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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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