Snow Spell

Winter has finally settled deep over Madison, and as I bundle in wool and down, I return again to a sense of wonder.

On a snowy night, my feet wander over ice-and-salt sidewalks, and tiny crystals float from clouds to rest upon my knit hat and mittens, and the silence is deep, all the way to my heart and gut. I am small again. I believe in Magic again, the Magic that was the root of Truth in my childhood.

My daughter believes that if she stamps her foot just right upon the parking lot, ice will flow out from her, just like it does from Elsa. She believes in dragons and in spring sprites who grow small yellow flowers and towering pines. And tonight, so do I, and perhaps if I jump with the right spring in my step, I will float up into the falling snow.

Perhaps the delineation between what I can and cannot do is less clear than I thought it was last summer, when I stood under a blazing sun as I watered the garden and the mosquitoes snacked on my bare legs.

Perhaps this luminescent blue landscape is whispering some spell into my rosy mind.

If I stand still, I can hear Winter ringing her tiny glass bells as snow alights upon my shoulders and grows thick as good cream around my feet.

Considering the Move

Zach and I have lived in Madison for four and a half years now, and I am beginning to realize this season of our life is waning. I always knew we wouldn’t be here for all that long, but now that we only have one or two more years before we move, my perspective is shifting.

It’s fun for us to consider where we might end up, the exotic or mundane locations that could be our next home. But more than that, I think about the things I know I’m going to miss about Madison.

I’m going to miss our little apartment. I think it’s probably almost the fewest square feet a two-bedroom apartment can be, and it can feel constraining at times, but more often it feels cozy. I love having a space that forces me to keep my life simple, to keep the superfluous objects and excessive purchases to a minimum. I love how short the walk is from the bedroom to the bathroom, the kitchen to the living room, the front door to the far corner of Ramona’s room. Everything is close. Everything is always within reach.

I love the Willy Street Co-op, but I won’t miss it. I wish I had enough money to shop there, but as it is, it’s just torturing me.

I’m going to miss our garden. If we can’t find a place near a community garden when we move, it’s going to be very sad.

I’m going to miss being so close to my parents. My mom comes up many weeks to visit with me and Ramona for a day, and it’s easy for us to head down to their place for a Sunday afternoon.

I’m not going to miss the restaurants. I still miss the restaurants from St. Paul–especially Good Earth, Black Sea, Bascali’s Brick Oven, Mirror of Korea, Izzy’s Ice Cream (okay, Chocolate Shoppe here in Madison is good, too), Java Train, Pop! (gone now, so sad)…….of course, we could end up in some small college town that only has three pizza places and a McDonald’s, and then I might miss the Madison restaurants.

I’m going to miss the bike paths, especially the lakeshore path.

I’m going to miss the free 80 bus.

And if we move out of the Midwest, I know I’m going to miss the weather. I love winter, and also spring and fall and summer. I love having the shift in temperature, colors, and activities. I love layering and snuggling when it’s cold, and I love biking and playing outside with Ramona when it’s hot.

But probably whatever it is that I will really miss is a mystery to me now, and it’s probably something I completely take for granted.

Seeking Silence

Mid-fall, and the bike ride to the library today was perfect. The oaks still hold onto about half their leaves, and with the sun shining warmth through their branches, leaves glow deep red and bright orange. My favorite maple has lost every dazzling flame to the wind, leaves scattered on lawn and in gutter. The birches and ginkgoes are a perfect luminous yellow.

How I love trees, their seasons: now, they grow tired, prepare for hibernation, for diapause between the hot green of late summer and the soft petals of spring. Each year, I ride this arc with them, rejoice in their first pale breath in spring, dance in their growing glory in summer, marvel at the patience their long sleep teaches me. And this fall, I feel especially close to their sloughing off of summer activity in favor of rest and silence. I am weary, too, and I have had a season of much growth. I long for the soft pillow and cozy blanket of a long winter—deep, white snow; scarves and crocheted hats; zippers and slippers; drafts under doors and through windows while the humidifier runs all night to replace lost moisture.

I crave digestion time, when I can sit back and begin to understand everything I’ve felt and learned over the last six months. I want to come into balance with God, with humanity. I want the Spirit to whisper deep within me, remind me that YHWH is, that Jesus loves me dearly—the simple things that so easily slip into phantom in the plod of life.

I long for forgiveness, for myself, but more than that, I long to be so full of forgiveness that I pass it out in great sheaves to everyone around me. I want to learn how to balance strength and bravery with graciousness. I don’t ever want to give up on me, on what I believe, but I don’t want to be me at the cost of love.

So I ask for space, and I slough off the bright hot skin of summer in favor of simplicity—the snowy sheet of the season of my diapause. Come, winter. Come, Spirit, to my meditation in the silent spaces.

Deep Song

Sometimes when I wake in the morning, the first feeling I have is like a stone in my stomach. Sometimes the weeks gather in questions, stones gathering together as they rumble through the mountains of my body. Sometimes I lose the rhythm of the Deep Song.

And then, in loneliness, despairing the depravity of the world and the deep craters in me, I find myself sitting at a picnic table under a great, wide elm as my daughter plays just there, at the playground. Suddenly, I am present, drawn back into the green. I stretch my neck back, draw my eyes into the thin, serrated leaves. Light plays through them, layer upon layer of leaves, creating every shade of brightness.

A small breeze, a chill of cloud. A deep sigh, and I hear the beat. I rise, rest my head on the elm, and hear the drumming of the world, the beauty of the things that grow.

I am one of them.

Wandering through Summer and My Soul

This summer has been cold. And already it is August. I’m sad to see the ragweed in bloom, to think of a waning harvest at the garden, the planting of fall beets and cauliflower. Even though summer is my least favorite season, I cherish the temporary cessation of other responsibilities. But, as always, summer passes with as much bustle as any other time of year, with trips and projects that have been put off until this “less busy” season.

Summer also usually brings a slowing down of my productivity in reading and writing, in mining beauty from within myself. Instead, it’s a time of gathering from the outside: camping, swimming, traveling, experiencing. This summer, however, I feel that I’ve also been able to continue to look inward, even as I experience more of the outward.

I have started reading The Dance of the Dissident Daughter by Sue Monk Kidd and, as always, I have found in her work such a resonance with my own thoughts, discoveries, and struggles. She writes:

Somewhere along the course of a woman’s life, usually when she has lived just long enough to see through some of the cherished notions of femininity that culture holds out to her, when she finally lets herself feel the limits and injustices of the female life and admits how her own faith tradition has contributed to that, when she at last stumbles in the dark hole made by the absence of a Divine Feminine presence, then…this woman will become pregnant with herself, with the symbolic female-child who will, if given the chance, grow up to reinvent the woman’s life.

I find Kidd’s birth imagery a little distracting and ironic because it was the process of giving birth and the months of breastfeeding which followed that woke me up to the “limits and injustices of the female life.” I became ripe for change in the pain, the loneliness, the dark of a motherhood void of the Feminine Divine. I am ready for the journey Kidd describes. I have, in fact, been on this journey now for nearly two years—discovering God as Mother, discovering feminine strength—though this is the first time I’ve recognized the connection between what I’ve experienced and the drive I feel to become a stronger, more true, more uninhibited version of myself as a woman. 

And I am happy to experience the winding journey of summer alongside the winding journey within myself, leading me onward towards discovering and redefining myself as the days grow shorter and the leaves begin to dream of the first blush of autumn.

Oriole, Autumn Olive, and Cottonwood

Earlier this month, my mom and I took a weekend retreat to Christ in the Wilderness, a nearby hermitage. Below is a journal entry from my final day there:

A pair of orioles at my window. The female perches in an invasive autumn olive bush a few feet from where I sit. They fly across the valley, straight to the top of a huge cottonwood—the tallest tree, whose leaves in a wind sound like a river. I watch the oriole’s bright orange from branch to branch to branch. Breath taken. A sign from God. My favorite bird at my window then in my favorite tree. In ten minutes, Sister Julie arrives to check me out of the hermitage, and I know this visit from the birds is the most important thing that has happened to me while I have been here.
A few days later, back home, I return to thoughts of the orioles. I see the sign more clearly now. At the time, I wrote it all down, knew it was important. I just didn’t know what it meant. 
The female oriole is drawn to the autumn olive by my window. I hear her in me. She says, It is safe here. I will rest here. I will grow here. She does not know the plant she rests in is destructive, invasive—it will eat away at her world. Autumn olive is an extremely invasive and harmful bush—they fix nitrogen in the soil, disrupting native plant growth. They thrive in dry, poor soils.
I remember how when I first saw the autumn olive outside my window at the hermitage, it appeared fragrant and lovely. It grows low to the ground. It’s easy; it’s indulgent. It doesn’t seem bad when you see it—“the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes.” I realize the autumn olive represents my stagnation, my desire to resist work and growth in favor of mindless leisure. I am ever battling laziness within me, that pull to sit in front of the TV with some junk food and tune out the world, tune out my heart. And though food and entertainment are not inherently bad, to rest only or mostly in these artificial, saccharine pleasures is toxic to the soul. Invasive bushes like autumn olive don’t provide the protection from predators that native plants do for birds. If I give in to the easy pleasures of the autumn olive, I endager my creative self. 
And the cottonwood? How tall it is! How far to fly! It’s imposing, but not fragrant, not easy. The reward in its branches isn’t obvious. I read up on cottonwoods and learn they flourish by water and provide shelter and food for many birds and mammals, as well as fostering a healthy fish habitat by providing shade and preventing bank erosion. The cottonwood where the orioles alight is the high place, the fruitful place. It is the place where I can find a truer restfulness as I tend to my creativity. It is a walk by the lake, a contemplative book, a journal entry. It is time spent crafting a journal or a card. The cottonwood livens me, livens not only my spirit but the spirits of those around me, in its sheltering branches and strengthening roots.
I am reminded of Psalm 1:
Oh, the joys of those who do not follow evil men’s advice, who do not hang around with sinners, scoffing at the things of God. But they delight in doing everything God wants them to, and day and night are always meditating on his laws and thinking about ways to follow him more closely.

They are like trees along a riverbank bearing luscious fruit each season without fail. Their leaves shall never wither, and all they do shall prosper. (Ps 1:1-3, Living Bible)
May I ever fly to the cottonwood’s true shelter and flee the shallow pleasure of the autumn olive.

Briefly

Sixty-seven degrees today, and it feels like maybe, finally, we’re getting some traction under our feet and spring is on its way. The wind pounds and whips the salty mud; the air feels so different on a day like today—a day of sunshine and buds. Deep beneath, there is a waking of all small, green things.

After this winter of eternal gray—the dry cold beating down the door and slithering between the sheets—it’s hard to believe in spring. And summer? Summer is a fleeting breath between deep frosts.

But when it’s 67 degrees outside and the wind nearly blows your feet from under you, there is no option but to breathe, breathe deeply this hope, this grace of light and life, however briefly.

Snowdrops
by Louise Glück

Do you know what I was, how I lived? You know
what despair is; then
winter should have meaning for you.

I did not expect to survive,
earth suppressing me. I didn’t expect
to waken again, to feel
in damp earth my body
able to respond again, remembering
after so long how to open again
in the cold light
of earliest spring—

afraid, yes, but among you again
crying yes risk joy

in the raw wind of the new world.