Lucy Crowe's Nest

Monday, August 6, 2018

Mere Mortal Magic

It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones;
pay attention,
then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.
I'm not a poetry reader, isn't that a shame? That's a bit like saying “I don't listen to music”, which would be unthinkable. So I'm setting out, this summer, to remedy that situation, and when Mary Oliver crossed my facebook page – the way so many poets, authors, and artists do, just in the random act of a friend hitting the “share” button – I decided the time is now. I've ordered her “A Thousand Mornings” and may even give it precedence over my annual reading of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
Summer has bruised me, this year, with too many stresses, ill tempers, unfinished projects and unanticipated bills. The drawn-out decline and final, horrid death of my beloved dog, Boo. Heat that clings like a viscid second skin. Poison ivy on my shins.
I've created a quiet spot in the woods near my house – arranged two sky-blue Adirondack chairs around the roots of a giant maple, hung wind chimes and bird feeders, strung fairy lights where the overhead branches dip down almost to the ground. The effect is something like a child's secret hideaway, walls and ceiling of jeweled green, dirt floor soft and cool. In the evening, when the sky is plum-colored and the bats cutting capers above the house roof, I can feel my soul unwind. I can almost believe in magic.
Ah Lord, life would be better, wouldn't it, if we could all subscribe to that simple ideology?
Magic. The stuff of Peter Pan and Hocus Pocus, Puff and Samantha Stevens. An herb for bad tempers, an incense for love, a kiss for the frog . . . Poof! Life is better! Isn't this what we all need?
Alas, we're left to create our own. Mere mortals, we make do with such as we can – chocolate, music, twinkle lights, love. And words. Oh yes, words. Such power, such potential, such . . . magic. Say a prayer, cast a spell, whisper a blessing, spit a curse. Maybe when your creative gears are stalled, your temper frayed, your big toe stubbed, you should catch your breath in a quiet spot and read a verse. Here, I'll leave you this one:

Sometimes I spend all day trying to count the leaves on a single tree. To do this I have to climb branch by branch and write down the numbers in a little book. So I suppose, from their point of view, it’s reasonable that my friends say: what foolishness! She’s got her head in the clouds again.

But it’s not. Of course I have to give up, but by then I’m half crazy with the wonder of it — the abundance of the leaves, the quietness of the branches, the hopelessness of my effort. And I am in that delicious and important place, roaring with laughter, full of earth-praise.” - Mary Oliver

Yup, pure magic.  Happy reading!

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Tractors, Souls, and Generations

Can tractors have souls? Absurd question, of course, but here - if God should deign to equip any piece of man’s machinery with a hereafter, the recipient would be an International 706. If metal could retain memories, if oil could lube a beating heart, then this little tractor would be the archangel of farmers everywhere.

Here she sits, at the back of my father’s machine shed beneath a lavish coat of winter dust and pigeon poop, and she isn’t cowed at all. No, not humbled even by her massive brethren or the slow air leak in her front tire. Her beautiful red paint gleams even in the chancy light; her engine is ready and waiting and . . . maybe she remembers.

But, if not, then I do. I have a heart and a soul, and I know that to ride on her fender through the chill spring daybreak was to ride straight to heaven. Wind in your hair, white-knuckled over bumps, lungs filled with a sharp crystal air like nothing I have breathed since that time - I knew, irrefutably, how alive I was.

And to be alive was good. It was blessed.

My father wore Levis, short-sleeved blue work shirts, and a battered, olive-green farm cap. His knuckles were scarred and the tip of one finger blunted from a long-ago accident that only my mother remembered, and occasionally spoke of with real horror. My dad - the strongest, the best dad anywhere - could light a cigarette in a full-blown windstorm, on the seat of that tractor. First match, every time. I stood in awe.

Ah, but it was easier to stand in awe, then, wasn’t it? And while the man, like the tractor, is undiminished with age, that’s a story for another day.

I want to stay here today. Here, on the wind-scoured prairie with the man and the child, the whole world spilled out in front of us like milk from a bucket. Tender blues and grays, the sweetest golds, new greens, and holy-shit-so-bright blue. The view, you see, was nine-tenths sky, the sun close enough to pluck between finger and thumb.

And the land . . . the land knew us. Remembered us, as it remembered our fathers and grandfathers, Paul with the horses and Vance with his renowned picker skills, William and Joseph Henry before them. This same dirt had dusted their overalls, this same air had cleansed their lungs and, from the seat of the 706, with the plowed earth lying like silken tresses behind us, there was no denying the perfect continuity of life.


When it becomes hard to reconcile the child with the woman, I come here. If I’ve lost the thread of my being in the snag of internet, bills, the pager that dictates my every waking moment, I come here. And sometimes, I walk out to the shed to see the 706. To remember the smell of real spring, the fingers of wind in my hair, the heat of bold sun on my face.

To remember the awe.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Spring Cup

Today I drank from the spring cup - an action which sounds mundane enough, but, let me assure you, has real repercussions in my personal life. Choosing the spring cup when the outdoor temp is thirty-five degrees Celsius and the indoor environment is damp with Lysol and flu, is an act of actual courage. It is, indeed, choosing to hope.

Of course, the spring cup is one of four. They’re coffee cups, Norman Rockwells, and duplicates of the set I had when I first moved away from home. Each has a depiction of a season and a boy with his dog – you’ve seen this, right? -  and in the spring, the boy is already barefooted. He’s pouring cough syrup for the poor little dog, who has his head covered and is sad-eyed with the flu. Yes, like the rest of us.

Possibly because I’m a farmer’s daughter, I find myself extremely affected by the seasons, and I tend to mold my life around them. I read books, choose music and socks and movies, all according to the time of year, and it’s always felt to me as though, by doing so, I exert just the teensiest bit of authority over that which cannot be controlled.

Ah Lord, how we’ve longed for spring this year! So long, now, since the snow felt magical or the cold invigorating. No, we’ve descended into this quagmire of germs, mud and discontent. Apathetic, lethargic, peaked, we cry at home and squabble on facebook.  
No more.

The spring cup came out of the cupboard today, and I filled it with Irish Crème coffee, and right away, through the back-screen door, I saw a sliver of green beneath the magnolia tree. And I know, I am absolutely certain, that if I slip on rain boots and climb the hill, I’ll find the first crocus peeking out between the hollows of a fallen tree.

I’m choosing spring. Right now, today, so that even if it snows again, I’ll know the sun is right behind it.
I found the soundtrack to Chocolat and, first thing, the opening chords blew away the stale winter blahs. A sky that had been leaden now looked tempestuous, instead -  and I suspected it was tinged with blue. Behind the hill, where I couldn’t see it. I slipped on my shamrock socks and felt ten pounds lighter. I opened Wuthering Heights and saw a shimmer of lightning across the pages. Rain pelting from a nickel-plated sky to splat into puddles that smell like earthworms and heaven.

Hope is, I believe, nine-parts pig-headedness and one-part sheer ignorance.

I don’t care if it’s still winter. Today, I am drinking spring.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Springtime Remodeling

Hope is the color of Springtime, the shimmery, lacy green lighting the hillside all the way to the top.

Does anyone choose their room color according to season? She sat on the floor in the middle of her decimated dining room and thought how it didn’t matter what anyone else did. Nobody existing on her budget should be drinking twenty-dollar mail-order coffee, either, but here she was, consuming it daily by the gallon. Because, well, coffee.

But back to the dining room.

Or, rather the ruin of the dining room and its much-anticipated rebirth
The room caught the light, which was both its saving grace and its undoing. Because, while the sunlight polished the piano and glowed in the cupboard glass, it also highlighted the water stains in the old wood floor and the dismal condition of the ancient paneling.

And she could have lived with that, but the same sunlight warmed the outside walls and drew the snakes, who nested in the hollow spaces between the studs and sometimes dropped out where the paneling gapped. 
So. New drywall. Overhaul, mud and sand. White dust everywhere. Her husband tracked it onto the carpet. Her cat left pawprints on the counter. Winter should have been the perfect time for a project of such proportions; short days and purple evening light should have been just right. But she hadn’t anticipated bad tempers and spilled Kilz Latex, the way the grittiness that coated every surface would begin to sift into her brain and make her restless.

Restless for . . . green. Jeweled leaves and emerald grass. The gossamer shine of lacewings, the metallic sheen of dragonflies. Lily pads or pondwater or anything besides the relentless January sludging the landscape outside her window.

She craved spring the way a sailor craves oranges.

And she thought that perhaps an indoor spring could be created. These walls . . . a pale, pale color called Irish Tune, a frosted shade, like skunk cabbage leaves. Lace curtains at the windows to catch the light and dapple it across the floor, a border patterned with hummingbirds and butterflies, just enough pink to catch the eye.

She could almost smell the colors – something like mint juleps and new tomato plants. Colors that sounded like baseball games and Sunday radio; colors soft as moss. And when she thought of the way that Spring would be there, every time she entered that room, even in the depths of winter, it seemed that a bit of January thawed and receded. Nighttime held off just a breath longer than it had the day before, and, maybe, there was hope.

And hope was green. 

Sunday, December 24, 2017

We Will Know Joy

J.M.W. Turner
Oh, Christmas!

A thousand memories fisted together into a big tinsel ball that smells of evergreen, cinnamon, and life. Marvel the Mustang! I must’ve been, what? Four or five? I never forgot the moment, the joy, of unwrapping that gift. I rode that silly toy all the way to the corner – a quarter mile away - in the snow.

Midnight mass, Mom in her long fur coat. She sang . . . well, yes, like an angel. That voice issued from that small person like Gabriel himself commandeered her soul and everybody in the church went still to listen, and to stand in awe.

The year of the pink Barbie Cadillac, the year of the flu, the year of the lost Christmas tree.

But here – there is this, and this is, after all, what I need to write about.

A late night at work, shift change and the winter light already altered into a deep color like bruises, snow falling like God gave it just one night to do its worst. My daughter’s Christmas concert at seven, and the call came in at twenty minutes to five. Four boys in a roll-over car accident.

Dark! It’s so dark out and heaven help us, we are so alone out here in this Godforsaken outpost of EMS.

But we go – of course we do, there is no choice, and now my daughter will sing without me, and these boys . . . These boys will bleed and cry like the small children they really are while we do everything within our puny powers to pull them home from the awful edge they’re teetering on.

No light. Or very little light. The fire department has its generators and the big halogens should do a better job, but its hard to see in the cramped enclosure of this little deathtrap car, and it's even harder to assess, and between the glass and the bent metal we’ll be a long time getting them out.

Call for mutual aid – but the neighboring community is already out on a call. Life Flight won’t fly in a blizzard, and we are on our own. One of the boys is crying for his mother. He’s a big kid – sixteen? Seventeen? – and I am glad I can’t see his face when he goes quiet.

At seven fifteen I am in the high school auditorium and my daughter is singing when I notice the blood of that angel on my work pants and now I can’t stop crying. Here in the midst of these lovely, insulated parents with their sweaters and knee-high boots, I am in my EMS uniform and I am crying so hard I can’t breathe.

Not leaving. Not leaving, because I need that piping, little golden voice on the stage so much. She is pulling me through and she doesn’t even know it.

So here it is, and I know this is getting long – writers are, you know, taught to feed the public in small, palatable bites – but if you can, bear with me.

Life comes at us so fast, in chunks of sight, sound, smell that our souls absorb and, I think, take with them wherever they go. I think, maybe, someday, there is a reckoning and we pull that tattered piece of ourselves out and say, “Here it is. Here is what happened to me while I was there, and here is what I did.”

Here is what I did with the sadness, the nightmares, the guilt. And here – this is important, too – here is what I did with the joy.

And I think, here on earth, we can tip Saint Michael’s scales in either direction - not by outside circumstances, but by our reaction to them.

Weigh heavy on the joy if you can.

There’s enough to bring us down – there always will be – but there is also, in equal measure, enough to bring us up. Light, laughter, love. Sometimes you’re in a black tunnel, and you can’t quite see those things; you’ve got to trust that they’re there, and you’ve got to reach for them. Lives are, I think, too easily given over to darkness, but we’re meant to fight that, individually and collectively.

It’s Christmas! Never is there a better time to feel better. Herenow, we’re called to join that army of angels who raised a joyous battle cry over two thousand years ago. Christ is here; he walks among us, and because of this we will know tears, blood, strife, but – more than that, so much more - we will know love.

We will know joy.

Monday, November 6, 2017

November Ghosts

At by Malanda Art
I was driving home with Keith Whitley playing on my iPod, and he had reached his last song – his best – before I realized October had passed. Tell Lorrie I Love Her is November music, straight from the grave to your heart, where it leaves teeth marks. Golden October is in tatters; summer’s sunlit memory has faded again into gray reality.

Keith Whitley, of course, is irrevocably dead and Lorrie left to mourn.

                We laugh at mortality on Halloween. Brave behind our masks and paint, drunk on chocolate, wine, and our own audacity. We are benign ghosts in bedsheets, vampires with blood-tipped fangs, stiff-legged zombies – our dance is set to the glorious tempo of gentle, sparkling fall.

                November calls us to sober up, chills us to the bone with unforgiving winds and skeletal trees -darkness, always, a mere breath away.

                Wiccans preach a thinning of the veil, now – something you can almost see, as though the sky is smeared in charcoals, and beyond it . . . maybe? Can you discern? A hand reaching for you? Leave an empty seat at the dinner table, then. Set out food and wine.

                Pooh! Hocus Pocus!

                Catholics celebrate All Soul’s Day. How close are the beloved in November! They’re in the smart of incense tearing the eyes; their shadows blend with those of the living in the twist of candlelight, and a priest – a good priest – will remind his congregation, now, of who they are.

                Don’t be afraid, he will say.

                Don’t be afraid because you are part of this glorious, horrible, confounding bundle of humanity here on earth. Because, yes, you are bone, sinew, teeth, but you are also soul, and that is the part you feel sorrowing right now, reaching and remembering.
                The departed are reaching too, from the other side. And maybe here, now - when you need it the most - you can remember just a breath of the place they call home? The place you, too, came from – is it blue or green? Or - are those just words we need here? Pretty words that we put to a color, a feeling we can’t quite grasp because humanity eclipses spiritual and that other place is lost to us now.

                But not quite. Gray November calls us to remember. Remember light, remember love, arms around you, kisses on your forehead. Remember that nobody is ever really lost to you. If you go outside and shout I love you! they will hear you. If you whisper it in your heart, they will hear you.

                And that nudge, that feeling - that awareness – is your answer. Heed it, carry it close. You’re only a transient here on November’s shores, a lost gypsy, and your soul knows that even if you don’t. Your soul hears the music on the other side of the veil; it danced there before time, and it will again.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Magically October

Artwork by Lizzy Rainey
October came on gilded wings in the night, and by morning the air was clear and sweet as champagne, another summer laid to dusty death.

A year gone by, then, since last the witches danced on Samhain. New growth spurts, new loves, new wrinkles, but, look – while all has changed, it yet remains the same, and that is the gift of the season. October’s ghosts are the sweetest; they beckon us forward and call us backward all at once. Rush outside and the air will lift you up - carry you like a scarlet tumble of leaves – and on it you will hear the echo of every self you’ve ever been, and every self you will be.

Who could deny magic in October?

Remember small tennis shoes pounding the pavement on Halloween night? Glo sticks bracketing wrists, ghoul faces grinning – the wind caught their capes, and they flew, didn’t they? Up and up on the new, sharp wind, right into forever.

Remember nineteen? What is was like to be poised, sure-footed on the cliff of adulthood? God, what a flight, from the railroad bridge to the water below with the moon cutting the sky and the stars chasing each other in the current. That love, that year, was the sweetest love – kisses tasted like candy apples; every breath was dizzying.

Look back, look back – first real football game, so small! The cat costume that every sibling wore, the orange forever candle, bonfires and cemetery walks, baby’s first costume – all in colors that swirl and riot and escape the memory before the painter’s brush slaps the canvas.

But here –  today, the wind smells like apples and the sky is hard and blue as bone china. October beckons like a siren song. Magic is ours for the taking – hold it in your palm and blow it into flame; it won’t burn you. The wind scatters the leaves off the hill into a bright, tumbling wave, and the ghost voices are calling you to fly.

Oh, jump into that current. Love like a child, run like your feet have wings – wine is the sweetest this time of year, love spells last forever, and tomorrow is poised on tip-toe right around the corner.

Hello, sweet October! We love you!
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