A Gentle Whisper in Flight

Hundreds and hundreds of geese flying overhead in chevrons, lines, and groups which were morphing into other formations, lines, and multi-layered chevrons as I watched. Speechless, I saw the seemingly endless intersections of birds squawking as they flew. The cascade of thousands of honks sounded like a multitudinous chorus of squeaks so far above me.

Geese Photo by Mary Dessein

I had initially looked up upon hearing the first few and thought, “It’s early December, late for geese,” as I stood there in the parking lot on that late afternoon, getting near dusk. The black bodies of the geese in flight clearly visible against the soft grey sky. Then I saw the zillions of birds in the distance, wave after wave of them, coming from different but analogous directions to swoop together, then diverge into another chevron while still others melded into the massive movement.

Fluctuating, reforming constantly.
Captivated, I watched for at least fifteen minutes until just a few strands of birds straggled behind the swarm.

The glory of being in the right place at the right time. And taking the time.

A couple weeks later, between Snohomish and Monroe, were again thousands of geese. This time, white snow geese. They were flying, swirling like a magnificent tornado, their wings catching the pink-tinged, golden light of the late afternoon sun. The distant sound of their honking a gentle whisper that I held my breath in order to hear.
Looking for their evening settlement, their safe place. Yes, I know that search. I bet you do, too.

In the last few days of sub-zero weather, I’ve watched the calypte anna hummingbirds zip around the feeder on my porch, then land on the clothes-line, or on the near naked fuchsia branches in the hanging basket. The calypte anna is the species of hummingbird that does not migrate. It seems 12 degree weather does not slow them down any. Interestingly, hummingbirds cannot walk. Their tiny feet are made for perching.
Imagine that: flying at near lightening speed, shining like a jewel in the sun, and not being able to walk. Yet not knowing any of those things, as the hummingbirds are simply being who they are.

Being in the right place at the right time and simply being who you truly are.
My search goes on.

Emeralds in Orange

Morning shadows Photo by M Dessein
When I get out of jail, often I feel excited and exhilarated. Other times, I feel like going to find some alcohol. Oddly enough, it is not to dull the feelings I have, rather to prolong them and/or to accentuate them, like I need to expand them somehow to figure them out.
Today was some of both.

A young one, I would guess to be about fourteen, in my second class, tried to be polite and attentive, yet is something of a flibbertygibbit; engaging frequently in side-talk and who’s attention is easily pulled away. However, after I told my first story, “Spider Brings Fire,” and was starting on my next one, this young one asked about a lizard story I told at least six or seven months ago. I had to think for a minute. “Oh yeah, let me finish this one and I’ll see if I can remember enough of it to tell.”

I did finish the tale I had in progress, and was starting the next story on my set list when the young one piped in, “Remember about the lizard and the emerald story?” This was clearly important .

“Okay, here goes,” I said, “‘La Lagartija Esmeralda, The Emerald Lizard.’ About four hundred years ago, in Guatemala, a young man named Juan was walking along the road. It was clear he had been crying. Brother Pedro is walking…”
“Yeah, that’s right, Brother Pedro,” the young one says.

“Brother Pedro stops Juan and asks what’s the matter. ‘It’s my wife, she’s very sick and without the right medicine, she’ll die.’”

“Wasn’t it his mother?” the young one asks.
“No, it was his wife. So Juan says, ‘I have no money. I don’t know what to do.’ Brother Pedro says ‘I wish I had money to give you, I don’t have any either.’ Just then, a small lizard runs across the road. Brother Pedro reaches down, picks it up, holds it for a moment, then reaches out and hands it to Juan. What Juan sees in his hand is that the lizard is now an emerald lizard, una lagartija esmeralda, shining brilliantly in the sunshine. He thanks Brother Pedro profusely and runs into town to a merchant, sells it for enough to buy his wife’s medicine, food for them and some cows.

“With the medicine, Juan’s wife recovers completely. Over the years, Juan’s few cows become several, which become a herd, which eventually over the next twenty years or so, Juan becomes a successful rancher. And wealthy. One day, he goes back to the merchant and asks about la lagartija esmeralda. ‘Oh yes, I still have it,’ the merchant says, ‘but it is not for sale as it has brought me much good luck.’

“’Well, it’s brought you much today,’ Juan says, ‘as I will pay you five times what you think it’s worth.’ ‘Sold!’ says the merchant.
“By now, Brother Pedro has been retired for some time. Juan sets out to find him, and within the next weeks, he does. Brother Pedro is living out in the country very humbly in a small cottage. When Juan shows up at his home, Brother Pedro recognizes him right away. ‘Welcome, Juan. Come in.’ So over cups of tea, the two men talk and catch up on their lives. Finally, Brother Pedro asks, ‘Juan, you came all this way.’ ‘Yes, Brother Pedro, I want to thank you.’

“Juan pulls la lagartija esmeralda out of his jacket pocket and sets it on the table. It sparkles brilliantly in the sunshine. Brother Pedro smiles, ‘Yes, I remember that day, Juan.’ He picks up la lagartija, holds it a moment, then sets it on the floor. The lizard then scampers out the door.”

“Yeah…,” the young one says softly.
Another young person sitting right beside the story-requester, older and a bit more on the mature side says, “I think that story is about hope.”

Someone else asks if that really happened. “I don’t know, I wasn’t there,” I said, “but miracles can happen. The French have a saying that ‘Miracles happen to those who believe in them.’ I like to think so.”

“I think they can,” another young one says. And the discussion goes on a bit. I am silent, as these young people are thinking and talking. Whatever shadows brought them here, they are thinking and talking.

In the class prior to this one, I started on a Japanese story, ‘Ooka and the Wasted Wisdom,’ preceded by a bit about King Solomon. One of the kiddoes in that class launched into a story about how King Solomon selected which of his three sons to succeed him as king. And this was only a few minutes after this same kiddo had told me that these stories were for 5th graders! Eventually, one of their conversations swirled around to justice. Justice.

Dragonfly photo by M Dessein

Then in the last class, one of the attendees made monosyllabic, barely audible responses and a small amount of eye contact. As an older, more mature kid nearing transfer age whom I had in my classes several times earlier this year, I noted the much reduced interaction (at age 18, if there is still time to be served, the youth is transferred out of the juvenile facility to the County Jail.) There were next to zero responses or comments from this class.

Each time I am there is different. Each time brings wonder. And hope. Sometimes I am unsettled or uncertain. Each time, the kids teach me things about respect, attention, awareness, listening.

I have loved ‘The Emerald Lizard’ from the first time I read it in Pleasant DeSpain’s book of the same name. That one of the kids not only remembered it but wanted to hear it again was a delightful surprise. Really, Mary? Haven’t you said a few zillion times that every question you’ll ever have is answered in a story somewhere. That stories cross time and distance to teach us and remind us we are human, and that we each belong somewhere?

Yup, we teach what we need to learn. There appears to be no magic number until we get it, yet there is magic

Who’s Garden?

Kenney & Josette 1944
Last Thursday would have been my parents’ 74th wedding anniversary. This coming February will be my grandparents, Marguerite and Alfred’s, 96th wedding anniversary. My mother has only been gone three years; her dad, Alfred, died eighty-one years ago.

My, oh my, where is my place in time? Now, for sure. At least I like to think so. This is an abundant time in my life as I reach out to friends, new friends step into my life, my creativity has moved to the forefront of my priorities. It was a luxury before, now that I admit how quickly my earthly clock is ticking, I realize it is now or never to write that novel (and the ones in the idea pipeline), ruminate and publish these blogs, choose the gigs I want to accept, and get my next award-winning CD done!

I am learning to release the things I wish I had done: been more present for my Mom when my dad was dying, then later when she herself was dealing with a cancer. When I did not follow up with a friend, who died before I got out to visit her. Talk about my, oh my: the times I did not protect my children. My son at a young age had to do many things on his own, including as a first-grader to ride a bus to daycare with older, mean-to-little-kids kids, and later, catch the bus way early a quarter mile down the country road we lived on.

Actually, that ‘what I failed at’ list is getting pretty long, so the things I did right is the list I’m thinking about now. And even better, the above to-do list. If I had known then to be more attentive, to ask more questions, to be more compassionate… famous last words.

“Commitments that are broken are those where there is non-alignment among mind, heart, and action, when one or more of these parts are not willing to participate fully,” Angeles Arrien.

I have come close to that understanding by saying when someone, including myself, didn’t follow through, it was because they were not ‘invested’ in whatever the project or commitment was. Dr. Arrien gave me a deeper understanding of this. And my commitment to others has often taken precedence over a commitment to myself.
This path of finding my place in time interests me more all the time. This is a path most of us revisit over and over at different stages in our lives.

Alfred & Marguerite 1923

The 74 year anniversary got me thinking. I have kept so many things, linens of my great-grandparents’, paintings of my grandmother’s, and keepsakes of my mom’s that I have no specific attachment to, however I think I am obligated to keep them because of my attachment to the people who were precious to me.

Surprise! Guess who was keeping all these things before me? Bonus prize: you’re right, it was my mom.
I am coming to realize what is mine and what is not. Big light-bulb for me. The precious part of those people is within me, which I can’t lose. It seemed the cardinal sin was to forget someone. God forbid I do something I am not supposed to do. Mary always does what she is supposed to do.

Sure, I have done well at lots of those things: my boss, Marcia, thought I’d do well in Drug Court. She was right, I did great. I also was a good optician, a good receptionist, a good office manager, a good counselor and advocate. I enjoyed doing those things, and know I did my best to help others; every now and then, a voice from those times will find me. I love that. Yet, those jobs were usually someone else’s idea. Even as I bloomed like a rose, which helped me learn and develop, it now seems I had been planted in someone else’s garden. If that was my apprenticeship – I’m good with that. Where is my place now?

In my own garden – of friends, stories, music, novels, CDs, and blooming again as my true self. The richness of all those previous experiences will deepen my creativities. I am learning to say Yes or No without worrying what others will think. I am learning to take nothing others do personally (oh yeah, this is ongoing!) I am learning to listen more deeply. I am learning to release judgments (okay, this is ongoing, too.) I am learning to trust and follow my heart’s calling.

Where is my place now? I’m not sure, however, I am delighted to follow the path. You are so welcome to come along~

A Mysterious Thread

Peninsula College photo by Mary Dessein
It is the most gorgeous fall I can remember.
Now that could mean this is the only fall I can remember. It could mean I am truly amazed by the flamboyant oranges, golds, yellows, russets, ambers, corals, titians, hennas, coppers, and saffrons I see across the park in the one hundred foot tall cottonwoods and maples.

It could mean I have been so focused on going, doing, finishing, scheduling, herding, supervising, parenting, balancing, cleaning, and meeting that I did not take time to look around me. No matter how the wind blew or how high the tawny maple leaves piled up in the corners of my carport, I had tasks to complete, dawdling in wonder was not on that list.

In the fall that I started first grade, I could hardly wait for the first day of school. My mother bought me a dress. It came in a plastic bag, was folded neatly and flatly like the shirts on tables at Penney’s. She probably got it there actually. I clearly recall the pale steel blue background with little gold and dark blue pinwheel designs in an orderly pattern of rows, similar to a chain link fence. I kicked through the leaves as Mom walked me the nine blocks to Central Elementary School, delivered me to Miss Winan’s first grade classroom, then took my little sister’s hand and walked back home.

In driving southeast on I-90 through Sammamish, by Preston, over Snoqualmie Pass, alongside Keechelus Lake, and past Cle Elum a few days ago, I again thought, “This is the most gorgeous fall I can remember.”

How much have I skimmed by without taking the time to really see? Oh my, I don’t think I want to start a list. What I do want to do is start anew. Hear the Canadian geese flying over head and stop to listen to their honking.

Ritter Ridge, OR photo by Mary Dessein

See the jagged edges of ice along Camas Creek, white against the dark creek bed; watch the fuchsia leaf dangling below the hanging basket on my porch by a mysterious thread twisting in the breeze; watch a toddler pulling at the handles of a paper grocery bag and laughing in delight while she sits in the shopping cart; pull my car off to the side of the road of Ritter Ridge and gaze into the forever distance over the hills at the gathering soft pink and orange dusk; play fetch-the-stick with my grand-puppies and be in their joy, not my to-do list.

Indeed, this is the most gorgeous fall I can remember.

Fall in Love? Win a Prize?

Fog wafting in Photo by Mary Dessein
Ernest Hemingway’s letters show his vulnerability, says Sandra Spanier, a Hemingway scholar and editor of the book being produced, “The Letters of Ernest Hemingway.” His letters are “unguarded and unpolished” as he grumbles and doubts and rambles.

After four marriages, who knows how many relationships, writing at least twenty-six novels, winning Nobel and Pulitzer prizes, numerous dosey-does with Hollywood, and known for his bravado – he was vulnerable?

Reading this brought to mind a very vulnerable incident, taking unguarded to a new level for me. It was in the recording studio in early 2017, working on my CD, ‘The Black Prince ~ an Egyptian folktale,’ I was flailing about trying to record my harp and my voice on separate tracks for a fifteen second song. Attempt after attempt, re-do after re-do. I was frustrated and self-conscious. Devin, a most amazing and talented musician in his own right as well as a superlative recording engineer, watched me as I stopped with a huge angst-filled sigh. Excuses of “the harp won’t stay in tune,” “the lighting in here is wrong,” “my toe hurts,” were all used up. No pretending the problem wasn’t me. My failure was on display.

I looked at Devin, who was looking back at me, waiting. A few awkwardly long seconds passed, my voice expressed my exasperation and defeat, “How bad do I want this, Devin? I don’t know.”
“You want this. You wrote it, you can do it. Breathe.” He drew in and exhaled a long breath.

Some weeks later, in working with someone who would not admit they were wrong no matter what incontrovertible evidence was presented, it dawned on me that perhaps an issue with them was vulnerability. I used to get all wired up at meetings when that person would flat out deny something they had done. I ascribed it to their ego, having to feel like the boss, and/or always wanting to appear in control. Yet perhaps, the more accurate assessment might have been that they were unwilling or unable to be unguarded in front of others. As this possibility swirled around my head, it became a multi-layered lesson about releasing what does not belong to me, acceptance of the things I cannot change, and recognizing how I judge others without a larger view of the circumstances.

Vulnerable: susceptible to physical or emotional attack or harm; defenseless, unguarded; at risk of abuse or neglect.

There is a postulate that one reason relationships fail is due to one or both partner’s unwillingness to be vulnerable. A while back, I was dating a nice guy who told me more than once, “I’ll never get married again. People leave.” His experience had taught him that to be vulnerable emotionally and legally was too big of a risk. He definitely wanted a romance, however, one in which he could control risk and minimize pain.
Vulnerability. Safety.

In those minutes in the recording studio, there I was: weak points overshadowed the strengths; I felt completely out in the open, like driving in a car with no windshield. No curtain to pull while I corrected a clothing malfunction. It was me hitting a wall I had not foreseen and then sitting there stunned.

Devin looked at me, no sympathetic expression, no “there, there now,” he simply said, perhaps a tad stridently, “You want this. Listen to the voice track once more.”
It worked. ‘The Black Prince ~ an Egyptian folktale’ went on to win a national award.
Vulnerability. Safety. Trust.

Fascinating thing, safety, is it not? What determines it? I bet if I asked twenty people, I would get twenty different answers. And of course safety has a dark side when it keeps us from taking a risk that would help us grow. Or fall in love. Or win a prize.

Morning fog. Photo by Mary Dessein

“The start of a new project is always very scary because you will not be the writer capable of writing it until you have already written it, but you do have to do it anyway.” Words from Brandon Taylor, a young editor and staff writer.
Vulnerability. Safety. Trust. Risk.

In some meditation and hypnosis practices, fog is used as a safety visualization, a cloud of protection from the stresses of the world. It can give us a brief respite to regroup, to pick ourselves up, to remind ourselves we are trustworthy and the risk is worth it.

“Act boldly and unseen forces will come to your aid,” Dorothea Brande. Her book, “Becoming a Writer,” published in 1934, is still in print today.

Vulnerability. Safety. Trust. Risk. Do it.