reverse threading

the path back is the path forward


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what we seek. [d.r. thursday]

our favorite thing in the woods, when i was about eight or ten or so, were the salamanders. red-backed salamanders had a red stripe down their spine and, back then, were all over the woods outside our rustic cabins in the upstate new york state parks.

we stayed at many of them: selkirk shores, chenango valley, watkins glen, green lakes, letchworth. my sweet momma and poppo were not tent-campers, but they fully embraced the very-bare-minimum cabins in the woods and my mom would pack for a week ahead; we had to bring everything with us, including pots and pans. the bunkbed frames and mattresses were about all you got, with basic kitchen and bathroom necessities. we’d go for a week and for that glorious week, i would roam the forest and swim the lakes and ride bikes all over the park with my best friend. we didn’t do fancy vacations, but, for me, these trips were heaven. i think about my momma now – for her it was a lot of work, but she seemed happy to be “roughing-it” as she said. and she would run around each night, can of raid in her hand, singsong voice, announcing “raid! raid!” while we buried into our sleeping bags on our bunks and tried not to breathe.

before we discovered the lifeguards, we would hike through the forest, looking for anything interesting we could find, devising paths and mysteries to solve. mostly, we looked for the salamanders. one year, we found one that was particularly sociable with us and we were convinced it would stay around and be our friend. for obvious reasons, we named him sal. once you’ve named something, it is much harder to say goodbye.

now, the thing that’s hard to say goodbye to – out in the woods, high in the mountains – is the whole visceral experience. the cool fresh air, the trail under our feet, the sun filtering through the trees, quaking aspen leaves, the absolute drop-dead-amazing smell of a pine forest, the quiet.

we haven’t found salamanders in colorado woods, though we haven’t been seeking them as i did when i was in elementary school. instead, we have sought the feeling you get after you have hiked miles and some decent elevation. that exhausted adrenaline bursted rush of ahhh. the slightly burning lungs-are-in-your-chest feeling. the your-legs-want-to-sit-down-on-a-stump-for-a-moment tiredness. a little bit of wind-sun-scorched face. and the overwhelming desire to keep going.

*****

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never-leaving. [two artists tuesday]

it was mesmerizing. we sat on rocks on the edge of the high mountain stream, sinking into the sound of babbling water, sun filtering through the trees and cool air wafting around us. i didn’t want to leave.

i remember a day, long ago, when i stood alone in the middle of a river. pants rolled up high, toes curled into the pebbles under my feet, sunlight on my face. whispering a prayer to the universe, gratitude, honoring time spent, i waded back to the shore, sitting on river’s edge to dry off, not wanting to leave.

i remember a day, a few years ago, when we stood on the edge of a lake. we whispered love to my sweet momma and tossed kindness into the air. it floated for moments on the breeze and settled into the tiny lake she loved with her big heart. and we stood quietly, not wanting to leave.

i remember a day, a couple years ago, when we stood at the edge of this same stream. i stretched out my arms, embracing it. i laughed, sheer joy in jeans and boots, staunchly refusing to move, not wanting to leave.

i remember a day, merely a couple weeks ago now, when we stood at the edge of a mountain lake, watching a candle glow in celebration of a life well-lived. the sun began to wane and the aspen glowed as it began its dip. and we sat on the beach, not wanting to leave.

and a couple days ago, we stood on the dock, the sun beginning its dance with the trees across the lake and we lingered, procrastinating, postponing, not wanting to leave.

and back to this stream. in the moments on the rocks, perfect paintings right in front of us, time lifted from sadness and worry, i wanted to build tiny boats from leaves and send all that angst downstream. i wanted to sit in the peace and the canvas nature created with light, shadow, water, reflection. i wanted to bring that purity with us, carry it out and back to the truck, across the pass, through the tunnel, down the mountain, across the great plains and home.

the tiny rock looks like a coin. a granite reminder, a token, of something always there.

to touch it is to touch never-leaving.

*****

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autographs. [d.r. thursday]

“this is my autograph, here in the songs that I sing. here in my cry and my laugh, here in the love that i bring. to be always with you and you always with me.” (autograph – john denver)

on my 30th birthday – a sunny and auspicious day more than thirty years ago – at the zoo, in a freshly poured cement sidewalk, i wrote my name with a stick. i was not alone; i had witnesses to this moment in time. my mom and dad and niece and husband cheered me on as i left my tiny mark. years later, upon return to that zoo, it was still there. there was something encouraging and reassuring about that. i had not disappeared.

we were way up on the mountain, at the highest point of the trail we were hiking. the meadow stretched out of the woods and we sat for a time on a log, watching the breeze move the wildflowers as they bent to autumn. with a sharpie we left two tiny dots on that log. we had been there. we would remain there.

right off the side of the meadow as we re-entered the woods, there was this stump. like an opening flower blossom, it begged a look inside. i was surprised to find rocks of all sizes in there. a container of autographs, evidence for those who had passed by. we added ours to the assembly, rocks specifically chosen by hikers who placed their i-was-here into the hollow cavern of the stump. there is something about leaving a token behind, yes, encouraging and reassuring that upon our return someday – should we return to that very spot – it could be there and we would be reminded that we had passed that way.

the music, the art, the words – all linger temporarily. a little noisy. we have passed this way, that way, these very spots. music, the art, the words – they are expressions that give a bit of definition to the amorphous life we live. they say who we are and stamp our love into the world. and then they evaporate into the atmosphere.

and we know that, even if we never pass that way again, even if we never come across the hollow stump again, we have still left a silent autograph.

*****

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fragile and crucial. [not-so-flawed wednesday]

“and someday the light will shine like a sun through my skin and they will say, what have you done with your life?  and though there are many moments i think i will remember, in the end, i will be proud to say, i was one of us.” (story people)

nature has no pretenses. it isn’t trying to be all-that. no keeping-up-with-the-joneses. it just is. it’s truth at its core. it is color in all spectrums, bold and diffused, opaque and transparent.

this aspen leaf lay at the edge of the lake. no longer vibrant green or golden yellow or even toasted brown, it lay, waiting to be seen. light shining through it; it was exposed. and ever so brilliant. i knelt down and studied the veining, intricate and delicate, fragile and crucial.

my sweet poppo, in his latest years around 90, had delicate skin, seemingly transparent. this man, strong and never afraid of hard work, became more fragile and his arms – that had cut down trees and repaired volkswagens and tiny bulova watch fixings and rube-goldberged nearly anything and made coffee every morning for my momma and drove mopeds in early retirement and whirled me around the ice rink and gently held his grandchildren – turned translucent, telling stories of his life. his eyes, unclouded, spoke those memories – the beloved tales of family, the challenges of being a prisoner of war in world war two, the upstate water hole, the waterfowl games out their back lanai. no pretenses.

i suppose we will all lose our color at some point. we will become more gauzy and our veneer will start to fade. maybe it’s in those moments that we realize that none of it – the veneer and the joneses – really mattered. that all that was important was being. through all the phases – all the color – all that was important was life, clear and true. and that it was fragile and crucial all along.

*****

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past the curve in the tracks. [not-so-flawed wednesday]

somewhere along the way someone impressed upon me not to ever walk on railroad tracks. and so i never have. until the day i stood in the middle of these tracks and took a few pictures.

railroad tracks intrigue me, whether teetering on the edge of a mountainous precipice or crossing the great plains. i was astounded the day i drove along the arkansas river in red rock canyons, tracks by my side. i could not imagine the arduous, back-breaking, dangerous work it took to install those tracks. at home, the sound of the train whistle at night is reassuring. the whiz of the train passing by the trail is a blur of amtrack cars, headed for mysterious destinations; i reluctantly hold back waving to the engineer as the train passes the crossing.

we’ve missed taking the train to chicago to see our son or for adventures in this last year-plus-of-covid. for that matter, we’ve missed airplanes as well. we’ve driven anywhere we have gone. and today is no exception.

today we are driving. yesterday as well. long days in big red across acres of corn-states, browned, tinges of color in the trees. the sun rises out the hotel window as we prepare to leave and we ponder what we will see today, what markers of this new season will be side-of-road. in the wide open spaces trains will appear, seemingly unending freight trains, the stuff of yesteryear ‘boxcar children‘ and reading books with my kids. time and years and planting and harvest and fallow and regrowth. corn and soybeans, bending sunflowers, leaves beginning to acknowledge golds and reds – all remind us.

we’ll arrive in colorado, attend a come-and-go dinner (i believe this is the same as an open house, though i haven’t heard that terminology before). tomorrow’s schedule is all set; all the while we will be processing the reason we are there – the loss of david’s dad. somewhere in the middle of the scheduled events and the eating, we will walk in quiet under the colorful-colorado sky and grasp that which seems surreal right now. we’ll talk a little about time passing and stories of days gone by. we’ll gaze out at the mountains and see the past, the future. we’ll say goodbye to columbus, all the while knowing, in the way of the death of a parent, he’ll stay right here with us.

and we’ll wonder what’s around the curve in the tracks.

*****

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and then, another star. [two artists tuesday]

and just like that, in a sliver of a moment, columbus became a star in a constellation of galactic proportion. he joins with all who have gone before, souls of people-loving-people and surrounds us in the wind as we move about our days.

i won’t forget the day my dad died. though i saw him hours before, i didn’t know it would be that very night. the axis tilted and the news came.

same with david. i know he won’t forget. his last visit with his dad was months earlier and, in his latest days, columbus had taken a path where memories escape into the atmosphere and he was simply in the moment or in a moment of his imagination. we held vigil, as we all do in those last somewhat-expected days. and then, we woke on friday and just knew. the axis titled and the news came.

there have been three fathers in my life – generationally-speaking. my sweet dad, erling, ever-present-poppo-chain on our wrists, was a quiet steady force in my life, always encouraging, undaunted by the hardships of his life and a loving champion for his family. and marvin. the father of our children’s father, marvin was delightfully positive and simple, hardworking and a mush for those he loved. and columbus, whose perspective is easily that which louis armstrong sang about in “what a wonderful world”. each, men who would tear up when beloveds were leaving. strength in honest hearts.

all – stars in the constellation. all – love in the wind.

and now, now that the earth has regained just a little center, though never to be absolutely balanced again, i imagine columbus sitting with my sweet poppo and marvin too. talking shop, telling stories, assigning the breeze on which those they love will find them, shining in a night sky.

*****

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snakeinthegrass. [two artists tuesday]

sansevieria (snake plants) make me think of my sweet momma. after buying one for our son, i announced that we needed to get one as well. this past spring we added snakeinthegrass to our growing army of plants and it has not let us down, growing no matter what, the best part of sansevieria – its fortitude.

“snakeinthegrass” does not seem to be a loving name, for we all have encountered people we would describe as such. you know, the ones talking out of both sides of their mouths. the mean ones with agenda. the ones who, despite any variety-pack of livelihoods or assumed compassionate demeanor, go for the jugular or throw you under the bus. mm-hmm. not necessarily a nice name. perhaps we named snakeinthegrass “snakeinthegrass” to ward off the snakesinthegrass we had encountered. we hisssss when we call it by name. “sssssssnakeinthegrass,” we say. it makes us laugh. and our snake plant giggles with us and filters the air and grows taller day by day.

maybe that is how we should deal with all negativity. get a plant, name it something that is irking you, laugh every time you call it by name, let it cleanse the air and shed the bad juju. “li’l bitch” is the name of another succulent we have in the sunroom. it stabs you, without warning, if you get too close to its long branches, hidden spiny needles at the end. quite beautiful in shape and rich green, it also reminded us of people we have encountered, hidden motives just waiting to stab you. yuck! and phew! now we laugh as we talk to our plant.

kc and boston remind us of our beloved children, spikey gets his name for obvious reasons, leticia and stumpy as well. we’re not sure about ralph and, perhaps not coincidentally, ralph-without-a-real-reason-for-his-name is not doing well. perhaps he needed a different name, a name with the job of sage. several options come to mind.

time marches on and hearts heal. eventually tales of goodness mesh together with stories filled with pain. and the air gets clearer and cleaner. and the plants grow.

*****

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mini-marshmallows and gogo boots. [merely-a-thought monday]

if you are wondering where mini marshmallows come from, wonder no more. clearly they grow on white baneberry bushes in dr. seuss-land. passing it on the trail i could not get over how oh-the-places-you’ll-go this bush was. a standout in a green forest floor, confidently colorful and nicknamed “doll’s eyes” for obvious vintage-china-doll reasons, it got my attention and it piqued my curiosity.

we watched a silly movie a couple nights ago. my sweet momma loved sandra bullock so every time i watch a sandra bullock movie i feel like my mom is right there with us, giggling or cheering her on. the movie was “all above steve” co-starring bradley cooper. its silliness is comedic fun, particularly on an evening we were not looking to be intellectually challenged. but there was an unexpectedly sweet message in this movie. mary (sandra bullock), a brilliant young woman who is a crossword puzzle constructor and has a brain full of random knowledge and would kick anyone’s patootie playing trivial pursuit, is trying to be “normal” to fit into the world. in the end she discovers the power of standing in her own shoes, which were, in her case, red gogo boots.

artists are often looked at as misfits, a little outside the box, not quite fitting in. perhaps more colorful, perhaps louder, perhaps more questioning, the job of an artist is to elicit movement in thought, in action, in emotion, in sensitivity. we are hot-pink-stemmed mini-marshmallow plants in a world of green underbrush, ever being told that exposure will grant us the ability to live in this world, to pay our bills, to get ahead. artists everywhere under the sun shudder upon hearing those words, “think about the exposure.” we don our courageous metaphoric gogo boots, go to town trying to be ‘normal’ and realize that we were really ok all along, in our own skin.

often i have heard others comment on the re-purposed stuff in our house. empty window frames, screen doors, travel-worn suitcases, branches wrapped in lights, old coffeepots doubling as canisters. we’ve been asked, “how did you think of that?” i don’t know how to answer that other than “how couldn’t i?”

i’m guess i’m not ‘normal’. in the world of christian louboutin and jimmy choo footwear desires, i’m wearing old navy flipflops and hundreds-of-miles hiking boots. in a world of oscar de la renta and ralph lauren aficionados, i’m wearing my dad’s old flannel shirt and jeans. in a world of cle de peau beaute and guerlain and creme de la mer, my face is lucky to see an oil of olay original and coppertone 30spf combo.

and i, just like artists everywhere, love to be reminded, time to time, that we were all born to stand out. each and every one of us. artist or not. no matter the road we walk. no matter the red gogo boots or hot-pink stems. stand out. in our own skin.

mini-marshmallow, anyone?

*****

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pastrami mountain. [d.r. thursday]

“there are always flowers for those who want to see them.” (henri matisse)

through a rainy windshield we peered out. the windows were fogging up from the vast temperature change that the weather system had brought with it. the lake was grey, light glistening and playing upon it – the sun coming out from behind the clouds. the sky – left to sunset in salmon with lines of dark clouds dissipating – seemed to highlight the snow on the mountaintops in the distance. puddles had formed on the land lakeside, the point that jutted out near us. a photograph after the storm. after our pause, we traveled on.

sometimes things are not what they appear. the same object translates differently to each of us. the same place reads positive/negative; our interpretation determined by the lens through which we view, the way we approach life. we learn to discern what is real, what we imagine. we learn to assess what we see using mature tools of sagacity.

sometimes things are not what they appear. everything is a matter of perspective, where you are seeing from, where you are in life. we arrive at destinations, full of expectations specific to our own hearts. we see what is there through our eyes. it is important work to be sure to be aware of how others perceive the place, the circumstance. we learn differences. we learn compassion. we learn empathy.

sometimes things are not what they appear. some places are not as they seem. we learn to listen to our intuition, to be wary, to ask questions of what we see and of what we are told, to do research, to wonder. we don’t follow as lemmings and we don’t remain silent. we learn to speak up, to give voice to the disparity between what a place says it is and what it shows itself to be. we learn boundaries and we hold our lines in the sand.

sometimes things are not what they appear. some wizards are merely people behind a curtain. their bluster is bluster, their words intended to suggest power, control, whereas their voice becomes synonymous with hurting others and self-aggrandizement. we learn sympathy, even pity. we learn distrust and not to be blind to agenda.

sometimes things are not what they appear. some people are not as they seem. though their roles imply otherwise, we learn to cautiously be with these folks. we realize that others can manipulate our perception of things, others can run over our viewpoint. and we realize those tsunamis are without truth-seeking. there is little communication – it is silent and colorless. there is little transparency – it is opaque. we learn discretion. we learn that there are those who will throw you under the bus, who will subvert you, to raise themselves up or to accomplish their objective. we learn to expose this kind of betrayal for what it is, to push back on this brand of sabotage, weeds attempting to strangle.

but there are always flowers for those who want to see them. we find places and things and people who are indeed flowers in our garden. places and things and people from which and from whom we learn grace and wisdom and adaptability and kindness. blossoms.

and i suppose the converse-henri is also true. if you don’t want to see flowers, you won’t. your perspective will grant you that, an empty garden. if you decide ahead of an experience that you will dislike it, you will likely see only in black and white, your experience void of the colors of sunflowers and peonies, aster and purple mountain sage.

so, yes, henri, there are always flowers. there is always the single ray of sunlight in the clouds. there is always the glass half-full. there is always the beautiful in the ordinary.

and there are always mountains. for those who want to see them, they are even in the trader joe’s shrink-wrapped pack of nitrate-nitrite-free pastrami.

sometimes things are not what they appear.

*****

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