Category Archives: writing

Even Now, I Long for the Adventure

misty-shot-yorkshire-dales-settle

“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 Shearin, “The Sound of a Train”

I had such a precious time that summer in England, walking in the moors, being by myself with the sheep and the rabbits and my journal.

I wasn’t lonely. I wasn’t even cold, though it was rainy and damp in mid-July. I had to make a fire each morning in the wood stove of the English cottage where I was staying. The glowing hearth made it a little harder for me to leave, but even then, the wildness called to me—the adventure, the romance of walking somewhere unknown, discovering giant landscapes, pockets of flowers, massive rocks on a cliff.

I stood on some of those rocks the first day and heard the lonely call of the Lapwing, my only companion it seemed: pee-wit, pee-wit, pee-wit.

I was alone but not lonely. Well, sometimes I was, maybe a little. I could always talk to strangers in the pub over dinner—like the father and son who were hiking together across the top of England. Even now, I long to step back into that landscape, that time, that conversation, again.

We were in “the highest pub in England,” where I’d driven on a lark late in the day, my tiny car hugging the ground as it climbed higher and higher into the top of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. After a delightful conversation and a half-pint with my fish-and-chips dinner, it was time to head home. I had a long drive ahead of me. At 9:30 at night, it was still light outside but the darkness was coming.

I set the GPS and followed it, noticing it was taking me back a slightly different way, but I trusted it—even though another voice in my head said, Are you sure?

The scenery around me became more and more desolate—barren, rocky fields, high cliffs, no signs of life. I came to the bottom of a hill and stopped the car, stunned. A rushing torrent of water was flowing over the road in front of me, fast and fierce. How would I get through it? (It never occurred to me to turn back and go another way.)

I looked around in the darkness and found a rock at least six inches high. I threw it into the middle of the stream, to see how deep it was. The water swallowed the stone completely. I got back in the car, and, gritting my teeth, drove straight through.

Even now, I long to be on the lonely road and feel the exhilaration of getting to the other side.

—from a fast write on July 14, 2017, with the women at the Community Transition Center, on the theme of “poetry of place.”

Reflection: I enjoy using the exact same materials for those on the “inside” (incarcerated women) and those on the “outside.” I absolutely change nothing. They totally get it. The format for the circles allows each to experience the poetry and the prompts in whatever way works for them. It’s accessible but also deep. I listen to their stories, and they listen to mine. And we never know what’s going to happen on the other side!

photo credit: Independent Cottages, UK

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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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Waiting for the Birds

 

 

Return from Yosemite
Journal Entry, June 9, 2017

I’m back in my writing chair, drinking my coffee and waiting for the birds. The feeders weren’t completely empty this morning, but mostly, so I added fresh suet and seed. Now, I wait.

Ah. Here they come.  First, the intrepid blue jay, with his low, insolent whistle. Then a red-bellied woodpecker. Both just stop by to say hello, but not to eat. Then, surprise—the shy brown thrasher, bird of a thousand songs, who lands on a branch with tail cocked high. I step to the window to watch him as he dives to peck at the seeds sprinkled below the feeders, among the grasses.

I watch silently at the window, and Buster, impatient with my ups and downs, hops onto the couch instead of waiting for me to sit back down on my chair.  From there he can keep an eye on me without being disturbed.

Now the jay and the house finch arrive, and their darting movements disturb the absolute stillness surrounding me inside and outside this house. It’s already deep summer here in my Riverside neighborhood, and the heat and the humidity blanket all.  Sunday morning: Not many are out and about.

Ah—my favorite, the downy woodpecker, finds the fresh suet. My wait is rewarded.

What a huge tumbleweed of experiences and images I’ve experienced over the past week!  It’s been difficult to take it all in without my early morning writing time to process it, putting space between the experiences of each day—like trying to read a page in a book without whites space between the lines and in the margins.

But here I am now, in the absolute stillness and quiet, watching the birds return, as do my thoughts, my memories, my experiences of the past week. Each thought a bird, landing silently on the branch to be observed, studied, appreciated, in the silence, as I begin to wonder what to make of it all.

Here.
In the Riverside Garden.

Reflection: It’s like my ears are still ringing from all of the ‘noise’ of this vacation. Gradually, the ringing subsides, and the experiences emerge.

Brown Thrasher (from Animal Totems: Dictionary of Birds)
When Brown Thrasher appears to you it is time to sing a joyous song of life and all of the experiences that surround you. Coincidences and synchronicities will expand your spirituality in a profound way. He teaches ways of communicating by listening and singing your own song in life along with care and tact in how you speak. He is about following your soul purpose and recognizing innate abilities. Communicating by listening and singing your song, being carefree and open with thoughts, ideas and creativity are part of Brown Thrasher’s lessons. Sensitive to surroundings, he shows how to follow through with your impressions and hunches. Brown Thrasher teaches the art of camouflage, timing, action and inaction. He demonstrates alertness, internal peace, and personal reclamation and transformation. Qualities of generosity and gentleness will bring rejuvenation and beauty to your world. Are you bringing joy and harmony to others? Is it time to lighten up? He will aid in focus and clarity to find balance. His medicine will show how to adapt with a renewed sense of joy. Brown Thrasher has a well-rounded diet; are you eating right? The time period for Brown Thrasher is about 9 days. Rapid developments await you. He will help keep you grounded so that you may sing the song in your heart.

 

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Captured Moment on the Journey

IMG_6496.JPGWe were on the boardwalk, looking over the savannah.  We’d just spotted two birds in the tall Florida grasses, just beyond a tree trunk and a clump of bushes. We all paused, trying to identify these two brown, long-tailed birds.

I could not make them out. What were they? Curious, I followed them when they flew away, startled by our movement. The others continued down the boardwalk, but I went in the opposite direction, hoping to get a closer look.

I did!  There they were, one clinging to the grass, the other perched in a bush. I tried to find it in my binoculars, confused at first by the clumps of leaves on the bush, until it’s round breast came clearly into view, proudly flashing in the sun.

White throat.  Slightly flat brown head.  White beak…not real long.  It occurs to me, this might be a migratory bird, since I didn’t know it right away.  Maybe it was a shrike?  But no; too brown.  Maybe an oriole?  No, wrong color scheme.

I puzzled for awhile, and finally, worried the others might get too far ahead, I moved on.  The boardwalk stretched out ahead of me, empty, bare, warmed by the sun.  I quickened my step, wondering how far they had gotten, then calmed myself, hearing their voices.

I slowed down again (at least in my own mind), wanting to hold on to that moment: The open savannah, the warm sun, the light getting a bit stronger as it rose higher in the sky.  I was aware of that in-between state of the present, with the pair of birds  behind me and the small flock in front of me, clutching cameras, binoculars, jackets.  They were in the future, this moment was the present, the unknown birds already in the past.

Such are the combined pleasures—and insights—of hiking on a trail, looking for birds, and slowing my stride to capture a moment of time.

Here.
In the bird-watching garden.

P.S. Bird list from the day: White-eyed vireo, yellow-rumped warbler, two great blue herons , red-wing blackbirds, mud hens, tri-colored heron, kingfisher, flock of ibis, pine warbler, voice of the pileated woodpecker!

(P.P.S. see more pictures and watch a video on our WWf(a)c Facebook page.)IMG_6493.JPG

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Interruption

IMG_5339About a month ago, I left my journal at a friend’s house, so I had to start a new one.  When I got the old one back, I started writing again where I’d left off.  I noticed a lot had happened in a month’s time.  So I wrote about it.  (Note: Journal technique: time capsule)

IMG_6135May 29, 2016

A lot has happened since I lost my journal.

  • I planned my first street protest.
  • I went to Santa Rosa, Florida, for a reunion with three dear friends, where I photographed purple flowers.
  • Despite our protest, the Zoning Committee of City Council voted to approve the zoning change to my neighborhood
  • I took the Journal to the Self series for the fourth time, this time facilitated by my friend and newly certified JTTS facilitator, Meg Rohal, so we can work together to expand the expressive writing community here in Jacksonville.IMG_5745.jpg
  • City Council also voted to approve the zoning change, with the exception of five key votes.
  • We began filing an appeal.
  • I went to Kanuga, North Carolina, for the 2016 Journal Conference and heard Pulitzer-Prize-winning poet laureate Natasha Trethewey.
  • My kids came home from college for the summer.
  • Camille got a job and is writing an article for Edible Northeast Florida!
  • Matt survived his freshman year at LSU!
  • I joined City Beautiful Jax as a board member.
  • I held a writing circle in the woods for a Write + Hike + Eat at Down to Earth Farm.
  • I wrote a table of contents for my new book idea.
  • I learned three new bird calls:  yellow-throated warbler, Eastern phoebe, song sparrow.
  • IMG_5836The downy woodpeckers in the back yard fledged the nest.
  • I decided I’m ready to finish setting up my bedroom, the last room in the house to get my attention since my move.
  • I’m helping to start a non-profit to help give citizens a stronger voice is our City’s zoning decisions.
  • I got closer on the redesign of my business brands (I’ve got four of them).
  • I planned my trip to Belgium (and Luxembourg, and Ireland, and Paris), for this summer, kicked off by Camille’s study abroad program in Paris.
  • Camille’s passport finally arrived in the mail!
  • I began planning ANOTHER street protest.

Now I’m headed to brunch at Community Loaves with Camille, where we will eat homemade bread and walk in the garden.

Life is good.
Here.
In the Riverside Garden.

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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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