Quail Mutterings #11: New Phase of Life (September 24, 2011)

QUAIL MUTTERINGS # 11.  New Phase of Life – September 24, 2011

            About a month ago we got back home from taking our son, Chance, toChicoStateUniversityfor his freshman fall semester. Feeling tired and a bit empty, without him around, I was pleasantly surprised to see two vultures hunched together on the cross arm of the power pole up on the ridge. Alas, at least the raptors are still inhabiting the canyon with us. This bottom end ofMussey Grade Roadused to be known as Buzzard Gulch.

My husband and I have now joined countless others ahead of us in the “empty nest syndrome.” Having the youngest of three fly the coup, so to speak, launches us parents into the next phase of life. It feels like old age. Without serious effort one could easily believe that you are just careening toward your own demise. I had an inkling that it might be like this so I warned Kent how important I thought it was that we make a monumental effort to do far more often than usual “dates” with each other. These “dates” don’t have to be money spending adventures. For us, they could just as easily be picnics at the park, hikes up the mountain or even doing work around the place or making dinner together. Anything to make sure we stay connected with each other and not go solo down our own paths for too long at a time.

We take turns bolstering each other when we sense the other sliding. If we’re both slipping at the same time we find that attempting to detach from our own feelings long enough to joke around about it helps us over the hump. But sometimes, I end up just dwelling in it. Our social lives have picked up as a conscious effort to stay afloat and move through this phase. But there are also good things about it.

We still have a daughter and three-year-old grandson living on the property. They helpKentand me stay connected with the younger generations and hopefully keep us from getting old and stuck in our ways, too quickly. Trying to see through the eyes of a pre-schooler helps to keep things in perspective. The simplest things can often bring the most pleasure. Among them are spontaneous hugs, fascination with a lizard’s pushups on a rock, and a warm little body climbing up on my lap for a snuggle.

The morning after we got back fromChico, Kent and I were out running in the canyon. One of our young Red-tail Hawk friends swooped down and called out, seemingly to us. Life is good. It warmed my heart knowing that they were still around and doing well.

Last week I rode my horse out to a County preserve where I volunteer as a park ranger. It had been quite a while since I’d been out there and was happy to see that a fallen tree across the dirt road had been hauled away. Last time I had to dismount off of Molasses and bush-whack through dense brush to get around it. That was last spring and I found a few ticks on my clothes. This can be a down side to the job. On my way back there was a deer on the ridge picking its way through the rocks and chaparral. On this trek the only animal I saw besides the birds, rabbits and squirrels was a medium-sized garter snake beside the trail. I steered my horse around as it scurried through the grass.

On Monday, I joined a friend for an early morning hike out at the Ramona Grasslands. It’s beautiful there: open range land and cattle trails; huge, old oak trees and abundant wildlife. A coyote took note of us before loping over the hill. He looked healthy and in good shape. I always love hearing them in the canyon at night. Their songs are comforting to me.

Yesterday, on my morning run, the dog barked and headed up the hill. I called him back and watched three deer bound through the brush. I stopped to make sure Job stayed with me and enjoyed seeing our hoofed friends enjoying the foggy morning. About ten minutes laterKentsaid he saw a deer further down the dirt road. I think I had come across that same one last week. On my way back from a walk I’d seen him run up the hill and then stop. This young adolescent stared at me for several minutes while I talked to him saying how beautiful he was and telling him that he might want to spend more time further up the canyon where people wouldn’t bother him. When he’d had enough of me he turned and meandered up the mountain.

So, our life in the canyon goes on shared by numerous winged, hoofed and pawed neighbors. They didn’t seem to notice when the power went off a couple weeks ago. I, actually, kind of liked it. After gathering various candles I lit up the house and Kent and I enjoyed a quiet, flickering light dinner. We made do with not much fuss being careful not to open the refrigerator more than two or three times during the entire blackout, and only for brief moments. We didn’t want our food to spoil.

It might not be such a bad thing to do this once a week or so. What if families could regularly take a night and not turn on any electric thing? No light, television, computer, phone, game box… Wouldn’t that be a nice alternative? Just to be together and enjoy each other’s company? It sounds good to me.

Chi Varnado is a contributing writer for The San Diego Reader. Her memoir, A CANYON TRILOGY: Life Before, During and After the Cedar Fire, is available on www.amazon.com. The Tale of Broken Tail, her children’s book, should be coming out this spring and she is currently working on a novel set in her father’s Mississippi homeland. Chi directs The Dance Centre of Ramona. Her collection of essays, Quail Mutterings, will appear on Ramonapatch.com every month or so. Please visit www.thedancecentreoframona.com & www.chivarnado.com.