Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Ah, Springtime...

One of my favorite places to walk along the old mill pond near my cottage

 I took a walk today in the late afternoon sunshine. The breeze still has a bite to it but that has not deterred the birds that have come back from their winter quarters to summer in the Berkshires. Flocks of robins searched for worms in every open meadow and great knots of starlings swooped and swirled in tandem before settling in the treetops.

My feeder is still frequented by juncos and chickadees and a pair of cardinals that has wintered over. The male is dressed in scarlet and he whistles outside my window just before sunrise. In fact, I wake every morning now to birdsong, and will for months to come. It is delightful music with which to start the day. It does not matter if the changeable weather brings sunshine or snow flurries – the cardinal faithfully drops his liquid notes into the morning stillness.

All the birds are pairing up. I watched a couple of nuthatches chase each other up and down the trunk of a huge maple at the edge of the road and the hedges were full of twittering as small birds darted after one another. Up on the hill, a pair of bluebirds danced in the air ahead of me, a springtime waltz on the wing. This time of year, the blue jay intersperses its raucous call with a sweeter song, a softening of the voice unexpected and lovely for such a noisome bird. Even the crows make a murmuring sound quite unlike their usually harsh cry. Only the geese, gliding in on weary wings, honk and holler in their loud and familiar way. They have returned to the pond in full force. Hundreds of them float on the water, drifting off in pairs to search out nesting sites along the banks. They gabble softly to each other, only now and then breaking into strident cries

On a small inlet a pair of mallards floated serenely side by side. Their paddling feet left small, wavering wakes behind them. Above them, a red-tailed hawk watched with disinterest, its eyes searching for movement in the dried leaves at the water’s edge. It sat so motionless that it almost seemed painted on the branch. The longer hours of sunlight and the warmer weather will soon coax the smaller songbirds from their winter habitat back into ours. It won’t be long before the woods and hedgerows are brimming with song and all my days will be filled with birds.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Betwixt and Between

 Rte 91 northbound to Vermont

I have been away - away in body, away in mind, away in spirit.

Years and years ago my then husband, our four children, and I moved to the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. We were part of the massive back-to-the-land movement of the early-mid 70s, a migration from city to rural life that caught us up and swept us northward until we found a piece of land we could afford. There we built a log cabin from scratch, raised pigs and chickens for meat, planted and harvested a large garden, went without running water and electricity for a few years, and generally lived the life of pioneers, though we did it without a covered wagon and we went north instead of west.

 with my mother at our unfinished log cabin circa 1978

That was in the past, in my former life as wife and helpmeet. A few years into the adventure I became a single mother, then an empty nester, then an ex-Vermonter, moving back to Massachusetts and the town in which I'd grown up. Still, every year since then, I've returned to Vermont to visit old friends. One in particular just turned 102 and I spent the last few days helping her celebrate (albeit sedately).

with my friend Lora two years ago on her 100th birthday

The trip to Vermont is always an emotional one. Thirty-five years ago, I fell in love with the sky-piercing mountains, the wind-ruffled pines, the sight of field upon field of corn or cows or upland hay. I gave my heart to the hilltop where our cabin stood, to the trees that were sacrificed for log walls, to the fierce winter winds, the spiraling hawks and the foraging bear. Going back is like moving through time

The trip up is one of recognition, and of registering the changes. I still get excited when I pass the Welcome to Vermont sign even though I have hours of driving ahead of me. When I visit in the springtime like this the clock spins backwards - I leave leafing trees and forsythia bushes the color of butter behind me. Each mile lessens the amount of bloom until I am two weeks behind myself and the trees still hold ink sketch branches against the sky. The fields show only a hint of green under last year's brown, dead grass and the air is noticeably chillier.

Once I reach the town we lived in and stop for gas, I begin looking for familiar places. Where's that little restaurant we used to have lunch in sometimes? Oh, there's the school the kids attended, there's the museum with the lions guarding the entrance, there's the store I worked at in town. Most often I drive clear to Barton to visit my oldest friend. I spend a few days with her and we go gadding about, or sit talking, talking as though we were word-starved. Going to Vermont is anticipatory and welcoming

Leaving Vermont is different. I cannot do it without being reminded of the reasons why I left in the first place. I pass the restaurant where I saw my husband with another woman, the courthouse where my divorce was declared final, the turn off to our old homestead. My throat starts to ache and I blink back tears. All the years between have merely eased but not erased the sorrow of giving up a dream, of having to sell the kids' childhood home, of leaving behind a beloved place. I drive for 100 miles before I register the budding leaves on the trees and the gentling of the mountains. Another 150 miles and I am home again, home among familiar landmarks and the space I've made for myself here.

In a day or two I will wake to find all traces of sadness and guilt lifted. I will be back in the here and now amid the blossoming trees and the greening grass. I will have remembered my previous lessons of impermanence and the futility of mourning forever something once loved and lost. I will be back.

the patio I built myself for myself

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Art of Zen

Reya posted a marvelous piece called Just Passin' Through that reminded me of my Zen (or Buddha) Board, a small paper drawing board, square and framed, made of magic stuff. There is a tapered Chinese paintbrush near it and a shallow bowl that holds water. When you dip the brush and pull it slowly over the paper, the lines appear almost black. They gradually fade to grey and then disappear altogether. No matter what you paint there–a mistake or a masterpiece–the lines become paler and vanish. Nothing stays, no matter how unsatisfactory, no matter how perfect.

It’s a concept I struggle with, that of inevitable change. I don’t mind when the flawed pictures I make fade out of existence. In fact, the lines disappear so slowly that often I become impatient. When I create a thing of beauty, however, I am loath to see it recede. I am using the Zen Board to teach myself to let go of both with equal ease.

As beautiful as spring is, with its green days and fragrant flowers, or summer with its symphony of bird song and riotous colors, they too will pass away. Winter will draw new lines, starker ones, and paint the landscape in shades of grey, of deep purple and sable brown. Then, even as we watch, the dark marks made by the winter months will in turn fade and spring will take up the brush to paint the leaves and flowers anew.

If we let it, nature can show us that impermanence is not bad in and of itself. Knowing that something is fleeting can ease an intolerable situation and give us hope of respite. We may yearn for what has gone or wish for more time to savor what we don’t want to lose but we are also shown that we can treasure the moment. We can look around us and realize that now is the time to appreciate and that now includes the past and the future as well as the present.

Endings teach us about beginnings. Beginnings teach us that all things come to a close. As we cycle in and out of all our life stages, the lines we drew so darkly at first (as though they were permanent self-borders) become hazy, making way for new perspectives, new horizons. We find that our very lives are Zen Boards and the brush strokes that trace our thoughts will fade and be drawn again, over and over.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Picky Fwadoos

Spring more than 40 years ago, and a small hand tugs at my sleeve. “Picky Fwadoos, Mommy,” begs my firstborn and we go out into the spring morning to see what we can see. I remember this as I rake last year’s leaf mulch from the garden beds. Daffodils and narcissus bloom in the front yard and bluebells blossom amid the purple and white violets out back. Picky fwadoos. I pluck some of each for the cobalt vase.

As a child, I named every flower I saw, never guessing that someone else had done so before me. Daffodils and narcissus were kings’ trumpets, tulips were queens’ cups, violets I called shys and lily of the valley were fairy bells. The bright orange flower and the springy seedpod of the jewelweed became orange poppers. I remember picking samplings of all the flowers I could find and taking them home to my mother. Spreading them out before her, I’d name every one. Ever the schoolteacher, she would fetch the big yellow flower book from the shelf and pronounce the Latin names for each of my specimens. I refused to learn them, preferring the names I’d chosen over something like galanthus nivalis, viola odorata, or tussilago fragrans. My toddler had the same independent spirit. When I told him what to call the blooming forsythia he asked, “If Cynthia has a flower, is there a for-Brendan one?” I never see one of those bushes without remembering my son.

Now, when the first flowers are pushing their way out of the cold earth, when the snowdrops and crocus bloom, when the pale green spears of the day lily and the round, raggedy-edged violet leaves promise sweet blossoms, I go out to picky fwadoos in memory of the little boy who reopened my eyes to the wonders of the season. He’s a grown man and living far away but I know somewhere in that tall, lanky form there lurks a small boy who will pick flowers in the spring and think of me, too.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Spring Evening Walk

My first evening meal on the patio. The air was balmy and the sun warm. I dined to the background music of robins, a cardinal, and several crows.

First forsythia blossoms...

and the first day lily shoots of the season.

The grape vines calligrapher indecipherable words along a fenceline

and the sun silvers last year's roadside weeds.

The small pond where the peppers have their nightly concerts holds a mirror image of the newly budding trees. I always feel this is a fey place and slow down as I walk past it, hoping for a glimpse of a hobbit or perhaps a wood gnome or two. It's a charming spot.

There are five swans on the larger pond across the road. They were too far from shore for my little camera to capture them. Earlier, three of them flew over the cottage. Their huge wings whistled as they cut through the air. They did not call out as the geese do, but their wings sang songs of wanderlust.