#174 Giving Thanks

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

Giving Thanks.

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

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

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

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

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

# 169 Control

Control.

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

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

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

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

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

# 168 Reprieve

Reprieve.

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

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

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

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

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

# 167 Limits of Our Knowing

Limits of Our Knowing.

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

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

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

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

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

“How Octopuses Upend What We Know About Ourselves”

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

#166 Change

#166  Change

Change.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

#165 Ways of Knowing

Ways of Knowing.

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

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

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

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

#164 Coming. Going.

Coming. Going.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

#156 Getting There from Here

Getting There From Here.

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

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

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

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

 

#153 Depletion. Nourishment.

Depletion. Nourishment.

What Depletes:

Drugs

Porn

Sleeplessness

Anxiety

Pain

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

Caffeine

Hatred

Poverty

Despair 

Racism

Sexism

Barriers to potential

Concrete 

Alcohol

Soul sucking jobs

Long commutes 

What Nourishes:

Shared work

Shared joy

New life

Farm stands and farmer’s markets 

Homegrown and local seasonal foods

Fresh air

Sunshine (when there’s been sufficient rain)

Nature

Good friends

Laughter

Connections

Asking good questions 

Finding needed answers 

Flowers

Listening

Singing 

Dancing

Being quiet 

Poetry

New ideas 

Watching children play

Trust

Gardening 

Watching wildlife

Dogs

Cats

Families

Trees

Caring

Work that satisfies 

Lakes, Rivers, Oceans

Finding context in your life

Belief in something larger than yourself

And maybe even a homemade strawberry rhubarb pie.

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


# 152 Cri de la Coeur

Cri de la coeur.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#151 Old Dog, New Tricks

Old Dog, New Tricks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anthem Song by Leonard Cohen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Musixmatch

#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

#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.

 

#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.

#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/

# 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.