Barefoot Wild

Happy little girlTangle and wild is what birthed me. The first few years of my life were in Carlsbad Caverns National Park, where my father was the Park Naturalist. An early photograph shows me standing in a back yard of desert, cactus and sky. I am wearing a sombrero and a diaper, sucking on a bottle. It would be a familiar pose later in life too, sans the diaper. Blond hair, tanned skin, and life was good. My family swam at the river, sat in the caves and walked the surrounding area in search of prickly pear, which is a cactus blossom that my mother made into jelly.

At four my parents divorced and my father relocated to Glacier National Park, which presented a whole different pallet of nature than Carlsbad’s desert. In that park, I climbed up the steep hill next to the cabin and ran to the bottom, arms out stretched as if in flight. I gathered huckleberries for pies that my sister made and stood at the kitchen window watching a bear cub take our rug off the clothes line and carry it up a tree.

My parent’s divorce created an interesting phenomenon in my life: what with everyone’s angst and new beginnings, I became basically, unsupervised. A psychologist might call it abandonment, but it’s not like I was neglected. I was just left alone to the wild of life. As such, I delighted in a summer rain one day, warm and pounding, unleashed from the skies with a great, gray power and beauty. I got this idea that I should be outside in that rain instead of watching it from a window.

Out the back door I went, got on my tricycle, not bothering with shoes, and began riding the streets of Glacier, peddling hard through the puddles and delighting in the warm water soaking my clothes, hair and skin. I was having great fun when a woman, who also happened to be the local sitting judge, saw me, stopped her car and demanded that I get in. She put my tricycle in the trunk and drove me to her house where I was toweled off and given an over-sized shirt to wear, while my clothes were in the dryer. Then she called my father.

The judge was everything un-wild and had no appreciation for the freedom that I found so delicious. I was told to sit in the living room and she turned on the television for me. The show that was on was the Oral Roberts Healing Hour. Oral Roberts was a grainy black and white image that barked about things I didn’t know of. He talked about sickness and injury and told you to put your hand on the television screen and then he would yell, “Heal God, heal,” as though he were talking to a class of canines instead of people. I tried to think if I had a sickness or injury so that I could put my hand on the television screen, but no one would know whether I did or not and I really wanted to feel what would come through the television if I put my hand on it, so I did. And as Oral Roberts was yelling, “Heal God, heal,” with my little hand on the screen, my father walked into the room.

He had on his National Park issue uniform with a plastic thing over his hat that kept it dry. As he looked down at me he seemed to grow taller. Water dripped off his hat and he said, “Am I raising a moron?” I wanted to tell him no, but nothing came out of my mouth. He gathered me up, leaving my tricycle for another day in the hands of the un-wild judge, and we went home. I don’t remember that I was punished. I was probably off into the woods soon after, looking for berries, barefoot and wild.

I was eight or nine when my father was transferred to Washington DC and began working at the Department of the Interior as a program analyst. As in previous summers, I was packed up and shipped off to spend some time with him. And just as before, I was totally unsupervised. I found my way around to swimming pools, bus lines and walking long stretches of highway. I was fearless, and thinking back–my parents were foolish. Still I wouldn’t have traded those wild days for something more structured. Skipping stones on the Potomac River and walking to the airport were among my favorite activities. I could follow the highway all the way to what was then D.C. Airport and spend the entire day watching the planes take off and land. I had wonderful conversations with the stewardesses who were enviably stylish and were nice to me, sometimes buying me a coke and telling me all about the places that they had been. I wanted to go places too and I went home and told my father that I wanted to be a stewardess when I grew up.

First of all I got busted for walking barefoot, of course, to the airport and was told I couldn’t ever do that again. Then I was told that stewardesses were only glorified waitresses in the air, and that was the end of the conversation. I spent the rest of the summer cutting white paper and building a city out of the pieces in a corner of the living room. I was bored from waiting for weekends when I could go to the river with my father to skip rocks. Being unsupervised and being told to stay put was torture.

That was the last summer of my wild. . .for a while anyway.  As I got a little older, I became interested in being like other girls and matching shoes and belts became more important than exploring new places. Though by the time I was 17, I was ready to leave home and explore again. Seventeen is way to young to leave home, but having learned self-reliance at such an early age, it wasn’t that big a deal. I got into a lot of trouble when I left home and just like riding a tricycle in the rain, some of it was great fun.

Now in my sixties, the time of silver reflects upon the path that I followed, illuminating those wild times. It’s not so much a past as it is a state of mind. And I no longer confuse recklessness with wild. It is more an authenticity that speaks truth without worrying about what others may think. It is the rawness of heart that drinks in the world.  Wild is crying when the full moon rises and the geese fly overhead. I was born into the wild and I know it will carry me home. Something about the journey and the embracing of knotted, wild places, tangled in weeded flowers and planes taking off comforts me to my core.

I Am A Little Fish

It’s not so much of a memory as it is a sensation that rises again and again in the summer months. A little girl lies on a towel on the warm concrete, resting for a moment in the sun. She has been in the water for what seems like hours, holding her breath and crawling under the shimmering blue from one sibling to the other; being thrown into the air by her brother and making a huge splash; floating on her back. She is a little fish, and she belongs here.

The water is cool in hot desert sun, and she loves the sun, loves how it feels on her skin. This is her world; A mother and father who sit in lounge chairs and occasionally come into the water to play; a brother and a sister who will stay with her in the water all day; Sandwiches that the mother has packed in a cooler; Cold drinks from a concession stand. It is a family day and everyone is happy.

It does not matter that this world broke apart in divorce and moves to other states; dissolved itself into the mess that is part of adulthood and failures of the heart. What matters is that each summer it comes back—the sensation of the sun and the water, the excitement about going to the pool and swimming back and forth in the lanes for adults. Do they know that when I am in this pool I am not an adult? I am that little girl again, alive in the sensations of summer, the feelings of security and happiness brought on by sun and water.

A bag is packed with towels and iced water, a kindle to read in the lounge chair. All around me are the happy sounds of children playing in the water, laughing and squealing; the sounds of parents who get into the water and play. These summer afternoons retrieve something precious from a long time ago and thrust it forward into a present that allows me to be my purest, most real self–at play in the world, filled with joy, and delighting in kisses from the summer sun.

We Are Voices In A Rising Chorus

That eerily silent wind that blows into the house filling it with a sense of foreboding—it was just like that. Women walking next their husbands and sons in solidarity, love and support, suddenly turned toward the wind, hairs standing upon end on neck and arms as they spun around and opened their mouths to speak.

It was soft at first. The words of a small Pakistani girl named Malala who said “educate girls,” and strung together sentences on a blog of activism, using the power of speech to such a degree as to bring the Taliban to hunt her, kill her, a fourteen year old girl.  They could not kill her and they fled her wounded body, trembling in the kind of fear that only cowards know. Her voice became stronger and today she spoke before the United Nations about the power of education.

Sandra Fluke, despised and feared by the American version of the Taliban, a shadowy group who hijack the teachings of the Christ in order to use it for the judgement and oppression others in the name of an equally extreme theology, dared to testify before Congress about women’s health care and the correlations of public health care policy. She had been asked to render an expert opinion and though she spoke in a strong, articulate manner, it garnered her insults of “whore” and “slut,” from cowardly media pundits who twisted her words and opinions to seemingly be about unabated sexual appetite; a ploy that has been used against strong women since the middle ages.

Elizabeth Warren stepped into Congress, and just the way that the good ol’ boys club of pasty-white, elitist males would have it, she came with a broom and a dust pan in hand—only she intended to use them on the very factions that would scream “foul” if their boys club wanted to wreck the economy—she swept mightily and the cowards, who are not real men anyway, tremble in her presence…and she inspires all of us to sing.

It is happening everywhere. The single voice, once soft but strong is becoming a choir and Wendy Davis came with her own orchestra who joined in the mighty refrain of “you will not take away our rights. You will not hold us down.” While sometimes battles are lost, I cannot help but feel that the war is being won when I see Sarah Slamen chastising the ignorant and arrogant Texas legislature as they drag her away, because just like the Taliban and the old boys club, these people think they have all the control. Meanwhile her speech goes viral—gotta love the Internet—and television rolls out the red carpet so that the entire nation becomes aware of her, and she is able to finish her speech. And the collective voice grows louder.

Western fairly tales are filled with stories of Kings without Queens who must figure out a way to save their people. And the task is completed when a certain son returns with a wife—returns with the feminine missing from the picture that caused the people imbalance and famine and the need to be saved in the first place. I feel we are in the midst of living out that myth; of bringing back the feminine to a country so lost to Patriarchal values that it cannot even govern itself in the simplest manner. It still thinks that by oppressing more of the feminine, it is sure to heal itself.  Meanwhile the voice grows louder.

Oh there is healing coming. It is coming in the resounding and unified voices of women like Malala who will not be silenced; who put forth an argument of peace and compassion for all people. This is what women bring to the world and now most especially to this country—a message of equality, a message of strength. You cannot control me by controlling my body. You cannot control me by controlling my mind. You will never control my heart and my spirit is so damn strong that unless you get out-of-the-way and welcome the change that women are bringing, you are likely to get flattened into the ground by a million feet marching to the sound of the same drummer—the rhythm of a rising chorus.

This post was, in part, inspired this day by a fellow blogger whose work I admire and read frequently–Please enjoy her voice in our mighty chorus:  http://free2bleigh.com/2013/07/12/you-will-not-save-me/