The Gift

On Christmas last year my stepfather gave me a gift, but before I started to open it, he said, “Wait. There’s baggage that comes with this gift, Linda.” I know about gifts—after all I am the daughter and step-daughter of anthropologists.

            “All right,” I said, and started opening the wrapping paper.

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It was a coffee table book on Tibet, one that in all likelihood he had picked up from his living room side table. Bill has been fascinated with Tibet since a brief visit there five years ago.

             “I want you and Blase to take me to Tibet,” he said.

I love this man. He married my mother when I was myself a young bride, and they had a glorious and passionate life until she died in 1997. Bill is now ninety-two—I would do anything for him. He is the one person I often speak to about my mother, a courageous woman who remains a constant inspiration to me. Bill always sends me a note on her birthday.

Bill wanted me to organize our trip, not travel with an organized tour like his previous visit. But Tibet is not easy to enter. You have to travel either from Kathmandu or China. Outsiders cannot visit Tibet as one would a western European country, France for example—climbing the Eiffel Tower, visiting Notre Dame, or taking the train to Versailles. Any person visiting Tibet needs not only a Chinese visa, but a Tibetan visa, and a guide to go anywhere outside of the capital, Lhasa. I made contact with a Tibetan guide service, determined that our trip would benefit the Tibetan people.

I asked my daughter, Ariel, if she wanted to join the three of us, and she jumped at the opportunity. We talked about what painting supplies we would take with us and began looking forward to painting together. Meanwhile, well-meaning friends warned me it would be dangerous to take Bill from sea-level to over 12,000 feet.” They had a point, but when I mentioned this to Bill, he waved it off. “I’ll take Diamox and be fine.”

Obtaining our Chinese visas was the first hurdle. For various bureaucratic reasons Bill’s application was rejected twice, while ours went through after some artful arranging. Several weeks passed and the timing was getting down to the wire. Without Bill’s Chinese visa, we couldn’t apply for the Tibetan visas, and if we didn’t do that shortly, it would be too late. I called Bill.

            “Bill, what do you think?”

            “Maybe I’m just not meant to go,” he said.

            “Well, if you’re not going, we’re not going.”

            “Oh, no!” he said. You must go! The three of you must go without me.”

Getting our visas was arduous, but the re-applications, hotel reservations, letters, documents, and day by day plans had worn me out. I’d spent so much time organizing this trip, arranging, choosing accommodations, and so forth, that I was ready to let it go. Bill was the impetus; without him I was no longer sure about going.

I called Ariel and told her it didn’t seem Bill would get his visa in time and we needed to decide if we would go without him. Blase was on the fence because his mother’s health was failing. I didn’t know what Blase would decide. I hoped he’d come with us, but wanted her to know it might be just the two of us.

“It’s fine just the two of us.” she said.

          “We’ll have to be courageous,” I replied.

           “We can do it.”

She wanted to go no matter what. It was decided. Ariel and I would go with or without the men.

Detail from   Journey  , Outdoor Installation by Tristan Govignon at Old frog Pond Farm & Studio. Photo: Robert Hesse

Detail from Journey, Outdoor Installation by Tristan Govignon at Old frog Pond Farm & Studio. Photo: Robert Hesse

Blase visited his mother and after speaking with her and his brothers, he felt more at ease about being away and said he wanted to join us. On Monday, I wrote to Samdup, the person arranging our Tibetan itinerary, wired payment for the trip, and gave the ok to apply for our three Tibetan visas. These were being processed when on Thursday afternoon Bill received his Chinese visa from the embassy.  

I wrote again to Samdup:

                        Bill has his visa. I have attached the copy below. Please add him to our trip.

I didn’t know if there was time to re-apply as a quartet, but I was determined to do everything possible to have Bill go with us. Samdup replied that they needed to resubmit everything, but he would see what he could do to expedite the process. We still have not heard definitively, and our flight to Beijing leaves on Thursday, but we are planning to board our China Air airplane, fly to Beijing, and hopefully to Lhasa.

I still wonder a little, especially in the middle of the night, if we are we supposed to go. But I trust that without knowing the reason, there is something important for us to experience. Ariel and I are excited to share this opportunity with Blase and Bill, to visit a country surviving despite the trauma of its recent history, a country rich in spiritual teachings, one that has already brought so much wisdom to the West.

Cover Drawing by Robert Spellman for The Wisdom of Tibetan Buddhism, edited by Reginald Ray, Shambhala Pocket Library.

Cover Drawing by Robert Spellman for The Wisdom of Tibetan Buddhism, edited by Reginald Ray, Shambhala Pocket Library.

Pointers for a Writing Life

At the farm, for the month of June, on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, I will concentrate on the tasks in front of me. On the other days of the week, as much as possible, I plan to escape to a rental house on Cape Cod. It’s between Wellfleet and Truro on the ocean side, an area I love and where I have vacationed with my children since they were young. My plan is to work on a book I have been writing off and on for five years and more. I would like to finish it, am feeling the pressure to complete this project—or if it seems not-finish worthy, eject it. Send it over and out into the ethers—delete, delete. After all, it is only electronic bits of information.

But thankfully there is Annie Dillard. In her book, The Writing Life, she says, “Writing a book full-time takes between two and ten years.” She offers me relief. I have not been working full-time on this project. I have two other full-time jobs—art and the farm. She also says:

A work in progress quickly becomes feral. It reverts to a wild state overnight . . . As the work grows, it gets harder to control: it is a lion growing in strength. You must visit it every day and reassert your mastery over it. If you skip a day, you are, quite rightly, afraid to open the door to its room.

I understand this ferocity. At home, I cannot open the book for it might take over, grab hold of a leg and not let go. When I am on the road, or somewhere else, anywhere really, on a train, in a hotel room, and now at the Cape, for some reason the danger is not present and I can turn to it, dive in, and to my astonishment, do the work I love—the search to shape of an event, or an object, with words. And then there is the book itself, becoming an entity of its own, taking over, devising its own life. The two of us now living together.

I am writing about moving to Old Frog Pond Farm, assuming the care of the abandoned orchard, and committing to bringing it back organically. What got me here? Why did my marriage fail? How has my Zen practice braided through the orchard work? And what lessons have I learned that appear in my art?

            Annie Dillard again:

The strain, like Giacometti’s penciled search for precision and honesty, enlivens the work and impels it toward is truest end. A pile of decent work behind him, no matter how small, fuels the writer’s hope . . .”

Yes, she is right, I do have hope. And then I fall short, I fail as I judge what I am writing. I hear myself say, I am not a real writer. I read other writers whose work I admire and see how my writing lacks their skill. How does one learn to write? Annie Dillard, thankfully, answers this question.

The page, the page, that eternal blankness, the blankness of eternity which you cover slowly, affirming time’s scrawl as a right and your daring as necessity; the page, which you cover woodenly, ruining it, but asserting your freedom and power to act, acknowledging that you ruin everything you touch but touching it nevertheless, because acting is better than being here in mere opacity; the page, which you cover slowly with the crabbed thread of your gut; the page in the purity of possibilities; the page of your death, against which you pit such flawed excellences as you can muster with all your life’s strength; that page will teach you to write.

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Other than write, I take beach walks. On my first one, I stopped when I found a horseshoe crab upside down, it’s little pinchers barely moving. I turned it right side up and watched as it began to move. Its long tail spine pointing to where it had come from, its hulk moving towards the waves. It stopped after about ten feet, and I had this sickening feeling that it was dying, right there, in front of me. I touched its pointer, wriggled it from left to right, and it started up again, slowly, another six feet, scraping its way over the sand, leaving its foot-wide trail. We went through this ritual several more times, my teasing the pointer, the crab starting reluctantly to move, but each time it seemed to be moving more slowly.

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When it finally reached the waves, I felt this was its most precarious place to be. It stalled. It waited. The surf poured over its hard shell. It seemed to be waiting for something. Then a large wave carried it into the jumble of surf. I saw was the tail spine, sticking up above the wave, pointing.

 

 

Mothers of the Earth

It’s a rainy and cold Mother’s Day morning. I smile though, as I walk to the studio and meet two families of geese shuffling their puff balls away from my threatening presence. The tireless care of these geese parents for their young, the overprotection, their ceaseless devotion strikes me as radical. What if we offered this kind of care to the world?

This morning I have no sculpture installations, no farm workers, visitors, or meditators. I thought about what I wanted to do with my free morning—a yoga class for my body, meditation for the mind, painting for the muse. There has been so much doing in the last month. Good doing, yes. Caring for the trees and the land. Meeting and helping artists. Delicious lists of a new asparagus bed to dig, raspberries to weed, young apple trees to weed and mulch, potatoes to plant, mowers to fix, dead trees to take down, buried rice to feed (we’re growing our own effective microbes to inoculate compost and orchard teas) and so on. But writing this blog is not on my to-do list, it is not something I do and say, now that’s done. It grows from a particular seed of quiet with the shape and color that only comes from being alone. I have to weed the garden of its to-dos in order to uncover what is growing.

Last Sunday we had a Crone Ceremony for the first time at the farm. Thirty-three women gathered to celebrate and bless each other.

An Online Etymology Dictionary defines crone with a lot of negativity:

late 14c., "a feeble and withered old woman," in Middle English a strong term of abuse, from Anglo-French carogne "carrion, carcass; an old ewe . . ."

The defintion ends with:

Since mid-20c. The word has been somewhat reclaimed in feminism and neo-paganism as a symbol of mature female wisdom and power.

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At our gathering, we made ourselves crowns with fresh forsythia branches and flowers. We joined to acknowledge the new shape of our lives as older women, as wise and creative women with enough experience to trust our intuition. We rang The Olympic Bell and listened as its deep note resounded through the grove of pine trees. We let go of habits that no longer serve our lives today by tossing a symbolic twig or stone into the current of the pond. We owned our creativity and freedom as we sang, Amazing Crones to the tune of Amazing Grace, and celebrated that we still have much to offer the world. We ended our ritual in a circle in The Medicine Wheel as each woman asked to be blessed, and the group chorused, We bless you, and spoke her name.

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Like the cherry petals that have fallen, the flowers in our crowns faded quickly. I tossed mine into the woodstove the next morning. But, this week, the orchard apples opened their pink cloud hues and row upon row like trackless waves billow on every side. Will the Gods favor us with a good crop? Will the low temperatures forecast for Tuesday night freeze the about-to-open blossoms? Will bloom sustain the wind and rain long enough for the pollinators to do their work on the next sunny day? 

Will our bodies trouble us too much so that we can no longer do the things we love? At our gathering we had one women who could no longer walk unsupported because of progressively debilitating Multiple Sclerosis. As she stepped with her walker into the middle of the circle, we felt her bravery and her struggle. 

On this Mother’s Day, I offer a prayer for the earth and a blessing for our children and their children. May we do the work to provide good medicine to heal our beloved planet Earth. May we creatively cultivate the opening of all hearts for every sentient being. May we find the seeds of quiet to reconnect with what is important so that future generations will blossom and bear fruit.

We’re all mothers of the earth. Happy Mother’s Day!

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