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Slow Time on Superior: Yours, Mine and Ours

Big Bay Heart

“You become the company you keep, keep good company.”

A Sanskrit saying

Kingfisher
Vulture
Minnows
Ravens
Broad-winged Hawk
Turkeys
Toads
Canada Geese
Four little kids in a low riding canoe towing the bigger sister
Red squirrels
White-tailed deer
Painted turtles
Four Bald Eagles
American Goldfinches
Many songbirds

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.

Cairn Big Bay

We have been keeping company on Big Bay this week.

The landing pad for the Giving Motherhood a Voice book tour, which had stops in Ishpeming, Escanaba and Marquette, Michigan last weekend, is a small cottage on a rocky shore. We have we all slowed down here with Kathy, Monica and Geri joining us. Here is Monica’s post about our time.

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.”

 

Slow Time Salon

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
I dwell.

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.

Holly Hock Big Bay

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.

Big Bay Rainbow

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.

Suzi by Monica
This photo of me by Monica Devine captures just how happy this work makes me. This is from our Slow Time Salon on Superior stroll to the Big Bay Point Lighthouse.

There. Now I can go swimming.
xo S

This Untrimmable Light

 

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.

Mindful

by Mary Oliver

Everyday
I see or hear
something
that more or less

kills me
with delight,
that leaves me
like a needle

in the haystack
of light.
It was what I was born for —
to look, to listen,

to lose myself
inside this soft world —
to instruct myself
over and over

in joy,
and acclamation.
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?

“Mindful” by Mary Oliver from Why I Wake Early. © Beacon Press, 2005.

Listen to Mary Oliver’s read here.

Find John O’Donohue’s book here.

 

Find me at the Peter White Library.

Best,

 

S

 

Dragonfly Time

Spruce Lake Dragonfly  by Suzi Banks Baum
Spruce Lake Dragonfly

This pain in my stomach and the tears that brim, if and only if I stay quiet long enough, but really, I’d rather write, are all about my children today. One is supposedly leaving for college on Saturday. Aside from purchasing extra-long fitted sheets and a plastic basket for his toiletries, there are few signs that he will be ready to leave this house at 7:30 AM. The other is off at work where she can clean and wipe and do all the chores that she ignores here at home. She snipes that we don’t have guests any more so she can sleep on the guest bed in the living room. Now, not only do we have her shoes cluttering the floor wherever she pauses long enough to pull her feet out of them, we have her balled up shirts and crumpled newspapers on the couch, as if this room where we’ve celebrated Christmas and Solstice and Hanukkah, birthdays and meetings is now just an extension of her impenetrable bedroom upstairs.

The boundaries here are wobbly today. I took a bath and lost myself reading about damselflies and dragonflies. While soaking in water laced with Epsom Salts to sooth me, whatever part needed soothing I could not name, but I needed it, I identified the Twelve Spotted Skimmer that landed briefly on the purple phlox just off the back porch where I wrote this morning. My writing time extended in to three hours out there in my jammies because even though this is the day when I am protected from distraction, even though this is my Art Day as it has been for the past 3 years, even though I had directly stated last night and again this morning that I really need time to focus and work today because tomorrow will be busy, what with packing and all the rest, I was interrupted out on the back porch about 75 times. This included searching for the bike lock for my daughter who was in a rush to bike one hour to her driving lesson and it became my fault she would be late because I insisted on the lock. Then she left not knowing the combination but at that point, I was considering walking off the back porch myself and locking myself in the little playhouse in the back garden where no cheerful children play bagel drive-through with me anymore as I weed the red currants and winter berry. I could surely be secluded out there.

Elsa Dragonfly
My sister took this shot of a Dragonfly in Wisconsin.

I emerge from the tub and the house is weirdly quiet. While I think they have left, all to their aforementioned pursuits, my worry is such that I think they have all hauled off to family therapy to consult over my not being ready, willing and able to ditch what has become my work and be fully available. Wouldn’t it all be so much easier if I slipped back in to my 24-hour Mart Motherhood? Let us not forget that I have contributed mightily to the going-to-college effort and steadfastly stood by while decisions were made what weren’t mine to make and pitched in my opinions where they were called for. I have hung wash, folded wash, delivered wash in tidy piles. I have helped with the list making and conversed about the schedule.

But at this point, I am pretty sure it is up to him to pack his own bags. I said that. And he did not like it. He felt offended that I would stick to my Art Day while he went off to have two lunch dates, neither of them with me.

So I am convinced that this quiet is all of them at therapy talking about the fact that I just don’t do what I am supposed to do anymore. I make boundaries and consult with them about the calendar, which they always forget. Except my husband, who never forgets, so that when a sudden thunderstorm rattles the teacups, he darts around the house closing windows and is startled by my presence on the porch because wasn’t I supposed to be at a lunch meeting. No, I say, that got canceled yesterday and I forgot to mention it.

So, pondering them all at family therapy, I eat lunch outside again because that storm has passed. My stomach feels only slightly better. I take my vitamins, and then decide on an ice cream bar for added comfort.

I am damned if I do and damned if I don’t. That is all there is to this making a decision and sticking with it, my work, this work, this writing and art and time with my door closed, thanks to Virginia fucking Woolf who did not have children and I am very aware of that when, on the 76th interruption something quite beautiful happens that I would not have missed for the world.

It was a call to swim. “Can you be at Whale Rock in ten minutes?” I am thinking the rock about 3 blocks from here, sure, I can bike there. But no, he means the Whale Rock at the river, so I have to drive and I am there in 13 minutes and I even finished the row of knitting I was doing when he called me.

Would I have missed that for writing?
Would I have not painted one stroke for that dive in the head chilling waters of the Green?
Would I have exchanged his long strokes admired by two boys under ten, watching my boy the same way he used to watch others, emulating the swagger, the technique and the tug of the shorts just so?

No, of course not.
No, I would not miss that.

But, I will let him organize his own wardrobe. It is clean. There is plenty of it.
And I will be ready to drive him to school on Saturday.
I will be here when she returns from Driver’s Ed. And I will be nagging her about a helmet for as long as I live.
And today, I will stay behind this closed door because that is the agreement I have made, a family contract which may appear, as I have always appeared- flexible, resilient, malleable, changeable at the drop of a text or a hat or a tea cup.

This all makes me itch, but at least I can work now, my stomach has settled (hurray for the ice cream sandwich and the bathtub biology lesson).

The dragonfly, (mine a Twelve-spotted Skimmer (Libellula pulchella), is the symbol of metamorphosis and transformation. When a dragonfly appears, perhaps just twelve inches away from you on a morning where your tummy is tight and passing clouds gather stormy between your ears, “Its lightness inspires those who have the dragonfly as totem to use their ability to be flexible and highly adaptable in any situation.”

Perhaps.
Perhaps I have to haul myself in to the river to chill or to the bathtub to soak. What will be the benefit of this watery existence?

Maybe a moment’s fluidity? Maybe the ability to keep a light, positive outlook on the impending metamorphosis of our family? Maybe I can emulate the dragonfly’s aerial lightness and take things lightly? Maybe even when the clouds gather?

I am willing. Virginia and me, we are willing to be changed by this watery existence. Sadly, she ended her life in the river. Me? I see my life begins there.

Permission Slips 6
Go ahead, download and copy this image. Glue it in your journal. Make a sign on your closed door with it.

Happy Friday you all.
I am packing and patient today.
With love,
S

 

 

PS I haven’t said this in a few posts, if you like what you read here, please subscribe. If you are already subscribed and got an email from AWeber about your subscription, please respond to it. I am updating my mailing list and would love to keep you on it. I send a newsletter once a month, except, well, this month because I am leaving on a book tour to Upper Michigan, where, I expect, I will see many dragonflies. Please stay in touch. Comment. Share this site with a friend. Be well.

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