One Held Breath

Okapi ~ image found on Pintrest

Okapi ~ image found on Pintrest

She is inhumanly alone. And then, all at once, she isn’t. A beautiful animal stands on the other side of the water. They look up from their lives, woman and animal, amazed to find themselves in the the same place. He freezes, inspecting her with his black-tipped ears. His back is purplish-brown in the dim light, sloping downward from the gentle hump of his shoulders. The forest’s shadows fall into lines across his white-striped flanks. His stiff forelegs splay out to the sides like stilts, for he’s been caught in the act of reaching down for water. Without taking his eyes from her, he twitches a little at the knee, then the shoulder, where a fly devils him. Finally he surrenders his surprise, looks away, and drinks. She can feel the touch of his long, curled tongue on the water’s skin, as if he were lapping from her hand. His head bobs gently, nodding small, velvet horns lit white from behind like new leaves.

It lasted just a moment, whatever that is. One held breath? An ant’s afternoon? It was brief, I can promise that much, for although it’s been many years now since my children ruled my life, a mother recalls the measure of the silences. I never had more than five minutes’ peace unbroken. I was that woman on the stream bank, of course, Orleanna Price, Southern Baptist by marriage, mother of children living and dead. That one time and no other the okapi came to the stream, and I was the only one to see it.

~ Barbara Kingsolver
(The Poisonwood Bible)

When I stumbled across this picture of an okapi on Pintrest it brought to memory this passage In Barbara Kingsolver’s amazing book, The Poisonwood Bible. It stuck with me because I had a similar experience with a stag when I was little, a moment of transcendence, when time seemed to stand still for this six-year-old.

I was introduced to Barbara Kingsolver’s writing by a physical therapist who was coming to the house regularly to work with my dad. One morning the three of us were sitting around the table, waiting for Papa to finish eating his late breakfast. Her name was Betty-Jean, which reminded us of my mother, who was called Betty-Jo by her parents. We fell into a conversation about my mother’s love of nature and Native American culture.

Papa mentioned a visit he and my mother had made to the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe on Cape Cod, and that he had inadvertently offended a young man when he “stepped into his circle.” I wasn’t sure what he meant and he had trouble trying to explain it to me. Betty-Jean thought perhaps it had something to do with a vision quest. “What’s a vision quest?” I inquired, full of curiosity.

The conversation meandered around for a bit after that, but before Betty-Jean began her session with my father, she asked me if I was familiar with Barbara Kingsolver. I had never heard of her until then, so she said she thought I would like her book, Animal Dreams. I ordered it as soon as I got home that night and have been devouring her books ever since. They way she weaves spiritual journeys with nature resonates with me deeply.

all the great questions…

"Portrait of a Girl" by Helene Schjerfbeck (1862-1946) Finnish Realist Painter

“Portrait of a Girl” by Helene Schjerfbeck

Childhood is a mystery: the soul is timeless, the body new, and the world complex.  What a conjunction: the great unfolding in the small.

Childhood asks us what reality really is, what the world is, and where it came from.  Childhood asks where life came from, and where it goes. Does the soul exist?  Where was the soul before birth?  How many realms are there?  Are fairies real?  Do ghosts and spirits exist?  Why are some people lucky and others unlucky, why is there suffering?  Why are we here?  Are there more things in the innocent-seeming world than we can see?  These are some of the questions that the state of childhood asks, and which perplex us all our days.

Childhood is an enigma, a labyrinth, an existential question, a conundrum.  It is the home of all the great questions about life and death, reality and dream, meaning and purpose, freedom and society, the spiritual and the secular, nature and culture, education and self-discovery.

~ Ben Okri
(A Time for New Dreams)

Indian Pipes

8.10.13 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

“Indian pipe” by Barbara Rodgers

That without suspecting it you should send me the preferred flower of life, seems almost supernatural, and the sweet glee that I felt at meeting it, I could confide to none.  I still cherish the clutch with which I bore it from the ground when a wondering Child, an unearthly booty, and maturity only enhances the mystery, never decreases it.
~ Emily Dickinson
(Letter to Mabel Loomis Todd, September 1882)

“The preferred flower of life” Emily is referring to is the Indian pipe, a ghostly flower with no chlorophyll.  Like Emily, I was captivated by Indian pipes as a child, whenever I found them while playing in the woods.  Native to New England, the flowers are about 3/4 of an inch long, and bloom from June to September.  In one of her poems, Emily compares it to a spirit: “‘Tis whiter than an Indian Pipe -” (#1513)

My father has been in the hospital this month with a pulmonary embolism, a blood clot in his lung.  He is too old (91) and too frail to tolerate a treatment with clot busters, so the doctor is opting for a conservative treatment with blood thinners.  Time will tell if this will be helpful or not.  Now that he is home he is hooked up to oxygen around the clock.  It’s been a very stressful time for all of us, and I’ve spent many hours at Dad’s bedside, leaving Tim here to cope with his terminally ill brother.

These Indian pipes were growing near Dad’s house in the woods, and the sight of them stirred up some pleasant childhood memories for me.  I put the camera on the ground for this shot and was delighted with the results!  A bug’s eye view!

Cows & Sunflowers

7.21.13.7403

July 21, 2013
Buttonwood Farm, Griswold, Connecticut

7.21.13.7424

Cows are amongst the gentlest of breathing creatures; none show more passionate tenderness to their young, when deprived of them; and, in short, I am not ashamed to profess a deep love for these quiet creatures.
~ Thomas de Quincey
(Confessions of an English Opium-Eater)

7.21.13.7426

…pesky flies…

7.21.13.7440

7.21.13.7453

At Buttonwood Farm, 14 acres of sunflowers are grown to benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Connecticut, a non-profit organization devoted to making wishes possible for children with life-threatening medical conditions.  100% of the $5 donation made when one buys a bouquet of these sunflowers goes directly to the foundation, a worthy cause.

7.21.13.7470

Tim & I spent a pleasant afternoon there, even if it was hot and humid, meeting cows and taking a tractor ride through the sunflower field!  We enjoyed our cheerful bouquet on our dining room table for the week following.

7.21.13.7483

I have the sunflower, in a way.
~ Vincent van Gogh
(Letter to Theo van Gogh, January 22, 1889)

7.21.13.7491

Dinosaurs in the Woods

6.23.13.6510

June 23, 2013, Montville, Connecticut
The Dinosaur Place

6.23.13.6539

…Dominic…

While Nate & Shea were in Connecticut for the wedding, we also spent a fun day at an outdoor Dinosaur Place with them and their nephews.  It was very hot so we were glad to be in the woods most of the time, and enjoyed watching the kids play on the splash pad after our long dinosaur walk.

6.23.13.6567

I don’t know the names of these dinosaurs, but Dominic knows ALL of them and he’s only 4 years old!  It was fun seeing this lost world through the eyes and imaginations of the little ones.

6.23.13.6585

6.23.13.6596

…Julius and Dominic…

6.23.13.6609

…Julius…

6.23.13.6633

6.23.13.6636

6.23.13.6637

6.23.13.6640

6.23.13.6646

6.23.13.6650

…Dominic…

6.23.13.6651

6.23.13.6676

…Julius…

6.23.13.6683

…Dominic enjoying the amazing playground…

6.23.13.6721

…Dominic…

Love, Bicycles & Canoes

JohnEmmaWhite2

These are my maternal grandparents and I had never seen these pictures before Saturday.  While Tim & I were out shopping, getting ready for our daughter’s wedding, my cousin was scanning and sending some pictures he found of our grandparents in their younger years.  Only today did I notice that June 8, Saturday, was their birthday.  Thank you so much, Matthew, for remembering!

EmmaHoneyJohn2

Grandfather was born June 8, 1905, and Grandmother was born June 8, 1906.  They were married 30 November 1929.  I never knew my grandfather smoked a pipe – but I always knew he was a perfect gentleman!  The dog was their beloved pet, Honey.

WhiteFamily

Above are my grandparents and their two children, my mother and my uncle.

JohnBettycanoe2

It’s hard to make them out, but my grandparents and uncle are sitting on the stone wall and my mother is in the canoe.  I see her passion for canoeing started in her childhood. She took us canoeing often when my sister and I were children.  I’m in a very sentimental, wistful, thoughtful mood this week – five days before the wedding!