Poem: Spirals

Spiral small

Spirals

This is what you have taught me.
that spirals do not always descend.
With the right soul beside you,
they rise to heaven.

About this poem

A love poem.

We often talk of people spiraling. Why do we always think of it as spiraling down, out of control, negatively?

The picture was taken in Munich.

Tom

Thoughts: Away. Towards

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For the next few days I am going to Cape Cod.

Despite living in New England for almost eight years, I only got to Cape Cod the first time about a year ago. This is my third trip since then. It has become something of a touchstone for me, a place of peace in a world, both private and public, that has little peace. It’s where I go to reclaim the inner peace that nourishes me through the whackadoodle thing that is day to day life.

The woman I love suggested I go. We had a trip planned but that feel through. I figured I’d just stay and work (there’s always work to do.) through the long weekend, but she felt like I could use a few days away. My hope was that she might go, but her life is even more whackadoodle than mine right now, so it was not meant to be. In the end, whackadoodle almost always wins.

Unless, of course, we fight it.

For most of us, peace does not come easily. It’s a strange world we live in these days, with too much change going on in too short a time. There’s strangeness in politics, society, culture, technology – almost all of the world we touch.

And that doesn’t take into account the personal changes we live in. One of the things we don’t think about is that when society changes at a rapid pace, so does the rest of our lives. I’ve had kids come and go and come again. I have a woman I love. I have people who love me and people who dislike me and people who have opinions both ways who don’t know me – all claiming their part of me. Just like all of us.

My finances go up and down. My work goes up and down. My faith rises and struggles and grows and everything it touches does the same. I have creative days and flat days. I have days I am relatively free of depression and days it hangs over me like a black fog. Just keeping up with life is a blur. And in the middle of this, we’re supposed to find peace too?

And in the middle of this, we’re supposed to find peace too?

Right.

There’s a lot of ways to find peace. But none of them just happen. We have to choose it. Work at it. Make the time for it. Carve out a portion of our lives to do what brings us peace and make that portion sacred. We can’t depend on the world bringing us peace. It’s too busy bringing us peace-thieving activity, noise, and confusion.

What do you do to find peace? Is that time or activity sacred? if not, why not?

I think it’s odd. If we are sick, we go to the doc. We take the medicine. We do what it takes to get well. No one questions us if we take a couple of days off when we are fighting pneumonia. But take a couple of mental health days, a day or two of purposeful rest and spiritual nourishment and people look at us like we are being frivolous.

There’s nothing frivolous about restoring our souls. It’s the foundation everything else stands on. Neglect it, and the rest eventually, always, will come undone.

So I will go. I will stand on the beach and simply be. I will release everything on my mind and troubling my spirit and breath in eternity. I will stand amidst sand and shore that began before my imagining and will be there when I can imagine no more. I will cease to do and reclaim the art of being that has taken such a battering.

I can’t tell you why. I am not sure myself, but the woman I love was right. She generally is, blessed with an insight I’ve learned to pay attention to and with a gentle spirit that helps me listen, even when I don’t want to.

I wish she could go with me. But then, I generally wish she could be with me. However, I have lived alone a long time. I am at peace with aloneness. I rarely feel lonely. And I won’t these next few days.

I never know what comes of these getway days, but I always come back changed. I think that is what happens when we have nothing to listen to but ourselves and our God. What is real and what is deepest finally gets a chance to rise.

“You’re running away?” someone at the diner said to me this morning. No, not that. I am not running away. I am running towards. I am not sure what I am running towards, what I will find, what will rise to the top, but I know it’s something good and in the end it’s peace.

And of course the fun of whacking whackadoodle on its pointy little head.

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

Poem: A Loss of Anchors

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A Loss of Anchors

You have been too long at sea,
accustomed now to the shift beneath your feet,
the constant adjusting
to wind and wave that shapes your journey,
too accustomed to the lack of firm ground,
to cramped quarters and distant shores
that come and go.

You are sensitive to the moment
when the anchor pulls loose from the muck
and you are no longer bound.
You feel it in your legs,
in your gut. You know, without doubt,
that once again, you are cut loose,
forced
to choose between drifting
and setting sail.

About this poem

My life the last ten years. (sways with sea legs).

Tom

Thoughts on Place

Shady Grove

This is where I came from.

That fact will surprise my friends, those who grew up with me in suburbia, lingering on the outskirts of a real city, graced with more than enough to do and see, more than enough trouble to get into and more than enough people to surround myself with and largely, disappear among.

But that suburbia, despite the years and upbringing and immersion, never felt like home. This place, my grandfather’s farm and the forests behind it, the ancient mill pond deep in that forest, this place felt like home.

I did not understand it’s value then. What I wondered is why, despite being part and parcel of life and school and church and all the stuff that goes with Southern Suburbia, I never felt like a part of it. It was, I was sure, a flaw in my own character.

It was not a matter of functioning well. I functioned just fine in our little corner of the world, functioned fine when I went to a large college, functioned fine in the hustle and bustle of big cities for work.

I still do. At times, my work takes me to cities, to the fast paced world of business and technology and I do fine. I’ve built some pretty powerful companies and dealt with a lot of media companies you would recognize. I do well there. Nigh on to impressively. Which is a good thing since it is in cities, or at least from cities where I make most of my money.

I’m just not at home. It’s not where I can rest. It is not where my spirit is renewed. Places like this farm, my grandfather’s farm, renew me.

The farm is called Shady Grove. Most all the farms around this corner of Virginia have a name. This was was so named because of a large grove of oak trees that once surrounded the 1854 homestead. A hurricane, Hurricane Hazel, took out most of those trees in the mid 50’s .  Somewhere I have a picture of my grandfather standing in the front yard with fallen trees, giant thick oaks all around him.

The oaks are mostly gone now. But the name survived.

I would be in my late thirties before I found myself a place in the country, or nearly in the country, a place with a name. I looked at it on a whim. It was priced safely outside my budget.

It was a mess of a place. Dirty inside. Smelly. Bad, bad colors of worn paint. But the bones were good and it was a quirky, large house. My realtor told me to make an offer I could afford. I did, but I was a little ashamed of how low my offer was. And more than a little surprised when they took it. (It’s the house in the picture from yesterday’s post).

It had been called Summit Manor. I am not sure why. It wasn’t on the summit of anything. It was halfway up a small rise, not even a hill. But that’s what they called it and that’s what people in Troutville, Virginia knew it as. It was on the edge of a tiny little town. Across the street was a graveyard. Behind my land was an apple grove. Despite being on a main road, it was quiet. I felt at home there.

A couple of years after my seperation and divorce, I moved here to Vermont. I have an old miner’s house, circa 1800 according to the deeds, that lies across from an abandoned slate quarry at the edge of a town of about 300. It too is quiet.

The house did not have a name, but I gave it one. When I moved up here, I was looking at three houses, a white house, a yellow house, and the one I eventually bought which was right across from the quarry, which I called the Quarry House.

And the name stuck. I even have a slate sign on the house that says “Quarry House. 2009”. I ended up, when I started my own business, caling the business Quarry House.

I like names that tell you something. That is part of why I like the name Shady Grove, I think. It tells you not what it is, but what it was. It carries with it history and truth. The Summit Manor name I inherited, but it always sounded kind of pretentious to me. It wasn’t on a summit. And it wasn’t a manor house. It was a big old farm house.

Quarry House fits. It tells you where it is. It tells you a little about the history, how the first peope to live there, and a few generations aftewrward, would have worked in the slate quarries.

It is also the place where I began building a new life. I think often of the Psalms, where God is called “The rock of my salvation”.  This place was the rock I started over on. It’s where I lived as I reclaimed the best of myself, and worked through the worst. It is where I worked to become a rock of my own, someone who, I hope, can be counted on, whose faith and kindness and stableness can be of service to others. That’s a trait that I want the house name and the company name to reflect, even if others know its meaning, or not.

A lot of people give names to things willy nilly. I am not one of those. I like names to have meaning. Both of my kids have names from grandparents. Partially that was to honor grandparents, but we picked the names carefully, to give them a platform of people’s histories to grow into, while still having names that were uniquely theirs.

I don’t even name my cats on a whim. I live with them a while to see if I can gage something of their personalities before I saddle them with a name. As if they care.

But I do. And I have no idea why. Something from my childhood I suppose. From growing up and spending time at Shady Grove and listening to the stories of it “before” the storm. Of how my grandfather began there as a sharecropper before finally buying the farm outright. Stories of sitting in the shade of the oaks after a long day chopping peanuts. The name became part of the “homeness” of the place.

I’ve been at the Quarry House for nearly 8 years. (8 years in May). It is home now. I am not longer a Virginian in Vermont. I am a Vermonter from Virginia. Living not just in a house, but in a place with history and meaning, waiting for the next chapter, wondering if this wil be my resting place, or if, even at this stage of my life, I might end up moving and starting over yet again.

One of the things I have learned, is that we bring home with us. I didn’t see it then, but I realize now that I brought Shady Grove back with me every time I returned from a visit. I carried it’s peace with me. I brought it’s sense of place with me and it shaped me even when I was in my suburban school, or my big college or my work in the cities of the East Coast.

And I love my quiet little place in the middle of Nowhere, Vermont. It feels like home and it has since I moved up here. But I know now, a thousand journeys later, that no matter where I live, I will find that quiet, because it is within.

It took me long enough.

So I do not know where I will end up. The woman I love, loves cities. She also, like me, loves the ocean. Could it be that someday we will end up in one or the other? Who knows?
Stranger things have happened. Really.

Where ever I end up, though, I will give it a name. Because place has personality. Place has history. Place breeds emotions, and all that, if not quite human, deserves recognition, deserves a name.

One that matters.

Be well. Travel wisely,

TOm

 

Poem: Birthing Place

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Birthing Place

You lived here once,
for fifteen years, happy years, most of them,
in this old house full of history and creaks,
without a right angle in the place,
with floors waxed with bowling alley wax,
pine turned dark by too much of the wrong thing,
a dream come true,
until realized too late
that the dream had less to do with the house
than the life within,
and when that life died,
the house became something less,
an interesting shell,
an antique no longer needed or even desired,
a crime scene, with the death being mine,
at least for a time.

Since then, a journey,
an apartment under the stairs,
a converted jailhouse,
and finally, this miner’s house,
straight and simple
and unexpectedly perfect for the time and place
that is your life today.
It is quiet,
and its walls fall away easily,
a moldable kind of place,
transforming with every transient that wanders through,
it has become my birthing place,
where the corpse was dumped,
and slowly began to breathe again, unaware
of its resurrection until years later,
happy now to dream less,
and live more.

About this poem

I stumbled on the picture while looking for something else this morning.

The house in the picture was the house I lived in for the last fifteen years of my marriage. It was, in many ways, my dream house, two floors of ancient Americana, gloriously imperfect and quirky. I expected to live there for the rest of my life and die there.

In a way I did.

After the divorce, I lived in a lot of places, landing eight years ago in my little miner’s house in West Pawlet, Vermont. I make a lot less plans. I live more simply, more in the moment, and in a way I never expected, I am much happier, more me, more alive and more in love than I imagined possible.

Life is funny that way. The worst things that happen to us can be a gateway to the best things.

Thank goodness.

Tom

Poem: Venice Market

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Venice Market

Early in the morning, the vendors come,
the fishermen come,
the butchers come.
The farmers too, arrive, and early,
before the town awakes,
they set their wares on tables
in corners, under green awnings,
never in the sun where the Mediterainian sun
can dry their fresh offerings.

By mid-morning the market seethes
with locals and tourists alike, hungry
for something rare and fresh.
Here, the fishmonger cuts his filets.
Here, the butcher carves still bleeding beef.
Here, there are lemons from Pompei,
oranges from Spain, and grapes,
rescued from the winemaker in nearby Tuscany.

You walk through the crowd,
a stranger here,
not just to this place,
but to this celebration of freshness,
of now, of things so new
and so fragile that as soon as tomorrow
they will be a sorry memory of themselves.

You choose and orange
and peel it.
You bite into it’s supple flesh and
its juice drips down your chin,
fragrant and powerful,
the taste and smell fills your senses
and for a moment you are lost.

This is what it means to live,
to be lost in the perfection of the moment.
Never mind that by nightfall,
this place will be abandoned for another week.
Never mind that this abundance,
the things not chosen,
will shrivel and die.
For this moment, you are in a perfect place,
and more importantly, you are aware
of its perfection and your place in it.

Your breathe.
Your eyes take in the marketplace
with its colors and strangeness.
The taste of orange lingers on your tongue,
and you wipe the remnants of juice off your chin.
Across the market, a fishmonger sings opera.
You have, you believe,
found heaven,
closer, farther,
than you ever imagined.

About this poem.

Regular readers know. I love Venice. A week in a place and it lives in you forever, calling to you. I do not think I have ever felt as alive as I did that one week.

Why? I cannot say. Some things just are. It’s like being in love, and almost as powerful.

Tom