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Archive for October, 2011

A Scorpio Poem

There is a stillness

in the air this morning.

Bare branches hang

like arms of crooked crones.

The pumpkin beside the pot of withering

mums is melting.  I’m melting

I’m melting, the wicked Witch

shrieks, and crows in their black

capes join her cry.

I love this season of Scorpio!

As the witch melts back into the earth,

as the trees sink back into their roots,

as the last moth flickers, then flies away,

a single balsam pops into sight.

Its fragrance, sweet and tangy, fills the air

with something new.

Allow for Possibilities

(This is the letter enclosed in the most recent Joy Center snail-mail.)

Arise from dreams of littleness to the realization of the vastness within you.  Paramhansa Yogananda

We were swim kids, we kids of coastal Maine in the sixties and seventies.  When the weather turned cold and the trees bared their branches and those first flakes of snow tickled our noses, sure, we reveled in outdoor play, in skating on the local pond and diving into piles of raked-up leaves, but it was the local YMCA in our blue-collar ship-building town on the Kennebec River that called to us, to its brand-new aqua-tiled pool.  There were swimming lessons and swimteam practices and free swims on Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings.  The free-time was our favorite.  We cannon-balled off the diving board, somersaulted our way from shallow-end to deep, splashed each other and kicked our feet in wild abandon.  We loved this time in our chlorinated playground.  We learned to fully inhabit our bodies; we learned that water is buoyant; we learned to swim like the seals and the fish that lived in that ocean just miles away.  And that is where we headed in the summer months, to our cottages and the two state parks  and their wide expanses of beach.   And that is where we felt our most free.  Many of us had never traveled outside of New England; yet, we knew that this ocean, the one we dove into and splashed around in and loved beyond measure, stretched on forever.  We knew that there was a whole world to explore much bigger than our twenty-five-yard-long YMCA swimming pool.

I was thinking about all of this the other evening while standing in yoga at the Joy Center.   All of a sudden, with my feet firmly planted on the hardwood floor, my arms lifted themselves to the sky.  They wanted to swim.  And I invited the others standing with me to join in.  So that’s what we did.  With our arms stretching through the October air in backstroke motions, we swam – not in a rectangular swimming pool, but in an ocean, a whole ocean of possibility.  And it came to me then, as we swam in our expansive sea of creativity, that so often we are moving around in a fixed-shape pool of beliefs and boundaries, swimming our laps, thinking that this is it, the only playground in town, when, in reality, there is an ocean right here, present in the moment, its salt air beckoning us, an ocean as grand as our imaginations allow it to be.

Two times this past week, I have waked myself up in the mornings with my own laughter.  I’m not sure what has brought it on.  But I do know it has felt good to wake up like this, with such a feeling of buoyancy and freedom.  And I do know that there is a lot to feel good about when we swim in that large sea of possibility.  In mid-October, on the last of the warm evenings with a full moon shining in the Joy Center’s open window, I, along with thirteen others, sang my heart out – I, who never thought that it was possible to sing out loud in the presence of anybody other than my cat.  It was as exhilarating as plunging right into that childhood ocean.  I’ve witnessed others, plunging in, too, creating and collaborating in expansive new ways.  And the next Joy Center calendar of events is over-the-top filled with opportunities to dive in and play, opportunities to lift our spirits and remember our buoyancy, opportunities to expand and grow, from yoga to dance, to a celebration of food, to art and writing workshops, to performances and song and storytelling – it is a world worth diving into.  So here’s to buoyancy.  Here’s to possibility!

Stand in the Light

You’ve got to do your own growing, no matter how tall your grandfather was.  Irish Proverb

My grandfather was a tall tree; that’s how I knew him.  Every night before bed when we were little kids, my siblings and I would look up at the mammoth etching of a California oak that hung on a wall at the bottom of the stairs, and we would sing, “Good night, Mr. Oak Tree!” and then we would scamper up to bed, say our prayers with our living breathing family and go to sleep.

Grandpa Haskell, my father’s father, before he turned into a tall tree, was an artist, the artist of the mammoth oak that hung on our wall.  I knew this about him, from the moment that I could know such things – we all did, my siblings, our family and friends, and even strangers we would meet on the street.  We knew other things too.  We knew that a long, long time ago, he had bought the land that was our summer playground in coastal Maine – the old saltwater farmhouse that my cousins now lived in, the balsam and pine forest, the two coves and the Sister Point that connected them.  We knew that he had built a barn and owned a cow, that he had sailed his canoe through the same seas that we now explored.  And the thing that we knew the most was that he had died when his twins, our father and my Aunt Jo, were four.  We knew this by heart.  We knew that the year was 1925 and that it was a Model T and that he had driven this same car across the whole country just months earlier, from California all the way to Maine.  We knew that he had just arranged a retrospective of his art in New York, that he was on his final stretch back to that farmhouse, just two miles from his land on the coast.  We knew the very corner it had happened.  We could see it.  And we knew it was a tragedy.  People told us it was, that our grandfather had been killed at the peak of his career.

And that’s when he became a tree, a tree that towered over us all.   And it wasn’t a bad thing having a legend for a grandfather.  We could puff ourselves up; after all, we were his kin.  And my parents, they could trade art for all sorts of things; the etchings and watercolors and theater posters of famous actresses paid for our dental work and became trading cards for the creations of other well-known artists.  But we also paid a price.  It’s not the same, to hug a tree or blow a kiss to an etching.  My father used to tell me that he would get teary-eyed as a little boy every time his class would sing, “land of the pilgrim’s pride; land where my father died.”  He wanted a real pappy; that’s what he called his father.  And he devoted a great deal of time writing articles, arranging exhibits, trying to flesh out the man who had given him the same name, Ernest Haskell.  But the facts, the ones that our father uncovered, didn’t help us find our way out from under our grandfather’s tall shadow.  How can you compete with a grandfather who trained himself to never erase?!?  Never!!!  Especially when your drawings are a little sloppy and the eraser is a handy tool.  How can you compete with a grandfather who was self-taught and found his way across the sea to Paris for extended year-long stays two different times, when you’ve only been to three measly states in your whole entire little-girl life?!?  How can you compete with a grandfather, who, according to family lore, chased after a mountain lion in Yosemite, back when Yosemite was pristine, and retrieved the ham-roast the lion had stolen, probably grabbing it right out of the lion’s roaring mouth?!?  How can you compete with that?!?  So none of us did compete.  We just revered our tall-tree father/grandfather, and did our best to live in his shade.

And to live on the land that he had left for us.  We did that well.  After Grandpa Haskell died, our Grammie Emma, his widow, built a lodge and cabins in the woods on the hill, and she ran a summer camp when her kids were small, and, later, when the twins were in their early twenties, opened the camp up to British war refugees.  And, later, still, when we, the grandkids, came along, those run-down cabins became our forts and the granite hill became our wilderness and we climbed the trees and we swam in the coves and we showered this land that our grandfather had given us with so much appreciation.

Our grandfather was a tall tree and his spirit was planted in this land that we loved.  And that’s what made it so complicated, hard to untangle, this past winter, when the reverse mortgage money on our mother’s cottage used for her care was running out.  We, her kids, had decisions to make.  Really, it was up to me to make a decision.  Would we sell this piece of the property or would I buy my siblings out?  And knowing that I needed to move forward, even when my roots felt drawn to the past, I made the decision to join my siblings and sell the cottage parcel.  And, in mid-February, on the very day that I e-mailed this message to brothers and sister, within minutes of pushing the “send” button, an e-mail popped up on my screen.  There was going to be an exhibit, the first in thirty-five years, of our grandfather’s art, at the Mead Museum at Amherst College in Massachusetts, How He Was To His Talents: The Work of Ernest Haskell and the opening was scheduled for late March, and I knew right off that I was going to attend.  My grandfather was speaking to me.  And he began to feel more real.

My cousin, Abby, the youngest daughter of my father’s twin, joined me. I flew in from Michigan, Abby rode the bus from New York City and we met on a lovely spring afternoon on the campus of Amherst College.  And together, we walked into the museum, and, together, we met the young woman who had made this exhibit possible.  Her name was Katrina Greene, an Andrew W. Mellon Post-Baccalaureate Curatorial Fellow, and our grandfather became her project and then he became her mentor and then he became her friend.  And, this young woman, as she spoke at the show’s opening of our grandfather, the artist, of his skill and ceaseless drive to acquire new knowledge, of his boundless enthusiasm and support for other artists, and the way he stretched the limits in medium after medium without formal training, she began to put flesh back onto his bones.  Abby and I stood there as photos of our grandfather and his family, our toddler twin parents, flashed onto a screen.  We pieced together facts that we’d never heard.  We admired his work.  We admired him as an artist.  We thought that he would be a good friend.  And after forty-five minutes of speaking, she got to the part that had been the defining story for our family, the car crash that had turned our grandfather into a tall tree of a legend, and Abby and I held hands, and, then, in mere seconds, it was over; it was over, just a blip on the map of a remarkable life.  And Katrina moved on.  She ended her talk, not with the tragedy that we knew so well, but with an exuberant wide-skied cloud-filled etching of coastal Maine and a poem that our grandfather had written, a lovely expansive poem entitled, the Eternal Song.  And Abby and I left the museum, hand in hand, breathing it all in – it was as if we had just attended our grandfather’s memorial service, a life-affirming celebration for a real person.

And that night, as I lay in the bed at my Amherst motel, with the book that Katrina had written about Grandpa lying across my middle, too exhausted to get undressed or read any words, it donned on me, in a bright light sort of way, that I am surrounded by brightly-lit up people, that we’re all talented and unique and beyond comparison.  It donned on me that if Grandpa was my friend or my living breathing relative, I would admire him for his skill and admire him even more for the way he carved out an artist’s life, truly lived his passion, but, in no way, would I have him on a pedestal, in no way would I grant him the power to shadow my light.  He was six foot two, a tall strong man, and I’ve heard that his light was exuberant and buoyant and bright, and I celebrate this.  So my grandfather is no longer a tree; he is a bright light.  And I bask in his bright light, and I bask in my own.  And I bask in the bright light of family and friends and strangers who I haven’t even met.  My siblings, who also have lived in our grandfather’s shadow are immensely talented people.  My older brother builds boats, elegant wooden boats, the way they have been built for generations in the fishing village near the land that our grandfather left for us.  My sister throws pots on a wheel, enchanted delicate pots in the deepest of colors, and has a heart big enough to hold the whole world.  And my younger brother named after his grandfather and his father has made the raising of a family into the highest  form of art, something our grandfather didn’t live long enough to accomplish.  They each blaze brightly and I celebrate this.

I was thinking about my grandfather, six days later, while walking home from Joy Center, on the brightest star-lit night.  I had just shared stories and poems in a performance entitled, Helen in Hollywood.  And I had stood there on my own Hollywood star (made from bright yellow laminated paper), in front of the Joy Center audience, boldly proclaiming that we are all stars of our lives.  I was thinking about how fun it had been to stand on my own star, how fun it had been to be “center stage” of my own brilliant out-of-the-shadows life.  I was thinking about Grandpa and sensing that this is what he would want for me, not to hold onto the past, to cling to the land or the legends, not to hide in his shadow, but to shine brightly in my own Helen sort of way, to use erasers if I want to, and color outside the lines.  I was thinking about all of this and breathing in the melting-snow-air when I looked up as I often do on my evening walks home from Joy Center, at all the stars, so many that you couldn’t possibly contain them, and when I looked up, I couldn’t believe it, but it’s really true, there he was, winking back at me I think, his own star-self, streaking, streaking with a blazing bright buoyant tail across that star-lit sky.

Grandpa Haskell painting on the property in Maine

What are you hungry for?

Stay foolish and stay hungry.  Steve Jobs

I love being hungry.  On long hikes, the ones that last all day, in the afternoon, after the picnic lunch and the snacks and the water have run dry, after we’ve climbed up that mountain and are heading back down again, I love to think about food.  It’s when I sense that growl beginning to form, that the fantasies spring to the surface.  I envision the meal waiting for me, the one I’m going to prepare or the one I’m going to order.  In vivid detail, I taste its flavors and I revel in my hunger.  And, if my hiking partner is willing to play along, I fantasize out loud.  I love reminiscing to another who is also hungry about the amazing meals I’ve eaten.  It’s especially fun to bring back to life the meals I’ve feasted upon on trips.  On recent hikes, the ones that have lasted long enough for my stomach to growl, I’ve been thinking of Sicily and Rome.

In May, Cam and I crossed the Atlantic for a two-week adventure to springtime in Italy.  And after a long winter of snow and cold-biting air in the Upper Peninsula, the sunshine and the smell of jasmine and stephanotis and the ocean breeze and the hikes and the Italian language and the people’s warmth, it was all intoxicating.  But the food – the homemade breads and freshly-pressed olive oils, the ricotta cheese, the pasta and pizza and arugala salads, the fish from the sea and the baby artichokes roasted until tender, the food was fit for the gods.  It was one wonderful meal after another.  In the evenings, at the end of a day of exploring the ancient ruins or hiking Sicily’s cliff-bound coast, we would come back to a dinner so delicious and satisfying that we thought we would never be hungry again.  But it would happen, every time it would happen, that the next morning we would wake up with that familiar growl, hungry for the next meal, for the next moment, for the next adventure.

I love being hungry and it’s not just food that I hunger for.  Two and a half weeks ago, when the trees were blazing in colors more vibrant than I can ever remember, I didn’t think it could get any better.  I would walk in the woods, maybe, in the mist and the clouds and the cool breezes of late September, and I would round a bend to a blazing crimson maple and I would gasp in pleasure.  As my friend, Amber, said, “It was fireworks in slow motion.”  I savored it as much as I savored the fresh pasta of Sicily.  It was delicious, this September meal.  And then, on a Thursday, the winds moved in, the wild winds of autumn, and they scattered those crimson leaves and they blew down some mighty trees, and the meal was over.  And by the weekend, the sun, it had broken through the clouds and a new meal had appeared.  Those winds had blown in a warm spell, a week and a half of the most gorgeous seventy degree weather, an extended summer stretching into mid-October – and there I was hungry again.  For a while, I couldn’t get enough of it.  It was wonderful, those days of flip flops and sundresses and afternoons writing on the rocks, those full-moon evenings that were soft and sweet and full of song.  And what could be better than this?!?

But we’re alive and there’s always another meal, and even the heat started seeming uncanny.  And again the winds blew through and again the weather changed, and, this Saturday, on a blustery morning with the waves of Superior crashing the shore and the surfers in their wet suits catching those waves, I found myself once again hungry for something new.  It was the winter squashes and the brussel sprouts and the root vegetables that caught my eye at the farmer’s market.  It was the scarf and the heavy sweatshirt and the fleece-lined boots that appealed to me.  Even before I knew that Downwind Sports was having a ski sale, I found myself fantasizing, my stomach growling for the groomed cross country ski trails of late autumn in the Upper Peninsula.

In his 2005 Commencement Speech to Stanford graduates, Steve Jobs challenges his audience to stay hungry, to look in the mirror each morning and ask yourself if you are living your passion, if you are feeling excited about the day stretched out before you.  I am taking on his challenge.  How rich it is to enjoy the meal we’re eating, to love the moment we’re living, and how rich it is to feel the pangs of a new hunger, of something fresh and alive being awakened inside.  And so, as I start this day and this week and this new kind of autumn, the late autumn in the U.P. that spits snow one minute and breaks through in a sunny smile the next, I’m asking myself what I’m hungry for?  And today, I’m hungry to feel the power of those waves, the ones the surfers are riding, for a jaunt along the bike path, a hot cup of tea.  What are you hungry for?

Helen eating Fava beans and fresh ricotta cheese in Caltagirone, Sicily

Personal Bounty

Abundance is not something we acquire. It is something we tune into.Wayne Dyer


(For my brother on his birthday.)

“When Ned Dana dies . . .”

I heard my father say this often when I was a kid.  “When Ned Dana dies, we’ll buy a brand-new car.  When Ned Dana dies, we’ll fly to Hawaii.  When Ned Dana dies, we’ll travel to England, the land of our ancestors.”  And, although I knew, on one hand, that we didn’t have much money, that my dad’s job at the Iron Works was clerical, that my friend Sally’s Union worker father made twice as much, and my friend, Curtis’s family was off-the-charts-for-our-blue-collar-town-rich, I also knew that there was Ned Dana and the ever-present promise of monetary abundance flowing in.

We laugh now, my mother and I.  Who was Ned Dana anyway?  Was he a patron of the arts, an admirer of my long-dead grandfather, the artist, a friend of his widowed wife, our Grammie Emma?  And what happened to all that money?  Daddy died so it floated away from our house along with my father, but, back then, it was fun to dream about all the things we would do with our inheritance . . . and, in the meantime, our bounty was great.  My dad was never attached to his clerical job at the Iron Works.  He wore khakis and button-down shirts, was tall and handsome.  He wrote stories, arranged art exhibits, walked with a lightness on this earth.  I think he felt entitled to be here, and, in many ways, was the artist of his life.  And he wanted his children to feel entitled too.  Each summer, he brought home canvas bags from the Iron Works, one for my little brother and one for me – they were for our treasures, he said.  We stuffed boatshells and periwinkles into our bags, pieces of paper-thin mica and crunchy dried rock weed that looked like a wild woman’s hair.  We found feldspar that glimmered in the sun and pieces of driftwood shaped like Dr. Seuss characters.  We brought our bags down to our little Fish House Cove beach and collected what the sea had washed in . . .

Our bounty was great.  Our bounty was stupendous.  We dug holes in the silty gray sand, reached our hands way down until we felt the wet of the sea reaching back at us.  And then we dug a little deeper, stuck our fingers into our endless supply of gooey sticky clay – clay for forts and sculptures and sand fights.  And each day, the ocean would roll back in, cover our forts and castles and rock piles – and there we had it – a swimming pool far grander than any Ned Dana could buy for us.  And our dad’s homemade rafts, nailed and roped together, Huck Finn-style were perfect for kids who felt a sense of entitlement.  We didn’t know the meaning of “no trespassing.”  The coastal world was ours to play in.  The rocks at high tide were our personal high board – and the sea!  We floated on our backs, somersaulted through salty waves.  We dove down, opened our eyes to the long grasses and sea kelp waving in the tide’s current.  We swam among schools of mackerel and herring, and, at night, we ate the mackerel caught by the fishermen or by our very own mother.  It was free.  And it was our bounty.

And most days, my little brother and I carried our bag lunches out to Deadman’s Cove or Sister Point.  We snacked on egg salad sandwiches, our bags of Fritos, ripe plums.  We drank our drinks.  My favorite was Tahitian Treat and Daddy called it Tahitian Piddle Juice and it was the only soda I loved and it was my bounty.  And, as I drank it, sitting on the quartz and granite-glimmering rocks of the Point, looking out at my ocean (because I felt like I was entitled to this whole huge ocean), maybe looking out through the branches of a sea-scraggled pine, I thought that this place was the most beautiful place on earth, more beautiful than Hawaii could ever be.

And, after our dad returned from work on summer evenings, he washed off the world of his shipyard day as he pulled in the haul-off line, and I pulled it in with him sometimes, and, as we pulled, we watched the turquoise skiff my sister had named Splinter move slowly toward the rocks and we kerplunked ourselves into it.  I sat in the stern and my father rowed us out to our big red lobster boat.  What bounty was ours on summer evenings!  Our family felt entitled.  We traveled the sea in our big red boat, to Spring Beach and Wood Island, to the Basin and Cundy’s Harbor and Totman’s Cove.  We found crabs under seaweed.  We watched baby seagulls and terns.  We helped our father haul up his traps.

And later still, after a bounty of saltwater and sea breezes, pine pitch and periwinkles, after a dinner of pan-fried flounder and shelled peas from our mother’s seaside garden, we had the general store.  Who needs Ned Dana’s millions (because it seemed as though it must be millions we were inheriting) when your father gives you ten cents each – for you and your little brother – and sends you on your way?  Who needs a bounty of shoes when the soles of your feet are as tough as the rocks they scamper across and it feels good to run along the pine needle path, barefooted and sweat-shirted, when Hagerthy’s General is your destination?

Hagerthy’s General had everything!  It was a treasure chest of abundance – red-shingled on the outside with its covered porch and its long-legged dock that reached far into the sea, with its gas pumps for boat engines and rocking chairs for Amos and Alton and Roy, and all the other old fishermen in their hipboots and oilskin trousers.  And inside there was more – oilskin rain hats and lobster bait bags and Coca Cola in glass bottles and boxes of cereal and canned corn, a freezer filled with ice cream.  But it was the glass cabinet of penny candy that my bother and I pressed our faces against: milk duds, sugar babies, tootsie pops . . .  Who needs Ned Dana’s millions when you already have ten cents and a glass cabinet filled with penny candy?!?



A Change of Perspective

See the world through new eyes . . .

It seems like a miracle, this dramatic shift in perspective that has brought me to the other side of a wide and deep chasm.  I had always thought my mother would die in her home, in the ramshackle cottage by the sea.  I was sure of it.  I could see her lying back in her worn and marked-up easy chair, the one she would never let us replace.  I could see her looking out past the cottage lawn and the bird feeders to the cove, the boats and Hermit Island and the sea beyond.  I could see her just slipping away easily, following that off-shore breeze to a new place to explore.  I wanted this for her.  And I thought this was what she wanted for herself.

So in the cold stormy days of last winter, when the reverse mortgage money that we were using to pay for our mother’s care was on its last legs, and the cottage itself, shaking in those windy storms, had one foot in the grave, I found myself feeling a little wobbly as well.  I couldn’t imagine my mother in a nursing home.  It was more than I could think about.  And, as I skate-skied my way through that cold winter of change, I guided my mind to warmer places.  When I couldn’t envision a solution, I would say to myself, “It’s going to work out in a way that feels good.  I know it is.”  I said this over and over and over.

And the change – it came, and the winter winds brought in the blooming forsythias of spring and the osprey returned to the cove and the buds on the old apple tree we’ve known forever, they bloomed for Easter, and, at the end of May, my mother said good-bye to these things that she loved.  And, along with a few paintings, some clothes, her African violets, she moved inland, carrying what was precious in her heart.  She did this with some tears and a bountiful measure of grace, in a way that inspired all of us.

And, on that first visit to her new home three days after she had moved in, I found myself swallowing back my own tears.  My mother was in a nursing home.  And that night, as I settled into my own new home at the Hampton Inn, I pulled myself together.  I made a decision.  I vowed that if my mother wasn’t going to die in her easy-chair in Fish House Cove, if she was going to live instead in a place called Dionne Commons, I was going to look for things to appreciate in her new place and I was going to do this with enthusiasm.

So I did.  On the visit at the end of May, and on all the subsequent visits east this past summer, I mustered up my enthusiasm and I looked in the direction of the positive.  At first it was a challenge.  It wasn’t the cove.  There was no sea breeze.  I couldn’t make my mother the haddock dish that she, at one time, had so lovingly made for me.  It was different.  Our time together was different.  But, there was an energy in the air, a sea breeze of kindness.  On that first visit at the end of May, Mom and I met Ursula, a slender slip of a woman from Venezuela, who wrapped her head in the most exotic of hats.  In her wonderful accent, she invited us into her room.  She had been a fashion designer.  She had lived in Cuba.  She was gracious.  She held my mother’s hands.  “You’ll like it here,” she smiled.  And as the summer progressed I got to know other residents – Chester and Helene who have been married for sixty years and eat with my mother, Gertrude who was one of twenty children, Esmeralda, the fattest of fat cats, who plops her huge white body down in the middle of the hall for all to pat.  And the view.  My mother appreciates the view, so how can I not?!?  She looks out from her room to a lawn and a forest of hardwoods, a different landscape than the spruce and balsam-covered point of the cove.  “It’s lovely,” she says, and she means it.

And that’s where the miracle comes in.  It’s easy now.  It really is.  I used to love that final twenty minutes of driving down along the Kennebec River to my mother’s cove.  I’d roll down the window and smell the salt and the mud flats and the brisk sea air.  It was familiar.  It was a homecoming.  And now this new drive is becoming familiar.  I turn in on Stanwood, then onto Mckeen and Baribeau Drive, and park my rental in the little lot beside Dionne and the wide field of grass.  And a week ago, my mother’s ninety-third birthday weekend, I found myself happy, not needing to muster up enthusiasm at all, as I opened the door and sailed into the hallway.  And there they were the welcoming ladies lined up in their wheel chairs.  “Good morning!” I sang.  “Good morning!” they sang back to me.  And there was Esmeralda, sprawled out beside them.  And the woman with the china doll face who can only talk in a squeak, there she was, smiling too.  And, farther down the hall, in a lounge-like nook, a woman in a tiera was playing big band music and singing, and she was dancing in her chair, and I found myself dancing with her.  And on I walked, with a light step, all the way down the hall to Room 31, and there she was, my mother, with the hardwoods behind her, very much alive, opening up her arms and smiling a smile, a welcoming smile to a very good moment in her new home.

It’s time to take that plunge!

Immerse yourself in artistic and creative expression . . . It’s time to take that plunge.  Steven D. Farmer


It’s time to take that plunge!  No more flitting along the shoreline like a skittish sandpiper.  No more tip-toeing across the water’s surface. It’s time to take that plunge, to dive right into the curl of a wave, to  feel the splash, the thrash, the effervescent fizz.  It’s life calling you, a whole ocean of creativity waiting . . . Come play in its depths.

That’s what he seemed to be saying.  And I’m pretty sure that he was a “he” – his head was huge, bobbing up out of the roll of a wave.  My sister and I were on the shore at one of our favorite places, a grand stretch of state park beach five miles from the cottage where we spent our childhood summers in coastal Maine.  And the tide at noon was flowing in and the wind had picked up and the waves splashed the sand and we were barefoot, dipping our feet into the brisk waters of the north Atlantic on the last day of September this past Friday.  Two toddlers in diapers and sunsuits plopped down near their mothers and the seagulls, so many of them, swooped and swam and stood at alert.  And near us, a fisherman cast his line out into the surf and the ocean sparkled as it does in late September and I was looking out, squinting into the silvery sparkles, when I first saw the big black head rise to the surface.

He rose up like a scuba diver, and that’s what I thought he was at first, bobbing out there, up and down, in the rise and fall of the waves.  And he was looking at us, at the fishermen and the babies, looking right at us, at my sister and I.  And that’s when I realized that he wasn’t a scuba diver at all; he was a seal, a big black seal.  And he was playing in the waves, diving down, popping up, again and again and again.  It was a happy day for my sister and I traipsing along the shoreline and the seal was a special guest at our party – or perhaps we were the guests and this seal, who was fishing with the fisherman and swimming with the waves, was our host inviting us deeper into his ocean playground.

It’s not the first time that seal has looked me in the eye.  Nearly twenty years ago, Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes became my creativity handbook as I navigated the waters of raising kids and surviving graduate school and nourishing a creative life in the midst.  I especially loved the story, “Sealskin, Soulskin” about the seal-woman who fell in love with a fisherman and moved to the shore.  And it was a rich life they created together, and she thrived for a time, but then the sea began to call to her, and she began to feel a deep longing for its depths, and knew that she would wither and die if she didn’t find her way back home.  Pinkola Estes spoke of this deep longing, how all of us crave for that connection with our creative seal self, that we all must find our way home to what brings us most alive.  I remembered this story this morning and decided to investigate further so I looked “seal” up in my book of power animal cards.  And here is seal’s message, according to Steven Farmer:

“Drop underneath those restrictive beliefs, and tap into this most natural drive toward creative expression, perhaps something you’ve always wanted to do but have stopped yourself until now.  Feel it in all its depth and dimensions, then throw yourself into it – whether it’s singing, dancing, drawing, writing, or some other path.  This is food for your heart and soul. . .”

Years ago, Cam and I, on our first trip overseas, traveled to Greece, to the island of Ikaria.  It was the Saturday of Greek Orthodox Easter, and, while families prepared for the next day’s feast, we hiked along the rocky coast.  The air was chilly and the wind was blowing and the waves of the Aegean splashed into shore, and as we walked by a tiny beach we noticed two heads bobbing in those waves, human heads this time, young German women we had met that morning.  “Come join us!” they cried, a joyful cry in their German English.  “It’s wonderful!” they added.  The air was nippy and, those many years ago, we were not quite that bold, to strip down bare and enter those waters.  We laughed and waved and stayed on shore.  And that night, we said that we wished we’d taken that plunge.

But now, I’ve heard the call of the seal; he was talking directly to my sister and I.  And although we were quite content to splash along the shoreline this past Saturday, it’s time to take the metaphoric plunge.  It’s not a somber call toward spirit – like the young German women splashing in those Grecian waves, seal bobs and dives and plays with joy; his call is one for shedding those old rules about what is creative and what is not.  His call is one for plunging into what is fun in this moment, what brings us alive and nourishes our seal skin.  So that’s what I’m going to do, for the rest of this day back here in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula thirteen hundred miles from that beach in Maine, for this weekend opening up wide, I’m going to dive right in to that ocean of creativity, to what brings me most alive.  I’m going to play with seal.

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