Samhain: the pagan New Year, the time when witches say that the veil between the worlds thins. We set up altars, we light candles, we lay out bread and wine for our Beloved Dead. It is the darkest time of year, when fields lie fallow and frost sharpens the remaining leaves. A time to remember those we have lost, a time to remember the power we have to shape our lives and our world, a time to remember the sleeping seeds, which soon will stretch to new, hidden life under our feet. Blessed be!
Today night steps forward to again balance the day. We turn toward the darkness, a time of rest, a time to weave stories. I breathe a sigh of relief. Walking the hill behind our house at sunset, I think of my witch friends, and all those who live in awe of creation. May your seeds find rich soil, may you have the strength to let go of that which is done, may your pillow be soft, may your awakening be gentle, may your life be in balance. Blessed be.
I have spent the past four Mothers’ Days alone with my children, while Mr. Banks was away on business. Every year, I have wondered if he would remember what day it was, following a foreign calendar all the way across the world. Every year, I have stepped into the bountiful garden we have grown together, and seen the flowers he had already given me. So I would pick myself a Mother’s Day bouquet, and then send those flowers to you, honored mothers of my life. At some point later in the day, the doorbell would ring, and Mr. Banks would deliver his love for me, from all the way across the world, in yet another fragrant extravagance of flowers.
California is facing a serious drought this year. We ended winter with just 5% of our usual annual rainfall, and by the end of spring had only edged up to 30%. We have decided not to water our garden this year. Out here in the valley, our garden needs irrigation from Spring to Fall Equinox in order to truly thrive. We’ve had just enough rainfall to bring out the blooms and the grass. Now we get to watch everything die. It makes spring flowers that much more precious, when we’re unable to artificially extend the growing season with imported water.
I noticed the Mother’s Day bouquet really changed in character this year. Usually I end up with armfuls of giant blooms, and still have flowers left in the garden to enjoy. This year harvested every single stem, and ended up with this little nosegay. The flowers are different, too. Instead of roses and tulips and lilies, I’m getting the self-seeders–forget-me-nots and bachelor’s buttons and carnations–and the hardy perennials. It will be interesting to let our garden go back to what it was meant to be, to start over on the canvas nature intended for this region. To tend my little corner of climate change. And still find flowers, for you, for Mother’s Day.
You never think it will happen to your family. And then it does.
Last Thursday, my 65-year old mom and 86-year old grandma were evacuated by bucket loader from their riverside home in Lyons, CO. Sirens began sounding from the town at 2 a.m. that morning, but on the far side of the river my mom and grandma could hear nothing over the roaring river. They slept through the early calls for evacuation.
At 5:30 a.m. the housekeeper called, awakening my mother. The house was already surrounded by water, the river lapping at the underside of the porches. Several calls to 911 later, they were still in the house. Since the water had not yet entered, no plans for evacuation were made. A bit later the head of a local construction company called to check on them. Soon after, the head of the Department of Publics work arrived with his bucket loader. With the help of three water rescue workers, they lifted my grandmother into the muddy bucket of that machine. By that time the water was already up to the doorknob of my grandfather’s old shop. With the cell phone tower down, it was hours before we heard from my mother that they were safe. Many people are still missing. Many families have still not heard from their loved ones.
By Friday the flooding had gotten so bad that the entire town of approximately 2,000 people–the place where I spent all my summers growing up–had to be evacuated.
My mom and grandma spent one night in the evacuation center at Lyons Elementary School,
where my grandfather taught for many years, and another day and night at LifeBridge Church in Longmont, before they were ready to move again. Now safely situated with my brother and sister-in-law, they wait.
The town of Lyons is working hard to restore power, sewage and water to its residents. Meanwhile, displaced townsfolk wait in lines for limited passes to get back to their properties: to assess the damage, gather their valuables, and leave without flushing a single toilet for fear of overloading Lyons’ tenuous system. Not even yet enough time to grieve.
On Friday, more than a week of weather after the initial flooding, my mom and brother will finally get to see what mark the river has left on the home my grandparents built, the home that brought my entire family together in the summers, for homemade ice cream and river tubing, horseshoes and dominoes and stories around the kitchen table.
I don’t usually blog about the news, but this time the news really hit home.
If you want to help, please look into the donation campaigns below. Please consider posting links to your other social media. This beautiful town and its residents will need all the help they can get to rebuild.
DONATE HERE to the Lyons Community Foundation/Flood Relief, part of the Boulder Community Foundation. Click the green Donate Now button and be sure to designate Lyons Community Foundation/Flood Relief from the drop-down menu to direct your donation to the town and people of Lyons.
Or consider putting one of these on the counter at work:
- Look closely and you’ll find my folks here: what brave, stalwart women!
- National Guard evacuates more than 550 people from Lyons, Colorado following floods – @denverpost (denverpost.com)
- Lyons family reunited at their home after St. Vrain flooding (denverpost.com)
- New vacuations ordered as rain pounds Colorado flood areas (denverpost.com)
- ‘We lost absolutely everything we own’ (cnn.com)
- Former students ‘moving mountains’ in search for missing Lyons man (kdvr.com)
- Rescues accelerate as floodwater inundates Colo. (kansascity.com)
- Colorado flooding: Residents return, but some find no home (fox13now.com)
So it turns out that I don’t write much in the summer. You’ve noticed.
Our family is now fully steeped in its current incarnation: Agent 006 in elementary school, about to start second grade next week, and the Birthday Girl (still three in spite of intervening birthdays which refused to have anything to do with her) in preschool twice a week. With the help of our marvelous babysitter, I manage to extend those few childless hours into a ten-hour-a-week writing practice (not including late nights and “I just have to go to the bathroom” quick ducks into the writing studio for stolen moments with the page).
But somehow children and travel have completely absorbed my time and attention this season, rolled up my writing practice like an old wool rug nobody needs when it’s hot out and the lawn sprinklers call us to summer’s baptism of heat. And it’s impossible for me to feel guilty about it. I know what’s really happening.
Summer is my growing season, but story doesn’t grow on the same schedule as the vegetal world. Travel, my children’s inches and appetites, long, sweet hours at the pool and beach–I can feel myself soaking it all in like the browning of my skin. The fields of my story lie fallow in the summer; the children and I play together in the rich dirt. My fields may look as empty as the pages of my journal or as inert as my blog statistics, but I feel small creatures stirring underground. I feel the bursting of seeds, straining toward the light of back-to-school fall routines. Soon, I will be able to water these fields once more with scattered showers of solitude. With just those scraps of nourishment, and the discipline of the hoe, the stories will grow forth again.
Please stay tuned for these new series of articles, and more, coming this fall:
Little Travelers: Tips for parents and kids on traveling to destinations near and far, exotic and quotidian.
A Writer’s Passage: Wisdom shared from the June 2013 Book Passage Conference for Children’s Book Authors and Illustrators, as it intersects with my life as a writer and mother of two.
The Beleaguered Kitchen: Ideas for creating nutritional family meals under duress
Bites from the Magic Apple: Strokes of parenting genius shared
See you soon!
Related articles, in which other writers say it better than I do:
- Summertime and the writing’s easy…or not (jessaslade.wordpress.com)
- Fallow Beauty (cityjackdaw.wordpress.com)
Photo credit: Thanks to Paul Schultz for adding “Fallow Field” to the Creative Commons.
A Magical Rant
No doubt it’s because I’m a pagan. Not simply the “non-Christian” kind of pagan, but an actual, practicing pagan, who knows what Samhain and Beltane are, and has the solstices and equinoxes in bright green on her Google calendar. And because I find the word “pagan” a bit academic and stuffy, I call myself a witch. So there it is. Probably the real and true reason why I hate Saint Patrick’s Day. Continue reading
Singapore was a very difficult place for me to be. No doubt a huge part of that was being so far from my family. I loved the people I met and worked with, saw and tasted many beautiful and interesting things, but after about eight days away from my children, my body started to fall apart.
Last year it was my children’s bodies that deteriorated. I came home from ten days in Singapore to a daughter with a staph infection on top of hand, foot & mouth disease, and a son with a burst eardrum. This year a bug bite attempted to attack my entire leg before the excellent medical care in Singapore intervened with a timely shot in the butt.
It was an incredible privilege to be invited across the world to teach a writing camp to young Singaporean writers. The kids were eager, adventurous and welcoming. My colleagues were industrious and intrepid about trying completely new ways of thinking about teaching kids to write.
These consummate hosts went to great pains to introduce me to the incredible sights and especially the exquisite cuisine of Singapore. Although the relentless urbanity, devoted consumerism and polished presentation of this particular city were not to my taste overall, I did find a great many experiences to treasure during my two visits there. Continue reading
New Readers: At the beginning of 2012, the author made a personal commitment to her health, her writing and her sanity: to walk first thing every morning, every day for the rest of her life. Sometimes it’s hard to wake up early enough.
I remember the feeling of being completely together with my children. Elbows sharp yet unknown inside of me, revealed when I finally held her on the outside of my belly, and recognized their shape with the intimacy of those last four crowded months. The feeling of a child hiccupping underneath my pubic bone, a steady, happy and reassuring tic. Hands fluttering, fluttering below my belly button, again so familiar to me after birth, in the way she held her hands curled up under her chin to sleep for the first three months of her life. His kicking and flailing familiar to me too, the way he can’t quite get enough space even now, wanting to be right next to me with his spiky knees and clawing hands.
Do you have the patience to wait
til your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
till the right action arises by itself?
–Tao te Ching, Lao-tzu
trans. by Stephen Mitchell
No, not usually. It seems especially difficult when Five has half the contents of the spice cupboard spread all over the counter, making his sanctioned mini-mixture for an individual tuna melt (the rest of us will eat the standard version, thanks). Actually a mom-approved activity, given that we’re trying to reconnect after he threw his pencil at me during the homework session and I’m trying to feed my family sometime in the vicinity of six p.m. All of this is fine. Mud settling, water clearing.
Then Two walks into the room, after a long, suspicious silence. Her shirt is half off, twisted around and caught on one arm. Her bottom is completely bare, because in her hands is an open diaper cradling extremely round poop that cooperatively rolls onto the kitchen floor as she holds it up for me to “sThee?” Sometimes it just gets a little muddy around here.
How will my mud ever settle with little feet tromping incessantly through my riverbed? Watch this! Oooh, look what I found under this rock! Do it again!
And did Lao-tzu have children? If so, did he raise them himself? Or have wives, concubines and female servants do it for him?
Photo obtained from Google images. Please notify me of any copyright infringement.