I have been in the north for 15 days, traversing New York State in to Canada, then up through the Lower Peninsula of Michigan over the Mackinaw Bridge in to the Upper Peninsula where I stayed put in my homeland for a set of days.
Then, after giving three talks called Giving Motherhood a Voice, and one day long art and writing workshop called, Slow Time Salon on Superior, I headed back to my mother’s house, which is about 100 paces from her gravestone. Spent two nights there.
And for the last three nights I have been in Milwaukee, which reminds me so much of Munich, the cream colored brick, the tidy streets and tree-lined boulevards, cafe tables set out in the August sun, neighbors out tending gardens and the pulse of the city evident through a variety of colorful neighborhoods.
I was able to consign three copies of the book I published last year, An Anthology of Babes: 36 Women Give Motherhood a Voice to a literary arts book center called Woodland Pattern. You can imagine how happy that made me. I have visited other bookshops. Attended an evening outdoor concert with my niece, her mama and my dear friend. And yesterday, I visited the Special Collections department in the library at University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee to meet Max Yela.
Max introduced his curated collection and we discussed building books as works of art. He generously laid out 15 different artist books for us to pore over. I did not take photographs, but if you would like to see some of what we saw, go here.
I will write of this visit more, but the engines of return are calling me. I pine away for my daughter and husband, and am worried that I have missed the short but sweet cantaloupe season in the Berkshires. My son is happy at college, but I could scoot over to picnic with him when I get home. Today, I sprint to Illinois to visit one of my mother’s many sisters, my Aunt Rachel. Then, I go on to my other sister Becky’s for the night. Tomorrow, I will be cruising across Canada and weaving this circle tour of Great Lakes and great friends, big hearts and generous souls all the way home. Completing what has been a densely beautiful visit to the land which sprouted me, where my roots penetrate deeply, where stories flow, the beer is delicious and the cheese worth writing about.
But for now, know that I have been loved all along the way, rekindled old friendships and made new ones. I have shared the stories of the Anthology and warmed to hear the stories told by new friends. My tour mates have made me laugh and cry, sewn their joy in to my heart with thick sturdy stitches.
And so, new, I will return home to love my family up close, pick up the threads of what I left off 16 days ago and see what August has left to give me. Melons. Plums and a dip in the river, I hope.
Thank you for traveling with me.
Thank you for your support of women’s voices.
Thank you for using your own voice today.
“You become the company you keep, keep good company.”
A Sanskrit saying
Four little kids in a low riding canoe towing the bigger sister
Four Bald Eagles
Millions of Superior stones.
Chicory, Indian Paintbrush, Mullein, Tansy, Thistle, Queen Anne’s Lace, Black-eyed Susans, many kinds of grasses, white and yellow water lilies, Aspens, Alders, Birches, Pines, sunflowers, holly hocks, lilies and carnations, and a host of raspberries, blueberries and thimbleberries.
We have been keeping company on Big Bay this week.
The dirt road is red, iron red. Our car is dusted with a pinky film of dirt.
Together, in the wilds of lake living, near a flock of rowdy chickens down the road with a persistent rooster, a small gaggle of intrepid kids who swim no matter what the weather, which until I opened this computer to write, has been gray, gray and other shades of gray, we have all found our slow time on Superior.
We have stacked rocks and aimed to leave no trace, but to be fully and completely impressed by the wild rugged beauty of northern Michigan. So far so good. I may have to ditch this writing to go swim while the sun is out. (I am a writer in the practice of writing. I am a writer in the practice of writing. It is a tiny bit too freezing- Gehairenfrost as we say in German-head freezing- to swim, so now, to satisfy my carpe-diem-northern-evening-in-the-woods-yearning to be outside as much as I can and still be a writer in the practice of writing, I am on the porch, with my feet on the railing, sitting so that the sunlight is blocked by a pine tree right in front of me. Mission accomplished. Outside AND writing.)
Tuesday, nine women joined me for the virgin voyage of my Slow Time Salon on Superior. I hatched this idea last year at Dorothy Randall Gray’s Women Writers Artists Matrix gathering in Saratoga Springs, NY. At a Salon roundtable discussion, the words fell out of my mouth before I could stop them, “I want to gather women on the shores of Superior, my heart’s home, to make art, write and share. I want to introduce women to the many access points I have discovered as Portals to Slow.”
I had this idea and right about nine months after speaking those words, I sat with women in a sacred circle writing Permission Slips for ourselves. We spent the morning learning a mudra flow of honoring, using aromatheraputic oils to support our grounding and joy, and dove in to mixed media collage techniques to create a tri-fold book form. After a locally sourced lunch made here at the cottage, which included fresh sweet corn grown on Hungry Hollow Road and picked by Geri on Monday, we walked to the Big Bay Lighthouse, just down the road. I asked the women to walk quietly, repeating Thich Naht Hanh’s poem for walking meditation.
I am home.
I have arrived
in the here
and the now.
I am happy.
I am joyous.
In the infinite
We arrived at the Lighthouse, a rugged, majestic structure that has held this shoreline for over 100 years with its three seconds on, seventeen seconds off light beam that reaches 19 miles off-shore to passing ships. The landscape beckoned us, the raspberries delighted us. We walked back singing.
Now I walk in beauty.
Beauty walks before me.
Beauty walks behind me.
Above and below me.
We aimed to bless all we did with a certain kind of awareness that quiet and slow brings. We worked all afternoon on our collages. Some women made cairns on the shore. Others painted compass rocks. We wrote and put our own words in to our small books.
At the closing circle, we shared some of what had touched us over the hours we spent. Women were surprised at how much the quiet nourished them. As Kathy Drue wrote in her post on Lake Superior Spirit, we tended our souls as we have mended our children’s clothing, patching holes with color and tidy stitches. Everyone left full, in a good way.
I can hardly begin to explain to you the significance of me being in the UP just now.
Our son is off at college. Our daughter safely ensconced with work and preparations for her junior year in high school. J and I have taken this time away, for me to pursue my work, to share An Anthology of Babes: 36 Women Give Motherhood a Voice with new audiences and extend my reach in the discussion of the creative lives of women.
Today would be my mother’s 83rd birthday. She passed almost four years ago now, in my hometown, Escanaba, Michigan. When she died, I realized I would have to be purposeful about maintaining a connection to this land I call home. I would have to choose to spend time here, cultivate my relationships, long cherished loves of place and people. So I have. This work and the residencies I hope to develop here, collaborating with other UP artists I hope, in small towns across the central UP, I hope to lead Powder Keg Sessions writing workshops, lead my Mapping Motherhood workshops and develop a Giving Motherhood a Voice event showcasing the stories of Upper Peninsula mothers, women who make things, whether they think of themselves as artists or not. I hope to contribute to the vitality of these communities by enlivening people to engage with their own stories. There will be many layers of this work, and many years for it to develop. But it feels necessary and beginning, almost without my knowing, like the certain confidence I find in my feet when I clamber up a rocky cap along the lake. My feet know where to go before I even see the next stepping spot.
This work seems to land in the laps of the right people. I pray it finds a home, and even a project manager who lives in the UP so I am not birthing this project alone. In my current home of the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts, I produce events with the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers. Though I create my own events, I collaborate when it feels right and I create in community.
And this Slow Time Salon week, this Giving Motherhood a Voice book tour, has begun to gather a community around it. Good company.
When you read me here on Laundry Line Divine, even without a comment or email to me, you still add to the growing awareness of this community. Women’s words about their inner territories are laced with a raw tenderness and blossoming warmth that brings me to tears and laughter almost immediately. Our audiences on the book tour spoke of being surprised at how much they enjoyed the readings and the ideas we introduced.
This is how good things begin.
They get carried along in the hearts of our company.
And this is how community is made.
Thank you for reading me here. Thank you for sharing Laundry Line Divine with your colleagues, friends, sisters, mothers, mentors, writing groups, art buddies and husbands. I appreciate every way you carry this way of being in to your daily life.
John O’Donohue says, “Light is the great priestess of landscape.”
Today is the second talk of our Giving Motherhood a Voice book tour.
We are in my homeland of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
My sister, classmates, neighbors; college pals, teachers and new friends are in the audiences.
The authors from An Anthology of Babes: 36 Women Give Motherhood a Voice, Kathy Drue of L’Anse, Michigan and Monica Devine of Eagle River, Alaska are joined by Terri L.Bocklund of Sykesville, MD here in Marquette today at 2 and tomorrow in Ishpeming at 6:30.
To describe the joy of doing these talks in this place would take more words and time than I have here today. Last night, in Escanaba, Terri described the genius loci of Lake Superior, the great vast “sweet sea” as the first French explorers called this place. Genius loci is the protective spirit of a place. While Lake Superior and this wild remote land can be harsh, offering winter winds that battle with all that is man made, there is also a densely beautiful grace to this location. Just this morning, cedar and birch, a Bald Eagle, 3 crows sitting close on a branch and a gaggle of turkeys greeted us.
Mary Oliver’s poem, Mindful, will say for me, what I cannot yet say.
Thank you for all your good wishes for us here.
I am off to put on my party clothes and get ready to talk.
by Mary Oliver
I see or hear
that more or less
that leaves me
like a needle
in the haystack
It was what I was born for —
to look, to listen,
to lose myself
inside this soft world —
to instruct myself
over and over
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,
the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant —
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,
the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help
but grow wise
with such teachings
as these —
the untrimmable light
of the world,
the ocean’s shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?