A friend of ours, a happy person who was enjoying a visit from her family last week, had a brain hemorrhage and died in, as it were, mid-visit. She was ninety, so it was not a total surprise, but still.
For me she represents Winter. Fall is a little like growing old, growing toward the depth of winter, toward a personal solstice.
And so it is fall, now, around me, and also within me.
The iffy weather has arrived and I have taken to carrying an umbrella to work. As country people we don't think much, at home, about umbrellas, but in town, which is where I work (1,314 days until retirement!), it's preferable to suiting up in rain gear and serves the extra purpose of being a long, sharp object in hand as I walk to and from my parking place in the dark.
One of the things I'm experimenting with is I've given up my parking sticker, which costs about $200 a year and gives me the right to fight twenty-five thousand other people for four thousand parking spaces on campus, and am parking a mile away. The upsides are: I can always find a place; I'm driving about three less actual miles a day (15 each way instead of 18); adding two miles to my daily walking for a total of three; admiring the neighborhood, which is an attractive one with lots of quality architecture and landscaping. Downsides are: rain, darkness, and exposure to potential muggers. As some people (see here and here) are dealing with much more risk, I think this is manageable, to say the least.
This morning, on my commute, I stopped at our local utility's offices, where they were having an open house to celebrate their new solar roof. Beloved and I are part of their 100%-wind-ratepayer program, and we're hoping to swap out the hot water heater soon, but there's not that much more we can do to change our habits -- so it's nice that EPUD is pursuing as many options as they do. They're buying into another wind farm, they buy from high school and college rooftop panel programs, they run an exemplary methane plant out at the area's landfill, and are looking to finally install a turbine at Fall Creek Dam (I suspect about forty years behind schedule). I had thought perhaps their breakfast presentation would be about global warming, but, wouldn't you know, not a word on it!
Everything was about cost stabilization -- that they had learned their lesson from Enron, who had forced them into buying power, briefly, for ten times the rate they pay for hydro from the Columbia. So, wind and solar are suddenly very attractive at only three times that rate (and dropping). This is certainly the way to put across their program to most of the people in my neighborhood, to whom the price of oil is certainly a scandal but many of whom have never heard of peak oil -- and aren't likely to, as they get all their news from one cable channel and a couple of AM radio talk shows.
I indulged in a little self-praise: we had insulated the house, caulked all the small holes and stuffed dryer lint into some of the big ones, changed all the light bulbs, learned to turn off power strips, and use the clothes line when we can and have never had a dishwasher.
But it's not much. I read jewishfarmer's blog and she does the most amazing, dedicated things -- 52 lifestyle changes this year -- even though she admits herself that on the scale where it it matters -- that scale that would require an internationally enforced New Deal -- which would go over so well with the "black helicopters" crowd -- it's really futile. She applies grace and humor to a bleak outlook and doesn't rationalize her efforts, and I find her exemplary.
Beloved has been winding up the garden -- the Jerusalem artichokes, pictured above, are falling over, as are the sunflowers. She's chopping up cornstalks, cabbages, runaway zucchini, fallen apples, and the like, and having the chickens, ducks and geese pick through it all. She has blanched and frozen a lot of stuff, and put away many quarts of blackberries, plum sauce, apple sauce, and rhubarb. There's about 1/2 of one semi-dwarf apple tree still unpicked.
I've cut up the brush, mostly Himalaya berry and Japanese knotweed, along the pasture fence and reduced it to mulch, which I've spread around the poultry's shade trees to scratch over for their last blackberries of the year, and am carrying out my traditional fall projects -- storm windows, trouble-shooting our plumbing, re-routing wiring -- as time and energy allow. I have some time, such as it is, but my energy is very much less -- as I'm now fifty-eight -- and I find that while I may have plans for as soon as I get home, I'm much likelier to go directly to bed, falling asleep sometimes as early as eight o'clock! No reading, no media, just -- boom -- like an anvil had dropped on my head.
Time to begin letting some things go.
Last night, I did think I would go under the house and start ripping apart some pipes. Instead I sat awhile and watched the leaves turning brown outside. Before giving in to the impulse to get horizontal, I did one thing: the day's dishes. Beloved sometimes has trouble doing them, and many other things -- it's arthritis or something, the medical folks can't seem to make up their minds about her -- it affect her hands, her hips and her feet. Sometimes stairs are too much. That's why, as she says, "I'm getting my farming ya-ya's out while I can."
If I get too much impressed by our limitations, though, I can think about friends who have really gone down that road. One friend, more of a sister, really, is dealing with three chronic and rather life threatening conditions simultaneously, and she does it with grace, humor, and enough courage for any roomful of the rest of us. Talk about exemplary!
If you're under fifty, may I suggest that you consider your ambitious projects now? Not later? Later may never come, and if it does, it might not come in as handy as you're maybe thinking.
Beloved announced, when she was a teen-ager, that she thought she might want to be a child star. Her mom looked at her, wonderingly, and said, "Well, you better get on it, cookie."