I had a magical childhood. My family lived in a large old Victorian house, where the ballroom-sized attic and the dungeon-like basement made for wonderful play-time adventures. The house is in a small town in southern Wisconsin, a place where I still know dozens of people when I walk into the grocery store. The small-ness of Baraboo made me feel very important. A large-sized photo of me made it into the city newspaper many times each year– for attending a parade, for reading a book on the steps of the library, for setting up a lemonade stand, for participating in a basketball game or a cross country race, for going to a highschool dance…
Today I was home sick (trying to sooth way a sore throat), and started to feel a little homesick (wishing I could just walk into that old familiar grocery store and chat with people who knew me back when I was an adorable toothless toddler). So, I was grateful that google images could take me on an at-a-distance tour of some of the places and things that contributed to my magical childhood. I thought you might like to join me, so I kept a log of my google-travels.
Here’s a view of one of my favorite hikes and swims, a 3 mile drive from my house. I went here with my mom this summer, and will have to share some of those photos soon:
Baraboo’s ‘International Crane Foundation‘, where you can see all 15 species of crane on one reserve. In grade school we learned how this organization brought the Whooping Crane from near extinction to it’s current thriving population. I felt so proud. It’s a magical thing to see this bird dance and play in the water near my home.
Aldo Leopold’s Shack is the site of both the writing of ‘A Sand County Almanac‘ and a contributor to my environmental ethic. It’s a ten minute drive from my house, but it took traveling half way around the world to discover how famous both Leopold and his shack are. I’m hoping some day to name a son Leopold.
Jewel Weed, Impatiens capensis, was one of my first magic plants. I learned to identify it very quickly because the juice from its stem will instantly remove the burn and sting from poison ivy or stinging nettle. And, to top it off, the seed pods spring out in confetti-like spirals when touched just right.
Devil’s Lake State Park. These bluffs were once part of an ancient mountain range. I remember feeling so proud when I learned that the ice-age glaciers stopped and melted when they reached these rocks. I felt like, if the bluffs could stop a glacier, they could protect me from anything.
Forevertron, a random sculpture behind Delaney’s Junk Yard. I don’t know the story behind it, but I always looked for it when we drove along Hwy 12 toward Madison.
Al Ringling Theater, modeled after a theater in Versailles (palace of the French Sun King). I performed in Cinderella and Pinocchio and numerous band and choir concerts on this stage.
The Circus World Museum: Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey. In the summer months, you can hear circus music all over town. I used to dream of being a contortionist and running away with the circus. It’s a shame that never happened. But, my mom does use elephant dung to fertilize her garden each summer.
The Ho-Chunk Nation. They treated me to my first pow-wow. Afterward, I begged my mom for fry bread so often that she taught me how to make it for myself. (That was before I’d learned about the unfortunate and sad history of how fry-bread came to be a traditional food for Native Americans…)
Amish and Minnonites. My grandparents sold their farm to a Mennonite family, and I was lucky enough to become friends with Norma, a young girl my age. I felt sorry that Norma only went to school until she was 15, but I was also jealous of her connection to her community and the land. I still dream of moving back to be a midwife for the Minnonites…one day.
Canopied roads. I love the mountains of the west, but my soul feels most at home in a forest.
Well, thanks for joining that little journey.
Three days after my last blog post, one of my dearest friends was killed in a car accident. Any words I write feel insufficient. Briana and I talked on the phone that afternoon while she and her brother were driving home for Easter. Within the hour of our conversation, she was gone. Her broken body left on the side of the highway.
I met Briana on a beautiful April day in 2008. Tess, my favorite botany study-buddy, insisted I meet her sister—a young single woman my same age—who had just become a midwife. We decided to celebrate the end of the semester by lounging in the grass, soaking up the warm sunshine. When Briana arrived, she sat tall in a cross-legged stance. She looked me in the eyes and listened as I told her about my interest in birth. After a few questions, she tore a page from her notebook and began writing: the best doula course to take, the essential books to read, the websites to reference. On our second visit she gifted me a copy of Ina May Gaskin’s Spiritual Midwifery. It was my first birth book. Months later Bri invited me to witness my first homebirth, to inspect my first placenta, to perform my first newborn exam.
Saturday, April 16, 2011. Briana had an apron tied around her waist and a phone cradled between her ear and shoulder when she came to the door. Her counter tops were crowded with scrumptiousness she’d spent days creating, in preparation for the “Momma Party”. I helped put together a blood orange salad and placed the shortbread batter into the oven. The house was flooding with women and babies who Briana had, or was, serving. I loved looking at them all, and hearing them talk of their birth experiences. Bri asked us all to introduce ourselves; she expressed that when she looked at each of us, she saw powerful women. She encouraged us to share with one another our thoughts on true power and womanhood.
The hours of good conversation and delicious food passed quickly. As people left, Bri took photos with the women and children and sent the families home with platefuls of baked goods. In preparation for moving, she was pairing down her belongings and had items for the taking: books, a child’s easel, plastic dishes, napkins…
By mid afternoon, Bri and I were the only ones in the house. It was an uncharacteristically warm and sunny April day, and so we decided to soak it up by lounging in her back yard. She grabbed John’s childhood blanket—the one she always chose—and we spread it across the grass. Bri sighed a deep, relaxing sigh, and said how happy she was with how the party had turned out, but said it was hard to have everyone all together only because she wished she could have spent more individual time with each momma and baby.
Our conversations that afternoon bounced from topic to topic, as we drifted in and out of lazy summer sleep. We laughed at the love-struck quail that lived in her bushes. We talked about her family and her excitement at spending the upcoming Easter holiday with them. We talked about relationships. We talked about the value of change. I asked her to describe her ideal birth experience, and she explained how it had transformed over the course of her midwifery experience. She used to want the midwife with the most knowledge and skills. Now, she figured, she just wanted to be accompanied by those who had the most compassion.
I remember watching her as she lay there, eyes closed, grinning up at the warm sunshine. She was bathed in light. I remember her saying, “It has been such a perfect day. I just feel so full.” She repeated it with a soft smile. “I feel so full.”
Saturday, April 23, 2011. I played phone tag with Briana that morning. She called while I was at yoga. I called while she was busy with pre-travel plans. When she called back, she asked if I could do her a favor. She wanted to pay her tithing before our church boundaries changed. She explained that she didn’t have a tithing slip, but had left two checks in her house, and asked if I wouldn’t mind filling out some slips for her and delivering them to the Bishop. She was only going to be gone a week, so I thought it was a little odd, but of course it wasn’t a problem. I asked for Candice’s number so I could call and make sure someone was home when I went over. The phone conversation was brief.
A few hours later, when I called Candice to ask if it was a good time to pick up Bri’s tithing, I learned the heart-wrenching news. Briana was dead.
That Easter Sunday I handed the Bishop the most meaningful tithing slip I think I will ever touch in my life.
I know I am not alone in missing Bri. I only knew her for three years, but she absolutely changed my life. Two weeks after her death, I started school to become a midwife. Briana wrote one of the letters of recommendation for me, and it was because of her that I had sufficient birth-related experience to enter the program. But more than that, she was a kindred soul. Few days go by without me wishing I could just call her, to hear her voice, to ask her advice, or to share a story that would make her laugh.
Looking back, I am struck by the similarities between the first day I met Bri, and the last day I spent with her. They were both gorgeous April days, full of sunshine. They were both spent lounging in the bright green springtime. They were both days that felt full of goodness. That is how I will always remember her.
Shortly after her death, I saw Briana in a dream. She was beautiful. I was struck by how radiant she looked, fully cloaked in light. She didn’t say anything, but just looked at me with soft compassion. As if she recognized my pain, but wanted me to know that she is ok. Her face was full of peace.
A few weeks later, in another dream, she knocked on my door. “Briana!” I gasped. I pulled her into a tight squeeze and whispered, “I have so many things I’ve wanted to ask you!” In my dream I asked, “Have you seen God?” She looked at me with smiling eyes and laughed as she responded, “Of course I have.”
Briana still exists. This has become a familiar mantra to me. I look forward with hope to the day when I can again embrace her in my arms and share stories that make us both weep and laugh. Until then, I am trying to be a better doula, midwife, sister, daughter, teacher, friend, and woman because of her.
This is a photo I copied from Briana’s website: http://www.fernmidwifery.com
I am a great lover of analogies. I just came across one that made me smile: What SUVs Can Teach Us About Maternity Care. This post comes from one of the best blogs I’ve come across on Maternity Health Care: Science & Sensibility.
In my Google News feed I screen for any articles containing the words: midwife, doula, pregnancy, obstetrics, birth etc. Sometimes the articles make me terribly antsy to become a midwife. This morning the BBC published a slideshow of a ‘day in the life of a midwife in rural Congo.’
Oh, I cannot wait until I have the skills to be able contribute to this effort of empowering mothers and catching babies.
Enjoy the slideshow!