The Whimsical Wayfarer

First, I want to give credit to a daughter-in-law whose “rough draft” for a logo I requested to promote a new venture is featured above.  Lindsay is among the creative-minded young adults whose talents are gaining a long overdue audience.  Doodling from her pen and brush create the magical spark from which story-lines flow.  Soft-featured creatures and landscapes invite the viewer to step into landscapes of a kind and nurturing  environment where all creatures embody a place and purpose on a planet we share.  As a sketch artist, seen on her Facebook page “A Touch of Whimsy/Artist” by Lindsay Jo Wentz, her black on white drawings demonstrate an even greater attention to detail.

I hope she’ll forgive me if the following “interpretation” of the portal drawing shown here is something other than what she had in mind.  From my perspective it’s a timely illustration of  redirecting focus away from a darkness trying to lure us back into sullen caves of isolation.

What I see:

We all need places to emerge from deep woods and hide-aways that became familiar when the threat of harm forced us inward to “social distance”. Those cloistered places, became places deemed “safe” where benevolent creatures became our companions and helped assure us we weren’t alone.  We learned what it felt like to be dependent, again, drawing on something deep within us, and on each other, in new ways.

Now, as we come upon openings to horizons illuminated by a light we’d almost forgotten, new pathways are appearing, offering ways out of stagnation and a depressive darkness.  At these portals a choice is being offered:  Stay in the familiar that once felt ‘safe’; or risk venturing out into the light, as unseen guides accompany us forward. Beyond what we might have been taught and learned in the past, old formulas and solutions are being exposed for their exclusivity and obsolescence. As ways out and beyond and back into community are sought, innovators and visionaries are responding.

‘The Whimsical Wayfarer’  was envisioned months ago, as a way to move beyond isolation and stagnation, when a virus shut down business-as-usual and social interactions taken for granted.  It is being launched as a cottage-industry offering hand-crafted, re-usable masks, travel-totes, and “functional-art” for coming and going with a little less care. The quality products are made to last, encouraging adventurers to step out beyond previous comfort zones, and contribute to a world in the midst of transformation. 

As we redefine how best to live, move, and have our beings within cooperative communities, let’s remember the playful spontaneity and inquisitive nature attributed to children. Turn rules into tools for colorful affirmations of becoming what we were meant to be.  

                                —–The Whimsical Wayfarer —–     8/17/2020

 

 

Detours, Doubts, & Do-Overs

Funny how life corrects our courses and perspectives, re-calibrating our best intentions and prompting the re-imagination of ways to go forward.  When we’re going through transitions, it’s not always pleasant, and, more often than not, it involves discomfort, contorting, and even writhing to shake off a kind of dead snake’s skin, outgrown and no longer the protection it once convinced us to sit trustingly within.

Detours become the re-routes needed to loosen our grip on worn out assumptions that straight and narrow paths are always the more protected way.   Sometimes the past is best left in the rear view mirror with less reflection, if we’re intent on moving forward.  Doubts creep in as we realize the former ways no longer serve present challenges, until we become trusting of something deep within us saying “this is the way, walk in it”, as new trail-markers are recognized and risked.  The courage to venture “do-overs” is then born when a healthy desperation shakes off everything trying to cling and restrain us from moving out of spaces and relationships saturated in dark and stagnant energies.  Those with a drive to survive, become like fish propelling themselves through still bodies of water, instinctively moving to oxygenate their gills, until flowing streams and rivers open into larger, less polluted reservoirs.  At least, this is one visual I hope will flush out the bitterness of injustices and move us beyond thwarted plans, too many have experienced in recent months.

Preparing for a hurricane can produce similar dynamics.  Unless you choose to hunker down and ride out the storm in a place you think is “safe”, there is a shaking and questioning that causes a quick reassessment and distilling down about what’s most vital to carry away, before a major event does the reality check for you.  There is always the angst of one in a household wanting to stay, and another feeling an urgency to leave.  So it was with my Mom and I, as Isaias headed towards Florida’s east coast in early August.  Veteran storm-residents of the appendage state, casually dangling its vulnerable “swing-state” arm between the Atlantic and Gulf, seemed resolute to stay with hatches battened down.  Residing just two blocks off the ocean front, I had no such assurance, since two previous hurricanes had produced mandatory evacuations of the barrier island, accessed by three wind-vulnerable causeways.  Extensive power outages were nothing unusual, but in the easy-bake-oven of a Florida summer, I had no desire to endure another such possible outcome deprived of air-conditioning.  I too claim the right to live and breathe, as a female carrying a unique blend of DNA —as do we all,  by the way.  (Between 8 am and 8 pm, most days in July and August of 2020, it’s been hard to catch a breath outside; not to mention the congestive effects of recycled air in temperature-controlled dwellings.)  It’s enough to make a person long for cooler climates a few hundred miles north where fresh air invigorates body and soul.

Upon waking from a disturbed sleep ahead of the dawn, a few hours before Isaias was forecast to come knocking, an unidentified object had slammed against the hurricane shuttered bedroom window, followed by a heavy tree branch crashing near the house and a vehicle in the driveway, crushing potted plants on a patio table.  Suddenly the “let’s sleep on it” suggestion of the night before offered by my Mom, became a consensus of opinions in favor of  leaving. So, we finished packing supplies for a few days, as advised by local officials, until Isaias’ slow moving eye and far-reaching rain and wind bans had time to flail its turbulent arms further up the eastern seaboard.  Despite a neighbors’ sideways glances and disdainful smirks, and a brother’s text suggesting we’d be more comfortable just staying put, their opinions didn’t carry much weight at this point.  Our safety and the nerve-wracking effects of lightning and thunder on three dogs, and a strong aversion to seeing a replay of downed power lines across the backyard, added to a resolve to leave without delay.

I am not a native Floridian, and I have no aspirations to be a resident any longer than necessary in the current global pandemic and resulting economic crisis. It’s “mucked up” in more ways than one—no disrespect to friends or family who choose to call it Home.  I’ve just tasted and seen too many other places that resonate more with personal values and a preferred lifestyle.  I’ve consistently NOT been a fan of flat-lands with high water tables, Disney fantasies, opulent cruise ships, drunken beach parties, high-maintenance Palm trees, skin cancer, and reptiles that scurry out of every crack , crevice and retention pond trying to reclaim territory.  Tropical storms, hurricanes, and the encroachment of residential and commercial development on faulty foundations has only added to an aversion for east coast living in recent years.  No apologies, only sympathy for those duped by Florida’s promises and allures promulgated by marketing.  Florida’s political “leadership” is a whole other ball of wax I’d rather disengage from than try to strong arm.  (I vote, but honestly don’t have much expectation the system will change as the result of an electoral process being undermined from within our own government, and the probable interference of foreign governments in recent American elections.)

But, let’s return focus to The Great Hurricane Preparedness Adventure….

Our destination was a place only identified on a map as outside the original projection of Isaias’ reach— Madison, Florida between Live Oak and Tallahassee.  It wasn’t research that landed us there, but a local Days Inn that seemed affordable online, if our stay needed to be extended, and where accommodating three dogs wasn’t supposed to be a problem.  As soon as we turned onto the first of two interstates heading north, bands of torrential rains alternated with sections of sun and clear skies, tagging us all the way to the westerly turn off at Interstate 10 heading west.  A short pass through The Villages, a planned retirement community, at my Mom’s request, added an hour to our travel time. The numerous golf carts with clear-vinyl wind and rain shields were amusing, as well as the noticeably senior demographic surveying each other as they skirted even through the rain. Exceptions were the fewer-in-number service providers, whose youthful appearance and presence were surely unsuspecting targets for aging energy vampires. (Interesting to note The Villages have one of the highest STD and COVID positivity rates in the state of Florida.) I was thankful to only be passing through on a rainy day, discouraging any further engagement.

The off-ramp to the Days Inn of Madison was unflattering.  Potholes, abandoned storefronts and un-kept grounds surrounding the few struggling local businesses and the motel were uninspiring, but we had arrived.  Time for a taste of rural Florida, living on the fringes with those entrenched in a depressive basic survival mode.  Check-in was uneventful, and there was evidence someone had read the reservation note requesting a first floor room.   For the next half an hour, we unloaded coolers, food sacks, overnight bags, and dogs on leashes not sure this was the kind of adventure they’d anticipated.  Turning on the AC in the room yielded one setting —High— and without a sheer curtain, the heavy vinyl-backed upholstery on a wand with one end in a dark corner anchored firmly in place, gave one option for creating privacy, even for a late afternoon nap.  During the unpacking phase, a pickup displaying a “Wide Load” escort banner parked uncomfortably close to my newer vehicle, and two disgruntled workers began carrying on a dialogue filled with expletives and more information than I cared to know about their work and personal lives.  Despite earbuds with relaxation music playing from my phone, there was little chance of resting to recharge, after a fitful night of disturbed sleep on the coast and the long drive to this less than savory place.  Mom didn’t seem to be bothered, because of her limited hearing, and she rested comfortably for an hour or more on her bed, farthest from the window and door.  When she woke up, we decided to get in the car and explore the roads and town, away from the motel, hoping the two men would exhaust their rambling need to spit and fume outside our door.

Driving down long country roads with trees dripping Spanish moss was some comfort. Eventually, finding the center of town where we got out and walked dogs on paved pathways, away from sticky burrs that had caught in their paws on the motel grounds, offered a little more relief.  One of the first things I noticed was a lone Confederate statue, still standing in the wake of others nationwide being taken off their pedestals in recent weeks. (Mom’s research, later, found that Florida is one of several southern state where it’s illegal to remove them.)  Of even greater interest were three other monuments along the park’s sidewalks, including a memorial to a Civil Rights activist of color, a commemorative statue of “The Four Freedoms” promoted by the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration, and a Veterans’ memorial stone acknowledging local men who’d died in historic wars.  We both decided before sunset, Madison was a town we’d like to revisit in the daylight.

Returning to the motel proved disappointing, as the men who’d been standing outside the door to their room beside ours, seemed to have a lot more venting on their minds.  I could feel their stares as I parked with a space left between our vehicles, and we re-entered the room where my Mom and I had been assigned, without engaging.  Shortly thereafter, I ventured a trip to the front office to report the noise disturbance.  A soft eyed, corpulent front desk attendant promised she would “have a talk with those boys—-you’d think they’d have been taught better.”  Apparently she thought it was enough to placate me with another revelation:  “They’re due to check out tomorrow, so after that it shouldn’t be a problem”.  Great I thought. What about sleep after we’d traveled and paid to get some rest on this particular night?

(In the online review and subsequent email I received from the manager, following our early check out the next day, I suggested it would have been better business to move us to another room away from the “good ole boys”, who seemed to have no conscience or consideration for other guests.)  Apparently my former experience as a front desk agent for a Marriott hadn’t taught me how to deal effectively with management in our present situation. I concluded, sometimes it’s better to turn and walk away from ignorance than pick a fight you’re not going to win.

Morning and repacking the car brought some hope of redeeming time.  After finding the coffee maker in the room unsanitary, scores of cigarette butts strewn on the empty parking space between the now vacated “Wide Load” driver’s space and my newer car, and a freshly keyed scrape above a car door lock, the drive-thru at a local McDonalds became a preferred destination. I usually try to avoid McDonalds, except when buying chicken nuggets or ice cream cones for the dogs, but this morning it was the most convenient drive thru in town.  (If we had stopped at a gas station’s affiliate eateries nearby, and I’d seen the guys I suspected of keying my car, there’s no telling what I might have said or done.  A decision was made to leave them to Karma and the universe’s wisdom.)  Mom holding a bag of hot sausage-egg muffins, and a large cup of fresh coffee secured in a cup holder, helped me hold it together, as we headed back towards Madison for a leisurely morning.

Turning into a lake area with a road around its perimeter, we drove slowly past cyclists on the bike path, watched a mother with young children supervise play in their front yard, and elderly residents sit on porches surveying their visual fortune. Playground and exercise stations along the shorelines were eerily abandoned, presumably over concerns about a virus given a lot of press in recent months.  After circling the lake, we found a parking space under large Live Oaks with profusions of Spanish moss cascading down from their ancient limbs. When I stopped to take pictures Mom questioned why I was getting out.  “You travel with me, I stop a lot to take pictures and make notes”.  No compromise or challenge on that front.

Finding a picnic table, we pulled into a wide space, adjacent to some Old-Timers in small pick-up trucks.  They had positioned themselves within earshot of each other and didn’t let our presence interrupt their visiting through opened windows at a distance.  Dragonflies darted and swooped over cat-tails and thick vegetation along the banks of the lake in front of us. I looked for a place to tie the dogs where sand-ants hadn’t already established their mounds among sparse and shallowly rooted native grasses and weeds.  It wasn’t heaven, but it’d have to do.

This place became a cross roads where I made a conscious choice to see through the eyes of a writer, and let this detour be an opportunity to report on something, even if it wasn’t all “pretty”.  One survival tactic.  Food in the belly and caffeine as a mental fog-lifter another, as the temperature and humidity rose and began infiltrating even the shaded picnic area.  God help those who live in the south, especially in the summer.  It seemed the term “lazy” should be replaced by the kinder description of “conservatively moving” in places where sweat results from the simple act of breathing.

Madison.  Interesting town where the demographics are a noticeable combination of black and white, and opposing political factions, seeming to co-exist without incident—-at least to the casual observer passing through.  Half of the downtown store fronts were vacant and begging for attention, while unoccupied habitations languished in apathetic appeal, wondering if they would be found worthy of resuscitation, before crumbling into archeological digs for future generations to excavate and archive.  A few “essential service providers” like gas stations, pharmacy chains, law enforcement, fire station attendants, and government offices remained open, but had skeleton crews keeping them operational.

We were making our way back to the town center where a large gazebo offered “the privilege of being used” if a patron called a certain number to reserve the space.  The dogs needed to walk, before the heat climbed even more and the sidewalks became melting points for their paws.  A young black woman sat on a corner with her breakfast in a bag from the same fast food place where we’d bought ours, steadfastly holding a political candidate’s sign at a central crossroads in town.  She had cleverly positioned herself next to the “Four Freedoms” monument.  I wondered if the law enforcement car parked across the street, presumably from the “Four Freedoms Police Department” located a few blocks away, posed any anxiety to her sitting there alone.  When I offered a bottle of iced water from the cooler in my car, she looked at me curiously and declined, but engaged briefly in conversation when I told her I was a travel-writer making an impromptu stop in Madison.  I also wondered if an older woman sitting on a house porch around the corner, holding the same sign with grandchildren busying themselves around her, might be a relative.  Two strong and determined women of color, peacefully promoting their beliefs in something they hoped might make a difference in their community—-voting. I was beginning to see the crack in the facade.

Taking a few more pictures, while Mom and the dogs waited in the air-conditioned car, I tried to envision an investor who might see this small town as a jewel in need of someone to believe in its potential.  I wondered what kind of person might choose to invest their time, finances, and networking capabilities in a place like this to infuse it with enough courage to enter a new era.  Climbing back into my refrigerated cocoon on wheels, we drove around and down streets with old mansions shouldering wrapped porches, some meticulously kept, and others silently weeping in states of abandonment.  Three of the well-maintained ones, located side by side, featured a visual political-sandwich with Biden in Democratic blue secured to tall pine trees like thick slices of meat and cheese dangling between two angry-red Trump supporter’s slabs of plastic “bread”.  It was amusing to see one of those slabs of white bread in the ground beside a large white “House for Sale” shingle.  (Can’t fault them for wanting to cut and run, as some would prefer to do when the pressure of staying in a particular place gets too unbearable or risky.)

Though nicely kept on the outside, church buildings throughout Madison, representing several traditional denominations, seemed to be museum relics with diminished function. (In all fairness, this was a Monday.)  Sparsely occupied parking lots seemed a fitting symbol for the effects of a worldwide pandemic that’s prompted even more questioning about belief systems and doctrinal interpretations within Christianity, not to mention considerations about how unaplogetic political affiliations by particular evangelicals has deepened divisions though its script claims to be “One Body”.  It was especially sad to see a building across from a Baptist church with a “Youth Center” sign looking more like a local jailhouse with wide black iron bars covering its windows and doors, contrasted by a beige stucco exterior.  What were they thinking?  Obviously, it’s not a sanctuary for progressive architects or visionaries.

A couple of days later, two PBS documentaries on the Women’s’ Suffragette movement and a piece about the history of north central Florida, clarified the significant of what we were observing.  On the surface, Madison seemed like a community where race and disparate political affiliations co-existed peaceably, but I was beginning to wonder if most people there were just too hot and bothered on multiple levels to spend energy and time creating more discord.  Maybe it wasn’t apathy being perceived, but the byproduct of a weariness that paralyzes and leaves one in a state of stagnation, even depression.  In this environment, every small effort, like sitting alone on a corner with a campaign sign, could be counted as a carefully presented act of courage, if only by one– or two, by way of education and generational persuasion that the status quo need not be the future.  When trying to effect change, too many obstacles or resistance to change, can be deplete motivations. But history has shown, just One is enough to stir the pot and get a new recipe for sustenance off the shelf.

Before leaving town and heading back to the coast, following reports of Isaias’ diverted focus, we stopped at a CVS for rest room privileges behind a locked door requiring permission from a masked and gloved attendant to access.  Talking briefly with a senior woman at the check-out counter, when asked if she was a resident and why she’d chosen Madison over her hometown in Ohio, a story line “too close to home” followed:  Divorce, to be near aging parents (now passed), and to provide a safe place for her school aged son— 20 years ago—and because at the time it seemed like a good idea.  Now she is alone, her parents gone, and her son moved away, and she’s just too tired to make another life change.  (All I could think at this point was how this was my own greatest fear—of being too tired or unwilling to make the effort to change or try something new. I understood.  I respected her choice, but silently I prayed:  God, don’t let me settle for this kind of resigned outcome. Keep pressing outward!)

It was a long drive, but clearer sailing back to the east coast a day ahead of schedule provided a short-lived relief.   A couple of neighbors who’d chosen to sit and wait for the storm that never arrived, shot a few more visual arrows and smirks at the unfeeling armor I’d put up to deflect their assessments of me as a “softy”  for choosing to avoid a perceived danger.   Let’s just say I haven’t unpacked much since returning to Mom’s house.  I’m still considering how a detour taken, added to doubts about why I’m still here, and clarified the need to advance another “Do-Over” that’s taking too long to bake in an oven known as The Sunshine State—-with an “active hurricane season” initiated.

Someone with an uncomplimentary tone in his voice recently commented to me:

“You’ll never settle down—-you’ve always got your eyes on the horizon!” 

My response:

“Better to have your eyes on the horizon than down in a ditch somewhere!

‘Settling for whatever’ is no longer a part of my vocabulary.

 

Detours may lead to doubts, but Do-Overs remain an option.

 

Tacking with the Wind

An artist friend recently said: “when the conditions change, reset your sails, not your destination” (RC) in a philosophical attempt at responding to the dream-quashing effects of a global Pandemic parading like a diva on a media-blitzkrieg stage.  Days later, after making difficult decisions to scrub the launch of a best laid plan that had taken months to prepare, a loop from an archived memory bank replayed in my storm-battered mind, featuring my younger brother on a family vacation in western Maryland determined to windsurf around a blustery lake.  He was a young and fit gymnastics coach at the time, so his best efforts at muscling into a tack and sail allowed him to head into the wind and still determine his course forward.  I remember being in awe of his skills, since I’d tried and failed to simply keep the board upright with my feet firmly planted for about three seconds before capsizing.  Guess that makes me a better fair-weather soloist than course-corrector for the collective.

I’m working on letting go and not looking back, but when too many heart-felt dreams get dashed it takes a while to come up from sputtering to catch a life-giving breath and walk away without blaming the Universe for some dirty slam-dunk warfare tactic.  Watching a documentary last night on WWII and how an admired world leader discontinued sending children off to “safer shores” of the US, after a German submarine targeted and sank a ship filled with children, made me even more aware that good intentions don’t always lead to happier endings once envisioned.

This morning, after several nights of interrupted sleep with more questions than answers washing onto a virtual shoreline littered with broken shells, I woke hoping to find something salvageable, among the flotsam of yet another dashed vision.  A storehouse of fabric and thread, along with donated supplies lay on a table next to a portable sewing machine I had once considered non-essentials.  Now they were in line to be re-purposed as virus-transmission-deterring masks, since the powers that be had advised (even legislated) demonstrating our status as Patriots and Global Citizens by covering up and silencing what makes us unique—“freedom of (unmuffled) speech” —with an unspoken caveat to “think before you speak” and “filter what you eat” to improve chances of survival.

Don’t get me wrong, I love being creative and making things with my own hands, whether its functional art, growing plants, or food to eat, but my thoughts are also tempted to sway towards “don’t get me started on a fashion statement that causes judgement and further divisions within communities where the truest forms of Trust (Truth or Dare) are found at the grass roots level”. It’s where lies and deceptions are found out and confronted.  By the way, my chosen “fire arms” for countering are words for now, though a “conceal and carry” permit remains active in the wake of a fellow Realtor losing her life while showing a house a few years ago.  In recent years I’ve come to understand forgiveness, grace, and even renewed love offered to past offenders works a much better magic than seeking vengeance—a responsibility belonging to One wiser and better at dispensing consequences than myself—but, again, don’t threaten me or test my best intentions to defend the ones I care about— barrels set on a decline can still roll.

One lesson I’ve recently accepted is that sometimes we choose to fully invest ourselves and available resources, but then walk away when it becomes too painful to sustain a relationship or a venture.  The miracle of healing comes when unforseen turns of the wheel reveal a stronger force than our logical minds can wrap around, connecting us in spirit, somehow against all odds.  We are bought full circle back around to the foundation of a greater Love humans cannot bottle like a new prescription.  I choose that life to one filled with fear and regrets.  For whatever the reasons, I choose to  embrace fully the people and places that make my heart know it’s “Home”, feeling no further need to explain what I cannot.  “Home is where the heart is” could be in many geographical locations in my experience.

So, before redirecting my course with lookouts to the Port and Starboard (a good wine label idea for anyone bottling “essential beverages”), I’ll share a few photos of a recent ghosted past, just so you can be assured I had a plan and it seemed to be a good and honorable one.  Like many of you out there scratching your heads trying to creatively re-imagine all the people in the world living through this debacle of modern science, ill-prepared “healthcare”, and disjoint political leadership, I am not at all sure of the remedy.  Stay awake, stay positive, and find small blessings in each moment is my personal ascription.  Be careful about looking to the stars for guidance, if you’re tacking with the wind, because there are a lot of man-made satellites and stations in the heavens now, whose lights confuse the former reliability of the Constellations for guidance.  As Edward R. Murrow once signed off his CBS News show during the McCarthy Era witch-hunts to “root out Communists in America”, we could all use a little more “Good Night and Good Luck” as we read Goodnight Moon by Maragret Wise to our children, trying to keep our house-boats steady.

 

Sheltering in Place

Is a shelter in one place not akin to “Home”— the place we consider safe to be who we are, as we’re granted permission to dig deep and rediscover inner resources forgotten or neglected? Suddenly today, in compliance with governmental admonitions to “shelter in place”, hoping to “flatten the curve” of a super virus few saw coming and even fewer were prepared to meet head-on, I find myself believing this is where many should have been long ago:  at home “sheltering in place”.

Abruptly, we were awakened to new realities of jobs being suspended, within bustling communities where commerce as we’d known it had geared down into “cease and desist” modes.   After an initial urgent sweep to acquire things and supplies calling me out and away, today I find myself at peace in a calm space, considering how best to move forward.  So much “security” stripped away so suddenly, has left us dazed and tempted to despair.  But maybe we’re now being asked to consider what in fact is essential, and give up things that may have actually been indulgences.   Embellishments and bling are showy and can be entertaining, but at the cost of remembering our core of commonality and connections to an environment we share, there has been an awakening to cause and effect, including indulgences at the expense of others’ basic needs being denied.  As we “shelter in place”, we are never-the-less reminded we cannot be islands unto ourselves for long.  Ripple effects are real, therefore, how much more we need to be aware of how our daily choices can affect others in broader communities.  There also comes the realization that as conscientious as we might be, there are things beyond ourselves that can intrude on our carefully laid plans.  I Timothy 6: 6-9 reminders us:

For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptations and a trap, and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.

Today I find myself in a house that took two months to prepare and settle into, hoping to launch a business plan that seemed honorable and viable.  Intentions had started to manifest just before the unforeseen news of CORONO-19 threatened our entire world with a scepter of potential deaths and economic collapse.  (A day ago I started feeling less than 100% myself, despite all known measures taken for years to maintain a healthy lifestyle and maximize my ability to serve.  I am in the over 60 age bracket they say is a higher risk group, but I’m not ready to admit to it as a sentence that won’t be exonerated before its all said and done.)  In view of news hard to ignore surrounded by electronic lines of communication, and while uncharacteristically practicing couch-potato recovery, a documentary by actor Morgan Freeman entitled “Who is God?”, featured a comment hard to miss:

                         If we can’t live forever, it’s universal to desire being remembered.

 One sentence made up of carefully chosen words, nudged a previously buried urge within me to write, despite a hundred other things clamoring for my attention and time. Too often that still small voice had been supplanted by a more urgent voice shouting “take care of business first or it will be to your ruin and shame!”  Who wants that voice to have the last say?  I’d lost track of how many times I’d wanted to push back and respond, “What if thinking and writing ARE my business?”  Now the message became clear:  My own legacy, in part, was about leaving written words for others to consider….and I had less time to do it, the longer I delayed.

Lesson#1: If you have a gift, use it TODAY; don’t wait for the optimal time or place tomorrow.

“We have different gifts, according to the grace given us….let us use them in proportion to our faith…”    Romans 12:6

Then there was the blast in a private message accusing me of not being positive or caring enough to ask how they were doing, and said I wasn’t encouraging them enough.  Wow, just when I thought I was doing the best I could, while trying to keep myself calm and find balance in a raw situation.   A little later I thought:  So, maybe I’m a safe target—a “shelter in place” sort of home at a distance where another needed to be themselves, in their anger and frustration, as I had been at times in another’s space.  Now it’s a kind of compliment, but at the time it stung, until I recognized it as a “fiery dart” intended to distract me from a resolve and the task at hand.  Forgiven.  Sometimes those closest to us are the ones who unwittingly swing and sting, because they know the target is strong enough to deflect the blows or at least handle them with compassion.

Lesson#2:  We are human.  We all have times when lashing out seems like the only option for relieving pressure.  I am choosing to forgive, as someone else forgave and loved me anyway when I’ve “lost it”.  Since then I’ve tried to choose taking long walks with my dogs, or singing a favorite song, because we all benefit by coming down off ledges and rounding edges.

“Be tender-hearted and forgiving, even as God in Christ forgave you.”  Ephesians 4:32

I leave you (and myself) with this small offering of words, some borrowed and others recycled,  meant to help heal the broken places we are not always ready to expose or equipped to mend on our own.

Home Keys

 

Together We Are Home

Sometimes, in the midst of our comings and goings, pausing to reflect on where we’ve come from and where we find ourselves, serves as a reminder:  It matters how we choose to live, and how those choices can impact the lives of others.  Such a walk down memory lane happened at the 61st Wedding Anniversary for Apache & Joy Adams of Bronte, Texas on Saturday September 21st, 2019.   Cowboy story-telling (a central theme of the occasion), good eats, impressive displays of historic photos and newspaper clippings, hosted in a hall big enough to accommodate hundreds of well-wishers, set the backdrop for a well-planned celebration embracing extended family and closely bonded “work ‘til it’s done” hands.

As a last-minute guest arriving ahead of the pack, after dodging Edge-of-Night skies coming south through the Texas Panhandle, a sign entering town greeted at least one wayfaring stranger: “Welcome to Bronte Where Living is a Pleasure!”  Expectations for the day ahead could only be positive from that point on!  Crossing over North Kickapoo Creek, another whimsical sign for “Southern Fried Sisters”, a local restaurant, kicked another smile into forward motion.  Stopping at a Stripes gas station for directional assurances, stepping down into dirt with red ants and sticky burrs was quickly compensated for by two corn dogs, an egg ‘n potato wrap, and Cherry Coke in a can. (Two dogs in tow agreed that corn-dogs anywhere in Texas taste better than McDonalds burgers or Chicken Nuggets nationwide.)  After identifying the Bronte water-tower as a landmark and directional guide, a few minutes later we pulled into an open parking lot near the “Singing Winds” Golf Course up on a hill where a shady spot under a Texas sized Mesquite tree seemed to waive us in.

Identifying a rancher who’d extended the invitation was easy.  He was sitting near other hands diligently cutting lean goat meat off bones, skillfully focused as they bantered.  David Adams, who’d accompanied and protected a group of canoeist and rafters on a Lower Canyons float trip down the Rio Grande in 1975, was soon introducing legends of the west sitting around long folding tables in cowboy hats, whose freshly sharpened knives prepared a ranch-hand delicacy for deep frying.  Inside a nearby community hall, ladies busied themselves setting up buffet-style tables for various side dishes and desserts arriving as guests appeared throughout the afternoon.  Story-telling circles became a kind of “rope and release” rodeo of words and hugs and head-nodding handshakes, as the aroma of history gained momentum at the Adams’ celebration corral.

Metal tubs holding water bottles nestled in ice under shade trees, offered outside circles of folding-chair story-tellers and their impromptu audiences some reprieve from the Texas heat.  Pick-up trucks began filling the parking lot, as storm clouds appeared on the horizon only to dissipate, but not before mercifully contributing steady breezes like an attic fan on high, tussling mesquite tree limbs fanning the tenders of sizzling deep-fryers.

One family set up tables to lasso onions, lemons, garlic, and Cajun seasoning into mesh bags, then immersed them in garden-hose filled hot water baths, along with potatoes, corn on the cob, sausages, and the biggest shrimp available.  It was at this preparation station I learned “Crawdads take longer to absorb spices than shrimp”.  Timers stood by to check the simmering stew, before it was drained into coolers and hot melted butter was poured over the top, ahead of serving.  Three young teenage cowgirls, who’d just returned from a rodeo where they’d competed in leading, roping, and barrel-racing showed off their shiny belt buckles and explained details of their craft.  While anticipating the finished culinary delight simmering in front of them, they matter-of-factly described the thrill of competition to a more than middle aged Mom, who’d only dreamed of doing what they were experiencing as youth, accompanied by horses they loved.

Apache Adams, who was celebrating 61 years of marriage to his wife Joy (a legend in her own right known as a strong and savvy businesswoman), had been hired as a 19 year old cowboy to manage the “remuda” (herd of broke horses) during the 1958 filming of “The Alamo”, starring John Wayne as Davy Crockett.  Born on 9-11, he was also celebrating 82 years in the saddle from birth, it was said.  Apache’s biographer, Don Caddon of Alpine, who is a poet and musician as well, stood by with his wife, Pam, nodding assurances as others shared their versions of stories about which he’d already written.

Joy, the wife with whom he was celebrating over 60 years of marriage, had been captivated by the charismatic Apache when she married him at 16 year old.  Until he whisked her away to a ranch with hungry farm hands, she’d never cooked in her life.  Not only would she learn to cook, but Joy would go on to nurse a resilient but not unbreakable husband back to health when “cowboying” tested his physical limits, time and again.  Apache, himself, told about a time he’d put the reigns of a horse he was breaking in his mouth, and how when the horse began bucking most of his teeth came out!  A trip to Mexico to have his remaining teeth pulled, and a new complete set of teeth made overnight, was the pragmatic solution to him, in consideration of the high cost of dental work in the states. “I lost ten pounds on that trip!”, he confided. A loving son, Dustin, recounted a day his mother had driven a pick-up over to a horse breaking pen where her determined husband, Apache, had mounted a horse, against doctor’s orders to let his spine and ribcage heal.  Her exasperated instructions included:  “Shoot the animal if he falls again.” (and she wasn’t referring to the bucking horse).  One example of many, demonstrating how “grit to get to the pearl” had earned them this anniversary.

Talk about breaking horses brought up: “Once we used to just throw a saddle on an unbroke horse, turn him loose, and when he came back at night after running crazy a few hours in the open, he was considered ‘broke and fit to ride’. Now that’s considered inhumane and in some places it’s just flat out illegal!” (followed by a guffah).   The term “smok’in rope” came up as what Hispanic cowboys introduced after a long day of work when they’d cut off ends of hemp rope to smoke around a campfire.  Recycle, reuse seemed like a contemporary theme, as well.

A first-hand account of the infamous “Wild Jenny Rodeo” days was told by a young man, Cody Northcutt, who described accompanying his Dad, Rick Northcutt, on wild jenny roundups.  Powered by an ’85 Chevy 4 WD single cab pickup fitted with military issued tires to handle the rough terrain they’d traverse to accomplish their mission, the round up sometimes took two weeks ahead of the annual “Wild Jenny Rodeo”. It was an Internationally famous event hosted for 16 years on the Adams Ranch.  It  had drawn cowboys from all over the world, who were willing to pay for an opportunity to participate in unique events like: “Wild Jenny Milking” (into Coors Lite bottles),  “Wild Jenny Dressing” (bloomers and all), “Wild Jenny Bareback Racing”, and “Wild Jenny Team Roping”. During the annual one-day event in Marathon, Texas the father and son team would prepare and serve food from a home built “Laughin Jack Association” bar-b-que grill they’d made.  Among the imaginative events earning winners a cash prize, one awarded a shiny belt buckle to the cowboy who roped the most feral donkeys in a prescribed time.  “Legitimately”, it was said, Apache Adams earned eleven out of sixteen of those one-of-a-kind buckles, over the sixteen year Wild Jenny Rodeo run.  When asked what he did with so many big buckles, he answered: “Change ‘em out and wear ‘em!”

Observing the right hand of Apache’s best friend, Dean Ward, as it rested on a cane with a curved handle, his explanation for the end of the missing digit was that he’d “dallied too long” during a team rope.   Basically, this meant his thumb had gotten caught between a rope and saddlehorn after being first to “tie off” the head, before his team-mate came in to rope the rear legs and drop the steer.  Evidently, you can always tell old team-ropers, because many have the end of their right thumb missing.  Apache had been a proponent of tying “hard and fast”, meaning you had to fight to the end, even with a run-away wild bull.  Other cowboys from southern California and Mexico had eventually introduced “break-away slack roping”, which gave the cowboy a chance to release a catch if it got too wild and wooly, thereby safe-guarding certain parts of a cowboy’s valuable hands.   For veterans like Dean Ward, though, it now seemed like a badge of courage to be missing a part of his thumb.

More serious conversations followed, about lawsuits filed against power companies where dried brush had been allowed to accumulate around transformers and spark wildfires that had consumed homes and thousands of acres of grasslands used to pasture cattle, more recently.

A father and son recounted their efforts to drag firelines and soak ranch structures with water pumped from wells, sparing them the devastation of wildfires others had not successfully quelled.

While fryers tended their vats of flour and salt-coated goat meat, David Adams stood by to be a taste tester.  Not wasting a lick of time, he introduced his college-days friend, Alonso Robbins from Bronte, Texas.  David said he owed his life to Alonso, who’d saved him doing CPR after a metal cul-de-sac pipe contacted a power line as they were lifting it up so his older brother, Apache, could pull a rabbit out of the pipe for his dog.  Having just celebrated his 80th birthday, David had nothing but gratitude to offer his life-long friend.

A young man, accompanied by his wife, shared about being taken in by the Adams when he had no place to go or live, as a teenager.  His appreciation for having been taken under wing and taught real life skills on a working ranch could not be diminished, even in the presence of living legends hearing his testimony.

Blessings over the meal by a local pastor summarized what all had already been demonstrated by those in attendance:  “Come with an Attitude of Gratitude”.  Finally, the buffet-style food tables had lines of family, friends, and extended family waiting patiently for supper that seemed like a full dinner.  A husband and wife team played and sang favorite country songs from a low stage near the Anniversary Party’s table.  Conversations at other tables included: “Neighbors become family working cattle”, and “He’s good for his word”.  Some took advantage of the open space near the stage to dance the Texas Two-step or slow waltzes.  (As an unofficial photo-journalist for the occasion, I even had the privilege of dancing a short piece with David Adams, on whose back I’d shot a boulder rapids 44 years ago in the Lower Canyons of the Rio Grande, on yet another historic group adventure.)  Jean Prescott sang a yet-to-be recorded song, “She sang when she felt like it, and she felt like it a lot”, before closing with an original tribute to Apache and Joy Adams, whose daughter, Robin, had put together a top-notch celebration for her parents.

Closing out the evening, among the many gifts present on a table near the entrance to the hall, a plaque summed it all up for those who had been reassured of the value of community:

“Together We Are Home”

Gift from Robin's twin son, Matt and his wife

(Epiphanies come at the most unexpected times, and in places some might consider detours on the long road of life.  My personal “Thanks” go out to David Adams, Apache and Joy, and all of their extended family who readily accepted the presence of a stranger with a camera and questions at every turn.  It was a day in a virtual “candy shop” for me.  One I won’t soon forget as a Traveler and collector of peoples’ stories.)

 

Window to Another Realm

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Waking from a vivid dream of people preparing to celebrate with freely flowing gifts, it was a few days before Christmas, ahead of the dawn.  I had been sick in bed for three days and nights.  Between pushing hard to work extra hours, interfacing in closed spaces with the public, and trying to prepare a few Christmas gifts for mailing before post office deadlines, I had blocked out annoyances of others’ frantic preparations humming about me.  Taking a break, due to a sudden illness I hadn’t chosen, had left me feeling more like the Grinch or Scrooge than Father (or Mother) Christmas this year.

It was also clear, I was back in Florida where people rich in retirement time and resources could try extra hard to “make the season bright”.  Holiday parties and concerts, events like the annual “Surfing Santa” competition, and neighborhood glow-in-the-dark light shows, were of little interest to me, as I simply hoped to breathe freely again.  More than three days “off” without a doctor’s note that would cost me a considerable co-pay to acquire, loitered in the back of my mind.  Time in every way seemed to be shortening, so I was making a point of separating out the necessary from accessories.

It had been a very windy and cooler than usual December in the “sunshine state”.  Not that I minded the cold or dogs snuggling in bed next to me, but in a semi-awakened state, I’d begun hearing music unlike anything I’d ever heard before. The windows above the bed had been opened an inch or two for fresh air, so the wind whipping palm tree branches, and the cooler air had amplified ocean waves crashing throughout the night.  But the sounds coming through the windows now were different.  It was still before sunrise, and none of the neighbors here had their boom boxes set to a classical station, I could be assured.  No lights where on except the almost full moon that had been like a gigantic night-light hovering over the chilly coastline, growing brighter and fuller, as it rose and over-powered lesser stars in the constellation.

I’d propped myself up with an ear to the sliver of opened window at my head, but heard nothing unusual, as I tried to identify the source of the other-worldly sounds I’d been hearing.  Lying back down, bundling myself under the comforter and an extra blanket, three dogs reconfigured around me, as I closed my eyes hoping for another hour of needed sleep.  Then the ethereal tones returned.  For several minutes, a soothing stream of soft orchestral music, seamlessly blending layers of hymns, cord progressions of Christmas songs, and soothing harmonics, washed over me like a soft breath.  I purposed to be still for as long as it lasted.

Abruptly, as the sun began filtering through the closed blinds, everyday sounds like the garbage collection truck coming down the street, construction machinery from the condos beach-side, and coastal roadway traffic, transitioned me out of a more soothing state.  Opening my eyes, I wondered if this window to another realm had been my imagination, or a glimpse of what truly exists beyond daily perceptions.  All I can tell anyone, is that from that morning forward, my health began to improve.  After another day of rest, finishing a gallon of fresh juice, and emptying a honey jar with the last of the lemon-ginger tea,  I was back to work.

On Christmas Eve, when I was tempted to feel the most alone, I was well enough to walk the brightly lit sidewalks of a neighborhood with hundreds of other sight-seekers, and later attended a church service where the message by a young female pastor was about “Expectations”.  It was a reminder:  Jesus came to seek and save the lost, and to heal a broken and sick world, but He came in a way unexpected by many.

I hope the New Year proves in small and significant ways:  A King in heavenly realms does indeed exist, whose angels direct and encourage, whose Spirit can heal, and whose assures reveal there is a Home beyond the influences of those who boast about their power and authority here on earth.  In the interim, Merry Christmas to those who already (or will) believe in miracles.

Grassroots “Positivity”

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Waking to crisper air and refreshingly overcast skies, today the long-awaited fall temperatures where Snowbirds and retirees prefer to mosey at their leisure, became a belated reason to give thanks for those of us chomping-at-the-bit to “step it up”. Willey and Tilley, my two faithful dogs, had been super-charged by the brisk breezes.  However, when they saw me heading to the car, after an invigorating morning walk, they’d looked longingly at me, as if to say: “take us for a ride too!”  Unable to deny them such a simple pleasure in their current uneventful circumstances, I loaded them in the back of the same car that had recently carried us cross-country.  (Dogs get bored too, especially after grand adventures, if they’re stuck “at home” too long.)  The only condition was their willingness to be content with limited space beside a printer on its way to the “returned for annoying non-performance” cart, a new bag of economy sized dog food (yet to be unloaded), and a size-able Goodwill drop bag.  Their wagging tails and noses pressed upward to the cracked windows, affirmed they were fine with any temporary compromise of wiggle-room.

Despite the fact my errands weren’t all about pleasantries, they seemed oblivious to any inconveniences in their realm.  They weren’t bothered by the fact my time was being encroached upon to deliver copies of a recent pay-stub, highlighted with errors and omissions, to an employer who’d unwittingly shorted my pay-check,  or the aggravation of  finding receipts to return flawed office equipment for a refund.  I am not a dog, so I was reserving the right to resent “time eaters”, consumer watch-dog exercises, as if I had nothing better to do with precious hours away from the stresses of working within a corporation being restructured.

The saving grace of the day was the lighter mood of other post-Thanksgiving travelers and service agents, whose paths crossed ours. A lingering turkey- induced, tryptophanyl-bliss, in combination with the arrival of cooler temperatures nipping at the heels of a heat wave, impolitely loitering into late November, helped to soothe the irritation of making extra trips to places I didn’t care to visit on a “day off work”.  I had thrown on a bright pink sweatshirt with bold white lettering across the back, in defiance of the need to complete unsavory tasks, while also hoping for protection against daydreaming drivers, shot in the arm by a zestful Floridian “cold front”.

Feeling justified and emboldened, after successfully  delivering documents to insure reimbursement for uncompensated work, and securing a refund for a returned ink- spitter, I walked confidently back to the car where my two trusty travel-companions waited anxiously to see where our next stop would be.  Before pulling out of the parking lot, a gentleman approached the car with a hope-filled look and a question:   “I’m going on holiday over Christmas and I have a small dog needing care. Are you the owner of Kenneland?  He had misread the lettering KEENELAND on the back of my sweat shirt, so I smiled and explained: “I do love dogs, but it’s the name of a horse-racing track in Kentucky!” (At that point, I was reminded of a part time job I once enjoyed at a reputable dog-boarding and grooming facility in the same state.  The owners were building a third complex, but the commute to Frankfort would have been a long haul for the man seeking pet care.)  Amused, I wished him well in his search, after explaining I wasn’t in a position to dog-sit another fur-baby at this time.

Next destination: Starbucks.  A Gold card’s points had earned me the privilege of sampling the new Juniper/Sage Latte!  No disappointments there, as the drive-thru attendant held dog biscuits out the window for my “kids”, who would have licked the whipped cream off the top of the savory hot beverage pacifying my day, otherwise!

Once more I was reminded of everyday people determined to go about their business cheerfully, whatever the mess our world seems to be in, and how it’s contagious. A candidate for local office had recently run on a platform during the mid-term elections, advocating for “Positivity” with a spirit of cooperation to get our country back on course.  She hadn’t won the seat, but her visibility in public had made an impact on many, including me. I thanked my angels for allowing our paths to cross people with positive outlooks, especially on a day that was supposed to be for rest and recovery, when loose-ends needing resolution could have easily been a reason for upset and discouragement.

The “take home lesson”:  Whatever is going on in the world, we are in it together, and we still have the ability to choose how we interact with others.  Exposing deceptions and holding people accountable is one thing, but going on witch-hunts to find a devil under every rock, is not the way to stability or civility.  Those who choose to find and shine a light on common threads, and encourage one another at the grassroots level, are the ones who will redeem time lost to divisions resulting from distrust and polarized perspectives.

Grass-Roots “Positivity”—-maybe it’s a bumper sticker waiting to be made and applied.

Maybe we need to learn from friendly and appreciative dogs,  about being eager to go on adventures,  finding joy in simple pleasures like meeting, greeting, and expressing gratitude when shown a kindness.

Grass Roots Positivity—- let it be a contagious prime mover, out of  spinning-wheel ruts in a mud-slinging world.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the darkness that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”  (Hebrews 12:1)

“But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of darkness.”     (Hebrews 3:13)

 

We do not travel alone in this world. For each depends on the other for completion.

 

 

 

 

11/27/18

 

The Least of These

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Rising early, before sunrise, has never been an easy discipline for me, especially after working the night before well past sunset.  It’s always been a curiosity how waking just before a deliberately set alarm seems to be an unconscious attempt to avoid hearing the predictable “you’ve gotta get up” ringtone, annoyingly repeating itself until a sound sleeper complies.  The last day in October, after a restless night of waking several times before daybreak, was no exception.  Thankfully, I awoke before the “rise and shine” signal bypassed the airplane mode setting of my phone.

Cooler temperatures and more refreshing ocean breezes had recently helped dissipate the lingering heat and humidity of a summer refusing to move on.   In previous years, early September had not only meant Back-to-School time, but it had also brought a welcomed relief from the incessant summer heat of the most southeastern state of the US.  However, this year, Red Tide had been hanging about with its deadly algae blooms, causing fish and manatee kills, and numerous beach closures, after a major hurricane.  There seemed to have been a canopy of noxious air and irritants trapped by an invisible hand, making it hard to stay outside for long, much less enjoy fall festivities, as Trick-or-Treaters poised to brave Halloween, taking booty from treasure chests of teeth rotting, hyper-activity inducing candy.  Heading into November, one could only hope the worst of Florida’s summer was releasing its death grip and transitioning into a more welcoming mode for returning Snowbirds and seasonal tourists, who’d been keeping their distance.

On track to make my way back to work, after nightmares of not being able to clock in on time, I considered it was October 31st when the work of demons and divisive spirits stir their brew.  Opening the back door to let my dogs out in the yard, before I put my own mojo on to kick- start the day, I noticed something small and dark on the top step of the scallop-shaped stairs descending into the cool waters of a small inground pool guests have referred to as a “Texas-sized bathtub”.  This morning it appeared to be a Texas-sized bird bath for a seemingly frozen 8- inch bird with iridescent indigo feathers and a small hooked beak. Steady eyes stared back at me from a slightly turned head, though its body remained motionless until I bent down to look at it more carefully and determine whether it was dead or alive.  Its smalls eyes blinked and its hooked beak opened in silent warning, summoning all its strength to slowly spread saturated wings, revealing brilliant blue spots beneath the splayed tail feathers.  As I spoke to it calmly, telling the little bird I meant to help, its wings retracted and its beak closed, though it continued to stare at me.

Going inside to find my gardening gloves, an old hand-towel, and box where the bird might rest until I could take it by a wildlife veterinarian (not exactly on my way to work) but now a priority, I wondered what had happened to the small creature.  The dogs hadn’t made their usual dash to chase squirrels up and down the electric lines or up into palm trees, and they hadn’t seemed to notice the bird in the pool.  Could the small bird have intended to take a bath, but found the water deeper than imagined, or was the water too cold?

As I reached down around the bird with gloved hands, it didn’t struggle when I lifted it onto the old blue hand-towel.  It seemed to slump to one side, so I bunched the towel up to give it support.  Its feet seemed limp and dysfunctional; and as the bird’s breast became visible, I saw a small thin bodied black wasp hanging.  Pinching the wasp off the bird and smashing it with my sandal, I then lifted the bird to a shaded spot on a table under an umbrella.  It blinked and looked at me, but didn’t seem to be able to upright itself, so I gently bundled the towel around its limp body and placed it in a small box.

I found myself saying aloud:   “Lord, you care even when a sparrow falls to the ground. Please heal this young bird.”  I placed the box in another shady spot on the front porch where I planned to collect it on my way out the door, anticipating the unexpected event would make me late for work if I didn’t get moving.   As my Mom headed to the front door with her dog on leash, I called out to steer clear of the box on the porch.  (She later told me the bird seemed to be resting, as she’d left to walk her small dog.)

Periodically, I’d look out to be sure the bird was all right, but after showering and getting my lunch together and finally hurrying out the door, thinking I’d have to make a stop at the animal sanctuary, I turned to pick up the box but the bird was gone.  The impression of the body was still in the towel and only a small blue and white feather remained.  I quickly looked around the front yard, up in the sky and in nearby trees, but didn’t see the small bird anywhere; all the while my heart leaping inside me with gratitude and amazement.

Believe what you like, but what I thought and still do is that God healed the fledgling bird and it found new strength to fly away …. or an Angel came and took it to a safer place where it was given a new song to sing.  (An interesting fact:   Since none of us at work had a first appointment, all of the employees where in the waiting room as I entered, excited to tell the story about the rescue of a small bird and how God hears simple, heart-felt prayers in the midst of our busy schedules.  There was no fear or concern about what they thought when I said: “God healed that little bird….or sent an Angel to take it home!”)

 

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Instead, fear the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.”        (Matthew 10: 28,29)

 

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these ……of mine, you did for me.”  (Matthew 25:40)

 

According to Native American legend:  feather from a falcon symbolizes soul healing, speed and movement.  Hawks symbolize being able to see the bigger picture with spiritual discernment and clarity of vision.  The appearance of a hawk means to trust your inner guidance, gut instincts, and the evolution of a “higher self” calling you upward….to be keenly aware through observation, then act decisively when the time is right.

 

“If not now, tell me when?  If not now, tell me when?

We may never see this moment of place in time again.

 If not now, if not now, tell me when?

I see sorrow and trouble in this land. I see sorrow and trouble in this land.

And though there will be struggle, we’ll make the change we can;

If not now, if not now, tell me when?”

                                   (lyrics by Carrie Newcomer, “If Not Now”)

Sky Above the Trees

Today has been one of those rare, invigorating, cooler days in Florida when sturdy breezes shake nappers from their slumber. The sun coming through even shade-drawn windows makes it impossible to ignore a prompting to get out and let wet hair be unruly, as it’s blown dry by nature, or take a brisk walk off a beaten path, before sitting undisturbed to survey others living their own momentary bliss. Cyclists spinning their wheels on paved walkways, dog-walkers gathering at fenced in playgrounds for their four-pawed companions to have a taste of freedom, kite flyers catching updrafts while steadying crosswinds as their airborne toys spin and dive, or a young girl in a large corral putting a well- groomed horse through it’s paces—-all a part of what makes a beautiful Sunday afternoon worth stepping out of a weekly routine.

It may not be everyone’s response to these vignettes of recreation, but I found myself singing songs welling up from some deeply guarded internal reservoir. Everything from “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” (Mary Poppins) to “There is within my heart a melody , Jesus whispers sweet and low: Fear not I am with thee, peace be still, in all of life’s ebb and flow.” (That one came from pretty far back in the memory archives!). Needless to say, there seems to be a random recall button in the juke box above my shoulders, in response to events in the most unexpected places and settings….not all because of a picture-perfect day at a park!

I’ve become aware though, after letting melodies run their course by phrases or in their entirety, I resonate on a different plane. I am not performing for anyone, or needing anyone’s approval. It’s more about allowing spontenaity to recover something of value when so many things in life require a cooperation to conform to and meet others’ expectations or standards.

An osprey gliding over a lake caught my eye as it descended quickly to snag a fish with it’s claws, then rose above the glistening waters with it’s next meal trying to wiggle free. A ball cap with a race horse’s name sat on the picnic table beside me where I’d paused with my dogs for a drink: “Carpe Diem” (Seize the Day) was embroidered in purple on the white crest above the brim. (A few years ago this horse had qualified for the Kentucky Derby when he won the Tampa Bay Derby.)

I sensed a need to be “fully present”—-soaking in moments that offer a restoration of balance to recover from the trauma of recent tragedies and unsettling world events.

Lyrics to another song by duo, Nathan & Christy Nockels, who recorded “Gloria” as Watermark in 1997, summarized the feeling of days like today:

“Wish I could crash like the waves or turn like the Autumn leaves, in effort to praise You.

Wish I could smell like the forest, a fragrance lifting a mighty chorus, in effort to praise You.

Wish I could roll like the thunder, to leave the earth below in wonder, in effort to praise You.

Wish I could fall like the summer rain, and every drop would sing Your name, in effort to praise You…

But I’m such a limited creature, and my words can only paint so many pictures….but I must try…”

Today I was reminded of a larger sky above the trees, and how important it is to give ourselves permission to be more than cogs in a work machine; to go fly a kite, catch a breeze with a sailboat, or imagine what it’s like not to be earth-bound.

There is a sky above the trees, where spirits soar and songs keep them aloft.

When the Train Whistle Blows

Trains, and memories etched in my mind of experiences and stories whose subjects included trains, had been floating in a cloud above me for days, waiting for a saturation point to release them like a gentle rain.   Picking up a book this morning, intent on recovering from a super-bug I hadn’t banked on catching, my cue to find an undisturbed space and time to write, looked back at me from a page I had started reading in a new chapter :   “Allow me a train metaphor,” author Madison Taylor began, “….the mind is used to being stuck on a certain track, and the writing process takes you off that track and on to a new one.  On the new track, you will find the answers that you need in order to get to the station.” (Unmedicated, pg. 51).   No more delays leaving this station, I thought, so I packed a couple of hydration drinks, collected my writing tools, dog leashes and two dogs to go with their water bowl, and headed for the car.  I had to get far enough away from all the construction work, traffic congestion, helicopter noise from a nearby military base, and conversation-starved people to give my thoughts a chance to congeal.  (I don’t sit or think well in concrete jungles where even complete strangers seem to approach as if you’re their long-lost buddy.)  I wish I’d had a shirt to caution unwanted intruders:

I’m sick! Don’t bother me today….and besides, I’m THINKING!

Working in a spa where a train track runs behind the building has resulted in an interesting phenomena, I HAD been thinking.  The “woosh” of tension leaving rooms as trains steadily rolled along their intracoastal route, within yards of the building, was noticeable.  Though out of sight, the muffled “clickety-clack” and gentle vibrations of each train’s passing, seemed to serve as a reminder that everything comes and goes, like seasons, rolling past, heading somewhere new.  The mere thought of a destination beyond a darkened room, if one could just “get on board”, added quality to the assurance. (The Universe knows I’m ready to get on board one of those trains soon, so maybe I’m just creating the interpretation, you say?  Welcome to the world of creative writing and progressive thinking!  To stay in one place and be content with sameness equates with stagnation and eventual death for some of us in this world.)

One of my favorite scriptures from the New Testament is John 3:8 , addressing spiritual rebirth and how the Spirit of God blows through peoples’ lives in different ways, effecting visible change whose long-term effects cannot be foreseen:

“The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.  So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

I’ve thought about trains in this way too.  We don’t always know what station they’re coming from or their ultimate destination, but we see and hear the effects of their coming and going, and we are somehow changed.

Some say this passage gives credence to a wanderlust or gypsy-spirit, endorsing rootlessness.      I wonder how the Disciples of Jesus would feel about that interpretation.  They might agree, since they left all to follow a Teacher they recognized as greater than themselves, to do the will of a God they couldn’t see, but whose power they were experiencing.  If the goal is to be “rooted and grounded in love” (Ephesians 3:17), implying action, as well as a place seated in the heart and soul of its host, “taking root”, doesn’t always mean staying in one geographical place and never moving beyond it.

Another memory of trains from my youth comes from a Grandfather’s love of trains.  In his lifetime, he told stories of riding on stock trains between Texas and California during WWII when his future father- in-law, George Washington Brumley, was the largest supplier of pork to the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet.  (Evidently it was a kind of test to see if he was worthy of the daughter he was proposing to marry, because this also happened with one of my grandmother’s sister’s suitors!)  Descriptions of walking across the top of cars to check on livestock, and riding in the caboose with other train-workers on the circuit sounded like great adventure to my formative mind.  Later in his life, he’d invested in toy train tracks, train cars, and villages displayed on a ping-pong table in a loft above a garage.  He delighted in making a steam-whistle blow as the engine pulled it’s scaled down load in large circles, sometimes navigating sharp curves.  (A right-of-passage for his grandchildren was being handed the controls, along with instructions to take care and not go too fast, so the payload wouldn’t derail!)

It was also wonderful when schools let out for the summer, and my siblings and I would ride with our mother on a passenger train from Illinois to Texas.  Eating in a dining car, sleeping in berth-cabins, and putting our patent-leather or saddle-shoes in a little hallway cubby before bed to find them newly cleaned and polished the next morning, enhanced a feeling of privilege.

As a pre-teen, living far from the place where those fonder memories had their origin, my parents’ rented house with a large unfenced backyard, also had a train track behind it.  The trestle, rising high above the mown lawn, had provided a challenging hill to climb, while underneath a cement bridge section, a shady stream with crayfish and minnows provided hours of after-school entertainment when we’d catch and release them back into their free-flowing habitat.  When no one was looking, we’d follow the train track’s cross-ties as far as we dared—-sometimes to a little “Whistle-Stop” store—once a small train depot.  Other times we’d walk along the rails like a balance beam, always listening for the distant whistle of an engine’s warning.  Adrenaline producing vibrations, felt in our feet, became a fine-tuned warning to get clear of the tracks and slide down the steep embankment to the safety of our backyard.

In the years to follow, it would become a place associated with danger, because drug dealers and addicts cruelly demystified the creek under the overpass with their darker, clandestine exchanges.  Then the train’s allure for me was totally lost the evening a beloved dog didn’t follow us quickly enough descending the trestle.   She had been sniffing at something and lingered behind, long enough to be hit and killed instantly, not by a train, but by a motorcyclist who’d appeared from the brush, gunning his motor to race along the shoulder next to the tracks.  Misty’s limp body was enough to make me start having nightmares in the second story Cape-Cod bedroom where I tried to escape the sorrow thru sleep.  But after the tragic loss of our beloved family pet, whenever a train or motorcycle barreled down the tracks behind the house after dark, a depressive dream-state trapped me in the top of the house as it seemed to sway and bend towards the ground, paralyzing my cries for help, while its pendulum motion swung back to the roof, before it’s next elastic arc sent me back down to the ground.  From that point on I wanted to get away from the mind-numbing drone of trains, motorcycles, and household discord.

Before High School graduation, on a family trip to western Europe, Eurail passes enhanced our mobility between several countries for weeks.  Backpacks, instead of suitcases, had been welcomed on buses, as well as the trains, taking us on an incredible sight-seeing journey with stops to see friends and family, occasionally.  There’s nothing like being rocked to sleep by a train, a conductor waking you up to check a passport, and receiving a new stamp at another country’s border.  The only stop that cast a somber mood on our group was when a couple of those stops included Concentration Camps where the Nazis regime had delivered railroad-cars full of people to workcamps and extermination chambers (now museums).  In my sorrow and through some kind of communal guilt that came with a German heritage, I  was thankful my memories of trains had been much kinder.

Fast forwarding to a time in my adult life when my own family of six lived near a commuter train, Amtrak connected the suburbs with our nations Capitol, and the Light-Rail saved us in downtown areas where parking spots came at a premium cost, if they could be found.    Trains also became a friend when taking breaks from section-hiking the Appalachian Trail.  I’ll never forget seeing New York City from a train window, after getting off trail, following an extended time in the woods.  It was like waking up to a more benevolent form of travel, still regarded in some cities as a valuable form of public transportation.   I was gaining an understanding of trains as passenger-friendly with the added luxury of “wiggle room” not found in planes, and the benefit of sight-seeing from huge windows as diverse scenery rolled by like a movie. There was a certain romance gifted back each time I rode the rails to and from a destination.

Trains and their whistles had been given some of their innocent allure too, when my Grandad who loved trains taught me a mournful song, “Please Mr. Conductor, don’t put me off this train”, as a child.   Later in life, my own Dad, whose eclectic taste in music always intrigued me, introduced me to contemporary folk-singers and songs-writers.  One song in particular resonated with my spirit, then as it does now: “Morningtown Ride” by Malvina Reynolds.  Written the year I was born, it is a lullaby of reassurance to children in uncertain times.  (Malvina was also well known as the writer of “Little Boxes”, a social commentary poking fun at the standardization of the American Middle Class.  Now I understand why my Dad used to sing it with a note of sarcasm in his voice.)  Only recently I learned she was also a political activist, born in San Francisco (1900) and a resident of Berkeley, CA until her death in 1978.   Never the less, “Morning-town Ride” remains one of my favorite songs to hear or sing at the end of a long, tiring day, in uncertain times.

Train whistle blow’in

Makes a sleepy noise

Underneath the blankets

Go all the girls and boys

 

Rock’in, roll’in, rid’in

Out along the bay

Heading now for Morning-town

Many miles away

 

Driver at the engine

Fireman rings the bell

Sandman swings the lantern

To show that all is well

 

Rock’in, roll’in, rid’in

Out along the bay

Heading now for Morning-town

Many miles away

 

Maybe it’s a rain’in

Where our train will ride

But all the little travelers

Are snug and warm inside

 

Somewhere there is sunshine

Somewhere there is day

Somewhere there is Morning-town

Many miles away

 

Rock’in, roll’in, rid’in

Out along the bay

Heading now for Morning-town

Many, many miles away

 

     A few years ago, while living in Kentucky, I visited a town called Paris in Bourbon County, initially built and occupied by people who developed the railway system instate to accommodate the movement of coal and livestock. (Bourbon and Thoroughbred horses are a part of Paris’ history, as well, so trains most likely moved them about too.)  In one part of Paris there is an old railroad bridge arching over a road descending past a fork of the Licking River.  While driving the road on one occasion, a train blew its whistle and a conductor waived from the engine— a friendly gesture I once recalled seeing as a child.  It was almost as if the train was asking for a second chance to be considered a “friendly” relic of history.  It made me think about references to trains in songs, and about preachers who admonish their listeners to “Get on Board the Glory Train” (bound for Heaven).  In any event, trains represented forward movement and work to get to a new destination.

 

Now, a different kind of train has arrived and new tracks of a different sort need to be lain.  Receiving news from a close friend fighting for her earthly life against a silent disease, she is preparing to step out of the comfort zone of one station and get on board a new train of clinical trial protocols.  She is a pastor, who has faced all of her life challenges with a positive outlook and faith inspiring many.   In a recent writing, she referenced God’s promise to give people a “hope and future”—a new destination,  if you will.  She suggested that we are not always put on the track we had imagined for ourselves, but that grace is given for times we need to be at a resting place, before being given a push to forge ahead. (OK, Pam, I paraphrased.)  She believes in a “kind God who takes us firmly by the hand and leads us into radical life-change” when needed.  The premise being:  God knows the how and where of our journey and the new destination.  She further interprets Jeremiah 29:10,11 to remind herself and those following her posts: “God will not abandon me, but I might not have the same future I had once hoped for—-but it will be okay.”

Etched in my mind from multiple readings of the classic childrens’ book:  The Little Engine Who Could when I was a young reader and then years later read to my own children, the benevolent engine with a simple hard-work ethic, backed by her friends, made the biggest of challenges surmountable.  Somehow the virtual memory-cloud above me isn’t so daunting as before, acknowledging the past, and allowing a refreshing wind to blow new thoughts and possibilities into air space we share.  Sensing the Universe is preparing a time “When the Train Whistle Blows” again, I choose to stay open to a new course, towards a “radical life-change”, and a new story-line for those in a friendly caboose behind a cheery Blue Engine to write about.