Category Archives: words

The U-Bend

It is a gentle, rainy day.  “Soft” as they sometimes call it in Ireland.  This kind of weather might annoy some people, but honestly I like it.  The coloring of things hints at autumn, my favorite season in spite of or perhaps because of inherent melancholia to be found therein.

Melancholia is a constant and faithful friend of late.  I find myself thinking a lot about death.

The gardens themselves lean toward the great sleep, readying here and there for a dying back into autumnal composting and winter’s rest.  Spring’s regrowth will come once more, eventually.  We as humans seem to forget our place amidst nature’s seasons.  Lately I find my mind ill at ease – a feeling of being consistently gaslighted by society.  Over 180,000 people have died of Covid-19 in this country and few seem to even take note of it anymore.  Around 1000 people PER DAY.  How can this not be the day’s big news?  There are even some who don’t believe the numbers.  We throw these figures around and forget that behind every number is a lifetime of dreams and hopes and fears and faults.  Laughter and learning, lightness and darkness.  The messy stuff of everyone’s everyday.  These are someone’s loved ones.  How can the world just go “on”?  I find it almost too much to take.  And maybe this explains why no one is talking about it much.  Maybe no one can take it.

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

–Mary Oliver  (I love this poem and was re-minded of it recently by the wonderful daily poem sharing offering of Shippenverse.  Go give her a follow on the socials if you like timely poetry.)

It is a grave mistake in a well lived life not to give death a good mulling over now and then.  I have at times (in the before times) been playing music with my dearest friends in a local session and have found myself so overwhelmed with a tearful gratitude that I think:

“Remember this.  It’s not going to happen again.  These people are a gift.  Nothing is guaranteed.  Pay attention.  We could lose one another in an instant.”

Cheerful.  I know.

But I do maintain that to toe the edges of things, to contemplate Great Mysteries, is to be more deeply alive, to live closer to the bone.

On soft days such as this one, I find myself thinking about Ireland, a land with its fair share of soft days and a place where the lines between life and death, this world and the Other, before and after, us and them, are blurred.  I find myself most comfortable in a place that openly acknowledges the delicate nature of our very existence.  Ireland is such a place.

Looking back on this Year of Years, we come to realize we were truly fortunate to begin the year’s wave of griefs on griefs in such a magical place.  Tony’s mom died while we were over there.  To explore ancient burial sites and wander the misty and mystical Burren in Clare was to feel a part of things in a very deep way.  I wish I could be there again this fall, to process all that has happened – all that IS happening – but this is not to be.

Will you look at this gorgeous new evocative work by my friend Lillie Morris, whose relationship with the music and magic of Ireland runs as deeply as mine. This is entitled, “The Immovability of Stone” which refers to a poem called ‘Stone’ by David Whyte. (I share this with Lillie’s blessing)

Last week in the tail end of a yoga practice a thought, or perhaps even a ‘command’ of sorts came to me.  “Tell the earring story” it said.  And so I shall….

My friend Mia was dying.  I had been lucky enough to leave my day to day behind and spend a few quality days with her before she slipped into that “between place” where she could no longer be reached by us.  It was the wee hours of the morning and no one in the household had slept much that night.  Professional nurses, Mia’s mom Ruth and husband Morris tended to her final moments and then, just like that, she was gone.  The quiet was that strange sort of quiet that sometimes happens in a room where a birth has occurred.  Dying is a different kind of birth I suppose. I stepped outside to get some air and to give Mia’s family a bit of space.  I could feel the All of Everything outside.  It was a beautiful morning.  A bit later, Morris and one of the Hospice nurses approached myself and two other women on hand and asked if we might accept the task of washing and readying Mia’s body for viewing.  Their family’s close community was to come to the house to pay their respects, share food and kinship, and bid farewell to their dear friend.  Washington state allows for a family to hold on their loved ones for one full day before needing to send the body on to final burial or cremation.  This was to be Mia’s day.  We accepted this task with great honor and the Hospice nurse filled us in on what needed to be done.   It’s a strange and wonderful thing to tend to the final physicality of someone we love.  Yes, we were filled with grief, but something about the very earthiness of it all was a salve to that grief.  We were mindful and in the moment.  We put on Mia’s favorite music, opened the window to allow her soul passage.  We washed her gently, and put her into her favorite clothes.  Soon, we were nearly done.  I had put in one of a pair of earrings into her ear when we were interrupted by someone entering the room.  A friend in the community who hadn’t realized we weren’t *quite* finished.  And just like that, the bubble had burst.  Something of a strange reality had entered the room with this newcomer and there was no more that could be done.  Mia’s head was turned and so no one would notice the missing earring anyway.  My fellow caretakers and I had a bit of a strange laugh over this turn of events and the day carried on.  I pulled Morris aside and told him of the earring still in my possession.  He too found it all a bit funny.  The earrings in question were moonstones.  Mia and I had gotten matching sets we before she’d moved out to Washington and we liked to wear them at the same time like a couple of middle school bff’s.  When the day came to an end it was time for the funeral folks to come and take Mia’s body away.  I did a puppet show for the kids in the other end of the house while Morris took care of this bit of business.  Later, he handed me the first earring.  I took some pliers and converted that earring into a small pendant which I eventually took home with me.  I made the second into a pendant as well, and left my set of earrings and that matching pendant with Morris to give to their daughter when she was old enough to wear them.  (she was in the first grade if I remember right.)  I still have my little moonstone pendant and keep it on my flute case as a constant reminder to live this life to the fullest.  Mia reminded me always to follow my art dreams and to keep playing music.  I have done and am so grateful for her early encouragement as we ran mile after mile together in between our busy lives and young motherhood.

I tell the story above as a small snapshot of the complexities of the end of a life.  To remind us that once there was a time when tending to our dead was a privilege.   This virus has so many dying that I believe we have a hard time really taking stock of so much loss.  Our minds can’t wrap around the level of destruction.  And with all of this death, comes a deep loneliness as well as many are having to die alone so as not to endanger their loved ones.  The virus has robbed us of the very things through which we cope with difficulty.  Gathering, hugging, singing, sharing.  And these are difficult times to be sure.

A couple of artful friends in my life are stepping into what one of them calls her “final act”.  They are seemingly facing this next chapter with a grace all of us might hope for in the end.  They wisely advise us all to have the difficult conversations about what we might want for our own end of life chapters, how we might want things to go if difficult decisions are faced.  Have you done this?  Do your loved ones know how you might like to be remembered?

My friend Jeni sent this below to me (not knowing I was brewing a death-themed blog post, but this is how the muse works sometimes, eh?)  And I absolutely love it.  I read this and think, I might have been friends with this woman had we met.

It seems easy in these scary times to just step out of our bodies and forget we are limited beings.   I think many people have really.  So much anger, so little time for self-reflection or kindness.  We aren’t taking the time to ask one another “How’re you doing, like really?”  We won’t be here forever, this much is true.  Something about turning 50 on the cusp of a global pandemic will drive this home to many of us.  Much as the ads promising me the fountain of youth would like me to step away from my own sense of self, I stay put and face this age, my age, as it is.  It isn’t pretty most days.

I make the conscious choice to stay in my body, as difficult as this feels in this harsh world.  I run when I can, even on (perhaps especially on) cool rainy days.

Me and the graceful neighborhood rats

I eat spicy food and cry easily.  Much like old Moaning Myrtle, I am not afraid to talk of death.  Perhaps it is, in the long run, the only thing left we might have in common these days.

Be kind to each other, check in with one another.  Bake some cookies for your neighbors if you can.

And perhaps take some time for self-reflection on these remarkable times in which we find our small selves.

 

 

Genius Home

It seems an age ago that were in Maine.  Coastal time, cool, crystalline lakes, like a dream.

We are now back in our own home, land locked here in our river valley, tending to house and garden, both needing upkeep, updates.

We always know when we have returned firmly to Ohio…..

As Billy Collins’ poem above alludes, there is a certain kind of genius which accompanies basic household chores of care.  This damned pandemic affords us the opportunity of time, if not inclination, to attend to matters here at home.  And so we do.

A bit of harvesting.

And a few things still growing along nicely.

I’ll give the autumnal plants a head start this week I think.  And put other plants to sleep for a time so they might come back to us in the dead of winter.  Beauty in dark times.

This begonia has been through the wars. Originally a cutting gift from my friend Vanessa, it was eaten by deer one year, but eventually bounced back and needed a new pot this year.

I am a haphazard gardener at best, but I am pleased with the results of our efforts this year.  The back garden, fenced during the first fitful, anxiety filled weeks of the lockdown, seems to be holding up.  Keeping the deer at bay.

I am grateful.

The dahlias have put on a show this year.  Somehow they had survived my stashing them in the garage last autumn where they overwintered successfully.  Surprisingly.

They are a constant delight.

My great-Auntie Nancy passed away the day we were on the road home from Maine.  She lived a long life, and did not suffer in the end, which is all anyone can ask for really.  When we attended her funeral, masked and out of doors, I took a posey of my dahlias and some sunflowers too, to place on the grave of my beloved grandparents.  Life has a way of marching on.

Note the dates. My grans, married for 64 years, died within just 3 days of one another. My grandmother, who married at age 16, used to quip about my grandfather, “Why Herbie? Well, he practically raised me.” I can still hear her say it in her quintessential Butler County drawl.

Last week I added another digit to my age line.  It was a quiet day really, a few hours at the concertina shop, take out from a local brewery and a zoom call with some artful and inspirational friends.  It was lovely. I even received some gorgeous flowers.

My mom gifted me the innards of a new Traveler’s Notebook for my birthday. (I made the cover myself from a scrap of leather from the shop.) I am interested to see how this journal system works for me as my own sketchbook practice has shifted in recent years.  When I “go sketch”, I am actually painting and use good paper in good sketchbooks.  But for the day to day, I like to have a workbook to capture ideas, quotes, poems, drawings, lists and etc.  Also a date keeper, not that there is much of a schedule these days.

Perhaps this little book will help me get organized as we do some serious household renovation and reorganization in the coming months.

I already have lists going, and some quotes.  Tunes I must work on……

This is my new half-set of uilleann pipes being crafted by Mickey Dunne in Limerick, Ireland. I think they are a thing of beauty indeed. Though honestly I am not sure quite what I have gotten myself into!  As Louise Mulcahy said in a presentation she did yesterday hosted by Southern California Pipers Club, perhaps it’s just the “medicinal sound of the drones.”  I’ll be sure to post here when I receive my beautiful new instrument!

“Don’t focus on the limitations, focus on the possibilities.”

~Liam O’Flynn (via Louise Mulcahy’s recent research)

Tomorrow morning we bid adieu to our friend Ari, the ‘little red dragon”, or “the wee man” as I sometimes call him.  He’s heading back to my sister’s where she is settled into a full time position as a nurse at a hospital near Louisville, Kentucky.

We will miss him indeed, but we also know there is much work to be done around here and it might best be done with only  the one aged dog along for the ride.  (Plus, he is missed dearly by his proper steward.)

Thankfully, our Little Miss Charlie doesn’t climb steps and mostly sleeps the days away, so she will be the perfect dog to weather the coming months with us as we turn the house upside down a bit.

It is a good time to nestle into a great feathering of the nest so to speak.  My travel journaling work – for now at least – is non-existent for obvious reasons.  I keep the art-wheels oiled here with a few side projects but a bit of a domestic re-design will be my creative project for the time being.   In recent years we found ourselves with an empty nest, the kids fledging to adult lives of their own.  My travel journal business  was where my energies flowed and I never really found the time to re-group here at home.  For now – this year at least – all of that is at a standstill.  Like many others, I am finding it difficult to concentrate on the usual things, and so I’m going to just take full part in this collective pause.

I’ve felt for a long while that the speed of things in this world is too much for me personally, it’s just tragic that it’s taken a pandemic to slow things down even just a bit.  With this slowing down has come an opportunity to take stock, decide finally what to do with the old “back room” which has been falling down around us for a few years now.  It’s time to rebuild. We have engaged a builder to begin in autumn sometime.  There will be much shifting and cleaning and decision-making and things will be topsy turvy.  Construction and reorganizing has a way of affecting every corner of the household and knowing this, we are taking the opportunity to reconfigure the whole place.

It’s time.  Getting our home organized and making a little oasis around here will help us bring more peace to the world outside of our home.  Of this I am sure.  To seek beauty in a dark world is important work.  Sometimes, that starts at home.

And that, as my mom says, is all the news that’s fit to print.  We, like everyone, continue to adjust to The State of Things.  We do the best we can.  Being gentle with ourselves and each other.  Following our noses as to how best to proceed.

How are you all doing? I’d love to know…..

Away ::: Twist of Hemp 38 :::

Midweek, and we are away.

Skies – sunsets in particular –  have been magnificent.  Reminding us of our small place in the world.

Evening jaunts on the boat allow us a break from the heat on shore and affords us quality time together (at once more than we can handle and never enough – how I love this chosen family of mine).

At times we must dock the boat near the little local general store to stock up on supplies.  And sometimes we forget our masks and must improvise which results in iconic fashionry.

In this time of fear and uncertainty, we see others and wish them well, while also hoping they never come too close.

The light here in Maine, from a painter’s perspective, is perfection.  I take source photos for later use.  Balancing the time here, trying not to be selfish.  As usual, I would split the artist side of self off to go work in the corner all week bathed in paints while the rest of human self could dive into a book or a group activity in earnest.  But the art always calls and there is no splitting.  And so here we are.  I do the best I can.

would you look at that light????

It is a gorgeous day outside, and I have a paddleboard planned with my dearest, long time friend (she birthed both my babies with me back in the day, so you get the depth of our connection.)  Later, some socially distant music is planned with a fellow Irish musician local to these lakelands and I am grateful to find a tune here in the wilds, so far from home.

I realize that home is only as far away as the next tune, the next friend, the next dip into some paint of any kind.

I am home the minute I can center into a bit of music, or a puddle of paint, or a beautiful fireside conversation with loved ones (while a mysterious mink waterly wanders by with nary a splash.)

There has been daily practicing of the pipes, as the lady pipers group has done a tune trade this summer and my job was to learn a tune from my “tune fairie” and record said tune to share with my mystery tune-provider.

It was terrifying.  Honestly.

But I did it, as I am keen to do this.  To learn.  To find my small place in this tradition.  Even as an American with only distant ties to the motherland of this music, even as an adult learner with so very little musical knowledge. Even as merely an artist.  Something about all of it makes just sense.

And so I dive in.  Best I can.  We have limited time, always.  Especially when on vacation.  Especially when on vacation during a global pandemic.  I know this.

This limit is why I paint.   Why I play.  Why I write.

There is a recent article in Downeast Magazine about Miss Rumphius, a favorite book of mine about bringing beauty into the world as one lives one’s life.  I highly recommend it….

 

Why We Love Miss Rumphius Now More Than Ever

A couple of years ago I was able to visit an exhibit of Miss Rumphius illustrator Barbara Cooney’s art work and I was thoroughly captivated.

Hireath

What do you do to make the world more beautiful in your own way?

I’d love to know.

Wishing you all well, no matter what tune you are playing just now.

 

Joy of being

“In today’s rush, we all think too much… seek too much… want too much… and forget about the joy of just being.”

~Eckhart Tolle *

I don’t know about y’all, but I’m feeling the rush and pull of a return to normalcy which I’ll admit, I am not quite yet in favor of.

“Normality is a paved road: It’s comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow.

~Vincent van Gogh *

For those of you who follow my online doings, the noise of the world has gotten to be a bit much for me personally and I have opted off the social media channels until further notice.  While we cannot and mustn’t turn our backs on a troubled world just now – the news of things as they are happening in real time – we CAN turn down the noise of it all online in order to dig deeper into what is really happening out there, what can actually be done, and how we feel about it all.  Sure one might get a chuckle now and then over on the socials, but true reality is a bit more difficult to find.  And so I seek it in deeper wells.

I’ll be honest, I needed a break – have done for a good long while now.

And so I am taking one.  Officially.  I am hopeful it might be longer than the usual month off which happens now and then in normal times.

I celebrated this returning to myself, this coming home really,  by building a fire last night.  Humidity is creeping back up as of today, but in recent days past, the magic of a cool summer night’s mystery has been in rare form.

We are grateful.

We wear a crown of midsummer and watch the garden flourish.

“With life as short as a half taken breath, don’t plant anything but love.”

~Rumi *

While not everything planted will be in top form this season, the garden’s beginnings give me hope for better days.

I suppose if necessary, we could live off of pumpkin and swiss chard alone, if we had to eventually.  Perhaps not all is lost.

Life carries on.

Birds nest.

A great June greening gathers further in.

“We must not allow the clock and the calendar to blind us to the fact that each moment of life is a miracle and mystery.”

~ H G Wells

The daily post continues to be a source of great day to day joy.  Today we received the long anticipated “Views from Quarantine” zine project from Ireland-based artist and child-art psychotherapist Simone Westerkamp (also long time friend and musical pal).  This zine is filled with offerings Simone gathered from artful friends and family scattered around the globe.  We, Tony and I, are thrilled to have been a small part of it.  In this era of grief, sadness and strife – in epic proportions, to be sure – beautiful small things are a keen reminder of the scale and importance of our own humanity.

“Never regret anything you have done with sincere affection; nothing is lost that is born of the heart.”

~Basil Rathbone *

The summer’s slowing, with my yearly work offerings no longer viable, affords a delicate space for quiet wonderment.  There are Rainier cherries now at the market once more, which I love.  When I can settle my brain and nerves down enough, I am drawing more in this in between time and space.  I am grateful for these crumbs of validity in such tumultuous times.

I’ll admit I am not ready to re-enter the rat-race.  I did not belong to it in the first place.  This I must remember as the traffic time into my part-time work begins to once more give me pause.

We have our sights set to venture home to Maine later in July. (God willin’ and the creek don’t rise, as they say)  Once there we will keep ourselves to ourselves, which we normally do anyway, and I promise we will do this all safely.  I look very much forward to cuddle piles of hugs with my god-child and her sister, and our dear friends, their parents.  Even as introverts, we are missing the humanity of a normal social existence.  I am counting the days.

This is a strange new world we live in.  Some people seem to be carrying on like nothing has changed, like it is an insult to their American-borne freedom to be asked to wear a mask in interest of the safety of others.  Most near and dear to me of course, continue to be diligent and do what is necessary to keep things safe for everyone.  We live life in the day to day just now.  Plans are difficult to commit to with things changing so fast in real time.

In the end, time will tell.

As for us, we soldier on.  Listening to books, reading books, doing puzzles, keeping to the work online as needed.  Tonight we go to meet East-Coast cousins arriving new to town.  Socially distant, of course.

Take care of each other, get hugs when you can.

More soon……

****some of the quotes above (*)  have been saved over time from a wonderful offering on the Book of Faces called Ravenous Butterflies.  Go give em a follow if you are currently riding the waves of the socials.  They are a bright light on a dark platform.

When I have Fears

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain,
Before high piled books, in charactry,
Hold like rich garners the full ripen’d grain;
When I behold, upon the night’s starr’d face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the fairy power
Of unreflecting love;—then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.

~John Keats

Aren’t humans beautiful at their best?

It’s just another manic Friday, here in the time of the pandemic.  Downstairs, the Hub finishes a social zoom call happy hour (not to be confused with the constant work related video calls he’s on by day) with his (our) kayak friends.  I cobble a dinner together of spring vegetables  and pasta thanks to our favorite local market.

It is a dance of sorts.  This balancing of our inner and outer exertions.  And this dance is different for each person, at each moment.  All good dancing requires moment to moment shifts and decision making.

The garden has been covered with pots and jars and sheets and towels tonight.  The frost is all over, at least as far as we are hearing from the forecasters.  And so we prepare, best we can.

The news in recent days is harder and harsher. We as a country flounder under a most inept and under-equipped leadership.  Not long ago there was a man at the helm  who while perhaps imperfect, was at the very least, empathetic.

The night is beautiful,
So the faces of my people.

The stars are beautiful,
So the eyes of my people.

Beautiful, also, is the sun.
Beautiful, also, are the souls of my people.

~Langston Hughes

Listening lately to Michelle Obama’s book Becoming  and watching the netflix documentary about her accompanying book tour, I have been brought to tears at where we have come to.  From grace and hope for a new world, to a floundering shadow of a dream.  I don’t know who we are any more.

I sit with the space of it all.  Setting boundaries where necessary (zoom calls ad infinitum (nauseum?) if I opted for it.) and do the best I can.  Yesterday I heard from my Auntie (my father’s sister), now in Virginia with her grand-daughter, and we had a lovely chat.  I marveled at the balance of it all as we talked.  Somewhere I have four “half” sisters whom I do not know, and who do not seem to care to know me.  We discussed this, openly and honestly, and it was good.  I revel in the family I do have.  My own dear sister and brother and the “steps” along the way.  We mix and match as best we can, over time.  I love them all so much.  Now perhaps now more than ever.

I am recently running the roads a lot, which brings me great solace.  I realize this is a privilege as I read about not only communities on strict lockdown around the world, but of Aumaud Aubrey, who was murdered while running in a Georgia neighborhood on a sunny afternoon.  Finally a public outcry leads to the arrest of his murderers.  But I wonder, what took so long?  I run with and for Aumaud of late.  Praying step by step for his family.  It is all too much to take in.

In the long run, I must admit though, this space, with all its heartbreak and uncertainty is for me, personally, and just now, an ok thing.  I am breathing and resting, even amidst this crazy pandemic, which is an unexpected gift.  I recalibrate at home, supporting the businesses and organizations I hope will still be present when this all passes eventually, supporting my family and friends along the way too. (Did I mention the wee red dragon, my ER nurse sister’s dog, Ari is back with us??) This is all I can do.

This too shall pass,  and this I believe.  But we will never go back to what was Before.  Perhaps we shouldn’t.   I have the gift of a great re-thinking here at home, the results of which I do not yet know the outcome (do we ever?)  And so I read, and write letters, plant seeds and paint and play tunes.  I walk and run and pray along the way as well, such that it is.  It’s all very Jane Austen in some sense.

But I welcome this spaciousness such as it is, such how it comes….

“We put thirty spokes together and call it a wheel,
But it is on the space where there is nothing that the usefulness of the wheels depends.

We turn clay to make vessel,
But it is on the space where there is nothing that the usefulness of the vessel depends.

We pierce doors and windows to make a house,
And it is on these spaces where there is nothing that the usefulness of the house depends.

Therefore just as we take advantage of what is, we should recognize the usefulness of what is not.”

― Lao-Tse

In an act of hope for the future, I planted asparagus this week

Do we collectively even know what we have here just now?  In this time of crisis, can we even recognize the level of love possible?   I hope so.

Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

                                 ~Derek Walcott

Keep well y’all.  I love you.

Ps. Did I mention that Michelle Obama actually sent a tweet my way with well wishes for my sister who is a front line worker as an ER nurse!!?  We were all thrilled, fan-girling big time all through the family via text and email.  I hope Michelle Obama knows the bright torch she carries and the hope she holds for all of us. It must surely be a great burden to bear.  I am in awe of her and her family and wish them all well.