#165 Ways of Knowing

Ways of Knowing.

We humans seem to have backed ourselves into difficult corners, be it Climate Change or the Covid Pandemic or what seems to be a hard turn to the right via Dictator/Fascist leaning governments springing up all over the globe. What stands out the most to me is in each of these areas the missing piece seems to be compassion. For an upcoming class I have been reading “What Happened to You” by Dr. Bruce Perry and Oprah Winfrey. The book discusses how we most often frame the question to others as “What’s Wrong With You?” instead asking “What Happened to You?”. There is a world of difference between those two paths of inquiry.

The concept that there is an external “normal”, that we, as individuals, have arrived at conclusions of how the world works and the ways our application of those conclusions can be used as tools of judgement about the behaviors of others says much about our underlying society. I am thinking that most of us have faced some kind of trauma in our lives yet much may remain hidden, even to ourselves. A seemingly innocuous circumstance might trigger a crisis in our psyche depending on the circumstances of that moment. Our unawareness may illustrate how unprepared we are to examine our lives to uncover “What Happened to You?”

I wonder if our sticking to the “What’s wrong with you?” question is a defensive posture which we use rather than to recognize or acknowledge our own struggles because self-reflection and self-knowing is such difficult work. Childhood memories often remain buried, more so in some than in others. I have told myself for years I have very few traces of memory even fairly late into my childhood. This may be easily explained in that I am an only child and have had few opportunities for hearing and sharing family stories of those years. My guess is the traumatic childhood of my mother and her family affected much of my own childhood. This isn’t a “blame the parents” defense but rather a compassionate inquiry into our family’s history, the history carried in our genes and in our stories, if not in our active memories.

Asking “What happened to You?” creates a space for learning and understanding and provides a context for understanding that “What’s wrong with you?” never can.

#164 Coming. Going.

Coming. Going.

How much of our lives are spent in anticipation of something we know is coming? As a eight year old Christmas took forever to arrive, the excitement and the wait nearly unbearable. I have no memories of the days following any Christmas however.

For a number of years now I’ve experienced a growing awareness that while anticipation of some upcoming events is still a primary longing I also carry a dread of other coming events such as colonoscopies or dental appointments. What amazes me is that longed for or dreaded, the passage of the time it takes for these events to arrive is no different. They come. They go. 

I find myself wondering if going through the pandemic has altered my perceptions for this coming and going business. Many of us truly faced (are still facing?) the possibilities that we might never again be in the presence of loved ones far away. It has felt, somehow, that even having to entertain this possibility altered our world. Visits with beloved family carries worry about the coming: Is flying safe? Is visiting others with whom you could not-with certainty-know if they had been virus exposed, nor could you give 100% reassurance that you, yourself, were totally free and clear. 

They came. The joy was ever present even if not not openly proclaimed out loud. Masking felt like a dance. Testing felt like a godsend. But each day flew past, when what was wanted most was to hold and savor and treasure every moment. Nonetheless, those moments went. Now the longing for what was coming has gone, those moment by moment exchanges depend now on memory,  and the future seems as unknown and evasive as it has always been. 

The coming and going of seasons carries these same elements only stretched out in months rather than days. So many love the Fall, the drier and cooler air, the pace of life’s rhythms winding down with preparations for winter slowly moving forward,  but I am a lover of Spring. I savor the pale greens appearing on bare branches; I love green, oranges and reds and browns are not my colors. Like with visits, I am always more drawn by Spring anticipation because Spring sharpens my senses. I prefer looking forward not back. Unlike so many living in the North I’m tolerant of Summer, the craziness; the swelter; the excesses. Summer, or at least the ending of it, feels like continuous over-doing it; as if the good stuff got out of control. I savor the heat (even while loathing the bugs) but hurricanes, those excesses of weather, heighten at the ending of summer, almost proving to us that there can indeed  be too much of a good thing. But still, to me the feel of summer slipping away is painful.

Coming. Going. The seasons forever cycled and I am finding the anticipation and their passing  less easy to bear as I age. Cold and dark are not welcome companions as my body is increasingly defenseless of their assaults. But they come. And they go. My anticipation and dread increases. Longed for visits with loved ones were too short; the coming cold and dark season way too long. Once, there must have been balance, where comings and going’s were the welcome rhythms of life. But now the balance between them seems altered, as if time has become parceled out unfairly with too many stretches of going and not enough of coming, and so much less of those precious moments of just savoring being in the presence of Now.

 

#163 The Turn

#163 The Turn

The Turn.

There’s a reason older people are stereotyped as folks who repeat themselves. My fear is that my awareness of this trait is not anywhere near the actuality of its frequency but I am less sure that, as I return to topics already discussed, I may not (quite) be returning to the exact place of its first recognition. Thus, I will plow ahead.

From the past perspective of living on the 45th degree parallel (44.9684° N, 72.0027° W) in Northern Vermont there came a day where the feel of summer quickly turned and Fall seemed far closer than expected. I wrote here once of a camping experience that sharply illustrated this “flip”. One other time it appeared in the second week of August when frost killed the tops of the squash ripening in my NEK garden which was  always such a challenging place to grow a family’s year round food supply.

This year and further south, The Turn came later when thoughts of it were far from my mind. July had been such a miserably cold month so in August I’d subconsciously thought nature would cut us a break by adding extended warmth to make up for it. We’d had a stretch of humid, hot days where the air was thick and wet. Here the proof of such heat is leaving all the windows open at bedtime because air flow depends on tides but with the house so warm, so sticky, even the usual incoming tidal coolness could only help the situation.

I woke in the middle of the night because I was cold. I got out of bed and closed every window I could reach. By morning yesterday’s 90 degree heat had plummeted to a chill 63 degrees. The Turn had snuck beneath the forecasting presence of Hurricane Henri which stayed south of the Maine coast. Now, with chillier air, I find myself making soup and thinking of hot tea in the morning. Oh yes, it will warm again but it won’t return to those languid, stifling strings of days. Instead, there will be flashes of warm mornings or afternoons but the sun is setting earlier every day taking with it the chances of opened night windows. Dread of the coming winter has already begun to gather in corners along with the spiders.

Postscript: Not one but two (so far): the Hurricane named Ida is still making its way out to sea via the Northeast Coast. I’ve not found a way to incorporate late summer-early fall hurricanes into my concept of “The Turn” when it comes to seasons. As hurricanes originate in the tropics their warmth usually affects the temperatures that were in place before their arrival. These hurricanes are disruptors wherever they appear although their presence is regularly sufficient to be a part of the weather patterns even in the North this time of year. So, buckets of rain (gauged at 3 1/4″ in a friend’s garden) and now rather strong winds have turned this post into somewhat an anomaly. You are, without doubt, familiar with the phrase most often attributed to Samuel Clemens/Mark Twain : “If you don’t like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes.”

Note: How embarrassing. The following blog posts followed similar themes:  #56  The August Flip  8/16/2019.; #61  Seasonal Adjustments. 9/20/2019.; and #110  The Change. 9/4/2020.

# 162 Tough Summer

Tough Summer.

We all had such hopes after a year of isolation, fear, and worry. Late winter brought the first mass vaccinations and so much hope. By July the vaccine promise of seeing our loved ones safely began to melt away as case numbers including vaccinated breakthroughs began to melt in the variant surge moving throughout the world but particularly and sorrowfully in our communities. Still trying to do the right thing the information about staying safe was, and is, mixed with local decisions being made over national ones. Masks began to reappear and mask mandates and concerns for those under twelve were building with good reason. Your geographic location and your destination location could have remarkable differences along with the journey from one to the other.

It wasn’t only the virus that made this summer so hard. The weather patterns seemed as variable as virus outbreaks: massive flooding, massive fires and drought, and see-saw New England weather conditions bouncing from the 40’’s to the 90’s, especially in July. The initial June drought was followed by July’s deluge and to top it all off then came the August threat of a New England hurricane, the first in 30 years.

And there was politics, the endlessly awful divisions, hatred, and violence, with the media cranking out daily hype or truth depending on your perspective, but mostly all bad news one way or another.

What became apparent to me, unfolding over weeks of zoom conversation, was just how much we needed connection. We needed to hug loved ones. We needed to share meals and talk and we needed to be together. Every one of us who got to be with friends or family faced tough decisions about our safety and their safety, about vaccines, about being tested before, during, or after being together. Most of us got together figuring out the safest way we thought could do that. Most of us realized how critically important it is/was to reconnect. Many of us lost people, not always via the virus but for other reasons, yet the virus was forever in the background affecting everything. We don’t know when or if there is an ending to this story. What we do know is how precious the people in our lives are, how that has always been the case even when we were freely running busy, harried lives in which our priorities did not have the clarity they do now.

If you are one of those lucky people that got a friend or family visit I know you are feeling blessed. I finally got to do that and now, back on my own again, I’m tired. Sad. Joyous. Thankful. Most of all I am keenly aware of what counts most. Maybe that is the message tough times has always carried.



Note: This time the photo was not taken by me but by my beloved Cousin Debbie. Sometimes one picture really is worth a thousand words.

#161 Yesterday, Today, ?

Yesterday, Today, ?

We began sliding into summer with a sense of relief and hope, eager for optimism’s return, wanting-needing-sunshine to warm our bodies and ease our exhausted, isolated, battered psyches. There were a few weeks of smiles and the beginnings of breathing into our lives before hints of darkness crept up to the edges of things. There’s no need to name the elements of this darkness but only to acknowledge our awareness of its presence. When or if was Pandora’s Box opened and, if it was, will it ever be possible to retract the darkness released? 

What happens to us when our hopes are counter balanced in equal measure with our worries? I don’t believe nature intended that we should shoulder such burdens, despite having my own fairly pessimistic psyche or, as the saying goes “if you’re not depressed your not paying attention”? This is when our concepts of time, our personal and collective knowledge of History, and our sense of memory begin to converge as we attempt to feel our way into the darkness we see as a potential future. Who wants to look ahead through that prism? Is this what is widely being reported has a collective dire view of a the living, breathing future elements of our planet?  

I am no seer nor have I had a conversation with one yet my instincts feel the need to gather together to give aid and comfort to each other in all the blessed ways possible. Convene family, friends, and actively court and encourage contact with those you’d now call strangers. This is the time to encourage and nurture our finest instincts. What we explore together and share with each other may be just what is necessary to face the ? which lies ahead. 

#160 Background

Background.

Lately I’ve been aware of the constant sound of the ocean waves rolling in to meet the rocky shore and wondering if or how that rhythm affects the human body or the psyche. You and I have read that the ocean represents the Earth’s breath, or its lungs, or it is like the womb out of which all Placental mammals are born.

This concept of “Mother Ocean” is not exactly what I am trying to uncover. I am interested in the constancy of the repetitive sound of waves just as if I lived in a city and my background sound of was the repetitive sound of traffic.

Interesting to me, I moved here as winter was setting in so I had to wait until the next summer before I could listen to the ocean without the muffled effect of the closed windows. I craved hearing wave sounds directly that first winter. This summer has had prolonged periods of cold and wet so that the windows have often been shut at night. It is amazing how the clammy chill seeps into the house if windows are left open when the temperatures drop. However, in a heat wave the windows are open and the breeze off the water acts like air conditioning and the sound at high tide is not something that you can ignore despite the hour.

My suspicion is that anyone in close proximity to the sound of a body of water at night experiences changes to our breath, our heart rate, perhaps even our blood pressure. The blood pressure might lower most nights unless there’s a storm which can really alter the background sounds., sometimes sending a heart racing.

I don’t have answers to my questions but I am nonetheless grateful for being this close, this intimate, with the sounds of such a major planetary force field. I suspect it has changed me in many ways. perhaps as kind of external background meditation of sorts, happening even when the routines of life progress.

#159 Hands In the Dirt

Hands In the Dirt

Long ago in another place and time I began digging in the dirt. “Gardening” is such an imprecise term for something that has so many variations. Landing in a poor and very rural place meant there was lots of land, one car, and fifteen miles from where I might find employment. I could learn to grow food so I started reading.

About that same time, my Dad who lived one state away at a lower altitude and a two hours car ride over the big mountain had also begun gardening. He’d grown up doing so but in all my years living with my parents we had never lived anywhere that had land enough for a garden patch but they had moved and the new spot had a huge garden needing the right person to come along. I didn’t learn gardening from my Dad. It was more like I learned with him from a distance. We both grew flowers but we were each far more interested in vegetables: Big Boy tomatoes (which didn’t have a growing season long enough to turn them red in far Northern Vermont), cucumbers, corn, beans, tomatoes and just about everything else that could handle a northern latitude’s short summer weather. Boy, did we garden! May through October was the time when work never ended. I learned that both being both the gardener and the food processor (the wife) was nearly impossible but after I planted, tilled, weeded and hoed I headed inside to where I filled canning jars headed for the shelves in the dirt-floor, rock-ledge basement of the house. The potato bin and the two 23 cu ft. freezers filled as did the unused floor of a bedroom upstairs, the drier space needed to store the squashes, pumpkins, and onions.

Mainly, the climb down the rickety basement stairs was where you could find most of  that we ate. The colors of the jam jars and the quarts of fruit sparkled in the hanging bulb light down there and so too, in their much quieter way, twinkled the green of beans and all the dozens of bright red tomato jars.

All that remains as evidence of those years is memory and two bad snapshots of the largest of the gardens. I was way too busy to ever dig out a camera and besides, I thought I would live that way forever.

When I made my way out into the larger world I tried in many locations to get my hands back into the dirt. It had become an instinct but eventually even flowers in pots seem almost too much. This summer I’ve given the dirt a last hurrah of sorts resulting in a screaming back and plants that first had to fight drought and later the deluge. No longer are there safe growing spots for vegetables as critters everywhere multiplied with a sense that vegetables were put there just for them. The balance of nature’s world shifted and only fierce and expensive fencing makes vegetable growing possible most everywhere.

My memory turns to gardeners I’ve known beginning with those Vermont years. Carolyn and Kay growing beautiful flowers. Jeannie’s huge market garden, with help coming from the crew and family that lived communally. She told a story of a heart-to-heart with a woodchuck that carried her promise of safety from the guys with rifles if the critter’s family left the vegetables alone. It seemed to have worked.

Most of us moved and the gardens and gardeners kept changing. Brianna, a young woman I knew from the college where I worked, started an early and very successful CSA, with monumental determination packed into her small frame. I still have photos of her garden and that love of plants became her life’s occupation as she and her husband founded a nursery that is still going strong.

Now there are gardening friends, older women who have made lifetimes of gardening elsewhere who garden where they themselves are now planted. The gardens are all vastly different in scope and character. Isn’t that the way of things?

I have come to rely on the growing talents and hard work of others as I’ve sought out roadside stands or farmer’s markets because once you’ve had your hands in the dirt and extracted jewels like cucumbers, eggplant, or tomatoes you never forget the extraordinary taste of fresh from the dirt and respect for all the hard worked it took to grow them..

 

 

Note: Photo was taken in 2004 and is of Brianna Davis’s CSA garden in the Hudson Valley of New York State.

 

#158 Soundbites

Soundbites.

A soundbite is a snippet of a media report or conversation or interview, as if an entire interview purporting coverage of an  important issue would be long enough to describe the complexity contained within it. If the reportage failed to include a scholar or scholars who’ve spent their entire careers on that subject a snippet could not possibly give anyone enough information to be informed.

Life is complex, multiple faceted, often holding—at the same time—two or more truths that are seemingly opposed. Where is our ability to see through the ruse of the soundbite for what is behind it—an attempt to snatch your attention to then sell a product?

Did your formal education include media literacy? Mine didn’t. I grew up in the era of Walter Cronkite and Father Knows Best, a simplistic, patriarchal world that left out all kinds of things like women’s history, genocide perpetrated by our forefathers, racism, imperialism, sexism, and classism just to touch the top of the neglected pile. We were trained with purposeful, guided focus and our world is in deep doodoo because of it. Our economies, our “prosperities”, were built and measured by the manufacture of goods that are now filling landfills, dumped in our oceans, dumped in unsuspecting countries, but the economic accounting always had the false finger of deceit on the scale because the extraction of natural and man-made materials and the eventual disposing of these goods was not included in the cost. Only the profits were measured. The bill has come due from this deceit, but really, hasn’t there always been an alarm bell ringing somewhere in your psyche?

The real question is: “What’s going on with us that we turned over our individual worlds to such a flimsy fantasy?” Were we lazy? Did we not care? Or did we succumb to feeling overwhelmed, feeling our stake in what happens couldn’t possibly be successful in “Turing This Around”?

The time for self deception and pretense is long gone. So too may be real solutions. Ditch the soundbites, dig deep, and do what you can.

#157 Now I Know Something That I Didn’t

Now I know something that I didn’t.

I used to argue that it was a mistake to ask elders about their lives in times past. I was insistent that what was needed when talking to older people was a discussion about their lives in the present moment, what did they think, what was happening in their lives; what interested them., now and not in their past. Then Covid-19 came along and altered everyone’s life.

How many times have you heard stories from friends or stories happening within your families where those dear ones who had entered the path of dementia or Alzheimer’s rapidly lost ground as they were denied the ability for visits with loved ones or being able to see those whose relationships provide daily comfort? If they were in any kind of assisted living or nursing home the restrictions were magnified. What could a disconnected mind make of masks or loved ones on the other side of window glass? What did it mean to them that there were no longer hugs, those physical, human connections that carry so much acceptance, safety, warmth, and love? 

Those of us living alone who were older made it through did so by deliveries and curbside, contactless pickup of groceries or needed household supplies. We made our connections via screens. We Zoomed our connectedness. More than a year later we may still be connected by this medium even though we are trying to understand new rules, new guidelines, hoping to remain safe and healthy. But all of our lives have changed.

Many of us tackled “projects”, some creative and some utilitarian. I dragged the storage containers of unmarked family photos up from the houses storage area. I am the last of this line of family and my memory has not held the names and relationships of all those in some of the unidentified pictures. At first it felt like a useful project but soon the memories of times past and loved ones long gone overtook the lonely spaces in my current life and there I was now left seeing the other side of my vehemence about the aging needing to be addressed in the present tense. There was but a shadow “present” left in my life and in that void the photo project brought sorrow and longing and deep regret as I learned the irony I’d unknowingly carried most of my life.

My cruel teenage self had long ago lofted a cutting remark to my mother: “What is family? Family doesn’t mean anything.” This cruel intended remark was hurled with only the destruction a teenager can summon. Now I look at the photos of my mother and her siblings, who lost their mother when she—the eldest—was thirteen and then lost their father four years later when she was seventeen. The siblings were separated as best the uncles and aunts could do, but the scars remained permanent. I have poured through the photo album my mother made the year her father died, the year she graduated from high school, the year she lost her family. What did she carry all those years? In my only child lack of understanding the gap between us grew until at last, at nearly seventy five, four years more than she lived I began to piece together hints of the magnitude of what she bore. I take back those cavalier comments about the importance of present-tense aging. The past has caught up with my being. Apparently we live until we finally learn what we came here to learn. It took the magnitude of a pandemic to even begin to see it.

#156 Getting There from Here

Getting There From Here.

Years ago when I returned to college to finally finish my undergraduate degree (sixteen plus years after I had dropped out) the first class I took was “The Philosophy of Creativity”. The age range in that class was from 72 to 19. Whatever topic was discussed there were those in the class who had new, fresh ideas of how to tackle it and there were voices of experience who had tried. What never left me was the power of that range of idealism to experience and how, when given an opportunity to be together, that range provided an expansiveness not possible in more narrowed situations. To solve anything both idealism and experience are inexplicably tied together.

There is enormous wisdom in the trope “Keep the Lesson but Throw Away the Experience”. It isn’t that our particular story of how we came to an understanding  doesn’t count; it’s that at a certain point in life we all have stories and paths and what counts above everything else is the learning—the wisdom—that we come to on our individual journeys. How we came to that learning might be interesting but it is almost always a side issue.

I’ve been thinking about the difference between experience and opinion and how we can recognize in conversation which one is in operation. Many of us took to using Zoom during the pandemic, for comfort, for connection, for information. The standouts in this process were the moments when experience informed but did not limit. Out of respect or desire for contact or communications on many occasions we were able to open channels that might have remained closed and we stretched into unknown territories together. My suspicion is that Zoom became a successful medium for those longing for such expansion. The lockdown—those long hours and days of keeping our own company—allowed us to experience our own boundaries and some of us found them to be too confining. The way to move out of confined spaces is to listen and to learn from others, to expand beyond our own boundaries. This is where the line between opinion and experience gets critical: Experience carries gravitas. Opinion is often just hot air. We can feel the difference.

The stories of our lives are merely how we got to be where we currently are. If there’s time and space sufficient for the telling, then that might be helpful for understanding, but just maybe that story takes a back seat to what came out of what happened and that what you did with what you learned was more important than anything else, for you and all those lucky enough to have the opportunity to listen.

 

#155 What Was. What Isn’t. What Is. (Rev. Ed.)

What Was. What Isn’t. What Is. 

Darkness was falling before I remembered a storm is coming. It is not unusual for the tail end of a hurricane to hit the Northeast. Often it is a welcome relief to what had been a building summer drought. Out in front of the house there are flowers in pots with less than ideal drainage. There are flowers in pots that could easily be damaged by even moderate winds. There are multiple wind chimes hanging from the trees and the remaining bird feeder, the one for the finches whose fledglings are still feasting on the last of the seed, is still hanging from the porch. It is not unusual to need to move summer outdoor-living items to shelter for safety during an oncoming storm but as I began to move the pots I was struck by the realization it is July. July. And there is a former hurricane moving out to sea over New England. This usually happens in late August or September when the bedraggled plants are showing signs of the end of the growing season. The flowers in these current pots are just beginning their growth spurts after June’s transplanting. A drought was declared for most of the state in June. The temperatures in June moved like a yo-yo from 50’s to 90’s and back again and again even into the beginning of July. 

Flower pots, wind chimes, bird feeders all were headed to the porch where they were joining two overly large houseplants which are still trying to adapt to being outside. Hopefully the wind will be moderate. The rainfall amounts are still not forecast as the track of  where the storm will move out to sea isn’t quite clear. There could be 2” of rain or just enough to end this June-declared drought. Or we could flood. 

Just a flash ago, Lytton, British Columbia set an all time record heat of 121 degrees. Elsa is a record setting July hurricane.* The animals and the plants, the fruits and the vegetables that we’ve known all of our lives cannot adapt to such rapidly changing climate conditions. We humans who are opposed to genetic modification, we humans who plant only heirloom varieties, will either have to move or accept that, even if science can work at warp speed to provide for the rapidly changing environment, home grown food is going to be a very real problem. Local agriculture everywhere is going to be a very real problem. Pray for the survival of bees. Be prepared to alter your lifestyles. 

What was, is no longer.

What is, is unknown.

What will be, baffles us all.

There’s the tail end of a hurricane out there and it’s July. 

*https://bmcnoldy.blogspot.com/2021/07/elsas-extraordinary-place-in-history.html    

Apologies for the first two posts fro July 9, 2021 that you may have received in your inbox. Once again I fought with the WordPress software and lost. This is a reposting in, hopefully, the right format.    

#154  One Size Fits All

DSC_0118 copyOne Size Fits All.

Like so many of the vaccinated, fully sprung from the pandemic, folk I’ve added excursions to shopping places I felt were off limits for a long stretch. After more than a year I’m sure you’ve had a number of things wear out, break, or problems of storage or organization that longed for a solution. I’m reasonably sure you went online looking for answers in the form of products you usually purchased locally. 

Take nail brushes, the kind that sit near your bathroom or kitchen sink that you use to get the dirt out from around your fingertips after repotting a plant. I searched for months for a plain, straightforward brush I’d used for years but this product seemed to have disappeared from the world. What was offered in place were silly designs that clearly were not going to do the job. As gardening season approached I chose the best thing I could find and ordered that. Yesterday, while on my first trip back to the very store I’d heard my first COVID coughing (in February 2020 and I got out of there quickly), going through the checkout line there were those basic nailbrushes I’d looked so hard online to find. No longer particularly needing them (the inferior ones I’d purchased online only came in multiples of four), I put them in my cart anyway, longing for that “fix” that had seemed such an impossible quest a few months ago.

Amazon.com, the gargantuan endless supplier of everything is, of course, not that at all. It is algorithms and pushed products paid to get in front of the line. Under lockdown it seemed like (and perhaps was) a lifeline but it is not going to substitute for the hardware store down the street when you need a specific screw–not a package of 100 different varieties you’ll never use– or a lightbulb. But our precious local businesses did not all survive those months of lockdown. Now what?

On another shopping excursion I was in one of those places that seem to sell lots of “overstocks”– clothes, bedding, shoes, etc.– at discounted prices. My rotund, shrunken to 4’11” self swiveled my cart into a clothing isle just as an extremely tall, thin women turned into the same isle from the opposite direction. Giggling to myself, not daring to say out loud, were the words “one size fits all” bubbling up in my brain wanting to spill over into actual communication. I stayed silent but the juxtaposition of our physical selves searching the same clothing racks was absurdly, laugh out loud, funny.

This is the world where we have landed. For the convenience of making money and more money and even more money we marvelous, many layered, many colored, many sized, many cultures, many kinds of thoughts peoples, are seen by corporations as one thing: consumers! We are compressed by media, politics, religion, education and business into narrower and narrower confines with increasingly narrowing choices. At the same time the varieties of our beings are expanding everywhere: gender fluidity, multicultural and ethnically rich, our souls longing for expression and explorations of our true selves, our diversity joyously exuberant. 

Can we be convinced that “one size fits all”? That’s a version of trying to get the toothpaste back into the tube. 

 
 
 
 
 
 

#153 Depletion. Nourishment.

Depletion. Nourishment.

What Depletes:

Drugs

Porn

Sleeplessness

Anxiety

Pain

All of the chemicals in all of those boxes, bottles, and bags in things called “food” in the middle isles of grocery stores

Caffeine

Hatred

Poverty

Despair 

Racism

Sexism

Barriers to potential

Concrete 

Alcohol

Soul sucking jobs

Long commutes 

What Nourishes:

Shared work

Shared joy

New life

Farm stands and farmer’s markets 

Homegrown and local seasonal foods

Fresh air

Sunshine (when there’s been sufficient rain)

Nature

Good friends

Laughter

Connections

Asking good questions 

Finding needed answers 

Flowers

Listening

Singing 

Dancing

Being quiet 

Poetry

New ideas 

Watching children play

Trust

Gardening 

Watching wildlife

Dogs

Cats

Families

Trees

Caring

Work that satisfies 

Lakes, Rivers, Oceans

Finding context in your life

Belief in something larger than yourself

And maybe even a homemade strawberry rhubarb pie.

It would be lovely if you would share additions to these lists. Just use the “Reply” box. 


# 152 Cri de la Coeur

Cri de la coeur.

On a weekend afternoon I’d driven over to one of my favorite parking spots needing a bit of fresh air and sunshine on a day with the kind of chill that often makes old bones ache and movement painful.

A older woman, large eyes peering out from under a baseball cap, was attempting to back into one of the parking spaces next to me. I motioned ahead to two spots closer to the water telling her she’d have a better view there. As I was getting ready to leave she backed into the spot next to me and motioned she wanted to talk. 

Beginning with profuse apologies she then rambled: she was 72–she was widowed—she’d recently taken a fall—she was carrying stuff in her car waiting until she could give it away—she was sleeping in her car to “test out” what it would be like to drive across America in a used van she hoped to purchase—she’d given up her apartment.

I thought I saw worry and fear in those large eyes but I did not know, or trust, where this encounter was headed. My physical need in that moment was to be lying down on my bed not sitting in the car, an audience of one trying hard to listen while questioning what my role was in this situation and trying to think through flooding pain. After a bit my body discomfort overcame whatever I was being asked to do, and I made my excuse and drove away.

Later, a friend reminded me of a recent encounter she had experienced in a different town with a homeless, car-bound woman who, eventually, asked her for money while she was getting gas. With troubled thoughts and accompanying compassion my friend gave her the largest bill she carried in her wallet.

There are hundreds of questions below the two sketchy, skittery “conversations” that took place. Whatever was beneath the stories each woman told, there was the truth of two women in troubling circumstances. One story is disturbing, two stories exponentially more so. Are there women panhandling from their cars that have become their homes? Have they come here because it is seems safer or because it is cooler in these summer months? Our two encounters seem unlikely as happenstance and each carries unpleasant resolve.

My chance encounter turned my woes into a grateful “Thanks” for my circumstances. “Old age is not for sissies” said my mother and through each new awareness and, with what is learned in conservations with fellow travelers, there comes the challenges aging brings. There’s the daily unfolding knowledge that we can no longer power ourselves through or do simple tasks that once would have easy. Old bodies often hurt. A lot. Sometimes there are blessings and occasional grace that allows seeing bigger pictures and contexts. Sometimes, alone, we just get through the day as best we can.

What are the things we need to know before we pass from this life? What are the responsibilities each of us holds in seeing our world with flashes of what might resemble wisdom? If indeed wisdom is present, then how do we share what we’ve learned?

And now there’s this new question: What is our role when our paths cross troubled (and troubling) souls?

#151 Old Dog, New Tricks

Old Dog, New Tricks.

We are emerging from our pandemic induced isolation and we are finding our lives altered. In my life a daily Zoom connection hosted by our local public library became a slim digital thread, a connector where I could check in and hear how others were responding to our abruptly changed world. This come-and-go group had gotten to know each other over the stretch of time when most all of us only went out when necessary, masked and constantly on alert, doing our errands as needed but feeling safer when back in our own abode. It’s more than a little painful remembering how much the constant political upheavals were rattling our already shaky selves so, in the beginning and until things started to calm down, politics was a constant theme in our discussions.

Sandwiched in between our fears and our rants were pieces of our lives that we shared with each other. The flat screen faces were kind and thoughtful. They responded in quick bursts or sat back and listened, allowing our inner cores breathing room as judgement surrendered to compassion and understanding. We heard road trip stories, family stories, and (joy!) saw pets take over screens as we ooood and awed, especially if we were living alone without furry companions. Linking the serious moments was hilarity in daily jokes and lightening quick puns. We literally laughed and cried together.

As the months went on various people joined the group or left the group, mostly without any fanfare; it was always understood we were self selected. Our library teamed up with another library in Illinois and our screen face friends expanded to include friends or relatives and those who found the group by digital miracles. Geography made everything expand in ways that would not have been previously possible but we expanded by age range and circumstances too.

After vaccines became widely available literal breathing room crept into our lives. One person’s willingness to translate a desire for three dimensional experience instead of the flat screen images provided an opportunity for some of us to gather together, in person, in a living room, and on a porch! Now we know somehow something extraordinary has happened, something new in our world, a thread of possibility formed out of a truly strange time, a possibility which might never have occurred without this crack in our world that made new ways of being possible.

None of knows what lies ahead. I suspect many of us sense we have undergone permanent shifts. We are listening and watching, wanting to incorporate who we once were with the person we’ve now become. Finding fellow explorers, kindred spirits, in unexpected ways and places, is the crack of which Leonard Cohen wrote: “the crack where the light comes in”.

Listen: https://youtu.be/c8-BT6y_wYg

Anthem Song by Leonard Cohen

The birds they sang
At the break of day
Start again
I heard them say
Don't dwell on what has passed away
Or what is yet to be

Ah, the wars they will be fought again
The holy dove, she will be caught again
Bought and sold, and bought again
The dove is never free
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in

We asked for signs
The signs were sent
The birth betrayed
The marriage spent
Yeah, and the widowhood
Of every government
Signs for all to seeI can't run no more
With that lawless crowd
While the killers in high places
Say their prayers out loud
But they've summoned, they've summoned up
A thundercloud
They're going to hear from me

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in

You can add up the parts
But you won't have the sum
You can strike up the march
There is no drum
Every heart, every heart
To love will come
But like a refugee

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in
That's how the light gets in

Source: Musixmatch

#150 June

June.

Each year I approach the arrival of June as if I’ve never experienced it before. June is fickle and feckless, it’s weather moves from cloudy, dark, and cold to sparkling warmth and graciousness, then back to cold again.

June is the sound of the fog horn and seeing approaching gray swirls that turn into gray walls that hide that which, only moments ago, was visible. Sometimes the gray creeps in from the sea, the silent lowering mass decreasing visibility of the water. Fog enshrouds everything bringing a particular kind of quiet but one with a dank chill that penetrates to your bones.

This year the fringe of rose bushes that marks the transition between “lawn” into rocks seems to be thriving. These roses were nearly wiped out by onrushing ocean in storms these past two years. Perhaps unaware of dire climate change predictions they are full of bright pink blossoms hopeful and cheery.

When the nose-tingling scent of the briny sea mixes with the sweet smell of the roses it’s possible to close your eyes and get lost in the contrasting scents. A waft of brine sharpens everything, the life and death of the sea in your nostrils, your senses reminding you to pay attention. There is more going on here than you let yourself know.

June is sight and sound and smells changing moment to moment, endless and unexpected and, sometimes, uninvited. Nothing puts a damper on a June party faster than a thick fog. But when the skies are bright and the rose bushes vibrate with pink life June is pure promise.

And only in June do the spikes of lupine shoot up from the green tangle of the fields. Their predominant purple with occasional pinks rise and sway in the onshore breeze. Beware of lupine fields massed along roadsides. Cars stop abruptly leaving little room to pass as their occupants spill out of the doors camera phones armed and ready. Lupines are an iconic image. Who doesn’t want to share their beauty?

June is when the sea is dark blue with white spray joyously flying upward from the rocks. June is the roller coaster, the seesaw balance of heartbreak and joy and you are along for nature’s ride. June teaches us to be flexible and to temper our desires as it holds hints both of the winter’s passing and of the coming summer joy.

I am unexpectedly still by the sea grateful for the extraordinary beauty surrounding me and all who travel here, each of us feeling the particular aliveness this turbulent transition from cold to warm allows, perhaps one last chance or maybe more, we look for promise and hope the hallmarks of June.

#149 No Roots.

DSC_0018

No roots.

The gardeners were working in the flower beds next door at the Lobster Shack. I asked for help for a few minutes in my attempt to improve a small garden patch in front of the house. While we were talking one of the gardeners reached down and extracted a large, quite perfect dandelion plant with its very long taproot intact. It resembled the shape and fullness of a bridal bouquet, quite a feat for a perfectly ordinary dandelion. What struck my memory camera was that root.

I’ve mentioned I’ve been going through old family photos trying to identify, label, and organize them as I’m about the only one left with family memories intact sufficiently enough to do this. I’m told by two friends who are steeped in genealogy that I should definitely not toss out photographs with subjects any I don't know. When I began this project I saw it as quick work and now, weeks later, I have walked down memory paths I did not know were still within me. It has not been easy work.

As names and events floated up into awareness I think of how unlike that magnificent dandelion with its long taproot my life turned out to be. I would describe my life as mostly surface with very little root. (“Rutts” as it would have been pronounced in many places I’ve lived.) I seemed to have been a wandering plant, one that didn’t “take” to one particular place or another. 

Seeing faces and places that once were but are no longer is a peculiar thing. Sometimes I recognize if this or that person were still in this world we’d still have issues with one another. Sometimes with others there is an almost pure longing for what was not appreciated, a sense of comfort and belonging I’ve not felt since they were still in my life. Yes, regrets seep out from such work. How little I understood about the fleeting moments of relationship. My epitaph would rightly read “She took too much for granted.”

Now I live a long way from where any of them lived and there are very thin, occasional threads of connectivity with the tiny family few who remain. Now I understand about conversations that did not happen. Oh for a few more moments at tables with bowls of potato salad, baked beans, and laughter. I am grateful we did not have to share pandemic stories and that I was spared the worry of loved ones I could not have helped but as I see these faces in fading photographs, what happened to those moments where I thought there would always be enough time? It turned out there wasn’t.









			

#148 Good Vibes

Good Vibes.

A number of weeks ago I was driving home from doing errands with the radio tuned to the classical radio station. As the announcer described upcoming pieces that she was going to play I misunderstood the order so when the opening notes of the next play began they startled me because, expecting something new, I instead heard something familiar. It was one of those soaring, transformative moments like we’ve all had where music propels us far beyond our current time and place.

Later, believing the piece was Vivaldi’s “Spring” I went looking for the music wanting to hear it again. After a bit of poking I realized it was not Vivaldi’s “Spring” but instead another part of his Four Seasons, “Winter”. As the quickest and cheapest route to hearing a piece of music is to find it on YouTube, I began listening to the versions that came up which were all played on violins. What I was hearing did not exactly match the piece on the radio that had stirred me, so my next step was to search the radio station’s playlist for the specific piece I had heard. To my surprise, the piece that had been played on the radio was performed on a cello not the standard instrument for the piece, the violin. Why did the instrument make such a difference in my reaction to the piece?

Once, long ago, I had brief contact with a group of gifted folk in Vermont by attending an evening gathering that was exploring using tuning forks and sharing the concept that we humans each have a particular vibratory resonance. Without knowledge about the particular vocabulary of music or a scientific explanation of vibrational theory this was all totally new to me. What was not new was that I clearly felt some sounds quite differently than I did others. Violins are a good example in that the beauty of that soaring instrument’s diversity is profound but my physical reaction to violins has always been slightly “off”, as if it sets something in me to some state of agitation that is just a tad uncomfortable. Vivaldi’s “Winter”, played on the cello, changed the vibratory levels and seemed to resonate with something inside my being.

I had experienced this before; there is something about the sounds of a cello, something I find more compelling, a bit more raw, rough, guttural, or gritty than the other stringed instruments. What is it like to wrap one’s body around the size of it, feeling the vibrations throughout the body as well as hearing the sounds? Surely it must fill the player with joy. Of course, it is not only classical music that can make one’s physical being soar. All kinds of music have this potential. I cannot imagine that you have not experienced the shiver up the spine or an instant transformation from hearing a particular musical piece. Next time that happens see if you can physically feel it in a new or deeper way.

Could it be your own interior tuning fork doing its magic?

Listening:

  1. Antonio Vivaldi–“The Four Seasons”–Winter – (Violin: Itzhak Perlman)  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ltQGDOCP9I

        2. Luka Sulic. Vivaldi. Winter.(1st Movement.) (Live in Trieste):  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3HoWUuinkQs

And just because you should always smile when listening to Vivaldi:

         3. Bobby McFerrin: vivaldi-Concerto for two cellos in G minor (RV 531) Gewandhausorchester Leipzig:         https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ip09OPFfJb8&list=RDip09OPFfJb8&start_radio=1

And one to read:  “Which Nonvocal Musical Instrument Sounds Like the Human Voice? An Empirical Investigation. Emery Schubert. March 28, 2018:   https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0276237418763657

#147 Distractions

another soft waveDistractions.

Pablum. Milquetoast. Bland. Insipid. Banal. Spineless. Blah. Vanilla. Disney-version. Sanitized. Romanticized. Wish-washy. 

This territory has never been the least bit interesting to me. I once listened to a young woman, glowing, describing her honeymoon on a Disneyland cruise ship and I had all I could do to politely stay in the room. Good grief. Her honeymoon? 

It strikes me, after experiencing the political upheavals of these past number of years, there are legions of Americans whose imaginations are drawn to a very “mild” version of life. No wonder they are wanting white picket fences bordering lawns that sit behind gates  locked to all but those in their communities. 

I do not mean offense if your taste runs to the tame but what would be the point of life without ethnic foods, hot chilies and curries, stream and spice for as long as your gut holds out? How would you find rhythms to move your body with no raging percussion or ragas or tangos? I can still remember the colors of the houses, outrageous blues and reds and the brightest of greens along the nature bleak Gaspé Peninsula and the way the people used their boldly painted houses to shout their existence—in balance, defiance, and joy? 

Having obtained the status of “old” will not stop me from delighting in those blistering scenes in Outlander or the more recent Bridgerton. Yes, I am old but I am not yet not dead. Life has fluids: sweat, tears, and all the rest of it. Life can be full of dirt digging, sky leaping, water diving and interacting with one another in a huge varieties of ways. Give me life filled with passions, shouts of righteous angers and raging joys. Or so I thought. But this pandemic has brought out curious behaviors and I am now streaming my second round of wishy-washy, juvenile fodder, serial TV. I have binged watched one and am nearly finished another, one as bland and meaningless as the other. In this genre of media sexual attraction seems satisfied by dry cheek pecks or tight, dry lips touching for mere seconds. Hands do not wander. Watching in vain, hour after hour of such wuss, creates a longing for someone to cut loose and let ‘er rip but that is not going to happen. This is prescription entertainment aimed at some kind of world in which I don’t want to live. And yet I watch. 

In the last couple of years of her life my Mom took to reading Harlequin Romances, those formulaic paperbacks that pop up at yard sales and thrift shops. Mom, who throughout her lifetime did not like either gossip or trash, piled those Harlequins on her chairs like stale half-bags of discarded potato chips. Now I’m watching Hallmark channel blah? Am I retreating from the challenges of the world that seems to have turned too rough, too real, too scary? 

The world of politics seems to be attempting to mirror a parallel false version of the realities of life. While reports of darkness in the lives of political leaders pop up regularly so many turn their backs ignoring the obvious in favor of La La Land versions that seemed to fit with some fairy tale way of being. Why would any of us consciously choose to believe in a version of life that strips out all of the nitty gritty realities which make our lives meaningful? Isn’t this messy? Of course. But also real and honest and worthwhile. What lies behind this desire for a cotton candy diet that cannot sustain a body or a soul? 

I wish someone could explain why abandoning principles for a drained and bland version of living is preferred when it seems what we most need is to stand fast and hold true to substance and meaning rather than wander off into idle distraction.

What in hell is going on?

 

OutrageousColor

#146 Why Do I Explore the Dark?

rockswirls

Why Do I Explore the Dark?

Why do I explore the dark

when others dance lightly on

the surface in the sunshine

while I’m drawn to

downward spirals trying

to find answers

to the mysteries?

Mostly that’s okay

but sometimes I meet up

with a dancer in distress

and my communication

with them is too intense.

Did I purposefully

ask for this role

when I came into this life?

Why would a being

choose such a path?

I unexpectedly came

into a sorrow

that I did not want,

(or so I thought then)

and so I still think now.

Then another sorrow arrived

as if to remind me

to stay on the path,

to not attempt

to shy away

from the toughest questions

I could ask

about who I am,

why I came,

and how I can make use

of a path that seems

sometimes more twisted

than the paths of others?

But that can not be so

as the daily headlines

are filled with tragedy and trevail.

No life is untouched by sorrow.

[That is a question.]

Each of us has touched joy

so the presence of the

occasional opposite of that

seems logical.

We all search for

balance.

Perhaps it is merely our

reactions which differ

or the reactions we allow

others to see.

Maybe I just never got good

at concealment

or containment

and let those suckers

out of the bag.

It wouldn’t be the only

social grace I lack,

unlearned,

as I went

poking around

those dark corners.

Such an odd way

to go about

trying to find

light.