reverse threading

the path back is the path forward


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levels of color. [not-so-flawed wednesday]

we were the only ones. the only customers in the grocery store with masks on. there was one employee we saw wearing one, but we didn’t see any other shoppers with one on. the other day, at a different grocery store, we were the recipients of a few dirty looks. but heck, we have tougher skin than that. mostly.

we sat outside while the light waned, before the mosquitoes had rsvp’d they’d be there. torches on, flame dancing from the fire column, we had a few hors d’oeuvres and a glass of wine and talked about these times. there is a wistful dividing line between before and now. the pandemic has shot a chalkline in our calendars and even now, not quite after, we can see the difference.

the books arrived in the mail. it was one of those rare days when you open up the front door and see a surprise gift parcel on the doorstep. the books, memoirs of raynor and moth. the salt path, the first, a viewmaster of days during which, through the necessity of impossible challenges, raynor and moth were hiking the south west coast path in the united kingdom. “i think they are your people,” she wrote about this couple.

we opened the first paperback. i am reading it aloud and we have a voracious appetite to keep going in between all else. i read and we digest, this tale of backpacking without the reassuring fallback of retreat or going home in the end. it’s breathtaking and stunningly candid.

monday night i read aloud the sentence, “being separate from people for large chunks of time had reduced our tolerance levels.” it was not a statement of pandemic; it was a statement of wilderness camping. yet, it hit us – it was a statement of pandemic. so relevant.

if we are all honest with ourselves, we find now that the pandemic has most definitely divided our circles into before and now . . . and hopefully, one day, after. people who are absolute, people we have stayed in touch with or who have stayed in touch with us, even spottily, people who have fallen away. people who have shown true colors, people who have been generous and compassionate. people who have jumped at the chance to help others, to abide by recommendations to ease this pandemic, people who have chosen to be cavalier, go-their-own-way, to scoff and ignore, to not be any other’s keeper.

the season/reason mantra applies, we pondered aloud at the table, talking about past friendships and working relationships. some people, there with us at some point, are just not to be dragged into now. we appreciate their presence at the time they were present and we learn we must let go. they have become woven into who we have become and those threads remain somewhere in the interior of the quilt. but, in the way that time moves on, so do attachments. and even beyond the natural attrition of relationships – just like raynor and moth, though not on a wild trail – the simplicity of who we have become, what we have seen or done, where we have gone or not gone, how we have lived through these times, of pandemic, of loss, of challenge, of grief – this simplicity has changed us and, it seems, has changed our tolerance levels. as if they were on a cmyk or rgb profile – empathy, compassion, masks, vaccines, distancing, research, critical thinking, kindness, questioning, learning, truth, transparency, loyalty, generosity, inclusivity, gentleness, agenda-ridden-less, fairness, decency, basic dedication to not being mean…a wide spectrum of color levels in humans that surround us.

we were quiet as we sat and thought about people in our lives, what has changed, what has remained the same, people we yearn to see, people we, frankly, perhaps sadly or resignedly, don’t care to see again.

we gratefully looked around at flames in torches, food on our table, the dog on the deck, the old screen door to a comfortable beloved house merely steps away. the simplest pleasures have been, are, the pleasures. we cannot think of a reason that this is not a good thing. though we shed a few tears, we held hands as we spoke, together not separate.

the mosquitoes found their way to the deck. we blew out the torches, snuffed the fire column and carried our plates inside.

*****

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no timely manner. [d.r. thursday]

now i understand. at least, i am beginning to understand.

my sweet momma and poppo would linger…watching birds, gazing at flowers, studying the horizon – be it shorefront or mountainside, cityscape or tiny town or rural farmland, slowly taking it in. in the hurry-hurry of my younger years, i would scurry past, noticing but maybe not really.

i am moving slower now. not because i can’t scurry, but because i am choosing to list to the linger side. though we still watch re-runs after re-runs of joey hiking and climbing and backpacking and pitching tents any and everywhere, imagining ourselves in those canyonlands keeping up, imagining ourselves on the pct or the john muir or the colorado trail, i know that our pace would not match the pace of joey or the exuberant younguns on heading somewhere or walking with purpose or the meticulous norwegian xplorer. we would be slower, lingering, lingering. i’m not sure that would get us from point a to point b successfully or in a timely manner, but i’m thinking that our definition of ‘timely manner’ may have to just be different. because now – in the middle of this grand middle age – is different.

for now i want to watch the birds and gaze at flowers up-close. i want to stop and stare, drop to sit on a nearby log and take it in. i want to notice the intricasies of all of it, the undertones, the overtones.

as i look at the close-up of this milkweed trailside i am struck by the layers of detail. it somehow makes me recall decisions between the major chord and the relative minor, a continuum of impact. it makes me think of melodic gestures, a spectrum of color and of grace. a horsehair brush extended from the heights of the universe, painting perfection in the woods. artists’ hands waving paint on canvas, cupping clay on a wheel, flying over the white and black on a piano, coaxing lines that make you weep from a cello. all the same. creation in all its iterations.

on the call pat told me that the music – my music – had harmonics, tuned with the universe, that made her travel. humbling.

for i see that is what my momma and poppo were doing. traveling. they allowed the beauty around them to touch them, to slow them down, convincing them – in all the infinite glory that beauty -and art- can muster – that ‘a timely manner’ was relative, that time was relative. that time spent in a slow linger was precious.

*****

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blooming. [merely-a-thought monday]

as i stand with david, together with his mom and siblings, watching his dad walk down the path of dementia, i am deep in thought of my own parents, missing them. elusive complexities become simple and unimportant as i think about my sweet momma and poppo and their stamp on the world. though certainly worthy, they will not be detailed in history books or in record-holding guiness lists, nor will they be featured in paintings in state buildings or referenced in periodicals, footnotes of prestige. but, just as the life that columbus is forgetting, a life rich in experience and love, so were the lives of my parents. their lives had purpose, their stories were and are important. their dreams counted and their voices mattered. and, though it need not be said, they made an impact.

there are moments when i gaze around and marvel at the rapid movement around us. i feel as if i step back away from the edge of the chaos that is everyday life in a society that values ‘more’ and i just wonder. i wonder about how we all fit in, how, from beginning to end, our lives – in the swirl of everyone’s lives – play a part in this world. i wonder how our very molecules affect other molecules, how permanent or impermanent this effect we have.

pat said, “it’s why you’re here.” she seemed much more certain of that than i. middle age, or maybe it is later middle age, as ross pointed out the other day, is complicated. there is a bit of that elusive complexity whirling around, waiting for us to reach up and cup it in our hands, like catching fireflies on a muggy summer night. holding memories close, we glance back at our lives, pondering the rights and the wrongs and the joys and blisses and the mistakes and the regrets and the happies and the sadnesses, and we watch the glimmering light, surprised at the time that has gone by, stunned by the arc of life that even the tiniest path-choices brought us. in the looking-back we notice the insignificant. in the looking-back, we notice the significant. and sometimes, when we are lucky, we realize how absolutely preposterous it is that we are here at all, how miraculous that we can feel, that we are breathing in this very time.

and i think about my mom and dad. though perhaps generations from now – even possibly just a few – there may be no more out-loud mention of their names or their stories, but they will have been here and, for that, the world is different. i think about columbus, who, though forgetting, is still here, is still holding to life and the filmy stories he can access, his innate and unspoken courage on that path – so painful – moves us, brings us to tears, yet, inspires us. his forgetting reminds us to remember – to live.

we are all on our way to changing the world. each and every one of us, despite our differences, despite anything. it’s why we’re here. it’s ridiculously simple and ridiculously complex.

*****

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time is flying. [saturday morning smack-dab]

these days, in the middle of middle age, time seems to just fly by. at inordinate speed. slowing it down doesn’t seem to be an option. i guess my sweet momma was right when she said, “live life, my sweet potato.” don’t wait.

“LIVE LIFE, MY SWEET POTATO” stuff

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barney and the sunflower. [k.s. friday]

we moved the sunflower. it was on the deck for a few years now, rusting behind the aging wooden glider, tucked between the kitchen window and the bedroom window. it greeted us each day we left and came home. it watched over my girl as she house-sat during the summer, a couple ago now, when we were on island. she didn’t know it, but i had asked it to keep her comings and goings safe and each time she left and came back to smile good days upon her. it came home from a cedarburg festival with us, having called us over to ponder its purchase. we walked the length of the festival and talked about the sunflower. then we went back, after more debate than most probably make about purchases, and bought it. about two weeks ago we moved it. now its place is next to barney, surrounded by peonies and wild geranium and daylilies and snow on the mountain. it is happy there.

when you’ve lived somewhere for quite some time there are naturally places that you go that feel better than others. for me, there are places in this town that have immediate warm responses for me, places that have held me, places that are part of my cairns, places where i have dreamed and imagined, places where a community has meant the world to me. there are other places that conjure up memories i would rather forget with visceral responses i can actually feel; i generally stay away from those spots not wanting to relive moments of grief or poor judgement or anger or betrayal or grand disappointment. i have learned, though, that sometimes the best way to process those is to drive past, to acknowledge, to breathe deeply, to maybe weep. in the same way that actual places remind us, mementos from places we hold dear make it into our special boxes or find their way into our home like sticks accumulating in the walking stick vessel in our sitting room or rocks added to the stones around the pond. some mementos are bigger than others, like the sunflower from a gloriously sunny festival-going day in a town we adore browsing or the 5′ long driftwood from a long island beach that graces the mantel or the high mountain aspen branch wrapped in lights in the dining room. and then there’s barney. there’s no escaping this beautiful piano in our backyard, aging with us.

i’ve shared barney’s story before…how he escaped the junk man’s junkyard destination and, for a small price, came here to share life with us. from a basement boiler room to a place of honor near the pond in our tiny yard he sits and invites the company of beautiful plants, munching squirrels and cutie-pie chipmunks. yet he is a memento. and the place he came from is no longer a favorite place. instead, it is a place i now avoid, with emotions that elicit a physical response and a little vibration i can feel in my chest when i think about it. and so how do i avoid attaching these feelings to barney, i have wondered.

my growing-up piano is in our basement. movers moved it there many years ago, before there were walls in the stairwell. i wonder what will become of it if we ever move. it proudly holds art books and a small stereo and sits in david’s painting studio with a couple rocking chairs and his gorgeous old easel. i have thought about ways to repurpose it. and yet, it is so dear that it will, for right now, stay there just as it is, with music in its bench and the little index card on which is carefully printed in eight-year-old font “practice makes perfect”.

there is a piano of size in my studio. it sits at full stick, waiting patiently. i was in there yesterday and it whispered to me, but, for right then, i was consumed with the finishing of putting things away. there is still music to file, organ music still to go back into cabinets. i must decide what to do with the poster that hung on the choir room wall that reads, “if you ask me what i came into this world to do, i will tell you i came to live out loud” or the metal cut-out words “it’s all about music” or the white strands of happy lights that were woven around the blackboard that listed rehearsals and demonstrated strum patterns and had dates of parties for that well-loved community held at our house.

maybe once i decide what to do with all of it – including the emotional wreckage part – i will again sit at my piano. drive past, acknowledge, breathe deeply, weep. my piano is full of empathy i can feel and some day, soon i hope, i will be able to sit and play – in a studio cleaned and inviting with mementos of goodness and intentions of evolution. then i will walk out of the studio and down the hall, through the kitchen and the sunroom and outside onto the deck. and i will sit on the old settee and listen to the pond and the birds and watch the chipmunks scurry across the top of the old piano that shares space with the sunflower and a couple green-eyed metal birds.

in answers that have come with a few months of time, i have found that the piano-ness of barney has overcome the where-it’s-from-ness. the peeling back, the wrinkles, the embrace of its tiny community in our yard…these things have usurped the rest.

instead, barney and the sunflower together greet us upon leaving and greet us upon returning home. together, they both bring joy and reassurance to our backyard and they both smile good days upon us.

*****

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PULLING WEEDS from RIGHT NOW ©️ 2010 kerri sherwood


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my dad’s jowls. [d.r. thursday]

over-exposed and blurry. that’s how i prefer photographs of me these days.

this morning i opened facebook and there was one of those “you have a memory” pictures. it was from nine years ago when my girl graduated from college and she and i and one of my nieces were all in a pub gathered closely together. adding to my over-exposed and soft-focus-photo-capture-desires, this memory looked different – younger – than when i looked in the mirror shortly thereafter. hmm. the marks of time.

my sweet momma would look in the mirror and, in a singsong whiny voice whine, “i look like an old woman!” she was 93. i would gently remind her both that she was a woman of age and she was amazingly beautiful wearing that age. but as i look into the mirror each day, i’m wondering if she was as dismissive of my words as i am dismissive of david’s “you’re beautiful” compliments. we are so hard on ourselves. our grooves, impressions like the ones in the carpet at the old family home, are earned from the long haul, from all that we have encountered, from the sun in day and dreams at night.

the wear and tear – or lack thereof – on each of us belies the courage and tenacity beneath the surface. we keep on keeping on, adding a wrinkle here or a grey hair there. i thought i was getting used to the appearance of tiny evidences of middle-aging until one famous morning. it all had gone basically unnoticed until that one day when i looked in the mirror and WHAMMO! my dad’s jowls had appeared. what?!? i stared at myself. my dad’s jowls stared back. it was all i could see. what on earth had happened overnight??

i ran to the next room to get a photograph of my sweet poppo and, sure enough, there they were. a perfect match. i pulled up a recent photo of my dad’s sister, his only surviving sibling, and voila! there they were. i am in a perfect-harmony-trio of jowls. i looked for a picture of my sister. though i was hoping to, i didn’t really see any jowls. what’s up with that, dna? seems slightly unfair to me. ahh, indents and jowls. the marks of time.

i look sideways to the window as i write this. below the sill are a variety of lines in the wall, many of them. on summer nights, when the window was wide open and you could feel the breeze blowing and the sweet smell of mown grass drifted in, this was the window that babycat jumped into to sleep. his lumbering body stretched out on the sill, he would lay there throughout the night. in the morning, he would put his paw down in front of his body and drag it along the wall to carefully get down out of the window. the scratched lines remain. indented in the wall, i am not eager to remove them in these times of dearly missing our beloved cat.

one day, like the vacuum that will remove the ridged lines in the carpet in david’s parents’ living room, a little sanding and paint will remove these scratched lines. but their import won’t go away. the sofa that sat in the living room may no longer be there, but the times spent there will always be a part of that space. the scratches on the wall may be fixed, but the cat that graced our lives will always be a part of this space.

the jowls that are now on my face will remain, however, and i suspect become more pronounced, just like the wrinkles and the grey hairs. all that i have been – including the times when i didn’t care about over-exposure and blurred photos – will remain. all that i have experienced, just like you, makes its mark. and we will be lucky if we someday glance in a mirror at 93 and whine-like-we’re-45, “i look like an old woman!”

jowls or not.

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dryer sheets and mountains. [k.s. friday]

a haiku septet

we went to whole foods

on our way, leaving mountains,

they were calling me.

dryer sheets that will

bring me back to such cherished

time, high altitude.

sensor-sensitive

to scents, heart-bound memories

i can see sopris.

reigning blue blue sky

its presence ever pow’rful

time in its shadow.

hold close this visit

until the next time, i wait

to see her and it.

i bring it all back

lavender elicits it.

i revel in it.

time with the mountains.

time with my belov’d daughter.

time time time. precious.

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just like an onion. [two artists tuesday]

time away from home always grants moments for reflection. out of the norm, away from routines and the familiar, it is time to think, to ponder, to wonder, to both anguish and be overwhelmed with gratitude. roadtrips are moments suspended and quiet time in the truck on the highway can take you deeper inside. they are chances to examine the emotional flow-chart, a ping-pong of mapping that is our lives.

yesterday we drove through a snowstorm coming up through the passes. i was driving big red and didn’t want to relinquish the wheel. i wanted to know that i was not too nervous to drive through the snow, the icier road conditions, past runaway truck ramps in high elevation descents. we drove past a semi that had jack-knifed backwards on the highway, literally perched on the edge of the road, hanging over a cliff. we were thankful arriving safely back into spring and onto dry roads. under soaring pines bowing with fresh powder and on slushy lanes, i thought about our past recent days and the bit to come in the mountains. i drove, hands tightly on the wheel, the rhythmic sound of wipers and the wet road the only accompaniment. in the middle of all of it, i pondered my role in these days, the way i fit into each of these stories.

sending out new shoots, seeking to divide and grow, this sprouted red onion looks like i feel inside. peeling back the outer paper, the onion sections itself off so that multiple bulbs may be planted. wanting to hold on to what i’ve known, wanting to learn, new ways of being, of accepting change, of middle-aging gracefully, of holding on and releasing, of sorting, i search the inside layers for answers to questions i ask myself and questions i haven’t yet given words to.

i guess each of us sedimentary-humans must take on these onion-questions when we aren’t too busy denying listening to them. like this red onion, there are mushy parts that are no longer good, that reveal a raw flawedness, that beg letting go. and there are layers of goodness, sweet and refreshing to remember. and, in highway-rolling moments and staring-at-ceiling-deep-in-the-night moments, there are also new sprouts to acknowledge. all are there, bearing fruit, a gentle and prodding reminder that time – years – and life – keep going and stopping either is trying to catch rays of the sun in our hands.

the gift of pulsing-time, the fluidity of planting-harvesting-planting-harvesting of ideas and artistry and work, relationships and love…these remind us to grow anywhere we are planted and, despite the challenge, not to be afraid of peeling back the layers. for there are many germinating bulbs to be found.

*****

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humanity revealed. [merely-thought monday]

in a twist of irony, the measured-computerized female voice on our voicemail the other day admonished us, “sorry. you did not reveal yourself to be human. goodbye.” 

what??! 

the audacity!

we are sitting in the emptied living room of my in-laws as we write.  long grooves in the carpet reveal where the couch was and a few browned leaves lay in a trail of the shedding ivy that was moved yesterday.  pictures are off the wall and the mirrors have been taken down.  we sit at the counter on folding chairs from the shed out back. 

all along the top of the mantel are shot glasses, part of columbus’ collection, the rest of which are on shelving downstairs or on top of the player piano in the family room.  they read things like “green bay” or “maker’s mark” or “south dakota” or “heidelberg” or “cedar rapids, iowa” or “yosemite national park” or “krakow” or “utah shakespeare festival” or “ithaca college” or “chicago” or “estes park” or “florida” or “skagway”.  over a hundred, there are too many to list.  but they are a glimpse into a life – a human life – a timeline shared by others. 

columbus went to some of these places, not all.  but his beloved family and dear friends would bring him tiny glassware from wherever they roamed.  their story became his story in the way that sharing stories works. 

it would be a 100-act play to sit and listen to the narrative behind each of these memory shots; it would reveal times of travel and joy and yearning and the seeking of adventure.  it would traverse across miles of decades; it would travel around the globe.  it would be punctuated with laughter and sighs and maybe a few tears. 

the thing i know – it would be rich with human-ness, rich with revelation, rich with love.

*****

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all the riches. [k.s. friday]

i don’t suppose it matters how old we get. we are ok if they are ok. conversely, we are not ok if they are not ok.

our children. that moment that your entire life changes – the earth tilts on its axis – and things are never the same again. it’s a conversation i have had again and again.

written when my son was a little boy with a dirty little fist of yellow flowers and my daughter was just a smidge older and taller than he, i am no less gobsmacked by the passage of time now than i was then. days become weeks and months and suddenly many more candles on the birthday cake. and time does what time does. these tiny people become grown human beings in the world and no longer need you to help tie their shoes or put bandaids on owies. no yearning will slow it all down, yet we tend to want to linger in feeling a sense of being needed. the earth keeps spinning; the laugh lines and worry wrinkles appear suddenly in the mirror as we glance on the way past. and the riches are a deep and vast trunk we keep close, always mindful of every tiny or big opportunity to add to it.

it really is the simple stuff. hearing your grown child laugh, watching them adventure, applauding their successes, reassuring them in times of trial. blissful moments you can spend with them, texted pictures of their lives, unexpectedly hearing their voice on the other end of the phone, hugging them. always walking the fine line. so much pressure to hold that line. always learning. knowing their star is still in your galaxy, but is independently forming its own constellation. the emotional perils of motherhood, of parenthood.

“it overwhelms me what i feel…this heart outside of mine….is walking in another person, in another life.”

and always, the bottom line, it seems in each conversation i have had, is the ok-ness. for truly, if they are not ok, there is no way to rest easy. if they are not ok, it changes how we are in the world, how we engage. if they are not ok, it is the first thing we think about in the morning and the last thing in our prayers at night.

little or big, they – indeed – are the riches. they are every single dandelion.

in the whole wide world.

*****

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FISTFUL OF DANDELIONS ©️ 1999 kerri sherwood