Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Saturday, October 16, 2010
Seems every time in the last couple of years my soul has needed a soft place, I have returned to Wolf Mountain. I always think, "This, this is the perfect season to be on this mountain." Truth is, of course, any season is the perfect season; there is no better healer than the Great Mother. Lately, fear of death and illness--and the mad machinations of worry--have taken hold of my body, hijaked my brain, and left me forgetting how to trust the flow and abundance of life, forgetting my own honorable and luminous goodness. (Don't worry: we're all perfectly healthy and fine--I just get this way every so often, anxiously projecting and wringing my hands, especially if someone close to me suddenly has something heartbreaking or scary happen.) My husband and my two best girls patched me up and propped me up in the midst of the fear, just in time for me to catch a ride with Fate to the mountain. Thank. God. It was the perfect prescription for wholeness.
I cannot think of a better way to celebrate one's birthday, to find oneself quite happy to have been born, quite lucky to be on this green and breathing earth. I gave my father this poem for his birthday, written by one of the greatest poets ever to walk this planet, Pablo Neruda. The poem and the bliss of this day were kindred spirits woven together, singing me songs of reminders that life is good, and to be trusted.
Ode to Age
I don't believe in age.
All old people
in their eyes
observe us with the
eyes of wise ancients.
Shall we measure
in meters or kilometers
How far since you were born?
must you wander
like all men
instead of walking on its surface
we rest below the earth?
To the man, to the woman
who utilized their
energies, goodness, strength,
anger, love, tenderness,
to those who truly
and in their sensuality matured,
let us not apply
of a time
that may be
something else, a mineral
mantle, a solar
bird, a flower,
but not a measure.
or bird, long
or with hidden sun.
I proclaim you
a suit lovingly
around the world.
time, I roll you up,
I deposit you in my
and I am off to fish
with your long line
the fishes of the dawn!
Sunday, July 25, 2010
Every July my extended family gathers for several days at a place we call “The Cabin” on Wolf Mountain, a swath of rolling land overlooking the Rockfish River in in the mountains of Virginia. We’ve been coming here for about 30 years and it’s always the same: no internet, no television--just the family, the cabins, the mountain, the river. This year there are 30-some of us--four generations--and like every other year, we live commune-style, taking turns cooking dinners, passing children among us in a fluid dance of responsibility, gathering in ever-shifting groups at the river during the day, coming together nightly for dinner, then retiring to the deck for the sunset.
The path to the river still smells the same after all these years: warm pine needles and ripe currants. As we make our way along the path, my children are gleeful as they pluck the small, wild berries and pop them in their surprised mouths. I can recall skipping through these woods to the river in the rippling summer heat with sweet, warm currants in my mouth, the brush gently thwacking my skinny legs, then swaying in my wake.
I help my wobbly, eager boys down the steep path--we find spiders in perfect, sunlit webs, curious and untouched lichen, a babbling, joyful creek. The air gets cooler as we slip and stumble from the steamy mountaintop deeper into the woods, until we find ourselves on the quiet, shady riverbank where the feel and sound of silt and stone underfoot is familiar as a lullaby.
At the cabin, if you’re a kid or a parent/grandparent of one, most of your days are spent at the river--the kind of days without watches or any sense of time at all. Hours line up seamlessly as the children splash and hoot in the shallow, gentle water, catching tadpoles with their bare hands, finding box turtles in the brush, amassing rocks in a big metal pail, chasing schools of minnows, digging up clay for sculptures, and watching in awe bugs that skate on the water's surface.
It is here Caleb catches his first fish with his daddy and puts his head under water again and again, each time popping up to exclaim, "It wasn’t bad at all!!" Meanwhile, I roam the shallows collecting heart-shaped rocks and chase Tavish as he toddles into the current. Some of us have built a dam--every year it is rebuilt--and we lounge on sprawling, warm rocks, listening to the song of the current as the kids collect like minnows in the dam’s pool.
This year, something coiled deep unravels for the first time in a long time. A new distance--a blessed, bittersweet distance--grows between my children and me as they build with their cousins an impenetrable child-world, frolicking in the low, clear river all long and lingering afternoon; piling together in a shady, rainbow-colored hammock, the musky smell of warm leaves rising from the earth all around them; roaming in a happy, boisterous flock--seven kids under the age of 9-- dripping popsicles in-hand, their lithe and little bodies flashing like strobe lights in mid-day sun under a canopy of towering trees.
All week-long, my childhood days on this mountain stretch out in my mind, like an intricate, lovingly made quilt taken out of storage and laid out in a sunny room. It doesn’t feel so long ago I was this little, careening through these woods and plunging into this river with my cousins--a group of five, all of us born within two years of one another. Now all of our kids are gathered in this place, and witnessing the continuum does something quite lovely to my heart.
Every morning my grandfather, now in his eighties, gladly stands for hours at a small waffle iron in the kitchen, taking orders. Gdaddy’s waffles have become something of a legend--some teenagers have even been known to pry themselves out of bed before noon for them, and in the weeks before we leave for the cabin, my eldest son speaks in a reverent whisper of these waffles, his eyes wide with expectation. One morning I walk in the kitchen and there GDaddy is, sure as the sun rises every morning. Suddenly I am struck with the realization that even after he is long gone--for the rest of my life surely--every time I walk in that kitchen I will remember him there, our jolly waffle maker.
In the same way, I know I will always think of my grandmother whenever I take a walk in on this mountain, recalling all the walks we have taken, and remembering, in particular, a walk she and I took one fall when I was no more than thirteen up the long and winding driveway where we lingered for what seemed like hours, crouching down every few steps to admire all the different kinds of mushrooms. The longer we looked the more we noticed, and pretty soon we lost count of all the colorful, wondrous varieties growing alongside the driveway. We walked until long after the sun had slipped behind the mountains, squinting in the evening’s blue light to glimpse just one more, just one more.
That’s how it so often is at the cabin: you slow down enough to enter the world, to really, really be here. You slow down enough to listen to the chorus of cicadas; to glimpse the quick, striped lizard; to notice how the breeze sounds coming through the trees, how generously it brushes your body. You begin to take in everyone around you, and pretty soon you are falling in love all over again with their gorgeous and quirky humanness.
You remember what it was to be a child--a free and loved child of these people, this whispering, breathing mountain, this chuckling, winking river. You remember what it was to walk into these woods and lose yourself in the best possible way--to become so lost in a womb of flickering leaves and shadows, you actually became the mountain. You remember what it was to give your lanky child-body fearlessly to the wild rush of a river cloudy and swollen with yesterday’s rain--fearlessly, because your daddy stood at the bottom of the rapids, cheering as you tumbled squealing and laughing into his waiting arms.
You cry one evening in private because gratitude has ballooned too large for your body to hold--gratitude for how your grandparents gave all of you this glorious place. They just gave it to you. And if they ever asked for anything in return, it was only that you love it. And you think that just might be as close to being godly as anyone gets. Later, as the family gathers on the deck at sunset, you hold your son in your lap, drawing your breath slowly, taking in the smell of the river in his silky hair. And when your uncle spots a hawk, you watch with everyone in hushed admiration her weightless, elegant flight across a deepening sky.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Friday, July 16, 2010
Monday, July 12, 2010
this is the view from the deck of "the cabin"--a place my family has in the mountains of virginia i've been coming to since i was a young girl--taken on the fourth of july. it's a view i grew up taking for granted, but which i now treasure more and more with each passing year. we just spent a week up at "the cabin" with my extended family--thirty-some of us--and it was a week that cradled my soul in new and blessed ways. more on that in an upcoming post...
Thursday, June 24, 2010
I just finished a conversation with my 85 year-old grandmother who regaled me in detail about the birth of her first baby: a post-WWII birth in an overcrowded maternity ward where she labored entirely by herself, at times on a gurney in a hallway, and was forced by nurses not to push--nurses who slapped her face and laid themselves over her legs to keep them closed until the doctor could arrive, who promply knocked her out and pulled out her baby--her beautiful, black-haired baby girl--and when she awoke with empty arms and no recollection of the glory and payday of all her hard work, she had to beg, plead, insist, and finally bellow at the nurses to let her meet her baby--HER baby, HER baby.
Yes, my grandmother remembers everything--everything that was said (and not said), everything that was done (and not done), everything she wishes she had been conscious to experience, everything. She remembers everything. Meanwhile, the love of her life waited down the street at a bar (there was nowhere else to go, the waiting room was so crowded) because, of course, men weren't even allowed on the labor and delivery floor, nevermind in the delivery room. Yes, my grandfather, a war hero who had just earned a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star at Okinawa--a war hero who could get his ass blown off in a foxhole and watch his buddies die horrific, bloody deaths, but God forbid he witness the bloody miracle of the birth of his own child.
"That's just how babies were born back then..."
My grandmother's story is every American mother's story from that era. And yet. To this day. She knows in her heart, she knows to the center of her bones it was wrong, it was wrong. It was wrong. At 85 years old, still she grieves. Her motherheart, her womanheart will never forget how she gave her sacred body, her sacred birth, her sacred baby willingly and unquestioningly to a system that didn't know--and still does not know, and does not want to know, and never wanted to know--it is important how babies are born; it is important how mothers are born; it is important how fathers are born. She will never forget.
We. Mothers. Never. Forget.
This work is important. This work is more important than we even know, this calling to stand guard at the brave and infinite threshold of birth. Unfurl the pirate flag, sister. We sail for no country, no system, no insurance company, no hospital, no maternity ward, no doctor, no maniacal trend, no despicable standard of care, no twisted billion dollar industry. How many of our sisters--our pitocin-epidural-cesarean sisters--will look back with still-broken hearts and have nothing but the cold comfort of saying, "That's just how babies were born back then..."?
Well, not on our clock. We're taking it back. And we'll do it one woman at a time, but we're taking it back, so help me God.
things are, as usual, running at quite a clip around there......spring has wilted into summer; only the hardy will thrive in the undulating heat; strawberry season surrenders to blueberry season; the first pale green tomatoes peek out from their leafy umbrella; the broad leaves of zucchini, gourd, pumpkin open eagerly in the long sun. if we are lucky, we will soon have have warm, red tomatoes by the armful, green beans, zucchini...rosemary, basil, dill, parsley, cilantro, thyme, oregano, mint, chives, marjoram, sage. on the front porch in the evening, the scent of gardenia dances in the rising heat; the last day of school has come, and any day now the cicadas will begin their summer song. the season's storms wake us at night with raucous thunder and glorious light, rain landing like jewels on grateful soil. the children wear shoes in the yard for the bees in the clover and run screaming through the sprinkler. we have waited so long for these days, so we turn our faces to the sky, breathe in delicacies of lavender and rose, and open our bodies like a garden to the faithful sun.
we study herbs in midwifery school, gina and i, and fall in love with our plant sisters, daydreaming of our physic garden: shepherd's purse, borage, chamomile.........verbena, feverfew, burdock, lobelia........echinacea.........comfrey, evening primrose......motherwort, valerian......ladyslipper, blessed thistle. soon we will need a cauldron, mortar and pestle, black hats.
i will be converting part of my yard into a medicinal garden--plans are already underway...i feel the cloak and the staff of the healer, circling, coming near, ready to become part and parcel of me...i feel the heat of the shaman's sacred fire...i see the bear, her huge, quiet frame in the darkening woods, her patient, long breath...i am walking the labyrinth, coming closer and closer to the center...
Monday, June 21, 2010
Sunday, May 2, 2010
frankly, anything that requires more than one step and more than two minutes is probably not going to get done for a while around here, if at all. which is why i have not blogged in almost a year, and why everyone in my household is perpetually wearing dirt-stained, mismatched socks and wrinkled clothing they dug out of a laundry basket.
i'm a little ashamed to admit this, but what the hell: with the blogging, the pictures hang me up, not the writing. i just can't seem to get it together enough to find that cord that attaches my camera to my computer; download the pictures; find my favorites; figure out how to process them using a photoshop-for-idiots knockoff; dig through a sea of photos to select the one that perfectly suits my post; and, finally, upload it, all the while fending off two chimpanzees who disguise themselves as little boys--chimps who would like nothing more than to get their lollipop-sticky fingers all over my camera and computer and accomplish with stunning mastery wholesale, irreversible and expensive destruction within the span of about 45 seconds.
why don't i blog at night after they've gone to bed, you ask. and to that i respond, simply: "please." the only thing i want to do after those beloved primates go to bed is sit on my couch semi-comatose, watching mindless television, drinking chamomile tea and reminding myself that, truly, these are the good ol' days.
sometimes i go to bed at night--more nights than i care to disclose--feeling guilty about this blogging situation. not because the cyberworld is missing out on my self-indulgent ramblings, but because my boys' childhoods are careening past me at light speed, faster than i have the presence of mind to truly appreciate most days, and damnit i just want to capture some of it before i forget it. and i want to give these memories to them one day, so they can perhaps see themselves as i do: whole, blameless, completely good, infinitely loveable...
so today, after a guilt-ridden and unsuccessful nap, i got up and decided i would just. post. something. forget uploading a picture. forget using capital letters. forget proofreading. forget trying to get it just right.
just do one little thing. do it messily, imperfectly, and with complete mediocrity. but, for god's sake, just do it.