As Old Trees Fall, New Life Begins

Once so thick only a snake or rabbit could squeeze between the trees and shrubs, the wooded property beside mine fell prey to bulldozers in June 2022. In 12 days, it went from heavily forested to bare land, exposing my house and leaving robins, garter snakes, and white-tailed rabbits to find other homes. The new owner plans to build a house and eventually plant some new non-native trees.

For every tree that fell, I ached. It was a life ending. At the same time, I marveled at the increasing view of the sky and the sunset, of the moon and stars. I felt a warm comfort that my new neighbors arrived just a few days after I told God how worried I was about aging alone in my isolated house and put my future in His hands. Instead of being hidden away where no one could hear me if I called for help, I can now be seen by anyone coming down my street. When I walk on my deck now, instead of a wall of trees, I see my neighbors’ houses and all the way to the next road. I am exposed. No more naked hot-tubbing. When I wander out in my nightgown, people can see me. It’s a trade-off. The animals are adapting, and so will I. After all, someone cleared my property back in 1967 to build my house, and someone razed the orchards to build the neighborhood where I grew up. It’s what happens.

Yesterday, a big truck took the bulldozers away. The workers were gone. No more noise. In this lull before construction on the new neighbors’ house begins, Annie and I walked the cleared property, adding our footprints to the tracks of the heavy equipment. We found remnants of past lives: beer and soda bottles, pieces of shingles, a bit of rope, a flat football. We found the lid that blew off my compost bin in a storm years ago. We found a garter snake curled in the leaves that remain on my side of the property line. A gray and white bird I had never seen before sang from a tree in my yard, and a turkey vulture circled lazily in the warm air.

There was a particular alder tree I had asked the neighbor to save. No, he said. It has to go. The trunk remains, reddish gold. I counted the rings. About 35. It was a young tree, but as the neighbor said and as I could see from the fallen branches, it was rotten inside and would not have stood much longer. Its sister tree on my side of the property line reaches slim and leafy into the June sky. A yellow warbler darts between branches. So be it. Life is a book with many chapters. You can’t know the whole story unless you turn the page.

I still startle at the sight when I drive into my neighborhood. I will miss the blackberries I picked and baked into cobblers and muffins in past years. I will miss the rabbit that snuck out of the bushes for brief visits, but I also love the late-day sun that pours into parts of my house that have ever seen the sun before. Life goes on.

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It’s hard to be invisible on crutches

It’s hard to hide crutches. I make my slow way across the church to the piano and feel the whole congregation staring. Afterward, parishioners surround me, full of questions and pity. “What did you do?Crutches” “Oh, poor you.” They can’t believe I came to church in my gimpy state.

“I didn’t hurt my fingers or my voice,” I protest.

I struggle into the grocery store, where I will become one of those old ladies leaning on her cart, and the checker calls out, “What did you do?” Near the bagels, a man from church hurries up, puts an arm around me and asks the same question: “What did you do?” In the bread aisle, another friend from church sees me. “Oh no!” she exclaims. She has done it, too; she doesn’t have to ask.

For those who missed last week’s post, I sprained my ankle three days after Christmas. I missed a step at a local restaurant and spent the next three hours in the emergency room. All dressed up in velvet and Christmas sparkles, I learned that you can do x-rays through black pantyhose and that rolling in a wheelchair feels great when you only have one leg to stand on. But everybody will be watching you.

At the doctor’s office for my follow-up visit on Friday, I got a different reaction when I unveiled my foot and ankle. “Wow! Look at all those colors!” the doc said. It was pretty impressive, a mosaic of black, red, purple, green and yellow. But at least it was shaped like a foot and I could now put some weight on it. We talked braces, splints and shoes, and the doc filled out a form so I could get my very own disabled parking permit. When I came out, the waiting room was full. Everybody watched me as I progressed slowly toward the door.

Next stop DMV. I crutched up to the desk when my number was called. “Guess what I need,” I said, feeling everybody watching.

I spent the first three days riding two crutches, unable to put my right foot down. My whole body hurt, it was impossible to carry anything bigger than a pencil, and I couldn’t imagine leaving the house. On New Year’s Day, I was able to put my foot on the floor. I played the morning Mass at church, then retired to my couch to watch U of O’s Ducks slaughter the Florida State Seminoles 59-20. I don’t normally watch much football, but it was something to do, and for four blessed hours, nobody was watching me or telling me yet again that sprains are worse than broken bones.

My crutches are big and ugly. I’m down to one and sometimes none at home. I’m getting better at squeezing my crutches into the car and restaurant booths without hitting anything or anybody. There’s just enough room on my pew behind the piano at church for my crutches and my butt. But I’ll be glad to put my crutches back in the closet and forget about them. I have a sporty new splint on order which I will be wearing indefinitely. It’s black, and I’m hoping people will stop noticing and yelling, “What did you do?”

I’m a private person. I don’t like this kind of attention, but I’m learning so many lessons. Yeah, watch where you’re going, you might say. That, too. But I’m learning again, after several years without a visible injury, what it’s like to be disabled. I am so grateful that this is temporary. By next month, I should have only a slight limp, the crutches history. But so many other people are stuck with their disabilities for much longer or forever, and it’s bloody hard. It’s also inconvenient. I never noticed before how few parking spaces are allowed for the handicapped, how bumpy our parking lots are, and how heavy so many doors are.

I wonder how many people are sitting at home needing groceries to be bought or chores to be done but can’t do it themselves and don’t have anyone they feel comfortable asking. My New Year’s resolution is to jump out of my comfort zone and call people who are ailing or hurt, especially those who live alone, and not just encourage them to ask for help but offer specific assistance, such as, “I’m going to the grocery store. What do you need?” Or, “How about if I do a load of laundry for you?”

Want to join me?

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