Thursday, April 28, 2011

It Would Have to be During my Century, Yes? YES! or How the Agave Plant Made me Cry

When I cannot write for a while, not only do I miss you, but I feel as if I am leaving you wondering.  I begin to experience "Blogger's guilt" a term that I just aptly came up with to describe the loyalty which I have come to feel towards my readers, including the ones whom I have become friends with, the ones who pop in only infrequently, and even the anonymous readers who have never left any comments.(I would love it if you would de-lurk for a moment just to say hello, but if not, that is okay too unless you are my long-lost aunt;))  There has been a lot of minutiae going on lately, both large and small, and whenever I sit down to write, it seems that something commands my attention and I am whisked away from my laptop in a whirlwind of sudden commotion.  This past week has been Passover for our family and while preparing our Seder for twelve or so people last week, our ceiling sprung a leak meaning NO water for most of the day until nearly the time when our Seder was supposed to begin, at which point my dear husband tore out a portion of our kitchen ceiling locating the leak and completing a good portion of the work for the plumber who then stood in my kitchen and quoted me $468.00 while I stared at him as if he had a third eye knowing that I was in serious need of a hot shower before our guests came.  His final remark, "Well, dinner smells good, anyway."  Would you like me to pack you a Tupperware along with the $468.00 that you are about to rip me off for too???  How about you pay me for the time I spent solving the issues you are having with your pre-teen children, hmmmm?  On the same day, my constant companion, our dog Becca, lost complete use of her hind legs and had to be brought to the Vet for X-rays only to find out what we had suspected all along.  A portion of her spine is no longer viable and she will never regain the use of her hind legs.  And even though we have known this has been coming on for quite some time(She is 12 and 1/2 years old), it is a very bitter pill for me to swallow.  Everything else is healthy about her and so, from now on anytime she needs to move around, be it changing positions or going outside to the bathroom, one of us must completely support her rear legs by roping a towel underneath her belly and letting her lead with her front legs.  Believe me, I am not complaining because she is still around and she is still my best bud, but it just hurts my heart to watch her lose her mobility.  We are researching different options that will make it a bit easier for me to help her move around.  I know that they make "wheelchairs" for dogs, but unfortunately, that would not be a practical solution for our old girl.  So, I do my best to anticipate her needs and she does her best to communicate them.  We have been together for so long that we communicate telepathically.  And then there was the miserable realization that I have been manipulated by someone whom I had already washed my hands of, years ago, but who managed to do it again with me as a willing volunteer this time.  If I told you who it was, you would not believe me(and it might break your heart, too), so let's just chalk this one up to my extremely soft heart and move along.  No regrets because I can never regret anything I do out of love and empathy.  Never...

But none of that is what I came here to write about today.  It just explains a bit about why I have been slightly distracted lately.  It also helps to explain my Blogger's guilt.(You never call, you never write...)  Here is what I really wanted to share with you.  Leave it to nature to put things into amazingly clear perspective.  As you know, for the past several years, we have resided more than half of the time in our beach house.  And on the corner of our lot overlooking the Pacific, there has always been a rather large cluster of prickly plants which our gardener labeled as Agave plants.  They resemble Aloe plants but the tips of their leaves contain very sharp, thorn-like edges that really hurt if you happen to brush by them by mistake.  This plant is also extremely prolific in that it produces "pups" or baby Agave plants on the paths all around it.  Instinctively, we began removing the pups because the mother plant is so extremely large that we did not want to have our yard overtaken by the little pricklers.  A couple of weeks ago, a giant, very phallic, asparagus-like stalk seemed to sprout from the center of this plant overnight.  It seemed to go from invisible to ten feet tall before we even noticed that it was there.  When my husband began to refer to it as "the penis plant"(yes, leave it to a guy;)), we decided that we not only needed to photograph it, but that we needed to research what the heck was going on with our Momma Agave plant.  And so, I began the Google search.  Turns out, there are several subspecies of Agave plants many of which make lovely ornamental additions to a western yard.  This one, however, not so much.

What I discovered about our prickly Momma plant and her pups is that she is an Americana Agave, also known as the Century Agave.  The leaves, if broken open, release a highly toxic, highly allergic type of substance which will burn skin upon contact.  This is not a rash to be messed with as it will blister and can last up to a month before healing.  We did not know this when removing the pups from the pathways.  The other thing, and this is really the point of my story, is that there is a reason that this plant is called the Century Agave.  That asparagus-looking thing in the center which none of our neighbors have ever seen before, will eventually flower and put on an amazing show for us.  BUT, after the stalk dies off, it will take the Mother plant with it and in its place will be left a huge mess that is nearly impossible to remove once dead.  It is recommended that once the flowers on the stalk begin to die off, the stalk, which is very thick and very coarse, be sawed off and removed.  That will hopefully preserve the life of the Momma Agave plant.  The interesting thing, of course, will be the removal of the stalk without having anyone come in physical contact with the inner goo.  Therein lies the fun.  One must wear protective clothing and protective goggles in order to safely handle this type of plant and even then, who knows?  Now, this is the part that fascinates me beyond comprehension.  The Century Agave only flowers once a century.  That is once every 100 years or so.  Remarkable.  Truly remarkable.  And when I stare out at this Agave plant, I cannot help but basque in the wonder that someone, 100 years ago or more, pulled that baby out of the desert and planted it right here on our bluff.  Not knowing that in 100 years, we would be sitting here looking at the very same plant as it puts on a spectacular show.  100 years.  Who knew?

Nature certainly has a way of putting a spin on how infinitely small we really are in comparison to so much of what is around us.  And as I gaze at the Momma Agave and her maturing pups, I cannot help but relate to her in so many ways.  I mean, here I am, and here are my babies ages 17, 19, 21 and almost 24.  When someone meets their children or their children's children in 100 years or so, will they somehow sense the spirit of who I once was and how those individuals made their way into this world?

Above is a picture of our yard which was taken on February 24, 2011, only eight short weeks ago.  See the Mother Agave plant in the background of the picture?  No stalk visible at all.  Now the stalk reaches way up into the sky like Jack's Beanstalk in the children's story.  Only this one took 100 years to reach its glory up toward the heavens.  And soon enough, it will be gone.  Which is why the daily stuff does not matter so much to me anymore.

Love to you.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

If I Leave Here Tomorrow

Since living a good portion of my life down by the ocean now, I notice things which might have just passed me by in the past.  My world has expanded to include things such as tidal patterns, wave heights and seabirds.  Especially seabirds.  I watch as they return each year.  These giant, graceful angels of the sky weighing as much as eight pounds with wingspans of over seven feet.  I watch as they quietly make their way past my window, silently taking count of their flock sizes and then reporting back to my husband when we speak on the phone each afternoon.  On the day that I took these photos, there were more than sixty.  In groupings of two and seven and twelve, they drifted by majestically on the balmy breezes flapping their wings only occasionally, but mostly, floating.
They floated, and I thought to myself that that must be how angels move, demanding very little effort, yet with such a purposeful presence which only something of that magnitude and importance can truly behold.  And the sky was cerulean blue surrounding them with the most beautiful backdrop on which to come home.  I wonder.  What was the space in my mind which is now reserved for seabirds, something that was so totally off of my own radar, what was it filled with before?  In the clearing, what cobwebs resided there before I could see them? Count them?  Notice them?
And the angels, of which I have not yet concretely had the pleasure of seeing before, what is standing in their spot at this particular point in my life?  Knowing that I feel them, like the seabirds who were always there but not within my own personal realm,  I accept their presence yet even squinting my hardest, it is difficult for me to imagine what they might look like.
Yet then, I suddenly have a moment of recall.  Brave, little Jack at my beach house making me promise that he could come back again next year because he loved it there so much.  And I remembered that not all angels fly or float or soar.  Sometimes if we are very, very lucky, they appear into our lives without our even noticing who they are.  Suddenly, we are counting their numbers and recognizing their faces, looking into their eyes and kissing their cheeks.  Sometimes, their lives breeze by ours without our even knowing how it might have happened.  And almost effortlessly, like a seabird floating along on a breeze, we are forever welcoming them home.  Because where we are now, we can never possibly be in the future without forever searching for them, praying for them, recognizing them, without ever again, forgetting to welcome them home.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

These are Better Days

Glorious.  To sit with my youngest Angel daughter on a Wednesday afternoon sharing a hot pot of Strawberry/Kiwi tea, our laughter softly rising in the puffs of wispy steam as we savor the simple abundance.  How can one mother be blessed with so much?
As the tea seeps languidly before us, we breathe in the fragrance of the day.  This moment, so incredibly perfect in time, imprints itself upon all of my senses and I am happy.  There is a freshness on the subtle breezes of springtime which, when mixed with the aroma from the steaming pot of tea, are intoxicating. 
We agree that we adore tea sandwiches and currant scones with clotted cream and homemade raspberry preserves and flowers which you can eat if you choose to, placed delicately upon your plate.  I watch my child enjoy.
There is such simple beauty in all of it.  It makes me feel as if I could cry.  

She asks me if we can do this once a month, a standing tea date between mother and daughter.  Delightedly, I reply YES.(And I think that I must do the same with my other three girls.  Yes, we must try.)
She lifts my camera from its place on the table and takes a picture of the view from where she sits.  The world through her eyes at that moment is lush, green and perfect.
We stop by the petting zoo to feed the Lamas carrots.  This is the same zoo that I used to take all four of my Angel Daughters to when they were little and I dressed them all alike.  I am whisked back for a precious moment.

AD4 kisses me good-bye and heads off to dance practice but the day has taken hold of me in such a way that I am not quite ready to leave, so I go for a walk.
San Juan Capistrano is one of the oldest towns in California.  220 years ago, it was home to the Indians and has evolved many times since then.  Walking around this little town is like experiencing history firsthand and I never tire of being here.
Each Wednesday afternoon, there is a Farmer's Market which hosts locally grown vegetables, fruits, flowers, locally made dressings and other delicious goodies.  There is a charming older gentleman there who sells Italian sauces, cookies, olive oils and handmade pastas.  He stops me in my tracks.  "Signora, Bella!" he calls out to me.  "You like-a the Italian food?"  "Of course!" I reply and he begins giving me a little lesson on the meaning of Italian words.  He flirts, I giggle.  I walk away with two cannolis to be shared with my honey later on.
Walking through the market, I spent some time admiring the gorgeous array of flowers.
I selected some intoxicatingly fragrant Star-Gazer Lilies and took the long way back to my car.
I lingered around The Mission which was built in 1776.  I thought about the class trips that I accompanied my daughters on to learn about its history so many blue skies ago.
The church was completed in 1797 and the wall that you can see exposed in this photo was partially destroyed by an earthquake in 1812.  There are several ghost stories surrounding the tumbling of the wall which are told until this day.  Some of my daughters have a love/hate relationship with those stories.  Others, are more intrigued by them.  I am a bit of both.
As I arrived back at my car, I noticed this license plate on the vehicle that was parked in front of me.  I thought about the "old" west, the "new" west and everything that came during the years in between.  I thought about relationships, where they began and where they are now.  I thought about how lovely it was to spend an afternoon with my youngest Angel Daughter and then to spend some time walking around a town that I have been to so many times, yet I still love it so much.  How can one woman be so lucky?

I gathered the Star-Gazers wrapped tightly in newspaper and placed them on the front seat of my car hoping that their fragrance would float in my direction.  I turned on the radio and set it to E-Street Radio so that I could listen to some of Springsteen's poetry sung in a raw, soulful voice that I never, ever tire of.  And I drove home content, so very content.  It made me feel as if I could cry.  And I just might have.


Friday, April 1, 2011

Tools and Treasures

I watched this little boy as he contemplated the waves with calm anticipation, yesterday afternoon.  I know that in some parts of the country children are pulling out their snow jackets and sleds hopeful for a possible snow day, but here in balmy California it is somewhere around eighty-plus degrees with springtime blue skies and the soft fragrances of summer on the breezes.  It was the kind of day that makes you think about flip-flops, ice-cold Coca-Cola and filmy cotton tops.  The beaches were uncrowded with small pockets of people doing what folks do when there is nothing more important to do than heading down to the ocean to appreciate the warmth of it all.  Most people do not brave the water quite yet for it is still downright chilly with winter's recent departure.  But there are the surfers and the paddleboarders and the occasional crazy people who believe it when they say, "Come on in, the water's just fine!"  I prefer to observe.
And so, as I watched this little boy head down towards the water all snug in his wetsuit and flippers, board firmly tethered to his wrist by a cord, I thought about his momma.  I thought about what we do to equip our children as they head out into life without our regular supervision.  I considered the tools with which we supply them.  Wings, flippers, our hearts, tangibly intangible things that can help them to fly or to float, depending upon the conditions.
And there he went, this little boy of ten or eleven years old, fear snuggly zipped into his wetsuit, contained in a place which would only allow his brave to seep out.  I watched as he evaluated the height of the waves coming toward him.
I watched as he allowed them to roll by, raising one flipper at a time in his efforts to venture out into the deep.  I pictured him doing this at the age of two or three, holding tightly onto the hand of his father or mother, tucking away all of the confidence, security and love which was being passed down to him from one to the other.  The tools.  The treasures.
And then the moment came when it was sink or swim.  Board held firmly in his hands, he dove into the waves, head-on.  No looking back for his parents, he had all of the tools that he needed for this challenge.
He made it past one cresting wave after another, heading out and away from the shoreline.  For a long time, I watched him.  There are no lifeguards on the beach at this time of the year.  Only a few other thinly spread out surfers unable to hear if there were any worried cries from the shore coming from someone who no longer swims in the ocean.  But as I raised my hand to shield the sun from shining too brightly in my eyes, this little boy's confidence took hold of my nerves and I once again, became nothing more than just a mere observer witnessing a moment in this little guy's journey, and mine.

I thought about my four Angel Daughters, ages 17, 19, 21 and 23 and how with each step along the way, Mark and I have made sure to provide them each with anything we might anticipate that they might need to fly or float on their journeys.  I considered the relatively short amount of time that we have as children to absorb everything we need in order to zip away the fears we must conquer and survive as young people.  I contemplated my job as a mother and what I might have forgotten to add to my own daughter's tool chests.
But as I kept my eye on this boy, I realized that whatever I have given my girls up until now, is enough.  For I have watched each one of them as they dodged the waves of life so far, and I know that they have a very strong foundation.  I know that it is safe for me to stand back a bit and observe as they each take flight because they have the tools to remain afloat.  The tools and the treasures.

As this little boy continued his search for the perfect wave, I began my walk back down the beach again.  I knew that there was somebody watching out for him at this point and in my silent prayers, I hoped that there would always be other people watching out for my girls when I am not around.  Because as parents, we do that.  Keep our eye on other people's children.  Even when it seems as if they have all of the tools that they need for themselves.  Partially to make sure, but mostly, to reassure ourselves.
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