In the Christian Church calendar, today is the sixth day of Advent and St. Nicholas Day. In my Advent countdown, today is the day to celebrate the gift of Movement. We live on a moving planet. Impermanence surrounds us in increments from nanoseconds to evolutionary ages. Steve’s revelatory phrase about his identity is “I am the joy in change and movement.” If this is reality, why fight it? I am re-blogging a post from two years ago that illustrates the grace and artistry and discipline of movement – ballet. Watching movement can be magical and mesmerizing and put us into a “dream mind.” But waking up to the present moment puts movement back into the realm of consciousness. Our hearts are beating, our lungs are breathing, we pulse and move and live. It’s not a miracle, but it sure is something to celebrate!
Fairy Princess Dreams
Last night we went to see the Bolshoi production of Sleeping Beauty on the cinema screen. The newly restored Moscow theater features gilded woodwork and royal red upholstery, a royal box and no “cheap” balcony seats. It is Old World magnificence and romance in itself. Add Tchaikovsky’s lush orchestral score (which includes not one, but two harps!) and the lavish beaded, satin costumes and tutus of classic ballet and you have a Spectacle of epic proportion. We sat in the 5th row and felt like we were actually on the proscenium during the close up camera shots. It was breath-taking. Princess Aurora showcases all her most difficult moves in Act I at her 16th birthday party, partnered by 4 elaborately dressed foreign suitors. Cymbals accentuate each technically challenging pose, and she becomes the prima ballerina superstar of all my girlhood dreams. Suddenly, I am 10 years old and sitting next to my father at the Auditorium Theater in Chicago. The ballet is so beautiful and I am so lucky and so loved and I miss my dad so much that I can’t hold back the tears. My heart is too full.
My dad proudly attended to the cultural education of his 4 charming daughters. We had classes at the Art Institute and ballet lessons at a studio on Michigan Avenue every Saturday. He had season tickets to the ballet for the whole family and to the opera for my mother. I was absolutely stage-struck as a kid and couldn’t resist trying on poses and gestures in the lobby during intermissions. I was the youngest of his daughters and probably tried the hardest to please him. I suppose I felt like a princess in many ways. I counted on my father’s kingly protection and generosity. I sometimes slept through life, waiting for Prince Charming to appear and carry me off to a dream of happiness. I met my prince when I was 15, married him when I was 21, and almost lived the whole freakin’ fairy tale. But no, I lived a real life. And I’m glad of it.
I found out that grace takes a lot of hard work, that fathers are imperfect people, and that love is stronger than death and more powerful than beauty. And it also requires a lot of hard work. Discipline and commitment can be more lovely than romance. Facing reality is more invigorating than dreaming. Pinch me when the spectacle seems overwhelming; I want to know I’m alive.
And David Hallberg is my new fascination. Not only is he a supremely graceful human being, he blogs, too. Yup, he’s real.
Reblogging from 2 years ago with the rubric of a list of calendar gifts in lieu of Advent brings me to the topic of Snow. Do you get snow in your part of the world? I lived in California for 15 years without it. I’ve lived in the Midwest for more than 30. This year, Steve will be delivering mail throughout the winter. He’s going to get out there 6 days a week in Milwaukee weather, whatever it may turn out to be. This is real life! I like that he’s not afraid to meet it face to face.
Walking in a Winter Wonderland
Believe it or not, we had a green Christmas here in Milwaukee, and we STILL haven’t gotten snow. I appreciated not worrying about my kids driving on the roads to visit me, and I’ve enjoyed going hiking in the warmer temperatures. But I also enjoy snow hiking, even though I don’t own snowshoes. The transformation of familiar objects and landscapes in winter is always interesting. Without foliage, the contours of the land come out more strikingly. With snowfall, they soften and blossom like ripe flesh. We headed out to Lapham Peak yesterday in bright sunshine. We discovered that they had created snow for some of their cross country ski trails. Man-made, electricity-dependent snow. Because this is Wisconsin, dammit, and we just can’t wait around for Mother Nature; winter break is NOW and it oughta be snowing already! (sigh) It’s sad to me that humans can’t slow down to fall in step with the planet. We keep pushing it to keep abreast of us. It’s like watching parents push their toddlers to be grown up by signing them up for language, dance and art lessons before they even hit nursery school. It smells manipulative and inauthentic. I am sniffing around in the other direction, trying to learn to open up to what exists.
The snow-making machine looks like a lunar landing module.
The boardwalk through the wetland has buckled and twisted in the process of freezing and thawing. It reminds me of the changeable dynamic of a journey, a path in constant flux. It tells me that my progress was not intended to be in a straight line, that meanders are natural and meaningful. And that makes them interesting and challenging. They invite me to adjust my balance, to pay attention, to dance with them.
I have no idea what is around the bend. There’s a new year coming up, full of mystery and thrilling movement. I am feeling less afraid and unsafe in this realization, and more eager to take the fun house walk.
Reblogging from two years ago is not as synchronous as I thought it might be. Two years ago, the fourth of December was a Sunday, and my post was very Sunday-related and had little to do with the Advent gift of the day, which I designated Soil. So, I went looking for another post from that year. Luckily, I found one. My parade of gifts from the Universe has featured Sun, Air, Water and now Soil. The four elements of our natural world, if you will. Here’s the post:
As Time Goes By
My daughter is a certified massage therapist. This makes visiting her an extra special occasion. Not only do I get the pleasure of her company and hospitality, I get a 2 hour massage as well. As I lay there thinking about my body, my cells, and the amazing things going on just under my skin, it occurred to me that the whole process that I call my biological life began exactly half a century ago. Yup, I figure I was conceived Thanksgiving weekend, as my parents celebrated with joy their gratitude for life. Not that they ever divulged so private a story to me, mind you.
I marvel at how life is sustained over time. I mentioned this to my kids as I was sipping my post-therapy water. My youngest piped up, “Yeah, well, half a century is nothing when you think about how mountains grow and change.” Touche. I have to get better at taking a longer view, getting a bigger perspective. I look at my kids bustling around in the kitchen preparing food together, all grown up, and a second later, they are playing a patty-cake game from their childhood.
We are all still so young on this earth; we are such a blink. What kind of impact will we have on the bigger picture? What will be the most lasting legacy of this family whom I love so intensely? The trees that we’ve planted? The children we beget? The words we pen? The votes we cast? The ashes we give back to the soil? I can’t say for sure. It could be the love that we circulate, although it would be impossible to document. I am just grateful to have been a part of it, a crinoid in the limestone, among thousands of others.
Reblogged from 2 years ago:
Today I had an opportunity to get into the holiday spirit by doing some arts & crafts with kids at the Nature Center. Unfortunately for fundraising but fortunately for me, not too many people showed up this morning. That meant that I got to play with the materials myself. I was at the wrapping paper station with an array of washable paint colors and objects to dip into them. Leaves, cedar boughs, fir needles, spruce branches, feathers, pine cones, sponges and whatnot.
Years ago, I went into the prairie with scissors, came back with leaves and seed pods, spray painted my treasures in gold, silver, and clear varnish, and decorated a mask with them. That hung on the wall of the den for ages. I’m always looking for ways to decorate indoors with pieces of the outdoors. And all for free, essentially. (Cheap & Weird – my kids’ nickname for me) That reminds me of the dried macaroni gifts I gave the Christmas I was, what, 9? Too funny. Spray paint macaroni, glue it to a box, call it a gift. I suppose I could get away with it as a kid, but what is it called when I’m almost 50 and still messing around like that? Okay, call it messing around. I have fun. Here are a few examples:
Imagine me gleefully slapping a piece of butcher paper with a paint-soaked cedar branch ala Jackson Pollack! I tell you, kindergarteners should not be having all the fun.
The best things in life are free. So far on my December countdown, I’ve received Sunshine (Dec. 1), Fresh Air (Dec. 2), and Water (Rain – today). Each day I go outside to receive some miraculous gift, and there’s always something. No need to wrap it or trap it. Martha Stewart or Andy Goldsworthy, I’m not. Just a kid in a fabulous universe, trying to stay happy with what there is.
Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird…it’s a comet….it’s ATMOSPHERE!
The second gift in my December calendar of counting blessings is air. The blog entry I posted two years ago is about an encounter with duck hunters. Ironically, I met a duck hunter yesterday. He came into my daughter’s home with a mallard drake dangling from his fist, took it out to the back yard, and began to pull back skin and feathers to reveal a dark red breast. If you’ve never eaten duck, this may conjure a shocked response. If you have (and enjoy it as much as Steve does), you may shrug your shoulders and think, “Okay, that’s how we get duck meat. Yum!” My daughter came into the house minutes later with a collection of feathers in a plastic bag and announced, “Everyone’s getting feather earrings for Christmas!” My daughter makes and sells jewelry. Her designs are beautiful, I think.
So, natural resources…we use them, we share them with everything on the planet. We breathe something like 19 cubic feet of oxygen each day. Our air quality affects every breath we take, every bird and animal and plant as well. There’s an air quality exhibit at Discovery World where I work, so I am reminded of this several times a week. We will use the resources; we will affect the web. The question we must continue to ask is “How?” Are we mindful? Respectful? Wasteful? Grateful? Entitled? Do consider before acting.
Now, the reblog…
Make Way for Duck Hunters
I’m new around here. To Wisconsin, that is. People here shoot animals at state nature areas. And the DNR is okay with this. They post helpful signs that indicate which recreational activities are allowed and that includes the hiker dude whom I recognize, and a hunter dude whom I don’t. Well, I recognize him now. I’ve been seeing more of him lately. He’s up there next to the binoculars. I can’t figure out how all these things coexist, though. If you’re in a wildlife refuge area to view wildlife and hike around, and other people are there to shoot at the wildlife, what’s the etiquette for getting along?
Steve and I walked in the Vernon State Wildlife Area on Wednesday. This was our fourth visit. We’ve seen so many different kinds of animals there: birds and frogs and turtles and fish and muskrats. I wanted to see how the place was changing with the season. We walked down the gravel trail alongside the railroad tracks and heard 3 shots. When we got to the other parking lot, we saw 4 pickup trucks with gun racks. One of them had a sticker that said, “P.E.T.A. – People Eating Tasty Animals”. Gun deer season was just over, I thought. We walked out on the dike and saw decoy ducks on the water in several different places. As we got nearer, people in camouflage gear appeared in the cattails. I had my binoculars and my camera. They had guns and a dog. Steve and I were talking in low voices, wondering to each other, actually, what the protocol was for this seeming conflict of interests. Were the hunters harboring ill will for us, thinking that we were maybe scaring away the ducks and geese? Were we harboring ill will for them, thinking that they are killing the wildlife we’ve come to enjoy? Were the water birds harboring ill will for all of us, wishing we’d just let them be? We nodded greetings. At one point, some birds flew over in formation while the hunters tooted away on their duck call devices, but apparently, they were too high up to shoot. If they were any lower, would they have shot anyway, while we were standing there on the path?? I just don’t know how this is suppose to work. Are we supposed to stay away during hunting season? It’s not posted that hikers can only be there on certain dates. We heard shots as we walked back to our car.
I’m still puzzled about this. I have heard a few more stories from folks I’ve met about deer hunting. People have great family memories about hunting traditions. I imagine my favorite postal employee out there in the field, waiting 8 hours to spot a deer, and I suppose it’s kind of like fishing. You get to sit quietly in nature and forget about business at the post office. No one bugs you for hours at a time. And if you see a deer, you aim and shoot. If you hit it, you get to be all physical and field dress it and carry it away. Sounds like a complete departure from stamping packages all day long. I appreciate that.
There’s a particular stark beauty in the late fall landscape. Trees are skeletal. Light is low and angled. Ice forms in geometric patterns. It’s rather post-modern feeling. It makes me moody. So does the hunting scene. In a way, it fits, though. I guess I’m coming to a kind of ambiguous acceptance of it. Survival, mortality, an uneasy coexistence with everything. In the summer, this same drama is played out, except it’s covered in fecundity and green light.
Still, the universe is a complicated tapestry, as Steve said last night – a magic carpet stretching in all directions forever. I look for a perch from which to see as much of it as I can.
Two years ago, when I first started blogging, I ran a series of posts every day in the month of December. This series was in lieu of an Advent calendar, which had been a big tradition of my family. Back then, I had only a handful of faithful blog followers, instead of more than 400. So, I intend to re-gift these entries. After all, I am in the resale business! (Check out Scholar & Poet Books – there’s a link in the side bar.) For my family and for Helen (God bless you!), these will be repeats. For the rest of you, I hope you enjoy opening your daily presents!
‘Tis A Season
When I was a kid, I always had an Advent calendar to count down the days from the first of December until Christmas Eve. I had the same tradition with my own kids. The secrets hidden behind each door were often Scripture verses. It was important to tell the story of Jesus’ birth and make sure my kids knew that was “the reason for the season”. There are other little treasures we could open each day, though. When my son was taking German in high school, they sold Advent calendars with chocolates in them. My father used to make us calendars out of magazine pictures and various old rotogravures with fortune cookie strips for the daily message. We made our own calendars for each other, too, with simple crayon symbols behind the cut out doors. The season has multiple images in my mind, and now I’m trying to figure out what it means to me at this point in my life.
I will always have respect for Jesus and the Christian story. They were supremely important in my life for many years. My spirituality was formed around them. I think it is good to examine and re-examine beliefs, though, and strive for genuine and authentic expressions of experience. My experience is expanding as I age, and I want to include more of those experiences in my belief system. I want to include respect for other cultures, other religions, other parts of the planet and the universe. I have a sister who is Sikh, a son who identifies with Buddhism and Native American spirit stories and a father who once taught science. There is a lot going on all over the world in this season. What do I want to acknowledge or celebrate?
My youngest daughter has always loved this season. She used to go to the local Hallmark store in the middle of the summer to look at the Christmas village set up there. What was that about? Sparkly, pretty, cozy, homey, yummy expectations of treats? Possibly. Peace, love, joy? Possibly. Emotions? Definitely. Why not focus on pleasurable human senses and emotions? Up in the northern hemisphere, we are spinning away from the sun and plunging into a cold, dark time. Light becomes more precious, warmth becomes holy, food is life itself. Why not celebrate that dependence? We are sustained by the sun and the producers of this planet that make food from its energy. Evergreen trees remind us of that. Gifts remind us that we receive from the producers; we are consumers. Gratitude is the attitude of the season. Giving is the action that sustains us.