Word-smiths are able to handle seclusion better than most people. Self-isolation provides writers with the focus needed to craft sentences. At least that’s true for me. The smallest interruption in the middle of a creative moment and zap— it’s gone. And boy is it grumpy about coming back! Of course, life is full of interruptions. The phone rings. More often than not, it’s a spam call. I have won a free cruise. All I have to do is buy a time-share. Woohoo.
More common, Peggy has something to share. Nothing unusual about that. As a husband and friend, it is my duty to listen and respond— in a positive way. I think she wrote that into our wedding vows. We’ve been happily married for 28 years, so I guess I’ve passed that test. And vice-versa. But Peggy is also sensitive to my needs as a writer. She made me a small hanging quilt with two sides. The side with books on it means I am writing. It’s quiet time. She walks by and smiles at me while pretending to zip her mouth. The little devil. Or plants a quick, quiet kiss on my lips. No way I can object to that. Or brings me a cookie still hot from the oven. Now she just walked out to fit me for a coronavirus mask she is sewing. But, for the most part, she honors the sign.
I turn the quilt over when I am not writing as my part of the bargain. There are lots of things I do related to working on my blogs or books that don’t require the same concentration. Doing research and processing photos are two examples. Interruptions are okay, even welcome. Except for spam calls. I particularly like the kisses and warm cookies.
Like many writers, I discovered that I can also work in coffee houses. In fact, I like to. The noise of people talking becomes background, a form of white noise. It’s a way I can have human companionship while still being able to focus on writing. Plus, it gets me out of the house. When I lived in Sacramento, I would start my day with a 5-mile hike along the American River and then head for one of my favorite coffee houses for a couple of hours of uninterrupted writing. And then move on to another, and another.
It’s not so easy now. We live 30 miles from town, on the edge of being off-the-grid. Try as I might, it is really hard to justify making a 60-mile round trip into Medford so I can spend a couple of hours writing, or even several hours. Coronavirus has eliminated even that option. I make do here. It’s not hard. As most of you know, Peggy and I live on a beautifully wooded five acres with the Applegate River on one side and the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest on the other. Views of the Red Buttes, still covered in snow, dominate our views out the front. It’s a great place to write— or hide out from Covid-19.
My primary writing space is the library. I am surrounded by books and reminders of our travels for inspiration. The major attraction, however, is my window on nature. My chair turns so I can either stare at books or check the action outside. Right now, a pair of rosy finches are pecking it out over who gets first right to the bird feeder while two grey squirrels are chasing each other around and around a tree trunk. Love is in the air.
The downside here is that nature itself serves as an interruption! And the woodland creatures don’t give a hoot which way my quilt is facing. Of course, I can turn around or look down, but how do you ignore a deer looking in the window, or bringing a fawn by, or a pair of bucks fighting over who gets the doe. Or a whole herd coming by while I am working on this post…
The creature that wins the trophy for the most flagrant violation of my quiet time is a male flicker. These large members of the woodpecker family would normally win their lady loves by holding drumming contests on hollow logs. He who drums loudest wins fair maiden’s heart. You know how that goes. One particularly large fellow has discovered that drumming on our vents creates a noise louder than the loudest log. To us it sounds like someone is using a jackhammer on our roof. And the ladies gather round. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve discussed his obnoxious behavior with him— or lobbed pebbles in his direction— it’s rat-a-tat-tat, rat-a-tat-tat. Over and over again.
But even here with all the beauty and wildlife to amuse me, I get restless. The need to wander is buried deep in my soul. Fortunately, there is a temporary solution. I’ve designated a number of different locations inside and outside as writing spaces. When I get itchy feet, I move between them. And that, my friends, will be the subject of Monday’s blog.
This coming Thursday we were flying out to Fort Lauderdale in Florida to climb on a cruise ship that was going to take us through the Panama Canal. There were to be stops along the way in Costa Rica, Columbia, Nicaragua and Mexico. Peggy was super excited. She had lived in Panama in the late 70s BC. (The BC here stands for Before Curt. DC is During Curt. We are hoping to avoid the AC.) She wanted to see her old home at Fort Amador, to revisit where her daughter Tasha was born, and visit the Canal again.
I was equally excited. Just watching Peggy would have been enough. But Panama, Columbia and Nicaragua were new countries for me and I am always up for seeing new places. Cartagena has been on my bucket list for a long time. I figured I would get enough blog material to last up until summer! But it wasn’t to be.
We watched nervously as coronavirus made its way from China into other countries. Given the nature of the disease and its rapid spread, the President’s words that we had only 15 cases in the US that would soon number zero rang hollow. It seemed to us like it was time to gear up and get ready, not play down the danger. It was hardly rocket science, or so it seemed to us.
Nothing focused our concern more about the trip than people being stranded on cruise ships with a highly contagious disease. Countries were refusing to let them land. Reluctantly and sadly, we came to the conclusion that the trip wasn’t worth the risk and cancelled. A few days later Princess Cruise Lines cancelled all of its cruises. That’s how fast this pandemic has developed.
As my post goes up this morning, I expect that our Governor, Kate Brown, will issue the same stay-home order for Oregon that our neighbors in Washington to the north and California to the south have. Our trips into town will be limited to quick in and outs to buy groceries and other necessities. (And no, we aren’t hoarding toilet paper.) We will practice the same social/physical distancing and hand washing/use of sanitizers that people throughout the world now find themselves doing. And we will try ever so hard to avoid touching our faces. The mere thought of it makes my nose itch.
We are lucky in that we live on five acres out in the boonies with our property backed up to a million acres of national forest. Social/physical distancing doesn’t get any easier. Our property is excited that we are going to be around to give it more attention than in normally receives— and the star thistle is bummed that I will be around to yank it out by the roots. It’s a nasty plant that spreads rapidly like coronavirus, kills off native plants, and sucks up precious groundwater. I’ll probably do a blog on it. Woohoo. Also on my to-do list: go looking for Bigfoot. There’s a reason why the world’s only Bigfoot trap is located three miles from our house. And I may go searching for gold. Why not. An old gold mine is located a few hundred yards behind our house up in the forest. Maybe Bigfoot hangs out there. I’ll let you know.
And speaking of blogging, it is hard to imagine a more positive activity in these perilous times we are facing. For one, it is the ultimate in social/physical distancing. Two, it keeps me occupied. And three, most importantly, it allows for safe social interaction with a number of people I have come to consider as close, Internet friends over the past several years. So keep blogging, stay safe, and don’t scratch your nose.
NEXT POSTS: Still thinking about Wednesday. I may take you back to my journey down the Pacific Crest Trail, or off to Europe. Since travel is out, I have plenty of posts to remind me us of the how fun, interesting, and exciting travel there can be. Friday will be special. Peggy and I just made a trip up to Crater Lake National Park to see what it looks like in the winter. One word comes to mind: beautiful.
I figured the Devil had to cook with ghost peppers, and that got me excited. I like my food spicy hot and it doesn’t get much hotter. A tiny bit goes a long, long way, even for me. Lacking that, I thought I might at least find a churning, boiling sea like you find at the Devil’s Churn. Instead, I found a quiet, bucolic scene. Crooked Creek flowed peacefully out to the ocean.
But wait a minute, I thought. The Devil is sneaky, right. Maybe Crooked Creek was indeed crooked. Maybe it tricked people into crossing and then sucked them under with quicksand. With this in mind, I went seeking other subtle reminders of the Devil’s presence.
NEXT POST: The Wednesday Photo Essay. Four years ago in February, Peggy and I went for a ride on the Alaska Railway from Anchorage to Fairbanks with our son Tony and his family. Join us as we check out Mt. Denali and attend a world championship ice carving contest.
I was up on a cliff studying one of Washed Ashore’s sculptures made out of ocean trash when I heard the statement. It was a classic. The perfect senior moment! “Excuse me ma’am,” the young woman called, “do you know there is no dog on your leash?” I turned quickly. At 76 going on 77, I take notes on such incidents for future reference. Yes indeed, a bent, elderly woman was walking down the pathway holding a leash that was strung out behind her— without the dog. She turned, glared at the leash, muttered something, and stared back down the trail like Clint Eastwood on steroids. There came Fido (the name has been changed to protect the innocent), who was equally old in dog years, about 30 feet down the path, tottering along with no obvious desire to catch up. I could almost hear him chanting “Free at last, free at last,” as he stopped to smell the dog pee and dream of his puppyhood days.
With the help of the young woman, Fido was soon recollared and the three went on their way. As did I. But I wanted to write down the story down before it wandered off like Fido. And since I was still hanging around Bandon, I decided to show you more rocks today instead of the American River flowers I promised. I am sure you are excited. Plus, Friday is Valentine’s Day, the perfect day for flowers.
NEXT POSTS: I promise flowers for Valentine’s Day. On Monday we will visit the Devil’s Kitchen. Scary? We’ll see.
I dropped Peggy at the airport in Medford on Friday. She’s off to spend a couple of weeks in Virginia on grandkid duty while their parents make a quick escape to Mexico. “Please come Mom,” Tasha had requested while Clay had sent her first-class tickets. Hard to ignore that appeal. I was invited as well, but having just spent Christmas and New Year’s back east, I opted for a solo trip in Quivera the RV over to the Oregon Coast with plans for making my way south to Redwood National Park in Northern California.
That’s what I am up to now as I put this post together. I decided what better time to write about our coming travel/blogging plans for the year than when I am out traveling. I’ve just spent the past three days in the small coastal town of Bandon, which has some of the most impressive rock formations on the Oregon Coast. They make up several of the photos for today’s blog.
Travel-wise, we have a full year planned. 2020 started with our trip home on Amtrak from Washington DC, which I’ve already blogged about. This is trip number two. (Although it’s sans-Peggy, I’m counting it.) In late March, we are taking off for a 16-day cruise focusing on the Panama Canal. Peggy lived down there in 70’s for a while in her life before Curt. It is where Tasha was born. She has been wanting to get back there for a very long time. When I mentioned the possibility of the cruise, she jumped on it. Peggy’s sister Jane and her husband Jim are going along. In addition to Panama, we’ll be making stops in Costa Rica, Columbia, Nicaragua and Mexico.
We plan to kick off our backpacking season with a 40-mile trip down the Rogue River trail. It is beautiful in spring and makes an ideal beginning of the season hike. Peggy turns 70 this year and wants to make sure she celebrates properly. She also wants to explore more of the Pacific Crest trail through Oregon this summer as well. I’ll plan a 70-mile trip to go along with her years and my 77. We also have a 7-day kayak trip planned.
The biggie in celebrating her 70th, however, is a 7-day Rhine River Cruise from Amsterdam to Bern. We’ve invited our children and grandchildren along and, needless to say, they are excited. We will be in the middle of our trip when Peggy has her birthday on July 5th. Afterward, we will pop over to France to spend several days with Peg’s brother John and his wife, Frances.
We have tentative plans to return to Burning Man this fall. That, of course, depends on our ability to get tickets in the BM lottery, never a sure thing. Throw in the fact that we will be in the middle of the Panama Canal with iffy internet connections when the lottery takes place, I am not optimistic.
Peggy is off on another cruise in September, this time with her sister Jane from San Francisco up to Victoria, BC, a girls’ trip. I’ll take advantage of it to drive Quivera south down through Santa Cruz, Monterrey, Carmel and Big Sur. I love that area and have been escaping down there since the 60s and 70s, when I used to camp out along the road in my VW van. It’s as close as I ever got to being a hippie.
October will be time to jump in Quivera and do another month-long exploration of the Southwest. This time we want to include Death Valley NP, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, Zion NP, Bryce NP, Capitol Reef NP, Canyonlands NP, and Arches NP. (This may be news to Peggy, grin.) After that we will be traveling east to spend the holidays with our kids. We are contemplating using Amtrak again, following different routes. Does that sound like enough for the year? Do you think I will have adequate material to blog about? Heck, I still have lots from last year? I never seem to catch up. Do you? And then there is the book I am writing…
I’ll conclude with a note of parental pride, if I may. Our son Tony just received the Coast Guard’s second highest award for coordinating the massive rescue effort the Coast Guard undertook in the Bahamas during Hurricane Dorian. The storm was a devastating category five hurricane with record-setting winds of up 175 mph. He and his fellow Coast Guard helicopter pilots spent 5-days more or less without sleep on the ground and up in the very dangerous air. The Commander of the Coast Guard and the Secretary of Homeland Security awarded Tony with the medal.
NEXT POST: It will be time for my Wednesday Photograph Essay. This time it will be mainly flowers I photographed along the American River Parkway in Sacramento, California.
I know, I know… I promised to cover our train trip on this post but I got side-tracked (in more ways than one). On Saturday, I was diligently working away in our library writing about the cast of characters who ride the rails when I looked out the window and noticed three deer madly dashing around our yard with their tails straight up signaling “Danger! Danger! Danger!” They charged up the hill, jumped the five-foot fence into the neighbor’s yard, did a 180, flew over the fence again and disappeared into our canyon going all-out. If you’ve ever watched frightened deer running, you know how fast this is. Seconds afterwards they burst out of the canyon and repeated the process. I called Peggy in to watch.
“Something big that likes venison must be visiting and the deer smell it,” I speculated and suggested that the local cougar might be back.
A few minutes later the deer had hightailed it up the mountain. Our property, which is normally busy with deer, squirrels, numerous birds, and other wildlife, had become eerily silent. Even the ever-squawky jays that I depend on to tell me when dangerous predators— like the local cat— are about, were uttering nary a peep.
Since we needed to do our daily mailbox walk and a fair amount of snow from the storm that I featured in my last post hadn’t melted, I proposed we keep an eye out for cougar tracks. The walk is close to a mile with the mailbox being at the halfway point. We do a round trip, leaving by our back road and returning by our front road. There would ample opportunity to look for tracks.
We found them near the mailbox! I confess I felt a bit like the deer, ready to raise my tail and dash off.
We were on the homestretch, heading up the hill to our home when we saw the next set of tracks. They came out of the canyon and headed straight for our house. That added a bit of excitement (he noted in understatement). Peggy and I quickly checked around the house. Sure enough, the big cougar had wandered around in our backyard the night before and possibly onto the snowless section of our deck. If so, it would have been about six feet away from where we were sleeping. That’s Peggy’s side of the bed. (Grin)
Things were more or less back to normal on Sunday. The deer were back, a bit jumpy, but none-the-less munching away. The bird feeder was a circus with six species contending over who got the sunflower seeds. And three squirrels were busy chasing each other in a row with love on their minds. They shot up, down, and around trees nose to tail, nose to tail.
Monday, Martin Luther King’s Birthday, had a slight twist. There was no mail, so we decided to hike up into the forest where we had taken our snow hike. This time, however we would veer off to visit what we call the bear cave. Not that we’ve ever seen a bear; it’s an old gold mining operation. We named it the bear cave to give our grandkids more of a sense of adventure when they visited. I once took our grandson Cody up there when he was five on a bear hunt with our sling shots. He’d been excited to go on an adventure with Grandpa. The closer we had got to the cave the more reluctant he had become. We’d stood back from the cave and lobbed pellets in to scare the bear out.
This time, my lovely wife was the reluctant one. She suggested we go for a walk on the road instead. Could it be that the cougar had her spooked? I laughed and away we went up the mountain. We had made the cutoff when we saw a set of huge tracks heading in the general direction of the cave. Bear tracks. Peggy let me take a couple of photos before she insisted that we beat a hasty retreat.
Following are some photos of the various tracks we came across.
NEXT POST: The train trip! Unless, of course, someone else comes to visit. 🙂
I am taking a brief break from the desert Southwest, today. Peggy and I just returned from a three day trip over to the Oregon Coast and explored the interesting town of Charleston near Coos Bay.
That we ended up in Charleston, Oregon was a complete happenstance. Peggy and I wanted to make a quick trip to Shore Acres State Park on the Oregon coast. The park puts on an annual Christmas display of over 300,000 lights that feature coastal themes focusing on Pacific Ocean wildlife. Normally we take Quivera, our RV, and camp at Sunset Bay State Park, which is just down the hill. This time we were motelling it and I found one named Captain John’s in Charleston. The town is three miles away from Shore Acres. It was just a convenience— until we went for a walk.
NEXT POST: Back to Georgia O’Keeffe at Ghost Ranch and Abiquiu in New Mexico.
I thought that normalcy had returned, that I could get back to putting up posts and reading blogs and commenting on posts and responding to comments. Ha! The keys on my laptop went bad. So I jumped to my backup computer. Bad decision. It crashed. Not just crashed, mind you, but crashed with two long posts I had just written about the 1908 22,000 mile automobile race from New York to Paris. It was a doozy. The race started in February— and no one had ever driven across the US in winter. Then the cars were transferred to Siberia by ship for the next leg! I became interested in the race when I found the actual vehicle that won, a 1907 Thomas Flyer, in the National Auto Museum in Reno when I was traveling down Highway 395.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the clock was ticking. Peggy and I are taking off on a one month trip through Arizona and New Mexico and it looked like I would be computer-less. Horror of horrors! So I went out and bought a new MacBook Pro. It arrived yesterday. We leave tomorrow. I couldn’t have cut it much closer.
It’a a beauty. The screen features a sand dune that adjusts to ambient light. Makes me want to head back to Death Valley. It’s so fast, I’ve named it Jack, as in jack rabbit. I have another Jack name for it when it misbehaves…
I’ll rewrite my auto race stories but I just wanted to give you an update on why I am still playing hooky from the web. Here are a few recent photos…
It’s time for a quick break from my Highway 395 series to bring you up to date on current events in our never-boring life such as a logging operation in our backyard. I’ll be back to Highway 395 and Virginia City in my next post.A note on photos: Peggy and I shared photographer’s duties on this post.
Removing 43 Douglas firs from our five acres was not anything Peggy and I looked forward to, either from an aesthetic or financial perspective. Global warming didn’t give us a choice. Severe drought weakened a number of our trees and voracious pine beetles took quick advantage of the situation. We decided to be proactive in hopes of slowing down or stopping the beetles.
I am no stranger to logging operations. My father was the electrician for a lumber mill when I was growing up. We considered the mill with its logging pond as part of our extended play area, much to the dismay of the nighttime and weekend watchman. He had an extensive vocabulary of swear words that he liked to share with us. We even had a logger with his logging truck living next door. He’d wake us up at 5:00 a.m. on summer mornings as he dashed off to collect his first load of logs. Since then, my backpacking trips have occasionally taken me through areas that were being logged.
None of this is anything like having a logging operation in your backyard, however. I didn’t actually hear anyone shouting “Timber!” but the buzzing sound of chainsaws accompanied by the crashing sounds of large Douglas firs (some over a hundred feet in length) was our constant companion for a week.
And Other Events…
NEXT POST: I return to my Highway 395 series and visit Virginia City where silver was king and Samuel Clemens adopted the name of Mark Twain.
I was with Marsh when he died on June 2, gently holding his shoulder. His hospice nurse, C, was holding his hand and quietly taking him through a beautiful meditation. She included the deer herd that had come down off the hill and stood around the RV. Coincidence? Probably. We normally have three or four that live on our property. But this time there were nine or ten. The extras had shown up when Marsh had come in from wintering in Arizona. Last summer he house-sat for us while Peggy and I were backpacking on the PCT. He was very generous with apples, a fact the local deer had shared with their country cousins.
When I went out to tell Peggy that Marsh had passed, the deer herd had disappeared. Only Floppy, named for her ears, was still there. She was Marsh’s favorite and had always been able to talk him out of an apple. She waited until the hearse arrived and took Marsh’s body away. She watched as it drove up the hill and then walked over and sniffed his chair. A final farewell, perhaps. She then hurried off to our canyon where she had hidden her fawn. I had hoped she would bring the baby by while Marsh was still alive, but a cougar hunting in our area made her more wary than usual. Our next-door neighbor had called three weeks earlier to tell us that the cougar was sleeping in her yard. We were all more cautious.
I found Peggy busy watering the honeysuckle Marsh had urged that we plant in our yard. It was her way of honoring him. He and I had grown up in Diamond Springs, California in the 40s and 50s with a large trellis of it outside our bedroom window. It was packed with flowers in the spring. At night when we went to bed, its delightful fragrance would come drifting in our open windows. Peggy had planted ours in April and it was in full bloom in May. Each time my brother walked by it, even when he could barely walk, he would stop and admire it, a fitting, living memorial.
Utilizing Oregon’s Death with Dignity law, Marsh had chosen the time and place of his death. When he had called in March, he had told me that his tongue and throat cancer were back. He had fought a valiant battle in Florida five years earlier. It had allowed him to continue doing what he loved to do— wander. He had spent two more years migrating between North Carolina and Florida as he had for 13 years and then moved West to travel between Oregon and Arizona. At 78, he had decided to let the disease run its course. There would be no ambulances, no emergency rooms, no ICU’s, and no tubes keeping him alive into insensibility. He requested that I be empowered to make decisions through an advanced care directive and a dual power of attorney to make sure his wishes were followed if he were incapacitated. I drafted a will for him based on his desires and we signed him up for hospice care. It was his intention to die in our back yard.
Marshall’s preference was to simply go to sleep and not wake up, peaceably drifting off to nothingness or wherever else death might take him. While neither of us is religious, we both believe the universe is a wondrous place, full of the unknown. He had gone through the process of signing up for Oregon’s Death with Dignity as an option. It was a detailed process. Two physicians had to agree that Marshall had less than six months to live and that he was mentally capable of making the decision to end his life. He had to state his desires both orally and in writing some 15 days apart. And, in the end, he had to be able to sit up and drink the medication on his own without help. Two End of Life volunteers, Tall M and Short M, had met with us to discuss what the procedure would entail if he chose to use it. Everyone, including doctors, end of life volunteers and hospice workers had emphasized that he could change his mind at any time, right up until he drank the medication. It was his decision— and only his decision to make.
As the weeks passed, Marshall failed rapidly. His tongue and throat cancer made it difficult to eat, drink and talk. Eating or drinking anything caused him to cough. Never big, his weight had dropped from 120 to 85 pounds from February until June. His skin draped over his bones. During his last week, his food had consisted of two 8-ounce bottles of Ensure. Earlier, he had desperately wanted to eat something else. He tried scrambled eggs and could only eat a couple of bites. “But those bites tasted so good!” he had exclaimed. I made him a fruit smoothie as recommended by his hospice team that he drank with delight. I cooked him one of his favorite veggies, acorn squash, to the consistency of baby food and he ate a whole bowl. But those were exceptions, and he didn’t want more.
When it became obvious that he had only a week or two left and he would be confined to bed, he decided to it was time to end his life. Being fiercely independent, he couldn’t imagine lying in bed while someone attended to his every need. He set Monday, June 3, four days away. Marsh decided to spend Thursday outside enjoying nature, which is what he had been happily doing for 17 years, except when driven in by the weather to his tent, van or RV. He had me cut up a bowl of apples for his deer visitors and insisted that I cover the apples with water so they would be fresh. Peggy and I sat with him. That evening, I joined him in the RV to keep him company. He asked for help walking to his bed and collapsed in my arms. I had to carry him. I worried that he had waited too long, that he would end up helpless, unable to meet the requirements of Death with Dignity.
His hospice nurse came in on Friday morning. I am convinced that these women and men who devote their lives to helping people ease their way out of life are as close to angels as we come on this earth. I say this not only for the expertise, peace and comfort they brought to Marshall, but for the knowledge and comfort they brought to Peggy and me. The End of Life volunteers that functioned as a support team under Oregon’s Death with Dignity law were equally caring and supportive. C talked to Marsh about his rapidly ebbing life. And Marsh, out of caution, moved his date from Monday to Sunday morning at 10:30. He also sat up and drank an Ensure in under ten minutes to prove that he could swallow the medication in the time required. Time is important because the medication contains a potent medicine that puts you to sleep in a few minutes. You need to drink all of the medicine before then.
While Marsh was meeting with C, I drove into Medford and picked up his medicine. Only two pharmacies in Medford carry it. Again, there are stringent safety rules. I produced both my driver’s license and my dual power of attorney. The doctor’s prescription had the wrong date for Marshall’s birth. Fortunately, the POA showed the correct date. I waited while the mistake was cleared up with the doctor. The whole experience felt strange and almost surreal. I was collecting the medicine that would lead to my brother’s death.
On Saturday Morning, I joined Marsh in his RV at 9:00. As I walked in he gave me a big smile and a thumbs-up. He had managed to get dressed, was sitting at his breakfast table, had drunk another Ensure, and had written up a to-do list for me. Among other things, he wanted to make sure that his beer found a good home. He’d bought a couple of cases of Miller Ice at Walmart to see him through his last weeks and then couldn’t drink it. (I gave it to Ed, my barber. Ed greets Pacific Crest Trail hikers as they cross the Oregon border into California with food and drink. Having hiked over 700 miles of the trail myself last summer, I knew how much the beer would be appreciated.)
I sat with Marsh all day while we listened to music from his 40s, 50s and 60s collection, sad songs and love songs from an almost forgotten era. He could barely talk. We communicated when necessary by writing notes. Mainly we sat in quiet, supportive silence as the music took us back in time to when we were young. He checked his watch often as the seconds, minutes and hours wound down.
I was out early on Sunday morning. I knew Marsh would want to be up and I needed some time on my own to prepare for the day. At eight I went out with a cut up apple and left it where I keep a deer block to supplement the does’ diets when they are nursing. I thought of the apple as an offering. Decades earlier, when I had been a Peace Corps Volunteer in West Africa, I often found food left at the base of towering cottonwoods as I hiked down jungle trails. It had been left for the spirits that resided in the trees. I’d been fascinated by the ritual. As I placed the apple on the deer block, I asked the forest spirits, or whatever gods that were listening— if any— to make Marshall’s passing easy and give him peace.
Marsh was in his bedroom. “I am so glad you came early,” he whispered. “I tried to call you on the walkie-talkie but couldn’t make it work.” Technology wasn’t his thing, to put it mildly. He was still in bed, unable to dress. I helped him pull on his pants and socks. He had me pick out a handsome, long-sleeved pullover. He wanted to look good. Marsh asked for my hand in standing up but insisted on walking out to his couch, carefully holding onto things as he went. It was to be his last walk; he wanted to do it on his own. He sat up straight, fighting sleep. Peggy came in, sat down beside him, and held his hand. She and I shared stories and even laughter, helping Marshall pass the time and letting what we feel for each other include him. He started coughing so I offered to place some liquid morphine under his tongue. C had told us it would relax him and help reduce the coughing. Marshall agreed since coughing might interfere with taking the medicine. Although the hospice team had brought the morphine on its first visit, he had refused to use it. He was proud of the fact that he had reached 78 without prescribed medications and had been feeling only minimal pain.
C drove down our road at 9:30 and joined us. While hospice nurses are not allowed to mix or provide direct help in consuming the medicine, they are allowed to give comfort. Their presence is totally volunteer. Marsh had wanted C to be there and she had readily said yes. I brought out the anti-nausea medicine he was supposed to take. Throwing up was not an option. I told Carrie some of my favorite Marshall stories while we waited for the End of Life volunteers, again helping him pass the time. He grinned when I told his favorite tales.
Tall M and Short M arrived at 10:00. Peggy and I went into our house to give the three time to meet with Marsh. Their job was to assure that he still wanted to take the medication and to determine whether he would be able to sit up and drink it. Short M told us later that he had dozed off while talking with them. He had awakened with a start. “Am I dead?” he had asked. All four, including Marsh, had shared a laugh. After a very long 15 minutes, the EOL volunteers came in and told us that he still wanted to take the medication and that they felt he could manage it.
While Peggy stayed with the volunteers to assure they had what the needed to prepare the medicine, I went out to share my last minutes with my brother.
Tall M came in with the medicine in a glass and handed it to Marshall. She also brought apple juice. The medicine is said to be extremely bitter. The apple juice would help counter the taste. There was absolute silence as Marsh took his first sip: silence out of concern and out of respect. The concern was real, intense. Could Marsh finish the drink before he fell asleep? Would drinking the medicine cause a coughing fit? Would his passage be easy? While people drinking the medicine go to sleep immediately, it normally takes 30 minutes or so to die. It can take up to 20 hours.
The seconds passed, becoming minutes. Marsh moved slowly. Stopping to look at the glass or to sip apple juice. I quietly spoke encouraging words to him. We all did. Then he was finished. He motioned for the apple juice, raising it toward his lips as C began her quiet meditation. It never made it. A tear formed in the corner of his eye. I gave his shoulder a squeeze and whispered “We love you.” And he died. A quiet, dignified death.
Peggy went out later to tell him goodbye. The EOL volunteers had laid him out. “He looked so peaceful,” Peggy told me. “His eyes were closed and his lips were parted like he was sleeping.” Or maybe he was smiling.
The Bush Devil Ate Sam is an important record and a serious story, yet told easily, and with delightful humor. This is one of the most satisfying books I have ever read, because it entertained me thoroughly AND made me feel better informed. —Hilary Custance Green: British Author... Click on the image to learn more about my book, the Bush Devil Ate Sam, and find out where it can be ordered.
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