Thursday, December 31, 2009

Cold . . . comfort

Image by Victius

Sun's coming up.
I'm returning from my walk with the girls.
It's cold. 
On such days, Charlotte is only too happy to go inside.
Not today.
She wants some front-yard time.
Cora and I follow her.
The top layer of snow is thin and crunchy as we step on it,
the girls with their four paws, me with two booted feet.

I can't resist.
I'm not dressed right for this.
Oh, who cares?

I lay myself down and feel the crunch give way to plush snow.
I love the sound, as if I were crumbling saltines.
Snow cradles my head with damp coolness,
and I look up at the sky as it lightens.
Fat white flakes filter through bare oak limbs
and land with little stings on my nose.

The girls cannot believe their luck.
Cora dives her face into layers of snow,
lifting little tufts up, grinning.
Sprinkles of whiteness dot her snout.
She is gloriously happy.
Charlotte digs.

Shouldn't I be colder?
Is this what it's like to be dead?
Not so bad, really.
But such an odd thought.
Odd, yet somehow comforting.
Analysis ends.

I try to make a snow angel
but the girls decide to wrestle
where I move my arms.
Their huffing sounds make me laugh.
What must the neighbors be thinking--
if any of then are up?

One moment of joy in a time of sorrow.




Tuesday, December 29, 2009

'O nobly born . . .'

". . . o nobly born,
when thy body and mind
were separating,
thou must have experienced
a glimpse of the Pure Truth,
subtle, sparkling, bright dazzling,
glorious, and radiantly awesome,
in appearance like a mirage
moving across a landscape
in spring-time
in one continuous
stream of vibrations.
Be not daunted thereby,
nor terrified,
nor awed.

That is the radiance
of thine own true nature.

Recognize it."

~ From The Tibetan Book of the Dead
Image by tanakawho


"If you will keep my secret,
and never tell a soul,
then you may come and dance
with me on nights when the moon is whole."

From The Dancing Tiger by Malachy Doyle
Illustrations by Steven Johnson and Lou Fancher


Wondrous, luminous beloved friend,
may you dance with the tiger on nights
when the moon is whole,
and whenever you wish.

I wish you peaceful passage . . . 

Renie Rae Howard
August 13, 1955 - December 29, 2009

Monday, December 28, 2009

Not a Grinch in sight

Years ago, Mr. B and I decided we wanted nothing to do with stress or debt when it came to Christmas. 

And that's the wonderful thing about being a grown-up, isn't it? We get to create our own traditions and preserve the ones we love best from our childhoods. We chose simple and enjoyable with an accent on time together.

So this was the "recipe" we concocted:

1. No going into debt. I enjoy making beaded jewelry and keeping the price affordable. So for years, November was full of beading, and all 3 kids and Mr. B helped me tag and package my creations for sale. Whatever we sold by Dec 20 or so was what we had to work with for gifts. We divvied up the proceeds so everyone had funds for shopping. And off we'd go to find what was the . . .

2. Lists. I didn't grow up making lists (except for Santa), so this at first seemed a little uncouth to me. But it ended up being delightful. Everyone wrote a list of wishes, and each year they grew more outrageous and funny. But they always included affordable items and everyone got at least one thing on their list!

3. Chinese takeout. We LOVE our neighborhood Chinese restaurant, The Great Wall, so rather than cook an elaborate meal, we all agreed that we'd order anything and everything we wanted for Christmas Eve (which provided nice leftovers for Christmas Day, too). We properly set the table, then it covered in cartons. We we left the table happy and with fewer dishes to do!

4. Hugs and presents. And then the fun began. For several years, we played Christmas Family Jeopardy to decide who would open the first gift. EarthDoctor son cleverly crafted the answers. And PreciousGrrrl Child always managed to win. One by one, we took turns opening and thanking the giver with a hug. EarthDoctor son also had a penchant for crazy wrapping adventures. So we either had to go on a scavenger hunt to find his gift or open package after package to get down the goods.

5. Midnight mass. For years we attended a sweet mass at a lovely little church known for its work with the homeless and poor. The church had squeaky wooden floors, simple decor, and an abundance of good will. The choir, including two tiny elderly women who did not stand, never failed to wow us with their wonderful carols. And we each tied a prayer ribbon on bare Christmas trees and sang the Halelluja Chorus in the end. And then we headed home exhausted and aglow.

6. Santa.We told the kids that as long as they believed in Santa, Santa would be there for them. So, yep, even thought the youngest is 22, stockings are still brimming on Christmas Day. ("Minnesota, where all the kids are above average.")

It's been a wonderful tradition for many years--and the times they are a'changin', as well they should. Our family has not officially expanded to include husbands, wives, or partners. But it can't be too far off. And come what may, these last days of December, I hope, will always be filled with love of family, merriment, and deep-in-the-bones knowledge that home is what you make of it, be it ever some humble.


Friday, December 25, 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The joy of 4 days off . . .

"I have merged, like the bird, with the bright air,
And my thought flies to the place by the bo-tree.
Being, not doing, is my first job."

~ Theodore Rothke

Image from phannhathieu2003

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Is it Friday yet?

For the past 10 days, I've been mulling a provocative quote and question posed by Marcia Hyatt of Waterline in her weekly newsletter:

"Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness,
and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness.
It is far better take things as they come along with patience and equanimity."
~Carl  Jung
Where do I need more patience and equanimity? 

My first answer was more like a question: um, everywhere? But somehow that seemed like cheating, so I've let question rattle around in my brain for a while, and I got clarity about it this week. Humbling clarity.

For the sake of the innocent (and not so innocent), I'll leave off the names and details. Let's just say it's been a hard 3 days at work. With a few tears. And a few embarrassing comments I wish I could take back. One verrrrrry long day. Some miscommunication. Some big ole fears triggered. And, mercifully, some resolution today.

But I very clearly lost any and all equanimity during the past 76 hours. I even uttered the words, "I expect an apology," which runs so counter to all I've learned since the Year of the Sledgehammer, when I realized that I can have expectations of myself, but to have them of others or even of a situation is to plant seeds of resentment. And, honestly, who needs that?

So, I love the concept of equanimity, that quality of remaining detached, wise, and yet fully present, kind, and so serenely grounded one cannot be moved off center. Like Nelson Mandela. Or Winnie the Pooh. Or Sister Paula at Clare's Well.

I don't know many people who embody equanimity, though I know some truly patient souls. I think it must take practice and discipline and deep trust that the universe is fundamentally good. That last one? Check. The first one? Working on it. The middle one, well, that may be what's tripping me up.

So, if you have suggestions about discipline or any other ideas about cultivating equanimity, please share them with me? I'm all ears. 

Image by Vicky's Nature

Friday, December 11, 2009

Monday, December 7, 2009

Aggie's sky

I got lost in the middle of nowhere, Minnesota, on my way to Aggie's wake 2 years ago this month.

I think Aggie meant for that to happen. In the midst of my disorientation, I had to stop to get my bearings, and when I looked up I got something even better -- this photo. The view stopped me short. I had to exit my car and watch this stunning moment of the sun setting against rippled clouds and a blue snow-blanked field.

No doubt about it, Aggie was a force of nature. Which is why I like to think of this image as "Aggie's sky."

It's taken me till now to be able to write about her.

She paid me the briefest of visits on the day she flew away. (I love that phrase, flew away, blatantly lifted from Steven at The Golden Fish.) It was not the kind of visit where you sit down for tea and chat. More like a visitation.

I was on my way home from work on a chilly Friday, tucked away in the back corner of a bus, book in hand. For reasons I'll explain some day, I was reading about the Rule of Saint Benedict, a guide for living in a monastic community, written some 1,500 years ago. One of St. Benedict's precepts was that any visitor to a monastery should be greeted with abundant hospitality, including a kiss on the cheek.

Upon reading that passage, I had an extraordinary and vivid image of how when I announced my arrival at Clare's Well Retreat Farm by shouting "I'm home!" Sister Agnes Soenneker, a Franciscan nun, would sweep me into an embrace and plant a kiss on my cheek. And thus would begin a weekend of joy, solitude, renewal, and abundant hospitality.

Aggie was a gifted massage therapist, who began each session of bodywork with a prayer, and finished it with a blessing. She was a healer, someone who could read a person's body and know just what was needed. A Lakota man named Basil Braveheart befriended Aggie years ago, and Basil was convinced that Aggie was a Medicine Woman. I couldn't agree more. To be sure, Aggie was instrumental in my own healing after the Year of the Sledgehammer.

But I digress.

On the bus ride home 2 years ago, that delightful image of Aggie greeting reminded me that I'd be visiting Clare's Well in 3 weeks. And that was that.

Until the next morning, when I got a phone call, the kind bearing sad tidings. The voice on the line was that of Roxanne Wagner, a lay massage therapist who also works at Clare's Well and was Aggie's dear friend and colleague.

"I have some sad news," Roxanne said. "Aggie died yesterday. She was in the kitchen, cooking. And apparently she had a heart attack."

It seems Aggie, 68, a farm girl who became a nun and a nurse, who spoke two languages fluently, who worked wonders with her hands, trekked every year deep into the wilds of Nicaragua, riding in packed and bumpy buses, slogging through mud, and floating down rivers in rugged dugouts so she could get to remote villages to offer her services, who was arrested and jailed once for protesting the institutionalized teaching of torture, this Aggie had a bad heart. An irregular rhythm embedded in a mighty but imperfect heart.

She died in the midst of serving others, preparing a meal for guests at Clare's Well, a place she helped found. She died with a wooden spoon in her hand.

Aggie's funeral was held in the beautiful chapel at the convent of the Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls. Following a Catholic mass, Basil Braveheart led a Lakota ceremony that included drumming and singing. Aggie believed the sound of drumming was the heartbeat of the earth, and she had long ago requested that the procession to her gravesite be led by such drumming. And so it was.

When her body was lowered into the ground, it was accompanied by drumming and by the sweet and melancholy sound of a Native American flute played by Aggie's best friend since high school, Carol, another Franciscan sister. The sounds of the drums and flute grew quieter and softer until Aggie's body reached its final resting place. And then silence reigned.

The cold December wind blew bits of snow and detritus around us as we stood in disbelief, sadness, and fleeting feelings of abandonment. Nuns just aren't supposed to die that young. They live into their 80s and 90s and beyond. Aggie had years left, years to dig in her organic garden, ply her trade, do good work in central America -- and fail to hide the mischievous side evident in the twinkle of her smiling blue eyes.

Her death was a ragged lesson in humility. A reminder that things happen in God's time, not our own. And it's been a hard lesson for all of us who loved Aggie and were loved by her.

As it turns out, my visit from Aggie happened within hours after her heart stopped beating and she flew away. Lucky for me, I caught a kiss goodbye on her flight path.

We got our first big snow fall of the year today in Minneapolis, and the whiteness is blowing and drifting outside. So beautiful. It seemed like a good day to look at Aggie's sky and tell this story.

(And Aggie, if you're listening, love the snow, but I'd still like you to pay a  visit!)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Time for a good soak . . .

"Nothing in the world is as soft and yielding as water.
Yet for dissolving the hard and inflexible, nothing can
surpass it."

~ From Tao Te Ching

Image: "Black Canyon" by Jim Wagner at Parks Gallery, Taos, New Mexico

Friday, December 4, 2009

For each branch and leaf

A Blessing for the Woods
by Michael S. Glaser

Before I leave, almost without noticing,
before I cross the road and head toward
what I have intentionally postponed-

Let me stop and say a blessing for these woods:
for crows barking and squirrels scampering,
for trees and fungus and multi-colored leaves,

for the way sunlight laces with shadows
through each branch and leaf of tree,
for these paths that take me in,
for these paths that lead me out.


Plein air oil landscape by Sharon Lynn Williams

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

'The gifts of the night'

By Chris Heeter

This full moon night
may your heart enlighten with the sky
finding companionship in darkness
learning again and again
--not resisting--
the gifts of the night.

I wish you trust this full moon eve
knowing you belong
as much in darkness as in light

Bright moon brings shadows and form
leaving off detail and color.
Shows us a different way of seeing
a different way of knowing.
Where much is left to mystery
but all that is needed is illuminated

This same full moon occurs on this same evening
over all the earth
no matter country or creed
no matter despairing or hopeful
no matter woodlands or dessert or city.

Walk in it.
Welcome it.
See with clear eyes and open heart
what is there for all the world this night.


Chris Heeter is a wilderness guide, author, speaker, poet, and leader of The Wilderness Institute. You can sign up to receive a poem written by Chris every Wednesday here. Her book of poetry, Wild Thoughts: Just Outside the Window, is published by Yileen Press.

Image by nordicshutter

How did this happen to me?

Half of my genetic make-up is essentially Aztec. The other half is a mixture of Welsh, Irish, French, and some Humphreys who came over on the Mayflower. But as far as I can tell, my DNA does not hail from anywhere above the Arctic Circle. So I'm perplexed.

In my teens, I lathered myself with baby oil, napped on the beach in Galveston, and just loved that tingly feel of a skin burn. And if the temperature in Houston ever dropped below 70 degrees, I nearly froze.

Moving to Minnesota was a seismic shock to my inner thermostat. I was told I should "layer" to stay warm. And I did. Layer upon layer upon layer of cotton. I'm not sure I even knew what wool was, let alone polar fleece. 

When I wintered in an interior, windowless office not long after moving here, I became melancholia personified. And it wasn't till I read an article about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) that I got a clue that just maybe the lack of sunlight had a little something to do with feeling so blue.

My poor youngest child, who didn't seem to be at all troubled by shifting levels of light, took up the mantle of holiday spirit. He'd nag nag nag till we got a tree. And soon after, I'd come home from work to discover a sweet-smelling fully decorated evergreen, and stockings even hung hung by fireplace. Bless his soul!

Even after I discovered silk long underwear, gloves with Thinsulate, SmartWool socks, jackets stuffed with down feathers, and shearling boots, I was so cold my doctor put me through a series of tests to see why I couldn't warm up. Diagnosis: not enough body fat. Right. (She's very kind, that one, because that isn't at all true.) Mr. B likes to tell stories of how I went to bed with my coat, mittens, and a knit cap on. (Yes, it's a good thing we already had all three kids!)

So I'm the first to admit how puzzling it is that genuinely I love winter. 

Yep, it's true.
I love short days and long nights.

I love blizzards and snow drifts and helping people get their cars unstuck.
I love how blankets of snow on the ground soften the light on people's faces.

I love how the quality of sound changes, how clear the winter skies are, how easy it is to find Orion's belt, how warm people's hearts become when the temperatures drop. Oh, and I do love those forecasts of double-digits below zero.

I especially love northern breed dogs who spring to life in cold weather and want to run like the wind -- with me in tow. 

It's hard to imagine not working  (I am a baby boomer and a time will come when my services won't be needed) but it's north I think of when I consider retirement.
Like the Yukon or Finnish Lapland. 

And even though I crash-landed on an icy sidewalk last February and bonked my cerebellum but good, I'm still anticipating the arrival of snow
like a little kid waiting for Santa.

So there you have it.
Somewhere in my double-helix strands, there must a gene from someone who crossed the Bering Straits or herded reindeer.
And miracles do happen.

Image 1: "Pine Tree and Red House, Winter City Painting II (1924) by Lawren Harris
Image 2: Beaded painting "Braided Trail" (1998) by JoWood
Image 3: by Vincent
Image 4: by Paul+photos=moody
Image 5: "Winter Sunrise" (1960) by Rockwell Kent


Blog Widget by LinkWithin