Joy of Being

Winter. Although the calendar marks the official beginning of winter as December 21, the truth is that season of the ice and snow is already long upon us. The Valkyrie in me is pleased, and while she would charge out the door wearing little other than a sports bra and running pants if she must, the Buddha reminds her to be gentle to herself and put on her winter coat, thick woolen mittens, soft gray hat, and boots. There will be no running this day.

Taking my daily walk about the property, I stop at the burn pile and take measure of how many pumpkin seeds remain from the squash I had ripped apart with my bare hands the week before. And no, it sounds violent, but violence and violins don’t mix. This cold shock therapy was to ease the arthritic swelling that has discovered its way into my right thumb, in part due to many hours per day studying my violin, and also my rediscovery of the Joy of Writing. If one is to hold a bow in the Franco-Belgian tradition, one needs to have flexibility in the oppose-able joint, hence, I plunged my my right up to my wrist in this frozen gourd, exposing the seed for the crows that have been visiting daily. It seems that some seed has been eaten, although not all, leading me to believe they may be looking for some other sort of offering.

Each day, the wind and ice brings down more limbs from various trees around the property. Oak, maple (wouldn’t Dirk, Lerxst, and Pratt be pleased?), evergreen, tulip, and even a pine, all shedding the unnecessary, the broken, the diseased, and would make spring yard work quite cumbersome if it is not tended regularly. So I pace – 27, 27, 27. Counting off the steps and softening my focus on the grass, the twigs and sticks leap out in stark contrast, and I soon find a large armful. Down to the burn pile I go, musing over the pyre that will blaze come spring. For now, rabbits and birds seek shelter in its trimmings, and the last thing I want is to chase any living creature out of its home. The work passes quickly. I suspect the Landlord has been out and about already this morning – he is quite fond of sticks these days.

With no more work to be done, it is time for pleasure. I’ve taken a liking to spend time each day meditating on something from nature. My gaze shifts to the tulip tree. Liriodendron Tulipifera is known also as yellow poplar, although why it feels the need to assume a pseudonym is beyond me. One would think that being named Indiana’s State Tree would be enough to gain infamy in the woodland community, but possibly that is it. When you set roots in a foreign land, best keep your popularity under wraps. The imposing timber is nearly 20 yards in height, its branches stretching out widely to form  a canopy, the bane of the Landlord’s existence until it shed the remainder of its thick foliage.

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As trees only whisper, getting in close was the best way to start my meditation. Next to tree pose, savasana has always been my favorite. Laying comfortably on the frozen ground, careful to tuck my jacket under my buttocks so as not to wake the Valkyrie, I inhale – what can you teach me – and exhale – I am willing to learn. My thoughts go to the branches. The stark contrast of charcoal shadow against overcast mid afternoon sky is breathtaking. As a small child, I spend many days in this pose, not knowing it had a name other than “laying down on the ground”, getting lost in the tangle of branches above. Starting at the trunk, I follow them out to the tip where the petrifications of this past summer’s pastoral plumage present perfectly preserved pods. Alliteration aside, I notice a pattern in the branches. Starting strong and thick, none of these protrusions are straight. In fact, each one of them has a bend or twist of one degree or another. The branch scars, and appears as the knobby tight flesh over a seated kata knee. The wood then takes a different direction; not every branch is the same. Applying what I understand of plants, new growth will lean towards the direction and strength of the sun, given factors such as wind, rain, time of year, and the amount of time spent in the shade. Each branch has many of these angles, and the twists and turn makeup the web of sky branches.  Each branch at the end proudly purports upright tulip husks on countless split slender branches – a reminder of the beauty that will present in spring.

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Understanding brings the universe inverted, and instead of laying on the earth, the earth is spinning under me while centripetal force and gravity holds my body on so I do not fling off into space. Each of us is part of the same tree. We grow. We have trauma or events in our lives that cause scarring and change. This will heal, and as time passes will not look or seem so raw; instead, becomes part of our beauty. As we can no longer grow in that direction, we must seek light and warmth with a balance of shelter. We must accept and be ready to get wet, and while the winds may curve our path, we do not have to stand against or be completely blown away by them. We need not be discouraged when changes come. We accept the lessons, we do not grasp onto the original path. We allow ourselves opportunity to learn new things, to be beginners regardless of the stage of life we are in, while neither being to firm nor too flexible. In the end, there is beauty. Beauty that lasts seasons, into our winter years, only to be borne again in the lives we touch when springtime comes again. There is always a rainbow after the rain.

This is the Joy of Being. I love you, tulip.

Tulip_Tree2__71357.1529074209.500.659

“you are the sunshine, that sparkles through the day

you are the moonbeam, dancing bright and gay

you are the rainbow after the rain

you are the flowers when springtime comes again”

Joiyabean, 1995 – CS

With love,

Mama

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Life in the Key of B

“I love you, dearly.”

Upon reaching the sanctuary of La Villa, I was immediately immersed in the everyday rhythm of family life. Morning rituals of coffee and english muffin, yard duty, trips to the everyday low, family dinners, small projects like cleaning and organizing, and cat snuggle talk filled my days.

Every Saturday, I ventured over into the Broad to bring dinner to B. I met her years ago at the wedding of the Landlord, and despite her 104 trips around the sun she was spry, quick witted, gentle, and with a heart large enough to engulf even the most bitter of souls. As age had collected its toll from her memory, I knew she would not remember my name. It mattered little to her, as on the first dinner day she greeted me with the warmest smile of familiarity and love.

“Hello B, my name is C.”

Her award winning half smile-smirk lit up a face that had been previously blank and sorrowful. I learned quickly that B had a way. She knew and remembered more than she let on, which is a stroke of wisdom that I am just a beginner at understanding, the kind of power that silence brings.  I knelt beside her rocking chair.

How are you, B?

Oh, good. Did you eat your supper?

Not yet, I brought some for you. Are you hungry?

*sly smile* Yes.

Each Saturday nearly the same conversation. Most of the family thought that increasing the volume of their voices would help her hear, however there was a different result from kneeling at her side, holding her hand, and talking low so she could read my lips. At times, we prayed. Fond of The Lord’s Prayer, we would say the Presbyterian version she was accustomed to, and finish with “for thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, now and forever.” And Ever, she would add, and squeeze my hand in signal to start again, and we did.

There were days where B seemed to navigate a world that was not entirely in this dimension. She would have conversations with her Lord, asking to join him. It was often snowing in her world, and I came to understand this as where her mind was taking her.  On the second visit, the following conversation.

B, what is your secret? How did you manage to live so long?

I always worked, and found something about my work that I could love. I always try to be kind. I always try to be a good friend.

B, can I be your friend?

Why yes.

You are the first friend that I have made here.

*smiles*

What does it mean to you to be a good friend?

To be loyal. To be there to support one another. To laugh. To sing, and dance to the music. I can’t dance anymore.

So, if I play my violin and dance for you, will you sing and laugh?

*biggest smile* oh yes, I would like that very much.

And so, each subsequent visit I played my violin. I’d get a kiss, we’d eat, then sit in the living room and gather around the music. At first, songs that were written in my memory. Ashokan Farewell, some Bach and Mozart melodies, Vivaldi; then requests – New York, New York was a hit. When asked to sing something that she liked, B dug up O Marie, and I sang at her feet with her and tried to follow along with the Italian lyrics. During the weekdays, I would practice to have something new to play for her, but it would usually default to her favorites, and to grandparent’s house we went. I explained to her that I was working on something special just for her, and she would hear it at a special time. This last piece, I played for her on December 22. Two days later, she was in the hospital.

Each day I went in to visit her with the violin, however I did not always play. Sometimes alert and sometimes asleep, always thirsty, and with the most delicate hands that became more fragile by the day. On the last day she was alert, I noticed there was a song hidden in the life support machines, and started to sing it. She tapped her fingers in my hand, and together, we began to write a symphony of life, and a finale of death. I explained to her that my violin needed a name, and I was wondering if she would honor me by allowing me to name it after her. She nodded. I explained that every song I played would be her, and she would be music that would fill souls with love for as long as I was alive. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Her last words to me, “I love you, dearly” still remain in my mind, her voice a soothing salve.

B passed away on my 44th birthday. She was easily the most beautiful soul I have ever encountered, and a gift from the Universe when I desperately needed to be reminded of what it felt like to be loved without condition.

Oh to live life in the key of B.

The Bee

If on my mind you choose to rest
I’ll let you be, I’ll let you be
If in my dreams you find it best
I’ll let you be, I’ll let you be
For you will not leave at my behest
Those thoughts which I have since caressed
Think you now that I jest
I’ll let you be, I’ll let you be
I have no mind to run away
I’ll let you be, I’ll let you be
No sleepless nights, no seizing day
I’ll let you be, I’ll let you be
The choice is yours to act this way
Caterwauling shrieking jay
Here in peace I choose to stay
I’ll let you be, I’ll let you be
Sail-less ship, lost at sea
I’ll let you be, I’ll let you be
No longer bound, I set you free
I’ll let you be, I’ll let you be
Alone I’ll sing my melody
A harmonic minor key
No nectar for the stinging bee
I’ll let you. Be.
-skuldthevalkyrie2019
photo credit to Anna

Shorty ショート

A few years ago, I was a beginner iaido student, and had been training with a wooden bokken and plastic saya, and on occasion, practicing with Dragonfly. Dragonfly was absolutely gorgeous. It had all of the regal stature of a true Samurai sword. Dragonfly had been loaned to me by the Steel, and while a very kind gesture, it was truly too heavy and long for me to perform saya biki, or practice for any length of time. As we are just about to head to Iaido conference, the Steel presents a lighter iaito of shorter length, and at 2.25 shaku it was more suited to my 5’2″ frame than the 2.45-2.5 of Dragonfly.

This is a story of Shorty. There are many stories about Shorty. This is just one.

The first time that Shorty and I practice together is at the iaido conference. It is early spring. We are with 120 odd iaido students, and as I am no kyu, am placed with other beginners while the Steel is practicing with those of 1st kyu and above. My excitement level is through the roof. Here I am surrounded by modern day warriors, aligned in army like grid, all dressed our best in our hippity hot hop hakama, and under the care and direction of 7th and 8th dan instructors from the US and Japan. I make sure to claim a space in the front, as I am one of the shorter ranks, and want to see and hear everything that was happening. It is important that I learn something, that I grow. Practicing and improving my kata have always been very serious business to me, as this was part of the agreement that was made with the Steel – I would learn swordsmanship, and he would learn music, and in learning we would grow together and hopefully as one. Because, it was just us. Right? Because, that was justice.

We begin the first five kata after a brief greeting from the visiting Sensei. Ipponme – Mae, from the front. I’ve got this. I’ve been practicing this one especially over and over in the past months. Mae is a foundational kata, and if I can perform this correctly, the lessons will translate to all of my other kata.

Hajime.

Seiza. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in and rise, toes curl under, step out with the right foot and cut. Shuffle up, bring sword above the head step and cut. O-chiburi, and rise like smoke into a deep iaido stance. Switch legs. Noto, and settle like fog onto left knee. Rise, feet together. Hands off, eyes come up. Back up left, right left ending with feet together.

Shorty feels awkward at my side. She much lighter than Dragonfly, and of a different length. It feels as though I can not reach my imaginary opponent, and I find myself stretching and straining. There is no elegance here. I need to relax. My mind is racing. I had never performed in front of others, separated from the Steel. I feel out of my element, awkward in my too tight obi, and the adrenaline will not quit. Is anyone laughing at me? Am I making mistakes? Doubt. Fear of failure. Embarrassment. Eagerness to please – sure, myself, but I want to make the Steel proud. I am his first student, after all. My efforts and performance reflect on him, and the last thing I want is  to feel was his disappointment on top of my own anxiety and self doubt.

Nihonme – Ushiro, from behind. A kata very similar to Mae, in mirror reverse for the cuts, with a special corkscrew on the right knee. Nervous, I engage with the gross of samurai.

Left foot in a right angle to right, right foot turns to face rear, left becomes parallel to right. Seiza. Breathe in. Breathe out. A quarter breath in, raise to knees, corkscrew, left foot step and cut. Sword above head, shuffle and cut. O-chiburi and rise like smoke. Switch legs. Noto, and sink like fog. Stand, feet together. Hands come off, eyes come up. Back up, left, right, left.

Well, sort of. Drawing the blade and performing half decent saya biki is a challenge, even with a more appropriately sized katana. My technique still not correct or developed, Shorty clumsily tumbles out of the saya, evidence of this shows in blade chasms and wood dust that empties out of my saya after each practice. Even as my strength is developing I do not have control of the tip, and it wobbles with my feeble tenouchi.

I feel awkward, uncomfortable, hazardous, like a thrice broken pinky toe hanging out of the side of a flip flop. “This is just warming up, girl, you’ve got eight more hours of this,” I hear Shorty calling, and little good it does other than encouraging the life muscle from beneath my ribs to pound a deafening and quickening rhythm into my ears. She says, “Ride on top of the pain.”

I can do this.

Sanbonme – Ukenagashi. Receive, parry, and cut. Which side do I turn to? Just breathe, watch the man next to you out of the corner of your eye, and follow. You’ve got this. Left foot 90 degrees with heel to left, right foot steps parallel. Seiza. My kneepad is sliding. Breathe in. Shit-shit-shit-shit this hurts today. Breathe out. Breathe in part way. Eyes then head follows turning to the left as I rise and draw. Stand, right foot at 90 degrees and knees in that ukenegashi feeling (whoa, that ukenagashi feeling, I’ve lost that ukenegashi feeling), Shorty raised above head with strong edge facing opponent, tip down to make a roof over my head. Step back with left foot and cut. Tip of sword to knee, change hand position, weird upside chiburi, noto and settle like fog. Rise like smoke. Smoke. Damn, I could use a big fat bowl right now. I’m settling like a deflated souffle and rising like overproofed dough. Hands come off, eyes up. Small step back to starting position.

I want to puke. All of the tears are held back by a tenuous damn. Shit, I am just no good at this. Even though one of the lessons I’ve learned is that being a beginner is okay, I feel like I need to be more than what I am at the current moment. That there is something wrong with me. I am having trouble remembering the movements. The names of the kata. The parts of the sword. All of these spinning in a tornado that is threatening to rip apart my mind like an abandoned house in the countryside. This is all supposed to make me into a better person. Wait, what is wrong with the person I am right now? Aren’t I a good person? I’m by no means perfect, and I always do my best. Fuck, just try harder, woman.

“You can do this,” says Shorty. Breathe.

Yonhonme – Tsuka-ate.  Oh, how the Steel cannot stand sitting in tatehiza, however I find it rather comfortable. I always feel bad for him as I can see the discomfort in his eyes, jaw, and tight shoulders about his ears. We do so much already but I bet the cobra stretch would work wonders for him. That’s for later, what are you doing? Tsuka-ate. Chuck saw? I always giggle when I hear this as I have never seen the word written. I imagine my brother holding a classic wood saw, smiling maniacally. A little levity now and then never hurts, and laughing inside without showing the smile is proving to become a useful skill. Rise from tatehiza and jab to solar plexus with sword still in scabbard. Slide saya off, turn, and thrust into forearm. Blood. Blood? Blood. Wait, blood is not part of this kata! No, neither is sticking yourself with the pointy end. Sure enough, a good inch of the tip of my brand new sword has created a new opening in my left forearm by the elbow. Thank goodness it is just the tip, and I haven’t gone hilt deep. Um, I need help. I wipe the tip of my blade and resheath it. Covering my wound with my hand, I start navigating the side of the mass of samurai in motion, searching for the Steel. I find a few kind souls to assist, and the Steel comes running, horrified and embarrassed. I am bandaged. Admonished. Congratulated. Encouraged. My head is spinning and light, and I cannot hear words that are said. I instead remember feelings.

The Steel said years later that I would be remembered. That because I continued for the entire day with a damaged arm, that I carry myself with dignity even when I am in immense pain, and that important people would remember me.

He was right.

I tell the lesson of the scar on my arm to anyone who asks. How I was not paying enough attention to what I was doing, and how I was naive to my blade’s length, and I was overexcited and zealous and it caused me to get into some trouble. And that if anyone tells you that size matters not, this is true. We are all the same size, inside. When engaged, though, some feel the need to seem bigger. Whatever. It’s just so childish, gambino.

So, what are some of the lessons from Shorty? I learned that when you have a new blade, it is best to take your time to get to know it really well. You should test your steel in various kata to see how it performs, and while doing so, ask it lots of questions. Where was this blade made? Has it been used before? What do other practitioners think of this blade? Is it like others that I have held? How so? How is it different? Is it balanced? Is it of the correct proportion? Is it hindering or helping my progress? Is it a pleasure or a pain? Is it a tool that I can work with? Can I perform all of the necessary parts of the kata with this blade? Is the blade responding to my actions correctly? Can I perform correct saya biki? Am I allowing my blade to cut the inside of my saya each time I draw/sheathe it? Can I protect the tender parts? Does its furniture fit, or is it loose and wobbly? Where is the tip? And, do I love it? Can I learn to love it? Or, am I settling?

Good questions, Shorty. Good questions.

“Thirty spokes share the wheel’s hub;
It is the center hole that makes it useful.
Shape clay into a vessel;
It is the space within that makes it useful.
Cut doors and windows for a room;
It is the holes which make it useful.
Therefore benefit comes from what is there;
Usefulness from what is not there.”

Lau Tsu, Tao Te Ching

Shavasana (Death)

“Who needs sleep?
well you’re never gonna get it
Who needs sleep?
tell me what’s that for
Who needs sleep?
be happy with what you’re getting
There’s a guy who’s been awake
since the Second World War”

-Who Needs Sleep, BNL

What is another sleepless night? Wrapped in my fluffy cocoon at La Villa Strangiato, I am as snug as a doodlebug in a rug. The Landlord still prefers to keep the thermostat down, of which I am most appreciative. A hot room leads always to discomfort, and around here there is always a moose blanket or down comforter or a soft, warm, little ball of fur to snug up against. Cetri Zine and Ben Adryl, I thank you. Going with the flow means to accept all situations you can do absolutely nothing about, and this includes The Reynolds genome – small amount of sleep, early riser. The only remedy for this I have ever found was inhaling massive amounts of what my buddy from SC would refer to as “pine tree”, and such as it is, there is none to be discovered here.

I lay on my back, without pillow, arms by my sides and heels shoulder width apart. At times, I am laughing and crying with Mrs Maisel, and at others with the Outlander. Midge understands, and Jamie is the perfect human known to man. Even amidst the Carolina Cherokees and the unforgiving landscape he manages to find gratitude in the smallest things – a fish caught, the moonshine ripening, the daily battle for life, the daughter that he had never met traveling 200 years into the past to join him and her mother and welcoming her with open arms, and joyfully pulverizing her would-be aggressor. You know, the small stuff.

What I have come to understand is the truth in the small stuff. Exactly what it is in this life I appreciate and find value in.

A visit from one of my children.

Sunrises and sunsets.

The taste of a tart clementine.

Kisses from a beloved pet.

Unconditional love from my family.

A little job.

Safety.

For the snow to shovel in the morning.

For chances to spread kindness.

Playing my violin as often as I like and learning a new little song.

Morning yoga basking the beauty of the Shire.

True, loyal, lifelong friends.

For all I have loved and then lost.

For my imperfections.

Life. Breathing. In. Out. Weaving consciousness through every cell of my body.

Gratitude readily pours out of my eyes. As I have taken to wearing mascara again and not wiping tears, my face is morosely marked with the streams of release. Gratitude for these lovely things. Gratitude for lessons learned. Gratitude for the alchemy of the heart. Gratitude for the pain and suffering, welcoming it with open arms. Opportunities of being regularly challenge, with my response of “take me, and let me get swept away”. I feel every need for forgiveness and every transgression as the day it occurred.

Asking for the forgiveness of others.

Asking for the forgiveness of myself.

Offering my forgiveness to others.

https://jackkornfield.com/forgiveness-meditation/

It is through this divine forgiveness that I feel comfort. There are those who are no longer around me whose forgiveness I ask of and extend to, to the best of my ability every day. Time makes this easier, and laying in the complete vulnerability of Shavasana offers my being to experience this healing to its most intense capacity.

So on death? This is a process of letting go, as forgiveness in and of itself is a death, is it not? Of righteousness? Of vindication? Of shame. My dragonflies in amber are a reminder of the beauty in change, and of the hope of what remains to be seen. It is only through acceptance and understanding of death can we fully appreciate life.

So to sleep, perchance to dream. Or, not. Maybe someday.

Tonight, dolce far niente.

“I know it’s not my fault I did my best
God knows this heart of mine could use a rest

What more and more I find the dreams I left behind
Are somehow too real to replace

Last night I didn’t get to sleep at all
The sleeping pill I took was just a waste of time”

I couldn’t close my eyes ’cause you were on my mind”

-(Last Night) I Didn’t Get Any Sleep At All, The 5th Dimension

Dawn (Surya Namaskara)

The awakening of morning enters through the open window, sunlight refracting off the house opposite. Meandering in, the lambency tenses against sleeping shadows, the fervor of their struggle results in the subtle arousal of us latent beings. Having nowhere to escape, the darkness of our slumber succumbs to the entering light.

Your hand softly grasps my arm, and fingers splayed over my biceps as in an attempt to cover or covet them; calloused fingertips draw miniature circles on my skin, the roughness only emphasizing that what you find silky and smooth. We lay in harmony, our bodies tandem in a lazy Zed; your leg slightly over mine and feet caressing between. Between us, air is hot and thick. I dare not stir to avoid breaking the trance which holds our bodies motionless.

Gentle breeze stirs hair hanging over my face, and it wavers indecisive in which direction to reside.  You sweep it up, and I turn my face to meet yours, mere inches away. Your breath is soft, warm, steady, and tickles my cheek. Our mesmeric trance is locked, and my eyes cannot, nor have the will to, pull away. Your lips bend to mine, softly resting slightly offset superioris to inferioris. Intertwined as our bodies are, no other parts conduct the same electricity. The thunder without sound, and all that can be heard is our minds quieting, and hearts racing.

*****

It was not that I had expected your presence or was waiting for you to arrive, but rather, it was apparent that you would only come into my life when the universe demanded it. I have made so many misjudgments, avoidance of my inner self; but despite the many indiscretions, somehow I am cleansed and anew, awash with energy and light. Any mistake I have made can only be thought of a step on that path of becoming who I was designed to be.

I feel. Call it God, call it energy or life-force, from every direction it reaches out to me, calling me, changing perception from one of observer to that of synergist. Every pore of my flesh and corner of my mind longs for complexity, and it is now I am satiated, settled and focused.

Melodic as my heart strings are, I get lost in the symphony of our newfound affection. We are however only in our Allegro, our instruments still tuning and warming, perfecting pitch and exploring countermelodies. It is with time, prayer, patience, and pleasure we will find our next movement. In this moment the harmony is simple, perfect; beauty in every stolen phrase.

-Written March 2011 in the dawn of my awakening. I love you, universe.

Why, Why? C.

why

were the very same hands

that prevented her fall

and gave her pleasure

wrapped around her silken neck

a force choke

to end it all

where was her prince, her love

and her happily ever after

was it the battle of

A monster on a ship

who thought he was never enough to

love, love, love

the C dragon

or was it dirty paws she thought

never would come clean

not a beauty, but herself a beast

hideous and so full of shame that

she was blind to all of those warning signs

a wizard with a prize he refused to share

yet cheapened himself with the d, the witch, her sister, and dorothy

and killed her little dog too

for as long as she and all of the flying monkeys did his bidding,

he thought he was safe behind the curtain of lies

however, she was

the seeker of truth

a musician with a symphony who

among cacophony, chaos, and anxiety

conducted practice with dignity and a broken body

with the burden of shame shackled and tied to her waist

down the rabbit hole Alice sank to find

truth, it was there the whole time

the best way to hide something was in plain sight

she turned over her paws and released her shame

re-living it in the most horrible, gruesome, uncontrollable way

a locomotive on that hot rail

at the end of the wizard’s party, laying on the floor

maiden, mother and crone called to her

she screamed

get out of my mind

a low roar

as the tower fell

she saw the light

finally learning to improvise

the red queen beheaded the backwards talking white knight

with new focus, she mounted mirrors, mirrors on the wall

then Cinderella finally saw how fair she was

and the only thing he loved her for

a cunt

breaking the charm, she shattered the glass slippers

toppled the loving cup

and finally brought balance to the force

clicking barefoot heels together, declared

there’s no place like home

no longer a slave

for she was and is a temple

nevermore to worship

the prince of darkness

I See Red (Barchetta)

Snow has a way of changing in quality though the winter months. As the season progresses and more salt, sand, and brigid-knows-what is churned into the texture of cookie dough batter, before the eggs and flour. What December lacked in flakes, January delivered with renewed ferocity, with February in the running for close second. Miniature mountain ranges are heaped heavily on the sides of the vehicle paths, which grow smaller with each storm, with plow drivers who either seem to forget that our latitude is farther north than the Mason-Dixon line, or else live in fear of the Landlord’s scathing reports when his mailbox is pulverized yet another time.

It is past Imbolg, and the bi-polar weather of the northeast has become more manic than depressive. Days like today (above 10 degrees Fahrenheit) feel like spring, and I don not more than my bright pink shell and woolly Fäustlinge to join the out-of-doors. There are but few in the neighborhood who share in this cold weather delight: Happy Adams with the most lovely red haystack, waving hello from atop his Polaris, and oh what fun it would be to ride the haystack or the Polaris, I care not which; The Walking Woman, bundled from head to toe in so much an effort to keep warm as to not be carried off by the ferocious wind; and of course, Annie, with her long chapped cheeks and icicles clinging to her horse beard.

Any excuse to get out of La Villa Strangiato these days has me jumping behind the wheel of the aka shibikku and pressing the pedal to the metal. There is a certain sense of pride and pleasure derived from driving a standard transmission out of principle. There will never be a vehicle that I cannot hop behind the wheel and take control over, which means when the Rapture finally takes place I will have my pick of vehicles to drive around in. Won’t the Neighbors next door be dispirited to sacrifice their beautiful virgin M3 to us pagans? The Nimbus 2000 can stay in the garage.

“Wind
In my hair
Shifting and drifting
Mechanical music
Adrenaline surge”

While I have found beauty everywhere life has brought me, the charm of the Northeast never fails to draw me back. The trees. The rolling hillsides. The clusters of antique houses and architecture. The ocean, rivers, and lakes. It is the most beautiful place I have found to just take a drive to nowhere, although you are never far from anywhere. Lately I have spent a lot of time remembering who I was before I started batting at the major curve balls. I was a hippie. I smoked Camel lights. I skipped school and made out with boys in parked cars and a beautiful girl in a basement bedroom. I was an accomplished musician and respected among my peers. I was a vegetarian and humanitarian. I loved art and music, and foreign language, and reading between four to eight books per week. I despised traditional schooling. And, I loved driving. How fortunate I was to be allowed to drive the Silver Bullet, an ’88 Mazda 323, 5 speed. This car cranked, a challenge to drive not only for the transmission but also for the lack of power assisted steering. The scent inside was of Simple Green, as that was the only way to properly clean the ash tray and conceal my indulgence lest someone catch another reason to ground me for a month or two. Cradled by the driver’s seat, I took to the main streets and back roads like Dale Earnhardt on a bender, seat belt fastened, Rock 101 or 100.7 blaring, windows rolled down (and I mean, actually rolled), the wind tangling my shoulder length permed hair. Rather than watch the tachometer, I listened to the engine’s whine to inform me when to switch gears. I picked up my girl several times and took her on these rides, and as an adult now wonder if that on these times she was frightened to death. I felt powerful, in control, and manifesting my own destiny.

With recent cause to celebrate, I fire up that willing engine, awaiting the roar. Nothing.  I scream, “Vroooom!” and back the little red devil out of the driveway. Today, I set off to just drive, breathing in the cold country air, feeling alive and free and one with all 180 horses carrying the sleigh, navigating the ice and snowbanks as obstacles to my course. I flow with every curve, listening for the cue from the engine when to change from one gear to the next. The local classic rock station starts pumping feel good tunes, and I start singing along.

Keep on whispering in my ear, tell me all the things that I want to hear, ’cause it’s true. That’s what I like about you.

This song suddenly seems fucked up, as if the band name “Romantics” was just a con to lure in unsuspecting hopefuls with the insinuation of fairy-tale like love and candlelit dinners. You like it when I tell you all the things you want to hear? You like that I promise you are the only one for me? And where is that in return? I feel my emotion transferring through the stick and gas pedal into the transmission, and the engine is willingly responding, save this time it is roaring in harmony with rage to the misogyny and disrespect and suppression of rights that is quickly becoming the example in this country. I definitely would have appreciated the sincerity, fidelity, and guardianship of my heart that I have promised over and over and never have received in return. Taking a sharp left, Red and I climb a steep winding hill, which empties out on another high meadow that overlooks the shire-side. It’s just another fucked up love song. It’s time to pull a lazy Susan, turn things around and head home, as I’ve come to yet another dead end.

And that’s it.

What you liked about me? I held you tight.

I told you you were the only one, and I wanted to come over tonight.

What you liked about me? I really know how to dance.

When I go up, down, jump around, I’m thinking about true romance.

What you liked about me, I kept you warm at night

Never wanted to let me go, you know I made you feel alright.

I kept on whispering in your ear, and told you all the things you wanted to hear

It’s true. That’s what you liked about me.

 

I have been valued not because someone wanted to show me how much they loved me, but for what I could do for them. I’ve allowed this to happen over and over and over again. This is not love. This is slavery. I will not be owned. I will not be controlled. I will not be lied to and manipulated. I will not obey. I will not be the little bird kept in a cage.

I let up on the civic, and pull to the side of the road amidst the trees. Breathe, says the Sliph. Jumping out, I run through the nearby field, snow gracing the tops of my boots with the fur, and tears running icicles down my cheeks. Everything is tinged red, those rose colored glasses stained with the crimson of my rage. “Where is the justice?” I ask, falling to my hands and knees, planting my face to cool in the snow. The shock clears my vision, and I sit back on my heels in seiza to find a beautiful woman standing before me.

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She is white, with soft eyes and peaceful mouth. I grew up knowing her as Mary, although I understand her now as mother to us all and peace incarnate. Someone who understood and accepted with grace the presence of God growing within her. Breathe, I hear again, though this time it is the voice of Lucy calling. Inhaling to four, holding for four, exhaling for four, rest at the bottom for four. The rhythm is soothing, and the landscape regains its upside-right orientation. She is looking upon me with love and compassion, treasuring the moment.

I am already honored, loved, respected, and treated with dignity and compassion. I am  cherished by my friends and family. I am worthy of being the only one and worthy of trust. Anyone who thinks otherwise can fuck off.

Thanking her, I return to La Villa much more gently than I had set out. These modern four cylinders were never meant to work so hard, anyways. The Landlord has the garage set up with tennis balls on strings, to provide the perfect stopping point for the vehicle, and listening for the gentle boop on the windshield, bid my ride a rest for the evening. The birches are swaying and paper bark flapping in the icy breeze this evening, with another storm threatening to call out the plows, shovels, and snowblower. It’s okay, ladies, I announce. Spring is coming. For now, let’s not just feel the cold, let’s revel in it.

“You know it gets to us all
The pain that is learning
And the rain that is burning”

-Red Lenses, Rush

 

Ko Ken Chi Ai

When I explain to friends my love of Kendo, most typically respond with incredulity, skepticism, or at the very least mild bemusement. The reason for this response still eludes me, however I have learned to smile and accept that some are just not ready to listen or understand how this art has contributed to the change that has happened inside of me. Kendo is The Way “Do” of the Sword “Ken”. The way? The way to what? The way to love, naturally. Ko Ken Chi Ai means Knowing Love/Friendship by Crossing Swords.

To master the art of Kendo, we must master Shikai – “Shi” meaning “four”, and “Kai” meaning “prohibition”, so the four prohibitions of the way. Shikai is also known as the four sicknesses of Kendo. These sicknesses or prohibitions are those that we impose on ourselves that limit our growth not only in the art and practice of Kendo, but also in our daily lives living by the way of loving kindness. These four sicknesses are known as kyo-ku-gi-waku.

“Kyo” is surprise. What happens when I am surprised? Physically, I tense up, usually my pectorals, biceps, trapesius, rhomboid and other smaller neck muscles, protection of my vital organs. I inhale sharply for maximum oxygenation. My eyes widen to take in more light. Surprise is the state of being taken unaware. In Kendo, we need to understand that our partner can and may use all methods of technique to break our kamae (guard) or seme (pressure) to enter a strike. I should not be surprised when my partner’s eyes graze kote (the wrist), and they instead strike men (the head), or do (the gut). I should not be surprised when my shinnai is pushed to the side to create an opening. If my kamae and seme are strong, if I am using my entire field of vision to recognize a tightening of a particular muscle or look in the eyes to understand the whole picture, I will not be surprised when the strike comes. The same is true in loving yourself. It is important to not be taken by surprise. You have time. Wait for it. Are you feeling the need to defend yourself? Are you constantly under attack? Are you able to be relaxed, or do you feel the constant tensing of surprise and need to protect that which is vital? Perhaps you may rethink to whom you are sharing your love with. When my neck and back muscles are tight, and I am protecting my vitals, I get migraine headaches, the kind that induce paralysis, vomiting, lost days of work. Even the anticipation of a headache can bring one on, and has in the past developed a dependence on daily marijuana use or overuse of ibuprofin. As anticipation is the opposite of surprise, in kendo we must neither be in a state of anticipation or surprise. To rely on either is a crutch that inhibits our ability to take correct action when the opening occurs. In love, are we preparing for a blow, or are we reacting rather than responding to one? Herein lies the lesson of neither preparing for nor being surprised by anything. Love accepts all in stride, and does not anticipate being harmed. If either of these two are present, we are not ready to give or receive love, and we will have difficulty taking correct action.

“Ku” is fear. What happens to me when I am living in fear? My blood pressure rises, and my heart beats very fast. My breath becomes quick and shallow, limiting full oxygenation of the blood or expulsion of carbon dioxide. My vision narrows, quite often resulting in tunnel vision or hallucination. My temperature rises, and as I am not a particularly sweaty bastard, I tend to get overheated and have on occasion have become light headed and passed out from the experience. Fear is the aversion of discomfort. What is it that we typically fear? In Kendo, I was afraid of getting hurt physically. I understood the concept that if everyone was acting correctly, I would not get hurt, and I was reminded often to trust my armor. Armor in Kendo consists of a helmet (Men), gloves (Kote), Chestplate (do), tare (a skirt that while not valid for points does protect tender vitals), and a small plate at the base of the front of the Men that protects the throat (Tsuki). It did not matter that I was surrounded in what I lovingly referred to as my snowsuit. The strikes that I received regularly were hard enough that I would have a headache and trouble concentrating for days, or I would need to take a week off of playing violin to recover my wrist. There was one time where my teacher was demonstrating what it might be like to have someone very inexperienced and overzealous keiko with me, and it resulted in a shinnai being shoved forcefully up the right sleeve of my gi. The first time, I turned and cursed, and became very fearful. I took a second to calm myself, and tried to control my fear by taking a breath. I set my kamae once again, determined to finished the match despite the surge of adrenaline that consumed my body. When we began again, the same technique was used, resulting in a burn and enormous bruise on my arm, but worse, on my heart. I retreated backwards, and wanting to insist on distance, attempted to strike do. I fell, landing on my backside, all the while enduring the public humiliation from the reprimand from my teacher. I was shamed. I was so fearful of disappointing my teacher and my fellow classmates, yet was in enough pain from the injury to my arm that I could not control the flow of tears or the shaking of my body. I did my very best to gain my composure, and was told that my lesson for the day was completed. The old me might not have ever gone back to class, but I learned something. In order to not be in fear of something or someone, I needed to face them calmly, directly, and purposefully. I went back to class with a renewed vigor and determination to show my teacher and my fellow students that I was not afraid to get hurt, and I was not afraid of being shamed or reprimanded or corrected. This was the beginning of my practice of enshrouding myself with emotional armor. Before putting on my bogu, I mentally put on each piece of indigo by reciting this mantra:

Steady and strengthen and open my mind.

Steady and strengthen and open my spirit.

Steady and strengthen and open my heart.

Steady and strengthen and make true my sword.

The same is true in love. In order to proceed in love without fear, we must understand our own minds, know the shape of our heart, have confidence in the integrity of our spirit, and be confident in the truth our intent. We must love ourselves and have the mental armor so that we do not allow ourselves to be thrashed about, however be willing to create openings to allow our partner to come close. We must also allow ourselves to open to draw close to our partner. If we cannot do these things and love without fear, then we are not ready to share or experience the true joy of love. If there is a part of ourselves that we wish to keep armor over, perhaps we should ask ourselves what sort of strike we are preparing for, what is it that we are so unwilling to let go of that we need to be in emotional armor at all times.

“Gi” is doubt. What happens to me when I am feeling doubt? I experience anxiety. Anxiety typically manifests in my gut. I am either perpetually loose or tight, and have constant tummy troubles. It appears as a band around my diaphragm, and I cannot take a full belly breath as if I am wearing a tight belt or size too small jeans. In doubt, my mind is in a constant state of indecision and panic. I cannot focus on one thing for any  amount of time. In Kendo, doubt leads to indecision and inaction. When coming out of sankyo, your body should flow fluidly, balanced, ready to assume correct kamae and seme. If you are in doubt, you will be off balanced and shaky, unable to take a proper deep belly breath. In doubt, you will view your partner instead as an opponent. In doubt, you will be unable to make a decision on a target and therefore unable to enter into a correct strike. What happens when we are in doubt in love? We cannot breathe. In music, it is important to be able to play the rests so that you stay in time with other musicians and so that the intent of the melody or harmony is expressed correctly. If in love, we cannot breathe or cannot play the rests, we become anxious of that which we may lose. We cannot trust in what the next step might be and it leads to grasping. We develop aversion to change, and cannot exhibit grace or dignity. In doubt, we cannot willingly accept any challenge that may come our way, for fear of failure. In doubt, we lose confidence in the ability for others to accept and love that which in ourselves is profane. In doubt, we are prone to aversion to the truth, so much so that it manifests itself in the flesh. In doubt, we accept the lies we tell ourselves as the truth, and learn to accept the lies of others as the truth as well. Love cannot be based on doubt. Love must be based on trust and truth. If I feel like I cannot tell my partner the truth about myself, it may be a combination of toxic shame and aversion of my own truth and fear of acceptance, or it may also be a fear of exploitation or having truths used as a weapon to flog your partner with. When it becomes the sum of all of these, it creates a toxicity that no seed of love can ever grow in. Doubt or trust is the seed in which love is sewn in.

“Waku” is confusion, or being disturbed. What happens to me when I am feeling confusion? My brow is constantly wrinkled. I cannot complete a thought or make a quick decision. The tiny muscles in my face tense. I have a hard time remembering details and sequence. I lose focus, and have to take a lot of time to ensure I have the facts straight. I question my own sanity when I am told one thing and then another, and then see actions of yet another. In Kendo, being confused leads to indecision. If I cannot come to a decision about what to do next, I can never do what comes next. Am I sitting there waiting for an opening, or am I creating one? Am I allowing my partner’s stance, gutterals, shinnai taps, or stern look to intimidate me? Or, am I taking them in no consequence to the matter at hand, which is to deliver a correct strike? In the last practice I had with my teacher, I delivered a quick feather strike to men. My classmate, the romantic young warrior, did not want to believe that it was a correct strike, however my teacher did confirm that it was correct and valid ippon. I remember evaluating what was different that day, as I can remember only a choice few times where I had gained ippon on my teacher. The first, we were practicing outside on a stage with cement floors. I remember the cool and smooth touch to my feet, the scent of the fresh air and feel of the ever constant breeze. I remember my teacher’s excitement that we were practicing at the park. I felt relaxed and at ease, as I always feel when I can spend any amount of time out of doors. I feigned a men strike, and struck do. If I remember anything, it was the incredulity on my partner’s face, his mixture of pride and love and bewilderment and determination, and his verbal promise to never let that happen again. I was in my own state of bewilderment – a mixture of pride in my progress, and the hopes that my teacher would be thrilled and encourage my progress and repetition of the maneuver until I could repeat it flawlessly. I took the words instead as a challenge, and in practice, attempted to recreate that scenario only to have it thwarted every time. I was not discouraged, however I was confused as to why it was that my partner would not want that particular opening to be claimed.

To create an opening for do in Kendo kata, one must raise the shinnai over the head. This exposes the heart. Quite possibly, the way to the heart is the do in Ken-do.

In relation to Ko Ken Chi Ai, to know love, we must be willing to cure ourselves of all of the sicknesses or prohibitions to love. To not allow fear, doubt, confusion or surprise master our actions, and to not deliberately cause or to allow harm to others by using these tactics to manipulate or control. To know love, we must be willing to be courageous in allowing joy to permeate our hearts, understanding that all things change, all things end, all things die, and all things can begin again.

There are very few people in this world that I would consider my friend. People whom I will discard the emotional armor for any day of the week and allow them to peer into the depths of my soul. I approach each potential friendship with an open mind, open heart, and open spirit, but have learned that I may need better kamae and seme when it comes to those who may try to assume they are my opponent. In Kendo, the distance to which you place yourself in proportion to your partner is known as maai. This is the distance from which you can make a correct strike without risking a strike from your opponent. For short people like me, the maai I assume is typically closer to my partner. To reach the top of a head of someone 6’3″, I need to get in pretty close, however for someone closer to my height, I can step back a little, and relax the angle of my shinnai, trusting in the power of my left leg to launch my body the distance it needs to travel. What I have learned is that kamae, seme, and maai all have to coordinate together to have correct distance to my partner, and that I must adjust my own maai, taking also into consideration that of my partner’s.

I can love someone closely, and I can love someone from a distance. I can love someone intimately and intensely, and I can love someone by wishing them well and understanding that their suffering is not much different than my own, for we are all one. In the sister art of iaido, we learn that there is no opponent other than ourselves. This is true in loving our lives, and this is true in a life of love.

Doumo arigatou, gozaimashita.

 

The Girl with Kaleidoscope Eyes

Photo credit Dark R Photography (@dark_ryoko)
Drug Content. Viewer forewarned.
The first time I took LSD. To set the stage, this was after a two week period where I had been broken up with. After a week, I had gone out to find “big dick”, and it was the worst experience ever. There was no heart, no passion, no climax. I felt dirty and used, although who was doing the using? Both really. Anyhow, my heart was shredded. He had sent a few emails that following week – I suppose it was during this time that the infamous “Oh Donna” had come back, but at this point I’ll never know, and don’t necessarily care either. Sigh. This is the emotional fuckery that causes a bad trip, although I was completely naive. I had not known it at the time, and was but a babe to the drug scene. He was Ex Perienced and Know Legible. He always said he was the expert, and why would I doubt?
I asked what it would do. He said it would cause a little tickle after about 20 minutes, just in the throat. We would want to eat lots of vitamin C, and I had made my infamous black bean, corn and mango salad (oh, that mango) so we were golden. He said I would see things from a different perspective. Not wanting to seem the wuss and longing for anything to understand him, I obliged and chewed on the papery square. A metallic coppery taste, not entirely unpleasant, with notes of white mold. The paper was a 60 lb bond, that much was clear, a Georgetown product by the grain, with a low but noticeable cotton content. My stomach rolling faster than my tongue, I swallow after a few minutes, mostly to get the tiny threads out from my cheek pockets. We sat on the edge of my bed in my pristinely clean bedroom.
The tingling began. I remember thinking, why did He choose me? I don’t do these things. Why am I doing this?
Suddenly, we were gods. GODS. Someone had installed a flip top head, and my brain was exposed not only to brush by rear molars.
I saw entire universes unfolding before my eyes, and gave birth to them with him. They were our children. There were never any that took, save for the Gargoyle, although there were a few times I suspected an ectopic pregnancy, for the pain and blood shed. These you know not until it is too late, and the babe is but a bloody stain in a pair of underwear you’ll never wear again. I didn’t want to know. The highest high, laughing and rolling on the floor in the kitchen on my perfectly polished floor, with Jake the Fluffernutter giving us the confused dog look. On the couch. Highest high. Lowest low. Over and over and over and over. He held me through it all, but what was he going through? I had no idea, I was in my head and then not, and then lost. Then back to Jake. I held a strawberry in front of his perfect tiny black nose. The pup shook and quivered. I had never noticed that he had wanted something so desperately before. He ate it, with his gnarly Gargamel breath giving way to the ripe sweetness. Confused dog look again. What was he worried about? Worried. The neighbors. My landlord! The biggest hippie. He must wonder what we were doing and I knew how thin the walls were. Paranoia, hysterical crying. I felt unsafe. Then unwanted. I remember telling him how I was concerned he would never be interested in anything I wanted to talk about. No wonder – thus far I had relinquished most of the conversations and he happily took the lead. I did not think I was interesting or clever enough. He seemed so much more worldly and educated. Confident, yes. I wasn’t. I felt naive.
Over and over again and the world became dark. Eyes everywhere. On the walls. On the ceiling. His third eye as a snake’s, a slit with multiple eyelids. Queasy. I lost it, and ran into the bathroom. Water on the face might help, but then the world flipped 90 degrees and I had to hang on to the edge of the sink to keep from falling off the face of the earth. Then I was worshiping my sparking porcelain goddess, filling her with regurgitated strawberry juice and caressing the cool seat with my cheek. He stayed. I was rung like a towel after hours and hours of laughter and bawling and fucking and hurling. But there was no sleep. It’s against Lucy’s rules.
I was finally convinced to venture outside. The plantains beckoned me to caress their soft leaves, soft and velvety, pulsing. Dandy Lions smiled and swayed with the tilt of the earth. Perennial flowers waved and vibrated with every phosphorescent color imaginable. The rush of xylem and phloem pulsed in the veins of the maple tree that shaded my favorite reading spot. I wanted to sleep. Back inside. I remember little else of that day-typically the last few hours of the trip are fuzzy and full of headaches, avoiding eyes. However, I did remember one thing.
The clown. The clown face. A triangle. A circle. A square. Angry. Just a flash, but I could not look. Why was this happening? It was the last thing I wanted to share. And eyes. Eyes inside of everything.
I could not tell why. I did not know and was not ready.  Somehow through the sea of sparkly eyes and yin yang, I drifted, restless and listless.
“On the edge of sleep,
I was drifting for half the night
Anxious and restless,
Pressed down by the darkness
Bound up and wound up so tight
So many decisions, a million revisions
Caught between darkness and light”
-Double Agent, RUSH

The Horse Part 5 – And Now for Something Completely Different

“God didn’t make little green apples
And it don’t rain in Indianapolis
In the summertime
And when my self is feeling low
I think about her face aglow
To ease my troubled mind”

-Little Green Apples, Bobby Russell

This morning starts out like any other where I’ve had less than three hours of sleep. Both groggy and awake, the promise of black gold beckons my tired bones out of bed. It’s easy to be lazy when there are few commitments, no schedule. The kitchen is vacant save for a pair of cat loafs struggling to fit together into one small size kitty koozy, just oversized loaves of fluffy, sneeze-producing bread. Grabbing my favorite moose mug and filling it to just short of the brim, I swirl in some locally made eggnog. I’m learning to take delight in as many little indulgences and pleasures as I can find, and if this thick creamy treat was available year round, it would become a regular part of my morning ritual. Dark and bitter just isn’t my style these days. Eggnog – it’s what’s for breakfast.

No sign of the Landlord this morning, save a note on the door proclaiming his own morning routine. With stimulant already surging through my veins, flight or flight begins to rage, and I decide the treadmill needs to go for a run. Grabbing my laptop, I head downstairs to the cat lair, complete with pool table, workshop, and a lifetime’s collection of tools and decorations of times gone by. The Landlord spent hours down here vacuuming to ease my allergic response. Why? Because, love does. Screen now securely mounted to the human hamster wheel, I set forth on a journey that ends up being short lived. A mile in, and it’s not just the Foo Fighters screaming. I succumb to the will of my knees – pounding out 10 minute miles will wait for another day, even though I’m not like the others, and I will never surrender. My energy is still high, so I do as James Taylor suggests. Walk on, walking man. Walk down that lonesome road, all by yourself.

Donning jacket, hat and mittens, I stuff a granny smith into my pocket. The last of the carrots was used for an Annie cake, of which I finished off with great satisfaction a few days before. I announce I’m off for a walk, to no one in particular, and set off into the icy wind. It’s a bit of a hike to Annie’s, but I am no stranger to long walks. The brisk air nips at my cheeks and nose. With a good pace underfoot, I quickly become accustomed, smiling and enjoying myself. The Valkyrie is smiling – this is her world. Frozen deer tracks in the mud, icicles on fallen pussy willow branches over natural springs, kitty paw prints in snowbanks, crinkle ice on the roadside. It is heaven indeed. If there can be both cold and hot in hell, I suppose heaven can also be that way, as perception creates the enjoyment or torture of any situation.

There’s rhythm and timing in a walk. Something about the dimension of trees passing as if they’re backdrops on a multidimensional stage, shifting and ethereal, that beckons me off the road as I pass. It has been too long since I’ve communed with my brothers and sisters. The birch, ash, evergreen, pine, willow, oak, maple, and sumac all sing a unique song that can be heard as whispers in their branches. They’ve been laughing since my return, and who could blame them? I’ve grown. No longer a sapling, my true form is appearing, with sinuous branches and early spring splendor. What happens when you cross a paper birch with a willow? I can’t wait to find out, and neither can they. Faces appear inside of crevices, hollows, knots, and spurs; watchful eyes and surprised gasps, howling warnings and placid tranquil smiles all tell stories of their pasts, or impending futures. Crunching underfoot, I’ve wandered off the road onto gravel. Best to keep my eyes ahead, as the true prize is awaiting only moments away.

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Annie is in the corral by the barn today, towards the rear fence. She seems shy, uncertain, not quite the animated beast of norm. Proceeding with caution, “Annie. Annie girl. I love you, Annie girl.” She lifts her head to direct her gaze. There is no question when the horse is giving you the stare-down. I stop by the front corner of the fence to catch my breath. It’s cold enough to snatch the wind out of your lungs, but to my surprise I’ve not yet felt the thief. A few minutes pass, and Annie returns to pretending to look for grass to munch in the mud. Pulling the apple out of my pocket, I take a quick bite, and show it to her, taking a quick chomp and making all sorts of delicious slurping noises. She has got to know I am enjoying this. I had once fed her a macintosh, but have no idea how a tart apple will taste to this equine epicure. No response. I decide to take a few more paces to the center of the fence, where we have normally been feeding her from, call her name, and greet her with my customary low bow. She mirrors, nodding her head to the ground and lifting, and begins inching towards me. More mouthing and slurping the apple, juice dripping down my chin. Breaking off a small piece, I explain to her what this treat is, and toss it under the fence. She immediately eats it, and looks me in the eye, as close as she dare bring her face to the fence. I hear, “more?” Delighted, I share the rest of the apple with her without missing a beat, removing the seeds with my teeth and tongue, taking the second to last bite myself.

With the last sliver, I explain, “that’s all”, however she still squares her snout with my own nose. “You’re welcome.” Bow. Bow returned. We lock gazes at the end of our picnic, and it is without doubt that we have made a connection, new and sweet, a little yellow flower of delight with pink horse hot lips. I back away slowly, and head home.

With any animal that is suffering the effects of trauma, it is important to pull them out of their routine with something different to focus on. Treats, new colors, new smells, sights, temperatures, anything that will not have an association with the event. Over time, the old familiar favorites can make their way back into the routine, however it easily may take many years before the pain fades into memory.

That’s okay Annie. All we have is time. And I’m putting apples in the carrot cake.

“Time stand still
I’m not looking back
But I want to look around me now
Time stands still
See more of the people
And the places that surround me now”

Time Stand Still – RUSH