there is something so delicious about going away. we left town and the cold north for florida. it was just for a few days, but the difference in climate is stunning. when you are not – in general – wearing your 32 degrees base layer or your earmuffs on a walk or your furry boots and you have traded it all for cropped jeans and flipflops and no-sleeves, it is a joy. the sun shined down on us as we visited together – our family – a ridiculous and unbelievable four years since we had seen them. we stuffed conversations into nooks and crannies of time and cheered glasses and cooked and took walks and played thomas-the-tank-engine with the tiny two-year-old-miracle who is now in the fam as well. in the middle of it, we suddenly realized how fast it was all going. and then, it was time to board. masks on – two of like four people in the entire tampa airport – we got on the plane and zipped through the air back home.
there is something so delicious about getting home. behind us we had left dogdog in the ever-capable hands of our 20. behind us we had left the worries and angsts of the moment, of this time. behind us we had left our 32 degrees base layers and hats and gloves. behind us we had left all vestiges of our normal schedule and normal routines.
we exited the plane, stopped at the meditation room at milwaukee airport and got into a cold but completely happy-to-see-us littlebabyscion (i may be projecting here) and drove home, getting more excited each minute. 20 had soup and bread ready for us when we got there. he knows how to tend to those basic comforts – those things that reassure when you have left part of your heart behind somewhere else. and then…that deep tiredness – that happens after you have been away and have arrived back home – sunk in.
sleep came early and then we woke early. looking out the window we watched the snow fall. it’s winter in wisconsin and it looks like winter. i like that. i need the seasons to go by…it’s part of my own process as well.
as the flakes get larger and i write this i know that today is a home-day. i just need to stay home, do the laundry, look at the lists i left, process leaving family-i-love behind. tomorrow i will go out. tomorrow is soon enough.
today i just need to absorb the “welcome home” and listen to the quiet snow fall.
and they dreamed dreams and waited in the woods…winterberries with visions of becoming maraschino cherries in their mind’s eye…actualizing with starring roles in traditional wisconsin brandy old-fashioneds…
no, no. do not put winterberries in your old-fashioned. they are completely toxic. but they are striking and unexpected. and the color in the woods is intoxicating. gorgeous red punctuating a dim brown-grey, save for a few evergreen, they are clustered beautiful.
it had been a while, what with the freezing temperatures and snow. we finally made it out to our favorite trail and it was – truly – a breath of fresh air. there is nothing quite as restorative as hiking, surrounded by stillness and the sound of wind rustling through the tops of trees. we needed to get outside. we slogged through the trails, getting a better workout than usual. the mud splashed up onto the back of our jeans, like when you ride your bike in the rain. we reveled in it.
the deer tracks went across the path. they hadn’t been there the first time we passed through. it was early in the day, early for the deer to be moving around, but we started looking through the brush.
her sweet face was staring right at us, her body blending into the scrub and trees around her. we stood, gazing at each other, none of us moving. i slowly took my phone out to capture what i knew would be hard to discern in a photograph – this deer in the woods, this shared moment of time. she didn’t move, but her tail wagged and her ears pitched forward and back, listening. i was hoping she could hear the words i whispered to her – telepathically, a little dr. doolittle-ish. her continued gaze at us, grace for our presence, her head held high, no obvious fear. unexpected.
she never left the spot while we were standing there. she took a few steps but didn’t flee, as so often happens when you start to move in the forest. we blew her a kiss and continued on, feeling lucky to have seen her and to have spent a few minutes with her.
we passed more winterberry holly as we hiked, laughing about old-fashioneds and marveling at our new deer friend in the woods.
we exited the trail, none too anxious to leave, wanting to just linger.
“sometimes,’ said pooh, ‘the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.” (a.a. milne)
“wherever you go, go with all your heart” (confucius)
this is not hard in the quiet bow of a canoe on a pristine dark aquamarine lake under a baby blue sky. my heart is all in.
from one time to the next you forget a little how the paddle fits in your hand, how it easily skims through the water, how it rubs that spot under your thumb. you forget the sound of water droplets hitting a quiet surface as you raise up the paddle, the swoosh of the oar back into the water, the peace. no real destination. just point the bow and paddle.
if we have a thought in the world, it is only about beauty and fresh air and a breeze in our favor. we pass water lily pads and, every so often, a lily gracing them, pink pondweed above flat vases of gathered rhododendron-looking leaves. it’s serene. it’s quiet.
there is no race, so set time limit. we simply go, aware of how full our hearts feel. we paddle back only when it seems time.
the walkie-talkie crackles, “happy-hour-snack-time-tchk.” we laugh. and turn the canoe. no pressure.
we make our way back past the fisherman, the floating mats waiting for kids and splashing and laughter, the island created by the rising lake level. past the place we saw the porcupine, past the place the turtles were swimming, past the place someone caught a giant bass some time ago.
they wave from the dock and tease over the walkie-talkie that there is nothing left.
we paddle to shore and climb out.
part of my heart stays – quietly – for a moment – in the bow and memorizes the way it felt. until the next time.
we wake up early anyway. there’s no alarm clock on saturday morning. yet, before the sun is barely above the horizon we are awake. we both lay and listen quietly to the quiet. birds, chipmunks, the pond out back, maybe the waves on the lakeshore if it’s windy. for just a little while, before the lawnmowers start or cars drive by or people empty their recyclables into the new big blue waste containers, if we close our eyes we can picture being wherever we want to be.
my big brother has now been on a different plane of existence for thirty years. 30. as of yesterday. it is shocking that so much time has passed by. for the longest time i had a hard time understanding how the world could go on, when he could no longer feel it. and yet, it did. those of us left behind had broken hearts and missed the sound of his laughter, the details of his stories, his giant bowls of coffee ice cream. we are left wondering how he is present with us, what he can see, what, if anything, he feels. it was a friday.
“this life is not a dress rehearsal.”
the magic of friday night seems ubiquitous. for those in a traditional workweek, the weekend stretches out in front of you, friday night’s yawns delicious and lingered in. there are two glorious days to follow, days of errands or adventures or catch-up or sleep or just simply nothing. two of them. days to declutter your brain a little and sink into a little less routine.
and then, suddenly, sunday.
and, too fast, monday.
and we find ourselves wishing for friday.
yet, there is something about mondays that we should probably lean into. another day. here.
i stand here, in the kitchen in the world in all its complexities and all its flaws, and the dog gives me a kiss before he starts his breakfast and i bring david freshly-brewed coffee in a favorite mug. he smiles as i approach his pillow and the dog pounces on the bed. the sounds of early-early monday morning are like the sounds of saturday, like the sounds of friday. the certainty of monday is no less or more certain than the certainty of saturday or friday.
i imagine my brother took with him the sounds of morning, the sounds of his beloveds, the sweet taste of first java and ice cream in a late-night bowl. i don’t imagine he reached out to grab things as he floated; there were certainly no trappings as dear as the party he had on thursday-the-day-before just being near those he loved. his hologram remains with each of us, his humor and brilliant mind within our grasp as we speak of him. he made – and makes – a difference in this world for us.
we can choose to shut down the party on sunday. last call before midnight, enough time to sleep for the new week. or i guess we can recognize it can keep going. to be standing here, now, in this spot – with all its chaos and all its bounty – is party enough.
the day starts in quiet. the sun is barely over the horizon. the birds are singing, chipmunks chirp. i can smell the coffee brewing. i am here. i don’t know how the world goes on once i can’t feel it anymore. but for now, i can.
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.
there is no limit to how long you can stare at rushing water. cool mist enveloped us as we stood there, watching. in the land of 250 waterfalls, we, as even babbling-stream appreciators, stood and took in this gorgeous sight.
it is unusual for us to be in the midst of many people these days, even outside. yet, here we were, transfixed by the looking glass falls, along with at least thirty other carsful. everyone, with different accents and languages, exchanged greetings on the way up or down the rock steps. everyone was smiling. everyone was kind. the waterfall brought us all together before we parted and looked for the unbeaten path, the trail in the woods, the less-trod, less-populated places that would be quiet. in those moments of togetherness, though, the sheer force of the water spilling over granite seemed to be a cleansing balm to anything that would keep us all separate.
we stood still on looking glass rock trail the next day, just listening to the stream below us. a hiker jaunted by us, intent on making tracks. he turned around and asked us if there was something worthwhile to look at. that, in itself, was a funny question, considering the absolute beauty of the place we were standing. i responded that we weren’t looking, “we’re listening.” he nodded and said something about serenity, then pushed on.
if there were a place i could choose to stand as this year turns into next, i think i would pick one of the 250 waterfalls, or, for that matter, the stream. a reminder that all things keep moving. that everything is fluid. that the edges are smoothed by the water that runs over and over and over them. that dropping worries and angsts and all negativity into the moving, rushing fall or even the whitewater river or gurgling brook, will allow that very water to carry it all away.
“it’s time to let it all go,” he said as we were visiting together. he’s right.
as this year turns its head toward the sun of a new year, i drop it all into the water and start again. we are merely riverstones in this fluid looking-glass-filled life.
we settled into the ritual with ease. sundown came and we gently removed the tiny wax bits that were left in the menorah. we drew new candles out of the box, placed them in their spots, sparked the shamash, lit each day’s wick, reciting either the words we had researched or blessings we spoke into the universe. when the last night came, as we watched the flames dance in glassware on the table and in the window, we sang. we made up the song and intended it as words of gratitude and a wish for light in all. it has become a new tradition we will continue…there cannot be any reason to not add rituals into the darkness.
we found it to be a time of quiet, these moments as we sat and watched the flickering. we sat, silently, for the menorah was small and the candles only lasted the requisite half hour or so. but a half hour, taken as sweet lull in the day is a good reminder to be still. our days, this season, all will us to go faster, faster. yet, it seems, the best way to move into the rest is to pause.
we made dinner after we celebrated our little festival of lights. sometimes with a favorite cd, sometimes with the local chicago holiday station, music floated around us. though i love singing along to carols, and so many of our old albums conjure up piles of memories, i’ve noticed that the instrumental versions of these gently wrap around us, slow us down a little.
when 20 was over for dinner i mentioned that. “instrumentals would be nice,” i observed as yet another pop singer acrobated her way through a simple carol, over-cadenza-ing into the stratosphere. both 20 and david stared at me like i had lost my mind. they hesitated and then one of them said, “duhhhh.” i stared back, “it’s-not-like-i’m-going-to-put-on-my-own-albums-geeez.” they rolled their eyes.
in a more-is-more faster-and-faster society, there is something to be said for decelerating. there is something about simplifying. there is something about lighting candles and reciting ancient peaceful blessings. there is something about taking the time for quiet and taking the time for celebration. there is something about staring into the reflection of years past, of the week, of today.
we watched the wispy trails of smoke as they faded into the rest of the evening.
the snow swirled outside the floor to ceiling glass – the city was blurry beyond the wind. it was brief. it didn’t stick. it was a statement. fall was gusting a bit of winter. everyone shivered, glad to be inside during the band of squall.
there is much still to be done. time seems to have raced by and we chose trails instead of pruning, talking in adirondack chairs in disappearing sun instead of packing away. procrastinating, holding onto the last vestiges of warmth and perfect autumn days, we opted to do the minimum, knowing the rest would need to be done in the colder days; the season keeps moving on.
we rise now in early quiet morning, without multitudes of birds out the windows, without sunny-the-chipmunk calling from the fencepost, without the sun beckoning us, “outside, outside.” we check the temperature…24 degrees…we reluctantly turn the heat up a smidge. we re-stock the nespresso pods, choose warm holiday teas for the coffee-pot-canisters over the counter, and seek out new soup recipes. we think about placing the shovel by the back door, its winter home. we crack the window just a bit now and sleep with an extra quilt.
the mums bow in the hush of the brisk mornings, chillier daytimes, less sun, more clouds, frost at night, all delivered by the magic wand of the calendar marching on. they are still beautiful and, from this view, we see the intricacy of the bud, sepals nestling and supporting petals, protecting the pink. we dig out my miracle mittens, his warm gloves, earmuffs, scarves, baselayers.
we talked about the silence this morning. it is still and the sun is trying. it may snow.
there were tiny flurries as we walked on the sidewalks of chicago, down coats and gloves, our heads bowed to the wind. it’s time to be inside more and we recognize – in the way of the universe – that we are much like the mums.
the old radiator in my studio was its home for years. i picked it up at a wholesale show…an old fencepost with equestrian leather…i couldn’t resist. it was perfect next to my piano. shh. quiet. ponder. dream.
it’s outside on the back deck now, really for the same reasons. shh. quiet. ponder. dream. it reminds us to take those moments and just be.
in the middle of the night last night we talked for a few hours. it was a big discussion…about life, about existence. we agreed that life is merely about those rare and outstandingly idyllic moments – a collection you might store in a little special box or place in photographs-in-the-round for a viewmaster – ready, at any time, for you to look at, review, be reminded of, hold close. not usually the gigantic stuff, but the slides of tiny, even silent, markers, instants you recognize as mica.
we had another water episode a few days ago. it seems the theme this summer. once again, drains in the basement yielded water instead of no water. a really lovely young man from the sewer-drain company came; it was their second time in just over a month. the tree roots they had cleared likely had left behind another piece. it doesn’t matter. he cleared it out and we moved on. it wasn’t without a ton of unexpected work…clearing all of david’s paintings out of the space to protect them, moving any and every thing out of the way of the water and allowing room for the technician to work without feeling nervous about anything around him. after he left and we cleaned everything up it was back to quiet.
we exercised down there again yesterday. it’s a peaceful place, even though it is a basement. being surrounded by the muse of david’s time at his easel brings a certain life to it. i imagine he wishes this little sign was in his studio, but there is a hush nonetheless, even without the sign.
our studios – places where time fills in the gaps between noise.
in the middle of existential questions about my wrist and hand, a screeching halt to occupational therapy imposed by the insurance company (don’t get me started), questions and the after-effects of betrayal, a silencing of my professional work, i have not sat there much. i enter to allow in light and fresh air, gaze at my piano and walk out. another silent day.
each morning, for at least a week, as i have sat with pillows propped sipping coffee, the window beside me wide open, i have been visited by a chipmunk. it sits atop the fence post across the driveway right opposite the window and looks in, chirping. i named him ‘sunny’ as it is often that the sun is just reaching that fencepost as he sits and the first time he was bathed in rays of light as he held his spot and said whatever he was saying to me in chipmunk i could not understand.
today, in the quiet of the morning, sun not even yet beginning to stream in the window, sunny was out there, chirping to wake us. i called out the window to him a good morning greeting. we chirped back and forth a bit before he left, satisfied he had awakened me. i watch for him now each day as the sun starts to rise.
three times in a twenty-four hour period over the last weekend i heard or saw the words “everything will be ok”: once written, once spoken and the third time bob marley sang it in the woods as we hiked the river trail.
sunday as we sat at the table on the deck in waning light a not-oft-seen hummingbird came directly over and hovered right in front of me. a couple days later as i stood on the deck, david watching, a monarch butterfly flew over to me and circled less than a foot above my head. and sunny, a chipmunk on a fence post, greeting me each day.
i guess that sometimes the universe is quietly whispering, “it’ll be ok. everything will be ok. shh.”