leave old job....leave old home...enter new home...engage new life...maintain what matters

Monday, September 26, 2011

Inspiration's Mother

I was trying so hard to be nice to Linda, but at some point, don’t you just get to shout, “You’re killing me here!”  Somehow I managed to swallow it.  Looking up out of my little world, I notice she’s suddenly donned her purple sweatshirt. “Where you going?”
“The woodshed,” she says meaning our chain-link wrapped ‘patio’ fronting the cornfield.  “I’ve asked you three times!” 
Maybe she’d invited me.  Maybe not.  It didn’t really matter; I wasn’t listening.   The dreaded day had arrived:  selecting colors.  Doors.  Soffit.  Facia.  Trim.  Ceiling.    

I need to order them now, says Tom the Builder.  Translation:  “Another month in the cabin if the schedule slips.”
This damned cabin.  While technically it has everything I need, my soul can barely lift itself out of the barrel chair.  Never mind soar toward our new life together in the House the Land Built.  Yet there we sat in the cabin, half a day  staring at color chips.  Monotonously churning like a bread machine, my insides felt heavy, bloated.  White bread inspiration.  Thank God my life partner perceives not only the muck but options, another way out.
“Want to go the house?” she asks.
As if a star had alighted atop the harvest-gold ottoman, I sat upright and spit out the Wonder Bread.  We couldn’t pack the Prius fast enough.  Color chips.  House drawings.  Blankets.  Red wine and two plastic cups.   I didn’t need to turn on the CD: the music was already playing in my mind.  Arriving at the construction site, I ran inside the shed, found the blue lawn chairs and sat them down onto the beginnings of our west porch, what will one day be our entry,

,,,where we will sit and wait for you to appear over the ridge top.

It's hard to put my finger on the source of the inspiration, the abundance, but picking colors felt like picking cherries or elderberries or wild grapes off the bounty of the land.  Of course, the physical construct, the decision model, was more realistic.  We could stand in the framed shell of the living room and at least imagine a ceiling, the horizontal plane, carrying our eye right through the top of the imaginary windows and onto the ceiling of the porch.  Ah!  So the porch ceiling color can enable that perception, welcoming the inside out and the outside in.  But our starburst of creativity came from more than just a virtual 3D model. 
As if the ideas were already here, or perhaps just being born, all we had to do was engage.  Find them.  Whether it was the place, the Land, or our connection to it, divine at times, I don’t know.  But in 20 minutes, we journeyed farther in our blue lawn chairs than an entire day in our cabin.  And I don’t mean just the results, the chosen colors, which are all just a theory, but how we felt.  I was so in love with my wife!  My life!  And Linda, poor Linda, impossibly stuck---who’d agonized over these damned colors---now beamed.  True joy!    Somehow we’d engaged inspiration’s mother:  the mysterious creation herself, still heaving and writhing in the glory, the divine ecstasy of life and death and life renewed.
My little mind, impressive as he can be, struggles to accept that he is not always the best provider of ideas.   As I sit here under the shed’s lean-to, gloved fingers typing---listening to the wind-rustled leaves---some other part of me drifts with those leaves, over stacks of split wood, over asters, white and blue, and out onto the prairie.   

Oh mother of inspiration, thank you!   You bless me.  

Monday, September 19, 2011

The River Harriet

“That’s my house!  Isn’t it?” I thought.  The Prius crawled by, headlights illuminating the 4100 block of Harriet Avenue, what was my home for the last 25 years.  Until Aug 1, closing day:  when we’d signed over all rights to our house to the buyers, Mark and Kari.  Then the Prius carried me to the Land, where I’d stayed, planting myself into the thin soil of a new life, never returning until Sept 15.  Six weeks. 
And I’d had a great day:  Mike in Minneapolis.  Friends.  Food.  And finally---the reason for scheduling my first trip back on a Thursday---Yoga with teacher Monica and my kula, in the Ann Judson room of Judson Church.  But I’d forgotten that Judson church sat on the corner of my 4100 block of Harriet.  I’d just hugged my friend Missy good-bye in front of Common Roots restaurant and hurried off, about to be late for my 6:30 class.  Not until the Prius turned off of Lyndale onto 41st street, did something in me remember.  And as I turned right onto Harriet Ave, I seemingly drove into a slow motion movie.  The hood of the Prius turning in front of me, suddenly stopping.  Vivid sounds:  my car door opening, children laughing in the church playground, the pop of my car trunk.
There it was:  my yoga mat.  Suddenly, all returned to normal.  I walked inside. 
But all that was as nothing compared to driving past my old house.  Yoga was over:  the welcome back I’d received is worthy of an entire blog itself.  After class---soaking up good feelings with Monica and my old kula---I’d lingered long.  Too long.  I’d forgotten I was at Judson, my church of so many dear friends.  Suddenly, there’s Dottie and Eileen and Dave and Jenny and Leslie.  What can I say to them; I was already quite late getting to Brad and Pam’s where I would stay the night.  I’d pretty much just drove out of our life together.  Is it better to say nothing of my 6 weeks of impossibly rich new life, than to speak Minnesotan: “I’m good”, “cabin’s cozy”, “house has walls now”?  I can’t remember what I said, it was all too surreal as I waved good-bye to Jenny and Dave, urging them to post a photo, anything, on Facebook.
Now I was totally unprepared for the drive down Harriet Avenue.  I wanted to stop the car, get out, run back and hug Jenny and Dave, then snuggle under their porch-light, sipping white wine and munching chocolate chip cookies.  My gosh, I’d known them since Griffin kicked around inside Jenny’s belly.
So the Prius, sensing my pained madness, took charge of the situation.  No whir of engine.  No crunch of wheels.  A boat adrift on river Harriet.  Dark it seemed, yet my gaze now was fixed:  always to the right side of river.  Sooner or later it would appear.  And “it” had no name.  No memories whatsoever. Some part of me just had to see “it”. 
Suddenly, just ahead---as the Prius carried me past what must have been Jack’s lush front yard garden---a light, a warm front porch saying “come in , come in”. 
Then I turned my head away, stared straight ahead.  I couldn’t even look.  Not yet.  No thoughts of any kind, no image of Mark and Kari and their new life in our old house, no memories of my 25 years in that house, came to me.  I could have drowned in that thick fog. 
Yet Prius saved me.  We drifted on.  Down River Harriet.  Past Jack and Nancy’s.  Ray and Jan’s.  Chris and Albie’s.  Zan and Laura’s.  Dave and Katherine’s.  My heart so heavy, I could have heaved it overboard, anchored.  Prius slowed at 42nd street, turned, drifted on.
Then a light.  Brad opened the door.  Pam pulled me in.  Hugged me.  Honeycrisp apple.  Peanut butter and jelly.  White wine in the leather recliner. 
What does it mean to leave old home?  Enter new home?  Engage new life?  Maintain what matters?  
As I sit here beneath the lean-to---a new sun trying to peak beneath the heavy curtain of fog---I feel so blessed.  So taken care of. 
The River Harriet carries me on:  down our long gravel driveway...

past Tom the Builder's truck, the House the Land Built...

past windrows of firewood, waiting to warm us this winter...

greeting the sea of grass, its waves lapping at my feet. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Corridor

What happened?  How did it come to pass that one place so attracts me?  So engages me?  So calls to me?  And I’m not talking about The Land, though she, too, fits the description.  For her, the question is so much easier to answer, especially here, under the lean-to, as I gaze out upon the red hem of her dawn while her crickets and morning birds literally call to me: “Yes!  Yes!  Yes to life!” I’m talking about The Corridor.  OK, I said it, The Corridor.  I know it might sound strange, perhaps mystical, or just plain crazy to feel so consumed by such.  But there it is.  I’m outed:  The Corridor has compelled me to enter her, walk her pathway---or at least peer down between her Fences, and wonder--- for the last 7 years, and even now as Tom Fort the Builder aligns the first wood walls of new home.

It began at the Gunflint Pines Lodge.  Mugs of hot chocolate steaming upon her rustic log table, Sherry and Sheryl, our northwoods friends, pried me for details about the novel I’d been writing for half a year.  “OK, so there’s this Fence,” I finally offered reluctantly; perhaps she’d slipped something other than chocolate into my milk.  “Two Fences actually, ten feet high topped with razor wire, enclosing a narrow land, a mile wide perhaps, winding from present day Beaver Creek State Park to Pickerel Lake outside Albert Lea and beyond.  The people within live there by choice, and by a covenant, seven rules and only seven rules.”  For some reason, they stared at me, mesmerized; maybe it was the ice melting, dripping, off my beard into my mug.  “It’s just a story,” I shrugged.  “You know, adventure, murder, teenage love.  But now I get to discover, by following these characters, how truly different---and perhaps remarkably more engaging---life could be.
“What’s the title?” asked Sherry, leaping as many do to the hopeful day of publication.  I mumbled something about a working title and that publication is far, far off and who knows what the publishers will want it to be.
“The Corridor!” Sherry announced, with far greater certainty than any I’d ever felt about the title.  And I must say, I resisted a bit.  It’s my story isn’t it?  But she was right, damn it.  And though the working title has changed, each year, each rev, Sherry’s title, The Corridor, mythical though it be, has carried me and my characters (Emo, Amelan, Skye) forward, between her Fences, always toward Dego’s Village upon Pickerel Lake, each morning for the last seven years.
While The Corridor may have began as story, when Linda and I began seeking a chunk of land, some power greater than me breathed down the windpipe of The Corridor, started her heart beating.  We’d looked at some nice parcels, beautiful actually, but they were all surrounded by farms: an island of wood and grass within a sea of corn, silos and soybeans.  Then came The Land.
“It’s way too expensive!” I told Linda, trying to dim the thrill in her eyes.  Of course, she’d fallen in love even as we drove up the winding and wooded Calico Hill Rd and finally out, her heart free to roam, gallop even, like some wild horse upon the snowy fields of The Land. 

“How’s it different than the others?” I countered, my fear of financial failure rising to choke me.   I needed something a little more solid than ghost riders. 
“Look what this land borders,” she said, masterfully playing the get-what-you-want-game.  “The WWMA.”  Indeed the Whitewater Wildlife Management Area: 20 plus contiguous miles---grassy ridge tops, steep wooded hillsides, creek carved valleys----shouldering the Whitewater River from Whitewater State Park north until emptying into the wide Mississippi.   And The Land’s 62 acres, bordered by this refuge on the north and east, could become part of it, enhance it, become the quintessential prairie. 

“The Corridor!” Linda announced, sealing the deal.  “We’d have so much more impact here than on one of those islands.”  Here the wildlife could roam nearly forever.  So, too, our hearts and imagination.   The rest is history.  Now two Corridors drew me in, pulled me forward, engaged my entire being.   How many more Corridors could one man walk?
At least one.  And the third Corridor, if not the most powerful, is undoubtedly the strangest. 
Two years ago, Paul---the Locus Architecture principle that we’d hired to design our dream home on The Land---flashed his first tentative concepts up on his big screen.  To date, we’d told him nothing about what the house should actually look like.  No square footage.  No style.  No budget even.  We’d ask him to design a home not only upon the Land but upon our land-based values:  a home that breathes life into our values.  Through metaphor and Mary Oliver poems, we’d bared our souls to Paul.  “Enable the Connection,” we essentially told him.  “Design a house which enables the connection to our neighbors, our friends, The Land, and the divine, if you can.  That’s all.”   Not only did it seem impossible, but what greater risk than sharing what really, really matters?   But, in one short and defining moment, Paul made all my fears vanish.
“See here, where you enter the house,” he pointed by wiggling his Mac’s  mouse.  “The west entry flows right down a hallway where your guest’s attention is immediately drawn to, and out, the all glass east door, to the porch and The Land.”

“OK,” we nodded.  We’d seen a few things like this already.  But Paul’s hallway wasn’t just another design element.
“It’s the Corridor,” he announced.
It might have been a year later when we finally told Paul what he’d accomplished with those two words.  But that day, that moment, as my eyes met Linda’s, expressing our shared joy and wonder better than any words, The Corridor jumped off the screen and into our lives.  Again. 
So last week, when the concrete guys finished pouring the floor of new home, Linda expressed her dismay to Tom the Builder.  “Only half The Corridor is concrete.  What’s the other half?”

“Marmoleum?” he shrugged, meaning the earth-fiber laminate we’d chosen for the kitchen floor. 
While Linda’s reply was gentle and appropriate, I could see her mind sorting out the big nails prior to delivery.  “The Corridor has to be all one material,” she said, as if proclaiming an obvious life principle.  Changing from Marmoleum to concrete half-way down would halt the flow, veer your attention, disable the Connection.  I took Tom aside, and we brainstormed a way to pour concrete over the first half of the Corridor, what is now the gaping hole of basement.  “Beams, different trusses, we can do it.” Tom assured me, even if he wasn’t delighted.
So compelling is our new home’s Corridor that I sweated for three days this week---cutting, hacking, sawing, burning---creating a path through the Land’s far east hedgerow, strangled with buckthorn. 
 So on the day that you first enter our new home and are pulled down the Corridor and out into the Land, you will then see that the Corridor does not end there.  A quarter-mile away, where the prairie rolls up to the forest, you will see a little gap, a sunny opening onto a meadow beyond.  Then perhaps your feet---and heart and soul and imagination---can roam, gallop even, like wild horses down The Corridor, with me, if you please. 

And together we can wonder at the glorious mystery of Fences---real as steel or mere lines on a map---and the space between, The Corridor, compelling us toward our better selves.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Child's Eye

“To an amazingly successful weekend!” 
Melting into our cozy chairs (the only two in our little cabin) Linda and I raised our glasses---sidecars bursting with the juice of black cherries, planted by God and fresh-picked from the Land---then let sip after luscious sip send us down memory lane. 
My dear friends, Heather and Kim, had now driven away with their families;  ten in all, including their 5 children (Mackenzie, Kiley and Nolan on Kim’s side along with Riley and Ryan on Heather’s).  Before they’d arrived for their Labor Day weekend of Land camping, my biggest fear was that the kids would be bored.  “What are we supposed to do?” I feared hearing from them.  After all, there’s nothing here but the Land, just us and the bugs, berries and birds.   Together with Kim and Heather, we’d posited and planned several possibilities.  But then came the rains---one day of steady, soaking rain followed by a second, turning gullies into rivers as it shook the shed where we huddled---washing away all plans for adventure hiking, fort building and sumac-ade.  I looked into the Mackenzie’s eyes, trying to pierce her thoughts, probing for the dreaded 13 year old “can we go home now?”
Who would have thought that later, after another cherry sidecar sip, I’d ask Linda, “What was your favorite part of the weekend?” to which she’d reply, “The kids and their mud mountain!”
See, to my eyes, the rains only brought a mucky mess.  The shed, where we huddled, looked across the driveway, over the new home construction site to the mountains of excavated dirt.   
“What are we going to do with all this dirt?” I asked the excavator two weeks ago. 
“You could pay to haul it all away,” he replied.  “Or we can find some place on your land to spread it.”
And now, these waste piles were crumbling under the relentless rains.  If you wanted to create a miniature for a movie featuring a village-swallowing mudslide, you couldn’t have done better.    We adults tried to put on our best faces. 

But thanks to the genius of creation, a child’s eye sees what mine cannot.
Mackenzie, eldest of all the children, ventured forth, shovel in hand.  Barefoot, she followed the trail--- blazed earlier by the dogs, Scout and Happy---through ankle-deep muck oozing against the foundation, to the dirt piles, now converted to twelve foot high hills of mud.  Up she climbed to the very pinnacle and there stood, the proud and mud-streaked queen of the hill.  

And soon, the younger four, her loyal and inspired subjects---each first begging me for, and receiving, their own scepter (rake, cultivator, post-hole-digger)---mucked their way up to her kingdom.  Now I cannot describe to you just what it was they did there on the hill.  My eyes have apparently become blinded to the nature of such unabashed joys.  But they could still see the child’s joy itself.  What could be purer?  What could be holier? 
Riley, eldest of the boys, must have perceived my befuddlement and decided to translate their joy. 
“Do you know what Disney World is?” he asked.
“I’ve heard of it,” I shrugged.
“Well, if Disney World is a 9, then this is a 9 and a half.”
“What’s a 9 and a half?”
“Mud Mountain!”

So there it is:  Mud Mountain, a waste pile to my eyes, almost perfect to Riley’s, to the child’s eye.  I have so much yet to learn about life.   And perhaps I already know most of it.   Perhaps all I need do is learn to see again, through the eyes of little Mike.
“What was your favorite part of the weekend?” Linda asked me after more than a few black cherry sips.
I replied without hesitation, “The look on Lia’s face as she drove Little Blue.”
Lia was a guest of Kim’s at our Land camp.  Newly arrived from Spain, she taught at their kid’s Spanish immersion school.  Earlier in the day, she’d told me she could never live here (on the Land).  Too lonely.  I understood.  I really miss my Minneapolis next-door neighbors.  Later, as the sun set at the end of our long driveway, she came to understand why I’d endure such loneliness, an understanding that may well change Lia’s heart forever.
For the first time in her life, she sat upon the seat of a tractor, our Little Blue, our 48hp New Holland TC45D.  With delight (and a little fear in her eyes) she steered west toward the sunset.  Now, it wouldn’t be fair to call her a child.   After all, she just graduated from the University of Barcelona and was now a teacher.  Yet, as I stood next to her on tractor step, jostling up and down as we rumbled down the headlight-lit driveway, I recognized a thrilled twinkle in her eyes:  a lingering child’s light, unclouded by the certainties of adulthood. 
“Is it always like this here?” she asked.  She struggled to communicate what she perceived.  Not only the power coursing up through the steering wheel, but the red upon purple glory of the western sky, the vastness of the sea of grass as we rolled by, and this precious moment that she and I were sharing together. 
All I could do is nod “yes”.
Then---and I’ll never forget it as long as I live--she touches her hand to her heart and proclaims, “This is life.”  I nodded again, understanding completely.  I could see it in her eye, her child’s eye:  pure joy.  And yet we were also communicating, connecting as knowing adults, that we’d just shared something that few ever do:  a sliver of a moment in heaven, the heaven that is right here on earth, everywhere actually, but often so much easier to see and hear and feel here on the Land. 
So I want to express my gratitude, to you who yet see through a child’s eye.  From the top of Mud Mountain I shout “thank-you!”