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When I learned Wednesday a former neighbor had died, I sent an e-mail to my sisters.  One of them asked if we wanted to send flowers for the service.  My older sister questioned why when we had lost touch with them.

Why?  I used to babysit their children (and they were the best kids I ever watched), but that’s not the reason.  Yes, they were our neighborhood children (we used to call Lynette “Lynetti Spaghetti”–hope that didn’t cause any problems for her later).

It’s because I know where the family is–in that cold, dark place where the grief comes in waves so strong you feel you are going to drown.  But first you have to get through the numbing shock that makes you think you must be dreaming; this can’t be real.

Yes, we had lost touch.  But they came to both our parents’ funerals.  And they had stopped by our parents’ house here a few times when they made trips to Scottsdale to buy Southwestern turquoise jewelry.

We were just up in Wisconsin over a week ago.  We drove by our old house but didn’t stop in to see them.  And now I was feeling the pain again of losing your father through those kids.  The oldest is five or more years younger than me.  Living 75 years might seem a lot to some, but losing your father at any age is devastating unless you had a horrible relationship.  Even then, the closure would probably never come.

That is part of the reason we made the journey north.  We had not been there in 5 years, for my father’s funeral.  I wanted to see my hometown again and attend to their graves, hoping it had been long enough to get some kind of closure.

I had forgotten how truly beautiful the northwoods are.  We stayed in a cabin, and except for the noisy neighbors it was so peaceful and and restorative.  I made a vow to get out in nature more now that the cooler weather is finally coming.

We also attended a family reunion with some relatives we had never met.  Our grandmother and her brother had a falling out over an issue no one knew anything about.  My grandmother was a proud person, and when she had a falling out with someone she never talked about the person again.  They were truly nice people, and we agreed it was a shame we had not been a part of each others’ lives for all those years.

We visited my dad’s second cousin and his wife on the lake and were joined by some other old friends of my parents.  The next day we had lunch with one of my mother’s dearest friends and her husband.  There was a lot of talk about the past and how things used to be.

We drove around to all the lakes and places we used to go to.  A lot had changed, of course, and my overall impression was the one most commonly noticed when visiting the past, that everything used to look a lot bigger.

We did clean the graves and put silk flowers on them.  We had not seen the headstone from the Veterans Administration, since it was placed after we left.  We also visited our grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ graves.  A rosebush my grandmother had planted on her parents’ graves was blooming but needed a lot of trimming.  My uncle, whose family we are estranged from, had been buried the week before.  But we did not have to look for his grave, as he was buried right next to his parents.

I’m glad I made the journey back.  It’s nice to remember it as our childhood playground for a while, and not the place where we buried our parents.  I probably wouldn’t have sent the plant if we hadn’t just been back there, but I hope seeing it at the service this morning made his wife and children understand there were old friends who appreciated their father and felt their loss, knowing that their lives are forever changed.

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I began the practice of mindfulness while reading “The New Earth” by Eckhardt Tolle, although I admit the practice was sketchy and I did not finish the book.  I did begin to experience mindfulness more fully based on my weekly walks in the park.  Unlike the older park about a block from me, this park already had many tall trees when it was created.

When I began being mindful in nature, trees become a focus of my attention.  Because I live in the  desert, I appreciate them more, because I come from northern Wisconsin, rich in forests.

To me, they are a sign of strength, of timelessness.  My favorite part of “The Lord of the Rings” was when the Ents came to the rescue.  I wrote several years ago about a stand of over 100-year-old trees that were destroyed in my hometown.  Those trees had been there longer than any  people, and there was a picture in the paper of a man grinning like he had just conquered Mount Everest because he had cut down the stand.

About a month ago I really began noticing the trees on my way to work and errands.  We had a  record-breaking cold spell of about a week in February.  Water pipes busted in some peoples’ houses.  The gas company turned off the gas supply to hundreds of homes because of the lack of supply.  I was lucky and did not have any of those problems.  But those problems were  temporary and did not cause a lot of long-term damage.  Sadly, the damage it did to trees seems longer lasting.  Some palm trees have new green sprouts, but some magnificent old pines and other large trees do not.

And then there was a new twist–pardon the horrible pun.  In the fierce tornadoes of April, trees, like the ocean, became dangerous.   Of course they did not choose this.  But it seemed ironic the very tree you had cherished over the years could kill you, as it did in several cases.

Of course, those storms were not normal, and trees have many benefits besides shelter and shade.  For the most part, they are “peaceful and diligent” as Mary Oliver wrote in “About Angels and About Trees”:

“The trees, anyway, are

miraculous, full of

angels (ideas);even

empty they are a

good place to look, to put

the heart at rest–all those

leaves breathing the air, so

peaceful and diligent, and certainly

ready to be

the resting place of

strange, winged creatures

that we, in this world, have loved.”

And this little tree, which I thought was dead, bloomed like this in a week.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom, one of my angels; and to Mother Earth.

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