Lead into Gold: contradiction to despair #10

I made it around the little lake as dusk fell. My old legs wanted to give in, but then a piano started up a familiar intro on shuffle. What was this song? I knew it would play me home – Van Morrison Philosopher’s Stone. (See end note)

Years before, recovering from major surgery, I sat in the Starbucks across from Culver City Studio in L.A., listening to this song. The Harry Potter movie of that name had just been released from Sony, just down Washington Blvd. I still hadn’t emerged from pain and weakness of the operation and, it must be said, the terror of a second cancer diagnosis.

Was it really possible to be an alchemist and turn this lead of suffering into gold, I wondered.

Morrison sings that even his best friends they don’t know that he’s searching for the philosopher’s stone. He’s out on the highway and the byways in the cold and snow, alone and relentlessly searching.

In the years that followed, I caught glimpses of that magical mineral, but foolish me, I had no idea that, when it came to lead,  I was ignorant – I knew nothing.

A decade later, I got a crash course. It involved emergency rooms, sudden trans-continental flights, first responders on multiple occasions, several hospitals, many, many doctors and pharmaceuticals, bureaucracy enough to break your heart, intense fear and terrible despair.

It’s a hard road/It’s a hard road, Daddyo/ When my job is turning lead into gold.

Then this week nearly six years later, we raised our heads at last. That the patient would survive the ongoing disease, we had known for a while, That the patient had relearned how to function in the everyday world despite catastrophic losses, we also knew, What we recently discovered is altogether more wonderful. The person we almost lost, through the agency of this enormous suffering, has become the person she always wanted to be.

Concise Oxford Dictionary: The philosopher’s stone – supreme object of alchemy, substance supposed to turn other metals to gold or silver

One of a series of contradictions to despair 115journals.com




Deadwood: a walk in the woods

I mean ‘deadwood’ in the nicest possible way.

oak crownMy local woods is part of an oak savannah that borders the river and once stood much closer to the shore of Lake Ontario. The trees are rooted in undulating sand hills, which are themselves the remnants of a prehistoric lake. Perhaps it is their loose footing that brings so many trees down. Once down, they lie where they fell. Even if they block a well-used path, the parks department let them be. Their decay is imperceptible but sure. The deadwood is host to insects and seedlings and whatever else thrives on it. Today is ideal decaying weather – very hot and humid. This is what I saw on my walk.

fallen tree #1fallen tree 2fallen tree 3 edtrickle treeThe tree above was undermined by a tiny trickle of a brook. The same trickle took down the next tree, a tall one. Its crown fell across the usual path and it took me several months to discover the detour around it.

fallen tree 5 edSomeone has ill-advisedly fashioned a rail of dead branches, certainly not a parks person.

railThere are, thank goodness, no “Use at Your Own Risk” signs nor should there be walking aids. Wood-walkers are made of hardier stuff.

fallen tree 7 hollow tree edSome oaks hang on valiantly in spite of past trauma.

new tree edMeanwhile new trees just planted near the river are loving this extremely wet June.

Lost Gardens

rosesHalf a century ago, it was still possible to amble across a hayfield on the hill where I was born and come upon the stone-walled cellar hole of a house that had been burned down or had been abandoned and had fallen in. Always you found these simple roses growing there. The cellar holes are still there but the woods has taken over the fields now, and roses do not grow in shade.

But I have found other lost gardens.

path thro woodsI go through the woods in the park half a block from my home and wend my way up to what I call the ridge trail.

sunny old roadIt must be an abandoned road that the parks people mow. I know that at one point before the place became a municipal park, it was a golf course. I have literally stumbled over the water pipes that watered the greens, But this road seems to go even further back than that. In the early spring, I would pass lilac bushes in bloom at intervals, which suggest that once there were houses dotted along it. One late spirea is still hanging on.


There hardly seems to be enough room at the edge of the road for substantial buildings. The land falls steeply off on both sides. I wonder if these were summer cottages. They would have been near the mouth of the river and in walking distance of Lake Ontario. Then I note that people have planted rhubarb.

rhubarbAnd there are honey locusts that were covered in white flowers last week.

locustsThey are young trees, so they are puzzling. Locusts are not native to these parts, but we planted one in the yard of that house under the hill I talked about in my post on Gatsby. (115journals.com) And I see very tall ones on Davenport Rd, maybe 70 ft. high. Perhaps they are evidence of the golf course, but it has been gone for 50 years, in which case they would be taller. They must have self-seeded as most of the woods did once it was let to grow.

old roadwith pinesEventually, the trail leads to a small stand of pine trees and just past them a monument to the early European explorers, including Etienne Brulé, who was the first of them to sight the big lake. Then it is down a steep hill to the river, a story for another day.

river w. rushes