Changes and Traditions

These last couple of months leading up to age three are all rapid change and growth. Increased vocabulary and refined pronunciation. Heightened awareness and comprehension. Assertiveness, a strong will. There’s a lot more resistance, a lot more “no!” She will hold up her hand and say, “No, mommy, leave me be!”

She still has an ethereal essence, a sweet and gentle soul. It shines through her big brown eyes even during crabby moments. But a fierce will is emerging, and though it sometimes wears me out, I’m glad for it. I want her to claim her space, raise her voice, stand her ground. She is an incredible combination of peace and strength and silliness, teaching me all the time.

If you ask her what she wants for Christmas, she will answer, “A present!” There is no material good she longs for, except perhaps another book to add to her collection. She is still blissfully unaware of our consumer-driven culture. I know it won’t be long before this changes, and I’ve been thinking of little traditions that focus on what truly matters. I love the tradition of decorating a tree in the yard with edible ornaments for the animals, detailed over at Wilder Child. It’s a simple craft project, an experience, and an act of giving. It turns our attention to the creatures we share space with and instills a sense of responsibility to wildlife. And it looks so lovely, the cranberry strands and orange cups of birdseed hanging from the tree. We’ve been reading Jan Brett’s The Mitten every night and thinking about all the creatures in our backyard.

If I had any talent for sewing, I’d quilt an Advent calendar. My favorites are the fabric ones with pockets for little felted ornaments and candy canes. This year we have a beautiful paper one from my sister. Perhaps next year I’ll craft one from fabric…

How are your little ones changing? How do you celebrate the season?

(Post 316 of 365)

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Choose Your Own Adventure

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My friend T and her ’86 Volvo, Chit (after Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) on a stretch of highway somewhere in the southwest.
I used to wish I was from the Midwest, where people speak in gentler tones and kindly turns of phrase. When I was young, I thought it would be fun to be in TV commercials and wished we lived in California, preferably Hollywood. After spending a week in the waves on Block Island, I thought it would be romantic to live in an isolated community out in the middle of the sea. I was always dreaming of somewhere else.

Even now, I imagine different places, different lives. Like a Choose Your Own Adventure book. If you want to follow the path into the woods, turn to page 61. If you want to venture into the cave, turn to page 21.

And that’s as far as I got this morning when I began this post, before the day spooled out in ten different directions. Certain items on my list resist being checked-off, mainly those that require sustained attention, like writing my friend T a letter for her 40th birthday, which was a month and a half ago. Determined to finish and mail it, I wrote the letter in scraps of time throughout the day.

I started to write about our road trip, the one we’d always dreamed of as little girls. We played her dad’s 60s records, Joe Cocker, The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, and imagined driving out to California in a VW bus. As it turned out, we chugged along in her ’86 Volvo over the course of a month from New Mexico through Arizona to southern Cali, camped in Joshua Tree. In San Diego a friend took us across the border to Rosarita and Tijuana. Then we headed up through Cali. L.A., the Pacific Coast Highway, the Redwood Forest, Yosemite, Death Valley. Then we cut back in to Las Vegas, Zion National Park in Utah, past Shiprock and back home to Santa Fe.

I know, I’m listing all the places and skipping the stories. But anyway, I was writing memories to her like, remember when we drove away with the book of CDs on the roof of the car in Joshua Tree and lost all our music? Think about that for a minute. A month on the road, desolate highway stretches with no radio signal–and when I say signal I mean antenna. We had one cassette tape, a 70s disco mix from college, and damn if disco doesn’t still make me think of winding our way around the sharp curves of Pacific Coast Highway at night.

And then I wrote, remember how we read Barbara Kingsolver out loud in the tent at night by flashlight or in the car on those afternoons the road seemed to go on forever?  We read Small Wonder, and I want to say we had The Bean Trees along with us, too. Or maybe I’m just remembering The Bean Trees because we both loved it so much as teenagers. Either way, I’d forgotten all about Kingsolver and reading aloud to each other until I began writing her that letter. That’s the funny–and magical–thing about writing. You can have an idea about what you’re going to say, an idea about what you think you remember, but when you set pen to paper, you will surprise yourself every time.

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Backcountry in Zion, hiking to “The Subway.”
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Inside “The Subway,” where the monoliths meet and form a tunnel with pools of icy blue-green water. Just as I slipped, T rescued me. There is another story here, the one about the person who took this photo, a man our age named John who we happened to meet the night before in the pitch black, all of us gathered with a group of astronomers and massive telescopes. I saw the red ring around Saturn, crisp and clear. John had just arrived and had nowhere to camp. We told him he could camp at our site for the night. In the morning we saw his pick up with the custom cabin he’d built himself. It was outfitted with gear and functioned as both a bunk and storage. He decided to venture with us into the backcountry. No trails except for the odd cairn, no park rangers. A 700-ft drop into the canyon and up a rocky, winding river. In his pack, John had a water purifier and iodine drops, and throughout our trek, he pumped and purified water for all three of us. There was no way to carry all the water we needed for an 8-hour hike, and without him, I suspect we would’ve gulped river water and hoped for the best.
(Post 253 of 365)

Bright Green Warm Happy


Mid-May sunshine day, green leaf trees, lilacs in full bloom. At least five projects begun but not finished. A small pocket of time spent editing when I should’ve been writing. Toddlers at the water table. Little birds everywhere. And a robin nesting in our cedar tree.

Some days success is measured simply by how patient and present I am with my little one. Bright green warm happy.

(Post 114 of 365)

National Parks: 89/365

josh tree

U.S.A. National Parks I’ve hiked/camped/visited:

Acadia (Maine)

Carlsbad Caverns (New Mexico)

Death Valley (California)

Grand Canyon (Arizona)

Joshua Tree (California)

Redwood Forest (California)

Sequoia (California)

Yosemite (California)

Zion (Utah)

 

Believer: 87/365

I attended Catholic school from kindergarten through twelfth grade. Even my college was Catholic-affiliated.

Today I think of Catholicism as an old family tradition.

If asked whether I identify with a particular religion or philosophy, I would say I’m a secular humanist. A secular humanist who believes in miracles.

Or maybe I am closer to Lakota, believer in the Great Spirit that animates us all. Tree and wind, earth and sun, bird and buffalo.

When I was waiting for my daughter, I called on every one of them: ancestors, saints, trees, wind, water, animals, poetry, song.

Poetry: 81/365

At art school in France twenty years ago, I studied with the poet Gustaf Sobin. I still have the slim red composition book from that class. He was the first writing mentor who inspired me; the first writer I’d encountered who was so deft at teaching craft. One day he forgot an appointment to go over my work, and later left a note of apology in the most fantastic handwriting, signed, “with ashes on my head, Gustaf.”

Tonight I found this poem that held echoes of the day. We’d gone for a walk and found the eagle atop a telephone pole with his prey, a helpless duck. The eagle plucked and plucked with his sharp beak, feathers falling like big flakes of snow. The duck, black with blood, shuddered, then went limp. We were uncomfortably close. The eagle took off, dead duck in his talons. I kneeled on the pavement, collected black feathers streaked with iridescent blue.

 

Intrigue In The Trees
by JOHN BREHM

Often I wonder:
Is the earth trying to get
rid of us, shake us off,
drown us, scorch us
to nothingness?
To save itself and all other
creatures slated for extinction?
The trees around here
seem friendly enough —
stoic, philosophically inclined
toward nonjudgmental
awareness and giving
in their branchings
perfect examples
of one thing becoming two
and remaining one —
but who knows
what they really feel?
Just last night I was walking
to my favorite cafe,
the Laughing Goat,
when I saw a flock of crows
circling raincloudy sky,
arguing, speaking strangely,
suddenly alight on
a maple tree, dozens of them
closing down their wings
like arrogant, ill-tempered
magistrates. Some kind
of consultation
was happening there,
some plan unfolding
(animals think we’re crazy
for thinking they can’t think),
and everybody was looking up,
looking up and watching.

 

Workaround: 73/365

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Today I got to the library just as it was closing, completely forgetting it was Friday. I considered the coffee shop downtown, but the energy was already hectic. The sun had made a late appearance and the air was still, so I headed to the nearest beach with picnic tables. I am getting better at workarounds. I broke through the block I’d been having and got a whole scene written. Ah, there’s the bit of narrative I’ve been searching for.

It’s the first time this Spring I’ve written outdoors, so I thought to snap a photo. Then it occurred to me to take a picture of myself. I’m now 73 posts into this project about truth and haven’t included a recent photo of myself. So here’s the picnic bench where I worked until the air turned cold and windy. And here’s me.

 

Building: 71/365

Wings Spread

We’re on eagle watch every day around here. Sometimes all we have to do is look up in the sky, and there they are. Chris is the dedicated one, photographing them every morning and every evening. He even went out during the storm two nights ago to see how the nest was faring.

The eagles have been working on two nests, one in a tall pine in a new location, and the one pictured here, in the original woods not far from their old nest. Initially it looked like they would take up residence in the pine, but over the last few weeks it’s become clear they’ve chosen the nest in the woods.

The eagles spent so much time and energy creating two structures (and Chris suspects a third, a ground nest in the marsh), but they may only end up using one. It struck me as a metaphor for writing, the investment of time and energy. Building and building, uncertain of the outcome. That’s how I’m feeling right now; I’m putting in the hours, but I can’t be sure how it’s all going to turn out.

Threads: 69/365

It’s an odd process finding one true thing to say about myself every day. Truth can be simple but doesn’t come easy. Possible threads drift through my thoughts daily, but I don’t always want to write into them. I was twelve years old the first time I ever boarded a plane alone. I believe that singing a song you love at the top of your lungs can be a form of prayer. I talk to trees and plants. Zoos and other places that imprison wildlife make me weep. One of the reasons I stay home with my toddler is so that she can be in the dirt and fresh air, on the beach and under trees. I struggle with the way writing pulls me away from my daughter and my husband. When I was twenty-one, I visited Cezanne‘s studio in the south of France, crouched on a hillside with my canvas while the wind blew dirt and twigs into my oil paints, and I painted my own Mont Sainte-Victoire.

Transformation: 68/365

“Literature is my religion. Books have been the thing throughout my life that have offered the greatest consolation and enlightenment and illumination and all the things that we go to religion or spiritual practice for.” 

Cheryl Strayed

This weekend we will celebrate Easter without church or religious ritual.

We will hunt for eggs filled with little dinosaurs and finger puppets and animal crackers. We will spend time with family and eat lots of good food. Togetherness and gratitude as forms of prayer.

Every Easter my mother gives us a container with caterpillars. Dark, unremarkable insects that move very slowly. We will watch them grow fat and eventually make their way to the paper at the top of the cup. They will shed their skin for the last time and reveal chrysalides. We will carefully transfer the chrysalides to a netted butterfly house. In the stillness their bodies will break down into imaginal cells and form an entirely new shape. Eventually they will begin to twitch and break free, emerge as bright winged creatures. After a few days of feeding them honey water, we will take them outside and watch them take flight. A tangible reminder of the power and possibility of transformation.