Retreat

I slow my breath and my paddle
to enter this place
navigating carefully over submerged rocks
into the sudden calm between wooded islands.

Here
hidden from the wind of the open lake
there is silence
occasional birdsong
and the rhythmic drip of my upheld paddle
now at rest
as I drift through water so still and clear
I can trace the spiraling of water lily tendrils
all the way down to their silted bed.

My body too is still
and my senses alert.
I am waiting
hoping
remembering another morning
now summers ago
when
quietly rounding this last bend
I came face to face with a solitary loon
– close enough to see its red eye
glowing with primeval fire.

It was unafraid
unhurried
and I breathless
awed.
We were alone
together.

Already surprised
on my new kayak’s first foray
by the discovery of this secret lagoon
the meeting felt like an astonishing gift
like a promise.

So I return here
an annual pilgrimage
always hoping for another encounter
expecting it even
but finding only water insects
and my own longing.

Yet this year
this time
as I turn back into the wind
past ancient watermarked boulders
I am struck by the absence of the bird’s body
but the lingering of its presence here
through my memory, imagination
my expectation, my waiting
my leaving and my returning.

And, yes, this is how a thing becomes sacred –
a place
a moment
a life –
hallowed by what was and is and might be
by desire as much as its sometime fulfillment
by surrendering to the rhythm of presence and absence
to the gift of the fleeting moment
that asks us both
to linger and
to move on.

An unseen squirrel
who knows no other home than this
cries a warning.
It is time to leave.

I am reluctant
ready
strangely restored.

 

(Skiff Lake, July 2018)

Why does the crow

Why does the crow
perched somewhere above our tent
on soaring pines
gently kissed by morning’s first rays
insist on waking us
with his strange and raucous squawking?

I think someone wise once told him
he and his song are beautiful.

And he believed it.

(Deer Island Point, July 5th 2018)

{Notes:

This little poem brings together three things that have been meaningful to me over the summer season:

  1. Taking up a practice of writing for TEN MINUTES ONLY a day (more creative writing rather than journaling, which I do regularly and for longer), so as to escape the rut of waiting around for the lightning flash of inspiration, which hasn’t struck me for years (or so it feels)! This is getting me into a routine of writing, takes the pressure off it being any “good”, but also makes me READY to write something I actually like because I am in the habit, and the habit makes me notice things more as well. This poem was the first thing I wrote that felt meaningful to me.
  2. DD Amelie likes camping but I haven’t enjoyed it for a while and we’re done with camping as a family (cottages and condos FTW!). However, I decided that I CAN manage one night per summer and this year Amelie wanted to watch the July 4th fireworks in Eastport, ME, from across the water in Deer Island point campground, NB. Although I started off feeling a little “dragged into it” our time at the wilderness campground – watching porpoises, seals and even a minke whale (magical!!) surface in the calm ocean flowing past our campsite towards the tidal whirlpool,  bathwater warm lake-swimming, and the simple pleasures of camping outside IN GREAT WEATHER (important caveat!) – ended up feeling so rejuvenating and was a wonderful way to spend time together. Maybe I’ve been won back over to camping?! (When conditions are perfect 🙂 ) And maybe I should let myself be dragged into more things that don’t come naturally to me or don’t initially sound life-giving, because maybe I unwittingly keep myself from so much life with my various ruts?
  3. I had the privilege of participating in the first ever East Coast Generous Space retreat, beginning the day after I wrote this poem. It was a rich, thought-provoking and inspiring experience “at the intersection of faith and sexuality” which, surprisingly, both echoed my original intent in this poem, and brought to it even deeper resonance and meaning. While I had mostly hoped to gain from the retreat more understanding of what it means to be an ally for LGBTQ+ folk – and that did happen – my biggest takeaway ended up being that I NEED MY QUEER FRIENDS. I need them for their unique human gifts and for the unique perspective they offer on life and marginalization and privilege and struggle, on celebrating who you are whatever others’ perception or treatment of you, and on being the Beloved of God. We all have those parts of ourselves and of others that we dislike or disapprove of or just don’t understand, and they showed me again and in a fresh way – because many of them have fought long and hard to stand in this – that all is and all are intimately and delightedly held in the extravagant love of God. We need each other to remember and wake up to this truth. As in the poem, this retreat experience felt like an awakening of sorts for me, which will no doubt be ongoing, and through it all I FELT for the first time a little of the depth and beauty of this strange word “queer.”

End Notes.}

On loving and letting go

How can it be possible to cut out a part of me and send her to a corner of this wide country that I have never seen?

Her dear warm body, which I know so well and hugged too tight, covered with too many kisses, is now high above trees and lakes rose-gilded by a summer sunrise. My body is no longer with hers but still holding her inside me, not as I did for nine months now fourteen gifted years ago, but as I always will, wherever she travels. For she is part of me, and yet she is not me, and I am not her, and she must walk her own paths and live her own wild and precious life, feel her own pain, make her own mistakes.

In morning’s cold embrace, watched by a waning crescent that she exclaimed over as we stumbled from the motel laden with bags and too little sleep, I remember when we first left her at preschool and grieved to no longer know what she was doing at each moment. She was three and it was only for a morning. But already her life was unfurling without us, as in fact it always has in her secret depths, however close or far we may be.

Now I return to the motel to sleep a little more, inadvertently getting into her side of the bed we just shared, and happy for the memory of her face on the pillow beside me. Her features, blurred by semi-darkness, could have been her three-year-old face still with toddler roundness and framed by scant curls, or that of the woman she will become and whose shape I don’t yet know.

It is hard to fathom this love, so profoundly flawed and yet so impossibly deep, which when it tries too hard to hold on and protect becomes something other than love. Though I want to keep her close forever and be the one to always watch over her, she must grow into her future shape through who knows what solitary joys and challenges. And I must trust her to herself, and to God, and to others, and to life itself.

All of me is prayer for her flourishing – my body, its ache, its tears, its tiredness, its lying down, its letting go.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unforeseen uncultivated

 

A few people have asked me whether I have flashbacks of the moment I slipped from the cottage dock, dropped the kayak we were lowering into the water, and fell headlong (or rather hand-long) onto it, badly fracturing my radial head. And I don’t. It was too quick and the details are too hazy to recall, let alone replay. But what I have found myself reliving recently are the beautiful days of lakeside holiday that we had before the week took such a sudden and unexpected turn.

What’s ironic – or perhaps not at all? – is that I had begun the week struggling to relax and enjoy these days of rest, leisure and family time that we all needed so much after some full and tiring months. I don’t think I’m alone (right?!) in longing for the rat race to stop and then, when it does, finding it challenging to actually slow my body and mind enough to enjoy the rest! Instead of all the anticipating, planning and preparing making way for relaxation and enjoyment, I just kept on trying to control, plan and grasp.

For the first day or so I observed myself struggling just to sit and be while also not wanting to do anything, being snappy and impatient with my loves and any demands made on me, or looking out from our waterfront deck at the glistening expanse of island-dotted lake without the leap of gratitude or soul-opening sigh of wonder I was expecting. Then I did what has now rescued me countless times since I began my first journal at eighteen, and sat down for some hours of writing, noticing, processing, wondering, praying, dreaming, asking… In order to rescue me, my journaling has to be ruthlessly honest yet compassionate, both descriptive and speculative, making space for the best and worst of me as well as that intangible touch of something from Beyond and Deep Within. The fruit of these hours on a lounger, a decaf coffee beside me and the whir of hummingbird wings in my ears, was a sense of slowly letting go into my own reality. Yes, I am restless and impatient and controlling. Yes, I am tempted when on holiday to replace true, restorative rest with counterfeit laziness and self-indulgence. But, yes, I have been given the gift of this week and of this family, and I can receive the gift, and give myself wholeheartedly and joyfully in return – to it and to them. Today, remembering, I feel a bit teary and incredibly grateful, that this simple but significant inner shift took place, allowing me to fully enjoy what would turn out to only be half a week of holiday.

The day before my injury is the one I keep on recalling and reliving. In the morning, fueled by newfound perspective, I suggested Amelie and I kayak to a little sandy beach just around the point from the cottage we rent, and go swimming. It was sunny and breezy as we meandered along the shore looking at the cottages, including a new one just being built in the woods, and then ran our kayaks onto the small curve of white sand. The day before, the three of us had canoed over to our other favourite place to swim – a leafy island with a big rock to picnic on and jump off – but today we were happy to be able to slowly wade into the clear, cool water on a sandy bed. When we realized we’d forgotten the swimming noodle (aka a woggle for any Brits!) to complete the new mesh seat Amelie had been looking forward to floating in, I left her sitting on the beach and paddled back around the point to fetch it, enjoying the strain of my muscles against water and wind, and the exertion of energy on her behalf, which was its own reward.

Back at the beach, she began floating while I began my habitual inching into the colder-than-I’d-like lake, the fact that I always love it once I’m in somehow not enough to make me enter the water any more quickly! Finally submerged, I noticed a fluffy brown baby loon and its parent some ways out in the cove and decided to swim towards them. I was only expecting to get a little closer and see a little more clearly, but instead the adult loon started up a warning cry and dove into the water, swimming so close-by that I saw its graceful, surging body underwater. It resurfaced just feet from me, near enough to see its intricate black and white markings and uncanny red eyes. I trod water as the loon circled me, and it was a wild and magical moment – my body suspended in the cold wet, my feet hanging in dark lake depths, my ears filled with urgent cries and my heart with wonder. Later that same day, lying on the deck in mottled sunshine, relishing the perfect temperature of my drowsy body, an eagle soared right above my head and my heart soared with it. More than all the happenings I can plan and execute and attempt to control, the unforeseen, uncultivated moments are the ones that nourish and sustain me.

And yet I would not have wanted the next day’s unforeseen, uncultivated moment of slip, tumble and fracture, and I struggle to describe it as nourishing despite all I am already learning and will no doubt continue to learn. With a now-bionic left arm and elbow that cannot yet bend beyond ninety degrees, the wonderful corporeal ease of those two wild moments at the lake seems eons ago, even though it’s only coming up for four weeks. I am likely reliving them partly in an attempt to escape the constant discomfort and hard work of recovery, and because the taken-for-granted physical strength and freedom that allowed me to kayak and swim now seem like miraculous gifts that I dream of and desperately hope I can regain. But I also find myself wondering if the memories hold an invitation for me.

So here’s what I’m wondering: Can I further let go into THIS present reality, as I did through my journaling at the lake? Will I fully allow this particular unforeseen event – though neither blissful nor particularly welcome – to bring me face to face once again with my own fragility and dependence, my futile grasping for control, and my impatience, and perhaps even past them to something far better? Perhaps this experience can reveal the sources I usually rely on for strength, joy and peace, inviting me to dig deeper, to draw from deeper wells. Perhaps the uncultivated moment can cultivate patience, perseverance, hope… Maybe it’s possible for me to eventually feel nourished and sustained by this. I hope so. Unlike my process that week, letting go into this experience seems to necessitate a healthy balance of grieving and accepting; and the prolonged nature of rehabilitation means that parallel inner work is going to need to be more profound and ongoing too. I feel like a total beginner in this. I’m very aware of many I know, and countless I don’t in these troubled days, who live with physical pain and limitations far beyond mine and who humble me with their ability to live joyful, loving lives in the midst of it all. But that is their journey and this is mine – small though it may be – and one I can only make day by day, moment by moment.

Photo Credit (of the fateful dock at Skiff Lake!): Mike Temple

Just before dawn

 

I sleep
To block out
The dark
I fear

But you
Gently wake me
Take my hand
Lead me
Down
Into the cool

It is the magic moment
Just before dawn
When the sky
Is no longer black
But not yet light
Holding
Just a promise
Of the day
To come

We stand
Watching the horizon
Waiting

For the splash of colour
The spark of hope

With you
I can wait
In the dark
Awake
Without fear

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