Poem: Even Madness Has Its Story

So fellow travelers, while the last few months ran with a kind of Alice down the Rabbit Hole feeling, the chaos often left me too perplexed and exhausted to find the words to process my experience. I was often blessed to find meaning through the writing of other members of my creative tribe. I am sharing this recent post from Tom Atkins with gratitude he found words to express what I cannot.

Quarry House

3_resizeEven Madness Has its Story.

There is fiberglass in the corner.
Battens balanced on an old beam.
A wooden woman pirouettes.
dust settles over it all,

a strange sort of museum,
no pattern, no themes, items on display
in odd corners and contrasts,
too like your own life,

and yet, in time you begin to see
that even madness has its story to tell
and a logic that becomes comfortable:
not quite true,

but beautiful none the less.

About this poem

Somehow this poem went from a poem about settling into a schedule, to whatever this is. Mondays do weird things to us sometimes.

The picture was taken at Salem Art Works.

Tom

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Push to the Finish Line

So fellow travelers, returning home from the Verdi road trip I received an enthusiastic greeting from my devoted trail companion Ms Delilah

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Granted I am blessed to be greeted in a similar manner when I come in from a trip to the grocery store. A greeting shorter in duration with less yapping perhaps, but just as effective at refueling my heart with the glow of unconditional love dogs radiate into our lives.

Delilah has been a placeholder for love and acceptance through the recent challenges of my journey. Whether I  arrived home and immediately grabbed a leash to head for a mind clearing walk or collapsed on the couch under the weight of incomprehensible stress, Delilah followed the cues. She even learned to gently nudge me awake so those naps did not stretch out to interfere with deeper sleep I would need later.

Because of the confidential nature of my work with special ed. students at our local high school it is not possible for me (at least not at this time) to detail the specifics of what our team was dealing with.  Suffice to say, there were connected situations which had been evolving for two years which had reached a point of tremendous concern for the team I was on.  What was most disconcerting was the struggle we faced trying to have those concerns heard by people in a position to address the issues. In my nineteen years working with students of diverse needs and abilities from elementary through high school I had never experienced anything like what we were being asked to tolerate as acceptable for our students as well as our teaching team and support staff.

20180626_131101Mural in Artists Alley Oceanside CA

I found myself asking  how long does one remain in a setting where it no longer seems possible to make a difference?

When you follow every protocol and send clear, well documented reports that help is needed and the response is dismissive, when you hear the policy statements about the importance of mental health but see nothing done when a crisis point is reached repeatedly, when you hear and are told to teach the message “if you see something, say something,” and you do say something, day after day, but it results in no actions, how long beyond these tipping points do you stay?

Reaching the end of the year, feeling discouraged and depleted I knew leaving my position now (which I could easily do by retiring a year ahead of schedule with minimal financial impact) would feel more like quitting than “retiring early.” I am many things, but I am not a quitter. I was mindful too of the impact leaving would have on my co-workers, many of whom I am grateful to also call my friends.

Through all of these challenges, there has been a soundtrack playing which kept me going even when I was sure I could not face another day of chaos. It is a soundtrack filled with songs of the restless quest for meaning, of reaching for hope in the face of doubt and a search for light when plunged into darkness. So two days after dragging myself across the finish line of unresolved dilemmas, I headed West to spend some time with the band who writes those songs.

Nothing in my life would ever be the same.

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Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

Kateri’s Wisdom

So fellow travelers, setting the dial on the way back machine (any Rocky and Bullwinkle fans still out there?) we find ourselves on the road home the morning after the glorious Verdi experience.

Bennington Community Art Center

I’ve grown fond of the quiet college town of Bennington and it’s little sister North Bennington, home now to several friends from my creative tribe. It also boasts the distinction of being home to my favorite pizza restaurant in the world : Marigold Pizza.

My friends and I have shared many good meals of Marigold’s locally sourced (right down to the flour for the pizza crusts and the bottled sodas) ingredients and that afternoon was no exception as several of us gathered for a post Requiem reunion.

I eagerly took in the news of recent travels, new homes, photos of grand kids, funny ‘how me met’ stories and deeply appreciated the post performance reflections of both participants and patrons. I had a clear premonition this time together was a sandbar in a rising tide of looming stress.

What I did not foresee was the tsunami of chaos that would hit within days of my return to work.

Yet somewhere within me must have been an awareness of Something of Significance because on my drive home the next morning I made a spontaneous decision to detour off the highway to seek out a spot I had wanted to visit for decades.

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Kateri National Shrine Auriesville NY

Kateri Tekakwitha (also known as Flower of the Algonguins – Lily of the Mohawks) lived in the Mohawk Valley region in the mid 1600’s (1656-1680) I have been intrigued by her story since I heard of the shrine located near her village.

It is a quiet humble site with several trails, a chapel and museum with detailed and well documented accounts of the Native American history indigenous to the area as well as Kateri’s own story. Serene, simple and rife with the odd juxtaposition of Native American and Catholic (Franciscan) heritage.

Yet from the tangled weaving of two seemingly opposed cultures, Kateri’s devotion to both her people (most of whom rejected her) and her adopted faith shines like a golden thread. I thought of how much suffering she endured to follow the Spirit that spoke to her heart. Orphaned, scarred and nearly blinded by smallpox, she managed to reach for Hope and Light. Perhaps this Saint, canonized in 2012, might have some guidance to offer me.

So I climbed the path that lead to the statue which stood high on the hill overlooking the grounds below.

If I am a believer in Anything, it is that Truth and Light can be found on many paths. No religious or spiritual belief system holds all the answers for every soul. None of them are perfect because all of them are orchestrated by humans and we are inherently both flawed and fearful. We are also given to profound moments of compassion and grace. Not all Christians are judgemental; not all Buddhists are non-violent.

Anyone who has followed my thoughts here knows I am more apt to find wisdom in the walking woods than sitting in a wooden pew. Still I have often been moved by the energy and insights I’ve been blessed to discover when visiting sacred sites. So I sat on the bench, taking in the view, waiting, wondering, listening.

Warblers sang

Crows called

Leaves rustled

Dogs barked

Children laughed

A baby cried

Sounds of life flowing forward undeterred by the growing storm which loomed ahead. No Voice with a Message, just a reassuring sense somehow Everything Will Be OK.

Accepting this seemed a form of madness in itself in the face of a situation we were facing at work. But I left a shiny coin at Kateri’s feet in gratitude, hiked down the hill and drove home.

Buddha rock encounter

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

Hell Fire and Brimstone

So fellow travelers, hello from the depths of Joshua Tree National Park where an early morning walk brought me to this impressive view.

Look closely. To get a true sense of scale, I stepped back to include the little bench on the trail.

When I arrived last night the desert sky was mind boggling mass of stars and those giant trees seemed to be reaching up to grab them.

It was a long drive (made more palatable by a joyful dinner reunion with a friend) from the coastal paradise of Oceanside where I have spent the past week immersed in an adventure of unexpected grace and healing. More of that story to come.

Longer still was the journey through the inconceivable hell of the last weeks of school. Hence the absence of posts here for the past month. Some things are better left unsaid~ at least for now~ so let the Giants of the desert speak for us.

Giants born in hell

Reaching Heavenward in Hope

Guided by the stars

Three weeks of hell.

One week of grace.

Strength to move forward.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

Make a Joyful Noise

So fellow travelers, navigating major highways in heavy rain requires a kind of intense focus which you don’t realize is exhausting until you arrive at your destination.

It’s an apt metaphor for the level of focus and energy my job has required for several weeks now. Often at the end of the day I arrive home so thoroughly spent, a nap is required to take Delilah out for our afternoon walk. Bless her sweet soul, she has learned to be patient, curling up on the couch with me. She even developed the habit of gently nudging me awake after about half an hour which is about the longest I allow myself to rest so I won’t be up too late that night. When I wake, no matter how tired I still feel, we leash up and head out, whether on a brief patrol of the neighboring streets or a longer hike of a nearby trail to scout for birds (me) and woodland critters (Delilah) these walks help me hit the reset button. A sudden scattering of light through newly leafed trees, the bright call of a warbler, a sight of an osprey gliding high overhead on a lakeside trail, auditory and visual moments of joy and wonder. They serve as reminders that the failings of the educational system are not the be all and end all of my purpose.

As I drove through the rain I let a whirlwind of thoughts rattle around in my brain like raw stones in a tumbler, hoping some gems of wisdom or at least chips of sparkling insight might emerge.

They didn’t.

The drive took a bit longer than anticipated; I had just enough time to check in at my Air B&B, change for the concert and head to the venue where I found two of my friends had graciously saved me a seat. My mind was still a swirl of contradictory lines of thought so it was just as well we did not have much time to chat before the first somber measures of Verdi’s masterpiece drifted over us.

Choral music is rarely my first choice for musical repose, even when I am inclined to listen to classical music, which I do fairly often. Yet I have thoroughly enjoyed every concert I have had the good fortune to hear our friends perform in. This performance was a rare opportunity to see all three friends singing together. One sporano, one tenor and one alto tucked among over two hundred members of four diverse community choral groups, accompanied by talented student and long term musicians of the Putney Orchestra under the superb direction of Maestro Cailin Marcel Manson.  (rehearsal photo courtesy of The Keene Chorale.)

cailin

Seated just a few rows back on the ground level of Bennington College Greenwall Auditorium, we had a close-up view of all four star soloists. Cailin’s emotive movements did not “conduct” so much a conjure a vortex seeming to suspend the reality of space and time. Transfixed, we who listened were drawn into the swells of despair and hope as the music poured into every fiber of our presence. We felt the wrenching sorrow of Verdi’s grief, terror of final judgement and healing angelic blessing of grace as the words and music wound through the text of the Catholic Funeral Mass on which he based this tribute to his friend, Alessandro Manzoni, a much loved and publically revered writer of the time.

How significant to realize friendships had brought me to this moment even as friendship had driven a creative force so powerful and moving it was impossible to experience without feeling the Divine Presence behind Creation itself. I know I felt Grace and Healing completely enfold not only my own weary spirit but the entire performing space and every soul within it. Music affects me deeply, but rarely as profoundly as this performance. One week later I sense I am still absorbing the impact. My dreams have been intense and vivid, my sleep deeper and more restful than it has been in months and the fallout from continued chaos at work has rolled off my consciousness like wax dripping down the side of candles on an altar.

To remain under the grace of this experience for whatever time I am granted I remain profundly grateful for Verdi’s gift born from profund loss. I wish him Lux Eterna.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

Birds Before Bennington

So fellow travelers, this weekend’s road trip planned so many weeks ago evolved into something much more than expected.

As I prepared for the concert road trip, birding reports of returning migrants long delayed by April’s record setting cold began showing up in my messages. Even though I did not register to bird for this year’s Birdathon event, I could feel the compelling pull of the annual challenge we had risen to for so many years. On our last Birdathon Favorite Youngest Daughter and I finally broke the 100 species mark. Last year, even flying solo, I tallied a respectable total count of 73 species and I only birded for seven hours in a half dozen favorite locations, about half the time and distance we would cover as a team.

Calculating the time I would need to get to the concert, I set my alarm for first light, tossed my birding notes and checklist in the front passenger seat (next to the bin which holds my binoculars and travel copy of All About Birds) and finished packing my car.

When that alarm went off Saturday morning I hit snooze and rolled over. Half an hour later the punctuated calls of our resident yard robins and cardinals roused me from a surrealistic dream clearly scripted from the nerve wracking events at work the day before. I had slept through three replays of that snoozed alarm. Damn.

Grateful my husband had thoughtfully set up the coffeemaker the night before, despite the stress induced foul mood I had been in, I hit brew now, threw on hiking boots, packed a cooler with water, snacks and fruit and, after glancing at the forecast for both home and my afternoon destination, grabbed a rain jacket. Even after sleeping through that alarm, I managed to head out so early, our dog did not wake up to follow me downstairs. Travel mug filled with warm life restoring java, I paused in my driveway to listen~

Robin
Cardinal
House Sparrow
Goldfinch
Mourning Dove
House Finch
Red-bellied woodpecker
Blue jay                                                                                                                                                      Crow
Chipping sparrow
and of course our newest tenant “Chester” the House Wren

Eleven birds and I hadn’t even left my driveway.

As I drove up our road a great blue heron sailed high overhead. Always a welcome sighting, I had been told decades ago this graceful flier was one of my totem spirit guides. Driving across the bridge in the village I spied a pair of ospreys fishing for breakfast among the cormorants. But dark clouds moving in from the west threatened to shut down the opportunities to catch early morning activity and calls, so rather than stop to watch as I sometimes do on my way to work, I drove on to my next location where I hoped migrating warblers would be sheltered.

By the time rain arrived I had managed to log thirty-eight species in about two hours. I checked two more hot spots but found only a few persistent residents whose species I had already tallied braving the intensifying rains.

It was time to head East for songs of a different nature. (to be continued)

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

Verdi in the Woods

So fellow travelers, cool overcast conditions have not dampened the enthusiasm of songbirds this morning.

Sipping tea at the kitchen table of a favorite AirBnB I’m focused on the serenade echoing from the woods behind the cottage. It’s a glorious chorus of melodic phrases, punctuated by bright chirps and an occasional bass riff by a woodpecker somewhere deep in the forest.

Morning serenade
Woodland concert wakens me
Friendship sings again

This weekend’s road trip was set in motion when I received word of a choral concert which included three friends from our creative group. It was an opportunity not to be missed and well worth the seven hour round trip drive, which of course gave me the perfect reason to stay over at this favorite spot.

The only hitch in this plan was the schedule conflict of the concert date falling on the same weekend as the annual Birdathon marathon, an event I have participated in for twelve years, nine of them with Favorite Youngest Daughter.

Still this performance led by Maestro Cailin Marcel Manson would include a mulitude of choral and orchestral musicians taking on Verdi’s sweeping Requiem. It promised to be as rare as any of the unusual sightings popping up in my local birding reports (which so far this season have included an Avocet, a White pelican and a Western meadowlark.)

I reserved my ticket, booked my overnight accommodations and marked my calendar. Little did I know how crucial this respite would prove. (To be continued)

a little watercolor sketch of one of my morning greeters.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

Seismic Shifts

So fellow travelers, five weeks to go in the final stretch of this school year.

Like marathon runners “hitting the wall” going into the last quarter of the run, our team is digging deep to find the energy and willpower to see this through. Resources depleted, we keep each other refueled and focused as best we can. Requests for additional support and questions we ask go unanswered but recent events may force some issues to a critical point. Time will tell and until it does, we forge on.

Cold wet weather was keeping me and my trusted four legged companion Delilah off the trails and slowed the return of spring migrants to a trickle. No hiking, sparse birding, minimal walks had me plodding along in a fog until a sudden tragedy jolted me back to awareness.

We received news a close friend suffered a tragic, unexpected loss leaving her family reeling in shock. Tragic news has a way of setting seismic shifts in motion. When a friend is in need, all concerns about other matters are dispersed by the call to be of assistance; it does not matter whether this assistance takes the form of action or the gift is simply being present to listen. To be silent and strong when someone feels their world shatter around them, to be the one who can take action when others are immobilized by shock, anger or grief is what it means to “be there” for someone reeling in disbelief at the chaos life has sudden thrown at them.

To be present for others requires us to shift our focus outside ourselves even as we reach within for strength and compassion.

As the priest spoke of departed souls being near in times of loss, three large turkey vultures swooped over the trees. The black messengers circled the graveside gathering of family and friends several times gracefully spiraling higher and higher into the air carrying with them the prayers of the grieving and heart broken.

I no longer pass off such moments as mere coincidence and in the instant of accepting the sign, comfort took form in these words.

Dark raptors soar high

Ancestral spirit blessing

One soul welcomed home

There can be lessons in times of loss. Healing and grace, forgiveness and awakenings, gifts embedded within grief.

Walk gently on the path my friends and  if you too are grieving a loss, may peace settle on your hearts.

Perspective

So fellow travelers, on the road this weekend again and I’m struck by the picturesque contrast of bright spring greens against stark hillsides.

Persistent rain and swaths of fog veiled the views in light too flat for decent photos but I did catch one image at a rest stop on the way to Philly for the weekend’s family brunch to celebrate Mother’s Day.

Cold wet yuck to some

Life giving rain to others

Perspective matters

I’m grateful to be spening the weeken with my Mom, even as I count the days until I can visit with my own daughters whom I miss so much when we gather as a family here. Yet some close to me are struggling with the heartache of loss as Mother’s Day arrives. Whether recent or over years a loss suffered in motherhood or from mothers now gone becomes more acute at times when so many are celebrating. If tears, like rain must come, my wish they bring healing to those whose hearts ache an this healing blesses the life still waiting to be lived.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

Distant Light

So fellow travelers, much of what has come when writing has been a litany of complaints.

Cold, wet weather. Heavy grey skies. A dismal monotony of ongoing stress. Nothing to post because doing so would validate the dreadful waste of precious time my days at work have become.

Being required to attend yet do nothing while madness takes hold is proving to be almost beyond my capacity to maintain balance. We thought we had seen the pinnacle of senselessness last year; little did we know the demands yet to come.

 

There is light in the distance

So you just keep pushing towards it

One step at a time

I found this photo I took on New Years Day. It feels as if we have endured years rather than months since that moment.

Then, today for the first time in months, I ate dinner sitting by my pond as the setting sun tinted the sky with warm shades of rose gold.

A few fat bumblebees danced between clusters of just bloomed dandelions and violets.

Returning migrants sang from budding trees.

Joy, like Spring, too long delayed rose with their chatter.

An early evening star appeared, offering a promise to hold a born of sincere gratitude.

Grace to see this journey through to the end.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.