Sunday, December 20, 2009

Miracle of Snow

December 2009

What a curious year this has been. I look out the window at snow, but its not yesterday’s snow, or the snow of two days ago. Today’s snow is different. Today the snow comes down steadily in small flakes, as though it were rain. Yesterday we had lovely fluffy flakes drifting down, each flake a different size. Two days ago the snow was little pellets. I understand (mostly) the scientific reason for the types of snow, temperature, height of clouds, humidity, etc. But the science doesn’t remove the wonder, or change my reaction to this Christmas card wooded environment in which I find myself.

The Fall too was spectacular - such colors, red, yellow, orange, and even mauve, contrasting always with the green of pine. The maples, turned yellow then red deepening the hues each day, so that each day presented a different woodland. The ferns green to yellow to bronze. The oaks keep their leaves the longest, but this year they too fell before the first snow. I have a photo taken last year of oak leaves on snow, but there will be no leaves on snow this year as the trees are barren. It is this barrenness that presents the perfect photo in snow, for each twig – with next year’s leaves in readiness - holds the flakes that fall.

I hate to say the Crispus Attucks book is almost finished, but it is, just a bit more polishing. I know now what I often told students, “no book is finished, just abandoned.” What’s next? I don’t know for sure, I’ll send out letters and a chapter to see what happens, I just feel good having told the story. I have another novel in the works, this one about a soldier and his friends, world war I to the Nuremberg trials told from the point of view of the average soldier.

It’s good to be here in the trees, and to a different lifestyle. I am healthy, working in my mother’s yard, learning – very slowly – how to garden in trees, and the breaking point of yard and flower bed vs woodland. Shade and Sand are my companions out of doors.

Each day in Michigan is a new day. Like the snow, they fall one by one with new loveliness. There are chickadees at the feeder who follow me calling “chick a dee dee dee,” as I walk down the hill to the mailbox. They call to me when I go down the shallow steps to the garage, or when I put up decorations, or get out a rake. Deer too come in the yard, we’ve had two does and their fawns come in a couple of times a week during the morning or evening hours this fall. Just last week, “Granny” came in with her twin fawns and a daughter. “Granny” is recognizable for the tracking collar around her neck. We hadn’t seen her at all this year, though neighbors had, so we knew she still lived. I continue to be amazed at her, she must be at least six years old, and momma says Granny has twin fawns every other year. How remarkable! The turkeys too come in the yard, I counted nine, and only one of the nine had a beard.

The snow is faint now, almost invisible as it falls. We have less than an inch on the ground, I can still see green grass tufts above the white. My brother and sister-in-law had a foot of snow yesterday, I’m so glad to be on the eastern side of the state and miss all that lake-effect snow. We are due for a snow storm later this week, who knows what that means as it was supposed to be dry and sunny today. Each day different. Each day a miracle. Each day new ideas, new experiences, some pellets, some rain, some flakes. I wish you all the miracles your hearts can hold, all the newness your mind can perceive. Most of all I wish you love and peace. Not freedom from war, for I am convinced that as long as there is evil in this world there will be war, but the inner peace that comes from loving and being loved.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


December 1st
Right now its spitting snow outside the window.. Five minutes ago it was all sun and blue sky through the trees. An hour ago a blizzard, the trees swaying and dancing in the wind. The scene outside the picture window in my mother’s home changes as rapidly as the changes come to me this year.

I spent time with John in North Carolina in June, and with Merry in July. Then off to Michigan until the second week of August. A fairly typical summer. But, not home to a typical Fall. Instead, I never really got my bearings. With a friend’s help I downsized my garden, getting rid of the raised vegetable beds. I probably won’t be home enough to enjoy their fruits. I wrote some acceptable, not great, poetry. I typed my poetry collection- 88 pages. I drafted a children’s book based on my research on Crispus Attucks. Nothing I did was of any significance, because my heart wasn’t in it. Somedays I just read and slept, no rhythm, no purpose. God was there, but I didn’t listen, just did my daily office routinely.

While I am getting stronger each day (I’m on page 45 of revising my 119 pages of poetry), I still miss my old identity. I have lived much of my life basking in the glow of teenagers. Now I bask in the warmth of the sun and the glow of the snow. I knew if I came home to Michigan I would find my way again. I could be serving on committees, heading this, chairing that, teaching writing, tutoring, but then I couldn’t visit family for months at a time. Or, like Thoreau, “front the essentials of life.”

It is quiet here, and real. One keeps both bottles of water to drink, and buckets of water for flushing when the power goes out. For Thanksgiving, mom and I had 16 plus ourselves. The turkey was done early, as were the dressing, and sweet potatoes. She cooked the potatoes, gravy and baked the rolls on the woostove, which kept us warm when the power went out for four hours in the middle of the day.

We keep the refrigerator and freezer stocked so we can enjoy the snow and ignore the sometimes icy roads. We don’t have anything that has to be done, and yet the days pass in meaningful activity, including bird watching out that picture window, through which the sun shines right now, while I write to you….

Well, I’ve had my afternoon nap, done exercises with “Sit and Keep Fit,” used the ski machine, and had afternoon tea with my mother and the birds and trees outside the window. The sky is gray now, and the wind has picked up, and snow has started again. We’ve gathered small downed branches and laid a fire in the woodstove, ready for the next power outage.

Despite the steady snow fall, there has been little accumulation on the porch or walks. This snow is fluffy, and with the wind doesn’t coat our world in frosting like the earlier snow did or later storms will. This snow swirls and dances in the wind, like the dancing trees, it turns first this way then that, turning, settling, only to be caught by the wind and blown to another resting place. It will finally settle and with God’s direction, so will I.

Friday, December 11, 2009

My Father's Passing

December, 2005

Hidden away on a hill in Harbor Springs, is a memorial garden.  While no one I know has ashes sprinkled here, I can feel the spirit of those who have gone before me.  It is a contemplative garden, one I truly welcome.

I’ve just returned from a weekend at New Melleray Abbey where I renewed my commitment to live a Cistercian Life in the world. Like my father, I am searching for the Truth. Unlike him, I’m searching for the Truth in living, while I think he was searching for the Truth as Knowledge.

I haven’t gone through all his papers yet, I thought I would, and was anxious to do so, but when I got home, I found myself without the energy to think about his struggle. I was excited to find all his journals secreted away in the piles of boxes in his room, but now they sit in boxes my room, waiting vainly for me to read them. I think it is my way of mourning his passing.

For my mother, it was a gift that he waited until their 64th anniversary to leave her. For the Michigan families he gave another gift, that of a wonderful weekend, filled with father and grandfather he was. For me it was a reprieve. Merry, Zach, Anna, and I last visited on Labor Day Weekend. I had planned to take a week from school, and visit the week after their anniversary. I had watched my own husband die, and didn’t want to see my father die, so God spared me, if spared is the right word.

I spent July in Michigan with my parents. Daddy continually complained about gas. Before my visit he saw the local doctor who said it was his heart and gave him tablets, which Daddy refused to take because it was gas not his heart. I tried to get him to go into Acute Care at the hospital, but as he told Momma later, he didn’t want to “spoil” my visit. Even after the first hospitalization, Daddy argued that the doctors were wrong. But the next time he was hospitalized he no longer argued.

I hate funerals and open caskets, but my brother, Frank, gave a beautiful eulogy, and as I faced my father, I realized he was truly gone. I think this is the first funeral where I realized the God spark was gone from the body. There was nothing there to tease or be teased by, there was only the shell, and Daddy was now experiencing the Truth he spent his life seeking.

For me, and those of us living, it is necessary to visualize that God spark at the center of all beings. That is the way to peace. If we saw the God spark in all of us, there would be no way to hate, nothing to argue about, no cruelty only love, as we saw everyone as a sister or brother.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Silence and Snow

This morning, on my way to New Melleray, the black clods of newly turned soil show dark against the light dusting of snow. In the unharvested fields, the dusting lined each leaf of cornstalk, and whitened the lines between rows in the fields. It was a light snow, fluffy, the flakes were large and close enough to identify, like pulled tufts of cotton, filling the sky, but melting or hidden in tall grass. Later, through the Church window, I looked out into the enclosure and watched the snowfall white against the pines and firs. The thick fall of snow, like God’s blessings in this world, covered the bare ground around the firs, hiding its imperfections.

I wonder if that is why the first snowfall is so lovely. The snow creates a silence so complete, one can hear each flake as it lands. Silence is a gift I strive for. You would think, as I am alone most of the time, that I have more than enough of silence. But the world rages in my mind: rumors of war; my pregnant students; my students without food, shelter, parenting, or refusing the parenting offered.

You might wonder what all this has to do with the light dusting of snow we got today, 11/16, especially since its supposed to be 50 by the end of next week. It is all swirling around in my mind as I read from Esther De Waal’s book, The Way of Simplicity. She writes of the need to “escape from a world dominated by achievement and acquisition in all its many insidious forms,” then quotes Kierkegaard, “the characteristic of a saint is to will one thing.” That one thing of course is to give ourselves “all of a piece to God.”

To do so one reads and meditates, contemplates. And, as Bernard says, “The soul meditating in the woods would learn from branches and boulders the hidden meanings of Scripture just as well as in the scriptorium.” Thomas Merton says, “The love of Christ hides itself mysteriously in the inner nature of crated things, so that in all that is varied lies hidden He who is One and eternally identical, in all composite things…,” and we “should wait for things to yield up their presences, rock, old fences, roots.” And so I observe the snow.