TALES FROM LA CASA DE LOS DULCES SUENOS: To Market, To Market

grape hyacinthA few days ago, I went grocery shopping. I hadn’t been anywhere for weeks. The big university town to which I had commuted every day for work, shopping, and socializing has receded from my horizon with eerie swiftness. In the grip of the pandemic, businesses have closed their doors, my office among them, and the seemingly endless crowds of people have vanished, sequestered in their homes. I found myself contemplating the risk to reward ratio of venturing out for food, and while I chuckled over my sudden disinclination to tackle such a simple, everyday task, the fear was real. A primal situation had arisen in which a virus, instead of a sabre-toothed cat, lurked behind every shrub (or, in this case, behind every market door). In need of provisions, I buckled up and drove to town. Once busy thoroughfares were deserted, no pedestrians jostled at crossings, and the beautiful day was as still as a stage set awaiting actors.

Inside the market, people were quiet and intent on their tasks. We all observed a safe distance, those who could get them wore masks, everybody waited patiently behind the taped lines on the floor at checkout counters while clerks disinfected every surface. The mood was one of concern and discomfort at our (greatly adjusted) proximity, but I saw only friendly smiles and nods. There was a great, concerted effort among shoppers and workers to be courteous and kind. Every one of us felt the shivery finger of fear, hunted by an invisible predator that could at that very moment be lurking in our midst. Perhaps it had already battened on a victim or two…how would any of us know? But we did not cower. We attended to our necessary errands, observed what precautions we could, and smiled warmly, glad in the end to see one another.forsythia canopy

The following day, I sat in my garden with yellow forsythia blossoms blazing around and over me like a galaxy of stars. Flowering quince waved fat pink buds and lilacs thrust their slender green-tipped fingers into the blue. I took my dinner there, thankful for the good nourishing food procured the day before despite grim thoughts of contagion. The air was alive with the flurry and chatter of birds, busy about their annual labor of nest-building. I cannot imagine a more social group of creatures, nor one that derives such joy from mere conversation or from preening in the spring warmth. Yet, not an hour before my peaceful meal, I had stood happily in the sun in my driveway talking with my neighbor, standing in the sun in his driveway. We talked of houses and history, village life then and now, the routines and traditions of those two social mainstays of rural places – the volunteer fire company and the farmers’ grange. We are not so unlike the birds after all in our appreciation of nature’s simple bounty or in the satisfaction of sharing it with like-minded spring mapleindividuals.

The serene wisdom of home and garden states that the heart rests contentedly in slow time. The many small tasks that propel us down the hours are sweet when we allow ourselves frequent moments of quiet to reflect on what we most cherish. When we allow ourselves to be soft and receptive to the elegant, uncomplicated blessings that soothe us. For me, it is this garden readying itself for further bloom, a one-pot meal with a little spice, a cup of rich coffee. It is sitting among the friendly trees, observing the sinuous grace of the maple with her arms raised to call the birds, poised like a ballerina on a purple carpet of hyacinth. It is this village where the earth holds centuries-old memories of crops and harvests. There is no place here for fear, whatever may come. There is only a house of Sweet Dreams and a woman with a pen, recording them.

TALES FROM LA CASA DE LOS DULCES SUENOS: Quarantine and Magic

Casa de Dulces Suenos

Here it is, nearly a year later. Sycamore House, that storied structure, passed into the possession of a young family and I traveled on, unencumbered by accumulated things. I left the old Victorian with my writer’s desk and my great-grandmother’s hickory rocking chair, and little else. The savagely reduced remains of my library, the contents of a china cupboard (only the most beloved of my beautiful teapots made the cut), and a few whimsical odds and ends from my garden shed were stored in a small rented unit to possibly be reclaimed at some future date. I launched myself like a bird on the prevailing airy current and fluttered into the next chapter of my life as lightly as any hollow-boned avian.   rocking chari

The past year has held trials and joys, wild rambles and starry nights, hard questions and harder-won answers. I settled in a largish university town and learned the ways of traffic, crowds, and bustle. In many ways, it was satisfying – so much verve and swirl. But there were no butterflies in my tiny city patio garden, no flights of wild geese embossed on moody cloud, no eruptions of songbirds from wayside hedges, or shadowed foxes slipping across the twilight. The smell of the seasons changing was a muted thing, and the deep peace of field and wood under a sky empty of jets was conspicuously absent. I learned a few things about my true nature, and so I began to look for a home in the country once again.

And here I am, in the midst of the plague of our time, ensconced in yet another old house, this one in a wee village surrounded by rolling fields and thick-wooded ridges, boisterous streams and slumbersome bucolic lanes. A big, brick fortress full of sunlight, rainbows cast to the oaken foyer floor by the beveled glass of a wide front door. This place, brimming with the shimmering magic of what-may-be, possesses a sly playfulness. “Look!” it whispers, and delightful mirages flicker at the boundaries of vision. “This can be, and this. Tell me what you desire. All is possible.”

I did not intend to buy a house like this, too big, too far from conveniences, too alive with long memory. I meant to find a manageable cottage. I certainly did not anticipate the current state of the world, isolation and death eclipsing humanity’s flame. Intention is a strange thing, though, and can be hidden from our view, as we are hidden now in our homes. I shut my real intention in a dark closet for safety, but the irresistible radiance of it shodesk in studione through the keyhole and burst from the joinery. The beautiful future, still a castle of air, burned in my mind. Even as the glow of future us, better and stronger than we were, burns like a halo behind the darkness of this virus.

So, I sit at the desk I carried away with me from Sycamore House, when I thought I’d slip the bonds of home and hearth. And I tell you that I am full of simple, delicious desires: quiet to think and to create; peace for a frantic mind and joy for a battered heart; good food and good friends and laughter that’s too loud and giddy to be polite; the cultivation of that most precious of crops, love. I ache for home and roots. I wish it for all who seek it. Be safe and well, all you lovely people. I’ll be in touch to let you know how the magic goes here in the House of Sweet Dreams.

Letter From Camp Wapiti: A Night in Pennsylvania’s Quehanna Wild Area

Fern and HuckleberryA few weeks ago, Stephen, his parents, his Aunt L., and I took a road trip to Elk County hoping to spot the elusive creatures for which it is named. It was a stunning day and we had a lot of fun exploring the Elk Country Visitor Center in Benezette, driving around the beautiful back roads on our elk hunt, and eating a scrumptious lunch at the Benezette Hotel. We did not see any elk, despite the approaching rut. A friendly game warden informed us that we were about a week too early.

Liz With Her PackA few days ago, we decided to try again. On the doorstep of the autumnal equinox, Stephen and I packed our gear and headed north to the Quehanna Wild Area, an approximately 50,000-acre circle of lush beauty that is part of two state forests. Again, the day was superb. Cool temperatures, mellow sunlight, and the promise of remote wilderness lured us. We planned a brief hike (it would be my first time carrying a large pack, and although light, it belonged to Stephen and did not fit me well) and looked forward to camping along the trail. Hopefully, we would find elk.

Our hike took us along trails bound by old growth forest heavy with pine and carpeted by ferns. As we neared the spot we had marked as a potential campsite, we trudged through a boggy area, the long wiry grass squelching under our boots and sucking at our heeSteve is Ready To Gols. No hiker wants wet feet, and we groaned at the obstacle, but it was a gorgeous obstacle. Fern, boulder, open low scrub, the muscular roots of the pines that marked the way to drier ground…bronze, purple, gold, and lengthening shadows painted the view. Stephen spotted a flock of turkeys in retreat ahead of us.

We recognized our campsite by its perfect proportions and the sheltering pines that graced its perimeter. It seemed nature had prepared it just for us. Clearing of forest floor debris ensued, and the gathering of firewood. The tent, erected under a soft roof of pine boughs, sat on a slight knoll overlooking the shallow circular trench Stephen made to contain our fire. I crawled into the tent to furnish it with sleeping pads and bags, and to stow the gear. When I craA Well-Deserved Nipwled back out, Stephen had kindled fire. With about three hours of daylight left, we were home for the night. A celebratory toast from a flask of Jameson’s whiskey was in order.

Dinner over the fire: thin sliced steak seasoned with garlic and smoked paprika and a pan of cauliflower rice with garlic and roasted tomato. Dessert: some trail mix and M&Ms. Munching happily, smelling of campfire smoke and pine needles, tired in the pleasant way muscles aA Toast to the New Campsitere tired after just the right amount of labor and fresh air, we heard the magic sound. The first bugle of a bull elk. The sun began to slide behind the horizon line. Peace, like life, in my heart.

All through the night, the bulls bugled. We never saw them, but their music was a vehicle on a haunting journey back in time. We were man, woman, fire in the dark forest under the heavy-lidded gaze of a waning moon. Later, coyotes howled in the distance. An owl visited, asking his age-old question. The shy, curious deer tiptoed about outside the tent, which became an island of warmth in the September chill. The night was long and cold, and I woke often to listen and to feel the separation from my usual, urban life. Medicine for the soul.

Morning light seemed to bloom in the air. Pale and tentative, then clear and cold. Our breath hung before us. Stephen rolled out of the tent to coax the fire back to life while I snuggled deeper into his sleeping bag, absorbing the ghost of Good Morning, Chillhis warmth. Finally, I made my way to the fire, too, a fleecy hat pulled over my ears. Above me, a raven perched in the column of smoke from our woodland hearth, feeling it stir his inky feathers and composing a poem to the element of fire. Grok!

Breaking camp, bittersweet. I was ready to stretch my legs on the trail. The pack felt friendlier than the day before. The morning flowed over the fern carpet like purest honey, and everything was cool and damp. We marched. Forest. Meadow of fern and huckleberry. Long, flat granite slabs surfing above the low growth like a sun-bathing pod of whales. The foggy white broken marble of the moon floating in unbroken blue above the pines. So much sacred beauty that words are inadequate to describe it or the fierce sense of connection with which it filled me. One night at Camp Wapiti (from the First Nations word for the elk) and I am reclaimed as a daughter of Earth.

Sentinel Pines

Photos by Stephen Wenner

 

 

 

 

Writer Chick Gets Real: Visits Around the Fire

It’s been a while since weThe Perfect Fire - Copy talked. How has everybody been? I’ve had my nose to the grindstone, writing stories for inclusion in a third collection. The collection, when complete, will feature a unifying theme, story-hopping characters, and a delicious stew of paranormal happenings. It’s a large project, and I’ve been doing a few other things to manage both mental well-being and to address the business end of writing.

For the former, Stephen and I have fled to the woods with our tent on a few occasions. That’s our campfire in the photo, and one of the stunning sunsets we were fortunate enough to observe. Eating campfire cuisine, breathing fresh and silent air, listening to the night wander in, and sleeping in starlight in our remote meadow – its a prescription for decompression and getting one’s head right if ever there was one.

In service to the latter, I’ve condensed my goals for the remainder of the year to production and platform – stacking up finished work and reaching out to folks via social media, meeting new friends and supporters. One of the places I’ve been finding readers is a site called Vocal, where writers of fiction and nonfiction alike, in a myriad of categories, can find a voice.

Please come and visit me there. You’ll find a selection of my dark short stories, some told in serial form, all for free. The site counts every visit and credits me for them, so your presence in my little library goes a long way toward helping this writing journey along. If you especially like anything you read, the site gives you the option to leave a tip – not at all necessary, but always appreciated. You’ll find my work under the Horror tab. Here’s the link: https://vocal.media/

 

Photo by Stephen Wenner

WRITER CHICK GETS REAL: Happy Mother’s Day, Finally

lilacsTomorrow is Mother’s Day. I have seldom celebrated the holiday, not because I feel any animosity toward it, but simply because … it was not a thing in our household when I was growing up. I knew that others, almost everyone, were doing special things on that special day. My family had a complicated, and never resolved, confusion about it.

Until I was nine years old, I don’t think I was especially aware of Mother’s Day. I do not recall our family marking the day in any way, I don’t remember picking flowers for Mom or going out to a restaurant or any of the usual celebratory events. I don’t know why that was, and those days are dim now, they are so long past. Surely, we must have done something, but any memory of it is gone.  Then, when I was nine and my sister four, Mom died. I went to live with our grandmother, Mom’s mom.

I lived with my grandparents for nine years, and they were wonderful people who loved me and were kind to me. Gram stepped in and raised me like a daughter, but of course, I was not her daughter – her only child was gone. She never recovered from the sorrow of that loss, and Mother’s Day, once perhaps simply neglected, became complicated. To mention it, or celebrate it, was painful to her. For my own part, I had no idea what to do with a holiday whose star had gone dark, and so I ignored it in silence. I did not feel pain as much as I felt alienated, even angry. In those days, people rarely took children to therapists or grief counselors. They didn’t go themselves. We did not have that sort of proactive grasp on emotional health, I guess, but we did the best we could to comfort one another without really understanding all that seethed beneath the surface. Like shooting into the dark.

When I got married, I suddenly found myself thinking about Mother’s Day. My then-husband observed the day, at least calling his mom if he couldn’t take her flowers, and I would remind him of the holiday as it approached on the calendar. Still, silence remained between Gram and me. We could not speak of it. Mother’s Day was like a fist in my chest, just a clenched knot of resentment, grief, and bewilderment.

I never had children, and so did not experience the lovely mystique of the day through becoming a mother. Instead, when I was in my 30s, Gram moved in with us, and our roles became reversed. Now I was the caregiver, the provider of haven, and she had become my charge. We went on together in this fashion for eleven years, loving one another and fighting with one another, but never speaking of Mother’s Day. I wanted to celebrate her, and I think she would have liked that, but our stone of silence on the subject had grown to boulder-like proportions. We could not move it.

In quick succession, Gram passed on and my then-husband and I separated, and eventually divorced. Now, even the Mother’s Day by association that I had experienced as a daughter-in-law was gone. My strange, stunted (as perceived by many) relationship with the holiday lapsed further, although now I was aware of a keen sense of solitude. There was no woman left in the mother role in my life, to be either ignored or celebrated. I was alone. It was an exposed feeling.

Today, I am privileged to know Stephen’s mother. It makes me happy to know how much her children value her and the day we, as a society, set aside for acknowledging that. She is a warm and witty woman who nurtured kind and generous people. Her family observes Mother’s Day because they understand its real message, far deeper than the commercial hype. This is the message that good and loving people everywhere hear and express, not because a day is marked on the calendar, but because it is simply a profound thing to step out of the frenetic flow of work/home/social obligation and give thanks. Shouldn’t we be doing this on a regular basis? Of course. Maybe we can all strive for that. For now, a special day set aside by 27 countries (other countries celebrate on different days) generates an immense wave of love, thanksgiving, and respect for moms that wraps our world like a unifying hug.

I have not entirely overcome my own impaired relationship with Mother’s Day, but I have opened to its meaning much more as I’ve grown older. It does not perplex or trouble me as it used to do. The knot of confused emotion in my chest has loosened. I was not able to know my mother as I grew, and she is a frozen image from the mind-camera of a nine-year old. Gram and I had the closest and most complex of relationships, and I have only been able to fully appreciate it in these years since her death. I miss her more than I can say.

So, for all the moms out there, I would like to extend the sentiment I wish I could share with Gram, finally, on this special day: I love you. Happy Mother’s Day.

 

 

Banner photo by Stephen Wenner