Hope quatrain

with thanks to Dr. Padma Venkatraman and the Ethical ELA #VerseLove invitation to write a quatrain today on hope, especially, hope overcoming hate: What does hope mean to me? How do I see it? She suggested using a metaphor.

I see hope is as vital to our existence as humans. When I started this blog, I wanted it it to be uplifting and hopeful. The world already has far too much anger and hatred. I struggled with condensing a metaphor for hope that would fit in four lines! I finally settled on a sunflower. It’s too big for all I would say here in regard to hope overcoming hate. Maybe I will try it in another form later. Part of my inspiration comes from sunflowers being planted to absorb radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Technically lines one and three should rhyme but I claim poetic license.

For Day Fourteen of National Poetry Month

Hope Perpetuates

Hope turns its face to the sun
Warming its myriad seeds
Hope’s roots absorb toxins
Cleansing each soul that it feeds.

Sunflower. metin.gul. CC BY

Abundance acrostic

The acrostic is an ancient poetic form, appearing in Scripture and as prayers in medieval literature. On Day Five of National Poetry Month, I use it to announce a family celebration…with a little wordplay…

Although I planned to resume writing of Easter’s
Bounty in the nest on the front door wreath,
Unprecedented number of little blue eggs—five!—
Now, instead, I ask you to picture my family
Doing a bun dance over the holiday,
At least in our hearts, at this
New-life announcement on
Cookies and a special T-shirt:
Expecting! —Exponential Easter joy!

First, the finch eggs in the nest on the front door.
The fifth egg appeared this morning.
We usually get three or four. Abundance!

Now for the cookies:
My daughter-in-law and granddaughter made them
to announce the special news to my husband and me
over Easter weekend
…aBUNdance!

My granddaughter’s face was radiant,
delivering those cookies at our family dinner.
In this photo she is crying on first hearing the news.
She threw herself into my son’s arms.
The desire of her little heart, granted; abundant joy.

—A-bun-dance, indeed!

All things new: Spiritual Journey

An offering for the Spiritual Journey group, comprised of faithful friends who gather on the first Thursday of each month. Today’s theme is “all things new.”

Spring arrives, clad in rich new vestments of green. Every day, more of the color ripples across the landscape. Here in the central part of North Carolina the Bradford pears have already exchanged their ethereal veil-clouds of wedding lace blossoms for something more matronly and verdant. A whirlwind ceremony, that five-minute flowering of pear.

The birds began preparing back in winter. Flashes of electric blue on my back deck; a brilliant bluebird, dropping by like a friendly neighbor. Darts of fiery red across the road while I’m driving; cardinals, making me stress over potentially ensnaring them in the grille (why DO they fly so low?). Today, a darling brown Carolina wren on my back deck—clearly doing Deacon of the Week rotation with the bluebird—singing its heart out, full-throated, unrestrained, magnificent. How can such a small bird have such a big voice? Bocelli can’t hold a candle to you, Little Wren. From the pines and budding hardwoods, bird choirs swell, as in the song “The King is Coming”:

Regal robes are now unfolding,
Heaven’s grandstand’s all in place,
Heaven’s choir now assembled,
Start to sing “Amazing Grace!”

All in earthly bird language, naturally… but no less celestial.

All but the finches, that is.

For several consecutive years a finch family has built a nest on my from door wreath and raised generations of little broods. I’d find a total of three baby-blue eggs in the nest, sometimes four, laid precisely between seven and eight o’clock every morning. My family has been treated to an insider’s view of the whole process, from nest-building to egg-laying to the hatching of tiny pink things so frail and helpless that a person might think they can’t possibly manage to stay alive; yet in no time they’re fledglings working on flying lessons. We’ve even had a batch of babies in the spring and another in summer; that makes for a long time of roping off my front-door bird sanctuary.

Then, with the advent of COVID-19 last March, a curious thing occurred. As the human world reeled, and became strapped in the strange straitjacket of pandemic, as businesses shut down, as hospitals and mortuaries overflowed, spring came anyway. Nature, in fact, outdid herself with resplendent finery. The finches came to build their nest as always and this little act of constancy lifted my flagging spirits: At least there will be baby birds to watch while we are all under stay-at-home orders.

But there were no eggs last spring. The nest remained empty all season. The finches… they vanished. No warning, just—poof!—gone. I didn’t see when, how, or why.

After a while, bereft, I quit looking for them.

I didn’t take the wreath down until late fall.

I saved the little unused nest.

I didn’t have the heart to throw away such a labor of love (you can say instinct all you want but the perfect craftsmanship of nests amazes me).

With the return of March, I waited for the finches to join the rest of the avian throng having revival beyond my windows. Every day I looked.

Nothing.

Nothing.

Nothing.

Then, day before yesterday…on the top of the wreath, one lone strand of grass, lying in a telltale curve…could it be, could it be…?

And yesterday…

“THEY’RE BACK! THEY’RE BACK! COME SEE!”

My family humored me with only a slight rolling of eyes…my granddaughter, at least, seemed interested. She made my son hold her up high for a better, bird’s-eye view.

I marveled at the greenness of the nest. Is it just me, or is this how they always look? This green, this fresh? I do not think so. No, they have never been so green before.

And today…

Almost complete. Look at that leafy lining, so carefully placed.

By Easter—dare I hope?—we might have an egg.

A tiny, age-old symbol of rebirth and resurrection.

I marvel at this fresh greenery, this new grass, this preparation for new life, the hope that’s in it. If not for the birds, then for me. Especially after the year that’s passed, marked by so much bleakness and loss, down to the former little nest that contained no life.

I recall the promise of Christ: one day there will be no more death, mourning, crying, or pain. Behold, I am making all things new (Revelation 21:4-5, ESV).

Every spring hints at it. My personal winged messengers, harbingers of blessed assurance.

A little foretaste of glory divine.

Hymns of the heart. I step outside, away from the constraints of the house, watching the two finches take flight, zigzagging skyward, sunlight gleaming on their sandy backs, calling, calling, calling, how sweet the sound.

I come to the sanctuary in the cool of the day to behold
these moments of Earth’s remembering, an altar call where I
respond, walking the greening aisle just as I am
to a fanfare of wingbeats and music-making.
Holy holy holy, I surrender all
in wordless doxology on the returning. Let all things
their Creator bless, with ancient morningsong, yet ever new
.

*******

Update, Thursday evening… first egg!
Holy Week blessings to all.

*******

with thanks to Karen Eastlund for hosting today’s Spiritual Journey

and also shared with the writing community on SOS – Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog, in response to the open invitation to write around the many meanings of “spring.”

Magnolia

Next-to-the last day of March. Early morning. Still dark. Chilly.

I sit at my laptop, sipping coffee, catching up on my Slice of Life blog comments. The neighborhood rooster across the street crows for all he’s worth.

My husband comes into the kitchen: “Is she up yet?” he whispers.

He means our granddaughter. She spent the night. We stayed up way late watching Frozen II (again). We watched her dancing to the ending credits soundtrack, performing her own astoundingly artistic interpretation, cheeks pink, blue eyes glowing…followed by punchy laughter before the crashing.

“Not yet,” I whisper back. He retreats to his study to work on sermons.

Shortly, though, she here she comes, a gift of the dawn, Aurora’s child, barefoot in a blue flannel gown, cloaked in long, disheveled hair, ethereal smile of joy illuminating the semi-dark kitchen. Favorite lines of a Billy Collins poem come to life:

But tomorrow dawn will come the way I picture her,

barefoot and disheveled, standing outside my window
in one of the fragile cotton dresses of the poor.
She will look in at me with her thin arms extended,
offering a handful of birdsong and a small cup of light.

My radiant dawn-child climbs into my lap. I let her read my post about Dennis the dachshund and his toy moose. At five, she reads with exactly the right inflection in exactly the right places, decoding beyootiful without batting an eye.

“That rascally Dennis!” She laughs aloud.

My husband returns, his own face alight at sight of her. “There she is!” he exclaims. “I’ve been waiting for you, Sugar Magnolia.”

He sings the opening line of the Grateful Dead song:

Sugar Magnolia blossom’s blooming

Just so happens that our granddaughter’s middle name is Magnolia. A nod to her Louisiana heritage. A native tree here in North Carolina, too.

I think how, less than two years ago, my husband was dead, until EMS and CPR brought him back. I think of all he’d have missed…

What matters is that we’re here together now, today, in this moment. The Grateful Alive.

Sugar Magnolia, in one of Grandpa’s hats

When we are dressed for the day, she asks: “Can I pick out your earrings? And your necklace?”

“Certainly.”

She picks the magnolia. She and my son gave it to me for my birthday last year.

She hands me the necklace, watches me clasp it, smiles with satisfaction.

She will look in at me with her thin arms extended,
offering a handful of birdsong and a small cup of light

Just beyond the bedroom door, from the windows in the foyer, birdsong.

The finches.

I waited for them all of March, in vain. Then, here at the very end, within the space of these last twenty-four hours, a nearly-complete nest rests on my front door wreath. More on this tomorrow, when I write with the Spiritual Journey gathering on the first Thursday in April…for now all that needs to be said is that the finches always come to my door, every year except this last one. They vanished without warning, without a trace, during COVID-19. Now they’re back, making their home in the wreath.

The magnolia wreath.

Front door wreath and nest-in-progress

Magnolias, magnolias, everywhere…

They are tougher than they look. The oldest flowering plants on Earth. A symbol of love, longevity, perseverance, endurance.

It’s that word that captures me: Endurance.

It is the end of March.

We’ve endured the COVID pandemic for a whole year.

We’ve endured the reinvention of life as we knew it, school as we knew it, teaching as we knew it.

My family has endured distance, isolation, individual private battles…and we all get our second round of vaccinations over these next two days.

My husband has endured. He is alive.

My granddaughter has endured. She is the light of our days.

The finches have endured. They have returned to resume nesting.

This is my last post for the Slice of Life Story Challenge; for thirty-one consecutive days, I’ve endured. My writing has endured.

I wrote a lot of memoir in the Challenge, for memories endure. I wrote of a walled garden and roots and the need to get out of the comfort zone; I did that with some of my writing. I think now of my magnolia metaphor and look back at its deep roots in my childhood. Southern heritage. My grandmothers, steel magnolias (although they wouldn’t have thought it of themselves). Women who endured wars, deprivation, unspeakable losses. The stand over the landscape of my life like the old magnolia trees near their homes, their churches. They were the encompassing, protective shadows against the burning sun and sweltering heat, the solid coolness of the earth under my feet, where lie the curious, fuzzy seedpods of my existence, my remembering, my gratitude, my faith. From these branches waft the eternal fragrance of sacrificial love and forgiveness; nothing on God’s Earth smells as sweet.

One final curious image—it persists, so I have to figure out if and how it will fit here: When I was very small, I spent a lot of time with Grandma, Daddy’s mother. She and Granddaddy lived nearby in city apartments until he retired and they moved back home to the country when I was six. In this scene, I am around four, I think:

I am waiting in the hall for Grandma. She’s turning the lights out; we are getting ready to go. She calls my name from another room. I call back: “I am here.” My voice keeps bouncing, off the walls, off the stairs going down, down, down, into the darkness; we have to go through it before we can get to the door and the sidewalks and the sunlight outside.

“Grandma!” I cry. More bouncing voice, hollow, strange.

She’s there in an instant. “What’s the matter?”

“What is that sound?”

Oh, honey, that’s just your echo.”

She calls out, “Hello”…her voice bounces, just like mine.

“Echoooo…” I call. Echooo-ooo-ooo, says the shadow of my voice, rolling down the stairwell.

And I am no longer scared, because now I know.

What does this have to do with magnolias?

Only that we are on our way to the park, where she would offer me bread to feed the ducks, which would come to eat from my hands, from my little extended arms…and where the magnolias still grow in abundance. The memory is a cup of light I carry with me, just as the echo of her voice remains, just as I find myself echoing her, for we are always echoes of the ones we love most. As blood circulates in our veins, so do remembered light and beloved voices, long past shadows and silence. These are things that endure.

Grandma’s homeplace was named for the dawn, by the way. She’s literally Aurora’s child.

But tomorrow dawn will come the way I picture her

“Stand right there, honey. Let me get your picture by that tree,” I tell my granddaughter, on our first trip to the park.

It’s a different park. A different tree.

But still, and always, a magnolia.

Our Sugar Magnolia, by “her” tree.

*******

With abiding gratitude to the community at Two Writing Teachers during the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge, which concludes today. It was a joy to write alongside you every day in the month of March. Thank you for every cup of light you offered; I will savor the echo of your voices for many days to come.

Opal

It looks like a glass teardrop there in my hands. I tip it this way and that, watching the tiny white pieces inside floating up and down in the clear liquid, catching the light and glowing with bits of colored fire. I’ve never seen anything so magical.

“Grannie, what IS this?” I breathe. I can see it’s a necklace. It has a little cap of silver leaves and a silver chain.

She understands. “A floating opal,” she replies, rummaging through her jewelry box.

I can’t look at anything else.

I wonder about the liquid. Is it water? From where? A magic spring bubbling up in a wizard’s garden? What if it isn’t water but tears cried by an enchanted princess and collected in the teardrop-shaped globe as a powerful talisman? Why is the opal in little pieces and how can there be such fiery red, blue, and green in its luminescent whiteness? Colored fire burning in water…is there a spell on this floating opal? What does it MEAN?

I don’t even realize how spellbound I am, or how long I would sit staring at this otherworldly object, until Grannie speaks, breaking the hypnosis:

“You can keep it, if you want.”

*******

I’ve loved opals ever since. Their beauty, their symbolism, their lore. They’re said to be stones of emotion, freedom, and independence; that certainly sounds like my Grannie, who had a fiery streak herself. It sounds like what she may have wished for me. Opals also have a mixed-bag reputation of misfortune and hope, and once it was believed that an opal wrapped in a bay leaf would render a person invisible; it was accordingly dubbed patronus furum, “patron of thieves,” says the International Gem Society.

Come to think of it, I never did ask Grannie how she came by this floating opal…not that she would have taken it. Surely not. But as freely as she gave it, I wonder: Might it have belonged to my Papa G’s first wife who died years before? A floating opal necklace like this dates to the 1940s…

No matter, really, as was it my grandmother’s to give thirty-something years later, and I was the receiver.

Recently I stumbled upon this story about opals I’d never heard before One more mesmerizing, mysterious thing… courtesy of the International Gem Society:

In a chapter of Sir Walter Scott’s 1829 gothic novel, Anne of Geierstein, we learn the unusual story of the enchanted and mysterious Lady Hermione.

The grandmother of the titular character, she appeared to possess magical powers. At times, she seemed more an indefatigable spirit — an ignis fatuus or will-o’-the-wisp — than human. She always wore in her hair a golden clasp with an opal that “amid the changing lights peculiar to that gem, displayed internally a slight tinge of red like a spark of fire.” This gem seemed to reflect her moods, showing “a twinkling and flashing gleam which seemed to be emitted by the gem itself” whenever she became animated or agitated, “as if it sympathized with the wearer’s emotions.”

On the day of her daughter’s christening, drops of holy water struck her opal, which “shot out a brilliant spark like a falling star, and became the instant afterwards lightless and colorless as a common pebble.” Hermione then collapsed. Two hours later, all that remained of her was a handful of gray ashes.

So. A grandmother, a granddaughter… named Anne.

Let me just say that Ann is my middle name.

I will not even address the name Hermione in this legend; I will just let Harry Potter fans savor that on a whole ‘nother level with me.

And let me also say that somehow, in the passing of the years, Grannie’s floating opal got misplaced. When one of my babies snapped the chain long ago, I put the teardrop pendant somewhere for safekeeping. I finally found it in a little heart-shaped velvet case inside a larger jewelry box.

The globe had separated from the silver-leaf cap. The liquid had dried up. All that remained were the little pieces of broken opal.

Tears welled in my eyes; I couldn’t help wondering if the opal stopped floating when my Grannie died.

But, if I ever write a fantasy someday, you can be sure a floating opal will play a significant role.

*******

Photo: Vintage floating opal necklace on Etsy.
Looks exactly like Grannie’s when I first saw it.

The annual Slice of Life Story Challenge with Two Writing Teachers is underway, meaning that I am posting every day in the month of March. This marks my fifth consecutive year and I’m experimenting with an abecedarian approach: On Day 15, I am writing around a word beginning with letter o.

Frances

I don’t know how old I was when I realized.

I hated it.

My name.

In kindergarten, I didn’t even know it was my name.

My teacher, Mrs. Brown, called the roll:

“Frances?…Frances?”

She finally narrowed her eyes at me: “Aren’t you Frances?”

Sitting there at my tiny desk, I blinked: “No. I’m Fran.”

Such an illustrious beginning to my academic career.

Nobody called me by it much, except my aunts. My mother’s sisters. “Frrrraaanncessss,” they’d say, rather posh, although they weren’t. They were a colorful blend of heavy smoker and ribald raconteur. With looonnnnnnnnnng Carolina drawls.

My father used it when he was angry: “Fran-CES!” —Yeah, the emphasis on that last syllable, utterly ominous.

Nobody else in school had my name. Lots of Debbies, Dianes, Jennifers, Kellys, Sherrys, Angies, even a Charlene or two. There were names that felt like poetry to me: Vonda, Monica and Erica (twins), and Lawandra. Even a girl with a Hawaiian name: Leilani. Gorgeous.

Not my name. It was popular in, like, 1894.

When my reading group was learning about spoof in fifth grade, the teacher allowed the three of us to illustrate it to the class. My spoof: I had legally changed my name. To Diane or Debbie or something (can’t quite recall). Something that blended in much better and was much cuter.

The class didn’t buy it. There was no escaping.

Many of the kids couldn’t even get it right. “Hey, France,” they’d cheerfully greet me.

I glared at them, responding though clenched teeth: “It is Frances, or it is Fran. Not France. I am not a country.”

Early on (sometime after kindergarten, anyway) I learned that I’d been named for my paternal grandmother, Ruby Frances, whom I loved long before my memory ever kicked in. She remains, to this day, my life’s single greatest influence and guiding force. I never wanted to be away from her. We treasured every moment we had together throughout her long years. Grandma was named for her father, Francis. She adored him, always spoke of him with great affection and admiration. She saved a wooden jewelry box he gave her during the Depression. It is mine, now. She cherished my being her namesake; my love for her and this generational legacy were the only saving grace I could find in my name.

It was problematic on another count. The pharmacy couldn’t spell it right on prescription labels: Francis. Did the world at large not understand that the feminine spelling is with an e? I felt like chucking those little orange bottles through the window.

But then I learned a couple of things. The name means free. Or, one who is from France. Interesting that I discovered this while taking French in middle school, where the class got to choose French names. I was Renée. Spoken from the throat.

“Hey, Grandma, did you know the name Frances means one who is from France?”

“It does? I loved taking French in school.”

“You took French?”

“Oh, yes. I thought it was such a beautiful language.”

My DNA tests now tell me there’s a dollop of French ancestry. Not hard to guess which side passed it down. Although my father told me I should be taking Spanish instead because it’s more practical. He was right, alas…but I loved French and studied it until I had dreams fully narrated en français.

Funny how my elementary classmates used to call me France.

Then there was the little group of Spanish-speaking girls in my first teaching job, one of whom grabbed my badge across the reading table and sounded out my first name: Fran. “Great job!” I said. “That’s really my nickname. It’s short for Frances.”

“Ooooooo,” said my little student, “that sounds like princess.”

I never, ever would have thought of that, even though I knew Princess Diana’s middle name was… Frances. Even though I wore my hair in a Princess Diana bob for several years. My hat in yesterday’s post is an artifact of those days.

Was there a poetic quality to my name, after all?

And, even though I’m not Catholic, a statue of St. Francis of Assisi stands by my front steps. Patron saint of animals, always depicted with birds, which are often in my dreams and blog posts, for they speak to me each day. In their own bird languages, that is.

So it’s only taken a few decades but I’ve grown into my name. I cling to the legacy of it, have come to hear the musicality in it, even in all its variations. Except, perhaps, for Fanny.

Ahem. Moving on…

My favorite of all, from my granddaughter: Franna.

Now, that’s gorgeous.

*******

The annual Slice of Life Story Challenge with Two Writing Teachers is underway, meaning that I am posting every day in the month of March. This marks my fifth consecutive year and I’m experimenting with an abecedarian approachOn Day 6, I am writing around a word beginning with letter f. Figured I might as well write around my name… a fun way of inspiring more stories from your life is brainstorming words and phrases that somehow describe you, that also begin with the first letter of your first name:

Blue

Dear Blue,

I note that you have been showing up more than usual in my life lately.

You are, in fact, a Presence.

I wonder if this all started with my renewed interest in Vincent van Gogh and The Starry Night. One would assume that the artist’s haloed stars are the magnetic pull here… but what would those glowing yellow orbs be without the contrast of your magnificent backdrop? Furthermore, I am aware that the painting’s recaptured allure coincided with my learning of the blue hour. I believe this is a concentrated effort on your part, that you meant to sweep me completely away with that poetic phrase and natural phenomenon. I cannot explain why, exactly, but I decided that blue is the color of forgiveness and wrote a poem. In it you are the star.

What really makes me stop and take note of your power, however, are the bluebirds. Bits of thrilling color electrifying the drab winter canvas of my backyard, just the jolt of color needed to sustain my flagging spirit. I am reminded that you are the rarest color in nature. This many sightings of bluebirds so close by is also rare; I do not recall seeing them at all in recent years. Perhaps I just wasn’t paying attention? Out of gratitude to you, I wrote another poem.

As if I needed more reminders, here’s the bookmark an intuitive friend gave me on Sunday:

Oh, to be cloaked with sky, to have wings for flying high and free above our blue planet…! You have stirred a deep and curious longing, now.

I feel I owe you an apology for not typically thinking of you as a favorite color. I now recall that my mother painted the walls of my childhood bedroom light blue, that there were curtains and a matching bedspread of gaudy floral patterns in many shades of blue, turquoise to navy… that brushing my long hair in the dark of a winter’s night set blue sparks popping…that Daddy owned only blue cars until I was in my teens… oh, and how I loved those cornflower and periwinkle crayons in my prized giant Crayon box with the sharpener.

—Periwinkle. Again you’ve appeared in this current dreary winter, the only spark of color in my forlorn flowerpots, a solitary little bloom on a vine. I am wondering now if you are also the color of hope and endurance. I suppose you remember the pet parakeet from years ago, snowy white, with a dusting of you on his wings? His name? Periwinkle, dubbed “Winkle-bird” by my firstborn. We were living two blocks from the beach, then. Warm sand, bright sun, frothy tide spilling over our bare feet, tiny periwinkle shells exposed like scattered gems in its wake…how I miss living near the sea!

How is it that I have forgotten until just now that my bridesmaids’ dresses, handmade by my mother, were a shade similar to periwinkle? “Oceania Blue,” if memory serves me right. Chosen for an August wedding, out of love for the shore where my young soon-to-be husband and I spent hours walking, dreaming, planning…and this sends me scrambling in search of a particular remnant, on the highest shelf in the cabinet.

—I still have it.

A bag of rice from my wedding, in those pre-birdseed days.

Tied with a blue ribbon for thirty-six years, come summer.

Dear Blue, precious, precious Blue. You’ve been here all along. You are now the eyes of my granddaughter.

Here is what I know:

You’re divine.

*******

The annual Slice of Life Story Challenge with Two Writing Teachers is underway, meaning that I am posting every day in the month of March. This marks my fifth consecutive year and I’m experimenting with an abecedarian approach: On Day 2, I am writing around a word beginning with letter b.

And, because I can’t resist… here’s one of my all-time favorite Sesame Street videos: The Beetles singing “Letter B.” Dedicated to all you phonics teachers out there (pardon the “buh” pronunciation. We do know better…).

Always

The annual Slice of Life Story Challenge with Two Writing Teachers commences today, meaning that I will be posting every day in the month of March. This is my fifth consecutive year of participating.

I’ve learned a few things along the way about perseverance, creativity, and trust. Writing is, after all, an experiment in trust. You must trust yourself, trust that the words will come, that the Muse WILL show up. You take the plunge, trusting in the congenial ebb and flow of the writing community. You become a conduit of giving, of receiving. That is the power of story.

This year I am also experimenting with an abecedarian approach. Rationale: If I write around a word beginning with each letter of the alphabet…it will carry me through twenty-six days! That gives me five “wild card” days for the thirty-one in March. We’ll see how it goes. I could start with my word for the year, awe, but as I’ve written about that quite a bit since January, I will go in a different direction today.

I begin, instead, with always.

Always is cloaked in the aura of awe, anyway.

******

It’s woven through every great love story. The unbreakable thread, even when knotted with pain and loss. It glitters in the brightest moments and in the darkest; it is anchored deep in the human heart. It is the pull of permanence in the face of impermanence, mortality, powerlessness.

It is the word Severus Snape speaks in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the moment we learn that he isn’t pure evil, that he has lived for years in his own personal hell, that he loved, and still loves, Harry’s dead mother. Snape will die protecting her son (which, if he’d made different choices along the way, might have been his own; the bitterness and self-blame run so deep). When this all dawns on the Hogwarts headmaster, Dumbledore, he asks, in tears, if Snape still loves Lily “after all this time.”

Snape says: Always.

He is, in that one word, redeemed.

It is the operative word of the song Dolly Parton wrote in 1973 when she left Porter Wagoner and his show to begin her solo career: I Will Always Love You. Bittersweet lyrics, wishing the best for someone as the relationship itself disintegrates…it’s not just about love. It’s about always. It reverberates with gratitude. And you’re likely hearing Whitney Houston’s voice instead of Dolly’s—the young, beautiful, vibrant Whitney, always alive in that iconic song.

It is a memory word, pulsating in the veins of our allotted days. What are the things, the moments, that you will carry with you always? The people, the songs, the stories?

Always is why I write. To remember those things that matter, to jettison those that burden, to sail on through the storms to the calm that lies beyond. It is always there. Morning always follows the longest night. Night is always necessary; it invokes sleep, opportunity for the brain to repair itself. A mooring, in order to keep powering on. Much like writing itself.

Then there are dreams…an always-fascinating phenomenon.

I’ve been paying attention to those of late, writing them down, especially recurring dream symbols: birds, notably eagles. Lots of vivid green in unexpected places. Water, which is a metaphor for life. Once I dreamed I was swimming at dusk in an unknown sea alongside a shore dotted with houses and twinkling lights. I knew my destination was still a long way off. Just as I felt I wouldn’t make it, a dolphin came to guide me onward. It stayed close to my side, occasionally leaping. I touched it. I felt its slick, smooth skin against my palm. On contact, an instantaneous infusion of comfort: I absorbed the dolphin’s inherent cheer; I could rely on its agility, its navigational acuity. See how even dreams lead back to trust. Dreams are not always good, but most of mine are, thankfully. Troubled dreams are often the psyche’s way of trying to problem-solve.

And that takes me back to my great love, writing—for it’s the ultimate problem-solving mechanism. Writing is the chance dream while awake.

Always.

Harry Potter fans know the symbolism of the doe…

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Another favorite ‘a’ word in addition to always and awe: Abide. I wrote around that last autumn. A new “a” word I’ve learned: Anaplastology. Ana = anew, plastos = something that is made, so, “something made anew.” It is the branch of medicine which deals with prosthetic rehabilitation of a missing or malformed body part.

The cry

This post is in response to Ruth Ayres’ invitation to “write fast” on SOS – Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog. I hadn’t planned to post today. But then…well, Ruth wrote: “My blog writing is the writing I do for me. It’s the writing I do for fun. It’s the writing that is most unexpected. My blog writing is the writing I allow to trail out of my heart and curl into magic.

And then, this sound…

This morning I heard it again. It stirred me from my luxurious Saturday-drowse. A loud cryyyy cryyy cryyy from the backyard, or very nearby. I threw off the blankets and ran out on the deck, promptly soaking my socks in the day-old rainwater.

I dreamt, once, that I was standing here exactly like this, looking up at the western sky, when an eagle flew by. Bald eagles do live around here. I have seen them on occasion and am convinced that an eagle’s (big, sloppy) nest is on the top of a water tower on the highway around the bend. In my dream, I was awed by the eagle and knew it portended something good.

But I know eagles don’t have the beautiful, poignant cryyy cryyy cryyy I am hearing on this early, pearl-sky morning. All other life seems to be slumbering but for this phantom bird, the lusty rooster across the street, and me. Day is just barely fading in.

It cries again, in the stillness. The air rings with its sharpness, with the curve and edge of it.

I know it’s a hawk. It has to be. I’ve seen several in recent weeks, since the turn of the year. I watched one gliding low overheard, never even flapping its wings, staying aloft as if by magic, following an icy spell in January when I went for a short walk in the thin winter sunlight that gilded the bare trees and glittered on the grass.

Returning to the warmth of the house, in my sodden socks, I make coffee and settle at my laptop to search.

Definitely not an eagle; that call is feeble in comparison to the one I heard.

Not a red-tailed hawk. A hair-raising, harrowing scream.

Then… yes!

A red-shouldered hawk. Fluid, syllabic, downward inflection. Somewhere over in the smattering of pines between my neighbor’s house and mine, where I dreamed an eagle flew.

I’d rather hear this cry even if I cannot see the hawk. The sound scrapes against my heart.

Something to do with the aching aliveness of things, even if the hawk is a predator. If I want to focus on symbolism, there’s a lot: intuition, spirituality, power…

But now, now, as the rooster picks back up with his daylong rusty-bugle solo (that’s one vigorous creature), there’s a familiar cheep cheep warble at the front door, so happy and so loud that it seems almost to be in my house.

The finches! They made their annual nest in my door wreath last spring but didn’t lay eggs as in previous years, when I held my granddaughter up to see the nestlings. For some reason, they disappeared. And left me bereft. One more little layer of heartache in a deeply heartrending year. When I took the wreath down in the fall, I mourned over the perfect, unused nest.

I saved it. I couldn’t toss such artistry away.

I put my spring wreath up early. Like, at the end of January.

When I went to look for the chattering finches just now, I couldn’t see them any more than I could see that hawk this morning; I believe the little birds were sitting in the wreath, voicing (to me) their delight.

There’s likely to be babies at my door by Easter.

And, I hope, somewhere high in the lonely pines.

Red-shouldered hawk. Don Miller. CC BY

Periwinkle

Last week of February.

Winter wears on.

Trees hold up their naked, skeletal branches, exposing clumps of old birds’ nests. The world is colorless, like a vintage film, a study of grayscale contrasts. Only the pines, bent by a recent glazing of ice, remain green. My backyard is littered with their brokenness. Tufts of needles and a couple of large boughs are strewn across the dead, mud-puddled grass.

It is a time of enduring.

Little things go a long way.

I’ve written of the stab of joy on seeing a bluebird, that brilliant dash of color against this dreary backdrop, as something to treasure each day. Now, despite the cold, an unseen bird nearby sings a bright song to usher in the dawn while it is still dark: cheer cheer cheer… a cardinal. Another favorite bird. I long for its vivid red. Just this week I also heard the first metallic honk, honk of Canada geese, returning to nest.

Spring is afoot, aflight, audible, if not yet visible.

And then there is the flower.

I thought it was my eyes playing tricks.

In the old weathered pots on the back deck, amid the ruins of my geraniums, the trailing Vinca still lives. Pale, leafy strands spill across the boards like errant strands of hair. And in one pot… a spot of… what is that color? Lavender?

A closer examination: Two little periwinkle blooms. Five-petaled. Most unexpected. The vines weren’t blooming when I planted them in early summer. I honestly didn’t know they would. This necessitates research: Vinca blooms in “late spring through summer.”

Mine is blooming while it is yet winter. Surely a there’s metaphor in it. As in the cardinal’s bright song in the dark, just before light. Like the bluebird’s welcome spot of color, popping against the blah. More research, because for me symbolism has an irresistible allure: The color periwinkle represents serenity, calmness, winter, and ice. The flower itself, sentimental memories, nostalgia, new beginnings. I read that it can also represent mental acuity. That’s certainly welcome. In the Middle Ages periwinkle was associated with the Virgin Mary; look for these little blooms beside her in old stained-glass windows. The vine’s very name, Vinca, comes from the Roman word for “binding.” Garlands were made of it, for dead children as well as for criminals on their way to execution—good heavens. This pierces me; I shudder. More shades of Mary’s own story, that…we are, after, all barely a week into Lent.

I shall think of this as winter’s funerary flower, then. A little blue-violet garland on the season’s icy brow, bidding adieu.

In place of a eulogy for winter…note Wordsworth’s inclusion of the periwinkle in “Lines Written in Early Spring” (read the whole poem to see what it is really about):

Through primrose tufts, in that green bower, 
The periwinkle trailed its wreaths; 
And ’tis my faith that every flower 
Enjoys the air it breathes. 

The birds around me hopped and played, 
Their thoughts I cannot measure:— 
But the least motion which they made 
It seemed a thrill of pleasure. 

All I know with certainty is that this little bloom, accompanied by increasingly-present birds, brings a thrill of promise.

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-with gratitude to the weekly Slice of Life storytellers at Two Writing Teachers, a bright spot in every week.
Here’s to the upcoming daily writing challenge in March!