Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Where To Begin?

Wow. I don't know where to start on the Mexico trip. There is too much to put into one post so you'll have to bear with me as I try to organize it into something that I can understand over the next week. Overall, it was fantastic. I am in awe of my beautiful, intelligent, and intrepid step-daughter. I truly don't understand how she musters the energy to face completely new cultures over and over again and stick with it until she becomes as close to a local as an outsider can be. Because it does take energy to make your way through a foreign place and people--no matter how beautiful, compelling, friendly, etc. We visited Sarah when she lived in Aix en Provence for a year and it was also a foreign place, but the culture was, on a scale, much more similar to my own than was Mexico. I am of European descent after all. The faces looked like mine in France.

Mexico was so different and I don't know enough about it to tell you why exactly. I was humbled and amazed. Humbled by the fact that these people are our neighbors and I hadn't ever met them before, and amazed at the richness of their history and how that history has trickled down to the present in certain behaviors and in architecture and cuisine, etc. It was also just plain fun to experience so many new things, and I am sure that the level of fun was in direct proportion to the fact that we had a wonderful set of guides in Sarah and Jorge.

Okay, so. I'll begin with some pictures of walking through the streets. We did this everyday. Similar to European cities, you walk everywhere in Oaxaca. That right there is different enough from the US, no? A portrayal of our walks would not be complete without a strong mention of The Stella--our tireless walking companion. (And for that matter, the graffiti.)

We leave Sarah's apartment and descend into the city...

We went to a gigantic market in Tlacolula on our first day. There is my hair sticking out like a sore thumb. I'm quite positive that the Mexicans, if not ready for my hair, are used to the look that was surely on my face--eyes agog and mouth slightly open.

On our first day, I was also stunned by what sounded like a gunshot close by. Sarah and Jorge stood, unfazed, as I clutched at my heart. "Oh," they laughed, "those are fireworks. Someone is always setting them off." Indeed. They often alerted people to the presence of parades or protest or pride marches that you might stumble across anywhere.

And everywhere, I mean everywhere, a church. Those Spaniards weren't taking any chances, I guess.

Stella was always an object of attention. Here on the Zocolo, or main square, a boy keeps asking, "Does she bite?" And despite Sarah's repeated assurances that she didn't, he could not bring himself to touch her.

We had some fun with the street paintings, or at least John did : )

And oh, the colors! Holy God Almighty, the colors!

On two occasions, we walked the Cerro Fortin, Sarah's running route. It is straight up, oh I don't know, five hundred or more steps. Besides the exercise (which we really didn't need at that point) there was an almost 360 degree view of the valley and that was worth it.

And there you have the merest taste of the streets of Oaxaca. At the end of the day, we slogged back up the hill to Sarah's house, tired to our bones, and ready for some cold beers and warm sopes.
Next up: a botanical extravaganza! All you biophiles get ready.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

"One More Lap Around"

If you live in Ohio, I don't have to tell you how beautiful it has been these past few days. This morning was no exception, though it was a little cooler--and more seasonable to be honest. Before we leave tomorrow on our trip, I took one more walk around the loop: through the orchard to the back pasture and up through the woods trail that spills you back out at the cabin.
The ground was spongy soft with moss that is thriving on the dew and warming temperatures. The understory of the woods sparkled with the leftovers of an early morning rain shower. The sun was noticeably warm on my backside. LeRoy ran ahead of me through the grass and leaves, scampering around like the puppy he is apparently channeling.

"Just one more lap around!" That was what I used to say to my dad when I was about seven years old on one of our family vacations at Lake Dunmore in Vermont. Dad would let me steer the little outboard motor on our rented rowboat around and around the inlet in front of our cabin. Thanks for that, Dad.
I could take "one more lap around" my loop a million times and never tire of it.
Lilac in bud, check.
Naturalized daffs coming up, check.
Misty, lacy, dew-dropped woods, check.
Fairy orbs in place, double check.
And look at this fabulous nest from last year. Heather of the Hills, if you're reading, do you know what made it?
And what does it use to glue it over the suspending branch like this? Amazing!
Well--there you go, until March 31 or so. Have a GREAT spring equinox tomorrow everyone! It's here!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Morning Unfolds

The moon has been glorious this past cycle. It is starting to wane now (which will make sleeping a more reasonable expectation) and it hangs around in the morning sky:

The mists hung in the pastures this morning in a more warmer-weather manner:
Until the sun came over the hill and burned them up:
Still looking pretty brown, though. So...we turn to the orchid for inspiration:

Or, we visit Sarah's blog for some south of the border color infusion. This is worth a look/read, oh ye northern people deprived of the full spectrum of UV light for the past six months.

And yes, John and I are going there (Mexico) this Saturday for a week-long visit! Can't wait. I'll take lots of colorful pictures and bring them to you via this blog--promise.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Birthday Month Musings

As I state in my profile, I am in the “second half” of my life now. I put it in there because it is an important part of the story. Obviously it describes many of the outer circumstances of my life—John is close to retiring, our youngest kid is in college, we’ve got two grandchildren, etc. But what I intend by calling out the fact is to be conscious of the spiritual, or psychological shift that “second half of life” implies. For me, that shift has been huge. And, of course, it is still going on, still unfolding.

During my thirties, I recoiled when my decade was referred to as “middle-aged.” Even now, I think of people in their thirties as simply adults, not middle-aged adults. In my forties, however, I’ll admit it. I am middle-aged. I’ll say it out loud to anyone, although it took me until forty-five to do so. I felt great when I hit forty—like it really was “the new thirty.” But, as I turned forty one, then two, then three, it dawned on me that time was moving in only one direction. Forty was not the new anything. It was forty, and then comes fifty, and so on.

This realization caused me some anxiety for a few years. Part of it was vanity. I caught sight of myself in the mirror in certain harsh lighting and would gasp, Oh my god! What the hell?! Even now, I give myself “facelifts” by pulling everything back with my hands. I turn to John and ask, “There, doesn’t that look better?” He rolls his eyes and says no, it looks freakish and that he’ll divorce me if I ever do anything like that. I won’t do anything like that and not just because I don’t have the money. But given our culture, it takes a certain vigilance to keep sane about the physical signs of aging, especially—do I even have to say it?—for women.

The other part of middle age that was causing me some anxiety, though was harder to define. It was a restless feeling. Sometimes it was despair and often it was frustration. Over what, I couldn’t say exactly. One day, while getting a book from the library for a project at work, I saw another book—the one I was really meant to get—on a nearby shelf. (This is my secret method for finding a book that I need to read. I will wander the library and browse along the shelves until I find it, Bingo!) The title was Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life: How to Finally, Really Grow Up, by James Hollis. Now, get this: I still wasn’t sure that I should be reading a book with that title. I mean, second half of life? Am I there yet? Ha ha.

Indeed, I was there already, and the book changed my life, or the second half of it, as it were. Hollis is a post-Jungian, depth psychologist. I've heard him speak and he is one of those people who speak like they write with clear, flowing, packed prose. He offers a lot to think about. I won't try to summarize the book. It has been a while since I've read it. One of the main ideas though is that the second half of life is an opportunity, one that you're lucky to have, to contemplate and more fully embody the meaning of your life. It is a chance to become more spiritual and less material in the sense that once free of the need to establish material security, you become freer to inquire inward. All of that is relative of course, but in general, I think, true.

After reading the Hollis book and delving into my own life more deeply I have become increasingly more comfortable with aging. I'm very happy to be almost 47. (Like somebody said, "Old age isn't so bad when you consider the alternative.") Knowing a little more about the task of the second half of life makes me excited for the journey. I get to keep practicing!

Moving out here was an outward shift that mirrored the inner one. Or, maybe it was a catalyst to the inner changes. Yes, moving was the gesture. The experience is the catalyst for the life I now create.

Friday, March 6, 2009

What Prodigious Mowing (of the real, not metaphorical kind)

It is 67 degrees out today (that's sixty-seven). The sun is shining too, even though it looked dicey early this morning. The breeze is blowing like a spring breeze--gusty and moist--and I am just so happy. I try to maintain optimism throughout winter and I think I do pretty well. But I will not lie: My soul comes alive again as winter ends. I wake up, like the hibernating animals, and shake off the long-seeming dream of the past months.

I mowed some of the pastures this morning with the old, blue Massey-Ferguson tractor.
John got me set up with all the weird controls. It is a little hard to drive--I have to stand up to get the clutch and the brake all the way down. (Do you like that tin-foil around the gears?)
But it's cool. It is fun to sit up so high and cut such a wide swath while the breeze tosses your hair. And it does my little Aries heart good to see all the progress!

You may not be able to tell from the picture, but I mowed all that!

Here's where I started--it is the future site of the horse barn:

We try to maintain the meadows for wildlife, which means that the best time to mow is early spring, before the birds and insects and animals start building nests and having babies. Sometimes we mow in the fall, but leaving the dead vegetation up all winter offers cover and food (all those seedheads) to lots of living things. Mowing is one of those chores that you have to jump on when the time is right. You might have one good weekend in the spring to get it done, before everything turns into a soggy, tractor-sticking mess. It is great to be living here this year--our first spring!--and be able to take advantage of the weather.

My imagination works steadily most of the time, but while mowing today I could've sworn that the dead grasses and stickers and weeds were grabbing at my legs with their bony hands screaming, "Noooo!" as I cut a path through their skeletal kingdom. I didn't have any mercy for them, though. "Get thee to the Underworld! It's time for new growth!"