Tag Archives: Field Stones of Umbria

All sunshine makes a desert

My father died 10 years ago today. Losing a parent is huge. Even though it’s the natural course of events, you’re never fully prepared for the enormity of the event itself and the emptiness you feel inside. The emotions that flood into you consume every waking moment for whatever time it takes to grieve. You go through all the emotions of death reactions—disbelief, profound sadness, depression, more depression, emptiness, fear, anger, confusion, wonder, and finally acceptance.

21_oakWhen I buried my father’s ashes under an oak tree, the tree was only 3 or 4 years old and kind of spindly. Today, his oak tree is tall and mighty and will soon dominate our meadow with its huge branches. I like to think that his ashes have helped “his” tree grow into a gentle giant.

I wrote about my dad in my book, The Field Stones of Umbria. I look back on the chapter about him, “The Oak Tree”, and take comfort in the words I wrote. I’m hoping that these words will bring comfort to all of us who have lost our parents, and especially to a very special childhood friend who just lost her father; he was a second dad to me and such a wonderful man that I can scarcely put words to how I feel about him leaving our lives and this world. Here are some excerpts from my book:

“My father’s and my relationship was probably typical of most father-daughter relationships. It had its ups and downs, laughter and tears, great talks and terrible arguments. We had some estrangement and reuniting, some good heartfelt connections and some polar-opposite philosophies. But above all, he was my dad, I was his daughter, and those words alone imply a special relationship.

“My dad’s greatest strength was his humor. He said it got him through the roughest times of his life, especially during World War II in the South Pacific. He also had wonderful sayings that could wipe away the small tragedies in my life. I got stood up once for a date when I was 17 years old, and I was crushed. My dad held me and let me cry, then he told me all sorts of funny stories about how rotten guys are, and how my heart would be broken time and again. He told me that I had to find something in my life that would never let me down, something that I could always fall back on. It could be anything—painting, crocheting, writing—anything to call my own. He told me that was the only way to get through the rough times, like when people let you down.

“I was feeling so bad about crying, but then he said that the tears were good because “all sunshine makes a desert.” To this day when I cry, I’m convinced that I’m filling my life with rich forests and lush greenery.

P1000051“I look at the oak every day from my window and smile at him. I sit with him and tell him that there were good times and bad, laughter and tears, comfort and struggle. That we did our best with each other, and above all, that his memory lives inside of me, and I love him.”

I’ll go sit with my dad today under his mighty oak tree, 10 years later, and wish him a very special Father’s Day.

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The day after La Befana…remembering Vladimir

vlad_bench_wThe day after La Befana will always be the day we put down our beloved Vladimir, who had been gravely ill with intestinal cancer. Five years ago on a sunny January 7th, his time was up and my heart still cries a little.

Vladimir, “so dignified and pure of heart” as our brother-in-law, Eddie, wrote, will be forever etched into my life and soul. Our beginnings here in Italy were made all the more wonderful with his presence.

An excerpt from my book, The Field Stones of Umbria, describes his last two days with us:

He spent the last few days of his life resting in the gardens, in the sunshine. He had stopped eating again, and this time we knew it was the end. The day before we put him down, I sat with him in the Japanese garden for an hour. We listened to the horses in the field, the sheep and their bells in the hills, and he watched the birds with his usual intensity.

A large woodpecker landed near the bamboo, and he leaped off my lap. Even though he couldn’t eat and was down to nine pounds from twenty, his instinct as a great hunter flashed for another moment. He was poetry in motion and I momentarily forgot that he was about to die.

The next day, when it was time to go, I found him in the lower meadow near the stream. I picked him up, his poor skinny body weighing nothing, and he draped himself on my shoulder. We walked all around the grounds, and I talked to him about the fields, the stream, the olive trees, the meadow, the lavender and rosemary, the bamboo and Japanese maples. I told him that all of “his nature” would miss his beautiful presence. He touched his nose to my lips, our secret kiss that we’d coveted for 12 years.

It was time to go. Pavel and I didn’t talk on the way to the vet. What is there to say? You have to do this, and there’s no turning back.

I held him while he was going under, Pavel at my side, both of us crying. The roller coaster of emotion had taken its last uphill climb. Our vet was amazing. Vladimir didn’t feel anything. He died peacefully. She cried with us.

We remember all of his antics, his playing, his purrs in the night. He still kisses me in his secret way. But most of all, we see his beautiful eyes gazing directly at us—questioning, understanding, loving, and connecting as no other animal has ever done.

Vladimir. So dignified and pure of heart.

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Awakenings…or I took a walk with a bee

It’s the small things one notices, and then the certainty. The season has changed. Spring is here, but it’s only just awakening.

Beginnings ripple throughout the countryside and suddenly there is color and sound and flight where there had been darkness and snow. I wonder if plants do have a secret life, secret from humans, that is. I just bet, when they’re flowering and leafing, they feel as excited as we do during our own awakenings.

I took a walk with a bee this morning. No kidding. I had gone down to the creek for my morning walk, and on the way back I started collecting sticks from the forest floor. They’re the best kindling for our fires as they’ve fallen naturally from the trees and have gathered lichen–great material for a fire starter.

So there I was, walking along holding my sticks, and I realized I had been hearing a buzzing sound for a few minutes. I looked down and sure enough, a brown, fuzzy bee was kind of hopping along just in front of my feet. The forest floor is oozing with moss and other strange mucky things from the recent rains, and it’s producing some beautiful white and purple flowers.

This little bee was ecstatic, jumping from one oozy mess to the next, then to the flowers, then back to the tips of my boots. She stayed with me for about 100 meters. Once in awhile I got ahead of her as she fell, intoxicated, into another patch of flowers. Then, she was back, hopping on my boot.

A breeze funneled down the path, whispering through the trees and making the world around me shiver. We reached the fork in the path, and I looked down just as she took off from my boot. We went our separate ways.

As I walked back up the hill toward our house, I thought, huh, I just took a walk with a bee. Well, it’s spring. Stranger things can happen I suppose. When I rounded the corner, I said, yep.

Revisiting old souls

Decided to re-post this piece from two years ago. I love this history…hope you do as well!

All Souls Day (November 1 or 2 depending on the time in history). The day of the dead. Time to visit cemeteries and pay respects to ancestors and loved ones, integrating the past with the present. Life is a cycle of birth, living, decline, and death. It is a gift to be cherished, and the dead are to be honored for the life they once gave.

An excerpt from my book, The Field Stones of Umbria, describes the history of this day, as well as Halloween:

Halloween’s origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in). The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom, and northern France, celebrated their new year on November 1. This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death.

Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of living and the dead became blurred. On the night of October 31, they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth (in some countries, it is the Day of the Dead). In addition to causing trouble and damaging crops, Celts thought that the presence of the otherworldly spirits made it easier for the Druids, or Celtic priests, to make predictions about the future. For a people entirely dependent on the volatile natural world, these prophecies were an important source of comfort and direction during the long, dark winter.

To commemorate the event, Druids built huge sacred bonfires, where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities. During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other’s fortunes. When the celebration was over, they re-lit their hearth fires, which they had extinguished earlier that evening, from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter.

By A.D. 43, Romans had conquered the majority of Celtic territory. In the course of the 400 years that they ruled the Celtic lands, two festivals of Roman origin were combined with the traditional Celtic celebration of Samhain.

The first was Feralla, a day in late October when the Romans traditionally commemorated the passing of the dead. The second was a day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol of Pomona is the apple, and this probably explains the tradition of “bobbing” for apples that is practiced today on Halloween.

By the 800s, the influence of Christianity had spread into Celtic lands. In the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV designated November 1 All Saints’ Day, a time to honor saints and martyrs. It is widely believed today that the pope was attempting to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a related, but church-sanctioned holiday. The celebration was also called All-hallows or All-hallowmas (from Middle English Alholowmesse, meaning All Saints Day) and the night before it, the night of Samhain, began to be called All-hallows Eve, and eventually, Halloween. In A.D. 1000, the church would make November 2 All Souls’ Day, a day to honor the dead.