In the Rockies

In the Rockies
Butler Gulch

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Into the Midnight Sun -- Inspirations in the Shetlands and Orkney Islands

Crossing the Arctic Circle

It was a wonderful trip! That said, it wasn't a trip I chose, but one my friend had in mind to take with his late wife and my dear friend. He did want me to enjoy it to the fullest and was very generous with the extras. I have a red Viking fleece that matched his, and turned down his offer to buy a heavy sweater from the ship's store since in Tennessee I'd rarely wear it. I had two lovely massages and a facial, all by a masseuse who was excellent. We had not one, but two bottles of champagne and cheese trays in our suite.

We were on the next to the top floor in a 2-room suite with a balcony, a feature for all cabins on this ship. The Viking Sky is beautiful, fairly new, and it was impossible to believe that with the crew, more than 900 people were aboard. Occasionally, if we ate breakfast in the main dining room shortly before leaving for the day's excursion, we would have to search for a table. Getting to a preferred lecture late might mean sitting in the far back of the auditorium, but there were no bad seats. I was always easily able to find a solitary spot in which to write on the days when we were at sea.

As I learned on our Great Lakes cruise last summer, it is nice to unpack once for the duration of the trip. That said, I would have liked more time in several of the ports, but this trip was planned to cover a large area. I walked in a few of the towns after the day's excursion or skipped something to just be in the communities. However, the places where we docked have a cruise economy so we weren't the only cruise ship in port most days as you can see in the photo looking down at Geiranger in Norway. We were the largest ship allowed down that fjord to the town.





What I liked most about cruising was being on the sea with the long light and the inspiration of  changing skies, slowly moving up the Geiranger fjord with its lovely waterfalls, moving past small farms and villages when near the shores and the spectacular beauty of nature that awaited us each day and night. I stayed up until 2 am twice on the longest days, taking photos, inspired and awed by the beauty of the skies and seas.

We began in London where I met a friend I'd known when she was studying in Boulder. We walked to the Greenwich Mean Time clock, the park around it and had a delightful visit. That evening my traveling companion and I took a boat ride down the Thames to ride the London "Eye" above. The next day we traveled to Windsor to tour the castle and eat at a local restaurant. The Queen's flag was whipping in the wind on the turret, signifying that she was in residence, not that we would have otherwise known.












Edinburgh was our second stop, but we did not see that city. Instead my non-golfer companion wanted to visit St. Andrews and see the famed golf course. The rain that day was gentle with little wind. My accomplishment was to purchase my son, an avid golfer, a St. Andrews golf shirt for his birthday, and a couple of smaller St. Andrews souvenirs. I did take my umbrella and walk through the streets of the old city, finding the spot where a young priest who was teaching Lutheran doctrine was burned at the stake, becoming the first martyr of the Scottish Reformation.











I felt a kinship with the Shetland Islands, below. However, the time spent preparing and the privilege granted to be on the committee for their once-a-year Viking Festival seemed too much though interesting to learn about. We took an excursion on a replica of a Viking "row" boat and tried our hand (and arms) at the oars. My companion thought he was the only one who got the rhythm--but then he was in front and couldn't see others. In the photo below, see the oars, those long poles that are wrapped when we weren't using them.

I skipped the last museum on the tour, walked back to a local crafts shop and chatted with the artisans, had lunch in a restaurant near the water recommended by the crafts people, and walked back to take photos of Lerwick's flower gardens.



While I would enjoy revisiting the Shetlands, I was most attracted to the Orkneys, I read Amy Liptrot's memoir about life on a remote Orkney island before leaving on the cruise, and her descriptions of the islands left me feeling familiar with them when I arrived. I chose a hike along the shore and through the fields down to the sea and the stone-built Neolithic Skara Brae preserved community that dates back 5000 years. We had a native guide (which wasn't always the case), and when I caught up with her to asked about Amy Liptrot, we had a delightful conversation about writing. She suggested that several residents would rent me a room or an apartment should I want to come there and write. It could be tempting!

That was the first hike I took with a new friend from near Toronto, nice to have someone else who both wanted to take photos and catch up with the hike leader.  We only saw the standing stones from the bus, and didn't have time to spend visiting the famous cathedral and walk around in Kirkwall, the largest town and capital of the Orkneys. That town was first mentioned in 1046 as the home of a particular Orkney Earl.





Neither of these islands had mountains in the background. The rolling hills were very green, and the beach near Skara Brae was sandy. Still, I felt a deep connection.

I could see writing a follow-up novel to the one I'm working on and have its main setting in the Orkneys.

I'll close this blog with gratitude for the time I spent exploring and being on these islands.
Next: Norway.



Monday, September 4, 2017

Returning Home


                                                           A Waterfall Hike in Norway

After a summer spent mostly away from my home in Nashville, I returned to see my surroundings and the activities in which I participate newly. It was a slow return as I stopped in Kansas to spend time in the area where my novel is set, and made a quick one-day stop in Missouri before heading home from three weeks in Colorado. After a delightful cruise, I had spent time with dear friends, was feted with a lovely party, and had several wonderful hikes. I visited with and saw grandson Sam perform in two productions, and in the Lion King, he was Scar, a great role for him! Since I'd been away for so much of the summer, I was ready to be back in my apartment but knew the return to ordinary life would have its jolts.

I was welcomed by those friends in my apartment building and quickly attended a 70th birthday party for a casual friend. My oldest--in terms of friendship--friends were glad I was back, and I was happy to see them. And I welcomed my son and daughter-in-law for a delightful evening as quickly as I recovered from my travels enough to put a nice dinner together. It was great to see all of them!

I was welcomed by my Pilates teacher with a big hug and a hearty welcome back, also by the two or three other class participants with whom I exchange greetings, though this is not a "community" class. My young dynamite CORE teacher, in whose class I had just started before leaving was delighted that I came back to the class.

The staff members with whom I volunteer at Cheekwood were very appreciative that I helped with the Eclipse party though I will attend my first docent meeting this Thursday.
                                                                      Eclipse Shadows
               
I got to stay with an old friend and visit another in Estes Park and take favorite hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park. I had a delightful easy hike/walk with a couple I enjoy and two rain enlivened hikes with my long-time hiking friend who was visiting from California. And I joined the more robust contingent of St. John's hikers for two favorite hikes, though only one hiker was an old friend, disappointing though I enjoyed those with whom I hiked. When I returned and vowed to get up early and make the 7 am hike at my favorite Radnor Lake, I didn't expect a particular welcome as I'm not a regular, and one woman was coming off months on the Appalachian trail.  However, two or three noticed that I had returned and asked about my summer.
                                           Columbine in the Butler Gulch Meadow -- Colorado

Returning to services at St. John's Episcopal Church in Boulder is both heart-warming and emotional. Likely that will always feel like my church home, though there are many new members in the two years since I left. However, my clergy friends, the healing prayer team, who graciously invited me to join them in a training session for new members, my Daughters of the King friends and others, made me very welcome. I wondered that first Sunday, if I would feel badly when I returned to the Cathedral here, but realized the second Sunday I visited that I would be all right. That was true, as I was one of the chalice bearers my first Sunday morning service back, and served again this past week. Those with whom we serve are always gracious and I meet new people each time. Returning to Christ Church Cathedral had a bit of a feel of coming home!

My return to the centering prayer group, a group I've considered "my home group" was different than expected. The overall centering prayer leader had been away three weeks and was welcomed heartily. I was barely noticed, except for my one closer friend, with whom I had already communicated. I was facilitating that day, but a couple of nods at the beginning and a "good to see you" from the welcomed one afterward was it. I'm left with the sense that I must not contribute much to that group, and while it is the place where I am acquainted with those who attend regularly and we on occasion have lunch, it isn't a "heart" centering group, and I'm not aware of which members have a regular practice of centering other than when with the group. I'm in the rotation for facilitating--but with four of us, my next month will be November. I've attended regularly for over a year, rarely missing when in town. Now I'm wondering. . ..  Centering weekly with a group is  good practice, but I don't leave inspired or with new insights often.

My friend, Donald, at the prison was delighted to have me return, and it was good to visit with him--my most committed listener these days.



Yesterday afternoon I attended a meeting of the Nashville Jung Society where they focused on our shadow selves. While many in that group are therapists, I found the discussion heartening, others who are doing their own deep work. It meets only once a month, not enough to form relationships, but I've marked the October meeting on my calendar and will take a dream to work with--the topic next month. I long for a regular place to share with others who are going deep in their spiritual journey. Perhaps that will be found in one-on-one friendships rather than a group. I'll continue to discern about the centering prayer group.

Next, I will share about the cruise, as it was a lovely trip.


Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Light and Dark -- In Nature and Our Lives



I chose this "midnight sun" from my Norwegian Sea collection (more of them later) taken on this summer's birthday gift cruise as it shows the sun's light through clouds that are darkening the sky. It is fitting for my thoughts about being the light in the darkness, a call that our Rector eloquently made in a recent pastoral letter to the congregation.

Because I identify as a writer and my memoir is my completed book, I find myself in conversations about the darkness in this country through the lens of Satanic ritual groups. They operate underground and aren't likely to show up in marches or protests, at least not in that guise. However, a younger acquaintance once said that in her small town in a Midwestern state, all but a few of the families were either in the Klan or the Cult. While one, in my experience, teaches us to hate ourselves and the other teaches hate of the other, I wonder if those who express the hate of the other don't have, underneath that noisy exterior, self hatred that gets projected on those they identify as "the other."

So what we do when confronted with those who stand for and with the racial and ethnic slurs? Do we remember that they, too, have a piece of the Divine in them, buried though it might be?
Do we send God's love, Divine light, to them in our thoughts and prayers? Or do we project hate back to them, as "the other" though we say we are against hate?


Does our light of love reside behind a cloud when confronted with folks who fear those who are different? Are we afraid of being contaminated by their views or lumped with them if we are seen having a conversation?

While standing for our beliefs of inclusion, non-violence, against hate and injustice, where are we conversing with those with fears and opinions differ from ours? Are we lumping all from the opposite political party into one group of those who are against our values?

These are tough questions, and I don't begin to have all the answers. I have a list of my "others"--sexist men for one, our Middle Tennessee Bishop who forbids the use of the same-sex marriage liturgy in our churches for another--that I'm working on sending light and love to in my prayer time, and have just begun to add those who are filled with hate. I remember the Christian exhortation to pray for our enemies as I write this.

We can each speak up against hate and violence wherever we see it, but try to remember that those who promote and participate in hate speech, rallies and violence are also God's people. They are acting out of our worst human impulses. We are called to be the light, to let Divine love flow through us. I find myself praying for the space for that love more frequently than ever in these difficult days.



On the political and social issues front, I recommend reading "Partisan writing you shouldn't miss," articles by writers from across the political spectrum chosen by the New York Times as worth reading on the subject of the day. Some are from Internet news sources that don't appear in print, others are from recognized sources, and occasionally, after articles from the right and from the left, there are a couple from the middle (hardest to find they say). Though I sometimes hold my nose, I find this exercise worth doing two or three times a week.

We hear and know that the divide in our country can't be breached by each of our going to our own corners and hurling charges against the other group. Perhaps these recent drastic expressions of hate will allow more of us to stand together, no matter our differing labels of conservative and liberal. That could begin the healing process, a little at a time. It could make good come from the awful.

Let's fine ways to be the light!



Saturday, June 17, 2017

White Washing Those We Love



After days of agonizing, deciding what to write and what to leave our, yesterday I sent my manuscript to the literary agent who has an interest in representing it. He made no promises, but gave perimeters that I, for the most, part followed.

I was brutally honest about my participation in the cult of my childhood and growing up years. I was honest about my weakness as I know, and said a bit about my strengths, and how they too have grown from my childhood experiences. I have had to be honest about the damage Dad did, likely because Fr. William Meninger convinced me that to truly forgive, we need to understand the damage that was done. All well and good, I think.

It was my ex-husband, called Don in the memoir, about whom I had the most difficulty writing the truth. Perhaps it was because he became a better man in his later years and a good husband to his wife of thirty years. But then I thought about the years in which we were married, and a comment that his wife, whom I thought of as a friend, made. She said something like "Don's a bigot, sexist and selfish.  Didn't you know that?" A similar thought was expressed by his brother's wife shortly after her husband's death. "He was a curmudgeon Margaret. He was sexist. I knew that, but he was my curmudgeon!" They both knew the basic character of the men to whom they were married. I, on the other hand, wanted to believe Don was the man I imagined him to be when we fell in love.

Even almost forty years after our marriage ended, I'm remembering the cute, funny, romantic man I so loved and finding it difficult to write about who he was for most of the seventeen years (with a short break) that we were together. The man who looked up the hermit recipe, the Christmas cookies I made, remembered the fruit and nuts I used, and "supervised" their making, presenting me with a sack of a dozen as I came in the door for his last Christmas is the one I prefer to remember. Just as the Dad I preferred to remember was the white-washed one, until that cardboard cut out no longer served me.

I made myself write about the worst of the time with Don. Though I didn't say it clearly, I provided the reader with the information to know that he was randomly unfaithful. What it is about me that I don't want to see? Is it the woman who made an unspoken deal. As long as I don't have to see it, you can continue your philandering. Embarrass me in front of the community in which I live, that's a deal breaker.

I pretended that Don wanted me to be professionally successful, but after our divorce, he told me that I made more money that he did two of the last years we were married. I filled out our income taxes and didn't notice because the difference was minimal. Since he was adamant about my working, I wouldn't have thought he cared how much I made.

It is interesting to remember and realize that I have a habit of not seeing who the men I love really are. Perhaps my son can be the beneficiary of clear-sightedness. I have some distance from my grandsons, see them for who they are, though want the oldest to be the best young man I know he can be. My son, a very good man, gets his share of whitewashing too. I can look more honestly. I believe that would be a service to him.




Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Wild Things -- Finding Peace in Chaos

                          "I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with
                          forethought of grief. . . For a time I rest in the grace of the world and
                          am free." Wendell Berry

Those lines from Wendell Berry's poem, The Peace of Wild Things, resonates for me, even as a city dweller, or I should say, even more as a city dweller. While there is a French coffee and sandwich shop nearby that sustains a poet friend and is occasionally a writing spot for me, it is the woods with wild flowers blooming and birds chirping, paths beckoning, that brings that peace. More than peace, those walks, alone more often than not, bring joy, the simple joy of observing and being with the wild things.


                                                     Spring Beauty in Warner Park

Before the bushes leaf out, i observe the the steep drop of a hill or the way one undulates as if it was a baby ski slope, though no skis rode these hills,  and wonder at the way they are. I am grateful for the acres of woods and trails preserved in Nashville/Davidson County--more than 1200 acres at Radnor Lake Natural Area where the trails are free of pets and runners and is my regular haunt, and over 3,000 acres at the combined Percy and Edwin Warner parks at the western edges of the county where in Edwin, over seven miles of paved road trails have recently been made car free, with the best trails for getting in shape at Percy.


                      Tennessee larkspur, a carpet of purple blue, shorter than those in the high Rockies.
                                         
On a day when the city closes in, the news too troubling to hear or read, what I am doing seems pointless, I get in my car (alas, that's necessary) and drive the eight miles to those seldom busy hillside trails in Radnor, the park where I am most at home. The larkspur are profuse this spring, clearing of noxious plants allowing for spread of this lovely purple flower. Its show will soon be over, and the woods will have only spare flowers throughout as spring greens turn darker and bushes green the hills.

The lake, water fowl, birds, deer and other wildlife will take center stage until falls' foliage make the hills a joyous pallet of color.  The only human in sight on the South Cove trail many days, I visit with my deer friends who mostly ignore me and continue foraging for food. The wild turkeys, too, are oblivious to the walkers who stop to stare--or those too intent on their exercise to notice. They gather on the main lake trail, one I use on days when my energy lags and the hills of South Cove seem too much or when I need to get back to my car quickly as the predicted showers materialize, heavier than expected. Thundershower predicted days are some of the best to be on sparsely peopled trails.

I'll leave with photos of spring flowers, mostly shot on the trails of another of our parks, Beaman, in northwest Davidson County, more remote, rugged and less crowded, even on the lovely Sunday afternoon when I scoured the trails for trillium, eastern red columbine (so different from my favorite Colorado mountain columbine), Dutchman's breeches, scarlet catchfly, and the one that brought me greatest joy, the Appalachian trout lily.

I miss my first spring flowers in the Rockies, especially the glacier lilies that carpeted the hillside above Lake Isabelle in Indian Peaks Wilderness above Boulder. For years I trekked through snow, waded water and skated on ice--whatever necessary--to catch these little yellow lilies at their prime. I made that annual visit with new friends and went back alone that Colorado spring before I moved back to Tennessee, knowing it would likely be my last sighting of those lilies other than in my memory and many photos. Imagine my delight, when near to a running creek in Beaman Park I sighted little yellow lilies, first one, then two or three, and then a colony. They were yellow trout lilies and looked so much like the Glacier lilies that tears welled as I squatted to take a photo.

Others were lovely too.   The scarlet catchfly, Dutchman's breeches and trillium below.
















And I end with the lovely Virginia bluebells, taken at Edwin Warner park where they are a loved sight for many.
Whether or not these or other flowers are in bloom, I find that peace, as Wendell Berry so eloquently stated it, as I harken back to that little Margaret who skipped across the fields picking daisies, in my journey with the wild things.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A Look at Life -- and Death





As I watched my friend, Sue's last breaths, a newsreel of memories flashed through my head. Her outstretched hand to me, an interloper in the organization where she was director of research, a young, beautiful woman who offered me her guest bedroom until I found a new home, making me laugh when I wanted to scream, noting the good points of a colleague whose pettiness annoyed, and more recently, her courage, strength and positive outlook as she battled the acute myeloid leukemia that was ebbing the life from her still lovely body.


I recalled the irony of times, much earlier, when some part of Sue craved oblivion strongly enough to make her tussle with death a close one, and matched that with the determination she showed in her battle with this, the fourth cancer, intending to beat it until it seemed pointless to try another treatment.

How often is there, for even a split second, a dashing thought of what am I doing here? What's the use? Or what do I have to contribute?

As I ponder my impatience with not knowing what opportunities to share, inspire, or lead might be around the next curve, I wonder about that sense of "being" that's prevalent in meditation circles, that higher state of consciousness that one or another practice can evoke. Am I to sit on my cushion and watch my breath morning, noon and night?



I'm inclined to find a need and fill it, but am aware that at this stage of life, discernment is important.  "There is something you can contribute that no one else can. Find that and you will, as Joseph Campbell famously said, "find your bliss," a spiritual director told her audience. I have a glimpse of what that might be, but the bend in the road is obscuring it. As I get closer, the road seems longer, the curve farther ahead.



Tears come unbidden as I ask, "is healing my contribution?" and "how does that look?" The opening lies hidden around the curve, through the trees. "Can't Even Let Yourself Know," my childhood memoir being perused by that illusive agent, could be the platform. But will publication happen while I can still toddle to the front of a room, I wonder. How many more curves in the winding road before the field opens in the light.

My prayers for others end with "Okay, God, Holy Spirit, Divine Mother, what, pray tell, am I doing here? Pull the curtain so I can see around the next curve--please."

I'll also pray for some of Sue's courage to do whatever's next.





Thursday, February 16, 2017

What the Camera Couldn't Capture







     This post is the essay I wrote for my adult learning writing class at Vanderbilt University. Our instructor is thoughtful and creative in the ways he gives assignments that make us think and dig deep. The title of my essay is the same as our assignment. Study, he said, a favorite photograph and write about what the camera cannot see--feelings, what was happening nearby, the photographer, anything we might include. Some in the class write long essays. Since I am working on a novel, and putting together query material for the long-worked-on memoir, mine are short. Here is yesterday's assignment.

     A favorite photograph showed Cousin Gertrude reading a picture book the school teacher cousins brought little Margaret. The adoring looks between adult and child was what captured the viewer and made it special.

     A spot in the sun on the edge of the farm house's front porch allowed for escape from the plaintiff cries of Margaret's baby brother, Billy, and her mother's frantic attempts to quiet him, especially when her cousins visited. The camera captured the ragged front porch steps, but not her mother's pleas to her daddy to repair them, a request that loomed large when Cousins Gertrude, Edna, and nurse Clara came to visit.

     The camera didn't capture Shep, the family's German Sheppard, asleep at the foot of the steps, ready to protect Margaret at the whisper of danger. The Cousins were among the few admitted through the yard's gate without Shep chained or held by a family member.

     While turmoil reigned inside, the view from the porch was that of large maple trees, one little Margaret's favorite to hide behind, wild roses draping the top boards of the yard's fence, peonies and iris off to the side. Two tall mulberry trees flanked the yard's gate, housing birds who threatened to drop purple juice on the part of Cousin Edna's white hair as she got out of their Dodge and walked to the gate.

     The camera couldn't take a panorama of the farm's front fields, Jersey and Guernsey milk cows dotting the green field that little Margaret would skip across when going to the store for her mother's brown box and striped candy sticks. In the other field, her daddy sat under his straw hat driving their red Ford tractor, cutting alfalfa for winter's cattle feed.

     The quarter-mile lane the Cousins drove up to reach the circular drive in front of the yard had ruts and rocks dating from the days that Margaret's mother's dad and granddad drove their buggies up that same lane. No matter what fill Margaret's daddy put in, those ruts returned. Little Margaret would look at that lane, listen to folks talk about what a pretty place their farm was and wonder why anyone driving up that lane would think they were driving into a quiet peaceful home.

     The camera caught the loving looks between Cousin Gertrude and little Margaret, the importance of which the camera couldn't know.

Note: I promise to be back on this blog more regularly in the near future.  I continue to feel that I have something to say that's worth writing about the turmoil in our country, but as that's a changing target, I'll have to catch the right moment.

Blessings and peace