5/18/2015

back roads

And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord throughout the length of my days.

I drove to Pleasant Hill to pick up James at work, so he could catch the train to visit his beloved, Kimi. I guess I ought to pay him for the excuse to breeze out of town on a Friday (don't tell James I said so), the countryside opening around me like a favorite story.

I used to get there taking I-5 south and then exiting onto highway 58, which zips over a bridge, past stores and a Dairy Queen, and where you navigate traffic on a couple hills heading toward Dexter and Oakridge. Driveable, but no fun. Finally I asked James the back way to the farm. Now I give myself 35-40 minutes and go via Springfield, along a short stretch of the McKenzie and past Jasper. The last section on Wheeler Road is a wonderful meander. It's worth planning ahead for.

Even though clouds sent down spatters this time, I got a certain sunny sense, as always. A freeing sigh escaped my lips. The pastures, fully greened with deciduous borders, the slopes and ascents, the health of the natural. It encompassed me, in my car on the road, passing through.


I stood in church with the choir, my whole self striving to produce the right sounds. Although my voice can usually blend it isn't strong, and when I'm the only alto, and because we sing without other instrumentation, this choir-ing is quite a focus for me, quite a road to embark upon on a Sunday. Yet the distinctiveness of acapella Orthodox singing resides in the service itself--the divine liturgy--in which every morsel is an aspect of the ancient gospel telling.

I used to sing with church choirs of various flavors; it was work and fun and performance, mostly strong and inspiring.

The choir in Orthodox services is utilitarian; it directs the flow. When you think about it, the priest is utilitarian also; he is the particular priest who takes the forward position. We in the choir are the priests providing musical flow. The rest of the congregation standing with us are the priests sharing our communion, gathered around what we believe all the evidence points to.

This doesn't negate the space inside each human for examination. Amazingly, amid this company the inner space can truly open, if the will is there. If I'm available inside myself to follow what I'm learning about this gift of the liturgy, of this road that truly meanders, I can as far as I'm able to draw near.

Meaningful facets reflect around me, and I continually marvel; there are galaxies here. My immature squeaking--though it can interrupt others seeking to enter in--can't, thankfully, sully this road, this journey toward this universe. This place I will ever long to be.

4/30/2015

foreigners

...the fig tree:When its branch has already become tender, and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near.
1. anticipating my own adventure

As I'm sure I've said before, my longing for summer makes spring my favorite season. Drippy though Oregon Aprils are, they offer previews of extended daylight, aromatic flora, and unencumbered shady afternoons in a lawn chair reading. (I can dream, anyway, about time for books in the backyard--we'll see if this year allows for such things.)

What I'm mostly looking forward to right now is a June trip to New York to visit Victoria, Alex, and Edmund (who's almost two). I'm a little nervous about being such a foreigner to my grandson. He hugged me as we said goodbye last August, but for him that was eons ago.

Lately I ponder, as well, the foreignness between people living together. Tim and I have a lot in common, but we are also exceedingly different. My bent for anticipation and savoring often bumps into Tim, who by comparison charges past me, plugging in and unplugging the modules of his existence.

If we were traveling together this summer there would be many short trips to plan and accomplish during the week in and near NYC. One reason Tim isn't going is the funds don't exist for us to do things. All I can expect is to hang out with people, which is precisely my desire. To enter into their world, take each moment as it happens. Of course I'll be learning Victoria and Alex's schedule and doing things with them, like going to their church, maybe grocery shopping, folding laundry. I expect I will babysit a time or two.

Tim hard at work on a security light for a house our church owns.
There isn't a thing wrong with Tim's way, his event supervision. If, for example, we both were in New York, planning to visit a museum, and Victoria and Alex's refrigerator broke, Tim would alter the schedule, visit parts stores, make the repairs. My husband takes life in at a glance, understanding physical needs and caring for people. I, on the other hand, will be clueless if anything breaks down, unable to diagnose. I can hold a toddler's hand for a long walk, but I can't process the unexpected until long afterward.

2. this faith adventure, separately together

It was Tim who first recognized, when we went with Victoria to her Orthodox church, that here existed something he as a believer had been seeking his whole life. He proceeded to explore, to learn, to listen, and to probe. There was no holding back on his part and no restraining him. His launch into the foreign wasn't because it was different, but rather because he saw something compelling, and he had to know more. This is my husband.

Back then I, of course, thought Tim was seeing things. He after all has been mistaken more than once. I've grudgingly let TV series run there courses that he enjoyed and I loathed. These days radio talk shows he listens to for hours drive me batty. Not that I can't see value there somewhere, but for me the problems outweigh any goodness.

Tim and I traveled to this Orthodox "country" from very different points of origin. For me things started with a slow examination, followed by an extended entering in, absorbing, until finally recognition has dawned, and it continues to grow, to build.

On a spring morning after Matins.
I follow Tim inside the church's back door--he has his key out, ready, holding it briefly til I catch up, then he's off to lower bell ropes, check the service books, turn on the speaker system he installed. I wander inside more slowly, pausing to inhale, to observe anew.

My mind and heart linger over scripture passages, people, and the teaching woven throughout the prayers and services. There is a single, momentous thing pervading all aspects of this life that at first seemed so foreign. It is that single thing to which we each draw near, differently, missing notes and fumbling something, somehow every time. But toward each of us love's welcome keeps shining. Even from the demeanors of other foreign bodies rotating fumblingly with us, experiencing another spring.

Every facet rings true to the one thing, exuding freedom with the love. Though it can be rejected, this is a rescue story. Every aspect of what we travel in and to together in its own way glimmers, like the depths of Tim's gaze, like a blessing.

4/24/2015

light, sound, and home

Optina Monastery today. Photo by ncosmin at Trek Earth.
I've been reading the life of Elder Nektary, who spent most of his days in the Russian monastery of Optina, until the communists closed his home. This quiet, faithful man of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries appreciated art and literature. Some ponderings of his got my attention:
There exist sound and light. An artist is someone who is sensitive to these sounds and lights which others are unable to perceive. He takes them and puts them on canvas and on paper. They become colors, notes, and words. It's as though the sounds and lights have dissolved.

A book or a painting--these are the tombs of light and sound. A reader or viewer comes, and, if he is able to creatively apprehend or read, a "resurrection" of meaning takes place. And then the circle of art is completed. Light flashes in the soul of the viewer or reader, and his hearing becomes awakened to sound. For this reason an artist or poet has no particular cause for pride. He's only doing his share of the work. In vain do they suppose themselves to be the creators of their works. There is one Creator, and man only dissolves the words and images of the Creator and then revives them by the power of the spirit given by Him.
 Elder Nektary also recognized the need for writers to consider every word:
Before beginning to write, dip the pen into the inkwell seven times.
Sometimes I think I'll spend my whole life dipping my pen...

The memoir project I started last fall has reached three chapters and is being read by several friends. My daughter was the first to comment on what I'm doing. Victoria critiques well; she consistently and kindly tells me what she really thinks. She likes the third chapter. Not that she doesn't like the first two, but by the third she's on board with where I'm heading and thinks I'm doing all right. This is helpful.

Noting her comments, I guess my other volunteer readers are finding it a challenge to get into the work. If light and sound have been resurrected for them, I've yet to hear it. So it may well be I've only got one actual chapter done--the third may become the first. I'm already beginning to think through how to make changes. Part of the toil and joy of writing, of course, is solving problems.

Thankfully, nobody's kicking me out of house and home anytime soon, as far as I know.

4/16/2015

the Paschal crescendo

Though I've spent uncounted hours the last couple months in hospital rooms, emergency departments, and doctors' offices, I have also lived a lot (as has been true the past four years) at church. Now I'm experiencing my fifth Paschal feast in Orthodox Christianity. Here, "Pascha" (which is a translation of "Passover," for the Orthodox the Passover of Christ) often falls on a different Sunday than Western Easter. Calendar changes in history are responsible for the discrepancy, but thanks to both celebrations' connection with the lunar cycle, they can fall on the same day.


This past Sunday I joined the hike up Spencer Butte, in south Eugene, to watch our Pascha sun rise. This was after our celebratory service, which began at 11:30 Saturday night and ended between 3:00 and 4:00 a.m. I was, literally, the last one of the group boosted up the butte. I couldn't pull myself any higher on the boulders for the pic, below, taken by a friendly hiker from another group.


I was all in. But my smile was genuine. I'm grateful to have participated as much as I've been able to this year. This participation--what it consists of--is quite difficult to capture and express. Especially for someone who, up until four years ago, thought following a faith interpretation rooted in creative human ideas and rationality was as good as it gets on this boulder-strewn globe.

(I now appreciate more deeply the apostle Nathaniel's first reaction to being told by Philip that a man called Jesus was the longed-for Jewish Messiah. "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Nathaniel asked, to which his friend responded, "Come and see.")


Last Pascha (which coincided with Western Easter) I didn't hike but remained more rational, crawling into bed before dawn and dozing. My mind found words of expression, though, which kept me awake enough to record them in my notebook:

"Pascha," I wrote, "is entering into the crescendo of what is lived and expressed every month, week, and day of the year in the [Orthodox] Church.

"The elements of Pascha are always present: the aspects/tools/expressions of life in Christ (which is life "hidden" with Christ in God). No matter how fervently the bells ring, no matter how brightly the candles glow, this is a hidden life. It cannot be broadcast; it is not desired by the masses, or even by any group of people.

"It is personal. Yet it is community in a profound sense, one into which each member is born rather than initiated, having no sense beforehand of what will come, no preconceptions (at least, none that are accurate). Like siblings, the family members make room for each new child. As in any family, nothing is executed with perfection; there are many growing pains.

"Pascha, the Resurrection of Christ, is always present, ever central. Life in this household (or, if you prefer, the voyage on this ship, the journey along this path) is the memorial to Christ until He appears, until He comes. It is what continually goes on. It is the food and drink, the exercise, the therapy, the struggle, the way."

4/13/2015

pondered

Sunrise over the Three Sisters, Oregon, on April 12 (Orthodox Easter) from Spencer Butte, Eugene
My break from blogging and social networks took an unexpected turn when my dad underwent open heart surgery February 27. But the timing was good. Now Dad travels new roads of healing and hurting and recovery and decline.

How fragile the body which ages. And yet also how strong. A lot of years turn beneath the atmosphere, amid the stress, engaged with tragedy and with beauty. These decades of inhaling sweet breezes, for those of us who receive decades, are long but limited. Every heartbeat is another tiny descent, another spending of the allotment. Ah, glorious transaction.


Green-yellow "chicklets" on the front maple have arrived again. Today crimson leaf-babies shine in the rain. Around the tree's girth lie piles of old gray ones, their bodies once having ridden high, now composting below, nourishing fruit and flower.

Though so familiar, each fresh leaf is unique, distinct; only the process repeats itself. In nature, in creation, there are no reused entities. "My" maple will someday join its leaves in repose, and there won't be a copy saved, but the essence of treeness will continue.

Yet what is man? In "his" essence, in humanity, a unique twig and leafkin comes to be, to exist and to flower, and sometimes to undergo surgery. There is more in each human being than meets the eye. More, I believe, than sense can apprehend, and so the day of reposing in "sleep" will have more to it, as well. It's unknowable right now, a mystery past understanding, but it awaits this withering leaf. I tend to be one pondering such things.

2/17/2015

two and a remembrance

It's eleven in the morning and I'm still in my pjs. My second chapter is finished. This is nice. It's not the main thing or everything, but it's nice. (The not being dressed part not included.)

Even nicer, though, is sunshine. I will attempt to greet the day outside, soon, in proper apparel.

It's interesting that the events I'm memoiring about all started exactly four years ago today. This morning I mused regarding how my life is different. Much has changed. Much has been lost. There was a lot to grieve over. This includes so much ego on my part.

To be humbled is...well, not fun. But the word itself denotes a caring way and means of turning. Unlike being chastised, or disciplined, or accosted. Being humbled happens due to the reality of sacrifice. Of love. Of what is deeply existing. It's really, truly good for the soul. Especially the prideful one, mine.

2/03/2015

freely given

Beginning my first blog post of this year reminds me... our Christmas tree is still up. Yes, it's bristle-brush dry, but once in a while when you pass it the whiff of the forest exudes, and you think it's not so bad to have it around just one more morning... and maybe another.


Life is very full. I wrangle structure inside my book's second chapter. Now I have read chapter one aloud to three people besides Tim, and I've fiddled a lot more with it. Last week I went with my parents to the coast (someone had to drive them; I made the sacrifice, and so did James, the heavy lifter). Ahead of time I imagined all the writing I would do there. As it was, I spent one afternoon out of three draped over a chair arm gazing at the waters of Depoe Bay and returning to my prose every so often. It did help to some degree with the wrangling.

I'm thinking I will be gone (from here, at least) a long time again soon. I might stay completely off the internet during the season of Great Lent, which begins the end of this month. There are stories ringing interiorly that I've listened to these past four years which will help impel me, if I do stay away, to embark on the journey. Monks and nuns of old withdrew during Lent into the desert. I can't even express how frightful and compelling that sort of solitude is to my heart.


It is in the heart, I have come to think, that the landscape of human life unfolds. The deepest places reveal themselves. There is a way to reach them; to do so is a gift freely given to mankind. This is, as I see it, the central message of Christianity as first delivered. The God, whom Christians believe is the only such one, desires to make a home with the Human. Adam. Me. The being God formed in his image from the soil. Such soil became dust due to a rebellion freely chosen. Such dust is renewed due to the amazing desire of God to rescue the lost sheep, the unimaginable free act of entering into dust to restore it, to heal any and all who freely desire the healing. This all is wrought in humility. Wrought in God.


Whether gazing into nature's deep beauty or practicing the mundane ordinariness of house and home, Christians seek and wrangle (during Lent and always) with a much tougher problem than sentences, memories, rewrites, and printer ink replacement. God willing, we strive at and with and in the difficult gate. Like a weathered highway, the Orthodox church's services guide me to it, to the rock of striving with myself, with my circumstance. There dwell God's faith and humble ways, as over against my relentless pride and self-interest.

For me it's a beauty the tireless motion of breakers begins to sing about, the endless sand whispers of barely commencing, daring a leap to the uncovered boulders at low tide.

12/29/2014

chapter and legend

For the first time, probably ever, I've been writing in December. Little bits per sitting, almost every weekday. Steadily creeping along. As of today I have 3000 words. A completed chapter.

This morning I read it aloud to Tim, the first person who's heard it. I guess a few weeks ago Tim heard part of a paragraph, as I was trying to describe something about him and asked for his input. There's this legend, sort of, that gets told by people who work (or worked) with him at the TV station. One winter during a storm he kept the transmitter from going off air using a paper clip and duct tape. Or so I thought I'd heard.



Tim corrected me. There was no duct tape. He explained in detail how he bent the paper clip to make contact with circuity thingies (not his words), which fooled the transmitter into staying on.

As much as I would love to have Tim's voice in my story depicting his engineering adventure, I opted to remain focused on my narrative. I expressed Tim having accomplished his feat "using his wits and a straightened paper clip." (They start out bent, right? So it must have been that he straightened it.)

This, I learned today, is not quite correct, because while Tim did straighten the paper clip's original bendedness, he employed it in his own bendy design to carry out his rescue of the station. After hearing me read nearly 3000 words, Tim offered this as his only concern about my writing. Which I loved.

Not that I won't desire feedback from other sources, which will certainly give me many changes to ponder. But Tim's thoughts are supremely valuable. Outside my writing world, yet so close to my stories in his very own way.

Together we concluded it's most correct to say he used his wits and a contorted paper clip. So there you have it. The synopsis of my first 3000 words.

11/19/2014

focus


I have wished to be well into a particular writing project by the end of this year. Back in the spring, my work didn't merit the term "book." This has been pretty usual for me. In my experience, writing can become clutching the side of a cliff, seeking a way up (or sometimes just looking for the path back down).

One idea for my project seemed pretty solid, and I kept picking it up, writing and writing, researching it to some degree. But I was sure this piece of the story (or stories) wouldn't be enough to carry a whole book. It might make a fine family narrative (being about family history), but I couldn't expect it to interest other people.

Finally a couple months ago I hit on a better-sounding strategy. The family history part could comprise the first section, leading into a memoir-ish faith journey narrative with a thread linked to two family tragedies from before my birth. I made an outline. Feeling hopeful, like a pioneer having raised her cabin's walls, I began to tell people I was working on an actual book.

The next week, Tim's mom called. She and Dad H. had just been to an event featuring Bob Welch, a Eugene writer and speaker Tim and I've known for years (decades now, I guess). "For your Christmas present," Mom said, "we want to send you to one of Bob's writing workshops!"

I almost turned her down. See, most years they give me money, and I need new sports shoes. Yes, Bob's workshops cost more than shoes (from a little to a lot more, depending on the length of the seminar), and, yes, I've always wanted to go to one of those, and yes, I'm writing a book now... Oh, yeah. After a few moments I decided the shoes could wait.

"Yay!" I responded. Then I checked for a workshop I could actually get to, and found out one was happening on November 15, in Vida, less than an hour's drive from home. I signed up.



The day was like candy (especially since Bob's wife, Sally, provided great food, including candy). I remembered things I'd forgotten; I learned much that was new.

I drove home talking to myself in quite lively fashion.

Yesterday morning I pulled my notes out. Studying the workshop's exercises, I plugged in aspects of my book project. And there, in front of me, a true memoir came into focus. I saw the beginning, the middle, the end. I was stunned.

This book is about two months of my life.

I've wanted to express what happened, carefully, tucking it into the middle, you know, being nonchalant and hopefully writing like Wendell Berry, allowing the message to bloom in your mind. But almost no one can do that. I was hiding my story, making excuses. I just need to tell it.

To touch on history and connect the right pieces will require very hard work. (My pioneer counterpart would need to dig herself a well, plant a garden, chink the walls against the storms. Even go without candy.) It will require, as Bob said Saturday, confidence that I have something to offer, plus humility to let other people help me tell my story better.

But there in front of me it sits, in focus. I wrote opening pages this morning. This is interesting.


You'll find more information on Bob's writer workshops here.

11/13/2014

an interview; a growing labor of love; an appeal for help, updated

A year ago this summer I first visited Excelsior Farm where James was interning. Jeremy (center, above*) was engaged to Ashli (left), and they were in the busy, happy zone of preparation for building a life together. Their farm, launched by the owner of Eugene's Excelsior Inn, was a dream, barely germinated, of providing the Inn's restaurant with "the freshest selection of ingredients found in the Willamette Valley." Jeremy had been hired to manage and, as soon as possible, become owner of the farm business. I could sense Jeremy and Ashli were on their way.



Now it's November a year on. Jeremy and Ashli got hitched in July, and James has been working for them as often as their budget allows. While I ponder soil (see last post) and tuck soft blankets over my legs on cold evenings, they are out there, the next generation, knee deep in care for the soil's provision

Ashli and Jeremy are well into a Kickstarter project**, raising funds for a new, larger greenhouse. The Kickstarter website is a platform for creative endeavors of all sorts. It's an all-or-nothing deal, where participants set a money goal and ask for backers.

The additional greenhouse would give Ashli and Jeremy space to grow produce all year. They introduce themselves in an artistic video (follow link; you'll enjoy James's video work).

Recently I asked Ashli a few questions. The idea of launching a marriage by meeting the demands of even a small, organic farm like Excelsior boggles me. Ashli gave me a snapshot of their world:
Sometimes our days move like clockwork, but they can also vary a lot. A few days of the week are dedicated to harvesting for our Harvest Baskets (a "community supported agriculture" or CSA program) as well as restaurant and wholesale accounts. Those days are usually taken up by harvesting. Other days are given to cultivation, starting seeds, and planting. Some times of year see us tearing out spent crops, like at the end of summer. The barn and pack out areas get kind of messy, so we spend time cleaning up. I’d say daily life is just a lot of doing what needs to be done at the time.

A typical harvest day in summer, from my perspective: We arrive at the farm around 7:30 or 8 am and survey what needs to be harvested. If it’s a CSA harvest day, we make a list of eight items that are ready in sufficient quantities for our subscribers. This list, or alternatively wholesale and restaurant orders, is clipped on a clipboard and hung in the pack out (where we wash and pack produce) for reference. Then we divide tasks, and get to work harvesting, washing, packing, and labeling until all is finished! I mostly do harvesting; if Jeremy were to give you a sample day, he could really fill it out with all the little and large tasks which he has to accomplish in a given day.
Ashli blogs at The Excelsior Farm Chronicle. She posts recipes and sometimes introduces to farm partners (like me) such non-ordinary produce as  kohlrabi and celeriac. Her knowledge has made me wonder if she grew up in exotic places, studying plants and foods. She answered:
I have spent my whole life in Oregon except for the two years I lived in New York while getting my Master’s degree. It is a great privilege to grow up with the natural beauty of this state; each portion is breathtaking and in strikingly different ways. I grew up very conscious of Oregon’s diverse landscapes, which are in many places still quite rural, as well as our unpredictable weather (at least in western Oregon, which is where I have mostly lived). This kind of “wildness” left its impression on me at a young age, and I always wanted to be out in it.

My childhood was largely suburban, and as I grew older I increasingly wanted to live a more rural life. I never planned on being a farmer, exactly, but I’m glad that I get to spend so much time working outside now!
 
My family did not really keep a vegetable garden, but I did grow up near some local family farms and spent lots of time berry picking. I was always enchanted by the thought of fresh, local food, of eating seasonally.
Next I wondered if the idea of farming with Jeremy took some getting used to. Ashli responded:
I believe farming has always been part of the vision of our life together. When we met, Jeremy was already running a small garden and planning on pursuing farming as his occupation. I was planning on pursuing a Master’s degree and exploring a future in education, but beyond that I had not really fleshed out a vision of what kind of life I wanted to have. Jeremy explained his plans of farming to me at the start of our relationship, and I was on board. I could easily see us having that kind of life together, and the idea did not initially take any getting used to.

It has taken more getting used to since we’ve actually been farming together. I just had no idea what farming would entail--otherwise I might not have been so enthusiastic about it! It is a wonderful life that we’re very thankful for, but it’s a lot of hard work. Not only is it a lot of physical labor; it does not really stop. It’s not the kind of job that you can leave behind you when you go home. The responsibilities and tasks are ever present, and there’s always more to do.
The most important thing to know about Jeremy and Ashli's Kickstarter Project?
We only have until Monday, November 17 to meet our goal, and we’re just over halfway there. Help us build this greenhouse! Any help in reaching our goal would be most appreciated!


*Photo credit: Shirley Chan

**Update: Thanks to lots of friends helping, they made it! The project ended in success, and now Ashli and Jeremy will be busy building a greenhouse.