A soap opera of epic proportions – part 2

As soap operas are wont to unfold, Dido finds out that Aeneas is poised to leave and confronts her husband in a raging, manipulative rebuke. “Oh heartless!” she exclaims, “Liar and cheat!” Who can blame her? Aeneas responds as any good warrior would, with a barefaced denial and a collection of reasons why he has to leave, well salted with his own devious guilt trip.

England 2012 ancient stone window YorkHe starts with compliments about her royalty, how much she means to him, and how her memory will never dim during his lifetime. (Hmmm.) He denies planning to sneak away (even as he was, in fact, sneaking). Then he says he was not really and truly married because the rituals were not fulfilled. (He was just a little bit married.) Aeneas invokes the horror of a paternal haunting (who can argue with a ghost?), his family obligations and his destiny to build a new Troy. He points out that Dido herself is a refugee escaped from her wicked brother, and asks her why she would begrudge him the same privilege. (One word: Cheeky!) His ace card: the god Mercury has ordered him to Italy – his new home, his new love. He blurts out to Dido, “I drank his message in! So please, no more of these appeals that set us both afire. I sail for Italy not of my own free will.”

Well!

What could Dido do but fling a curse at him, which her gods will be obligated to fulfill?

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Poor Dido was nothing but a burned-out shell after Aeneas sailed away. (Pier in Hastings, England, 2012)

And then send message after message via her sister pleading with him to stay, just a little bit longer (cue sad love song of your choice). Dido is shattered when Aeneas rebuffs it all. “So broken in mind by suffering, Dido caught her fatal madness and resolved to die.” And she does, in high drama, falling on a sword and expiring in her sister’s arms. The gods set her tortured soul free and off she flies to give Aeneas the stink eye as he sails away.

Dido would have undoubtedly agreed with Friar Lawrence as he chides young Romeo’s fickle heart saying, “Young men’s love then lies / Not truly in their hearts, but in their eyes.” William Shakespeare

 

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A soap opera of epic proportions

I had never read The Aeneid by Virgil. The title alone was enough to scare me off. But my literary and geographical horizons are expanding as I prepare for my study abroad class in September.

England 2012 Minerva side shot York
Minerva, Roman goddess of wisdom and the arts, perched above a street in York, England. 

Words in quotes are from The Aeneid (pronounce Ee-nid).

Book IV of The Aeneid finds the hero of the story, Aeneas (late of Troy) hanging out with Dido, the (soon to be tragic) heroine and queen of Carthage. Aeneas has lost a war but found refuge after sailing into Dido’s harbor and charming her royal socks off. Dido is all aflutter over her “princely soldier” and, at her sister’s urging, plans to marry Aeneas. She has big plans for him – to help her finish building her city and then defend it. She appeals to her gods to make it so. Meanwhile, one of her spurned suitors appeals to his gods for justice. Then the gods try to out-maneuver one another. (Cue the foreboding background music.)

Back in the earthly realm, Aeneas is a happy camper. The queen lavishes him with attention and gifts. He marries her (well sort of) in a cave after a storm and settles in to be her boy toy and build the city walls. But wait, down flies Mercury, that gilded messenger god, to chide Aeneas for becoming a “tame husband” and ignoring his destiny to build a new Troy in “the Italian realm.”

Aeneas does what any warrior would do. He pulls aside his leaders and tells them to “Get the fleet ready for sea, but quietly…” while he looks “for the right occasion, the easiest time to speak, the way to do it.” Denial on steroids: Aeneas believes he can sneakily pack up an entire fleet of ships without anyone noticing.

Is Aeneas really going to dump the queen? Stay tuned for part 2!

I’ll tell you a secret … about cement

I wonder what Roman engineers would say if they could see their buildings, roads, aqueducts, wharves and breakwaters still standing today. Maybe something like, “Dang, I knew that concrete was good!” But in Latin, of course.

England 2012 York Wall-Micklegate
Micklegate – part of the York Wall in York, England (2012)

About 2,000 years ago, Romans invented concrete using powdered lime, water, aggregate stone and volcanic ash. Across Europe, their structures remain as a testament to its hardness and durability. In this modern age, we often assume that the ancients have nothing to teach us. Not true of Roman concrete. Turns out it is better than Portland cement, the standard for the past two centuries. In 2013, an international team of researchers discovered the secret sauce to Roman mortar. A certain mixture, a certain kind of chemical reaction and a certain kind of tamping into wooden forms, produces a set harder than stone.

Not only that, the process may be more sustainable than modern-day methods. Who knew that making tons of Portland cement produces 7 percent of annual carbon monoxide emissions in the world? Not me. Read more on History.com.

I’ll be pondering the wisdom and inventiveness of the ancients this September as I trek around Rome admiring many glorious edifices clad in the arches, curves and domes much beloved by that civilization. My study abroad group will also visit Roman baths in an English city aptly named … Bath. It’s fun to begin the adventure learning about the insides of the outsides!

England 2012 York Wall-crop
Part of the medieval wall of York, England, built on top of a Roman wall (2012)

Wings in the wind

It’s happening again! I’m unfolding my adventure wings for an overseas trip. In September, my study abroad group flies away to the world cultural capital of London for a week and then our flock migrates to The Eternal City of Rome. Our intrepid group will trek around these global centers and take in sites of literary and artistic significance. This is a double class with a robust schedule of posts, so for those who already follow this blog, be prepared to learn a few things along with me!

England 2012 Rider close upFun factoids about London:

  • Founded by the Romans 2,000 years ago as Londonium
  • The world’s most-visited city as measured by international arrivals
  • Estimated population of 8.6 million; metro area totals 13.8 million
  • More than 300 languages are spoken within greater London
  • The London Underground (subway) is the oldest underground railway system in the world

Retrace the steps of an earlier visit to London and other parts of England by clicking on September 2012 in the right sidebar for a series of blog posts. They come complete with photos and humor. Hint: read from the bottom to the top.

Fun facts about Rome:

  • One of the oldest continuously occupied sites in Europe – a history spanning two and Stairs with ornamental grassesa half thousand years
  • The 14th most visited city in the world, 3rd most visited in the EU
  • Estimated population of 2.9 million; metro area totals 4.3 million
  • Hosts Vatican City, the only existing example of a country within a city
  • Birthplace of Baroque style and Neoclassicism (I know just enough about this to be dangerous)

 

A nest sent from heaven

wreath with pretend nestWhenever we visit my sister-in-heart, I look forward to seeing which cheery seasonal wreaths are decorating her entrance, one on each of the double doors. They remind me of her and how she swings open the portal to her home with a big smile.

Her smile had been put to the test, though. In 2015 she’d lost her husband of nearly four decades to cancer while she was recovering from major health issues. At his memorial service, Linda was pale and tired and I thought then about more hard things ahead for her. There would be many, but probably the toughest would be walking into their home. Widowed a few years before I met her brother, I discovered that a person’s presence fills far more space than the physical form.

Together with her kids, other family, and her friends she traveled the valley of grief. Faith was a shelter for her soul. A year after Greg’s death, she decided to sell their home – the place they had built together, where their three kids grew from teenagers to adults, where Greg nurtured the park-like grounds – the place she called Foggy Ridge. Another kind of grieving began.

On a day we arrived to help with preparations for the move, the doors were dressed with pinwheels of floral color, each sporting a cute pretend bird’s nest. While we were sorting things to keep or toss, Linda said, “Hey, did you see the extra nest in my wreath?” She went to the front door she keeps locked shut and to our amazement she showed us a real nest directly above the decorative one, blending into the design. I touched it gently and it was still wet – a circle of mud, grass and twigs. It had appeared, complete, the previous morning.

A day or two later, Linda posted a picture on Facebook. One luminous blue egg. Then another. And finally three perfect robin’s eggs perched in that avian orb. “Linda!” I posted, “You have eggs!” My heart skipped in delight. A blessing of encouragement from heaven, everyone agreed.

One egg

Three eggsTwo eggs

A few more days and another picture on Facebook: The chicks had hatched and sprouted feathers. It seems the timing of this miracle of new life was also perfect. The day she moved, she says the chicks were “all sitting in a tree with mom and dad singing a robin song.” Linda and her chicks fledged at the same time.

Feathers

Learn more about robins.

 

Where miracles are born

Yachats sunset

Thinking about a message from Tiffany Bluhm…

It’s the 80 percent that looks really good, she says. The part of me that works well. Ticks along like a nicely balanced pendulum in the predictable rhythm of my days. But it’s the other 20 percent of me that is like a wetlands of the soul. A place that absorbs the storms, gets all tossed around and then is drained.

I don’t like slogging through that marsh. It’s hard to walk through there because it’s muddy. There’s stuff growing but it looks kind of weird after the wind has calmed and the rain has settled back into the clouds. And yet that’s the section of my shoreline, apparently, that God is interested in. The crushed, messy part, strewn with the flotsam of days of tough sailing.

Lean into the pain, she says. That’s where the deep work is done. Where I can rise like a phoenix from the remainder, the wreckage that I keep tucked away because it doesn’t always work quite right. Little gusts of dysfunction escape once in a while and I say, hey, where did that come from? I am so OVER that. Thanks but I’d rather not lean into that, I say. Took me long enough to recover the first time around.

I know I can’t depend on an uncertain foundation. Can’t stay in a cabin I built in the marsh. I have to move inland, to solid ground. The only way through, the only path is straight across the mud. Through the barnacle-covered memories.  And weedy nightmares that cling to my ankles.

There’s somebody behind you, she says. Someone that needs what you have, what you can offer. Who needs the peace that accompanies a new journey of hope. Not the stuff YOU have planned – your tidy package is nice, it looks good, but it’s not the canvas God wants, she says. It’s that broken place, that place of shadows where miracles are born. Where the loveliness of your soul can burst forth and truly be seen. In the dark.

A time to see differently

20151107_12264020151107_111909Late autumn has its own special rhythm in the northwest, when, color by color, the trees bid farewell to their leafy crowns and stand in spare elegance.  The flashy maples go out with a riot of red, as if to say, we’re bad and we’ll be back! Others more modestly shed silver-backed discs or little yellow sails. Stately heralds of the season, they become all bark and branches reaching into the sky. Below them, the grass and sidewalk lay replete with a harvest of tints and shades and hues.

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In the park a few stoic walkers populate the paths. Migratory birds land on the lake, wild feathers tucked away for a short rest amid raindrops. I lean toward a hedge to take a picture of winter berries and a tiny bird flits through the branches squeaking out an equally petite chit, chit, chit, then quiets.

Each week since mid-September the earth has slowly, gently, shed its summer energy as it slips into wintery slumber. Perhaps I am a devotee of fall because it feels so much like sanctuary. A place without too much but just enough. Ungarlanded and yet comfortable in its own lovely way.

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Fall reminds me that my soul craves a place to retreat and reflect, to listen for that other voice, the one that restores and encourages and guides. A refuge where the spiritual part of me can just abide without a to-do list. Where the heart can call out to heaven and feel power, hope, love, curiosity.

In the fall, the trees give us new eyes. It is a time to see differently. To walk more slowly, finding answers, or perhaps more interesting questions, in our steps.

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Postcards from the park

20150404_125425The sun called me out for a walk today and my feet took me to Gene Coulon Park. It’s a place for walkers. No animals and no bikes. While I am an animal lover and I think bikes are cool, it is great to stroll and not have to worry about fangs or whirling spokes. Everyone ambles along the lakeside at their own pace, frequently passed by joggers in all kinds of healthy living gear. I am sure everyone’s arteries are greatly enhanced by their fluorescent sneakers. Strolling toward the park entrance, I put on the brakes to enjoy the siren call of rhodie trumpets.

20150404_122649At the park, I admire remnants of an old pier marching alongside a new one. Then a small gaggle of domestic geese, trying out the spot usually occupied by Canada geese, taking a walk on the wild side.

20150404_122734I look for the turtles that usually emerge from the mud in springtime to sun on the partially submerged logs off the lake shore, but they must still be slumbering in the depths.

There’s a sailing club at this south end of Lake Washington and I have made many photos of their little crafts bobbing in the water. Today the clouds are bobbing overhead as pretty as a dream.

Wandering along on a spring day in the park would hardly be complete without coming across a wedding party, adding Technicolor dresses and lovely tresses to the greenery. All of us in jeans and T-shirts stop a minute to enjoy the scene … I’m glad for them that it’s20150404_123439 not raining.

Around the corner I find a solitary sailor perched on a rock, much better than a turtle.

20150404_123654A field of daisies has popped up and I brave the very wet grass to take in their pungent fragrance of newness.

It’s a day of tapestries, the kind that a park encourages, with life flowing along the paths and roadway in full regalia. Around the curve and along another pier, there is a group of guys who’ve launched a squadron of model boats. They appear to be racing but are silent as golfers, focused on their marker buoys in the water.

20150404_124143I linger to watch a little crew of ducks in the midst of the sails. They are slightly alarmed but stick together, paddling and keeping their distance from the unknown intruders.

20150404_123837There’s a sculpture of walkers at the entrance to the park and now and again, someone dresses them for the seasons. Now they are kitted out in Easter bonnets, or so it appears to me.

20150404_124926It’s been a rich hour and my busy week is far behind me, drifting away on the clouds and rippling lake waves.

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The moments before spring

Each day a IMGP4029moment before spring bursts into view, the earth exhales a few more blossoms, some leafy buds, while birds give song to that little hope, the one that takes root in March looking past April for May, for warm, soft air and open windows and skies that put robin’s eggs to shame.

Flickers clatter against the metal chimney flue and black-capped midgets call chick-a-dee-deeIMGP3941-dee-dee , hopping through petals fallen by a rainstorm. In one tall pine a glorious eagle eyes the lake’s watery world, watching for a flash of scales. Canada geese, itinerant wanderers, graze along, looking perfectly at home across the border.

We visited Mukilteo Lighthouse Park pressing through a watery, grey day, convinced that soon we’ll be tucking away warm jackets but glad we have them today. A few other sturdy folks stroll around the small park, as the ferries come and go with a rhythm that feels like the tide, washing in, washing out, carrying cars, people and their dreams and worries.

IMGP4124We find tulips in well tended gardens and soak in the color, contrasted against the monotone clouds. Hubby takes a photo of a marooned kite leaning on a chimney of the lightkeeper’s residence and I suggest naming the photo Unplanned Layover.

Along the beach, someone has lit a fire pit and we stand in the warmth, a little unwilling to admit we still crave the smoke and cinders as we lean toward them

IMGP4135thinking of another, kinder season.

Finally, we head up to the Red Cup Café where we find friendly if slightly forgetful service, steaming soup, homemade sandwiches with awesome bread, and a rustic, quirky atmosphere that feels like someone’s beach cabin living room. The room is filled with graying heads interspersed with the multicolored locks of youth, everyone involved in timeless conversation. Wide windows frame the bay below, cool and quiet, unwilling yet to release spring among us but unable to stop her cheery advance columns of blooms.

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