Sunday, June 23, 2013

How to use an invisibility cloak

The kids had formed a kind of semi-circle around my son and me.  Each kid was holding onto a parent’s hand, and I felt the gaze of these dozen or so eyes, as I wrapped my whole body around my seizing son.  It was a gaze of pity.    

I have spent my life trying to avoid the gaze and dodge the stares of people.  I am not sure where this tendency comes from.  Perhaps it is from a life of always being slightly overweight.  Or perhaps I have learned to hate the constant comments and questions about the way I walk.  There is something about the feeling that everyone is looking at me that leaves me loose and unraveled.  Quit looking at me.  Sometimes I picture myself using Harry Potter’s famous invisibility cloak. 

And so here I am in the big gaze, trying to protect us both.  I drape my body over my son’s shaking torso somehow to stop the stares.  It seems a dramatic odd gesture; I know as I am doing it.  But how else can I break the spell?

A parent suddenly thinks better of the group stare and begins to usher people away. “Come, let's give them their privacy, “I hear one gentle mother say.  One child begins to cry and asks if he will die.  Another, voices a worry that my son is crazy, because it appears that he is.

And now instead of a semi-circle of staring kids and parents it is a scattered group of people all looking at this unfolding medical drama out of the corners of their eyes.  I can feel that the convulsions are slowing down. It is something intuitive that only I can sense after being party to so many seizures.  I back my body off of his and gaze at his limbs willing them to stop jerking and finally they do.

My son is fifteen, covered in acne, awkwardly dressed, kind of greasy from a night of camping, braces coated in food.  I love him, and he disgusts me at the same moment.  At a time when he should be vital, staggering around the camp ground texting friends, bored with little kids and life, he is helpless on the ground, bits of twig and leaves sticking to his hair.  The seizure is over.  He is unconscious.  He needs to sleep.  It lasted four minutes and forty two seconds a parent calls from somewhere. I make a note of it.

He will sleep in my lap for a few minutes while  I hold court with the parents, explaining what I need.  I get water and cookies and strong fathers help him up by the arms. 

Later, weeks later, when the same scene replays itself for a large group of my family, a cousin pulls me aside to tell me how glad she is she saw what she did.  I have empathy for you she says.  And it is one of the most important things anyone has ever said to me.  “Finally, I understand what you go through.”

And now here I am, poised in front of my computer, with the latest insult in all of this.  With a touch of a key, I press upload, and I send a video to YouTube that makes me cringe a bit.  It is five minutes and 17 seconds long. We taped one of his seizures: the one he had last week on the tennis court. I tag it "private" so no one will see it. But having it up there, seems in violation of the fundamental parenting rule:  first, do no harm.   I myself cannot watch it and stop the video after about 20 seconds. 

So the irony is, I hate the gaze, but yet, I know the witness of these events is important.  I need you to see him.  I need you to acknowledge what sort of a life we must lead with this involuntary horror that drops him to his knees almost weekly.  Please understand, I think, as I both cover his body with mine and feel grateful that someone else can see it.  Please understand, I think, as I cautiously watch the view counter on youtube go from zero to one.  

Amy for the PGM

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Ugly, That’s What It Is

I’ve been skirting around the fallen trees for several weeks.  I’m afraid to let my mind, my heart, settle on them, land in their downed branches—afraid I’ll get stuck there. This project of building a lake has been simmering on the back burner for more than ten years and this year we moved it to the front, turned up the flame and dived in with all four feet—the pain has been excruciating at times. Like the proverbial frog in the boiling water that begins to feel the burn but is too far gone to do anything about it. ‘Cept all the frog had to look forward to was death—we will have a 25 foot deep, 3½ acre lake and a house site for Darrell and Viv from this wreckage. As you can see, I’m still skirting the issue, already moving forward to the down-the-road outcome of all this carnage rather than the carnage itself.  It’s more peaceful to imagine the lake reflecting the still standing trees round about its perimeter than to look clearly at the crisscrossed mass of treetops in the valley, the wide swaths cut through the woods and denuded of all vegetation, the mud wallow created by the big machinery that dragged the money-making logs from the valley. 

Two hundred marketable trees.  $20,000 in the bank that will cover the next stage of the operation—moving half a hill from where it is to where it will be, transforming it into a dam, a 27 foot wall of clay/sand/mud that will hold back a world of water.

Several different timber bidders hiked the hills and valleys and sprayed their colorful tomcat spray on oak, maple, tulip, beech, hickory, ash, gum—prime hardwood trees marked for harvest. And, to harvest them, countless “no-value” trees were knocked down and mutilated by the gigantic skitter that dominated these woods for weeks along with the buzzing of chainsaws and the clunk of logs being loaded onto big trucks—18 semi-loads of logs—leaving enough tops and small damaged trees to heat our house and dozens of others into far distant winters. Ugly, that’s what it is, ugly.

Bill cut me a new path to the creek valley since my favorite path for nearly twenty years had been rendered impassable. A few days before he strapped on the weed eater and blazed the new trail, I had returned home from work and started for my walk in the woods, down the path behind our son Deet’s house. I had gone only a few yards before trunks and branches with withering leaves blocked the way. I turned back and headed up the lane to access the valley from a different direction. Bill was at the top of the hill working in the barn. “Whatcha doin?” he called and walked out to meet me. My breaking heart tore open when I heard his voice. “I started down the hill behind Deet’s and…,” I began sobbing deep, wailing sobs, and he put his arms around me, “Aw…babe…I’m sorry.” He held me and I cried. There was nothing else to do at that moment—just feel the pain, smack in the middle of that boiling pan we’d set on the front burner. There was no undoing the damage, no immediate crossing through to the other side—just the grieving and the holding one another.

When the sobbing subsided and I was mopping up my face with his handkerchief, he said, “Come on, I’ll go with you. We can walk around this way.” And off we went, around the mechanical T-Rex as its massive claws picked up fifteen-foot logs and dropped them onto a flatbed trailer, around the pile of logs almost as tall as our house, down the stripped bare, eight-foot-wide trail to the creek valley, stepping to the side as the giant skitter with its four-foot-wide tires pulled more logs out of the valley to our left, down past Grandmother Beech Tree—Bill had asked the workers to be careful with her; the man in charge had asked to be shown, not just told, which tree it was, so he could do just that.

We walked on, turning to the right and winding along the bank of the creek. The roaring of the machinery became a dull hum behind us as creeksong and birdsong sweetened the air. The spring greening of the valley had almost obscured the path that took us over to the large stand of sycamores. It is one of my favorite places on our land. Smooth white branches stretch high into the blue sky like arms raised in joyful hallelujahs. I leaned into the moss covered trunk of the biggest one, the one that I call my wailing wall, and Bill joined me as I sang the “Healing Chant” over and over again.

I still have bouts of crying. Like when I saw Grandmother Beech’s gnarly knuckled roots skinned a little. Like when they cut the second path through the woods on our ridge to access the soon-to-be-doomed hill. Like when my grandson refuses to come to our house because he is, as he put it, “Totally opposed to what we are doing to the trees.”  Mostly, I’ve been trying hard to focus on what will be instead of what is.

Mostly, I’ve been walking the county road instead of the woods trail, skirting the worst of the devastation, allowing my heart some room to heal.

Glenda for The Poplar Grove Muse  
(June 6, 2013)

Monday, June 10, 2013

Iona Reflections

Iona Writing Retreat

May 9, 2013


How did I get here? When did I decide this would be my path? Did I really have choices or did they just slow me down? Maybe bad choices aren’t anything more than lessons learned, lessons I was meant to learn this time around. So now I’m wondering how many times I have been around. It feels like a lot. Perhaps I’m just a slow learner with a long list of lessons facing the steep hill of a learning curve. How many times will I make this journey?

I knew the first time I saw my son that we had been on many journeys together. He is the old soul, the wise one, the guide. He’s a Libra, the balancing act, a weigher of options. I like to think of him weighing his options and deciding he wanted me as his mother, he wanted to journey with me again.

The spiral necklace I wear reminds me of my son and me, the sacred dance of the life death, birth cycle, spinning like Sufis into an altered state, whirling like Dervishes into joy. In Native American spirituality, the Grouse danced into action, bringing life to the prairies, attracting a mate and dancing into that space that is the next right thing.

Sometimes the next right thing is stepping into the silence. And it feels right that this journey to Iona is a journey of silences where I settle into the space that allows me to listen to my inner voice, the part of me that knows where this dance needs to lead me. And so it is that I come to this silence on Iona, the space between the spaces, to hold the paradox of movement and stillness.

Etched in Stone

Iona is etched in stone.
Layered in granite, pink and gray.
Balancing female and male energy.
And even though she is a thin place,
she is anchored in the sea by the rocks.
The restless water nipping at her shores,
changing the shapes of her rocks,
never to be replicated.
The wind doing its part,
in the shaping of this island.

But Iona continues to cling to her spot in this world,
as tenacious as the purple flowers
growing out of the stone walls
of the nunnery ruins.
Royal Purple for the kings brought here to rest.

The wind will not win this battle,
will never blow Iona away
Don’t think the stones are silent.
They are not.
They sing of Iona’s history.
They sing of her secrets.
Here we have time to listen.
We welcome her songs,
her stories, we need to hear.
Her secrets tell us
where we are in her journey.

This is why we return
to Iona
to hear more of our story.
Here we are required
to be our authentic selves.
Here our stone masks removed,
and we are free to stand solidly
on Iona’s rocky shores.
We are free to fly.

Rebekah for the Poplar Grove Muse.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Lea's Diary

Lea’s Diary

 Chapter one
The first bid was for two-dollars.   Then it was six.  I had just bid eight and decided I was willing to go up to as much as twenty.  I wanted those books. I raised my hand, signaling my ten-dollar bid.  The fast talking auctioneer urged the bidders higher but he had no other takers.  A little surge of adrenaline swept through me as I realize my bid has won.  The box of old books was mine.

I had picked up some intriguing pieces at the auction today and I think these books might be a real find.   A quick inspection at the car revealed that I had purchased fourteen books and an envelope full of old greeting cards.  The books were all smallish; most no bigger then a modern paperback and some were leather bound. The frayed edges poking out showed the books to be, if not well loved at least well used.  A group of blue cloth bound books proclaimed they were, MacMillan’s Pocket Classics.  Checking the titles I found, Silas Marner, Macbeth, Merchant of Venice and Treasure Island.  They must be high school English textbooks. These dated from the turn of the century, easily a hundred years old and in really good condition considering their age.   There were also copies of Dracula, The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds.  If any of these turned out to be first editions I will have truly found a treasure.

As I Pulled one of the larger books from the pile a newspaper clipping that had been stuck to its side fluttered to the ground.  Picking it up, I was delighted to see that it was a wedding announcement. Dated June 26, 1891, it gave the particulars of the marriage of Lea Smith and David James Dean.  I opened the book to put the scrap of paper inside and found a picture tucked in at the back.   An embossed cardboard folder held the picture, which was of a striking young Victorian couple. They stood beside a Grecian column, dressed in what I felt sure was their wedding finery.

Looking closely at the book I could just make out the letters L J S, that were imprinted on the front of the book. The letters were in an intricate, interlocking curlicue script so elaborate they were almost unreadable.  Opening the cover page, I found written in a small neat hand: Property of Lea June Smith. Leafing through the rest of the book I noted the dated entries that were scripted in the same tidy handwriting. What luck, this must be the journal of the young women mentioned in the marriage announcement and I thought, hopefully, the woman in the photograph. Tucking everything back in the box, I loaded up the car and headed home excited about my auction finds.
I needed to give everything a good cleaning but I was eager to get started on the part that I enjoy the most. I love to research the history of the things I find and making that connection with the past. So far my most interesting finds have been a mint condition antique Ouija board that I found in a box of old games, and a 1850s silver plate tilting water pitcher with cups. I always wonder what tales these things could tell if they could only speak. What stories were waiting to be discovered in the contents of this box? With that notion to motivate me I carried it into the house and got started.   

In the kitchen I dampened a soft cloth and began gently wiping the dirt and dust from the small volumes.  I saved the journal for last and picking it up set the picture and clipping aside for later review. I had been thinking of this as “Lea’s diary”, and was very curious to see what she had written.  After wiping the journal free of dirt I could see the spiral pattern of ivy vines that twined up and around the edges, some of the leaves spilled out and seemed to be supporting the faint gold letters of her initials.   Once, the ledger had been tanned a deep green but now the leather had faded to a soft gray and over the years, in the spots where it had been touched the leather was a shiny silver. 

Finished with the cleaning, I looked again at the picture. Taken in a portrait artist’s studio, the picture captured the faces of the young bride and groom, as they stood rigid, waiting for the flash. The girl in the picture had dark hair and it was crowned with a coronet of orange blossoms. From under the blooms the veil cascaded to the floor and pooled around her feet.  Her lips curved in a shy smile, but the eyes that stared at the camera’s lens looked out with an unapologetic and direct gaze.   There bodies did not touch except for where her hand rested on his sleeve.

I could wait no longer, taking the journal with me I settled into my favorite reading spot on the screened in porch and began to read.

January 1, 1890

Once again, I find myself acting as chaperone for M.  I know such is the lot of an older sister and while I am happy to accommodate her, I find it awkward to intercede when I feel their actions become inappropriate.  I will admit, I find the job less tedious now that they are betrothed.

Mother worries that I have not found a husband of my own but I do not have the same concerns. I think I would be happy being kind Auntie Lea, to M’s hoped for brood.

And there she was, Lea had arrived. This young woman from the past had reached across time and now sat with me on the sofa.  For the rest of the afternoon I was lost in Lea’s world.   I listened as she described the lace on M’s wedding gown and I felt her boredom while having tea with Aunt M J.

Totally engrossed in what I was reading, the time passed quickly and looking up at the clock I was surprised to see it was almost 9:30.  I started to close the ledger but then my eyes fell on this entry.

March 15, 1890

Beware the Ides of March, indeed! As of now, I promised to keep Mary’s secret between just the two of us but feel I may not be doing the best by her. I fear for her, if C should find out.

 Diana, for the Poplar Grove Muse