A Progress Report

Transitions

Transitons. Transitions. Transitions. They keep piling on, and it is hard to catch a breath.  Starting with happy ones: our fifth and sixth grandchildren are on the way. The fifth child in one family and the first in the other are both due in late summer.

In more happy news, our youngest took a new job with greater career potential and then decided to move house in order to shorten the commute. It’s a seller’s market, and their house sold quickly.

Then, an unhappy transition. Nancy’s mother passed away  just before Easter. It was a blessedly short illness, just eighteen days from diagnosis until the end. Time enough for appropriate goodbyes to be said, short enough so that agonies were not prolonged. 

Just this past week, Nancy’s father decided the time had come to move into an independent living facility. It is a transition not entirely resulting from his wife’s death—we had all known that the time was approaching for both of them. But not unrelated either—her parents had remained backstops for each other, a level of safety net that her death took away. Moving to a facility is not a milestone we typically think to celebrate. But I do celebrate that he took the decision on his own rather than being forced by some type of emergency and that he now has a deeper safety net and a level of social engagement not available when living alone in an apartment.

Watching (and walking with) my own parents in their last years, plus accompanying Nancy as she goes through the process with her parents, has led me to ponder how I will make that journey when my time comes. Each of our parents has had moments of graceful acceptance and moments of stubborn denial as the boundaries of what is possible have shrunk with age. How will I respond? Will I “rage against the dying of the light?” Or will I let go of my ego’s need to achieve and control? I am no scholar on the topic, but it seems that multiple wisdom traditions describe this letting go as an essential  stage of a life well lived—an emptying in order to be filled with something greater. In her wise book, Old Age: Journey into Simplicity, Helen M. Luke draws from classic literature (The Odyssey, King Lear, The Tempest, Little Gidding) examples of “growing into old age.” As with all growth, painful and rewarding.

Moving, Moving, Moving

You might have caught on that some of these transitions necessitate the moving of persons and stuff. Nancy’s father moving from his apartment into the facility. The disposition of all the “stuff” that does not go with him. 

As to the kids, the ones moving in order to shorten a commute, they are both sellers and buyers. A seller’s market it is, a buyer’s it is not. They are still searching for a new house. And they just agreed with their buyer to move up the closing date on their old one. That means—Oops!—vacating this weekend, putting most of their possessions into storage, and moving in with parents. Us. 

As I am writing, Nancy’s dad’s decision is less than a week old, and we have just received four day’s notice regarding our new house guests. Can you spell, busy?

Nature at Neverdone

Neverdone is the tongue-in-cheek name I have given this place we bought almost five years ago. We are for the moment at a point of stasis on construction projects. But the rescue of our two acres from invasive plants and its restoration into something like a native wildlife habitat is an ongoing and never-ending endeavor. A brief update.

Frog Pond with Iris

 

Nancy’s frog pond is a living, breathing thing of beauty—teeming with frogs at all stages of development, dragon flies, healthy aquatic plants, even a predacious diving beetle!

Tadpoles

 

We are continuing our experiment of smothering weeds under black plastic for a year, then sowing native wildflowers. Strip #1 is in its second year of flower, currently yellow with Blackeyed Susan and coreopsis. Strip #2 is in its first year, blooming blue and pink with cornflower, tinted brown with ripening wheat. (I wonder if the threshing unit on the combine was malfunctioning when our straw was baled. Never have I seen such a crop of wheat from bales of straw!) Strip #3 (it will be our last) is under plastic until fall. We are happy so far with the experiment, but the ground ivy is already creeping back into Strip #1. Can we keep it in check with hand weeding? Perhaps, if we can stay healthy (Nancy lost a couple of weeks to Covid) and get beyond this flurry of moving.

Meadow Strips #1 (background) and #2 (foreground)

 

In other parts of “the estate,” our war on invasives is a see-saw battle with no clear winner. I had thought we were winning against the oriental stiltgrass: A year ago, in some areas where we had pulled or scythed it down for two successive seasons, native violets seemed to have reclaimed their habitat. But this year, the stiltgrass has returned with a vengence, smothering the violets. Some was already knee high when I took the string trimmer to it earlier this week. The oriental bittersweet vines (that modifier, “oriental,” seems to herald trouble when applied to plant life in East Tennessee) that I pulled or poisoned last year seem to have become Hydra, their underground root systems pushing up new vines seven-fold. As to English ivy, we are holding our own, just barely. When one troublemaker seems in retreat, another surges ahead. I can almost hear a race announcer, “Italian Arum is fading in the stretch, but Air Potato is coming on strong.”

Our late winter hard freeze cut into the redbud and dogwood blossoms this year, but the spring show of azalea and rhododendron was spectacular. Whether by design or happy accident, the mix that we inherited have staggered bloom times. One or two or three shrubs will be in glorious color for a few days, then as they fade another set will open up, so that the azalea/rhody season lasts for a couple of months. I had thought the show was over for the year when some large rhododendron that had not shown much in years past revealed themselves as late bloomers whose white-to-pale pink blooms extended the season into late June.  Now the hydrangeas are taking over, and the show continues. 

Our wildlife predator mix is changing. For the first few years, we frequently sighted barred owl and red-shouldered hawk. As recently as a year ago, the late winter/early spring air was filled with barred owl mating call and response. This year, nothing. Nancy may have heard an owl one night. I may have spotted one in flight through the woods. I heard a hawk just last week, but it was the first all year. Could their absence be related to the increasing sightings of coyote and (for the first time) red fox? From the number of chipmunk I see running about, there appears no shortage of prey for all. 

 

That’s our brief report from the frontlines. Back to packing.

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