Lucy Crowe's Nest: 2017

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!

Friday, September 22, 2017

A Day in the Life

We greet Friday having had enough sleep – which may sound mundane to some, but in the EMS life, this is a rare moment indeed. Rare, too, for the air to have such a clear, gorgeous quality to it; it smells of the softening apples spread beneath the tree across the road. You could almost drink it, and if you did, it would taste like the Boone’s Farm you swigged on your nineteenth birthday, wouldn’t it?

But we can’t drink – we’re at work, wearing our Superman blues – so we’ll just breathe and walk instead. And hope the freaking pager doesn’t go off.

No jinx!

When you work in EMS, a lot of people ask you how, why, you do what you do. But the truth is, there are a lot of days just like this. The second truth is this: we’re not quite sure, ourselves, what opened this gate in our lives and took us dancing down this particular garden path. “It’s just what we do,” is the standard reply.

But it takes a funny breed, doesn’t it?

There are components to our lives which the rest of the world would find . . . odd, but which to us are the every day. Well, here, consider this:

Sleep. It’s such a commodity that you can find us snoozing – huddled on broken couches beneath our sleeping bags - any time of the day or night. We crave sleep, we live for it. Because, of course, it’s hard come by. Our lives are subject to continuous interruption – we open ourselves up to that, anywhere from forty-eight to ninety-six hours a week.

Forty-eight-hour weeks are for wusses!

We live together. We arrive at one station fresh from another, having not gone home between. We’re packing clothing, food, bottled water, coffee, books, as though we’re preparing to hike The Great Divide.

Some mornings it feels that way.

It’s strange to spend so much time with nonfamily members. Not just days, but moments. The phone call from an ailing parent, the death of a beloved pet, a child’s first report card, party plans, divorces . . . all shared over coffee and, maybe, a Marlboro with the guy in blue standing next to you. This, too – those breathless, suspended seconds in the back of the rig. Full-blown CPR at seventy miles per hour, a seizure that won’t end, the accident victim going shocky.

We can discuss the contents of our patient’s stomach while eating lunch and not even realize we’re doing it until the other diners go quiet.

We live for you. A (admittedly twisted) part of us needs to be needed. We have to fix, to mend, to right the wrong that led you to call us today. Something else you might not know – we don’t really admire ourselves at all. We’re not like Chicago Fire – we’re not the brave and the wonderful. Actually, much of the time, we admire you, the patient. The most outstanding displays of courage and grace generally come from the hapless victim on the cot - and when you’ve taken a frail, sick, little old lady from the nursing home who remembers to ask you how your day is going, you learn that quickly.

Finally – we carry a lot of you with us, all the time. The parents of the girl who overdosed saw, at the hospital, our calm, blue professionalism. They missed the struggle, the rush, the overwhelming desire to put life back into that body. Their nightmares will probably never end, but, oh, we understand nightmares, too.

But not today.

Today the sun feels like a warm wash of absolute benevolence. The pagers rest benignly in our pockets as though they’ll never speak again. We’re not exhausted or burned-out or alcoholic. (Chicago Fire again.) In fact, we possess a unique perspective on the goodness of life revolving around the simple fact that we are alive.

Today, we are golden.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Summer Calls Me Home

Photography by Erebos Photographic Studios
Thunder wakens me the first time – deep conga roll just pass the whine of our window air; the clouds are torn and purple, the leaves on the hill already jeweled with the first fat raindrops, and I’ve disregarded morning in the time it takes to roll over.

By the time I emerge, rumpled from my extended stay, the air has cleared and the ground steams beneath a dazzling sun. Coffee, swimsuit, sunglasses, and I’m headed out.

Summer calls me home.

Here, above the valley, the land flattens out like a wide clay bowl, chipped and striped in greens and golds, the sky a hard ceramic above - a color like helium balloons or the fistful of forget-me-nots your first love gave you.

Locals call the high spot “the ridge” but in Illinois this is something of a misnomer; we have no mountains. The truth is, out here, the land falls away, flat and still as the Pacific, to an unchanging, long and straight horizon. At night, above and below differ only in the depth of their shadows - planets and fireflies kissing so that the effect is that of swimming in a bowl of stars – but by daylight, you can see forever. You can see your whole life spread out before and behind you, your soul easing from your body and soaring, following the straight corn rows all the way to the sky.

We’re used to that here, and I really only marvel at it once in a while; I don’t think about the way you can see the silvery glint of barn roofs four miles off or spot a stranger’s pick-up before you make the turn home.


When I was fifteen, I could sit at the edge of the hay field and watch the sun ooze like Orange-Melts into the earth, Venus shimmering to life between the walnut trees, the lightning bugs beginning their first tender love dance. My muscles would ache from stacking bales, my skin tighten with sun burn, but here it is – every breath, every single one, was filled with God.

If the rest of the world is Godless, it’s because He lives there at home; I’m certain of it.

Because I found, when I left – although I didn’t go far – that nothing was ever so peaceful, so simple or true again. Life has such a brutal way of smacking the innocence from us, doesn’t it? Teaching us that love isn’t love, that death is only a hair’s breadth away and it’s hardly ever happy. That lies slip easily from beautiful tongues, cruelty exists in a black chamber of every heart, and even Jesus wept. Hopelessness, depression, fear – all lying dormant within us, only waiting for the key to turn in the lock.

So. Home.

Six generations have worked, loved, nurtured this ground. Drought, blight, Reaganomics and chinch bugs met with unwavering determination and a black Irish humor. My grandfather traded horses here, my father went to school right down on the corner, and I . . . I lived here. And although I have changed my last name twice and stepped in more than a few shit piles along the way, when I’m here I know who I am.

And the rest of the world recedes - beautifully, silently sliding away until the only sound left is the wind in the corn and the murmur of Farm Radio.

I am home.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The M. Mouse Calamity: Kitty-Boy's Return

From the desk of Gothika, Dark Lord of the Grimalkins aka Kitty-Boy:

“Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it.”

Hmm . . . lovely, but no.

“Call me Ishmael.”

No! Oh dear no, please don’t call me Ishmael.

Why does my human set such store by the written word? *sigh*

After a six-month hiatus – during which she plagued you, her loyal fan base, with her tireless blather – I am back. The reason for my return (prepare yourself, gentle reader) has its roots in pure evil.

She is packing!

Oh, she tries to hide it from me, confining her efforts to the closet, behind closed doors – but I . . . I am a shadow; I am a sleek, stealthy creature, a night hunter. I SEE ALL! Yes, she is packing.

The man spends moments at the computer when he is not even aware of my existence. He stares moony-eyed at the screen, fingers clicking on beach and margarita advertisements.

Where is this Florida they speak of? And could its charms possibly surpass my beauty? I think not!

I have doubled and redoubled my efforts at winning their undivided attention. While my human pours over maps and speaks with delight of this . . . this creature, this Mickey Mouse (?!) I sit on the back of the couch and tap her head with my gorgeous, hairy paw. I purr lovingly in her ear. When all else fails, I vomit on her favorite chair. (For a clever beast, she is appalling inept at scouting her surroundings, and she swears like a pirate.)

I roll over to show her my lovely belly (yes, like a dog!). I prance behind her wherever she goes, twitching my perfect plume of a tail. Sometimes I even condescend to bat at her shoelace. (A favorite activity of hers; I love her, but she is a simple creature.)

But – all to no avail! What to do, what to do?

Oh, she tries to comfort me! The boy will stay with me, she says. The boy! He has a dog! A large, clumsy, revolting savage! He drools; he reeks. (The dog, not the boy; the boy is at least moderately civilized.)

The girl will visit me frequently, she says. The girl is entirely too busy and will spend no more than an hour or two each day (!!) paying homage and making tuna offerings. She does not come close to comprehending what is required of her and, indeed, she can often be observed talking to the bird (Pretty Bird, she calls it! Never noticing its failure to fashion real sentences.) She stops in the yard and pets the dogs! Before petting me!

This is unspeakable! It cannot be endured.

Where is this home of this M. Mouse? (And how did he come to be ruler there?) Will it be possible to follow the humans? I am ill at the thought. They travel in a horrid little box on wheels which plays the most atrocious music and smells of coconut air freshener. The man loves speed and curses at the other little boxes in the road and the woman wears atrocious pink sunglasses.

But I digress.

Surely, dear reader, you can comprehend the scope of my difficulties. The fateful day fast approaches. If you are reading this, I beg you, send help.

Want more Dark Lord of the Grimalkins? Check out his last post "Curse of the Stone Arms: Kitty-Boy's Tale" here.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

"These Iris Are Her Own"

It is, at last, the time of year when every window - each little glass pane – in the house at the bottom of the hill is filled with green. Jeweled, sun-dappled – emerald, jade, and lime. The evening air has an aqueous feel to it - as though one is moving, at all times, slowly and languorously underwater, the overhead leaves swaying delicately to moon tide and earth’s pull.

Iris time. The stems budded out, now, swollen and ready to pop, the thick, woody leaves crowding densely over the sandy ditch soil.

She goes out with tee shirt sleeves rolled and feet bare, toes grass- stained. Kneels by the iris bed and loses herself in the scent of weeds and grass, the crumble of dirt beneath her fingers, drone of honey bee, swoop of swallowtail.

Iris – possibly the sweetest scent in the entire known universe. Something like grape Kool-Aid, childhood, and grandma’s kitchen all balled together with lemon sun and dew-wet mornings.

This patch runs the entire length of sidewalk in front of the house, and that would seem extravagant had her grandmother not lived there before her. Grandma, now – she filled the entire lot next door with her peonies and iris. People came from all over the county to marvel at the varieties, to inhale the sweetness, to find their elusive happiness along the winding paths or tucked beneath the arbor.

But these iris are her own.

“I want iris,” she’d said one morning to her husband-to-be, and the next day he’d pulled into the yard with the bed of his truck clear full. The sheer romance of that gesture had stolen her breath away. Who loves somebody else that much? A hundred iris, maybe a thousand! They’d planted every single bulb. Those are the great big pink ones – nobody’s ever seen blossoms like that, before or since, so fat they fall over in the ditch before you can pluck them
They smell like heaven – sniff them; your soul will remember.

Here, at the far end – the pale, pale yellows. They’re called Irish tune. A true-blue friend, a friend who could make her laugh and cry in equal measure, had given her those bulbs and then died hardly a year later. Nobody thinks about flowers outliving people, but there you go.

The dark crimsons come from a haunted house. She’d dug (stole) them in the middle of the night and a ghost had said, just at her shoulder, “don’t take them all!”

Purples from her mother; rubies from her sister.

Fifteen years gone by, and while that isn’t such a long time - not really – it was in those years that the kids grew up. Every May at iris time, they had weeded by her side - bellyaching, arguing, sometimes, yes, even laughing, but so there that to imagine them grown would have seemed absurd. How had it happened?

And Jewel! What a gorgeous little dog she’d been! Curly tail, laughing mouth, thick black coat that devilled her all summer long. She’d watch the work from beneath the bridal wreath, tongue lolling – every summer, all the way from puppyhood to old old age while the iris thickened and grew out front.

The sun ducks behind the hill long before it’s truly dark, but the air has cooled and taken on lavender shades when she straightens from her work at the iris bed. Swipes the dirt off on her jeans and stashes the trowel in her back pocket.

The May flower moon is rising, another iris day gone by.

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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Happy Spring!

Art by Michak Mraz
The rain came in the night, just a whisper on the roof - if you weren’t listening you might miss it, so accustomed had your ears become to the breath of winter.

But here – a different sound, breeze soughing in from the east and calling through the pines like a mourning dove.


And by morning, it was a shout, a crescendo - great sheets of water spilling from a sky the color of mushrooms and forget-me-nots, the tame little village creek bullying and bruising its banks. Willow branches whipped as though the very hand of God stirred them, gutters regurgitated last autumn’s rubble and oldsters began their soliloquy of floods-gone-by.

And then . . . look – the sun.

Puddle-stomping now. The little kids wearing boots, the big kids in tennis shoes and not caring. Ride your bike through the run-off at the base of the hill, sail your milk-jug boat in the swollen ditches, steal your father’s canoe. Feel the cold and clammy winter-fingers clutching the nape of your neck and call it heat. Shed your coat even if it means goosebumps and runny noses.
It is spring and we are alive.

Farmers - to the fields! Squeeze the dirt in your fist, smell the richness, the damp. Lift your chin to the sky and watch for rain, turn the soil, fill the planter boxes. Twenty-four hours a day is not enough time because spring is here.

Nature freaks – to the hills! The bluebells are coming! Tiny spring beauties, blue-eyed Mary peering past her white petals, Dutchmen swarming the hill like a miniature army. Smell the skunk cabbage, sink your feet in the mud, search for the early morel. Dandelions! Pluck them by the handful, sniff them until your nose is yellow. Present them to your mother and she’ll set them in a mason jar on the kitchen table even though they’ll droop by night fall.

It doesn’t matter. It’s spring.

Church people – to your churches! Your Jesus is coming just as surely as the wind changed direction last night. Catholics, get your ashes, eat your fish. Baptists read your bibles. Christians everywhere, get ready, get ready. Dance and sing and be happy together. Hallelujah hallelujah, He lives.

He lives and so do we

Happy Spring!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Back to Life

“Here is the thing,” she said out loud to the cat as she set the ceramic snowmen in the china cupboard. “A lot of time has gone by.”

Four months, to be exact.

She folded lacy paper snowflakes into the desk drawer and hung pastel eggs in their place. Bunnies. Crosses, stark against a crimson sky - the painter’s five-year-old fingers incautious. Shamrocks and tulips and kites.

“Look,” she said to Kitty-Boy. “We’ve gone all the way from Baby Jesus to loaves and fish. That’s thirty-three years. I’m not sure I’m still me.”

Because, well, who the hell was me anyway?

The months of medical leave? Endless, endless. At first the itch to do had been unbearable, but then – at last – a happiness of sorts had come to light on her, fragile and lovely as a Luna moth. For the first time in years, she was well-rested. She visited loved ones whenever she wanted, traveled to Pennsylvania, rode the train to Chicago. She wrote. A lot. Once or twice she even cooked supper.

Who was that strange woman in the kitchen?

“You can’t be an EMT every day, Kitty-Boy. And besides, some people go their whole life and never do CPR. There are people out there who have never dragged hose at a house fire or tumbled out of bed at two a.m. to answer the page. And they don’t miss it; not at all.”

Kitty-Boy would have laughed if he could; what was she trying to talk herself out of?

“When I was little, I wanted to farm like my dad. I wanted to sing like my mom. I wanted to marry the boy next door and maybe raise cattle. But I’ll tell you what, I never thought about dragging bodies out of car wrecks.”

How had it happened? She only knew that when the bug bit her, it bit hard, leaving relationships in tatters, her children howling, her Kitty, for a time, unforgiving. Leaving her . . . stronger. Irrevocably dressed in navy blue, her best footwear combat boots, but stronger.
“Writing could be good for me too, Kitty. I love to write.”

But of course, she could write at the fire station in her spare time; hadn’t she always?

“Sometimes I think dealing with dead people hasn’t been good for me.”

But for each who dies, how many live? “And human interaction is probably a good thing, especially when one has hermitic tendencies.”

Besides. Not to be ghoulish, but she rather missed the traumas.

Kitty Boy sat directly on a new Easter placemat and washed his paws before finally glaring at her.

A human is nothing more than an onion, his gaze said plainly. And I’m not speaking of your precious trauma; I speak of your soul. Don’t be afraid to peel back the layers.

She thought that, indeed, she had probably lingered too long in the company of a know-it-all feline. Time to get back to life.
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