The Best is Yet to Come
Carol and Lou deMoll, were high school sweethearts. He was the football captain and president of the class. She was captain of the cheerleaders and the lacrosse team. They graduated from high school in 1942 and married in 1947 after his stint in Europe in World War II. These journal entries were written when they were in their eighties. Mom left her body in September 2010 and Dad followed her in October 2013.
May 21, 2006
This spring Dad made the decision to sell the house he began to design and build 57 years ago and which we all grew up in. The upkeep has become way too much for him. It is, in fact, already sold to a wonderful sounding blended family with 6 teenagers. A family found for them by their mutual cleaning person. The new folks are keeping the pool table, the piano and even, if all goes well, the St. Bernard!
Mom and Dad are moving into White Horse Village, a retirement community where they already have some friends about 15 minutes away from my youngest sisters Lauren and Meg. Dad will be living in an apartment. Mom is making the long dreaded move into the dementia unit.
While in many ways, this move is breaking our hearts, it is clear that Dad no longer has the energy to keep taking care of the house or of Mom, despite the extra help he has most of the day, both hired and from Lauren and Meg. He has done a sweet and fabulous job for Mom and he is very very tired.
It is very much his decision to do this. He’s also giving up driving since his macular degeneration has suddenly taken a huge turn for the worse in stress of the last couple of weeks. He is now mostly blind.
I am flying east tomorrow to help get Mom ready to move on June 3 and help Dad deal with the challenge of telling her (over and over) of the changes. Dad will move sometime over the following week or so. They will only be about 150 yards apart in their new digs. We are praying that the social benefits and relief from responsibility will make up for the loss of the familiarity and beauty of that green acre they have lived on since I was a baby.
On the weekend of June 17th, 30 or so of our kids, spouses, and cousins are gathering for a house party to help us mourn, celebrate, love each other and move on. A wake. Immediately after that, the five of us siblings will stay to divide up the remaining material things, sort through memories, and get the house ready for cleaners by about the first of July.
Thursday, May 25
Since I’ve arrived there have been references by both Dad and Mom about the move. It is clear he’s been talking to her about it. Mostly she’s been vague and accepting. Not endlessly repetitious, but rather calm. I thought perhaps we’d skated through that initial minefield.
But at dinner tonight we were suddenly talking about the move – and she was hearing it as if for the first time. Pain. Disbelief. Rebellion. “But I could drive,” when told of Dad’s inability to drive or care for her or the house anymore. As usual it works to explain his need, his deep tiredness. She’ll do what she has to for him. But she kept looking around poignantly – “I can’t leave this,” she whispered every few minutes. I was in tears again, my heart breaking for her. Dad was sweet and gentle, patting her hand. “But we’ll be together?” she asked. Sometimes we were honest about that, “You can visit him,” leaving out that she can‘t go to him whenever she wants. Mostly we tried to emphasize the fact that they’ll be in the same place but not that they’ll be in different rooms with different rules. Such a dance of truth and comfort. She was stricken and so were we.
This morning dad and I will go to visit with the nursing staff in the dementia unit to talk over the move. I’m glad we had last night despite its pain – it seems more real and honest to have these feelings out in front between the three of us at least, rather than the vague acceptance of the previous night. I can be very present to my own pain of the process now.
Friday, May 25
The visit with the White Horse Village people was intense. I was fighting tears so much that I was hoarse, determined not to break down again there like I did in front of Dad the first time I saw the place. We asked a lot of questions and Dad signed a lot of forms, me pointing out each time where the line was that he should sign on.
Then we went to Mom’s room and Dad told me how he’d imagined it all and what we could bring. I was relieved to see a tree with red leaves outside the window. It isn’t the beloved Japanese maple she exclaims about from her bed every day (“Look! The leaves are dancing at me!”) But it seemed like a good omen, nonetheless. And, yes, we can have a birdfeeder outside the window.
The move came up again at dinner. Mom more angry than sad this time, “Is that where you’re going to put me away?!” When I say that Dad is definitely moving so if she were to stay here, she’d be without him, her resistance subsides for the moment. But it is definitely sinking in. Luckily we can talk now about details in front of her. I couldn’t imagine how that was going to be managed in secret.
Saturday, May 27
I just got Mom showered and dressed. I’m not very practiced at it so it seems easiest just to strip down and get in there with her. We sang Row, Row Your Boat and Jingle Bells. She harmonized!
Monday, May 29
I am beginning to sort through her clothes and getting ready to iron on name tags. Ugh! Also collecting the little things that will make her room full of her life. When I showed her the framed photo of her as a bride she exclaims, “Oh! Did I get married?” “Yes!” I respond. “And you had five children.” “I did?? Does Lou know??”
Natalie, their cleaning lady who found the house buyers and will continue to clean this house for the new family, told me today that she was talking to Mom and Dad a few weeks ago and out of her mouth popped the words, “Don’t worry, Carol and Lou, the best is yet to come.”
Thursday, June 1
Dad has kind of collapsed today – trying to get too much done. The heat doesn’t help. Mom’s caregiver had called to say she would be late so i had to get Mom dressed and while I was starting to do that (and talking to Cath on the phone) Dad came in almost in tears because he couldn’t carry the garbage out and down the hill and yelling at me cause there was so much garbage. I reminded him that it hadn’t been picked up Monday cause it was Memorial Day and gave him some Rescue Remedy at which point he said he was mostly afraid he wouldn’t be able to handle independent living. I pointed out that garbage would be much simpler and closer in the new place.
And then while I tried to eat breakfast he was fretting at me to get a deposit up to the bank – a big one with the money he needs to pay off WHV. Then the printer wouldn’t print the copies of the scanned checks he thought he should have. Etc. etc. While I was out at the bank the caregiver took Mom out for a drive and the dog got out and Lauren had to bring her back up from School. She gave Dad some iced tea with sugar which helped him a bit. And then I finally got him to lie down for a nap and he slept all morning and has gone down for another one right after lunch.
(And I only went through one red light in Media trying to find the bank.)
Friday, June 2
I just did one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I had to get Mom to sign all sorts of papers – about 20 signatures – that consigned her forever. She knew what was going on and was NOT happy. Each signature meant going through the argument all over again and then we had to coax her into picking up the pen and finding the line, sometimes even reminding her of her name. It took at least half an hour – maybe more. And in the end I burst into tears and Dad put his head on his arms at the table and cried, all the while holding Mom’s hand. He said later he felt like such a betrayer. We decided not to go up for pizza so I made sandwiches with the turkey for tomorrow’s lunch. And we each had a stiff gin and tonic.
We’re mostly recovered now but it was a tough evening!
Saturday, June 3
It’s difficult to keep the spiritual perspective that this is all their curriculum – and ours – to deal with loss of independence and deep beauty and, most poignantly, each other and their shared life. Their journey is to live through it – ours is to watch, trying to help, trying to make it up to them somehow. Their life has been slipping away these last ten years. Dad told me last night that he had fallen out of love with Mom in the early days of it, sensing the changes but not being able to look at why. He reminded me that it was Lauren and Meg who insisted that Mom get a diagnosis – and that was well into the process. But in recent years, he is able to love her again. And, though, he didn’t say it, to take care of her.
But now even that is going. It is hard not to rage.
I find it fascinating that what moves me to tears every time is the loss of BEAUTY. It is so important to both of them, so intrinsic in this place they have developed together, where every view is deeply stirring, satisfying, breathtaking. As the house crumbles, it just becomes more like one of their beloved French farmhouses.
And every object is filled with love – even the old wine bottles and broken bits of pottery. The loss of that beauty is what wells up as a sob in my chest when I think or talk about it. The new place is fine. Nicely decorated – even to the Monet prints that Mom is sure are real (“It’s that sort of place,” she says.) And the trees that I fretted about are bigger than I remembered them from my first visit last November. But it is not beautiful – not even close. How will it source them? Will the social contact make up for that.
And can they survive the loss of each other?? Watching them holding hands last night and these other nights, Mom at her most clear, expressing her love for Dad. And Dad saying it right back. He’s so open these days from his old gruff, curmudgeonly self. Not for nothing do his grandchildren call him Grumps!
I keep thinking of the movie, The Notebook, where the husband sneaks into the wife’s bed in the nursing home. Will Dad find a way to do that?? Hopefully the staff will have seen the movie. Will they let him – encourage him even? Mom was the rule breaker. Will Dad have the strength and the will – I’m sure he’ll have the need – to give both of them the comfort they will crave?
“I realize now I’ll be living a double life,” he said last night.
Oh! Tears again. How do I bear it? Imagining all this. Each rip of the scene as we pack is such a rip in my heart.
Sunday, June 4
Yesterday was amazing and in the end good, though hardly easy. Lauren, Meg, Mike and Don came in and swooped up the unassembled Ikea furniture for Mom’s new room, as well as the paintings Dad had picked out to take over. Mom protested as they were moving the love seat out – it was a wedding present and has been in the house since the beginning. “Where are they going with that?!” she wailed.
Wanting her out of the way to avoid another trauma when we took the 50th anniversary photo montage off the wall, Meg impishly suggested they go into the living room and sit on the remaining couch so no one would take it (we hadn’t been planning to). They then all took off with Dad to go set things up. It was ok with me to stay behind with Mom.
They called about noon to say they were finished and would I bring Mom over to meet them there and we would all go to lunch. As soon as we drove into the entrance, Mom snapped to attention, “Oh, this is the place, isn’t it? You’re not going to leave me here are you?” “Not til Monday,” I assured her.
Of course, we had to go through the whole process again with her of the whys of the move, etc. etc. She balked furiously every few steps of the short walk in, “ I don’t want to do this.” “I can’t!” and “Why do I have to?” At one point when she saw the brothers-in-law and Dad talking she said, “Those men are making me do this aren’t they!?”
But she also said things like “I’m sorry I’m being such a baby about this.” We assured her that her reactions were entirely appropriate. Most poignantly, when she saw Dad’s painting of the view from their Swan’s Island bedroom on the wall where she can see it lying in bed, her whole body changed. She turned to him and said very sweetly, “This is hard for you too, isn’t it?” and hugged him.
I was in tears throughout though everyone else was haggard with the pain. We cheerily pointed out all the details and special touches – Dad’s pastels of each of us, the photos of her parents and the past and present Maudes. At the same time we were agreeing with her that it was the pits.
We then went out to lunch nearby, ordering comfort food. We managed a continuing mix of discussion about what was happening and some planning, all the while bolstering ourselves with humor and tenderness for each other. And Mom stayed present – and at that point more sad than mad. As Meg pointed out, strong emotions and adrenaline seem to bring her back to us for a while.
By the time we got back to the house, Dad and Mom fell into naps, holding hands in their bed.
Tuesday, June 6
Yesterday’s Moving Mom Day was challenging – no doubt about it. But it feels at the moment that we managed to traverse chasms and minefields with relative grace.
Lauren came over early on Monday morning and we collected the last of the personal things that needed to go with her and spoke again with our out-of-town siblings who really mind not being with us. Then Lauren went ahead to talk to the staff about the transition and pick up the flowers that Dad wanted in the room. So, in the end, I had the task of getting Mom and Dad literally out of the house. I will never forget the image of them going to the car with their arms wrapped around each other. I almost went back for the camera but didn’t quite have the strength – you’ll have to see it through my mind’s eye.
As we went in, the head nurse, Drew, cheerily asked her how she was and Mom said, “Scared!” And, of course, we all were. But the day went very well. We had lunch together in the cafeteria where Dad will be eating some of his meals and then Lauren got them settled for a nap, while I took off for more of the interminable shopping.
I got back about 4 pm to exchange places with Lauren and found them huddled in the midst of a crisis – Mom had woken up convinced that Dad had left their marriage and she was furious that he somehow now wanted to come back. She was spitting mad. Dad kept saying that he’d never left her and patting her hand, he himself bowed with pain, because in a way he was about to. She kept withdrawing her hand and making very cutting remarks. Lauren and I kept acknowledging how angry she was. Luckily Drew came in after a bit and broke the spell. This time when he asked how she was, she said, “FINE,” in a way that made it obvious she was not fine at all but wasn’t going to say so in front of outsiders. After he left she carried on a little but the steam had gone out of it and she was beginning to head into sadness instead of such rage.
Then as Lauren left Drew suggested that seeing as how Mom was feeling, that maybe one of us did want to spend the night. Hurray! We didn’t have to ask for it and I knew it would assuage everyone’s our fears.
Dad and I ate with her in the unit dining room. Mom had two desserts. Then while I was getting her up and out, she suddenly went over to a table of other people and asked what their names were in her best social voice. It was a priceless moment. The staff and I were almost hopping we were so excited and they told me that this was the table Mom would be seated at in the future because these were all the conversational folks. (Some people definitely aren’t!)
Meg arrived shortly after that from her last day of teaching so I took Dad home, leaving Meg with some private time. When I got back, Meg had her ready for bed and had to leave, so I sang to Mom for a while until she fell asleep. And then I settled in for the night myself on the love seat – tight but manageable – held in the comforting arms of that old friend. Aides came in every 3 hours to get her up to pee (we’d just been letting her wet herself – I had to struggle with some shame about that). She was calm and cheery each time, happy to see me in the room, but not too needy.
And this morning it was the same. So I helped get her dressed and into breakfast and left. I felt very disoriented as I drove out!
So we’re over a big hump. We can put the stove knobs back on and leave the back door to the pool unlocked and not be on such high alert. And now the focus has to turn to moving Dad.
Friday, June 9
Mom seems to be adjusting as well as can be expected. We glow when she says, “This is such a nice place. I really like the people.” And we try not to take it personally when she says ” I want to go home.” It’s hard to remember in the stabbing pain of that moment that she has been saying very same thing for the past year or more. Then we always figured she meant she longed for her growing up home in Swarthmore, or more metaphorically, home to her real self. She’s so confused in time it can be any of the above. All week she’s been asking if her mother has died yet – like it was 57 years ago when she was birthing me in one hospital and her mom lay dying in another. Other times she thinks she’s having her knee operated on again.
In a way she will never be adjusted – the floating in time means that each moment is always new. With the increasing familiarity of the place, she usually recognizes Drew. But she also will express surprise and joy at me coming into the room after I’ve only been gone a few minutes to check on something.
Yesterday we took her for her first outing. It was weird when, like Cinderella, we had to rush to get her back for dinner when we said we would (though we could have called to extend it). And it was very poignant – bewildering to her – to drive past the house. “But, but…”
I’m trying to get used to the ankle bracelet she wears that sets off a shrill, very public alarm whenever she goes through a door off her unit at White Horse Village. There are three of those doors between her room and the doctor’s office we visited on Wednesday.
Wednesday, June 14
Today my niece Maude and I proceeded to get locked with Mom in the little garden that’s part of her facility – knocking on a screen until an aide finally paid attention to the old man at the activities table who said that aliens and bad guys were at the window.
Mom is definitely having her ups and down. She had a great time playing balloons with an aide’s grandson one day; but the next day she greets me pouting with, “That little girl knows more than I do! Am I getting loony?” We go over and over the story – where Dad is moving, that the house is sold, how everyone is coming from all over the country this weekend, that we visit her every day and that one of us has been there every evening to tuck her in. “Oh,” she says. Hard. Hard. Hard.
Dad’s apartment looks lovely. His sculptures have found nice spots, the computer is set up in the den and his studio table with art materials and a half finished bust of his youngest granddaughter look inviting in the bedroom. He wouldn’t hear of anything but a single bed. “My co-habitation days are over.”
Monday was the day he walked out of the house – harder on me than him, I think. He kept saying he’d be back for the weekend, glossing over the fact that he would probably never sleep there again. We’d both been acutely aware of that fact the night before as we sat around the table talking. We’ve talked more the past three weeks than in the whole rest of my life, I think. What a precious gift of time!! On the way over we stopped to buy him a pair of shoes.
Today is Mom and Dad’s 59th wedding anniversary. A few of us are going out with them tonight for dinner.
Wednesday, June 21
Now we are well into taking apart the house. We keep discovering more treasure troves of ancestral photos and letters, some going back 150 years and the Civil War. The most poignant are the love letters between my parents during their war and my Mom’s high school diaries of her first dates with Dad in 10th grade. We read snippets from these at the table, sometimes with my folks in attendance. Mom is beginning to absorb what is happening. Some days she sits on the couch in the midst of us going through things. Not upset any more – but resolute.
Monday, June 26
We met with Mom’s caregivers for the first family meeting (They do them every three months). They feel she is doing very well and so do we. Though she wasn’t in a very good mood about it today: “Take me home. This is a nice place but I’m finished here. We don’t need to pack anything, let’s just go.”
And in response to a comment about how nice his place looks, Dad said, “But I don’t like living alone.”
Tuesday, July 4
I’m home! After postponing Saturday’s flight, Lauren, Meg and I realized on Sunday afternoon that what was left was hopefully manageable by them and I arranged a flight out yesterday afternoon.
Dad reported that when he went to visit Mom this afternoon she was so absorbed in the trivia game the group was playing that she didn’t want to come sit with him. So he left, more than a little disgruntled. He’s going to try going in the evenings.
Email From: Louis deMoll
Perhaps it might be reassuring, even a pleasure for you to know this. As we sat out in the garden this evening, my arm around her, I realized that I have fallen in love with your Mother again. Often over the last few years my limited patience has given out. I have often been unforgiving and cross with her. Now somehow I find myself much more tolerant. I have finally stopped trying to correct her or answer specifically her questions. She never now can complete a sentence. In trying to express a thought she loses her place along the way.
And, she is so caring. Your Mother never wonders about what may be wrong with her but instead her concerns are almost always about the others she is with.
Can you imagine me sitting quietly, often as long as two hours in the evenings, holding her hand, delighting her time after time by repeating things that have happened with each of you or with others. The Bessens came by this morning and this evening I told your Mother about their visit a half dozen times. Each time brought a new smile and often a little shiver of pleasure.
Just thought you ought to know.
When I was on her massage table today, Dana Zia asked if I could tell her of my vision for this place. I mumbled something incoherent and half-assed, not being in a word sort of place. Her hands worked miracles on my belly and I was deep into that sweet slough. But tonight as I lie still buzzing with the chocolate cookies I gobbled before dinner, I saw glimmers of it more clearly. So I strive now to get some of it down. A beginning.
A campfire or a hearth, I said, is central.
Around it I see dancing. The Bushman of the Kalahari call for healing shaking dances often – sometime several times a week. . They gather round – a community of souls – and dance. They dance to connect with the ancestors. They connect with the ancestors in order to heal themselves. In their tribes, they have special people who have trained to do this. I see us all thus empowered. Each of us is able at different times to reach inside and find the stance. The dance. We feel the whirl of connection with each other, with our own spirit and that of the tribe.
Around it I see fire walking. That act of power, among other such acts, which shows us that the universe is so much more than our culture has allowed it to be in the last centuries. Squashed, we forgot our ability to change the “laws” of nature. Now we know that in that special state of mind we do not get burned. We blow our minds all over again each time. We reinforce our strength with every act of courage. We learned this from shamans the world over.
Around it I see stories of power told. Old legends passed down from the ancestors of how the world was formed and how it used to be. We tell of conversations with those who have passed over. We convey messages as we hear them from the spirits of the trees and animals. We tell tales of the adventures we experience together or endure alone. Our traumas and our triumphs. Important dreams from the night before. Our visions of the future. All these are told or acted out or danced, reinforcing our unique individual gifts. We welcome strangers with tales to tell of other places and other customs.
Teaching our children and each other of what once was and what is possible, we kindle the future.
Around it I hear singing and drums and toning and chanting and wailing. Voices rise on high and moan softly. Instruments sob and laugh with all the ecstasies and sorrows of our lives.
Around it in a circle we share news and make decisions about the days to come – when to plant and when to reap. When to mourn and when to heal. When to reprimand and when to teach. When to accept and when to be wary. When to forage and when to send out forays to other climes for supplies and new blood and to spread our own stories. We practice this constantly, learning from our mistakes and growing in our wisdom to share both our traumas and our triumphs. We are humble and astute like the sages of every age and clime.
We only speak the truth, therefore we dare to connect to each other in our minds – sharing visions and worries and joys and desires.
I also see celebrations and rituals. We notice the seasons and find the places and times that suit the moment. We haul out the costume trunks and face paints, the banners and the draping clothes. We notice where the north, south, east and west are and we honor the water, earth, air, air and fire. We call in what we need. The Huichol know this as do the Hopi and the Andeans and the sea people of the Indian Ocean.
I see parades with bands that play “When the Saints Come Marchin’ In “ after someone dies, prancing down the central avenue to the sea. Trumpets and trombones, drums of all shapes and sizes. With flaming torches and stilts and puppets we call out the newyear and the celebrate the summer sun. With upturned faces and wild dance we honor the first of the rains. They know this in New Orleans and Tibet and the Balkans.
We grow our food and glean it from the wild. We accept the fruits of the garden and the hive. With permission and honor we accept the gifts of the lives of our plant and animal friends – carrot and chicken, salmon and huckleberry.
We cook what pleases us knowing that it will give us each what we need in that moment. We eat with joyous abandon when we have plenty. We enjoy great feasts of abundance at the harvest times. We share and conserve when the season is lean, remembering the cleansing power of a fast. Often we eat together in a circle with food cooked by a few for many. Sometimes we eat alone or in pairs savoring small bites and little picnics. We bless our food and it blesses us.
We have flowers everywhere and forests and meadows and beaches to roam. We have wild places that are sacred and rarely touched, left for the creatures who need them. We know where to find the herbs and minerals that we need, and how to prepare and use them. We learn this slowly over time and with the help of the plant and animal beings themselves who speak to us. We hear it in the winds and tides and from our human elders.
Our living and meeting places are simple and elegant. We carve and hone and sculpt the details, inside and out. We have places to share with each other and places to be private. Places of deep beauty for all.
Most of us live near enough to others to connect on a daily basis on foot or via small wheeled vehicles, sometimes pedaled, sometimes using the precious fuel we make. Those who live farther away, connect through their minds – sharing the vistas they are exploring, the news they are gathering.
We honor each other’s bodies. Our sizes and shapes and ages and differences draw us to each other in love and in play and in healing. Thus we find and grow spirit in each other, healing the owies buried in our tissue.
We conceive and nurture our children in love. There is nothing more important than ensuring that their learning is full of joy, imagination, and connection with the earth and all its creatures. Thus we help each of us grow as the beings we came here to be.
We know the value of our old ones – those nearest the time of passing. We listen to what they have learned over their many years. They are part of our councils and our decision making. We honor their slower pace and their jobs of connection with the young and the tellers of our history.
We honor death as well as life and know the seasons of each. We know that death must come to all of us in our time, whether young or old; human, animal or plant, and that it means compost for new life.
We do not throw anything “away.“ Indeed, we have forgotten the concept of “waste.” We know the value of each little part of all that we use and reuse. We have depots and networks to share what we no longer need ourselves and when something is truly at the end of its obvious work, we honor and celebrate its timely end.
We apprentice with the skilled ones of all ages. The craftspeople, the healers, the teachers among us. We know that each of us has many facets. We paint and sculpt and write, telling our tales in those ways too. We honor all the different ways of thinking and expressing our truth.
We do not need rules or hierarchies. We improvise and borrow from all that we have learned from our exposure to many cultures. We move slowly enough to listen to our bodies and those who can see what we cannot. We trust that the right thing is happening even if it does not feel like it in the moment.
We know Spirit intimately. In all that we do we are in touch. We do not need to be afraid.
Thank you, Grandmother Spider for your weaving. Thank you Grandfather Herb for your seeds.
Rose Valley, Pennsylvania
The poignancy of Mom and Dad’s decline is in my face. The increasing decrepitude of this house I grew up in mirrors their stage of life. Sadness is in my hands as I wipe Mom’s bottom and vagina – a deep communion with that sacred gate from which I emerged into the world. The sadness is here as I put her arms into sleeves and her feet into pant legs, read her bedtime stories and tuck her in with a goodnight kiss.
I’ve done this several times in the last five years as her helplessness does its odd up and down journey – a pattern all its own. Alzheimer’s is a long slow leak.
What’s different this visit is that Dad and I are learning how to let me help him too. Right now it’s his journey of bladder stuff. Going to the doctor’s with him and giving him moral support for learning to put in the urinary catheter himself.
Sadness – a kind of middle point on the continuum – is certainly a reasonable reaction to all of this. I’m noticing that if I let myself really feel that sadness then something opens and flowers in me and everyone around is party to that.
I felt that happen last night when reading to Mom – such a rush of pain that it was a children’s book instead of Mary Oliver. Yet as I almost sobbed aloud, Mom turned to say how fun it was to be curled up with a book together. A little later she said that what she loves about me is that I know how to be like a child, Implying, I think, “to be childlike with her.”
And I have been – that is, when I’m not being her parent: “No, no more butter on your gingerbread.” Last night both of us were deeply in the picture books and their precious old words. She read parts of the Mike Mulligan to me with all the familiar inflections and then we recited the Madeleine. Her mind was deliciously there for a bit in a simple way, our roles very blurred, dancing in and out of each other.
Then there is the sadness of Mom’s closets. Going through them is like an archeological dig. For years we’ve all just been adding layers on top. Were we expecting maybe that she would rise up and reclaim the space? That she would purge the 50+ old pantyhose and 25 travel toothpaste kits I’ve found. On the floor now is a huge pile of almost identical blue cotton shirts from LLBean and Lands End. She must have just kept ordering new ones.
Of course, until recently she resented any digging or tossing away – was not willing to admit she wasn’t capable of such decisions or distinctions anymore. “I’ll wear that scarf again.” “I’ll be thin enough soon for that. I made it myself.” And, wanting to believe her, we weren’t emotionally able yet to have her angry with us for taking over. To rock the boat – risk making her worse somehow. Was she embarrassed at all she was hiding of her increasing disorientation and therefore disorderliness? She who had always been so organized. There’so much to learn about her in this process. Perhaps she was just protecting that dildo, black negligee and marijuana stash I found at the very bottom!
She watches me now working on the closet without much emotion. Once she would once have enjoyed finding the momentos tucked in the elegant tiny purses along with the Kleenex, Alka Seltzer and the emergency dime. Now the nametag from the Polish architectural society elicits no story of her sneaking food out to the hungry Solidarity students in Krakow. Is there nothing more I can learn from her about a seating assignment from a Hong Kong reception or a ticket stub from her beloved Philadelphia Academy of Music?
Now as I sort, she sits right there saying over and over how surprised she is to find out that I had grown up in this house and that she’d had five children here. “Why didn’t anyone tell me? Does Lou know?” and “Who can I ask for more stories?” That she and Dad traveled all over the world with the Union International des Architects, and might have been given this shawl in Russia or worn that jacket in South Africa, barely registers. There is a lovely moment, though, when a garland of purple silk flowers worn at her engagement party 60 years ago inspires her to don some lipstick and waltz down the hall to show Dad. Later that afternoon she keeps going to admire herself in the mirror wearing an elegant black wool hat (after she tries unsuccessfully to get Dad to try it on).
Soon I will tackle Dad’s closets to throw out the most tattered things and try to wash out the stains he can no longer see. What secrets is he protecting? What is the next level of independence he is willing to give over?
Often in the last couple of days, times of deep sadness have brought something precious out of him. It’s like his own channels are more open and he’s so much more willing to be present with his feelings. What a healing we might yet have?
I am grateful for every unexpected droplet of evidence of his love for me that I’ve had to infer so much of my life. Could we actually be present with real feelings?? Not have to stuff them in? Me to eat or him to be grumpy to control them. He didn’t have to hide his fear and anxiety from me (or the nurse) in the catheterization process and that may have been a huge release for him. I love the metaphor and aptness of him releasing feelings as he releases his bladder – albeit with technical help. We’ll take whatever we can get. Amazingly, he has been able to tell me that he’s glad I’m here while he goes through this.
Funny how it’s my parents’ sexual parts I am interacting with – not physically with Dad (so far) but certainly conversationally. Those hidden, forbidden topics. I pray they lead us into other doorways. Other healings. It makes me want to be here with them more or for longer stints. Both worlds call – this one here and the one I was called to in Oregon in order to grow on my own away from them. What gifts we can give each other in these last times together! I know that if I can ease their passing, I will ease my own when that time inevitably comes. So – onward into this day with its surprises of feelings that sneak up in every drawer and interaction.
I am happy. Both with this precious couple of hours of writing and with the prospects of the connections in this visit.
The Hero's Journey
The local Hero’s Journey course got its start at a women’s gathering beside the Nehalem River in 1994.
A group of us were sitting in a clearing on a misty Sunday morning looking at astrological charts that Claudia Johnson had just put together. We were looking at Chiron, an asteroid discovered only recently in the 1970’s. Chiron, the centaur, is the wounded healer who appears in one’s chart where there has been damage in our life (or lives) that needs attention. Mine appeared in the 5th house – that of family/children/creativity.
“That’s funny,” said Claudia, “I thought you were supposed to have had such a great family and you’re so good with kids and everything. How does that fit?”
“I know,” said Vivi Tallman in a burst of clairvoyance, “It’s creativity. That’s the part of Lane that was never allowed to develop fully in her family. She still has some work to do there.”
Wham! It hit me how right on she was. My father, Louis deMoll, and his mother, Mary (Polly) Hitchner deMoll, were both artists – painters. I wasn’t the daughter who had inherited the obvious drawing gift. I have long said that organizing is my creative field, resonating with a card someone once sent me that said, “The most visible creators I know of are those artists whose medium is life itself. The ones who express the impossible – without brush, hammer, clay or guitar. ” Still….
All the way through high school and at Bennington College I included at least one art class though my major was in the social sciences. I especially loved my life drawing classes and looking back now in my folder I am pleased to find some things that weren’t half bad. I couldn’t see that at the time, however, and had no illusions that I could be a “real” artist.
In fact, there is a story that when meeting with my parents and the high school counselor about college plans, I was asked why I wanted to go to Bennington. When I said it was because I would be able to take art, the counselor turned to my dad and asked if I had any real talent. He said no. My mother was horrified at his bluntness, but if I was disturbed by his pronouncement, I’ve repressed it. In fact, I had forgotten the moment until she reminded me of it in later years. My dad had made his judgment known to me a long time before. Any damage had already been done. Still, I was clear that I loved doing it and wanted to study in a place where I could fit art in with honor. Looking back, I am quite proud of the fact that I stuck to it as much as I did without having the obvious gift of other family members – and in a college setting that was full of “real” New York artists.
So – Chiron appears in the right place in my chart to show this up and Vivi was perspicacious enough to realize it. She also pointed out how I have always been a caretaker of others (Cancerian Sun after all), as well as an organizer (Moon in Capricorn). Yup! Oldest of five children born in eight years, I was often in charge at home. At the School in Rose Valley, I was on my first committee when I was six – first grade representative to the school Hungarian Relief committee – and was elected to monitor rest time as a second grader in a 2nd-4th grade mixed class.
I said something to the group that day by the river about how right on all this was (with this family history flashing like a slide show through my head) and how I had a sense I needed to work on my artistic side.
Susan Walsh then said that she had a course she had developed that was a self-discovery process through painting. I said that sounded great to me. “Let’s do it!” “OK” said Susan. “I’ll figure out a time.”
Now there are lots of times when plans are hatched that sound great in the moment but people’s schedules and life’s details interfere and nothing ever comes of them. There was no way that summer Sunday to know that we had serendipitously been lead to put something in motion that would change all of our lives. Each of us around that circle involved in that few minute’s huddle ended up in the class together. And eventually the Hero’s Journey would be a process that Susan would offer over and over in our community in the coming years.
The Hero’s Process
We weren’t there to become artists or even to learn how to paint. We were getting together to use the painting medium as a means to learn something about ourselves. It could have been collage, it could have been dream work or even dance. It was painting because that was Susan’ medium. And it worked for us
For that first course we met on Thursday evenings every other week (with some odd weeks due to people’s schedules) to paint together for three hours. On Saturdays we met for the day at Susan’s studio – a trailer christened the Rusty Institute of Painting – to talk about our painting and how it fit into our lives. These intense, inquiring and emotion-fraught sessions were soon like life’s blood to me.
Susan based the structure of the course on Joseph Campbell’s Hero With A Thousand Faces. The steps of the painting assignments were roughly those that he describes as the process that a hero goes through in the search for life’s important mysteries and the accomplishment of an important task.
*(We did have a conversation early on about the word “hero” versus “heroine” – we were after all a group of women, feminists all. But we quickly concluded when this was one of the times it felt right to appropriate the normally masculine term, the feminine sounding lesser somehow, like a girlish novel.)
The Hero’s Journey could be described as the quest to find the grail – that mysterious holy object that is always just out of one’s reach because it is the process that is the real quest. It is a seeking into the unknown – an underworld of the psyche – where the clues and the treasures to be found are the stuff of one’s very soul. The questions we asked ourselves were about what made us tick, what made up our life’s stories and where we were going next. The paint and brush and paper were the tools that fueled the inquiry process – the vehicle for the journey. Since the language of the soul is in metaphoric images, the process was as illusive as working with dreams.
Susan’s gift is an amazing ability to zero in on the questions that each person needs to be asked about the paintings themselves and about the ensuing conversation. Zap! I always had the image of a finger quivering with power pointing directly at the hidden broken place. An unerring arrow. Sometimes she looked horrified herself at what had come out of her mouth – like the time she gave me a homework assignment to paint violent sex. “I’d take it back if I could,” she said. But we were both wise enough to stick to it and the assignment was the means for a much needed breakthrough on many levels.
Beyond her intuition or psychic sense, it was the caring and sensitivity of the individuals in the class and their insights that made it work. That and the willingness of each participant to delve honestly into their deepest being. There were tears and anger, laughter and confusion, challenge and retreat. Each of us had times of great stumbling blocks – areas of ourselves that others could see and we could not. Emotional blindspots. These were balanced by moments of intense clarity – ah ha! – those “brief glimpses of the blindingly obvious” when for just a little bit the brambles are gone and the path forward is clear. Til the next turn of the spiraling path.
We finished the Hero’s Journey in May 1995, and launched immediately into the second installment of the process with Susan now inventing as we went – a course called “Creation,” followed in December 1995 by “Aesthetics,” which ran until April 1996. During the summer of 1995, a few of us wanted help with painting techniques so Susan gave a couple of evening “how-to” classes at her studio – the only formal painting instruction for us she ever did. The sessions of “Miracles,” the fourth course, spread out from December 1996 to September 1997. The format changed some for the different courses. In Creation we did the painting assignments at home on our own and spent all Saturday talking about them. By Miracles we were back to doing them together.
I got so turned on I did 48 paintings in 1995 and 16 in 1996. The dam had opened. Then, as the first frenzy lightened up, the numbers dropped considerably after that.
In September, 1999, I took a three day drawing/painting intensive with painter, Susan Keiser. It wasn’t about personal process at all but you can’t tell that from the contents of the large pieces done for the class. By that time I was incapable of putting brush or pencil to paper without revealing things about my Self to myself.
In February, 2000, I revisited the Hero’s Journey with a whole different group of people as a week long intensive where we painted in the mornings together and talked in the afternoons. By that time, Susan was no longer inventing the process and the discussion part had become much more streamlined.
Susan generally had us paint on heavy paper – 16” x 20 ” – that she or one of us gessoed. We taped it to a board so that when our painting was done we could strip off the tape and find a white border. There came a time when I began to experiment with other surfaces – masonite, cardboard, canvas and canvas board and there was one period in Creation when she tried a larger size paper, but that size remains one of my favorites – a manageable scale for a 2-3 hour painting.
My first painting was done with tempera paints. Starting into this process was so scary to me and the poster paints were safe and familiar from the mural and scenery painting I had been doing with the school kids, “where splash, mess, out-of-proportion drawing and rush are all ok. Frees me up.” (Journal 2/20/95) These paints had their limits however, and by the second session I was feeling ready to use the acrylics that Tom had bought for himself some time ago and wasn’t using. In June, the Fire Mountain parents gave me oil paints as a going away present. So none of the materials really required an expenditure. I don’t know if I could have brought myself to spend money on myself. Even an easel came to me by summer time from the school’s rummage pile, rescued by a parent who knew I was ready for one.
The process of “reading” the content of the paintings is like doing dream analysis. If allowed, the flow of paint and brush on a surface can make it possible to access the right, unconscious side of the brain, which tends to speak in symbols. When the left, thinking side of the brain stays active we get ideas and stories and worries about what it will look like.
The ego works hard to maintain the structures it began to put into place in babyhood to defend and protect the physical, psychological being from the dangers it perceives to be out there. It feels to the ego that there is a Big Bad Wolf lurking behind every tree. Even the thought of paint puts the egoic structures into hyper-alert! However, when we can quiet that side, the secrets we have been keeping even from ourselves can come through – the deeply buried hurts and joys, the layers of constructs that rule our lives, the hidden talents and wishes and longings, even past lives and future events. If we let ourselves, we can tap into such different, mysterious realms.
Frustratingly, the images tend to come through in clues and codes, riddles and metaphors. And just like in dreams they are difficult to decipher. Like the advice from an oracle or a messenger from the gods in myth and fairy tale, they are cryptic and often unsatisfactory and one is left thinking, “is that all?” “What am I supposed to do with that?” “But what does it mean” “what am I supposed to do….?!”
During the first weeks, months (years?) of the process it was hard work for me to quiet that side. Working with a dedicated group helped me to be diligent in weeding out the places I lie to myself and to discern the color and shape of the shields I have raised. Slowly i learned to peer through the murk and the excuses to find the nuggets that tell the true tale. I had to be dedicated to the task and unrelenting in my commitment to peeling off the layers of the small self to get to the capital “S” Self and what it wanted me to know and act on. There were many traps and side trips – many places to fall by the wayside to lick my wounds and pay attention to my fears. It’s hard work. That is why it is called a Hero’s Journey. Not for the faint hearted and not for the casual.
Journal 2/20/95: I want to keep a record of my “hero’s journey.”
Besides the group work to process the paintings of the course, as Susan had designed it, I had the strong instinct to also journal the process. I described the paintings in detail in the journal – what they looked like, what I thought about as I painted them, what the group said, and what I thought about after the group’s input. I didn’t follow every step for every painting, but I did most of the steps for most of the paintings, especially in the early years.
And in the same way that Susan gave homework assignments based on some of the mysteries that arose in the discussion of a painting, I followed the threads I was uncovering to do additional paintings. It was sometimes agonizing work but I was so in love with the paintbrush and so captured by what I was uncovering, that I was compelled to keep painting.
When I made my head stay out of the way, and let my hand be in control, I discovered some amazing things. Sometimes I even used my left hand to further eliminate control. I also rarely rinsed my brush in the course of a painting and thus opening even more to serendipity. Some of the most amazing messages came from, say, the slash of red that streaked through when I thought I was going to paint something the yellow I had just dipped into. A drip might become an image of great import. The botched figure I tried to cover over, but which insisted on being there, might lead me on a wonderful jaunt of old memories. Sometimes I recognize the significance in the moment. Sometimes I must wait for years. Sometimes it must be pointed out by the painting group or a family member. Sometimes it hits me right between the eyes while I am describing it in the journal, the very process of putting it into words adding a new dimension to the message.
It’s a process I love though – and not only was I able to apply it to dreams, tarot readings, and paintings, but I also realized I could use it in my sessions with healers & psychics. When my massage therapist, Dana Zia, got images through her hands from my body, I could help in deciphering those messages, often relating them to a painting already done. Or sometimes, I would do a painting of an image she and I had fleshed out together in a session and in the process of painting would receive more clues and images. It was like following Hansel and Gretel’s trail of breadcrumbs. Linking the clues as they appeared – sometimes divided by years – to understand who I am and what I am doing here on the planet in this time and place.
As I wrote in the introduction to my Out of the Ashes painting show held in February 2004 –
I am peeling the layers of the onion. I am Snake shedding her skin.
I present these paintings and altars as some of the inner strata encountered on my journey to my true Self. They are part of a larger body of work done between 1995 and 2003. As mothering turned to menopause, as the 20th century turned into the 21st, as the Piscean Age gives way to the Aquarian, I dove deep and began to come into my own again.
There are many more layers of fears and possibilities to peel. And there is still far to go but I am on my way. So are we all. So are you. May the pieces in this show help you on your own journey to your center that we may rebuild again together. For we are also Spider weaving her web.
Who knows how well they’ll reach you. But I can tell you that I am having a great time and am finally standing proudly in the artist’s stance. I am madly in love with these paintings and altars.
None of it is possible without the inspiration of Spirit and the voices of Mother Earth at my back in the guise of ancient goddesses, gods and power animals (you could call them archetypes if you don’t want to be literal about it). Thanks be to the mountain, ocean, meadow and trees outside my window. And blessings on my tribe – the circle of family and friends that dances in so many of the paintings.
It’s all just coming through me, it’s just coming through.
This show is dedicated to the memory of Frieda Kahlo, for her goading inspiration to me. She painted her way into the very darkest places and had the courage to show us her journey. A muse. A true Hero.
And just as the threads of the story are hidden in a great tangle that must be teased out and woven together, so the writing has slowly been coming together. I knew all along somehow that it was an important part of the process for me. Now putting this webpage together is like the crazy quilt pieces I have been working on for the last two years. They aren’t even a quilt yet (though they’ve gone into a painting frame or two and hopefully soon a jacket for my Tom). They are just pieces of fabric that I sew together in haphazard configurations. A kind of doodle done during meetings or in-between moments. Some of the fabric are pieces from my childhood or my children’s lives. Some come from Cartm, some are given to me by friends.
So the writings and the paintings slowly are stitched together. Time loosens its hold – as does the organized, project oriented, left brain – and I can see the spiral and the patterns. And find a way to convey the meaning and substance of my journey so that it may help you on yours.
Climbing the Mountain
I climbed the Mountain today.
It was warm (in the 50’s) and not raining after a cold spell of near freezing all weekend and the heavy rain and winds of the last couple of days. The sky hadn’t decided if it would continue to clear or if the clouds would move in but I took a chance and left my raincoat in the car. Wore a wool sweater, but was comfortable with my windbreaker and beret in my pack. Might need them at the top at least. I hadn’t climbed the mountain in months so I went slowly. In fact, I hadn’t invited anyone else along because I wanted to go my own pace. Check out how my ankle and foot were doing and not feel like I had to push. Still, it was a while before I could let go of that story in my head – why I hadn’t climbed, how I was going to do it more often now and whether my foot would hold out. It wasn’t until after a couple of switchbacks that I relaxed and began to be able to look around me.
It is definitely winter, despite the temperature. The salmonberry stalky without any signs of budding that I can see. There are buds on the alders though and catkins which help to distinguish them from the Cascara sagrada. It was only a year or so ago that Tom and I realized that many of what we had thought alder on the mountain trail were actually cascara . The bark and the kinds of fungus growing on the two are amazingly similar as well as the shape and way they grow. The catkins are the giveaway sign today. When the leaves come out they are different if you look closely.
I stop at the bench and muse for a while about the view there out to Cartm and the Bay, thinking about the development visions dancing in my head and how I might draw them.
Not much blooming alongside the path. Though the remnants of the last cow parsnips, grown precipitously in a warm spell in September look like large yellow blossoms from a distance, a surprise for a minute when I first see them as I come around a corner. The good view to the southeast (what I always think of as the drawing corner) shows the high water results of the last couple of days. The dairy fields look to be underwater and there is a lot of water at Alder Creek Farm, though the tide doesn’t seem all that high up on the ocean beach. Gosh! I love that vista.
I think about the Fawn Lilies when I get to their corner but we won’t see them until at least March. It’s also the wild crabapple corner but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen their subtle blossoms. The red huckleberry look skeletal without leaf or berry. Though, of course, the salal is green and strong as always.
I can’t find the Devil’s Club at the first of its switchbacks – it always fools me there this time of year. So I wonder if I’m at the right corner or if the large hemlock branch fallen a year ago hasn’t finally done it in. It doesn’t go back to just underground in the winter does it? In fact, I don’t see it until the way down and then I wonder how I’d missed it. Maybe the light had shifted a little. It is obvious at the second corner going up though and I even find it at the shrine. Such an amazing plant. I always feel awe towards its spikey stalks – so untouchable – and the, so far, unnamable power I feel from it. I stand for a bit feeling its essence seep into my stomach which seems to welcome it. And as always think about its affinity for diabetes and send a little towards Chuck and Mark and Kathleen.
The winter bareness is wonderful for seeing the shape of the mountain. Despite the steady upward pull of the trail’s zig zags I sometimes forget the lay of the land around me the rest of the year when everything is green and full – how sharply it falls away beside the trail on one side and how far I can see amongst the bare trunks angling up.
After a salute and thank you to the Grandmother Sitka Spruce, I turn off towards the top to visit the Oregon Grape patch I discovered a few years ago. Mahonia nervosa – spread out there like it was planted. The conditions of sunlight and slope just right. It grows so slowly, its spread isn’t very far. Or is that because the big trees shade it on either side? I move gently through to sit in the middle for a minute. Pay homage. Express my gratitude for its help keeping me in true. I haven’t brought my digging fork today for my ever hopeful transplanting project. Seems like it ought to like growing in my yard at the bottom of the mountain, but I haven’t managed it yet. I drink half my water and leave a little as a libation for this most sacred plant for me.
The ground is soon wet on my bottom and the slope steep for my tired ankle when I try to crouch. But instead of heading back to the path as usual I head straight upward through the bushes. I probably can’t do this in the summer – or wouldn’t dare. The salmonberry thickets would be prohibitive. But I find a couple of nice mossy flat places and soon as I crest the ridge I can see the back road coming up as I thought I would. It isn’t hard to make my way back down to it though I have to slither on my bottom holding onto a small tree and jump a little to land on the road. If I’d headed to the right a little further I would have been able to do it more easily. Maybe I’ll remember that another time.
I walk up the road. It’s not my usual approach to the shrine but it gives me a chance to think about hauling that rock up here the first time. Skye and Doug who carried it that last stretch feel very present to me for a minute. I come first to the guardian trees this way. I approach the twinned trees, covered in moss and rising in a V. When I look though them I see the shrine tucked at the base of its Sitka spruce. What a special view of it I have – all misty with the moist air, droplets hanging from every needle and the sun thinking about pouring through but not quite doing it. It’s a gentle wash of light rather than the spectacular heavenly cathedral touch like God shining through. Lovely rather than awesome. I think of showing it to Tom – getting him to bring his camera and surprising him. But really I wish I had one with me because next time the light might not be so perfect.
I go around the Guardians and stand on the other side, my head just brushed by a damp hemlock branch. I speak to the rock – tell it a little of my visions of the morning. When I go to stand in front of it I thank the Directions. The East of visions and bird omens (though I have neither seen nor heard birds this morning for some reason). The South for the heart and love I feel all around me. The West for the dreamers – Bear and the deep diving cetaceans. The North for the stories that are coming through. I dance a little and do an improvised chant, uninhibited on this quiet Wednesday morning.
Coming down I begin to feel chilly for the first time. The wind whips around corners exposed to the southwest. I put my hat on and then the parka. My ankle reminds me of its efforts. I remind it that it is getting strengthened though. And I think about coming up more often, perhaps inviting others to come with me. Pass a section just past the last Devil’s Club where it looked like mountain beaver must be living. The holes in the uphill slope are large. I don’t see the characteristic ferns drawn up to the opening for munching, but I couldn’t think who else would make such large holes. At one point I reach out to affectionately fondle a Sitka spruce branch as I duck under. Ouch! Bad idea. A couple of English daisies (what I always called asters until Vivi corrected me not long ago) greet me at the bottom of the trail. They were blooming yesterday in my yard too. I hadn’t noticed them heading out – didn’t realize they’d be the only ones I’d see.
Back to my car. The only other people I saw were a young couple coming up just before the bench. Strangers, they ask me how the mountain was up there. “Heavenly, as always,” I say, not able to resist a little smugness at my long familiarity with the trail and thinking how they probably won’t discover the shrine but will go all the way to the top. I didn’t think I should push my luck or my feet today by going that high.
Off to have soup at Lucy’s. I’d long ago heard the noon whistle. Have a satisfyingly substantive chat with her sitting on the porch – my parka off again. There we saw little birds – chickadees? – whizzing past in a swarm. Twice. Three times startling us a little as we watch them enjoy the richness of her plantings there. We talk about the hellebore she’d moved there admiring its quiet winter blooming – subtle green blossoms like little caps. “Isn’t that a magic plant?” I ask. Must remember to look it up. She’s going to buy a new one for the entrance corner. Has one on hold for her at Raintree.
Wearing the Mask: Being Neahkahnie Mountain
Working up to putting on a mask for the first time in a meeting was a big deal.
First there was the making of it. The form – a life mask lovingly fitted to my face – had been made 6 or 7 years before in a Mixed Group gathering. Back then I had a strong sense of it wanting to be an old woman and I had gotten as far as putting wrinkles on the paper mache cast. I imagined it painted white and representing the North. It was at this point I had stalled all these years. I could envision moss and sticks but could get no further. As it turned out she is the North but a very particular North – The Mountain. Our Neahkahnie.
I don’t remember when I first read Starhawk’s novel, The Fifth Sacred Thing, a coherent vision of the positive future so many of us are working to bring into being. (Hopefully ours won’t be a lone brave island in the midst of devastation and depravity). One of the lasting images in the book for me has been the public meetings where elemental forces of nature – those who cannot speak for themselves – are represented by masked, costumed people in trance. This is called “aspecting” by Reclaiming, the Wiccan tradition that Starhawk is a part of. There are moving moments in the novel when in the throes of the discussion Coyote suddenly speaks up for the element of fire, or Salmon points out how an action might harm the water beings. I’ve had many a conversation with people wondering if such a process could work in “real life.”
So when Lola Sorensen said she was wanting to try to incorporate it as part of community visioning for the Nehalem Bay area, Tom and I jumped to help take it the next step. How would it feel to be doing brainstorming and organizing work with the representatives of the wild ones present there in the room with us? What would shift in the dynamics? How would declaring sacred space alter the ideas and then the actions that resulted? We decided to start small – a planning meeting at her house where we’d invite people we knew would be comfortable with the experiment as well as people we weren’t so sure of. People who’d been in on vision processes of various sorts before (in some cases many such meetings) and those new to such things, even new to the community – i.e. both those who might be pretty jaded about how hard it is to get things done and those who still have their innocence – or at least their optimism.
Though I’ve always had a sense that this process would work – indeed, work very powerfully, I never thought of being one of the representatives myself. I imagined that I would want to be in on the idea making, would be needed to manage the process, would want to be in my usual place in the midst of the action – not hemmed in by such a different sort of role. But the idea of actually being under one of the masks began to niggle at the edges of my consciousness and it made me realize how attached I was to being in my accustomed stance. Hmmm. How much ego involvement was there that I should think my input so necessary?? So the more I thought about it the more it felt right to try the new role. My ego could say that this is where the experimental edge is. The rest of me could simply feel happy and up for a new adventure. Indeed, being under the mask fit well with the transition I have been taking more and more in meetings since leaving Cartm Recycling in the fall of 2002 – that of observer, historian. Ballast maybe. Certainly not major organizer or even willing to volunteer for a lot of the “getting things done” parts.
As I realized all that, I could feel my body settle more and more comfortably into the idea of being in a mask.
But who should I represent?? Salmon and rivers and the ocean are important to me – astrologically I’m a double Cancer after all – but that didn’t feel quite right, at least for the first go round… It was thus with great pleasure that I woke up one morning and realized I wanted to “be” the Mountain. She/he who watches over us all, has called us here to do our work. And with whom I connect very closely in my personal evolution. The Mountain was already working through me in a number of mysterious ways. And it was then that I remembered the long unfinished mask. Perhaps it had been waiting all this time.
There was still a week or so of creation delaying tactics but two days before the scheduled planning meeting I finally gathered mossy sticks, usnea, glue gun, green paint, newspaper and a dusty mask, and had myself a grand old time melding them into a coherent whole. The wispy strands from the hot glue became spider silk. Feathers, a robin’s egg, a dried rosebud were added on, as was a piece of glass on the third eye from a window shattered in our house fire in 1978. She was beautiful! An ancient crone. A wise one. Fire Mountain. Neahkahnie Mama. The finishing touches came in a flurry minutes before we were to leave for the meeting. The ribbon ties that I had imagined to be the easy part didn’t quite work and the mask kept sliding down. New holes? With Tom’s help, padding under the top and shoelaces instead of ribbons, as well as an extra tie from the top joining the side ones finally worked. So I felt a little frantic as we headed out the door. Smudging it would have to wait for Lola’s help.
All of that kept me distracted from worrying too much about the other details of the process. Like how would people react to smudge and altars, indeed, to the masks themselves?? How to explain what we were doing? This was another level of coming out for those of us with a different spiritual bent – one not often encountered in the public eye. We were taking yet another step of showing ourselves in our small town culture. Tom & I had left the details up to Lola, proud of her courage. I could tell she shared some of the same fears, but we didn’t voice them too much and her determination carried the three of us through as people came in and were smudged before finding their seats. It carried through as she grounded us with a simple calling of the directions. It carried through in her reading of a description of the process from The Fifth Sacred Thing. It carried through as we introduced ourselves by passing a talking stick around the circle (I cringed for a minute as she referred to it as her wand – and smiled at my fears). It carried through as I spoke briefly about my intentions before putting on the mask….
At first it was stifling. I realized I had forgotten to take a drink of water. Was a little pinch under my chin going to become excruciating? I almost panicked. I told myself I could certainly take it off if I really needed to. I could see out – quite well in fact. I could breath just fine. I grounded and called the spirit of the Mountain to come into me. Sent my roots down. Opened to the sky and the birds whose feathers I was wearing.
And as I calmed, I could feel the energy settle in the room. Everyone else had to get used to this too. Probably they were also wondering how it felt to me.
The discussion began, haltingly at first as it always does in a new group, and then gathered momentum. Ideas began to flow. People began to speak of their experiences and examples from other places they wanted to reproduce. Their discouragements, their successes. Their dreams and their fears.
Mountains are very quiet, of course. Sometimes I longed to chime in with an idea. I reminded myself that the idea might well come up shortly and often it did. Where I might have spoken up with some bit of history from my perspective, I learned something new about other people’s perceptions of circumstances I’d been closely involved in. I only spoke once. Craig Mackie was chastising himself about not being able to foresee pitfalls that led to not getting a community garden going in Wheeler last summer. The Mountain reminded him that he’d taken the first step, that he’d opened an important door and who knew what would happen next. It felt like I was speaking with the wisdom of the ages – a much, much wider perspective than any of us humans have.
Since I was in a deep listening stance, I could feel the energy flow in the room. At first people referred to “Lane sitting there” but then they shifted to making comments now and then about “the Mountain.” Each time that happened it sent me even deeper and gave great pleasure both that a kind of shift had been made and also that her presence was influencing the discussion. There were times when I could feel discouragement begin to take hold in the room (or in myself). If I reminded myself that I was the Mountain and not Lane, then rather than get trapped into thinking towards solutions, I sent down new roots, at which point I could feel the air lighten and the positive possibilities begin to flow again.
I was the only one planning to “aspect” for this go round. But at the last minute setting up we had put three other masks out, one for each of the other directions. It felt good to have them at least represented and they were available in case someone else wanted to try it. And indeed, there came a moment when Vivi Tallman put on the Coyote mask where she was sitting in the south – perfect for her who identifies a great deal with Coyote and owns Helen Hill’s Coyote sculpture. She had to hold it in front of her face so she was sort of appropriately in and out of the persona. It felt good to the Mountain to have company.
Tom commented in our debrief at the end that it would have been more effective had I been in full costume and so was another step removed from Lane sitting there wearing a mask to simply being the Mountain. And I agreed. But I had purposely just worn a green skirt and shawl because I didn’t want to be too imposing as people came in the door and wanted as well to be able to transition comfortably back out if need be. It felt like it was an appropriate level of involvement for a first go round.
At noon, after an hour and a half of discussion, the group was ready to close. Some exciting ideas had gelled, some tentative plans had been made for the future. A healers guild, a guerilla extension of the 4th of July Parade, a mask making gathering before another larger meeting. It was time to debrief on process. Everyone wanted to know how it had been for the Mountain. When I first came out of the mask I had a very difficult time finding words. We’ll have to work on creating a gentle process for that transition. But as my own self emerged I described my experience of the meeting pretty much as I have here. And then I couldn’t resist some very un-mountainly comments about ideas and follow-up. The old self reasserted itself even more as a couple of us headed off to talk further over lunch.
All in all it was a powerful experience. To be a deep listener. To watch the flow. To feel the influence of The Mountain. To bond with the mask, so long in gestation. As it turned out her birth was waiting for a very particular purpose. Or so it seems at this point. We’ll see what happens next.
Home on the Mountain
I don’t seem to get myself over to Alder Creek Farm very often or for long enough to see the elusive otters that Doug wrote to us about. It was exciting to find the very old vine leaf maple the other day though and the mystery plant full of bees when Barbara, Vivi and I were on thistle & tansy patrol. And Tom and I saw a deer cozily chewing her cud under an apple tree when we stopped in to admire the absence of at least one of the old vans.
I am mostly ensconced and entranced here on our little piece at the knee (ankle?) of the Mountain these days. The hedge nettle patch I’m grooming near the hot tub and the self-heal by the fire pit steps. The huckleberries and Tom’s cedar grove on the north side of the hollow call me often, the cedar having finally outgrown the reach of the elk. Tom planted them just before building the house the second time in 1978. I’m falling in love all over again with the tiny old fashioned roses we purloined from Sam and Beulah Reed’s old Neahkahnie Tavern site that same year. Manure from the farm is giving them new life this summer. But despite manure, there are still no blooms on the Nootka rose Tom brought over from the bay. I wonder what they need to feel at home after all these years. That spring & summer of planting was such a healing one for Tom after the house fire (of which Doug was a witness). I was growing a baby then – a healing and a new beginning of a different sort. That planting, come to think of it, is certainly bearing fruit as well these days at LunaSea Gardens. As Jeff Trenary and I agreed recently, it’s a mighty good crop we’ve grown. I have given up on finding the Columbia lily bloom again this year – a few Junes ago there were over a dozen of the plants. One tall and, I assume, old one had at least that many flowers on it. It’s way beyond late now, especially with all the sun this year. I wonder if the elk or deer ate them. I would’ve if I could’ve, they were that beautiful. They didn’t eat the wild hollyhocks (Henderson’s checker mallow) this year that have been gorgeous, though almost gone now. The beauty of our tiny meadow/fairy garden has gone from white (cow parsnips and fringe cups) to purple (wild hollyhocks & foxglove) and yellow (cats eyes). It is showing up now in tall grasses going to seed and thimble berries – the best ever. It looks to be a good salal berry year again – could it ever match the juiciness of last year, the likes of which I’d never tasted? Mache Raven (next generation Tallman) and I have also been enjoying the tiny wild strawberries. The other night while we were doing that we noticed a mama bird of the little brown non-descript sort coming and going from a hanging nest right about shoulder height in the Sitka spruce. We sat and watched for quite awhile until the attentiveness of that mama with the little bugs reminded Mache of the absence of his own mama.
So it goes. I had no intention of writing so much. Thanks for the inspiration, Doug.
Congrats to all of us for the first educational day. If we buy it, they will come (committee structure, rules or not!)
This was the summer of a group of us starting the Lower Nehalem Community Trust and taking on the transition of Alder Creek Farm on the Nehalem Bay Estuary from dairying to restoration, conservancy and community gardens.
Egypt, Fall 1999
Tom & I went to Egypt with Nicki Skully’s Shamanic Journeys in 1999. This piece was first published as “Dancing With Hathor” in Nicki’s “News from the Cauldron” in 2000.
The temple of Dendera north of Luxor on the Nile is dedicated to Hathor – the cow goddess of love and beauty. The same being as Aphrodite, Innana, Venus & Astarte. The morning star.
When I got up at dawn on the morning we were to go there by bus from the cruise boat (along with a military convoy to keep us safe – or point us out to all the potential terrorists!), I had the strong feeling that it was a day for healing and self-nurturing of breasts. Who could be more appropriate else than a milk cow ?! I wore blue for healing and certain necklaces to keep me in touch with that all day. And I tucked my sister-in-law, my friends Barbara and Lola; Emily from studying Egypt as a child, my mother, and my sisters into my pocket.
The temple is old, old, old as they all are with huge crumbling walls around the perimeter. There were breathtaking paintings on the ceilings in the various sanctuaries – one of the Egyptian astrology chart and another of Nut, the Sky goddess arching over filled with stars and hands that made me gasp with the energy of their healing coming right off the ceiling into my chest.
Off to the side of the main temple and down some steep steps was an area filled with date palms and the remnants of an old healing pool – long empty. An oasis in the midst of the intense dryness and heat of the place. It was there that we did the day’s ceremony – the Work of this 17 day pilgrimage to bring the temples alive again. Nicki Scully, one of the leaders, slipped into a jingly Bedouin dress and did an incredible dance/song about the magic of Egypt to middle eastern drumming on a doumbek by one of the men in the group. “Egypt! Egypt!” Her intense eyes flashed and sparkled.
As she finished we all began to dance and rattle and drum with rising energy – and I really let loose with some serious belly dancing. My hips slid and flowed; my breasts jiggled. I felt like I had learned to do it for that moment. “Hathor, Hathor!” my heart and belly and vulva sang. Nor was I the only one being wild but they are a blur now in my memory. Even the tourists peering aghast, mouths open, over the edge of the wall were no deterrent. We were breaking all sorts of rules to be doing ritual there but as usual no one stopped us or really even intruded until we were finished.
And somewhere in the middle of the dance my energy dropped out of my head where it usually is so busy playing with symbols and stories and connections; making plans, organizing, taking care of others; getting things to happen. It dropped right into my lowest two chakras – kathunk – into my deepest, ancient body self. My oldest self. So much so that was hardly able to think clearly for a while. Tarot was fuzzy. Ideas kind of shimmered past. Plans just made me giggle. It was both disorienting and delicious. A huge letting go.
Later I also had an amazing moment of connection with Mother Mary in a side garden that our guide told us was a Coptic Christian area off the Mammesi or Mothering/birthing chapel. There were always so many layers of religions and traditions in these places, including the most ancient ones, pre-Egyptian stuff I could sense and catch glimpses of peeking through. I can’t remember now if there was actually a statue in the garden or if I was just feeling her presence. Blue light and great love surrounded me. I think of the Virgin Mary as a survivor. One of the Ancient Ones who managed to keep alive albeit under disguise through these ages of Christianity that tried to marginalize her, smiling benignly, holding her baby. Notre Dame. Hathor.
As we got back on the bus, I got it that I needed a hands-on healing and I asked Bobbie, the body worker who was along on the trip if she had any time that afternoon. “No,” she said at first, then, “Wait. Maybe.” It turned out she gave me an hour and a half of incredible massage – made us late for a stop at a special jewelry store, but no matter. It sealed in the changes that had come into me in Dendera. Hathor was giving still.
What does all this have to do with my breast challenged friends and sisters? I’m not exactly sure. They were with me. They were a part of the experience. It was radiating out of me. They can tune into it if they want. I did have the bare presence of mind to pick up some stones along the ground as we were heading back to the bus. I had been doing this at all the temples. I didn’t get nearly enough to give to each who should have one. I didn’t realize then how important the experience was going to be. I’m hanging on to the little piece of bone that I found in the same moment. Cow? I like to think so.