Friday’s Passing Fancy/Poem: This, and What Lies Ahead

Day 6 Interlochen, Leelenau 042
Green lake, MI. Photo by Cynthia Guenther Richardson

This sweet tang of Indian summer,
how it turns me over with its
strewn luxury, all that brass
and fire, coral and sapphire.
The air is laden with promise;
sun hitches a ride on my back
as if tagging along for the thrill.

And then a small vortex of wind
calls out, careens, an edge of ice
secreted in its wild timbre.
A taint of sootiness threads
this sheerness, such rose of sunsets.
Clouds gather in fists, then dance.
I know well what lies ahead,
heavy velvet days that merge
with chilled silence of night.

All will be safeguarded,
blankets flung about and the
wood stove will be radiant with heat.
This heady flare will dim, one verve
becoming another as great trees
surrender their raiment and rest.
How far am I now from beds of snow
for angels, peals of laughter to scoop
and fill up hollows with winter?

So far that, when I step off the plane,
the Oregon rain with its fineness
and ferocity, even somber romance,
cannot rival the dangerous splendor
of ice strung from northern eaves,
mystic swords winking, startled by light.

The Power of Blue-Greeness

lake-michigan-up-close

The northern Michigan lake waters were undulating with energy, striated with transparent blues that changed with the angle of sunlight. I sat on the dock and watched waves roll onto the rocky shore like a long exhalation, then listened to the inhalation as they pulled back. In the distance, the others were horsing around on a floating dock so I took off my glasses and jumped into the jade-to-navy depths. There would be time to sit and daydream later when the sun went down.

The water rushed over my legs and arms, covered my head. I opened my eyes enough to make out shadows and shapes beneath me. Swaying plants tried to entangle me, bits of muck floated up from the bottom then floated on. As I swam further out the sediment settled, the waters cleared. I could spot fish darting this way and that and sometimes felt them skim by my legs or nibble my toes. Though I was not conversant in the fine art and science of fishing, I loved their names as well as delicious flavors: perch, bluegill, yellow bass, trout, pike, whitefish. I dearly wished my parents fished. I enjoyed observing those who cast their lines patiently, admiring the skills of such a peaceful pursuit.

We played on and around the floating dock for hours, forgetting about the sun’s power to singe our skin after the initial slathering of baby oil. We engaged in uproarious cannonball jumping contests that left our skin smarting. I loved to dive and practiced making my body taut and thin and swift like a knife as it sliced through the lake’s ever-moving surface. On the way back up I followed the stremas of light, finally shooting up and out, silent, at ease. I felt at home surrounded by lake life.

Nearby powerboats showed off, young men and women demonstrating their prowess behind the wheel. I knew I would be waterskiing before the week-end was over and anticipation surged through me. There was nothing like the experience of being tugged through the water, legs straining to hold up cumbersome skis, the tips just out of the water, then that tug becoming a force that yanked me up so I could ride the surface. It was either stand tall, use every muscle in thighs, torso and arms to keep balanced and upright or fall, sputtering, into a choppy wake. Once up and steady, gliding and zigzagging across water was an explosive thrill for body and mind.

And then there were canoes, sailboats, and rowboats. I was happy in any of them. As I floated and bobbed near the edge of the lake, I searched unruly undergrowth as shapes and sounds caught my attention. Birds rose and darted and sang. Birches, pines, beeches and maples and oaks with all their variances of beauty filled me with appreciation. Serenity ruled.

In the evening I would gather with family, friends or neighbors on a rough lawn overlooking the lake to watch fall the lemony-orange globe of sun, that brilliant overseer of daytime whose light gave way to a phantasmagoria of color. And then arrived deep mystery of darkness.

Nature revealed itself differently in the soft charcoal black of evening. After we played the fireflies’ “catch-as-catch-can” game, their luminescence like blessings, a wall of sound surrounded us. Frogs’ light or bass voices, crawling and flying and biting insects, flip-flops of fish, the lake’s shushing vocalizations, four-legged creatures scampering and scratching, winged things (birds and bats vied for air space) with their odd Morse codes. Nothing was as emblematic of lake country as the eerie yodel of the loon, the song floating through the night. With red eyes peering from its elegant black head, its white and black striped body bobbing along, it was startling in its grave loveliness.

Later, someone might light a fire and bring out hot dogs, then marshmallows, chocolate, graham crackers for S’mores. The talk would be generous, easy, traded with quietness that soothed. I would slip away, back down to the dock. Let my feet find the water, its silken coolness sleeking my skin. The fragrances of lake country claimed me, a damp muskiness of earth and fecund sweetness of water, both rare, ancient perfumes. Across the water were lights of more cottages and cabins, other campfires, and they were cast onto water in an ethereal pulsing necklace of gleaming points.

Above, the celestial map of heaven where stars looked to me as if they held all the wisdom if only I could only fly up to meet them. The moon illuminated the lake realms with an opalescent swatch of light, gentle and steady, powerful and unattainable.

I was filled with God’s Presence. I felt whole in and of myself, yet taken beyond the small self that sat upon a weathered dock. I felt flung far beyond yet held close to my body’s confines. Nothing could have convinced me I was not counted as a thread in that perfect, fathomless tapestry because I knew my place in it. Integral to planet earth and the universe. And I felt utterly safe.

This is why blue-green is my color of enchantment: it is the waters of my youth. It is the color of open sky and towering trees in the northern woodlands. It is the night air as twilight bridges afternoon and evening. It is the color that heals, that illuminates, soothes, brings forth living energy within parts of me that are deepest and wildest and ever seeking–and finding–God.

*****

Today I let my heart write. For most of the afternoon I had not one idea, an unusual occurrence for someone who can write the moment pen touches paper or fingers hit keys. I was distracted by musings about a daughter who has been called to pastor a small Presbyterian church in northern Michigan. It is a place she values and, after years living in other states, she is coming full circle. She once resided near the very church she will oversee. In fact, she reclaimed and grew her faith less than an hour away, then embarked on the demanding journey to become the person and minister she is today.

I understand some of the significance of her return to the area. I was there her earliest days, later followed her stumbles and triumphs through time and distance. I know some of the cost of her work, her losses and gains. But beyond that our family of seven often visited the northern lakes and woods for happy vacations, stayed with her paternal grandmother and great grandmother not far from where she will be making her own home. Now she will design another adventure, each year another exploration and revelation.

Her tie to this country and to God awakened some of my own past today. My connection to northern Michigan country goes back over fifty-five years. My parents never owned a week-end home but we knew many people who did and who graciously invited us. It has been a long tradition for scores of families to “go up north” for the week-end or holiday getaways for snow skiing and snowboarding and also each summer, if possible. So we would follow the caravan of cars, trucks and vans along I-75 to scores of lakes. Michigan has 11,000 such inland lakes. There are 3,000 miles of Great Lakes coast. There is plenty of water for everyone.

Going up north was a joyous occasion. The bountiful landscapes called to me with an intensity I can only partly describe but recall viscerally though I have been gone from Michigan for 22 years. The breathless wonder I felt along those pine-strewn pathways, amid ghostly, stately birches; the joy that arose with scents and permutations of lake waters; the peace that entered my being like osmosis as I wandered ragged shores–it was a gift every time. It was no small salvation to be up north as I attended what is now called Interlochen Arts camp, where the arts and nature combine to provide powerful creative energies. My childhood and youth were rocked by life-changing trials. To my relief I early on discovered nature provided a conduit for God’s presence that I sometimes could not otherwise locate. Here was indelible proof that there was order, grace, symmetry, reliability, perfection amid irregularity, possibilities emerging from devastation and renewal from sudden loss.

The lakes, the forests, the secret, complex pulse points of places that returned hope and its innocence to my childhood were cherished. I called upon them as one calls upon Ominpotence for rescue. God heard me; I, God. There, I was righted when I faltered. With the singsong rhythms of the lake, Divnity sang old, regenerative songs. Within the seasons of the wild was the promise of permanency as all else shifted around and within me. There, kneeling on a piney cushion under trees, gazing out over the rippling water, emerging into sun and winds that polished my skin, I learned the earth’s story. It was courageous and wise. The outdoors gave wings to a weighted soul and guided me toward a faith that could not be contained within brick and glass, nor practiced only before an altar. This faith journey had its passage guided by a compass of the stars, which never left me, which never dimmed.

Along the way, happiness always returned. How could it not, with birds nesting and calling out? How could it not, with the rise of sun casting gold on water and the wind sculpting waves of teal, silver and sapphire? I would have never known that life could be so abundant, infused with delicacy and strength without those nights and days of water’s tales, campfires and fireflies unmasking the darkness and revealing miracles within enchanted lands.

Daughter, I know what calls to you. I have heard it, too. It is the voice of Almighty God that never sleeps, that cannot forsake us, that will not promise more than can and will be given. It is life lived in the center of the universe, inside the heart of a wood, in the great chalice of a lake and sky, in the opening of our hearts and hands: a victorious message offered all humankind.

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(For Caitilin, may your days and nights be imbued with Love)

 

 

 

 

News from a Place Unnamed

It was the time of day when golden light beguiled and confounded. The lake’s surface shimmied as though a spirit danced but it was perhaps the wind, a swift freshening at end of summer. The fir trees ruled with subdued power as they always did. Birds alighted and sang within their branches; deer, squirrel and fox passed one another with barely a glance, then circled a massive cedar. A lone white butterfly looped around flowers and descended upon an inviting yellow petal. Light like a veil drifted between bushes and vines, mushrooms and ants, its glimmer reaching into the darkest crevasse. Roused from sleep, a luxuriant skunk emerged from its spot beside an ancient nurse log. Bright dust rose as a snake undulated across a trampled pathway. And there it stopped. Nearby a colony of ants ceased work. Three ravens closed their wings.

The air itself was still. All was captive in this moment, animal, plant, mineral.  Breath was withheld, sound made silent. And the opulent light reached far beyond itself, transmuting all so that everything-woods, water, creatures, sky-was an essence gleaming, and all of one thing.

From the distance travelled minute vibrations that stirred the earth; small and large creatures felt it move right through them like invisible sparks. And when it arrived in this place, the pulsing sound was unlike any that predators or prey had known. It rang out in a vibrant voice, but the voice was a kaleidoscope of music. It imbued the air as life permeated blood. Fragrance emanated from the sound waves, a strange, triumphant scent of all universal elements, an elixir spilled from some secret source unseen in these woods.

The light swirled the blues of the watery depths, and then, as though a magician’s hand at work,  revealed all colors known and unknown. In a flash of dark-to-light, a scrim fashioned of overlapping hues fell , and the greenness of the woods vanished. The trees rustled in agitation, then stilled again. Near the cedar, the lone deer dared to step forward, her eyes luminous, nose raised to the beautiful scent, ears flared and turning as though longing to hear the music once more.

And then she stepped closer to fox and squirrel, to snake, ant and skunk, her burnished fur grazing the cedar trunk. But her gaze held steady, even when a sleek white wolf appeared at the water’s edge. He turned his head to look at her, then lifted it high, his body perfectly at attention, proud and strong as a sentinel should be.

There, just above the water, they arrived, by fours and eights, by sevens and nines. Their caftans fell away from their tall radiant bodies as they gathered. They were indistinct from one another and yet they moved independently, each elaborate gesture like a sentence, while each unified movement told a bigger story. When beneath them a mammoth wooden boat skimmed the water’s surface, they descended to it. Their presence illuminated the spectral boat and the gentle waves it caused were limned with silver.

They were the Chalice Curators, travelers between all worlds, caretakers of the saddened earth, most esteemed teachers and messengers. Curates of life. Of souls. Many knew them as angels over the aeons–yet how they passed unnoticed until most needed was a mysterious thing indeed.

The wolf knew what the curates required, and so he walked to small wayside, a stick shelter erected opposite the cedar. He stood at the open doorway, head turned to a small person who now rose and stepped into the light. Q., the little one, the weaver. She was not much taller than the elegant beast who walked beside her. Her long hair was adorned with leaves and flower petals and her clothing made of softest moss. But she took sturdy, long steps; she was strong in this world, she knew that was often true. Still, it had been a trying year. The coming months would require much of her. Q. needed a little power.  A way to better see and do what she needed to do on this earth. For she loved it here despite the hard work, the confounding ways. She needed the liberating knowledge of the Chalice Curators, their most compassionate gifts. So Q. had called to them. And they had come as they had come once before, in the beginning of her days.

Q. grabbed the thick white fur and swung atop his back and he gathered speed, the rich, bright rushing past their bodies and softening their hearts. She saw the bemused deer and the others and waved to them. Then, as though it was the most natural event, wolf and girl rose and hovered over the water, then dropped into the travellers’ midst, into that flowering of light.

And the breathtaking brightness drew back across the lapping water. The air cooled. The countless trees adjusted their branches in the sudden shadows. The fox and all his companions melded into the inviting depths of the forest. But the deer ventured forth and stood at water’s edge, looking, looking. Nothing spoke or sang except the forest itself, and then the lake water and all the neighbors, friend and foe. She took a long sweet drink of the cool liquid, raising her head every now and then to see if the majestic boat would return, as it was so wonderful to see. But hours of earth time would pass before that happened, and the deer would be foraging in the twilight then.

The white wolf reappeared. He held back then stepped closer and drank at his leisure beside her. Quietly, they each went their separate ways and sought the comfort of the emerald forest. They would meet again when the Chalice Curators returned to them their young novice of Light.

(For my wondrous children and grandchildren)