Big storm, sturdy camper

One of the facts of life living next to any huge body of water is that you’re going to have squalls, thunderstorms, downpours, and monsoons. Big winds certainly. Maybe not monsoons but it seems like it when the flood warnings come and the water rises in the riverbeds. I had shared previously that I have a leaky window on one end of the camper. So I went to my storage and got an old tarp and some bungee cords, and because it was going to rain two days ago, I rigged up the tarp on the leaky end and secured it with the brightly colored rainbow bungee cords. A big Band Aid in other words. It rained gently two days ago, no water leaked outside so I was satisfied. That was when Mother Nature shook her head and said

“Hold my beer.”

Last night the warnings started. Torrential rain. Hail. They said 70 mph winds were coming. Then an hour later they ramped it up to 90 mph winds. Heck. NOAA said they couldn’t rule out tornados. We don’t get tornadoes up here because the lake provides a shield. So that’s when I got nervous. I checked the tarp. I had visions of the 70 to 90 mph wind picking up my camper and slinging me to South Dakota. Or Oz. (See image for what I visualized. In color). Image credit

Shaking all such nonsense out of my head I added two more bungee cords to secure the tarp to the camper. Once the tarp was secure, the wind had picked up and the heat lightning was increasing and it was getting on towards evening and black clouds were rolling in deepening the effect of ominous darkness. It was silent too. No evening birds. I felt as early humans must have felt in a time of no TV or radio and no weather forecasting, when they felt intuitively they should seek shelter and soon. I felt an urgency to getting inside but I love watching a storm come in. I was amazed how fast the clouds were moving.

I got inside. I got out the emergency candles just in case the electric went out.

Right then, the wind smacked into the camper and the camper shook with the force of it. Big drops of rain hit the aluminum roof like thunder and it deluged! All I could do was lie on the bed and watch out the side window. I saw some awesome lightning strikes. Thankfully the dire warnings didn’t come to pass. No 90 mph winds. Maybe 40. No hail. No tornadoes.

The electric stayed on and the camper was sturdy.

Today, I stapled up the ceiling where it was bowing at the seam, and finished framing the bed on the end. The project I’ve been talking about for weeks. I finally got a drill and a big staple gun, just enough tools and just enough knowledge to be dangerous. I kept thinking about Theodore Roethke’s poem The Storm …and here it is for you. Nature is bigger than us and awesome in its power but somehow we are sturdy enough and adaptive enough to continue on. I hope the awe and respect for nature’s power never leaves us.

The Storm

Theodore Roethke, 1908 – 1963

1

Against the stone breakwater,

Only an ominous lapping,

While the wind whines overhead,

Coming down from the mountain,

Whistling between the arbors, the winding terraces;

A thin whine of wires, a rattling and flapping of leaves,

And the small street-lamp swinging and slamming against

the lamp pole.

Where have the people gone?

There is one light on the mountain.

2

Along the sea-wall, a steady sloshing of the swell,

The waves not yet high, but even,

Coming closer and closer upon each other;

A fine fume of rain driving in from the sea,

Riddling the sand, like a wide spray of buckshot,

The wind from the sea and the wind from the mountain contending,

Flicking the foam from the whitecaps straight upward into the darkness.

A time to go home!—

And a child’s dirty shift billows upward out of an alley,

A cat runs from the wind as we do,

Between the whitening trees, up Santa Lucia,

Where the heavy door unlocks,

And our breath comes more easy,—

Then a crack of thunder, and the black rain runs over us, over

The flat-roofed houses, coming down in gusts, beating

The walls, the slatted windows, driving

The last watcher indoors, moving the cardplayers closer

To their cards, their anisette.

3

We creep to our bed, and its straw mattress.

We wait; we listen.

The storm lulls off, then redoubles,

Bending the trees half-way down to the ground,

Shaking loose the last wizened oranges in the orchard,

Flattening the limber carnations.

A spider eases himself down from a swaying light-bulb,

Running over the coverlet, down under the iron bedstead.

The bulb goes on and off, weakly.

Water roars into the cistern.

We lie closer on the gritty pillow,

Breathing heavily, hoping—

For the great last leap of the wave over the breakwater,

The flat boom on the beach of the towering sea-swell,

The sudden shudder as the jutting sea-cliff collapses,

And the hurricane drives the dead straw into the living pine-tree.

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Up North—47.7°N 87.5°W

I was sitting with my cousin today in northern Wisconsin where we live and we hadn’t seen one another in twenty five years. She asked me why I came back home because she was curious. What brought me back? I knew right away what had brought me back. An ancient lake singing an ancient song to my soul, a lake old as the history of the earth itself. As the earth shifted over thousands of years and magma flowed, the treasures of the lake, its amethyst, iron and copper, as well as living treasures in the form of 80 species of fish, and forest and fauna slowly developed. Lake Superior is an ancient prehistoric valley filled with water. It is so deep–1,332 feet at its deepest point and an average depth of 500 feet. Human history is young in comparison to the ancient lake. Whispers of the past come to me:

Ochiptwe Gitchi Gamee (Ojibwa big sea water)

Lac Superieur (Upper Lake, French, 17th century)

Lake Superior (British Anglicized name, 1760’s–because they thought it larger and thus “Superior” to the rest of the Great Lakes).

It is the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area. Nipigon country and the river of the same name in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada, is a primary and largest inflow; there are over 200 rivers that feed it. It has the highest elevation of the five Great Lakes, and drains into Lake Huron via the St Mary’s River. These are the facts. But there is something more; something alive and vibrant and ancient and pure that sings on despite clashes with people and their desire to take from the land without giving back.

(Image from CBC.ca)

The lake has an aura of mystery about it, that morning mists illuminated by slow sunrises seem to magnify; home to wolves at Isle Royale, whose mournful cries are the song of this Great Lake’s spirit. For it does have a spirit; a strong one. Humanity has never conquered it. It has seen ice ages come and go and been the home to many peoples over many thousands of years; the Plano, who created dugout canoes and hunted caribou after the retreat of the glaciers in the last Ice Age, the Shield Archaic people, hunters and miners who developed trade networks, believed to be ancestors of the Ojibwa and the Cree; the Laurel people who developed seine net fishing, Algonquian people who hunted and fished, developed snow shoes and birch bark canoes, and tribes who have lived around the lake for 500 years before white Europeans came–Dakota, Fox, Menominee, Nipigon, Noquet, Gros Ventres, and Anishinaabe. Their pictographs can still be seen; humans the second hand of time; the lake, timeless.

The lake calls you home. No matter where you go or what you do. It calls to you.

I left home tethered to it; wandered around the world half-listening to the song of that great inland sea not realizing how fully it was a part of me.

Most of the towns that grew up on its shores describe bays and what treasures were found in them: Beaver Bay (prized for hats), Silver Bay, Taconite Harbor, Agate Bay; or portages when the French explorers came–Grand Portage, Little Marais, Grand Marais, or names of the many falls around the lake–Chippewa Falls, Eagle River Falls, Sturgeon Falls, Gooseberry Falls. The list goes on and on. There are many more falls than those pictured below:

There is much to write about as I listen to Superior’s song, a song that is the song of my life wrapped up in this place I carried with me to the other side of the world. It is a lake of stories and I will add mine to the ancient ones it holds.

We must begin with the Ancient Stories. They may be true for the truth is so often stranger than fiction. So the journey begins. In tandem this lake and I. Its voice tells me this story and I understand it. We must honor the spirit that lives within us even if it seems frightening for in that chaos of darkness and upheaval that lives inside of us is a path that if we are brave enough to walk it leads us into sacredness. My journey as well as the journey around the Lake is circular.

The Anishinabe tell of the great underwater lynx like creature who lives in the depths of Gitchigumi – the creature called Mishi Peshu or Mishipashoo. He is the ulitmate metaphor representing the power, mystery and innate danger that comes from these sacred waters. With razor like spikes on his back, the face of a lynx or panther, and the body of a sea serpent, this creature demanded respect. The Anishinabe offered tobacco and prayer to the creature spirit before they embarked out onto the waters in their canoes. The calm waters of Lake Superior can be quickly transformed into raging squalls and huge waves from the northern, north-eastern, and north-western gales that often suddenly crop up. These gales sweep over the open water, quickly picking up momentum and causing huge waves, some up to 40 feet high.

(Credit: Chi Manidoo)

There are many more stories and I will tell them to you. Look for more. Listen to the song as it unfolds.

Walk with me.

woman whole

I do not know what I have reconciled except

a sense of myself which separated from me long ago has come to me lost

in thick northern pines and birches

where we lodged those memories

drowned in wild waves and winds smashing beaches, cliffs and breakwalls.

Lostandfound now are that night I lay on the beach at the Point where the Northern Lights danced in colored shimmers weaving and undulating purples, yellows, pinks and greens across the ink black sky

The wind whispers that I have become one with who I was where I was when fear and rage and pain created who I was

turns out that the illusion was the monster who was really not one at all what is real is

Who I am

unapologetic

Unafraid

beautiful

wild woman walking on water weaving dreams stars trailing behind me

I wear rage and fear and overcoming stitched in my life-coat of many colors which I wear with defiance and pride and shyness

I dance while

the water sings

Roaring on the shore

The hawk and the King

Look back with longing eyes and know that I will follow,

Lift me up in your love as a light wind lifts a swallow,

Let our flight be far in sun or blowing rain–

But what if I heard my first love calling me again?

Hold me on your heart as the brave sea holds the foam,

Take me far away to the hills that hide your home;

Peace shall thatch the roof and love shall latch the door–

But what if I heard my first love calling me once more?

Sara Teasdale, The Collected Poems

I dream endlessly in the arms of the night.

First that hawk flying into my life announcing you two days

before

I tied a message to the bird’s feet and it came back with your exultant reply

Rainbows pour into my black and white existence and Music explodes trumpets and stringed instruments surprising me

this was my heart singing

I am home with you right and present and correct. Years and obstacles mean nothing and there is just us in that large soft landing strip

our world where nothing bad can happen and we inseparable

Then a hole in the sky opened up sweeping you into it and I left here alone again wanting perpetual sleep but

Even my dreams are haunted with you in them

I with a strange family in a large rich house with your two blonde nieces who catch us kissing and you telling them there is no need to tell their aunt anything while you touch me in secret places and leave me wanting and I wake up body responsive and electric

This is the third dream. The first was when we were young and at the end of the runway at home you kissing me endlessly I can feel the smooth roughness if your face under my hands and smell you as I drink you into me

Desire is red and pink and uplifting and I fly upwards upon it wanting you to lift me higher and claim me in upward thrusts at airspeed

The second was last night.

no words only the silence of years apart and we

speaking in the still fraught language of looks caresses and desire

my heart caught hold of my soul as we held each other tightly and burst into flames

Your hand held tightly to mine.

I awoke still feeling the pressure of it

Alone

tearful hard lumps of sorrow liquefying and rushing out of eyes no longer unseeing

I have dreamed three days and plus the last fourteen nights with you a hawk in the first dreams alighting finally in front of me sharp eyes searching

Trusting.

Jesses hanging from your feet no longer tied and captive

Slowly and tenderly I take them off your feet entirely and you allow me to fling you exultantly up into the air and you fly as you always were meant to

you are a speck disappearing then

You are gone. I then sadly scan the empty blue one more time and turn to go back inside exulting in your freedom accepting what is

but no.

You return to me a man, sauntering jauntily up my porch stairs as you do catching hold of me once more

my body breaks out into song

Miracles happen I hear whispered in the breeze

I wait on the porch eyes scanning the horizon

We are connected

Awaiting

Contact

awaiting

Flight

The lake

(Image by TripAdvisor.ie)

In my mind I can see her; endless and blue, blue expanse to the horizon where the pale blue of the water meets the sky in a darker navy blue line. She is placid when I think of her, still and clear like a mirror. On the day I think of her I am hundreds of miles away to the east of her looking over what to me is a smaller, tamer inland sea, that called Erie. The Iroquois called Erie erielhonan, meaning “long tail.” The French fur traders who traded with the Iroquois shortened the name to Lac Erie, and Erie is how we know the name today. It is smaller and shallower than Superior, called by the Ojibwe Gitchee gumee, or “shining big sea water.” As I stand here on Erie’s shore, in Buffalo,NY, I feel as if Buffalo is the garrulous old ex-steelworker biker sitting at the bar while Superior is the wild woman ever tumultuous. This sense of wildness is something that never leaves me no matter where in the world I have travelled. I have seen the great Pacific, and the older seeming mighty Atlantic. We have met in passing, and while both oceans are to be respected and are majestic in their own right, it is Superior who sings to me when I feel far away from home. It is Superior who is mysterious to me, so many legends permeate her name. She has claimed many, many ships and has thousands of untold stories. No matter how long I have been gone, it is Lake Superior who calls me home. In the subsequent essays to come, as I write I can feel the wind coming off of her in a long ago summer night when the world was sleeping and I was alone on Park Point beach. The wind was whipping up the waves into five foot swells and I, I felt wild with her. I fearlessly stripped down and entered the water, and felt so alive in the cold, mercilessly cold water that rarely reaches any kind of a warm temperature even in the summer, so alive that I remember that moonless night 26 years later. I was a young fool. I should have known better than to get in the water with waves coming up that high. That night, I felt a kinship with the lake; never did it enter my mind that my lake would ever hurt me–would want to hurt me–and so I let it baptize me and cradle me in its watery arms. It was like being in the womb of Mother Earth; it was primeval and it was safe and I safe in it. As I swam the waters calmed and gently one last gentle wave deposited me back on shore. I lay there in the warm night watching the sudden appearance of the Northern Lights–its scientific name the aurora borealis–known as wanagi wacipi (ghost dance) by the Lakota, and also by the Salteaux of eastern Canada and Tlingit and Kwakiutl in the north in their respective languages. The lights danced overhead in shades of green and blue and yellow and I reached up with my hand and tried to touch them. Here I belonged; not a traveler of the world but a citizen. Here my heart is complete. Here is home.

I belonged here.

I belong here.

There is much more to tell. My heart is full of her this night. I have long felt I had a story but it took 26 years, six countries, and the failure of the most important love relationship of my life to identify and perhaps uncover, what that story was; the one that was too close, but yearned to be told. This and the essays to come see that story. Superieur–Superior.

I saw that I had forgotten how beautiful the drive to Thunder Bay was; the towering sighing groves of fragrant Norway pines, the broad expanses of clean white sand, the sea gulls, always the endlessly wheeling sea gulls; an occasional bald eagle seeming bent on soaring straight up to heaven; the intermittent craggy and pine-clad granite or sandstone hills, sometimes rising gauntly to the dignity of small mountains, then again, sudden stretches of sand or more majestic Norway pines — and always, of course, the vast glittering heaving lake, the world’s largest inland sea, as treacherous and deceitful as a spurned woman, either caressing or raging at the shore, more often turbulent than not, but today on its best company manners, presenting the falsely placid aspect of a mill pond.

Robert Traver, Anatomy of a Murder

(Photo by C Scherer)

regret

sometimes on sunny days when the river sparkles and birds hover in cross breezes over the waters

it is easy to dream

easy to live in what could have been or what could be if the wind reversed direction if life rewound

if old paths once so promising reopened

I peek behind one door and I see you and how the sun opened onto your face in that easy smile or how conversation opened to easily in our talk of books and poetry

it was easy to love you then and flickers long buried resurface like the flash of silver fish jumping in midair and disappearing in the current

I have carried you gently, like a bird

quietly

in the silent places in my mind music of you with me over the years in a little pocket in my carry on bag in that place where I could be me and you could be you and we loved Shakespeare and Gibran and spoke of books as our friends while our path intersected and there were wildflowers and promise

I stand at the intersection of memory and how things happened and if I’d been in a different place or you perhaps

perhaps…if my world had not come tumbling down in the unexpectedness of things that happen if I had not been silent if any of it mattered till the day came when all I could do is set you free my silence held in the rightness of letting you fly

(I could never have kept you caged you see not you that was never me)

memory is black and white an old reel playing out then the end of the tape flapping as the reel spins round and round

So we live in our own stories now

perhaps

all is as it should be and it is not for me to say what should have been or what should be

I only wonder at the mystery of whether love is really love if it falls in the woods and nobody hears it I am all too acquainted with words unspoken with holding back with futility

for now I stand here on the shore listening to the sound of the river flowing past watching the birds fly above me

there is only the present

I hold time the sun your smile close to me in the silence of my solitude

The river flows onwards as it has done for a thousand years and will

For a thousand years to come

I am but a moment

you

I envy flight

of mighty waters: Kerr Dam, Jacques Cousteau and the Tao Te Ching

Kerr Dam.

The concrete arch-type dam stands at 204 feet high, which is 54 feet higher than Niagara Falls. A 1,000 foot boardwalk takes you down, right above the falls, where you can enjoy an amazing view of the canyon! In the spring and early summer, the spillway is fantastic. Picnicking, white-water rafting, fishing, vista overlook.   The stairs are wood, and are built right into the side of the mountain.  With the high altitude, it’s easy going down, but not so easy going up!

17421s

Hearing the roar of the water made me think of poetry and literature, naturally.

“from the waterfall he named her, Minnehaha, Laughing Water.”   (Longfellow)

I also thought of the ways we use water–and this dam is a hydroelectric dam. From what I heard, if it was operating on all three turbines (it operates on one but has three) it would provide electricity for something like four states.   The water was so green, so clean as glacier water is, I remember how the other day I was immersed in that same water and I know in my heart there is no way I could ever be a child of land.

17423h

This water is ages old, ages older than any of us.  In relation, humanity is very young, and as the young are wont to be, very foolish in the way we treat the land and this ancient water.   It made me think of Jacques Cousteau.

free-quotes-sayings-water-life-cycle (1)

 

And water makes me think of the Tao te Ching, which asks us to be more like water, which is supple and bends round whatever it is in its path, and with patient strength cuts canyons in mountains.  Its advice to be yielding is in direct contention with the way American life seems to work.  There is something about the roar of the water, a rhythm, that speaks to me like the sound of the womb does to the baby not yet born, and I remember that I am as dependent upon this earth as a baby in the womb.

Tao-Te-Chingclose

 

Water has a magic that is a mystery–many people were drawn down that 1000 foot long boardwalk down the mountain to listen to and marvel at that beautiful, pure, green-blue water.   And this, the nameless song in my soul that calls out to water.

All day I hear the noise of waters 
Making moan, 
Sad as the sea-bird is when, going 
Forth alone, 
He hears the winds cry to the water’s 
Monotone. 

The grey winds, the cold winds are blowing 
Where I go. 
I hear the noise of many waters 
Far below. 
All day, all night, I hear them flowing 
To and fro.

—James Joyce

 

 

 

Montana soul

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I have been in Montana for two weeks of a six week assignment and this state never fails to surprise me. I thought it would be Nebraska only bigger but boy was I wrong. People from Montana are so friendly. They go out of their way to be welcoming and I found this to be true over and over again as I travelled to my destination in Pablo which is in the northwestern part of the state on the Flathead (Salish-Kootenai) reservation. This is an example of how beautiful this reservation is.

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That was the first misconception. Montana has a cosmopolitan flair about it that softens the Western mentality that sees people different than themselves as a threat. Montana welcomes diversity from what I have seen. I have been made to feel welcomed from the first day I entered the state. They don’t care in this section of the state what my politics are. They want to know if I’m a decent person and that’s what matters, not whether I’m a Democrat or a Republican. Montana’s governor is highly educated, and would be considered moderate and so are Montana’s people in the western part of the state. This has been such a refreshing thing this lack of political polarization that exists in such a high degree in Nebraska that for the first time in a long time I was able to relax and actually not be afraid and guarded about what to say.
The food is fantastic. Local places really seem to take using local ingredients seriously. This is Stella’s Cafe in Ronan, MT:

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The sandwich is called the Timberlane and it came on homemade bread with free range turkey, local lettuce,and tomato with mayonnaise. The bread for all the sandwiches is baked fresh daily, and I had my sandwich with homemade chicken rice soup. They use local ingredients wherever they can as well as fair trade and organic. And, they have a delight peculiar to Montana: huckleberry ice cream. The cherries will be out in July and everyone here has encouraged me to make sure to get some from the local stands. Not to worry–there will be more Montana to come in the coming days. I leave you with a Montana sunset.

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Crossroads

I am in a state of flux at the moment, and at an interesting crossroads in my life—and this is the bit where I am hoping that what I am going through is rather universal.   I wish to make a change of career, and am not certain what color my parachute is.   I go over the things I like, and books are number one on the list.  Along with horses, travelling, music and photography, none of which seem like terribly good marketing skills.  I look on the internet and it seems like everyone else is more creative than I am, more able to have that certain thing that makes them a hit with thousands of viewers, and I can’t possibly see what I could do that would make thousands of people read me, or be a fan.

And I know that uncertainty about myself is the exact thing that is holding me back.

So I did what anybody in my situation would do. I bought cinnamon vanilla candles, set them in strategic places at home, made coffee, and bought The Pioneer Woman Cooks, and spent even more time contemplating other peoples’ creativity.   Then I time traveled in my mind and understood William Blake’s dilemma in Jerusalem.

I must create a system or be enslaved by another mans; I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.

Then a gift came from the gods.  A trip way, far away into northwestern Montana, a state I have never been in, to spent six weeks teaching and working at a tribal university near Missoula.  Forest, mountains, bears.  Yes, bears.  Bear alerts are frequent it seems, and everybody stays in when a bear is sighted.   For this I have sealed up my house, quit my summer job, and filled up my gas tank armed with only the bare necessities–clothes, cat, red nail polish, and an unused, brand spanking new journal with requisite fountain pen –and of course my computer and blog.

Perfect!!   I am in the midst of packing up my entire household for the summer, and in a Thoreau-like sort of way, I am going to the woods in the hopes that something that I could do with my life, something that is meaningful and fun will jump out at me while I am there.  And maybe to see a bear or two.  At the very least my six weeks will give me fodder for this blog as I relate my adventures and I am bringing my battered copy of  Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It to inspire my Montana trip.

Any helpful comments regarding possible jobs are welcomed, of course.

normanmaclean

blue water

long missed
always the sounds
low and longing calls of gulls circling
high overhead
steady crunching beneath my feet
a faint roar.
drawing closer to the slate blue haze
more distinct now
honking of geese moving slowly
across the sand as night drifts in
it’s louder now, the water, leaping and lunging
curling up and cresting wave
washing the hard smooth shore
there, the horizon,
sailboats drifting far off
already
my imagination is there
the wind solidly pushing against my face as
I sit near the bow my boat cutting cleanly through blue water

of course I am not there
always shorebound
staring across the wide blue expanse of Michigan
there, a white bird
circles overhead I drift up and out
with the unbearable lightness of being
my bird-eyes sharply scanning always the surface
when all I knew or ever knew
lies fathoms below

timidly my bare feet inch towards the lapping waves
which also reach for me,
draw back
reach out
draw back
a slow rhythmic motion
like rocking cradle
or a lover’s embrace
I have been at water’s edge as far
back as my memory reaches
and then I am in, freely
and fear slips away
under blue water.

diane o’leary 2013

bluewater