Friday, April 15, 2011

Some Mother: Abalone vs. Coffee

Saturday morning…and I’ve believed my husband’s line that some other diver plans to meet him to brave the 19-plus swell he’s bent on surviving in order to nab three abalone. Despite a raging desire to meet a friend alone for coffee during this rare window when my husband’s home and thus can cover our brood for me, my mother’s intuition perks up when he says casually, “Of course I’m still diving and I’m sure some mother will watch the kids on shore.”

I really can’t remember the last time some mother offered to watch my three children on the shore of this remote cove at dawnbreak while my husband dove, let alone remember seeing another family with children on the shore of this cove…so, I cancel the coffee date and weather the half hour of hairpins past Fort Ross to our undisclosed location.

Food bag over my shoulder and Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time on hand (one last chapter to reread before the afternoon’s mother daughter book club we’re hosting), I scramble down the 100 feet of steep cliff to the rind of sand we’ll park on for the dive’s duration, noting the healthily frothing feeder stream, wide with the recent rains, and the ocean’s jangle of white capped waves.

Weight belt cinched and mask in place over his eyes, my husband fin-walks backwards into the ocean while waving adios to me. I’m scampering to cross the log straddling the feeder stream because the three children, including the 5 year old, have since rock-hopped the 5 yards across the water and disappeared into the brush. Do I stay and watch my husband kick out so I can count seconds as he disappears into the choppy sea? Perch on the log and crack my book? Follow the children?

As the wind pushes at me and I struggle for balance, several seconds of raw pleasure wash over me at the visceral three-way-pull--this metaphor taking over my body as it poises--waiting for my brain to prioritize and decide which way to go since I can’t split into three, like the fractures Mrs. Which, Whatsit and Who make as a composite mentor/mother for Meg in Wrinkle.

I wave merrily to my man and settle on reading a paragraph, right there, standing on the log. Meg’s abandoning her plea to IT for Charles Wallace, finally hitting on the most effective of ploys: to flood Charles Wallace himself with all of the ferocity of her love. Even now, in middle age, I still identify squarely (as I did when I first read the book as a pre teen) with awkward, angry, doubting Meg. Wanting, like her, to open the vault inside where the power rests, the good kind.

A paragraph of time’s all I can take away from the kids, so I glance to where my husband last vanished…note the slick canary yellow of his board floating without body, wait until I see the hooded nub of his head appear and fling my voice to the shrubs where the kids fled…”Come back and play where I can see you…”

…which ends all the fun…and here they straggle back, the middle son with a new 3 incher of blood gushing down the shin, my daughter scowling at me with all the teenaged angst her 10 year old self can muster, the 5 year old taking so long to appear I fear the worst. Ah, he’s merely soaking wet, shoes dripping, his icy hands clamping my neck. I hold out the food bag; they drop in unison to the sand and eat in sulky silence--a week’s worth of lunchbox rejects: baggies of cut apples, dried cranberries, an orange, two freckling bananas.

Ten minutes later my husband emerges from the sea, three maroon-grey helmets of abalone suctioned to his board. But before I can reach him, he returns to the surf zone for a missing fin, ill-timed even for a veteran lifeguard, for he gets sucked under and tumbled for a healthy number of seconds. After eleven years of marriage, I don’t even waste the adrenaline on the trail-plus-flagging-down-rescue vehicle-math.

None the less, a tiny thread of worry wreathes its way towards my heart. Eventually I spot an arm, one leg, in the beery green curve of a descending wave, then the rest of him slides up on to the beach in a rush of foam, the missing fin clutched in one triumphant fist for our sons to witness. Then, on the road, our van dipping to the wind rush of traffic zipping past, he’s stripping off the wetsuit, flanked by former swimmers-turned-lifeguard friends, and one of the cops he knows, who all stop to chat while the kids holler, “Dad, Dad, we’re cold, let’s go!!!!”

Should I have given up the coffee date? Would some mother have miraculously appeared to care for my children? Should I just demand of my husband, like I demand of the kids, “come back and play where I can see you?” Flood him with love and hope he’ll walk away from danger and return home to me?

No, no, no, and to the last, yes, for a lifetime. That’s the verdict today. There’s nothing like abalone, sliced a ¼ inch thick and pummeled to draping consistency…fried with melting butter and crushed garlic in an open skillet on the outdoor wood-burning stove under the stars...

Further fun: A Wrinkle in Time, the movie, 2003; the version we rented also had a wonderful interview with Madeleine L'Engle in which she talked about the struggle she had publishing the manuscript, given that publishers at the time weren't so interested in strong girl hero types. She also let on that she wrote A Wrinkle in Time in five minute spurts "a few lines at a time" while her youngest was in diapers and she found herself happily balancing raising her children while writing.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Key to My Heart: Bank of America, Omens, and The Legacy

We do not know our own souls, let alone the souls of others. Human beings do not go hand in hand the whole stretch of the way. There is a virgin forest in each; a snowfield where even the print of birds’ feet is unknown. Here we go alone, and like it better so… Virginia Woolf, as quoted in Touched by Fire: Manic Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament by Kay Redfield Jamison

So everything’s ajar. I know you know what I mean. It has been one of the toughest winters for our family. Wet madrone doesn’t burn. Neither does wet mildewed madrone. Or the rotted centers of tan oak trees. But it is what we have, my husband and I denying the light rain sheening our coats, his rusted chainsaw blade, the dank rounds splitting themselves for us on the 200 yard roll from the upper hill down into the yard. If you cram an arm load of kindling in and get the stove hot enough, something eventually burns. I spend the week weathering the keen fungus stench that greets my nose every time I rummage under the tarp. My son calls me back to the deck rail to show me both the slim half inch grey-black marbled snail he’s saved as well as the glittering spit arc of the tiny refugee’s trail.

To the sound of the hail descending on our skylights at 3 a.m., I fight the jade zone of my 40s: a new vague dread that the chestline’s going dromedary, the recipes more savory in the next kitchen over, the grey choking out the auburn in my hair, a growing anxiety that my poet’s fastidiousness for lighting on just the right way to say it might serve me better in the courts of the underworld or if I could afford a magnificent charger and a velvet cape to wrap around my shoulders. Except I live in the woods and I know better. What prowls around in the dark out here is best left unidentified and free to wander while I sleep.

Predators aside, worse than wet wood is the thought that the bank might not work with us (after a year and a half of losing our paperwork, they gave us a no verdict on the government home loan modification program), that even this spongy, wet heart of tree is something we are renting from an establishment that could take it all away. That my husband’s been working two jobs in two cities for naught…that the colossal effort to raise the kids alone in his absence will not pay off since we just may not be able to turn the house over to them in their futures.

But friends near and far have been reminding me to stop the noise in my head. Duane says Beauty is free (attributing the statement to Barbara). Bonnie says Read Byron Katie. Sandy says Stop by my studio to see Rapunzel (and other sculptures in process). Elizabeth funnels me CDs brimming with chanting. Lydia pours me never ending coffee in her kitchen, shows me the petite purple purse hearts in her yard to get me out of my head, sends me home with dry wood. Jerilynn sets before me colossal bowls of beef stew. Sydney ferries my daughter to and from, takes her an extra night or two to lighten the load of three children. Aunt Rose brews me cups of strong Irish tea. Dad and Robyn take the kids, Friday after Friday. Beauty is free, and the tiniest of omens have come to my rescue.

Like this one, that came shortly before we got news we’d not be getting help from the bank… I’m sitting across from my husband on our first date in months at Coffee Catz, crying, a miniscule envelope containing a high dose Ibupren between our steaming mugs that was doled out by my periodontist for a surgery I survived that morning. My husband glances down, asks quietly, What is that, the key to your heart? I can’t even muster a smile.

But sitting across from his blue eyes, I notice I’m still absolutely in love with him, and so, I stop my complaining and he has the kindness not to go off about how hard he's had it earning money in two cities with two full-time jobs to pay for a home he barely gets to visit. We part ways—he to call the bank and negotiate, I to pick up our daughter from her violin audition.

Later, when my girl and I stop by The Legacy, run by an all-volunteer staff, where you can walk in with a quarter and walk out with an elephant sized ball of yarn (and if you don’t have a quarter, you can walk by and find a yard or two of fabric from the free box), my daughter picks out an innocuous rubber stamp along with a bag of plastic greenery and flowers for a movie she’s planning to make with her friends and says, Mom, what does it say on it?

I hold up the tiny rectangular stamp. It takes some squinting, but I make out the light pink raised outline of a key, the old-fashioned skeleton kind, bordered by the words, Here's the Key to My Heart. I laugh. And buy it, along with a tiny cardboard heart box with lid (also going for 25 cents)for my husband.

At home, I sneak down to my cabin, cut out slips of paper and write on them all the things I love to do with my husband, starting with the simplest and of late, most impossible to have, Spend time with you.

Further reading: Loving What Is, Byron Katie Further Listening: Any of Snatum Kaur’s Chanting CDs

Friday, April 1, 2011

Spring Harvest: Botanicals, Photos, Poems and Prayers at Coffee Bazaar

Announcing an April, 2011 showing of work completed in 2010 by Robyn Beattie, Ashley Frazer, Sydney Griffin, Tania Pryputniewicz and Penina Ava Taesali. Our 365 group met virtually once a week to support and report back to one another towards the daily practice of facing our work (in the choice of our medium). Drop by Coffee Bazaar all during the month of April in Guerneville, California, 14045 Armstrong Woods Road to celebrate with us the fruits of our year’s labor: a rainbow of botanical drawings, poetry set to photographs celebrating the life of sculptor Ananda Beattie, quotes for spiritual musing, and more poetry celebrating the winged (from hummingbird to hawk to the cravings of the body, freed). Coffee Bazaar is open 6 a.m.-8 p.m. seven days a week. Drawing by Sydney Griffin.