Summer, finally


The weather has been strange this summer. In July cold fogs came down in streamers of chilling mist, and between were sudden shots of hot sun. The ferry fog horn would sound most of the morning and the island felt eerily isolated.

August has come, the weather has actually become hot; that is, of course, a relative term. By noon the temperature is around 80 and the afternoons stay in the 80’s range. I go out daily to groom my container plants, fighting biology. The plants want to make seed — that is their biological function — to stay alive long enough to reproduce. I want them to keep blooming so I snip off their fading flowers and seed pods; then they frantically bud a few more flowers. In the end I lose. Seed is made and once made the plants die. Next year new flowers will grow, either from seed or from the old stock — or both.

Jerry is now be 80. Diane and Mike had a terrific party for him on the 3rd – the very day he became 80. We were a few good friends who all knew each other well. We ate shrimp and steak and blueberry cake and ice cream and drank a lot of wine and champagne. We laughed a lot. We told stories of our youth, and some of our old age. I’m glad he is now the same age as I. He never lets me forget my 5 months of seniority.

When you are 80 you know that you don’t have many more years to enjoy life and living. You have long since fulfilled your biological imperative. People tell me I don’t look a day over 60. Well, that’s nice, but I see what isn’t immediately apparent to others. Not long ago a large bruise appeared on my inner thigh. I showed it to Jerry. He asked me how it happened. I had no idea. Don’t remember any bumps or bangs. It just came. After a while the bruise faded away. A few days later when I woke up in the morning I looked at my hand and saw that a bruise covered about a third of the back of it. Most of the time I forgot about the bruise on my inner thigh because most of the time it wasn’t visible. The one on my hand I see a hundred times a day. And it reminds me of the disease my aunt Clare died of: an autoimmune disease that destroyed the stem cells in her bone marrow that make platelets (blood clotting particles.) When she died her whole body was covered with bruises.

The other night after our daily walk Jerry told me he felt “sweaty”. I said, well it’s muggy out. He said, no, it wasn’t the weather. It was an “incident”. He took his blood pressure; it was normal. But he has had a heart attack and has 3 stents in his heart. Although he is a person of calm and even disposition, not at all prone to anxiety or sudden bursts of emotion, feeling sweaty or dizzy alarms him.

Sometimes we defy biology and pretend we can do things as we did them when we were young. Jerry finished splitting the fir and the birch that we had Mike take down. Then it had to be stacked in the woodsheds. I help with that job. We stack the wood in the back of the pickup truck, drive it up to the woodshed which is attached to my studio and unload it from the truck to the wood-bins.

Wood-bin in front of the studio

I do most of the stacking except for the logs that are too heavy for me to lift or the bit that is too high up for me to reach. The bin on the patio requires that I unload the wood from the truck into the wheelbarrow and trundle it through the gate to the little shed on the patio, then stack it there.

Patio wood-bin

It took us almost a week to move all that wood, and it seemed that every muscle and joint in my body ached. I won’t be able to do this many more years.

Patterns of cut wood

When we had finished stacking the wood the patio bin was not quite full. Jerry decided to take down a spindly (about 6 inch diameter) alder near the workshop.  It had broken sometime last winter and was leaning against other trees but still partially upright. I came around the side of the building just as the tree was slowly beginning its fall. I saw that was twisting and I quickly got under the eaves of the shop to avoid getting hit. It came crashing faster and faster down through the brush and as it landed I saw Jerry on the ground on his back using many words that I couldn’t use here. I rushed over to him and saw that the tree had taken much of the skin off the top of his head. It was a close call. He now has thick scabs on his bald head, but there was no swelling and not much bruising. The blow was glancing. If it had been a direct hit he could have been seriously injured or killed.

Every day we walk the same route, down Granger Way, along the water in front of the Granger’s house on Nugent (with a view of Mt Baker and Sisters on a clear day), up the hill to Legoe Bay Road, past the fire department, around the corner along the top of Granger Way overlooking Legoe Bay where we can check out the passing ships and ferries and, at this time of the year, the reef netters’ boats out in the bay, then back to our house just past the crest of the hill.

Granger Way used to be named Hilltop Road, but the name was changed to honor the island’s principal residents, the Grangers, a family that owns a lot of land on Lummi Island. The land my house is on was originally owned by the Grangers. Earl Granger is the family patriarch. He is almost 89 and he is dying. Every day we pass in front of his house and wonder whether the time has come. There is a parade of people there, many cars in the driveway. Grangers have come from all over the country — or at least all over the west — to pay their final respects. Three weeks ago we saw Earl out on his riding mower. Two months ago he was still rumbling his backhoe along the road, bucket precariously raised, smiling and waving to Jerry and me and the poodles. But his cancer was getting him and everyone marveled that he was still out and doing.

We have been studying history together. Every night we watch one or two of a long series of lectures on American history by the teaching company and then when we get in bed I read to Jerry from the biography of John Adams by David McCollough. We are learning a great deal about the beginnings of our country and how it developed and grew. And we are learning, as if we didn’t already know, how ephemeral life can be.

Jerry and I both know death is coming in a way that we didn’t when we were young. This morning he tells me he feels a bit jittery and not very energetic. Today, as I finish writing this post, I feel young and fit. It’s morning, my best time of day. By evening, when I am finishing cooking dinner, washing up, feeding the dogs and getting ready for the evening walk I’ll know full well that I am 80 and time is running out.

Life goes on and we feed the birds

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16 Responses to Summer, finally

  1. I’m impressed by that stack of wood. My parents (82) live in Oregon. In the last year or two they’ve hired a teen to come stack wood, etc. It’s helped them a lot to continue to do the things they love with a lighter burden. Your hydrangeas are beautiful. I will not be the least surprised if I’m still reading your stories on your 100th birthday.

  2. jan says:

    I’m not as old as you and I try to stay healthy and active.

    But you exhaust me.

  3. Thank goodness Jerry is OK. That sounds like a very close call.

    I am hugely impressed at that stack of wood. I don’t think I could even attempt it and I am quite a bit younger. I also loved your garden blooming its heart out in front of it. Both testament to a lot of hard work.

  4. Lucy says:

    Part of me starts to tell you in a reflex way, oh do be careful, take it easier etc, the other part thinks, good for you, just keep cutting and stacking wood till you drop!

    Who knows; there’s no point in denying mortality, but there are conditions and ailments which come and go and can be lived with surprisingly long.

    As you say, you are learning, different, and sometimes sadder, things perhaps, but you are still learning.

  5. Annie says:

    Another stellar post! I love how you write of both the mundane and the profound, it leaves me in a state of awe at both your talent and life in general.

    I am stacking wood these days too, backbreaking work! I too wonder how long one can continue to do these things, but I take heart that at 80 you are still wondering and still doing it.

    I wish you and Jerry many more days of enjoying your lives.

  6. Hattie says:

    One thing I notice about myself is that these days if it doesn’t get done in the morning, it doesn’t get done!
    I like your observations about Lummi island and the local “big” family.
    Best wishes to you and Jerry, and I hope you are recovering from accidents and ailments.

  7. pauline says:

    I recognize that yearning acceptance – it’s impossible to deny your age and approaching mortality and equally impossible to view it with downright equanimity. My neighbor and I joke that we’re on the 20 year plan but I’m secretly hoping for 30 and a rider. Fears for one’s health multiply as the years progress for without it, we’re just old. And ill. No fun in that at all. I’m with 24 at Heart, planning to read your posts when you’re 100!

  8. Ernestine says:

    Oh my – could relate to so much you share.
    Mornings I feel like young
    by evening it is quite evident that these are the late 70’s .
    Always high energy and it is not the same the last few years.
    The bruising I am well aware of as I have Sjogrens
    an autoimmune disease. Wish I did not have it:)
    The wood pile reminds me of years in the past when
    I kept my wood stove burning. I was in my 60’s at that time.
    You are an inspiration to me as I read your sharing.
    So glad that a horrible accident was avoided for Jerry.
    Thank you for sharing…

  9. Darlene says:

    I thini that you and Jerry are remarkable. The splitting and stacking of wood would be a chore for a young person and the fact that you can still do it is remarkable.

    I am amazed that you can take care of all those beautiful potted plants and still fix dinner at night. I gave up doing both of those things years ago. I should be an inspiration to you being 7 years older. Instead, you two are an inspiration to me.

  10. Friko says:

    Of course, death is coming. It is coming to everyone who has been born. It’s the natural end of all living things. I was reading today about a group of people who got together because they had all lost their partners at a very early age, almost before they had begun their lives together. That is sad and unnatural.

    Your stacks of wood are impressive. Between you, you have erected them. That is something to be proud of. It would be better not to chop down a tree in one, that is a mistake not only old men make. Jerry was lucky this time.

    I develop frequent bruising because I am on blood thinners; the smallest knock leaves me with a lovely purple display for weeks on end.

    The more I read here , the more I am looking forward to meeting you.

  11. Frances says:

    I have just begun exploring the blogosphere world…and I am so pleased that I stumbled into your world of beautiful writing, beautiful photographs, and most importantly, a beautiful and motivating spirit.

  12. Reading the comments above, my thought is that everyone has said what I would. A little “hold off” and a little “wow, you can do that” mixed with the awe of one who has just discovered your lovely site. Blogging can be invigorating for those of us moving toward the last frontier–but not too soon, please!

  13. Muth, your mother lived to be 100!

  14. Well, hell, you’ve been an Old Woman since you were about 35. That’s a long time! Whaddya expect? Jerry is another matter. He’s only just getting used to being an Old Guy, so needs to take it easy until it comes more naturally. (ps I love the chicken banner.)

  15. Randy says:

    As usual, nicely done and strangely inspirational to one ten years behind you two.

  16. Your woodstore is truly beautiful. What a satisfaction, and what great provision for the future.

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