Night Fires: Thoughtful darkness, thoughtful light

Photo by Clarisse Meyer on Unsplash

One discovers the light in darkness, that is what darkness is for; but everything in our lives depends on how we bear the light. It is necessary, while in darkness, to know that there is a light somewhere. To know that, in oneself, waiting to be found, there is a light. What the light reveals is danger, and what it demands is faith.

James Baldwin

After the madness of Christmas has receded, this restful quiet time is often thought to herald the new year. Various clusters of folks and traditions celebrate and mark their New Year at different times. Myself, through the deep interiority and reflection of the dark time of the year, I don’t feel the earliest beginnings of new life until somewhere between Imbolc and the spring equinox.

For now, we have the dark. I’ve been comfortable with the dark. I keep its company often, one foot in the world of the sane; one foot in the world of the insane.  One in the world of the dead and dying, one in the living.  A dependable reciprocity, a flow, a movement transports me in and out, to and from.  Then the whole Trump phenomenon and its  tendrils wrapped themselves around so many of our values, our identities, our hope, our courage. Fear grew and grew some more.   Many elders feel hopeless; many of our younger brothers and sisters feel apathy.  I can’t speak for everyone, but I can say that many of us are feeling pretty fucked up. What to do to feel better?

Well, of course there are many things. Some good, some not so much. In this post, though, I want to speak to the reliable inspiration that I turn to every year and am never, ever disappointed: “Night Fires, the annual winter solstice play celebrating its thirty-fifth year. . . [is] a big shout of hope inside a passionate prayer for this beautiful, aching country of ours.”  (from this site)

The content–songs, poems, soliloquies, readings–changes each year but the theme remains contant:  leaving for a journey at the darkest time of the year and making your way through that darkness in order to find the light. I feel I can never do justice when I try to explain it. I just know that it is a profound generosity the spirit for the people who attend, year after year. I just know that it fills me with hope and courage and energy to apply the content I find–John Steinbeck, Naomi Shihab Nye, Bernice Johnson Reagon, Carlos Nakai, Langston Hughes, and more–many traditional Inuit, Aztec, PEI, Russion, Italian songs and poems and writings.

And the music? It all touched me deeply. But maybe the most surprising and energizing, one  a 1987 folk song from a band called Oysterband. I’m a folkie from way back & hadn’t heard of it. For me its strength lies in the shift of perspective it pulls off.

 So a big shout-out to Theatre Group LTD of Middlebury  VT and all of the holy that they conjure and gather and offer to the community. Gratitudes to  Marianne and Deborah, Abigail and Shaun, Annie, Lynn, and the entire community that blesses us every year with their wisdom and creativity.



Hymn of Gratitude to a Season

I chose autumn to be born, to move from realms in spiral galaxies that swirled with uncertain and joyful dust,  from starry excitement and pulsing night skies, toward a time created from my mother’s dreaming of my heavenly, absent father.

In a night-time sleeping bag on remote national forest land, there is little distinction between the deeply wooded landscape and the vast open, indigo sky. My eyes ached with the cadence of autumn. I chose my sun sign October time to conceive my son, who carries his bruising bravely. Once, while he played near a gnarled old maple, a brilliant monarch rested on his smiling, open face. Such a hopeful face. So, was he special, to be touched thusly? Or was the monarch injured? Special, injured, intact, broken—what are any of us, then? Who interprets those signs? Who made those words?

When September brought lengthening days, my daughter was born. She perched on bed edges, bouncing to her own musical laughter from beginnings in a distant border town, where campfires and communes held her snug and safe, then she leapt into fabricated city-scapes, where lights shined bright on false freedoms. She ricocheted back to a blue-collar holding cell, and are we all prisoners, then, inside lives that we construct and inside walls that we put up then decorate prettily, to cover some inner chaos?

My own persistent feelings wash up again and again on the edges of these pages.

This is what I know of the difference between wise waiting and dangerous inertia: absolutely nothing.

On stalks supporting dark, drooping heads of the Russian sunflowers after first frost, a busy, up-and-down chipmunk reminds me:  Sun sign in Scorpio, a gift.  It enables me to live into the mystery of things, releasing the need to own answers.

I am Looking at Blue


I am looking at blue, the color of the iced-over earth reflecting the vastness of space and indigo night. Blue, color of the winter ice that surrounds us now, companion to our waking and sleeping, and to everything in between. It glimmers and sparkles and confers such magical stories onto the trees and bushes that I have to blink, sometimes, to make certain what I’m seeing is true. Sometimes Truth is hard to see, especially when it’s in your own back yard, especially when it’s beautiful, especially when it could be dangerous.

The ice saturates the branches and twigs, burying the buds that will explode with life in the spring. Blue, the color of life receding, burrowing back into subterranean layers, surrendering to inexplicable rhythms, complex in their own patterns as is the night sky. Underneath, there is deepening, a silent infusion of essence. This is what happens in the long nights in the dark time of the year.

Something is speaking to me in my dreams.

In the morning, when the sun rises and lends its truth to the ridgeline, the golden, silver glowing begins a transformation that will stay with us all day but will never give up its solstice season color of throbbing cold, ice-blue. Life sleeps and dreams deep in the earth, and invites us to hibernate, too.

And I am pondering this throbbing cold, this ice, this blue.

Lise’s, Montreal. Blogging 101, day 9

43fbfc4ac5c4fdda2405f42d8430ad57A professor and friend of mine lives and writes in Montreal. Her brick row-house faces a green urban park. The street is lined with trees, and parking is impossible. The view from the sidewalk, all along the street, is of cats on window-sills and container gardens flourishing in the sun.

Ah, but it’s the view out the kitchen window that enchants me. Those back windows look out over a maze of complex courtyards, paintings of rich detail: a cat’s-cradle of clothes-lines that fly work clothes on Monday morning and billowing worlds of sheets sailing later in the week; back-yard balconies with routine performances by mops and brooms and the wild shaking of throw rugs. There are magic flying carpets floating in the hot glimmer of a summer afternoon; fairies conducting their fairy-business beneath the drenched leaves of a June downpour; early morning children, Saturday night couples, and Sunday solitary women.

Inside, a rich world of books suggests a lifetime affair with words and ideas. I smile. It’s like walking into another time, into a crowded back-alley bookshop where communicants seeking shelter from the rain are announced by the shallow tinkling of a delicate bell positioned over a carved wooden door.

Then all my whimsy vanishes, stopped short in the presence of shelves bearing the heavy weight of discourse from those formidable French feminists.

Reflections on Nurses, Writing. Blogging 101, Day 4

I live in Vermont, home of the Bread and Puppet theater group, which shares magic, social and political commentary, and affordable art with its guests. One summer, the troop led us into a hushed red-pine forest. We sat on the ground at long, makeshift banquet tables laid with bright cloth and 582289a3d3123309b4a0d36b24c096b0coffee cans painted with flowers and arcane symbols. Our puppeteer-hosts served, in silence, chilled water from clay pitchers and chunks of homemade bread.

Like fresh bread and cool water, writing nourishes when it is shared.

I work as a nurse.  Nursing, too, is a practice that must be shared in order to exist. As a profession, or a calling, right livelihood, or just a paycheck,  by simple definition it cannot stand alone. The very mechanics of doing our jobs allow us to look through intimate windows opening briefly into others’ existences. Our jobs intersect with theirs at intrinsic turning points as they experience birth, life, and death.

That intersection is a crossroads where mysteries live, where events below the surface manifest in language we have become clumsy with. Nurses write to translate, to interpret.

The dichotomy between the technical and the personal asserts itself repeatedly in this profession. How do we maintain the pace required to provide dramatic, cutting edge interventions while preserving compassion and healing intention? That call to serve and to heal sparked the beginnings of the nursing profession—and eventually it sparked the creation of technology.

The ancient healers—magicians, witches, shamans—have been replaced. Today we survive infections and trauma that, before the arrival of modern medicine, were deadly. These improved outcomes are miracles and that come with various requirements. We must be technicians we well as nurses, often responding not to the person but to machines that measure and image the body’s mysterious inner workings. We are accountable to federal, state, and local regulations that assure safe, quality patient care. We seek an evidence-based practice. We have advanced practice and advanced degrees. I’m not suggesting that any of this is wrong. I am saying that often as nurses we have little time for providing the elements of care that called us to our profession in the first place. And I am saying that sometimes those same elements have been erased by a system that has embraced corporate culture and practices.

Yet time exists in layers, and so still there are the small, secret pockets where the legacy of healing emerges again and again.

And in those pockets, nurses are writing to survive that great split between science and magic. We are writing to avoid being destroyed by the heavy pendulum with its great momentum, swinging powerful and erratic between the polarities of what is possible in health care and what is possible in healing. For they are not always the same thing. Although our world so much needs both, there is an unfortunate and deep divide between the two. Nurses are among those who try to bridge that chasm, underscoring our profession’s commitment to interact with the person, not the disease.

Nurses use a process which includes assessment and documentation. There is this, too: we notice, observe, witness, map, and chronicle. It’s the pursuit of writers, yes, and it’s also what nurses do, from our own particular places in the universe.

Nursing happens. It doesn’t pretty things up. It is intimate with birth and blood, shit and insanity, illness and death. It’s built from primitive stuff, the humus of life, raw energy that demands acknowledgment.

Warm bread, shared, silent, in a summer forest in Vermont is one sort of offering. Another is giving voice to our experiences of life, through our words on the page.

These things are good medicine. We offer them up.

A Place I’m From

I’ve joined the Writing 101 Challenge that WordPress is currently sponsoring. Typically, I’m way behind on my posting. This is from the day 2 prompt.

The snow comes, sometimes in October, and it hardly stops until May. The cold bites with razor teeth. Along with the deer, moose, turkey, and bear, hunting season annually claims a few human lives as well: young men with their lives ahead of them; older men whose families love them deeply in spite of their big drinking habits and faint scents of domestic abuse.

The snow falls hard and fast, leaving the rocky fields, red spruce, and balsam firs pristine and white before the soot makes the fields dreary again. Winter lasts so long that cabin fever is often tried as a legitimate excuse for a variety of  behaviors that would otherwise result in divorce or criminal charges. Mud season is practically a formal fifth season and limits comings and goings more severely than the snow. Potholes and erosion mark the 2-lane paved roads and the narrow dirt roads. In one season, more struts are destroyed than there are people in Derby.

Spring, nearly invisible and imperceptible, precedes a brief summer. Growing season can be as fleeting as 60 days but is often 90. The mosquitoes and black flies are predators and must be dealt with in some way. Autumn makes your eyes ache with its pulsing reds, yellows, and oranges. If you look too long, it’s like you’re staring at the sun—the colors of the trees are that strong.

Then winter comes again.

The northeastern-most part of the Northeast Kingdom is a loose container for people eking out economic existences in a wild variety of ways. Women fare well in the helping professions. Farmers often feel they’re working in a hostile environment. The paper and furniture mills shut down routinely when work gets slow. Car mechanics did well until engines became more and more computerized. Logging is good pay, but it’s the second most dangerous job in this country.  There’s seasonal work–cutting Christmas trees in late autumn, working at the ski resorts. Some have tried their hands at smuggling, and many have moved large amounts of pot. Some claim disability. Some get themselves arrested for the winter and released in the summer.

Here, too, are some of the first-, second- and third generations of back-to-the-landers of the 1970s, who came from various city-holds across the lower northeast. Although some have returned to the cities, many stayed, were grudgingly accepted as part of the community, and became part of the everyday struggle and celebration that is life along this cold border.

Here, many of the lost arts, aren’t.   Stitching everything together, a wedge needle on leather, is an artful way of living called survival.