Monday, May 31, 2010

Day Eight TWWS

Monday, 31 May 2010. About 5:40 AM. Got a relatively late start, but it’s a holiday, after all. The sky was cloudy, the air muggy but surprisingly cool with the bike in motion, heading south on Race Street. Didn't bring the recorder today because rain looked possible. I may quit using it anyway.

Yesterday’s heat seemed to have finished off the irises and most of the peonies. The Perfect Garden (I call it that with nothing but admiration) featured roses of assorted colors, including three very large very white blossoms that I couldn’t be sure until I looked closer were not late peonies.

At Meadowbrook the Tradescantia showed little sign of waning, while the Penstemon seemed to be thickening. More Coreopsis showed in a spot where I’d seen a few last week, near the prairie observation platform. Also saw the first Baptisia (false indigo), like vertebral columns (some with a bit of scoliosis) atop horizontally spreading leaves. Wondered what I might be missing while taking this census and remembered I hadn’t checked to see if the iris back at the cardinal flower site was still blooming, so decided to take another loop around. There still were plenty of iris blooms, though they seemed lower to the ground than the earlier ones.

Headed back north on Vine and east on Washington. Felt a little lazier, a little less excited than the last time I was there. Missed swimming, the aerobics of it. Was excited enough to want to go farther than last time (it’s a holiday!), jogged right, then left on 1525N to 1900E. Wasn’t ready to go straight home as I’d originally planned, so headed north on 1900E until I saw Mount Olive cemetery, which I hadn’t realized was there. Rode along one side of it and saw some names I didn’t know well but did recognize, including at least one person I’d met when he was alive. Saw what appeared to be a white, life-sized (or larger) statue of a baby (actually an angel) sitting to one side of a wrought iron bench.

Back on Washington Street was about to pass Cottonwood Dr., but the north side again beckoned. Turned right, but then felt like I had to stop (between the red stop sign and the yellow “stop ahead” sign, both of which had 2-3 inch, irregular holes blown through the middle of them). Now it was so quiet. Not silent—made a mental list of the sounds: traffic and birds, most conspicuously robin, cardinal, red-winged blackbird, pheasant, goose, rooster. But away from trees, between two fields of young soybeans, all of these sounds were soothingly distant. I stood (kind of defeating the exercise part of the purpose of the trip) looking up at the morning sky and listened a while, grateful to be able to take it in.

Continuing east on Cottonwood Rd., I crossed the I-74 bridge, near which grew a thick stand of wild parsnip (Pastinaca) and the tops of some of which were covered with white mesh bags. Must be someone after swallowtail butterflies. Crossed the Saline Ditch and went on a little way. The road was enticing, pleasantly rolling, but could see houses and didn’t feel like worrying about dogs, so turned back.

Passed Prairie School without checking on the hidden prairie. Would have needed binoculars to see what was going on in the pond, and it was near 7:30. I was ready to be home.

At about the halfway point of my swimming hiatus, I must say that while I have no idea whether this is at all interesting to anyone else, writing about my biking adventures has made them just incredibly enjoyable to me. However, I am disappointed that it takes so long to say what I want to say about it. So for the remainder of this week, I may have to skimp even more on writing quality to let the rest of my family have their fair share of computer time and hope my readers (ha, ha!) will forgive me.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Day Seven, TWWS

Sunday 30 May 2010. Hadn’t planned to post on Saturday and Sunday as I don’t usually swim on the weekend, but was in Chicago on Saturday to celebrate my mother’s birthday, and toward the end of the festivities, my sister Lisa announced that the 2010 Bike the Drive was happening in the morning and did I want to join her? It meant changing my train reservation, but how could I refuse? And how could I resist writing something about it?

“Bike the Drive,” which is a fundraiser for an organization called Active Transport Alliance, runs along Lake Michigan on a 15 mile stretch of Lake Shore Drive, between Bryn Mawr Avenue and 57th Street. The Drive is closed to motor vehicles for this event and filled with bikes—how cool is that?

My sister and I loaded two bikes, helmets, and water bottles in her car and we headed downtown at about 6:30 AM. Would like to have been there for the beginning of the event, which started at 5:30, but I was her guest, and she was the driver. She had a pass to park close to the event but unfortunately couldn’t use it because the event blocked the way to the parking garage. So we spent a while looking for a place to put the car. I braced for the disappointment of having to turn around and go home, but eventually we found a spot.

Even with a good crowd attending, registration was quick, and soon we were heading south on Lake Shore Drive. The temperature was, well, just about perfect, in the 70’s and with no wind to speak of. The sun shone, though the colors of the sky and the lake were subdued by a bit of haze. The skyscrapers and the Field Museum were so stately and beautifully composed against the lake, but I must say that the volume of bicyclists was a bit distracting. It felt almost exactly like being on the expressway full of cars; one false move and there would be a pile-up. My sister and I talked some, though it was hard to relax with people passing and shifting positions. The subject of death came up, somehow—our sister who died a year and a half ago; Lisa’s best friend, who happened to have been adopted. We talked about how hard it was to know how to make the experience of someone who is very ill easier rather than more difficult.

Riding along the lakefront reminded me of an old photograph of my father by the lakefront as a young man that Lisa said she remembered when I described it to her. In the photo, he is lying on his back on a blanket. He is wearing sunglasses and his face looks sunburned. You might think he’s lying on a sandy beach, but a line on the right side of the photo shows that the surface is concrete; it was a place they called “The Rocks.” I remember gazing at that photo on my parents’ refrigerator once when my husband and I were visiting, shortly after we had a long-expected expected adoption fall through. I was weighed down with grief, and I could tell my father desperately wanted but had no to how to ease my pain. All he could think to do was take the photo off of the fridge and give it to me. It was like giving me his heart, and I still treasure that picture…

We turned around at the Museum of Science and Industry and headed back. I noticed how very smooth the road was, except for the occasional (sometimes fairly deep!) pothole. Then I noticed footprints preserved in one of the slabs. Lisa and I were psyched for future bike trips, in Wisconsin and elsewhere in Illinois, when our schedules let us.

It wasn’t swimming (though we could see water), and there definitely was no solitude or open space about it, but biking the Drive with my “twin” sister and the throng of cyclists supporting “active transportation” was quite satisfying and enjoyable.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Day Five, TWWS

Friday 28 May 2010, 5:15 AM. I’m going to make a confession, which is that I’ve been carrying a little audio recorder on my bike rides, rubber-banded to the handlebars, so I can catch details that I might otherwise forget. Is this cheating? I don’t use everything I record, and I don’t record everything I remember. What’s kind of fun to hear are particular bird songs, the wind, and traffic on busy roads.

So it was yet another beautiful morning, slightly cooler and drier—wore a light sweater and was comfortable. Speaking of which, already I’m pretty much used to the seat of the mountain bike.

Sweet linden smell again.

On Race Street just across Florida was a sycamore tree with one of its limbs lying on the ground. Reminded me of something I read last night in my son’s history paper, that Stonewall Jackson’s left arm was buried in a different place from the rest of him.

A little farther down, the sight of the moon above the Orchard Downs garden plots made me cry out, it was so big and orange, beautiful and unexpected.

Started the Meadowbrook loop, paid respects to the sea of spiderwort (and penstemon), but then worried that I’d miss the moon going down so turned back. It was just a little disappointing because it faded as it went down. But it was bigger than the sun, which was rising on the other side of the sky. What balance! Made me think of ancient people who thought that the sun and moon were oh so much more equal than they turned out to be: the sun way way bigger than the earth and millions of degrees and far away and the moon so close and cold and tiny.

Went south to Old Church Road. Crossed a creek. On the road was a dead mouse, or maybe it was a vole. Had quite thick fur. Saw and heard a meadowlark on a fencepost and then another on the next one. Handsome yellow and black markings and beautiful song! Heard a mental recording of Bob Dylan singing “your voice is like a meadowlark” from “One More Cup of Coffee.” Passed a housing development with a sidewalk, so got off the road onto the sidewalk. Here I encountered my first barking dog. Fortunately it was safely behind a fence and I didn’t have to test my “Oh, you’re such a good sweet doggie!” tactic. Went north at Prospect, which turned into a hike and bike path with a lot of people walking quiet, well-behaved dogs. One side of the road was farm fields and the other was carefully maintained yards.

Turned east on Curtis Road and then to Race and on home. Noticed I much preferred riding out in the country to riding in town. Out in the open, one feels especially that sensation like flying. Like swimming, it’s moving without contacting the ground. Rode into a bit of a headwind (east wind?), which made the heart rate go up some. Tried to think of the wind not as an impediment to progress but just a different kind of exertion. Need to remember that as a metaphor for difficulties in life.

Back at 6:26.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Day Four TWWS

Thursday 27 May 2010, 4:45 AM. With the windows open can really hear the dawn chorus, with robin and cardinal soloists. Got out a little earlier today, about 5:18. Some streetlights were still on. This is an advantage of cycling over swimming, at least for these two weeks: one doesn’t have to wait for the pool to open. The weather is remarkably similar to how it’s been the previous three days: partly cloudy and lovely.

Early in the ride was greeted by a strong fragrance like honeysuckle, I think it was linden, which is in bloom now. Took me back to the day I came by myself on the Greyhound bus to register as a freshman at the U of I, (4 June, 1974), which, completely coincidentally, was also the day a relative from Poland whom I had never met was in town for a conference on the effects of wind on tall buildings. (I am not making this up.) My aunt gave this relative and me a ride back to Chicago… How easy it is to get lost in one’s thoughts, even on such a beautiful morning.

The Meadowbrook loop was less novel today, but speeding toward the rabbit statue and clattering over the bridge before the sharp turn to the left is always a little thrill. The violet-blue spiderwort (Tradescantia, which sounds more fittingly regal) were, if possible, even more glorious than yesterday. Made me think of bluebonnets in Texas. Tradescantia rules the prairie. Oh, yes, there is also the penstemon, like snow in places.

After the loop headed north on Vine Street to Washington Street. Noticed a tree, which turned out to be an ash (how long before it succumbs to the emerald ash-borer?) in Blair Park with a hollow up the length of its trunk that seemed to almost split it in two.

Realized, sniffling slightly, that in the pool, one doesn’t have to (can’t) blow one’s nose. But don’t want to think too much about that.

Headed east on Washington, across Rte. 130, where it becomes a lovely, quiet, narrow country road with no shoulder. Lots of goat’s beard. Also a tall umbel with white flowers, and sweet clover (Melilotus, there’s a lovely name.)

Unlike previous days, didn’t whiff any trace of skunk.

Encountered a few people in vehicles, to whom I would nod; some of these gave the raised index finger salute. (I remember, as a Chicagoan first venturing out in the country as a field biologist, how extraordinary this greeting of strangers seemed.) Something different between being at the pool and outside is that everyone at the pool is there for a similar reason; outside we are doing a lot of different things.

Rode to the end of Washington Street (no dogs!) and turned back. Couldn’t resist turning north on Cottonwood Rd. and daring my bad sense of direction to confuse me. But retraced my path and got back ok, 6:40. Good thing I don’t have to work this morning.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Day Three, TWWS

Wednesday 26 May 2010. Got started a little later, 5:30am. This morning was a lot like the previous two, weatherwise. Again, the wind has been very light and not a big factor going or coming. The sun was a complete orange circle floating above the horizon, clouds off to the sides. I decided it was nice on these rides to have a ritual part (a loop of Meadowbrook) that was the same and then an exploration part. At the cardinal flower place I looked on the other side of the path, into the center of the prairie, and saw more violet-blue spiderwort than I could have imagined, spreading out in two dimensions. The little bit of fog over them made it even more lovely. Then I noticed one, two deer near the path. Pretty as a picture!

This morning’s exploration was east to Philo Road and then south. I thought I remembered from the bike map that a route went through a subdivision, so I turned into one near Myra Ridge. The houses were new and the trees poor little sticks with a few leaves. The "path" didn’t go anywhere; shortly I was back on Philo, out in the country again. On the west side of the road was a crop I didn’t recognize. There was a plot with spaced out plants and lots of little colored flags among them. Further down were plots of it growing thickly: long thing grasses that made me think of sugar cane.

Saw only one farm house (“What a good dog you are! You’re such a sweet doggie!”). Philo Road ended at Old Church and I turned east. There was a rise that blocked the view of the landscape and looked so stark. Visually something like the Sahara, except for the telephone poles.

On a bike one knows that Central Illinois is not completely flat. Some mist collected in the low places—the subtle undulation was lovely, as was the silence, even with dry ears. Out on the road I noticed I missed my fellow swimmers and the water and also loved the air and the solitude.

Turned back at Rte. 130, went to Race rather than back to Philo. At one intersection I wondered if I was supposed to have turned (what if I get lost?!?) and paniced for just a moment. Came back on Race street and noticed with a smile the rock that looks like a couch.

Day Two, TWWS

Tuesday 25 May 2010. Started about the same time as yesterday. Today I used the mountain bike we’d gotten for for my older son. It was, indeed, more comfortable than my “retirement” bike from the standpoint of distributing exertion—my back and hips felt much better—but I’m not used to the seat.

Made a loop of Meadowbrook again. The weather was similar to yesterday, pleasantly cool and moist, but almost no mist on the ground, and the clouds in the sunrise were less dramatic than yesterday—like the mountain had broken up. The rays of glory were there again, nicely.

Decided to head east on Windsor Road. It seemed like a mistake right away, though, because construction was in progress—both lanes on one side of the road. Fortunately the traffic was very light. Another reason not to be on Windsor Road was all of the development, “Stone Creek.” Across Rte. 130 was finally the countryside, fields and farmhouses, but I’d never been there before and wondered about dogs. What did my friend Holly say to do when a dog chased you? Get small? Get big? Oh, yes, talk to it in a high pitched, sing-song voice, like to a baby. So when I passed a house, I practiced, “Hi, you good doggie! You are such a sweet dog! Oh, you are just such a sweet good doggie!...” Fortunately, I didn't have to test it out.

Made it to Cottonwood Drive and turned left in search of Washington Street. The fields were dotted with Golden Alexanders, which must be annual and bird pollinated from their random pattern of distribution.

On the way back down Washington St. I waved to Coach Searing from cross country, who was running east. Passing Prairie School, I wondered what the hidden prairie looked like at this time of year. The mountain bike took the mowed grass on the way to the prairie ok, but lo and behold that heart rate finally did go up. At the pond there was not much obvious action, didn’t stay long but caught a bullfrog singing.

Day One, TWWS

Monday 24 May 2010. Got out by 5:23 am. Already it was quite light. Was a little chilly in short sleeves! The air was pleasantly humid. Was a little sad passing my usual route to the pool. There were lots of flowers to see, esp. late poppies, remaining irises, peach colored and still some purple-blue or purple red ones. The perfect garden on the east side of Race just south of Pennsylvania was especially lovely. Trees pretty much fully leafed. Made a loop of Meadowbrook: mist lay here and there in low places. The moist air was cool in places and warm in others, like the water in the pool is sometimes. It felt good to ride through the different temperatures. At the statue of “God” the scene was dramatic: mist on the ground and mountain-clouds with slanting lines radiating from them, and a bit of red sun peeking through. She looked pleased to be part of it. White Penstimon were numerous, as were spiderwort, though these latter would show more blue-violet later in the morning when they were fully open. Irises were still blooming in the place where the cardinal flowers will be later in the year.

The woods along Race Street just south of Meadowbrook reminded me of Wisconsin. On the road, on the ground there, was an INDIGO BUNTING!!!!!--more deserving of the epithet “blue bird” than the species of that name.

The vegetation is pretty much all green, tender and growing. Young corn plants in rows, wild parsnip, etc., along the roadside. The wind wasn’t bad. I must say the smells were different, mostly better than the chlorine fragrance (which nevertheless I love for its association with swimming) of the pool.

Yes, it was hard to get the heart rate up, and the bike is not such a familiar way to exercise. Muscles got tired before I could breathe very hard.

Almost home, on Race Street, there was a shape that looked like it could have been a snake, and in fact, it was a little, dry, dead garter snake. Poor thing.

After, though it was not the same as swimming, I did feel that pleasant post-exercise satisfaction.

Two Weeks without Swimming

The pool where I swim at 6AM every weekday is closed for cleaning for the next two weeks. This is a bit traumatic for me because nothing in my life is so dependable or consistently enjoyable as my morning swim. It took about 50 years (this is scary!) for me to hone such a well-formed routine. So I get nervous when it's disrupted!

But surviving this fortnight is my challenge. It's not really such a long time, after all, right? It could even be an opportunity to learn a variation on the routine, to try another form of exercise. Maybe I could get on my bike and see and see the countryside in the morning. But it's just not as...comfortable.

Immediately a list popped into my mind: Ten Reasons Why Swimming Is Better than Cycling for Daily Exercies:
1. You don't have to worry about the weather.
2. You don't have to worry about going too far to get back on time.
3. You don't have to worry about losing control and crashing when you swim. (Though hitting the lane marker hurts more than one would think.)
4. You don't have to deal with sweaty clothes.
5. You don't have to get in line at home to take a shower.
6. It's never a good idea to close your eyes while cycling.
7. You don't have to worry about dogs chasing you.
8. You don't have to worry about avoiding motor vehicles.
9. You're never tempted to take picture, sketch, or just stop to get a closer look at something.
10. You don't have to worry about getting lost.

Still, I'm off on my bike instead of swimming for the next two weeks. Maybe writing about it will smooth the transition.

Sorry, there is no adoption in this post.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

A Vision of Mothers' Day: Birth and Adoptive Moms

Mother's Day arguably is a holiday invented by card companies to stimulate business, but regardless of its origin, it certainly stimulates strong feelings about motherhood. For those of us whose lives are shaped by adoption, these feelings can be especially powerful or even raw. As an adoptive mother, I feel more intensely around Mother’s Day my gratitude for the gift of motherhood, for my sons, who have brought more meaning to my life than I ever could have imagined. This gratitude is immeasurably sweet but always mixed with sadness. Some of the sadness comes from not having carried them in my body, but most is from the knowledge that what brought them to me was tragedy and loss. I can’t help thinking about how Mother’s Day feels to two other women, bereft of the joys of my life. I send them notes, photos, cards (our relationship could be described as “semi-open”), handmade cards, if I can manage, into which I pour as much love as such an offering can hold. Yet I know these really are feeble gestures that can’t begin (or maybe only just begin) to touch their world.

Although it’s not widely publicized, the day before Mother’s day has been observed, mostly by groups of birth mothers, as Birth Mother’s day, a day to acknowledge their unique, bittersweet experience of motherhood. A few years ago, I saw in the local Catholic newspaper an announcement for an observance of Birth Mother’s day at the chapel of a local hospital, hosted by a Catholic adoption agency. I was excited that someone had organized such an observance and eagerly wanted to be part of it, to witness, honor, affirm the experience of the attending birth mothers, of all birth mothers, and especially, even though they wouldn’t be present, my sons’ birth mothers. At the same time, the thought of being close up to a sharp reality from which I’m usually insulated, which can be scary even in my own imagination, made me hesitate, made me feel shaky as I locked my bike and walked through the hospital doors.

In the chapel, I was handed a program of songs, readings, and prayers. The gathering was small. Beside myself, I think there was a couple with their young adopted daughter, two social workers from the agency, and three or four birth mothers. I don’t remember the details of the ceremony, but the songs and readings were meaningful and beautiful. Each birth mother shared a brief summary of her story: how long it had been since the adoption, what her circumstances were, what her reunion and present relationship with her birth child was like. Needless to say, many tears were shed. Afterward cake was served, and more informal conversation followed.

Though I was glad to have participated, I wondered whether I should really have been there. No one made me feel unwelcome, and one birth mother spoke to me with tears of gratitude that I would want to hear her story. But I wondered if my presence made them hold back, feel uncomfortable expressing, say, their rage and frustration about having so little to say about the fate of their children.

Not everyone finds gatherings with songs, readings, and candles to be a comforting place to bring their feelings of gratitude and loss, but I for one, very much do. In the blur of bringing home a new baby, my husband and I didn’t attend the adoption blessing ceremony put on by our agency shortly after my first son’s arrival, but I know that his birth mother was there and read the prayer I’d written for the day we brought him home. Even this little report is an ember that still glows in my heart. The following year, I drove two hours to meet her at another such ceremony, where we sat together, listened, sang, prayed, and lit candles. Afterward, we talked about the things she was saving for my son, about her mother, about her Swedish grandfather. I remember that she took it upon herself to get me some cookies and coffee, like a hostess, and when it was over I gave her a ride home. It was like a dream, framed with poetry, song, candlelight.

I’ve attended, and even been involved in planning, several “adoption blessing” events since then. These events, organized by adoptive parents and adoption workers with all members of the “triad” in mind, always are emotional and meaningful for me but also a bit disappointing because few birth parents or adult adoptees attend.

Once I tried to organize a reading of adoption poetry by putting up a few fliers on bulletin boards around town. (What did I know about publicity?) I naively expected at least one or two birth mothers, adult adoptees, and of course lots of adoptive parents, to see my announcement and jump at this opportunity to share, through their own words or those of others, their experience of adoption. Not surprisingly, it was attended (yes, and enjoyed) by a few fellow parents and myself. A little reflection on a couple of pieces, quickly chosen from A Ghost at Heart’s Edge by Susan Ito and Tina Cervin (“Letter to the Adoptive Parents from the Birthmother” by Carrie Etter and “Hunger” by Julia Sudbury) made clear to me that the walls of the coffee house may have had a hard time withstanding the emotion, let alone strangers venturing to hurl or catch it.

Adoptive parents’ magazines feature articles that speak about the difficulty of a birth mother’s experience with respect and gratitude, but they never approach the scale of intensity I’ve heard from the birth mothers’ own unguarded voices from other sources. I wonder whether there just is too much pain for an honest meeting, a mutual witnessing and sharing between birth and adoptive mothers, to be humanly possible. Yet, this is my dream, my vision. In my vision, it’s Mother’s Day/ Birth Mother’s Day. We are together, reading, singing, lighting candles. We are sharing stories and feelings, shouting, “I need you to hear this!” raging, weeping. And we are silent, listening, listening. We are hugging. We are taking leave, exhausted, maybe carrying the seeds of forgiveness, of healing. We think about gathering next time.