On Sodom Pond

Postcards from rural Vermont


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Happy 75th

Neither of us has been easy to love but we have never stopped trying. Today my mom turns 75. Here she is in 1989 at my graduation from Smith, a place she herself might have gone had her life been different.  I remember the day, especially the excruciating parting from friends, the terror and confusion of an unknown future, and the dinner at the Whale Inn afterwards, in which my parents gave me a briefcase, at which, I believe, I cried. My mother sent me to a place that could provide what she could not. It’s what a good mother does. It must be terrifying. I am grateful for all the gifts I can never repay.

 

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Thank you

SABBATICAL 2012 047Thinking of, and thanking, the Brothers of SSJE today and thought I’d share a piece I wrote about my stay with them that will be printed in their upcoming magazine Cowley. Thank you, readers. I wish you a day fat with blessings and turkey!

When I planned to spend two months of my sabbatical as a Resident at Emery House, I had such romantic ideas about what my time there would be like. I imagined myself on a sort of extended retreat, wandering the woods, writing all the time. I knew I would have some work duties, since the program is a work study, but I had this very glamorous, pastoral image of my life with the chickens and the pigs. I quickly learned that the Brothers really needed help with vacuuming and cleaning toilets – much more practical. And I also learned I would be living on liturgical time. Four times a day – 7:00, 12:00, 6:00, and 8:00 – you’re called to prayer. I experienced a lot of frustration with this at first, because anytime I tried to start doing work, the bell would ring and I would have to go to prayer. I quickly realized that I wasn’t there sit on my little cushion or walk in the woods and be alone with God. I was there to work as part of a community.

Perhaps that’s why some of my strongest memories of Emery House are the times I spent in the dishroom in the kitchen. When we picture the monastic life, we somehow imagine these perpetually spiritual beings praying to the dishes and making that into a sacred act. So as I washed the dishes alongside the Brothers, I kept thinking there would be some spiritual lesson, that something else was going to happen. Eventually I realized that this was it: it was about getting into the stream of life. We’re just cleaning out the scuzzy rack in the bottom of the dishwasher because it’s clogged. Yet that, too, is prayer when you do it in a prayerful way, full of gratitude and love. God was in the dishes, and the dishes became a prayer.

At Emery House I learned how everything really does blend together. The work, the time in chapel, the conversations all blended into one experience. And the result was that the mundane became more sacred, and the sacred became more mundane. Even being in the Chapel got mundane. I remember one Sunday, when the bell was ringing, I just thought, “Not another Eucharist” (because you have a lot of them there). I thought, “No more bread.” But you go, you show up, and you pray, no matter how you feel.  And you know what? It always transformed me to be in that Chapel. I would go with my resistances up, but then once I was in that chair, something would break open, and I would think, “Wow, this is sacred; this is holy.” 

(Picture: Brother James and his beloved geese, Martha, Mary, Samuel and John [both R.I.P–to coyotes, not Sunday dinner.])


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Gingerly

cropped-img_20131108_074548_539.jpgHold up. Slow down. Gingerly. These are messages the universe is not sending but screaming at me lately.

I was not being ginger when forcing more paper into the recycling last week.  It didn’t fit so my idea was to jam harder. I learned my lesson: a zigzag cut to the bone on my thumb knuckle. Then rocks flew off a highway truck and cracked my windshield. Then I sent an email about someone to the person it was about.

It isn’t like me.

Unsteadiness can be a sign of progress, as in the ugly duckling. It’s just a phase.  I’m growing! But messy things make me nervous. Eyes darting, closing my collar around me, I am suspicious of mess. I want ease and comfort, not awkward and flailing.

Was it a bad week? Or am I just noticing it? I’m coming out into life more, and it’s dangerous.

Go slow.

And yet–I’ve been learning something else at the wood stove.  You have to feed the fire when it’s hot. This sounds ridiculously obvious, but I have been waiting until the flames die down before I open the hatch and throw in more wood, which then puts out the flames that are in there. I’ve been tepid, afraid of sparks, flames, roaring heat. What if I burn the house down? What if I burn myself?

It’s hot, yes, but it is the moment to act. To get something started.

So how does one know when to be ginger and when to rip the lid off of life? The key is consciousness, I suppose. Is it safe? Do you want it? Can you claim it? Or are you unconsciously sleepwalking through? Have you paid attention to the afghan on your toes, the chickadees at your feeder, the jar of burnt orange ink in the light on your desk? Have you read those books you’re dying to read? Or do you tell yourself, duty calls. I have to….

When was the last time you said, I’m letting myself….

Today I get to…..

This too, this yes, is me.

The cut needed stitches, but I went to bed instead. I patched it up.  By morning the skin was beginning to seal up.

Gingerly.

I am healing.

I will have a new scar.

(But I am getting up the driveway.)


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A hunter’s blessing

windy day deer They came at 6:28 A.M. The first two shots of hunting season, from my neighbor’s woods while I sat sipping coffee in bed. Boom…boom. The woods belong to the hunters today. I will stick to the roads, to known pathways and joys, asking my own questions: What will I find today? Will I be ready? Where to look? Can I be patient?

The hunter taps into secret knowledge, connects with the joy and terror of his own heart, is vulnerable in the world, in a big big way.

Hunting is a chance for men to be tender.

Tender in the waiting, the attending to the arrival of life, and then the tenderness of responsibility when you see what you have taken and ready yourself for the long hard pull ahead, carrying the weight of your own suffering too. Tender in the hollowing out of one life so other lives can carry on.

The hunter’s ‘widow,’ says, “Why do nothing all day when there’s so much to do around the house!”

But the hunter is onto something.

Ritual. Stance. Sport. Desire. Need.

Alone in the woods, the hunter inhales the sharp crisp air, hears the crackle of pine needles and the crunch of bark as he sits against a tree, eating a piece of cheese and apple. Breathes in the wisdom of the forest, the deer, his own primitive self.

Am I still here? Will I survive this?

What will I catch of my own heart?

I will watch the roads today for deer, whispering silently, “Go! Run!”

I will expect terror and delight.

 (pictures by the inimitable Gary Lewis in her backyard, early fall 2012 and 2013)

 


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Stick Season

oct 21-25 023Bare branch and grey sky. My neighbor’s roof. The tall line of trees. It’s stick season. Daylight is as sparse as it’s ever going to be. Night’s blackening at its richest. I see more than I want to, and then suddenly not enough.

How to stay level and true in this upset and tilt? How to remember that no matter what disappears or what overtakes us, we have what we need. Our own pale thinness is enough. Our borderless edges our own. If we hold on and wait as the world flips and swoons, what will we learn in emptiness and depletion, hunger and silence?

Know that nothing outside you can destroy your security within. Nothing.

So make your own warmth. Sing your own songs. Fill others’ pockets.

Expect joy.


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Acquainted with the Night

 

IMG_20131106_112343_510We’re living almost a third of our waking day in darkness now. We have to be careful loading our groceries on the way home, walking the dog after work, driving in the glare of lighted roads. One minute I’m sipping mint tea with a friend on a sun-splashed park bench under golden oaks, the next I’m driving up to my door in the pitch of 5:00PM and sighing, “What will I do in there all night, in the dark?

Night is no longer a harbinger of bedtime and bath time, of cozy final nightcaps, a last few stolen pages to read, or kisses, or soft talk. There are hours of it. Before dinner. During dinner. After dinner. The urge to just go to bed is paramount. There isn’t even time to panic. This is a hard fast boom, like a theater curtain dropping in the middle of an act that had a future, promise. As if someone said, “Ladies and gentlemen, you’ll have to find your way,” and we grope for exits along walls, dabbing our toes, veering toward voices. We are primitive again. Searching with our senses.

Dark is furtive. It has no bravado. It is satisfied to conceal. You must work to find things in the dark. Lean into outline and shape, obvious things that don’t bear up to scrutiny. You can’t flaunt anything in the dark. You are glad just to be finding your way. You have to wait again for the light. For news of what’s to come.

The other night I dreamed a black bull fell from the sky and charged a car that fell on top of me. I lay beneath the wreck, surprised to find pockets of air in my lungs. I was not crushed. I would survive.

 

 


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Another weekend. Another hike. A friend’s visit. An extra hour of sleep. And I was pulled through to a new place.

I learned to identify trees by their bark:

IMG_20131102_223520_871

Oops. That’s a different bark. She came with the friend.

1383401903833Scaly. Spruce. 1383401883067Smooth. Fir.

1383402176378 Straight groove. Pine. 1383401962920 Random groove. Hemlock.

1383404728930 Autumn dandelion. Perfection.   IMG_20131102_110624_222 Autumn phlox. Hope.

As I settle in and settle down, I am remembering these words of Rilke I heard recently:

Let everything happen to you. Beauty and terror.

Just keep going.

No feeling is final.