Friday, January 28, 2011

Other People's Thoughts

I have a page of quotes in a file on my computer. Now and then I browse through them to see if they still grab me in the same way. I spend some interesting hours looking at my life through other people’s eyes. Some examples:

"A mind, like a home, is furnished by its owner." Louis L’Amour

My own head, house for my own thoughts, is decorated with cheery scraps of bright ideas amid the mundane, more serviceable notions I entertain. I reside inside my thoughts, creating with my hands a place for the rest of me to live. My mind is aswirl with thoughts that didn’t originate there but grew from seeds planted by others, notions heard or read that I’ve mulled over and mulched and pruned and grafted until they’ve become hybrids. They are my thoughts now, some as familiar as an old bathrobe, some as new as a housewarming gift. My thoughts, my things—looking at them this way is like coming suddenly upon my own reflection, realizing, “Oh! That’s me!” simultaneously with, “Is that what I look like?”

"All really great thoughts are conceived while walking." Friedrich Nietzsche

I would have agreed wholeheartedly until I remembered that most of my great thoughts came to me while exercising my backside in the rocker by the window. Or when I’m in that nebulous place between sleeping and waking, or when I’m leaning against a tree staring into the sun-dappled woods, or lying prone in a meadow with the great blue bowl of sky overhead. I walk briskly when I need to work things out and slowly when things need mulling over, but my comets seem to fire most when I’m at a standstill.

"In the right light, at the right time, everything is extraordinary." Aaron Rose

Too often, I think, we hold back from realizing the ordinary can be extraordinary. Too bad. Look at what we miss by relegating the familiar to such a judgment. We don’t notice how often the rising sun paints the morning sky the color of rose petals, how it gilds the grass, and casts long shadows that shrink to puddles by noon. How, late in the afternoon, the light can take on a shimmer and how, when evening draws the day to a close, the sun sinks behind a canopy of crimson velvet clouds, trailing bright banners of pink that fade slowly into dusk. We think of snow as a nuisance we have to plow, ice as something designed to make us slip and fall, rain as a dampener to all our outdoor plans. Our lives take on narrower boundaries. We look, then, to the exotic to stimulate and please us, believing to our own detriment that what is familiar is too common and plain to ever be wondrous.

"Life ain’t nothing but a funny, funny riddle." John Denver.

Thanks Hilary

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Image from Magpie #50

Road Sign Redux

Hike the Appalachian Trail
and you’re likely to run into bears,
cougars, rainstorms, poison ivy,

boulders, hunger, thirst,
and a snake or two. The signs
don't tell you this.

South to Georgia, north to Maine,
4.9 miles to Little Gap,
16 to Leroy's Shelter.

Come across one of these signs
in the woods and suddenly you're
Robert Frost, choosing.

Signs point. You decide.
It's like waking up one morning
knowing you're no longer lost.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Overlooking the River

In this spot where sunlight
throws sparkles off the snow,
where oak leaves tremble
in the circuitous wind
and ice melt trickles down
to lose itself in the softening snow,
where geese float and gabble and
flex their wings,
and last year's leaves 
whirl and settle and whirl again,
here where the sun 
warms my cold cheek,
and a hungry downy drums the wood,
here I will sit myself down
to watch and listen,
to hear the voice of the goose
and the chickadee,
and the singular hymn of the wind.

Friday, January 21, 2011

You Never Know

I was shoveling out the mailboxes after our third snowstorm in as many weeks, grumbling with each shovel full and thinking, typical! to myself after each pickup truck with a plow sailed past me without so much as a, "Hey, can I help you out there?"

A misanthrope and loner by nature since childhood (my mother would try to cajole me to come downstairs and recite poetry for her dinner guests and my standard response was always, "No, I don't like those people!"), I'm still staggered by how insensitive, unhelpful, and selfish my fellow humans can be (no, not all, and not always). And then, we hardly ever see ourselves through our own eyes. 

I had just heaved an exceedingly heavy shovel of snow and ice over the growing pile and was leaning with my head on the shovel handle when I heard what I immediately thought of as Reya's "Voice" (she speaks of it in her January 17th post titled All Along the Watchtowers).

I am no mystic. I'm not a Believer either. I'm a skeptic at worst, and a maybe-er at best. But I'm telling you I heard a voice and it said,  "Perhaps if you felt differently about your fellow man, he would appear differently to you." 

I picked up my head. Not a soul in sight. And then in my ear, "And if you keep shoveling while you wait for kindness to appear, at least the mailboxes will be cleared." 

How very Zen.

I'd like to say the next truck that appeared stopped and the driver offered to plow my driveway for me so I could get to the store for milk.  That did not happen. But? As I cleared the last shovel full of snow in front of the mailboxes, a pickup truck did stop and in it was my neighbor.  "I'm going into town, " he said. "Can I get anything for you?"

Reya often repeats two things in her blog posts. She insists on thinking we humans have some worth despite our awful shortcomings, and she pays attention to Voices. Perhaps I should, too.  It just may make a difference in the way the world appears to me from now on.

Thoughts Before Breakfast

At each window,
I linger,
taking in the sugary snow,

the plum-colored shadows
that lay beside the grasses,
winter-dried to shades of toast.

A lemon yellow sky striped with
raspberry, and vanilla pudding clouds
that mound along the horizon

make me realize that my eyes
are hungry. I watch the 
morning moon

and the small birds,
round as dough balls,
as they seek their own breakfast

in the branches of the lilac
that guards the door
leading to my kitchen.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Quintain

A quintain is any five line stanza poem of any meter or line length. Here I've used an a,b,a,a,b rhyme scheme. Fiddling with form is always a delightful challenge. This was inspired by one of my Walking/Nature Writing Workshops.

The Housatonic River wends its way through Bartholomew's Cobble near my home.

Cold Hope

Walk with me along the water’s edge
See that feather trapped there in the ice?
It means the geese were feeding on the sedge,
and rested there upon the rocky ledge,
hoping that brief respite would suffice.

contributed to One Shot Wednesday

Monday, January 17, 2011

Come For a Walk With Me

My Northern Lites tag sale snowshoes.
Two years ago I bought a pair of used snowshoes at a tag sale. During last winter's snowless months they languished on their nail on the garage wall. But last week the snow started falling at dusk on Tuesday evening and by Wednesday morning there were 22 inches of light, fluffy snow on the ground. I stepped off my front doorstep and sank in over my knees. Snowshoe time!

Yesterday I joined my brother Frank and three of his neighbors on a trek through a local Audubon Nature Preserve. The site is an old farm on the street where I grew up. I'd wandered these meadows and woods my whole childhood. Frank and I used to strap on my grandfather's old hardwood framed, rawhide laced snowshoes and track each other through some of this very land. I hadn't been on showshoes since I was eight years old. The woods and fields I was about to traverse seemed much the same but this body was far removed from the lithe and limber eight year old I'd been.

At the trail head.
The sun was bright and the wind brisk as we trudged through the first hayfield, past the farm pond, and up into the woods. I remember that pond being dug and the giant turtle that emerged snapping and growling in the dredge's bucket. The land had been mined for limestone in years past and as we climbed, we passed the old stone supports for the cart line that carried the quarried stone downhill to the smelting kiln.

Old quarry cable supports
The woods were deep and still. The only sounds were the creakings of our bindings and the swoosh of snow under our shoes as we made our way through the hardwoods and the sighing pines. The storm had left deep snow on the forest floor and strange snow animals on tree limbs...

Odd little snow animal perched on a broken branch...
I'd brought along my ski poles to help me keep my balance on the uneven ground. I found I didn't need them most of the time but they came in handy when trying to climb over fallen trees or struggle up steep inclines. We stopped occasionally to decipher animal tracks or just to drink in the beauty of the winter landscape. I was eight again in my mind, mittened and capped and completely free in the quiet woods and windblown meadows.

One of several vast, untrammeled meadows.
An hour and a half later we stamped the snow from our shoes in the Preserve parking lot, exclaimed about what a good time we'd had, and made tentative plans to do it again. My shoulders ached from swinging the poles and my back ached from the prolonged tromping but my spirit danced like the happy child that used to roam these spaces daily.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


January snow
a crisp, white page,
a new year.

Nature sketches
last years grasses
to remind us of tomorrow’s—

Hardwoods show their bones,
redbirds paint
the hemlocks.

In the stark pewter sky
a crow featherstitches

White flakes drift like
windblown curtains—
January snow.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Great, Long Song (reprint)

My mornings have music of their own. There are the silent melodies – the hush of predawn, the tiptoe of light, the fading darkness - sounds my ears cannot hear. There is the noise the grass makes, stretching, and the sound the dew makes, falling. There is the joyous sound of the sun bouncing up over the horizon and of the mist rising from the surface of the pond. In summer, flowers lift their faces to the light, leaves stir, clouds float, all seemingly silent, all part of the great song that has no beginning or end. Then comes the audible music - the first tentative birdsong, the crowing of a rooster, the whoosh of early traffic, the barking of a dog, the slamming of a door. Warm weather bees buzz, insects whine. WInter flakes rustle as they fall. There are small forest scurryings and squirrels chatter high in the treetops. The day-song has begun.

There are snowy mornings like today when light creeps into the darkness like a single, small chime rather than a full-concert sunrise. Falling snow sounds like a sleeping baby's breath, a small, nearly imperceptible sigh as billions of flakes drift and settle. R
ainy mornings, on the other hand, are drum recitals, tapping feet and fingers on roof and windowpane, water music with rhythm. Sounds are muted, sibilant. Rain patters, sloshes, burbles, splashes, washes clean. It gushes down drainpipes, surges over stones, streams down roadsides. Rainy days are not silent; the refrain beats on the roof of the world. Only the end of a storm is signaled with silence, the rests between the beats, the ceasing of the drum.

Afternoon music is the noise of living. It is car horns and dump trucks and sirens wailing. It is men shouting, children laughing, women talking, dogs barking, vendors selling, voices bargaining, couples arguing, bells clanging, wind blowing, birds calling, planes droning. It is phones ringing and radios blaring. It is joy and sorrow, blessing and curse, trying and failing and winning and losing, all loose and careening in the frantic hours of daylight. It is jazz and be-bop, hip-hop and boogie-woogie.

Late in the afternoon, the din begins to subside. Dissonance segues into harmony, the mid-day jazz mellows. Late afternoon symphonies are full of tranquil notes that slow the movements, soothe the tempers. The light itself changes. Gone is the high-noon heat. Summer shadows lengthen, crickets serenade the twilight, frogs begin their evening chorus. Winter dusk falls like a purple cloak spread over the land. The sun sets to a majestic overture of silence, drawing the colors of the sunlight hours about itself in splendid stillness, as if the day itself is pausing to draw breath.

The earth, too, is a living song. It is the keening of hawks, the chatter of bare branches in the wind, the murmur of water, the multitude of human prayers and praises; we are all part of the great, long song.

Reprinted for Magpie 48 prompt