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“I wish that every human life might be pure transparent freedom.” —Simone de Beauvoir

Last week a friend invited Jonah, Adrian and me for an impromptu picnic just after our noon pick-up at school. She said she knew of a spot by a stream just a stone’s throw from our campus. It was a lovely location, she said, “as long as you are ok with trespassing.” My friend wasn’t sure how I felt about trespassing. I happened to have a picnic packed in my car for my boys to go to another location, so we were able to join readily and were delighted for the company. I was fine with the trespassing part of this equation as well. I had seen my friend’s car parked alongside the road before and wondered where she and her daughter had been adventuring off to. The entry into the hidden nook was quite steep and we had to make our way around some muddy, sinking spots and down a plunging incline. My friend joked that they hadn’t chosen this locale for ease of entry. Once settled we found ourselves situated on the edge of a bubbling stream—laying out shirts to sit on and beginning to pull out food. My friend’s spritely daughter quickly shed her shoes and began making her way across the water over to a big pile of rocks. My boys followed suit—only slightly more timidly. Looking up from this picturesque spot we could see a guardrail from the road and the occasional car driving by. Not long after, two more familiar faces popped up from behind the guardrail— another adventuresome mother and daughter pair. Could they join us? Of course! We all luxuriated together in these unexpected and sweet moments-in-time basking on sunny rocks like turtles and taking in our surroundings. I braided one girl’s beautiful hair and one mother felt like the Pied Piper with all of the children surrounding her—gobbling up her yummy snacks. The third mother rose again and again as a spotter for the children who needed support crossing the water. At one point, I looked over at Adrian—now solidly four and a welcome member of the bigger kid tribe. He was on the edge of the water near a little pool, enraptured in mud-ball making. His pants and arms were covered in clay and I briefly wondered how this was going to work itself out in the car. I assured myself that this would work itself out. Eventually, Jonah let me know that he was ready to move on. We had a bike ride planned and he was eager for peddling. I dipped Adrian’s hands into the brisk water rinsing him clean and we were the first to depart—journeying back out from where we came.  All of the mud has long since been washed away, reapplied and washed away again. I am sitting in a cozy spot and feeling called to continue reaching out to you. I am sitting and I am writing and I am thinking about my friend’s words again and again. I am thinking about how I feel about trespassing.

 

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“The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.” —Joseph Campbell

I am sitting at a rustic picnic bench under a sturdy wooden shelter. My legs are stretched out before me. A breeze lifts the hairs from the back of my neck brushing them across my bare shoulders, cooling me. There is a well-worn path to my right leading toward a hilly, lush trail into the woods. The sounds of birds chirping in conversation and the distant rumble of a truck delivering are surrounding me. My boys are filling jars with treasures at a morning day camp a few miles from here.

I recently meandered with a dear friend around the yard of her new home— taking in the various attributes of the land. There was a perfectly rounded sledding hill out front, a brood of chickens in the back and a home in the middle filled with windows and wonder. Surrounding us was a ring of sprawling trees. A breeze moved through these varied and magnificent beauties encompassing us as if in their embrace. Each sprawling limb was doing its part—sending the rushing air along between them. Even the tall deadened trunks—stripped of all their green for a long while now—stood in the distance holding their place in this rounded, breathing space. We wondered whether an owl might find their home in one of these stunning sculptures of nature’s unfolding. I’m taken with the power and the possibility of a circle. My breath seems to move about my body in this same circular direction—the air making its way in and expanding my abdomen, then my chest, up along my spine into the top of my head and then back down again finally settling into my sacrum. All of the spaces inside of me are transformed into a single expansive globe as my breath moves through me before finding its way out again. 

My son Jonah has become enthralled with bugs this summer. He searches for them, creating homes and sometimes bringing them to and fro in our car, around our house—like visitors. He names them and even loves some of them. Sometimes he squishes them, accidentally. Sometimes he squishes them because he is just so curious to see what happens. Moving through his fifth year, I notice him bringing more authority to his way of being. His thoughts are deepening. I observe him as closely as ever—maybe even closer—although from a greater distance. Even as he grows I notice the part of him that remains constant. There is a place in him that I recognize from when he was nestled in my arms in those very first moments—still wet from the womb. I remember that same essence from when he was a wee-toddler, my family cheering for him as he begins running for the first time down a hallway. There it is again—that dear Jonah quality—as a boisterous three year-old resisting sleep one million times over. And here  it is now—as clear as ever—as he unfolds into a school-age boy. He likes the idea of becoming a “gentleman” and he points out the “gentlemen” that we come in contact with. He notices the way they speak politely and offer to help. He notices these things ahead of me. He refers to me as a “gentle-lady” and has pointed out other gentle-ladies as we make our way through the world. He teaches me to slow down and every day—if only through this essence— he reminds me of his worth.

 I take him in—this beautiful gift-of-a-boy—and create a circular space around him in which he may expand. I try not to make the mistakes that I made when he was three years old, transitioning out of regular napping so many moons ago. Then, I tried to hold him there. I resisted and resisted and resisted. Now, I try to look ahead. I try to look ahead and I make room. I lay down my resistance to the pain that sometimes tags along with seeing your child grow. I try to lay down anything in me that might inadvertently take him away from his original essence. Like the trees, I surround him with my energy and with my love in a gentle, circular caress.

“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” —Aristotle

Autumn has been meandering here in Southern Maine. In the orchard at my bigger boy Jonah’s school, the yellow jackets have hung around well into this colorful season sampling the plentiful apples. The leaves have transformed into magnificent shades of tangerine and amber and burgundy even as our winter jackets have remained tucked away inside. It is only in the last week that cooler nighttime temperatures have allowed for us to feel justified in lighting a fire in our wood stove, not just for the first time this season but for the first time in several years. In winters past, I’ve blamed our lack of a home fire burning—in this snowy, cozy place—on the diminutive size of the stove, on the lack of a window to see how the fire is faring, on protecting the little ones from hot surfaces. The truth is that there was something more holding me back.

Sometime in late summer I began to know that this would be the year that we would strike the match at last. I could feel embers simmering in the core of me. In anticipation, I shared with my husband thoughts of lowering heating bills, of warming our home with a deeper, more resonating warmth. I talked of getting in the habit of using the stove and describing how then it would become a part of us. These too were ideas dancing around the real reason that I needed to bring this fundamental, earthly element with all of its heat and passion and warmth into my life, into the lives of my children.

I lit our fire somewhat unceremoniously the first time. My husband was trying to leave to run an errand and I told him that I was going to light a fire and asked him did he know which way the handle on the side of the stove was supposed to be turned so that the smoke didn’t come billowing into our home. He said, “no” and went upstairs to get his socks. I think I needed to light that first fire in that way for the same reason one might pull a bandaid off quickly. I needed to just do it and see that I could. I didn’t really understand all that it was tied to for me at the time. I did know how I would feel once it was lit. That first fire did not disappoint. Within moments my two beloved boys and I were cuddled up around it. With the surge of the flames, I felt an inner warmth come alive inside of me. I felt Jonah and Adrian settle down into themselves, eyes fixated on the flickering wonder. I felt grounded and capable and secure—all at the same time. There was nothing wrong with the size of the stove and the doors could be easily propped open with a screen so that we could take in the golden blaze.

For years now, weekends have been a time of reunion with my husband for both me and for our children. I have been reticent to take time away by myself to refuel wanting to create memories of the four of us together, wanting to not put that pressure on my husband after a long week of early rising and late nights. But lately, with a chronic medical condition flaring, it’s become less of a choice for me. It was for this reason that I found myself being dropped off at home by my husband and two boys on a grey, Sunday afternoon. I didn’t know whether to cry or drink in the silence as I walked inside. I put down my things and headed straight for the wood stove. I pulled on my stiff gardening gloves and opened the creaking, cast iron doors and began gathering together logs and kindling. I took off my gloves so that I might better ball up a couple of sheets of newspaper and tuck them between the wood and the kindling. I leaned forward onto my knees, rolling back the igniting mechanism of my lighter, then pressing down, listening to the clicking sound as I moved it forward into the stove. The papers were lit and the flame quickly spread from newspaper to birch bark to wood. Despite the afternoon hour, the room felt dark and I sat back on my heels opening my chest, opening my heart to the firelight. It was then that I knew. It was then that I knew what had been holding me back from this glorious experience of this essential element. In that moment—my inner glow expanding—I experienced a fleeting memory of a time in which I had surrendered myself to motherhood, a time in which I had surrendered myself to my marriage, even. There with the warmth of the fire bearing down on me, a sensation traveled through me, reminding me of a time when I had convinced myself that I would only loose myself for a short while. That this would be ok. I convinced myself that I would only give myself over completely, temporarily. It was with this realization that I was reignited. A part of me that I had given away—albeit small—rejoined me then. It was the part of me that lights fires, of course. It was the part of me that makes art. It was the part of me that has time. It was the part of me that makes time. Attempting to savor that feeling was like trying to catch a snowflake in a gusting wind. It hasn’t mattered, though. I’ve remembered. That’s all it takes. Even on warmish days, I have found reason to light a fire in our home and I plan to do so until winter is no longer.