Sun Sets on Christmas

In my backyard, I take a few moments to myself after sun sets on Christmas.

I am drawn to the silhouetting branches of a tree and the stars surrounding it and eventually retrieve my camera to play with all the ways I can arrange the composition. I realize again what could be one of the reasons why I am drawn to photography: control.

I, in fact, am moving the stars. Positioning them. I manipulate the light. Later, I can manipulate in even more ways with editing apps.

I have danced with control so many times over the years, I had begun to think I was actually the lead. Control for me, though, never has had anything to do with power, simply the illusion of stabilizing, balancing, the perpetual chaos. Little bits of time. Of moments. Of situations. For survival.

As much as I’ve danced with control, I’ve had affairs with denial. Love-hate relationships. I think denial at times was truly a friend, keeping me afloat. At times, I think a betrayer; I could have stood up in the water that was actually shallow. I could have walked out of the water instead of treading. I could have maybe avoided the future near-drownings.

I am drawn most to putting the star here, cradled between the branches reaching for it.

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My Labraheeler has joined me, and I give in to kicking his ball for a bit, then decide to do a few laps around the half acre. He is used to this and follows beside me, jollily carrying his partially deflated mini basketball. We run, silently in companionship.

The weather is simply beautiful, the kind that the soul takes in as the breezy, summer-like night air is inhaled. I trust I know the yard enough to not trip in the growing darkness and trust my pup enough to not cross my path underfoot; I look up to the sky as my blood extra pumps, and all of me feels refreshed, renewed, freed.

This is peace.

The day was merry, and Christmas Eve too. I can’t recall another Christmas in which it truly was. Last year, I wore the smile, made it through, and then was nearly drowned in my after-tears.

I believe in miracles. And in magic. And in love.

I’ve always held fast to faith over the years, but in that hopeful someday kind of way, struggling to not drink in the devil-potions that would make me question and challenge the unfairness of the situations plaguing me. Only a few years ago did I fully recognize miracles, the direct hand of God at work, the Spirit inside me. I had a merry Christmas. We all did. That was a miracle. I’ve always wanted that. I did not think it possible.

I made Christmas magical and happy for my children when they were younger (with the help of my community most years), but I did so under the immense weight of all that being married to an addict-alcoholic adds. Add the strain of being the peacemaker, the glue, and often the leader of my whole family tree. Heavy. Stressful. Masked. Martyr. Superhero. Weighed. Bending. Cracking. Moth-eaten cape. Suffocating. Hiding. Pretending. Pleasing. Holding in. Suppressing. Swallowing. Denying. Lying. Stretched. Thinner. Thinner. Breaking.

Currently, light, airy, floating, feathered, free. Breathing.

So this is Merry Christmas…

I don’t think I’ll edit anything.

Peanuts in the Cobblestone

When I was a child, I simply and casually went with the flow. I don’t think that’s common, but maybe it is for the good middle children, as such was I. Even when my parents announced their divorce, I took it in stride, felt it was best for all. Mom said it would hit me, affect me, someday. It never did.

In grade school, maybe sooner, I discovered the joy of being funny, of making others laugh. I’ve never shied away from a performance; I’m quite comfortable on stage, enjoy being the center of attention, the life of the party. Later in life, I believe being a comedian became a defense mechanism. But at the same time, I did and still do truly like making people smile. All people. That is not to say, as I will have come to learn, that I was ever actually an extrovert.

I think humor became a defense mechanism as an adult when I began hiding my personal life, all of those pesky elephants that kept trying to escape from the horrific circus of my home; we never discussed those giants, inside or outside those walls, as families tend to not do when alcoholism and addiction and denial are involved.

Eventually, my smile became that wall, and evolved further into a fortress, as many smiles do, I suppose, separating inner and outer worlds. Eventually, I even kept the fake one on at home. In front of the children anyway. And to avoid upsetting the alcoholic. I made my alcoholic’s life as cushy as possible. I became a liar, to everyone. To myself. I lost myself eventually, as spouses of alcoholics often do, I suppose.

It must be my nature, it seems, to be a peacemaker, a people pleaser. At work, I still go with the flow; I’m the one you can give the difficult tasks and people to. I don’t complain. I don’t resent. I am intrinsically motivated. I make do. I succeed. As resistant as they are, I relentlessly try to make my teenage students smile.

Where am I going with this as I sit on my patio watching the sun set, filling a blank screen with a supposed “nature essay?” As I recount my life, as I flip through my mental album, I search for the point in which nature infused my soul. No epiphany comes to mind. This seems essential as an essayist. To reflect on those pivotal or deeply seared moments. 

I was very regularly exposed to nature as a child, so I am happy to give my parents partial credit: dad took us fishing and camping, we went to week-long summer camps each year, we were sent outside to play as a lifestyle. It became natural then for me to take my own family camping and on nature walks and outings as a lifestyle. And as my nest becomes emptier and my tie to one alcoholic dissolved, I am finding the ability, the freedom, to be able to be present in nature’s moments, more so than ever before, even as a child.

I do have twinges of near epiphany when I think about how many miles I rode my bike as a teenager. Alone. How those wheels and that wind set me free, how I escaped and left my siblings and parents behind, chose my own direction, traveled in and out time. Myself and the outdoors were all the company I needed. I discovered peace. I discovered healing. For as long as I can remember, I also remember not fitting in, feeling a sort of detachment. It is still how I feel, content in my surroundings but still an outsider looking in, bored only in the company of others, never in the company of myself. Especially when I am surrounded by nature.

Never before until now have I had the accumulated experiences I have to see all that I see in the overlooked daily wonders, gifts, and blessings so abundant all about me in the natural world. Perhaps I see myself in these stories that each petal and leaf and shell whisper to me. Perhaps these are the missing pages of my album I collect on the shore, in the trees, in the clouds. Perhaps it is my nature, that deep connection. Perhaps my home. Maybe going with the flow in all of my memories is because I always have been, even before my birth, from the soulline of Mother Nature and the universe.

Maybe I really search only for the light in my lens for myself. But I faithfully reflect the rays as inspiration and positivity to you, because of all the things I remember, I’ve always liked to make people feel better. And maybe each of these clues, each of these messages, each of these revelations are the manageable peanuts I am meant to open one by one, left by those invisible elephants of my past.

All words and images ©LauraDenise

A Hummingbird Visit

I was sitting out on the patio this morning after the rains, writing, or attempting to, taking a typing break, messaging a friend about my struggle to get back into prose writing; I think my DNA has morphed since being rebirthed back into a poet. I was realizing that my own nature photos have come to be my writing prompts, how poetry flows out of me, but prose tends to resist the dance, or maybe it is that my poetic muses hog the dance floor, not to show off but because they can’t help themselves when they feel that music rising up from within.

Then a hummingbird flew up to me, looked into my eyes, and darted away.

For whatever reason, it moved me to tears. I was so giddy, absolutely thrilled about the special encounter. Hummingbirds have previously been so elusive, always in and out of my peripheral or having disappeared up ahead before I can really get a good look. I heard its arrival before I saw it, those loud pulsating wings startling me before I could realize what was happening: a messenger sent to me. And a writing prompt.

I did not capture the bird in my photographic lens. It would have been impossible to react that quickly. I’m actually quite glad I witnessed the experience directly, eye to eye. I have no proof it happened. I personally have no proof hummingbirds exist at all. But it left me with the hard-to-describe feelings and emotions and soulful connection that nature is to me. It was Mother Nature saying, “Oh dear child, write your stories, with or without the photo: it’s all within you.” Okay, maybe that last part was my friend’s words, which have also come to nest within my heart.

In the memory of those wildly beating wings that left my heart the same, I am reminded that spiritual encounters have such effect. When I feel the celestial presence in those silent, soulful moments, in nature, in my faith, it is usually imprint-less in every concrete way. No evidence. No souvenir. No artifact for the museums. But the miracles still happen. And I wonder if that’s the condition of miracles. They can only be felt, or seen in the absence of any other witness. And it seems to me from the undeniable intensity, that feeling is the most reliable sense we have been so lovingly implanted with. That abstract sixth sense. The invisible thread that ties us to where we came from and where we will return to, that ultimate home that exists without concrete proof. No picture of the beyond, except the gateway in the clouds, golden-lined. Except in the bud on the verge of opening. Except in the ray that reaches through the dark wood. Except in the display the sunset paints. Except in the lyrics of the songbird. Except in the ancient secrets of the sea’s wise waves. Except in the grandest mountaintop view of a minuscule piece of the universe. Except in the wings of a messenger, a hummingbird on a Sunday morn.

As long as
I can feel,
I can write
about nature,
about my faith,
the two inseparably
entwined.
With or without
the photograph.
With or without
even my eyes.
With or without
rhyme. The reason
is all I need:
I was born
with a sixth sense
that wildly beats,
like a hummingbird’s
wings in me.

Inside Clouds

Dense fog advisory. Dark, early Saturday morning. Mild temperatures. A perfect time to… head to the beach! I make my coffee to go.

I love fog and mist, as I do rain and thunderstorms…something about the mood of this kind of weather invigorates my soul. It is another clue in the discovery of my own inner roots, another clue in the direction to go, to finally arrive at home, that place my soul has always tugged me toward. I have come to co-exist with this spiritual restlessness.

As I make the short drive to the bridge, I am fascinated by the “disappearance” of the familiar land and ocean across the bay, parallel to the road. If I didn’t know it existed, it would seem that this was where the flat earth simply ended, the beyond, inaccessible yet really only veiled by the fog, like El Dorado or Atlantis. But I do know it exists, and I take the bridge into the clouds…

I am obsessed with clouds, so I suppose it is no wonder that the ones reaching down to embrace me call to me. It is a strange sort of adrenaline to me to be on a bridge in a cloud; even though I know by heart what surrounds, it is simply “not there” now, and it is “just me” (why I love early mornings) in this bizarre reality. 

I was hoping to experience the phenomenon I’ve only driven by before: when the fog hovers above the bay. That is not the case today, so I am a bit disappointed and walk to the ocean side. My soul is thrilled, though, to immediately see the lone fisherman: it is another clue about my timeless soul, the comforting spiritual connection I feel observing (or reading poems about) fishermen and remote fishing villages. I ponder again if I may be part mermaid after all. 

A few steps in, I lose vision, my eyesight becoming foggy itself from the sea mist upon my glasses. I will have to look for treasures and take photos partially blind, but always finding the adventure and the positives, I embrace the challenge. It seems more fitting anyway, to have even blurrier vision in the fog; it doesn’t make much of a difference really. For a bit, though, coffee thermos in hand, I sit in the silky white sand and just exist, me and the lone fisherman, phantoms in the mist… I love the coast on days like this, too early or in unfavorable conditions when I can have the world to myself. The fisherman was here first though, an indigenous ghost representing generations of past fishermen lining the coast and not-lost at sea. When the local residents begin their descent on the paved horizon, I will take my leave and return to my bird sanctuary, the lot that contains my abode, never quite a home, though it’s still my favorite place to retreat to.

I find it senseless to come to the sea if you do not at least dip your feet into the magical waters; I am surprised that the water temperature delivers no jolt of briskness. I let the waves wash over my polish-chipped, never-manicured toes, my capris get soaked…oops, but oh well. I walk for a while in the surf, feeling the gentle ebb and flow, benevolent nudges to and fro, the pull teasing, seemingly luring back into the benevolent parts of the deep; I look at my feet, but no tail is morphing.

Back upon the smooth sand-slate, I stoop low to inspect sea-strewn debris and treasures, and I think the difference is truly in the clichéd eye-of-the-beholder; I always favor the forgotten and discarded. I listen with genuine interest to the stories dripping with lessons of the “broken” shells, let them also feel a touch, too often only stepped around and upon, at best inspected and tossed back, seashell hunters looking for “the perfect” ones, visibly whole, sometimes even shunning all and purchasing faux.

I do hold one of those “perfect” formations, though its plainness probably makes it unseen. What I notice most is our prints, and I compare and ponder the non-insignificance, silent lifelines that brand us, as non-related species of different trees, yet neither with roots. We are both free. Both molded with love from the same Creator. Our prints, non-replicable, keep us entirely unique yet give us away, register as “identity,” though no print-reader can ever know me, as none can know the secrets of the story-keepers of the sea.

I get lost for a while in a different time and place, lost in the intriguing details and textures in the muted colors in the calcified, granulated, and liquified elements about me. The wall of a ripple, individual drops, each frothy bubble that comprise the vast ocean collide and linger on a partial sand dollar, and I think to myself how priceless are the macromoments…

Next, I happen upon the jackpot. Or graveyard. Or castaway club. Or secret congregation. Or paradigm peaceful, diversity-infused community. No fog when viewed up close, no excuse of unjust obstruction of revelation, even preconceived notions rinsed with salt-water solution. It all comes down to perception. Yet what we see…how much of our past experiences still renders us blind, keeps our perspective shrouded?

The large beach tangleballs tossed about I can easily “see” without my glasses on, but it is not until I inspect them up close that I realize what is entangled. I see my past. Debris, skeletons, corpses, clutter that the waves of time have purposely weaved and wrapped up and expelled from the waters in its natural self-cleaning process. In my palm, I can hold it all, after the fact. It seemed so large and heavy at the time I experienced each symbol artifact. Droplets of seawater evidence this present expulsion, not even dry yet. Have I added just now to it with this cleansing morning coastal visit?

I take my time on this walk through nirvana, sand grains sparkling like crushed diamonds, priceless like the partial sand dollar, the dusted-jeweled surface soft as sugar with the clouds kissing the surface of earth. I think I see forever, though nothing is clear. I am thankful that what’s behind me has also disappeared. In this muted moment, I feel the celestial peace.

Perhaps limbo is not what we think, for I wish to be suspended for some time in this world of in-between. In between my past and future, in between reality and dreams, in between the highs and lows, snuggled in between these muted sheets where time itself lullaby-sings through the sound waves of the sea. I half expect to see holy spirits from the past and future; I would not be scared for such an encounter. There is no fear here, no extreme emotions, just the sweet, soothing serenity, the peace I knew existed. I wonder if we can take it back with us, have it emanate from our pores, after walking in the clouds so close to heaven’s door, no bright light in sight upon these non-printed, angel-visited shores.

All words and images ©LauraDenise

Monday to Monday

Everything happens for a reason? No, I don’t think so. I hope not. I am not a believer in fate to that extreme. It’s too controlling. If it were truth, I’d personally journey to dethrone those meddling Moirai and take back my life. I’d do it for others too.

Now destiny to me is a whole different matter. Even the word is more beautiful. While fate feels fortune-cookie prescribed, destiny feels like personal potential. Fate’s word origin is “that which has been spoken” whereas destiny’s is “to establish.” One makes me wish to defy and retaliate, though essentially, it would supposedly be futile to do so; at worst, it makes me want to give up, surrender. The other makes me want to keep putting one foot in front of the other, no matter the obstacles—in fact, obstacles become welcome and necessary—choosing the paths, to become all that I can be, all that my higher power wishes for me to discover about myself to bring me closer and closer to The Light.

Some things happen for a reason. I absolutely believe in this. That reason being loving, personal, divine intervention, when we are directly presented gifts, even (and perhaps more importantly) obstacles and uneasy feelings. It is these moments that I feel are crucial for our destinies. The choices. The free will.

Monday after work, I seized the day, to ride the wave of what was at the time the merging of a beautiful late afternoon with my good spirits; I headed for the coast (across the street but a 20-minute drive to the National Seashore parking area I opted for rather than the main beach). I just wanted to bank some credit on my emotional health, as this school year for me as a teacher has been the most challenging yet. Usually in my past, I would more likely seek out nature as my medicine upon feeling the first symptoms of mental unwellness, though my soul requires daily doses of the outdoors. I’ve had the photos I took that afternoon in my phone; no particular inspiration came from them during the week. Until now.

Monday again. A holiday. Yet something off within me. I get frustrated with that feeling because I feel I’ve put sooooo much work into my total healing that I deserve to never feel an uncomfortable feeling again. That’s absurd though, I know, and I would probably hate such a boring emotional predictability. I talked to my higher power aloud, as is natural for me. I retracted my request to take these disquieting feelings from me to “unless I am meant to feel them for a purpose because I need to, because you are trying to help me realize something.” I sat down on the couch with my morning coffee (deliberately avoiding my bed) and brought a notebook, as it seemed like a pen-to-paper doodling therapy session might be needed over the digital screen. It’s raining out; I usually love staying home as reader and writer on a rainy day, but for some reason, though I finished reading a novel, my muses for the first time in a couple of years were not around this week. Until now.

Some things happen for a reason.

The only WordPress post I found myself at, Listening to the Reed, was one from the same soul whose music moved me recently. After reading it and thanking her for the inspiration, my typing fingers remembered again how to dance. And what I saw in Monday’s photos became apparent. Funny how it all comes together in magical moments….

Even before the water comes into view, parking lot inspiration captures me as I snap a photo of a stranger, here too, to use her gifts, “alone” in nature. She is me, the poet, the photographer, using different media. She is the musician brushing notes, and although we all seem to speak a different language, our stories, our messages, are all too similar, invisibly thread us together, I am certain. Her silence, my silence, a silent symphony that runs through us both, all. Solitude is not without its benefits. May we become, again and again, blank and empty, for our higher power’s use of us as instruments, as lenses, as canvases. May we share with one another those masterpieces, the instruments being masterpieces themselves. 

The sun is out still; I am thankful to get off work early enough to enjoy it. Sixty degrees on this February pre-evening. I came to this area for the adventure, though I’ve also come in the past for the solitude. I can see the shoreline through the trees; the hike doesn’t begin until I sink deeper into the sand. The view always seems like a long sought after oasis discovery, yet it is always simply before me, so easily accessible. It seems like cheating to start at Paradise. 

The late afternoon rays highlight the remains of a tree. I’ve visited this one before, but the light upon and within is particularly captivating today. The way the tree stands so resolutely, still firmly rooted yet maimed, seems honorable, and I pause to add a moment of silence to the silence. To me, it is a veteran, not fallen but partially sacrificed. I am standing upon the barrier island that protects the mainland, in official wilderness, where the defenders too often are unseen and unappreciated. 

The soft, beautiful light within draws me in further, not deeper but into the world of its complex interior, a secret cavern faithfully harbored, a portal hesitantly opened for the sincere, and I enter with reverence into its still and shallow waters. 

Exposed, I see every feature, every fissure, every shadowed crevice, and the continued sacrifices. I am reminded of Silverstein’s Giving Tree, and it stills me to pay even more homage. 

From inside the sacred sanctuary, the view of the sun seems so much more beautiful, and the Light so personally and tenderly loving. I recall the times, like a week from today, my private, protected, inner self has looked through such deeply-anchored panes. 

I continue on my solo voyage, following the coastline that has changed, and I remember another hurricane has passed through since my last visit. The windblown tree that throws off the perpendicular order with its angle is the first testament that life inevitably alters us. Yet again, I focus on the roots, still buried, that interconnect with others, locking, intertwining, determined to protect, holding the sand itself together. I recall where I was when this happened, a bit inland, in an interior closet with my daughter and dog. I recall prayers to my higher power to turn the powerfully-increasing storm back to sea, not west or east but back, asking to protect us all, in every land. How relevant, yet even more symbolic, are the exposed roots of the great (still) Live Oak I happen upon next… 

I bend down again to inspect the clues without altering the scene, a cracked log, split halfway down the center and not by the axe, reveals the hollow and part of the skeleton within, severed from the tree, no longer adrift, arrived and at rest at its burial place, but not even that is certain. 

Instead of the expected crabs that usually endlessly entertain me here, I find never-encountered peculiar objects and remnants I have yet to identify. Some explorers are quick to Google their finds, but as curious as I am and as much of a lifelong learner as I hope to be, most of the time, I treasure more the mystery, the unexplained, my imagination, the childlike wonder. So much on this excursion is new this time, and I find a peculiar yet not very unsettling eeriness in the lack of both human life and wildlife found anywhere. I continue on, backward or forward in time, I cannot tell, but the present is nowhere about. 

Not-quite-parallel lines, natural elements, hurricane relics, and human footprints all seem to travel in the same direction: along the shore, toward the light. The sound (aptly named) both contributes, discreetly takes away, and smooths again the slate of history. I leave my own temporary tracks, an intermingling legacy, but I sense if I turn around, I may catch Time itself sweeping the evidence away. After all, I am but a visitor in this past or future, and my present is patiently waiting for my return. I press on, though, just a bit more, farther and further away from the portal. 

The sand itself becomes more and more buried beneath the new after-storm covering. The terrain, so foreign-feeling, draws my attention to my every step. Sooner than I wanted, I arrive at the infamous “where the beach ends.”  

This was not the end before though; funny how endings can change. I want to be allowed to pass, to make it to the tree patch where the seabirds often nest. I pause at the obstacle I could surmount if I choose to, but I doubt the wildlife I am looking for is up there this time. It is neither doubt nor fear of the unknown though that propels my pivot but the satisfaction of this leg of my journey today, and my present is one that I am not trying to escape, unlike the pattern of my past. 

In my return journey, as it grows late in the day, I do not light the torch but instead frame the flame between two seemingly scorched matchstick trees. Sometimes a shift in perspective can become a powerful thing. This non-desolate non-wasteland thrives with natural, resilient beauty. We are blessed to witness its offerings. In the absence of our existence, the surf would still play its music, the flower would still bloom, the bird would still sing, though I do believe they prefer to gift us those things. But the green.. the green would gleefully creep out from the earth and revel in its reclamation, stretch its vines and branches and burst forth new leaves and lift itself again to the heavens. 

The clouds begin to rise up, themselves, from the sea, rising up to cradle Sun and gently lower it into the ripples, to extinguish the day’s light. Benevolent Moon will soon fill in so darkness never truly sets in, and stars will adorn the night, to collect our wishes and christen them in the magical moonlit tide.

I hear not the cry of Yeats’ falcon; I see not his sea beast. The only wild creature that crosses my path is the single, silent pelican, wings spread wide, as it soars like a promise of hope into the cloud-misted sunset. 

I was called to the coast on a Monday,
though my core was perfectly intact.
On a rainy day inside me,
it restored my soul on the next. 

Photographer’s note: the only thing I edited in these photos was lightening some of the shadows…

Related by Laura: My Mother is the Beach

First Dandelion

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I am a champion of dandelions, so when I spotted the first one unseasonably early this year in January, it was meaningful to me.

This “winter” along the Gulf Coast has been a wonderland for me despite the absence of snow. Summer flowers refused to fold, autumn arrived in December and passed yet lingers, some leaves finally fallen and browned, others “frozen” in time.

I don’t think the leaves and flowers and frost are confused by the erratic temperatures. It feels more willful than that. They feel alive, refusing to conform, but not in a defiant resistance, more of a joyful jubilee, an awakening, a desire to witness, delayed death meeting premature birth, overlapping, perhaps just this once as planets form a particular pattern.

I see the parallels in me.

I woke long before dawn on a Sunday because I couldn’t sleep, didn’t want to, any longer. I yearned to write, to seize the day, because it was mine. As much as I love my career, it dictates me like any other. No agenda today but my own, the only notes needed, the scribblings of poetic thoughts flittering in the spring of my mind. Like the flowers and leaves out of doors, I will inevitably sleep but if fate allows, I’ll decide the time. A nap with the window open mid-afternoon, perhaps in the middle of a chapter, perhaps in an hour.

The seasons of our lives are wed to time, and these seasons are defying order, the same way the past in me can mix with my present, competing for my attention, openly and beneath. Sometimes it is simply past time for the last leaf to release its grip; after all, it is sacrificial and needed for the tree’s perseverance. The trees of life within us, like the blooms, will assuredly bud again. Perhaps the exposed bareness is necessary for us too, to feel the abrasive, harsh winds, to virus-hibernate for a while, to better appreciate the warmth and warmer rains, and friends. To extend once again or for the first time, our olive branches.

I lean down to the ground behind my privacy fence to capture the “Tooth of the Lion.” I shake my head instead of getting mad when I am photo-bombed. Sometimes the unexpected comes along, for we were not designed to be able to translate the harbinger’s song.

Fences

I have mixed feelings about privacy fences.

On one hand, they are divine to me because I am a private person. I used to think I was an extrovert; I would tell you that I was the life of any party. And in a way, that was and is still true. Because publicly, I am quite fearless and truly a people-person. But I realize it is with the things I permit you to see about me. Which is really just the surface things. It’s not fake, for that zaniness is authentically me. I very much like to perform, to make people laugh, to mix up the mundane.

But I also have never let anyone actually know all the rest of me underneath that. Eventually, in recent years, I began to, here and there. My work friends could not believe some of the things I had been going through while wearing that smile, while pouring nothing but positivity into my surroundings and into the people I’ve encountered.

I’m a private person. I think I always have been. Even before that one score and four years that scarred and taught me how to keep secrets, to keep my personal reality hidden. Eventually, I even learned how to hide it from myself.

I’ve come to realize after all these years that I think I’ve been an introvert by nature all these years. I have very little desire to go out with friends, to socialize outside of work. Any social engagement seems dutiful and quite boring to me, and I can’t wait for it to be over so I can just write or read or immerse myself in nature. I just prefer my own company. Now that I finally have the freedom and space and time to focus on me, I have found my interests and passions to still stem from that same source within that is self-sustaining. I’ve always had it. But now I can hear the tranquil ripples, I can feel the warmth of the hearth, I can see the soft dawning light. I can produce my own fulfillment, my own contentment, simple but deep and pure happiness. It’s all within me. And it occurs within these privacy fences.

I’m thankful for my home’s privacy fence because my neighbors are more limited in observing and judging my “craziness.” Quite a few times, my neighbor has come out to ask what it is I see as I am taking pictures. It’s “nothing” though. Nothing to others. Just nature. Just in my same backyard. Yet I can easily become endlessly lost in that same backyard every time I step out into it. With nature, no matter how small or large the lot, it’s forever changing, always alive. A million different ways there are to frame the moments. And in each, I see a story.

So I like privacy fences for that. But they also box me in. And I’ve never been a fan of boxes. Even a half-acre one. I’d rather have no fences and some natural space between dwellings. I wish not to be a hermit though. My soul would be most content with distant neighbors outside a small town set in older times…

I have a new privacy fence, finally replaced from the last hurricane. It makes the enclosed feeling seem a bit tighter; I’m not sure I like it. I’m slow to warm to new though, and modern. My soul prefers worn. I think I felt this most in feeling sad for my one-year-old pup with the changes; he was having so much fun playing with the dogs on both sides of us through the temporary makeshift fencing the neighboring men put up. Now he can’t even see them through the slats. It feels a bit suffocating despite us being outdoors. It feels too obvious of a reminder of all the ways we distance ourselves from our neighbors, one another, each other, as supposed brothers and sisters on this planet, the ways fences too easily become walls.

Oddly, I dreamed about fences last night. In my dream, I woke to the new fence being destroyed. People came together to piece together the puzzle. Eight bears had caused the damage in quite a commotion involving some wild pigs. When I was young, I had a recurring dream in which a peculiar character was at the privacy fence; he resembled the Purple Pie Man from Strawberry Shortcake. The fence was the one at my childhood home; I never did fully ever actually see the neighbors partially revealed on the other side. I did spend a lot of time beneath the weeping willow tree though.

I am thankful for my privacy fence so I can spend hours in my yard being as “foolish” and “odd” as I want, less conspicuously, taking photos of the “same” things every day. At the same time, I think I have finally entered the level of healing in which I don’t care what others think of me, so in a way, these privacy fences are counterproductive to my growth. Perhaps that is why they fell down again in my dream. I did not intend to put them back up again…


Mending Wall

A favorite poem
BY ROBERT FROST

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
‘Stay where you are until our backs are turned!’
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
‘Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.’ I could say ‘Elves’ to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’

Southbound

This photo popped up on my Facebook Memories this morning with some comments about my inspirational journey that made me teary.

It is of my daughter looking like she is deep in thought. I had just uprooted her life with a sudden move from Ohio to Florida when I accepted my first teaching job at the start of the school year. Six years later, she reports still not being happy with me about that. But I think it was all for the best.

It actually felt selfish. I had finished graduate school, but competition for teaching jobs was fierce in my area despite my having served all of the districts as a substitute teacher. It was the end of July. It looked like I would have to sub another year.

I actually don’t even remember how I learned of the vacancy in Florida, in the area my mom lived, the area I was a regular tourist of for many years. It wasn’t through mom because I remember surprising her with the news.

I got hired over the phone. My future supervisor claimed she just had a feeling about me through our conversations. (Or they were desperate.)

I had three weeks before I had to report to work, three weeks to move! Ahhh! I am NOT a frequent mover. I get very attached to homes and hometowns. We had lived in Ohio from the time my son started Kindergarten to his then junior year at The Ohio State University. We came for a (failed) career opportunity for my husband. Previously, I had lived in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. That’s it.

But Florida was familiar to us all as tourists since my mom moved down there when I was pregnant with my first child. The absolute heart-wrenching part of the decision was leaving my adult son, separating the siblings. But he had already moved out and led a busy life of his own. Most kids grow up and move away, but I was blessed in having mine stay. It was I who left him and moved away, like my mom did when I was his age. It tore me up emotionally. Lots of tears.

But I felt very strongly God’s calling, like I had a few times before in my life. With my marriage at its end (again), I should have been able to make the decision for myself, for my future, for the future of my children, but I simply would not have without feeling God’s hand.

I do still have guilt I moved my daughter and left my son. But I also acquired a stable salary with benefits and was able to pay my bills for the first time in my life. Although my husband followed me down here and we gave it one more shot (again), my twenty-four-year marriage finally came to a peaceful end once and for all four years later.

Above all, I could not ever imagine being more passionate or more fulfilled than I have been every day at this high school, with my staff and student family. Would I have gotten hired eventually up north? Maybe. Would I have loved my school? Maybe. We can never know.

We can never know what the future holds for us, what lies just beyond the next curve in the path. We simply blindly choose the paths, though we must be willing to change direction as needed, sometimes even going off-trail altogether. Sometimes we must collect, empty, exchange the gear in our packs depending on which path or non-path we wish to explore.

We must keep moving forward until we are sure we are home. That direction only becomes clear when we still ourselves enough to hear the calling, feel the gentle tug, of the soul.

I know I ended up where I was meant to be. And now I feel another’s pull leading to me. My story is filling with so many new beginnings.

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Stormy-Day Joy

I headed to the beach this morning after a second day of such a cool mix of cumulous and storm clouds. I love storms so was hoping I might catch one rolling in from the gulf. With the added sea breeze, it was actually comfortable out.

I didn’t quite make it all the way there, as my car veered to the shoulder after the bridge to take in some beautiful bay scenery. I was upset to find I had left my Canon memory card at home. I still had my iPhone though, which is what I use far too often. I just wouldn’t be able to zoom in on any seabirds.

(All of the images in this post are unedited.)

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The other day, a huge double rainbow appeared over my backyard. I was telling a friend afterwards about how mesmerized I have been at how many rainbows occur down here, how I saw maybe two my whole life up north, but here they happen all of the time. Often, they occur at the perfect times, it seems. You can imagine my delight when I turned around and saw this one this morning…

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I finally decided, after spending quite some time at the bay, that I should get to the beach. It looked like the sky over the ocean would be all boring gray, but I figured I’d go the rest of the way. I could use some time there, with or without photo ops.

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I snapped a few images and then, after wading in the water, sat down in the sand at the water’s edge to enjoy the serenity (and occasionally take more photos and videos). The sea seemed especially emerald today, adding to all of the beautiful shades of sea and sky.

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On my way back, I explored the beach further up, away from the water. And you are not going to believe what I found!! White blooms growing in the sand!! (You know a poem is coming now in my next post…)

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It was not your typical “good day” to go the beach, but boy, am I glad I did! I felt the urge, the calling, if you will. If you follow my writing, you know I have been deeply connected to white blooms for a couple of years now. Today, especially after yesterday’s white blooms in the park, seemed liked evidence that rainbows and white blooms are simply starting to follow me now, and I read a lot into that! It filled me with such meaningful, personal joy.

I wonder if it is as spectacular of an occurrence as I am making it out to be, or if my outlook, my perception, my focus, my soul has simply been changing in my journey to a more authentic me… Maybe both. But I refuse to believe it is neither.

In Passing

With the southern summer heat and humidity keeping me indoors most of the time now, I try to get outside every early morning and every evening when it is peak bearable. I very much enjoy having nature largely to myself in the mornings before the world awakens and the bustle begins. This morning, I enjoyed some time on the beach waiting for the storms to roll in (photos in my next post).

Upon leaving the waves, I noticed a frail-looking older man very much struggling to carry all of his (what appeared to be) fishing gear down to the water. Among the items was some sort of thick, wooden log-looking stand. He actually stood still and slowly swayed at one point. My natural instinct was to rush over and help him, offer to carry the gallon of water, at least. But with only a few footsteps between us, I had only moments to both assess and act upon the situation. I couldn’t make out his character. He looked like he may even be a bum. We exchanged friendly greetings, including his chuckling about how he needs a mule, as I continued to walk by. I turned around after I passed him for another glance. By the time I reached my car, the guilt was already heavily coated on me; it felt just as heavy as that gear.

I should have helped him.

I didn’t because although my first instinct came from my heart, my second came from my head. A woman out by herself needs to be careful, doesn’t she? I am still adjusting, post-divorce, to the new safety mentality; my noble steed (Lab mix) I since adopted was not with me. But…we were very much in a public place, far enough from the parking lot and with some other beach witnesses nearby. I made the wrong decision in my haste. Mom would say I made the right one. My deciding factor was concluding he may be a bum. But should that matter? Maybe it should, in other ways…

My soul’s composition simply makes me a kindhearted person with immense compassion who truly struggles with seeing the bad in anyone. To me, he was simply a brother. He was still, even when caution caused me to keep walking instead of being a good Samaritan. I sat in my car and wished I could turn the clock back a few minutes and do what my heart wanted to do. Random moments such as these tend to affect me long afterwards, tend to change me, tend to remain indelibly inside me. It’s just the way I am.

It reminded me of a scene from a friend’s book I had finished reading a couple of days ago. Grant van der Vijver’s reflective mentor character in his debut novel Deeper has a similar experience and explains to younger Luke why he called the homeless man his brother, that he believes in the Native-American philosophy of “Mitakuye Oyasin,” that we are all related. Luke struggles with the concept because he has witnessed so much hate toward others in the world, but his mentor explains that “all that ignorance doesn’t make it untrue.” Luke, like me, recalls the man’s pained eyes, still reflecting on it later that night.

My act of unkindness came with a good heart, good intentions, and good reasons I fell short this time. It may not seem like a big moment in the grand scheme of things, but for me it was. It came with a valuable reminder, a good reason for reflection, a universal one.

I texted my friend about it briefly in the car before heading home, mentioned how you just have to be careful in today’s world as my defense. But as I drove, I reflected even on that. Today’s world is no different, no exception. There has always been potential danger from strangers. There has always been sick, others would say “bad,” people. It makes me think of things that have changed, as well as things that remain the same. It makes me think of human nature. It makes me feel. It makes me want to write.

All because I passed a man at the beach this morning.

And don’t think I didn’t recall Jesus falling under the weight of the cross he carried, or this old song…

Link to the referenced book by Grant van der Vijver: Deeper (A Novel)

Photos taken by me this morning.