A weekend of song-walking in northern Wisconsin inspired me! Simply put, this Native American tradition is a way of connecting with nature by looking it in the eye until it looks back. How easy to do in the autumn woods! Each step on the trail, every drop of rain, from the lowly tree stump to the tallest birch, the rich reds, umbers and oranges of the leaves, the white cumulus adrift in the azure sky – I embraced them all with wide spread arms and Mother Nature bear-hugged me right back.
Back in the city, enveloped by concrete and asphalt, I ached for the wilderness. The precise lawns, boxy hedges and manicured trees saddened me. So carefully orchestrated yet their music is muted, clipped to a shadow of their true potential. A cobblestone path traverses the courtyard garden outside my window, a warning to look but don’t touch during one’s morning walk. I could head down to Lake Michigan to take in its expanse and yet, there too, man exerts control with an unnatural shoreline of concrete and iron.
I am grateful for my home, this place I live. And I am grateful for the bits of nature it offers me. But my heart yearned for the tangle and mess of the woods. No longer satisfied with my surroundings, I stepped off the porch determined to reconnect with Mother Earth. I slipped along the sidewalk determined to song-walk the city. I had no destination in mind. I would look until something looked back.
Usually I pass the Maxwell Street Market by, but this day I turned into the crowd thinking I would take a shortcut on my way to wherever I was meant to end up. A little girl caught my eye, her head a mass of little braids tied with orange ribbon, hand sticky with licorice. She peeked up at me with a shy smile. The scent of roasted corn teased my nose and I turned to see steaming flautas and tortas offered for sale next to sweet cinnamon churros. An old man in a matted wig, stinking of sweat and urine, sat on a box coaxing tinny music from a handmade guitar. I dropped quarters in the cup at his feet and was rewarded with a toothless grin. His happiness surprised me.
At the end of the row, I stopped before a double wide booth. Box after open box sat on the ground brimming with Mother Earth’s bounty. A Latina offered her wares, a rainbow of spices, tea and medicinal herbs. The Spanish names excited me! I pulled out my notebook and wrote them down. Manzanilla for chamomile tea, tamarind spice, pimento, and garlicky ajo malicki stood row to row with origano, pickled cactus, and romero or rosemary. Cartons brimmed with hoya acuyo, cuacic and arnica. I recognized the tangy heat of balsamo de tigre, tiger balm for the joints.
The sights and smells sent me back to my long ago garden, burying my fingers in the damp earth, planting seeds and babysitting sprouts, grateful for their growth. I cleared the ground, I raked the rows, I set out my vegetables in a neat pattern, I controlled nature and made it conform to my wishes. And nature complied and I understood. My garden was not the tangle of the wild, but it was my connection to Mother Earth. She knew it. And she embraced me and loved me back. No matter what we do to the Earth, she continues to offer her gifts.
I walked back home, arms full of palo dulce, shea butter, and romero, strawberries and pears. It was a day full of gifts, a day of city song.
Cup, I thought you were a bowl
Holding youth’s bounty, simmering savory sweet
Child play and chocolate
Double dutch ropes whirling, brown curls bouncing,
Keds running bases and popsicle sticks.
Dirty play clothes and sparkling white communion dress,
Imp and angel rolled into one.
Bowl, I thought you were a dish
Brimming with the stew of teen angst
Big eyes and skinny legs, red faced shyness blooms
Ducking behind a sweep of brown bangs and library books.
Dolls in the closet, plush animals piled on the bed,
Babysitting, Beatles and Boys
First drive, first job, first paycheck, first kiss,
Dish, I thought you were a pot
Simmering with chicken broth,
Carrots and celery of motherhood
Burps and bumps, band aids and bloody noses
Socks on the floor, stories at night, packages tied with ribbon
Dogs, cats and oatmeal cookies
Window watching for children
Pot, I thought you were a mug
Children grown, cooking for one,
Tupperware meals over the sink
New rugs and towels, clean stays clean,
Heart waits for Sunday phone calls,
Gray hair and wrinkles
Interests change, I wonder do they know
The real me?
Mug, you are perfect,
Steaming with chamomile, citrus and warmth on a rainy day,
Comfort in my hand
Poetry and prose, leaves of burnished gold
Bustling outside window
Twilight teasing moon
Hint of winter to come
Enough for the moment
Ready for more
The girl in the photo captivates me
Elfin in stature and pixie hair, blue eyes sparkling
A barefoot sprite standing tall
Against a backdrop of mist and barren trees
A light being, she compels me
With her serious beauty
For my message
What does she want from me?
I would open my arms wide
Kneel down to embrace her
Welcome her grace
Feel her slight limbs, tousle her hair
You are too serious
I want to say
Too serious for such a tiny girl
Spread your arms and spin
Embrace your childishness
She reflects back to me
She won’t move until I do.
Sitting in the afternoon light, I can’t remember who I am supposed to be.
Straddling two worlds, the physical and the mystic, I am lost in the middle.
Dragonfly pays a visit, tickling my outstretched ankle. Red as the autumn maple, translucent as the wind, he reminds me to look up as he flies away.
And I realize
I am the sky in all its iterations. Partly sunny, partly cloudy, you choose.
Yin and yang, welcoming and dangerous, I am the calm before the storm.
I am fleeting like the sunset, look close to catch the subtlety of my colors.
The saplings embrace autumn first. Fall creeps in from the ground up and reminds me to look down.
I am grounded.
I am the tiny snake, yellow stripes skimming away from my feet, hurrying to hide his emotions.
He reminds me
I am an interloper. I am the car in the road disrupting the woodland quiet.
I am the pebble in nature’s shoe.
My shoes crunch and crush the music of bird song. Bird reminds me
Dragonfly returns and lights upon my page. He reads a word or two then flies off in disapproval. He reminds me
I am not as good as I should be.
I want to be the forest, old growth giving way to new.
Self-nourishing, mossy, full of decay and mushrooms.
A breeding ground, an incubator for new and good
There are no weeds in the forest but I,
I am overrun.
Imperfectly structured but holding my own.
The sky spoke to me this morning. Not with a paragraph, not with a sentence, not even a word, it was a simple, single letter. There, high above the lake, the wind ripped the clouds apart at the seams to allow the blue sky to shine through in a perfect gold-rimmed capital “S”. It stopped me in my tracks.
Monday had plunged me into frustration and irritation. The events of the day were not unexpected yet the actual moment of reality, the confirmation of change, was a sucker punch to the gut that left me seething and simmering a dangerous stew I did not want to taste. My composure shattering, I slipped from my moorings and felt adrift on a roiling red sea. This was not me. I edged on the border of control, fighting to maintain my stance. Shake it off, shake it off, shake it off. It was hard to do.
I sent my bedtime prayers up to Spirit. I did not ask for guidance. I did not ask for direction. I did not ask for mercy. I did not ask for anything.
I surrendered. I waded in with both feet, submerging myself in trust that the Universe sees my potential. I surrendered. I offered myself as a creative force to bring light to the world. I surrendered. I thanked Spirit for all I have and all that is.
During the night, I woke feeling a lump at my back. Reaching around I discovered my medicine bag had worked its way down from beneath my pillow to come to rest directly behind my heart. As I stroked the soft skin and rubbed the decorative stones, the scent of sage filled the room. Cradling the bag in my hands, filled with its power, I fell back into a deep dreamless sleep.
As I stepped out my door this morning, my first thought was I feel good. Then I saw the golden S hanging high in the sky.
Success is at your doorstep.
Serenity is yours.
Simple joy is in everything around you.
Stand tall. Spirit is with you.
Life is sweet. Taste it.
Diving right in, today I am swimming in the sky. Basking in the sunlight, floating in the wind, I am filled with a knowing that everything is as it should be. The Universe supports me, I will not drown. What a beautiful thing to know.
Today is a good day.
Handwritten recipes spilled out of the envelope. Index cards and scraps of paper faded and worn soft, all in my grandmother’s writing except for one.
Here is the recipe for Blueberry Jello that Grandpa likes. Happy eating!
I wrote that short letter to my Grandmother along with the recipe at least 25 years ago. Purple Stuff as my children liked to call it, was a favorite in my own immediate family and I remembered with pleasure how Grandpa liked it so much he told Grandma to get that recipe! So I mailed it to her. Rather than transferring the recipe to an index card, she saved my letter. Blue ink on a sheet of plain notebook paper, I could tell from the creases and light stains that Grandma had actually made it at least one time.
Usually by this time of year I am close to being finished with my holiday shopping. I tend to pick up things all year long, particularly when traveling. If something hits my eye and sparks a thought or a story of someone, I buy it as a holiday gift. I take it home, stash it away and promptly forget about it. The stash grows and grows until the beginning of November when I haul everything out and take inventory, making a list of things I need to complete the shopping. This works well for me as it spreads out the pain of holiday spending throughout the year and it is fun! I enjoy giving gifts with meaning.
But this year is different. Early in the year I sent out a blast email to my family suggesting that instead of buying holiday gifts for each other this year that we put together a family cookbook. Everyone enthusiastically responded yes. And why not since I volunteered to coordinate, organize and put the cookbook together. All the family had to do was send recipes, stories and photos.
Family was everything to Grandma and Grandpa. They showered their children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, in-laws, cousins, aunts and uncles with love and food. I perceived this cookbook as a bit of a tribute to them as well as to the extended family. I set a deadline of September 30th anticipating most would procrastinate until that time. A few folks surprised me and recipes trickled in over the next few months. But by early September I had more promises than recipes. Now I knew what it was like to herd cats. I started sending out gentle reminders to get those recipes in!
“So sorry. I’ve been busy with work, with school, softball and football, etc…”
I began to wonder if my brilliant idea was actually so brilliant after all. I considered scrapping the project but my heart wanted this cookbook. My heart wanted to capture those long ago Sunday and holiday dinners as well as the new holiday traditions that have replaced the old. My heart wanted a legacy for my own children, something they could cherish, enjoy and pass along. Isn’t that what we all want? Not to be forgotten? Don’t we all have a desire to leave something behind, some trace on the earth that brings a smile, or a tear, when the next generation comes across it? To know we made a difference, no matter how small?
Finally, at the deadline, emails and recipes started rolling in including the package with Grandma’s hand written recipes. I have always known the importance of my Grandparents in my life. As I held that long ago letter last night, written to my Grandma in my hand and sent with love in response to Grandpa’s request, my eyes filled with tears. That she had saved it was evidence that I had been important to them.
Two 3 oz. packages of grape or blackberry jello
2 c. boiling water
No. 2 can of crushed pineapple
1 can blueberry pie filling
8 oz. cream cheese softened
1 c. sour cream
½ – ½ cup sugar
Mix jello with boiling water. Add pineapple and blueberry pie filling. Let set in refrigerator. To make the topping, blend cream cheese, sour cream and sugar until smooth. Spread on gelatin mixture. Top with nuts.
Let there be more days like this. Let every day be like this.
Grandfather Sun tugs the morning mist aside, raising night’s curtain from the day. Shaggy cattails grace a mucky pond plopping with frogs and squirming minnows. I watch them splash, chasing water spiders, sending smiling ripples to the shoreline. Fly harasses me, playing his game, tickled pink each time I shag him off. Dragonfly darts and Butterfly flits tantalizingly outside my reach. And I hope, dare I hope, will I see a Firefly tonight?
I stumble upon the Earthen Spirit Garden, a tiny shrine to Mother Earth. Tucked in a circle of stones and tangled grass, its blue glass ornament catches my eye and I think what an odd thing to find in the middle of the woods. No stranger than my presence I suppose. Each rock has been carefully placed, a sacred circle, and I sense the magic. I wonder how it came to be, who had the foresight to place beside the path? Knowing I would find it.
I kneel down to touch a stone of blue granite, silica stars sparkling in the sun. Ant scurries across, a tiny conqueror. Nothing stands in his way. Yet he leaves no mark, no hint of his path. I see my heavy footprints on the trail and feel ashamed.
As I stand, Hawk appears in the corner of my eye, circling in a long drifting arc fueled by one flap of his wings. He takes my gaze skyward, effortlessly. The sun kisses my nose enticing me to watch wisps of clouds parading by in the dawn, baby bunting in pastel pink and blue. A bird calls. I chastise myself for not knowing his name. I seek his forgiveness and raise my hand in greeting. Hawk returns. His grace fills my heart and brings me a smile.
The morning bell rings, breakfast is waiting. I stand and notice others in the distance, sitting on the patio writing quietly in the sun. They keep a respectful distance and I wonder how? How can they be so removed from the beauty of this morning? For me it is not enough to sit on the sidelines and watch. I have to be in it, running through the tall wild grass, flinging my arms wide, spinning and spinning until I am drunk and dizzy, full of the morning light and the damp scent of Mother Earth.
I want to be in it. I have to be in it. After all, despite my clumsiness, I am part of it too.
Silence during breakfast, meditation for our meal
Coffee splashes into cups, spoons scrape bowls and teeth
Rubber footsteps across the floor, a sniff, a cough, a closing door
A heater steams up high
Clatter in the kitchen, utensils tinkling, soapy water runs
My pen scratches paper
There is no quiet here.
I push back my chair, adding to the din. Out the door I walk into the foggy woods
Deep in the forest, I step off the path
Wading through wet ferns to stand under the oaks.
I am still.
Wind whistles through the leaves, mosquito music in my ear
Birds greet the sun with sing-song
Acorn tap dances to the ground, squirrel skitters, a far away dog barks
A twig snaps, mud squishes underfoot
The distant highway roars
I listen. My ears are full.