Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Mr. Moon

When I was a child I used to talk to the moon.  Mr Moon, I called him. It was always on those late rides home from  family gatherings. I'd sit in the back seat and look at the moon through the car window and carry on long rambling conversations. I would tell Mr. Moon about my day, who I saw , what we did, what we ate. I felt safe. I felt like Mr. Moon would protect me. Between the moon glow and the sound of my parent's murmured conversation in the front seat, I would fall asleep and awake the next morning with a vague memory of Dad carrying me to bed and Mom tucking me in. I always loved the moon, and I still marvel at the bright-as-day beauty of a full moon night.

Many years ago, sitting on a bench outside of a cafe in Lucerne, Switzerland, I gazed at the full moon shining over the Alps surrounding the lake and told my traveling companion of my childhood chats with Mr Moon. As we sat sipping hot cocoa, a shadow appeared and to our amazement and delight we witnessed a total eclipse. We sat for hours immersed in this once in a lifetime event made all the more magical by it's unexpected occurrence and our beautiful surroundings.

Tonight, my alarm woke me at 1am, and I got up (early, even for me!), and made some hot cocoa. The wind was blowing and my chimes were ringing like so many church bells this Winter Solstice morning. I could see the beginnings of the eclipse through the bathroom skylight. I shed my robe and scampered out into the frigid night to the hot tub. There I sat for over an hour watching as the Earths shadow covered my beloved Mr Moon. The water vapor rising from the tub caused the moon's glow to shine  and shimmer as the shadow crept across it's surface. I sang a bit and talked to the stars as they peeped out brighter as the moonlight faded. I thought of Winter Solstice bonfires, and the scraps of paper we would throw in to the flames, our  troubles to burn away. I asked Mr Moon if I could throw my troubles behind the shadow to disappear and worry me no more. As I sat and pondered what to toss up to the moon I realized that my troubles are few. I have a home with a warm stove was awaiting me, my sweet love safe under the covers, my health is good, I have a job I enjoy (for the most part), I have friends I love and family too. So instead of my troubles to hide, I sent my hopes to shine down with the returning light of the glorious moon: hopes for peace, an end to strife and pain, for love to fill the hearts of  men, for safe passage for all of those in harm's way. Those are the wishes I sent up to Mr Moon, a tall order to be sure. But there is magic in the world, I have seen it and felt it and so I will choose to believe

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Foundering




He was sitting on the couch reading the newspaper when we got there. I kissed him on the top of his head and said~hey Grizzly Adams~ for he had grown a beard. I sat down beside him and he looked at me ~I have to talk , can we talk? I said sure and settled in, wondering what was on his mind. He showed me some photos, one of the Grand Tetons and another of a butte standing alone in the middle of nowhere. They were beautiful scenes, pictures taken on his travels around the US in the mid 1970's. He had an adventurous soul and told tales of wild adventures: land slides, lightening strikes during sudden blizzards, blistering heat in Death Valley. He told these tales with an urgency as if time was running out and he felt the need for someone to hear him, to know of his exploits, to be able to cement his place on this planet in the mind of another, so as to be acknowledged as having lived a life of substance. I listened as he spoke and thought of what it must be like to know that death is right around the corner, that vast unknown lurking in the corner of your eye. He seemed frightened and filled with dread and despair. But he kept talking, eventually simply listing places he'd seen: Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Tetons, Crazy Horse, Mt. Rushmore, Grand Canyon, Painted Desert, Hoover Dam and on and on. Tears dropped from his eyes and he would try to wipe them without letting me see them. I put my hand on his shoulder and rested it there. He cried ~I brought this on myself. I said ~ no , no one would do this knowingly, you have a disease no different than cancer or diabetes~, but my words were small consolation for a man dying of liver failure, a slow and debilitating death. I asked him if he had a plan, and knowing exactly what I meant, he said no, that he had tried that before and wasn't very good at it. Having been at a few desperately low places in life myself, I told him I knew what he was feeling, I knew what it was to want to die and have done with it. But that is not an option for him, and if it was, I believe I would help him if I could. I would not allow an animal to suffer as he is suffering and the pain I felt at leaving him was as bad as any I have ever experienced.
It affected me profoundly, left me weak and sad beyond all sadness. He called last night to tell tales of his older brother who had passed on before, and we listened without saying anything. Tommy has been gone for more than 10 years now, and he feels like he will be following soon. I want desperately to make things better, to help him survive, to give him some hope. I want to do that for his big brother, for his sons, for myself, for him, but I am helpless in the face of his illness. Life can be cruel, cruel and hard. It takes but a slip to go from having everything to having nothing, a split second in the grand scheme of things. We are, all of us, responsible for the decisions we make and must pay the inevitable consequences of the ones poorly made, but in the end, after all is said and done, and there is no hope left, it should not be so hard to die.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Looking Back

I spent yesterday playing hooky. When the alarm  woke me at 3:40am, I got out of bed, made my coffee and sat on the couch thinking. I started to write in my journal about my friend Jean who just recently lost her Mom to cancer.

She and I share an awful bond, the breast cancer bond. We are the same age and our lives have paralleled in many ways, but she had her Mom 20 years longer than I. She is in the midst of heavy grief, a grief I understand all too well. I give her a hug and ask her each day how she's doing and I am glad when she honestly tells me how sad she is.  We talk for a long while about bereavement and the toll it takes on one's spirit.  I know she appreciates these conversations, I know how important it is to verbalize the hurt, the feelings of guilt and betrayal, the impact of such a grave loss.  I am gratified to know that maybe I am helping her through what can be a most difficult period in a woman's life, no matter what her age.  She knows that she can share with me and that I will listen with an empathetic ear. I can because I know what it is to have no one to talk to about such a loss.  I was alone, in a new town, recently divorced and running a business by myself when my Mom died.  I dealt with my grief many years later when training to volunteer for our local Hospice.

For her, talking with me is a kind of therapy. For me, however, it is a dredging up of old grief, feelings not forgotten, not hidden, but put away somewhere, only to be taken out at holidays, in April and in June.  I miss my Mom more than words could ever express, but I can not spend my life grieving her loss. I do think about her almost every day, but I consciously try to remember her laughing, young and happy. When she pops into my mind now, she is always smiling. I worked hard to throw away the images of her last few years, and only see her smile. It took a long time.  It is not that I hold my grief back, that it is not acknowledged, but if I allowed it to come to the fore everyday, I don't believe I could live.

Yesterday, though, as I was writing about Jean and her loss  sadness washed over me like a wave. I closed my book, wiped away the tears and went back to bed. I snuggled up to Greg's warmth and shut my eyes and let his even breathing lull me back to sleep. After a while he awoke annd asked me when I was getting up and I said simply I don't feel well and I am staying home.. 

And so I played hooky. I stayed in my pajamas all day. I read the whole paper, fresh out of the bag from front to back. I indulged in a  hot, sweet cup of cocoa. I climbed up to the loft and finished one of the two moleskine exchange projects that have sat fallow for months.The hours I spent in creating pages for Hilary's book soothed my soul and took me out of myself and the funk I had fallen into earlier in the day. I gave myself a facial and took a long hot bath. It was a beauty day, mental health day, and it did me a world of good. I know my Mom would have approved. Thanks, Mom.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Too early, cold, and wet

Just a quick thought at 4:22 am. I can hear the rain tapping on the tin roof of the screen porch. It is a cold and lonely sound this chilly morn and I  am reluctant to venture out into into the dark. But work I must so there is no choice. I know that behind the clouds there is a new moon, yesterday's having been a mere sliver gracing the western sky, the stars all the brighter for the lack of moonlight. Today, however it is dark, wet and cold. My warm bed is calling my name and the sight of the dogs curled up in theirs is making me weak with envy. Oh, for a dog's life! Oh, for my dog's life!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Fences into Eternity

There is that old saw about fences making good neighbors, but when I came home to find a post and rail fence being put up along my front yard, extending 150 feet into the woods behind the house, I was appalled and angry. I am amazed at the lengths people will go to just for spite. For that is the only explanation for this fence: a spiteful act made by spiteful and vindictive people. The fence must be costing them thousands of dollars, and I can only think of  the better use to which they could have put that money. There are food banks, animal shelters, so many people in need , and here is a fence that is not holding livestock, not keeping dogs from straying, that has no back and only half a side (my neighbors on the other side of the disputed woods only had 25 feet of fence on their side) and serves no other purpose than to keep me from stacking my firewood in a 15x20 foot section. I had decided months ago not to pursue action against these people and had sent a letter saying so with the proviso that they refrain from doing anything that would adversely affect my property's value.

When I fell from my loft and spent 3 months in recuperation, I realized how close I came to dying. One twist or turn and my life would have been over. I had those three months to reflect on life, on what it is to be alive on this planet. I can't say as I came to any profound revelation other than that our time here is very short, shorter for some of us than others. And all it takes is one split second of poor timing, one mistake or just bad luck, or an incompatible mix of genes and one's already short life ends.

  I wonder if my thoughts would have gone as deep had I been 25 instead of 52 when I took my fall and spent all of those hours staring at the ceiling in my bedroom. But there were nights that as I was lying there trying not to move, I felt that if I looked hard enough, I could see through to the night sky and so, on into infinity. Infinity, eternity, these are very frightening words, concepts that are very hard to wrap our tiny brains around.  The idea that the star filled sky goes on forever, that those very stars have been gone for eons and their light is only now reaching us is  one that I do not believe many people can dwell on for long. Nor do I believe that most humans could deal with the idea of death being eternal without their man made religious doctrine assuring them of a benevolent being awaiting their arrival in a cloud filled heaven, complete with angels and loved ones . We need to believe that there is something more, that "better place", otherwise the idea of the lights going out for all of eternity is a terrifying thought. When one examines these ideas pragmatically, setting fear aside, one can see that we are truly just mere blips on the screen of the cosmos, that our little lives are as one drop of water in an endless sea. When one contemplates fossils that are  millions of years old, our lifespans are negligible.

So, after a summer of deep thinking, I came to the realization that worrying about that 15x20 foot piece of land was a waste of the meager time I have. I let it go, and have been trying to live mindfully, taking in the beauty of the natural world, smiling in the face of my cranky boss' grumbling, ignoring the slights, and appreciating the gifts, trying to live with equanimity.  That's not to say that Greg and I don't have our tiffs, that I don't become annoyed with the sloppy driving of other people, but I do make a conscious effort to exhale and move past all of it.

All of that being said,  I come back to the fence. I will see it today in the light of a new day. Maybe I will laugh at it's absurdity, it's uselessness, see it as the equivalent of an animal's scent-marking, the possessive obsession of small minded people who cannot think beyond the tips of their noses. And I will plant morning glories and moonflowers , clematis and wisteria against it next spring, so that eventually it can become a framework of  vines and flowers to sooth my eyes. It will take a bit of getting used to, that I can not deny. I have lived on this piece of ground for 20 years without boundaries, surrounded by woods, and this new fence is a raw wound that will need  time to heal.

I will let time work it's magic.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Slipper Envy

It's chilly here in the woods this morning and I am wishing that I could find my slipper. Not slippers, but slipper. I have one of them but the other has  gone missing. After having looked everywhere, I can only think that my woolly, warm slipper has headed down to Florida or someplace balmy and tropical. So I sit here with one foot toasty and the other well, not. The water bubbling in the fountain outside is a lovely summer-y sound, one that I know will not last for long. The fountain will be dismantled and put in the shed and my illusion of living beside a babbling brook will disappear.  I can hear the  through the closed windows the singing of the Carolina Wren, my favorite bird. They stay around all winter and carry on loud conversations that I love, but they make me long for spring. I have turned the door to their house upside down and filled it with laundry lint so at least their feet will be warm in a cozy little shelter.

A crow is cawing out in the white pine, a call that always, like the fragrance of honeysuckle, pulls me away from Pennsylvania to Cape Cod, where a large part of my heart resides. I am feeling restless. The change in seasons always brings on a desire for something I can't define. A change of residence? A different profession? A new boyfriend? A different life? A new hair-do? I don't know. I do love my home and my boyfriend, being a chef is usually fun, my life is not that bad.... and my hair? Well maybe I can do something about that. I had decided that I was going to grow it long and be one of those really cool old ladies with a braid down to her butt. But... my unruly mop has been a pain to manage and my innate laziness has taken over  Ponytail anyone? The last time I attempted to cut my own hair ended with a frantic call to my hair dresser/friend. It took some fancy scissor work to remedy my self-inflicted mullet. She begged me to please, please call her next time I got the urge to pull my all of my hair to the top of my head and cut.

Maybe I can just follow my slipper to parts unknown....

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The prospect of facing a difficult decision is daunting. Who are we to say whether our brother lives or dies? But really, the choice was his when he decided to drink after being warned that further alcohol consumption would kill him. He chose this path, it is now up to us how he travels it. We have to walk beside him, make sure of his comfort and his care while waiting for the inevitable, and that's a hard seat on which to sit. Our conversations go in circles: maybe they can revive his failing kidneys, maybe his wits will return, but even so, without a functioning liver a human being can not survive, so what is the point of restoring kidney function or cognitive ability?  Round and round . Ultimately all of the options present that same troubling conundrum.  

Life is so much about choices, and never is it more apparent than when one is faced with a situation like this. Our choices are limited: doing nothing is not an option and yet we have little control over when we get information from the physicians; they are very busy with many patients, and so as we we wait for the phone to ring hours pass. And we have done nothing.Making the frustrating phone calls to seek information is a trying excersize in waiting as well. Long periods of time spent on hold, the same explanation to each person who answers the call, and ultimately the same response. Call back later, the nurse/doctor is busy/not in, leave a phone number, wait a few more hours. Has our brother regained his wits  or is he still mad as a hatter like he was when we left him? Is he asking for us, wondering why we are not there, not remembering the hours we spent by his bedside? Or is he oblivious, comatose, serenely sleeping with no idea of our angst over his condition?  

At this point in the day, it is too late to drive the hours it would take to get to him, having spent most of the day waiting for the promised doctor's phone call, but the instinct is to jump in the car and drive. The visiting hours in the ICU are very limited and our chances of getting in are slim to none. So we wait. And we worry. We question our rationalizations, our conclusions, and wonder if how we are proposing to handle this situation is the right way, even when we know there is no other way. We try to stay busy, but just hanging out the wash is exhausting, waiting for the phone to ring is exhausting, love is exhausting. The reassurance of other friends and family members takes the edge off momentarily, but doubt is sneaky and it creeps into one's thoughts on tip-toes. It is hard to be patient, very, very hard.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Dan

 Our first date was as romantic as ever a date could be. I met Dan through my good friend Neysa. I was young, 21, and carefree at the time. Dan was a kind of serious guy, a musician, but he had a quirky side too.

I was having dinner with Neysa at her place. She  had invited an old friend from high school and he showed up carrying a guitar and a bottle of wine. We had a wonderful night, with Dan playing some original tunes, lots of laughter and a very nice tingle-y vibe between Dan and myself. He called me a couple of days later, and asked me to meet him that evening at Bull's Island by the pedestrian bridge over the river . It was early summer, the sky was a deep blue. The evening promised to be clear and cool. I had no idea what to expect, was not sure if this was an official 'date' but was intrigued by his choice of location and was looking forward to seeing him.

When I found him he was sitting on a blanket along the river bank with his guitar. It was still light out, and  when I looked  at his soulful brown eyes with their lovely fringe of lashes  butterflies started doing their fluttering dance in my stomach. He played a tune he'd just written, and we talked a little and sang together. Although he was so intent on his playing, so intense in his musicianship, he seemed shy when not playing, as if it was easier to express himself through his music.  His tunes were inventive and complex, now somber, now sprightly. I  relaxed, lying back to watch the stars peep out, delighted by this very private serenade.

Once  darkness fell, he stood up and reached down for my hand and said ~I want to show you something. We walked hand in hand to the bridge. It is a suspension bridge with lots of criss-crossing cables. The walkway was dimly lit  by  lights at the top of the arched cables. The air was damp and cool above the river, and there were moths and June bugs already dancing around the lights overhead. As we walked out onto the planks of the bridge, Dan said ~Look, and pointed at a section of cables along the span. I looked and at first I was not sure, but then I saw what it was he wanted to show me: Spiders. Spiders, Orb Weavers, everywhere, spinning their lace-like webs between the cables from top to bottom. Fabulous!  How did he know? How could he know that my mother was a biologist, had a 4H entomology club, that I am fascinated by the natural world in general and all insects in particular ?  I had not mentioned it, spiders not usually being first date conversation starters. I ran along the bridge from one web to the next, stopping to watch only briefly, until I reached the other side of the bridge. I waited for Dan to catch up.

~I thought you'd like this, he said with a smile. He took my hand and we slowly walked back. Halfway across, with the song of the river flowing beneath us, we stopped and watched  one spider spin his web, perfection in chaos, round and round until he finished, and settled by the side to await his dinner. We walked to the end of the bridge, now looking up at the canopy of stars.  I said ~How wonderful! Dan turned to face me, looked deeply into my eyes. ~May I kiss you? he asked. I nodded, speechless: no one had ever asked me before.   He leaned down and kissed me softly, his lips trembling slightly. I was left breathless, stunned by his gentle touch. He looked into my eyes and smiled, and it was as if the sun had come up, his face transformed from that of a serious man to a light- hearted boy. My heart melted and I smiled back. He took my hand and we walked back to collect his things. At my car, he took my face in his hands and kissed me again, another soft, sweet kiss.~Will I see you again? he asked. All I could manage was a quiet yes, and I got into my car and drove home feeling as if in a dream. That evening turned out to be the most romantic of my life.

We were together for some time after that. We laughed a lot, I went to his band gigs, sat in on practice, helped with his fledgling business. He wrote a lovely poem for me, about me. Our relationship was marked by it's kindness, the absence of turmoil, and a gentle love that I have always remembered. When we parted ways, it was as friends. I saw him again years later playing in a band at a party. We greeted each other warmly, and did a little catching up, he was married and had a toddler and was very happy. I was glad for him. That was 15 years ago.


Imagine my sadness when I heard the news. Dan died suddenly last week of a heart attack. After 30 years, I can still see his beautiful eyes and sweet smile. This loss saddens me deeply. I will hold his memory in my heart, and I will be forever grateful for the sweet gift of romance given to me: l will never forget the magic of that night by the river so many years ago.  Rest well, dear Dan.


Saturday, July 31, 2010

Fruits of Summer

It is a lovely cool morning, this last day of July. I think I shall make a pie: peach with a sprinkling of blueberries and a buttery crumb topping. I love pies and would never be able to name a favorite. My favorite is whatever pie I happen to be eating at the time, be it fruit, custard, nuts or meringue. My friend Margaret once said she'd crawl across the desert for one of Peg's pies, which was the most flattering (or maybe the most drastic) thing anyone has ever said about my pies, hence it has stuck in my memory. I am a perfectionist when it comes to pie, from the crimping the crust to the finished product. I always want them to look like a work of art and much as though I have probably made a few thousand pies if you count my bakery days, every one is an individual.  I use butter in my crust; I do not like vegetable shortening and will, sacrifice a bit of flakiness for a melt-in-your-mouth chunk of crust left on the plate (a bit of chemistry: butter has a much lower melting point and so will melt at 98.6* while shortening will not). Today I have local peaches and blueberries, both organic. I have a mix of wheat and white flour, which will make a nuttier flavored crust, and I have my  grandmother's rolling pin, the only one I have ever used. It is a french pin , tapered at the ends and  perfect for fine tuning the rolled out crust. Lastly, I have my passion for pies. That means I will work slowly and mindfully as I prep the fruit, roll my pastry, gently crumble the topping  and bake to perfection. Pies are too much work to take chances so there is a lot of peeking involved once in the oven.

I always envisioned myself with a big windowsill on which to cool my pies, a pile of messy children wanting to pick at the crumbs, waiting impatiently for dessert. Unfortunately, the windowsill idea would attract wasps, of which I am deathly allergic, and the children were a physical impossibility. So I will call a friend or 2 or 3 and offer to have dessert at my house, bring your own milk. Those offers are rarely turned down.

I had best get to work. Come on over!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Only Human

Driving away from a place that one loves is such a hard thing to do. I climbed in to my car with such a bittersweet feeling. I was leaving a beloved, magical place to return to a cherished home, to my heart's companions. But still my sadness created wet trails as the tears fell.

It is sometimes a conscious choice, where one lives, other times it is part of a chain of events that carries one to where they settle. In my case it was the latter. A chain of events that started with my Mom reading the want-ads in search of a job for her wayward daughter. 'Homeworker for small cottage in Cape Cod' was what the ad read; I still remember it verbatim. She gave me the number and I called, an action that was to set me on the path that I have followed for 34 years. I begrudge none of those years, have learned how to live without regret and would not change a thing. That being said, I still wonder what I would be doing had things turned out differently, had the paperboy not delivered the paper that day so long ago...where would I be? who would I be? would I be a different person? would I be a me who just did a different job for my living? would I have the same personality, the same sense of humor?

There are so many variables that shape us as we grow:  our chosen professions, our experiences, both good and bad, our friends, our family dynamic. My choice turned out to be a long hard and rocky road, filled with what I feel was sometimes too much pain, too much shame, too much feeling like I was a child pretending to be me, loneliness in a crowded room. But there was also enough joy in those years of tumult to get me through and on to the next adventure. Not that I did not stumble and nearly fall, the cliff's edge was dangerously close in those days. I do know this for sure: the friends that I have had and still have were my lifelines, they were (and are) what kept me from falling to the rocks at the base of the cliff. 

I know now that I am not alone in these ponderings. I have realized over time that I am not all that original , that many people  share the same questions. Never thinking about it, I always assumed that I was the only one who ever felt the feelings I had, they were mine and mine alone. Of course they were, but there were many other people with similar or far worse circumstances than mine and that we are none of us really alone or so unique in our thought processes. It is a shocking yet comforting realization.

Maybe that is why it is called the ' human condition '.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Rambling instead of sleeping

I feel lost without my various muses. My gardens, my home,my art projects lying fallow in the loft. Not that I am all too enthused to get back into anything at the moment, but I feel like my life has come to a standstill, and I am waiting. Waiting to heal, hoping it happens quickly and completely, hoping to gather back that sense of myself that I had before I knocked it all out in that horrific fall. I am not good at waiting, I want to breathe without pain, I want to sleep on my side, I want to be upright for longer than 15 minutes at a time, I want to be able to type without making corrections on every other word, I want to write without wracking my brain for a word that will just not come forward, to actually have a conversation without lapsing into stuttering for the right turn of phrase, to remember what it is I am always searching for. I know that that one is a long shot. I am holding fear at bay as best as I can, that the cognitive difficulties I am experiencing will go away, that the sore parts of my body will heal right. I close my ears when I hear it coming, the well meaning but unbearably offensive"Well, you know you may never be the same"  That is a frightful thought and yet why should it be so? Adaptability. improvisation, chances for spiritual growth, simple learning keep us changing every day. And so many have had experiences far worse than mine. So if I have changed or do come out of this a 'different' person I hope for change for the better, and different in a way that will help me live a life of meaning as I continue on my journey. I just need a dose of patience, and that's never been one of my stronger attributes. I need a good drug-free couple of nights of sleep. I need to let go of my need to control my life, since right now my body is in that role. I just need to let go.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Falling........

The loft is my getaway. I can climb up there and find a wonderland, pens and pencils, watercolors, glue and old magazines, boxes of buttons, lace, old curled up edged photos of family members long forgotten sharp scissors and exact-o knives. The possibilities are endless. I feel like I can leave the regular me behind and that I become a cleverer more intelligent and creative me up there. They are  different areas of media, my upstairs hideaway and my downstairs kitchen and gardens. Similar yet different. My gardens are alive and constantly changing, delighting me, challenging me making me more open to the endless possibilities of our capacities as humans. My kitchen is more of a laboratory, where recipes are created, most time as I go, but always with an idea to the finished product. Certain things need to taste a certain way. Proper chemical balances must be maintained for the birthday cake to stand tall. A taste must be developed for what compliments what in order to come up with a creation that will be palatable to most if not all of my guests.

When I am outdoors, my whole body is involved in the action. Pulling potted plants from this spot to that, digging just avoiding the fall bulbs whose foliage has all but melted away, mixing the compost in with my hands, kneeling on old planks in my ragged garden duds, and at last, planting my baby, tamping down the soil  and gently watering, fussing with the edges. I always mean to wear gloves; I must own 12 pairs, but never seem to remember to put them on, so my hands become ingrained with soil, my nails a disaster, my callouses have callouses. I sweat, profusely, am allergic to every insect of the biting kind, and of course am extremely attractive to all of them, sometimes with dire consequences. When bitten, by a deer fly, for example I swell and swell....no amount of ice can ease this swelling, no amount of benadryl can stop it. It happened once on a summer evening while sitting by the lake enjoying a bottle of champagne. I felt the bite, not too painful, but then the itch set in. I pressed the cold bottle to my forehead and felt it growing. When I got home, I popped 2 benydryl and slept like a baby.
 Upon awakening , my eyes felt odd; I slapped my hand to my forehead, remembering the bite, jumped out of bed, ran to the bathroom mirror, and opened my mouth in a silent shriek.....my forehead had swollen to ghastly proportions, to say Cro Magnon man would not cover the overhang of my brow, my eyes rendered all but useless by the grotesque awning that was now my forehead. At least dolphin's eyes are on the sides of their heads. I had to go to the shop, I had to get my baking done, but worse, I had to work the counter with this freakish growth on my face. Really not funny.

I am losing my train of thought here. OK.

In the kitchen, there are some protocols to be followed, but a lot of room for creative license, within certain boundaries. Baking, for example is an exact science based on carefully formulated chemical and physical reactions. The decorative aspect is when the fun begins until it becomes your profession, and then it turns your life into hell. More on that at a later date.. Cooking, on the other hand is much less restrictive as far as proportions and taste is concerned. that being said, there are some basic rules that must be followed . I'd like to believe that all of us at one time or another have been led out of the middle of the forest in the middle of the night away from the pot of hard as rock beans that have simmered all day and late into the evening, over an illegal campfire,( never turning into chili, what's up with that??) by an irate park ranger with one flashlight and no sense of humor. Not that that is to say it has happened to me personally, lets just say that some steps must be followed or there could be a price (fine) to pay. On the other hand, when the steps are followed, my father's recipe for Basque Beans is to die for. That will wait for the cookbook.

Again lost my point.

OK, let's get back to my loft, where my dear Greg has made me a lovely spot for me to store all of my ...ahem..art....supplies He mainly wanted them out of the living room to get rid of my corner of clutter. Clutter is to be abhorred in Greg's world. A wall has one picture. A table one object. The couch one pillow, and so on. Bookshelves?? Why have books (pl) when you can only read one at a time? And in the kitchen??Oh my God, what is the point of all of the pots pans, plates glasses and cups?? There are just the 2 of us! Why do we need serving platters, and 6 cutting boards? Do we need so many chairs on the deck? And all of those flowers? Do you need all of those pairs of shoes? And pocketbooks? (a line was sharply drawn at the last two) Away with the clutter, away!! Hence my loft, turned from my wishful thinking guest room to a repository of stuff to my world of magic and creation. But there was the problem that was always the problem with the loft:  Access. How do we access this cool little spot over the kitchen? Many ideas were thrown around and discarded due to space constraints. No spiral staircase, no fireman's rope ladder (we did try). Finally, my trusty and faithful friend Stan built me a ladder. It is a perfect ladder in every way but one. It sits in the middle of the kitchen with no where to store it. We set the ends on a rubber rug and pushed it as close as we could to the rail at the top of the loft. Up and down I scampered all winter, feeling safe and secure, with only a niggling thought popping in once in a while: 'damn it would hurt like hell to fall'.   Well. Long story short. I became careless and complacent, and through no one's fault but my own, the ladder went one way and I went the only other way. Down. Hard. Rib fracturing, head slamming, bone bruising, out of work for 7-9 weeks, delirious, in pain, delirious did I already say that? and I am sure, stupendously (although no one was there to see me) hard.

So the lesson here? Not sure there is one. Measure twice, hit once? always check the ladder? duh.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Who's to blame?

Helpless, the pelican sits in the surf, his wings chest and beak a rusty, globby brown. He has washed ashore like just another bit of flotsam. His back looks split as his wings sag from the weight of the thick oil coating he has been subjected to, while doing something most of us take for granted. Feeding. Pelicans dive into the sea from 50 feet in the air with their wings partially spread open to catch their meals underwater. They bob to the surface to swallow and take off to repeat this timeless dance. Only now there is no spectacular running take off over the surface of the water. Once the oil coats their wings, they become earthbound creatures, nevermore to glide, gracefully in their ungainly elegance, following the patterns of the waves as they rise and fall. That is a sight to see, flocks of many hundreds of pelicans and terns and brown boobies dive bombing the ocean during the spring migration. Now that very normal, instinctive behavior spells doom for countless shorebirds and marine life due to the folly of stupid, greedy man.
There is no way to save all of these creatures that will be destroyed by this horrific disaster in the Gulf, no way for man to redeem his mistake, a mistake so predictable, so unfixable. We are all to blame for being so complacent, and unquestioning in our daily lives. Where does the gas come from that we pump in to our cars? or the food that we put in our mouths? or the toys that we buy our children? or any of the other "conveniences" that we blindly consume? When will we wake up?
The pelicans' beak drops, glued to his breast. His eyes close, and hopefully, he is gliding again, on his way towards the light. We should all be ashamed.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Dream Tree

I planted a tree today. I dug the hole, mixed in some fresh compost dug up from the steaming bottom of the pile, loosened the roots from the compacted soil of the sapling and placed it carefully in the hole. I filled it half way with soil, then watered, and finished filling, pressing down on the last layer, firming up around the base of this tiny life. I was so focused on the job at hand that my next thought and the one following made me sit down hard on the wet ground around this tree I so carefully planted. My first thought was how lovely it will be to sit in the shade of this pretty red maple on a hot summer day....my next thought was the bare fact that I will be long gone before this tree is large enough to cast a cooling shadow large enough under which to lounge. I had to confront my mortality with a wallop of reality all in a few short minutes. I pushed aside the thoughts of my limited future on this planet...if one is alive, one is dying, it is the way of life.

I instead envisioned a picnic blanket spread out under the canopy of my lovely tree, a child's laughter coming from yard beyond, maybe a puppy or two rolling and play-fighting....a scene from an idyllic summer's day, far in the future, long beyond my time. It is a labor of hope, the planting of a tree when one is past a certain age, hope for the promise of a future, a sweet dream of a peaceful world where children can play and picnics can still be had beneath the shade of a beautiful red maple, planted by a dreamer on a sunny spring day long ago.
May it be so, and not just a dream.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Posted

This situation has had such an adverse effect on my life. There has been continued hostility : my woodpile moved, trespassing on my property, 8 bright yellow no trespassing signs on the trees facing my house, a makeshift fence of yellow rope and broken broomsticks and ski poles cordoning off the contested corner..... all of this done while we were at work, my poor dogs, no doubt going crazy in the house while these people were in my yard
.I have called the state police again, have experienced anger and fear of such  intensity it has made me physically ill. I had to spend last night home alone without Greg and the dogs and I was so fearful...I did relax after a while, but the threatening cloud  that hung over me left me uneasy and exhausted.
It is so awful to have this feeling in my cozy home, to feel unsafe. I am leaving this afternoon for a trip to the Cape for a few days and for the first time ever, I am not feeling a pang of regret leaving my home. I do not want to be here, but I am afraid of what I will find when I return. I have good friends that will watch the house for me and my car will be in the driveway, but still.

Dealing with chronic depression and anxiety disorder is hard enough on a daily basis, and this whole mess has really thrown me into a bad place. I have been feeling that downward spiral approaching, that black place hovering... I am trying to put it aside, I am trying to create some positivity inside and outside my home ...and head.......I smudged my whole property, walking the perimeter and through the garden paths, meditating on serenity and peace, I did the same inside. Now I am burning sweet grass, windows flung open to the beautiful clean air, cleaning, dusting and vacuuming, washing away all of this negativity and trying to concentrate on a positive outcome .  A letter is being sent to them suggesting a compromise solution and I am trying to be hopeful that they will see the sense in stopping this harassment, and moving towards mediation.

Life is very short, with so little time to waste on hostility and hatred. I do not want to poison myself with these emotions. So I won't. There is too much of it in the world already.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Redemption by River

Caught up in a fast current, I started to struggle The water was high, turbulent, and flowing swiftly down river towards the wing dam. I knew that if I went over the dam I would get caught up in the vortex of roiling water and drown. I tried to lever myself up out of the muddy flow to see the shoreline, but I couldn't. The river had grown wider and deeper. There was nothing but brown, churning water in all directions. Calm down, I told myself, this is how people die. But I saw no solution, there was no way out and as I tried to swim to the shore I was not even sure if I was going in the right direction How did I get here? How is it possible that I could be about to drown in my beloved river? Me, the river's daughter? I was caught like a leaf in a swirling eddy, unable to break free.Tired from my struggle, I decided to relax and let the current carry me; the river could hold me in  her arms for as long as she wanted. She would either deliver me or let me go. I gave up.  Floating with the current, I felt at peace.

When I woke from this dream, thunder was rumbling and  lightening was still flashing through my bedroom window. I was is a sweat, tangled up in the sheet, breathing hard. I am accustomed to a vivid dream life, but this one was so real. I was in that water, the dam was just ahead; before I gave up the struggle, I was fighting to stay alive in a hopeless scenario. What interpretation I can give to this all too real dream?

Am I feeling like I am out of control of my emotions, about to be swamped by the constant struggle to come to an accommodation with my past?

Is all of this stirring up of my childhood memories making me feel like I am sinking, fast?

Or is it that I am finally learning how to let go of all of that pain and sadness, all of the grief I have held onto these many years, and allow myself to just be?
I feel that it is the latter, that in relaxing into the flow of the water, I was relinquishing my need to control, allowing myself to say good bye to past and present hurts. I want to believe that the river was trying to wash me clean, to scrub away sorrow and hard memories that I have carried all of these years. And so I am going to believe it. When I traveled over the river on my way home today, I saw that she is indeed running high and fast after the torrential rains last night. I thanked her for her help, and felt suddenly clean and  content.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The man drove onto the corner of the lawn and slammed his truck to a stop. Greg went out to question him and received a load of anger that I could feel from inside the house. I walked outside to see why this angry man had invaded our peaceful afternoon. I was struck by the waves of hostility that hit me with a force for which I was not prepared. Obscenity laced invective was screamed at me, words frightful and threatening . I asked my 'neighbor' to leave, after trying to learn his name, and with more curses and and violent imagery flying at me from his truck, he spun his tires and roared off.. I was shaken by this encounter; I felt that I had been assaulted and needed to go wash. My hands trembling, I found the phone and called the police.

This is all over a  twenty foot square ( actually it is a narrow triangle) of land that sits up by the road where I have stacked my firewood for almost 20 years. Where the folks who lived here before me parked their cars. A piece of ground at the edge of the forest that only I can see, that is useless to anyone else, but that has obviously become very valuable to the people who have had the survey done and discovered that my firewood pile sits on the edge of their property.

There was no reasoning with this man, someone whom I have never met. I would not recognize him if I bumped into him today. But this encounter has shattered the peace and safe-haven of my home. I am now frightened. Frightened that he will hurt my dogs, that he will steal or damage my car or hurl the offending logs onto my carefully planted and lovingly tended flowerbeds. I want to lock my doors, figure out how to lock the shed and basement, get curtains for all the windows since I feel he is now out there, waiting, his ugly words hanging in the air, his anger palpable, lingering. I am nervous that this is not over, that one visit from the state police will not deter him from taking what he believes is his, this tiny corner that no one ever wanted.

What is it that makes people think that it is OK to be so abusive towards one another? Where do we learn that this is how to handle disputes? That anger and intimidation are our only weapons against the wood stacking demons around the corner who have taken over a very small section of forest that does not (in his mind )belong to them?

This is rural Pennsylvania. The property lines were more ideas than fixed boundaries. No one , for as long as I have lived in these parts has ever bothered to have a survey done, to be so exacting in claiming what is theirs. We all spill over onto one another in some fashion and no one has ever cared. Until now.
And so with peace of mind shattered I must walk out into the dark, start my car and drive away from my precious home, my sanctuary, the one place I have always felt safe. I will worry about this foolish, violent man's next step, and be uneasy when I come home later, carefully locking the doors, and staying inside, no longer comfortable wandering in my gardens, relaxing on a bench enjoying the solitude. I am sad that this has happened, I feel that something has been lost, never to be regained, taken, never to be returned. I don't know what to do.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Shiny Things

We are odd beings with our predilection for collecting. Like magpies and crows we pick up shiny things and bring them home to our nests where we display them proudly. We gather more and more shiny things until the older treasures are pushed to the back and the new are out in front. The oldest are then carefully placed in cabinets and drawers, attics and basements and yet more shiny things sit in their places.
We collect all manner of things: jewels, shoes, and china, snow globes and  vases, cow bells, carved birds, and silver, tea pots, paintings, and gold:  truly, anything under the sun. To each of us, these wonderful things are precious, and we , some of us, go so far as to judge others by how many and what manner of shiny things are owned. These things infer status upon their owners, in disproportion to their intrinsic value, and foster avarice and envy among those not equally endowed.
And yet they are only things.  They have no heart, they can not love or laugh, weep or grieve. We may gain momentary satisfaction in admiring our shiny things, but in our busy lives, more often than not, these things sit and gather dust and become burdensome. They must be washed and polished, shined and maintained.  
Ultimately, when we shuffle on off of this sparkling mortal coil, we  must leave per force, our things behind  for others do with what they will. Some few of these things may be of great value for the memories they provide, may bring on tears of remembrance, sadness and the pain of loss. But most are what they are: things to be divided up by those left behind, items with no remembered history, no perceived significance, things of little or no importance to current life. 
But while counting and dealing with these collected items, what remains of the collector? Besides a bunch of stuff, the detritus of a life, the only concrete thing that is left by those we love is the weight of their lives as they impacted upon ours. The sound of laughter, the warmth of a hug, their generosity and kindness, the sparkle in a smile, the feeling of love, deep genuine love that abides in our hearts, never to be forgotten. Those are the things  that are so far more important than all of the shiny things collected: important things to be cherished and remembered that are as intangible as the wind, but contain the force of a hurricane as they blow through the heart and  psyche.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Memories

It is a long lonely process, dismantling all of the stuff of one's youth, the dusty old toys, the moth-eaten books,  the 'Game of Life' well used, played constantly, giving no idea that life is not a game, but a  long hard road with very few shortcuts to happiness.
The  always creepy basement is full of ghosts. Joanie in her sleeping bag shivering while Pat told the scariest stories about men with hooks for hands and monsters out to maim and kill small children and teenagers in the most horrific manner. Those stories caused a fear of the dark that has stretched over 40 years. One runs up the basement stairs still feeling that tingling between the shoulder blades, still.
The old pool table stands forlorn, pockets empty, cue sticks tip-less, chalk useless. The bar, so cool with it's own sink and Naugahyde covered swiveling bar stools where one could spin oneself far out into another galaxy...close the eyes and spin, faster and faster until once stopped the world revolved around the spinner, disorientation and escape complete, if only for a few moments.

Everything seems so small, so much smaller than memory recalls.
Nannie's china chest, filled with irresistible, untouchable trinkets, the scary table saw that sounded late at night:: that night when the hollering woke slumber and the blood stains made a trail down the hallway as a neighbor tried to wipe them up. Daddy had an accident, it's okay, go back to bed. OK.

The rest of the house filled with treasures gathered from far away places. A few of them will go to new homes, cherished  family heirlooms. But what of the rest of the items so lovingly collected and displayed? How does one get rid of things that were bought for their beauty or novelty, the buyer on a gleeful holiday free of any inkling of what the future holds? These items now sit on the dining room table, next to the breakfront filled with the precious china and leaded crystal goblets that made the table at the holidays so beautiful and festive. It is hard to look at these things and not think about how much they were loved, how dear they were, how much pleasure they brought to the one gazing through the glass. But there is so much collected in a large house where 7 people lived their lives, lives truly of 'quiet desperation'. Who wants all of these things? What do they all mean? After all, they are just things. But they meant something to the one who brought them home and they feel important in some way. Maybe it is the memories stored away inside them, all of the Christmas dinners, the parties, the family visits . Those memories remain after the things are gone but are somehow diminished  when these things are treated as if they have no value.

The attic is a magpie's nest of cards and letters and photos saved over the course of almost 60 years. Tiny bridal shower cards, with that dearly familiar handwriting on the back detailing the gift that came with them, wedding cards with sweet little flowers and glitter, baby showers, birth announcements, kindergarten graduation certificates, the beginnings of a family and a life with all of the hopes and dreams that accompany young love. All of it saved in an attic that suffered invasions by rapacious raccoons, squirrels and other chewing critters that ate their way through most of that hope and left the remains piled in the corners. All of those things so lovingly saved, so precious, so ruined, meaning nothing to the one who was left behind. The sadness of sweeping up and throwing away these things is overwhelming, the resharpened feeling of loss and heartache cutting back through to the surface. Tears leave wet tracks through the grime that is stirred up by the sweeping.
There is one box, untouched by the marauders, just a shoe box, just a treasure chest of photos of childhood friends, of letters written by young friends long forgotten, letters from  the once cherished, now estranged sister, from beloved grandparents written in that fractured English that 50 years of living in America could not fix. Pages of bad poetry, reading of longing and loss wishes unfulfilled, pages of teen-aged angst that feels still all too familiar.

There is more, much more before this project of packaging up 50 years of life will be complete. There is no escaping the memories, they are there in every item picked up and wrapped : sometimes they slip in, causing a  rueful smile, other times they are like a sucker punch to the midsection, leaving a weeping wreck in their wake. But this job must be done, this move must be made in this life, so close to over. It is a long process, sad and hard, with  few light moments in between.

New memories are made every day and  gradually replace the melancholy of the old, life is truly happier now, the good finally outweighs the bad. When this project is complete, and the move to a new life is made, the old man will settle in his new chair in front of his beloved television, with the few chosen mementos carefully placed around him. And for him the old memories will slowly fade into the background . Hopefully what will remain of the past will lose it's sting of sadness, an accommodation will be made with loss: the memories put away in a quiet place, trouble no more.




Sunday, March 28, 2010

Hands

I have always been a very physically active person, strong and fit. I was able to do things most women would shy away from....cutting down large trees, splitting the logs, building the wood pile, loading the stove to keep the fire going. I gripped the handlebars of my motorcycle with relish, proud back then to be one of the few women on a bike. I replaced the engine in my VW Beetle twice with used ones hauled home from the junkyard...hell, it was only 4 bolts and a couple of hoses. I helped more people move than I care to remember. And the bakery, oh the bakery....... alone with 50lb bags of flour and sugar, 40 lb cubes of butter, 80 quarts of cake batter in the huge bowl of my 76 year old Hobart......14 hour days the norm, working my way up to producing 200 pies a week by myself....now that was a job of work! My house is surrounded by rock walls that I started building by the jeep load....big stones hauled up from the creek. And gardens, so much digging and digging. My friends always teased me, called me a pioneer woman. My hands were always callused and covered with nicks and cuts. They were hard working hands and I was proud of them. I loved the work, the physicality of all of it and held my fierce independence in high regard. My handshake was always strong and firm.


The other night, after these many years , I rolled over in bed and grabbed the quilt that had slid off to pull it back up and the pain in my hands brought me fully awake. I could barely grip the covers and that hurt. More than the physical pain, the pain in my psyche was powerful. I have been having to ask the younger (half my age) girls at work to open jars for me, where I was always the one who did the opening. I depend on my partner to haul wood. And this morning I could barely grab the big chunk of oak to throw it into the stove. I love to write and have a collection of lovely pens. I worked hard on my penmanship for years, and I feel it is faltering, my script looking spidery and weak


I am getting older and parts are not working the way they have in the past. I can handle the every day aches and pains, the creaky knees, the twinging back, but it is pain in my hands that is bothering me most deeply. I have watched as my father has aged, watched as my hands begin to look like his.


The hard part is that I feel that I am losing some part of myself, a very important part, a part that is so much of who I am.....How can I be myself when I have to depend on others to do for me? When holding my cup of coffee is a challenge every morning? When I can no longer make a fist? I am still very strong, very active and fit but I am, quite literally, losing my grip.


Coming to terms with this has been a challenge. I take medication to ease the pain, I don't let the pain stop me from doing the handwork that is my profession. I still garden and haul rocks. I have sensibly given up cutting down trees, although I still stack my share of firewood. In other words, I am working hard to keep a handle on who I am. But I am a modified me. I find it difficult to face up to the fact that I am a grown up. I feel that my hands are betraying me, forcing me to take a hard look and accept that which I can not change. I am trying to absorb the message my hands are sending to my brain, and at the same time, holding on to myself with all of my might. I am finding that I am as strong or stronger on the inside than on the outside, that my strength of will has not faltered while the strength of my grip has. There are lessons here that I am learning, slowly, with time. There is no shame in asking for help. I do not have to do everything myself if the load can be shared with willing friends. That what I can or can't do has nothing to do with who I am. That I am fortunate to be able to do what I can do and I still count my blessings every day.


My handshake is still strong and firm, but if we happen to meet, please... don't squeeze too hard.