“This is Karen.”

Dad seemed to be losing ground the last couple weeks – sleeping most of the day, eating very little. So when Amanda messages me to let me know that Dad is up and bright-eyed I feel a grin immediately come to my face. I ask her if he is up for a drive and a moment later she messages that he answered, “Yes!” Today he has to be rolled out to my car in a wheelchair, but he is alert and happy to see me. As Amanda is buckling him in Dad turns to me and says, “Hi, Karen!” Then he turns back to Amanda…
Dad to Amanda: This is Karen. She’s my sist… (thinking)… she’s my daughter.

We drive through Burlington and then head out to Sisters Espresso for his root beer float (courtesy of Dave Waka). I hand Dad his float and then pull out of the parking lot to begin our adventures.
Dad: Didn’t you work at a school near here?
Karen: Yeah. Do you want to go by my old school?
Dad: Sure!

I drive down country roads and make my way to Edison. I park in the parking lot there – with the car pointing towards the patch of sunflowers waving in the sunshine. I roll down the windows so Dad has a breeze, and then take my camera to the flowers to get some quick pictures. Back in the car…
Karen: (Pointing to the school.) There’s my old school. There’s Edison. Do you remember you gave your K2 talk there?
Dad: (Frowning as he tries to remember.) No. I don’t remember that.

I drive around and out of the parking lot and head towards Bay View so Dad can get a quick view of the bay. I wait for him to mention his old friends the Annens – he usually brings them up when we go by the bay – but today he doesn’t say anything. When we get a view of Mount Baker I point to it…
Dad: Yeah. That’s Baker.
(Dad always remembers his mountains.)

I make my way back to Dad’s home. Amanda and Gwen come out to help him out of the car seat and into the wheelchair, and they roll him around to the ramp and into the house. They get Dad comfortable in a recliner in front of the TV.
Karen: (Looking directly into his face.) I love you, Daddy.
Dad: (Mouths the words, “I love you.”)
Karen: Good bye, Daddy.
Dad: (Waving.) Good bye.

I felt completely content.

I had one of those perfect moments in life today – the kind of moment where I felt at total peace with the world. I was sitting in the shade of a maple tree on a bench in Boulevard Park – there was a cool breeze that brought the briny smell of the bay and I could hear laughter and seagulls and people chatting cheerily with each other. It wasn’t too cold or too hot. I wasn’t hungry. I had everything I needed. I felt completely content.

And I had a flashback to a day 11 years ago – when I was in the middle of a severe depression and walking through the same park, watching people smiling and laughing, and wondering if I would ever feel happy again – wondering if I would ever feel at peace and content, and be able to laugh again with my friends like the people around me were doing. I remember feeling sort of in awe and wonder at the happy faces around me. I remember sort of letting myself ride on top of the joy of other people for a while. And I thought if I could ever find the joy again I would be sure to share it – like the people around me were doing for me.

I am really conscious of my joy now – and so very grateful for it.

(Seen in Bellingham this morning: Bee on Big Blue Sea Holly flowers. Photo by Karen Molenaar Terrell.)

bee on sea blue holly thistle like this one really

A Waltz in the Park

(I originally published this on the Bellingham Bay Blog – but I thought it might fit well here, too. :))

Something really magical happened in Bellingham this morning – actually, many magical things happened in Bellingham this morning, but let’s start with THIS one:

As I was walking along the shore in Boulevard Park I looked across the green and saw a man on the other side, in the parking lot, moving in a way that made me think he was maybe doing tai chi. I love how people move when they’re doing tai chi and I’d like to learn how to do that myself – so I started trying to follow his movements – I raised my arm when he raised his arm, I turned when he turned – and at some point he recognized what I was doing and we smiled at each other across the park. When I walked around the park to the other side I thanked him and then… I’m not sure how this happened, exactly – but the next thing I knew he’d raised his hand to mine and we were dancing! In the parking lot. At Boulevard Park. That’s what he’d been doing all along – he’d been dancing! I could hear the music then – it sounded like an Asian waltz – I know I’m not explaining this well, but… the notes were D, F, G, B flat, G… for those of you who have a scale in your head. (“A Scale in Your Head” would make a great title for a book, wouldn’t it?)

It was cosmic!. We danced around the parking lot for a few minutes. And then I thanked him – he smiled – I don’t think he spoke English – and let me take a picture of us together.

I was still thinking about my waltz in the park when I got to the parking lot above the boardwalk. And then this deer walked across the road – and a little spotted fawn suddenly appeared, too, skipping along behind her. All of us who were walking along the road just stopped and watched them pass. “Well, THAT was magic,” I said. And this man smiled at me and said, “Isn’t that a great way to start the day?!”

And there was an eagle – soaring right above me! And… and… well, here are some pictures from my morning…
– Karen Molenaar Terrell

Poems from a Vacation

Day 1
Before we leave on our southerly trip
I take one last walk down the street
A big dog and a Chihuahua race out
from their driveway, snarling and yipping –
the Chihuahua nipping
while their owner watches –
his hands in his pockets – and shrugs
when I show him the little dog’s bite.
I am snarling myself now, in a rage,
adrenalin coursing, ready for a fight.
But it’s time to leave. I carry the bite
and the rage with me – pack them up
for the trip and load them in the car.

Husband stops for a break at a McDonald’s
– asks me if I want anything. I’m not hungry
– but I guess one of those little parfait things
might be good. He orders one for me.
I go outside to wait. A young man approaches,
asking for money. My wallet is locked up
in the car and I have no key. I’m so sorry.
But just then the husband comes out
with my parfait – the one I didn’t really want –
and I offer it to the man – show him the
granola packet he needs to add. He thanks me
and takes it, and as we drive away I see him
mixing in the granola and eating the parfait
and some of my fiery rage slips away.
Bless him for giving me a chance to be kind.
– Karen Molenaar Terrell

Day 2
We lie in bed together – a luxurious waking up.
We are on vacation – no job to race to today.
I rest my head on his chest and listen to his heart
beat – steady and strong – I breathe in and out
with his breathing and drift back to sleep.
– Karen Molenaar Terrell

The ghosts of our past are
getting out of the car
and seeing the ocean
from Lincoln City, Oregon
for the first time.
The ghosts of Oceans Past
are running on the beach –
strong and young, unaware
of the lessons Life will teach,
and innocent of what lies ahead –
both the good and the bad.
The ghosts of the future are
there, too. Wiser than now,
I hope, and stronger, too –
they have seen what we have
not, yet, and learned lessons
and known losses from a day
to come, and experienced
healings yet to be. And today
we’re in the world between
until then and what has been.
– Karen Molenaar Terrell

Day 3
The birds watch from the brows
of the barnacled boulders
as humans in their exotic plumage –
pink, purple, yellow, orange, red,
scramble among the rock beds,
searching for shells and agates.
The seagulls no longer worry
about the humans taking their food.
The humans don’t seem in the mood
to look for things to eat –
they don’t want the meat
inside the shells, they seek
the shells themselves! They seek
the rocks! They seek the sea glass!
Seagulls sometimes wonder
about humans’ priorities.
Humans are a puzzle.
– Karen Molenaar Terrell

I give a thumbs up and a smile
to the man with the veteran’s cap
on his head and a kite tugging
him to the sky.
He smiles back the smile of a man
on vacation – and lets out the string
so the kite can fly high.
A family from Vancouver passes by
the youngster lugging a rock
as big as an anvil – “No, Buddy. I think
you’re going to have to leave that one here,”
says the father to his son, laughing.
A pair of dogs comes up to greet me,
tails wagging, happy grins on their faces
and I reach down and pet their heads
and notice the dog bite is almost gone
from my ankle.
– Karen Molenaar Terrell

(Photos by Karen Molenaar Terrell. Lincoln City, OR.)

New Photo in Mother Earth News

Mother Earth News is using another of my photos on the “Photos from the Field” page – this time in the April/May 2019 issue. Check it out! 🙂

(Mother Earth News has a “group” on Flickr – and that’s where they’ve found my photos. If you’re a photographer – and you haven’t already joined Flickr – you might want to consider sharing your photos there, too.)

(My photo is of the jaunty little red boat at the Olympia Marina.)

“When did I buy this one?”

Dad: Hi, Karen!
Karen: Hi, Daddy. How are you feeling?
Dad: I’m bored stiff. I can’t move around here…
Karen: Do you want to go for a drive?
Dad: Yeah!

Alpine hat on his head, I help Dad out of the house and into my car. First stop: Sisters Espresso for Dad’s root beer float.
Dad: Thank you! Have you ever been to the Big Four Inn? I lived there for a while when I was in the Coast Guard.
Karen: Yeah. You and I went there last summer, remember?
Dad: Yeah.

I drive to the post office to collect my mail and then head through Edison…
Dad: (Looking at Edison Elementary School.) I gave a talk there, didn’t I?
Karen: Yup. You gave your K2 talk there.
Dad: (Nodding.) I remember.

We cross over the slough and soon come upon four or five eagles in a field, fighting over dinner. I pull over and get out of my car to snap some quick photos. As I’m taking pictures of the eagles a flock of snow geese flies overhead – soaring and swooping and honking – it’s glorious. I take some photos of them, too, and then get back in the car. Dad has been waiting patiently for me, slurping on his root beer float.
Dad: Have we been to Bayview State Park before?
Karen: Yes! We’ve been there many times.
Dad: Yeah. (Thinking.) I always think of the Annens when we get close to Bayview Park. They used to leave near here.

I drive Dad past Bayview Park and then up the hill, and down it, and through the flats. Dad is quiet, looking out the window, watching the scenery go past his window. We’re on the route back to his home now.
Dad: We’ve gone on this road many times recently.
Karen: Yes.
Dad: We visited Scotty at a place on one of these side roads.
Karen: (Not sure how to respond to this.) Yea…ah.

I pull into Dad’s driveway and in front of his door.
Dad: What are we doing here?
Karen: This is where you live, Daddy.
Dad: I don’t believe that.

I come around to help Dad out of the car and help him into the house and up the stairs. He heads for a recliner in front of the television, and Amanda helps him sit down in it. I lift his hat from his head and put it back in his room. As I’m coming out I hear him asking Amanda about the house and what he’s doing there. Amanda tells him that this is home.
Dad: When did I buy this one?
(Amanda and I both smile.)
Karen: (Kissing Dad’s forehead…) I love you, Daddy.
Dad: Does this mean you’re going to leave now?
Karen: I need to get home and walk the dog and feed the cats.
Dad: (Nodding.) Good bye. I love you.

More stories like this can be found in Karen’s book, Are You Taking Me Home Now? Adventures with Dad.

“There is no way I’m going to be able to explain the Chicken Parade…”

Dad is eating breakfast at the kitchen table when I arrive. He looks up and smiles…
Dad: Hi, sweetheart!
Karen: Hi, Daddy! Do you want to go for a drive?
Dad: (Nodding.) Yeah.
(I wait while Dad finishes his breakfast and then Gwen helps load him into my car, and off we go on today’s adventure…)

Dad: (Pointing to a snow-covered hilltop to the right.) There’s Mount Baker.
Karen: No, we might be able to see Mount Baker up ahead, though.
Dad: (Still looking at the snowy hilltop…) There’s Baker just poking out behind those hills.
(We stop at the Sisters Espresso.)
Karen: Do you want a root beer float?
Dad: (Nodding.) Yeah.
I go up to order Dad’s root beer float and a breve for myself.

There’s a group of men standing in a circle as they wait for their drinks – young man, a man that might be his father, an older gentleman. The older gentleman is regaling everyone with a story of being honored for long years of service somewhere. I instantly like him – he’s exuberant and happy about life – and I become part of his circle.

Now he’s telling us his secrets to living as long as him (“I’ve never smoked,” he says). And I can’t help myself – I’ve got to bring Dad into this conversation, right? I point to Dad, waiting in the car, and tell them all that Dad is 100 years old – a mountain climber – and that’s probably why he’s so long-lived. There are some oohs and ahs then, and everyone sort of pauses for a moment – maybe contemplating the wonder of living to be 100. I turn to look back at Dad and see him wave at me through the front window. I smile and wave back. God, I love him.

Then someone mentions snow – and I say that I’m probably kind of weird, but I like the snow. The young man nods his head and agrees – he likes it, too – but especially when he can drive TO it.  The man who might be his father hands him a coffee, and then turns to the older gentleman and myself and smiles and wishes us a good day – like we’re all old friends – and the young man and he head to his car. Now it’s just the older gentleman and myself at the espresso stand. He tells me a little more about his life, and then mentions his wife and points to his car. His wife smiles and waves to me and I wave back. Then the older gentleman leaves, too, and I’m the only one left.

Courtney knows exactly what I’m going to order for Dad – she’s been making him his root beer float for a couple years now. I bring Dad his float. He opens his door so I can pass it to him. He smiles and says, “Thank you.”

I was going to try to avoid Edison today – but as I approach the turn-off to Edison I see a line of cars leaving the town and figure maybe everyone’s pretty much cleared out of there now, so I turn and head towards the town center.

I am wrong. The place is packed with pedestrians and cars trying to get out of there. I stop to let a car turn in front of me – the driver waves and I wave back – then I wait for a line of pedestrians to cross in front of me.
Dad: (Observing all the traffic in this little town.) Is there some event here?
Karen: The Chicken Parade.
Dad: What? A church service?
Karen: The Chicken Parade.
Dad: A church service?
Karen: (Pointing to a little kid dressed up as a chicken.) The Chicken Parade.
Dad: (Turning to see where I’m pointing.) A church service. Small towns can be really active places.
Karen: (I silently admit defeat. I realize there is no way I’m going to be able to explain the Chicken Parade to him.) Yup.

I drive through Edison and turn on Bayview-Edison Road. Dad is looking out the window, watching the landscape roll past…
Dad: I love going on these drives with you.
Karen: I love going on drives with YOU.
(I pat Dad’s leg and he holds my hand and gives it a gentle squeeze.)

I meander around the Skagit Flats for a while and pull over when Mount Baker finally emerges from the clouds. I point to the mountain…
Dad: (Nodding.) Mount Baker.
(I take a few photos of the mountain and then continue until I come to a field puddled by rain and filled with trumpeter swans. I pull over to snap some pictures. Dad waits patiently for me, slurping his root beer float.)

I drive a little more and then begin heading back to Dad’s home.
Dad and I don’t talk for a while, then…
Dad: I love you.
(And the way he says it – not casually, but with thought behind it – really touches me.)
Karen: I love YOU!

As we pull in front of the front door to his house…
Dad: Who are these people?
Karen: This is your home.
Dad: What?
Karen: This is your home.
Dad: Oh!

I help him out of the car and up the stairs and, once inside, he makes his way to one of the recliners in front of the television. I hand him his root beer float…
Karen: Thank you for going on the drive with me.
Dad: Thank YOU for taking me on the drive.
Karen: I love you, Daddy.
Dad: And I love you.