"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Saturday, November 29, 2008


The park is surprisingly busy for a late fall afternoon where the cold and damp worm their  way up sleeves, down backs and through not enough layers of clothing. There is little beauty to offset the biting air - fall's fireworks are heavy wet ashes dripping from branches, sliming the trail, dimming what little light the sun still offers. But it's not raining. That alone may be enough to account for all of the company I have today. 

Many families are here with kids shrieking on the merry-go-round and the swings and the slides. Fishermen wander along searching for the perfect hole the will reveal the perfect fish. Couples walk hand in hand, heads bent in intimacy that radiates outward in quiet laughter or a choral greeting to fellow walkers.

I'm at the halfway point of this day's walk, making the turn for home, cutting through the parking lot, when I notice a small dented  pickup  pulled straight into a parking space right next to a mid-size SUV that is backed in. Something about those two cars catches my eye, but  I'm actually past them and headed up the hill out of the park when I realize what I've seen.

Two pale hands form a garland between the two cars, holding each other in what feels like an embrace. I circle back to confirm what my memory has sketched lightly - one male, one female hand, holding each other across the short distance between the two vehicles.

I read longing in the suspension of limbs. And a story of stolen moments. Maybe heartbreak.

Why else would they be holding hands from separate spaces? Why aren't they walking together? Sitting in one car together?

I make myself continue along my own journey. It's their story, not mine. But the picture of two pale hands, holding each other and something unknown in the cold space between seasons, won't leave me. It's unsettled me and I don't know why. And so the rest of my walk is spent sending them love and a wish for peace. What else can I offer? How else can I help? Who else will know?

photo from Flickr

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Frozen Turkey

Armed with a thorough and organized list, I push my cart up and down the aisles of our local one-stop shopping mecca. I know that shopping on the Sunday morning before Thanksgiving is asking for trouble, but I am determinedly cheerful. 

 Two carts blocking the aisle while the women they belong to are completely absorbed in their label studies? No problem. "Excuse me, can I get through, please?" With a smile that I mean.

Halfway through the store, as I check the list that I am sticking to like dried mashed potatoes to a bowl, I realize I forgot the shortening which is several aisles back. No problem. I park my cart on the end of an aisle and congratulate myself on the extra walking I'm getting to do. 

Once back at my cart, Crisco in hand, I notice that someone either crashed into it, or decided to rearrange it at a jaunty in-the-way angle. No worries. No harm. I push the corners of my mouth up another notch as I push my cart toward the cat litter aisle. It's blessedly quiet here and I take advantage of the oasis to study my list and my coupons.

This is where things start to go sideways. 

I realize that I have a coupon for a turkey that will be mine for free if my total at the register exceeds a certain astronomical amount. I have definitely spent that amount, due in large part to the exorbitant cost of canned cherries that I have to have because my brothers asked for cherry pie (one of the few things our mom baked that we all love) and I'm not about to disappoint them because someone somewhere has surely confused the value of cherries with the value of rubies.

I already have a turkey in my shopping cart. This bird spent its life on a farm, grazing peacefully on sweet grass and insects, basking in sunlight, sleeping in a sweet-smelling coop with her sisters and brothers. Her death was humane and she gladly gave herself so that I can enjoy healthy and tasty sandwiches all weekend long. Or at least that's what the packaging said.

The free turkey, on the other hand,  spent its wretched life cooped up in a windowless, airless factory with thousands of other wretched birds, fed corn and antibiotics and who-knows-what. It was probably glad to die just to end the wretchedness, but all the wrapper tells me it that it is full of broth and butter and that I don't have to worry about anything because of the handy dandy pop-up timer.

As I stand by the freezer section studying the wretched turkey, which will cost me nothing, and glancing into my cart at the happy turkey, which will cost me a pretty penny, I am frozen with frustration and indecision.

I only need one turkey. I want the happy turkey. It seems wasteful not to get the wretched turkey. I could get both and give someone the wretched turkey, but that feels too much like my students giving me the Halloween candy that they don't like. Also, how do you find someone to give a frozen bird to? If I get the wretched turkey, I'm perpetuating cruelty and unhealthy practices. If I get the happy turkey, I'm wasting money.

For a while I wander the store with both turkeys in my cart. I consider leaving the cart and the store and the dilemma behind, but I need those damned cherries. I consider no turkey at all, but can't imagine Thanksgiving weekend without turkey sandwiches. I run the conversation through my head where I explain to Walt that we'll be doing peanut butter and jelly this year, and know for sure that no turkey is not an option.

There is a wretched turkey in my freezer. I got it for free. A happy turkey is still calling to me from the store. I'm pretty sure the wretched turkey would be calling if I had left it behind. I wonder if Walt would mind if I raised my own turkeys for next year. 

picture from Flickr

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Things at work are not fun right now. The kids are just getting over the sugar chaos of Halloween - in time to start getting geared up for the Santa chaos of Christmas. Report cards need to be done before the Thanksgiving break. Conferences are the week after Thanksgiving. One of my teammates  is creating dramas right and left. I go to work in the dark. I come home in the dark. In between feels like its own special kind of darkness.

The year that wasn't supposed to be is getting harder and harder to appreciate.

Except that I have Lars in my life.

We have a kindergarten buddy class. A couple of times a month we get together and my little third graders become big guy teachers for the even littler kindergartners. The kids are matched in buddy pairs, and for the hour they're together, the kindergarten teacher and I sit back and marvel at the joyous, busy, nurturing noise that fills the room.

Whenever my class passes the buddies in the hall, the kindergartners become wild fans and my babies the celebrity recipients of their hero worship. I of course get to be the head celebrity and there is little to compare to the unsolicited adoration of twenty-some five year olds.

Lars is one of our buddies. He has the sweetest corn silk hair. He has the brightest and readiest of  smiles. He has Down Syndrome.

It takes me a while to learn the buddies' names. Those little guys do in fact all look alike from the top down. But Lars I learned early, because his third grade buddy wanted a new buddy right away - something that rarely happens. 

He was frustrated because Lars, who has a full time assistant, wouldn't do what my student asked. Lars is cheerfully unbound by the restrictions of guilt or fear of consequences. Once I explained to the third grader that Lars learned differently, and that it was okay to not complete the day's tasks, they've been inseparable. In fact, in a twist of irony this is not uncommon with these buddies, the two boys look like they could be brothers.

Every time I come into a room Lars' face turns to me like a flower to the sun. And breaks into a smile like the sun through clouds. I can walk into our crowded and riotously noisy cafeteria, and somehow his smile finds me. Now, of course I look for it. And I'm never disappointed. I make a point to walk up and say hi, and his whole body smiles. Much the same way Toby smiles when we come home at the end of the day. It's pure, and clean and sweet.

I'm not sure why he seems drawn to me. I don't think it matters. I wish there was a way to let this little creature of undiluted light and love know how much he means to me. How much my dreary days are brightened by his powerfully gentle smile.

As I continue to search for the gifts and lessons this year has to offer, I'm beginning to think that Lars might just be enough of a gift all by himself. I'm in love in the light of his presence.

photo from Flickr

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Leaving the Nest

God Has No Daughters is done, one more time. I've finished the draft that I thought would be done last summer, and revised that one as well. I stayed up late Monday night because I was so close to the end and I was determined that it was finally time to be done. Then when the last page showed up on my screen, I didn't quite know what to do. I'm still a little stunned.

This child of my heart and soul began her entry into the world less than two years ago. The birth was as painful as any child-bearing. The growing pains have been significant. There has been joy and celebration and immense wonder. There have been tears and tears and tears. 

She has been transformed from a clumsy toddler into a beautiful adolescent. One I'm ready to be away from for a while. One I'm ready to send into the world to make her mark. She is glorious and fractious all at the same time. Eager to leave the nest, and terrified to test her wings. One minute she's soft and gentle and wise, the next angry and stubborn and refusing to reveal any truth at all. 

I found myself this last time adding commas and then taking them out, beginning to add a paragraph that I discovered I'd already written on the next page, reading and not having any idea whether it made sense or not. There were spaces of time when I hated coming to the book, hated that I'd ever started it, hated how much of me it consumed. Then I would surprise myself, she would surprise me, by being simply and gracefully the pure light of truth.

I have high hopes for her, and I will always love her in that special way that all first-borns are loved. But I'm aware that from this point forward, who she becomes is not so much in my control. I will certainly do my part to give her everything she needs to be a success, to be all that she came here to be, but her life is her own now.

  God Has No Daughters. 323 pages. 60 chapters. 88,000 words, give or take. Who knows who she'll be in another year. I can hardly wait to find out.

I love you. I'm proud of you. Fly on strong wings my daughter. The sky is yours.

photo from Flickr

Sunday, November 9, 2008


It's a perfect fall day, just the other side of Indian Summer. Balmy still, but the fading has begun: temperature, light, color. 

The leaves have just begun to fall in earnest, so that half remain on the trees while the other half form a softly glowing carpet. A yellow brick road made of big leaf maple leaves gone from lemon yellow to sun yellow to treasure chest gold. The effect is one of perpetual light in spite of the high gray sky. I leaf-kick shuffle my way along, not caring whether I find Oz or not.

A sudden gust of wind sends leaves pouring from trees, whirling around me in a surreal snowstorm of giant gold flakes. I want to go airborne with them, and lift my arms just in case it might be possible.

The park is nearly empty, one of the things I love about these autumn walks. Just two days ago, as I was searching  for spawning salmon, I startled a bald eagle who flew lazily up from the gravel banks of the the river. We were looking for the same thing, but for very different reasons. I'm searching for the magic and wonder of giant silvers returned from the salt sea to their freshwater birthplace to complete the circle of their lives. He was searching for an easy meal.

Today as I look around the small grove of paper birches to the spawning grounds, an odor catches my attention. A faint whiff of death inviting scavengers to a feast. Hoping that the bald eagle might still be hanging around, I follow the tendrils of rot to the bank of the river where I find, just at the edge, the source.

He's huge. As long as my arm, and perfectly formed - fleshy and firm looking. The first thing that catches my eye is his mouth. The hooked snout, curled over a lower jaw, both full of sharp dog-like teeth. Salmon stop eating once they head from their ocean home to their original birth place in the fresh water rivers where they will spawn. The teeth are to fight for female attention.

His eye is still dark and alive looking. Clear and liquid. Looking skyward. Seeing all that cannot be seen in this life.

He is the color of  fallen dogwood leaves - a rose blush meant to be attractive to the mate who will help him create new life. The rose is muted with death mushroom circles of grayish white that began forming on his journey up the river. His body dying even as he was preparing to create new life. 

I can't stop looking at him - the perfect beauty of his death. As beautiful as the brilliance of the dying leaves pushed from their branches by unborn buds.

Soon the trees will be completely bare. The rains will extinguish the lights from the fallen leaves as they feed the soil for the next generation. Soon the river will flood the salmon's remains away, whatever the scavengers have not consumed. Remains that will ultimately nourish his offspring when they hatch in the months to come. Soon winter and darkness will fall, giving us all rest as a new season prepares to be born.

photo from Flickr