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SpiralBound, Minneapolis, Minnesota, iPhone Shots, on the Day of My Solar Return, July 22, 2022, photo © 2022 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Roots that bind. Binding roots. I came home from work last week to find an empty yellow pot on the marble island. “Look,” Liz said, “I transplanted the rushfoil. It was so rootbound, the roots at the bottom became one with the pot.” I peered into the spiral chasm. “Hmmmmm. That’s kind of cool,” my lips said. My heart translated the fused tendrils as a metaphor for my earthbound feet stuck to unforgiving skeletal bones. Heavy and unmoving. Same old job. Same old routines.

But all that is changing. 

The supervisor at work (only a few months into the position) seems to see us as baggage on his journey through the company’s future. Monday when he wagged his finger at me, I pulled him aside and told him to stop treating us like robots, to cease micromanaging a team that has been efficient and exceeding our corporate goals for a decade. To stop silencing us and treating us like neophytes. He is not rooted to the way things were; he comes from another division. He moves like lightening. He makes mistakes, but he doesn’t care. Forward, at all costs.

For a team who pauses and pays attention to details, it’s maddening. Unnecessary. There are compromises that have to be made in the spaces between the 7000 steps I walk at work every day.

I retire from corporate employment at the end of the year. Next spring we rip 38 years of roots out of the bottom of our Minnesota home and transplant them to the mountains. Liz told me she had to grab a steak knife from the kitchen drawer and scrape at the sides of the clay pot to get those roots to budge. And still….the remainders are part of the clay. The croton (rushfoil is the common name) was a gift from a coworker after my dad died in 2017. She has sprouted new buds in a 13-inch frost green pot butted up to our north facing windows. She is happy. Thriving. I transformed the worn pot into photo art. Another metaphor? On the day of my solar return, I feel scratchy and unsettled.


 

10-minute Writing Practice on the WRITING TOPIC: ROOTS, Friday, July 22nd, 2022

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I didn’t know what I wanted to write about this afternoon. It’s Friday, the day I set aside for creative work. I’ve been lax in completing any kind of art. I’ve been culling, gathering, harvesting. Languishing while the mighty Ceres swings her scythe against the grain. I have filled countless journals with sketches and writing practices. I don’t know the end result. I do not know where I’m going. I envy artists and writers with completed bodies of work. They inspire me.

I’m reading the Three Tenets for a writing workshop this weekend. We’ll be doing two days of Writing Practice and a lot of sitting meditation. When I scribbled the daily schedule into my calendar, I could feel the resistance. I’m rereading The True Secret of Writing. I’m a few chapters into Standing at the Edge by Joan Halifax; this morning I read her blog piece Rites of Passage and the Three Tenets.

In the right light

In the right time

Everything is extraordinary.

-Aaron Rose

We all stand at the edge at some point in our lives. That place of not knowing. I’m standing at the edge of letting go of a day job I’ve held for 13 years. The edge of a geo-move next June when Liz and I pack up all of our worldly possessions and move to Montana for a year-long creative retreat. We have no idea what happens after that. It’s uncharted territory — leaving the familiar behind, cutting away the old. After nearly four decades of living in an urban Twin Cities landscape formed by glacial lakes, our new roots will break ground in the rural, more isolated and dry Bitterroot Mountain valley in western Montana.

Not knowing is letting go of preconceived notions of who I think I am and who I believe others to be. No attachments. It might look like it takes courage, but what choice do we have? Everyone tangles with birth and death. And all the messiness in between. We have little control. We are faced with choices each day for new direction. What do we choose?

We stopped at Noon for a webinar by Out of Chicago on A-Ha Moments in Flower & Plant Photography. Nine photographers spoke about the process and joy of photographing some of their favorite macro images. Grounding. Inspiring. Earthy. Perfect for the shift of Mercury into Cancer and a happy place for my Taurus Moon and Taurus rising. It’s the little things. A photograph. One footstep into Eloise Butler Wildlife Garden & Bird Sanctuary. To not know is to reconnect to the wild.

A few reminders from the photographers at the A-Ha Moments webinar:

  • Take your shoes off. Go barefoot when photographing the wild.
  • Details matter. Commit to work the scene. Experiment.
  • Never give up on your vision.
  • Pay attention to what turns your head.
  • Spend time on what you love. Let yourself be taken.
  • In the right light, in the right time, everything is extraordinary.  -Aaron Rose

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Georgia, Haiku, Bones, Minneapolis, Minnesota, iPhone Shots, on the Partial Solar Eclipse, April 30th, 2022, photo © 2022 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Georgia, Haiku, Bones, Minneapolis, Minnesota, iPhone Shots, on the Partial Solar Eclipse, April 30th, 2022, photo © 2022 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Landscape – The Osprey

The walk along Boone Avenue skirts the edge of Northwood Lake, a shallow 15-acre section of the North Branch of Bassett Creek. I drive home from work through busy Twin Cities suburbs to avoid rush hour traffic. Liz moves the opposite direction down Boone on her daily walks. We meet in the middle. Last Wednesday I spotted her orange neon Nikes, index finger high to the sky, jousting the wind. I pulled over. “Do you see it, do you see it?” she said. “You’ve got to get out?!”

I put my hand up to visor my eyes. The raptor soared on the thermals, dipped over two great blue herons nesting in cattails, swooped above a pair of loons in the middle of the lake, glided over our heads, and rose again. Finally, her yellow eyes spotted her prey. We watched as she jettisoned underwater, talons first, splashed lean like an Olympic diver, arose with dinner, and flew away. In all the time we have lived here, this is the first we have spotted an osprey on Northwood Lake.

Osprey dive for fish from heights of 30 to 120 feet, plunging feet first, submerging their entire bodies beneath the water. Airborne again, they reposition the fish for streamlined transport so that the head faces forward. While underwater they close their third eyelid which acts like goggles to help them see clearly. Pairs return to the same nest year after year, each contributing to the structure of their home, much like we have during the pandemic. Raptors bring us great joy on our daily walks. Yet they are susceptible to a virus in the wild – the highly pathogenic avian flu (HPAI).

The answer is yes. I have enjoyed my life. But in the underbelly, I have thought long and hard the last few years about the reality of death. Pandemics. Viruses. Wars. Age. So many lost. My mother died in hospice at my brother’s a year ago in April. By some miracle, vaccinations had become available and we road tripped to Pennsylvania to spend her last weeks on Earth with her. She continues to teach us even in death.

Lineage – Root Teachers

The day of the osprey fell in the first week of whittling my job down to 32 hours, Fridays off. At the end of the year, I will no longer work my day job. In celebration, Liz presented me with a package, a surprise gift to mark new beginnings. We sat in Veronica, my aging 2006 red Mini-Cooper, windows open to spring. Liz smiled and slid a haiku book out from under her windbreaker — Diane di Prima. The 1967 version is a handprinted collaboration with her friend, artist George Herms. Each page presents like haiga. The cherry woodblock illustrations by George were originally printed on a cleaned up rusty press from the Topanga Playhouse that later became LOVE Press. He used an individual color for each print on Mohawk Superfine Eggshell White paper. I now own one of a thousand of the first bound editions of Haiku issued in 2019, commemorating the 50th anniversary.

The second gift from Liz was a set of Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones Deck, a 2021 extension of her 1986 classic, Writing Down the Bones. (Have you enjoyed your life? is Card 51.)

The last time I saw Natalie in person was at a haiku workshop in Santa Fe at Upaya Zen Center in February 2020. I was able to briefly connect when we sat down at lunch. I told tell her how grateful I am for everything she has taught me. It’s a gift to have had the opportunity to see her again. On the layover flight back through Salt Lake City, I noticed one lone man wearing a surgical mask, a precursor of what was to come.

By March 2020, everything in Minnesota shut down. So much has happened in between. I worked in the field through the pandemic, where we masked every day and built nuts to bolts machines that filled vaccine bottles. Liz worked from home. We signed up for Zoom and joined Upaya as members. In 2022, Natalie co-taught a Upaya haiku workshop on Zoom where she read Diane di Prima’s haiku. We continue to know Roshi Joan Halifax and the Upaya community in virtual ways unimaginable two years ago. Our gratitude is boundless.

Life – Planting Seeds

The snake plant in the lead photograph was given to my mother Amelia Ernestine by my grandmother Della Elise in 1966 when our family moved from Georgia to Pennsylvania. When my mom died in April 2021, my sister Cassandra (named after great Aunt Cassie) and I split the plant in two. One half road tripped back to Minnesota with me; I named her Georgia. The other half my sister named Belvedere; she put down roots in an antique teapot on Cassandra’s kitchen window sill in Pennsylvania.

Georgia’s leaves stand tall against our north facing windows. She has seen some things, heard some things, traveled around the country. She is rooted to our family and has lived a long and joyful life. Twenty, thirty, forty years moves at light speed. We don’t know when our time will arrive. On my deathbed, I want to say I loved my life with its pitfalls and craters. I dig deep and look to the ancestors to show me the way.

-Written the weekend of the Taurus New Moon in a Partial Solar Eclipse, April 2022

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The Bardo, photograph by Debra J. Hobbs, © QuoinMonkey, August 15th, 2020.

I meant to do better. To take more Polaroids, roll more clay, shut up and write. But 2020 had other ideas. For my birthday in high summer, Liz gave me a new deck of cards — The Wild Unknown – Archetypes by Kim Krans. The art was created from the center of a dark night of the soul. I pull a card a week. Saturday, August 15th landed me in The Bardo. I was already there. What changed is my willingness to straddle the abyss, to sit in uncomfortable places — in this life and what I imagine to be the next.

In this life, a family member is recovering from COVID-19. Two long time friends are in treatment for cancer, maybe the fight of their lives. Two other friends buried their 6-month old kitten, lost to a disease of unknown origin. In this life, babies are born unseen by grandparents, couples are married on Zoom, people die unable to hold a loved one’s hand. In this life, cities explode, humans rumble and rattle, tired of gridlock, tired of the status quo.

In this life, last night we locked ourselves in the bathroom to the howls of tornado sirens and horizontal rain. In this life, we wear masks, cancel our travel plans, stack bookshelves to the top of 9-foot ceilings, rearrange our studio to hold Liz’s work-at-home office next to old Kodachrome slides and boxes of art supplies.

I am digging in. And expanding out. I am rattling old bones. Untangling ancient root systems. Beliefs are not truths. I am learning that denial is a form of grief. It’s not the Thing that is dead, but how I’ve been doing the Thing. Shine your light, luminous or liminal. That is the Leo energy of August 2020 (from Lindsay Mack’s August podcast, Tarot for the Wild Soul).

I meant to do better. Prayer flags wave against an overflow bookshelf above photographs of my great, great grandparents. I research the goddess Eris, sister of Ares, daughter of Night. I listen to old astrology tapes, a choir hymn hummed through face masks, the tingle of ghost chimes.

In the Bardo:

We may receive messages from those who are no longer with us or see visions of lives not yet lived. In the Bardo there is the potential to forgive the unforgivable, to say the unsaid, to see the unseen, to love the unloved, to let go of all the things that cause us pain. The Bardo suspends us in its spaciousness for just long enough to open us to higher wisdom. Its energy does not belong to the Earth as we know it, but rather to the Cosmic network of which we are a single thread.

The Wild Unknown – Archetypes deck by Kim Krans

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December Bloom, Minneapolis, Minnesota, iPhone Shots, December 24th, 2019, photo © 2019 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

 

On Winter Solstice, after two years of dormancy and a flirt with death, the orchid bloomed. The Pacific Sunspots was a gift from Liz on a birthday that crossed decades. I remember opening the wrapper on the deck of Indria, our little cottage. We have moved into an apartment now, simplified our lives. The blooms fill me with joy.

But I have grown lax in my practices. We had been toying with the idea of meeting friends in Santa Fe this winter and signing up for a haiku retreat at Upaya Zen Center. On Christmas Eve, all the pieces came together. Plane tickets were reasonable and there were still openings. Liz and I texted our friends who were driving home from Christmas Eve dinner. We booked our flights and registered — we three were the last to sign up before the retreat was marked Full. The hair stood up on the back of our necks.

On the day after Christmas (at the New Moon Solar Eclipse), I juggled bins in the studio to try to set up a workable writing space. One old box was full of practice notebooks from Taos writing retreats. I pulled one off the top. It was marked October/December of 2006. The detail was mesmerizing; I had forgotten all the insecurities that surface in silence. It can be painful to sit with yourself.

There was a color photograph tucked into a card of a wintry gate near the pigeon roost at Mabel’s. I studied the faces of Natalie, Maria, and the 21 people who attended the four-season Intensive that year. Some have become teachers and grandparents, retired, or moved across country. Many have published their work. Several have passed on to the other side. What happens to our art and writing when we die?

I went back through the notebook with a yellow highlighter and revisited the words I had written at a different time in my life. There were writing practices about a trip to Georgia, a pilgrimage with my mother to research ancestry. We searched cemetery plots in the rain and finally found the overgrown grave of her step-sister who died shortly after birth (I’d like to turn these into a finished piece). There were practices of dribble where I never dropped down into my body. They offered up a study of the crazy minute-to-minute thoughts that go on in one’s mind.

There were writing practices about the ghosts in Mabel’s room, the four-poster bed Dennis Hopper wanted to cut up with a chainsaw, the dogs and coyotes I heard roaming the Taos wilderness at night. In the paper margins were notes on bell ringing, mudras, zafus, and zabutons, and a schedule of the day trip to the plaza and the O’Keeffe museum in Santa Fe. There was scratchy handwriting, sometimes barely legible, of erratic emotions and thoughts that spill on to the page when we stop talking.

I had forgotten so much; and remembered everything.

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I’m excited for the possibilities of 2020: photography and practice, completing finished pieces, attending the haiku retreat in Santa Fe. It will be hard to drop into the discipline I once felt at the core. I could fail, but I have faith. When you look back a decade at your younger self, the creeping roots that once clawed their way into rich, black earth searching for nourishment spring forward like orchid tendrils in the sun — fortified aerial roots.

We were required to keep a log that year of our practices, a daily reminder of the commitment to ourselves and our writing. I’ll leave that practice from the old notebook in the comments below, a reminder from the ghosts of December past: Continue under all circumstances. Don’t be tossed away. Make positive effort for the good.

 

 


Handwritten notes in my October/December 2006 practice notebook from dharma talks and one-on-ones with Natalie Goldberg. I am grateful for everything she has taught me. And for the community of artists, writers, and contributors who helped create redRavine. It is a place I can return to feel grounded.

  • Follow the person behind you
  • Everyone feels insecure. It’s just what happens when we sit.
  • Rest. Make space.
  • Don’t push. Let yourself be.
  • Writing is manual labor of the mind.
  • The best kind of structure should be organic.
  • What can you be patient about? Make a list to remind yourself.
  • Crash through what holds you back.
  • Be willing to wait a long time for understanding.
  • Show first. Then tell. Don’t give everything all at once.
  • Don’t manipulate. Respect the reader. Slowly lead them where you want them to go.
  • Read Siddhartha again. His total breakdown led to enlightenment.
  • Push yourself to what you don’t know and make statements anyway. It pushes you into knowing.
  • Sometimes you tell the writing. Other times, the writing tells you.
  • You can’t just be a writer for a month. You have to be willing to go through the whole process, all of it.
  • If you get stuck, go back to basics: I remember, I’m thinking about, What I see in front of me.
  • Read Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life.
  • Ride on the backs of the writers who came before you.
  • You can’t read a poem enough times.
  • Writing is about receiving. Sit still so you can receive.
  • When you walk in the mist, you get wet. -Dogen

 

∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

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Gratitude List 2019, iPhone Shots, November 30th, 2019, photo © 2019 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

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By Marylin Biggs Schultz

 

GREAT GRANDMOTHER

Mary Dickens Biggs, grandmother of Marylin Biggs Schultz. Family photo, all rights reserved.




carved into granite
“many hopes are buried here”
broken hearts and lives




About this haiku: “As I begin to compose a haiku, I must appear to be drumming my fingers to a silent tune in my head, but those familiar with this poetic form, will know that I’m counting the syllables required in each line; 5-7-5. I hoped to use the inscription from my grandmother’s gravestone, and as fate would have it, there are seven. Here is my haiku for a dear one I never met but hold in love: Mary Dickens Biggs. (My father is the little boy barely visible in the back.)” -Marylin Biggs Schultz

–posted posthumously for Liz’s mother, Marylin Biggs Schultz                                  (May 21st, 1937 – September 5th, 2019)




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About Marylin: Marylin (aka oliverowl) was a freelance writer living in Wyoming. She wrote essays for a weekly column in the Ventura Star Tribune, collaborated with her grandson on two picture books for children, and wrote with the Cody Writers. Her previous pieces for redRavine include the travel essay Rollin’ Easy, a Writing Practice, Kindness, and two memoir pieces, Images From The Past  and Two Little Girls & A World At War.

In 2010, Marylin was published in the book, From the Heart — Writing in the Shadow of the Mountain, a collection of work from members of Write On Wyoming (WOW), a group of authors and aspiring writers living in northeastern Wyoming. Her contributions to From the Heart include two works of fiction, To Love Bertie Lou and The Appointment Book, and a collection of haiku, Seasons in Wyoming.

-related to post: haiku 4 (one-a-day) Meets renga 52

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Reading old journals opens up the past revealing details of thoughts and memories long forgotten. When digging through writing notebooks, I ran across this 20-minute Writing Practice from June 16, 2013. It relates to redRavine and lessons that travel with me. In 2019 I still write about the places I have lived, loved, and have yet to travel.

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Loving A Place – 20min

Second cup of French Roast. Kiev sleeps in the window on a fuzzy white cat bed piled on top of blankets. I go over to the desk, organize the pile of envelopes, advertisements, and receipts into separate categories. Then over to the table in front of the couch, an object I love, a painted table that Liz picked up at an auction many years ago. There are painted squares of eggplant, mustard, and turquoise, edged with swipes of paintbrush black. I like surrounding myself with art objects I love. She did good on this purchase.

Next, I gather piles of books from around the living room, most recent purchases, some from a few months ago. I notice that I am halfway through a couple of books, have not even started two more. There is Mni Sota Makoce, The Great Journey, She Had Some Horses, Dragonfly Dance, Twelve Owls. There is The Round House, Hawk Ridge, First Words, and Dewy, The Library Cat. A copy of Refuge that I’ve had for over a decade sits next to the Canon wireless printer. I dug it off a book shelf when Liz, Teri, and I went to see Terry Tempest Williams earlier this year.

I organize the books by size. The heavy photography books like Lightroom 3, Digital Photography, Sony Nex, Black & White Photography are placed on the solid piano bench next to the Room & Board recliner. Liz and I both still buy good reference books; though I am sure many now look online for similar information, there is nothing like a good hardcover book with illustrations. I open the window next to me, feel the light summer wind blow past my face. The cottonwood is just about done dropping her seeds. The cranberry that Liz has named Snowball is fully mature and is blooming with umbrella-shaped pods of white on the tips of her branches.

I feel like I need grounding. I remember something my writing teacher wrote to me after I told her that I was sad she no longer toured or taught in Minnesota. She said she thought I would find Minnesota in her writing. I pick up The True Secret of Writing and thumb through the book, taking notice of the chapter headings that are laced across the top of each page. Loving A Place jumped out at me. I started to read about a layover in Minnesota on the way to Bismarck, North Dakota. This looks good, I think. North Dakota for Liz; Minnesota for me. I settle in to read.

She is staying with a friend who lives near Lake Calhoun. It’s the dead of winter in Minnesota, below zero, at temperatures where ice refuses to be melted by salt.

Two women jog past me, then later a man with a dog on a leash; otherwise, I have the place to myself. I pick up my pace feeling the tips of my fingers freezing. I can’t believe how much love I feel for this place with no logic to it. Sure I met my great Zen teacher here and lived a few blocks away from him for six years and, yes, I learned a lot about writing here, teaching in poet-in-the-schools and then resident writer for two years in a multiracial, multiethnic elementary school and then finally winning a big in-state fellowship that brought me to Israel and that recognized me as a writer. But stopping by a hackberry and staring across the flat white surface of the lake as cars at my back sped by, I understand love has no reason, makes no sense.

Finally I didn’t belong here, just as some of my best loves were not practical to live with or marry, but spoke to a part of me that yearned to be met. And as the years go by I remember them with all the unsheltered love I couldn’t manage to tame. Even though no one would call Minneapolis a wild place, besides its winters, for me, a second-generation Jewish girl from Brooklyn, it was my American frontier. I met people who grew up on Iowa farms, close to that sprawling wide American river, the Mississippi. I watched as people dug holes in the ice and fished and went to summer cabins in the north of their state. I come back to Minneapolis as a seminal home where I have no family and no roots, like a stranger in a strange place.

I’ve written about Minnesota a lot, struggling to escape what I thought was a weird attachment. Most Minnesotans think I hate their state. They are wrong. When I write about a place at all, even if I make fun of it, it’s because it’s stuck to my heart.

My friend Miriam says I have a jones for place. Some people love cars, old houses, the cut and line of clothes. What does our obsession tell us about ourselves?

-from The True Secret of Writing: Connecting Life with Language, Part Three: Elaborations, Loving A Place, p. 110 by Natalie Goldberg

She was right. There was Minnesota. At the end of the chapter, she completed her journey into North Dakota, teaching students, then taking a trip to Theo Roosevelt National Park where the horses run wild. I see that wild in Liz, for generations back, connected to harsh winters, unforgiving wind, broad-stroked skies. Loving a place means learning to love the people who live in that place. Because the place has shaped the people they have become. Some of us are products of many places, depending on where our lives have taken us. To live in a place is not always to love a place; we come to love places where we have not lived.

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NOTE: The name of the Minneapolis lake mentioned in this Writing Practice (Lake Calhoun) was changed in 2017 to Mde Maka Ska. The Dakota originally called the lake Mde Maka Ska (modern spelling Bdé Makhá Ská meaning Lake White Earth.
Related to the topic:  WRITING TOPIC – A PLACE TO STAND

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Island Lake, Cromwell, Minnesota, iPhone Shots, October 16th, 2019, photo © 2019 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


We are out of the sauna followed by a dip in Island Lake. It’s the evening before we leave to travel home. We sit in black easy chairs in front of wall-length windows writing and working on photograph archives. Over the week we saw six pair of trumpeter swans, three common mergansers, one pair of eagles, and at least ten loons. A mature eagle just swooped down and flew in front of the window, then glided on through the birch.

“She’s here,” Liz said, looking my way. Our eyes lock. I feel my heart swell and break open in tears. We came to make space for grief, for the passing of Liz’s mom in September. Sadness is the other side of the joy I feel being here: walking in the autumn air, sitting on the dock listening to the cries of the loons, eavesdropping on a family of Canadian geese with Nikon binoculars. The goslings stay with the parents (who mate for life) for at least a year. Blood pressure is down, pores are clear, my heart beats low, even and steady.

We stopped to meditate on the one and a half mile walk around Loon Lake in Savannah Portage State Park. If I hadn’t portaged on canoe trips in the Boundary Waters and sank up to my knees in mud, I might not know what it’s like to carry a Duluth pack on my back, a canoe over my shoulders.

The Savannah Portage is part of history, a long, wet walk from Lake Superior near Duluth to an eastern bend in the Mississippi River just west of Big Sandy. Liz and I like to travel to places we haven’t been before. We are only a few hours from the Twin Cities; we had the lake all to ourselves. The reds and oranges of the maples are past peak, but the yellows of the birch and poplar are popping. Yellow. Soothing, bright, clear.

I am grateful for downtime. My gratitude list grew tenfold over the week. I know it’s a luxury to be able to take time off to grieve. After a loved one dies, the work-a-day world continues to churn. Mother Nature has given us solace. A place to sit on a glacial lake facing West, the direction of later life, the domain of sunsets, and oceans, and the sit bones of mountains.

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Cody, Wyoming, iPhone Shots, May 13th, 2019, photo © 2019 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

View from Marylin’s, Cody, Wyoming, iPhone Shots, May 13th, 2019, photo © 2019 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


It was a month ago to the hour when my mother-in-law died. Liz was on her way back from a business trip in Tulsa, Oklahoma when her sister called. I was sitting by Lake Como in St. Paul, Minnesota about to eat my lunch when the phone rang. The Dallas airport echoed in the background; Liz’s voice was brisk but heavy. “Mom just passed away,” she said. “She went peacefully.”

Marylin had requested a bath the night before. Tracy, Liz’s sister and her mother’s caregiver, had gotten up, given her mother a bath, and was combing her hair when she stopped breathing. I could picture this because when Liz and I were in Cody, Wyoming in May, Liz brushed Marylin’s hair as she sat in her favorite chair by the window with a clear view of the bird feeders. When Liz was finished, Marylin gently closed her eyes, smiled, and seemed in total peace after a night of tumultuous dreams.

I miss my my mother-in-law; grief takes many forms. Marylin was like a second mother to me. She championed my writing like my own mother, Amelia, who supported my creative life even when it twisted, turned, and spiraled up and down. Marylin and Amelia never met, but felt a love and kinship to each other. They were there for Liz and I through courtship, dating, and marriage. They saw only our love for each other and the compatibility of our lives together; there was never any doubt. I will always be grateful for that.

A few weeks ago, Liz and I watched the documentary on writer Joan Didion, “The Center Will Not Hold” by her nephew Griffin Dunne. When the film ended we sat in silence and wept. Dunne uses intimate archival footage, photographs and on-camera interviews to document the span of Joan Didion’s life. Having lost her husband and daughter within the span of two years, Joan knows grief; it gnaws at her bones.

I know why we try to keep the dead alive: we try to keep them alive in order to keep them with us. I also know that if we are to live ourselves there comes a point at which we must relinquish the dead, let them go, keep them dead.

We are not idealized wild things. We are imperfect mortal beings, aware of that mortality even as we push it away, failed by our very complication, so wired that when we mourn our losses we also mourn, for better or worse, ourselves. As we were. As we are no longer. As we will one day not be at all.

-Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking

After Liz called on September 5th, 2019, I could not finish my lunch. I sat in a Chevrolet Silverado staring at the lake, wondering at the breadth of Marylin’s spirit as it lifted skyward. The day was cloudy, the wind erratic and scattered. Summer was letting go.



Summer’s End, September 5th, 2019, iPhone Video, Rain Garden, Lake Como, St. Paul, Minnesota, video © 2019 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Rest In Peace, Marylin. I miss the way you smiled and called me your daughter-in-love. I miss the depth of our conversations around writing, haiku, and politics. I miss the way you held Liz and me in your heart in a bubble of love. I miss your love of theater, your writing and your contributions to redRavine. I miss your optimism and the way you gave back to your community and the world around you. I know you are with your father, maybe running by the Pacific Ocean with Queenie, wild and free. I am a better person for having known and loved you. We will meet again.

-written October 5th, 2019 between 10:45 and 11:30 a.m. CST. Everything is in Divine and perfect order right now.

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Nashville. #black&white #travel #photography #sky #architecture #shadows #clouds #sky #Tennessee #retro #roadtrip

Nashville, Tennessee, iPhone Shots, June 27th, 2016, photo © 2019 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

 

View of downtown Nashville on a road trip with Liz. We stopped in Nashville to tour Jack White’s Third Man Records on the way to visit my dad and his wife. I lived in Tennessee for a few years as a child, but had never been to Music City. We also visited Ann Patchett’s bookstore Parnassus Books; we try to visit independent bookstores wherever we travel. We were lucky to have made the trip from Minnesota that June because my dad passed away unexpectedly eight months later. I am thinking of him because his birthday is August 15th. We are grateful for the time and cherish the memories. His ashes are scattered near Morristown, Tennessee, the place he was born.

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When my brother died last January, I started to walk the willows. It wasn’t until late July that I read our ancestors planted willows for the Dead. And if the branches form a shadow large enough for a grave, someone will die.

My brother was 60 years old. He had a chronic illness that finally got the best of him. There is something sad about a winter willow. In spring, their branches fade into yellows, ochres, and fluorescent lime. Rebirth.

At 8:35 p.m. my mother told me she felt my brother passing and started to cry. By 9 p.m., he was gone. She was miles away. She has the sixth sense. As kids we knew we couldn’t lie to our mother. She recognized the truth on a level we did not understand.

Now I understand. Because I have the sixth sense, too. An empath. Some call it intuitive. Maybe we all have the Gift. But some are more comfortable with it, push it further. You have to suspend disbelief, trust yourself, open to whatever may come.

I woke up this morning with a story in my head, a story about willows. Liz’s mom came into one of my dreams. She is 82 and transitioning in a small western town in Wyoming. We drove 1000 miles to visit her for ten days in May. It was the most intense ten days of my life. Spirits hovered in the air waiting to greet her on the Other Side. It didn’t matter if you believed they were there or not; every night they returned. Guardians, Angels, and people who had already passed, for better or for worse. Liz, her nephew, her sister, and I stood vigil. We banished those spirits who were not there out of Love.

Love. It’s about love in the end. And respect for those who have come before us. If you believe there is good and evil in the world, the Willow protects.

When I was a child of eleven or twelve, we moved from the Deep South to Pennsylvania. My new grandparents had a mature willow in their backyard that butted up against a cornfield. I would swing on the branches at a time when they were strong enough to hold the weight of my body and bones.

There is something I learned about Death this year: the Spirit has to bend, and be strong enough to hold the Soul’s weight.


NOTE: 10 minute handwritten Writing Practice on WRITING TOPIC — WILLOW, the latest Writing Topic on redRavine.

 

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Happy Eostre. #spring

Happy Eostre. The Gift, Droid Shots, Minneapolis, Minnesota, March 2013, photo © 2015 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.




season of Eostre:
abundance lives
in the skillful art
of not placing all your eggs
in one basket



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A few years ago, I was getting a haircut when a woman walked in bearing gifts. She carried a basket of hollow, elaborately decorated eggs and asked the patrons in the shop if they would like to choose one to take with them. I had seen pysanky (what we called Ukrainian Easter eggs) before, but had never taken part in the gift-giving ritual. It lit up my day. I took the oval-shaped treasure home and placed it in a raku bowl on my altar where it lived for many months.

There is a booklet produced by the American Folklife Center (1982, long out of print) that gives a brief description of European egg decorating traditions, and explains the techniques (complete with black and white photos) for producing elaborate designs. EggArt can be found in the online collections of the American Folklife Center, Library of Congress (LINK). Here is an excerpt:

Egg Art Cover Image: Easter Eggs Decorated with Various Traditional Patterns. Photo by Carl Fleischhauer, 1982.

Egg Art Cover Image: Easter Eggs Decorated with Various Traditional Patterns. Photo by Carl Fleischhauer, 1982.

Traditionally, the egg, both plain and decorated, has been an object with strong mystical and symbolic force throughout the world. It has been associated with the myth of creation, with the concept of birth, and with the hope for abundance. Eggs have been sacrificed to sanctify the construction of dwellings, public buildings, and bridges in many lands. They are traditionally given at the birth of a son in China, and they have been used for fortune telling in the British Isles. In many Western cultures the egg has become an integral part of the complementary celebrations of the Easter season and of the renewal of life in spring.

It is in Eastern Europe, however, where Christian associations with the egg were grafted onto strong, pagan beliefs which connected the egg with sun worship, worship of the renewal of life in spring, and with rituals to maintain or restore health, that the rich traditions surrounding eggs have remained strongest. More secular traditions practiced in the spring by communities of European ancestry include egg tapping, egg gathering or hunting, egg rolling, and egg tossing contests.

It is said that the Venerable Bede, (672-735 CE), a Christian scholar and monk, first asserted in his book De Ratione Temporum that Easter was named after Eostre (or Eastre, the ancient word for spring). And that Eostre, the Great Mother Goddess of the Saxon people, Germanic Goddess of Spring, gave her name to the Christian festival of Easter. After the dark Midwest winter, I find it an uplifting season, and feel grounded in the timing still dictated by the Moon.


-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, April 4th, 2015

-Part of a yearly practice to write a short form piece of poetry in a Moleskine journal once a day for the next year. Related to post: haiku 4 (one a day) Meets renga 52

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Top Of Minnehaha Falls, Droid Shots, Minneapolis, Minnesota, July 2014, video © 2014 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.




Top of Minnehaha Falls

Twilight turns the water to mist.
Mosquitoes hum, a cool breeze
grazes the hair on my arms.

Laughter echoes off steep walls,
the three of us pull close
for one last photograph.

“You are lucky to have her,” she told me.

White winter night,
bundled beneath down comforters,
the warmth of your skin sizzles against mine.

silent monarch wings –
top of Minnehaha Falls
drowning in summer




-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, January 4th, 2015
-related to post haiku 4 (one-a-day) Meets renga 52

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Circles 3 PaperCamera2014-12-24-16-26-07

Listen In Circles, Droid Shots, Minneapolis, Minnesota, December 2014, photos © 2014 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


I am reading a book of essays that Gail gave me on the different ways that artists make a living. Their studios, how they obtain money, do they have day jobs. It’s good to read because it reminds me of all the ways that artists and writers make their art and writing work with the rest of their lives. It’s humbling. And it teaches me not to give up. I’ve been experimenting with doing nothing really, nothing but practice. I keep up my haiku practice. I do some writing practice but not every day. I do no specific art, no photography, no writing. I want to see how it makes me feel inside to give these things up. It’s a long break, a hiatus from identifying as an artist. It’s good to take a break sometimes. What I am noticing is that it relieves a lot of pressure. Pressure to be something else, to be doing something else besides living day to day. It does relieve pressure. But it hasn’t brought me peace. I look to another day, a small room of my own. Maybe that’s dreaming an unrealistic dream. I don’t know. All I have is this moment. This one moment. In this moment, I end a writing practice and move on.

-from a Writing Practice with No Topic, November 30th, 2014


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When I feel lost, I go back to what I know. Back to my practices. Back to Beginner’s Mind. I am rereading Everyday Sacred by Sue Bender. She writes and sketches her journey with the begging bowl. The image of the bowl became the image of the book. The empty bowl, waiting to be filled.


Stories move in circles. They don’t go in straight lines. So it helps if you listen in circles. There are stories inside stories and stories between stories, and finding your way through them is as easy and as hard as finding your way home. And part of the finding is the getting lost. And when you’re lost, you start to look around and to listen.

-quote by Deena Metzger from Everyday Sacred by Sue Bender


-posted on red Ravine, Friday, January 2nd, 2015

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20141220_203305

Winter Solstice Fire, Droid Shots, Minneapolis, Minnesota, December 2014, photos © 2014 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.







Dark December,
the longest night—
rest peacefully, knowing
none of the prophets
are saints.







-posted on red Ravine at the New Moon on Winter Solstice,
Sunday, December 21st, 2014
-related to post: haiku 4 (one-a-day) Meets renga 52

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I Feel Most Alive

I Feel Most Alive, Droid Shots, St. Paul, Minnesota, August 2014, photo © 2014 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


I saw this blackboard outside of a church in St. Paul and thought it would make a good Writing Topic. Who wants to do a Writing Practice with me. Get out a fast pen, paper, or keyboard. I Feel Most Alive When…10 Minutes, Go!


-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

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