Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Tiger Encounters

India, a white tiger, resting in her home at the Exotic Feline Rescue Center (photo by Olivia)

This past weekend I was fortunate to go on retreat with eight writers from the Women Writing for (a) Change Indianapolis community. Immersed in our theme of “dreaming,” I found myself tuned in quite vividly to symbols of lost dreams, night dreams, and waking dreams.

Saturday evening, after our day’s activities were done, one of the women fanned out a deck of animal medicine cards for me. I moved my hand over the cards until I placed my finger on the one I felt most drawn to. I turned the card over and Tiger was revealed to me. The description of this card was powerful:

“Secure within her own sensuous controlled power, tiger stalks silently, invisibly through the magic of the night, securing what her heart desires…As a messenger, tiger brings you fresh adventures to change your path, new passions to awaken your heart, and endows you with her powers. Take what she offers and you can transform your life.”

The next morning I wrote this short piece about Tiger:

Dreaming Tiger Into the World

She swims languidly through ancient lakes. She holds no energy for these old waters. She swims forward, absorbing only what is needed to illuminate her current path.

She reaches the shore and, paw by paw, steps onto land. She shakes the water from her fur coat which glistens in the moonlight. The ancient waters evaporate and she is on new ground. The waters will appear again, she knows they will. They serve her when she needs to dip back in and remember where she came from.

But for now she walks slowly, intentionally toward the dreamtime, navigating the darkness. With her inner eye, she sees jewels she wants to manifest. Her eye does not rest on distractions, it seeks the truth, the North Star, her North Star. She is on a solitary journey, fed by what delights her. She is prey to very few.

Tiger then journeys into daylight, the waking dream. Here she can see her delights in full view. She does not operate out of obligation or desperation. The jewels she gathered in the darkness are with her now. She displays them with pride. They are the fruits of her efforts.

The Exotic Feline Rescue Center

As serendipity would have it, I had plans to meet my family at the Exotic Feline Rescue Center on my way home from Terre Haute on Sunday. This is a remarkable facility which provides a home for 210 cats who have been rescued from abusive, neglectful situations.

Upon entering the grounds, I was immediately in awe of two leopards and a black panther near the entrance. And this was only the beginning. We were guided on a tour of servals, cougars, lions, tigers, and bobcats. This was different from a zoo visit in many ways. These big cats were not on display; we were merely guests in their home, separated only by the enclosures that defined their living quarters.

I learned that tigers are in fact solitary animals who love the water. In one enclosure, we saw the beautiful sight of a tiger walking intently through tall grass. Others were seen soaking in their large metal tubs of water on this hot, hot day.

Some of the cats seemed to be sizing up the visitors as a potential meal. Outside one of the cougar enclosures, the guide pointed out to a young couple that the cougar appeared to be tracking their young daughter, not taking its eyes off of her. Later on the tour, a lioness closely followed our group for the length of her habitat. I was fascinated and frightened at the same time.

It was a meaningful weekend, a gift for this writer, dreamer, and seeker of adventurous learning experiences. Special thanks to Mindy Weaver-Flask for beautifully holding the writing retreat.

-- Kim for the Poplar Grove Muse

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

There Are Many Kinds of Hunger

Thanks to Amy Cornell and the lovely Tessa, I've been thinking a lot about adoption lately. This takes me back almost 38 years ago when my son came into our lives. My husband Gary and I had a rough few roller coaster years of trying to start a family. These were pre-fertility expert years, so we didn't get much support from the medical community. We decided to adopt. We went to the Children's Bureau in Indianapolis. Gary wanted a boy and we were told that could extend our waiting time. I didn't care if we had a boy or a girl; I just wanted a baby. We requested a newborn boy and began what turned out to be a two year process. We jumped through all of the hoops, had our last in home inspection and tried to distract ourselves with busyness while waiting. It's kind of like when someone tells you not to think about elephants. What else can you think about? His room was ready and we were ready. (Well, as much as any parent can be "ready" when you really have no clue what it's like to be a mom or a dad.) We had been married seven years; it was time.
He was born October 3, 1972, nine months to the day after our final home review. I got the call on Monday, October 9th from a social worker who was filling in at the Children's Bureau for our social worker who was on vacation at the time. He said we could come up and "take a look" at the baby the next day. Take a look? Was he kidding? Had other prospective adoptive parents rejected babies because their ears weren't just right or their hair was too light? Please.

So now I've received THE CALL and I'm home alone. I wanted Gary to be the first one I told; so I was in for three hours of pacing before he got home from work. When he finally came through the door, all I could do was jump up and down. I couldn't even speak. Of course, he knew what all of the jumping was about. We hugged and laughed and cried. Then we called our parents and friends. Gary was sitting with his back to me when he was on the phone with his mom. All of a sudden he just raised his hand with the phone in it and handed it back to me. He was crying and couldn't talk at the moment. So I finished the conversation with his mom, who was crying also.

After we had called everyone, we decided to go shopping and get a few last minute baby things. The discount store of choice was Ayr-Way at the time. It was where Bed, Bad & Beyond is now. So we made our purchases and decided to get a bite to eat. Arby's on Third Street was close so that's where we ended up. I think I waited in the car and Gary brought the food out. I just remember us both unwrapping the roast beef sandwiches, taking one look at them, then each other, and wrapping them back up. We only hungered to hold our son. We were too excited to eat. We were almost as excited as our dogs who benefitted from our lack of appetite.
We didn't sleep that night either. I sat in the baby's room in the old rocker I had painted a dusty blue and imagined myself rocking him the very next day. We headed for Indianapolis the next morning. Gary was so nervous he ran a red light at a major intersection on Meridian Street. When we arrived at the Children's Bureau, our substitute social worker announced that they couldn't find our baby. WHAT????

He was exactly one week old and had been placed with a foster mother and they couldn't reach her on the phone. (This was all before answering machines and cell phones were invented.) Probably out of desperation, our social worker took us to lunch. We SO didn't care about lunch. I don't even know where he took us; I just remember watching the Jell-O melt on my plate. He kept excusing himself to go use the phone. Between phone calls he tried to make small talk. I think we both wanted to tape his mouth shut. After about the third or fourth call, he returned to the table and said that by the time we got back to the Bureau our son would be there. He explained that the foster mother was at her church bazaar for the day and had left him with her mother. She had left that information with someone at the Bureau, but it hadn't been passed along. It didn't matter. We nearly had him in our grasp!

When they brought him out to us, Gary held him first. I could tell he was going to be good at this. Then he handed him over to me. And there he was. Casey. Our son. The moment I saw him everything became clear to me. Why we didn't conceive, all of the waiting, all of the tears were because this was the baby we were meant to have. Here was someone I knew. A very old soul. A kindred spirit I already had a bond with. That bond has stayed strong and deep. My life with him so far has been an amazing journey. He has such a strong inner core, he is not afraid to be himself. He is a firefighter. It is a wonderful gift to admire your child. And I have been given such a gift. This is just the beginning of my adventures with Casey. I will write more about him on future blogs. In the meantime, I have included a poem I wrote about him, many years after he came into our lives.

For Casey:
The Oldest Soul I Know

I wasn't born to be a mother.
I was meant to be your mom.
No fertile seed inside my womb.
You grew inside my heart.

They say we look alike.
An optical allusion
to the matching twinkle
in our eyes.

Some days I dream you small again,
watch you running in the yard.
See the momma bluebird
let you pet her baby's head.

At times I'm Retroactive Mom.
All mistakes erased.
Am all that you deserve.

But, no regrets for us.
Our gypsy souls
will meet again.

Maybe next time,
you can be the Mom.
Rebekah for the Polpar Grove Muse

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Ahh Italia!

In anticipation of a recent trip to Italy, Family and friends loaded me up with books and sight seeing suggestions—most of which I left behind in Indiana in my disorganized rush to take off and travel light. Instead, I carried 30-year-old memories of a journey I’d taken through Italy as a 19 year old student vagabond. Those memories still vividly conjured first real-life viewings of masterworks of art, the shame-by-association with ugly Americans abroad, the cheap wine, the crusty bread and cheese eaten in San Marco Square, and all those pigeons that dawdled at our feet then flew up around us. Back then, it was train stations, hostels, lingering hours on street corners with other students, buskers, backpackers, and bad-asses with big hearts. I was open wide to everything!

This time, I went to celebrate having turned 50. I traveled solo with old friends there to meet me in Florence. I had some money in my pocket, a cool black “euro bag” that defies criminal mischief, newly-purchased, ultra-light wick-away undergarments and summer wear, an English/Italian dictionary, a journal I made by slapping a postcard of a very Italian-looking doorway on to the cover of a Mead composition book, and a sense of pure openness to where each day might take me. Most of that 19 year old me came along for the ride this time. She was happy for access to a few expendable Euros and the promise of more luxurious digs upon arrival. I was happy for her fresh eyes and open heart.

I passed through Indy, Newark, Rome, Florence, and , with my travelling companions, through the Chianti region, Siena, to an Umbrian Country House on the hill near the village of Grutti. There, we sat one night on a tiny patio outside the only cantina in town alongside 40 village men and boys who ate gelato and smoked cigarettes watching Italy play world cup soccer. In the mornings, l marveled at the quality of light that shone on ancient hill-top towns in the distance; that moved with the clouds across the rolling green, wheat, and olive-groved countryside, the enormous rabbits I mistook for small deer leaping in the meadow below the house, and at my own sense of belonging in a place so far from my home.

We spent one memorable day with Monika Iris in an 8 person passenger van, taking us to see her friends all over the Chianti region south of Florence. Eleanore’s 500 year old olive farm and family villa (Mona Lisa was a “neighbor” and guest in this house way back when!), Fernando’s small 5 acre winery in Montefiorelle. 84 year old Lena’s Bar for late afternoon coffee.
Throughout the day, Monika wove her philosophy of life through the narrative of our nine hour journey. “We go with the flow here”, she said. “Good can come from the unexpected –or, not everything bad comes to harm. Take your time. Respect food, nourish your body, and support your local butcher, bread maker, your vintner”. To my inquisitive friends and I, who had a hard time resisting the urge to pepper her with personal questions, Monika steered us back to the moment, suggesting without saying it, that we Americans have a curious need for back- story or quick intimacy which is not necessarily the Italian way. Look out the window, for god’s sake. Don’t miss what’s right in front of you! At one point as we were making small talk, she said “Italians don’t ask what they’re not interested in.” Note to self: Bless your guides and consider heeding their guidance.

We did and saw many things at a slower pace over 10 days. We lazed in the intoxicating scent of jasmine, scotch broom, lavender, and rosemary. We felt perfect weather on our skin, managed the markets and shop exchanges with friendliness and humor. We leaned against cool Etruscan walls in the heat of the day, walked cobblestone alleyways worn smooth over thousands of years. Thousands.

We made tiny cups of coffee. We ate gloriously fresh food, drank wine free of sulfites, traversed the awkward territory of language, then fell happily to trying to play that music while our Italian brethren joyfully applauded our halting, gesturing efforts. Goodwill abounded! One Chef in an out- of- the- way Umbrian restaurant kissed my hand at the end of one memorable meal for my efforts to roll with the language. Another time, our waitress abandoned her service of us in frustration when we mis-ordered and mistakenly sent the wrong dish back.
Not all bad comes to harm. We learned that next time we’d keep the food to take home. Either way, we paid for the extra meal and apologized to the extra friendly management then tried to let it go.

I return to Indiana on fire to learn Italian. The pure pleasure of hearing it spoken, the serious music of it, won’t leave me. I return restored, wiser and younger at heart, sweetened back to myself and my faith in the goodness of the world. I feel my presence back home potently and with gratitude. I return having learned something by being around people who live the moment, go with the flow and don’t sweat the small stuff. I’m reading MORE about Italy now that I’ve returned than I did in preparation for or during the trip. I find this reading in light of having experienced more meaningful somehow. Thanks to all who shared their resources with me and now don’t mind my holing up with them just a little while longer.

BLR –for the Poplar Grove Muse

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

I'm making a list

In a few short days I will leave for St. Mary of the Woods on the annual Women Writing for a Change-Bloomington summer retreat. I will get two whole days, and two partial days to spend in the company of myself and fellow writers while reading, writing, and thinking. I am thrilled at the opportunity to honor my writing life in this quiet, contemplative place.

In my busy life now, I take almost no time to write which is my favorite activity aside from reading good books. Writing takes careful time, and it takes a clear, well rested brain, neither of which I possess in much abundance right now. One thing I do have is a laptop and a list. While I am doing laundry or schlepping kids to the pool or looking for batteries for the Wii, I think of writing puzzles or memories I would like to explore or an idea I want to further or a turn of phrase I think would be great in a poem. I grab my laptop and jot it down.

This list has become pretty long over the past few weeks, and I intend to explore as much of it as I can at the upcoming retreat. It feels comfortable knowing I won’t set myself up in a cozy writing corner and feel the dull hammer of writer’s block. No, not this writer; I’ll have a long list of prompts waiting for me to explore. Here’s item number one on my list: why I hate numbers.

What’s on your writing to do list?

Amy for the Poplar Grove Muse