Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Late Summer

I sit outside in the evening
watching the sun slide down the
side of the sky like melting butter.

Overhead the leaves of the towering ash
are stenciled against the pale blue sky,
as unmoving as daubs of green paint.

A cluster of small clouds spreads out
like small children playing a last game
before dark. They gather together as

they float toward the horizon,
knitting themselves into a soft white blanket,
tucking themselves in for the night.

Two tired robins, their hatchlings gone,
wing across the open sky and bats
swoop like acrobats between trees.

A plane, so high it is silent,
shimmers pink in the sunset glow
blinking its lights like a beacon

showing the birds, the winging bats,
the cloud children, and me
how to navigate the dark.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Diary of a Stormy Day

Gray, windy, and wet!
6: a.m. The sky is solid, wooly gray and the early morning light is so dim I need lamps on inside. Rain is falling; it splashes against the window panes and beats a syncopated rhythm on the outdoor cover for the stove exhaust. The tops of the trees outside my window look like giant green scrubbing cloths rubbing the sky as the winds dance around and through them. I inhale the spicy scent of phlox blossoms as I pass the vase on the table. Already the remaining plants in the patio garden have been beaten to the ground. Parker the cat is outside somewhere, probably in the barn with the sheep, nestled happily in a hay pile, his favorite place to sleep. I keep checking at the door to see if he's braved the rain. His breakfast is waiting.

The weathermen say to expect sustained winds of 35-50 mph with gusts of 65-70 mph but not until mid-day. We're currently under a flash flood warning and will be for the duration of the day. Ten inches of rain are possible - 2 inches have fallen since midnight.  Even if the Housatonic River floods, I am safe from its waters but I hadn't thought about the pond across the road - I may be stranded for a while in my little cottage. New York is posting large areas of power outages.

7:12 a.m. 200,000 lost power on Long Island overnight; almost 25,000 customers are out of power in parts of upstate New York across the border from my area of Massachusetts. Bridges in the area are closing because of high wind gusts and people are being advised to stay home and stay inside. The light has not changed color at all. Parker came screaming to the door during a slight letup in the rain. He is fed and curled up under the bed - wonder if I should join him!

8:35 a.m. The lights are flickering. If we lose power, I will take notes on paper. Wind is picking up, the sky has suddenly darkened and the rain is pelting the windows.

10:00 a.m. The power is still on. The storm is leaving NYC and is headed north. We have had steady though not hard wind and rain but both are supposed to increase by noon. The leaves are spinning in circles as the wind blows through them. Parker insists on going outside. It is still summer to him and he doesn't plan to spend any day fully indoors until the first snow falls. There are a number of safe, dry places for him to hide when the rain starts to come down hard so I will not worry about him.

1:30 p.m. Unbelievably, the rain seems to be stopping and the wind is barely disturbing the leaves. To the east of us there are reports of high winds and torrents of rain. To the west of us the wind gusts reached 54 mph and there is lots of flooding. Our top winds were clocked at a mere 14 mph and we got no more than two inches of rain. How lucky we are!

3:00 p.m. The sun is shining from a high patch of light blue. Tattered clouds scud across the sky and tiny rainbows glance from grass blades. I have walked to the river to look at the water. Muddy brown and roiling, it surges over the first two steps of the boat launch and lashes at the long grasses that lean over the bank. It looks close to flooding and may well be as tomorrow dawns since the northern NY rivers that feed into it are flooding now. One creek that flows from the pond across the road from the cottage and empties into the Housatonic has topped its banks, already becoming its own mini version of a surging river.

4:00 p.m. The backside of Irene is wrapping its tail around the Berkshires, dousing the sun with more rain clouds and making the trees tops dance once again. I was on my way to the river again, this time with my camera, but had to turn back before the rain soaked me thoroughly. My umbrella was useless in the sudden wind. I will have to content myself with photos of the mill dam and stream and hope that the worst Irene can do to us does not still lie ahead!

River wannabe after the rains

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Random Thoughts Before the Storm


Hurricane Irene is downgrading herself as she makes her way north along the Atlantic coast. Still, her winds and rain threaten my small town in rural western Massachusetts. I have plenty of food and water but no flashlight, no battery-powered radio so if the power goes out I will be in the dark, literally. I do have candles and my brother (3 miles away) has a generator. By the time the storm gets here, the winds may still be in excess of 70 mph! I've been watching the news, listening to the warnings about storm surges, rainfall amounts, and wind gusts. The worst that can happen would be days of power outages. The weather is going to stay warm and the food in my freezer is meant to help me through the winter. My sister wrote to ask if I am afraid to face the storm alone. I am not but I've been catching myself musing about some things between newscasts.

*Do I have enough water to see me through a couple of days with no electricity? We had a high-wind storm in the spring that blew down so many trees that all 4 major roads leading into our town were closed for a day and a half. They brought down numerous power lines when they fell. I ran out of water just before the power came back on. Every time I think this, I fill up another container.

*Which way will the big tree on the southeastern edge of my yard fall if it succumbs to the storm?

*Today is the 35th anniversary of my father's death. If he'd lived, he'd have turned 100 years old this past April! He was a strong, steady man; I wish he was here to see me through the storm.

*How quiet the cottage is now that the grands have gone home!

*Things to do before the storm: bring in the potted plants that have spent the summer out of doors; take down the screen tent and store it away, put the lawn chairs and patio umbrella in the garage; fill pans with water for washing up if the power goes out; replace the screen in my front door with the glass panel so the rain isn't driven in under the door; pick the last of the summer blooms before the rains pound them into the ground.

*Should I risk going to the scheduled poetry read-aloud at the library late this afternoon? Fierce thunderstorms are expected to precede the arrival of Irene.

*Had I stayed married, I'd be celebrating my 45th wedding anniversary today! That realization made me consider that I've not done anything for 45 consecutive years except stay alive. The longest I've stayed at any one job is 10 years. Does that make me a Jill of all trades and master of none? It's true that I've spent a total of more than 45 years living in my hometown, but I've also spent 20 plus years in other places so those 45 have not been consecutive.

*Will my daughter, her husband and their daughter weather this storm safely? If communication systems are disrupted, will my heart know if anything happens to them?

*Monday is supposed to dawn sunny and warm - what will I see when the sun rises?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Grands Are Coming! The Grands Are Coming!

S, J and Memere, cooking

"What a bargain grandchildren are! I give them my loose change and they give me a million dollar's worth of pleasure!"      Gene Perret

Tomorrow I will disappear amid a tangle of small arms and legs and grinning faces and won't reappear until Saturday the 27th. All three of my grandchildren will be here though the smallest, my little Bean, will go back home Monday. The older two, S who is 10 and J who is 8, will spend the rest of the week with me.

The days take on a new order when they are here. The moment all our eyes open we spring from bed, hustle into our clothes and take the Secret Path to the farm next door. We'll bring our table scraps and vegetable peelings to the pigs, stop at the chicken house door so J can practice his cocka-doodle-do, pull several handsful of succulent grasses for the cows, and pat the wooly sheep. When our tummies start to growl we'll head back to the cottage for cow pancakes and chocolate syrup. (One of the farm cows is a Belted Galloway, an Oreo cookie of a cow, black on either end with a white stripe around its middle. I have a cow pancake mold and the kids like making their own Belted Galloways with the chocolate.)

Once the breakfast dishes are washed and the beds are neatly made, we settle in for some serious play. If the day is hot, we'll don bathing suits and head for my brother's backyard pool. If the morning is cool, we might take our bicycles to the town park and zip around the trails there, taking time to swing on the swings and climb on the jungle gym. If it's a rainy day, the closet is crammed with paper and pencils, pens and crayons, paints and brushes, scissors and glue just waiting to make imaginative crafts. In a large basket are stuffed animals, toy cars, a Slinky or two, some small puzzles, and several balls. In another box, dolls sleep in their best dresses, their eyes closed until some small tot wakes them. The town library beckons, the pond across the street hosts bullfrogs and turtles and ducks and a couple of muskrat families. There's always something to discover there.When evening brings a weariness to our limbs and darkness to the skies, we will make some popcorn and curl up on the big bed, pillows stuffed behind us, and watch a movie. 

There won't be time to read (or write) blog posts, so once the week has passed and the cottage empties out, once the noise and the flurry have subsided, when the silence and the missing grow too much for me, I will return to my regular life, and here.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

And it's only 7:15 AM

A day that starts out with a vivid wee-hours-of-the-morning nightmare, the cat throwing up on the sofa (and the floor and the doormat on his way out the door), and an invitation from Facebook to befriend someone I hope never to see again is a day to reckon with.

The nightmare was actually an eye opener (pardon the pun). I've had a number of frightening, anxiety-laden dreams over the past few weeks. I've been chased by shadowy figures, taken escape routes that were dead ends or blocked or more dangerous than where I was, climbed rickety ladders, faced angry people, drove cars with faulty brakes and planes that took nose-dives or tried to run through thick mist, thick mud, or deep water. I'm exhausted from going to sleep! Last night I survived a flood that swept my entire family from sight. The roiling waters deposited me on a foreign shore where no one spoke my language. I made my way to a building that became a school, and lost in the unfamiliar corridors, I missed what was to have been my first class. When I finally found what I knew to be the right door, I was greeted by an irate instructor who shouted at me and threw paper and pencil into the air like missiles.

However, once I understood the assignment (by surreptitiously looking at the work of other students) I produced a masterpiece that the instructor praised in broken English. I woke thinking, "OH! I just have to write it all down!"


The cat, having deposited a half-digested mouse on my kitchen floor, is pacing outside the door hoping to come back in for a more suitable breakfast. Nope, nada, yuk. I am happy to put a dish of kibble on the doorstep and let him heave anything else gross and disgusting on the lawn where I can put a long shovel handle between me and it. I may not be able to eat until lunch time.

As for Facebook, a pox on social networking. There are some people who should remain firmly in one's past.

Friday, August 12, 2011


beautiful predator
There are those who believe that nature is benignly beautiful. If one is merely looking at it from a window, it appears that way. But there are days when one simply cannot ignore the brutality that lies just under the surface. Yesterday was one of those days. 

Before the sun even rose fully, I was awakened by a frantic piping. I recognized it as the "Danger! Watch out! Fly now!" cry of some frightened bird parent. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and looked out the kitchen window. Hopping along the crossbar of my clothesline was a beautiful brown thrush, its spotted breast glinting gold in the growing light. It flew suddenly to the patio fence, joining its mate who was making sorties over the head of the neighbor's cat lying in the grass. There in the cat's paws was a baby thrush. I grabbed the broom and made a beeline for the cat. Startled, it leapt up and I thrust the broom between it and the gasping baby bird.

Hearing the commotion, my neighbor B came out, scooped up his cat, deposited it on the porch, and in a matter of seconds had the baby bird in his cupped palms. The parents flew madly from one end of the yard to the other, screeching and scolding. B Carried the little bird to a tree at the edge of the woods and settled it on a branch. The parents flew into the same tree, keeping up their shrill warnings. As B and I stepped away, they grew silent.

We kept our respective cats indoors for most of the day despite their protests. No more sounds came from the tree, either encouraging or frightened, so B and I assumed the birds had made their way deeper into the woods and safety. That is not the way a cat's mind works. The moment B's cat was released it headed with unerring certainty to the woods and came back minutes later with the baby in its mouth. This time there would be no rescue. The small head lolled, the wings were still. The parents were silent.

Last night at dusk there was no evening song from the thrushes. The part of the woods from which they usually sang was silent, an empty space amid other bird voices calling good-bye to the day. I was made to understand once again that the hunt and the kill are as much a part of nature as the beauty and the song. If one keeps cats (and what farm doesn't?), one has to accept the cat-catches-bird relationship as readily as the cat-eats-mice relationship. The reminder did nothing to keep my heart from aching.

Photo from naturesound.com

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Over the past two weeks, I've been designing wedding and celebratory cards, and hand addressing wedding invitations (100 of them!) for a friend. It's a nice little side business and something I can do in my spare time once I retire.

I've also been spending time with the Bean, my 10 month old granddaughter who is now crawling like a little monkey everywhere and standing up as long as there's something to hold onto. She recognizes me, grins hugely and holds her little arms out to me whenever she sees me, and does her best with sounds, gestures, and an intense stare to communicate with me.

She can pull herself into a standing position without help!
In a couple of weeks my other grandkids, S who is 10 and J who is 8, will come to spend a week with their Memere. We'll ride our bikes at the town park, make crafty things if rain should keep us indoors, and spend lots of time at the farm next door. We'll swim on hot days at my brother's pool and maybe even have a lemonade stand. Life is good!

This was taken at S & J's house when I last visited.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Planning Ahead

I've been practicing for my retirement. This coming school year will be my last. This summer, I've only done what there's time for in a day and let the rest go. I rise early, greet the sun (or the rain or the mist or the heat), do a little yoga, a little house work. I take an afternoon nap, rummage in the garden for fresh vegetables for supper (always pulling a couple of weeds here and there to keep ahead), ride my bicycle for a few miles, and take a book to bed. Each day I try to add in one of the million other things I want to do (draw, paint, write, go to the library, watch old movies, visit the grandchildren, etc.). I’m sure if I had a plan book I would pen in such activities, but I like the freeform-ness of my days. I wouldn’t remember to look at the plan book anyhow.

Come fall and winter I will once again be at work, thereby severely limiting my private time. I will have to fill out the date book in my purse, stuff more things into the weekend hours, push against that heavy Monday-morning feeling that settles on my shoulders at bedtime Sunday night. But I am building memories for my retirement-in-the-offing, memories of hummingbirds deep in the hollyhock blossoms, of cardinals singing me awake and crickets singing me to sleep, of time just to sit and think. I will fetch a packet of green beans from the freezer in the dead of winter and remember the heat on my shoulders as I picked them from their leafy rows. I will open a jar of pasta sauce and recall this summer's tree-high tomato plants, or make a pie with the berries I’ve picked and put by. I will remember the quiet time, the rush-less days, the easy waking, and the restful nights. And I will look forward to the coming summer, knowing all these will be mine in full again.

From here, retirement looks mighty good. My friends wonder if I might get bored with such easy living. I tell them the only time I can remember being bored was when I was stuck in some building, working at some job that didn’t keep me busy enough. Once I no longer have to work, I imagine boredom will just disappear along with that plan book.

photo credit: www.artexpertswebsite.com/ pages/artists/

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Living Rural

One of the great advantages of living rural is the scenery just outside my door. I don't have to drive miles to see mountains (though to get to the seashore I have to fight hours of traffic), I am surrounded by meadows filled with flowers, and the pond across the road offers constantly changing views of flora and fauna. The air is always clean and refreshing in the morning even when the day before was stifling. Birds perform daily concerts, dining is often alfresco with ingredients fresh from my own garden, and every evening, except for the occasional rainy one, ends in a spectacular light show put on by the setting sun and whatever clouds happen to be in the vicinity. I get to see...

little mist ghosts heading for the sky...

dew drops on milkweed leaves...

masses of Queen Anne's Lace leaning toward the mid-day sun...

and trumpet flowers catching the last of the light...

before the day ends.