Because the weather around here has been hot and sunny for some time, I’ve been watering the row of willows in my backyard with a soaker hose. They used to be lush and healthy, as shown in this photo from 2015, but they’ve been dying back for the past few years after having been stressed by several cold winters and hot, dry summers.
 

My backyard willow hedge, bright and green in summer.  

I’ve read that because they are such fast-growing plants, they generally grow back well after being topped, so they’ll probably be okay. But after all the time I spent cutting off half-dead branches, I ended up feeling that those willows had turned into a giant time-sucking chore.

Truth be told, I hadn’t paid enough attention to them in previous years. Because I never took the time to prune them properly when they were smaller, they got overgrown with low branches that were in my husband’s way when he mowed the lawn.

Now, as they grow back, they’ll be in much better shape. So I have to say that I’ve learned a few useful lessons about paying more attention to routine maintenance, which I’d do well to appreciate rather than judging the willows as nothing but an unfortunate chore.
 

Word-art that says "Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds that you plant." -Robert Louis Stevenson 

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

I recently had a midyear conversation with my manager about resources available for building more skills, among other things. The company has been encouraging employees to use online training materials for personal development.

My manager said that she had been talking with other people in my workgroup about their plans. Some wanted to keep doing the same job, while some were looking to change positions or to retire, and others hadn’t settled on what would be next.

Although she didn’t come right out and ask, I got the distinct impression that there was a question in there; so I replied that I was in the “not sure what comes next” group. That was true enough.

I have been doing pretty much the same work for many years and sometimes feel as if I’ve gotten stuck in a comfortable rut (which I didn’t say). The job is well suited to my temperament and skill set, and my manager and coworkers are very nice people.
 

Rutted road bordered by telephone poles and fences.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)
 

In our turbulent modern society, there is now an expectation that we need to plan far ahead. Otherwise, we’ll miss out on valuable opportunities and put ourselves at risk of falling too far behind to ever catch up. It’s no longer enough just to be a responsible adult who is working and paying the bills.

There are rational reasons for that fear. Many people really did end up in bad situations because they lost a job to offshoring or automation and did not have the skills needed to get a better job, or they wanted to retire but did not have enough savings. So, now we’re always seeing news articles that admonish us to save much more, improve our skills at every possible opportunity, and plan our entire lives in great detail.

There is an emotional cost to all this pressure, though, which I don’t believe our society is fully taking into account. When we’re expected to run faster on the hamster wheel at all times, we get stressed out. And stress causes health problems, detracts from mental flexibility, and leads to persistent feelings of being overwhelmed and insecure. Then, on top of all that, we feel guilty for not doing a better job of managing our stress, and we get even more stressed.

So I’ve decided that I am not going to worry about what might come next. Why should I feel obligated to live up to some arbitrarily created checklist—which, given how fast the world is changing, may not even come close to my actual future circumstances? To me, it makes much more sense simply to exist in the moment, saving a reasonable amount and learning enough to broaden my horizons, but without forcing anything. Then, maybe, when the time is right, discovering “what comes next” will happen naturally.

July 6, 2018 · 2 comments · Categories: Stories

To read Part 2, click here.
 

Lightning flashed again, dimly visible around the edges of heavy oak shutters. Ina, wide awake on a straw pallet in a corner of the small cabin, counted to six and then heard the distant rumble of thunder. The cabin’s other occupants all slept soundly—Nellie and her husband John, their daughter Mabel, and little Godfrey in his cradle.

Ina felt that she ought to be sleeping soundly too, after a long day of farm work. She had cleared weeds from row after row of corn and other crops, swinging a hoe till her hands got sore and blistered. Then, after lunch, she had filled a few baskets with early vegetables and sweet black raspberries before helping Nellie to cook and clean until dinner. She’d expected to be fast asleep by now—but instead, something called persistently to her. She felt it at the edge of her thoughts, an elemental energy as strong as the storm that had by now started spattering the cabin with loud, heavy raindrops.

What was out there in the storm, waiting for her? Ina couldn’t see much of her surroundings. The cabin had been dark since Nellie, while reciting a prayer for protection from evil spirits, had latched the shutters and barred the door before blowing out the candles—hours ago, it seemed like. Although Ina could hear the door and its thick wooden bar rattling in the gusty wind, she couldn’t make out the shapes.
 

Lightning at night.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)
 

Light—she needed light to find her way. The next time the lightning flashed, and without thinking about it at all, Ina reached toward the shuttered window and caught the fading glow between her hands, like a child capturing a firefly. It flickered and then brightened, much as a candle would, when she opened her hands to let it hover above them. The tiny flame’s warmth felt good on her blistered palms—but no, there weren’t any blisters to be seen now. All at once, Ina’s hands had healed completely.

The flame rose higher and made a bobbing motion toward the door, like a playful puppy hoping to be taken for a walk. A memory teased at the back of Ina’s mind—it had something to do with a pet she’d once had, but it slipped away, elusive. The flame bobbed again, more insistently. Ina took a few steps toward the door and located her shoes, which were neatly lined up with the family’s shoes on a mat beside the wall, underneath some pegs from which hung thick cloaks.

A sense of being watched came into her awareness. Turning to her left, she found little Mabel standing in a nightgown, with wide eyes reflecting the supernatural glow.

“You’re a witch,” Mabel said softly, in a matter-of-fact voice that held neither question nor fear.

Ina turned the word over in her mind, letting it settle into the empty space where a now-distant identity once had been. It seemed like it fit reasonably well. “Yes, I suppose I must be,” she answered, in the same calm, descriptive tone.

Mabel glanced up at the hovering light, which had by now floated over to the door. Rain pounded steadily on the roof, but everyone else in the cabin still slept without stirring. “Can you teach me how to make witch-fire like that? It’s pretty.”

Putting on her shoes, Ina considered the question. Had she made the fire, or had she simply come upon it already existing in nature, waiting to be found? And was anything about it a skill that could be taught? She had no answers.

“I don’t think so, Mabel. It’s not something that I know how to teach.”

The little girl nodded as if she hadn’t expected anything more. “That’s all right. Mama probably wouldn’t want me to do it anyway. She says witches are evil. But the fire doesn’t look evil, and you don’t either—so maybe, sometimes, Mama could be wrong.”

“Maybe witches, like other people, are not all one thing or the other,” Ina suggested. She couldn’t feel anything evil in the magical firelight or in herself—but then, how would she know what evil felt like? It might seem okay at first glance, like a tree that looked healthy but had rot or insects hidden under the bark. She remembered ash trees dying from the borers, their dry bare branches outlined against a crisp, clear autumn sky. Where had that fragment of memory come from?

She wouldn’t find any answers here. It was time to get going.

Ina lifted the heavy bar, setting it carefully into its slot beside the door. The flame danced eagerly out into the storm when she opened the door a crack. The rain wasn’t dimming its light at all. Ina was about to follow when it occurred to her that Mabel wasn’t quite big enough to put the bar back across the door. She lifted the bar partway, told Mabel to hold it there for a moment, and pulled the door shut behind herself. Although she was instantly soaked through, the rain felt invigorating. The bar clattered into place, and Ina thought she heard a little voice saying “Bye,” as thunder boomed again.

The bobbing firelight already had moved several paces ahead of Ina, in the direction of the Wild Forest.

I began this year with a New Year’s resolution simply to be present in the moment. There was no daily routine associated with it. I wanted to train my mind, very gently, into a habit of noticing more of what went on around me.

Even though I hadn’t tasked myself with actively working on any problems, after a while I began to feel that they were getting solved anyway, or at least put into better perspective and taking an appropriate place on the priority list. By noticing more of my surroundings without judgment, I planted seeds for thought, giving my subconscious mind enough space to let new patterns grow naturally.
 

Word-art that says "Every problem contains within itself the seeds of its own solution." -Stanley Arnold 

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

July 4, 2018 · Write a comment · Categories: Musings · Tags:

Last weekend after the new air conditioner was installed, I spent some time tidying up the area around it. I weeded, edged, spread some mulch, and replanted a small yucca that had been moved out of the way temporarily. My husband was very helpful carrying the bags of mulch. That area looks much better now.
 

New air conditioner with fresh mulch around it. 

I hadn’t really noticed that it needed improvement before, but that is often what happens when old stuff like a worn-out air conditioner ends up staying around too long. Other things close to it that need maintenance also get overlooked, such as the need for mulch and edging. What’s going on, as far as I can tell, is that the subconscious mind sorts it all into the general category of stuff that’s not being done yet. Then we just keep on walking past it every day without even noticing.

The converse is also true—when there’s something new and fresh around, that makes all the old neglected stuff more noticeable and becomes a powerful motivator to get things in shape. As for my yard in particular, there are a few other areas in need of mulch. If it hadn’t been for the new air conditioner, I might have ignored them a while longer, but now they seem much more obvious.

My old air conditioner gave up the ghost yesterday. The service company was able to send people out to my house to put in a new one this afternoon, so I didn’t roast too much; but it was a large unplanned expense. Not exactly unexpected, as the old unit obviously didn’t have much life remaining. It had gotten so noisy that I pulled my bed away from the wall last year, so it wouldn’t disturb my sleep.

While I might have preferred to keep it going a while longer and spend the money on something else, having a new, quiet, modern air conditioner is a good thing. And being able to buy it right away is something to be grateful for in itself, rather than having to leave the windows open all summer (which happened about twenty years ago in our starter house when we didn’t have much money). So, I can’t complain.
 

Word-art that says "Happiness isn't about getting what you want all the time. It's about loving what you have and being grateful for it." 

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

I’ve been getting outdoors almost every day in the warm weather, rowing and bicycling. Although that’s fun and good for fitness, both my blog and my yard are starting to feel kind of neglected. I keep meaning to sit down and write a post or a story, but then I wander off and do something else instead. My flower garden is full of thistles that grew back after I weeded last month, when I meant to put down fresh mulch but never got around to it. Thistles can be pretty in nature when they’re blooming in a field, but I would like them much better if they would stay there.
 

Thistles blooming in a field.

(photo credit: publicdomainpictures.net)
 

If anyone happens to find my responsible grown-up self, please let me know. I’m really not sure what became of her. After all those blog posts I wrote about imaginary conversations with my younger selves, I’m beginning to wonder if I turned loose an inner child who just wants to go out and play all the time.

While it’s probably about time I lightened up a little on those self-imposed To-Do list entries, I haven’t yet gotten comfortable with the empty places where they used to be. I feel as if I might wake up one morning, with only a vague memory of strange thumping noises in a dream, and discover a mindspace like a half-empty attic where a gleeful Younger-Me has tossed dusty old boxes and furniture out the window to make room for a hopscotch grid on the floorboards, decorated in all the colors of the sidewalk chalk bucket.

Last week’s heat wave in this area has finally broken; today was much cooler, and a light rain was falling all through the day. Although I stayed indoors and there wasn’t a bit of sunshine to be found anywhere, I felt cheerful anyway when I looked out the window because the grass and flowers, which had gotten parched in the heat, were visibly greening up and looked so happy to be alive.

Wishing everyone visiting my blog a happy Thursday too!
 

Word-art that says "Be so happy that when others look at you, they become happy too." 

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

Last weekend my house felt like it had gotten totally overrun with dogs. My daughter, who has two dogs, came to visit while she was dog-sitting for a third. They were all very well-behaved the entire time, so I can’t complain; but the house did feel kind of crowded.

We played a game of Monopoly while sitting on the floor and managed to avoid having our little plastic houses, etc., knocked off by playful dogs wandering onto the board. Then I thought about how fortunate we are to have such a close family—pets and all.

For Nurturing Thursday, here’s a dog picture for all my awesome readers.
 

Word-art with a dog that says "Who's awesome? You're awesome!" 

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

June 9, 2018 · 3 comments · Categories: Stories

This is a continuation of a story that began on the blog Nuggets of Gold.
 

Somewhere across the lake, a rooster crowed. The sound carried clearly in the still air before dawn. She blinked, startled; the lake now reflected pale pink clouds instead of moonlight. It seemed that only a moment had passed since she closed her eyes, but somehow she must have dozed off without knowing it.

Rising to her feet, she brushed grass and twigs off her long, full skirt, which came down far enough to brush against wooden shoes fitting tightly over thick homespun stockings. But no, that wasn’t right at all—she had been wearing jeans and gym shoes when she walked through the woods to the lake.

When she turned around, she couldn’t see any path through the tall grass and midsummer wildflowers. Farther back, instead of the familiar patch of woods, a large old-growth forest loomed, with trees much taller and broader than she’d ever seen.
 

Old-growth forest with large tree trunk in foreground.

(Photo credit: Nicholas A. Tonelli)
 

The air felt invigorating; it was fresh and pure, filled with the scents and sounds of nature. She turned back toward the lake, only then noticing how easily her body moved, without the aches and stiffness that she’d have expected from falling asleep outdoors at her age. Although she was in fairly good health at 67, camping in the woods would not have been on any list of her favorite activities.

The landscape on the other side of the lake had changed, too. Where was the new subdivision of expensive lakefront homes that she’d driven past, and the state highway not far behind them? Now there was only a small, tidy log cabin, surrounded by vegetable gardens and—yes, that was definitely a chicken coop.

“Hello.” The little voice came from a girl, also wearing an old-fashioned dress, who was walking across the grass to her left. “My name is Mabel. Who are you, and what are you doing here?”

None of this could be real, she thought. There was only one sensible explanation—she was still asleep in the grass where she had dozed off listening to the bullfrogs in the moonlight. “I am in a dream,” she said, more to herself than to her young companion.

Mabel smiled, showing a gap from a newly lost baby tooth. “You’ll have to come and meet my Mama,” she declared, setting off toward the cabin, where a woman had just stepped outside with a wicker basket.

By the time they reached the cabin, the basket was full of freshly collected eggs. Mabel announced cheerfully, “Mama, this is my new friend, Miss Ina Drim. I found her on the other side of the lake.”

The woman had light hazel eyes and a kindly smile. “Good morning to you, Miss Ina. You can call me Nellie. Have you traveled far? You’re very young to be walking through the Wild Forest by yourself—why, you can’t be much over sixteen. And today, of all days!”

Her first reaction was to open her mouth in surprise, thinking that she’d better set matters straight as to both her name and age. But her hands looked young and smooth at the end of her long, billowing sleeves, with no age spots or swollen knuckles. How old was she, really? And what had her name been? The more she breathed this lovely fresh air, the harder it was to remember.

Seeing that she looked confused, Nellie clarified the last sentence. “I meant, today is the summer solstice. Folks say that the witches who live in the Wild Forest use their magic every Midsummer’s Eve to bring girls here from far away, so as to train them in the secret ways of witchcraft. The magic is said to be so very strong, the girls can be summoned from distant countries or even through time itself. They forget everything about their old lives.”

Ina, who by now couldn’t recall if she’d ever had another name, shook her head in denial. She couldn’t possibly have been summoned by witches, could she? No, of course not, that was ridiculous. She’d come here to the lake because of—something about family, and memories, and an old woman. Surely it would all come back to her soon.

“I was visiting my grandmother,” she said finally, not sure whether that was quite right, but concluding that it must be close enough. “And I lost my way in the woods.”

Nellie looked horrified. “Lost and alone in the Wild Forest all night—you’re lucky the wolves didn’t get you! Of course, you’ll have to stay here for now. It would be much too dangerous for a young girl like you to travel through the forest alone, especially today.” Her tone made clear she wouldn’t stand for any argument.

Although her first inclination was to argue anyway, Ina decided that was silly. After all, the invitation plainly was well-intended, and there didn’t seem to be any reason to leave just yet. She might as well stay for a little while—at least, until she could remember where she ought to be.
 

Click here to continue to Part 3.