Sunday, December 30, 2012

Winter Storm


Silver white
and feather soft,
falling from the heaven's loft,
ice cream cold,
and turtle slow-
snow.

I wrote that as a child while staring out my bedroom window. I can still picture my small self huddled against the cold sill, watching the flakes drift lazily down, listening to the small splats as they hit the window and trying to capture just what I was seeing.

I've always loved snow, though as I grew older and had to drive in it, I looked less forward to hard snowfalls. When we lived in northern Vermont, land of continuous hills, driving took a treacherous turn.

This morning I am snug in my cottage. Snow has been falling fairly steadily since yesterday morning. There's about a foot on the ground. Every branch and limb is frosted, every rooftop piled high, every fence rail outlined against the white. I've shopping to do and some other errands but perhaps I will put them off until tomorrow. My showshoes are waiting in the garage and the woods beckon.


Sunday, December 23, 2012

Motherhood Revisited

Known collectively as "the guys," four of the Bean's toys go for a horseback ride.

My days as Super-Nini continue. Taking care of two very small children three days a week is challenging and immensely gratifying. I'm able to get down on the floor and immerse myself in miniature worlds that are as real as my full-sized one and I've lost ten pounds running up and down stairs while the girls are asleep, trying to fit in the washing and cleaning and cooking before their tired Mama gets home.

I watch the Bean play the games of a two year old. She postures and talks to herself— no, not merely to herself but to her toys as if they are alive and participating actively in the game. She questions them and answers in their voices; it is not own her voice that answers. Most times she is so intent on her doings that I can go about mine undetected. While her dolls take train rides or go off to pick apples and make pies, I can get the breakfast dishes washed and dried and put away. While she colors pictures and comments aloud on the names of the colors, I can tidy the living room and heat a bottle for the baby whose cries often work their way into the Bean's play. “Baby’s crying,” she’ll murmur, making a small, helpless, crying sound. Then Momma Teddy, a tiny wooden mother doll, will stop what’s she’s doing to hold the crying paper baby in her arms and rock her.

Sometimes the Bean looks up quickly from her play, fixing my whereabouts in her mind. I can see the flicker of recognition but there doesn’t seem to be a separation of her real and imaginary worlds and when I am on the floor with her amid the scattered dolls and clay apples and the small playhouse, the miniature cars and train engines and miniscule plates and cups, I follow her into the world of altogetherness, of play that is not play as much as it is just being.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Where Light Comes From


in memory of all those slain in the CT school shooting


Sleep gives you no choice,
it closes your eyes to all that is precious,
leaving you resting in the hope
that it will still be there
when you wake.

Grief will not be held accountable
it lives where it will;
like sleep, once you have tasted it,
you never lose the memory.

Joy, too, comes over you
but in its wake there is no yearning.
It gathers you and your grief in its arms,
makes it safe to close your eyes,
and leaves a small flame
for the next time darkness falls.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Today


This morning the sky is a pale blue parchment against which the bones of winter trees are etched in ink. The early light makes silhouettes of the chimney tops, and the silent wings of a crow cut through the air like feathered scythes. It is still and cold and quiet. The horizon is one long pink streak and the clouds go from rose to orchid to paler pink as the sun climbs into the sky. I love this reverent hush before sunrise, when nothing is yet stirring, and the light grows gradually brighter until the everyday world is revealed.

I like to rise in the dark and watch the day begin. I sit curled in a chair with a mug of steaming tea at my elbow, my sketching journal in my lap, and let my thoughts wander. Later, I will be so busy I won’t have time to think and so will have this peaceful interlude from which to recreate serenity.

Through the window I watch the sun inch over the horizon, spreading gold in its wake. The frosted bushes glisten and beams of golden light alternate between the tree shadows falling across the lawn. The mat of fallen leaves at woods’ edge glows with every shade of brown in the bright light with here and there a scarlet berry to break the monochrome.

I wrap my robe tight and slip out the door into the chilly air. Overhead a flock of geese flies into the sun. It is so still that I can hear the whisper of their wings. I pick a few seeds from the feeder and hold them in my flat palm. In a few minutes, a chickadee flits across the open yard and lights on my fingers. It snaps up a seed and hops onto a branch of the lilac to eat it. Moments later, two birds and then three, sit on my fingers. Back in the house I sketch my hand and the birds and note that when one is quiet and unhurried, small miracles happen.

The day ends as it begins, with trees inked against pale blue. Overhead the color deepens as the western horizon melts in a blaze of gold. The birds have found a warm place to sleep; the shadows swallow what light is left.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Borrowed Thoughts

Often on a Sunday morning, a friend and I get together to write. She is always ready with a prompt and though we don't designate either poetry or prose, she usually writes the latter and I the former. This morning one of the prompts was the opening line from Sara Teasdale's poem, Places— "Places I love come back to me like music..."

Here's my own construction:





There is music in nature—
the sigh of needled boughs,
the staccato of pouring rain,
the bellow of an icy wind,
the bell ring of water over stones­,

arias sung by summer birds
and dirges played by storms,

but no music is as sweet
as the symphonies of places loved—
the violins of longing,
the persistent drumbeat of the heart
underlying every blade of grass,
gracing every memory
of wall and walk.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Spilled Secret

Look at all those unsuspecting faces...
Several years ago my children and ex and I were living in the cellar while we built a log cabin over our heads. My sister and mother had joined us for Thanksgiving dinner and things were cramped in the basement. Two adults, four children and thirteen dogs (eleven of them puppies) were crowded into whatever space was left around the furniture and packing boxes. Add two guests and a twenty-pound turkey and something was bound to happen.

Dinner was nearly ready. Northern Vermont is cold by November so the kids and their dad were out gathering wood to keep the cookstove fire burning. The table was set, the potatoes mashed, the cranberry sauce chilled. I lifted the heavy roasting pan out of the oven and as I did, the bird took flight. It landed at my feet in a great splash of grease and slid with astonishing speed directly toward the mouths of eleven startled pups.

Mama dove for the bird, dumped it in the sink and furiously pumped water over it. Out of the corner of her mouth she said, “Don’t say a word and no one will know.”

Until today, no one has.

Monday, November 12, 2012

%$#@

Even bad days come to an end...
This has been a day of damns. I woke, stretched and watched in disbelief as my toes curled one way, my heel twisted the other, and the muscle in my calf turned to a pillar of stone before my very eyes. I sprang out of bed shouting, "Damn! Ow! Ow! Ow! Damn!" The day went downhill from there.

The first pancake, not quite cooked through, tore as I flipped it. (Damn.) The container of raspberries stubbornly refused to open and then when it did it flipped over, spilling berries all over the floor. (Damn!) I had some data entry work to do at the home of a former boss and when I finished and got into my car to return home, I realized I'd forgotten my special chair cushion. I went back in the house and up the stairs to fetch it, apologizing on the way only to get back to the car and realize I'd left my tea mug in the office. I went back in, apologized once more, went up the stairs and fetched the mug. Half way down I remembered the calendars she'd given me that were still sitting on the edge of the desk. I trudged back up and back down again, feeling very disorganized and foolish. (Not exactly the way one wants to appear before an employer. Damn!)

Back home I collected my book and my outdoor swing cushions, thinking to enjoy an hour's worth of reading in the bright sunshine before lunch when I found the note I'd scribbled to myself about getting my flu shot and a pertussis booster. I called the doctor's office. "Come now if you can," said the nurse (damn) so I got back in the car and drove into town. The nurse was waiting for me with two hypodermics but the new receptionist could not figure out how to enter my Medicare information into the computer. She whisked my card out of my hand, told me to go on through and she'd have it figured out by the time I was done. "I'll have to give one shot in each arm," chirped the nurse. (Damn!) Back at the reception window the new woman was still struggling with my information. She searched for my card and couldn't find it. "Oh dear," she sighed, pawing through a slew of papers strewn across her desk. (Damn!) Finally another woman behind the counter located it in the copy machine. I took it and fled.

I opened the cottage door to the drool-inducing scent of pork cooking slowly in pomegranate juice and orange slices. Every week I try to take a ready cooked meal to my daughter's, saving her a day of thinking about, preparing and cooking dinner. I lifted the lid and inhaled. I took a fork and poked one of the sweet potato chunks swimming in the delectable juice. It fell apart before I could lift it to my mouth. (Damn.) The crockpot had been on low for a mere three hours. The recipe called for 6 hours of cooking. Nothing should have been fork tender yet. (Damn!) I took a slotted spoon and scooped the potato chunks out, mashing a few in the process. (Damn!)

I toasted English muffins with cheese and tomato for lunch. One tomato slice slid off the toast and spattered on my clean shirt. (Damn.) And my clean jeans. (Damn!) I'd already done two loads of laundry which were flapping on the line so I hand washed and wrung out the shirt and jeans and hung them on the line. No way were they going to dry before sundown. (Damn!)

The sewing project I'd put off for days sat waiting for me. I am making slipcovers for cushions that will make seating out of a long, low bench in my daughter's dining room. All that was left was to put a long zipper on one end of each cushion cover. To save money I'd cut two zippers from some old cushions. I set my sewing machine up on the kitchen table. I needed a magnifying glass to help me see the infinitesimally small hole in the needle. It took several minutes to thread the machine. More time was spent ironing seam allowances and pinning the edges to the zipper. A special presser foot had to be installed. Finally I was ready to sew. The fabric was thick and refused to be moved along by the ridges on the feeder plate. The thread gathered and bunched and broke. (Damn.) It took several tries to re-thread the machine. (Damn!) Half an hour later the first zipper was finally stitched in. I pulled the zipper closed and whoosh! The pull flew up the teeth and right off them, flung itself from my hand and came to a clanking stop under the refrigerator. (Damn!)

I did what any country girl does when things go wrong inside. I grabbed my sweater and went outside, stood in my fading summer-green-turning-to-autumn-brown yard and looked up into the huge blue sky. Great, gray-white, puffy clouds drifted before a high wind. The sun was setting in a welter of pinky gold. One wispy cloud looked like a small witch on a tattered broom. Chasing behind her was a dragon-shaped behemoth, gray-black along the edges where ten foot incisors loomed. I wondered if that poor witch was saying, "Damn!"

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Of Storms and Silence

There's a tiny goldfinch in the center of fallen leaves. See it?
It was a calm day, this day before the next storm making its way up the eastern seaboard. The sun smiled down from a cloudless blue sky. A small breeze danced with falling leaves. Frost made the grass underfoot crunch as I set out to see what the geese on the pond were hollering about. As I crossed the road a bright yellow leaf fluttered over my shoulder. But wait... leaves don't chirp! I looked down. There at my feet, half disguised by a thick pile of oak leaves hunched a tiny yellow finch. Hardly daring to move, I lifted my camera and snapped a shot before the little bird fluttered its wings and lifted off. Though they seldom frequent my feeder in the winter, I read that they stay here year round, braving the cold and snow and bitter winter winds.

Leathery oak leaves brought down by hurricane winds.
Leathery oak leaves have been blown from trees earlier than usual and litter the roadsides. We've had some very strong winds lately and more are due tomorrow night. Just two weeks ago the maples and beeches, the birch trees, walnuts, poplars, and hickories held their colors high. Then came Hurricane Sandy; wind and rain tore the leaves down and flung them far and wide.

Cold weather has bitten the heads off the last of the season's flowers. I spent the day cutting dead stalks, mulching the rosebush roots, filling the bird feeders, turning the mulch that's been collected over the summer. It was so fine a day that I sat on the patio with my afternoon tea, basking in the sunshine that bathed that sheltered nook. Warmer weather will follow the Nor'easter and by Monday the temperature will climb toward the 60s. It will be a welcome treat before cold settles in for the duration.

Garden beds readied for winter.
I love this time of year. I like the gunmetal smell of cold air, the constant conversation of the geese on the pond, the stark pen and ink sketches of leafless branches against a pale sky. I love snow and snowshoeing, hot chocolate and holiday meals, sledding down slippery hills, standing under the Wolf and Snow moons of January and February while stars sparkle like white Christmas lights against a darkened sky. Most of all I like the quiet, the gentle hush of winter mornings, the deep stillness of long nights, the soft whisper of falling snow. To love winter, one simply needs to listen to the peace.

Branches inked onto a sky canvas.




Sunday, November 04, 2012

Gift

 


 
The day is wrapped in clouds and cold
and so am I,
determined in my unhappiness,
marching up a mountain,
anger in every step.

And there, nestled in the shelter of a fallen log,
pierced by an errant ray of sun,
shines a violet,
a single lavender blossom,
an April treasure in November.

Growing by serendipity or design
what does it matter,
when an entire mood can be altered
by the sight of small purple petals?

Saturday, November 03, 2012

The Greatest of These...

Youngest daughter with the Bean and the Sprout.
 This is my youngest daughter's birth month. I remember her as a little blonde-haired girl with a jack-o-lantern smile, her tooth held tightly in the palm of her hand as she climbed the stairs to bed.

“How does the tooth fairy know my tooth fell out?” she asked, tucking it under her pillow.

“Fairies just know these things,” I assured her. “It’s their job.”

Late that night when she was sound asleep I tiptoed into her room and exchanged the tooth for a shiny quarter. “Understand sweet girl,” I whispered, “that fairies come in all sorts of guises.”

She was a serious child who asked why more often than her siblings. As my youngest, she and I spent whole days together while the older kids were in school. We would wander through the woods looking for elves and gnomes, flop down among the wildflowers in a meadow and cloud gaze, race rainstorms home across the hill and make angels when winter snows fell deep. She would look at me and wonder what held up the clouds, what made the snow fall down, and what caused the wind to blow. We would hold hands and together we’d look out at the world in awe.

In any relationship, the one who teaches and the one who learns constantly change places. Being a mother has allowed me to experience both ends of the emotional spectrum—deep joy and profound fear. There were times when I had to deliberately choose joy over fear or I never would have allowed my children out of my sight.

Now that this youngest child has two daughters of her own and as I spend time with them, I realize more than ever that choosing joy is the same as choosing love. If there is a constant in my life with my children and grandchildren, it is love—love without condition, without limit, and without end.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

One October Day

Early morning mist.
It was a gem of a day. It started with fog so thick I could not see my neighbor's house. The sun burned it off by nine, shedding gold across the yard and making the air mild as milk. There are no song birds left - the mornings belong now to the crows and the jays and the raucous geese. The pond is awash with hundreds of Canada geese discussing their winter plans. They splash down, eat and groom, gabble together and lift off again, trailing water like discarded diamonds.

Hundreds of geese gather on the pond each fall.
There are three mute swans on the water this year, a cob, his mate and their single offspring, still covered in its youthful gray feathers. They float among the geese, their graceful necks and gleaming backs a contrast to the dark, chunky bodies all around them. The pond this morning seemed a water color in progress with the leaves tinted red and yellow, vermillion and orange. Geese rose and fell, flying into and out of my camera frame, their wild clamour beating against my ears as their wings beat against the wind.

The mated mutes and their still-gray offspring.
I spent some time tidying the garden beds and then sat on the outdoor swing watching the breeze-borne leaves play catch across the lawn. The laundry snapped and danced on the line. I brought a book, but the caress of the sun on my cheek, a sudden swirl of wind-cast leaves, the strident call of a jay, all kept pulling my eyes from the page. Finally I gave in and just sat, drinking in the golden light, soaking myself in warmth and beauty until I was sated and sleepy. Somewhere I read that heaven is what we make it. I'd make it a day like today.

Water color in progress.



Friday, October 19, 2012

Rainy Day Thoughts

I met a woman the other day who was wealthy beyond even my dreams. Her house is exquisite, her possessions numerous and lovely, every one. Between them, she and her husband have several cars, a townhouse in the city besides their mini-mansion here, closets full of expensive clothing, travel stickers on their luggage from exotic places and, when needed, maid service. She has a few weeks left to live.

I drove past her house today in my 13 year old car. I was wearing slacks and a sweater from a second hand shop, sipping tea from a worn travel mug, wearing shoes I've had for years, watching the orange and yellow leaves spin through the rain, and realizing just how rich I am as well. And happy. And grateful. All her beautiful possessions that I thought, briefly, to envy will be just things to dispose of in a few weeks. She has not seen her estranged children in years; I miss the Bean's presence while she's napping!

I learned the ten commandments years ago in another life lived as a practicing catholic. 'Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's goods' makes sense when comparing one's life with another. That poor woman has nothing I want.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Huh!

Seldom do I get the chance to write two posts in one weekend, but it was raining...

http://www.athighspeed.blogspot.com/

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

Early morning sky
Yesterday the temperature at 6 o'clock in the morning was a crisp 29 degrees. The sky above the horizon was pale, pale blue which deepened to azure as the day progressed. Leaves spiraled and whirled and danced on the breeze, falling like rainbow bits onto the grass. I spent a restful day behind the cottage untangling and cutting bittersweet vines from the trees that remained after this summer's culling. I dragged my old dreaming bench from it's hiding place in the upper trees and set it in the sunshine overlooking the yard. Next spring I shall plant tomatoes and squash in the tilled patch behind the rhubarb. I gathered what the frost left of the delicate pink fairy roses and the brilliant orange marigolds and put them on the window sill. They are wee bits of summer sun against today's rain spattered windows.

Last of the summer flowers
Early this morning raggedy gray clouds marched along the horizon and the trees lashed against a wet sky, their branches tossed back and forth by a strangely warm wind. The lamps are lit in the cottage and household chores wait patiently for me to tackle them. At Daughter's house I dash about, following the Bean as she patters around the house. I wash  piles of dishes, climb up stairs and down with loads of laundry, cook meals, read picture books, play games of make-believe, cuddle and feed the new baby, and relish every minute of my time there with my happy little family.

Baby Lili
There I am a younger, more active version of my older self. Here at the cottage my pace slows. I'm loathe to break the silence with the roar of the vacuum, unwilling to move quickly to get the dusting and washing done, happy just to sit and read a book or write or watch a film. I nap when the urge strikes, sometimes in the sunshine, sometimes under the quilt. I can feel myself unwinding and recharging. As painting is a quiet activity, I'm off to put a coat of fresh white enamel on the old metal shower and on the little metal cabinet my landlord found languishing on the side of the road. That should keep me busy until nap time.



Friday, October 05, 2012

Whew!

No photos yet - I've left my camera at my daughter's house - but the latest granddaughter has made her entrance. The Sprout was born October 2 at 2:35 a.m. She weighed over 8 lbs and has enough black, wavy hair to run a brush through. She is, of course, as cute as a bug's ear. A little cursory research indicates that babies look adorable to adults as a result of genetic programming; a little natural incentive to insure we take care of the infant. Big eyes, button noses, rosebud mouths - they'll get us every time.

I've been spending at least three days a week at the Bean's house tending to her while her parents worked. I'll continue the practice during my daughter's maternity leave, establishing a routine to which the Bean, and now the Sprout, can grow accustomed. It's grandmother heaven, I tell you. There's never a dull moment what with playing with blocks and clay and dolls and trucks (the Bean is well-rounded already), changing diapers, tying bibs, cleaning up mealtime spills, and enforcing nap time, during which I run about picking up toys, doing laundry, preparing supper and collapsing for an hour myself on the long, low sofa. Added to all that now will be the feeding and cuddling of a newborn. I will surface into the calm, quiet world of my cottage at the end of each week, sink into the comfort of my own mattress, immerse myself in books and long walks, and recharge for the middle of the coming week.(Anyone whose retirement is dull should seriously consider becoming a grandparent!)

All of us will gather this weekend to celebrate the Sprout's birth and the Bean's second birthday. There will be cake and ice cream and presents and laughter. And love, lots of baby snuggling, congratulatory hugging, cheek kissing, eye sparkling love.




Saturday, September 29, 2012

Here, Briefly

I have been enmeshed in my life as Nini to the Bean who is growing rapidly and is soon (we hope - baby #2 is now officially 9 days late) to become a big sister. I've been dividing my time between there (mostly) and here (least-ly), with little time to write, but Murr Brewster's very funny post put me in mind of a poem I wrote when I first noticed my "new" old self in the mirror. It's not funny, as Murr's is, but at the time I wasn't amused. In an effort to keep up I'm sharing it below.

                                                               Then...



Growing Older

Crepe used to mean paper in bright, streaming colors—
transforming the gymnasium on prom night.
Now it means skin without suppleness,
wrinkles that don’t disappear,
old age creeping across my throat and the backs of my hands,
settling in the crooks of my elbows.

Sagging used to belong to the old summer camp mattress,
all its bumps and lumps gathered at the edges
leaving an uncomfortable droop in the middle.
Now it’s my middle that droops,
like the skin on my thighs
and the wobbly tops of my arms
and both sides of my chin.

Age spots used to be something my grandmother had
and then my mother.
Now my own hands are speckled like a hen’s egg,
like a pear left too long in the sun.

Gray used to be
the color of storm clouds,
my father’s old army blanket,
the galvanized bucket in the pantry,
but not my hair,
not my very own hair which once looked
like wheat ripening in the sun.

Now...

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Short and Sweet


What I saw on my early morning walk:

 
a lone star sparking in the bit of navy blue sky caught in the lacy configurations of a spent lilac blossom (I like knowing the stars still shine down even in daylight)

a windblown line of clouds hurrying along the horizon while above it a large, stationary, gray cloud lurked about like the mother ship

wind that scurried by, carrying the scent of fading leaves and a hint of winter

leaves and leftover raindrops spiraling down in tandem to splash barefoot on the road

pond ripples reflecting bits of sunlight like tiny, broken mirrors

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Catching Up

Clouds sparring before a major storm. See the bear on the left and the lion on the right?
Though autumn is one of my favorite times of the year with its cooler temperatures, its winding down feeling, and its gentle introduction to a harsher season, it still makes me melancholy. Fall feels like a time of loss, of saying goodbye, of relinquishing ties to some nebulous entity that inhabits the spring and summer months.

This summer was one of extremes. High heat and humidity undid even my most valiant efforts, sending me to swoon on the sofa rather than tackle the tasks I'd set for myself once I was officially retired. It was even an effort to stand still for fifteen minutes of an evening to water the little garden plots I'd been so hopeful about in the spring, though the effort paid off in tomatoes and cucumbers and potatoes, beans and beets and swiss chard, and enough fresh herbs to grace my morning eggs and season many a dinner.

The political arena has been extreme and though I don't blog about it, the sheer craziness of some of the platform proposals has me up at night worrying about the future. I vowed several times to quit the nightly news, Facebook, and the newspaper in favor of lower blood pressure but then some blog entry or comment in the supermarket aisle or phone call from a candidate seeking reelection would send me back to the computer or the TV or the paper to see if what I was hearing was what was really being said. The one good thing that's come of all the media hype is that I've been forced to educate myself by reading as many different versions and fact-checking sources as I can find in an attempt to really understand what's going on. My concensus is that when money is the bottom line, the bottom line makes us bottom feeders. Where's a miracle when you need one?

My new schedule includes three days a week babysitting the Bean while her Mama works another few weeks before the birth of baby #2. Waking to a small voice asking for "Nini" is a delightful way to start a new day. So far I've partaken in a dozen or more tea parties, created some pretty startling clay creatures that have equally startling adventures, taken innumerable walks, read even more books, rediscovered the fun of a sandbox and the thrill of a slide, and figured out the buckles on the car seat.

If I'm slow to visit your site or even slower to post here, it isn't due to lack of interest but to a lack of time. Once Lily is born, it may seem as though I've disappeared off the face of the earth but that won't be so. I'll just be catching up on my sleep!

After the harvest it's just the flowers and me on the patio.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Good Morning


A couple of weeks ago I noted the subtle changes that herald a new season. This morning subtlety was replaced by a downright chill and I needed longs sleeves and jeans on my early morning bike ride. I do not normally bring my camera along. The basket is too jouncy and I have no neck strap for my little point and shoot. Word, rather than snap, shots will have to do for yesterday's visuals of the deer - a doe, a yearling, and this year's fawn - that bounded from the edge of the woods in front of me, their great, brown, curious eyes  assessing me for danger, their noses twitching, their legs, so slender for such strength, sending them soaring across the small ditch into the sheltering trees on the other side of the road.

Today it was the mist ghosts walking on the surface of the pond that caught my attention. Far along the further shore a small red boat floated serenely in their midst, its occupant caught in the magic of the morning, his paddles dripping liquid sunlight. I couldn't feel the air moving but the ghosts felt it. They stirred and swirled and eddied before lifting up from their watery bed to become part of the infinite blue.

I have outdoor chores to do before the sun heats up the day and some indoor tasks for when it does. My bike leans on its kickstand until this evening when my after dinner ride will take me along the same back roads, saying goodnight to the day that started so wonderfully.



Saturday, August 25, 2012

Filling Up and Spilling Over

S and J hard at play
It feels like weeks since I've had a moment to sit down and think, to wake and not start galloping through the day, to read and savor other blogs. It's summer and vacation time, a time when my rather solitary life gets turned inside out in a delightful way. This past week the older grands, (S is 11, J, 9) were here at the cottage. We started each day early and ended late, filling the hours in between with bike riding at the park and swimming in my brother's pool. S is a champion swimmer; J showed me the strokes that earned him the "most improved swimmer" in his class.

We harvested tomatoes from the garden and put up quarts of pasta sauce, dug new potatoes and ate them boiled and fork-mashed with homemade butter. We ate our meals in my screened tent, read books there after swimming and before dinner, played after-supper games of croquet and turned the dining room table into an ongoing crafts space. We made popcorn drizzled with chocolate. (S studied the Mayan culture in school and learned that cacao and corn were two of their staples.) "Why not mix them?" she asked, all innocence and ingenuity. We filled bowls with the concoction, sometimes adding a second drizzle of caramel, and ate it while we watched a movie before bed.

They are gone now, off to NYC for the weekend with their parents. They will return Monday, gather their sleeping bags and pillows, the pictures and potholders and bottle cap art they made at Memere's, and head back to their own lives. I miss them already. Miss the noise and the laughter and the constant chatter, the hugs, the sharing of food and love.

I also cherish the quiet, the whole mattress to myself again, the time to sit and think and write. My life is like an overflowing cup, all the things I love best spilling out and spilling over, setting me afloat in a wash of delight.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Heart Ache

Wooded hillside the winter after it was cut.
For the eleven years that I've lived in my little cottage, I've been surrounded on two sides by trees. It was like being nestled in the woods. A good bit of the ground around the main house and the farm house behind me is ledge so tree roots there had limited purchase. Still, the pines grew rapidly, tall and spindly but beautiful in their height. I loved to hear the wind rush through their branches. Until those same branches started falling during the ever fiercer storms we seem to be getting. When one landed so near the cottage that it threatened to smite me in my bed, the landlady decided it was time for all the pines to go. I fled the day they were scheduled to come down and returned to a denuded and barren hillside. The clearing out gave the young maples there a chance to breathe and stretch and the cherry to rise to rise to new heights. The following summer the scars were completely covered with wild raspberry bushes and fresh undergrowth.

stumpage
Now it is the small woods to the southeast that is being cut up, the log lengths carted away on a huge truck. Where once three dozen large pines and dozens of small, leafy hardwoods met my gaze, there is only the empty air and a couple of small farm outbuildings exposed and naked. The once secret path to the back of the farmhouse is now a road where the logging machinery has churned up the earth. I will have to watch the giant cherry come down, leaving an ungainly sky hole. There will be no rustling leaves this fall to filter the sunlight or whisper secrets in the wind. I can feel the still living trees cringe along with me at each whine of the chain saw.

Marked trees destined for the saw.
 Next summer the small undergrowth will take over. The young maples and oaks that barely saw sunlight before yesterday will reach up and out. In a few years there will be woods again between my cottage and the farm. But oh! I miss the familiar trees, those quiet giants that have watched over me for the past few years, lending me strength and giving me shade.

Giant cherry that will be no more...


Friday, August 10, 2012

Early Morning Thoughts

Contemplating...

 There are magic bullets (or magic cures) for everything in storybooks but hardly ever in real life. We just slog along sometimes, wondering how to make things bearable if not better. I find it interesting that I struggle most when I try to live in someone else's version of the world than I do when I insist on staying in mine. One gets labeled as a rule breaker, as a non-joiner, as a rebel (or, at the extreme, a misanthrope) but oh, the rewards are much stronger than the criticism. 

I wonder that it took me until I was well into my sixties to discover what I'd known perfectly well as a child; to function optimally one must stay in one's own world. From there one can reach out, one can teach, one can act as an example, but the essential self doesn't get battered about by those who don't "get it." It's a hard practice when one works "in the world," requiring constant thought, but it is easier than fighting those who believe themselves in charge of you. 

I find my creativity waxes and wanes. I don't worry about it anymore, knowing that flashes will still whack me in the head, sending me rushing for pencil and paper or the computer. It's almost like watching myself live sometimes; I am both immersed in my surroundings and viewing them from a distance. I used to enjoy this dichotomy as a child and though I don't know how to summon it at will, I love being caught up in it now.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Gifts



"Come fishing," he'd say.
I would trot beside him
as he made his way
through deep meadow grasses
to the edge of the river.
He'd hold back the whiplash branches
like a gentleman.

Feigning interest in the muddy shore
or the sun-splashed water, I hid my tears
while the worm struggled,
imagining the hook in my own soft neck,
and when the careless fish, lured by something
improbably free, gasped in my father's hand,
I spied flowers far down the riverbank
and fled to pick them.

A bucket of worms to start,
a creel of fish to finish.
And a handful of black-eyed susans
for my mother, waiting at home,
who didn't like to see worms suffer either
and so gave me these hours with my father
as a gift.

"Home now," he'd say
and the day would coalesce in satisfaction,
fish, flowers, and father inextricably linked.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Random Thoughts


 A strange little circular breeze blew overhead at dusk. It ruffled the leaves of the birches on the front lawn, raced southward to set the leaves dancing on the maples, left them abruptly to tickle the ash trees west of the house, then headed north to make the pine boughs sway. In a moment all was again still, except for the bats galloping about the darkening sky, gulping mosquitoes.

I tried to capture the rising moon with my camera. All around me the summer bugs were making a racket. Katydids rubbed their forewings together and crickets (from the French word criquer, meaning "little creaker") chirped their mating calls. Did you know that when the male cricket chirps, he's actually lifting his wings and pulling the file of one wing across the scraper of the other? The sound is amplified when the thin, papery portions of the wings vibrate. I think I would have called the cricket violinista poco - Spanish for little violinist.

Wednesday begins the last month of summer. The humidity has broken temporarily though the temperatures are supposed to climb a bit during the week.  We've had some much needed rain and the garden is showing its appreciation by drowning me in cherry tomatoes and cucumbers. I show my appreciation by savoring both.


I celebrated Monday by baking a rustic blueberry/peach tart. Come, I'll put the kettle on and we'll have tea and dessert while we watch the day end.








Sunday, July 29, 2012

Late Night Thoughts

The cosmos, courtesy of NASA
The biologist Stephen Jay Gould famously proposed that if we could "rewind the tape" of evolution and play it again, chance would give rise to a world that was completely different from the one we live in now.

Brian Greene talks about the multiverse vs our current view of the universe.

Staying up late has its advantages. I get to watch NOVA! I hope no one presses the rewind button too soon. I'm not done messing about with this world yet.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Retirement, Phase II

Crepes and berries to start the day...


I did something today I have not done since I was in my teens - I slept past 8 a.m. I did wake at my customary hour of 5:45 but it was storming out and I let myself sink back down into sleep and curious dreams. When I finally opened my eyes again, the sun was shining. I stretched, looked at the clock, and did a double take. The hour made me think of my mother who, after the last of us left home, took to sleeping in. When I remarked on the late hour she rose, she shrugged and said, "I'm simply catching up on twenty five years of missed sleep!"

Yesterday I worked on the Bean's Christmas gift. I've spruced up a rescued wooden cradle with decoupage art and some handmade bedding. All that's left is to piece the miniature quilt together and make a pillow.  I'm waiting until I have a few more sewing projects ready before I haul the machine out.

There were some holes in the back of the headboard that are hidden away now.
There's lots of garden work to do but I am waiting for the heat to break. The sky looks like a watercolor wash. Great gray clouds are piled on top of one another, each one threatening rain or thunder or both. Once this stray storm has cleared, the day promises to be less humid. The intense heat has rendered me useless. I've done no painting since the kitchen cupboards, not because there's nothing left to paint (heaven help me, there's the entire cottage interior!) but because I could not summon the energy to do the required prep work.

Phlox and lilies and roses, oh my!
My patio garden is blooming furiously. Every day a few more cherry tomatoes ripen. I've eaten the first cucumber and the first green pepper. There may not be enough produce to put up for the coming winter - this garden is far smaller than the one I planted at the farm - but there's enough to share with the neighbors. Next year I will plan more carefully; an article in Organic Gardening shows how to plant in a small plot for a large yield.

Cukes and tomatoes, potatoes and beans, peppers and swiss chard make plenty of green!
The summer is slipping by so quickly. It still has not sunk in that come September I will not be back in the classroom. I'll be here instead with a paintbrush in my hand and a smile on my face.


Monday, July 23, 2012

Retirement, Phase I

My beloved cottage.
There have been a number of cottage projects over the past several weeks. The kitchen cabinets got a much needed overhaul, the bathroom walls got a new coat of paint, curtains were replaced, the bed got a new mattress, and the patio became a jungle garden replete with herbs, tomato plants the size of trees, and even a potato patch. The next great undertaking is to re-shelve the storage closet.

When the cottage was built it, was an addendum to the main house, connected to the same with a short but wide hallway. The new landlord has since walled off the door at his end and I was allowed to turn the hallway into a storage area. A kind but inept fellow offered to put shelves on the two long walls and for a while that sufficed. The materials he used were not meant for the long haul (or the influx of contents) however, and last year began to sag dangerously. I fully expected to be awakened some awful night by the crash of all my dishes, glass vases and sundry pans, boxes, bags, and crates stored there. Last summer my friend J and I braced the stronger of the shelves and unloaded the others. Free of their burden, the flimsy things collapsed, giving both J and I good smacks on heads and ankles.

This summer I have hired a bonafide carpenter to build new shelves of sturdy wood to replace the over-stressed press board. When he came to take measurements and discuss design, he stood at the open doorway and scratched his head. "You've got the proverbial ten gallons of shyte in a two gallon bucket," he observed.

How right he is!


The new closet design calls for a rod at the back for off season coats with a shelf below for footwear. Shelves will vary in height; there will be a place for my sewing machine, my art supplies, my dishes and vases, the vacuum, the suitcases, and all the odds and sods I've collected over the years and don't use often but can't do without. Construction starts next week. I will have to unload the closet before he begins so if you don't hear from me for awhile, it's because I'm buried somewhere under all my stuff!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

ROMANCE

 
Close to pond’s edge,
Their toes in the water,
The trees stand in their green dresses,
waiting, arms extended,
for the night.
Oh! the dance of sunset and trees,
the breezy dip and sway of branches,
The long, slow glide of light
down limb and trunk.

Come On Home

Both photos of Parker taken by my photographer friend, Dave Bushell

Ten years ago my youngest daughter came home to regroup and get her feet back under her. She brought her cat, Parker, with her and immediately he became an honorary member of the farm next door. He loved this place - the wide expanse of green meadows, the surrounding woods, the chicken houses beneath which rats dwelt, the other cats, all but the one male called Fluffers. Fluffers was a Maine Coon cat as was Parker, a gentle breed, all long gray fluff, big green eyes and sweet disposition. The two fought but not often and not to the death. When Fluffers passed on, Parker became the dominant cat and acted every inch the King of his Domain.

When Daughter found a job and a new dwelling on a busy main street, she asked if Parker could stay with me rather than force him to become an indoor cat. I was only too happy to have a grandcat. He would be miserable without his woods and fields, his freedom and his harem. We slid into an easy routine. He spent most nights out of doors hunting with one of the farm cats. If the weather was nasty he slept in the hay barn near the sheep. When it was clear, he slept on the farmer's porch, curled in a gray ball on one of their cushioned outdoor chairs. If it was raining in the morning, he would lay just inside the door of a hay-filled old doghouse set on the hill behind the house just for him, watching and waiting for me to waken. The moment he heard me in the kitchen he made a beeline for the front door.

As Parker aged, he took to climbing into my lap whenever I sat down to read or watch the news. If I was out of doors, he sat on my lap while I ate dinner on the patio or napped on the outdoor swing. He loved to curl up behind my knees when I went to sleep at night but not before lying on my chest, his eyes gazing into mine as I scratched behind his ears and rubbed his velvety nose. I would talk, first about him, what a good cat he was and how handsome and sweet. Then I'd tell him about my day, about things I was thinking and feeling. He'd build up a mighty purr and roll over for a belly rub. There was nothing that a good belly rub could not fix. He still insisted on going out at night but not until four a.m. when I would crawl out of bed in the dark and open the door.

When I took trips to see my children and the grands he would climb into the open suitcase on my bed as if to say, not without me you don't! On the day of departure he'd turn his back on me and huff off. "Mind the house. I'll be back," I'd call to his departing form. When I returned, he'd curl around my legs and trip me up until I picked him up and assured him I loved him and would always come back. The morning I left for Daughter's wedding, he gave me his customary stink eye and strolled off toward the farm. "I'll be back," I called as I dragged my suitcase to the car. He never even turned his head.

Five days later, I wasn't back home for more than a few minutes when the phone rang. It was J from the farm and her voice didn't sound right. "I hate to tell you this," she began, "but Parker's been missing since Friday." She hurried on, "Of course, that's only two days ago and he could show up at any minute. It's been awfully hot. Maybe he's just gone into the woods to cool off. I checked with the neighbors but nobody's seen him. I'm sorry."

I launched a systematic search. I checked with the nearest neighbors to see if he'd gone into a garage and gotten trapped. That had happened once before and it was three days before he was able to get out. I tromped the woods and fields where he loved to roam, calling his name. I rode my bicycle a mile in either direction of the cottage, checking the roadsides. Nothing. No cat, no tell tale scent of decay. Nothing. No deliveries had been made in my absence, though the idea of his climbing into a vehicle seemed ludicrous. Parker hated being in the car. J and I discussed the possibilities. We live in an area that supports foxes, large owls, and hungry hawks. J has lost chickens to all three. Parker was big and gray and bunny-like. He was an older cat, going on 13 and growing thin. Though his last vet checkup hadn't indicated any problems, I'd noticed that he was losing weight. He'd thrown up on my bed while I was gone. Perhaps he'd just gone into the woods to die. The loneliness of that thought undid me.

It's been two weeks now. Every morning I check the doorstep but Parker isn't there. I look up while reading a book, thinking I see him on the lawn but it's only one of the farm cats. I hear a cry and run to see but it isn't him. My imagination puts him in his favorite places - the front step, the outdoor swing, the chair on J's porch, the foot of my bed. I wake in the night, thinking I feel his weight on the blankets. I weep.

I haven't given up hope that he'll return but every day that passes makes it seem less likely. If you see my big ol' Parker kitty, tell him to come on home.