Saturday, April 14, 2012

A Food Chain State of Mind (1,001: 39, maybe?)

When Dad was in his 70s, his robust physicality went south with a bang.  World War II shrapnel and years on construction jobs contributed to his chronic back problems.  Persistent nasal polyps required repeated and painful surgery.  He was diagnosed with prostate cancer, but elected to not have surgery;  he successfully co-existed with that particular predator on his body for over a decade.  And about the same time as all these other battles were occurring, he had heart surgery--which fortunately pre-empted a heart attack.  A physical man his whole life, he was now looking mortality in the eye. Again.  The facedown isn't pretty. Betty Davis is credited with the apt observation:  "Old age isn't for sissies."

Dad was no sissy.  He was fostered out at 9 years old, when he lost his mother, to a succession of strangers as a farm hand.    Some of them were good people he kept in touch with his whole life.  Some were abusive.  He signed up for Civilian Conservation Corps at 15 (illegally using his brothers SS  number, which caused a lifetime of problems for his brother) and again lived far from home, working in the outdoors.  He was a Marine in the Central Pacific during WW2.  He learned early and often that life is not for the faint-hearted. 

He knew how to stick.  But brave or not, watching his body betray him understandably got him down.  Going away from the world might be sudden; his was a slow, getting-to-know-you kind of going. 

So we, his family, got to know the going of him slowly, also.  I began to face his mortality, and my own, one day when he was 78 or so (he lived to be 89).  Dad was sitting in His Chair in the living room.  I walked by.  He was looking out the window towards the yard and the trees and the road.  I said how you doing Dad, and headed out the door without expecting an answer.  But he surprised me with an answer.  And not with a cheerful "Oh, you know, just thinking of a good story,"  or a teflon "Just fine, PatsyAnna." Nope, he threw me a Philosophical Curve. He gave me An Answer.

"Well, you know, I was just thinking." 

I waited.  He was still looking out the window. 

He said,"Sometimes I get tired of all this stuff, all this sickness.  Sometimes I'd like to get up out of this chair and go out in the woods, and just never come back.  Get away from all this."  And then he looked me in the eye, as though daring me to understand what he was saying.  Or maybe daring, for a moment, to feel a little self-pity.  Being an orphan and a Marine, he was never a complainer.

I was surprised by the words. More than that, I was afraid that he was human, and not a Marine/ God, and that I was going to have to deal with that revelation, right then.  I was suddenly afraid he would talk about dying.  I was suddenly afraid he would one day die.  While I was stumbling over these undeciphered thoughts, he answered himself.

 "But I don't," he said.  "I stay right here."   And looked back out the window.  Towards the trees.

I am woefully inadequate at understanding many things.  But even then, I understood a little.   All of his life he was a farmer, a construction worker, a soldier, a hunter.  In the woods, in his head, he still had weapons.  He could fight back at Something, or go down trying.  As it was, in his chair, he was going down in pieces, without any ammo except his own endurance.  And the redoubtable ammo of Mom--the main reason he hadn't gotten up and run off into the woods years ago. 

Looking back, looking for my own understanding, I have an idea what he was saying, and why that small conversation hasn't left me. 

Not to be gruesome, but: I have always wanted to die under a tree, alone, and decompose into the ground and tree roots. Thinking of this gives me great comfort. I do not want to be shot full of chemicals and confined to a slowly decomposing boxed-in area.  Since I live in the 'burbs, and currently there are no suitable candidate trees within my grasp, with requisite isolation, I shall settle for cremation.  We all have our druthers.

One of my friends recently mentioned going off in the woods to hunt when he was ready to die (we have wide reaching conversations, sure). Whoah, I thought.  Is this a trend?  I counted: Dad, me, Indians in old movies, all of the dogs I've ever loved, the friend who wanted to go to Alaska and die on a glacier (although people have offered him their freezer for free); all want/ ed to die alone and en terre.  This death-wish pattern of "hunting" and "facing nature" led my facile and morbid line of thought to "predator and prey."  And therein lies the thought/ philosophy/ spiritual truth which I'm slowly getting to:  death is the ultimate predator.  As long as we live, we are debiting the food bank.  We aren't being prey.  However, millennia of DNA has stamped us with instinct to give back to the (ok, the Lion King said it with music)  Circle of Life.  When we die, primal instinct is to pay up. If we, or our ancestors, survived all the other predators that wanted to debit us, the only predator left is: dirt. 

I like this picture, because I understand it.  I realize my brilliant thought is not new.  I just never thought of it before.  Some part of us, depending on how close we feel to dirt to begin with, seeks the deeply spiritual return to dust, so some other life--any life--can debit us. "I decompose, therefore I regenerate," to badly paraphrase DesCartes, and the Resurrection Myths of several religions..  Or as My Hero Carl Sagan posited convincingly in Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, all life on Earth began with the dust of distant stars, drifting down with the necessary ingredients for complex protein development--"dust to dust" as our own Blows in the Wind back into the atmosphere, maybe to become the twinkle in some future little star's eye. 

We generally kill our food at Kroger's or MacDonald's or the like, and deny the Kill or Be Killed part as much as possible.  Yet the memory remains.  All the pounds of hamburger, or lettuce, remain within us, wanting back their pound of flesh, literally.  We  therefore (she reasons) want to go into the woods and do our instinctive part in the cosmic plan.  Become compost.

If you've read this far, maybe you are wondering if I'm weird.  Or maybe you are as old as me, or (like me) prepping for a graceful exit somewhere down the road.  I feel far more comforted by the thought of dancing with the earthworms--as a beautiful song whose name I cannot remember goes, but I heard it sung by Claudia Schmidt and its on one of her CDs--than by eternally existing in a place with wings and light and pure thoughts.  I only think this way sometimes; a lot of the time I'm thinking about other stuff, really.

But I'm always trying to understand how to face my own mortality with courage and peace.  Buddha and I have this in common, I think, if nothing else.  In the context of my experience, Dirt as Payback works for me.  I trust I have some time to consider it further.

And Dad, I'm glad you didn't run off.  You have taught me to Stay.  Thanks.

Spot Patch #2: Losing It (1001: 88, randomly)

Right on, Home Girl (thanks for the comment on the last post).  Losing the hair is, beyond Going Gray, another Reality Hit of surviving past youth.   Kiss luxurious and sexually-appealing locks "Goodbye."  Hair is now a signal of Grit, Gray, and Gone--all of which marks us as Survivors, which is a good thing.  It's part of the gap in self-image between youthful sexuality and senior sexualtiy; as a senior, gender appeal tends to pool towards the ability to move freely about, to stay clean and groomed, to have a good sense of humor, and maturity.   It's okay that the rules change, as long as I can figure out the rules.  I like to stay ahead of the game, and it makes me feel pretty good to push past into the Challenge Game. 

Guys who lose hair, especially young men, don't like it much.  However, in the decades since TV actor Telly Savalas projected Kojak-the-hard-boiled-detective as an overweight and unconventional sex image, things have changed.  Always a good thing.  Now, its common to see hot younger guys who buff up and shave down and generally decorate the landscape in a good way.  Coming from a distinctly military and conservative clutch of male friends, relatives, and neighbors in my youth, I see shaved male heads as Drill Sergeant Hot-ness, regardless of age.  (Have I mentioned Sean Connery?  Too often?)  Any guy who puts his hair loss out there like a badge shows cojones.  It is, after all, a testosterone thing to lose hair: male pattern baldness just shows up the gender difference, like spikes on a woman (did you read the Yahoo article on Shoe Rage, btw?  Women have begun to use designer spikes to attack men on the streets.  Bizarre but very interesting social development.).

Women losing hair, alas, is still developing as socially appealing.  I am watching the thin patch on the back of my head with resignation, not to mention noting the general all-over thinning reflected in my part.  Sigh.  I recall a gorgeous older woman I used to teach with, who shaved her hair and looked exotic.  She was also in great shape, which I think had a lot to do with the total look. 

No 2 ways about it, being in good shape is key to sex appeal at any age.  Dammit.  Work, work, work.  And facing the changes our body springs on us is equally appealing: it says we can cope, we are survivors, we keep on trying.  Nothing tops the appeal, respect, and honor due to someone who survives.

If I lose ten pounds, and firm up the triceps, I'll consider shaving off that hard-earned gray thats growing out.  Or trimming it down to a few wiry inches, maybe....

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Patch Job #1 : What to do with the Hair 1001:36

I've mucked around with "going gray" for a few years now.  My favorite hairstylist assured me for a long time that I did NOT want to go gray, because I was too young, even though I qualify for Senior discounts in some places.   I began to suspect that she might have vested interested in my pricey layered hair dyeing.  That unkind thought has been laid to rest, however, because as she noted the other day while clipping me up:  "youre past the point of no return now."  My hair has been "growing out" long enough that it actually looks more salt-and-pepper than it does brass-ends-of-old-dye jobs.   A relief.  I've commited and am through the looking-glass. Now, about the other side....

I like my salt-and-pepper.  Many people have said "oh it makes a woman look so old when she goes gray."  Well its true that it looks old, but on the other hand its way easier to deal with, and cheaper than, monthly dye jobs.  And it encourages me to accept my ageing, I hope, a little more gracefully when I look at it every day in such a succint form.  A voice in the wilderness for those following this path:  gray hair doesn't look nearly as old as overweight and out of shape does, nor as much as "feeling" old does.  State of health, state of mind--these override hair color.

Kudos to the classy women with gray hair, stylishly dressed and groomed, and just as distinguished as some old men look--Sean Connery being a classic example of Great and Gray.  Gray hair is very cool, hard-earned (for some of us, although some get it the easy way in their 20s), and is a beautiful or handsome that sits easily past the point of no return of youth, procreation.  Gray hair doesn't advertise breeding potential.  Nope, we're too tired to breed, just let us think about it,  a lot's happened over the years for us to access if we can remember it.

True that gray hair is hard to handle: my naturaly curly hair has added Brillo-pad texture now that hair dye no longer soothes it into submission.  And yeah, brillo-pad gray DOES look classically "old".  However, there are oils to be had and heating rods to be applied, and an embarrassing variety  of hair spray products that lend a hand in taming. 

So what do you think?  I can always use buttressing. Or validation. 

And then there's losing hair......

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Mow, Mow, Mow 1,001: 33

I bought a Sears rotary blade mower 9 years ago.  Partly for nostalgia, partly for Green reasons.  I resolved to not pollute yard-ly (organic and edible) dandelions with gas fumes.  Nor fume the birds or vegetable garden (or me), and most surely not to fume the already-battered ozone layer. I've stuck to the rotary mower about half the time.   If I'm disabled, in a hurry, or facing a badly overgrown yard, I resort to a gas mower.

Since last evening was a truly fine spring specimen, I ventured into The Yard to see about Law and Order. 

This time of year, I am subject to Yard Frenzy.  There is dirt to be dug, stuff to be planted, thoughts to be thunk regarding The Garden.  Nothing is as wonderful as playing in The Garden. But I put garden aside for the moment; the grass looked particularly healthy, thick and long. I hauled out the rotary-blade mower, Betsy (I name all my favorite inanimate objects Betsy), and buckled down to an upper-body workout doing the May-November routine.

I love mowing. Mowing yards qualifies as a Mystic State. I get this partiality from DNA, specifically Mom.  She used to love mowing.  It was one of her escape methods from 6 people who shared her medium-sized house.  It was also part of her philosphy, dredging up dialogue with God undercover of engine noise.  Years later, Mom's decision to leave the farm and move into a town duplex came about when she realized that she--a diminutive 87-year-old--was spending the whole summer mowing the yard.  She said, "I'd mow as much as I could every day, and as soon as I got it all mowed  I'd have to start all over again."  Finally, she started out to mow one day and found that both old push-mowers had simultaneously died.  She said it was The Writing on the Wall:  her mowing days were over.

For us kids, mowing was recreational. Comparatively speaking. For childhood summers, we didn't go to camps or beaches.   That was for sissies.  Our summer season arrived when we pulled out the lawn mowers.   As able-bodied-and-available statuses changed out over my 18 years on the farm, I rotated lawn-mowing duty with 4 siblings.  It took several hours to mow the whole thing--a quarter acre--at once.  More often, we'd break it up into sections and take a day or two to spread the fun around.  We'd do the orchard ( a few fruit trees encouraging each other to survive and sometimes produce) as one section, the front and side yards as one section, and the no-man's land behind the flower garden as a section.  There were little hills and valleys throughout the mowing field. Aside from the occassional snake (Mom swore they were all copperheads and cottonmouths, because she hated snakes, but Dad said they were all just black snakes.  My brothers were adept at mowing over hapless snakes.  My sister and I ran.), and the possiblity of thrown stones blinding us, or of rusty/loosened/deadly mower blades throwing themselves at our innocent lower legs, it was not dangerous work. It was fun.

It was not fun when we hit rocks or roots hard enough to knock the blade off balance, thus necessitating a trip into town and the spending of money.  But finding the most efficient ways to navigate the mini-terrain was nice strategy.  In fact, it was meditation.  The drone of the mower, the smell of the gas, the bite of insects, sweating out every toxin our bodies could drum up, pushing and walking and singing and being all alone, while bringing peace and order to our small world. 

By the time I was old enough to mow, hand-pushed gas-powered mowers were the norm.  After all kids moved away, Mom and Dad eventually got a riding mower which Dad used.  Given the un-golf-course-like terrain of the yard, it wasn't all that effective, but that was not an issue because Mom kept doing the intricate mowing areas with her push mower.

But before the gas mower and the riding mower, the rotary blade was used.  It's clacking sound is permanently merged in my head with humid summer days and evenings.  One old wooden-handled specimen remained around the barn for decades, to trim up small areas of yard and entertain kids.

My Sears rotary-blade mower/ reincarnation requires a little more upper-body maneuvering.  It does NOT mow in nice, crisp lines with evenly and thoroughly mowed results. The results look more like goats were staked out to munch it down, clumpishly.  And it does not mulch anything, which leaves an overall yard-ly look that is not highly sought-after ( I find it interesting). BUT.  Its that soft non-definition, lack of precision, and meandering cutting-style of the rotary blade that makes it primo in my heart.  The yard looks kind of like a picture I once saw of Mark Twain's yard, minus the goats: misty, serviceable, pre-mass technology.  Friendly and faulted.

Once in a while, I'll be clickety-clacking with my mower in the tiny yard round the front of my tiny house, and some passerby will smile and wave at the old woman with the nostalgic mower.  I smile and act like I'm nearly a saint, and a paragon Eco-warrior, and we pass in the summer sunlight like descendants of the Leave-it-to-Beaver-Cleaver family.   I don't have opportunity very often to acknowledge to said passersby that its really like hauling a dinosaur around the yard, with limited performance.  But thats not whats important, anyway.  A lot of us mature folk, having survived numerous technology improvements, just love doing things without an engine: using our own power,  smelling the grass, and reliving good memories.