Monthly Archiv: June, 2015
I am on a writing retreat this weekend. Originally it was a retreat with a friend, but it turned out to be a retreat for just me. (I wish her a good weekend of peace and love tinged with a small amount of appropriate sadness that she is not here.) With only one retreatant to consider, plans have evolved to high levels of flexibility. The place I am staying became available sooner at the last minute, so I started my retreat twelve hours early.
Besides full kitchen and private bath, my quarters come with access to a state of the art kayak and nearby river, accessible bike paths and a slew of bikes to choose from. Anything I could wish for is in walking distance. My picturesque room overlooks a neighbor’s black paper roof in reasonably good condition. Couches in my sitting room are clean and comfortable. I am expected to take out the paper recycling on garbage day and give a one time drink of 1/4 cup of water to a very unpromising bit of green sticks who claim to be an ailing orchid. Presumably I am to do my own dishes, although that wasn’t mentioned. Besides that, I am tasked to sit quietly, write, rest, and eat.
My inaugural retreat meal last night was red pepper humus, cherry tomatoes, extra old cheddar cheese, a fat slice of homemade bread, and some red wine. Preparation: one minute. Clean up: approximately 15 seconds. Perhaps the wine was slowing me down. First deep consideration: How can no one in my family like hummus? First deep conclusion: There should really be more meals like this.
In keeping with good retreat etiquette, I’ll be out of commission and away from the blog until Wednesday, July 1. By that point, half of you will be celebrating Canada Day, which incidentally is much more retreat like than the bombastic chest thumping of the American 4th of July. So here’s to the written word, beauty, truth, the yearning need to create, mental health, rest, re-charging, and Canada. With a nod to them all, I am on retreat.
Picture is upside down but candles are arranged to spell, “old.”
The holiday was national as applied to the nation of County Road 21, where my husband and I were again celebrating our shared birthday. The kids made the cake, to which the poor lighting does not do justice. My contribution to the cake was in the form of empathy band aids for all the emotionally disenfranchised during it’s making. Knowing only who hurt whose feelings, whose ideas got TOTALLY ignored, and that they didn’t like any of the frosting recipes so they made up their own, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the cake.
It was delicious, including the frosting. I should say that outright. Their joy in presenting was helpfully contagious. Unfortunately, I have a few issues with germs and food cleanliness. The decision to decorate the cake with fragments of potentially poisonous bits of chopped up rubber snake, cars, and other well used toys was a stretch for me. We didn’t have to guess the theme (which is good because I wouldn’t have figured it out). The birthday man and I were treated to a verbal tour of the cake with great pride and enthusiasm.
Look at the cake. Do you get it? We’ve got everything.
Look. See that brown thing? It’s actually a hat from one of our toys, but here it’s the poop. Get it? It’s a farm!
Don’t forget to show them the pee.
Yeah, see that? There was a trailing blob of yellow food coloring in one corner. That’s the pee. It is definitely not a farm without pee.
There was a car, people, fields. The cake was chocolate. Brown was the color chosen for the icing. Earthy tones all around. Coconut and walnuts for texture.
Doesn’t it look like the snake is actually crawling through the cake?
And did you see the sheep guts? That’s what the red is with all the lumps. Blood and guts.
Isn’t it great? We knew you’d like it.
It really was delicious. I removed the germ infested toys and poisonous rubber snake bits as soon as possible and shook my head at the comradery and pleasure they never tire of finding in all things uncouth. It reminded me of Father’s Day. After all the cards and sweet things, one child ran for his gift. He returned with a blindfold, a nasty concoction he’d made, and the sincere belief that would be fun for his father to drink his recipe and guess the ingredients. Behold the man.
photo by TheBrassGlass, compliments of morguefile.com
My head has been in knots usually reserved for hearts and stomachs. Every decision in front of me seems impossible to make. I went out for the evening with my husband unsure if I felt like going out or not. What to order at the restaurant was so difficult that I almost got up and walked out. After dinner we borrowed a canoe from a friend. Not because I wanted to canoe. More because I didn’t know anything else I wanted to do and the canoe had been offered. In fact as we drove to get it and as we loaded it on the car, I was pretty sure it was a stupid idea.
There were no apparitions on the river, or maybe there were. We watched cormorants. We passed over places where rocks lay inches below the surface and over depths far beyond what we could see. We did a little talking, but mostly we paddled. I drank the smell of the water, the feel of the wood in my hands, the movement of the river in currents here and there, the rocks of the islands. We saw an otter and came upon picnics and families. I liked especially as we rounded one island that the first sign I saw of human life was a woman’s sun hat. The shape of the island, the green of the trees and shrubs, more rocks, and then a broad brimmed hat with a woman underneath it. Even the unshapely older woman in a bikini standing with a cigarette (and music blaring much too loudly) in front of her tent helped. (I can’t explain this last one. Redemption is a mystery.)
I baptized my feet over the side of the canoe and felt that more of me than that was getting baptized. I knew in that moment that all the knots in my head would sort themselves out. The water was clear, like glass that evening, but I mean clear on the point that sooner or later everything would come together. Everything was going somewhere, even when I lost track of knowing it.
There are ripples on the surface of the water in places. Sometimes it’s because the water is shallow, other times it’s the wind, or a current coming off the bend of an island. Just underneath there are other currents, some pulling one way, some pulling the other. Way down deep are other currents still. Not as subject to the wind and weather, these are the heart of the river. Little riffs of things near the water’s surface invite the canoe to bash itself on the rocks or change to this or that direction. Invitations require response because their threat is real. Yet they are a tiny fraction of a fraction of the driving force of water that is the powerful flow of the river.
Change is constant in the river; so is stability. I left the river with the same set of questions that I brought to it, but different than I came.
I need you to do the bees by yourself today, I told Boy one. My list is already longer than I can manage and besides I’m grumpy. You’ll be happier out there without me.
Famous last words.
Boy one was back in a few minutes. An entire hive had been ripped apart. The bees were still hanging around but the top honey super (almost ready for human consumption and looking like our best producing hive) was ruined. What wasn’t scraped and eaten was filled with bugs.
There was a third toppled section not pictured here.
The amazing part was that inside the toppled mess, the bees were still at it. Despite a night of pounding rain, two boxes of bees were hard at work. We were back and forth as to what had happened. We looked for breaks in the fence, called around for advice, read our book, and eventually confirmed that our situation met all the criteria for a bear. We also learned that there have been sightings of a bear in our area.
The girls hanging in there with us until we could get them upright in familiar hive space.
It took us a while to carefully put everybody back together and clean up the mess. We were finished with the work and standing to catch our breath (and talk about electric fence devoted to the hives) when we looked over at another hive.
Wow! I said. That was the hive we were worried about. Look at all those bees. That’s incredible.
So incredible that I took a picture.
Look at the sky! we all said. The picture doesn’t do it justice but hundreds of feet high and wide looked like fireworks of bees, everywhere around us, then above us.
We realized it wasn’t the kind of incredible we were aiming for (the bees were swarming) but it was such an incredible view of nature’s genius that it felt like a privilege to see it. Four of us were there at that point. Girl two left shortly after the fireworks. She was unimpressed by what we’d read about bees being gentle when they swarm. They were thick in the air, and she was out of there, thanks.
After a few minutes, they began to gather on a cedar try about twenty feet away. It took them a good five minutes to conglomerate themselves. Being there meant we could recapture the swarm. Boy one was the man of the hour and directed the recovery of our bees. (Since we spend one to two hours at the hive per week, the fact that they swarmed when we were there is especially fortunate.)
With the branch cut, Boy one carried the swarm to an open box. Luckily, we had an extra hive in the garage. We set it up, quickly read up on how to and watched the next unbelievable thing.
Just like the book said they would, a few of them figured out where the hive was and let everybody know about it. Then it was a river of bees marching across the sheet and into the hive for at least ten or fifteen minutes.
Hopes and prayers for bee mentor to materialize continue. So far, so good on no return from the bear.
Boy two’s love affair with the bike continues. “You don’t really see anything from a car,” he says. “On your bike you see everything. All kinds of stuff you never noticed before.” The family was headed to a country park about ten minutes away by car. Boy two invited me to bike there with him instead. He chattered while we biked. Pointed out things here and there, or told me things he’d seen other times on his bike, most of it followed by further praise of the glory of bikes. The chatter alone was worth the price of admission, but here are some of the things we would have missed from the car.
I wish I knew what these flowers were called, I said.
Baby shoes, he said. They should be called baby shoes. Don’t you just think of baby shoes when you look at them? I’m calling them baby shoes. That’s exactly what they look like.
And then later . . .
Look, Mom! More baby shoes.
Like every boy worth his salt, Boy two gazed into the water convinced he saw signs of living things. Big, unknown, and wild things in shadows and ripples. If we hadn’t been on a mission to show a sibling his increased manly biking speed, I might have lost him here gazing at the creek for the afternoon. (Gazing would have been ten minutes. After that he would have started getting wet.)
We really could not believe it when we came upon this baby skunk. The mother was nowhere in sight, so we felt free to put our bikes down and watch for a little while. He/she was exploring a ditch along a well cared for lawn. After a bit little one ambled back into the metal drainage pipe we assumed was also home.
photo compliments of mxruben @ morguefile.com
Once upon a time I was very disciplined about my internet use and determined to stay that way. All that connectivity can be pretty disconnecting. What is perfectly clear outside of the fray is obliterated by the noise within it.
Except that’s not what it says when it’s calling your name. When it’s whispering: Library! Post office! Your place of belonging! Your chance! (At least that’s what it murmurs to me.)
A friend of mine leaves her computer at work, schedules on-line times, and stays off-line for much of the day. That she is following the plan I used to have grates. I console myself with the fact she owns a phone. She might not write from it, but surely, she is trapped by the need to check? Again and again? I should not find comfort in imagining this to be true.
For weeks and weeks, and possibly a few weeks before that, I have been planning to make a plan. Libraries are wonderful. They exist with closing hours. Mail service faster and cheaper than the pony express is great. But a breathless check every hour or so to see if any more ponies are standing at the gate takes away from the sacredness of here and now. There’s plenty of water and grass in the pasture; their needs are not urgent. Brushing and re-brushing old ponies when the pony I’m waiting for fails to appear might not make the pony come faster. (This is a theory I’m considering. Superstition dies hard.)
The thought of planning to make a plan feels good. I know because of all these weeks riding the waves of good feelings. Actually making a plan does not feel good, it feels alarming. It feels like I’ve gotten involved with a bad idea. I have to picture my friend obsessing on her phone in the middle of the night in order to calm down.
Long term commitment is too intimidating. While waiting for the strength to enact accountable reform, I’ve been experimenting here and there. Used pen and paper. Unplugged the internet connection from the wall. Gone places to write that don’t have internet.
I relay the following results slowly because the implications agitate me.
I. really. really. like. how. those. spaces. feel. How the work goes. I. even. like. me. afterwards.
The happiness I feel away from the internet does not seem to diminish the panic I feel about expanding the experiment this week. I have limited the exercise to five days, two and a half of which I’m committed to communal activities all day long and therefore unable to access my computer anyway. It’s not a bold plan; it’s what I can manage. Five days. One hour of internet per day, used in no more than two blocks. Or three. The end. After that I go back to whatever lopsided unbalanced illogical rhythm I want. Plus there is steak, cake, and asparagus. By Tuesday, the list may have expanded to include chocolate covered almonds and a shrimp ring. Illicit drugs have never appealed. By Thursday, that may have changed.
photo and fly compliments of morguefile. None of ours would sign a photo release.
Boy one is taller than the rest of us and hoping to grow more. Looming manhood seems so inevitable, unstoppable and near that I forget how much he is still a boy. The moments he reminds me are treasures. His boyhood feels like a work of art, an exquisite castle carved in sand with the waves about to reach shore.
As noted before, this son was born with a serious approach to life. All realizations are immense. All perceptions of reality are carried with the weight of unquestionable truth. All thoughts, developing or otherwise, are generously shared. The boy who doesn’t joke had this to say last week.
Did I tell you what I have Girl one doing to help me with chores these days? he asked. Well, I think it’s really helping, he said. It’s helping Girl one, but I think it’s helping Misty too. Girl one is reading to her. Every night. She brings a book out to the barn, sits on the rail and reads. Misty loves it. I mean, I don’t think she understands the story, but she hears Girl one’s voice. She feels loved.
There was the smallest question in his voice. A tiny part of him not 100% sure but what the pony might understand at least a little of the story.
The waves are rolling in to cover up the castles but they’re not here yet. He’s taught himself to juggle. Eggs, he confessed are calling his name. How many might he have and where could he practice?
Girl two invited me to play hangman but there was a twist, invented she explained by Girl one who had decided that hangman made no sense. How would you hang a person one body part at a time? she said when I asked. I’d never considered the question but her solution was delightful. Do yourself a favor and try this version of hangman sometime this weekend.
- Get a pencil, and eraser and a pen (pen is optional)
- Use only a pencil to draw a full body stick figure hanging from the gallows
- Use pen to draw a shark with open mouth and teeth below the body.
- Choose word or phrase and begin game.
- For every missed letter, erase one body part from the stick figure. Redraw the body part inside the mouth of the shark (preferably with pen for extra drama). Losing players may watch themselves be eaten bite by delicious bite.
The only thing the flies missed seeing was the lawn. Boy two mowed for me. Walking by the next day I saw patches missed all over the place. He doesn’t drink. What had he been thinking? I looked again. All thirty or so unmowed intermittent grass patches were full of daisies. My artist hadn’t missed them, he had seen them!
Photo by jppi, compliments of morguefile.com
Sunday around noon we looked out the window. Locust tree seeds were flying. For more than half an hour they literally filled the air, seeds floating like snowflakes everywhere you looked. I thought of the massive locust at the corner of the bee yard. Myself, I would have been depressed. Tempted to a little melancholy. My year’s work, floating off so quickly and all to where? The point was planting a tree. But what were the chances? It’s not like the wind had a plan with all those drifting, wafting little bits of possibility it was throwing around like confetti.
Later I needed fresh air and alone time. My Adirondack chairs aren’t here yet so I got help to carry the worn blue recliner from the house out to the grass underneath the red maple. I brought my notebook and some books. Girl two saw and took off running. I was reaching for my book when she appeared, her own book in hand, climbing up over the arm of the chair.
What are you doing? I asked.
Snuggling, she said grinning, confident she was pleasing me.
I came out here to read, I said.
Me too, she said. So far I’m here. She pointed to a spot on the page of her book. Would you like to read to me?
I took a deep breath and lied. Of course, I said.
We read and laughed until the lie was true.
There is a place inside me, I said by way of moving on to parting, that is just for you. It is a very happy part of me because it is a space belonging to and completely filled by loving you.
She did not pause to picture the place unless she pictured it very quickly.
How much of you is it? she asked.
That’s a tricky question, I said giving myself time to do the math (four kids, my husband, everything else I care about…).
Is my space half? she wanted to know.
No, I said. I watched her face fall and something in me was called forth. No it isn’t half. Your space is bigger than the moon.
That’s not possible, she said trying to hide her delight. That’s bigger than you are.
Ah, but love doesn’t work that way. It’s magical. Love is bigger than we are. Much, much bigger than we are. The spaces for it have to be extremely big to fit it in.
After that she left and I didn’t feel sad for the tree anymore. I wondered where I could buy wizard suits for the children. I feel them sometimes, intentionally or inadvertently, siphoning blood from my veins, asking to share my tiniest spaces. For everybody’s sake, there are times to guard the spaces. There are also times to let them in. To let them wave their enchanted wands. The ones that makes us so much better than we started out to be.
Christ and the Pool of Bethesda, by Bartolome Esteban Murillo. 1670. Public domain via wikiart.org
There is a story in the Bible about a man lying by a pool with healing powers and people everywhere. Jesus asks him what he’s doing (the healing powers are in the water, not at the side of the pool). The man is too disabled to get through by himself. He says he doesn’t have any friends to help him. They talk. Jesus heals him.
In, “Jesus, A Pilgrimage,” James Martin gives examples of learning from familiar stories by imagining them. Reading this book is responsible for ruining the previously happy healing story above for me. In the court of divine justice, I now want to be the sick man’s lawyer.
Had he asked for help to get to the pool a hundred times? A thousand? I see him asking anybody who walks by. For years. After a while he gets discerning. (Rejection burns a lot of energy. He doesn’t know how many more years he’ll be sitting there.) He asks people who seem wise, compassionate, strong. After thirty-eight years, I forgive him if he isn’t paying attention that day. I don’t think it says a thing about laziness, passivity, or lack of interest in healing. If there’s a secret formula where he got it wrong by trying for so long and the actual trick was just sitting staring at his feet, then he and I together will blow up the court, but I don’t think that’s it.
In grade five, I moved to a shiny new far away school. Old and sophisticated, we changed classes many times a day. I felt big until I tried to sit down. I looked for friendly girls, smart girls, interesting girls, even lonely girls. Day after day, class after class, the empty seat beside every single one of them was saved.
I attempted to get to the friendship pool until I realized that not asking was better than being told no. This caused my mother distress at parent teacher conferences that year. My teacher and my mother helped me get to the pool.
The imagination ride wasn’t done with me yet. My mind leapt to the story of the woman who brings expensive perfume to pour on Jesus’ feet. The story says she didn’t have a very beautiful life. But she gives a beautiful thing. She doesn’t seem to need a lawyer. I shake my head watching her. She is giving from what she hardly has. Possibly giving the very thing she herself craves.
About the pool man, God doesn’t cringe in panic at my questions. Or start searching through his bag for lightning bolts to shut me up. I tirade. He listens. I tirade until I’m tired. Then he looks at me and smiles. I love you, is all he says.
I don’t ask him how this figures as a defense of his methods. I start to see things differently. How the man didn’t wait for 38 years because he did something wrong. It really wasn’t his fault that no one helped him. There was nothing he had or hadn’t done to make that particular day the day that Jesus healed him. I imagine him there, unhealed for 38 years, but loved and remembered every 13870 days of it.
A question wriggles, determined like an earthworm, through my mind.What if those days weren’t useless? What if like the perfume lady, he too gave of what he had so little? Can we prove he didn’t watch from where he sat, day after day, and call people aside to let another to the water’s edge?
Comfort. Hope. Mercy. Peace. Acceptance. Reassurance. Companionship. Sitting by the pool, might we not also give (with sheer determination and then joy, abandon) from what we hardly have?
photo compliments of morguefile.com
If you have time for a longer read this weekend, could use a smile, and aren’t offended by a few intermittent outbursts of strong language, I highly recommend the following article by Harrison Scott Key, entitled, “My Dad Tried to Kill Me With an Alligator.”
Sam and Andrew, this is not to be missed.