I watched a tractor through the magnifying magic of binoculars this morning. Unaided, I was just able to make out his high beams (why they were on I haven’t a clue as the day is bright, despite the heavy blanket of clouds in the sky) but through the lens, details began to emerge as the tractor ran its errands. To the side in an adjacent field, I saw a white pickup and a newly-clear view of what is normally admired via a quick glance out our sunroom windows. Canada geese flew into my line of sight and, setting the binoculars aside, I noticed a squirrel scampering across the third hole, skirting the bunkers. The pond on the far end of the second fairway patiently waits for the geese to land, arboreal sentinels keeping watch. Purple finches, closer to home, approach our feeder, happy I’m sure, that only yesterday I refilled it with the black sunflower seeds they so heartily crave. There is no snow – just yet – and we’ll enjoy temperatures in the 40s and 50s the next several days but make no mistake: winter is coming.

The hospice bed occupied a large portion of the living room. Ha! — the living room. Dad was dying and it wouldn’t be much longer now. I hadn’t realized the stillness of our melancholy would be punctuated by the sounds of Dad’s death rattle. Nor did I know that he would slip into a coma-like sleep as the cancer, coursing through his body, began shutting down his internal life support systems. It unsettled us all.

We took turns sitting alongside him, holding his hand in ours as we memorized the lines in his drawn, shrunken face, the twinkle in his brown eyes long since extinguished. We sought reassurance every few minutes that he was indeed still breathing. Once, when my mourning asserted itself in a low, wretched wail, the depths of my anguish more pronounced than any grief I’d ever known, my mother scolded me.

“Stop it. You’ll upset your father”.

A memory, unbidden, startled me at that moment. I was reminded of the time my mother visited my kindergarten classroom. Thrilled that she was there, I eagerly twisted my small six-year-old frame for a glimpse of her sitting behind us — a small group of little ones seated on our colorful nap rugs — happily expectant that she would return the huge smile I offered her. Instead, she shook her finger and sternly admonished me to turn around and pay attention to the teacher.

My father was leaving me and now I had two conflicting states of mind to grapple with: this paralyzing, numbing sadness and the frustration (and hurt) of yet again being shamed for expressing my emotions, each time having been inspired by love.

The still nothingness
of sound and movement.
A quieting of the soul,
the peace of one’s heart,
the mind and body at rest.
As time races forward
our thoughts find pause
so we release them
onto blank pages
or empty canvas.
Silence, the conduit
releases our creativity
to unexplored worlds
that delight
and shape us.

We were doing rope work at Dutton Cave in northeast Iowa, almost thirty years ago, when my son was not quite yet in his teens. He was, I think, about ten or eleven years old.

The maw of this cozy cavern is perfect for rappelling as the top of the opening is accessible via a short climb through brush and bramble on either side of the cave proper. At the crown of the vertical granite face, overlooking the drop, is where the ropes were set in place. Playtime prep work was done by the (far) more experienced members of our merry band of adventurers. My son and I, neophytes to the world of spelunking, were simply along for the ride.

Prior to the free-fall exhilaration of gliding down a nylon rope – climbers dutifully attached to said rope wearing only an awkwardly cumbersome but oh-so-necessary corded harness to aid in their ascent or descent – the group elders decreed that one must first successfully climb from the relatively flat, rock-strewn bottom to the sloping, rock-strewn top of the cave wall – an upward span of forty agonizing feet. Doing so, peering into the darkness of the cave or looking out at the tops of the trees in the park, relative to one’s orientation while suspended from the rope at various height intervals, climbers rise slowly up the rope via a stepping motion using a mechanical device known as an ascender.

My time with the group was short-lived and I don’t claim to possess even a modicum of expertise or the skillful ability to correctly employ the appropriate jargon of the sport. So I ask more diligent readers to please bear with me. I will tell you, however, that rope climbing using these ascenders is both a difficult and a most satisfying endeavor.

Once a climber cleared the cave opening, all that stood in the way of reaching terra firma was the delicately demanding act of pushing the ascender up the rope while maneuvering it up and over and then past the rock-lip of the surface where the rope lies. This is not an easy task given the weight of the climber enhanced by the pull of gravity, which makes for a very tight surface connection of rope to rock. However, once achieved, this climber – and this climber’s son who was not at all happy with his mother for insisting he do this! – were both rewarded with instant euphoria. That satisfying bite of the rope as the ascender cleared the rock and slid its way up the track of the rope allowing first me and then my son to summit the top of the cave entrance made the physical and mental challenges of completing the task entirely worth the effort.

Now, at last, we were able to enjoy rappelling back down to the spot where we began our incredible little climbing adventure. And it was all good.

Daily Prompt: Bite

American citizens — weary of the bluster and outrage, indecency and greed and the mockery of the traditions we hold dear and the ravaging of our democracy — seek a leader to emerge from the chaos, someone to shine a light on injustice, someone to provide hope and guidance and someone to restore a sense of pride and compassion that has, until recently, been heralded and lauded around the world.

We are looking for that special someone who is:

  • Pragmatic and progressive-mind
  • Intelligent and well-spoken
  • Authentic
  • Earnest
  • Well-informed
  • Kind and compassionate
  • Honest
  • Cognizant of the worth of ALL Americans
  • Appreciative of the merits of discussion from both sides of the aisle and all those in between

Recognizing that saints are in pretty short supply these days, we nonetheless prefer a leader whose character and background are beyond reproach, one who has a record of commanding respect and affording it to others in equal measure.

Timeliness is of the essence. Your skills and leadership are needed NOW. Please: Make yourself known.

She roams from room to room
checks the thermostat
notches it up a degree or two.
With chores completed
and nothing more to do
a chill tends to set in.

It’s the dusk of the year,
waning light
the sun favoring the southern sky.
No bright windows to read by,
no outdoor radiance to warm her.

Her first winter alone
a new combatant: diving into depression, swimming in darkness, a paralysis of intent
or welcoming warrior: artistic exploration, snow-bound inspiration, the homey sustenance of soups and bread?

The choice — it’s hers to make.