there is a single dried daisy on the dashboard of littlebabyscion. it’s been there now for just shy of ten years. i don’t suppose it really even looks like a daisy anymore, but it is. it’s one of the first daisies – well, one of our first daisies – from our first meeting a decade ago.
when we clean the inside of littlebabyscion, we are careful around the daisy – for surely, it could easily turn to dust after all this time tucked into the dash. if that happened, i’m quite sure we would survive. it is merely a marker, a relic of the start. time – and the we of this story – continue on. even – someday – after the dust.
she told me that she could see a small green shoot. in between all the beautiful dried daisy dust and the dust of fallow and the dust of disappointment and the dust of challenge, a small green shoot. she reminded me that all of creation is starting anew now in this season of spring and that we are no more and no less of creation than the new daisies or striped squill or dandelions or grand tulips and budding aspens and flowering dogwoods and early redbuds or cherry trees. we are no more or no less than the creatures busily preparing their nests for new birth. we are no more or no less than any planets lining up in the night sky. we are, like everything else, shimmering stardust.
i can feel the green. it shows up with the open window to my side. it shows up with the sun on my face. it shows up – roaring – in the wind from the west and it shows up – quietly – in the east side of the sunset.
in the decimated woods of the trail we love there is green sneaking up between the mulched branches and underbrush. the energy of the green is contagious. new possibility on the horizon…to abstract, to notice, to build upon.
nothing can quell the energy of stardust. no matter when. it – like everything – continues on and on, vibrating in absolute connection. a metamorphosis of seasons. daisies on the dashboard.
in the middle of the night – as i lie awake – i can hear the trains. not just the haunting whistles of freight chugging by or a late passenger railcar, but a train or two in the yard, idling. the sound hits me at just the wrong frequency – i am hyper aware of its rise and fall, the pulsing of it. once i hear it, i cannot un-hear it. it stays present and i stay awake.
nevertheless, the tracks hold sweet mystery and, each time i see a train, i wonder its destination, i wonder its journey, i wonder its freight or its passengers. i had not ever stood in the middle of a rural track, bent down – almost kneeling, photographing, until recent years. the track – a classic portrayal of perspective, narrowing further away.
i stood in the middle and looked both ways. south and then north. the south curved into the woods, the north was a straightaway. i turned back south.
in the right-now there seems no straight path, no tight focus, no horizon point that is clear. the tracks curve into the woods, beyond my sight, beyond my imagining. i meander. it makes me wonder.
we seek next and idle in our thoughts in the night, not-knowing. it’s liminal space, a diesel engine that needs to be kept warm for the next day, a time to be present on the tracks, bent down, looking for classic perspective. we are attendants.
i hear the haunting whistle in the wee hours and consider this journey.
the old boards creak. and, at night – when it is bitter cold out – they pop, like the sound ice makes under your feet on a frozen lake, only not as treacherous.
in the summer he replaces the deck screws that have risen, stubbed-toe-tripping-hazards, worry about dogga’s paws. in the winter it is clear of all summer amenities. with just the old wooden glider and chair left, it is sans wrought iron, sans outdoor rugs that define its space, sans umbrella shielding our eyes from the sun while we dine, sans old door and happy-hour two-step ladders that hold wine glasses, sans fire column, sans record player, sans lavender and lemongrass. to look outside at the deck – even without snow – it is obvious that winter is approaching, the starkness is blatant and a little sad. we speak of a tree for out there and, if we go to the forest to cut one down we may cut down two and place one outside so that we can see it – lit – from the window.
the old deck has gone through many iterations, first built – by a dad and a grandpa – to help keep tiny toddlers safely playing – a railing all around and gates. a bright plastic little tikes picnic table anchored one end, with a round wrought iron table and chairs on the other end. back then, it was a place for snacks and bubbles, matchbox cars and babydolls, a turtle sandbox, and children dancing to a fisher-price cassette player.
the toddlers, past toddling, grew fast and, eventually, the railing and the gates were removed and the deck, still with the same wrought iron table, was open to the backyard, easy access to the swingset and the fort and, then, the basketball hoop.
years later, with the addition of the stone patio, it would be the place people would gather – for fourth of july barbecues, for the-big-dig day of the pond, for slow dance parties, for pre-wedding gatherings, gatherings for any reason. the old wrought iron table, another coat of rustoleum black paint, still holding vigil for food and gaiety.
and then, since it had no railings, it became the perfect place for ukulele band. folding metal music stands and bag-chairs, edge-of-deck-sitting, clothespins and laughter, there was no stopping the fun, the music-making and community, and, after, all would gather around the old wrought iron table and gnosh on schnibbles everyone brought along, to prolong time together.
during covid the deck became a place of comfort, a necessity for peace of mind. we slowly researched and watched for sales and added pillows and rugs and an umbrella-that-made-all-the-difference for dinners around that old wrought iron table, a little decor and some clay pots and plants for our outside sanctuary. we took refuge there, from cold days to the return of cold days – outside as much as possible.
and now, the deck is blank again, save for the snowflakes. the old wrought iron table and chairs are carefully stored in the garage and we can hear the boards pop and crackle from inside the sunroom and from here, sitting on the bed, writing this – the grey day outside begging for sun, the old deck waiting to see just how we might holiday-it-up.
the stairs in our home go straight up a few steps, turn 90 degrees to the left and then another 90 degrees to the left before the last few to the landing. if you turn left again you will see straight into the treetops through the office window, will pass the bathroom, and will head down a short hall to our daughter’s room. if you turn right at the landing you walk into our son’s room.
there’s a big window in his room ahead of you and it faces north. it is the window of magic. for if the circumstances are just right and the frost gathers and holds hands with the sun, this is where the crystals are found. and they are divine.
that day, in every corner, from every angle, the ice shimmered, an evanescent presence that would disappear as the window warmed. the ephemeral tiny expressions of frozen wouldn’t last. not yet. it is still fall and there will be warmer days still.
but for right then, to stand and gaze at the strands and shards and bubbly droplets is to take part in the very moment, that very moment of cold. it was to acknowledge it. and to recognize its transient beauty.
a long while ago i was gifted a necklace with a silver snowflake charm. in the tiny box was printed a brief message, “every snowflake is unique; it’s true. each one’s special, just like you.” not the thought-provoking words of mary oliver or john o’donohue, but a simple reminder of unrepeatable gorgeousness, in words anyone can grok.
these last days have been harder, a holiday with empty chairs. we are adults now and we know that this is the way of life. john pavlovitz writes, “in this season each of us learns to have fellowship with sadness, to celebrate accompanied by sorrow. this is the paradox of loving and being wounded simultaneously.”
we walked on the trail and spoke of each member of our family. we each spoke a gratitude for each person, each step on the trail punctuated by a story or some enlightenment. we laughed and i wondered what gratitude would be uttered for us, hoping that words would not be difficult for the utterer to find. our thanksgiving was bookended with early morning pumpkin pie and full bellies of mashed potatoes at day’s end. in the middle was appreciation for the people we love.
it is easy to see the cold, the long winter ahead, the empty chairs. they are apparent and they can be brutal.
it is harder to walk, peer through the window, and see the crystals and their exquisite – even if brief – magical uniqueness.
the pragmatic side of my brain says, “of course. this is logical,” while the other side is grasping onto the silky threads of hopeful and wishing to call mr. rogers – does the other side have cell service, i wonder.
it’s in looking back that it is easier to see the gradient shading of end and beginning, one into the other. it is easier to recognize the softer side of transition or, at the very least, the survivability of it all.
sam sifton wrote, “everything is going to be all right.” i believe he was talking about food and preparation for the thanksgiving meal. that is his wheelhouse. i prefer to generalize his words – they were sent to me by a dear friend and i am going to apply them to life and hold him to it.
and so we walk. and we look for signs. the smallest of goodnesses. tiny reminders of value. the way the sun punctuates our walk, the way blue sky makes us feel.
and we look up. the tops of the trees look different than the trunks. not stalwart and thick and steady, those branches much more fragile. yet there they are, existing in the wind and storm and warm days, rooted, all the way down.
but this is redundant. and i have spoken of the tide washing out and then back in before. the tide turning. i have metaphorized change and loss, in efforts to – maybe – temper them. but, in truth, they are raw and lay on the beach of our hearts in all the elements of our lives.
i wrote – a while back – to one of my nieces the words of my sweet momma “growing old is not for wimps”. she wrote back, “living is not for wimps.” so true. just when you think you have a little bit of it figured out…whammo! it seems that the universe may think that arrogant.
and so, we will try not to be assuming. either way. not assuming good, not assuming bad. no assumptions. just walking.
it’s all a wave. we ride out, we ride in, the surf is gentle and easy, the surf is rough and pounding. as far as we can see into the horizon we know it will all be like this.
“frozen shoulder,” she said.
at the orthopedic specialist at the highly-regarded froedtert hospital, i blinked back tears. i have had appendage challenges the last two years. it’s a wave. in between the normal tides rolling in, we have a brush with a rogue breaker. she’s kind and explains the stages of frozen shoulder, what i might expect. it can take up to 42 months to un-freeze, she mentions, though i refuse to take that in. for nine months now, since the time of my covid booster, it has become my new normal, this painful and incomplete range of motion. she points to the deltoid and explains the vaccination – any vaccination – must go into the deltoid, not through or slip around it; if either of those happen, inflammation will result. i guess the wave of inflammation has roiled in.
the rogue wave passed by david a couple weeks ago, tapping him as it went. we rose to its challenge, just like we’ll rise to this one. it seems that the surf is not as still as we would wish right now, but there are moments of calmer waters.
we are adrift in our sea – each of us – as we go about living. each molecule of the lake party to the elements, each atom of us rawly exposed.
most of my friends who are my age are retired. they have had long and dedicated careers and, at the time of retirement, chose to retire and were ready to change directions and do something new.
some of them are grandparents now and wee babies and rambunctious toddlers, children growing, growing, take up their time. precious moments spent with these tinies, indelibly etched on their hearts, both.
some of them have chosen to spend time immersed in reading. they have cultivated friend groups who share their passion for diving into books, they discuss and ask questions and share.
some of them have opted for sizing up, adding acreage and livestock to their lives. i can think of no better example of this than linda who, with bill, has adopted multiple alpaca and a horse and a goat and the-most-adorable-donkeys.
others have elected sizing down, heading south, condos and pools and beaches and sun in their future.
some, like the wander women, have chosen a plan, shedding much of the life paraphernalia we all accumulate – absolute free and loose adventure in their sixties, opening themselves up to thru-hike and bike and camp and, inbetween, live full-time in their rv.
and some feel lost, trying on various hobbies for size, seeking satisfaction and fulfillment, an elusive goal.
i am not retired. i am no longer holding a we-pay-you-to-do-this-job but i’m not retired. i haven’t quite figured it all out yet, much like, well, probably, many of you. but i spend lots of time creating…writing, cartooning, writing. i have found birds and plants are speaking to me more these days and i have also found that i don’t require being around a lot of people. i guess i’m a little bit more introverted than i thought.
people have told me that – in losing my last position in a four decades long career path of music ministry – i can redefine. they, in all innocence and with sincerity, have told me that it’s an opportunity for a new beginning. i hasten to say that they might be sighing inside to themselves as they say this, grateful that they don’t have to start anew. we’ve all done it…sometimes it’s easier to be generously gracious when it’s not your challenge. nevertheless, it does feel like a new beginning, so that part is right.
but, in seeking inspiration, coming from life, from the universe, from reading an article, from a conversation, from moments blowing dry my hair, i realize that maybe in looking forward i am avoiding that which is obvious.
linda had more time to pick up knitting needles after she retired. she uses the wool from her alpaca, which she has cleaned and spins, to create beautiful knitted gifts. my favorite fingerless gloves, the ones that always remind me of the canyonlands with my beloved daughter, were made by her. she returned – in this time of a-little-more-space – to what she knew, what she loved to do.
the map of inspiration may bring me forward. but in its forward-ness, it may remind me also of what i know. the map might point out my waiting piano, the pencils scattered on the music stand, the boom mic stand in the corner. it might point out the pieces of writing i’ve started and put aside. it might point out the glee i get from producing our cartoon. it might point out the camera and the poetry and the ahhh’s they bring me. it might connect the dots back. to me.
no book on menopause or post-menopause – that i have read thus far – really prepares us. i haven’t found a steponesteptwostepthree-handbook on how to sort this. the phases of a mom’s life intersect and overlap and are messy and as full of emotional upheaval as they are full of gratitudes for blissful. every piece, in my own messiness-of-this, is sticky and pulls at every other piece, like marshmallows in hot-off-the-bonfire s’mores. no matter the professional pursuit, the hobby, the exercise, the diet, the zen-yen, it is all interwoven with the loss of mom-identity, the constant babystep-by-babystep redefining of relationship with one’s children and one’s self.
of early days of motherhood, anne morrow lindbergh in “gift from the sea” wrote essays sparked by seashells, “eternally, woman spills herself away in driblets to the thirsty, seldom being allowed the time, the quiet, the peace, to let the pitcher fill up to the brim.” she is the “still axis within the revolving wheel of relationships, obligations, and activities.” in a metaphoric nod to the shell argonauta, anne paints the picture of the mother argonaut floating to the surface and releasing the young, then floating away to a new life. sailors, she says, consider this shell “a sign of fair weather and favorable winds”. yet, she muses, “what does the open sea hold for us? we cannot believe that the second half of life promises ‘fair weather and favorable winds’.”
it is a total reorientation. it takes time to re-find the center of gravity. true center. even with a child of 32 and a child of 29, i find this not to have been or be instantaneous. one does not click off the light-switch, or touch the base of the 1980s brass touch-on-touch-off lamp, turning off the questions of identity. it’s the yarn of a new cape, from mom (and all the other titles) to woman (and all the other titles).
“whether we’re talking about giving up baby clothes, toys, artwork or schoolwork, the issue is not mere sentimentality. it’s about letting go of our children. […] we think that keeping all of those things will let us keep a little of each child who left us.” (claire middleton – “the sentimental person’s guide to decluttering”) i would guess that, even in my intentional attempts to set wind for their sails, my children would cite my fierce hanging-on to them. at the least, they would attest to my quiet weeping at their leaving, each time they leave.
i clean out the house, clean out one thread of four decades of career, glance at my piano – always whispering to me “don’t forget this is who you are too”. i write, i cartoon, i write more. and then, more. i think about composing – new simple feathers of music, pieces that would float in breezes and find center. i sit in quiet. i wonder.
is this an identity crisis?
“but there are other beaches to explore. there are more shells to find. this is only a beginning.” (anne morrow lindbergh)
picture-of-the-day is a driving force. every day now – straight – for over two years – i have posted a picture of the day on our thread. when covid was first present in our world, now two years and a couple months ago, my son suggested that each of us, my son and daughter and i, post a photo a day and it would keep me feeling more in the loop; the connection would be reassuring. i oh-so-agreed and have been really deliberate about these images.
no words necessary, though any kind of descriptor is welcome, these photographs are a glimpse into each other’s lives. i take it really seriously and i celebrate any time either one of them posts a photo, loving the window-in. and all day i look for the photo-capture that will be my picture-of-the-day. it’s a practice i love. intentional observing of the world around me. we all see the same things; we all see different things. i love noticing. and i have found – as in anything – the more i notice, the more i notice.
“the notion of attention … to see that the way the flicker flies is greatly different from the way the swallow plays in the golden air of summer…” (“our world” – text by mary oliver, photographs by molly malone cook)
we hiked over the weekend. we hadn’t been on any trail in a couple of weeks as the weather has been uncooperative. our hike was punctuated with my stopping and stopping again. so much to photograph, so many changes in the forest. i want to go slow, slow; this is not a get-your-heartrate-up exercise, but my heart was exercised nonetheless. so much beauty to see, so many tiny miracles within my reach.
david does not rush me. we were there – on that trail – to rejuvenate, to breathe, to take it all in. how do i capture that in a picture-of-the-day, i wondered. i photograph the new dandelion sharing gravel with the path. i photograph shy tiny pink flowers bending down toward the earth. i photograph the mayapple which has suddenly burst into the underbrush world. i photograph the trillium not yet blooming and wonder aloud which warmer day this week they will open to the sun. so many greens. full spectrum, not just the verdant new spring grass. slow, slow.
“i lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass…” (walt whitman – “song of myself”)
it rained the day of this post’s photograph. again. it had been raining for days, grey end on end. my picture-of-the-day would depict the rain, a dissatisfaction with the lack of sun. but, even in that frustration-of-waiting for the lamb days, i knew i could find something to notice about the rain, something to give pause.
the trees in the reflection – still leafless – reminded me. the rain falling here – brutally absent in drought-corners of this world – gentle and insistent, driving and adamant in turn, brings new growth, a transition to a new season, washing away the dust and salt of winter and its tears.
“it was my pleasure to notice such things…” (mary oliver – “our world”)
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.