#184  External Heat

External Heat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How are you getting through this winter?

#183 Still

Still.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#182 Self-care

Self Care.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bask in what’s doable.

#181   Fruit

Fruit.

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

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

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

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

#180 Expansion



Expansion.

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

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

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

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

#179 The Progression of Short Days

The Progression of Short Days

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

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

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

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

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

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

# 178 Big Picture

Big Picture.

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

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

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

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

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

#177 Before. During. After.

We’re not yet quite at this stage…but it’s coming.




Before, During, After.

There were many lovely Thanksgiving emails this year and one in particular mentioned the quiet time of winter quickly approaching, a time of thought and reflection. For so much of my—our?—lives that was true. There was often a sense of relief as the hectic crazies of summer finally started to thin out and fall brought a sense of restoring order. The loss of light and the shorter days reminded us that we had things to finish up and each lovely last warm day was a gentle prod to keep going while the weather was good. Perhaps this sense of restoring order is yet another reason so many name fall as their favorite season.

The message of the solace found in winter’s days however finds me rethinking that view of the season. We are approaching two years of pandemic reality that enforced a particular kind of quiet that did not feel like a form of solace. While many made good and creative uses of this time there were also just as many of us who found isolation difficult. We changed gears which may have been critically important physically and spiritually but going into yet another winter of restrictions feels like a too heavy burden. Vaccines felt like they would bring us back to some of what we most loved in our lives but the continuations of “variants” keeps all unsettled. By the time it might be safer to spend indoor time with family or friends we may have permanently altered our concepts of normalized privacy, where our whole house may feel off limits to visitors like our bedrooms once were when living rooms and kitchens were still okay for casual visitors.

I would dearly love to think of blue-white winter days with long, leisurely hours of mugs of hot tea and good books and streams of productive thought leading to new revelations, but my memory pokes me with images of raging seas, howling winds, piling snow drifts, and a sense of permeating cold that physically hurts. Old bones and joints are painful when cold makes movement slow and painful and remain everyday challenges for months at a time. Where is the solace in that?

The obvious but not always considered is that walls not only keep others out but keep us inside. This is the mixed blessing of winter. Where once we could welcome the quiet months as sanctuary they can also be viewed as a certain kind of prison. When we had lots of variations and options we could alter these close and closed perspectives, reveling in winter holiday parties in winter gatherings with friends and family, then retreating into our solitary quiet times. Another pandemic winter means our options stay limited, therefore still a challenge.

We’ve not yet gotten to “After.”

#176  Feeding Birds

These are the birds it’s never okay to feed.

Feeding Birds.

I took the feeders down last spring after it had warmed a bit. I worried that summer feeding, above all, might interfere with the parents teaching their fledglings to find food as in “Why go elsewhere when there’s plenty of good protein in good flying range?”

I, with nothing but whim or intuition, decided I’d wait until the first snow fell before putting the feeders back up. Fall, according to a few sources, is when natural food is most plentiful. Recently I ran across a good article describing the pros and cons of feeling birds. One of the chief reasons to not feed is that it requires careful attention to cleaning and disinfection schedules of the feeders something at which I failed in the past and have ever since worried about what damage my ignorance might have caused. Because birds congregate unnaturally at feeders infection and disease spreads easily from one species or another. I feel the commitment to cleaning is worthy of some serious thought and follow through.

The price of bird seed and it’s availability has now become an issue as well. This is not a time anyone wants to be seriously feeding squirrels yet they need to make it through winter as well. But their preprogramed instinct to hoard causes a nasty supply chain issue of its own and investing in the equipment and efforts needed to thwart these super smart critters is a steep uphill climb. 

Last year, tired of the cleaning battle with the various tube feeders, I went to a simple hanging platform and a suet block. Platforms are easier to empty and clean  and most species seem to do okay with them. Squirrels love them of course. 

Out here by the ocean I do not get the beautiful species people love to watch such as the Bluebirds or Purple Finches and most days the much more common species like the House Sparrows, an occasional Cardinal or Tufted Titmouse, Nuthatch or Chickadee show up.  The Goldfinches thinned out and didn’t seem to be around in the winter as much as they once were despite my maintaining a specifically designed Finch Feeder. That is going to be replaced this winter with a second, smaller hanging platform with “alternative” seeds such as millet and safflower which are not usually liked by squirrels.

All bird experts suggest planting native plant species as a far more natural way of providing food rather than supplemental bird feeders. However this good idea is not possible if you are a renter or live in a populated area without backyards. They also suggest not mowing which seems ridiculous in terms of encouraging threatening tick populations, dangerous to dogs and humans both. 

To feed or not to feed seems to come down to the pleasure of watching wildlife up close and the learning such observations bring. Once, when winter sports activities were great fun, there didn’t seem to be thoughts of staying entertained during the cold months but now such opportunities provide a way to make it to Spring.

Do you feed the birds? What compromises do you make?

#174 Giving Thanks

(Sometimes this is like the sausage factory. Please try again because WordPress, a slippery piece of software at best, sent an unedited version on 11/22/21)

Giving Thanks.

Winter is approaching. I am realizing it is not just the approach of this particular season but also a metaphor for this part of my life. 

I missed this blog’s publishing date for the first time since this exercise in joy started in August 2018, which is my first clue that something is shifting. Living so close to the powerful Atlantic Ocean is a revelation. We visitors to its shores know the calm joy of a summer beach but I longed to know its winter’s side or what it felt like at 4 a.m. in the dark, or to watch a sunrise with a lobster boat headed out for the day’s work. I’d seen what I thought were big waves from on shore during late summer hurricanes and felt their underlying roar and watched their great green curls. What was not to love?

This is about eternal romance and its clash with reality. The summer vacation solace, also a metaphor, has other sides. A different kind of high tide with violent storms came at us in the form of divisive politics and a raging pandemic. The summer calm of ocean became a raging winter sea, literally and metaphorically. The nor’easters of fall, winter, and spring shredded my peace and made me thoroughly aware of nature’s raw power and its indifference to human desires. The world away from my windows to the sea became alien. Lockdown uncertainty, then fear and confusion touched each of us. I have floundered as have many of you and here, where I most wanted to share tiny bits of shoreline observations, I lost my way. I fell into political fear and anxiety and these things overshadowed my observations of nature.

It is so easy to tumble in the unknown of our present. Earlier I wrote a blog post entitled “Which Way Is Up?” where I rambled on trying to make sense of this week’s craziness. Instead of posting that, I write a mea culpa for having strayed from original intent. The nor’easter of a few weeks ago shook my foundations and, perhaps the foundations of this house as well. The dire predictions of climate change are illusive, terrifying, and likely to bring all kinds of non-imagined challenges. We sense “something big” is coming. More immediately, the King Tides due in early December, if combined with another storm, may threaten this location and bring the ocean up on the lawn or worse or maybe just close, calm water will be the outcome. Like everything else in our current lives we don’t know how things will play out. 

I can say I was not prepared for aging far away from a network of friends and family, and that it has been much harder to restart a life than I understood. Of course the pandemic made everything much harder and aging itself keeps turning up new variations requiring constant alterations and adaptations. The pandemic conditions could not have been foreseen and the isolation and increased awareness of possible dependency oddly seem to match the experience of watching thirty foot waves that are far too close. How I long for loved ones who are far away, and for cohesion and care, for peaceful seas and soft warm days and nights but let’s get real: we are headed into winter, once again, literally and metaphorically. May we at this moment give thanks for what we know, for friends, family, and loved ones in all places, for what we have lived and learned, even if we took the hard route to arrive where we presently find ourselves. May we rest and find blessings and then begin to find our way back to the path of connections and of healing

#173  Buzzwords: White Privilege 

Buzzwords: White Privilege

Word lovers unite! We can gather under a banner opposing the creeping horde of buzzwords infiltrating our lives, that meaningless, imprecise abundance of sloppy shortcuts that fail miserably on so many levels. Nuance begone!    Subtleties begone!! Complexity is hereby and forever banished! The media has been filled with talk of “White Privilege”. Maybe I can vent my eyre concerning such shortcut terms.

A quick Google search definition of privilege as “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group. I have felt that “privilege “has indicated some kind of wall for, as long as I’ve been alive and as far as I’m concerned walls keep people in every bit as much as they keep people out. In my childhood in an all white border town “privilege” equated that which earning more money provided—a better house or neighborhood mostly. It meant being able to remove oneself or one’s family from scarier aspects of hardship which often meant meeting the day-to-day hassles that filled the lives of those of us who had less (money that is. We didn’t usually consider ourselves as lesser in any other way). I wasn’t aware of cars or travel or things like private schools that may have been concerns of those with plenty of monetary resources. I was white living in a white community so for me “white” had nothing to do with privilege at all. Because we lived on the northern border there was, like everywhere else, a pecking order that was based on ethnicity—French versus English in both origins and language—not color or race.  Both French and English speakers had money, or not. 

Many years later, but when I was still in my early twenties, I was living in base housing at Camp LeJeune, NC and that is when I got my first up close and personal experience of the “white” part. I was sobered but not daunted because our friends were mixed race couples with whom we shared a bond of being anti-war in the midst of the war killing-machine training grounds that was the purpose of that Marine base. War, not “White”, was my focus although I became aware of the deeply ugly aspects of the racism that poked out like daggers on innocent occasions.

I’m trying to flush out and contrast “privilege”with a feeling superior in specific ways, a feeling of knowing things that are hidden from others, that you are a member of a group with unique insight, talents, or skills. From examples from my own life I am trying to find delineate the difference of superior Knowing versus Privilege. These are the images coming into my head:

*Circa 1986: immigrants cooking on a fire escape hibachi in Boston. Is their version of cooking, their ingredients and spices and techniques seen by them as better than the cooking going on in the rest of the building particularly if that cooking is odorless microwaving (or whatever quickie cooking techniques were available) the contents of cardboard packaging? Did those immigrants feel privileged? Perhaps in being in a new land but within their new existence I doubt they would think of themselves as such. The smells from those hibachis certainly spoke volumes of about a different relationship to food than held by the wrinkled noses passing by. 

*As a child I loved the French Canadian traditions celebrated as the members of my best friend’s family married. I, as an only child, secretly ached to belong to this vibrant group of people especially in the exuberant energy expressed as they came together to celebrate new unions. That fast fiddling! The dancing! The shouts of joy and laughter! 

*Many years later a colleague brought the photos of her wedding held in her home in India. The copious photos showed a celebration in which her uncles carried her to the ceremony in a basket. The range of beautiful colors of their clothing challenged what was recordable with a camera. The ceremony, she explained, lasted for hours and required changes in wedding attire for different parts of the proceedings. Her family in India may well have been “privileged” as both she and her husband had earned graduate degrees but when both of them returned to the United States I somehow doubt they felt privileged, as they were crowded into a small but affordable apartment when their daughter was born. Still, they carried a culture that knew a far different way of being than those of us around them and most of us didn’t have a clue.

*The last memory I want to share is watching the outwardly professional demeanor of a graduate student from China working behind a library reserve desk. The patron, student or faculty (I saw this happen with each), approached and asked for the material they needed. Often their description was incomplete so the desk assistant needed further information. Closed American ears (how many times I have watched Americans tighten their ability to hear at the first hearing accented speech) were attached to berating, impolite mouths on many occasions yet the Chinese Desk Assistant never once lost her professional demeanor, who located the desired material and checked it out to the rude patron. Where does “privilege” apply in this case? Who felt themselves as superior during these exchanges?

To the definition privilege I would add that privilege can be in operation when the ones who actually may be privileged may not recognize it as such. Now “white privilege” seems to represent things that I don’t believe are privileges at all. I see this concept as a wall, a barrier to understanding, an antique obstacle like driving a Model T Ford because that is all you have and not because you are a classic car hobbyist. I realize that many view themselves as privileged and that they have a rightful place at the top of one chain or another but really, isn’t this a self-evolved fantasy not shared by everyone?

Note: I realize that I am straying far away from the usual ways white privilege is being described in our current society (and around the world). Feel free to take issue with my point of viewing this issue.

#172 Dead Vegetation

Dead Vegetation.

Many years ago in a geography far different from the current one, I stepped out into the morning air to go to work and the air reeked. There had been a hard frost, actually a killing freeze, in the night and all the growing things had died at the same time. The words “dead vegetation” rang in my head as a description of the powerful scent that filled the air. (Later in the day I realized that “Dead Vegetation” would be a great name for a rock band.)

These days we say “climate change” whenever a weather event happens whether it feels ordinary or strange. I think we may have had a frost sometime during the week as the tops of the rosemary plants I was hoping to use for while longer were dead. The bright neon-glowing fuchsia impatiens in two flower pots as well as those I’d planted in the ground which had bloomed spectacularly since spring, were also stripped and seemingly dead but even so, I cannot declare we’ve had our first frost because last week brought fifty mile per hour winds in the form of a nor’easter. Forty eight hours of screaming wind and waves,  a power outage, and a cold house left me feeling raw inside. It really did seem as if the storm was going to bring the ocean up on to the lawn or rushing at the house. But it didn’t. This time.

A new acquaintance came to visit the house for the first time and her words echoed those I’ve heard before: “You said you lived close to the water but I had no idea it was this close.” Later, I looked down the row of seven houses between here and the state park and realized for the first time that this house, although a bit higher up, sits closer to the water than any of the others. In the 1970’s when it was built, as close to the ocean as possible was considered marvelous. Now, no one would consider this a suitable, mortgage-carrying build any longer and if you could manage the finances of building it on your own you’d still not be able to buy property insurance. There is also the possibility that legislation is now in place to prevent the possibility of such ocean proximity. Even though I have loved living in this location I still believe that the State should have made this whole piece of rocky shore into public land for all to enjoy rather than defaulting to private ownership on both the north and south sides of the narrow, tiny (and gorgeous) state park they saved as wild. It’s an East Coast problem I think, this concept of gobbling up oceanfront as private property thus denying public access to what should be available to all whereas the western lands facing the Pacific seem to have been (mostly) held for public access. No one should get to call a piece of shoreline “mine”. 

We are now looking upon our past choices with fresh and worried eyes because we fear what’s coming. Having used “Nature as a toilet”  (as said by the U.N.’s Secretary General Guterres, at the 2021 Glasgow Climate Summit, COP 26.*) we are just starting to glimpse a future that may not include humankind’s survival.

The fierce winds of last week’s nor’easter so battered everything growing on the north and west sides of the house I cannot tell if it was a frost or the wind that killed the plants. Even the tall and seemingly strong Japanese Knotweed up against this side of the neighbor’s high wooden fence is lying broken on the ground. It is suspicious that the same neighbor has seemingly untouched bright blue hydrangeas on his (wind protected) side of the fence making me doubt that we’ve had a frost at all but there is lots of dead vegetation over here and it’s time to tear out the annuals and empty the pots.

It’s hard to say goodbye to summer and turn to face, yet one more time, that winter fierce ocean. 

——————————————————————————
*We face a stark choice. Either we stop it – or it stops us”, he [Guterres] added, delivering five key messages

It’s time to say enough. Enough of brutalizing ourselves with carbon, treating nature like a toilet, burning, and drilling and mining our way deeper. We are digging our own graves”, Mr. Guterres said, adding that our planet is changing before our eyes from melting glaciers, to relentless extreme weather events.
https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/11/1104542

#171 Trying to Figure Things Out

Trying to figure things out.

My younger self often thought that by the time I reached old age I would have figured things out. What a surprise it has been to realize answers to lifelong questions have gotten more and more complex and understanding seems farther away than ever.

Of late the pressing question is whether “reality” is basically negative or whether that viewpoint—seeing the dark side of things as the truth of existence—is a deliberate choice. A friend pointed this out to me in a recent conversation. Such friends are gifts, pushing us to examine where our thinking has perhaps gone off the rails. How else can we continue to expand our horizons at a time they most need expansion if we are not nudged into re-examination of our thinking?

Are we living in dark times? Media exposure screams examples of this view constantly but that particular “truth” insures we return to that trough, therefore reinforcing their existence and their profits. Where can I look to find light while staying grounded? What tools, what methods, are available to counterbalance negativity? These may be harder questions headed into winter but for all of that the summer was far from easy. 

The first storm since early spring, a nor’easter, blasted the northeast coast for two days this week. The surf pounded incessantly coming in far too close while the power went out and the house grew cold. My internal resources felt drained by the storm’s intensity. Looking out at a calm summer ocean it was easy to forget the power of wild water that cannot and will not be controlled. Nature always has the last word reminding us mere humans we are specks of existence in a much larger picture. 

Is this an example of negative thinking?

#170 8:00 a.m. Sunday Morning.

8:00 a.m. Sunday Morning.

Starting the normal routine of the day I glanced out at the water and moved immediately to the porch door. The air held a slight chill, a fall–no longer summer–feel to the morning with the scent of brine traveling to my nostrils holding me, that smell addiction, deep breaths, the whiff that always stops me in my tracks until it’s moved past. A fairly large storm system had moved through during the night and I was watching its remnants move out over the water. Everything was moving. A hole in the clouds let defined light break through to the surface of the water; the uneven clouds, some heavier and darker than others, some moving lightly with grace; a flock of geese or ducks working out their formation on the leg of their journey southward that passed in front of this house. They were black silhouetted forms, individuals juggling positions, flying low over the water just off shore.

A vivid color palette, the contrasts surprising in this hour a result of the changing weather systems. Science explains yet art or mysticism comes as overlays adding dimensions—the grass still bright green shimmering wet from rain, the deep red invasive bittersweet vines winding around dark rocks, the dense clouds dark blue. Looking south edgy tendril clouds playfully thinned out into swirls of pearly grey with a touch of near yellow. Translucent green, that wholly other water green swirled in curls as the waves broke before the rocks and bright white spray soared upward released from the mass body of water below, freed for just an instant. This is not a “one picture is worth a thousand words” morning. There is so much going on I am attempting to hang on to every moment, my human senses all working to feel, smell, see the entirety and yet…

I use the tool at hand to first remind and then to share but the camera lenses can only do so much. All senses open, the human can only take in so much. “Vast” lies beyond mere humanity. This world at the edge of land is big and small at the same time. How can I go about a mundane day after witnessing such spectacle? And yet, that is what happens. What would life mean if we remained caught in such continual awareness?

If only.

 





Notes: These photographs were not edited.

# 169 Control

Control.

Do you feel that you are in control of your life? Long ago I came to the conclusion that “control” means the choice of how I react to other people’s actions which has been about the only real control there has been in my life. From medical procedures to the roof over your head there is often very little you can do if you don’t like the way things are going other than to suck it up, figure it out, and keep going.

Gardeners often learn quite early in their efforts that no matter how much we do or how much we know, we will only be able to affect what comes of our efforts in accordance with what Nature brings each growing season. Precipitation, temperature, insects and wildlife appetites all determine what will thrive and what will not. Gardening is a wonderful way to learn that control only goes just so far.

While Control has always been an issue in human lives, current issues of Control underlie daily media stories from pandemic masking issues to political actions and viewpoints. The public actions of some get louder and increasingly dangerous which seems to me to illustrate continued beliefs by many that Control is possible. Is it really possible to live an entire lifetime not ever learning that Control is at best something with very confined limitations but mostly it is a fantasy residing inside of your head?

Childhood is a time of no control despite tantrums and other small protests and so too, is aging. No matter how strongly you built your body through a lifetime of nutrition and physical activity it is likely if you live long enough you will experience some type of breakdown. Rather than seeing this through fear, think of it as an opportunity for grace for grace is the counterpoint of Control; it is bending in the force of the gale; it is learning that you are part of a whole which you may never see nor understand. Inside grace there is an entire world of trust, something often lacking in the desperate longing for Control.

I watched the ocean for a long time one recently unexpectedly blessed October day when the warmth of summer returned as a gift. Blue green waves rolled toward the rocks in intervals, breaking before they hit the shoreline. It was the iconic vision of ocean in its rhythmic beauty, the vast power of water seemingly tame but winter ocean is just ahead and that is the ocean which rarely lets you forget that you are not in charge nor will you ever be. This is nature’s hand, the disguise of the iron fist inside of the velvet glove, the reminder for all of the other part of our lives.

# 168 Reprieve

Reprieve.

Summer’s gone but October has given those of us in the Northeast a few days of blessed summer-like weather. It has been wonderful. I’m wondering about all the things that people have squeezed into this reprieve. I used it to wash the ocean side windows, always a foolish task as the first high tide with accompanying rough water will send the salt spray back on to the glass but still, it is satisfying to clean windows on a bright and sunny day when there is instant gratification from the now clearer sparkle on the water. I also washed the screens, a chore I usually leave until spring, but there were many seeds and plant matter lodged firmly in the grids, particularly from the thistles that produced a bumper crop this year. I know the thistle plant (outside of Scotland) is often considered a noxious weed but there’s a flock of resident goldfinches who live out here year round who particularly love thistle seed. Without doubt my guess is that they prefer to dine on them au natural as opposed to eating them from the hanging porch thistle feeder in the freezing winter months.

After washing,a few screens went back up in case the reprieve lingers or (hopehopehope) returns before the first snowfall. Removing the screens improves the amount of light by 50% which really counts in darkest December.

Early this afternoon I looked up to see this lobster boat checking traps in front of the house. Not that much lobstering happened out there this past summer although the tourist traffic was heavy. My guess is there were many vacationers’ bellies containing lobster after heading to “shacks” either here or elsewhere on the coast. Despite the going rate of $69 per pound for picked lobster meat—-that’s even above the usual winter’s elevated cost—-those classic rolls were still selling to those who wanted this “Maine experience”. Ordering four lobster rolls, one each for Mom, Dad, Buddy, and Sis, set a family back over $100 without extras including drinks.

Despite all the blather of lost jobs and pandemic-related economic hardship, these calamities seemed not to include those flocks of folks in out of state cars streaming into Maine from earliest April through September. There are signs the season is finally slowing and it will be more evident after the leaf-peeping on Indigenous People’s weekend. Businesses have had a tough season with pandemic numbers soaring and being incredibly short-staffed. Many have been directly affected by losing workers and operation time because of spreading infections. I suspect this may also be the case for lobster men and women who choose to sit this season out or figured out how to make money in an less strenuous job.

But that boat and that lobsterman came close enough for me to see a smile on the face of a hardworking man out on the water on this unexpectedly gorgeous day. It certainly looked like summer out there.

# 167 Limits of Our Knowing

Limits of Our Knowing.

Early in the day there were periodic rumblings of which I could make little sense. It was as much of a vibration as it was a sound. It went on for quite a long time. Finally, it dawned on me that the rhythms most felt like thunder although there weren’t any signs of an approaching storm.

One of the weather apps (WeatherBug:  the one with the lightning reporting system) showed storms offshore,–out over the ocean–where the intensity of the vibrations and sound was being magnified by traveling over the water. Because the storm had not passed overhead, and because in the gray of the morning there we no visible flashes of light, the thought of thunderstorms did not occur to me.

This continuing experience of not paying attention to things “outside of my realm” was explained in another way a bit later as I listened to a podcast interview with Sy Montgomery,  author of The Soul of an Octopus. We self- centered humans have been excruciatingly slow in recognizing not only the intelligence of animals but of their rich, emotional lives and, especially, of their relationship to the planet that is theirs. Ever so slowly we are beginning to learn and incorporate that we have vastly underestimated that other planetary creatures have as much as an intrinsic right to be here. We have also vastly overestimated our right to the same thing.

This is not going to slide into a PETA Animal Rights diatribe nor a superiority laced case for vegetarian/vegan eating. I cannot ignore that many of the animals on the planet view most other species (sometimes including their own) as food. To me to declare that humans have the ability to not eat animals places us in a similar position of being superior to other species that do and I am not willing to goo there. You have or will make your own choices out of what makes sense to you.

My present awareness is that it is humans who seem to believe they are at the top of the food chain is what entitles us to do with the planet’s resources as we damn well please. Our profound self-centeredness is what is putting the planet in environmental jeopardy and we are directly responsible for the continuing loss of other species. What we did not know, and refused to consider, means the last laugh will not be ours.

“How Octopuses Upend What We Know About Ourselves”

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/13/opinion/ezra-klein-podcast-sy-montgomery.html?referringSource=articleShare

#166 Change

#166  Change

Change.

Although the days may still have warmth the sunset brings a sharp cool presence that wasn’t with us just a few short weeks ago. So many name Fall as their favorite season and I can understand that in light of the particular madness that seems to overtake the last few weeks of August. The plants in pots which looked so pristine in mid-July have turned into overgrown tangles. Dying yellow starts to be the color of choice for the leaves on the plants left growing in the garden. After the tomato harvest explosion the stragglers look exactly like stragglers, more suitable for sauce than for slicing to make a luscious tomato sandwich which no longer seems quite as appealing as the go-to breakfast of choice.  Summer’s crazy excesses start to feel like—well, excesses—and a longing for order and calm seeps in.

There’s a price to be paid for these changes. Darkness comes abruptly and too early even though it’s been creeping in steadily since June’s solstice. Windows stay closed more often now, quick thunderstorms come through while you’re out and water on the floor greets you on your return. Leaving windows open at night requires an extra blanket close at hand if the wind turns in the wee hours of the morning. It’s hard enough rising in the dim morning light without sleep disturbance caused by being chilled.

The current commercialization on the pumpkin spice bandwagon has totally gotten out of hand and is especially noticed by the few of us not fond of cinnamon. Let’s face it: pumpkin spice mainly means that cinnamon is a major ingredient in nearly everything marked “pumpkin spice” but really, just how much cinnamon can even that spice lover tolerate?

It’s again time to face the changeover in clothing for those in the northern parts of the world—or in the Southern Hemisphere as well. There may be those who have sufficient closet space so as flipping nearly everything you wear isn’t necessary but many of us lug clothing to and from storage spaces grumbling “Didn’t we just do this a couple of weeks ago?”

You may be thinking of adding to your stash of tea or you may be ruffling through your favorite soup recipes. That’s because you are now getting cold.

Here’s my attitude concerning moving from Summer into Fall–I see this time of change in a very simple way. I’d much rather be eating fresh peaches than apples.

 

 

#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.