Spring demands a pickaxe.
My neighbors chop their remaining snow piles dirty with stamp sand the road commission uses to grit streets throughout a Keweenaw winter. Remnants line the gutters. Other neighbors sweep away the byproduct of 150 years of copper mining. I scour the driveway and sidewalk to the back of the house on Roberts Street with my daughter’s corn-broom, swinging at grit as if I were fighting a battalion of field mice. Maple leaves move along at a groggy pace, damp and matted.
At the edge of the concrete, I discover brick pavers long buried beneath turf, dirt, and moss. In a frenzy of cleaning fueled by spring vibes and the need to move, I focus on excavation. The saturated earth easily tears away in clumps of grass, rooted maple saplings, and webs of weeds. An extended old sidewalk emerges as my reward, ending beneath one of three grand maples where one day I will set up a tea table. I sweep away more leaves to expose a flower bed, bare grape vines, and more visions of a place to call home.
Beneath the maple, glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa luciliae) rises like spring’s pickaxe from beneath the carpet of winter’s leavings. Grass-like stems spear so fiercely, they impale mats of maple leaves. Glory-of-the-snow unfold into purple and white star-flowers in the shadows of dwindling snow banks. The cosmos have momentarily dipped to earth. Miners who once drilled beneath the Keweenaw had wives who planted these resilient spring flowers, a baton of strength from the past.
The Finns have a word — sisu. It means something like determination and inner strength. It’s not courage, but rather something elemental in a person’s core. Finnish decendents of the Keweenaw turn to sisu to survive the long winters. It’s not a one-time deal, but a consistent ability to overcome adversity. I’m not a Finn, but I know sisu.
Maybe that’s why I enjoy watching neighbors pickaxe the remaining snow. I feel their determination with each stroke. I swipe away grit and watch flowers emerge, marveling that snow, stamp sand, and floral glory can exist simultaneously. A Keweenaw friend once described local nissu bread to me — “it’s gritty, but sweet; kinda like the Finns who eat it.” Nissu bread is not for sissies, but it takes to thimbleberry jam without complaint.
What is my thimbleberry jam, I wonder? I know my grit, my ability to rise like dough from the pounding. I also know beauty, the sweet spread of life lived in the moment. While worrying about a burgeoning infection surrounding the Hub’s new titanium, we both couldn’t help but gasp in joy as a merlin blew past the front window like a sky-racer down Roberts Street. That’s thimbleberry jam.
The worry passes. Merlins soar eternally. Someone once stood on this hill overlooking the waterway 3,000 years ago, poking around for the metal to make spear points to feed children half-starved from a harsh winter and a merlin blew past. Hope lifts up. Sisu gains root. And the hunter knows winters will come again. So will the merlins. So will the trout lillies and fiddlehead ferns. Sisu makes sure we don’t hang our heads and miss the flying.
As for the Hub’s knee, Doc says it’s “lookin’good.” The increased pain and redness is frostbite. Let’s say, I might have sisu. I’m a terrific advocate, a great encourager, but I suck at being a carer. In my heightened sense of duty, I overachieved on the icing and frosted the Hub’s new knee. Doc chuckled and said, “They didn’t educate you, did they?”
I have no idea who “they” are other than they say lots of stuff about history and politics, too. No, “they” never taught me how to use an ice bucket. I observed that it was used around the clock in the hospital, and when the nurse gave me Doc’s orders, I took them to the word — “ice.” So I iced. Good news is that x-rays confirmed no infection, the skin will heal, and halejuliah, I no longer have to haul ice up the stairs every four hours. I also advocated for a med change and it has made a huge difference, too. Brownie point for speaking up.
And then I threw away the Hub’s wallet. Cleanliness — to prevent infection — and lack of sleep led to a missing wallet. He panicked. I didn’t. After all, it’s not like he’s been gadding about any further than the bathroom. We pulled back the mattress, flashed the light in corners, moved dressers, search every weird place we could think of and no wallet. The Hub said it had fallen into the bedside trash once and he pulled it out. With everything condensed within his reach, it likely got knocked again and I didn’t think to look in the trash before depositing it outside in the can. The can that got hauled away before we realized what happened.
He’s sad. But I remember that the merlins are back. And the snow that hit us this week quickly melted. And that my Brussel sprouts are growing in the eggshells where I planted their seeds. And I have hopes for black gladiolas at the back of the Roberts Street house. We make the necessary calls. I believe sisu can exist because beauty exists.
In July, I’ll be offering my first Carrot Ranch Writing Refuge in Vermont. We will entwine ourselves in nature and writing. One of the lessons I’ve prepared is based on the Navajo “beauty way” as expressed in novels by Tony Hillerman. Another examines the writing of Craig Childs to explore a sense of place and beauty despite natural disaster. And we’ll learn to observe like Aldo Leopold, Edward Abbey, Annie Dillard, and Terry Tempest Williams. Beauty balances sisu in writing.
No matter what grit you might have to brush away from your own writing, and no matter how many times you must rise again against doubt, rise. Look for a merlin of your own, or catch the once a year smattering of flowers named for glories.
And tune into #NaNoProMo over on Twitter and at BadRedhead Media. It’s a month-long gathering of marketing expertise for authors. If you comment on the official post each day, you are registered to win prizes from each of the book marketing experts who offer a giveaway with each post. I’ll be talking about credibilty as part of author branding and offering a free Author Action Plan to the day’s winner. It’s a tool I developed for my book cultivation workshops and I’m pleased with it because it helps me meet each author where they are at to illuminate a path to where they want to be.
During NaNoProMo, I will offer a special consultation for an Author Action Plan (scroll to the bottom of the page).
We are each individual. There is no one plan that fits all.
But what writers do have in common is that determination to get it done on our own terms. Despite the obstacles. Despite circumstances. Despite age and regret, or youth and inexperience. We write with sisu.
May 2, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about sisu. It’s a Finnish concept of enduring strength, the ability to consistently overcome. Think long-term. Go where the prompt leads!
Respond by May 7, 2019. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. Rules & Guidelines.
Something Evil in the Night (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills
Successive gun shots startled Danni from sleep. 2:04 a.m. She reached for Ike’s AR-15 resting between the dresser and wall. Years of Ike drilling her lent a strange familiarity to her husband’s weapon. But he was halfway around the world in Iraq. She dialed 9-1-1. The nearest deputy was 25 minutes away. Stepping outside, rifle cradled in the crook of her arm, Danni watched a silent pack of wolves run like liquid silver across the frozen pond in moonlight. Danni understood: Wolves run with sisu in their blood, outpacing the malevolence that follows – men with no regard for life.