October 26, 2011

Of All The Places

When I was younger, I used to believe that out of everyone I knew, I was the only one who not only appreciated nature, but loved it, pined for it, understood it as a perfect part of life. I talked to the trees. Yes, I was one of those. I could spend hours by myself in the woods, or by a stream, or watching the light shift across the surface of a lake. My first memory is of a mountain landscape in Montana, the feeling of the wind rushing up my legs, the blueness of the sky.

I began this blog for several reasons, but it was naive to not count among them connection with other "place people." I didn't know. I didn't even guess that fifteen months from its inception, this blog would have introduced me to complete strangers who now feel like friends, and friends who are now ever-more-deeply that because we've had cause to discuss and share about things that before just somehow never came up. I didn't know that what I'd most appreciate a year later about this space was not the essays or the plant names or the adventures: it would be the community. The understanding that I am not the only one, of course. There are thousands, millions, of hearts that quicken at the same things, and they have been beating alongside mine all along.

My goal at the outset of this blog was to write consistently for one year. Then, to keep going until I'd tackled my Thirty Before Thirty list. I stepped into my thirties this past month. Now what? I'll change the Thirty Before Thirty tab to Life List (I'll get to the Soudan Mine one day). I'll add a few new changes to About Me. And then I'm going to stop holding myself accountable here, at least in the same way. I'll still write posts, certainly, but only when I must, when I've been alone in the woods too long even for me and I need to reach out.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to every reader, commenter, and thinker that has entered this space. It's so good to be a student of the world, and so nourishing to be one among friends.

October 13, 2011

"I Knew"

that night we lay on air
sultry as an Egyptian's exhale.

Nothing stirred but firefly wings
and our gentle fingers, figuring

at the throb and pulse that electrified
such small bodies with sparks.

Their glimmer laced the lake's edge
like a necklace, like lookout smoke,

and we drifted tranquil within, at peace
with each other, our unwearied lips.

The water was blue-black beneath us,
a veiled mirror underneath the cloak

of sky, light discovering light
only when we moved.

-- by Emily Brisse,
originally published in The Talking Stick,
Vol. 20, Editor's Choice award

October 11, 2011

Prairie Oaks Institute

Thanks to Chris Johnson, the Center for Servant Leadership at Gustavus, and the amazing and beautiful Prairie Oaks Institute in Belle Plaine for an incredible weekend: retreat, rejuvination, reflection, and old and new friends--"live encounters," every one.

October 3, 2011

Where We Go

When I was in fifth grade, the rough kids went out behind the middle school building, down to the footbridge that crossed over the stream, and smoked beneath it. I have memories of their black-leather-clad backs, their furtive glances before they’d duck under and step down on the rocks. Later my brother and I would find the stubs of their cigarettes, muddied and stained with red-lipstick. We often wondered, when we sat beneath the bridge ourselves, if their pack would ever show up when we were there, drop from the trail like a thick cloud, and surround us in their haze and age. 

The last time I was in my hometown, I returned to the stream. It had been years, maybe, since I’d walked the banks, strolled with my hand out, tapping the chest-high grasses and small  sunflowers, blazed though the mass and tangle to the water’s edge just like my brother and I had done during so many days in my childhood. It threw me, as I should have anticipated, to see how changed it all was, how grown-over and wild. Still, when I ducked beneath the bridge’s new wood, its sturdier structure, I glanced over my shoulder, licked my lips, and caught myself peering for cigarettes among the rocks.

I found one, wedged just so between two dry stones. But I considered it and its subsequent memories for as long as it takes to toss a pebble into the water, as long as it takes that pebble to sink. My thoughts skimmed on to the boyfriends I’d led to that bridge, the way we sat not under but on top of it, our backs against the wood, our legs dangling off its edge into air that was, for us, spectacularly open. Our whispers and bursts of laughter filled up the evening sky with simple, warm breath. I remember leaning toward one boy, right before a kiss, and whispering, “I am so lucky.”

I didn’t know then how true that was. When I thought of the rough kids with their attitudes and bloodshot eyes, it always seemed like a life they had chosen.
Years later, days after revisiting the stream and a week or so into a new school year, I watched my students stepping into and out of my classroom in their specially-selected outfits, watched their pencils furiously filling up their journals, watched the way they wore forty bracelets on both wrists and touched each other in shy, anxious ways. It did not seem possible, did not seem even remotely realistic that such youth and optimism could be connected to anything other than the hope that they so often give me. But then there came this word, heroin, hard and ugly. And I was reminded again of teenagers who, city or not, black-leather or not, cigarettes in hand or something much stronger, have gone under the bridge their entire lives.
I’m not sure what my brother and I would have said to the older kids had they converged on us beneath the bridge. I was a protective older sister, so most likely I would have grabbed my brother’s hand and splashed through the water quickly and suspiciously away. But if I could go back. If I could grasp then what I think I understand now. I don’t know. Would I have stayed? Sometimes our own experiences are too much in our eyes to see someone else’s clearly. But tomorrow I’ll have these students in my classroom, these leather-jacket and letter-jacket kids, and so many of them just need some place to go. A bridge to walk over or under unafraid.