Almost heaven and very nearly but not quite there yet

by | Apr 29, 2024 | Faith, Nature, Writing and Reading | 6 comments |

On Friday morning, as I stepped outside with Mac dog into the “almost” at Vanaprastha—almost another day—I heard two barred owls’ spectacular, loud, emphatic calls in the dark before dawn. Ok-ok-ok-ok ok-ok-buhooh, variations of the mnemonic “who cooks for you.” The first call sounded very close; the second echoed from a distance—possibly a full half-mile away. 

According to owl experts, barred owls respond with playbacks of this call. Cackles, hoots, caws, and gurgles, low mumbles and high-pitched twitters are also common. Though their calls are similar, females have a higher-pitched voice with longer terminal notes. Vocalizations peak from dusk to dawn before breeding and after the young have fledged.

Only country folks experience this, I thought while standing and listening to the loud “come hither” calls and the distant, higher-pitched echoes.

Almost heaven

Most of us have heard “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” a song written by Bill Danoff, Taffy Nivert and John Denver, who released it as single in 1971. Although adopted by the state of West Virginia, the songwriters weren’t thinking of that state in particular, but about the small roads and experiences one has in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

And Keith and I get to live here. For us, God’s creation at Vanaprastha is almost heaven. Or very nearly.

Almost and very nearly

Saturday was our church’s annual Women’s Retreat. This year’s topic was “Called to Care,” and I had volunteered to be the lead presenter. The research, lesson planning, and implementation were sheer joy, almost the same as the last time I was teaching fulltime nearly 15 years ago.

Very nearly but not quite. Throughout the two-hour presentation, I wore the splint to protect my fracture wrist. And I made further adjustments to accommodate the arthritis in my fingers. For those so afflicted, there are treatments, but there is no escape once you have this condition. There is no escape from aging either. By time I got home, my feet were saying they’d had enough, more than enough.

For thirty-five years, I had taught secondary-level classes an average of four hours per day and, during the majority of those years, raised two active children. Yes, I experienced very nearly the same kind of fatigue then as now. But the retreat was a bit shorter and my “teaching” shorter, too, compared to my normal school days, and recovery has been longer. Even so, the passion has not changed. Just as in 2000, at HippoCamp 2022, and on Saturday, teaching made me come alive.

The duality of infinite passion and finite limitations causes me to recognize how the latter will prevail in the final stage of life. And that makes me even more eager to pursue spiritual growth. Because “almost” means not quite in both time and reaching my goals: trust and surrender.

Almost but not quite

As I wrote back in 2016 and again this past spring, I love Anne Lamott’s take on trust and surrender. “These two things are almost all I want,” she wrote in Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers, “but unfortunately, neither one is my strong suit. I am very strong on blame, and wish this were one of God’s values, but trust, surrender? Letting go, forgiveness? Maybe just after a period of prayer, but then when the mood passes and real life rears its ugly head again? Not so much. I hate this, the fact that life is usually Chutes and Ladders….”

Teachers learn from their lessons, at least I do, maybe more than my “listeners.” Hearing the barred owls sent me to research more about their calls. Preparing for the Women’s Retreat challenged me to see the “chutes” I’d been choosing. And being with the women on Saturday helped me to climb the less me, more Jesus “ladder” toward heaven. 

Almost and very nearly but not quite there yet.

Linkup with Five Minute Friday:


  1. Sandra K Stein

    From the pictures you post in your posts, Vanaprastha does seem like a heavenly place.
    (Your FMF neighbor this week, #11)

    • Carole Duff

      It is indeed. Thank you for reading and noting the pictures! -C.D.

  2. Gary Fultz

    Our barred owls here will sometimes sound like a bunch of kids gathering in the tree tops. One evening they seemed to be trying to mimic a pack of coyotes yipping. I also can carry a canoe on the long portages in the wilderness…but I’ve had to buy much lighter canoes to make me feel young. Somehow the packs get heavier though.

    • Carole Duff

      How interesting about the barred owl calls! And yes, I’ve had to scale back on carrying weight, too – 60 pounds to 50 to 40 to 30. Sigh. Always good to hear from you, Gary!

  3. Linda

    My family is originally from West Virginia, and we lived there for a time when I was very little. We drove home to visit grandparents many summers, and we sang that song on the way!

    • Carole Duff

      What lovely memories, Linda. Thanks for sharing! -C.D.


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