Dear Reader - These stories are from a place on my Life Map - a country, if you will , that laid claim on me. A place I lived, explored and have come to honor deeply for the many gifts it has brought me. Some will call this place Northern Wisconsin, some will call it The Land of Loss or Grief or more apt, Grace. It is all of those and more...
Each of us has a Life Map marked with the paths and/or superhighways we have walked, where Xs mark hidden treasure and where great tracts of wilder-ness ebb into the sprawl of metropolis.
For now I call this place Wisconsciousness...
If you are still reading, thank you.
Sublime ~ 1 : to cause to pass directly from the solid to the vapor state and condense back to solid form. 2 : to elevate or exalt especially in dignity or honor. 3: to render finer. 4: to convert into something of higher worth.
Driving north beneath bronchial branches of oak, and every green cones of balsam and pine, the land was waking, kissed by both frost and thaw. April is a mixed bag. I was thinking about the Irish poet John O’Donahue’s words, “When we approach things with reverence, great things decide to approach us.” These past months the forces of love and grief had rearranged my life and his quote had become a mantra to the swing of my days.
Today was a day to honor the hawk poised to feast, and to revere the soft velvet nubs of the willow. It was a day to honor two lives, two passages. It was also a day to render the leaden weight of grief into something fine spun, something golden.
Today traveled further north, slipping out of Wisconsin along the vastness of the Big Lake and into Minnesota. Eventually I crossed the Crystal River pulling to the verge where a few other cars sat. In concert, doors opened and a brood of children and their parents spilled out. Gathering in the matted, spent grass we greeted one another as the wind sucked each ‘hello’ and ‘how are you?’ upwards into the wide infinite blue bowl of sky.
This small cove was Mike's favorite place on the Northshore and today we would cast his ashes into the breadth and depth of these hallowed waters. We would also scatter the ashes of his infant grandson.
Up through last year’s growth of grass, we ambled, booted, yet buoyant in the strong April sunshine. The parched dead blades rustled as we passed, sounding of the sea. I couldn’t help thinking this grass, last summer’s grass, had grown lush, while Mike had lived. My hand reached down, touching the colorless leaves, and breaking off a piece I brought it to my lips.
There, in the shade of cedars, at the cliff’s edge we clustered, our eyes squinting down to the luminous too bright water. Someone tied a colorful Guatemalan scarf to a translucent birch and it flapped into the east. Mike’s four year old grandson had the chosen honor of smudging our rite with sage. His face was solemn and his blond dreadlocks coiled out from a blaze orange hat, as he proudly circled us. The smoke curled around pikes of sun sluicing from the cedar boughs, like vines, calling in our ancestors, bring the ever present numinous to the forefront.
Making it all Holy.
Mike’s daughter and son stood near the cliff’s edge back lit by sunlight. The rest of us stood at a distance holding tight to the warm bodies of squirming children. His daughter came up to the lip of land and released her baby’s ashes to the wind. The blue of the sky caught and held the pale ash ‘til gravity brought it down, while her three children, while we all, watched, witnessing. Her eyes, so like her father’s, closed, her body swayed like a silver birch. Even though I didn’t know this strong woman well (we had met once - at her Father’s funeral), I felt an abiding love for her. As if all the love I had felt for her Dad easily transferred, unconditionally to her. After she finished only the sound of wind moving wood and water filled the space between us.
Mike’s son stepped up, burying his hands into a deer hide pouch, drawing out handfuls of ash. As his palms opened like stars and the wind surged scattering fragments in all directions. Dusty-ash remains blew into my eyes, powdering my lips. Licking, I drew the fine dry grains into my moist mouth, tasting. It was sacrament. Handful after handful arced beyond the edge of light and vanished. For a timeless time we all watched, the scent of cedar and water filling our lungs.
It was then I heard it, a sound threading through the branches, someone whistling a lively tune. Slowly I looked left and right, seeking the source. I saw no one whistling. The sliver of pebbled beach below was empty. No one seemed to notice the song as it waltzed through the tangle of birch. And then, as suddenly as it had begun, it stopped.
Hesitantly and a little perplexed, I drew my attention back to Mike’s children and their offering. A fine dusting of pewter, his shining bones covered their clothes. The wind had stopped its righteous rant and one by one each child was led to the ledge to look beyond. The rest of us followed. At the lit rim, gazing into the waves I saw Mike's ashes; gray and plentiful, suspended, like a billowing cloud in the clear water. And there riding on top of his ashes, held by what was left of his body, the wisps of the baby’s whiter ash. Breathless and blown open we watched the two particled bodies swirl in the wet, in the great body of this Mother Lake before disappearing down into the her vast silent belly.
The brilliance of sunlight on the water, blurred by my salt tears, was blinding. I felt my feet plumb down into the sandy soil. Felt the gritty ash on my face, the smell of pine and sage and something else, something beyond my senses, something beyond words. Something like – it was knowing that all of this; water-air-sun-spirit-bone-light-grace-flesh-love-creator-nothing was all the same. All the same. Quite simply the same.
Eventually, we all pulled back from the edge, back to form and distinction, altered. We made our way, goat-like down the rocky, shifting slope to the shore. Mike’s daughter went off by herself. The children, perfect, innocent barometers, exploded into the fierce play of throwing rocks, and running with the wind.
I sat on the shingled shore in an exquisite in between’ness. A divine mess. I looked out to the line of blue greeting blue on the horizon. A heart rock found its way between my fingers. I thought, he is now part of that water, he is of the lake. I considered striping and going in, but the wind pulled that and all other thoughts from my head and my body folded down onto the sun-warmed rocks.
Later some of us gathered around a small fire, feasting on nuts and hummus, speaking of seeds and soil.
I remembered the whistled tune and asked if anyone had heard it. They all shook their heads except for Mike’s friend, who said she had heard whistling, but hadn’t known where it was coming from.
“It was kinda strange.” She said.
This comment/question mark hung in the air until our collective attention was drawn back to the shore, to water and the horizon.
Twenty-four hours and many miles later, back home by my cabin fire, I finally spoke with Mike's daughter.
I called to see how she was doing, eventually asking if she’d heard the whistling up on the cliff while they had scattered their Dad’s ashes. “No.” She hadn’t heard any whistling and though through the phone I could feel her smiling, saying that her Dad loved to whistle and was actually really good at it.
There was a pause as we both sat digesting this. Then a slow blush of goosebumps bloomed on and in between us. I heard her inhale. And in a simple, matter of fact way, yet brimming alive with awe, she stated simply what we both knew, “It was him.”