Living Strong, Living Whole


imagesCA3GHVLA

At the gym I start to think about the Olympics, my primary spectator sport. I am excited about the athletic prowess I will witness but try to follow each difficult and elegant move of Tai Chi in my class. Then I work up a dripping sweat on a treadmill. I have brought a psychologically probing mystery (Ivy Pochoda’s Visitation Street) to read as I briskly walk. I once made the mistake of responding to someone who had something to say about everything. Talking and power walking do not mix well.

I glance around at the end of a chapter. Twenty men and women, mostly past forty, are huffing their way towards a goal. I like the environment there. No flashy decor, no semi-pros or perfectly proportioned folks to daunt the rest of us. Twenty-five years ago I had engaged in intense weight training, so understand the propelling desire. But in this gym we still mean business. Not even close to that territory Olympians occupy much less the same mental zone, granted, but still, it counts. I am grateful to be among those who take ordinary well-being seriously, no matter fitness level. I attend Zumba weekly, dancing and working with concentration and pleasure. I appreciate the eighty year old woman who is more excited and committed than younger attendees.

But I have to tell you, the tightly packed rooms, the sounds of thunderous feet on treadmills and harsh clunks of barbells, the raucous redundancy of stationary bicycle wheels–all this gets to me if I stay too long. I work two hours to make it worth the fees. By midway I am wishing the televisions would die and I was hiking in the woods. Couldn’t there at least be a video of a trail through the forest or across a mountain meadow instead of CNN or a game show? Hence, another reason for a book. But I long to be outdoors. I engage in this extra fitness routine only at the behest of my cardiologist.

I wrapped it up a bit early in the morning. I had heard we were getting snow in Portland, a wild event. The rest of the country has been wrestling with polar vortexes, but Oregon has been in good shape, sunny and dry for weeks. Daffodils already arisen from the earth. Snowdrop flowers shimmering amidst forever-green grass. This winter the rain has been a bit scarce and I have missed it. But, really, snow?

It hit me as soon as I walked out the doors of the gym: snow swirling and stinging my face; that bright, sharp scent; flakes landing on eyelashes, melting into damp spots on my cheeks. I caught my breath. Wind drew my long hair across my face as I unlocked the car.

And I was transported to Michigan, thrust back to my youth.

Even though I, like my siblings, was studious, focused on developing musical abilities and given to somber introspection, I had an abiding need to be outdoors. Like children everywhere, I loved my serviceable bike, a blue Schwinn, and traversed streets and sidewalks, excited as a world traveler. My legs needed to stretch and sprint. Although not formally involved in track and field (though I did race–and often beat–the boys in our elementary schoolyard) I challenged myself, running races with friends. Neighborhood games were spontaneous: “kick the can”, “red rover, red rover”, playing baseball, volleyball and badminton. We had to move. Not even television snared us for long. The big maple in my back yard was a favored refuge–like a jungle gym and a good spot for the swing. It was a mountain to conquer. I was fascinated by trapeze artists. I dreamed of their routines, hands to hands or feet across treacherous gaps of space, then tried out moves on rings and swinging bars at parks. It felt amazing.

Ice skating called to me at six or seven. I found the speed exhilarating and mildly dangerous. The dancerly movements mesmerized. I had studied dance, felt deep kinship. Before long I was studying figure skating, performing at times, competing. It demanded discipline. Built stamina and increased courage, not only physically but emotionally, mentally. Nothing but feverish illness could keep me off the rudimentary outdoor rink, the snow a backdrop to challenging figures, falls and successes. On skates I was lifted beyond all cares, and felt free, powerful, joyous. This enchantment lasted until I was about fifteen, when life distracted me, and music had become more time-consuming and crucial to me. But I skated when I could. To this day, lacing my skates up at the side of a rink brings a thrill. And once on the ice this world falls away; I am granted entry to another kingdom.

??????????

When I got home and watched snow drift and whiten our emerald city, I was taken back to years of tobogganing. The two icy runs in the deep greenery in City Forest were fast. Waxing the underside of the wooden toboggan augmented speed significantly. My mother was worried we would fly off and break our heads. Some occasionally did fly off; I was lucky. Four or five of us would squeeze close, hold on to the one in front and when pushed off would howl and scream our lungs out. The rush was beautiful, well worth bumps and bruises, the aching hands uncovered and slowly heated up in the warming house.

I more completely lived outdoors, or so it seems in retrospect.  I pondered life plenty, practiced cello and voice, studied for tests and topics of my choice, wrote poetry and stories, drew things and worried about surviving that netherworld of adolescence. For me, it was like trying to navigate quick sand. A survivor of childhood sexual abuse kept secret, back then I was haunted while asleep and dogged by its specter by day as I also resolved to meet standards set by a high-achieving family and an unusual town that was full of exceptional people. It was critical to move beyond myself and to vacate the confines of artificial place, to further call on Spirit as well as my senses to realign life. I had a wound from which soul and life bled. It had to heal. Delving into the complex organic world and finding my place in it assuaged grief, granted grace often. Even saved me.

I knew that being fully present while developing strength and reflexes, balance and agility held power that nothing else could offer. I felt it as a child and youth; everything worked right. I explored a small woods that was a maze of elegant birches and other deciduous trees, weaving through trails brushed with sunlight and shadow. The creek that ran through it and beyond was a gentling presence as I studied blooming things and rocks and gathered leaves. Sang back to birds. Tracked garter snakes through weeds. I also daily visited the tree nursery just behind our place. There were hours of uninterrupted sanctuary and play. Staff nodded and smiled, my co-conspirators.

I had other playgrounds where work also determined my time. I spent several summers as an arts student at National Music Camp, known as Interlochen, in northern Michigan’s forested lake lands. It took who I was and shaped me more deeply and broadly. It gave me a literal steady ground from which to better launch my life. It was a place where dreams came to fruition more each day, with extra gifts of  lake living, the trees a canopy of delights. Music flows from and returns to the Creator outdoors.

God, ever near, spoke to me more clearly outside, in that wordless language of Spirit. I experienced how well my body served me even if there was also pain in having one. Senses bring knowledge, build skills. Conditioning of mind and body result from discovering possibilities and pushing limits. Sports and play were then, and are now, good ways to learn. Courage arises when we are at our most weakened. This was surprising to me as a youth.

??????????

As human beings, we are built to fight for what matters most; we are made to embrace the difficult as well as the blissful. I was not going to fail because I was unwilling to take a chance, to seek a better way. To find the holiness in the midst of the unholy is the way I choose to live. There is nothing between me and a life lived well but what I put there. Wholeness is our birthright.

I hiked at a state park a couple weeks ago, before we imagined snow coming. I left my husband behind, I confess. The hilly trails and giant moss-clothed trees beckoned like dear companions. My heart beat hard. Birdsong imbued the air with ethereal communiques. Sunlight drifted into microcosms and macrocosms and onto me as though a welcoming hand. I was profoundly at peace, as always.

I can now see the snow accumulating beneath a lamppost. Someone is cross country skiing in an otherwise empty street. Her long strides are efficient and smooth. I am envious. I remember that and snowshoeing at a place called Rattail Lake. It was one of those weekends full of friends, snow, a roaring fire and late night philosophizing. We were bold college students, aflame with life. We thought we had forever. But that reminiscence brings me back to an abiding passion, ice skating. It is time to get out there again, skim that field of ice, revel in the guidance of body and soul as they liberate joy.

ID-10012048

Power of Place

IMG_2651

When I leave behind the congestion of the city and move into country stillness fills me inch by inch. There is an alertness coupled with serenity that blooms in my core. As Portland subsides with its array of tantalizing offerings and entertaining moments, it is like a long-held breath released, mind emptied of scattered thoughts, lists, a vagary of wants and needs. I begin to be at ease within the world again, and feel gentler towards self and others. Countryside affects me profoundly.

This is common for me and likely many people, though I have met those who prefer city’s jangle and jumble, its towering paeans to human progress and folly. They rarely leave it. I can’t imagine such reluctance. If I can’t find my way to less populated land regularly I feel less than content, full of longing. I am lonely for nature’s balm and beauties.

Place holds strong energy for me, be it human or not, constructed or deconstructed. I believe they are infused with remnants of past or present inhabitants’ and events. Buildings, houses, neighborhoods, parcels of land, anywhere there is or was life feels benignly neutral, compelling or repellant, with shades in between. I have felt this way all my life, impacted enough by it that my daily decisions are informed by it. I find it as natural a way of perceiving as with physical senses.

People are influenced, even if unconsciously, by intuitive responses. Think of real estate shows and how often folks reject or appreciate a house based on how it “feels.” It is a conscious experience for a great many people. Throughout our years of moving, I have chosen housing based on my internal perception of it far more than outward appearances. I intensely feel aftereffects of violence that has occurred, when great sorrow lingers, or if those who have inhabited it harbored various destructive behaviors. At times it seems like people have inserted their personalities and are still there. There have been many occasions I have driven up to a place and immediately left. Or knew instantly this was the place that would be home. I do not second-guess; I’ve learned it’s not worth it.

Banff-KananaskisBears-Canmore-8-10 034

I also am attuned when hiking, detouring when I feel unusually close to wild and possibly threatening creatures. There was the time in the Columbia Gorge that I knew bears were very near and I lagged behind my spouse. A few moments later I heard soft huffing sounds of cubs. Of course their mother kept an eye on things close by; they exchanged communications. I told my husband it was time to leave. And once hiking in a city forest something had created a wide swath of flattened grass and weeds where I was walking. My feet suddenly would not budge another step. I wasn’t certain yet what was near, only that it was wild, large and perhaps guarding or enjoying a meal. Despite my spouse’s stating it might be something but likely nothing, I turned and walked away, quietly calling him. At the nature center we were informed of a cougar’s recent sighting. Would we have been harmed either time? My instinct said “beware” and I don’t regret it.

We all have such guidance if we pay attention. It could be an angel or God or our own animal nature or all. We cross a street or become more guarded when we feel ill intention attached to a passerby. We have strong first impressions before we even know someone well; later we recall that first response. It isn’t the physical world we respond to but the inner one, the soul’s intention radiating outward. It is the measurable, palpable life energy of who we truly are. We can be as enchanted by one another or by a place as we are not. If warnings are given us, so are calls to come much closer.

We know people can inspire and draw us. So, too, places can move, heal, awaken and strengthen us. Think of a time you needed respite and found a spot where you felt deeply relieved, energized or calmed. Or when you needed hope and an experience of place gave you opportunities to release pain and embrace joy anew. Some people claim a spot and return to it always. Others search and discover them worldwide, like my family who regularly follow the call of unknown roads and the wilds.

IMG_2672

Just last Sunday some of us headed out to a Christmas tree farm. We had chosen a place new to us. As soon as we left the tangle of cars and houses and entered a misty, hilly terrain we knew we were onto something especially good. Foggy patches opened and closed about us, yet afternoon’s golden light brightened everything as though from inside out. The acreage stretched far and wide; the sky opened. We inhaled deeply the redolent, chilled air: damp earth and evergreen scents permeated all. The lots were overseen by a tall, burly man who was laughed readily, was helpful and liked to chat amiably. He seemed the quintessential lumberjack but he has a day job behind a desk. He loves this work on the side.

It took less than ten minutes to find what we wanted: a rotund, sturdy Douglas fir, straight of trunk. Nearby were equally lovely Nobles and Grand Firs. Every tree looked healthy and strong, showing off their needles of rich emerald or bluish-green. They cost a fraction of what we usually paid, as well. Our son cut it down quickly and his Noble, as well.

IMG_2682

We walked up the muddy road to the house and pole barn where attractive, fresh wreaths and coffee awaited. On the way we met sheep who mildly gazed back at us. Their thick wool, random voicings and gentle faces cheered us further. I gazed at the tree line against an alabaster and robin’s egg blue sky, heard brisk birdsong and wings caressing air, sheep baaaing and my family softly talking and laughing. A thick mist began to spread around trees and fields. We had stepped away from all the world and its worrisome matters, through a portal to a place where work built muscle and was valued; kindness thrived; peace prevailed. Though the cold increased I felt steady warmth gather within and around me.

IMG_2665

We met the owners, Tom and Harriet. They chatted easily with us. They had bought the land and house over twenty years prior; it called them. The older gentleman worked in the forestry service and worked the tree farm on his “off” hours. Impressive in their knowledge and congeniality, they are people one would like to have as neighbor, break bread with on a cold winter’s eve. We praised his trees and shared our city-folk love of their land.

“Every time I leave the city and country rolls around me, I feel all is aligned in the universe, and I’m happy,” I told Tom.

He smiled warmly. “Yes, that’s it.”

I was reluctant to leave. We all were. This was more than an exceptional business, it was a place of power, a spot of land where people, creatures and earth conspired to support and tend life together. Its magnificence was there long before it was settled but it had been respected and loved. It is still appreciated for the blessing it is. And it was shared with us, a gift we thankfully took home.

On the way back I saw the nearly full moon through a vaporous veil of fog and thought of Bethlehem. I wondered over the manger where animals surrounded an infant Jesus and his parents. The Wise Men and shepherds had travelled far from home to be part of a place and event of sacred power. What did they feel as they witnessed all? What was it like to stand beneath that star’s radiance as it fell upon them, obliterated darkness for a short while?

I hope for each of you that you claim your special place and moments of power are found this Christmas. Then share them with others. Count yourself fortunate to be able to be still and present, to acknowledge the perfect glory of God, the gifts of life now and through eternity.

IMG_2705

(All photographs taken by the author; please ask before using. Thanks!)

Being Here is a Dream of Love: the first story

DSC00645

“Remember when you could take a step and be carried above the clouds? The worlds below and above would change into something new as you travelled. It seemed like a giant safety net was always there. And all around us were others, moving along, some flying and diving. And we spoke nothing but understood.”

Radya chattered away as she inspected the tiny yellow petals of a dandelion she had found by their shack. She shouldn’t have picked it–there were no others around–but it was so homely, but she liked that. Bright and round, like an orb of sun, it was worth admiration.

She found Lanay shaking out the extra water from a shirt. They were at the river the second time this week, washing themselves and their clothes. There had been more rain than usual, so everything had been muddied.

Radya reached up and tucked the cheerful flower behind her sister’s ear. “Guess we will smell good after all this washing.”

“This mess–just a nuisance,” Lanay said. “Yes, of course, I remember that much. But what we need to talk about today is the possibility of going somewhere drier and warmer. Dusty air would be delightful after so much mud and slime.”

“Back to our doomed Ketterin, by any chance?”

Lanay threw her a look. She knew she missed her ordinary life there, the school, the friends. So did she. Her younger sister was more naïve, but surely Radya had to know they were not going back there. Ketterin was the place they were least welcome, a city of scientific institutions and ideas that verged on militant, of technological wonders to dazzle the poor brain. People were getting used to plugging in every apparatus and entertainment to be functioning and alive. More and more were absorbed in the unreal of this world, whether electronics or other material magic. Whatever numbed them to the greater needs of this planet beckoned. She had watched friends languish in increasingly small and singular mind-body spaces and it scared her. She felt the pull, herself. It was so easy to forget.

“Ketterin? Of course not. The barreness made it too hot; trees were taken when it wasn’t necessary. Besides, you know why we left. It wasn’t safe. There is no turning back. No, I need good even heat. The rain forests here either block or absorb the sun’s energies. I feel less like myself. I want the sunlight to cover me like it used to–remember? Light that never diminished, even inside gradations of dark within slits, foldings and tunnels.” She caught herself then, and scanned the woods. There was no reason to believe they weren’t okay here, but who could be certain? Who that they didn’t discern might hear or see them trying to survive here? But nothing felt wrong. “South, maybe New Mexico or Arizona. But we need a pass first and that will take some thought.”

Radya dug her toes into the damp earth. “We are here because of me. I was not silent enough and the wrong ones paid attention. But I don’t understand why they can live without memory of home. I can’t stop thinking of it. They need to remember what they have chosen to forget. They know something is missing. We could all be happy…”

She walked into the green-blue Botha River; cold water nearly numbed her feet. The currents swirled between layers of rocks and left traces of sweetness. She picked up an oval grey stone and put it to her lips. The water sang to Radya of the mysterious spring and with that came otherings, those bright-winged bearers of kindness. The momentary entry into her soul’s home base clarified her mind.

She brought the rock to her lips, then took it to Lanny. She placed it on Lanay’s cheek. “Here, the elements kiss you and give you gentle heat. The water is well, sister. But not for long; it will grow sour. We need to leave before summer’s end. The pass holder is Jacques Armente. He will know what to do.”

The stone was so warm on Lanay’s skin it filled her head with humming. She took Radya into her arms and held her close. “Little light, thank you. I know what you say is true. But beware your words even here. We are growing in number but not yet enough. We never know who is our enemy.”

“But I do.” Radya pulled back and looked at Lanay deeply until their eyes blurred and became deep pools of shimmering space. She entered Lanay’s consciousness and took them beyond, to the spinning colors and most radiant darkness, music radiating from every even imagined movement, all beings of beauty connected by the universal family.

Remember, Radya intoned without speaking. Do not forget we are creatures of universes within universes. We have no enemies save who we decide to make enemies while we are here. This is a dream of love. We have been gifted these bodies to bring the One back into this earthly consciousness. We will find our way. Be at peace, sister.

Lanny felt her hands loosening their grip on her sister’s arms and she fell away, eyes wide but focused. “Stop, Radya! It hurts to recall what we cannot fully become here! Why must you still be in possession of the knowing? Let me be, at least for the rest of this day.”

Radya felt a heaviness shadow her, but she gave her attention to the woods and saw birds nesting and birds desiring to fly higher, heard  animals seek nourishment and rest, felt the air thicken and stir as more rain gathered on tails of wind. But she wasn’t ready for the music that roared in like a powerful chorus. Radya held her hands out to catch it as her human eyes sought the sky. Yes, she was young here but perhaps that was why she was less ready to accept defeat in this place. They still had ways and means; here there was time.

She pointed toward the celestial spheres that were not quite visible to the human eye. But she saw, and knew there were others, too, with their eyes raised, and some looking back. “Lanay, look.”

High above the trees spun a fiery circle emanating every color of the rainbow as it flared. It revolved, twisted and turned into the infinity sign, a manifestation of the One. It transformed into an everlasting and inestimable ribbon of light, then spun brilliant white-gold filaments that spread to every destination and soul, a phantasmagoria of light radiating perfect love.

They stayed close to each other but it was not fear that rose up, but relief.  The thrill of ancient joy. The energy they needed was coming through, was enlivening every sinew and synapse of their human bodies and brains.

Lanny spoke first. “I so easily forget I am more than this flesh. The veil lifts despite my stubborn resistance. I do remember why we are here. And we are responsible for what happens next on this path.”

“Yes,” Radya said. “We let love speak. We simply help the others to remember the souls we all are and will ever be. We are the fortunate ones; we can retain consciousness.”

Radya watched the last of the great light diminish and float into a far distance that, in truth, was so very near with its dauntless love. The eternal Presence invigorated her. She and Lanay could get on with their work.

DSCF6740

The Solitude Which Longs for Me and I, It…

Last week-end, I did  something wonderful that I so often do: I took to nature and filled up. I was hungry for the smallest mundane and stunning wonders. It has always been vital to move within a canopy of trees and meditate by running or still waters. To lay my head upon flower-jeweled grasses or lay my hand atop the chill, ancient bulk of rocks that line a trail.

Sometimes it is more crucial than others.

All the work-week long I sit in small rooms and attend to people who bring me eruptions of tears; stories that unravel like epic histories with no beginning or end; silences that throb with such swirled feelings and accompanying consternation that all they can do is… wait… for more language to tame the rawness of the telling.

Grief they carry in on their backs and then hold it tightly as though afraid it will vanish and leave them lonely. Invisible murderous things done by word and hand. Gaping voids where love once lived and then was misplaced or forgotten or ruined.  They seek healing, small stitches over wounds that feel good instead of bad, like fine, strong embroidery that will hold for a lifetime and eave no more scars. They hope for magic, the one key that will make the doors spring open and reveal the reward for the suffered moments of lives derailed.

And I am only one woman sitting in a chair by the window, the light falling across folded hands, my eyes seeking theirs, my heart by turns breaking for them and beating strong. I can honor their tellings with respect and attention. I can assist them with escape from lifelong addiction into new freedom from slavery. I can lay compassion before them and hope it is discovered, caught, taken home at the end of the hour. But I am only an ordinary woman sitting by a window, the delicate spring light falling across my shoulders, illuminating their bewildered faces. I listen because that is what I choose to do. I do not flinch, unless you count the closing of my eyes when the pain requires a prayer for mercy. Anyone knows I cannot save lives, unlike the EMTs or surgeons and others fitted with skills and tools I do not have. The only answer my clients receive is that they can and will learn to save themselves. Or will not, as they ultimately decide. I can and will stand watch over them. Steady them when they allow me close. Tell them: risk this step.

I wait to see who braves the 0bstacles in order to move toward a richer life. And who does not. The suspense keeps me alert, drives the quiet detective work. It keeps me awake some nights, revisiting clues, the storylines of these wandering souls: Let me be a good, sturdy signpost, I pray.

And so when the weekly work days are done, I go to the woods or the marshland; the hills and mountains; the coastal spaces. When I call out from my center, the waters answer, mountains echo, and  creatures like salamanders, crickets or redtail hawks, deer and coyotes take note but continue their work. I am coming for cleansing, for replenishment and to learn, a pilgrim on my own journey. They see me arrive before I see them; they hear me as I slow to interpret flowers and currents. My breathing quiets. Their noses test the drift of air and find me there.

And I am welcomed.

I  finally can stop thinking and begin to emulate a mossy hillock or a luminescent stone caught in seafoam. My ragged life rises and falls with my steps, gets stronger, brightens with refocused vision. It slips along the edge of a pond and stretches in the sun beside snake and snail. It is put on pause by orange starfish clinging to a basalt wall. Yet, too, my life becomes blissfully smaller, is condensed and rolled about so that it changes. I can feel it. The dirt, ferns, bees let me pass over trails. The brush of wind against arm and cheek lifts my spirit above treetops. My feet familiarize themselves with sudden ruts, delight in empty shells or broken branches; they greet valleys or agate-strewn beaches. A banana slug ignores my dance around its path. The birds offer a lyrical call and response and it is as though God, yes, God actually breathes Breath into emerald-hued air.

As I move through shadow and light, all that I brought here, all that is compressed by sorrow, distorted by anger–all that makes humans haunt each other and themselves–has been left to the ether. It has abandoned me to the deep solace of an earthly refuge. I am anonymous, unimportant, yet held close as though I belong just as spider and trillium. And as in that other life–the one that is full of people who create both good and ill will–my intent is to do no harm, to meld with the design.

A  moment longer by a river. The water tells me: Do not let the thorny banks encroach. Let life open, soften, deepen you. Bring your thirst, fill up, for there is enough for all. This holy solitude longs for you as you for it. Rest. Then be fearless in love.

The music of the gentling waters comes to me like a symphony and I reach within to a still, small point. Vanish in plain sight.

Then through the lattice of branches and leaves flow many voices: children making their way and laughing, grown people finding their footing. Locating beauty and being amazed. I move quietly and disappear into the sun-dappled sanctuary, taking with me the pleasure and sanctity of many living things, and peace renewed. Reluctantly, I turn to go. As the world returns to my consciousness with all its transformative, difficult knowledge, I am ready. Until I seek the embrace of solitude once more.

Gathering ’round the Tree of Life

I awakened this morning feeling something nameless but haunting. Familiarly rich with uncertainty. There seemed to be sunshine leaking from behind the clouds and I awaited a surge of happiness. It was the first day of my three day week-end. It was also Good Friday,  soon to be Easter, and that meant a time of gentle meditation on the death and then resurrection of Jesus. I thought of Easters past and for some reason, the memory of white patent leather shoes and floral, full-skirted dresses saddened me further.

But it wasn’t the particular day, it was me. I mused over the inhospitable territory of my thoughts and feelings as I completed my morning chores. I read over Psalm 100 about joyousness and God and thought as I scrubbed, laundered, tidied. I worried that this would be one of the rare days when I had nothing to write. Stories crept about in my mind, seeking higher ground as I toiled but still, relief was fleeting. The gloom partly diminished but my internal light was thin so I got my camera and headed out, hoping to be inspired.

The truth is, springtime, with all its extraordinary wonders, has not always been the best time for me. Growing up in the Midwest, it signified dreaded stormy weather and sent my family scurrying to the basement when tornado warnings sounded. In the Pacific Northwest, the long winter rains carry us on an upsweep of windy drizzle, tantalize with a pause or two,  then resume with a ponderous, damp trudging into April and May. The bright hyacinths and tulips sometimes seem to mock through gauzy curtains of rain.

Spring has often been the time when difficulties have spiked, also. Among them were raging tonsillitis that left me helpless and lonely in the hospital as a child;  abuse becoming a complicated misery made monstrous by a teen-aged haze of drugs. There was an incandescent love that failed, making springtime the premiere time for love seem like a terrible joke. I much later experienced a second stent implant in my artery when the first one failed and after, a very slow return of fitness. And there was loss of both my parents. I recall writing a poem at around fifteen in response to the so-called glories of spring. There is one line I still recall: “Beauty bites the broken heart.” Such angst and despair were sharpened by the abundance of spring. And so each April can bring a reminder of trials as well as a plethora of creativity.

Meanwhile, the rain held off all day. I started to snap pictures randomly and kept noticing trees, their small tender leaves unfurling, their fragrant pink and white blossoms shaking in the breeze. Bulbous, mossy roots captured my attention. Lithe limbs reached toward  heavens crowded with clouds. As I took photographs, sudden blueness leapt up and danced across the sky. All shone under the fine heat of sunshine that lingered on my shoulders, face, hands.

It was being lifted, my ratty cloak of self-sorrowing. Each step brought a line of poetry, a wafting of song, a simple prayer or two–certainty that this day, this time was good and could be better: “May my hands be useful, my words be balm; may my heart be open, my soul be free. May my mind be clear, my body be true.  May I welcome life and shape it in love.”

I strode down the center of a street and ogled the arching branches above. The trees watched over me as I rambled. They always have, since the first time I bravely climbed the big maple in the back yard as a child. Everything looked better from up there. I could see the bigger picture, all the way past crisscrossing streets, across the busy tree nursery to neighbor houses, into the dazzling, ever-changing skies above. Humanity lived on while I observed and took notes. The rough maple branches held me steady and gave me a seat upon which to wait and rest as I watched, imagined, pondered, problem solved. It let me cling to its smooth and scarred skin when crying and supported me as I sought solitude. I  could speak and not be heard by anyone except the whispering maple, and so I told it my best secrets. That tree took me away from the clanging, messy, unpredictable world below. It made me stronger and more courageous as I navigated its crooks and found favorite footholds, its brittle and sturdy branches. At the uppermost limbs, I hung on with one hand and held my left, flattened hand above my eyes and squinted into the radiant light. I felt like a hearty sailor in the crow’s nest, a bold adventurer. I was a girl who knew her way or would find it. Nothing could stop me.

But, of course we know the reality: things do stop us, at least temporarily. There is a vast and complicated web of stories in this world. We often weave them without thinking and at times walk into each others without a second glance. Even at our best, we make logistical errors, utilize surprisingly poor materials. We promise completions that cannot be finished for one reason or another. And regrets can work their way in and erode the most stalwart of souls.

But still, we can always gather around the tree of life. The idea might have sprung in part from the old maple but it graces many works of art, religious texts, poems and prayers worldwide. I know it is a compass and anchor. A shelter. Touchstone. It is the font of wisdom from which I gain knowledge and find succor.  To many, myself included, it is the divine mystery but I also see it as a community of those who are united by shared strength, hope, and experience. Call it the place of gathered lessons that every person carries on their journeys, then can teach. Perhaps it is the great collective unconscious. For me, the tree of life is like finding God alive and available right here on earth, rooted in ordinary fecund soil, rising to the celestial beyond, granting us all manner of needs while sharing the elegance and drama of creation. Within and around this tree, the truth unfolds. And it  thrives within me as long as I care for it–steady light, breath of air, affirming touch, love and respect for its power.

Last week-end I went on a short trip to Seattle with my youngest daughter, Alexandra; we met her sister, Naomi, an artist who had flown in for a ceramics conference. We enjoyed ourselves, walking and talking, eating and seeing fabulous art, laughing. We went to Pike Place Market one afternoon, perusing the variety of delights. Among the flowers, fish and hand-crafted items, I found silver earrings that had as their a design massive tree. They reminded me of the pewter necklace given to me by my husband a few years ago: another immense tree. I promptly purchased the earrings. It felt right, being with my daughters and enjoying our time together. When I returned home I thought of another tree of life that adorned a table runner, and took a picture of them together which I share with you.

But the question as my day closes–now that I am feeling realigned and more at ease– is how I can ever forget to sit at that tree, at the Master’s feet, in the magnetic compassion of God? How can I forget that there will always be shelter and direction given if it is sought?  It is what keeps me nourished. What enables me to give back. So I write this to remember once more that in this life I have the choice to create good will,  seek clarity of mind and soul. Make things a little better for me, for you.

Come, gather ’round the Tree of Life. Sit with me and rest, then climb higher up the branches. Tell me your story as we survey the lay of the land.