reverse threading

the path back is the path forward


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joey’s 20/20. [two artists tuesday]

we hang out with joey coconato every night. we hike out west with him on back-country trails, on high mountain ridges, in glacier national park and yellowstone, in the tetons and canyonlands. we camp in tiny tents and eat meals out of bags, filter our water and hang our food way up in trees. joey is easy in this world and he has inspired us day after day, taking us one more day through this pandemic, breathing fresh air into another evening when we turn off the news, the dessert for the odd buffet that is life these days. joey’s camera captures the tiny and the vast, things that become indelible in your mind’s eye – the beauty is astounding. we see glimpses of him hiking when his selfie stick leads the way or when he painstakingly plants his tripod and creates the chance to watch. otherwise, we see these trails through joey and we are grateful for his keen eyesight and his love of the outdoors. for him, the mountains and the trail seem to make all things 20/20; he is clear and committed and profoundly capable. joey sees the up-close and he sees that which is far away, both are part of his focus, the details and the big picture.

although he does not consider himself a guide, sometimes joey will have others join him on the trail. i’m guessing it is important to him that their goal for the potential of the hike would be similar, that their respect of mother earth and the basics of backpacking etiquette would be allying, that the bottom line of the trail would be the stunning goodness of being a part of the outdoor miracles of nature. it is clear by his grand hiking successes, alone and in tandem with others, that he values those around him, that he embraces sameness and differences. his generous spirit in his gorgeous workplace is not commanding nor controlling with his hiking partners. he has an overall intention, he has made all the proper regulatory reservations and permits, and he looks to his partners-on-the-trail, people he obviously trusts won’t put him in harm’s way, for input. he listens and he considers what they say, whether it is complimentary of his efforts or is critical or probing of plans he has made; he respects the dignity of each person he is with. if they push back or question him, he, without ego or agenda, looks for clarity and truth. he regularly features these trekkers and always speaks to their strengths. he films them as they hike, as they choose their own boulders on their way down the scramble-field. he encourages them. he empowers them. he takes a back seat and quietly goes about being the expert that he is and together they all get there – to the next campsite, down the next canyon, to the next summit. he is a natural leader.

my gaze alternatively shifts from the icicles in this photograph to the trees, back and forth, icicles, trees, icicles, trees. i can feel the cold air on my face staring at the sculptural ice and the changing color of the sky behind the trees gives me pause, makes me remember the day will soon end and a new day will again be upon us. it’s 20/20 this vision – clear that both exist, co-exist even.

20/20 vision is a funny thing. according to the aao, the american academy of ophthalmology, only about 35% of adults have 20/20 vision without corrective lenses. with correction, 75% of adults have this vision while 25% just don’t see very well at all. so, at best, what we see is somewhat subjective, centered on our own focus, our own viewing lens. i’m pretty certain that in life this pertains to all manners of vision. so many lenses.

these days our lenses have a pandemic-limitation as we respect the boundaries of what we should or shouldn’t do, where we should or shouldn’t go. we know that we don’t necessarily align with everyone else in our choices, but we are painstakingly figuring out how to go about life in this very difficult time, constricted and staying on the trail for the time being. now – with over 500,000 good people in our country who have died from this insidious virus – is not the time to split hairs over alliances. instead, it is the time to recognize the big picture co-existing with the tiniest details and to stay as laser-focused as possible on working together, in unity, in community, with love. now – in this time of the kind of extreme angst not seen in a century – is not the time to cease conversation, to cease looking to each other for input, to cease collaborating. it is not the time for commanding or controlling or invoking fear. perched on a cliffwall, trail transparency and accountability as guideposts, reality as his north star, joey knows all that. he is a natural leader.

so right now, if someone – in any arena, on any mountain – says, “your vision doesn’t align with ours,” i can’t help but wonder about their version of leadership. what does that really mean? whose 20/20 counts? is it the icicles or the trees? or is it both?

maybe i’ll ask joey.

*****

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damning ice-damming. [two artists tuesday]

there is a price to pay for having an adored old house. ours is 93 years old. sturdy, charming, with wood floors and crown molding, built-in cabinets and solid doors, details that wouldn’t necessarily be affordable in new construction. but then there’s that thing that many of these sweet old houses don’t have enough of — called insulation.

many’s the time i have been on a ladder in the winter with a hose that is stretched to the basement laundry tub spigot. just me and hot water tending to the ice in the gutters. one year, when it was a particularly big problem, big jim came over and performed magic. i remember driving to illinois to purchase the proper tools: heating cables (they were out in wisconsin stores) and one of those really long telescoping snow rakes. and now d has had the distinct pleasure of dealing with this as well. each fall now we check the gutter cables – i’m always holding my breath to make sure they are still working lest the winter comes and they cease being warm in the middle of ice-damming weather.

and ice-damming weather it is.

it’s not like i’m happy that other people are dealing with it, although there is a little bit of content that we aren’t alone in this. as we walk around the neighborhood or drive around town we point at houses and icicles, inches of solid ice clearly stoked up in the gutter, snow falling off roofs like icing sliding from a cupcake on a hot summer’s day. even newer houses and brand-new construction have ice-laden soffits and fascia. and i listen and just keep hoping i don’t hear the telltale drip-drip-drip sound somewhere inside the house; that is never a good thing.

my first experience was memorable. i was alone when i walked in the front door and could hear water literally pouring somewhere. thinking someone had left a faucet on, i immediately went to check the bathrooms, but the sound lured me directly to the sunroom where i stared at the scene that ice-damming had created. my dad and a friend, neither in town, provided some pretty healthy support over the phone for my first adventure on the perilous ladder perched on the icy deck with an unwieldy and uncooperative long garden hose that i had to first thaw from its frozen coiled state as i tried to win against mother nature and too little insulation. eventually, i did win, but not until i was solidly drenched in 20-degree temperatures and i had earned the nickname ‘hoser’ over my moral-support-suggestion-laden-phone-calls and their quest to keep me laughing.

another time, my son can attest to walking into the sitting room one day to find water coming in from above the windows. we both stared at the phenomenon (staring is a requirement as a first reaction in ice-damming). then we got to work with every spare towel we could find. so, yeah, it’s not like i’m happy other people are dealing with it (isn’t that something like schadenfreude?) but i am happy for company in misery. and i know that in the summer, when we are calmly sitting outside in adirondack chairs in the warm sun having an iced tea, these will be funny stories.

but now? this year? yes, i am still holding my breath. the ice is particularly stubborn and the temperatures are lingering in ice-damming territory. facebook posts are abounding with pictures of dammed ice (or “damned” ice, depending on your level of zen) and people’s comments are empathetic and knowing. i don’t remember this from long island at all. i blame wisconsin. nevertheless, in the words of my momma, “this too shall pass.”

i seem to be thinking about those words a lot these days.

*****

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my momma and chicken soup. [two artists tuesday]

i wish i could sit with my mom right now. i wish i could be at her kitchen table with a giant bowl of her homemade chicken soup and a big glass of red wine. i wish i could be talking with her, really talking, not merely chit-chatting, but sharing all the stuff that we – very-human human-beings – go through. i wish i could feel that kind of comfort, that kind of never-ending fierce support, that kind of unconditional love, that kind of mothering right now. i wish she were here.

making my own homemade chicken soup will have to suffice. pouring a glass of wine and turning on the happy lights in the sunroom will have to do. sitting with david and pouring out my heart, tears and laughter intermingling, will have to satiate me. looking out over the backyard, staring at the lights strewn up between the trees, will have to be enough.

adulthood has its challenges. we race through our younger years at seemingly warp speed, our ever-widening circles further and further away from home. so much presses us. too much sentimentality is rejected; this world does not run on threadiness and success is not deemed reached with a collection of rocks, feathers, branches collected to remember times with beloveds. we are encouraged to push back against emotions that are confusing, that are overwhelming; this world does not reward our angst, our fear, our grief. instead it suggests that teflon hearts, insular, tough, impervious to the outside, will forward us down the road. we give less and less time to nurturing relationships; we are immersed in making a living, in getting by, in our own self-actualization.

and then suddenly, we screech to a stop. and we are there. we are adults. and, despite all the trappings, we are a little bit lost. we look around, we look back, down the disjointed path, and we realize it’s all fleeting and we, struggling, our hearts quivering, the gift of retrospect bright and shining, pine for simple. we wish we could sit and have chicken soup with our mom, or with our children, and listen and share. we wish we could say that we have learned, in all our human-imperfection, that most important of all, just as we might have suspected, are those rocks and feathers and branches. most important of all are those moments spent with beloveds. most important of all is the honest exchange of ideas and thoughts, choices good and bad, learnings and re-learnings. most important of all is the sharing of our emotions, the visceral, the belly laughs, the sobs, the mistakes and the forgiveness of our flawedness, our common denominator. and hopefully, if the world is as full of grace as we are told, most important of all is the giving and receiving of unconditional love.

i wish i could sit with my sweet momma right now and ask her…how did she make it to almost-94 without a broken-heart-from-life-stuff time and again. i wish she could, once again, reassure me that “this too shall pass” and remind me that moments in time are just that – moments in time. i wish she could tell me her coping strategies, the way she found her zen in this big old damaged perfect world.

i’m guessing chicken soup played a big part.

*****

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the middle of an elongated hexagon. [two artists tuesday]

the cheesecloth sky filtered out most of the sun over the trail through the woods. others had been there before us; the snowmobile track interrupted by the plodding hoofprints of a horse, picking its way through inches of snow. we were next, our boots crunching and breaking through crust the bit of sun had settled on the top of the snow. we saw no one else. we passed by no one else. the quiet was welcome; the quiet was necessary.

in the distant clouds we could see the brush of setting sun. and the lyrics, “…right now it seems to be more than enough to just be here today, and i don’t know what the future is holdin’ in store. i don’t know where i’m goin’, i’m not sure where i’ve been. there’s a spirit that guides me, a light that shines for me. my life is worth the livin’, i don’t need to see the end…” (sweet surrender, john denver)

we were awake in the middle of the night. this is more usual than unusual these days.

we talked about the elongated hexagon of life. of the start. of sweet babies lilah and jaxon and their beginnings – their exponential learning day by day, their attaching to people, to things, to understanding. the billowing ever-widening incandescent rainbow bubble of possibility that surrounds them as they grow, as they become.

we talked about the elongated hexagon of life. of the end. of the narrowing down of experiences, the detaching, the ever-decreasing possibilities of dearest columbus, in the journey that minds take on roads of dementia.

we talked about the elongated hexagon of life. of the middle. of the time in the center. of our lives. “more than enough…just to be here today…more than enough…”

the trail is familiar; the trail is different every day we take it. we trace deertracks with mittened hands and build snowmen and snowhearts with the powdery snow in the shade of the trail.

we don’t know where we’re going. we can’t see the end. we are smack dab in the middle. and, on this bitter cold day in muted woods under a cottage cheese sky in silence, that needs to be enough.

*****

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the chair. [two artists tuesday]

the snow around it was untouched, pure, driven by wind. the grey of the day was serene, quiet. the chair waited.

we had passed by the chair a few times before. it sat, unsat-in, looking lonely and wistful, as only empty chairs can look. the chair waited.

after the fresh snow had fallen, we pulled on snowpants and magical down mittens. with roads barely plowed, we trekked around the neighborhood, coming upon the chair, waiting.

it was as if i could hear its sorrow as we approached, this chair left outside with no takers. without hesitancy i walked to it, to sit in its snow-filled seat, to ponder life for just a bit of time. i could feel the chair smile.

we giggled at the absurdity of the easy chair in the snow, but the chair just sat, gleeful with the company and the sound of laughter.

the technicolor snowglobe moment looked black and white, stark contrasts against powder. the chair felt hopeful, color returning to its chair-life.

as i stood to go, i silently thanked the chair and wished for its adoption by someone who needed an easy sit, a place to wonder.

we walked away and i turned back just once. the chair was sitting up straight and tall, stalwart, steadfast, heartened.

a day or two later we went by the place where the chair had sat. recent snow had filled in where it had been, filled in my bootprints around it.

and we were happy for the chair.

*****

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masks and pedestals. [two artists tuesday]

i have never been a fan of pedestals. pedestals encourage blind faith in someone human, not really useful in a world of imperfection. pedestals encourage a spirit of elitism, that kind of ladder-rung-sorting not really useful in a world striving for equality, for unity. pedestals encourage silence, not really useful in a world where chinwags and truth should go hand in hand.

when i was not yet a teenager, in 1969, my big brother got married. he and my sister-in-law, even at their own young ages, became really involved in marriage encounter – a weekend retreat celebrating marriage and delving into “vivencia”, the life experiences that brought them each to where they were together. because i adored my brother and his wife, and because i spent an inordinate amount of time with them, they included me in on their learnings and encouraged me to reflect on my own shaping and dreams. i will not forget the conversations we had about masks.

we talked about mask-wearing for long hours over mounds of ice cream and big glasses of iced coffee. my brother was adamant about dropping the elastic bands holding the mask over one’s face, in opening eyes that had been tightly shut, locking out verity. his words about being who you are – who you really are – not who the mask you are wearing says you are or how it hides who you are – echo in my mind and have partnered with my own feelings about pedestals.

i have had to revisit his words likely a zillion times through my life and wish he were sitting here now to continue the conversation with him.

filling in the blank with a person-put-on-a-pedestal or one-wearing-a-false-mask, i have been reminded time and again that just because _____ said something (whatever that something is) doesn’t mean it’s right.

i have silently thanked my big brother again and again for reminding me, with that nagging voice in my head that eschews ladder-runging, of the value of each one of us, sans pedestals, sans masks.

i have sought, both with success and with failure, to stay true to his important words, to identify any masks-in-the-moment, mine or those of others, to stand on the ground next to each other, in the middle of generous strengths and vulnerable weaknesses, struggling on the human seesaw of magnanimity and selfish motives, giving up any expectation of perfection in exchange for the acknowledgement of limitations and the offer of hope, trying to just be.

pedestals and masks, both wearying, both a waste of good living, both not really useful on this good earth in trying to just be. thank you, my big bro, for the reminder in the ice on the deck.

*****

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the soul of the earth. [two artists tuesday]

“it never occurs to us to wonder how the earth sees us. is it not possible that a place could have huge affection for those who dwell there? … could it be possible that a landscape might have a deep friendship with you? that it could sense your presence and feel the care you extend towards it? … perhaps each day our lives undertake unknown tasks on behalf of the silent mind and vast soul of nature. during its millions of years of presence perhaps it was also waiting for us, for our eyes and our words.” john o’donohue’s continued writing in this passage from beauty so reinforces personal responsibility for our good earth.

have you stood in a place, grounded into the dirt, unable to step away? have you hiked in, willing the trail to never-end, to not enter back into the sphere of bustling humanity? have you laid in the grass, your eyes on the clouds, pushing sleep just a bit to the side, creating words and shapes and animals in the sky, laden with sun-color, untouched by crayons or paint? have you touched the bark of a tree that whispered to you wise words with deep roots? have you cradled the petals of a flower gently in the palm of your hand, silenced by its fragility, its complexity?

and what has the good earth felt about us? have we offered the same solace to its soul? has it been moved by our tenderness? is it listening to our carefully-chosen words to each other or is it reeling, dumbstruck, at words thrown willy-nilly, demeaning phrases, curses and mean-spiritedness uttered in its place? does the earth trust we will do the right thing, that we will preserve its goodness for centuries to come? can it feel the love we have for it or is it begging us to notice the litter strewn on the ground or yet another person who throws trash out the car window? do places we go miss us when we leave or is there a sigh of relief as we pass through to the next place? does this soul wait for our soul to return?

the feeling you get when you arrive somewhere you have never been and yet you know you have been there before. the exhilaration of feeling the invisible source of serenity, the tethers of strength. the freedom you feel at the edge of the canyon, your heart beating wildly, a connection to all that has gone before you and all that comes after you.

how can we ever know the difference we make to the soul of the earth?

how can we not know?

responsibility.

*****

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the gallery on my phone. [two artists tuesday]

the gallery on my phone: there are photos of any minutes any where with or of my children. there are photos of trails and woods and my husband’s face and heart-shaped leaves. there are photos of dogdog and babycat, family, friends, photos of wildflowers, bushes, gardens and happy lights, recipes, screenshots of funny snapchat-filtered faces, cairns, and mountains, lots of mountains. there are photos of our feet, laughter, redrock and snowmen, lakes and oceans, streams and frozen ponds, birds and butterflies and preserved text messages, trail magic greenery, sunrises and sunsets, the sun and the moon. there are photos in the united states and photos abroad. photos in canoes and fishing skiffs, on pontoon boats and stand-up boards, riding ice-cutting ferries. there are photos of pianos and pipes and pumpkins, wooden stages, stages of rock, prickly cactus and my casts. there are quaking aspens and forests of pine, wizened old trees, towering oaks and radiant maples, highways and back roads. there are squirrels and deer, raccoons, horses and heart-shaped rocks. there are snow pictures and desert pictures, sandy pictures and muddy pictures, city skylines and small town main streets, wine glasses, thoughtfully-prepared meals, candles burning, bonfires, and masks littering the ground iso faces. there are tree stumps, tree trunks and bark and branches, interesting shapes, shadows, buildings, sayings emblazoned anywhere, articles to remember to read later, signs and designs, horsehoof and deer and bunny tracks, and heart-shaped designs that waited in the dirt, in the snow, in rock formations.

there are thousands of photographs. thousands.

i look back on them often. there are times i will select a whole bunch and transfer them over to my laptop so that i can print them and put them up on a bulletin board in our hallway or on the big piece of tin in the kitchen or frame them for one of the flat surfaces that doesn’t already have a photograph. but mostly, i look back on them to spend time – again – right there.

right now, in a country devastated by a raging pandemic and out-of-control political chaos and violence, in a town riddled with inordinately tough emotional disparity and a lack of social justice over the district attorney’s ruling in a case involving a police officer who shot a black man in the back seven times, now on the outermost fringes of what was an up-close-and-personal community lacking transparency to its members, in sadness and angst, i need to be back there.

back with people i love who love me back.

back at places that brought me peace or laughter, challenged me or rewarded me with a sense of calm.

back where every heart is noticed, whosever it is, wherever it is, even whether it be a rock, a leaf, a knot in a tree in the woods, or the funny way that the ice melted on the deck.

*****

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trail magic. [two artists tuesday]

“trail magic” is a term for unexpected generosity on the trail. it originated on the appalachian trail and includes snacks and drinks, sometimes even pancakes or burgers. hikers stumble upon this magic – it is the stuff of celebration.

trail magic is not limited, however, to through-hikes and the wilderness. though we’d love to be out on one of those trails (the appalachian, pacific crest or maybe a little more doable for us – the john muir) we are a bit more localized at the moment. in nearby areas, we hike a few trails over and over, watching the seasons change and the wildlife come and go. we recognize when a tree has fallen or when grasses have been tamped down by sleeping deer. the subtleties surround us. we notice them. magic.

this holiday season was unlike any other for us. there was no music planning, no practicing, no piles of anthems strewn on the piano. there were no rehearsals, no services, no choir parties. there was no bonfire after the late christmas eve service, no luminaria party. there were no festive gatherings, no big crowded dinners, no small dinners with guests, no happy hours in holiday finery. there was no travel over the river and through the woods, no trips to visit or sightsee or play tourist. there was no newly-purchased christmas tree – real or artificial. there were no packages under the white lighted branches in our living room or the small forest of trees i have collected through the years.

but there was magic.

trail magic – on our journey through these holidays – came in the form of a very few people who reached out. their kindnesses were the gentle touch of a magic wand and today, as we write our thank-yous, i hope to convey that to them.

trail magic – on our journey through these holidays – came in the form of a blowing snowfall on christmas eve, inches of crunchy snow in the woods, a blustery day spent inside a warm house watching it sleet outside.

trail magic – on our journey through these holidays – most especially came in the form of these tiny bits of precious time: seeing the face of my son in-person on a freezing cold christmas eve, my boy and his charming boyfriend, both warm and relaxed and looking happy despite the circumstances of these times. and seeing the face of my daughter on facetime, a delayed opening of gifts, wrap and glitter flying, and then, just minutes after our new year turned, sharing her mountain-time new year’s eve with a sweet young man, both warm and relaxed and looking happy despite the circumstances of these times. magic.

for there is nothing more magical for me than to see my beloved children looking happy. there is nothing more magical for me than to share a little bit of time with them. trail magic – on our journey – indeed.

*****

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accountability. [two artists tuesday]

beaky thought greg norman was pretty, well, handsome, shall we say? she was taken with his tall blondness and, though she didn’t follow golf much back then, she kept an eye on him. she would be proud of him these days as he cautions us all not to take covid-19 lightly. stricken with coronavirus, he urges, “do what is right, not just for you, but your family, friends, co-workers and other people around.” he adds, “i wouldn’t want anyone to experience this hideous virus. please take care.” i imagine she’d write him a letter.

the headlines say it all – a surge upon a surge. choices made during this holiday season will deliver blowback to people’s health and well-being, their very lives, decimating the healthcare system, and there is no one to blame for that but ourselves. every single choice impacts us all in the time of this shared pandemic. disney world and large family gatherings and traveling trips to other parts of the country all play a role; there is no escaping accountability.

i recently read of a discussion about authority and accountability. the open question was this: who has authority and who has accountability? wow. really? this seems, without any undue thought, a no-duh. those who have authority to make decisions are the same as those who are accountable for them. escaping from responsibility-taking is off the table. if you make a decision then you must support that by taking responsibility for it. in any arena. if you travel on an airplane or a train or a car to a different part of our country and you bring covid as luggage, you must take responsibility. if you gather and covid is a silent guest at the long dining table laden with treats, you must take responsibility. if you don’t wear a mask and you are with others who become infected, particularly those at high risk, you must take responsibility. and i wonder – is it worth it? we each have the authority, the liberty, the freedom to make decisions. but that also makes us responsible. it makes us accountable. in any arena.

dogdog, as we rapidly approach the end of 2020, just asks this one thing. with this two-ply cotton fabric mask on his head, he looks up at us and queries, “this? this is what all the hubbub is about? this tiny cloth mask? it can literally save lives?? pshaw!!”

as we watch him looking at us out of the corner of his eye, i imagine him adding, “just WEAR the freaking thing!”

i’m guessing greg norman and my sweet momma agree.

*****

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