Common Sense? New Revision Series.

Sayings from long long ago:

“If you’re so smart why aren’t you rich?”

and

“Common sense is not so common.”

An article in yesterday’s NY Times caught my attention:

How ‘Fairy Tale’ Farms Are Ruining Hudson Valley Agriculture”

Farmers are losing properties to wealthy buyers from the city, while leasing land from the new owners can feel like a “modern-day feudal system.” By Elizabeth G. Dunn Photographs by Gabby Jones. June 9, 2022 Updated 1:59 p.m. ET”

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/06/09/nyregion/hudson-valley-farms.html?referringSource=articleShare

—————————————————————————————

I lived in the Hudson Valley for 27 years and watched the agricultural movement grow. By the time I retired I was buying almost all of the food I ate from the farm stands and the Sunday Farmer’s’ Market. The orchard fruits were spectacular and the growers truly wonderful, very hard working, people. From May until late into the Fall my produce bags were brimming and there was fresh fish, eggs, meats, and dairy products direct from local sources to add to the bounty. It wasn’t always the cheapest way to eat but freshness and taste (and nutrition) surpassed all else. Winters of grocery store produce became dreadful.

I left the area before Covid hit but I’d been there through the fear years after 9/11 when real estate was being gobbled up by urban dwellers from further south, scared they were not finished with panic situations. They were right. But their unequal buying power did real damage. According to this new article the well minted are now buying farmland which they want to remain picturesque. They want dual purpose barns where animals can be housed, then moved to accommodate wedding receptions. Having moved a fair amount of pig and chicken manure from a small barn on a Vermont homestead for a few years I can assure you manure and bridal attire are not compatible. We can chuckle together at the folly in this story but therein lies a deep truth we are all avoiding: having money does not make you smart. The food on your plate did not get there easily or with pristine hands. And the true price of things often has little to do with money at all.

Who will feed the growing world populations? We are just getting glimpses of the tragedies to come as nations dependent on harvests from Ukraine will not be there as backup. This is the tip of a very large iceberg. If local, state, and national governments do nothing to tip the balance of who can buy what land and use it for whatever purpose, we will see starvation spread.

There are all kinds of damage to the land which sustains us. Trendy ornamental plants replaced native species, the home and food for pollinators whose numbers have declined in alarming leaps. There is no end to our ignorance. We think of land which we buy as ours! to do with as we see fit, only our vision rarely contains what is, has been, and will be, required. Guns and wars are only two ways to hasten human die-off. What don’t you or I know about why the increasing numbers of deer are now taking over suburbia or showing up regularly in the middle of town and why their presence and the increasing presence of other “destructive” critters are so damaging to those who want to grow some of their own food? What are we thinking about when not wanting to mask or to travel like we used to? There are so many questions in so many areas we are not bothering to ask much less answer as long as things stay pretty. So some want fluffy white sheep grazing in green meadows without the unpleasantness of poop or the brutalness of birthing, or to be reminded of the harshness of life and death which is all around us? Plants, animals, people, air, water…..

Rich, poor, or in between we will live these fairy tales until reality bites. Then we will howl like banshees complaining of how unfair it all is.

Grandmothers: New Revision Postings

Memorial Day was founded to remember those who fought in war and gave “the ultimate sacrifice” but today my thoughts are centered on the Grandmothers. Wars have, mostly, been started by men and until the fairly recent past, mostly fought by men as well. The Grandmothers go forgotten although they often bore the burdens of those wars in ways men never once considered, but wars were hardly the only burdens they carried.

The photo here is the Grandmother I, and all of her other grandchildren, never met. She died at age 36 about to be discharged from a state mental hospital, circumstances unknown. Her eldest child, my mother, was thirteen and her fourth and last child, my Aunt Betty, was three. Family members have attempted to uncover records for her hospitalization and death but were told “there was a fire and all records were lost”. Was there anyone of her generation who knew the whole story? If so, none of us ever heard more.

Today I learned from my cousin who has the interest, talent, and persistence for genealogical research, that a journal and graduation record of our shared Grandmother was found. She had attended McGill for a couple of years. As her first child was born in 1922 college would have been an outstanding achievement for a woman of her time. What then is her story? Whatever the tale, it took place in context of her time when women did not have autonomy or agency. I think of her not only as an individual but as a woman bounded by the societal mores of class and gender because even now we must see our lives within these contexts.

Over time I have come to understand that we hear each other’s stories in ways that relate to our own experience. If you choose to stop at the point I’ve told you my direct blood relative died in a mental hospital that is your choice and I will only slightly wince. If however, I think of the line of history of women branded as hysterics or witches, understood in the context of the prevailing times, not as individuals with intelligence, knowledge, longings, and worth but as objects that fit into whatever worked in the world of men in the time that they lived, the possibilities of her story take on very different meanings. In this light, I question my Grandmother’s situation and wonder about the circumstances, the hows and whys she was in that hospital rather than with her family.

This photograph, which needs restorative work, haunts me. The intelligence of those eyes hold mysteries I, and all the progeny which came after her, will never know.

This remains the case for all our kin even those who are a part of our daily lives. We do not know what is carried, what longings or experiences are hidden in their hearts and minds, but the Grandmothers in particular carry their pasts holding or telling their secrets selectively or not at all, like shadows we cannot see.

I am not a Grandmother nor will I ever be, yet I, too, carry these things.

#195 Convergence

Convergence

Ramadan, Easter, and Passover are all being observed in a small period of time. From an article I read today this convergence has not happened since 1991. Without such knowledge any one of us would still understand there are masses of energy in motion altering the world we thought we once knew. Human behaviors in so many places have gone beyond reasonable or understandable. We are struggling, as individuals, as families, as citizens. After years of political divisiveness the concentric rings of strife moved into a global pandemic and now a land war has been perpetrated by yet another old man caught in the throes of yesteryear, caught inside his old man visions of power and glory while innocents on both sides carry impossible burdens because of his actions. The most naive amongst us can easily see how such a possibility must cease to exist.

The round moon rises over the ocean and the path of its light reaches me through the windows. In the midst of April the night is still in the 30’s. Snow is in the forecast headed eastward. The virus alters yet again and case numbers rise daily. The gloom of these last few years seems more than sufficient yet I doubt it is yet nearly enough for we humans to truly change our ways.

I began writing this blog before the world flipped to an alternate universe. My initial thought was to share the experience of living close to ocean wildness, to observe and comment on the natural beauty and power of the water, the movement of weather, of sunrises, of the creatures who made this landscape home long before we humans altered the land and upended the balance of things. The life I intended, of course, was upended as was everyone’s. I found in this place both solace but also unexpected and incredible loneliness as the virus drove us into lockdown and separation. After more than two years I find myself with less and less to say. My thoughts deepen but my observations now feel shallow; repetitive. I wanted to learn and share what this remarkable place brought forth. This natural world is as beautiful as ever but I find our human world is not. I find my understanding is failing me as my aging body struggles. I am not one bit closer to mind/body oneness. Using words and pictures has been my way to share what made sense, what was (and is) beautiful.

Now, at this moment in time, I’m am bowed. Engulfed. My adherence to this once a week sharing is flailing. When—if—my vision clears and I can make better sense of what I see, I will write and send photos in this space. Now it’s time to breathe, to enter the calm, to repair that which is possible, to enter the convergence of healing we all so dearly need.

#194 Shedding

Shedding.

It was actions that verified the presence of Spring as the weather has been slow to warm although just yesterday I found chives poking their way through the extra mulch I’d used in attempt to give the plants some winter protection. What joy there is in those first signs of new green life poking out of the dirt.

By “actions” I mean I suddenly found myself going through drawers and storage bins looking to discard what had begun to irritate by the late days of full blown winter. Even though the house was still too cold, the state of the too-often-worn favorite wool sweaters had become dreadful so off to the dry cleaners they went and, now cleaned, they are headed to the cedar chest, the summer keeper of all things wool. Soon to go is the outdoor porch furniture destroyed by salt air, needing a final trip to the transfer station’s dumpster. The table and chairs are beyond repair, the layers of peeling rust is unfixable despite my limited budget for replacements. Metal cannot withstand the corrosion that has pitted metal indoor everythings much less any form of metal with outdoor exposure.

It seems like Spring’s urges means everything is up for possible discard. Kitchen towels, stained and fraying, have now been relagated as cleaning rags. What will be the next target? Time runs out on such projects as soon as warmth arrives and we switch to the “time-to-be-outside” mode. Sunshine on skin, even carefully monitored, seems a desperate need about now. 

My guess is your furry companions are also shedding and winter fur and hair is showing up everywhere requiring frequent vacuuming. Have you also been sorting and tossing? (No, not the beloved critters, just the overwhelming evidence of their presence.)

I’d like to shed masking and the resulting damnable foggy glasses which has been a constant annoyance for so long now. How we need to rejoin friends freely and without safety concerns but there are reports of a new variant’s rising. This is when shedding needs thorough thought. A fourth vaccine? (The so called additional ”booster”?) Even with that for us older folk caution is the rule.

Perhaps what needs shedding the most is the darkness of human behavior, allowing the light of kindness and compassion free reign amongst us all. There seems to be endless examples of horrid human behavior and yet worldwide awareness seems to be growing out of the images of the truth of the complete insanity of war. What could possibly be better than a shift to understanding war as a solution for anything? Ever.

#193 Finding Beauty: A Photo Essay

Finding Beauty.

In a wonderful conversation, a friend challenged me on my idea of “Beauty” with the suggestion that finding beauty involved judgement. I had said something along the lines of “beauty was like fuel to me”. By that I meant that noticing beauty feels like random awareness, a visual experience of joy.

Never have I even considered that finding beauty was a process of deciding what was beautiful versus what wasn’t. It has always been, for me, a one way flow. Beauty often appears as a sudden flash, almost always visual.

I understood that if I stuck to using words I would not be able to communicate what is in my heart and mind concerning this subject so it’s off to the photo archives to attempt to illustrate my thoughts with images.

Just look up.

Common Plants.

Just water.

Tree Bark.

Homemade Warm Pie.

Peter and Dana meet in person.

Fungi.

Teensy Tiny Bluets. First spring flower near the house.

Red Tail on a dump run.

Plant Nursery Resident Ducks.

Beach Rock.

Gnarly driftwood.

Beach Dog Joy.

Wavelets.

Ice Storm Car.

Aesthetics at the Airport.

Grocery Parking Lot Sunset.

Ordinary Shell.

Sunset Windows.

Beach Grass.

Lots of Rain.

Getting into my car. Parking Lot.

California Christmas Backyard Picnic.

Wet Leaves on a Morning Walk.

#192 Information

Information.

There seems to be a widening discrepancy in how much information is personally acceptable when horrible events are happening daily. Many feel the need to turn away because of how awful information affects them, physically and/or psychologically. I find myself turning to the opposite view by seeking material presented or written by very knowledgeable people. (The part about the quality of source becomes a critical distinction.) Folks blathering and parroting partially informed or blatantly political propaganda wears everyone out, raises blood pressure, and anxiety levels. “Scholarly” sources change that. I don’t subscribe to the current “everyone’s opinion counts” viewpoint. I don’t think many of us would purposefully seek medical help from someone not steeped in years of training. I honor that same principle when it comes to history or geopolitical complexities. Seeking knowledgeable sources allows me to think then rethink what is going on thus digging beyond, or beneath, the horror. The challenge, of course, is finding such sources.

Here comes my hypocrisy. Within this past two weeks I found myself in a situation that slammed home the point. I had been watching huge flocks of birds gathering daily out in the waters in front of this house. For five years now I’ve been focusing on what I could learn by simply watching the bird (ducks, mostly) behaviors on a daily basis. Other than using ID-ing guides or websites, I avoided delving into wildlife biology or ornithology tomes for deeper information. In other words, I was “using my intuition” rather than knowledgeable sources.

One morning the numbers of birds was extraordinary, larger than I had seen in the five years I have been here. I wanted to post documentation on a fabulous birding site called MAINEBirds on Facebook. I tried for a panoramic photo and failed. Then I tried shooting a video which I couldn’t seem to upload. In the end I sent one of four photos I’d taken of one of the four rafts (the new term I’d learned for such grouping of birds.) I had referred to these large flocks as being Common Eiders, the species I’d watched out there for five years. Immediately I was corrected by someone who had been out here the day before telling me the birds out there were Scoters not Eiders. I reacted badly. 

It took me a few days to understand how I had erred. I’d not used the binoculars to ID those rafts. I made an ill-informed assumption. I wasn’t one hundred percent wrong as at least one of the rafts were Eiders, mostly males. At issue was a piece of information I did not know: apparently Common Eiders have been disappearing along the Maine coast causing much distress and concern among birders, so while I was thinking that the thriving Common Eider flock I’d been watching all this time had actually been taken over by other species, particularly Scoters. I’d committed a classic error: I’d not consulted knowledgeable sources. Now I understand that while I was not completely wrong, I was mostly wrong. 

What does this do to my information gathering theory? It proves to me that each of us cannot be experts, even in some of the things we dearly love. It proves to me that searching for accurate information is critical for understanding be it politics or nature. What we don’t know CAN hurt us as well as others. 

It’s time to get out the crank that enables me to open my mind. It reminds me that sharing good source material by knowledgeable experts is always necessary.

Note:  Here’s the link to a particularly good source for information on the Ukrainian situation. It’s long and worth the reading time.

#191 Tedium: A Privilege

Tedium: A Privilege.

At least it’s March although thinking that March is a lessening of horrid weather was challenged by one of those FaceBook memory things which popped up. I’d written about the March 3rd Nor’easter in 2018, the storm with the 25 foot waves, a reminder that March is never the easiest month of the year.

Years ago I remember first noticing the deepening of the shadows of trees by late February an indication that the sun was gaining strength daily. By March the sun’s rays pack a real punch noticeable where there are good windows facing south or east or generally on porches or in cars. Our bodies instinctively lean in to those brief moments of light’s warmth and strength. This year after having gotten to the other side of January and February arriving in March seemed significant. It has been an unexpectedly hard winter because of frequent dips into bitter cold, perhaps even more difficult then in deep snow years. Heavy snowfalls don’t usually happen in very low temperatures whereas heavy snows come in the warmer 20’s when the snow is full of moisture and heavy to shovel. Deep snow is also soft and quiet. Deep snow can insulate which is in contrast with screaming winds which tear at the plants and trees, blow birds off course, and leave one’s nerves on edge after hard blows for days at a time.

Weather used to be a passion of mine but it turns out to have another side like everything else. Now I relish the sunny days. Hunkering down through long cloudy or stormy days has become a real challenge. Maybe that’s a normal part of aging or perhaps it is more specifically pandemic related. This is where the tedium comes in. Even in the pandemic’s chaotic beginning, beginning in March 2020, I scoffed at hearing mention of the time we’d be “getting back to normal” knowing there would be no such thing. It has taken both luck and attention and work to stay virus free which has also taken a toll. Still, if we or friends, family, and loved ones stayed healthy it was clear that was a blessing. It may be more so as research learns more about the affects of long Covid along with everything else.

Perhaps it was less work living alone (well, nearly alone) than those who had continual daily contact with family but we’ve not yet begun to measure the affects on the isolation of the older population. We are only just beginning to see the edges of what may have come out of remote learning and/or not being physically present in school. We are now seeing the toll of those in their prime working years and those who are part of what now has been labeled “The Great Resignation”. We may not ever catch up with all of this as those of us on the planet now see the looming possibilities of expanded war and nuclear threats. And then there’s the climate issues that are a part of every location.

Tedium is a mark of the fortunate.The days stretch out moving fast and slow both at the same time. Good days can be measured by doing a puzzle on the sun warmed porch. Bad days may mean no driving and watching end of the driveway filling in, a barrier to getting out, while everything else is blown clear. It’s a challenging tracking what day of the week it is. Days and nights run together. Topsy turvy seems normal. 

Is that actually my complaint? To be aware sufficiently to know I am bored with the sameness of things, of the repetitive nature of the days piling into weeks? The world has turned into chaos with flourishes of madness. It’s not always helpful to compare your our lives to the lives of others except when seeing images of people fleeing from tanks and shelling. That clears the head instantly. Tedium has turned into grateful thanks. 

I don’t think many of us thought we’d ever see a land war in Europe. Wasn’t that over by 1946?  What is being unleashed feels unprecedented. We are moving into uncharted territory. 

Tedium may actually be another description for a particular kind of peace, a true blessing.

#190  Vulnerability 

Vulnerability. 

We protect our soft white underbellies with everything we’ve got yet sometimes, there we are, unexpectedly wide open without intention, exposed in ways we don’t think we can handle.

There are good and bad parts about aging. The bad parts you can imagine: physical pain through various ailments; worry when the word you seek slips just out of reach; an entirely different relationship with ice and snow. We all have our lists. The good parts creep up slowly probably so as not to startle us unnecessarily. What if these new insights prove flighty?

There can be such relief knowing you do not, can not, have all the answers. The more you experience the stronger the sense of mystery becomes. Best of all is realizing that not one being on the planet possesses THE answer. To anything. . There are those that might have thoughts on the matter that you’d like to be true but proof positive is not possible regardless of education, status, wealth, fame, or spiritual reference. We each seem to have a capacity to rise to greatness as well as to fall spectacularly often taking others with us.

Ever so slowly I began to realize finding fault with others had far more to do with me and my process than anything someone else brought to the table. I started to hear stories from people I was learning to trust and within those stories was embedded the experiences that had formed who they were. If my personal experience was far different from someone else that meant there was an opportunity to see the world in a different way. What isn’t necessary is to drop what you know or fall into line with their thinking, or to even accept their conclusions. What hearing another’s story allows in us is the realization that if we had been in their shoes (or skin) we might well have reached the very same conclusions, or made the same decisions. We each have our own experience and if that other person had been in your place they might feel as you do now. This isn’t sympathy nor empathy. It is not exactly compassion either, but it  stretches us to a place closer to understanding. 

Thus opens our great vulnerability. The only guarantee is that staying here much more than a century is impossible. We are beholding to others as we grow. We are affected by the actions, thoughts, and words of others throughout our life here and none of us knows with certainty what, if anything, comes before or after. Whether we comprehend the intersections we come to with each other, I most want to believe that we, each and every one of us, are doing the best we can with what we know at any given moment. Yup. Even the bad guys.

What a challenge that thought brings as our world now seems so full of chaos and strife. What can we do when individuals and nations are at each other’s throats? 

I saw a way through a week or so ago, when a contentious conversation moved from throwing g words into telling snippets of our life’s stories to each other. what had been contentious transformed into searching for commonality and connection by the simple process of listening. It was a tiny thing and a huge one all at the same time.

I’ve felt vulnerable since that morning, however, as if too much was revealed, as if too much was at stake. I do not remember what I said nor how it was that I jumped into the middle of the fray. Remorse followed even though my actions had been formed in a place beyond thought, a place I can trust. Now I want to pull myself back into my den; my courage has failed me. Getting anywhere near being judged by others or encountering barriers in communications with others leaves me shaking.  

Will there ever be a time in life, in this here and now, when that particular vulnerability does not carry so much hurt?

# 189 Questions

Questions.

When asked to say something about ourselves to a group of strangers we often begin our reply by naming where we live, or listing our marital status or the number of children we have, or what we do for work. Rather than being a starting point for understanding these fact recitations can easily be pathways for stereotyping, as superficial ways to divide us rather than as a starting point to bring us together.

* How could we alter our standard responses so they might lead to building bridges rather than walls? Could we begin by saying “My favorite color is blue” or “I loved Thai food from my first bite of spicy hot noodles with cucumbers and peanuts sprinkled on top”?

*Could we say “I got a dog when I was ten, a Cocker Spaniel puppy who died because her kennel had been infected with distemper.. It was a lesson on how fleeting, how precious, life was, perhaps before I was ready to understand such things.

”Could we say “I grew up on a large lake and when I was ten I would sit by the water writing poems but my mom never saved even one of them”? Could we say “I once raised pigs and chickens for food and I ate them but some time before I made friends with a cow being raised for meat and when it was slaughtered I never ate it nor did I eat beef for more than twenty years after.” What reasoning made me separate cows from chickens or pigs?

* What information can we use which would open ourselves to connections with one another? Sometimes I think we are all out circling our fields looking for trouble. We seem to want to strengthen our fences or build higher walls, to create impenetrable barriers. Why do we feel we need to do that?

* I’ve noticed recently how often people reference movies as if movies are the reality and our lives are fiction. Why does it feel listening to someone making such references that what is on a screen carries more substance than the elements of his or her own life? Why is it that actors are often mistaken for their characters, their on-screen romances are more real than the spouse and children to whom they return when the filming is over?

* How has money become the determining factor in measuring the worth of a human being? How does anyone arrive at a place where he or she has so much money they think they can do anything they want to others? How did we create a world where one person can amass more wealth than entire nations? Was that vast wealth earned by labor? Creativity? Exploitation? Did we earn it through the work of others? Can you name someone who started out poor who became incredibly rich? How did that person make that happen? Can you think of anyone who managed that path without exploitation? (I can think of only one that might fit this criteria.)

* Why do people in power (which mostly means old men) think they will be in charge forever while others who are also aging find themselves pushed to the edges as their bodies and minds deteriorate? How many really old (mostly) men in politics and government believe they can still effectively hold office into their late seventies, eighties, or more and act of if they believe they never will be replaced despite evidence the world which they once knew is long gone? Their determination to continue the course that they once thought worked actually doesn’t and hasn’t for a very long time. Think of the names of such men, heads of state, incapable of rising to new challenges such as climate change or immigration. Why are they able to hang on to their positions?

* How, after a reasonable course of recorded history, is any one person allowed to make decisions that jeopardize others on a mass scale be it via health care politics, personal grudges, or by starting wars that will displace or kill millions?

*And last, because I am now an old person, why does everyone seem to pretend that everyone here will live forever rather than the absolute that everyone will eventually die? Even when some believe they have a direct line to Truth about this process the beauty is that not one of us here knows the answer to the mystery of whether there is a place we go to or whether we drop into nothingness when our physical bodies cease being.

The rocker Jim Morrison wrote “No one here gets out alive”. That is the only solid truth we know from the moment we come into being. I think of this as a great gift, a mystery, a freedom, which might make a great difference if only we were brave enough to face it.

#188 Wind

Wind.

On a Zoom this week there were traveler’s tales of places and experiences to stretch a limited (most always car bound) explorer’s mind. It reminded me that from a distance we cannot truly experience where we have not stood. There is a quality to the air. There are smells we don’t know. There are foods that are far outside of what we think of as consumable. There are customs, and rules, and etiquettes we never knew existed. But primary are the unexpected norms of topography and weather systems. That is the nature of Geography.

Living in an environment which is new to us it often takes us a long time for a sense of knowing. This only becomes a part of our knowledge much later and only if we pay attention.

In a borderline teensy town in Northern Vermont I learned about wind. The geography was a high plateau and I did not expect that wind would be such a huge part of living in that landscape. Winters there brought snowdrifts that reached above the tops of cars, where impassible drifts blocked the one road in to and out of town.

The spring winds jeopardized new garden plants put in the ground after the last frost and they required protection or the wind would kill them in a matter of days. I used what was available—gallon plastic jugs, over a hundred of them, which I dragged to the garden’s edge by attaching them to a long rope and pulling hard. They were awkward to handle but cheap, gathered from friends who bought store milk for their families.

Each plant had its own jug as a sort of mini greenhouse, anchored by soil packed around its base. The jug was not removed until the stalk of the tomato or pepper plant had become strong and the leaves began crowding one another inside the container. Such accommodations were necessary to grow a family’s food supply under harsh conditions.

My mistakes, my ignorance about weather, of wind and geography, of currents and fast moving air was duplicated or compounded when I moved to Maine’s coast many years after living in Vermont. Once more in this new place I underestimated the power of wind and its incessant battering, particularly in the winter months. Tonight, once again the wind slams into the south side of the house, shaking the walls. Ear plugs would be wise but they would also block out warning signals, although that didn’t work because sometime in the last couple of weeks a very large rock slab was tossed on to the lawn along with quite a substantial scattering of shale shards. Despite my usually hyper alert attention to the possibility of such conditions, I missed the wave or waves that threw these rocks onto the lawn. My guess is that it happened in the dark of night. This evidence increases my awareness that, indeed, the house, our belongings, our very bodies could be similarly tossed by a rogue wave or a too high tide with intensely powerful surf. That’s something to think about. (Or not.)

But still, geographic and weather ignorance can be countered by research. Wind and wave are the two major aspects of a coast’s ecosystem. But winds here exceed my previous experience in landlocked Vermont. Routine winds or gusts of 40, 50, 60 mph or more can happen any time although winter is the most likely season for their appearance on the Northeastern Atlantic Coast. I wonder if I had been born here would these winds still agitate me the way they do as one storm follows another?

Today would have been a “reprieve” day as it was in the 40’s after yet another bout of single digit temperatures. Instead the wind rose and pounded the rocks, the ledge, and the houses facing the water for most of the day. Outdoor time was brief or non-existent.

I am weary but the chances of sound sleep will be iffy without those ear plugs.

#187 There’s Weather Again

There’s weather again.

Who knew that the end of your life years could feel never ending the days follow one after another so much alike they form a bland ball of no beginning and no resolve just the forever rolling of one into the other

What choices would any of us have made if we had understood the magnitude of this coming this house by the sea seemed so inviting so full of opportunities of discovery revelation amalgamation the timeless soothing of wave and sound of shifting color of cloud and water an occasional flight pattern of beloved birds who live here in this place where I have come to borrow solace

Instead there was turbulence of an alternate universe flipped during some night dipped into sudden isolation and seemingly irreversible

I find myself sinking under the weight of myself literally and metaphorically my mind struggling with the most mundane parts of living

I wonder if being so alone is itself enough to make this experience so different from those with contact those still with hope those who have careful purpose with fear itself kept at bay by touch and occasional laughter

Whatever this is I somehow agreed to be here during this time although most days I struggle with why that should be

This should not be about limited footsteps or the movement within a few rooms nearly always too cold even in summer when the longing had been for expansion of thought and a move toward wholeness

This is about denial and limitation
this should not be about a physical body wracked with pain movement so arduous sleep only rarely possible when it is oblivion which is longed for

What is this time outside of time this denial of our humanness which takes such comfort in proximity and hugs and smiles when instead we travel in whorls without meaning without direction unintentional emotional detachment

I guess I’ll go feed the birds a marker of time’s passing as another storm has come the hawk will come again today or tomorrow and will feed itself on the birds whom I entice with seed the painful cycle of survival repeating endlessly

If only I could uncover meaning

#186  Storm and What Comes After.

Storm and What Comes After.

The morning after the storm there was brilliant sunshine sparkling on the waves and the snow drifts. Evidence of high winds were illustrated by the patches of bare ground in close proximity to sculpted drifts. Unexpected, was the still frozen snow inside the house very close to a heating duct and the vent to the clothes dryer which spit out frozen particles when the dryer was turned on.

When fierce winds encounter barriers (like a house built on a rise) the force of impact creates what appear to be mini tornado swirls which slam into whatever stops the forward momentum. When such a wind is carrying a heavy snowfall the results can be dramatic.

This was “merely” a winter nor’easter. It was not a flood or an earthquake that tore the house from its foundation. It was not a fire which consumed everything in its path.   There are so many means of destruction and this latest storm was not anything like that. But still, the following morning when it was All Things Bright and Beautiful outside my spirits were low. 

Hunkering down requires a lot more energy than is obvious. The house was cold and I’d retreated for many hours under warm covers. There were only a brief few minutes of outside exposure in an attempt to video nature’s power. Any exposed skin was in pain after less than three minutes. All clothing was coated in seconds of snow being driven by furious winds. There were no thoughts that movement outside was possible. Attempts at seeing the road from the house confirmed predicted whiteout conditions. The worry about the power holding was an underlying hum.

So where was next day elation that the storm had moved on? Coastal weather systems move more quickly than inland storms, especially the storms that seem to get snagged by mountain tops. Getting through the tough parts on the shore only requires steadfastness for a matter of hours because storms move rapidly when encountering the vast sea. Yet what I felt the following morning was a kind of storm hangover that had nothing to do with alcohol. 

Most of us have had life experiences that required us to be fully on top of a situation. If you’ve experienced an accident or a threat you may have been surprised at your reaction after the event was resolved. Such reactions can manifest physically such as a shaking of the body or a sudden profound cold. “After” can also be manifest by reactions of the psyche, as if you understand in some recess of your being, the crisis is over and you can now let go. 

We often expect too much of ourselves, denying what should be obvious, shutting down as a way to recover and letting go of the bulwark we gathered when it was needed. And those winds? I learned a few days late that a wind gust out here was clocked by someone owning an anemometer at 71 mph.

The road to self-nurture can take a lifetime. We walk it one step at a time.

#185 My Winter’s Discontent

My Winter’s Discontent.

Dull. Repetitive. Endless. Mind Numbing. Isolated

My ruts are running so deeply I feel lost and way over my head. I’m a “go look at the view from the top of the mountain” type of observer and have never had much tolerance for routine or repetition. Thankfully this trait came with a bonus—I have also been really good at keeping myself occupied, My love of puttering and organizing have always kept boredom at bay. Now, the challenge of these bitterly cold days of January are draining my abilities at both seeing long range and staying engaged and occupied. i suspect you are fairing far better than I, especially if you have been living with dearly loved others.

In the first Covid-present winter, the one where we actually began to recognize we were in worldwide trouble, the challenge was to suck it up and do what was right to keep ourselves and others safe but the actual first Covid winter was when the scientists and the medical and public health professionals knew their worst fears were about to unfold. So that makes this Covid Winter #3 and we are depleted and exhausted. But perhaps this is not your experience. if so, is there a chance I could learn from you?

Do you remember that small window between our vaccinations and the beginnings of the Omicron Variant, that almost home free card we thought we possessed which would open our lives back to allowing movement, travel, hugs, and blessedly sacred contact ? That promise, that surge of vaccination hope brought family gathered around Thanksgiving dinners and sped us along toward the current torrent of cases and the realization by many of us who had only known a friend of a friends who had contracted the virus. Now, friends, family, or even ourselves, have contracted the virus. We may have direct knowledge that counters that “it’s like a bad cold” crap. We are seeing breakthrough cases with dire consequences. There is explosive contagion. There is no guarantee whatsoever of an ending to this plague, only continuing evidence that this is one nimble virus determined to stay alive, migrating, and altering it’s invisibility cloak so that reported symptoms almost feel concocted they are so varied. Only they aren’t (concocted, that is). The ways in which this virus can affect a human body challenges the most knowledgeable medical practitioners and it will most likely take researchers years to see the whole picture.

Will a month from now, out of the bitter cold and icy wind grip of January, bring hope and change? Can we hang on until whatever needs to happen, actually happens? 

Throughout this time of pandemic I’ve questioned which age group has taken the brunt of it’s conditions. For a long time I believed it was the young children and the teenagers who had paid the heaviest price. Now I find myself believing it is possible that we elders have lost the most because we have run (or are running) out of time. Three years is a long time when every precious bit of mental and physical health are attempting to hold on. There are nearly daily reports of the passings of those illustrious and great great but it’s not only the greats who are passing in droves. 

Perhaps a leaner, less populated planet is required. I offer no Balm of Gilead, nor can i suggest a magic elixir. My apologies to those who want lightness and laughter as I’m out of both. I crave conversations about serious subjects, examinations of thought that deepens and broadens the sense of existence and the inevitable “why”. This seems as good a time as any to dig deep and ponder.

#184 External Heat

External Heat.

As there seems to be in every part of our lives for a couple of years since the pandemic tossed us all out of our usual orbits, the intensity of this particular January is not yet letting up. It was 1 degree last night with a 30-40 mph wind, as cold as I’ve experienced elsewhere where that kind of weather was routinely anticipated. This morning sea smoke was blowing faster than the moving waves beneath it, while off shore gusts were pushing additional sea smoke perpendicularly against that flow. It was beautiful to watch because there was brilliant sunshine and iridescent waves.

I have taken to speculating if this beautiful house by the ocean was built as a summer residence or if the timing of the build put it before the awareness, so hard earned in the oil crisis of the 1970’s. The windows on the north and west sides of the house are single paned and the insulation is not up to current standards. I know that because those winds flow through the walls. Forced air heat cannot possibly keep the house even remotely warm under such conditions. The gas insert in what was a wood burning fireplace has a electrical blower but that room also has a cathedral ceiling with a long since dead ceiling fan and that room is the location of the one thermostat for the whole house. Using the fireplace means the heat generated from it is the cause of no heat getting to the other rooms in the house. In addition the room where I sleep has two heating ducts neither of which is operational. It may be the coldest room in the house also because the staircase to the basement level of the house which has loads of leaks with zero weather stripping and large gaps above interior doors off the garage spaces runs right next to my room’s entrance.

As an aging person my body has lost its ability to generate heat. Recently in an AARP publication there was an article that stated older people need to live where the temperature is in the 68-70 degree range. I know a number of older people attempting to live with their thermostats set at 62 degrees or lower. At 62 hypothermia is a possibility but heating costs and environmental concerns far exceed the possibility of using fossil fuels to keep a living space that warm.

From having lived in even colder geographies than coastal Maine my wardrobe still contains a number of thick wool sweaters and I’ve a good number of sets of long underwear which can now be worn in public as leggings as well as under those sweaters. Wool helps even if my drier skin is now itchy upon direct wool contact. None of the usual merchants carry wool goods any longer with the exception of occasional wool socks popping up. I speculate on possible reasons for this wool garment shortage and have settled on the cost and availability of wool as well as having the skills to care for wool garments, hardly a toss in the washer-dryer thing. Climate change does not mean the need for warmth has passed. On the contrary, it is meaning that climatic conditions are becoming more erratic and more extreme, with wild swings of both colder and hotter.

Does owning your own home help? Yes or no, depending on your retirement income and backup funds. When younger and far more mobile did you include the possibility of pandemic conditions where staying in your own space 24/7 was going to be a requirement? If you kept up with newer technologies in HVAC you may be better prepared than most. Heat pumps are being installed everywhere but I’m not knowledgeable enough to know if they can help during severe bouts of cold and heat. Wood heat is now a no no in many places because of particulate pollution. I carry permanent lung damage because of smoke inhalation along with fond  memories of being that warm on -20 degree days plus the marvelous experience of cooking on a wood fueled kitchen range.

There are wisely sound folk now living in net zero houses. Not nearly enough of them. Are those houses toasty? 

I’m doing what I can but on many days it is not enough so I climb under covers with an electric blanket mid-day.

How are you getting through this winter?

#183 Still

Still.

Not much moves outside
between three and four
in the morning 
when it’s 4 degrees.

I’m up wandering the house
in the darkness,
the cold air in the room
is finding its way
under the covers
keeping me from sleep.

I tuck my bare feet
under the kitchen cabinet
next to the heating duct
blowing hot air
from the furnace,
after checking the unheated porch,
with the frigid tile floor,
just wanting to see if it is
below freezing out there.
Almost. Not quite.

There’s cloud cover tonight
no stars
but instead
a bright moon
How can it be so cold
with overcast skies?

In the early gray morning 
the little birds will come
to the feeders needing fuel
to stay warm.
I hope the hawk stays clear
so there will be
no more fluffy pale feathers 
in clumps to sweep up
along with
the empty shells
of sunflower seeds and peanuts.

The birds, 
hawk included,
need protein 
We humans need
the sweet juice
of oranges 
or grapefruit 
or lemons 
shipped from warmer places, 
miracles of modern life.
Our bodies need
vitamin vibrant citrus
in these long days of winter 
especially this year.

Still.
This new form
of virus seemingly 
passes through walls
so once again
we huddle alone  
day after day
without knowing
what comes next.,
ReplyForward

#182 Self-care

Self Care.

I missed posting last Friday. I doubt you noticed. Even I barely noticed which I’m using as a measurement of just how difficult this January is becoming. Covid is now reported by everyone with whom I am in contact—friends, family, neighbors, loved ones. It seems to be everywhere, swirling through closed doors, through walls.

Our human proclivity to get stuck in previous modes of thinking is up against a highly nimble virus. As the pandemic began we struggled to change what we knew and what we did so when the developing Omicron Variant was described as “highly contagious” we thought we understood what that meant. Did we foresee this?

The last nearly two years has been a steady buildup of challenges with politics turning dire in tandem with the expansion of the Covid-19 virus. At the same time climate / weather / environmental pile-ons are turning impressive. This morning it’s 4 degrees with a wind on Maine’s southern coast which is not that common. This does not appear to be one of those Januarys when we can think we got away with something.

The intensity is bringing a lot of us to our knees wondering what we can do to counter the onslaught, to find ways to ease up and have a moment or two here and there to recharge or reconnect if only for a little bit. I am longing for connection to nature’s warmer, softer, easier moments.

I have some thoughts on the subject so here are my ideas of some ways to allow yourself a tiny reconnect.

The first suggestion is to go to your local grocery (or online for curbside or delivery) and choose a glorious piece of fruit, not the kind that comes in bags, but an individual piece, particularly an organic one, an “are you kidding me?” price tag piece of fruit you usually pretend isn’t even there. As this is definitely not local fresh fruit season suspend your restrictions concerning “rules”. It is citrus season and clementines, satsumas, cara cara oranges, and all the rest are available. Even better are the organic large dark red grapefruits (no I don’t mean the Ruby Reds but the really dark red ones, so red you can see the interior color even through their thick skins). Soon to come will be Sumo oranges. Haven’t tried these? Usually buy a bag of whatever is on sale? Just for this moment find something just for you that is enough to trigger a reminder of nature’s warmer, bountiful side. Allow yourself the pleasure of reconnect in the form of a small vitamin surge moment. Toss aside guilt or need of sacrifice. Forgo the bag of chips that would cost more anyway and wouldn’t taste nearly as wonderful.

The second or alternative suggestion is to buy yourself a flower, or a plant, or a bunch of flowers. It can require creativity to transport a live item safely home in frigid conditions but that’s part of the fun. Allowing yourself fresh flowers indoors in the winter is another way to reconnect. Flowers make me smile every time I looked at them. Put them in a spot on a table, close enough so you can whisper your thanks for their beauty every time you pass by. Think this is hooey? You might be surprised.

There are other less direct ways to reconnect with nature’s bounty of course. You can allow yourself an exploration of the “bath, beauty, and wellness” section of the store (or online) in the form of face creams, body lotions, soaps or shampoos that you would not usually consider. Remember these are not ordinary times and you are after a just a few moments of respite and a trigger for a memory of nature’s natural bounty. Walk past the cheap-normal-commercial-utilitarian stuff and head to the “boutique” section. If you are shopping in a health food type store you will have little trouble identifying where the treat stuff is shelved.

It is possible, even in these hard times, to bite into a crisp apple or a soft pear (you’ll have to carefully watch for the perfect moment of ripening) or a fabulous burst of citrus. It is possible a moment of contact with a bloom can inspire awe. The goal is to have a moment out of the daily presence of winter, to remind yourself that you have the ability to look out for yourself and provide an opportunity of forgetting all but one single out of time, out of pandemic, non-January, non-frigid weather moment.

What can you find to transport yourself if only for a pinprick of time, a tastebud of other, a eye view of beauty? Consider sharing.

Bask in what’s doable.

#181   Fruit

Fruit.

We’ve reached the point in the agricultural year where fruits and vegetables are not dependable either in quality nor freshness. What an obnoxious, privileged statement that is in a time where food insecurity is a major issue all over the world. Long ago when my unused (cold) bedroom was piled with squashes and onions and the basement freezers were packed full of homegrown garden produce I don’t think I gave any of this much thought but over the years when I had no garden access nor time nor muscles to grow my own I came to depend on what I could purchase locally. In the summer that meant that I ate primarily from the farmer’s markets and farm stands. I knew what a good deal that was, even when the prices seemed high, because I could buy just what I needed rather than having to process 60 foot rows of a particular vegetable all ripening at the same time. 

Although “fresh” and “local” have become rallying cries in so many places, winter is a still hard slog. There are, of course, winter farmer’s markets but I tire easily of the root vegetables so prevalent this time of year. The oddity is even if you live in an area which prides itself on its agricultural goods you may actually have a hard time finding what you want, in season or outside of it. Much of the best of the locally grown products go to upscale restaurants even in pandemic times. 

It will be late May or later before the chocked-full-of-vitamins produce begins to show up. Long distance travel plays havoc with vitamin content as you well know. In the meantime we can be grateful that in the Northern Hemisphere this is citrus season and the introduction of Mandarins, Satsumas, and Sumos can certainly help with our Vitamin C requirements. Salads in bags are still in the grocery stores of course. There are better tomatoes than used to be available but really, this isn’t prime salad season and expectations that match what you were able to make in August will fail.

In other places and times I’ve been known to drive quite a few miles in the snowy months to stand in the produce section of a really wonderful (but still very small) grocery store just for the infusion of color. You would not believe how long a person can stray from pile to pile of colored fruits and veggies when the craving is that bad. The prices were often so high I did not buy much but some gardener bleed-through from long ago just needed proximity and the reminder that spring would come around again bringing its progressions: strawberries, raspberries, apricots, peaches, nectarines, apples, and finally pears which have gotten me through most of December. I’ve left out many and probably your favorites but oh the juice of a fully, naturally, ripened piece of fruit! It acts like a pulley trying to transport us to what comes after winter. 

#180 Expansion



Expansion.

Compassion and empathy are words frequently associated with Mindfulness and Meditative practice. I’m all in favor of the possibilities inherent in this work. I am, however, wary that any of us without direct and impactful experience in what we are trying to understand come up against a deep flaw in the very fabric of being human. Even when we have had difficulties or traumas in our lives we are apt to project our experience as an overlay when trying for empathetic connections with others.

I am recognizing that the key needed to truly experience empathy or compassion with another is deep listening with our heart and mind pried open. This is merely the opener. To be able to be empathetic to another we have to trust both them and ourselves. We must possess caring, resonance, and love to truly hear and begin to comprehend. Only when we can deeply listen can we absorb that which might actually make a difference. When we think we need to jump in with words or with actions or (heaven help us) with advice we may well be missing the point. Being able to give another our full attention may be the best we can ever give another being.

We are living in a time with every manner of mixed messages flying through the air waves. Even trying for honesty within ourselves is difficult—how often do we try to fool ourselves into believing selfish motivations are actually for the benefit of all? We are so accustomed to canned messages, corporate speak, political rhetoric, and words meant to gloss over the truth of the situation.  Being spoken to in this dishonest way fools no one yet no one calls this “newspeak” out for the lies that are at the heart of its very nature. 

Heart listening is the way to arrive at compassion, empathy, and truth. Watch for it. Practice it. It allows amazing comprehension you would not have believed possible even when you are listening to stories or experiences far beyond your own perhaps even extending into what you believe to be oppositional to your own ways of being. Even when being in a state of awareness, heart listening is a challenge. Transcending our corporeal reality takes a lot of practice and a lot of trust and love. But the moments where we succeed are soaring and worth every bit of effort expended.

#179 The Progression of Short Days

The Progression of Short Days

By 3:30 p.m. the light is fading fast. For days spent alone in the house occupying myself with chores and maintenance, I suppose that is all right but I miss the light. Sunrises have been spectacular all week with broad teal strokes balancing among the deep orange reds prior to the sun’s rise over the horizon. The earliest light of course has the deepest coloring; the sky and clouds still the darkest black without the illumination soon to come. We march toward the Solstice and it seems it is possible to witness the diminishment of daylight daily.

Next week that changes and we have the psychological uplift of knowing we are adding minutes of daylight every day that passes from now until the Summer Solstice in June, in which the daily decrease of light is barely noticeable given the number of hours (not minutes) that each day provides. That changes of course but it takes until October to have the shortened hours of daylight really starting to make a difference.

It strikes me that in this year of 2021 and in 2020 and perhaps for some years ahead there is a corresponding diminishment of light in the form of awareness and human behavior. “These are Dark Times” is heard or read repeatedly and I do not dissent from that position. For those of you dedicated to the Happiness Doctrine my apologies, but for me the trite saying “If you are not depressed you are not paying attention.” rings with truth. Surely there are moments of joy but the “big picture” has many dire aspects, “opportunities for growth” if you are bound and determined to stick to the positive despite all evidence to the contrary.

The best books, especially the best books for children and teens, often have a Dark Vs.Light thematic running through them. My favorite, The Dark is Rising Series by the author Susan Cooper lays this out brilliantly for younger and older readers alike but we were all swept into this stream by Peter Jackson’s film version of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Perhaps, if I had had the stomach for the violence, I would have also found this theme in The Game of Thrones. What these sagas have in common is that the Dark and the Light always—eventually—balance out. Star Wars worked on this same theme. This is our Dark Time but there will be another time ahead when Light returns. The catch is how long these periods last. This particular Dark Time does not bode well for those of us who are aging. There’s a good chance that the clock will run out before the tide turns. Is this a cause for despair? Perhaps not. It all depends if there is or what something there is after this. We won’t know until we get there.

The best use of these short, dark days is traditionally a time for introspection, calm, and rest. In that case stay away from media during this time and ignore (???) the past two years of isolation and confinement.

In any case I suggest candles (beeswax preferred, careful of noxious substances and cheapo chemicals used for scent) and do find some time during the night hours to view the stars and the planets. Feeling small and insignificant is underrated. Contemplation on the very very Big Picture is a useful way to spend time as the cycle turns and light begins to return.

# 178 Big Picture

Big Picture.

From this morning’s ocean there rose sea smoke, the steam that’s created because the air temperature is colder than the water. The first snowfall came in the form of morning-to- early afternoon flurries, predicted to be light, but leaving the ground white and the road and all paved surfaces surprisingly slippery. I’m sure many were happy to welcome this pre-Christmas promise if things to come.

I’d taken down the bird feeders over the summer; there are sound reasons to do so. There may be more sound reasons not to supplementally feed the birds at all but the small birds offer great comfort at this time of year. The sparrow flock that seemed to have done well increasing their numbers over their breeding season went elsewhere when the food sources here were depleted. The crow family, now up to six or maybe seven, have taken to coming by in the morning checking for possible treats. They have been in luck as I’d found peanuts in a large bag, the human non-salted kind in the shell but soon they will have to find their treats elsewhere as the price of peanuts, indeed all bird feed, has increased exponentially. That has not stopped expensive bags of feed flying off the shelves of suppliers however, proving that the pandemic has not affected all equally in terms of economics. Perhaps the spring-summer sparrow residents found a well supplied backyard which would insure their winter survival.

The day of the snowfall a lone mourning dove, feathers fluffed for warmth against a cold and biting wind, was sitting forlornly on the porch railing. Of course by the time I got a full feeder out there the dove had gone, believing perhaps that this was no longer a place to find food. I may have erred in delaying so long in putting out seed. In the last day or so a blue jay came by and a couple of other small birds whose coloring could not be clearly seen in the gloomy north light on the porch. I think it may be a long wait before other species find what I have put out for them. The open exposure here combined with the proximity of the water means a rough fly in on most winter days. Fierce wind is nearly a constant in this, my least favorite month in my least favorite season. I’ve come to believe I can feel the wind blowing through this house which was built just prior to the late 70’s oil crisis that precipitated increased inches of added insulation as a cost effective way to retain heat. This is my reconstruction of something that may not be true at all. What I know is daily I dress in multiple layers of wool and fleece but the cold reaches my bones anyway. This is a deceptively fierce place, where summer’s fried seafood consumed above the rocks is a happy tradition and memory for the throngs of summer visitors.

I believe I’ve said this before: the ocean is wilderness. There may be those making their livelihoods from what comes from the sea in the form of hard and hearty locals lobstering or fishing or those working on huge container ships I see on the horizon waiting to head into port to deliver their steel cases full of goods they are transporting, or those working on the oil tankers that always seem to me to be threatening for precarious shores. The sailboats and pleasure boats are dry docked or have gone elsewhere. Winter days means rough water, too rough to be out there for any reason other than absolute necessity and mostly not out there at all.

I sit on the edge of this slim and marginal band along rock and water that shows it’s darker side for so many long months of cold. There is always beauty of course but the other side of it’s reality is more than a little inhospitable for both little birds and humans .