exercise that proved both clarifying and powerful. I have thought about both of these, for certain I have, and yet I have done nothing about either. Instead I have spent these first days of 2020 in a state of slow rather than sure, more solemn than reflective.

Gratefully, my life (at the moment) allows for this. We are in the mountains where I am afforded this immense luxury. We are alone, Tim and I, and the weather is wet and cold, and there is little that demands our attention. And so I have slept in, and I have sipped my coffee in pajamas, and I have sat and watched as the thick fog rolls and intermittent rain sweeps across our steep, bare, backyard meadow.

There is little on my mind as I’ve done this. There has been no grand planning and there have been few deep thoughts but for the strong, heartful prayers for people I love who are facing real challenge or heartbreak. (It is a list that seems extraordinarily long these days.) I have read more than usual; I have written exactly NONE.

I have been content, it seems, to let the days pass.

I DON’T EVEN KNOW what the point of this post is, to tell you the truth, other than to acknowledge there are seasons that are fruitful and seasons that feel dormant; there is planning and growing and stretching–and there is resetting. Resting. And releasing, perhaps, although about that last point I am not sure at all, for “releasing” is surely something that requires consideration and thought. Forethought and awareness.

HERE IS WHAT I do know. In these first days of 2020 God has enveloped my world in silence and fog, and He has tuned my heart to stillness.

It feels, I would have to say, as if He has set my soul to sit, and to watch, and for once, simply to wait.

XXOO

*Lest you feel the need to debate that last point, yes, there are varying positions on the matter, and so I turned here for confirmation of the point. And anyway. Why complicate matters.

**Do let me encourage you to read the post, Taking Stock, and to make your “What I’m Proud of” list. You can find it here. It is one thing of value and encouragement I can offer you from this post 🙂

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Moments such as these.

SEVERAL YEARS AGO a writer and blogger I adore, Hannah Brencher, wrote a beautiful post about the pressure she feels in our inevitable rush to Christmas. It’s a topic that is neither shocking nor eye-opening–I’ll bet you’ve felt the pounding heart, as well, as we plan, shop, list, wrap, cook, decorate, prepare.

Still Hannah went on to say something that, all this time later, is still with me. Instead of focusing on the payoff of a perfect Christmas day–instead of looking forward with such anticipation (and such high expectation) to the big stuff to come, she suggested this:

Let’s just pretend it can’t get better than this right here.

Let’s just pretend it can’t get better than this right here.

IT’S A BEAUTIFUL way to approach the season, I think, settling your heart into the hundred thousand moments of prelude. As if these are the moments, themselves, that matter most. Because it is true, wouldn’t you agree? In so many ways? Pulling from TREE BOX NUMBER TWO the worn Rudolph ornament your childhood friend’s sweet mother gave you all those years ago. Opening the mailbox to a stack of red envelopes. Finding the very most perfect little something something for someone who means the world.

Hannah’s words have come back to me time and again in these early days of December. I feel my anxiety rising and there they are, wrapping round and round me like a quilt meant to stop a chill. They remind me to slow down, to settle down, to take note.

And to smile. To simply smile, in acknowledgement of the sweet, simple moments that are the heart of this holiday season. To remember life is good, people are good, that sometimes love and joy and peace come to you in a hundred thousand tiny ways.

XXOO

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with thanksgiving

We’d planned it for a while, this trip to the mountains for Thanksgiving week, and we both knew it would do our souls well. It always does. There is a sweet gravity in these hills that anchors me, that sets my feet on solid ground and holds them there, working as a poultice on whatever ails me. It is the same for Tim who finds peace in a place where, as he says, the earth is just as God intended. We are mighty blessed to have this pretty spot where most everywhere we look our eyes take in North Carolina’s Black Mountains. The entire range lies before us like an accordion fold pulled open. It begins to our left, east–then spreads wide, knob to peak to gap to peak for 15 miles. It descends just in front of us via Big Butt (meant to be Butte, locals say) having intersected the Great Craggy Mountains just behind, which roll on to west.

The view this offers is spectacular, changing from month to month, hour to hour, minute to minute as the weather shifts or light passes across. We find ourselves endlessly fascinated. And deeply humbled, I will tell you that, with a profound yet grounding reminder that life goes on, that seasons change and plants and animals carry on doing what they do day after day whether we are watching or not, whether we are here or not, that it has been this way for thousands of years.

It is not difficult to feel small here, and to count that a blessing.

It is not difficult to feel all the blessings, every time you’re here.

IT’S THE SAME, I know, for folks when they make the long trek up the winding road to visit. There are so many reasons I find these to be some of the most joyful times of my life. For one, once you’ve traveled up up up the unpaved road–wondering more than once if this can possibly be right, if you’ll ever, ever get there–you find you are as removed from proper civilization as it felt you might be. It is a strange sensation when what you are used to is traffic and noise and lights and activity. You step out of the car, here, and the sound that greats you is wind. Or nothing, if it is a calm day, but for the birds or the buzzing bees if they are about. (Until I come running, that is, inevitably squealing YOU ARE HERE! with delight.) You catch your breath then catch the view and breath leaves again, it requiring every molecular space in a body to take it in. And that’s just what happens–I swear. You stand quiet on this mountain for a nanosecond and it will pull you in–no, no that’s not quite right–the mountain comes to you, is more what happens, you feel the glory and close your eyes and before you can open them no space divides, no boundary separates as you become one in the same with the beauty, all the beauty that surrounds.

It is a feeling both lovely and overwhelming, at least for me. Because at the same time you feel the beauty, you also feel wild, the native, the unrefined.

The unspun truth.

AND SO WE are here for Thanksgiving, for which I am thankful, and for which I am roasting a turkey and making dressing and my mother’s gravy (I will stir like hell) and my world famous Bourbon Cranberries. Dear friends are driving up following their own family gathering and have graciously agreed to eat Thanksgiving Round Two with us tomorrow night. I will miss having Eliza and her sweet Preston this time around but who can complain as we now live so close? And there will be football and fires and hiking (motivation pending) with just enough of a chance for snow to keep things interesting.

AND SO. WHEREVER you are, however you are marking this let’s give thanks holiday weekend, I hope it is filled with people and experiences that bring you joy, that make you feel wonder, that remind you blessings and beauty abound. And that grace will find you–always, always–grace will find you if you give it space, if you allow your soul room to breathe.

XXOO

And here we are.

IT’S BEEN 13 weeks or so since Tim and I first had a casual conversation about listing our Bickley’s Pond home for sale, and today, as I write this, I find myself standing at my desk in a new (to us) downtown house in my new studio space–a pretty pink bedroom we’ve converted to a quiet creative spot where I can write and paint and think and dream. To my left there is a tall window that offers a nice view even if it is not of nesting bluebirds and paddling mallards. For the new place is a 1966 ranch that sits high in the back/low in the front in a hilly uptown neighborhood. My studio is positioned on the house’s front side, which means when I look out what I see is our small but perfect front yard, the raised street beyond (with its regular joggers, dog-walkers and the like), and the two homes across the way that sit close but high up–a good bit higher than ours, geographically speaking, and which actually makes for an effect I find most pleasing. The cumulation of these things: our position on this street, our place in this old neighborhood, this city that I find to be just big enough–these things in collection create warmth and comfort, something I’m just noticing now. Yes, warmth, that’s it, and comfort, sweet comfort, a kind that fits just right.

And what makes it so?

Two things come to mind as I stand here, for the first time considering it.

  1. My upbringing in a small town, with streets just like this.
  2. The sense that this neighborhood has history, and stories, and permanence.
the street where I now live

WE BUILT THE HOUSE at Bickley’s Pond in 2006/2007 and moved in just in time for the economic crash. (The timing was not great, to say the least.) But what a thrill it was to choose the lot, design the floor plan, select every finish and finial. And then to watch the dream come to fruition one brick at a time, every passing milestone carrying with it the promise of the beautiful life a house built JUST FOR US would deliver.

It did not disappoint. We woke up most every morning thinking–and often saying to each other–Can you believe we get to live here? Can you believe how lucky we are. But as it inevitably would, and as it did, time moved on. Our kids grew up, and we came to the undeniable conclusion we just didn’t need the big house with the big yard with the care-taking that was required anymore. We also came to believe a “shake it up” change in our lifestyle would be a healthy thing for us both as we ventured into our 60s. And so we turned our gazes (Tim more quickly and easily than I, I must say) from the suburbs to the city, from a home-centered existence to one more focused on go-and-do activities and experiences.

IT WAS RATHER MIRACULOUS how we (AKA our realtor) found this downtown home so quickly. Because once we made the decision to sell, our house was sold in no time. We dove head-first into clearing, boxing, packing. Every fear I had about the process proved true–I was overwhelmed and anxious and overcome with emotion as day after day, hour by hour, minute by minute I excavated my life. I’m certain it did not help that I was facing my 60th birthday, but whether or not that carried inordinate weight, it was a daunting task to stare down every what was in my 60 years and then to decide is this worth carrying forward.

Just look who came to greet us.

But that is not actually the point I am meaning to make. What I’m meaning to tell you is that in this new place, this new home, the world has filled in around us in rich and beautiful ways I did not expect. The universe has taken every hole and fear and worry and one-upped it; in fact, in spite of my deep sadness over leaving Bickley’s Pond and the sweet, precious neighbor-friends who, to us, mean the world–this move has proven not only right but important.

not so long ago

There is the sense of history here, as I mentioned. It’s something I find palpable. Most homes in the area were built in the early 1900s or else in the boom just after World War II. In every way it feels like a neighborhood. We have discovered there are countless friends and acquaintances who live on the winding, tree-lined streets nearby; nearly every day I get another call, email, text or flower delivery (!) from someone I know sharing his or her address, welcoming us to downtown, giving us a tip about a great restaurant or a nice walk route or a pro move when it comes to the perfect grocery shopping time. And there is this, which we hear over and over.

Did you know I grew up on this street.

My grandparents lived over there.

We’ve been here 30 years.

They are roots that feel good to me, a small town girl who spent her youth in a home also built in 1966; who lived next door to her beloved grandmother; who walked to school and played outside and spent winter snow days sledding down Macklemore Hill with the same gang, winter after winter.

Who is mighty happy to be on this side of such a big move.

Who already feels at home in a place somewhat foreign, and at the same time remarkably, beautifully familiar.

XXOO

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Changing seasons.

IT IS NO coincidence, of this I am certain, that as I took five minutes this morning to flip through my recently ignored inbox, Maria Popova had sent me this via her always illuminating Sunday Brain Pickings newsletter:

What, then, of autumn — that liminal space between beauty and bleakness, foreboding and bittersweet, yet lovely in its own way? Colette, in her meditation on the splendor of autumn and the autumn of life, celebrated it as a beginning rather than a decline. But perhaps it is neither — perhaps, between its falling leaves and fading light, it is not a movement toward gain or loss but an invitation to attentive stillness and absolute presence, reminding us to cherish the beauty of life not despite its perishability but precisely because of it; because the impermanence of things — of seasons and lifetimes and galaxies and loves — is what confers preciousness and sweetness upon them.

It was a passage I needed to read as we are in a season of change, Tim and I, making the small move from one house to another, from one town to another hardly 40 minutes away.

And yet it feels monumental. And by that I should explain that I mean less the move and more the change–articulated in notes both sharp and sweet as over the past three weeks I have sifted through every moment and memory of my nearly 60 years and made a distinction between that which is worth keeping and what to kiss and let go. Add to that the boxes and bags and trunks–endless as they feel–filled with treasures from so many lifetimes: my mother’s, my father’s, my grandparent’s (four); my great-grandparents (both sides) and great aunts and uncles, all of whom placed great value in beauty and treasure and legacy.

There has been the “why on earth did I/they keep this?” easy decision, but to tell you the truth, that has been rare. Way more often, and way more difficult, is the reality that for most of these things–mine and theirs–these are the things of a lifetime that were deemed, specifically, worthy of saving. Across time, and across generations.

Popova’s newsletter has reminded me, through Colette’s words, what preciousness really is, and that as is evidenced by autumn, it is the impermanence of things that bestows upon them such loveliness.

For it is true, of course. And it makes it all the more beautiful and poignant that, for me, all this change has come in October. It has been a steeping in my own season of impermanence, this month with its “falling leaves and fading light.” It will not be long before the trucks come and I will stand on the edge to say goodbye to our pretty spot on Bickley’s Pond. I will look to the sweet mallard couple who has shared their love and loss with us, and the eagles who welcomed us here and who still come, from time to time, to check on our cove. To the bluebird house and the birdbath (which, I should tell you, is filled every afternoon with such a mess of teenage bluebirds you can’t help but laugh as LORD HAVE MERCY they do carry on).

(some of) the babies blue

And I will get in my loaded car and drive to Columbia to our oh-so-pretty new place. It offers its own promises, of course: close proximity to so much the city offers; a lifestyle, active and uptown. My sweet Eliza will be close by, too, the greatest gift of this change and, quite frankly, our greatest motivation. For as much as we love being here, time with her will be the new reward and, of course, the greatest of treasures.

the devoted mallards
oh, those eagles
the sweet, sweet blues

AUTUMN IS beautiful, this liminal space. I will try to remember this as I walk through the approaching busy days. I will let the changing colors and shifting tones and the soft move to winter remind me there is nevertheless a stillness, and a way to hold myself in presence. Because that’s what life is really about, what life requires, don’t you think? This moving ahead, this coming along, season-to-season, but also the noticing. The celebrating, and the honoring.

It’s what I hope to have done with all the things, now that I write that. I hope I have considered and honored well, even when–especially when–I have loved and let go.

I hope I have honored well.

XXOO

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Letting go.

WE’VE BEEN CLEANING up, clearing out, readying for a change we’ve known for a while was coming. We’re empty nesters now, you see, and we simply don’t need the space. I love our home, our pretty yard, I love the vast collection of things which have come to reside with us over the course of our lives. And so I’m finding the process daunting. It’s overwhelming, really, and highly emotional. Every WHAT DO I DO WITH THIS choice feels as if it carries with it the weight of generations.

They are just things, I remind myself over and over, a thought which should bring clarity and comfort. But next comes a quick yeah, right, things my great-grandmother saved, and my grandmother saved, and my mother saved. Things which are now entrusted to me.

my grandmother’s recipe; my mother’s recipe book

FOR HER PART, my daughter has little interest.

It is a truth of her generation, I think, how they place value on “having less” and “doing more.” Their lives are fuller, more flexible. They are more mobile, better able to take advantage of opportunities and experiences as they come along.

going through

I believe it to be a good, healthy thing.

AND SO I OPEN another box. This one is filled with things that came from my mother’s house, part of a large haul we loaded up and brought here in the busy days, years ago, of emptying her home. I lift out an old high school–or is it college?–yearbook, 1951-1952, and I see tucked below a collection of letters addressed in my hand. I must have sent these to my parents, yes here’s one from camp, a few from college, several from my earliest days as a working girl living three states away. I had not remembered writing even one, and I certainly had no idea Mom was keeping the silly things, the news inside amounting to not one thing of significance. (I would have guessed I was much more profound in those days, but sadly, the letters prove otherwise.) Still I wipe away a tear, I pull them close against my chest and look to the heavens and tell my mother how much it means to me that all these years, she kept them. And in that moment I know they have done what they needed to do. They have reminded me that their existence mattered, and they have released me to now let them go.

My own Five-Year Diary.
Third grade.
The most noteworthy thing that happened that day.

I toss the letters to the side, and I reach into the box to discover what comes next.

XXOO

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The Big Trip! Fly Fishing Fernie.

Canada’s Elk River

WHEN I WAS A LITTLE GIRL, I learned to fish on my great-grandaddy’s boat. Every vacation we traveled from our home in Virginia to his retirement home in Florida, and my fondest memories are of being with him on the Lady Catherine (the name still makes me smile), motoring along the intracoastal waterway, bottom fishing for Drum.

I’d drop my line and let it sink. I’d hold the rod tip high, just like he taught me. I’d try to be patient. To this day I can hear him fishing behind me, his voice already holding the gravelly tenor of an old man: Come to Papa. Come to Papa. Eventually I’d get a nibble, then like I’d been taught I’d wait, watch, hoping for a greater tug on the line. When I was sure the fish was sure (or I was too excited to wait anymore) I’d set the hook–not jerking, exactly, but pulling hard, with determination and intention. Grandaddy would make his way from stern to bow and watch with great delight as the fight of that fish bent my rod toward the water. “Wind him, Cathy, wind him,” he’d say over and over, an anthem, and I would do my best to will my little girl hands to hold that rod steady, high, to turn and turn the reel’s handle, to get that fish close enough to the boat to be scooped up in his net.

All the Riggs and Grandaddy Kennedy, circa 1965

THEN A FEW YEARS AGO my sweet husband and I decided it would be fun to get each other fly rods for our anniversary. I’d never fly fished–but I did love the poetry-in-motion art of it which I had experienced from afar in two ways: 1) A River Runs Through It, and 2) My neighbor Bruce, whom I see floating around Bickley’s Pond in his kayak many, many days after work, and who–let’s just put it this way–knows his way around a fly rod. We exchanged the gifts, which Tim promptly put to use and which I put in a closet somewhere, waiting for that magical day when “I had time.”

Months passed. Years passed. Then we started talking about the possibility of a grand trip to the Canadian Rockies with the Quiggs, the dear friends who introduced us back in 2000, dear friends who happen to be experienced, avid, and exceptionally proficient fly fishermen.

“I’m in!” I exclaimed, as I am always willing to go just about anywhere just about anytime. And the planning commenced.

See how happy we are? Cathy, Tim, Vickie and Jim

I SHOULD SAY this. I have a great deal of interest in exploring and traveling and very little interest in planning for any of it. Luckily Tim does, so while my attention is focused elsewhere, he is the detail man.

And so it came as a bit of a shock to me when the trip approached and I realized in no time I would be in one of the most revered fly fishing locations in the world with one of the most experienced fly fishing guides in the world. And I would have absolutely no idea what I was doing.

(WHO DOES THIS??? And also: The night before our first float Vickie kindly taught me how to at least put my fly rod together. She also showed me a collection of flies and all the things a person an angler uses that, for the most part, seem to hang from a vest, which I don’t own, and which were so odd and foreign that, although she was wild with excitement, I felt my own eyes glaze over.)

Then early, early the next morning, there I was in a boat, my assembled fly rod in my hands, and an Australian fishing guide paddling us out onto Canada’s Elk River.

Vickie’s flies and baubles
loading her vest
Me right up front where the guide can keep a close eye on me. And here we go!

GREG, THE GUIDE, could not have been more kind. Or more patient, or more encouraging. Tim was the same, and the experience turned out to be one of the greatest gifts of my life. It is terrifying to try something new at this age; it is particularly difficult to try something new that is so public. I mean, casting a fly rod is a very big, very visible, very intimidating thing. There is not much you can do that is more physical or takes up more space, that also requires such refined artistry. FLY CASTING WELL IS HARD. And then there are the 10,000 other things you have to remember to do and not do that make fly fishing a mental challenge, as well.

And the biggest surprise of all–nearly all of these fly fishing ways are in stark contrast to the bottom fishing methodology (basic as it was) that I learned as a girl. Needless to say the casting, itself, is completely different. But also you don’t hold the rod tip up, but down. You watch the fly. You present and mend and mend and mend and when you get a strike–you SET, by god, you ACT rather than waiting, confirming, deciding. Decades and decades (and decades) have passed since the last time I fished, and still the old muscle memory held strong. I had to fight my instincts with every motion.

Still early the first day. And I caught a fish!
Me, Greg and my beautiful Cutthroat Trout.
(We knew you would want a closer look.)
(Sometimes I get distracted.)
My new pal, my guide, my hero, Greg

THERE IS ALSO THIS, which still brings me to tears. Tim had fished like a pro, oddly not landing a fish. The guides were a little dumbfounded (although it did not stop us from teasing Tim mercilessly). At lunch on Day 2 he decided to change his jacket and therefore, change his luck.

“I’m putting on Kent’s vest,” he announced.

This made me smile, knowing how much my Daddy loved to fish, knowing how pleased he would be that Tim was remembering him, honoring him, knowing how happy he would be that we were here, doing this together. And off we went in our separate boats, this time the girls together in one, the boys together in the other. When the day was done and we gathered for drinks and fish stories, Jim pulled out his phone to show me a photo of Tim’s first catch that afternoon, which–of course–was one of many, many that followed.

We all stood quiet a moment, once we got a look.

Okay, well, wow. Jim’s unretouched photo; Tim’s trout; Dad’s joy

Can you think of a more perfect exclamation point for this most perfect day? Can you think of a sweeter endorsement?

We carried on for several days more, making our way to Lake Louise, making our way to Banff. We wade-fished Emerald Lake; we marveled at the ridges and glaciers on every turn of the Icefields Parkway.

And lordy we had fun. We laughed and ate and delighted in each other’s company. We knew in every moment that we four had been gifted something very special in this adventure, that this remarkable vacation was one for the ages–a genuine trip of a lifetime.

End of Day Two. Two guides. Four very happy anglers.

It was, without a doubt, #thebigtrip.

XXOO

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the spinning world

EVERYTHING ON THIS MOUNTAIN is unpredictable, which is one of the things that makes a stay here fascinating. I’ve gone on and on about the weather–you simply do not know one minute to the next what is going to happen. Last month, for instance, we were enjoying a sunny day when an angry bolt of lightning came from nowhere and striking in the meadow, sent a ground current up through the house’s foundation and into the long-handled roller Tim held as he painted the lower porch. The energy arced as it traveled, and he saw it jump wall to roller but thankfully did not feel anything but for immense surprise and awe.

And great relief, praise hands.

Nevertheless the bizarre occurrence certainly got our attention.

And here we are now, another strange something afoot.

august’s filmy angelica

It is late August, which means the season of azalea, rhododendron, and wild mountain blueberries has come and gone. Our time here has been sporadic, and yet it is worthy of mention that we have not seen a single black bear since early June. Or was it May? Friends on the mountain tell us their bear sightings, too, have been infrequent, centering on one shy, lone fella who moves about with no consistent pattern. He has appeared on our wildlife cameras over these months but only two or three times.

most recently

It is an odd, dramatic change.

It is a change that feels unsettling.

ALL OF THIS is to say we move about differently up here without the stay-on-high-alert THERE MIGHT BE A BEAR status of prior Augusts. For instance, just yesterday friends joined us for an overnight and we took a leisurely hike down the old OM Trail, winding through the deep woods of Narnia, then back up through the tall grasses of our steep meadow.

Tim and Steve, exploring
pretty, peaceful (for now) Narnia

I found plenty to photograph, as always. But the hardly-have-to-worry stroll served as a powerful reminder of how short the season is here, how when you are down in it and amongst it you become aware of just how quickly nature takes over. It has a mind of its own, that meadow, and as we’ve let it go with very little trimming this summer it has been very happy to remind us just WHO’S BOSS.

fall grasses
the meadow wild
autumn’s thistle dance

It insisted to me, as well, that summer, here, has passed.

That it has gone so quickly!

That seasons change so fast.

THERE ARE MOMENTS, like right now, when I feel this and can hardly catch my breath.

summer’s rare lingering bloom

There are times (like this morning) when I have awakened long before the sun, and I have lain there, quiet in the dark, certain I can feel it, certain I can hear it: Time moving on.

the bee balm’s last hurrah

Time a speeding train

racing through space,

passing in the very air

above me.

XXOO

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