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Archive for the ‘From the Heart’ Category

Stonespeak

     Image      A serendipitous meeting can ignite a lifelong romance, my love affair with the distant past was sparked by the farm we moved to when I was six; my heart was gone the first time I saw our house.  The day we went to our new home my dad paused for a few moments, on the cattle guard at the top of the long drive, and we looked at the foundation of our new life.   It was an early summer morning, the sun had on his best lovers face, the one that  murmurs sweet nothings to the  newly sprouted plants, coaxing them to rise up to meet him.  We had stopped at just the right moment for the sun to catch the little limestone house glowing in his amorous glory.

      The little house sparkled in the sunlight and I knew that I had come to a magical place. I had no idea then that in the millennia before my time nature’s geological sleight of hand had transformed the land where the little house now stood with mountains of ice at least twice or that during  long interglacials vast seas flowed above it like the silks flowing from a magician’s sleeve. The millions of years and billions of tiny fossils that made the stone walls of our house were revealed when man had pulled the last wisp of nature’s veiling fabric from the stone and the stone had been waiting millenia to tell me its story.

The farm was two hundred and forty acres of the gently rolling loess soil farmer’s lust after because of its fertile richness.    Massive ice sheets during the Kansan and Illinoian glaciers had smoothed our farm but it was the Illinoian ice’s intricate dance with the climate that gave the farm’s fecund soil its promise.  Our farms microclimate was such that she had been part of the boundary line for the Illinoian glacier. Thousands of years of the ice thrusting forward in the cooler times and withdrawing during the warm ones pulverized, ground, and mixed the rocks and minerals which birthed her finely textured soil. Chambers hill, on the southern border of the farm, rose up from the pasture in defiance as if the limestone were saying to the ice, “I can take you”.

In the years that followed I think I looked at every square inch of the limestone facing with my dad’s magnifying glass; it was he who explained to me what a fossil was.  He never understood how the past could consume me as he was a man who had no time for the past.  His boyhood was spent in the heart of the depression, years that shaped him just as his father shaped the limestone at the quarry.  Those early years of hardship built a fire in him that kept him focused on the future until the day his heart stopped working.  I didn’t understand then what a delicate gift he was giving me when he stole time from his tractor and plow to spend a few minutes with me in the summer sun, looking at the mysteries the stone our home was built of held.

Intricate patterns were created by the shells and casts of the foraminifera, brachiopods¸ crinoids, gastropods, and occasional coral, as well as the bits of plants that made up the Salem limestone that covered our house and they came to own my heart completely that summer.  The tie I felt to those ancient lives began a lifelong romance that has survived a marriage which gave me two children and a relationship that lasted fifteen years. Comprised of small marine fossils, each layer of limestone literally writes in stone a “diary” of what was living in the sea where it was formed.  Learning to read the story of the stones has helped me to understand my own story.

Limestone has a language of its own, the words which describe its strengths, its virtues, its foibles, describe our relationships, our strengths, our failings.   Limestone, like relationships, can be fragmental, precipitated or organic– words that tell us how both were formed; and both can be one or all of the above. The bonds between the components which make up the stone and a relationship are the fabric that holds them together.  Fossils are the remains, the undeniable traces of things from the past that have been preserved in sediment and stone,  in heart and mind.    Sometimes, no trace of the animal or plant, the person or act  is there, just the impression they left  and it is  with these  ghosts from the past, these fragments of pre-existing material, that nature builds limestone and  we build a relationship with another.

Born of a union of the sea and its creatures limestone is a child of water, this ancient affinity is affirmed as water gently caresses a path through the limestone’s pores.  Each drop wends its way down, wearing away the creatures of the stone carrying them to my glass; in my teeth, in my bones they are transmogrified.  I am made of the very rock I stand on, nature has declared that I am bone of her bone and flesh of her flesh.  There is a rightness, a continuity which bridges past and present that I am made of the land; there is comfort in knowing that from the dust I was literally made and to the dust I shall return.

*****

I mark the time of my childhood not by years but by a method of  my own reckoning, events happened Before the new Farm or After the new Farm and my personal fault line of Before the Divorce or After the Divorce.  My parents divorced when I was ten, my mother took my sister and my father kept me.  With the bedrock of my life cleft the past became a refuge, a place where old things were precious because there was no change in them.  In most ways I brought myself up as my father was too busy, there was a mortgage to pay, a future to build and his own pain to work through.  It was my own divorce that helped me to understand his. The scar my parent’s divorce left in me was deep and in retrospect I see the relationship between my emotional scar and my favorite place on the farm for the next few years.

A gully cut a deep scar across the length of our front pasture, winding through the fescue, orchard grass and bluestem until it ran into the neighbor’s pond about half a mile southeast of our fence line.   The old gully was a foot or two deeper than I was tall and it became my fort, my castle,  my “Hole in the Wall”, and favorite hiding spot; it was my refuge.  I carved niches out in the gully’s worn walls with pieces of  chert I  found in the gully’s bottom. My dad told me that the Indians had used chert (flint) to start their fires. I tried in vain many times to start a fire by striking two pieces of chert together just right so they create a spark, I never did get the job done even after watching my dad do it.  The niches held books, candles, tools,  and food,  all the accoutrements  of a kid who at various times was a fur trapper, cowboy, pioneer and astronaut.  The gully’s layered sides also held the seeds that would make me a member of our FFA chapter’s nationally ranked soil judging team and begin my interest in water issues.  The gully was more than my playground and refuge, it was my hands on school,  a natural Montessori school at its most instinctive level.  The gully and the ancient stones of our house challenged me; silently asking questions that I wanted to know the answers to.

Sometime in the years A.F. but B.D., when I was between the ages of six and ten, we experienced an earthquake that rattled the dishes, made the lamps swing to and fro, and my favorite old sow run in stiff legged circles. My dad explained earthquakes and told me that an ancient fault lay just over the county line, near Stinesville, close to the ridge where he was born.  I searched the literature for years before I found a reference saying that fault does indeed exist.  My father was dead before I found the study that mentioned an ancient fault underlying Stinesville. Though I had never said so to  him, I always suspected that he had the Mount Carmel fault, further to the east, in Monroe County in mind;  my father as most fathers are, was a very smart man and the older I become I find the smarter he gets.

The earthquake woke me to the fact that  just as my parents marriage would soon show itself  to be, just because something looks solid doesn’t mean it is.  Limestone looks solid when it is really a clastic, organic, composite that is precipitated from the things of the past  –just  as we are and like us it is held together with a matrixical fabric. Created from shells the stone in essence becomes our shell when we build with it. The shells and the paths of the sea creatures that wore them have long out live d them just as the structures humans build with limestone in some cases have long outlived the civilization that built them. In a way the structures made of fossils become fossils themselves when they are the only traces left of the builders and in the end the stone is left– still telling a story of the life which created it.

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Feed Sacks and the Heart

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One of my favorite ways to occupy what little free time I have is to indulge my passion for fiber arts.  It is a thread uniting the women in my family, connecting us with each other as well as generations past. One of my prize possessions was a Lone Star quilt my great grandmother pieced and quilted when she was in her late seventies. Every piece was a good spot she could salvage from clothing to worn to mend, in her world nothing was wasted including words. Her quilting is done in tiny, even stitches; the kind of stitches every quilter would cheerfully give their eye teeth to achieve. When I run my finger down a length of her exquisite stitching I am touching her, sharing with her a moment in time.  In the late twenties, the Indianapolis Star did a feature article on her and her quilt art; the fragile and yellowed pages contain the only picture we have of her in her later years.  In my own right, I am an award winning seamstress and fiber artist as was my mother and grandmother.  My sister in law and niece have brought home their own trophies while my daughters are content to enjoy the fruits of our labors; regardless of which end of the spindle we are on, the love of visible fibers binds us to the invisible ones which have woven the story of our lives.  While I finish my Masters and PhD my spinning wheel, loom, and sewing machine wait patiently for me; the memories they hold and the ones they will help me to create biding their time.

As a child I wore very few store bought clothes, my mother, grandmother, and aunts made nearly every garment we wore.  Livestock feed still came in patterned, cotton, fifty  and one hundred pound sacks in the late fifties and early sixties.  My aunt would send a snippet of fabric, tucked carefully into my uncles worn leather wallet, with him on his weekly Saturday morning trips to the feed store at Amo. His job was to sort through the stacks of feed sacks until he found four bags of feed matching the pattern of the patch he held in his callused hand.  Four feed sacks were enough for my aunt to make herself, my sister, and I matching dresses. Every farmer who came to the mill was charged with the same task so these rawboned, men with sunburned necks and work roughened hands, talked about corn prices,  fat hogs, and tractor breakdowns, as they helped each other find each of their wives treasured patterns.  They took a quiet pride in their wives frugalness and industriousness. They would nod their heads and remark  they remembered helping so and so find that particular design when they saw his wife or daughters wearing a new dress to church.  My aunt upholstered my childhood rocker in a quilt she had made for me from the scraps of our feed store wardrobe. Long after I had outgrown my rocking chair I would sit next to it touching each square, remembering the garment made and and often the occasion I wore it.  That chair was a book without words yet so rich in stories –my stories, it makes my heart ache  my chair burned in the fire.

My stepmother has my great grandmother’s lone star quilt, it was one of my dad’s treasures, one of the few things he had from his family. I’m grateful Betty kept the quilt as it was spared from the flames but  I am going to ask her if I may have it  now.  I yearn for the physical connection to my past, to my family’s stories, the old quilt holds. More than anything else I want to feel great grandma Medsker’s stitches and run my hands over the quilt smoothing it out as she, my grandmother, and my dad did for so many years. Fire is a refiner, it burns away the dross,  allowing you the freedom to understand what’s truly important to you. What you mourn losing tells far more about you than your unscathed possessions ever did.   My chair and it’s stories, keepsake clothing made by four generations of my family’s women, the kitschy crafts my little bears and grandbears made, these are the things it grieves me to have lost because each was made by hands I love; hands which have made me who I am and in touching what they made  I  touch them,  connecting  with them in a way only the heart understands.  Grandma Medsker’s quilt is my mentor  as I create stories without words for my bears and grandbears to remember us by.

Photograph from designsbyloftcreations.com

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