Fall tends to start off, for me, with a sense of glory. Flaming leaves to look forward to. Bright pumpkins, fresh roasted chili, people seeming to draw closer together as the days grown shorter and cooler.
By mid-ish November things are turning more bittersweet, generally, for me. I start feeling cooped up, hemmed in, pushed by Mother Nature into an introverted lifestyle.
Trees present themselves for reflection, since they are everywhere around this garden apartment complex in particular, and scattered around the greater Fresno area in various states of health and distress. Some were planted here before the last big drought period and many, like redwoods, gave up the ghost and left behind stark, tall, withered shapes. Native conifers in the mountains are heavily afflicted by beetles. Still many, many are healthy and thriving.
On our walks around the neighborhood with Jericha, Paco, Martin and the dogs I first reveled in having so many magnolia street trees. Evergreen, good for shade, filled with lovely late spring flowers and then … interesting …. fall fruit with brilliant red berries that birds love, how pleasant they are… But magnolias in Fresno’s desert climate have a dark side. All year round they are dirty, dirty trees! They never stop dropping browned, thick, huge leaves all over the lawns and sidewalks and if I were one of those homeowners I’d get tired of raking up after them all year round, too.
Even the soup plate sized petals of the lovely flowers are a tad slippery after they land on sidewalks.
As the dogs go shuffle-puffling their way along — you know, pausing frequently to shuffle through leaves with noses pressed like bulldozers close to the ground — my wheelchair began to experience abrupt, unpleasant rises and downward thuds when I would accidentally run over a “fruit”. Shaped like pine cones but technically called fruit since magnolias are not conifers, these things, when ripened, are harder than any ripe pine cone I’ve come across. My 330 pound chair with another 140-ish pounds of me in it doesn’t even ding the things.
Another minor tree disappointment in this part of California — the gorgeous great pines which in general, I think, are Canary Island Pine — are frightfully generous with used up needles and pollen, all year round. My poor wheelchair van needs way more washings than it gets, and when I roll into it after a couple of not-driving days it feels a little like entering a big white powder puff. Windshield washer fluid needs to be on perpetual sale to keep up.
Plus the long, graceful needles — which I have measured as up to fourteen inches in length — show in orange-brown clumps all over the pines, year round, never mind just in on season. They fall on small trees below so heavily that it is hard to tell if the little ones, such as crape myrtles, are alive or dead — till they burst out with flowers. When there’s a wind you can expect everything stationary to get a blanket of needles. Local squirrels see to it that we down below the treetops are given an veritable carpet of chewed up pinecone bits as they dig out the delicious nuts. Unlucky ones below can suffer unpleasant injuries should a big, unripe cone fall on a head. When one lands on my roof at night it wakes me up for sure.
Up for intense mental reflection this season has been my breast cancer. A six week course of photon radiation ended — joyfully — for me last week. Clutching a graduation certificate signed by the radiation therapists, I smiled as the “bye-bye bell” tolled after my last session — and went home to nurse my singed, maroon and darkening sore flesh in private. As that process went towards no more radiation pain and more normal looking skin inevitably, I suppose, my mind turned towards the deeper implications of a cancer diagnosis. With an initial shove from Uncle Sam.
When I called the line to get help in choosing next year’s Medicare/Medicare Advantage options, my first question was if it would be wise to revert to straight Medicare again. I’ve been feeling constrained by Medicare Advantage’s strictly local coverage. What if we move, what if my wheelchair breaks down on a road trip just three hours away? Things of that nature. It came as a total shock to me — a survivor of paralytic polio since age five — to be told, “No, you are not eligible for Medicare gap coverages any longer since you now have a pre-existing condition. The cancer.”
Being of a generally optimistic nature, I pushed the person some, then shrugged it off. Que sera, sera. What must be must be.
A few fellow cancer patients sharing the waiting room for radiation told me their stories, and the majority were on their second, third or … final … round of treatments. All looked pretty good. All seemed upbeat. Some held back about that metastatic diagnosis, as though talking about it either brought it too real, or it was too private for discussion. I know from experience with the dying that when one begins to talk about one’s condition the person is opening her/himself to reactions which may prove toxic. Thus when the bye bye bell rang for me, I had the tiniest flicker of doubt about maybe seeing the therapists with their shiny bright linac again after all.
But then, the optimistic me intervened. “Go with your gut,” it suggested. “You felt at the beginning that this would be not a boulder, but a bump in your path, nothing has been found, said, or felt to change that, so go with it.”
Okay. The fall process of reflection turns to other matters.
Which brings me to an autumn goal of mine, left over from spring, then summer.
Seeing, touching, maybe even stretching my arms around the most gigantic and striking tree of them all in these parts continues to elude me. This time around in my California residency I have not come close enough to any sequoias to touch them. Last weekend’s forecast predicted two feet of snow in parts of the high Sierras to our east, which didn’t happen, but soon enough Yosemite and the Sequoia National Forest will be closed to the likes of my van. An earth person to the core, I’ve been wanting to spend time with those giants — snuffle puffling dogs on hand — as a matter of healing and connection to those mysterious processes of Nature which influence so greatly every human life. Whether we know it or not. Those ancient giants serve as a wake up call to lots of people.
The question of our stewardship versus ownership of our planet is heavily on my mind since the American election one year ago.. Who owns nature, anyway? There is quite and interesting series of articles on the matter by David Langness on bahaiteachings.org of late.
An excerpt from his article How to Build a United Global Environmental Movement says (and quotes)
So what’s the best single thing you can do for the world of creation? What’s the most effective solution? Baha’is believe that:
… truly transforming individual and collective patterns of life will require a much deeper appreciation of the interconnectedness of the planetary biosphere. People and the environment are inter-connected aspects of one organically integrated system. At this point in history, neither can be accurately understood in isolation from the other.
Implicit in this understanding is the organic oneness of the human race itself. – The Baha’i International Community, Statement to the 2015 COP21 Paris Climate Change Conference.
From talking to all sorts of different people there comes to me the sense that most do understand the interconnectedness of all things. May the spirit prevail and the minds work in ways to manifest the reality of it into a gradual coming together, in time to work on maintaining our planet in better working order, the human species as more of a family, less a large collection of suspicious ones.