# 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.

#145 Magic, Mystery, Wonder: The Unseen

ghostsail

Magic, Mystery, Wonder: The Unseen.

When I was young I was out with my parents at a Christmas party. When we returned to the place where we lived there was a large, handled paper bag wedged between the outer storm door and the regular door. In the bag was a fairly large stuffed toy, a poodle that had a short chain leash and a collar. It was obviously intended for me as the only child in the house. I never learned who gave that stuffed dog toy to me but what I have carried with me for all these years from this experience was the idea that Magic existed. To me, Magic was somehow the source of this gift (even though I often thought about the various people in my life who could have left that gift for me). The point is I wanted to believe in Magic even more than I wanted to know who had given that gift. 

My adult version of Magic transformed into an attraction to what I now call “the unseen”. Over time my desire for the existence of Magic has manifested in attraction to Astrology, Channeling, Life After Life (or Life After Death),  Reincarnation and more. Over the course of an academic career my interest in such subjects did not lessen but I learned to keep it to myself. After retirement, freed from my self-imposed bounds, I re-discovered the field of Consciousness Studies. I was overjoyed to learn that while my exploration in this area had taken a very long break scientists had forged ahead and were very intensively poking and researching using the scientific method as a tool to uncover much of what had before been dismissed. Under the academic disciplines of Philosophy of Mind, Psychology, and Quantum Physics much was being uncovered and understood. While I cannot here give any succient description of this work, I (oddly) understand what I have read and watched. As I slide into becoming an old woman, I realize I have not lost the longing for Magic to be in the world. While I came to have deep respect for science and its particular processes for discovering truth, I never stopped wanting the more sophisticated forms of such beliefs in what had been my childhood longings for the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus to be real. To this day I simultaneously carry beliefs that both science and Magic are present, concurrent and real.

Aging has brought me to relishing in the delights of mystery. I don’t want to know detail by detail every aspect of our world as studied and explained by one scientist or another. Recently, I stood on the stairs to the entrance of the house where I live for a long time watching the small birds gathering for their late afternoon feeding on the seeds I’d put out earlier in the day. There were varieties of sparrows, and Tuffted Titmice, Chickadees and House Finches. The different species came together all at the same time, and in the silent blue sky afternoon the sounds of fluttering wings, of air moving through feathers, was over my head as these birds moved from trees to the feeders, over and back again and again.. Time stopped as I, in utter delight, was absorbed by these small, ordinary birds. I did not clamor for a scientific explanation of how these different species came together all at once, in coordination and cooperation although I could tell that there were definite protocols being followed by who got to be at the feeders at the same time. I am certain ornithologists have the answers to explain these behaviors but what I cared about most was standing in love and awe out of time and absorbed by what was happening.  I had no desire to seek out behavioral whys. I wanted the wonder, the Magic, of simply observing and being.

 Maybe it is as easy as that. Scientists can research and write papers, and we can seek out that information or we can observe and experience without that form of knowledge, simply wanting to be present. No matter who we are we cannot know all and just maybe that within the space of our unknowing is the real definition of what Magic really is.

On a very “feet on the ground” way of seeing the world, I remember long ago reading that “someday” humans would heal with light and sound. At the time I could not imagine what that meant. When I remembered this so much later in my life I realized that the prediction had already arrived. Ultrasound and Lasers are tools for healing with sound and light. I lived long enough to see that prediction become reality. In my–your–lifetime we have witnessed all manor of amazing new things: computers and then computers in the form of phones ever present in our pockets, where we can use FaceTime and Zoom to talk with one another separated by rooms or miles. What was once Unseen now fills our world.

 

#143 Old Photos

Old photos unknowns copy

Old Photos

An assignment for my latest class sent me scurrying to the plastic bin in the basement where old photographs were piled in a disorganized mess. Most all had once been pasted into albums, providing some kind of context but the smell of those albums indicated that “slow fire” was at work. Slow Fire is the term for the deterioration of acidic paper which eventually destroys all. (Think of that dark orange paper in an old paperback in the attic.) In an attempt to save the photos I tore the albums apart but I stopped (like happens with so many projects) at demolition leaving all of those images in a tangled mess where there was no time frame or reference point left.

There’s a saying that you are still alive as long as there is someone who remembers your name. If that’s the case then there are people in these photos who are truly gone. Oddly a name will sometimes pop into my brain emerging from the murk like a long buried, almost viable, cork. Sometimes there is only a name accompanied by a vague idea of who he / she / they were but not why their photo came to be in that box . When we lose the last pieces of connective tissue are they just faces on paper? Surely we must have once known. Aren’t we supposed to remember these things?

There is so little family left to even wonder who these people were and there’s certainly no opportunity to ask the one or two remaining that still might know. As with many families here and elsewhere there has been so much movement and change there is barely any concept of family history left. There is a  good possibility that this no longer matters, that is if it ever did. My family was tiny; I am an only child who had an only child. It takes larger families who gather on holidays and retell stories year after year to keep family history viable. Genealogists have an easier time uncovering and following family trees when the stories are kept alive, although they are not always accurate.

There are legitimate questions about such matters. Is family history relevant in today’s world? Will it be lost only to resurface as a pressing issue in times to come? It seems it is the provenance of the old to ask such questions. Everyone else is too busy with the daily grind to even entertain such thoughts. Is modern life such a struggle it renders family history irrelevant? I can hear the chorus of historians and genealogists screaming “Nooooooo”. But the question stands. Do we need to remember who we were to know who we are?

For information on Slow Fire see:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slow_fire

# 142 Time Out.

Marsh

Time Out.

The long process of moving from Winter to Spring, runs the reverse course from the Fall transition into Winter only the Spring transition feels so much harder. For a few weeks now I have been sliding down into myself, removing myself from most communications, growing increasingly silent, wanting the depths of whatever was happening to replace being in the shallows where I’ve been for far too long. This began spontaneously, unfolding with no plan, just a slow movement into this different space/time experience. I’ve sought silence, wanting to sink into feeling my way through whatever has been happening.

What is the experience of matted salt marsh grass, the thick layers of brown thatch looking like a dense, impenetrable barrier for the tender green shoots lying underneath seeking light? It takes so long for the green to overtake the brown, months where living stalks push upward through the deadened mass above them.

What determined force sends out exploratory shoots of not-yet-green from inside the heart of a bulb buried deeply enough under dark soil to have kept the frozen layers above from killing the life lying at the center of that firm and rounded bit of brown?

What allows the winged creatures, large and small, to persevere though the cold, the sleet, the wind blown heaps of frozen white?  What life force encased in feathers and down gets them through months of impossibly harsh weather only to face sparse food supplies in the long stretch when those who fled to warmth return to compete for what little food remains? 

 What is our common ground, the force that gets us from impossible waiting to breaking through to life’s full warmth when nothing else matters but just being?  Science may explain some of these how’s but getting to pure joy remains within the experience itself, without whys: “Is-ness” exploding into being. 

It’s yellow season. Daffodils and forsythia blossoms are popping up in yards and patches. Star magnolias trees are just beginning to blossom, so unlike the pink magnolias I knew further south. But this year nothing seems particularly spectacular. Maybe it is still a bit early or maybe we are still weary, still tenuously facing unknowns. There are bits of grace here and there and while we wait for Spring’s full new life we remain uncertain and, perhaps, still a bit afraid.

Our longing is to burst into joy. Do we yet dare?

 

#141 Bird Report

Bird Report.

Spring is a man agonizingly slow process in Coastal Maine. It’s a matter of being by a body of water where size really matters. The reasonably large lake on whose shore I spent my childhood had a climate moderation effect but that body pales in comparison to the Atlantic Ocean. The slow spring rollout that means days of biting wind and low temperatures mean I do drive-bys along the nearest marshes looking and listening for early arrivals. Things had been quiet with occasional sightings of Mallard ducks and Canada Geese but this week there was a glorious reward as a lone Great Egret stood fishing in that cold marsh water, ice still edging the shady spots, the marsh grasses still dead and brown, at least on the surface. I rolled down my window and shouted “Welcome Back” as an excited, obnoxious, human might when spotting this beloved creature.. In the months when it is possible I always drive the long way round when I’m running errands to take in as much marsh peeping as I can. It’s the egrets, the Greats and the Snowys, that my eyes seek wanting to soak in the grace and beauty of their being.

The week provided another bird sighting treat when I spotted a Killdeer in a bare dirt field. I’d not seen a Killdeer since I lived in northern Vermont so many years ago. I loved watching their fakey broken wing ruse used to divert any potential threat away from their ground nests. Looking like it’s a shore bird, instead you mostly find it in unplowed fields in early spring. They nest in precarious places as farmers and gardeners begin Turing over soil to begin planting. Be careful dear Killdeer.

I also heard the twrrr of newly arrived Red Wings Blackbirds coming from the marsh as I approached with car windows open. Alas, I didn’t get sight of them and had only the joy of their song, a harbinger of spring arrival to so many who love their bright wing flashes.

As I  retrieved a package delivered to the porch, I startled aTom and his eleven hens who were foraging for leftover bird seed near the porch. They did not like my presence and they immediately began a slow retreat down into the parking lot. How huge and magnificent they are! Just a while later I glanced up to see that these turkeys had migrated to the ocean side lawn, seemingly finding some kind of food in the meager grass that tries to grow in the spot where salt spray often soaks the ground that then gets baked by a relenting sun. The turkeys didn’t seem to mind my presence as I was behind window glass. They seemed aware yet not bothered by how physically close to them I was. The Tom went in and out of full display for his eleven hens and I was able to clearly see the fan and side feathers in detail.

Another sighting came as a Common Flicker was searching the same beaten ground looking deceptively small and nondescript compared to it’s flashing feathers in flight, yellow gold undersides with jaunty black feather patches and a marvelous strip of red.

This must be a time of hunger for the early arrivals as well as for the year rounders as they forage before things have truly thawed or sprouted anew. I feed the little birds in the cold months and it is always challenging trying to decide when the feeders come down for the summer. It seems it should be when the new hatchlings are learning to find food for themselves. I love to cooperate, to see if I can help them get through winter safely, never wanting to feed them so much as to keep them from their natural food sources. There are arguments about feeding any wildlife including the songbirds. Surely there is “an answer” but I’m not sure I have it. I’d not planned on feeding them this winter at all until the pandemic made me critically aware of the precariousness of survival of all living things. I knew I needed the daily joy of watching the little birds visiting the porch, bright and cheery creatures, visitors during a lonely and isolated time. Feeling useful in this small way helped getting through the months of bleak and cold.

If I’m not yet able to swoon over glorious red tulips nor bask in the yellow joy of Forsythia, I can take comfort in the return of the Egrets which will have to hold me until full blown colors sprout everywhere and the sun’s warmth can again directly warm bare skin.

I wonder what sun feels like on a feathered body.

#140 Unfinished

Unfinished.

Back to the subject of dreams. Not even halfway through the night I’ve been brought sharply to an awakened state as three separate dreams have come right to the make or break point then whoosh I was out of there and awake, nearly panting at the closeness of resolve but instead left hanging and wondering. I’ve not been one much interested in dream interpretation via external sources preferring to believe in individual symbolism rather than in overreaching archetypes. In this case it’s the pattern of dreaming itself that has left me questioning. Well, that and a sense of doom or fear facing which, apparently, I’m not (yet?) ready to do.

Dreams are such curious manifestations. While many researchers work on poking at the truth of them–their origins and purpose–most of us remember little upon waking up, our separate selves operate mostly in realms of night or day, waking consciousness or boundless sleep. My sense of it is we could not survive without dreams, that within them lies guidance and the paths that our lives will take, but so much is not remembered. That’s not proof however that dreaming isn’t critical but only that we are very far from understanding the most basic mechanisms of our own being.

Now that I’m here it strikes me that I rarely understand most of where and how my life has unfolded. I came into these later years striving for amalgamation, looking to a time of contemplation where the seemingly separate parts of my lifetime could be pulled together into some kind of (at least) relational story. I wanted to make a whole after so many seemingly separate parts. Just as with tonight’s dreams, that work lies unfinished. Does that suggest that it takes the availability of a more vast perspective than what is available to most of us in our earthy form? Tonight I have only questions and no answers. Maybe a return to sleep will lead to yet more remembered answers.

Later Addition:

Morning light brought slivers of more dream memory, of returning to a place of departure (geographic or mindset) where leaving this life was joyous rather than gloomy, where a soul experienced a sparkle upon approaching this task. The time for departure had come and it was embraced. It seems an affront to even entertain such an idea but there it was with laughter and a sense of lightness and delight. A rested human body perhaps enabled such thoughts. Unfinished, replaced by simply unknown.

#139 Unholy

Unholy.

Of all the months the one which seems obviously malicious might be October. It is, after all, the time of witches and Samhain (Halloween). However October is often lovely, maybe giving a hint of cold or flurries, but often balmy (and that “witch” stuff has never been what it seemed). The real unholy month is March when even the thought of Spring entices us into welcoming the month forgetting every single time that March often brings the fiercest storms, the ones that truly test your mettle when you are least wanting to be tested.

Last night the NorthWest wind blew without mercy, passing through the walls of the house as if they were non-existent barriers to the icy cold, sixteen degrees and dropping as I tucked under the covers. Anything exposed under that too faint protection tightened and stiffened, joints of fingers and neck knotting while sleep tried to persist but only on faint and shallow levels. The wind continues today even as the sun shines brightly, all it’s warmth shredded under the onslaught.

It’s hard to write anything at this time without referencing the pandemic, even if that is the last place I want to go, but this year in particular our need for warmth has grown out of proportion given that warmth is how we will be able to break our isolation and to be with friends and family. This process is being powerfully fueled with the parallel availability of vaccinations. Nearly everyone I know has had one shot and is waiting for the second, or is through both and now starting to think of re-entry into a world abandoned in a flash of another March. Despite vaccinations we still need mild days to sit with sun on bare skin, to breathe freely moving air, to move around outdoors without layers and layers of clothing, to let our bodies and psyches come back into allowing flow.

I figured that March this year was going to be hard but that concept pales in the face of a wind like sharp steel. There is no getting to be warm today, inside or out. Every gust that tears at the house tears at my psyche. We are nearly past the halfway mark and we know that each year snow falls on the daffodils of April. How will we summon our strength after a year of unknowns, a year of anxiety and fear of something we cannot see that devastates lives, that turns familiar faces into eyes above coverings so that we don’t recognize old faces and will never be able to recall new ones we’ve met during this time?

In lower latitudes March can try the spirit with its capricious variations of weather. This far north, sitting beside the frigid waters of the Atlantic, it will still be months before there is any softness in the air. While our bodies are working hard responding to vaccinations, building still needed immunities, our spirits need a break, an infusion of gentleness and peace. March is just not going to let up and hand us an easier time of it. Here’s where mettle counts, the breaking point. Can you hang on long enough while all those tensions from months of months of plodding through unknowns has tightened your muscles into knots, the cold aiding the process so efficiently?

The prayer is to get through: this hour, this day, this month, this time. If only we can hang on for that first soft evening of total letting go, body melts into ease which has been forgotten, when windows can be thrown open and fresh air can clean out stale house corners. How I hope I can soon laugh off today’s dire thoughts and words, dismiss them because color and warmth have returned, this time meaning more than they ever have before.

#138 What Is Asked of Us

What Is Asked of Us?

We know that other generations in past times and places in the history of our world have endured pandemics. We may know that these periods in history took massive tolls on human lives, as a quarter, or a third, or perhaps up to ninety percent of populations in specific places and times perished. The awareness of this history was primarily the territory of historians or epidemiologists; the rest of us did not feel it was necessary to pay attention. In this last year we have  stayed focused at tasks at hand. As we plow on our sense is that we are still facing much that still is speculation. This year of worldwide struggle, has left many of us feeling exhausted, despite our hopes the vaccines may be enough to give us a sense of safety that’s been absent and that loved ones, friends and family alike, may turn once again into sources of solace and strength.

These have been the “piling-on” times. Our political divisions have been entwined with the virus, some directly hardwired in terms of public behaviors such as masking as well as administrative incompetence on local, regional, and national levels, while much is obscured still waiting until “later” when we have the perspective of distance for understanding. We’ve been asked to hunker down and persevere. We are struggling to still do so. Our patience and fortitude growing slim.

Climatic changes are becoming more obvious via extremes in whacko weather situations that are, again, entwined with politically expedient and shortsighted determiners. We first saw this during Hurricane Katrina and now incompetence and corruption become exposed once again on all of our various screens in our living spaces or wherever we happened to be. Extremes of fire, of cold and heat, of drought and flood, are imploding place to place event after event. We want to continue with what we knew as normal and want that back despite all evidence that normal was only and ever a tiny, very particular, window of existence. What made us feel we were ever okay? What led us to hold onto beliefs that were being countered by information from science sources, those eyes and ears and voices of those who have been watching and seeing the encroaching damage happening everywhere on the globe?

We now know we are living in topsy-turvy times, where all futures are unknown and absolutely nothing can be taken for granted. Are we prepared? The young feel betrayed by the generations before them who did not act on the science of what was revealed. The old just wanted to keep doing as they had always done. Those in the middle, who were well off “enough” just wanted to keep going with their comfortable lives. We have collectively and individually been stopped in our tracks. Inequalities and injustices, now stand together as overwhelming forces demanding attention affecting all life on our planet.

Did we know we’d come here at this time to be part of this struggle? Did we get caught in events not of our own making and are we resentful that these “interruptions” have permanently shown up in our lives? Do we want to engage fully to find solutions? Do we want to cling to a feeling of being victimized because the life we loved was hijacked? What’s left of this pandemic time-out may be what we need to search for and find new ground for ourselves and those we love. The only certainty is we cannot go back which may be the reason there has been so much grieving during this time.

What is asked of us and what do we ask of ourselves? The answers we find will make a very real difference in what comes out of this time.

#137 Fast Air

Fast air.

I woke to intense sunlight brightly detailing the carnations I’d bought for myself now sitting on my bureau. Yesterday’s snow and rain had blown the quickly moving storm out to the far open sea leaving behind a clear bright sky with that very welcome intense morning light.

This is a thought dream. It’s not about the science of weather which I too lightly understand, It is about the emotional experience of it of weather, of storms and systems that move along the coast daily.  I find myself wondering if storms systems move more freely once over water unlike those memories I have of weather systems hanging on for days over the high hills or valleys in my geographically plunked pasts. What I experience now on an overcast day is far easier to tolerate if there is reasonable certainty the day after will bring back the cheer and warmth of the sun.

If I truly grasped meteorology no doubt I’d understand the movement of fast and slow air in more precise and scientific ways. I would not be relying on my observations and guesses but then again, there is comfort in believing the fairy tale versions of things such as the belief that light follows dark in predictable ways and that, when in the midst of oppressive clouds of gloom or a raging wind, there is certainty in next day relief.

In a far Northeast winter the presence of sunlight is a game changer. Yesterday’s ice storm which coated trees in icy jackets becomes a magical morning fairyland of shimmer as the sun rises. Yesterday’s rain, frozen by overnight temperature dips means black ice will hide in the shadows, unsafe surfaces for cars and legs alike, but such shadows disappear as sun creeps into their recesses. Overnight heavy snows covers everything leaving us to marvel at the transformed landscape. Nature as artist can swirl snowdrifts into sharp peaks and valleys, using violent winds as brushes, creating impossibly beautiful sculptures in mundane places. 

Dark times, bad weather, and overcast gloom that moves quickly can be tolerated and brings, by the way of contrast, a particular kind of joy. Lingering, incessant stagnation (of weather and everything else) is a much harder condition, one that  challenges us to dig deeply into our psyches to get ourselves through.

So bring on fast air. Let’s rejoice in the movement made possible of air moving fast over water, unrestrained, unsnagged by peaks or valleys, flowing freely, as beacons for the way our spirits want to flow.


			

#136 Agency

Agency.

Awakening waking from a dream every once and awhile there is a glimpse of a higher sense of self behind the curtain  of my ever-so-flawed daily life. Getting to the level of sleep needed to make the higher self connection and then carrying back observations or knowledge into waking reality is what is important and needed but this task is the tricky part.

If you are  striving for “mindfulness” via meditation or yoga or any of the other currently popular practices designed to connect your mind with this higher sense of self, I applaud your diligence. Reaching for knowledge delivered from my higher self is a longing which has been present since my twenties, but I have a rebellious streak that chafes at doing what is recommended (sticking to that daily consistency of practice) especially when I perceive the practice to be trendy. I mean no offense to those of you disciplined in ways I am not. This confession is only a self-defense mechanism; I’ve always been attracted to swimming upstream or standing on the sidelines serving as an observer rather than a practitioner. My glimpses or intuitions come, but not out of disciplined practice, but arrive instead in an ad hoc kind of way.

Because I love words, I often am aware of new ways they are pronounced or used. Lately the word “agency”  has been popping up regularly in print, or on social and broadcast media. This “agency” is not the one describing a local agricultural organization or the name of a business where you go to purchase insurance or a governmental department on the chopping block. The new use as described in Wikipedia:

“…agency is defined as the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices. By contrast, structure are those factors of influence (such as social class, religion, gender, ethnicity, ability, customs, etc.) that determine or limit an agent and their decisions.

My higher sense of self popping out from my dream cloud has “agency”. My daily, waking self seemingly floats in a steam of anything but. Do you feel a sense of agency filling your life? If I were to begin to meditate daily would this bring me a sense of agency ?. Do I have agency getting contactless grocery deliveries or pickups? What is the connection with this use of agency  in the midst of year one of a global pandemic when divisional politics have shredded our sense of common purpose? When we violently split over the legitimacy and legality of a presidential election? Timing is everything. This word’s new use is a clue.

I believe we want to think that we have agency in our lives whereas the truth is we float along in the stream that is our daily existence wanting to believe we have choices, that we are in “control”. It is my hope that agency  is my higher self, manifesting a sorely needed idea translated out of my dream state rather than out a sense of my deeply rooted cynicism which suggests the current use of the word comes at a time in which a sense of personal agency is far from reality. The challenge—the longing—is that agency  is a message from our collective higher selves, in hopes that we will absorb it into our daily consciousness at a time when we seem to have lost so much. This morphed use of the word may be a clue of where we need to be rather than where we currently are. That would be as close to agency as we could get.

#135 Living History

Living History.

A number of years ago I became drawn to the history of the UK during the World War II era. My attraction was not to the stories of war and heroism, or to battles, or to studying the actions of world leaders during that time. Instead, I wanted to know the stories of the ordinary, daily, lives of the people trying to make it through those wars years, 1939 to 1946 or a bit after. Long before a hint of a pandemic future, my interest in this period stayed strong and I, who have never stepped foot in the UK, got sucked in by the remarkable number of surprisingly good books and films that cover so many aspects of this time. My latest is a binge watch of a BBC docu-series first broadcast in 2012 called “Wartime Farm” in which an historian and two archaeologists filmed a year long re-creation of the Britain’s “other” war, the one concerned with keeping Hitler’s forces from using starvation as a weapon to overtake the UK as they had done in so many other European countries. Tractors, chickens, dairy cows, flax and wheat, making do, using everything at hand, and all aspects of life, including attitudes,  were “weaponized” to keep Great Britain out of German control. What a tale.

Is it ever possible to truly understand an historical period not of our own experience? More than one biopic has sent me scurrying to thick biographies as a check or challenge to what’s been shown by the life depicted on screen, but all such endeavors are found to be lacking, full of inaccuracies of one form or another. Questions always remain.

This day-to-day slow crawl of a worldwide pandemic is history in the making as are the parallel, ongoing, worldwide political upheavals. I am continually struck by how our individual experiences vary wildly even when we attempt to reassure one another that we are all “in this together”. Since the pandemic enfolded the experience of those with jobs (i.e., paychecks) could not equal those who have lost their livelihoods or their businesses. Those among us who have contracted the virus, or have loved ones who have become ill or who died, are in a different boat from those of us staying sharply isolated, afraid, and remaining physically safe but possibly losing our mental grip.

A question for all times: how do we see our own lives in historical context even as we are living through it?

I have talked (socially distanced via Zoom) with a variety of people who declare that they have not been all that affected by this pandemic, people who have in one way or another still traveled, still retained close family contact. I find myself wondering about optimism or the opposite, falling down into dark rabbit holes. And what about so many of us who are experiencing bits of both at the same time? Despite our perceived commonalities, a car ride through neighboring communities already gives evidence of sharp change—closed businesses, ubiquitous masking, “For Sale” signs popping up on homes and pasted on to darkened empty windows, the residents or owners or proprietors already gone. When we can again roam freely, we will be stunned by the changes to places we hold dear in our hearts? There will not be a return to “normal”, only an arrival at a new normal, one we create as we move along. Our constant flying blindly into the blank state of the unknown then somehow emerging and trying to piece together what happened is our history.

Recently I took a class on historical pandemics wanting a glimpse of what previous humans suffered in the various forms of past plagues of plagues and epidemics. What did they know and how they were affected? It appears that Black Death survivors in the 1300’s, without knowledge of “virus” made common sense observations which some used to stay isolated and alive. Yet during this Coronavirus pandemic segments of current humanity, those with access to all manner of understanding of disease process, chose to ignore science and rely on their own opinion of what was “real”. Some of them became ill or died, but not all, at least not yet. Did we humans make progress only to yet again fall back into superstition and ignorance?

The more I try for even a narrow glimpse of truth through peepholes into the past, the more I am humbled at the vastness of the task. I feel like an ant trying to understand the magnitude of galaxies. My personal current history is a slow crawl of one day blending into the next, of isolation filled with questions, of not one iota of progress as the clouds and sun come and go in rhythms I also do not thoroughly understand. On second thought, that ant may be be far better equipped for the struggle than I who remains baffled.

#134 My Roots Are Showing

My Roots Are Showing.

Recently it has dawned on me that I am a throwback to a much earlier time. I think I was unaware to the extent I was influenced by my early childhood connections to aunts and uncles from an era long since departed. As the years go past I feel these connections and recognize that they do not resemble anything in my current life.

The geography of Northern New York–above the Adirondacks–is a place where the earth flattens out as it steadily rolls from the mountain range’s high peaks region to the St. Lawrence River bordering Ontario. On a clear day you can see for miles and miles driving the back roads up there, the landscape rolling away from your eye, the silver thread of the shining river on the horizon far off in the distance. The town in which my parents grew up was the home of Almanzo Wilder, husband of Laura Ingalls Wilder, and the book she wrote of his early life called “Farmer Boy” is practically the only reference that anyone would connect to tiny Burke, NY.

I thought of this area as a place out of time, or at least a place that felt 30 or 40 years behind whatever year we were in. This place still has active evidence of family farms, a tiny  town far away from the tourist trade. The farms, dairy or cropped based (once mostly potatoes), were sold over the last decades to Amish families looking for affordable land to work and farm living their private lives in a place where they would be free to be with others who shared the same beliefs. I was long absent by the time these land exchanges were happening but perhaps the Amish were right in that the area was an easier fit than other possibilities.

What I remember from my childhood was a sense of shared values, of neighborly concerns and real help if that was what was needed. I was dimly aware that the price of such deeply rooted connection might be traces of intolerance to “other” which I first came to understand from road trips to visit my cousins just a bit north. The drive was through Native American [Mohawk/Akwesasne] “Reservation” land. I remember looking out of the backseat car window and seeing animated young, brown skinned men carrying lacrosse sticks. This was long before lacrosse had been adopted (culturally appropriated?) by New England’s private schools and eventually most of the high schools in northern latitudes. Lacrosse back then was the Native American sacred sport in a society where the struggles were centered on dirt poor poverty and maintaining their own language and identity while surrounded by deep prejudice from the culture that hemmed them in.

My memories of family center on my father, a storyteller by nature, who filled dinner table gatherings with of tales of working in the woods (those Adirondacks) and the characters he knew doing such work. My aunt’s husband, Karl Pond, build roads through those mountains when road building was not done by engineers, but by local talent. My Dad always said you could tell Karl had built a section of road because he knew how to build a curve which you could feel behind the wheel of your car. One summer by aunt joined him living in a shack in the woods spending her days gathering balsam needles for the Christmas present pillows she made. Mine was made of purple cloth and I kept it for years, the sweet, woodsy scent fading slowly over time.

I am wandering down memory lane now because I have begun to notice how out of step I am with current mores or values. Only though contrast have I come to realize how deeply I absorbed what I learned from sitting at those kitchen tables listening to their history and their stories. Now it is I who is out of step with the times, it I who longs for that particular kind of decency and caring. I do not intend to “whitewash” the memories as that term fits way too well describing other unpleasant aspects of those times which were very far from perfect.

I guess if you live long enough your memories begin to clash with the world that surrounds you which often becomes so alien. At what point do we begin to separate ourselves? In a Best Buy store a number of years ago I realized that I did not know what many of the consumer goods offered on their shelves actually did. As I considered myself reasonably tech savvy at the time it was a moment of real shock. Now I find separations daily. I feel old yet occasionally pleased that I can remember that long ago time, when I felt in tune with those around me, content in trusting that I belonged, trusting that my world made sense and that people in it were essentially decent and fair. My memories are bridge to nowhere as all connections to that time are lost.

Reflections: A History of Burke, NY:  https://burkeny.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Reflections.pdf

Akwesasne:  St. Regis Mohawk Reservation https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Regis_Mohawk_Reservation

Traditional Lacrosse:  https://akwesasne.travel/traditional-lacrosse/

# 133 Speedy Moonrise and the Relativity of Temperature


Speedy Moonrise and the Reality of Temperature..

After a long trail walk in the winter woods on a beautiful winter’s day, my tired body was restless in the dark night. With weary bones and aching muscles prohibiting sleep, I prowled the house noticing the lights out on the water, pondering the mysteries of buoy lights, some constantly red, some with intermittent bluish flashes, no doubt signaling a clear message to ships in the vicinity that I, a total landlubber, could not read.

On one side of the house there were a few dim lights in the windows of neighboring houses perhaps indicators of sleepless tiny children or night owls preferring the silence and the calm of deep night while I, undetected in the dark, walked with bare feet on cold wooden floors trying to work out the restlessness of my tired legs. Then turning back to the ocean side windows, there suddenly appeared a huge, Sumo sized segment of brilliant orange just above the horizon. Moonrise at one a.m., the vivid illumination was a startlingly unexpected body in the black sky. A sight like that, when the night has, by it self altered reality, momentarily shifts the mind but all too soon it’s rapid upward progress changes it quickly from orange to yellow making a shining path to it on the water’s surface. My restless, exhausted body saw this as a totally unexpected gift, one that could have been so easily slept through as in most other nights.

Looking out on the crisp, clear black sky and the sacred, precious moonrise in the middle of the night also carried a deep chill, my bones feeling the cold in every corner of the house. Why can 62 degrees seem so warm if experienced on an unseasonable winter’s day, a day where a light jacket substitutes for the puffy down one worn the day or two before and after, yet that same 62 degrees on a February night in the quiet dark house feels frigid, the chill nearly unbearable. Such mysteries startle an aging, exhausted human just needing sleep.

The moon climbs steadily over the water offering no warmth but it’s light draws the eye and satisfies a weary soul.

 

# 132 The Dead of Winter

The Dead of Winter.

Mid-winter. The days begin to lengthen but there is still far too much darkness for those of us who crave sunlight. Behind us, the holidays are sufficiently past to have tucked away decorations and tossed out greenery but thoughts of spring blossoms are too far ahead to bring much comfort. It’s “getting through it” time.

In this pandemic year fear adds layers of meaning as the dead of winter becomes literal and we huddle in our houses trying to remain safe or we don’t and, in denial or defiance, we take our chances and spread those chances along to others. The world we knew has gone. What will emerge remains unknown.

Just last year the dead of winter was a time of tea and good books, a time of pleasant rest and contemplation, the perfect counter to summer’s frenzy. Now, long denied, we wearily pine for the solace found in the company of others, to be with friends and family sharing meals and swapping stories, in person not on screens. Not one of us remains untouched yet each of us remains, one way or another, untouched.

We need to nourish our bodies and our souls in this time of darkness and confusion but how do we do this locked away from each other, with resources and access in short supply?

There are no “right” answers. Within the  questions lie both the problems and their solutions. All require belief, hope, and hard work. While the pandemic is global it is also intensely personal. Others long before us separated and isolated trying to stay safe as disease worked its way through populations. Perhaps strangest of all is that we’ve learned so little from our historical past, finding ourselves in shock having blithely ignored that this has happened many times before.

There’s a cold snap coming with hints that a big storm may arrive after that. This is normal in the midway point of the season yet such news carries added dread. We will need to dig deeper hoping to find reservoirs of strength and patience to tide us through. It’s a tough time and yet ahead, after this testing and trouble, there may well be changes that bring us to a better, more just and joyful world.

The dead of winter is always followed by the rebirth of spring.