Category Archives: Essays

Normantown News: Why Did it Have to Be Germs?

Just as I was getting used to quarantine, the push to end it comes barreling along. At my age, I’m a proponent of the “better safe than sorry” perspective, but I also know we can’t stay home forever. Our economy cannot bear it. I watch the numbers of those infected, of those who have died, but I also watch the state’s revenue numbers, the numbers of people applying for unemployment, “forgivable loans,” and other assistance.

When a human being experiences a traumatic event, that person is permanently changed. We may wish to return to normal, to the being we once were, but we have been altered by the event and there is no reclaiming our former self, no un-doing of the changes made to us. Just as it is so with human beings, I believe it is so for human cultures.

During quarantine, I have heard and myself have expressed, a desire to “return to normal.” But in a world contaminated by a virus that is 1000x more contagious than others we have dealt with, zero percent human immunity to it, at least 15% error in the testing data, and no sign of a vaccine in sight, I believe our society has been permanently changed. There is no “back to normal” after this socially traumatic event. Even when the vaccine comes (and it will, though predicted to take up to two years), telecommuting, telehealth, remote work, video conferencing, and an entire generation of children who have been trained to social distance will continue to exist and propagate. I have read articles that note that the ingrained social handshake of greeting will become as frowned upon as smoking.

My father was a Navy Medic who served with the Marines in the Korean War. As a result, personal hygiene and cleanliness (and thus sterility) were important to him all his life. He showered twice a day, every day, and washed his hands more than any man I have known. He had hand cleansers, degreasers, and soaps, and little scrubby brushes that cleaned in the creases and beneath his fingernails. My father was not above getting his hands dirty, but they certainly never stayed so for long. I was raised knowing the proper way to wash my hands–twenty seconds at least and including the thumbs, which are most often overlooked.

During 9-11, I often wondered what Daddy (who left us the year before) would have thought of the events. I longed for his advice, input, commentary for comfort. During COVID, I know how freaked out my father would be. I think of Indiana Jones when he realized the floor of the tomb was covered in snakes. I can hear Daddy saying, “Germs, why did it have to be germs?” (“Germs” being a catch-all term that covers bacteria, viruses, etc.) I imagine he would have had us all on lock-down, with military attention to all methods of sterilization and safety. I know what Daddy would say. Wash your hands, wear a mask, social distance, clean everything constantly, stay home. I have no doubt Daddy would be wearing masks and gloves. I can even imagine him in a homemade protective bodysuit of some sort just for a run to the grocery store.

As a library director, it falls to me to develop a plan to re-open the library with the virus still out in the world. Along with my board, I am suddenly responsible for ensuring that our employees and patrons are protected from an invisible enemy of which none of us are immune. I can honestly say, this is the heaviest burden ever placed on me when serving in a leadership position. I cannot insist that our employees wear masks to return to work, but they have all expressed willingness to do so, and the library has purchased n95 masks for all of them, and a cloth mask to wear when washing the other. We have also purchased disposable gloves and masks and will be asking patrons to wear them while interacting inside the library. This is my father manifesting in me. This is me, following my father’s advice.

This morning, I almost cried when I read that two governors re-opening with “mandatory masks” in their guidelines were withdrawing their mandates for masks due to rioting and the concept of violating personal rights. As a librarian and a child of a war veteran, I carry a respect for personal rights that ranks even higher than my personal respect for safety. Like everyone else, I have “thrown caution to the wind” a time or two (likely too many) in my life. But I have been suddenly saddled with the burden of protection. Protection for myself, my employees, their families, our patrons, their families. To my count, that includes about 2,000 people—many of whom will not want to wear a mask to execute their right to library access.

This is not a time to throw caution to the wind. Trust me. I’m a librarian. I’ve done the research. We will not be “returning to normal” any time soon, and masks quadruple protection if BOTH parties interacting (not just one) wear one. If you are not wearing a mask, bandana, or scarf in public, you should be. As West Virginia re-opens, please respect those who ask you to wear protective gear in their establishment. Of course, you have a right to go without one, but don’t the rest of us have the right to feel safe?

From Normantown Historical Community Foundation president Blair Wright:

NHCC will be giving EMERGENCY FOOD BOXES on May 8th, 2020. All workers will be selected volunteers and volunteer firemen. Don’t come before the scheduled time, and if you are not from West Virginia, do not come at all. All special health regulations apply–no loitering, visiting, etc.. You must remain in your vehicle; do not get out of your car until you are told to do so.

ALL VEHICLES MUST LINE UP ON THE WEST (STUMPTOWN) SIDE OF RT. 119. If you are traveling West towards Stumptown, after you pass NHCC, turn around in a safe and legal location, and join the client line from that side. Traffic flow must be maintained as much as possible.  Have your vehicle’s trunk clear or your truck bed reasonably empty. Food dispensing will begin at noon or as near as possible to that time. Questions? Call 304-884-6962.

A special thanks to Calhoun Banks and to Parkersburg Area Community Foundation for contributions to purchase food and to fund operations of the NHCC Food Pantry. The pantry averages nearly 100 families each month. NHCC was recently awarded a $2000 grant to assist with the operation of its pantry by Kroger Company. These donations are greatly appreciated.

Donations to NHCC can be made online at https://nhccwv.com/donation or mailed to NHCC, 3031 Hackers Creek Road, Jane Lew 26378, c/o Margaret. Donkey Basketball has been rescheduled for October 17th, 2020.

If you have any 25267 area news you would like to share or any personal messages you want to be posted in local media, send an email to hayesminney@gmail.com or leave a message on our machine at 304-354-9132. I also have a seasonal email newsletter that includes links to this column online. You can subscribe at tinyurl.com/two-2020.

Normantown/Stumptown News: December Week 3

When I first moved to this area twenty-plus years ago, I did not give the Little Kanawha River the respect it deserves. I grew up in Marietta, Ohio where the Muskingum River flows into the Ohio River—where barges, paddle-wheels, houseboats, speed boats, canoes, and blow-up rafts can all share the waters. I looked at the Little Kanawha when I moved here in August and saw that I could walk across it without getting my knees wet.

“Pfft,” I said. “That’s not a river.”

“Big” rivers, like the Muskingum and Ohio are impressive in many ways, but they are predictable. They rise and fall slowly, and by calculating rain amounts and river levels upstream, one can easily determine how high the water will get and when. The Ohio River will never “sneak up” on you. My father had a business on the main street near the Muskingum, and I remember having an entire day to lift and move valuables, “just in case,” only to watch the slowly rising water crest just below the top stair at the front door. I was almost disappointed. We spent the evening putting everything back where it belonged.

When I heard the tales of the flood of ‘85 (and again in ‘86 here in Stumptown), I imagined those floods were flukes, freak occurrences that happen once in a blue moon. I have since learned that like blue moons, floods are more common than I thought.

When Frank and I moved to the farm and he told me how high the floodwaters could get on the property, I was still skeptical. I simply could not imagine the creek below the road ever reaching my house. And then the floodwaters came, and I found myself wading up the driveway, watching a hay bale float by.

The Little Kanawha River and area creeks and streams can easily be underestimated. They are sneaky creatures that can rise overnight, become powerful, and spread with a speed that quickly catches you off guard. And run-off water? You never think about how water flows across fairly flat land, how it can create new stream paths and puddles that grow into ponds.

My memories of flooding along the Ohio are timed in the spring. Those were the days when feet of snow fell in winter, and spring melt with spring rain spelled bad news. But my memories of flooding here all seem to be when it’s cold and gray and not the best time to be wet. I often wonder if it’s because winter brings more rain now it seems, and is more a season of mud than snow. My insulated mud boots are now some of my most valued possessions.

This time of year, especially when precipitation seems to last for days, I find myself tuned in to the fork of Steer Creek that flows along Rosedale Road. Even in the dark of night, I can tell by the moon’s reflection on the water’s surface if the creek is flowing high or low. I can estimate, by evaluating the water’s depth, the amount of rain that has fallen, and the amount of rain yet to come–if I need to get out the mud boots. I also know, when a large amount of rain falls in a short period of time if run-off waters might seep through our basement.

The 169-mile Little Kanawha River drains approximately 2,160 square miles of northern and central West Virginia. It is the largest watershed in the state, and in the mid-1800s, was also known as the “River of Evil Spirits” because of the number of people who died when canoes capsized in the river whirlpools. I think of that sometimes when the water’s up.

While it may seem odd to think of flooding during the winter season, a significant number of the record flood levels for the Little Kanawha were recorded November through January. The famed flood of 1985 occurred on November 5, and record-high waters were recorded in Decembers of 1944, ‘45, ‘48, ‘49, ‘56, ‘70, ‘71, ‘72, ‘73, ‘78, ‘79, ‘90, and ‘91. In fact, more historic floods have happened here between October and March than in the spring.

No matter what time of year, we have our lives prepared for high water. I no longer want carpet in the basement, and I work with area rugs that can be rolled up easily if (when) necessary. We have 4’x4’ planks of wood the width of certain appliances, and keep them handy in the basement closet for when rains pour more than an inch in a few hours and we need to lift things off the floor. If the rains keep coming, then we venture out to check on the creek below.

When rising, this fork of Steer Creek first crosses Rosedale Road at the end of our driveway, and we take note of the time and location of the water’s edge. We contemplate the factors and try to determine if the mailbox will disappear and we kick into high gear, or if the waters will crest before we reach that emergency mode. We watch the waters rise, and wait for the rains to cease. There’s a balance point in those moments that valley-dwellers recognize as the difference between another round of high waters and a serious situation.

Not much of a holiday message is it? Happy holidays and high water, ho ho ho? But wet weather like we’ve been having of late brings my watershed concerns to mind. Even so, colorful lights, Christmas carols, and smiling faces are enough to lift my spirits and I’m looking forward to visiting my family this season.

Lord willing and the creeks don’t rise.

Normantown Historical Community Center served 92 families representing 216 people at the monthly food pantry in December.  Thanks to Mountaineer Food Bank for their contributions, and to the local volunteers who make it happen. Dues to join and support the organization are still $10.00, due in January. Donations can be made online at https://nhccwv.com.

Kudos to the folks helped their neighbor out of his burning home on Rosedale Road. You’re heroes in my book, and that just shows what kind of folks live here in our community.

If you have any 25267 news you would like me to share, send email to hayesminney@gmail.com, message me through facebook, or leave a message on our machine at 304-354-9132.

Making Up with my Muse

I wrote an essay this week! My first free-flowing, inspired, creative writing moment since I received my Master’s Degree in Creative Writing – two years, nine months, and three days ago. You have no idea what a relief it is to know that my muse has not permanently left me after all.

I do not blame my MFA experience on this extended dry spell, (a spell that lasted longer than my time in the program). The graduate environment I experienced was encouraging, empowering, enlightening. I read, heard, and met amazing writers who were doing fantastic work. The lessons I learned and tools I was given are invaluable to me.

But muses are finicky, you know. My muse is more organic than academic, and in my graduate goal to become a better writer, I think she somehow got the impression that she was no longer good enough. I thought my MFA would make me a “real” writer. My muse, after all, isn’t “real,” but she is a true part of my writing process.

My muse and I have been writing together all my life. She’s whimsical. She likes to do her own thing, without expectations. She likes to figure it out herself without structure or strings. She doesn’t think about writing rules or prescriptions or possibilities of getting published. She doesn’t care what others think. She just needs a fine-point pen and a college-ruled page.

But even these will not persuade her when she’s pouting.

I tried to appease her. New pens, new notebooks, new books on the craft of writing. Writing prompts. Writer’s Group. I read Julia Cameron’s The Artists’ Way (again), and when that didn’t work, I read Cameron’s The Right to Write.

I tried to write without my muse. Real writers write as a discipline you know, inspired or not. The results were clunky, forced, and without flow. Chunks of purposeless rambling without direction. Clearly, though I now have my Master’s, I am nothing without my muse.

I did all I could to conjure her. I tried to bribe her, entice her, force her to appear and produce, to maintain the production level I imposed on her during graduate school. All to no avail. I could not find her nor force her, so I let her be.

In her absence, I colored adult coloring books. I redecorated the spare bedroom, began scrapbooking. I started reading for enjoyment again, re-organizing my house, playing word puzzles on my phone. I got promoted at work and adjusted my life to spend more weekends with my aging mother.

I waited, with dwindling faith that my muse would return.

And then, on my long drive home from my mother’s last weekend, I heard her. My muse was sitting quietly in the back of my mind, drafting an essay about what my visits to Mother’s have become.

A disciplined writer might have pulled over to scratch down the words. The thought occurred to me, from fear I might miss the chance to catch them. But instead, I listened to her. I listened to her routine of tasks she tackles on her regular visits to Mother’s. I listened to her strain for honor and gratitude beneath the burdens of the increasing caregiving responsibilities.

When the muse fell silent, she left an unfinished essay in my head. But I knew, as I pulled into our driveway, that she would be back for it.

Four days later, I caught my muse running through the introduction of the essay again, and I sat down with a fine-point pen and a college-ruled pad. Within a few minutes, together we filled a full page.

I believe my muse has finally forgiven me. Forgiven me for comparing her to others, telling her she had to improve, for whispering shoulds and coulds in her ear. She and I are working together again, and she even used some of the new tools from the MFA toolbox. For her they are new toys, not tools. (And of course, there’s always revision.)

I don’t believe though, that all is completely well between us yet. That new essay we started on visits to Mother’s still isn’t finished. When we sat down to finish it, we wrote this essay instead.

I’m hoping she and I can move forward from here.

.

Mountains Piled Upon Mountains

I am so proud to have my work included in Mountains Piled Upon Mountains:  Appalachian Nature Writing in the Anthropocene.

Image from the corresponding article at 100daysinappalachia.com.

Available from West Virginia University PressMountains Piled upon Mountains features nearly fifty writers from across Appalachia sharing their place-based fiction, literary nonfiction, and poetry. Moving beyond the tradition of transcendental nature writing, much of the work collected here engages current issues facing the region and the planet (such as hydraulic fracturing, water contamination, mountaintop removal, and deforestation), and provides readers with insights on the human-nature relationship in an era of rapid environmental change.

This book includes a mix of new and recent creative work by established and emerging authors. The contributors write about experiences from northern Georgia to upstate New York, invite parallels between a watershed in West Virginia and one in North Carolina, and often emphasize connections between Appalachia and more distant locations. In the pages of Mountains Piled upon Mountains are celebration, mourning, confusion, loneliness, admiration, and other emotions and experiences rooted in place but transcending Appalachia’s boundaries.

The collection includes my essay, “Shaken Foundations.” An excerpt from this essay was included in the fall issue of “Mountain State Sierran,” the WV Chapter of the Sierra Club. “Shaken Foundations” has also been used in college composition classes as an example of a fact-driven narrative.

You can read and hear more about Mountains Upon Mountains from WV Public Broadcasting, or from 100 Days in Appalachia.

You can purchase the book from Amazon here:

Feminine Rising: Voices of Power and Invisibility

I am so proud and pleased to have my work included in the recently released anthology: Feminine Rising: Voices of Power and Invisibility, from Cynren Press.

My essay, “Mental Pause,” discusses many of the issues that are included with the onset of menopause, and how this right of passage can affect a woman’s life.

Feminine Rising: Voices of Power and Invisibility brings together international poets and essayists, both award-winning and emergent, to answer these questions with raw, honest meditations that speak to women of all races, nationalities, and sexual orientations. It is an anthology of unforgettable stories both humorous and frightening, inspirational and sensual, employing traditional poetry and prose alongside exciting experimental forms. Feminine Rising celebrates women’s differences while embracing the source of their sameness–the unique experience of womanhood.

Edited by Andrea Fekete & Lara Lillibridge, with a foreword by Amy Hudock, PhD, this collection includes voices of women from all over the world.

You can read Lara’s introduction here, Andrea’s here, and listen to contributor Rashida Murphyread her poem from the anthology here.

Get your copy below:

We Are Nature: July 2017 in Two-Lane Livin’

(This appears in the July 2017 issue of Two-Lane Livin’ Magazine.)

I love the way thunder rolls across the sky, how it rumbles in our bones at the first boom, then ripples, grumbling past the eastern hillside and on across the horizon. When I was young, we would watch for the flashes of lightening, like watching for fireworks, and count as we were taught to determine the distance to the strike. One, one thousand. Two, one thousand. But now, I am happy to listen to the rain and the thunder as the sky chastises the earth.

Today, a storm crossed overhead, with consistent rumbling for nearly half an hour. Instantly, the heat of the afternoon was erased. Rain fell steady, but not pounding, and ground drank it in. I spent as much time as I could on the back porch in the glider, as porches are made for storm-watching. You can experience the storm and be exposed to it, but remain dry and relatively safe.

After the storm passed, wisps of fog swirled up from the valley, moisture drawn up into the system, just to be dropped back down somewhere else. From the valley to the hilltop perhaps, to keep the cycle turning. Once the storm moved on, its grumble fading as it wandered across the atmosphere, the setting sun raised temperatures again, and new wisps rose and swirled. The orange light shone more than usual, heightened by the moist reflections of everything just washed clean.

There are no evenings to match a summer evening after an afternoon thunderstorm in the hills of Appalachia. I feel as though I am inside a terrarium, the moisture dripping down from a giant glass dome above. Sometimes, life here feels sealed inside a bubble, secluded from the rest of the world. Sometimes stifling hot and sweaty, sometimes baking, parched and dry, sometimes fresh and clean and sparkling.

As the skies cleared, and the water temperatures on the lake out back balanced, I watched the green duckweed expand again across the face of the water, no longer compressed by rippling waves, and a mother deer appeared on the bank of the island, and a fawn that had to be out for its very first walk it was so wobbly. With the rumbling over, bird song started again, and the chickens and the robins pecked in the saturated yard for earthworms and bugs. And in that moment, the fields around me and time itself seemed to expand, and the concerns of the world shrank to a pittance.

I felt relief. Relief from the heat of the day, relief from the stress of the week, relief in knowing there are still magical moments in this world–the way nature can make us feel small and immense at the same time, connected when we are or feel alone. Humans have forgotten that we ARE nature. We are hardwired to benefit from exposure to it. We get Vitamin D from the sun (statistically, the average American is Vitamin D deficient), and multiple studies show that 20 minutes in nature can lower blood pressure, relieve stress, depression and anxiety. We are not technical, mechanical creatures. We are (or were?) natural creatures. Writer Laurence G. Boldt says, “a society at odds with nature is a society at odds with itself.”

* * *

I recently attended the WV Writer’s Inc. annual conference at Cedar Lakes in Ripley, a weekend of seminars, readings, and networking. One seminar I took was how to remain focused on your life as a creative existence. Deep down, I hoped there might be a magical pen or technical device that would keep me in creative mode, impervious to the restrictive mentalities we all encounter in our culture and societies today. Perhaps a creativity pill I could pop every morning. Of course, these things don’t exist.

During the seminar though, I was reminded of many things I already know, but do not regularly practice. Stretch upon waking. Meditate. Be grateful for the little things. Be positive. Be open. Don’t get on the computer first thing in the morning. Limit exposure to social media and digital devices. Turn off the TV. Take a walk. Breathe. Immerse yourself in nature.

After the recent summer storm passed, I contemplated why that moment was reassuring, comforting. How that moment “outside” of society, disconnected from man but connected to nature, could soothe my spirit so. And again I was reminded of something Boldt says in his book, Zen and the Art of Making a Living. He said, “Society can be interested in a man or woman only as a political or economic entity; a culture is interested in more… Cultures care for their peoples as natural, spiritual beings and not simply as workers or consumers.” In other words, humans are not just political, economic beings. We were meant for more than work and consumption. We are nature, spiritual, but we live in a society that neither acknowledges, values, nor endorses us as such.

Boldt says, “Our whole effort is to gain and hold, acquire and defend.” The American approach to life and living is a mindset typically used for warfare. We are focused on getting–striving, consuming, keeping, maintaining–status, power, reputation, cars, houses, etc.–no matter the cost to our own well-being or the natural world around us. Americans live with a mentality to conquer and defend. No wonder we’re so stressed.

I believe this is why time in nature is so soothing to the soul. Nature is the ultimate level playing field. Nature doesn’t care about status, reputation, shoes, or the latest cell phone app. Social media, television series, all our little rat race games and power struggles are irrelevant. Our narcissism, prejudices, irrational judgments, daytime dramas, are insignificant. And if anything, that’s a relief.

Boldt says, “We cannot be fully awake, fully alive, fully human–and remain indifferent to the world in which we live.” The costs of denial and suppression are devastating to human happiness and creativity. Boldt notes, until our society changes its consideration humans as nothing more than workers and consumers, “it will continue to take uncommon courage, strength, and perseverance for individuals to realize meaning in their every day experiences.”

When we stop and take a time out with nature around us, Boldt says, “the mind is arrested and raised above desire and loathing… the contemplation of beauty eliminates selfish desire.” In turn, “Ugliness depresses and diminishes life–sapping the creative spirit of the individual and weakening the character of society.” Did you get that? Ugliness saps creativity and weakens our character. No wonder the beauty of the hills after a storm provided me with such relief. How lucky we are to live where the natural beauty around us can soothe our souls.

Are you grateful? Do you take time to just sit and experience the natural world around you? What things do you do to keep your creative juices flowing? Send me an email with your thoughts and suggestions at info@twolanelivin.com.

Lisa is an Assistant Librarian at Gilmer Public Library & recently received her MFA in Creative Writing. For details, visit Lhayesminney.net.

Lying Fallow: June 2017 in Two-Lane Livin’

(This is my 2017 installment of “Two Lane for Life” from the June issue of Two-Lane Livin’ Magazine. You can view the entire issue as a digital flipbook via twolanelivin.com.)

As we grow near to Two-Lane Livin’s 10th birthday, I have been looking back through our early archives. And though I am old enough to reflect on nearly five decades of life, only the last ten years have been recorded in a monthly publication I can look back upon.

When we launched the magazine, I was so excited about gardening and canning, learning how to be healthier and more self-reliant. I was thrilled to welcome chickens and bees to our family, was stockpiling seeds and lamp oil and teaching myself to sew and crochet.

Somehow, I thought this “back to the land” mindset was going to simplify my life. I look back at all that now and laugh.

When it comes to farming and gardening, I have found that it is quite easy to over do it. I have learned, truly, moderation is key. But baby chicks can be purchased in bulk, in fact, when ordering, you must purchase at least a dozen.  One more tray of spring plants can produce another thirty or more pounds of tomatoes. One more row or seed packet of beans can double or triple the bushels of beans that need strung in the fall.

A ten year old oregano patch can spread to cover more than eight square feet. Mature perennials need divided. Fences eventually need mending, spades sharpened, hives and pens need maintained.

All the projects I was so excited about ten years ago, I now know, are work. Work, and time. And though I knew back then and was not afraid of the work, I sorely underestimated the amount of time truly required.

Gardens, bees, chickens, fields, these things do not wait. They do not wait until you have time, do not wait until you are ready. Weeds need pulled, beans need picked, hay needs cut. Bees swarm. Eggs, water, and feed need dealt with more than once a day.

There was a time when we had more than 30 chickens, and planted more than 100 tomato plants and six rows of beans.

For two people? Insanity is what that is.

These days, my sewing machine is packed away, as are my crochet needles, my pressure canner. And though June is upon us, we have not planted a garden this year. The pantry is still filled with jars from previous years, and we still get near a dozen eggs a day from our small flock of aging hens. We have four bee hives, but three of them are swarms we caught this spring.

We can certainly take a break from gardening this year, but it feels shameful to not have a garden. I feel shame, and I feel a loss. A loss of a chance to fill more jars, a loss of the mornings pulling weeds and smashing stink bugs. A loss not to wander out again in the evenings sweating in the late day sun and swatting at deer flies. In many ways, gardeners are slaves to their gardens–you weed and water when it’s needed, pick and harvest when it’s ready. But at the same time, a garden is nourishing, not just to the body, but to the soul.

In some ways, I feel like we’re taking the summer off. Like we’re cheating, or being lazy.

Of course, we still have asparagus, garlic, horseradish, mushrooms in the perennial beds, and thyme, oregano, lemon balm, sage, and chives in the herb garden.

Won’t we miss fresh produce? I don’t think so. I have learned that someone will inevitably grow too many cucumbers and squash, and will bring some to the library or the local mom and pop store. Heirloom tomatoes will find their way to the local farmer’s markets.

What will I do with the extra  summer days that for the last ten years have been spent tilling and canning? I hope I don’t waste it on facebook. I hope to work on other things, like moderation and maintenance. My approach to simple living ten years ago wasn’t simple at all. I was so excited about getting started, I didn’t really think about the upkeep. But you have to think about upkeep, or you won’t be able to keep up. Over the past ten years, we have fallen behind.

Where to store empty canning jars, or tomato stakes not in use? Do we really need all those plant trays? I’m going to sharpen my hoe before I ever use it again, and I’m going to spend more time in the back porch swing, watching the grass grow.

So this summer, our garden will be lying fallow, a term used to describe land tilled and plowed but left unseeded. Some farmers do this to raise the fertility in the soil. I wonder what lying fallow will do for us, the humans that tend the garden, what fertility might rise in our lives and souls–if any. Perhaps I will find a way to combine simple living and self-reliance. But it hasn’t happened so far.

Lisa is an Assistant Librarian at Gilmer Public Library & recently received her MFA in Creative Writing.  For details on her workshops and speaking availability, visit Lhayesminney.net.

The Chair in the Woods

Just beyond the edge of the woods, on a flat space speckled with the shade of Maple and Tulip Poplar, in a small clearing covered with mosses, sweet grass, and poison ivy, sits a faded patio chair.

My time out chair.

A five minute walk will get me there, when I think of it in time. When I manage to make myself use it, to think before I act or speak.

I carry more anxiety within me than a soft-boiled tea kettle, and more anger and resentment than any soul deserves. My awareness of these flaws does not yet help me control either of them, but time around that chair in the woods helps me manage them some.

The comfort of the shade comes first, hushed and yet sprinkled with bird song — Vireo, Thrush, Bunting, and Towhee.  The scents come next: moist earth, rotting leaves, the sweetness of Autumn Olive mixed with the smell of my own sweat. Instinctual scents, familiar to the crone in my soul, connecting me to the peace of previous lives, to the soothing spirit that flows through all life.

But it takes time for my tension to dissipate, time to extinguish the deep, hot coals of my anger. They are fertile within me where they flourish, fertilized by my resentment, by my disappointment in myself. My downfalls and failings in my life were my own doing, my misplaced trust in the intentions of others.

I cannot sit in the chair upon my arrival, anger and rage still swelling within me, energies boiling within and seeping from my pores. I yank sticks from the forest floor and snap and break them, beat them against the trunks of stout trees. I throw stones–smaller ones tossed one-handed like a baseball, sandstone smashing to pieces against massive boulders. Heavier stones shucked two-handed, landing a few feet away with a dull, smacking thud.

The forest is unimpressed by my tantrums, undamaged by my attempts to rearrange the landscape. My rage here is harmless, my tension and anxiety pointless. The forest doesn’t recognize frustration, does not acknowledge vehement rage. Its ageless persistence and patience renders all that upsets me irrelevant and small, diminished by a distance that multiplies at the edge of the wood.

When my anxious energy is dispelled, my inner emotional child exhausted, I take my seat, but remain restless. I kick my feet and chock my heels in the soil, making dents in the grass. I shrug my shoulders repeatedly, roll my head around on my neck.  I wriggle my fingers and shake the tension from my hands, then flex them from fist to jazz hands, fist to jazz hands.

Only then am I able to focus on my breathing, a shallow suffocating pant, and at last, I draw the air of the forest into myself. I hold it within, the musky scents and botanic moisture wrapped in my lungs in a bronchial embrace. The tension lingering within me clings to it, and rides it out on the exhale. I push with my diaphragm to expel as much as possible.

My shoulders loosen. My mind begins to clear.

And I draw the forest within me again.