I’m just back from a writer’s conference. Like all such conferences I’ve attended, talented and published writers mingle and greet each other warmly, reminders of the gap between the insiders and the rest of us. I’m in that universe of acolytes who draw near to the flame, the wannabes.
When I started writing, I imagined days of eating the sun for breakfast. Then naturally, as easy as breathing, spending the rest of the morning spilling sunlight onto page after page. Instead, I found a cosmos-size gap between vision and reality. And yet I persist in that vacuum of space known as hope. Hoping someday to realize the first half of the plan, to dine upon a star. Surely if I eat stardust, magic might fall like crumbs onto the page?
I returned from the conference determined in that grim way bred by perseverance in the face of adversity.
The sun rose and set, rose and set on my grim determination. Finally, my husband pried me out of my studio to go kayaking. It was one of those nearly perfect early fall afternoons. The morning started frosty, but by afternoon the sun’s rays gathered like friends and neighbors, filling the church choir with warm intentions. The dappled yellow rays harmonizing perfectly with the yellow tinge of leaves lining the lake shore.
We arrived at the lake later than planned because I struggled to let go of obligation and drudgery. While I wrestled with the muse out on the lake, the wind picked up.
“Paddle into the wind,” Harrison directed. “We’ll head to the leeward shore, out of the wind.” I often wait for the auspicious moment to arrive, but my husband, no believer in perfection, creates moments. After a challenging paddle across the lake, we reached calm water. It’s a small lake. Some, more abundantly blessed with water, might call it a pond. Locals here call it Big Woods Lake. I suppose visitors chuckle at the wood lot we call “Big Woods.” But lake and woods live up to their names in our affection, even if they are small in scale.
We paddled happily for over an hour, seeing box turtles sunning themselves. A blue heron fished in the shadows. We spied several waterfowl we didn’t recognize, a sure sign that winter migration is starting.
We paddled without intention or expectation, simply for the joy of shared company on a fine day. The sun so bright it blinded me to ambition or skill. The light of living replacing the dark emptiness of a hope built on ambition.
The table set with a small boat, a pond with woods, and good company; the sun ate me with relish.
My heart is breaking for the thousands and thousands of people flooded out of their homes. In 1990 I lost my home to a flood. It was a devastating experience financially, emotionally, and physically.
It takes so long to recover. When our basic need for safety and shelter is unmet, we go wild with fear. We need time to grieve what is lost, the future we took for granted that is no longer ours.
If this is you or your family or friends, take a moment to see yourself still standing. There is strength in this. Even if standing looks like you flat on the floor with grief. There are many of us willing to sit with you. We will help you clean out the muck and begin this new chapter.
At this moment, we weep with all the heavy burdened muffled by grief. Our hearts break over what can not be fixed or changed. Beauty and love will come to us again. Just as the storm passes and the dawn breaks.
Still Points Quarterly: Patience's Pearl
Take a look at this fun, original take on life here in the Cedar Valley. The latest edition of Mag Pie, published by our own Emily Stowe.
And by the way, (shamless plug) I have an essay and art in this edition!
Everything reaches its zenith in July.
The sun swings to its peak in the sky, pausing before retreating in its arc. Shrubbery, trees, and garden, even the lowly weed, revel is downy youth.
Hot summer afternoons fill with the sound of children at the pool, racing to catch the ice cream truck, the buzz of mosquitoes, power saws, neighbors mowing.
All summer sounds reach this cocoon of hammock stretched out under the sheltering shade of the oak. The cricket and cardinal preach their summer sermons. Soon the full-throated cry of cicada with all its missionary fever will join this summer Chautauqua.
Gone are the floral notes of spring, replaced by the heady scents of summer: coconut suntan oil; sun-burned, sweat-soaked skin, chlorine, campfires, and burgers on the grill.
Out there, a flurry of activity: fireworks, parades, festivals. Here in this blissed pause of July, there is a hammock, thick book, cold drink, long nap.
Mind swings from one thought to the next in a lazy, hazy summer way of cattle lowing in the meadow, berries ripening on the hill, the slow waxing, and waning of the moon.
The trees applaud July’s performance. The brook murmurs its approval. The book lowers to chest, eyelids heavy; a pause
a July Pause.
June’s full moon is called the Strawberry Moon. Here in the Midwest, strawberries ripen as this month’s moon waxes and wanes.
In a good year, we’ll get two, maybe three, weeks of sun-ripened sweetness that shows the sham of store-bought berries.
Many of us make annual pilgrimages to the local berry grower. We either pick our own or buy quarts of early summer sweetness distilled into small red berries.
Thank goodness there are still things that capitalism, with its relentless tactics of anxiety, envy, and distraction, can’t touch. Field strawberries naturally ripened are too fragile to ship even a hundred miles, let alone thousands.
Tasting a strawberry plucked from the dirt, ripened by sunshine under an open sky, reminds us of the difference between eating and tasting.
It reminds us too of the cycle of seasons. Seasonal ripening speaks to the reciprocity inherent in nature. Nature grants us rights to harvest only so long as we bear the responsibility to nurture and protect soil and water.
This past year brought home to all of us how interconnected we are. Hopefully, we learned that our well-being depends on everyone’s well-being. Maybe we’ll yet remember that our well-being depends on the planet’s, our only home, well-being.
Back home, I pause to savor this annual pilgrimage. This ancient process of recognizing the season, taking time to harvest, and listen to bird songs. The pulse of wind and sun on my skin reminds me home is bigger than the walls around me.
It’s easy to fret and worry. What will become of us? But slipping a plump strawberry into my mouth becomes a promise of more springs and summers to grow wiser. A promise of future Strawberry Moons shining on a planet where we’ve learned to care for each other and our home.
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