A block away and still I notice your tousled hair,
rumpled overcoat too small to button, eyes riveted
on me. Seven decades of training chill the sweat
off my body and yet I continue jogging toward you,
a compass needle drawn to the magnetic meridian.
But imaginary you are not and my head automatically
turns to avoid eye contact, the palm of my hand raised,
a shield as I pass. I say “no” before I can decipher
your words. I was raised to not speak to strangers.
The map in your hand stops me two strides past.
My dad purchased a new Road Atlas every year,
a book of dreams with Northwest pages dog-eared
and stained by hopeful hands. You tell me you are 86,
one year younger than dad when death erased all roads
to Oregon and Washington. Visiting from Illinois,
you are searching for your son without car or suitcase,
just a downtown map, useless in neighborhoods.
Beneath your coat, your Sunday-best, but missing
are dentures that belong with that smile.
Yes, your son knows you are coming. No,
he is at work. No, they took your phone away.
We walk south, a straight line in a conversation
that zigs and zags like backroads through the mountains.
From an inside pocket, you pull your license.
It bears the same address as your son and I ask
if it would be okay and we wait together
at the corner for the patrol car.
Before climbing into the back seat,
you turn and shake my hand. I suspect
you are tired, ready to go home,
like the day my dad placed the Atlas
on the shelf, rather than next to his chair.
It is during the spring, when the honeysuckle’s white sliver of petals showers the roadside with sweetness, that the last mile and a half of my morning jog seems less formidable. This morning I violated all jogging protocols and paused to smell the bush’s fragrance. I wondered if the honeysuckle blooms in Ukraine.
For months I have felt helpless as I watched, from afar, the slaughter of the Ukrainian people, the rape of their woman, starvation of their children, demolition of homes and businesses, destruction of land, water sources, the killing of all things living. How does the heart endure?
It takes a special set of eyes to see a path that leads beyond helpless, beyond hopeless, beyond despair. I have rarely seen those eyes hidden beneath the rim of his baseball cap, but the voice of poet GF Korreck makes me laugh, helps me find delight in the ordinary, and stirs my consciousness . . . as he did a little over a month ago when he asked me and a group of poets to contribute to an anthology of poems about Ukraine.
Under GF’s leadership, 29 poets created a masterpiece titled Busy Griefs, Raw Towns: a poetic response to the brutality of war in Ukraine. The book is being published by Schuler Books—with 100% of the proceeds going to the International Rescue Committee aid in Ukraine relief efforts.
Poetry cannot stop violence. But it can awaken people. It can touch us. It can uplift us. It can remind us of our soul, our humanity, and what it means to be part of a world, GF writes in the introduction.
Please consider purchasing an advance copy at
I like to think poetry plants honeysuckle along the roadsides of despair.
Why Am I Here?
Here in this dinky room
stripped to the waist,
given a shirt that opens
in the back, doesn’t button,
trapped in a bed with bars,
while people are scurrying
about like squirrels on attack?
You tell me keep a sense of humor.
People masked like bandits
ready to rob me of decency
and who knows what else?
They’re poking me for blood,
swabbing inside my nose,
constantly squeezing my arm
with some gizmo that feels
like the first step to amputation.
And don’t they talk to each other?
Every person who enters
asks me my name, date of birth,
what year it is, and who’s president.
Why don’t they look at a calendar?
Turn on TV? And didn’t you tell them
we exercise every morning?
No need to repeatedly ask me
to point my finger to theirs,
squeeze their hands, lift my legs.
From the ER to the hospital room,
the same thing over and over.
I’m in great shape,
passed every test perfectly.
Feels like I’ve been here a month.
Why can’t we just go home?
Didn’t you tell them
my son drove from North Carolina
to see me? Brought his dog,
Bridget, to meet me?
I’ll tell them.
I have to be home by lunch.
And I was.
Copyright Ó 2022 Jane McKinney & Mary McKSchmidt
When I saw the effects COVID’s social isolation was having on my mother, the difficult physical and mental changes that occur with age, witnessed the deep sorrow lingering from the deaths of her husband and dog, and years later, from the death of her twin, I introduced the excitement of outdoor adventures into our weekly routine. Walking arm-in-arm through the city and county parks of Holland, we laughed, traded memories, discussed birds, flowers, wetlands, rivers, and lakes. But it was one flowering tree, in one park, and one bench, that showed me how nature can heal the spirit, and how important it is to make nature easily accessible to all seniors in all communities.
By 2050, one in four people in the United States will be over the age of 60. According to a 2007 report issued by the National Institute on Aging and the National Institutes of Health, between 2005 and 2030, the 85-and-over population is projected to increase 151 percent across the globe compared to 21 percent for those under 65. While COVID-19 is not reflected in the numbers, chronic diseases such as dementia, Alzheimer’s, cancer, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, and diabetes are likely causes of death in those over 85. Such diseases often require long term care that consumes public and family resources. Worse, the diseases gnaw at the mental and emotional health of seniors and family members.
But nature has the power to heal.
An increasing body of research suggests regular contact with nature can improve short-term memory loss, reduce inflammation, recharge immune systems, diminish a sense of isolation, and lower the overall risk of early death. And it doesn’t take that much time. According to one study, just two hours a week can make a difference.
Not all seniors have a retired daughter living seven miles away, able to make nature accessible. Nor does every daughter or son have a parent or grandparent healthy enough to walk the sidewalks and paths of our public parks. And while Mother lives in an apartment with windows opening to wetlands filled with the lively entertainment of red-winged blackbirds and ducks, the soothing sight of water and cattails, not everyone is so fortunate.
Can communities make access to nature easier for the growing senior population?
When we began our outdoor adventures, Mother could walk unassisted for a long mile on any type of path. Over the last eight years, she has transitioned from walking independently to arm-in-arm to cane to walker. Uneven surfaces and cracks matter. So does the slope of the path. Grass, sand or woodchip trails are no longer a possibility, asphalt or concrete essential. Fear of falling haunts us both.
Over 23 public and private parks are within ten miles of Mother’s apartment making access to nature possible. But it’s not always easy. Favorite spaces boil down to paths, benches, trees, and safety.
Now over 95, Mother needs more frequent pauses, comfortable benches on which to rest, preferably benches shaded by trees that protect eyes sensitive to light and paper-thin skin susceptible to cancer; that open the door to sensory stimulation created by leaves that flutter, squirrels that dart, birds that chatter, and a vast array of colors and textures. The benches need to be comfortable, to include complete backs, preferably made of a wood-like product so as to be resistant to temperature variations, placed at the same height from ground to seat. Research points to the importance of placing benches every ten yards for a senior-friendly park. I’ve never counted the steps but know that more is better with each passing year.
While the majority of parks in our community are clean, wheelchair-accessible with ample parking, there is no “elder space,” a designated area where we do not have to worry about children accidentally running into us while chasing a ball, skateboarding or riding a bike. Our favorite park is Windmill Island—not just because of the Jane tree, a tree bearing her same name and a nearby bench placed on her behalf commemorating a poem she wrote about her twin—but because of the many docents on site who keep “eyes” on visitors to help everyone stay safe. And there are restrooms.
In statistical terms, Mother is an “n” of one. However, I do not think her needs unique. As the senior population mushrooms in our communities, it is to our collective advantage to solicit their input, prioritize their needs and find ways to create a more nature-friendly environment. And while the research shows nature can have a positive effect on one’s health, for Mother and me there was more. Nature brought us together on our respective journeys to find inner peace, to live with joy. Such journeys do not stop when one turns 65. If anything, they become more urgent.
As seen in the Holland Sentinel, April 13, 2022.
A drop of dew
down a stem,
on each tiny hair
to earth’s floor.
Gravity will not
is it so difficult
the robin-egg blue
of the sky?
Seven miles apart
phones in hands
in the flatlands
edging the city
daughter in the forest
of the dunes
to describe evening skies
like the blush of a magnolia
wings of a fluttering monarch
eggs in the nest of a robin
petals of a long-spur violet
spray of assorted marigolds
face of Annabelle’s blossom
gray of the morning fog.
They debate verbs
to describe clouds
as they have done,
a winter sunset
from their vantage points
yet so much the same.
The rumbling, though far in the distance, triggers
a quickening of my heart and I grip the paddle,
remembering when things did not go well,
when I was deceived by the glassy surface of the water
concealing the perils beneath the swift-flowing river;
when I smashed into the boulders, was thrown
into the roaring rapids, swallowed by haystacks
and sent tumbling downstream in the raging waters.
When it comes to love of any kind,
experience matters and memories float like a leaf alongside,
eroding confidence. One can paddle faster than the current,
or slower, but allowing the river control ensures defeat.
These days I dig the blade hard into the water behind me.
There have been times I opted to paddle
the safe waters of an inland lake, reveling
in the stillness as I lazily searched for a sandhill crane,
the checker-board back of a loon, a tundra swan.
But most of the time it is the river that lures me,
and I have eyes only for the fast-flowing waters
and the image of you downstream,
looking for pebbles to polish.
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