Eddying currents of snow

It has happened. The cold dry snow light enough to form eddying currents powered by the passing of cars has laid is thin sheer sheeting gently across the grass.

My thoughts float in eddies of their own settling lightly in future visions of the coming spring and quiet preparations I will be making throughout the winter to let them grow with the warming sun.

This is one of the years when our concert will be in spring. Our school stays busy with activities so has opted for one big concert each year. That is fine with me. It gives time to develop smaller informal celebrations as the children learn new musical skills that will culminate in that final celebration. Within the cozy comforter of my classroom much will happen to prepare for the budding in the spring.

Life will move on through this time of snow. The tracks of vehicles already wind their paths through the snowy whiteness. There are small birds that will insulate among snarled branches and inside trees. Small animals will take foraging trips for food stored in the warmer months. Home will have a greater welcoming warmth when soon the wind blasts frozen across our faces.

There are some who say they would not live in a climate so cold. Just as my French immersion classes give me the extra challenge as I find resources for teaching and presenting in French, the winter challenges me to stretch beyond easy recreations, delving deep to find those things that bring me joy. I cannot be limited in what I find beauty in. The changing season recolors the world reinventing the landscape of possibilities.

The songs of my childhood in more static season can only be a part of my life. Coming from a place where snow was so rare I didn’t know how to maneuver well on icy roads, I have had to become adept at feeling the stability beneath my car, of recognizing the conditions of the road, of turning to resources like snow tires to help me navigate. I have had to learn the musculature of snow shoveling and high stepping where snow is still deep.

It is the same when I teach in the immersion school. I cannot become complacently reliant on the songs I already know or even what I hear on the radio. I am always needing to keep my attentions to the currents of change in order to keep my music teaching contemporary at the same time that I keep much of its content in French. Coming into the world as an adult, I have to research and take courses to more fully access the language and resources. Moving into this much richer climate of seasons I am stretched by seeking new music and learning to adapt known pieces to bring joy and learning to the children whose musical learning has been entrusted to me.

Changing seasons bring challenge. The coming winter reminds me of that within me which has the power and flexibility to learn and adapt.

Captured by stillness

The winds have stilled. The branches of the old evergreen towering outside my bedroom window rest quietly amidst the dancing of snowflakes. They fall lightly and few so that it takes moments to register their presence.

My mind drifts to morning duty at school only days before. A wet sloppy snow fell that day and the children ran and jumped trying to catch the flakes on mitts and tongues. In laughing frustration their game of catch often ended in disappointment as the flakes seem to run from their open welcome.

I go to the window to watch the lightly dancing flakes. The evergreen, in its stillness, has done what the children could not do. Held quietly in its branches a small flake of snow rests among the needles.

The snow doesn’t yet hide the ground from view. Perhaps today will be the day. I know the geese have been gathering for their long trip south. The time of change crawls forward.

Yesterday I visited via phone with my mom at the transition home where she strengthens and waits for the next changing season of her life. She has had a stroke, far less serious then what could have been yet enough to weaken her and change the equilibrium with which she moves through the world. She will need someone even closer to her around the clock. The busy home of her grandson’s family with two growing children does not come equipped with the nursing care she will now need available. My sister can do that for her but it takes time to set up the new living situation. In the meantime, she stays where the care is available day and night. At least her room looks out onto a garden.

IMG_2221Only a few short years ago, she faced another changing season. The man she had left home and other dreams behind for was leaving. Cancer had taken hold in his life coupled with a dementia that wove his memories into a snarl of moments of togetherness and moments of an angry specter of a person from his own past.

Travelling the miles to share in that hospice care, I heard memories that had not been shared with me before woven into a fabric of dreams changed and hopes gathered as the threads of their lives merged so many years before.

I witnessed and lived my own pain through the wild currents of changes as pain and this strange unknown that melted his form affected the personality of this man she had shared her life with for longer than she had ever lived alone. We held out our hands for each fleeting moment her husband my father would be the man we both loved in our own ways. I left feeling failure at not being able to better weather those stormy winds after having been away from my parents so long.

The winds have brought another changing season and again I stand at this distance across a border the distance of her country away from her. I hold still, my branches held out to the softly falling flakes of memory circling down around me. And I send my love out dancing on the winds blowing south.

Tossed by the inevitability of change

I slowly wake to the rough game of catch silhouetted by street lights against the still dark sky of early morning. The wind tosses the evergreen branches. They try to return to their still calm of summer but the wind knows.

The wind brings the new of changing seasons. Winter rides upon his shirttails. If not today, soon he will furl the branches in white weighting them for the long slow winter.

I will drive with care to work today. The slick of the rain is edged by the sly crystals of ice hiding in their wetness. It is a time of change when the knowns of two very different seasons interplay in a guessing game for wary drivers.

These times in our lives are the ones that test us. Will we get lost in the litany of dangers inherent in each new seasons? Or will we find the anticipation for what is in store? Change is inevitable. It will come. Winter will not hold back because I ask it to or ignore it to retain the status quo.

What am I doing with the changes in my life right now? What am I holding back from doing that is a part of this transition? Where am I letting a litany of dangers keep me from moving forward into growth? We all have the possibility of resistance within us. What are the questions that will help you find you own?

We also have within us the explorer ready to face new mountains, ready to descend into ravines to discover the next turn in the trail ahead. Sometimes expectations stunt the development of this explorer’s dreams. Parents impose their visions. Financial limitations don’t seem to have answers. One we dreamed of sharing the journey with is gone. We failed to be able to do all the things in life we believed were the necessities for making our dreams come true. Life imposes its shape on dreams seeded in our childhood and we shut them up in some inner room and wonder why our lives feel less than whole.

I think of a recent conversation with a friend who is unsure about where he wants to go in life. His dream path is not the one he now follows. In fact, he seems to have lost the map for that dream. He is angry at all the demanding advise to just get going and stop resisting the path that has been determined for him. His only resistance comes in hurting himself by letting his hopes die slowly within.

I have been him. My poetry and writing holding the dreams of my youth once lay in torn shreds on the floor, a testament of trying to kill the dream to keep living the lie.

But I am one of the lucky ones. Somewhere along the way I was taught that the words like “stubborn” and “selfish” are only interpretations when it comes to following the inner explorer inside instead of living in the rigidity of the dreams others impose. Sometimes we need to change our vocabulary. The same attitudes can be named “determination”, “independence” and “nonconformity” the words used to describe my granny. Three years ago I found out that I am much like her. I am just growing into acceptance of those words as definitions for my own life.

A favorite author, Parker Palmer, encourages us to let our lives speak not in trying to be someone else, but in being the sapling in our youth whose genus could be identified by the things that lived out in our childhood choices. In that young sapling is found the identity of who we are meant to be. Who I am matters because the me that comes from within is the one with the best potential for impacting the world for good.

When change comes, that rooted self will have the strength to withstand the winds of changing by being flexible enough to accept the tossing so often accompanying transitions.

Wishing you strong roots and flexible branches.




Dusty Dog

When my youngest brother was small, we lived up a hill from the main road winding along near the banks of the Cowlitz River. It was a big old rental house at a price we could afford, with a cat to feed as part of that price, a large yard to care for, a small field to pasture a horse, 150 cultivated blueberry bushes with no pesticides allowed, brambles of blackberries, gooseberries, salmons berries, red currants and 40 acres of attached woodlands for exploring as long as we watched out for the neighbor’s cows.

There was plenty of room for a dog. Cindy had made the journey with us from Portland to the Longview-Kelso Area but did not last long enough to join us in that dog paradise up King Road. Dusty, his sister, Curly, and my scrapper of a dog, Festus, joined us one by one instead. Dusty would be the first with us and the only one who survived that country road and wooded hillside to travel with the family back to the Portland area shortly after I had left home.

He was Billy’s dog withstanding everything from blistered toes (from being put on top of the wood stove to warm his cold paws) to making the adjustment from ranging a country acreage to trying to stay in the yard in the suburb city of a larger metropolis. They wandered the back woods, often inseparable (except for the time he followed us down to the busy country road to the school bus stop only weeks after his sister died from exploring that busy blacktop. One anxiously hopeless ride in the back of a stranger’s truck up to our house was enough for me. One funeral for an accident I wish I could have prevented was all my heart could stand. Dusty came with me to high school that day.)

A hyper-active talkative little boy in a big open space found companionship in his dog. He and Dusty had howling conversations that didn’t transfer well to a city suburb nor did the exploring nature that had drawn the boy and dog. The day came that Dusty didn’t come to greet us on our return home. Some neighbor had found a way to quiet him. Mourning came in the words of a song — a gift from me to my special little brother in memory of his childhood best friend.

Years later when that song’s words were lost to me, I would know where to look to find them again. That little brother grew to be a veterinarian with the lyrics framed and hanging on his office wall.

billy and dusty

Dusty Dog
June 20, 1978

A neighbor came over the other day, said our dog made his dog howl! (O, well)
Just a word of greeting, a friendly chat, or practicing the OWW vowel.

Hey, Dusty Dog, you’ve been a friend
Your funny little bowlegged walk;
Hey, Dusty Dog, people may not believe,
But we know in your way you talked.

When Billy ran in the other day he didn’t tell Momma hello (oh, no!)
He howled a greeting to Dusty Dog, and Dusty howled back his hello.

Remember back when they ran the woods, a dog and a barefooted boy (O joy)
They didn’t need maps to find their way, they would their own senses employ.

And playing baseball with Dusty Dog, he would help us lost balls to track (alack)
The only problem when he got the ball was how to you get the ball back?

The frustration of tryin’ to leave for a bus you may catch in time (sublime!)
You think you’re safe so you turn around and there comes Dusty behind!

We’ll always remember you, Dusty Dog, you filled us with laughter and glee (sometimes fleas)
You’ve been the best pet we’ve ever had; I think that on that we agree.

written by Linda J. Riley (my then name)

A Palette of Darkness

“Don’t be afraid of your dark places,” Mom told her.
“If you can shine a light on them, you’ll find treasure there.”
-Jeannette Walls, The Silver Star-

Darkness comes in many hues. Leaving the safe lights of the city I experience this palette as the distance from the safe, known glow fades into the distance and the increasingly earlier night descends into the northern sky.

The openness of prairie has moved into the close protection of tree lined roads by the time night comes. Clouds and the sharp silhouettes of bare snarled branches and rising evergreens frame the sunset in its spectrum of yellows and oranges. The contrast of dark and luminous colour stop my breath with awe. The dark is the velvety smoothness of a black tapestry.

The colour barely begins to fade when the rising tree line hides it from view. The headlights of my car seem dim in the claustrophobic intensity of nothingness. The memory of day and past experiences guides me onward as I travel this  narrow human passageway in this immensity of night. My car is a tiny prison and yet a sanctuary from the unknown presences pulsing in the dark stillness.

I reach the house of my friend. The lights dispel that ominous pressure in my brain as my eyes searched for presence in the small space the carried me through the impression of nothingness I had been driving through. I look out the window into the darkness seeing the quiet lake as a dark shadowy promise waiting for the day. The dark is a quiet gentle stillness separating these moments of togetherness from the busy world. It has the quiet rocking gentleness of water lapping on the shore of my dreams there in the house of my friend.

When we go to the party at the local community center, the dark pulses with the dance lights and the soft glow of decorations. It is a backdrop for the laughter, for the conversations and music and movement filling the space. In those moments that my mind seeks rest from the noises around it is a net catching all the stimuli and weaving them into a dome of white noise and shifting shadows holding them around me until my mind has taken its breath and is ready to be with others again.

The time comes to drive home. There is a dimness to the day as miles again separate me from the closeness of my friend. Clouds mass with gathering participation. Though it is daylight there is a dark cast to the world. Dark is a foggy shadow cloaking the brightness of the sun hiding behind the massing clouds.

811Then night begins to descend. The hidden sun breaks through along the horizon opening a brilliance like a world beyond waiting to be discovered if only we could find our way to leave the rules and regulations of the given road and risk trespass on own land to find our way to some hidden gateway waiting just beyond the rim of the seen world.

But it doesn’t stop there. A rosy glow spreads across the sky so that it is present anywhere I look in a water colour washes. A huge pink wing silhouettes clouds in bold relief while dwarfing the shimmering moon as it drifts in and out of clouds. The dark conducts the sky in an orchestra of light and shadow as it 813bslowly hides the clouds in the silky folds of night.

The night falls softer in the prairie sky. The openness of the horizon holds the glow of the setting sun long after the clouds above are disguised by darkness. Along the road and in the distance pinpoints of lights herald the presence of homes. The moon plays among the clouds adding its presence to the light painting presence into the darkness.

Even my headlights seem brighter in the open expanse. Dark is simply a part of the conversation of being in that moment. It is its own presence, the canvass for light as it paints the signs and symbols letting me know I am nearing home.

invisible woman

The nervousness of walking in another door was great but if I was to find a church in my community, I needed to take that step. Several people were in the church that day. It seemed to be a big anniversary gathering. Lots of people were talking to each other as I walked in. The only words said to me were by the “greeter” at the door. No handshake or smile, just a “Make sure you sign the guest book” and then turning to someone they knew better than me.

Okay, so maybe that wasn’t the best date to visit. Let’s see what happens on another day. Bright smile applied. Shoulders set in a relaxed friendly angle. Do what I can to catch an eye and be open to what comes.

Nope. Nothing before church. Okay, maybe people need to be settled. Watch carefully to find an empty unwanted seat so that I don’t cause the grumbling that happened in another setting. Stand, sit, sing, listen. The service draws to a close.

Move out into the foyer. Bolster myself a bit with the edge of a table but don’t try to hide between my shoulder blades. Not to eager but open for what might come.

Look! a woman walking my way. And another coming from the other direction. Perhaps my openness was what was needed. The woman come to each side of me. I smile.

They don’t even glance toward me. They stand so close having a conversation across my nose that I can’t really go anywhere. The conversation is not one that invites anything I might have to offer so I wait. Perhaps as the conversation goes on they will bring me in.

The conversation ends. The women walk away. Their eyes don’t even dart a look toward me. I am shaken by the invisibility of my presence in that building and especially in that conversation within my close personal space that did not even include me with a glance.

I think it is time to make my exit. Unfortunately, the pastor is blocking the door with hand shakes. Right at the moment I am feeling a little to raw for official greetings. But I steel my shoulders and move toward the door doing my best to disappear.

He sees me and holds out a hand to shake as he looks sideways to the next person but I stop. In stopping his attention turns to me.

“This is my second visit to your church,” I tell him. And you are the first person to greet me. In fact, I just had two people carry on a conversation across my nose. I am not telling you this for me. I won’t be back. I have the strength still to try another church so I will get past the unfriendliness here. This is not my last hope.”

“But for the next person who walks through your door, you may be. If that person who is longing to find a faith community meets what I did today, they may not have it in them to take another chance.”

“I can only tell you what I experienced. You will have to decide what to do with it but I pray for the next stranger that may walk through your door. How you greet or don’t greet them may ma difference.”

Did he thank me for my words? I really don’t remember. I was just numb with a disbelief that people can be so calloused.

I want to remember, not in naming their names or church but in knowing what it felt like to be an invisible woman. May God give us the eyes to see.


Opening to the new

There is something I have stopped doing for myself but memory asked me to keep bringing an awareness of the experiences of a new person in a church or other faith based group. I was once an insider, and even then noticed how often it was seen as the task of the stranger to meet everyone. Even then it troubled me, especially in the times bridging that gap meant I heard a story of pain that made it hard for a new person to reach across that distance alone.

Many years later, I was the person seeking entry into a church community. The struggle I had seen from one side became my struggle as I met much of the same resistance to risk the new. I began sharing my stories, hoping that having shared both sides, these experiences would cause others to at least begin to consider the impact of how we act church on those who may be coming through our doors seeking.

Sadly, when the stories of seeking a church home are shared, most inside church people remind me of how fragile the people are in the church and what understanding the newcomer needs to have of the needs of the people included. Today, that may be truth. It is not unusual to talk to people who have gone to the same church for years without knowing others in the congregation.

Oh, there is often a core group who know each other through family relationships or shared activities outside of church. I have even been in churches where a circle was talking about preparations for a women’s activity and how each could be involved. It was a church I had attended for weeks, even helping with some of the music with the music director but hadn’t notice any women’s group in the bulletins.

Wanting to be involved with others. I stepped into the edge of the conversation and listened. As they were talking about how each could be involved, I offered an entry into the conversation by asking what I could do. They looked at me, told me I could buy a ticket and turned back to their conversation with those near me stepping forward into the circle to close me out.

I don’t believe their purpose was to be rude. Often, we are unaware of how our body language is read by those who are longing for the inclusion we have already at least tentatively found in a setting.

For me, at that stage of the journey, and with the reality that this was not my first effort to find a way to be a part with others, the slump of my shoulders would have spoken to those who might have observed.

This was not a place where I was going to receive a personal welcome. It was a denomination that in theory reaches beyond barriers set for many but in practice, at least in this setting, it was an ingrown group of family and friends who did not have room for those from outside.

What we say with word and body matter. That new person who walks through your door may need your words of welcome, your opening of a circle to allow them inside, your inclusion at a table or the act of moving over so they feel they can sit beside you.

The rest is up to them but it is time to stop asking the newcomer to make the first move in a fabric that has been sewn over time. Rebuffs hurt especially in a church which once had a reputation of welcome.

Wherever we are, may our hearts and eyes be opened to see those among us with the need of inclusion.