Friday’s Quick Pick/Poem: One Love, One Life, One God

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Though health may elude me or
riches arrive, betray and leave
there is a wonder that visits
with a whisper, a deep ease of life
and folds me into gratitude
like a cocoon; it generates courage
and beauty that cannot wither.

For still humanity dares to be humane,
wild creatures birth and roam.
Sun watches like a merciful witness
and moon gilds our way through sleep.
Again, ripening harvest times
break open a splendor of change.
Rains signal to me like gifted
fingers over ancient drums.

Inside this breath, upon this heart
there is certainty of an etheric veil
which sways open and closed
like wings of rarest guardians
of one Love, one Life, one God.
I retrieve these gifts, bow my head.

 

(See you folks in ten days–I’m off on another small adventure. Be well.)

From Fire to Rain, Power to Power

iPhone late sumer, early fall 050
Photos by Cynthia Guenther Richardson

I have long found weather fascinating– amazing, perplexing, harsh and daunting but always impressive. Its complexity, changeability. Beauty, strangeness, danger.

I grew up living along with four seasons: snow-driven winters and hot, humid summers, unstable yet welcome springs and the glorious palettes of crisp autumns. That meant four kinds of clothing for activities: thick woolens, snow boots, hats, scarves and mittens; delicate dresses, shorts, sandals; rain coats and umbrellas; light-to-medium sweaters with long pants. Being prepared for 12 months meant unboxing then boxing back up items just as one became adapted to the current season.

When I moved to the Pacific Northwest I discovered the novelty of basically two seasons: Rain and No Rain.

The last three days presents me with the giddy relief of this juxtapositioning: woolly clouds bunching up and releasing precious moisture onto cracked and dusty earth. Onto me. Areas of bare skin are soothed by a long-missed pleasure. An extravagant sweep of wind aids me in my walk as autumn leaves spiral then are swamped in puddles and pools, a few overflowing drains. I breathe more deeply than in months; it’s as if clarified air carries its gifts into hungry red blood cells. But even four days ago there were layers of smoke, vert little brisk walking if any. I am so grateful for autumn’s quick start.

Weather affects all of us, now more than we thought it could. Other places have been tormented by hurricanes and earthquakes and my heart cries out for those ensnared by chaos and loss. More temperate weather events and our safety seem less like something we can count on, and so we live in ever more anxious times. Nature does as nature will do, that is clear, and we adapt, experience threats, know great losses.

Pacific Northwesterners meanwhile are working and playing on and around the Cascadia subduction zone, too, and it gives us pause as we consider the projected catastrophic earthquake that likely will someday occur. There additionally are 18 volcanoes in the Cascade Range, most of which have been active, with 7 so far rumbling and spewing in the last 200 years. There was the eruption of Washington’s Mt. St. Helens in 1980 that choked even our city with ash. I can see Mt. Hood, majestic and formidable, when I cross our many bridges or drive east into the Columbia Gorge.

But lately here in my valley–between the active volcanic Cascade Range and the Tualatin and Coast Ranges–it has been a burning summer, a crackling expanse of vast place and time, fiery days to nights into days and more nights. My body basked in a fan’s whipped-up air, (even hot air) and the trusty AC in most living areas. At one point, 57 days elapsed without rain and then came a short drizzle, then more weeks of no rain. The average temperature was 85 degrees Fahrenheit but it hit 100 with no problem. And Oregon’s wildfires raged on with over 640,000 acres ravaged at last count. And this wasn’t the worst fire weather on record though it affected many more people right here. With the arrival of the rains, wildfires in the Columbia Gorge are smoldering, perhaps soon extinguished. Fire season may be wrapping up at last.

Those of us either born in the Northwest or who have lived here some time (25 years for me) know there will be doses of very warm weather with bright sunshine off and on for another month. And then the driving, dribbling and chilling, gusty rain will make itself at home and remain until next late spring. Snow has already fallen in the Cascades; ski season may be excellent this year. Unsuspecting newcomers arrive in droves early to late summer and are overjoyed by our dramatically green, dry landscape and sparkling skies, not considering how much rain will fall the remainder of time. We have lots of bars and coffee houses that are even more stuffed in winter. You have to appreciate cloudiness and accept being wet to put down roots.

It is not hard for me, the rainfall. Darker starts to the day with earlier nightfall gentles body and brain, can challenge with cold dampness and insularity but also delight. It works well for writers or for anyone who digs deep into greater depth and breadth of solitude to ponder, dream, create. And my daily walks do not stop. I only hike less in sloping hills, mountains, woodlands–too much muddy trail and threat of landslides. And after the fires, the earth is far more unstable than usual. But hiking can wait for the eventual drying out.

Rain. Water that sustains and wields great power. I chart a new sort of compositional latitude and longitude, how these movements map the autumnal sky. Rain music lifts on a breeze, sinks with a lull, peaks as water pours down and drums roofs, branches, pavement and dirt. The constancy of it. Syncopation and freshly scored tempo. The misty auras of light that rim a horizon and seep from behind mountains–for sun will come and go as rain accumulates, runs with rivers. It fills me with bittersweet longing amid a bone-deep calm. Moves me as it cleaves to growing things, a sheen on all it touches. Teaches me stillness within the whorls of beauty and motion.

I have had enough of blazing blue sky and relentless heat and sweat that thickens along my spine. Had enough of rapacious fire, daily warnings of more being ruined. Perhaps I am weary, too, of my own unexpected life strife, a summer of high hopes and pointed, hard truths for myself and my family. Love and its fractures. Faith that begs to be tested. Strength that shows at times only a fair resolve. Summer can paint everything glorious even amid weakness or pain. But fall and winter…they offer different architectures of internal and external space, those pops of color alongside greyness imbued with scent and sign of rain.

I welcome the wet season. Can manage the shift, shape it into this or that while long blue shadows spread over my desk. What I thought was cool silence is only a breath between notes of rain…like a skirt that is all hidden pattern until it flares in every direction when its wearer begins to dance. My own dances are formed of gratitude, head bowed or lifted high, soul brimming as rain soothes and charges me. Just Monday spontaneous movement unearthed tears as I watched rain streak the air, a tide of tension coming forward, moving away. And there was a good peace felt as God’s presence. There are days I just trust that whatever comes, life will move me along one way or another, even if carried by angels.

The senescence of autumn, its leading to winter is a kindred state for me. A friendly reminder of who I am and yet may become in the midst of upheavals of many sorts. They can bring us each into bolder maturity, richness of spirit as the miracle of life displays inventiveness. Even as circumstances–and weather–inform and press us to be patient. To hold steady, offer a hand. Attend even the ache of it, and then make better where the good must be done.

 

Since I have not yet photographed rain much this year, I wanted to share farmer’s market scenes enjoyed well before rain visited. How fortunate to partake of the abundance; I do not forget this as I peruse the options for healthy food, alone.

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Friday Nights at Bumble’s

photo by Tony Brock

(Photo credit: Tony Brock; Source: spitafieldslife.com)

It’s been Maggie, Carny, Irv and me, Livia, every Friday night from almost the start, but maybe that’s the problem. Going on twenty years, believe it or not, meeting at Bumble’s Bar and Grill. Maybe it’s the rain that’s helped drive us there. But back then Irv could still hear and see great. Maggie was barely into her twenties. She had a spirit that could knock you off your feet, lively and smart, a joke readied for any occasion. Now she listens more and fusses over her miniature dog like it’s–pardon me–she’s royal, feeding it chopped liver and boiled potatoes or whatever it is now. Miss Molly’s her name. Would that I were Miss Molly; I’d  never want for anything. Don’t get me wrong, I like pets well enough and have had a few. But now I have “late-onset allergies” the doc said. It seems the specter of aging is trying to hunt and hog-tie me. So far I’ve run faster. But a shaggy dog or cat might do me in right now.

Carny was the only one new to town. He was the sort of man who might bring you lunch and a rose at work because it was Monday. He smoked a pipe and was more quiet than I expected. He said there was too much talking when he was a travelling salesman. And he had a complicated name when he arrived: Sebastian Leonard Pettingrove. He went by Lenny but we already had two of those at Bumble’s so that had to change.

So when I noticed he started complaints with, “I tell you, life–what a circus!”, I nicknamed him Carny.

“What? Why carnivals? I don’t like carnivals, never have. A circus is another thing but too much going on in too many rings. Carnivals are for kids, aren’t they.” He had a habit of making firm statements.

I was embarrassed. He was a well-made man, barrel chest and square shoulders. He had the brightest eyes, a graying head of hair. His cap was perfect; it rarely came off. Well, sometimes  it did but that came much later. Right then it was all I could handle to  look him straight in the face for more than a second or two.

“Well, I don’t much, either, but I can’t very well call you ‘Circ’, now, can I? Would you rather Sebastian, then?”

His wide brow wrinkled as his eyebrows shot up. I thought I’d made a mess of it but Irv and Maggie backed me up, saying it suited him, lightened things up.

“Okay, I’ll take that. Sort of silly but…maybe that’s good!”

He ordered me a fancy drink. I felt redeemed.

“You should set a wedding date right away.” That was Irv for you.

“Why would you say that?” Maggie chimed in. “You’re going to scare him away when he needs good friends. Right, Livia?” She had a fresh-faced guy at her side then and he rolled his eyes at us. He didn’t get Irv at all, which was a fatal flaw. “But Irv is a professional so he might have a point.”

Carny was puffing on his pipe and glanced the other way, as if he wished there was another table but it was crowded. We didn’t know then that this was the last thing he’d want to hear. He turned back to us, blew a couple soft puffs of smoke up to the rafters.

“If you can take a teasing at the start about name like that, you’re likely suited.” He sipped his steaming coffee with eyes closed, as though it was the best cup ever. Later, before I took him home, he’d have one beer. He was a man of moderation except for sharing good will.

Irv was the unofficial matchmaker of the town. Everyone said he made a better plumber by far but he had called thirteen marriages in nearly twenty years so he had the right to weigh in. Ten held so far. He loved doing it. He had never married, though. Said he’d gotten close enough to it through matchmaking.

Love from a distance, I thought, has its points.

“But when you see two people who are good for each other and it all works it feels like you’ve done right, you did a good deed. But when it doesn’t work out, that’s a sad day for all. Nobody wants a wounded heart.” He spit into his glass discreetly. “Besides, never knew a woman who liked chewing tobacco. I use it to focus sometimes, like when I’m caught way under a sink, trying to not think about when it was last cleaned.” He shrugged. “But you know, fixing a bad pipe is good. I like making things better for others.”

True. You could count on him to warm up a room just by saying hello. He stopped to talk to strangers, never left a person unnoticed. Carny saw right off that he didn’t let the night end on a sour note.

“It’s a talent to be so optimistic. The man is generous with kind words, Livia.”

We were finishing dinner at my place. I thought Carny was a smart man but I had other things on my mind. He’d been around for two or three months by then.

“Irv was a friend of my pop’s before he passed, and after that he came by and asked if he could join my group. ‘What group?’ I said. ‘Whoever finds a chair fits in here. Besides’, I told him, ‘it’d  be our honor.’ Irv took the place he liked, his back to the wall so he could see the action.”

Carny helped me with the dishes and gave me a hug when he left.  Irv’s magic was working. But it turned out that Carny still had to get his divorce papers. It all worked itself out like Irv predicted, two years later.

Much is different now. Can’t help but be, I guess. Time does things to people. Maggie got sick with a painful nerve problem and had to quit waitressing. Irv is going deaf and doesn’t match make often–it’s an old art, fading fast. And Carny’s touchy lately, daily. Turns out he’s got wanderlust. He can’t decide if he wants to travel around a bit on his own or wait until I retire. I have my factory job supervising a bunch of people. Work and I were made for each other. Maybe Carny is just restless. A change of pace, new scenery might do him good.

But will he really come back? I miss him thinking of even a small trip. I get a tug when he walks by, and a shiver when he stares out the window.

I do know what he’s feeling. I feel it, too. The shortening of time, like I’m accordioned by it, squeezed by each minute and can’t shake loose. I want to stretch life out, make it all last longer. I want more surprises than the usual.

These Friday nights, see, are so alike. Same people stopping by to join us, rotating weekly specials that cost too much. Same ole talk. The various kinds of rain. What the neighbors are up to. What the cost of even chicken is these days. And was I still thinking of putting that incompetent (and nameless) employee on notice? Too, the crowds are getting rowdier at Bumble’s since several houses were made into rentals for college kids. Sometimes I like the bustle. Others, it goes against my grain.

But Maggie called me last night. Irv is turning seventy-seven this Friday, four days before I turn fifty-six. We celebrate it every year together at Bumble’s.

“Do you think he’s up for a party?” she asked.

“Of course he is.”

“He’s seemed distant lately; spacy is a better word. He’s more forgetful. It worries me. Maybe all the people and activity are getting to be too much.”

“He’s almost eighty! If Irv forgets occasionally, he deserves that much. Hopefully he recalls the best of things. Does he seem bothered by forgetting? Has it caused him trouble yet? No.”

There was a long pause. “You don’t have to get snappy, Livia. I want to do what’s right for you both. I’ve been your friends a long, long while.”

I could hear the hurt. And I felt that feeling again, as though time was catching up to us and making life harder for all. “Please, let’s plan it as always. You get the balloons or cupcakes and I’ll get flowers. Carny will do something, not sure what.”

We assembled at seven, just as wind-driven rain slammed the place. The owner and all the regulars pulled up chairs. There were German chocolate, red velvet and plain white cupcakes with single candles on Irv’s and mine, all courtesy of Maggie. Balloons were bouncing off the ceilings, green and gold ones. My orange and yellow mums and zinnias were festive.

Irv stood up and got his speech out of the way.

“I’ve said it every year: being this age isn’t much different from being twenty or thirty except I’ve lived a lot longer and have the good and bad stories to prove it. Stick around for the stories later.” He enjoyed the cheers and applause, then sat.

I raised my glass. “I’m going to quit celebrating birthdays the year I retire. But one more time, thanks for hanging out with me the last twelve months!”

Someone said that would be the day I’d need a funeral since I was a workaholic. That wasn’t news. Everyone grabbed a cupcake before they remembered to sing “Happy Birthday”. Irv’s candle sputtered a little, then went out before he blew on it.

Then Carny stood up. He took off his cap–that made me nervous.  He stood up tall. He cut a figure even in his old blue sweater and baggy jeans.

“I could think of nothing to get you two, sorry, and I ran out of time.” He made a sad face. “Life–what a circus it can be…”

There were groans and a few chortles.

“Instead, I thought how I hated being a salesman, even making great money. Then after I left a failed marriage and that job and moved here for some peace you all welcomed me right away. And how you, Irv, helped me get a decent office position that lasted until I retired last year. You had faith in me when you didn’t even know me long. You’ve been a true friend.” He cleared his throat. “And you’ve all shared your good company every Friday with me. Maggie, how often have you taken us to fabulous church potlucks or, even better, trusted me to walk Miss Molly? We’ve had good morning phone chats since you’ve been at home. You remember all the little things in life.”

“Okay, okay, get on with it, Carny,” someone called out, but was shushed.

I sat riveted to my seat, heart all revved up. Was he going to announce he was heading out on an adventure? Was he going to forget it was my birthday as well as Irv’s?

“And Livia.” His grin reached right inside me. “How you changed my life. Not just my routines. Not just things like making me get exercise or buying me good music or saying the right things when I’m a bit low. No, with you I just want to be a much  better person.”

I thought I’d faint. It was pretty personal. I knew he loved me. But what was he was going to do?

He pulled an envelope out of his pocket and looked at Irv, Maggie and me. He waved it around like a thing for all to admire, then handed it to me. No one said a word.

I opened the envelope with trembling hands, pulled out the contents and laid them on the table. My mouth fell open. There was a collective gasp when I held them up.

I stood up. “What have you done, Carny?” I could barely see him through the flood of tears. “Four plane tickets to Hawaii! Are you nuts? You’re blowing your wad on us all?”

“Yeah, so much for travel on a shoestring. I want to have a good adventure with my friends and girl at least once.”

He scooped me up in an embrace. The pub was buzzing and a few pounded the tables to draw more attention.

Irv’s eyes were round as the mums. He kept shaking his head, a funny smile overtaking his wrinkled face. I knew he’d heard it all. And I knew he’d always wanted to go to the islands.

Maggie? She said she’d have to think it over, but unless Miss Molly could come, too, maybe her aunt could take her for a week. And then, shocking the whole place even more she let out a small but deliriously happy scream.

What a gift, that my Carny knows just how to relieve a little boredom, shake up the fates. And when we get back Bumble’s will be here, same as ever.

(This photo prompt was shared on www.particiaannmcnair.com.)

The Sky, the Rain and Moving Through the Night

From my bed at night, the world as experienced through window blinds seems a finely wrought, haunting place.  The sky is silent and deep. The streets rustle with animal and people feet, each voice clearer than in daylight. In my urban neighborhood, night stories unfold like moon flowers, brief and mysterious, perhaps desperate or passionate. I follow them as I lie awake at two, three, four in the morning after something awakens me–a couple calling to each other across a street,  cats in love, a siren slashing through the darkness, the swish of many bicycle tires. Or the past comes alive: someone loved and lost. A small replay of grandchildren singing to me. The peculiar drama of a murky nightmare. Pain in a place I had ignored in daytime that now berates me. But I am at ease in the middle of the night, so give in to its essence. I settle in and drift as though on a sturdy boat.

 The window is left ajar in all weather so air can flow in and out. The blinds are usually shut against any light, but when sleep does not reclaim me, I open them, as well, just enough to see the elements at play, the roof lines of neighboring houses and an apartment building. That is, if I put my glasses on. Without contacts or glasses everything blurs like watercolors on paper. Still, myopia may be responsible for my being at ease in the dark in the first place; I learned sightless navigation from an early age. Night always called me, a secret place of calm and curiousness, senses altered by lack of light but increased quiet, the mind fully alert. It is like walking into a vast space where no one else seems present but things still happen. I am surprised, and usually take comfort.

I could read when insomnia strikes, and occasionally I do, taking the first book off the stacks beside the bed. And I sometimes am taken over by a poem or the first lines of a new short story. But a greater attraction is the sound of the wind as it barrels up the Columbia River Gorge and stirs up the sweet gum and big leaf maple branches. There are the delicate scents of pansies and lemony gardenia drifting from the balcony garden. Roses have been known to intoxicate long after summer. I inhale, lean against the pillows. The bands of sky I see are lighter, sooner that I expect, ebony turning to a deep dove grey, but sometimes I catch a glimpse of the North star if I raise the blinds higher.

As a child I waited for the first snow, going to sleep in great anticipation, the air sharp and clean and full of promise. Now, long gone from Michigan, I wait for the first deluge of our Northwest autumn. Last week I heard it arrive, at first a gentle crescendo so faint I had to sit very still to be convinced it was rain sliding off the roof, splashing against the asphalt. I felt the air breathing. The birds stopped what little they were doing and held fast to branches. Then the rain began to vocalize, fat tear shapes crashing all around like they couldn’t wait to get to earth. Then they joined together in a veil of wetness, falling upon all, hitting my screen sideways, cool spray jumping onto my hands as they pressed against the screen. I nearly got out of bed and went to stand in the triumph of it all.

So the rains had truly, finally begun. I closed my eyes and heard the rapturous sound, smelled the loamy-mineral scent. Sensed the red and yellow dying leaves being happily pressed against dirt and cement. Tasted the richness of rain like a balm. The dark earth welcomed the cascade, and the whole night was transformed.

The sky, the rain found me in the darkness and we then kept each other company as though old lovers.  Brushed velvet sky with its divine embrace, rain a sashay of glistening sound, light that sifted the darkness of this autumnal night.  Relief of rain rain rain rain rain