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the path back is the path forward


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vici, the caterpillar. [merely-a-thought monday]

perseverance is an understatement. the fuzzy caterpillar patiently and laboriously walked the tightrope above our garden, strung as a straight snap-line to lay bricks along the garden edge. his destination was unclear; i hardly think he could determine – ahead of time – which daylily leaf upon which he wished to land. perhaps he wanted to cross the whole expanse; maybe he wanted to travel clear across the yard in front of the old brick wall, but, along the way, tired and out of energy for further travails, took a side jaunt onto the nearest leaf.

we stood and watched him – he would scooch on the string and then his entire body would flip upside down. he – with every suction-cup-footed leg of his tiny body – would lurch back up on top of the string and continue slack-lining his way for maybe an inch and then – to our despair – he would flip over again, his legs holding him onto the string as he – upside down – continued on – what appeared to be – his merry way. he never appeared frustrated, though he flipped over constantly, alternating from side to side. he just kept going. and going. and going. surely, had he been human, he would have called an uber, a lyft, or given up. he was getting nowhere fast and the road had to be excruciatingly wearying. the tenacity was laudable. his journey, auspicious. he had chutzpah and sisu rolled into one.

we videoed his movement along the caterpillar slackline. and marveled.

ken called and david told him of the previous week, a week in which he had been on the slackline, not sure of the destination, but absolutely aware of the challenges. listening intently, asking questions, teasing a bit, and being a sweet big brother to his little brother, ken lamented, “life’s vicissitudes, eh?”. ah yes. “surviving life’s ups and downs, with special emphasis on the downs”, vicis, the root descendent of the word “vicissitudes”, is latin and means “change”. you betcha there’s change.

i’ve decided we are all on some kind of slackline and out in the farthest galaxy someone or something is watching us as we flip over to the left, upside down, right ourselves, flip over to the right, upside down, right ourselves and make the tiniest bit of progress as we go.

they take a video and they blog about us.

just like we blog about vici, the caterpillar.

*****

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on the trail of uuno. [merely-a-thought monday]

i was stunned to see my eyes on his face. maybe even my nose. ok, maybe – for obvious reasons – more my dad’s, my mom’s. but, sheesh, this ancestral dna, undeniable, is a funny thing.

finnish. i am finnish. and proud of it. though there are millions of us, my most-italian-city-in-the-state-of-wisconsin doesn’t have a lot of finns. we are pretty few and far between. the most finnish we get in these parts is people talk about (while mispronouncing) “saunas” and wonder about the use of the word “sisu” (one of my personal favorites.)

recently, in facebookland, my cousin posted this finnish proverb, “the forest will answer you in the way you call to it.” another cousin wrote that she remembered the story about our relative uuno klami, a famous finnish composer, “one of the most significant composers in the era following jean sibelius”, who brought people out into the forest and encouraged them to “sit quietly” and “listen to the woods”.

my sweet momma used to tell me about him, too. she connected the dots back to uuno as where i drew my composing juju. no one else in our family wrote music and, actually, not many even played instruments. my dad used to brag about how he could “turn on the stereo” as his musical talent. yes, he was a cutie-pie with a dad-sense-of-humor. my mom was insistent. in the ever-so-typical “yeah-yeah-yeah” internal response to which we children seem to default, i didn’t go much further than these conversations, a discuriousness i now regret.

so a couple weeks ago i googled him. it was startling to see his picture. because i felt like i recognized the heavy eyebrow lids – frontal bossing or some such term – slightly drooping eyes, the 11’s furrowed over his nose, his actual nose. geesh. he was not blessed with as high a forehead. now, a few generations later…

but – his woods connection. yes. psithurism: the sound of rustling leaves and wind in the trees. gorgeous. inspiring. evocative. i so agree with him.

his music – as i now begin to listen to it, on his trail – many pieces with only one recording, one interpretation. and – in the way of composers and real life – much of his oeuvre is unpublished.

yet i suspect that the forest knows it all. what he brought to it – his muse – returns to the leaves and the wind and is always there.

*****

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pink. [k.s. friday]

there is a single tiny pink tulip stenciled in one corner of my daughter’s room. when i repainted her room as a surprise for her during her college years, i could not bear to paint over all the tiny tulips i had stenciled along the ceiling for my little girl’s room what seemed like five minutes before, so i left one. there is something about pink.

just looking at this peony – in full blossom – you can catch a whiff of the sweet scent of this flower. my niece sent me a picture the other day of her peonies with a note, “i wish they lasted longer than five minutes.”

our peonies sat tightly in bud for a few weeks until – suddenly – they exploded into glorious bloom. five minutes later – or maybe a split second or so – petals were scattering onto the patio but we could still catch whiffs on the breeze. but those five minutes…wow.

the botanic garden had all varieties of peonies, in all stages of bloom. you could stand in one place and twirl to see peonies in lush green growth, peonies in bud, peonies in bloom, peonies with blossoms wide, petals falling. there was something about these pink peonies.

my dear sister was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. a devastating blow, she has ridden the coaster of emotions and arrived at warrior. her surgery was a couple of weeks ago and she is waiting now – the interminable wait – for the pathology results. when she found the lump and the dimpling on her breast, she felt pretty sure it was cancer. but it was in the moments of biopsy results that her life changed. the five minutes during which she became a pink ribbon holder.

soon she will know more. she’ll know about the margins and the treatment going forward. she’ll know about how her recuperating pain will change over time. she’ll know about limitations and about percentages. she’ll know about genetics and maybe why she was diagnosed with the same – rarer – cancer our sweet momma had.

right now, she knows about these moments. the moments of abrupt change. the moments of gearing up for a fight. the moments of absolute vulnerability. the moments – from the very first one – of being a survivor. the moments of leaning on others to garner strength and hope. the moments of desperately trying to stay grounded. the moments of grabbing onto now and holding onto the gossamer ties.

there are no right ways. this is cancer and the journey is brutal, unfair, f-ed up. she is one patient in a world of patients. i desperately wish that was different.

my sister. she ordered chocolate ganache cake for lunch. she’s thinking about a pink ribbon tattoo. she is being a beautiful peony.

*****

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full of beautiful. [d.r. thursday]

i worry about the ferns. fragile, willowy, tender shoots determinedly growing up from under the pile of leaves waiting, decaying, protecting the garden through fall’s end and winter’s scourge until, finally, spring. and then, there they are. despite it all. back in the northwest corner of the yard, tucked in along the fence line and next to the old garage.

they start slowly, peeking out, and then – voila – they are taller, taller, and unraveling their curly tops, like a modern dancer, curling up one vertebrae at a time, opening and embracing dappled sunlight. without concern for any part of history or future, they just grow. they are perennials, so keeping them healthy – a bit of simple nurture – ensures this fern garden in the back of our yard.

i’ve grown other plants in this yard through the years. ornamental grasses, day lilies, ferns, hosta, a couple peonies, these are the thrivers. purple iris, black-eyed susans, a planted lavender garden all fell to the wayside.

the neighbor’s snow-on-the-mountain, creeping under the fence, devoured the iris. wild mustard gave the black-eyed susans a run. the lavender was taken over by boxwood elder on a rampage.

but the delicate ferns…through dogdog’s puppyhood and now his adulthood…through the drought and maybe too much sun and maybe too much rain…through the late-late springs and the early winters…have survived.

in each of them i see the fortitude of the dancer, practicing unfurling vertebrae by vertebrae, forgetting all else – all negativity, all lack, all the torrential storms – in the tender, rich, vibrant forward-movement of now. full of beautiful.

“there is an entire forest
full of the most incredible flowers,
plants and trees inside you,
and you are ignoring all of it to nurture a single tree
that they planted inside your heart and abandoned.

the people who left you this way
don’t deserve to become your favourite stories to tell.
you are a massive forest full of beautiful and vibrant stories
and every single one of them deserves you more
than those that abandoned you to hell.”

(nakita gill – a forest story)

*****

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how unprecedented you are. [two artists tuesday]

we don’t really know. we rise each day, bold coffee at our lips, with curiosity. truly, what the day will bring is a mystery. the best-laid plans, well, they are only that – plans. things change and the kaleidoscope swirls around us in mere moments.

“this being human is a guest house. each morning a new arrival…” (rumi – the guest house)

and we rise again the next day…

…the day lilies and the grass blades are rising as well. through the upheaval of their dirt, the excavation of their home, the burying of their fallowed stems, the netting and straw post-waterline-replacement, they are rising anyway.

my thoughts of pulling everything up and starting fresh in the front yard came to a screeching halt when i saw them. if they are resilient enough to bright-green their way into this upheaved spring, i think i would be somewhat dishonoring to remove them. in doing so, i would miss their profound message of fortitude, of courageous no-matter-what-ishness, of their coy laughter reaching for the sun.

“you are so busy being you that you have no idea how utterly unprecedented you are.” (john green – the fault in our stars)

we miss it. in the middle of our don’t-really-know days, we miss seeing the absolute stalwart root in clay we each bring. we miss the credit of finagling another chaotic day. we miss our embrace of the new arrival of mystery. we miss our own unprecedentedness.

yet there it is. rising through the netting and the straw and the mud and the excavated rocks and cement.

“on the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you…”

(john o’donohue – beaanacht)

*****

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the unreachable star. [merely-a-thought monday]

my uncle allen had a beautiful voice. my mom’s brother, he would stand in our living room, with me at the piano or the organ, and belt out songs with great love. he’d bring stacks of sheet music over and we’d page through them, choosing greatest hits from broadway musicals or the radio. sometimes my big brother would play along and the three of us would entertain my sweet momma and dad for hours. there is never a time i hear “the impossible dream” that i do not think of allen.

“and I know if I’ll only be true
to this glorious quest
that my heart will lie peaceful and calm
when i’m laid to my rest”

(the impossible dream)

i cannot think of anyone i have ever known who was as consistently happy – no matter the difficulty or challenge facing him, he was happy and smiling. his complete support of my earliest recording path is something for which i will always be grateful. my uncle always believed. in his wonderful wife, his adored children, his family, in me. allen was a gift to the universe. when i think about the movie “the fault in our stars”, i realize that he was an example of living this way – recognizing that it matters not how many people you touch or impact or inspire, no matter the tiny or giant legacy you leave in your wake – what matters is that there was one person…one person for whom you have made a difference simply by being on this good earth. anything beyond that is icing on the cake. allen was indeed icing.

the chipmunks are back and i have to say i am delighted. they are adorable and cunning and just really smart little guys. before the winter, they devised all kinds of methods to get to the birdfeeder, despite the metal plate that is supposed to keep them away. they managed to chock-fill their cheeks with seed and carry it off to their wintercondos. now they have returned and they are hungry. they’ve been practicing getting up the feeder, sometimes falling into the grasses below. they have been intentional. they don’t let failure get in their way. they literally jump from the ground up to the plate over and over until suddenly they are somehow balanced there and then they can jump up to the grazing edge of the feeder. they do what’s necessary, then what’s possible and then suddenly they are flying through the air, rewarded by a feeder full of birdseed.

i don’t suppose that’s unusual. everything takes practice. impossible is maybe a temporary matter. i also suppose that there is a certain surprise element to things. we start out with one plan, one path, one intention. we don’t bank on wavering off, we don’t bank on obstacles, we don’t bank on changing direction. impossible.

and yet, there’s possible waving at us from somewhere beyond the impossible dream. and we find ourselves in places unexpected, doing unexpected things, forging those impossible mountains.

there we are, flying through the air, the world in our hands, rewarded by a feeder full of birdseed.

“to reach the unreachable star.”

*****

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the glow. [d.r. thursday]

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.

*****

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the underwear moments. [d.r. thursday]

as you walk in the front door of the gallery, it is straight ahead of you. “unfettered” seizes your attention and the light streaming in the windows spilling onto a warm wood floor and white woodwork seems to embrace it in a cloud. i know how this feels. showcasing a piece is allowing it to come to full bloom, to let it breathe in the world, to share it. but showcasing a piece is not for the meek at heart.

in the way you would likely feel standing in your underwear in a town square, introducing the world to some new piece of your heart is raw. on old wooden stages with a piano and a mic, centered on a wall with a tiny price tag placed nearby, during poetry-reading night in the corner of the general store, sharing with the novel-writing club every first thursday, skating the first performance on ice, tapping “publish” on a blog each day … pieces of your heart float shakily about as you try to hold onto sisu and stay grounded. it matters not how many times you have done this. your heart has been unbridled and you are allowing others in. each and every time.

“unfettered” is gorgeous. it’s – coincidentally – exactly how i feel on wooden stages. it is how i feel on the top of mountain trails. it is how i feel dancing in the front yard. it is how i feel those moments i have been cantering on the back of an exquisite horse. it is how love feels. it is how the sun on your face feels.

“unfettered” is the epitome of its own hanging-on-the-gallery-wall boldness. the uninhibited freedom of expression – artistry come to fruition in the moment of utter sharing. terrifying and liberating. raw and real. the underwear moments.

*****

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kneeling on the stripes. [d.r. thursday]

“do you have the courage to be in the pause between what is ‘no longer’ and what is ‘not yet’?” (octavia raheem)

i kneel down in the middle of the road. it is up-north and there are few vehicles. i want to be in the yellow stripes in the road, to gaze their expanse and, in seeing the curve, not be able to see beyond it. it’s visceral.

i am in liminal space – in the pause – waiting and not knowing. it feels right to stand smack in the middle of the street. to own it – these stripes, this curve in the road, these questions. it pushes me to move, and, in the way of irony, prods me to stand still. it is not short-lived. it is lostness. and, at this aarp time of life, it is a little unnerving.

though i know found follows lost, just as not yet is out there beyond no longer, it leaves me in the orange-yellow stripes.

i miss the days on washington island when we walked right in the middle. it didn’t matter. no one was coming down the road. and when someone did, so infrequently, we moved over. but there weren’t stripes in the road there; it was just asphalt. it’s when you are walking on the stripes, squatting on the stripes, kneeling on the stripes, that you feel a tiny bit of powerful.

we are broken records of liminality. we know the lyrics of the song and are disgruntled when the record skips and skips and skips again, leaving us to repeat the same over and over. stuck. surrendering into a groove in the surface of vinyl, surrendering into a groove of fallow. without reaching over and touching the needle, the record continues to skip. without reaching and touching the liminal space, sorting and reflecting and resting, we cannot see beyond the bend in the road.

none of that is helpful, though. i stand in it. on the stripes. what was is no longer. what is not yet is not even a blurry image.

i think, this time, this must be what it feels like to retire, without the benefits of retirement. to no longer do what you have done for decades, to step away (or be thrust away, let’s be brutally frank). and to realize you don’t want to go back.

to wonder what is next. to reach into all-the-stuff-you’ve-done and pull the long straw of passions set aside. to decide to ferret out, in due time, direction and sense. to not fight the fallow or the pause. to try and have courage not to just fill in the gap. to kneel on the stripes. to trust.

“when we surrender, when we do not fight with life when it calls upon us, we are lifted and the strength to do what needs to be done finds us.” (oriah mountain dreamer)

*****

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already. [k.s. friday]

“her mother told her she could grow up to be anything she wanted to be, so she grew up to become the strongest of the strong, the strangest of the strange, the wildest of the wild, the wolf leading wolves.” (nikita gill)

inscribed in the sidewalk in frisco, colorado right outside the door to next page books and nosh, this quote begged me to take its picture. even under the bluest sky, embraced in high elevation rocky mountains, in and amongst the most golden aspen, it stood out. my sweet momma giggled from the other dimension as i took out my camera, and momentarily blocked the entrance to this independent book store.

we wandered for a long time in the shop. like deb’s fair isle books on washington island, it was exquisite and welcoming and easy to sink into. we touched the spines of books, chose another set of prayer flags, read greeting cards, bought our girl a magnet. i wanted to sign up for many of the upcoming masks-on gatherings there, sip coffee, browse the ‘be kind’ stickers and study the hiking trail books and maps on a center display. i would have liked to have been at “not your mother’s book club” on the 25th. my momma thought that was funny and assured me she would have attended as well. yes, it would be easy to spend magical days there; i suspect chatting and being quiet would pass the time and suddenly the sun would dip behind the mountains and we would be gently nudged out the door, past the nikita-inscription and onto the sidewalk.

i learned on their website that october is conflict resolution month. back in wisconsin, unfortunately, we were unable to be present on the 19th for the event at the shop called “conflict resolution for holy beings” (joy harjo) but i know plenty of people who should have attended.

nikita gill, a poet and writer with huge instagram following, also penned: “you have been praying so long for the strength to outlive the pain they inflicted on you, that you have forgotten – you are already strong.”

my sweet momma nods in agreement and whispers “oh yes!” to nikita and me.

glancing over at me, she adds, “hang the flags in the wind.”

*****

SISU: a finnish concept described as stoic determination, tenacity of purpose, grit, bravery, resilience and hardiness.

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read DAVID’S thoughts this K.S. FRIDAY