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.
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?
(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)
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
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.
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
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.
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?
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.
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.
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”
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.
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.
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.
There’s a reason older people are stereotyped as folks who repeat themselves. My fear is that my awareness of this trait is not anywhere near the actuality of its frequency but I am less sure that, as I return to topics already discussed, I may not (quite) be returning to the exact place of its first recognition. Thus, I will plow ahead.
From the past perspective of living on the 45th degree parallel (44.9684° N, 72.0027° W) in Northern Vermont there came a day where the feel of summer quickly turned and Fall seemed far closer than expected. I wrote here once of a camping experience that sharply illustrated this “flip”. One other time it appeared in the second week of August when frost killed the tops of the squash ripening in my NEK garden which was always such a challenging place to grow a family’s year round food supply.
This year and further south, The Turn came later when thoughts of it were far from my mind. July had been such a miserably cold month so in August I’d subconsciously thought nature would cut us a break by adding extended warmth to make up for it. We’d had a stretch of humid, hot days where the air was thick and wet. Here the proof of such heat is leaving all the windows open at bedtime because air flow depends on tides but with the house so warm, so sticky, even the usual incoming tidal coolness could only help the situation.
I woke in the middle of the night because I was cold. I got out of bed and closed every window I could reach. By morning yesterday’s 90 degree heat had plummeted to a chill 63 degrees. The Turn had snuck beneath the forecasting presence of Hurricane Henri which stayed south of the Maine coast. Now, with chillier air, I find myself making soup and thinking of hot tea in the morning. Oh yes, it will warm again but it won’t return to those languid, stifling strings of days. Instead, there will be flashes of warm mornings or afternoons but the sun is setting earlier every day taking with it the chances of opened night windows. Dread of the coming winter has already begun to gather in corners along with the spiders.
Postscript: Not one but two (so far): the Hurricane named Ida is still making its way out to sea via the Northeast Coast. I’ve not found a way to incorporate late summer-early fall hurricanes into my concept of “The Turn” when it comes to seasons. As hurricanes originate in the tropics their warmth usually affects the temperatures that were in place before their arrival. These hurricanes are disruptors wherever they appear although their presence is regularly sufficient to be a part of the weather patterns even in the North this time of year. So, buckets of rain (gauged at 3 1/4″ in a friend’s garden) and now rather strong winds have turned this post into somewhat an anomaly. You are, without doubt, familiar with the phrase most often attributed to Samuel Clemens/Mark Twain : “If you don’t like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes.”
Note: How embarrassing. The following blog posts followed similar themes: #56 The August Flip 8/16/2019.; #61 Seasonal Adjustments. 9/20/2019.; and #110 The Change. 9/4/2020.
We all had such hopes after a year of isolation, fear, and worry. Late winter brought the first mass vaccinations and so much hope. By July the vaccine promise of seeing our loved ones safely began to melt away as case numbers including vaccinated breakthroughs began to melt in the variant surge moving throughout the world but particularly and sorrowfully in our communities. Still trying to do the right thing the information about staying safe was, and is, mixed with local decisions being made over national ones. Masks began to reappear and mask mandates and concerns for those under twelve were building with good reason. Your geographic location and your destination location could have remarkable differences along with the journey from one to the other.
It wasn’t only the virus that made this summer so hard. The weather patterns seemed as variable as virus outbreaks: massive flooding, massive fires and drought, and see-saw New England weather conditions bouncing from the 40’’s to the 90’s, especially in July. The initial June drought was followed by July’s deluge and to top it all off then came the August threat of a New England hurricane, the first in 30 years.
And there was politics, the endlessly awful divisions, hatred, and violence, with the media cranking out daily hype or truth depending on your perspective, but mostly all bad news one way or another.
What became apparent to me, unfolding over weeks of zoom conversation, was just how much we needed connection. We needed to hug loved ones. We needed to share meals and talk and we needed to be together. Every one of us who got to be with friends or family faced tough decisions about our safety and their safety, about vaccines, about being tested before, during, or after being together. Most of us got together figuring out the safest way we thought could do that. Most of us realized how critically important it is/was to reconnect. Many of us lost people, not always via the virus but for other reasons, yet the virus was forever in the background affecting everything. We don’t know when or if there is an ending to this story. What we do know is how precious the people in our lives are, how that has always been the case even when we were freely running busy, harried lives in which our priorities did not have the clarity they do now.
If you are one of those lucky people that got a friend or family visit I know you are feeling blessed. I finally got to do that and now, back on my own again, I’m tired. Sad. Joyous. Thankful. Most of all I am keenly aware of what counts most. Maybe that is the message tough times has always carried.
Note: This time the photo was not taken by me but by my beloved Cousin Debbie. Sometimes one picture really is worth a thousand words.
We began sliding into summer with a sense of relief and hope, eager for optimism’s return, wanting-needing-sunshine to warm our bodies and ease our exhausted, isolated, battered psyches. There were a few weeks of smiles and the beginnings of breathing into our lives before hints of darkness crept up to the edges of things. There’s no need to name the elements of this darkness but only to acknowledge our awareness of its presence. When or if was Pandora’s Box opened and, if it was, will it ever be possible to retract the darkness released?
What happens to us when our hopes are counter balanced in equal measure with our worries? I don’t believe nature intended that we should shoulder such burdens, despite having my own fairly pessimistic psyche or, as the saying goes “if you’re not depressed your not paying attention”? This is when our concepts of time, our personal and collective knowledge of History, and our sense of memory begin to converge as we attempt to feel our way into the darkness we see as a potential future. Who wants to look ahead through that prism? Is this what is widely being reported has a collective dire view of a the living, breathing future elements of our planet?
I am no seer nor have I had a conversation with one yet my instincts feel the need to gather together to give aid and comfort to each other in all the blessed ways possible. Convene family, friends, and actively court and encourage contact with those you’d now call strangers. This is the time to encourage and nurture our finest instincts. What we explore together and share with each other may be just what is necessary to face the ? which lies ahead.
Lately I’ve been aware of the constant sound of the ocean waves rolling in to meet the rocky shore and wondering if or how that rhythm affects the human body or the psyche. You and I have read that the ocean represents the Earth’s breath, or its lungs, or it is like the womb out of which all Placental mammals are born.
This concept of “Mother Ocean” is not exactly what I am trying to uncover. I am interested in the constancy of the repetitive sound of waves just as if I lived in a city and my background sound of was the repetitive sound of traffic.
Interesting to me, I moved here as winter was setting in so I had to wait until the next summer before I could listen to the ocean without the muffled effect of the closed windows. I craved hearing wave sounds directly that first winter. This summer has had prolonged periods of cold and wet so that the windows have often been shut at night. It is amazing how the clammy chill seeps into the house if windows are left open when the temperatures drop. However, in a heat wave the windows are open and the breeze off the water acts like air conditioning and the sound at high tide is not something that you can ignore despite the hour.
My suspicion is that anyone in close proximity to the sound of a body of water at night experiences changes to our breath, our heart rate, perhaps even our blood pressure. The blood pressure might lower most nights unless there’s a storm which can really alter the background sounds., sometimes sending a heart racing.
I don’t have answers to my questions but I am nonetheless grateful for being this close, this intimate, with the sounds of such a major planetary force field. I suspect it has changed me in many ways. perhaps as kind of external background meditation of sorts, happening even when the routines of life progress.
Long ago in another place and time I began digging in the dirt. “Gardening” is such an imprecise term for something that has so many variations. Landing in a poor and very rural place meant there was lots of land, one car, and fifteen miles from where I might find employment. I could learn to grow food so I started reading.
About that same time, my Dad who lived one state away at a lower altitude and a two hours car ride over the big mountain had also begun gardening. He’d grown up doing so but in all my years living with my parents we had never lived anywhere that had land enough for a garden patch but they had moved and the new spot had a huge garden needing the right person to come along. I didn’t learn gardening from my Dad. It was more like I learned with him from a distance. We both grew flowers but we were each far more interested in vegetables: Big Boy tomatoes (which didn’t have a growing season long enough to turn them red in far Northern Vermont), cucumbers, corn, beans, tomatoes and just about everything else that could handle a northern latitude’s short summer weather. Boy, did we garden! May through October was the time when work never ended. I learned that both being both the gardener and the food processor (the wife) was nearly impossible but after I planted, tilled, weeded and hoed I headed inside to where I filled canning jars headed for the shelves in the dirt-floor, rock-ledge basement of the house. The potato bin and the two 23 cu ft. freezers filled as did the unused floor of a bedroom upstairs, the drier space needed to store the squashes, pumpkins, and onions.
Mainly, the climb down the rickety basement stairs was where you could find most of that we ate. The colors of the jam jars and the quarts of fruit sparkled in the hanging bulb light down there and so too, in their much quieter way, twinkled the green of beans and all the dozens of bright red tomato jars.
All that remains as evidence of those years is memory and two bad snapshots of the largest of the gardens. I was way too busy to ever dig out a camera and besides, I thought I would live that way forever.
When I made my way out into the larger world I tried in many locations to get my hands back into the dirt. It had become an instinct but eventually even flowers in pots seem almost too much. This summer I’ve given the dirt a last hurrah of sorts resulting in a screaming back and plants that first had to fight drought and later the deluge. No longer are there safe growing spots for vegetables as critters everywhere multiplied with a sense that vegetables were put there just for them. The balance of nature’s world shifted and only fierce and expensive fencing makes vegetable growing possible most everywhere.
My memory turns to gardeners I’ve known beginning with those Vermont years. Carolyn and Kay growing beautiful flowers. Jeannie’s huge market garden, with help coming from the crew and family that lived communally. She told a story of a heart-to-heart with a woodchuck that carried her promise of safety from the guys with rifles if the critter’s family left the vegetables alone. It seemed to have worked.
Most of us moved and the gardens and gardeners kept changing. Brianna, a young woman I knew from the college where I worked, started an early and very successful CSA, with monumental determination packed into her small frame. I still have photos of her garden and that love of plants became her life’s occupation as she and her husband founded a nursery that is still going strong.
Now there are gardening friends, older women who have made lifetimes of gardening elsewhere who garden where they themselves are now planted. The gardens are all vastly different in scope and character. Isn’t that the way of things?
I have come to rely on the growing talents and hard work of others as I’ve sought out roadside stands or farmer’s markets because once you’ve had your hands in the dirt and extracted jewels like cucumbers, eggplant, or tomatoes you never forget the extraordinary taste of fresh from the dirt and respect for all the hard worked it took to grow them..
Note: Photo was taken in 2004 and is of Brianna Davis’s CSA garden in the Hudson Valley of New York State.
A soundbite is a snippet of a media report or conversation or interview, as if an entire interview purporting coverage of animportant issue would be long enough to describe the complexity contained within it. If the reportage failed to include a scholar or scholars who’ve spent their entire careers on that subject a snippet could not possibly give anyone enough information to be informed. Life is complex, multiple faceted, often holding—at the same time—two or more truths that are seemingly opposed. Where is our ability to see through the ruse of the soundbite for what is behind it—an attempt to snatch your attention to then sell a product?
Did your formal education include media literacy? Mine didn’t. I grew up in the era of Walter Cronkite and Father Knows Best, a simplistic, patriarchal world that left out all kinds of things like women’s history, genocide perpetrated by our forefathers, racism, imperialism, sexism, and classism just to touch the top of the neglected pile. We were trained with purposeful, guided focus and our world is in deep doodoo because of it. Our economies, our “prosperities”, were built and measured by the manufacture of goods that are now filling landfills, dumped in our oceans, dumped in unsuspecting countries, but the economic accounting always had the false finger of deceit on the scale because the extraction of natural and man-made materials and the eventual disposing of these goods was not included in the cost. Only the profits were measured. The bill has come due from this deceit, but really, hasn’t there always been an alarm bell ringing somewhere in your psyche?
The real question is: “What’s going on with us that we turned over our individual worlds to such a flimsy fantasy?” Were we lazy? Did we not care? Or did we succumb to feeling overwhelmed, feeling our stake in what happens couldn’t possibly be successful in “Turing This Around”?
The time for self deception and pretense is long gone. So too may be real solutions. Ditch the soundbites, dig deep, and do what you can.
I used to argue that it was a mistake to ask elders about their lives in times past. I was insistent that what was needed when talking to older people was a discussion about their lives in the present moment, what did they think, what was happening in their lives; what interested them., now and not in their past. Then Covid-19 came along and altered everyone’s life.
How many times have you heard stories from friends or stories happening within your families where those dear ones who had entered the path of dementia or Alzheimer’s rapidly lost ground as they were denied the ability for visits with loved ones or being able to see those whose relationships provide daily comfort? If they were in any kind of assisted living or nursing home the restrictions were magnified. What could a disconnected mind make of masks or loved ones on the other side of window glass? What did it mean to them that there were no longer hugs, those physical, human connections that carry so much acceptance, safety, warmth, and love?
Those of us living alone who were older made it through did so by deliveries and curbside, contactless pickup of groceries or needed household supplies. We made our connections via screens. We Zoomed our connectedness. More than a year later we may still be connected by this medium even though we are trying to understand new rules, new guidelines, hoping to remain safe and healthy. But all of our lives have changed.
Many of us tackled “projects”, some creative and some utilitarian. I dragged the storage containers of unmarked family photos up from the houses storage area. I am the last of this line of family and my memory has not held the names and relationships of all those in some of the unidentified pictures. At first it felt like a useful project but soon the memories of times past and loved ones long gone overtook the lonely spaces in my current life and there I was now left seeing the other side of my vehemence about the aging needing to be addressed in the present tense. There was but a shadow “present” left in my life and in that void the photo project brought sorrow and longing and deep regret as I learned the irony I’d unknowingly carried most of my life.
My cruel teenage self had long ago lofted a cutting remark to my mother: “What is family? Family doesn’t mean anything.” This cruel intended remark was hurled with only the destruction a teenager can summon. Now I look at the photos of my mother and her siblings, who lost their mother when she—the eldest—was thirteen and then lost their father four years later when she was seventeen. The siblings were separated as best the uncles and aunts could do, but the scars remained permanent. I have poured through the photo album my mother made the year her father died, the year she graduated from high school, the year she lost her family. What did she carry all those years? In my only child lack of understanding the gap between us grew until at last, at nearly seventy five, four years more than she lived I began to piece together hints of the magnitude of what she bore. I take back those cavalier comments about the importance of present-tense aging. The past has caught up with my being. Apparently we live until we finally learn what we came here to learn. It took the magnitude of a pandemic to even begin to see it.