Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Out of Place

Some of what follows may strike readers as self-pitying, heartless, and/or depressing. As always and as forewarned, feel free to be appalled. Or just skip ahead to the cutesy nature description paragraph.

Looking through the ten remaining boxes of my life stored in a damp cellar, acquiring the sick smell of disuse and decay, I found my copy of Bart Sutter's Cold Comfort about life in Duluth, and unsure whether it would bring pain or joy, tears or smiles, lost resignation or renewed desire, knew only that I had to read it again now.

I'm trapped on an almost completely unassisted death watch for which I did not volunteer and feel unequal to, frequently woken and always tense for the calling of my name for my next chore. The man now has 22 more years than pounds but continues to have me move him back and forth between bed and chair. Fortunately, he spends most of his time in either location asleep because when awake, he says things like, "Put that window shade up another quarter inch" or wakes me in the middle of the night to ask how many cans of Coke are in the refrigerator, or has me perform the many compulsive behaviors he no longer has the energy to do himself.

This is what modern medicine, industrial civilization, the overvaluation of human life, and the attempt to escape death and nature has brought us. Pointless existence. Overpopulation. Depleted and destroyed "resources". Let us lay where we drop to feed the crows and vultures. Wrap us up in a canoe and float us on our way. Leave us in a pretty place with a blanket and a few meaningful objects. Tear down the buildings and let the weather and the predators take the weakest and the slowest. Choose quality over quantity.

I escape the physical shell of my prison for a few hours a day, getting outside in any weather, but seldom fully appreciating the woods or river I walk through or beside, feet bleeding in my boots as I doggedly try to stomp off my frustration and be anywhere else. What I have noticed: many squirrel tracks creating a trail back and forth across the snowy frozen surface of a river branch, presumably between home and food source, but maybe a couple neighbors visiting and wondering when breeding season will finally get here. Below a dam, branches of shrubs overhanging the water, with thin glassy coatings of spray forming on them individually, then merging, creating hanging buckets of ice which swing heavily when a new wave hits. A flock of robins in a snowstorm. Also, cardinals in larger numbers than I'd gotten used to seeing in Minnesota. And the same feral cat on two occasions, before and after the snow, seeming none the worse yet for the new background which makes him so much more visible. And, just yesterday, I managed to slow my feet and take a deep breath and follow a trail new to me where I found four ducks on a stream of snow and ice and flowing water, beneath low trees and fallen branches, small and hidden and as beautiful as any winter scene to be seen.

From the book's introduction, "I decided place was more important than employment." Yes. "Those first few weeks in Duluth, I was euphoric." Check. Make it years. "Something strange was happening. I seemed to be happy here, even though I had gradually grown to believe that happiness was a shallow emotion reserved for people who lacked brains." True for me also, but not brains, perhaps perspective, or more than narrow self-interest. As I wrote to a friend recently regarding how humans have treated what I value most in the world, I can't forgive us, or pretend that the pursuit of my own happiness is more important. "As dark as those days were, I still wanted, every day, to see what the light looked like on Lake Superior." I still do, in these dark days, 1360 miles away. I settle for checking Canal Cam. I saw a photo recently of the Lake steaming, and felt a shiver of more than cold. "This place, which had drawn me back to it with magnetic force all my life, pulled me through." I feel the draw, I need the pull.

I applied for spring employment at a National Park which I think is extremely unlikely because the words "credit report" appeared in the small print and those things don't come with the 30 year history of excellent credit reports. I'm now exploring the possibility of a room and board (vegetarian!) in exchange for part-time work opportunity, which I think could be very good for me in several ways personally as well as making connections and gaining experience for possible future opportunities. But that ideally wouldn't begin until September and I wonder how to get from now to then with no income and dwindling cash. Duluth calls again--I hear it's nice there in the summer, doesn't snow too often, lots of wild spots to sleep, berries to eat. And falcon nestling season is just a few months away. I recently found this video shot in our falcon viewing park--you can catch the brief sight and sound of greentangle in naturalist mode at the 40 second mark. It was good to be back there for a few minutes.


Woodswalker said...

Sorry to hear your situation is so onerous. I worked with Hospice for 15 years and so know first-hand how frustrating a long-drawn-out dying can be to those who are the caregivers. By the way, do you have Hospice support? It can provide quite a bit of relief. To everybody concerned. Good luck with everything.

Tracy Habenicht said...

I'm sorry things aren't going well. That is a beautifully written piece, though.

greentangle said...

Thanks, Tracy, I debated whether to post it since it of course only tells part of the story, but I did like parts of the writing myself.

WW, I learned later yesterday that there will be a lot more visiting nurse/aide hours coming which will be good for him physically though he's going to hate it. We're also waiting for an x-ray result which could change everything. And my best friend here is actually a Hospice social worker and we've talked a lot; it's really the sleep disruption which is toughest for me--I'm hoping to get a couple days and nights away soon. Thanks for your thoughts.

Stephanie E. said...

I second Tracy's comments. Beautiful-sad. Sending virtual hugs.

greentangle said...

Thanks, Stephanie. Hey, I've eaten a couple times at Garden Grille, the Pawtucket restaurant I first learned of on your old blog. The Indian restaurant next door to it is very good also and has a vegan buffet on Saturdays.

greentangle said...

Well, duh, meant to include the name so you could look up the menu--Rasoi.

Bill said...

This is a most difficult situation you find yourself in. Please be assured that there is a special place in the cosmos for those who take care of the dying, care for the universe, and tred lightly during their lives. From what I can tell you fit all three.

greentangle said...

Thanks, Bill, that's kind of you to say.