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Archive for August, 2011

Trust Your Vibes

As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live.   Goethe

Lit up by the morning light, she stood there staring at me yesterday, a delicate long-necked silhouette ahead on the trail.  Her ears perked up, her head twisted toward me as I approached, but she didn’t move.  I, too, stopped, and the two of us looked at each other for what seemed like a very long time, long enough for me to smell the balsam and notice the breeze and a crow chattering in a nearby tree.  Three mornings in a row, I’d seen her, or one of her tribe, on this, my favorite trail.  And she wasn’t the only deer I’d met up with in the past few days.  Sunday, as I scampered down through our backyard to the compost pile, I heard a snort, a gasp of startled breath as two deer looked up, then leapt away into the marsh.  And later that day, on the road to Big Bay, a baby, a fawn still-spotted and skinny-legged, had run across the road in front of us as we stopped the car to admire it.

I decided there might be a message for me in all these deer encounters, so after I returned home from my hike, I hauled out my deck of Steven Farmer’s Power Animal Oracle Cards and looked up “deer”.  “Trust Your Instincts,” the card said.  Then, I read further in the accompanying guidebook.  “Close your eyes, breathe deeply and easily, clear your mind, and you’ll know what to do to find your way through.”

One of my friends is in the midst of making a decision about her career and has asked us, a group of her friends, for any wisdom we can muster as she gets clear.  I was surprised by me response to her – not as much by my words, but by the confidence in which I spoke.  “You already know what you want,” I said.  “Deep inside of you.  You’re just clearing away the mind-clutter, the muddle, so you can hear what it is you want to do.”  I believe that.  I believe that deep inside of us we know.  We know what feels good.  We know what doesn’t feel good.  We know what brings us most alive.  We know danger.  And we know how to step out of its path.

We know the next step.  And the next.

I love the gift of the deer as guide this week.  Deer so beautifully model for us a deep abiding trust in our own instincts.  A deer doesn’t put her power in the hands of outside forces, in a government or a work system or a relationship that is bound sooner or later to disappoint.  Instead, she goes within, connects deeply with her senses, with the sight of a girl on the trail and the smell of balsam and the touch of the wind.  She’s grounded and from this grounded plugged-in place, she can discern.  Is this girl in the funny headband and flip-flops a danger?  Her ears perk up.  Her eyes become keen.  And, it is her sixth sense that kicks in.  Probably this girl – this woman – is okay, a fellow lover of late August and the morning light and this particular path.

So there it is, deer-wisdom for a friend weighing a career move, for four classes of yoga at Joy Center this week, deer-wisdom for all of us as the fullness of summer begins its tip into colder nights and shorter days and we sense a new beginning on the horizon – deer-wisdom, a gentle reminder that if we settle in, feel the ground beneath our feet and remember to breathe, we’ll know what it is we want; we’ll know what to do next.

If it’s not fun; why do it?!?

We arrived at the top at noon just as the thunder clouds rolled in

Cam and Helen on top of Mt. Democrat

If it’s not fun, why do it?!?  from a Bliss card

It wasn’t an easy climb.  Our son Peter had told us that before we started.  “No fourteener is easy, Mom.”  We were in Boulder visiting our son and daughter-in-law this past weekend, and we decided that it would be fun to drive up into the mountains and hike one of those glorious over-fourteen-thousand-feet-high peaks that jut up into the Colorado skyline.  Pete and his wife, Shelly, chose one for us, one with a shorter distance to the top — just in case those afternoon thunderstorms rolled in.

And now on the way down, I concurred with Pete.  No fourteener is easy.  From the trailhead, gazing up into the morning sun, it had looked like a piece of cake, a pointy perfect mountain-shaped piece of cake.  In fact, I had been so bold as to say to Pete and Shel that perhaps we could skidaddle our way over to that second peak and conquer two fourteeners in one day.  They had laughed, a knowing something I didn’t know kind of laugh.

I lost my bravado two minutes into the climb.  At the trailhead, we were already breathing hard into the thin air of 12,000 feet and my skidaddly toes were nowhere to be found.  Besides, shortly into the venture, the river path of packed mud and pebbles with its wildflower border, transformed itself into a steep often loose rocky mass of boulder after boulder, barely a trail at all.  It had taken hours of huffing and puffing to will our way up to that summit.  And, as we started our descent, we were not a cohesive group.  Shelly, in her floppy hat and fuchsia sweatshirt, had seemed to fly up that mountain, and now was flying back down ahead of us.  And Cam and Pete were behind me, on the top still, fortifying themselves with nourishment before the journey downward.

So here I was alone, just after noon, with the dark clouds, billowy and ominous-looking, blowing in, just minutes into my downhill journey.  I was placing one foot in front of the other on loose boulders, approaching the scary part the trail, the spot I where I had freaked out on the way up, looking down at the knife-edge where the world dropped off on both sides, when the first clap of thunder slapped me in the face.  Here I was alone, facing two of my biggies, a fear of heights and a fear of being struck down dead by lightning.  And I have to say that my second fear seemed justified. This whole adventure, that in this moment I was thinking was really stupid on our part, was above tree-line, and we, the four of us and the other stupid people who were climbing up and down this mountain, were rods for this approaching lightning.

It was then in my moment of panic that I remembered another time recently that I had felt the same way, this sick-to-my-stomach terror.  It was a month ago, as we bumbled our way through the French countryside in our motorhome during our week at the Tour de France. I was navigating, had found us a shortcut, a road that looked great on the map, winding its yellow line in the direction we wanted to go.  “Let’s take the one that’s yellow on the map.  It’s a shortcut,” I had said to Cam.  And Cam, trusting my skills of navigation, amiably turned our home-on-wheels onto the Road-from-Hell.  It wasn’t a yellow line at all.  And it certainly was no shortcut.  It was barely even a road, with its one and a half lanes and its lack of guardrails and its oncoming traffic and its steep mountain drop-off on the passenger side.  I moaned as Cam drove.  I shook at my core.  I looked straight down at certain death.  For twenty minutes, until Cam somehow got us off my yellow-lined horror, I was petrified.  And, even during that primal terror, I knew it, I said it out loud, that I didn’t want to die scared.

So, as the thunder continued to rumble, then crack, as I found my way over the knife’s edge, I said to myself, “This is my chance for a do-over.  If I’m going to be struck down by a bolt of lightning today, I’m going to die happy.”  I started saying it through the terror of the black cloud hanging over my head.  “Fun is fundamental fun is fundamental fun is fundamental,” I said it over and over again.  And I started believing it.  I started getting excited about the thought of a do-over. I started breathing deeper.  I started feeling lighter in my feet.  I found my scrambling legs, the ones I used as a kid on the rocks in Maine.  I began passing people.  The little mammals that I think were picas squeaked at me from under the boulders.  I noticed a bird, a sweet warbler-looking bird, who landed on a rock nearby.  I began to smile, saying hello to people.  Shelly, the little spec of fuchsia in the distance began to take human form.  I was catching up with her and behind me I heard the voices that carried through the thundery air; Pete and Cam, they, too, were making their way down.  And the rain, hail actually, didn’t start until the parking lot and our car were in sight. I pulled out my raincoat.  How smart of me, I thought, to carry a raincoat.  And the asters, bright purple, and the Indian paintbrush, a brilliant red, looked even better in the dark wet of a thunderstorm afternoon.  And although there was lightning – Pete and Cam saw it flash before them, I was low enough by that time that I didn’t even notice.  And when I got back to the car, still safe in my body home, I could honestly say, I could honestly say that I was having fun, that I was really having fun.

Well-Being Abounds

You’re doing extremely well.  The Well-Being you seek is flowing to you.  Relax and enjoy the unfolding. Abraham-Hicks

She came bounding down the mountain trail toward us, this medium sized fluffy-haired Husky-like dog, as we started our trek up Mt. Democrat.  She was huffing a bit, but seemed happy enough, brushing against us on her way back to the parking lot.  And we figured her people must be scrambling somewhere behind her.

This past Friday, Cam and I flew to Denver for a weekend visit with our son and daughter-in-law who live in Boulder.  And now it was Sunday morning, the sun just rising over the mountains, as the four of us started the trek up this “Fourteener” twenty or so miles past Breckenridge.  We saw other dogs on the trail, too.  There was the long-bodied dog with the short legs and the red booties, the small dog who was carried over the tough spots, and the black lab with the graying muzzle.  We saw the black lab a few times.  Her person-companion was a young woman who carried a backpack filled with water and doggy snacks.  As I rested on a boulder halfway up the mountain, the two of them paused near me for a drink of water, the young woman offering encouragement to her canine friend.  Then they continued their steady climb before I caught my breath and I didn’t see them again for a few hours, until I was clawing my way up to the summit over the piles of rocks that didn’t even seem like a trail anymore.  And there they were, dog and young woman, coming toward me from over the rise, on their way back down.  “Your dog made it!” I huffed and puffed.  “She’s a pro,” the woman told me.  “And she’s eleven years old!”  They both seemed like pros as they hopped from rock to rock, and they seemed like good friends.

All four of us family members made it to the top, too, and back down again, returning to the parking lot in the mid-afternoon as the clouds and thunder and rain rolled in.  And when we approached our car, we noticed the young woman and her gray-muzzled friend standing by an SUV parked right next to our rental car.  And we noticed something else, too.  There, lying on the now wet ground, by the SUV driver’s door, was our first dog friend, the female fluffy-haired husky.  “Do you know whose dog she is?” the young woman asked us.  We told her how we’d met the husky earlier, assuming that she would be reunited with her people.  Then, another couple, who just happened to raise huskies, came over and chimed in.  “We camped here last night,” the woman said.  “And the dog’s been here at least twenty-four hours.”  Meanwhile the husky – she just lay still, taking it all in.  The couple brought her a bowl of food, and our fluffy-furred friend just turned her head until her mouth connected with the food, and ate it all up. I brought her some bread.  We all told her what a good girl she was.  The old lab who was now sitting in her seat in the back of the SUV looked on.  The camper couple told the young woman about a nearby husky rescue center and they exchanged phone numbers.  Then the young woman said that she worked in nearby Alma at the base of these mountains, knew everyone in town, would spread the word, all the way from here to Breckenridge, about a sweet fluffy-haired dog. And if no one claimed her, the young woman said, she and her boyfriend would take her in; they were looking for another dog.  We all praised the dog.  We all praised the young woman.  As the young woman lifted the dog into the back of her SUV, we cheered for them all, lifted by all this good-heartedness.

It was only later, as we bumped our way down the dirt road in our rental, that we reflected on it all, how the husky had known somehow to plop herself down beside this SUV, in a parking lot full of SUVs, that she had known somehow that this particular woman was a dog lover.  We marveled at how she had accepted our attention, the food, the “good dogs”, even the lift into the car with a wag of her tail and a sweetness in her eyes.  She had not offered a bit of resistance.  And we marveled at how this young woman was a cooperative component in this dog’s positive manifestation.  We marveled at how the young woman told us she almost wasn’t able to climb this mountain today because the ladder to her loft had fallen over and her boyfriend was at work and if she hadn’t found her rope-climbing gear beside her bed, she’d still be stuck on the second floor.  We marveled at how good it had felt to watch them drive away, the young woman, her beloved black lab friend, and the dog we now called, Angel, at how good it had felt to be lifted to the vibration of a dog who had offered no resistance to the Well-Being that was being showered upon her.


Dream Big

It’s time to dream really big and really free  . . .   Robert Brezsny

“What’s most adventurous and exciting for you?”  Robert Brezsny poses this question in this week’s horoscope.  “I urge you to fully indulge in those flights of fancy,” he proceeds to nudge at us.

A few years ago, I signed up for a trapeze workshop through Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York.  I really didn’t know much about trapeze.  I had gone to the circus once as a kid, when I was four, on a hot steaming summer afternoon.  I remember that I wore a purple dress.  I remember that I spilled soda all over it.  And, I remember the lion, how it roared loud and angry, and the tent, the way it billowed when the thunderstorm blew in and that my mother was afraid that it would all fall down on top of us.  However, I don’t remember the men and women who flew through the air with the greatest of ease.  They must have been drowned out, at least in my mind, by the storm’s thunder and the lion’s roar.

But this workshop seemed tame to me, friendly and inviting, more purr than roar.  After all, it was Omega, summer camp for grown-ups, the same place where I had attended many a yoga and writing workshop, where the Oms sail through the air and the gardens are organic and the bookstore is filled with the music of Krishna Das.  And Sam Keen, the philosopher who wrote, Fire in the Belly, and was well into his sixties, had participated in this experience for years.  It was the description that had initially drew me in, “For those who want to set their spirit free . . . for those who want to fly . . .” Who doesn’t want to fly?!?  And then it was the attention that I received that kept me going.  “I’ve signed up for trapeze school,” I’d tell my friends, my yoga students, anyone who would listen.  “Awesome!” they’d say.  “Wow, you’re brave!” they’d exclaim.  “You’re crazy!” some of them would cry.

Crazy or not, I wasn’t going to back out now that I’d told my whole world, so off I went, in the heat of July, to Rhinebeck, to summer camp, to the circus for a week.  And it was like the circus.  As other workshops gathered in the cottages and meeting centers, as the gospel singers belted out their tunes and the writers wrote their essays and poems, as the painters painted and the yogis breathed in yoga, we met in the field, all twenty of us.  Our instructors were real circus people, trapeze artists who had sailed through the air all over the world.  And it wasn’t a purr afterall.  Our set-up, the one I presumed would be of junior size, a playground for beginners, was real, the real deal.  I had to muster up my lion’s courage.  On day one, we were already climbing up the ladder, many many many feet up into the air, with death below us if we slipped and fell.  I was petrified and I was a rookie.  Most of these people had been flying for years.  That’s what they called it.  Flying.  And no one wanted to hear my whimpering, my moaning.  No one was going to pity me because my legs were shaking when I stood on that platform with the ground far far below me, and my body not caring that I had a harness around my waist, that there was a net; no one was going to let me off the hook when I could barely let go of the bar I was clutching in a deathgrip to grab the trapeze that my circus helper, the one who was standing behind me, had scooped in for me to hold.  But grab it I did, and lean forward I did.  Again and again, many times a day.  And when the instructor from way down on the ground, just like they do in the Big Top, would holler “Hep”, I would hop out.  And every time, every single time, the terror transformed itself into an exhilarating whoop of unbridled freedom.  To fly out over the sky, to swing through the air on a summer’s day — there is nothing like it.

And on the evening of the third day, with the two hundred or so Omega guests and people from the nearby town set up in chairs on that field, with the lights blazing on our circus set-up, and the music, not the gospel singing or the Krishna Das chants, but real circus music bouncing through the air, we became an act, a circus act in a real circus.  And when it was my turn, me, who had whimpered and moaned and shook for three days, climbed up that ladder with a lion’s confidence, with fire in my belly, and when I looked out at the crowd, the crowd I really couldn’t see because of all the lights, I can’t say that I didn’t clutch the bar with my left hand, but with my right, I reached up and waved, a circus Big Top performer’s wave.  And I leaned forward, sticking my solar plexus out in a way that I hadn’t before, and I almost heard my inner roar as I hopped out into that circus air, into the lights and the breeze and all those hushed voices, and, just on cue, I lifted my knees up, swung my feet over the bar, released my hands, swung back, and just like they do in the circuses that I never before had watched, I caught my catcher’s hands, or he caught me, I can’t remember, and it doesn’t matter, because I was flying, flying high.

And afterwards, while the rest of the campus slept, while the singers and the writers and the yogis dreamed their dreams, we celebrated.  We laughed and reminisced and even though I don’t drink champagne, I felt drunk with it all.

So what’s most adventurous and exciting for you?  What are your big dreams?

I don’t know if I want to climb up that ladder and swing through the air again.  I don’t think I want to run off and join the circus.  But I do know that a stage and spot lights and a crowd light me up.  I know that flying is fun.  I know that climbing my way up a ladder out of fear and into exhilaration, nothing feels better than that.  I know that I’m ready for the Big Top.








How do you keep things new?

Creation leans forward with eagerness and passion.  Abraham-Hicks

I wrote a whole essay in my head this morning, a blog that felt fresh and alive and ready for me to press, “publish”.  I did this while hiking on my favorite Ishpeming two-track through the hardwoods and pines, past a farm and a marsh.  I was sure it would stick with me, this head-essay, flow through my afternoon pen out onto the page, but, alas, it’s lost somewhere on that bumpy dirt road, lost somewhere in an out-breath, perhaps when I was gazing up at two pileated woodpeckers, one below the other, as they tapped their heads against the top of a dead spruce, their red crowns ablaze with the morning sun behind them.

My morning essay, the one that was going to be about keeping things new, is lost in the past, and this is a new moment, right here at my computer beside the window and the breeze and the clouds tumbling by.  How do we keep things new?  We can’t haul out a morning’s ideas and think that they will be fresh and tasty in the afternoon light.

My father used to haul lobstertraps.  It was his passion, to head out onto the sea after work on summer evenings and early on Saturday mornings.   And often, we kids would climb into the big red boat with him.  I loved these boatrides.  Sometimes, I straddled the bow, letting my feet dangle into the splash of the sea, and sometimes I sat on a seat and closed my eyes and felt the wind and the water and the salt lick my face.  These adventures were both familiar – we often followed the same route – and always different.  Sometimes, as we dipped our hands into the water and grabbed for a wooden buoy, we would discover a tiny lumpfish stuck to its stem.  Other times, if we were very lucky, we might spy a seal bobbing in the water nearby.  And we never knew what we would discover when my father pulled up one of his slatted traps.  Would there be a lobster flapping its tail?  Would there be crabs, a tiny eel, or a dreaded scalpon staring at us with its horned head?  We squealed with the excitement of it all.  It was always fresh and new and unexpected.

It is never the same on my morning walks either.  Although I follow a familiar path, I am always surprised by something – a sudden change in weather, a rabbit racing across the trail, the screech of a hawk.  Yesterday, I ate my first blackberry of the season.  Today I was dazzled by the fuchsia loosestrife dancing with the goldenrod and yarrow.

How do we keep things new?  How do we allow ourselves to be dazzled?  Sometimes, we’re called to uproot ourselves and take a different path.  But often, it is in the familiar, in the yoga class we’ve been taking for years, the same neighborhood walk, the creative practice that has been ours for a lifetime, that we are dazzled, simply by being present.  How do we keep things new?  By grabbing at this moment’s buoy and hauling in its gifts, always new and fresh and tasty when we are present in the present.

Through the sea-waves

Don’t be dismayed at goodbyes, a farewell is necessary before you can meet again and meeting again, after moments or lifetimes, is certain for those who are friends.  Richard Bach

I love it, how a story comes back to you when you are busy cleaning out a closet:

My brother and I stood on the Wyman’s wharf at high tide in Fish House Cove.  The day was crystal clear and the breeze was off the shore.  Our mother had told us that the turning tide and the blowing-things-out-to-sea winds were perfect for the launching of our plan.  We had worked hard at the wording.  I was ten that summer after fourth grade and my brother, who we called Kippy, was almost eight.  On a piece of our father’s fancy typewriter paper, I wrote a short note saying who we were and including both our summer address at the cottage and our winter address in Bath.  Our mother supplied the vehicle, an empty bottle for Prell and a plastic bag, and, just like we had read about in adventure books, we rolled our note up in a tight little package, wrapped it in plastic, then stuffed it into the bottle that had once held our emerald green shampoo.  And then there was the moment, when we stood at the very edge of the wharf and tossed that bottle into the cove, letting that breeze carry it outward – maybe to Portugal or Africa or Boston, to somewhere faraway.

I’m sure we carried on with our summer of flounder fishing and blueberry-picking and swimming daily in our little cove.  And I’m sure our minds were filled with other things, when weeks or months later, an envelope arrived in the mail.  A letter addressed to Kippy and I from Mrs. John Freebern with a return address of Maple Avenue, Saratoga Springs, New York.  She had found our message!  It hadn’t sailed away to Africa or Florida, but our words nestled in that empty bottle had made it over a hundred miles all the way down to a beach on the Maine/New Hampshire border where she and her husband had found it washed up on the shore while vacationing in Maine.

Mrs. Freebern and I, who in fifth grade loved to write letters, became fast friends.  Her husband was a fireman and her kids were older than my big brother who was a sophomore in college.  I wrote to her about school and swimteam and my friends, Maureen and Sally and Curtis.  She wrote back about horseracing and her husband, John, and the summer place that they had in Maine.  And even though I wasn’t a girl who loved horses, I delighted in the collection of china race horses I was accumulating when Mrs. Freebern sent me gloriously wrapped packages.  The summer when I was twelve, Mrs. Freebern and her husband, John, visited us at our cottage home in the cove.  My mother helped me host my guests and we fed them crabmeat sandwiches on our fancy plates and my mother’s homemade mint iced tea.  I showed them the woods and Sister Point and the wharf where the Prell bottle had begun its journey.

And somewhere after graduations and marriage and the birth of my boys, somewhere in the late eighties, well into Mrs. Freebern’s old age and her husband  John’s retirement, we lost touch.  I lost touch.  Caught up in the stories of my current life, I found no time to write to Mrs. Freebern.  And I haven’t thought about her in years.

But I did this morning.  While cleaning out the closet, while tossing away a pile of letters I haven’t replied to and the guilt globbed onto them, I found it, the last letter that Mary Freebern ever wrote to me, in December of 1990.  I’ve saved it all these years.  I’m still saving it.  I’m sure that Mrs. Freebern, at least ten years older than my ninety-two year old mother, no longer lives on Maple Avenue in Saratoga Springs.  I’m sure I’ll never mail a letter to her again.  But I feel connected, connected to that little girl inside of me who knew, who still knows, that we carry our connection on the airwaves and the seawaves, and the magicwaves, that we don’t really lose touch.

The year after my father-in-law died, I found him again while weeding our garden.  There I was, kneeling down among the jewelweed and wild roses, my bare feet in the dirt of the earth, and there he was; I felt his presence as clear as if he were kneeling down with me, and it filled me with such happiness.  And today, I feel it again, the delight in a connection, a connection with a woman I once called Mrs. Freebern, and now call Mary.  Mary Freebern, my pen pal.

Feed Your Spirit

Your spirit’s food is personal; only you know what your spirit hungers for.  Sonia Choquette

“What does your spirit love?”  Sonia Choquette, author and intuitive, asked the group of twenty of us at the Translucent You Workshop that I was attending in the fall of 2004 in Kauai, Hawaii.  She then had us pair up, and take turns sharing, one at a time, three minutes each, repeating over and over again what our spirit loves.

The Red Sox had just won the World Series that day for the first time since 1918.  “My spirit loves baseball,” I told my partner, a little surprised that a childhood passion for Fenway Park and the New England boys of summer came back so strongly.  “And waves, my spirit loves to ride the waves into shore and have them splash over me and feel their power.”  That was no surprise.  We were in Hawaii, and the blue of the South Pacific and the rolling warm water and the white sand were intoxicating.  But I was really thrown for a loop by what popped up next.  With more enthusiasm than I had felt for a long long time, I blurted it out, “My spirit loves to be immature.  My spirit loves to laugh so hard I snort.  My spirit loves it when my husband and I crack each other up at inappropriate times.”  I proceeded to tell my workshop partner how we, my husband and I, walk through our neighborhood making whooping noises when the other least expects it.  Something in me had wanted to sound more grown-up in my spirit-loves, more “Om” and yoga-music calm, but I couldn’t help myself.  My spirit was in charge.  “My spirit loves whooping!” I said in a loud-whooping snorting voice.

It makes sense as I now think about it.  Our kids had just flown out of our nest and we were busting free from old roles that no longer fed our spirits.  Of course there was a whoop in us, a new sense of freedom.  And little did we know in that autumn-of-our-early-whoopage that, over the years, we would whoop our way through the tunnel of Lights at the Detroit airport and onto the cobblestone streets of Lisbon and Rome and grand Paris, that our whoops would sail across this planet, that our kids, the ones who flew the coop, would say with pride that, “Our parents got younger when we left home.”

And today, on a perfectly blue, no-humidity, waves splashing into shore afternoon, I’m going to claim some time at one of my favorite places, on the rocks that edge the shore of my favorite Great Lake, and I’m going to dip into those waves and I’m going to think about baseball and my son, Chris, who right now is attending a wedding in the Red Sox’s hometown, and I’m going to ask myself, as I do often, “Helen, what is it that your spirit loves?” And I’m going to listen, and, once again, I might be surprised by what pops up.

No Wrong Notes

I want to sing like the birds sing, not worrying who hears or what they think.  Rumi

At the Tour de France, high up on the Col de Galibier, surrounded by snowcapped peaks, with views so expansive it seemed as though we could lift off and fly forever, up so high above the clouds, even our cells were singing.  And it wasn’t strange at all among thousands of strangers who didn’t seem like strangers to be wearing headbands with huge glittering U.S.A. letters sticking straight up, waving our flags and singing with the Luxumbergers and the Norsemen who were wearing their Norsemen horns, it didn’t seem strange at all belting out songs we didn’t even know and yelling at the top of our lungs, “Allez allez allez”.  No one seemed to care what note anyone else was hitting.  It was pure joyous expression.

And the crows, the baby crows in our backyard have been singing in their own tune all summer long.  The babies just belt it out, their crooked little crow-cries, every morning at dawn.  And now, it’s the coyotes, just after dusk, this past few nights.  Not far away, perhaps behind the horse farm across from Joy Center, the parents are teaching the young ones to howl.  I can almost see them all sitting there, heads tipped back, throats open and ready, letting it out, letting it all out.  Who cares if they sing in tune?

So, why did I feel shaken last night, all stirred up at a Joy Center event?  Toni Saari, silversmith and musician was centerstage singing her heart out, up there with her acoustic guitar and a stream of notes that flew through the Joy Center rafters.  Patsy Cline and Joan Baez, Rod Stewart and some of her own creations.  A song entitled  Michelangelo stirred me to my bones.  It all did.  I wanted to sing like that.  I wanted to tip my head back like those coyotes, like Toni in her vintage dress and ponytail and sing my heart out, too.  Even if my voice comes out more baby crow than singer hitting that perfect on-key note.  We all have that desire to express the song in our heart — in the exhilarating holler at the Tour de France, in the howl in the northern woods on a full moon night, with our own flock at a Joy Center event.

I love the scene in My best Friend’s Wedding when Cameron Diaz’s character is hoodwinked into getting up there in a bar to sing Karaoke.  At first she’s cautious, but soon, in her glorious off-key voice, she belts it out, the song in her heart.  She wins us over; we love her because she goes for it.  She’s living full-out.

So after the performance last evening, an idea came to some of us who of course can’t sing like Toni because we’re not Toni but want to sing nonetheless — an evening at Joy Center this autumn where we get to be the crows on the white pine cawing our songs, the coyotes lined up on the edge of the ridge howling at the top of our lungs, an evening where we who maybe have kept our musical mouths shut for fear of what others might think of our I Love Lucy voices, let it rip.  And Toni has volunteered to be our fearless leader in a night of no wrong notes, a night of glorious singing, singing our glorious hearts out.

Poster designed by Stephanie Lake at Globe Printing

Full Moon Sing-a-Long

Letting Go

We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned,so as to accept (embrace) the life that is waiting for us.   Joseph Campbell

I don’t know why it felt so good, but it did.  The early evening sparkled, the breeze had shifted on-shore and the air smelled like the sea, salty and slightly fish-scented.

In the morning, my siblings, our spouses and I, had finished clearing out the cottage, our childhood summer place, and our ninety-two year old mother’s home until two months ago when she moved to an assisted living facility  twenty miles away.  The cottage on land at the edge of the sea in coastal Maine carelessly  had been slabbed together in the late fifties and ramshackle-added-on-to thirty years ago when Mom decided to make it her permanent place, and, now, was barely standing on its last legs.  As my son Chris says, “I’ve always loved Grandma Annie’s house, the way the inside and the outside are one.”

And I think Grandma Annie, our mom, was ready to move on to more solid ground, to a place with twenty-four hour a day care at Dionne Commons.  However that’s not why she moved two months ago.  She moved because the money had run out; the reverse mortgage on the cove property used for her care these past four years had reached its limit – and now the ramshackle cottage with its garden that Mom had mulched with seaweed and crabshells had been sold to a young family.  And this past weekend, we, my siblings and I, finished the process that we had started six weeks ago, clearing everything out.

We bagged up the clothes Mom no longer wanted, the kitchen items that siblings and I had not claimed as ours, the treasures we would divide among ourselves at a later date.  My brothers carried out the cabinet that had seemed to be growing out of that corner by the door for all these years.  We cleared it all out, the plants, the furniture, the books in the bunkhouse.  My younger brother even ripped that barn-beam mantle from the brickwall behind the gas stove.

There was little of my mother left in the place.  She had breathed it all in before moving.  She breathed in the cove, the beach and its tides, the scraggly pine where the osprey often lands.  It’s all in her, and she’s still alive, and when I hug her in her new home several miles inland, I smell the sea.

So the cottage was an empty shell at noon this past Saturday when we were getting ready to leave for lunch.  And it was Auralie, my sister, who, when glancing around set her eyes on it, the small green cabinet still sitting on a shelf in the freezer closet. “Isn’t that where Daddy kept his shells?”  Our father who made Dr. Seuss-type animals from the treasures he found along the shoreline, had died when I was seventeen, when Auralie was twenty-two, and it had been years since we had seen any sign of one of those whimsical creatures.  I lifted the cabinet from its home in the closet, slid open the top drawer, and, sure enough, each of the compartments meant for screws and tacks and picture hangers was filled with a different type of shell: pointy snails for the tails, round yellow periwinkles for eyeballs, tiny mussel shells for the feet.  Daddy’s shells from fifty years ago sat there, bright and new, and collected with our father’s very own hands.

Mom, who had poured heart and soul into this place had left.  But Daddy, whose father had bought this parcel as part of a larger piece of land in 1906, Daddy who cleared the brush from the woods and built grand bonfires on the beach, who traveled far in his bright red lobsterboat bringing us back huge flat rocks for steps down to the beach, who planted the cedars and crafted the stonewall to hold the forest back from the sea, Daddy who also loved this land with heart and soul – of course, he would be the last to leave.

My nieces, young women now, who never knew my father, their grandfather, picked out a few choice specimens from the green metal drawer, a tiny sanddollar perhaps found in Sandy Cove or Sebasco Beach, the sea urchins washed in with the tides, the yellow round periwinkles that I’m sure Daddy gathered from the shell beach on Sister Point.  And that’s where I, along with my husband, Cam, was heading now, in the early evening, to the point of land sticking out from Fish House Cove and the cottage, the land that Mom, years ago, had deemed forever wild, the land that was still here for us to traipse across like we did when we were kids.

I was barefoot as I clutched the small green drawer of shells, scampering as though I was ten again.  Cam raised on the softness of Midwestern glacial soil gingerly followed.  The salt breeze curled my hair, the ocean sparkled and Wood Island was lit up golden in the distance.  I stepped from dry granite and quartz boulders onto the barnacle-covered rocks of lowtide.  My feet prickled as I danced across living breathing barnacles.  I flung a few mussel shells into the tidepool that was our childhood playground, then stepped off the barnacles and onto the softest carpet of seamoss, out to the very tip of the Point – to the place where the waves whoosh in and pull back out again.  It was there at the very edge of the forever-wild point with my feet planted in a bed of seaweed that I did it.  I picked up a handful of those pointy-tailed snails and I threw them back into the sea and they landed with a plink, plink, plink, and tiny cirles rippled out, and then with the slight breeze at my chest, I lifted up that whole drawer, faced it seaward, and with one easy thrust forward with my arms, I let them all go, watched everyone of them fly back into the sea.

Sister Point by Annie Haskell

Sister Point, Phippsburg, Maine

I Know . . .

I do not believe . . . I know . . .   Carl Jung

It grounds me, brings me into the NOW, when I ask myself, “What do I know?”  I’m not asking myself for an encyclopedic litany of what I’ve learned in this lifetime to date; I’m simply posing the question, “What do you know, Helen, in this moment, as you sit here at your computer, with a few minutes to type up a blog?”  And it always surprises me, what arises as I respond to this query.  So here I am, with ten minutes to spare, before heading over to Joy Center for yoga, and a curiosity for what will emerge.  What do I know?

I know.

I know there is nothing quite like it, to pluck raspberries from your very own bushes, whole handfuls of them like I did today, to plop them in your mouth, warm and ripe and full of summer.

I know that summer soaks in deeply up here in the north, that a thick humid day like this one, settles into my bones, and I can call it back, the breeze rustling the aspen leaves, the smell of balsam, the sticky sweat on my skin, as I shiver in the white woods of a crisp and freezing January morning.

I know that summer is only half over, even if the ads would like us to believe otherwise, that today is Lammas, the center-point between summer solstice and fall equinox, a time to celebrate the early harvest (the raspberries, the first ripe cucumber), and to ask yourself, “What is still blossoming that wants to ripen into this second half of summer?”

I know that I’m ripe with this blossoming, and ready for more manifestations.

I know that I love walking barefoot on the rocky shoreline of Lake Superior, that I also did this as child in coastal Maine.  I scampered across the granite and over the sharp-pointy barnacles, to the soft carpet of seaweed and the waves that swished in and out.  I know that the tides are still in me and the salt and the sea, that we carry our homes inside of us, that sometimes in the summer I smell the sea in the waters of the great lake that I love.

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