Friday, May 31, 2013

Fur Elise

Somewhere between Wyatt's birthday and today, Elise has grown.  I know this as fact.

On the other side of our garage, out near the old concrete pad that we use for composting and yard waste, I set up a zip-line about a year ago.  It starts about six feet up in one of the two remaining Chestnut trees and runs about twenty yards down to a lesser tree.  I built it in my typical fashion - hastily and in a moment of foolish determination.  I salvaged the runner chain we had used for Ada at one point in time, a thick, metal cable about the width of a drinking straw.  Then, in the late afternoon, I hacked away a few branches, pulled out a drill and bits and began burrowing holes into the meat of Chestnut flesh.  About fifteen minutes after Anna said dinner was on the table and about five minutes before the day lost the last of its light, I had managed to sink two hooks into the opposing trees and had made the metal cable a tight string of tension balancing above the ground.

The kids love the zip-line, and return to it fairly often - often enough to renew my sense of pride and fatherly satisfaction every other week or so.  When Elise made her first maiden voyage across the airy-expanse, she dangled and zipped the whole way, her feet never coming anywhere near the ground.  We had to improvise and arranged for a bucket to be placed on the other end, so that when she finally came to rest, she could tip-toe her way back down to earth, releasing the handles with a snap.  For the most part this worked, well enough at least.

Today, though, she didn't need the bucket.  Now that I think about it, she hasn't needed it for some time.  Not since Wyatt's birthday at least.  That's the last time I can remember her pointing her toes to the top of the bucket turned upside down - searching for a landing pad with her arms still stretched vertically, her body a dangling ornament.  Now, her legs float down to the ground and land softly on the grass near the other end.

But it's not just the zip-line that proves her growing.  For the last few days, Gramma Lis has been working on a nightgown for Elise, a garment she was constructing in her basement.  I knew of this project, but thought little of it.  It is not unusual for Gramma Lis to arrive late in the day with her own projects, although hers are better planned and not as hard on the body - typically new pajamas or dresses or shorts for the summer.  I thought this nightgown would be like the old pajamas, simple pieces sewn together from Anna's old t-shirts.  It was hardly that.

From her neck to the tops of her toes, Elise came out of her room dressed for bed in a soft, white gown with braided cuffs just past her shoulder, a braid of her pinned back to the right side of her head.  To top it off, she had put on a string of fake pearls around her neck.

She approached me in a manner that I can only describe as beloved and sure - walking towards me without saying a word and then standing assuredly as I lay on the couch, her chin just slightly turned up, her hands at her side, waiting to receive a gift.  It was a gift I freely gave.  "You look beautiful, sweetie.  Do you like your new nightgown?"

Still silent, she stood looking at me directly and smiled and nodded a yes.  I said, "Let me give you a hug before you go to bed."

Now, when she knows that she is lovable and feels special, she welcomes my offer and allows herself to be held much longer than is normal.  She is normally too busy or too distracted by some insect or drawing to sit long with me.  So, I treasured this hug - holding her in my arms and knowing that she was content to be held the same, knowing that life only gives such gifts for only the shortest season.

How many more years until I am a nuisance in her life?  How many more years until I become painfully human?  I care not.  That is for another time.  Today.  Well, today she knows that I love her, that she is loved by me not for her appearance but for being Elise.  She knows that she is lovable.  And it stabs me with joy and pain to know she knows that.  Don't we all want to know that?

What manner of man am I that my God is this good to me, that I might see blessedness sweep into the room and stand before me as I lay upon a couch?  Ah, I tremble.  I tremble.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Early Summer Vacation

My vacation ends today, a wonderful and much needed period of refreshment - including a great three day trip to Brown County, IN.  We spent most of it at home, though, working on little side projects and tending to the yard and garden.  We ate lots of ice cream; We enjoyed lots of fresh strawberries coming on strong in our garden.  Wyatt caught a few fish.  I put another 150 miles or so on my bike.  We spent about five cumulative hours in the indoor water park at Abe Martin Lodge located in Brown County State Park.  We bought both edible and inedible keepsakes from the tiny stores in Nashville:  peanut butter and Jack Daniels fudge; a double espresso and mocha creation known as the Sledgehammer; new belts and wristbands and barrettes of leather.  Anna and I built a see-saw for Elise's seventh birthday.  And we had two large family meals.  The first for Elise's birthday consisting of steaks marinated in rosemary and garlic as well as broccoli salad and completed by a white cake and white sugar frosting topped with more of those fresh strawberries.  The second on Memorial Day consisting of a full ham brined along with roasted cauliflower and fresh salad with pineapple, crystallized ginger and shaved almonds.  In other words, we lived bountifully and heartily.

Our trip to Brown County began on Wednesday, as we packed up Cooper's big suburban and wound our way down into the first hills and hollers of southern Indiana.  Last year, we made a similar trip around the same time of year: near the close of the school year but before the intensity of summer swim lessons and summer church programming picks up.  But last year we tried the hero's route:  camping the first two nights and finishing off the trip in a rustic cabin where we could finally shower and enjoy at least marginal air conditioning from a window unit that buzzed and hammered its meager production.  We learned our lesson from that experience, having arrived home even more exhausted than when we left and certainly at the point of getting on each other's nerves.  This year we choose the assurance of fixed accommodations and the easy entertainment of the water park in the lodge.  How much does peace of mind cost?  About $100 dollars more a night than tent camping is about where I would put it.

And so, even though the days were full, they were also tremendously enjoyable - giving ourselves over to only one thing at a time, moving from rest to recreation to work to feasting to rest again.  It is how I imagine life should be much of the time, and I am left wondering why mine is not more so.  The secret o' life, as Mr. Taylor says, "is in enjoying the passing of time," and that's what the greatest gift of this vacation was ... enjoying the gift of each day, singularly and simply.


Monday, May 20, 2013

Late May

Late May.  This is when life begins to feel like the initial plunge upon a roller-coaster.  You know, the one after the gears methodically pulled you up the steep incline - seemingly never finding its way to the top only to find yourself cresting the summit and immediately jerked along, ready or not.  Not too long ago, we were pulling ourselves through the last stages of winter, hoping for some return of green and life.  The cycle of school and jobs was becoming monotonous, and Anna and I were looking forward to being outside:  riding my bike, working in the garden, spreading mulch, beginning new crafts.  But now it has all hit us full force, and our hopes and the land's required tasks are only outpaced by the wild exuberance of our yard, the grass refusing to be tamed, the garden now filling out with food and weeds.  Today, Wyatt and Elise picked three handfuls of strawberries, and there will be at least a few buckets worth this year.

We are trying our best to stay ahead of nature's relentless encroachment this year.  We've already laid down five or six bucket-loads of mulch in various places, aiming to keep some of the weeds at bay.  A few weeks back, I finally dug out the rest of the old fence line in the blackberry bushes, pulled out all the dead canes, and tried to eliminate the wild rose bushes creeping in at the eastern end of the row.  Joe and Lisa seized upon the chance to further tame the madness and have mulched the area with load after load of grass clippings - a resource in abundance after the long and very wet spring.

Even earlier than that, back when the trees were still naked in winter, Anna had me trim some of our fruit trees, hoping to force more of its energy and nutrition into a smaller, yet hopefully healthier crop of pears and apples.  We've put mulch down around some of those trees, planted a new Bing cherry tree for Mother's Day, and marveled at the few small peaches already coming on Elise's tree in only its second season.  I would say we are cautiously optimistic we may actually have made positive steps with the orchard this year.

Anna just finished her first year of homeschooling Wyatt, as well as occasional instruction for Elise throughout the year.  They spent the last few weeks exploring the Roman Empire, including playing dress-up and play-acting in a toga.  Wyatt has been fascinated with Roman history, although perhaps not near as much as he has been with firearms and more modern weapons.  He has entered the stage where he is bound and determined to rid our property of all invaders, or to sneak around our place, running from tree to tree only to take aim at one of us or an unseen danger with whatever instrument of justice he is carrying in his hand.

For her own part, Elise is walking the yard carrying a stick - having decided it is a necessary deterrent to our last remaining rooster, a small black and white bird the kids call Zebra.  I guess a stick will do the job.  It wasn't my first choice.  Last Sunday when we came home from pizza up at the Cooper's, I handed Elise her plastic Lightsaber to fend off the rooster's aggression.  I watched with delight as she repeatedly chased the bird back into the black raspberry bushes - swinging the Jedi weapon wildly and free.

I begin a week of vacation today.  We have plans to travel to Brown County State Park on Wednesday and to spend at least two days there, perhaps three.  We've bypassed the heroism and ruffian ways of camping this year, having booked a room in the lodge with comfortable sleeping arrangements and immediate leisure with an indoor water park.  

I'm feeling a deep desire to get away and so am excited for the trip ahead.  I'm also looking forward to reconnecting more with Anna and the kids knowing there are large parts of them I've missed in recent months. 

On the other hand, I'm mindful of about twenty-five projects that I have not yet finished around this house, and another fifteen that need to be started.  That's the part that feels like I'm on the downward descent of what is sizing up to be a wild ride this summer.

And somewhere in the clutter of the garage is my bike ... okay, bikes:  the two machines of liberation I continue to exhume from the clutter - pushing away out onto the open road.  I have some hope to ride in RAIN (Ride Across Indiana) again this summer, and if I am to do that, I will need to increase the amount of time I'm already spending on a bike, which - frankly - sounds both too strenuous and selfish.