Wednesday, August 31, 2005

++Father in heaven, please watch over the people in the hurricane zone. May Your presence be overwhelming, and may there be an outpouring of kindness and generosity throughout the land. Please provide practical solutions to what seems an impossible situation. Nothing is impossible with God. Let this be remembered as a time of great miracles, in Jesus name I pray.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

There is a man who lives in our old neighborhood who we like to call "Walking Man". We pass by the old neighborhood every day on our way to school, and everyday he is there on the main road, walking. We worry if we don’t see him – he is that consistent. On occasion we see him other places that surprise us – over by the library (about 2 miles away), near the Middle School (about 4 miles away), at the harbor (about 6 miles) – we always beep our horn and he always smiles (the biggest smile you’ve ever seen) and waves his cane. He always seems so happy to see us, so glad we said hello.

Walking man is about 40. He suffered a severe stroke (not sure how long ago) and lives with his mother in the village. He was not given a good prognosis – his speech and his motor skills are extremely labored. He was told he’d never walk again – but he is determined. He concentrates on every step – and in fact spends his entire day walking, every step a miracle. He used to walk around our neighborhood and visit us as we washed our car or worked on the front garden. In his old life, he used to be a concrete worker and has spoken at length with my husband who is a plumbing contractor. He talks shop in the manner that old soldiers sometimes talk about their military experience. He is a handsome man, with classic Spanish features and a well groomed goatee.

Every time we see him, we pray for him. "God Bless Walking Man. Heal him. Make him well again." We’ve said that prayer for at least 2 years, and for 2 years Walking Man keeps trudging along. I have been impatient with God more than once on this matter – "couldn’t you just make it a little easier for him?" I ask. He hasn’t seemed to get any better in a long time. I think about our prayer – "Heal him. Make him well." The fact of the matter is that Walking Man is about as good as people get. How much better can he be? It has occurred to me more than once that maybe the stroke is what healed Walking Man to begin with. I wonder if he ever would have stopped at our house if not for his stroke. Would we ever have spoken to him? I don’t know where he was before, what he was like – but now, I know he is the man that blesses everyone who will take the time to meet him. He glorifies God with every step he takes. He lets you know that if not for God, he wouldn’t be taking one step. And in that, he reminds us that if not for God, we wouldn’t be taking one step, either. We tend to forget that part.

++Thank you Lord – Thank you for every step I take. Thank you for my neighbors and the street where I live. Thank you for my breath which is not labored, and my eyes which can still see the beauty of this wonderful world. Thank you for Walking Man. May I be as deliberate and unwavering in my daily walk as he is.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

I have a cyber friend who has been sick and bedridden. His site is called tatsuhiko1968. He cares for a beautiful flower called Queen of the Night, and he posts photos of the rare flower blooming. They are remarkable, as is he. Pay him a visit --

Saturday, August 20, 2005

We're finally back on track after nearly a month of traveling. Summer sport commitments ended after the lacrosse tournament, and picked up again this week. We tried to take advantage of every "free" minute and found ourselves bouncing around all over the place. I'm sure stories of our adventures will surface over the weeks to come, but just as a quick synopsis, I'll try to cover the highlights here.

We started off in Iowa, where in addition to our usual trip to a small town near Des Moines, we ventured North to the beautiful town of Elkader (on the Turkey River)where we visited my sister-in-law and her family. We went to the Big Springs Fish Hatchery, George Maier's Rural Heritage Center (where we met George himself who gave us a private tour of his incredible collection in his wheelchair), the Osbourne Visitor, Welcome and Nature Center (we called this the "Elkader Zoo" - the collection included a Black Bear, a Grey Wolf, about 10 birds of prey, coyote, deer, turtles and a Mountain Lion), the State of Wisconsin (our first time and a big deal to my son, a huge Green Bay Packers fan) and Pikes Peak State Park (overlooking the Mississipi River). We hiked every available trail and visited old graveyards (1800s mostly). We returned to Southern Iowa to see the rest of the cousins and to help Grandma harvest some of her amazing tomatoes and corn. (Bushels and bushels of tomatoes the size of softballs!) Picking corn was my personal favorite as I had never done this before and didn't realize how tough it could be. I know now there's a bit of a trick to it -- a sort of holding-in-the-right-spot-and-snapping sort of trick -- until I figured it out, you could pinpoint my location in the corn crop quite easily. Just look for the corn plant that was "movin' and shakin'", and that would be me, wrestling to pull the corn from the stalk. Visits with all the Great-Grandparents rounded off the trip (3 living Greats -- Grandma S. celebrated her 90th birthday, while Grandma and Grandpa Johnson celebrated their 71st wedding anniversary this year...).

We came home to California for a short while, buried our beloved tortoise (as you know), caught up with as much work as possible and even made it to a wonderful Jack Johnson concert before rushing off to New York to visit my side of the family. We didn't even unpack, really.

My sister met us at JFK with her husband and her NEW BABY! (He is every bit as gorgeous as the photos and more!) My kids went out East on Long Island with my parents to the Summerhouse and I stayed for a short while with my sister and her new shiny family. I had 3 glorious days of baby holding, feeding, rocking, cooing, etc. Heavy Sigh. Then off to the East End where for the first time in 20 years I revisited my family's Summerhouse. What a great way to end a hectic month! We went clamming every day in Noyac Bay(my daughter is queen of clamming), took the boat out around Jessup's Neck, visited cemetaries that dated back to the 1600s. We hung out in Sag Harbor, a beautiful old whaling village, and visited my favorite old lighthouse at Montauk Point. Hurricane Irene passed by New York at a reasonable distance out to sea. Close enough to bring in a wonderful swell. My son found the surfers, managed to purchase a used board, and surfed Irene in the green/gray Atlantic. I had a short and glorious visit with my baby brother, an even shorter visit with my Grandfather (90 years young) and Aunt, then back to my sister and her lovely family before we had to say goodbye. It was very hard to leave, but in short, great to come home.

I'll try to add links to this post so I can share some of these spots with you. Right now I have to rush off to pick up and deliver my kids to their various commitments. Back to normal...

Monday, August 08, 2005

This post just blew me away today.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

We returned Thursday evening to find that our Russian Desert Tortoise, Max, was MIA. Our housesitter was distraught. He had wandered the neighborhood with LOST TURTLE signs and had scoured the backyard with our dog in tow, searching every square inch, hoping the dog would catch her scent and lead us to her (max, we found out after 5 years of being known as "him", was actually a "her"). I would often let Max roam the yard while I sat in the swing, reading a book. She really loved her outings. Our housesitter did the same, and even created an elaborate bright pink flag that he attached to her with rubber bands so that he could see her wherever she would roam. Both the turtle and the flag were missing.

I was surprised how bummed out I was by this news. We've had Max for almost 8 years in which time she's more than tripled in size. She sleeps a lot (3 months at a time to be exact). She's easy to care for. She isn't demanding. I expected to find the dead houseplants, maybe dead tomatoe plants, I worried about the dogs, I even worried a bit about the parakeets -- but the turtle? Never once did I worry about the turtle.

A friend of mine at work has a tortoise that has been with her for over 40 years now. He actually opens the sliding door to go outside to do his business. He's been doing this for about 25 years ever since he became too big to fit through the doggie door. After consulting with the local pet store ("don't worry, mrs. johnson, we'll call you if we hear anything") I contacted my friend. "Tortoises are good hiders," she assured me, "I can't tell you how many times I checked the gate, thinking he got out. He would always show up eventually." Although I felt a little better, I still had to find our Max. She was only 8 after all, and with a life expectancy of 100 years or more, she was just a baby.

Over a month ago we bought a red-eared slider to live in our pond. (It's a Home Depot backyard pond that sits in ground and is surrounded by rocks and landscape. it has a waterfall and a couple of fountains. It is filled with water plants and goldfish that have grown so big they nearly resemble coi.) We figured he'd be the first of several water turtles if it worked out. We were told he'd eat everything in the pond, and we hoped he could keep the pond plants under control. We figured the fish were big enough that he wouldn't eat them. Anyway, he managed to disappear over night. We still haven't figured out that mystery. We considered the birds of prey abundant in our neighborhood. We wondered about the dogs, but figured there would at least be some remains. We even looked hard at our huge goldfish and wondered for a minute if they could be the culprits. We figured he made a home near the pond in the shelter of the morning glory vines that seem to own that part of our property, and procrastinated about hacking our way through to the fenceline and pulling them down. That turtle was only with us for 10 hours, so we weren't heartbroken. Just curious. Now with the news of our beloved tortoise gone missing, the morning glories had to go.

So today, our mission was to remove at least half of the morning glories, especially the ones that were overgrowing the pond area. It was operation "find Max". We filled 6 big bags with pieces of the vine. We found a dead bird in its snare and worried that the turtle would be next - but no sign of her (or the slider). We found armies of ants, colonies of spiders (one wolf spider that looks like he'd made a good watch dog), countless "rollie-pollies", but no evidence of a tortoise.

In the end, I sat on the rocks at the edge of the pond and noticed how lush the water lettuce had become. The water lily leaves had to compete for some surface space, and I couldn't see the fish so well (there are at least 15). I brushed the plants aside, expecting to see the fish darting away, and that is where I found Max. She was in the corner of the pond, her lifeless eyes looking up toward the shaft of light that came down through the water plants. The pink flag and rubberbands were lying near her on the bottom. She must have climbed on the rocks and fallen in. She sunk silently like a rock to the bottom where she managed to walk toward the light. She may have even scratched at the wall to get out. She died there, looking up. I couldn't bear to pull her out. My husband got her and sat her on the rocks, where for a moment she looked as if she would be fine.

I was inconsolable. The depth of my grief still shocks me. I had no idea how attached I was to her. Even my kids are not as sad as I am. Perhaps it was my expectation that she would outlive me. Perhaps it was because we had failed to protect her from the dangers of the big world. Whatever the reason, I cried like a baby. We put her in a giant tupperware container and buried her where the morning glories used to be.

The slider is still missing. I am pretty sure he couldn't live this long out of the water. The irony doesn't escape me -- that the land turtle would perish in the home meant for the water turtle -- seems like an O Henry story. My husband cleaned out the pond (again) and searched everywhere for him, hoping that if Max could have been there for 2 days and not seen (even though we were looking everywhere) perhaps the slider is still alive in there. No luck to date. Maybe tomorrow.

++Thank you Lord, for the short life of Max the tortoise. 8 years was really not even a fraction of the time she was meant to have, but it was long enough for her to become a part of our history. She was a glorious creature, a marvelous creation, and I loved her. I don't think I ever would have wanted such a pet -- I'm glad you worked out those details. Like all people who have loved and lost, I am greatful for the time I had. I feel silly to be so sad over this, but sad is what I am. I give you my mournful heart Lord and ask that you would comfort me.