Veronica's Garden

Rachel Creager Ireland on writing, living, the Flint Hills, and the Post Rock Limestone Caryatids

Blue Jay, Cyanocitta cristata

It’s been quite a busy summer. I’m a personal assistant to two children, which is a job I never thought I’d be competent to perform. Early in the season, I bought a Passion Planner so I could keep it all together. I love how the planner has a place to write the focus of each week, though too many weeks all I can think of to focus on is simply getting through the week.

I had ambitious goals for this summer. I was going to do a project every month. June’s project was renovating the spa, but that has dragged on much longer than I’d hoped, and I’m thinking about coming to a stopping point and moving on to the July goal, which is to publish a story which has been waiting for a book cover for several months, and to do some more original writing. Not to mention getting caught up on both my blogs, and promote them more actively. But even scaling back my goals doesn’t get me through the days. This week I’m going with one Girl Scout troop on an overnight trip, and planning, organizing and supervising a full day event for the other troop. In between, a dear friend who lives far away will be in the midwest, and bless her, she’s going to take a day to come out to the sticks just to see us.

Keeping on top of it all is a constant challenge. I’ve tried coffee, but the extra energy seems to come with even greater propensity to flit randomly from one task to another, so I’m not sure there’s a net improvement. A little yoga and meditation are perhaps more beneficial. I saw on facebook or somewhere that some famous yogi said that everyone should meditate for at least ten minutes per day, unless one doesn’t have time, in which case, twenty minutes. So I am making the effort to prove that ten is enough for me.

Today I was doing my usual practice: after a little yoga, I cool down and end in corpse pose (savasana), in which I listen to my breath, attempting to take a full breath in and out without a thought. There’s always a thought, though, but for some reason I always think the next breath will go better, so I try again. Sometimes I do get almost to the end of the inhalation before a thought comes. Today somewhere in the middle I heard a voice asking, “Been in the dungeon?” Oh no, I haven’t been—wait a minute, who’s been in the dungeon? Who put you there, and why? It was Mariah, the little waif/saboteur with whom I had meant to make friends. But today she says I put her in the dungeon because I wanted to prove that I was in control.

Before I could figure out what to do with that, I heard a ruckus in the yard. Blue jays are known to be annoyingly loud, and from my observations this summer, I’d say they can be alarmist as well. That crow-like screech is their alarm call, as well as warning to any creature they consider a threat. When the threat is resolved, they make a pretty cuckoo-like signal. The screeching was louder and more urgent than I’d ever heard, even from blue jays, so I looked out the patio door and sure enough, there was Wildy the cat in the tall grass (mowing was one of the things I haven’t had time for this summer) playing with something gray in front of her. Damn! It’s been nearly ten years since we’ve had blue jays, since the year Wildy’s predecessor 23, (may he rest in peace) killed all the babies, one by one, as they flew the nest. I’ve regretted ever since that I didn’t keep him inside that day.

There was no time to lose, so I decided to let my pants lie where I’d left them on the ottoman and ran out in my underwear. Two adults were swooping and screeching all around, and in the middle of it, cat and fledgling were facing each other off. Not waiting to see what would happen next, I grabbed Wildy by the nape and wrapped both my arms around her as I retreated. Inside, we watched from the patio doors while the bird hopped over near the door, mom and dad screeching incessantly. (They can see us through the doors, though they don’t know that fixing the doors so they open and close is another project that hasn’t made it to the top of the list yet.) But I watched long enough to see the juvenile hop on both legs, and stretch and fold both wings, so there’s a pretty good chance the bird was uninjured. Then I closed the curtains to give the poor parents a break.

I might have looked up the symbolism of blue jay earlier in the summer, but a drama such as this is what happens when one ignores the more subtle signals. What does Ted Andrews have to say about blue jay?

“For those to whom the jay comes as a totem, it can reflect lessons in using your own power properly.”

The power comes from both the spiritual and the physical realm, as blue jay moves between worlds. “The main problem will be in dabbling in both worlds, rather than becoming a true master of both. Those with a jay as a totem usually have a tremendous amount of ability, but it can be scattered or it is often not developed any more than is necessary to get by.”

“If the jay has flown into your life, it indicates that you are moving into a time where you can begin to develop the innate royalty that is within you, or simply be a pretender to the throne. It all depends upon you. The jay has no qualms. It will teach you either direction.” Okay, jay friends, I hear the message loud and clear, but damned if I know how to live any better than I am right now.

Fifth Disease

A bit early, I did a semi-annual review of my goals for the year, and was pleased to see that I had made good progress. But there was still so much I wanted to do. I bought a planner so that I could visualize how it was all going to fit into the rest of the year.

It wasn’t even the solstice yet before I hit a wall. I couldn’t get a thing done. If it could conceivably be put off, it was put off. I’d made exciting plans to do some renovations in the spa, which would concur with raising my prices; but suddenly nothing felt worth the effort. Instead of pushing myself to do just a bit more every day, I was doing a lot less. I was antsy to write (how long has it been since I last blogged?), but it wasn’t in the planner till July, and I wanted to be making more money for massages I’d be doing along the way. On top of that, working out the summer schedule of gymnastics and camp and swimming lessons made me feel like a personal assistant to my two children, and I’d always known I’d be a terrible personal assistant. I can’t even do that stuff for myself.

The I got a rash all over my body, and I put together a veritable list of disparate symptoms which had affected me or my younger daughter or both of us, she a week ahead of me. Headache, low-grade fever, malaise; which disappeared, followed by a red rash all over the body. It sounded like fifth disease. It’s not a very serious disease, and probably half of adults have had it, but most don’t even remember, or didn’t have noticeable symptoms at all. She’s already forgotten about it, but I got one symptom she didn’t: aching joints all over.

Now, I’m only on day three of the aching joints, but it is a little disconcerting. Is this what it feels like to be old, or to have rheumatoid arthritis? Taking epsom salt baths and doing slow yoga before even attempting to make breakfast? It was worse today than yesterday, but I could work through it; when a client didn’t show, I went back in the house to lie down and meditate upon this condition. Failing that utterly, I went to the internet. RA Warrior discusses the similarity between the joint pain that often accompanies fifth disease—particularly in adults, particularly in women—and rheumatoid arthritis. So I looked up the symbolism of rheumatoid arthritis, and found this from Misa Hopkins:

“Rheumatoid arthritis is about being angry with yourself for what you did not do or accomplish that you think you should have done. It includes a deep criticism of authority and a feeling of being very put upon.”

Well, that hit a nerve, even as I thought, I forgive myself so much. I really do, I’ve worked hard at it. It’s just that I want to write, without my family having to make sacrifices to support me in it.

Perhaps 90% of people who get joint pain from fifth disease recover completely, usually within two weeks. I intend to do whatever is necessary to make sure I am one of them. See me writing, right now?

Made for me by dear friend Amy Carlson (yes THE Amy Carlson!)

Made for me by dear friend Amy Carlson (yes THE Amy Carlson!)

Some Days

I’m supposed to be finishing the Costa Rica journal, but instead I’m writing poetry. Some days are just like that.

Some Days

Some days feel heavily burdened by
a miasma of inertia. The work refuses
to get done, the kids whine and refuse too.
Some days nothing works, no effort bears
fruit everything is a futile struggle, and the only
thing to do is to recognize
the hopelessness of it all and quit. Give in
to your children’s demands to go to the pool,
get there fifteen minutes before closing,
be in the water as long as you can,
until the whistle blows. Because—
remember this—on days when trying
doesn’t work, not trying doesn’t work
either, it’s just a little easier, a little more
likely to precede an inexplicable
moment of sublime grace when you
suddenly notice you love everything,
the dust on the wall, chigger bites,
the tomatoes you still haven’t planted
and the picnic you’re planning. Simple pleasures
like the swimming pool and the city band
that plays music in the park. Quit fighting,
and notice it’s a remarkably nice life you have.
Notice the way time passes and
every moment is slightly different
than the previous one, until it’s another season,
you’re middle aged now and it’s okay.
Accept that nothing works, and get in the water,
be in the water as long as you can, until
the whistle blows.

Bullfrogs

So there was this one time when she was in high school, she was partying in a dorm room with some college guys, who were giving her and her girlfriends some kind of greenish mixed drinks they called bullfrogs. They were generous with the liquor, not at all concerned that the girls would drink it all. At some point she found herself alone in the room. Everyone had gone off to another dorm room, but she hadn’t left with them, probably too queasy to move. Finally she dragged herself off the bed and up the hall looking for her friends, but halfway there she barfed all over the floor. It was right by the lounge, where a college girl was watching TV on a couch, and the college girl said, “That’s gross! Are you gonna clean that up?” and she said, “Yeah, I will. I’ll clean it up.” And not because you yelled at me. The other girl obviously didn’t believe her, but they both knew there was no point in arguing. You don’t know me, girl with acne watching TV in your dorm on Saturday night. Just because I’m a teenager wearing too much make-up and jewelry and barfing drunk with some boys whose names I already don’t remember, doesn’t mean I’m the kind of person who would leave my own barf stinking on the floor. She went back down the hall to the room she’d come from. Naturally there were no cleaning rags on hand; the best she could find was a bath towel hanging on a rack above a sink. She hated to use what might be the guy’s only bath towel, but wouldn’t it be worse to leave barf all over the floor? So she took it up the hall to the lounge, and wiped up everything she could find, taking extra care because she was so drunk she was sure to do a sloppy job. She went back down to the room and rinsed the towel in the sink, and because her mother had taught her that you never wipe a spill with just a dry towel, you always go back over it with a damp one to get all the sticky residue, she took the towel up the hall again and wiped the floor so thoroughly that Nerdy Girl finally said, “That’s good, thank you.” Then she went down to the room and hung the towel back on the rack by the sink, feeling slightly regretful that she’d used a good bath towel to wipe barf off the floor.

This was not the last of her partying days. She continued through high school, college, and well into her twenties, after she’d fallen in love and married.  She didn’t clean up her act until she had children, two beautiful, brilliant daughters, at which time she was surprised to notice that she didn’t really miss partying at all. Long after the children were old enough to sleep on their own, she would lie down between them at bedtime, their heads one on each of her arms, until they fell asleep. Listening to their breath, she would entertain herself by thinking about old times, giggling silently to herself when she imagined that guy—the one in the dorm, feeding mixed drinks to underage girls in his room, yeah that shithead—waking up hungover, blearily stumbling to the sink, reaching out for his only towel and finding it clammy and—she can only hope–still stinking of barf and alcohol.

Wined Towel

Snow In May

Dear friends, it is I, Veronica Speedwell. Perhaps you thought you’d heard the last from me; But no. Spring positively requires poetry about flowers, and that is a job for me, whether Rachel likes it or not.

Snows of the Prairie

White fluff falls from the sky
of a glorious early spring day.
Cottonwood seeds catch the breeze:
Snow in May

The sunflowers peak and die back—
summer’s last ember.
White heath breaks into bloom!
Snow in September.

white heath by fence

Professor Lucretia Blackwing

The kids wanted me to play outside with them. Be a Hogwarts professor, they said. I had a million things to do, but it was a fine day and it seemed reasonable to take an excuse to do the outside stuff instead of the inside stuff, so I said I would, because: about a month ago, I got spring fever and bought some tomato seeds and planted way more than I have space to grow, and I’ve never had much success with tomatoes from seed, until this time. So I needed to prep a bed for them. I told the kids I’d be Herbology professor and we’d study nightshades.

So I started digging and first thing, Kiran (Hogwarts name Lila Blackwing, because she is my daughter in Hogwarts world, and I am Lucretia Blackwing) asked me what I wanted to teach about nightshade. She said it made her think of “deadly nightshade,” and I concurred that some nightshades are deadly, but there was one in particular that we commonly eat. She was not able to guess it, even when I told her that what I was doing at that moment was a hint. Finally I told her tomatoes.

Rowan (Hogwarts name Stella Galaxy) was in a more academic mood (I always think she should be a Ravenclaw, but she was a Slytherin today), so I told her to go inside and get my Jeanne Rose Herbal and look up nightshade and write me a report on it. She couldn’t find the book so she started searching the internet. Conveniently, her computer is next to a window that overlooks the tomato bed-to-be, so I told her to search “Solanum,” and she found an enormous amount of information. I’d forgotten, myself, that potatoes are nightshades, too. She took lots of notes, but I haven’t seen the report yet.

I dug until I hit some concrete, and couldn’t plant a tomato there. Kevin came home from church and we got ready to go the the in-laws’ for Sunday dinner. So it was a fruitful morning. I did a small amount of gardening, got some sun and fresh air, and progressed in my ongoing lesson that magic is absolutely real, and everything is magical, if you’re willing to look at it the right way.

Photo by Rowan Ireland

Photo by Rowan Ireland

When David Duchovny Visits Your Dream

Happy Easter. (I know some of you don’t celebrate Easter, but I hope most of us at least got a 3-day weekend out of it.)

When David Duchovny Visits Your Dream

If David Duchovny visits your dream,
it’s not the real person, the one who
never finished his dissertation on magic
and technology in poetry. The man who
enters your mind is really the part of you
who wants to believe, or possibly the one
who fucks over everyone who loves him,
to party in a mansion with wannabe starlets.
It’s true that the one you meet really does
want to help you solve the mystery, and
it’s true that he would give you a piece of
paper when sitting next to you in design class
when you’re unprepared and too burdened
with useless miscellanea to bring what you need
to class. But it’s not true that you have
a deep soul connection to him, or rather,
to that actor, but it is true that you have
a deep soul connection to the one who
plays that role in your internal drama. You
have invited the actor’s face to gaze deadpan
from a facet of the gem of your psyche.
It isn’t real. He isn’t real. Or, he is already
one with you. He is you. He is you. You
talking to yourself, you are the one
you shyly hope to get to know better
one day, as the semester progresses.
Maybe you will like you, if you get to
know yourself better. Maybe you will
help yourself, offer some kindness or
assistance or simple friendship. Some
appreciation of irony, unspoken but shared
nonetheless. Maybe some of your success
and fame will rub off on you, and one day
you’ll be a person people know, someone
people notice, someone they care about,
hope to meet one day. Someone people
dream about. Would you do that for you?

***

I don’t know, there might be a minor change yet, so consider it a draft. Who do you dream about?

Vulture Gifts, and Crying at the Laundromat

The turkey vultures were late this year. I’ve recorded their spring arrival on March 18, or as late as the spring equinox, but it was the 30th and I’d only seen three solitary birds yet. The weather was favorable for them, and prairie burning had begun. Where were the vultures?

I was beginning to worry. Had something happened to them? On other continents, vultures have been greatly stressed due human-introduced toxins. I hadn’t heard of such difficulties in the Americas, but turkey vulture’s range is so extensive, who knows what could happen that I wouldn’t hear about. Did inclement weather delay them?

Maybe because of Saturn retrograde, I’ve been having difficulty moving forward these past couple weeks. We finally got the sewer fixed (blessings on those who work on sewer lines), but it’s still a struggle to move the crap out of the house. I was going to clean things up while Kevin was on a business trip, but . . . I did other things instead, I guess. Still have to take the laundry to Emporia, and I left a big bag at home inadvertently. Clearing, cleansing, completing, the hardest part of life for us, I don’t know why. And it impacts the beginning stages of the next project, and my just-released monster erotica story is going nowhere.

For all these reasons, I was getting pretty worked up about the vultures. What if they were disappearing, like honeybees and monarchs? I need their gifts, desperately: the force of transporting that which has expired to its next incarnation, making room for new life. I got teary at the laundromat, thinking, I don’t know if I can get by without them.

(It didn’t help that, while folding laundry, I stumbled onto this sad Amanda Palmer song.)

I looked for them whenever I went by their roosting spot in Strong City. Yesterday the sun was setting as I took the kids home from Girl Scouts and soccer. It was just the time in the evening when they should be settling down. Where were they? I told the girls they were missing. Rowan said, “Are those vultures?” They were on her side of the car, though, and I couldn’t see them while driving. But they went right over us, low, and yes. “Yes! Two! Three!” And they glided into a nearby tree to join three dozen others already perched, as if they’d been there forever.

The turkey vultures have returned, and the cycle of life expanding, contracting, and rebirthing itself can roll on. Thank you, friends, for coming back.

Wet Kiss

Kevin was on a business trip all last week. It’s so nice to have him back, it inspired this little haiku.

He’s returned home. Now,
two toothbrushes in the cup
sharing a wet kiss.

Kevin and Rachel

Costa Rica Diary: Jeep-Boat-Jeep to La Fortuna

Lake Arenal lies between Monteverde and La Fortuna, so the most direct route utilizes what’s called a jeep-boat-jeep network. We actually went in a van, but the road was very rugged, bumpy, and steep. In some places I would have wondered if a vehicle could pass, had it not been for the calm confidence of the driver. I sat in the back with my seat belt on, and watched the scenery.

Not far out of Monteverde, the cloud forest gives way to cleared pastures, though the mountain grasslands feel as remote as the forest. There were long stretches of dirt road where we didn’t see another vehicle or person. Some slopes were so steep I wondered that cattle could graze there.

This is a regular route, not a chartered van, so we picked up some other passengers. There were a couple teenaged girls who embarked in Santa Elena, but in a village along the way, we picked up a little girl standing in front of her house. (She turned out to be with the older girls.)

Eventually we stopped in what seemed like the middle of nowhere, next to the lake. When I saw the narrow dirt footpath down to the water, I was glad I had packed lightly, and had everything in a backpack.

The boat was the kind with a roof and open sides, and benches for passengers. Everyone got at least a little spray on us as we zipped across the lake. We saw several great egrets near the shores.

In La Fortuna, we checked into Cabanas Rusticas, which turned out to be not so rustic at all. Korey and Valeria had a cabana to themselves, while the rest of us shared a 2-story, 3-bedroom cabana with a full kitchen. There was a lovely garden surrounding us, and a tiny pool where the girls splashed. The cabanas were built in a log cabin style, but were very well-equipped. There were lots of windows on every side of the building, and doors too, all with shutters that could be easily opened. Upstairs, there was a porch with rocking chairs and a perfect view of the volcano. (Volcan Arenal wasn’t active when we were there, so it looked like a regular mountain, when we could see it through the mist.)

They don’t use window screens much in La Fortuna, which wasn’t really a problem. We didn’t get bugs in the cabin, though when I wrote in my journal in the evening, I could see geckos converging on the ceiling of the porch, to catch the bugs flying around the porch light. One night there was a monarch butterfly flying around the light, skillfully avoiding death by lizard. I was surprised to learn that there are monarchs in Central America, though they don’t migrate as they do up north.

The lack of window screens was uncomfortable for me, even though, clearly, the people who live there all the time don’t think twice about it. I probably never told you, dear readers, that one of the reasons I began studying entomology, many years ago, was as a constructive way to channel my childhood phobia of insects. It mostly allayed my fears, though there are rare times when the thought of creepy things hiding in the shadows gets me paranoid. I managed myself, though, at our stay in La Fortuna, and nothing got me.

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