barney’s nails are popping, its layers are peeling back even more, rust is gathering on surfaces subjected to air and moisture. this is not a surprise. barney has been outside in the sun and the rain and the snow and ice and wind and humidity and drought for almost ten years now. a decade has a way of peeling things back. i wonder what barney might look like in another decade or maybe two. its soul will be intact; its boxy exterior will be falling away, opening strings, hammers, soundboard to the world. and always, its soul, present, true.
barney is no less beautiful now than the day it arrived in our yard. in fact, as it changes, its transformation is a metamorphosis into an aged piece of art sans any expectations. it stands as a stalwart symbol of constancy in our backyard. it reminds me that soul is resilient, fluid. no matter the weathering, the chippies and bunnies nesting, the birds stopping off to rest, the squirrels sitting and taunting the dog. no matter only eleven white endpieces of keys are left. no matter the line of popped nails in a row along its upright top. its soul – exposed – carries on, aged and stronger than before.
“this is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing i know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness.” (mary oliver)
if barney needed to express itself, tell stories of its past, the narrative of a life of a hundred years, it would merely stand and speak – firmly planted. time and nails have loosened its jointed wood and the container of a million tales, and have – figuratively – unlidded the top of the shoebox under the bed or on the top shelf of the closet. every story counts and, as we sit in the backyard, we pay attention. we listen to barney, giving credence to its voice, glad that even in its aged appearance – and its agedness – it is not silent.
in ways i can’t explain, i can feel the nails popping.
i lived in florida. merely 14 miles from the gulf of mexico. for eight plus years. yet, i can count the number of times i went to the beach while i lived there. likely on two hands. i spent more time on the gulf before living there and after living there. just not during.
as a teenager and young adult i was at the north shore all the time. biking there, vw-ing there, boating, diving, fishing, walking, climbing the fence to take sunrise pictures – winter, spring, summer, fall. all the time.
in recent years i’ve yearned for the days on those long island beaches. and, though they are remarkably beautiful and warm and sunny and tan-producing (definitely not important anymore), i can’t really say the same for the florida beaches. i don’t find myself pining for them.
maybe it’s just my history with them. or, perhaps, the lack thereof.
the other day we went to the beach. on lake michigan. we walked and walked for a couple of hours, searching for hagstones and paintable flat rocks. then we settled down on a big log of driftwood in soft sand and sat and watched the waves. we wished we had a picnic lunch with us and a good book. it was that kind of day. the only thing that drove us out was hunger.
but we’ll go back, because the beauty of that beach was powerful.
when you live with someone who also likes to walk, you will walk anywhere. strolling in the ‘hood, hiking on the trail, trolling for stones on the beach. it’s the thing we do when all else stops – all work, all tasks. it’s the thing we do when we want all else to stop – all wistfulness, all thought, all worry, all out-and-out angst.
it’s funny to me that there was this big chunk of my life when i wasn’t walking, wasn’t hiking. just like this big chunk of my life when i wasn’t going to the beach – to stare at the waves, to watch gulls swoop and dive in the wind, to find the gifts of the air and the water – tuning into soul and energy, soothing and healing.
i’ve pondered, before, what would have happened had i walked. now i ponder what would have happened had i gone to the beach.
at the front corner of my growing-up yard on long island was a forsythia bush. and many years, at the march of my birthday, i remember having my picture taken there. home. spring. there are few things that make me think of Home like forsythia does.
except for maybe the voice of my beloved daughter on the phone. she is forsythia for me. for just moments or for an extended conversation or – if i am fortunate – in person together, the sound of her voice, her zeal, is Home.
and except for watching the way my beloved son immerses himself in his music. his hands – now all-grown-up man-hands – moving dials and sliders, his voice and body dancing, his explanations – it’s forsythia for me. Home.
and except for the look across the room from david – the moment he touches his hand to his chest while in his gaze – forsythia. Home.
and dogga – at the door with his angel-babycat greeting me – thrilled, once again, to see us. forsythia. Home.
and the love and care and concern that are abundant in our lives – our family, our friends. forsythia. Home.
and the work we have chosen to do – create – music, paintings, many-many words, cartoons. forsythia. Home.
it is likely the heron’s. we have seen a couple together out there – gliding through the marshland, standing regally by the side of the pond, walking sedately. we hiked past the downy feather, that had likely fallen from where down is hidden beneath the heron’s outer feathers, and i went back, the talcum powder white capturing my attention on the trail. sometimes i pick up feathers – to keep them, beautiful signs of divine and freedom and flight. i left this one on the trail, tucked between the pine and the cone, its texture begging notice.
under the outer layer of my straight hair is an unruly curly layer. the days i do not blow-dry my hair, i am banana-curled, little-orphan-annie-curled, a combo-platter-no-real-sense curled. i personally have found it annoying. most women desire hair which they do not have – a different kind of hair – a different color – a different texture, thickness, bounce, volume. it is the way of this society.
instyle magazine did an entire month of articles on women and their hair. i read the initial article from 2018 and, frankly, found it somewhat entertaining. the most common uniting hair complaint is frizz, which, i must say, i have complained about a time or two. d has trouble understanding frizz as he is a non-frizz-haired guy (incidentally, with better hair than me – which doesn’t seem quite hair-fair). regardless, hair has become a tool of empowering for women, especially in this nation.
according to what i read, we can be flushed with excitement or nervous as all get-out, challenged beyond our perceived limits or drudging our way through the day – but, if our hair looks good, we feel good, no matter.
i wonder if the heron – in its elegant wisdom and intuition – has concerned itself with its feathers. or has it just simply concerned itself with its basic needs, its instinctual movements and rituals, its patterns and place in nature. is it thinking about its frizzy down feathers? i suspect not. compare that with the reported 81% of human women who feel more confident if their hair looks great.
according to the majority of human women – none of the hair products out there reeeeally work. everything promises to de-frizz, de-curl, celebrate the curl, straighten, give volume, grant sheen, untangle, combat thinning, retain moisture, eliminate split ends, make it bounce, make it stay still, give a hairstyle hold. but nope, none of it really works.
if you add perimenopause, menopause and post-menopause to the hair equation, you are faced with a variety pack of even more hair concerns. for me, that means that – despite all my deliberate blowdrying intentions for straightening my hair, the instant a hotter-than-hot hot flash swings by, i am frizzed. drippy hot, frizzed and curled – definitely not a jennifer aniston hair look.
“in order to cool their body temperature, great blue herons will partially extend and droop their wings and open their mouths while fluttering their throat muscles. much like dogs panting, this helps cool their body through evaporation. this behavior is called gular fluttering.”(nps.gov) the innate wisdom of the heron – gular fluttering. who knew?
so…if you see me – curly hair askew sneaking out from under a few straightened hairs trying to hold on to their straight – fluttering my throat muscles (is this synonymous with talking too much in humans???) – you will know i am post-yet-another-hot-flash and am channeling my internal great blue heron. please don’t comment on my hair.
smooth silvery-grey under our fingertips, we each took time to touch, to marvel at the beauty. and gordon lightfoot sang on in my mind.
as a writer, composer, lyricist, there are decisions one must make along the way. we place ourselves in a vulnerable spot, not for our own purpose or indulgence, but, instead, in the hope of resonating with someone who needs the words or music or lyrics we write, in the hope of reaching someone else walking in similar shoes, in the hope of assuring someone out there who needs to know they are not alone. and so, at the risk of thus vulnerably over-sharing, i offer this:
but some things are triggers. and, as the verses and guitar continued, this particular gordon lightfoot song is one of them. my #metoo was at the hands of a musician, a serial pedophile who walks freely even today. he played guitar and charmed his way into the never-to-forget-lives of many susceptible young women. a man who softly sang gordon lightfoot and james taylor, who wrote love songs, new lyrics for gorgeous SATB hymns, and taught guitar surely was to be trusted, right? wrong.
i can appreciate these beautiful pussywillows, another harbinger of spring and new life. but i stop a moment and give nod to my much earlier self. in a watershed, i recognize the parallel of this earliest time working in the church and my latest work. bookends.
“riding on the roadside the dust gets in your eyes”
it’s not the dust that brings tears to my eyes, it’s not the spring air laden with newness of pollen, the turning of season. it’s the raw bookended time in places i trusted as safe. i cannot help now but examine it all up close, process it, grieve the loss of innocence, the devaluing of women, abhor the loss of respectful truth and the reign of agenda. the bookends hold upright the time in-between, all the books of life, times and experiences and mistakes and successes, the laying down of any attempt to process, to make right, of any ramifications for the wrongdoer. the bookend of late was a stunning surprise. i am astonished at its destruction, now, no longer a teenager. i find it all shockingly galling.
“slanted rays and colored days, stark blue horizons”
the horizon is much like the horizon all those decades ago. it’s surprising to return to that feeling. i want to leave, to run, just like that other time, that other bookend. my physical life, however, is not at stake this time. it is me, my loss of community, my loss of position, stolen integrity. i cannot wrap my head around the slanted rays, the starkness.
“treasuring, remembering, the promise of spring pussywillows, cat-tails, soft winds and roses”
treasuring, remembering. promises. but roses…the flower of love…it is hard to hear lyric of roses…my hope is to only hear gordon lightfoot in my mind’s eye and to forget the echoing bookends.
“shivering, quivering, the warm breath of spring”
to remember – spring is beginning to spring. the catkins of the willows are soft, cattails seed in the wind, warm circles us on the trail.
they chopped down, chainsawed, mulched, chemicalized, burned. they decimated the whole forest to eliminate the invasives. and – in the way of oncological medicine, of environmental eradication programs, of corporate and organizational ousting – the good cells may somehow survive, burned edges and all.
to be a tree with burn marks is to be human. one cannot traipse through this life without them. we all carry with us whatever balm has helped us get through the fires. we lean on the surety that spring will come, eventually.
as we hike the trail, we know that it is not one hundred percent that only the good will keep on. it is not a certainty. instead, it is a risk, a gamble, that there may be cells that escape treatment, there may be invasives that escape annihilation, there may be people-in-power-with-ill-intent who either escape the pointed fingers or are the ones corruptly pointing them.
and in those cases, the worry is that those cells will reproduce, those invasives will take over and choke out the organic, those people will destroy the place. a ravaging burn. devastation. and the good cells, the good plants, the good people will be left to fend for themselves, to remain upright – stalwart – to grow despite the odds.
it is good friday for those who are keeping a religious calendar. a day of destruction following betrayal and many burned edges. as this sacred story goes, three days later there is a resurrection. and the targeted jesus rises.
as we hike the trail, we notice the green shoots growing out of the ground, their top leaves still blackened. we marvel at the tenacity of these plants as they garnered energy best-as-they-could, regardless of the burn. the good xylem and phloem somehow survived.
there are naturalists who are watching closely, tending to the native plants best as they can. there are doctors and nurses and researchers and clinical trial experts who are watching closely, tending to patients and health and life best as they can. there are, therefore, it would seem, allies who are dedicated to the truth, to transparency, to the best parts of an organization who are watching closely, tending to the burns of the sacrificed.
“i want to know if you will stand in the centre of the fire with me and not shrink back.“ (oriah mountain dreamer)
shrinking back will allow the devastation. standing in the fire – the center of the fire – will allow the resurrection.
“and you were there in all of my suff’ring.
you were there in doubt, and in fear;
i’m waiting on the dawn to reappear...” (you were on the cross – m.mayer, k.butler, a.assad)
and the snow fell gently in the woods, rendering it muted, like the tones of ansel adams’ pine forest, snow.
it was breathtakingly beautiful.
snowflakes slid from the sky, landing on our faces, our eyelashes, our hats and scarves and coats.
everything slowed – a 78rpm record playing at 33.
stretched out into slow motion, we stood and gazed up into the trillions of perfect flakes.
and, in the way of water – a balm, worries washed away and all that was left was peace. achingly gorgeous, we stayed in it, in the serene, a cloud, unwilling to leave the soft-focus-world moments, the snow sanctuary.
“know that the universe is always conspiring in our favor.” (paulo coelho)
and in the way that getaways slip into the wind, i know that this one will as well. time spent in the snowy up-north will slowly peel off and fly, seeds for the next time, the next few-days-away, the next memories.
this weekend we’ll have dinner with our son. he owns a new home – his first – and this will be our first actual viewing of it. i can’t wait! time spent with our adult children flies all too fast. already it’s been six months since i have seen our daughter; already it will be three months since we saw our son. their lives are busy and active and they are not in the same town. their homes have been anywhere from an-hour-and-a-half to twenty-seven hours away. it takes time and planning. and life is full of things – many things, for all of us – that take time and planning.
in what will feel waytoofast, our time spent together will zoom by. visiting and catching up and doing the yes-of-course-i’m-staring-at-you-i’m-your-mother will be followed quickly by goodbyes at the door and me, as ever, wiping happy (and wistful) tears as we drive away. and the tiny layers that comprise this time will feather, drifting into air streams where our mind searches for details and they are just a little further out than we can reach.
the wind brushes past us and time passes in its grasp. we – as ever – attempt to hold its filmy contrails, but time and vapor cannot be held. they are part of the wind that swirls and we simply are witnesses to its magic. we experience, we create memories, we stand next to those memories and gaze back as time’s half-life multiplies before our eyes. on friday, we are astounded by a long week’s end. on our 60th birthday, we are astounded by the six decades. as we sit at our child’s table, we are astounded by their maturity and place in the world, their mark.
we – and the stars – float in the basket of the hot air balloon of the universe and – if we are wise enough – glory that we are part of it.
and – up close – if you choose – you will see the foreleg of a winter-dressed pony, the extra cold-weather-coat trapping hair next to the skin of the horse, keeping him warmer. he is stopped, gazing at the distant field, ready to canter into it, the exploding of freedom of movement.
and you blink and it is a cattail. one of many in the field, waiting in the marsh through autumn and winter for early spring. as many as 250,000 seeds, white fluff sailing and transported by birds and breezes. and the life cycle continues.
it is winter in my studio. the rhizomes are gathering underground, together with the cattails. maybe around the spring equinox, maybe a bit later, the shoots will rise out of the ground – like a phoenix out of ashes – and new sprouts will grow and grow. the cycle germinates and pollinates and seeds will fly again. the birds and the wind and i will play for you – seeds and notes flying.
in the meanwhile, i wear my winter coat. it is keeping the heat in. it protects me. insulation for shelter in this long and cold winter, to shield in the storms, to brace in this fallow.
but soon, soon, with the sun and fresh air, the pony will run free.
green sounds different than red which sounds different than blue. green looks different than red which looks different than blue. green feels different than red which feels different than blue. so a color field of all three would seem to emit, depict, emote a wide spectrum.
i’m pretty sure that mark rothko and i would have been friends. his goal: “to capture the essence of basic human emotions on the canvas and then evoke those emotions from his viewers.” (masterclass.com) my goal: to capture the essence of basic human emotions on the piano and then evoke those emotions from my listeners. instruments – the canvas, the piano – that tap in. yes. friends.
in my mind’s eye, i can see a tour. all over the country to different art museums that house a mark rothko or two. a big yamaha concert grand on the wooden floor, placed in front of the giant color field painting, paused in silence, waiting. abstract expressionism on the canvas. and then, the translation – abstract expressionism on the piano. action. color field. repeat.
i’m pondering this painting green, red, blue. in thinking and feeling green, i ponder what i’ve already composed that sounds, feels, looks green. in thinking red, i ponder what i’ve already composed that sounds, feels, looks red. in thinking blue – specifically blue-around-the-edges in this case – i ponder what i’ve already composed that sounds, feels, looks blue.
in a push of creative courage, i can see this tour. in a room void of people or full of people, i imagine me and the painting and a piano. high ceilings, the swoosh of the sustain pedal brushes against the walls and swirls around. no other sound. yet. and then.
i’ll play for you i’ll play for you i’ll play for you