When Life Gives Us “Bonus Time”

I was curled up in my sleeping bag in Red one night on my road-trip, cozy and warm and digesting both dinner, and what I had seen and heard over the day's miles. As I started to drift off to sleep, a phrase drifted across the screen of my mind, "bonus time." Then I heard or dreamed a voice saying, "This is your bonus time. Use it well." 

The next morning, I woke before dawn to frost on the inside of the windows in my truck topper. I snuggled deeper into my sleeping bag and thought about the message I had heard. What does "bonus time" mean? And what will I do to use it well? 

I pondered the idea for another two days and 900 miles. (I am definitely not a fast thinker!) I think for me, bonus time means that after 16 years of intense caregiving of others, beginning when we moved my parents to Denver in 2002, I have reached a period in my life where I am free to do what I want to do, whatever that may be. (Assuming I can pay the bills, of course, and stay healthy.)  

Richard, the love of my life and my husband for nearly 29 years, has been gone six years and three months, and the years of scrambling to pay the debts left from his journey with brain cancer and find sound financial footing are behind me. No more working two jobs, no more evenings and weekends spent finishing the house and his shop with the help of patient friends (thank you, Grant Pound and crew, and Maggie and Tony!) so I could sell that property before I lost it. No more racing to finish the little house, my next home, so I would have a place to live while I figured out what was next.

Richard and Molly, January, 2010: He has survived his first brain surgery (that sinuous scar on the side of his head will be re-incised three more times), and is a few days from finishing his first course of radiation for brain cancer. She is about to head back to San Francisco after spending a week in Denver with him while I was on an island off La Paz, Mexico, leading a writing retreat.

No more driving hell-bent-for-leather over the mountains in all manner of weather to sort out a problem with Dad, living alone in Denver after Mom's death. Dad is now comfortably settled in the Assisted Living unit of the retirement community in Western Washington where he moved to be closer to the rest of the Tweit clan (my brother, sister-in-law, and their girls and families). Molly is settled in San Francisco in a challenging career in advertising. And I, who wasn't supposed to live beyond my twenties, am still chugging along, albeit more slowly than I once did. 

So this is truly my bonus time, however long it lasts. "Bonus" because I didn't expect to be here, alone, with no one depending on me. "Bonus" because I am here at all. "Bonus" because with the help of friends and my family, I am debt-free and can pursue the work I love, writing, and restoring houses and land. Of course to get that bonus, I had to find a gracious and discerning way to help two of the people I love most in this world live through the end of their lives. And then I had to survive their loss, and learn how to live well without them. 


My restored living-dining room on a sunny day recently when the spring weather wasn't spitting snow the way it is right now. 

I realize that it could be argued that rescuing a house as badly dilapidated as this one was, or hand-digging invasive weeds in a landscape as enormous as Yellowstone and its 3,500 square miles of wildness could be considered forms of caregiving. Of a particularly insane sort. 

To me though, caring for a house or the community of the land is less fraught than caring for most people. I can enjoy the creative effort, the fast-on-my-feet problem-solving, and the complexities of restoration without having to pick my way through a minefield of human emotions. So neither feels as emotionally taxing. Yet like human caregiving, both are ways to make positive change in this increasingly negative time.

So what am I going to do with my bonus time? I think I've answered my own question: write, and restore neglected or injured places, both buildings and land. Exactly what any of those projects look like and where the path ahead will take me, I don't know. I do know I am looking forward to the journey, and I will do my best to make good use of this bonus time. 

Snow, sleet, and wind have not daunted this little yellow species iris (Iris danfordiae) blooming in my yard, a tiny but heartening harbinger of spring to come. 

Counting My Blessings

It's been a challenging month on the national scene, and in my personal life too. I'll leave the analysis of the insanity that is our current political environment to those who are good at that, and likewise the rants. After being flat-out-sick for ten days and then straining my rib muscles working out at the gym, I don't have the energy for either. 

What is on my mind tonight is how to keep my spirits up in these difficult times. Not so I can be some kind of Pollyanna-everything-is-rosy person. Because if anything is clear in these times, it's that rosy is not the color of the day. No, I want to tend my own inner light in a way that it shines through the darkness of the world. So that as I walk through this life, I spread that light and its goodness.

Which is why even though I am still coughing from being sick, and wincing each time because coughing hurts those strained ribs, I am counting my blessings. I have blessings to count, something that's good to remember right now. 

In no particular order, the main blessings that come to mind are these:

MY HOUSE, which when I moved in during a blizzard this past January, was in such sad shape that I seriously questioned what I had gotten myself into. A good night's sleep in my cozy sleeping bag on the scarred floor of my bedroom mostly quelled that questioning, and I swear I felt the house sigh with relief the next morning as soon as I began hand-scraping the red-oak floors to restore them. Renovation has proceeded apace in the months since, from those floors to the mechanical systems to insulation to bathrooms (the joys of working fixtures cannot be overstated!) to carefully replacing the original windows with new efficient ones in the same mid-century modern style to… Well, we're still working.

The big bank of windows in the living room (that's 750 pounds of wood-framed, double-paned window unit there!) getting their exterior trim. 

But as I sit on my cozy couch in my beautifully painted living room tonight, with a fire in the gas fireplace in front of me, and the new windows solid and tight as a storm rushes past outside, I am simply grateful to have this house, this haven. Just to have a roof over my head (yeah, replacing the roof is on the list too). Better still, to live in beautifully crafted but long-neglected spaces that are coming bck to life day by day as we work to restore them. That's a blessing.

FRIENDS, those here in Cody who have called or texted with concern and offers of food and help while I was sick. Who laughed with me (carefully, because that hurts too) over my gym mishap. Who miss me when I don't make it to the eight o'clock service at church, who don't mind my off-key singing when I do, who gather Thursday evenings to just enjoy each other. Friends who welcomed me back warmly even though I have been gone for 35 years. I am blessed to belong to this warm community. 

And to the far-flung community of friends and colleagues in the larger world too, all of you who walk with me through this blog and in so many other ways. Thank you for your company, your thoughts, your ideas, your support. 

FAMILY, who I will be spending Thanksgiving with next week in Western Washington, including my 89-year-old dad, who is still "there" enoigh to spend half an hour on the phone with me this afternoon discoursing on what is wrong with the "tax reform" bills now in Congress. And the family who won't be there, including Molly in San Francisco, and my middle niece Sienna and her family in Germany. 

Part of my tribe visiting in August, on an excursion to the alpine country of the Beartooth Plateau. (Left to right: my youngest niece, Alice, holding Pepper; her mom, my sister-in-law Lucy, with Sarge; my brother, Bill; and Dad.) 

WRITING and RESTORATION, twin paths in pursuing my mission: To heal and restore this Earth, with love. To nurture and celebrate diversity, of Life and lives–that all may thrive. Without that work, the words and the heart-work of restoring the nature and beauty of this world, my inner light would surely flicker and go out. Neither pays well enough to earn what anyone sane would call a living, but both fuel my heart and soul. 

SAGEBRUSH COUNTRY, the wild landscapes that have been the home of my heart since I was a child. Walking home from the gym the other day, ribs sore,  muscles aching, I brushed past the branches of a big sagebrush leaning through the highway guardrail . And there was that fragrance, resiny, sweet, unforgettable. The instant I breathed in the familiar smell, I forgot that my ribs hurt, forgot the traffic rushing by, forgot the wind, icy on my cheeks. I smiled, breathed deeply, and walked on. HOME. I am home. 

Heart Mountain, my landmark, the heart of this part of sagebrush country. 

This isn't the path I imagined, this walking through the world as Woman Alone, without the love of my life by my side. But it's the path I have, and whenever the world feels hopeless or I feel sorry for myself, I remind myself that I have much to be thankful for. Oh, sure, I mope for a while first. That's part of the process. And then I count my blessings.

We all have them, no matter where we are, or what troubles dog our lives. Remembering our blessings reminds us that there is still good in the world. Even when the darkness feels absolute, there is always light somewhere. We have only to look, and let ourselves see. 

Me Too: Why #metoo matters

When I first saw "Me too" and the #metoo hashtag appearing on Facebook and Twitter, I had mixed feelings. I was sad to see how many women I know  have experienced sexual harassment or sexual abuse in their lives. Too many of us, but then, even one would be too many. 

I was proud of us for being willing to speak out and speak up. And proud of so many men speaking up in support too. 

I wondered if it would do any good. Because it feels like we're going backwards as a society and culture.  

The more I saw though, the more I thought, this is right. We have to be willing to talk before anything will change. We have to admit what we have tried to ignore or suppress because we are ashamed or embarrassed or threatened or we think it's all in the past, so why bother… 

We have to bring sexual harassment and abuse into the open before it matters. And that's what both the hastag, and the original Me Too movement begun by Tarana Burke, are about. Empowerment.

For Burke, a strong and saavy African-American activist, who began the original Me Too movement in 2006 as a way to help survivors of sexual abuse from marginalized communities, "Me Too" is not just about speaking up and gaining empathy from others. It's about what comes next: the effort needed to heal, to bring opportunity to those who feel rejected, broken. That will take more than a hashtag. There is real work to be done. 

So yes, Me too. I've been sexually harassed many times in my life. I've been sexually abused too, by a man who believed he had the legal right, even when I said, "No." And fought. And said "No" again and again. He won, but he lost me. I left him. And more recently by another man who was a good friend of my late husband and tried to take advantage of the grieving widow he assured himself who needed his "comfort." 

The most enduring episodes, I've recently realized, came when I was a young field scientist working for the US Forest Service. The subtle harassment like making sure I knew I was just a token, hired only because I was a "girl" and the Forest Service had a quota of "girls" to fill so they would meet "diversity targets." (When a young middle-class white woman is hired to add "diversity," it's a pretty sad situation.)

Me as a Forest Service plant ecologist, out in the field, in about 1981. 

The less-than-subtle stuff like one of my colleagues letting me know during a long drive in a Forest Service pickup where it was just the two of us, he at the wheel, of course, on the way to a conference that he could show me "some good times." "And mentor you on your way up in the ranks." (He was married, with several kids, and I was still a seasonal employee, working toward a permanent job.) I rode back with a different colleague.

The time another colleague, also male, because all of my fieldwork colleagues were male then, took me aside for some career advice, which included "blending in more in terms of your looks" and "not socializing with 'the girls'," the highly trained Personnel and Purchasing officers for the Forest, plus the rest of the office staff. 

I did get my permanent job without the help of my married-with-children colleague, and I didn't quit socializing with "the girls." But I did blend in. I wore my waist length red hair up in a bun, or hid it under a ball-cap, as in the photo above. I wore baggy jeans and chamois shirts in winter, long-sleeved tee-shirts and baggy chinos in summer. I deliberately downplayed my femininity, which wasn't all that hard for skinny, freckled me.

And when I got divorced from my first husband, also a colleague, and the Forest Supervisor, a very nice man, but not exactly enlightened, told me that he was sorry, but he couldn't keep both of us. "You'll marry again," he said, his face kind, "and your husband will support you. But [my ex] has to support himself." 

I was speechless for a moment (something that will surprise anyone who knows me well). And then I resigned. It was the early 1980s, and I didn't know what sexual harassment was. I also knew I was broke from the divorce and had no power. 

In the end, I didn't just leave the Forest Service, I left science, too. I went back to graduate school, turned to writing as a way to heal the world, and fell in love. I married, raised a step-daughter, moved around the country with her daddy's career. Wrote 12 published books, hundreds of newspaper columns and magazine articles. Wrote and narrated a popular nature commentary on public radio in the Southwest. Won awards. Settled in southern Colorado with my love and weathered his journey through brain cancer and my mother's death the same year. 

With Molly and Richard Cabe, the focus of my life for many years, in Boulder, Colorado in about 1988 when I was writing my first book, Pieces of Light

What the #metoo hashtag showed me is not just that I'm not alone. I see now that those experiences so long ago shaped me in ways I didn't realize. Only now as a widow, "Woman Alone," as I prefer to put it, do I recognize that I used my marriage as my shield against the world. Yes, I wrote; yes, I spoke about issues that concerned me; yes, I reached readers and listeners, changed hearts and minds. 

I also hid when I chose, taking shelter behind the larger, more gregarious figure of my husband, Richard, who was a muscled 6-foot-tall and 180 pounds. We went everywhere hand in hand, so it was easy to slip into the background of his larger personality. 

It's not that I can't take care of myself alone. I may not be tall or large, but I have muscles and I am proud of them. In the course of finishing, building, and restoring three houses since he died, I have learned to use tools and design knowledge, to work with construction guys and trades-folk of all sorts. I run 3.5 miles twice a week. I work alone digging weeds in Yellowstone, my ears cocked for grizzly bears or simply amorous elk. 

Yet somehow I internalized the lesson of that long-ago sexual harassment: I was only hired to fill a quota. Because I was a "girl." That my work has no worth. I have struggled to earn a living from my writing and speaking since Richard died. 

Because, I see now, I don't speak up for myself. I take what I'm offered, which is all-too-often close to nothing. I don't believe I am worth more. 

So yes. Me too. And it is still affecting me. I can see the ways it is holding me back more clearly now. I can work on that. 

It seems to me that's what we need to do to carry #metoo onward. It's good to speak up–if we can. It's good to empathize. It's good to see that we're not alone. 

Now each us needs to find a way to take that onward. Work with an organization that helps survivors, that empowers women (and men and others who define their gender differently). Work on your own healing. Speak up and out, and help those who aren't empowered or able to speak. 

Because #metoo is really about all of us. Empowering and healing each other, and this troubled world. 


Five Years as Woman Alone

Richard Cabe (1950-2011) ogling wildflowers

Five years ago today, at 11:07 am, Richard Cabe, the love of my life and the father of my beloved step-daughter, Molly, took his last gulping breaths. I still miss him acutely, though not every moment and not with the sharp pain of that initial parting.

After five years, the missing him is more like a dull, nagging ache, a bruise in the part of my heart our nearly 29 years together live. 

It’s not that I’m not happy as Woman Alone; I am, by and large, something that is a continuing surprise to me. That happiness is partly my temperament, and partly a stalwart determination to forge a good life with what is. Even if it’s not the life I imagined stretching out for many more years together, Richard and I walking hand in hand into the sunset of our years. 

That wasn’t what we got. I accept that, and I have consciously worked to not pine for what isn’t, and more so, to recognize doors opening that wouldn’t have opened–or I wouldn’t have recognized as opportunities–in that other life where we lived hip to hip, inseparable. Until death parted us.   

Five years… It’s a good time to evaluate the path I’m on, where I’ve been and where I’m going. 

I’ve taken several big leaps in that time, including finishing and selling Terraphilia, the house he built for us, along with his historic studio next door. 

Helping design and build Creek House and Treehouse, my snug little complex that occupies the last piece of our “decaying industrial empire,” as Richard liked to call our sprawling and once-ugly property.

And now, in perhaps the biggest leap of all, I’m moving on, leaving Salida and the place we shared, the property we spent our last 15 years together restoring. The buildings were Richard’s province, his studio and the big house, which he helped design and did much of the construction himself.  

Richard assembling “Matriculation,” his sculpture in the Steamplant Sculpture Garden, in front of his historic studio. (He designed and built the rolling crane for working with ton-size sculptures and rocks.)

The land was mine, the block of channelized, neglected urban creek, and the property itself, its river-bench-gravely soil scraped and “enriched” with industrial leavings, and then abandoned to invasive weeds. 

As his hands shaped and set brick and stone, steel and glass and wood; mine dug and weeded, planted and watered, nurturing soil and plants.

So while he is gone, his body and spirit cycling on to whatever is next, and I am moving away, there is a sense in which the twining of our lives with that physical place, our sweat and cells, the effort and lessons and dreams, the love we put into soil and stone, will remain. 

The we that was–a “we” that included Molly and her time in Salida–continues in the way that blighted chunk of land and creek now flourishes, green and healthy, home to songbirds and pollinators, browsing deer, mayflies and muskrats. In the buildings that rise from the soil, sturdy and cozy, designed to shelter many generations of families and stories. 

And the “I” that is, me, this Woman Alone at sixty, now moves on to the next chapter of her life in a new place, a landscape that has held my heart since I can remember first using the word home.

Northwest Wyoming calls. I feel the pull in my cells and synapses, in my heart. 

Five years today. As I sit in the sun in a cozy casita in Santa Fe near the end of an astonishingly productive writing fellowship at the Women’s International Study Center, I am grateful for the gift of this month-long time to simply relax and write. It is exactly what I needed right now. 

The sun-splashed window seat where I read and write…

Grateful for the five years it has taken me to absorb the wallop to the heart of losing Richard. For the 29 years we had to love each other before that. 

And now, I believe I truly am ready to move on. 

Wednesday, I drive back to Colorado; come late January, I’ll be home in Cody again after decades away. 

Richard and his beloved Salida, the valley and the peaks, our restored industrial property, will come along with me. Not in the physical sense of course. In the form of memories, of singing muscles and sweat, of frustration, inspiration and the joy of seeing the buildings, land and creek revive. As love. 

Those years are part of the person I know as me, imbuing my heart, mind and spirit, and also my muscles, synapses and bone. And–this shouldn’t surprise me, but I hadn’t expected it–urging me to look for new opportunities, to embrace the twists and turns in the path ahead. 

Five years, and I know it is time to go. To whatever’s around the next bend. 

Thanks for walking with me on this journey. Bless you all!

Photo by Santa Fe photographer Robert Muller, who understands light and shadow, and has more patience than I do! 

Road Trip: Fear and Traveling Alone

In the past twelve days since I pulled Red out of the garage on October 1st to head south to Silver City and the Southwest Festival of the Written Word, I’ve driven nearly 2,500 miles, presented at two writing conferences, seen some gorgeous country, met inspiring writers, and gotten to hang out with dear friends. (The photo above is Crater Lake at dawn seen from the historic lodge at the South Rim, where I was two nights ago. Now I’m on the Oregon Coast at Yachats.)

Along the way and over the miles, I’ve also done a lot of thinking about my work. This morning, I finally could see MEADOW, the next book, clearly enough to begin drafting a book proposal, which was a great relief.

(Having a book rattle around in your head but not being able to conceive it clearly is kind of like being tapada, which can be translated as ‘blocked.’ In a particularly well, personal way that’s not at all pleasant.)

I’ve also realized and accepted some important things about myself and this unlooked-for solo life. The biggest came on the second day of the westward leg of this road-trip, when I stopped at Three Island Crossing State Park on the Snake River in southern Idaho. I had driven six hours already that day, coming nearly 400 miles from Price, Utah, and was headed on to Boise for the night, a destination I had calculated would leave me with a reasonable drive to Redmond, Oregon, the next day, the site of this year’s Women Writing the West Conference

I stopped at Three Island out of sentiment. On The Big Trip, the belated honeymoon Richard and I took ten weeks before he died in 2011, when we (actually I, since the glioblastoma in his right brain no longer allowed Richard to drive) drove a 4,000-mile route to follow the Pacific Coast from Washington to Southern California, we stopped at Three Island Crossing for a picnic one hot September day. 

Although Richard’s right brain was crippled by the tumor and his body swollen from high doses of steroids, he was happy to be with me, happy to be on the road, happy to be alive. “I’m a lucky guy,” he said right after I shot the photo below. 

Richard at Three Island Crossing, arms upraised in his habitual expression of joy, September 10, 2011

It’s not that he was fooling himself–he knew his life wouldn’t last long. He was just determined to enjoy it while he could. So he did. 

When I exited I-84 last Tuesday late afternoon and wound my way through the tiny town of Glenns Ferry and out to the state park, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel. I paid the entrance fee, drove past the campground and the new Oregon Trail Interpretive Center (closed by the time I got to the park that day), and parked at the exact same table in the now-deserted picnic ground at the edge of the Snake River. 

For a moment, I sat without moving. My heart whimpered, but then the view of the river, the shade of the big trees and the peace of the place soothed me. I got out, walked to the picnic table, laid my hand on it and repeated something I say every night to Richard’s spirit, “Thanks for being you and loving me.”

Then I wandered to the river’s edge and idly watched a Clark’s Grebe riding the current until it arced forward, long neck curving gracefully, to dive under the surface for a fish. 

When I turned back to Red, I spotted the cluster of tiny cabins in the shade by the edge of the picnic ground. Richard and I had considered staying at one of the cabins. The porches with swings facing the river looked awfully inviting. But by then, as he said, “my bladder doesn’t always communicate with my brain,” so a night in a cabin with no plumbing was just not possible. 

Last Tuesday night, I had an impulse to stay the night in that peaceful spot as a sort of tribute to Richard and me and all we shared. That would add a long hour to the next day’s drive, but what the heck, I thought. If they were still available for the season, I’d do it. 

Idaho State Parks photo

They were, so I did. I travel ready to camp, so it was easy to transfer my sleeping bag, water bottles, picnic basket and camp stove to the little cabin. 

I spent the evening listening to ducks gabble from the river, fish jump, grebes chuckle, blackbirds chatter, flickers call, and sandhill cranes “Khrrrr! Khrrrr!” from the distance as they migrated south high overhead.

Snake River at dusk, Three Island Crossing State Park

As the sunset faded and the great-horned owls took over from the daytime birds, a fishing skiff puttered by in the river. Voices drifted downhill from the campground, but I had the picnic ground, cabins and the riverside all to myself. I rocked on the creaking porch swing, the travel-stress melting away. 

A multitude of stars began to appear in the kind of darkness only found a long ways from cities. I identifed constellations, planets and more. 

And then my fears crowded in. I went inside the cabin and turned on the light, which I realized shone like a beacon, proclaiming for all to know that it was occupied. By me, alone. 

What if someone came down the deserted park road to cause trouble? I worried. The park staff had gone home for the night, the campground was too far away. I was a target there alone, and the cell phone service was questionable. What would I do? Where would I go? What if someone vandalized Red in the night? How would I find help? 

(I have a very vivid imagination.)

Once I had Richard’s solid form to comfort me. Now I don’t. I locked the cabin door, found my flashlight and set it by the bed, turned off the light and crawled into my sleeping bag. 

And then I did something I’ve never done before. I embraced the stream of fears, gave each thorough consideration and thought about what I’d do. I realized that I’ll always have a vivid imagination; I’ll always have fears. It’s just part of who I am, a skinny, freckled gabacha nearing sixty. 

Me on a solo ramble up the Pacific Crest Trail yesterday morning

I’ll also (I hope) always be the kind of person who doesn’t hestitate to take off on a solo road trip, to camp alone. The fears don’t have to keep me from reveling in the time out on the road, away from other human beings; the time in the tonic of the wild on my own. 

The owls continued their soft duet. A big fish splashed from the river. The night air flowed in cool and moist through the window screens. 

I got up and checked to make sure Red was locked. I looked at the night sky and breathed in awe at the river of the Milky Way pouring from black horizon to horizon. 

And I went back inside and slept soundly. At home on my own, fears and all.

The Snake River at Three Island Crossings State Park.


Clothes: Shelter for Woman Alone

I live in a small house (725 square feet) that I helped design and build, approving every detail. It is wholly my house, the first one I’ve ever had designed just for me.

Even my clothes closet is small. Although it takes up one wall of my bedroom, it measures just an inch shy of two feet deep and six feet, three inches wide, which equals just over 12 square feet of floor space–no walk-in closet, this one. My dresser, a re-purposed set of cherry wood bookshelves from the big house, just fits inside. 

I like clothes. No, I’ll be honest, I love clothes. I have an affection for fabric and cut, for drape and detail, for the way a great outfit can make me feel invincible, and how the swish of a skirt or the fit of a pair of jeans makes me smile simply because it’s fun to wear them. 

I live in a small house by choice–I prefer small spaces. If designed well, they feel comfortable, nest-like.

My late love, Richard, preferred expansive spaces; he delighted in entertaining, the more people the better. In the house he designed and built for us, which was almost exactly four times the size of this one, my office was by far the smallest room. It was my hide-out. 

My office at Terraphilia, the big house. 

I enjoyed the big house. But when it came time for me to build just for me, building small seemed sustainable to me on all sorts of levels, including use of resources (I used as many repurposed and recycled materials as possible), energy use, and conservation of cash.

The latter is especially important, because as a freelance writer and restorer of nature, I don’t earn much. I could probably make a better living as a greeter at Walmart. Except that I wouldn’t last half an hour–I couldn’t abide either the corporate culture or the prevalence of plastic items.

I’ve done pretty well at conserving my cash in the nearly four years since Richard died. I have a budget, and I’m good about sticking to it–it’s not really a hardship, because in general, what makes me happy doesn’t involve spending much money. 

Except clothes. 

Jeans, jersey, rayon, lace, silk–all in my closet…

I’ve bought what for me is a lot of clothes in the past four years. Most of them I haven’t kept–they’ve been gifted to friends or family, been consigned at a local shop, or returned to the store if unworn. I’m slowly building a small wardrobe that really suits me, but it’s taken a lot of experimentation to get there. 

That’s frustrated the frugal part of me. On the surface, I have good reasons: All through Richard’s brain cancer journey and my mom’s death in the same year Richard died, I didn’t buy clothes. Then there were two years of spending nights and weekends on finish carpentry and other building and landscaping work, which tends to be hard even on the most serviceable of jeans, t-shirts and hoodies. 

And then there’s the fact that my taste in clothes has changed since I was half of a pair who happily lived in each other’s pockets, held hands wherever we went, and often inadvertently picked clothes in similar colors.

All of that is logical. But it doesn’t completely explain why I couldn’t rein in my clothes-buying.

Last week, my friend Kerry Nelson, owner of Ploughboy Local Market, gave me a gift certificate to my favorite local clothing store for my birthday. (The store, Yolo, happens to be owned by another friend and former neighbor, Loni Walton.) 

I held onto that gift certificate for exactly 24 hours. As I was walking home with the drapy bamboo rayon t-shirt (black, because black goes with everything) and fabulously swishy organic cotton and Lycra skirt to go with it, I realized why I’ve had this need for clothes. 

They’re my shield in a world that was torn wide open the morning of November 27, 2011, when the love of my life and my companion of 29 years died. Richard was my buffer in many ways. He was not only physically larger than I am (6 feet tall and a well-muscled 180 pounds), he was also gregarious where I am not by nature (I can be, but it’s learned behavior–although I love people, en masse, they wear me out). 

Now I’m Woman Alone. Without Richard’s comforting bulk to insulate me, I feel naked. Clothes serve as my shelter, my bulwark against the constant stimulation of people. 

Once I saw that, I also knew that I was done buying new clothes. I have what I need, and I like what I have.

And tonight, as I watch Earth’s shadow slowly darken the brilliant face of the harvest moon out my kitchen window, I am struck by how happy I am. Perhaps it took a total eclipse of the moon to let me see that. 

Out of darkness comes light–if we’re lucky, patient and paying attention. I know the truth of that from the experience of losing Richard. And tonight, the dance of the earth and its moon remind me.