Friday’s Passing Fancies/Poem: A Rain Healing

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Prelude to winter’s grand opening,
flush me with rain’s old arias,
invite creeks, rivers to turn me
like a single rusted ruby leaf
which knows no fear of falling.

Release me into fern canopy,
moss bedstead, stony path to rest
so that heaven’s sheer blood
runs rich and swift to my heart.

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Friday’s (Saturday’s) Quick Picks/ Poem: A Truer Life We’re Given

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And if we doubt,
doubters that we can be
despite our better parts,
we might listen to our
floundering apprentice souls

as they entreat us to turn,
find welcome not abandonment,
a levening of furious hurt into promise,
sweet recall of what we can forget:

Come closer, pilgrim,
enter finer, even holy realms
which reveal inside such drifting light
the true fullness of your soul

 

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Big Money Pond

Roses, Salmon Creek, Irv 054

Though the rain began to splatter hard not just spit, her mom and aunt didn’t hurry up and follow her to their car. Frankie was a little tired, ready to go, and leaned against the Oldsmobile’s back door, waiting. A shiver rippled up her trunk, making goose flesh on both arms from gusts of wet wind. They had walked three miles around the greenway. It had been awhile since they’d visited so even though dark towering rain clouds had gathered, they’d taken their time. Frankie liked harvesting blackberries from their heavy bushes in summer or wading in the creek for starters, but in spring there were other treats like deep pink salmon berry flowers, rocks along Salmon Creek’s steep banks. Ducks and turtles over at the grassy pond, the one her mom called the Good Old Pond (there was another pond at the other end of the park). They had seen a blue heron last year; it was so close to her it spooked her and then she couldn’t take her eyes off it. She looked for it today but it wasn’t there. Probably off looking for its friends or more food.

Once they’d lived three blocks away but that was before things got fancy, she was told. Before the woods, creek and marshland were made a regional park. Her parents were offered a decent price to move so a bunch of men and huge machines could smash the ramshackle house and cart shingles, cement and splinters away. That was when her parents were fully together. Frankie barely remembered it. She remembered crying and being given an ice cream cone. Now it was just Frankie, her mom and Aunt Jean.

She looked around and saw them heading for the other pond, the one her mom and aunt called Big Money Pond, sniggling like it was was a bad joke. She wasn’t sure what they meant and when she asked, her mom said, “Oh, just taxes and all. Crying shame but that’s government, taking what you care about or need, charging you for it.”

They’d brought an umbrella because of the storm forecast. Aunt Jean had said, “Nothing like a handy lightning rod for our walk.” But they rarely wore water repellent jackets, just hooded sweatshirts. Frankie scurried after them as rain pelted her with fat drops. They’d get drenched but you just didn’t argue with them, especially Aunt Jean. She ran things most places, even in their house, never mind that it didn’t belong to her. She was a supervisor at the paper mill; her mom worked there, too, but in a different area, thank god.

“If I had her as a boss I’d walk out every hour,” she’s told Frankie one times after the sisters argued about kitchen duty and Aunt Jean had won out.

Frankie had taken the tea towel and slapped it at the counter top a couple times. “Well, when I grow up I’ll get a maid or robot.”

“When you grow up you won’t have two nickels to rub together unless you get better grades and go to college.”

“Maybe dad should send more child support so we can get our dishwasher fixed.”

“Don’t you bring that up again, Francine, or you’ll do the whole sink full , scrub the stove top and dry them dishes, too.”

“You can’t make me!”

Her mom yanked the tea towel from her hands and snapped her rear with it once. That was enough.

That’s how it went a lot at their house. But her aunt and mom could be fun, too, playing video games with her or board games. Taking her places like the movies or a park. And Aunt Jean helped with bills, yard work and knew how to fix some things–like motorcycles; she rode hers even in downpours–and played rummy with Frankie. She filled in a lot of gaps after her mom and dad split up for the last time. Frankie couldn’t remember anymore what it was like without her in the house or making a mess in the garage, raking leaves or fussing over veggies in tubs along the narrow back yard. If her mom was gone, Aunt Jean was there. If her mom and Aunt Jean were both there it was like having the same person times two but with different voices and somewhat different ways. They looked much alike, rounded and tall, dark brown hair, light brown eyes. But her mom loved her more. She said she would eat octopus tentacles for her, certainly die for her if necessary. Whereas Aunt Jean cackled and said she’d give up a tooth or two in a fight for her, but not her whole gorgeous person. She would definitely not eat octopus.

Frankie found them sitting on a slope by the pond. “What’re you doin’? It’s raining now.”

Her aunt held the umbrella, checked her cell phone. Her mom was standing with arms crossed, watching a handful of people on the other side fishing. The rain ran off her like she was made of duck feathers. She didn’t even blink.

“Fish are biting good, the rain you know,” her mom said. “Should’ve thought of that. Still got a couple poles in the garage.”

“What are they fishing for? I forget,” Frankie asked, grabbing a small lap blanket (her aunt had used it for a sit by the creek, funny about getting too messy that way) and putting it over her skinny back.

“Steelhead. They stock it. No more natural-born fish hangin’ out here. Mac and I used to fish once a week for dinner, pulled out as many as four or five–”

“Don’t start that now.” Aunt Jean looked up at her sister and stared hard.”It don’t ever change nothin’.”

“Well, it all fell apart after we sold our first house to move to the city and that’s solid fact.”

“Stop, it don’t help to keep sayin’ it.”

“We loved it out here when it was just the outdoors and a few of us…”

Aunt Jean turned to her, said something Frankie couldn’t quite hear, gave her a dark stare that even Frankie could feel, almost like a finger snap on the head. She withdrew a heavy oblong stone from her sweatshirt pocket, tossed it with all her might over her aunt’s umbrella. She watched it splash into the bright green surface, then went to her mom. Put her arms around her waist and hugged. After a couple seconds, her mom pulled her off and sat down by her sister half-under the umbrella. Frankie tossed a few more stones after she saw the two of them whispering more. Sometimes Aunt Jean stirred it up instead of helping.

The older woman didn’t like her dad’s name brought up; he had hurt her sister. Plus, one of her sayings was “the less news of the past, the better.” But Frankie loved her dad so much, even if he was in jail for a “B and E” and attempted theft or something like that. Her mom didn’t know she knew, but she had ways. Frankie’s older friend Joe whose dad knew Mac, told her what it was. Then he said he’d heard Mac had broken into a pole barn, he knew the guy and was trying to steal back a lawn mower and some expensive tools he said had been borrowed but never returned but the guy said he’d traded for them fair and square. He pulled his BB gun on her dad and told him to get off his property but her dad hadn’t left, just laughed at him. But the guy had already called the cops. It was a mess. Frankie felt sure about that much. It made her feel a little sick.

Aunt Jean was pointing across the lake. “See that, over there? That new construction? That used to be Ted Burkett’s land.”

“No talking about the past, right? I know their story, anyway. There’s lots like it.”

“This is different, sis, this is an old couple who passed last year, whose ten acres got sold by greedy sons. Sold it for what–a million or two?–and now look what they’ve done. A park boundary line must be on that side of the pond so looks like monster houses are going up around the water.” She shuddered.

Frankie took a seat by her mother, squeezed in close. She took in the spot they were studying. Remembered that last summer there had been nothing but massive trees right there. An earth mover was parked by the end of the pond.Her mom shook her head. Frankie’s eyes swept over the area again. It was still mostly green, really, only with that new building tucked in. It looked out of place, but it could be worse.

Roses, Salmon Creek, Irv 057

They’d lived in their own newer house for four years now. She didn’t recall what the old one was like as she was barely five when they’d moved. But she knew her mom missed it badly sometimes despite liking the nice brick ranch style with three bedrooms, a fireplace and fenced yard. Even if it was on a noisy street. Well, maybe not that.

This park was one of her favorites to visit. They had just one tiny corner park by a train stop in the city neighborhood. So Frankie could get worked up about coming here to play on colorful playground equipment, all new along with other developments the last couple years. The Big Money Pond was also a swimming pond in summer, it even had life jackets for row boaters and people who couldn’t swim well and kids. But she could manage. She swam like crazy at the community pool. Her mom told her she was a real water baby–she should make it her sport in middle school. That made Frankie happy.

It was perfect here, she thought.

Oh. It was perfect. She got it now. It must have been even more perfect back then, with the mammoth ole swimming hole and natural fishes that belonged there forever, woods humming with only animal goings-on. Less people. More spring peepers, her fave along with turtles and snakes and herons. For a moment she wondered what it’d been like–did she remember it?–to take a silent canoe down the creek when it ran high and faster as her dad had told her, Frankie bundled between parents as they guided it without any trouble. It must have been something else, like heaven with all the birds singing to them, lots of bald eagles swooping over. She had just seen one of those today, wondered if there was a nest nearby.

“Well, kids, I’m moving out,” Aunt Jean said, her free fist hammering twice on her thigh.

Frankie’s and her mom’s heads to her, mouths dropped open.

“Yeah, I’m coming back here, ladies. There’s some condos being built the west end of the park. I already seen a model of one I want to buy.”

She didn’t look at her niece or sister. Kept staring at that house going up, the sound of a band saw out there somewhere whirring so loud the fish probably gathered to hide a long the bottom of the pond.

“Wait a minute!” her mom screeched. “You just gave me all that crap about the land over there and the poor family and you’re joining the enemy, buying a condo at the edge of this park? Have you lost your friggin’ mind?”

Frankie covered her ears, then bent over to see Aunt Jean’s face. She was kinda smiling, the sort of curled lips that warned you to watch your step.

“Well, hold on, we all gotta grow up sometime. I’ve been hanging out with you way too long! Time to move on, do my own thing, free up a bit. No offense.”

“You can’t be serious?” Frankie said, leaning across her mother.”You are really leaving us? What’d I do?”

“She’s serious, Frankie, she wouldn’t a said it. I do not get it, Jean, Really!”

“Of course you get it if you think it over more. Frankie, don’t be ridiculous, nothing you done. I’ve saved a lot staying with you two. I can afford my own cubby hole now, thanks to you, sis. Aren’t you a little happy for me?”

“Hell, no,” Frankie said and slumped over face to lap, ready to get slapped on the noggin for swearing. But they all were saying bad stuff and no stinging smack came.

“Watch your mouth!” they both said at once, then laughed when she peeked up at them.

Then fell silent again. The rain lessened, the water’s surface calmed, then the wind gave a little hiccup and sighed.

“Mom, listen. We’ll just have to sell our house and move here, too. I like it over here more–you do–and I want to learn to fish and swim more and catch turtles just like you and Dad did. We could just move, so why in heck not?”

Both inclined their heads to Frankie. She held fast their gazes, sat up tall and said louder: “Why not?”

The sisters looked at each other with eyebrows raised halfway to their hairlines, then stared out at more beauty, lost in thought. The pond was a sweet green, dimpled with raindrops, ruffled by another breeze. The group of fishing folks was packing up gear and heading home. Giant clumps of clouds had thinned, flattened like cotton batting Frankie had felt through frail edges of a quilt her dead grandmother had made for her mom. Frankie believed in guardian angels so even though her grandmother died when she was six, she could still help out with this. Maybe if her dad didn’t have to be in jail for long and they moved back here, he’d come around more and get smarter. And her mom and she could swim together in summer and have picnics with Aunt Jean anytime they wanted.

Couldn’t things be somewhat the same even if they changed? Or better?

Her mom cupped Frankie’s chin in her hand. “I don’t know what you’re cooking up, Frankie, you think too much.” She smoothed back the rain-wet hair from her daughter’s forehead. “You’ve got good ideas, too. This might be one of them. You can’t keep any turtles, though, not from a protected area like this now. But you can still swim and canoe…we would do that. It seems more what we want. The city isn’t all that great.”

Aunt Jean stood up with effort. She’d only turned forty-two but often complained of her back.”I know I’m sick and tired of doing lawn work for you. I’ll have no yard to speak of, at the new condo. It’s all done for us, anyway.”

“You’re getting too rich for my blood.” Frankie’s mom got up without a hitch and put her hand on Jean’s shoulder.

“Always had it going on, you know I’m a social climber!”

“That’s just wrong! But how come you didn’t tell us?” Frankie asked.

Aunt Jean held the umbrella over the other two as the girl got up, her jeans’ seat damp from muddy ground, a foot slipping. Heart squeezed up with fear and excitement.

“Didn’t want to worry you about things, lovey.”

Her use of that silly name was too much. Her sudden tenderness landed inside Frankie, started to shake loose a pile of things.

“She mentioned it a few months ago,” her mom said. “I just didn’t think it would happen. Or not this fast.”

“Oh well, no one told me, I need to know things, too!”

Her mom nodded. “You’re right. But don’t get excited, she isn’t just disappearing. And we’ll study on this. Talk.”

“I’ll never get away from you two, why bother trying? It’s a terrible fate!” Aunt Jean let out that signature boom of a laugh, causing passersby to glance over.

Frankie ran ahead, feeling a little raw with irritation about a few things, the inside of her head jostling with new worries. But she also felt ticklish bubbles. Anticipation, hope. Maybe they would move here and make things fresh, and she would grow bigger and happier being outdoors more. Aunt Jean might have even wondered if they’d think of it. They might still be together, just more separate. It seemed strange but not so bad.

She got to the car, turned around to see if they were hurrying up. Their arms were linked together; that made her forget her worries some. The two women walked awkwardly until they readjusted themselves: her mom taking longer strides that got reined in, her aunt gallumping along with her barest limp, smaller steps that began to lengthen. They still looked cut from the same good rough-and-ready cloth, all three of them were or that’s what her dad had told her once. And he’d beamed down at Frankie like she was made of the best part.

Roses, Salmon Creek, Irv 045

The Power of Blue-Greeness

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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)