My partner & I used to listen to Garrison Keillor's Lake Woebegone radio shows, and still upon occassion turn to one another with a sigh and "it's been a quiet week here in....".
But it's been a jumbled week here at the forest's edge, and, as I knew would happen, our false spring is giving way, with snow expected tomorrow. Yes, the brave plum and cherry trees have innocently burst forth into bloom, and the bees are hopefully buzzing about still, but we have had frosty nights again.
The week began with a chair. But perhaps I tuned the universe to chair frequency a couple weeks ago, when my partner unwisely left me alone in a junk/antique/you guess what it is and you can have it/ sort of shop up north. He thought I'd confine my browsing to the bookshelves there, which were full of mouldering volumes and reader's digest condensed books and tattered romance novels. I did pick up a nice, worn book on Cromwell for him (partner loves history), but strayed to the other cold rooms, which were piled with plates and tools and boxes of torn lace and family photos and enormous, expensive, strange furniture. Giant dressers with elephants supporting them (carved elephants pretending to be dresser legs, that is). A swan embellished mirror. An old maple desk, with little compartments for stamps, and love letters, and pens.
And lots of chairs. Chairs in dining room sets. Chairs leaning crookedly against other chairs. And the chair, or, perhaps, The Chair. It was quite alone at the end of a long hall created by dressers and tables and boxes of stained damask. A small chair, in some dark wood, with graceful lines and a rose carved into its back. It had a faded, needlepoint seat, black having faded to green black, with faded pink and cream and lavender roses stitched on it. It was light. It was, curiously, inexpensive.
Did I need a chair? Probably not, I thought, and continued browsing while my heart mulled over that pretty, delicate bit of furniture. "It's lonely" I thought. "Probably it was part of a set or something, and is all alone now." I therefore convinced myself that the stray chair was in need of a bookstore home, and bought it quickly, along with that Cromwell book.
To my partner's everlasting credit he did not gasp as I showed up with a bit of furniture. And yes, we did need it; it looks very pretty near our gardening book section.
So, that was chair number one. And perhaps it was lonely, because last weekend some dear friends suddenly emailed me. We have this chair, said they, that we think needs to come be at your bookstore. It's brown. It is stuffed with down. It is in good shape.
I asked, hestitatingly, "is it really huge?" Oh no, said they. And then, cleverly, they added "It has quite a history. It belonged to a silent film star, a great beauty. And we just figured you need it now."
So this week began with a chair. The soft brown armchair sits near the metaphysics corner. Destiny the cat immediately figured it was a kind provision for her comfort, but she will let worthy browsers and readers settle in with her. Champ the pitbull also thinks it is a good thing, but Destiny doesn't share very well with him.
Katie chose that chair to sit in as she told me of my veteran friend Bobbie's last days. Bob was the veteran who had challenged me with tears in his eyes as I started my women in black vigils years back; the one who had confronted me with anger and anguish and eventually come to stand beside me, until his weakened condition made it impossible. He died, said Katie, in the same hospital in which he was born. Bob and Katie met during his homeless period, and eventually inherited my friend Red's camper, after Red's death last summer. They moved it to a friend's land, near a creek, where Katie put in a vegetable garden. She'll stay there, she says. Bob's ashes are in a veteran's cemetary down south now. "Hey, I really love you!" he used to shout out in the mornings, as he said nursing a beer and feeding the black birds "And the Lord loves you too, I know that!". Katie asked me to help her write the obituary; lately it has been an area in which my writing skills have been in far too great a demand.
Sara, my faithful women in black companion, cried when I told her; she didn't know him well but found him a loving street presence. "How's my vet these days?" she would anxiously ask, once Bob was off the streets. Sara doesn't cry easily either; her clear eyes have seen a lot of suffering in this world. But she's authentic, and I love that in her.
My silver haired friend May, wearing her cape and her sandals and her expression of urgency swirled in this morning early. "I didn't know who else to come to" she said. It is an opening statement I hear a lot through the months; it can precede a request for material help, or for information, or even for books. But May had had a vision, a premonition, a psychic moment, and felt impelled to share it safely. She began by telling me she sometimes has premonitions, and psychic understandings, and she never quite knows where to go with them. I'm afraid my selfish heart was sinking at this point, fearful she was going to tell me something dire about my family or my community, some terrible warning that might work into my dreams and nightmares. I settled to listen.
She had been sitting in her house when the vision came on. She was, she said, quite awake. Waking visions are rare for her, so she pays attention to them. There was, said she, a hole. And in the hole, a woman in a black garment. At first she thought she was seeing an Iraqi woman, or someone perhaps in Afghanistan or thereabouts, but the woman lifted her head, and she recognized her as Jill Carroll. She asked where she was, and the words "famous bluffs" came to her, as well as latitude and longitude. Looking at a map later she felt it was in the north west of Iraq, and not in Baghdad.
She felt fully convinced she had contacted Jill, or viceversa.
So we talked. Now, I don't discount visions or psychic things at all; I believe we live in a multifaceted universe and have only the slightest idea of the scope of everything. But dear May has also come to me with stories about how so and so in the community is one of the lizard people, or how the universe is imploding yesterday.
I asked "are your visions literal? because, you know, sometimes I have strong dreams but often words are hints, and pictures are like riddles in them". She agreed, and we talked about the dimensions of "bluffs" in this context. And she said "you know, I grieve hard for all the people in prisons, whoever they are, it's not that I think only this one person should be helped--but I needed to share this with someone who wouldn't laugh at me". She asked, is there any way you can send this out a bit further, maybe anonymously, out into the world.
I told her I'd think about it.
How did she look? I asked.
"She was fine, not dehydrated. Her face was shining, actually. You know, on a spiritual plane I'm not concerned--all will be well there. But I get stuck in a human place. I don't want to read the news tomorrow and discover my vision was correct and I never shared it first".
And then, my friend Ben showed up. Champ was in the brown chair. Perhaps he is the reincarnation of a beautiful silent film star. Ben took the heavy wooden captain's chair and I perched on my delicate chair with the carved roses to hear his stories. Ben knows more than anyone I have met about the lore of the hills, the Indian connections, the old settlers, the nooks and crannies of this small universe. He has made friends with some of the healers and medicine men of the various dispersed tribes; he has attended ceremonies rarely witnessed by outsiders; he has gathered, over many decades, a storehouse of unique information. He also loves plants with the passion I do, and on one spring day some years ago descended upon the store to take me away to the mountains to the far east of our territory, where I had never ventured, but where one of the surviving members of one of the tribes wandered as a girl with her mother and her baby brother, fleeing the soldiers who had destroyed her village. The girl survived and lived a long, long life-long enough to be interviewed by some of the anthropologists in the 1930's. Ben had found the lost interviews, and had traced her family--there are still people carrying her genes. Because it was spring, and the rare flowers were in bloom, and because he felt I needed to see with my own eyes the area that girl had walked, we went. His wife came too (my one sucessful venture in matchmaking) but wasn't so keen on clambering the rock strewn mountain slopes to peer at flowers.
At any rate, Ben had just found one of his own forgotten notebooks, full of language notes. There were a number of distinct languages spoken in our hills, by the various people here. He told me that the highest mountain, visible from everywhere in my region, was known by a name that means "the stars rested here", by a people whose name means "we came from the stars".
But the best thing he told me was of the resurgence of language studies amonst a tribe a bit to the north, where he has spent a lot of time listening to the elders, learning words and cautions. This group now and then dances to keep the world together, an admirable task,I think.
The thing that so delighted me, however, that felt so perfect, was that the elders of that tribe cautioned him "This language, our true language, must not be spoken anywhere beyond this valley".
I think I gasped and clapped my hands. "That's so wonderful!"
Imagine a language so true, so sweet, so connected to the rocks and trees and hills that it must not be breathed outside. The truest of mothertongues.
Maybe it's just that I like secrets; secret gardens, secret drawers, secret rooms--and secret languages.
Or the balance--to share a lot, but to keep a kernel sweet and hidden.