Friday’s Quick Pick/Poem: Notes from a Journey with a Daughter

 

Ecstatic, potent as a siren with wind-ruffled allure

the sea breaks beyond our lifted hands.

You spin, bend and unravel a cocoon of mist,

hair tossed wide like a burnished net,

catching cries of gulls, shadows of cormorant wings.

 

A dangerous joy! I follow, brace myself

for demon waves that may dare to capture you

but you disappear, no backward glance.

 

I discover you barefooted atop the rocks,

waiting for shoes to float in.

Not stranded; alive, shining.

Eyes are drenched in sea light,

hands licked by stinging salt, alien foam,

and barnacles hold firm beneath your toes.

 

Broken shells you give me, agate adornments,

and laughter that calls to fishes, seaweed,

and you sing free a blaze of light along the horizon.

You dance toward an incoming tide

for you are falling in love, out of

sadness and its dogged fears,

your woman-child wildness stirring up

sweet tang of air, hope anchored again.

Friday’s Pick: Reluctant Traveler On a Breathtaking Adventure

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Photos by Cynthia Guenther Richardson

I meant to have an adventure or two in Colorado and so I did; I had little idea what was ahead.

I am chock-full of images absorbed, moments shared. The first motivation was a desire to visit my oldest daughter and her partner– in his element, a place she has been visiting awhile (she lives in S. Carolina). But close behind that was a fascination with one of our Rocky Mountains states. I hadn’t traveled there in decades and not to the same area. I always have loved mountains–anywhere, any sort–as they draw me with their magisterial presence carved from fierce wildness. Intrigued by geological history and flora and fauna that have claimed mountains as home, I am also just a sucker for beauty in its plethora of origins and designs.

I will let my photos show the way I first saw Colorado Springs, the Rockies surrounding it. I knew they would be there–I just didn’t know they would be that up close and personal. I was forever craning my neck, tilting my head to see even better, farther. And I adapted to the 6000+ ft. altitude in a couple of days–a small ache in my head, a little breathlessness at first. (I felt fairly confident since I have been to Banff in the Canadian Rockies, visiting Lake Louise at 5249 ft., as well as Crater Lake in OR. at over 6000 ft.) Fun to experience were the different architectural style of older neighborhoods and good downtown shopping, an impressive art museum and delicious meals– and a sweet evening visit to the famous Broadmoor Hotel. Artist Naomi also taught me a bit about Shibori indigo dying and we created squares of cotton prints together, a satisfying and fun afternoon.

But all that can wait for later posts. Instead, we will go on the short trip I felt quite ready to undertake by my 5th day. I was excited about it: an off-road trail exploration of mountains in a refurbished older Jeep with Naomi, with Adam at the wheel. He has lived in Colorado for over 25 years so knows all about the terrain and adventuring. This is a man who has climbed 14 of 52 mountain peaks 14,000 ft. or so–not just famous Pike’s Peak that can be seen in some of the photos below. A person of many enthusiasms, as is Naomi.

Come follow along to see what I saw and learn what I experienced that was entirely new in my 68 years of living, thus far… The highest peak seen in the last 4 photos is Pike’s Peak. (Sorry, these are not the best clarity, taken late afternoon/evening with  rain clouds gathering and some smokiness. One of many Western summer forest fires was burning not far away; wind carried the smoke in a bit the week I was there.) Naomi and Adam goofed off and posed here when I asked for a picture with mountains behind them downtown.

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Naomi and Adam

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I’m going to skip a few days to move on to the Pike National Forest off-road trail trip. Smoke wafted about as we drove through groups of people exploring a famous city park close by, Garden of the Gods with unusual sandstone formations. These are only a few views of the place as we didn’t stop; it was quite congested. People come from all over to hike, horseback ride, cycle and climb. As we left the worthy attraction and climbed up, the air cleared.

A slide show reveals gradual changes in terrain as we drive higher and  higher in the Rockies toward our destination. Upon arrival at Pike National Forest, amid lots of exclamations of astonishment at the mind-boggling panoramas, I noted a slight headache and the sun was searing in the sparkling air. But not to worry, I thought, we had plenty of water and I was ready to move on and embrace whatever was next!

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We continued on, looking for the off-road trails Adam had mapped. The air fairly crackled with dryness; it struck me how easily a devastating wilderness fire could flare and take immediate hold of the quite arid landscape. We passed also through private ranching country at times, yet for miles and miles there seemed to be nothing but mountains, scrubby plant life, scatterings of tree groupings. It is solitary land, and feels like verging on a great emptiness but for the immensity of sky and grandeur of the mountain range. I was aware of being separated from common civilization, felt the immediacy of the environment scoured by heat and clarity of air, and not uncomfortably jostled by the Jeep navigating rougher dirt roads. Elemental, intense, this territory is transfixing. And I felt a bit off-kilter from what I knew was decreased oxygen. It was a sudden sort of “high” not experienced before, a light-headedness not quite unpleasant as we bounced along. I snapped my pictures of this great American West, was made smaller, more humble by such immensity.

But in the back of my mind I wondered: how much higher. By the time we got a couple of miles down the rougher trails, I was burning up. My daughter switched seats with me so I had more shade and thoroughly wet a bandanna for my face and neck which cooled me nicely. I kept drinking water often as instructed. But I knew it was something else that underlay my body’s discomfort; I suspected it was the elevation and we had quite a way to go. I asked Adam if we were going to descend any time soon and he assured me we would. (I’m not sure how high we were then; I never asked.) I watched the land go by in a daze and finally we started to wind down the mountainous trails and then onto a road. We passed several others having fun on their ATVs. At Wilkerson Pass, amid miles of wide openness at 9504 feet, we got out to eat (I nibbled at half a sandwich) and stretch a bit. I took a “selfie” there, but can you tell I’m feeling a bit out-of-body and thinking: Hold on, Cynthia, you will be alright one way or the other…?

But I really wasn’t. I got blasted with altitude sickness in a couple of hours. Oxygen deprivation. I felt poorly enough that when we got into the city and stopped at a bookstore I had so wanted to visit, I just wanted to lie down. The headache had begun in earnest and I felt queasy. And then the headache got far worse and the nausea did not abate all day and night. It was as if my body had been hijacked; there was nothing to do but surrender to it. “Drink more,” I was urged. How on earth to drink on a bad stomach…but it was constant sips, all night long. I was lost in limbo, caught between the worst full body pain I had felt in a long while coupled with a peculiar disoriented state of mind. I moved awkwardly, feet and legs not working well, to bathroom and back from a living room couch–I never got to my bedroom– body resisting. No pain or stomach pills helped. Symptoms got worse, not better, as hours passed. In a distant way I heard Naomi ask if I needed more medical intervention, and once or twice considered the emergency room. But it seemed too hard to do. My heart felt, miraculously, as if it was beating decently. I could breathe well enough. I simply hung on in the faith it would only more time. A long time…but the damaging night passed into a hallelujah day.

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My daughter said I didn’t sleep until around 6 a.m (neither did she)–well over 15 hours since the beast got hold of me. Naomi was a Godsend watching over me; calm, efficient, kind, I would have been lost without her aid. When I awakened around noon the next day, the pain was receding and my stomach had settled. Not yet up to dancing speed, but I felt more safe and sane. My body felt wrung out as if it had been boondoggled, but there was gratitude that it had about run its course. Hunger was aroused. Not thirst; my very cells felt waterlogged from the constant imbibing of fluids. It seemed as if my flesh and bones had run a marathon through a bad alternate reality, a sort of trial by fire. But I have had those  trials before–different but also challenging.

The important thing was, all was ending up alright; there was a quiet giddiness underlying that. The human body vigorously fights for a renewed homeostasis so it can heal so I’d held on for the ride. Truth is, altitude sickness can strike anyone when above 8000 feet, no matter their fitness, health, age or expectations. Adam and Naomi felt badly it happened but so it goes, I pulled the short straw that time. Until I got up around 9000 ft., I had felt hearty and ready for anything. Honestly, it was at first more aggravating that I was waylaid: my first off-road Jeep trip in the Rockies at age 68–well, I wanted more!

I had to cancel that evening’s flight at a cost, but the next day I felt much more able to return home. I took a last congenial stroll in the lovely neighborhood with Naomi, then packed my bags. I was not glad to leave, only relieved to be recovering. Sad no time was left, to share laughter, conversation, jaunts and good meals with two lively, bright, caring people. I’d discovered joyous experiences plus instructive ones. I would sure go again. Just not likely above 8000 ft.

As my plane descended to Portland International Airport I was delighted to gaze upon our own mountains, the Cascades, as they showed off in a sunset. Mountains, the geography I always will love! Wild, breathtaking (in a true dual sense), daunting and mesmerizing, oddly elegant in their rough-hewn complexity. I am ever confounded by ancient beauties on/within our earth. Count me lucky to be alive another year, another day. The earth has many golden passages that open us to greater illuminations.

(As soon as I disembarked that last trace of headache vanished…at 30 ft. elevation.)

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Friday’s Passing Fancy/Poem: Fruit on Plate with Flowers on Wood

Photo by Cynthia Guenther Richardson

(For NJF)

About the time you think you’ve taken in just
enough to sustain you, to fade ten more marks
left by the world and ease the daily ache
that lodges along the spine like a blunt knife
delved into the earth of your nerves and sinew,
and you admit it is this voyager body and dancer soul
that must hold more, bear and hope and give more–

then you pass the dining room table and see
four sweet fruits nestled beside one another
on a plate found and offered by a daughter
to be used whenever you may desire.
Everything loosens and reassembles
as if the heart’s flesh, tender and tight,
opens then closes around an obdurate core,
the love that will not be ruined,
never dismissed, will not sell its secrets

but this, just being here, now, perfect: for you.

Friday’s Passing Fancies/Poem: Taste for Autumn

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Photos by Cynthia Guenther Richardson

When she settled on the swing
a barreling wind lifted
the edges of her breath
and green gingham dress,
rocked her as if her mother
came to push and catch
so she did not dive
right into autumn’s magic
on each staggering rise and fall.

That sweet fire of swinging faded,
became winter’s crystalline water
but the swing did not forget,
nor the leaves that danced
and gathered at her feet,
tree gifts rusty, tarnished bronze

until like her mother
they left her with a taste
for all dying beauty-
dry sponge of moss
and fermenting apple,
broken leaves, prophetic rain
and love that bargains-
its frailty
its weight.

Handmade: Being a Seamstress’ Daughter

The wished-for dress for my first formal, 1965, my mother completing the finishing touches
The wished-for dress for my first formal, 1965, my mother completing the finishing touches

Watching my mother sew was witnessing a mistress of textile creation in her glory. With a light touch, lengths of fabric were fed under the flexible metal foot, that part through which a strong, sharp needle pierced material with dozens of stitches that always met their marks. She’d sever a tail of thread on the tiny razor edge above it, hold up the piece to examine the work, then get on with the next hem or zipper or seam if satisfied. The passion of her intention was clear. One interrupted only if there seemed a significant lull, or if she invited you to come on. Or if there was spilled blood involved. I wondered how she got done what she did with all of us.

I could often locate where she was by following the sound of the Singer’s (later a fancy Pfaff, which she disliked) machine motor as it revved up and slowed, or scissors snipping or perhaps frustrated vocalizations, sometimes punctuated with a “Thunderation!”–the closest she came to swearing. She was a tough quality assurance inspector of her work, scrutinizing each action. It had to be perfect because there was no other way an item would merit being offered to someone as proper clothing. Including hats; she was a milliner, as well.

I’d run upstairs and peek through the half-open door. I sat or stood nearby as she worked and talked, explaining the success or failure of her project. And she’d listen to my updates on school or some boy. Sometimes I came close and stayed quiet just to observe her hands flying as they measured and cut, adjusted the machine, smoothed out, tore apart to re-do, then realigned parts. Wherever the sewing machine had taken up residence, the most convenient at any moment–my parent’s bedroom or an empty bedroom or the den–was the space she would inhabit. That is, when not teaching elementary students, cooking and doing  housekeeping tasks,  intercepting  messages for our administrator/teacher/musician/conductor father, entertaining, working in the yard, attending church or community meetings, and overseeing the needs and wants of our family of seven. She made my daily grind, which felt slammed with activities, look like nothing at all. I hoped against hope I’d have her energy when I got old(er).

Mom was forty when I was born so that meant when a teen, my siblings had already gone on to college: I had her (and Dad) to myself. I began to appreciate the skill and labor it took to turn out one of my wishes. Decades of practice made her extra-dexterous, her sense of touch highly sensitive and her eye for design more refined. She knew how to resolve the knottiest problems. Her creative impulse and drive kept her going many nights when she should have slept more–but she would to be deterred from having my outfit done for an occasion the next day. I knew her work was expert, proud of what came of her efforts with a sewing machine, a needle and thread.

Mom sewed first because she and her sisters had been taught to sew when very young on the Kelly’s family farm. It was a necessary skill, required for repairing clothing rarely replaced, rendering basic items not affordable, and because the knowledge could carry them forward in life one way or another, perhaps provide them with employment. My two beloved aunts also sewed well. Aunt Mary, the feisty one who did occasionally swear and had been divorced from a reputed scoundrel, a scandal all around, was owner/ head seamstress of her successful business. She whipped up custom clothing, exquisite quilts and decorative items. I found her  as well as the business exotic; she was a big personality who managed to be financially independent even back in the fifties. My mother did the same, but on a vastly smaller scale in our home, making everything from formal gowns to down jackets.

But Mom also sewed because she was drawn to the beauty and challenge of design, to all the materials–including a wide array of fabric– needed for sewing projects. Visual and also visionary, she liked to draw a little, arrange flower bouquets and create appealing meals for a decked out table. She enjoyed crocheting and embroidering in the evenings or when not feeling well. She even reupholstered our furniture a couple times and made drapes. Her hands had to accomplish something for her to be most fulfilled and at ease; idleness didn’t have a place in her frame of reference regarding life.

I was mesmerized watching her lay out yards of fabric on our dining room table: scissors snipping away without any worry of crooked lines, her keen eye cuing an adjustment on a tissue-thin pattern as she suddenly got a better idea for style and fit. A half-dozen pins poked out between pressed lips; I worried she’d swallow one or it might nick her lip but neither occurred. She slid one out as needed, infrequently using the pin cushion when up to full speed. Then to the Singer she would go, and the creation began to take form like magic. She was known to make an entire dress in a couple of days.

Mom primarily sewed for my two older sisters and me, even as we grew up. As our two brothers gained stature and attitude, they were less willing to sport handmade items. Still, she sometimes made trim sport coats, slacks and shirts, even impressive leather vests (there were a few years she figured out how to make darned near anything out of leather for us all). And they had blue jeans to wear any time, they had flannels or simple T-shirts. We, on the other hand, had dresses, skirts, blouses, trousers and pantsuits, then miniskirts (“Not THAT short,” Mom warned) and beyond. She liked (we mostly liked) the classic look but when I turned into a hippie girl, I was on my own.

There were too many children to keep so well dressed; no doubt she was propelled by duty, as well. And it was no dishonor to wear these items. Her handiwork was widely admired by others in town and it pleased us to note, “Thank you, my mother made it for me.”

She also made her own dresses for concerts and other dressy events. They were jewel-colored, sumptuous of fabric, fit for a queen we all thought, as she descended the stairs to join our father in his suit or even tails. Both transformed. It seemed my parents were the perfect duet with matching silver-white hair, dignified bearing and good-natured ways.

We lived only about four blocks from the part of town called “The Circle”–businesses fronted a circular street system, a sort of modified clover leaf. I enjoyed walking up there, visiting the pleasant stores from home goods to pharmacies and a bowling alley and the only movie house. But one of my favorites was Hansen’s. Mom and I visited there when needing to select a pattern and fabric for one of my upcoming musical performances or school dances–or just some new outfits for the start of another school year. I bought things, too, but who didn’t enjoy custom clothing?

Upon entry, Mom and I were greeted by distinctive smells of a multitude of fabrics, the air a dry richness overlaid with acridity of dyes permeating bolts of material standing upright on tables. The wooden floor creaked; overburdened shelves were unevenly lit, a little dusty. Along with fabrics were all the odds and ends that were so critical to finishing a creation: rainbowed spools of thread in neat rows, windowed packages of zippers, packets of needles and pins, each in their own section. The fabrics were organized by type. I loved their names. Cotton and linen, wide- or narrow-wale corduroy, polyester and rayon, satin, taffeta, velveteen and velvet, woolens,  seersucker, organza, brocade, boucle, charmeuse, pique, rib knit, chiffon and many more. I would instantly become heady with possibilities, prickling with excitement as we took a handful in our fingers to test weight and texture. The drape of fabric was important; how the light awakened colors made a difference. The variety of prints held me in thrall as we made our way between a maze of narrow rows. The store seemed huge, choices endless (though, in fact, it was a modest place).

I would head to the table where a half-dozen large, heavy pattern books lay in wait. We pored over pictures, finally making the decision of appropriate style for material I preferred, then I’d locate the slim package in the file cabinets. I recall thinking how amazing it was that frail tissue paper boldly outlined could be pinned on fabric, then to evolve into a kind of wearable art. Occasionally we discussed redesigning a pattern, something she was adept at after years making clothing for discerning customers, too. Often I most looked forward to dressier fabrics and designs made for special events.

When thumbing through many photographs in search of those showing these clothes, I was surprised I could easily recall each handmade outfit worn, even the affair for which it was made. They were good, attractive, sometimes beautiful things. They were made more valuable by the patient, caring hands that created them.

She made clothing and blankets and quilts and more for her grandchildren, as well, a legacy of her love and also her industry. And some also have the ability and desire to make unique art or clothing or jewelry or furniture with their hands.

Photo: Naomi J. Falk

Fabrics, creating, and love: I thought of all this recently when viewing a photo Naomi, my oldest daughter shared. An artist, she took a workshop on dyeing fabrics, the Shibori method, she noted. The indigo color and designs are fresh, lush yet simple, too. I felt a stirring inside, a desire to engage in more visual art again. But mostly I thought of Naomi growing up with her two grandmothers, both talented seamstresses, and her trying her had at making things with them. I knew when she was a child she inherited what I did not, that something extra that enables her to use (ambidextrous) hands to construct surprising objects from unusual or ordinary materials. She once made a several yards-long quilted piece in memoriam for soldiers lost during the Iraq War, of organza, batting, flannel and thread with porcelain “bones”. It was entitled Recall(ed). She’ll continue to explore textiles as well as her chosen medium of sculpture; it’s all in the blood. I think how pleased my mother must be, that her granddaughter is still working with needle and thread.

But not me. I so tried to learn to sew well under my mother’s tutelage and her unerring hawk eye. I got the basics down, can mend, once made simple children’s shorts and dresses, a skirt or two for me. I can make pillows, the easiest projects. But do I have that more glorious finesse? Not so much. Maybe I gave up too quickly, a deep vein of perfectionism dooming me. Or it didn’t hold my interest; there were plenty of activities I early on found more fascinating. But I think of it, still. I have a covered sewing machine in my closet. When I go into a fabric store for a notion or yardage for grandkids’ projects I’m met with the feeling again that imagination’s doorways can be thrown wide open with a little fabric in hand.

Mom would be a consultant if she could but she’s long gone. I can almost hear her delighted laughter as she’d look over Naomi’s newly made fabric, an index finger alongside her nose as the questions and ideas poured forth. The thought of them together makes a happy picture.

And I know she didn’t care I was never a seamstress, didn’t find me some abject failure in the end. After all, she was a storyteller, too, and would ask me to read my latest writing to her as she sewed or washed dishes or sat awhile before bed. A year before she died, Mom read the first finished draft of a novel I’d long toiled over. She told me she couldn’t get enough of it, to keep at it, always be true to my passion.

Homecoming, 1966; dress by Mom
Homecoming, 1966; dress by Mom

Recall(ed) Quilt 2010-ongoing by Naomi J Falk
Recall(ed) Quilt 2010-ongoing by Naomi J. Falk

(Note: Some of Naomi’s other work: http://www.naomijfalk.com)