Friday, June 25, 2010

Adoption and Trees

During my bike rides in early June, I was able to observe so many ordinary things as wonderful, among them the leaves on the trees at this time of year. The show of the flowering trees (Forsythia, apple, crab, cherry, pear, redbud, dogwood, etc.) was long over, but I’d never before really noticed the effect of all the green leaves, newly mature. Not only were they dark, full-sized, and numerous, but they were so precisely stacked and distributed, fresh recruits at the beginning of the season’s long labor of photosynthesis. Their shapes were so perfect, not yet exposed to the munching of insects or the battering of repeated storms.

I love trees for the sheltering, architectural living things they are, whose cutting down can hurt like the loss of a friend. One of my earliest memories, or maybe it was just a family story that became a memory, was of my father and his friends cutting down the trees (probably weedy Alanthus) in the back yard of our "new" house and my displeasure about it. And when we lost our American Elm trees in the front, my proposal to plant an apple tree in their place was rejected.

I love trees for the way they evoke the human figure, even the face. They are among my favorite things to draw or just to gaze at and “read:” arms, fingers, legs, torsos, in conflict, affection, supplication, passion, protection.
They are dancers. They are people in yoga poses: backbends, twists, and, especially, inversions, leafy legs in the air. (The Sanskrit word for handstand—Adho Mukha Vrksasana—actually translates literally as “downward facing tree.”)

I know I am far from alone in this love of trees; there even have been cultures who saw them as objects of worship. More abstractly, the idea of a tree has been used as a metaphor for a wide variety of concepts, e.g., the tree of life, the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the tree of yoga, and of course, the family tree. As a new adoptive parent, I had read about the ubiquity of the assignment to construct a family tree in elementary school and how it could be difficult for adopted children. I was prepared to draw creative trees with my kids, the roots representing their birth families and the branches representing our adoptive family. As luck would have it, however, my children (who both are already out of elementary school) happen to have been spared, or perhaps deprived of, the dreaded Family Tree Assignment. They didn’t have to feel uncomfortable and different about showing their family tree to the class, but neither did we have this particular opportunity to sit down and work through how they belong, in different ways, to our adoptive family and to their birth families. The tree they might have drawn would not have been quite the kind of thing one could find in nature, but it would have been a way to describe their reality.

Actually, the tree as a model for family relationships has its limitations, even for biological families. Where the tree “originates” is necessarily arbitrary, and information about the origins of members who marry into the family generally are not included. Describing remarriage after death or divorce also requires some creativity to portray. In fact, only if we reproduced by splitting in two like amoebae would a tree truly be an accurate description of family relationships.

The family of adoption often has been portrayed as a grafted tree, as in the collection of poems, Perspectives on a Grafted Tree, edited by Patricia Irwin Johnston. Sherri Eldridge, in her “Twenty Things” books (e.g., Twenty Things Adopted Children Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew, Twenty Things Adoptive Parents Need to Succeed) often refers to adoption in terms of a grafted tree. This metaphor has some glaring limitations, e.g., apple trees are grafted in order to propagate apples with as little variation as possible, which doesn't sound like what we are trying to do with our children. But the process of grafting is a graphic illustration of the loss and healing that happens in adoption. Adoptees are cut off from their genetic past, adoptive parents from their genetic future. While this doesn't replicate a non-grafted tree, when they are bound together, love, like water and sap, flows between the two parts. The roots provide the graft with water, minerals, and a secure connection to the earth; the graft then produces leaves for photosynthesis to nourish the whole tree and, ultimately, flowers and fruit. I love this image of intimacy and draw comfort and encouragement from it when the storms of the teen years rumble.

Sometimes I wish my kids hadn’t gotten out of the family tree assignment. One or the other may have worked through the complex tree idea, or, for the sake of getting it over with, and to not stick out among classmates, may have opted to use a tree that only included the family with whom they live. If it was I in their position, I might have wanted to change the focus of the assignment and offer a picture of the sawtooth oak in front of out house as our family tree, which we planted in cooperation with our city’s public works department. Besides being an example of how sometimes you really can do what you want when you grow up and have your own house, it does mirror some things about our family. This tree started its life somewhere else and was dug up and transplanted to our yard, where we love it, behold it change and grow, care for it as we can, and release it to elements we can’t control. Already it’s lost branches to ice storms, and who knows what pests lurk out there to threaten its integrity? But, mostly, each day’s disasters and triumphs don’t make or break it. And I think this year we will have a good crop of acorns.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Day Fourteen TWWS

Sunday, 6 June 2010. OK, one last post. This because a fellow swimmer and I finally got together for a bike ride that we'd discussed before the hiatus but hadn't managed until today. (Hooray!). She had chosen to run while the pool was closed, which went well enough except for a sore foot; she was very much looking forward to swimming again.

We met at her house at 5:30, when it was cloudy and quite cool, so cool that we swung by my house to get a sweater (better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it). We headed east on Washington Street. She commented on the gorgeous smell of the linden and also that privet smelled something like it. Just east of Highcross, I saw a great blue heron flying in the southwestern sky. We turned north on Cottonwood Rd., and I pointed out my Quiet Place. We both noticed how lush and deep green everything was after yesterday's rain.

Rode north on Cottonwood into a fairly stiff headwind, working pretty hard to cross the I-74 Bridge. The numerous peonies close to the house just north of the bridge were definitely finished with their show for the year. Went past Trelease Prairie, Trelease Woods, and the Phillips tract, and then past the place where I turned around on Friday. Saw deer in several places.

We talked and talked and talked, about recent and past, happy and difficult events in our respective families. I didn't notice a lot of the little things I might have seen if I were alone, but the overall feel of the countryside in the quiet, cool morning was delightful, as was chatting with a person I see mostly underwater.

We turned north at Airport Rd. and made our way back past Brownfield Woods and a well-appointed house with what looked like a horse barn and horse fencing that my companion used the word "manor" to describe. At one point, we weren't sure which direction we were heading, but soon we were at the very recognizable intersection of Cunningham and Country Club Rd. We had been out for over an hour and a half but weren't quite ready to quit and decided to take a loop of Meadowbrook. On Race Street on the way was an unfortunate possum that had been hit by a car a while ago. At Meadowbrook, not far from the iris/cardinal flower site, she showed me where she and her family recently had seen a spectacular show of lightning bugs. Another wonder of this special, magical site in dear Meadowbrook Park.

The thought of lightning bugs reminded me of something I've thought of a lot while writing this blog, something my husband told me that Mark Twain had said about the difference between the right word and almost the right word, which is like that between the words "lightning" and "lightning bug."

At the prairie observation platform, we noticed that the clouds were really breaking up and the sun was shining gloriously. Truly a perfect morning. We agreed to do this again.

We returned to her house and admired the landscaping she and her family had been working on with the help of a neighbor. It was woodsy and restful.

We both were excited to anticipate the next morning's swim!

One last note. The past two weeks were more enjoyable than I ever would have imagined going into this. So you may have expected a list of good things about cycling to balance my original ten reasons swimming is better than cycling for daily exercise. Well, I guess I can come up with something. Here are

Ten Reasons Cycling Can Be as Good as Swimming for Daily Exercise, at Least When the Pool Is Closed

1. The smells are mostly much better.
2. Lots of bird songs.
3. The wind.
4. Flowers!
5. Passing walls of trees.
6. Conversation during the workout is possible, if one can coordinate the timing.
7. Views of the moon.
8. The horizon.
9. Birds, visually.
10. The dangers (losing control and crashing, getting hit by a vehicle or attacked by a dog, etc.) make it kind of exciting. (Ironically, referring to my original list, I had no trouble with crashing on the rides reported in this blog but did have a minor crash with a fellow swimmer out first day back in the water!)

Note: I tried to post this on Sunday evening, but Blogger was inaccessible.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Day Twelve TWWS

4 June 2010, 5:20 AM. Cool and clear. Thought it was plenty light already, the half-moon, at about 11 o'clock in the southern sky, was still lit up. Seemed such a short time since it was big and round and low on the horizon. A few days of clouds prevented observing the stages of its waning. The "aging" linden smell I mentioned yesterday was, I think, actually privet, of which there is a large hedge near Race and Cedar. It's close to linden (and honeysuckle) but not quite so good.

Almost didn't go to Meadowbrook this morning because there have been a lot of pedestrians; hate to make them feel like they might be run over. And it's impossible not to slow down and check things out. But it was the last day and wanted to keep up the routine to the end.

Noticed that I wasn't noticing the same things as at the beginning of this project. Spiderwort maybe fading some more but still plenty out there. Snowy Penstemon, Coreopsis, Baptisia, a few purple coneflowers. Was looking for wild roses and completely missed the statue watching the sunrise. Didn't find any roses, either. The iris may have had one or two very low blooms yet, but tomorrow probably won't. There were lots of small, young cottontail rabbits, and some bigger ones, especially by the stone sculpture that spells the word "to." Surprised a cock pheasant perched on a bench, didn't know they got up off the ground.

Headed to Washington street via Race. Across from Prairie School, saw what looked like a dead cat with two crows partaking of it. Looked forward to being back at the Quiet Place on Cottonwood Road and was not disappointed, though I didn't hear all the separate bird songs this time. Did see four goldfinches together in their bobbing, swooping flight, coordinated like the Blue Angels.

Kept on straight on Cottonwood Road past US 150, then over the I-74 bridge. Saw what looked like a groundhog/woodchuck/marmot down one bank of the bridge. Passed a farm house with a long border of pink peonies still mostly in bloom, right next to the house. There was another house a short way later. Decided that dogs probably were not a problem because the grounds were meticulously kept. Did repeat a few "You're such a sweet doggie's" just to stay in practice. A couple of deer ambled in a farm field; on the other side of the road, in the distance, a deer ran at high speed.

Passed Trelease Prarie, which had Penstemon and probably Tradescanta. Then came Trealse Woods, which was so dark under its oak-hickory canopy, and then the Phillips Tract. Turned around at another meticulously maintained place with an old honey locust tree with huge thorns and a walnut tree, already with good-sized fruit.

Saw the large, dark brown animal I thought was a groundhog still in the place where I saw it on the way out. Then noticed that its ears didn't look very groundhog. It was a big, probably feral cat. For a moment I thought it was a bobcat, I think a bobcat would have been out of there immediately if I'd seen it at all rather than sitting there looking at me, as if daring me to come closer for a better look.

Getting close to Highcross on Washington Street, on the sides of the road were attractive and fragrant arrangements of red clover and yellow sweet clover. Passing by Prairie School, noticed that the dead animal, crows somewhere else, was actually a rabbit. My mammalian taxonomy was faulty today.

Toward the end of the ride, thought about how wonderful the water will feel on Monday. Maybe I'll take a short bike ride before the pool opens. This exercise of reporting on these two weeks away from the pool have been a wonderful way to be aware of little things that I might have missed otherwise, an exercise in mindfulness. I conclude this exercise with gratitude for the morning from a bike and for anticipated mornings in the water.

And I would like to say thank you to my dear followers and anyone who may have read any part of this!

More posts with more adoption content to come, I promise.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Day Eleven, TWWS

5:30 AM. So grateful it was not raining and still early in the morning. Getting used to the route and maybe not noticing as much as at first. Smelled linden again, though with a hint of age, a reminder that it will pass, be missed.

At Meadowbrook, could just barely see a couple of iris blossoms, low to the ground. Tradescantia may be passing their peak, still lots of Penstemon. Also the first purple coneflowers, Echinacea. Many bird songs I didn't recognize near the iris, including one that sounded like a human whistling slowly. On the south side, away from the path, are bluebird houses, but haven't seen any bluebirds yet. Thought I saw swallows using one. Farther down, toward the observation platform, it smelled minty. Heard the "whirring" sound here.

Headed south on Race Street, past the trees that make me think of Wisconsin. The band of trees is narrow but still so nice. Something comforting about riding close to trees, can almost feel the cortisol levels go down. Turned east on Old Church Rd. Saw at least five cars in quick succession. What gives? Where is the quiet I had here last time? Was feeling greedy for it, especially after yesterday's traffic.

Going up the rise with the stark view, I realized this must be the actual Yankee Ridge, not the subdivision or the school but the geological feature. I love the little feeling here of not seeing quite over the ridge, being for a short time in the middle of nowhere; really like that spot. Then thought of something I read once about meditation--ultimately it lets one experience the wonder of being alive as much in a garbage dump (or heavy vehicle traffic) as at the top of a mountain (or ridge). Tried to remember that the rest of my life could be as engrossing as this bike ride in the country. Everything is just as it is, with its particular characteristics. Even life with teenagers and a messy house. Even the limits of my own generosity and competence.

On the South side of Old church was a prairie restoration, Barnhart Prairie, which had pretty much the same flowers blooming as Meadowbrook. Also it had the minty smell. Turned south on 1500E and passed a house, obscured by pine trees close to the road, The roof of which reminded me of a 1950's style airport, the old Meigs Field (Chicago), I think. Rode almost to the riding stable just a little ways down the road and turned back around. Someday I'll make a loop of it. In the horse pasture (paddock?) were a number of horses, including one with odd spots on its hindquarters. I stared (like a predator, it might have thought) at it until it whinnied at me, and I went on without determining whether the spots were of natural or artificial origin.

Keep forgetting to mention the smell of manure, which, though I know is excrement, I don't find unpleasant; it just makes me think of being out in the country.

On the way back on Race Street, saw the big rock that looks like a couch. I've seen it more than 100 times but am always struck by how it looks like a soft, comfy thing, especially when viewed from the south.

Arrived home at 6:45. Already tomorrow will be the last day.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Day Ten, TWWS

4:45 AM. Woke to a roll of thunder and the hiss of rain. Rats! How long will it last? Should I go ahead with Plan C or wait a while? I'm not good at making decisions first thing in the morning. It's this kind of uncertainty that knocks one's routine out of the groove.

So prepared to forgo cycling for something indoors, yoga. Before leaving I noticed there had been no more thunder and a robin was singing; maybe the rain had stopped. No, it was still coming down--what a plucky bird. Walked with an umbrella to the yoga studio. The dawn chorus was gearing up despite the rain, despite the uniformly grey western sky.

I love yoga, consider myself a “yoga practitioner,” do a handful of poses every day and, lately, some kind of practice a few days a week in addition to that. I used to always practice first thing in the morning, but it was hard to keep within the allotted time. Swimming fits so much more neatly into its little time slot. And there are so many fewer decisions to make when swimming, an important consideration first thing in the morning. I’ve been taking yoga classes for ten years; you would think I‘d be an expert by now. Alas, this is not the case. I have more aches and pains than when I started, and I’m not sure whether it’s because I’m not doing enough of the right thing or too much of the wrong thing. It’s hard not to get discouraged by this, to be annoyed that after all this time I’m still not doing it “right. “

But I still think it’s worth showing up and noticing (when I can nudge out the concerns of my life that seem to flock to my mind during practice) what actions result in what sensations. So I practiced and felt reasonably good afterward. Note--I intend to reflect more on yoga in a future post.

It still was raining a little on my way home. Noticed that it was harder to find new things along a path I’ve taken uncounted times, but did see little maple seedlings growing in holes in an old stump. Close to home, heard the song of a toad, then another one, on a different note, two different notes together.

The rain stopped by about 8, and although the yoga was nice enough, I really wanted a bike ride. So since the time happened to be available and the weather seemed to permit, I headed off to Meadowbrook about 8:30. Brought the recorder. There certainly was more traffic around, which made observing a little more difficult, or at least different.

At Meadowbrook there was more color appearing in the prairie despite the grey skies: even more Coreopsis and also a pink wild rose, with plenty of blue Tradescantia to set them off. Had to look hard to find the last iris. Heard a sound that was kind of like a person whining, reminded me that yesterday that sound was there and also a whirring, knocking kind of sound. Don’t know all the birds of Meadowbrook; have to research these.

Headed west on Windsor Rd. on the bike path. There was some wind and it seemed all uphill. Felt good to get that heart rate up a little. Was surprised how much traffic there was. Although could see farm land for much of the ride, could also see development. It goes on farther than I realized.

Didn’t make particular note of garden flowers, but noticed some large peach colored lilies, just starting to bloom, with broad, blunt petals in a garden on Windsor near Mattis.

The bike path became just a bit of shoulder west of Duncan Rd., and even that disappeared as Windsor crossed over I-57. It was not a good place for a bike—narrow and busy. Proceeded to Staley Rd. in front of which was some kind of garage with a garbage can in which something was burning smokily. Then turned around and came back. The way back was easier, lots of downhill and a slight tail wind.

Saw a dead (not very recently) groundhog along Windsor between First and Lincoln. Remembered also seeing one across the street from the yoga studio, the same one, I’m sure, that I’d seen crossing the street there on Saturday morning. Wouldn’t have thought when I started this that I’d be writing so much about road kill, but it gets one’s attention.

Arrived home at 10:23. Hope tomorrow is less complicated!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Day Nine, TWWS

5:18 AM. Just hadn't planned on fog. Would have to take a different route than planned because I didn't want to surprise even the eight motorists I might see with my sudden presence. Could have used blinking lights to increase visibility and safety, but I wasn’t sure how waterproof they were; besides, the mountings were on the other bike and I didn’t want to take the time to switch them.

It definitely was a "pea souper." Noticed a smaller example of something I saw on the way to the pool one morning, which was “rain” under the trees and not away from them, condensation creating tiny local showers. Besides making it rain under the trees and diminishing visibility generally, the fog condensed on my glasses, requiring stops to wipe at regular intervals. This kind of impediment to the planned workout does not occur with swimming. There were a couple of days when the ride was so lovely I thought I might be tempted to abandon swimming for cycling, at least for part of the summer, but this was not one of them.

Proceeded with caution. At Meadowbrook, couldn’t find the iris. Was the lovely but unassertive blue lost in the fog, or do they just not open so early when the sun isn’t shining? Lots and lots of Tradescantia and Penstemon, at least what was visible close to the path. More Baptisia and maybe Coreopsis than yesterday. The fog revealed spider webs all over: loosely woven threads strung with tiny beads. I wished for a camera. Noticed that the hairs on my arms were outlined the same way!

At Windsor road went east to Philo, then turned around and headed west to Lincoln. Turned north onto the bike path, minimizing contact with both vehicles and pedestrians. Passed the U. of I. school of Veterinary Medicine, where my youngest sister got her DVM. Remembered a Saturday morning in April of 1992 at that place, when my sister showed my husband and me and a 19-year-old young woman with a lot of ear piercings, red plaid tights, and an oversized “Ultraman” tee shirt around the Large Animal Clinic. We had talked on the phone to this young woman but had never met her before this day; we’d picked her up from the train station and were about to spend the day with her. She was pregnant, and we were hoping to adopt her baby. Talk about intense…

Turned west at Florida and rode on the wide, uninterrupted sidewalk across the street from the cemetery. (Mount Hope, I think it’s called.) Headed south on the bike path to Windsor and turned around and came back north again, retracing my path on Florida, turning south on Lincoln and heading home. I thought maybe the fog would clear during the ride, but is was still there as I neared home, confining my attention to things close by, even to my head. Like formulating a response to another blog I follow.

Got back about 6:30 and was going to take a photo of the fog for this post, but then got caught up in the getting-ready-for school vortex. By the time I thought to go out for a picture, the fog was pretty much gone. Funny how much I wanted it to go away and was now disappointed it was gone!