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Archive for February, 2017

The Sea

There is pleasure in the pathless wood, there is rapture in the lonely shore, there is society where none intrudes by the deep sea, and music in its roar;  . . .  Lord Byron

The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever. Jacques Yves Cousteau

I want to tell you about the sea.  And though I have shared my sea stories with you before, this feels different to me.  In the past, it always has begun with a cove in Maine, the place of my childhood summers and my many adult visits to my mother who lived there until her death five years ago.  It is easy to write about a cove, a specific one in Casco Bay called Fish House Cove, a cove you can conjure up in your mind in this moment, with its daily turns of the tide and its green shadowy waters that transform to sparkly blue when the breeze blows off the shore, a cove that is a haven for the schools of mackerel and the lobsters who crawl on the sandy bottom by the haul-off rock, and the great blue heron who roosts each night in the tallest of pines.  I have done my best to squeeze this cove into poems and short stories and tidy essays with titles like “Fog” and “First Swim” and “On My Mother’s Deck”, have done my best to wring the salt right out of its essence — some of it, at least — to sprinkle across the page.  I’ve tried my hardest to bring to life the smell of the balsam trees, the rotting seaweed, the faint whiff of fish mingling with the freshness of ocean, to encapsulate this smell in a string of words with borders and boundaries and grammatical rules.  It is not a big cove.  Its beach is a Size Small, its rocks, a Medium, and it has been my reliable partner, providing me with decades of material to feast upon.  And it has been enough.

So, what do I do now?  What do I do with all this sea, all this wide open ocean?  I don’t know how to contain it  — because how do you contain it, the whole of the Atlantic at your left shoulder?  Maybe you could put something down on the page if you were staying put in one place, getting to know a stretch of shoreline, its sandpipers and tide pools and rocky outcrops.  But that’s not what we did, my friend Mary and I, last October.  There was no staying put on this northbound trek along the coast of northern Portugal.  For the first seven days of a three hundred-plus kilometer pilgrimage on foot from Porto, Portugal to Santiago de Compostilo, Spain, we clung to the coast.  After receiving our initial stamp in our pilgrim passports at Porto’s magnificent cathedral, we spent our first hours walking along the banks of the wide Duoro River on cobblestone paths.  The tide was low, the river quiet, the estuary filled with gulls and herons and shorebirds, and the air tinged with the scent of seaweed and mudflats.  This was all familiar to me, a gal raised at the mouth of a tidal river in Maine.  It wasn’t until we rounded the corner to a wide cobblestone promenade that it happened, that Mary and I were blasted with the thunder of the north Atlantic.  We heard its thunderous waves for days.  Sure there were the fishing villages, the protective break walls, the occasional river town, but mostly it was the sea, the raw and wild sea, that was our constant companion.

As Mary and I walked northward — sometimes barefoot in clean squeaky sand, sometimes on piles and piles of smooth tumbled stones, sometimes high above the beach in grassy dunes or on boardwalk paths, in morning fog, in noon-day sparkle, at dusk as sunsets stretched the wide panoramic length of the horizon, there it was — the sea at our left shoulder.  The blue water, the salty air, the gentlest of breezes, the waves rolling into shore.  It didn’t even have to work at seduction.  It had me — and Mary, too — from that first moment, when we rounded the corner and set our eyes upon it, that first thunderous wave, that first glorious sunset, the one that seemed to stretch on for hours.  It was healing balm, a powerful elixir, and there was nothing to do but let go and allow it to work its magic, nothing to do but melt into the wonder of it, to forget about words, about tidy poems, a single sandcastle story, an essay about a lone gull, maybe one called Bop Bop who was your friend for years.  This was something new, this ten hours a day of sheer ocean pleasure.

Sometimes the beach grass glistened and we were sun-soaked.  Sometimes we were sure there was a song in the air, something Irish and ballad-like.  And, if we stood still for a moment and focused on the horizon, we were pretty sure we could almost see it, a Portuguese sailing vessel of old, a mermaid’s tail sparkling in the sun, a whole of the history of humankind rolling in on the waves.  And that’s what I want to tell you, that the sea softened us, to everything, to the people we met, to the villages we walked through, to the multitude of magical-seeming synchronicities waiting for us along our pilgrim path.  We allowed ourselves to be tumbled, soft and smooth like those incredible stones piled high on the beaches.  And it has stayed with me, and with Mary too, this tumbled-open feeling, this allowing of something grand and unspeakable.   And it is easy to conjure it up, to close my eyes and put myself in that place once again, that sea-soaked happy heart space that cannot be contained within the boundaries of a cove, that overflows over the borders of a bay, that knows no borders and no boundaries and is limitless in its welcoming power and is available to us all.

 

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Along the northern Portuguese coast: October 2016

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Kauai

Everything that is made beautiful and fair and lovely is made for the eye of one who sees.  Rumi

“Did you try surfing?!?”  It was the logical question for my friend Keith to ask when  my husband Cam and I ran into him at the Detroit Airport last month on our way home from a family trip to Kauai, Hawaii.  After all, for years now, I’ve been saying it out loud, in a really loud voice, with bravado, how, someday, I’m going to get myself up on one of those boards and ride a rolling wave into shore.  Here in Upper Michigan, where Keith and a whole tribe of diehards practice the sport, it is a sight to behold.  We don’t have the warm waters of Hawaii, the pause between ocean waves, the palm tree breezes and fresh pina coladas waiting on shore.  We have Lake Superior.  And the surfing is best on this greatest of Great Lakes when the weather is at its worst.  When the north winds are howling and the snow is flying and the lake isn’t quite frozen yet and the waves are thrashing against the sandstone cliffs and sandy beaches, the cars are lined up at our local peninsula park, and the wet-suited men and women, looking like excited skinny seals with fast-moving legs, can be seen clutching their boards while running toward the wild water.  And often, I’m right there with them, just feet away on shore, whooping and hollering and cheering them on as they paddle out into the frigid bay.  And when they catch one of those crazy choppy Great Lake waves, my heart skips a beat and I can almost feel myself sailing along with them.  Yes, surfing is in my blood, and, it’s true; I really do want to try it.

And the desire to be in the presence of a whale is on my bucket list, too.  I often draw a card from a fifty-two card deck called “Earth Magic” that I keep in my creativity room, and, in the weeks before this family trip to Kauai as I focused my attention on intention for the adventure, the image that kept ending up in my hand was of the whale.  Again and again, it was the magnificent breaching mammal that seemed to have a message for me.  And this message seemed loud and clear — I assumed that I was to see one in Kauai, maybe one arching out of the water with a mighty push of power beyond what I had ever experienced.  So, when we — all eight of us, my husband Cam and I, our two sons and their wives, and our two grandkids — congregated in our vacation rental home in Princeville, Kauai late that first night early in January, we excitedly called out our desires helter-skelter before falling into bed jet-lagged and Hawaii-happy after our long day of plane travel.  We wanted beach time and hiking trips and fresh fruits and fish.  We wanted to lounge and swim and explore our island home.  And I’m sure I hollered out something about a possible surfing lesson and the opportunity to see a whale, a real whale, up close and personal.

So nine days later, at the airport in Detroit, when Keith asked me about surfing, I think he was surprised by my reply.  “No,” I said.  “I didn’t surf.  And I didn’t see a whale either!”  Well, I might have seen a whale.  Most people in my family did, somewhere out there on that very blue horizon.  And when I squinted, I thought I spied a whitecap splash that might have been a spout or a breach, but I couldn’t say for sure, and I’m not counting it.  I think that Keith might have been disappointed.  He knew how much surfing means to me, and he might have thought that I was sacrificing my keen desire for the wants of others.  But, that wasn’t the case at all.  And this conversation with my friend helped me to clarify in my own mind what was important to me about this trip to the south sea state of Hawaii.  And, if it wasn’t the thrill of getting myself up and catching a wave, or the awe of finding myself in the mighty presence of the largest of mammals, then what was it about our family trip that touched me so deeply, that I have taken into my heart and carried forward into my living?

Well, I was there with my family.  And it isn’t easy to get a family of eight — a family consisting of three separate families — together for a week, let alone together thousands of miles away from any of their homes, away from busy schedules, and onto planes, and into the most beautiful and perfect of rental homes during the busiest time of the year on a Hawaiian island.  And it is feat unto itself and a tribute to each and every member of this family that there was laughter and love and a “We had a blast and let’s do it again!” on the last day of this adventure.  When we finally arrived home after our two-day delay in Detroit, my husband fell onto our bed and, with tears in his eyes and awe in his voice, said that he couldn’t believe it, that we really had done it.  And I knew what he meant, that we not only did it, manifested a trip that gathered us all together, but that it was wonderful.

And when I think about what made it wonderful, it wasn’t surfing or whales or anything dramatic.  I know that four-year-old Viren loved the muddy inland hike through the jungle, where there was no avoiding puddles, and Grandpa was the perfect goofball partner.  And I know that the calm lagoons and the wide-open beaches and the waves that splashed and tickled his feet and sent him gleefully running to shore were highlights.  But when we asked him what he liked best about Kauai, it was the shower in his bedroom suite with the giant shower-head that he said was his favorite.  He couldn’t get enough if it; it was the shower that he bee-lined for each time we made our way back to our Princeville rental.  And for Addie, his one-and-a-half-year-old cousin, who also appreciated beaches and jungle walks and squealed with delight each time she was dipped in the water or toddle-ran along the shoreline or floated in the plastic-duck-inflatable tube, it was the ordinary that set her into a frenzy.  And maybe the sight of roosters strutting across yards and into streets and onto beaches is not what we call ordinary in our hometowns in Michigan and Idaho, but, in Kauaii, it is as common as common can be.  Not for Addie, though, who went wild each time she saw one.  All week long, she’d point her stubby little finger and hunch one of her teeny shoulders and run as fast as her little legs would carry her toward her fleeing target.  She never tired of rooster-chasing.

And I can’t speak for my kids or Cam.  I’m not sure what they would say was their highlight.  But I can tell you that one son mentioned that it had been a long time since he had worked so little.  And the other sang as he cooked our fish on the outdoor grill each night.  And it is etched in my mind, the excited look on a daughter-in-law’s face when she ran back to shore after snorkeling — and the peaceful ease on the other daughter-in-law’s as she sprawled on the beach with the Na Pali Coastline at her left shoulder and the impossibly blue ocean before her.  And Cam, the fly-fisherman, might say that it was the three bone fish that he fluttered up to on his first attempt at snorkeling, but I don’t think that was it, the true highlight.  At night, Cam, with salty wayward hair, would sit on a living room couch, with the happiest of expressions on his face, and he would soak it in, the commotion around him, the commotion of a family being a family.  I think that is what he would say was the highlight, the everything of being with family.  And I, the gal who thought she needed surfing and whales, would agree with him.

P.S.  The day I returned from Kauaii, I flipped through the guidebook that accompanies my Earth Magic Cards, and found the reflection related to the whale.  Change your perspective, the reflection advised, see the world through new eyes, make the ordinary extra-ordinary.

Sometimes it takes a trip to an extra-ordinary island to appreciate the ordinary sweetness of family!

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Our family in Kauaii, January 2017.  And Happy Buddha in our Princeville rental’s back yard.  Each morning, the grandkids and I rubbed his belly and placed a hibiscus on his head and said to the world that it was going to be a good day!!!

Reflections: Women’s March on Washington

(This blog was originally written as an e-mail to friends on the Monday after the Women’s March.)

This is not a moment; it’s the movement    Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton

Today is our holy moment to quantum leap over the impossible and make love to the Possible.  We-M00n Calendar

Joy doesn’t betray but sustains activism.  And when you face politics that aspires to make you fearful, alienated, and isolated, joy is a fine initial insurrection.  Rebecca Solnit

I am lying in bed in a motel in the Detroit area stuck in airport limbo for the second time in less than two weeks.  On our way back from a family trip to Kauai, Hawaii, my husband Cam and I spent an extra couple of days here in lower Michigan as heavy winds and snow blew across our northern woods.  It was a chance to acclimate once again to our time zone and rest up before heading back into our busy lives.  And during this travel delay, I received an e-mail reminding members of our community about a project, a one hundred day challenge to open up to some sort of daily creativity, a challenge that was to begin on January twenty-first.  I’ve participated in this challenge in the past.  One year, I focused on photographs of fashion and the fashion of living; the next, I dug into my grandfather’s archives.  This year, the theme centers on “Where dreams and darkness meet.”  Two weeks ago, the challenge wasn’t lighting my fire.  I already claim time for daily creative practices, and, in my Capricorn step by step way, am pretty good at the follow-through.  Besides, as the new year began to unfold, I was wanting something different, a form of expression that could shine my light outward, something to connect me with the world at large.  But this morning, as I woke up in motel limbo, I was clear.  I am participating in the challenge, have already started the project, on time, and will continue it for one hundred days, a project that is both self-reflective and outward-focused and exactly right for me in this moment.

Last night, when I arrived at the motel, I plunked myself down on the bed after a weekend of so much fullness, and I listened to it all, to every speaker whose voice had risen out into the forty-five degree Washington air at Saturday’s Women’s March, to all the women and the men who had sung and spoken so passionately, who I could see two days before on a screen when signs were not entertaining and inspiring and blocking the view, but could not hear.  In the sea of half a million people, our group of eight college students and my political science professor niece, and I, the grandma, were not that far way, just around the corner from the stage, squished against a tree, connecting and visiting with those pressed up against us while one speaker after another said and sang their piece.  I told my new friends, college undergraduates from a university in New Jersey, that we were soaking it in, receiving the vibes, and I believe we were.  It was palpable the excitement in the air, and, when Gloria Steinem, cloaked in a bright red shawl, took the stage, the air was hair-standing-on-end-electric.  We cheered as Gloria spoke.  We cheered often during our standing-still time, we people pressed against each other, for the words we are just now hearing on cell phones and computers.  And it seemed okay not to hear at the time.  We were present, part of a sea of people envisioning equality and inclusivity and love for our planet and for each other.  And most of the time, we only could see our one bay in this ocean of people.  But, once in a while, a boy or girl on a mom’s or dad’s shoulders would report down to us from a broader view, tell us how the sea spread in every direction and you couldn’t make out the other shore.  That’s how big it was.

And then, we, in our bay in the sea, who could not hear instructions and could not stand still forever, noticed that the speakers seemed to be leaving the stage, and, in a great single wave, we began to move, slowly at first and then a little faster in the direction of the monument. For a few minutes, it seemed as though we had more space and a broader perspective, and, it was from this broader perspective, when I looked around in all directions that my breath escaped with a gasp.  It was the “ocean” I saw, an expanse of people in pink hats of all shades and styles, and of signs bobbing up and down like waves on the sea’s surface and a sea of sounds too, of chants.  And that’s what I want to tell you.  Even as we became squished again, even as we halted our pace to a skitter-walk down the mall and into the streets, even as we spilled this way and that, not in one path, but in many toward the house of the president, the sea remained buoyant. There was empowerment in the air.  And hope.  And vision, too. “Black Lives Matter!” we chanted. “This is what democracy looks like!” we cried out.  My niece and I remarked that this was historic, that we were changed.   And as we walked along, my niece, who knows Washington, commented on how little security there seemed to be, how relaxed it all was.  Officers were leaning against their cars chatting with women wearing pink-eared hats.  There were smiles everywhere you looked and an ease underneath the charge of excitement.

From the moment I got on the plane in Detroit late Friday night, to the hotel shuttle ride in Washington even later to the walk to the metro the next morning, to the packed-with-pink-hatted-marchers-ride over to Navy Archives to meet my group, to the day that stretched out before us, I was heartened by the smiles — and by the kindness and the humor, the determination and the strong focus on inclusivity in this sea of pink-hatted humanity.  Feminine power was unleashed by this march and I was uplifted and carried forward and a part of it.  We did make it to the White House and the Treasury Building, without water or pee breaks — we skittered and marched, chanted and sang and kept track of each other, and, finally, in the early evening, we squished our way onto the metro heading toward the Greenbelt, tired and happy, hungry and thirsty.  And even a broken-down metro train and an almost two-hour wait with us inside stacked like pink-hatted sardines didn’t dampen our spirits.  There was more singing and a sharing of water and candy and a great buoyant cheer when another train pushed ours to the station.  And later, after a much-appreciated dinner and a four-hour van ride back to New Jersey with my new student friends, I fell into the guest room bed at my niece’s home, filled up with it all.  The whole event had meant the world to me.

And we are the world.  And that brings me back to my community’s creative challenge. Two weeks ago, stuck in the airport after the family trip to Kauai, I hadn’t been clear about a project.  It was the March on Washington that brought me the clarity, the March that brought speaker after speaker onto the stage, challenging us to stand up for what we believe in, to find our voices, to take action, to get involved, to write letters to our congressional leaders, to make phone calls, to make it easy, a habit.  I don’t know whether I will do these things daily.  I do know, however, that my desire to attend the March had been fierce, that a cancelled morning flight due to fog, an afternoon delay, a missed connection to Baltimore Friday evening, that none of these things had stopped me from showing up in Washington with literally nothing but the clothes on my back.  I see now that my spirit had depended upon it, that I had needed to be a part of that great sea of people, to feel that wave of positivity washing over the world that day.  It was a patriotic march and I am feeling patriotic.  And every day, for one hundred days, I will do something that reflects my patriotism.  Yes, I will make phone calls and sign petitions and take action that feels inspired from the inside out.  And I will smile at my neighbors and at strangers, too, and I will reach up and I will remember to hold on with heart and soul to that high vibe energy that I felt at the March, and from that place where a positive inclusive loving vision is possible for this country and for this planet, I will rise up and speak out and shine my light brightly.

 

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Two signs amongst the sea of signs at the Women’s March on Washington, 1/21/17

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