Tuesday, September 27, 2011

If You Saw Me (homage to Gerald Stern)

If you saw me riding a paint pony, Tonto, around a cool, dimly lit arena on a hot Chicago summer day, my short, 6-year-old legs barely reaching down past the saddle skirt, cantering for the very first time,

You would see a smile fill my face with all my heart’s joy as my body relaxed into that rocking motion and my mind thrilled to the speed.

If you saw me riding a dark bay horse, Charlie Brown, in an outdoor arena in the far northwoods of Minnesota with my fellow campers,

You would hear me laughing as the horse dropped out from under me in the space of one stride. You would see me climb off him just before he rolled in the sandy track, and watch, gleefully amazed at this display of personality.

If you saw me, age 15, galloping bareback cross-country on a blue-eyed albino, Silver Leaf, flying over stacks of hay bales, my hands entwined in that white mane,

You would know I felt in my whole body the power of those long limbs, those broad muscles, as he sailed through the air, and you would understand all my blissful dreams of flying to be reality.

If you saw me on a delicate bay thoroughbred mare, Valhalla, jumping with one perfect spring over poles stacked four feet high, going straight up and straight down in such harmony of motion, ease of momentum, grace of landing,

You would understand what I sought then as a teenager, and now – perfect unity with another living creature, achieved through delicacy of feel and abandonment of thought.

If you saw me out of control, clinging to my thoroughbred Spiffy’s black mane, wind whipping tears from my eyes, as he tore across the rocky Texas hill country until his urge to run was finally spent,

You would see me rise above caution, move through fear, and reach the place of trust.

If you saw me swimming bareback in the Carmel River with Windy, broad backed and solid bay Arabian mare,

You would see her repeatedly, playfully strike out from the shore, swim a large loop while my body streamed out across her back half floating, half pulled by her power through the cold water, and emerge again onto the bank dripping, shaking herself in the California sun.

If you saw me astride Kabir, white Arab glowing under the full moon as he stepped lightly through misty Indiana fields, or cantering in knee deep snow,

You would know the magic of horses’ gifts to me, and you would realize the depths of my gratitude.

Amy L for the PGM

Monday, September 19, 2011


Stories about the tenth anniversary of the attacks on the United States of September 11, 2001 have been prominent in the news. Everyone has been reflecting on where they were that day and how these horrors affected them and their loved ones. Even if we didn’t know anyone who died that day, we were still devastated as a nation. I can remember exactly where I was and who told me about the attacks on our country, just as when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963 when I was a senior in high school, I can remember exactly where I was when I heard that news. It was another devastating day for country. Casey was 28 years old when our country was attacked on 9/11 and we watched the news that night together, sitting in front of the TV in shock and hearing the stories of the sacrifices of the firefighters. I’m not sure how much that affected his decision to become a firefighter, but I imagine it had its influence on his ultimate choice to change professions. But this is not about our country’s tragedies. This is about my son, a firefighter/EMT.

The 9/11 anniversary coverage contained numerous features about firefighters and those were the stories I paid the most attention to. As I watched programs about these amazing men and women, I had a slow realization that there is a common trait among firefighters that is immediately recognizable. Even though each one is an individual with different physical attributes, ethnicities and genders, there is a certain look they all possess. It’s in their eyes and in their calm demeanor. To me, it is instantly recognizable. My son has that look.

He has been a full-time firefighter since 2007.He was 35 and just made it in under the wire for the cut off age of 36. He had worked in the family business since graduating from high school, running heavy equipment. It was a job that paid well, but that was about it. It was just a job. He told me when he was taking his training that he wanted to go home at the end of the day feeling that he had made a difference. And he’s certainly doing that now. I’m so proud of him.

He has always been a daredevil, fearless. When he was around 6-7 years old, there was a TV show he watched called Emergency! about Los Angeles county firefighters and EMTs. He loved that show. We bought him a record that played certain episodes of the show. He would go in his room and shut the door and play it over and over again. Maybe on some level he knew then what he wanted to do with his life. I’m so happy for him, that he has found the thing he loves to do in life. And that it gives him the time to do the things that he enjoys, that feed his creative spirit. He rebuilds muscle cars, restores history. He’s one of the most patient people I know and that serves him well in the tedious task of restoring a car from the wheels up, piece by piece.

He certainly has that firefighter aura about him. To me it says, “I’m here and everything is going to be okay.” He is a good person to have around when things get tough. He’s calm, reassuring and supportive, just the right formula to put people at ease when they are frightened or hurting, or both.

He’s an old soul, and we have been around many times together. It’s comforting to know that. That has helped me to let him go and be the person he needs to be in this world. And what a person he is! I believe that parents should lay the groundwork to put their child on solid footing to inhabit this world and then get out of their way and let them Become. I’ve always been able to say that I am proud of him. He has an inner fortitude that has been present since he was a child and had to face some tough physical and emotional challenges from an electrical burn. I have received the great gift of being able to say that I admire Casey for the person he has become. I admire and respect him. I am blessed to be his mother.

Rebekah for the Poplar Grove Muse

Thursday, September 15, 2011

9/11 All Over Again

We each remember the day so clearly, the perfect blue sky for those of us nearby in the Northeast, all crispness and clarity, the very best of fall in New England. We all remember in literally excruciating detail what we were doing, how we heard, the endless loops of destruction playing out over and over on our televisions, the emergency calls and commentary and analysis, rhetoric and remembrances, and throughout, the astonished collective grieving.

Ten years have passed, both quickly and painfully slowly. Two wars have multiplied and misdirected death and destruction in ways we could not, but should have, imagined. International solidarity has been transmuted into a complex soup of contradictory and self-justifying impulses.

People magazine’s cover profiles 9-year-olds born after the devastation of their fathers’ unexpected deaths, who will never know them. Every publication has manufactured coverage, some lesson or lecture or occasion for taking stock and counting blessings. Localities across the nation have scrambled to create memorials befitting the losses and the learnings of a decade, no doubt with varying degrees of success, but all with the intention to wrest something noble from the wreckage.

For those who suffered unimaginable losses on that day (and in the years since, in ways related or unrelated to 9/11), the evocation of grief is necessary, but necessarily painful. For those whose griefs are newer, the anniversary raises them afresh.

In the stunned aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, I promised myself to do everything I could to make my own days matter, to honor those who wouldn’t have that chance. The past weeks have been a time of taking stock, and renewing that promise to myself.

Mary for the Poplar Grove Muse

Monday, September 5, 2011


The Leaving

It is finally moving day and August has gifted us with a gloriously cool morning. The Fates and fortune that took us to Ohio twenty-seven years ago are now taking us back home, to Indiana.

The last fifteen of those twenty-seven years have been lived here, in this house. Built among an acre of spruce and pines, it was once our dream home, but now our dreams have changed. Now our hearts tell us we need to return to our hometown and the comforting circle of family and friends there.

Soon the last box will be stowed and this day will pass but for now the memories run deep and they roll through my mind in ceaseless vignettes. The days, the seasons, the years slipping past in the quick/slow tempo of recollection, the day is bittersweet.

The crew of movers is a friendly noisy group, experienced in handing not only the furniture but anxious homeowners as well. They chat as they move through the house assessing, wrapping and stacking our possessions.

The benches that Jay refinished when we first moved to Ohio are cocooned in layers of blankets, upended and carted off. Rocky, the jokester of the moving crew, points out that the big dresser I have had since I was twenty should never be moved because of its weight. It is the same comment we hear every time it is moved and that makes me smile. The elaborately scrolled wooden secretary, handed down from Jay’s mother is admired as they discuss the best way to protect its glass front. The bright yellow, numbered stickers placed on every box, crate and piece of furniture is that item’s ticket to board the truck to Indiana.

Retreating from the rush I find a seat on the screened in porch and John, the lead mover, seems to understand that I am having a difficult day and tells me he will leave the table and chair on the porch until the last. Knowing that I need my little spot of refuge until they have finished. How nice it is to sit here, where I have sat so many times before, reading, writing, and watching the birds.

More quickly than I can imagine each stickered box, each piece of furniture finds its way into the cavernous maw of the truck. All of our possessions fitting together inside like a giant 3-D jigsaw puzzle. Every trip they make in and out of the house depletes the rooms until we are left standing in the large empty space that was our family room. Making sure nothing remains, we gather even these last memories and walk out the door.

At the closing, excitement is bursting from the young couple buying our house but we are stuck in this moment of transition, not in either place. We still have the three and a half hour drive to Indy to make tonight, so we get in the cars to head west. It is a familiar trip, one taken many times over the years, yet this one feels different. As I drive, I think about the bonds that tie us to the place we are leaving and those we are traveling toward. Life changes and we are changing with it. We look forward to being home.

As our cars pull into my sister’s driveway, family surrounds us and I know that this moving day is finally over, this first step in the journey of returning. There will be other difficult parts I know, but perhaps this was the hardest, the leaving.

Diana for Poplar Grove Muse