Snowbirds

Snowbird

We have moved.

Somehow, someway, the universe took notice of the small misfit family shivering away in Massachusetts, and gave wings to our intentions and efforts to change our geography. Befuddled by shoveling and ice salt and leaking winter roofs, our family trudged through the gray days that, for us, stopped being cozy and grew to be oppressive.

No doubt I will miss a springtime yard exploding with dandelions like a thousand boastful stars in a green night sky, flowerbeds jungle-ing with raucous wildflowers, and jubilant children scaling trees and rocks in a flurry of wildly imagined battles and expeditions.

I will miss autumn, ablaze with fiery parades of trees in their grand finale, throwing off shining bulbous acorns like Mardi Gras beads, the kings and queens of the season.  I will miss the feeling of the coming hibernation as a welcome adventure;  imagining my family as a little troupe of squirrels burrowed deep in the ground on a bed of fat nuts, all twisted into ourselves, someone’s head resting on someone else’s bottom, all snoring peacefully and dreaming of sugar plum fairies.

But most of all, I will miss the family who became my family. A friendship that became a sisterhood, two children who became like my own, as mine became hers. A friend who loved me (and still loves me) completely, and our children sharing the same bond. She is a sculptor of simple beauties, a transformative magician of the mundane into the fanciful; even uncovering the elegance of a Victorian cockroach. I should have known a great friendship was to grow when I realized we shared the same name. So many new colors awoke within me when I handed her a paintbrush. Friendship also goes through seasons, and perhaps we have left one season for another, but I know, dear friend, that the sun will always shine warmly down upon us.

My family has left these things behind us, at least geographically, and thrown ourselves into the world of snowbirds. We are in Florida. My heart sings for palm trees and snorkels and red salty skin; the larger-than-life performances of Hibiscus bushes and Birds of Paradise and the occasional cameo of Plumeria. These plants remind me of hot-tempered, sultry, voluptuous women, and I sometimes wonder if they won’t reach out and smack you with a leafy hand should you pass them by without acknowledging their bursting, sensual beauties.

We currently reside in a hotel, one of those extended stay joints with a mini kitchen and free wine and beer Monday through Thursday. Not a bad deal for a girl shoveling two feet of snow from her driveway in subarctic temperatures with two grumpy, rather unhelpful children just a week ago. Now we sit, depressurizing, at the pool, which is situated right off a major highway. I find this amusing. Paradise amidst the concrete (or should I say asphalt) jungle.

This hotel is patronized almost entirely by snowbirds. I absolutely adore them.

Some are fat, some are skinny. Some of the women wear old lady bathing suits and some of them wear classy, old lady bathing suits and some of them just go for it and wear bikinis. Some are grumpy and fuss at each other and some are ancient party animals and flirt with each other. My favorite are those women opting for bikinis, with dark, leathery, freckled skin and wrinkled bellies and sagging breasts and big smiles and a constant supply of cheap cigarettes. They smell of smoke and cocktails and artificial coconut, and their laughter is deep and raspy and often.

I think they have conquered the world.

I imagine myself, one day, in such blessed victory, to finally master the abolition of worry; to no longer give much regard for youthful skin and healthy lungs, but to know I’m nearing the end of a life well lived, a life longer than most, and to go out in a blaze of mirth and cheap drinks and cigarette smoke. They are, these women, the Hibiscus and Birds of Paradise and Plumeria come to human life; with pungent fragrance and bright colors and tough skin.

God, let me live to be a snowbird. Perhaps by then, my sister with the same name can pull up a lounge chair and give me a light.  Such as she always so graciously provides.

Fly Away Home

My sister was my best friend, my partner in crime, and in many ways, the love of my life.

I knew I wanted to write of her, to speak of her today, to relate in words the depths of her richness, her grace, her beauty; but alas, my head was full of the static shock of her death.

Thus, I sought out the healing, calming force of an old friend, an old mother, the Ocean. It was late yesterday afternoon, a rainstorm made the breeze cold on my face, the sand wet on my feet, and I zipped my freshly purchased Ron Jon’s hoodie and tried to get myself comfortable. I walked, rubbed my arms, pulled up the hood and tied it, all to no avail. There was a chill in the air and I could find no comfort. Thick peels of clouds striped the sky, the sun blotted out among them. For several minutes I watched these fat white and purple ribboned clouds, gauging their direction, and saw that they moved eastward, in such a manner as to keep the sun hidden behind their infinite trails. Perhaps better, I thought, shuffling my bare feet in the damp sand, to just pack it up and head home.

And yet. There is always the chance of a mischievous little miracle, giggling, awaiting the perfect moment for a grand entrance. The wind shifted upon my face.  Marching orders had changed from somewhere above, and with one glance up I watched the army of clouds turn southward, and the liberated sun shone down upon me. I knew in that moment how deeply I was loved, and I knew who was loving me; the mischievous little miracle that was Noelle.

And thus, we sat together, or rather, she enveloped me, in ocean and sand and sun and sky. I asked her, like a child upon a knee, to tell me a story, and she whispered “Sit down, watch the ocean, and I shall show you a story, a story of life.”

And so I watched.

There were pelicans, riding air currents, gliding inches above the water, then circling, scouting, and diving for a delicious meal of unlucky fish. Both nourishment and death in one fell swoop, opposites collapsing into each other.

There were cruise ships, gleaming white and mighty, each boasting of celebration; fun and festivity and fruity umbrella drinks.

There were couples freshly in love, walking and laughing and holding hands. There were couples long past freshly-in- love, prosaic yet peaceful, held together by commitment and effort, newness and novelty replaced with depth and understanding. All good stuff.

There were seashells. Beautiful, glistening, intricately designed, abandoned little homes, artifacts of times passed, the adornments and artful handiwork of the sea herself.

And then, in the center of this masterpiece, echoing through the cacophony of activity surrounding them, were the waves, the juncture for that which is above and that which is below.

The wave is an exquisitely beautiful and utterly unique phenomena. Like snowflakes, no two are the same. Some are raging, others soft and sweet. Some are good for playing in, some are dangerous for playing in, and some are both. The wave expresses itself as art in motion, with frothy caps and dancing sprays or thundering white fists pounding the sand, and always it comes rolling with its own energy, its own unique signature upon the shoreline. Each wave leaves a little something behind when it lands, a little sand, a little seaweed, perhaps some shells, secrets of the ocean given to the care of the shore for a time, and as each wave slowly loses its energy, flattens and recedes back into its source, it takes a little something with it, a few secrets return to their watery origins.

And in these quiet, contemplative moments, sitting with my sister on the beach, I saw that we humans are as the waves are. Each of us an exquisitely beautiful and utterly unique phenomena.

And all around us, this life is happening. The beauty and death of it all, the romance, the celebration, the mundane, the abandoned, the emptied, the intricately crafted, the loved, the forgotten, we are surrounded by all these things. They reach out and touch us and shape us as we thunder and roll to the shore, on this journey we call life on earth.

The wave takes only temporary form. For only the briefest of moments, the wave holds the illusion of being separate from the ocean. But in those briefest of moments it creates its dance, crafts its twists and turns and tumbles, orchestrates its own crashing music, explodes upon the shore leaving its own unique mark upon the sand, and then the wave returns to its source, never to be distinguishable as that wave ever again.

In the same way, we are here for only the briefest of moments, holding the illusion of being separate from God. The human form is fleeting, a trifle in universal concerns, a temporary encumbrance of spirit perhaps. But also an enormous privilege and freedom. For the unknown time that we are in body, we have the incredible gift of self-expression, of individuality, of roaring to the shore on our life journey in whatever manner we choose. We are art in motion. The beauty and magic and despair and tragedy of humanity are captured in our art, in our dance, in the waves of our lives. We give a little. We take a little. And in the end, we recede from form, return to source, return to God.

I stared out upon the horizon and saw my sister in the playful ocean, in the vibrant blue sky, in the sweet beeming sun. I saw her everywhere, just as I saw God everywhere. There was no distinction. She was home, and she was whole, unencumbered, and utterly, completely joyous.

In human form, she was the most tender-hearted, accepting, loving, and beautiful person I have ever known. There never has been, nor will there ever be, a smile such as hers. She completed a side of me that I do not have. She filled in my blank spaces. She colored my emptiness, she delighted my heart and eased my mind. She was my medicine, my magic, my love.

In her memory I shall craft the most beautiful wave. I will be brave for her, I will be giving, I will be daring for healthy risks, I will be wise, I will be kind. I will look up to her and let her love shine down upon me, and when I feel her I shall fall to my knees and bow my head to that which I love so dearly. I have faith, sister.

You are one of the best things that ever happened to me. How precious you are. What will I do without you?   Only one thing. I shall hold you in my heart and live every day a better person than I was the day before. My final signature in the sand shall be as beautiful as I can craft it, and I craft it for you.

I love you.

On Life, Death, and Angelfish

Angelfish

The above is a picture of our magical angelfish, taken by my husband.

There are moments in life when beauty and emotion collide so intensely in the human heart as to command a sudden paralysis of mental faculties; a suspension of logic, explanation, understanding. At this juncture of  the collapse of the critical mind and the surge of raw feeling , one approaches a rather peculiar threshold between the sturdy land of the Seen and the deep dark waters of the Unseen. For a moment, one totters on the edge, with a choice to make.

Run back, or dive in.

Adults tend to run.   We have learned to temper these intense situations; hold them at an arm’s length, shrug our shoulders, chuckle, roll our eyes, mutter under our breath, perhaps cry as to mimic what we saw the beautiful movie star do in the blockbuster. This must be how to be sad. This must be the way to express feeling. We have traded real feeling for a script on feeling; traded the land of emotion for a map of emotion, because real feeling and real emotion can hurt, can knock us on our asses.

Children have not traded the real for the manufactured. Not yet. Children still hold the curious union of courage and vulnerability within their hearts.  And children dive in.

On a recent family trip, my ten year old son made friends with a tiny barracuda swimming in a canal next to our rental unit.  Fish were a rare find in this murky canal, and this fish was, by far, the most exciting fish to be found. The others were rather normal and gray, still fun to spot, but nothing like a silvery saw-toothed barracuda. Whenever we returned from some tropical escapade, he and his sister would search for this special fish.  One evening, after a day of sightseeing, they tumbled out of the car and darted to the canal, combing the green waters for the hidden treasure of camouflaged fish among the docked boats.

Within moments they found their friend, swimming around in his usual spot. My son cheered and pointed, his sister still squinting and searching. Finally, with a cry of excitement, she too saw the fish, and also followed its quick movements with her finger. It was a joyous reunion.

Until the world changed.

A young man staying in the neighboring building came suddenly charging from his patio with a steel fishing spear. He followed the two little outstretched fingers with his eyes, and by their direction, thrust his weapon. With some ridiculous stroke of luck, he hit his target. The struggling barracuda flopped helplessly on the sharp silver tip of the spearhead.  The fish had been pierced through its middle. The man began to holler. A large woman came yelling and hooting from somewhere, pulled out the spear, and stabbed the fish again.

My son fell backward, as though he’d been punched in the gut. His mouth fell open, his eyes filled with tears. This was his fish, his friend, and in his eyes, its death was his fault. The merry routine of reunion with an old friend had turned to fatal betrayal.   He was utterly stunned and heartbroken, and so was I, for both my son and his little friend.

No amount of hugs, explanations, consolations or distractions were of any comfort to him. He was distant and lost to me; unreachable in the land of reasoning and logic, in the land of sensory distraction.  I began to feel the tug of overwhelming despair and fierce love.  I felt the pull of the deep, dark waters, for there were no answers, no liberations in the Seen. So I too let it take me. Thus, we dove into the Unseen, together.

Logic, understanding, all normal thought processes were tossed aside by the waves of this dark ocean. My mind reached for an anchor, and it found the fish. Yes. The fish, the creature that had been temporarily collapsed into a little barracuda was now a great, magical part of the whole universe, and I knew it. The fish was done with this little canal. He was ready for something else, his next great adventure. And most importantly, he was ok. His little fish energy told me all this, and thus I told my son. He listened, and nodded and his eyes lifted.

After some time and contemplation of his own, he asked how we could be sure this was true.

Well, because the fish will give us a sign. Were the words that came.

And how will we know what the sign is? He asked further.

We’ll just know. ­

I answered with such speed and confidence as to surprise even myself. My son also seemed surprised with my answer, but as he still, in his youthful eyes, considers me his all-powerful omniscient mother, he accepted it.

I, however, began to worry. Would there be a sign? Was this fish like Santa Claus? Some superfluous mental concoction, with the unnegotiable requirement of parental participation? I began conspiring to create a ‘sign’; perhaps to spell out “I AM OK” with little white seashells on the dock or some other creative, well-intended foolishness.

But that would be cheating, polluting the waters of the Unseen with my own narrow notions.

Ultimately I settled on noninterference, save offering up a prayer to the fish with my son and daughter as I tucked them into bed that night. We introduced ourselves, expressed our sadness at his untimely death, sent our love, and humbly asked for a sign that he was, indeed, ok.

We were to depart the following day.

The next morning, as I was cleaning out the refrigerator, washing salty towels and stuffing souvenirs into over-packed suitcases, a miracle happened.   My husband had taken the kids down to the dock, to have one last look at the water and give mom some space and quiet.   There was suddenly much commotion, squeaks and squeals and exclamations. The door burst open and my husband informed me that the kids must show me something, and quick!

They were on their knees, leaning over the cement barrier and peering into the water. After ensuring that no rogue spear-wielding neighbors were lurking in the shadows, they revealed their discovery. With keen little eyes and overflowing hearts, they pointed out a dazzling, vibrantly yellow and blue angelfish. It was so exquisitely beautiful, and seemed to almost glow in its graceful movements in the water. It was surrounded by a colorful escort of parrotfish, all big lipped and flamboyant like a circus troupe security detail, making the angelfish seem all the more demure, divine.

A sign. The sign. And we all knew it.  What better sign from a deceased fish than to send an angel fish as his earthly messenger?  In that moment, magic was palpable.

A little barracuda of God’s great creation had graced us.  Our own little guide, who, as his last act in life as a fish, offered an open door to the in-between space, the Unseen.

In this in-between space, the sweet Lady Imagination meets Mr. Reality, and softly kisses his cheek. She is the phantom of the Underneath, the spellbinder of gnosis and growth and change. She holds him in her own divine, wise, innocent embrace. The magical touches the mundane, and miracles are born.

There are secrets hidden in murky waters.  There are angels hidden in barracudas.

What is hidden in you?  Go deeply and find your magic.

 

 

La Florida, the Feast of Flowers

clouds

They are mothers, the clouds

Voluptuous, soft and sweet

Grazing on the magic of the blue sky

Plumping the sun’s rays with their blessings

As they shine down on the happy human heads below

Slowly to be absorbed

To darken the skin

And lighten the hair

To bestow a lush vitality on all the little earthlings

Thriving and sweating and bending and blowing below.

bellydancePoppyTop

There are entertainers here

Troupes of palm trees

That dance according to their tribe.

Some sway and swoon like sultry belly dancers,

Others gambol and frolic like sprightly girls

With shocks of ribboned ponytails atop their thick barky trunks.

Some are smooth and regal and vibrantly green,

Fully possessed of themselves

Like royalty.

Some are fireworks

Exploding in precise patterns

Of angled greens and browns and yellows.

 

And these trees

Keep an audience

In those fortunate, untouched, under-landscaped spots.

A riotous and jubilant cacophony of

Party-going shrubs and trees and bushes

Displaying all manner of heights and hues and foliage and temperments.

And then charge the piercing little sawgrass patches

Who are always looking for a fight,

Ready to prove that ferocious spirits

Sometimes dwell in squat bodies.

 

And we are, all of us, blessed

By the sun and the clouds and the rain.

We are all loved  intensely.

 

And even when the sun gets a little too excited,

Grows a-slight too big and heavy for those below her,

And burns our cheeks and noses to a pinky crisp,

Like an overly doting mother who means well,

And gives so deeply that sometimes she gives too much

When her clouds do not temper her fiery spirit

But let her soar free through the sky uncensored,

This is still very good.

 

For what a glorious feeling that must be.

To soar.

Blazing hot and bright and uncensored.

 

I will take a burn for her

So she may fly free.

 

I think, perhaps,

All I ever wish to amount to

Is a beach bum.

Griswold Revival

moose-mug_1

“I dedicate this house to the Griswold Family Christmas!” – Clark Griswold

At this festive and whimsical time of year, a time of sharing and gratitude, I feel compelled to share a little secret of mine; a sometimes embarrassing though always endearing fun fact, known only to my childhood friends and neighbors.

I was raised by Clark Griswold.

No, not Chevy Chase, he was just the actor. My father, I am certain, was the inspiration behind Christmas Vacation; the movie’s jubilant and mildly mischievous muse, wrapped in a thousand blinking strands of Christmas lights and hung with moosey mugfuls of frothy spiked egg nog.

Now, looking back, I recall with immense gratitude and joy the quirky assortment of memories that have become Christmas to me. So grab your beverage of choice, put your slippered feet up and dim your lights to an appropriately magical and Christmasy ambiance, as I take you down a bit of my memory lane…

Growing up, we had many a wild Christmas tree that just couldn’t quite squeeze itself between floor and ceiling, and though no squirrels ever launched themselves from among the sappy branches, I do recall a mass exodus of coniferous creepy-crawlies squirming and scrabbling up the living room walls.

Intense exterior decorating ensued promptly on the morning after Thanksgiving, and would continue well into the night. The house often looked to have been hosed down with Christmas lighting by a rampant host of runaway, drunken elves. (In reality, if one were to search among the sparkling bushes or under the twinkling trees, one would find scattered bottles of Sam Adams Winter Brew as evidence.)  This was all very fantastic. Less is more did not apply.

However, with a ‘more is more’ approach to holiday decor, my father has also been known, as his movie character so precisely expresses, to take things, ever so slightly, overboard. My mother does her best to support his antics, often quietly adding her own touch of class (usually elemental versus electric and plastic), to smooth out the random tackiness, though there have been times she’s had to firmly march him back to Wal-Mart to return a life-size waving Santa Claus or 10 foot inflatable snow globe, or some other accent piece for the front yard. She did, however, let him keep the projector beeming all manner of holiday insignia upon our home; snowflakes, candy canes, little snowmen, all arcing across the front of the house in constant parade.

I recall on one of our annual Christmas pilgrimages from Florida to Wisconsin, my father insisted my sister and I stand outside in a remote and snowy landscape, two shivering Sunshine State teenagers dressed in thin, ill-fitting jackets borrowed from cousins, until he snapped the perfect picture. I remember we finally had enough of it, and with appropriate adolescent attitudes turned up our chapped noses and marched back to the car. Which was locked. We turned around, and there he stood, in his own thin jacket. He, however, grew up in Wisconsin. He was not cold. “Take your time girls.” He said with a smile. “I’ve got all day.” Needless to say, my sister and I posed with wide, blue-lipped grins.   We even ventured upon a frozen lake for a few snapshots, which we later learned from a horrified aunt, was not fully frozen.

He has chauffeured countless Christmas cruises, piling all available family members into the car (even the grumpy ones), cranking the carols until the speakers shook, and, and no matter the weather, rolling the windows down to fully enjoy the neighborhood’s decorations.

He will wake with the sun to brew the most recent seasonal roast of coffee for a sleepy household, and at night he will build a fire, even though he lives in Central Florida and it’s 80 degrees outside. On a cool night.

For my own children, he dresses as “Tropical Santa”,  donning what looks like red furry boxer shorts with white fuzzy trim and a short sleeved top of equally silly design. Weather won’t stop him from being a Griswold. He adapts.

He has instilled in me a love of all things Christmas, whether it be the latest flashing yard accouterment or the newest soulful ballad offered up by a pulsing deep south church choir over the radio waves. Because of him I hold a deep affinity for plastic reindeer, a certain fondness for the old Christmas cartoon specials, knowing most of the songs and dialogues by heart, and am an undercover connoisseur of every variety of Christmas tree . Christmas carols, in my house where I am now the momma rather than the child, start well before Thanksgiving, and sometimes make a surprise appearance in July.

But there is much more to this man than just silly memories of seasonal brews and Santa suits.

My father has taught me the insurmountable value of celebrating for the sake of celebration; that gratitude, mirth, and plenty are states of mind.

Thank you for the unorthodox approach to life that almost never takes offense, but nearly always finds humor (even if its offensive humor).

Thank you for showing me that laughter is always appropriate, even when it’s not.

Thank you for teaching me levity and goofiness are not only always options, but often medicines.

I raise my moosey mugful to toast. Cheers to you dad. Thank you for blessing me with your twinkling humor, your love of merriment, your goofy nonsense that shines on me like the northern star. It will forever be my beacon and my strength. I am revived by my family memories. I love you.   Merry Christmas.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 33 other followers