Wake Up

IMG_0038Wake up. Wake up. Stay awake because “you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cock crow, or in the morning. May he not come suddenly and find you asleep. What I say to you, I say to all: stay awake.” –Mark 13:33-37

Richard Rohr wrote about this in his meditation for Monday, December 10. He urged us to get away from a fear based interpretation of this passage. He doesn’t think it means we should tremble at Jesus return to earth or that our death could catch up to us at any time and we’d better be ready, or else. He says it doesn’t mean “…Jesus is saying,’You’d better do it right, or I’m going to get you’…”

This fear based Christianity has seeped into my soul so deep it runs along my bones. I was a toddler when I heard thunder from the preacher’s mouth: If you were the only person who sinned, Jesus would have been tortured to save you, just you. If the communists came to your church and held up a gun, shouting, “Renounce Jesus or live,” what would you do? If a person dies without walking the aisle, accepting Jesus into their heart, they will go to hell. You don’t want them to ask at judgement why didn’t you tell me? One of the first things I remember is the picture I made for sin: a black icicle.

I’ve eased away from much of this, but the residue, pretty thick, remains. It saps my joy. I look over my shoulder wondering if people, if God love me like they say they do. I know I can’t even make it to the basics of following Jesus: feed the poor, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner. I’m weary of the challenge, the never being enough, no matter how much I bless my enemy. I just want to find my way to joy, to gratitude for the good things I’ve been given.

Sometimes the pain wells up so I pack it with reading Facebook first thing, last thing, in between thing in my day. I think bad thoughts–thoughts welling up from my fear–I ruminate, and rumination leads to no good thing except losing a day to sadness or worry or frustration. So instead I lose whole days by sliding statuses, clicking articles on my phone. My good thoughts move away like horses to the far end of the pasture. Sometimes the fence breaks and I lose them, even though I live in a place that pleads with me to come, look, really look, and hear and smell and taste and feel with my skin and soul.

One morning the moon was rising in the east, a thin sliver and Orion was throwing his hip over the horizon in the west. Smoke billowed from Byron, the nuke plant. The stars ranged overhead, clear as you’d see them in the Adirondacks. The horses waited in the barn. I thought to myself why, why don’t I come out, here now, while the day is edging towards dawn, when the film between this world and the other thins?

One evening, the sun was gone, but the sky glowed. I poured old, hay scattered water out on the grass. Both mares watched me behind the gate. And late, late, when I walked the dogs the last time, I walked into the field, the ground rising up to my feet, almost as if it were breathing, my ankles wobbling, as I watched the lopsided moon, orange, hanging in the eastern sky, the Pleiades bleared above me. Think, think on this as you go to sleep, I thought.

Sometimes it can be too much to bear. Too much, so I stay inside.

Rohr continues in his meditation, “You see, Christ is always coming; God is always present. It’s we who aren’t! We’re always somewhere else, at least I often am. Jesus tells us to be conscious, to be awake, to be alert, to be alive. It’s the key to all spirituality, because that is the one thing we aren’t. Be honest. Most of us live on cruise control. We just go through the motions of our daily routines. We wake up and we repeat what we did the day before, and we’re upset if there are any interruptions.”

I do see. Christ does come when Night picks up his toy and prances, looking at me with bright eyes. Play with me, he says. I reach down and he turns his head. We dance a bit as I pretend to grab for it. Old dog Booker bows and hops after it if I toss it. But I don’t lose myself in the game. I’m not good at play.

Christ comes when Onyx hops into my lap while I’m planning my classes, nudging himself into my lap. Or when he jumps on the bed, knowing I’m awake and dips his head into my hands for petting, his smooth black coat, reaching to my hand.

He comes when Tessie drops her head to the floor, ears forward, saying look, look. And when we are walking along the trail and I have to drop into my body all the way to my toes in order to feel her body, to feel what she is telling me.

He comes when Morgen reaches around and grabs my treat bag, yanks it, because I’m somewhere else in my head and she is reminding me to come back, to come present. It comes when she stops while we’re driving, all the way up front, she feels my mind go blank through the reins. And I have to come back to feeling her in my hands, and watching her body, and speaking to her, telling her how good she’s being. All the while the world around us radiates glory.

He comes when Bruce hops out of the carriage to stand by Morgen’s head, show her that the chaotic barnyard is nothing to be afraid of. He comes when Bruce opens his arm to me in the morning or evening or at noonday and draws me up close.

***

If you’d like to read more of my writing, my novel, The River Caught Sunlight is available on sale for $.99 until the end of December at the following places: iBooks, Kindle, and Nook. It is also available in paperback from Barnes and Noble, Amazon  and Books A Million.

 

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River Caught Sunlight Ebook is on sale

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Not to sound cheesy or anything but ebook version of The River Caught Sunlight has just dropped in price to $.99. That’s less than a dollar. If you’ve been curious about my book but holding off, here’s your chance to purchase a copy for less than a dollar. Click on the following links: Kindle or Nook or ibooks to purchase a book.

Of course the print version is available at: Barnes and Noble, Amazon and Books a Million.

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Where the Sun Doesn’t Shine or Does it? A Nod to Advent

11-20-14_Katie_#2

Photo by Russell Mothkovich

When I looked at this picture and looked again, I saw a woman with a  cavern gaping inside her, and not one full of crystals that is so hot humans can only visit with oxygen suits on, no not that one. The cave I’m talking about is simple, full of moss, and a trickle of water that carved it, and the smell of rock and dirt. Rock has grown from the ceiling to the floor, the floor to the ceiling. There is no light.

It is the cavern that my aunt talked about when she said “Your need is too great” when my brother died and I was grieving. I had confronted her sister for not taking time to talk to me on the phone, for not making another time, in a letter that was a scream of grief. She felt she needed to rebuke me with the lie, that haunts me like a demon, when I have slipped into darkness, and have sidle up to the Jesus Prayer for survival: Lord be merciful to me a sinner.

If a person’s need were too great, Jesus wouldn’t be separating sheep from goats on whether we give a cup of water to the thirsty. Parker Palmer says that sometimes if we can’t help we can trust the community to step in, to fill the need. This is true. It is something I have seen happen when I could not help. I see now, I see how this is merely my aunt’s comment on herself, that her need was too great to offer even something small, a kind greeting, a note sending love. Being one with this gaping need, I tell you, that a note, a kind word, something that might seem like no big deal, can count for everything.

The cave I’m talking about is a hollow cupped in a mountain, holding space in the middle of rock, the weight so heavy we can’t fathom it bearing down, but still, still the hollow remains, and maybe a trickle of water.

But then can’t that emptiness, that deep insecurity, that place where the sun doesn’t shine, be turned into a good thing? Christians have been saying from the beginning that we must be emptied, poured out, we must take ourselves out of the way, so that God can sweep in, his light shine, from us. Can’t we climb into this emptiness, into its mystery and make something more whole than we are?

My brother used to crawl belly down through caves, his carbide lamp flickering. He invited me once to crawl through a hole barely larger than my hips, to find a big open room on the other side. No, I said. I stayed where I could see the light above and the ladder leading out. But I have crawled through my own tight, dark spaces, a lamp flickering against the rock and I have seen some things.

I think of the woman-at-the-well story, where the teacher comes and sees in a flash she’s there alone, not part of the chattering group of women who come daily to draw water. He sees in her face the several men she’s thumbed through to find that long drink of water that satisfies. He says what he sees with such gentleness she feels known that I imagine was not unlike how I felt when I asked a realtor to look for homes and her first listing, was exactly where we’d want to live. How’d you know me? I asked. This woman too asked the same. She was surprised he’d even speak to her, an ostracized woman from an outsider town.

That hollow deep inside her, he promised would spring and dance with living water, rushing and flooding, and living crystal. All she’d have to do was come and drink.

______

Here is a blog post by Winn Collier that speaks to this dark season and gave me the courage to post this: http://winncollier.com/groan-first-week-of-advent/. And here is another one by Beth Harrison Hess:http://jasonandkelliwoodford.blogspot.com/2014/11/a-person-i-used-to-be.html. She also wrote about fountains that reminded me, that caves can be fountains: http://t.co/dOnj2quEYt.

If you like to read more of my words, The River Caught Sunlight is on sale for $ .99 as an ebook at Kindle, Nook and ibooks through the month of December. It also available in print at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Books A Million.

I’m linking this at Kelli Woodford’s place where you’ll find some gorgeous writing.

 

 

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How River Caught Sunlight Opens

00309831840120110320074559575CHAPTER ONE

January, 1983. Coeymans, New York

Janice Westfahl saw rather than heard pop, pop, pop, a stitching of pops going off, small puffs of smoke. The rock wall crumpled, then shimmered to the ground. Dust billowed and bellied into the air. A few seconds later she heard thunder that would have frightened her if she’d heard it on a clear summer day because it meant a storm.

Pulverized, Janice thought of pulverized, the meaning of that word played out right before her eyes. A sheer side of a mountain dropped to the ground, blown to smithereens. And we all fall down. Wasn’t that the child’s game? Her classmates’ dresses billowed as they dropped to a crouch. That’s what the mountain looked like—a billow of rock, and piles like children flopped on the ground. The cliff that was left over was the awesome kind, sheer, wiping the air with rock.

She leaned into Caleb, his arm around her, hugging her close. Her body rippled with the joy of being so close to this man who worked the ground. When they’d met she’d fallen in love with his big machines slowly, ever so slowly trundling over The Farm, turning over the dirt, beating the grasses, cutting them. Then she’d fallen for the companionable hours they’d spent riding in his tractors. And now he hauled rock in a quarry.

The whole time he’d been watching her reaction, his pale blue eyes studying her, but she couldn’t meet his eyes. She looked at the blue scar left by the explosion with no pity for the mountain that was being felled to repair the New York State Thruway.

“Up close those pebbles are car sized boulders,” he said.

“I’m glad I saw it,” Janice said. “You’re something to work there.” She’d not meant to fall in love, three years back. But his big machines—his tractor, his combine, the gizmos he used to break the earth—seduced her, though he’d been clear he was not the marrying kind.

“It makes ends meet.”

“Aren’t you afraid?”

“Not particularly. They clear the site when they set the charges. The dynamite is worthless without blasting caps.”

“I couldn’t stand the noise.”

“They give us ear protection.”

“The phone is the loudest equipment that I’ll use,” Janice said quietly. In two days she would be leaving for her job at Godspeed Books, a publishing company outside of Chicago. Her job would be to connect the company and its authors with the national and Christian media. She’d have some power bringing national attention to her authors and their books.

IMG_0307“Let’s get married.” Caleb’s voice sounded raspy as wind blowing through dried grass over the top of stale, crusty snow. He tipped her chin up, so she had to meet his eyes. They reminded her of puddles reflecting the sky. He just didn’t let her see into them.

“Sure.” Janice squinted. Her heart was beating fast. The man she’d loved because the light fell on him, because he was beautiful and took her up in his tractor, was actually asking her to marry her. Sure, she’d rather learn how to drive the big machines than wheel and deal outside of Chicago. Sure.

Caleb drew her to him, his lips electric against hers, his beard scratching her. He smelled like baking corn, and she felt surrounded by his passion, her own passion bubbling like a spring.

“Don’t leave,” he whispered, his eyes still shut. Something vulnerable about his face she’d never seen before.

“Aw Caleb,” Janice sighed. “Why now, why when I made a promise to take this job a thousand miles away?”

“My friends told me I was a fool to let you get away.” He wiped her hair off her face, even though her hair was short and didn’t need brushing aside.

“I thought you weren’t the marrying kind. You’ve been clear about that.” He’d stood her up when they’d made a date the first summer. She blamed herself for coming on too strong and promised they could be friends. Just friends had been fine as long as she could ride behind him on the tractor during the summers when she was home. He looked out the window. The dust was settling.

“People change.”

“Caleb I love you. I’ve always loved you.”

“You too,” he said.

“Let’s set a date. Maybe a year from now, so I could get some experience in my job and look for something back here. What about Christmas? Then you won’t have to worry about remembering our anniversary.” Janice tumbled over herself.

“Whatever makes you happy,” Caleb said, a little resigned.

IMG_0117After he shifted into gear and was driving down the highway, he laid her hand on his thigh and rubbed his thumb over the top. Her hand felt so soft between the hardness of his leg and hand. She thought how those legs braced him as he picked up bales of hay, the strings boring into his palms, even through his leather gloves. He’d toss the fifty pound bales to the top of the stack like they were nothing and set them on edge so air could circulate, letting the heat that built up ease out of the green hay.

“I’ll pick you up tomorrow at one. We can go to a motel,” he said just before she got out of the car. He tried to make it sound like the joke it had always been. Janice looked at the red siding on her parents’ house and the white shutters. The Little Barn towered alongside them.

I’d like that.” Janice wasn’t sure she was ready to make love because she believed what the Bible said about waiting until marriage, but it would be nice to be alone with him without either one of their mothers in the next room.

Besides he’d teased her about going to a motel for the last three years. She’d said yes, no, maybe and they’d laughed it off. He’d always said he didn’twant to blow her mind because he knew how innocent she was. But this was different. Caleb held her against him, too strong for her to pull away. He kissed her hard on the lips and released her. She was about to say she loved him again, when he put his finger on her lips, the dirt worked into the lines. “Tomorrow then.” Janice nodded, his finger rubbing across her lips, she was so full of pleasure and dared not say anything. She walked unsteadily to the house. At the door, she waved as he pulled away.

If you’d like to find out what happens next, The River Caught Sunlight ebooks are on sale until the end of November for $1.99 in the Kindle, Nook and ibook editions. It is also available in softcover at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Books A Million. 

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River Caught Sunlight: Excerpt

Normanskill

The Normans Kill. Photography by Roberta Lawrence. Used by permission.

Here is an excerpt from The River Caught Sunlight. Just after making funeral arrangements of her mother, Janice needs to walk away. Marcel is her brother’s girlfriend. You’ll find the novel’s title here as well:

“Back at The Farm, a warm wind coasted between the big barn and little barn, the aiming hairs for storms. If Janice saw the sky between them blacken, she knew they’d get a bad one. But today, it was plain blue. Nobody needed her, not Jim for his story, not her father and brother to mow the lawn, not Marcel who went home for a few hours. Janice walked out between the barns, following the horse trails until they disappeared in the lush, uneaten pasture. Marcel’s horses swung their heads up, chewing, tails swishing, then dropped them back to grazing. The dogs ran underfoot and away in the surging uneven circles of border collies, their bodies breaking the weeds and grass.

She walked over the small hillock at the far end of the field. The people who built their farmhouse were buried where she stepped, the gravestones plowed under by an earlier farmer tired of keeping the plot trimmed. She walked, but with each step, the ground dropped from her feet. That’s how losing her mother felt, like she was stepping onto air without a safety net. On top of the hillock a round apple tree spread its branches, fat red apples bending down. Janice walked up to a lower branch and pulled one off, her hand barely reaching around it. Arthur and King nudged her in the back of the thigh with their noses and flopped down in the shade. Janice took a bite, tasting the sweetness of an heirloom apple.

Janice wasn’t hungry enough to keep eating, so she tossed it in the field, both dogs diving for it, King reaching it first and tossing it up in his mouth. Then he circled back at Janice, holding it in his mouth, dropping it, stepping back for her to toss it again. She shook her head and walked past the tree to the taut barbed wire fence, pressing her foot down, bending the wire as far down as it would go. She slipped between the strands, a barb catching her shirt. She stopped, thought about it and slipped back, unhooking the barb. She tucked her shirt tight into her jeans and tried again.

When she stood, she stood on the cow path that would take her down to the Normans Kill valley. Legend had it the Normanskill was named after Albert Bradt de Noorman. Janice imagined a big man, eyes pale against his red face, pale red hair, deep red brows and beard, with biceps big as the small trees he left for the wide virgin timber of his river’s valley, the smell of freshly sawn wood biting his nostrils, his shouts. He teased his children and wife, making promises he never kept because the extra money went into the mill and the exhaustion of the work, driving him to use his fists on his people. She wondered what the community would remember about her mother or any of them three hundred years from now. What stories would be passed down?

00309831840120110320074559575She looked up at the Helderbergs, the escarpment resembling a small blue wave on the horizon. How many would remember the school she started and how the Clear Mountain Study Center taught them a love for learning or the land or the arts?

Janice walked down the hill, swinging her arms to the hill’s downward pull. She looked at the valley to her right, maple trees and a clear forest floor with nothing but leaves down there. The Greens, who owned the farm before her parents, said Native Americans camped in this bowl, and that they had to chase them away.

A voice that seemed to rise from the land itself ran through Janice’s head. It sounded like wind running through hay just before it’s cut. “Keep The Farm no matter what. It’s the most beautiful place on earth and you are the daughter. You are an heir.”

What about Dad? What if he needs nursing care? How will those bills be paid?

The voice ignored her questions. “Build a house at the head of the road or fix up the upstairs; make an apartment.”

What about this work I’m called to do?

You belong here, taking care of us.

And who might we be?

The voices went silent, the wind crackling over the dried grasses that made Janice think of snakeskins.

Didn’t Marie Antoinette’s ladies in waiting settle this valley? Did they bring their memories of bloody rivers when they watched the Normans Kill flowing quietly, full of sturgeon, bass, clams, its currents voluptuous and brown, the memories leaving their minds, drifting into the fields, settling into the timbers of these houses as the men and women notched them together? Did they haunt the valley, keeping it wild, long after it had been settled to the fine tune of electric wires, gas lines, telephone poles? Is that what she heard just now? The voice that her parents called the fierce Normanskill people, possessive of their land.

The wind circled her throat, squeezed her rib cage. She panted. Who’s owning who? It scared her. Walk. Walk. Let those feelings out. Your mother is dead.

But all Janice felt was her grief plugged behind a calm that deepened as she walked.

IMG_0210Janice ducked around a thorn apple tree, the branches full of inch long thorns. To her left the ridge dropped down to a farm road and shale cliffs. The cow path she was following would eventually join the road, leading to a foundation hole where a house once stood, built by the same family that built the house Janice grew up in. She looked down at the mud trail for clay rings that were shaped by the rain and a pebble, but the ones she found were broken in half. She stooped down and picked one up, felt the half moon edge, stuck her finger through the hole. Even as a kid, when she could pick them up any time, these clay rings seemed as mysterious as this valley.

When the ridge flattened and widened to a pasture, she picked mint leaves and smelled them, then followed the stream to the Normanskill where two mallards lifted off. A huge willow grew in the bank—the willow she’d wished for when she put her arms around her mother and she wasn’t there, wide and healthy. Janice spread her hands as far as she could reach around it. It would take two, three more people to make fingertips touch. The river whirled around its roots. There was the crackle of the river, fat and sassy, and the trickle of the water playing by the bank. Chips of light flickered on the opposite bank. The river caught sunlight, tossed it back in the weeds. She dipped the perfume bottle into the water, feeling the coolness run over her hand. She capped it and sat down to watch the light, the sand molding to her bottom, cool. Arthur and King lapped the water, bounding away into the dense growth of reforested pines that her parents planted to hold onto the hillside. Then they came running back.

Janice tried to grieve because this was the perfect time and a very private, beautiful place. No one would hear her sobs or shouts or coughing, but all she felt was calm, an inexplicable knowing that death is dead. She felt it in her bones. It didn’t make sense because she’d not felt close to God these days. Her mother was about to be buried, but Janice felt like she had already jumped out of the grave, that Jesus was calling the dead to rise. It was a trick of time Janice didn’t understand, but she felt it as real as the cool sand she was sitting on. Death was not the last word on her mother or any of them.

00309831840120110320074605948She fell asleep and dreamed her mother stood in front of an assembly in heaven, holding a bouquet of yellow roses. There were no straight, grim lines on her face, only a wide smile that made Janice sigh over how radiant her mother looked. Her mother turned to a man whose back was straight and sure, who was dressed in a white linen suit. Was it Janice’s father, who by that same trick of time, was there already? Or was it someone who was more husband to her mother than Kurt? The man reached up with his thumb and wiped her cheek. Janice felt like a rose, her own yellow rose, bloomed in her chest.

The breeze rattled the willow leaves waking Janice. It was time she got back and made supper for everyone. She stood and leaned against the wide willow, her cheek scraped by the bark, hugging hard. She pushed away from the tree and walked back up the trail, stepping on the clay rings, feeling them crunch under her feet.

The River Caught Sunlight is available on sale for $1.99 in the following editions: Nook, Kindle, ibook through the month of November. The print version is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Books A Million.

 

 

 

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A Meditation on the Constellation Orion

1.

Stepped out on the porch, and into Orion’s belt, long before dawn. I was on my way to do chores, only I ran into these stars, my nose burning, with his rich, redolent stink. He stood, legs spread, like I’ve seen my brother stand, defiant, A carcass flopped by his side. “Excuse me,” I said as I stepped down to walk the yard to the horses and lights in the barn. The sun hadn’t even shown up yet. But he kept stepping in my way. But I don’t have time. I have horses to feed, work to get ready for.

IMG_0215It was a relief to stop at the threshold of the barn, pause and tell my horses, “Ready, ready. I’m going to turn on the lights.” I step into the warm light, the barn, the wood and cobwebs, the chickens roosting on Tessie’s stall between me and the sky. But the mares blink their eyes hard. The brightness burns their eyes. I pick up my currycomb and hoof pick and walk in Tessie’s stall. She drops her head to the floor, eyes straight ahead asking for grain. Morgen watches from across the barn, taking everything in. Tessie’s coat is soft as angora as I brush off the shavings from the night. I swipe under her belly and she lays her ears back. I see that I have to put her back on my beet pulp gruel, a concoction that seems to sooth their stomachs. Morgen’s upper lip hooks in anticipation of the pellets I give to thank her for moving lightly to the side, her body lovely as it arches away from just a touch.

IMG_0303I open the big barn doors and turn them out, but they turn to come back in, looking for hay. I stuff their hay bags, while Bruce picks out the stalls. Orion is nowhere to be found, but the sun shoulders the horizon, liquid fire that makes me blink.

2.

Around midnight, I stepped down the road, Orion throwing his thigh over the horizon. Jets swarmed around O’Hare. I was trying to ease out of the grief that has settled over me as the sun as gone south and giving the dogs one last break before bed. Something about reading my novel for the first time has opened up my sorrows. All right I’ll climb onto your shoulder. He stooped down, so I straddled his neck. He lifted me up, holding my ankles, his hands warm.  I rode into the sky. It didn’t take but twenty feet before I screamed I wanted down, please put me down, but when you mess with mortals turned into stars you are shit out of luck. So up we went, the wind blowing past my ears, air not too easy to breathe.

Eternity stretched out as far as the farthest, oldest galaxy weighs on me as hard as dirt piled over a box. But I’m told eternity has already started, that the Reign of God is here, now, and that it might be good to practice those habits Jesus talks about when he talks about parties. Like saying yes to the invitation for one thing  and wearing the right clothes for another. I think of the sayings, “put on Jesus,” like a beautiful white linen suit. I don’t have to wear the old behaviors rooted in fear. I can come dressed in love and joy and patience and generosity because his stories about parties seem to come with stories about giving away our stuff and forgiveness.

After all rain falls on all kinds of people’s land, drawing plants and wealth right out of the ground. At the party, I think I will be seated with my enemies, so I’d better work on that forgiveness thing, here, now.

Orion hoisted me as far as something you’d see on Google Earth when the dogs stopped to sniff a coyote trail. He leaned over gently, set me back on the road. The terror still flickers like heat lightning threads a thunder cloud.

3.

I was mixing feed when Bruce tapped my shoulder, called me outside to look at the sunset, magenta lining shallow cloud bellies. The sun gone by now from a day so quiet you could hear the corn rattling into the combine a good mile away.

How about you, when has the world touched you with its presence?

If you’d like to read more of my writing The River Caught Sunlight is available on sale for $1.99 in the following editions: Nook, Kindle, ibook through the month of November. The print version is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Books A Million.

This is linked over at Kelli Woodford’s Unforced Rhythms.

 

 

 

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The River Caught Sunlight Ebook is on Sale

10501973_10152105058479364_8469810569532488887_nAbout The River Caught Sunlight, blogger Winn Collier says, “Katie Andraski spent years in the Christian publishing world (which isn’t always so Christian). She survived, and now she has her own story, recasting the narrative in her debut novel, a tale of place and longing and recovery from some of the darker sides of religion. Congrats, Katie.”

And now the ebook version of The River Caught Sunlight is on sale for $1.99.

For Nook: Click Here.

For Kindle: Click Here.

For ibooks: Click Here.

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October Journal

SaucyTessieOR

Photo by Chris Mothkovich

Wednesday,The day greeted by a blood moon, Oct. 8

At dawn, a string of geese, the pink light of an early sun, tipping their wings. A cedar waxwing knocked dead by our window, the yellow tips on her wings still bright. The moon bruised, a second blood moon, at dawn. I looked out the window and slid back to the covers.

The wind pummeling us as we rode the Oak Ridge loop. The wind hard rattling the corn. I was rattled and tired, not able to drop into calm, the ride more chore than delight, but if I waited until I felt rested I might wait a very long time, so I hauled Tessie to the park, saddled her and headed out.

TessieOR

Photo by Chris Mothkovich

Tessie was rattled, walking faster than normal, feeling tense enough to blow. I needed to keep my reins lose but when I gathered her reins because I know she wanted to run up a small hill behind the horse ahead, she bucked! A cute little crow hop in protest. I am loud when Tessie startles me under saddle. Maybe it’s her shot of adrenalin hitting my body or my fear that so often runs through me when I ride, bursting into my voice. “Don’t you do that. You,” I scolded her the same way I would if I were standing on the ground. Cheeky horse.

The world had tipped, weather was changing, the sunlight brittle, and the wind furious, wild, no longing to it, like the very old poem cries for their beloved to be home again. The fields are ready for harvest. Farmers have started their picking, though it seems late this year. I’ve been thinking about grief, loss, wondering if our time at the farm is coming to an end. I see Bruce’s eyes are tired from the work of this place. Our home feels like a humped up horse, tense, ready to throw us. There has been a spirit here that throws dust in my mind, has kept me without focus, kept me from my writing work. I have started singing hymns in the barn and when I walk the dogs because friends have said that singing cleans the land, and funny thing that sense of overwhelm has eased.

On good days I think we’re here to redeem our house, barns and land by tending them. But there’s so much that keeps going wrong, like twenty five pines that up and died in a drought and now Bruce is cutting them one by one; like the crack in the barn’s foundation, the air between two corner beams. And then there’s the roof that just happened to have crap shingles tacked on, that need replacing. And a friend who showed us some listings in Vermont and a window has opened. It’s spring air I smell.

IMG_0199Tessie is a jealous mare because we’ve mostly chosen Morgan and left Tessie crying for us in the paddock. When I ride out, she will grab for grass, hauling me to the side of the trail. Yes, I’ve spoiled her, but it’s a good sign when they can eat because they’ve not gone over threshold into fear that obliterates their mind.

With the wind rattling the prairie grasses, a person could think of the roar of the Spirit, Jesus’ comparison to wind blowing wherever the hell she wants. But I felt battered and as uneasy as Tessie about what might ride up behind us. For all the friendship we’ve worked out between us I wondered where the horse that runs from the bottom of the paddock to come to me, disappeared.  I know if you make friends with your horse, they will take care of you, that a mare’s loyalty is worth gold,but in that wild west wind, I felt a pony that could chuck it all and bolt back to the trailer, her body so stiff it would be hard to ride. My friend doesn’t see the danger I feel.

When I pulled her saddle I saw the hair brushed back the wrong way, how the saddle must have shifted forward pulling those hairs. One thing I know about Tessie is, she doesn’t like her winter coat pulled on. So maybe she did take care of me after all, containing herself, even though the girth was pulling her coat.

Friday, October 9

We drove Morgen when the shadows grew long. Like wind, evening time, can be an uneasy time for a horse. Predators begin to shift out of their dens. And maybe Morgen senses how the film between this world and the next thins. Once at this time of day, she bucked all eight acres of our field as I walked her back home.

When we passed our neighbor’s paddock, we sighed, because their little bull was nowhere to be seen. But there he was bolting towards us. “Easy. Easy,” I told Morgen before she saw him. Then she did. She sank low in the traces, ready to spring, but stayed still. She started a slow trot past and out beyond him, about by the neighbors’ mail box she blew a snort.

The whole time we drove I told Bruce and her what a good pony she was. But when we came up to the railroad tracks, Morgen stopped, ears pricked. I tried to get her to walk ahead and she yawed to one side, then then the other. Bruce stepped out and walked with her. There was a pool of shadow in the ditch by the signal arm, that put her on edge. She’s walked over those tracks many times with confidence but that deep darkness scared her like the dogs up the road. Who knows but that maybe a demon crouched there.

All the way I chattered about how I prefer driving to riding, how Klaus gave me the tools to come out here and put miles on Morgen, how it was just plain good to share the beauty of our neighborhood with Bruce, in quiet, except for the rattling of the corn.

But that pool of shadow morphed into a bull calf who came charging back at her and Morgen dug deep and bolted down the road. I’d left too much slack and shouted for Bruce to grab the reins. He did and yelled at Morgen to slow down. She listened and stopped. He got out and patted her and that minute I loved him. He thought we should go back right then, but I’d had enough. Of the bull, he said, “He’s just a young un. We’ll have to think about it and go back and try again. We’ll figure it out.” That’s another reason I love driving, Bruce lends me his confidence.IMG_0185

So we drove her again on Saturday in full sunlight, prepared for the little guy to come charging but he didn’t bust out of his shed. We walked her, turning right, then left and right again up a long quiet road. The dogs barked hard at her on the other side of the fence. On the way home she cranked up, shook her head, jogged, wanted me to let her run. Once past I asked for a slow trot, lost myself in listening for a slow rhythmic beat, asking for it gently, which she gave. As for the bull, he was lying out there, chewing his cud. Bruce steadied her, walked with her, and she didn’t leap away when he stood up. They tell me this is how you give a horse a good mind.

Wednesday, October 16

Number Seven, the chicken the others peck at, seems to have disappeared. Number Six roosted in the barn last night. I grabbed her and carried her to the chicken house, feeling her shake in my arms, feeling her warmth, and not a little sad, that we probably lost the little pecked on hen.

But no, Bruce opened the sliding door to the other room and there she was. “I asked if you saw her.” “I thought I saw her on Sunday night.” So no she and Number Six are roosting together on Tessie’s stall, Number Seven no longer alone.

My Birthday Weekend

We rode our horses into the cold, damp day, outlining the whole park to the tune of 8 miles and cold seeping through my Carhart jacket and vest, into my bones, but still we walked through the woods. Some trees glowed with yellows and golds and ambers but most were stripped.

With a new non slip saddle pad that kept the girth from chafing her, Tessie was her confident self, that same self I felt when I first stepped up and rode her, her confidence welling up. I felt my heart thaw, felt how much fun she was to ride.

 

 

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Good Gifts

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The starlings sounded like hard rain coming across the corn. Out here you hear that rain a mile away, sweeping closer, until the drops fall on your head and shoulders. But no, it was birds who’d stepped on our trees, gathering, talking so loud I could hear them in the house. I have seen them do that murmuration thing, where they sweep here, sweep there like a broom clearing dust in the sky, but this day they were landed, chattering.  The cat didn’t know if he wanted to go inside or out. One starling defying him might be all right but not a whole tree full. I didn’t want to walk under those trees either.

IMG_0169This morning I gathered twenty eggs. They clinked together like fine china in the manure bucket. I upended them on the pile, let the heat take them, and felt guilty as hell. I thought of people starving for protein. Thought of that old parental admonition, think about the people starving in India or Africa or South America, if you don’t eat your peas. I thought about Bruce and I, how we might be starving, how we might be sorry for this waste. (There’s a terrifying stretch of verses in Isaiah that pulls me up short, where the prophet talks about people having all the gold they could want, but no food, no none at all. I can feel that prophesy, can feel it coming like so much rain rattling corn I hear a mile away.)

But these eggs are too many for us to eat and we’re not sure how healthy they are to sell or give away because our chickens peck at whitewash that might be lead based. Our neighbor didn’t want them for his pigs. And we’re not sure we want to draw coyotes or racoons by dropping them along the fence line.

We’re saying no to the humility of our chickens, the humility of the gift they are giving, in payment for free range on our yard. (Bruce wants them gone, but I call them–Chickee, Chickaboom, Chickaboom, Boom, Boom. Humble chickens running on two legs, when they want four, from all corners of the yard. The rooster gathers his hens, rapes them, leads them, but for one who stays in the barn that we call Seven. She hides behind plywood when they come in. We empathize with her staying by herself.)

IMG_0171This farm, the horses, are gifts I can’t begin to recieve. Too many days I’ve been stunned into Facebook, scrolling through people’s news, while the sun wheeled overhead and Bruce gives me dirty looks, wondering why I’m wasting the day. But it’s not a waste, it’s marketing my novel. (The more I do this, the more I wonder about how healthy it is to be yanked over to social media, angling up to strangers, commenting, so I can sell the book. It doesn’t feel good. It feels like addiction, like ducking my own thoughts, while others pack theirs in my head. And ducking the brilliance of this beautiful world for the pale screen under my eyes.)

Sunny days are a reproach if I need to stay in and write or edit because they will close down soon, and it cold will bite, darkness is already swarming at the edges of our days. The mares  call from the paddock, wondering where I am. They nicker when I walk into the barn. Tessie’s a mere whisper through her nostrils, Morgen’s a long, rolling call, that reminds me of thunder. Tessie the day after I rode her in the pasture, was all over me like a cat circling my legs, and Morgen lifted off the green grass on the other side of the fence to come when I called her off it.

Even Bruce, for years, it took me years, to accept that he loves me, just plain loves me. Old preacher voices ran through my head: if you don’t make love to him whenever he wants, you’ll lose him. Those voices laced our marriage with fear until women challenged them on the radio and I thought these guys don’t even have an answer. Abandonment terrors that stretch back to the days before I had language rise up, though it took years for them to dull. Thank God his mother’s fear, was worse than mine, thank God she made me seem familiar but not as bad, so he could love me, we could love each other. Any other man would have run.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Just this weekend, I read a tribute to Dallas Willard by John Ortberg. The following grabbed me.”God will certainly let everyone into heaven that can possibly stand it.” Yes, that’s how I feel. Everyone is welcome, but there is mercy because not every one can stand it. (I’m not going to answer for the person who might never have heard, or the atheist who left a fundamentalism that was so sick, they had to reject it to live. I’m not going to answer do you think they’re going to hell?)

So how can I stand heaven, the raw presence of the giver of all good things–my husband, Bruce, Tessie, Morgen, the roll of the land, dappled by clouds and colors brighter than I’ve seen, colors calling me to look, really look and remember, the chicken eggs that click together like porcelain? How can I stand it, if I can’t accept these presents, here, now? I think of T.S. Eliot’s lines, “Ecstasy is too much pain” and Gerard Manley Hopkins who says, “each day dies with sleep.”

IMG_0168And then there’s the stillness of clipping pants and shirts to a line in the bright sunlight, a cricket chirping.

 

 

My social media guy told me to post a link to my novel so if you’d like to read more of my writing you can find The River Caught Sunlight here: http://amzn.to/1r6IpVW

I’ve linked this to Kelli’s Place.

 

 

 

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The First Week of Class

IMG_0165

My classroom. Imagine young people sitting. Imagine their tired energy.

I held their index cards stating their name, phone number, counselor as if I was holding a candle, in a candle light service with everyone holding a candle.  I had to be careful not to spill it or touch it to someone’s dress. I thought about the fire hazard, why  churches don’t burn with so many people holding fire, inside. I didn’t actually think this at the time, I was in a hurry, reading before I went to class, but I am trying to give you a picture of what it’s like reading students’ dreams, simply stated in a one line answer to the question: Why did you come to college?

“To become successful. To be a well rounded adult. To study nursing, or fashion merchandising, or psychology. To graduate. To continue my education,” they said.

I flipped through the brightly colored cards. I grew silent. Here were young men and women hoping to learn how to write, already agreeing that it is a foundation for their work in college and life. Some admitted they hated it because they don’t like writing under a teacher’s deadline. They don’t like writing about something they don’t know anything about, or that they have to research. Well, neither do I. “The trick is to make those assignments your own,” I scrawl in the margins. Like last year’s students, they know how to handle their sentences. Sure there are comma splices and fragments, but they don’t overwhelm the writing. Could it be Race to the Top is doing some good? Or is my university admitting better students?

We sat in computer lab on the second day, doing that old grade school exercise: “Show and Tell.” I wanted students to introduce themselves by sharing something important from their lives. They revealed themselves, more than they knew. We watched some inspiration like Rocky Balboa telling his son that he’s better than being cowed by others’ opinions or Eric Thomas’ saying you’ve got to want success as bad as you want to breathe. One young woman shared “The Gummy Bear” song, light hearted, goofy and irritating enough to become an ear worm, until she shared that she picked this because she had a Teddy bear in her room, that she’d held when she was little, stuck in a hospital, way too long. Another young woman showed “Let’s Go Build a Snowman” a song from the movie Frozen, about friendship and play in the wake of deep sadness. A young man showed the glorious beauty of a body builder, who had shaped his muscles like the round stones shaped by water in a stream. Another showed the beauty in the violence of special effects of the video game Battlefield Four.

As adults we think today’s kids are hard, edged with violence, but they’re not. Even though they are first year students in college, some from difficult neighborhoods, they are children determined to work hard, to make those dreams they wrote on cards come true.

IMG_0164But one young man showed a day in the life of his homies, a video set in California. He said it was funny, about fashion. I thought we’d see something like the sweet Nike commercial where a man gives his girl a pair of Nike’s for her birthday. They linger over the beauty of her feet.  But no. This was a group of boys being boys, chests out, full of themselves, proud, but rough and tough. After the first “fuck” the class turned at me with burning eyes. I’d just said, “no swearing in class” on syllabus day. And then the word “bitches” and finally the “N” word. He skipped through the video.

He didn’t sugar coat his world, but the students’ stares, well I didn’t know what to do, so I sat there, gave him his peace, hoping my face didn’t reveal my discomfort with their stares, hoping they wouldn’t think the video itself made me uncomfortable. Do they think I’ve never seen videos like this? Did they take me seriously when I said no swearing, nothing too graphic? When have students listened to their teacher? (I think, from reading how their papers followed directions, this group.) But this isn’t graphic, just full of slang. (When I think graphic, I think dull knives, throats cut.) Did the women feel disrespected by the use of “bitches”? Other students by the use of the “n” word even though it wasn’t white folks saying it?  Afterwards I said I was honored he showed us his world but I missed the jokes. I asked them do they talk like this? Is this kid language? They said yes they do talk like this. I said I didn’t get the jokes. And then class was done, my day was done.

The next class, I asked, why the violent langauge? Why do they adopt a sexist’s words, a racist’s? And as for “fuck” well, using it every other word, saps the shock from a word that can zing with anger or sexuality or both at once. They told me it was all in tone, that women can call each other the “b word,” that close friends can call each other the “n word” but if a man calls a woman out or a white person, well watch out. They said these can be words of endearment or cursing. It’s all in tone. But still, if I can’t say those words, why should they? And I contradict myself by telling them that yes, they can use these words in their writing, especially in dialogue.

I left the first week of class full of awe and the thrill of fear, like I’ve felt watching the popular video of someone riding a bike down a mountain, on a trail barely wider than the bicycle itself. As a teacher I must keep that sucker balanced, not look over the  drops, ride confidence through the terror, through the responsibility holding their dreams in my hands.

 

 

 

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