Manna Meditations, Day 3
No words … 💛
Manna Meditations, Day 3
No words … 💛
Manna Meditations, Day 2
Blue Ridge Parkway. Black ribbon of road:
I let the car swoop and dive through the curves, trying not to look at the vistas.
The views: it’s why people come here, you know. There are overlooks every few miles where you can pull your car off the road and stand in awe. The valleys unroll before you, cloudswept, for fifty miles or more.
But this is not what I have come for.
There was a time in my life when I feared winter. It closed over me every year like a black curtain, walling off the light. Suddenly I’d find myself in a small dark room, with a darker presence hunching in the corner.
In those winters, all I could see was ugliness. Shade after shade of dark.
But now, I stop at the overlooks and scuff around in the weeds, my soul flooded with wonder.
I am not looking at the vistas. I’m looking at tufts of long winter grass, waving like soft pale feathers against the sky. I’m marveling at the still-brilliant green of the moss. Finding elegant lines, cracked into boulders, or water-carved into soil.
Something has changed in me. That I have eyes to see all this? I call it Miracle.
On an overlook, my iPhone dies, so I cannot take more photos. That’s all right, I think. I breathe in the frozen air, and with it, the initimacy of this moment… just the mountains, the Maker, and me. I walk down the slope, looking toward Poages Mill. Stretch out a hand and clutch a frozen stalk of frost-killed Daisy Fleabane, its once-white petals now crystallized into tiny copper stars. A constellation in miniature. And suddenly I am overcome by the idea that this dry dead stalk is just as lovely as the flower in full bloom.
A different kind of beauty. Subtle as a whisper. Pale as winter light.
God, I think, give me new eyes and ears, out here in the quiet.
I climb the hill to the car. Fire the engine. I trace the Parkway back the way I’ve come, not looking at the peaks, but listening to the wind around the car as I swish and swerve down the spine of the mountain.
Ah, Lord. Sometimes your voice is nothing but a whisper… And it is good
Manna Meditations, Day 1
I walk into the woods, looking for the Maker.
It has been a long time.
Today the path is tiger-striped with hard gold light, the long shadows of trees falling in bars over the ridge. The air is so cold you can feel it taking up space in your lungs, feel the ice of it in your nose when you breathe.
I am listening for the voice of the Maker, and I am looking for Beauty.
Beauty: this is my daily bread. And lately, I’m believing that in this season, the bread is more like manna… Manna, a mystery of a gift, dropped in the wilderness where I might find it.
So I follow the trail of breadcrumbs up the ridge line, winding my way up staircases of rock, ladders of fallen limbs. I walk slow, stopping every twenty yards or so to bend low and look … to photograph the trembling skeleton of a fallen leaf, or white veins tracing through old boulders. The light is so hard and so solid that it catches in everything, outlining every pebble and snatch of pinestraw, throwing every fallen feather into bas-relief…
And I am thinking…
There was a time (hear me) when I fancied myself a creator. A maker of beauty. A crafter of lovely words, lovely lines. And maybe I *was* that… maybe one day I’ll be that again.
But for now, in this season, I am here in the woods, wanting to make … nothing.
I am here not to make, but to find.
I am a wandering pilgrim, finding the promised land right here, in this wilderness of small things. I don’t call myself Planter, or Reaper … I’m Forager. Finder. Collector of breadcrumbs, of broken bits of beauty.
And this is its own kind of feast – believe me.
And so, for the next 40 days – six days a week, with a sabbath rest for good measure – you’ll find me here, in quiet meditation on my daily Manna. I’ll share small bits of loveliness I never made, but merely discovered along the path.
Wherever I’m going, I know there is goodness here… Maybe you’ll come, too.
From now until January 1, three times a week I’ll be sharing with you some of my all-time favorite posts — you might think of it as a curated collection of the Best of Alpha // Whiskey // Foxtrot.
In between, there’ll be space for new photos, new words and new wonder: a mingling of the old and the nascent.
The post that follows was originally published on December 2, 2014, and if I had to pick just five posts to share with you from my little blog’s history, this would be one.
Three weeks ago I wrote you a poem – or something a little bit like one. And I could have just posted it here, but something told me it needed to be delivered to the world in a different way.
It needed to be left somewhere, somewhere where everyone or no one might read it.
And then it needed to wash away, preferably in the rain.
I wanted it to be ephemeral. (I am nothing if not full of foolish ideas).
On Sunday, I bought a box of chalk, and I put it in my pocket. I went into the woods, to the ravine by the river, and I chalked out the poem on a column under the bridge: one stanza for each side of the piling.
I chose this place because it was beautiful, but also lonely. Also because there was graffiti there already, and it seemed like this might be a way to leave hope where less-than-hopeful things had been written before.
My husband watched as I ground the chalk into the concrete, the fine white dust settling on my sleeves. He took pictures. I’m not sure what he thought of all this craziness. Business as usual, I suppose. And then it was finished. I went over the lines harder, trying to make sure the words could be read. I went side by side, appraising. It was enough. Take a moment, if you have one, and read this slow. This is what I wrote for you:
In my mind at the time, this was where this story ended. I stood looking at what I’d just wrote — those little words, not profound, but playful, almost. Playfulness can be a kind of courage, and that day it left me feeling peaceful, in a way I hadn’t before. I’d finished what I’d come to do.
I turned to go, began to walk back up the hill out of the ravine. That was when a voice stopped me: “Ma’am? Can I ask what you folks are doing here?”
I looked up. A park ranger stood in front of me, appraising. He had a handsome face. Youngish. You could have called him boyish, and maybe even sweet, in a different context, without that serious look, as if he was waiting for us to bolt.
“I was just writing a poem down there.”
“On the bridge there? I’ll have to ask you to show me.”
This was when I realized that the story I’m telling you was going to take a different turn.
The ranger explained, with careful politeness, that because the area was part of the National Forest, what I was doing was not only illegal, but an offense that could result in arrest — it didn’t matter whether I was writing poetry or profanity, in chalk or in paint. Even chalk poems, he said, would probably invite more of the real graffiti — which actually made perfect sense, when he put it like that. But he’d let me off with a warning, if I washed off all the words.
“Sure. I understand.”
There was a single moment then — just the briefest span of time when the light shifted over his face, in a way that could have been real or imagined — when I thought he might change his mind. Might let the chalk be until the next rain. But then the moment passed, and I accepted its passing. I stopped, and took a breath. Decided to say something just a little bit brave. Might as well.
“Don’t you want to read it first?” I gave him a small, lopsided smile. “At least someone will.”
He said yes.
I watched him. That polite, professional set to his shoulders as he moved down the hill to the column. I had the feeling — I couldn’t shake it — that he was waiting for me to run, or curse him out, or lay down in the leaves kicking and crying like a child. But of course none of that happened, and instead he and Thomas walked slowly around the column, reading. And you know what? When he got to that last panel — SPRING! — he laughed. In relief, perhaps, but also, something like delight. Which was beautiful, I’ll tell you. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in awhile. After that he walked us back up the hill to his car, took our IDs and wrote up a warning ticket. He sent us back down again with a bottle of water, to wash the concrete clean. In just a few minutes, this is what you would have seen on that column:
When it was done I stood before those blank planes of concrete, looking and breathing, trying to understand the message that was written on them now. Because I knew that there was one.
All week long I’ve kept going back to that moment, trying to hear what this whole story was really about. Because the world has a way of telling the truth about itself, if you take the time to listen.
So I listened.
And I let this place here — this little place where I leave words for you — go silent. After a few days, this is what I heard:
When all was said and done, the words that were attempting to speak a little beauty and goodness and light into the world? Those were written in chalk, and washed away. And the real graffiti remained.
Please hear me: this is not a lament.
If we are going to live in this place, this planet, then we are going to have to accept a certain truth: the words that speak darkness and doubt have staying power. They’re everywhere, and any ordinary fool can read them.
But the truth-telling voices — those are ephemeral as a glint of sun on the antenna of my car. And if we want to hear those words, we have to be awake.
We have to roam the earth with our souls wide-open as wounds, and sometimes, that’s what it feels like.
Understand me — please — understand me: This is not a complaint. It’s an invitation.
So here’s my promise to you today. I am going to write all winter. I won’t write in chalk on a bridge in the National Forest, or anywhere else that could land me in jail, but I will try to find spaces for my words where they can be found.
And then where they can disappear.
I am going to write quick and nimble, or slow and solitary and serene. I am going to write almost-poetry and long lank prose and little shards of thoughts that you can close tight in your palm. I am going to do this so you can believe that there could be crocuses curled warm and safe under the frozen earth, waiting to open to light.
Maybe — just maybe — you can believe there are such things curled up in your own soul, too.
Here’s to whatever comes next. ❤
(Sometimes it’s tough to feel at home in your own city. Which is why I’ve given myself a challenge: each day, for forty days, I’m going to find *one* thing I love about this place. And then I’m going to tell you about it. If you want to follow my journey, start here. Today is Day Eighteen.)
Yesterday, I went down to the river to think.
Rivers are good for thinking, like trails are good for thinking. But while a trail, with its steady upward climb, always seems to lead me toward something — a revelation, a sense-making moment — rivers are about what’s washing away.
The Roanoke River winds quick and green through this town. It flows in loops and whorls past parks and greenways, then curls close to kiss the edge of Old Southwest. From there, it zags east. Seaward.
If you were following the river just a little ways past the city itself, you’d come to an old dam with what looks like a sand-colored stone house perched atop. Just a little farther and the river would dip beneath the Blue Ridge Parkway, the bridge of the highway floating high, high above.
Now come to the river from a different angle. From the parkway itself. Drive until you reach the bridge, and pull your car over into a narrow slice of parking lot just at the edge of the ravine.
Walk down the trail to the water.
It’s a quiet river, but like all rivers, it speaks:
Let it go.
Yesterday, I walked down that path as stormclouds gathered above.
I stared up at the bridge looming high and white above me. In this light, its tall supports reminded me, somehow, of gothic flying buttresses.
It was just an overpass in the woods, but for a moment it felt like a roadside cathedral.
I climbed down the rocks where water rested in pools, like tiny mirrors full of sky. I sat down at the river’s edge. Watched its greenness furl past.
Water under the bridge.
And I thought about how the water passes under the bridge and flows away. Flows away, but it does not disappear.
The water surges toward the sea. Freezes into ice. Sublimates into cloud, settles as frost, as dew. And maybe this is what redemption means: not an erasure, but a transfiguration.
The water that once nearly drowned us falls later as rain, and greens the earth.
We walk out into the rainstorm with faces and palms upturned, and drink.
I waited by the water until my heart begin to release what it needed to release. I waited until a wind kicked up, coming through the trees. Until the clouds opened.
Back inside my car, I watched the rain run down my windshield, silver and gleaming. And I began to believe that the water under the bridge could be transformed into something beautiful. That I might make it beautiful.
Which is what a river does.
And what Art does.
And what the Divine does.
I went home, and I wrote.
(Sometimes it’s tough to feel at home in your own city. Which is why I’ve given myself a challenge: each day, for forty days, I’m going to find *one* thing I love about this place. And then I’m going to tell you about it. If you want to follow my journey, start here. Today is Day Thirteen.)
I did a lot of pondering, searching and stretching this week:
I looked for magic in the spiderwebs on my lawn.
I hiked a trail with a friend and questioned why I can’t stop photographing in black and white.
I stepped out of my comfort zone to shoot photos in color — and received an unexpected blessing from a stranger at Century Square.
On October 31 I watched the costume parade pass down the front walk and took time to be grateful for my very special neighborhood.
I found a moment of exhilaration on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
And as of today: I’m ready for more.
Here’s to Week Three!