Tiny Stories, Tiny Tales

getting it out of my system

Near the edge of Fabyan is a place. There is Fabyan with its wild orderliness, it’s sculptures, grottos and garden and then there is this place.
For good or bad it was there. Founded in 1894 by a woman- an Illinois State School for Girls. Certain sorts of girls. Immoral girls and unruly ones. “The bad ‘uns.” Maybe.
Maybe not. Girls from all over the state were placed here. They worked as maids during the day or did hard labour and then were locked into tiny cells at night with bars on the windows. Locked into a room at night after doing back breaking work. Rooms wide as far as you can stretch out your arms. Cells for bad girls.
And so girls died there. Some were taken back to their original homes but some were not. They weren’t wanted. Maybe there was no money in the family to get them back or maybe they were simply a disgrace. Maybe there was no family. So these dead girls and some of the dead babies that these girls had were put on a small plot on the property. Some were marked, some weren’t. They weren’t deep graves but they were put away. Names and dates and nothing else. Telling a story. A story. The property sat still forever. In 1979, the old buildings were shut down and the property sat and sat. I drove past as a little girl and always looked quizzically at the rising hill it was on. It rose up over the Fox River with the road nestled between its slope and the River and I always wondered, “What is up there? It looks so abandoned.” And it was. Till a few years ago when someone bought the old school farm and turned it into a housing development for the wealthy.
The wealthy? They drive out of the entrance in SUVs. They drive out of a place that was surrounded by a chain-link fence and barbed wire. A place that let you in and did not let you out. And at the bottom of all of this flashed a river, heading away.
The buildings are gone but the developer let the cemetery stay. Who knows? Maybe it is protected by some sort of oddball conservation effort. Conserving grief? Pain? Aloneness? Despair? Death?
Ahhhhhhhh, but the rich live all around it.
Even ivory towers cannot mask oppression in the soil.

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The Taste of Tea

A favorite film of mine, The Taste of Tea, centers on an eccentric family living in the Japanese countryside. They spend a great deal of time sitting outside, sipping tea and staring into space. They sit as a family, alone, or in a small group and no one talks. They just stare out into the deep green that is the summer. And then they get up and go on walks or go off to work.

The first time I watched The Taste of Tea, I was shaken and delighted that the film gave space and respect to one of my favorite pastimes: sipping tea and staring into space.

When spring grew warm enough, I was inspired by the film to sit outside and stare into my backyard in the early morning. The Taste of Tea had given me a sort of permission to leave stress behind and take this time for one of my deepest desires: to enjoy and contemplate nature while sipping tea.

I named my new practice “Sipping Tea and Watching the Grass Grow.” I felt ridiculous whenever I mentioned it to anyone but that hardly mattered. I was doing what I loved so much, watching plants grow, watching the birds and small animals moving through it all, and sky glowing blue and serene over us all.

 

Grass grows slowly, imperceptibly but after each rain, it leaps up by inches. The violets came in May and they lasted for weeks. After that the dandelions bloomed and I lost a little bit of my heart to them. The wind picked up their seeds and sent the white fluffs floating into the air in sweet, downy clouds. After that, small wild strawberries, glowing like fierce red gems, appeared in the lawn. Now at the end of June, a luxurious, emerald green covers nearly everything. It reaches up from the ground, covering fences and stones or it high overhead, green leaves moving in tall, imperceptible breezes.

 

The heat has settled in so now even in the mornings, I pour sweat while drinking my tea. On some mornings the birds are noisy and busy and on other days they are not. Sometimes a great big bumblebee comes tumbling along, droning in that low, hazy buzz as it investigates every surface and flower. And then sometimes it does not come. Some days the clouds are like fluffs of cotton, other days there isn’t a cloud in sight. Each day brings a new configuration, nature is never still. I watch it all and at other times, I close my eyes and listen to my breathing. I’m not alone, never alone, a part of a whole.

A Tale of Two Worlds

I walk past a window on my way to get a glass of water and note the snow falling outside.  As I fill my glass at the sink, my thoughts have already turned back to my work on the computer. I’m wrestling with the household budget, when I’ll fit some reading in, how to get on with my writing work, when I’ll exercise, when I’ll catch up with email correspondence and the list goes on and on.

Anytime I stop my work and look up, past the chatter in my mind, the snow catches me off guard as if it’s the first time I’m seeing it. I debate whether I can put off the grocery store to avoid driving in the snow.

This is the world of the everyday. It’s full of a thousand petty cares, some essential to living, others not as much but all in a lump group, tugging us along.

But there are times my mind needs something more refreshing, and it’s time to take a break. And that’s where music comes in—as powerful as Circe creating a circle of magic with her staff. I pick out music without words (or words I don’t understand). Today is Rimsky-Korsakov, tomorrow might be the film Phantom Thread’s soundtrack, or a piece of jazz played by Lucky Thompson.

As Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Snow Maiden starts, the circle opens. I come out of the everyday world and enter somewhere extraordinary, where beauty converges with life and cares and worries exit for a time. And all it takes is a little music, a little snow, and entering the moment that is now.

I watch the snow falling, noting the wind direction as the snow blows southeast and then drops and then exhales again southwards. I note the density of the snow, how it’s light and sparkling and then downy, heavy, and wet.  My thoughts finally still and I turn off the music. A heavy relief passes over my body and mind and I am still, watching the beauty of the world.