Monday, August 30, 2010

Farewell - Gramzilla

This path, my MooseBoots journey, provides flashes of the future, hints of what is to come.  Of course, there is no explanation ... hint ... flash ... opportunity ... hint.  It is fairly widely known that I am not completely satisfied in my current position at my current employer.  Perhaps, a new path is emerging ... there have been several coincidences in the last few days.

Let's begin at the start.  My Grandmother has not been well for some time.  She has been bed ridden on and off for months.  She has been in and out of the hospital several times.  She has had numerous surgeries to correct back, hip, and knee issues that prevented her from really living.  Five days ago, she was transported from the hospital, after and extended stay at a rehabilitation hospital and an emergency room, to a hospice facility to receive end-of-life care.

During this time, she had expressed frustration about how long the process was taking.  She had decided that her time was up and that she was ready to die.  I have been a casual bystander for the most part; I played the role of the objective voice of reason for my Mom, Gar.  She relied on me to provide insight into situations without the confusion and fog of family dysfunctions and bickering.  In spite of the fact that I am not completely convinced, she insists that I have been very helpful.  I was also called up to journey to her and try to assess what was holding her back.  I did and relayed the information, which was purportedly helpful.  Then (hint), Gar commented that there may be a place for me in this type of work.

Wendy, the girls, and I went and visited on Saturday after playing a little at a local water park (end of summer deal).  Gramzilla was pretty wiped out, but woke briefly and acknowledged that we were there.  The mood was somber, but this had not really changed much over the last few days.  We stayed for a couple of hours and left.

Sunday, after Wendy's drop off, we stopped in for a quick visit.  One of our neighbors has also not been doing well and we suspected that he was in hospice care too.  I asked and confirmed that he was there; of course, we ran into his wife at the same time.  Wendy spent a while talking with his wife and daughters.  The had been no significant progress with Gramzilla although her pulse had weakened and her breathing had slowed.  So, we left after a bit, offering any assistance we could give to the neighbors.  Wendy also invited one of the daughters over with her child to see our animals. 

The call came in on Monday morning at about 1:45.  Her breathing had changed and she didn't have long.  Now, I didn't get the message until about 6:15, or so, and I had to take chickens in to the butcher.  I texted Gar to let her know.  Then, I rushed about feeding animals, showering, loading chickens with Wendy's help, and left.  I arrived at 7:50.  Gramzilla was certainly different ... gasping, gurgling breathe significant in the last days of life.  Gar began weeping when I walked in the room.  Apparently, she needed a release and support that she was not necessarily getting without Wendy or me present.

The family had gathered and were very somber.  The room was tense with everyone hanging on each gasp ... would there be another?  After a bit, my aunt wanted some music.  She wanted to play some of Gramzilla's favorites ... starting with Wasted Days and Wasted Nights.  I started pandora and typed in the song.  Perhaps I started the whole ball rolling, but ....  I do not believe that this was a sad, somber occasion.  This woman has been struggling with pain and depression for a while.  This should be a celebration of her ability to overcome life's adversities and move on into a new beginning.  Soon, family members were singing along with the songs and telling stories of Gramzilla's life.  There was laughing and joy by the side of her deathbed.  Some family members, including Gar to my surprise, could not condone this and a couple left the room.  Gar did not leave, but I could read the annoyance on her face.  She is an ordained interfaith minister and had dealt extensively with abuse victims and many social services incidents.  I leaned close and spoke softly ... this is their way of dealing with this and it is bringing out stories of Gramzilla.  Who am I to say this?  I have no training, but intuitively (hint) I knew what to say to her to show the need.  It did wonders to relieve the stress in the room and clear the air.

I left to go to the bathroom.  As I walked back down the hall, my neighbors daughter approached ... distraught ... her dad had passed.  Wendy and I have never been terribly close to these people, but we knew them.  She looked to me (flash) for consolation.  I hugged her and assured her that he was in a better place with no pain or suffering.  Then, she floored me with, "my mom would love to see you."  Who am I?  What do I have to offer other than an ear and a sympathetic heart?  She pointed the way down the hall (next door to my grandmother) and walked away.  I hesitantly walked into the room unsure of what to say or do.  I first ran into another of the three daughters and offered her my condolences, a hug, and murmured some reassurance that he would not suffer any more (he was diagnosed recently with painful, uncomfortable cirrhosis of the liver, but he did not drink).  I then approached the new widow.  I guess you don't need to do or say anything in particular; she told me what she needed.  She needed someone to re-assure her that he was better now and that things would be all right.  She just needed someone to listen, to look and see what had happened to her husband, to say that he was a good man, to hug her while she cried at her obviously painful loss (they had been married for 44 years).  I offered any assistance they might need from us and left.

I am an engineer, not a social worker, clergyman, or physician.  I am an apprentice studying Shamanism.  Regardless, I returned to much the same scene I had arrived at in my grandmother's room in the morning.  I called Wendy to relay the message about the neighbor to the other neighbors who had asked.  She offered to bring lunch for everyone.  After a bit, she arrived and everyone enjoyed the delicious food she brought.  Nothing much had changed ... maybe the breathing was bit slower.  She left, the girls were staying, and I walked her out.  When I returned not 5 minutes later, everything had changed.  The gasps were gone and the breathing had changed to very shallow attempts to breathe.  Within 2 minutes, she was gone.  Gramzilla had passed over.  She had completed the transition from this plane of existence to the next. 

The girls were brave and had witnessed the final minutes.  The Precious and Little Fire Faerie drew some pictures and placed them on her chest.  Big Little Sister needed something from home to complete her drawing.  We will be sure to pass it on to be with Gramzilla.

The last few days have been long.  I have seen flashes of were this MooseBoots journey is taking me, but the picture is far from complete.  I have learned of talents I never knew I possessed.  I had used them to offer comfort and insight.  Gar told me later that I had been very helpful to her ... I was only doing what came naturally and intuitively.  I have much to learn, but the last few months, with Tammy's passing and now Gramzilla's, have shown me that the application is far more valuable that the conscious recognition of the knowledge.

Rest in Peace, Gramzilla.  Thank you for helping to shape who I am.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

New Uses For Oil Lamps

One of the recurring themes on this MooseBoots journey, my path to a hand-made pair of moccasins made from hand-tanned leather, is to live in the moment, to take the opportunity to really savor life's flavor.  I find,as an adult, that I need constant reminders and, even still, significant effort from time to time.  Kids, particularly my kids, seems to get it, however.  In the hopes that we can give them a life where they do not lose that precious belief and attitude, we homeschool.  Wendy is also other valuable source of encouragement and inspiration.  Anyway....

A few weeks ago, the power went out.  It was nearing dusk and so, we lit some candles and, of course, my olive oil lamp.  Mind you ... the power went out, let's just say at 19:15 for convenience.  By 19:16, Wendy and the girls had the marshmallows out, accompanied by Hershey's chocolate bars and graham crackers ... s'mores in the making.  And, who needs sticks ... fondue sticks work very well.  Oh, the power was back on within 10 minutes, but the sheer momentum of s'more build kept the lamp lit far beyond any requirement for light.

As much as I learn from books and watching videos on Youtube, it can not compare with the intuitive knowledge and teaching that comes from our own wife and children.  Not only My MooseBoots path, but my life, is enriched, more than words can say, by these wonderful, creative, beautiful people. 

Thank you, guys!

P.S.  It turns out that the power outage is not a necessary component.  Several days later ... they just wanted s'mores so the lamps was lit again.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Outdoor Skills Class - August 2010

Consistency is lacking in my MooseBoots journey.  Repetition creates habits that we live instinctively.  One of the planned activities that goes a long way keeping my sanity intact is our monthly outdoor skills class.

The class, which is designed for the kids, tends to meander along ... no rush and frantic flurry of activity.  Our teachers do not bite off more than the kids can chew, as frustrating as that can be for some of us adults.  This month was no different.  I'll preface this all with the fact that we missed the first half of the class ... schedule conflict.

This month we started working on a wood shed for our semi-permanent camp site.  The construction started similarly to the wigwam ... pounding upright posts into the ground.  These had been de-barked and sharpened to a point and had a crotch about four feet up the length.  The back uprights were not pounded into the ground, but pushed in and leaned against a couple of trees.  Cross beams were added and then a few rafter logs.

The highlight, for me, was going out and searching for bark, birch and pine, from fallen trees for the roof covering.  I find it calming to be in the woods, opening my senses and really searching.  Perhaps, it is the forest bathing effect.  I, personally, can not get enough time in the woods.

While we may not have added a really cool new skill, and we may not have created something really beautiful and useful, I must say that my MooseBoots path benefited from simply being in those lovely moments.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Black Nightshade, Bunchberries, Blueberries, and Blackberries

My efforts toward progress on my journey, my quest for the skills, wisdom, and knowledge to make a pair of MooseBoots, has been very sporadic lately.  Things get busy, frantic even.  They don't ever seem to stop, but, in the few minutes pause afforded, there seems to be some time, not enough, just some.

I went hunting for the seemingly elusive wild Maine blueberry.  They were well hidden and difficult to find.  Maybe, this is because the girls were along and enjoying the day.  Perhaps, there has been a lot of pressure and they've simply going into hiding.  Regardless, the blueberry patch we hunt supported only a meager few small berries.  We searched around the area, but only came up with a handful for our trouble.  During the search, we did find this.

This is a bunchberry.  Bunchberry, the world.  I had never taken the time to really see this plant before.  I knew in an instant that it was bunchberry.   Of course, I left it and returned to the house to consult with Nature's Garden to ensure that my intuition was correct.  Perhaps, I should consider carrying this with me on my adventures ... hmmmm.  Anyway ... I went back and picked a single berry to sample.  Thayer suggests that the berries are bland, but I found that, after eating partridge berries when I find them (kind of a bond with the land thing for me), they had a pleasant, mildly sweet flavour.  This is certainly a plant worth knowing, but I won't count on it for more than a bit of a snack or to bond with a place.

We decided to avail ourselves of a nearby pick-your-own farm for the blueberries.  I'll admit it was much quicker picking 4 pounds of berries on lovely high-bush plants bursting with fruit.  The part that bothers me is that we had to pay for them.  Can you still consider it foraging if money changes hands, even if it is a reasonable sum?

My inner hunter gatherer was not satisfied with this effort and demanded more.  So, when we returned home, we all walked on the nearby portion of the Eastern Trail.  I have been foraging snacks at work, after having watched the blackberry bushes for months in eager anticipation.  I knew that the blackberries should be ready.  The bramble were not at full peak yet, but there were plenty of berries for the picking.  After a pleasant, sunny time, we returned home and weigh our haul ... 3.5 pounds.  The intent is now, during the peak, to return and pick more.  All of the berries that were not immediately eating have been washed and frozen for the winter.

Not to be shown up, our own lovely homestead still provides plenty of surprises.  We compost, rather lazily, but we do.  Our compost pile tends to provide more than just fill for any of the various beds, pots, or otherwise.  It also provides us with plants ... some we know because we cultivated them previously, some we do not, perhaps they are native to our area and appreciate the rich, healthy, fertile medium.  Wendy was weeding her garden and pulled up this plant. 

She asked me if I knew what it was. 
"No."  Upon close inspection, I added, " that little green berry, and the way the leaves attach to it looks like a tiny tomato."
"It is not a tomato."  Pause.  "Maybe," she added, "it is a member of the nightshade family."
Clickety click, click, click ... searching ... "Hmmm, how about black nightshade?"  Flip, flip, flip ... reading (Nature's Garden) ... "Hey, that's edible!"  How's that for teamwork?

Patiently, I waited for the berries to ripen.  I picked one, after confirming that it was indeed black nightshade and not one of the other nightshade family members, and popped it in my mouth.  Ewww, not what I expected ... it tastes like tomato and is not sweet like other berries.  Tomatoes, in case you couldn't guess, are not my favorite fruits.  Musing, gears whirling, I wonder if you could make a tomato-like sauce for pasta with those?

This MooseBoots path, in spite of life's twist and turns, is simply amazing.  It still surprises me how often my intuition is correct and how much I already know.  Of course, there is always more to learn ... I think it is a testament to one's wisdom when this realization comes to light.  Of course, while picking blackberries from the bushes at work the other day, I became aware of some other berries that need identification.  See, more to learn and experience.