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Archive for June, 2013

It’s Summertime!!!

If a June night could talk, it would probably boast it invented romance. Bern Williams

Oh, the summer night has a smile of light   And she sits on a sapphire throne   Barry Cornwall

The two days on the island were magical.  It was windy and brisk and the waves were thrashing against the shore in late April and the sun was shining on Day One as my guy and I hiked around the whole of it, around the entire shoreline of Inishere, the smallest of the Aran Islands.  A month earlier, while planning this Mystery Trip surprise to Ireland for Cam, I had shivered with thrill-bumps when I had read about Inishere, a place of peace and tranquility with only two hundred residents and very few cars, a place where visitors can relax and slow down to a pace that is hard to find on the mainland.  And relax we did as we clambered over rocks and sifted through sand for tiny shells and rested in patches of sun on the island’s lee side.  Our days stretched out wide and long and there was time for everything, for a climb up the hill to O’Brien’s 15th Century Castle, for a jaunt down the ancient roads in the island’s mid-section as we searched out the Holy Well of St. Enda, for a lunch of crab legs at a picnic table on the lawn of a woman named Susan’s cottage-home overlooking the deep blue of the North Atlantic, and moment’s later, time for feeding a bottle of formula to her baby black lamb.  Gray stone wall after gray stone wall after gray stone wall covered the island and it felt ancient, the stone and the sea and the history of this place, and I felt it in my bones and I sunk down to a place that was peaceful and ancient in myself as well.  It was the same kind of feeling that I used to get when I would visit my mother in her cottage-home in Maine on the other side of the North Atlantic, a feeling of being salt-kissed and watery and soft like the sea.

I love this feeling, this sea-soaked relaxed feeling.  Before dinner on Day Two, I leaned against the rocks that stretched out in front of our Bed and Breakfast and listened to the sea and dozed a bit, really settling into this sense of well-being.  It was a delicious appetizer to a dinner of haddock and Irish potatoes.  It was a delicious desert to a day well-spent.  And this is what I want to tell, that I was surprised by my after-dinner yearnings.  Galway had been our port of call before this mid-week hiatus on Inishere.  Galway, a college town, “the most Irish of Irish cities”, our guidebook had called it, a city where the music from the pubs and restaurants and homes and college campus spilled out into the streets, a city of vim and vigor and creative verve.  It thrummed with life and something in me, something in Cam, too, maybe something young and forgotten, thrummed along with it.  It was fun opening up to all that music, all that life; it was fun moseying into pubs and tapping our feet to the Irish rhythms and ordering bubbly water and laughing and singing as though we were back in college, feeling a little naughty, we, who haven’t drunk alcohol in years, we, who would have told you that our days of bar-hopping were long long over.  So now, on the island, on the breezy romantic slower-paced Inishere, as the sun sunk down over the sea to the west, as we walked the quiet pathways, I felt that teenage-self rising up to the surface.  Where was the music?  Where was the night life?  Where was the out-of-our-box adventure?  We can do puzzles and read books back in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  We can snuggle and cuddle and relax into a quiet night in our quiet life whenever we want to.  I didn’t want to; I wanted action.

The summer before my senior year in high school, I was hired as a kitchen girl at a small seaside inn in Maine just three miles from my coastal home, three miles and a million light years away.  I moved right in to my summertime job, to a cabin called Stone’s Throw where I, and eight other girls, three still in high school and the rest worldly and older and on their college breaks, lived a glorious out-of-the-box-for-a-seventeen-year-old-girl-like-me life.  We worked three meals a day, every day – I’m sure not legal by today’s standards – and it was wonderful, the silliness, the games we made up to make the work fun, the sneaking of lobster salad and ice cream sundaes, the guests, most of them older couples from out-of-state, who adored us and thought we were the cat’s pajamas.  During the day, in between work shifts, we napped and preened and swam in the ocean-filled pool and slathered Coppertone onto our bikini-clad bodies and water-skied behind our roommate Squish’s Boston Whaler as she flew at high reckless speeds across the sea.  And at night, after the evening shift, after our boss thought we were quietly tucked in our nine little beds, we snuck out into the thick humid coastal air.

My rules, the ones that I had lived by at my childhood home just three miles away, the ones that I had carried into my high school life just weeks before, those rules that kept my good-girl persona in check, they went out the window.  I swept my hair, hair that was supposed to be long and straight and hippie-like according to my invisible high school rule book, up into a little bun on the top of my head and I called it a “terd” and I let the wisps fall out of the side and sometimes I didn’t wear a bra — because who can wear a bra under a sexy halter top? – and okay, I admit that not all my choices were the wisest.  Strawberry Boone’s Farm wine in great quantities is not good for anyone and it probably isn’t all that safe to climb onto the hood of a gold corvette even if you are hanging on and the driver, a cute guy your big sister’s age, is only going ten miles an hour.  And today, would I make those same choices?  No way could I swoop my short spiky hair up into a terd, though I bet the style was a cute one, and no way would I look as good in a skimpy halter top and Coppertone and baby oil, we know now, don’t do wonders for our skin.  And Boone’s Farm?  It’s not in my culinary vocabulary.  But it was glorious fun.  And I’m happy as I’m remembering it.

After our two days at Inishere, Cam and I headed back to the mainland and down south to the Dingle Peninsula, to a land of magestic mountains and cozy coves and rolling green hills sloping down to the sea.  And once again, our days were stretched out long and wide and we hiked among the sheep on ancient paths out to the tip of the peninsula, to the very edge of Europe, to a place where the sea goes on forever, or not quite forever, where the sea connects our continents, connects our past and our present, to a place where it’s easy to relax into our bones, and feel that sea-soaked peace again.  And at night, in Dingle, that familiar mist from my teenage years blew in and the town came alive with music, in the bookstore, in the pubs, and we, two teenagers in our fifties, stepped out of our middle-aged boxes, and joined in.  So that’s what I’m looking for this summer, that’s what I’m seeking in my teenage-middle-aged bones, a feeling of ease and sea-soaked peace mingling with something a little naughty and adventuresome, something wild and windy with a hint of the reckless, something scented perhaps with Coppertone and the Tarzan swing of youth.

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Ducks in a row; Ducks in the flow

Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off the goal.  Hanna More

I was on my way home from the Farmer’s Market in Marquette last Saturday morning when I saw them, skittling and diddling across Wright Street in a clump behind their waddling mother.  In amazed delight, from the car I now had screeched to a halt in the middle of the road, I counted them, twelve tiny balls of yellowish fuzz.  And I cheered out loud as mother mallard, the leader of this brood, lifted her webbed feet onto the sidewalk, safe and sound on the other side, as  the adorable dozen fluff-balls hopped up after her.  But then I noticed it, and she noticed it, too, the metal fence stuck into the sidewalk’s grassy edge, the metal fence that was separating her from a banking and a woodsy stream below, and neither one of us seemed to know what to do next.  She poked her head through a hole in the fence, but her body would not follow, and then she spoke in her loud duck voice, “Quack!  Quack!  Quack!”

And meanwhile, I pulled my car into a side street, parked in front of a house and frantically ran out to be of assistance.  And frankly, I don’t know how much assistance I really offered to her — I might have been causing more distress with my presence.  But I tried.  I tried to calm myself down, and to speak in a caring voice, in a language that maybe she would understand.  “Come this way,” I coaxed as I beckoned with my hands.  But she, from her close-to-the-ground vantage point, could not see what I, with a broader vision in that moment, could.  The fence didn’t go on forever.  She just needed to guide her babies beside its metal edge in the safety of the grass for twenty-five or so feet and then the banking and the stream would be hers, and all would be smooth sailing.

How often is it like that for us as well, that the grass is too tall and we are too short, and the fence seems to stretch on forever and our goal seems so far away and we just don’t know how to get there and we feel like giving up with a squawk and a quack, quack, quack?  Since childhood, I have felt like a runner.  I was a runner.  At Y Day Camp, the dashes across the field were a breeze for me on my skinny runner’s legs, and, in middle school, I lined up with confidence on the starting line ready to charge my way through the President’s Fitness Mile.  And I’ve carried this confidence, that I am a runner, at least in my spirit, into adulthood.  I just haven’t done much with it.  For years, I gleaned spectator pleasure as I watched my son, on his nimble legs, fly like the wind around high school and college tracks, and through the woods on cross country trails and over city streets in road races.  And this was fun, cheering a loved-one on, but it’s not quite the same as living your own runner’s dream.  Sure, I’ve dabbled in it.  When the snow melts each spring and my cross-country skis find their way back into storage, I say to myself, this will be the year that running will become fun for me.  And I, dressed in my high-tech reflective gear, start out with the loftiest intentions as I head down the two-tracks and trails near my house.  All is well, for the first ten minutes or so, until I begin to miss my skier’s glide and the ease of the skating motion, until my hips begin to hurt, and my hamstrings, too, until I say to myself, that running is hard, that it’s just not fun.  And still, the desire to run with ease for mile after mile lives within me, and still, I think of myself as a runner, a runner who runs long distances.

And now, it’s spring tipping into summer and the ground has been clear of snow for well over a month, and, once again, I have slipped into the running shoes, into the running life, this year determined to stick with it.  I was writing this sentiment in my journal, in fact, a week ago, on the plane ride back from Portland, Maine, writing that I sense there is some block that I can break through to make this easier, this daily practice of running, writing this as the man next to me was reading a book.  And just moments after scribbling these words in my journal, as the plane touched down in Detroit, the man, on his way back from a college reunion and exactly my age, asked me what was in my water.  When I replied that it was chia seeds, we talked of the book, Born to Run, how the runners in Mexico eat chia seeds as a staple.  “Are you a runner?”  I asked my new friend.  And to my delight, I discovered that not only is he a runner, but a distance runner, a runner of marathon after marathon, a runner happy to share his running tips with me.  And that’s what he did as we walked through the airport.  “Alternate your running with your walking,” he said, “but keep at it, for the whole hour that you are on the trails.  And don’t worry about how fast you are; start slow.  And give your body time to adjust; it’s a sport that pounds like no other.”  So here he was, a man my age, well into his fifties, a man who didn’t start distance-running until a few years earlier, a man who ran his way through fences or around fences or found places where there were no fences.

And I’m happy to say that I tried it the next day.  I gave myself permission to run slowly and with ease, to walk if I needed to – and, it was the strangest thing; I didn’t need to.  I ran for the whole hour.  And I did it again the next day and the next.  That fence that I’d built up in my mind, the belief that I’d held so tightly all these years, that running was hard, that it wasn’t fun, that I was too old to start taking off for hours at a time, that I was going to hurt myself — that fence that had hindered me in the past, it was nowhere in sight.  I’d busted free.  And if I can do it in this one arena of my life, I can do it in other arenas as well.  Where else am I putting up fences between myself and that steady stream of dreams?  Where else can I bust free?

Mother mallard, she didn’t give up.  There were moments that I thought she might, moments where I was ready to halt traffic on Wright Street as I sensed her resolve wavering and her body heading back to the starting line, and other moments in which she turned herself around and led her brood in the fence’s other direction.  But then she plugged away, quacking all the while, calling her brood to follow.  And they did follow, and she did make her way forward and she found it, the freedom at the other end of the fence.  And I breathed this great heaving sigh of relief as I watched her waddle down the hill, as I watched them, the clump of fuzz, follow her forward toward that freely running stream.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Steady Stream of Love

When there is love in our heart, only love will come out.  Radhanath Swami

You know how it is, when you’re in the flow, feeling really good, and the momentum just keeps on building, and the good things just keep on coming your way?  It was like that for me this past weekend in Maine where I was visiting with friends and family, and working on my book project with writing buddy, Muriel.  The weather couldn’t have been more glorious, sunny and hot and lush, with lilacs and azaleas in full bloom and leaves freshly unfurled.   I soaked it in, the sea breeze and the heat, dipped my feet in the Atlantic and ate fiddlehead ferns — a family favorite — with my two brothers and their spouses.  It was wonderful and I rode the wave of the good-feeling weekend right into Saturday night and an evening alone and the excitement of a movie playing at the old renovated mill in Brunswick on the banks of the Androscoggin River, in the small theater in Frontier’s restaurant/pub.  This place that offers independently-produced films is a dream-come-true for a gal like me with a hearty appetite who loves movies and fresh locally-grown creatively-prepared food that you can take right into the theater.

It’s like that when you’re in your stride, riding the high-vibe current downstream; your dreams come true and the perfect movie shows up for you.  And it did for me last weekend.  One Track Heart was the film playing at Frontier, a documentary about Krishna Das, the American-born performer of an Indian-style devotional music called Kirtan.  I love Krishna Das.  When Cam and I spent a week in Rishikesh, India four years ago, the chants of Krishna Das flooded through the crowded streets.  “In India, he’s a rock star!” Ramesh, our guide, told us.  And, for years, his music has been a rock in my life, something stable that I can count on.  Cranking up the volume and playing his chants as I putter-clean my house sets my spirit soaring, and turning the sound way down low during a yoga class and allowing Krishna Das to cradle us in background music settles and calms me at my core.

And this documentary was filled with his music; in small intimate gatherings and in football field-sized outdoor concerts, Krishna Das is shown singing his heart out, and the audience, repeating the chants, are shown singing their hearts out, too, in a mood that just lifts itself higher and higher for the people participating, and we, the people watching it unfold on the movie screen before us.  And yet, the story that Krishna Das tells of making his way onto the stage and into the sacred music is fraught with struggle.  In college, he played in a band, dreamed of fame and fortune and rock and roll, and, although the music fed him, he was hungry, even starving inside, for something else, and this desire for an inner sustenance led him, along with a group of friends, to northern India in 1970, to an ashram where he lived for three years, meditating and studying and learning the sacred chants with the Hindu guru, Neem Karoli Baba, who he calls Maharaj-ji.  Krishna Das speaks of Maharaj-ji’s unconditional love, of the bliss that Krishna Das and his fellow Americans felt in their guru’s presence, how it was intoxicating, and, how, three years later, it was hard to leave this physical presence when Maharaj-ji sent the Americans back home to the United States, home to learn how to live in their own country.  Krishna Das speaks of the loneliness he felt for his guru once he was back home, and the devastation that swept over him when, a few years later, Maharaj-ji left his physical body behind, how for years, there was a longing for that unconditional love, for the feeling that he had experienced in India.  And it wasn’t until he realized that it wasn’t the physical presence of the guru that he was missing, but the love that the guru emanated , and this love, it could be found everywhere.

My father died when I was not quite eighteen, in the autumn of my senior year in high school, when I was on the precipice of adulthood, but not quite there.  He was the person in my life who I felt “got” me the most.  And for the seventeen and a half years that he was in my physical presence, he radiated love in my direction, a love that felt unconditional to me, with his devotion to my activities and with his sheer delight in my very beingness.  I had no doubt that my father, a man with a buoyant whistle-in-his-walk spirit, loved me, and, when he was no longer there physically, I was devastated.  And for years, if you asked me, I would have told you that this, this event, my father ‘s dying, was the great tragedy of my life.  It was a hole that I couldn’t seem to fill up —  I understand what Krishna Das is talking about in this documentary, the lonely bottomless pit of trying to find something on the outside that now seems to be missing.  And although years of writing and therapy and meditation certainly were pointing me in a direction of joyful wholeness, I can tell you the exact moment when something shifted inside of me.  Something wonderful.

I was weeding the garden in the late spring, the year that my father-in-law died, twelve years ago now, decades after my own father had made his transition.  And, as I dug my hands in the spring earth, it was the strangest feeling; I could feel my father-in-law’s presence, his essence, and a love so strong that I was overcome by it.  And in those moments, among the plants and the soil, I felt like the luckiest girl in the world, to have such a father-in-law, and the feeling of love spread as I crouched down in the spring earth — I felt them both, these fathers who I had adored in their physical form, these fathers who had adored me.  And the love was palpable, not a memory, but a real present-day feeling that they were present in this love.   And I realized then and there that there was no hole inside.   And suddenly, I, who had told the story of tragedy all those years, had a new story to tell, one of love overflowing, of feeling so loved, a story of immense appreciation.   And when I heard Krishna Das talking of this love on the big screen a week ago, I knew what he was talking about.

So how do we connect with this steady stream of love?  How do we release our attachment to form and realize that the love is everlasting?  How do we become the steady stream of love regardless of who we are with and what we are doing?  It’s easy to feel love, at least for me, with my feet dipped into the sandy edge of the Atlantic, when I am smelling lilacs in full bloom, when I’m cuddling with my husband, when I’m watching a good movie, when things are going my way.  It’s easy for me to feel love when I’m around that grandson of mine,  easy for me to feel ridiculously intoxicated with love when I’m crawling on the floor, following his buoyant being from room to room, easy for me to clutch him in my arms and press my lips against his face and smash a kiss into those baby cheeks and say, “I love you I love you I love you!”   It’s easy for me to feel uplifted, as if I’m on stage chanting those chants, when I’m with my grandson, Viren.  But what about when I have to say good-bye to him, and it’s going to be another six weeks before my next fix?  What do I do then?  Well, I can think of him, and, if I do it from a place of fullness, a place of genuine appreciation, not lack, I am filled up inside, filled to the brim, and that love that is filling me up, it spills over into everything.

Viren at eleven months

Viren at eleven months

Viren at eleven months, Laramie, Wyoming

Viren at eleven months, Laramie, Wyoming

Foraging

One of my first, and still one of my favorite, lessons for learning about plants was to become in tune with my environment: the weather, the flows of water, the places of special energy, Mother Nature herself.  Susun Weed

Wilderness is the raw material out of which man has hammered the artifact called civilization.  Aldo Leopold

 

“I’m a forager!!!” I exclaimed to my husband, Cam, as I burst through the door last Wednesday evening.

It had been a wonderful day in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  The cool cloudy morning had opened up into the most glorious of seventy-degree sunny afternoons, and we, the eight of us, had carpooled our way, in two vehicles, north on County Road 550 toward Big Bay, for an afternoon/evening foraging workshop with our buddy and forager extra-ordinaire, Sue Belanger.  Sue lives in a charming cabin with her partner on the Yellow Dog River, surrounded by forest and river and lake — a perfect home-base for a day of traipsing through the woods and along a two-track dirt road in search of wild edibles.  The leaves on the trees above us were unfurling before our eyes and the forest floor was an ever-changing carpet of spring beauties and violets and marsh marigolds, of flowers that I recognized and ones that were new to me, of plants that were just  bursting through the late-to-thaw earth and plants in full bloom.   And we learned things as we moseyed along.  So many things.  We sampled wintergreen and violet and sedum leaves, munched on the buds of dandelions, and, with our trusty trowels, dug wild leeks from the ground.  We collected leaves and buds and flowers and roots from these plants, and dropped our samples into bags and buckets, the “groceries” that we would unpack  for a meal that we were going to prepare later in the early evening

And hours later, back in my neighborhood home, Cam’s reply to my enthusiastic proclamation was matter-of-fact.  Although he seemed interested in hearing about the adventures of my day, he was non-plussed.  “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” he said.  “Your mother was a forager.”  And it’s true; she was.  She scouted the cottage lawn for dandelion greens, the tender new shoots that she sautéed with sweet onion; she pulled back the seaweed from the rocks at low tide and gathered the mussels and periwinkles, and steamed them in a white wine broth; she scrounged the small shell beach at the tip of Sister Point for the sun-dried clumps of sea moss that she then boiled into a pudding for desert.  Sure, she cherished the domestic, the civilized, too.  She swept the beach sand and forest dirt from the plywood cottage floor each morning, shook out the braided rug that she had created herself, watered the inside plants from an antique brass pitcher that was her mother’s, fed us the sea moss pudding in delicate china bowls, switched on the classical music when we went outside to play.  And at night, as the sea lapped the beach just feet from our cottage home and the tides flowed in and out and the winds blew through the spruce trees’ branches, she harnessed in the cowlicks and her hair’s summer- time waves with a brush and bobby pins and a gold-framed mirror.

Yes, my mother, who loved her ancestor’s hand-me-down treasures and loved to read and read and read and loved to cook intricate recipes from all over the world, cherished the nest that she had built for us, her baby birds, and she did her best to feather it with domesticity.  But she couldn’t help it, every morning, the cowlicks boinged back and the waves, the ones on her head, flew this way and that, and the spiders, they moved right in with us and the floor — how can you keep the sand and dirt from taking over?  And the rain, it pattered on the cottage roof and sometimes dripped through the cracks, and the rust from the well’s water left marks on our hand-woven placemats.  And the seaweed is perfect fertilizer for a domestic garden.  And the wee birds, her children, we were a little wild, too, with our dirty feet and pine pitch-stained knees.  And, most of the time, it was okay to have a mother who wasn’t as neat and tidy as the television mothers of the 1960’s, a mother who baked our bread from whole wheat flour and made the sourdough for pancakes and coated our chicken with her own wheat germ and brewer’s yeast version of Shake & Bake.  And we liked the sea moss pudding and the tiny periwinkles and the dandelion greens, and it was only occasionally that we cringed and ducked down in the back of the car, when she did things like pull over and scout the woods for wild asparagus, only occasionally did we wish for a more “normal” mother, the television-type of mother.

My mother was perfectly suited for her cottage home.  The sweet Maine cove provided a haven from the wildness of the sea, yet, it seeped, in too, the salt air and the sun and the sea breeze.  And, as she grew older and the cottage grew older, the boundaries between domestic and wild became even more blurry.  There were mice families living in the old bunkhouse where we used to sleep, and squirrels nesting on the roof and the walls were getting shakier.  And my mother, she lived long and well in this world of wild domesticity, and I, her daughter, savored my visits to her nest by the sea.  And yet, I couldn’t live like that, with the mice in the bunkhouse, and the walls of my home held together with spit and pine pitch, with water that makes my hair turn orange and a roof that doesn’t hold out the rain.  Sometimes, I’m shocked at myself, that I, the girl with the tough bare feet and a skill for hopping across rocks as though it’s no effort of all, I, who love the wildness of a storm and am not afraid to wander through the woods alone, have chosen for over thirty years to live in a suburban neighborhood, in a house that is tidy, with walls that are secure.  And yet, I. too, can’t keep out the wild.  And I don’t want to.  The deer wander into our yard and lick the seeds from our feeder.  Hawks swoop down from the maple and aim their vision on the bright yellow finches.  A pileated woodpecker pounds great holes in the rotting jack pine.  And the spiders, they move right in.  And sometimes I turn a blind eye to them and sometimes I carefully place them outside.  And dandelions, I eat them, and violet flowers, too, and almost every day, I find myself out in those woods that are wild, find myself in the presence of  bear scat and wolf tracks, find myself howling with those howling coyotes.

I suppose it’s natural for we humans to build our nests.  Our furry and feathery friends build theirs as well.  But it’s in us, too, this call of the wild.  And so, as I lay in my bed, my king-sized blanketed bed, in my room painted the color of the sea, as I lay beside Cam last Wednesday evening, with the windows wide open, the peeper frogs sang their songs to us and a soft warm breeze blew in.  And I told him, as we snuggled under freshly-washed sheets that smelled like the Upper Peninsula air, of the meal that we, the foragers had created.  A wild meal of braised dandelion greens and violet leaves and fiddlehead ferns, thrown into a frittata made with eggs from a neighbor’s chickens.  And the flowers of the dandelion dipped into cornmeal and made into a blossoming fritter.  And a pesto of wild leeks and hickory nuts, and wild mushroom popovers.  It was a meal that my fellow forager mother would have loved.

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