I began 2018 with new eyes, literally. My cataract surgeries were quite successful even as the results were not so dramatic for me as some stories I heard from others. Pleased not to need bifocals while frustrated by keeping track of readers… again! The big challenge is to continually practice blending the differently functional focal lengths chosen for each lens.

Now, like that Roman deity/archetype who names this months looking in both directions, past & future, I might only ponder new lenses for the eyes in the back of my head!

We had spent a delightfully un-Christmasy 2017 on the Big Island in Hawai’i… Kona before Hilo & then Volcano to observe its glow… before returning to Minnesota in January for the next visit when we joined Alice & John to begin clearing the condo which had been Helen’s home for 14 years.

Being the last repository of many generations, she gifted us a deeply delicious daunting task. We could only take lessons,

It required yet another trip to Minnesota in April to deliver our promised gift to BroMark… rejuvenating his room with new dressers. He shopped with us at IKEA to choose 2 kits compactly & precisely filled with new social lessons & technical adventures! The end results were happy!

Mark loves to join us for coffee in bed…

We three brothers then flew to join Alice & John at the condo on Longboat Key where we created a second memorial celebration for her Florida friends & family. Then later a very intimate family closure inside a beautiful sunset on the beach we all love.

Returning to Minneapolis Stephen & I packed a rental vehicle more capacious than we actually needed to drive what we’d carefully chosen to keep & bring home to Soundcliff.

More of deep consideration around family history & value… inside personal aesthetics. This had become a deep study while allowing us to dance rather freely, if not sometimes frivolously!

For example, routed our drive some 300 miles out of our way to facilitate a totally rare visit to my deep friend & love, Wendy, who has long made her home in Iowa City. A fabulous “detour”, entertaining decades of life…lovely life!

She has a drawing for a painting I made in early 1970s, which I’d forgotten…

Driving through the Midwest we’d both left in our youth we discovered good & hopeful changes, like the statistics touting wind farms at rest stops in Iowa.

Further down the Interstate we encountered signs of the Sand Hill Cranes in Nebraska… not so far from where I grew-up, although I’d never seen them. We stopped to explore & inform ourselves before pushing toward an overnight stay with a credible roadside attraction dinner.

Next day Fort Morgan, Colorado to visit my mother. At 94 Momma has been doing rather well living in her own apartment which is part of my youngest brother Terry & his second family’s home.

We’ve long made at least annual visits to her & other long deep friends in the Denver area. This time we all met for dinner in Boulder, since we were anxious to get home, knowing there was winter weather ahead… Barely into Wyoming we began to encounter the kind of icy weather which discourages such road trips as we might have loved in our youth. Stephen did yeoman’s duty as driver while the vehicle acquired a heavy load of the frozen road-slush!

Several driving days later our Island home Soundcliff was such a welcome sight!

My annual routine wraps around the two annual Vashon Island’s Studio Tour events scheduled quite regularly on the first two full weekends of May & of December. Mother’s Day & Christmas make fine Bell Holidays!

As usual Summer seems to arrive too suddenly & life gets busy with weeds & guests. This year I was busied to work with Yosi the designer of the completely redesigned new website, built for the bells from the code up. GRBBELLS.COM>

I spent a fair amount of time on designing a bit of mechanique to turn a bell so it can be filmed while recording its sound.

In August we returned yet again to Minneapolis for SFS’s 50th high school reunion. While I chose, now with some regrets, to not attend my own reunion in 2013, I enjoyed his… probably because I had no baggage & could more freely scope into his history.

Momma took several falls over the summer. The doctor would not let her come home again. After rehabilitation she moved into a wonderfully staffed local residential facility.

BroJon & I met in October to begin dismantling Momma’s apartment so the family could use it otherwise… a second stint at such salvage work in my year. Fortunately my Momma does not have much substance more than to be sweetly herself!

As we were planning this trip we learned of the death of Terry’s son, our nephew Derrick. They returned from the funeral while we were dismantling Momma’s apartment downstairs.

Later in the week we said goodbye to our brother as we left to drive back to Denver. Jon drove on home to Kansas City & my friend, Dwight, would take me to the airport the next day. By the time we arrived home from that trip we learned that our brother Terry had fallen & disconnected the oxygen he needed. He too died! I’ve yet to digest the story of our history enough to tell it.

Momma, who had been our original concern, was ultimately fine!

Stephen had scheduled a travel for us to go to Northern California only a few weeks later. A tripartite itinerary on the mission of honoring his father Otto ; visiting friends; while also, in the manner of a true raconteur, re-stimulating & re-coloring old acquaintances.

More travel was not my first preference & driving through San Francisco traffic to Oakland was a huge trial of patience, but arriving to wonderfully nice martinis & conversation atop well worn leather mission furniture with our friend Orlando, who was hosting us in his comfy B&B below soothed my frustration. Thank you!

Michael Hathaway, the deep friend, who introduced us more than 24 years ago, joined us for dinner at Gather, the restaurant in the LEED building which Earth Island Institute recently finished… the organization for which he has served on the board of for all of the years I’ve known him. Our drive next day toward the Russian River brought us into more direct contact with the smoky atmosphere from the wildfires raging further north, becoming national news some days later. It stained the sunset as we approached The Occidental Arts & Ecology Center OAEC & Facebook>… the “Mother Garden” where I had volunteered for so many years while I lived & gardened nearby…

So much history with too many stories to share here!

We found our friend Dougo in the greenhouses which are new since I was last there. He has been the head gardener on this property for more than 35 years & is himself an entire book of stories! He & I became very close friends in the years before I met Stephen & moved to Seattle.

While he has visited us a number of times at Soundcliff we have not been to see him for too long, so we had much to catch-up on over a sweet dinner down in Occidental. To stay in one of the guest houses was a first for me, to overnight on this precious land where I learned to garden after my years in “Aridzona”.

Next morning we were taken by a friend & fellow club member of Otto’s to visit their camp at the Bohemian Grove for a small memorial ritual. This institution holds quite mythic political & lively literary reputations in these historic woods just a few miles from where I lived for 7 years in West Sonoma County.

I appreciated this opportunity to experience the reality of this rare old growth forest preserve. One building has the history of being where the Manhattan Project was nurtured & hatched…

The Mother Garden was & still is a communal property with a long, deep reputation for being a very early organic garden as Farallones Institute. It is lauded as a significant treasure in the territory where Alan Chadwick taught, Luther Burbank worked & Alice Waters stimulated interest in organic food. Dougo has husbanded a famously huge seed collection. It was such a pleasure to spend time there with him again! I would love to write that book!

But there was another visit to make on Stephen’s agenda, so we drove across the Golden Gate & out into the hillsides south of the city where his friend Margot Knight has directed the Djerassi Resident Artists Program for some years. He has wanted me to see it for almost as long & it became a wonderful bit of education & a great hike along which we experienced many fascinating installations created by those who had spent residencies there…

A upholstered stump & smokey atmosphere…

We hardly had time upon returning home… when I needed to prepare for the looming Studio Tour dates… before we were scheduled to fly to Miami to spend Thanksgiving with our nephew David. My notion of our original plan became another story in my dogeared file labeled “family”, but we still got a sweet, if too brief visit with our gay nephew on the more colorful side of the state which I dub “Kansas with palm trees”.

The Holiday Open Studio weekends were successful, in spite that I was barely prepared on several fronts. Our traditional party on the second Saturday evening again collected a stimulating flow of guests who I could thoroughly enjoy, even inside my exhaustion.

The calendar had set the dates early this year gifting us gentle time to begin recuperating from a period of too-much travel. Even my “travel agent” was happy we had no plans for more.

We took some advantage of local entertainments, but loved wallowing in a blank calendar! Most of you know my proclivities to avoid most of the pandemonium around the holidays… knowing that Solstice is simply the real reason for all the rest!

We were anticipating visiting again with Michael Hathaway, who we had seen only for that dinner in Berkeley earlier in November. He has regularly come north to visit us at least once each year.

The three of us have known each other in so many configurations of deep friendship with other friends both before & of course mostly after he facilitated Stephen’s & my first meeting.

I met him when he too was a volunteer at the Mother Garden, driving from San Francisco most weeks to join the rich feast of the days we would harvest its bounty for donation.

He spoke on our first meeting about the book he was about to finish for publishing. All these years later it finally became true & he sent us a copy of what was a sizable tome, yet with only a portion of the material he’d written. We wanted more!

He is a poet & great story teller & has lived a long life with complex tales of making a true practice of personal, political & ecological happiness. His book’s title is The Possible Happiness Of Life.

He always arrived with a folder of visuals, including many cartoons, which he especially loved collecting to share as amusing illustration to his story.

We celebrated New Years Day with a small dinner of six old friends, enjoying especially lively conversation. He had scheduled his return flight to Oakland late enough on the 2nd that our yoga poet friend Steven Shaun made it out to the Island in time to spend a special hour with him. They’d become friends of a particular quality with appreciation of poetic ideas & words.

An hour after we’d seen him off he called from the ferry dock on the other side asking if he could return to the Island because he was not feeling well… explaining he’d become really cold on the boat & hadn’t called for the Lyft to the airport. Of course they went to collect him back to Soundcliff while I continued making dinner & bumped-up the wood stove again. He had always been cold on these visits north so we’d been keeping the house a bit too warm for us all the time he was here.

He arrived explaining that he was feeling much better, but did not want to eat. I made a pot of the mint tea I’d dried from the garden & he took it into the guest room to nap.

The three of us were sitting at the dinner table when he came out about an hour later to get more tea & to join us as we ate. He was unusually ebullient, especially as he had been working all this holiday through a difficult time in his life, as we’d been understanding & appreciating during this visit. We welcomed feeling the genuine joy which he expressed, that being is his more usual mode. He explained that he had come to some solution or understanding. “I’ve found the answer” he exuded. “It is to just stop!” With that his head fell back in the chair & he died!

Of course we could not in that moment appreciate such finality, so we got him to the floor & Stephen Silha called 911 while Steven Shaun began resuscitation techniques which the operator was directing until our fire departments emergency crew quickly arrived to take over.

We could only get out of the way & simply watch, knowing better every futile minute our initial deep understanding. He had lived well. Wisely choosing to not get on a plane, he instead came back to Soundcliff where we could hold him in our love at his last moments. Here was the closest place he had to call home in this time. We are honored inside this terrible & exalted event…

I must finish this letter with acknowledgement that to live requires accepting truth & finding meaning however those present themselves each day.

I must continue to rediscover & relearn the practice of happiness his life celebrates.

Such a difficult beginning promises a year to remember! I’ll tell you about it in 365 or so more days…


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