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“If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.”—Loren Eiseley

The sky is rumbling—ever-so-slightly and then boorishly—a steady, sonorous rain falling placidly, spread thin through lush, velvety-green, pine branches, landing upon lavender flower petals then making its way to the ground—drunk up by a thirsty earth grown parched from endless days of summer’s swelter.

The resting Buddha’s chalky-white surface transforms in the garden—gradually revealing itself as the wet, clay sculpture of its inception. I am reminded of a recent attempt to position Jonah and Adrian there next to the Buddha for a photograph marking their first day of school—to include the statue as one of my own, between the two of them.

They insisted on hiding her from the sight of the lens and sitting on her head and teasing me while I begged them to move to either side of her, laughing and finally giving up.

They love nothing more than to turn my attempts at keeping them in some-sort-of-order into bubbling amusement—sometimes my eyes will change from serious to lit-up, along with the hint of a smile, in response to their innocent preference for fun and antics. Jonah—especially—revels in pointing out this shift.

It makes me smile, now, thinking about them. Remembering all of the many ways they challenge me—the way they still need me and yet covet their burgeoning independence like a shiny, precious jewel nestled in a little pouch within their heart-space—pulsing out the colors and rhythms of their lives—Jonah in his graceful, cerulean dance with destiny, Adrian marching forth, staff in hand, grounded and golden.

Seagull feathers from countless days of beach-combing are scattered about the front porch—wide spaces flare outward between the curling, silvery barbs. I admire their gnarly appeal—textured and engrossing in their imperfection and think about the stark contrast of these castaways with the delicate plume that I keep in my car with its smooth surface and intricate design.

I rubbed it across my cheek recently in comparison, experiencing its softness and considering how-on-earth the thick and sturdy quill could ever have been attached to an actual bird.

I used to have a rule for myself that I must submerge my being in any body of water I came across. With the exception of New York Harbor and the East River—when I lived near these two heavily-trafficked and perhaps less-than-cleanly waterways—this held true for nearly a decade.

It didn’t matter the season or the temperature or the circumstances, although, I was no member of a Polar Bear Club.

I viewed the presence of water—of rivers and ponds and lakes and especially the ocean—as evidence of the miraculous. I thought of them as sacred spaces infused with a higher energy that could only be manifested by an intelligent, creative consciousness.

I especially felt drawn to saltwater and while a dip-in-a-lake could feel nice there was nothing that could quite compare to the presence of salt left-gritty on the surface of my skin—the stickiness of its residence in my hair, the remnants of its grounding force upon my heart.

It felt like a violation of my soul to pass up the opportunity to make contact with something that felt so holy. I rarely articulated anything like this to anyone around me. I was just a free-spirit—a wild child—with a rose-colored, magic bag and an extra set of clothes wherever I went.

I didn’t always swim but I always got in—at least up to my knees or thighs if I could hike a skirt up. Living in the northeast, it meant many experiences diving into frigid liquid and then quickly reemerging—breathless from the cold.

I especially loved the way icy water would make my heart race—like I’d just run a marathon but without all of the effort. It always felt worthwhile, as if I had stroked a wild animal across the forehead.

I cannot remember the exact moment in which I allowed this self-imposed directive to fall away, although I do know it at least in-part had to do with the discomfort of changing diapers, cold and shivering, in a wet bathing suit. To be clear, I did still go into water—especially warm water—but I had become more timid, more motherly about it.

I imagine it must have been a gradual release to have let-go-of something so intrinsic to who I was in those years.

That usually is the way of change—over time, slowly, the manner in which we proceed through life, transforms us.

We become something new—without even knowing it.

In Maine, the beaches vary greatly in their qualities and substance. If you’ve seen one, you have not seen them all.

There is one beach I’ve long considered a favorite that appears like a desert in its breadth of sand. I ventured there often when Jonah and Adrian were pre-school age—this was before I discovered the closer path to the shoreline. I would layer-up with a backpack and our lunches and blankets and buckets—and sometimes even Adrian up on my hip—and trudge like a camel slowly across the football-field length of sand shouting out encouragement to Jonah who lagged behind me with his wave board on a string.

We’re almost there!

The destination tide pool appeared like a mirage in the distance.

The beauty there is vast and will take your breath away in the late afternoon when the sun dips down and the water mirrors light—like glass—and your child walks silhouetted back to the car.

Another beach—across the bridge where enormous Navy ships are constructed—has large rolling waves, long stretches of soft, white sand lined with sun-bleached driftwood and a frigid lagoon with a current running through it. It seems like you might be able to ride the current like a water-slide but it’s an illusion and just beneath the surface are a path of jagged rocks.

There are beaches with large collections of shells and some with extremely shiny, vibrant stones. There are even beaches that feel like lakes with higher water temperatures and only the slightest sound of lapping-water on the shore.

In the last weeks before the start of school it was tempting to begin counting down—to get organized—to shop and re-establish a bedtime routine. I decided to forgo almost all of that. I recognized the call of my spirit to instead prepare for the coming, colder months and the more in-breath existence with one last monumental outbreath and the application of a thick layer of salt and warmth on the many sheaths of me.

I decided that Jonah and Adrian would benefit from the same.

We managed to traverse one beach or another for a long stretch of days in a row—doing the work of packing and driving and loading and unloading the car and piling sandy towels and bathing suits into the washing machine late into the night only to rise and do just the same the following day.

On the first of those days—ears all-filled-up with the long-summer sounds of bantering brothers—I strolled alone down a nearly empty stretch of sand re-discovering my breath and sweeping away the debris that had been building in my body and mind.

As I walked, I noticed the spaces within me—especially within my chest—expanding and my tanned, bare feet sinking more deeply into the soft, warm sand.

I stopped occasionally to notice where I was exactly—in a magnificent place on an incredible planet.

I watched Jonah and Adrian in the distance—marionettes leaping along the water’s edge. Strolling back, I bent down every now-and-then to collect a feather—this beach particularly full of them.

Finally reaching Jonah and Adrian, I told them I was coming in.

The water couldn’t have been more that 50-something degrees as is common in some parts of Maine. I inched my way in—icy cold waves meeting me at the shins, then the waist. My sons beckoned me to jump in more quickly—balking at my trepidation. I lifted my ribcage up long and away from the waves, stood on my tippy-toes trying to put off the inevitable chill and then suddenly—realizing the futility of my efforts—I dove into the crest of a large wave. The powerful swirl of water curled over me, pulling at my bathing suit and elevating my heart rate fast. Emerging, I could taste salt on my lips as I struggled to stand up—readjusting my suit and looking to make sure my boys were safe.

I was both incredibly aware of the frigid water and in some ways not experiencing it at all.

I was in it but not fully succumbing to its numbing potential. The shivers would come later.

Sometimes at night, I will put my hand on Jonah’s chest and ask him how his heart is. It’s my way of inquiring whether he feels the need to close-himself-off to this sometimes-harsh world.

I massage my hand quickly back and forth across his chest as if I could vibrate away any pain he might be experiencing in living.

Being tossed about in the waves felt like someone had done that to me—like they had shaken my heart free from all that was gripping it.

Driving home the car was quiet—Jonah engrossed in a book, Adrian gazing out the window.

I didn’t know then that I would be drawn into the sea again-and-again in a series of saltwater baptisms at each of the many beach-outings we made in the coming days. I am less inclined at this point in my life to make hard-and-fast rules for myself and so in that moment I was only aware of that single, nourishing communion with the waves and it, alone, was enough.

The fields of goldenrod lining the seagrass marshes on the road home seemed to glow in the path of diminishing light and the occasional tall bursts of ironweed splashed their vibrant-purple hues across the landscape like an end-of-summer firework finale.

 

 

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“And now we welcome the New Year. Full of things that have never been.”— Rilke

The temperatures have dipped into the negative teens these last few days in Maine. With wet hair, I walked briefly outside this morning and within moments felt my hair stiffen into frozen, wavy strands. I ran my fingers along the rigid tresses, grabbing little sections into my still-warm palm, melting the ice crystals and making it soft again.

Before that I had been sweaty and warm practicing eagle pose in a heated yoga studio. It is a paradoxical posture that requires a twisting of both arms and legs around each other within a balancing framework and somehow has the affect of unwinding the mind. All wound up like that—gazing intently at the striped towel on the mat in front of me and arriving in a steady stance—an unexpected sense of freedom came over me. I wanted to stay right there in that tangled place.

It was as if I had been transported within myself to a precipice, ready to fly.

The roads are dusty with the disintegrating sand and salt leftover from the recent storm. The wind gusts and ribbons of snow are whisked from the drifts and cast thinly through the air—like ghosts. Back windshields of cars are hard to see through this time of year but I glimpse in one the outline of a dog frolicking about. I can see his silhouette jumping—joyful. I wish I could gather him up into my arms in an embrace.

On a dresser in our front hallway there is a stack of feathers that we’ve collected at beaches and in fields, state parks and along dirt roads. I often take them in as I pass by to go upstairs. There is one particular feather that I am most drawn to that was spotted and picked up last summer by my younger son, Adrian. Lagging behind he discovered it and just afterward fell into the mud.

The feather is long with a sturdy quill and distinct black and white markings. When I walk by, I sometimes realign it into its prettiest position.

I noticed it wasn’t on the dresser and asked if anyone had seen it. Adrian said he had been playing with it because it was his and recounted the story of how he had discovered it on his own and then ended up holding it above him in the air, safe from the mud.

I later found it among the copious Legos on the ledge by the fireplace. Our living room is strewn with these genius, rectangular modules that have my children in their grasp. The dining table is covered as well in torn papers and colorful palettes, my own obsession underway. It’s like a storm has blown through our house leaving a slew of multicolored design materials cast about in its wake.

It is an exquisite looking feather—one that might have been used as a quill pen in another era. I wanted to preserve it and saw that Adrian had been running this fingers up and down it creating greater space between the barbs. He liked the feel of it and I tried to imagine how he had managed to take it from the dresser. He must have been high up on his toes or maybe he climbed up on a chair to reach it.

We had never thought to study its markings and learn where it came from. Its size suggested that it belonged to a large bird—perhaps a bird of prey. Adrian’s original guess was that it had belonged to an osprey. We began researching various feathers and initially it seemed like it could have belonged to any of a group of larger birds; osprey, peregrine falcon, eagle or even a turkey.

Upon deeper inspection, we began to recognize the subtleties of its makeup. My older son Jonah insisted quickly that the feather belonged to an eagle based on what he saw. Adrian was more studied in his approach and wanted to take his time with deciding.

I was reminded of my own natural tendency to rely heavily on instinct and inner-knowing as the compass that guides me and also how making space for deeper observation and contemplation has confirmed what I know to be true.

The first time we saw the bald eagle out back it was a barefoot day—vastly different from today’s bitter chill. Jonah spotted it first and called out with elation as it swooped over the tallest pines and we caught intermittent glimpses of the wide wingspan through the branches.

We ran down to the dock—breathless in our excitement—as it swooped majestically through the clear, summer sky over the water. It seemed so near. We could fully make out its yellow beak and the distinctive white feathers of its head. After that we began cutting out the images of bald eagles from magazines and wildlife calendars and adopting them as significant to us.

In the years since, a large nest has appeared in a distant, mighty pine that sits on a point of land that juts out into the water at a diagonal from our dock. I often gaze out to that spot at dawn in meditation.

Though clearly having settled near us, we only rarely get a chance to experience the ravishing display of these stunning beasts. Their presence has grown more common in this area once again, yet their impression remains momentous.

My alarm chimes before the sun has risen. It is still dark out, the bed cozy. I don’t always want to get up. I always do. I pull on my layers and drift down the hallway noticing the moon spreading a glow across the yard, enhanced in these months by the reflection of snow.

Jonah and Adrian’s room is right at the top of the stairway where we still have a baby gate installed. I lock the gate at night as a precaution because of my own experience as a sleepwalking child. I once awakened alone in the garage of my childhood home and fear that Adrian has the same tendency. Once I found him sitting at the top of the stairs with his eyes open—but clearly asleep.

Sometimes I open the gate quietly to pass through in these dawn hours. Other times—feeling nimble—I silently climb over it like a robber in wool socks. As I pass by their room and navigate the gate, I am careful not to think of them—especially Adrian. If I do—our hearts so intertwined—they will awaken.

I have roughly one hour before their door will crack open and the stairs will creak and they will sleepily make their way down in their striped pajama bottoms.

I soak in the quiet like an elixir. I allow the parts of me that are not associated with my identity to expand like a vast wave wiping out the various contractions that this world—and I—have placed upon myself.

I nudge judgment out and wrap myself up instead in the tender arms of acceptance.

Their entrance is a signal for the practice to end and the application to begin. In their purity in these peaceful moments, they make it easy. I might forget throughout the day but I always come back to seeing them for what they are in their somnolent innocence.

They approach me in such different ways.

Adrian—the earlier riser—climbs and cuddles into my lap, still half-asleep, pushing my journal away. Despite his desire to keep resting, he can’t help himself and begins talking, peeling his eyes open and blinking away the sleep. He has a distinct smell when he’s just awakened—like cookies. I breathe deeply taking him in and smile at his rapid speech—like his words are running to keep up with his thoughts.

Jonah approaches more quietly and tucks himself in next to me. I take in his cherubic face trying not to break the silence. There is much to be said between us in the quiet.

Often our collective gaze turns outward toward the wall of windowed doors that look out at our tucked away cove revealing a constant state of change. We might comment on what we see—glimpses of color in the morning sky, a glow lining the tops of trees in the distance, a boat or swimmer or clammer.

In the fall we were nested together in this way on the couch when suddenly—like a scene from a nature program— a bald eagle swooped down across the water and dove for an unassuming duck floating on the still water. We all jumped to attention entranced by the unexpected scene. Adrian ran and got his little chair and pulled it up by the glass doors.

Frantic, the duck managed to completely submerge itself and dodge the eagle’s grasp.

The eagle retreated up into the sky for a moment and as soon as the duck reemerged, it dove down again fiercely. It was another near miss for the duck. We watched as the eagle flew back to its nest wondering whether it was lying in wait or had given up.

We sat for a long time in anticipation of the continuation of the saga. We hadn’t chosen sides. We only wanted to see what would happen.

The duck disappeared for a little while and finally we saw it pop up in another spot entirely. The eagle had seen it too—immediately—and came lunging toward it.

Amazingly the duck got away once again and the eagle retreated back up to its nest. We stared out into the bay for another long stretch wondering what might happen next but the drama never did resume.

I was sitting by the fire when Adrian came up behind me and tucked the feather into the back of my ponytail. I reached my hand around to feel it and make sure it was secure. I ran my fingers gently along the barbs.

A little while later, I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror and noticed it poking out like a simple headdress.

I removed it and placed it on another table—now upstairs— along with a collection of other precious finds—smooth oval stones and large, powder pink ribbed seashells.

I arranged it out in front of the other treasures—in that pretty way again—and headed back downstairs where the rooms are full of so many things yet to be made.

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