Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Ahoy Matey!

It’s been years since a ghostie or goblin or even a PowerRanger has darkened my doorstep; longer still since I’ve been one myself. But night falls earlier now, and a chilly wind is blowing. It’s almost time for the spirits to be abroad.

I remember only one Halloween night that every child on my street did not meet after supper to begin our siege of the neighborhood. Usually we planned our costumes for weeks before the 31st, discussing the disguising properties of masks over face paint, homemade outfits cobbled together from whatever we had or could pilfer from our parents’ closets versus store bought costumes we’d have to talk them into buying. But this one particular year, the year I was eight, a town party was planned, and we were all expected to attend.
When a ritual is interrupted, something changes. In previous years the matter of my costume was left up to me. This year, because of the party, and because the party had a theme, I was forced to narrow my choices. Children were obligated to dress as a book character.
When my mother told me this, my first thought was to be a pirate, a la the mustachioed, swashbuckling Captain Hook from Peter Pan. I was practicing my “Ahoy, Matey!” and swinging an imaginary sword over my head with gusto when she dropped the other shoe. I had to be a girl from a story.
There is nothing worse than having to be what you already are on Halloween. The one night I could be anybody or anything I had the imagination to disguise myself as lost all its magic. That settled it. I wasn’t going to any adult-planned Halloween party. I would go trick or treating by myself. I would be a lone hobo, face blackened with a burned cork, a mop on my head for hair, one of my father’s shirts buttoned over my own.
“Who are you going to get candy from?” my brother asked. “Nobody will be home.”
I hadn’t thought of that. Bad enough to have to tromp the street in the scary dark all alone. Worse still to do it for nothing.
The night of the party, my brother appeared as Captain Hook. He wore a black patch strung over one eye, a tri-cornered cardboard hat, and a large metal hook screwed cleverly into a cork projecting from one sleeve. I was in one of my school dresses, complete with white tights and my Sunday shoes. The only concessions to costuming were the two bright circles of pink painted on my cheeks and a braided wig of yellow yarn on my head. Alice in Wonderland had never looked so forlorn, I’m sure.
That may have not been the last town party, but it was the last one we ever attended. The next Halloween saw half a dozen ghosts, hoboes, and zombies (and one swashbuckling pirate) armed with paper sacks, knocking on neighborhood doors.

for Magpie #38

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


There is little that could make this day more perfect. I am on the feeling-better side of a nasty cold, I am clean after a shower that did not flay my over-tender, fevered skin, and I am sitting on my outdoor swing in the unusual warmth of a late October day reading a book so good that I must take occasional breaks to stare at the sky and let my thoughts wander where they will in response to the words.

I am exactly where I want to be doing what I want to do. I can watch the maple leaves turn yellow and drift down like gold coins, spy out rubies and sapphires hidden among the fallen and still-damp, sun-spattered leaves, and watch the clouds do their shape-shifting in a sky so blue it defines the color.

And, I had a burst of revealing insight: while I was wasting time pleading with the clouds not to rain, I was missing the enjoyment of being in a puddle of sunlight. How silly.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Gray Geese, Gray Days

I live across the road from a large pond. Early in the mornings now the water is the color of pewter and cold; the ripples on the surface look like shivers. Sometimes the sun dances there but it does not bring warmth, only a shimmering illusion.

Just before dusk several flocks of geese seek out the pond. With folded wings against rounded bodies, their heads dipping down beneath the surface of the gray water to feed, they look like floating rocks on sheets of metal. I sit on the shore and watch them. The cold, the geese, the dim, lowering skies all speak of solitude and silence and the relentless approach of winter.

One day I watched the geese descend, their ragged, raucous vees coming apart as they splashed down, their wings outspread, their feet extended to break the plunge. In the moment they went from airborne to earthbound their whole demeanor metamorphosed; wings folded and tucked they were not so much bird as buoy. They gabbled quietly as they floated. Now and then a single goose would stretch its neck to the sky and flap its ponderous wings, flinging bright flashes of silvery water into the air.

Warmth and sunlight will fly with the geese when they leave. The shortened days already begin and end with gray. Early in the morning before the reluctant sun opens its pale, distant eye, tree branches nearly bereft of leaf and color stand in stark relief against a powdered sky. I like these late fall days—the silence, the cold, the muted, faded colors. The days are like pearls strung on silver thread, each one rounded and yielding to the shadow of the next. I listen to the geese and I yearn not to leave, not to fly—I only want the moment to stay, to resist for a while the steady, insistent pull of the great seasonal wheel.

               Thank you Hilary!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Proust Questionnaire Revisited

Marcel Proust was a French novelist, essayist and critic. He is quoted as saying, "All our final decisions are made in a state of mind that is not going to last," and "Our intonations contain our philosophy of life, what each of us is constantly telling himself about things," and "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes." 

Dick at Patteran Pages recently answered some of the following questions. I remembered doing this once long ago and a commenter questioned: If you're answering Proust's questions here, why is Proust not mentioned as one of your favorite authors? I read Proust in college long ago and he turned out to be tough going despite the above pithy quotes. Nevertheless, here are my own answers to one of the questionnaires floating the web.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
A comfortable place to rest when I’m tired, something good to eat when I’m hungry, sunshine on my shoulders, good company in small doses.

Which living person do you most admire?
Each one of my children, for different reasons.

What is your greatest fear?
Unbearable pain.

What is your favorite journey?
The one that takes me home.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Of the seven, diligence. I'm a big believer in frequent breaks, naps, and just sitting, staring off into space.

On what occasion do you lie?
When telling the whole "truth" would do more harm than good.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
"Well, huh!" "And your point is?" "Knock it off!"

What is your greatest extravagance?
Books. Chocolate. Clothes. More books.

What do you dislike about your appearance?
Depends on when you ask that question. First thing in the morning? Egads, my hair! Middle of the day? Egads, my hair! Just before bedtime? Lordy, the bags under my eyes!

Which living person do you most despise?
That’s a strong word – I’m not fond of many Republicans at the moment.

What is your greatest regret?
Losing my home as a result of some poorly-made decisions.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?
My family, my kids and grandkids. My old blue sweater. My down comforter ☺

When and where were you happiest?
Whenever and wherever I stop and remember that I can be happy anytime. As a specific location? My old homestead on Silver Street.

Which talent would you most like to have?
Oh, to be musical!

What is your current state of mind?

If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be?
I’d love to have both of my parents still alive and in good health. But if the question means, would I change anyone in my family, the answer is no – we’re a good bunch.

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you suppose it would be?
A dust mote so I could dance in a sunbeam and travel the world on the wind.

What is your most treasured possession?
Family photographs. My books. Things my children have chosen as gifts for me over the years.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

What is the quality you most like in a man?

What is the quality you most like in a woman?

What do you most value in your friends?
That they ARE my friends.

Who are your favorite writers?
Richard Bach; Elizabeth Berg; Maeve Binchey; Deepak Chopra; Billy Collins; Annie Dillard; Rumer Godden; James Herriot; Barbara Kingsolver; Garrison Keillor; Anne and daughter Reeve Lindbergh; James Mitchner; Mary Oliver; Cynthia Rylant, Rumi; Anne Rivers Siddons; Amy Tan; Lewis Thomas; Margaret Mitchell; Tolkein; Neil Donald Walsch; Laura Ingalls Wilder; Andrew Weil and a host of others.

Who are your heroes in real life?
Anyone who tries to be a little kinder than necessary.

What are your favorite names?
No favorites, though I’m partial to Annie and Jake.

How would you like to die?
Quietly in my sleep while dreaming about something happy.

What is your motto?
Life is short but wide.


What about you?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Come on in and visit...
I came across an article recently that listed some small things the author was grateful for. I liked the way I felt reading it so I set about making my own thankful list, starting with the obvious – health, home, family, friends. But as I began to look around me, I realized that there are a number of actual things that, though I may have to dust or keep after them in some way, I am pleased to have. Here are a few.

Photographs: They are everywhere – on the walls, the fridge, my desk. They perch next to the books on the bookcase, decorate my nightstand, fill innumerable albums. The faces of my family and friends smile at me from every corner of my cottage, reminding me that though I may live by myself, I am not alone in the world.

Postcards: I often use them as bookmarks. To come across one unexpectedly is like making an unplanned visit. I re-read lines scrawled from Scotland, New Zealand, Costa Rica, New Orleans, Florida, California, Iowa, England - places my children or my friends have visited and thought to share with me. They’re the written equivalent of “reach out and touch someone.”

Books: Best friends in bindings, books are always there when you reach for them; steadfast, full of hidden depths and meanings revealed with every re-reading; repositories of information and insight; teachers, guidance counselors, comforters. One can never have enough books.

A lava lamp: Scoff if you will, but watch one in action and you will see a life lesson in the constant separating and reuniting of the lava ‘goo,’ a reminder that all of life begins and ends as part of the ONE.

Music: I used to own a phonograph and a whole slew of 45s but I traded them for a shelf full of CDs. Now my music comes from iTunes stored on my hard drive. I crank up the volume when I clean my cottage. Dusting is more fun when one dances with the dust rag.

Poetry: The written equivalent of music, poetry is an object lesson in “less is more.” It is distillation framed in discipline. If you want to see the essence of your days, write about them in verse.

Flowers: There are always flowers in my cottage. Geraniums bloom on the window sills, wild flowers in season come in with me when I return from my walks. I use flowers to gift a friend, celebrate an occasion, comfort the bereaved. Their beauty amazes me, soothes me, encourages me, delights me. First to greet the spring, last to celebrate summer, blooming even in the depths of winter, flowers are the finest teachers I know and the best antidote for whatever ails me.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

This Is War

I have a heart. I do. And it’s generally soft where small creatures are concerned. Except now, when with the whole outdoors to romp in, the meadow mice decide my house would make a wonderful “their” house and move in. I discovered droppings in my utensil drawer one morning when I reached for a can opener. Disgust is a mild word. I filled the sink with boiling hot water and an anti-bacterial cleanser. I put on a pair of rubber gloves and dropped the utensils into the foamy water. I left them there all day, then drained the water and rinsed everything in more boiling water. They gleamed and twinkled from the large bowl on the counter but I couldn’t help washing each one again before I used it.

I baited the small Have-A-Heart trap, set it in the drawer, admonished the cat to start earning his keep, and went off to work. The day netted nary a mouse. But much later, when the cottage was dark and I was deep in a dream about sea creatures about to devour me, I heard an unfamiliar noise. I sat up, my soft heart pounding, and listened closely. What in the world…?

Oh. I’d caught a mouse, that’s what.

Sure enough, in the morning there was a wee furry creature in the trap, its eyes bulging, its feet scrabbling on the slippery plastic floor. I carried it gingerly across the street and along the road toward the pond, scolding the whole way. I tipped the trap sideways, the door swung open, and the mouse fled into the undergrowth.

Where there’s one mouse there’s more so I baited the trap again that night, repeated the morning release and by the third morning and the third mouse, began to wonder if it wasn’t the SAME mouse. The next day I began the Mouse Deportation Program, driving each mouse ever longer distances in ever more circuitous directions until one morning, there was no mouse. Nor the next. I have been mouse free for three days now. I have grown used to reaching toward the bowl for utensils.

Still, this is war. Perhaps I will bait the trap one more time…

photo credit: