It walks out, slamming the door.
The lock turns and it is gone,
Leaving dark grief and regret in its place,
But not before delivering a hammer fall to the heart,
Crushing it open, grinding it down
To diamond dust.
For what purpose, trying again?
Stepping out the door,
Pine fresh in the air, I inhale deep.
Cinnamon leaves drift down, a coppery path for my feet.
Sun cups my chin like a mother’s hand, caressing my cheek,
With a faint finger Breeze traces the tip of my nose.
A golden finch flutters by, his song sweetly filters down
To fill the hole in my heart,
Creating more love to spread around.
Nature drops in from time to time, even here in the city. Squirrel perched on the corner of the balcony railing the other morning, an impressive feat as the tubular steel rail was slick with rain. Chubby and grey, tail fluffed in a perfect “S”, I wondered how he managed to find his way to my second floor balcony and even more importantly, why? My balcony holds no food and provides no safety from the weather. In the cold autumn rain, the summer magic of the balcony is long gone. The impatiens died and the perennials are now inside leaving it bleak, black and ready for the coming snow. It is cold and unappealing now and I couldn’t understand why he would choose this spot unless he had something to tell me.
His back was to me. Ever so slowly, I raised the window blinds. I did not want to scare him off but rather wished to get a better look at him, sitting less than 12 feet away. He heard me. Delicately, like a Chinese acrobat, he spun on his toes to face me head on, flinging silvery rain from his tail.
Can squirrels see straight ahead? My eyes face forward but Squirrel‘s eyes are on the side of his head, positioned more like ears. His nose pointed straight at me but I wondered about his eyesight. Was he seeing me with some kind of frontal peripheral vision? Maybe, but he did see me. In fact, he stared at me as if I was the interloper, invading his territory rather than the other way around.
Like dueling cowboys, we sized each other up for a good five minutes, barely breathing lest either one of us scare the other off. A slow-down of a show-down! Finally, the weaker of us, I took a soft step to the right to see what he would do. He tracked my move but did not budge from his perch. I held my breath and raised my hand, he stood immobile. I wondered if the glass were to disappear would he still be so brave? If the glass disappeared would I be so brave? If I slowly opened the door would he stand his ground? Why did he stay when I was so dangerously close? Did he make it a practice to visit my balcony when I was not at home? Had he laid claim to it, homesteading on the sly? I cast my eyes around the balcony looking for hints of occupancy but there was no nest of leaves, no cache of acorns. Squirrel was thinking. I could see it in the twitch of his nose, the back slant of his ears. Was he thinking the same kind of thoughts about me as I was about him?
I never got a chance to ask. Kitty came bounding by and Squirrel took off – disappearing so fast I almost didn’t see it! I walked out on the balcony in the rain and looked up and down the courtyard, scanning the tops of the trees, but he was gone. I miss him. I hope he comes back soon so we can finish our conversation.
April, 1950 is written in faded ink on the back of the old black and white photograph. Three years before my birth and two years before my parents married, yet I know if I look close I will find myself in this picture.
My mother sent this photo to me, along with others, so that I could include it in the family cookbook I am compiling for this year’s holiday gift. Sorting through the photos has been fun. Stories rush to my mind, things I had forgotten but am glad to remember so I can include them in the book. There is an older family photo taken of my grandparents, my 2 year old mother and her baby sister from 1933. But it is this photo set against the Grecian hills of Luca that I keep picking up again and again. It is a photo taken of my Grandpa and his parents, people who are strangers to me.
Grandpa, with an ever so slight smile, stands in the full sun staring into the camera lens, his hands resting firmly on the shoulders of his parents seated on a wooden bench in front of him. Behind them is a stone house with a clay tiled roof and sun-baked dusty hills that roll off into the distance.
He looks so robust! I see the aquiline nose, chiseled profile and full head of hair, Grandpa’s barrel chest bursts with good health. Even in black and white his olive skin gleams in the bright sunshine. He talked his parents into this photo. They sit stiffly, with grim faces as if they fear the camera. But I am glad Grandpa convinced them to pose. I see family. The nose is the give-away that these men are related, they are cast from the same mold. Although great grandfather is seated, his perfect posture and the bend of his leg tell me they are the same height as well. The spit shine on his black shoes surprises me, and I picture him whisking away the dust from the fields before taking his seat for the photo. IHis black jacket is buttoned over a starched white shirt that I am sure would crackle with my touch. The arms of the two men form a perfect line, one to the other, running from shoulder to hand to shoulder to knee. I see their strength.
Great grandmother appears shy, even withdrawn. A mantle of white covers her dark hair and shoulders. Scuffed shoes peek out from beneath an ankle length apron; her hands are clasped nervously in her lap. She doesn’t like the camera at all and I can feel her anxiety for it to be over. So she can scurry back to her baking bread and pots of spicy lamb stew. These people are my roots, the source of my DNA. I look and look, trying to see them, straining to figure out what part of them is in me.
And I wonder … are they looking back out of the photograph, straining to see me? Would they be pleased with this child that they never had the chance to meet? Is my Grandpa whispering in their ears, telling them to be proud?
For the last few years I have explored so many different healing modalities as a means of navigating through life and finding my heart. Yet nothing has been as powerful to balance my root chakra as this family cookbook project. The recipes, the stories, the photos have given me a sense of tribe. I know where I come from and I am excited to be able to give this gift to my children. I like to think that this ancestral trio is standing behind me as I type, hands upon my shoulders, smiling at my words. I see them shaking their heads in unison, “yes, we are proud.”
A fingernail Moon slipped across the sky,
A rocking horse without a saddle,
A slit in a black velvet cape, or a tiny hook,
But nothing you could hang your hat on.
I have known Moon all my life, or have I?
Waxing or waning, I am not sure which.
Gibbous or full, new or blue, Moon’s phases escape me.
Neil Armstrong took a step, yet never explained.
Of this I am certain, no Man in the Moon
She is a Woman, pale and lovely,
In a mantle of stars, tidal surges ebb and flow,
Night light for youth lost in love.
Moonlight, twilight, daylight,
They are all the same, birthed by the sun,
Casting shadows my way. I hold up my thumb
Moon is gone.
In the pre-dawn fog, Birch summons me.
Luminous in the dark, “Look at me!” he shouts.
Lighting my way.
Does he do this for everyone?
Am I as special to him as he is to me?
Barefoot in the shelter of the earth,
Wind in his hair, he winks at me.
Grateful I am awake,
An audience for his early morning radiance.
Mid-day, his demeanor changes.
Rapt at attention, a silent sentinel
Against the red garment of Maple.
It suits him.
Aching to know his secret my mind soars.
Aloft in his branches I feel the heat of the sun
And share in the delight of brushing the sky.
A breeze softens my gaze,
Leaves sing with autumn music.
I am smitten.
Like anyone who watches the news, the recent event at Fort Hood, the killings of young men and women, brought tears to my eyes and pain to my heart. The news reporters always refer to the young men and women of the military, but to me they are still children, grown to adult size to be sure, but these victims in their early 20’s are not fully grown in my mind yet. Their childlike nature, full of idealism and invincibility, likely played a part in their decision to enter the military. And I am glad they put themselves out there to do what they feel is right. But the sacrifice saddens me deeply.
When the planes hit the Twin Towers years ago, my son Matt was a member of the military. At the time he was stationed 50 miles from the DMZ separating North and South Korea. Far away from the tragedy happening in New York, he still felt the impact. The base went on high alert, into lockdown. As an applied geophysics technician, Matt’s responsibilities went into hyper drive, using satellite technology and seismic monitoring systems to monitor weapons installations – weapons of mass destruction. His top secret security clearance prevented him from ever disclosing the tiniest details of his work, but that sliver of a job description always set me on edge. The time zone difference made email our primary method of communication. But on September 11th, I sent him an email, “Please call me when you can. I need to hear your voice.” And he did.
I planned to drive Matt to O’Hare the November morning years agowhen he was scheduled to report for duty. When he enlisted the plan was for him to report for duty the following February, but the second you sign that paper, the military owns you. The Air Force, despite the agreed upon date, took him right away depriving us of the opportunity to spend the holidays with him. Together we went through the list of what he was allowed to bring to Basic Training, what he had to bring. The Walgreens List I called it, so short and basic we picked up everything for a few dollars at the local drugstore. Knowing I would not be able to send him a Christmas gift that year, I bought the best quality items possible. I wanted to buy him a nice gift in advance but Matt told me it would be a waste because he would not be able to take it with him.
I tossed and turned that night, restless and ill at ease. Around 2 a.m. my gut clenched. Jumping out of bed I raced to the bathroom. My body revolted with vomiting and diarrhea. I crawled back to bed only to return again and again to the bathroom. My nightgown and bedsheets grew damp with sweat, I shook violently with chills. In the morning my legs refused to support me. Standing upright nauseated me violently, I was incapacitated. Matt’s dad had to take him to O’Hare. My guilt was deep. I felt I had let Matt down, unable to even drive him to the airport to see him off. I was weak all day. Months later, when I apologized to Matt, he brushed it off. “I know you love me Mom. You love me so much that my leaving made you sick. I never knew how much you loved me until that day.”
I think about how my emotions steamrolled me that day. Matt was only reporting for duty. I cannot begin to fathom how the mothers of those young people killed at Ft. Hood are coping. I feel such sadness for them. This Thanksgiving I am flying down to Texas to celebrate the holiday with Matt and his wife. I always give him a big bear hug when I see him. But this time I intend to hold on a little bit longer.
Sprawled atop the desert rocks, I released my body to the heat of the stones and the wind whipping across the mountaintop. A seven mile hike in the high desert of Joshua Tree National Park brought Jill, my daughter, and me to the top of the Lost Palms canyon.
“If you could live anywhere, where would you live?” I asked Jill.
“I don’t know. Why do you ask Mom?”
“Because it is a question I have been trying to answer myself.” I admitted.
“So where would you like to live Mom?”
“When I’m in the mountains, I like the mountains. When I am at the beach, I like the beach. When I am in the woods, I like the woods.”
“You need a place that gives you all three.” Jill said.
I laughed. “If you know a place like that, let me know.”
But this day I found myself in the high desert, at first glance a seemingly beige environment, but as we hiked in the 80 degree sun, I made discovery after discovery. Autumn in the desert surprised me. The red barrel cactus sitting amid the leaves of a muted green yucca snuck up on my awareness. The teddy bear cholla spun silvery threads in the sunlight forming a smoky veil in contrast to the patina of desert varnish and coppery streaks embedded in the rocks. Miniature fan palms popped spikes of green across the landscape disputing the thought that this is a completely arid landscape.
I realized, when I am in the desert, I like the desert.
Atop the rocks, I could not take my eyes away from the blue sky. Crisp and clear, the wind chased every cloud away. Miles and miles of blue stretched to the distance in every direction. I did not miss the clouds. As I lay on my back looking up, at the doorway to the sky, the blue welcomed me. I struggled to find words to describe it.
Powder blue seemed too weak, robin’s egg blue was much too fragile, and baby blue pastel could not compare. The patriotic palette of royal and navy blues and the indigoes were too strong. Azure was too sharp, cerulean not sharp enough. The watery sparkle of aquamarine lent itself more to oceans of leaping dolphins than to the muted radiance of the desert. Sapphire spoke of jewels while teal seemed nothing more than a greenish watercolor wash. Slate-blue was more grey and ice blue too Paul Newman.
Why was this important? To find the perfect word for this so perfect blue day, this perfect blue sky? I did not feel blue. I wasn’t singing the blues. Or was I? My life is changing and, as scary as it should be, I embrace it. I stand on the brink of career transition. Do I make the leap to something new and satisfying or stay safe with the tried and true.
I pictured a beat cop, baton swinging from the hip, hat pulled low to shield the eyes. The image of a postman jumping out of his truck, dark stripes framing the outer seams of work trousers came to my mind. I saw the steadfast Marine, resplendent in dress blues, and his sharp salute to expectations. Blue striped suits of wool and rep ties, white crisp shirts and cufflinks have shaped my world. For years I have worn the corporate uniform, professional and poised, confident in my knowing. Ready for something new, it came to me, despite my corporate success, despite my ability to fit in, inside where it counts I have always been different.
What blue am I?
The soft wash of denim blue favors me as does the pale blue pashmina thrown across my shoulders, a reminder of Mary’s mantle. Turquoise and silver hoops dangle from my ears, a reminder of well being. Spirit surrounds me, urging me to write, urging me to service. The serenity of blue calls me but it is the blue ribbon of bravery that I need right now, the courage to accept this new path.
As I gazed at the blue sky, I raised my camera. The lens filled with blue and only blue. I snapped the shutter.
“Mom, did you just take a picture of nothing but the empty sky?” Jill asked.
“No, I took a picture of a beautiful sky, full of the most beautiful blue.”
“No one will understand that picture.” Jill laughed.
“But I understand it.” I said.
I had my answer. The color of the sky that day was pure blue.