And Where Do We Go Next?



The Maple’s leaves are pink and light green, curled in embryonic shape at the edge of the McDonald’s lot, someplace in Alabama. Tending to two traveling dogs, I’m a researcher of these hinterland edges. These are the places where swaths of green homogeneous turf meets bramble and wildflower punctuated with overgrown bits of trash. Here at the crease there seems just a whiff, a memory… of past identity?…History? Call it a sense of place of place that lingers at these edges.  Bulldozers with topsoil can only cover so much.  They are weak opponents for that which has lived here a long time. The land will always talk if you stop to listen. Dogs listen, even when I forget.

The golden arches don’t mean lunch to this contingent. McD’s food is untouchable, but the corporate penchant for cleanliness is not. They are the double blessings of good coffee and clean bathrooms without the dingy drama of gas stations.  The magical dog friendly edges are a reliable constant.  McD’s are a Postmodern, Post- Rockwell American icon, like it or not. If you want to know who really inhabits any small town, go look at the table in the back by the restrooms about 9 am any weekday morning.  They are the “real deal” and almost without fail, they give real smiles.



These generic oases are a banal replacement for the “search for shrubbery.” In my pre seat belt back seat, shared with three sisters, it was a quick, pink-faced dash to the tree line. When one became too old for the pink potty between the open car doors, there was no other recourse. There was no talk of ticks and snakes, and we could all identify poison ivy at 10 paces.  There was only blessed relief and guaranteed sniggering back at the car. I wonder if my interest in edges is an extension of my past forays into the “almost” wild?

It is warm and humid on this spring evening. A wave of thunderstorms are headed this way, but still a day away in car-time. Settled in to a comfortable car with snoozing dogs and spring colors, we move through the southern towns with appreciation for the soft green and buildings with well-worn edges.

Somewhere amidst the giant Live Oaks and the peanut stands we enjoyed a good conversation. The third party’s familiar voice emanated from the dashboard, the modern equivalent of coffee around a kitchen table. Talk of the past and talk of the future wafted through the car, out the windows and back in through the vents.



Past and future; they are the same, stories we tell about the edges,

before and beyond the only sure thing; the present.

It is all such a tricky business.

We know where we are headed, but where we are going is a mystery.


The Journey


The Journey

One day you finally knew what you had to do, and began,

 though the voices around you kept shouting their bad advice,

 though the whole house began to tremble

and you felt the old tug at your ankles.

“Mend my life!” each voice cried. But you didn’t stop.

You knew what you had to do, though the wind pried

with its stiff fingers at the very foundations,

though their melancholy was terrible.

 It was already late enough, and a wild night,

and the road full of fallen branches and stones.

 But little by little, as you left their voices behind,

the stars began to burn through the sheets of clouds,

 and there was a new voice

which you slowly recognized as your own,

 that kept you company as you strode deeper and deeper into the world, determined to do the only thing you could do,

determined to save the only life you could save. 

                                                Mary Oliver


I found this poem again today amidst the flotsam that is my cache of Resource Files. Under that name, I save bits of sacredness according to me, in image and words. Usually relevant to a specific time or place; some feel like lifeboats in a rough sea.

I looked into these files today looking for a landmark or lighthouse to find a path through these foggy times.

We have said goodbye to three parents, one per year and just when it seemed we were done, my Stepmother has died quietly this week. She exited this life unexpectedly and without witness of any of those whose lives were so altered with her entrance.

I was a sophomore in High School when my parent’s expectation of “until death do you part” fell to more modern moirés.  The explosion of divorces that rolled in with the 1970’s took most by surprise; our family was no exception.

It took a decade or so, but I did eventually recognize there was no “wicked stepmother” here.  She was pleasant and pretty, and anxious to please… please our father anyway. Theirs was a loving relationship steeped in a small town world and strict Baptist beliefs. It was a relationship that didn’t have enough space for everyone.wreath

Had another searcher gathered them, my Resource Files would have a physical dimension. This poem might be hand copied, lay in a file folder, held with a paper clip, topped with a post-it note inscribed with the date and source. The precise lines of the yellow legal pad would be ignored completely by the scrawling familiar hand.  The words would turn to cover even the vertical margin spaces.

In another time, these unfermented ideas and inspirations might be shoved into a thick book; tactile and heavy, holding faint odors of dark closets and seldom used hats. The words on the page tightly pressed to their brethren, waiting to be read again someday, by those who would find them, at just the right time.

But this is my life. It is 2014 and my inspirations are stored in a tidy, imagined file box named Apollo who lives in the upper right corner of my sleek silver MAC, a hand me down from the professional computer cowboy in the next room.

The thoughts on paper pages and the emotions expressed there no longer exist except in the liminal space between generations. The space, which right now, feels like the tiny breadth between the living and the dead. It is the map-less uncharted space that prompts this search through my files from the past. I am looking for reminders from my elders-like this poem, to understand how long “limbo” lasts.

For the uninitiated:

Liminality (from the Latin word līmen, meaning “a threshold”[1]) is the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of rituals, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the ritual is complete. During a ritual’s liminal stage, participants “stand at the threshold” between their previous way of structuring their identity, time, or community, and a new way, which the ritual establishes.

During liminal periods of all kinds, social hierarchies may be reversed or temporarily dissolved, continuity of tradition may become uncertain, and future outcomes once taken for granted may be thrown into doubt.[4] The dissolution of order during liminality creates a fluid, malleable situation that enables new institutions and customs to become established.[5] The term has also passed into popular usage, where it is applied much more broadly, undermining its significance to some extent.[6]



And we thought our sense of threshold was unique and personal?

As student of ritual, I am in the whirlpool, the paradox.  I am in the stillness, at the threshold, transitioning to my new status.

I will not be bringing the deep pains of the past with me.  Neither will the old fears fit in our new space.

We do however thank you all for the inspiration, the support and the love.

We will keep that in a safe place.  Blessings and Safe Journeys to all that travel.