“Being at ease with not knowing is crucial for answers to come to you.” —Eckhart Tolle

Adrian has a preference for how I style my hair, if you can call it that, a style. When I let it air-dry after a shower, it springs up in waves throughout the day. At Adrian’s request I’ve let it grow out longer, like when he was a baby and would grab hold of it when nursing. One tiny, hand curled around my pale breast, the other tangled up in my hair. It becomes thicker the longer I wait to wash it. Sometimes I wait a long while, avoiding getting it wet under the stream of the shower. I hide the expansion of it, like unruly weeds, under my grey, woolen hat through long stretches of frigid temperatures. Wearing head-to-toe wool is warranted in Maine right into the second week of May. 

Often, I tie my hair back at the base of my neck. Or I pull it way up on the top of my head in a tall bun. This style, apparently, has a name—the ninja bun. I’ve been wearing my hair in this way since I was a teenager. All those many years back when I sprinted around a track, my chest pressed forward, the smell of rubber wafting around me. The silvery spikes in my cleats puncturing the springy, cadmium-orange surface both steadying me and propelling me forward, channeling my intense desire to gain distance at the curve. We started out crouched and staggered. I tried closing the gap before rounding the corner where, suddenly, I could catch up with my advantage. 

I collect my hair in this way now to feel cool air on the back of my bare neck after being wrapped in layers all throughout the day. I pull it up to be lightened as I circle my kitchen putting away the white mugs with the red fox painted on the side. The plastic lids get stacked in the bottom drawer before the incense is lit where it burns in the smooth, red bowl on the ledge by the front door. 

After I’ve unpacked the lunches—a responsibility technically belonging to Jonah and Adrian—I notice Adrian milling around, not having settled into a game or book or some other unwinding activity. I invite him to come over to me on the floral rug, so I can wrap my arms around his still-compact body. I remind him we haven’t yet had our afternoon hug. He walks toward me leaving foggy footprints on the wood floors with his socks, damp from the humid interior of his shoes.

I kneel down in front of the sink as he approaches me. He eyes my hair pulled-up and begins to grin, a beguiling expression coming over him like an expanding aura. Warm air blows around us from the vent at the floorboard as he drapes himself into my arms, looking suspicious, as if he is going to play a trick on me. He pulls back from our embrace and then acts like he is walking away. While I’m still within reach, crouched down, he moves around the side of me quickly and like a bandit, reaches up and pulls the elastic band out of my hair. My bun comes tumbling apart and my hair windmills down to my shoulders, all the while he’s exclaiming,“Let it be free! Let your hair be free!”  

When my phone finally rang, it was a call I’d been waiting for. I was sitting by the ledge of a large picture-window in the library where the sun streams in all throughout the shortest days of the year. I can rest my coffee on a step-stool there, my computer in my lap, and look out at a courtyard with a jagged, stone sculpture. A rectangular church spire can be seen above the other buildings in the distance. I’ve witnessed this scene in every season in all manner of weather. 

Although conscious of the quiet atmosphere, I experienced a breathlessness in my voice that didn’t come from an effort to speak softly. It came from the river of small talk I had to wade through while balancing a bucket of fear.

The room was suddenly hazy, titles of the knitting books lining the section in front of me all began blending together, as if in a dream. I tried to find a place where I could speak freely finally settling on a small, un-occupied room. I went in with my laptop and closed the door behind me, leaving my bag with my wallet on the floor in the other room where anyone could have taken it. There were no windows and sitting at a little desk, I could have touched any of the four walls. As I listened, I managed to think about how much I would rather be anywhere else, and also, how perfectly-appropriate it was to hear such news in that drab place.

I listened to everything being said, and yet, it registered as if it were happening to someone else. The size of the tumor was being described, and the grade. I suddenly became privy to things like proliferation index and types of receptors as indicators for treatment. I held the phone between my head and shoulder, something I have never been good at, and began typing into my computer. I titled the document breast cancer and put words and actions to the page I had no interest in ever impressing upon my body.  

My body is for breathing through in the still, quiet of dawn and for filling up with luscious, green foods—sprouts and arugula and wheat grass. It is for standing tall in, engaging my muscles and learning to invite my rib cage upward so it doesn’t land like a basket set-upon my lower back. It is for feeling the earth on all corners of my feet sunk in soil, learning to find balance upon this tilted earth. My body is for cradling what is unique and infinite and timeless in me and for connecting with the universal in us all.   

Who will make the lunches? Who will unpack the wet and muddy, rubber rain pants from the backpacks? Who will soak in the sweet aroma of my boys after baseball practice or a bath? Who will be patient with their unreasonableness, their profoundly exacting command of language? Who will count the number of connections in a given day, ensuring there have been enough? Who will rub their ankles, their necks, their knees after the third-goodnight? Who will look beyond the words escaping their lips and dive deeply into the pool of them beyond the place where language matters? 

The need for color came on suddenly, like a hot-flash. I drove directly to a home-goods store and bought new throw-pillows for our couch. Never mind conscious-consumption. There was one really long, velvet pillow that I come across with a flourishing scene filled with jungle animals—a black panther, a giraffe, various monkeys and a gorilla. It would demonstrate to Jonah and Adrian how intently I understand their passion for wild animals. I imagined them piling on top of it in their room. The powder-blue, floral pillows with tassels on the ends swirled with abstract flowers colored in rose and tangerine and pear-green. These would contrast nicely with the orange bench in the living room.

My husband was seated beside me in another sort-of living room, wearing a black, collared shirt, notes scribbled in red all across the papers in his lap. They bring you to these cozier rooms with real furniture to review troubling results, in-person, as if the couch cushions might soften the blow of life’s capacity to turn on a dime. His face became increasingly red, his eyes welling up with tears as he expressed his understanding of all that needed to be considered, treatments studied and absorbed late in the night. I took his hand in mine as he tried to manage things in the way he does with our mortgage rate and insurance policies. He was looking for absolutes, hard to come by in the world of unruly, cell division. 

He sometimes mistakes my propensity for surrender as passivity, our natures at odds when it comes to ideas about commanding outcomes. I comment to the doctor about how I make most decisions on instinct, from the gut. The truth is, I operate largely from the heart, feeling my way forward as if leaping, stone to stone, across a river. 

For a few days I experienced the world through a haze, like peering out a foggy windshield trying to find my way. The endless rain and low-hanging clouds and Xanax taken for a particularly difficult medical-test didn’t help. Then, in a single, distinguishable moment, driving down a steep hill not far from our house, life returned to focus. I arrived at the bottom and came upon an enormous, golden forsythia bush. Its hue was so vibrant, so luminously-yellow, it might have qualified as a new color all-together. I sat in my warm car, the heat blasting and absorbed this glowing vision of nature’s capacity to reemerge even despite its darkest days. Its branches arched up and around, cascading down like a wild head of golden hair. 

Despite the raw temperatures and our seemingly endless wait for the sun to splash down upon us in these damp parts, the creatures have come out of their nests and burrows and holes, making their way among us. Just this week I witnessed a skunk scurrying across the road at dusk as if in a hurry to get back to work, a black cat pausing and looking out from the edge of a forest and the neighborhood osprey, constructing their nest once again on an electric pole from which it has been twice removed.

A ruby red cardinal swoops back and forth from a small pine tree down into our newly tilled garden bed. I watch hopefully as this symbol of energy—of vitality, fire and life—prepares for the days ahead.

“They say it’s your birthday! It’s my birthday too!”—The Beatles

On this end-of-May, day—forty-five years ago—I arrived into the world at the tail-end of a trend of many women giving birth without dads in delivery rooms.

My father was with my mother through much of her labor but then just as I was about to emerge, she was rolled away into an operating room—bright lights all around.

When he first laid eyes on me, the forceps had been sterilized and put away and I had been bathed and wrapped in a soft, pink blanket—looking slightly bruised from the journey.

Afterward, he headed back to the house where a neighbor was looking after my sister and then came and went from the hospital in the next few days as my mother recovered.

This was before the time of drive-thru deliveries and returning home and being on your own sometimes within hours of giving birth.

On one of those days—and for many hours—my mother looked again and again at the watch on her small wrist, wondering where my father was.

He hadn’t shown up when he said he would.

I’m not sure why she didn’t call or even if she could have.

Much later—when he finally arrived—he explained that he had gotten caught-up mowing the lawn and that my grandmother was cooking chicken paprikash and so he couldn’t leave until she was finished but he was there now and oh look at the baby!

My father can be very charming—distracting from the topic at hand—and he does also go to great lengths to prioritize a well-kept lawn and fine food.

This is to say, my mother believed him—that he had lost track of time.

He had actually been across town at the children’s hospital with my sister—then, two years old—where she was having her stomach pumped of my aunt’s thyroid medication—swallowed, while unattended in the bathroom, in the time before helicopter parenting and safety lids.

It wasn’t until my mother came home from the hospital a few days later and was walking up a sidewalk toward the house that she discovered the truth.

My sister—with her platinum-blond hair and likely mismatched outfit—was sitting on the front steps waiting to greet us.

As my mother approached, she lifted her little arm up to show my mom the hospital tag around her tiny wrist.

Mommy, look at my bracelet!

That was just-the-start of all of the twists and turns of living that have transpired in these last four and a half decades.

In some ways it seems I’ve only just begun to get my bearings and come to understand what living is about.

In other ways it seems as if every-single-step-upon-this-path—and every misstep for that matter—has had a distinct purpose and been adding up to this very moment in time.

It can be tempting on birthdays to wish for something monumental to happen—a surprise, a thoughtful gift, a message from a long-lost friend.

It can be tempting to believe or project the opposite, as well—to brush aside the idea that a single-day-in-a-year can hold any particular relevance and insist instead on the normalcy of this truly miraculous event that marks the beginning of a life.

To discover a balance between the two seems like an apropos metaphor for the grand act of living as a whole.

Rising early on Sunday—sitting cross-legged on my couch in the quiet—I leaned forward to reach for my coffee perched on the leather ottoman bought a few years back to prevent head injury in wrestling children falling from the sofa.

Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of our fox.

It was the mother—the healthier of the two who have been making themselves comfortable on our property these last months, their den likely constructed nearby.

Her face was very still and staring distinctly down the stretch of lawn on one side of our house.

I thought maybe she was trying to decide whether it was safe to pass-through.

Then I noticed a rustling behind her.

I knew she had two pups—we had seen them on another day frolicking in our yard, fearless and naïve to the world around them.

I thought maybe she was holding them back standing there.

I decided to quietly get up and retrieve my binoculars from a closet across the room.

I knew it was risky.

I had barely risen from the couch when she heard me and began to move.

I knew in an instant what had been going on.

She had been standing there nursing her pups.

She began first trotting across the lawn, the little foxes still attached trying to get one last drink.

Then she began to run.

One small fox released itself and got its footing quickly and ran with her, away.

The other sat there dazed having been knocked loose.

His body language said, what just happened?

I remember having to suddenly stop nursing my own children at times—in a restaurant or some other inconvenient place—and them looking up at me with a similar, confused expression.

It reminds me of how it can be sometimes living out the human experience—confusing, disorienting, abrupt.

We do all eventually find our way—even when this doesn’t seem to be the case.

There is no right way, either.

This I have come to know.

A towering birch tree with its white, textured trunk and unusually draping branches stands tall outside the three picture windows a few feet from me—perhaps wilted from the steamy temperatures that have risen and fallen precipitously these last few days.

Every so often, a powerful gust of wind comes bursting forth brushing the branches to the side like long tresses of hair across a neckline—then just as suddenly stopping and bringing the flowing branches to stillness.

 

 

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“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”—Henry David Thoreau

From three stories up in my somewhat-finished, attic-studio, the peaks of the tallest pines tower still several stories above me.

I’ve observed these skyscraping timbers more times than I can count seated in this cornflower blue, damask chair that once lived in Jonah’s room when his voice still lilted—a few octaves higher—and we planned to meet in our dreams on a pebble-strewn beach—he with a red balloon, me with my purple, sparkly shoes.

We were like characters in a Carolyn Curtis book in our envisioned dreamscapes—taking the moon out for a walk and hoping to be together even when we slept.

Pregnant with Adrian—my skin ached when it stretched taut in the last few weeks before his birth.

Jonah and I would crowd onto the chair to read—the two of us barely able to fit and my having to find room for breath—lungs all squished up by the baby inside and the little boy with the pointy elbows practically in my lap.

I would imagine what it was like for Adrian to know Jonah’s voice from the other side of the womb and when they did finally meet, Jonah climbed right over me in the hospital bed to Adrian so that he could be near him and say to him, elbow, as he rubbed his small fingers along Adrian’s silky skin still emanating aromas from another world.

Wearing his new big brother t-shirt, Jonah looked at me curiously—his blond hair lit up by the sun streaming in through the window—and then pointed up at the wall, “clock!” he’d said.

I was worried that he hadn’t eaten and he looked so big I could have sobbed but I kept a cheerful demeanor so as not to upset him.

“You made it …. You made it …” I cried to Adrian, again and again when he was handed to me—marveling at his crimson lips and pink skin—still wearing a soft, comforting shirt from my labor, woven with pastel ribbons near the collar and a hoodie of all things.

Taped to the side of my bed—as inspiration—was a photograph of Jonah just after he was born with his hands up by his mouth, skin bare, eyes wide and alert.

Remnants of tape from hanging it there line the edge of the tattered photo still today.

When I thought we might move, I panicked wondering whether I had come to know all of the trees within my midst and feared that I might leave having passed up the opportunity to know them all intimately.

I looked up at the plentiful oak out-front and off to the side—easily overlooked—and admired its quiet magnificence and outstretching branches.

Adrian once spotted a large creature in that tree.

He was still so little then— it’s hard to understand his attention being drawn upward to a spot higher than the roofline of our home, but it was.

It was almost as if his mind was tapped into another frequency of connectivity calling out to him and letting him know of its presence unbeknownst to me—like how a dog can hear the high pitch of a whistle undetectable by man.

We spent afternoons together then in our driveway—drawing with chalk and setting up a makeshift tennis court with a jump-rope tied between two, plaid lawn-chairs.

He has always had an awareness about him that goes beyond his years.

He once went through a phase in which he gave out tickets to people who called him cute.

According to him, it was ok if you called him sweet or kind or even precious.

I once asked him how much I would have to pay for all of the tickets I had accumulated and he said authoritatively (and oh-so-cutely) rocking his head from side to side to the rhythm of his words, “as many as the tickets you get.”

As a seven-year-old—knowing this story about himself well—he recently came up with the idea of reinstituting this issuing-of-tickets as a way of raising funds.

I would never have noticed the black and prickly beast nestled at the intersection of the two high-up branches—but Adrian did.

It took us digging out the binoculars and observing closely to figure out there was an oversized porcupine hovering high above us in that tree—not an ape or other out-of-place animal like it seemed.

From an upstairs window, the silhouette of a voluptuous woman is formed in the trunk of another oak tree—the curve of her breast evident, arms opening wide and at just the right height to form the soft sway of her underarm and perhaps the start of her hips.

She’s angled in such a way that she seems to look out at the water in a posture of open-hearted surrender.

Here I am.

I frequently gaze out at her and imagine that I might embody that same sense of renunciation of all things that separate us from what is real.

I invite instead a rootedness in the timeless—an observation of the world through the lens of something more lasting and bigger than me.

I wonder how I could have missed this figure just outside my window for all these years.

It’s a world of its own up in the canopy of these less-than-a-dozen pines gathered together like a tribe on view from my 3rdfloor studio.

I can only really guess what transpires in that lofty layer while noticing it from afar—the crows swooping about establishing their territory and vying for food, the air brimming with the fragrance of pine needles.

Movement is subtle at this height where the trunks become more and more slender as they rise upward to the top—revealing only the slightest, circular sway of the cone like branches even when the winds are high.

It is rare this late in the season for buds yet to have revealed themselves on tree branches—most deciduous trees still skeletal and spindly looking here in Maine.

All other signs—the dandelions, crocus and the mud—point to the breath-of-spring palpable and near—poised and ready for revealing herself more fully at any moment.

 

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“Memory is the treasury and guardian of all things.”—Cicero

Seated on an antique bed with a white chenille bedspread, he looks like a doll in his footie pajamas and his upright posture—hands folded in his lap.

Jonah first sat upright on a warm, summer day—the sun cascading in through a weathered window in an old farmhouse.

There are many photographs of him from that first year sleeping with his hands interlaced sometimes held at his heart or by his cheek, sometimes at his round belly—as if born into the world in a state of prayer.

I always wondered if he had held this posture in the womb.

When I ate chocolate he often became active—kicking or elbowing me from the inside—jostled out of his peaceful state by my desire for dessert.

Upon seeing that sitting-up photo for the first time, a childhood friend commented, “You need a baby agent.”

He had almost no hair for the first twelve months of his life and a perfectly round—cue ball—head.

Now when his sandy-blond hair grows out it is thick—like a horse’s mane, like mine—and soft with a slight wave at the base of his neck.

Adrian’s hair is thinner—more silky—and when he is in need of a haircut it gets filled with static electricity—standing spiky in the dry, winter, inside-air.

Adrian looks like a handsome throwback to the 1950’s with a buzz cut but I hate to cut Jonah’s luscious locks. I do so anyway in preparation for tick-season in Maine, trying to keep the top a little longer.

Despite the ground still hosting a layer of white, we’ve been warned—the ticks have already made their way down from the trees and onto the scalps of friends at school.

The image of Jonah sitting up marks a place in time when mothering was still brand new, my own hair landing halfway down my back and wrinkle cream yet to be explored.

The Jonah of today—with his silly faces and poses struck as his hair gets shorn close in the back, with his astute interpretation of justice and willingness to put forth an argument—is well beyond the vision I had for him.

I could never have known all that he would be.

We are all so much more than meets the eye.

That first year I marked time by his transformation.

His awakening into the world ticked-off the days on the calendar where I scribbled about how he kicked his legs—so hard—in rhythm with the Putumayo Kids cd’s that he loved and his horrified expression, followed by a grin, the first time he ate peas—most of the ill-colored food-from-a-jar ending up on his chin.

I jotted down about how he was endlessly amused when I hid beneath his seat where he ate atop the kitchen counter suddenly popping-up surprising him and drinking in his golden laughter.

It never got old—rubbing his soft head, surprising him.

I could account for his every developmental milestone noted with a mixture of joy and pride and relief for that first year.

After that it all became a blur and the copious notations stopped—time speeding up along with his fast-moving, toddler legs pushing a wooden cart with a snapping alligator mouth down the hallway.

There were a gaggle of adults cheering for him—he the first grandchild on one side.

As we approached the completion of his first circulation around the sun I wanted to do something to express what it had meant to abide by another human in their nearly every, waking breath for a solid 365 days.

I recognized that it would likely be several decades before he would even begin to understand the depth of my love and commitment to him.

My own understanding of what it would mean to stand-by him and be devoted to him had only just begun.

I could say the same thing today.

I decided to build a time capsule—not to share what was going on in the world but rather how his parents and all those who loved him felt about his having arrived.

I received letters and photos and small, family heirlooms from across the country. Some of the letters were sealed, others I read wondering what the words would eventually mean to Jonah when the time came for him to absorb them.

It was a cold, winter day—typical for Maine—when my father sat with his laptop in our dining room typing out his own letter to Jonah.

Outside the sprawling, picture-frame windows was a sea of white.

As my father typed, he looked up briefly and witnessed a red fox making its way across the wide expanse of the frozen bay in the distance—its titian coat vibrant against the otherwise stark landscape.

He mentioned the fox in his letter along with his wish for Jonah that he might, “live well.”

He gave me three black-velvet, drawstring bags—two lined with yellow and the third lined with purple silk for the time capsule.

Within the first pouch was a US Navy-issued, caution-orange, pocketknife given to pilots to assist them in survival situations—specifically to cut themselves from tangled parachute straps.

In the second pouch was a white, also Navy-issued, web belt—the buckles separated into the third pouch along with a silver boatswain’s pipe (or whistle) traditionally used to pass on commands and announcements of visitors on Navy ships where both my father and grandfather spent considerable time—both as officers and aviators.

All of these mementos had belonged to my grandfather who had been one of a select group of aviation mechanics chosen from the Naval Air Station Squantum in Massachusetts to be sent to flight training at NAS Pensacola Florida early in 1942—just after the beginning of World War II.

A few months ago it came up with my father about the pocketknife and the other gifts as he offered me a second pocketknife to hold onto for Jonah and Adrian for when they were ready.

I realized the details of his original offerings had become hazy for me over time.

The unfolding of the years and the creation of a second time-capsule for Adrian’s first birthday had created a confusing accumulation of memories within me like a tangled ball of yarn constructed out of a thousand intentions, events and moments that had taken place since the gifts were presented.

My father remembered it all distinctly—the experience of coming up with those particular items with all of the history they held was vivid for him.

As he spoke it all came flooding back to me like a favorite passage in a book revisited.

After our conversation, I checked the place where I keep all of the various letters and gifts—in a big basket on top of a tall dresser—and there safely within were the three silk bags.

I examined them again this morning—bringing a bench to the dresser so that I could reach—pulling the basket down and the three pouches out.

I became overwhelmed with emotion when I considered the reality of care taken over so many years to protect these objects and their meaning within my family legacy.

These chapters-of-our-lives returned to are like our very own, personal time-capsules stock-full of messages and meaning we might have overlooked—or not had the presence for—the first time around.

An injured fox has been lingering in our yard for several weeks.

He makes his way around our property on all four legs and then sometimes lifts a front paw in protection as he hops three-legged for a few strides.

Jonah has been awakening early lately—before Adrian—coming downstairs where he knows he will find me—eyes squinting still in adjustment to the morning light.

His body leans forward slightly as he walks. It seems as if he has willed himself awake before he is ready so that he can be first.

I remove one of the larger pillows from the couch making room for him and he curls up next to me.

In these fleeting early-morning moments, his face seems more delicate—like a baby’s—the defenses accumulated in these nine years of living softened for the moment as he piles his legs across my lap to be massaged, grinning and aware of his opulence.

I suddenly catch a glimpse of the fox’s wiry, thinning tail running across our back porch and we both come to attention.

He’s gone before we can get a good look.

A few minutes later he shows up again at the corner of our yard—by the fence—where he begins gnawing on the frozen carcass of a large bird—maybe a crow, it’s hard to tell.

It seems like a good sign that he is eating and we observe as he picks up one-half of his meal and drags it off around the side of the house.

I wonder if I’m going to have to clean up the other half.

A few minutes later he comes back for the rest and we discuss his ingenuity.

I turn in my journal to a page where I’ve jotted down the number of a local wildlife rehabilitator who specializes in helping these beautiful beasts.

I compare with the number I’ve been dialing on my phone and see I have been calling the wrong number for the last few days. It explains why I haven’t gotten through.

Because of the early hour I decide to reach out again through a text message.

Later I learn that the ragged tail of the fox is more concerning than the injured paw and we construct a plan for helping with supplemental food and possibly even medication left to be found and consumed.

The average fox apparently is lighter than a house-cat and catching one in a trap requires that their weight land heavy on all four feet within the trap—made more difficult when one a limb is injured.

It is better to treat them in the wild when possible.

I climb the stairs down into the basement—watching my head at the last few steps where the ceiling comes down low—and find a plastic container of leftover, dried cat food bringing it back upstairs.

Outside the air is full of moisture—a contrast to the dry interiors so prevalent this time of year.

There are some bare patches of earth where the snow has melted with sandy brown grass covering the rich and damp soil.

I’m fully layered against the chill—still biting this time of year at dusk—even so I imagine stripping off my thick boots and warm woolen socks that have rarely left my feet since the fall and walking barefoot across the tender surface.

With a little cup, I dip into the container of food and sprinkle it along the edges of our yard and on a couple of steps leading down to the dock—careful not to put it all in one place.

I dream about the fox at night imaging that I’ve witnessed him discovering the added nourishment.

Jonah finds the container of food in the garage after school and asks if he can spread some of it around the yard.

I tell him he can explaining that it shouldn’t be placed too close to the house.

He responds that he understands and I overhear him inviting Adrian to help him save the fox.

Together they spread the entire contents of the container—leaving it empty on the back porch— and find their way to the swing.

I sit inside and watch through the windows as they play joyfully draped in the shimmering afternoon light.

 

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“Memory is the treasury and guardian of all things.”—Cicero

It is a bitter cold morning in Maine, so cold that my teeth hurt when I walk outside, boots crunching in the frozen snow. I am thinking about something a friend once said to me on a hot, end-of-summer day. She felt depleted by the season and described her own experience as mirroring the drying and dying roots underground.

In contrast, she gave a vivid description of the dynamic activity beneath a snowy, wintery day—like today—hardy perennials developing and delivering their winding root systems beneath the frosty layers, worms and frogs and gophers establishing their cold-weather getaways.

It was a new awareness for me and I’ve since enjoyed imagining the vibrant, creative world beneath the still, white surface of these colder months. I have always liked to imagine what lies beneath the surface of things.

When I was living in Spain in my last year of college, I came upon a calico cat sleeping on a green, park bench. I took a photograph, appreciating the contrast of colors. I carried the picture around for years but didn’t make a connection until recently that I had later adopted a kitten that grew to look just like the cat in the photo. She’s been with me for nearly eighteen years now and we are in the final days of our long-goodbye.

I’ve moved her bed over by the fire so I can see her and she can feel the warmth radiating from the fire—and me. Her head is drooped over the side of her bed, waiting.

Yesterday I petted her nose—running a single finger along the black triangular marking that has always given her face a striking beauty. I wondered if I will be able to remember the way that feels—her soft fur, her explicit trust in me. I’ve seen how sensations met with presence are preserved longer within the mind—a body memory inscribed more deeply with the aid of heightened attention.

This is the way to recall chubby, silky, baby legs, and the warm hug of a friend. This is the way to remember when you have said that thing that makes them laugh so hard. Recording a life occurs moment by moment by every-single-precious moment. Slowing time in the luscious present allows for the reapplication of the sweet times— like a salve—upon the heartaches of living.

Autumn’s first home was my threadbare, West Village apartment in New York City where a gutted out fireplace served as my closet. She would sit on the windowsill and peer out at the pigeons in the courtyard making chattering sounds in communication. She liked to climb up onto a dresser and stick her head up under a lampshade and take in the light. My sister referred to this as Autumn seeking the light. She was with me there on September 11th when ash covered the street outside my building and she has been with me in every life-changing event ever since.

We’ve had a meeting place twice-a-day for several years now. In the mornings, I sneak downstairs in the dark. I scoop out coffee to brew and sometimes stir up a fire leftover from the night before. Autumn silently rises from her own bed and makes her way into the living room, meeting me on a pillow placed for her on the ottoman in front of the couch.

Before I begin writing or meditating, I lean forward—cross-legged—and bump my head against hers, sometimes lingering, rubbing my forehead back and forth. When I raise my head back up and look at her, she blinks her eyes slowly at me. This has been our ritual.

In the evening, I call out to her in a sing-songy voice, her name becoming two, distinct, higher-pitched syllables. If I happen to see her when I say her name in this way, I can witness her ears perking up and expanding wider—taking in my voice. She always comes to me from wherever she is.

When I do this now—as a test—she remains still, her head down. When she does finally look up at me, her eyes are narrowed and hollowed. Last night, Adrian said, “It is almost like she already died.” I knew just what he meant.

I have stacks and stacks of re-purposed wall-calendars in my studio that I draw on for my work. My hands are always so dry in this season and I am aware of this as I thumb through looking for the colors I need for my latest piece. I’m in search of the hues I use for skin—rose and coral and salmon; blush and cinnamon and umber. Images that are good for this are sand and mountains and azaleas; pottery, sunsets and tile.

With each page I turn, I take in the many notations made within the dated boxes. Some people fill up the spaces within their calendars fully—every appointment, birthday and remarkable event notated. I can almost feel them writing out these reminders, their arm propped against a wall as they lean forward writing, trying to make all of the information fit.

Others are more sparse with what they jot down—only the occasional indication of use can be found. I imagine them gazing at the many beautiful images that appear—Rothko’s rich color choices with bleeding edges, Georgia O’Keefe’s succulent desert displays, Katsushika Hokusai’s great waves.

The transformation of these famous works into other creative expressions has me in its grasp. My studio—though mostly solitary—feels full with the many lives that have at one-time been engaged in the materials I use to create.

I imagine standing near me the growing girl whose first birthday was notated on this calendar, the mother of a friend though gone now is present in this one—her lifetime of notes entrusted to me. My dry fingertips pick up the particles of living that have come so abundantly into my care—like a towering pile of sand. I carefully extract the essence to be transformed into a new life on a fresh page.

I don’t want to say goodbye. I want to say thank you and I want to say see you in another way, at another time. I have inscribed you—and you, and you and you—on the fabric of me, never to be erased and there—carefully, fully notated— to be replayed. Again and again.

 

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“Nature never did betray the heart that loved her.” –William Wordsworth

It’s another temperate October afternoon—still damp from the night’s rain and Halloween is in the air. A flock of crows swoop back and forth high above the tallest pines cawing loudly—announcing the coming storm or some other alarm that only those within their clan can decipher. I’ve yet to bond with one of these dark and intelligent creatures—so frequently in my midst—although I did once place a shiny, silver carabiner on the top of a hedge in a gesture of friendship.

The hammock has been taken down and packed away in the shed safe now from the winds, the pollen scrubbed from the pair of white Adirondack chairs that sit in welcome throughout the seasons. I’ve placed a pot of lemon balm on a table between them—a gift from a soul sister, dug from her garden and offered as a tonic with antiseptic properties. Later I will snip some of its leaves and pour steaming water over them for tea.

We have more pumpkins than we need—two are enormous—larger than we’ve ever picked out before. There are six in total, the pair of smaller ones already tucked in the car ready for carving in the classroom tomorrow.

The bees are telling their story again. They have had to find a substitute for the few remaining flowers that I pruned this morning in the front bed and four or five or six of them have landed on the jagged mouth of a jack-o-lantern, nibbling away at the remaining pulp from yesterday’s carving. One lone bee makes its way across the stone walkway, tipping over to its side and falling and then gathering itself upright again to keep moving forward toward some unknown destination.

He must have been brave—or looking for a way back to his den— to come so near, the boys playing loudly in the front yard. I suddenly felt compelled to look behind me. I must have heard something. As I was turning and peering down the pathway on the side of our house I caught a glimpse of a fluffy, grey tail leaping away from us. I took a few steps forward and at once realized we had been just a few long strides from a large grey fox diverted with my turn toward him and now running for the shoreline.

Inside a few days later, the boys and I were gathering our things to leave for an appointment. I was talking with them and facing our front door—large and outlined in windows. My eyes were suddenly drawn beyond them through the window where I came in contact with a pair of large, black eyes peering at me and attached to a wide and round body.

At first I couldn’t make sense of what I was seeing. The raccoon was so large and walking up our pathway with such confidence, it seemed he might stroll right up the steps and ring the doorbell. I composed myself and quietly alerted Jonah and Adrian and they turned slowly to face the door. With just that amount of movement our visitor scampered to hide in the line of bushes along our porch, Jonah heading quickly outside to catch one final glimpse before he scurried under the porch.

Dawn’s first light was only just beginning to reveal itself, a gentle fog hovering in the distance around a tiny island offering ambiance to the season. The house was completely still and silent except for the gentle movement of my pen across the page. I was perched in the spot I return to before the sun comes up morning after morning opening to connection and preparing myself to meet the vast energies that cross our paths in living.

In an instant I felt a presence to my right where a wall of windows looks out into our yard and the water beyond. I turned slowly—unsure of what I might find. My mind had to acclimate itself to an unusual scene once again—the presence of four majestic deer lingering within a stone’s throw of my seat. It was as if they had been looking in at me.

I looked back at them in awe—feeling my heart expand—and zeroing in on the mother’s perked tail, white on the underside. Her head turned toward me in a steady gaze, her ears at attention. In my mind I immediately felt compelled to send her a message of safety—of love, even. I thanked her for being there in a way that I hadn’t had a chance to do with the other wild creatures that seem to be circling our home coming more and more near.

I began to rise up—I don’t know why. There were two little deer along with the adults and as soon as I rose, they all began quickening their pace—moving gracefully— across the landscape away from me. The mother—in the rear of the group—looked back at me for just a moment longer than the rest. I took in the softness of her tender gaze and then watched as she caught up with the rest of the herd, wondering what other visitors I might be welcoming next.

 

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“Let us be silent, that we may hear the whispers of the gods.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’m nestled in a silent, dark bedroom nursing my son Adrian, now 20 months old. He’s been awake since dawn and I’m preparing him for a mid-morning slumber. I find my breath as I let go of my thoughts and discover the moment with him again. It is a choice to be with him or to be in my head. I choose to be with him. I notice his body soften, his chest rising and falling with mine. After a while, I open my eyes and look down at his beautiful features. A sliver of light peaks from behind the shades landing on his silken cheek. His wild hair is outlined. His ears still little. There has been talk recently about it being time for me to stop nursing him. My chest tightens in those conversations – especially the ones heavy with “shoulds.” Although Adrian’s love of nursing disrupts my sleep, I don’t feel hurried. I need only look at my big-boy Jonah – now almost four years old – to know the preciousness of these moments of tender connection. Besides, I don’t know if I’m ready to forgo the laughter our family enjoys when Adrian goes running – oh-so-joyfully – through our house yelling, “deeeeet deeeeettttt!” This is his beloved word for nursing and I know that this merry sound will be missed. I also rest assured that when the time is right, I will know. I am listening for his whisper, for him to tell me that he is ready, that he has had enough. I haven’t heard it quite yet but I know it will be here in good time.

I had the pleasure recently of leading a Mindful Mothering Workshop. It took place over the course of four evenings in one of the coziest yoga studios in Southern Maine. In that time, one mother discovered that the emotional outbursts her young boy was having might be mirroring her own attachment to things unfolding in a too-particular way. I was so touched by this mother’s profession of love for her son. “He is my heart, my first real love,” she confided in us, her palms coming to her chest with emotion. She didn’t have to explain this feeling to us. We knew. Another mother spoke passionately about control and the way she felt compelled to hold things together in her household, in her mind, just-so-very-tightly. We applauded her when she came to class late one evening because she had been so wrapped up in being with her children. She released control and it was so beautiful. We laughed with her at her description of suddenly realizing that she was supposed to be somewhere else. We knew this feeling too! A third mother shared that our time together had allowed her to slip into the space behind her thoughts discovering a wisdom there to guide her day-to-day in the decisions she made for her children. She created a magnificent birthday cake to celebrate and honor her son – for all that they have been through together – from this powerful space behind her thoughts. With her littler one, she discovered a profound connection in peeling an egg with him in an unhurried way.

On my drive home from our first class together on a pitch black country road – lit only by my headlights and the moon – I contemplated whether I really have what it takes to help mothers in the way that I was envisioning. An old perfectionism in me was creeping up. I hadn’t been pondering long when all of a sudden there was a giant bird flying in front of me. Its wing-span was at least the width of my windshield. Upon seeing it, I slowed my car quickly and then realized that this enormous being was about to land on the road right in front of me. I slammed on my brakes. A stack of books between my children’s two car seats came flying forward with a loud crash onto the floor. I sat in the darkness of my car in amazement as this incredible bird slowly landed and then turned to look at me. There was a space between the landing and the moment when this beautiful creature languorously turned its head to look at me. To my amazement, there before me, was an elegant, white barn owl with golden eyes. It took my breath away. I looked into his eyes, almost not believing what I was seeing, and knew that I’d been visited. This moment was anything but lost on me. Just as quickly as it had appeared, the owl vanished, up onto a telephone wire, I think. I drove home in a state of complete wonder and amazement, my senses heightened, attentive to every curve in the road. I felt elated. I felt blessed. I felt on purpose.