And Six Years Ago

Last night it was

Six days until;

Tonight we’re looking six years back:

To the Mother, camp nurse,

And Larissa, one year old,

Watching it all.

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~Natalia

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Six Days

We’ve six days.

Six days until we leave the church parking lot, alternately sliding and sticking to the worn pleather of the 15-passenger church van.

Six days until we slowly round the edge of Lake Michigan, flying through the nondescript shrubbery of Indiana, between the skyline of Chicago and the rolling green of Pure Michigan.

Six days until we remember how long it takes to unload any number of high schoolers for a lunch pit stop, then hurry them along into the vans once more, because we want to get there already please get it let’s go come on.

Six days until the highway thins to two lanes as the vans climb higher on the map, entering the area designated as Northern Michigan. And there’s a lot full of towering animal sculptures on the side of the road, a tree so covered in old shoes it may as well have shoestrings for roots, and we know we’re getting closer.

Six days we pass the hardware store, follow the road until it falls away before us, snaking down between tall, thin trees, the sun filtering green and warm through the thick leaves.

Six days until we turn at the bottom of the hill, turn again at the top of the next little rise. The van’s wheels crunch on the gravel as we roll past the sign from three summers ago, WOW CAMP painted in cursive, with an arrow pointing through the trees, to the Pavilion, the playground.

Six days until we arrive, high schoolers, younger ones, spilling from vans, stretching their arms in the afternoon freedom, jumping excitedly over one another as they move towards the buildings we’ve come to love.

Six days until we arrive at the farm, and WOW Camp 2014 begins.

group
WOW Camp team 2013.

~Natalia

This Beautiful Place

*Originally posted on my Facebook.

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I told him I’d traveled, lived in other countries, and he looked at me from across the wide book store table, white hair neatly combed, white shirt gently mussed; “And where is your home?” He asked, accent softly shaping his words. “Oh, it’s here. It’s always been here,” I said, waving a hand toward the window behind me. And for a moment, we both watched life unfold in the intersection below, pockets of people walking, biking, meandering through life in this beautiful place.

~Natalia

Sunday Afternoon Picnic

There are people everywhere. Each way I look, each way I tilt my head, there is action, movement; life and all its accompanying sounds.

Legs crossed, my long skirt tucked around my knees in vague hopes of modesty, I sit in the grass, surrounded by all this moving and living and sound-making, and I watch. The sun seeps into my shoulders, flutters across my chest, heats the toes I haphazardly painted red in the hours before Eli’s wedding last weekend. Leaning back on my arms, I can feel the knots and twists of my summer-sticky hair falling around my shoulders, frizzy stands inching their way defiantly under my sunglasses, into my eyes once more. I lift my glasses, run my fingers through the humidity-curled bangs, and turn for a moment to watch the movement to my left.

Across the narrow, straight concrete that cuts this park in two, a group of parents, couples, sit under the shade of a short, thick tree. Long, arching branches bring brilliant green leaves almost to their level, almost down to where they sit in fabric camping chairs. Some with hands crossed in their laps, others leaning forward in their seats, their whole bodies nearly falling into their conversations. There’s a little girl in the shade of the tree, too, thin blonde hair pinned back on the side, her belly still baby-round. A curios, friendly toddler, I’ve watched her gaze up at older children, wrap her dimpled arms around other little ones in a neck-squeezing hug. Now, her head tilts back, arms reach up to her father, miniature fingers stretching to be held, if only for a moment, before she toddles off again, the picture of tiny independence.

Not two yards down the path, the trees open, briefly, and the warm grass is near-full with the backpacks, picnic blankets, and discarded lunch bags of those who have eaten there. Meal consumed, they sit in the sun, as I am across the sidewalk, and talk, their body language and the flow of their words creating pockets of conversation throughout their group. Here three talk, here four, here two converse over the heads of the others; now they all glance around, chuckle at a communal joke, nod in group agreement.

Beyond them still, the children play. Settled in the middle of the field, the playground appears mottled in some places, as shade from the trees encircling the play area splashes over the slides, the sand, the swings. The children are many. Some faces I recognize, some I don’t. They’ve mixed effortlessly in the easy, clean way of children who simply want to play. A game of tag is better with seven than four, going down the slide is faster with three, swinging goes higher when there’s someone to push, so they make alliances. I watch as they play, slipping in and out of my line of vision. There are slanting parallel bars along the play area, running from the slide platform to the ground. I perceive no organized games, but there’s a congregation of young ones around the bars, waiting their turn. They slide down, legs hooked on each bar, bodies quickly slipping into the space between, until they arrive on the woodchipped ground, only to jump up, scramble up the ladder, do it again. They slide alone, waiting their turn at the top, and they slide together, four children lined one after the other, slipping slowly down the bars. There are no rules to their sliding, I think, but maybe there are, because children are smart like that, and creative, too.

In the grass before me, in the sun-warmed span between my seat in the dirt and the tree-lined playground, they are playing soccer. Strappy sandals tossed in the grass to represent goals, the teams swirl and meander together. A pick-up game, players straggle off the field, tentatively wander on, throughout the game, and watching distractedly from my self-created sideline, I’m unsure who is kicking for which side. But the flow of the game moves back and forth across the field, the ball rolling in and out of extended legs, occasionally flying high in the air, followed with cries of “Head it!” only to come bouncing back down again. Every now and again, the ball rolls to where I sit, in the middle of all this movement. And I pick it up, and throw it back into the fray.

~Natalia

This is Summer: Season Three {#14}

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A wonderful friend,
Classmate, teammate and blessing;
Amazing wedding.

~Natalia

Manifesto

Train ride back downtown, late April night riding backwards in the silver tube of the el.

It’s growing dark outside, my own reflection stares back at me through the window.

Behind my faint reflection, apartment buildings, stores, train stops whip past in the spring dusk.

I watch them.

Watch and think.

That’s why I love these weekly hours on the train; I understand myself, life around me, better on the train.

Better when I watch the city blur past, the clouds above us skidding lazily across the lakeside sky.

Tonight, my phone is in my lap, tossed atop the pink bag now ragged and frayed from three years of daily use.

Five miles south, Mary’s finished work. I imagine her standing in line to pick up a late dinner, clutching keys, ID, in one hand, texting me with the other.

We trade intermittent messages, and then the conversation pauses, falls silent.

We’re content, involved elsewhere.

She eats, I watch night descend on the city.

I imagine her opening her styrofoam dinner box, waving at friends passing through on their way home, their way out once more.

Eyes unfocused on the glossy pane, I lean against the window.

Gently air blows from the fan that lines the window, and I blink as the stale air blows faintly across my face.

Without realizing it, I frown slightly, the depth of my internal conversation dragging my eyebrows down with it.

Then I’ve snatched my phone again and am swiping it on, typing in the password I stole from Livi (which, days later, Mary will change for one of her own liking).

Returning once more to my conversation with Mary, I begin to type.

As the spires of Chicago’s downtown towers glide closer, I type.

As memories and conversations slide through my mind, snapshots of things said and things done and decisions made, I type still.

I want to be kind. I want to be gentle. I want to be wise.

I want to be thoughtful and gracious and wise.

I want to know how to handle situations

and not be caught off guard

and never have to hurt anyone.

I want to be confident and content.

The train rolling, bringing me yet closer to the school I come home, I type my declaration.

Far from bragging, the list I’ve created is a list of goals; deep desires for who I want to become.

Sparked by train hours spent reflecting on that which bothers me, on conversations turned sour, both parties floundering, by my own blunders.

There’s more, of course, and I pause in my furious typing to think, to mull over a word, an attitude, an emotion I’m trying to capture.

I know perfect describes God and nothing else, and I know standards are set high, sometimes never to be met, but nor are these words flung onto an iPhone screen flippantly, without consideration.

I’ve thought about this, battled with this. I’ve thrown ideas and solutions back and forth in my head until the thinking frown above my eyes began to ache.

I don’t know if my late-night train ride manifesto is the solution, but when I think about those words, about the person I want to be, it brings me back to Jesus.

To a real person, a real relationship, and real change.

~Natalia

This is Summer: Season Three {#13}

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They play and they splash,
Make new friends, chase in the sand;
Let’s always do this.

~Natalia

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