Monday, June 17, 2013

Light and Shadow

In the early morning hours of June, my Japanese maple reproduces itself in shadows on the back of the house, a dark replica.

The charcoal-colored stars move and dance in the morning breeze that blows in from the Bay Area, but you can't touch them; it's only a trick of the light, only real to the eye. The actual tree is as high as the roof, with red leaves in the spring turning green as summer approaches. We watch carefully to see the first tiny red buds in February, lament the scorched edges of the leaves during July's inevitable 110 degree heat wave, stroke the graceful branches when we walk past it on the pool deck.

Nearly three years after my mother's death from Alzheimer's, I'm still working on coming to grips with what the disease did to her. Nothing about Alzheimer's is fair; plaques of a protein begin cutting off brain function, nerve by nerve: memories go, and recognition, and body function. As the nerves are cut off, they die of starvation. The victim is tied into an ever-decreasing circle, populated by ghosts and strangers. What are they saying? Why have they come for me? Is it any wonder that Alzheimer's patients are so aggressive, so angry, so determined to fight? All that's left is that fight or flight response, and there's nowhere left to run.

My God, my mother got so mean when the disease began to take her. She said things that hurt me so badly that I'd cry afterwards -- not even things about me, but just hearing such viciousness coming from her now-husky voice was like a serrated dagger slashing at the figure I'd known and admired most of my life.

I look at the shadows on the wall, the outline of the Japanese maple given a manner of shape by the absence of light. That was what my mother became: not a reality but an illusion. And illusion is not what I should remember. The illusion changes and disappears within an hour; Alzheimer's tormented us for years, but in the end, Alzheimer's need not last. For Mom, it's gone and done, and it can never touch her again. She doesn't need to be a shadow in my mind.

She grew that Japanese maple from seed, for me. The tree is a reminder for Alex of her grandmother's prowess at gardening, and a tangible connection with a woman who was brave and bold. Her daughter, Lillian, has never known life without that tree being there. Four generations of our lineage have touched it.

I want to see the tree first, not the shadows. The living, not the illusion. The creature, not the absence of light. And just as the shadows of the Japanese maple are beautiful in their darkness, maybe someday I'll see the precious glimpse of human frailty in my mother's death.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Adventure Day!

I had Bernie walk ahead a ways, so that a viewer could get a nice representation of the degree of slope on this hill, as well as the width of the trail.

That would be VERY steep, and NOT VERY wide.

We had set off this morning after I exercised the horse and cleaned the paddock, with the intention of scoping out Del Valle Regional Park outside of Livermore, which purports to have equestrian trails, then heading deeper into the Bay Area to look at a park and trail in Fremont.

We found the day-use equestrian area and the nearby trail, and since it didn't appear to be busy, we decided to walk a ways on the trail. I'm so glad we did. Now, if some misguided lackwit suggests we ride Del Valle, I can informedly tell them to go to hell.

The trail was not too steep, at least as far as we went, but the hillside on which the trail ran was. I'm talking damn-near-riding-on-the-edge-of-a-cliff steep. This picture is along one of the less steep dropoffs.

Now sometime around middle age, I lost my head for heights. Above six feet off the ground, the head falls off and bounces away. This has only grown worse as the years have rolled by. And on this trail, glancing down that slope was giving me a powerful case of vertigo, making me feel like I was gravitationally drawn to fall over. Sweating and shaking, my legs trembling, I kept my eyes on the path and Bernie's legs ahead of me. Not a pleasant walk.

I kept thinking of riding along that path: what if you meet another horse going the opposite way? What if there's a big old snake on the trail -- turning even a small horse on some parts of the track could be dangerous. And what if a jackrabbit or quail explodes out of the brush on the up-side of the path? Could you guarantee your horse would not spook off the edge?

With my eyes averted from the slope, I could see some other things lacking on the dirt: horse dung and hoofprints. Yes, there were some old dried-up meadow muffins, but the droppings were few and far between, and no semi-circular digs from recent hoofprints.

We checked out the other side of the lake, and saw some horse trails along the road, with access up into pasture land; maybe in winter it would be an interesting ride through green grasses, but the signs we saw that warned about ticks and rattlesnakes and mountain lions rather put me off.

Yes, mountain lions.

No, not riding there.

I was done for the day. Fremont Adventure Day will have to wait.