The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Angels and Helis December 9, 2014

Over this past weekend the sixth graders held an event they call ‘The Angel Room’, a day in which they shepherd the Waldorf wee ones on a quest to purchase handmade gifts for their family members. The classroom is transformed into a magical winterscape, with the merchandise all laid out in the most enticing way… It tied in wonderfully with the sixth grade curriculum; Elihu’s class is currently studying economics, and this became a real-life exercise in learning how to conduct transactions, deduct expenses and realize a profit. (The proceeds from the sale go into the class fund for trips and special expenses.)

While the tiny children waited to be greeted and escorted by a sixth grade angel through the transformed classroom, they and their families spent some time in the large eurythmy room, enjoying music, puppet shows and home-baked treats. The two hours went by fast, and after so much setting up and tearing down, it’s hard to imagine it ever happened at all, because by Sunday afternoon the classroom looked as if nothing out of the ordinary had gone on. (The Waldorf school sets a great example of living life with a certain Zen-like attitude; routinely events like this are thoughtfully and lovingly prepared for – and then promptly packed away and cleaned up. The process becomes as much a reward as the goal activity itself.) The Angel Room is a relatively new tradition at the school, but I’m sure it will last for years. It brought out the very best in Elihu and his classmates and it was incredibly moving to watch their tenderness as they guided the little ones.

The day before the Angel Room was a wet and wintry day, and since Elihu was caught up with homework, and there was little to do inside, we decided to pack up his rc helicopters and head out to the mall to do a little flying. In the past we’ve used the generously sized open area outside the mall gym. With a good thirty foot ceiling and off to the side of the mall’s main corridor, the space is perfect for flying. Until one gets shut down by the mall cops, that is. I can’t help but wonder if the bored sales clerks in the neighboring jewelry store narked on us. It was quite a let down – Elihu had been waiting to practice flying his Blade heli for a while now with no luck (it requires some serious space). He took it well, and as a small consolation I arranged for him to fly some helis at one of the free-standing kiosks. Until another mall manager found him and asked him to stop. I racked my brain, where could we go now? Indoor ice rinks, nope. The Y? No. The auditorium at Skidmore College? No, probably not. And then it hit me – Lowe’s! With ginormously¬†(that’s a sixth grade-sanctioned adjective) high ceilings and lots of airspace, it was certainly worth trying.

In minutes we were enjoying the lumber section of the home improvement store all to ourselves. Thankfully the inclement weather had kept builders away. The employees weren’t busy either, and they enjoyed watching Elihu fly and then chatting with him afterwards. One by one, Elihu exhausted the charge in each machine. We’ve never had such a golden opportunity before. It’s a great new resource and we’re thrilled to have discovered it. Maybe a little angel gave us the inspiration. One never knows.

IMG_2463Ready to fly.

IMG_2468Organization is key.

Elihu enjoys a long rc flight and tells us a little about the particulars of the craft.

IMG_2447He had a pretty good run before the mall cops shut him down.

IMG_2487Elihu got to demo the quadcopter at the kiosk. Again, until the cops caught up with him.

IMG_2623The sixth grade classroom before its transformation.

IMG_2277The short hallway into the room, before…

IMG_2499… and after.

IMG_2381

Mr. Esty gives the display some final consideration.

IMG_2374Everything looks so inviting.

IMG_2370Elihu enjoys a laugh with his classmate’s little sister Cara.

IMG_2365Beautiful! We’re ready for tomorrow…

IMG_2494Mr. Esty goes over the duties of the sixth grade angels.

IMG_2496The room awaits its first little customers.

IMG_2542Elihu takes his first charge through the room.

Elihu, showing a young one around the room of gifts.

IMG_2554Adam and Sawyer are the right guys for this job!

IMG_2578There’s a lot going on in the eurythmy room as folks wait for their turn.

IMG_2531There’s a puppet show…

IMG_2565…and music

IMG_2506Angel Norah helps the little ones color their gift bags.

IMG_2592Elihu was excited to play a couple of solo pieces.

IMG_2605A couple of the sixth grade girls did a reading of their work – it was very funny!

IMG_2520The angels take a little break and watch the show.

IMG_2645Before long, all was quiet and things were made ready for school to begin again the next morning. Everyone pitched in and made the job go much faster than I would have expected. Can you believe this is what the main hallway of the school looks like? We both feel so lucky to be a part of this oasis in such a chaotic, fast-paced, over-stimulated world. We thank our angels we found this place.

 

Song of the Spheres January 1, 2012

It was on a New Year’s Day, more than half my life ago, that I heard it. I’ve only told the story a handful of times; I’ve seldom felt that anyone would really believe me. I’ve also never felt brave enough to take the chance that my listeners might think me crazy. In the telling of this story they’d know that I wasn’t entirely legitimate or believable anymore. There was the great possibility that my audience might think that I experienced something entirely in my imagination. Maybe even pity would ensue. “And she seemed so together..”. What still surprises me about this event long ago was that I was in no particular way educated or prepared to receive such an experience; I wasn’t focused on things metaphysical or spiritual nor was I in any special state of mind that day when I set out for a walk in the woods. It was a snow-covered New Years’ Day like any other here in upstate New York.

It was cloudy and gray on that first day of January. That’s always been my favorite kind of weather – I love the mood it sets. Timeless, directionless, calm. It just feels centered, peaceful. We four Conants were in our tiny farmhouse, each doing nothing much out of the ordinary. Without much to occupy myself, I decided to take a walk outside. All my growing up I’d spent hours upon hours in the woods in wintertime. My brother Andrew and I had so much fun as kids playing on the frozen expanses of water that lay in low spots in the forest, breaking the ice like glass and marveling over the beautiful shapes and patterns it made. Today, rather than head out to the low parts of the woods, I thought instead I would head up the hill and explore the woods just beyond the edge of our open yard. There was a stand of many uniform-sized Scotch pines that clustered together in that spot, creating a space in the woods that was unlike all others. Only recently did I learn that the trees had been planted there by the property’s previous owner. That explained the perfect, almost surreal quality to the area.

I’d been walking only a very short time when I arrived at what seemed to be the center of the trees. I drank in the vision; hundreds of pine trees, all the same shape and size, going on in each direction as far as I could see – trunks, straight and black against the snow, me in the middle. Me, nowhere. Me, anywhere. I might even have panicked as to how to get home but for the tracks I left in the snow. I was truly free to feel the essence of what it was to be here, now. The forest was quiet. Not a snap of a twig, not a rustle of a rabbit, nothing. All was softened by a foot of snow. Then, after a few moments of silence, something began to change, almost imperceptibly at first. I may have thought my ears were ringing. I do remember wondering – if only for a split second – if I might not be hearing music coming from the old house. But any wondering vanished as the phenomenon began to grow. Something was happening. I was imagining nothing. I was hearing music. Gorgeous, sophisticated music. This was very real.

I don’t remember feeling scared. I do remember feeling a sense of urgency; I knew this was a rare phenomenon and that I had to understand it as best I could, and as quickly as I could. I would be methodical and identify its elements. First, where was it coming from? I turned in circles, looking out to the branches, hearing the music flowing around me, from above, from below. From everywhere. As soon as I thought I’d found the right direction, and stood facing it, even cupping hands to ears, it would slip somehow, and it then seemed to come from another direction. And I cannot say it changed directions, it was more like it truly seemed to come from each¬† direction equally. “Ok”, I thought, “Forget that. Just try to concentrate on what kind of music it is.” So I listened a moment more. It was contrapuntal, with several different voices. They were moving toward each other, away from each other, moving in parallel – many lines that wove themselves together in the most organic way. The first thing that came to my mind was Bach. That would have to do for now, I had to identify the instruments. I listened. Bells, clear, pure-toned bells. Yes…. No… As soon as I was satisfied with my answer, the sound morphed. Into voices. Yes, voices. Male? Female? Can’t tell. Both? Yes… No… no, wait… then again, it changed. It became horns. Pure, sine-wavelike tones that seemed to be French horns, no, kind of, but not exactly… I realized that the music was all these things at once. After I’d spent maybe three or four minutes trying to identify its components, I realized that I’d done all I could. All that was left was to simply enjoy it. To soak it in. So I just stood there, marveling. Dumbfounded and yet not. I just stood there, alone, in the music.

Within maybe a minute of having given up my efforts to identify the music, it began to fade. Now I did panic. I remember calling “No! No! Please, don’t leave!”, turning in circles, trying to recapture the source, the moment. I was begging it not to leave, and realized that tears were coming down my face. But it continued to fade, as gently as any sound could ever disappear, and then in a few more seconds, it was gone. And the woods were quiet again. Not a thing felt any different than it had just a few minutes earlier. I’m surprised I wasn’t more shaken up. Rather, I wiped away my tears, collected myself and stood there. Wow. What had just happened? Why had it happened? Did it have something to do with it being New Year’s Day?? I knew it might never make sense to me as long as I lived. But even then, I knew I had been very, very lucky that the music had chosen to come to me. It would just have to be my secret.

I didn’t spend any more time in the woods. I walked down the hill, back to our small house. Without disclosing too much, I thought I’d at least inquire whether Dad had been playing records on his mother’s ancient all-in-one stereo cabinet, as he sometimes does over the Christmas holidays (I can hear him in my mind singing in a bold voice along with the music…”dance then, wherever you may be, I am the Lord of the dance, said He…”) but no. He hadn’t. “Why?” my mom asks, facing the sink, finishing some dishes. “Oh, I thought I heard some music when I was out in the woods.” I answer in the most non-committal way possible. Even if he had been playing records, there’s no way that tiny box could have carried all the way out there… “Maybe you heard something from the Michel’s?” she posits. ‘Forget it’ I thought, and let it drop. I didn’t mention it again to anyone for years.

A few years later, my parents sold their home in Chicago and moved year-round to upstate New York, where they then built their dream home, just up the hill from the small cottage where we’d spent our vacations. Once, after one of my father’s Baroque concerts, a group of friends and musicians enjoyed some food and drink ‘up at the house’ afterward, as was always the tradition. A woman who’d known me all my life, and who in the early years had sung at my father’s music festival was in the group that night. Perhaps because she was a dowser, and unapologetically so, as well as being a church-going woman of gentle character (loved by all who knew her), I felt comfortable enough to tell my story. I remember Ruthie looking at me, with that smile of hers, unsurprised, listening. When I finished, no one but she had anything to say. She pointed out that the house itself stood where those trees once did. Perhaps, she suggested, that the universe may have known of things to come. Hmm. Was that all it was? A heads up? A little nod from spirit that this is an auspicious spot to build a new house? Perhaps it was part of the equation. Don’t know. And ultimately, it doesn’t matter. I was very lucky that day. So I’ll just take it at that.

There is a sad and beautiful song called “The Night We Called It A Day” in which the lyrics mention hearing ‘the song of the spheres’. Sometimes, when I’d sing that line, I’d think to myself that I actually had heard that song. I wondered, had Mr. Adair? Or was he just using it as a poetic lyric? Just how many people had actually heard the ‘song of the spheres?’ Besides – was that what I heard? If so – if that music had been given a name – I must be one of many who’d heard it too. I’ve googled and searched. Never found any account similar to mine. Not until this past summer. I finally met two other people who’d also had their own unique and unexplainable auditory experiences. Made me feel a little better to hear their stories. Validated. Not so crazy, not so alone. That feels good. And I’m getting braver. That feels good too.

Now I’ve told my story. A nice way to start the new year, I think. May we all grow braver in the coming year, ears attentive and hearts wide open.