#179 The Progression of Short Days

The Progression of Short Days

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

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

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

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

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

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

# 178 Big Picture

Big Picture.

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

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

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

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

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

#176  Feeding Birds

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

Feeding Birds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#173  Buzzwords: White Privilege 

Buzzwords: White Privilege

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#172 Dead Vegetation

Dead Vegetation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#171 Trying to Figure Things Out

Trying to figure things out.

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

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

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

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

Is this an example of negative thinking?

#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.

 

 

# 162 Tough Summer

Tough Summer.

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

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

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

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

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



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

#161 Yesterday, Today, ?

Yesterday, Today, ?

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

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

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

#160 Background

Background.

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

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

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

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

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

#158 Soundbites

Soundbites.

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

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

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

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

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

#157 Now I Know Something That I Didn’t

Now I know something that I didn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

#154  One Size Fits All

DSC_0118 copyOne Size Fits All.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
 
 
 
 
 

#150 June

June.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#147 Distractions

another soft waveDistractions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What in hell is going on?

 

OutrageousColor

#141 Bird Report

Bird Report.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wonder what sun feels like on a feathered body.

#138 What Is Asked of Us

What Is Asked of Us?

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

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

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

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

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

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

#109 Wet or Dry?


  • Wet or Dry?

Another set of thunderstorms rolled through late in the afternoon and, as has happened so many times in this dry summer, there was rain both north and south leaving us sandwiched in the middle with the barest trace of rain. I gathered the hose to water the now late summer hodgepodge of overgrown perennials and the too densely packed herbs I’d transplanted into the closest ground I could reach. The only stars of this jumble of what once must have been a landscape of joy are the older established hydrangea and the brand new one planted by a friend at the beginning of the summer. The newest one, plopped under tree cover for hydrangea loving shade, had barely received a drop of precipitation.

Meanwhile, the western states are in the midst of an unnaturally early fire season. Colorado, Montana, and especially beleaguered California, are in the midst of raging infernos. In coastal California a mass of dry thunderstorms (different from this hit or miss business on the northeast Atlantic coast) set off more that 500 blazes at a time of pandemic shortage of firefighting personnel. Homeowners have ignored mandatory evacuations, staying put in hopes of saving their homes and communities from ember-caused losses. There are many sleepless nights in near and far away geographies where loved ones worry as friends and relatives are putting themselves in potential danger—in August—when fire season usually starts in October.

At this same time hurricanes move into the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico dropping more rain than can possibly be absorbed by saturated soils (souls?). These opposite forces of nature seem oddly parallel with the divisive people politics raging at the same time. For years I have linked dire external weather and internal emotional upheavals (both individual and societal). In this time of changing climates this observation seems more accurate than ever but what I lack is the “why” so, like everyone else caught in these storms, I spin and stew looking for answers and solutions, and I come up baffled.

 

 

Continue reading “#109 Wet or Dry?”

#100 Consider the Roses

Rugosa Branch Bird2

Consider the Roses.

June loveliness

the beach roses

in full scent

the large pink clumps

and green leaves

dotting the landscape

clustered on the seashore

dead branches always

poking above the roses.

The conditions for

rugosas

four season harsh

growing on the edges of

a rough and often cold

Atlantic.

The fierce winds coming

off the ocean creates

harsh bare stalks

with sharp

protruding thorns

good perches for

little birds who

stop and sing

surveying their territory

sounding

like joy.

 

Mid-summer blossoms

start to form hips

the seed pods which

form in clusters

begin as orange

but by late fall

turn a

deep red hue

eventually looking like the

dried fruit

they become

a nutrient packed

food source for the birds

and small creatures that

scurry around the shore

finding safety among rocks.

 

I’ve shooed away

blossom pickers

who arrive in June

plucking the blossoms for

whatever purpose

informing them their harvesting

robs the critters who live here

of an important food

for their survival.

The pickers fail to notice and

are annoyed at my interference

in their quest.

 

Foraging humans

are not my cup of tea

the animals and birds have

no grocery stores.

Humans who are fond of

harvesting wild foods rarely

seem to consider the effect

of their actions.

One human meal may

be many days of

sustenance

food for families

of many small beings

who make these spaces

home.

 

 

 

# 41 The Memory of Color

The Memory of Color.

Skybluepink. That’s a color my Dad taught me when I was a little girl. You know this color too, just probably not by this name. Skybluepink fills late afternoon skies or, sometimes like this morning, it shows up at sunrise. When those particular colors fill the sky I hear “skybluepink ” in my mind and I smile in immediate response, the very non-nostalgic me remembering my Dad. Every time.

I’m thinking that you, too, have color memories, secret joys attached to cherished moments. I can picture in my mind’s eye, my first awareness of pink light at sunset bathing a usually very green Vermont hillside with intense rose-colored light which felt like fairies were remaking the world. And surely you have stood on dew-wet morning grass as the sun rose after a night rainfall, the rays of yellow light streaming, outlining each leaf with golden edges, the moment so beautiful nothing else need be asked of the coming day which had already made it to spectacular.

Some days color is the  highlight, and some days the lack of color is what is most remarkable For some of us, the awareness of color is reward enough for simply being.