A blog about finding your hum.

Never mind what you have been taught or told. We have come to sing, each of us...our own song. Yours is not mine and mine is not yours. Pretend we are a chorus, each with our solo parts, coming together in the radiance. Together, we will fill the world with music.

Latest

Sailing for the Bluelit World

20130904_1169 copy

Sometimes the string of your life just breaks…

Other times, someone cuts it loose.

Either way, it’s time.

The starlit worlds you thought you lost for good are all still waiting for you.

Everything beautiful begins now.

Please join me if you wish at:  weseeyounow.com

Thank you for joining me here on A White Hot Life.

I will travel back and forth as my heart jumps and purrs.

The beauty is everywhere.

The Man in the Green Truck

20140611_1638
There are only two real choices in life: cotton tails or peach pits. Living with the heart door flung open or living it with it shut. It is a mistake to think it can be softness for one and not for the other, or even softness for the two-leggeds and not for the winged ones or fur balls or sequins.

It is a mistake. But many make it.

Maybe most.

*****
When he was a little boy in a potato field, the man in the green truck dreamed his life like all boys do. The last of nine, he scraped together a box of used and rusting tools, pried off the backs of things and inspected their guts.

His was the inscrutable language of carburetors and transformers, little jots of glass blown over floating silver, white and black wires connecting one mystery to another. He made radios speak and blenders whirl. He rescued vacuums from the rubbish bins; lawnmowers,too. The man in the green truck was like the elf who makes the toys speak at night—he made his motors rev and purr.

The little girl in the red shorts and soft red shoes never heard him speak the word “love.” But she noticed something change whenever he went back to the place where he sweated and ran and plucked feathers from chickens and shouted over the rumble and squeal of rail road cars. There was something full and guttural about the blood world of cabbages crowded with rice and a bit of beef, the sauerkraut his sisters sliced and stirred in the basement and pierogi’s of thick white flour patted between strong polish hands.

Something pulled him into the earth from which he came. Something good.

He was a carpenter, not a builder as his wife and son insisted. A “builder” would have lifted him above the musty smell of the potato field and the single chicken on Sundays shared by a score of hungry mouths. It would have lifted him above his blood. He never wanted this. Never.

But he wasn’t strong enough to say. Absent courage, he perfected the art of resistance.

The only child to go to college, and that on a full scholarship, he said pitnik instead of picnic, Chicago instead of Shicago. He thwacked and hammered “the useless intellectuals” for virtually every problem that ever boiled.

Supper was on the table at 5. Always. He swallowed his food whole. Despite nightly admonishments to eat more slowly, he never did.

A half hour before supper, the green truck rumbled up the hill. When it stopped, a young man in a white t-shirt, dabbled with sawdust and sweat, climbed down and strode straight to the thick cardboard box in the corner of the garage. He clutched a few amber bottles and climbed the stairs. Rheingold was his favorite beer.

The man in the green truck built his house: the trusses and blocks, the long copper pipes and the textured wood shingles, with his own tough hands. His trousers were the color of an evergreen forest; the brown belt that held them peeled around the edges.

He kept everything, saving every board and nail and screw. He was a carpenter who came up in a big family in the thinnest of years. He played the saxophone and clarinet though he did not sound a note on either all the days the little girl knew him. He tucked his harmonica, the kind that has the push button on the side, in the top drawer of his dresser, somewhere beneath the boxers and socks.

There was music in this man at one time. When did it leave him?

Was it when the Fury came?

****

IMG_6578a

From the tippity-top of the Red Maple tree, a little girl with red shoes and white rubber tips, pulls the rope over the smooth gray arms of her castle and grabs a lime green pail filled with acorns and a few nails. She pushes the nail into the circle where the acorn snapped from the branch and carves out the meat till it is smooth inside. Spinning the nail, she drills a tiny hole and pushes a stick thru the side. She smokes her pipe just like the man in the green truck after a day of hammering and sawing.

She knows all the sounds by heart: the caw of jays, the chirp of crickets, faucets running, shoes clopping down hallways, tools slamming into the wood bench and the rev and purr of a truck far in the distance.

There it is…

Swinging from branch to branch, she scales down the tree, drops to the grass and tears down the long hill to wait. The truck stops right near the mailboxes: she jumps onto the smooth hills of the running board and grips the way-back for the ride up.

It is the happiest moment of her day, and in time, the happiest moment of an entire childhood.

The Fury claimed the rest.

Every bit.

She squeezes her tiny fingers to hold the lock on the bedroom door straight up and down. But the man in the green truck is on the other side. His hands wield hammers all day long; they sling boards bigger than she is.

She tries to hold on.

She can’t. She is a little girl, with pockets stuffed with sea glass and shells. She’s no match for hands that picked potatoes, joined radio wires, fingered the sweet notes of a saxophone and tamed the wildness of wood and stone.

She drops to the floor, her feet pressed against the door, her back jammed against the bottom of the bed, turning herself into a bony “L” even he cannot break.

The tiny heart beats; it’s louder than his screaming. Like the caw and the footsteps, she knows the sound of the screwdriver in the tiny screw. He removes the entire door knob and lock and peers at her through the hole. She doesn’t hear a word he says. She presses her hands down hard on her knees so they don’t fail. She sits like this for hours, until the Fury dissolves into the amber bottle or until the snoring starts.

For the little girl with red shoes and white tips, family has been hard to come by in this life.

Still there are things she knows and feels that few two-leggeds do. The angels took her in. Owls live with her; doves too. “Yes. yes” they say to each other ‘She doesn’t have wings but she wants them. It’s enough.”

They know she stroked a hummingbird sister back to life and a woodpecker boy, too, that she sang Christmas songs to her goat as he lay dying, that a hook flew into her cheek moments after she asked out loud if the sequins, that is to say, the fish, feel pain.

The little girl lives a magical life, though her bowls of sadness keep filling and filling. One day they will be drained and dipped in sunshine. She escaped The Fury and saved her heart.

She can save it, again…

*****
I am a cottontail, dad. It’s why I left the field of your life.

May your new land be soft. May your green truck roar again in a sweeter time.

Anon.

Image-452

A Little Hum

20140615_2341 My teacher comes to the end of the table where I’m hunched over, and leans on the canvas between a small pile of sculpting tools and a mound of clay draped in a plastic sheet. He smiles and asks me what I am doing.

I am making a bowl, surrounded by the bones of Virginia’s Barrier Islands: scallop shells, a conch, stingray teeth, bits of seaweed, an old net. I tell him about the vessel and the sea; he waits for me to finish with a smile still attached to his face.

“You are not growing” he proclaims. You make the same bowls over and over…” Both his hands are in the air. “Texture. All this texture. What are you doing?”

I look at him. I’m stunned for three reasons: No one in the class works harder and produces more pottery. His outburst is completely out of character. My heart cannot endure another pounding.

I neither lunge or kneel before him. “What do you suggest?” I ask with respect. He is Japanese and I have seen enough movies to know the reverence students cast like rose petals at the feet of their teacher.

Even in good times, which these surely aren’t, I am constitutionally incapable of roses. Most mornings I awaken at four, drag the heavy wood oars to my tiny boat and begin rowing over the tides of grief. They come, one after the other, throw me off the painted seat, tow me under,and smash me against the sandy floor. I flail exactly like the drowning ones.

Even if you would rather sleep, you grasp for the rung of life, the side of your boat, a felled tree, floating. You grasp even when you don’t wish to grasp. And it’s there, just like it always is…the wood. My fingers tighten. My lungs, much like my heart, are tipped with water. I fight to breathe.

(Taking this class was about reaching for a rung. Nothing more).

He’s back. Returning to his original nature, my teacher peers into the clay shavings in search of words. I disarmed him without intending to do so. His voice is muffled.

My eyes move between his face and his hands as I remember the long and slender fingers of the women of the wood block prints that hypnotized me in high school. “What is it about his hands?” I wonder as he talks about my work. They are like the soft underbelly of the doves I’ve held or the flakes falling on the other side of the glass I studied as a child. The tenderness and stillness of his hands is hard to describe.

He tells me to abandon the bowls and sculpt.

I thank him.

Walking down the rocky hill toward my car, I weave between cactus points and watch for snakes. My eyes pool. I can barely see. “How am I going to do this?” I ask out loud. A curved billed thrasher ducks between the swords of a cholla cactus with bugs in her mouth. The squeaky pitch of her two babies fills the air.

On the drive home, I pack up my tools, close the bag of clay in my mind and stumble for cover like a broken-winged bird. “I give up”, I declare to the dashboard. I don’t have it in me.

But I do. I show up for class two days later. On the table lies a crude sketch of a cliff, reminiscent of Normandy and a skinny house perched on the tallest peak. It is a hunchback house, bent over by gale force winds. I don’t know how to make waves out of clay. If I did know, I’d sculpt a boat with its stocky oars and bow stretching, heavenward. Instead, I build the jagged rock face.

He walks by and smiles.

But my heart is not in it. It is with the bowls.

20140613_1891On weekends, I sneak into the studio pressing the clay onto forms, cutting away the loose parts, patting the coolness of the earth. With a single finger, I poke through my secret box of sea treasures and pull out a broken set of stingray teeth. Years ago, waist deep in turquoise water, a stingray hungry for the fish I carried, sucked my hand into her mouth. Now, like then, I am fascinated by their smooth teeth, just like summer corn peeled open and back. I press the teeth into the clay.

In class, it is jagged cliff faces. On weekends, more soup bowls. “It is a compromise” I say to the dashboard. “A compromise.” But I have to work even harder because there are two of us to satisfy.

At our last class, the one after the tea ceremony, I lug carefully packed boxes of pottery tucked between old towels up the hill and set them up on my end of the table. Each of us quietly arrange our pieces.

One by one, our names are called. We must talk about our work to the class, explaining what we tried to learn, the bolder of us admitting how we often failed. This is a humble enterprise.

“Sher” he says.

It’s my turn.

I take a long breath. I came with two plans and decide to go with the riskier one.

“Every life has its very hard times,” I say. “And I am in one of the hardest of mine. I took this class for one reason. I took it to put one foot in front of the other. I took it see if I could show up for my life. Many of you tell me how my work speaks of the sea. This is true. It does. Last summer, I lived in Cape Charles on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Every day, the jewels of light sparkled on the water outside my window. The seagulls and herons sailed the thermals; fiddler crabs walked sideways into their sandy caves.

And then, I had to leave.”

I choke.

IMG_3534a-2b “I realize we come to this class to learn. But that is not why I am here. You could say I am a student in the School of Life. Because I am. In the end, the grade I give to myself, the grade any of us  give to ourselves, is the only grade that truly matters.”

I look at each of them like I am gazing over the western plains. “In the School of Life,” I say to them “I give myself an A++.

An A…+…+.”

And in that moment, in a cup filled with silence, I know.

My  hum is coming back.
20140613_1509 copy

Blood and Silver

Image

I drove just shy of 6000 miles in six weeks time,  a maelstrom of things urgently gathered and stuffed in my car.  The dogs, little ten year old poms, crawled over each other for hours on end trying to find a single spot of softness where one hot body didn’t rub the other.  It was nearly impossible to achieve and they never stopped trying.

We were thrown out in the name of something that sounded a lot  like “the devil made me do it.” Only in this case it was “my soul made me do it.”    Call it an emotional machete, with a maniacal flash: I am throwing you out, all of you, because I must. 

That’s it.

I’m a word-girl.  She’s all numbers. I sat helplessly trying to add up the few she spoke:

“I’m lost.  I don’t know who I am.  I haven’t grieved my father’s death.  I’m numb.”

She said our family of four was keeping her from herself.  I stared at her.  The haze of memory is like light in your eyes.  You cant’ see that far back.  Maybe you daren’t try.

Never mind she married a man she didn’t love and bracketed it it in her inner scrapbook as the unhappiest day of her entire life.  Charleston, for all its verdant green wooden doors and softly woven baskets is a terror for misfits.

The oldest girl took too long to marry.

It is hard being gay in a southern evangelical family. We were rhythmically excluded from the peanuts, smoked oysters and the drawl for 17 years.   When her father was dying of cancer, I pushed her to go back, watch the Weather Channel, talk golf and just hang near his side.

“Look,” I said, they were horrible to us for nearly two decades, all in the name of the smallest kind of God I can imagine, but they loved you pretty well when you were growing up.  You need to go or you’ll carry not going till you meet him in the blue, blue sky.  Go.”

She did.  Over the months, both long and short, she cooked him ribs and tore up lumpy green leaves for kale salad. She called him “Daddy” again.  Even I liked hearing the five year old girl say Daadee; it was a shawl of tenderness wrapping up all the lost years. She peered up over his knees, climbed his chest and jumped into eyes that saw her anew.

At night, over glasses of white wine, her blood-people leaned into her.  The short phone sentences betrayed how much she liked the strong oaky feeling rising within her.

What is it about blood that is so magnetic?

It is not the ending of things that seizes me at night, that rumbles my world like the mortar fire shaking my canvas bed in Nicaragua’s long war.  Everything that breathes and pulsates, stops, snaps from the limb of life and sails to the ground.

Everything.

Years ago, I found  a  surge of silver plunged into a tree at our farm.  I hadn’t ever seen a knife like this before, the lead talon buried in bark: the side tips glistening like razors.  I trembled spying the design.   Pulling  a knife  like this out of a lung or a heart allows you to tear the flesh open and make repair, impossible.

“You all are not my family anymore,” she declared.

Just like the silver in the tree.

Part of me understands.  The oysters, the words that drag and drop like long stretches of road, the dark green doors, the sweet notes of belonging, the blood…they grab you like drowning things flailing for a hand.

But how do you leave the growing wheeze in a little dog’s heart, the buttery eyes, fish breath and six thousand days of friendship?

 

IMG_9439a

Dark

Image

Yesterday, a man said this to me:  “Your life has been hit by a wrecking ball.  You are in the hospital.  It will take a while, at least two years before you rebuild it.  I am not going to sugarcoat this for you.  You have been hit hard and knocked out in your most vulnerable spot in this  life: partnership and home.

Getting over the intensity and scope of the destruction, is the tallest mountain you will ever climb. You have climbed it before in this life, but you didn’t expect to claw your way up that  mountain again.   Did you?”

“No.”

“Sher, you have something to say to people.  Besides, it will help you.  I am telling you to do the very thing you don’t  ever do.”

“What’s that?”

“You must write about your pain.”

Image

The walls fracture like the plaster in an old house. The support beams snap as the floor squeals and breaks into blackness under my shoes.  Through the smashed glass still clinging to the chipped window frame, I peer at the oddly shaped truck, the black iron ball dangling from a rusty chain, gathering itself for another swing.

In August I wrote this:  When you open to the whole world, the whole world opens to you.

And then the ball smashed through the house.

Image

I lost my partner of seventeen years, my best friend and my only family.  Not in Death’s revolving door,  but in a Transit Station filled with packed bags and handmade maps to another  life-galaxy…to a land where her stars could burn more brightly and fully.

And me? My light dimmed and dimmed and dimmed.  Two times at least, it went out all together.  A couple of  people reached for the flint in their pockets, a scuffle of leaves, a damp match, anything to re-light my  inner fire.  Because of them and the  invisible forces that keep us tethered or set us free,  I  do not yet burn in the heavens.

A writer-friend urged me to sit down, dig for the words and bead them together in strands, something I suspect like little wooden prayers connected by thin threads.    “I don’t like to write about pain,” I declared as firmly as  the shuttle of a loom.

She did not suggest again.

Silence is a cave buried below the earth’s crust.  You can live an entire lifetime in that darkness, with the dripping walls, the  creatures with names you can’t pronounce:  all of you giving birth, eating each other, dying, and smoothing the walls of memory from jagged to gliding.

Or you can punch a hole through.

Opening, opening…

Orange flower Bouganvilla artistic


When you open to the whole world, the whole world opens to you…

The lights of August are like street lamps in fog, burning through mist. The brightness is so sure of itself; it skates through white wool, blue,blue lakes and earth lifting from torn fields without slowing at all for the shortening arc of summer.   In this tiny pocket of time, there is much to do.

The Light keeps on.

Queen-Anne's-LaceThe dinner plates of Queen Anne’s lace fold into jars on the scrubby green roadsides curving to the sea.  All around, legs of crickets and the limbs of dry yellow canes rub and brush the first few bars in the song of Summer’s end.

Even without the scattered notes, I’d know the moment of gathering and finishing is near.  Serrated lavender petals on sage-colored stems reach up from the dry land like a push of birds. It is the huddle of purple waving and rolling in the thick air that signals summer’s last lap.

The asters are here.

I drive down the long dirt road to Magothy Bay by inches and feet; even so the pebbles spin and crack and the Laughing Gulls lift from the field.  I think of the two-leggeds I’ve known who speed nearly everywhere.  No matter the reasons, all of them good-sounding,  there is only one hurrying: straight into the yellow beak of death that pulls skin cleanly from the bone.

I throw open my car door to a field of goats, and smile.  I know their mischief: how they twirl chains from the earth like corks from bottles; how they study and foil you, peeling the bark from sweet gum trees, newly planted; how they stretch for the tenderest leaves, get their heads caught in fences, whip up every kind of trouble and relish it; how they turn into brown-haired children when they die, kneeling and tumbling to the earth with their bristled cheeks pressed against smooth, wet skin.

I know them.  They know I know them.  They track me out of a skyline slit in their eyes, tearing at the forest of soy bean leaves.  “You’ve escaped” I say out loud.  It is a lake of ripping, frenzied chewing, back and forth. There are few things quite like goat mischief.

Slipping my pack over a shoulder, I set out, resurrecting the memory of a single finger on a paper tracing two paths to the sea.  I will walk for miles and not meet anyone on the trail. I will arrive at a place I love most in all the natural world, a place of watery insistence between the land and sea: the salt marsh.

But I must endure the blood lust, first.  A squall of mosquitoes, dense as a white-out in winter pulls me into its cloud.  No amount of flailing, nor the constant pumping of lemon grass, nor even running, stops them.  I surrender to the blood-letting.  If I were to lie down in the grass, there would be no blood left for the black-headed vultures.  It is that fierce.

I refuse to turn back.  In the desert years, I  descended hand-over-hand to places only shadows, danced.  I overcame so many fears.  A certain kind of loving is born in surrender.   Maybe only there…

The forest shutters open to the lapping sea as the wind rises and sweeps over the mudflats.  The little red pools covering my body bunch-up and dry in the salt air.

At last.

Periwinkles Magothy Bay

Everywhere I turn, swaying green shafts of light  bend together like a schools of silver fish or mobs of black starlings in a fall sky.   Periwinkles cling to the green flames, neither hurrying toward heaven or earth.  They know more about the yellow beak than we do.  The bitty-shelled-rubber-feet  are the world’s tarry-masters.  They bend with the reeds and remain whole.

Gulls I cannot name punch the briny air with their hollers and halloos.  Beneath the whispers of grass, a million voices sound: the pip of bubbles breaking as crabs shuffle sideways; the crack and splatter of shells, the poking and plunging of orange, yellow and tan beaks, some curved liked sickles in the glimmering shallows.

In a hundred years, maybe less, this place will be under water. I  left the arena where such things are argued and will not return.

Instead, I’ll rise each day and lay my cheek against the feathers and grass, the sea air and salty waves. I’ll write a few words, sculpt a long clay bowl and etch it with shells.  It is not the life I expected to live, that I came to live, but it is good.

My kin are here, rising with the orange light of morning, fishing silver from the sea.  They sway as the Tide jewels are cast, one ushering the coming; the other, the going.  I’ll practice periwinkle-time and move slowly on the bridge between the worlds. The waters and winds, whether ferocious or gentle, will rock us all to sleep.

Standing in my favorite place on earth, I am certain of one strong thing: I’ve broken free.    The greater loving lives on this small shelf of sea and time.  I am part of it.

The ibis and crabs look closely. There is mischief in my eyes.

When you open to the whole world, the whole world opens to you…

Great Egret

A Butterfly Story

Pipevine swallowtails

The dawn breaks. I sit on a wooden step facing east, tracing the lines of shadow and light over the newly trimmed wheat field and the old red barn.   The lightening rods stand straight as poplars despite hurricanes and the steady chip, chip, chip of time.  In the early light, the roof glistens like a hill of newly minted coins.

This barn, brushed with a color red we don’t see anymore, is as captivating to me as a tree house or a woodland fort from my scrambling days.

I live in an Andrew Wyeth painting.

No one is in eyeshot, so I sit in the open with tussled hair and pink pajamas etched with charcoal flowers.  Steam, tinged with the memory of volcanic ash, lifts from the coffee cup I made with my own hands.

A skipper lands on my right knee.  We are eye-to-eye.

“Tell me about your butterfly life” I say out loud.  “What is it like to dip your straw into the sweetness?”  “Do you like the butterfly garden I planted for you and all your winged friends?”  The skipper, with his coffee-colored wings, orange dot and curvy white streak, is not much of a talker.  No matter.  I accept the gift he offers: when a butterfly lands on you, it is a blessing shower.

All along the sandy road, the pale yellow flowers of wild mustard create a dance floor for the cabbage whites with their single black dot.  It is a life long question of mine:  whether butterflies, in this case cabbage whites, feel their lives as long or short.  The little white twirlers live but two weeks.  Are their days as long as a little girl’s or as short as an old woman’s?  When their tiny wings are tattered by razor-like prickers and  the hungry bites of birds, are they ready to fly into the light like Icarus and let their wings melt away?

*****

Tucked under an Arizona cottonwood in Madera Canyon, I watch a Pipevine Swallowtail, dipping a black slender reed, no wider than a thread, into a mud puddle.  After a rain, the puddles of southeast Arizona are alive with a kaleidoscope of colorful winged boys drunk on the the mineral-rich salts of the hard and rugged land.

Sonoita Patagonia Butterflies

I watch for a long time.

On an upper trail, rumblings of conversations about the rips and tears of two-legged life are sandwiched between trills and chirps.  I come to most of these places alone.  It can take an hour to move 40 feet and another hour to speak seven words.

For most two-leggeds, I am an unsatisfying travel companion.

Kneeling under the canopy, I admit I would rather paint the boy on canvas rather than eek-out  a few words to describe him.  But I do not paint:  The lad is dressed in a black cape  sparkling with sapphires and dabbed with bits of pumpkin. His sides flash like a mirror sending signals over the hill.

Out of nowhere, a jeep rises up and shifts-down, plunging straight into the tire-sculpted pool.  Tears stream down my cheeks.

I kneel in the mud and gently lift the winged boy, nearly still, in my hand.   A tiny bead of yellow oozes from his body.  His wispy straw searches the air for the strong scent of heaven.

This is exactly how life is, every moment of every day: the beauty and the brevity, the deep drinking and the sudden shift into a world we cannot name and do not know.

This sapphire dappled boy is me. And, I am this winged one, just on the edge of leaving.  To know this, like I do, is to live differently than I have ever lived before.

*****

Sonoita Patagonia Butterflies

The volcanic ash, from  half a world away, is in me now.  My cup is dry.  The sun is doing what it does so well:  heating  up the juices of the red balls and yellow silk fruits of the Virginia shore.

I trade my girly pajamas for fraying jeans, pull on a t-shirt and jump in the car.   I need a bag of Jollly Ranchers, a box of Ritz crackers and a little sack of split peas.  Arriving at the only grocery store for miles, I pull a carriage from the pack and head inside.

There on the window sill, trapped in the world between sliding doors, is a black butterfly with sapphire-tipped wings.  She goes up and down the glass, puzzled at the invisible wall between her and the flower-filled-land.

It is reflexive for me: I abandon the cart and move quietly toward the glass, carefully cupping my hands. Moving slowly, I place my fingered-cave over her  wafer wings.  She flutters a few times and goes still.

Carefully, carefully I  twist one hand until the mouth of the cave closes.  She waits in darkness.  There is no frantic beating of wings.  No movement at all.

I turn around like I am holding an egg in my hands and walk out of the store, stretching my arms taught so they don’t move. Just for a moment, I stand in the scalding light.

“Yes, this is a good spot” I say to myself. I  open the door to the cave by tilting my palms upward.   The black shawled butterfly peers into the  blue world like she is seeing it for the very first time.

She opens her wings, beats them surely, and rises into the azure-colored sky. The water  ponds-up up in my eyes.

Our lives, our shimmering selves and our bit of time here is made of the same sweet magic.

For the two of us, this little moment is all there is: the blessing going back and forth, back and forth…

Nothing more is asked of us.

I am sure of this.

And so, of course, is she.

 20130526_4068-2 copy

Wonder

Rainbow

Leaving the Village was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and also the most necessary.  The imperative to flee began early, in little-girl-hood, while watching the light stream into sheets of mica on the back yard wall.  I gathered the slips of rainbow-light from the stones and saved them in crumpled tissues in my room.

It was the same with the white ants.  One afternoon, belly down in the grass, I spied on black ants dragging white ants through the forest of tall green stems and dried amber shafts. Fingering a few of the strays, I tucked them in a separate tissue, pinching tents to shelter their perfectly formed bodies.  I stored the ghost ants with the sheets of light in my jewelry box with the pink velour lining.

But they were whisked away, along with my complete series of 1930’s silver quarters, in a cleaning expedition that took place while I was pulling ropes and pails to the very top of my favorite  Swamp maple tree.  That my treasures could be tossed in the trash with so little thought and even littler regret, tells you how utterly strange Village life was for me…so tick-tock, scrubbed, and stippled with lightning when the windows were shut tight.

Each nightfall,  with the red wool hair of my Raggedy Anne tucked under my neck and her cotton heart pressed against mine,  I plotted our escape from the wonder-less world. And each day, I traveled as far as I could, mostly to the top of the maple tree.

For a little girl, distance always feels longer than it is.

I hid among the star-shaped hands and tiny birds, nearly floating  in the chilly blue sky.  From  a tree-top, the rancher built by the man-in-the-green-truck, was as moveable as a doll house.  But not really. l sat for hours like a  puzzled raptor sent back to life in the wrong skin.

Home and school and church were just the same.  How could they not be? It was like being lost in a circus hall of mirrors where  every pane of glass reveals its twin.

In the  morning, I waved good-bye to the blandness of one  world and stepped on the bus to the next.  The rules, the constant promise of punishment, the sure-thinking about who was damned and who was saved, kept the fear simmering in me.  But I never ceded ground. Never.

The chorus of life, the beautiful singing of the natural world, carried on all the while. It pierced the din of the ordinary and rocked the harshness to sleep.  The song rose when the bus door flew open at day’s end, deepened when I jumped off the back porch and held when I scrambled over the stone wall  to safety. The mica glittered brightly;  the ants maintained their line and I moved, best as I could, to an unseen rhythm of swaying limbs and dashing streams.

Today, a life lived on the outskirts of the Village is less hard and no less necessary.

*****

Queen Anne's lace

I peer at a closed cup of a Queen Anne’s lace and a fully opened snowflake.  Here lies the secret to the entire world: the hairy seeds, the patterns, the nourishment, the  winged visitors and the way white brightens next to green.  It is not mine to crack the code, to understand or even to name the petaled mystery.  Curiosity is enough.

Kneeling in the sands near the Bay, I study how the wind softens an uprooted tree and sculpts it into a deer hoof, a horse’s head and a tangle of bark.

We are sculpted in the same way.

Driftwood Chesapeake bay

A simple turning of the head into a nest of petals or peering into a canopied tunnel in the earth stokes the near-cold embers of Wonder.  Whenever I am lost, I shake out the desire seed and wait.

It starts right up again:  the tender voices of swooshing trees, the rush and crackle of cold water and the cricket-song at evening-tide. The natural  world teems with hunger and all things are sure in their skins.

Here, at last, I am sure in mine.

Savage Neck Virginia

 

For Land and Sea—and Tim

Tucson Mountain Sunset

Before: the vast, scalding, aortal Light and now—the equally vast, wind-whipped, lapping and breaking Sea. I traded one ferocity and one beauty for another.

Here in a treehouse of loblolly pines sheltered by outposts of sand and mud and grass, I walk quietly on glittering paths, firmed with bits of clam and oyster shells and the bodies of seahorses and whales.

I think of Tim, my clay teacher in the Sonoran desert, who took long-legged strides around our class the first day we gathered. Rolling a ball of shiny gray earth between his hands, he peered above our heads like he was reading talking points from another world.

“Do you see this?” he asked holding up the finger-pressed globe of putty so we could spot it clearly. This clay comes from the land. It is filled with the living force of many creatures who lived long ago. Their memory is in this clay. Open your plastic bags and break off a piece. Press it between your palms. Notice how it feels. You’re holding an earthen memory of lives that came before you; the echo of their voices, their wings and steps, are in this clay. Think of this as you fashion something into form that begins first in your hearts.

DragonflyCall it a lesson in reverence. It was. Light filtered through the stained glass windows; a chorus whispered the low notes. Prayers huddled together and rose up. I fastened my gaze to the long canvas-wrapped table to conceal the water rushing into my eyes.

I’ve had a lot of schooling in my life but never a teacher who dared to say what I know for sure: that we are jeweled strands of one cloth… star-stuff shimmering the one light. The break we think we see between past and future, between self and other, is illusion.

But the illusion is as thick and deep as it is alluring. We are taught early on that the world is ours to pluck and plunder. We are never reminded (and I do mean “reminded” and not “taught”) that the spider, the dolphin, and the butterfly are made of the same light that fills us up.

How have we spun all these words about the Divine and missed this? How?

Afterward, I say to Tim what I have written here. “Yes” he answers “that is just what I mean. I cannot say it that way though because it would scare everyone away.”

He is more discerning than I .

Or maybe I’m more weary than he.

The Land and the Sea are lamp lights that never dim, no matter our ceaseless intrusion, our fencing in and fencing out, our constant taking and taming for food, comfort and riches. No matter.

The shaking, shifting volcanic Land will birth a new landscape.

The Sea will wash us out of ourselves.

And the clay will glitter with the memory of the starfish and the Gila monster, and yes, your memory and mine.

Reaching into the bag, I tear off a piece of clay and begin. I start with a shell—the home I carry with me and an origami star—symbol of the gift of a brain tumor. The intensity is strong. Without meaning to do so, I draw a curtain around my little space at the table and press the heel of my hand into the soft, wet earth.

Lifting a raven feather in the air, I inspect it closely: the disheveled strands of inky purple, the hollow quill and the strength of something light enough to fly. Using a slim wooden tool with a sharp metal point, I etch the clay with small strokes and run a single finger softly over the edges.  Satisfied, I lay the form against the opening of my home.

Although I cannot see far enough or hear well enough, I know the Light will brighten the land and sea. Dragonflies will sing. Ferns will dance. And polar bears will thump on ice-sheets thick with the bones of a darker time.

The Song-of-all will fill up the world.

Ceramic Shell sculpture

Image

I Dare You

I dare you…

Eastern Box Turtle

…to look into the eyes of this turtle, with her broken shell and the strand of grass poking out, and tell me you do not see the Radiance.
*****

I dare you…

Dragonfly

…to peer into the sapphire and emerald pools of the dragonfly (I met him last week in a wheat field), and tell me the Temple of Life is not open and wide and shimmering.
*****

I dare you…

Pomeranian Angel

… to look into the eyes of the little girl I travel with and tell me you don’t see angel-hood. Surely you see it. Not because I am hers but because her entire being sings the angel. It is exactly the same with the one you belong to.

Stop reading. Go and see for yourself.

Go now.
*****

Here is an invitation. Come with me…

Javelina in Tucson Mountains

…kneel at my side in a desert wash. Wait quietly as a herd of javelina rounds a bend of volcanic rock. Breathe in the thunder of your fear as you meet one eye-to-eye. Then tell me that your beauty, or mine, is greater than hers. I dare you.
*****

Here is another invitation. There are so many…

…go out and kneel in the forest when the spring symphony is tuning up. Find a fern like the one I met a few weeks back. Look closely. Tell me the sac sheltering him, before his unfurling into a brand new world, is different than the sac you broke through—or I broke through—to burst into the sunlit land.

Fern Unfurling

We are made of the very same juice. The burden is yours to tell me how different we are. Will you try?

*****

I dare you…

Tucson Homeless' Dog Friends

…to live a life as intimate as this, to sleep with someone else’s feet in your face. To trust like this. To dream like this.

I dare you to tell me this is not exactly what the Divine Spirit offers us every day, were we brave enough. It takes so little to open the heart-door and so much to keep it closed.

(I must add a little more to this picture: these four-legged friends live with a couple of two-legged Tucsonans who live on the City’s streets).

Do you think these four-leggeds are homeless, then?

Have you ever trusted like this in your entire life?

Have you?
*****

I dare you…

Grand Canyon Raven Christmas Day

…to look into the galaxy of this raven’s eye. I met her in the Grand Canyon on Christmas Day. Convince me she has nothing to teach you and me. Get closer. Peer into the tiny glimmer. She will let you. I promise she is more curious about you, than you are learning to be about her.

Do you see yourself?

Give it another try.
Soften your gaze.
Breathe deeply.
Just for a moment, let everything else disappear.
Can you feel the knowing in you rise up, shake itself awake, shout : “At Last!”
*****

There is always time to begin. Begin now.

Say to the turtle: How beautiful you are in your cracked shell with the bit of grass sticking out. Your eyes glow like moonlight.

And to the dragonfly: Hover a moment and tell me a story of what it is like to soar each day over a golden field of wheat.

And to your beloved four-legged: Train me to see my angel-hood, too. Laugh at me when I take you to a Blessing of the Animals, you who never left the Blessing: not for a single minute of a single hour of a single day. Help me to see I live in the Blessing, too. I forget sometimes. Lick me whenever I forget.

Actually, you lick me a lot already.

*****

Open your heart.

Try being brave.

Sleep with feet in your face.

I dare you.

No, I double-dare you.