Chimney Swifts

A few days ago, I was in a restless and bad mood, so I went for a stroll in my chariot (that’s my new name for my power wheelchair).  It was around 7:15, and I realized there was a beautiful sunset going on — lots of cumulonimbus clouds hanging in waves and swirls, making a prism of the sky.  I went to the little schoolyard park across the street and watched this amazing show of nature and color.

As the sun set, I kept hearing the trilling of birds.  I figured some were roosting in the trees, then I looked up and realized there was a flock circling the area.   It took a while, but I saw they were circling the brick chimney of an apartment building next to the park.  I’d never noticed the building had a chimney, but there it was, and I got to see the birds, chimney swifts, come to roost for the evening.

It’s such a delight, I don’t know why it amazes and lifts my heart so much to see these little birds join together in the evening and take turns making their was into the dark safety of a chimney.

When I lived in Portland, I loved to go in September to the Chapman school grounds (along with most of Portland), to watch the Vaux’s swifts come to roost in their chimney as they migrated to South America:

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from my 2012 journal

They can’t perch in trees.  They can only perch sideways, like woodpeckers.  They hang by their strong claws all night to rest.

I didn’t think I’d see anything as wonderous when I moved back to Memphis, but there has been so much to marvel at since I’ve been home.  I think I had blinders on before.  And now I’ve seen the swifts.  They are common here, but I wasn’t aware of it.

That evening, there were hundreds of them, circling, diving, some going in, some and not able to quite make it into the chimney until a few more circles in the sky.  Sometimes it looked like they’d flown away, but they’d swoop back in, and dive down.  Then, as it became the darkest part of dusk, a first star appeared and the last birds fluttered in and the sky was still and a silence settled upon the night.

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They don’t fly close enough to see in detail, I looked at several references for this bird sketch

Well, there was some urban sounds: the woosh of traffic and some cricket songs.   But the birds had settled for the night.

And so had I.  It took almost an hour for the birds to fill the chimney.

All traces of my bad mood were put to bed under a blanket of wonder.

In spite of all the difficulties of aging, I’ve found that I’ve also become more keenly aware of the beauty and intricacy of the natural world, of which I am a part.

Sometimes, a hawk will swoop into the flock and grab one of the small birds from the sky.  Dinner for another hungry bird.  Life in cycles, in beauty, in brutality, in a swirl, all around us.  In the dwindling light, my own life seemed both more and less significant.  I felt part of a bigger plan.  I got caught up in a swirl of life, but then circled back home to a safe place to rest.

 

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My photos of the sunset didn’t capture the oranges and pinks.  Life is more colorful in person 🙂

If you’d like to learn more about chimney swifts you can read about them here:

https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/chimney-swift

~~~

Thanks for reading my post.  If you like it share it.  If you find a typo, please let me know and I’ll send you a thank-you postcard.  

You can get prints and cards of some of my work on Redbubble.  They also print my work on lots of other items, including phone skins, tote bags, shirts and journals:

https://www.redbubble.com/people/JoyMurray?asc=u

If you’d like to support my art and writing, please consider becoming a donor on Patreon.  If I get enough supporters, I can make this blog ad-free!  Here’s a link to my Patreon page:

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If you prefer to make a one time donation, you can do so at paypal.com  Please email me at joyzmailbox@gmail.com if you’d like details.

 

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Birthdays and other reasons for pause

September is always like the beginning of the year for me.  I guess I got into that feeling when I was in school and it seemed I was older, a younger self left behind, often with disdain.

It’s also the month of my birthday — and most years that’s a cause for celebration.  But I always slightly resented September weather — it’s “supposed” to be cooler, but here in Memphis we usually have summer heat until October.  After living in the cool wet Northwest for about a decade, though, I made my peace with September heat.  The wet weather there was exacerbating arthritis pain, so now I just enjoy an extra month of baking but hurting less.

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September is my daughter’s birthday, too.

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This year I didn’t get the birthday buoyancy I usually feel for just surviving and outliving an early prediction about my lifespan.

When I first got sick, back when I was 16, with seizures and weakening muscles, I was told I might have any number of degenerative diseases that could end my life by the time I was 30.  It was 1976, before there were MRIs and the kinds of tests that can diagnose disorders better.  I stopped having seizures in my mid-20s.  But my legs continued to weaken.  I had “possible multiple sclerosis,” or more often, the diagnosis was “abnormal.”  Then in my late 40s, they found a lesion on my spinal cord, and gave me the diagnosis of Transverse Myelitis, a rarish disease, but one that should be stable.

Only it wasn’t stable.  I lived for about a decade in denial of increasing weakness and body changes.  I blamed instability on my osteoarthritis.  I sometimes gave myself a hard time about not exercising, or eating poorly.  But when I did those things, I didn’t improve.

This last year, I got a full MRI work up and it was discovered my spinal cord was thinning and I have an even rarer disorder called “Hereditary Spastic Paraparalysis.”

Through it all, I’ve always imagined I’d be a partial user of a wheelchair, but would still be able walk some, around the house, get in and out of bathtubs, have some balance.  I would still get in and out of friends houses and restaurants with just a walker and a helping hand upstairs.  But that’s all fading a bit.  I keep falling.  The reality of my own delicacy has been as hard as the floor on which I contemplate the loss of independence.  I am an advocate of interdependence, we all need each other in many ways we take for granted, but still….

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I know I’ve talked about this on my blog before, but the upcoming birthday has made me melancholy.  I have bi-polar and feared a depression was settling in.  Then I feared it wasn’t, that I’d become a melancholy and anxious old woman.

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I didn’t plan a party or an art show.  In fact, I’ve been a little blocked about everything.

But I’ve got great friends and family.  I’ve spent the last week being taken out for meals, given presents, and given support.  I allowed myself to talk about my fears, my disappointment, my delusions.  And my friends, they listened and they gave me the best gift — their understanding.  Nobody has tried to undermine my mourning of my strength, they just subtly and emphatically proved that they’d be there for me.  There is a hand on my elbow when I’m in dangerous terrain.

I had felt like an abandoned scarecrow, like the crows had pecked me apart.  But sort of like in the Wizard of Oz, my friends put me back together, and got me back on that yellow brick road — even though we all know the Wizard is just a guy improvising his way through life like the rest of us.

It’s a lesson I learn over and over — that in spite of my fears, I have love in my life, and that kind of assistive device will carry me through anything.  I am rich beyond belief.  Each day there is some jewel out there shining for me, if only I keep my eyes focused outward.  I know that it’s impossible to do on my own, so learning to rely on others has been the biggest gift of it all.  To trust.  To love.

I am thankful for another year of being in this world with my friends and family.  And to all of my internet readers and supporters who listen and provide insight and share their own struggles.

Thank you.

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September 9th starts the new year for me 🙂

 

 

Drawing Myself

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August 29, Joy Murray

People often ask what’s wrong with me, or more rudely, “What happened to you?!?”  I try to give as short of an answer as possible because my story is complex and I know most people don’t want to hear all that.  “I have a degenerative disorder,” is my standard answer.

But terms and words jangle around people, and I caught myself wondering about these things, how to describe myself and others with dignity — you know short of just calling them by their name.  I usually don’t ask about a person’s physical make-up, unless I see someone in a cast or with stitches that weren’t there before.  And I know them and care for them.

Anyway, I had to go three places yesterday where using a wheelchair wasn’t an option.  I wonder sometimes when I’m in a wheelchair permanently, how I’ll get places.  I’m working on it, checking out medical transport and the Memphis PLUS bus.  But for now, I can still hobble a bit.  So sometimes I do — but only when others are with me, in case I fall and can’t get back up.

When I got settled and rested, I drew myself with a handy cap.

It cheered me considerably.

~~

Thanks for reading my post.  If you like it share it.  If you find a typo, please let me know and I’ll send you a thank-you postcard.  

You can get prints and cards of some of my work on Redbubble.  They also print my work on lots of other items, including phone skins, tote bags, shirts and journals:

https://www.redbubble.com/people/JoyMurray?asc=u

If you’d like to support my art and writing, please consider becoming a donor on Patreon.  If I get enough supporters, I can make this blog ad-free!  Here’s a link to my Patreon page:

https://www.patreon.com/user?u=8001665

If you prefer to make a one time donation, you can do so at paypal.com  Please email me at joyzmailbox@gmail.com if you’d like details.

Dog Days Drawings

Yesterday, I thought about how the nights are getting shorter, which is why my moonflowers are blooming.  But it’s still summer — hot days, but pleasant evenings, made more so by the blooming that continues around me.

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Moonflower, Moon, and Sirius, the dog star of summer’s heat

Today, while I had my morning coffee on the porch, I watched the crepe myrtle across the street release its blossoms, warm pink snow.  Soon it’ll lose all its flowers and its summer work will be done.  I sketched it quickly with watercolor pencils then released the lines with a water brush.

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I’m not sure I’m happy with the way the watercolor pencils worked.  I may try again with watercolors or acrylic.

I’ve seen golden leaves here and there, but we have at least a month of hot weather and sweet sultry mornings and flowers and vibrant nature.  I hope you are enjoying these last days of August, in spite of all that may be distracting us from the thread of beauty that weaves together life.

~~

Thanks for reading my post.  If you like it share it.  If you find a typo, please let me know and I’ll send you a thank-you postcard.  

You can get prints and cards of some of my work on Redbubble.  They also print my work on lots of other items, including phone skins, tote bags, shirts and journals:

https://www.redbubble.com/people/JoyMurray?asc=u

If you’d like to support my art and writing, please consider becoming a donor on Patreon.  If I get enough supporters, I can make this blog ad-free!  Here’s a link to my Patreon page:

https://www.patreon.com/user?u=8001665

If you prefer to make a one time donation, you can do so at paypal.com  Please email me at joyzmailbox@gmail.com if you’d like details.