TODAY the weather pattern is forming striated bands of woodsmoke distributed horizontally through and around each tree, in a meet and separate, slow yielding acknowledgement of the energy from a hundred or so wood stoves. My community reaches into the day by checking the woodsmoke patterns, the waves on the Straits, the snow on the mountains. The levels of wave, smoke, and snow, determined by experienced senses, guide us into long-john decisions.
Part of the strength generated here is through the orchestrated routines required by pet dogs. Dogs are leashed to owners, and require walks at least morning and evening. This causes about one hundred owners and about fifty dogs to meet and separate each day in an accidental pattern that becomes an adhesive and cohesive measure. Everyone walks, dog or no, and there is a line of communication carried along the trails.
Once a year a picnic is held, and we sit down, minus dogs, and clarify relationships, secretly astonished at our closeness. This apart from infrequent business meetings of the association of property owners.
The annual picnic, and the daily visual reminder of the chimney smoke, intensified by the smell of burning alder woodsmoke, reinforces in a subtle way an unintentional and accidental community. Accidental through the strange process of "retirement" within the limits of the usual compromises, and unintentional because it is a growing unplanned experience, by individuals predominantly in the last third of their lives. Being old is apparent, and how we deal with it is interesting to us.
There is a certain reluctance to acknowledge being a part of the fastest growing segment of American society. Like a multiplying cell out of control, who needs it, when that segment is OLD?
Old doesn’t readily acknowledge loss of individuality, to be lumped into an uncomfortably non-disposable and expensive luxury.
Who is not a little surprised to have made the leap; amorphous middle-age survived, youth definitely surpassed. Old is now, elbowing the proscribed parameters while testing the waters.
Exploring oldness takes some considerable adaptability to close companions, and further to community, and beyond. The seeking, focusing ability to tune, and fine tune, any accumulation of diverse sensibilities into a fitting effort, is growth, not decline. It is a profound, astonishing resource to be dipped into carefully, nurtured, and developed.
So to walk, with the daily rhythms of meet and separate, touch and release, connecting a web into a network that is my accidental community.
Our shelter is a loose amalgam of scattered houses, placed by choice, joined by location, with age as binder. Our shelter is sharing tools and precious junk and skills, and viewpoints, with close neighbors gathered from around the world. Our shelter is summers of grandparenthood. Our security is the knowledge that we are responsible; to ourselves, neighbors, and for what we have wrought in the world.
Our security is the vegetable garden and the woodpile. Especially the woodpile. There is a whole cosmic balance in our woodpiles. They are there for our delectation, the friendly smoke curling from our chimneys is part of the cycle of preparation, of gorgeous plans and d reams.
Full length logs appear in the driveway, and weeks of shared effort cuts and splits and stacks the firewood. Stacking is important. Wind shelters are formed around the perimeters of an outdoor sitting area. Stacks are set close to the back door, or to a sliding window for ease of access. Stacks thread through the woods defining nothing but the owner’s skill in packing the most wood into the exact distance between two trees. Stacks are piled within boards and sawed all at once to make a smooth mosaic of butt ends. Stacks protect the vegetable garden, with a weft of nasturtium garlands threading through and over and under in glorious profusion. How much is enough?
The near view is enhanced, balanced by the long view, within a feeling of neighborhood. We are connected by accident of inclination, maturation, and I hope, by courage.
Joan Coverdale is a weaver, poet, photographer, and grandmother who lives near the Dungeness Spit on the Straits of Juan De Fuca.