Girl From Goat Pasture Road

Musings of Susan Swicegood Boswell



Late Frost

 My calendar says that it is spring outside but my azaleas beg to differ. Their profusion of pale pink blossoms have withered, shrunken and brown, due to a late- season frost and bout of cold weather that we all knew to anticipate, but somehow hoped could be spared.

I was not here to witness their destruction. My husband, Perry, calls me “lucky” and jokes how I often manage to be out of town when we have the worst weather. Last week was no different. On the two coldest days in March, when Greensboro’s low temperatures dipped into the 20’s, I was visiting a friend in sunny Miami, where the balmy daytime highs reached the upper 70’s and nighttime lows never dipped below the 60’s.

As the plane circled a few thousand feet above the North Carolina soil during our flight’s take-off and landing, the landscape revealed itself in bleak patches of brown and grey. Spring, when viewed from such lofty aspirations, was nowhere to be found.

Back home, I simply can’t rally myself into wanting to garden this year. My heart is heavy and in a state of mourning over matters much more significant than my frost-bit azaleas. Some of these losses are real and others have yet to occur. I find myself bracing internally for the impact. In the inner sanctum of my heart, I am buckling down the hatches- covering the shrubbery with sheets and raking the mulch up over the exposed roots and tender growth of my soul.

It’s not just me. I don’t have to tell you there is a lot of collective suffering out there. The damage is rampant-  look on Facebook; listen to the news. The cold snap that took my spring blossoms took those of my friends and neighbors, too.

I witnessed that. Saw it from the sky.

Logic and common sense tells me that my worries, that reacting to an impending sense of doom is a waste of good time, that what will be, will be. I simply must get on with that.

I keep thinking if I would just get outside and put my hands in the earth, maybe I’d feel differently, yet I am caught up in my inner turmoil, yet to let the dirt collect beneath my nails. As I make my daily walk from the house to the driveway and back again, I see the persistent signs that indicate life will keep coming at us despite an erratic forecast. Pretty clusters of snow drops congregate by the warmth of the retaining wall; white blossoms cling and fall from our two ancient cherry trees; bright green shoots among the beds of perennials poke their heads from the mulch, curious. The weeds and hellebores, on the other hand, are quite resistant; they live in outright denial and laugh at the cold. Like some people, they have simply decided not to give in.

From my vantage point, this morning in my little den, I sit curled up with an afgan strewn across my lap (and a cat overlooking my shoulder) on the vintage sofa my dad purchased for my grandmother in November of 1945, just after he returned from fighting in the South Pacific theatre of World War 2. I’ve been waking up too early these days- too much is on my mind. While the sun has not yet risen, I can hear the birds beginning to sing their songs outside the french doors, excited for the gift of a new day. A few blossoms from my camellias were spared from the cold and I see that Perry has clipped them and placed them on an adjacent table so that spring might find us indoors.

It’s funny, the way things work in life. On these days, when we find ourselves donning jackets and boots in March and April, we must live in a type of suspended belief. The promise of fair weather tomorrow must fight to reveal itself, when our senses would tell us otherwise.

Pets and children innately know how to live in the moment, but for most other living beings, our “nows” are peppered with “yesterdays”.

Memories are one of our greatest gifts but are also the bittersweet reminders of what is no more.

Of all the emotions, grief, in particular, seems to be cumulative. For some folks, a loss is not a single loss. Like a filter, it gathers and hangs on to all the losses that have come before it. Grief keeps score and gathers those losses like stray kittens and locks them down tightly in our hearts. Grief also has its own intuition. Like a trained meteorologist, grief expertly discerns the early warning signs of  change in the weather, that wait for us, just over the horizon. While the condition of PTSD has garnered much attention lately, in regards to our veterans, it is also something that most anyone who has experienced trauma can experience in varying degrees. Post- Traumatic Stress Disorder is a condition which causes us to experience all the side- effects of stress, even when the imminent danger of the threat has long been over.

I’ve heard it said that grief is a hole in our hearts that can never be filled and that we must simply allow our love to grow bigger around it. I know this is true and that God is there, almost exclusively, for that purpose. Like the changing of the seasons, we must be patient. We must forgive the cold snaps. We must remember that our growing season takes time and that grief is simply one portion of the price that we all pay for love.

Reduction Cooking

ImageIf you’ve ever watched “The Cooking Channel”, you’ve probably heard the term “reduction cooking”. This culinary process involves heating a liquid such as a stock or a sauce on the stove, uncovered. As the mixture simmers, various ingredients will evaporate at different rates allowing the remaining flavors and ingredients to become more concentrated.

In life, this process is not unlike “trial by fire.”

All of us experience trials of some sort, some of us certainly more than others. Many of us have lost partners and seen the break-up of marriages. We’ve lost homes and incomes and insurance. We’ve had health scares. We’ve lost parents and children.

We’ve lost much of ourselves, too, but were usually too busy to notice…

I don’t have to tell you this is a scary place, but what I do want to assure you is that there is no need to be afraid. This process of “trial by fire” has a secret and often overlooked component. In the midst of having to give up so many false forms of security, we’ve found surprising strength in places we didn’t even know we had. We have discovered an inner resilience, the ability to learn and excell at new skills, the ability to take a situation at face value. We have found that even stripped of much that we hold precious, we are still standing, only a little worse for wear. We’ve found support from all four corners of our lives because during those years we were serving on committees, dropping by food when someone was sick, babysitting a friend’s kid- we were really building relationships that have nothing to do with the business of life but everything to do with our own foundation.

Still, I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t enter this new phase of my life greatly humbled and a little disappointed. I thought by now I’d have it all together. Surely, my 401-K would have another digit. Couldn’t I at have at least maintained my lifetime membership in Weight Watchers? Shouldn’t I have learned to wash the dishes as I go rather than letting them pile up in the sink? As a respectable adult, wouldn’t I floss my teeth every single night? Somehow, I thought I would have acomplished so much more by now. I thought I would be so much “better”.

I was talking with a friend the other day and she questioned the wisdom of our desire to grow up into those stereotypical versions of older age, you know- the “old and wise”-  that we thought we were supposed to. I mean, sure, we need our 401-K’s and our teeth but does some of the stuff in between really matter?

What if the secret to growing old is really growing ourselves young? Remaining vital is willing ourselves to stay vulnerable, to stay silly, to continue to love and have faith in the hard parts and to not take life too seriously? I mean it is “life” and when it’s not, it just isn’t anymore. Maybe in our ideas about growing older, we have it all wrong. 

How do we grow young?

I can tell you by what I’ve seen. We endure. We discover we can adapt. We go on. 

I’ve seen a new beauty emerge in my friends. It’s not the same type of beauty as when we were young and had unblemished skin, flat tummies and breasts that didn’t sag.  This is a reduction cooking type of beauty. An essential and deeper beauty that leaves behind the extraneous and radiates outward like a tall strong tree in the forest, a weathered rock, the scent of fresh cucumber and grated ginger, and a sunrise. It’s a glow that comes from within.

It has nothing- and everything- to do with the temperature.

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