Wednesday, July 29, 2009


We've been having frequent and severe thunderstorms. Every afternoon the clouds build in the heat and every evening the lightning flashes, the thunder echoes between the mountains and the rain pours down. A few years ago, when I was living in what had been my childhood home, the house was struck by lightning. It had been a windless, hot day. There were clouds in the distance but nothing to indicate the kind of lightning bolt that came out of the blue (literally) and struck the peak of the house.
Burned scar just to right of roof peak where the lightning struck

I was on the front porch putting a batch of just picked tomatoes through the separator. I had my hand on the metal handle when the bolt struck. There was a tremendous BANG! My daughter came screaming down the stairs yelling about gunshots and I felt a horrible pain shoot through my arm and straight down the middle of me. Every hair on my head and arms was standing straight. I could not let go of the separator handle - it was as though my fingers were glued to the metal. Once the lightning bolt funneled through me to the ground, my hand came away from the handle, my knees crumpled and I fell to the floor.

My then partner Bob had been sitting in a chair on the porch, reading bits of the newspaper to me as I worked with the tomatoes. I remember catching a glimpse of his face as the lightning coursed through me. He said afterwards that he, too, thought the bang had been a gunshot and that I'd been hit, though he had no idea why my hair was "doing that funny dance" on my head. He rushed to help me off the floor and then, with thunder crashing and lightning suddenly sizzling all around us, he saw the boards that had been blown off the house. They were still smoking.
Bits and pieces of burned wood and the blasted off fascia board

"Fire!" he yelled and we sped up the stairs to the attic. An old mattress that had been leaning against some boxes opposite the window had a large, smoking hole in it. We grabbed it and hustled it down two flights of stairs and out into the pouring rain. Then we ran back in the house to see what else was burning. Under the attic window we could see the scorched path the bolt had taken. In the bedroom directly below, the bolt had exited just beneath the window, sending plaster dust clear across the room and embedding several rubber coated curtain hooks into the oak floor. We had to get a screwdriver to pry them out. Bits and pieces of charred wood littered the side yard.

The hole in the mattress where the bolt struck as it separated.

Almost all the appliances in the house were damaged. The well pump had been hit, the answering machine and the television would not work, and the stereo that had been plugged in but not turned on had its insides melted. It hissed and crackled until all the lightning in it ran its course. An insurance adjuster came to assess the damage. He said the heat inside the attic had attracted the lightning and added that it was a good thing the huge main bolt had split on impact. After it blew the fascia board off the roof peak and hit the mattress, one fork ran down the wall and emerged in the room below. The weakest fork hit me. "Otherwise," he said, looking at me and wagging his head slowly, "you'd be pfffft."

I wasn't pfffft, just badly frightened. I did have two small burns, one on the sole of each foot and for weeks afterwards my feet ached. Oddly, I began to remember things like long forgotten book and movie titles and events that had happened in childhood. I saw objects and colors with a clarity that has long since faded.

When I hear thunder now, I cringe and look about for a safe place to hide. The soles of my feet tingle and the hair on my arms begins to rise. I turn off the appliances and huddle under the kitchen table or curl up on the sofa with my eyes scrunched shut. I used to love the wildness of storms. Now they just scare me to pfffft.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Rogue Wonder

My vegetable garden was pretty much a bust this year. There were peas but not enough to freeze, the spinach, doing wonderfully well in late spring, was shredded by a surprise hail storm. Much of the lettuce succumbed to slugs, and the cucumbers, the squash, the eggplant and the peppers languished in too much rain, putting out pale, puny flowers only last week. The tomatoes, huddled in their cages, finally have small, hard, green fruits and the potato tops have died down early. It will be a meager harvest.

Though all my careful planning and vegetable planting has come to naught, there is one vine that has triumphed. The patio garden, meant for flowers and herbs only, is host to a rogue pumpkin plant the size of China. The seed must have been buried in the compost. The leaves are immense, swamping the rhododendron bush, shading a whole pot of petunias, and serving as umbrellas for the phlox, the morning glories and the hollyhocks. Bright green tendrils curl along the fence and a single blossom could, if fried, feed a family of six. Already there are six small pumpkins forming and at least five other flowers blooming in orangey yellow profusion. It is the miracle of a single seed and a marvelous reminder to grow where you are planted.

For those of you who couldn't make it to the patio this summer for minted ice tea, maybe you'll come for pumpkin pie!

Monday, July 13, 2009

What is Now

There is something to be said for contemplative time - quite a lot, actually. After the hurly-burly of the school year, the early risings, the hurried morning ablutions, the meeting of deadlines and timelines, it is marvelous to sleep until I awaken naturally, to practice yoga before breakfast, to sip my first cup of tea as the first rays of sunlight wash over me, to bring my food to the outdoor table.

I am surrounded by flowers and green growing things, by songbirds and rooster crows at dawn, by areas of intense sunlight and of deep greeny-black shade. Underneath it all is the silence of the rural countryside, a silence undisturbed by surface noise, a silence that holds the singing brook, the laughter of flowers, the sighing of the wind, the whisper of passing clouds.

Some days I plan projects, on others I let the hours unfold, waiting to see what might happen. I spend a lot of time with books, reading piles of them from the library, picking up paperbacks at tag sales, pulling old favorites from my bookshelves. I write poems that appear sometimes fully formed first thing in the morning. I write entries in my daily journal, make comments in the margins of books. Ideas find their way onto odd slips of paper that I collect and put near my computer.

In the afternoon, after a nap (an hour drifting in dreams) I hop on my one-speed (mine) double-cheek-seat, pedal brake bicycle and tour the neighborhood. One four mile trip takes me through town, another skirts the center of the village altogether, leading me instead past the river and along the edges of cornfields and hay meadows. A third takes me a straight two miles one way and another two back.

On Monday afternoons (and sometimes on Fridays) I spend hours searching the database at the local Historical Society looking for our ancestral link to a Civil War General. I have been writing what family history I know for my children and grandchildren, learning things along that way that might explain my propensity for dreaming rather than doing, my vast affection for the out-of-doors, my need for alone (and contemplative) time.

Fall will come soon enough and with it the return of the rushed mornings, the time-dictated days. For now, I will relish every moment of summer freedom I have, delighting in the morning mist that slows the sunrise, the brief beauty of my garden flowers, the happy splashing of the catbird in the makeshift birdbath, the hours that unwind in shades of gold and green, the quiet time spent with books and pen, the hovering visits of the hummingbird, the dusky silence that greets the evening, the last kiss of sunlight on treetops.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Summer Night

The sun set tonight in a blaze of peach and apricot and bright vibrant pink. The whole sky was tinged with color and the still water in the pond reflected back with such intensity that it was hard to tell where the real color ended and the reflection began.

On nights such as this, surrounded by a beauty that leaves me breathless, I wonder what it's all for. And I wonder if the fireflies blinking in the gathering dark notice the sunset or if my friend, dead since January, is still somehow aware of all the things about this place he loved - the long warm summer evenings, the way the grass smells just after it's been mowed, the sweet, chilling taste of ice cream, the sound of crickets singing. This was the sort of night he had to be out in, the way I have to be out in it.

In the distance an owl hoots. The mosquitoes whine and bite, driving me inside. Before I go, I look up, up into the darkening sky, searching for some sign I can believe in, some reassurance that there is more to this world than meets the eye. There is comfort in the star shine, comfort in the rising of a familiar moon, comfort in the fact that even if he cannot know it, I am remembering this summer night for both of us.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Garden Watch

mint, basil, and lettuces

There is something to be said for having an herb garden right outside the kitchen door. Breakfast eggs are embellished with fresh chives and parsley, as are supper's potatoes. The oregano grows rampant in another section of the garden and seasons, among other things, a delectable eggplant dish made with tomatoes, onions, and Swiss cheese. The lemon mint that is growing to bush size will be transplanted elsewhere for next year. Its leaves find their way into glasses of iced tea. At lunch a few chives added color to a curried chicken salad on a bed of freshly picked lettuce leaves. Tonight fresh dill flavors a cucumber salad.

A rogue squash seed buried in the compost that was spread around the patio to nourish the flowers has grown monstrous and threatens to take over the yard. So far three round globes are forming. The vegetable garden over at the farm is puny this year - too much rain. I did have a fine mess of peas but not enough to freeze, the hail a few weeks ago decimated the spinach and the peppers and eggplant, though growing, have yet to flower. The tomato plants are enormous and if all goes well the potato crop will be twice what it was last year. Come for iced tea - stay for dinner!

chives, parsley and miniature strawberries

Sunday, July 05, 2009

One Perfect Day

My daughter gave me a gift of scone mix one Christmas, accompanied by a new book, a packet of my favorite tea and a handmade card describing the perfect day: Read, eat, drink, nap. The scones and tea have long since been consumed but today seemed a good time to try out the "perfect day" formula.

It started with pecan waffles and tea...

I cheated a bit and threw in a load of laundry (the sun was shining for the first time in weeks, making it a perfect drying day), ran the vacuum over the floors, and did up the breakfast dishes. Then I grabbed a good book and headed for the screened tent where I spent two delightful hours reading. Of course I had to keep looking up from the pages to admire the flowers and watch the birds splash in the birdbath, and follow the hummingbird's darting wings.

The screen tent is my mosquito-free summer "room"

Lunch was little rounds of crusty bread topped with a drizzle of olive oil, fresh basil from my herb garden, a slice of tomato and another of cheese, all tucked under the broiler until the cheese melted. After lunch I took a bicycle ride up one country road and down another along meadow edges ablaze with daisies and black-eyed susans, under cool, green tree canopies, and always back into the sunshine pouring down from the blue, blue sky.

Home again and back into the tent for a few more pages before giving in to the urge for a nap. Parker the cat curled into the curve of my knees and we both slept for an hour.

Supper will be a turkey burger on a bed of lettuce accompanied by roasted asparagus spears from the garden. Life is better than good - today it was perfect!

waffle photo courtesy of I ate mine before I thought to photograph them! Parker's beautiful face courtesy of Dave Bushell's keen eye.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Vermont Visit

Lora at 101 and me ducking in before the camera photographed us.

I've been away for a week, visiting my 101 year old friend Lora. We had a busy time together working in her garden, shopping for and preparing meals, organizing her papers at the request of her estate executor and renewing her driver's license. (Hint: if you want a picture on your license from the state of Vermont, you have to have been born AFTER 1908!)

Lora tilled and planted the garden space well before I got there. This is the before look...

and this was how it looked once we'd attacked it with hoe and garden fork.

We actually saw the sun two of the seven days I was there but only saw one sunset.