The Well

tears well
buckets descend
dreams walk the bridge
between psyche and sunrise

I am tired of the surface
the mundane, the conveyer belt of routine
to do, to do, to do
check, check, check

fashion me a bucket
slip me into a spate of tears
drop me below night’s horizon
into the star-studded sea
where I will sink, then dissolve
into a timeless remembering
of origins and being
and sweet, deep return

Sharing The Road

Once I was struck by a taxicab while biking. I had just returned from leading a 30-day bike tour in the British Isles during which helmets were mandatory. On my first bike stateside, I decided to skip the helmet and enjoy the beautiful summer day, long hair streaming. Two miles from home on the return, I met the taxi. He was heading southbound and decided to turn left in front of my northbound path. I couldn’t stop. Instinctively, I turned with him to avoid a head-on. I can still remember the feeling of impact: hitting the grill, rolling up on the hood, flying through the air. In gymnastics parlance, I ‘stuck the landing’ only because I didn’t hit my head. I accrued a gash, nasty bruises, road rash, and a body twitch that lasted three days, but thankfully no broken bits. My bike was totaled which bothered me most. I was riding two weeks later. I’ve worn my helmet ever since.

Are you a bicyclist? A motorist? Both? Ever sworn at or swerved around a bicyclist while driving? Ever been hit by a car while biking? The latter gains you lifetime membership in the Car Club, providing you live to tell the crash story. The former may validate you’ve had a close call, a cyclist has not acted like a vehicle, or you just like to let it rip on unsuspecting citizens. (The last one I can’t help you with.)

I’ve been a driver and cyclist for over 40 years. Having been at the wheel and over the handlebars when sideswiped by the taxi, I have a few thoughts about the manners and rules of the road.

First up, cyclists. You can’t have it both ways. If you want cars to share the road with you and respect your space and co-create safety, act like another vehicle on the road every time you ride. This means:

-Learn and use hand signals consistently. (This does not include the bird.)

-Don’t ride double or in tight packs. It’s rude and makes it unsafe to pass. You are not in the Tour de France; you’re in Vermont and people need to get places.

– When riding single file, keep a generous car’s distance between you. This allows a car to tuck in, if needed, due to oncoming traffic.

-Respond to stoplights and road signs as if you were a car. It is dangerous and obnoxious not to.

-If a car is patiently driving behind you because of limited visibility or oncoming traffic, when it’s safe for them to pass, slow down and wave them forward. They are typically grateful and often wave back. It breeds good cyclists-motorists’ relations.

-Make eye contact with motorists before crossing the road in front of them or whenever possible. If they see you, they are less likely to hit you.

-Wear a helmet and use a bike light and mirror. The first is a no-brainer (or your potential condition, if you don’t.) Think about it. Helmets reduce the risk of serious brain injuries by 70%. Mirrors and bike lights help with seeing and being seen. Special side note to some parents: Think twice. As the safety net for your children (brain trust+care provider+role model), what’s the mixed message you are sending by insisting they wear helmets, when you don’t? You are protecting their developing brains, while ignoring the value and responsibility of protecting your own.

Second up, motorists:

-See us.

-Look twice. Remember who is bigger. We get it; you’ll always win in a show down of steel. Uncle.

-Please get off your cell phone, radio dial, FAX machine, and coffeemaker. (When did all cars become RVs? Or drivers the ultimate multi-taskers?)

-Give us space, please. If it’s hard to gauge distance, slow down and give a wide berth. You won’t be sorry. The last thing you need is a cyclist adorning your hood or smashing your rearview mirror.

-If you drive a big truck with mirrors, watch out for clipping a cyclist in the head or sweeping them off their bikes. Yup, it happens.

-Also big truckers, remember the draft potential of your weight and length. When you speed by too close, it draws bikes subtlety toward the truck body with a vacuum. We typically stay upright, but it’s really unnerving to feel like you’re riding a toothpick next to a dragon’s mouth, the teeth like 18-spinning wheels.

-Never swat or touch a biker while driving by. (Yes, I’ve had this happen, too.) They thought it was funny, playful, something. Not so much.

-When inside your car, learn to open the driver’s door with your right hand. It turns your body, so you can check for a cyclist before opening your door into busy streets. It prevents door jobs aka ‘getting doored.’

-Observe bike lane symbols and signs and watch for bikers approaching or passing on your right.

With heads-up and helmets on, let’s share the road by acting like mutually responsible vehicles and following the laws of the road and common sense manners. It’s not only sensible, kinder, and safer; it saves lives.

Besides, no one really wants to be in the Car Club.

Published July 2017 on vtdigger.com as commentary

For more information, check: http://thegmbc.com/VTBikeLaws.pdf

A Ritual of Letting Go

 

There are a collection of beach stones in my home: lining windowsills, filling a copper pot, drawn in a circle around a fragile sea urchin shell. The faded apricot ones from Block Island were acquired at my last attendance of the Block Island Poetry Project, with Billy Collins, as King of the Weekend and Words. There are orange, black, and white speckled ones from Boom Beach on Isle au Haut; the Maine island our family visited annually for a decade plus. These stones and a cache of shells are indelibly linked with the smell of bayberry bushes warmed by the sun and monarchs fluttering around swaths of milkweed. All objects, images, and senses that anchor me to islands and family memories. And then we have an array of grey, black, and white stones from many beaches, including our local one in Shelburne, Vermont. From there, the Adirondack mountains can be viewed across the blue expanse of Lake Champlain, often awash in color rich sunsets or draped in clouds.

The images of these stones arise when ruminating about decluttering our home. I want to gather them up in batches, feel their weight, and disperse them in new ways, for other purposes. In doing this, I could practice renewal, an act of making changes that symbolize the redistribution of accumulated heft and history. I imagine them in the perennial gardens covering spaces created from winterkill. Or lining the boundary between the sweep of lawn and garden soil, supplanting the unattractive, brown strip that marks these borders now. Or simply returned to the homecoming of earth, freed. Freed, as I long to be freed.

For years, I have longed to sift and sort through each room in our home and let go of what no longer serves or brings joy. Perhaps over time, creating space for something fresh or reveling in less. Each time, the urge has been thwarted by the fullness of daily commitments, the difficulty of discerning value and purging.

The urge to let go parallels a similar longing regarding my relationships expressed in work, family, and friendships. I no longer care to do anything out of habit, out of the weight of history or legacy. These stones represent the tension point between beauty and ballast; the former capturing sweet memories, the latter dust covered memorabilia. At 57, I have vested time and energy into various relationships and endeavors. Some of these have nurtured me deeply, carved me open, and infused growth. Some of them have been burdens, caretaking experiments, unconscious recreations of the past, painful reminders of what doesn’t work or serve. The last, hollow or heavy vessels of replication.

Later today, I will gather the stones in a large wicker basket, my palm embracing their cool smoothness, the dust swept away in transition. I will give thanks for their presence, their place-holding. Then I will listen carefully to my intuitive, inner voice. A knowing guide that has sometimes been muted by the endless, external noise, and scraps of self-doubt. And from this awareness, I will give the weight of history and stones new purposes or release them.

Each of us honored; each of us freed.

 

Wrong Number at the White House

Call me a worrywart or crazy, but last week while President Donald Trump was dropping tweet bombs at North Korea and digs at China I was wondering if Easter Sunday was going to be the second coming of Jesus for Christians. Or possibly a nuclear blast for those in Secularland. As I watched tensions ratchet up on various news feeds, I wondered why everyone else seemed so relaxed. Denial? Nerves of steel? Too busy buying last minute chocolate bunnies and pastel eggs? Whatever, I was minorly freaked.
Deciding civic action would be the best antidote, I tried to call state representatives. Quickly, I remembered — never on Saturday. I did the next logical thing. I went to the internet brain trust, Google, to look up how citizens can communicate direct feedback to the president and administration at the White House (the real White House, not the “winter” one in Florida.) Checking out the options, I decided to send an email known as Method 3, noting the encouraging statement: “Democrat or Republican, Windows or Macintosh, email is bipartisan all the way!” Even though it didn’t mention independents, I assumed transpartisan was welcome. It wasn’t like I was asking for a respectful bathroom experience or anything.

Using the first address, comments@whitehouse.gov, I wrote a simple note: Dear President Trump and advisors, Please immediately stop the threat against North Korea, which is escalating tensions and creating a perfect storm for a nuclear crisis. This is risking the lives of many people in South Korea, creating the opportunity for a larger scale war, and escalating the possibilities of retaliation against other countries in the region, and America and its citizens. Thank you, Deb S., Vermont. The address didn’t work and the email got stuck in my outbox. Then I tried the other address listed, president@whitehouse.gov, and had the same problem. Apparently bipartisanship wasn’t really a factor. I had hit some kind of tech wall, perhaps not unlike the quasi-real wall about to be built on the southern border whose message is: “You can’t get in and we don’t want to hear about it.” Or maybe the new administration didn’t just take down information on the whitehouse.gov website about civil rights, the environment, etc. Maybe the information only flows one way these days, 140 characters at a time.

Always one to persist, I decided to try Method 4 and call. The first number gave me a similar voicemail message as the state representatives, call Monday to Friday, 9 to 4. I tried the second number provided, the White House switchboard. The woman who answered could have been a fresh hire and post-United Airlines’ employee (or maybe Kellyanne Conway got re-assigned?). Let’s just say neither customer or service were in her vocabulary. Her barely civil tone turned to icy impatience when I tried to explain the purpose of my contact, and she replied frostily: “You have the WRONG number.” I held back two retorts: “Well, it was listed on the contact website,” and “No, we have the WRONG president!”

Now it’s post-Easter weekend. At some point in the fray, while tweeting threats to North Korea and China, President Trump recounted the story of his authorization to bomb Syria in a Fox News interview. He had been having dinner with the Chinese president at the “winter White House” (Mar-a-Lago) and was gushing about the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake he had ever seen. However, in the interview, he said he had authorized the bombing of Iraq and had to be corrected by the interviewer: “You mean Syria.” Oh, yes, Syria. (So many bombs, so little time. Or in golfing parlance: Fore!) Thank goodness that cake was memorable.

As for me and my alter ego, Chicken Little, I was too busy to check any news feeds today. And honestly? I needed a break. Whether I was appropriately concerned or not, one thing is clear. There was no getting a peep into the White House. Maybe, I should have tried Florida after all. Or just called the switchboard back and ordered some of that Mar-a-Lago chocolate cake, given I’ve already paid for it. Ah, the sweet life of Making America Bake Again, while not mentioning the consequences of war acts with any sense of gravity and responsibility. How “da bomb” is that?

in it together

img_2934Pausing for beauty is a practice, one part pleasure, one part healing, with other bits, too, that live beyond the realm of first awareness, like dreams become a portal to our souls in morning light.  

One day as I was leaving Healthy Living, a health food store and home of my guilty pleasures, I spotted a stand of dahlias in their final autumn blush. The pink and yellow blooms were colorful splashes in the otherwise sober landscape of rain and asphalt. I stopped to look more closely, in keeping with my family MO as a beauty junkie or sunset geek.  Sometimes this is noted fondly, other times not, as I pause to admire or take photographs (yet again.)

At the center of one dahlia were two bees doing their instinct-driven work. There was no sign of competition or stress. Just a task and a moment, the flower as flower, the bees as bees, a relationship complete. Each one was whole, separately and together.

As humans we have travelled so far from the simplicity of instincts, natural rhythms, checks and balances, every moment imbued with its own completeness. Instead, many of us rush and toil, a little or a lot displaced in the scheme and balance of nature, at times detached or displaced from our true calling and purpose, writ small and large in the inner and outer landscapes.

As I observe the bees at the heart of this blossom fresh with raindrops, I want to stop time. I long to find my way forward into a place where timelessness and wholeness are expressed in the steady, worthy task before me. Then I remember. This is what I experience in the presence of others engaged in growth and healing work. It’s a form of awareness and grace as natural as observing and absorbing beauty. And we’re in it together.

Santa and a Blue Heart

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Our suburban neighborhood is dotted and bedecked with Christmas lights and holiday decorations, all festive signs that life has moved on since the presidential election. As I walk-jog in the dark past my neighbors’ homes, these figures and lights evoke comfort and reflection.

As the holidays steam ever-closer, these in-between days feel as precious as they are numbered. Most vested and voting Americans are anticipating the inauguration of Donald Trump with denial and trepidation or excitement.  There does not seem to be much in-between when it comes to Trump and his pending Trumpdom. Many either love or hate him, or are perhaps mysteriously asleep, descendants of Rip Van Winkle, who plan to wake in 20 years to a different reality. (If there is any chance of joining this clan, I may be interested, as Canadian immigration seems unlikely, crashed website and all.) 

The air cools my cheeks despite the effort to jog and only the twinkling lights, bright Santas, reindeer, and the occasional glowing windows dispel the dark. I want to sink into the familiar, return to something past that feels safe, more trustworthy, illusory or not. As others have said, some voters believe they woke up post-election day to another America and feel displaced, even if the dusty decorations drawn from neighbors’ basements and closets are the same as last year’s.

Honestly and sadly, America didn’t change.  It is just newly visible. As if a portion of We the People had been sitting in a 3D movie without the glasses, filling in around the fuzziness based on our individual demographics, ideals, and delusions; then someone said, “From now on wear these…Things will start coming toward you like beasts and crashing buildings, (credit to J.K. Rowling), but at least you will have a clear perspective.” Whether Trump is an Obscurus, (an evil, destructive force emerging from repressed inner forces), or something more benign or inane will be the reveal of the next four years. The only predictable thing is his trademark unpredictability.  

In the midst of wondering what will be, it is difficult to settle into what is.  Never much of a shopper and ambivalent about calendar driven consumption, I feel even less inclined to participate with the weight of the unknown occasionally swamping me with angst. Scratching down my shopping list and checking it twice feels evermore irrelevant and selfish.  

While questions of unequal import, what are the opportunities in this holiday season or pending administrative run?  By nature and habit, I am an optimist. That said, never in my adult life have I felt such dread about the ascendant presidential leadership. Never. And I’ve been voting since Reagan’s first term and lived through a couple of Bushes, the second “a comedy piñata,” according to the late and great Robin Williams. However, piñata or not, even G.W. with his infamous record of war and torture publicly declined to vote for Trump.  Imagine. 

Returning home, I gathered the trellis that supports morning glories in the summer and the blue lights that live year round on our thriving ficus tree. In these days of confusion about what’s sacred and what’s for sale, (including elections,) and the ever-pressing wonderment about life beyond Trump’s inauguration, I was inspired to fashion a blue heart, a gesture of love and sadness wrapped in one.

For all that is unknown, 2017 promises to challenge love and invoke sadness, of this we can be sure. The rest will have to be revealed.  

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