Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: No Changes, No Gains

I was a different person several hours yesterday. I’m not referring to the fact that, one day to the next we are, of course, not utterly the same inside-out. No, I felt like someone I didn’t well recognize, pacing the perimeters of our new home, flitting one thing to another. Or maybe I recognized myself in an oblique way but I didn’t like that version much.

The view beyond a  huge window held my attention well–a new bird feeder draws chickadees so far, a random squirrel is foiled, and the hummingbird feeder beckons hummers. The gathering greenness is captivating. Then again the multitudinous odd tasks kept me moving. Only I’d start one, then  another and then another and retrace my steps as if I had ADHD, which I do not. Up and down the stairs, in and out of rooms, cleaning, ordering, moving things about, throwing in a load of laundry, sitting to read a few minutes. My mind and body buzzed. Well, perhaps the chai tea, then a couple hours later a cold brew coffee…?

But it was more than that. I felt aggrieved and penned in by our new address. The place seemed to have shrunk overnight. Ceilings too high, paint hues subdued to a sleepy monotone, rooms facing wrong directions, a kitchen with sleek black counter tops–who thought of that? Every day as I descend stairs to the living area all is resonant with shadow and silence, waiting for me patiently though I barely know these forms or sounds, the habitat’s nature nor the day’s intent. Yes, loveliness everywhere, too. So what will this move bring–and what can I bring to it?

But at that moment rational thought was not trumping nerves on edge. Why is it hard to change familiar environments? Really, to change at all? Nothing is static in nature or life, not for long. We are as fluid as we allow ourselves to be. Still my innards were jumpy enough that I needed to calm this sudden scuffle with reality, being uprooted and replanted. A couple of days ago I was content and delighted; to be so at odds with my life was unexpected and unwanted.

Let me recap Tuesday afternoon blow by blow…

******

I want to run despite having a sore little toe from so much steep hiking about. Something to alter physiological responses to sudden awareness of change. So I throw on my jacket (after not finding my keys so grab the spare set). Do we need food? Should I cruise by the post office with a couple of bills? And what about the new library–shouldn’t I have seen it by now? All three are on my mind as I set out by car and follow  my nose. I know the main road down into town. And I try to go somewhere new several times a week to figure out the lay of the land out here, so far from the maze of the rambunctious city I have known and loved so well. And recently up and left.

The curve of roads, rollicking hills, blur of trees. My head does not clear. Traffic is heating up a bit–we are in a smallish-woodsy-suburban place, yes, but still a city.  I had left the house during mid-day. Which lane to get in? Oh, construction up ahead. Now what as the road splits off? No one drives slowly here, to my surprise. Steady hands, breathe slower, look at the signs: no anxiety necessary. I rarely get lost and even if…there is the GPS if I choose to use it (usually would rather not). I have been on these streets before; I have a good natural compass; I will find my way. All about are buildings I am only cursorily familiar with, landscaping foreign and lush. It is this visual information I seek to gather and memorize and yet I am still distracted as I drive.

I breeze into and out of the post office driveway and pop bills into the mailbox–surprises me. But it does not soothe me.

Once in the new grocery, I pick my way through produce to breads to freezer section, getting each thing on my short list. I bypass the cold brew coffee. The store is a small maze I learn to navigate. Once done, I get in line. People often dress a bit differently. The woman ahead of me is close to my age but very tan, fitter than fair in early April, very blond. I suspect she flew in from the Caribbean last week. I glance about for a crunchy-granola nature-loving boomer and spot a few and relax smile. But when I check out I think this is a different grocery and look for my rewards card. Oh, not there, am here. I ask for cash and stuff the receipt and small bills, smile and share pleasantries–the cashier was lovely– and load up the car trunk. I am still abuzz with uncertainty and, well, stress.

Next: gas up the car. A relief to find my favorite brand across from the grocery. I slide in,  pull the gas cap lever–only it is the trunk release. The congenial guy who gasses up the car closes it for me and I get the right lever second time. I smile graciously but feel twitchy again, as if my teeth are clenching–are they?–and my tricky neck has a tough knot. I turn the key enough to listen to the jazz station, working at the tight muscle of my shoulder. Study the conifers’ treetops, how the wind moves through the branches and the blue sky pulses with sunshine and feel better. The man says “Ma’am?” and seems to have been holding my receipt out to me a few seconds. I take it, thank him with cheery courtesy, move out the exit, pull up to the stoplight. And hope fervently I don’t turn too soon or late on the yellow light. Streets don’t follow much of a city-type grid here even at intersections, but curve into each other–have to keep eyes peeled. Anticipate.

I roll down two windows completely and let newness of April sweep through, muss my hair. I may not have a convertible but it feels close enough. In a mile I turn onto a road leading to the quaint downtown. The library is not far from corners with buildings I recognize. There’s a neat sign with arrow: LIBRARY. A wave of relief arrives as I breathe in fragrant air and head to the last stop. It is if I have made it to absolute safety. Books: I know this sort of place so intimately, nothing can ruin the day now.

The late afternoon brings me back to myself and yet I feel invisible while roaming the stacks, checking out the wood-and-glass contemporary building, the placement of materials. Everyone here has a romance going with books and learning new things, like me. I speak to a couple of librarians. (“Why are all fiction subgenres shelved together?” “Well, it’s an experiment; so far, pretty good outcome.” “Hmm.” We will see how I like it, why not?)

I check out two mysteries, a literary novel and two documentary DVDs for four weeks. It doesn’t matter if I get to them all. It is the orderly ease of a library, the smell of books snugged up against one another, and information and intrigue at one’s fingertips. There is a symmetry to this physical,intellectual and emotional space and I get to be in it. The live wire of my jarred neurology is grounded once more; so am I. Tension and worry are vanishing.

Getting home is nothing at all. I know the way. If I didn’t, I would find one. I can adapt. I can fit the need with solutions or ask the right questions of someone who has them. The human brain is resilient, even when pushed to the limit, even when worn out and befuddled and spooked and lost. Much if not most of the time, there is some action to take that can result in a positive reaction, even a solid fulfillment of the goal.

Last week I was winding along a labyrinth of trails by our home when a companion asked how I seemed easily to find my way without any map. I was surprised. Besides having an apparently fine sense of direction, there is faith in my ability to figure out puzzles. I have pretty decent visual memory. I also utilize intuitive cues. If there is doubt, it is another problem to address and another choice can be made. I pay attention to info gleaned and I want to stay safe–but one never gets anywhere if afraid of internal or external unknowns.

There is many a tunnel that takes a walker through woods and under roadways, and where it leads I do not know until I find myself in a  new spot. The paths always surprise me as I go with the twists and turns. It’s part of the excitement, not being clear where I am heading. If  didn’t enter that tunnel, I wouldn’t get to discover the surprise. If I didn’t turn that direction, I’d miss out on a rocky creek, a flower, a unique house that peeks out from dense bushes and trees, that woodpecker so high up. The birds seem to follow; rather, I try to follow them. Every now and then I see someone coming who lifts a hand in greeting, who nods and smiles or rushes by with a lumbering dog that half-drags them up the next hill. I don’t lollygag as it is exercise, neither do I keep my eyes to ground. I want to experience it all.

So when we decided a move was necessary, I was scared but undeterred. (I’m not generally a covers over the head person when there’s a bump in the night or a bad dream; I get up, turn on a light or get a big stick if instinct dictates.) So I knew that if I kept my eye on the end goal while doing the work required, and looked for support from God, friends and family, I would find a right relocation for the current needs. Body, mind and heart would direct me as I commandeered helpers and agenda. Besides, change is to the brain and spirit as synovial fluid is to joints: we have to get going, keep moving to stave off the discomfort resultant of disuse. And that goes for adaptation skills, old and new. I would rather take a chance than do nothing, try out something new than be stuck with the same old thing. Yes, I was anxious yesterday and that library stop was the ticket to full relief–but that was yesterday and today is today; things work out in one fashion or another. And how fun to explore a new library with different titles showcased and unique ways of doing things. Despite challenges of change, it creates differences that enrich and expand and, thus, keep life vibrant.

Last week-end we headed up to the peak of the extinct volcano we live on (there are many in the area). Nansen Summit, at 975 feet (we live at about 800 feet) tops Mount Sylvania, an ancient volcano on the Boring Lava Field. It was mentioned to me when we moved in so Marc and I took off in search of it. As we climbed and climbed, the early spring sun soon heated us to a fine sweat as leg muscles and hearts whinged a bit. It is a rapid, steep ascent as so many paths are. We didn’t know the extent of what awaited but we finally emerged from woods into white-bright sunshine.

First, there are mega houses way up there. But otherwise, what a good pay off: 360 degree views of the Tualatin River Valley, Mt. Hood (though it was mostly hiding in clouds as it often does) and foothills (West Hills) of the Coast Range. You will note the weather station and radio telemetry antenna as well.  We enjoyed hanging out on a couple of benches provided for rest and meditation, then had a much easier descent.

Truth is, we are already starting to love it here.

Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: Living a Peak Life

Photos, Cynthia Guenther Richardson 2019

This morning I sip from a mug of Chai tea on our expansive balcony above terraced land, looking around and down the sudden slope, then beyond to shadowy foothills. I close my eyes. This resident wind is tender or sharp, easy or pushy. My hair swirls about; dashing along my neck a tingle of coolness is ruffled with warmth. The rising land still holds its rocky, earthy muskiness–out of which a coyote or skunk may emerge as if from hideaways–and floats upwards. A brighter fragrance–far-drifting new cherry tree flowerets?–joins in. Air currents are full of promise and mystery–palpable power–as it weaves through firs and red alders, grazes ubiquitous ivy which climbs over hillock and gully.

A hammer contacts wood in chirpy rhythmic fashion. The drone of a circular saw thrums beneath hammer’s affirmative strikes. Someone is stapling shingles, another broadly mowing. Soon a dog, then two and three voice approval or perhaps dissent. Robins and crows compete, flit and swoop then call and respond. Mourning doves utter throaty yet subtle refrains. Squirrels chit and chatter, rush along tree limbs. Of which there are so many my mind feels forested with greens and browns. The woman next door is sweeping her balcony, long strokes that make me think she is distracted by the horizon. My eyes fly open.

Two orange butterflies dance a romance in mid-air. There is, as ever, a veritable feast for the vision. Verdant land, with more to be revealed by the looks of budded limbs. A gleaming blue sky paints space above Coast Range foothills; they proudly reveal simple elegance. In the distance, a motorcycle–Harley-Davidson cruiser?–speeds up, drives on then downshifts, rounds a curve for steep descent to the valley, belches a satisfied growl. Soon a child spirals across a street, there is hard contact and response of a basketball, while a father’s laugh is reassuring of his love.

All of these spring signs have given me joy for as long as I can recall. Contentment is close to follow a shock of giddiness. Spring was not very gentle in my childhood Michigan and could be problematic despite the dreamy fever it brought. In Oregon, it sneaks into being, a balm spreading upon day and night, a surprise of sunlight here and there, a slow drying out of air and dirt and then more colors popping out. Blooms never really end here, but they prevail with more gaudiness and grow bigger in heat.

March in 2019: the advent of spring arrives after last acts of spotty snowfall or icy drizzle. It follows, for me, more death knells, then illnesses and pain which riddled my psyche as well as flesh. Added to the mix was a frustrating moving experience (and costly), undercut by rounds of sleeplessness. Spring is a relief even when it seems overdue, even if it feels lean. I can wait long no matter what. I rub the cocooning wintry dark from dim eyes. I reach for rejuvenation and find it. I look, behold.

But I studied the mirror the other day (not recommended after hard winters). Deeper and more lines bracket eyes and mouth from all that gritting of teeth (those left) and squinting of bloodshot eyes, a daily praying for strength and courage, shameless pleading for a truly good rebound. I am looking–becoming–older. And I am moving on, if not free of body’s complaints then pleased with more upsurges of energy. And a deep motivation to embrace our new home as well as the future and what it will offer (our daughter’s twins, for two wonders; care of both soon to be nervously/attentively/happily experienced…). I can do anything I must do, believe anything I desire to believe in. I make my own life become what it shall. The aching inside and out will lessen or be accepted, managed. Not only the great scheme of nature is resilient. We human animals daily take part, too, and we try hard until the very end, even excel at the labor of it.

So, spring arriving like an exquisite hope come true has made the demands of winter worth enduring–as it is for any who dwell within a land that brings chilly/rainy/dark/snowy winters. It is the soft singe of heat that is longed for, a soothing flutter of wings, the rustle and sweep of things growing in designs and hues that break through after hibernation.

When I walk here, I see snow-capped Cascades on the eastern side of where I live. At this surprising 800 feet–after living at sea level for over two decades–it feels like we reside in a grand high place. I see: resplendent Mt. Hood. A reshaped-by-volcanic-spews-yet-lovely Mt. St. Helens. And is it Mt. Baker there, too? Glimmering white crowns above jagged granite blues of enormous ranges. One cannot help but be raised up by peeks into beauty while moving through sunshine.

There is a system of trails atop these undulating hills. I explore them daily, pull on trail or tennis shoes and take off as if I know where I’m going. I trust that I will find my way. I have a good inner compass, am not floundering in wilderness. I recall landmarks as I go. There are fine houses interspersed among pathways and briefly admired, but trees and creatures captivate me. Swing of arms and squared thrust of shoulders, two light feet and an elongated back take me where I care to go. Mind as clear as spring water follows this beat; chest fills with heart’s power. I clamor my way up and up winding, steep ascents and then I rest, gulping piney air. I hope to find musical brooks; there is a lake and the meandering river nearby. I lack nothing much, if anything. (Perhaps the sea, a short drive away.)

My well-seasoned body is regaining strength and new boldness with daily forays. My spirit is flooded with pleasures. I sink into bed with thankfulness. How much can the flesh and being hold of sorrow and elation and wonder? So much. So much. We need to welcome it all, open the windows and doors of home.

Who could have known what we needed was such a change, then guided us to such a good place? In the core of my being that constant hunger for forested land and wilder creatures with an outdoor life right within my reach rang loud and clear. My husband, Marc, also believed more nature with its authenticity and intrigue was needed. Now. So here we are. The city is close enough, while we awaken each day feeling far from it.

I came home the other day sweaty, my hair tangled, hands a little dirty, my brain and camera stuffed with ideas and images. I will take you with me as I learn the places and ways here. Enjoy now a little of what I have just begun to know.

Wednesday’s Nonfiction: An Anonymous Life is Still a Life

Lawrence Wilburn Guenther and Edna Kelly, 50th Anniversary, 1983

What has ever happened to living a quiet life and finding that meaningful? There is such a garish trumpeting about people and events, about what is deemed commendable or abominable and it often drags lives into the grit of the fray, the spotlight of adoration or scrutiny. Conversations are necessary when they make a meaningful impact but the loud voices that promote fame–or infamy–stop me cold. Why this being splashed all over news outlets as if meant to be so vital to us all? How did it happen that people–even youths–crave fame enough that they will go to any lengths to get it? And who said that a visibly higher socioeconomic status equals lasting happiness? All this talk and focus on being a “Somebody” in the world has me cogitating about the value of ordinary human lives. Because there are far more of us out here than the other sort.

Some history is useful as in a far more innocuous way, I once knew the heat of a spotlight’s beam. I did not grow up feeling strictly anonymous, another face in the crowd, invisible, untraceable. Instead, I was easy to spot, quick to name. I was so used to being introduced as “Lawrence Guenther’s daughter” that much of my childish and youthful identity sprang from this shorthand reference. In fact, seldom did anyone need to say that much; my last name covered it. And, I imagine, my large blue eyes–a family trait many of us shared. Not that it was a bad thing, this quick naming. My father never robbed a bank or stole a car or drunkenly crashed one or worse. He was an upstanding citizen, I have to admit. But it felt like a bit of a burden more often than I cared to say.

I knew nothing of how public a man he was until my early teens; he was often surrounded by students and adults wherever we went. He was not overtly gregarious but had a gentlemanly, winning manner. He was sincere and he was smart; there were far worse things than being the youngest child of such a person. My father’s warm smile and expressive bright eyes had magnetic properties, it seemed.

In a town where the name “Dow” defined everything, being known by any other last name was something of note. Herbert H. Dow was a chemical industrialist who founded my hometown’s Dow Chemical, an international company. His son, Alden B. Dow, was a well-known architect. My dad was not famous but he did enjoy a fine reputation across the state and perhaps beyond for his work. Lawrence Guenther was Midland’s public schools’ music administrator, and a teacher, musician and a conductor of an impressive Midland Symphony Orchestra. This may not seem newsworthy at first glance. Yet this town that was marked by pristine, manicured lawns and graceful homes, a top state school system, international scientists, and a plethora of variously gifted students–well, that meant a little something.

Our about 28,000 (when I was ten; it is now 47,000) people greatly valued arts and sciences, so music programs were high on the list for financial and community support. Classes started when students tested well for musical ability. They began in fourth grade–unless their parents had already sent them to private music lessons, which many had (we already had one built in). Dad was an innovative music programmer and teacher with indefatigable passion for his calling. He advocated for the fine arts tirelessly as well as performed and encouraged, with strict expectations, thus exacting from students their best work.

So it came to be that he was well appreciated. And the family name was synonymous with music. My mother, I might add, was a respected elementary school teacher among other things–a substitute teacher after I was born. Plus, a great hostess and supporter of his career. And she was the more innately extroverted. She was not that musically inclined though her voice was a pleasing alto. My four siblings and I were, so we studied hard, practiced our instruments. This led to endless recitals, orchestral performances, church musical events, musical theater, classical competitions, small chamber groups–and small pop groups for me (not as a cellist for once, but a vocalist–what pleasure tat gave after classical music day in and out).

This did not bode well for lasting anonymity in that city and beyond–in music camps, workshops, state competitions. The better I performed, the more it felt as if I was becoming a more public person, too, not only a reflection of our father’s presence and influence. I adored all the arts so participated with enthusiasm. I especially embraced the actual performance part and duly appreciated applause–but preferred to run off right after performances. It was embarrassing to say “thank you” when complimented; I was doing what I was supposed to do, trained to do, enjoyed doing. But I also worried that I might not achieve the best performance each time I walked onto the stage. It would remain a joy to perform but also a relief to exit stages. The problem with having attention drawn to you is that people start to have expectations, bigger ones as time goes by. The problem is then you must please others and smile on and on when you want to take off the finery and walk into a silent, fathomless, starry night.

For me, the fuss became more trying than emboldening. It never occurred to my father that I was not as accepting as was he of this side effect of doing well. He was fairly ambitious and dedicated, yet marked by a humble nature, and so seemed to take in stride being so visible (despite displaying a vastly more introspective nature at home–no doubt he needed major “down” time). And he had no doubt his children could, would and should excel. He was a faithful believer in God and hard work and so believed that a talent must be honed, and that to waste it was akin to committing a sin. I know he meant well enough, yet that alone provided a penchant for a perfectionism that has dogged me all of my life. But it did not produce a stellar career nor a craving for fame. I excelled at enough, but at some cost. I wanted to a place to create–and found it mainly at a renowned arts camps where there were many such youth as myself.

Still, the thought of being well known–of being recognized as I walked down the street or shared a coffee and occasional forbidden smoke with a friend at a cafe–became less and less appealing. I needed more emotional space. For one thing, I was a young person with secrets due to childhood sexual abuse unknown to my family, and I planned on keeping it that way.

But I was also a dreamer. That state of being requires solitary time to develop and nurture ideas, to embrace with intention each act of creating, to seek an abandonment coupled with unwavering focus. As much as I liked dating as a teen, I was often loathe to leave a new poem or song, a dance or art project–to vacate my busy mind–to meet someone at the front door. My major fantasy by age 12 was to become a well-published, well-read writer (or singer) but to remain primarily anonymous amid any success. It  seemed a more comfortable and natural fate. Did I imagine being interviewed? On the phone, perhaps, once or twice. Did I want pictures of me circulating? I didn’t expect that would be to my advantage. Then more people would recognize me and I would have to duck into bushes.

How different these times are–our personal data quickly accessible. I am at moments startled to see my own image despite having gone along with the trends. But I wonder: how much does that add to my life or anyone else’s? I think very little, even at best. My writing–I do hope that matters some, but the fact is, I will still writing. No fancy byline or authorship would lessen the muse calling and my need to create with language. Or maybe it would. Now I have freedom.

Despite an avid interest in others, enjoying meeting new folks and entertaining from time to time, I embrace solitude, still. More than mingling face-to-face with people, generally. I feel satiated in most ways while burrowing into my writing space or reading chair, engaging with an activity even with spouse nearby. We have our own routines and rhythm, like all older married couples. And I have noted before that I seldom mind when he has long business trips. I do what I do still at 68 because I am daily motivated to create, to gather new information or try out new ideas, to pray and meditate, to take care of myself and, I hope, others. There is no applause as I complete a task or challenge. There is a gentle sense of self-fulfillment. And I can guarantee you that I have labored hard for this peace of mind that anchors my living even–or most–in more arduous times.

Yet, sometimes all this almost–if not quite–makes me nostalgic for the sort of  intense in-person contact after a performance, or after poetry readings that were part of my life once. Or even the career I undertook of counseling broken people. The field of mental health and addictions treatment even in a city like Portland is small enough that others in counselling know who you are soon. One’s reputation, for good or ill, precedes one. I was as known then as I would ever be as an adult, and I was satisfied with that. It was not the yawning ego but the work that mattered so dearly to me. Just like youthful performing, itself, mattered most–the reaching and connecting to others via music. As a clinician it was listening with an open heart and being steady n the face of crises, offering solace and new skill sets.  It is not about winning accolades or making big money–heaven forbid–but simplest caring.

It all–this anonymous v. public business–comes down to what I believe about God. If there is any light within me it can be shared, and by sharing it, that persistent light is freed like ripples in a clinic, on a stage, in a neighborhood, even perhaps the world as it is passed person to person. Creative work and any useful human-focused work are spiritual conduits, each a way to enable the blossoming best in everything, everyone: to bring forth the regenerative energy of miraculous, abundant life. We are given souls to greet one another as allies and helpmates. Minds to share constructive problem solving. And bodies to celebrate genius of a cosmos mimicked in our cellular make up.

This expansive yet essential anonymity has been the formative factor of my life, after all–not being publicly known by many, at all. I did not end up living the life my father expected of his offspring.  Family members became expert in their fields (including music), some of their names quite known. It is true that I had dreams of “making good” in the music business as a singer, and also as a writer, but my life trajectory took another route after marriage in 1971. It became more isolated and a quieter life made of more mundane events than overtly extraordinary–or so those judging types out there might state. I redesigned my criteria for a life of success. And I have experienced amazing people, beheld more than a few wonders.

I was relieved at a crucial level within to be no longer only “a Guenther” but to incrementally become myself on my own terms, and with a husband here and there. Even if all that fell short at times, I began to claim my life fully as mine. I devised it, I tested it, I rebuilt it and God redeemed it many times with an effortless love. I found that, in the end, what matters is what happens during unnoticed years of countless small actions undertaken, and with the ones I get to love, and any goals I can bring to fruition, whether or not others admire them. There are those who won’t know what matters to me as I attempt to manage a few true and valiant things while I have the breath; they are, after all, busy with their own industrious lives–I could reach out to them, too. But many more may not deign to care about my talents and deficits beyond my quick actions or chatter, as I am not “important or accomplished” enough to discover at a deeper level. To them, I have failed to win the awards or money games–while I keep mining the subtler riches of what I have, will yet discover.

I have learned that the most important acclaim comes from inside. And as long as I recognize my basic (if flawed) integrity which upholds a reasonable self worth, I am alright. Just important enough to those who care. No accolades are necessary. This anonymous life is still a life. I am pleased to be working on it and relishing it, day by day. And surprisingly, I suspect that would be alright with my parents, too.

 

Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: Properties of Light

Photos by Cynthia Guenther Richardson

Winter Solstice, when the Northern Hemisphere experiences the shortest amount of daylight, is upon us in two days. Oregon will get about 8.5-9 hours of daylight–and it is all because the Earth spins on a tilted axis.(The Southern Hemisphere will enjoy the longest day of their year.) It is an event that means a great deal to some. For me it signals the first day of winter; it is then we experience peak darkness, as well. This has triggered more thoughts on light and dark and what they mean to me. I consider natural factors that can  or do generate a greater synthesis and balance of all life. As the shortest day comes into the fore and rain has begun to be a constant soundtrack in life here, the matter of light seems all the more magnetic.

Properties of light draw my mind and spirit as well as my eyes. I have an animal and aesthetic sense that my vision readily notes. All creatures are responsive to light’s many effects. Panoramas as well as details pique my interest–and my human eyes, of course, require a greater degree of light to better observe. (Though a sighted person I am a bit familiar with less sight via myopia; I wear contacts or glasses.) A propensity for types of light aids me as a creative person. I sense and watch life unfold early morning until night (with/without camera) and muse over its command, its variability. If I awaken at odd times at night I consider the possibility of light, then remove sleeping mask so consciousness awakens more. I wear the mask because light is so far reaching and vigorous it is as if its vibratory energy charges me–then I stay awake. I have a warm spot for darkness, as well–another aspect of the world of light, since it is absence of light to one degree or another. However, on earth we are unlikely to experience it in totality. At least, physically.

How does a supremacy of light alter thinking and deeper being? The physics of light relate to mental and spiritual well being. We all know someone who experiences Seasonal Affective Disorder, for example, and seek help via artificial light that mimics what is natural. Or know how hanging out in shadowy space a long while can motivate a move into natural light to perk up, feel clearer. Or when people who’ve suffered and felt lost and then undergone a serious change of direction–and share how they’ve exited darkness and emerged into light. We equate clarified understanding with light, as well as improved general wellness: we “feel clear headed, feel lighter.” Those who literally live in deep darkness long periods have negative effects like blindness and bone and muscle weakness. They don’t fare well emotionally, especially if alone. Humans are built to experience and utilize light.

If I was a scientist, I could explain with confidence exactly what/how/why the eye sees, but at best I can refer to what is generally noted. It all is connected to the properties of light. The primary ones include speed (at 300,000 kilometers per second; it holds the universal title for prowess). There is reflection, which photons provide while bouncing off mass/other particles. The color property…rudimentarily, it appears the more light, the more color–or at least, better perception of it. Visible wavelengths of light vary; we view different colors due to this. And surfaces make a difference; some absorb more light than others. Consider the smooth surfaces of quiet water, or shiny metals or glass. One may be momentarily blinded, or taken aback by an often lovely phenomenon. When it is due to the sun’s shining upon all, it seems a true magic act.

I could keep on in this vein, as the natural realms are so interesting. Such as regarding the several sorts of light–nature’s scattered or focused light, unnatural kinds such as ambient or spotlight or mood lighting. Nature provides us with abundance of light properties even via its creatures. Bio-luminescence: the light of fireflies, jellyfish and more fishes, and some fungi to name a few.

In Michigan, one of the great delights was watching lively fireflies woo potential mates with light (a chemical reaction in lower abdomen) from June through August. I sat there for hours when not chasing them with my Mason jar, trying to briefly capture one or two. In Mendocino, California, my sister and I once strolled along a beach admiring the night skies when along water’s edge the sand glowed in blues and greens. My feet sank into the glowing sand and I was left agape. It felt it another sure sign of a Divinity that created this planet. The awe of sharing a realm with  bio-luminescent phytoplankton stayed with me. I thought what we have in common, plankton and humans: each is full of complex energy of light, reflective of Divine illumination, contributors to the earth’s grand diversity.

And we can see light moving and beaming in people–especially when they are happy or living in their potential, as though brain and soul maximize those qualities.  We see see it gleam in the wise or those who greatly love. We are drawn closer.

And think how gifted humans are –we have part of God operating within our cellular structure since we are made of the same as stars (which ultimately emit starlight fro far away). We can aspire to remarkable things thanks to a well of inspiration we each possess if we are attentive. We have developed expansive knowledge each century; we can reach for past wisdom to gain more revelation. We have within our innermost selves tools to rebuild what is in disrepair, to create out of what has been diminished. Beauty and strength reawaken from devastation due to our inclination, our vision, our efforts.

I am not a real gardener but I can see a metaphor for my life as I consider our African violet plant. It sits on our coffee table, generally. It began to fade although I was watering it, tending to it carefully, picking off parts that looked unhealthy. Leaves began to wilt and decay, as if I had fussed over it too much, so I backed off watering and didn’t often touch. That helped but then I got busy with other things and the dirt got overly dry, even cracked, and tiny blossoms withered before opening in full. I moved it to a windowsill as sunshine grew warmer and away when it was cooled by lowering temperatures or gray skies. I wanted so much to keep this plant healthy. My husband cared, too, as it reminded him of his beloved grandmother who kept them in a bay window. I loved her, as well, and understood.

The one thing that is clear was that the entire plant has reached in earnest for any light. No big surprise, you think; that is its nature. Still, to see that. It was like looking at a lovely ballerina stretch, point her fingertips to sky. However, it soon appeared lopsided as delicate stems and leaves lifted and leaned toward the wide window–straining for ever more sunshine as summer ended. or so I thought, so I kept moving it here and there to see what was useful. I suggested to it that it hang in there, be its beautiful self despite my ignorance. It remained lopsided now despite changing its position. But blossoms bloomed, each a velvety rich purple. It gives us a small happiness. I am more at ease about its care now. This plant and I are learning how things work together, it seems. I give it the benefit of the doubt, let it grow its own way; I will not neglect it or push it too hard again.

The African violet challenge reminds me of how my spiritual life continues to grow and change. I have to be careful but not too careful that growth is squelched by my circumventing, over-attentive intensity. I need to better allow God to nudge and direct me, internally and externally, as I live day into night. And let others in my life give me more clues. I do trust that despite my anxieties and failures and wounds, there remains the ubiquitous constancy of God. That is, Divinity, Divine Love, Creator, Maker of All, Healer, Great Spirit, Perfect Mind. Yes–here it is–the Everlasting Light.

The more I learn about nature and basic physics, the more I realize God’s presence. I tend to experience little separation between Divinity and life in the here or beyond. As above, so below, as the old maxim goes. That is, unless I put a division between us like a fortress wall. Which I have done–due to weariness or cynicism bought on by heartbreak or substance abuse or assortments of pain that took me to a hard limit. This impulse to turn away from Light has occurred despite never disbelieving in an essential holiness of life and wholeness. I cover my mind and spirit with perseveration or distractions of no merit and the light cannot easily get in. I can become petty and sour, critical of small things and angry over others of negligible value in the big picture. And I too often defend and justify and rationalize my character weaknesses. This, rather than face myself in the revealing truth, the certain cure of facing the light.

The increased lack of natural illumination as night falls has its layers of meaning, its wonders. An urban lifestyle makes moonlight and starlight far less easy to access. I value the darkness I experience, though, and shadows that transform all with gradations of light until the curtain of darkness sweeps across my view. They each inform and comfort me, and if I had my way I’d stay awake more of the night. But the animal I am has a need of rest and so I turn out my bedside lamp and close the shutters and put on my sleep mask to finally slumber. Often at dawn I awaken despite desire to sleep more. There comes fresh light slinking and glinting, delving past eyelids. I lean toward the window at last without the eye covering and behold the day breaking open. I am thrilled that I be able to awaken, get up to stand firm, to begin play and work.

As Christmas nears, I meditate more profoundly on the Light that Jesus talked about: the warmth of a burning, shining light of Love. An embracing, unconditional love to claim, to grant ourselves as well as to others. To receive from and return to God who made us via miracles of science and metaphysical genius. This is the true Light I seek each day– as long as I am willing to be more like an African violet, free to accept the power it gives, to benefit from yet give something back, to allow any inherent splendor to come to fruition. Transformation happens one we say yes. We are made to be charitable, intelligent creators and givers; we have the power to effect change that helps rather than hinders. Let’s not mistake glitter of this season nor glossy affectations or promises of temporary gain as signs of a loving kindness that sticks. It’s not what we need here and now, and not for the wailing bowl of this scooped out, injured earth. We each can do better by taking a risk to reveal who we are, and be open to little miracles. To see what might happen that can work better–work well.

As the darkness takes its turn in lieu of sunlight, as shadow slips over hands and face, I ask myself again: how much better can love be reflected towards those I know, and those whom I know little, and those whom I have not yet met? What generous properties of light can I somehow put into practice? That is my renewed task and privilege, a labor of care, working with manifestations that share one potent design.

Step forward into the light. Bring to each other your gifts. Let charity flow.

 

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Readers and fellow bloggers,

I thank you for showing up to read my writing and to share thoughts at times. I’m grateful to be writing WordPress posts since December 2010! That is 681 prose posts. And that does not include the now-closed Poetry for the Living and Visionary Views blogs I posted for over a few years, as well. It has been great fun, and excellent for honing skills, as well. It’s always surprising to me when I note that I have well over 15,000 followers, and I am deeply appreciative.

I hope for your well being and for many moments of grace to manifest in your lives, however you celebrate these holidays. For peace and for kindness, first and last.

I have one more post this Friday–then I will join you all again in 2019 as we continue to create and share in this community of folks.

To those of Christian faith as well as you who like to  celebrate this time: from my home to yours–have a Merry Christmas!

Warm regards, Cynthia

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“God did not create evil. Just as darkness is the absence of light, evil is the absence of God.” –Albert Einstein

 

 36“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment.39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  (Holy Bible, Matthew 22:36-39)

 

Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: Samhain, a Celtic Festival and Local Heritage

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I went to a Celtic Festival last week-end and had a grand experience with their version of Samhain. A Gaelic festival, it is thought to have been initiated about 2000 years ago, at the end of harvesting and beginning of winter. Thus, it notes the changeover from summer to winter, from lighter to darker months. and occurs about halfway between autumn equinox and winter solstice. It is believed that the veil between this world and the other world is thinnest on October 31-November 1 and spirits pass through. Ancestors were honored and spiritual or other harm was hopefully warded off with costumery and vivid masks. This, as one can see, relates closely to our Halloween when folks dress in scary or fun outfits and venture into the night for a bit of revelry and treats.

I am part Irish (the common “Kelly” is my mother’s father’s family name) and feel kinship with the traditional music and dance. So, when I discovered a Celtic festival was taking place an hour away I was all in. One of the first things noted was a flag depicting six Celtic territories of Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Cornwall, Isle of Man, Brittany–and the seventh noted is Galicia,  (Spain), which apparently has been disputed. I would enjoy learning the definitive conclusion on this, if anyone knows.

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The festival took place in the Spinning Room located within the Willamette Heritage Center, created by the Mission Mill Museum and the Marion Co. Historical Society.  The old woolen mill was established in 1889 by Thomas Lister Kay, and has been well-preserved. A few more buildings from a missionary enterprise (that sought to convert the Native American population during 1834-44) were relocated from a site 13 miles north along the Willamette River. Those photos will be shared later. You will note a life-sized sculpture of a sheep, the creature whose lush wooliness underlay the booming business.

These are a few initial pictures of the grounds.

The buildings and grounds are  marvelous; we enjoyed exploring all day in between festival events.

Marc and I wandered about the cheery gathering, shopping for a few goodies at the marketplace in the Spinning Room of the Mill Building. We looked at the wool and noted the processes required to make the yarn and enjoyed watching a friendly woman spinning.

And saw kilt folding by Eric Chandler as he demonstrated how men traditionally folded and put on their kilts. He noted that his shirt was on backwards–so he righted that. I lack technical language to explain all this so will simply share what was observed. (A last picture of it being draped over his shoulder did not come out well.)

Entertainment was enjoyable, from Gordon Munro the enthusiastic storyteller to a singer and dancer (Brian O’hAirt and Maldon Meehan) who performed sean-nos, a more casual, free and intimate style of Irish dancing and singing, if I understood correctly. They are quite accomplished. And I am ready to take classes!

Even though I’d hurt my knee recently it has been healing well so I impulsively joined in as the ceili dance got underway. The fine band Biddy on the Bench played for us. It was well worth the effort it to meld with the cheerful crowd, people helping one another learn. I have been to one other and hope to attend Portland’s monthly ceilidhs. This time, after 15 minutes the tender knee required me to sit out the rest, though I tapped my happy feet and bounced about!

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This is music and dance after my own heart. I wished my mother was alive and could have been there with us. Edna Kelly Guenther loved a good gathering and merriment and told stories about big and little things in life that I feel no one can match.

Afterwards we strolled about and looked at and in the mill and missionary structures.

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A few pleasing shops shown below are in the above building; we ducked in to get out of rain. Our favorite was the bookbinder shop and Spencer, the book binder’s son who now runs the shop, shared some of his trade and how much he loves his work.

Buildings that stand to the right of the mill area include houses from the 1840s and Pleasant Grove Presbyterian Church from 1858.

We have come to the end of our Samhain Celtic Festival outing and a big thanks to the Ceili of the Valley Society.

But the real Samhain starts tonight. Have a safe and happy one (or Halloween) if so inclined. And welcome a good winter–our rainy season has begun in earnest here!

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(PS You might take a look at a re-post of last week’s neighborhood sights with a touch of Halloween, since the photos then were a bust–sorry for that glitch. Now they can be seen!  Friday’s Passing Fancy: Historic Irvington Fall Mosey )