I am tardy in many things. Posting this summer solstice missive is one of them, but for those of you who look forward to my little notes on the passing of the seasons and especially for those who e-mailed me to say, where is it? Here it is:
Sunday. The Summer Solstice arrives. Somewhere the songs that greet the day have been sung. Somewhere else the fires that greet the night have been lit and the sparks fly up, the dances danced, the flames leapt over by lovers celebrating fecundity, and the glasses raised in a toast to the bounty of the world. In nature’s world, the one without the veneer of modern culture, seconds, minutes, hours do not matter. Seven days? No, in that world the essential and eternal of time is day and night, the repetition of light and dark, the cycle of the moon, the path of the sun from one edge of the horizon to the other marking nature’s year.
We mark knowing in blood and bone and if we turned off the light, put the clock away, we might still recognize the fact of it.
I do not camp anymore. It has been years since I slept in a tent and literally decades since I canoed in the wilds. I do not live on the land anymore. The years I occupied the rented farmhouse within sight of Sugarloaf and overlooking the Mississippi valley are half a lifetime ago. Those days live in stories, but the fact of it is hardly present. My body and habit are urban. City lights and sushi, airports and city streets, a comfortable bed are a portion of this life. The smell of corn growing in the fields is replaced with the smell of the neighbor’s bar-b-que on a warm afternoon. The sight of the sun rising over a snarl of cars headed towards the office substitutes for dawn peeking through the pines or over a mist coated lake. The comforting sound of splitting wood for the woodstove has become the sound of the espresso machine making me a 16 oz cappuccino.
Yet even here I glimpse the natural world that is beneath and around the frenetic 24/7 culture. Maybe I experience it because I have had time is the other places or maybe poetry, meditation and luck have opened me to the revelation of the unexpected and invisible all around us.
Having lived not quite a year in Mare’s house, I now know at what times the sun comes through the living room window and illuminates the dining room wall. This is important knowledge because Hunter, the old cat, wants and waits while I drink coffee and read the paper to chase the light reflected off a shiny object on to that wall. It is his morning exercise. Going in and out of LA to work with the Children’s Community School in Van Nuys, I can measure the year by the color of blooming plants, of car haze trapped in the heat, or the smoke of wild fires before the Santa Ana winds. In every city I walk through the sight of rabbits, raccoons, and a surprising frequency of coyotes. The crows are everywhere, calling the hours like town criers.
It is not only the seasons that manifest themselves, but the character of seasons as well. The airport parking garage is testimony to the collective angst of Minneapolis in March when the old snow is black, the skies are gray and the prospect of a trip to Mexico is palpable. Summer evenings with the relaxed conversations of women in little nothing dresses and men in flowery Hawaiian shirts at open air tables. Mowing of the grass in the just large enough yard. August is marked as the end of summer; not only measured by the dog days heat and the ripening of tomatoes but bookended by the Minnesota Fringe at the start and the Fair at the end. This year I will again add the ten days of the Indianapolis Fringe just before the Fair. Each of them has their rhythms -- crowds moving from place to place, the variety of performances and at the “Great Minnesota Gathering” the folkloric peculiarities of butter head sculpture, seed crop art, and Ye Olde Mill (a classic tunnel of love) as well as the gastronomical bonus of food on a stick.
It’s also Father’s Day and though technically I once was a father whose child, had she lived, would be twenty this year, I feel estranged from anything but a nod and a debt to my Father for his caring. My old man taught me many things with generosity at the core. I remember fondly a childhood of the house open to friends and strangers, to small gifts and favors done. I have my mother’s temper but my father often modeled patience, though that one has taken a lot longer to sink in and like him I can see in myself that when the limit is reached the reaction is immediate and specific. Cue the image of my father dancing in the road, calling out, “a rainbow, a rainbow” after my mother and siblings had asked him to stop for the nth time on a Sunday drive through the New Mexico mesas to look at the ribbon of color trailing distant storm.
My business partner James became a proud grandfather in the last year. He also became a grieving father when his son Stephan passed after struggling with aggressive cancer. In the last months, James stepped back from The Public Policy Project work to be there with and for his son. Not only to be at the hospital, but to be holding him when death came. Watching James plunge in the sea of loss, I was reminded of how my own tears fell those years ago. Years ago? My wound opened again at a thought and the shudder of the broken heart so present that when the topic for the writing group is fear, the end of poem writes itself:
The fear the lasts, the one that makes me
Clutch the doorframe and go knee weak
Twenty years after, is the memory
Of the morning light and the crib’s stillness
I could not change. The sudden soul breaker -
That was the one. The one that remains unbidden.
The fear that I had not done enough, that
I was too late, that I would not, could not,
Dared not think of a day when happiness
Would come again or might be deserved.
I’ve lived with loss and grief for a long time, wrestling with silence and rage, breaking down, speaking the pain, telling it as a story, as a poem, as a way of walking and holding my heart day to day. It has made me more circumspect about the fragility of living and more reckless about love at the same time. Life is short. Live now for tomorrow is not promised. Bless the day you are here for you may not have another. Love the ones you are with. All cliché and all true. I see how my brother John carries his daughter Jennifer’s death. How Mare carries that of her sister and her father. And now, I see James carry his. I am not sure where he will end the journey but he will not be the man he was a year ago when he complained that it was time for his son to move out of the house. This was not the leaving he envisioned and cannot take back.
Time is the measure of our perception of change and change is the base line of living.
When I started writing this I had thoughts on Iran and health care reform with a call for you to contact your Senator and Representative to demand a public option, but reading this over they feel out of place now. Time is, change is. We are entering the season when many of us want to put away work and care. We want to live as we did when we were young, outside and joyously. Take your moment but take your responsibility as well. The decisions that will mark the character of winter and our lives are being made now. The wheel may turn slowly, in fits and starts, but turn it does and in the quiet moment when you are not stranding barefooted in the grass or brushing beach sand off your feet, take the time to write the e-mail or make the call that reminds elected officials that health reform is about lives as well as dollars.
Enjoy the blessings of this Solstice. I raise my glass to your health, happiness and the joys of doing the work you love.