one of nature’s market umbrellas, this toadshade. research states that its prairie trillium leaves – in a salad – taste a little like sunflower seeds, though the idea of harvesting as we hike is not really appealing to me. in due time we will be on the trail and the sessile blooms will burst open, deep red flowers punctuating the woods. the mayapple will spread and vast areas of decaying leaves will be covered by its natural awning. it is a joy to watch the forest wake.
soon i will move into the studio to pare down and rearrange. it has needed this for some time. like decaying leaves, but without the nutrients those generate, i will put away vestiges of places or times i simply cannot tolerate thinking about any longer. a plastic bin will hold the artifacts and, in that clearing out, i suspect light will stream in. i will not merely glance into the studio. i will walk in, breathe, and step the next step of whatever the journey in that studio is. even if only to watch it wake right now.
with the cantilever umbrella of my piano full-stick, maybe i will sow mustard seeds of possibility. and, maybe, just like toadshade, blooms will burst open.
in these times, we often hike the same trail. there is not enough time for long-distance travel right now. but we are comforted, nevertheless, by this same place, again and again. it has become an old friend and there is nothing better than someone or something you know really well and love in all its moods and through all its seasons.
it was easter sunday and, for only the second time in decades, i had no obligations. it was cold – almost miracle-mitten cold – and we were trying to choose between meandering through the early spring flowers at the botanic garden or hiking “our” trail. we suspected that the botanic garden would be crowded; we believed the trail would be almost empty. we chose the trail.
you might think we would tire of this trail. you might think we would choose something else, somewhere else. you might think there would be nothing new to see. on the contrary.
i am reminded, as ever – again – now that i am, finally, just the tiniest bit wiser – of marcel proust’s words, “the real voyage of discovery consists not of seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
there was lots of trailside vegetation coming alive, tiny buds, green sprouts. the familiar turns in the path led us past busy squirrels, chipmunks we could hear but not see scurrying in the underbrush, birds and geese and ducks.
after a couple hours, we set up our pop-up bistro table and chairs in the middle of the woods. surrounded by tall pines in a spot that would be underbrush-inaccessible in the summer, we sat, in the cold, snacking on cheese and crackers, quinoa tabouli and a few sips of wine in small yeti tumblers with lids, springtime napkins reminding us of the season. we took our gloves off, had a few schnibbles, put our gloves on, chatted and repeated. we pulled up our hoods and turned our backs to the wind picking up. mostly, we sat in the quiet.
and we looked up.
and there, that which we could have easily missed, was this magnificent view of the blue sky and the towering tops of pine trees that had endured the same forest for a very long time.
there is nothing ordinary about a view like that.
an idiosyncrasy, a quirk, a hallmark, a side you hadn’t yet noticed. such is the complexity of an old friend. such is the charm of discovery.
i did a photo shoot with my cello. it’s a gorgeous instrument, elegant and full of tear-your-heart-out melodic possibility.
i am sitting at the edge.
i clutch onto it tightly, yearning to yo-yo-ma, yet knowing this edge is somewhat irrefutable. in my heart, my wrist, the tendons of my fingers ache to bow, to press string to fingerboard. the edge pushes back. i know that it is time and that no dream in the night – onstage with soaring, weep-worthy lines – will change that.
my edges – like conglomerate rock, a mixture of wishes and knowings and new – reorganize in the kaleidoscope of life. and, because life is like that, surprises will show up, lit by spotlights and sunlight.
and, once this stunning instrument has moved, as it should, from my studio to the embrace of someone else, i understand that, though my hands will not touch its graceful lines and resonant soul, there will be other learnings, other touches. and always, other edges.
“though i play at the edges of knowing, truly i know our part is not knowing, but looking and touching and loving.” (mary oliver)
even on a foggy, overcast day, looking down from the ridge the glow was unmistakable. the everciduous beech trees stubbornly held their leaves, dying the brown woods a shade of cantaloupe or hard-to-identify pantone.
the forest floor below our feet was shuffling-full of leaves, oaks and maples and a variety of brown county timber. vines curled their way around trees in attempts to find the canopy. on this winter day, were it not for the marcescent beech, we could see further than any other season in the woods.
marcescence, i’ve learned – for this is not a word that sprang to the forefront of my mind – is the retention of leaves through winter. it isn’t until the leaves are completely brittle and wind takes them that they drop. and in the meanwhile, new growth – new leaf buds – have been protected and had access to nutrients and moisture, a sort of still-on-the-tree mulch.
it occurs to me that marcescence is like changing jobs. one generally holds onto a job until retaining the next, the security of employ feeding confidence and necessities while new awaits. it’s always a little disconcerting to leave before next is there, a leap of faith, sometimes, a premature leap, with regret.
yet sometimes, it is absolute. we drop our leaves. we stand naked in the forest, tall and exposed, willowy trees waiting for spring. sometimes we shed all that protects us and take risks and go fallow in liminal and shiver in cold winds. we gaze around and see everciduous folks nearby, confident, predictable, stalwart. we dig in, deep roots of belief in ourselves despite weather that tests us. we draw from the ground, are fed by what we know, what we have learned, what we have created. we hold onto tiny bits of light. we protect the glow. we push on.
and new buds show up. spring always follows winter.
we have a small stack of unopened envelopes on the counter. it’s a stack of holiday cards and we’re saving it for closer to christmas. opening these while sitting together will seem like a visit from these people we care about at a time when visits are scarce and time together is minimal. these cards will help.
because these holidays are messy.
we’ve been succumbing to the hallmark channel. it has been both delightful and a disservice, a bar we cannot touch, with families gathered around roaring fireplaces with cocoa, around kitchen counters icing cookies, around the town square christmas tree singing, around the tree farm choosing the exact right tree to cut down, dancing at the christmas ball. our hearts soar with these picturesque modern-day norman-rockwells and yet…
because the holidays are messy.
in my mind’s eye i can create all kinds of wondrous times – with our children, our extended families, our friends. i envision everyone here at home or at a giant cabin in the mountains with snow gently falling outside, arriving at the door with ecstatic hugs of anticipation. i can hear laughter and records spinning and song and many shared old stories. i catch a whiff of the fireplace and the cocoa, early morning coffee brewing like in all the old folgers commercials, the turkey or ham or lasagna in the oven, snickerdoodles and peanut butter cookies with hersheys kisses and krumkake baking. i can feel the excitement with everyone throwing wrap on the floor, bows and ribbons flying, opening thoughtful gifts. i can see evidence of our angels in the air, my sweet momma and poppo, columbus, my big brother, grandparents, even our babycat. i blink and i’m back. like many of you, i know this wondrous time, though perhaps entirely possible someday, is – again – not reality.
because the holidays are messy.
in this final stretch to christmas i know that expectations are high and disappointment is higher. the simplest moments that our hearts desire are somehow unattainable and complex. it is not an easy time and it is on the heels of a not-easy year for so many, including us.
the holidays are messy.
so we keep the small stack of cards and wait to open them. we sit at the end of the evening in the living room lit by the lights of our tree and the white branches of previous years. we write cards and sticker envelopes and wrap packages and ship. we, like you, try to immerse in both memory-rituals and new traditions, try to make-the-best-of-it. we know that time marches on, too quickly-quickly. in looking back we all know how fast ahead goes. we wish for the holidays we can see – but not quite touch – in our mind’s eye. we know that angst and worries and loneliness and exhaustion and issues and comparisons and striving for perfection and dismaying sadness are not supposed to be a part of the holiday spirit, yet we see tidbits of these shades of blue as we look around. we work to move in grace and trust and hold unconditional love as guiding forces.
we hope for less-messy another year.
i believe the cardinals out back at the pond came to reassure me.
i honestly don’t think i can – or need to – add much to this. this is not uncommon.
wistful. melancholy. reminiscent. lonely. overwhelmed by a lack of the busy and social holiday celebrations portrayed nearly everywhere. drowning in comparisons.
life changes and, it appears (yes, yes) we need to change with it. the holidays are a tough reminder.
in the middle of the trail we hiked on thanksgiving we talked about this. we had decided a big pot of pasta sauce would be our thanksgiving meal. comfort food. i, especially, needed that. the day was overcast with snow flurries and a mist gently coming down around a few bends on the path. damp and cold but familiar and reassuring. three deer were startled by our arrival. we watched them as they gracefully bounded away.
we came home and lit all the happy lights in the house. poured a glass of wine and got to the sauce. lit candles, took out thanksgiving napkins, set the table simply. our pumpkin pie was vegan, plant-based, amazing.
yesterday someone ordered 40 “be kind” buttons. it prompted me to suggest that we take a hundred – or a couple hundred – of our buttons and go somewhere and just give them out. sometime in the holiday season. plant a new tradition. start a new ritual. we’ll see.
demographics have spread families out across the globe, work responsibilities make time off a challenge and the pandemic makes travel questionable. we age and lose grandparents and then parents and loved ones. the holidays take on more blue than iridescent tinsel-silver. so many reasons why people find themselves awake in the middle of the night, staring at the ceiling, wishing it was like it used to be. visions of large meals and preparation and trees and grand shopping and piles of presents and family-all-around and parties and fancy dress-up clothes all dance like sugar plums in our heads. things that used-to-be.
finding things to assuage the used-to-be’s might help, might fill in the gaps. gathering with others in like circumstances, empathizing, might be reassuring. having a little visit with dear next-door neighbors later in the night is a bit of fondant on a layer-cake day. planning an adventure or two for coming days brings sweet anticipation.
i started noticing while hiking on one of our favorite local trails. greenery and pine cones sharing space. a visual backdrop for hallmark holiday movie escapism, the repetition of these simple symbols of the holiday season over and again on trail brought my camera to hand time after time. capturing these photos has been decorating my mind with fancies of christmases-past and brightly wrapped packages and trees of all shapes and happy lights galore and times spent with my children, my family, my friends. the trail’s gift has inadvertently set me on the path toward light, my spirit breathing with each snap of the iphone.
a week before thanksgiving my son sent me a photograph of the christmas tree in their apartment. with garland strung and lights and soft holiday-themed pillows, it was straight out of a magazine. “a classic look,” he told me. yes. beautiful and classic, welcoming winter. my daughter’s photographs are snowy and crisp, crystalline and inspiring. winter is coming on in the high mountains. it dresses them with idyllic wonder.
we haven’t started listening to holiday music. it’s too raw at this point. but we will. i will climb out of this cavern, aided by every gift of nature as it heads into this magical season, and i’ll soon turn it – music – on. in the meanwhile, slowly, we have strung some new white twinkling happy lights, we have brought up a couple trees from the corner of the basement storage room. maybe we’ll bring up the big bins and we can step-by-step-forward turn our home into a celebration of what-is and not a daily reminder of what-was. walking toward light. each silver ornament a coaxing, each strand of lights an urging, each tuft of greenery an encouragement. all seasonal prompts, that out of the dark there is light. indeed, in the dark there is light. “nature is ever at work building and pulling down, creating and destroying, keeping everything whirling and flowing, allowing no rest but in rhythmical motion, chasing everything in endless song out of one beautiful form into another.” (john muir)
john muir also wrote this: “between every two pines is a doorway to a new world.” maybe that’s somehow why i am noticing. the greenery. the pine cones. laying on the trail, juxtaposed yet clearly related. dark and light, juxtaposed, yet clearly related. a new world, a doorway.
no wonder i keep seeing these sweet moments in nature. no wonder i keep searching. no wonder i have my camera out on the trail.
the chaos of irato. a passage of angry, passionate. a symphony of irate engaging us, challenging us, buckling us under in its fervor.
“take a break,” earth-the-breathless-conductor would admonish. “hold and rest,” earth-the-counselor would encourage. “slow down. be deliberate,” earth-the-sage would advise. caesura. fermata. lento.
acknowledging the rage. listening. resting in the questions. conscious mindful steps. measured decisive action. slowly leading the way with goodness.
i suspect mother earth, in its mother-earth-wisdom, would hear the symphony as transition. the space between before and after. a time of growth and change and every possible note, every possible emotion.
we listen, as earthlings, imperfect-in-every-way, and we get lost. to live in irato is uncomfortable. a cliffhanger.
but mother earth smiles. after all, she knows all about suspense and the big bang and butterflies.
we put out a different water bowl in the kitchen for dogdog and babycat. neither one of them will drink from the bowl. we put their old water bowl in the next room, filled with water, so that they will be able to hydrate, but we were hoping that they would adjust to the new one. neither one of them will drink from the bowl. in the world they inhabit, one that must have low level anxiety frequencies they can feel from the-whole-outside-world, they do not like change. it’s been days and neither one will drink from the bowl.
in the past months and in what now feels like a broken world, we can face forward. we can set intentions and take one baby step at a time, all in unequivocal love of all humankind. we can be light for each other and we can hold fear tenderly. we can look newness of change eye to eye as we learn, challenge the status quo, embrace compassion and principle and stride confidently into a new time.
we can sit by the new bowl, encourage our dog and cat to drink from it, recognize their fear of the unknown, of change, and just love them.
i found a note the other day, tucked inside a book. it was a jotting-down-of-a-memory and was a quote from The Boy. he was five and he said, “look at how i can snap (my fingers). at 5 years old!! i could become a snap teacher and teach everyone how to snap!” never too young to dream.
jen is zealous. she is reallyyyy zealous. i don’t think i have known anyone who is as zealous a learner as jen. it is invigorating and inspiring to be around someone who embraces all she does not know with questions and a hope for understanding, as opposed to resistance or suspicion. she actively seeks out ways to learn the new, the unknown, wholeheartedly jumping in and swimming. she knows that vitality comes with opening yourself to new things.
pantene recently ran a new video series. it’s referencing the holidays and in it transgender people talk about what it’s like to go home. it’s breathtakingly sad the number of LGBTQ women and men who are not welcomed at home because someone cannot learn, ask questions, try to understand. instead, resistance and suspicion and a whole lot of judgement fiercely reign and the dream of being all together celebrating is devastatingly dashed. squelching another’s dreams is not the ultimate job of our job as humankind.
yesterday i conducted a christmas cantata. ahead of time, i had, for hours and hours on end, researched songs to find the pieces i felt would resonate with people, the pieces that would be generously bestowing of spirit and not off-putting. i looked for the language i thought would tug at their hearts and remind them of the light, the miracle of the season. when one song didn’t quite fit for me after i had chosen it, i wrote a new one. they were labeled ‘contemporary’ songs, with melodies, rhythm, chords, years of copyright differing from the hymns in the hymnals. over thirty people participated: a choir, a ukulele band, a worship band, a violinist, a violist. the result was truly beautiful, the message clear and the music gorgeous. our little church – a church that proudly purports to be reconciling and all-embracing – had moments truly holy in that service.
h is 93. every week at rehearsal he is ready and willing to learn something. he is steeped in traditional – after all, he is 93, his year of copyright long ago. and yet, those new melodies, harmony, challenging rhythms he has learned to sing have brought a freshness of life to him. never too old to dream. he knows that vitality comes with opening yourself to new things.
but back to yesterday. i remain unfulfilled in one way. because the sad part about yesterday? all the work and time that these dedicated volunteers had put into this cantata – with my careful choices based on over thirty years as a minister of music – was not seen by the first service folks. the word ‘contemporary’ made it unfathomable for that service to host without complaint, relegating it only to the second service. the spirit of camaraderie, the support of the efforts of others in their own church, the truly beautiful music that was made was lost on this first service. i try to understand their dedication to traditional music, to choice, and i heartedly honor it in selecting music for every other week of the church year. but i fail to understand their unwillingness to even try to embrace something else, something ‘new’. i fail to understand any reinforcement of ‘different’, of divisiveness. especially as simply one day and a festive community celebration of the holiday. especially when churches are constantly looking for relevancy and vitality is one of the necessary ingredients. they do not know what they missed. closing off. what they are missing.
jen and h would like each other. they both openly embrace new. they both openly embrace others. they both dream dreams, happily engaging in life, snapping. what a gift to be around.