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Archive for October, 2018

On the Trail

Out beyond ideas of wrong doing and right doing, there is a field.  I’ll meet you there.  Rumi

There is something special about walking the same stretch of trail day after day throughout the whole of a season.  That’s what I did this past summer, June through August.  Nearly every day, usually in the morning, I donned flip flops, or running shoes and set off on the rural two-track a mile west of my home in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  And there are gifts to behold in the comfortable familiarity of such a practice.  Most mornings, I could count on it, the heron that lit off, flapping its mighty wings over the first marsh on my left and the snowshoe rabbit who raced across the trail at rapid speed as I approached the one-mile mark.  There were the frogs basking in the sun and the ones hopping off into the thicket and the unfortunate ones squished by the occasional four-wheeler that shared the same trail.  Each day, I looked for the kingfisher perched on the bleached tree skeleton in the midst of a river bend and the plowed-down grasses where the beaver had dragged their branches to the water’s edge.  This trail became my comfortable friend, something to know intimately.

And there was the paradox, too.  Yes, there was the familiarity, the comfort in this daily ritual, but there also was the reminder that no day, no moment, no trail is ever the same.  The change is constant.  First, it was the dandelions blooming, and then the wild strawberries, and they gave way in July to the raspberries and blueberries. Blooms transformed into berries and daisies bowed down to Joe Pie Weed.  There were scorching sunny mornings and misty rains, gentle breezes and gale winds.  Twice a porcupine crossed my path and once a garter snake slithered in front of me.  There were warblers and woodpeckers, cedar waxwings and wood ducks.

And there were people too.  There were the occasional athletes flying by on fat-tire bikes and the young woman runner and the man my age with arm in a sling who walked at a rapid clip.  And there was the man with the mustache and the young spaniel who owned the pick-up truck.  Many mornings, I met him in passing.  And this is what I want to tell you; it has to do with the paradox and change and connection.  The first time I saw his pick-up, I flinched.  And I put him, even before setting eyes on his puppy and his face, into a box.  And I put myself into a box as well.  The bumper of his truck was plastered in stickers, messages that shouted out that we were on different teams, different sides of a country and world polarized.  I didn’t feel welcome in his bumper sticker world, and I admit that I don’t think I was welcoming him either into my morning walk of a meditation.  And then we met, for the first time, his puppy wet and mucky and eager to bound in my direction.  He held his dog tight and our hello felt curt.  Or perhaps it was my imagination because as the days and weeks flew by and June turned into July, our smiles became warmer as we passed each other on the trail.

One morning, a cloudy still day during blueberry season, I ran into him as I made my west and he was making his way back east.  For the first time, our hellos evolved into conversation, a conversation that he initiated.  He’d seen a bear, he said, up by the power lines where he had been blueberry picking.  His puppy had wanted to chase it.  The man with the mustache was lit up.  I was lit up too.  We were two people who weren’t afraid of seeing a bear, two people excited about the wild.  We were on common ground.  And this was the beginning of something special.  I found myself looking forward to our encounters, hoping I’d see him on my morning jaunts.  He flushed a covey of partridge.  I spied teal by the third bridge.  We shared our nature sitings.  We became friends, trail friends, out beyond the boxes that we so easily put ourselves into.  One of the last times that we passed each other, he’d done it again, seen three of them this time, a mother bear and two cubs, and he wanted me to know.  I was someone who would appreciate such excitement.  And he was someone who I could count on.  And I was someone who he could count on as well.  I felt it.  We would help each other out if need be.  We cared.  And isn’t that what it’s all about?!?

I haven’t seen my friend with the mustache lately.  I stopped my daily ritual in September, traveling instead to other places, other trails.  And I have to say I’m glad to be thinking of my summer practice again, and of him, the man with the mustache.  His smile is genuine.  His demeanor sincere.  And our friendship cordial.  I want to bring this cordiality, this sincerity into all my encounters.  It is easy to get caught up in the polarity, the vicious energy of tribal teams on opposite sides of what seems like an impossible cavern to cross.  But I’m here to tell you that the Persian poet Rumi is on to something.  There is a field or a trail or a workplace or a home where we can meet, out beyond ideas of wrong-doing or right-doing where there is indeed common ground.  My friend with the mustache and the puppy and I found it this past summer, and I am grateful.

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On the Trail: Ishpeming, Michigan, Summer, 2018

September Harvest

(This blog post was originally written long-hand in Iron Mountain, Michigan while gathering with my writing sisters at one of our homes this past week.)

 

It is like the seed put in the soil — the more one sows, the greater the harvest.  Orison Swett Marden

The thankful receiver bears a plentiful harvest.  William Blake

Though no pumpkin sits on our doorstep, and our garden, the one in our side yard that used to grow chard and kale, cherry and heirloom tomatoes, snap peas and crisp beans, the garden we used to care for with mulch and compost, is now thick with mint gone wild and bunnies raising family after family, though we now buy our vegetables at the farmer’s market from someone else’s garden, I still feel it, my personal bounty in this season of harvest.  I feel it as I sit here in my writing sister’s country home nestled in a hardwood and pine forest atop a bluff with a garden down below, a garden that would be the envy of any serious farmer.  There is a part of me that breathes deeper surrounded by all this earthiness, all this domesticity, with squash piled high on the back porch steps and kale still growing strong in tidy well-weeded rows.  I loved the garden we once kept, the pea-plucking and squash-pulling, the tomatoes ripe on the early autumn vines, but that has not been my harvest this year.  I instead pluck what is mine to pluck, place it all in my metaphoric basket, my bounty abundant, my heart sumptuously soft as any sun-soaked tomato.

You see, I have been traveling on my traveling feet this past September, flying high over this country’s ripened fields, first westward over plains and mountains and a huge span of the South Pacific for a Labor Day weekend in Hawaii, then, days later, eastward to the coast of Maine, then westward again over soybeans and sunflowers to sunny Idaho and snowy Montana, to Red Lodge and a family wedding in this gateway town to Yellowstone National Park.  But this isn’t what I want to tell you, that I’ve uprooted myself three times in the past four-and-a-half weeks to travel far and wide.  Not at all.  I could not possibly squeeze this arial view from a plane’s window into a market bag, a metaphoric basket.  It is the details I want to share, the savory ripe grounded close-ups that I pick from the vine and place lovingly, carefully into a place where I can taste the goodness as I reminisce.

There is the hike along cliffs overlooking a bay, a rambling hike on a sunny Sunday afternoon, the first ever with my younger brother and his wife who have recently moved back to our birth town in Maine.  Their adult daughter, who was visiting, also joined us, and the water, the water was green that day, the color of emerald stones.  I place that color in my basket, and the fairy houses of sticks and moss and shells that we passed along the rooted way.  There was the sweetness of it all, connecting with a brother and his family.   And, that evening, singing Irish ballads in an Irish pub in our coastal town with the locals, some of whom are really Irish — I place that evening with family and friends in my basket, and the sand beneath my feet the next morning, the wide expanse of beach, the whole of the sea washing in, splashing over my capris, salt-soaking my skin.  It is a harvest that I relish, a relish of a relish.  I tasted Maine on this particular trip east in mid-September and I will store it, the taste of it all, in my memory’s root cellar and I will feast on it again and again.

And Hawaii.  The ridiculousness of executing such an endeavor, a weekend trip over Labor Day to the South Pacific with a honey of a spouse — that truly is a honey of a thing, something that every market basket should include.  And ridiculous can be quite tasty.  Just ask a cucumber that has grown askew like a twisted-up long skinny carnival balloon — and our ridiculously wonderful two-and-a-half days of Pacific blue, hibiscus red, of swaying palms, a full ripe moon and windy and wavy, I can wrap my arms around the whole of it, carry it easily, add it to the cornucopia of my harvest.  My harvest is magnificent and I am savoring it now, tasting it with the utmost of satisfaction.

God is in the details, the gestures that might seem insignificant — a tiny cherry tomato of a gesture might make all the difference to a grandson or granddaughter, might make all the difference to a grandmother, as well.  And that is how I topped off my September of bounty, with what seems like a million tiny gestures and moments on the third trip, the one back out west to Idaho and then to Montana for a family wedding.  I wish that you could see my grandkids.  They are the pumpkins in a pumpkin patch and I just dwell among them and bask in the brilliant orange of autumn.  And orange is the color of creativity, of fire, of zest and zip, and I am brave and I am zesty and zippy when I am with these little ones.  Yes, my harvest contains the oceans, Pacific and Atlantic, the wide western sky, but it also contains the sheer fun, the bust-me-wide-open exultation of being with grandkids.  So what can I place in my basket, what sweet fruit of a detail from each of them?

Here is a nugget for you, a fruit that I will share.  I stood on the sideline and witnessed my six-year-old grandson lined up in the front row of an afternoon karate class, his eyes locked to his teacher’s eyes, his hands clenched in soft fists, his stance strong and grounded ready for his teacher to issue the command.  I am placing my grandson’s sincerity, his gentle-strong sincerity into my basket and I’m going to eat of this fruit.  And his three-year-old cousin calls me Grandmama and is unleashed around me and I around her.  I place our skidaddles, our dilly-dallies, our nonsense talk into my basket, the reminder that silly is wise and pleasure is a food I want at my table.  And the six-year-old’s sister, who toddles and juts out her jaw and shows off her bottom snaggleteeth and scrunches her shoulders and is as cute as cute can be when she runs to me — how can this not be included in a basket of bounty?  And the youngest of them all, eleven-month-old brother to three-year old skidaddler, is as sweet as any harvest peach and pats me on the shoulder when I pick him up and trusts me with his everything and adores my spouse, his grandpa, and their specialness, I’m hoarding it and it’s going into my basket.

It’s all going into my basket, bounty overflowing and me greedy in my gratitude, grateful beyond measure and eager for more.

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September Harvest, 2018

 

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