Tuesday, January 26, 2010


In the dark and cold of January, I grow more reluctant each year to take down the Christmas tree. Our household long ago yielded to an artificial tree, since we travel most years; theoretically, we could leave it up all year, and we joke about doing it. Mid-month, however, I begin to feel somewhat foolish about leaving it in place, even as I mourn taking it down.

I love the pristine white glow of the lit tree in a dark room, having learned this reverence for light in northern darkness from my own mother, who learned it from hers, whose long-ago mother no doubt brought this love for light from even more northerly Europe. My older daughter and I bask in its halo of light for a few stolen moments each morning before she fades into the bleak chill for an early bus. My husband and I meet in the pool of light before turning in for bed.

Last week, the balance between clinging to the glow and embracing practicality tipped, and I took down the tree. Over the years, I have learned that the tasks of both putting up and dismantling the tree really fall to me, and have come to appreciate both phases of the task as an occasion for mindful meditation: unwinding the lights I bought at 14, which miraculously still work, I honor my small act of preparing for imagined future celebrations; wrapping and unwrapping each ornament made or purchased or gifted, I recall the grade school friend who made a clumsy heart pendant from salt dough, the family friend, now dead, who celebrated the birth of my youngest with a millennium globe, the kindergartner who glued her small photo to a shiny bell. I ponder how spectacular a tree filled with lights must have appeared centuries ago when humans first created this ritual.

It’s all packed away now, and this morning my child and I sat together, companionable in shadows, awaiting the incremental return of light into our days.

Mary for The Poplar Grove Muse

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


I had a dream recently, the kind of dream that has me writing about it days later. It was an epic, adventure-style dream. My mother and I guided a tiny canoe on a vast ocean. We accompanied my niece on a dangerous journey. We were negotiating with the gods to keep my niece with us. We eventually won, or shall I say, the gods agreed with us.

What I find most interesting is that my dream-self placed my mother and me to each side of my niece. We were in the position of sentinels. While my sister, the niece’s mother, was missing as an active character in the dream, her place was well-known and respected. This dream was about being a champion for my niece.

My job was clear. I was at the front of the canoe, the warrior-champion. I was in a state of high alert, ready to defend and protect my niece. My mother, wise and strong, sat at the back. She steered and counseled.

The translation of this dream is literal for my role. It’s a nice variation of the maiden/mother/crone circle. Not all of us choose to give birth, but all of us can be warrior-champions for our maidens.

I think of my own maidenhood. I recall several warrior-champions and wise counselors, both male and female. I’m grateful my mother realized that a daughter needs these roles, and that she sometimes needs them from others.

In my present life, I’m struck by how WWF(a)C stands as champion for me. It creates the safe spaces I need. I can only imagine how powerful that would be for a young writer, and I’m grateful WWF(a)C has expanded to serve that population.

Here is what I will be writing for a few days: As a child, who were my champions? How did they help me? When were they missing? As an adult, do I still have these in my life? How can I find them when I need them? How can I be these things for myself? How can I best be a warrior-champion for my niece?

Stephanie, for the Poplar Grove Muse

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Looking Up

The dogs made more racket than usual this morning. The sun had come up bright against the snow white world outside. They yapped and hollered at the trees in a greater frenzy than I’d heard in a while. Even my big dog, Tucker, not much of a barker any more, joined in with his “Hey”! “Hey There”. I threw on my coat to see what all the excitement was about.

I followed their gaze to a trio of Turkey Vultures perched high atop several next- door trees. The enormous birds did not loom from their perches in the familiar, cartoon-caricature-downward-survey-of-the-ground-image I associate with 1940's black and white Disney shorts. Instead, they faced away from the dogs and me, east to the newly-risen sun. Their wide wings were extended, bent just slightly. The first thing I thought of was a trio of Batmen planning a surprise attack. They were huge. Mannish to me. This spooky suggestion of dark power any way you looked at it, rattled me. Something seemed about to happen, for good or evil, I knew not which. The soundtrack running through my mind was a low throb of synthesized sustain as dogs, squirrels, and other backyard creatures quieted and, I have to say, took cover from or took in what was both impressive and ominous.

I ran around the house to get a view of them from the front. What happened was that the music in my head lightened instantly. George Harrison. “ Why, little darlin’, here comes the sun!”, I said out loud. Guess all creatures great and small manage to find a best vantage point in relation to what warms them. I’m sorry I didn't have a camera, but this image gives you an idea. Imagine bare branches and snow, but the sky was this blue!
I remembered that Turkey Vultures are considered by many to be “lowly” birds given their reliance on carrion and road kill for sustenance; the way they frequent dumps and death grounds. Forget all that. This was sun worship pure and simple. A triumph of light over darkness, life over death. As black as vultures are, the underside of their wing is a pearly grey. Beautiful, really. Of course they must have been freezing. It was 15 degrees outside.

I yelled to as many of my family members as I could, to come take a look. I stopped short of waking my neighbors from their Sunday morning slumbers -- but barely. I went out several times in the succeeding hour and the great birds continued to warm themselves, never moving. The dogs lost interest. Eventually,I had to move on to other pursuits of the day.

You might be able to tell I’m fond of encounters that carry dark and the light all at once. For me, this first-in-my-lifetime view of really big, dark winged birds seeking the sunlight was creepy. And cool. I sure hope they warmed up enough to carry on, find some relatively fresh dead food on the wintry landscape, and make it though another January day. I'm grateful to any creature whose work it is to help clean up. They deserve a sunny morning and a break from their labors.

So it’s the heart of winter. Lot’s of us worry about hitting patches of ice and falling down. Be careful. Just don’t forget to look up from time to time.

Beth for the Poplar Grove Muse

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Freshen Your Soul for 2010

"Jump out into the water and freshen your soul."

(Photo Courtesy of David Snodgress at the Herald-Times)

This comment was left by an anonymous reader on the local paper's website in response to a story about citizens taking the annual polar bear plunge into Lake Monroe.

It amused me because whenever I read stories like this, I can't begin to imagine why someone would plunge their scantily clad body into freezing water except to say they had done it. But then, I read the comments listed after the story and I realized, ahh, soul freshening. That's it!

I guess it is that time of year. The lights and excitement of the holidays are over. Two solid months plus of cold winter weather and darkness awaits us. If you are like me, you are hunkered down to face the winter onslaught with a huge stack of books and something hot to drink. I think that this is the time of year our souls could use a good freshening.

I'm thinking of the polar bear plunge as a metaphor now because there is no way I am sticking my big toe in anything less then a 160 degree hot tub, but there are plenty of ways to freshen your soul without having to get fitted for a thermal bathing suit.

Here are a few of my favorite soul fresheners:

1. Read some poetry. I was given this book of poems as a holiday gift and I love it. I open it up to a new poem every day. If there is a better way to air out the stuffy corners of my soul I would like to know what it is.

2. Sing in the shower. I had the great fortune to see The Cardinal Stage Company's production of The Sound of Music last weekend. Listening to me belt out the song "Favorite Things" really opens up my family's soul, too.

3. Eat really spicy food.

4. Laugh a lot. Try this funny book. Or this classic crazy movie.

5. Go square dancing or take a belly dance class or learn to dance thriller. My soul really gets fresh when I move the body it lives in.

6. Go 1980 and write a letter to an old friend. Remember letters? Remember stationary? Remember what it feels like to write your thoughts in more than 140 characters? Stamps are only 0.44 cents and you can make a personalized stamp with you own artwork.

7. Spend a weekend and cook a big feast for your closest friends. Make something you would never make with that old stale soul. Try roast duck or risotto with truffles or something from Mastering the Art of French Cooking with pounds and pounds of real butter.

8. Write a pantoum.

9. Grow an indoor herb garden.

10. Check out this new Women Writing for (a) Change class.

See you on the other side of March. Hopefully we'll all have fresh souls and we won't have to get a bikini wax to do it!

--Amy for the Poplar Grove Muse