Monday, September 26, 2011

Saying Goodbye

BFF - on the occasion of Lora's 100th birthday three years ago April
Sad news came winging its way over the telephone wires today. My wonderful friend Lora, who turned 103 this past April, changed form today. There will be no more adventures for us. Though there were nearly 40 years between our ages, she still introduced me to everyone she knew as her best friend. I was honored to claim that title. 

Among other things, Lora had been a school teacher, a farmer's wife, a cross country skier, a painter, and a avid fisherman. She loved trying new things and each time I visited I found her embroiled in some new activity. In her seventies she took up oil painting and then watercolors. In her 80s she got her first computer. In her 90s she studied handwriting and feng shui. After her husband died, she lived alone until she was 102, and only in the last few months did she go from having home health aides to a room in a nursing home. 

I miss her sorely though she's only been gone a few hours. Tears come easily when I remember that I will never see her again. They dry on my cheeks though when I remember what a wonderful friend she was, what happy adventures we've shared and how lucky I was to have had her as a best friend.

I wrote this poem on her 100th birthday after talking with her about her long and busy life. Now I post it here again in her memory.

Lora Remembers

100 years of mornings,
of sunrises that spilled liquid gold
down Vermont’s rugged hillsides;
dew that sparkled on a million
summer spider webs; a cow’s warm
breath on her hands and the warmer
milk; fishing the wily creeks and still
ponds at her father’s side;
running up the hill to school;
McGuffy’s First Reader and lunch in a blue
lard bucket; boarding as the teacher;
rain that turned dirt roads to mud;
riding a hay rake, a baler, a plow;
70 years of marriage, of cooking and
washing and mending, of quilting
and knitting and sewing;
driving a Model-T;
flying solo in a small plane;
barn raisings and song fests and gramophones
and new-fangled radios; television and jet planes
and a cruise to Alaska 85 years after
that first morning 100 years ago.

She remembers 100 years of evenings,
of listening to the nightjar whistle,
of scarlet sunsets and sparking fireflies;
dashing to the half-moon door in the
darkness; carrying a lantern up the cold
back stairs; woodstoves and hand pumps
and knee-deep snows; sugaring-off in spring;
summer nights so hot you slept on a blanket
on the lawn; darkness so pure you could
count the stars; nights of terror when fire
struck; nights of music and dancing, of kitchen junkets;
of family suppers; lonely nights, nights of weeping
and missing her man; nights of wondering, pondering
the future, the meaning of it all; nights of remembering
family and old friends gone on before—

100 years of living behind her. Now she looks ahead.

So do I. Farewell, Lora.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Work As Fun
The second graders I work with are studying insects. Jars containing monarch butterfly chrysalises line one counter. A large glass case filled with flowers and a small dish of sugar water sits on a table, waiting for the butterflies to emerge. Three monarchs already flutter there. By tomorrow two more should make an appearance, much to the delight of the students. They've been charting the progress from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly for weeks now. Fred, Boo, Sun, Rocky, and Bob will be set free on Friday to make their way in the wilds of the school playground.

The class has also been studying grasshoppers and crickets. One of their assignments was to make a list of things that hop or jump. We'd just conducted a grasshopper jumping contest and set up a cricket colony. I expected those two bugs would be listed. What I didn't expect was the innovative spelling, though these tots are beginning second graders. In case you didn't know, the following not only exist, they can hop and jump with the best of them:

flying squals
some fishees

and, of course,


Thanks Hilary!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Going, going...

It is the same every year and every year it surprises me. The signs of change are all around - leaves look like once bright curtains left too long in the sun. They droop, tired and faded and still in the windless afternoons. A few young maples and older, diseased trees flare bright red and orange amongst the green. My flower gardens, rife with bright blossoms just a few weeks ago, now sport more empty stems than blooms. The pink lilies, the papery hollyhocks, the bee balm’s riotous red flowers are all gone. A few brave fairy roses hold small pink and red faces up to be admired but for the most part the flowers’ season has passed. Next month I will plant a few iris corms, bank the beds with grass clippings from the last lawn mowing and hedge them with raked leaves. All that beauty and brightness will sleep through the cold, waking when the world turns warm again.

Monday, September 12, 2011


Artist Frederic Church's rendition of a sunset in my home county, painted in 1847

Over the past few months the area I live in has experienced a tornado, a hurricane, two bouts of flooding, a triple murder, and now West Nile Virus. I know this earthly life's a battle, but great jeesum crow! We've also had some gorgeous summer days, saw neighbors helping neighbors during a crisis, and helped celebrate the 250th anniversary of the town next door. I wrote this poem a couple of years ago when opposing incidences seemed overwhelming. Seems like a good time to trot it back out.


the same day an airplane dashed itself
to bits on the side of a mountain, killing seven people
a gentle rain fell on the garden,
pattering on the broad leaves of the squash
and watering the thirsty beets;

and while an earthquake
shook a south sea island in its heavy fist
scattering lives like wooden blocks
the sun came out,
hanging rainbows in water droplets
that strung themselves along the fence
like Christmas lights?

Listening to the news
you couldn’t help but realize the world
was a frightening place to be
except right here where an ordinary lily
opened its vibrant yellow throat.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Pride goeth... etc.

I was feeling pretty smug.

I'd gotten up early. Well, okay I had to get up early because Friday is a work day and no pre-alarm clock call had come saying no school. I was showered and dressed and peering into the almost empty fridge looking for something besides a container of yogurt to take for lunch when the phone did ring. In sonorous tones the superintendent of schools announced that school was closed due to flooded roadways. I did a little happy dance and put the yogurt back in the fridge. Then I changed my work slacks and collared blouse for jeans and a tee, grabbed my camera, and headed for the river to see what I could see.

An hour later I was back home, having scared myself silly wading through what looked like a harmless overflow but was in reality a tiny but potent portion of the leaping, swirling, steroid-muscled river. Still, I emerged unscathed. I played out the rest of the day in my head as I made breakfast. Grocery shopping was at the top of the list along with getting my car inspected. There were two overdue library books on the table and a new one awaiting me at the library. I set off, knowing I would encounter detours but as there are a number of ways to get to the supermarket, I was confident I'd get there sooner or later. The first roadblock appeared before I'd gone two miles. Along both sides of the alternate route, water edged the road and in some spots meadows had turned into lakes. It was only a few miles out of the way however, and I was in and out of the store within the hour.

I'd noticed several cars heading south on the main road and thought if they were going that way, surely the main road must be passable, at least to the point where I'd had to detour so instead of returning the way I'd come, I headed home using the most direct route. It was the second poor decision of the day. When I got to it, the road I'd thought I could turn on was completely submerged. I had to take a different road altogether, this time going many miles out of my way.

By now it was lunchtime so when I finally got home I munched an apple and some cheese and a handful of nuts, grabbed my overdue library books and headed for the inspection station at a local garage. The bay was empty, an attendant was available and  I thought, well, things are looking up! And they were. The car passed inspection without a hitch, I had just enough money in the checkbook to pay for it, and there was an immediate break in the traffic as I was ready to pull out. There was even a parking place in the shade at the library. Before going in, I gathered together the inspection papers to put them in the glove box. The date at the top of the uppermost paper caught my eye. Good through  6/12 was written in the little gray expiration box. 6/12? But this was September. I looked hastily at the sticker in my windshield. Yes, there was a bright orange 9. So why did my inspection expire next June? Shouldn't the date read 9/12? Well, I'd just pop back to the garage and ask the nice fellow why he'd put the wrong date on my inspection papers.

He smiled in recognition when he saw me. "Forget something?" he asked.

I smiled too, and showed him the uppermost paper. I pointed to the little gray expiration box. "This says 6/12," I said. "Shouldn't it read 9/12?"

He looked at me for a moment. "Ma'am," he said. He cleared his throat. "Ma'am, this is your car registration." He lifted the first page and tapped the second. "This is your inspection data."

I felt my face get hot. I made a little moue with my mouth and shrugged. "You'll have to forgive me, " I said. "I used to be a blonde."

He looked nonplussed for a moment. Then he smiled, scratched his head and went back into the bay. I was so embarrassed I didn't notice the slight dip in the pavement. My foot caught and I did an exciting little shuffle before lurching into the side of my car. This time I had to sit for several minutes waiting for a break in traffic, my face burning as laughter burst from the depths of the garage bay. I am certain the words "women drivers!" were in that conversation somewhere.

Friday, September 09, 2011

September Flood Day

Rolling, leaping, muddy water races through woods and across meadows.
Every school year our calendar has built in snow days, usually five, and usually we need more. This year the calendar has ten built in snow days, a good thing as two of them have already been used for floods. With  record rainfall amounts from both hurricane Irene and tropical storm Lee, the Housatonic River, which runs through my small town, has climbed up over its banks and inundated roads, farm fields and yards for miles around. Damage here has been minimal compared to that wrought by floodwaters in neighboring NY, VT, and CT as well as states further south but that's not much consolation when it's your business standing in the new middle of a river as some local establishments are.

Water slapping at the bridge pilings.
I walked down to the covered bridge early this morning to see how high the water had risen. The dirt road was partially covered in running water but it didn't look too deep. I waded in cautiously and was nearly swept off my feet by the strength of the water as it surged into the flooded parking lot. I was surprised that a mere 8 inches or so of water could push that hard but then I remembered it had the full force of the raging river behind it. I jogged through it coming back but the water tugged harder still, forcing me from the middle of the road to the dangerous washed out verge. My rolled up jeans were wet to the knees and the knees inside them were shaking by the time I was back on dry land.

Looking deceptively shallow, the force of this swiftly running water nearly upended me.
A trip to the neighboring town for groceries took me miles out of the way as roadblocks, flood warnings, and waving policemen sent me detouring around the main route. There's a staggering amount of water out there, all of it muddy and rushing and threatening. I can only imagine the havoc it's wreaking to the north and south of us. 

This water was just shy of covering the bridge that crosses it.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Seasonal Attire Disorder

How is it that I am never prepared for the seasonal change? It isn’t that the weather hasn’t given due notice. For more than a week the evening air has had a slight chill to it. Mornings have been shrouded in fog if they’re not dripping with rain. The warmest part of the day is the middle, and even then, many evenings a sweater has not been amiss.

A few days after the traditional late August storm on whose heels trod the first breath of fall, I rounded up all my summer clothes and put them in a box. I hauled out all my winter clothes and put them in the closet. Two days later, the sun made a summer comeback and the humidity that I welcomed in July made me sweat in my turtleneck. I opened up the summer box, pulled shorts and tees back out, and stuffed them in amongst the woolies. The next day, the wind blew cold, the rains poured down, and I sat huddled in a tee shirt and two sweaters.

I’ve never perfected the art of layering, a dressing skill that would no doubt stand me in good stead in the changeable New England weather. The catalogs that come at this time of year (if they aren’t already shouting about what fun 20ยบ below zero will be) mention pieces that “layer well,” but I get tired just thinking about all those clothes. If I put on an undershirt and a long sleeved tee shirt and a button down flannel shirt, (not to mention a sweater and a jacket), I’d look like the Pillsbury Dough Boy. It’s not a fashion statement I want to make. It amazes me that after spending most of my life in New England (where the old adage, “if you don’t like the weather, wait a minute,” is learned at your mother’s knee), I still can’t manage to dress appropriately for the season.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Tracking the Transition

Late summer days - 
Poetry flies on the wings 
Of small yellow birds.

The song birds are bunching, gathering in tree tops, their chatter filling the air like hundreds of small chimes clanging in the wind. All along the roadsides the tall grasses are turning brown. Goldenrod is blooming, and the last of the Queen Anne's lace. Bright yellow and orange jewelweed pods are plump with seeds that scatter with a pop when you brush against them, earning them the nickname "touch-me-not." It's fun to pop them with your fingers, something I delighted in doing as a small child and taught my grandchildren to do. Small J wanted to take the "popper path" rather than the Secret one to the farm whenever we went to feed the pigs or talk to the chickens and cows.

The mornings are cooler now and at dawn the grass is cold and wet with dew. Mild days full of sunshine follow only to fade into chilly darkness, thick with stars and stinging mosquitoes. Buzzy biting bugs will disappear with the first frost but until then they prosper, making both Parker the cat and me swat and slap and scratch. The cherry tomato plant on the patio is still bearing fruit though the large garden at the farm has been picked almost clean. Only the winter squash remain, their vines spreading out unchecked, the greening acorn globes and ripening butternut clubs peeking shyly from beneath the trailing leaves.

The great earth wheel turns, the seasons wax and wane, and despite the havoc raised by humans, things are as they should be.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Shucking Corn

The phone rings. "Corn's in," says the farmer's wife
so I take my biggest boiling pots and cut over to the farm
where, on the terrace, wait four large bags stuffed
with cobs, their green bodies firm, their hair like silk.

The sun is tipping into the pond. Clouds catch fire
and glow like lanterns. In the pale, warm light we
husk the corn, pulling the long green leaves from 
yellow kernels, each one as plump as a baby's cheek

and sweet, so sweet we can't help but nibble.
Shucking corn is like good conversation. You start
with generalities, husks, and tear them away
to get to the kernel of what you're thinking. In the end, 

you have something different than what you started with;
no longer useful coverings, heaps of silken threads, and in your hand
an ear, in your mind a pearl. All of life is a metaphor for something
else. Corn can stand in for communion if you want it to.