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.

11/05/2014

soil

I was pleased when my son James, growing up, showed interest in big things. His imagination sought after sun, moon, and planets, conducted orchestras beneath shooting stars, chased tornadoes, blazed trails over hill and mountain. I encouraged what must be his reaching for heaven. For glory.


Changes come, though, to every life. Imaginings, assumptions give way to what is true. James came to see his love for skyscapes meeting landscapes, twining into dust of earth from which grows food that nourishes. He discovered a knack for tending live things.

My parents grew up in years of war gardens and pruning fruit trees, but I came of age reading package directions, baking cookies from a cake mix. I've never canned. Processing and preserving are for me a huge challenge, foreign territory. I'm willing. It's just that I spend my energy writing and doing church finances, reading and sorting out riches of the faith journey I follow.

Yet there's something lately traveling with me, interior-ly, giving me fodder for pondering at 3:00 a.m. And it has to do with permaculture, the thing for which James is a certified guide and promoter. I'm coming to learn to ask one, at least, of the basic sustainable gardening questions:

Tilling the soil is what Man does. God, however (or nature, if you prefer), doesn't work with implements, and things grow. Forests are sustainable. Why is this? How come the undergrowth thrives on its own?


A few weeks ago, at the hard, dry end of summer, James and I hiked. He pointed out logs in the forest holding water. They were moist to the touch, sprouting new seedlings.

Soil in the bosom of nature lies seemingly undisturbed, and yet it is an organic, living wonder. It is ever being worked and softened. Not by grim tools nor by boxed chemicals--those are the utensils people provide themselves, doing the best they can in preparation and sweat and struggle. The sustenance of wild earth is a different thing, as foreign in concept to me as stocking a pantry, yet simple as a finch's feathers. The soil is kept, is preserved, by its covering.

I've thought about gardening and farming mechanistically. When the word permaculture entered my vocabulary my reasoning went: I get this; leaves fall from trees, plants receive nutrients. We city-dwellers want lawns, so we rake up leaves. The permaculture people put down cardboard and wood chips to kill the grass so they can let the nutritive leaves lie.

Til recently it hadn't dawned on me that things might go deeper. Covering the lawn, or even composting a field, might be turning from the usual, habitual way, my understanding, of Man with dirt. Of boy on tiptoe scanning the heavens, then taking a knee to examine, to ponder the soil beneath him.

This thought thread is only my entry. Following becomes a process, an interaction. Slow and still, it leads into winter.

10/20/2014

more than the sum



Thomas the Apostle is beloved. Every Orthodox ode sung in his memory is joyful.

Willingly he contributed from unique viewpoints, experience. Willingly he followed, believing Jesus the long-awaited Christ. Jerusalem-bound, everything in him recognized death there, yet he said, "Let us go and die with Him." Such sentiments preluded voices of martyrs remembered for such words: "We shall all die, so let us die properly!"

The martyric phrase brings to mind Klingons from Star Trek. Fanciful, sci fi aliens, a tough race of beings with wrinkly foreheads (so depicted, at least, in Star Trek movies). Epic-ness in them comes from human race attributes glorifying "honorable" warfare; attempts to defeat a homeland's enemies, to right wrongs, perhaps, ultimately, to bring peace.

The Apostle Thomas--no Klingon, real person--loved and was afraid and had holes in his paradigm, just as I do and am and do. His fellow apostles' report of Christ, alive, Thomas simply couldn't take. Too much, beyond him. These friends, these fellow pilgrims, known well three years, yet Thomas knew the deception of men and women. Judas recently proved again their treachery; their ways could scorch his soul.


Then hidden away with the others, Thomas did at last see what they saw. The moment arrived, right and ripe for his uniqueness, for the faith of those to follow. Entering their enclosure, Christ let Thomas explore His recent mortality. Handling the proofs, experiencing the One, risen, Thomas blurted, "My Lord and my God!"

This phrase, from this man, the overflow of real experience. The wonder of exploration grasped between fingers fearing, loving, amazed.

Experience is something. Not magic nor imagination, even if unimaginable before. Like being born. Like finding there is more to do, more places to follow, more death to face, more living. Thomas sailed to India; he labored long. His love, servitude, humility shown for others coming. Seeking true health of true spirit. Standing over against invisible soul-scorchers, he entered and continued in a wholeness, beyond the sum of pieces, the culture of true peace.
"By thine unbelief thou didst make known Christ's resurrection, and by touch thou wast assured of His holy passion, O all-glorious Thomas; and now pray that we be granted peace and great mercy. ~ from a hymn for St. Thomas

10/14/2014

rain voice


Yesterday I was stranded at a cemetery.

Clouds straddled hills on their way in.

It was peaceful.

It was addled (the freeway bends around us, down below; Denny's feeds travelers over there).

I had on my mind humanity's song,

and then this morning -- no longer at the cemetery, having been rescued, brought to church, to music, to sorrow, to joy, although as an instrument wanting -- I recognized them chanting, "Come unto Him and be enlightened, and your faces shall not be ashamed." It is all they say; it is everything.

Sitting in my lack, standing humbled, seeing my judgments, or beginning to. Stepping into this first rain voice, which continues.

10/06/2014

stillness

Foreign to my style. Outside the whirlwind that has been. There is a way involving a single intent, requiring a journey.


A science. A study. An art. Deeper; somewhere. Requiring a changed perspective. Steps back.


Help is needed. Those who've gone before. Instruction. Yet forcing will never do.


Reason blooms, unbidden. The light always known contains a spectrum, contains more. Hidden aspects. Now you don't see them. Now you do. Nothing spooky, only foreign. Still, "You are worried and upset about many things."

Only one is needed.

9/17/2014

hike

Before his Monday off James asks, "How about a hike?"

With the season almost over I might have expected this. His lovely fiancee, Kimi, is back at school in Washington. I'm needing to create my long to-do list and get things accomplished, but a hike only takes up one day. How can I refuse? Especially now that it's become nostalgic.

Still, I'm reluctant. "I have a little phobia," I remind James. "But yes, let's go."

The day's a bit forest-fire smoky, but by the time we reach these woods the sky is clearer. Our light will continue bronze-tinted, the hills and the mountains gray-blue.


When he was 15, James wanted to hike every minute. That was the year we almost could.

He was growing up, following me along the trails. Receiving his P.E. credits for school, engaging with geology, topography, the solar system touching earth. Where would this lead him? A mother wonders, imagines. Forest ranger? Astronomer? Maybe a professor someday.

Now he's 24. He wants to study this forest trail because he learned there was a fire here a century and a half ago. He wants to see how it grew back. Today I'm following him. Fortunately, at first the path is steadily ascending, not too steep yet. I'm not in shape for hills like I was nine years ago.

The woods are quiet. We don't talk much. After a while, I bring up theology; it's what I always do. I like a definition I read this past week. From Christopher Veniamin's The Orthodox Understanding of Salvation: "Theology is the description of our encounter with God." I express to James some of my descriptions. He responds with his own thoughtful thinkings.

Now the trail grows steeper, so I'm busy puffing. James gets farther ahead, and then he kindly slows. "Do you want to rest?" he asks.

"No, keep going." If I stop, I'll have to start again.


We do pause at last for James to check his book. It's one by author/hiker William Sullivan, whose adventures inspired my son at 15 and gave us the scoop on many hiking options. I'm not real grateful for all the winding, graveled roads I navigated to different trailheads. But for the views, the euphoric accomplishments, oh yes, I appreciate you, Bill S.

It should be a half mile now to Rooster Rock. I shuffle forward. Step, step. My fingers' pulse pounds my water bottle. Step, step. Maybe I can't do this. Was labor and delivery any easier? Step, step.

James points out how the forest has changed, from the moister region below to a much drier climate up here. At first we were passing rhododendrons. Now over there is a madrone tree.


I try to muster interest. My head is down and my lungs must be collapsing. James offers a salal berry and I decline. Step, step.

We're almost there. The trail levels briefly, plus there is a puff of breeze. Yay. Then, even better, a noise from above. "What animal made that sound?" I ask.

James glances back to see my grin. He knows I recognize laughter. He also knows any other live sound would send me into a panic.

I prefer, more than I ever did nine years ago, to see lots of people when I hike. It's been weird having a phobia develop. That twist in the pit of my stomach. Anymore, whenever I enter the wilderness it's there. I constantly look back. I fear sometime I'll see a bear or cougar, and my thoughts spiral. It's the unknown factor; it's facing my lack of control.

Today we find a group of young women welcoming us to our viewpoint. They're engaged with lunch. James and I examine the forested canyon and the smoky blue beyond.




I ask the other hikers if I can take their picture for my blog, and they seem happy to pose.

What could ever go wrong? I feel that way, having reached the goal. Yet, being me, I ponder the long way down.

Waiting for James to check one more spot of interest, I practice the art of the selfie, blustered and sweaty though I be.

I hear a growl. It's my stomach. The way to lunch is down, and I'm glad to venture it, along with twisty fearfulness and hunger and my grownup son.


9/01/2014

living room scholar

I’ve seen a freshly wiped dining table, Bibles reflected in the gleam, waiting. Heard the doorbell, smiled, guided, sat. Prayed inwardly while Tim spoke. Young men, dark suits, Books of Mormon. “Do you know for sure you’re going to heaven?” we asked.

Our preparation: the Christian Research Institute, which Walter Martin founded. Our story, before marriage, listening to dear Walter on cassette tapes in the car. Our hearts enlivened when he spoke with love for God.

One time the young men brought their elders with them. Good debate ensued. A Mormon elder told me I was quite a Bible scholar. “No,” I said, but inside I smiled.

A few years later, among new friends in a setting of seekers of truth, someone called me a real student of the Bible. My landscape shone. Every expression must come from this — root, bark, and leaf — I thought. This means everything.

I’ve heard Tim set kindling early in the woodstove, the crack of flame, heavy hinges creaking. I stumbled out to him, slippered and with tousled hair. Folded legs on carpet. It couldn’t be, yet, here, I asked it. “Will it be all right if I go into Orthodoxy with you?”

Glory to God for All Things
Glory to God for All Things

Reputation, if ever such was, disappeared. A step into mystery. Water and oil and wine. Believing a Body — spiritual, St. Paul wrote long ago — can feed me. Believing the Blood is holy, blessed, true drink. This, something greater than the Temple, out of sight of eye, but real. Gospel, in Person. “I am with you always.”

Knowing for sure I’m not heaven-worthy, this corrupted gleam, this blaze. I’ve glimpsed the end of dreaming, beyond my front door. I stumble. Again I climb.

8/21/2014

leavings and twinings


My left arm hugs my middle, against the first morning chill in a long while. The mug in my right hand steams. I stand near our old satellite dish, where beans climb and lush leaves fill varied spaces. The neighbor's apple tree reaches giant arms, shaking off final, fragrant Gravensteins. Sunlight parts shade. Canadian geese gab on wing, commuting west from river to wetland.




An hour ago I picked up Edmund and received my first real hug from him. His gaze so full. His joy. Now he and his parents ride to Portland. Their flight this afternoon, their east coast life resuming.

Near my feet transplanted lupine thrive. California poppies will open later in sunshine. Mexican sunflowers are orange splashes beneath the window. Kiwi leaves entwine behind the clothesline; berry plants arch branching vines toward the gate.


My grandchild's embrace lingering around my neck, I glimpse a remembered view. There's only plain grass, a clothesline, and a hole. Another child, pacifier gratified, watches his daddy, Tim, pouring cement. This boy takes moments to explore the deck boards, to gaze upward and wonder about clouds. At a distance the truck backs in through the gate, the black pole is set in place and the dish erected. He takes it all in.

I pin clothes and chase a puppy and guide the toddling boy away from dangers. Like Edmund's parents, I feed and cuddle and scold and can't ever really pause to hug myself near the backyard dish with my warm mug, at least not before days of do-it-yourself satellite programing have long passed.


My toddling boy has grown up, has found his joy farming south of town, and has given us beans climbing grape vines which climb the apple tree. His nephew plants new memories each moment for my daughter to absorb. She'll ponder them one day, beneath whatever twining vines may rise.

7/28/2014

my love

As a child, when I dreamed about adulthood I pictured myself on a deserted island with animals. Maybe playing my flute in a tree. My friends dreamed about their weddings, while I fantasized seeing my name on a book cover.


Dating Tim at 17, I expected to be letting him go the day he would be transferred cross-country by the Navy. I resolved I would not cling. He had been a friend in childhood; we had realized we cared a lot for one another. But I was destined for college and whatever academic island I might sail to. Tim was...well, he was someone and something I knew wouldn't come along again. But he would do fine without me, so I might as well accept that.


After Tim left, I wrote him to make it clear he was free. I didn't mention how incredibly difficult I was finding it to hold my resolve. The gigantic ache in my middle made every love song on the radio cause for suffering. Now I knew why people crooned about their broken hearts.

Tim wrote me a letter that crossed mine in the mail. It resides in my file cabinet today, along with many others sent during our, as it turned out, long distance engagement. In his letter, Tim expressed his shared suffering, his ache for me. It was very romantic.

We didn't know what lay ahead. I couldn't articulate my reasons, my instinctive knowledge that only with Tim would I have a chance.


We were destined, it turned out, for incredible failure. But what a teacher disaster can be. And afterward, sometimes, there are precious gifts, not the least of which is deep humility, abiding care and gratefulness. Not to mention our children. Now, also, a grandchild. Edmund is someone and something I know won't come along again.


This morning Tim had already gone through the front door to his bike, and I lingered, as usual, waiting to watch him ride out of sight. He is free, always, to go (I'm grateful he does the work to pay the bills). I enjoy life on my "island", with our remaining animal, where my name goes with my words that satisfyingly fill small spaces.

This morning, even though we'd already kissed goodbye (after exchanging cards that, for once, were both rather romantic), I burst out the door to tell him, "I love you more than when we met." Which is, I recognized, obvious, since we first rode his trike together. So I added, "More than ever." Because it's true.