But It’s A Good Pain, Right?


Photo by Fran Upton

That is what we said to each other as we coasted home to the 9 Oaks Inn after day one. And it was that gratifying pain of hard work. It was also

Glorious, glorious, glorious. Exhilarating. To spend an entire day outside, cold, but not too cold, breathing the air of the woods, sunburned even! Well, that’s a privilege.

I’ll mention here the most mundane and almost irrelevant, but still notable, detail. My hat is off to you northern ladies. I never realized how challenging the beauty regimen is up here. I felt myself turn into a chapped, wind-whipped husk the minute I crossed the state line. My hands crusted, my hair wilted to a fine, static cape, my eyes watered. In short, the elements are against us and it’s a war. But, I told you this observation was irrelevant, so I’ll move on.

We discovered the Cross Country Ski Headquarters in Roscommon, Michigan on a general Google search and what a perfect find. Thank you, Google.  Bob and Lynn and their staff are excellent. They outfitted us for skis and provided Fran, and her hour of instruction. And then, we were off on the Wild Turkey trail.

The sound of the skis on the snow is the scrape of a sword coming from its scabbard. Very cold and metallic and pleasant.  Our skis are called ‘spiders’ which has something to do with snow conditions.  And tonight we have the skis in our car which is so legit.

For anyone wondering how to deal with flabby arms, this is your sport. This was a tricep workout extraordinaire. Tricep, every cep.

Our friend who told us that the front line muscle group that will lead the charge and suffer the most casualty was the inner thigh was almost right. Yes, inner thigh, but really that tendon (or ligament) right at the bend there that connects the leg to the trunk. Any attempt to turn or stop the ski relies entirely on that tendon, that one overwhelmed, overstretched piece of cartilage screeching like a cat in the night.

But louder than that cartilage’s screeches was the voice from core of my being that said, ‘If you fall down again, we are not getting you up. So do whatever you have to do to stay up.’ And I was all over that, except that many factors take you down, including the burst of pride that comes from achieving a little glide, or feeling on top of things enough to admire the deer hoof prints. Down you go.

Dinner at Spike’s Keg with the incomparable waitress Donalyn and the feisty guys at the pool table, then back to the 9 Oaks to rally our forces for day two and a trail along the Au Sable River. *Update: it is snowing and 20 degrees. Brrrrr, y’all.

      

 

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November Nomad: Lessons From The Road

Flexibility is the jewel of youth.
I am not young.
Nevertheless, I can roll with it
If the road requires –
Provided certain non-negotiables:
Good coffee, hot shower.
Otherwise, I am Thor Heyerdahl.

I love my children and those I have adopted.
Settled happiness is listening to
Insights and laughter
From the offspring of my youth.

I love mountains. Earth above me is
Ultimate humility.

I love Montreat mountains – Assembly Inn,
Hewed from the rocky side of the bowl that
Holds Lake Susan, cold air straight from
God’s pure storehouses into my hot lungs,
Frost on every brown leaf under the laurels.

I love going to another church and singing –
No, shouting! –
Receiving the sermon from the lips of
A man of God, deep conviction and
Deeper healing. Oh! Thank you, Lord!

I love my in-laws. What I learn from them is,
As another said, A long obedience in the
Same direction. We love to think compromise
Is smart. They teach me it is not.

I love beauty. My heart sings of the beauty of
Antique stores – tiny cream pitchers in striped
Stoneware, sideboards chalk-painted buttercream
Leaving dark cherry exposed. Deep
Knowledge that time is fleeting and I am too.

I love a table of shared food – green curry in my
Daughter’s first home. Bennet Avenue by
Candlelight.

I love my children’s loves. I am speechless over
Their finding their soul’s friend.

I love traveling with Andrew. How many times we
Laugh and say, I was JUST thinking that!

I love going. Well, I hate packing with a
White hatred. But, I love the first vista of
Smoky blue mountains just past Knoxville.
I love woodsmoke and
That fall sun that both slices and mists.

I love the quilt on the wall at
The Yellow Deli – two-inch squares of
Upholstery fabric become, in the hands
Of the artist, a window onto a creek bank,
Shadowy undergrowth and light-tipped leaf,
Silver water over moss and rock bed, and all from
Crushed velvet sofa scraps.

I love hearing God tell me that
He is my rock and I am the
Apple of his eye; I can hear him deeper
When I’m on the road.

      

    

     

   

   

    

            

     

     

     

     

Psalm 17 and 18

For Jonathan Baldini (And For Las Vegas)

Sunday, it’s gorgeous,
Though I’m the last that should speak for us.
A qualified poet must be bleeding at least,
Not savoring this glory, this revel, this feast.
The air’s shot with gold, the grass is white-kissed,
A drinkable sky, tapped pink and bisque.
It’s gorgeous, though,
Gorgeous, you know.
Problem is, the gold drops fast,
Can’t find the words to make it last.
Sisters weep, brothers fly
To the other side of that drinkable sky.
Mama wants his skin, oh, so much;
He’s never not here, she just can’t touch.
Daddy doesn’t cry; he wails inside,
‘We’re still six, though we look like five.’
But the baby’s so soft, so full in my arms,
She smells like life wrapped around my heart.
And the sky explodes yellow, red, magenta, blue.
A royal way, a Prince’s avenue.
It’s gorgeous though,
Gorgeous, you know.
Then the world goes silent; Evil shows his face.
I’ll shield you with my body and outpoured grace.
It’s beautiful, that grace, that flesh for flesh,
Monday’s sky is gray, but this flesh is blessed.
Sky wasn’t made to stay that way,
It will gold and it will part and we will touch one day.

A Girl In An Emerald Dress

I think there’s this joy,
In spite of everything.
The joy of a girl in an
Emerald dress spinning
Out her skirt to jazz
Brass on an overlook,
Chattanooga lighting the
Night sky just for her moment.
The joy of a dark-haired girl whose merlot
Lipstick matches both her dress
And her crush on a boy
With sandy bristled hair
Freshly cut. And this is two thousand
And seventeen.
The joy of plaid ties and girls with
Bare backs. No wonder the masters
Loved to paint flesh. It is, of all substances,
Piercing and exquisite.
The joy of string lights hovering low
Under the benediction of a purple-black
Vault.
The joy of standing barefoot in the
Cool hillside grass
Watching the children hug their
Cousins, their connections to this rocky top
Wide and formative.
The joy of a boy who laces his suede
Bucks, and ducks out of the office
For twenty minutes under the stars.
He’ll get a reprimand, but it will be
Worth it. The stars are their own payment.
The joy of re-union, of time-spliced
Conversations with people we knew at
Twenty and are now Fifty.
I talk to, I see,
both Twenty and Fifty
At the same time.
And it’s hard not to stare at our
Exquisite flesh, growing waxy and
Taut over bone.
Where is the joy in this diminishing?
Only in the miracle, the life-after-death
Resurrection, the refleshing of our bones,
The thrilling rush of life where death was
Certain, the wooing belovedness of
Being quickened,
The rocky top truth that we will
Dance in emerald dresses to jazz
Brass with arms spread wide like
Glory over the lights of
Another Chattanooga.


PC:  Davy Granberry

 

Floods And Scars

How hard it is to watch others suffer.  Of the many recent images, one stays with me. A man – elderly, sparse hair – is being helped through Harvey’s brown flood to a waiting flatboat. Bad enough at that. But he is shirtless. And his chest has the long, livid, vertical scar of recent open heart surgery.

And I think, Wow, Lord. This man? This scarred, scared man?

I keep my theology straight and remember where floods and scars originated – two people in a garden rejecting the greatest offered Love, Love that kept offering through His own scarred back and hands and feet. He knows scars. He loves rejectors.

But why are the most vulnerable ones, the poor, the already scarred, taken through the water while I sip my coffee in the broad daylight?

A whisper: ‘I am doing something.’

In them. In me. My guilt is wasted time. He is doing something, and He will strengthen those in the water to cling to Him and those on dry land to send out rescue boats of every shape and size.  The other comforts are still true, too:  Good will come out of this, good we cannot see. We need waking up. We are on our knees and not drunk on pleasure. This will bring healing; it is the saline flush of a filthy wound.  My close friends Charlie and Leslie, in the water right now, proclaim this truth with tears and praise songs.

Lord, Lord! Keep us soft.

Hints Of Fall

Hummingbird sups warily at the
Red-prismed glass feeder. He has been here all day
Defending his patch.
Occasionally he is strafed by a rival,
Or bombarded by the squirrels higher in the
Pecan tree. The squirrels are in full fall gorge-mode,
Gnawing a fraction of the million pecans into sharp
Shells and shavings all over the walkway,
And dropping pecans heavy as padlocks
From the nethermost branches,
Onto the tin roof in shocking
Explosions.  All day. On their smoke break,
They chase each other round and round tree
Trunks, claw-skittering up the bark, using touching
Limbs as a high way in the air. Their tails swish-
Dancing for balance, they hop the power lines,
Mouth full of fat pecan, and steal off secretly to
Stow their victuals against a coming bleak day.