Saturday, September 18, 2010

In Search of Power Places


My father was a dowser, a water witch. He was sensitive, kind and loved to fish in the small streams of upstate New York for trout. Water drew him , spoke to him.  Using nothing but a forked branch from a fruit tree, he could walk over the land where he suspected a hidden vein to dwell. The stick would begin to vibrate in his hands until he could no longer prevent the end from pointing toward the ground.The bark would come flying off from the force of of his grip on the shaking stick. He was never wrong, and people from surrounding counties would consult him regularly before digging a well. He never took a penny for his services, it would have been a violation of his gift. He planted seeds, they grew into mighty fortresses. He trusted the earth.

I, however, harbor a dogged distrust of the fertility of Terra Firma. I don't know what spawned my inability to trust  such a ubiquitous act as planting a seed. Whenever something does sprout and grow on soil that I deem mine, I am amazed. My distrust extends beyond the sprouting of seedlings.  The garden centers ,which are more and more abundant on Long Island, fill me with concern for their resident plantings.  I can waste hours trying to decide what may grow on my 1/3rd of an acre. Even after I have adopted some brave, well nourished plant it may linger all summer in the black plastic container where it was born because I fear placing it in the soil. My friend's  compost heap , a veritable dumping ground, generates  tomatoes, squash and vegetation to drool over without the lifting of a finger. She gave me some tall, pink flowering plants several summers ago and swore that they would, like squatters, take over any garden I planted them in.  They are growing, but remain captive in the planter I brought them home in.

I have decided to blame my property . Before the house was built it was a nursery, filled with young trees. Hawthorns, spruce and Cedars, for which the street is named ,grew abundantly. Leveling them and building a house which needed "fill" in order to secure its existence was an ill conceived plan at best. The builders thought that two young academics wouldn't notice that their house was being built on sand and gravel instead of rich black soil.  This subliminal metaphor may have forecast the future. It was not fertile ground. Marriages withered, children left home, the neighbors too, fell into chaotic spirals of decay.

I did not inherit my Dad's gift for dowsing. My gift seems to present as an unexplained ability to sense power places, vortexes if you will, sacred spaces. Places where the veil has weakened or been torn enough to allow something nubious to peek through. I suspect that I always had this ability but only recently have I come to trust in it. There is a spot between two large trees on the property where I work. The veil there is thin..When it is open I can sense it and, I pay attention. My Uncle Loren, only 2 hours from the moment of his death, spoke to me on that path and told me to call my Mother, his sister, as she would be sad.  One of my little students had tragically lost his Dad in an accident which never should have happened. I was friendly with them and often thought I sensed Frank, the Dad's presence asking me to watch out for little Frankie.  One day when this happened Frankie was walking beside me and said" Who touched me? Someone touched me on the shoulder." I smiled and said nothing but knew his Dad had managed to slip a loving arm through the veil to touch his beloved, only son. On the day that my young friend passed on a tiny drop of water hanging from a piece of play equipment caught the sunlight and expanded into a big, glowing red ball of light. It remained for 10 minuets until I, needing my own confirmation of its existence asked my 5th graders to turn around and look. They all saw it. I, of course, said nothing but my cell phone immediately rang displaying a number I know would bring me news of Lisa's death.
I think the property is an old Native American sacred space.

Does the presence of a unique, human love oil the hinges of these power spots?  I  think it may. Several times in the past few weeks I have been invited to the homes of friends, once for dinner, once for a shared meditation on the beach. One couple is composed of two young men, the other, a man and woman in their late 50's.  The unifying factor, a palpable sense of true love and respect for each other. A powerful joining of matched souls. These homes are power places where rich vegetation , little frogs, fish and beautiful loving dogs thrived.  Both evenings I found it hard to leave. The peace, the ease of breath, the magical sense of being cradled by something larger than myself was nourishing and fresh. These homes are alive, open, inviting havens where human love thrives.

It is the last Saturday evening of summer. The cricket chorus has been diminished by an autumnal chill in the air. Summer's antiphons have already morphed into one great unison. I miss the strident staccato of the Baroque echoes. In the southwestern sky hangs a pregnant moon, nearly full term she casts a maternal light across the  darkened woods.  My small gray cat softly purrs in the Terra Firma of my lap.  He has found love. He is home.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Who Am I? (with thanks to Leonard Bernstein & Peter Pan)

It crept upon me like some unholy stalker.  For months some undefined uneasiness has grabbed me in the solar plexus upon waking. Somewhere between a gnaw and a gasp I ease back into consciousness intuiting that something is askew. It makes its acquaintance in the physical yet, I know that this culprit has no form. Ghost of my past or premonition of my future, it has my attention.

I never expected to enter my 6th decade confronting an identity crisis, but here it is, full blown and menacing. We all adorn titles, social structure demands them of us. "What do you do?" quickly becomes "who you are?" For decades I proudly would display one of three when the question arose. It was a given. I was a mother, a teacher, a pianist. I could produce products and progeny  in proof of my function. Later, when my eldest gifted me with 2 little boys, I proudly added Grandmother to my list of identities.

Sometimes we can't mark, like a Birthday, the exact date when our lives alter. The uneasiness was taking on a life of its own and one day this summer I knew that I was not who I thought I was anymore. I woke up and realized that I, the I that  I always recognized as me, was lost, gone ,vanished like a vapor. Now, yes, there were mitigating circumstances lurking in the ethers. My youngest son is about to be very happily married and his older brother has found a partner who compliments his existence and loves him dearly. Although the biology of mothering never changes, the practical, everyday manifestations of motherhood do change, especially for those of us who birthed boys. It is inevitable that another woman will take our place and most of us take great joy in this. However, I am betting that the alteration of this familial relationship bites harder into the identity of a woman who lived most her life as a single parent. There is no marital relationship to reignite, no one to share with or bounce off.  The restructuring  is a solitary act.

There are isolated moments when imparting knowledge to someone else, in exchange for monetary reward, is still satisfying.  But one does not teach in a vacuum. No child left behind has left many teachers, especially those of us who work in the creative arts, in a delicate state of survival of the fittest. A good teacher has to carve her connections carefully without expecting respect, or recognition as rewards of the trade. Paddling upstream gets quickly old.

It is treacherously dangerous to go where I now tread, confronting my lifelong relationship with the piano.
I once met author Peter Matthieussen at a party in the Hamptons. I didn't know who he was and he struck up a conversation with me, decades his junior. The conversation ambled towards writing and he said " Oh yes, I write. I summarily go into my studio , shut the door and slit a vein."  And thus I, thereafter, had words to describe that tortuously perilous process of using an art form to release the torrent of emotional responses dammed up inside. The piano has been my muse and we have had a stormy marriage. Like a lover she has provided moments of rapture and moments of utter terror.I should have recognized a bad bout of tendinitis in my late twenties as a semaphore, a warning that the beast was bigger than I. I did conquer the physical aliment, thanks to my wonderful teacher Lucy, but the real disease was in my thought process.  The voices that warned of failure and humble beginnings were just too loud.. I was an accompanist, a place that I thought fit.  I did it comparably well, enjoying the challenge of being an invisible support structure.  I am not ready to file for a divorce, severing forever the connection with my muse. But I have stopped fighting with her. I had my own piano rebuilt last year. She is not the same as she was, but neither am I. WE still have our days of mutual satisfaction. I play, but I am not a pianist. God, those words hurt so much!

At 63 it remains to be seen what I shall become. Or maybe I am already there.  I'll chose to be mindful and watch.                                  

Monday, September 6, 2010

Child of Paumonauck

Long ago my parents bequeathed their blond haired, hazel eyed child with a Native American name. I had to wear it for many moons before it began to fit comfortably on my psyche and speak to my soul.  Little did I know that I would reside on the back of the great fish with split tail , Paumonauck which has become my home and, as such, part of my identity.
Every Labor Day the Indian in me yearns to be part of the Shinnecock Pow Wow celebration on the East End of the fishes tail. Every year I try to convince the rational me that it is not a good idea to go to the Pow Wow alone and every year I lose the battle and arrive there amongst the "real" Native Americans.  I actually do possess Iroquois blood, about 1/4 on my Father's side of the family, but it is my nubious spirit which really gives me the feeling of belonging there.
I have had several bizarre experiences at that Pow Wow and I always hope for the Great Spirit to provide me with another.  Last year I was moved to tears by an Elder Woman of the Shinnecock Tribe performing an interpretive dance to the familiar Baritone voiced version of the Maillot Lord's Prayer.  I was sure that in a 3 day Pow Wow I would have missed it this year but, like a gift from the Heavens, as I was walking to the gate to buy an entrance ticket I hear the beginning arpeggios of that hauntingly beautiful piece of music and arrived just in time to see the magnificent woman, again do her dance. The roughneck behind me quipped "Oh, so did I arrive just in time for the born again revival?"  I shot him a look that would have melted his gold chains and said "It's the Shinnecock's version of The Lords Prayer, be respectful". He tipped his hat to me and was off in search of less aggressive female fare.
John Running Deer is the prophet of the Shinnecock tribe. He has had visions of earth changes which harken to those seen by Edgar Casey, the sleeping prophet.  I wandered to his booth near the back of the field to see if he had updated his maps. But really, I was hoping that the veil would lift and provide me with  another validation that we are more than the illusion we appear to be. Several years ago, in the same place I was innocently sampling some exotic oils when a young Jamaican man walked past me and I was almost knocked down by the power of the energy that was created.  I looked startled, and so did he and he said "Wow, did you feel that too" I had and was moved in places I thought were long dormant.  Mr Running Deer witnessed the  whole thing and told us that we had been together for many lifetimes, most notably on Atlantis.  I never saw the young man again but still feel a sense of loss at the power of that connection.  It is the kind of thing that the rational mind refutes but the heart is not so easily fooled.

I am not a consumer by nature and thus it takes something really special to make me open my wallet at these affairs.  An exotic Mayan Man was selling these paintings made on handmade paper.  I was very drawn to them and spent time with his broken English trying to ferret out the meaning of what he had created.  I wanted one and picked 2, one large for $60, a fortune, and a smaller one for $10. After paying him and walking away I later realized that I had taken 2 smaller paintings, one was very thin and had ridden as a parasite on the other.  I had walked a full mile before I made the realization and fought with myself to return the stoleaway. The heat and my feet were deterrents and I came home with all three. I hope he knew that it was an honest mistake. He is probably very accustomed to barterring andI am not comfortable with that fare.

My less than agressive driving style and consequent fear of the tailgating SUVs behind me often leads me to discover back roads and quiet spots. Dune road runs along the slippery side of the Great Fish. Today it was badly pock marked by Earl's enormous wave rollovers. But I braved it anyway and drove in the little gullies between the fierce Atlantic and the inlet. The sky was so intensely blue today that its reflection upon the water was startling as I crossed the bridge which connects the mainland with Dune Road in Hampton Bays. Even the clown in the SUV behind me slowed to a crawl taking in the grandeur.
Tonight the azure sky will feed one of those autumnal sunsets that turn the horizon fiery, silhouetting the Great Fish briefly on a brazier of searing pinks and reds before he sleeps in the shadowy brine of the sea. I will bid summer farewell in my usual manner, perched on the gray, aging benches behind the nature center at Cedar Beach. There I will wait for that magical moment when the two Ferries from Bridgeport and Port Jefferson make their trek across the Sound , drawn toward each other like those magnetic Scotty Dogs my Grandmother had on her refrigerator when I was a child. I will wait until they merge into one against that fiery backdrop and then ubiquitously slip past each other pursuant of their separate quests. But it is that second when they appear to be but one ship that speaks to me so strongly.  Are all our moments of unity but illusions?

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Big Storm that Wasn't

I am a resident of a fragile island, it affords me endless access to breathtakingly beautiful sunsets, lonely beach walks and forty years of my own fragile footsteps in the sands of time. Born in the landlocked ruggedness of upstate New York I never cease to find wonder in this jetty of sand where I have raised my children, loved and begun to grow old. But there is something about an approaching storm that hones my love for this island home and fills me with anticipation of things forceful and yet unknown.  For days we have been warned of his approach, Earl, a category 4 storm in his heyday has now arrived diminshed to a category 1.  Last night, exhausted from the first days of school, I gathered all my beloved potted impatients plants, my tall gardenia and the few sentimental pieces of statuary that I own and brought them inside where nary a gust would break their tender stems. The trees, yawning a good 200 feet into the sky around my house have been here since the house was built. Like me, they are not as strong as they once were and there is an honest respect for their age which will cause me to bless them quietly tonight before  the storm settles upon us.  Even the sustained 35mph gusts could be dangerous.
Gloria's memory is still pretty fresh, 25 years ago she permanently bent the trees behind my deck and left the 3 of us huddling under my Yamaha Grand . My dear friend and neighbor, John had gone home to put away his picnic table and surfaced only after the wrath of the storm.  For 10 days there was no school. WE cooked on an hibachi over my recycling can. A huge frozen fish, gifted to me by a member of my church choir kept us in ice longer than anyone else.  When the fish finanally melted John and I roasted it on the fire and fed it to my cats.  It is these moments of shared fragile intimacy that make the approach of a big storm so enticing.  When the power goes out we are all vulnerable and a little scared by what might be.  The usually isolating environment of Long Island occassionally bends towards this intimacy in the face of disaster. September 11th was, sadly one of these times.  For 3 weeks people were kind to each other, walked on the beach and talked.  It is this break in the cold and austere which always quickens my sense of longing for community.
But, alas, Earl is a nonevent. It is Friday night, it is raining and I remain lonely.