A brisk awakening to nature's healing embrace

Friday, November 27, 2009

Jana Lee Frazier finds grace in an awkward setting, and for that peace she gives thanks.

When I first came to this house to heal, it felt like just another exile. It seemed as if I had been sent to this primitive place to serve a prison sentence rather than to get well.

No carpets here, no curtains, a television that cannot get reception, a walk far longer than I am capable of making to the mailbox. This big structure is too costly to heat comfortably, the shower way down in the cellar, the decades-old dryer dilapidated and broken.

Yet yesterday there were clothes to wash, and a rudimentary clothesline beckoned. I had not hung clothes on a rope since I was a young mother. Stringing diapers, eyelet bonnets, baby bibs, an elephant missing an eye and a moose whose antlers had seen better days on a line that moved rhythmically to and fro in a prairie wind. Now I would try again.

It was cold, and there was a bracing breeze that took my breath away as I carried sodden clothes up the rickety stairs to the bleached, blanched deck.

My eyes filled with tears, my chest burned, my arms ached as my stiff fingers struggled to fasten, with splintered wooden pins, just a few of the dripping wet dresses and flowered nightgowns to the tattered cord. I felt the familiar flare of anger like a match struck hard against my heart. Why did everything have to be so difficult for me?

I threw my head back to clear the tears. Above me, the world whirled; I was so dizzy I could barely keep myself from falling. But, oh, I could not believe the deep throbbing hue of the break-your-heart blue in the autumn sky. I stood stock-still, realizing I had not been outside for so long. When did the Earth go gold, glow scarlet, I wondered? Below me, the land fell away to field edged in flaming forest. The trees were on fire.

I found myself kneeling abruptly because my legs would no longer hold me. There were blue jays flying overhead, wearing a bit of heaven on their wings. On the rim of the cup I had placed on the bench, a glossy black wasp was poised to dip into my coffee. And when the white dog came to sit with me, her hair was decorated with a dozen ladybugs. Looking up at the side of the house, I was amazed at the dazzling, pulsating ruby-red mass of them gathered there under the eaves, seeking sanctuary for winter hibernation.

Last night, I was not able to sleep even though I lay there in a pool of starlight, enthralled by the quavering strains of the lullabies I feel certain that the coyotes were singing just for me.

Rather than counting sheep, toward dawn I was still busy tracking those stars through the window above the bed. And I could see from the corner of my eye the white dog watching something outside, beyond the sliding doors that lead to the balcony.

Suddenly I realized what she was waiting for, and we went together, oh so quietly down the stairs, out to the place by the basement door where I had noticed the day before, all the high lacy weeds tamped down and woven through with dusky fur. These were beds that deer had just abandoned. We sat there silently, side by side, my bare feet snug against her velvet belly. I imagined I could still feel the fresh warmth from the bodies of those does that now walked slowly toward a small twisted tree to eat the glazed green apples that had fallen in the wind. In the lurid light of the overly ripe moon, they moved in and out of the shadows, shattering the crystal frost on the long strands of studded grass, making diamonds in the mist.

It was then, at that moment, when I knew that this house is a blessing. And that maybe it is after all more than just a little bit lucky to be me. And that any place this steeped in grace can be called a home.

-- Jana Lee Frazier,

Silver Spring

BEHIND THE WHEEL: If there's anything we all can agree on, it's that we spend too much time behind the wheel. Share your stories of the road: humorous moments, the dark side, the frustrations. Send them to pagethree@washpost.com. Include your name and where you live.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company