There's an old song that sings about 'carrying moonbeams home in a jar'. I've always loved that song because it was one my mother used to sing when she was happy. I'm going to put it on my request list for the next sing along which we just do around our house all the time. Which is not the truth. Most of our singing is done in our hearts. We love music and have had some rather talented, musical players in the family but Mom and I don't count ourselves along their company. The funny thing is - I like to hear Mom sing. I don't think she would say the same for me except for one night we were camped around the kitchen table playing rummy and I broke into, King of the Road and she had a surprised look on her face said -
You could sing. I mean you don't sound horrible. You can actually sing that song.
Let's just say the bar is set incredibly low when it comes to my singing abilities. And apparently King of the Road by Roger Miller is the beginning and end of my repertoire but at least I have one go to favorite. I am much more Cameron Diaz character in My Best Friends Wedding singing Karoke at horrible warbler levels. I have had some bad singing experiences (like my 6th grade teacher trying to get me to harmonize with the other girls for a performance and going DON'T YOU GET IT???? WHY DON'T YOU GET IT???? I think she ended up telling me to mouth the words and not sing.) and those kind of things kinda shut down your performance schedule for the next fifty years.
Thankfully if people try to shut me up from telling stories I don't pay attention to them and won't shut up if they ask me to. And I do this thing called RADIO where I talk some, interview others, and play great music. I do not sing along.
I could not sleep. Could. Not. I tried Valerian root, warm milk, reading, no blue screens, more blanket, less blanket, fresh air, not air. Just as I was falling asleep I'd think of something that would startle me awake. I thought I heard Mom calling me in a desperate way. I startled awake, got up to go downstairs to check on her. Nope. Just my imagination. I almost went to sleep again. Startled awake. Wondered if I had forgotten to pour water on the fire I had started outside earlier. Mom was in the swing and me in the chair and we were in catch up mode as she pointed out which flowers needed more water. (watering flowers is Mom's thing and she has the greenest thumb I've ever known. I have figured out I can grow plants that don't have flowers. Ferns and ivy's. And, really, who can ever have enough fern and ivy?) Soooo I said - we should have a fire. And I got the lighter fluid and kept tossing it on the wood and relighting it to the whoosh sound. Mama said - you are gonna set yourself on fire. And I said - no, I'm not. I just like the instant heat. And, by the time we were ready to come in the wood actually caught fire.
Startle awake because suddenly I swear I can smell smoke and if the fire restarted it could blow embers onto my car which would blow up and that would catch the house on fire . . . I put on my garden boots and stomp downstairs and out the door. There is no fire. There is mist hanging on the trees so there is that dripping sound that is just the wet of the night air. But the sky is cloudless, the stars are out. It smells clean and good and I think to my surprise, This is August in the deep south and I could camp tonight by a fire. Camping. Something I haven't done in a while that I miss. (I have a new mastermind camping plan that involves Vespa's, the Natchez Trace, and one great backpack. This is a new plan that was inspired by riding the greyhound bus for forty thousand hours and it's still in the making.) But right now I'm in the backyard and I'm amazed at the peace and the quiet and the light. I decide to go to the front porch to see the moon. So I go back in, lock up that door and go out the front door.
And there was the moon. Pushing to full. And I thought - OH, it's you. No wonder I'm not sleeping. Full moons have a waking effect on me. Even if I can't see them. Call it strange or wondrous or both but like an animal - I am aware. I looked at the moon and at the new lights compliments of Nashville electric that light up the driveway in the dark. The light spills gently through the leaves of the trees and It reminds me so much of Daddy's creek and the light doing the same. I am thankful for the comfort of them. And I stepped to the edge of the porch where it's open and looked up at the sky and there she was in all her glory. A moonbeam! At first I thought I was looking at the milky way but then I realized no, this is something different. This is light. It is - Moonlight. And, it is a moonlight moonbeam shooting over my house and into the sky. I have seen many thing but I have never seen anything exactly like this. It was worth not sleeping.
If I hadn't taken time to sit with Mom and visit a little late yesterday, I wouldn't have seen it. Because I wouldn't have started a fire. And I wouldn't have startled awake in the wee hours to stagger outside have asleep and be accosted by starlight and fresh air and that moon.
I am always amazed at the things in life that catch me unaware. The moments that seem wrapped in surprise. The ways that natural elements combine to create something I see for the very first time. Still. At this age. At any age.
I hope tonight I get some much needed rest. But if I startle awake, out come the boots. I'll make some tea and head to the porch, look up at the sky and sing Moonbeams softly into the night.
Wherever you are hope you are able to catch a sacred, magical moment of your own and carry it gently to bed and into your dreams.
The sky is a solid mass of unwavering grey today. Aptly fitting for Ash Wednesday. There's no relief of rain. No promise of the parting clouds. Like the whole Earth is in mourning, clinging to its pain. A type of ashen twilight that will last eternal.
Rescue Kevin lays in the bed of leaves outside the door napping in the cool. He doesn't mind the sky at all. When I ask if he wants in he stretches, rolls his eyes in apology that he finds his bed more satisfying than my company. Eventually, Summer will arrive and my company in air conditioning will be much more in demand.
That grey sky today.
Somewhere there are lovers holding hands and making promises I hope last beyond the next full moon, the next low tide. The breathing in and out of this planet. That they have loves made out of storybooks.
Yet, somewhere too, there is an old person sitting all alone, looking out the window, hoping someone will ring the doorbell or their phone. A delivery perhaps from a sweetheart who has remembered them from old times past.
Last night I drove to the store and a firetruck rushed past it's siren wailing. The coyotes began their high pitched wails in response. I noticed how far they were up on that ridge beyond the river. I wonder where will they go now that we've come and inch by inch are taking everything. Where will all the wild ones go?
Today collides two events I've spent a lifetime observing. An unlikely paring of Valentines- that day of kisses and chocolate candies, and Ash Wednesday, that day of ashes and repentance.
Grade school was made for Valentines. We made those silly little envelopes and taped them to our desks. Then we went around dropping tiny envelopes in one another's mailboxes always hoping that our secret crush would choose that one large card in the pack that said something special and cryptic like - Valentine I Swoon for You. All the rest of them said, you are sweet, kind, my friend.
Being raised Episcopalian Ash Wednesday held a special significance. We went for ashes to be placed on our forehead in the form of the cross and the priest said, Ashes to ashes, dust to dust in a somber voice and then continued down the line - From the dust you came and to the dust you will return.
That this day falls on Valentines this year is simply Southern gothic perfection. I can consider the wages of love and repentance, sweetness and loss, in one swift hand.
The wind blows unrelenting. The fingerbones of the trees waving against the dismal sky. A lone crow calls out.
Perfect Lenten weather.
Perhaps tonight the sky will clear and lovers will find stars above them as they thread their way through streets to dinner. Or their love may cast its own bright light in all the darkness. Then, so be it. Let them drink and celebrate their lives bound together.
My life found more ashes than I expected but also more love. A kind of general love that meets the world beyond the walls of my cynic heart. This love - it leaps over me. Makes way for itself in spite of my comments and asides. This wild love knows something fierce. Something more akin to forty days than heart-shaped papers. A love born in deserts, surrounded by space and darkness, wilderness and wild.
I've longed for such I do confess. In times long past. A willingness to lay down myself, become another. A partnership of perfection. Eternal kisses, forever bliss.
Now the rain comes, it hits the glass in large drops unrelenting. Look. The sky finds relief after all. At least something moves, something happens.
For years I've seen in other peoples eyes, this one here and that one there - a type of kinship. Knowing another soul ar first meeting. A fast friends type of thing, brushing lives with a stranger in a line or some odd place. A mechanic shop. A bar. A bank. A struck up conversation. Not a romantic kind of love but that of just the sameness of being human. Man, woman, child. An understanding. When there is nothing left but craving understanding. It is a - see me. Hear me. Please before I break.
Forty Days. The Lenten Season. A valentine of words. Love and loss. Renewing and remembrance. It is the Yin and yang. The balancing of moon and sun, dark and light.
Love, sometimes a sacrifice. Eternal and Divine on scale of God as man or just a tiny act. A little bit of time. A coin. A rose.
Whatever love looks like for you today I hope that you find it - a greater love, a deeper love, an older love, a newer love, first love, last love or the soulmate that you seek.
The rain is steady now. It's become a small downpour. The driveway is washing away down the road. Kevin takes me up on a dry towel and a bone. We've come together to celebrate what it means to be alive in this life. Up on this hill. Watching the rain fall while voices of all manner whisper through this night, 'I Love you' and 'ashes to ashes, dust to dust.'
Sometimes you have to listen to your inner instincts. The small voice we hear that whispers, this way, follow me. For some it is the voice of God. For others their sixth sense. For me I’d say it’s a combination of both considering they are one and the same.
Fifteen years ago I moved to Nashville following that voice. That’s the short and simple version of the story but it was that clear. Nashville. No other place on a map filled with other places, many options. I knew no one in the city, had no relatives in the area, and no particular job. It was the city where I had to be. I’ve never regretted following that voice but never more-so than last Monday when the celestial heavens aligned.
While others across the nation had carefully plotted their path for many years I lived oblivious, caught up in the daily rapture and apocalypse of my own life. It was only a few weeks ago that I actually realized the eclipse was headed my way. Or that I was headed toward it. Then I began to feel a bit unsettled. I blamed it on the news, the rolling tide of my emotions. On deadlines or fatigue. On just being me - artistic and emotive, passionate.
Plans were in the making all around me. All of the big events, major parties, bands and eclipse watching gala's. Glasses sold out, were recalled, sold out again. I never bought any. I bought Guinness. There was that small instinctual voice again. Alone, it whispered. So alone it would be. I would sit on my porch, watch and wait with expectation. Experience the unknown of what would come.
I woke up Monday saying Eclipse Day! As if it were Christmas morning. I was giddy. Such a silly word but I felt silly not melancholy. I worked on a short story about a woman waiting for the eclipse. The refrigerator man came to repair the fridge. I looked at my watch. I told him that it was about to penumbra was coming. I told him he could take a Guinness with him. I might have been hinting.
My house is circled with trees. Large Oaks of every kind, Elms and Hickories. I love the light passing through the filter of their leaves. The sun on their bark, the fog that moves through their limbs in the early morning dawn. I have a relationship with these woods.
I sat on my tiny, front porch, watched the shadows shifting forward, opened a beer. There was the singing of the cicadas and the birds. Dogs barked off in the distance down the hill. It was the middle of the day but night was falling, the shadows lengthening. There was the slightest of breezes and I felt the coolness on my skin as the day gave pause, began to bow to the passing of the moon.
I watched this approaching night for the hours it unfolded and then at the speed of atoms splitting, totality crashed over me. It was as if the keys of a thousand doors were unlocked at once and forever. And it took my breath. I whispered Jesus, Jesus, Jesus - not in fear or even in prayer - but in awe and wonder. A word of praise and thanksgiving to have lived in this moment in time, to have lived in the path of this happening and to be experiencing it in such an immediate and profound way.
I stepped out into the open beneath the dark sky where stars had appeared. Fireflies lit up the grass everywhere as if they had been standing by waiting for their orders to lift off. There are few moments in life this powerful and profound.
Day began to slide out from under the moon again, sweep across the yard, shadows being chased away by light until the fullness of day returned. The sound of the crowd miles away at the Riverfront irrupted into cheers.
Late that afternoon I watched the Nasa coverage, the interviews with people from all nations. This moment so exciting, so breathtaking. So unifying.
The following day I was in Parnassus Books greeting customers Visitors who had traveled all these miles to be right where I was all along. Sharing stories of where they’d been, how they’d watched. One man from Texas looked at me and said, “Totality is everything.”
"Yes," I said. “90% isn’t good enough,” he continued, adamant about this. He was preaching to the choir. “No sir,” I said. “Its totality or nothing at all.”
Another couple had traveled from Tampa. The man told me that they had run from the clouds farther up in Kentucky. Ended up pulling off of the interstate and watching from a field behind JC Penny. The woman said it was perfect. Her eyes were still filled with the wonder that I had felt. “An Indian man from New York and his family stood next to us,” he said, “and he watched the whole thing with his hand on his heart. He told me afterwards that in his religion this was a spiritual experience.” He smiled at me, tired from so many miles but so fulfilled. “I told him, buddy in my religion it’s a spiritual experience too.”
Another man told me, “You know, for just a minute we all stopped fighting. It wasn’t about politics or arguing. We were all in the same place. Suddenly we were all on on the same page.”
Eclipse books were on sale. People were buying them up. Opening to the pages for their next pilgrimage. Marking the trajectory. “Argentina,” one woman told me, “I was born there and haven’t been back in thirty years but I’m going for this.”
I realize that the world has scoffers, people who fall into the category of - What is all the noise about? Big deal. Sun, moon, eclipse - I get it. And those that say, Well, that was an interesting show, now let’s get back to business. But there’s another group. The ones who were deeply affected when those celestial bodies aligned, who felt an awakening of bold Illumination. When for those few minutes we became one people, looking heavenward, eclipsed by the vastness of the universe, our politics as small as those distant stars in the horizon. When all the pleasure and pain of simply being human traveling through this vast corridor of time was the greatest miracle of all.
Yesterday was one of those Sundays that could have been a Saturday because it turned out to be sweep and shake rugs day. Not very Sunday-ish at that point but on the Sabbath of Saturday Me and mama had rested and watched Grantchester on DVD's we discovered at McKay's. It was a quiet and peaceful day in the midst of a dusty house.
Sunday began with me cooking breakfast for us - eggs, bacon and rye toast. I don't like to make breakfast. Except on Sundays. I heard Mom tell someone on the phone as I placed her breakfast on her tray, "Yes, she's made me breakfast. She is being nice to me because it's Sunday. Fact is - I am nice everyday - but the week is so busy and I am always behind deadline on something so breakfast is a quick thing like cereal or oatmeal or protein shakes and then its off to the races. But Sundays are special. They are all about the long breakfast and God and church and football and the paper. For me that means grabbing the New York Times out of the driveway, snatching the Book Review, The Travel Section, the Arts section, a second cup of coffee and then beginning to read about faraway places and books I long to read, the plays I'd love to see. It's a vicarious traveling experience without ever leaving our hill.
In the midst of this ritual when Mama's phone rang I suggested she just tell whoever it was that we were having a leisurely Sunday breakfast and reading The Times. She replied, I don't read the New York Times and answered the phone. (Insert the -She's being nice to me comment here because its Sunday here) I passed her another section of The New York Times she claims not to read. (She has a preference for the wedding section but is enthrawled with the new things she learns about education or science or amazing things that have nothing to do with politics. I sip my coffee, turn a page.
After breakfast we started cleaning. And cleaning. And cleaning some more. For those of you who don't know we have been in the midst of moving Mama in with me forever and ever. It has also been in the midst of trying to repair this old house in a hundred ways and then searching for ways to move more things in from her 50 year stay at the little house in Panama City where I grew up. She is a squatter. I am a gypsy traveler with squatter tendencies - because there is no place like home - after you roam. The roaming part is crucial to the homing part being just right. But right now it's been all about blending our lives and lifestyles. More on that later. For now I can say WE bicker. I tell her what to do. She tells me what she won't do - which I consider talking back. It's a lot just like this -
You don't need to watch TV first thing in the morning.
Don't tell me what I need. I'm 80 something years old. I think I know what I need.
Well, I don't think it's good for you. I think you should read a newspaper in the morning because you learn something and it's quiet.
I want the news that happened last night. By the time the paper gets here it's old news.
(She's from a generation that barely had cars and got their news from a neighbor. It's her Iphone that's poisoned her to think this way?)
Look, Mom - if anything really major happens there will be sirens going off or guns firing or something. Just read the paper. You don't need the noise of the TV in the morning.
I know what I need.
OK, let me rephrase that - I don't need to hear the noise of you watching the tv in the morning.
Now, that's an honest statement. And that, I can understand that.
That was all the honesty we could take that early neither of us being the kind of morning people that like to talk to other people in the house so we just shut up and read the paper and drank coffee and watched the birds. Then she wanted to play music and I wanted it to be quiet for an hour while I wrote. So I wrote a little and thanked her for all that understanding and then we played loud music. She asked me if I wanted to hear Creedence Clearwater Revival and I said, Yes, and we cleaned things.
The reward for all our hard work was that we were going to use that fabulous extra hour of daylight to take the dogs for a car ride through the country. We finally had the car loaded up right after sunset, a slight glow of pink in the hovering clouds. By the time we were winding our way though the dark with me determined to show her Bells Bend there was nothing but scraggly trees in the shadows. The timing too late after sunset to see anything. The bare winter trees scraggly points blowing in the wind, rattling against the dark, catching headlights, shaking them off, catching light again.
It's spooky down here. Don't go this way.
No, really Mom. It's nice, It's nice here.
Well, I can't see anything. Let's go back.
We were going to go for a ride and we are going for a ride.
I don't want to ride. I want to go home.
You complain about being stuck in the house so we are going on a ride. 'm gonna show you the park.
You need to Slow down.
I'm going ten miles under the speed limit.
Are there deer out here?
(A few years ago I hit three deer at once, killed all of them and survived. She is using this knowledge in a sneaky way.)
Yes. There are deer everywhere.
So, slow down.
There are nice places here, and a new restaurant down here.
Who would want to build a restaurant way out here and who in the world would want to drive out here to eat? It's spooky.
It's not spooky during the day.
Well right now it's night and its spooky and I want to go back.
I am not speeding but I still pass the entrance before I can swing in.
There it was, that was the entrance to the park. We just passed it.
Thanks for pointing that out to me.
Sorry, I couldn't see it coming up.
Cause it's dark. Nobody can see anything out here.
Okay, we are turning around and then I'm driving in there for just a minute..
The sign posted says park closed at sundown. Only campers are allowed to stay. (She infurates me when she reads the rules. Always has.) We don't belong down here.
I'm just showing you. Look, see? There's a path? A real path where you can walk that stupid dog. (He's not really stupid but he's little and a bother. My 200 pound dog however is no trouble at all.)
Well, that is nice. It looks like a nice path. Now, let's go.
I didn't even know they had camping here. I'd like to come back here to camp.
You would? Really? You like sleeping with sticks poking you in the back and mosquitos and bugs biting you all night.
The woman can douse the smallest dream before it ignites.
No. I like sitting around a campfire and looking at the stars and climbing into a tent really sleepy and snuggling into my sleeping bag.
If you say so. Are we going home now?
Yes, Mama. We are sure enough going home. Straight home.
I turned the car around the path, drove back towards the entrance and we encountered a vision. A low slung yellow moon. So big you would have sworn it was the biggest moon you ever saw. It was a word stopping, awe inspiring moon.
Would you just look at that? I think that's the biggest moon I ever saw.
Me and Mama sat there in the basking in that glow. For that moment life was threaded in perfect balance - us tethered to the moon in the dark. And for once instead of being late for something we were exactly, precisely right on time.
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