Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Second Saturn Return

Astrology believes human life has "Saturn cycles." Every 29 years, slow-moving planet Saturn completes a journey around the zodiac and returns to where it was at your birth (in my case, at 11 degrees of Sagittarius). Our first Saturn Return, around age 29, typically has us rethinking what we've been doing, and many people at this time enter another stage of life or another line of work. At 29 I left the office world to go to grad school where I discovered a discipline and a career I'd never dreamed of.

Astrology says that at the second Saturn return, about age 58, one begins to detach from the worldly life and becomes -- ancient Indian astrology says --"a forest dweller" with an increasingly different set of values. I've watched friends go through this. Some are successful: They quit drinking, survive a layoff, sell a house and move, become a missionary, go back to college, parent their grandchildren, write a book. The transition isn't easy: It's two steps forward and one back. Others aren't successful. Their circumstances change, but they aren't willing to do or see anything differently. They decide the world owes them or that life's been disappointing. This leads to consuming bitterness. Maybe you know the type.

Saturn Returns mean change, and change means "out of the comfort zone," but 29 years is enough time in any comfort zone. It wasn't exactly peaches and cream, at 29, to cut my income by 75 percent and move hundreds of miles to a place I'd never been and where I knew no one -- but I ended up here, and how great is that? My second Saturn return is coming up. I feel its challenge already and intend to meet it. Happy and healthy 2015!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Light Like Christmas Cookies

How perfect: a sunny Christmas Day, 50 degrees, and eight off-trail hikers who met through Meetup.com, for various reasons all of us free on Christmas afternoon to explore LaBarque Creek Conservation Area and Natural Area, 639 acres, almost all forested, including seasonal waterfalls on LaBarque Creek tributaries. This was our second annual Christmas Day hike; last year's was snowy, cloudy, and icy. This year's had the pale yellow light of Christmas cookies. Recent rains allowed us to see running streamlets with green-and-gold pools up to three feet deep. We found that the Conservation Department has been sawing down red cedar trees, an invasive, non-native species, so that natural Missouri dolomite and sandstone glades can restore themselves. The downed trees made our going rough at times. But we were out for adventure. Above you see our leader, Kim.

I am always at the end of the line of hikers, about 45 seconds behind the rest despite my best efforts. This is called "being the sweep," and it is a job: The "sweep" makes sure the number of hikers leaving the woods is the same number that came in. One of us slipped on wet rock and fell, but it wasn't me; unfortunately he landed on, and broke the screen of, his cellphone.

(Excuse me--I have to go--the kitchen mousetrap just went "snap"!)

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Winter What??

I was outclassed by the lady at the annual Missouri Mycological Society Photography Night whose slide show of fungi was not only gorgeous--so was mine--but she had everything identified and labeled with its Latin name. It's the way the Society closes the year, and I'm a bit sad because morel-hunting season is four months away and in the meantime, in winter,  there are no fungi to hunt, eat, or study, outside of books.


In a city park so dull I usually walk its half-mile path while reading my phone, I look up and see mushrooms growing high on a dead tree. Into the tangle of trees I go to investigate. What to my wondering eyes should appear at that tree's base but the hugest freaking trove of edible oyster mushrooms, each six to eight inches across (they're usually oyster-sized--not very big). Oysters have no poisonous lookalikes in Missouri.

Pinpointing the tree with GPS I get a bag from my car and remove about three pounds of mushroom--hoping no one is watching because I don't know what the laws are. An ethical forager takes only what she can use. At home, I take a spore print to confirm my ID. Poach some in beer, and roast and make quiche and pizza with the rest. They're delish. The next week, I take another four pounds and share.

Okay, I was simply super-fortunate to find an oyster log. Today I'm out puttering next to my propane tank, and spy there my first-ever Earthstar mushrooms, side by side, like petaled flowers, each with a central sphere full of spores. These are very old and dry so I can't identify which type of earthstars they are; when fresh, they're grayish-white. Earthstars are inedible. But I'm still bowled over: Earthstars at Christmas! What could top this? But something will!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Joy to the World, the Solstice Comes

So worn out, with no energy. All I cooked was a bowl of cherry Jell-O, an impulse I could not explain because I never eat it. I dragged myself outdoors and in the woods hacked invasive Japanese honeysuckle away from oaks and felt a bit better; it saves their lives. At 4:45 the sun set. I remembered the winter solstice was coming at 5:03 p.m. and wanted to be doing something special at that moment, like setting off bottle rockets. Or should I whip some cream for the Jell-O? Then, at 5:03 I hear what I've never heard before: singing. Caroling. "Joy to the World." Coming closer until it's right outside my door. I open the door and get the surprise of my life:

My neighbor Terri (top left), who is musical, had organized her children and grandchildren to come down the road and carol for me! I've never seen and heard anything so sweet!

Not only that, but they brought me a present and a bowl of grape/apple/nut/marshmallow salad--perfect with the Jell-O!

Monday, December 15, 2014

I Don't Hate Winter Anymore

The winter solstice, the day the daylight begins to lengthen, specifically Sunday, December 21, 5:03 p.m. Missouri time, is one week away. I read that the solstice was also once the day of Saint Lucy, Queen of Light. John Donne wrote a poem about it, which begins:

'Tis the year's midnight, and it is the day's,
Lucy's, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks;
    The sun is spent, and now his flasks
    Send forth light squibs, no constant rays;
            The world's whole sap is sunk;

I raised a cup of cocoa to John Donne and to central heating.

Hating winter meant hating a quarter of life, so I had to change my approach. I've posted about caulking, covering windows, and clothes. Daily I push myself out the door, saying as I drive, walk, or feed birds, "Is this really so bad? I dread this all year? It's not bad at all." I gave myself things to look forward to. They cost money, but I tell myself I'm stimulating the economy. This mild December in  eastern Missouri has also helped me toward acceptance. I still hate below-zero temps and icy roads. On today's walk, as rainclouds made an exit, I tried capturing the bald light from the low-slung sun. This is what it truly looked like, without filters or anything.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Cattle with Earrings

Cattle raised without antibiotics or hormones have always been a goal of mine--to eat them, not raise them--and last year I split a quarter with my neighbor Terri, her son, and another friend, resulting in about 27 pounds of roasts, steaks, and ground beef for each of us, locally-raised, reasonably priced, and flavorful--grocery-store beef pales, and even tastes pale, by comparison. Having heard via newsletter that Crooked Creek Farms (it has two sites, handed down in the family since 1891) was selling 10-pound lots of naturally raised ground beef--we love it--for $65, we reserved our lots and today drove about seven miles over the hills to pick it up and pay. It was a beautiful December day--not an oxymoron, because the sunlight was blond and platinum, and the temperature around 50 degrees, as good as December in Missouri gets. There really is a crooked creek there.

On our way out we stopped to visit with cows with earrings. I don't know the breed (why didn't I ask?!); I know only that back in Wisconsin there were mostly Holsteins, good milk producers, and these aren't those; they seem to have Hereford heritage. Say hello to the two black cattle who were eyeing us, #314 and #379; on the far right, a red one has earrings marked 345. They all have such earrings. Terri and I discussed whether we would rather make friends with them or eat them. Split decision.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Beauty and Surprise

Top side
Beauty is why I live here; I can't thrive without it. While living in a basement, with a job in a basement, and getting back and forth on the subway, I subsisted on books and pictures, and in other unpromising circumstances clung to the glitter of junk jewelry or a worn-out cassette tape in my Sony Walkman playing and replaying The Mamas and the Papas, or Mozart as performed by St.-Martin-in-the-Fields. I lived in and left cities with little to no beauty, or none I could see; I didn't live in the areas with views, vistas, or charm. Over a long period of time this taught me to look for beauty in the smallest things and unlikely places.

I didn't know it, but I was starved for surprises and gifts as well as beauty. I went to work, paid rent. My weekly budget left me $6 in disposable income. Walking neighborhood streets for exercise, I did not look at people, or houses, or to the right or left; these were cities in which if you did that they called the police, believing you were casing their houses.

For the past seven days here the sun did not show. Still, the weather was reasonably mild and I shuffled through the gray woods, with no birds in them, my eye catching on nothing but boring beige-ish inedible parasitic-on-deadwood fungi that all looked alike until I turned them over and saw they had wonderful petticoats.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Santa's Throne

Eureka--I found it--in Eureka, in the old community center next to the ballparks: Santa's throne room. I have always hoped to find it, beginning back when my family--like every family on our block--had a silver artificial Christmas tree with a motorized lamp turning it four different colors, the outer limit of awesome in 1966.

I'll return daily until I find Santa Claus on duty, and if he allows it and there's room between those armrests I will sit on his lap and tell him I've been sickeningly good and nice this year, and for Christmas I want--

--everything to stay the way it is, except I want a bit more energy and bone mass. Other than that I can't imagine a better life or home than mine.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Dismal Science

"Hi, Galaxy," I said to my phone. "Call The Medicine Shoppe." A Walgreens recording answered. Figuring that Galaxy messed up, I myself dialed the Old Towne pharmacy I'd used for 14 years. Chillingly, the Walgreens tape answered again.

It was surreal. I'd picked up a refill three days before from the familiar pharmacists and techs in the drab little Shoppe that kept only one of each item on its shelves, and had a rack of greeting cards that I alone (I think) bought from.

I drove there. Medicine Shoppe #1390 has closed. All prescriptions were transferred to the Walgreens a quarter-mile away, the sign said. No chance to ask questions or say goodbye before the staff--a motley, earnest, totally sterling team of women whom I trusted with my life--dispersed--to where?

Walgreens welcomes "Customers of Medicine Shoppe #1390"
I'd shunned the Walgreens because The Medicine Shoppe ladies saw my husband through his two and a half years of fatal illness; they'd rented me crutches; they'd witnessed my weepings and ailments, phoned and argued with doctors and insurers, knew all my secrets, and had never, not once in 14 years, given me the wrong medicine. I saw them save their meds from floodwaters. My insurer tried to force me to fill prescriptions by mail and I refused. My loyalty is non-negotiable.

Closed now. Maybe bankrupt. Or not profitable.Could have been franchisee's retirement, corporate downsizing, or higher rent. Maybe unable to compete with the Walgreens, grocery-store, and Walmart pharmacies within a two-mile radius. Possibly new rules for Medicare prescription payments. But no goodbyes. The weirdest sort of shock and heartache. And they're all out of work. They call economics "the dismal science" for a reason.

Walgreens had a sign outside to welcome me. Things could be much worse. But I wanted to cry.