January, 1995. “Today, I went for a walk. I was searching for something and I needed to release the tension that comes whenever I think about the abuse. I found what I was looking for in a scrubby, dense Palo Verde. Two saguaros, each a foot high, grew in its shade. It was a nurse tree.

In the desert, the shade provided by nurse trees gives moisture to germinating seeds. Desert soil is thin, rocky and sparse in nutrients. The debris from the trees and other plants which grow underneath their limbs enrich the soil. Those few, square feet of shade become a sanctuary, an entire microenvironment of plants and animals.

One of the saguaros was near the trunk of the palo verde. Years of slow growth from now it will push through an embrace of spiny branches to tower over the tree the way an adolescent boy, on his way to becoming a man, does his mother. At that time, the intimate arrangement of tree and cactus may seem haphazard unless the observer understands their history. It is the safety provided by the Palo Verde that enables the saguaro to grow.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Back Again

In order to develop an audience, bloggers are advised to be consistent.PutIT OUT THERE. None of this splayed helplessly across the road of stuff that comes into your life business which is distracting. The business is writing.

So, where have I been since October, 2010? Splayed helplessly across the road. I will explain.

That was the month Dwight and I spontaneously and with little thought to consequences made an offer on a rambling, and well known family home in Lehi, a hamlet of northwest Mesa. When the deal fell through because our realtor faxed the offer to a wrong number, I was glad. After twenty years in a home I loved, there was no move on my horizon. I would enjoy my eucalyptus tree and Catalina Mountains for a good long time.

Then we discovered the deal fell through and my intrepid spouse made another offer which took.

There were reasons to move: to be closer to my elderly parents; it was a good place for Dwight the Beekeeper’s bees andbee stuff; there was enough room for everyone to have a bed when they came home for Christmas. Lastly, there was an undeniable, overarching, voice that said Rene and Dwight, you are supposed to be there now, so get going.

The deal closed in December and we officially arrived in March after a hundred back and forth trips between Mesa and Tucson relocating bits and pieces of our lives.

After 40 years, it was tough. I went to Tucson in 1971 to attend medical school and never left. It’s where I practiced medicine, married, had my children, made friends, and finally, finally, after a decade fighting it, learned and loved the lessons of the Sonoran desert.

But I am here now, and it has been over a year and there are still unpacked boxes and pictures that haven’t found their places on the walls. But this is what we have done.
Our new home has two stories and a basement. Having had two surgeries on both knees, I saw my future hobbling up and down stairs with a great likelihood of tumbling head over heels, so we put in an elevator. Yes, a true elevator. You close the door, push a button and up you go. Or down. When I told my just younger-than-I brother, Mark, he immediately told me about an elderly couple in Florida who had an elevator, got trapped inside, had no telephone and died.

“Want to go for a ride?” I asked. He took the stairs. It was scary, though, when the elevator phone stopped working and it took six months to figure out why.

“You better take your cell phone,” Dwight said.

Unfortuantely, I am cell phone challenged.  I can’t find it 90 % of the time and when I do, it is usually out of charge. Fortunately, there were no mishaps with the elevator even though I experienced a kind of horrified thrill every time I got on. Sometimes, I took our cat, Zipper, with me for company in case I got stuck.

Now, I live on three levelsin this house  and have wondered if it is metaphorical. Id, ego and superego? Mostly, it is three levels of forgetfulness. I’m convinced the vacuum cleaner grows feet during the night and travels. It’s always somewhere besides where I last left it. My cell phone does the same thing. It’s very strange.

All of this has been to let you know why I was splayed helplessly on the road of “stuff that comes into my life” and got hit by a semi. I did not know how hard it would be to leave Tucson.

What I miss about Tucson are the lessons of survival that came when I needed to know about survival. It is how the Palo Verde lose their tiny, tic like leaves during drought, and how they return after rain. It is how, on hot summer afternoons, Gambol’s quail dig depressions in the dirt and hunker in and stay cool. It is how the mountains rise to the sun every day, and though shadows come and go, they are resilient and unyielding.

The lessons here in Lehi are different. Here, the top soil is five feet deep and irrigation waters the citrus and greens the lawns. The message here is about growth, I can feel it when I look out the window of Purgatory 2.0, a small room on the top story where I work on my book. I see massive trees that have been attached to this earth as long, or longer than I have. There are birds and nests and tiny eggs. I have zucchini, tomatoes and a crowd of sunflowers in my garden. Oak trees brought from Texas by my Uncle Tam who built this house give deep shade where I have put a cement bench that offers a place to sit and experience the quiet energy of growing things.

Before today, I could have blogged about the move. Why didn’t I? All those old reasons that once kept me from writing came back and stopped the flow like a head gate against the rush of water.

The blank page is intimidating because it demands truth. Of how much I loved the .86 acre of desert land in Tucson that had a big eucalyptus tree. Of the friends we had and the gentle, enticing routine of our days there. Of the home we transformed and made lovely and inviting. Of the rugged pull of memory and affection back to what we knew, and the uncertain push to what was ahead.

Moving causes a shift in identity. I am those deserts and mountains and now I must transform, rewrite, change. Now I am about Lehi and I can feel it coming, the blessing of this place, so I place myself among other growing things to be favored by the sun, good soil and water.

This is a notice of site change - I'll be going to a new URL and would love you to come with me. It is www.thenursetree.blogspot.com.  You will notice the similarity to the current site. This is all about Google.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Where are the Answers?

October 12, 2010

If you follow my blogs, you might conclude I have problems with consistency but let me assure you there is nothing wrong with my intentions—which is why I’d love see an entire catalog of pithy and entertaining writing on this blogsite. It’s not there, of course, and writing-wise, I don’t have a lot to show for the last 10 months except a couple of articles about a friend, Grant Greenhalgh, who is 93 and was a business partner of Spencer W. Kimball in the Gila Valley.

I’ve been in the creative doldrums. This means avoidance, horror, frozen fingers hovering over the keyboard. It means brain-body disconnect. The thoughts stop at my wrists. But I finally understand something that happened to one of my sons in the seventh grade. I was at work when his art teacher called. “Your son told me he can’t do today’s assignment because his hand is paralyzed,” she said.

“What?” You never tell a doctor, particularly a gynecologist whose knowledge is about things below the belt, that her son’s hand is paralyzed. It starts an entire cascade of catastrophies: ruptured aneurysms; esoteric kinds of epilepsy; scorpion stings . . .

I was racing through possibilities when she said “Here, you better talk to him.”

“Mom, my hand won’t move.” His voice was strong and clear. No mumbling or stuttering.
This was the salesman son, the one who could get a telephone pole to spring for fundraiser chocolate bars for the peewee soccer team. Was this a salespitch? His mouth moved. He articulated speech. He was oriented to time, place and person.

“Which hand?”

“The right one. Uhmmm.” He grunted. “I’m trying to make it move,” he said and it was the faintest uptick of hopefulness in his voice that gave him away.

“You have to do your assignment.”

The teacher returned to the line. “I’ve never seen this one before,” she said and couldn’t hold back. “I’m sorry.” She was laughing.

But enough about consistency, intentions and writer’s block: it’s an incurable disease that occasionally goes into remission. The fact is I am intimidated by the blank page and its requirement for honesty and impeccable truth. Once in print my ideas are no longer only mine.

Which brings me to the real issue of today’s blog which is my own timid entry into a new arena of debate and comment.

I want truth. I want big chunks of truth that are not distorted by prevailing winds of commentary and media bias. Where is it?

I ask for feedback. Am I wrong in my perception that there is new sprung viciousness and deceit in many of our news sources which apparently care little for the honesty I fuss so much about? Am I right to be appalled by the legislative thuggery of our government? By an arrogant assault on my intelligence and concern about my country?

I want honest answers about the critical mass of poverty without having to get degrees in Economics and Sociology. I worry about those people who can’t read or don’t read, who make emotional decisions before they make informed decisions because they don’t know how to become or care to be informed.

Regarding recent legislation, does the hope of an end result really justify the means to get there? Isn’t this a dangerous philosophical position because it ruthlessly jeopardizes tradition, principle, dignity and values?

I realize I am being vague and abstract. It is because I don’t want to make a mistake, to transmit bad information or err in my reportage. And, perhaps I have been overly influenced by a book I am reading, The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil, by Philip Zimbardo. Even so, I highly recommend it, and suggest, should you decide to read this book about our vulnerabilities to situation and peer influence, that you also read verse 4 of section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants, which is a prophetic utterance about our time. In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days . . .

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Antidote for a Familiar Discontent

I call what follows a “found” poem – not because I found it already composed on a shred of newsprint or on a billboard, but because I discovered it in the unrest of an early morning. When I find myself wandering the house at 3 AM with a familiar discontent, and there are no answers because the questions have not yet revealed themselves, relief is in Purgatory where I have paper and pencils and a laptop computer that is aging faster than I am.
Outside Purgatory’s window, the sun will most likely show up for work at least once more since it got this job keeping planet Earth alive millennia ago. As I write, the sky is blue and transparent rather than thick and black as it was earlier, and I wonder how many times I have watched it happen through the years – sunlight illuminating the creation of new day.

Found at 3 AM

I hope this blog won’t be a rant (def: to speak extravagantly or violently; talk wildly; rave).
I’m in the creation phase (it’s 3 AM, couldn’t sleep, you know),
Christmas carols on the CD player with no manger in sight
(too much Christmas in Christmas, I’m told),
and even the cats have left Purgatory where I write
so it’s just me and this laptop, both of us showing our age.
Outside the sky is black as octopus ink while I’m
in my head for threads of an idea
but all I get is worry
so black and thick I can’t see anything
except worry words that float like the answers in those old Crazy Eight fortune balls
we took to school: Will Mary marry Harry?
Words come to the triangle window and you read “yes” and everyone giggles
or you read “no” and everyone giggles.
I’d like an Eight Ball
to find words that float around the worry. Then we can giggle, too.

What’s wrong?
Oh, my word, here’s the list and its just one. I can see it in the inky night right now
but in the morning there’ll be another, I promise, which isn’t what I want . . .
A promise, you know, that someone is listening. . .
About healthcare and war and money and unemployment and stupid, greedy people who think
7 figures is better than wisdom and sell us down tubes of despair.

The authority gods,
mouths and faces on LED TVs,
yap and yip, a pack of coyotes
who got their prey and are reckless,
throw bones and scatter what is left
so next day’s treading feet do not hallow ground.

I want to yell STOP but outside
the night is so thick no one listens, not even
the sweet singers on the CD player who are
harmonizing about Christmas and gifts and jolly things,
and there is a sparky violin playing and those singers
who know how to carry a tune.

Monday, October 26, 2009

A Sunday Afternoon

Church ended at noon. My husband and I had some soup I made yesterday – chicken and vegetables but with a Mexican flare – oregano and green chiles, served over blue corn tortilla chips. Then I took a nap. I taught Sunday School this morning so I got up at 4:30 to finish preparing. Now, it is late afternoon. The sun stretches in dappled shadows across the bark of the eucalyptus outside Purgatory’s window and washes the pepper tree with a flood of golden light.

To honor this fine afternoon, I recalled Gerard Manley Hopkins sonnet, Pied Beauty, and read it. It is one of my favorites.

GLORY be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

With all of the worry and sadness of the last year, and particularly the last few months, I had forgotten this poem and how it stirs in my mind tranquil images of things I love. I read out loud Glory be to God for dappled things – / For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow and am calm. It is a beautiful thing how words tool emotion.

Recently, I have forgotten other things as well – how the dry breath of the desert stirs the sunlit leaves of the eucalyptus; that the scent of fresh basil must come directly from heaven and I like having it in my garden; that through the adversity of drought this desert landscape teaches lessons in wearing well which after 40 years here are part of who I am.

One spring, during my residency and after the birth of our second child, I forgot the mocking birds. I was busy—working 80-90 hours a week, two small children , a church calling—and didn’t think to spend 10 minutes on the porch and watch them dive bomb the cats and sing their hearts out from the tops of the sour orange trees in front of our house. Mocking birds are another of my favorite things. When I remembered, in December, that I had missed them that spring, I felt I had lost something so precious I cried. Watching the mockingbirds was a remedy. It was an opportunity to feel the soothing hand of Mother Nature on my forehead and I missed the appointment.

We are a plugged-in society attached to our computers, I-pods, cell phones, planners, television sets, digital recorders, and automobiles. Either because of direct access through ear buds and head sets to our brains, or because we have trained ourselves into addictive dependency, they perpetuate the kind of forgetfulness that made me miss the mockingbirds. When trouble comes, when stress comes, when angst comes, these attention getters make it more difficult to remember the lovely, precious things which bring peace.

And, we are busy bodies, literally, first in our minds with all we should be doing and then in our lives with what we actually get done. Being busy, working, accomplishing – these are good things. But they don’t equal a 10 minute time-out on the porch to watch mockingbirds.

I used to talk to my patients about their reserve tanks and how many of them were running on fumes. They often came in anxious, depressed or angry because they hadn’t taken time to refuel. What they didn’t need were anti-depressants, anxiolytics or long-term counseling. Their spiritual buckets were empty and they needed to fill them up.

Spiritual doesn’t refer only to religious things, but also to matters of the spirit. Glory be to god for dappled things—/ For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow . . . . We refill our spiritual tanks by connecting with our Creator. And, in part, we are our own Creators, aren’t we, we who have agency and choose to be unrelenting busy bodies, or choose to time out with that which replenishes our souls.

This has been a good Sabbath day. It has been a day of rest, reflection and remembering. It has been a day of healing.

I wish each of you a such a day.



Thursday, October 15, 2009

Rocky Point

We put it on our calendars almost a year ago. October 8 – 14. Rocky Point. There is a beach house in Las Conchas, five miles from the gate. A few years ago, dad bought one of eight shares in Casa Hermosa, one of the smaller beach homes in a strip of paradise only four hours from home. We were all there, Dwight and I, our sons and their families, fifteen of us squeezed into four bedrooms and a queen-sized air mattress on the floor in the living room.

You can imagine what it was like, air temperature in the 80s, water temperature in the high 70s. We splashed and swam and rode jet skis. We played games and ate. We read and took naps. And the night before we left, after the children were in bed, the grown-ups sat around a fire pit under the stars and talked.

It’s good for a family to talk. Each of us shared what we loved about Rocky Point. We talked about our plans for the coming year. And we talked about Rachel.

Rachel was our 5 year old granddaughter who, on August 22, was found face down in the swimming pool at a home her parents were buying. Her 3 years old brother Jimmy was also in the pool, unconscious. Jimmy revived. Rachel, after 58 minutes of CPR finally had a pulse, but it was too late for her brain. Her funeral was a long week later.

She was a dear little girl with bobbed brown hair and liquid brown eyes who loved to sit on the porch swing with me whenever her family came to Tucson. I am angry she is gone and I am sad. Her parents are devastated. Of course we have the gospel and the wonderful truths of a resurrection and eternal life and that families can be united forever. But none of that takes away the mortal missing of her warm little body sitting next to you, of her musical voice when she sees you at the door and sings, “Grandma, come in and see my room.”

Until our last night talk around the fire pit, we hadn’t mentioned Rachel because we didn’t know how. What do you say to a parent who has lost a child? We asked her parents and they told us. “Tell us you’ve been thinking of us. Don’t ask how we’re doing. How do you answer that question?”

They told us how hard it was the day Dwight and I took them to the cemetery and we picked out a plot of ground for her grave. They told us how every day something reminds them of her and that she is gone. They said how important it was to talk about her. To remember her. To recall all those little details that keep her real to them.

Some of us said how losing Rachel made us want to be better, to act better toward each other, to be better parents, to improve. Losing her caused me to want to cherish time, real time that ticks away a day and is filled with opportunities. Losing her made me want to cherish relationships, too, so much so that I become impatient when I see callousness or thoughtlessness in my family and I have to stop and check myself before I say something I would regret.

At 11:30, after family prayers, we went inside for quesadillas and a cup of warm cocoa with marshmellows before going to bed.

It was a lovely way to end a week at the beach.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Behind the Scenes or What Happened to my Blog?

May 25, 2009
6 AM

Groan. This morning, I faced the mirror and acknowledged yet another deficiency. I am an anachronism when it comes to navigating websites. Compared to today’s children who are born knowing how to move their little fingers on a keyboard to make things happen, when I was a little girl we didn’t even have remotes for the television, which, can I really admit this, was black and white. No color. No HD. No widescreen. Perry Mason and Gene Autry did their business in black and white, which implies my technical knowledge dates to the fifties and the miracle of an on-off switch.

I figured this out when I wanted to add a book review to GoodReads which I just, as in five minutes ago, signed up for, or on to, or whatever you call coming up with a user name and password. It was a lot like learning Algebra without a teacher.

“You never solve for X,” said son Nathan when he was in 9th grade and looked his father in the eye over Algebra homework. “It ruins the suspense.” His father, an electrical engineer, snorted. In his world view, math fuels the pump that propels the universe. A kid isn’t properly brought up unless there is some Algebra between his ears. Which, as an aside, has something to do with one of Nathan’s most embarrassing growing-up moments. He fell down at school and had a concussion. As he was going in for the CT scan, his dad asked the technician to cram some Algebra into his head while he was doing the study. “It was really bad,” Nathan said. But despite the math resistance, Nathan has all kinds of innate computer skills that must have come from some mutated DNA since neither Dwight nor I have them.

I have math skills and computer resistance. I can tell you, mind-melding with website designers is tough. It’s a virtual game of Guess What I’m Thinking. You know what you want to do. You believe the website will let you do it though first you must break the code. There is a smattering of conventions, but since you are a dinosaur from the black and white era, finding these is a lot like looking at the ground and seeing a silver dollar: sheer, random luck.

Perhaps this is why my blog, Nurse Tree, which I so eagerly launched months ago, has been dormant like a seed planted too early in the fall. The seed has to wait for favorable weather and soil conditions to sprout. Likewise, I am wishing for favorable computer conditions – step-by-step directions for website use that are easy to find and easier to use. I can’t read between the lines because I can’t find the lines. So, until I move further up the learning curve, I will continue slugging it out with my computer to get this out.

But about Nurse Tree and memoir: I found another good book about memoir, this one by the prolific and enthusiastic Natalie Goldberg, Old Friend from Far Away, which I down-loaded to my Kindle. (I’ve got to hand it to Amazon for creating this gem that is sooooo easy to use.) She writes about the risk we take with writing, and how good intentions and hard work may not be enough. You’ve got to be willing to take the plunge, to jump off a hundred-foot pole with no net to catch you and no assurances. She writes

Writing’s essential nature asks you not to go forward, not to be productive, not to be logical. In the middle of all your conservative striving, it asks you to take a step backward into the dark unknown—actually back into your real self, which has never been explored and you are not sure how to get there.

Why are there memoirs?

Goldberg gives this answer. Whatever your life, it is urging you to record it—to embrace the crumbs with the cake. It is why so many of us want to write memoir. We know the particulars, but what really went on? We want the emotional truths under the surface that drove our life….(It is) a desire to understand in the heat of living . . .

Sunday, February 8, 2009

On the Perpetual Nature of Memoir

This morning a bright path of sun streams up the bark of the eucalyptus tree outside my window. The sky is blue, clean and cloudless. So I note this that spring is around the corner, that there is a quiet marshalling of botanical energy to make pollen and seeds and to propagate.

I am in Purgatory. It is the name attached to this room I write in because when we replaced the carpet with Pergo laminate flooring, my children intentionally morphed the word Pergo into “Pergotory” which immediately became “Purgatory”. Likewise has this roomed changed from a guest bedroom to a nether place, an existence between the reality outside my window and the flights of imagination and memory that work together in the creative process of writing.

But it was more than a decade ago our four sons declared this room to be Purgatory and through this window, I have seen many springs melt into the hot scorch of Arizona summers. The boys are grown now, yet I am still here, tapping on the keys of my laptop and working on an interminable memoir that I cling to with the stubborn belief it is worth writing and that it will also be worth reading.

The essence of memoir is an examined life, a muse on the whys of choice and lessons of experience, that hopefully resonate with the universal folly and wisdom of human nature. Judith Barrington, in Writing the Memoir, wrote “Rather than simply telling a story from her life, the memoirist both tells the story and muses upon it, trying to unravel what it means in the light of her current knowledge. (pg.20)

As I look at my experience writing this memoir, it occurs to me there may be instability in the idea of “current knowledge.” Our current knowledge is subject to current change. It is malleable, expanding, and transient and therein lies my problem. I’ve stretched this project out over so much time I’m not the same person I was when I started.

To illustrate, a teacher gave the assignment of writing poetry to his class of high school freshmen. “You can work on the poems tonight,” he said. “And tomorrow each of you will read your poem in class.”

The following day the teacher, an elderly gentleman with bushy white hair and stooped shoulders, told the class they would read their poems in turn, starting with the first row. One by one, the students read their poems until finally it was a young man’s turn who sat at the back of the room. When he didn’t stand to read his poem, the teacher asked him why.

The student stared at his desk. “I’m not a poet and never will be a poet,” he said. “I can’t do this. I’ll never be able to write a poem.”

All eyes turned to the teacher. There was tense silence. His face red with anger, he strode to the front of the room. Standing straight and fierce and with a tight, controlled voice he said, “You don’t know that. You aren’t finished yet.”

Although I am almost 60, I have a sense of being unfinished, of having more to learn and do that dogs my effort to complete this memoir. Go ahead, try to stop time. Try to be mentally, emotionally and physically motionless, to freeze a window of growth and transition that are lifelong processes so that you look back at your life through a still-frame of knowledge and experience. At 60, I continue to be influenced by the earth, by its people, by the little patch of desert where I live, by my people.

How do I resolve this problem? I believe two things will be required. The first is to declare the story that I am writing finished. I go on, but the story stops. Period.

And second, from Barrington, “The writer must have done her work, made peace with the facts, and be telling the story for the story’s sake.” (pg. 72) There is emotional unrest about an experience sustainable enough to become a memoir. Doing the work and creating peace means in part finding emotional distance. Paradoxically, however, writing a memoir requires entry into all of the emotional currents of the story.

The solution is to get out of my own way. Rather than stopping time, I would do better to disregard the expectations and fears I have about my writing in general and particularly, this memoir, although remarkably, they haven’t changed, not an iota. I’m just as enamored with my own writing and as critical of it now as I was fifteen years ago. And I have the same unrealistic expectations for success and dire predictions of failure. Perhaps at 60, I am closer to being “finished” than I thought.

Fortunately, there is a self that is constant. It is deeper and more spiritual than all the other selves with which we interact with the world. This is the self that observes, best translates experience into meaning, and is connected to the sacred pulse of humanity. It is wise and resonates with truth. This is the voice that tells the story I want to tell because it speaks for all the others parts. It is the Truthsayer, the Wise One, the Author.

For this soul-self, “current knowledge” is merely postural, like the breeze that stirs the eucalyptus leaves outside my window so they flutter and wave but are, in their essence, unchanged.