Place Between Worlds

Quotes for the Day:

“To love another person is to see the face of God.”  ―Victor Hugo
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“Everybody’s In, Baby.”  ―The Love Warriors
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“And when she wanted to see the face of God, she didn’t look up and away; she looked into the eyes of the person next to her. Which is Harder. Better.”  ―Glennon Doyle
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“When we ask for help, we are building community. We are doing away with this notion that we should be practicing at detachment. We are rapturously attaching! We become responsible for tending to one another’s pieces. Not only is the giver allowed to express their bestowing heart, the receiver is taken into a greater tenderness of their own giving nature. As we grow our capacity for gratitude, which is another way of saying completeness or belonging, we are healing our tinygiant part of the world’s devastating wound of scarcity.”  ―Dreamwork with Toko-pa
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“Forever is composed of nows.”  ―Emily Dickinson
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Rob Brezsny: ‘So it turns out that the “blemish” is actually essential to the beauty. The “deviation” is at the core of the strength. The “wrong turn” was crucial to you getting you back on the path with heart.’
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“If not for reverence, if not for wonder, if not for love, why have we come here?”  ―Raffi
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“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” ―Anne Frank


Gratitude List:
1. Reading. I have gotten out of the habit of reading for fun, only catching a page or three here and there between projects. Yesterday, I had whole blocks of time to just read. I’m re-reading Patricia McKillip’s Alphabet of Thorn. I want to get her Kingfisher, which won this year’s Mythopoeic Society’s Award.
2. The place between worlds that is the beach: Earth, Water, Air. The Fire part is a little more esoteric, perhaps, but the sun provides.
3. Tiny beach pebbles. They’re so satisfying to hold in my hand
4. The sound of gulls in the wind
5. So many sane and articulate people in the world

May we walk in Beauty!

Getting It Done


“What? Love.

Who? Everyone.
When? Now.”
―Glennon Doyle Melton
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“No, Charles Wallace said. “I have to go on. We have to make decisions and we can’t make them if they’re based on fear.”
―Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time
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“Live not for Battles Won.
Live not for The-End-of-the-Song.
Live in the along.”
― Gwendolyn Brooks, Report from Part One
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“We have such a brief opportunity to pass on to our children our love for this Earth, and to tell our stories. These are the moments when the world is made whole…. ” ― Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder
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“Some people have a wonderful capacity to appreciate again and again, freshly and naively, the basic goods of life, with awe, pleasure, wonder, and even ecstasy.”
― Abraham H. Maslow
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“I don’t try to understand everything in nature. I just look at it. And enjoy it.” –Bob Ross

Gratitude List:
1. Snugglesome cat
2. Lots of tea
3. Stretching sore muscles
4. Reading, reading, reading
5. Planning ahead

May we walk in Beauty!

Bottle of Water, Bottle of Wind

reading

Gratitude List:
1. Feeling better. All day, I have been feeling a general malaise, achy and dull. By the time school was over, I felt like I’d been hit by a truck, and I was sure I would call for a substitute for tomorrow. But I had no fever, and I didn’t want to call off if I could help it. Now, after rest and coffee and supper, I feel like a new person. It feels so good to feel good.
2. Light. Christmas lights, lamps, room lights. This is the season when the encroaching darkness makes me panicky. I could hardly bear it today, but there are plenty of lights about. I will bathe in the lights that I can get. Perhaps I’ll have to take my lunch breaks outside these days in order to gather a little more sunlight.
3. Boy and his dad playing chess here at the end of the table.
4. Boy reading with his cat under the Christmas tree.
5. Shining lights–you and you and you.

May we walk in Beauty!

A longish story today. I have been mulling it for several days now, writing a little here, a little there. I think it’s time to bring it into the light:

Bottle of Water, Bottle of Wind

Have you ever been to the Bottle Lady’s stand at Market? Oh, I can never remember exactly where she’s located. I always have to search a bit to find her. She wears a dress and a cardigan sweater like every Mennonite woman at every little vegetable stand in the building. Unlike them, her hair escapes her bun to fly in curls and wisps about her face like a halo.

The first time I saw her, she was nibbling a bit of baklava–that’s why I think her stand might be somewhere near the Greek Delights stand, and I definitely recall the delightfully eye-watering horseradish of the neighboring stand. She winked at me: “You should go over there and get some of this before it’s gone. It’s delicious!”

I paused in my meanderings to peruse her wares: row upon row of empty bottles, in stepped shelves cascading over a purple velvet cloth with golden trim. Each bottle wore a tag held in place with a colored ribbon. The labels looked to be mostly in languages I didn’t understand, some in strange scripts and pictograms. On the lowest shelf was a small dark-blue bottle with water inside. I could read its label clearly: Waters of the World.

The Bottle Lady watched me pick it up and hold it to the light. “That one’s three hundred dollars,” she told me, licking the sticky baklava filling from her fingers. I quickly replaced the bottle on the shelf, lest I break it. “The one you want is right next to it–see there? No, the one on the left, with the green ribbon. See the label? Dreams Come True. That one is only a dollar today.”

Before I’d even had a chance to register what was happening, she had wrapped the bottle in tissue paper, and placed it in a little paper bag gift bag with glitter all over it. I simply pulled out my wallet and handed her a dollar. I couldn’t help but smile. I rarely remember my dreams, but I still had flashes of the dream from the night before, in which I stumbled through a strange city, finding money in odd places.

As I stopped at the Greek Delights stand to buy some baklava, I spotted a five dollar bill on the ground at my feet. I asked all around, but no one seemed to have dropped it, and the owner of Greek Delights refused to hold it for someone who might or might not return. “You just keep it, Sweetie. You just keep it and spend it on a little something for yourself.”

Sure, I connected it to the little bottle. It was hard not to, especially when I found a quarter, two dimes, and a dollar bill on the sidewalk–all just on the walk to my car! It lasted for another week or so. Every time I walked down the street, I found at least a coin or two. I found bills tucked into my jeans, caught between the couch cushions, in the dryer hopper at the laundromat. I kept it all in a jar–over one hundred dollars by the time the luck dried up.

It was a couple weeks before I found myself at market again, and I just couldn’t find her stand. I could have sworn it was between the Greek Delights and the horseradish man–but when I went there, there was no stall between them: they’re direct neighbors. I couldn’t imagine what I had been thinking. I had almost given up, and I was standing in the really long line at the Sacred Grounds Coffee stand–my friend Zia works there, and I wanted a mocha to warm me up on a cold day–when I turned around, and there was the Bottle Lady’s stand. It must have been the baklava that made me think it was on the other side of Market. I wandered over, not paying attention to the fact that I was losing my place in line. There were fewer bottles on the stand this time. “I’ve had really good business today,” she told me, as she sipped her coffee. “How’d the Dream thing work for you?” she asked.

I told her it had been lots of fun, sort of a thrill really. I wondered if she might have a bottle with a love potion in it or something. She gave a musical laugh, then got really serious, studying me as if I were an object under a microscope. “No. No love potions for you right now,” she said. She started to sort through the bottles on the shelves, humming tunelessly to herself. At intervals, she would look up at me with a keen and studying glance, then start clinking and shifting the bottles again. Her hand brushed against the little cobalt bottle of Waters of the World, sending it tipping dangerously toward me. I had instinctively reached out to steady it, and caught it as it fell.

“Whew. That’s fortunate,” she breathed. “I have been saving that for someone. Ah, here’s the one for you.” And she reached out and scooped the tiny bottle of water from my hand, and replaced it with a larger bottle, ornately etched with a tiny dragon. It appeared as empty as most of the others, but as I looked closer, I could see that it was filled with a cloudiness, like smoke. I could make nothing of the letters on the tag. “What is this?” I asked.

“You can see it right there on the label,” she said. “Gumption. That will be two dollars.” And as I looked again, the letters resolved themselves in my brain, and I could read the word in its elaborate script.

Yes, I certainly had more energy, more get-up-and-go, in the coming days. She told me to keep my door closed that night in my room, and to take the cork out of the bottle just before I drifted off to sleep. The next morning, I felt more rested and ready for the day than I had in years.

And that’s how it went. Every few weeks, I’d find my way to Market, search around for the Bottle Lady’s stand, and only find her when I had given up and decided to do something else. I don’t have a good sense of direction, and Market can be confusing. I can never remember whether that bakery with the German-style bread is in the third or fourth row down from the entrance, and there are always a few little stands that are empty, and then there’s just something about the way all the women who work there look sort of the same. Still, I always seemed to find her just when I had decided to give up the search.

She always seemed to choose for me. Oh, I asked for something specific each time I went, but she always had some suggestion or idea that seemed right for me, so I just went along, paying one or two dollars each time. Once I bought a plain little Mason jelly jar with a screw-top lid labeled Common Sense. Paid five dollars for that one. Oy, did that one ever get me through a week of weirdness.

The bottles and jars began to accumulate on my bedside stand. Sometimes I would try to re-use them, and there were often some minor effects, but nothing like the pure moment when I first opened the bottles themselves.

Each time I saw her, I asked about the lovely blue bottle of Waters of the World. Had the buyer come for it already? Why was it still there? What were Waters of the World? I could never quite get an answer out of her about it, but she always gave me a good tip for what treats to buy myself:

“The samosas over at the Middle Eastern stand are really spicy today! You should get two for your supper.”

“You have to try one of these fresh fruit smoothies from the smoothie stand–it’ll be good for what ails you.” She was right, of course.

“Mrs. Stoltzfus over at the bakery has some really nice whoopie pies today. Just the regular traditional kind without any funky flavors in the fillings. They’re so much better that way, don’t you think?” And I agreed, and bought one for my dessert. It was so big, I had some left over for the next day’s breakfast.

One Saturday last month, I met Zia when she got off work at the Sacred Grounds. Zia had been feeling sort of depressed, like she was spinning her wheels, stuck like molasses in her job at the Grounds, and not sure how to take the next step to anywhere. “Let’s go see this Bottle Lady you’re always talking about,” she said.

It was sort of embarrassing–I couldn’t really say where the stand was exactly, but we wandered around, bought some German chocolate from the German stand, and I bought Zia a little potted narcissus from the Plant Man. We had given up searching for the Bottle Lady, and were making our way toward the exit next to the fishmonger, when I spotted her purple cloth, tucked between the celery folks and the woman who sells gourmet dog biscuits.

She was nibbling on a cookie shaped like a dog bone. “Oh yes,” she said when she saw my wide eyes. “I can see that it would be confusing. No, the cookie stand on the other side of the aisle is celebrating Adopt-a-Dog week at the Humane League by selling these incredible dog-bone cookies. They have chocolate centers. You should try some.”

Zia was poring over the labels on the bottles, trying to read the cryptic writing. “Can my friend buy one of your bottles of Dreams Come True?” I asked.

The Bottle Lady gave Zia her studying look, over the tops of her glasses. “No-o-o-o,” she said slowly. “I think this one has not been having such good dreams lately.” Zia crinkled her forehead and nodded.

“How about. . .this one!” Her hand paused above a little green bottle with swirls and spirals embossing its surface. “Yes, I think you could use a Bottle of Wind.” Of course she was right, as right as she’d been about samosas and smoothies and whoopie pies and every bottle she’d ever sold me.

We paid and were putting the little package carefully into Zia’s bag, when the Bottle Lady turned to me: “It’s high time you took your Waters of the World, don’t you think? I’ve got that one on Special today for three dollars.” I barely had time to gasp before she had it wrapped in tissue paper and was plopping it into my hand.

She told me how I needed to keep replenishing the waters: a tear here, a raindrop there, a drop of water from the River I crossed each day on my way into town. How I was to give it a gentle shake when I had added a new water. How I needed to keep releasing the waters, too: water a plant with one drop, put a drop behind my ears or on my forehead, offer a drop to the palm of a weeping friend, give a drop to the River. How it all balanced out when I was careful and thoughtful and full of gratitude. “I know you are ready for this,” she said with a wink. “I don’t think I will be seeing much of either of you again here for a little while. Don’t forget to buy yourselves some cookies on the way out.”

The Bottle of Wind blew through Zia’s life with a beautiful chaos, and now she’s off to New Hampshire for a three-month writing residency at some kind of artists’ camp. I’ve never seen her so happy. And my Waters of the World? I am tending the waters carefully, replenishing them regularly, releasing them with gratitude. And tomorrow I am catching a flight to Iceland–I want to see glaciers. And then to wherever the waters seem to take me. I’ve packed up all my empty bottles in a padded box. Who knows what I may find to put in them?

Market opens at six o’clock tomorrow. You should go see if you can find the Bottle Lady. I can’t honestly tell you where her stand is, but if you look around a while, I am sure she’ll appear somewhere.

The Girl Who Could Read the Landscape

2014 April 119

In the days when the people had begun to keep their lives in great boxes, living less and less on the land, a girl was born who could read the scripts and runes in the landscapes.

When a frog leaped into the pond with a startled “Eeep!” the ripples and circles in the surface of the pond read, “Splash!” of course, but also something about the day being green, the waters cool on the gills, and the polliwogs growing hale and hearty.

In a branch burrowed and tunneled by bark beetles, she could read the insect-runes: “Chronicle of the Year of Our Lady Wingshine: We are preparing for another winter. Tunnels and fortifications are underway and a healthy grub population is thriving. No woodpeckers spotted in three cycles.”

The branches on the trees crossed and curled to make whole novels of story, revealing the secret lives of owl and warbler, the gossip of squirrels, and the wisdom of ancient oaks.

Across a vast tangerine sunset, she read the letters and lines created by flocks of migrating geese and calling swans: “When your heart has two homes, you will always be a wanderer.”

And much more subtle, but as real as the words in water or bark or sky, the musky tang of a fox in the undergrowth wove through the lines and curls of autumn grasses, which she read as, “There is always a trail to follow, if you will give your heart to the moment.”

Gratitude List:
1. Advent songs
2. Sunday lunch with my parents
3. Naps
4. New stories, old stories, holding stories
5. Bringing in the greens

May we walk in Beauty!

Wide and Close

JClabyrinth

Panorama photos provide interesting, and often slightly disturbing, perspectives.  This one captures the way the labyrinth at the Jesuit Center is in a little protected space, but also how it has a view of both the monastery and the grounds.  But the benches on either side of this photo are placed next to each other, on either side of the entrance to the labyrinth.

Gratitude List:
1. Learning a new thing.  I have been making empanadas, expanding my dough repertoire.
2. This kiddo is cutting and pasting magazine pictures, making his own little book of pictures he likes.
3. Reading with children.  This is connected to visceral memory from my childhood.  I sometimes say that I became an elementary school teacher years ago just so I could read to kids like my mother read to us.  Then I had kids so I could read to kids (there may have been some other reasons).  I cannot read CS Lewis or JRR Tolkien without hearing my mother’s voice.  My children will not be able to read Redwall without hearing my “interesting” attempts at various accents.  I sit on the couch, and no matter how hot it is, they snuggle under my wings.
4. Summer’s pacing.
5. Goldfinch Farm Crew!

May we walk in Beauty!

The Contemplative Muscle

Not much time to focus on poems these days.  A small boy needs Mama time.  A cat needs a snuggle that cannot handle a computer.  I feel a need to keep working the contemplative muscles, so here is a little bit of free association for the morning.

In my head every poem begins
“This is the story. . .”
Inside my heart every story starts out
“She lived at the edge of a great, dark forest.”

What did you do when the song began?
Did you huddle beneath the leaves in the bears’ den
or step into the sunny clearing,
trusting the shining threads that fell upon your ears?

Gratitude List:
1. Sleeping in past 6:30
2. My current reading stack: Ruth Gendler’s Book of Qualities, Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking on Water, and Mary Oliver’s Felicity.
3. Sweater weather
4. Embracing the transitions
5. Story

May we walk in Beauty!

Conversation in Tanka

Gratitude List:
1. Learning to swim.  How and when did that boy learn to swim?  Last September, he was nervous and just barely able to keep himself afloat.  Throughout the winter, after several sessions with his grandparents in the pool at Landis Homes, he has become a fish.  Today he was jumping off the diving board and swimming most of the way across the pool.
2. They keep eating vegetables without complaining.  No one has complained or fussed about supper for two nights now, and they both keep asking for seconds.  No one even mentioned the zucchini I grated into the roux I made for the macaroni.  They just ate it.
3. Poets.  Poetic conversation.
4. Reading with the boys.  We have gotten back into the rhythm of reading together again.  We finished The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler tonight and started a book of Patricia Wrede’s short stories.
5. A clean house.

May we walk in Beauty!

Featured image

My friend Mara Eve Robbins, a poet with gift for exploring the landscape of the heart (and I keep wanting to insert more and more notes about her here, such as the fact that she is the one who got me started on the spiritual practice of gratitude and that she is the person who helped me finally name myself Poet), hosts a Tanka Tuesday thread on her Facebook page every Tuesday.  She posts a tanka (5/7/5/7/7 syllable count) and invites friends to respond.  In the true conversational spirit of tanka, these little poems sometimes develop into rich and heart-opening conversations.

This week, I joined in one of these poetic conversations with Mara and my friend Daryl Snider (another heartful poet who weaves his words into powerful music).  They both gave me permission to re-post the conversation here.  I wanted to share it, to offer a way in which healing and hopeful conversations can occur outside the realm of intellectual discussion.  Sometimes we would write one stanza at a time, and sometimes several.  Each bold name is the author of the stanza or stanzas which follow.  I love the way this one carried our ideas like little leaf boats in a stream, how it felt finished when it was finished.  Still, I ached for it not to be ended–even putting it here, I felt like I wanted to keep it going, on and on and on. . .

It began with this tanka by Mara:
This can hold many
missing elements, or can
still miss the many
elements that are held. When
will a new path be forged now?

Daryl:
Hold on elements,
for you are elemental:
simple, being, true.
To be is the way; the path
is the traces of footsteps.

Beth:
As the poet said,
“We make the road by walking.”
Sometimes I follow
the roads others made before,
those footsteps in shifting sands.

Daryl:
Steps of one walker
leave tracks that only steadfast
trackers might follow.
Roads trampled by hungry herds
Leave nothing living behind.

Mara:
Elemental, my
dear Daryl. Flesh on earth, bare
to consequences.
What fire in the center holds
true when accuracy rains?

Beth, I follow your
steps into the shifting sands,
strengthened by fragile
threads. We make a road again
and again that’s more traveled.

Daryl:
Heating elements
give off the fury of fire.
Lighting filaments,
yes, the finer the better,
give the luminance of light.

Yet the energy
at the source of heat and light
is always the same.
That which burns me at the core,
transforms and Illuminates.

Dear Mara and Beth,
Your lights shine bright on my path,
pushing me to play
with words that say more and less
than I ever intended.

A poem’s value
is not in accomplishment
but in the doing:
Time spent doing nothing else
but being … still.

Yet now I must go
and succeed in something else,
something that will make
unpoetic evidence
of bodily existence.

Mara:
Leaving the small cloud
under the larger cloud, rain
waits for the sunrise,
packs suitcases of water
to carry into drier places.

Beth:
I have returned here
to this place of words, pathways:
a-quiver now with
the way these words leave a trail,
clear, for my heart to follow.

Mara:
The flow of trust finds
replenishment or dries up,
waiting for rain. Strong
sun today must find a way
to infuse with light what waits.

Two catbirds; holly
tree. One scolds and one defends.
Flash of underwing.
Open window. Everything
to be done waiting for this.

Reading the Day

Yesterday as I was sweeping up my classroom at the end of the day, I got to thinking about leaves and feathers and little paper frizzies.  When my world was centered mostly around the house and farm, I felt like I sort of learned to read the litter of leaf and bark and feather, of stone and seedpod.  Now my association have shifted from the glorious beings of tree and field to the glorious beings of teenagers, and I wonder: can I learn to read the weather of the day through the little bits of paper and pens and pencils, the candy wrappers and strands of hair that I sweep up before I go home?  Teenagers are like trees, I think, dropping little bits of this and that as they go about their day.  I’m listening and watching. . .

 

Gratitude List:
1.  Kingfisher chattering along the MillStream
2.  I’m meeting Mara today!  A dear and wonderful friend whom I have never met in person is coming to see me!
3.  The way the planning of one day gives naturally on to the planning of the next day.  I get stumped about how to proceed with the lesson plans, but then I step back and look at it from a bit of a distance, and suddenly the next thing falls into place.  And the great thing about it is that the planning muscle is one which is strengthened with use, so the more I do it, the less anxiety-producing it will become.
4.  Comfortable shoes (this is a reminder to myself: yesterday’s shoes were not comfortable)
5.  The moment when I get home in the afternoons and see those boys and Jon.  Shiningest moment of the day.

May we walk in Beauty!

Make it all a Prayer

(tanka)

make it all a prayer
each motion, each thought, each step
feel the connection
that silver strand that pulls you
to the heart of another

Gratitude List:
1. Those planets snuggled up to the moon at dusk yesterday.  Any of my star-folk friends know who they were?
2. Making art with my RVRGRL and my Animalboy.  In the time of the beginning, there was a cave. . .
3. Yesterday someone I love anointed my head with oil.  We were thinking more of protecting the crown chakra than of the 23rd Psalm, but I think it was kind of the same thing.  I was tenderly shepherded.
4. Reading about reading.  To say that preparing for teaching in the fall is a stimulating experience is an understatement of vast proportions.  I love to feel The Teacher re-waking within me.
5. How have I not yet had a gratitude dedicated to tomatoes?  Summertime tomatoes!  Red ones!  Pink ones!  Stripey ones!  Golden sunshiny yellow ones!  Deep purple and indigo ones!  Wintry grocery store tomatoes taste like styrofoam and sawdust and the people who pick them are not given fair wages or healthy living conditions–don’t eat them; please, don’t eat them.  Summertime tomatoes are luscious and wonderful, and they’re usually harvested by your local adorable farmer.

May we walk in Beauty!

Groundswell

Gratitude List:
1.  The way the kids tucked into the alecha and injera this evening at supper.  It’s gratifying to see them enjoying interesting food.  No matter that the yellow peas never got soft enough to make the chana dahl.  I must not have kept the heat on them enough.  They’ll feed the chickens tomorrow.  The rest of the supper was good.
2.  Watching my second grader get lost reading The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe to himself.  I had to stop myself from stopping him: I wanted us to read them together!  Ah, but he was overcome by the magic.
3.  Graces to be found in the challenging times.
4.  How sometimes the network works.  You put it out there and people grab it, and suddenly there’s a groundswell and momentum.
5.  Sleep.

May we walk in Beauty.