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Archive for August, 2015

Birthing

The strongest and sweetest songs yet remain to be sung.  Walt Whitman

I drive the same route on two-lane roads that wind through rolling wheat and hay fields and hillsides of prairie grass, then turn the car toward the mountain ridge of cedar and pine and fir.  I have done this at least once every day for the past two weeks. I’m in Idaho’s Panhandle for an extended three week stay.  And each time that I drive on these country roads, I revel in the beauty that is here for me — the wind blowing waves through fields of wheat, red sun at dusk shining on prairie grass, expansive views of rolling Tuscany-like hills dotted with pines.  And there are always the surprises, the new delights that await me at every turn.  Once I saw an owl light from a tree with great sailing wings, and, another time, a hawk rapid-wing fluttered in place above a farm field.  A fat porcupine lumbered into the tall grass one evening at dusk and a mother Hungarian Partridge beckoned her fluff-ball chicks across the road at mid-day.

And as I approach the forest ridge of evergreens, as I turn into the last driveway before the trails, I find the pot of gold at the end of my rainbow drive.  It is a baby who awaits me in this sweet cottage home, a new baby just over two weeks old, tiny, with sweet pink lips and blueberry eyes and a furrowed brow when she is hungry, and her parents, too, who are also new at this baby game.  And aren’t we all — and always — birthing something new, discovering the new around the next corner?

For sure, the world is a new place for this baby, this sweet six-and-three-quarter pound girl who is my granddaughter, Adeline Zoe.  When you walk with her outside, she startles at the brightness of day, and she looks up at those great western cedars with her fuzzy gaze and I wonder what she is thinking.  And she is a hungry girl, this granddaughter of mine, hungry for the new.  She latches onto her mother’s breast, tastes sweet milk, likes what she tastes, likes the feeling of skin against skin.  Sure the world is new to Adeline, but it is also new to her parents, my son and daughter-in-law who are figuring it out, this rabbit hole that they find themselves in, figuring out how to survive, how to thrive in this world of sleep deprivation and constant feedings and emotions that run the gamut and unexpected Tsunami-strength waves of love that overpower everything.  They are birthing a new way of being.

And what am I birthing out here in the hot dry northwest of August where I am constantly surprised by the new?  I know I am birthing a new way to be present with my kids, the two families who live in the same small college town, each with a grandchild who pulls me in.  I have figured out my own way to jump down the rabbit hole into the new, have found an apartment for myself in the walk-out basement of the kids’ realtor’s home.  It is beautiful and a bargain and it offers me the space to be me as i navigate these new grandparent waters.  I claim time each day for an adventure with my three-year-old buddy Viren, and it doesn’t take much to amuse the two of us — a walk in these tall-tree forests on trails that wind up and down, or a trip to the center-of-town play area and a fountain where we throw pennies into the splashing pool of wishes and a smoothie at the Co-op and we call it a good afternoon.  And Adeline Zoe!!!  I am intoxicated with her newborn presence and I treasure the times that I have held her close.  And it is enough to just sit and gaze at her.  And it is easy to find balance and to find pleasure in this Idaho world that has breathed itself new.

And as I drive back and forth on the country roads, as I delight in the newness of each trip, I wonder what else I might be birthing, for I feel the pangs of something new emerging.  I know that there are the newborn cries of four books telling me that they are ready to be nursed into shape and introduced to the world.  And I know that there are other things crying to be born as well and i know that I don’t need to hold myself tight against this birthing process, that it has a momentum of its own that is powerful and ancient and true  And I know that if I really tune in, really allow that ancient wise birth song to have its way with me, I will be delighted again and again by what shows up around the next corner.  For there is nothing more precious to behold than new life, new projects, new ways of being just waiting to nestle themselves into my arms.

Homecoming: Moscow, Idaho, August 13, 2015

Homecoming: Moscow, Idaho, August 13, 2015

Adeline Zoe (three days old) and Daddy: Moscow, Idaho, August 2015

Adeline Zoe (three days old) and Daddy: Moscow, Idaho, August 2015

Adeline Zoe (eight days old) and Mommy, August 2015

Adeline Zoe (eight days old) and Mommy, August 2015

Adeline Zoe, August 2015

Adeline Zoe, August 2015

Viren in the wheat field: Moscow, Idaho, August 2015

Viren in the wheat field: Moscow, Idaho,
August 2015

Our Marriage

In the starry part of their hearts true love lingered . . . (words on a piece of ceramic art hanging in our home)

It didn’t start out as a springtime romance, not like my high school crush that had blossomed a few years earlier with those first daffodils in April and had felt giddy and flighty and then had quickly faded as spring lost its initial oomph and became something else.  This was different.  It was in October that we met, late October, mid-semester at the University of Maine, and the leaves rustled under our feet as we walked the paths to class and the trees exposed their spindly branches and a darkness wrapped itself around the campus by the time we made our way to York Hall’s dining room.  It was a bare earth, bare bones time of the year, a time to turn inward and light a fire and invite the shadows out to play — it was the Halloween time of the year.  And that’s when the romance began to burn, on Halloween night, at a keg party-dance in Kennebec Hall with the music blaring and the beer spilling and all of us students stretching our limits in masks and costumes and bold-inducing props.

He was a good boy dressed up like a bad boy, this nineteen-year-old sophomore from the midwest, who was asking me to slow dance this Halloween night to the longest of songs, in-a-gadda-da-vida.  He wore a white undershirt and tight blue jeans and he had tucked an unopened box of cigarettes into his pocket and he stared at me with his intense blue eyes.  I was a good girl, a freshman from the coast who had worked that summer at an inn with eight other girls, all good girls learning to be bad, and we had watched the new movie by Woody Allen, Everything You Want To Know About Sex, and that’s where I got my Halloween cue.  I dressed up like a sperm that night, with my navy blue sweatshirt’s pointy hood tucked tight around my face and my extra-big chromosome pinned across my front and my flagella of a tail swishing behind.  He stared and I giggled and I pushed down my hood and let my hair fly free.  He tossed away the unopen box of cigarettes and began to smile, and somehow, through some act of grace, the giggling sperm and the James Dean look-alike became the girl and the boy that they really were.  And they danced their way that Halloween night into something real and deep and more filled with the shadows of the unknown than any college campus Halloween party.

And, as the snow began to fly and the semester gained its momentum, on those dark days of late autumn, he was drawn to my light.  And I was drawn to his confidence.  And together, me absorbing his courage, he basking in my sparkle, we created a space for each other, and this space became a path and this path carried us forward through finals and winter break and visits to meet families and more semesters and a summer on the coast and an engagement and a wedding nearly three years later in August, on the sixth, the hottest day on record in coastal Maine.  And that’s what I want to tell you now, that it is our anniversary today, our thirty-eighth wedding anniversary, and I find this hard to believe, that it has been thirty-eight years, and, yet, I also find it hard to believe that those two young kids who danced together on Halloween night were a version of the two of us.  I want to tell you that there have been many versions of each of us since that long slow dance, and there have been many versions of us as a couple too.  I have stepped into my own confidence.  He has discovered and delighted in his own ability to shine brightly.  We don’t need each other to fill in those pieces anymore.  So what is left in a marriage that has been around for thirty-eight years?  I want to tell you that I still like him, this good boy from Grand Rapids, Michigan, and he still likes me, too.  And that goes a long way in a long-term marriage, the liking each other.

And there’s something more, something deeper that I want to tell you about.  Sometimes when we’re not liking each other, we hate each other.  Sometimes those Halloween demons come out to play and we can’t stand the sight of our partner’s face.  Sometimes it is the big topics that raise our hackles, topics like money — and sometimes it is the petty differences in personality.  And that’s what happened on a Friday evening in late June.  You don’t need to know the details.  They don’t matter.  Just know that we were both tired and cranky and our visions for the evening’s unfolding were different and I ended up going out when what I really wanted to do was stay home and watch a movie, and he felt criticized and I felt pushed into something I didn’t want to do, and it culminated at midnight with us walking in the door to our usually hospitable house in a flurry of bickers.  It could have been worse.  It could have escalated.  But that’s not what I wanted that night.  He went to bed.  I turned on my computer.  And that’s when the grace arrived on the scene  — the amazing grace that is always present if we relax into it.  It arrived in a blatant form.  It was the headline that caught my attention, and so I pushed play, and there he was on YouTube, the president of the United States, Obama, in all his vulnerability, standing in front of a congregation in a church in South Carolina; there he was singing his heart out to a grieving community, offering up the healing balm of grace and his very own open heart in a rendition of “Amazing Grace”.  And it shifted everything; it softened my heart, too, listening to him sing like that, and, when I brought the computer upstairs and played the video, it softened the heart of my not-quite-asleep husband.

That doesn’t mean that there is no work to do, at least not along the path of our relationship.  We do our share of trail maintenance.  And our collection of tools, tools accumulated through the thirty-eight years of pruning the path, is impressive.  And so, the next morning after the bickering, we hauled out a tried and true method of listening to each other, and it was easy to listen, to see each other’s perspective, to like each other again.  And that’s where the grace comes in; it washes over everything.  And the love, too.  And maybe they are the same thing.  And I know they have always been with us — grace and love — with all the versions of ourselves.   And I know that our history matters, that it adds poignancy to our relationship.  And a richness that is beyond words.  And today on our anniversary, I thank those two young kids who chose, all those years ago at a Halloween Party in Kennebec Hall, to unmask themselves and take the plunge into something real.

 

Our Marriage

is a cove in Maine

silty sand, tiny wavelets, a wild sea

it is a full moon

and periwinkles clinging to shore

a stagnant green pool and a tree-bending

nor’easter

it is sumac and beach roses and

orange-lichened rock

it is a fish house painted sage

years ago and a rosy pink door

a mooring   a haul-off line

and two turquoise skiffs

it is the sole of an old sneaker

garnet flecks glittering

in the summer sun

(The poem was written at Joy Center a few years ago at Matt Maki’s Write Now! class)

 

 

Helen and Cam in dorm room at University of Maine: 1975

Helen and Cam in dorm room at University of Maine: 1975

 

Wedding Day: August 6, 1977

Wedding Day: August 6, 1977

 

Our boys: Autumn 1982

Our boys: Autumn 1982

 

Camping in Canada: August, 1991

Camping in Canada: August, 1991

 

At Peter and Shelly's wedding, May 14, 2005

At a son’s wedding:  May, 2005

 

With grand baby, Viren, November 2012

With grand baby, Viren, November 2012

 

Kythera, Greece, May 2015

Helen and Cam, Kythera, Greece, May 2015

Creative fire

What is the most compelling beautiful work I’m capable of creating at this point in my life?  Roderick MacIver

Creativity is conceived as a reproductive act with tangible result — a child, a book, a monument that has a life beyond the life of the producer.  Creativity, however, can be intangible in the form of a good life, or a beautiful act, or in other virtues of the soul such as freedom and openness, style and tact, humor, kindness.  James Hillman

What is the most compelling beautiful work that I am capable of creating at this point in my life?  During the lush and star-spangled and busy and crazily green-growing days of the first half of summer, I’ve held onto this question that Roderick MacIver poses, held on like a lifeline, like a Tarzan swing that I’m clutching with both my hands.  And, indeed, it is a two-handed hold that I have on this metaphoric swing.

In my one hand, I hold dear to the knowing that my greatest life work, my most compelling and beautiful creation is to live a life of presence, that the living itself is the greatest art that I could possibly manifest.  And what a month of living July has been!  Our son, daughter-in-law and three-year-old grandson have been visiting with my husband and me in Upper Michigan.  For the first two weeks of the month, a just-turning-three-year-old guy was my buddy, my first mate of household chores and Joy Center errands, and my hiking partner for several memorable excursions around the neighborhood and along the shores of Superior.  It was the dear art of living that Viren and I created on these summertime outings.  And one particular trek shines brightly as an afternoon I want to remember.  We called it our roots-and-rock-hike, and I said, “Be careful, this is a challenge!” and he said, “This is tricky!” and we both agreed that we were having a blast on this sunny sparkling seventy-degree day.  We parked at Wetmore Landing, followed the trail to the wide stretch of beach and to the path that traces the shoreline all the way to Little Presque Isle.  Viren wore a backpack; I carried lunch.  And it was the adventure that I am savoring now as I remember, the adventure that carried us along over the roots and the rocks and down a steep sandy root-ridden incline to our own private cove.  We were living a string of Huck Finn moments. The path was new to Viren, out of his box of routine activities, and out of my box as well.  I had let go of Joy Center responsibilities that day, let go of any possibility of a writing time, and off we had gone, carefree, letting freedom lead the way, letting the Lake and the rustling trees and the warmth of the sun beckon us forward.  And that sense of freedom, that sense of a stretched-out trail and a day spread out wide, it stays with a Grandma and her grandson for a long, long time and can be conjured up at a moment’s notice.

And after two full weeks of Viren play, I, the Huck Finn Grandma, said good-bye to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and I set sail — air sail, that is — for a different sort of adventure.  I flew west laden with a suitcase filled with gifts from Michigan friends for Viren’s baby girl cousin soon to be born, flew west over the northern plains and the mighty Rockies.  And I eased down into the country of rolling wheat and lentil fields and majestic cedars and pine, and I spent a weekend there in the Panhandle of Idaho with our other son and our pregnant daughter-in-law, and this, too, was sweet music for a summertime soul.  The air was clear and dry, and their cottage home was inviting, and it felt real, the impending birth of a baby girl.  I placed my hands over my daughter-in-law’s belly and it felt like a prayer, the roll and the tumble inside, and I whispered, “I love you, Baby Girl!”  And I treasured the three days in Idaho, the dinners out at farm-to-table restaurants, the Farmer’s Market on Saturday morning and the juicy peaches still warm and sweet with sunlight, the gentle hikes through the nearby forest, the coyote and the deer eating cherries dropped from the backyard tree.  And again there is a memory that I hold especially dear.  While our son, the dad-to-be, biked on mountain trails new to him, my daughter-in-law and I found a bench by a reservoir filled with blooming lilies and ripple-tiny waves, and we sat there for an hour with the breeze cooling us off and we spoke of grandparents, not of the current crop of grandparents, but of the grandparents we knew as kids.  I loved listening to my daughter-in-law’s stories, loved the expansiveness of that time on a summertime bench sprawled out and relaxing, an expansiveness that embraced these people who came before us, that brought them into the fold and made them real for my daughter-in-law and for myself, and for the baby girl who is about to be born.

And perhaps that is what I loved best in Maine, the next stop for this Huck Finn adventurer.  It was a triangular route I mapped out over the country, east from Idaho and south to Atlanta and north again to the rugged and rockbound coast of Maine, my home state, to a cottage that I had rented on the ocean just two miles from the land where I roamed as a girl.  And it’s not that I didn’t love the action in the present moment, the walk on the long stretch of state park beach with my friend and writing sister Muriel, the trek along the wide Androscoggin River with another friend Rebecca, a friend who I have known forever, the lobster dinner, the blueberry deserts, the gatherings with siblings and cousins, the overbites with niece, nephew and their baby, the boatride on the 1930’s Ruth with my husband Cam, and his mother from Michigan and her boyfriend from Maine.  This was all fabulous, this was all blueberry pie and salt air wonderful.

Yet, it was the rich bubbling up of the past that brings me such joy, that reminds me that life is even wider than the great Great Lake that is my dear companion in Upper Michigan, more expansive than the pure blue sky in Idaho that makes me want to soar with those western hawks, more mighty than the north Atlantic that makes my heart sing and my hair curl wild.  It was the connection with those no longer living in their bodies yet ever so present in the present that brought me to happy tears.  I felt them at the dinners and on the boat ride and when I peeked in the cottage windows of the now-vacant summer dwelling of my parents’ best friends.  And I especially felt this connection when my family congregated at the Maine Maritime Museum this past Sunday.  We siblings all just happened to be in Maine in a grand orchestration of perfect timing.  It was the opening of the “Lobstering the Maine Coast” exhibit and there he was, our father, one of the visionaries of the museum back in the 1960’s, once again hauling up his favorite trap in two photos on the wall — the hoop net, he called it — a round net that sunk to the ocean’s floor and collected all sorts of treasures that brought us to squeals.  And there it was, the red boat, the one I write about in essays and poems and stories, the one named after our grandmother, the Emma L, the boat that carried us to Wood Island and Spring Beach, the boat with the bow I straddled as a teen, gangly legs dangling into the splashing sea, the boat that served as lobster vessel for my father and later for my brother as well.  And thanks to my brother’s efforts, here it was now and forever preserved in a world- class maritime museum in our hometown, and here we were, the siblings, on the opening day, savoring it all.

That’s the kind of July it has been, a July so packed with gifts and places and people, with time stretched out wider than I could ever have imagined possible.  And how does a gal take this all in, absorb this expansiveness into her cells?  How does she push the save button on these experiences before swinging out over the sea of possibility and plopping down into the second half of summer?  It’s with a two-handed hold — at least it is for me.  I can’t move forward before breathing all of this into my bones in a blog or a poem or a story, without gluing the photos of the adventures shared with that beloved grandson of mine into a book made with my owns hands at a Joy Center Book Art event with him sitting on the stool next to me making his own book, without claiming the time for a pause and allowing the creative impulses of the moment to rise up.  And this creative work of integration is compelling to me, and beautiful to me, and as essential to the journey as the vibrant action moments.  It is the living and it is the making sense of the living that calls to me and it is all creative and all necessary if I’m going to swing myself forward.   And that’s what I am going to do right now on this first day of August.  I’m going to grab hold of that rope and fly out into this glorious sweet and sunny morning.

 

Viren selecting rocks; Lake Superior, July 2015

Viren selecting rocks; Lake Superior, July 2015

 

Diana, Moscow, Idaho, July 2015

Diana, Moscow, Idaho, July 2015

 

Moscow, Idaho; July 2015

Moscow, Idaho; July 2015

 

Fishing boat, Sebasco, Maine; July 2015

Fishing boat, Sebasco, Maine; July 2015

 

The Emma L., the boat of my childhood and one that my brother restored; Maritime Museum, Bath, Maine; July 2015

The Emma L., the boat of my childhood and one that my brother restored; Maritime Museum, Bath, Maine; July 2015

 

Photos of Daddy and his hoop net; Maritime Museum, Bath, Maine; July 2015

Photos of Daddy and his hoop net; Maritime Museum, Bath, Maine; July 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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