Writing Time

Tuesday and Thursday mornings—it says in my electronic calendar: Christina writes… an injunction that spins out through the year and into perpetuity—purposely. This is my commitment for the foreseeable future: save time to write, and use it to write!

Yeah. Right. A review of the past weeks:

Tuesday: PeerSpirit Annual Meeting to set our course for the year.

Thursday: yay—WRITING.

Tuesday: Fly to Austin, TX with Ann to present a day of health care consulting.

Thursday: hanging out in Austin after teaching, visiting friends, talking about circle.

Tuesday: Fly home from LA, after adding a visit with the grandchildren to our business trip.

Thursday: taking my dad to the dermatologist—kicking off a lot of medical decisions about skin cancer abrasions.

Tuesday: over at my dad’s apartment, helping him get carpets cleaned and other tasks.

Thursday: yay—WRITING

Tuesday: Self as the Source of the Story Alumni group convenes.

Thursday: Teaching, consulting with students—and WRITING.

Saturday: WRITING all day—silent time at the seminar. Ahhhh.

Tuesday: Day after teaching: barely talking, writing only a few emails. Breathing in the satisfaction of the class. Listening for my own voice to re-emerge.

Thursday March 10: High winds and two inches of rain in an already saturated season. Ann is up at dawn to check the damage. She discovers water running down the neighborhood ditch has backed up flooding across edge properties, slurry over the bluff, very real prospect of losing our community beach stairs and bulkhead. High tide, high winds, destruction and hammering by water and drift logs against this precious access to our greatest spiritual practice—walking the water’s edge with Gracie.

I’m an English major, but I know impending disaster when I see it. The cliff is in danger of “calving” and burying our 77 steps to freedom, and the 70-year-old bulkhead. Ann has meetings over town we try to make a plan—get on the phone to someone who might know what to do.

My only writing of the day is an emergency email to the community warning everyone to stay away from the stairs and the cliff.

I call the project manager who has been helping us prepare a major repair on the aging bulkhead; he calls the county, the county sends two road crew guys and we all agree the overflow pipe right at the edge of the county road and private property is not working, is behaving like an artesian well. Yup. Water is everywhere. It just keeps rolling downhill the way water does. More rain coming. No other help from them.

I call a private drainage company. It is 3:30. Clouding over. It’s my writing time.

It’s my lifetime. A river runs through it…

This is how it goes.

Life is full of itself. Life demands. We make the best choices we can. We hold focus—and we hold relationship, emergency, replenishment, duty, love. There is an edge to things—people have to figure out how to go forward without understanding how it’s going to turn out. We have to make do with what we have, with what resources we can muster, with the folks within reach who can help. Oddly enough, this is exactly the theme in my novel, though set in another time and place.

My fictional story is full of people of the land, ordinary people who make extraordinary choices… and my reality is full of ordinary people making some extraordinary choices, as well. It took a while for the gravity to register. Water running where it should not run… so disorienting… and the idea that it would not stop running or unplug itself and then what to do??? Waiting on the county road crew, I stick my arm into muddy ice water all the way to my pit, feeling into the dark trying to understand the pipe juncture and where the blockage might be.

I call the young men of Apollo Drainage who have been up since 4:00 AM when the first frantic calls from the storm battered island woke them. They pump the water on long hoses over the bluff and down onto the beach so that the drain hole emerges… and eventually they find the problem, and unplug the drain and the river magically disappears back into its plastic tubing and safely over the edge. But damage has been done. There is a deep crack in the earth at the top of the stairs. There is a slumping slurry of mud on the south bluff face—it’s not done falling down, more rain is coming. The high winds, high tides, have ripped at our bulkhead, huge concrete pieces broken, logs ramming the fragile toe of the bluff.

The power of water rules all. I stand there thinking: you should know this, Christina… it was just a year ago you stood at the edge of the Grand Canyon. Water wins.

I am president of our homeowners association, Ann is secretary. We have a good board of four neighbors who face this crisis and inform 25 homeowners: the stairs are not safe. We put up Caution tape and buy and emergency lock. It is possible this shared asset is gone forever.

We bought this house because of the tree behind it and the beach access in front of it. I am grieving this loss of spirit and routine.

The storm passes. There is a day of sunshine, calm, rainbows. Another storm approaches. More extreme winds are predicted. It is now Sunday morning. It is pouring rain. We check the drain, watch the amount of flow coming off the neighborhood. We pray. We sing to all the trees around us to “stand strong.”

Writing time: my work in the real world is to accept challenge and change with at least as much equanimity and courage as the characters in my story. That’s why I’m writing: to use another time and place to make a story map, a model of pulling together instead of pulling apart.

A lot is pulling apart: I am focusing on pulling together.

I will post this now before the power goes out.

The community beach access--a river instead of a path.

The community beach access–a river instead of a path.

South of stairs, mud slurry and slumping already pulling down that part of bluff.

South of stairs, mud slurry and slumping already pulling down bluff wall.

Two foot crack  at top of stair landing. Predicted to break away that part of bluff.

Two foot crack at top of stair landing. Predicted to break away that part of bluff.

All shall be well. All manner of things shall be well.

After water diversion, the old, buried drain emerges

After water diversion, the old, buried drain emerges

Drain unplugged, fixed, and capped.

Drain unplugged, fixed, and capped.

Calm presence looking across the yard.

Calm presence looking across the yard.

Double rainbow over neighbor's roof and Puget Sound.

Double rainbow over neighbor’s roof and Puget Sound.

13 replies
  1. Kate Bracy
    Kate Bracy says:

    Thanks for this, Christina. I live on this island, too, and I lose sight of the valuable metaphor it is for living on the edge without losing one’s balance. Great reminder!

  2. Gretchen Staebler
    Gretchen Staebler says:

    It rather sounds like you were working out your story in your head on Thursday. And Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Perhaps writing was happening after all. Love to you, Ann, Gracie. It is so hard to face the loss of the familiar and beloved. The human condition, I suppose.

  3. Jennifer Crow
    Jennifer Crow says:

    I nod in recognition of the marvelous, terrible power of water. We’re perched just at the foot of a forested hill, and water slicks down with abandon. We, too, have lived in dread of more rain, hoping for just a few more days of drying time before being slammed again. That pales, though, with the threat of losing something so precious and crucial to you and Ann, and to your community. I will hold out hope that the bulkhead holds, and can be strengthened, and that change is kind and easily balanced.

  4. Jude Rathburn
    Jude Rathburn says:

    Dear Christina, Ann, Gracie and all of the other Whidbey Island residents who are feeling the grief that these storms are causing. I am so sorry to hear of the damage being done to your beautiful bluff and access point to Gracie’s primary canvas for her paintings. I am sending blessings your way and a hope that the bulkhead and stairs can be saved. I love the way you connected this experience of nature with the arc of your novel. I hooe you will continue to be able to carve out time for writing as you navigate the storms of life ahead. Be well. Jude

  5. Marie
    Marie says:

    Dear Christina and Ann
    What an absolute nightmare I know how important the access to the beach and the beach itself are integral to your lives. Again I am in awe of the resilience and courage you demonstrate in the face of tragedy. Staying present and enormously practical as you address the unfolding disaster. Praying the rain and storms stop and the damage can be repaired and life can return to ‘normal’.
    Much love and blessings to you and Gracie of course.

  6. linette harriott
    linette harriott says:

    I’m so sad for your losses: the loss of access and your rituals with Gracie and your loss of peace of mind. We can feel so small in the face of the power of nature. I hope repairs can be made or another access point found.
    I admire your holding of your intent to write despite all the obstacles. Stay safe.

  7. Jeanne Guy
    Jeanne Guy says:

    I feared the weather this time. So sorry for the losses and agree with you: water wins. Even more powerful is your love and the depth of your understanding of the whole of life. Sending our love and prayers to you both, to Gracie and to your community.

  8. Katharine
    Katharine says:

    Dear Christina, Ann and others we care for on Whidbey,
    I echo what Jude has so beautifully acknowledged and given blessing to.
    Love to you, each and all, and for your collective efforts to pull together when, yes, so much is pulling apart. Katharine

  9. Alastair Kidd
    Alastair Kidd says:

    Dear Christina – you, Ann and your community are in my thoughts.

    I read your blog piece early this morning. My own life is full of change right now and that sentence “There is an edge to things—people have to figure out how to go forward without understanding how it’s going to turn out.”, gives me something to hold on to and to guide me. The words never stop offering a map. Thank you.

    After reading your piece, I walked Beth my dog in the woods near Mildenhall in Suffolk. There are two USAF bases nearby and as the jets and transporters fly over we have a little piece of America to remind us of friends over the pond. A nearby road widening project has meant the deer we regularly spotted (and Beth chased and never caught), seemed to have gone. This morning I saw two, close by, grazing in a field. I thought of the deer in your post, and of how life renews and comes back, even after we humans, or nature itself, tear it apart.

    Go well both of you, and all you care for around you.

  10. Jude Rathburn
    Jude Rathburn says:

    Dear Christina – I am hoping that your neighborhood association has been able to save the bulkhead and stairs. Any chance you could share an update. Thinking of you and sending blessings to you and your beloveds. Jude

  11. Jeanne Petrick
    Jeanne Petrick says:

    I have read this story a few times, Christina, and only now do I think I can articulate what I want to share. What I heard between the lines – maybe from you, consciously or maybe just what I heard without you intending. WRITING TIME is about the aging of our lives and the fierce desire to keep it going with value and purpose, knowing that the end of it is only getting closer and there is nothing that we can do about it except embrace the concept of the inevitable and the beauty that is within it.
    Now that time has passed, I hope that your community has found a way to continue to walk the stairs down to the life giving waters. And if the repairs temporarily keep you away from the water’s edge, I hope that a new daily path with Gracie finds you enjoying the new adventure you never knew was around the corner. Thanks for this beautiful true story.

    • Christina Baldwin
      Christina Baldwin says:

      Dear Jeanne, Thank you for reading and for reading between the lines… sometimes a writer doesn’t know what s/he puts between the lines–it’s hard enough to get the lines down. I do feel the “end of my time” turning 70 more than ever before, and am ruminating on this as the weeks roll on. We are opening the stairs to the beach as the bluff has stabilized for now… surely a metaphor for the coming of spring and dryness. And we know the sea will claim what she will–just as my life and death will claim what they will. I will write more of this in the coming weeks. So glad I will see you this spring. Blessings.


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