Sunday, August 18, 2013

Wait for Me

Eldest son and me three years ago along the Pacific Coast.

It hung in the air, its jeweled throat sparkling, and watched me. It's wings hummed as it helicoptered not two feet form my face. Then with a high chirp and a burst of energy it flew up and away. There have been hummingbirds at the feeder and sipping from the bee balm growing beneath it for the past few weeks. Usually I watch them from the window but this one seemed determined to greet me as I stood in the open doorway. Perhaps he was saying goodbye and thanks, for I will be leaving soon and when I get back the hummers will be gone.

Not two minutes later a slender goldfinch landed atop the shepherd's crook that holds the hummingbird feeder. It's not the first bigger bird that's perched there. Yesterday a grackle made a bumpy, awkward landing, looked about as though lost, and flew off again in a welter of sun-flicked feathers. The goldfinch surveyed the rudbeckia in the patio garden and then dropped down among the tall green stems to pick at the tufted flower heads. Some of the little yellow finches winter over here but they stay well hidden. I won't see them en masse again until next summer.

Two nights ago, as I sat in the gazebo at my brother's house reading, a movement caught my eye. I looked up to see scores of little birds bobbing their way across the sky. Great sweeps of them came, 20 or 30 to a bunch, and the flocks went by for some minutes. I estimated about 500 birds passed me before the shimmery dusk melted into darkness. Flocking birds are among the first signs of the changing season.

I am leaving next week for Oregon and a reunion with my two sisters and my eldest son who live out there. When I return to the cottage, autumn will have come. The gardens will be well into retirement, the flowers will have shed their petals and faded to buff colored stalks. The vegetable garden, already bereft of harvestable vegetables, will need cleaning up. Mornings will be chilly, and evenings - sweater weather. No singing birds will wake me. It will be the masses of geese and ducks returning to the pond that will call at dusk, and the jays and crows that serenade my afternoons.

But I will have new stories to tell, of the great forests, the high desert of eastern Oregon, of steep cliffs and glacial lakes and the wild, windy beaches of the coast. Wait for me.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Keeping Watch

The sun set tonight in glorious shades of brilliant orange that rose higher and higher into a deep blue sky.

Gradually the orange deepened into great sweeps of scarlet and the world seemed to hold its breath

while everything - tree trunks, grass, late blooming flowers - took on a rosy hue.

Then slowly, slowly, the pink faded as though a curtain was being pulled across the sky.

All color was lost then. Green leaves became black silhouettes, yellow blossoms became solid, dark clumps, the lawn was one vast shadow. Now the black, which encompasses both earth and sky, is pierced through with tiny pinpricks of light too far away to see by.

High in the southeastern sky a half moon rides. All is not lost, then. Luna will keep watch through the night while we sleep.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Perils Of

Mama and me when I was very small.
I've always been somewhat of a loner. I didn't mind being alone as a child; I preferred my time in the woods and meadows or the banks of the brook to being in a group of kids. I had siblings and friends and had fun with them but the urge to be by myself, often and unapologetically, was strong.

I grew into the same kind of adult. Raising a family and working at various outside-the-home jobs demanded group effort and constant contact with others. Still, I always found some time in every day to be by myself. And now that my children are grown, my partners have all absconded, and I'm retired, I'm once again primarily a loner. The days of the week I am not with my grandchildren, I spend alone at my little cottage, reveling in the quiet and the unstructured hours. I am replenished by the days spent in my own company. Most of the time, that is. But oh! when I am ill, as I am now, sick with bronchitis, a sore throat, and a gut-wrenching cough, then, then it's no fun at all and I long for someone, anyone to be here to take care of me.

Mostly, I wish for my mother. I remember being tucked up into her big bed when, as a child, I would suffer some minor ailment - a cold, a bellyache, an ear infection. Propped high on several pillows, I could look out over the meadow toward the mountain from one window and to the road in front of the house through another. There would be a stack of books at my side and on the nightstand would be a tall, cold glass of ginger ale and small dish holding a wet cloth for my aching head. Mama would climb the stairs at intervals to check on me, smoothing my hair from my forehead or asking me what she could do to make me comfortable. Just her presence was enough to make me feel better. At mealtimes she'd prepare a tray with what I still think of as "get well" foods - poached eggs on toast,  chicken noodle soup, boiled potatoes and butter mashed together with a fork. And tea - tea with lemon and honey for a cold, tea with ginger for a tummy upset, spicy cinnamon tea to help reduce a fever.

Now I must mother myself when I'm sick. I drag myself out of bed to boil water for my tea, lean on the counter for support while I wait for the toast to pop, lie back in my bed with a cold cloth I've had to wet and wring out myself. I think of Mama, ministering to me and for a moment, just a moment, I feel slightly better.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


I stood and let the night fall 
down around me. 
At the horizon the sky 
was palest pink; 
directly overhead, 
when I craned my neck to see, 
a lone star pricked through 
the growing darkness. 

Crickets sang, and katydids, 
but the birds were silent. 
The air was soft and barely moved. 
We were quiet, the evening and I, 
contemplating each other. 
I wrapped my sweater around my shoulders 
and dreamed as the mantle of shadowy gray 
drifted silently down over 
what was left of the day, and me. 

Sunday, August 04, 2013

The Box

Sunday morning writing with my friend. The prompt? A box. What's in it? My first thoughts follow.

Four sides and a sealed underseam
a lid that lifts free,

it is neither menace nor promise
more a probability

from afar and, without inspection,
an indecipherability.

To lift the lid is to
rearrange the atmosphere.

Expectation becomes awareness.
Had I filled the box

it would contain things that I love best:
children and grandchildren,

a white cottage with blue shutters,
my mother’s green teapot,

paper and pencils and paints,
countless books, a memory quilt,

embroidered with the names of those I love
 and under which I’d snuggle with a cup of tea.

There, in a corner, wrapped in bubbles,
would be dreams and whispered wishes,

that haven’t yet come true,
hugs, laughter, remembered smiles,

all in a tangle of joy.
And there? Under the brown paper

at the bottom would be
all my footsteps, all the places I’ve walked; 

There would be hordes of Ent-like trees
with huggable trunks and tell-secrets leaves;

bright, open fields filled with wildflowers
or corn, or hay in the making.

There would be only one city street
garish and thronging, making me wish for

dirt roads that meander, that wash out in 
heavy rains or become mud-bogged in spring,

hazy hot summer roads abuzz with 
insects, lined with chicory as blue as the sky.

I'd wander at will like a ghost 
through all the houses that held me,

stopping to listen to the mantel clock
at the old homestead, or to read stories 

to my own youngsters in our little Cape in 
Connecticut; to butter one of Tilda's

freshly baked hard rolls in the tiny
kitchen of the Long Island summer cottage,

or to watch a purple thunderhead build and explode
over my log cabin perched on a hill in Vermont.

I might haunt old jobs - tread again the swaying wooden floors 
of the old needlework factory in Tarriffville;

sniff the stale-coffee smell of the teacher's
lounge in Danville, pound up the clackety wooden

stairs of the newspaper office where I wrote
features and columns for fifteen years;

weave between the hush-carpeted cubicles 
where I stared at a computer screen all day,

or pace the long, tiled hallways of the grammar 
school where I once took high school classes.

The sheep meadows in England, the canal
boat in Holland, the rows of crosses in France,

every step I took abroad would be there in the box
waiting to be remembered.

I would not, however, leave hope in the box
as Pandora did. I’d tip it over

and shake until hope fell out, too
and with it in one hand

and my box in the other
I’d go on.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Coasting Along

My old cat Parker knew how to spend a summer day.

I've never been the hit-the-floor-running type. Waking, for me, is like coming up from under and it takes a long time for me to wake up properly. Just so, there are days that are meant to be lived on the run, while others are drifty and seem to want to sail along quietly like the vast summer clouds that move like silent galleons across the blue sea of sky. Today was one of those days.

It rained during the night. The grass was wet when I went out to pick chives and parsley for my breakfast eggs. I had thought to pull the dead pea vines and weed out the garden paths early in the morning but changed plans when the phone rang and my sister-in-law invited me along to a fair on nearby Mount Washington. The mountain town rests on one shoulder of Mt. Everett which looms up behind my cottage. There used to be a fire tower at the top, a favorite place to climb up to when I was young. The fair boasts a giant tag sale. Many of my favorite things have come from there - my old fashioned bread pail with its big, sturdy dough hook, the sunny yellow cushions on my kitchen chairs, a croquet set that rides around in the trunk of my car from one set of grandkids to the next.

We didn't find much at this year's sale and I was home again well before lunch. The sun was full out and hot by then so I decided to save the weeding for later in the day. I grabbed a book and a tall glass of ice water and headed for the screened tent but the day kept interrupting my reading. There was the house wren who had ushered the last of her second brood out the door just last weekend and was singing, I imagine, for the pure joy of it. The sun dappled the leaves as they moved in the breeze, huge puffy clouds drifted across the sun and away, and it was all so peaceful and lovely that I could not help but melt into it, my book neglected on my lap.

Finally I stirred and went back into the cottage for some lunch. There was such a somnolence about the early afternoon, a silence that reminded me that now that the frenzy of courting and nesting was over, the songbirds would be preparing for their journey south. Now and then there was a twitter to remind me that for a few weeks more though, there would be birds bustling about. They would simply be quieter about it. I drifted off to sleep listening to the chirp of crickets.

When I woke, the sun was much lower in the sky. I saw the pea vines and the weeds, some knee high, waiting for me. Still caught in the after-throes of some dream, I gathered tools and gloves and set to work, kneeling to pull weeds from the paths, yanking pea vines from their supports and hauling carts of debris to the mulch pile. I picked a few beets and carrots for supper, gleaned the last of the beans from the withering plants, and brought what cherry tomatoes I didn't eat there in the garden into the kitchen.

Bedtime looms. The sky has gone from pale blue to gold-tinged pink to charcoal. A lone katydid is rasping in the dark. The silence of early morning underlay the entire day and has come into its own again with dusk. It's as though I never fully woke at all and the entire day has been a dream.