the older I get, the i’m drawn to the dark and shady places…
photos: Kelly Salasin, Summer 2016
the older I get, the i’m drawn to the dark and shady places…
photos: Kelly Salasin, Summer 2016
An offering for the Autumnal Equinox…
There were 20 minutes when no one was there.
Not on the beach.
Not in the water.
Not across the pond.
But I didn’t know there were 20 minutes then.
I strip down in an instant
and dive into the water
and daringly continue out
toward our town
the altar of summer
And lift myself onto the dock
and lie there
under the sun,
one middle-aged breast
deflating to each side
No virgin offering
to this lasting day of summer
And before I hear a car door slam
or the crunch of a stick underfoot,
I slip off the dock
into these September waters
and swim back to the shore
and wrap myself in a towel
and let the sun kiss my face
and turn to commune with the stillness
Just as a loon appears
out of the ripples I left behind
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I love reading that friends are taking Facebook sabbaticals. Their choice reminds me of mine in June, and reminds me of the choice in everything, and the spaciousness too.
without acting on it
enlarges our freedom
We came to Vermont for the clean air, the heightened perspective, the depth of thought and consciousness.
We gave up cable long before we arrived.
Once here, in a town without a traffic light, we learned to live with even less distraction. To embrace silence. Early nights. Slow reads. Pillow talk. Sleep.
Then came the internet.
The web expanded our horizons, enriched our conversations, increased our opportunity, and fractured our attention.
The single screen in the den was replaced by individual screens, of all sizes, in each pair of hands, in every room, at every hour, on workdays and weekends and holidays.
Family time, once incidental, now needed to be scheduled and rescheduled and relinquished in favor of independent pleasures. Moments passing and glancing at each others screens. Morning spaciousness obsolete. Bedtimes later. Pillow…
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I know many an artist (and other women folk) who rise in the wee hours to their craft when they can’t sleep, but not me. The last time I got up from bed to write was on the eve of my 50th birthday, almost three years ago; and now tonight, with the Harvest Moon lighting up the house, and rising inexplicably in me–memories of Steamboat Springs, 1986, when I taught preschoolers to ski.
I looked good on paper, and passed my PT exam with flying colors (because of my meaty thighs), but during the slope side ski school team screening, I took a tumble, so unaccustomed was I to deep powder after years of riding the rocks back east, even though I learned to ski in the Rockies, more than a decade earlier, when binders had cables, and Copper Mountain was a new thing.
Good things come.
That tumble didn’t cost me the position, but it did place me with the bottom group of students through much of that winter.
Each morning, with my education degree and high honors, I’d carefully place those rugrats on the rug in the snow at the bottom of the hill, and soon enough, one would fall, and take down the others, and mittens would come off, and someone would need to pee, and someone wanted his mama, and everyone would cry, including me.
Eventually, after the New Year, I moved up to level B, every once and awhile. To the rope tow.
Do I need to say more than: rope tow? Remember leather mittens?
I’d place a kid between my meaty thighs and let the rope yank us onto the track and up the hill, and hope that his skis didn’t cross mine and that we didn’t tumble before we made it to the top where we’d just as awkwardly let go of the rope and then hop out of the way before it knocked us over, and then we’d ski, together, like a kangaroo and her joey, down the tiny slope to the pile of whining kids on the rug waiting their turn.
Good things come.
At the tail end of winter, a boy from Texas, who had never seen snow before, liked my class so much, that his parents requested a private–not with a specialist, but with me.
This little four-year old Texan and I spent the day skiing all over the mountain. Like free. We even ate lunch on top of the mountain, in the grown up cafe, a table for two, instead of down bottom, on the cafeteria tables, with snotty-nosed kids and rubbery grilled cheese sandwiches. (I used to eat three of those after skiing with kids between my knees all morning.)
By the end of the week, that boy, who had never seen snow, skied better than me. That’s the way it was with those little fuss pots, once they got over missing their moms and loosing their mittens and needing to pee.
Good things come.
Each morning, I’d roll out of bed, take some Ibuprofen for my hangover, pull on my turtle neck and my ski bibs, and walk down the mountain from the condo that I shared with 4 other beach friends, including the twenty-one year old college drop out who followed me west, and who is still sleeping in my bed tonight.
“Don’t go,” he says, as my rising stirs him from sleep. “Let’s have sex instead.”
Back in the day, in between my day job on the mountain and my night job in the restaurant, I’d skip dinner just to make love, but now this Pisces moon is stirring memories in me so I leave my old lover in our bed and head down the stairs to the moonlight on the floor of the livingroom.
Good things come.
Just before I’d report to the ski school, I stop at the vending machine in the hallway for my breakfast–a Cherry Cola (for the fruit), and a pack of peanut butter sandwich crackers (for the nuts.) Then I’d check in at the front desk to get my slip for the day.
There would be a list of names on that little green sheet of paper–up to 9–and the letter A, for the rugrats; or B for the rope tow kids; and always more names than you wanted to see on one slip; but one day, unexpectedly, come spring, it said neither A or B; in fact, that day and every day after that, as the sun grew stronger, and the days grew warmer, there would only be a few names on my list–maybe 3, or 4 or 5, but no more, and always the same letter: C. Sometimes C-1 or C-2, but then later, C-3 and 4s.
Every day in March was sun glasses and mountaintop views and having so much fun that we forgot about parents and who needed mittens as we inched our way from the lift to a beginner or intermediate or expert run, hollering in song… “Walk like an Egyptian.”
Good things come.
Later, my boss told me that the administration was so impressed with my positive attitude all winter (meaning I hadn’t grumbled like the rest of them when I was handed sheet after sheet with the letter A or B) that they thought I deserved to coast out the season with C’s.
Good things come.
I’ve been having this week and particularly today–that good things were coming, even though it was one of my hardest days, with the full moon accentuating all of life’s blessings and challenges.
There’s something promising in this autumn air along with the renewed prana.
The moon has shifted across the sky, and my livingroom is now dark instead of filled with light, and moths keep crashing into my screen.
Good things come.
I’m ready to coast.
There is a fourth body in the house, with its own nocturnal habits, which leads me to question, at 4 am, the decision to select latch handles instead of boring door knobs all those years ago.
Twenty minutes later, in the dark, I spoke aloud:
“The basil. Did you cover it?”
We had been covering the basil, just in case, every night, this entire month, ever since nightfall began forcing sweatshirts after dinner at the pond.
Just yesterday, I ripped a few pieces for my lunch, thinking how tender the leaves were and how I must get to making more pesto before the frost.
Instead, I went to the pond, and swam nude toward the sparkling sun, and afterward spread my tarot cards on a blanket for an Equinox draw.
The month had been so unusually pleasant that I’d missed my annual nude swim to the dock because the heat had populated the pond even after the children went back to school.
Now the dock is beached so it’s not the same as lying naked in the middle of a mountain range in the middle of the water in the middle of your life, and besides the pond is populated today too.
I did take a moment in the heat, bare breasted, beside the water, before wrapping my wet body in a towel, on this first afternoon of Autumn.
But it’s not just the basil and the summer. My youngest got his drivers permit yesterday. In fact, he showed up at the pond and put it in my face.
At 5 am, I consider that 15 is the Autumn of youth.
Pushing backward, I attempt to protect their frail bodies. ‘You’re killing them!’ I scream…
(I first read this piece on a contest site called FieldReport. Over the years I’ve looked for it, but the site vanished and I could never find the author and his work anywhere else online. Fortunately, my husband had a cut and paste copy that I sent him all those years ago, so that when I heard of the deaths in Mecca, I could read this piece again and share it with you, and slip into the mystery that is humanity and devotion and art…)
The Dust in God’s Eye
Midnight. The moon is full overhead, a flat white disk in an onyx void rising above the maelstrom. A swirling sea of potential accretes into patterns of motion, congeals into protoplasmic organization, dissolves into a sound, an all-consuming idea, a single word that cannot be grasped by intellect.
My teacher, Yassir, told me the Arabic word qutbmeans “axis,” the spiritual center, the point upon which the whole world and all the dervishes spin in perfect tranquility. Not so much a place, he explained, as a state of mind. Fixing my attention on the black Cube, the meteorite set like a great jewel into its Eastern corner—Hajar al-Aswad—is just visible above the newly shaven heads of a hundred thousand ecstatic hajjis spinning around the tranquil eye of the cyclone.
Finally, I understand what Yassir was talking about.
Toeing the line of dark marble that cuts diagonally across the plaza to al-Ka’bah, I salute the meteorite in its silver setting and prepare for tawwaf al’wadah—my farewell circumambulation of Al-Llâh’s house in Makkah—neither spelled or pronounced “Mecca” by any Muslim worth his prayer rug.
Slipping into the interstices between sweating pilgrims, I’m drawn in toward the Cube’s magnetic vortex. By the time I’ve completed the fifth circuit, I’m only twenty feet from the structure, close enough now to see the details of its kiswah,the elegant black-on-black verses from Al-Qur’ân embroidered into the finely woven veil, gently undulating in a breeze generated by heat rising from the whirling bodies beneath its hem. Al-Ka’bah beckons me closer, invites me to reach out my hand and touch its silken veil.
Rounding the horseshoe enclosure called Hijr Isma’il, I look up to see a golden rainspout jutting from the northwestern rooftop of the Cube. As that thunderstorm blew across the Plain of ‘Arafat several days ago, hajjis danced beneath the deluge of water pouring from this spout, baptized in a fountain of bliss. It was the first time in 25 years that rain fell during Hajj. A sign from heaven, everyone said.
Extruded through the transient gaps between bodies, I suddenly find myself pressed up against the cool, sloping foundation of al-Ka’bah. Enormous brass mooring rings are fitted into the stone, and through their holes, a rope—at least ten inches in diameter—is threaded around the perimeter beneath the roughly chiseled granite blocks. Hajjis are perched like circus performers on the rope’s slick hemp, hugging the wall beneath the kiswah, adoring the structure as if it were the very source of life. Laying my palms flat against the wall, I run my fingertips over the strips of yellow-beige marble that appeared from a distance to be golden mortar. The construction is impeccable, every detail crafted with love, every stitch on the veil’s surface inserted with a prayer for perfection—art elevated to the level of worship.
Within ten feet of the meteorite, determination builds to frenzy, an excruciating crush of flesh against flesh. I’m barely able to breathe as a human tidal wave breaks against my chest. At the corner of the Cube, where the silver bezel protrudes from the granite foundation, an eddy of pilgrims washes back against the flow, pressing in all directions at once. But I hold my ground, keep my sites fixed on the glittering silver “eye” into which Hajar al-Aswad is set like a black diamond.
Two feet now—so close—almost within an arm’s length. But there is an old Tajik hugging the silver eye for dear life, his head inserted into the orifice as if he would die of grief were his gnarly fingers to be pried loose. A dozen hajjis are tugging at him, pushing against his brittle, brown body, but he remains rigid, intransigent, obsessed. Watching the old man, feeling his agony as if it were my own, I lose focus, feel myself being ripped away from the wall. The “Nigerian Wedge” thrusts into the gap—a well-practiced, fluidly incisive team of glistening black bodies—shears through the dense pack of pilgrims, finding space where space had not existed a moment earlier. An unstoppable force of nature.
And I scream like one of those absurd cinematic slow-mo sequences where the hero can’t reach the bomb in time—”Nooooo!”—but cannot even hear my own plea above the synchronized chanting of the Nigerians. A human riptide spits me into the eddy beyond the stone and carries me like a helpless shard of driftwood out to sea. I glance up to the soldier on duty above Hajar al-Aswad, clinging for dear life to his leather lanyard, watching indifferently as the old Tajik is brutally slammed backward and sucked into the maelstrom.
But it’s as if some magnetic field draws me back into al-Ka’bah’s shadow, close in beneath its great golden door. Hajjis climb on the ledge beneath to touch its sublime surface, grope upward toward its embossed medallions as if it were Heaven’s own gate. Squeezed against the horseshoe curve of Hijr Isma’il once again, I’m shunted along on the current, beneath mirrored sunglasses masking the watchful eyes of Sa’udi guards. A Turk who has fainted from exhaustion is lifted onto the low wall out of harm’s way by his fellow pilgrims, given water from the Zamzam well beneath the plaza by a soldier in black beret. Rounding the Yamani corner and flattened against the Ka’bah’s eastern wall, I glance upward at a line of pilgrims balancing tentatively on the thick rope skirting its foundation. A Sudanese man smiles blissfully down at me, touches his brown hand to the silken kiswah and then places it on my sodden head like a blessing, a sanction of renewal—a green light.
Six feet to go…four feet…two…Twenty minutes pass in agony; nothing moves. There is only pressure, only an unrelenting equilibrium. A crush of Iraqis men, wearing orange caps and vests, slams in from the south attempting to break through the crowd. Right in front of me, two tiny Bosnian women in delicate whitehijab and lacey decorative bands across their furrowed foreheads are smashed between my chest and the silver eye of Hajar al-Aswad. Pushing backward, I attempt to protect their frail bodies from the onslaught, but all I can do is watch helplessly as their little mouths gasp like drowning birds, their pleas swallowed by the ubiquitous sonic violence. “You’re killing them!” I scream for mercy, but no one cares or hears. Yassir’s face flashes across my overloaded synapses, his fatalistic explanation echoing through my inner ear.
This is Hajj, Tâ-Hâ.
There is no choice but to surrender to the eye of the storm, let go any hope of control. And suddenly—miraculously—the little Bosnian women reach the silver cradle and kiss the black meteorite within like a baby. And then they disappear, swept into waves of groping arms and contorted faces as my fingers wraps around the stone’s silver eyelid, cool to the touch. Other hands try to pry me loose, but that is impossible. No one but Al-Llâh can move me now.
Inches away… all my strength is focused singularly on the point where the metal flange blends seamlessly into the surface of the black meteorite. I can see it clearly now—the stone that fell from heaven—irregular chunks of taupe and flecks of silver glittering in the synthetic halogen sunlight, suspended in a charcoal matrix torn from the recesses of deep space by the same irresistible forces that have drawn me here. The metacarpal joints of my left hand extend beyond their previous range until I feel the smooth irregular surface beneath my fingertips.
And then I slip into the gap, that space between each thought—the still center of the universe—and find myself staring directly into the tranquil qutb, which whispers its secret into my surrendered heart.
Tâ-Hâ, look around you—all these specks of dust, turning and spinning and going nowhere at all. Do you see yourself? But wait! Who is looking? Ah, it isyou—here at the very center of everything—the answer to all your own questions.
Moments before I’m swept back into the vortex, my teacher’s face appears, his smile as bright as the sunrise. And with that light comes the answer I’ve been seeking all my life.
So I scream it at the top of my lungs to every breathless pilgrim scrambling for blessings in the great Haram of Makkah. I scream it to the black meteorite in its silver setting, to the white moon in its boundless heaven, to the One who constantly creates and moves it all. I scream it in laughter and in tears, with a clarity I’ve never felt before. I scream it to everyone who ever doubted me, everyone who thought me a pretender. I scream it to the teacher who saw through my hubris and ignorance, through the dust that clouded my vision until right now.
And mostly, I scream it to myself—so I will never forget. Because, even if only for this fleeting moment of eternity, I know what saints and sages discovered at the end of their long dark nights, what heroes and heretics came to know at the end of all their exploring.
The Truth that shines eternally beneath the dust in God’s eye.
(The Dust in God’s Eye, Thomas Joyce)
Do they always go together?
I’m new at this. Not new at experiencing them. But new at knowing I’m experiencing them.
It’s not only that I didn’t have names for my feelings when I was younger,
but that I didn’t fully feel them.
Until I had no choice.
Earlier this week, I found myself humming and singing what has become my tell-tale sad song (it knows I’m feeling sad before I do):
I learned the truth at 17,
that love was meant for beauty queens,
and pretty girls with clear-skinned smiles,
who married young and then retired.
And those of us with ravaged faces…
Oddly enough, I was one of those clear-skinned, pretty girls.
But still, this song comes to me more and more as I age, to the point where my youngest, at 15, hears it playing on YouTube for the first time and says: “I like the original better,” not realizing that he’s only ever heard it sung by me.
This is Janis Ian, I say. It’s her song.
I’m relieved when I Google her and find that she’s still alive: and 64, happily through menopause no doubt, even winning a Grammy in 2013!
Mid-life women inspire me. They are such warriors. So full-hearted.
This morning I wake with a crushing weight on my chest. (Well, maybe not crushing. But pressing.)
I’m unable to take a full breath. (I taught yoga yesterday.)
When I consider the day ahead, even the smallest part of the day ahead, I feel immobilized. (It’s a relatively straightforward day.)
I’m expecting my period. And menopause. (Soon, please.)
I stay put and feel into the sensations of weight and panic until they soften enough. I take a shower, pack my work things–while scaling the items shouting for my attention around the house–and I drive away.
I feel lighter.
Until I enter our Co-op grocery store. I decide not to shop first as planned, but instead take a seat in the corner of the cafe and get to work. I always feel good when I work. Almost always. It’s how I’ve kept ahead of anxiety and depression throughout my life, though I never knew that then. I thought I loved work. Until someone said these words:
What you love brings you balance.
Work never brought me balance. It brought me 100-hour work weeks at 20. And teacher burn-out by 30. So I decided to stay home. For two decades.
That didn’t fare well either. I found at-home-motherhood excruciatingly boring. Diapers, dishes, routines. Sitting down on the floor with the kids was the worst. I couldn’t still myself into their worlds. I thought it was play that I resisted, but now I realize that it was me. Without complexity to consume my mind, anxiety devoured me.
I had a window into those years when I went shopping with my son earlier this week. I noticed that if I kept my focus on items that engaged me, say the household aisle of TJ Maxx, then I could keep the anxiety at bay. But if he wanted to talk to me, or worse yet, show me something, particularly something that held no interest for me, my anxiety magnified.
I wonder when it all started.
Is it genetic?
I remember a high fever at the age of 4 and the way the world grew too large and then too small and far away for me to handle.
I remember a fire at the age of 9–the one that took the lives of an entire family except for the boy who went to my school–and how I trembled with that news all night long.
I remember my arm in a sling at age 11, broken on the ice–the result of a mind game that I played often that year–counting down how quickly I could get from place to place–before I blew up.
That would have been sixth grade,
the first year of my mother’s alcoholism,
the year that my father poured the bottles down the sink,
and said, “You have to watch your mother. She’s sick.”
My breath catches on this memory.
The weight on my chest returns.
I see this young girl, and go to her.
I rub her heart, and lift the weight from it.
I’m here, I say.
I’ll watch your mother.
You go play.