I walk the little social trail past the skeleton of a fallen Ponderosa and the big hollowed stump of what must have been an Old Growth tree. As always, I touch the wood of both corpses. As always, I say, “Thank you.” And tell them that I will be back.
I don’t tell them that my promise is more hope than vow. I force myself to keep walking through a too familiar heaviness in my muscles. I’ll be eighty in just about two months. I take a cholesterol reducing medication. Sometimes, I feel the world spin as a reminder of postural vertigo. And I walk, no matter where I am, with the weight of losses – the spirits of hundreds, if not thousands of Ponderosa logged carelessly here by the Forest Service to prevent fires; aging losses, cultural losses; losses that puzzle me if I try to suss them out.
I step carefully over the barrow ditch, circle around the 7-trunked tree and move slowly up what feels every month like a longer and longer slope. I use a cane. It is past twilight. I’m a fool for keeping on. But there is another cluster of seven Ponderosa to the south, one of the trees only a stump. I want to sit there and watch the sunset; turn and watch the moonrise.
I reach the cluster of trees, touch each one, face Southwest, sit and catch my breath. To come to this seat, I’ve walked perhaps one-eighth of what used to be my daily walk thirty years ago. I hate the steady ache in my muscles, the shallow breaths, the knowledge that I could follow the advice of earnest people who believe one can fix anything – and despite chair yoga or physical therapy or any form of fucking mindfulness, I will still occupy a body breaking down – as bodies always have. My breath eases. I am held by living Ponderosa. The south-western sky is molten garnet.
I turn carefully and see the near perfect moon rising through the black branches. I say, “Thank you.” And know that neither the polished silver light nor my gratitude can slow anything.
We must not write about aging. We must not write about feeling discouraged, dismayed, dis-heart-ened. Here in the impossibly racing world of the internet, America, 2019, we must not write about loss. Loss is taboo. And for you, what writing is taboo?
Here is faithful BTW writer, Theresa Souers, with her response to a recent Breakthrough prompt: “You aren’t sure of what you are seeing. There is fog. There is dying light. But, you see the cop approach the heavy old woman in the torn jacket and realize you are already superimposing any one of a dozen stories in your mind – stories from the recent press, stories from your history, stories…”
The days are shorter now. Daylight Savings Time has ended and I dutifully turned our clocks back an hour. Most of my neighbors complain about the shorter days but I, for one, relish this time of year. There must be something in my DNA that dictates “make hay while the sun shines.” For as long as there is light in the sky, I am driven to be productive. Shorter days equal more “ME” time. More time to stretch out with a nice cabernet. More time to read an extra chapter in my self-proclaimed Book of the Week. More time to visit with friends. As I turn the sign in my shop’s front door’s window from Open to Close, I decide to wander over to the Mendocino Hotel on Main to visit with Sally. Sally works the bar at the classic hotel and never fails to share hysterical “get this” stories brought daily by the tourons that venturing through her doors. As I am leaving my store and locking the door, I can’t help but give the vintage shop bell a jingle. I notice the coastal fog is rolling in and wrap my shawl a bit tighter around my shoulders. I still can’t get over the fact that I actually made my dream of moving here to Mendocino, a magical Victorian community overlooking the Pacific Ocean, come true. Thanks to the inheritance my grandfather left me, I was able to turn my back on my past three years ago and purchase Laura’s Laurels, a sweet cottage shop that promoted local artisan crafts, flower arrangements and random knick knacks. Best of all, the shop included a one bedroom apartment upstairs. I still pinch myself.
I head down Albion, turn left on Woodward and as I near the corner of Main I spot a group of tourists across the street huddled together along the bluffs. It’s not unusual to see these clusters throughout the grassy cliff tops but generally speaking, such gatherings would be facing the sea below. What catches my eye is that this particular group have their backs to the ocean and instead are all looking toward the shops. As I turn left onto Main, I see the subject of their attention. A cop is approaching Betty. The locals refer to her as Irritable Iris and I assume that Iris is her true name. However, she was quick to correct me when I first set up residence here. She had stood at my shop’s open door, not willing to come in, and announced, “Call me Betty.” And so I did and still do. In my mind, Bettys are light and bubbly, walk on air and have a warmth to their presence. Not the case with this curmudgeon. But Betty it is.
It’s a rare day to not find Betty hanging out somewhere within the tourist center, usually between 11 in the morning until 3 in the afternoon. Betty is Mendocino’s crazy “aunt in the attic.” She is a fixture in the landscape and she is ours. Depending on her mood, she can be found ranting and raving about the sad state of the world, waving sparkly American flags while decked out in feather boas or blankly staring out over the sea. She is harmless and accepted among the local business community as long as she doesn’t deter possible customers from entering their stores. When the latter is the case, the sho-keepers will step outside and for lack of a better word, shoo her away. Betty has that look about her. You know the look. Just this side of the loony bin. Her wispy white shoulder-length hair usually appears freshly washed yet unfamiliar with a comb. During pleasant weather her hair is generally held pulled back from her face with a child’s plastic headband. Extreme sun brings out the tattered straw hat wit the neon pink carnations. With today’s drizzle, I’m not surprised to see her sporting the moth-eaten lime green wool beret. Her black and red plaid lumberjack coat is riddled with holes at both elbows, torn pockets, a slipping liner and mis-aligned buttons. Today’s mood is obviously doom and gloom.
I still can’t hear what is being said but Betty is flailing her arms and clearly getting wound up. Officer Dan pulls back his shoulders and widens his stance. The crowd across the street is growing. Fingers are pointing and cell phone cameras are being pulled out from pockets. You would have thought Brad Pitt was walking down the street. Some are even doing “selfies” with the hope that a dramatic scene will unfold in the background. In my mind’s eye, I can see social media blowing up with images and tag lines touting injustices such as “Law enforcement harassing senior citizens” or “Homeless issues on the rise in serene seaside community”. Betty’s not homeless by the way. She lives in a cute but run-down cottage only four streets away. A home that her family built at the turn of the century. A home in which she was born. Betty has personally witnessed dramatic changes throughout her life. Changes she simply doesn’t like. She has no qualms letting others know how she feels. The tourists don’t know any of this though. They just see her as a strange character, pitiful and scary. They take offense to her very presence. Most likely one of them went so far as to call the police hence Dan’s current role as peace officer.
I struggle with what I should do. Do I walk over to the crowd and encourage them to move along their way? Do I mosey over to Betty to put an arm around her and try to calm her down a bit? Do I just stay out of it all together? I freeze. If I try to disperse the crowd (which I can’t help but feel is contributing to Betty’s current rage) I could find myself all over Facebook as well. I came here to Mendocino to blend in, not to stand out. If I try to soothe Betty’s emotions, it could have the opposite effect and make things worse. If I do nothing, I will beat myself up later for being such a pathetic bystander. ever so slowly, I notice my feet moving and I am heading toward Betty and Officer Dan. When I get close enough to hear the words being exchanged between them, I hear Betty carrying on, with rather politically incorrect expletives, of her feelings regarding “that imbecile #45” and the idiots that tout his virtues. It’s fairly well known that Betty is not a fan of the current president and at the moment, is convinced the tourists across the street are among his supporters. I start to grin as I hear Dan’s side of the exchange. “Yup” he says. “No doubt about it.” “You are 100 percent correct.” “They should leave and take their sorry tails with them.” “They don’t deserve to even look at us.”
As they nod in unison, I see Dan put his arm around Betty’s shoulder and gently turn her in the direction of the park. Together they walk away from their audience. When I no longer can hear what is being said between them, I see Betty lean her head into Dan’s shoulder and wrap her arm around his lower back. I look back to see the disappointed crowd disperse. Once again I head toward the hotel and Sally. I will have my own story to tell – it is going to be a fine glass of wine.
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