A Gift for the Future

More than a decade ago, when Richard and I began restoring our “dream place,” the formerly blighted industrial property bounded by the thread of channelized creek where we live, we had no plan, no budget, and no real concept of how much work lay ahead. We did have a vision of healing the land and its degraded creek, reestablishing the community of the land right in town, and a comfortable sense of time in which to do the work.

Wildflowers and native grasses thrive where oil tanker trucks once loaded on our formerly industrial property.

Today, 14 years after we bought the place (or it adopted us, depending on your point of view), that vision flourishes in richer ways than we imagined: our block of creek is a thriving thread of fall color, enlivened by the sound of running water; our restored native meadow yard is dotted with late wildflowers and resounds with the bell-like calls of feeding goldfinches; the organic kitchen garden that grows where oil tanks once stood feeds us—and friends and neighbors.

There’s still a good bit of work to be done: piles of red sandstone pavers wait where our bedroom patio will be, for instance, the creek-side dining area is still a barely revegetated dirt road on the upper bank, and the inner courtyard looks more like the parking lot for heavy equipment it was than a peaceful retreat with pond and falling water.

A sculptor's finials, made of river-worn rocks dug from our own soil.

Some day those things may be completed. But it’ll be by one of us, not two: my partner in this work, the sculptor responsible for the structures that enliven and interpret the stories of this reclaimed formerly industrial plot, and the native rocks that give a sense of contour and place, my husband Richard and the love of my life for the past 28 years, has terminal brain cancer.

These days he talks about his plans for the water feature in the courtyard or the stacks of flagstone, but struggles to muster sufficient energy to sit up in bed, much less to maneuver boulders and granite-carving tools.

I grieve for the work he will not do, for his vision of working with native rocks as “ambassadors of the earth” to connect our daily lives and routines to this planet and our place, whether river-rock finials on an arbor, bathroom lavatories carved from rough local rock, or the spectacular gas fire pit he created from a ton of native granite boulder for an architect’s courtyard.

A ton of native rock transformed into a fire pit that brings the presence of the earth home to our daily lives.

I grieve for his bright spirit, for all I’ve learned from him, for the work we’ve collaborated on, most especially this place we share.

As I sit beside him looking out at the bright autumn sunshine, I realize that even when Richard’s no longer beside me, he’ll live on in his work and in this place, the ugly industrial property no one wanted, now flourishing with a tapestry of native lives, from the lichen-covered boulders he placed just so to the riot of wildflowers, butterflies, native bees and hummingbirds, to the tiny trout swimming under the native shrubs in the revived creek.

A lesser goldfinch calls with chiming notes and we smile at each other. The slanting rays of the sun pick out the last few crimson Indian paintbrush and highlight the whimsical, eyebrow-like flower heads of the blue grama grass. Brain cancer or no, joy blooms here.

Whatever else we have done in our lives together, this place, restored to beautiful life again after decades of disrespect and degradation, carries on the love we share. As life cycles on in ways we could not have imagined, its revival is our final joint work, our gift to the future.

11 responses to “A Gift for the Future

  1. Thank you for sharing your journey with us.

  2. You’re welcome. I should add that writing is another gift for the future. Writing is a way to think through what’s happened, to process, to gain some distance and balance about the events of our lives. When we share that writing with others, whether or families and friends, or the larger world, we give the gift of the wisdom we’ve accumulated–the harvest of how we’ve lived our lives, the mistakes and regrets as well as the achievements and successes.

  3. Words want to reject me as I try to express thankfulness for your touching post. What can anyone say that will truly comfort you at a time like this. I think you are already doing everything in your power to live through this, and to remember the good memories you and Richard created. As I said before, I wish you peace as you continue hanging in there as the days roll past. Thank you so much for sharing with us.

  4. Pat, Bless you! I think the comfort comes in your acknowledgement of the pain and the beauty, intertwined. The post I wrote last night on my own blog (http://susanjtweit.typepad.com) about passing on Richard’s art, is about my way of finding peace with this process. Thank you for the gift of your understanding.

  5. What a beautiful and touching story of timeless love. That it is real, real life, makes it more precious. Sending waves of comfort to wash up on the shores of your journey.

  6. My heart is cracking open and spilling out gratitude for your ability to share what you are living with us, and for the love you and Richard have experienced, for over 28 years is it? I almost feel as if I was there, in the renewed meadow and seeing the work still to be done, with his vision but without his hands. Almost of if I was there, but since I am not, I can only send the hug I am feeling through these words. You are not alone, and now we (your readers) are not either, because you have shared your heart with us.

  7. Susan, Thank you for sharing your thought-full words here and on your own blog. You and your family are an inspiration for us all. I am in awe of your and Richard’s strength along this journey. Additionally, I am grateful for the “gift for the future” your writing wisdom is sharing – now, today, and in the days to come, to countless unknown readers. You will touch so many.

  8. Thank you, Carol. Those waves of comfort make a beautiful image.

  9. Venus, it has been more than 28 years, and that’s a strong “body of love,” as Richard puts it. We’re fortunate to have that to draw on in this journey, and fortunate to have you all reminding us of the beauty in what could simply be a terrible time. Thank you.

    June, If I couldn’t write about this journey, I think I wouldn’t be able to walk it at all, much less with any sense of mindfulness or grace. I’m in awe of Richard’s strength too, and that helps me with my part of the journey–especially the nighttime clean-ups and diaper changes, the times when I’m not sure I’ll be strong enough to turn him over in bed and somehow it works. The whole thing is a miracle, really. Thanks for your support.

  10. Susan,
    Your post is so fueled with the healing of land and life. For me your words:

    “Brain cancer or no, joy blooms here.”

    Packs all the punch of your joint resolution to live fully in the world and together until the last blink.

    As an artist as well as a writer. As someone enraptured with collaboration. In so many ways I thrill to the work you and Richard have done together to bring beauty and peace to your corner of the world and beyond.

    You’ve told your stories on your blog and in all your writings. To have this post here is an additional gift that shows us the power of memoir to live our journeys, record them, share them as stories of wisdom, and how to craft memoir.

    Thanks for your love as we all send that love right back.

    Janet Riehl

  11. Janet, I always love the way you get right to the heart of anything, and your wonderful ability to put into words what you see. Thank you. I especially love two of the things you said,
    “…your joint resolution to live fully in the world and together until the last blink.” and your phrase, “enraptured by collaboration.”
    There is a magic in working with someone else–when it goes well, the total is really equal to much, much more than simply the sum of the parts. You’ve certainly demonstrated that in your work with your dad. Much love to you!

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