Sunday, October 26, 2014

Quiet Thoughts

Now, when the leaves of deciduous trees are great splashes of color against faded blue, when the air at noon is still mild and hazy, when a few small birds still search the roadsides for seeds and great swirls of starlings paint designs in the evening sky, now is the moment to relax into the quiet,

If I had to choose just one thing to believe in, it would be change. No matter how slowly it comes, change is the one constant. I see it most clearly at this time of year when the leaves turn from working green to carnival colors before falling to sleep at a tree’s feet. There is mimicry in our human doings – those of us who watch nature match our feelings accordingly, slowing our activities and our thoughts so that we can get a good look at ourselves, at our bare bones of belief. Our own horizons widen.

Mostly we are human doings, not human beings. Frenetic activity suggests a purpose. The seasonal change from summer to fall puts us on notice that there is worth in slowing down, taking stock, using rest as a repair shop. We are reminded that we are individuals in a group, that we have our own shape and a singular reason for our existence.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Autumn Winds

In spring the winds blow up from the south, shepherding warmth to the coldest regions. In autumn, quite the opposite. Down from the north they sweep like cleansing brooms, pushing into every crevice, scooting the leafy remnants of summer into the center of the yard before flinging them to the four corners. Autumn’s winds are high winds, bully winds. They push through the clouds, scattering them, then swoop down to shake the trees, spinning multicolored leaves in spirals or great golden bursts.

There’s a distinct coolness underlying the winds of October even when they blow the warmth of the sun directly in your face. On them you can detect a hint of bitterness, of ice, and through them you can hear summer calling farewell from the treetops. Wood smoke and a faint hint of leather are borne on these winds. The cries of the geese travel on them, and the haunting sound of the hunting owl.

Autumn winds are not lullabies, as summer winds tend to be; they seek instead to push, to harry, to agitate. They are pillaging winds, forces of change that can stroke your cheek with warmth one moment and slap it the next with a hard, cold hand. The seasonal wheel turns, the winds blow. Autumn’s balance of August heat and November frost will give way to January’s shivery cold but for now the winds play both sides of the game, blowing warm one day, cold the next. It will be a long time before they speak again of spring.

Thanks, Hilary!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Happy Moments

Eckhart Tolle, who is listed by the Watkins Review as the most spiritually influential person in the world talks about "naturally arising moments of pure pleasure." Using that idea as our prompt, my Sunday morning writing friend and I recollected what my daughter and I like to call 'happy moments,' those times that come upon you and lift you from the mundane world of thought to the astonishing world of no thought. Here's my take.

I sit and watch the finches at the feeder thinking first that I am glad I thought  to replenish the seed, then noticing the sheer beauty of the birds themselves, the soft blush of red on their breasts, the way their feathers make black and brown patterns on their backs, the small perfectness of them, and as I watch, the noticing falls away and I am left with something so much larger that a wee feathered finch, a recognition of what Eckhart Tolle calls “naturally arising moments of pure pleasure.”

The sun backlights the yellow leaves on a maple. I can get lost in that light, let it shower down over my shoulders, fill my eyes, wash me with color until I am the yellow leaf and the sunbeam and the very air I breathe.

I can nestle my hands deep in the fur of a dog, gaze into its eyes until I fall in, lose all my senses except how my fingers feel, and my palms, until I am the dog and the hands and the otherness and sameness at once.

If I lie on your back in a meadow and stare at the sky I can fly, rising up from myself and floating down to myself simultaneously. I become sky and earth until the sheer weighted weightlessness feels like home.

Naturally arising moments of pure pleasure can be sought, but I like them best when they descend without warning, when my hands are covered in hot sudsy dishwater and my mind has wandered away from itself into a place where soap bubbles are the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen or when I’m holding a sleeping child and the weight makes my arms tremble but my mind stills itself like the sleeping babe and we breathe in tandem, sharing waking and sleeping dreams.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Sensory Excursion and An Asterisk Experiment

Sunday writing with my writing friend - the prompt was to take a sensory excursion outside my window, then randomly place asterisks (without rereading the text or being too precise) and turn those designated lines into metaphors that had to do with my life. Here's what happened:

Experiment With Metaphors

Sensory Excursion with asterisks

Rain fell in the night, wetting the patio stones, washing the dusty colored leaves of the forsythia and the lilac. The air is damp and cool and pungent. *Everywhere flowers that just a few weeks ago were vibrant and healthy are losing their petals, exposing their bones. The tall yellow centers of the rudbeckia, the brownish stamens of the phlox, the pale pink hips of roses add small, quiet pulses of color to a garden otherwise devoid of all hues but tired green. You can almost see the brightness of summer draining away. The giant maples are turning to shades of yellow and orange and rusty red. *The songbirds are gathering and headed south – already the mornings are silent save for the crow and the strident jay. An early flock of geese passed overhead last evening and splashed down on the pond, disturbing the ducks and claiming the water as their own. Milkweed pods are bursting at the edges of meadows and along the roadside. Bright yellow finches tear at thistle fluff and the *catbirds cry farewell from the branches of the walnut tree.

I have pulled the withering cucumber plants, the leggy tomato vines and the faded bean plants from their beds. The*compost heap grows large, the garden beds lie blank and exposed, the chives, though still green and flavorful bend toward the ground as if too weary to stand tall another minute. Late bearing raspberries glow bright pink under yellowing leaves. The air smells slightly of wood smoke and decay. The guinea hens from the farm next door lurch across the lawn, mining the grass for bugs. They talk to each other as they go, their voices like squeaky springs. A* soft grey sky hangs low over the horizon. The sun may come back before the day is over but it will be a cooler light, a more distant star than in weeks past. It will sparkle on the drops that cling to the grass before fading into dusk and dark.

Everywhere flowers that just a few weeks ago were vibrant and healthy are losing their petals, exposing their bones.

My senses are flower petals, fading and dropping to the ground to lie wasted and mourned. Sight fades, hearing, tasting, smelling fall away one by one, leaving only the stalk of me, a blossom stripped bare of its youth and beauty.

The songbirds are gathering and headed south – already the mornings are silent save for the crow and the strident jay.

The autumn of me - that internal space where transition occurs - holds the absence of sound, the stillness of a pause, the twin feelings of anticipation and regret that accompany change. My thoughts are songbirds headed south.

catbirds cry farewell from the branches of the walnut tree

I am the catbird that cries farewell from the walnut branch, the bird of summer readying for a long journey, preening my feathers for flight, knowing the winter of my life is bearing down from the cold north, recognizing the possibility that I may not return the following year

The compost heap grows large, the garden beds lie blank and exposed, the chives, though still green and flavorful bend toward the ground as if too weary to stand tall another minute

When all is said and done, I am a garden bed and nothing more, plowed and harrowed and raked over, planted, weeded, harvested by my own hand and the hands of other gardeners, finally stripped of all that I produced in a lifetime and laid to rest in the dark and cold.

A soft grey sky hangs low over the horizon

And if I am a garden on the earth, I am also a bit of wind-blown cloud in the sky, hovering at the horizon, hoping for a glimpse of my former home, waiting for my chance to be rain, to nourish again all I loved while I was earth.

Monday, September 08, 2014


Life is lived in moments that coalesce, becoming days, years, phases. Sometimes we go through our moments so carelessly that when we look back on them we can't recall the details. Sometimes we pay such close attention to the minutiae that when we recall the past, we only remember the smallest of specifics. My school years combined both kinds of attention. I can recall exact moments - the time in 4th grade that Eddie and I closed a desktop down on Susie's head, for example, and got caught, although only Eddie's hand was on the desk and only he got spanked. I can still recall the look of horror on the teacher's face, the look of interest on Eddie's, and feel again the rise of hot guilt in my own chest. On the other hand, graduation day fifty years ago is still hazy. I don't remember marching up to the stage to the strains of Pomp and Circumstance. I don't remember having my diploma put in my hand. I can't recall the receiving line outside afterwards and have only the vaguest memory of the dress I wore beneath my gown.

This past weekend what remains of the Class of '64 held a 50th reunion at a local park. Already 11 classmates have passed away and of the 57 remaining only 23 of us attended  the event. But we were a jolly bunch as we cracked open lobsters brought down from Maine, gobbled sweet, local corn on the cob, hamburgers and dogs and chicken wings, homemade potato salad and cole slaw, finishing it all with watermelon and blonde brownies and thick, chewy molasses cookies. We wore snapshots of our yearbook photos as name tags and joked at how little (or how much) we had changed. At every table the word remember prefaced a conversation about some aspect of our high school years together, or remembrances of the war in Vietnam where so many of our classmates faced unforgettable horrors. All day, my perceptions kept switching from the detailed - the sound of Holly's laugh, the same intense greenness of Cindy's eyes, the timbre of Seth's voice, how tall Jack still was - to the overall: the concentrated buzz of dozens of simultaneous conversations, the outbursts of laughter, the recognition of old friends mixed with non-recognition - we've all become something we weren't back in 1964. 

Mid-way through the day our organizer-in-chief, JT, stood to make some remarks. "Looking back," he began, "I tried to think of one thing - one characteristic - that would define our years together in high school. I don’t know if it is common at other institutions of higher learning, but I think that our defining attribute has to be “cruising the halls” before class." This brought a great shout of laughter and a flashback memory of sharing tidbits of gossip or confidences with Sue or Katy or Marlene or Patty, our heads close, our voices a murmur as we walked the halls in twos or threes with a hundred other students for ten or fifteen minutes before the first bell.

"And then there were the notes," JT continued. "These presaged texting and were about as useful. Notes were the forbidden fruit of friendship, passed along with the thought that they were never to be shared. But, like the internet today, secret information didn’t always stay secret and some notes went viral." I leaned over and said to Sue, "I still have some of those notes!" and I do, stashed away in a keepsake book, notes from a certain boy and others slipped surreptitiously from hand to hand during class or tucked in a pocket as we filed out the door. I clearly remember when two note passers got caught and one of them had to approach the front of the room and read the note aloud. Viral all right!

I spent some time with a man with whom I'd shared an apartment and a life but hadn't seen or spoken to since we'd parted painfully nearly 14 years ago. We forged a truce, agreeing to start from now with no expectations or promises. We both realized that the time we have left to be happy is limited; there is no room now for futile anger or hurt feelings or recriminations. In fact, there never should be time for those things but when you're young you don't see it that way. Everything is important then; now, I realize, kindness and an open heart and a sense of one's real self are important - details that make sense of the overall haze. JT's summing up quote summed up this discovery: "In the words of an old Scottish toast: Here’s tae us, and wha’s like us. Damn few, and they’re all a’dyin’, Mair’s the pity!

In some ways it was a very strange day. I'd known a good many of these people my whole life, though I hadn't seen some in years and years. We shared a childhood of classrooms and hallways, ate our noon meal together five days a week for decades, received the same teachings, followed the same rules - and yet we were all SO different. And they had changed in ways I hadn't imagined (well, some of them) and so have I. A lifetime of memories, distilled into three hours of an afternoon. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Ending a Season

The hummingbirds are still coming to the feeder but my mornings no longer begin with bird song. The early hours now belong to the raucous crow and the belligerent jay. And the rooster, of course.

The butternut squash plants have taken over the garden. I counted 11 squash nestled among the wandering leaves. The two potato plants I dug up yielded over 25 good-sized potatoes. There are at least 30 plants in the potato bed. I've frozen half a dozen quarts of green beans and eaten almost as many. The spinach did not thrive, nor the beets, but the swiss chard has been delicious. Two of my tomatoes grew to the size of a soup bowl!

Afternoons are bathed in shimmering golden light. Leaves and grass are still green but their vibrancy is dimming; pastel flower blossoms have given way to vivid yellows and purples. Farmer's market counters overflow with corn, with carrots, and baskets of beets and beans. Soon there will be pumpkins for sale and pots of mums.

The sun rises almost half an hour later and sets half an hour earlier than it did a month ago. Crickets chirp late into the evening and summer bugs buzz in the dark. Songbirds are beginning to bunch; noisy flocks of starlings swirl and settle in the treetops, little yellow finches flutter haphazardly from thistle to thistle, swallows swoop and dive in groups over the pond. In a couple of months the geese will again gather on the water, talking amongst themselves of the coming winter and the impending trip to their southern homes.

A number of classmates from my high school graduating class will gather in early September for a reunion picnic. I haven't seen some of them in 50 years. Out of a class of 68, 11 have passed away. Only about half of those remaining will attend. We're scattered across the US, travel and lodging are expensive, some are suffering ill health. I can clearly remember standing outside the school on graduation night, hugging these friends and vowing to keep in touch. So much has changed in 50 years. We've changed, too. I wonder if any of them will seem like strangers or will time melt and warp, allowing us to see each other as we were, to recognize the 18 year old hiding in a 68 year old body?

I have projects unfinished, books unread, plans unfulfilled but life is good, nonetheless. Summer, with its heat and storms, its ups and downs, will segue into autumn as it always does. I think of the saying, "Don't mourn what is not, be grateful for what is," and I am content.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

One Misty, Moisty Morning...

Raindrops string themselves along the garden fence and drip from the leaves of the coneflowers. A thin mist hovers over the tops of the evergreens and tangles itself in the maple leaves. The sky is pale gray and smooth as the inside of a seashell. A slow, quiet rainy day seems to contain less energy than one bright with sunshine. I'm tempted to curl up on the daybed with a book, the comforter over my bare feet and a cup of hot tea at my elbow.

Yesterday I poked among the squash leaves, big as elephant ears, looking for zucchini. What I found instead were winter squash, young and pale but growing into the familiar flared shape of a butternut. I don't remember planting them. My cucumbers have dozens of yellow flowers, the bean plants are strung with miniature beans, and the chard stalks gleamed red in the sun. I picked the few beets that had matured, and a handful of late peas. The pea vines are mostly dried out and hang dejectedly on their fence. Next month I will dig the potatoes and make a feast of them.

July slipped into August without my noticing until I went to write a check and had to look up the date. The summer has been a blur of travel and grandchildren and long, languid weekends spent bicycling or lazing about in my screened tent. There were weeks that blended into one another in a haze of heat and lightning storms. Family obligations kept me away from home for days at a time so that when I did return to the cottage it was like stumbling on an oasis.

The sky is beginning to brighten. Perhaps the sun will make an appearance after all and the energy of the day will change from indolent to industrious. Perhaps I shall surrender to it; perhaps I will reject industry in favor of a nap in a puddle of sunshine.