Life in the Slowest Lane

September into October 2014


After a very temperate summer, we’re just emerging from a weeklong siege of very hot and, oddly for Ojai, humid days. This level of heat leaves many of us feeling cranky and beleaguered as it fries the roses to a crisp within an hour of the buds opening. I try to get to, cut and relocate them to my altar vases soon after moving from my sleeping tent to the cottage. By 8:00 AM the tent becomes a sauna, so I’m usually en route to the cottage and cutting the roses by 7:30.


Despite the heat, lots continues to bloom and flourish in the container garden: lantana, lavender, basil and petunias in shades of purple; magenta and purple verbena; white and pink lisanthus; white star jasmine; hot pink fuchsias; orange and yellow marigolds, rudebeckia, milkweed and gaillardia; multi-hued roses, zinnias and the last few dahlias of the year.


Green edibles continue providing abundance for my daily feasts: romaine lettuce, collard greens, arugula, spinach, mustard greens, four varieties of kale, Persian cucumbers, spearmint, peppermint, rosemary, two varieties of oregano and a last few cherry tomatoes.


The trees we planted in my mini-orchard this spring are healthy and thriving though not, this year, producing more than a hint of fruit. The tastier producer of the two old apple trees continues to be full of fruit, much of it with evidence of bird or critter nibbles. These nibbled apples I gather for a woman at our stationery store who tends horses that love them as treats. Some I give to a client for her pot-bellied pig. Some I cut up for the chickens that live just the other side of my fence and from whom I get delicious eggs every week.


Hordes of hyperactive hummingbirds gather around my nine feeders from early morning until dark. Often I can count as many as 20 darting around at once, whirring, chittering and buzzing the kitties and me. Although they can be quite aggressive with each other at feeding ports, with 32 such stations on my patio, they usually don’t bounce each other off the perches. Actually, twice these past couple of weeks I’ve been tickled to watch pairs of them actually cooperating at a port on the feeder just outside the window at my desk. The feeder they were at has a full circle perch surrounding the four ports. Each time I caught it happening, two birds were stationed at one port alternating: while one sipped, the other raised its head to swallow, then the second one sipped as the first one swallowed. It was mesmerizing and so touching! One hummingbird that hangs out at that same feeder has what looks a feather cowlick at the base of its neck. Being able to recognize him/her tickles me each time he/she turns up.


The birds (mostly house finch) that dine at the seed feeders outside my front door usually fly away when I open that door. Yet, the other day, one of the birds (with a distinctive pumpkin-seed shaped growth under its beak) looked up at me for a moment then simply turned back and continued eating, even as I came outside and walked right past the feeder on which it was perched. Such a brave and feisty little bird, it made me laugh (but only after I’d moved past it).


One morning a week ago, after a night of heavy dew, I was awakened by the sounds of a half dozen small birds skittering overhead on the rainfly of my tent as they busied themselves drinking up the droplets of dew they found there. My first view of the morning: their little shadows dancing across the wetness, sigh! It was something that had never before happened in all the 27 years I’ve been sleeping in tents in my backyards. Such a gift.


On a less happy note was my experience with the milkweed plant I’d recently added to my garden. The nurserywoman told me that if I planted one, it would bring Monarch butterflies to my patio in no time. Indeed, within a week, I’d seen a couple. Then, on the 10th day, there were first three and later four chubby and exotic caterpillars of a sort I’d never before seen.  Checked on Google to be sure: they were indeed Monarch caterpillars! They couldn’t have grown there so quickly from eggs possibly laid by the adult butterflies I’d seen. But, then, how on earth had these beauties found their way to my patio? So magical. For the next two days, I came gleefully to visit them several times throughout the day. I was so excited and already eagerly anticipating the possibility of watching them spin cocoons. On the third morning: no caterpillars to be seen. I was devastated. The blue jays that have figured out how to circumvent the supposedly large-bird-proof seed feeders just near the new milkweed plant had undoubtedly had a feast. I bought some bird netting (the stuff that keeps birds away from fruit on trees) hoping that this might keep the next arriving caterpillars safe. Two more did come but, alas, the netting failed to protect them from predation. So sad. Yet, several more adult Monarchs have been stopping by to munch on the leaves.


More news on the garden wildlife front: the other night loud rustling sounds woke me from my nightly floating-in-the-hot-tub nap. (I nap on an 18-pocket pool lounger/float covered by two more un-inflated such loungers. I’ve been doing this for from one to three hours every non-rainy night since 1986 and have never slipped off in my sleep.) I reached for the flashlight in my robe hanging nearby on the coat tree and found the source of the rustling/scuffling. A half dozen young raccoons were feasting on fallen apples and persimmons just a few yards from the hot tub. Unperturbed by the light, all but one (that climbed up the tree) continued on with their munching as I went back to napping.


Hawks and crows play together overhead most days and, less frequently than other years, coyotes still occasionally have their nighttime joke-fests. Without rain, there’ve been no frog choruses this year. And, for whatever reason, fewer owls around the meadow.


Lots of clouds in our skies daily and, as I make my way from hot tub to tent (usually between 1:00 and 3:00 AM) each night, Orion now is visible in mid-heaven: sure signs that fall, my favorite season, is arriving.


Since last I wrote, there’ve (thankfully) been no new untoward niggling physical challenges/issues and much progress in the healing of the series of irritating and not-serious afflictions I wrote about in July (when last I wrote here). The last vestiges of discomfort are gone from the heel that had had plantar fasciitis. There’s, finally, no more swelling of the bursa in the elbow that had had a second round of bursitis after the first one had been drained. The wrist I’d sprained while my elbow had been casted is, alas, still not quite back to normal although it has been slowly improving. All of these “farschlepta krenks” (as such annoying minor maladies are called in Yiddish) have provided ongoing lessons in patience with and compassion for my no longer invincible body. Nevertheless, it’s a relief to be almost on the other side of all these challenges.


Absent any nudging from the Grandmothers to move me out of the deliciously fallow time I’ve been reveling in these past many months, I continue life in the slowest lane. I see clients a couple of days every other week and then meander through my 12-day long weekends tending my cottage, garden, the kitties, the seeding-feeding wild birds and the myriad hummingbirds; reading (or listening to) mysteries and novels in great numbers; walking, doing free weights, yoga, Pilates and Restorative Exercises intermittently and taking voluptuous naps in my hammock in the shade of an old oak tree.


Occasionally, I do wonder when (and whether) the Grandmothers’ next installment of what I call “orders from headquarters” will arrive. Yet, for the most part, I’m more than happy to have this still season for as long as it may last (even if it might last forever). Such a change from the me I’d been in earlier times of my life! In those years, relentless striving and accomplishing were the focus of my energy: the only way I knew to prove my self a worthy human being and try to silence my vicious inner critic. On the occasional days that I feel at a loss or a little out of sorts for not having anything calling on my energy, I simply hang out with the feelings for a bit. Usually, something in the garden will call me and then I’m immersed in the deadheading or watering or pruning. This always is enough to re-center me peacefully in the moment of this fallow season.


It’s been a time of witnessing three of my small circle of intimate friends moving through some of the intense challenges that come with aging and compromised parents or the complexities of a large, extended family including children and grandchildren or the complications of undertaking a major home remodel. As I watch and love and empathize, I am evermore filled with gratitude for the simplicity of my life with no still-living aging parents, no children or grandchildren and no major projects either on my plate or looming. It’s hard to imagine my self being able to maintain my sanity in any of their situations


Sometimes, I reflect on what my life was like in my mid-twenties: doing a part-time internship as a psychologist at a hospital an hour’s subway-ride-and-walk from my apartment; running subjects for my dissertation experiment a few hours a week at the lab at my graduate school; attending a weekly two-hour psychotherapy practicum there, as well as seeing two clients twice each every week in the school’s clinic; struggling in an on-again off-again relationship with the man I ultimately married – repeatedly carrying clothes, paperwork and cosmetics back and forth between his apartment and mine; working an 8 P.M. to 7:00 A.M. shift several times a week at an after-hours breakfast and ice cream restaurant and barely sleeping more than four hours a night. I’ve come such a long way from that terminal busyness that once was my life. Just remembering it feels overwhelming to the me I’ve become, a me that craves vast expanses of uncommitted and unstructured time in order to feel juicy, alive and whole.


When, out doing my errands, I see young women (that look like children themselves) with kids in tow trying to manage the little ones along with doing what they have to do in the store, I feel exhausted just imagining what their lives are like. When I spend an afternoon twice a month with my friend, her daughter, son-in-law, their six and eight year old sons and two and a half year old twins (a boy and a girl) immersed in the love-filled chaos of their daily life, I’m awed and flabbergasted by the whack-a-mole complexity of it all. After three hours there, I can’t begin to imagine how they all manage to do this 24/7/365. And, I feel incredibly grateful that I knew so long ago that having or raising children (much less having grandchildren) would definitely send me round the bend. So glad I listened to that knowing even as I was criticized for being “selfish” or remiss for not propagating my “white, Jewish genes(!).” (Before my paternal grandmother’s horrifying commentary, I’d had no clue of her racist ideas.)


When I skim the monthly AARP magazine and read about all the things retirees are doing or being advised to do with their time in order to feel vital and productive, I feel exhausted – bemused by the busyness that seems these days to be equated with healthy aging. When I (mostly by phone) visit with my few intimate friends, it usually feels like I have little to talk about: nothing much is happening these days, either in my outside or inside life. There’s also little beyond my garden/wildlife updates to write about in these used-to-be-almost-monthly journal (blog) columns.


Except for the few, much cared about clients with whom I work and my half dozen intimate friends, I’d rather read a book than be around people. Unless it’s for the brief random conversations I have with local women I run into while doing errands around Ojai. When they suggest getting together for a meal and more visiting, I always demur, saying I don’t do socializing except for these street-meetings. They seem to get it and accept that that’s what so for me. Dropping into the world of a book or a book on CD gives me people contact that, when I’ve had enough for the moment, I can stop immediately and without hurting anyone’s feelings.


As I become ever more of an outlier both in the larger culture and in the context of my dear friends’ lives, it occasionally feels quite strange to be how I am in the world as it is. Still, I love this lushly, drifty, perfect-for-me-now life I’ve been blessedly able (with the help of the Grandmothers) to craft for my self and so I’m willing to tolerate those sporadic flashes of feeling odd/off-the-continuum.


 There’s one tale I actually can share about a misadventure I had just a week ago while on “chicken duty.”  My neighbor/friend/landlord was away overnight and while she’s off the property, I often take on the early morning task of opening the door to the chickens’ extended (but not secured-for-nighttime) run.  To do this one has first to open the gate/door to the whole enclosure then, go further into it to open a second door that opens to the area without a secured wire roof.  Ordinarily, the latch to first door is cranky and needs a good slam to lock it.  And, usually there’s a cord from that latch that dangles on the inside of the enclosure so that we can pull it to open the latch and let ourselves out again.


In I went, saying good morning to our four “girls,” checking their food and water and opening their back door. Done, I went back to the first door to let my self out.  Oops! The latch had locked (odd enough) and, alas, the string to open it from inside the enclosure was missing. Hmmm…. No telling when Teresa would be back and while I tried calling for the woman who was staying at the big house, her doors were closed and likely the a/c and fans were on so no way was she going to hear me. There I was, in my nightshirt, without my teeth, with no cell phone, firmly locked in the chickens’ twenty-five foot run as the day was already heating up and promising to be a scorcher!


After testing its stability, I tried standing on the plywood frame around the six extra hatching boxes in the unsecured area that backed up to the fence between our yards. I was hoping that both it and the concrete bench on my side of that fence might be high enough for me to step over the fence from one to the other. Not to be; if I tried I’d be impaled on the fence.


Bemused and anticipating the possibility of a day in the heat with the chickens and no place for me to comfortably roost, I wandered around looking for inspiration. An aha! moment: the outer door/gate actually had an upper panel that was lattice even though its lower two thirds was solid wood. If I could break a bit out of the lattice, I could reach through and open the latch. Not realizing there were many rocks in the enclosure I could have used, I relied on my fist. A single slat gave way to repeated pounding (so did the skin on one of my knuckles, sigh). The space that opened wasn’t wide enough to get my hand through even though the latch release was tantalizingly close. Hmmm, again.


As I stood there pondering what next, I noticed a metal pancake turner on a shelf (near the door) where the containers of scratch were stored. Likely something Teresa uses to clean the poop off their nesting boxes and roosts, I saw that it actually had a bend at its other end so it could be hooked on a rack. Eureka! A tool for opening the latch. It turned out to be just the right length and with just enough of a hook to release the latch. I felt absolutely brilliant for recognizing its potential and for setting my self free. Exhilarated, I went off to my shed for some sturdy string to replace the missing pull for the latch so this wouldn’t happen again.