I Don’t Mind Hauling my Tent

The morning already shines brightly on the marsh this late August morning; small birds dart on the close cut channels, tall reeds sway in the slight breeze. The final week of a summer, most would probably say, gone by in a blink and full of hard news and troubling times all juxtaposed with the small-not-small annoyance of the local grocery chain saga here in New England. With so much life at stake in other places, why can’t these folks work it out?

But today I return to the train car carrying my small red borrowed tent, just in from a week camping with students and staff in Yellowstone. It would take volumes to convey the beauty and grandeur of such a marvelous place. Steam rises from bubbling mudpots next to cold, fast moving streams, ones where anglers dare to dream they will tie the fly and catch their catch. Mountains, meadows, valleys, rocks of the ancient Earth pushed up to meet a changing sky; it is a place that had to be protected, and so it was by the explorations and senses of men of a different time.

We all know that each season and location has its own beauty. Sometimes we need practiced eyes and an open mind to see something greater than what we expect to see. As I catch up on the news, I hope all of us will soon see peace where there seems to be none, and stability where much of life itself is not protected but destroyed. Right now I am fortunate to be able to close my eyes and see in my mind’s eye the vistas I just left. This is gift but I want more. I want more lands protected so that others may see, and I want them, the others, alive and able to see them.

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Chaotic Love

Some readers will know we’ve had great joy in the marriage our of daughter nearly two weeks ago. Just yesterday a friend who attended remarked upon it, quoting Chesterton: “Break the conventions, keep the commandments.” Upon reflection, the bride and groom did dispense with some of the “customs” (throwing bouquets, cake, first dances); I, and probably most people there, never missed them. Instead we were treated to a couple who concentrated on their vows and consecrated to God their future life together. Doughnuts replaced cake, a surprise solo replaced the dance, and all shared conversation and good wishes under a warm June sun.

But in all this joy, one of the most meaningful gifts I received was during the groom’s remarks at the Rehearsal dinner. I’m not familiar with a custom of a groom thanking his parents, the bride’s parents, and then saying a few things about the bride. If this is not a popular practice, it should be, since his thoughts that night and those shared by others, set the table appropriately for the joy and solemn occasion about to happen.

My now son-in-law, like me, my daughter, and many others, has read most of the Madeleine L’Engle books out there. When he thanked my husband and I for our family and its life, he likened us to the Murry family in A Wrinkle in Time. As he spoke I could recall vividly Meg, Charles Wallace, Mr and Mrs Murry, her science lab, the large dog Fortinbras, the storm, the kitchen, Mrs. Whatsit and all the rest. This is high praise indeed: our family, like the wonderful Murrays?

The youngest of my four is now 17, my oldest, nearly 28. All are in those more seasoned stages of transitions: work, degree completion (or beginning); married life, and (one) having children in her own family. It seems like yesterday they were young children gathering, as they still do, around the kitchen table or streaming, as they still do, through the house and all its disrepairs and clutter to find their next adventure.

When my husband asked me later why I was so moved by this comparison, and what it meant, the only and first words to drop from my lips were those above: Chaotic Love. It’s not that the love is chaotic, rather, there is somehow, mysteriously, what I hope is a balance: the chaos of surroundings—the laundry piles, the wren nesting in the house frame, all the un-done around us- these do not overshadow the gravitas of deep love.

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18 Hours

Yesterday was a day full of everything. It’s easy to rise well before 6:00 in the early morning light of such long days, and work well into the evenings. Suddenly the small numbers on the laptop can read 11:45pm. One can hardly believe the day is still going on and you are still in it!

Early starts lead to much accomplished: the wedding tent permit, pool chemicals, printed-out photos of the parking space in question that generated a two hundred dollar ticket the night before. Because the avalanche of laundry seemed to teeter despite the careful balance of baskets on brackets, we made a run to the local laundromat, which resulted in lines of flapping shower curtains and other odd bits hanging out back. A quick run to the grocery for supplies to deal with the carpet issues. Throw in an evening meeting down to the school. Take a call from the fire department chief back Kentucky way, and then set to the “real job” finding theses in Paris and Ohio for the geology team.

It was when I lay down stiff as a board at midnight that I realized I’d basically been running for 18 hours. The lushness of no moving parts was like a mechanical pencil laid to rest. I drifted off into sleep without our trusty fan (that had been deployed to try and deal with the carpet issues) and although the sleep was not ultra deep, it got the job done. Perhaps sheer exhaustion helped my mind set aside the broken transmission, the broken dishwasher and that pesky parking ticket. The day had been glorious sun with lovely breeze. Is anything so lovely as a day in June? My mother thought not judging by the times I heard that old rune.

Now on the train home I drop my pass as I doze off, my fellow bench passenger coming to my rescue. As I put on my sweater, a moth files out. I pick up my new library book, Sweeping Beauty: Contemporary Women Poets Do Housework and already feel some kindred spirits may emerge. Will they share my deep thoughts of late, such as true love doesn’t mean you need to be together all the time, but rather that you can be apart? Will they reflect on saying Yes as a parent when you can, so you can say No when you have to? Perhaps one of the poets will inspire me to figure out what I meant when I scrawled on a napkin now posted on my bulletin board: “soul grabbing but not gut wrenching.”

Ah, full days, full evenings, full of summer sun on the best of days, and with a breath of breeze on the perfect ones. I know our world hurts and many people in it, and I raise a note of praise to those who work while others sleep, or read or write about their wonderful days while wishing life was full of them for everyone.

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Blue Flame

Days of summer are nearly upon us. I say nearly since, although here in New England we had a spectacular weekend, today and later this week our low temps will be in the 50’s once again. This means the armaments of our wardrobe have expanded rather than permanently contracted: the fleece and thick socks remain and the mud boots and baseball caps (for those of us who can’t find the umbrellas: everyone in my house) are front and center, and the shorts continue to be exhumed. Still, it’s a welcome transition, and reflects, I suppose, the speed at which our own household is changing.

Our youngest is nearing the middle of a 3 week school trip to France and Germany via Switzerland. The “middlers,” as they are affectionately known, are here at home until the elder middler marries in a little over 2 weeks. She and I have flown to Texas and back, my husband has flown to LAX and back, and elsewhere in the mix, the real oldest and her husband moved their household of 3 to a relative’s basement as they await a more permanent move out of the Rockies into the Corn Belt. All are on the move.

So here enter the blue flame, the indigo bunting we saw dart across our path at least 3 weeks ago on the morning marsh walk. Fast and flighty, he was quite the contrast to the majestic eagle of the last post. In his, different way, this little bird lit up the air, rushing into the lush greenery for another bug, another perch, or, perhaps, a rest.

For rest he does need occasionally, and so do we all. Days are full and we fill their extended light with so many things to which we need attend. Thus it is good to consider, even for a brief moment, the blue flame and the wake that follows. His image has simply stuck with me through all our own flights. In my mind’s eye I can still see him, and then he’s gone.

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Statistics, Javelins and Eagles

It seems in recent weeks that time and inspiration have been in low supply as I struggle to get many tasks done in all realms at the finish of another school year. With a full day ahead of me today, miles to drive, meetings to attend or lead, and having burnt the midnight oil to the point of sleeping in my clothes on the daybed with the dog last night, the morning dog walk on the marsh was not something I expected to savor.

As we strode along, my mind began its usual pull between restful watching and frantic inventory. I found myself considering the statistic I heard in a new film I saw on the weekend: “When God Left the Building.” Can 4000 churches be closing every year? I wondered: did God really leave? Or did people make mistakes? Or both?

About this time I realized I’d unconsciously grabbed and was toting a large stick in my hand.  Now I wondered about this fake javelin. Would it really protect us from the fisher I’d seen two weeks ago? What was I going to do? Hurl the thing and hope for the best? Weird.

Which oddly brings me to the real gift of this slip-slod morning. There’s simply no way to escape the glory of spring and the beauty of the fields this time of year. And because my family is attuned to land, be it fields of England or farms of Kentucky, it’s normal to think of growing up with this land, and therefore of parents as we walk. One year ago I was helping Mom recover from what would be her fourth and final surgery. Six months from that time, she left us. And now six more months on, I take one more step past the fiddleheads and across the meadow, tears in the eye and lump in throat.

Back in the car the dog and I motor down the turnpike, and I think of all these things. And suddenly, right out of nowhere, just at the spot where Mill River passes under Route 1, a very large, white-headed, brown bodied bird flies up. No mistaking that golden, big beak: Bald Eagle!

I whip the car around and park in the lay-by on the other side. And sure enough, there he sits. Showing me himself and making me, calling me to remember the cover art on Mom’s funeral bulletin: “I will rise up with wings like eagles.” Isaiah said it, and Mom lived it.

Perhaps you’ve prayed the selfish prayers I did at my parents’ passing: “Mom, Dad…please find a way to let me know you are OK.” So when these things happen, and I’ve had them all: eagles, shooting stars, gifts of money from the grave, calls from others on particularly rough days: are they signs, wonders, or mere coincidences? Surely they a matter of the heart, and of seeing by faith, with thanksgiving.

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Scale of the Unexpected

The warmth of the sun through this eastern side of the morning train is a welcome source of spring promise today. Passengers climb on wearing every kind of dress, parkas to shorts, all trying to plan for wide temperature swings during these lengthening days. For me, the return from the warmth of South Africa, its landscape, and all that I saw, has been a wide journey also. The unexpected opportunity of the trip has caused me to think often about the journey and the place of the “unexpected” in our lives.

And the varying scale. We live at a particular scale as we head into each day and do the work that lies before us. It’s a human, walking forward, maybe falling back a step or two kind of scale. But there are many, many scales, and many forms of the unexpected. Are we resilient enough for them all? The large scale of an across-the-ocean trip was humbling, but when I saw a bald eagle fly over the river yesterday, I also felt some smallness, some humility, and was also taken by surprise.

Later that afternoon I watched proceedings on a much smaller scale: my son pipetting tiny, microliter amounts of chemicals into tiny, tiny capped beakers in order to run PCRs to look for DNA of bacteria. And just now, when I glanced up at the electronic billboard to check on the status of the incoming train, I realized today’s date of 4 10 14 when read right to left gives the same date, a numerical palindrome, I suspect (and probably not a surprise to those who follow such things). Small things, small signs, small thoughts.

All this is to say I guess surprises large and small come upon us all as we try to keep moving forward, day in and day out. It’s good for us to keep our eyes open for the small moments, and realize the micro-and macro-events going on around us all the time.

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“Under African Skies”

The warm night is ending for us here in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, where I have travelled with a group of MIT students and staff for a week. We are learning more about the water and flooding risks and events, and much, much more about the people and history, the past and the present times of this land. We will return after a week of learning while being immersed in a place with such a long history and a twenty year old new beginning.

Our first day showed us local geology, elephants in the Addo, and large sand dunes at the mouth of the Sunday River. Each night is humid, each day, warm. We are welcomed and challenged. We will go home changed.

Readers who want to follow our story will find it here: terrascopetrip2017.blogspot.com. There will be thoughtful  contributions as the students grapple with finding technical “solutions” while , perhaps more importantly, grappling with the integration of these with the on-the-ground realities.

Tomorrow we begin again, and I will again see the Indian Ocean, a particular thrill.

 

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