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.