"Rutabaga," pastel life sketch, by Maria Theresa Maggi

“Rutabaga,” pastel life sketch, by Maria Theresa Maggi

Ten years ago at dinner time on Valentine’s Day I sat down to a special dinner I had created for myself of low-fat vegan fare. It was to be my first official day of eating this way, and i wanted it to be special and delicious. I wanted it to be a celebratory start to turning around the association of Valentine’s Day with the diagnosis of MS–which I received on that day in 1996.

I had recently discovered Susan’s Fat Free Vegan Kitchen and two of her offerings were centerpieces for my dinner:  Easy Vegan Spinach Mushroom Lasagna and Skinny Figgy Bars for dessert. I also had a salad with some kind of fat free dressing I no longer remember exactly, or maybe a side of steamed broccoli. I lit some candles. I sat at the table with my lovely plate in front of me and a cloth napkin on my lap.

I didn’t know how much this choice would help me, or how I’d later get to know Susan and she’d invite me to write this blog. I was just following a hunch. And I always like reinventing or altering something hard into something to celebrate.

A lot has changed in the last ten years. I still make that lasagne every once in a while, and I still love those figgy bars. But things have gotten more simple. And along the way I fell in love with particular whole foods themselves that I’d never tried before and thought I hated (for instance, persimmons and rhubarb) to returning to those I’d always loved with a more clear set of taste buds and appreciation, like pomegranates. They became the centerpiece for art and cards I made when I had my first solo art show in 2014 and were for sale for a limited time at the store page of this blog. Here’s a link to that post for more backstory on what Valentine’s Day has meant to me, and to see those illustrations.

In these last ten years, I’ve continued to grow as an artist and a blogger. I’ve finished a quilt I started when I was first diagnosed–by hand–after 19 years (Stitches in Time). Over 5 years I became more able to do light gardening on a regular basis. When I got Romeo, I started walking twice a day and the length of those walks gradually grew longer, until on occasion I was walking 2-3 miles at a time, and at least 40-50 minutes every day. I was able slowly return to writing poetry over the course of a couple of years and became a poetry chapbook finalist with a publication of a chapbook 17 years after my first book came out the year of my diagnosis. I was invited to write this blog. I was invited to have my own art show, and appear in other community shows. I learned how to print out cards made from my art. I started practicing yoga on a daily basis again.I moved 3 times and ended up at the Oregon Coast. But this year it makes me smile to think that  all I want to do to celebrate all these massive shifts is share this sketch of a single rutabaga.

Rutabaga is one of those vegetables we didn’t eat growing up, probably because my father didn’t want anything to do with it. (Same with rhubarb and persimmons.) I’d had some once in a winter vegetable bake but remember it being hard to cut up. Here at the coast, I go to the grocery store each week with friends who like rutabagas. Still, I wasn’t planning on buying one or eating one. I was picking out a parsnip instead (another veggie I never had as a child and was sold on when a local farmer had me taste hers–which were wonderful–like her turnips–yet another one I never ate until my 50’s–) when this rutabaga next to them caught my eye. I thought it was just so pretty and fascinating that I decided to take it home and try to draw it.

It’s not easy to draw rounded things. If you go look at those pomegranate drawings you’ll see what I mean. Since then I’ve tried drawing apples, peaches, pears, squash. It’s all good practice, with mixed results, some better than others. But this little rutabaga–well, I feel like I “got” its volume in this simple sketch.

After being satisfied enough with the sketch, I decided to cook it last night. I was baking a couple of sweet potatoes and I wrapped the rutabaga in parchment and foil and put it on the baking sheet along with them.  I learned to do this with beets years ago from Susan’s roasted beet tofu burger recipe. It took even longer than the sweet potatoes, but it got roasted whole. Today I put that roasted goodness in a sauce pan with cooked seasoned lentils, and lots of cabbage and kale, garlic and green onions.

_____

I’ve been trying to write a memoir–for years. Some of what is on the blog will be reconfigured and included but some of it is not here. In a way, working on it is like the rutabaga–it “cooks” at a geologically slow pace, and I am often fooled that what I have to say will be too “plain” or “bland” or not to the taste of many readers. And yet, the effort is also like this rutabaga in that in a certain light it’s extraordinary–at  least that’s what a woman  I met on the street in Portland said. She was jogging with her dog in the opposite direction Romeo and I were walking. Our dogs wanted to meet and so she stopped. We got to talking and somehow I ended up giving her a brief synopsis of the last 20 years. “You’ve lived an extraordinary life,” she said. She was sincere and insisted, when I, also sincerely, demurred.  I still find that remarkable.  I still find that hard to believe. To me, most of the time, my life is like that humble rutabaga in the moments I don’t suddenly see its textured splendor.

One thing that’s stayed the same these last 22 years is my tendency to court those moments I do see the textured splendor in the rutabaga of my everyday life. What eating low-fat whole food and vegan these last ten of those years has given me is a clarity and ease at noticing and finding those moments, and making the most of them. In turn, that kind of moment gave me the inspiration to try eating this way in the first place. I guess that is extraordinary in some way, but just how it is becomes the challenge of the writing and the art–the rounded mystery, really, at the heart of my life.

And so, happy anniversary to me, rutabaga and all.

Maria (moonwatcher)

{ 8 comments }

Rumblings

by Maria Theresa Maggi on January 29, 2018

Fault Geology pastel sketch by Maria Theresa Maggi

“Fault Geology” pastel sketch by Maria Theresa Maggi

Several days ago, I wrote this to myself, thinking I might put it on facebook, but I never did:

“Oh. KAY. So. . . .it seems that last night I felt, in just a shudder or two, reverberations of the earthquake off Kodiac Island. I was drifting off to sleep again after using the bathroom when I felt the bed move. The bed moves when the dogs jump up on it, or Romeo head rubs it before jumping up, but both dogs were sleeping next to me on the bed already. Hmmm, I thought, what was that. It was ever so slight, yet nothing seemed to have prompted it. Perhaps I had missed a shift of Cotton’s who was closest to the edge. But he was silent. Previous to this, Romeo had lifted his head up at some invisible stimulus. Then again, another slight move of the bed, as if it jumped just a teeny tiny bit. And I thought, having been in earthquakes, earthquake? But the dogs were not active, they slept on. I put my hand on Romeo’s torso, and started to drift back off. Then, ever so ever so gently, there was a movement through him, that didn’t seem to be the rise and fall of his chest, which I could also feel. Was he having some kind of seizure? Was something else causing it? Ever so subtle that I questioned whether I had felt it. Still, again, I sat up and kept my hand on him, paying attention. It was now gone. And did not come back. so if it had been an earthquake, it was an extremely tiny one. I drifted off to sleep again.

In the morning after I turned on the computer and facebook was on the screen the second post in my feed was from a dear friend who lives in Sitka now, saying they were safe, their house was up high, and they had not had to evacuate. evacuate. Earthquake. Then below that was another post from a former neighbor in Moscow with a new baby who works for Alaska Public Radio. They were okay. Bags packed. Listening to the radio. So I immediately googled “earthquake Alaska” and found the story of the earthquake and tsunami warning off Kodiac Island. Apparently there had been a warning up and down the coast I had either slept through or not known about. Except that I had.”

Not long after I had read the earthquake news and realized there was, for a very short time, a warning up and down the west coast last night, my phone rang. It was my sister. “Good Morning, “ I answered. “Is this my ‘did you hear about the earthquake’ call?’ I teased her. “Yes, “ she said, giggling a little.

“You know what?” I told her. “I think I felt it.”

____

Suddenly, intuitively, certain dominoes fell into place. The previous week we had very VERY high surf, for no apparent reason, since it happened prior to storms hitting us. The thought was these were being caused by storms way out in the ocean making their way to us. Indeed. But what if, too, the earth itself, under the ocean, was getting ready to let slip? Even thousands of miles away that could churn up the water. It’s all a matter of scale.

A  wave over 30 feet had crashed over the bluff where our beach access and cabana is. Here’s what I wrote about that:

“From a big storm way out at sea came waves all the way up the stairs and onto the grass at our beach access, pulling siding off the cabana, tossing a log onto the grass, washing stair railings away an hour or so even before high tide. Ocean took back all the sand on the beach and exposed bedrock below the access too. I discovered these after effects later on in the afternoon. At first I thought the curvy line of vegetation across the grass had been made by a child building a road. Then I saw a log between it and the picnic table. Gravel strewn across the pavement. Another log jammed against the concrete stairs. Tarps over the front of the cabana where siding had been ripped off. Neighbors who were down there when it came so high had to hold on to picnic tables, a telephone poll. Everyone’s okay. Here’s what I saw when a small piece of the sunset peeked through over the roiling surf, high even an hour before low tide.”

"Bedrock with Storm Surge and Sunset," pastel memory sketch by Maria Theresa Maggi

“Bedrock with Storm Surge and Sunset,” pastel memory sketch by Maria Theresa Maggi

Later on in the middle of the morning after the Kodiak Earthquake, a nice neighbor gave me a ride up to the post office so I could mail this painting to someone who, I am happy to say, purchased it. As we were chatting on our way back, for some reason (perhaps because I was still trying to process it) I decided to mention that I thought I had felt the earthquake up in Alaska during the night, or some reverberation of it, and then had gotten up to find out what had happened. This very nice neighbor looked at me dead pan like I was missing a bolt.

“We used to live in Alaska,” she said. “Kodiak is thousands of miles away. You couldn’t have felt it. That’s not possible.”

We were now in my driveway, so I thanked her and got out. Perhaps she was right. Perhaps.

The island of Kodiak is thousands of miles away from the central Oregon coast. Perhaps what I could have felt was a minor sympathetic tremor here in the area. I tried to convince myself my neighbor was probably right. But I just couldn’t. Wherever that couple of shudders and “is this an earthquake” sense came from, it certainly isn’t every day I wake up and think I might be feeling an earthquake, and then get up in the morning and find out there was one in the middle of that same night in my part of the world. I’ve been in a few earthquakes, and I’ve never imagined one when there wasn’t one. Innately I trusted there was a connection.

I went back to a news article published in the Anchorage newspaper I had not had a chance to finish. I was struck by how the emergency monitoring equipment had a freak freeze due to ice dropping right in the wrong place at the wrong time and the uncertainty that caused, delaying accurate data. Yet people went with what they had, and by feel, and common sense, and fortunately, no one was hurt. The tsunami never happened, because of the kind of quake it was. And then I saw this: the quake itself was felt far down the coast, as far as Washington state, this article reported. That made it clear to me that I certainly might have felt a sympathetic or reverberating rumble just a few hundred miles or so more south. That’s an inch or two (or even less) in plate tectonic scale.

____

Once a week I ride down the coast to Newport with friends to do my weekly grocery shopping. Always, as I unload my cart of groceries (lots of veggies) onto the conveyor for checkout, whoever is behind me watches Cotton appreciatively as he patiently waits, sometimes sitting back on his hind legs, front legs outstretched, like a sphinx. Last week a large young (to me) man in glasses and crew cut made the kind of friendly conversation most interested people do, complimenting me on how pretty and well-behaved Cotton is and then asking what breed. Over the last year I’ve gotten better at unloading my groceries and fielding questions at the same time. I don’t break out in a cold sweat anymore, worried I won’t be done “fast enough.” It’s become almost routine. This man was very polite, very pleasant, and so was the young checker, who said to me she was a kind of “glass half full” person. I was feeling pretty comfortable being flanked by both of them, and not too worried I might take too long sliding my card through and writing down the total in my check book (which is the old-fashioned way I record activity on my debit card). I had found a large mailing envelope to put the packed up painting in and had managed not to get it wet from frozen blueberries or bunches of kale. I knew exactly where I was going to put it in the cart for the trip out to the parking lot. I was definitely getting this grocery shopping once a week thing down.

It takes me a while to finish up (that’s one of the reasons I adore having my service dog with me. Romeo or Cotton never get impatient with me as I do my best to get the groceries onto the conveyor, find my cards, give the cashier my bags, etc, That isn’t always true of people waiting in line.). As I was gathering myself to leave, checking to make sure I hadn’t left any cards or pens, I happened to see what the young man had put on the conveyor belt to buy. The first–and maybe only–purchase he seemed to be making was a magazine titled “Modern Firearms.” Its cover sported a photo of some kind of huge automatic weapon. The checker said to him, as easily as she had told me she was a “glass half full” kind of person, “I have a friend who got the kit to make that,” as if she looked at such things every day as a matter of course. “I have the pistol,” he said, “but I don’t have the gun.”

They had moved on from my presence between them before I had actually physically moved away. It was either as if I weren’t there, or as if it didn’t matter that I was; their conversation went around and through me, as if I were a post holding up the ceiling, or the air between the debit card machine and the cash register. The two of them conversed about this so casually, they could have been talking about antiques or sports teams. I was completely rattled. I wanted to get out of there before I actually said something like, “Collect something ELSE!! How about seashells? Or stamps?” I hurried myself away as fast as one can go with a full cart of groceries, a purse and a service dog. One of the friends I came with was waiting for me by the door as she always does. Outside it was dark and drizzling a little. I told her what had happened at the check out as we walked to the car where her husband was waiting to help load up my groceries into the trunk with theirs. Just as I was about to get into the car, the young man who had been behind me in line came up. He was parked right next to us.

“You forgot your mailing envelope,” he said, smiling. “I was hoping I would see you. The checker saved it for you. Lucky I was parked right next to you guys.”

Further flustered and relieved, I thanked him and hurried into the store to get the envelope while my friends finished packing up the car.

This young man was nothing but a perfect gentleman to me. I am grateful he saw me and thought to tell me I had forgotten my mailing envelope. And yet his casual need to collect and “build” automatic weapons terrifies me more even than the fact that I felt the whisper of a major earthquake, or that I live in a place where I need to be “ready” for one, if such a thing is truly possible (despite supplies, go-packs, neighborhood supply bunkers, meeting places, or contingency plans). This love affair with automatic weapons so many people in our country have now shakes me to the core in a different but no less life threatening way than a major earthquake would.  It’s true I know nothing of the first hand terror felt in Sandyhook, Las Vegas, Kentucky, Orlando, Roseburg or any other site of senseless gun violence. I’ve never had to scramble to hide or get away or wait to find out if my child or loved one made it out. I haven’t needed to be covered by a law enforcement officer shielding my body like the very law makers in Congress who won’t pass effective gun safety laws had at their disposal last year.

But still, this terrifies me.

And even though I knew I got the intuitive nudge I was going to move from Asbury Street long before I knew where or how or why, and though I wish it weren’t so, I am reminded part of the reason that emerged was an instinct to to get as far away from a university campus I had once taught at that decided to allow students to carry concealed weapons. I couldn’t see how, in my neighborhood, just a block away from campus, where I regularly negotiated with drunken students over the years at many times of day and night, that their being able to conceal and carry could possibly come to anything good. I then moved away from my small town where gun ownership had wrought tragedy and bloodshed upon cherished community members on too regular a basis for me ,and then away from a neighborhood where gun violence still sometimes erupted amidst harsh and unrelenting inequities, a reality I experienced my first week there. Now I’ve arrived at the edge of the continent, which itself is not that stable in the geological sense, and where, yet again, young people who should be helping to make the world a better place seem to believe (tragically, in my view) they are doing just that by acquiring such terrible weapons. There’s nowhere to run anymore.

Maybe I should have said something. Maybe I should have used my teacher card when that young man approached me in the parking lot to alert me to the fact I had left my mailing envelope behind. Maybe I should have said, “thank you!” like I did, but added “But don’t collect automatic weapons! Nothing good will come of it. You’re better than that!” But in that moment, I was too rattled to get to such a statement. That didn’t come until now. Instead I was silent.

I wish I could be like the friend of a friend who has taken the time to stand outside gun shops and engage customers in civil dialogue about why they feel they need these weapons and why he believes they are dangerous and shouldn’t be allowed. But I don’t think fast enough on my feet anymore. And perhaps I never have.

Instead I wrote a draft of this and was disgusted with it, and my own ability to speak up on the spot, my own reliance on good thoughts and prayers when I am at a loss. I thought I would fail at finishing the past so I went to bed and “slept on it.”

In the morning, however late to the game, I started to realize that not finishing the post is truly a way of silencing myself. Now, at least here, I can say this. And so I have.

_____

This week there was no one behind me at the check out counter. But there was a man in front of me, maybe 10 years younger than me, whose groceries were spread out in front of mine. Both sets of groceries looked very similar: cans of Simple Truth BPA free organic beans, and lots of fruits and vegetables.

I rarely see groceries like this in line. Usually it’s the cheese, the frozen pizza, the bacon and gallons of milk. I couldn’t help myself. I blurted out, “your groceries look like mine! So many vegetables! I hardly ever see that!”

He turned to me and smiled. “My wife’s vegan,” he said, “so I’m trying to be vegetarian at least. I feel great.”

“Good for you!” I said and told him I had been vegan for 10 years and that it had changed everything for me. He said he started doing it because they were eating separate meals all the time and he wanted to eat with his wife. I walked out of the store smiling about that. It’s so much easier to be at ease with those I  share an affinity with. But I tend to think it counts the most to find a way to connect when it’s most difficult.

I know it’s become so empty to send “thoughts and prayers” in a situation of gun violence when no social action is taken to make things more safe. I share that frustration with thoughts and prayers. But I also truly believe in their power. It’s another one of those heartbreaking dichotomies here on earth. Each morning on my yoga matt at the end of my practice, I breath in and out to the mantra, “May my heart be open, may I be free from suffering, may I be healed into this moment, may I be at peace. “ I go on to say it with “may our hearts be open” and “may all hearts be open.” Now that I’ve been witness to this gun conversation I can specifically visualize and ask that these two young people open their hearts beyond the gun collecting. I can breathe in the fear I felt that they haven’t yet, and send out the hope on my outgoing breath that loving courage will find them, and others, some day–will find us all.

The evening after I met the aspiring vegan ahead of me at the grocery store, the sky was overcast as the sun set. Crabbing season has opened again. The sky and ocean were  dusky pastels and grays, in contrast to the black bedrock still exposed on most of the beach. But as the darkness came on almost imperceptibly, the lights on the crab boats out at sea came on, too.  Most were very far out, but one was close enough to burn brighter than the others. Some ships seemed to suddenly appear over the lip of the horizon, only visible by the seemingly tiny light.

The darker it got, the brighter they got. Their light was like a vigil on the vast ocean, creating an illusion of familiarity and proximity, making the churning water and foggy conditions seem almost cozy.  It was hard to imagine in that moment a wall of water in the form of a tsunami might come forth from that same horizon some day.  It was hard to imagine that crab fishing is one of the most difficult and dangerous jobs there are. The darker the vast expanse of sky and sea got, the more bright the lights on the crab boats beckoned, compelling us to stay,  just a few more minutes, minute by minute.

Maybe bravery is like grace, like these lights: it visits us suddenly, unannounced, and can leave just as suddenly. It’s all wrapped up together in the way things are: the beauty, the risk,  the terror, all intrinsic to one another,  always a package deal. Nothing to do but live it, and, if I’m lucky, love it, too, really love it, along my way.

Crab Boat Lights at Dusk pastel memory sketch by MTM

“Crab Boat Lights at Dusk,” pastel memory sketch by Maria Theresa Maggi

Maria (moonwatcher)

 

 

 

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Daybreak (and Pineapple Corn Bread)

January 9, 2018

  The night my son drove me back to the coast after our family trip for Christmas in southern Idaho, we drove straight into the wind and rain coming in from the ocean. The closer we got, the more it came down. Once again I was grateful for my son’s skill at driving on wet […]

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Loving The Blue Dot

December 20, 2017

Of late I’ve noticed a pattern in my memory sketches. They are increasingly focused on how small our man- made structures and objects look against the vastness of the sky and the ocean. And yet, as toy-like as they seem in the moments I’ve tried to capture them,  it’s the light from that vastness that […]

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A Little Night Magic

December 8, 2017

  My parents were sticklers for honoring the traditional 12 Days of Christmas, which hardly anyone seems to recognize anymore. The traditional 12 days of Christmas  are bookended by Christmas Eve,  the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th. In between are days that have both pagan and Christian significance. In even earlier times the […]

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Finding Heart

November 10, 2017

More often than not, I am hard pressed to have my own imagination beat what happens in real life. This particular morning was an overcast drizzly one. The dogs and I hoofed it up a big hill and over to the community garden to dump kitchen compost and collect little leaves of kale and chard, […]

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A Few Words

November 3, 2017

For much of the last several weeks, the ocean had stolen the sand from the our beach access, leaving us only with rocks, practically right up to the bottom of our stairs. On calmer days at low tide, we could make our way over those rocks to sand farther north. Last Saturday morning, I was […]

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I Knew I Had To Go Deep

October 22, 2017

  One day last week on our drizzly walk to look at School House Creek emptying into the ocean at high tide, I thought a lot about the “me too” phenomenon prompted by the breaking stories of Harvey Weinstein’s serial sexual predation. For some reason impressions from images of an ancient Egyptian city recently found […]

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On Resilience

October 8, 2017

    My love affair with the word “resilience” began with a little angel on a trampoline. Many years ago during my time in manual therapy, in addition to the main practicioner I saw, I sometimes would go to see her sister-in-law, who was a friend of mine, and was moving up the ranks in […]

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Woosh

September 23, 2017

This memory sketch is the view from above my neighborhood’s north beach access, late afternoon, Autumn Equinox. The actual equinox point was about 2 hours before we arrived, at about the same time the tide was at its highest point that day. The wild ocean of late has reclaimed a lot of the sand and […]

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