in the company of bees

First, this …

My father used to say you could tell when summer was ending because the bees were out looking for new homes.

Then, this …

A friend texted this morning to remind me:  Today is the final day of summer. Enjoy it.

And so, this …

I take my work outside and flop onto a blanket under the trees. I wish my dad was sitting beside me. I wish my friend was sitting beside me.

Instead, I find myself in the company of bees.

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We are never truly alone, are we? I lie here in the grass, sun warming the soles of my feet, because someone who cares about me turned my gaze to the gentle passage of another season. I lie here in the grass, a handful of leisurely bees hovering about (and I, hoping they find what they’re looking for) because someone who cares about me taught me how to be in the world.

They are both with me now. My father. My friend. More so because I have scribbled their names into my notebook. I close my eyes and my blanket overflows with beautiful company.

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This morning I took a walk with my dog. Her paw is infected, I’m nursing a shin splint. We explored slowly, gingerly.

The neighborhood was wrapped in fog … a parcel bundled in damp gray paper. I half expected to stumble upon a white loop of string binding us all together. Yet each time I glanced at my dog, fur graying, limping slightly, she appeared as if inside a bubble of clarity — no fog pressing upon her at all.

She stops for every smell — this dog who knows her purpose — every taste, every texture. She turns to look at me, check up on me, smell me, as if to say, “Are you still here? Are you still yourself? Are we still on this journey together?”

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This is what we do for those we love.

We walk with them. We share their stories and their sunsets and we hold their hands on the last day of summer. We love their gray hair and worn away hairs,  their slightly battered bodies, their lines and their scars.

We close our eyes and hope they are capable of knowing us this much in return —  that this unconditionality will somehow continue to make us real.

It’s been almost a year since I had to say goodbye to my father. I haven’t seen my friend in more than two decades. My dog is graying, yet I have not yet begun to gray. Sometimes I swear she notices this injustice, notices this inconsistent aging process between human and canine and it bothers her as much as it bothers me.

And so it goes.

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At my dad’s funeral, one of his friends told me: “How you feel about your dad  — the way you looked up to him, the man you knew he was — that’s how your own child feels about you.”

I replied, simply, “I find that hard to believe.”

I am not my father. I am not that resilient, that indomitable. In some ways, however, his friend was right (of course).

And so I am left to wonder. Will my own child remember, long after she is grown and living on her own terms, to sink into a blanket in the grass with a journal and an afternoon stretched before her?

Will this girl, born on the vernal equinox, remember to pause and see, really see, the nuanced changing of a Dakota season?

Will she close her eyes and wonder, “Are you still with me?”

“Are we still on this journey together?”

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into the woods

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Sometimes, it’s essential to get away.

For my second retreat at Pointers Ridge,

I again bunked in the Writer’s Cabin.

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Though I had planned to write fiction,

I ended up writing an essay.

Not here …

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but here …

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…  because I craved space for the unexpected.

The gift, this time, was not inspiration …

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but clarity.

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I was welcomed.

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I was without time.

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I wrote late into the night,

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but drank the sunrise as well.

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Things didn’t go as planned. I drove to town for

emergency car repairs and <sigh> for work.

I was occasionally lazy. I took naps.

I made a mess.

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But in the mornings, the river kept pushing

the fog to the sky in smoky columns, which makes

more sense than some things in the world.

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Great writers have penned inspirations about

solitude and nature and time. I brought none

of those writers with me.

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Instead, I taped the words of

Hunter S. Thompson

above my laptop as I wrote:

“Buy the ticket. Take the ride.”

 

 

 

 

retreat … well, I just got here

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I went into the woods to write

a story about going into the woods.

When I got there (The Retreat at Pointers Ridge)

I realized I didn’t want to write the story,

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which is to say, I didn’t want to write the story

just yet.

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What I wanted to write, it turns out, was

poetry.

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I’ve been writing poems since I was ten years old.

Or before.

The first one I memorized (of my own creation) was

about a snowflake. The snowflake, to be clear,

was not my creation. The poem, delightfully, was.

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No one tells you, when you are young,

that you can journey well as a poet.

No one tells you, when you are in the middle of life,

that you can journey well as a poet.

What will they say when I am old …

or will I simply no

longer hear them?

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I joined the Marines, once,

long ago. I learned the language

of conflict. I learned love.

Hope. Fear.

I went to college. I learned

the same things, only

from books.

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It was in the woods where I

remembered: I speak

more than one tongue.

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I know

more than one path.

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I am

from more than one home.

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I am more

than one woman.

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I contain multitudes

still, I contain

multitudes I

contain still

multitudes

multitudes I

contain.

 

Still.

 

(All photo poems are from The Retreat at Pointers Ridge, South Dakota. The painted door is a creation by artist Jennifer White. Don’t know her work yet? Wait. The photo of the sky out the window of the Writer’s Cabin was inspired by a different photo, made by Jeff Paul. One moment after the other, I tried to see the world as Jeff sees the world, as Jennifer sees the world, as I see the world. I am better for the experience.)

sculpture walk

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Each year, right around the time the earliest

blossoms begin slipping

from their branches,

a fresh series of sculptures appear

in the heart of our downtown.

We embark, as ever, upon the reasonable,

which is to say:

We take a walk.

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We open our eyes.

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We greet the world.

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Not all change is struggle.

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Some change arrives as a carpet of petals,

unfurling beneath your feet.

lost in the trees

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We didn’t plant the trees and flowers of our backyard. A woman named Ruth lived here before us, and for 14 years we have been blessed by the simple act of trying to not undo what Ruth had done.

We have, at times, failed at this, though usually through no fault of our own. Last year we lost our mulberry tree in the great ice storm, an event unspeakably sad for all of us. This tree was the shade—a treehouse-with-no-boards. Her sweet berries fed not only us, but multitudes of robins and, recently, one lucky tortoise.

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Other growing things thrive in spite of our ignorance and Mother Nature’s caprice. Today, they blossom, reminding me to step out my own back door and stand fully in wonderment.

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Finally, I catch sight of something deep within the branches of the lilac. It is my daughter’s skipping rope, laced upward and wrapped round the handle of a metal pail—a pulley system, perhaps, or some other keeper of benevolent secrets.

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When I at last come inside to write (dog flops at my feet—she sighs her disappointment that this exuberant morning was not celebrated by the tossing of a certain tennis ball) a small brown stick shakes itself loose from my hair and tumbles onto my notebook. Apparently I have been burrowing deeper into nature with my camera than realized.

And so it goes.

Welcome Saturday, a day for getting lost in the trees.

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