Back at it

After a glorious hiatus from blogging, fall is here and it’s time to restart One Minnesota Writer. Hello, everyone.

August was a wonderful, busy month. Three family birthdays happened in August, including my own. This year, I began a new decade and decided it’s time to make new plans, entertain new ideas, try out something else.

I began with celebrations. Two of them.

Sunrise from our bedroom window

First, to celebrate my son-in-law, daughter-in-law, and myself, we rented a townhouse that accommodated all seven members of my family in Lutsen, Minnesota, right on the shore of Lake Superior. The bedroom my partner Mick and I shared looked out onto the lake so that we woke to the sunrise out over the water.

My kids and their partners planned an evening of trivia (about me – good grief) that was damn entertaining, especially when I was occasionally informed my own answers were incorrect. They also made a Sunday morning breakfast that was enormous and tasty (a hash with sweet potatoes, gluten-free blueberry muffins, and more) and that sustained us long enough for all to join in a hike on a portion of the Superior Hiking Trail. Camille, who is eight, is an excellent hiker. We hiked up Oberg Mountain, where we were treated to sweeping views of Lake Superior and the surrounding hills.

The last evening in the townhouse belonged to just Mick and me. I was sad to say goodbye to everyone else as they packed up the car they all rode in together to return to the cities for work and other commitments. So Mick and I went to dinner in the old Lutsen Lodge, then came back to our quiet townhouse, poured some whiskey, and sat on the rocks on the shore of Lake Superior to watch the moon rise into low-hanging clouds and enjoy the night sky over that vast body of water. That quiet time was a foreshadowing of what we would do during the following week.

Mick surprised me with reservations for three nights as guests at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in California. He knew I had wanted to go there for years to see how it felt to be a guest at a Zen monastery off the grid, completely removed from everyday life. And so we flew to San Jose, rented a four-wheel-drive Jeep, spent a night in Pacific Grove, then drove up into the Carmel Valley and turned left at Jamesburg, onto Tassajara Road, where the pavement ended. Jamesburg isn’t much more than a parking area with toilets for those who don’t want to drive themselves the rest of the way to Tassajara. There were a lot of cars parked there and for good reason: Tassajara Road is 14 miles of narrow, twisty, rutted mountain path. It takes at least an hour and, if you aren’t driving a four-wheel-drive vehicle, you are going to be out of luck. Guests can arrange to be picked up by the “stage coach” (a four-wheel-drive SUV) from Tassajara; pick up is at 10:30 a.m. each day during guest season.

One dusty Jeep

I’m the one who usually drives, both because I like driving and because I’m notorious for getting carsick if I’m a passenger for much longer than 10 minutes on windy roads. By the time we arrived at Tassajara around lunchtime, I carried a lot of tension that would take the rest of the day to go away; that was one rough road. But go away it did as we settled into our rustic room, listened to the sound of Tassajara Creek which ran behind our cabin, and prepared to go to an afternoon class on meditation.

View from Tassajara Road

I regularly take breaks from all things online, but being at Tassajara was a very different experience. I didn’t have to discipline myself. There was simply no cell service, no internet, no television or radio. There was the lull of human voices speaking quietly, birds calling to each other, squirrels chattering, deer moving through brush, bees in the garden, pots and pans clanging in the huge kitchen. At 5:20 a.m., there was the sound of one of the students running through Tassajara as he or she rang a bell, followed several minutes later by the sound of the Han (a wooden slab that hangs outside the Zendo or meditation hall) being struck with a wooden mallet to call everyone to meditation. There was the bell that rang to announce meal times. There was the slight splash of the water in the plunge (the hot pool in the bathhouse) when I stepped into it and felt that hot water dissolve every tense muscle I’ve ever had.

And there was noble silence between 8:30 p.m. and 7:45 a.m. I loved not having to talk to anyone.

The night sky in Tassajara offered a view of more stars than the sky in Lutsen. Mick found a bench in the area where guests first come in to Tassajara and he stretched out on it two nights in a row to stare at those stars. We both felt small then, but peaceful and happy and rested.

Coming back home after both of these birthday experiences made me think hard about what I’ve welcomed into my life over the past 10 years, both personally and professionally. I’ve become a mother-in-law and a grandmother, taken up yoga, started guitar lessons, tried to improve my photography skills, and traveled more. I helped start a poetry journal (Gyroscope Review), collaborated with others, and edited more work that I’d ever imagined I would.

As I think about the next steps – what I’m going to keep, what I’m going to let go of, what I’m going to try next – there’s a sense of excitement. It is a privilege to reach the age of 60 while remaining healthy, capable, and interested in so much. While wanting to be engaged, knowing there is still plenty of time to make a difference. Many people are hesitant to say how old they are, especially women, but I’m clear that every year I celebrate is a gift, an opportunity, and must not be wasted.

With all that, it’s good to be back here, writing and engaging with all who stop by to read. Thank you for that.

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