Saturday, May 28, 2011


My Mama would have celebrated her 94th birthday today. She didn't live past the age of 65 and I still miss her presence.

She was a city girl who moved to the country to teach in a rural high school. She was a small woman, not more than 5' 3" in heels and she loved stylish clothes. She wore her beautiful cornsilk hair in a roll around her head. She was every inch a lady though I became aware as I grew up that she hid a sharp wit and a clever tongue behind that facade. She could quell an unruly 8th grade boy with a look, a practice she brought to bear in motherhood as well. We children didn't get away with much.

Though she grew up on the outskirts of a thriving city with all the amenities a city has to offer, when she married my father and moved to a rural area an hour and a half away she learned in a hurry how to grow food for her growing family, cook the game my father loved to hunt, and keep an old house in good shape. I played dress-up in her beautiful, seldom-worn dresses and skirts while she turned to slacks and housedresses. Living on a chicken farm where she raised a large vegetable garden, chopped wood for the fire, tended flower beds and chased spiders with dust cloth and broom was dirty work.

It was her cheerfulness that I remember most, and her steadfastness. Gracious is a word I have always associated with Mama. She  could be counted on to look for and find the best in everyone, to weasel the silver lining out of the darkest cloud, to embrace trouble head on and find a peaceful solution, to look at all of life with an attitude of awe and appreciation.

It helps to think of her now, to imagine what she would say in the face of the sudden deaths of two great friends in the space of three weeks. I can hear her soft steady voice in my head telling me to look for ways to comfort those friends left behind, and to find ways to let myself grieve. I take long walks, write poetry, find green places to sit while I weep with abandon. Healing will come, she whispers to me, only after you walk willingly through the shadows.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Suddenly You're Gone

A friend and colleague has died suddenly in a car crash. It is still hard for the living to breathe...

In the time it takes
to blink
to slam your foot on the brake pedal
to register the sound of splintering glass
the grind of metal

in the time it takes
to breathe
one last breath - in, out -
to wish it hadn't happened
to wonder what comes next

in the time it takes to sigh
everything changes

Sunday, May 22, 2011

In Praise of May

Green spreads around me in rippling waves. The trees are fully leafed, singing emerald songs to the sky-blue sky. The morning air has warmed under the bountiful hand of the sun until by late afternoon it shimmers. I tie the sleeves of my sweater around my waist and set off across the fields. Violets are suddenly thick underfoot and I kneel to drink in their sweet scent. The fragrance reminds me of home and my mother’s garden where every spring the violets and lily of the valley bloomed among the burgeoning stems and stalks of day lily, peony, and phlox. 

I strip off my shoes, and socks and wiggle my bare toes in the meadow grass. There is no one to see me and so I throw my arms wide and twirl until I am dizzy—earth and sky and earth and sky and earth and sky—before I must stop or fall.

I stretch out in the soft, still-new grass and think that green smells like fresh air and sunshine and newly growing things. I look up into the sky and let my eyes look beyond the blue, beyond the known, into the vast emptiness that is not really empty but inhabited by the unknown, and I fall in love with it all—the sky, the earth, the fields, the woods, the flowers—just the way I did when I first discovered the world as a small child.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Poem Dialogue


Are you making a sandwich?

No dear, I’m not.

Oh. Well, tomato with mayo would sure hit the spot.

Here you go, darling.

There’s no need to pout.

I’m done in the kitchen and I’m going out.

Are YOU rattling the tea things?

NO. (To be concise.)

A cuppa with sugar and milk would be nice.

Here YOU go darling,

Shall we dine in the den?

It’s good to be eating together again.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

One Shot Wednesday

The new oldest covered bridge in MA (rebuilt after a fire destroyed the original structure)
This poem was recently published in a slim volume of poetry created for the dedication of a small town park and river access ramp along the river south of the bridge. I often walk down by the river and spend a lot of time in and around this bridge. The original bridge was built in 1854, was added to National Register of Historic Places in 1978, was restored in 1981, burned to the ground in 1994 and was reconstructed in 1999.

Covered Bridge Thoughts

The way the sun paints my walls
in broad strokes
and diagonal slashes,
illuminating initials twined in hearts,
and the mud-plastered swallow’s nest
on the highest rafter—

The way the restless water murmurs
of muskrats and marsh grass
and the far places from which it has fled
as it rushes seaward—

The echo of feet on my rough planks,
and the cavernous, roofed darkness—
Either end brings the traveler into the light again
or out of the rain.

The strength of my trusses
like great arms lifting,
and the grace of my span—
river, wood, and a trust in design
meant to reconcile the gap between
here and there.
I am the bridge.

for One Shot Wednesday #46

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Relativity Demonstrated

Lamb cake for the party

This was a weekend of beginnings and endings. My smallest granddaughter was feted at a Welcome To the World party Saturday, hosted by her happy parents and attended by dozens of family members and friends. I baked a cake for the little Bean in my own Memere's old cast iron lamb mold. For once, the ears did not stay stuck in the pan, the frosting was as light and fluffy as cotton wool, and the lamb's head did not topple off when I lifted the cake plate to carry it to the table. The day was a whirl of cooking and eating, of laughter and music and joy in new life.

Sunday was, in sharp contrast, a farewell occasion for an old friend. In a standing room only church we listened to the singing of Danny Boy, the saddest, most poignant song I know. Tears wet every cheek and talk afterwards was of missing and loneliness and sorrow. Rain fell first in a fine mist and then in torrents as if the very skies wept at this man's passing. 

I know that sorrow and joy are two sides of the same coin, that in this world of opposites we experience both, not always equally and not always with equanimity and we prefer one rather than the other, but there was some measure of comfort after the service as we recalled this gentle man's accomplishments, his delight in small things, his great love of family.

The little Bean will grow into her own life, will experience her own moments of great joy and deep sorrow. Her life will unfold and she will live it as best she can. My old friend's memory will live on in the minds of those who knew and loved him. His hand is everywhere I am, in the patches and repairs to my tiny cottage of which he was landlord, in the farm animals and buildings, and the meadows and woodlands that surround me and that he loved so well.

These two days - one of joy and one of sorrow - have had a hand in shaping my own life as all our days do, though we don't always notice it in our self-involvement. As a reminder that in the midst of both life and death there is something worth treasuring, the lilacs bloomed both days.

Monday, May 09, 2011


catbird by
A marvelous thing happened to me on Mother's Day. There's a backstory, of course. I remember as a child listening to my mother whistle to the birds that frequented our yard in the summer. She traded tunes with robins and bluejays, chickadees and starlings, wrens and titmice and warblers, but the bird she talked most often to was a catbird that nested every year in the venerable lilac bush near the front porch.

Most songbirds have different voices. There are soft spring love songs, strident alarm cries and usually one signature bit of sound that allows you to say, "Oh! That's a cardinal!" Or a red-winged blackbird or a goose. The catbird is no exception. Its name stems from its dead-on imitation of a cat wanting to be let in out of the rain.

First thing on a summer morning Mama could be heard conversing with the lilac catbird. "Meow," she'd say and, "Mrrrreow," the catbird would reply.

"I like catbirds," Mama told me. "They're not showy, they're not scavengers, and they're downright friendly."

As I grew up I could not hear a catbird without thinking of my mother. Once I was on my own, every house I lived in had its resident catbird family nesting within hearing distance and I'd smile as I tried conversing with them the way my mother did.

Mama's side of the conversation ended on a late October day, long after all the songbirds had departed for the season. I clearly remember hauling an old summer lawn chair from the porch of her empty house and sitting in the yard in the late afternoon sunshine, mourning her passing. Suddenly there was a rustle in the lilac bush and a sharp mrrrreow. I looked for the cat but what I saw instead was a bird, a sleek, gray, impossible catbird perched on a branch nearest the house. "Mrrrreow," it said, cocking its head. I couldn't help it. Through tears I replied, "Meow." Satisfied, the bird flew off. I lost sight of it in the blue of that October sky.

This past Sunday, Mother's Day, after my youngest daughter and her family had left for home, I sat on the swing that hangs at the entrance to my Secret Path to the farm next door. I swung my feet idly, leaning back to look at the bits of blue visible through the new green leaves. Into my line of vision came a blur of wings and a sudden landing. On a branch directly in front of me and so close I could have reached out and touched it, sat a catbird. I let the swing slow and stop. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Parker the cat approaching. He leapt to the picnic table near the swing and sat like a statue, his eyes on that bird. As if it always sat within a foot of humans and cats to sing, the catbird cocked its head and began a series of soft spring love calls, little tootles and tweets with a bit of tune here and there. I let the tears fall where they would. I listened to the catbird sing and wished with my every cell and atom to understand.

Strange things happen in this world. I am a big believer in coincidence, but like Meg Ryan in Sleepless in Seattle, there comes a time when you know it's "a sign." With a last little "Mrrrreow," the catbird flew off and I knew I'd just been treated to magic.

*To hear a catbird's songs and calls, go here, click on the sound button and scroll down. 

Thank you, Hilary !

Field Notes

 Remember that day,
the river drifting slowly south,
the trees just beginning to leaf,
looking like paler versions of their autumn selves?

You know how you have to
climb the earthen steps,
first down to the silver river,
then up to the leafy overlook,
and how, this time of year,
every miniscule blossom challenges
you to name it,
how the nose twitches at the smell of
disturbed leaf mulch
and damp earth,
how what passes for silence
is filled with bird song?

It was just that kind of day today,
a day of discovery,
of feeling the cool hand
of the sky on my cheek,
of seeing hillsides white with trillium,
and rock gardens jumbled among the trees.
It was as if the trees were listening,
and the quiet leaves,
and the ears of the rocks were open,
and the twigs bent close to hear.

Then the wind spoke,
and the bluebird.
Into the silence came a breeze-borne song.
The boughs nodded,
the river chuckled to itself,
the rocks sighed and settled into
the earth's cupped hand.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Amazing Grace

Today was a day of quietude at the end of a fairly frantic week. My neighbor and close friend J, who is co-host to my other blog, lost her husband G unexpectedly on Sunday and now she is feeling lost. Sudden grief is so debilitating. The cold, dreary weather has been no help and we've all been walking around feeling half here and half elsewhere as we try to come to grips with a world without G.

I've been finding small ways to help the family with daily tasks so they have more time to spend with each other. Today I loaded G's monstrous (to me - I drive a small car) pickup truck with accumulated trash from their house and mine and drove to the transfer station. The moment I had my hands on the steering wheel I felt the tears start. I've know this man since childhood, went to high school with him, and saw him if not daily, then nearly so, for the last seven years I've rented my cottage from him. My heart aches for J. Her sadness is palpable and will last for a long time. They'd been married 45 years and were the best of friends.

This evening the setting sun was like a benediction. I took a walk along the quiet road, stopping now and then to listen to the birds say goodnight. There are several pairs of Baltimore orioles nesting in the neighborhood. I heard them calling and then, as I stood at meadow's edge trying to spot them, two flew directly overhead, the sun flashing on their brilliant orange feathers. I hope J saw and heard them, too. Their song, and their beauty in the midst of sadness was a balm of sorts, and a promise that even in the shadow of grief there is grace waiting on the periphery.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011


The rain stops, the sun comes out, the air warms and sweetens with the scent of flowers and damp earth and green, growing things. The out of doors beckons, luring you with bird song and open spaces, shady glades and winding roads. You lace up your walking shoes, step outside, breathe deeply, douse yourself with bug spray to keep away the pesky mosquitoes, and hum a happy little tune as you set off. Ah, what a world! What a day! What... is this?

It’s the devil disguised as a deer fly, is what it is. It’s torture dressed up in wings and teeth, a demented demon trained as a kamikaze pilot, impervious to insect repellent and bent on biting you. A single deer fly can turn a simple stroll into a battle for dominance. It’s you or the fly and there is only one victor.

Unlike mosquitoes that dance at a respectable distance from bug spray, deer flies don’t. They buzz and bomb, darting in devious circles first one way and then another. They swoop down out of nowhere, whirl in a mad dance around your head and land only long enough for you to feel their vicious bite. By the time you’ve swatted yourself hard enough to see stars, they’re up in the air again, a whirling dervish with a bit of your flesh clinging to their feverish jaws.

One day last June my daughter Cass and I took advantage of a break in the clouds to go for a quick hike. We set off down the road, arms swinging, legs pumping, glad for the watery sunshine and lifting mists. Abruptly, Cass broke her stride to do an odd little dance. She raised her arms and swung them wildly around her head. She jumped up and then back and then whirled around, bobbing and weaving and punching the air like a boxer. Around her head, darting and whirring like a berserk wind-up toy was a deer fly, its sturdy death-proof body and flashing wings throwing off golden glints.

“Stand still,” I instructed, “and I’ll whack it.”

I clapped my hands where the fly was and missed, clapped again to the left of it and then to the right. I jumped and clapped, sidestepped and clapped. Cass ducked, her arms wrapped around her head. Then “Ouch!” she yelled and slapped at a bit of her unprotected neck. The fly turned a somersault, tumbling down before righting itself and zooming straight for my face.

Hastily I grabbed a fallen twig with several leaves still attached. Cass grabbed another, swinging it around and around her head. We broke into a gentle trot, then a mad gallop for home, swinging our branches and yelling, “Get away! Get away!”

A car passed, the driver taking in our disheveled appearance and the leafy branches clutched in our fists. We saluted jauntily as though leafy bouquets were every bit as reasonable as flowers. His expression indicated he had no idea how lucky he was to be encased in metal and capable of going faster than a deer fly.