“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.” ~ Norman MacLean

  

           

“Many a time have I merely closed my eyes at the end of yet another troublesome day and soaked my bruised psyche in wild water, rivers remembered and rivers imagined. Rivers course through my dreams, rivers cold and fast, rivers well-known and rivers nameless, rivers that seem like ribbons of blue water twisting through wide valleys, narrow rivers folded in layers of darkening shadows, rivers that have eroded down deep into the mountain’s belly, sculpted the land, peeled back the planet’s history exposing the texture of time itself.” ~ Harry Middleton
Currituck Sound, NC

Sounds of soft rain outside the window, punctuated occasionally by quiet birdsong. Much cooler temperatures. The perfect day to read a book . . . or perhaps not. 

I have been thinking about water—rivers, lakes, oceans. I was reading Janson’s blog today, and he was talking about his affinity for the Atlantic Ocean, how it is so much a part of him. I can relate to that. The Atlantic is my ocean. I have lived on both sides of it. I have seen its brown-green hues to the north and its amazing blues to the south. I have swum in it, floated in it, dived beneath its waves, and traversed it in different crafts. 

I have sat on the shoreline and let the waves roll over my feet, tickled by the froth of receding water. I have watched fiddler crabs scurry away from the waves, and open-beaked pelicans dip below its surface to catch food. 

No matter where I go, I always feel that I am home when I exit the Hampton Tunnel and see the Chesapeake Bay spreading out before me. No other air smells like sea air; no other air feels like the salt-infused spray of sea air. 

“Rivers are magnets for the imagination, for conscious pondering and subconscious dreams, thrills, fears. People stare into the moving water, captivated, as they are when gazing into a fire. What is it that draws and holds us? The rivers’ reflections of our lives and experiences are endless.” ~ Tim Palmer
Dark Hollow Falls, Skyline Drive, Virginia

It is no coincidence that when I choose to go somewhere for vacation, it is almost always to a destination that is near water. Even in the foothills of Virginia, I can get the two things I love to see the most: water and mountains. Peaks of Otter in Bedford, Virginia overlooks Abbott Lake. This mountain retreat is located along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Guests can sit on their porches at sunset and look out on the beauty of the lake and the surrounding mountains. 

When we go to Skyline Drive, I love most those paths that lead to water, like Dark Hollow Falls, a small natural waterfall. Chincoteague is an island on the Eastern Shore of Virginia where Corey and I have spent a few long weekends. A short drive to the south is the Outer Banks, a favorite day-trip to see the dunes of Kitty Hawk where hang gliders try their skills. 

I know that I get my love of the water from my father, whose hometown in the Philippines bordered on a powerful river. My mother is terrified of the water and cannot abide boats. Yet one more way in which they were opposites. 

My father taught me to swim in the Chesapeake Bay. My mother would always worry that I would fall into a sinkhole and drown, which actually does happen. 

But it’s more than just bodies of water. I love rainstorms, thunderstorms. One of my favorite memories of my father was sitting on my parents’ back porch with my dad, both of us silent, just watching the lightning and listening to the rain and thunder.  There is something mystical and magical about water. It holds the power to create and the power to destroy. It nurtures, and it kills. 

“But I also know that in places, the river still runs deep, and though I’ve floated it in these places, it hasn’t revealed itself in such obvious ways. I know that it might be months—years, even—before I understand what it has to teach me. I still need to give myself over to the flow and pattern and rhythm of it to learn its lessons and hear its messages. The river is inside me now, I know, and I need only wait and see where the current takes me, and what lies beneath it.” ~ Jeff Wallach
Mountain Swimming Hole Similar to St. Mary's

I know that I’ve mentioned diving naked into a deep pool of mountain water while hiking on St. Mary’s trail near Steele’s Tavern, Virginia. It was probably one of the most sensuous moments of my life—sensuous, not sensual. All of my senses were heightened: the feel of the cool, clear water on my skin, the way that mountain water has a smell like no other water. It was like being bathed in the water of life. I mean, who knows how old that body of water actually is, when it was formed. 

Water is timeless, which is what is meant by the saying that you can never step into the exact same body of water in the same way because the water has moved, shifted, traveled, and so have you. Neither is the same as at the first meeting. Still, water never seems to forget those who are at home in it. Slipping into a pool of water is completely natural to me; for me, there is nothing to fear. 

The human body is between 55 to 78 percent water. Almost 71 percent of the earth is covered by water. The human brain is 70 percent water, and the lungs are almost 90 percent water. 

Water of life. Water is life. The two are inextricably intertwined. 

“No, life cannot be understood flat on a page. It has to be lived; a person has to get out of his head, has to fall in love, has to memorize poems, has to jump off bridges into rivers, has to stand in an empty desert and whisper sonnets under his breath . . .We get one story, you and I, and one story alone.” ~ Donald Miller, Through Painted Deserts
Cascades, Virginia

Water has been the source of inspiration for writers, painters, and poets since time began. Claude Monet devoted years of his life to the water and water lilies surrounding his home in Giverny. His water lilies paintings ranged from small to room-sized. The hues and shading in this series are so deep and luminous that it is not hard to imagine seeing what Monet saw. 

Water is infused into every part of our lives: songs (“Cry Me a River”), books (Peace Like a River), poems (“At Blackwater Pond”), movies (Titanic). One of the books that I used to teach in my literature classes was Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. It’s a lovely little book about one woman, Edna Pontellier, and her gradual awakening to life and its possibilities. Throughout the book, Edna undergoes a series of encounters with water that leave her both enervated and rejuvenated. Water and Edna’s relationship to it is the primary liet motif of the novel. 

In one of my favorite movies and books, Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient, the two main characters are destroyed by their all-consuming love. Katherine dies in the desert, but in the last lines that she writes, Katherine speaks of life and death in terms of the senses: “We die containing a richness of lovers and tribes, tastes we have swallowed, bodies we have plunged into and swum up as if rivers of wisdom, characters we have climbed into as if trees, fears we have hidden in as if caves.” 

That description has stayed with me for years. The people who have come into and left our lives throughout the years are like rivers of wisdom, each of them teaching us something, not necessarily something we wanted to learn or to face, but some piece of knowledge nevertheless. We swim through the waters of our own experiences, each day, each month, each year, moving with the flow of time, not smoothly but like water over rocks. A force that cannot be stopped.  

“I am one of the searchers . . . We continue to explore ourselves, hoping to understand. We like to walk along the beach, we are drawn by the ocean, taken by its power, its unceasing motion, its mystery and unspeakable beauty. We like forests and mountains, deserts and hidden rivers, and the lonely cities as well. Our sadness is as much a part of our lives as is our laughter. To share our sadness with one we love is perhaps as great a joy as we can know—unless it be to share our laughter.” ~ James Kavanaugh 
 
 

Sailing on the Chesapeake Bay 

In my life, I have walked beside many waters, tasted the brine and the sweetness. I have sailed atop the water in small 16-foot sailboats and aboard huge ships. I have dived in fearlessly, and I have stood back, content to watch the ebb and flow of the water in its endless movement.  I have decided that when I die, I want to be cremated and to have half of my ashes spread on the Atlantic Ocean, and the other half spread on the foothills of Virginia, the places I have loved the most. 

I do not desire to be planted in the earth, to take up space in some container. I wish to return to the soul of the earth, to the very hollow of existence, to become part of the ever-changing beauty, the evolving mysteries, the eternal rhythm that is the essence of nature, this life, this world. 

More later. Peace. 

Music by Great Lake Swimmers, “Mariner’s Song” 

                                                                                                          
At Blackwater Pond
  
At Blackwater Pond the tossed waters have settled
after a night of rain.
I dip my cupped hands. I drink
a long time. It tastes
like stone, leaves, fire. It falls cold
into my body, waking the bones. I hear them
deep inside me, whispering
oh what is that beautiful thing
that just happened?
 
~ Mary Oliver

  

Reflections on Hope (part 2)

 Reynard 8-2009

 Fox by Brett Sutcliffe (August 18, 2009)

The Possibility of Hope

Maybe im still searchin
But I dont know what it means
All the fires of destruction are still
Burnin’ in my dreams*
 

Corn Queue Henry County Indiana Julayne
Corn Queue, Henry County, Indiana, by Julayne from When Worlds Collide

I’ve sat down at this “add new post” page for the past four nights. I’ve sat, waited, and then closed the page. It’s not that I don’t have anything to say; more, it’s that my mind seems to be in recovery mode still after so long away from this forum that gives me a voice, as if I’m in the same room with a long lost friend, and we are still in those first few moments of awkardness, when there are a million things to say, but none of them seem to be the right way in which to begin again.

I love this blog. I appreciate the people who stop by just to read and even more, those who leave comments and words of encouragement. I love being part of a bigger blogging community, filled with people who sent me messages over the past three weeks, letting me know that they were out there if I needed them, that they would wait for me to come back.

But my last post was so full of despair that it actually left a physical pain in my heart. To put into words all of the bigger things that have happened over the last two to three years somehow makes it more real, and therefore, that much harder to reconcile.

That post also did something else to me: It made me a bit nauseous. It smacked of poor, pitiful me, and far too much navel-gazing. So let me just pause here to apologize for being so maudlin. Admittedly, though, wearing a virtual hairshirt every once in a while does seem to help.

But time to move on.

I wanna come in from the cold

Tree Frog at Rest
Tree Frog at Rest by L. Liwag

Last night, as I sat here, I heard the wonderful chirrups of the tree frogs in the backyard, and then as I was walking through the dining room, I looked out in the backyard and noticed that a strap on the pool was vibrating. A tree frog was inside the little tunnel, and every time he sang, the strap vibrated.

He was too far inside his shelter to get a picture, but I could see his small green body peeking out. Unfortunately, my invasion of his space made him cease his calls for a bit, but in about half an hour, I could hear him again.

And make myself renewed again

Uncle Melchors Trumpet Flower
Uncle Melchor's Trumpet Flowers

My uncle’s funeral was Saturday. He never regained consciousness. I wanted badly to go to the funeral, but the family lives almost 800 miles away in Florida, and this just isn’t the best time to rent a vehicle and get a hotel room.

So I stayed in touch by telephone. My aunt, who retired only last year, told me that all of the people who used to be in her department came over one day and did her yard. What a wonderful gesture. My uncle loved his yard and would send me pictures of his flower gardens when they came into bloom.

To hear about people who cared, taking the time to care for one of the things that he so enjoyed made me smile. A happy remembrance.

It takes strength to live this way

Tillie Happiness b&w
Tillie Happiness

Today, I braved the brightness of the sun to play ball with Tillie and Shakes in the pool. I think that I must have done a good job because both of them are sound asleep.

Tillie is a ball hog. The only way that I could get her to release the ball in her mouth was to tease her with the other tennis ball. Wanting both, she would drop one while I threw the other ball, and then I would throw the ball that Tillie dropped for Shakes to retrieve. Quite a complicated system for a simple game of water tennis.

I found myself relaxing, though, and just enjoying the moment—something that I do too rarely. I didn’t think about anything of consequence, and I just focused on exercising the dogs and looking at the birds flying overhead.

The same old madness every day

Captain Corey
Happy Birthday Corey

Tomorrow is Corey’s birthday. He is none too happy. It’s all well and good for me to try to point out to him that he is hardly old, but he doesn’t hear me. I know old. He isn’t old.

When I told him to go ahead and flirt with someone while he was at Costco, he said that he couldn’t because he was losing his hair. What bollocks. He has a head of beautiful, healthy hair, and he is losing a few hairs a day in the shower, undoubtedly because of the stress. My husband is too funny.

We won’t be doing too much of anything to celebrate this week, but with any luck, maybe we can have sushi sometime soon.

I wanna kick these blues away  

On other fronts, Brett is trying to gear up mentally for the school year. It looks as if they have set up his schedule for him to go every other day, which is wonderful.

I’m hoping the day off between class days will allow him to rejuvenate and to feel less pressure. If this works out well, he should miss less school and be able to stay more caught up with his work.

I’m very grateful that the head of the program at his school, as well as his guidance counselor are working with us and trying to come up with a way in which Brett can succeed this year.

Unfortunately, Eamonn was not able to start fall semester, as I had feared. Even if we had come up with the funds, we don’t have a second vehicle at the moment, and the fate of Izziethe Trooper is uncertain at best.

I feel really terrible that we weren’t able to get everything together in time, and to make matters worse, my ex called me up last week and cursed at me for three minutes for not getting the financial aid taken care of. It was a short conversation that ended with me saying something along the likes of, “If you’re so freaking concerned, why don’t you do something about it.”

Talking to a brick wallHis (my ex’s) reasoning that I needed to take care of everything and was falling down on the job was that his schedule is so full, and if that my computer was broken, why didn’t I go to library or something to use a computer? My pointing out that the financial aid was just one part of the equation didn’t matter. When I tried to tell him that even with the tuition taken care of, there was still no vehicle.

He actually asked me what happened to the Trooper, this after I had a conversation with him over two weeks ago about the Trooper dying on the way to Ohio. That’s the problem with trying to have rational conversations with someone who has an alcohol problem: You never know their condition when you tell them something important, and then they claim they were “never informed.”

Of course, I thought of a really good rejoinder after the nasty conversation ended: He lost the right to speak to me when he moved out of the house . . . This from the man who never took a day off to take any of the kids to the doctor. I did it because somehow I let him drill into me that it was easier for me to take a day from work.

Then I thought about it for a minute. He should have never had the right to speak to me that way. Why did I give him that right? Too often, verbal abuse isn’t recognized, even by its victims.

I wanna learn to live again . . . 

Butch Edentons Sunset
Sunset by Butch Edenton

Which brings me back to the subject of this post: the possibility of hope. I won’t pretend that Corey and I have a perfect relationship, but we have a really good relationship, and he doesn’t verbally abuse me. He doesn’t belittle me for my weird habits, and he loves me, imperfections and all. As do I him. Immensely.

Life has sucked lately, a lot. We run into walls, and we seem just cannot seem to get a break. But as I have been reminded of all too much with the loss of my uncle, we live in minutes and hours, not days and years.

I will make certain that Eamonn is ready for college next semester. I will take extra care to watch out for Brett’s signals that he is overwhelmed. I will enjoy the joy that my animals bring me.

I will remember to tell Corey that I really do appreciate everything that he does for me, even something as small but caring as making sure that I have Pepsi in the house. And I will appreciate the fact that I have a partner in life who could belittle me if that were his way, but it is not. His way is to tell me that he loves me every day of my life, to lie to me when I ask if I look fat, to tell me the truth when I ask about my writing, and to love and care for Eamonn and Brett unstintingly, including taking both of them to the doctor more times than I can count.

They are my shelter, my comfort, my great joy, and my peace of mind. With them, I really need nothing more.

Shantih, Shantih, Shantih.

Thank you for allowing me to be self-absorbed and for your kind words. But thank you more for continuing to visit here, for reading my words, and through your own words and beautiful images, for reminding me of all of the good and wonderful things in this world, one of which is this poem by one of my favorite writers, Langston Hughes.

Goodbye Uncle Melchor.

More later. Peace.

*Lyrics from “Dark Road,” by Annie Lennox

Mother to Son

by Langston Hughes

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
Bare.
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

The Road Less Taken

Point Woronzof Park along the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail AK

 Point Woronzof Park Along The Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, Alaska by Janson Jones

 

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood

edward-hopper-rooms-by-the-sea-1950
"Rooms by the Sea," Edward Hopper (1950)

Today, my mind seems to be going in seventeen directions at once. I feel that I am being bombarded by thoughts and feelings too complex to unweave. Part of me is in Australia where a dear friend is going through some major life difficulties. To worsen things her daughter is also ill and experiencing ups and downs.

Another part of me is thinking about the wife of one of the writers whose site I visit. She, too, is ill and awaiting some kind of relief from her doctors.

Another blogger, one whose writing is just amazing, is anticipating the death of her beloved dog who has been with her for years.

A poet with whom I try to stay in contact has just lost her nephew. Her words are full of pain and sorrow, yet they are hauntingly beautiful at the same time.

Yet another compatriot is awaiting the birth of his daughter. The excitement that he is feeling is palpable, making me excited for him.

It’s so hard in some ways to be connected to so many people, to be intimately familiar with their lives and their loved ones. These connections bring me laughter, insight, opinions, joy, and sometimes, heartbreak.

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear; 

It is the empathic side of me that feels too much, that perhaps delves too deeply into the pain and joy of others, leaving me bereft at times, and full of inner delight at other times. I have always been this way—too willing to take on the emotional burdens of others. I remember being a young girl and feeling such complete despair when one of my friend’s dogs was hit by a car, and then being filled with delight when a neighbor’s dog had puppies. Granted, these are probably normal childhood emotions, but it is hard to put into words the keenness I have always felt emotionally, the incisive way in which my emotions have held sway for as long as I can remember.

Henry County Indiana from When Worlds Collide
Henry County Indiana by Julayne from When Worlds Collide

I remember being devastated when someone I worked with at the newspaper died after a bout with cancer. And how absolutely crushed I was when I heard that John Lennon died.

My emotions have always guided me, which is why, I suppose, I have the incredible highs and merciless lows in my life. I’m not suggesting that this is the preferred way to live. On the contrary: There have been many times when I have wished that I could simply turn a switch, turn off everything that I was feeling. There have been moments in which I would have given anything not to be able to feel. To be numb, completely without thought, emotion, or concern.

No one has ever accused me of being a Stoic. For me, nature is not rational and perfect. I do not see everything from a fatalistic viewpoint. In Stoicism, whatever happens, happens, and nothing can change that which is determined, so there is no point in questioning or trying to alter things that are not within the individual’s power. I would never have been able to converse with Zeno, the father of stoicism and his philosophers of the porch. For each statement made, I would have asked why.

But why? Why does this happen? Why didn’t that happen? Why? Why? Why?

For me, every change is felt, not just within my psyche, but by my corporeal self as well. It’s as if my body is a barometer to my soul.

Admittedly, pure elation is an emotion that eludes me much of the time. That’s not to say that I have not been elated many times in my life. Of course I have: when I first held each of my children, on the day that I graduated with my B.A., when I finally completed work on my publishing degree, whenever I finish a piece of writing that I feel certain has come together well, each time that Corey returned home safely after being on the water, each accomplishment in my children’s lives, to name only a few.

As I have mentioned, the beauty that I find in the smallest things—flowers, birds, beautiful images, music, words—brings me a tremendous sense of inner peace and can affect my mood and sometimes reverse an impending low.

But spontaneous elation? I am mystified by people who are like that. You know the ones—they are genuinely happy most of the time. Very little seems to penetrate their cheery dispositions.

To be honest, I am uncomfortable being around people who are like that. Something in me tries to find the falseness behind the cheer. But sometimes, there is no falsehood. These people are happy, with every fiber of their being they are happy. I don’t understand that, nor do I particularly care for it, or perhaps the more accurate statement would be believe it.

Don’t get me wrong, I do not wish unhappiness for these people, but to have that much happiness all of the time? How does one go about feeling the inevitable calamities in life if everything is always good? Positive? When faced with tragedy, to speak homilies such as “well, it was probably meant to be,” or “you’ll feel better soon” seems to ignore the pain. And if pain is ignored, if the individual does not allow herself to move through it, embrace it, and come out on the other side, how can any knowledge be gained?

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
 

Bear Lake Trail Everglades Fl by JJ
Bear Lake Trail, Everglades, Florida by Janson Jones

Admittedly, I am a cynic. I question everything, take nothing at face value, and tend not to accept glib explanations. Am I proposing that that is the way to live life? No. Sometimes, I wish that I could just enfold myself in the easy answers, ignore the nagging doubt. Wouldn’t that be easier?

But then, I would not be true to myself if I did so. I question. I doubt. I wonder. But once I believe in something, I will argue vehemently in support of whatever it is that I believe.

For me, the path isn’t always clear. Where it is going is never defined, but I would never change that. The not knowing is what allows for exploration, what encourages the soul to seek out the truth, even though the truth is not always what we desire or what we are prepared to accept.

The truth is such a complex animal. It changes with the wind. It is ephemeral. And that is why the search for it is usually not well-trodden nor lit with beacons pointing in the right direction.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:

andrew-wyeth-easterly detail
"Easterly" (detail), by Andrew Wyeth

My life has been one long search for beacons pointing the way, but just as sailors have been misdirected by false light, I too have been misdirected: by believing the words of the wrong person, by holding dear to someone who was not worthy of my heart, by listening to misleading echoes.

And then the path becomes unclear, no boundaries, no borders. And at these times, I have become lost. Yet I have always made my way back, whether it was a friend who guided me, or my love for someone or their love for me, or just being attuned to my esse—I have always managed to find my way home.

For me, the lie is the worst thing. It rips apart the existing reality. It causes shifts in time and space, and as a result, things must be moved around until a new pattern can be formed, and the result is a grey spot where the truth used to be.

But then the opposite holds true: each new friendship, each new person who enters my life in a meaningful way also causes a shift, but the resulting move to accept these new people into the fold increases the beauty of the tapestry, enriches the colors, emboldens the pattern.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— 

Even though I may wish at times that I had it within me not to feel things so deeply, I know that that will never be. I have my peaks and my valleys, and the movement between the two is an amazing journey, regardless of the pull on my psyche or the taxing of my constitution. My emotions are my plinth: They bolster me and keep me buoyant. But more importantly, they allow me to open my heart to others, to sustain my empathy, to avow the truths of my soul.

Arctic Valley Chugach St Prk Anchorage by JJ
Arctic Valley, Chugach State Park, Anchorage by Janson Jones

Admittedly, the pinnacles of my highs and the chasms of my lows do not make me the easiest person with whom to live, or even, to love. But I hope that the ferocity of my loyalty and my unstinting willingness to follow those for whom I care into the breach help to compensate for my ever-shifting spirits.

And so it is my hope that all of those individuals who I mentioned in the beginning of this post know that even though many miles separate us, my heart and my thoughts encompass them as fully as if I were sitting across the table from them, sharing a cup of tea.

I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference” ~ Robert Frost
 

edward-hopper-houses-of-squam-light detail
"Houses of Squam Light" (detail), by Edward Hopper

I do not know where my path will continue to lead. I only know that I am willing to follow it to its end. I hope that along the way I continue to meet new people, to enter new lives, to touch those who seek comfort, to share in the great moments of bliss, to ease the way for those who will allow it, and to love and be able to call myself beloved.

It is these stops, these waysides that make that path more enthralling and that make me want to continue on this journey. I do not know the full purpose of my quest; I only know that it began years ago and that I still have a long way to go, many more observations to make, and more words to write before I reach my inn.

I’ll leave you with this track from Die Romantik. Haunting song.

 

More later. Peace.

 

The Road Less Taken by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.