The Little House & the New Hymn

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I used to joke that I had as many blogs as my mother had children, and I’ve since surpassed her, and yet a Google search comes up empty. Perhaps it’s always been too fragile a thing to share. Perhaps what I felt then is what I feel now–that and telling would be unworthy.

The incident, if that’s what it’s called, or the miracle, took place before I’d begun writing publically, and maybe that explains it, and yet I’ve scanned my journals from that time and there’s nothing there either. It’s as if it was all a dream. It would make more sense as a dream.

Source of all we hope or dread
Sheepdog, jackal, rattler, swan…

Even the verse out of which the miracle sprung was more like a dream than a song.

We hunt your face and long to trust
That your hid mouth will say again, let there be light…

I guess I’ll have to start from scratch.

A clear new day…

We lived in The Little House at the time, of that I’m sure, and the incident or miracle would have taken place sometime during the publication of James Redfield’s Celestine series but sometime after the release of James Taylor’s two-disc live cd.

My mother and I read The Celestine Prophecy together, albeit 300 miles apart. We’d begun reading the same books during the summers when I was in highschool and college–everything from the classics to historical fiction to works centered around consciousness, particularly after she entered recovery, which was just after she needed two escorts to walk down the aisle at my wedding.

I left my home at the sea permanently after the first miscarriage, settling in at the foot of the Green Mountain National Forest beside a brook in an 1800’s Cape that the landlord called, “The Little House.”

By the time the snow began to fly, I miscarried a second time.

But when we thirst in this dry night…

The winter of ‘93-94 was one of the longest, coldest, whitest winters of the twenty-five years since. There were still patches of snow on the school playground where I taught well into May.

“Why bother doing what nature will do herself?” the old-timer would say to my husband, in his thick Vermont accent, as Casey shoveled off the back porch again and again. Howard often lumbered past our backyard in his rickety jeep, living as he did behind our place, a good mile or so up in the woods, off of what I suppose was an old logging road which passed by his hunting cabin.

In the softer seasons, and sometimes in the winter (on snowshoes that we’d purchased our first Christmas in Vermont), Casey and I’d hike the road up, stopping at a little bridge under which the same brook that sat beside our house passed, a good half a mile away, deep into the woods.

Everyone loved visiting us at The Little House, all those friends and relatives we’d left behind at the shore, and we all still reminisce about it despite its family of mice traipsing across the hearth and the squirrels in the ceiling and its dirt foundation and the astounding hatching of black flies from the brook each June.

We arrived at The Little House in our twenties and by the time we’d outgrew it–7 years later–I’d lived there longer than I’d lived anywhere, and we’d become a family–with two boys–a five-year-old who called the landlords (as we still do) Uncle Lenny and Aunt Diane, and a newborn who of course doesn’t recall being born in the tiny bathroom upstairs.

I can still feel the embrace of the mountains around The Little House in Autumn , and the sound of the brook when the door to the small balcony off our bedroom was open on summer nights.

Once at dusk, I approached a deer in the field until afraid, I turned away. Once I fell to my knees in the garden during a rainstorm, overcome with a sense of release I hadn’t known possible. Once I ran up the woods road behind the house, blinded by grief, and when I arrived at the small bridge, too out of breath to cry, I found an inexplicable communion with the water and the light as if everything would always be alright.

Just before we left The Little House, we returned to the sea. My mother and I were in the middle of the most recent Celestine book which I would finish without her. I took a seat beside her bay window on that visit, my youngest, barely a month old, at my breast, as she took her last breaths.

I returned to Vermont motherless with a lease that was about to expire and a new rental not quite ready in the next town over where the first weeks of kindergarten had passed without my older son. The friends we’d made as new parents helped us pack up the home I’d lived in the longest while the world and my very self and even the new baby felt like a stranger.

We drink from hot wells poisoned with the blood of children…

It was that line, from track 15, on the first cd of the 2-disc, live collection that once reverberated through The Little House, for months or years, like a haunting.

“Are you sure you don’t have the receipt?” I asked, again and again. My husband had splurged on the collection as a birthday gift for me at a time when we couldn’t afford it.

He had tried wiping down the cd, cleaning the player, skipping past the song and returning to it, but track 15 continued to pause and repeat in the same chilling place.

We drink from hot wells poisoned with the blood of children…

“It doesn’t even sound like a James Taylor song!” I said. “I wish it wasn’t even on the cd.”

Eventually, we remembered that after Shower the People (a song which was sung at our wedding as we brought a rose to each of our mothers) came How Sweet It Is (a song which played on our recessional track) and after these two songs came the jackal and the rattler and the poison.

Once to rid the house of squirrels, Casey placed poison in the crawl space above our bedroom only to later find the blue pellets in the drawer in the tiny bathroom and under the small pillow in our son’s crib.

“Quick, stop the cd!” we’d holler to whoever was closest to the cabinet that stood at the top of the stairs on the landing.

Sometimes we’d make it just in time.

I loved that landing. I did so many firsts there. I practiced yoga and fashioned an “altar.” I read books about things that made no sense but which beckoned me still—women’s circles and journeys and talking pieces. I labored on that landing at the top of the stairs with both boys. I stood outside the guest room where we placed our son’s big-boy bed. “It’s okay,” I said. “I’m right here.”

At night, Casey and I would sit at the top of those stairs and look across at the built-in shelving that we filled with framed photographs of our extended family—his siblings and mine, grandparents and aunts and uncles, a couple nephews, our first niece. We’d lean on each other’s shoulder and talk about whatever needed talking about. Finances. New jobs. Is the house getting too small? Should we move to the town where we want Lloyd to go to kindergarten? Will he ever get to be a big brother? What if my mother has cancer?

Once I cried there by myself after I’d put the baby to bed, and when Casey arrived home to his wife weeping at the top of the stairs, I said, “I can’t remember what it was like to earn a real paycheck, a real job, a real life.”

There was a small window at the top of those stairs, small because The Little House didn’t have a full second story, so the window and its deep sill were right at floor level and seated at the top of the stairs, I could pivot and look out the window to the stonewall and our first flower garden, the big evergreen and the swing, and beyond that the brook as it arrived from the mountain in our backyard. One early morning while practicing meditation at my window sill altar, I saw a black bear lumber past.

But I was seated at the bottom of that narrow staircase when it happened. It was the only place in The Little House that was carpeted, with a sturdy woolen-white fabric. It’s only now in this telling that I realize that the carpet was reminiscent of the one on my grandmother’s stairs, just as rugged, but in light shades of green, a favorite stilling place since I was a girl.

My memory is that I was alone in The Little House that day, which would have been rarity, and my guess is that it was summertime and the front door was open so that the breeze caressed my bare shins as I sat on the bottom stair with my feet on the floor.

It was in this moment, in this place, that the Celestine book that I had been reading with my mother met track 15 of the 2-disc James Taylor collection given to me on my birthday.

Like the book instructed, I meditated on my experiences of “transcendent love” even though I barely knew what meditation or transcendence meant, and then needing someplace to direct the love gathered in a visualization at the crown of my head, I sent it up the stairs behind me, to the cabinet with the stereo, and in particular to the cd player, and specifically to disc one of the two-disc live collection, targeting track 15.

Source of all we hope or dread
Sheepdog, jackal, rattler, swan
We hunt your face and long to trust
That your hid mouth will say again, let there be light

A clear new day…

Inside this meditation of love may have been the time I knelt in the garden in the rain finally knowing in my bones that I had loved my young son well enough that even if I died now he would be okay.

But when we thirst in this dry night
We drink from hot wells poisoned with the blood of children…

What I’m certain was gathered in the folds of that meditation of love as it unfurled to the top of the stairs was my experience in the woods behind The Little House on the day that I ran sobbing up the mountain until I was out of breath, grieving for a loved one who had been betrayed, and bending over the small bridge that crossed the brook, my hands on my sides, I suddenly found myself in a transcendent communion with the water and the light

And when we strain to hear a steady homing bee
Our ears are balked by stifled moans
And howls of desolation from the throats of sisters, brothers, wild men
Clawing at the gates for bread…

I gave everything I had to that meditation, and I sent it swirling up the stairs.

Even our own feeble hands
Aim to seize the crown you wear
And work our private havoc through
The known and unknown lands of space…

When I finished the visualization, I stood up and felt certain that everything changed.

Absolute in flame beyond us
Seed and source of Dark and Day
Maker whom we beg to be
Our mother father comrade mate…

And still, when I climbed the stairs and pushed play, I expected to hear what I had always heard, the haunting stutter of pain.

Til our few atoms blow to dust
Or form again in wiser lives
Or find your face and hear our name
In your calm voice the end of night…

Even after I’d heard the New Hymn play all the way through more times than I’d heard it skip and sputter, each time was a surprise. Even now, when I think of it, I feel the echo of the haunting in my bones.

If dark may end…

On the early September morning at the sea, my husband turned 35, and my mother took her last breaths, as my youngest nursed at my breast. That summer had been the hardest, rainiest, darkest ever  of our years in The Little House, and I didn’t mind because that was how I felt inside.

Wellspring gold of Dark and day…

In the intertwining of their two lives, my mother’s and my son’s, I understood that there was no way to avoid loss or heartache or brokenness, there was only the avoidance of bliss.

Be here, be Now.

~

(quoted lyrics from James Taylor, New Hymn)

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Prescription: the Feminine

cropped-mother-earth-midwifery221 years ago, my new doctor prescribed a summer off to get in touch with my “feminine side.”

I had no idea what that meant, but I was desperate enough to step outside my own understanding.

In misery.

Later she suggested that I take a break from full-time work.

I tried that too.

And still, I did not get pregnant.

What I did get was community: A town called Marlboro. My first pair of Birkenstocks. A taste for hummus. An invitation to a women’s circle. A practice called yoga. An inkling to garden. A return to the slower cycles of nature.

By the New Year, I missed my period; and by the last day of summer school, I was ready to deliver.

What came through me was a boy. Two of them. Five years apart.

What came to me was the reclamation of the feminine:

in softer ways of knowing.

in a gentler orientation toward my days.

in the fierce clarity that comes from inside.

in the strong tide that washes away that which is no longer needed.

20 years later, I’m still discovering Her.

In me.

Around me.

Beside me.

In ALL things.

(note: just as I prepare to publish this piece, a spider drops down in front of my face)