“Where do you go when you need to think? What do you do when you need to restore yourself, to ready yourself to take on the coming week with energy and verve? How do you get your sense of humor back? How do you recharge your groove?”
Ah, WordPress. If you only knew.
For twenty years, I was living in a northwest suburb of Chicago, raising 4 children, and partnering my terminally ill husband. Needless to say, I needed a “Happy Place” to go to…frequently, slowly, meditatively. Luckily, there was a prairie preserve just one block away. That became my spiritual sanctuary and furthered my relationship with the Earth beyond my childhood infatuation to a more mature and deep passion. In this place, I breathed, I prayed, I cried, and I began to write poetry in alarming profusion. And when my husband died, I came here to grieve.I sold my home in Illinois and moved north to Wisconsin almost 5 years ago. I now work for a conservation foundation that has several natural prairie restoration projects in various stages of development. I find myself in Happy Places frequently, looking more closely at the community of life that reminds me on ever-deepening levels that I am alive, that all is well, and that happiness is always at hand.
In the Wisconsin woodlands, the force of Nature in Springtime is GROWTH!
Plants that have lain dormant for months have an incredible urge to surge and unfurl. You can see greening in a matter of hours, really. The wildflowers on the forest floor have a limited opportunity to pop up and take in the sunshine before the canopy leaves provide too much shade. Early May is the best time to see woodland wildflowers in bloom.
A wildflower is an inspirational force of nature. You may think they are delicate and fragile, and they are, being ephemerals. But they are also survivors. They are perennials uniquely adapted to their habitat. They do not require any tending, care, watering, pruning, pampering or husbandry to blaze up every year with the desire to GROW. I like to think of them as my ‘spirit flowers’. I’ve been a widow and single mother of 4 for 7 years; I am a woman with a fierce desire to grow and sustain my life and my kids’ in the most natural way I can. My kids are grown and living independently from me now, and we are each beautiful illustrations of the fragility and tenacity of life. Yes, we are WILDFLOWERS in many ways.
Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers and nurturers of life who recognize the force and the freedom of growth in themselves and in others!
Happy St. Patrick’s Day! I woke up with Irish on my mind – soda bread and potatoes and cabbage soup and immigrants. As a costumed historic interpreter at Old World Wisconsin, I told the story of Mary Hafford, an Irish immigrant, and worked in her house. She had been widowed in the year 1868 with 3 small children and lived as a renter in a small village near Watertown, WI. Mary Hafford worked away at her home laundry business and eventually achieved social and economic prominence in her little village. In 1885, she had a new house constructed on the property that she had bought. She never learned to read or write, but her children did. Her youngest daughter, Ellen, studied dressmaking, a skilled trade, and became a live-in dressmaker. Ellen was married in 1891, and her mother hosted a reception and dinner for 75 guests. Three months later, Mary Hafford died of dropsy. I imagine Ellen Hafford Thompson and wonder what stories she might have written about her life in the Little House where she lived. I have a burning question: what happened to her older sister, Ann, who is conspicuously absent from all records from the mid-1880s on? Did she die? If so, why isn’t she buried next to her father & mother? Did she go into a convent? Did she elope with a Lutheran? The mystery remains unsolved!
Mary Hafford’s family has died out; she had one grandson who went into the priesthood, and there her bloodline was cut off. My children have 2 Irish great-grandmothers, one on my side and one on their dad’s side. Marion Minto Keefe (possibly O’Keefe originally) was my grandmother. Mabelle Claire Mahanna was my husband’s grandmother. I used to wake them up on St. Paddy’s Day with “Top o’ the marnin’ to ya, dear!” at which they’d groan and ask me if I was going to talk in that fake accent all day. The groans subsided at the thought of the corned beef dinner I always made. I remind them now of their heritage via text message and think wistfully of the hint of green in their eyes — two daughters with brown eyes flecked with green, and my two middles, boy and girl, with blue-green-gray eyes. I hope that green will remain on the land and in the eyes of its people for many years. (For a beautiful reading of an Irish Blessing poem, by a real Irishman, visit my friend Jamie’s blog here.)
Do you remember when your baby teeth fell out? Do you have any memories of being without central incisors, lisping and whistling when you spoke, unable to bite into an apple or an ear of corn? How much do you remember of the physical changes associated with your passage through puberty?
Would you ever choose to re-live those changes? (I imagine in response a loud chorus of ‘Noooo!’ and laughter.)
Why do we find change so awkward and uncomfortable? Why do we imagine a state of perfection achieved and unchanged, and why is that stasis desired? Consider this: change is natural; metamorphoses are observed and documented in every species — birth, maturation, reproduction, aging, death, decay, absorption, and birth. All around us there is a process of movement, going from one thing to another, losing some properties and gaining others. This is Life. It is dynamic; it is not good or bad; it is. Often, however, we decide we like where we are. We want to stay put. It’s familiar. It’s comfortable. But we are, in fact, stuck, and it takes a great deal of energy to stay there, resisting the current of Life all around. We feel drained, exhausted, spent, sapped, worn out. We want to feel the flow of energy again, but in order to do that, we must make a change. Fear holds us back. This is a pivotal point of decision – we must choose Change to choose Life.
The Old Testament talks about having youth renewed like the eagles’, about mounting up with wings as eagles and being borne on the wings of an eagle. Golden eagles populated the Holy Land, and their lifespans were observable to the ancient poets. I have seen bald eagles in the wild on a few occasions now, but not before I was 45 years old. What do I know of an eagle’s life? I did a little research. Southwestern Bald Eagle Management told me “In their five year development to adulthood, bald eagles go through one of the most varied plumage changes of any North American bird. During its first four weeks of life, an eaglet’s fluffy white down changes to a gray wooly down. At about five weeks, brown and black feathers begin to grow. It becomes fully feathered at 10 weeks of age. In its first year, the mostly dark-colored juvenile can often be mistaken as a golden eagle. However, the bald eagle progressively changes until it reaches adult plumage at five years. Notice in the pictures how its dark eye lightens throughout its first four years of life until it becomes yellow. Also, see how its beak changes from gray-black to a vibrant yellow. It is believed that the darker, more mottled plumage of a young eagle serves as camouflage, while the white head and tail announce that it is of breeding age.”
Renewal is for the purpose of maturity. It is not about going back to a juvenile state. It is about soaring with the movement of Life toward the next place of energy. It is not about resuscitation; it is about resurrection. We shall all be changed.
My daughter recommended to me a book titled Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. The author is a medical doctor and a gerontologist. He tackles the real and practical implications of growing old and dying in this culture: nursing homes, DNR orders and advance directives, heroic life-saving surgeries, hospice and what it is to live with meaning and dignity. This book terrified me. I read it in small doses. It made me face denial and delusions head on. It was not a comfortable read, but I would recommend it to anyone. It puts Change in the forefront and invites you to get real. I would not have been able to read it 7 years ago, right after my husband died. I wasn’t ready. The book I read then that helped me to accept change was Pema Chodron’s book When Things Fall Apart (which I recently discovered is a phrase from Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming”).
Where are you in the flow of Life? Where are you stuck? What are you afraid of when you face Change? How have you embraced Maturity? How have you run from it? What images of Peace in harmony with Change are meaningful to you? These may be your symbols of Renewal. Here are a few of mine:
This article is featured in the blog magazine The ‘B’ Zine. Please click on the Zine link to view the rest of the Renewal volume and support my Into the Bardo & Beguine Again colleagues!
I have been invited by Terry of Through the Lens of My Life to participate in a Five Day Challenge. Each day, I will post a photo and write a story to go along with it. (I probably will interpret the term ‘story’ quite loosely. I do that.) I will also invite one person each day to take up this challenge on his/her blog.
Today’s offering is titled “Scarring and Healing”:
The cold air pricked her cheeks as she walked the soggy trail. The sting kept her alert in her solitude, her daydreams suppressed by the chill of Now. Her downcast eyes were wary, marking her footing lest she slip on an icy patch in her resolution to maintain a brisk pace. On either side of her, oaks and pines stretched darkly upward into a damp, gray sky. The leaf litter beneath her feet offered up the rich, earthy smell of decay. She breathed it in deeply and raised her head. At the fork in the path loomed a large, lichen-covered trunk. At eye level, the bark was stripped away and a curious zigzag was laid bare. Suddenly, her legs grew weak. She stood still, staring at the jagged gash. Tentatively, she raised her hand and pressed her fingers into the seam. The place felt warm to her touch. Slowly, she traced the serpentine line, caressing each inch with intent awareness. Her brows pinched together, and her nose stung. Her salty tears ate away the iciness of her cheeks. This living tree displayed the image of her memories, the shiny white scar down his breastbone, wider and redder in a few places where the staples had given way and the flesh had became infected, punctuated here and there with the small holes of needle entry. How often she had looked anxiously on those scars. How guilty she had felt when she at last laid her head on his chest again and noticed the swelling when she raised it precious minutes later. The last thing on earth that she wanted was to add to his pain. His quick laugh was enough to assure her that he wanted her closeness more than her worries. And with that memory, she recalled the tender touch, re-enacted it, and reverenced the miracle of healing in the patient example of the living pine. The tree stood tall bearing witness to its tale, and she moved on, alone, bearing hers.
— Next, I invite you to visit Edward Roads at My Two Sentences. Each of his posts is exactly that, two sentences, narrating an idea inspired by his photos. His genre makes my brain whir, filling in more detail to the story, and his vocabulary makes me get out my dictionary – which I appreciate! I reckon his two sentences amount to a story, so he’s already completed this challenge and will probably keep it up for at least five more days. (So, no pressure, Edward! 🙂 )
I have been invited by Terry of Through the Lens of My Life to participate in a Five Day Challenge. Each day, I will post a photo and write a story to go along with it. (I probably will interpret the term ‘story’ quite loosely. I do that.) I will also invite one person each day to take up this challenge on his/her blog. I’m excited to participate, as I have been eager to set aside time to indulge my creative side. It’s a spring awakening, of sorts, so thank you, Terry! Here’s my first offering:
Sometime during the night, a winged spirit must have visited my window. There are the traces of his presence and his flight, frozen against the pane. It’s as if he were caught peeking in at my dreams, and perhaps left a note to apologize for the intrusion. Dear Messenger, does your scrolling script bring word from that soul who lives in my memory and heart, the figure of my dreams, the love of my past youth? If so, then I thank you for this precious gift, gone with the rising warmth of morn. A brief delight, as was his kiss, a fluttering pulse. It is enough to tickle my imagination and leave a smile.
– Next, I invite you to visit Naomi Baltuck at Writing Between the Lines. She has already accomplished much more than this challenge requires, and as a professional storyteller and author, she may not have time to participate in this specifically. (You’re off the hook, friend! But you’ve been tagged for visits. 🙂 ) I love her posts…it’s like nestling into the cozy corner of a children’s library for Story Hour. Her photos and stories are like the picture books that you loved to discover as a kid: humorous, expertly illustrated, and with a great message to take away. Enjoy! And thanks for spending time here!
My mother revealed to me a nickname that she had secretly assigned me when I was a young teen. She thought of me as “The Waterstrider”. Ever seen those long-legged bugs in a still puddle who are able to stroll the surface without ever breaking the tension that keeps them above water? Here are a few:
My “Waterstrider” tendencies changed, my mother noted, after my sister and I were in a car accident and she was killed. I turned 17 only three days later, and began to ask the Really Big, Serious Questions about life. I began to search for Depth and Meaning, but mostly from only one perspective – Christianity. When I was 45, my husband died in bed beside me early one Saturday morning. My journey toward Depth was not over. I decided to look from a different angle. I needed a bigger perspective.
I discovered that there is so much more than I had ever noticed before. Depth goes in different directions: up and down, inward and outward…indefinitely. Maybe it was less overwhelming to be a Waterstrider, but it was also less genuine. In the depths of the sea, there is reflected the vastness of the heavens. In the solitude of a silent moment, there is the ageless Now. In the recognition of something we “know”, there is the awareness of Mystery that we will never comprehend. This might be what some people call “Wisdom” or “Maturity”. I tend to think of it as simple Truth. If you’re not afraid to go below the surface, you may discover the wonders of Depth. It feels different. It surrounds you, puts pressure on places that may not be used to bearing it. But you may discover a strength and resiliency you didn’t know you had…at least I did. Then that depth makes you feel buoyant and free…as if you were flying!
(Thanks, Word Press, for a great theme!)
January 7 – past and present
1984 – It’s my wedding day. The weather is chilly and foggy in Northern California. I am too excited to sleep late. I have a date with my fiance for a morning meeting. He comes to pick me up at my parents’ house. My grandmother is aghast that we are seeing each other before arriving at the church; it’s just not done. But we know what we want. We want to focus on each other, on the meaning the day has for us personally before being caught up in the ritual. We park the car under some oak trees in the foothills. We decide it’s too damp and cold to walk, so we sit in the car and talk. We are calm and happy. He drops me off at the house. The next time I see Jim, he is standing at the altar, grinning. I take his hand. I notice it’s cold and clammy, so unlike the warm bear paw I expect. I smile at him. He’s caught up in excitement. The wedding mass is a long event. We emerge from the church and see sunlight for the first time that day. It doesn’t last long. The reception in the Parish Hall is intimate and bustling. It’s dark when we leave. I get home and change. My mother takes care of the dress. The station wagon is packed with my belongings, gifts, and leftover bottles of champagne. We drive south to Pebble Beach. I’m hungry. I hope the restaurant at the inn is still open by the time we get there. We find we are able to get sandwiches at the bar. We retire to our room. I feel so incredibly grown up; in one day, I’ve suddenly matured. I’m married. I’m 21 years old.
The sun comes in the southeast window, and I begin to stir. As my mind brightens, I remember the day. Steve is sleeping beside me. I pull out the battered photo album from the box in the corner and settle back on the bed. Was it really cloudy that day? I flip through the pages in front of me, my mind turning over more leaves than my fingers. My phone beeps. My daughter is texting me to let me know she’s thinking of me today. Her baby face smiles at me from a photograph. She will be turning 30 in a few weeks. Steve begins to stir. I look at his face as his eyes open. “What are you doing here?” he asks. That’s a good question! “It’s a long story,” I laugh. But that doesn’t really answer the question. I am living. I am aware now of the present moment. As I look around, I see the beauty of this day, this year. The air is cold and dry. The trees outside are bare, the branches dusted with snow. I look down at my left hand. It is lined by swollen veins and wrinkles. There’s a brown spot just there. I have a ring on my index finger with a blue topaz heart set in it. No other rings. My fingers press Steve’s arm. “I am waking up. And you?” “I am Steve-ing.”
Yesterday, I lost the sun at 4 p.m. I arose this morning at 6:30 a.m. It is still dark. There is no snow on the ground, but the air hovers at the freezing point. I wish I were in New Mexico still, where the stars are so close. Steve read me a poem yesterday, and I’ve been trying to digest it ever since. There are so many heavy, rich ideas in it: angelic terror, love and death. And then there are sensual images I recognize immediately and viscerally, like this one: “…the night, when the wind full of outer space gnaws at our faces…” It made me think of exiting my tent in New Mexico, turning my face upward, and beholding the heavens. The translation I’m working with is by A. Poulin, Jr. It is quite long. Take it in doses. Meditate on parts that speak directly to you. Search for your own vibration in the Void.
Rainer Marie Rilke — The First Elegy from Duino Elegies:
And if I cried, who’d listen to me in those angelic
orders? Even if one of them suddenly held me
to his heart, I’d vanish in his overwhelming
presence. Because beauty’s nothing
but the start of terror we can hardly bear,
and we adore it because of the serene scorn
it could kill us with. Every angel’s terrifying.
So I control myself and choke back the lure
of my dark cry. Ah, who can we turn to,
then? Neither angels nor men,
and the animals already know by instinct
we’re not comfortably at home
in our translated world. Maybe what’s left
for us is some tree on a hillside we can look at
day after day, one of yesterday’s streets,
and the perverse affection of a habit
that liked us so much it never let go.
And the night, oh the night when the wind
full of outer space gnaws at our faces; that wished for,
gentle, deceptive one waiting painfully for the lonely
heart — she’d stay on for anyone. Is she easier on lovers?
But they use each other to hide their fate.
You still don’t understand? Throw the emptiness in
your arms out into that space we breathe; maybe birds
will feel the air thinning as they fly deeper into themselves.
Yes. Springs needed you. Many stars
waited for you to see them. A wave
that had broken long ago swelled toward you,
or when you walked by an open window, a violin
gave itself. All that was your charge.
But could you live up to it? Weren’t you always
distracted by hope, as if all this promised
you a lover? (Where would you have hidden her,
with all those strange and heavy thoughts
flowing in and out of you, often staying overnight?)
When longing overcomes you, sing about great lovers;
their famous passions still aren’t immortal enough.
You found that the deserted, those you almost envied,
could love you so much more than those you loved.
Begin again. Try out your impotent praise again;
think about the hero who lives on: even his fall
was only an excuse for another life, a final birth.
But exhausted nature draws all lovers back
into herself, as if there weren’t the energy
to create them twice. Have you remembered
Gaspara Stampa well enough? From that greater love’s
example, any girl deserted by her lover
can believe: “If only I could be like her!”
Shouldn’t our ancient suffering be more
fruitful by now? Isn’t it time our loving freed
us from the one we love and we, trembling, endured:
as the arrow endures the string, and in that gathering momentum
becomes more than itself. Because to stay is to be nowhere.
saints have listened: until some colossal
sound lifted them right off the ground; yet,
they listened so intently that, impossible
creatures, they kept on kneeling. Not that you could
endure the voice of God! But listen to the breathing,
the endless news growing out of silence,
rustling toward you from those who died young.
Whenever you entered a church in Rome or Naples,
didn’t their fate always softly speak to you?
Or an inscription raised itself to reach you,
like that tablet in Santa Maria Formosa recently.
What do they want from me? That I gently wipe away
the look of suffered injustice sometimes
hindering the pure motion of spirits a little.
It’s true, it’s strange not living on earth
anymore, not using customs you hardly learned,
not giving the meaning of a human future
to roses and other things that promise so much;
no longer being what you used to be
in hands that were always anxious,
throwing out even your own name like a broken toy.
It’s strange not to wish your wishes anymore. Strange
to see the old relationships now loosely fluttering
in space. And it’s hard being dead and straining
to make up for it until you can begin to feel
a trace of eternity. But the living are wrong
to make distinctions that are too absolute.
Angels (they say) often can’t tell whether
they move among the living or the dead.
The eternal torrent hurls all ages through
both realms forever and drowns out their voices in both.
At last, those who left too soon don’t need us anymore;
we’re weaned from the things of this earth as gently
as we outgrow our mother’s breast. But we, who need
such great mysteries, whose source of blessed progress
so often is our sadness — could we exist without them?
Is the story meaningless, how once during the lament for Linos,
the first daring music pierced the barren numbness,
and in that stunned space, suddenly abandoned
by an almost godlike youth, the Void first felt
that vibration which charms and comforts and helps us now?