Heart Stone Feathers

Word Nerd – Feather Finder – Heart Stone Hunter – Synchronicity Searcher Winging It While Lovingly Writing Through Life

Category: Writing

My Focus for 2014

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As my first year of blogging comes to an end, I can’t help but look back and notice that I “only” made twenty-two posts, including this one. Instead of being disappointed though, I’m choosing to focus on the fact that I posted throughout the entire year, regardless of the final count.

If 2013 has taught me anything, it’s that I’m done with synopsizing my accomplishments with the use of such words and phrases as “only,” “at least,” and “yes, but….” In fact, I’m quite proud of and honored by the fact that in 2013 – the first year I spread my writing wings – I managed to get four flash fiction pieces, two poems, and two short stories published. I simply refuse to let the dozen or so rejections I also received to taint my thinking otherwise. And by the way – I prefer to think in terms of the other publishers “declining” my offers, not outrightly rejecting them.

As for the purpose of this last blog post for 2013 – for the last few weeks, my Facebook news feed has had quite a few posts from people talking about their “chosen word” for 2014. I had never really heard of such a concept, but I liked the sound of it. I spent a lot of time thinking about what word I might like to focus on for the upcoming year and the word that kept whispering in my ear – no matter how hard I tried to ignore it – was actually “focus.” It seemed too intense for what I had in mind, but it finally dawned on me that it only had to be that way if that’s what I CHOSE to focus on.

I’m not sure why, but once I “had” my word, I went on a Pinterest quest to search for inspiration. I was pleasantly surprised at how much my focus expanded (no pun intended) on that one word. I ended up with 87 pins on my Pinterest Focus board and I’m certain there will be plenty more throughout 2014.

But why choose “focus,” you might wonder? For me, it’s primarily a shift in my writing about everything and anything, to defining a short list of what I’d like to focus on writing. But it extends far beyond just my writing. It’s about focusing on my dreams – not on my doubts; on what I can do – not on what I can’t do; on what I have to gain – not on what I have to lose; on how far I’ve come – not on how far I still have to go; on living – not just on surviving. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg (again a matter of focus).

There truly are layers upon layers to much of what our days present us with. It’s up to each one of us to decide what we need and/or want to focus on. And while we might never solve Edgar Allen Poe’s riddle of why a raven is like a writing desk, we can enjoy the journey of discovery, even if it “only” leads us to more layers vying for our attention and focus.

I’d LOVE to hear what word you might have chosen for yourself to focus on in 2014. I’d also REALLY like to hear your thoughts on the actual word “focus.” Until then, as 2013 fades into the rearview mirror and as 2014 comes into focus above the horizon, may each of you be filled with the joy of peaceful possibilities that patiently await your gaze.

Addendum: For anyone who might be curious about what had my attention for the last month or so, it was my Flash Cards Project, something I might expand – and continue to focus on – in 2014. You can see pictures of the completed project on my Flash Cards Project Pinterest board.

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A New Type (of) Writer

Underwood Junior Typewriter

One of the topics I was surprised to find myself writing about in my VerbTribe class was my parents’ typewriters. While my mother begrudgingly used hers for working at home, my father prayed over his to help him become a published author (prayers which went unanswered).

Regardless of their different functions, both my mother and father issued a “hands-off-they’re-not-toys” policy to my sister and I. Being a poor listener, I took every opportunity I could find to get my hands on those magical machines. One of the few regrets I have in life was in not keeping my father’s typewriter – and his desk – when it came time to “weed out” his possessions after he passed away in 2001.

Since writing about those typewriters, I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about buying one for myself. Not just for decoration though. I wanted to be able to use my new baby.

My desire grew exponentially after seeing the blue and orange beauties used by Maya Stein and Amy Tingle Williamson to create their “tandem poetry” at the recent Design Your Life Camp I attended. Thinking I was an oddball for wanting such a technological relic, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see so many Facebook posts by my fellow campers about their own adventures finding a typewriter since they returned home.

Due to the seasonality of my husband’s garden center, last weekend was the first one we’ve had to ourselves since February. On Sunday, we headed out to our favorite flea market. Right before we left, I pronounced (quite loudly and confidently) that I was finally going to find my typewriter. Tim knows that’s my weird way of “letting the Universe know my intentions,” but he still thinks I’m a little crazy when I do it.

Truth be told, we’d only seen one typewriter there in the years we’d been going, but it was in pretty rough shape so we walked away. The odds didn’t seem to be in our favor, but a girl’s gotta’ dream, right?

I’m certain you can see where this tale is going, so I’ll just jump to the part where I tell you we not only found one typewriter that day…we found three! While my heart has long been set on owning a red one, we would have needed a wheelbarrow to haul around the IBM Selectric that had a $75 price tag (for those who might be interested, here’s a good photo and article about that exact model). The green and white one was a child’s plastic version, so that was another easy decision to say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

But then….there on the top shelf of a dealer who actually lives just a few miles from us, was the petite treasure in the above photo. It was so pristine looking that I asked if it was a reproduction. She assured me it wasn’t. When she offered to knock the asking price down from $20 to $18, I just knew I had to take “her” home with me.

My husband was as excited as I was, so we went straight home and started Googling to find out what we could about her. It turns out that – not only is she legitimate – she’s actually quite rare.

Tracking her serial number (591,834) revealed that she’s a “four-bank” Underwood Junior Portable, made in 1932. She measures a mere 4-1/4″ tall x 10″ deep x 11-1/2″ wide and weighs only 9.5 pounds.

Like many portable machines made during the pre-war era, she was scaled down to the basics. She has only one shift key (on the left side, which is perfect for this southpaw) and no 1 key, exclamation-mark, or dollar sign. All of those quirks are more than made up for by her glass and steel keys (which are soothing to my old eyes), as well as her ribbon-reverser.

But the story doesn’t end there. When we’d finished Googling, we started to tinker with her. We began by taking the ribbon off to practice “resetting” it. As one might expect, it unrolled more than we had anticipated once it was off. As it did, Tim scared the crap out of me when he suddenly screamed, “Stop!”

Unable to speak coherently, he simply kept pointing at the ribbon. I had to adjust my reading glasses to see what had caught his attention. Stuck to the ribbon – in two separate places – were white feathers (as shown in the photo below).

Typewriter Feathers

Anyone who knows ANYTHING about me, knows that feathers are my “thing.” My symbol…my calling card…my messages from lost loved ones. Over the years, they’ve popped up in my world in the most unusual places and at very poignant moments. This one though left me nearly speechless.

Every time I touch her now, I keep wondering, how long had they been there? How had they ended up there? Why were they there? How come I was the one to find them (well – actually Tim found them, but you know what I mean)?

In the end, I know none of those answers are important. What is, is being grateful and acknowledging their presence. I am and I do. Very much so.

And so the story continues, with me at the helm of writing it. I finally have my own typewriter and you can be certain it WILL be used. In fact, I invite anyone who visits to use it. There is NO hands-off policy in my writing world…and there NEVER will be.

“Please, pull up a chair and join me. Let’s play with letters and see what we can create. Let me begin by introducing you to Matilda (Matty) Underwood…she’s lovingly named after my grandmother-in-law; a solidly built petite woman who lost her eyesight, but not her sense of humor or wonder.”

Addendum: If you’re interested in learning more about Underwood Portable typewriters, this is a great website to start your journey. And yes…that is me in the photo above, sitting next to my mother’s typewriter, aching to “play” with it.

The “Flash Cards” Project

Apian

Flash Card for the word “apian”

One of the many inspiring things that happened while I was at Design Your Life Camp, was being introduced to the world of “Tandem Poetry” created by Maya Stein and Amy Tingle Williamson. All you had to do was give these two amazing poets one word of your own choosing and – in less than five minutes – they each created a poem for you on their manual typewriters and 3″ x 5″ index cards. It was both magical and mesmerizing to watch them in action; it was silent, other than the tap-tap-tapping as they wove their words.

Tandem Poetry Polaroid

Maya Stein (l) and Amy Tingle Williamson (r)

I’ve been home from camp for three weeks and I’m just now beginning to feel that I’ve rejoined the real world. There’s been so much good stuff to process that I’ve often felt overwhelmed. Joyously so.

Moved by Maya’s and Amy’s approach to creating great work with minimal time and small spaces, I’ve begun what I’ve dubbed the “Flash Cards” project. It’s a totally selfish project devised to prompt me to write at least SOMETHING every day. All I do is use a random word generator (I began with the letter “a”) to provide me with my word for the day; a word that I then try to tell a “flash fiction” story within a sentence or two. I jot down what I come up with onto the template of a library card that I scanned into my computer. (And for those who are curious…that’s NOT my handwriting. I use Picmonkey and the La Belle Aurore font.)

I’m only three days into this project, but I have to confess that I’m really enjoying it. I don’t pretend to have any grand illusions that it will lead me to some great new place in my life, but I’m open to following whatever path it does take me on.

Sometimes writing is just about writing. Having fun with the process, creating a practice you love, and starting all over again the next day. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings. All I know is that it will involve at least one word that begins with the letter “d.”

Bliss

Flash Card for the word “bliss”

Choreography

Flash Card for the word “choreography”

If you’re interested in following this project, I’ll be posting my creations on my  Flash Cards Project Pinterest board.

The Stone Path

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Last Monday, I was schlepping my bulging luggage from Penn Station in New York City to the Port Authority building located ten blocks away. It was the final sweaty stage of my weeklong journey to Atlanta (which actually involved a higher percentage of moisture loss via cleansing tears than it did putrid perspiration). For most people, that might not sound like a big deal, but for this small-town homebody whose last traveling adventure was to Kentucky in 2008, it was HUGE.

I’ve been meaning to blog about all the amazing things I learned at the inaugural Design Your Life Camp, but whenever I sit down to process everything and to journal my thoughts, I find myself staring off into space – sometimes with a little bit of spittle forming at the corners of my gaping mouth. The only conclusion I’ve reached is, to try to summarize the event into one blog post would be impossible. That…and I should keep my mouth closed when I’m thinking.

When people ask me to describe the experience, the one-word synopsis that does easily spill over my lips is “life-altering.” Even that seems like an inadequate definition though.

So why this blog post after having not checked in here for the last ninety days? Because it’s time to get back to my OWN page.

In the last year, I’ve not only completed three levels of the online VerbTribe writing course that forever changed my life for the better, but I’ve had seven pieces accepted for publication. A year ago, I never thought any of that would be possible.

It’s been a year of learning about process and product and finding a balance between the two. Not for one second do I think I’ve mastered anything, but I’m finally at peace with the path of my life. Maybe that’s because I’m now on a path of my own creation – one where I’m no longer embarrassed when I describe myself as a writer.

And that brings me to the stones in the photo above. As part of our goodie bag at camp, each camper received two unique rocks that I like to think are pertinent to where we are in our individual lives. I confess that my first two thoughts about the “let go of judgement” stone were (1) “Oh my God…they misspelled judgement!” (I subscribe to the judgment version) and (2) “Oh dear…it has a chip of paint missing!” [Insert “light bulb moment” here!]

I was home for two days before I even noticed that both rocks had a heart theme – one with a heart painted directly on it and the other heart-shaped. [Insert second “light bulb moment” here!] How does someone who professes to be a heart-stone hunter – so much so that it’s part of the title and tagline of her own blog – MISS such a thing???

What this says to me is I’m entering a much-needed period of refinement and refocusing. For too long I simply refused to acknowledge my desire to write. When I finally did, I reveled in being a part of the big picture – learning, experimenting, reaching out. Camp’s focus on creativity, courage, and community was a massive injection of “you got this” mojo juice.

And now I sit here asking myself, “What do you want to do with all of this?” The key words being “you” and “want.” What I know today is that I will (try to) not be judgmental about any decisions I make and I will (try to) love my life as it continues to unfold. For today, that’s good enough. In fact, it’s damn good…

Caesuras and Coincidences

Caesura Quote

Sixty-one days have passed since my last blog post. Instead of feeling apologetic about such an absence, I’m ecstatic! How’s that possible, you wonder?

Although it’s been quite a lengthy “caesura,” it’s actually been a VERY productive writing time for me. I not only submitted five poems, eleven flash fiction pieces (which had to be limited to only six words each –  a true miracle of brevity for me!), and one fictional story to several publications, but I also managed to write 4,900 words towards my goal of 13,000 for Camp NaNoWriMo. I also entered one poem and one fiction story in various contests. I’m pleasantly surprised and far-beyond overjoyed to be able to announce that I’ve had three flash fiction pieces and one poem accepted…so far.

For me though, these past few weeks haven’t been about getting things published. They’ve been about routinely “showing up” and doing the work. Work that I’m passionate about and that feels more like “joy in mind motion.” During my time away, I had to remind myself that I didn’t start this blog to simply add to the blogosphere chatter. In my very first post, I had focused on my New Year’s intention to “show up for my life and to give it my all.” Although I’m not showing up HERE as often as I had thought I might, I’m giving it my all in other ways to the writing pages of my life and I simply could NOT be happier.

In the process of laying down so many words, I’m finally learning that shorter truly can be sweeter. And if someone had told me that I would one day succumb to writing poetry and fiction – versus non-fiction, which I had always considered my “calling” – I might have been forever frightened away from picking up a pen. Who knew that I’d be glad to not always have a clue about what’s going to flow from my fingertips?

As a huge fan of synchronicity and/or coincidence – call it whatever you like – I must admit that today left me a little weak in the knees. I’ve been (im)patiently awaiting the arrival of my copies of the flash fiction pieces I had accepted for print in Haunted Waters Press, “From the Depths.” Not only did they finally appear on my doorstep this afternoon, but sitting on top of them was another box. In that package was a fabulously, funky, red purse I had purchased online from a lady who’s on an amazing mission to downsize and declutter her life. That woman is my writing instructor – the one who has forever changed my life for the better. Not only had she enclosed a lovely handwritten note on an index card (her “parchment of choice” for many class assignments), but the pieces I had published were formatted in the journal to also appear as if they were on an index card!

Patti Purse Publication Blog

As someone who has spent years looking for a sign that my life is finally on the “right” path, I heard you loud and clear today dear Universe and I can’t wait to see what lies on the path ahead. I promise to keep showing up and to do the work as best I can.

Addendum: Just as I was getting ready to hit the “publish” button, my husband told me that I might want to look off to the east to witness what was possibly another sign. I’m so blessed to be a part of this wonderful world…

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Baring (and Sharing) My Heart and Soul

Feathered Heart by Alice Rebecca Potter, Illustrator

Feathered Heart by Alice Rebecca Potter, Illustrator

Posted below is one of the last pieces I submitted in my recent writing class. The entire course had built up to this assignment – one that asked us to remember the written journeys we had taken and to “move from our heart back out into the world.” This is my interpretation of that “synchronous” adventure. As I discussed in my March 5th, 2013 blog post about the discomfort I often feel whenever I encounter poetry, I was extremely surprised at the format this piece was released from the end of my pen.
 

In Synchronous Orbit: Heart to Soul

 
Our mother’s oxygenated blood
is our first taste of this universe.
As her veined-lasso contracts and tears away,
our inaugural breath of freedom
infuses you with our own claret.
Vintage 1966.

Within an ossified and cartilaginous wing-shaped cage,
safely suspended in mid-air,
featherless,
you live under the shadow of our skin.

There is a liquid lushness
to our internal landscape.
One that quenches the thirst
of our membranous microcosm,
from the valley of our shoulder blades,
to the peninsulas of our limbs,
and the snow-covered peak of our true north.

A constricting coil of cyclic rebirth,
you are unable to soar across the threshold of darkness
into the light of life.

You are a blind, wingless co-pilot,
a molten core
to our solitary, drifting continent.

A celestial body
in synchronous orbit with our soul,
I am your desirous interpreter
as we journey into the world.

As we travel the cosmos,
you, the fountain of our youth,
once pure and unscarred,
become tender and tattered,
like a glacier breaking apart under the heat of the sun.
Even tenacious tissue grows road-weary
from trailing unheard messages
in the space between heaven and earth.

I am occasionally lulled into complacency
by the repetition of your words.
When the unfamiliar tempo of your language
suddenly becomes foreign to me,
your voice barely audible,
I realize the need
to lighten the load of our travels.

From the depths of your sinewy existence,
in empty notebooks filled with possibilities,
I revel in recording the details of our adventures,
giving a voice to words
that you cannot breathe life into.

You are a speechless co-author,
mixing the crimson hue of your indigenous ink
with the palette of colors
that flow from my feathered pen.

Like fleeting stardust,
I try to grasp and decipher
the Morse-coded messages
you tap out against the skeletal bars of your prison cell.

Is it fear that causes you to skip erratically
when our brain registers the outline
of a snake amongst the grass?
Do you flutter in longing
as the breeze of a hawk
passes through our parchment carapace?
Does jealousy fill your every chamber
at the mere thought of a migrant gypsy cloud
caressing the sky?
Or do you swell at the sheer vastness of it all?

Regardless of the radius of the galaxy
we find ourselves roaming,
you are forever the most precious element
lining the cave walls.
Walls that record leftover memories
from previous lives shared.

For now,
the other side remains a realm
that we cannot yet venture to.
While there are no guarantees
for how many years we have left
on our entwined exploration of this world,
I can promise you that we will always be together.

Until we embark on that final flight,
under the power of our own long-awaited wings,
we will continue to drink
from the sanguine wellspring of our shared spirit.

The Balancing Act of Art (and Life)

“All I know for sure is that it took so long that I almost gave up several times. Not because I was doubtful of the possibility. Rather, I was certain of its possibility.” ~Michael Grab

Michael Grab at Work

I do not use the word “awestruck” lightly. In fact, if I was to rely on the most common definition which references having mixed emotions of both wonder and fear, it would be difficult for me to even think of other times in my life when that word would be applicable. All of that changed though when a dear friend of mine (thank you Ginny!) recently introduced me to the online world of Michael Grab, a self-professed Rock Balancer.

Instead of me trying to adequately describe just what it is that Michael does and how it is that he left me so awestruck, I implore you to PLEASE take three minutes and fifty-five seconds out of your busy life to watch firsthand the video below of his “work.” Fair warning though (especially for Type A personalities) – be patient and do NOT take your eyes off what he’s doing. I can honestly say that, the first time I watched this, I not only “saw” the second everything came together, but I literally “felt” it deep within. I was NOT expecting either. In a nanosecond, my shrunken heart that had been fearing a collapse almost burst from the soul-expanding wonder of witnessing something that seems to defy all possibility of existing. Enter…..awestruck.

Right about now, you’re probably sitting there – like I initially was – debating whether or not some “rock balancing guy” is worth an investment of the precious time that it will take you to view the video and/or to finish reading this blog post about him. Let me provide you with a little more insight about Michael before you make that critical decision.

One of his core beliefs about what he does is, “it’s all about presence in the moment. SLOW down. Become the balance.” If you do watch the video (or perhaps you already did – hooray for you!), you almost get a sense of time frozen, perhaps due to Michael’s intense – almost meditative – patience with the process. Patience that had me both breathless and squirming in my seat.

Michael is so much more though than rocks, balance, and patience. In his February 5th, 2013 blog post (entitled “Following the Heart’s Intuition”), he begins with a meme quote (author unknown to him, but I believe it to be Lawrence Pearsall Jacks) that he saw on Facebook and that stated, “The person who is a master in the art of living makes little distinction between their work and their play. Their labor and their leisure, their mind and their body……They hardly know which is which. They simply pursue their vision of excellence and grace in whatever they do, leaving others to decide whether they are working or playing. To them, they are always doing both.” In his own words, he goes on to say that, “I can’t emphasize enough the value of following your own sacred intuition…those deep down feelings and spiritual excitements. By doing this I have learned to relax in the face of uncertainty, to exist in the moment more easily and thoroughly. Balancing rocks teaches many disciplines. The balance pictured here (photo below) took about an hour, maybe two, to realize. All I know for sure is that it took so long that I almost gave up several times. Not because I was doubtful of the possibility. Rather, I was certain of its possibility.”

Michael Grab's Rock Tower

And that – THAT – is why I felt I had to share Michael and his work/art with the world, in whatever way I could. Not because he and I both have a love affair with the artist nature of stones, but because of his unyielding belief that art is possible in even the most unlikeliest of forms.

This is a guy who literally immerses himself in his work. He also not only realizes – but accepts – the fleeting nature of all that we create. As a writer, I personally can learn a lot from a young man like that.

When he talks about “find[ing] a zero point or silence within [him]self,” I imagine how that translates into my own need to sit patiently at my desk while I find my own starting/balance point to begin constructing the (hopefully) rock-solid foundation of my next piece. When he discusses how “…rocks collaborate into an extremely complex system of balance. One piece slightly adjusted by fractions of a millimeter will yield collapse…,” I realize how every word I write ties into the next one and how my editing has the power to build the piece stronger, as well as to cause its destruction. “Slow down. Become the balance.” There really is no other way, is there?

I hope that you or someone you know – someone who is perhaps struggling with believing in the possibility of their own art and/or in finding the balance of that art within the context of the rest of their life – finds some inspiration in the magic that Michael creates. For additional motivation, be sure to check out his website, especially his portfolio that depicts some of his amazing “towers.” As for his “bridges” and “spheres” – oh my! You just have to see them for yourself. The good news is, you can also buy prints of his work.

One final note…..if you’re interested and if you can spare nine more minutes and fifteen seconds, I would highly recommend that you watch this other video. As the camera used for filming it is suspended directly from Michael’s head, it will let you experience the amazing process directly from his point of view. Art from yet another glorious angle…..

Earth Artist

Just one of the many display ponds and gardensmy husband has lovingly created here on our property.

My husband REALLY wanted me to post my current writing assignment as today’s blog post. Because he is truly my right hand and second pair of eyes for each piece I put together, I’m happy to honor his request. Besides, HE is the “Earth Artist” that made these words possible. (In case it doesn’t become clear, the assignment was to “narrow in” on something within a 1/4 mile radius of our home and to write about it from the perspective of a bird, a snake, and a cloud.)

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The earth is his easel. His medium of choice is soil with a splash of water for contrast. The yellow fiberglass shovel is his favorite paintbrush.

For years, he has heard people portray him as someone who lovingly resuscitates the land with skin grafts and face lifts of flower gardens and lavish lily ponds. To him, they are individuals who paint with words – an art form he is not comfortable using to express himself.

He never questions his own motives for creating. It is who he is. It is what he does. There is simply no other option for him than to leave the world better than when he arrived. He doesn’t even know there are options, nor would he care to explore them if he did. He lets others get lost in defining exactly what “better” is. He just focuses on creating.

The Great Blue Heron certainly has his own definition of better, even if he can only vocalize it to this man as a series of guttural croaks and squawks. Prior to the unfeathered artist’s arrival, his long-legged life had been spent wading around the intersection of Catatonk Creek and Sulphur Springs Creek, as well as the hope that one day the beaver would be successful at reclaiming their share of the land from the jealous humans who kept tearing down their island dream homes.

He knows he should be satisfied with the magnificent home makeover he received when the wingless one allowed the big machines marked “United States Fish and Wildlife Service” to come in and carve their masterpieces, but he is a fish-eating feathered being that simply can’t help indulging himself when he sees the large Koi smorgasbord swimming at the surface of the shallow pools that emanate in the human’s habitat. Crystal clear and chemical free, the pickings are swift and sweet.

He is actually honored by the lifeless, look-alike plastic statue the bird wanna-be has erected as a tribute encouraging him to come closer. He is further humbled by the earth-bounder’s attempts to imitate his winged idol as he flap-dances across the yard whenever he sees him so near to his home, a speared fish dangling from his magnificent beak.

The Eastern Garter Snake also senses that she is welcome here. She perceives no need to hide in the shadows, unless the sun or the heron’s shadow chases her there. Instead, she proudly displays her sleek, checkerboard body for the world to see. Whether resting flat out on the miles of warmed rock walls that snake-like-her through the garden, laying low on the soft Mother Lode Juniper, or coiled up chest-high in the spiky Bird’s Nest Spruce, the man and his wife protect her from inquisitive eyes and flailing hands. She merely waves in salutation with her tongue to human visitors as they joyfully sing out in octaves they never knew they could reach. Big burly men seem to be able to hit the highest notes.

She can simultaneously bathe and brunch with a mere slither into the pool of her choice. Fresh frog legs and caviar are almost always on the menu. Barn mice suffice on the days when she has to relinquish her pool-side seat to the man-mower and woman-whacker. Afterwards, she rests amongst the safety of the hay bales. Soon enough, she’ll re-emerge into the snake-friendly tapestry that the humans have woven to cushion her travels.

Even the clouds like to linger over this colorful swatch of land. There is an unfamiliar lushness here that quenches their thirst as they drink from flowing water that seems to lead nowhere and everywhere. They literally swell with joy as they mix their life’s blood with the palette of colors below. Rainbows bloom in silent applause. Here, life blossoms like nowhere else on earth.

Word of the Week: x 1,078

Red-Tailed Hawk Feathers

In last Friday’s post, I introduced my intention to write a “Word of the Week” column every Friday. As a word nerd, it just seems like the perfect way to usher in the weekend.

Since then, I began work on the second level of the life-altering writing course that I discussed in my very first blog post. I was BEYOND thrilled when I discovered that our very first writing assignment focused on – what else – birds! In fact, this was the exact prompt, “You are a bird. Briefly describe yourself. Then describe in great detail the flight from one tree to another one mile away.” With that, I was off and running. OK – flying.

In an attempt to honor my 2013 desire to share my writing, I’ve decided to take a leap of faith and to post the piece I wrote for my homework. Two days and 1,078 words later (give or take a few words, depending on which “word counting” program you use), I think it’s sufficient for public viewing.

I hope you’ll forgive me for momentarily diverting from my “Word of the Week” intent. By choosing the title of this blog post, I tried to reassure myself that I really hadn’t gone astray from that goal (and now you know what “Word of the Week: x 1,078” means).

I would GREATLY appreciate any and all feedback…..positive, negative, or neutral. I can only improve if I’m open to honest input. On that note, I take flight…..

Final Flight

Looking down from her daily perch on the 60-foot-tall power transmission lines that dissected the southern portion of the seventeen acre parcel, Yana saw the protected one begin her own circadian voyage around the perimeter. She was honored to have been her totem Red-Tailed Hawk for as many years as the protected one had resided on this piece of land.

Yana had been unaware that she had such a name until she heard it lovingly whispered on the wind one day as she circled in salute over the protected one. The wind not only explained that it meant “You Are Never Alone,” but that the protected one wanted her to know that she was aware of her presence and the blessed guardianship that she provided.

Yana’s Broad-Winged Hawk cousin had actually been responsible for uniting the protected one and her husband back in 1987 when they were studying the Buteo family in the Adirondack Mountains of New York. Now mated for life, as was Yana, they shared many other similarities.

They both stayed true to their voice, even when they were referred to as “screamers.” Stocky in build, but fast when they needed to be, they utilized their energy best by riding the wind and letting it carry them when their load simply seemed too heavy to bear alone. While they both adored their red attire, Yana looked far more fetching in hers. Both also seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time searching for food – one out of need, the other out of greed.

Sadly, the protected one was rooted to the earth and had not been blessed with hawk-eyesight. It was therefore Yana’s job to soar into the heavens and to relay the messages and visions she received to the protected one. It was that insight that gave wings to the earthbound one and – for that – they were both eternally grateful.

The day had finally come though for Yana to pass the totem torch to one of her own young. She had been blessed to witness the arrival of thirteen winters, but it would soon be her time to soar into the depths of the heavens she had only been allowed to skim the surface of for so many years. Serena, her winged daughter, would now be the caretaker of the human.

Yana timed the lift-off from her perch to allow her to effortlessly dip her wings in a final feathery bow to the flightless one she had come to love. The featherless wave of acknowledgement that came from below was all Yana needed to begin her last turn towards the west with a full heart.

As her life was now at a juncture with death, it seemed only fitting that Yana’s final flight would begin at the intersection of Catatonk Creek – once called Tiatachschiunge by the Onondaga Indian Nation – and Sulphur Spring Creek. The breeze arched her smoothly through the S-curve of the historic Tiatachschiunge and her feathers remained unruffled as she coasted along the straight section that ran parallel to Candor Road.

Also known by the the locals as Route 96, this stretch of road lies close to the stream and is often littered with the carcasses of critters that have been impaled by cars going at least 55 miles per hour. Yana had found many a meal during lean times when she scoured that paved hunting ground. An occasional fish feast of white suckers could also be found there, as lazy fishermen and women tossed their filleting efforts alongside the folding chairs from where they had cast their lines. The humans always kept the stocked brown trout to fill their own gizzards.

Continuing west, Yana simply coasted along with the wind that rose from the creek bed. The creek itself varied in depth from a mere few inches, to one section that was rumored by the resident Hooded Mergansers to be twenty feet deep. No hawk dared to verify that information. What they did know was that the creek ranged in width from only a few feet where deer were known to cross easily, to around thirty feet where even humans needed a boat to safely make the shore-to-shore journey.

The lay of the land around the creek had changed severely after Tropical Storm Lee left a river of tears coursing through the area back in September of 2011. Gravel and tree debris coalesced into walls where there had never been any before. Beaver were now taking advantage of the work that Mother Nature had done for them; they were busy from sunrise to sunset shoring up areas that they once found unsuitable.

Yana was never certain which tree species the beaver preferred, but she knew the creek was lined with red maples, willow, multiflora rose, sumac, and ash. She and her mate had been fortunate to find the lone birch tree in the area to weave their home and to raise their many broods.

As there were less than a couple of dozen human homes that had grown their own roots along the creek, Yana’s flight filtered her through the hilly and mostly uninhabited woodlands to both the north and the south. She would miss the days when she soared high above the quiet land to gather the precious messages that she would then pass along to her protected one in the form of molted message-laden feathers.

In leftover memories from a previous life, Yana knew that the patchwork quilt of land below her had been made of earth-tone colors and had been stitched together by fence posts, power lines, telephone poles, meandering roads, and evergreens that abutted various shades of manicured field “fat squares.” The streams were merely appliquéd details. The earthen ponds threadbare spots where cooled lava tears congealed. Human habitations fancy baubles attached to the quilt with their cement and wooden threads.

Before she began her descent into the patch of land she had called her own for thirteen years, Yana soared one final time towards the heaven she would soon gain entrance to. From up high, she couldn’t help but notice that the surrounding creek beds she had flown hundreds of thousands of times looked like an ancient hand of glacial fingers that had long ago left its palm-print on the earth. It comforted her to think that it would still be there for decades to come – or at least long enough to guide her beloved daughter Serena as she too soared heavenward, gathering her own precious messages along the way.

A Long-Distance Gift of Wings

Feather Bouquet Gift

Hope arrived on my doorstep today in the form of a large white envelope that had been lovingly gift-wrapped in paper featuring swoon-inducing fancy French words. Simply addressed to Donna McSchwender, a name I’ve only known my sister to use, its “First Class” stamp was an understatement to its contents. The package had made its transcontinental flight from an island off the coast of Washington to the red front door of my home in upstate New York, a mere 117 days after I had been blessed to meet the dear woman who had sent it to me.

The threads of my world became intertwined with those of this lovely lady in an online writing course that I dare say changed both of our lives in ways that we could not have foreseen. Somewhere along the way of sharing our stories, we came to discover that, not only had she actually raised her family in the small town that I currently live in, but we know many of the same people who still reside here. Never had the world seemed so small – so wonderful – so magical to me.

In the approximately 2,808 hours that we have now known one another, this soul sister has given me a newfound appreciation for the cliché of “someone knowing me better than I know myself.” As if the 24 feathers that had been lovingly labeled and placed inside the envelope weren’t enough of a gift, many of them are red, my favorite color. Some even have different colors on the reverse side. And polka dots?!? Oh my!!! Talk about eye candy! I have no idea why she also enclosed the glittery paper “13” (red, of course) that you see in the photo, but – perhaps the bigger question is – HOW did she know that’s my favorite number?!?

It only seems fitting that the container this beautiful bouquet of feathers will now reside in has a quote by Marjolein Bastin (an artist for Hallmark’s ‘Nature’s Sketchbook’ collection) on the lid that reads, “Finding a feather that a bird lost from his plumage is like finding a treasure! Always kneel down and take it as a gift from nature.”

Perhaps in yet another universal nudge, as I was preparing to arrange the feathers in the box, out fell an oId fortune cookie message reminding me to, “Do your work with your whole heart and you will succeed.” It brought a smile to my face as I could envision it being written (or kindly spoken to me) by my new friend.

I understand that some people would look at this pile of reclaimed finch, mallard, turkey, chicken, lovebird, macaw, and African Grey feathers as just another bunch of detritus littering the pathway of their world. I look at them though and I can’t help but see a glorious gift of wings. Something my friend would want me to have, to trust in, and to take flight with.

Receiving such an uplifting and inspiring gift has left me feeling as if my heart is regenerating nerves that died long ago. When and if I do take flight, you can be certain that these 24 feathers will have been sewn securely into my winged cape. Until then, I’ll simply keep gathering more feathers and offering up a prayer of gratitude for every one that falls like yet another gift into my life. Much like the many wonderful friends that have flown into my life these past few months….

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