When Did That Happen

I woke up this morning and stumbled through the living room, to the kitchen where I fixed a pot of coffee, only a half pot, any more and I get heart burn these days. Then on my way to the bathroom I stubbed my toe on a bench in the dining room, as I hopped around the table in the dark attempting to grab my foot and find the light switch I found I was more disturbed not by the fact that I haven’t yet learned that that bench has always been there, but more so that I could no longer just reach my foot without straining my back. I don’t know when that happened, I used to be so limber. When I reached the bathroom and found my tooth brush, the paste and looked into the mirror, I was frightened. Not by my reflection and mussed up hair, but by the crows’ feet and the creases around my mouth, the amount of gray facial hair along my jaw and the traces of so many years passed in my gaze.

I looked at my hands and saw my father’s, how long have I slept with my eyes open I wondered? The days and weeks seem to fly by without discretion now and climbing a ladder these days provokes more cautionary thought than it used to. When did that happen?

I woke up this morning and realized I turn fifty years old in a few short months. I’m scared, I‘m not prepared for this, and I am certain I knew it was coming and still let it happen; even my shadow looks longer now.

Suddenly I looked around at work and I realized I didn’t recognize at least half the people around me, and most of them look as though they just wandered away from preschool without their parents. “Excuse me Sir” they blurt out as they pass me by never looking up from their phones or their tablets, as if they have somewhere important to be…I don’t it seems, not nowadays anyhow. Not anymore.

How cruel is time when the sun gets close to the horizon before you realize it and when the days get colder and fly by as if on a train to some place out of the way. I feel like I am on a bus that suddenly stopped aggressively and I have no idea where I’ve been or why I’m being told to get off now. What did I miss, when did I last speak with my children, and why does that damned Cat Stevens song make so much sense now?

Turning fifty is no joke, and it’s not for the faint of heart either. I sat on the side of the tub, head in my hands, frantically trying to think of clues I may have missed, I didn’t see that last sign, not until now, it’s like fog finally lifting and there standing in the wet grass is me, bewildered, confused, afraid but I don’t know what it is I’m afraid of, I guess maybe it’s the thought that I missed something, that I should have taken advantage of my youth and done more, gotten lost more, played more when I had the chance. It feels like there is someone closing in behind me, I can’t see them but I know they are there, I can feel them. I turn the corner and then run as fast as I can for as long as I can and then I turn around again because I swear I heard something right behind me, but again, I can’t see them.

The shadows are crawling up the sides of the buildings all around me now, the warmer sun light out of my reach, I can feel the cooler, lonely air creep up the back of my legs and I shudder. As I stand there feeling as though I’ve missed something and can’t remember what it was I look across the street and there is another, just standing there looking lost, as lost as me, but doesn’t want to acknowledge me and turns away but can’t decide in which direction to go.

I stand up and grab my brush again; I force the last of the paste from the tube onto my brush and continue on. Isn’t that the point, to continue on in the face of it all, to attempt to stay a step ahead? I can hear the voice of my old platoon sergeant even now, of all the things…”Stand up soldier, carry on, so long as there is a single breath in you”. But there has to be more than that I think to myself. Adapt and overcome, those are words I can fight on in light of. So soldier on I will, but by gawd this soldier will adapt and overcome, I will goes places I have not been yet, I will see things I have not seen. I am not done learning and will take advantage of every day that I have.

Then the door to the bathroom opens and it’s her, my Love, she doesn’t see the crow’s feet, she doesn’t see the loneliness and the fear. She holds me, my tired body, she lays her cheek against my back and whispers to me…”I love you, with everything, I love you”. And with that the cold melts away, the fear subsides a little and I feel stronger.

The Blessing

In his well worn and weathered left hand he held a bundle of sage, between his right forefinger and meaty thumb he held a single wooden match. He stood among the tall grasses and wildflowers at the edge of Minnehaha Creek, closed his eyes and listened to the songs. He heard the bubbling of cool dark waters rushing over rocks as it caressed the shoreline near his feet. He heard the rustling of the leaves in the Oak trees on the rolling hills around him. He listened long and silently, hearing the celebrations of Sparrows and Mourning Doves. And whispers from spirits haunting the wooded acres surrounding the Burwell Mansion, good spirits, wholesome and kind, spending their days dancing in sunbeams pouring through the canopy over the property and swinging on the tender branches of the willow trees next to the bridge over the wandering creek.

When again he opens his eyes the morning sun begins to warm his neck. He scratches the match against a rock and it ignites with a searing note, a flash and then a flame. He touches it to the sage bundle and flames begin to crawl over the end of it, he pauses, watches as the flames lick at the open air and then blows it out. The bundle smokes now, thick and sweet, he raises it above his heart and out in front of him and pulls a large turkey feather from his pocket. To the North he nods, and waves the feather in back of the sage, embers glow and the smoke travels out and swims away on currents of air over the gardens and among the trees. He begins his prayer…

“Smoke of air and fire of earth,

Cleanse and bless this garden and earth,

Drive away all harm and fear;

That only good may gather here.”

Then he turns clockwise towards the East, raises the sage and wafts behind it with the feather and repeats his prayer, a blessing…

“For the garden

For the land

For Mother Nature and for the spirits.

Smoke of air and fire of earth,

Cleanse and bless this garden and earth,

Drive away all harm and fear;

That only good may gather here.”

Afterwards turning clockwise to the South and finally to the West, each time sending smoke from the burning sage into the air, watching it swing around above his head and float off into the trees, over the grasses, through the flowers, over hill and dale and delivering once more his entreaty to all that live and thrive in this place, all whom shall enter here, pass by and meditate upon its rolling and wild hills.

As the sun hovers high above him now, he gazes out over the rippling waters of the creek as it flows towards him, he steps through the tall grass, his bare feet sinking into the mud at the edge of the water, and he sets the Turkey feather and smoldering sage down on a rock and then steps into the water, he takes a few more steps to the center of the creek and turns facing the water rushing against his thighs. The pressure threatening to push him over and swallow him up, but he stands, strong and proud and lets his old fingers trail in the stream. His mind wanders to a different time, a different place, his chest swells with a spirituality that engulfs him, his eyes shine with the sparkling reflection from the sun.

His jeans are soaked, his legs cold, he touches his wet fingers to his face and his lips, and the water is sweet and tastes like iron. Off somewhere in the distance he hears his ancestors singing above the rising current, he closes his eyes and begins to hum, and then his lips part and he sings, he sings loud and he sings true. He raises his arms skyward and the sound of many drums echo in his mind as a single tear rolls from the corner of his eye and falls into the water, he leans his head back and he falls, the water consumes his body quickly and he disappears below the surface, the creek carrying him away.

And upon the afternoon breeze all along the creek today, under the rustling leaves of the poplar and the oak, against the sounds of the creek and the birds in the trees you can hear drums, and somewhere among them he sings, if you close your eyes you can hear him standing strong against the current singing the songs of his ancestors, and if you taste that water, it tastes sweet, and hard like iron, and pure like the blood of Mother Nature.

Today and Always

Life is so funny sometimes, not ha ha funny but queer funny, a little weird and unpredictable, even strange and disorienting. Every time I think I have things figured out I soon learn thereafter that I am as lost as ever and things really aren’t up to me.

When I met you I was taken aback firstly by your beautiful looks and secondly, after having listened to your voice, and then having heard you, your heart, echoes of your pain and reflections of your scars I was captured by how beautiful your really were. I connected with that pain, with that history. I recognized you like an old friend I hadn’t seen in a long time, not in the way that it might have been had we not seen each other in person in a long time but like when you realize that that person has been near you, close by and maybe even by your side for a long time and suddenly it hits you, the two of you are connected by something more than you can see, more than is actually tangible, by your spirit, by your yearnings and sense of desire.

When that realization hits you it destroys what you thought you may have needed or wanted, for me it was singularity, especially after having been in a relationship for so long, I wanted nothing to do with being in another one. But I would soon be captured by you in more ways than in spirit and heart, my world changed, my desires too and my needs changed shape. Suddenly I couldn’t exist without you by my side in some way, that scared me and I tried to push it away, please forgive me for that. I had been in a relationship for many years, but I hadn’t been loved for many more.

You began to open my eyes to the possibilities that lay before for me. You showed me what it means to be adored, to be loved for everything that I am and am not. I cannot thank you enough for what you have given me, for all that you have done for my soul, for my heart, it has healed far more quickly and earnestly than in any other time in my life. Also thank you for all that you have done and continue to do for my children, they are all of the parts of me that you aren’t and together all of those parts make me whole, validated, quantified. You all make me count; you have avenged me for my shortcomings and made my life so colorful and breathlessly wonderful, each day when I open my eyes and you are there beside me I know I will be all right, I know the sun will rise and the stars will shine for you, so thank you.

I love you, today, always and forever.

Falling Away

For years he walked against the wind, struggled against life’s gales, fighting for each step. He would turn his head from side to side straining to draw breath at times as he shielded his face from the stinging reach of his mistakes, and when the wind turned to a lesser breeze he’d look skyward for a light to show him the way, but all he found was reflections of shame.

He would sit down then, hunker in and wait for the storm to pass. Then when it did and he could stand and see around him all he saw was nothing, he couldn’t see into the future and he couldn’t see into his past, all there was, was nothing. He failed, failed to progress, failed to attain, he failed to be anything but present.

Like so many the present is unaccounted for, they wander between what came before and what happens next. Never knowing their fate, always looking for the solid, steady ground below their feet, which always seems to be there…until it isn’t.

When that moment comes and it always does, you have choices to make; you can surrender and fall away or reach out desperately and grab hold of the very edge and hang on. Then you fight, you fight with everything that’s left, you fight and claw and battle against gravity. You pull and struggle, and you as your fingers bleed and become cold and frozen and the feeling in your legs dissipates quickly you get angry and you spit as you cry out for a chance, just a little opportunity to show you have something left to give.

When you dig deep enough and you find that small flame buried somewhere in your soul you suck it in, and use it and crawl from that hole and roll over onto your back, exhausted, and weep. For you just learned that there is fight in you yet, that there is something worth saving and you love it and caress it and as you lay there contemplating the present, you realize that the clouds that kept your world dark and empty have begun to thin. You see blue sky and know there is something in your future if only you strive to put it there, there is something and you will find it.

Can You Help Move?

There are very few words that seem to strike fear into the minds and bodies of those we call friends and associates like…”Could you help us move?” I think we have all been on the receiving end of that phrase, that desperate plea for help or manipulative query that is uncomfortably uttered by us poor souls who’ve had to take part in that emotionally and physically daunting task. It had been a long time since my last move although I have been at the receiving end of that question a few times. I would have rather been cornered naked, in a dark basement by a Catholic Priest in an abandoned building. But alas the term “Friend” is often contingent upon these very five words.

Dependent upon the answer you give can determine whether or not you get invited to the next “core friends” BBQ. And there is no righteous outcome, if you are able to throw up a confident “yes” without choking, it won’t only be eight hours of your life you’ll never get back but you will forever afterwards be that friend, the one he/she can always count on and will not only state that at every social function but will take full advantage of it at every turn. Especially if it’s an old stanky toilet they need removed from the basement, or some massive piece of awkwardly shaped furniture trapped in the family room for the last twenty years that just simply won’t fit through any doorway in their house, no matter how many times you turn it or angle it or slam down another beer looking at it in a stern and threatening manner.

If however you return with a definitive and minimalistic “no”, you can kiss that next “Core friends” grilled steak and Saison DuPont goodbye in lieu of the neighborhood BBQ’d frozen chicken thigh and store bought lemonade mix. Not only will the person that asked you begin their request to every other friend with…”So and so refused to help me…”, but don’t even consider asking them for help when next you need it because no matter what they will always have some commitment that’ll quite “unfortunately” keep them from helping you out, but they will wish you good luck and offer their quite sympathetic apologies.

This has all led the human race to honing their improvisational skills in order to be that friend who didn’t come up with the same excuse as every other friend. This is nothing new, nothing contemporary about it; in fact it has been true throughout history. I am certain that back in the day, during a midweek plundering event, when Eric Bloodaxe asked ol’ Sweyn Forkbeard for help carrying the wench he kidnapped from some unfortunate village to his boat, Sweyn probably gave him the old “oh well dontchaknow dat me cousin Bjorn Ironside is in town and we just really wanted to spend some quality time catchin’ up”. He had skillfully offered the ancient my relative’s in town excuse; brilliantly played he didn’t have to say “no” and got out of the task honorably because family is always first. Everybody knows that, and you will never be asked to prove that ol’ Bjorn Ironside is not just your fire hearth repair guy.

Over time we have become proficient at coming up with all sorts of excuses or “unfortunate” and “regrettable” reasons why we can’t help. That’s why small residential moving companies like Two Men and a Truck and the sexist but growing Shirts Optional Moving Company have prevailed. They are doing well and it probably doesn’t help that manual labor is all but a thing of the past for the majority of us. We sit five days a week at our desks wearing away the characters on the little buttons on our keyboards and wonder why those jugs of milk seem to be getting heavier…”but it’s 1%, I just don’t get it.”

Most people would rather beg for money on the curb with which to pay for their fancy coffee than to ask their friends for help moving. But don’t worry, brush up on your improv skills and don’t you even dare use the much worn out…”yeah well I would but I promised my girl/guy we’d go shopping at the mall that weekend, sorry Bob, but hey, good luck moving and I’m really sorry I can’t help out this time” excuse.

Hibernating

The mud on my boots has hardened and the laces are crusty,

the lugs have dulled and the soles worn in.

My pack smells like campfire and dirt.

My pants are patched and stained.

My bottles have seen better days, they smell like chlorine tablets and I like ‘em that way.

I try and concentrate on my work but my gaze turns to the windows and wanders.

The leaves have all fallen from the trees here and the sun hangs low on the horizon.

Soon the skies will turn darker and flakes of snow will begin to fall,

And I’ll yearn for longer days and sundrenched trails.

So for now I’ll close my eyes and let my soul ramble on in my dreams, anxiously waiting

for a swift spring thaw.

The Trail

My feet land swiftly and excitedly upon the trail.

The feel of uneven ground beneath my veteran hiking boots and the smell of roots and dirt fill my head.

The energy of the woods around me whisper in my ear like faint voices of spirits passed.

Thin streams of sun pour through the canopy and caress my face from time to time.

Something unseen charges through underbrush off in the distance, keeping to the shadows.

A bird calls out letting me and its winged brethren know we’re not alone out here.

And I pause and take in a deep cleansing breath, absorbing the energy of everything around me.

I feel alive here; I miss it every day I am away

And my soul yearns and my heart longs for every step and surprise that awaits me on my next adventure.