The Coming Season

     This is the hardest one for me.
     The first two posts introduced my conscious desire to witness and savor two streams of living in which I swim: the flow of the seasons, and the flow of growing up. Each has its flashy moments and its subtle interstitial sweetness, even in the hard times.
     But there is one more stream that I know I swim in, and for some reason want to write about, even though I can feel my heart try to turn away from it: the shift and loss of species, habitats and ecosystems due to global warming. Perhaps by looking at it squarely, naming it, I can defuse the grief I feel. Sometimes, when I have been good about going to my cushion regularly to meditate, I can accept the changes without assigning a value of loss to them. I can see that there is still beauty in what is right in front of me, the coming season of spring, the flowering of my children, my cushion.
     Bear with me. Is not life about adaptation, whether it is in the moment or over the millenia? Perhaps it is that as I grow older, I feel a kinship with the loss. It is my own coming season. And here is where I laugh, because I know – I think I know – that the deep happiness that is in me is timeless. It is grounded. It just is.
     I am learning by writing, because it forces me to give shape to my heart. Be gentle, with me, with your own heart. We will hang in the current, swimming, watching, feeling the flow of time brush the lengths of our bodies. Just being here is glorious.



     What's so sacred about carpools?
     I could answer that literally, I guess. Driving and Not Driving each have their blessings. But it's not the time-saving, the burden-sharing, or the insights that come from being a fly-on-the-steering-wheel that are sacred.
     When I am driving, I am present for that moment of transition in my children's lives between an activity out-in-the-world, and home.

     There was a time, when the children were very little, that I was just mostly exhausted. Not really very conscious, though I think I did OK. But now I have three teenagers, and the oldest is about to go off to college next fall.
     I have been watching her – I'd like to think guiding her – as she's moved through the stages of girlhood, 'tween-hood, and teen-hood, and of course I've known that this point would come. If I'd kept the baby book going, I could have marked the stages and celebrations like I do on my seasonal calendar*: braces '06, first acne cleanser '08, make-up consultation at Macy's '09, driver's license '12 (and I'm sure there are a lot of moments that I don't know about.) Those waypoints on her journey are markers in our memories that describe the curve of her growth; they are the dots in the connect-the-dots coloring book. But I don't really think that raising my children is about the dots.
     It's about the relationships, about what happens when we are neither here nor there, just together in this space between. And that is the sacred part of carpools. I remember explaining why there are stop signs to her when she was in the “why” stage; later on it was being quizzed about who was singing when she tuned the radio to “the Q”; and more recently it has been just listening as she scrolls through her school day out loud. So much of growing up is the becoming, what happens in the transitions.
     And yes, there is a dot, an arrival point looming: for her it is a waypoint, for me it feels like a period. If all goes well, she will leave home next fall, ready to be on her own, and not look back.
     I work every day to help her towards that goal, whether it is insisting on a family dinner, telling her about my meditation practice, or, yes, driving carpool. I can feel the relentless tilt of the earth under her feet as she matures and moves towards the inevitable summer of her life when she won't be with me and Bob any more. What I give her now, and what she gives me, is the stuff that cuts through the busy-ness of the days and grounds us. And so I work to open my heart and my awareness – to be awake – to the beauty of our entwined lives right now.
     There is no assurance that all will be well. Unlike the cycling of the seasons and my certainty that the red-winged blackbirds will return by the end of the month, I cannot be certain of the future of my husband or my children – or myself. But as I sit out here in my shed, which is my small meditative and creative space in our backyard, I know that the woodstove is radiating heat inside the house, the two dogs are asleep beside it, and my family is safe in there, probably melted into the couches on this last unstructured day of February vacation. There's no place to mark that in a baby book. It is not a waypoint on her journey.

    But it is sacred.

* see post of February 17 “The Birthday Calendar”


The Birthday Calendar

       I have one of those birthday calendars hanging in my kitchen, the kind where you write in a person's name and the year they were born next to a date. For some reason, mine is in Dutch. But it's not the months that are cryptic to someone who is looking at it: it's the names written in next to a date. This month – Februari – has RWBB '02 written next to the 26th, and then again on the 28th like this: RWBB '00, '12.
       For me, this calendar is a different kind of birthday tracker, one that nearly wriggles with aliveness. On it, I keep track of the signs of the changing seasons, like the arrival of the first Red-winged black-birds (RWBB). It is a record of celebrations.
       Already January gave us the hooting of Great-horned, Barred, Screech and Sawhet owls. (Great-horned owls begin to court and nest at this time, so I choose to count this as a sign of spring.) On February 2, the sun rose and shined its pink light through the east window of our kitchen onto the stove. This is big, because our barn blocks the sunrise during the darkest months. But when the tilt of the earth bringing us back toward the sun has reached a certain point on February 2, we are graced by our own morning solstice – the return of the sunlight to the kitchen.
       Any day now I could see the first real returning migrant – a turkey vulture tipping back and forth in its soaring V-shape above the highway. Through the grace of this little calendar I have come to regard turkey vultures with delight, because they represent the scouts, the head of the pack, the front end of the throng of returning birds that will peak in April and May and jam my calendar dates with notes like WTS '02, YRW '07, BTG '10. It's not just birds, though. I note the first crocuses, the first tick on the dogs, ice off the pond, a spring snow storm (April 5: 10-½” snow '07), and even the first Junebug – in May.
       But what does this mean? It's not cold hard science, though it is a form of not-so-rigorous data collecting. These are like birthdays to me. I am thrilled at the first glimpse or song of a returning friend. By writing it down I am naming that bird or that flower or that moment, and this puts me in relationship with it. At least it does from my perspective; I doubt the first Phoebe has noticed me sleeping in my bed when it settles on my laundry line after a night of hard flying and proclaims “Feebee!” in its raspy early dawn voice. But my eyes open, and I nudge Bob sleeping next to me and whisper “did you hear that?”, and he grunts “phoebe”, his hand snuffling for mine under the quilt and we fall back asleep for just a few more minutes before the alarm awakens us to the world of schedules.
       I hope – I know – I care – that each of those birds will return, and that the spring peepers will sing, and yes – when the time comes – that the last monarch butterfly will be gone before the first snow falls. I care because it pulls me out of my structured and structural world and into the deeper heartbeat of the natural world. I feel real joy at these “birthdays”. I anticipate them eagerly. Walking the dogs down the dirt road on a morning in May with birds singing all around, and knowing the name of the one saying “witchety-witchety” in the alders, fills a little bit of the longing in me to leave the carpools behind and to instead wander off the road into the damp greening spring woods with my friends there.
       But I am getting ahead of myself. It is still February; I still have carpools to drive; and there is real beauty in what I have today. Here. February 17. It is a good day.