On this last day of 2011, I am stretched out in my comfy spot on the loveseat in my sun-warmed living room, listening to waves of chinook winds roar past. Their cadence is distinct: first a long whooshing sound as the wave of moving air approaches, growing louder and cresting in a percussive “thud!” as the leading edge hits the house, followed by a cacophony of ringing, crashing, banging, rattling and creaking, all of which diminish as the wave of air passes. Then a lull before the next chinook wave approaches.
(These warm, downslope winds are named for the Chinook Indians, who lived around the mouth of the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest. The winds are also called “snow-eaters” because they can raise the air temperature 40 or more degrees in minutes, making snow packs vanish as ours is today.)
At first the slapping waves of wind were disconcerting. I lay in bed in the starlit darkness, listening to the stream of noise and mentally reviewed the yard, garden, and courtyards. Was everything secure out there? Were my porch chairs blowing about, my raised-bed row covers coming undone?
As day came and the wind continued, I started my morning routine: turn on the gas fireplace, pad to the kitchen and measure out the organic dried fruits and grains to soak for my breakfast bowl of hot cereal, return to the bedroom to greet the day with yoga; wash, dress and eat breakfast.
By the time I got to the stretch-out-sideways-on-the-loveseat-and-soak-up-the-morning-sun part of my morning, laptop on a pillow in my lap, the chinook winds had become simply a part of the rhythm of this particular day. Not my choice, but life.
Which is, come to think of it, a good way to describe how this calendar year that is about to end feels: not my choice of events, just life.
It’s been a heck of a ride, beginning with my mom entering hospice care in January and her death at home on February 3rd, followed quickly by Richard’s brain-swelling crises and two brain surgeries in one month, and then what seemed like a promising recovery until the tumor came roaring back to destroy his right brain, leading to his death from brain cancer–also at home in hospice care–on November 27th.
A year that has been disturbing, disorienting, difficult–so much so that at points I wondered how I’d find the strength to go on, much less to do so with any measure of grace. A year that has also brought soaring moments of joy, and a lot of quiet contentment. Looking back, it’s the latter I remember most.
Times like when Richard and I were on our “Big Trip” in September–our last trip, we knew. We had stopped at Devil’s Punchbowl, a little wayside on the Oregon Coast we’ve visited before to watch the waves pound the rocky shoreline, exploding in white fountains of spray.
This time, we’d been got out stiffly and stretched. I grabbed my camera and headed for the cliff edge. Richard followed slowly, and when I turned, he had stopped, smiling.
“Listen,” he said. I did, and heard the bass “thump!” as a wave crashed into the hollows in the cliff, shaking the ground. A song sparrow warbled a few notes. The sun canted toward the horizon.
We grinned at each other, loving every bit of that moment.
So yes, this year has been disturbing, disorienting, difficult in ways I couldn’t have imagined. But like anything that weaves itself into our daily existence, the tough parts have simply become part of life. Not my choice, but life all the same. A life whose rhythm I am getting used to, just as I’ve gotten accustomed to the thrashing waves of wind rolling down our valley today.
If this year-almost-past has taught me nothing else, it’s that those waves won’t sink me. They may crash over me, but those moments of joy–the thump of the surf, the song sparrow’s sweet notes, the slanting sunlight–will bouy me, and on I’ll go.
Alone now, but not lonely. I have the whole of the living world for company–wind, song sparrows, sunsets, and all–and I intend to enjoy the miracle we call life thoroughly, just as I did when my love and I shared the rhythm of these days.