Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Waiting for the snake

Weekend before last, I trekked east about an hour to reunite with five friends from freshman year in college. We go back a fair bit, you could say. We generally meet every five years and, for this visit, I selected a refurbished 1900s hunting lodge in the Highlands Nature Sanctuary, a part of the Arc of Appalachia, with the mission of reuniting the Appalachian Forest. It's a good, central meeting point because we travel from Cleveland, OH, to Nashville and points between. Lucky for me, Cincinnati is about midway.

Highlands is the former Seven Caves attraction, which has been closed to grow the bat population. When we stopped at the former gift shop, now museum, library and guide station, one college friend, the plant pathologist for the State of Tennessee, carried on quite a conversation about the white mold that's diminished bats. Fortunately, the attendant said, it hadn't reach Highlands; another reason the walkways, electricity and tourist traffic were removed from the caves.

This slice of beauty seems to maintain the perfect balance between nature and man, preservation and cultivation, awareness and relaxation. The lodge and surrounding trails were perfect for our group's reconnection. I arrived first – barely. The drive out State Route 50 was slow and beautiful, easing me into a more contemplative rhythm. Peering down the paved path from the drive, I spotted more than enough white rockers for our group and took that as a welcome sign. Inside, I dropped my bags and just sighed. This was it, the place I have been searching for: rustic, but not antiquated, preserved, but not stuffy. Seems the original 1920s wicker in terrific shape has been retained. Five bedrooms with two single beds each line the sides of the lodge. In the center is a fire place and staircase to the lower level of kitchen, prep area, large dinging room and porched piazza. Upstairs are two living rooms, a large porch with swings, two more intimate, closed porches and a bathroom with double toilets and showers. This would be just fine, I told myself, scrambling to think of other opportunities to rent this gem.

We arrived in clumps, all within an hour or so of my entrance. And, the parade of food never stopped. We began to wonder just how long we'd intended to stay, but with a gathering of mothers, we never go hungry nor run out of conversation. I think we all wished the weekend wouldn't end.

After a late night chatting – some into the wee hours – we shared breakfast (pumpkin waffles and maple syrup) and headed out for a hike. Two planners selected the trail, but we opted to stop at the station. Unfortunately, with four of us crammed in the back, the driver hit an undetected old stone. Ouch, her SUV said. Its owner was much more gracious. Back on the narrow roads, we passed the hidden trail, then backtracked, parked and walked to the river. I happily crossed into the water and over stones in my Vibram Five Fingers, my yoga shoes with separate toe compartmments. I caught some flack earlier for wearing them, but squishing in the mud is wonderful. Dead end. The trail began on the other side of the road. Go figure, it wasn't visible from the car and literature mentioned it wouldn't be as they encourage hiking, but want to preserve and return the forest.

It was a beautiful hike on an Indian summer afternoon flanked by women I grew up with: through finals and flirting, serious relationships and break-ups, good roomies and bad. I was so intent on listening to a conversation as we walked single file, that I lifted my eyes from the trail and tangle of roots only momentarily when, I felt a glacial shiver in reaction to contact with something cold and slimy on my ankle. Instinctively, I walked past until my mind ached to know what sort of mud would reach only above my foot and not encase the rest of the shoe. Not mud, but a very long, writhing and rising snake, unhappy with the close encounter. We all took many giant steps away and watched as it seethed from being disturbed. I felt empathy – from a distance. I hadn't mean to disturb this creature and seemed to have stepped up against its coil, not directly on it.

I wouldn't get close enough to identify it, but we were pretty certain it wasn't a rattler or copperhead. Even in that moment of recognition, I felt as if this were a symbolic experience, not necessarily a visceral one. That thought was reinforced minutes later when, on another path, an even longer, very black serpent of sorts slithered across into an old shed. In all my years of visiting the Smokies and heading out solo once to the desert to paint and realizing that was ridiculous, I've never seen a big snake outside of glass. Then two within the hour? We were all a little stunned.

We returned to the cabin warm and sweaty, ready for showers and a cold beer. There was a squeal as Deb discovered a wide worm in the drain. What sort of conspiracy was this? Alone, she probably wouldn't have thought twice about collecting him and tissue and letting him loose off the front porch. But a third slimy thing?

When I returned home and caught up my best friend, she automatically said it meant that I had brushed with something dark and it hadn't harmed me. That I had gotten past unscathed. Interesting, I thought and, later googled the symbolism of the snake. I wasn't expecting its significance: primal energy, life source, healing, transformation and ... purification. Wasn't that the VERY same word my spiritual director drew for me at the beginning of the year; my word for the year?

The snake or serpent also signifies spiritual guidance, a period of transition or personal growth, stepping into the unknown, needing support and a reminder to stay grounded as one moves through changes. These are big ideas that do mean something in my life. They connect to other events and experiences. I see them as hopeful and positive, perhaps not always easy.

However, when I read that the snake represents our vital energy, coiled at the base of the spine and the movement of kundalini, I was reminded of my last shamanic/massage session two days before the snakes appeared. I had asked for opening and, of course, hip work. My careful therapist waited til the end to get to the hips, especially the one injured so many years ago. And, he actually got a part to unlock. "That old, stubborn thing," I'd carelessly remarked. "It doesn't know any different than to hold all of that energy," Gary responded. So I have been gentler, waiting ... for the snake, I suppose.

• When have I had an encounter with an animal that held a message?
• How aware was I in that moment?
• What were the circumstances?
• What did I learn?
• What place do I believe animals hold in the world?

geared up to
relax and play

with longtime,

we quickly
shed our
filters and

of the five years
since we'd met
face to face
all of us

the bonds of
innocence and
growth we collectively

and, together, we
took the untrodden
path, hard to
locate, yet beautiful

and terrifying as
we stumbled
upon him,
clothed just as 
the forest floor

brushing past,
awakening his
seething energy,
then letting
him reassemble

as we
more carefully
wound our
way around
and out of
the woods


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Friday, September 26, 2014

My new companion

Confession: [I seem to do that a lot here] I have a thing for mannequins that I think stems from an incident as a young adult – and I blame my mother.

She and I were downtown Cincinnati walking across the Pogue's bridge between the store and parking garage. That should give you a clue as to how long ago it was. Of the three or four major department stores in town when I grew up, Pogue's was the smaller and more upscale of them. It closed in the 1980s. I digress. As we were tromping over the street on the enclosed bridge, I looked down into onto the street and a dumpster full of precious treasure: full-body, lime green, flocked female mannequins. Stiff limbs outstretched as if awaiting rescue. Patient to find a good home. MY home. Someone had actually thrown them out. No matter how much I bargained, I could not convince my mother to help me retrieve them, let along finagle them into the trunk. "All you'd have to do is hoist me," I pleaded. Wasn't like it was illegal or anything, but it was broad daylight. My mind raced with the possibilities as I churned over how to get them myself. Impossible. I had to let that one go.

Over the years, I have tried to replace those glowing-green gals. I even dream about them sometimes. Where would they be now? How would I have used them? Would they still be flocked or well-worn?

I once invested in a soft-grey sewing form, later to find a lone mannequin head that I pieced together to attend my 1950s bar cart and several Halloween parties. Kids came and she was relegated to the basement. No room and her constant lurking in the shadows always caught me off guard. I resold her to an equally ecstatic guy, whom I am certain gave her a very creative, loving home. I hope. The head is somewhere floating in the basement, along with Sheniqua. She's a cosmetologist's  model. The kind with flowing hair and a face ripe for make-up. I inherited her because my aquatics instructor's family was spooked by her. Mine was, too, so she's hidden and will give whomever finds her a jolt.

What is this pleasure derived from body parts? I do have a dark side and sense of the macabre, but there's just something so darned interesting about these half-finished creatured. They can become almost anything. A canvas of sorts.

So it as with much pleasure I stumbled upon a crop of them freshly delivered to the local St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Shop a few nights ago. "Guy on a Harley with black trailer dropped them off," the attendant offered as he was cooping them up for the night. "They be here in the morning?" I asked, wanting to make sure my studio could accommodate another object and knowing I may be moving. "Yeah, they're not even priced yet and we may be keeping a few."

Lily was with me as I inspected the crated lot: one VERY tall one on a collapsable stand, a few short one on pedestals and some teetering on their own from the buttocks up. All very clean except for one with rings around the appropriate appendages. I posted a photo on Facebook and most comments asked what I was waiting for ... thinking time, how I could justify these purchase.

When I realized we were making a scary movie for the next Artsy Fartsy Saturdays, the arts exploration for 4-6th graders I lead, I knew who the star could be ... part from the kids, that is. I was all set to return the next morning before they were gobbled up.

Only I didn't. Other things reared their heads that morning and I traipsed off to the studio totally forgetting my mission of the night before. Something made me remember -- maybe a call from the lifeless forms themselves echoing how their flocked cousins had bellowed to me years ago. Maybe my sense of adventure and fun. 

Who knows, but I returned to the store to see them all boldly displayed outside, front and center. I was elated and began choosing. A different attendant from the previous night encouraged me to look closely because missing parts prevented them from attaching to the stands. Ooohhh, that changed things. He pointed to the tall one with the rings. "She's the one that works," he said pushing her form higher up on the metal bars until she reached an intimidating height. I had almost settled on her until we realized she could not be separated from her stand and how problematic moving and storing her could be. So, I removed the tag from one that stood on her own haunches and looked pretty clean. "Good thing you didn't pick the one who looks like her boobs were dragged through the mud," the cashier congratulated me. Silently, I think we both wondered what happened to her on that ride behind the Harley in a trailer. I am envisioning a Stephen King story now.

I paid, then swept her under my arm and was about to whisk her into the trunk, when a woman who could have caught a fly by the way her face was positioned in gawking at me remarked: "What the heck are you gonna do with that?" I quickly replied "Halloween," which wasn't a complete lie, but not entirely the truth either. No matter the season, I would have bought her.

No imagination, I thought, then changed my mind about the trunk and placed her next to me in the front, passenger's seat: my new companion.

• What makes me crazy with creativity?
• Are there certain things that really get my juices flowing?
• When have I made an insane purchase based on nothing but elation?
• How come some just can't see the possibilities?
• When does my (inner) artist come out to play?

enraptured from
the moment the
sun struck their
felty neon skin

only to NOT
possess them

I was haunted,
searching for
a substitute

creating them
from pieces,
never satisfied

until a mysterious
driver on a Harley
dumped his stash

including the one
with dirt circles
around her chest

and her partner,
now mine, has
the best story yet

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Dancing in with a new partner

HOO-ray, today is the FIRST day of fall, the autumnal equinox, and my absolute, hands-down, favorite season for a myriad of reasons – not all explainable. I was married this time of year (we'll soon be celebrating 28) and my oldest, Autumn, was born Oct. 1. I didn't mind that she was 10 days late, arriving in what I consider the best month. "You can make it until then," I internally chanted.

The sky was different this morning: cold-weather cloudy with a cast of filmy mystery foreshadowing  the most playful of holidays. Late afternoon as I perch on my back porch (it's much too beautiful to be indoors, where I sat all day in a productive meeting), a cloudless cerulean slate permeates a just-arrived crispness. Its crunch infuses the September air.  The crickets are deep in conversation and a stray cicada  adds dissonance.

I could linger here ... now that my allergies have settled. The march from summer to fall takes a personal toll on anyone residing in the Cincinnati dust bowl. These transitions can be unkind and unwelcome. I make great allowances for autumn.

I feel more alive this time of year even when I understand it's the harbinger of death, decay, hibernation and isolation. Sweater weather, the riot of colors that cue each other, harvest time, pumpkins, hayrides, ghosts, bonfires and football games stir my soul. I want to be outdoors as much as possible and suck life's marrow. Three-quarters of the year is over, for which I am eternally grateful, but there is still the promise of the dark night, winter. My obsession with dusk stems from the same observation as if the day surrenders with a brilliant stroke of color only to be engulfed by the blackness. That surge of pigment is the essence of life.

If you know me or my blog, you recognize that I have no problem bumbling around in the darkness. I know that place well and, when winter rolls around, am generally ready to turn inward and reflect. Fall, however, is its antithesis. The time I want to be outside and gregarious, cheerful and fun-loving in, of all things, groups. Autumn elicits my inner extravert. I want to play in the leaves and mess up those perfect piles.

Perhaps I feel the natural balance, when day equals night, of the season and I know how to claim that in my life for a brief while. Playfulness abounds, shoving worry and darkness aside. How can I be so affected by air, light, temperature and Mother Nature? And if that's what makes me come alive, how can I recreate that effect when I am withering in sweltering humidity or under constant grey sky?

This also speaks to where I am in chronological life. And I am feeling the burst of creativity and desire to leave a legacy of color, compassion and a little spirited fun.

• How does the change of seasons affect me?
• How does my favorite make me come alive?
• How do my rhythms reflect nature's?
• Where do I see Spirit in the transitions?
• When am I most playful?

even if I hadn't
glanced at the small
print in my planner

or heard a snippet
of the morning

I would have

known that
light had begun
to fade and

that 6:30 am
seemed darker
and denser

that the sunrise
was ripe

dancing in
with a 
new partner

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