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Archive for July, 2012


She wrapped the cove around her like a shawl. Genean Granger

I haven’t known what to say, where to begin, how to be succinct and real.  It’s not that I haven’t written about her; I have.  I’ve written about her in stories and poems, in fiction and in non-fiction.  I’ve written about her from my perspective and I’ve written about her from what I imagine is her own perspective.  I’ve written about her as I’ve moved through grief and loss and daughter-pissed-offness, and I’ve written about her as I’ve softened into release and joy and utter appreciation.  I’ve written about her for the past twenty-five years.  And yet, now, as I prepare to say something, a brief something, in front of a congregation this next Sunday at her Memorial Service in Bath, Maine, I have found myself floundering – floundering, until yesterday, when my friend and poet extra-ordinaire, gave it to me, the gift of an image that says it all: “Your mother wrapped the cove around her like a shawl.”

Of course, begin with the cove.  It was my father who introduced my mother to the cove.  She was a Massachusetts girl who grew up roaming the woods by her childhood home in a suburb of Boston, who spent her summers prowling the long stretches of sandy beach at a relative’s New England cottage.  And it wasn’t until her mid-thirties, as a young widow with a toddler daughter and a son in kindergarten, that she met my father and found herself intoxicated not only with the man, but with the land.  My father’s father had bought this gem of a parcel of Maine coastline in 1903, the two coves, the point and spruce-covered forest between them and the old saltwater farmhouse and barn.  My parents honeymooned at the Old House and I imagine that this is where I was conceived.  And, for the next few summers, the farmhouse, a mossy path through a stretch of woods away from the beach and ocean, became their summer home, our summer home.  I don’t think my mother ever felt at ease in the Old House.  I’m not sure if it was too far from the sea or too entrenched in my father’s family history to feel right to my mother, but I heard her say it over and over, that the moment she saw Fish House Cove, on the other side of Sister Point, she felt like she never had before, like she was truly home.  And three years later, in 1959, that’s where my parents built the cottage, the cottage that would become my mother’s touchstone for the rest of her long life.

The cottage, nestled among the spruce trees at the cove’s head, became my mother’s haven.  She transplanted hens and chicken plants onto the rock ledges on one side, and peonies and irises and lilies into the garden overlooking the sea.  She hauled seaweed from the beach for fertilizer and grew chard and lettuces and tomatoes and peas.  She traipsed out onto the rocks that created the bowl of a cove and sketched, then painted with her watercolors, the dark green shadows and the sparkling light and the rust-colored rockweeds of low tide.  It’s not that she never left the calm waters of the cove.  She did.  She eagerly packed the picnic lunches for our Saturday escapades out into the open ocean in our big red boat to Wood Island or Spring Beach.  Her hair curled in the salt spray and her nose turned pink and she whooped when the waves flew over the side of the boat, just like the rest of us.  And for fifteen years, she lived out on the Point in the dream house that she designed with my father.  But the cove drew her back.  And the cottage, now ramshackle-renovated and not nearly as fancy as her bigger more modern house out on the rocks, somehow suited her.  I think it grounded her, my mother who was as deep and bountiful and moody as the sea.  I think it calmed her.  The osprey who landed atop the spruce in the morning and sometimes dove down into the mackerel-filled waters.  The heron who flew overhead at dusk.  The lap, lap, lap of the gentle waves at night.

My mother wrapped the cove around her like a shawl.  And she wrapped the cove around us, her children, as well.  She packed us bag lunches and sent us off and we scrounged the beach and explored the woods and hiked out to Sister Point, to the tide pools that became our swimming holes and the rock ledges that became our pretend houses, to the huckleberry bushes and the bayberry plants and the sea moss that we collected in our pails.  And then, after what seemed like hours, she’d ring us home again, with the brass antique school bell that hung by the cottage door.  And we’d leave the windy Point and the ocean breeze and we’d scurry back, barefooted and sunburned, to high tide and the cove’s calmer waters.  Some nights, maybe after a thunderstorm, maybe after a dinner of mackerel fish and fresh garden peas, if we were lucky, we’d have rhubarb crisp with hot lemon sauce for desert, and, on those nights, with filled bellies and sleepy eyes and salt-water skin, it was easy to feel it when we climbed into our bunks, the way our mother wrapped the cove around us like a shawl.

And I believe that, in some way, everyone, everyone who will gather in Maine on this summer Sunday so many years later, will feel it, the way she wrapped the cove around us all – her brother and sister-in-law, her old friends and cousins, her kids and grandkids and great grandkids, her nieces and nephews, her Hearthside Helpers, her neighbors, the fishermen who live nearby.  Maybe it was a painting that she gifted or an afternoon of flounder fishing together in the turquoise skiff or a quiet moment sitting on the deck with a pair of binoculars ready.  Maybe it was a dinner shared or a childhood weekend of cousins and aunts and uncles.  Maybe if we, the people gathered to celebrate my mother’s long life, close our eyes and breathe a little deeper, we can still sense it, the sea breeze, the water’s sparkle, the cry of the gulls, and something good and healthy and fresh cooking in the cottage’s small oven.   And maybe we can feel it, the smile in the air and the calmness that sinks down, way down into our bones.

Fish House Cove by Annie Perry Haskell

Blissed out with Viren

Babies come forth to remind adults of that which they have forgotten . . . Look into the eyes of a little one and see the wisdom of his true knowing.  He knows that All-Is-Well.  He has come to remind you. Abraham-Hicks

Already he is my greatest teacher.  And there are no lectures in his classrooms, no homework assignments, no taking notes, or studying for tests.  He is my ten day old grandson, Viren, and his University is the world of hanging out, the world of basking in well-being, and nothing, nothing in this universe, is more compelling to me.  A friend of mine shared a metaphor yesterday, one that she had heard at a seminar last weekend, that we are all like corks floating in an ever-expanding sea of well-being, well-being that is always, always here for us.  And, often, we weigh ourselves down, under the water’s surface, with our contrasting thoughts, with our fears and worries and jealousies, with our old stories that keep us stuck.  We forget that we don’t need to stay stuck, that we can let go, that the momentum will carry us, with ease, back to the surface, that we are buoyant beings with joyful spirits.

For six days, while Shel napped in the early afternoon and Pete wrote the epilogue for his dissertation, Viren and I hung out together on the living room couch.  Shel provided a bottle of breast milk, and, for delicious lingering moments, Viren snuggled close while I offered him sustenance.  His eyes are a deep blue, and, as he sucked down his mother-food, he looked up at me and he blinked and he stared and there was nothing else to do but look down at him and love him dearly.  And when he took on a blissed-out filled-up Buddha-type look, there was nothing for me to do but feel my own blissed-out filled-up Buddha-type look.  And when he began to doze, I found myself, one who seldom claims the time for an afternoon nap, beginning to doze as well.  Sometimes, as I sprawled out, I would bend my knees and prop his back against them and just watch him sleep.  What is it about a newborn that is so intoxicating, that draws us in and blisses us out?  His sleep-smiles, his half-awake-frowns and furrowed brow, his cock-eyed wake-up moments, his blue-eyed stares, his puff-breaths – I was transfixed by it all.

And sure, Viren has those below-the-surface moments where his cork is pulled down.  Sure, he gets hungry like the rest of us.  And he lets us know it.  He puckers up his little face and squawks his newborn squawk and he clutches his teeny-tiny fists into balls.  But then as soon as he is offered food, he relaxes again, sighs a deep breath, allows himself to be brought up to that floating-in-the-sea-of-well-being place.  You can see it happen.  You can feel it happen.  The letting go, the easing up.  There is nothing wrong with the diving down, with the exploration of that world of hunger and desire, with the holding of the breath and the swimming around in search of something new.  That’s how we grow.  That’s why we’re here.  It’s when we get stuck down there in the underworld that we find ourselves in a breathless cut-off-from-our-well-being state, when we forget that we can float back to the surface with ease, that our hungers can be satisfied, not by desperately holding our breath, but by letting go, like Viren, and relaxing into the sustenance that is present for us in the moment.  And it is always present for us when we relax, the answers that we are seeking, the nourishment that feeds our hunger.

I remember when I learned to float on my back.  I was six years old that summer and already an expert at the Crocodile, planting my hands in the sandy bottom and crawling around in the shallow waters of our cove’s high tide mark.  But on this day, my big sister, who was eleven and already an impressive swimmer, introduced me to something new.  She held me up as I lay on my back in waters that were a little deeper.  At first, I clenched my fists and tightened up, but then I relaxed into her support and then I relaxed into the water’s support and then I was floating, all by myself, with the whole ocean beneath me and the whole sky above me.  It was exhilarating.  It was easy.  And it wasn’t long before I, too, became an impressive swimmer – a little mermaid, my father called me – and I loved the paddling and the kicking and the moving my body in freestyle and breaststroke and butterfly and backstroke, the swimming out into the deeper waters.  And I loved the diving down, too, the holding my breath and exploring the grassy kelp-swaying underworld.  But I think that floating on my back was always my favorite, the way the salt held me up and I felt myself melting into the water’s gentle motion, melting into something bigger than my little mind could grasp.

I’m home now in Upper Michigan, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I’m already plotting my next “Viren Fix”.  I’ll be flying out west again over Labor Day weekend for another stretch of time with my grandson.  And why wouldn’t I?!?  I want to be involved in his life.  I want to pour my love onto him.  I want to witness our kids, his parents, becoming – no, not becoming – already being these amazing, attentive, delighted parents.  And do I have to wait six weeks for a flight out west to be blissed out?  Because it’s pretty much a guarantee that time with Viren is a gateway to bliss.  I don’t think so.  Viren, the newborn – great teacher that he is – is reminding me that floating in a sea of well-being is mine for the taking.   I just need to relax and smile and let it happen.

Grandma Helen and ten day old Viren




I am a learning tree, water my roots with stories.  Minister Oye

The package, a bright green bag overflowing with yellow tissue paper and tied with a bow, was sitting on my doorstep when I arrived home from yoga the evening before the first trip out to Boulder three weeks ago.  My to-do list was long that night and my flight was brutally early the next morning, so it was a quick glance that I gave to this unexpected surprise.  It was a grandparent present from my friend, Garee, filled with children’s books and a beautiful card.  I held each of the books, admired the covers, felt excited that someday I would read from their pages to my grandson who was about to be born.  Then I carefully placed each one of them back in the bag,  knowing that I would savor this gift at a later date.

And the later date came during the two days that I spent back in Upper Michigan after Baby Viren’s birth, before flying out west again for this delicious week of baby-cuddling that I am now enjoying.  In between yoga classes and bill-paying and vacuuming the house, I found the time to once again peek at my present.  I skimmed the pages of a hands-on book titled Oops, read a few nursery rhymes from a beautifully illustrated edition of Mother Goose, and then I picked up the biggest of the books, a hefty hard-cover of songs and stories and poems complied by Julie Andrews.  I rubbed my hand over the smooth cover and then I flipped it open.  And that’s when I gasped.  And that’s when I knew this present was even more special.  And that’s when I phoned Garee.

“Garee,” I cried.  “You won’t believe it! ”   And then I told her how easily the book had opened, as if almost of its own volition, to this page that was now staring back at me in its water-colored blues and greens, this page with the words prominently placed before my eyes, words that I knew so well.  There they were in bold blue print: Sea Fever.  Sea Fever, my mother’s favorite poem, the one that she had shared with me when I was in fourth grade, the one that we re-discovered together, Mom and I, this past autumn, the one that I had read to yoga students the evening after her passing in early February, the one that is printed on the back of the program for her Memorial Service that will be held in less than two weeks.  Garee , on the other end of the phone, told me that her jaw was hanging open; she told me that she almost didn’t buy that book, that she almost didn’t buy any books.  She was on her way out to Ishpeming to deliver the card to me, she said, and she happened to turn on Washington Street.  “I never turn on Washington Street,” she added.  And that’s when she noticed the parking space in front of the bookstore.  And that’s when she became inspired and that’s when she chose the books, or, as she exclaimed, when the books chose her.  “The Julie Andrews book just jumped out at me.  It wanted to be picked!”

As I examined the book more closely, I discovered that Julie Andrews had titled a huge section, Sea Fever, and had included not only the poem by John Masefield  that my mother and I love, but a whole selection of sea poems and stories  and songs to read and sing aloud.  My mother was present in this present.  I could feel her.  She was with me, riding right along on the ocean waves of this grandparent adventure.  Two weeks ago, before Viren’s birth, during the first visit to Colorado, I was hiking up the Boulder Creek Path and  into the canyon as the sun rose over the red rocks.  Seemingly out of nowhere, a yellow swallowtail butterfly appeared, sailing on the sunbeams in front of me and landing on a pale purple thistle blossom beside the trail.  Blazing yellow in the morning light, the butterfly was radiant and certainly camera-worthy, except I didn’t have a camera with me.  I didn’t even have a smart phone.  I only had my dumb phone.  Remembering that it had some sort of a camera, I hauled it out and began to fiddle with the icons.  I must have pushed the wrong thing, because, all of a sudden, my mother appeared on the screen.  She smiled back at me from a photo that I had taken on the patio of Dionne Commons on the Solstice in December, on a sunny Maine afternoon.  It was the last time that I saw my mother before she broke her hip.  And here she was now, more than six months later, still smiling.  And when I looked up, the butterfly was gone.

The other day , I was hiking that same stretch of trail, and I was thinking about the poem and the Julie Andrews book and my mother.  It was a fresh clear morning and the air was bright and the creek, filled with the rains from the night before, was singing a vibrant  rushing song.  And suddenly it donned on me.  I don’t know why it hadn’t before.  And a shudder-breath, almost a sob, rose from deep within me, not of sorrow, but of recognition.  Of course, my mother, the nursery school teacher, my mother who loved babies, who bought my boys, the books of Maine — Andre, the Sea, One Morning in Maine, What the Sea Left Behind — of course, my mother is not only making her presence known to me.  This gift, this gift of Sea Fever, it’s not only for me.  It’s for Viren.  My mother, Viren’s great grandmother, she’s present for him as well.


The Source within you holds steady to your goodness and your well-being.  Abraham-Hicks

It had been a torrential downpour, a half-hour of floodgates opening, and the rain was rushing through the streets of Boulder on Sunday evening.  But now, the setting sun was bursting through the thunderheads and there was something special forming as I looked out the window in the room at Boulder Community Hospital where Shel had been laboring for nearly twenty-four hours.  “Look, Shel!  A rainbow!  A full rainbow arcing its way over your room!  All is well!  It’s all okay!”

I remember our first birth plan, how we intended to stay home as long as possible, wanted to give birth in the labor room with no glaring lights shining into our baby’s eyes.  And then my water broke, and then the back labor began, and the eighteen hours of hard work were not what we’d signed up for, and, when Pete finally was born under the florescent lights in the delivery room, he was whisked away and tested because of his pale skin.  We didn’t see him for what seemed like hours, but was really minutes, and, when we did, none of it mattered, our ideal birth plan gone awry, because there he was, our baby, and he was perfect, beautiful – cone-shaped head, bruised skin and all.

Because of the leaking amniotic fluid, labor had been induced in the wee hours of Sunday morning, and the pitocin, as powerful as it is, wasn’t doing the trick.  The contractions were hard and incessant; yet, Shel’s body just wasn’t dilating past three centimeters.  It was a little after ten that night when the phone rang and it was Pete, telling me that they were scheduling a C-section.  A short time later, Shel’s parents, Marv and Audrey, joined me in the waiting room, and we were ushered through the inner doors and into the space where Pete and Shel and Baby would spend time bonding after the birth.  We sat on chairs and a bed and we watched as our kids, all gowned up in sterile blue paper, were rushed past us through another set of doors.  It was 11:37, almost the next day, when Marv thought he heard a baby’s cry.

And I’ll never forget what happened next, how Pete, in his blue paper scrubs, pushed the door open and walked through, walked through carrying a tiny bundle.  And no one can prepare you for moments like this.  No one can tell you what it is like to watch your son, the one you pushed out into the world over thirty years ago, holding his son in his arms, his tiny seven pound ten ounce son in his arms.  No one can tell you what it is like to watch the two of them, your son and his son, locking eyes, in those first moments after birth.  And they did.  They locked eyes.  This little bundle of baby looked up at his father and his father looked down at him, and the words poured easily from father to son.  “Welcome to the world!” Pete said.  “You are so beautiful!  I love you!  I love you!  You’re perfect!”  Don’t we all want to be welcomed like that?!?  Don’t we all want to hear those words?!?  Isn’t it all really perfect?!?

Before long, Shelly, swaddled in warm blankets, joined us in this room of bonding, and Baby, now swaddled, too, in his tiny cap, was passed around from grandparent to grandparent to grandparent.  And I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it was the best thing in the world to hold my grandson, to have my own moments of locking eyes.  And although I could have held him forever, and I really could have, it felt right to hand him back to his father, who then placed him onto his mother.  It felt right to stand there witness to the three of them nestled together, to say my good-byes and my I love you’s and to walk out of that room, out of that hospital, out into the after-the-rain middle-of-the-night mountain air, to breathe it in, the freshness of this new day.

(And oh, by the way, before leaving the three of them alone, we grandparents learned our grandson’s name.  Viren William Ruspakka Remien.  Viren, after the Finnish long-distance runner, Lasse Viren, and  William, after our favorite bard, William Shakespeare.  Welcome to the world, Viren William!!!)

Viren William



Waiting For Baby: Part Three

Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.   Lau Tzu

Beneath the children’s squeals of laughter, beneath the chorus of conversations, beneath the wind through the trees that line this carless street in downtown Boulder, it is a droning, buzzing ancient sound that I hear.   And it brings me comfort, this earthy vibrating music emerging from the long wooden digereedoo that the man with the woolen cap is blowing into.   I am sitting on a metal bench next to a woman with a French accent who is talking to her companion.  I am sitting on a metal bench on Pearl Street, waiting for Baby.

Today, I am really waiting for Baby.  Cam flew back home to Upper Michigan yesterday morning, with a reservation in hand to return to Boulder next Friday for a second visit, one where he would meet his grandson.  And I intended to follow him this morning.  That was my plan, to claim a few days at home, to teach yoga and take care of business and get my hair cut — and, I, too, made reservations to fly back west for Round Two.  Late last evening, my bags were packed, and I was in bed almost asleep when I got the call.  A few hours earlier, Pete, Shel and I had been sitting at a Mexican restaurant, joking that perhaps the spicy food would do the trick.  And it sort of did.  Pete was calling from the hospital.  The amniotic fluid was leaking and labor was being induced and I knew I was postponing my trip, that I was staying put.

Yesterday morning as I hiked along the Boulder Creek Path I thought of Baby, and of Shelly, how I might miss the actual birth day, and, it was then that I looked down and saw a round granite rock, a smooth pink-flecked stone that fit perfectly in the palm of my hand.  I clutched it as I walked along the path up into the canyon and I thought of things that made me feel good and I sent this energy into the rock.  And later, I gave it to Shel and I told her that it was filled with feel-good energy and my love.

At noon today, Pete walked out into the waiting room, and told Shelly’s parents and me that it was going to be a long day, that we were better off going outside, finding something to do.     He’s turned out to be a wonderful coach to his laboring partner.  He’s cool and calm and clear.  And it’s our job, we grandparents, to do the waiting.  Although, I’ve gladly taken on the role of errand girl, buying sport drinks for Shelly and coffee and sandwiches for Pete, I’ve mostly been walking and sitting — and of course waiting.  The clouds have blown in now and it is cool here on my metal bench.  The woman with the French accent is no longer sitting beside me, and I’m looking over at a little boy as he toddles up to a sculpture of a beaver and climbs on its back, while his father steadies him.  Two women wearing khakis and carrying backpacks, eat ice cream out of dixie cups as they walk on by.  Throngs of people, locals and tourists, young and old, fill this space with the music of life on an ordinary summer Sunday in downtown Boulder.

Except it isn’t ordinary; there is the sound of the aboriginal digereedoo permeating it all, something primal and instinctive, and there’s a woman a few miles away sitting in a rocking chair, wrapped in blankets, holding a rock and breathing into this ancient primal rhythm, and there’s a baby in the midst of being born.

Waiting For Baby: Part Two

We don’t take a trip . . . a trip takes us.  John Steinbeck

In the cold months of winter, in a bed by a window, my ninety-three year old mother lay dying.  She wanted this transition, was tired of rallying; the broken hip was too much.  And the distance between my home in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and her hospital bed in coastal Maine felt great.  I didn’t want to miss out, didn’t want to have any regrets; yet, I also didn’t want to completely let go of my lively full life in Michigan.  I remember how unsettling it was to try to gauge the “right” time to fly east for these wintertime visits, how unsettling it was to dance in this particular unknown.  It was my friend, Garee, last January, who reminded me that my mother’s choice of a dying date wasn’t my business — and, of course, she was right.  We leave these bodies in our own time, and, we are born out of our mothers in our own time as well.  And now, in the sweltering hot days of a Colorado summer, my mother’s great grandson is reminding us all of that.  We witnesses, we family members can bet on a day that Baby will be born — this, the third day of July, is the day that Cam has chosen — and, yet, this isn’t our summertime ball game.  This isn’t our Fourth of July Parade.  Or Fifth of July Parade.  Or Fifteenth of July Parade.  This is Baby’s show and he’s in charge.

I visited with my mother  in January at Mid-Coast Hospital just a week or two after she had broken her hip.  It was my birthday and she was sweet and coherent and the two of us nibbled on cookies and marveled that she had given birth to me all those years ago.  I told her how Shel’s belly was beginning to swell, how soon Pete and Shel would know the gender of this child.  My mother smiled and closed her eyes and soaked it in.  And on this wintertime visit to Maine in mid-January, while my mother rested, there was space to leave her side and browse the aisles of L.L.Bean, space to walk briskly along the shoreline in the biting cold at Popham Beach, space to breathe deeply.  And now, in this waiting for Baby time, we also are finding the space to breathe deeply.  We touch Shel’s belly, feel Baby’s bottom or a foot as he moves as best he can in his ever-shrinking watery home.  When all of us, all four grandparents and his dad, are in the room, when we’re talking amongst ourselves, he seems to become more active —  Shelly thinks it’s because he hears us and likes having his family close.   Yesterday, Shelly made Cam and I Indian food for lunch — eggplant curry with pineapple slices on the side.  Cumin, ginger, eggplant, pineapple — all foods known to induce labor.  “Hopefully it won’t be much longer,” Shel said.

As I hugged my mother good-bye on my birthday weekend visit last January, she said the same thing.  “Hopefully it won’t be much longer.”  I returned to Maine two and a half weeks later to find her lying flat now, in her bed by the window at Winship Green.  She was barely eating and her breathing was labored, and, although the curtains were pushed wide open and the gulls were flying high and the cardinals were perched in the snow-covered trees, my mother didn’t seem to notice.  She was going inward.  She had work to do.  And all I could do was be present, bearing witness.  She loved it when I placed my hands on her forehead or the crown of her head.  And when I did, I was surprised by the energy, the sparks I felt in my burning palms.  I think my mother was leaving her body through the crown of her own head.

I wonder what it is like to be born, to press down with the crown of your head, to enter this world of the senses, this world of matter, crown first, to surrender to this process of being born.  Baby just doesn’t seem to be ready yet.  So Shel is eating spicy foods — cumin and garlic and hot peppers — is willing to swig down shots of ginger in order to speed this process up, while we, in the meantime, have slowed ourselves down.  Our days are long and spacious.  Cam and I discovered a trail system right at the edge of town that is new to us, and we hiked, on Sunday afternoon, for hours, up into the red rock formations.  At one point, Cam rested on a rock and a lizard skittered up beside him.  Later, I slipped out of my running shoes and dipped my feet into the icy mountain waters of the Boulder Creek.  I stood there knee deep for a long time, watching the people tubing downstream, carried by the river.

It was a few days before my mother’s passing that I last saw her in her physical form.  I wasn’t present  for her final breath.  And the timing felt okay to me, felt right somehow; it had been an honor to bear witness to her process, to be a loving daughter to a loving mother who was getting ready to leave her body.  And now we’re here.  And I want to be present for Baby’s first days.  I want to listen to his first breaths, smell his new baby smell.  I want to bear witness.  And I’ll wait and see how it plays out.  In the meantime, I have my feet in the river and I’m facing downstream.

Shelly’s Belly

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