Swathed

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The world is swathed in dirty white. Smoky season. We pray for wind, or even better, rain. My eyes sting, and not only because of smoke. I miss seeing the world, seeing color, seeing the blue of the sky.

It will come back. I remind myself.

I remind myself that I longed to be in a place for all of its seasons, back when I was only in Goa for six months in each year, moving from place to place.

Beauty is a kind of food to me, and not just conventional beauty. Rusty tin siding in many colors is just as edible. But without being able to see, I am at a loss.

So I listen. The birds are active, first thing in the morning. I have always loved that about this house. The forest flies to us, despite the buildings all around. This morning I hear a koel, magpie robins, bulbuls, a crow (which is rare, maybe it is a mynah masquerading as a crow), spotted doves, mynahs, and the nearby roosters.

*

There were lumps on a pan in the oven, a couple of weeks back. I took note, wondered at them, left them. Sometimes I think about this lack of control over my kitchen and wonder if it is odd. Someone is always making something, and it could be food, or it could be an experiment.

“It’s fun for the kids but it must be difficult for you,” a friend remarked the other day, when she found the pulp from the oranges Isaac had been juicing. 

No, actually. I like it. It is interesting. Curious. And then they make delicious things for me to eat. They have to clean up after themselves… though they sometimes forget, and then I have to call for them and make them do it.

Maybe it helps that the kitchen is outdoors, already sort of half play place.

It definitely helps that I have help from a cleaning lady.

Anyway, there were lumps in the oven, slowly cooking, over days.

“What are these?” Kenya asked me.

“I have no idea,” I said. “Some kind of Leafy thing I guess.”

She laughed. “Did I tell you what he was doing the other day? I came in and he was scraping and boiling mango skins. I asked what he was making, and he said, ‘I’m trying to find an alternative to paper. I figure we can save a lot of money if we use mango skins.’”

“Did it work?” I asked.

“No, it just smudged when he tried to write on them.”

Just then, Leafy came into the kitchen.

“Did you see my bioplastic?” he asked, pointing at the lumps in the oven. “I’m making it from milk protein. But I accidentally mixed up fahrenheit and celcius, so they got a bit too brown.”

Interesting. Curious.

*

Chinua is still away in India. We are more than ready for him to come back. This kind of longing feels good in a way, though. Pieces that will be put right when they come back together.

I hope the wind comes, and drives off all the smoke. I hope the sky comes through again. I hope the rain comes and waters the earth. I hope I can truly see and feel the belovedness of myself and every person I meet.  

***

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Lessons, then and now.

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I love koels. They’re not so much to look at, just a non-descript medium sized black bird, but their calls do something to my soul. They remind me of our first days in the jungle house in Goa, sitting on the porch, listening to the new strange sounds all around me, and the night that is never quiet. For a time, there, I thought I would die of homesickness. But I didn’t die, and I have found a sort of home in the world.

But back then, with all my little children, so cute and sticky, I studied the hard lesson of finding a home in myself. This is a lesson that continued, even now, with all the teenagers. With the terse language and independence, with the support of tall people. How to make a meal, offer something, perhaps be rejected, and then come back home to dwell inside my own house, my skin and bones and muscles. 

Not that my kids reject me. They’re the kindest people I know. It’s the shifting landscape of need that I find tricky. They need me in different ways. And I see the gaps in their experience, the ways we have not been all they need, and I can only pray that grace fills all the holes.

It’s no use to wish yourself different. I think the Internet is bad for this. A few hours on Facebook can have you wondering why you are the way you are, why life seems so effortless for everyone else. It has you second-guessing yourself as a parent, friend, human being. Other people seem to relax more, be less introverted, less intense. 

Come back to yourself. Sit easily here, you are made as you are, and you are allowed to be that particular bird, with your own call, sitting in your own tree. No one is as easy as you may perceive. We all wonder how to make our mouths do the right thing sometimes. (Is this a smile? Or am I grimacing again. Which words are meant to come out next?) 

God comes home to himself on a day of rest. He creates and then sits and regards his work. He makes a way for us to be at home in ourselves. At rest in creation, walking the woods, listening to birds, marveling at the veins under our skin.

***

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Under the mango trees.

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It’s been a while. A few days ago I came out of the wild. Well, not exactly the wild, I guess. But a wildish sort of place. 

I volunteered at a Japanese music festival up here in Northern Thailand and it was such an interesting, rich experience. Sleeping in a mango orchard for nearly three weeks, looking at the stars at night, watching the sun rise.

I was with Kenya and our friends Tayna and Aya and spent a lot of time with them, especially for the first nine days, before the festival started. I was on a deco team with lovely Chinese and Japanese artists. We made a lot of signs, all translated into Thai, Japanese, and English. “We need a sign, three languages,” is a phrase I used a lot. I painted live and organized other live painters. 

I watched my husband play music. I sat behind our bhajan band on the main stage and sang in the response to our Jesus bhajans. 

Our car got dustier and dustier.

I learned how to say “good morning,” in Japanese.

I guided a meditation in a campsite, attended one, and kept the kids quiet for a couple.

I studied and wrote papers in a teak forest.

I went to the hot springs almost every day.

It was a busy time, full of wildness, adjustment, and lots of activity. But I came out feeling ready for the next season, and somewhat like I hit a reset button. 

Chinua leaves tomorrow for India. The kids and I will stay back, do school, and make art and writing. Tumble around, deal with smoky season, cook, water the garden, and swim. I’ll write my final research paper of the quarter. We’ll try to be creative and loving and patient, even as the days grow hotter and drier.

Dear Leafy, (to my 13-year-old son)

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Dear Leafy,

When you have this expression on your face, we know the next thing that comes out of your mouth is going to be good.

Is the world ready for you?

You’re thirteen. (A sixteen-year-old, fourteen-year-old, and thirteen-year-old is a lot of teens.) 

Your hands, feet, and shoulders are bigger than any I have seen on a kid your age. I’m calling it: 6’5”. Let’s see if I’m correct. I’ve been taking a lot of photos and video of you. I want to capture you before you change. 

Here you are in this magical moment, living on the line between boy and man. You’ve traveled well this last year, blooming and exploding into confidence. You have a natural, lovely way of looking at the world, as if you expect it to offer you good things. And it does. It offers you humor, light, invention ideas, and new flavor combinations.

You love: creating food, seeing how things mix together, one-liners, Stephen Universe, singing and playing ukelele with Kenya, baking hard-tack or frying biscuits, and your family. You don’t love bees or being unsafe. You may be the one on the ground, telling the others to come out of the tree. You love justice. You hate injustice and you always have. 

We have some moon clay or something like that, that someone gave you for your birthday, and you brought it to me and said, “Look, Mom! It has almost no tensile strength but incredible compressive strength.” You love Science. You still walk in circles when you think. You don’t love it when someone interrupts your thought process. (Especially a younger sibling.) 

Also, you are hilarious. You always, always make us laugh, and your timing is amazing.

You’re just the most incredible kid. I really love you, Leafy. Life would be boring without you.

Love,

Mama

***

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Mary Oliver :: 1935-2019

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When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

*

Thank you beautiful poet. Your words have nourished us.