By: Lisa Regula Meyer
Cycles are important, especially to women. Our cycles mean a lot to us: are we pregnant? (congratulations, again, Lexi and Devon!), are we mature? are we in good health? are we at the end of our child-bearing years? – all of which can be addressed in part by our cycles. As a woman, I’m no different in that, and like all women, I’m so much more than that one dimension.
For anyone who hasn’t noticed, I’m an ecologist, and I study frogs. That makes spring in our house a little different than most houses. Where other mamas start noticing the warmer weather, the spring rains, and the flowers, I see humidity levels, time at sunset, hours of dark, and insect activity levels. I start obsessing over the weather- is it warm enough? Is it wet enough? Is there enough daylight? When will the FROGS START TO CALL?! Summer in our house involves lots of late nights driving around count frog surveys, and days counting and measuring tadpoles.
See, most people think of scientists and professors and imagine serious, disciplined, dare I say it- stodgy. Yeah, we’re really not like that, we ecologists. Well, some are, but most not. Herpetologists (people who study amphibians and reptiles, like me) are a little further on the “not your typical professor” scale, and the furthest I’ve ever seen are the elasmobranchs, who study sharks, skates, and rays. They know how to party. But I digress.
My year’s research can live or die by knowing cycles, and how to predict my study organisms. A single big, unexpected event means an entire year is gone. Believe it or not, even though I was working in Ohio, in 2005 hurricane Katrina destroyed my study site and wiped out a year of breeding for the Northern dusky salamanders of Big Pine Hollow. It behooves me to be anal-retentive about the natural world, know what’s going on, and have a good idea of what’s going to happen.
Cycles help with that burden; they give me an idea of what to expect, a baseline if you will. While our current Gregorian calendar, like all other calendars, is man-made and has all the fallibilities that come along with that, it serves a purpose. Wood frogs around here call in late March, spring peepers early April, green frogs in May, bull frogs in July, and so on. Except for years like this, and years like this have gotten more common; years that are less predictable, further outside the normal cycles and limits that we expect, and that’s bad, although it does have its up-sides as well.
Years like this make us re-examine. Years like this remind us that cycles can be wrong, that stochasticity occurs, that life is not predictable all the time. And sometimes I need that reminder, in both the good ways and the bad. Not all surprises are bad, in fact, some are amazing. Sometimes the surprise is everything falling together perfectly. Sometimes the surprise is a species that isn’t where you had expected it. Sometimes the surprise is an experiment that works out just the way you planned.
Other times, it’s the cycle that gives you a little nugget. Those long cycles, those ultridian cycles, the ones where you know they’ll happen again, but you don’t know when. Or you know when, but it’s a looooooooonnnnng time. Like Transit of Venus or Haley’s comet long. The point to this whole ramble is buried in those little nuggets.
Always remember that sometimes the unexpected is just what you need, and sometimes you have to adore the beauty of things you take for granted, because cycles can change and those spring wildflowers might not make it up next year. Challenge yourself to notice the cycles a little more, and see all the wonder that there is out in the natural world. Appreciate the unexpected twists of fate. Look up at the stars, out at the sky, and down at the flowers. And never forget that in a finite universe, the molecules from those stars that no longer shine had to go somewhere, and nature is the best recycler around.
By: Tanya Ward Goodman
I’ve been putting down roots… again. It hit me today as coaxed a little basil plant out of its nursery pot, that even when I think I’m totally settled, I continue to root. Sometimes these tendrils are as tentative and delicate as those slightly downy, white roots of the basil plant and other times, I’m a dandelion, strong and firm and fast.
This year marked the first that both of my children were out of pre-school. They are big elementary school kids, now. If you had asked me three years ago, I would have said that this transition was going to be a hard one – like being yanked out of firm ground. Instead, it has been a pleasure to see that we can grow in this new place. We return to our pre-school often for fundraisers and classes and to visit friends and my kids delight in this familiarity. If I’m allowed to continue with the plant metaphors, it’s the place where they “hardened off,” or learned to weather a tougher climate.
We are setting down roots at our new school and it is growing more familiar, more beloved. Though the number of kids has tripled, my son and daughter seem to know everyone. We run into friends at the park and the grocery store and hear shouted greetings as we drive the streets of our neighborhood.
At the risk of sounding like a flake, I feel like this is all helping me to become more rooted in who I am. Because we don’t arrive on the earth with little tags reading, “direct sun, light water, fertilize monthly,” it sometimes takes a while to figure out exactly how to look after ourselves. I think I might be finally starting to get it. Some of it is counterintuitive: who would have thought that it’s exercise and not chocolate that makes me feel happier? Some of it is a kind of no-brainer: more sleep will make me less tired. I’m learning to breathe deeply when the kids shout, overlook even the most mammoth of dust bunnies and take time to read and rest and poke around in the dirt of my garden.
A little root here, a tendril there. It’s spring. Time to grow.
By: Tanya Ward Goodman
In the last two weeks, we’ve lost a beloved neighbor and a beloved cat. In the last two weeks, the air is thick with the fragrance of orange blossoms and even the barest of branches have exploded into opulent bloom. It’s spring. Things are changing. It seems strange to compare a ninety year-old former dentist and an eighteen year-old grey tabby, but the two did share one marvelous quality: they loved everyone. After less than six months of acquaintance, our neighbor, Bill, started ending our brief over the hedge conversations with “I love you.” “What do I say when he says that?” my husband asked. “He told me he loved me.” “You, too?” I said. At Bill’s funeral there were over two hundred people. Each speaker spoke about how much love Bill had. Each spoke about how much love he shared with the world. “He was a guy with a million best friends,” someone said. “He always said he loved me and I think he meant it,” said someone else. His family assured those gathered that he did mean it. They said Bill often wondered why we scrimp on these words, why we save them when there is so much to love. We’ve lived in our house a little over a year, but almost immediately, I began to look forward to running into Bill in our driveway. He always had a positive word about my parenting, my outfit, the new flowers we’d planted. “I’m really proud of you guys,” he said. “You’re raising a beautiful family.” Just after Bill died, our aged cat, Pokey started spending more and more time on Bill’s front stoop. She lingered around the white plastic chair on his front lawn, the one where he sat almost every day, blinking in the afternoon sun. She meowed by the door and arched her thin back when Bill’s widow, Ruth stooped to rub her fur. Pokey had been our cat for roughly half of her life. She was a small, but congenial hostess, welcoming all guests to our home. With her deep purr and insistent meow, she wormed her way into even the cat hatingest of hearts. She wooed furnace repairmen, babysitters, contractors and all of our closest friends. Pokey, like Bill, was all about love. There wasn’t any reason she could find to hide from life. She had no time for cowering under beds or shivering in closets when there were people to meet. Pokey loved a party. She loved to mingle. She climbed into the laps of strangers knowing that they were soon to be friends. Last week, my yoga teacher started her class by saying, “love your life and everything will change. Love your life.” It seems like a simple thing, this flowering of emotion, but sometimes it gets lost as we rush through the day. I’m trying to remember. It’s a good way to honor a good man and a good cat.
By: Tanya Ward Goodman
My Mom is headed back to New Mexico. A couple of hours ago, she walked through a set of airport sliding doors, the sunlight turning her silver hair to a spill of mercury down her back. In almost no time, she will walk out a similar set of sliding doors into the cold, dark evening of Albuquerque. This morning, she gasped at the beauty of a flowering acacia, each yellow bud like a fairy’s powder puff, and tonight, she might slip and fall on the icy walk to her front door.
Because it’s still winter where my mother lives, we spent the last five days in search of spring. At Descanso Gardens in La Canada, winter and spring are just beginning the changing of the guard. Spent camellias fall to the ground, some still bright as blood, others the brownish color of a squeezed tea bag, while in the big flower beds, tulips nudge their green noses toward the light.
Mom brings her binoculars wherever we go and pauses to stare off in the direction of a particularly interesting tweet or whir. If she waits long enough, looks hard enough, a bird will appear where at first glance there was only a tangle of bare branches. We see a Spotted Towhee doing a little jitterbug in the fallen leaves. Mom tells me that the little bird with the brilliant red wings was once known as the Rufus Towhee.
“It drives me crazy when things change,” she says.
Her and me both. But what can we do?
Mom has been visiting me in Los Angeles for nearly eighteen years, though if I asked her to drive us around, she would look at me as though I asked her to tour the unfamiliar terrain of Mars. She loves L.A, but is often overwhelmed by it and so over the course of all of these years, we have found a kind of familiar route for her visits. Despite our best efforts at keeping things constant, we can’t seem to stop things from changing. When I pick her up at the airport, we almost always go directly to the Rose Café in Venice where she has the quiche and I have the poached salmon. After lunch, we take a peek at the gift shop and then we walk to the beach. Mom’s legs are bothering her and so on our last trip to the beach, we did not walk across the sand to the water’s edge, but instead stayed on the sidewalk and looked out at the sea. Years ago, we might have walked a mile or more, stopping to pick up stones or watch a particularly silly seagull.
We always make a trip to a nursery, even if only to visit the plants. We like the Sunset Nursery in Silverlake with its cramped aisles and proximity to Pioneer Chicken. We’ve never eaten the chicken, but it’s funny when the wind shifts and the aroma of scented geraniums or mint mixes suddenly with fried chicken. Lincoln Nursery in Pasadena is wonderful because of their wall of Italian seed packets and vast array of ceramic pots and a trip to Theodore Payne is almost like returning to New Mexico, so drastic is the change in landscape from Los Feliz to Sun Valley. Over the years, Mom chose plants for pots on the porch of my first apartment and helped transform the weed-choked yard of another apartment into an approximation of an English garden. She encouraged me to buy a butterfly bush and to start composting. On this most recent visit, my son harvested little carrots from our raised beds and put them into Mom’s hand and she laughed and showed him how to rub the dirt from the orange root.
Antique stores are another staple in a typical Mom Visit itinerary. In the past, we’ve wandered the streets of Orange, and Ventura ducking in and out of crowded antique malls until we couldn’t handle the sight of one more Bauer bowl. On this trip, we headed to Fair Oaks Avenue in Pasadena, where in four blocks, we found Japanese table lamps just like the ones on my Grandma’s side table (marked at $800!), enamel Catherine Holm bowls like the ones in my kitchen cabinet and a life-sized wax figure of an elderly man asleep in a wheelchair. His price wasn’t marked, and so I said “hello,” before I realized he wasn’t real.
As at the garden and the nursery, we reach out to touch a beautiful thing. Mom and I spent the last five days running our fingers over leaves, leaning in to smell flowers or cupping our hands around a perfectly round ceramic pitcher.
“I’ve got enough to last until the snow melts,” Mom said when I dropped her at the airport “I think I can make it, now.”
The light is fading now as I write and when I look out the window, the big Sycamore in my neighbor’s yard looks like an ink drawing, it’s bare branches stark against a bright pink sky. Mom’s plane is just landing and as she makes her way out into the cold, the last five days will be tucked inside her heart like a tight bud waiting to unfurl.