But we expected it.

A couple of weeks ago, at 83 years old, my dad was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. It was a diagnosis we were all practically anxious for, as odd as that sounds. We just knew something was wrong – the trembling, slowness, faltering. We — my siblings and I — are lucky that my parents MJ-Grotto-2011are proactive with their health, looking up symptoms and drug interactions online, emailing their doctors, having opinions. I would think that these things keep them young, in that they participate in their own life rather than handing the responsibility over to their grown up kids like so many older people seem to do.  And they are lucky to have each other, too. They are the coolest couple I know, still in love after 54 years…and not just love, but respect and partnership all wrapped up and set to glowing with that oh-you-crazy-kids kind of love. Each brightens when the other enters the room, and when trouble comes knocking – as it does in every life – they first each think of the other. My brother and sister and I love them dearly, and each of us has acknowledged in one way or another that we are honored to have a first-row seat to that unique kind of marriage, and lucky for the influences of it.

So, back to this day. To be anxious for the Parkinson’s tag felt odd…of course we didn’t wish that he had it, but we wanted to know that it was something, an actual thing, with tangible steps and expectations and maybe a few answers. We went to the appointment together, an early morning drive through Portland rush hour to make sure we were there on time to make the most of the opportunity to ask questions. As my dad went to the front desk to check in, I asked my mom how he was doing. “Oh, we’ve been talking and we’re just fine”, she answered, and I pictured them sitting together, first with questions in their eyes, then a few tears, and then the only answers that mattered: yes, I will be there for you, yes, we can do this, yes, there is no place else I want to be.

We walked through hospital halls painted in soothing colors, past framed landscapes and windows onto rock gardens open to squares of gray sky a few stories above. In the thick, still air of the neurology department waiting room we located the doctor’s photo on the wall in another frame, and then leafed through ragged magazines until a woman in quiet shoes called my dad’s name. We followed her to an examination room.  After a few minutes the doctor came in smiling and wearing an awkward outfit — a bright sweater with ruffles and clunky jewelry that seemed very un-doctor-like — and I immediately thought she would be quirky and funny and a little outside the box. The kind of movie-doctor who partners with you to overcome challenges with a winning combination of warmth and chipper resolve and heroic, cutting edge medical knowledge. But no. Her manner was no-nonsense, almost brusque.

She popped his knees and ankles with a little hammer, asked about symptoms and why he suspected Parkinson’s. She told my dad to walk down the hall as fast as he could, turning at the end and returning to us. As I watched him bobble, working hard to pick up his feet, I feared he would fall. He was doing his very best, and it took all my instincts to stand back and not walk next to him. You know, just in case.

As we sat back down in the examination room, she announced: “Yes, you do have Parkinson’s. A mild case.” And without skipping a beat, while I sucked in my breath and flashed into debilitating fear for him, she went on to summarize medication, diet and exercise suggestions.  I struggled to hear them, struggled to not show that the blow we all knew was coming – words that would define a new stage in our lives; I mean, after all, we knew it was coming– had hit me like a sucker punch. Before I recovered, she had left the room with all of us sitting there, wondering if that really just happened. My dad put on his socks, and we went back home.

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Views to Forever

Asotin Cemetery, Idaho

My wonderful uncle, Don Wahoo, passed on last week. It had been coming for some time, and so in many ways it was a relief. Not an actual relief, but one of those difficult, sad, barely-better-than-the-alternative reliefs, since he was in much pain and it had been some time since he could do many of the things he loved.

And there were so many things he loved, beginning with my Auntie Beryl. They were good life partners, but more than that — even just shy of 60 years of marriage — they still shared that little twinkle in the eye. And a house they made into a home. And good kids, grandkids and great-grand-kids that loved them, and learned to love from them. He loved the mountains, loved the wheat and hay fields, loved the cowboy life. He was a US Navy veteran, a hard worker, and a volunteer around the town he lived in and loved, for the Boy Scouts, the fire department, riding Sherriff’s Posse. He was a good man, a solid man, a horseman. And a tireless practical joker with a combination wink-and-grin that never failed to make everyone smile.

A funeral is not fun by anybody’s standards, but I’m so grateful for my family and the healing, loving, wonderful time we had together. Looking around I saw my cousins all grown up, my aunts and uncles a little older, and a new batch of kids running around the yard. We remembered Don, laughed, caught up, realized that he was the first to go of his generation and that we need to be sure we get together to create and share the good things in life over the next decade or more.

So we planned a reunion for next summer at the family cabin, tucked in tight on the edge of the Bitteroot Wilderness, where, as kids, most of us spent wonderful, carefree summer days running wild. And I made a plan to meet my uncle there in October and take over the role of Camp Cook while he and his buddies hunt. I like cooking, and I’m already collecting recipes and savoring ideas for some type of personal project while I’m there…some way to stretch myself in that beloved place.

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Tree Percussion

The mild winter here in the Northwest has offered lots more pleasant chances to get outdoors. Last week Rocky and I walked in Springbrook Park, our favorite, and were treated to graphic bare branches iced with sunshine against bright blue skies.

As we walked, a curious cacophony…as the wind swayed the trees they smacked and chattered together among themselves, and I felt as if I had stumbled awkwardly into their conversation.

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Summer’s Horizons 2012

As Portland’s winter rain sets in, it’s nice to have some great memories of summer to keep the sunshine in mind. Oh, it was a great one! Lots of outdoor adventures, exploring new horizons and testing limits in many ways…but most important, feeling free and having a deep, satisfying, overdue kind of fun.

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The arrival of Spring has been measured by individual rays of sunshine here in the Northwest, and we can pretty much count ’em on one hand this year.

But we do make the most of them…last week, when one of those elusive little shiny bits streamed downward, I grabbed Rocky and dashed for the trails of Springbrook Park to stretch our legs, smooth out our furrowed brows, and watch Mother Nature unfurl what — we hope — will soon become the lushness of summer.

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Dinner for One

With senior prom going on tonight, the house belongs to me. My littlest girl is at her last high school dance, freckles covered with makeup, a sophisticated arch to her brows, cute as all heck in the last formal dress we’ll ever shop together for. She’s grown up — well, nearly grown up! — but how did it happen this fast? I’m both bewildered and joyous to reach this point.  So dinner for one is a plate of comfort and a glass of joy: asparagus, toasty baguette, two fried eggs heavy with salt to make the runny yolks sparkle on my tongue, and a glass of cheap champagne. Because the dress wasn’t…

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Tacked Up

A few scenes from my truant’s trail ride the other day. The beautiful saddle that fits Buck has been repaired and conditioned since I last rode in it, so now it’s prettier than ever. It has this wonderful royal flush embossed into the leather on a background of arrowhead weave embossing and red bits of leather to accent around the seat. A new breast collar was made with Beth’s ranch brand stitched in; it still needs some adjusting to fit right but looks sharp. The woods at McIver were beautiful, too. It’s big enough to feel a million miles from your cares, and that’s just about far enough away to shift things into the right direction.  

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