Posts

“Our first teacher is our own heart.”—Cheyenne Proverb

It is unusual to witness clam diggers this time of year—rubber muck-boots up to their thighs, bodies bent over digging up a livelihood—though it is not a seasonal occupation. I notice their trucks on the side of the road and figure they have found a way through a neighbor’s property onto the shoreline where they follow the tide using wide-pronged rakes or their rubber-gloved hands to unearth clams to sell. 

Out back the relentless rain and the warmer temperatures has softened the conditions—lessening the layers they must wear and perhaps their labor, just slightly. Still I wonder about their backs, bowed like migrant farmers picking crops for long stretches in all types of weather. I wonder about how different—how the same—we are and whether or not their physical strength has been handed to them like a baton.

Each time I see them I think about the thick salt air and seaweed perfume, the sitting on the edge of a boat at dawn and dusk taking in the vast Maine sky. I imagine their weathered hands and wonder if our spines are made from the same fibers—mine seeming somehow not as sturdy despite my attempts at affirming it otherwise.

At the restaurant in the old mill where I like to go when I need a fix of feeling more in-touch with the world, there is a photo essay on display with portraits of men and women who work in the Bath Iron Works Shipyard here in Maine. They are ship-fitters and welders, pipe-fitters and electricians and painters. They wear hard hats and headlamps and some of them protective goggles. All of the photos are gritty—even the ones of workers with clear signs of youth, freckles and soft skin. 

A few workers have cigarettes dangling from their mouths—some are smiling, grinning—all are captivating. 

The photos are lit with a bright light and grey backdrop that give them a timeless quality. 

I am particularly drawn to a worker with a sapphire blue bandana—eyes to match—and a long, golden braid cast off to the side.

Jonah looks across at photos around the room and some of them near us—not for the first time—and says something about physical labor with a sort of huff at the end like he just kicked a soccer ball, hard. He says it in such a way as if to express his feelings for the gravity of the manual work on display. We discuss the qualities of physical labor in contrast to other types of work—like sitting at a computer, like creating art in a studio. He expresses his desire to work outside as an adult—to be physical in his job. I can see how this will suit his copious energy, though I hope his mind will be equally engaged, his big heart put to good use.

Later I read about the exhibit and discover recordings of voices to go along with the gripping images. I listen about how these men and women have a passion for their work, about the fear of injury, about tight working spaces and short-lunches and the work whistle singing out the march of time throughout the day. 

One man talks about how tears came to his eyes when the first ship he helped to build left port. 

I have a stamp. I have a name on this ship that helps protect our country.

They describe the exacting nature of their work and how important it is that they get it right. They understand the stakes are high for their own survival and also for those who will later occupy the ships. Their co-workers are like family. They have hopes about their futures working in the shipyard and some are ready to leave—elbows and knees all worn out. 

They are proud of what they have accomplished.

Listening to the array of voices, I experience an unexpected swell of emotion. I both appreciate the many ways in which our humanity overlaps—regardless of individual dreams or lifestyle—and I am also taken swiftly and unexpectedly back to my own nebulous relationship with battleship grey. 

It seemed as if we might have had special access on the ship because of my father’s rank, though at this point he would have been a reservist and I not yet in the double-digits. He had completed several tours-of-duty and had the unique experience of landing helicopters and other anti-submarine warfare aircrafts onto a carrier like the one we were touring. 

He once told me about how little light and runway were available when landing on a carrier at night in the middle of the ocean. I thought about the connection between his experience and the workers I had come upon through the exhibit.

Below deck I noticed how everything was painted with shiny grey paint that almost appeared like it was still wet. I remember the control panels and that you couldn’t see any dirt anywhere because all of the surfaces were so smooth—as if any debris might slide right off. 

My father pointed out some bunks in a small space down the hallway. He might have been saying that he’d slept there or maybe he just wanted us to see how narrow the beds were. 

This brief, flash-of-a-moment welded my present with a time hanging from my memory by a thread. It reminded me of the stories woven through us even as we live forward in uncharted corners of the heart.

Recently I have been listening to the stirring sounds of Native American flute music. 

I turned to it on an impulse a few weeks back while home alone taping wrapping-paper onto gifts at our dining room table. The flute’s unpredictable rhythm disrupted the more-measured pace of the season and I found myself slowing my movements—the sonorous tones dampening my potential for inner frenzy.

As I worked, I looked out toward the wall of windows and watched as seagulls swooped across the horizon dancing as if to the flute’s serenade. 

The sun sprayed across the shoreline and the mudflats appeared hardened by the cold, imprinting the landscape like the surface of the moon.

I’ve been listening for a few weeks now and I have come to understand these exquisite sound-vibrations as a soulful dialogue—an intimacy—between the instrument, it’s player and the natural world. It’s different than when I first discovered this music and it hit me with no place to land. At that time, my inner-world was depleted in places and littered with all-manner-of-rules about living.

The man selling his cd on the sidewalk in New York City had elicited in me a sorrow I couldn’t name. I thought at the time it was about him, about his need to sell his wares in the way he did and what that meant about his life.

A friend teased me about what she saw as gullibility in my purchase. 

Listening to the music was jarring in contrast to my current life and the mindset from which I had come.

The haunting sounds of the flute brought-on in me what my boyfriend liked to call the Sunday blues. Today I can recognize that I had been grieving.

I didn’t have any idea what had been lost. I couldn’t even begin to imagine how much I would need to reclaim in the coming years nor the many layers of me that would be shed off like a snake’s skin. 

I turn the volume up now and listen through headphones so that I might come as near as I possibly can to these potent, transporting sounds. 

I gaze out through a window into the natural world and am connected to the origin of this place, to the origin of me and all who occupy this living, breathing planet. 

I understand about how much has been taken without purpose—without conscious awareness—and although grief still remains in this, I recognize the miraculous in the finally-knowing. 

Closing my eyes I can feel my ribs vibrate and the energy of my being expand upward as I travel through the raw and the sonorous narration of what has always been.

“A very small degree of hope is sufficient to cause the birth of love.”—Stendhal

It was Friday afternoon and I was perched at a weathered, picnic table at the top of the stairs overlooking the dock.

The sun burned hot and bright—shining through the just-barely-fluttering birch leaves hanging out over the water creating a sense of transparency, like when light is diffused through kite paper.

The breeze was cool and intermittent, softly lifting a few strands of hair around my face and placing them back down so I could sweep them from my vision again and again.

I did what I could to brush aside, as well, the many, mounting rejections intrinsic to creative pursuit—and to temper the sadness and dismay building in my bones over innocent children dying in school once again.

There are ample reasons in any life to lose hope for humanity and for our aspirations—to lose faith in the power of benevolence and our ability to live safely, fruitfully, joyfully.

Even the smallest injustices can take root in any-one-of-us and germinate into something distorted and more powerful than what is merited if we allow it to.

Might we all find ways to examine this inner-alchemy and insist instead on a personal evolution—a way forward—expressive of greater compassion, deeper insight and specific calls-to-action unique to each of us.

Might our efforts spread and take root and become intertwined between us so that we might weave a world fit for us all—like an intricate basket—weighty yet giving to accommodate the vastness of our differences and our distinct need for one another.

When they first went down to the dock, Jonah and his spritely—his sisterly—friend tied heavy, metal objects to long ropes and tossed them out into the water repeatedly.

They noticed a pair of hermit crabs in the distance and wondered aloud if their rope could reach to touch them.

Adrian sat on the long part of the dock alone soaking in the sun and sea air, resting in his private thoughts.

Then he placed a frisbee with a mesh center and a faded, pinkish-orange frame over his head like a bouncy hat.

Later he made his way onto his stomach—legs stretched out behind him, arms propping him up—resting again.

A motor boat passed through the cove briskly heading for the shoreline off to our right creating fast, undulating waves and jostling the dock.

The quiet mood transformed with the rapid rhythm of the water and the kids sprung-up steadying themselves on the rocking raft like surfers, suddenly filled with new ideas for play.

In the distance an unusual sea craft appeared—one-part tug-boat, one-part barge—with a narrow tower emitting a small stream of smoke into the clear, blue sky.

I pointed it out, speaking in a regular voice despite my distance—my call-to-attention carrying swiftly and clearly in the vicinity of water.

This tendency has to do with air temperature and soundwaves and the way this dynamic allows for more of what we say to reach those who are listening.

Jonah ran up the stairs past me toward the house—inspired.

“Where’s the camera?” he shouted, unwilling to stop to hear my reply.

Soon they had the camera with the zoom-lens and a notebook with crayons poised to capture and record all that they saw and thought about these mysterious happenings.

I tried not to worry too much about the lens getting wet and perused the websites of the chosen artists on my laptop—at first glance the work appeared quite different from my own and impressive.

The mood by the dock changed again when the water calmed and a pair of ducks with a trail of five or six ducklings crossed just a few yards out into the bay.

We all seemed to notice them at once and expressed our glee at witnessing such a sweet sight.

It wasn’t long after that when a sock got stuck in a tree.

On a property with children, socks can be found just about anywhere.

The exploration moved up from the dock and behind me into our yard where Jonah had brought out two, long nylon ropes he found in the shed and together with his friend threw one side up high into a sprawling oak tree and over a branch.

Now there was a length of the rope hanging down on either side of the branch.

They decided to attach a thick, wool sock—one of Jonah’s—between the two strands of rope to create a sort-of seat or thick-knot where they could gain leverage with their bare feet or rest their behinds as they climbed up higher and higher, carrying the rope wrapped up in their legs with them.

When they tired of this pursuit, they threaded the other rope through the circular base of a swing that hung on the opposite branch of the tree.

They took turns climbing onto the swing and allowing the other person to pull it upward with the rope into a steep incline—then letting it go forcing the person holding the rope to run forward along with the swing so as not to get dragged by the momentum.

It was both inventive and dangerous-looking.

I took in their ingenuity doing my best not to gasp at the close-calls and thought about the delicate balance between allowing my children (and their friends) to test their abilities and pursue their visions and to be free, really, all the while trying to keep them safe.

Often giving them space to explore and believe I am not anywhere nearby feels like the most crucial choice I can make now to impact their future-ability to thrive.

It’s so hard to trust this critical process—this birthright—given what I know about the world, given what we all know.

It was a relief—and a return to balance in the weighted-scale of the afternoon—when Jonah and his friend left the swing and brought out the violin.

They both play and passed the instrument back and forth on the porch steps.

I noticed the way the light fell on them like actors on a stage.

Eventually I realized it was time to gather up the ropes and get us ready for an outing we had planned that evening.

The kids pulled on one side of the rope to retrieve it from the tree.

The sock-side went shooting to the top where it became lodged between two branches.

We yanked on it briefly attempting to release it and eventually had to abandon it to leave on-time.

I was surprised a few days later when I noticed the rope and sock had somehow been removed without my knowledge.

Jonah explained that he had accidentally released it when he had once again climbed the rope the following day and it came loose suddenly sending him onto the ground—onto his back—with a thump.

I’m not sure the sock ever made it back inside.

The days have grown longer in these last weeks—the sky illuminated at dawn and brimming with the emphatic narrative-of-the-birds, settling in for a season of greater ease.

 

Join my e-mail list!

“You are here. The moon tides are here. And that’s all that matters.” —Sanober Khan

As the Winter Solstice comes more near, I have been thinking about the way in which we on this earth are bound to the sun and to the moon. I have been thinking about the big picture of our lives. I am taken with the push and pull of gravitational force that is necessary to sustain this delicate balance of the earth’s light and liquid and the way in which we are suspended—at an angle—in space just spinning and spinning. Like a sailer immersed in the rise and fall of the tides, I notice my own inner comings and goings. I imagine the rivers of my being engaged in a whimsical dance with my lunar partner—ebbing and flowing and then back again with a twirl. The more vast the scope of inner spaciousness I am able to cultivate, the greater my ability to witness this rhythmic cycle within me. I remember recently standing in front of a mirror. Emotion was coming over me like a cresting wave. I remember looking into my reflection, into my eyes. It seemed I could see all the way to the moon. I remember finally settling within myself and recognizing—this is just a tide. This is just a tide, I thought, as I so slowly and so gratefully made my way back to shore.

A friend recently shared an article  with me about the impact of very gentle micromovements in yogic practice and the potential for this subtle and nuanced work to impact healing. Apparently these very slight and attentive movements allow for the brain to track what is happening and create new neural pathways that support restoration of the places in which the body has gone off-course. I found this to be such a profound metaphor for the ways that healing and transformation have worked in my own life. I have never benefited from seeking gurus or grand interventions to make me well. Instead, I have found a steadiness of spirit in the clearing out of a too-full closet, in shoveling wood chips, in getting up with my children deep in the night when they’ve needed me. I notice that with each small act of creativity, of seeing things through, of working, of waiting, of inner-noticing, of accessing my breath, an inner-musculature has taken form and allowed me to grow more sturdy.

It gets dark at around 4:30 in this season here in Southern Maine— not long after we arrive home from school and just about when I start preparing food for dinner. We’ve turned on the music—as we often do—a few favorite 1960’s classics have me singing along as I begin sautéing our supper. Adrian has fallen deep into puzzle play and Jonah is playing around with a  ball we received as a gift when he was so little still. It looks like a small beach ball but it is actually a balloon blown up within a cloth cover. I catch Jonah’s eye while I am singing, his face lights up with a smile and I come out from behind the stove. We begin playing a game in which we each do our own set of dance moves while holding the ball and then toss the ball back to the other person while sticking our “move.” After doing one fancy turn and tossing him the ball he shouts out, “do you do ballet?” It makes me laugh. And then we are both laughing as we get sillier and sillier trying to hold our poses and the ball and balance all that we are made of as the moon makes its way higher and higher into the vast evening sky.

 

If you would like to receive Meghan’s Journal Entries upon publication, please share your e-mail address below.