2017 Scene and Story #10: Creature Town

I love the plants and wildlife where we live. So much diversity nests, crawls, hops, flutters, and soars through our space. When I spot something, I feel six years old again. "Look there's a butterfly!"

My favorite picture of September is definitely the cardinal side-eye, but I couldn't help but share other mini scenes to add to the story.






These roses sit just under the bird feeder, hosting spiders, thorns, and brilliant petals.




I love the little feathers being flipped up by the wind.





All my kids ran outside in the middle of homework when someone spotted a praying mantis on our front porch. He was very photogenic and patiently crawled around letting us admire him.






I like it when lots of birds crowd the feeder at once. It's like a bird-town reality show. Who will prevail? Who will be kicked off the tray?






These seed pods are in a tree whose leaves were just beginning to turn on the first day of Autumn.





A broad-winged hawk is cooling himself on the swingset. We usually see-red-tailed hawks in our yard, so this was a welcome surprise.






We have heirloom carrots in our garden this year. This Monarch is sitting atop and underneath the carrot flowers. Another favorite snapshot of the month.





One of the regular bird-town characters, this pretty bird is normally fluffier and has a pointy crest, but here he is crouched and ready.






My son is studying the lunar cycles in school. We've been taking lots of moon pictures. It has been more difficult than I expected, so this shot came as a pleasant surprise. I also kept it because it seemed to represent the whole month. Instead of just one night of full moon, the entire 30 days felt expectant, itchy, and wild.



For all of 2017, I'm joining Sarah from Paisley Rain Boots and Lee from Sea Blue Lens for a monthly Scene and Story Linkup. They are my photography inspiration!

The Names We Keep


I adore family tree research. Sometimes the photos and facts lack the heart that only stories can bring, so I piece together details and make my own. Here is one such story about my grandmother Justina. 


Justina was the daughter who baked bread.

She gathered the hem of her sack cloth dress out of the dewy grass as she stooped to collect straw and dried cow pies in her apron. On pleasant days, her favorite brother Bill ran along after her dropping almost as much as he picked up. They turned the dung patties they didn’t collect, to continue drying in the sun.

While she loved Bill’s cheerfulness, she couldn’t afford to lose time gathering fuel. Even on days where the sun highlighted every shaft of young wheat in the field, and the warm air chased the last bits of winter out of the prairie, Justina needed to feed the outdoor oven with care. It took hours to conjure the white heat that would suck the moisture from the dough, brown the crust, and form air pockets the perfect size for sopping up gravy.

Justina Fehr was the fifth of nine children living in a sod house in the village of Friedensrhu, Manitoba. Her father worked in the threshing business as most Mennonites did. They had brought their hearty wheat, famous work ethic, and conscientious objector-status from Russian colonies. That is why they were ideal farmers for hire. They were too poor to have substantial crops of their own, so they dug dwellings out of the hillocks and filled cracks in the earthen walls with cow dung plaster as if that would warn away the arctic winds.


Justina was the girl who wore a used flour sack for a dress.

Her mother Anna went to Winkler, six miles away, every fall to stock up on sugar, denim, and flour. Justina was in charge of rationing those items, and the potatoes and yeast cakes that she kept in a hole under the floor. Along with those supplies, she had one can of baking powder and a hundred pounds of flour a month to feed the family until the following fall.

Years later, she would say about her childhood that she was always “making stuff from nothing.” In the leanest years, Justina scraped the burnt loaves of bread to make a coffee-like drink. In better times, she roasted wheat mixed with a little molasses to make coffee. They’d know a month or two into each summer which kind of year it would be.

Her oldest sister Anna, named after their mother, was in charge of the sewing and mending. Anna made overalls for the boys from the denim each year, and she made the girls dresses from used flour sacks. Anna had dyed Justina’s dress dark green last fall, which flattered her eyes and hair, although Justina would never admit such a prideful, frivolous thing aloud.



Justina was the dreamer who skipped rope with the twine used to tie up wheat.

Only after the kneading boards had been brushed clean, the supper dishes had been cleared, and the oven had cooled could she steal a moment to herself. Since “bicycles weren’t for girls,” Justina played hopscotch, walked along the stream flanking the cow pasture picking the white clover blossoms, or braided twine to make a just-right jump rope. She enjoyed these activities, especially since they didn’t require standing near the bread oven, but her secret desire was always and forever to read.


Justina had been forced to quit school after the fifth grade because she was needed at home. Since she wanted to be a teacher, this devastated her and fueled her passion for reading even more. For the last two years, her only education had been from reading the Bible or the books detailing the lives of Mennonite missionaries. 
But reading didn’t put bread on the table. 



Justina was the girl who forged faith and strength.

One spring, Justina became very sick. Her hair fell out and she was cold all the time. Her mother said she had typhoid fever. She was unable to gather fuel for the oven, knead the dough, or bake the loaves. 

She could only lay on the deacon's bench she used for a bed. Her sister Anna stuffed fresh hay into the bed sack so she might feel less pain while she looked up at the earthen ceiling in her tiny room. 


In a quiet moment, when she was all alone, I can imagine Justina wondering, "Where are You, God? I'm scared." She would have closed her eyes because even the effort to hold them open would have felt too much. 

The answer to her question might have come in a dream where she was walking along the stream at sunset. She would have heard the running water whisper, "I Am the baking of the bread. I Am the love you have for yourself. I Am the search for truth." 

Dear Teri,

Sometimes people do things for you, and you don't even realize what a gift they've given you. I was thinking back to a difficult time today and realized there was a person I wanted to publicly thank. She's not the kind of person who does things for recognition, and there are certainly other people who worked behind the scenes without me knowing. I just want her to know that she is amazing.





Dear Teri,

It has been almost 3 years since my brother died. When my mom, sister, and I arrived in your Texas town for the funeral, we hadn't heard from Paul in years. My family was fractured. 

When you arranged Paul's funeral, his burial, and made us feel welcome, we were grateful. We were dazed and swimming in loss and regret. Despite your own grief and pain, you saw to every detail. 

We were grateful because we had been disconnected for so long, and you were there for Paul in so many ways. You cared for him in life and death. You didn't hesitate to do what needed to be done. 

That's the kind of person you are.

We weren't whole, as a family, and each of us had been carrying hurt and resentment toward other family members, or toward life itself. Paul's death reunited us in strange ways. We looked at people who had hurt us and saw their grief was just as heavy as our own. We hugged them. It was crazy and beautiful.

If we had been asked to step in, I'm not sure who would have led the planning. Since you took on that burden, we were able to grieve, each of us, with grace. It was an enormous relief.

There are no words to explain my gratitude for the kind of heart you have, for the sweet, courageous, and loving mindset that guides your actions in daily life.

Thank you will have to suffice. Thank you for all that you did. You helped a family heal.

Much love to you and your family,

Rachel




My Favorite Characters


Today I'm highlighting characters from an untitled work. The female character's soundtrack is Johnny Cash's version of Hurt, and I use this Pinterest Board for inspiration when I write in her voice. I love her back story (which will be revealed later) and her fully incorporated shadow side.

The male character's name is a battle cry. Enough said.


Here's the scene in the book where we meet Faith and Michael:




Faith left the safety of her basement tattoo shop, pounded up the cement steps in her boots, fishnets, and flared mini-skirt. She shouldered open the metal door to one of a thousand Chicago alleys and hugged the brick wall since the sky looked like it was about open up any second. She walked several steps to where the old buildings met the sidewalk. It wasn't raining yet, but the air was never still this close to the lakeshore. She pulled her jacket tight around her to guard against the wind.

Faith slapped the pack of cigarettes on her gloved hand and pulled the first one out of a fresh pack. She didn’t often smoke, just when she needed inspiration or was bored. Gabby, the owner of the shop above hers, set a large tin vase full of assorted flowers just outside the front door a few yards from where Faith was standing. She smiled at Faith, and said, "Hey girl. I'm trying to brighten up this day." 

Faith smiled back. Gabby held a finger up and said, "Wait, I have something for you!" Gabby reappeared a moment later with a single flower in her hand. She ran down the sidewalk to Faith and tucked a blue anemone bloom behind Faith's ear. 

"It represents," she paused for dramatic effect, "anticipation." Gabby laughed and ran back to her shop. 

Faith shook her head, and couldn't help but smile at Gabby's endless attempts to turn Faith into a "normal girl" who chased after guys and was giddy about flowers.

She placed the cigarette between her lips with one hand and reached into her jacket pocket for her lighter with the other. Her face was turned down, and before she could reach it, she heard the flip of a zippo cap. Time slowed while her eyes focused on a small flame in front of her face.

Because it was second nature, she leaned into the flame until the tobacco and paper caught fire. She inhaled, watching the ember chase the paper up the cigarette. Only with the fire extinguished, did she see the intricate vines etched into the smoked copper lighter and the hand that had produced it.

She smoothed a dark lock of hair carefully along her face and behind her ear and lifted her chin to meet his gaze. Except he wasn’t looking at her. The man was looking down the street with narrowed eyes. He tucked the artful lighter into an inner pocket of his leather jacket and lifted the thick collar up around his neck to keep out the chill.

Faith took another drag off her cigarette and appraised this man. She noted longish wavy hair that was light brown, but a little red when the light changed. It was cut close on his neck but hung long enough that it started to fall loosely around his ears. He also had the kind of beard that made her want to run her hands along his jawline and pull down his bottom lip just a little bit.

She was intrigued enough to see what had his attention. She poked her head out from the alley and looked down the street to find a hulking motorcycle and a couple of kids standing nearby eyeing it.

It was no stock bike. The man and the machine fit together. They were both built with fire and tools, each a one-of-a-kind creation. The kids glanced in their direction and decided they should move along quickly.

She pulled her head back in and found that the man had been staring at her, arms crossed over his sizeable chest, patiently waiting for her attention.

He said, “I’m looking for Faith.”

“Why?”

“She’s a tattoo artist.”

She stubbed out her cigarette on the brick and tossed it into the trash can outside the flower shop entrance near the sidewalk. Then she started walking back toward the heavy metal door.

She stopped and turned her head back toward him. He had put his hands in his pockets and had been watching her walk away.

She waved him on and said, “I meant, why do you want me to do your tattoo?” 

He smiled with one side of his mouth and jogged to meet her, opening the door while she ducked in out of the cold rain that had just begun to fall.

She didn’t slow her pace as she went down the stairs into a dimly lit basement hallway. The man who had lit her flame only needed one step for every two of hers, so he had no trouble keeping up.

When they reached the door to her shop, she reached up along the frame to find the key with her fingertips. She sighed playfully as she unlocked the door, and added, “Now I have to find a new hiding spot,” tucking the key into one of her boots.

The man took off his jacket and hung it to dry on the coat rack. While his back was turned, Faith traced a line with her eyes from his large fingers up a thick arm braided with musculature that came from using wrenches, tools, and fire all day, every day. Her lips parted and pressed into a devious grin. She loved a tattoo virgin. The bare skin was begging to be pierced and marked. The white tee shirt just made his skin seem that much more pristine.

He reached into his pants pocket and turned on his cell phone. He turned his phone around to reveal a picture of a dragon tattoo. “This is yours right?”

She lifted her chin a little as if inspecting the photo more carefully, but she knew instantly whose back it was, and that she had marked him so.

Faith met his eyes, and nodded her head to confirm it, but then said, “No.”

The man raised his eyebrows.

She explained, “You can’t have that tattoo.”

“I want something a little different, but I’m looking for this talent.” He tapped his phone.

“What’s your name?”

“Michael.”

“I only take cash, Michael.”

Faith sat in the chair behind her table and turned on the lamp. “Have a seat.” She gestured to the old leather couch along the wall.

It had never occurred to Faith that the couch was too small, but Michael’s frame made it seem undersized.

She grabbed a stick of charcoal out of the tray, and said, “Talk to me.”

***

Michael understood that he was supposed to explain the idea for the art he wanted. He also knew Faith wouldn’t tolerate fluff. 

He eyed the chipped blood red nail polish set off by her pale white skin, and said, “I see an untamed dragon that stretches from my shoulder,” he pointed to the spot on his left arm where his shirt sleeve met his skin. Then he lifted his arm and put his hand behind his head, moving his hand down over his heart, his stomach, and just below the waistline of his jeans, “to here.” 


His shirt had lifted along with his arm to reveal just a hint of his abdomen. Faith contemplated the map he had drawn on himself, maybe for a second longer than she should have. She swallowed and rested her chin on a fist and leaned in a little, “What do you mean by untamed?”

“The one I showed you is amazing, but it’s a little tame.” Michael knew he’d need to offer Faith a challenge, or she’d become bored and dismiss him. He fiddled with his pocket knife, not looking at Faith directly anymore.

She pressed her lips together and began making marks with charcoal on a large blank piece of paper.


Michael sat back against the tufted leather and withheld a satisfied smile. He was eager to see what kind of dragon she’d conjure for him.

As Faith continued sketching, Michael wondered how a tattoo artist got away with having no visible tattoos. Not that it mattered. He knew her work, and he wouldn't have gone to anyone else. 

He had heard that she didn't have business cards and didn't advertise. She was an underground artist whose work was so revered that she could turn away a dozen clients a day if she wanted. He figured she just didn't want the hassle, so she kept her operation small and only worked when she chose to.

Without looking up from her sketch, Faith said, "You don't need to wait here."

Michael didn't hesitate to give her space. "I'm from out of town, but I have people to see. I'll be back tomorrow." 


"Bring cash."


Faith looked up to see him nod and returned to her work. Michael left wondering if she'd tattoo him if she knew what kind of work he did. It didn't matter, though. He'd get the ink and leave as soon as it was done. He wouldn't risk getting involved with anyone, not even a beautiful artist named Faith.

***


2017 Scene and Story #9

I took a walk late on a Sunday afternoon hoping to find some interesting things growing wild in the ditch along my path. When the sun lit up a dragonfly's wings, it unwittingly posed for several seconds, letting me adjust my position and attain the perfect depth of field.





Just as being strong means 
simultaneously fighting for peace
and being able to accept it -


So too, a dragonfly hovers furiously in midair
just to light upon a tender stem.

The moment of rest
and perfect balance
was fleeting and precious.



I went home rejuvenated, but a piece of me was still on the path, searching.

After reflection, I realized that I had fallen prey to the belief that peace is something to be earned between long periods of struggle. I forgot that a person can keep her energy all pulled in, and be truly whole, anytime she wants.


More wild beauty from August:















For all of 2017, I'm joining Sarah from Paisley Rain Boots and Lee from Sea Blue Lens for a monthly Scene and Story Linkup. They are my photography inspiration!