Gran’s Violets

If I had a blog, today I would write about my grandmother’s legacy: Her African violets.

Gran's Violets in my first apartment.

Gran’s Violets in my first apartment.

Granny Ruby loved African violets. From my earliest days, I recall the splashes of pink, purple, and white that graced her side tables and intrigued me with their soft and furry leaves. I wasn’t allowed to stroke the leaves without Gran beside me, teaching me how to love her little garden without doing harm. She told me wonderfully mysterious tales of Africa, “The Dark Continent,” where the flowers originated and I loved to image them growing in the dampness of the jungle, sprouting from moss-covered rock faces and the spongy surface of decaying logs. They lived in the same part of Africa known to my hero, Jane Goodall, and that gave the flowers a mystique that holds me in thrall even today.

Gran's Violets in our kitchen window.

Gran’s Violets in our kitchen window.

African violets are finicky, needing just the right amount of water and sun to flourish. I often helped Gran feed the violets and learned how to tell if they were content with their living conditions. Some liked a little morning sun, others wanted perpetual shade. Given just the right amount of care, the plants would reward us with their colorful blooms. It was a boon to me because, with the exception of Gran’s violets, my horticultural skills are nil. It isn’t that I dislike plants; in fact, I love them dearly – from the tiny Easter flowers that sprinkle the back yard in springtime to the tallest oak tree in the forest, plants mean as much to me as animals, but somehow I am not destined to be their keeper.

Because my most earnest attempts at gardening always ended in failure, it was with more than a little anxiety that I took custody of Gran’s violets when she passed away. Not only were these living beings, but having lived with Gran and Grandy for most of their married lives, the African violets were part of my heritage and I was determined to keep the tradition going whatever the cost.

After they came into my care, Gran’s violets lived a nomadic life as I moved from dorm, to apartment, to my first little house on the edge of town. I fed them regularly, scoped out north-facing windows to give them the right amount of light, and I repotted them when the stems grew too woody. To my great surprise, not only did the violets survive, they flourished. I attributed their health not only to my diligence, but also to the love that I felt for my gran. She and I were best friends from the day I was born and it seemed that part of Gran’s spirit lived on in the flowers she gave to me. Many a dreary day was brightened by their colorful blooms and at times when I felt lonely or homesick, Gran’s violets gave me the feeling of home.

A little springtime in the middle of winter.

A little springtime in the middle of winter.

Today, the violets bloom merrily in our Great Room, greeting all who come to sit by the fire or share a family meal. In the winter, Mom and I sometimes move the flowers into the kitchen where they can benefit from the pale sun on its short journey through our little valley. Not a day goes by that I don’t greet Gran’s violets and say, “Thank you,” to Gran for leaving a glorious legacy behind.


Best Friends

If I had a blog, today I would tell you that, this morning, I lost my best friend, Owain, the border collie.

Owain was part of our lives for thirteen years and from the day Mom and I brought him home, Owain and I were buddies. He respected Mom as his trainer and companion, but Owain saw me as a littermate – someone to pal around with, someone who was always up for a game of catch or tug-of-war. I am thankful for every second Owain and I spent together and although the house has an empty place tonight, my heart is full. I can feel Owain’s presence everywhere I go and for that, I am so grateful. The days ahead will be a mixture of joy and tears; of funny stories and touching remembrances. The love of family and our other pets will help us find our way and I have no doubt that one day, Owain and I will be together again. Godspeed Mr. True. I’ll see you soon.

Owain - Our Mr. True

Owain – Our Mr. True

Ely IV: Dancing With the Chippewa

If I had a blog, today I would write about the night I became part of The North Country.

October 2, 2006

The Green World

The Green World

After we got home from the Wolf Center, we made our evening coffee and settled in to watch Northern Exposure on DVD. After the second episode, Mom suggested we walk to the lake and see if there was any sign of the Aurora Borealis – The Northern Lights. Mom has a strong sixth sense about these things, so Kindra and I willingly donned our coats and followed along. We used our head lamps to see the path through the woods, but when we got to the dock, the half-moon gave us enough light to see without artificial light. It took a few minutes for our eyes to adjust to the darkness, but as they did, we saw an unmistakable green glow to the north.

The Vault of Heaven

The Vault of Heaven

I flipped my head lamp back on and set up my camera. Even a few shots of the green glow would be a remarkable souvenir and I wanted to be ready if anything more was in the offing. It was a good instinct. Within a few moments, the glow intensified and ribbons of green fire began to dance above the lake, flowing as if blown by a gentle cosmic breeze. The ribbons morphed into great shifting curtains that sent beams tinged with pink soaring towards the vault of Heaven. Now I understood why the Chippewa believed the aurora was the ghost dance of warriors who had gone before. In the shifting streamers they saw shadows of the great headdresses the dancers wore as they danced before the spirit-fire in the sky and I felt the presence of many spirits reaching out to me as they honored me with a glimpse of their mystical realm. Then the wolves began to sing. Far away at first, then close enough that I was sure, I heard wild wolves singing to the aurora. I laughed and wept and sang my own song of thanks to the Great North for the gift of this night.

In time, the aurora faded once more to a jade green glow and the wolves moved on in their nightly journeys. My toes were numb and my hands cold as ice, so I packed up my gear and went back to the cabin. Mom and Kindra has returned home earlier than I, but Mom was waiting up for me. We sat up until midnight talking about this magnificent experience, then, warm and sleepy, we went to bed.

Curtains of Light

Curtains of Light

Two hours later, Mom woke me. The aurora had returned! Mom could see the emerald fire in the skylight and it looked as though the display was more intense than the one we had seen before. Camera in hand, I hurried to the dock. This time the entire sky was wreathed in green flame. Pink and green curtains flickered high above the lake while rolling clouds of light reached down towards the water. The wolves sang to us again and we laughed and cried and hugged one another, over-awed at the gift we had been given.

It was another hour before the aurora made her last curtain call and left the sky to the dominion of the moon and stars. We lingered on the dock, our minds whirling with all that we had seen. We watched a beaver swimming down a path of moonbeams, the slap of his tail in the water finally bringing us back to terra firma. We walked to the cabin in silence, each of us lost in our own thoughts. We made a pot of tea and unwound by the fire before making our final attempt at sleep.

Trailing Clouds of Glory

Trailing Clouds of Glory

Each of us will take something different from tonight’s experience. Some thoughts will be shared, others treasured in silence as a personal gift from The Gods. For me, this was Yuwakan, the Lakota “day of naming,” when a child receives his or her spiritual name and takes their place in the tribe. Tonight I was told who I am. I expected this trip to be a pilgrimage to my sacred place, but instead of an empty sanctuary, I found my family gathered to welcome me with open arms. “Welcome Daughter,” says the North Wind. “Welcome Sister,” say the wolf and the raven. “Welcome Child,” say the Grandmothers, “Take up your place among the fir and spruce, beside the wild creatures, in harmony with the spirit of The North. Dear One, you have, at last, found your people, your place in the world, a place to call home. This is where you belong.”

Take Joy

If I had a blog, today I would reflect on the words of a 14th century monk named Fra Giovanni, that he wrote to a friend on Christmas 1513.

Owain - Our Mr. True

Owain – Our Mr. True

Life is hard. Some days too hard. Earlier this week we learned that our beloved border collie, Owain, has cancer. He is fourteen years old, well beyond the normal lifespan of his breed, and it has been a joy to travel the road of life with him from the day he came to us as a pup. Owain is family and his passing will bring many, many days of tears, but I am lifted up by the words of Fra Giovanni, who assures me that behind every trial is the hand of an angel, outstretched to lift us up until we can stand on our own two feet again. All the wonderful things in life are before us, offered freely, for those who have the courage to believe in the light when all the world grows dark.

For the moment, Owain is as happy and energetic as ever. He’s outside this morning, barking at the songbirds, his voice drowning out our breakfast conversation. Such things might seem an annoyance, but under these circumstances, Owain’s eccentricities are a joy. A few days ago, it seemed as though happiness had slipped through away forever. Sitting at the vet’s office, hearing the awful news, I couldn’t fathom how I could face the days to come, but then I read Fra Giovanni’s letter and I began to look beneath the veneer of gloom for even the smallest glimmer of hope – and I found it. My time with Owain may be shorter than I had hoped, but they can be good days, days of richness and depth of feeling that I can store in my heart forever. They will be my touchstones on days that are more difficult to bear.

We live as mortal beings, our days numbered from the hour of our birth. Mortality can be a curse or it can be a blessing; the choice is ours to make. If we are have the courage to set aside our fear and grief, we will find moments of joy in even the darkest hours of our lives. Thank you Brother Giovanni for showing us the way.

I salute you.

I am your friend, and my love for you goes deep.
There is nothing I can give you which you have not;
But there is much – very much – that, while I cannot give,
You can take.

No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in today.
Take Heaven!

No peace lies in the future that is not hidden in this present instant.
Take Peace!

The gloom in the world is but a shadow;
Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy.
Take Joy!

There is radiance and glory in darkness, could we but see;
And to see, we have only to look.
I beseech you to look!

Life is so generous a giver.
But we, judging its gifts by their covering, cast them away as ugly or heavy or hard.
Remove the covering, and you will find beneath it a living splendor,
Woven of Love,
By Wisdom,
With Power.

Welcome it, grasp it, and you touch the angel’s hand that brings it to you.
Everything we call a trial, a sorrow, or a duty. . .
Believe me, that angel’s hand is there;
The gift is there, and the wonder of an overshadowing Presence.
And our joys: be not content with them as joys.
They, too, conceal diviner gifts.

Life is so full of meaning and purpose, so full of beauty beneath its covering,
That you will find earth but cloaks your heaven.

Courage then, to claim it. . . .that is all!
But courage you have,
And the knowledge that we are pilgrims together,
Wending our way through unknown country. . .

And so at this Christmastime, I greet you
Not quite as the world sends greetings,
But with profound esteem and with the prayer that for you,
Now and forever,
The day breaks and shadows flee away.

Through the Stable Door

Through the Stable Door

Through the Stable Door

If I had a blog, today I would write about what true Independence means to me. In the book The Last Battle, the final book in The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis tells the tale of the last days of the Narnian world. After the final battle, even though good has triumphed over evil, Narnia’s time has come and the planet begins to collapse. Our heroes follow the great lion, Aslan, “further up and further in,”  to a new Narnia; one more beautiful and more “real” than the place they left behind. As they travel, they must pass through a dilapidated stable, the last portal before they enter Lewis’ version of Heaven. Inside the building they find a company of dwarves, huddled in misery, complaining about their lot in life. Aslan creates a banquet before them, but all the dwarves can see is mouldy bread and stale water. The children open the door to the new Narnia, but the dwarves complain about the annoying sounds of revelry and the overpowering sunlight. Try as they might, our heroes cannot get the dwarves to look beyond their self-pity and, in the ends, leave them to their misery, forever trapped in a prison of their own making.

In our own world, we are all guilty of getting lost behind the stable door; so wrapped up in the seduction of self-pity. Some days, nothing feels better than complaining about how we’ve been wronged, passed over, betrayed and short-changed. Harmless as this may seem, there is great danger in “pity-parties,” and the price for this indulgence is our freedom. We can get lost in this dark world of the negative, the ugly, and the hopeless; so lost that when we are at the portal of the Great Beyond, we cannot see the gifts spread at our feet.

So, on this Independence Day, I renew my vow to look for light in the darkness, beauty in the mundane, and hope in the midst of despair. Then, when my time comes to go “further up and further in,” I will be free to pass through The Stable Door.