Saturday, June 21, 2014

with a double heart: collaboration #12

two years ago: saturday, august 24, 2013 - sun and rain at Butchart Garden, British Columbia

1 Help, LORD; for the godly man ceaseth; 
for the faithful fail from among the children of men. 
2 They speak vanity every one with his neighbour: 
with flattering lips and with a double heart do they speak. 

  1.  Good-bye, I've said again to my oldest daughter.
  2.  As I am always saying lately.
  3.  Good-bye, I've said to her tall and slender husband.
  4.  Hugs and hugs again.  
  5.  And I've filled my lungs with the sweet air that emanates and eddies around this woman who once was my first baby, whose liquid eyes and golden skin I used to drink in, marvelling.  
  6.  We wave good-bye with a window between us now. 
  7.  I was sad yesterday at the thought of this morning's departure.
  8.  But not today.
  9.  Always the opening road makes me glad to go.
  10.  Plenty of desolate partings I've sat through.
  11.  Being driven away, a passive passenger.
  12.  But there's always some tiny glee when it's my hands hold the wheel.

two years ago: saturday, august 24, 2013 - setting out from our weekend flat in Brentwood Bay, B.C.

  1.   Maybe it's just the distraction of having decisions to make.
  2.   The pretense of getting somewhere new by going somewhere else.
  3.   The illusion of flight. 
  4.   The privilege of small choices.
  5.   Which way should I turn?
  6.   Which route should I take today south and away?
  7.   I plan to take as many Main Streets as I can.
  8.   I want to stay off the interstate as long as I'm able.
  9.   Torn between leaving Eldest earlier than I have to and regaining YoungSon as soon as I can.
  10.   He has been staying with my parents in a valley south of here.
  11.   I've missed him.
  12.   Enough to pull me forward, not enough to make me hurry.
two years ago: saturday, august 24, 2013 - whoever sticks with it longest, chooses pie!  Saanich Peninsula Country Market
  1.  I glance behind to see that Mijo  has his seat belt fastened.
  2.  He has his book.
  3.  I've got the open road.
  4.  I put a CD in -- Celebrating Wendell Berry in Music.
  5.  I bought it because I've loved Berry's books of essays on traditional farming, protecting the land, the right balance, what it means to be human.
  6.  So many long summer afternoons I've sat nursing a new baby, rocking and reading about plowing by mule, scything beneath hawk's wings, before going out to weed around my peonies and wild flax.
  7.  I am, though I say so myself, extremely well-read on small farms, organic farms, farm policy, forest farming, permaculture, and the evils of agribusiness, aka BigAg.
  8.  Though what have I ever done with that book-learning, except grow flowers and read more books?
  9.  All those hours weeding what will never feed me.
  10.  Even the lettuce I've begun planting by my front door to quiet down my conscience?
  11.  I let it spiral into towers crowned with little yellow tufts of flowers.
  12.  Loving the way sunlight shines through the veined leaves that much better than the salads I could make if I chopped it down and reseeded.
two years ago: saturday, august 24, 2013 - content to sit out this silly contest, Saanich Peninsula Country Market
  1. I don't know Berry's poetry, having read only his essays, but expect it to come intermixed with tunes a little Appalachian-esque, a little Aaron Copeland-ish.
  2. And I am not disappointed.
  3. But first, on the first CD in the 2-disk set, the first song made of chanting voices, naked of accompaniment, riding in and out like tide or wind, takes me by surprise.
  4. Listening, I wind down into the town where I was born, the town my first baby first opened her eyes in, the town this grown daughter lives in now.
  5. Past front gardens that are a riotous hodgepodge of flowers, or weedy and sad, or clipped with steely restraint and careful blooms in rank and file.
  6. I drive past fruit tree standing in the lawn and an empty chair beneath.
  7. Past grapevine on rusting chain-link next to the cemetery.
  8. Over the hills, through the next town south where I first brought my first babies home so long ago, not so long ago.
  9. I find tears on my face, though I am not sad.
  10. I will play this for my father who always cries at Mozart and bluegrass and old hymns and any music that he loves.
  11. All these years later I'm still trying to find ways to talk with him.
  12. All those years when I was growing up in Midwestern exile and we only mowed grass and planted impatiens.
two years ago: saturday, august 24, 2013 - Fritz and his Eldest, jazzercise champions! which means it's rhubarb strawberry pie, Saanich Peninsula Country Market

  1. Now he and my mother have returned to live on the farm where he lived as a boy.
  2. His garden now shames me, rows and rows of vegetables.
  3. And beyond that an orchard newly planted. 
  4. And meanwhile I've lost State Street again.
  5. State Street, I've always been told, is a road built in pioneer days to bead together all the Main Streets of these little mountain towns.
  6. Times have changed and the roads also.
  7. Nowadays all the roads keep trying to drive me onto the freeway.
  8. Too soon I'm zooming too fast with three lanes rumbling right beside me.
  9. I'll still get there: all roads run only north and south through the long valleys here unless I climb up over the mountains.
  10. But what I'm looking for are little brick buildings with fancy false fronts, tiny banks with neo-Greek pillars.
  11. I want to see tidy front yards, abandoned houses, swing sets, a goat tethered in the weeds, easy flowers billowing over the sidewalk.
  12. Not billboards of the happiness I could try to buy.
two years ago: saturday, august 24, 2013 - listening to music, having eaten pie with fingers, Saanich Peninsula Country Market
  1. Maybe I will not play this music for my father after all.
  2. Because he may not, after all, get satisfyingly teary when he hears it.
  3. I remember what he thinks of college professors who make a living writing about life on the farm.
  4. My father who left the farm because there was no living to be made there.
  5. "Who are these small farmers you keep talking about?" he teases.  
  6. "Like leprechauns?  With miniature cattle?"
  7. And besides, before the end of the first CD I've grown weary myself with listening to all this earnestly hagiographic husbandry.
  8. Which I realize with every mile burning up more fossil fuels I will never actually come to live.
  9. And also, the way the composer repeats every line of the poem again and again against his melodic lines is beginning to ride me.
  10. First with the music going up, then with the music going down, as if the composer can't quite find the tune that's true.
  11. Better is the second CD in the set by a blues guitarist : more true to the austere line Berry writes.
  12. Though I find afterwards, reading the liner notes, that to achieve that more authentic simplicity sometimes the guitarist has had to rewrite Berry's words.

two years ago:  saturday, august 24, 2013 - right before it begins to rain, Saanich Peninsula Country Market, B.C.

  1. Either way, either CD playing, I just keep driving down the long road. 
  2. I've always said what I love best about our bike rides is taking to the open road.
  3. Which can't be true, considering the hours I spend plotting out best routes and counter-routes, spreading maps out on the floor.
  4. I have also said it's the planning beforehand I love the best.
  5. The perfect paper plot with all its interlocking pieces fit together.
  6. They can't both be best, though they are.
  7. The delicious tug between knowing and not knowing quite what to expect.
  8. Though so often expectations fail.
  9.  Like when we cycled seventy miles to end up at what was, let's face it, a pretty dispiriting farmer's market at the end of a Canadian summer.
  10.  So this is the Saanich Peninsula Country Market.
  11.  My family glanced around at the scatter of booths.
  12.  But at least they have homemade pies! I said.

two years ago: saturday, august 24, 2013 - out of the rain into a room full of wings, Victoria Butterfly Garden
  1. And at the same moment my oldest daughter said, But look, they have community aerobics!
  2. So after bouncing to the beat with a few hilarious white-haired ladies, we sat and listened with real pleasure to the live music played by a quartet of old guys, Out Stealing Mules.
  3. Retired dentists and school teachers on banjo, bass, mandolin and fiddle.
  4. Our fingers were sticky with homemade strawberry rhubarb.
  5. Because there were no forks.
  6. Because at this point, we'd invested too much in this enterprise to let it fail.
  7. And besides when it began to rain we were going to have to ride away anyway.
  8. Half hour later when it began to rain, we biked through feather spray from new puddles to a butterfly garden I'd resisted on earlier trips as a tourist trap, but which turned out to be a piece of paradise.
  9. Though maybe the riding through the wet and chill helped make it so.
  10. But the next stop after that,  a few hours later, biking to a garden we'd loved in years past and cherished the memory of for years after, that day was tired and wilted and overcrowded.
  11. You never know just what you'll find.

two years ago: saturday, august 24, 2013 - plumeria memories pulling her away, Victoria Butterfly Garden

  1. Just as today all I really know is that as long as I am heading south I can't get lost.
  2. Not that I have ever really let myself be lost, not really lost, not lost lost.
  3. Maybe because I've read too many maps, or carry too many with me, or follow them too carefully, or am too cautious in my plotting, or only travel in places with such guardian boundaries -- long mountain ranges, mighty rivers, the ocean shore -- that I am always funneled back into my place.
  4. Or is it just that I don't mind stopping to ask directions?
  5. Is this a failing?
  6. As a teen, hired as mother's helper to a woman who ran a booming business from her home, I'd head out with the stroller every afternoon to try to lose my way for the rest of the afternoon.
  7. That is, once I'd washed the dishes and cleaned the floors and typed up her correspondence, whiting out typos.
  8. Or rather pinking them out, to match her pale rose stationery with embossed letterhead.
  9. After that and after I'd fed lunch to the baby and changed the baby and slathered sunscreen on the baby.
  10. And let the fluffy mop dog out into the fenced backyard.
  11. And locked the door behind us.
  12. Then I'd go out on the roads around and try to lose myself. 

two years ago: saturday, august 24, 2013 - riding the merry-go-round, Butchart Garden

  1. But not seriously, because I had the lady's baby with me in a stroller.
  2. Every day I pushed the stroller through that wooded suburb a different direction.
  3. Every day the veins of the roadways etched themselves more deeply into my brain.
  4. Until by the end of the summer I couldn't even pretend that I could lose my way.
  5. I wasn't ever really trying.
  6. Reading the road names without meaning to.
  7. Memorizing how each led into another without trying to.
  8. Unconsciously tracking the minutes before we arrived back home.  
  9. Right on time to change the baby's diaper and set her down on a blanket on the wooden floor in the air-conditioning.
  10. Right before the mother came home to lift her rested, clean, and smiling child up into her arms.
  11. "You are so good with her," she said.
  12. And paid me well for always finding my way back home
 two years ago: saturday, august 24, 2013 - off to explore, Butchart Garden
  1. Home is where I always keep finding myself.
  2. Though I worry sometimes how I can ever really be found.
  3. If I've never really been lost.
  4. Even when I think for a little while I might be.
  5. For example, like right now, driving south between my married daughter's and my parents' houses.
  6. I don't know exactly where I'm going, but I know where I'll end up.
  7. Or I'm pretty sure I know.
  8. I dreamed once I had died and gone to heaven.
  9. It looked discouragingly like the chapel I attended weekly.
  10. To meet me at the door was a grinner with big ears.
  11. Welcome, he said, you made it right on time!
  12.  Come in, come in!  We've planned such a special treat this evening for you.
two years ago: saturday, august 24, 2013 - horsing around, Butchart Garden
  1. But all it was was a talent show.
  2. All the local offerings, a junk drawer of indifferent talents.
  3. Trumpet blarps and squonks, enthusiastic warbling, knock- kneed dancing.
  4. Everyone seemed so happy.
  5. Happy to perform, to sit in the audience singing along, to throw their arms around each other, to sway big bellied, to laugh with their mouths wide open, to bounce babies on their knees.
  6. They all let their children run around them, happy as crickets, bumping into chairs, uncombed hair floating around their heads like halos, unwiped noses, hands beating together, each leading their own parades.
  7. This can't be right, I said.
  8. But the grinner turned to me and nodded, tapping his knee in some syncopated rhythm beyond the music.
  9. I demand to see the Higher Up, I said, knowing he'd know just Whom I meant.
  10. He grinned even more, They're here.  Just wait.  You'll see.
  11. I woke.
  12. And since, I've wondered. 
two years ago:  saturday, august 24, 2013 - walking home in the dark from Butchart Garden

Friday, June 20, 2014

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

sunday, june 15, 2014 - Salt Lake City temple

1 In the LORD put I my trust: 
how say ye to my soul, 
Flee as a bird to your mountain? 
2 For, lo, the wicked bend their bow, 
they make ready their arrow upon the string, 
that they may privily shoot at the upright in heart. 
3 If the foundations be destroyed, 
what can the righteous do? 
4 The LORD is in his holy temple, 
the LORD’s throne is in heaven: 
his eyes behold, his eyelids try, the children of men. 

What is praise?
"Here, Mom.  Sit here.  I'm going to take your picture."  

I sit.  He takes.  I take pictures then of him.

"Can I have the camera again?  I want to take a picture of the angel."

We walk around the building, our eyes riding its granite walls up beyond the triple crenelations.  Up beyond the tip of the stylized peaks.  Up even beyond the mountain behind us, where this temple's granite was quarried.  Up into the obscuring blue that curtains the starlight and the stretch of space from our daytime eyes so far below, so near the pavement gazing up.

My youngest and I are being tourists today.  Just the two of us.   He wants to see Temple Square.  Has been wanting to.  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.

Is praise the time we take?

We park across the street from the gardens of Temple Square, outside the Conference Center where twice a year the men and women who lead our church give addresses in a two-day broadcast.

Our family has made a holiday of this semi-annual broadcast -- watching on a television screen in our local church building, sitting in the women's room with the padded folding chairs, while miles away and yet right here in front of us, there are the leaders speaking and choir singing  Not planning to, we've made of this watching a holiday, stubbornly homely, inelegant and beloved -- listening together, taking notes of the ideas that most inspire or trouble or give us answer -- amidst blanket forts and chalkboard word games and the many-years-long crocheting of a red wool throw.  We watch others of our faith on the screen, filing into the Conference Center and we stand with them to sing, but between sessions we bounce into the church gym to play basketball. And during sessions nibble on conference cookies, fruit snacks, hummus, and baby carrots.  And we've done that every year, one weekend every six months, while our children have grown up around us.  So the Conference Center is familiar in the deep sense, though my boy has never been inside and I have only been once or twice.

The Conference Center was built to replace the old Tabernacle that held the conferences of my childhood (and my grandparents' childhoods and their grandparents'), a lovely building which is still used for the-once-a-week broadcast of the famous choir and for musical performances throughout the year.  The Tabernacle was built back in pioneer days.

sunday, june 15, 2014 - Salt Lake Tabernacle
So for historical reasons, my youngest and I first wander inside the down-turned eggshell of the Tabernacle.  A young woman in a wheelchair greets us with a brilliant smile.  We 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 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.  
The sound kind of wove around itself.  

My boy nods.

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

The new Conference Center is much larger than the historic Tabernacle.  Wood-paneled foyers soar outside the vast red-velvet auditorium.  My youngest son stands before the paintings of scripture stories in the gallery on the second floor, admires the waterfall splashing down outside one glassed cliffside of the building.  Outside, the roof of the Conference Center is a mountain landscape, the tops of the city's buildings beyond like neighboring peaks.  Our guide takes us out there to walk along the channeled water courses. Across the valley, beyond the salty lake, our eyes trace a blue bumpy border, while at our back the tallest peaks rear up, rocky and unchanged.

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 nearest mountain outside my back door.  I could have sung to you, "How firm a foundation" pointing at that sharp-edged peak, "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 down-turned bowl centered exactly over our lilac-flowered alfalfa field, a dome of bluest blue streaking red before sieving down starlight.

It was to the mountains that my family, and every other family 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 pillared with white aspen, 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 purple 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 we small stick-figures could make down here: always, at best, a smaller, tamer copy of the mountain.  And the mountain themselves: only wild heaven's stillest echo.

But an echo still.

monday, june 23, 2014 - morning mountains I don't know the name of, 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 mountains I see now from my Oregon home are not 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 those 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," by Denise Levertov

But even when I forget the mountains rising just across the river from my present home, the mountains of my childhood are in me deep.   Almost every morning and every evening I hum mostly 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 handwashing; 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.
Directed the best that we knew how.

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

saturday, june 14, 2014 - building site on West Mountain
Later this week my mother and I will be 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.  Because of Life: Worship.

I've grown up believing Life = Praise, or should.  Weeding is a prayer.  Planting seeds a hymn of hope.  The kitchen table a place of sacrament.  Not instead of our prayers and hymns and sacraments on Sundays, but those Sunday observations 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 hugged myself with delight at 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, so many ways our devotion could be sidetracked by performance.

Sincerity was unadorned and ragged at the edges.

thursday, june 19, 2014 - snail shells from my married daughter's garden, beneath Y Mountain

Of course raggedness can be assumed and plainness polished from long use, but at least, 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, voices from various former professions, accents from increasingly diverse countries.

Because no one earthly voice is ever enough alone to echo Heaven's.

And the small lives we live keep pulling us out of ourselves into communion with one another where an honest day's work can be the fulfillment of a vow, patience a daily sacrament, where we may bow our heads to hear the beat of the sad hearts we work beside, where we may make the rare harmony of holding our tongues in peace, or may find a way to disagree with love.

And even if loaves rising like prayer, pea-vines climbing with devotion, bottled peaches like a row of candles,  even the organ swell of our children's laughing will tend to curl in upon themselves -- good bread its own end, motherhood an idol that we worship blindly -- at least in themselves all these have the daily virtue of being long works and repetitively small and never really finished.  And thus perhaps 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
A journalist once asked, 
 “If you do not use the cross, what is the symbol of your religion?”

[We] 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? 
How am I supposed to launch  my  soul into praise? I thought it was asking.

Is the soul a bird? Hopeful as.  (That thing with feathers.)  Joyous.  Rising lark.  Swooping swallow.  Or small and hungry.  Furious hummer.  Or larger, hungrier.  Soul as condor.  Bloody-headed vulture waiting, circling.  Baby bird all mouth and frantic panting squeak of hunger.  Flightless  ostrich, dipping head into the sand to tend her nest.  As fearfully misunderstood as. Lazy, lying cuckoo. Limping killdeer's protective gesture of deceit.  Daddy-daycare dapperness of penguins, eggs cradled on responsible yellow feet.  The beaky ballerina 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.

I have been, could be all of these.  But in which was I supposed to wing to heaven's high hill?  And once arrived, caw or warble or shriek my praise? 

Of course, I've already known that every reading is a misreading, every translation a mistranslation.

But seriously, I had been arguing with the psalm in the direction it already meant to go.  Instead of resisting the gorgeous upward flight of praise,  I find 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!" 
Though even misreadings can be instructive - the place that hides the place where the true place is. 

thursday, june 19, 2014 - my daughter's new garden at the foot of Y Mountain
In my married daughter's garden, while my youngest son wrestled and played tag with the new husband, we two women transplanted 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 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 saving promise) I caught my breath at 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.   Not to mention how

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, steady slow unthinking angel of death.  Not a picture of any truth beyond its own self-referential hunger.  Or am I wrong?

Why not?
Is this consuming of God's good green earth a snail's praise?
Or is it not?

thursday, june 19, 2014 - blue snail beneath Y Mountain
All is not well.

And yet --

And though I live in hopes that someday it will be well, shall be well, all manner of thing be well --

And meanwhile I sit down again to this morning's hungry praise, my daily quarrel with the psalms and all the broken beautiful that lies beyond them --

And that sitting down again, in hunger and a confusion of wings --

And this too is praise.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Bike Report || cause thine ear to hear; collaboration #10

                                                 august 23, 2013 

17 Lord, thou hast heard the desire of the humble: 

thou wilt prepare their heart, 
thou wilt cause thine ear to hear

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.  For which we are not sad.

august 23, 2013

Particularly because our window is propped open with a stubby antler.  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.

august 23, 2013

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.

august 23, 2013

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.

august 23, 2013

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,  better than poetry, especially 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. 

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.

And an attractive young couple here for a different wedding.  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 bubbling 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?

august 23, 2013

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. 

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 later the lunch of  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.

august 23, 2013

We cycled back into town, 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 La Conner, 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.

august 23, 2013

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 bike lane at all over the tall and narrow bridge  -- except on the side of the road we are traveling today -- towards Anacortes.
august 23, 2013

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.

august 23, 2013

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.

august 23, 2013

The trail on the other side of the bay 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.

august 23, 2013

Without worrying where we're going (trails are so delightful that way!), 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.

august 23, 2013

My daughters say this out loud.

We all agree.

My heart is here, made ready for this moment by our long day pedaling together.

august 23, 2013

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. 

august 23, 2013

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

august 23, 2013

catch up on sleep  . . .

august 23, 2013

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?  Today's psalm is far too dark to light my way.  I shall not be moved: for I shall never be in adversity the words of the wicked the only words that resonate with me -- which maybe should give me pause But my eyes are full of all-day sunlight.  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.  
Wine gums.   

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

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

august 22, 2013

1 I will praise thee, O LORD, with my whole heart; 
I will shew forth all thy marvellous works. 
2 I will be glad and rejoice in thee: 
I will sing praise to thy name, O thou most High. 
9 The LORD also will be a refuge for the oppressed, 
a refuge in times of trouble. 
10 And they that know thy name will put their trust in thee: 
for thou, LORD, hast not forsaken them that seek thee. 1
1 Sing praises to the LORD, which dwelleth in Zion: 
declare among the people his doings. 

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 has also spent this past 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, choosing joy again.  And why not?

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, as if 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 must shake myself before I can 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.  Each time I turn to tell them how lovely, 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.  We could groan but instead laugh at ourselves and at this certainly supererogatory*   hill.

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!!  Our gladness over each of these so much more immense than we could have imagined when we set out this morning.

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.  In refuge despite our times of trouble.  All safe and soon all soundly asleep.

*observed or performed to an extent not enjoined or required (!!!)

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