Way Stations

A way station.

A place to stop and rest while on a journey.

I’ve made use of way stations, large and small, throughout my life.

As a kid, the tiny train station halfway between home and school. It was only a mile to school, but to my sister and me trudging along the highway in the snow in the Montreal winter, often below zero, it seemed never ending. Not to mention numbing. Despite our layers of clothing, hats, gloves, mittens, we froze. The little station was our warming refuge. We climbed the stairs, ran in and hugged the pot belly stove. Then made it the rest of the way to school hands and feet tingling.

A big, white Victorian hotel in the Green Mountains of Vermont. My grandfather knew the value of way stations, always stopping between Montreal and Cape Cod, stretching our 400-mile journey into two days so we could relax and look out over rolling lawns and play shuffleboard, and so he and my grandmother could enjoy their scotch at gloaming (Scottish for twilight). This was a treat for my sister and me, since if our father had been at the wheel, it would have been a mad, crabby, eyes-on-the road dash each way. No stopping for ice cream, let alone overnight lollygagging.Windansea bench

Other images float up from memory. A bench overlooking the ocean or outside a store, a cubbyhole in a library, a shady spot under a tree, a stoop or doorway, a friend’s spare bedroom or hidden garden, a wide wall next to a museum, a shack in the woods, a diner on an empty road.

Most airports, yes! I have always loved airports, the excitement of new journeys, leaving and arriving, sitting and watching. Today they are less restful, with security checks, long lines, more frequent delays. But there is more to do – eat, drink, shop, gamble, get a haircut, manicure, massage, watch TV, hold meetings, use computers and gadgets, even sleep in some. If I ever blow the whistle on someone, I could hang out like Edward Snowden in the Moscow Airport, although from photos, it didn’t look as if he got a haircut during his weeks there.

Windansea shackActually, I’m living in a way station today. That is what my current house feels like. It does not have a sense of settling in for the duration, or much duration beyond a year or two. I moved to get out of the storm of rising costs, rents. On my journey, I’ve known for awhile I need to simplify, but I wasn’t quite ready to leave a home I loved. But here I am! This way station is comfortable and convenient. It appeared at the right time. It is a place to rest and reflect awhile, to rejuvenate, before I get back out there on the road.

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Saluting the Sentry

           I barely noticed the little tree out front. Like a sentry, it has stood silently upright for a year, in the strip between the lawn and the street, guarding the house. Now that the days are longer, you’d think I would have noticed it more. But sadly, I haven’t. I’ve taken it for granted, or worse than that. I’ve not seen it as distinguishable from the view Out There, beyond my front window.

            If the tree had feelings, I’d say I know how it feels.Tree out front

            But suddenly it has erupted into a frenzy of red blooms. Pink red, to be exact, like dark watermelon or some varieties of geranium. It makes me so happy I want to bury my face in it. If it were larger, I’d climb it, but it’s not big enough yet for human exploration.

            I wonder what it is? I recognize some local trees, but not this one. I snap photos and iPhone them to my gardener and nature lover friends. Do you know what this is?

            One friend who lives in Ohio and worked at a botanical garden said it looked like a plum tree, but plum trees bloom in the spring, not the summer. She said it looks more tropical. My other friend who teaches nature writing doesn’t know either.

            So I’ll break off a few leaves and blossoms and take them with me to the nursery. Now that the sentry has shown its colors, I want to fully acknowledge it. And I want to know how tall it will grow. How many years will it stand? And does it have to be protected from seasonal hazards? Bugs, traffic and fire pollution, drought? It seems to be doing fine without water, so far anyway.

Lagerstroemia indica

            According to the cute guy at the nursery (a bonus for my visit), the tree is a crape myrtle, also known in more recent years as crepe myrtle. It is an evergreen shrub, drought resistant, and often used along our San Diego sidewalks. It does well in all warmer climates around the world, having come originally from Southeast Asia. It can grow up to 25 feet tall and even taller and Blossomsmakes a nice shade tree. It often has more than one trunk. Its flower petals are crinkled, like crepe paper, thus the name. It is one of the longest-blooming trees, from July to September in our hemisphere. It is slow to grow, but can live as long as 150 years.

            In mythology, the myrtle tree is associated with Venus and is a symbol for love, peace, fertility and rejuvenation. Sounds good to me! And I salute you from now on.