deep woods insurance

by bam

i bolted out of bed, knowing a boy i love, the first one i pushed onto this planet, was being dropped in the woods far, far away. all at once i felt propelled to cover all my bases. my prayer bases, that is.
drop to knees. check.
go to church. check.
light candle. check.
build altar. as directed.
and thus began the gathering. the two bird eggs i collected this bird birthing season, the robin’s blue, the sparrow’s spotted (which looks, deliciously, like one you might find filled with malted milk powder should you find it in your easter basket). the leafy nest to hold them. a sprig of pine from in the woods. a curl of bark, as well.
then i wandered to my garden, clippers at the ready. i snipped the finest soft pink roses, and a little stem of yarrow. long ago, i learned, any self-respecting altar is always blessed with snippings from the garden.
once again, i built my prayer tableau. there on the little shelf, beside all my books, in the little room that is my own. my writing room. my breathing room. the room i tiptoe into, close the door, retreat.
i put in a call, yes i did, to the grownup depositing the camper in the woods. asked him to please bring home some bits of woods to add to my collection. the grownup i called has lived with me now for nearly 16 years, so he hardly groans when he gets such calls. he just scrounges on the ground, comes home with pockets filled.
i of course did not wait for his return. i had that altar up and ready before the backpack, far away, was off the camper’s back. before he’d settled in the dingy cabin that will hold him ’til he makes the crossing, before he goes deeper into the woods, onto an island, amid an archipelago, where no car, no lights, no running water will rustle the surroundings. except for tromping feet and teenage boys–egad–the sanctuary is undisturbed.
now, of course, you know by now that the camper for whom i altar (that there would be an alteration: a noun used as a verb; henceforth, the building of an altar) is my firstborn child, the one i call the manchild for the razor that is calling his name, though he refuses to put it to his upper lip, preferring the ratty fuzz that grows there. but, despite all tonsorial evidence otherwise, he remains my baby boy. at least in spirit. and when one’s baby is dropped in the woods, one gets to seeking coverage.
divine coverage, of course. round-the-clock, 24/7, all-nite-diner coverage.
you do not leave these things to chance, you do not. certainly not when said manchild not so many months ago was in the woods, when he encountered a chipmunk, that set him swerving on his mountain bike, that hit a rock or maybe just a hole, and set him flying, headfirst over the handlebars, and landing on his face, which cracked back his neck, which left him with a fractured vertebrae that, by the grace of God, did not leave him unable to move his arms, his legs. (though, trust me, we brushed close enough to that nightmare, less than a fraction of a millimeter away, that a piece of me will never ever take for granted the wiggling even of his toes.)
perhaps there was some of that, just a shadow of the knowing that the boy and the woods had had a brief and not-so-distant encounter that had left him with a broken neck, and his mother with a forever sense of how, in an instant, a whole life script can be rewritten.
perhaps that was the thing that had me building me my altar. or perhaps, it was just that i am a believer in not doing all the lifting on my own.
when it counts, where it matters, i knock loudly on heaven’s door. anybody home, i yell, peering through the cracks. it’s me, and i’ve come to ask a favor.
i let loose like this, tell whoever might be listening: i’ve got this camper, you see, a true angel in the making, and he is going off, 60 pounds slung over his shoulders. it’s the tree roots i worry about him tripping over. landing splat. and then i hear something about some bears. heck, i thought mosquitoes might be pesty. but then i heard talk of bears. never mind the gnats, when you’ve got a hungry furry thing big enough to swallow your whole backpack. oh, geez, i forgot to whisper in his ear, steer clear of bears, please.
so, listen, if you’re home, in there, you behind celestial gates, would you mind keeping your eye on that long line of campers? mine’s the curly-haired one, looks like a mop, all boingy and sticking out. but there is a whole string of boys i love marching with him. and i’d really appreciate you making sure all is well, stays well.
that’s pretty much the story as i unspooled it. the way i talk to God. i spell it out. be specific. leave little to interpretation.
then i take it up a notch. make sure that ol’ petition is not lost in all the airwaves bouncing around the globe, some en route to heaven, but plenty just to cell phones. i think the air is getting crowded, what with all the wireless connections.
so you see, i’ve built this little altar. i believe in these things. if you build it, the saints and angels will come, will surround the ones you love. will keep them safe from bears and trippy tree roots.
it is, i’m certain, a vestige of being a girl who grew up with a mama who had little altars in windows everywhere. my mama is the may altar queen. only she doesn’t stop at may. she goes year-round. my mama has altars in february. my mama knows prayer like nobody’s business.
and so, once again, i am my mother’s daughter. i grew up believing that prayer, like the soundest allstate policy you could afford, covered you. kept you safe from bears and bad guys. and so i pray.
i am old enough, been banged around enough, to know that sometimes there are cracks in the policy. sometimes the bears get through. so do the bad guys.
but who really knows that popping a vitamin pill gets the calcium where it belongs? have you ever seen it land where it’s supposed to? seen it knock on your leg bone, slide in, settle down?
well, i have seen prayer make miracles. i’ve got one sleeping upstairs in an old, old bed, for starters.
but i also know, despite the outcome, even when the end result is not the one i asked for, along the way, prayer fills me with a calm that can only be divine.
little old me cannot take on the world, or just the woods. but me, backed up by prayer, and my woodsy altar, my altar that looks like someone took a hike and emptied her pocket there on the ledge, we can bring on a miracle: i can be the mama of a boy in the deepest woods, and i can be not afraid.
that, my friends, is a miracle of the highest order.

do you have prayer insurance? do you light candles? build altars? do you put your worries in the hands of someone, something far sturdier than you? have you ever felt a prayer be answered? a load lifted that you could never have carried all on your own? do tell….

and by the way, i started something new on the lazy susan. a little thing. an everyday poetry dept. it is a place for language, heard in the course of the everyday, that sets you over the moon. a phrase. an expression. a way of putting something. we are collecting, starting now. if you hear something wonderful, let me know. we will tuck it in the everyday poetry dept.

one other thing, would you mind keeping my blessed beloved bec and david in your prayers today? they are saying goodbye to dou, bec’s cat of 13 years. dou walked in off the street at a lowpoint in both their lives, bec’s and dou’s. they found each other, loved each other all these years. saying goodbye to a dear and precious friend is achingly hard. especially when the purring goes away.
my love to them this tough tough day.