Unexpected Graces: Everyday Magic, Day 970

Maybe it’s the late landing of spring, the convergence of personal history and life lessons, or just chaos and good timing, but I’ve been tripping into unexpected graces lately, small or big moments that surprise me with such joy, connection, beauty, even something akin to healing.

On our trip to Brooklyn, New York City, and New Jersey — aka the mothership for me — grace abounded, often like a slip of paper or wings at the edge of vision. The moment we emerged at a new subway stop for us in Brooklyn, staring blankly at the sun after eight hours of travel, backpacks and suitcase heavy, a kind sanitation worker walked over to me. “What you looking for, baby?” he asked. Sometimes it’s just tiny kindnesses that can steer a person the right direction.

Days later, sitting down with old family friends my brother and I hadn’t seen in 40-plus years, I felt enveloped in a bear hug of grace and gratitude, but then again, being with people who know you from before you were born can do that. Hugging my aunts hello, setting the table with my nephew, talking on the train with my brother were all imbued with a sweetness as well as so many conversations with family members, old friends, new pals, or strangers over Chinese food or bagels throughout that trip.

Back home, I found grace in the ground, digging in the soft dirt with my hands to make enough room for some pansies, and later hauling some trash from around the yard into the back of the pick-up truck, including a broken air-conditioner and lawn mower we’ve meant to get rid of for a long time. I also found grace in hearing from a long-lost friend, apologizing to someone I was a bit impatient with, laughing with a coaching client, saying some very hard things to someone without having them take off running, and listening to story after story about the lives of two friends who have died recently.

There’s many varieties of grace, such as the grace of the delicious when we shared exquisite desserts(no dairy, sugar, or grain) with dear friends at Cafe Gratitude in Kansas City. There’s the flowering grace of magnolias, out a month later than they were last year, smiling in their pink jackets all over town. There’s the  poetic grace of gathering at the river banks with an eclectic group of writers and naturalists for a reading celebrating the river, right in the middle of a fierce rowing competition erupting in cheers and the handing out of sandwiches.

I think of a moment at the Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn, someplace we didn’t realize we were walking until we got there, our feet tired from days of putting on the miles. We climbed a steep hill, then sat on the winter-softened ground and looked toward the city. I held up a tiny hyacinth flower, thinking it would contrast nicely with the skyscrapers across the river, but what I see in the photo is what’s close up and arching over us: grace after grace after grace.

Looking for Patterns and Finding Them Everywhere: Everyday Magic, Day 961

A Mount St. Helens Vista

When Ken and I went to Mount St. Helens with friends several years ago, I was dazzled by the patterned forests full of checkerboard green across green. Ken explained that this pattern, so unlike all other mountains of forests I’ve ever seen, was because all the trees were the same age, starting anew together after the volcano blasted all this land clear and bare.

I’m a pattern-hunter, watching, tallying, and seeking to understand patterns that come through my life. This particularly appeals to me when happy things tumble together, like in the last 24 hours when a friend resolved a scary medical issue, my son got a new job, various friends and family landed on happy endings to challenging stories, and just this morning, several new freelance jobs of the Yes-I-Want-Them variety landed in my inbox. But sometimes a bunch of seemingly bad things happen at once: migraines, the sudden need for expensive car repairs, disappointing news about work, and loved ones getting bad or downright devastating news. Likewise, it seems that the old adage that deaths and/or other difficult news happens in threes often proves itself true.

Looking for patterns occupies me various ways, like counting how many Honda Fits and Honda CRVs I see each day because those are the cars we own (usually 2-to-1 on CRVs over Fits, but sometimes the opposite is true). If I run into three old friends in a week, that’s a pattern I embrace. If I have repeated nightmares involving looking for pay phones (remember those?) in strange cities when I didn’t have a dime to my name, I consider what this pattern may be saying to me (then again, dreams are the very stuff of patterns).

A Patterned Fern

Maybe I find the pattern, or I just put pieces of the uncontrollable mystery and chaos that is life into temporary patterns to explain it to myself, but I thrive on seeing the connections of one thing to another to another. Then again, the juxtaposition of like with not-like is at the heart of writing poetry and making all sorts of other art: it catalyzes new textures and possibilities, widens perspectives, and shines up each moment to be a bit more fresh and vibrant. Looking for relationships between happenings and sightings also helps me see the wild strands of the marvelous and miraculous in the everyday.

Then again, what isn’t a pattern? Nature is all about patterns of growth, decay, and regeneration. A plant, like this fern, grows in a patterned way, and so do we (although we can tweak the pattern with diet, exercise, or the lack of). Seasons pattern us in their patterned parade through, and life itself cycles through its patterns.

What we tell ourselves about being alive, our very philosophies, are often the bedrocks of patterns, such as  “Everything will be okay in the end, and if it’s not okay, it’s not the end” (repeated often in the movie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel). No doubt the flip side pattern will take center stage again….and again….but I choose to embrace the inevitable good, or at least not horrendous, ending.

Which brings me back to Mount St. Helens, one of the worst tragedies imaginable for people and other species caught in it, yet now that place is bursting with life, such a diversity of plants and animals reinhabiting the valleys and mountains, seemingly growing at the speed of sound. But new life is like that: it comes fast and with great promise, so why not take the time to consider its textures, shapes, colors, and meanings in our own life patterns?

I’m in Love With a Great Lake: Everyday Magic, Day 946

I’m in love with Lake Superior, and the more I visit, the deeper I fall. Not only is this the greatest of the Great Lakes, containing 10% of all the fresh water on earth, but it’s wildly ancient, mysteriously mutable, and stunningly gorgeous in all its colors and moods.

Having just perched on the side of the lake in a cabin for a week, once again, I saw this inland sea turn pink, gray, navy blue, baby blue, black, brown, orange at the edges at sunrise, and purple in the center at sunset. Always in motion, the waves incessant, this lake calms to a purr of itself at moments, then roars into hard slaps of water on the lava rock of the shore.  The Ojibwe got it right in naming  this lake Gitchi-Gummi, which means “the shining blue sea water” because it’s truly an inland sea that surely holds many, if not all, of the secrets of the universe.

But the macro sings through the micro too, especially in the rocks which, depending on what beach you explore, range from cobblestone of similar size and shape, black flat ovals artfully spread among themselves, or the rainbow of agates threaded through many beaches. I found milky white nubs, green slant-specked squares, reddish ovals, and dozens of other variety. Coming through these precious sweethearts of time, compressed and tossed back out by their maker onto each other, I found treasure upon treasure, some shining, some quieting, some rough skinned and speckled.  No matter the rock, every edge tends to be rounded, smoothed, making each stone good to pick up and hold.

I love the sound, the light, the smell, the whole way of being there with this being of a lake that always seems more like a mythical animal, so alive and dynamic, hurting and healing, giving its all every direction across its 350-mile expanse and dancing in place. Every view is a good view, reminding me that this is usually true if we can open up our vision to see the periphery, depth, or height of our times and places. The gift of life, even and especially in these times of hollow-your-hope news, is so beyond what we think, and to some extent, do that we can only see a glimpse of ourselves, so look around, says the la

I look into the lake unable to fathom its average depth of 500 feet with its deepest point at about 1,300 feet. That it’s crazy cold (40 degree average temperature) and holds the bones of many ships and humans, not to mention other forms of life. That it cracked, yes, cracked, into existence 1.2 billion years ago because of the North American Mid-Continent Rift, an outlandish volcano, which left a half-moon-shaped scar from Minnesota all the way down to Kansas with all the lava-pressed rock to prove it.  That it’s home to over 80 species of birds, thousands of  birds, and so many other animals, like the three otters I saw swimming by some years back. That it’s utterly alive, alive, alive — a heartbeat of energy and presence. 

Arriving, I sat on the deck of the cabin and watched. Middling, I watched and walked. Leaving, I stood on the deck and took more photos of this beauty in action being, this freedom and depth lighting up with the sun and moon.  I’m deeply grateful for my time there, and already, and just a few days past, I dream of returning to where the Iron Range tumbles down to the sea, and the power of the life force sings in harmony and dissonance, waking us up to what is.

 

On the Cusp of the Vacation: Everyday Magic, Day 945

I’m lucky. I get to go on a vacation, not something everyone has the privilege of doing so that they can enter into a great un-doing or other-the-usual-doings in a new or old place. For us, it’s a particularly ancient place, on the cool shores of Lake Superior (truly superior!) by way of Ames, Iowa tonight, where we will luxuriate in temperatures 10 degrees cooler than the holy hell of the weather here, then Minneapolis, which is cool in multiple ways.

At this moment, the car is packed except for the vitamins, which would melt. The gas tank is full. I have a little cash in my wallet, and plans for a eat-as-we-drive dinner (hello, cold burritos!). Most of the errands, at least the ones I can remember, are done, and within an hour, we’re off. Within a two or three hours, we’ll remember what we forgot, shrug, and keep going.

But for this moment, I want to take in all that’s here and now: Shay the dog sleeping on the cool floor beside me, the wind ruffling Cottonwood Mel, grown so big that he fills two winds, and Dar Williams singing “Closer to Me” on itunes (aka WCMG’s private radio station playing my favorites all the time). The air conditioner sings its low-hum enchantment, and the glass of some fizz water and mostly ice is covered in the cold film of condensation. Stepping outside to ready the tarp for covering the new tractor, I’m reminded what it is to live in a giant Midwestern dryer, tumbling us with bouts of heat and wind. The mountains of clouds to the south tease us with the illusion of rain one day before melting away like everything else. The tomatoes in the garden hang on for life after a good watering in the dark last night, and the lilies sheepishly open smaller-than-usual petals just enough to exhaust themselves.

What Lake Superior Looked Like (for a moment) Last Time We Were Here

This is the life I’m leaving for 10 days, a good life although lately a hot life, in the hands of our son and a friend who will keep animals and plants watered and fed. This is the place I love to return to, and although even swimming in the pool last night was almost too warm to enjoy, it’s a place I always feel a little sad to leave. Then again, I always feel more than a little excited to hit the road and see what new homecomings each turn brings into view.

Annual Pilgrimage to Our Patron Saint: Mary Chapin Carpenter: Everyday Magic, Day 944

“Show a little inspiration, show a little spark,” Mary Chapin Carpenter sings in her song “The Hard Way.” Kelley Hunt, one of my beloveds and my songwriting partner, happily obliged her by summoning up the inspiration and spark to strap ourselves into my peanut-butter-colored car so we can once again worship at her feet and replenish our songwriting well.

This year we trekked to Wichita for a long day’s night to the Wabi Sabi (beautiful, decaying, and full of soul and vibrancy) Orpheum Theater to see  this shining soul sing some of the greatest songs we know, such as “Stones in the Road,” once the best songs I know of about America. Listen to it sometime, and hear what she says about all that’s on fire in our history and lives, including lines like these: “And now we drink our coffee on the run, we climb that ladder rung by rung/ We are the daughters and the sons, and here’s the line that’s missing.”

When Kelley and I write our own songs together, I like to think there’s always an invisible and palpable icon of Mary Chapin in the room, right on top of the purple piano where we compose music, occasionally nodding at us and always making eye contact. So many of our songs — such as “Love,” “You’ve Got to Be the Vessel,” and “Let it Rain,” — speak to some of the deep-river themes of hard-won love, healing, and courage flowing through MCC’s songs, such  as her song “Why Walk When You Can Fly?” and “Jubilee,” in which she sings:

And I can tell by the way you’re searching
For something you can’t even name
That you haven’t been able to come to the table
Simply glad that you came

So it’s no wonder that we drive, drive, drive to be with MCC and her kick-ass, open-hearted band, including many bandmates she’s played with for decades. She’s someone I would leap over long highways and through 100-degree days to see, well, her and Bruce Springsteen, and you know what? This year, Mary Chapin ended her concert with a Springsteen song, “My Love Will Not Let You Down.” Sitting in an ancient theater with one of my best friends, witnessing this moment and many others together — like when she sang “This is Love” — my heart overflowed and my being exhaled in pure joy. As she sang, “The wrong things aren’t supposed to last,” and “You would’ve thought a miracle/ Was all that got us through,” I realized how some moments, maybe all if I was awake enough, are the miracles that get us through, leading us to do and be all the rights that do last.

Bonus song: You’ve got to hear “Jericho,”  a song that inspired Kelley to write a song and me to write a poem of the same name. Here is Kelley performing this live on Kansas Public Radio (and you can support Kelley writing even more amazing songs by supporting her Patreon campaign here), and here’s my poem:

Jericho

How long have you been lost? All your life?

Then you’re getting somewhere.

The walls don’t fall for those who think

they know where they are.

It takes music, low and from the bottom of pain,

like what I sang out in childbirth, each call

a plea to open and let the new one come through.

Or the sound of the handful of dirt the new widow releases

slowly quickly the long way to the top of the wooden casket

where a thousand hands hit the same drum at one moment.

Or the breaking laughter of a two-year-old running for the first time,

about to trip. Or the inhalation of surprise and verve on the cusp

orgasm in a cold room where all the blankets are kicked off.

Knowing the path has always been overrated

although washing the dishes and cleaning the counters helps.

Loving and looking for clues is all we have–the slant of the sun

across the dusty wooden floor, the ache of leaf toward earth,

the weary smile of the stranger who gives you his parking space.

When the big wind knocks you down, look carefully

for what’s ready: the horizon suddenly flashed by the brilliant

wings of an Indigo Bunting vanishing into the future

in a stand of cedar where you’ve always lived.

Jericho was never forgotten and never forgets.

His feet remember how to follow the outline of the city

ready to unmake itself into something better. Let yourself

stop trying to hold up all that weight. Come and sit

on this beautiful, cold ground. Be as lost as the rain

making its way, through the veins of the universe, home.