Friday, June 20, 2014

the Lord's throne is in heaven: collaboration #11

sunday, june 15, 2014 - Salt Lake City temple


"Here, Mom.  Sit here.  I'm going to take your picture."  I sit.  He takes.

"Grandma and Grandpa were married here," I tell him.  "And Aunt Melissa and Uncle Jon."

"Have you been inside?" he asks.

"I have."

"I'm going to be married in Oregon," he says, "like Eldest and Middlest.  Can I have the camera again?  I want to take a picture of the angel."

Mijo and I are being tourists today.  Just the two of us.   We've dropped Fritz off at the airport so he can get back to work in Oregon.  A few hours ago we left Young at Grandma and Grandpa's for his solo week with them (riding 4-wheelers, building a cabin, being generally spoiled).  Middlest and her husband have been working for a month and a half as kayak guides in Alaska.  Mijo and I will be staying with Eldest and her husband in the valley just south of here where she, newly graduated, is starting tomorrow a new job as an ophthalmic technician and he is finishing coursework at the university.

Mijo wants to see Temple Square and since for the first time in months there's no pressing item on the calendar, no dresses to make, no reception to arrange, we stop.

We park across the street from Temple Square, outside the Conference Center where twice a year the men and women who lead our church give addresses in a two-day, two-sessions-a-day broadcast.  Our family celebrates these semi-annual conferences from a distance, but as much beloved holidays:  a weekend spent together listening.  We wouldn't miss any of it from the blanket forts, the chalkboard word games, the long crocheting of a red wool throw that I think is finally almost finished, the conference cookies, fruit snacks, the family basketball we play on Saturday, the meat and veggie wraps between the sessions,  to comparing our notes over the final family dinner, always a little amazed at how variously we hear things, but glad for the differences that speak best to each of our own concerns. The Conference Center is the place from which those talks which are the reason for it all are broadcast.

The Conference Center was built to replace the old Tabernacle which is still used for the-once-a-week broadcast of the famous choir and for musical performances throughout the year.

sunday, june 15, 2014 - Salt Lake Tabernacle
We go inside the downturned eggshell of the Tabernacle.  A young woman missionary in a wheelchair greets us with a brilliant smile.  Mijo and I sit down on a polished pew.  Ahead of us, a group of Japanese visitors are being shown the historic organ by an animated young Japanese woman who is serving her mission here.  Behind us a group of smiling Middle Eastern young men are sitting quietly.  "I came here for the Conference a couple of times when I was in college," I tell Mijo.  "It was crowded.  They kept scooting us closer together to fit more people in.  And when we were all in and began to sing together, it was amazing."

We're sitting behind a wooden pillar painted to look like marble.  "Pioneers made these," I tell him.  At the Visitor's Center Mijo is fascinated by all the work those early and largely impoverished settlers have done by hand, having got a tiny flavor of what that must have been like, he tells me, having scraped paint off the deck to get things ready for his sisters' weddings. 

The new Conference Center is much larger than the historic Tabernacle, with soaring foyers outside the vast auditorium.  Miho stands before the paintings of scripture stories, admires the waterfall that courses down one glassed side of the tall building.  On top, the roof of the Conference Center is a mountain landscape, the tops of the city's buildings like neighboring peaks beyond.

sunday, june 15, 2014 - meadow and woodland on roof of Conference Center

When I was a child I would have said the picture of heaven was the tallest peak outside my back door.  I could have sung to you, "How firm a foundation" pointing at that mountain, "is laid for your faith in His excellent word!" my voice piping up higher and higher.

Mountains gathered near around the place I lived then.  Their purple chevron the rim of a glowing downturned bowl centered exactly over our lilac-flowered alfalfa field, that bluest blue bowl streaking into raspberry red before sieving down starlight.  It was to the mountains that my family, and every other that I knew back then, escaped on the hottest days with picnics, made pilgrimage on holidays with tents and fishing tackle, resorted to for Sunday drives, climbed into seeking this year's perfect Christmas tree.  A vast temple of white aspen pillars and carpets of wildflower, sparkling creeks of heaven-fallen snowmelt, choirs of autumn colors. All of that was up there always, even when I was far below. I could see the place that hid this place even as I trudged back and forth to school down in the smoky, dusty valley at its feet.

This is the reason I always drew that snow-crowned triangle in every picture I made of my family.  All of us standing below it, outside our shoebox house, holding hands, a curlicue of spicy smoke rising from our chimney (like praise?) and lollipop trees on either side.  Any place that we could make down here at best a smaller, tamer copy of the mountain, the mountain at best wild heaven's stillest echo.

But an echo still.

monday, june 23, 2014 - morning in Sevier Valley, Utah

Now I live  in a wider place where the mountains are further off,  each peak smaller and isolate, not the bulwarks I once took "for granite," the motherly eminences that gathered in a ring around my childhood, but volcanic cones that could still rain down fire and brimstone as well as the floods of ash and mud that have made a moonscape of the nearby slopes of Mt. St. Helens.   Despite their wakefulness, there are days I have to remember the mountains are there at all, disappearing as they do so regularly behind rain and haze.
Sometimes the mountain
is hidden from me in veils
of cloud, sometimes
I am hidden from the mountain
in veils of inattention, apathy, fatigue,
when I forget or refuse to go
down to the shore or a few yards
up the road, on a clear day,
to reconfirm
that witnessing presence.

              ("Witness," Denise Levertov)

But still, almost every morning and every evening I hum almost unthinkingly through the song my great-great-great grandpa made about the gospel banner waving, "High on a mountaintop . . . ye nations now look up! . . .   on Zion's mount behold it stand!"  I hum it to time my toothbrushing; cleanliness some days my nearest approach to praise.

As a child I would have said the picture of praise was a bird, flying straight up and singing loudly.  Up, I would have pointed, though I knew heaven was not in the sky. But praise was like that still.  Directed the best that we knew how.

This was the reason churches had steeples.  An empty shape we build on earth, slim pointer, making its point by failing to frame an ever wider sky.

saturday, june 14, 2014 - building site on West Mountain
My mother and I have been sitting at her sunny kitchen table discussing worship.  My daughter and I will be kneeling in the dirt of her new garden discussing life.

I grew up in a house of faith that read one as the other. If Worship: Life.

I've grown up believing Life = Praise, or should.  Weeding is a prayer.  Planting seeds, a hymn.  The kitchen table, a place of sacrament.  Not instead of our prayers and hymns and sacraments on Sundays, but those were a preparation for the main event which we carried out throughout the week.

I grew up in a house that mistrusted fancy flights: trying too hard to look good an obvious marker for not really meaning it.

When I was still in knee-socks I always looked forward to the prayers and speeches of a certain skinny man in our congregation, because the words he used were so stirringly beautiful.  When I enthused to my mother how wonderful these words, she agreed, then as afterthought, "But sometimes I wonder am I hearing prayer, or Brother Beebe?"  She may have been right -- to this day I can't remember what he was praying for but can see his quick elbows and shock of dark hair and the adam's apple wobbling in his throat.

I came to see the stripped-down bareness of our Sunday worship (choirs made up of whoever may be willing, organists who are still learning, artless sermons taught by a different neighbor every week, no stained glass, no banners, no pageantry) as a practice meant to keep misdirection at a minimum.  So many ways aesthetics or charisma might become an end in itself, how devotion could be sidetracked by performance.

thursday, june 19, 2014 - snail shells from my married daughter's garden
Sincerity was unadorned and ragged at the edges.  Anything and anyone too polished was liable to become an icon, an empty shiny shape that forgot it was a pointer to a wider, wilder truth; an empty shell circling in upon itself.  The leaders of our congregation change every five years or so, rotating back into the congregation, so that no one builds up a clique of personality.  Even in our twice-yearly conference, we listen to a  multiplicity of voices, not ever just one. No one earthly voice ever enough alone to echo heaven's.

Of course raggedness can be assumed and plainness polished from long use, but at least, the small lives we live keep pulling us out into communion with one each other where an honest day's work can be the fulfillment of a vow, patience a daily sacrament, where we bow our heads to hear the lonely we work beside, where we may make the rare harmony of holding our tongues in peace.  

And even if loaves rising like a prayer, pea-vines climbing with devotion, bottled peaches like a row of candles,  even the organ swell of our children laughing with their arms around each other will tend to curl in upon themselves -- good bread its own end, motherhood an idol -- at least they have the virtue of being long works and repetitively small and never really finished.  Our closest approach to eternity in this life.

And the reason, the household I grew up in taught me, why Jesus taught us to pray saying Abba, Daddy, dear and familiar daily parent.

Emulation as the sincerest form of praise.

sunday, june 15, 2014 - at the foot of the Christus
 He then asked: “If you do not use the cross, what is the symbol of your religion?”

I replied that the lives of our people must become the most meaningful expression of our faith and, in fact, therefore, the symbol of our worship. 

For days now I've been fighting symbols, sitting down each morning here trying to understand worship, trying to say what is praise?

At first I misread the eleventh psalm as a lament - how hard and frightening it is for the soul to ascend to heaven's refuge ~
In the LORD put I my trust:
how say ye to my soul,
Flee as a bird to your mountain? 
I asked myself how is the soul a bird?  Hopeful as.  (That thing with feathers.)  Joyous.  Rising lark.  Swooping swallow.  Or small and hungry.  Furious hummer.  Or large and hungrier.  Soul as condor.  Bloody-headed vulture circling.  Baby bird all mouth and frantic panting squeak of hunger.  Flightless  ostrich, dipping her head beneath the sand to tend her nest.  As fearfully misunderstood as.  Lazy, lying cuckoo. Limping killdeer.  Daddy-daycare dapperness of penguins, eggs cradled on responsible yellow feet.  The beaky balllerina of the heron.  Seagull greed.  Skittish wren.  Conscientious early robin.  Scruffy jay. Raven's elastic goink.  Peacock flagrant and libidinous.  A quarrel of sparrows, a murder of crows.  Hissing vehement geese.

In which of these was I supposed to wing to heaven's high hill?  And once I'm there, caw or warble or shriek my praise?

But every reading is a misreading and every translation a mistranslation.  I had been arguing with the psalm in the direction it really meant to go.  Instead of resisting the gorgeous upward flight of praise,  my soul was all along supposed to be standing stalwart and small against the daily dangers who keep urging she slip off to hide out in the hills:
In the Lord I have taken refuge.
How dare you say to me
"Flee to your mountain like a bird!" 
Even misreadings can be instructive -- the place that hides the place where the true place is. 

thursday, june 19, 2014 - at the foot of Y Mountain
For my married daughter's garden, while Mijo wrestled and played tag with the new husband, we planted tomatoes and zucchini, purple beans, cucumbers, rainbow chard and sunflowers.  Before the sun rose the next morning I had to go out and admire its potential.  The garden was shadow for more than an hour and then suddenly -- I had forgotten how suddenly the sun bounces up above the mountains here -- it was full day. 

I stood there as the sun rose, watching the the sunlight, smelling the soil, touching the jagged paisleys of the leaves.  I knelt to see the prickles on the first commas of cucumber, the columbine's red spurs.  Reached up to touch the juniper berries' frosty blue bumpiness.  Stood at the back fence to smell grasses drying on the foothills just above.

All this was praise.

And from the university just down the hill the carillon began to play,  All is well!  All is well! 

thursday, june 19, 2014 - columbine growing at the foot of Y Mountain

When I knelt to weed around the iris (that rainbow messenger of Olympus, that striped ribbon of God's promise) I caught my breath :   a snail miraculous in the patterning of its shell,  the shimmering pale blue of its richly ruffled robe, its extrasensory crown reaching questingly.  O my soul!  here you are!  because the snail is my own private icon of the soul.
The year's at the spring,
And day's at the morn;
Morning's at seven;
The hill-side's dew-pearl'd;
The lark's on the wing;
The snail's on the thorn;
God's in His heaven—

All's right with the world!
      Robert Louis Stevenson  
But then in the days that I've been writing this, my daughter calls to say the sunflowers have failed of their tall and golden worship, their smallest questing leaves emerging through the soil only to be mowed down mysteriously.

She thinks it was the ants.

I think it may have been the snail, slow and steady angel of death, not a picture of any truth beyond its own self-referential hunger.

thursday, june 19, 2014 - blue snail beneath Y Mountain
All is not well yet, I note.  Though someday I hope it will be.  And meanwhile I sit down again to this morning's hungry praise, today's limping protective gesture of misdirection, my daily quarrel with the psalms and all the broken and beautiful that lies beyond them
.
And that noting, that hoping, that sitting down again in hunger and a confusion of wings, is also praise.



Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Bike Report || God is not in all my thoughts: collaboration #10

                                                 august 23, 2013 
cycling the san juans - Day 2
Mount Vernon, WA, to Brentwood Bay, BC

We wake in a shady wood, not unlike Dante midway on our life's journey.  But hoping the right road lost is behind us and not before. We are not out of the woods yet.

In any case, our window is propped open with a stubby antler.  Which is interesting.  The walls of the boxy barn of this cabin seen now by daylight are an archaeological richness of reference:  pretty girls in old-fashioned dresses, caricatures of King Corn (founding father of our hosts' family), mountain scenes with inspirational verse, Japanese dolls from someone's mid-century tour of duty, carved ducks, and a giant poster for Reservoir Dogs.  And it all goes so well with the eclectica of furnishings.  Like waking up in a multi-family garage sale.  Or surfing someone else's subconscious symbolism.

The morning air has turned chilly this last week of summer (because here and now in these words it will always be the last week of August -- it will always be the last time we are only what we have always been -- a mother and father biking with their children -- together and happy for it -- or happy enough -- the daughters are dismayed whenever we go out of range and their ongoing commentary with their far off beloveds is interrupted).  But now it's time to stuff everything we'll own for the next week and a half back into plastic ziplocks and then into bright yellow, already-heavy panniers that we lift and lock down onto the rack over our back tires.


And now we walk together, (like a little re-enactment of our life's journey thus far) pushing heavy-loaded bikes through woods (satisfyingly dark and greenly symbolic of any number of lurking truths) along a winding dirt path and over a creek into the main yard, up to the main house for a heavenly breakfast on gold edged china, lace tablecloth and heavy silver.  Though we find when we get there that we are surrounded by once-wild animals eying us glassily.


Poetry is emotion recollected in tranquillity, says Wordsworth -- his name so apt for a poet -- that ideal of  rhetorical thrift.  Might we all at last get our words' worth out of our life sentences!  But what is breakfast recollected?  A list of words, a menu.  But in the real moment,  a kind of happy verse.  As good as poetry after a full day's biking and even better before another: Dutch pancakes sprinkled with clouds of sugar, lemon wedges, sliced peaches and raspberry preserves, hot potatoes and spicy sausage, fruit tart made with all the last fruits of the summer.

Not sublime, but sublime can be tricky and leave you hungrier.  While this is good.  And filling.  As it is good to sit here together satisfied in the moment.

Other guests arrive to share our table beneath the transfixed gaze of cougar, bear and elk:  mother and teenage daughter hiding out from raging relatives who have gathered nearby for an imminent wedding.

An attractive young couple also here for a wedding, but a different one.  He's a drummer -- long hair curling on his starched collar, olive-skinned, courtly -- she's a teller at a bank -- baby blond, quick-laughing and certain as a senator.  They're from Minnesota - the Norwegian cadence held in check but still ready to rise like laughter off stage.  

Oh, dear.
 
I just realized you may have come here hoping for something more gear-shift and head stem.  Some technical pointers about how to pack for a 10-day trek?


The answer is, Lightly.

Or, Heavily.  In which case you will learn all the better how much a body at rest would like to stay there, how strong entropy's attraction, and the gravity of our situation in general.

If you happen to be the one who complained on Amazon about Into Thick Air: Biking to the Bellybutton of Six Continents (a book I've sworn to read just for that fanastic title) because the author
Talks all about people, places and things, but nothing about the actual bike, or the things related to the day to day struggle of a bike trip. It reads like a travellog, he may of just as well been travelling by car or bus.
I am sorry for you.  I have nothing to tell you but people, places and things. Our actual bikes are the ones we always ride, comfortable as old shoes from so many miles, and just that notice-worthy. And the day to day struggle of the bike ride is mostly just pedal-pedal-pedal.  Interspersed with map-reading.  Which today I will not look beyond.

Yes, we might as well have traveled by car or bus all through our lives together.  Except if we had, we would not have ever spent a night here in Mount Vernon, Washington.  Would have driven through on the interstate yesterday afternoon and been in British Columbia already.  If we had come this way at all.

And we would have missed out on this breakfast.  And the hors d'oeuvres - tiny quiches, wraps, crudites catered by our hostess for yet a third wedding the night before (should I have seen the writing on the wall?  Shades of the Bridegroom Cometh!),  packaged up for us and pressed on us as we wheeled away.  We would have missed those savory bites, gratefully received and greedily consumed at the ferry dock sixteen miles later.  Missed them without knowing what we were missing.  And the hugs our hostess gave us and the waves of the other guests driving past as we walked our well-laden bikes down the steep and gravel drive out into the morning of a new day.

We may have glanced at but would have missed the Skagit River Produce harvester mowing through a corn field with its pleasant-faced young teen and his gray-haired father.  Because to really see a thing it helps to move along it, slowly enough to take it in. Which biking preeminently allows.


At least we didn't miss the way back into town this time, the tricky railway crossing not so very tricky in the morning light, the train station just there.  We wave at the station as we pass, glancing down its side street, looking much more cheerful than it or we had the night before.


Our original plan for today had been to cycle out from our bed & breakfast and head south and west to LaConner, then up through the Swinomish Reservation.  But after our adventures yesterday and not wanting to risk missing the ferry, we decided we'd switch and do next Friday's route now but backwards, shaving some miles by heading straight across to Anacortes. 

Of course we miss the turning west out of town.  And learn the lesson we keep learning about how the names on Google maps don't reliably match the posted road signs.  Or don't learn it, once again.  And then a bossy girl at the service station just north of town won't let us glance at her map unless we buy it.  But a trucker leans his elbow on the counter and, pointing and sketching over my worthless Google printout, tells us where we want to go back to and where we ought to turn.

And soon there we are, biking across the bridge and out into a  flat country with a long straight shot for Anacortes along a clean, wide bike lane, zipping past fruit stands and ice cream shops, temptations we've decided suddenly we have no time to stop for.


Beside us, the car traffic is steady but well-behaved, thickening but never heavy the closer we come to Anacortes, though we are increasingly glad for the well-made bike lane.  At the tall bridge over the Swinomish channel -- tall enough for sailboats to glide beneath at full-height -- we are twice-glad we changed our route to ride this northern route today instead of coming back this way next week.  Cycling the other direction we would have found the bike lane end suddenly and no way over the tall and narrow bridge except on the side of the road we are traveling today -- towards Anacortes.
 

Here's some technical for you:  Anacortes wins the Cyclist's Golden Award -- or should -- for beautiful FREE full-color maps available at the roadside in TAKE ONE boxes just the other side of the bridge. With insets to show close-ups of critical turns. 


From the bridge we escape the highway onto a low-traffic road taking us across March's Point onto a repurposed rail line built on a causeway  across Fidalgo Bay.



Biking the causeway is delightful, water on both sides and secret-feeling.  Though a secret well-shared.  No cars, so the only hazard on the Tommy Thompson Trail is avoiding other cyclists and rollerbladers and keeping our tires from rolling over sharp shards of shells everywhere from seagulls dropping shells to get at the meat.


The trail carries us around city -- mostly ferry -- traffic.  No plotting required, just pedal by pedal by pedal.  We have plenty of time now.  The moment swells bigger until it is all there is.  From the causeway we enter on a dedicated bike path that takes us almost all the way to the Guemes Channel and the ferry terminal there.


Without worrying where we're going, we wind past trees, along the water, beside boats in dry dock.  It's when we are stopped along this trail, picking blackberries, that we feel we are at last all together in our homeplace.  More at home than at our house, out along the roadway in a Pacific Northwest blackberry season with helmets on our heads.



My daughters say this out loud.  We all agree.  My heart is here, made ready for this moment by our long day pedaling together.


At the ferry terminal the ticket office is crowded -- all that traffic we saw earlier has lined up now and disgorged travellers waiting for passage.  But all their hurrying has not got them anywhere faster after all.  We buy our tickets and are sent to the front of the line where other bicyclists soon join us.  We sit together in the sun, eating our picnic of wedding hors d'oeuvres, that snack before the coming feast, until the ferry arrives and we can roll our bikes on board and tie them fast near the front. 



Now we're free to go up top, consult our maps, share out our Swedish fish, 



catch up on sleep  . . .


Dreaming of what's still ahead. 

Or not dreaming.  Not even thinking of how dear each moment is. Do I send up even the briefest prayer of gratitude?  My mind more full of mileage computation and ferry schedules.  Which route we'll take from Sidney to Brentwood Bay once we disembark.  What we need to buy for the coming weekend at Sidney's Thriftway:   

Steel cut oats. 
           I'm making a list.   
Maple cookies.  
Salad dressing.  
Soup in boxes.  
Milk in boxes.  
Honey.  
Wine gums.   
Bread. 






Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Bike Report || i will be glad and rejoice: collaboration #9

august 22, 2013

cycling the san juans - Day 1
Portland, OR,  to Mount Vernon, WA


Dawn: birds witter and coo.  The garage door rolls up.  Sun reaches in to touch our bikes: oiled and adjusted, tires firm.  Water bottles and camelbacks filled, panniers packed and hefted and repacked. We will carry nothing extra, but will have everything we need.

This is the closest glimpse I ever get of the kind of life I keep trying to balance into. So I like to indulge in this moment and dwell on it -- heading out into the morning air with my life's necessities balanced between two wheels, with my heart's inhabitants riding all around me, all going the same way together.

This is joy. Pure and simple.  And I will be glad.

For weeks I've been working out an itinerary, figuring daily distances, arranging lodging, securing tickets, procuring rain slicks and victuals.  Now all that paper cocoon is about to burst into colored wings.  I already know we won't do everything we have written down.  There will be wrong turnings and weather, but for now, rolling down the hill, my bike heavy with provisions, only gladness keeps appearing in front of my front tire.

We pedal strong: three road bikes, one folding, and a tandem.  Our youngest Mijo had wanted to pedal solo this time. But he's also spent a week worrying about being able to keep up.  Though he's been practicing all summer on longer and longer rides, learning to climb hills and build up stamina, we agree at last that the tandem with his Dad is the best safeguard for completing the 285 miles we plan to ride in the next ten days.

Our immediate goal is Union Station in Portland where we'll catch the train.  About two hours of good riding away.


The weather is delightful, a little cool.  We are strong.  Stronger than we've ever been - Eldest and Middlest in their grown and active bodies, YoungSon enjoying his first burst into the growth that will take him to manhood.  Even I have left behind the title I've held so long (The Slow One) -- this summer's spinning classes have paid off!  My legs just move at a faster pace and without thinking about it, I set a brisk pace and we begin to laugh as we click along faster and faster.

We are like a squadron of hawk, a congregation of eagle riding down the slope of the wind.
We surely do not look that way - but that's the way it feels.


Once at the station - where we arrive in good time - there's trouble with the tandem.

I keep falling for the idea of combining train and bike, but so far in my experience, it's not the marriage of true minds but mostly just impediment.  At least they didn't cancel on us last minute this time.  But Amtrak is not the train system a great nation deserves.  Despite all my phone calls to ensure that there would be room for the tandem on the train, that the tandem counted as one bike and not two, once we arrive we hit a wall of NO.

Fritz pushes back as if his irritation and frustration will matter to them.  It doesn't.  I try conciliation, "We'll appreciate anything you can do to help us.  We did proceed in good faith -- " They are unmoved but fetch someone more articulate who offers us a possibility. Maybe if we can break the tandem down -- which it's built to do but a pain -- and fold the folding bike up into its case and count it as luggage since we only have tickets for five bikes.  And there are only five bike hooks not ticketed to someone else on this train.

Fritz is not pleased, still maintaining his right and his cause. 
The tandem balks and refuses to be separated.
I take a walk around the station, praying for a peaceful heart, that inner refuge in time of trouble.
And also, please, that the tandem will be less stubborn than any of that company of men.

When I come back the tandem is in two parts and Fritz's mutters have begun to dwindle down.


 We wait on long polished wood benches beneath the high ornamented ceiling.  The station begins to fill.  I will be glad I choose and choose again.


There are reasons to rejoice just in the light pouring through the high windows.  The pattern in the stone that clads the walls.  It's surely the beauty of these stations that keeps convincing me to give the train another try.  And hope springing as per its usual tendencies.  Meanwhile, Middlest's camelback springs a leak.  The boys, from Fritz on down, bounce up and fetch paper towels and the grand mop-up ensues.



The train arrives.  We walk our bikes out and lift them into their corral and then find our own car and settle into our seats.  We make a lunch of bagel and salami, hummus and veggies.  The girls sit together ahead of us and talk with their heads together like they've done forever, like they've never been apart.  The boys read magazines while Fritz repairs Middlest's flat tire at the table between us.   Having stayed up late seeing to the last of the packing, I sleep.



I awake to hilarity from the group across the aisle.  And choose to be glad at that awaking.  They're from Vancouver, British Columbia: a woman and her husband/partner, her uncle and his wife.  They sound German and are very friendly.  We talk about Portland which they have just seen for the first time.  Voodoo Donuts.  Pioneer Square.  The Waterfront. And Alzheimer's which is Eldest's area of research -- of course they are amazed she's published papers, worked the lab, she has such a baby face. They ask about Middlest's studies and she tells them about peace-building and mediation.  They tell us stories about all their catastrophic bike rides.  More hilarity, now on both sides of the aisle.

Then the beautiful views outside our windows draw us all to look out across Puget Sound. And I do not have to remind myself to rejoice.


We pass Seattle proper and arrive in Mount Vernon in early evening, already coming on to dark.


It takes a while to reassemble the tandem.  A while we hadn't figured into the time.  But not to worry -- we're only a quick and easy 5 miles from our beds tonight.  Grateful for the headlamps and back lights we'd decided we needed yesterday at REI, we head out of town south for the Deep Woods Cabin at the Whispering Firs Bed & Breakfast -- which sounds just the place to sleep long and deep.

We ride through charming older streets. 
Cross the railroad. 
Miss a turn.
End up on the wrong side of the freeway.

Everything is good: the map I've printed off from Google shows that there's a road just further down  that will take us over the freeway and drop us off exactly where we want to be.  In the dark we ride along the empty access road, slowing to shine our headlamps on the road signs.  We find many roads that take us right up to the freeway.  And all those many roads stop just shy of crossing over.  We pedal past the E version of the W Stackpole we are looking for.

To give the despairing amongst us a little heart, we stop and eat a honey stick, a fruit snack, sesame crackers -- whichever works best for each.  The air is heavy and sweet with the smell of something ripening.  Is it corn? we wonder. The air is so delicious it must have nutritive value.  I know I should be feeling worried that my navigating plus the train's inconveniently late scheduling has stranded us out on the road after dark but though we are tired and running out of vim, it is the most beautiful night.  No traffic at all and the moon is misty and full in a velvet dark sky.  The air is heavenly.  When I say this, I notice my family's faces lightening despite the dark.  This is not tragedy, perhaps adventure.  Certainly some road will soon take us over to the other side.

And certainly one does.  We come at last to Fir Island Road where we cross over and head back up towards the road that we've been looking for.



It's so dark.  We've come an extra unplanned five miles.  And though we're all lit up like Christmas trees with flashing lights, eager we are not for any more night exploring, so Middlest uses the GPS on her phone to reassure ourselves that we are on the right road.   Which we are.  Which makes us all feel very glad. And we bike forward with light hearts into the dark.

Until we cross over a small bridge and come to the end of the road.

There are no lights to be seen.
There's no more pavement.
There's nothing promising on either side.

But we have phones and a phone number.  We call our hostess and yes, this is the right place -- just to our right, that gravel road winding sharply up the hill?  That's the one! And then a long steep climb in the dark up and up -- very long, very steep, very dark -- so steep and dark that we have to get off our weary bikes and push.

But then, so hackneyed but not any less heavenly a vision, we see a light in the trees -- the lantern she said she'd put out -- and   Ah!! cabin!  water bottles! shower! clean sheets!

Bed!!!

Already we've begun shredding the paper plan -- an hour and a half later than scheduled and closer to 40 than 30 miles. But here we are.  Rejoicing.  All safe and soon all soundly asleep.
















Tuesday, June 17, 2014

and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas: collaboration #8


june 29, 2014 - rainbow spume of hunchback whale, Sitka, Alaska
This doubling back of time, tripling back -- time turning in on itself every 150 days has begun to dizzy me.  

There's nothing exterior to keep this cycle straight.  It's not a seasonal circling like the grand processional around the sun with its regular returns of birds and familiar flowers, punctuated by the times my children fly home to me, the times they go away.  It's not a weekly breakdown of routine and small dispersals, not the moon's recognizable rolling in and out of phase.  There is no outward pattern of changing length of light, no temperature clues to tell me that  how excellent is thy name in all the earth is coming around again.  Only the austere machinery of an arbitrary order. 

Repeating days are geared together for no apparent similarity to one another, 150 days around, however they fall out, because there are 150 psalms.  And lately there are gears within gears, gearing down to smaller gears, as I've fallen into a habit of letting days slip by with a quick jot, a snapshot -- just enough to hold it in memory, maybe -- until I can stop living long enough to write about it.  And so I slide a day behind, a week behind, and now, today (the first of July), two weeks behind.

I can never write as fast as I can live it.  I can barely see it as I live it.

august 17, 2014 - juvenile literature mural, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah
 When I was a child my mother kept a yellowing paperback of the script for Our Town by Thornton Wilder in her bookshelf.  So I read it lazily, recurrently, through the summers of my growing up.  Swallowed down unquestioningly, parts of it must have become part of me when I wasn't looking.  Now I keep hearing Emily's cry:
Oh, earth, you're too wonderful for anyone to realize you. . . .  Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? 
I tell myself I'll let consider thy heavens go this time and catch it again next time around. Next time I'll sound the depths.  Next time breach the surface, breathing out some rainbow spume of praise. 

What is man, that thou art mindful of him?  Man so very unmindful, woman with mind made bare by shopping lists, small circling complaints, recurrent worries?  Even a day is too much for me to hold in mind.  When Emily, newly deceased, plans to return to relive just one day of her earlier life, she's counselled
At least, choose an unimportant day.  Choose the least important day in your life.  It will be important enough.

august 20, 2013 - top deck parking, PDX International Airport, Portland, Oregon
That is probably part of the problem.

This eighth day already dawned with too much importance.

For a long week I've sat on this post . . . waiting to recover candlelit pictures of Young's face over his thirteenth birthday cake, pictures I know I took with someone's camera somewhere of the moment my little boy crossed over into young manhood . . . hoping to discover a picture of Fritz amongst my files that could somehow illustrate the hinge-point of our marriage that this anniversary is, the day where I am as many years now married as ever I lived single.  And that was just the first time around. Now I've gone around with a little lower than the angels three times, picking up accretions of details each time I pass through.

In the order of things that is this cycle through the psalms, this is not the day I saw my first whale (that's still to come).  Nor the day Eldest flies home before our last grand All-Family Bike (that day was already.  I just forgot to mention it).

june 17, 2014 - butterfly collection, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah
This is the day of making mint chocolate birthday cake from bars of best chocolate, standing before the Indonesian statue of the flute player, reading Brazilian woodcut pamphlets and watching Brazilian futbol, eating chimichurri sauce on black pepper roast sandwiches at a small table with my youngest boy, laughing over a friend's "gastroenterology, body surfing, disturbance in the force, yeast infection, F150, desert storm, and Constantinople" posted just to throw Facebook's data-miners a curve ball, admiring the collected powdery wings of butterflies whose bodies have been stuck through with a pin, counting tuxedoes with the other mother of the groom who sounds as much at sea as I feel, walking beneath the tree with millions upon millions of tiny flowers so swoony sweet whose name I cannot bring to mind, finding Fritz and Young oiling everyone's bike chains, reading again of the heroic WWII peasants of Le Chambon, running across campus with Miho in a sudden rain, settling into theater seats for How to Train Your Dragon 2, running my eyes over and over again the jade scales of a samurai suit of armor, remembering "the gradual increase of light radiating from the rising sun is like receiving a message from God," walking the pool with a friend who has moved away, our long and easy talk - no urgency - but murmurous and comforting, and finally setting food panniers standing open propped against the freezer for tomorrow morning's ice blocks, hummus, yogurt and cut veggies.

That's the day this is. But that is not this day.  The most important thing about the day has slipped away.
We all know that something is eternal. And it ain’t houses and it ain’t names, and it ain’t earth, and it ain’t even the stars . . . everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings. All the greatest people ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years and yet you’d be surprised how people are always losing hold of it. There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being,
says the stage manager in Our Town. 

There's something eternal about every day.  

the day that this is not
So it's fitting 8 looks so much like .  In the Bible stories, as you may know, eight just means many -- eight souls saved from the flood, eight days wandering in the desert -- it was not a counting, but a sweeping characterization.  If seven is the number of completion, eight is the completion of completion, the numberless, the whole.  Seven days of creation . . . and then the eighth day?  That's just the rest of history.

And here's me, so caught up in the infinite shimmering shoals of the created that I'm forever losing sight of the eternally creative excellence that sings and shines beneath, behind, beyond it all.







Monday, June 16, 2014

lest he tear my soul like a lion: collaboration #7



Returning to the hills and valleys where I first breathed air, returns me to deeper places.

I want that to be enough to say.

I don't want to count out all the ways that what I am is woven around with the sound of crickets at evening, the weight of air in the mornings here,  the contours these slants of light bring out on the tawny foothills. I don't want to spell out all the ways, no matter where I go, I take the blue backdrop of the Wasatch for granted - for granite I first thought the saying went, glancing sideways at those big blue rocks the morning clouds crashed up against like imagined sea-spray.  I don't want to have to display all the harmonies between and within.  Any more than I want to fan out my disbelongings and disagreements (between, within) like cards for anyone to fish from.

I just want to be.  What I am.  Without discussion or argument.




Because argument feels like danger in the current climate.

As a child I felt protected by the rocky rim of mountains all around me here.  As a clever-mouthed undergraduate, I loved debate : the heady flush of words rising and sparking in the air.  I used to think truth was built between opposing views.  Maybe motherhood has given me a disgust of bickering.  Now, I hate arguing - except with Fritz (poor Fritz) who is good to me no matter what and who accepted at the outset that we would not necessarily agree. That probably we could not. That truth had to be something big enough to contain us both. 

I don't want to argue outside that safe intimacy:  the sickness of heart that rises in me when I can no longer keep still but feel compelled to stand.

thursday, january 16, 2014
You know I don't usually comment on people's political posts because there is so much passionate feeling involved.  It's a conversation that goes nowhere and does no good.
We have different opinions. But I know you are a good person doing a lot of good in the world. I'm just asking you to step back a minute and remember that when you attack liberals and insist they all believe this or that, you are attacking people like me.
Please don't call my politics evil unless you really know why I've chosen to vote the way I do.  And I promise not to call you evil because of evil effects I see arising out of some conservative legislation.

 And then I feel exposed to danger - that I will be misunderstood, yelled at, pitied, scorned, judged, accused, understood too well, undone.

 

Rather than stand and speak, I will busy myself.  Writing notes in my margins of 1 Kings, rather than argue with the warble-voiced white-haired teacher (whose class I am a visitor in) as he blithely separates J from P from E, disposing of parts of David and Saul's story as likely unhistorical and certainly awkward.  Rather than argue with the kind-faced woman who explains away the wiping out of an enemy tribe as probably more charitable if seen from God's view, I will scribble silently, No, no! to take a text as sacred means you have to deal with its hard parts, its shadows.  The relationship with God - as I believe Old Testament Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Hosea, New Testament Paul, would recognize  - being an intimacy with a knowable, but not easily knowable, partner.  

On the other hand, I don't want to have to argue why the intimacy of faith is a relationship worth working for.  Why this place is the right place for me.

And when a loved poet (Robert Hass) picks, from a multicultural list of texts that celebrate war, for special derogatory notice "the psalms of David, which are shot through with tribal self-righteousness and violence," I don't construct counter-proofs or try to argue why there may be some use to trying to live my way through the cycle of the psalms.  I only lay beside his words the words of a loved novelist (Marilynne Robinson):
The Old Testament is certainly not ours to misrepresent, since in doing so we slander the culture we took it from, an old and very evil habit among us. . . . By what standard but their own could Israel have been considered ungrateful or rebellious or corrupt?  Granting crimes and errors, which they recorded, and preserved and pondered the records of for centuries, and which were otherwise so historically minor that no one would ever have heard of them - how do those crimes compare with those of other peoples, their contemporaries or ours? . . . [The Old Testament] is an endless reconciliation achieved at great cost by a people whose relation to God is astonishingly brave and generous.  To misappropriate it as a damning witness against the Jews and "the Jewish God' is vulgar beyond belief.  And not at all uncommon, therefore.
I imagine them sitting side by side at evening on a wide porch.  Not arguing, because the peace in them and around them is so huge.  But seeing things differently and saying what they see.


My walking buddy, witty and reasonable and unbelieving, drove through these valleys a few years ago and all she saw were the billboards and rusty warehouses and dryness. My youngest, to whom this landscape is still new, can't get over the mountains with their mottled red bands and soft sagebrush hills.  "Doesn't it look like it's not real?  Doesn't it look like it was painted for a movie to be in front of?" 

But for me, this is the first real place. A place not just geographical but anatomical.  'Give!' said the little stream is not just a call to industrious generosity and social responsibility, but a steep and gurgling mountain creek of icy snowmelt I've walked in until my feet were numb.  Come, come, ye saints is not just a message to carry on and carry forward, but a patchwork of irrigated fields bordered with poplars and lilac bushes seen from a rocky point I've hiked up to through the floating drift of silky cottonwood fuzz and the sharp sweet scent of sage.

And the industrial ruins along the highways, the smoggy inversion in the high-altitude valleys, any sad flaw or misinterpretation? None of these are lastingly real for me, more like a bad haircut, a bloating illness that for a time masks the lines of a beloved face.





Sunday, June 15, 2014

mine eye is consumed: collaboration #6


 Here was an August day nothing happened.

I keep typing and backspacing.  Unwriting what I could write here.  The same way that time itself makes and unmakes.  Sweet nothing happens over and over. And builds up to all that is and then tumbles down grain by grain into nothing once again.  The kind of nothing that now feels almost painful to remember.   Days like phantom limbs in the body of memory.

This has been happening all my life.  First I was a wide-eyed bat-blind child: 


No one remembers much what happened this day.  But my mother writes back when I show her the picture in January:  "Ahhh. I wish we could go back."  I must want to go back, too, sending her this knock-kneed Valentine of my myopic self on the same day that I wade through the flat aftermath of a wedding.  I've never seen this side of a wedding -- having always been the oldest and the first to go -- I guessed at the first half, the uphill hoopla of the preparations but I never realized there was a downhill dragging down of all the bunting every bit as dismal as taking down the tree come January.  It's not grief exactly and I'm not in danger of drowning by night in my own tears, but I am weary with my groaning. 

 But if we could go back, what would we be going back to?  A day like any day in June.  No piquant sense of return if we were really there.  Nothing would seem vintage or be remembered as dear, but everything only ordinary.  A day not any more memorable than today.  We eat dinner with my parents.  We clear the table. Making and unmaking.  Before I can begin to worry where the boys have got to, Fritz has walked down to the park to call them home. 



"I am glad he is so much a hands-on father with them," I tell my mother, resting my gray head on her shoulder, "but it makes me feel somehow sad.  Before, with the girls, he never would have done that.  Then I always had to be on alert for everything.  So now I'm glad I don't have to, but also I am sad."

She leans her white head on my gray one, chuckles and sighs, "Like who am I now if I'm not who I was?"





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