Anne M. Smith-Nochasak:
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Time is passing.
Yesterday, my spirit sang in every moment; the leaves had never been so delicate, the breeze never more fresh. Thanksgiving had never risen so easily to my tongue; every taste, every scent, every step was a blessing.
This morning, though, I awakened to days slipping past and our loved one not in them. The shimmering sunrise reproached me. The breeze was musty with decay, with hints of impending drought and fire. The mosquitoes would be out soon.
Our loved one was not coming back.
Then I saw the reddish-brown shape clinging to the birdfeeder. Squirrels hesitate to walk on thin cables, so we strung our bird feeders on long slender wires, far from the trees, well above ground. Nevertheless, there he was.
He could not have sprung from the ground, and could not have leapt from the branches, although I have watched one soar from a limb eight feet away. The feeder swung gently, and he was gnawing his way through the wire mesh, oblivious to the outraged human and quivering dogs watching from the window. And in the grand scheme of life, will it matter if one tiny squirrel overcomes the plots and technology of one human? The world will still turn, the sun will still rise -- I began to smile as he swayed and nibbled in his private moment of joy, perhaps his own little psalm rising on the breath of creation.
So I took note of that, and acknowledged that there was something in the moment worthy of celebration.
I turned to my morning yardwork. The slope above the garden had eroded, the soil sliding away. I raked in rich topsoil, scattered grass seed, and sprinkled mulch to hold the seed in place. Flo, the Border collie, watched.
Border collies have a gift for scrutiny; they study every move -- processing, calculating. As dogs of remarkable intelligence, they have an extensive vocabulary and
comprehension. If you explain to them what you want, they will act upon it. You must, however, be thorough. As you can see from the photo to the left, Flo did not have her paws on the soil. She had been told that she must not walk on these places. And she did not. She sat, happily wagging her tail, the grass seed scattering. In the grand scheme of things, when the sun goes to its red giant phase, there will be a bald patch on the earth.
Will it matter?
I let it go, and the scent of dust and grass was sweet in the morning.
My lady Mikak, street dog and defender, loved to curl beside her hostas. When they faded in the fall, she would lie over them. Now Shay, the pup she raised, watches for her. It lifts my heart to see Shay, to know that she is alive, fully present in this moment.
My departed friend would laugh and laugh over the way the squirrel overcame all obstacles; he would shake his head and smile at the Border collie's meticulous attention to detail. He would delight in Shay.
He would celebrate the humour and the grace in each moment.
"I will lift up my eyes to the hills --
where does my help come from?"
Psalm 121 ESV
My help rises from the little moments the Creator gives me, breathed into being from the depths of love.
There, beyond my window, how many shades of colour on this palette?
How many moments to embrace the joy that would buffer the pain?
How many memories to be made or already present, just waiting for me?
There are signs and wonders in the morning, teachings small yet great. I stare out into the world and I know that, one day, this shall be consumed and on that day, it will be this day, this one here before me, that will rise to my lips as a psalm.
Here in my loft, I feel the paddle draw and pull and I, a dry leaf spinning on a dead branch, I am laughing, simply laughing, because I am part of creation, part of everything, part of the sweetness of the morning.
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You called me that day.
The sun was just rising, the mist hovering in the woodlot. Down past the hollow, beyond the road even, from a shallow lake tucked among distant trees, all that way, you called me.
My First Lake rose before me, her special sunrise sweeping the sky above the water, as you sang a song of rain coming.
And because my heart was breaking for those times, I made a plan to mow the lawns, to comment on social media, to catch up on laundry and dust the shelves. Those times are past, I said.
All the while, your song reverberated in my soul and my day hung wasted.
The next day, the Sunday, the longing overpowered me. I gathered kayak and gear, and made my way to the bridge. On previous outings, I had wandered the marshes upriver and found the rapids downriver. Today, though, was for the narrows and the shallow lake beyond, the re-entry to the time of First Lake, my Wasaya time. The waters were a glimmer through the tangle, a promise and a summons.
The rocks were slippery and the banks soft as I worked my way to the lake. You were waiting in the first cove, silent, expectant.
You arched and stood, there in the water, your wings spread wide and fanning, the sun reflecting from your white breast, water droplets glistening. Your silent hymn of praise proclaimed creation holy.
You lowered back into the water and swam beside me.
I looked, and I recognized these shores: this was the place below the landing of Wasaya times, and I felt my lady settle behind me, the way we once explored, her and me, when every moment belonged to us. I felt her lean on my shoulder, as she always did. The years faded, and our time was young again.
You paused, and you turned away. The wind pounded at my back and I slid down the lake, my lady at my shoulder, my life strong. You guarded our journey but did not follow.
Then it was turning time. My lady would always spring to a rock and find the shore now, but suddenly, she was not there. I was alone.
I dipped and pulled. The landmarks did not pass but instead slid farther away. The anger built and all the dark thoughts of my past battered my consciousness. My cheeks burned as the wind swept across them, pushing the anger over my shoulder into the white caps behind. The waves churned, wrestling my anger and drawing it down.
And suddenly, I was in the cove again. You floated beside me as I sought the channel to the narrows. We were companions, here in the sheltered silence, no songs, no words, no anger. We are comrades in arms, aren't we? We share the calm, share the damp scent of rain coming. We know. We are.
I hear the world is ending, and there are so many stories of how it will be then. Here is my story of how it will be. Here is my own secret paradise. I will awaken to a paddle in my hand on a still dawn, your song and your silence with me. Together we will glide the waters, the dogs of my life running the shore, but my lady will rest at my shoulder.
It might not look like this, it might not happen like this, but this feeling, this is the feeling of eternity.
The feeling of being.
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The Lord wraps himself in light as with a garment;
he stretches out the heavens like a tent
and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters.
He makes the clouds his chariot
and rides on the wings of the wind.
--Psalm 104 (NIV)
Creation is not the work of an angry, resentful god, who broods over human failing and plans sweet eternal hell fire in retaliation. We too often expect the Creator to be like us at our very worst -- petty, cruel, vengeful, punishing on a whim for short term satisfaction. We turn away, because He allows suffering, lets the wicked prosper, etc. We do not consider the heartbreak of a benevolent Creator, witnessing his beloved creation laid to waste. Creation is natural law in action. Reversals of natural law have consequences; they do not happen on a whim. So, the Creative principle of the universe moves alone over the waters, and perhaps images of the First Day shimmer there in memory.
The psalmist captures the wonder and amazement of the natural world; he looks into creation and sees the splendor of a world freshly made.
The perfection and the balance.
The wonder and the joy.
On Sunday, the urge to be on the water was overwhelming. I have restrictions now; I do not swing my canoe into the water and paddle at will. I cannot even lift a canoe or maneuver it now. All those summers on the lake burn in memory: I feel the freedom, the lazy draw and pull of the paddle in the lake at sunset, the dogs alert and watching, the ducklings trailing home to the creek, the beaver churning back and forth in the cove. And then, I hear the loons raise their own psalm, their hymn of praise for a remembered perfection, for a time when the earth was in balance.
The memory of my world freshly made compels me to the water.
I have built a simple frame for my battered kayak; I slide it into the back of my vehicle without lifting. I make my way to the river and let the kayak slide in. My life is slower, yes, but when I am on the water, the pain lifts, the weakness dissipates. I am free.
On Sunday I followed the meanders of our narrow river through the marshes, swallows rising all around me. The May fly were just rising. Around the bend there was a rush of feathers and a pair of Mallards burst into the air. I trailed behind a brilliant white Common Eider, his dark trim a haze as he finally took flight, his mate suddenly there and rising beside him.
The trees hung over the water more nobly, the dry marsh grass whispered more reverently, and I was transported back to the days on the lakeshore writing, simply writing because it filled my being with joy. I wrote in those times in watercolor.
Later I wrote in oil, the shoreline still strong in my blood but tempered by the struggles of the dying. In my loft, staring into the woodlot, my fingers scrambled to put down the story that rose before me.
And then it stopped.
Today, the shoreline sings in my being again. My story is new again. I will write because it delights me to celebrate a world clothed in splendor and majesty.
I am not a psalmist; my words do not ring of eternity. Yet, I will raise my words in my own small way.
I believe the Psalmist was the first canoer of shorelines.