I am repainting my porch. It is currently in utter chaos. Before the beautification can begin, decades worth of paint has to be removed.
This is not an easy project, but one I chose to get myself through the last month of quarantining. I have been watching with envy as my parents, older friends, friends who are teachers or health care workers have all gotten their COVID vaccination.
A sense of normalcy is so close.
I have about a month left before I am eligible. I am hoping that when I am finally vaccinated, I will feel as though I have made it through one of the most disruptive and transformative periods in recent history.
Hopefully, I will do so unscathed.
Chaos, Closing In
The porch is also my way of avoiding the chaos I have felt closing in on me within my house. After being stuck at home for a year, I am intricately familiar with every single thing that needs to be done to my 100-year-old house. Every. Single. Thing.
I will spare you the entire list of projects that I have created for myself. Painting the porch is a great way to escape the chaos inside, while listening and watching as Spring emerges. So, it has been an extra bonus that I have been unexpectedly transported to an otherworldly place while working on this porch.
Peeling Back the Layers
I am using a heat gun to aid in the scraping of the paint, which is thick with layers that no one has scraped in years. When I started on the slats that are part of the front railing, I noticed a distinct smell begin to emerge.
As I held my paint gun in one hand, scraping with the other… I would get a whiff of what smelled like a pine forest. Pine sap was oozing out of the wood. This would not be happening if the wood was new. But this wood has probably been on this porch for over 50 years.
Untreated wood is just naked wood, taken from a tree, and cut up into boards. No chemicals, no pressure treatment. Just pine wood from a pine forest. And that pine forest on my porch is now wafting its beautiful aroma in my face, as the heat gun draws out the wood sap.
The smell is serendipitous. A few days before I discovered the magic of the pine smell on my porch, I had gone to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.
This is an otherworldly place.
The refuge is tucked within the tidal marshes on the Eastern shore of Maryland, where migrating birds stop in Spring on their way northward. Herons, bald eagles, woodpeckers, owls, and a slew of other wildlife abound.
And, it is surrounded by loblolly pines.
These tall, majestic trees can grow to be over 100 feet tall and live for over 200 years. They tower over the marshland. They are also the preferred nesting place for bald eagles. Early colonists boiled loblolly pine resin to make tar, which was used to preserve wooden boats.
I’d like to think that my porch railings may be made of loblolly pine, though I’m not really sure.
While at Blackwater, I scanned the marshland. The so-called “ghost forests” were evident. Rising sea levels have claimed what once was marsh and forested land. The water is taking the loblollies.
They emerge from the water like lost soldiers, their limbs long gone. Only their long bleak trunks remain.
There was a feeling in the air of organized chaos, not unlike the currents of the ocean, cloud patterns, or a flock of birds. These trees were en mass, being reclaimed by the sea.
Beautification is So Close
As my porch scraping continues and spring unfolds around me, I contemplate the beauty and fragility of nature. And the appreciation we seem to gain of the things (nature, community, dining in restaurants, youth) when we realize they are slipping from our grasp.
I hope to save this porch wood from having to be replaced, at least a little while longer.
As I continue to peel back the layers of time, I am beginning to imagine my porch as a great ship, made of loblolly pine. Sealed and weatherized by its own sap. Once painted, maybe I will sail away on it, watching as summer moves closer towards me, bringing thunderstorms, cicadas, and other organized chaos.
Very few things went “right” this year for a lot of people.
It’s been a year that has shaken us all out of our routines and forced me to love my home despite the floors than need refinishing and the flooded basement. I count myself lucky to have come through 2020 relatively unscathed.
I know this is the time of year where people traditionally make resolutions, set intentions, and plot out how they want the new year to unfold. I won’t be doing that this year. I may never do it again.
“Things will work out,” my Mom used to tell me when I got upset over things I couldn’t control. How can she be so sure?
She didn’t really know. Yet, despite her not knowing the English language very well, never having driven a car, and being used to living in the city, she married my dad and moved to the woods of Connecticut. That was 1967. They are still married. Things worked out.
And her mother didn’t know either. She had three children during World War II in the Netherlands, and endured her husband being taken away by the SS to a work camp. She endured and he came back. Sometimes things really work out.
I’ve come to understand that things will work out the way they will work out. Acceptance is the path of least resistance.
And a few things actually did work out this year.
After a slight delay at an auto shop in Laurel, Maryland and some new brakes… I made it to Connecticut to visit my parents for Christmas. This was not without its challenges. I traveled with my kitten, Captain Pickles because I feared leaving her alone for a few days would render my couch a pile of upholstery shredded to bits.
We made it to Baltimore before the howling and other feine-in-distress sounds started. They were so piercing that I missed my exit off of 295 and ended up in a sketchy warehouse district.
As I idled by the welding shop on the side of the road, I made an executive decision. She was to roam free in the car. A bold move. I had decided that Things will work out.
After 20 minutes of exploring and crawling under the seats, she settled into my lap. She stayed curled up on my lap through all of New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut. Things worked out.
Things really worked out a day later when my Mom started hollering for me to come to the window!!!
There, in the dusk of the backyard were three black bears. A momma and her two almost full grown cubs.
I had been waiting almost five years to see the infamous bears that roam the hilly and woody terrain of my parents neighborhood.
I almost didn’t believe they existed.
But there they were. A magical Christmas gift for me, Captain Pickles, and my parents. We all stood watching safely from the window as they approached the bird feeders.
My father made a clanking noise with a wooden stick on the tile floor. The sound was enough to deter Mamma from going any further towards the feeders. She turned around and walked back towards the woods. Her two cubs diligently followed her.
This year there has been a lot of uncertainty. But things worked out. So, instead of a grand list of things I’d like to accomplish in 2021 or a resolution for grander things, I’m going to stick with: Things will work out the way they will work out.
That’s where the adventure is anyway.
Happy New Year’s Everyone.
Today is Thanksgiving. I am deeply grateful for the air I breathe and the freedom it affords me to keep gliding through life's currents.
This year I learned about traveling sand from an ancient ocean floor —now the Sahara Desert— that makes its way from Africa to far away places via air currents. Wind carries the sand eastward from the Sahara across Europe, across the Atlantic Ocean, all the way to Austin, Texas.
Tiny minerals from the desert touch down in Texas Hill Country and settle in to the local scrub brush. Sand hovering in the air causes a plume of dust, creating magical sunsets for a few weeks.
When I read about this, the thought of the tiny bits of Africa in Austin warmed my heart. Everything really is interconnected, I thought.
Freedom to Fly
I was reminded again of the magic of air currents a few months ago, when I was riding my bike along the Anacostia River trail. This is one of my favorite things to do, as riding a bike often makes me feel as if I can fly (more on this to come).
I was headed north along the trail and had just crossed over the bridge that hovers above Watt’s Branch stream. Maybe it was the blue of the sky or the missing clouds that day… but as I approached the wide open marshy field ahead of me, I looked up.
Above me, gliding ever so effortlessly, was a bald eagle. Once almost extinct, these magnificently large birds can now frequently be seen along the river. I stopped riding, pulled over along the edge of the field, and watched her fly for a bit.
Finding Connection Through Breath
This year, COVID 19 has made me very much aware of the air I breathe, the oxygen I need to keep my body alive, and the shared space that air claims. Air is everywhere at once, all around us, within us, and between us. It permeates everything. And it is a necessity for life.
I have been blessed with two perfectly well functioning lungs. When I took yoga classes many years ago, I was stunned to discover that my breathing was rather shallow. Yoga taught me how to breath. I learned how to deeply inhale and exhale, and to take my time. I also discovered that my body felt more relaxed and my mind more alert when I did this.
If I find myself anxious, a few deep breaths can bring me back to the present moment. And if I continue this, the breathing moves me towards something greater than myself. To a mystery that can not be explained, but can be seen as tiny bits of sand from Africa tucking themselves into the terrain of Texas.
Many of this year lost people, jobs, routines, or sometimes just our sanity. I am so very grateful that the winds of change shifted for me and created space and time for me. The opening has allowed me to breath even more deeply. And to imagine what would happen if we all stopped for just a few moments to watch eagles soar, to slow our breathing down, to feel the wind blowing, and the clouds passing by.
Looking at the world from above the fray. Houkje writes about following her intuition, observerations on the magic of the natural world, and navigating creativity and chaos in an uncertain world.
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