Monday, September 29, 2014


As I sat at the computer mid-afternoon, I heard the muscular, loud reverberation of fast beating wings close to me in the house.  (We have difficulty getting any cross ventilation going in this modern construction, and I am frequently guilty of leaving un-screened doors propped open in the hopes of coaxing a breeze into the house, which sometimes also entices bees, wasps, mosquitos, and my childrens’ howls of frustration inside.) I stood up immediately, my reptile brain alert and ready to confront an enormous stinging insect.

Instead, I was astonished to find that a hummingbird had trapped itself in our home, and was frantically levitating seven feet up, trying not to crash into yet another wall or ceiling. It seemed to me to be equally astonished to be so close to me.

I had never been so close to a hummingbird without a window between us. In such proximity, the exotic creature seemed even moreso, its stiletto of a beak even longer and thinner, the variegation on its wings even more sharply defined and gorgeous, the dark eyes so shiny.

As I stood up, the tiny thing crashed into both perpendicular walls of the near corner, then flopped onto the white melamine computer desk, where it remained, wings akimbo, possibly injured, certainly subdued by its own uncharacteristically unsuccessful navigation. We looked at each other in mutual uncertainty (or so it seemed to me).

Somewhat frantic to see if it was uninjured, I was not at all certain what to do. I started toward the phone to call a friend who used to write our local bird column: Damn, moved to Ohio for a plum job. What about Wildcare?  Then, I caught myself up short. You can solve this, Mary.  Aren’t you the woman whom friends have called upon over the years to get bats, squirrels, birds out of their apartments?  What has become of your on-the-fly competencies, which you used to possess in abundance?? (Definitely a topic for a future blog entry.)

Regretting having bestowed the girls’ butterfly net on a young friend of a more appropriate butterfly-netting age, I cast about in my mind for another makeshift gentle-entrapment device. In short order, I arrived upon a threadbare lightweight cotton dishtowel, inherited from my grandmother.  Tossing it lightly over the breathless bird on the desk, I scooped up my precious cargo, walked outside and carefully deposited it on the patio table. By now the tiny creature was shrieking, crying a shrill cry I didn’t know birds ever made. 

In brilliant autumn sunlight, I lifted the upper portion of the worn towel, breathless to see if the bird could, would fly.  It did, immediately, soaring into the bright blue in expanding circles, uninjured, free.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Postmarked Freedom

Freedom straddles State Road 231 ten miles or so south of Spencer.  A couple of churches and a storage building ride the right hand side of the road and a post office, filling station, and boarded up general store ride the left.  Houses, mobile homes, and vehicles—from tractors to Toyotas—stretch a block or two in every direction and add a hodge podge of color and shape to this dusty little wide spot in the road.  A railroad track draws a straight-lined border to the south and a clear demarcation between Freedom and the west fork of the White River. The 45 mph speed limit sign slows the steady flow of semis and other travelers as we make our way to and from our separate wherevers.  Freedom, Indiana.

I drive through Freedom every time I go to Daviess County to visit my husband Bill's family, to Perry County to visit my sister Reta, and to Wabash Valley Prison to visit my friend Phillip.  If I've remembered to write a letter or stick some photos in a card for either Phillip or Brandon, another inmate/friend at Wabash that I correspond with, I pull in at the little Freedom Post Office and drop my mail into the big blue mailbox. “Postmarked Freedom.” I smile at the thought of a little bit of Freedom sliding into those prison cells.

The typical green road sign that bears the town name also proudly proclaims Freedom to be the home of “Babe Pierce—Tarzan.”  Who would've thought it? A little boy grew up here who claimed his freedom and flew away to become a movie star!  That tidbit of history and my monthly trips back and forth through Freedom have been percolating in the songwriting section of my brain for a couple of years.  I've actually been “writing down the bones” of the song for over a year to a tune that refused to be forgotten.  I sang an almost finished version to Phillip—with Phillip—one afternoon in June this summer.  He's an extraordinary songwriter; he and Brandon sing with and for other men in church services there at Wabash on a weekly basis.  He made good suggestions for improving the song: leave out a word here, a syllable there; change the rhythm a little here, put more emphasis there.  He gave me the beginning two lines of the last verse.  And his how-he-lives-his-life inspiration is the heart and soul of the song.

I'm pretty sure it's finally finished—after months and months of passing through Freedom, reading that Tarzan sign, and dutifully checking my own freedom at the front gate of Wabash Valley, walking through the six electronically controlled steel doors, and making my way to  Table 9 or Table 11, or whatever table I'm instructed to sit at, to wait for Phillip to emerge from the inner belly of the prison. And now Bill has picked it out on his guitar and we're almost ready to sing it in public. So...that's the story behind the song Postmarked Freedom. Here are the words:

Tarzan used to live here but he moved to Hollywood—
He took freedom for granted and he moved because he could;
He swam in this river before he met Cheetah and Jane—
Before he swung through the jungle singing his Tarzan refrain.

This road I'm driving down takes me through Freedom town—
I mail letters to my friends in prison postmarked Freedom.

There are thousands of men just beyond these Indiana cornfields—
They took freedom for granted, got locked behind doors made of steel;
Some say they're good for nothing, but some of them or nothing but good—
They'd give their tattoos and their gold teeth to be walking through Freedom's hood.


Freedom's a decision that belongs to everyone—
No matter the color of your skin or what you've done;
Swinging through the jungle or locked behind doors made of steel—
In your heart, in your mind, find the time to make freedom real.

Freedom is a hard-bought thing—I've heard it said
And I've read it on the sign beside the VFW;
But if love and compassion is your daily bread and wine—
Freedom doesn't cost a dime!

(Repeat first verse and chorus)

 Glenda for the Poplar Grove Muse

Monday, September 15, 2014

Old McDonald had a Farm



When my granddaughter was almost six she started taking piano lessons. After she had taken them for a few weeks I asked her how she liked playing the piano.

She enthusiastically explained what she had been learning and that now she could play whole songs. Then, with fingers wiggling in the air she raced off to the piano to perform.  

She climbed up on the bench and perched her small frame on the edge. Searching through the music books she selected the one she wanted and spread it open on the music rack.  Concentrating, small feet stretching to touch the petals she began to play, Old McDonald had a farm. The notes were sometimes hesitant but each one struck true and pride in her achievement reflected on her young face.  Had you looked you would have seen it mirrored on my face as I watched her.  

I asked her to show me where “middle C” was and she plunked a white key in the middle of the keyboard. Looking up she asked, “Is that right?” I told her I didn't know for sure because I didn't know how to play piano.   She considered this for a moment and then her face lit up as she said, “I can teach you to play!” 
 I sat down at the bench and pulling Emma onto my lap we began my piano lesson. Pointing to the diagrams in the book she explained about finger position and then taking my left hand she spread my fingers and gently placed each one in its proper place. Satisfied with their placement she then pressed each of my fingers down with hers, in the sequence of the melody.  All the while she was giving instruction on how to read the diagrams and music notes in the book.  Once she felt I had mastered the left hand fingering we moved on to the right hand and repeated the technique.  Her attention to the process was complete and each time I made an error she would patiently show me again the proper way to play it.  When I could finally play it correctly all the way through she beamed, almost as proud of me as she had been of her own accomplishment.

It was a simple thing, that time sitting at the piano together but one of those sweet moments to be tucked away in memory. In my mind's eye I can still see us sitting there, heads bent over the keyboard.  I can see her small square hand lying on top of my large wrinkled one.  I remember how she carefully placed each of my fingers on the piano key, gently pressing down to make each note with me until I could repeat the sequence by myself.  I can hear her small childish voice, patient as she explained and encouraged my efforts.

She will be ten soon and she probably doesn't remember that afternoon when she taught grandma how to play piano and that is okay. I will hold that dear memory for both of us. For me it was a treasured moment in an ordinary day with my granddaughter.

Diana, for the Poplar Grove Muse

Monday, September 8, 2014

In-Between; Bearable and Beautiful

They swing out of the mountains to meet us on the shores of Lake Michigan. We reach out to catch them.  Grown daughters, both legal now, so this will be the first time we can do grown up things together, like go to wine tastings, visit a new brewpub in the village, read our grown up books quietly together, make music with new-found skill. We’ll joyfully share the place my husband and I have come to love since they’ve been gone.   We’ll hike, ride and walk the country roads, soak in the pine scented woods while soaking in a hot tub, re-discover one another in engaged, grown up conversations after time away. We’ll linger around the candlelight after simple dinners we will conceive of and make easily together.

They swing out of the mountains, weary, breathless, glad to see us, full of new levels of competence and some heartbreak; having worked long, hard days at high altitudes.  Having experienced love’s impermanence, full now of more questions about their futures than answers.  Did I say weary? Homesick?  Uncertain?

After our initial gorge on summer stories (everything from sexist foremen, to shamanism, to higher callings, to hysterical camp counselor tales, to the possibility -for one- of dropping out of college altogether) we catch up from the past months.  Then they retreat together into, surprise!- you tube videos, binge watching of Orange is the New Black. They are texting their faraway friends. After a couple of days they each retreat further into a kind of aimless stupor that is vaguely familiar to me.  They indulge our requests for outings but chafe in the back seat of the car.  We can feel it.  Their old sibling positions and patterns in the family re-emerge.  

And so do ours.

Fast forward to the breakfast table in a lovely yet isolated and cramped north woods cabin where we are discussing their plans for an early departure from the family vacation.  The weather’s been bad. Our daughters are anxious.  We realize we had unspoken expectations and assumptions about this time together. They want to be back at the real homestead in Indiana. They want their own bedrooms, the familiar sweetgrass scents of summer in Bloomington, a place to curl up and re-group. They want to be in the front seat of cars they drive themselves. 

We, the parents, are anxious because we know they want to bust out.  Mixed up with all of it are the surprise emotions (again!) of deep sadness, of knowing full well the complexity of this family thing—and the individuating going on. The continual catching and releasing we do of one another.  There's this pendulum swing I feel for each of us-- of relief and discomfort with landing back in the bosom, an ache for something that no longer exists, grief within that, and the awkwardness of not knowing ourselves since every person is changing by leaps and bounds.  Each of us in our own skin, crawling to find ourselves by letting go and holding on.   Again.  For me, it's the familiar parental landscape of cluelessness and extreme discomfort in the midst of another developmental shift--this time, very much for all of us.

Needless to say, and I'm not proud of it, there are tears.  Mine mostly.  I break all the rules of loving detached parenting, suddenly overcome with something akin to desperate clinging, the way I gripped my mother's legs whenever she'd leave me when I was little.  Except these are my grown children.  A child deep inside of me sobs for some impossible sense of permanence and deep-fused harmony. Something static and sure.  I'm once again humbled and stunned at my own raw need.  

The domino effect at this breakfast meeting is that each of us says what’s true for the moment. More tears. Some interesting role reversal between the parents and the kids.   It’s either a scene from a Nora Ephron film or a Saturday Night Live skit-- take your pick.

I remember myself 30 years ago coming home after six months in Denmark…miserable when I return because the changing language of my life is no longer exactly the language of the people I came from, and because I feel them--my dear mom and dad, wanting so achingly to preserve something from our past life as a family that I both want and don’t want anymore because I don’t fit back in the space left yawning by my absence.


I somehow thought, given my enlightenment about these things, we’d escape this stage with our young adults; that my children would simply want to hang out and “become” with us because, come on, we’re really interesting and cool, and real with them and supposedly open to our collective evolution. 

But…you know that’s not the way it goes.  

They decide to stay, swearing it’s not our tears or some grand manipulation, but that we’ve all been able to be honest about how hard this is for each of us.  Life lived in the transitions.  Let’s face it.  It’s where we find ourselves living most of the time and it’s uncomfortable, awkward and weird.  And that admission is enough to make a few more days together in the grand scheme of this long lifetime bearable and beautiful.  

BLR  9/8/14

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

How to Be Patient

I often hear people say they are not patient enough to teach or homeschool. They could NEVER do it. It's not "in" them. I'm never quite sure how to respond. Yes, patience is needed, but patience is not a gift only some of us are given. She, Patience, is in each of us, waiting (patiently in fact) for us to call upon her.

In truth, we are all teachers whether we wish to be or not, especially if we are parents. We facilitate and model; we gift to our children the ways we handle situations, speak to others, treat others. We teach our beliefs, values, how we take care of ourselves; they learn all this by watching us interact in the world.

And these are the lessons they learn the quickest.

And they are always watching.

In truth, we gift our children these lessons whether we wish to give them or not.

So, as parents we start to rethink (to be present) in what we are modeling, in how we are speaking, in what we want to be for our children. We become more present in our practices, in the words we choose, because when we don't, we witness what we hoped not to pass on.

Having patience is no different.

If we are to give patience well, it is simply about being present.

And being present means...we do one thing at a time. Put our whole self into the experience.

It means we don't allow distractions to take our attention away.

It means truly wanting to be where we are or at least with the person we're with.

It means the laundry, dishes, bills, tv shows, facebook, whatever we "could be doing" is not nearly as important as what we are doing.

Patience also asks us to problem solve. How do we figure out how to reword, rethink, redo what isn't working without giving up, giving in, or getting angry.

And she asks us, most importantly maybe, to be gentle. We will lose her. We all do. We have too many strings pulling on us and we forgot to breathe and we aren't sure what to focus on.

So we cut some strings, because we must. We are not puppets. And we try again to focus on that one person or one thing that is needing us to say, "You have my attention."

And then...
Patience, she comes, willingly, to all of us.

 (a repost from my blog-