Saturday, July 29

Answer the Door

A large, dark SUV crunched to a stop on the gravel drive outside my office. Not expecting a visitor, I looked up from my morning labors impatiently, wondering who had made the trek to Penuel Ridge on the off chance I would be there. I checked myself, smoothed my unruly hair, plastered on my most hospitable Southern woman smile, the one that says, “yes, I just happened to have a pie baking in the oven in case someone came by” and went to the door to greet the interloper.

There stood a tiny woman with bleached blonde braids zigging and zagging across her black scalp. She shook my hand and made a beeline for the bathroom. I stood there awkwardly, waiting for her to reappear and identify herself. Bursting out of the door and closing the gap between us in two strides, she enveloped me in her arms and whispered, “I am a Prophetess and God has sent me to deliver a message.” Locked in an embrace, she spoke intentionally in my ear, part English, part moaning, part twitching, part guttural dialect I didn’t recognize. She uttered my truths, every single one in detail, acknowledging the whimpering child who suffered at the hands of my father and brother and the wounded woman who carried the pain of lost loves. “Repeat after me,” she instructed, and I did, eyes closed, leaning into her, repeating forgiving words of sweet release for it ALL. When consciousness crept back into the corners of my mind, I was lying on the floor, her smiling face looking down at me. Not sure the proper protocol for this type of experience, I pulled myself off of the floor to an upright position and did the only natural thing…hugged her.

How many times have we, in our human-ness, asked God for a sign, for a message letting us know he is there; sees our struggle; knows our pain and will wash it away? In our soul pining, do we believe it will come and when it does, will we know it? She was gone as quickly as she came. Was she truly a messenger sent from God or a crackpot on a joy ride through rural Tennessee? My intellect questions if it actually happened. The healed, open space inside of me that once held tight to the pain of the past says, “Yes.”

I wonder, if in your human-ness, you would have opened the door?

Friday, July 28

Independence Day 24

Independence from TV - no problem

Independence from sugar - a couple of candy bars and a small bag of Teddy Grahams in the last 24 days...not too bad considering what I was consuming

Independence from procrastinating - finished or discarded unfinished poems from a year ago (mostly discarded)

Independence from cursing - the "f" word has been flying out of my mouth today and I don't mean "frustrated", although I am quite frustrated...something is holding Bill to this Earth when his body is clearly shutting down, at being a prisoner to my body, which is only painfree in the sitting and lying down position

...time to swallow the patience pill


My first sweet I drew it in, you were there
ancient souls in a new body peering through curious eyes

My first sweet taste…as it passed my lips, you were there
hungry souls in a marauder’s body savoring life’s bounty

My first sweet love…as it filled my vessel, you were there
entwined souls in a rhythmic body breathing in one another

My first sweet heartbreak…as the fabric tore, you vanished
abandoned soul in a quaking body seeking solace in darkness

My first sweet awakening…as it shone in my eyes, you were there
reunited souls in a soaring body embracing one another

My last sweet breath…as it escapes my lungs, you are there
flooded souls in a spent body released…manna to the Universe

Wednesday, July 26

I'll Take Two Please

I'm hungry...yogurt, toast and coffee are to my right.

I have things to say...laptop is perched on my lap, ready to go.

Which will win out....hunger to eat or hunger to write?

I need more hands.

Monday, July 24

Scraps of Wisdom.10

Those who have sought for and gained from your destruction find no benefit in your resurrection.

Sunday, July 23

...on Jack Kerouac

I just finished reading Big Sur by Jack Kerouac. A disturbing read as you are drawn into his desperate attempts at clarity through alcohol soaked boughts of insanity. The dialogue was hard for me to follow at first, written in the beatnick vernacular of the early 60's. Luckily, I hung in there and on page 34, he pulls out of a drunken stupor to lay out with precise clarity one of the most profound narratives I've ever read. It's a bit long, but well worth the read...enjoy.

The setting is a small cabin in Big Sur, California...sandwiched between ancient redwood forests on one side, the pounding Pacific Ocean on the other. Here's a link to the coastline view he mentions from the upper deck of Nepenthe.

At high noon the sun always coming out at last, strong, beating down on my nice high porch where I sit with books and coffee and the noon I thought about the ancient Indians who must have inhabited this canyon for thousands of years, how even as far back as the 10th Century this valley must have looked the same, just different trees: these ancient Indians simply the ancestors of the Indians of only recently say 1860-----How they've all died and quietly buried their grievances and excitements----How the creek may have been an inch deeper since logging operations of the last 60 years have removed some of the watershed in the hills back there----How the women pounded the local acorns, acorns or shmacorns, I finally found the natural nuts of the valley and they were sweet tasting----And men hunted deer-----In fact God knows what they did because I wasn't here----But the same valley, a thousand years of dust more or less over their footsteps of 960 A.D.-----And as far as I can see the world is too old for us to talk about it with our new words----We will pass just as quietly through life (passing through, passing through) as the 10th Century people of this valley only with a little more noise and a few bridges and dams and bombs that won't even last a million years---The world being just what it is, moving and passing through, actually alright in the long view and nothing to complain about----Even the rocks of the valley had earlier rock ancestors, a billion billion years ago, have left no howl of complaint----Neither the bee, or the first sea urchins, or the calm, or the severed paw----All sad So-Is sight of the world, right there in front of my nose as I look----And looking at that valley in fact I also realize I have to make lunch and it won't be any different than the lunch of those olden men and besides it'll taste good----Everything is the same, the fog says "We are fog and we fly by dissolving like ephemera," and the leaves say "We are leaves and we jiggle in the wind, that's all, we come and go, grow and fall"----Even the paper bags in my garbage pit say "We are man-transformed paper bags made out of wood pulp, we are kinda proud of being paper bags as long as that will be possible, but we'll be mush again with our sisters the leaves come rainy season"----The tree stumps say "We are tree stumps torn out of the ground by men, sometimes by wind, we have big tendrils full of earth that drink out of the earth"----Men say "We are men, we pull out tree stumps, we make paper bags, we think wise thoughts, we make lunch, we look around, we make a great effort to realize everything is the same"----While the sand says "We are sand, we already know," and the sea says "We are always come and go, fall and plosh"----The blue sky adds "Don't call me eternity, call me God if you like, all of you talkers are in paradise: the leaf is paradise, the tree stump is paradise, the paper bag is paradise, the man is paradise, the sand is paradise, the sea is paradise, the man is paradise, the fog is paradise"----Can you imagine a man with marvelous insights like these can go mad within a month? (because you must admit all those talking paper bags and sands were telling the truth)----But I remember seeing a mess of leaves suddenly go skittering in the wind and into the creek, then floating rapidly down the creek towards the sea, making me feel a nameless horror even then of "Oh my God, we're all being swept away to sea no matter what we know or say or do"----And a bird who was on a crooked branch is suddenly gone without my even hearing him.

Small Miracle

I was on a conference call when a retreatant burst into my office exclaiming, "we have a minor crisis on our hands!" I politely excuse myself from the call, pull myself up off the floor (the only comfortable position I could find that day) and follow her to the patio, where she points to the problem. At the end of her intentional digit, is the large birdfeeder sitting on the picnic table. It's a long cylinder with holes drilled hither and yon with metal perches inserted so the birds can feast comfortably. There, on the bottom row, I see the body of a small bird jutting out of one of the feeding holes, but no head! I step closer and realize this creature, in its zeal to get the last safflower seed, has wedged its head so deep into the hole it can't get out. The retreatant is near hysterics...she's been watching this bird struggle for more than an hour to extricate itself.

One of us obviously has to stay calm and come up with a plan, so I check first to see if the bird is still alive, which it is, gently tug on its little body to see if I can free it, which I can't and step back to assess the situation. I open the top of the birdfeeder and look down. All I can see is part of its head, beak and its shining black eye looking up at me, pleading to be set free. There's only one thing to do...break the birdfeeder and set our feathered friend free.

So, I head back into the retreat house for plyers, channel locks, vice grips, whatever tool I can lay my hands on to do the job. The channel lock does the trick, several intentional tugs on the metal perch under its bird body and crack, crack, crack, the plastic gives way and out falls the trembling bird into my waiting hand.

It's in shock, laying on its side, panting, yes, panting like a dog. I'm pretty sure this little fellow is not going to make it, so I stroke its feathers and talk to it softly. It responds by peeing and pooping on me, which I oddly don't mind. The bird and I are locked in a staring contest, you know the one from childhood where the first person to blink loses. I recognize consternation in his fixed gaze. I send the retreatant back into the house for a box and something soft for it to lay on. She reappears with just the right makeshift bird sanctuary. Showing no signs of struggle, I gently lower him into the box where he seems content enough, all-the-while piercing my soul with its onyx stare.

The Ridge is wild, with many natural predators, so now I don the role of protector for our rescued friend. I gently walk the box into the breezeway outside my office. This is where I tend to the ailing houseplants, so it seems logical this is where the bird should recuperate.

I returned to my conference call, complete the meeting and check on the status of the bird. Much to my surprise, not only is he now upright, but flies out of the box in the general direction of my face. I duck and rush to open the door of freedom and our rejuvinated friend exits with a rush. Instead of flying straight away, he stops for a moment and rests, casting a backward glance over his left wing at me. Our eyes meet in a parting 'thank you' and he launches into the heavy summer air to the sanctuary of the forest.

Saturday, July 22

Crisis and Calm

The space between crisis and calm is rapidly diminishing. Bill is back in the hospital after being home for only 2 weeks. Pneumonia, another mild heart attack and early signs of kidney failure is the diagnosis. The news this morning is encouraging...he's responding well to medication to knock out the pneumonia. Mom reports he's anxious to get back to the lake.

When does medical intervention become a hindrance? The sands of time are rushing into the bottom of his hourglass, yet something is holding him here. I know my role is to honor his process and not intervene...easy to say...hard to do.

Tuesday, July 18

Scraps of Wisdom.9

"Our work is simply to find our work. And then with all our hearts to do it."

Sunday, July 16

I'm Tired

If I lay very, very still and breathe shallow breaths, the excrutiating pain almost subsides. It's been 3 sleepless days and nights of non-stop pain. It started out as lower back pain, but now the entire left side of my body from the waist down is on fire.

Hopefully, at some point, I'll pass out from exhaustion.

Thursday, July 13

Two Chickens and a Turkey Leg

I was thinking about my Grandma this morning, who taught me some mighty powerful life lessons. She had a reputation for being an impeccable housekeeper, which was no small feat considering the number of menfolk traipsing in and out of her house. One day I asked her, "Grandma, how do you keep your house so clean?" She looked me in the eye and said, "Baby, if you live clean, you're house will stay clean." Wise woman.

So, this morning I decided to tackle the mystery contents of the freezer. It appears to be full of food, but truthfully, it's full of various portions of food that went bad in my refrigerator. When this happens, I just move the offensive dish into the freezer, awaiting disposal on trash day, at least that's my intention. In truth, there's more dead food in my freezer than consumable. Did you know moldy food continues to mold in the freezer and turns a beautiful shade of teal?

After an hour of feeding the garbage can and emptying countless storage containers, here's what remains:

1. Homemade chicken broth
2. 4 bananas
3. 4 packages of corn meal - which must multiply in the freezer when I'm not looking because I only remember buying one carton in the past year
4. 1 package of coconut
5. Various bread products - hot dog buns, croissants, etc...
6. Two Whole Chickens
7. One Turkey Leg

From a freezer jam-packed with stuff, I'm down to 7 items. My Grandma would be so proud!

Sunday, July 9

My Personal Declaration of Independence - 2006

Although most people make resolutions for personal and professional improvement on New Year's Day, I have found Independence Day to be a more meaningful time for me. Yeah, yeah...New Year, New Beginning, New You...I appreciate the metaphor, however what could be more powerful than claiming independence from those things holding me back from realizing my fullest, most joyful self?

Since last July 4th, I've achieved independence from:

diet sodas
artificial sweeteners

I was only intentional about the top 4 things, which I admit were at the level of addiction. The additional ones occurred organically as a result of living at a Contemplative Retreat Center...a bonus of sorts.

It's been quite a year, so in the interest of balance, my personal declaration of independence is shorter this July 4th...nevertheless intentional. These are BIGGIES and have been with me since childhood, except the last one:

Watching television

The television, VCR/DVD player, all remote controls and owner's manuals have been neatly tucked away in a closet.

Since sugar truly is an addiction for me, I have to quit cold turkey. Nor do I intend to replace sugary treats and snacks with sugar-free alternatives...that's just silly. Please send blankets. I envision myself crouched in a corner of the basement shivering from withdrawal, like someone coming off of crack.

The latter two, I'll take a day, an hour or a moment at a time. I am amused at the irony of posting this 5 days after July 4th and will miss cursing, but look forward to an expanded vocabulary.

I've lit the fuse on this Independence Day. Time will tell if the sky lights up with brilliance.

Friday, July 7

The Mother Church of Country Music

Yes folks, this Sunday night I'll be standing on the stage of the Ryman Auditorium, the Mother Church of Country Music, singing my heart out with my brothers and sisters from Nashville in Harmony. I'm freakin' gonna sing at the original Grand Ole Opry!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Here's the best part...Mae West performed on the very same stage.

Life doesn't get any sweeter than that!

Scraps of Wisdom.8

Life is no brief candle for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it onto future generations.
George Bernard Shaw
This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap;
the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.
George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman

Wednesday, July 5


I lace my hiking boots
to the pulse of raindrops meeting
parched Earth, today calls
for a sturdy shoe, no umbrella
to shield me from the elements

We strike out on an all-too-familiar path
staccato footfalls muted by a veil of rain,
soft and supple as chiffon swaying
before an open window

Six clicks of a walking stick
and we enter the sanctuary of lichen-covered trails
cool and quiet, yet not without movement
leaves and branches bow and sway
as puddles rekindle their jubilation

Why is there no name for the sound of falling rain?
More soothing than static, richer than white noise...

Deeper into the woods
the crisp call of a cardinal shakes
us from our morning stupor
Senses heighten
breath quickens
we are hydrated deeper than our skin

Yawned from the mouth of the trail
I stand frozen at the specter of a
dancing lake embraced by smoking trees
layers of mist dissecting the green of
the forest, punctuated
by the smell of loam and ripening berries

Along the creek, cedars cling to rain, wrestling
gravity for each precious orb
held in defiance on the tips of outstretched arms
We are careful in our passing not to
engage in battle not of our making

Will the cascade, held to a whisper by drought,
bustle once more or will the Ridge open its craggy,
leathered fingers to drink in every drop?

Anchored steps and sturdy rope aid
our descent into the meadow
the grandiose sweep of walnut branches tickle
meadow grasses into gales of laughter
soaring above the low,
growling rumble of thunder

Shelter is but a meadow away.
We are unhurried to separate
ourselves from the feast,
to be in dry clothes
or restored to the order of the World

All too soon, staccato footfalls
and the click of a walking stick
will lift the veil between worlds.
What lies beyond is not necessarily chaos.
Like the sound of rain, it has no name
...except yearning and peace.

© 2006 Laura E. Valentine. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, July 4

Coming Clean

It's 12:48 pm...time to come clean.

Today has been filled with tasks aimed at keeping my hands and mind busy. Busy enough to drown out the small still voice inside of me that is throwing me into a bona fide state of guilt.

Here's what I've done so far:

baked banana nut bread
did laundry
flipped the mattress on my bed
rearranged books in my closet
washed, dried and put away dishes
cleaned the bathroom
arranged recipes

...and I've only been up for 6 hours. If I keep up this pace, I'm going to collapse before the day is over.

So, here's the deal. My stepdad has been gravely ill. He's been in congestive heart failure for more than a decade and his health has slowly declined. Seven weeks ago, he had a heart attack and has been in the hospital, then a nursing home for rehab and back to the hospital...where he is now. To say this has been a difficult time is an understatement.

I consider Bill my Dad, even though he and my Mom didn't marry until I was in my mid-twenties. He's a good man and he's been good to my Mom. He's also been very good to me; showing me over and over again what it means to be a father. I love him for this and for the imperfect person he is.

All the love and medical knowledge in the world is not going to strengthen his heart. He's not going to recover from this last heart attack. His mind is with us, but his body is shutting down and I wish he would just slip away. That's a nice way of saying I wish he would die.

I don't need to expound upon my guilt surrounding this wish. I'll have to work through it the only way I know how...shed some tears and find peace in being human.

Sunday, July 2

Chasing Bunnies

It's easy to overlook subtle changes since moving to rural Tennessee. These changes haven't only occurred in me, but in my constant companion, Mocha.

Having been surrounded by dogs my whole life, I'm familiar with their tendency to "run" in their sleep. Laying on their side, all four paws twitching and moving in tandem, muzzle trembling stifling a low woof. We humans can only imagine what our furry friends are dreaming of. I'm not alone in calling this phenomenon, "chasing bunnies."

The other night, Mocha was curled up in her dog bed and I was settled in my own, reading. Suddenly, I heard thump, thump, thump...the wagging tail of a happy dog. I gazed over the top of my book in her direction and realized she was indeed wagging her tail, but was sound asleep. I laughed out loud and then it occurred to me, she no longer runs in her sleep chasing bunnies. She doesn't need to because she runs freely all day long, chasing bunnies, wild turkeys, chipmunks, squirrels, etc... so now she wags.

She is one happy dog.