Category Archives: sacred

Longing For Landscapes

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North Dome on the left and Half Dome on the right, with the Merced River dividing the two: Walking in the Yosemite Valley this summer.

“To experience a place, I need to walk in it as often as I can. Abenaki native poet Joseph Bruchac says, ‘We need to walk to know sacred places, those around us and those within. We need to walk to remember the songs.’”
—Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge

Inspired by my recent trip to Yosemite, I decided to ask the incarcerated women I write with on Fridays to explore their own inner and outer landscapes; to share the special places they’ve been, to reveal their own travel dreams and experiences.

We began, as always, with a poem; this day it was The Sound of a Train:

“Even now, I hear one and I long to leave/without a suitcase or a plan; I want to step/onto the platform and reach for/the porter’s hand and buy a ticket/to some other life…”
—Faith Sharon

This generated yet another poem, constructed from readback lines I gathered during our opening words:

Even Now

Even now, I long to step into big landscapes./ I long to step into a new way of life./ I long to step into the living room of my own home./ Even now, I long to step into reality, into memories; to get back what’s lost./ Even now, I long to step into this new sober life that I started to create./ I want to see my children again./ Even now. —Collective Poem, Community Transitions Center Writers, July 14, 2017

Each of the stories that followed became another collective poem I constructed from their readback lines:

Travel Longings

I traveled to North Carolina./ It was so beautiful./ It was a big change for me, but a good change./ I was not ready to come back.

I went to Baptist./I remember it like it was an hour ago./ One minute apart./ I couldn’t sit straight up. I had to get on all fours in the front seat./ He didn’t know what to do./ At 12 a.m./ Chris stayed with her the whole time./ Just because he’s gone doesn’t mean he has to be forgotten.

It was very far from my heart./ I wouldn’t deem it special just yet./ Especially to a 5-year-old, sitting with stories inside of her./ I don’t know my real name./ There’s a new life to claim./ You can change you but not your experiences./ My honesty amazes me./ I was unwanted and lived my life like that.

A penguin./ And yet it still thrives./ The penguin mates for life. / It’s love is loyal./ Love and loyalty means the most to me in this world.

A journey inside myself./ Banning away the fog./ Trees surround me./ A marble archway and a red door./ A little black kitten emerges./ She brushes my leg./ My world disappeared.

—Collective poem, CTC writers, July 14, 2017

I’ll share my own travel story in my next entry.

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East Wind Blowing

IMG_4878The robins are coming to life.  The loose flocks lurking around the neighborhood are now moving in, feasting on the red holly berries that just turned the proper degree of ripeness after January’s crisp nights.

The activity in the backyard this morning caught my eye as the robins darted from pine to holly and then back again, like trapeze artists in a circus performance.

A plump, speckled one suddenly landed on the fence, eyeing me as I came out the back door for a closer look.

Round, red breast.
Beady, black eye.
Fast, firm grip.

She contemplated me, pausing for a moment in the work of her life: to pluck ripe berries before making her way up North for nest-building time.  It’s a natural process that can’t be stopped; a force of nature that can’t avoided.

“You better be ready for a growth stage,” she seemed to say, eyeing me steadily.

I’m a bit surprised to find that I am.

IMG_4383As I look at the photos of the new house I covet—a cute cottage, just the right size, in just the right neighborhood—I realize I’m actually looking forward to change.  I’m not holding on to this place.  The bright red door of possibility is as warm and welcoming as the robin’s breast.

“Change is coming,” the robin told me. “You must learn to tolerate the strain.  Don’t let Change stomp all over you with clumsy work boots and thick soles.  Let Change gently blow you to your new destination, like the East wind that brought Mary Poppins to #17 Cherry Tree Lane.”

It’s true that change is inevitable, like the turn of the seasons, like the robins’ need to eat and  migrate, like the balmy spring that will follow the frozen winter of my heart.

Spring is my favorite season, after all.  Perhaps I can tuck its blooms into my own red breast and get ready to migrate to my new home.

Here.
In the garden.

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I Hung Curtain Rods on Christmas Eve

IMG_2683We’d hoped to get to the Christmas Eve service, but when my dad realized it was at 7 p.m., not at midnight, I think the plan started to fall apart in his head.

Frankly, he’d rather hang curtain rods.

I’d given him a very long list of of repairs to do when he arrived to spend Christmas week with me this year.  The kids were visiting their dad in Texas, and we had a lot to accomplish before they returned home. Although I’m fairly competent with a screwdriver, making those small, time-consuming household repairs has been a bit beyond me since my divorce.  I used to have contractors take care of all that — which was, in and of itself, a lot to manage.  Now I work with a more modest budget and mostly my own two hands.

Which is how I found myself at Lowe’s on Christmas Eve, in the faucet repair aisle, while my dad was at home fixing the plumbing under my bathroom sink. It was my third trip to Lowe’s in three days, and I was down to a sink gasket, a #2 screwdriver, and a curtain rod.

IMG_3016I asked the woman standing next to me scouring the same rack what SHE was doing at Lowe’s on Christmas Eve. She informed me, rather matter-of-factly, that all of her family members were in Chicago, so she did not have any Christmas Eve plans except home improvement.

Horrified by the loneliness of that statement, I scurried away, glad to be going home to my Dad. I might be hanging curtain rods on Christmas Eve, but at least I was doing it with family.

When I got back, Dad was just finishing up the plumbing job, which had required him to spend a lot of time on his back under the sink. At 85 years old, this was no small feat.  I admired his fortitude, and wondered aloud if I should put the trout in the oven to cook while I jumped into the shower and dressed for the service.

Dad admitted that, actually, he really didn’t want to go anyway.  He’d rather take a hike on Christmas Day for something special and just finish up the open jobs that night.

IMG_3019What a relief!  My shoulders loosened and I celebrated by taking a little extra time to whip up a rather delicious Hollandaise sauce for the broccoli.  The trout browned nicely in the oven and I set the table with the Limoges china from my mother, gold-rimmed stemware from my grandmother, recently gifted silverware from my sister.  It was nice to think of all of them being present with us while we sat down to enjoy our meal.

After dinner, I put a homemade crumb-top apple pie in the oven as our intended reward for the evening’s tasks, and we headed upstairs for the curtain rod job.

Which came out beautifully.
So did the pie.

When we sat down together just before midnight to warm pie and cold ice cream, I was glad that we had stayed home instead of rushing to the service.  I might’ve pushed it, on my own, driven by that old desire to do it all and then some. But sometimes, I’ve learned, the best way for me to “honor thy Father” — and my own self — is by keeping it simple.

My dad takes his first selfie ever on our Christmas Day hike in Guana Reserve.

My dad takes his first selfie ever during our Christmas Day hike in Guana Reserve.

I sent the kids a Merry Christmas text before I went to bed, so as not to intrude upon their Christmas Eve activities with their dad, and fell asleep content, with visions of apple pie, curtain rods, and repaired plumbing dancing in my head.

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Early Morning Fall Mist

photo

photo by @dalbacky on instagram http://instagram.com/dalbacky

I just peeped outside the front door, through the leaded glass panes, and saw a thin bank of mist out there.

Reminds me of the mist on the farm where I grew up, hanging low in the valley around the house and barn early in the morning.

Mist makes the world mysterious, briefly transforming it into something special — and then it’s gone again, a small gift only for early risers.

Through the back door I see a female cardinal at a feeder that’s been empty all summer. The season is changing, and plants and animals are in a different relationship with each other. Perhaps the birds are starting to stock up again on my bird seed, prepping for winter.

Fall mornings these days include me urging Matthew out the door on time for school — which didn’t work out today. It also includes walking the dog, perhaps with a slight coolness in the air, looking about us as we go, searching for signs of the turning season.

Or is it me that’s turning, entering the fall season of MY life?
The thought lingers, like a thin mist, lying low in my garden.
Maybe.
Or maybe not quite yet.

Here.
In the garden.

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Bird By Bird: On A Quest for the Summer Tanager

I decided to go on a quest for a summer tanager today.

I’m having a “staycation” while the kids are out of town, so, outdoor adventures close to home are in order.

Last week's run through the woods...aka, "Walking Under Raccoons," or, "Touched by a Swallowtail," or "Wish I had bug repellant with me."

Last week’s run through the woods…aka, “Walking Under Raccoons,” or, “Touched by a Swallowtail,” or “Sure wish I had bug repellant with me.”

On last week’s adventure, I ran through Guana Reserve, where I spotted “giant garden spiders, an armadillo, two white-tailed deer, a raccoon in the trees I walked under, a hawk nest, a white cloud butterfly, a swallowtail butterfly, an impassable flooded trail, snakes in the grass, ticks, fiddler crabs, leaping frogs, lizards, birds, and that was enough,” as I noted on Instagram.

This week, I hit the Guana Wildlife Preserve, where my new photographer friend Don Christian said I might spot the tanagers.  “Just head for the oaks and keep looking up in the trees!” he said.

I was thrilled to hear that I might be able to see these mysterious creatures!  I am in love with tanagers.  Last summer I happened upon several scarlet tanagers in the mature woods of the Laurel Mountains in Pennsylvania. I was practically euphoric.

My son, Matthew, and I have had summer tanagers on our “watch list” for a few years now, but, I never knew where to find them.

Now I do.

deep in the oak trees at Guana Wildlife Preserve

Deep in the oak trees at Guana Wildlife Preserve

So, I packed a lunch of peanut butter and jelly, scribbled the directions in my journal, stocked up with water, two cameras, natural bug repellant (I HATE that stuff but this was necessary!), my phone, and a song in my heart.

So, this is what “following your bliss” feels like, eh?

But first, the run.  I planned to combine bird-watching AND running the trails.  (p.s. this is not really good for spotting birds).  I figured I would run first, THEN come back with the camera.

Well, it wasn’t great for bird-watching per se, but, I did get to see lots of other things:  beautiful Florida oak groves, many swallowtails, fiddler crabs, and lots and lots and LOTS of flies, mosquitos and horseflies.  But hey — no ticks!  (So far, anyway).

Cool lizard with lunch in his mouth.

Cool lizard with lunch in his mouth.

Once again, as I got to the outer reaches, and took a wrong turn, and ended up further away than I thought, I did say to myself, Hmmm…why DO I have to do everything so hard?  As I turned into a grassy section, the signs said the trails sometimes flood.  Did that stop me?  Oh, no.  I just went deeper and deeper in the woods.

I was on a quest, you see.

Well, eventually, the flooding did stop me, so, I had to turn around.  But that’s when I bumped into the baby armadillo!  Such a cutie!  He was hunched up in the grass, as if he was thinking,  “Hey, if I cover my head, maybe she won’t see me!”  But I sure did, and stopped running long enough to take out my phone and snap a shot — even though the lens was steamed up.  I got super close and he untucked his head and looked up at me, with his cute little pink ears and  sweet face.  I smiled and kept going.

Baby armadillo through my steamed up iPhone lens!

Baby armadillo through my steamed up iPhone lens!

Finally, I reached the parking lot again, and took out my camera for the “bird watch” part.  I thought I had heard an Eastern towhee in the pine section, but I couldn’t tell for sure.  Needed the telescope lens of the camera.

So, very quietly, with a LOT more bug spray on me, I headed down the trails.  I saw a weird lizard with something in it’s mouth, which I now realize was a bug he just ate.  Ewww!  I saw a delightful blue bee, a green dragonfly, wildflowers, a painted lady butterfly, and a lovely brown moth.

I spotted a baby cardinal, sitting shyly behind a branch.  I heard bullfrogs.  And I spotted something high up in the trees…yessss…it was…an Eastern towhee!

Spotted an Eastern Towhee, even though he was not singing the exact same "drink your tea" as they have on my birdsong CD...maybe a Florida version?

Spotted an Eastern Towhee, even though he was not singing the exact same “drink your tea” as recorded on my birdsong CD…maybe a Florida version?

OK, not a tanager.  BUT, this was the first towhee I ever located on my own, and was able to photograph!  So, that was plenty exciting for me.

So now, I guess I just have to go back, and see if I can get the tanager.  I’ll keep listening to Stan Tekiela’s CDs on “Birds Of Florida,” to try to recognize the tanager song.

But I’ve got one more bird to check off my Life List, and I’m plenty happy with that.

Here.
In the Florida garden.

 

Painted lady

Painted lady

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Camille’s Birthday

Journal Entry
February 19, 2014

Camille’s Birthday

Oh, what a joy it is, to have a daughter!
Oh, how I can remember EXACTLY
what it was like when she was born —
the entire birth process, from waking up at 3 a.m.
when I felt the contractions start
to driving to the hospital
(and stopping for video camera cartridges)
and how the bumps in the road
triggered more contractions,
and standing in the bathroom
alone feeling a little sorry for myself,
knowing the pain that was coming,
to sitting in my bed
to try to manage my contractions
(dumb; I worked so hard at it that
I actually slowed down the birth process,

which Jack later pointed out),
to fussing at him for making noises
like crackling the newspaper and
squeaking his shoes on the floor,
to him feeding me ice chips from a styrofoam cup
to almost throwing up

from the pain and holding on to him
and then standing up and pushing with him
for three entire hours! and then seeing the crown
of her head in the mirror and summoning
the last of my strength
to push push push so they would not have to
grab her head with the suction cup
and then finally, finally out she came,
that beautiful rose-colored baby 8 pounds 9 ounces
I will never forget
and her will her indomitable will
as she lustily cried her lungs out while the poor nurses
tried to clean her up and ink her foot for a footprint,
and then wrapped in my arms again, tight
in a cotton blanket with a knit cap
in baby colors against our red and blue pillow case
behind me as I looked down at her
feeling absolutely triumphant
and Jack was outside crying
and then we were back again together
showing her off to family but
I never once never even once thought of
letting anyone else hold her
and then finally the next day my mother came
and she held her in her lap
and unwrapped the blankets so she could see
her perfect little body with her strawberry mark
on her shoulder and the dark, dark hair
covering her head, and Jack’s face
inches from hers adoring her
and we were so, so happy.

Camille Rose Guidry
February 19, 1995
9:19 p.m.
Touro Infirmary
New Orleans, Louisiana

photo

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Poem about last night

IMG_4274

They arrived in the dark.
I’d lit candles all around the house,
except on the big table. Waiting.

Wrapped in colorful coats, holding
purses and journals and expectations,
they alighted on my doorstep.

Bird by bird.

I embraced them all,
even the strangers.

They circled around the kitchen
counter, got their drinks, and
pecked at the snacks.

Names were exchanged,
connections were made,
compliments were shared.

No one questioned why I had
a Jane Austen ball gown hanging
on my pantry door. (until later)

Then we gathered in the circle,
and breathed our collective breath.

Inhale.
Exhale.
Inhale.
Exhale.
Inhale.
Exhale.

The pens, and one pencil, emerged.
Some timidly, some boldly,
to scribe their words.

They were heard.
Names were dropped into the circle, like seeds.
Words, intentions, hopes and dreams were shared.
The candle flickered, and held their secrets.

They left in a flurry of jangling car keys,
re-wrapped grace scarves and last-minute questions,
and returned to the darkness from which they came.

But perhaps each carried, in their
hearts, the lit candle, a bit of warmth,
a sip of the sacred.

I cleaned up the kitchen,
went to bed, and closed my eyes.
When I opened them again, this time really opened them,
there they were, the birds, on the feeder.
Waiting for more.

Here.
In the garden.

IMG_4275

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