Taking a Rest on the Tree of Life

Tree of Life, copyright Oisin Kelly.

Years ago, renowned Irish sculptor Oisin Kelly hand‐cast his interpretation of the Tree of Life.

His artwork hung in my mother’s den for years.

Its recent re‐discovery offers new meaning in a life battered by Big Change.

Creation’s trunk?

In Kelly’s detail work, I spy more than a simplistic image of the Garden of Eden story. 

I see a strong center, rising in bands up from the ground, each aiming skyward in search of new air.

I count the threads of strength — four — and find my favorite number. Is there a message here?

I find a solid base, anchored deep in the earth but not buried there. Holding there for a strong foundation from which to rise.

Branching out to expand Life.

In these branches, I see possibility. Make that possibilities.

I discover multiple limbs stretching out and up, seeking further growth.

I count bud after bud of either leaves or acorns, I do not know. Maybe some scarabs (of the mystical Egyptian kind?

I spot finger‐like growths stretching past boundaries, hungry for something new.

Curious about the sculptor’s artistic life, I discover (thank you, Wikipedia) where he’s cited in “Glanmore Sonnet” by Seamus Heaney:

These things are not secrets but mysteries

Oisin Kelly told me years ago

In Belfast, hankering after stone

That connived with the chisel, as if the grain

Remembered what the mallet tapped to know.”

I read these words and know instantly why I was drawn to this Tree of Life.

The message comes as clear as Kelly chiseling the stone that became his creation above: take a six‐week sabbatical from RoadBroads.

After weeks of intense, unending work, it’s time to chisel out the final mysteries of my sister’s life and estate. These revelations promise critical conclusions, both of which demand my focused time and energy.

Thus, I return to this blog in late February.

Call it a different kind of birthday present.

What better blog return than the day your life finishes its annual solar return?

In six Sundays, I’ll write here again.

Promise.

That’s the day after Leap Day.

Perfect!

Where Caves Tell Stories

What” beats “when” in every tale.

That truth rings even more true in the world of cave art.

Amid the ongoing agony of bushfires, Australian archeologists celebrate their discovery of what is, to date, the oldest rock painting on Earth. In the 14‐foot high cave painting, wild pigs and a buffalo stand surrounded by spear‐bearing humans.

Indonesia: where the buffalo roam? Copyright, Ratno Sardi, Nature.

The image was found on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi and dates back at least 44,000 years.

It’s old. It also ranks as the world’s first figurative artwork. Translation?

Our first Storytelling‐by‐Picture!

At the news, my mind flashed back five weeks ago to a sunrise beacon and I thought, Australia! We’re coming full circle! 

From north‐central Australia, Uluru offers an Oz‐ian close encounter — with cave art.

Drawings incorporating red paint, white circles and ancient charcoal dot the upper cave space.

At Uluru, DH and I came face‐to‐face with rock cave paintings. Our guide explained these illustrations as tales of aboriginal movement and migration.

Round mythological figures on the right look leftward toward small concentric circles. Anangu travelers nearing their first watering hole? 

The Anangu look for concentric circles which symbolize waterholes or other significant way stations. For a roundtrip journey, the key appears in multiple concentric circles linked via straight lines.

Uluru, ancestral home to the Anangu, includes hidden waterholes (some dry by drought these days). Tribe members travel between waterholes and other way stations then relate their experiences with each other.

Each experience lived becomes a story shared then passed from generation to generation.

What concentric circles tell the Stories of your Life?In discovering Indonesian rock paintings after seeing the same in Australia, I fascinate on the tales of each. The age and location of either mean nothing.

I ask instead—what does it mean? What are we supposed to do with these newly discovered paintings? 

Some people see only line drawings and chuckle.

They glance once then mutter about Stone Age Neanderthals facing off against big, mean animals. In a single reaction, they revert to what comforts: light and breezy with a touch of standoff pose, ready for battle.

Others stand up and study the lines marking the rock.

They scrutinize the concentric circles. They find deliberate postures or speculate about hidden meanings: underlying glances, line direction, or distances between figures.

They’re all correct.

Sometimes, an image is what is says. Two figures squaring off in what is universal to every story: conflict rearing its inevitably ugly head.

Other times, an image stands in for meanings four layers deep.

Both matter.

And both are part of a story waiting, sometimes thousands of years, to be understood.

Some things never change.

Is that good news?

Three Goes to Two: How about You?

Mimi, Merrilynn & Melanie — Houston, TX, 1980

Forty years ago, we were three.

The first of the Miller girls married one July afternoon in 1980. We used the occasion to pose for the first formal picture of Sisters United!

Melanie & Merrilynn atop Breckenridge Mountain, CO — 2014

As of last October, we’re down to two.

The sudden death of our sister Mimi is a loss that reverberates too much.

Daily, we sort through her life and what she left behind. We face more weeks, if not months, of emotional intensity.

It means a life that mattered. Matters. 

I struggle with the idea of joy this New Year. After these past nine weeks, life echoes with an odd familiarity: New Normal.

A few days ago, while on the road (again) at Mimi’s house, I found this:

A word which will live in my life’s infamy?

Merriam-Webster’s definition:

ENDURE means to put up with something trying or painful.” 

Something was missing. Synchronicity delivered this Maya Angelou poem:

CONTINUE 

My wish for you
Is that you continue

Continue

To be who and how you are
To astonish a mean world
With your acts of kindness

Continue

To allow humor to lighten the burden
Of your tender heart

Continue

In a society dark with cruelty
To let the people hear the grandeur
Of God in the peals of your laughter

Continue

To let your eloquence
Elevate the people to heights
They had only imagined

Continue

To remind the people that
Each is as good as the other
And that no one is beneath
Nor above you

Continue

To remember your own young years
And look with favor upon the lost
And the least and the lonely

Continue

To put the mantle of your protection
Around the bodies of
The young and defenseless

Continue

To take the hand of the despised
And diseased and walk proudly with them
In the high street
Some might see you and
Be encouraged to do likewise

Continue

To plant a public kiss of concern
On the cheek of the sick
And the aged and infirm
And count that as a
Natural action to be expected

Continue

To let gratitude be the pillow
Upon which you kneel to
Say your nightly prayer
And let faith be the bridge
You build to overcome evil
And welcome good

Continue

To ignore no vision
Which comes to enlarge your range
And increase your spirit

Continue

To dare to love deeply
And risk everything
For the good thing

Continue

To float
Happily in the sea of infinite substance
Which set aside riches for you
Before you had a name

Continue

And by doing so
You and your work
Will be able to continue
Eternally

Back to the dictionary I went. Out leaped a deeper definition of endure:

to CONTINUE: to exist over a period of time or indefinitely.

Aha! I merged the two definitions into my own ENDURE: to continue to exist over a period of time while surviving something painful.

This isn’t the first time I’ve hurt (and it won’t be the last)—but there’s a unique pain in the death of a sibling. It’s more than your oldest secrets they take.

Treasure the gifts they bring to your life.

My command to you rings in my own ears.

For 2020, I seek new hope and special intentions. I travel forward, hoping and intending for continued endurance to clear two homes, complete a novel, and create an I‐develop‐my‐full‐potential kind of life this year.

What are your special hopes and intentions this year?

From Hobbiton to Home

Bronchitis greeted me when DH and I returned from our 30th anniversary trip Down Under.

Tomorrow, a long‐delayed root canal will greet my awakening.

Alas. Such is the life of a weary RoadBroad.

The bronchitis kept me from these pages last week. Thank you, Ellen, for granting me the expanded recovery time.

About that amazing trip: here’s a look back at our last days in New Zealand, the best part of our journey.

New Zealand is a country formed of two connected islands. Temperatures are much colder. No boiling hot days like the red‐hot bake that preceded our swing through Oz. It’s impossible to imagine smoky Sydney busting the mercury at 107 degrees this past week. We whined at highs of 103 degrees during our Uluru sweat three weeks ago?

Of course, I stopped to paint outside the Artist Hobbit Home!

Hobbiton is a vast tourist trap on the North Island of New Zealand. It sits smack amid a still‐active sheep and beef farm, a property so beautiful that when movie director Sir Peter Jackson choppered over the land he knew immediately it was the perfect home to open his adaptation of J.R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. A swamp was dug out and today, 44 Hobbit homes remain nestled in for tourists paying $84 per person to walk, play, and explore.

The best part of Hobbiton: the bucolic view.

More interesting to me were the surrounding gently rolling hills of the North Island.

Look closely and you’ll spot some of New Zealand’s extinct volcanoes on the far horizon.

These hills undulate for miles, returning to mind previous sights of unspoiled English countryside vistas. Only later did I spot the contrail high in the sky. I silently cursed the white vapors for bringing the modern world into this Edenic scene.

Then it was off to the Waimangu Volcanic Valley, called the newest geothermal area in the world.

Having arrived in New Zealand the same day its White Island volcano erupted with horrific results, DH and I anticipated a wild history and education in the Waimangu Valley. Its hundreds of bubbling and steaming ponds, craters and rock formations serve as New Zealand’s answer to America’s Yellowstone Park. What stunned us both was the explosion of color that unfolded as we walked:

Of course, I found Rotorua’s only bookstore.

My final stop in New Zealand revealed the perfect words on a simple book sack. Instead of wasting this perfect bag, I incorporated it into my only home holiday decorations this year.

At my house, this is what Santa will find. That little bench in front of the old guy holds the book I will finish writing in 2020. Will you remind me of my intention in twelve months?

Christmas lands soon.

I’m as ready as I plan to be, having reached that age where trees and lights and shiny balls with tinsel hold no curiousity, meet no unfilled need.

This year, with all its memories, brings wisdom to recognize need from want.

Then: accept it all.

And keep moving.

From Oz to NZ

I’d planned a detailed Aussie post on this travel day to New Zealand.

Real Life took care of those best laid plans. All I’ve got for today is this photo from MEL‐bourne:


It only took 62 years to get my nickname posted all over baggage claim! And in a foreign country, to boot!

Still sorting thru a continent’s worth of photos, there’s more to come — an island’s worth in the days ahead. I sign off with a last shot from Cairns:

A Trip by the Numbers

In 72 hours, I board a plane bound for Down Under.

It’s a 30th wedding anniversary trip, conjoined with a belated 70th birthday celebration for DH.

Every Journey Needs a Book, or so DH believes.

So excited was he by this Trip of a Lifetime, DH activated his ancient double EE credentials from his Trinity University days and created this book.

I apologize for the shiny cover: kitchen lights don’t like clear plastic overlaid on white. 

What really matters is the profiled cover stops for our Australia and New Zealand adventure:

  • Sydney Opera House
  • Ayres Rock
  • Hobbiton

Beloved has planned even more stops: sailing around the Great Barrier Reef, visits to glowworms and geothermal vents, concerts and ceremonies with Maori dancers and Aboriginal natives, plus sunrise services and starlight shows amid rocks, mountains, and domes.

After the fall we’ve had, we both crave this escape to the other side of the world. But we’re only taking it because it was a journey earlier paid for. Alas.

Getting to/from and then all around Australia and New Zealand requires body padding and patience. It’s a combined 46 hours and five minutes to gallivant between the two nations.

One‐way flying involves 18.4 hours of travel via routing from Houston to Auckland to Sydney. Then, there’s a 17‐hour time difference between here and there. We’ll be on the road 13 days, visiting five cities/towns in as‐yet uncounted stops between the two countries.

Now, Sydney’s on fire, along with much of New South Wales. I’m dreading more news of koalas burning and scorching temps of 94 degrees and more.

Heat stroke fears vanish if I can hold a joey, snuggle with a ‘roo? Maybe eat to chockers? Can I endure the weather and smoke without whinging or sooking?

Half the fun of a road trip is getting ready with research of local slang and customs. This jaunt offers a unique twist, courtesy a late‐trip airline ticket.

How often does your nickname match an airline ticket?

What fun I’ll have landing as Mel in MEL. A lifetime first! Thank you, Melbourne, Australia for this quirky nugget!

It gets weirder later.

On our last day, we’ll arrive home three hours before we left Sydney.

FYI, I beg your understanding.

If I arrive early to your place in December, remember: I may still be on Aussie time. 

Ah, another RoadBroad adventure beckons!

The Russians Aren’t Coming — They’re Here

At risk of prompting a NSA wiretap, I’ll admit the big news of my week.

I visited Russia. Its music, that is.

Fort Bend Symphony Orchestra program

Courtesy of the Fort Bend Symphony Orchestra, DH and I heard the best of three composers in what was billed as “Russian Fireworks.” Also on display was a full range of art, collectibles, and life goods from the Russian Cultural Center of Houston, Our Texas (sic).

At the Stafford Center? Near Houston?

Blog post deadline looming, I headed inside the concert hall, recognizing only one composer—Tchaikovsky.

But at “Symphony No. 2 – Little Russian,” my ears poked up, Spock‐like. They pointed even higher when conductor Dr. Dominque Royem offered, Little Russian references the Ukraine.” 

FBSO on Stafford Center stage

How often our desperate escapes lead us back to the Real World!

How could I not  think of present‐day political realities? As the orchestra thundered through the composition, my mind launched.

It imagined world domination by multiple autocrats. Armageddon beckoned in the brass and strings. Amid cymbal bursts and trumpet blasts, my body slunk deep into the red velvet seat.

Wild imaginings soared. Long pause. Self‐talk roared back.

Strings crescendoed. Gongs clanged.

You came here to escape mental meanderings! This is what art can do for you. Step away into this world, not that one. Just for this afternoon. Hand over heart, my breath began to slow.

Post‐concert and heart calm, we sauntered through a lobby with cruising babushkas hawking samovars. So much color!

An interesting discovery about the lavish metal pots. Samovar is basically a fancy tea pot. For this daily tea drinker, it took discipline to not buy this samovar. I consoled with practicality: too big for a single user, too ornate for expanding Zen tastes.

Through both music and merchandise, gratitude surged from deep inside me.

I rediscovered why I attend cultural events. Each one expands my horizons and eliminates ancient biases. Only one‐on‐one connection can minimize, eliminate outdated propaganda.  

Hug‐a‐Bear with Royem and Ormand?

Sometimes those links get really close, as when the hug‐generous conductor walks by.

Besides samovars, babushkas, and bears, I discovered a new appreciation for grand and battle‐worthy music.

All my life, I’ve been a lover, not a fighter.

What prompts this rush to big, bold, and brash?

Book Fairs Change Lives and Calendars

A single paragraph makes a reader’s weekend.

When DH handed me the blue blurb, I read three magic words before deafening him with my screaming “YES!”

The words? Bargain book sale.

The newpaper article elaborated: “…paperbacks, hardbacks, DVDs, CDs, children’s and youth books, nonfiction at bargain prices. Donations accepted…”

Buy? Donate? Both at the same time?

That’s a party my Inner Bibliophile can enjoy.

We entered the first conference room. I gasped.

Grateful I’d packed several empty book bags, I rush‐scanned the tables. After a quick breath, I went back to consider the gotta‐haves.

I found a second surprise — tables crammed with CD’s and DVD’s. Music and movies ranged from classical and funk to kindergarten flicks and horror shows.

Amazing what people donate. And buy.

In an outside hallway sat chairs crammed with boxes of Spanish, Arabic, and unrecognizable language books plus software manuals. I perused more rows of romance novels than I’ve ever seen in a traditional bookshop.

A distant room held non‐fiction, including instruction notebooks, travel guides, and student textbooks from god‐knows‐what‐university.

I don’t know what amazed me more—the volume of material available or the size of the crowd. All ages showed up. Even the youngest children scanned book titles. As their own entertainment, I’m sure but I watched, crossing my fingers in hopes that the littlest readers believe as I do — a good story can cure almost anything.

Nothing like proclaiming your best command.

It’s why I paraded my favorite t‐shirt around the trio of book‐filled rooms. I packed in with 11 must‐have books, four sexy jazz CD’s, and a pair of never‐seen movies.

Our haul only cost us a baker’s dozen in bucks. In a brick‐and‐mortar, that stash would’ve beat $200 easy.

On the way home, we stopped for tea and read for an hour, each of us diving deep into our newest Best Book. Scanning our new Book Fair bookmark, we both discovered the best news.

Our little town offers these Bargain Book Fairs every other month.

Where have we been for 27 years?

Can’t answer that, but I know where we’ll be on December 7th.

Our book bags are empty, ready, and grateful that even passionate readers can miss the best headline. 

Embrace the Journey, Anyway

NOTEI drafted this post on October 22nd, precisely 24 hours before learning of my beloved sister’s sudden death. Days later, the Houston Astros would lose the World Series. As I re‐read the post, a salty gulp of poignant synchronicity rose up in my throat. While a life is not a sport, my memory will never disconnect these two events. Still, I embrace the journey ahead. My sister would demand that, and more books, of course.  — Melanie 

Booked and Barefoot at Minute Maid Park

Six weeks ago, I endured a night of Houston Astros baseball. You may remember my preferred view:

That was September. This is October. We’re now living in a sea of World Series hype for our Houston Astros.

(Notice that super‐friendly reference there? Yes, she’s drinking the [orange] juice.) it’s officially Baseball Madness in the Bayou City and the hype carries a contagious virus.

Mention World Series and the verbal bets begin. Will we go full seven?

Eager to join the tribe, I’ve begun retelling my most recent Astros memory:  I saw these boys play when the park’s field stands were more empty than full! I watched 15 runs batted in! I saw Air Yordan-what’s-his-name now hit a triple!

Marshall McLuhan got it wrong. The MESSAGE drives the medium.

In these exciting times, why not buy a World Series shirt? Even if you’re a Never‐Sports person.

I like the possibilities behind this tee.

It confirms our play in the Big Boy Game but offers no promises beyond that. We may not end up The Champs after seven rounds but we’ll be on the field. We’ll try.

That double play reminded me of another picture from last month’s free‐ticket night.

“Embrace the Journey,” indeed!

I’m standing outside Minute Maid Park with my favorite bag, chosen for three reasons: the pair of books inside and its simple message. Only later did I realize the magic of “Embrace the Journey:”

  • Every day offers a journey, to or from somewhere.
  • Discover something.
  • Embrace what you find.

That magic first appeared as DH and I cruised the lobby of Minute Maid Park.

Can you find the “H”?

This swatch of faded Astro turf hangs in the lobby of the ball field. Look closely to find the raised team logo. It’s a five‐pointed star centered behind a capital letter “H.”

Even up close, the search demands a determined visual search. My eyes failed. DH whooped when he spied the logo. I, instead, reached out with silent hands to feel what I couldn’t see.

When my fingers grazed the grass, I smiled and remembered again: Discover something — embrace your journey. 

I walked into the stadium, looked around, built a pretzel diamond then picked up my book to read.

Now I’m walking into the next game, watching and embracing whatever’s next on this journey.

In baseball or books.