A Sister Day

I remember not understanding my sisters, not getting along with them, and at times being in awe of them. I look back over the many years at how our relationships have changed, and then look at how the relationships are changing right now.

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All of these photos are taken by Helen McPeters with her sister

In my memory there is a clear moment of transition in the relationship with my youngest sister. There was a day when she was hurting and I did the only thing I really knew how to do. I wrote a letter and slipped it under her door. It seems, looking back in time, that the letter, the moment of putting something into words, was the moment we became friends. The letters became like a diary between us, a way to talk without speaking, and a way that then led to spoken words. I can’t imagine life without her.

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I remember the awe I felt at the next sister. She talked back to mom and dad! She stood up for herself! She did what she wanted rather than what was expected of her! She was free and wild and mother earth and all the things I dreamed of being. And yes, somewhere along the line, I pushed her up onto a pedestal where she still remains.

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She used to ask me to hike the Pacific Crest Trail with her. It’s the one thing I feel I failed my sister at. So many excuses. Life. No gear. No money for gear. Not physically in shape. Fear. I dreamed of doing that hike, and still do, even though the impossibility of it looms large over the dream. But somewhere in an alternate universe we are moving through the solitude of the mountains together.

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The oldest sister was more like a mother-figure. She was the one we woke up in the middle of the night, knocking on her door because we were barfing or had a bloody nose or a nightmare. It’s hard to say this, but after many years of health battles, her time with us is shortening. During the coming days she will be moved from a hospital to a nursing home, which feels like a strange letting-go without loss. A sign, a symbol, an arrow hanging ragged and broken, pointing to what is to come.

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So I look at the sisters around me, at how they move through their lives. And I see these two friends of mine who are young and strong and beautiful and far from the ending of times. And I see how brilliant they are to prioritize their relationship, to make sure they have a Sister Day.

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Why did we never have Sister Days? Why did we never carve out a time when the four of us managed to get together? Kids and finances and distance and commitments were so important then. But now?

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What do you think when you picture a Sister Day? Some would think of spa days with pedicures and hair and manicures. Some would think of shopping and movies and a meal out.

All of the photos on this page are taken by my young friend on her Sister Days. They head out into a world few see. They go where there are no trails. They move through forest and mountains fearless, and I want to be them. I want to be young and with my sisters with the sky over us and the earth beneath our fingers.

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I want to listen to the youngest worry about spiders and dirt in her bedroll.

I want to feast on breakfasts made by the next sister, on her oatmeal and dried fruit, or her buckwheat pancakes.

I want the oldest healthy and her spirit free, riding the wind, circling us and watching over us.

I want a Sister Day.

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Sisters

 

The Return of Rain

Several years ago we generated electricity from a homemade water wheel. There was 1,500 feet of pipe that went up a forested ridge, and in the fall, that pipeline took a lot of maintenance. Leaves falling from maple, alder, and cottonwood filled the intake. Branches coming down in wind broke pipes. We seemed to be up there every day.

And of course, there was rain.

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Excavating in the rain

I remember working out in that rain all day with my father, repairing pipe. My hands would be blue with cold but gloves didn’t work trying to hold small screws. Pipe glue would be hard to spread on pipe because of how wet everything was. The pipe itself was hard to maneuver because it was not only wet, but cold, which made it rigid. We’d have to pack in a small propane torch to warm the pipe. Plus, there is nothing to grip on a pipe, so your hands just slide up the slick PVC.

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Strider loved water in all its forms

As an aside, back then I carried a small square backpack that was an old Army surplus radio pack. The original straps had been replaced with rope that cut into my shoulders. But the pack was so sturdy that it easily carried that propane torch, plus jars of pipe glue, hacksaws, screws, battery-powered drills, battery-powered screw drivers, a thermos, and my father’s favorite peanut butter and Ritz cracker snacks.

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This one hated the rain. And the cold. And the outdoors.

The forest floor would get so soggy and spongy from all the rain. Fir needles stuck to everything, the creek ran full and noisy, and to be heard over the water we had to shout. One time the saturated ground gave way under my dad’s boot and he sank up to his hip. He had no feeling in his feet and legs from diabetes so he said he was fine. Half an hour later he said his leg was aching a bit, so we hiked back down that steep ridge. And then, at the doctor’s, found out he’d broken his leg.

And of course, I wear glasses, which don’t mesh well with rain. They are either impossible too see through because of sheeting rain, or impossible to see through because of fogging up.

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Those glasses!! Those freckles!! That hair!!

I have a clear memory of my father sitting on the mossy, steep ground, boots braced against an old nurse log, taking a break and smoking his pipe. It’s dumping rain, but he’s content, with a small tendril of pipe smoke twisting up around his stocking-hat-covered head, scenting the wet forest with cherry.

I do love the rain. Even when working in it. Even when we had something like a hundred straight days of rain. Think about that a minute. Over three months of nothing but gray clouds and water. People joked about growing moss instead of hair, and everything got moldy and musty. It was hard on many, never seeing any break in the gray.

I thought it was perfect.

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She came into our lives after being dumped in the middle of a rainstorm. 

One of the best parts of wet weather is coming in after working in it. Hanging soaked coats and gloves and clothes around the wood stove, where they gently steam and smell like wet sheep. Holding cold hands over the hot, dry heat of a fire. Kicking off boots and struggling to pull off wet socks. Struggling just as hard to pull on warm, dry socks over damp feet. The kettle steaming and a mug waiting. Knowing you don’t have to go back out and can now sit without guilt by the fire, book in hand.

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I love the sound of rain, too. The sound of water running over gutters, splashing, hitting the ground, the roof, the umbrella, the hood. I love the smell of wet earth. I love the sight of full rivers and streams, rushing over boulders and breaking in white foam around old logs from past floods. I even like the smell of wet pavement.

Wet dogs, not so much. But I like how happy they get after being toweled off, and how they shake dampness, scattering drops like they’re bringing the rain inside.

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A goat that wandered over in a rainstorm looking for its home. 

So I’m thrilled the rain has come back. I’m ready to settle in for my favorite seasons of fall and winter. Soon it will be cool enough to build a fire.

And hang wet coats around the flames.

P.S. I wrote this last week. A couple days ago I came out of Costco with a cart piled high with a big stocking-up shopping. I got to the car just in time for dumping rain, thunder, lightening, and wind. I got completely soaked trying to cram everything in the car before it all got wet and ruined.

But yes, I still love the rain.

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Hot Tub Thoughts

I wrote a short blog earlier today but then this evening I went out to the hot tub. There’s something about being out there in the dark in hot water, that allows my subconscious to float freely, with thoughts that won’t leave me alone until I rush inside and, dripping, write.

Especially this evening when the dark is cool and damp and smells of the transition to fall, and rain clouds sift across a full moon.

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So here I now sit, dripping and thinking of my friends.

One who recently lost her mother. One who lost her son a year and a half ago. One who lost her daughter a year ago. Of another who lost her brother a short few months ago. And I thought of my siblings, we five orphans, who lost our parents years ago.

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There’s that horrible old adage that time heals all, but everyone knows that’s not true. No matter what you’re grieving. The death of a loved one. A cancer diagnosis. The loss of a pet. So very, very many things that cut our hearts.

I think what time does, is leave that wound of grief deep and bleeding and raw without any healing at all.

But what time also does is allow us to be distracted. To get caught up in our daily lives, to slowly move. Not move past the loss. Certainly not move beyond that grief. But to simply move with the flow of life. Jobs and responsibilities and mundane things like what to fix for dinner, or the need to pick up mail. To move with the life that pulls us along with love and laughter.

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We find ourselves happy. Maybe with guilt, maybe not joyful, maybe not even content. But still within moments where we surprise ourselves with feeling at peace, somehow.

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Obviously the wound is carried with us in those moments of living life and moving on, because, really, we never move on. Even as we go through our daily lives and find that happiness, we’re still partially stuck, back in that moment when life changed.

Or when life ended.

That doesn’t mean we don’t celebrate life. We do. Maybe even more so when we’ve lost someone. Not all of us, of course. That’s the harder, darker side of grieving that I’m not thinking about this evening, although there are people I care about who have been in those shadowy spaces.

I’m just thinking about how we move with the tide of life, slip back into that flow, let time tug us along like an undertow. And how we get caught back up in that current.

Even if we bring along the weight of a wound that never fully heals.

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