This morning the thermometer read 44 degrees (that’s Fahrenheit, not Celsius!) before dawn, and the sun rose so far to the south that it took the better part of an hour before its slanting rays of light reached us in the valley bottom. It feels like fall, even though the autumnal equinox is still almost a month away.
It looks like fall in the yard and garden, too. The leaves on the tomatoes, cucumbers, and oriental eggplant in our
kitchen garden are already crisping at the edges from the cool nights. (Not that the tomato plants have stopped their headlong rush to reproduce and take over the garden, as you can see in the photo above.) The annual sunflowers, which I allow to flourish pretty much wherever the birds “plant” them, are blooming in eye-catching yellow heads all over the yard, along with wild purple aster and fleabane, much to the delight of the seed-gathering American goldfinches and their cousins, the siskins.
The annual sunflowers and purple fleabane in the photo above, along with Indian ricegrass and some late pink beeplant, are blooming in
front of our old tin garden shed, which in its previous life was where the pumps and valves lived that conveyed oil from railroad tanker cars into the
above-ground oil tanks that once lived where our kitchen garden now
grows. The shed will eventually become Richard’s sauna as part of our
“re-purposing” and restoration of this formerly blighted industrial property.
Fall is my favorite season, a time when life in the High Desert winds down from the frenzied rush of summer and prepares to weather winter. The light even seems to slow down, sunrises and sunsets lingering in slanting beams of golden rays. Migratory birds stop by in waves of chattering lives and then move on south or downhill, resident wildlife tank up on calories in advance of reduced activity (and reduced food supplies) for winter. Plants begin to shut down, stopping production of green cholorphyll, their principal food-production pigment, and as the green leaches from their tissues, the brilliant red, orange, and gold shades of the pigments produced with summer’s stored sugars are revealed. In fall, the world around me seems gradually stripped to its essence, leaving behind what can endure until spring returns.
The brilliant scarlet salvia and pink verbena that the hummingbirds delight in drinking from in the pots on our front porch in the photo above won’t survive the first hard frosts (but the hummingbirds will be long gone by then too, wintering in tropical climes with nectar- and pollen-producing flowers in their own abundance). The scarlet gilia, desert Indian paintbrush, Mexican hat, and native grasses in our dryland meadow front yard will endure, waiting out winter by living on in the soil, their roots and root crowns protected from freezing by that natural insulation. They’ll sprout again after next spring’s wet snows melt, waking them for another year in time to bloom for the returning hummingbirds.
I have this odd sense that Richard and I are being stripped to our essences too, all of our unnecessary habits, behaviors and preoccupations honed by this journey with brain cancer as if to prepare us for–what? Some work ahead that will call on who we are at heart and spirit, perhaps. It’s a curious sense, and hard to articulate in words, a sense that comes from deep within, beyond where language rules. My Scots Gran used to call that sort of sense her inner eye, and that seems like as a good a description as any. What it means, I cannot quite see, either literally or metaphorically.
As for Richard, he’s gradually mending from the trauma of having much of his right temporal lobe removed. His vision is still skewed, but it troubles him a tiny bit less each day. He still sleeps a lot, but his strength is returning: today he carried a 30-pound box of organic Colorado peaches home from Ploughboy, the Local Food grocery store across the way. Yesterday he pulled weeds in the shop yard. He’s been meditating each day, a healing activity for his brain, and he spends some time visualizing gradual, steady improvement with the idea of being able to return to sculpture again before too long. (In the photo above, shot this evening, you can see his beautiful smile was undamaged by the surgery. The staples adorning his head are holding together the backwards-question-mark-shaped incision from the lobectomy, and if all goes well, will be removed tomorrow.)
As he mends, I am able to return to my writing, which is the best medicine for me. The journey ahead isn’t clear, especially since my mother was diagnosed last week with the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. As she said tartly on the phone tonight, “I’m not gone yet.” So true: she is, as I told her in reply, a bright, lively, capable person. Someone I love, even when she makes me nuts. She is most definitely not gone yet–only sometimes, and then she returns. Her path and that of my dad, who is now her caregiver, is not clear. But we’ll do our best to help them walk it with love, respect and care, holding hands as they invariably do.
Richard and I will be holding hands, too.