Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Homeward Bound

With my son and two Oregon daughters, we set out on our last morning to compact as many of the varied landscapes and cultures of this large state as we could into a few hours. The day was gray and mild, but our spirits could not be dampened and the views were enhanced by the rapid hide and seek of sunshine and mists.

The first stop was Multnomah Falls, tourist destination of busloads and perfect post cards at the gift shop. It is the most spectacular sight along the way, cascading straight downwards, with access so easy we could walk and talk, waking up to the beauty around and in each of us.

So suddenly as we were in deep forests and plummeting crags of cliffs along the wide Columbia River, the trees dried up and disappeared and the steep walls of the Gorge were bare and shapely, imposing. My son’s camera clicked incessantly and his utterances awed by this landscape completely unimaginable to the Easterner.

We drove an hour east into the high country, canyons opening north and South away from the River. Just to say he set foot in the state, we crossed over to Washington and drove up the side of a mountain to a plateau, getting out at a monument imitating Stonehenge to walk some more and drink in the air, the apple orchards and river stretched out below us, giant wind turbines on the ridges above.

Back in Oregon, we drove south from the river base at 1000 feet to the plateau at 5000’ where the land rolls on forever, like a quilt on a bed, barren of trees but rich in wheat and alfalfa, miles between farms. Scrubs and tumbleweed, then dipping into a deep canyon. No cars, no people, few beef cattle, broken and rotting barns abandoned, tiny windmill pumps in the middle of nowhere, spinning in the dry wind. Miles and miles of fence that finally gave the context to my son of the joke about the Vermont farmer who listens to the Oregonian describe the several days it takes to circumnavigate his property, and the uncomprehending Vermonter answers that he once had a truck as slow as that.

A little sign was the only warning for our descent off the plateau four short miles down into the Deschutes River Valley. Two small lanes bending around outcrops and no guard rail over the 1000 foot precipice, we wound our way down, exclaiming around the dramatic turns and drop, and relieved to reach the bottom where we found Native American fishing platforms hanging over the rushing river.

Now moving westward again, the scrub grew into scraggly trees and on into straight, regally red Ponderosa pines, nearing the Cascades and the more fertile wetlands that grew out of the volcanic ash. We climbed higher once again into the massive mountains and deep forests, tribal lands, up onto the side of Mt. Hood, temperature dropping as we gained altitude, rose above the tree line, overcast skies beginning to spit.

Timberline Lodge had been a special place for my Oregon family, the magnificent structure built by the CCC of Roosevelt’s New Deal, a work of art that had hosted birthday and anniversary dinners for us, housed us while I wrote an article for Skiing magazine. In the Day Lodge, there were chairs with each of our names, and a photographic mural with our pictures. My daughters had learned to ski here.

The meal we had on this waning afternoon, including my son, was punctuation that a new chapter had begun in our lives, one of openness, joy, celebration and sharing; a father with his children, confident in our love and so very proud of the paths we are each currently on.

As I fly away today, fondling the piece of Italian marble picked up off the driveway/studio of the first and dearest friend I met arriving in Oregon so very long ago, the links with past, present and future seem so profound, yet difficult to articulate. I tried to come with heart wide open for adventure and insight, but without preconception or expectations. My work feels so poised on the verge of ecstatic satisfaction, opportunities abundant and exhilarating, yet so much of the stories and vistas here focused on an obscure and distant past: a fire and the death of an artist I had only known for six months.

Yet this intensive look at the past is really no surprise to me, who had glossed over the emotional losses of those events, being so swept up in the immediate repercussions of suddenly having a ready-made family to care for. This new energy of mine, so closely resembling the dreams and aspirations of the young naïve kid who first wandered onto the side of Neahkahnie Mountain, to release the constraints properly and move forward once more, this journey backwards had to be completed. Matured by these many years of hardships and ecstasies, sobered by the lessons of being side-tracked and distracted, it seems vital to sort through and discover what is worth keeping and what should be left behind.

That the Mountain holds a sacred and inspirational energy for me is undeniable, that a wealth of friendships are intact despite so much time is comforting, that I could be so freely and openly with my son and daughters is magnificent, but I do not feel urged to pack up and move out here. Rather, it seems more likely that dreams that regularly assailed me in my sleep over these many years may actually become a lifestyle in reality. Represented in the mode of a construction business which is all I could envision at the time, I dreamt that I settled from coast to coast regularly, a job lining up on one as another finished on the other, calling each place home and joyfully rediscovering the benefits of each periodically.

Lane and Tom’s acre serves as a magnificent retreat, her little T-house, “the Womb” , a place to linger and meditate, a place of rejuvenation as I have used it this week. Perhaps this change of focus from construction to writing and music will allow this, bring an impossible dream into fruition. In the meantime, I fondle my little piece of white marble chipped from one of my artist friend’s evolving sculptures, the jagged edges already smoothing from my finger’s caresses as it hides in my pocket and reminds me of the grounded inspiration I received this week in the Nehalem Valley, my place of peace.
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Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Whale Within

This last morning of our visit to the Coast, as grey settles out of darkness, I sit in the hot tub, a light drizzle--more like a mist--floating down. My eyes roam the ocean surface, vast and calm so far today, waves rolling in roars of long straight lines along the shore.

Having concentrated so hard for so many years on this vision of whale spouts and flukes as representative of my return, I realize this is my last chance. From the top of Neahkahnie yesterday, my son glimpsed one while I was turned away, the excitement in his voice allaying any doubt, but any possible sighting of mine has been vague and unconfirmed.

Likewise, I know eagles soar overhead, their white crown stunning against the backdrops of sea and mountain. Later, on a walk alone along the beach, my son also was privileged yesterday to see that beauty clearly, while this morning I have heard the unmistakable screech, but seen nothing but gulls.

The mighty Sitka Spruce, four to six feet thick and 200 feet tall, branches akimbo and floating against a century of stiff winter gales, surround me, eternal sentries on the mountainside. The ocean roar as steady as invisible cars on a nearby highway, but so much more dense with spirit, accompanies the stillness of the awakening day.

Each morning here at this predawn hour, I have opened my eyes to the beat of my heart racing so swiftly, nearly painful with the ache of joy and inspiration. Ambivalence and doubt about my determination to write this story are erased with a certainty profound and indisputable, as clear as the eagle's cry, yet I reach for no pad or pen, but lie still, absorbing the silence. the stars above companions whispering their message.

Words are flowing plentifully in this environment, more in my mind than on this page, but flowing with a spirit unstoppable. They come not from me, but through me; the danger, in fact, being that my ego gets in the way, interrupts the deluge by too much effort to twist, manipulate or censor the naked beauty of pure thoughts.

Intuition is easy to trust here on this mountain, in this home where Lane and Tom have spent three decades opening the portals. Shrines natural and human, discovered serendipitously and placed ceremoniously, ground the energy safely even as we learn, experience by experience, our purpose is to allow our spirits to soar. The creation of a community of like-minded souls who feel drawn to this power has been intended, substantial and amorphous, continually evolving around those who come, go and stay. Like rappelling over a cliff, one who dares becomes giddy with trust, playful amongst the awesome sobering reality of such an immense and cohesive Universe.

True to her nature to stimulate and challenge, Lane invited me to pull Tarot cards around certain issues at the forefront of my journey. Surrounding one, in particular, the major card was "Strength", an image of a woman peacefully closing the jaws of a lion. The interpretation speaks of taming the wild spirit with an internal assurance that can allow the passions to flourish, feminine natural instincts, intuition and emotion releasing the passion to move forward with courage and strength, undertaking great risk with inner calm.

On each of these mornings, I have lain awake, intrigued and inspired, empowered and rejuvenated, determined to listen better with my heart and less with my mind. Trust with complete faith that our basic goodness will overcome hardships, love surmount fears, patient intuition over power manipulations. These attributes of spirit are so difficult to hold centered in our beings in this busy world, but resound so clearly when we allow ourselves to let go and float among the whales.

On this trip, I do not have to see them actually; it is a lesson more valuable to be reminded that the true leviathan lives always within.

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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Fire Mountain

As we approached the coast, the tone in our voices amplified the excitement for my daughter and I. My son absorbed the foreign landscape with interest growing towards awe, his camera shutter clicking rhythmically.

Rounding the bend, I recognized the spot a half second before actually seeing the ocean for the first time, an exclamation of joy leaping from me, echoed by my son. My daughter, who had just been here two weeks ago, was no less excited, having yearned so long to be here with her Daddy once more and to share with her brother the place she calls home.

Like crossing a border, we celebrated at the end of the bridge when we were truly on the Mountain, and the two of us silently, smilingly enjoyed his gasp at sight of the Punchbowl and the vast Pacific expanding ever outwards, and at the long, long coastline stretching south. We stopped at the best look-out to peer over the edge 600 feet straight down into the calm, inviolable roar of ocean against rocks.

After all this time, I had no hesitation to make a quick stop at my old home, now remodeled nearly beyond recognition; in fact, wanted to get that visit quickly out of the way. The interior, now a second home, held no magic and few memories for me, so little of the shrine still preserved, its rustic charm covered over by sheetrock and elegant trim.

Off to the side, the little T-house, a 10 x 10 studio that I had remodeled, besides being emptied of its sparse furnishings, looked and smelled like the day I had left it. Although my first marriage began in that space, its lure for me was the hours I had spent alone there in writing and contemplation, at first as a Kerouacian troubadour adventuring, and later as a young father capturing the essence of joy and longing on page after pages that were eventually burned at start of the second marriage.

My sister’s home has settled into the Mountain in a way that is so sacred and soft, the vision of her architect husband, and so representative of the spirit they have absorbed. The acre of land with paths weaving and shrines sprinkled, hot tub and separate small spaces is a paradise for contemplation and celebration, magnificent on its cliff ledge and humble in its size and aspect.

Because we first lived here together, built it stick by stick by hand, suffered the fire, tore it down to build it back up again, birthed and raised children as next door neighbors (across a treacherous ravine), we share a remarkable bond between us. They were so pleased to walk behind us on the paths as I discovered the changes and talked about the past to my son, who was not only seeing the evidence first hand, but hearing much of the lore for the very first time.

Out of necessity, to keep peace in the family, most of this part of my life was not talked about with my Vermont children. As the week has progressed, my son has met many strangers to him who had once been good friends to me, and in the process discovered a father who was much freer, open and exuberant than the one he has known prior to this long year of change.

After brief trips into the little town of Manzanita at the bottom of the mountain and walks along the beach, I find I am most interested in retreat and renewal on the property. Along each path through thick tangles of new growth spring greenery, there are places to pause, rock seats to ponder the magnitude of earth and spirit. So beautifully designed, the house at night offers a forest of stars gleaming beyond skylights, and always there is the sight and roar of the perpetual ocean.

In all these years away, my dreams have regularly been supported by whales, the leviathans visiting me in my sleep and wistful daylight musings to remind me of a deep calm and connection that was always available. As I shed the skins of my fear and unhappiness, I looked forward to the sight of their spouts in reality, choosing this season as the most likely to ensure visible confirmation of their presence.

Yesterday in particular, we took machetes and cleared a long abandoned path to the campsite where I slept the first months on this mountain. Hands bloodied from the cuts and swipes, breath sweaty, ripe with the sweet smell of the slashed vines, we paused constantly to gaze out over the water. On the tiny ledge itself, I squatted where I had once slept, absorbing the memory of that young man who awoke each morning to journal his dreams and drifted under stars at night, who played music at the fire pit and crafted a home out of pluck and determination, and mostly the thoughtful design of his newly met brother-in-law. Squatting there now with my son, I was moved to consider how much water had crashed on those rocks below, how much had changed and how little, and how much was so much better than I had ever imagined.

As if the Universe wants to remind me once again how much is beyond our control, no amount of vigilance has revealed the tell-tale spouts and rolling flukes I remembered seeing so regularly. Having promised so much to my son, my flawed humanity is once again so humbly visible, the attainment of my desire just beyond my reach, while a wealth of experience is gained with every step.
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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Feet on the Ground

The shift of time zones creates a marvelous suspension for this unaccustomed traveler to better see this place both strange and familiar. Having known it once so well, I catch glimpses of what I knew, but the adrenalized weariness forces me to witness all that is new.

After so long a time away, some corners are faintly recognizable and so much is lustrous with change. I had been warned, but not really imagined, how Portland had grown from a comfortable little city to a bustling metropolis, sprawling and vital. Quickly, it is clear that the more I look for what I knew, the more I miss of what is right in front of me.

Naturally, my impressions expose my personal prejudice: a kid of the suburbs who ventured to the city for special events, traveled a particular route and scurried safely home again. New York City overwhelms me with a stimulation I have trouble absorbing. Especially after so many years in tiny Burlington, my comfort level has been our main street and the numerous restaurants on the side. This trip shakes me out of that routine.

When I first came to Portland thirty years ago, with guitar and sleeping bag and a job paying room and board, I had few options but to walk around town, exploring the streets and parks. For a day a week, we returned from our Cliffside campsite for my bosses’ business and I twiddled aimlessly getting to know the city and some musicians who gave it life.

As my summer turned into a decade, we crossed regularly the fifty miles from coast to town, driving in and staying with friends for events, workshops and celebrations. The city life created a vital balance to the coastal meditations and I felt I knew it well.

On the final leg of the trip yesterday, I reminded myself of my know-it-all grandfather who could strain the patience of strangers with his insistence upon offering information. I love to gaze from the window and map the world below, identify the towns and rivers I can recognize. Also, like my father, I have the obnoxious tendency to speak with such confidence that people willingly believe me. Unlike my forbears, however, I am often completely wrong and scramble to right my embarrassment with a good-natured shrug and laughter.

True to form, a seat away from the window, after confessing much of the shape of my midlife crisis in answer to the probing questions from the woman next to me, descending out of the clouds, I began pointing out mountains and valleys, and a large body that could only be Crater Lake. I recommended two days of adventure down the coast to my old town and state parks, a little further off the beaten tourist path.

A hundred miles northwards, the pilot announced a magnificent view of the real Crater Lake now below us, negating all that I had said. When my good-natured new friend checked her coastal reservations, we had a good laugh that she had already, in fact, made plans to stay in the very same village, and her googled print-out listed all the same sights to see.

This lesson of modesty was a perfect set-up for me to approach the city I had once known so well. Arrogantly confident and full of expectation, it is important to remember the isolation in which I have lived these many years, the focused attention paid to one aspect making me miss so much more that has gone on around me. It is so very obvious, but still worth acknowledging that the world has changed probably even more than I.

As I sat over dinner, my Oregon daughters and their half-brother re-united and dissolved in laughter, in my state of waning adrenaline, suspended by the time change and surrounded by blossoms in full-bloom instead of nascent buds, I could remain open to absorb the wonder of how much is different and how much still stays the same, and especially how wonderful it all truly is.

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Sunday, April 19, 2009

To the Mountain

In the coming week, I will descend through dark virgin forests and climb a (relatively) high mountain, walk upon the rock and sands of eternity and touch my feet (only instantly) in the cold ocean.

After twenty years, I return to Oregon. I lived there for ten, just out of college and so open to the world. I practiced my art and learned my trade there. I fell in love and twisted through the agonies of divorce. I became a father. I helped children be born and watched friends die.

My life was shaped on that Mountain and circumstances made it impossible for me to return until now. A pot luck is planned for Friday evening, a gathering open to the many I once knew, now, like me, so much more grown up. Instruments are especially invited and the fellows who used to play them with me to join in our new songs. There will be more hugs than time for deep words, but joyful reconnections will have their significance.

Potentially, the drenching Oregon rain could shroud the Mountain, but there are physical places where I am compelled to walk to remember the young man full of wonder and awe who stopped to build a home that burned down to be built again, creating a life as well. This young man stepped in courageously to try to heal a family in grief and was rewarded with a daughter of his own. The choice to stay closed other doors, their vague opportunities opaque against the solid need of a family in such distress. The daughters remain the important issue of that time, and eagerly await the embrace of my new found strength.

This is not a return to me in the sense of a prodigal mission. I do not embark with any thought of finally making this rugged landscape my home once again. I return, instead, to set foot on the Mountain and reconnect with a spirit that has always been with me, but lay dormant these thirty years.

Rather than run from the pain I was suffering then, not understanding , I think by leaving, I may actually have embraced it all the more deeply, running towards something that felt right, but unknowingly still obscured the spirit of the heart longing for release.

The world around us, whirling and twirling with activities and requirements, often dictates lessons we believe we should learn. Our friends and neighbors all seem to be on paths of comfort, security and happiness. So easily, we can shush the voice inside us that offers temptations of delicious dreams because our outside influences describe them as ludicrous, impossible to achieve in our normal lives.

We are raised to be modest and believe heroes are on television, not right beside us, or inside us. If we occasionally rise to greatness, it is easy to believe it is only a moment and so quickly we settle back into our acceptance of mediocre abilities and opportunities.

Abundance happens to others, we think. We are the flesh and blood that slogs through days making meals, ferrying kids, work, work, working our lives away.

Those precious moments of greatness are what stay with us, however, the view we linger over when we pause on any ledge to survey the distance we have traveled. The drudgery that was the day-to-day has been blurred, forgettable and illusory, while the fine moments, the ecstatic or wrenched-hearted times remain sharp and clearly visible.

Next week, on the sides of Neahkahnie Mountain, there are plenty of ledges from which to view the sea.

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Living with Art

Invited by a friend to make some frames, for their safety during the process in my crowded little space, her paintings have graced my walls for the past week. Both my son and I will be sad to see them returned.

All of my life I have been surrounded by the art of my father. In the early years, Sunday often imposed an insufferable amount of time holding still, but I treasure those pastel portraits today. At the end of a vacation the living room cork wall was transformed with new paintings that captured and held the countless hot mornings meandering the tide pools as he, puffing on his pipe, patiently, quietly soaked the paper with colors.

Sadly, although I have hundreds of paintings to mix and match on my walls, I have become somewhat immune to their effect over the years. These new works by my friend have ignited my imagination, shocking me with delighted awe each time I round the corner or look upwards unfocused from this yellow pad.

To break out the tools on my porch and produce the frames seems to be the task required to properly dirty my fingers enough to motivate me toward the growing list of carpentry tasks that could actually earn the ability to cross off some bills. Peacefully, I meditated within the system, moving methodically from table to chopsaw to sander, then staining and framing; music in its own way.

In that directed movement, my thoughts roamed along the imagined highways in search of horizons beyond, and over the accumulated clutter that is the reality of my own little cave. I have come so far in these many months, but am creating a future that seems boundless.

With my eye always on the prize of being a writer, I allowed the business of carpentry to take over my life, eventually smothering my spirit by the harsh demands of details that ultimately did not inspire me. My music was silenced.

Beginning with one short paragraph, a self-assignment in the middle of yet another sleepless night, I began to scribble on these yellow pads, hiding them under the bed, avoiding any risk of review. First some stories, then essays, then the discovery of blogging allowed me to shed light on that dark time and understand just how much change was required to survive.

The first nights alone in my rough cave, I unpacked the guitar and filled the silence with rougher notes, but remembered a soaring spirit, fingers revived to pick in cadences my heart had long forgotten. I liked the songs; I adored the pleasure it gives me to play them. When it finally felt comfortable to let go of my old house and caress the new guitar that came from it, suddenly new songs burst forth which I feel compelled to share.

As I struggle so publically between the art of living and the need to earn my keep, another friend perceives the need for some writing help in his own work, and I am suddenly immersed in a project so huge it shivers the cord of my spine like the prettiest one on a guitar. The dollars are only bonus to the thrill of tweaking words and phrases to enhance and promote a powerful message that could reach millions.

Of all the resumes passed forward, a rare response introduced a remarkable woman who has worked alone for thirty years promoting peace around the world, uniting children of many cultures. As the boundaries disappear and attitudes shift, her message of peace spreading outwards from serene souls takes hold, and she needs help to write the grant that might create a job more akin to my deepest passions.

Quickly after the notes sound in my head, the dream is conjured and I am in a band, playing all original music that gets feet moving and stirs emotions with spine-tingling harmonies. Last night, I played solo (and got paid handsomely for it) to a college audience who listened raptly and heard (for the moment) the message of authenticity that takes a lifetime to really absorb.

In these past years, my conditions have certainly been humbled, my family broken asunder, my builder’s reputation squandered to impotence. Many say they might give up and roll over under such duress. I submit the strength is in all of us to endure and thrive when put to the test.

Sometimes it just takes noticing the works of art that live around and within us.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Pause Between Chapters

Last night was the first in awhile to be alone in my little cave. Details of the day needed tidying up, and then I set out both guitars and a mic stand, prepared for a good long practice for tonight’s practice with Cache. Two or three songs into it, repeating each one several times to get them right, it seemed my heart was not involved and the songs felt labored, the harmonies out of tune. My intuition informed me it was time to stop, so I settled for a movie, but fell fast asleep.

Our culture is so driven to produce and excel, invent, accumulate, account and prosper, I find allowing myself to rest to be a very difficult exercise. If we take time off, it often gets filled with an adventure to travel, climb a mountain, raft down a river, bike a thousand miles. Even to the beach, I go with books, balls and binoculars, always seeking, rarely drifting.

Never mind the activities of the last month, a creative burst such as I have never known; I fight the on-rushing sleep, thinking this is a night alone, a time when much can be done without interruption. The list is so long, cumbersome and pressing, I think, surely there must be something I could do, plenty of things I should (taxes!), but like legs struggling through mud in a bad dream, I can not move forward.

Even in this lackluster moment, I am quick to note progress. Last month, for example, over several days I complained of a similar malaise, actually worse, a brain so foggy coherent thought was elusive. I wandered from task to task half-heartedly, then suddenly burst out with new songs, focused attention on words, played shows and attended meetings for projects burgeoning with potential.

I could acknowledge, at least afterwards, that those few days of disorientation were necessary, perhaps vital to the process. Ideas percolated, energy gathered in preparation of the surge. Intellectually, I know the importance of rest, but my body and habit resist with such strength, the benefit feels often wasted.

So too, I look at the busy days and weeks ahead and can easily excuse myself to fall asleep at mid-evening, yet I awake this morning with foolish guilt and determination to make up for the "lost" time. Perhaps it is a natural by-product of writing a book, especially one so personal following the script of my own illustrative crimes, misdemeanors and heart-felt efforts, but I am thinking in chapters, and feel strongly that I am at the end of one, stepping boldly forward into the next.

Soon my feet will walk on the soft sand of the Oregon beach I once knew so well. With neither books nor balls, and binoculars perhaps just to better commune with the whales, I will finally walk with my son where I once walked so often with my Oregon daughters. I will climb the Mountain, not to be the first, oldest, or wisest, but because from that height thirty years ago, I pondered the world and my place in it with a naïveté that believed time was boundless and death an abstraction. I am curious to discover how it all will appear to me now.

The high cliff of the Punchbowl plummeting into the sea—where I once foolishly led trusting friends to near disaster, often sat alone in contemplation of a failing marriage, and witnessed the whales dance on the day Mt. St. Helen’s erupted—urges me back to peer over the edge once again, wondering if I might still catch the faintest glimpse of the rainbow that lingered in the ashes of a friend thrown to the sea. In the process, I will be separating the dust from the ashes of my own life, a phoenix just as much as my sister’s house rebuilt after the fire that wedded them to the Mountain.

No wonder last night, my body recognized it was a chance for me to rest.

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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Soular Eclipse

A thrill of excitement is lodged in my chest right now. Not a lightening bolt that flashes brilliantly in an ecstatic moment and dies, an instant of daylight and a dizzying plunge back into darkness; this is deeper, more absorbing. Each breath seems charged like the air before the storm, a momentous gathering of energy, swirling in anticipation, building towards crescendo, a sustained blast, a prolonged shaking of the rafters. This is not at all scary or threatening, rather a delight of thunderous proportions sweeping me relentlessly towards some horizon as yet unclear, but sweet with anticipation.

I am reminded of standing at the edge of the Earth, the Oregon Coast, during a total solar eclipse that swept toward us across the ocean, devouring the early dawn back into darkness, the waves settling, birds quieting, and ecstasy rising to feel so physically attuned to the greater Universe beyond our tiny lives. That time the sliver of brilliant daylight on the horizon expanded rapidly with profound determination, unbeatable, coming towards me to re-consume the darkness, returning life to normality, but somehow deeply transformed.

Having let go of fear, relinquished my desperate grip on a lifestyle that was clearly not working no matter how hard I tried, my intuition has taken over, leading me forward out of the darkness like some bounding puppy dog, tail eagerly wagging in complete faith, trust and willingness to adventure wherever I am led. As reward, events unfold and opportunities present themselves with amazing rapidity, wrapped in such pretty packages, I pause to cherish the gift before knowing what surprises await inside.

Embracing the concept of abundance—not the theory, but indeed drinking the lifeblood of it—my heart warms with the positive energy. Movement supplants stagnation and rich colors grow out of a landscape formerly baron. At first, shifting nothing but attitude, a whole-hearted feeling of well-being envelopes me, generating more wonderful energy. The law of attraction becomes personified.

Plenty of tough moments lie ahead, old scores threaten to plague my emotional fortune with mosquito bites of irritation that could fester. I still have little money and creditors ring my phone daily. Past mistakes litter the terrain, but remain unanswered. Given my depletion of resources, I let them be.

I will pay them when I can. More and more I believe this affluence of heart will ultimately pay off all my debts, financial and emotional, and clean-up the ugly residue of bankruptcy. For now, unable to respond, I try not to let the facts of my past mistakes ruin this perfectly good day.

Now I focus on no repetition of those same or similar mistakes. I am not creating more debt, but living as modestly as my circumstances require, paying cash as I go, or paying not at all by not doing. In the past, insatiably driven to please, I have taken us on vacations I could not afford, out to dinner on nights I crossed my fingers under the table in hope the credit card was not declined, bought rings to replace rings with money that should have gone to buy lumber. There was a desperation to enjoy the fruits before the flowers had worked their magic. Patience is now producing its own rewards and I am content just to notice the first new buds of spring.

I do not need new clothes, though I finally bought a pair of shoes last week when I had dollars enough for that. My wardrobe is well-worn, but not shabby. I am not going to the opera, so jeans and a nice shirt do just fine (and this is Vermont after all—we have opera and people wear jeans).

My car requires no payments and repairs now take precedence over dinners out. I pass on the shows I might like to see, enjoying music that is live enough in the clubs where I am also on the bill. Rich with activities to occupy my heart and mind, I am happy to stay home or relish the sunshine of a long walk.

My guitar is truly company enough and I am blessed beyond measure to have friends who keep an even better accompaniment. Joy is contagious and so I meet more and more who want to celebrate and appreciate life.

The more I offer to share my music, the more it seems welcome. Though I am flattered immensely, I truly do not care about the accolades as I just love the sound which seems to resonate and create smiles. Truly a pleasure to share.

Words flow outwards, the thoughts dance with energy unbounded. Ideas leap to mind and this pen races to keep up. This night, I sat down with a book to read, but began to scribble and more pages become filled. Taking stock today, I have over 50,000 words written in these fifteen months, halfway to a complete book and accelerating. Encouragement keeps me accountable and compels me to continue.

Carpentry work is available to pay bills, but each morning with the best of intentions of only sitting while I finish breakfast, hours pass at the computer writing and researching, projecting ideas on to paper without judgment or expectation, just love of the process, spitting and spewing relentlessly, almost without pause. By the time I look up, it is too late to take out a hammer and saw.

Outside of me, there seems a shift generally. Stories abound of people who have lost their jobs, and instead of misery, find themselves actually relieved of a burden and decide to turn their attention to something more loved. The conversation is everywhere.

Mine by far is not the only case of transformation. We each have our own stories, our own little miracles that add wealth to the vibrancy of our humanity. Collectively, this adds up to a new attitude out of global necessity of diminishing boundaries and resources, and an inner hunger for spiritual union on a small planet as we continually learn just how tiny, adrift (and probably not alone) we are in a staggeringly immense universe.

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Monday, April 6, 2009

A Little Help from Our Friends

As a parent, it is a constant challenge to decipher the appropriate moments to just witness or actually step in to save the day. Having begun our journeys together nurturing and caring for our children in every way, it is an agonizing process to watch a difficult lesson be learned.

Just as we are given eight or nine months to get used to the idea that our life will so radically change with the birth of a child, this process naturally begins in nearly unnoticeable ways. We recognize easily the difference between offering bites—no matter how distracted the toddler might be—and jamming the spoon down its throat. Later, we wrestle with the proportion of dessert to a clean plate. And later still, we agonize how to make the connection between the number of Big Mac’s and their hesitation to go to the beach.

We hold their tiny and trusting fingers reassuringly as they take their first tentative steps and excitedly let go when they are ready to waddle three steps to our partner across the room. We cheer loudly at the soccer game and cheer them up afterwards. Our hearts swell with marvelous pride to see them step to the podium to accept an honor or speak lessons of their own. We are proudly tearful to see them walk down the Aisle.

This morning my son awakens before dawn to continue work on a rough draft of a world civics paper due today. Despite an important trip last week with his mother and an impressive weekend effort at a model United Nations conference, there was time to sketch out the themes along the way. Instead, he struggles in the early hour and the work suffers a lack of quality. He knows I cannot write it for him, but pleads I at least write a note requesting an extension.

My heart aches to see him suffer, nodding off in his seat at midnight, rising slowly to try again to find any light in the darkness this morning. I have the ability to dictate the copy and have to restrain myself.

So clearly I remember thirty years ago the impotent concern in my mother’s voice, understanding I had already committed my heart to a grieving widow ten years older and her two children. She could only watch and celebrate over the years as life went well and another child was born, and worry when I called across the country with my voice full of pain and fear. It would never have benefited to utter the slightest phrases resembling “I told you so,” or “Perhaps you should…”

My father also has been constantly challenged by my need for money. After bailing me out with thousands for a business that ultimately failed anyway, despite my optimistic promises, he knows the day has come and gone when I should be walking on my own, yet finds it impossible to deny my plaintiff plea for help with the rent while I abandon that work and just focus on rebuilding my life. He wants to see the results in my pocket and loves enough to discern that things do not always turn out the way he might want or even understand. This time, at least, he can see my focus strikes more directly at the true heart of my problems.

We were raised to know that it was alright to make mistakes. To achieve higher goals, one has to take risks. That same child who crashes to the side, bumping his head painfully in the steps between parents, is comforted and set back on his feet, eventually making it all the way across, and even later, steps beyond, through the door and out of the nest.

We stumble, we fall. We pick ourselves up. Hopefully, there is always someone nearby to embrace us, dust off our knees, and send us on our way again.

I cannot write my son’s paper for him, but I can make him breakfast. I can encourage him to complete another paragraph and submit the rough draft as best it can be this morning. Knowing that he has done his best today, after he has gone, I can write an email to his teacher explaining that though his paper is not finished, he really needed that time last week with his mother.

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Saturday, April 4, 2009

Full Moon Over Ila

Several years ago, a friend of mine suffered the unspeakable horror of losing her daughter in a car accident. Four times a father, I can think of nothing worse, sitting here immobilized for minutes just by writing that sentence.

Not knowing her so well at the time, I gave Jeannie room to mourn with loved ones privately, then visited a few months later to pay my respects, expecting to find a woman red-eyed and swollen with grief. No amount of sunshine could flood a room with more angelic energy than emanated from her bright eyes.

“I’m awesome!” She claimed.

At first, I suspected her posture was a sad denial of the reality of her loss, a safety mechanism to protect her from an inevitable depression. Knowing her much better in the years since, I am convinced that the spirit of Ila lives close on the shoulder of her mother, whispering sage observations and delighting in the daily details that any mother and daughter might share.

At a gathering one day, Jeannie was approached by the mother of a classmate of Ila who had been delayed by an urgent need of her daughter to read a poem she had just scribbled. It was uncharacteristic for the child to be poetic, more so to insist it be shared. When questioned where the beautiful image had come from, she answered simply, “I don’t know, Mommie, it just came to me.”

If you are up at half past nine
When the moon is up in the star lit sky.
You will know why the moon is there
To shine a bright glittery trail.
To a place where happiness is all there is
No wars, no guns no need to fight.
That’s the place I’ll be tonight.

By now it was natural for Jeannie to recognize connections in the strangest circumstances, so in this she sensed the spirited hand of her own daughter. The calendar revealed that the next full moon in August was the eleventh anniversary of Ila’s conception, producing shivers down Jeannie’s spine. Often seeing the full moon over their years together, Ila had asked her mother to recount the story of that special one, adoring all the details that testified to the love that had brought her here.

On her way home this August evening, two years after her daughter’s death, the full moon was indeed truly astounding: sharp, clear, immensely bright, encircled in radiance. Jeannie pulled over and communed, feeling her daughter’s presence, witnessing the beauty of life, death and all the glory of the spirit.

“I’m with you, Sweetie,” she cried with joy, “I love you.”

She called her friend, a photographer, and without preamble or excuse, ordered her to run outside to get a picture of this blessed moon. Reading the poem to her friend later by way of explanation, they checked and discovered the time of the call was exactly half-past nine.

But this tale of beautiful love and reassurance does not stop with just the mother, daughter and this picture of their moon. The tale was brought to a musician who was moved to write its glories into song.

A few weeks ago, for the benefit of Kids on the Block, a worthy Vermont cause, Karen McFeeters debuted her new CD “Here and Now” featuring the song entitled “Ila’s Moon”. A wonderful show in any regard, the telling of this story and the emotional delivery of the song carried the evening to a special moment of love and healing, crowned by the two women meeting for the first time for an embrace in the aisle.

Listen with your heart to this song, open your ears to the voices around you, your eyes to the mysteries before you. Know that you are loved and that the kindness of strangers can bring wonderful gifts. Believe that the connections of spirit are stronger than death.
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Friday, April 3, 2009

Fire on the Mountain

In less than three weeks my son and I will journey to Oregon, the first time for him out of his time zone. Last summer, we were 24 hours away from this trip when his commitment to soccer conflicted, and I allowed a silly cold to get in my own way. It was just not the right time; apparently, I was not yet ready.

“Journey” is a word not used lightly in this context because I think this trip represents a crossroads of emotional importance. Not of considering a choice to be made or different directions to take, this is a juncture that moves both forward and back simultaneously.

I first came to Oregon more than thirty years ago, a fresh-faced East Coast Establishment college graduate trying to grow a beard. Ten years later, I left heart-wrenchingly divorced and separated from my daughters, both shaded and spiritually ignited by the deaths of good friends, scorched by fire, and elated by the prospect of new life and love.

Not sure how to utilize my fine education, but dedicated to the adventurous lifestyle celebrated around Kesey and Kerouac, the opportunity to build a home for my sister on a Cliffside above the ocean seemed perfection indeed. My guitar in hand, a duffle, sleeping bag and tent at my feet, my best friend and companion across the country driving on to exotic San Francisco, I knocked on the door with trepidation and walked into this new life.

For wages of $25 a week and all the beans I could eat, I camped with my brother-out-of-law, an architect, philosopher and stranger at first, and we figured out how to build his dream--all by hand until months later we laid the electric line in the trench carved 300 feet down the mountainside. Sweating all day, I played music into every night, sitting at the fire pit or huddled under the tarp. Weekly, we drove to Portland to clean-up and re-supply.

For six months, the adventure continued, idyllic and free for me: working hard, playing music, exploring the dramatic coast and walking the streets of Portland. I filled journals with scribbles and wrote some songs that sing with me still today.

At 1600 feet, Neahkahnie Mountain (pronounced Nee-a-ka-nee) is rumored to be the highest vertical rise directly out of the Pacific Ocean, an image I would not dispute. The Native Americans revered it as a spiritual sanctuary, and the pulse there seems particularly strong even today. People have migrated and settled on its side or in the Nehalem Valley (“place of peace”) below because they feel a power of connection, some immutable force drawing them together in sacred community. My own experience which I will relate over the next weeks supports this.

Returning this month may well prove to be a momentous experience of grounding the changes I have been making this year. It has been exactly twenty years since I last set foot on the Mountain, years of turmoil and rage, stress and cautious joy. My son has never been there and only in this year has begun to get a sense of the adventures I had living on the Edge of the Earth and how they affected who I am today.

To move forward in life without honoring the footsteps along the way seems unhealthy to me, leading to darker suppressions that need to bore their way out. However much the goal may be to live in the moment, we are truly made of our experiences, and neither good nor bad can be cut from our hearts without suffering pain. Such a void festers and must be healed.

So I embark on this journey with more intention than pleasant visits with my daughters, sister and family of friends. After dreaming of whales so many nights, I will walk the high bluffs in search of spouts and flukes, perhaps blessed by an actual breach. The verdant deep forests will embrace me, the profound canopy of quiet like a warm blanket on a bitter Vermont night.

From the top of Neahkahnie, the sea sweeps on forever, and the Coastline marks a distinct transition between the rock solid and the ever-flowing.

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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A Tablet of Marble

The word “crisis” may be a bit of a misnomer as I look back on several years of transitions in my Mid (hopefully) Life, each chapter being critical to the next. This change to a new life has been a long, slow process, racing along day to day at breakneck speed, but taking years to fully mature.

The contradictions are evident when I pause to read pages of entries in my black composition journals. I can ponder the immensity of differences a year has developed in so many ways: from location to occupation to spare timed activities. The scribbles are fraught with angst, paranoia and self-doubt as much as ebullience, braggadocio and lofty predictions (just multiply the substance of this blog by a thousand to get an idea).

For a few days now, my mind has been focused on measurements, calculations and emotional assessments. Using the change of season here and there as metaphor has not satisfied the process, leaving me floating somewhere in transition.

Curiously last night, a pile of boxes still stacked in the corner seemed suddenly conquerable and I could finally attack and sort them, clearing out the imposing disorder to improve my bedroom’s Fung Shui. “Poems” from my childhood, song scraps, and sweet cards from my own children could be scanned and re-stored; other mementos I could ceremoniously toss to the dumpster with only parting regret. Only after the purge, talking to a friend, did I recognize that this week marks exactly a year that I have been living here.

The true beginning of my crisis, I believe—besides an abiding pain and discomfort over work, financial and marital stress—surfaced upon the move of parents to an assisted care facility. Dividing the treasures and the personals, emptying out and giving over the unique family home to a new family was traumatic. The dinning room table, a huge slab of marble as much a symbol of a Camelot as any could be, was cut into five pieces, but mine as a coffee table in my own home holds nowhere near the power of anchoring my soul to place.

Once adrift, at long last, it had become time to grow up and take charge of my life.

My business had to be ended. No matter how well-intended and hard I focused on details, personal distraction and vanishing dollars made for chaotic sites and disastrous results. Although the finished product always looked impressive, not enough clients were fully satisfied and way too many subs and vendors were not getting paid. I could not continue to hurt all those who depended upon me.

My son regularly complains good-naturedly about shifting belongings from house to house every weekend, acknowledging the clear impact my decisions have had on his life. If I apologize, he quickly reminds me he no longer lives behind a closed door, shutting out the angry fights, and can sleep at night, no longer afraid and bewildered that parents who loved each other at times could hurt each other so horribly as well.

As much as I loved writing and music, in comparison to my family, while the focus of raising and supporting them was so intense, I easily and cheerfully abandoned the creativity, hardly even noticing the loss. There was so much gain that culminated in our beautiful little house on Hayward Street, the hard work to support it seemed just the natural price to pay. That the stress was crushing me and actually shredding the very fabric I loved so much seemed just the product of my own faulty frailties which could be easily adjusted and surmounted…if I just worked a little harder.

Once I realized how thick was the brick wall and impenetrable by the same choices and efforts, no matter how determined, when my energy was finally exhausted and none of the usual resources could be rallied, as I finally and fearfully understood in my soul what it means to “let go, let God”, the resistance evaporated. The wall has crumbled of its own accord.

In my I group last night, the question was posed: “if you did not have to work for a living, how would you spend your time?”. Instantly, I could answer “write, play music, ski and play soccer.” And I am doing all of that with my son close beside me.

Sure, I will need some help from my father this month again to pay the rent. He will ask again if any of this is actually making me any money, and for the first time I can honestly answer, “YES!”. For me, the important thing is that I am bringing all of these pieces of my own particular marble table back together again, stronger than ever.
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