#131 Among Trees

Among trees.

This winter has brought walking in the woods as a balm for life cooped up inside. I doubt I would have ever ventured among trees without the presence of a friend who has an affinity for trees.

Years ago, I’d learned to sugar in northern Vermont. We’d start when the snow was deep, tapping trees and hanging buckets. Gathering sap was done the hard way, moving from tree to tree carrying heavy, sloshing pails then dumping the sap into the holding tank sitting atop the dray pulled by the tractor. When the sun’s warmth began to melt the snow on the south side of the trees it meant the lifeblood of the tree would begin flowing upward through the trunk but the freezing temperatures of the night would send the sap down back into the roots. The more miserable the weather, the longer this ebb and flow of cold to warm then cold again, the more the sap would run and then syrup could be drawn off in the sugar house. The only part of the operation I never learned was being the sugar maker, the boiler. Responsibility for staying awake throughout the night carefully monitoring the fuel supply and keeping an anticipatory eye on the large “pans” so they, and the sugar house, did not burn was a job only for experts.

Throughout the whole sugar season my joy came from being in the woods feeling the transition from winter into spring. Having started in hip deep snow, terrible to walk through, and ending up in shirt sleeves washing and stacking buckets as warmth began creeping in at the end of the season was brutal, satisfying, work. I doubt many still sugar this way as tubing, suction pumps or gravity feeds took the place of human bodies willing to swap hard labor for only the precious brown sweetness and the utter joy of collective labor that was so much a part of farming in all seasons. Now there are few hardscrabble family farms left and climate change with wild temperature swings makes maple sugaring precarious.

At that time of my life, the woods were also a playground when on skis, the cross-country propel-yourself kind. Being on wooded hillsides in February cutting our own trails there was often an unexpected warmth, the exertion of muscle under wind protected tree cover often felt like a balmy Vermont winter version of a beach day.

Now in old age as walking has become difficult, moving through the woods with the patience of a friend making it possible, I carefully place each step and I breathe. I move ever so slowly with senses open. The smell of the woods changes with the types of trees and their proximity to one another. Deeply green mosses surprise, the bright color such a contrast to the brown leaf litter underfoot. This year there has been the blessing of a snow drought causing angst for skiers and utter joy for those of us able to escape being stuck inside in this time of pandemic distancing. 

The privilege of being in winter woods brings indescribable joy. The seemingly endless configurations of downed trees, the striations of bark, the signs of beaver along a pond with left behind stumps looking like they were ground by giant pencil sharpeners and the large chipped holes in dead or dying trees made by woodpeckers looking for insect protein are sources of delight. The wonderfully fresh air filling nostrils shriveled by dry heated indoor substitutions for real air brings life to tired bones, hearts, and weary minds so anxious to be clear of the sound of incessantly droned media worries. 

“Come to me” sing the trees. Bring your troubles and deposit them at our base so we can carry them upward to light and air and freedom. 

 

# 130 Presence

Presence.

While on a Zoom class on a Blurday afternoon I found myself looking away from the screen and out the windows. The ocean was heaving, rising swells crashing on rocks, whomping like it had been doing since the night before. “It’s a presence”, I thought, “a living breathing presence”, but that is as far as I could get with metaphors.

The ocean is so close, yet it’s not a neighbor with an unpredictable temper prone to occasional bouts of drink and rage. It’s not a relative, or friend, or housemate and its moods cannot always be forecast by NOAA. The ocean is such a vast unfathomable there there. Yet it is constant motion, water as wildly unpredictable as its cohorts earth, fire, and air. Oceans, like other components of planet earth, like mountains, like vast forests, like endless prairie, remind those in proximity of our own puniness. We are not a drop in the bucket of such energy and this alone is a compelling reason to live on such edges. Vastness keeps one humble, keeps us within the lines of our own coloring book as we fill in each day’s spaces. 

Recently I have been thinking of how both great and small water is, endlessly responsive and never resistant, the slightest energy shift  of anything can cause variations of movement ranging from nearly placid to as close to unhinged fury as I’m ever going to experience unless I put myself in a boat on its surface. (Not likely. That I leave to braver souls.)

I started writing this blog in an attempt to use words and corresponding images to try to give a glimpse into what daily, year round proximity to the ocean felt like, to expand awareness of “ocean”. I was gifted the opportunity to live out my wildest dream with a front row seat yet four years into this experience and I have barely nudged my own comprehension. It is beyond addiction. It is like tethering oneself to an out of control force field. It is exhilarating but often exhausting, in winter especially. Sometimes after days of pounding my psyche feels bruised, my head wants quiet, my sketchy sleep wants oblivion but that’s not part of this. The ocean teaches absolutely that it is not, and never will be, about me. 

# 129 Moral? Ethical ?

Moral? Ethical?

I watched a beautiful Cooper’s Hawk concealed within the bare tree branches very near the feeders. A patient, watchful, no doubt hungry hawk sat waiting for the little birds to come for breakfast as they do nearly every morning. She/he sat for a long time without any other birds in sight until a FedEx truck turned around in the parking lot and flushed the hawk from its hiding-in-plain-sight spot. A bird feeding station becomes a hawk feeding station. All bird lovers learn that there are far more little birds than raptors and that everyone needs to eat. It’s nature’s way. Accepting this in real time in front of you is a wholly different matter.

The beautiful white-with-spots Snowy Owls come down from their far northern summer grounds of Canada [irruptions] to the northern latitudes of the U.S. in the winter. They, too, are looking for food. As they are birds of the tundra they like wide open areas, marshes, long stretches of beach, or airports; vast flat areas with long sight lines. They sit still for extended periods of time perched in higher places (chimneys, tall poles, or sometimes merely rises on the ground) waiting for rodents to resume their normal scurrying. This gives avid photographers a lot of time to stalk a perfect Snowy capture, that odd term photo buffs use for a good photograph. When Snowy’s are disturbed by too avid shutterbugs they fly off without a successful hunt. Emaciated, starving owls sometimes end in wildlife rehab centers, or at least the “lucky” ones do and they make it. Others die in this habitat as a result of trophy hunting by those wanting to get their “shot”, each feeling entitled to do this despite the obvious reality that getting sufficient food is why the Snowy is there in the first place. The the code of conduct guidelines for birders is that if you’ve flushed a bird or if whatever the bird is doing in it’s habitat is disturbed, you are too close. For birders, that’s the purpose of very expensive binoculars or scopes. “Serious” photographers also have equally long lenses but now they want to get close enough for tight head shots, focused eye details,  or close ups of talons thus eliciting social media and Facebook group members to swoon and praise.

Trophy hunting is always putting the wants, the desires, of the human before basic needs of wildlife survival. There is only the thinnest of lines separating camera and gun when the lives of the wildlife are at stake. Photographers protest such a stand as extreme but if their objects of desire die as a result of their actions, is it?

The elected leaders of the nation go golfing and skiing over a Christmas holiday as the pandemic guidelines require everyone to stay home. Do what I say not what I do “ leadership”. Cases spike alarmingly upward. The government heads are on vacation while vaccine distribution is not yet detailed, stranding potentially life saving help in warehouses. Congress passes a mere sketch of financial assistance as families are evicted, unemployment benefits lapse, and children go hungry. This legislation goes unsigned for days as the petulant president clings to fantasies of retribution towards those who accept reality. I am not writing divisive political commentary; this is an observation of breakdown and chaos, of unnecessary hardship and loss. 

How do we measure our individual morality or ethics? It seems as even the most mundane parts of daily existence are now laced with ethical chaos. What is safe? How do I get food and other necessities? How to I prevent exposure and how do I make certain that I am not an unknown spreader? Every choice of staying in or going out or desperately wanting to see family, friends, and loved ones can be a life or death matter. 

We have arrived at a time of ethical and moral upheaval. Exhausted and drained by nearly a year of unknown onslaughts our greatest challenges are still ahead. How we handle every choice we make is up to us and it can and will make all the difference in the world.

Irruptions: See https://valleyforgeaudubon.org/2020/11/22/what-is-a-bird-irruption/#:~:text=Bird%20irruptions%20follow%20

#128 Looking Forward, Looking Back



Looking Forward, Looking Back.

Glasses raised, a toast is made welcoming the New Year at a Solstice party hosted by my daughter’s friend at my daughter’s house in San Francisco. Good riddance to 2019 which hadn’t been a great year for most of us there, friends and strangers gathered together and expressing hope for the year to come: 2020. 

This memory gives me caution as I read and listen (via Zoom) the hopes expressed for this horrid year’s ending and the turn to 2021. I stay silent, as I’ve played Debbie Downer one too many times since last March. I won’t list here my causes for concern, my awareness of astrological transits that hint broadly of more immediate troubles to come.

My focus at this moment concerns the range and extremity of recent storms. Since October there has been a string of destructive weather, particularly in the form of high wind damage. A wide spread nor’easter dumped a lot of snow and, out here by the water, there were totally bare patches of ground just feet away from a five foot snow drift that engulfed the outdoor staircase to the house. The driveway was blown clean, my car didn’t not require even a mitten’s worth of brushing, yet at the place where the driveway meets the road the snow piled deep into a concrete consistency that held fast to all four tires of my housemate’s SUV. It took the substantial truck of the plow guy  to free it. 

A couple of weeks later a storm blew up from the south, the 3rd, 4th, 5th (?) storm since late September to come from that direction. On Christmas Day it was 55 degrees with torrential rain bands, and 65 mph wind gusts. When it was over the snow had vanished. Bits of green grass could be seen in the mud. Beside where that staircase pile of snow had been there were pale green day lily nubs protruding from the ground looking like they were waiting for a spring rain. 

Every one of us can share examples of extremes of climate and their effects on our lives. Like so much of what we have been going through we understand that now, nothing is predictable. Human behavior has altered what we once knew and took for granted. Now we are beginning to understand that Nature is reacting and we are not (as if we ever were) in control. 

So much has needed our attention, injustices gone untended, the distribution and accumulation of wealth and poverty showing unprecedented ranges, divisions by class, gender, and politics pushing beyond any sense of reason or logic. I have much faith in the rectification of such dire ills. I don’t expect to live to see the eventual outcomes, the long range benefits of our current disruptions, but I am certain they will come. In the meantime we are, literally and figuratively, going to be in rough seas. My future hope is far stronger than my past rage. Divisional politics has run out of time. Our only choice is to pull together to find ways to meet each challenge as it comes. Much will be lost but there is much to be gained. 

The past is over. There is only the present moment headed into the future of Now. 

 

 

 

# 126 Believing the Unbelievable

Believing the Unbelievable.

What if the United States military really was concealing hard evidence that UFO’s and aliens have visited our planet? This may not be such a stretch for many who already firmly hold this belief, but I am an agnostic on this particular subject so it seems reasonable to ask: “If this was proven how would the information change your life?” How does seemingly unbelievable belief alter our lives?

Human history is filled with examples of world wide pandemics or plagues, the last one in 1918, a time in which your grand or great-grandparents were likely to have been alive, yet we have faced the current coronavirus as if we have been singled out, as if all that came before and was written down didn’t exist, as if the rules for preventing a pandemic virus’s spread did not apply to us, even if most of this was known in 1918. What good is a history we do not know, or know and still think it is not applicable to us? Is this our ignorance of our past or another example of an unbelievable belief?

In trying to understand even in some small way the disconnect of current alternative realities, my first thought was to think of Mass Hysteria as a possible way of describing our disconnect. I first thought of the Salem Witch Trials  but even light searching of the subject proved my lack of historical depth. The massive hysteria of witch accusation involving the murder of mostly (but not entirely) women occurred in various European locations from the 1400’s into the 1600’s prior to the Salem trials (1692-93) in America. Mass hysteria, or mass psychogenic illness, or collective obsessional behavior, shows up repeatedly in various forms, places, and times and involve truly interesting behaviors, interesting enough for you to do some searching yourself. Plausible reasons for such behaviors continue to emerge, as do these oddly curious hysterias. Will Mass Hysteria someday be used as a tag for what has happened these past years in current American politics?

The questions loomed larger than my capacity fo research and understanding. My tired brain wanted escape so I began binge watching the TV series “Merlin” made originally by the BBC. Immersing myself in Arthurian legend felt like a sure way to bypass the ever present mind loops searching for reasonable explanations concerning our current political and pandemic situations. Instead of escape, I was gobsmacked by the concept of Enchantment, a magic spell cast upon the unknowing, creating behaviors that would never be probable under ordinary circumstance. Enchantment! A plausible explanation for our current reality divide even more applicable than Mass Hysteria? Is a large scale, modern, enchantment possible? What sorcerer could have conjured the spell? (Don’t confuse the deliverer with the conjurer).

We don’t know where behaviors and beliefs of Americans are headed. The divides seem profoundly bleak, the road to repair steep and long. Will answers, solutions, eventually emerge? Needed are varieties of ways of seeing, of expansion, of inclusion, ways to break out of defined and acceptable channels.

Fairy Tales seem more relevant now than ever. Morality tales are useful reminders of what drives the human spirit. If you aren’t already a fan, you might want to wander off to the fantasy section if you can find a bookstore or library still open. Use online sources if needed and go searching for fantasy films and books looking for a reminder of how such powerful, imaginative, stories illuminate what may seem beyond us.

Tales of the Dark Verses the Light are quite the eye opener.

#124 Prayer


Prayer.

In the shower this morning under the stream of hot water pouring over stiff places, I realized this is where I say my daily versions of what I call “Prayer”. I intend no irony or blasphemy in calling it such although I understand that for those with disciplined religious practice, my use of this term might offend. Mine is a highly individualized and (perhaps) quirky version of Spirituality. I have been terrible at discipline my entire life although that didn’t apply when it came to education, profession, or projects where I have been capable of  hard focus driven by love and directed purpose be it through knitting, homesteading, gardening, photography, or things connected to my love of books and the world of information sharing. For me work has often been a form of prayer.

I recognized my morning shower thoughts as “Prayer” first, because every shower brings gratitude that I live in a time where instant hot water streaming from a faucet is a great privilege. It’s almost as if I had traces of memories where hot water was never a given much less available so easily, so I consciously give Thanks for its daily presence. From there the movement into other forms of prayer, prayers for family and friends or for others in the midst of trouble of one kind or another Lately there are prayers for healing the divisions that have so plagued our nation and elsewhere. Much prayer seems needed.

Giving Thanks, a different form of prayer, goes on throughout the day as my eyes catch sight of critters, waves, clouds, light, horizon, or color. Each and every awareness is a gift. Nature is my framework for Spirituality. The small and the vast and all the ranges in between resonate with reminders of the consciousness of creation, the connected flow that runs through all. That’s about as specific as I can be.

In tough times both gratitude and prayer seem sorely needed, a way to stay alert to all that is precious in our lives. When being together physically is not possible I am even more thankful that this path I’ve taken seeking Spiritually was offbeat, divergent and personalized. My version of Church, Synagogue, Mosque, or Temple is without walls and not linked to others in sharing the experience, but I am deeply hopeful for all those in houses dedicated to Prayer, those who follow a much more straightforward path than my own.

#123 A Beautiful Life.

A Beautiful life.

A relative-by-choice lost his father recently. Close to dying he told his daughter that he had lived a beautiful life and was ready to go. He was 100.

The words and thought stay with me. Would most of us choose “beautiful” as our life’s summation descriptor? Any skepticism i might have once had is tempered by the extraordinary people I have gotten to know in their 80’s and 90’s, a time I think may hold a gifted opportunity for transformation. 

What does it take to get past the perilous years of failing health, of increasing pain, and the sorrow of losing so many you love? In my mid-seventies, the view of these extraordinary elders seems as if the finest grit sandpaper has polished their senses to a burnished bright energy, a sheen of clarity we often refer to as “wisdom”. What stands out is an awareness, finally, of what essences of life are truly important, love, above all, tempered by a great forgiveness of imperfection. And yet this view does not suffer fools nor accept dark deeds, but urges all of us to rise to our highest natures citing examples of what might still be possible.

Our impatient culture seems to hold little tolerance for gray or white heads as they go about  their days moving slowly as older bodies require. The aged are often seem as using up resources more readily needed by those who are younger. Little do those passing understand the polished gemstones hidden in plain sight. 

 

#122 When Darkness Comes

When darkness comes.

After the time change in November the already fading daylight quickens leaving most all of us complaining about the onslaught of night long before we are ready, as early as 3:30 in the afternoon in the farther north regions of the lower forty eight.

What’s less often mentioned is the early beginning of daylight. I find myself restlessly awakening at 5 or even 4 a.m. as first light shows in the sky above the Atlantic Ocean. The house is cold at this hour, reflecting the deep chill seeping through the walls and windows. It’s far too early to rise from the bed, far too early to crank up the heat. It’s so much cheaper and more energy efficient to confine the heating to the bed itself, to stay tucked and toasty in that tiny space for as long as possible. Staying in bed of course is possible in retirement, when not only do I not have to go to work but I also can set appointments for later in the day.

You’d think that staying tucked under the covers would be delightful but the truth is that the situation involves tight cocooning, the air is so chilled an arm attempting to hold a book or an iPhone means a really cold appendage.

Restless under the covers I watch the light play among whatever clouds are on the horizon, first in black and grays, and as the sun nears the horizon the first color begins to show, the intensity of it most dramatic in the earliest stages of rising. Sometimes in that early darkness the lights of a boat headed out to sea resembles an illuminated ball without detail. How cold is it out there moving across the water?

Almost every morning seascape is a vast horizontal painting, a 180 degree view, but the thought of warm feet hitting the icy floor keeps me watching wrapped in blankets. The camera sits on the desk neglected and chilled.

#121 Creatures of Habit

 

Creatures of Habit.

As is the pattern of my life I woke around 4 a.m. Perched on the edge of the bed looking out towards the ocean at such a dark hour there were only faint traces of moon shadow on the porch. As I looked toward the water I realized I was seeing irregular flashes of white light. No thunderstorms were in the area which gave me a slight moment of panic thinking that something might be wrong with my eyes, except that the flashes of light were irregular and from different locations. After a few moments of watching (without my glasses) I realized that I was seeing flashes from a phone taking pictures of the ocean. Someone was out on the rocks in the wee hours of the night. Slowly I recognized pools of round yellow moving patches, a flashlight illuminating the rocks as the person moved along the water’s edge.

In the four years I have lived here I’ve never seen anyone out on those rocks after dark. Those with fishing poles usually push the limits of natural light but they retreat when true darkness falls. Of course it is highly probable that others have been on the rocks while I was sleeping. Only in cold winter when an icy coating slickens all surfaces have I truly not seen humans along the jagged shoreline. The pull to be as close to the power of the water is constant yet surprising when the tide is exceptionally high and waves are huge. Diligence has to be paid at all moments, the need of awareness of an escape route ever present because the rocks are daunting and access to patches of higher ground in front of the few houses out here are widely spaced. The rule holds: “Never turn your back on the ocean”.

The most interesting part of all of this has been my assumption that no one would want to be out among those rocks in the darkness. Long ago a Somali friend who grew up near the ocean in Mogadishu told me that in his country it was believed that bad spirits came out of the ocean at night so no one who lived nearby would go near the water after dark. Darkness to humans means fear of what might be lying in wait. Is darkness still fearful in modern life or has light pollution robbed us of our own powerful abilities to adjust? Living in places without street lights means being able to see planets and stars, means awareness of vast, and ever present wonder, means feeling like a tiny speck amongst the unfathomable.

We are creatures of habit long past the point where things have undergone radical alteration which we fail to recognize. We cannot adapt to what we fail to notice. Perhaps one of the reasons we global humans are having such a hard time during this pandemic is that we want what we know to return. We are resistant in so many ways but our lives have already changed forever.

What is most interesting is our challenge to turn and face the unknown trusting that modifications and entire new ways of being can come into being during this opportunity, for opportunity is truly what is happening. If we faced forward and not back perhaps we’d see this time as it really is, being able to glimpse the light beyond the darkness.

 

#120 Living with Beauty

#119 Sun Porch

Sun Porch.

My childhood memory is the porch of my aunt’s house, the common long, narrow space that served as the house’s entrance filled with a variety of seating that had been around for a very long time. At the far end of that space there were a couple of chairs that had made it through the depression, the time when anything past fixing was saved regardless, so as a kid on visiting Sundays, when the porch filled up with family and friends, I was going to end plopped on angular, poking springs. Anything was worth it to get to listen in to the stories told and the laughter shared. My favorite seat was the swing settee piled with layers of my aunt’s multicolored, crocheted afgans,  a softer seat than the cold metal frame underneath. This Sun porch meant long, slow conversations as the afternoon sun’s light and warmth and my beloved aunt’s talk filled the space.

My second sun porch recall is sitting in the warmth of a sun porch in Holland, VT twenty years later. I was visiting an older friend and down-the-road neighbor, Mildred Goodall who was in her 90’s and still active, still driving, still doing for others in that strong, indomitable New England farm woman way. The truth of her driving was measurable by the wide berth town residents gave her recognizable car. Things like that seemed a naturally easy accommodation in such a tiny rural, community, especially for a woman who had earned her place through a  lifetime of good deeds through tough times. It was a February afternoon and her birthday, and the rural New England version of party where a succession of neighbors, family, and friends dropped by—long enough for a warm beverage and short enough so as not to be a nuisance .  Her sun porch was a plain, unadorned front of the house afterthought, a wind protective space  with those old time cheapish, aluminum framed, double hung windows,  a long, narrow, utilitarian space with sparsely straight backed chairs and no afgans but  being able to sit in the warmth of the winter’s sun in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont in the dead of winter to was a coveted experience, especially in the company of a woman who knew how to thread years of stories and knowledge in and out of her conversation.

In all the years since then I had not lived in a house with a sun porch, fancy or plain. Unheated sun porches no longer matched transitioning architectures or lifestyles. They were an unaffordable, unusable space, blocked off as soon as the cold days of late Fall moved in.

The house where I now live has a glorious sun porch but the house was built in the late 1970’s before radiant heat or zoned heating systems so it, too, is unheated, but the windows are big and face south-south east (the cardinal necessity of all sun porches) which allows the porch to zoom into balmy temperature ranges in the Fall and Spring. How lovely to bask in sun’s warmth after the first freeze, and by early afternoon I was setting up a jigsaw puzzle in a 78 degree space.  To be able to get back to working on that puzzle I will have to bide my time, holding out for other days with morning sun breaking early over the ocean without the wind that moves the cold in the porch’s direction. It will probably take a long time to finish the puzzle, but I’ll wait it out. Puzzles have a way of clearing thoughts, making a meditative space with only the awareness of colors and shapes filling the mind. I never understood how my mother could waste so much time on such a silly pursuit until I happened across a nice image on the box of a puzzle in the cheapo do-dad store.

My mother had kept quiet about the amazing sense of peace and solace that working on a puzzle brings. She also did not have sun porch warmth, the added blessing I now wish I could share.

#118 Transition

Transition.

Along the coast of New England the demarcation between Summer and Winter is often the closing of businesses related to the seasonal tourist trade. The same holds true for the transition in the other direction, from Winter into Summer, except that the ever cold Spring in which businesses begin to open is a longer warming process which seems to take forever.  The Northeast Atlantic Ocean holds the Summer’s warmth for a long time but it takes an long stretch before the turn from cold back into something that tourists might want to even consider.

Usually businesses begin to close after the October 12th long weekend but there are exceptions where the fried fish, clam and lobster shacks often stay open stretching their final few weeks a bit longer because they know that is when the locals will find their way to eating the last of the season favorites, the beloved food they forgo while the tourist traffic is still heavy. I live in a house connected to such a business and the transition from “Open” to “Closed for the Season” is a clean break: the cars from the young staff workers who stay the season cease roaring into the parking lot; the metal sculptures that spin in the wind come down, tucked away in storage, not meant for icy blasts with frozen blades. Winter seas are fierce things to behold. Paint peels off buildings especially on corners facing prevailing winds. Anything that can be covered or battened down will be a part of the closing process, anything left out and uncovered will not be suitable come Spring.

This pandemic year was a particularly tough challenge but these eating places made out better than most when their real estate involved lots of outside tables and ocean air. People felt safer eating in such environments. As this was a drought summer and fall there was lots of sunshine with few rainy days in which there was no shelter for keeping french fries warm and dry.  Those were the days when diners stayed away.

The last still open day comes and is then followed by the next day flurry of thorough cleaning, wrapping stove vents in tarps anchored by bungees or rope. Picnic tables are tilted and stacked. The parking lot feels vast and lonely and the fishy-potatoey smell of grease ceases to be carried on the wind. The gulls continue to hang out until they realize there will be no more dropped food, then only a few of the strongest stalwarts stay to fish from the sea to fill their bellies in the sparse season. The feel of the place drastically alters. Emptiness seeps around the corners and a sense of isolation descends. It’s like being the last person standing, thinking that finally, you have the place to yourself, but the feeling is more hollow than you remembered. The faint whiff of abandonment is in the now colder, saltier air as the winds blow more fiercely from the North.

Another summer has come and gone, with winter to be faced without a clue as to how cold or how wild or snowy it will get and whether the inevitable nor’easters will do real damage. Spring is a very long way away.

 

 

#117 Surfers and Other Observations

Surfers and Other Observations.

My first encounter with real time surfers was in the late 1980’s, probably 1987. I’d gone out to California for the first time to visit my daughter who was researching her Senior Thesis with the (oxymoron-ish) subject on the homeless of Santa Barbara. She was staying for the summer in a nearby beach town, Isla Vista, and it was there that I learned the best time of day to walk down to the beach was before sunset as that is when the surfers were flocking to the water. The thing that struck me most was that they never failed to greet me with variations of “Hello” as well as making eye contact with an accompanying smile. I was middle aged, dumpy, woman and the fact that these young Californians would acknowledge my presence amazed me as I’d never had such exchanges on the East Coast. Perhaps those greetings had to do with the unifying commonality which beach and ocean lovers share. I could never come to a satisfactory conclusion but I never forgot the sheer joy of those brief encounters.

Now that I am truly old I still love to go down on the beach near sunset. Even in Maine that is the time the surfers carry their boards to the water. Logically this would be as soon as the work day ended. Now there are a fair numbers of women among the men and the age range spans from chrome domes and paunchy hold-ons to those particularly water-hardened slender bodies, long haired, prime-of-young-life beings. They, East Coast residents all, still do not greet (nor smile at) strangers.

I’ve found another kind of athlete on the beach at sunset. Nondescript, mostly black, dogs race on the hard sand like sprinters chasing after balls sent airborne with those ball launcher devices made of plastic (Chuckits). There is sheer joy on the faces of these dogs moving flat out until they capture their usually round and orange prey. Of course purebreds and other mixtures show up at the end of day, all eager in one way or another, particularly the ones who get to run, walk, and wander, off lead. I imagine the sense of freedom they feel, released–finally–to go where their noses take them without having to drag their keeper along at the end of the ever too short lead. I find parallels between these exploring, running free, canines and the happy beach children showing the same sense of unbounded joy in directing their bodies where they, not their parents, want to go.

What I haven’t yet told you is that tonight’s beach foray is in mid-October, an unexpected beach time, but understood if you’ve experienced how the Atlantic is as slow to cool in the Fall as it is slow to warm in the Spring. East Coast Spring beach walks are for hardy folk able to tolerate fierce cold wind coming off frigid water–it is late July before the air or the water becomes reasonable but the Fall is often glorious, especially after the tourists have bailed. There is a sense of giddy reclamation, especially on surprisingly warm days, as if some joy slipped through the bounds of seasonal rules. “It’s warm and it’s all ours.”

#116 It’s Not All About Money

It’s Not All About Money.

Despite what we are led to believe, it’s not all about money.

The most obvious proof of this is how we come into this life naked and wailing and leave as our spirit departs our flesh, both the coming and going not involved with carrying anything but what our consciousness was able to absorb.

We all know this, in our intellect or in our heart yet we behave (all too often) as if money is the only part of our lives that matters.

How silly. Money, as the song goes, “can’t buy you love”. It can buy you objects, most all of which require even more money to keep or maintain, and then only until you lose interest, change your mind, or change your being.

Money now seems even more connected to a concept of power yet it baffles me why power is ever considered interesting. Why would you want to expend all of that energy directed outward when there is so much work to do attempting to understand our own psyche?

Why would wanting to control anything be remotely interesting, unless of course, it is insecurity which occupies your wheelhouse? Is it really power you feel if your wanting is to control someone else?

This lack of feeling solid within yourself will never be met by anything other than self exploration, deep introspection, conversing with others, or learning through the written words of those long past occupying the world of flesh.

Diving deep within ourselves does not require cash or bank accounts. It comes through silence, convening with nature, watching the creatures with whom we share the planet. It is found in meditative moments, accompanied by the great courage it takes to look within. It is found by searching your own heart and examining your soul, questioning your purpose.

 

#115 Season of Color

Season of Color.

Most photographers relish fall. They wander the back roads of New England, especially in the Northern mountainous regions, looking for ponds or lakes to reflect the glorious colors of the changing leaves. White church spires provide good contrast as do old barns. You’ve seen a million such images and will most likely be drawn to them all of your life.

My few attempts at the photography of fall are not that successful. Oranges, reds, and yellows are not the colors that draw me but color itself pulls me like a magnet, only my palette longings are the blues, greens, and silvers of water. (Mostly.)

Color is a language, an emotion, we can feel with our being. We are affected by color whether or not we are aware of the ways it moves us through our lives. I was thinking about this recently driving around the marshes looking for Egrets, one of the last migration hold outs. In mid-Fall the Egrets begin gathering together, their beautiful white plumage and their gracefully long necks striking as they wade the marsh in a seemingly endless daylight quest for food. Nature makes no attempt at camouflage when it comes to Egrets: your eye immediately catches their stark contrasting white and oh! to see them in flight, those glorious wings in air.  As long as the Egrets are still here we have not yet been abandoned to the coming cold.  My quest for seeing Egrets is three-seasoned which means I stay alert to the backdrop of the marsh for most of the year. As beautiful as are the golden grasses of fall or the fist hints of spring shoots but, more than anything, I love the flow of long, lush, deep green grasses with wind sway patterns that takes forever to fill the marsh, well into the heart of summer. The profusion of shades of green beyond imagining signals abundance as only a marsh can paint it, the epitome of green, the color that resonates “life”.

Whether we treasure a vast expanse of color like the fall hardwoods of New England or the subtle silver palette of the ocean on a cloudy day, something within us is stirred by color itself. Have you felt such an immersion? You may attribute your feelings to all the elements present: the smell in the air, the sounds of wind or water, or catching a glimpse of wildlife, but still, I challenge you to go to a place that moves you and, as much as possible, confine your awareness to the predominant color present. Drink in the color with your eyes and your being. Feel how it moves you, is present within you.

If yellow, orange, or red is what draws you there’s little time left to play with their spirit. I checked the marsh again today for Egrets. They’ve gone. 

#114 Tide Time


Tide Time.

About the only measurement of time that makes any sense to me any more is the cycle of high and low tides. I need my online calendar, and now the added assist of the phone’s alarm clock, to be prompt for Zoom meetings. I have to check every morning to see if I need to be someplace (rarely) or get the Zoom software up and running to not be a rude late comer and then I set multiple alarms for multiple Zooms if that is called for, otherwise the days blend into one another like puddles. Sometimes I’m focused on the day of the week but mostly I’m not. In a few cases I’ve not been where I needed to be or I’ve missed something important because the hours meld into one another and when I come out of the trance / space out / meditative involvement in whatever it was that drew me in, I’ve missed the deadline. It’s impolite at best and more than rude at worst.

The awareness of tide is reasonably easy by glancing out the windows but, best of all, I love to drive over to the beach where the surfers gather. High or low tide is very evident and I particularly love the sound of the surf flowing in and out on the hard sand beach. This week we’ve had a day or two of particularly high/low tides which means either zero beach for walking or a vast expanse for wandering. The crowds kept my immune-compromised being away for the duration of the warm months. In true Mainer fashion the locals need to wait for spring or fall chill for decent spacing, to experience the solace they find in nature. The tourists really did seem oblivious to masking and I find myself wondering if that was because they thought Maine was safer in terms of the number of COVID cases and deaths. Is there no awareness we each could carry or import the virus?

Not having beach walked for months, the beautiful evening along with a light breeze and gorgeous setting sun light, enticed me to walk too far and for too long. It felt so good to be out in that air with so much space. I was hobbling by the time I got back to the car and I needed headlights to drive back to the house. Two days later I was limping badly but I’m hoping it will pass soon so I can do it again.

#113 The Art of Concealment

The Art of Concealment.

I stepped outside my door to soak down the parched front yard plants, bone dry from a long stretch of July-August heat with almost no rain, now even into September. My movement flushed a hawk from it’s perch in the tree closest to the porch door. I have caught a glimpses of this hawk before, stealth in the small trees, lying in wait, hunting.  It’s initial presence was likely drawn by the small birds who gathered at the feeder before I took it down for the summer. The common sparrows and finches are still here but are now dining on the natural bounty of the seeds and plants of late summer. The hawk remembers this location as a ready source of food and I am grateful I’ve been spared witness to his or her success.

The hawk flew a short distance to another tree, close but yet still remaining difficult to spot among the dense leaves. I stepped farther out on the porch hoping for an identifying view but the only clear view I had was the tail-feather bars as it flew away–a young Cooper’s Hawk most likely. A short while later a fledgling catbird was on the porch trying to conceal itself among the garden tools leaning in the corner of the porch where, mostly unused, they’ve stood gathering rust all summer. I suspect this family of catbirds was the hawk’s intended food and I was happy the young one made it though. Concealment by both, the camouflaged hawk in the tree branches and the tiny young catbird  trying to save itself by hiding, demonstrate nature’s way of survival for both predator or prey with an outcome that can go either way.

This seems to have been a summer of concealment, maybe even a year of it,  both in our personal lives and in the outer world, as we humans struggle with how to remake life under new rules that affect everything. The political world, always harsh but now with newly sharpened edges on much more dangerous tools, seems awash in concealment. The  extremes of behaviors are  being stretched beyond our society’s capacity to stay whole. It’s hard to hold the lives in our community in safety and security as the rules and guidelines of pandemic caution are so varied and interpreted in understanding and in practice. My sense of what is safe may not be closely related to yours and the ultimate  proof is staying healthy or getting sick, a dicey proposition in every case. Leaders obfuscate with underlying motives. Precarious economics scare everyone. Outcomes are not clear for anyone on any level.

Is anyone playing it up front and honest any more? Still not willing to enter the fray of retail stores, I limit online ordering to basic supplies. I’ve been ripped off three times this summer. The latest was a package which arrived holding only one of the two identical items I ordered, bubble wrap filling the space where the other would have been. I notified the company and sent photos of the packaging (as requested by them) as it was received, only to be denied my claim because the shipping weight of the FedEx package stated the weight was for two items. What’s clear to me is “someone” removed the second item in the packing room or on route, then resealed the carton and I’m left paying double while feeling like I’ve been declared a liar by a fly-by-night company. At a time we need compassion more than ever the affront digs deeply.

This is a time of struggle. Personal past traumas bubble up as opportunities to examine the truths we tell ourselves. Whether or not we stay silent or attempt to work through what we carry, concealment happens within our own psyches. We dance to the music in our head and are driven by motives we don’t often recognize. Is it concealment if we have been unable to face something within ourselves? If we cannot or will not take hard looks at our motivations and actions, if we hold back information from ourselves or others, aren’t we lying by omission? How do we uncover our own truths much less the truths of others?

Here I am amongst my inward leaf cover, sitting on my internal branch, trying to fix things before I can move along. It is damn hard and miserable work. My sense is I am not alone  but are we hiding our struggles from one another and ourselves, making it even harder when it was already difficult enough?

#112 KC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

KC.

There’s a little spot not that far away from my house where I frequently visit. It is particularly inviting on weekdays just after normal working hours, even during this pandemic time. Individuals, couples, and families find their way there carrying picnic containers, take out bags, or (most commonly) pizza boxes. It’s an accessible spot to eat together outdoors and linger at the end of the day. There are often dogs although during the summer months they aren’t allowed on the beach. Tonight there’s a Siberian Husky puppy, little enough to look slightly bewildered, yet obviously enjoying all the sniffing as well as the attention being given by ooo-ing onlookers.

Many of the beach and lawn chairs carried to this spit of land by the water are turned towards the direction of the sun as it slowly glides downward. This is entertainment Maine style on a late summer evening. The beach goers have departed; there’s a real chill in the air which is fresh, leaning towards crisp, the scent of brine lingering in the late day hours. A few Cormorants are perched on their usual favorite rocks, wings now dry and anticipating going wherever it is they retreat to in the dark hours which are fast approaching. 

The moored lobster boats are nearly still as this evening’s ocean is barely a ripple. Two late paddle boarders seem content not to be going far as they meander around the boats in movement rather in tune with of a couple of ducks paddling nearby, it’s only the paddles that seem different not the intent or the motion.

The sounds blend and mingle: soft laughter, a distant gull’s cry, murmuring muted voices with the higher pitcher voices of children like vocal exclamation points, and the more distant sound of a rougher ocean out past the shoal. 

Cameras of all ilk are pointed at a striated bluepinkyellow sky with swirly white clouds, mare’s tails that promise good weather. The pastel sky will soon give way to stronger hues and be replaced by oranges and streaks of charcoal. Phone cameras, small cameras, even multiple cameras with hefty long lenses are slung over shoulders and a tripod or two at the ready are appearing. Here is a picturesque spot, essential Maine, subtle beauty preferred by quieter folk content to have their drama in this peaceful form of sunsets and changing sky.

I’ve spent many evenings at this place in all seasons watching people watching the day’s sun disappear below the horizon and the frequent explosion of color that comes just after it disappears. On a few occasions, more likely in winter, I’ve been the lone car in the parking lot. This never tires. I think it is the modesty of this place, the quiet beauty, unadorned, this place with nothing to prove yet offering the essence of Maine on a peaceful evening. May it forever be.

#111 Stuff

Stuff.

So many moves since leaving the Vermont house I loved in 1985, the only one I ever owned, even if it was a shared mortgaged with a former husband.

It took four years of absence and one massively disruptive, difficult week to sift, sort, sell, and store what had been accumulated in that space where I thought I would live until old age then I’d get to die there. I thought I’d always be a part of a community I loved despite the difficult snowy winters on the borderline.

The string of places and the stuff which moved in, then out, of my life is now lost to me. I knew the move to this house by the ocean was not my last but somehow I had faith that the move that would come after that would be my last and it would be a peaceful transition. How little we know of our own futures.

Going through stuff as an old person is quite a different process than the younger me experienced. You may be familiar with the declutter movement and its primary guru Marie Kondo. One of the tenants of the declutter movement has been the “rule” if you haven’t used something in the last year it is in line for shedding. I no longer believe that is applicable. Old age is altering my perspectives on this.

It’s true that much of what I once felt was required as necessities for daily living got pared down. It turns out that after retirement (or is this a pandemic thing?), work clothes give way to comfy, stretchy stuff. There are bins of work clothes in the storage space in the house which need to be passed on. But lots of what is in the (too many) boxes that came with me, which hasn’t been unpacked in four years, has precious connections to times, places, and people that are gone from my life. This time the memory attachments to that stuff feel like gossamer threads which bind me to things more precious than ever precisely because they—the places and the people—are gone. There are letters in handwriting I’d forgotten which remain as proof that connections were as real as their writers who have passed from this world. Other objects still in the boxes that came with that last move, the singing bowl from Jeannie, the boxes of slides which are all that remain of the life the film camera recorded, and the papers I wrote in grad school, one with an A+ at the top of the page. I found two degrees and a commendation in a folder in a plastic box. Do you put those particular pieces of paper through a shredder? The move from the Vermont farmhouse required a large outdoor bonfire but here there’s no place to do that. (And I still don’t recommend burning your grown child’s left-behind toys. That one left scar tissue.)

I am thinking of people in spaces now moved to minimal assisted-living accommodations and wondering where their memory stuff went. When those ties are broken, when you can’t open an old box and feel yourself travel through the objects to the memory of connections, then who are you? Does anyone think of that or is the practicality of warehousing old folk in more the most cost effective space possible all that matters?

I didn’t expect to be so attached to what I sorted and brought with me on the last move. Long ago I shed the idea of owning “nice things” because I moved a lot and stuff always gets broken in a move. I don’t own valuable, re-sellable objects, but as I sort through the boxes I didn’t expect that what feels broken this time is me. No one but me wants this stuff, cares about this stuff, not as valuable objects but oh-so-precious because of those gossamer threads that make meaning out of what once was, only to me and only for as long as I can follow those threads.