She knew it was safe, now her feet chose a path leading far
from dark uncertainties, of boarded-up options into an oasis
of light, a clearing of both heart and mind, a dendrological dive
into oneness with nature, which tree was which, identifying
those whose leaves dropped with the chill and those
that remained, holding space in that jigsaw landscape;
Forays down to the wellhead were spongy with moss, layers
of leaf and needle underfoot, trickling underground streams
flowing beneath quasi-soil draped over granite boulders
and pooling into a still point where, aboveground, stood
a granite casing with crude wooden cover; deeper still, tethered
to the bale of a three-gallon pail, lay the object of desire, cool drink
or promise of a steaming kettle as the vessel was cast into depths
repeatedly until just the right toss dredged itself clear and icy cold;
Filling buckets for each hand to grasp before carefully replacing
the cover, hoisting the weight of water and heading uphill, back
to the moonglow arc of light softly radiating from the cabin, tinge
of woodsmoke in chill air, teapot gently rattling on iron grates,
home was harbor into which her boat slipped silently
and without complaint;
And part of her began to grasp the value in releasing, shedding
non-essentials, detritus to which one could become accustomed
as if plugging all the holes, those islands of free-ranging thought,
could confer security somehow, would grant serenity, tranquility
of mind first and finally; still, peace was innate when she was able
to handle the shake-down, that honest meeting, self to self, dark
to light and back again, the terror of un-being confronted,
a deer caught in crosshairs, vole surrendering to the fox;
And as the seasons turned like leaves in the wind, dancing,
spinning, settling; as ice and snow gave rise to muck and flow
and the lake groaned and shifted, turning impossibly heavy crust
over into crystal prisms glinting in the narrow shafts of sunlight;
as the waters opened up and the loons returned, echoing
their mournful cries into a deepening dawn and dusk, she, too
began to thaw and sense, as if the first time, creation awakening
in her bones, and her own heart likewise took flight and soared
like the great blue heron, circling freely in those endless cerulean skies.
Birthdays and holidays have always been tricky for me. These are occasions where we indulge in the pleasure of being remembered by those we love, times we can feel a bit special and pampered. Or at least that’s true for many women I know, some givers to the point of exhaustion.
But here’s the quandary: for many years, my husband has borne the brunt of my disappointment, whether in him or in others who have occasionally failed to display requisite feedback. While on one hand I love celebrations, when paired with expectations they surely lead to disappointment. Chris is a practical guy, one who demonstrates devotion on a day to day basis. An earnest man, he is quick to assess, slower to process, yet inevitably one who seeks forgiveness when words or actions are out of line with his noble heart.
What my partner grants me every day I draw breath is priceless: the freedom to be, to explore, expand and contract, to write, reflect, take photographs, go back to school and embrace whatever each new day presents. In my personal history, freedom has always arrived with chains around its ankles. Too often it padded in on the heels of betrayal, jealousy and unspoken bargains and entitlement. I hardened myself early on, beginning by telling my father he could stuff his inheritance back into his bank book. I was not for sale, never would be.
Two faithless husbands followed that early family life, along with two blessed daughters. This duality did not escape me, for what was given always seemed to demand equal sacrifice. I worked both inside and outside the home, proving to an oblivious world that I was not a helpless, hapless victim. Still, lessons continued as they will. Clearly relationships were where my mettle was tested, but this did not become summarily obvious until well into my fifties.
Through no calculated means whatsoever, I got lucky. For over twenty years this man has stood by my side, and though our early days were fraught with growing pains, the peace we finally attained is beyond measure. Only in the past year or two have I begun to truly and utterly comprehend the scope and meaning of freedom, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with things money can buy. Which only goes to show that a media-driven society that equates purchases with love is juvenile, piteous and damaging to anything so fragile as the human heart. I wish I had learned this sooner, but am grateful to the core I learned it at all.
I never wanted to be smart. It hampered social interactions with the most desirable element. No cute boys were in my ‘brain classes,’ and friends I had since grammar school began drifting away, dividing like so many cells in a petri dish. (Never mind that these same ‘dorky guys’ ended up being far more interesting, and in many cases better looking, in later years. But that’s for another story.)
In high school, I actually elected to take a course that lay outside my ‘gifted’ program. I wanted fresh faces; new opportunities. It resulted in the only “C” grade I ever received. The class simply did not capture my attention, despite the plethora of new faces. What misery it was to discover my GPA falling like winter temperatures in that faraway place I was soon to call home, though little I knew of it at the time. Life was about to hang a sharp right, unraveling at lightning speed on several fronts.
Forty years later, these impressions seem lifetimes away, yet memories arise from time to time and I observe them as if animated in 35-millimeter frames. The film unwinds from the flat black metal reel; runs out. A small burn mark sears itself in the tail’s end, while the reel click-click-clicks until the projector is shut down.
Perhaps there is more truth than fiction to this analogy; for life, if fully and cognitively experienced, continues to surprise at every turn. Reflection is a fabulous tool to assess how cyclical is existence; how it catches us as we revolve around the wheel of opportunity and instruction. Suffering seems less pointless in the face of one’s spiritual maturation.
I think humans learn best from what stamps itself into memory, much like holes singed in celluloid. Taking refuge in this knowledge, I discover redemption. Nothing is regrettable; all experiences ultimately culminate in gratitude.