Saturday, April 30, 2011

spring peepers

last night at eight o'clock i took the dogs out in the garden and all around me was the most beautiful noise, a chorus of spring peepers singing their hearts out......

Thursday, April 28, 2011

tanzanian sojourn

and so, over there, if you lean down and get your nose close to the ground, you may see some imbedded marks which are the only witness to an ancient tale......


three people walk closely together, side by side, presenting one foot in front of the other. they walk for miles. every day. the people are barefoot and wear only small, irregular bits of basic covering on their bodies, primitive pieces formed from animals and plants. they are a man, a woman, and a child. as the sun lifts up from the horizon and hovers high in the sky over the grassy plain, they move steadily along. the heat from the sun burns the air, the ground, the meager vegetation. but they are safe for now, comforted by each other's presence. 

in the early afternoon the world around them begins to darken. steely, gray clouds slide in and shut out the blue sky, slamming the horizon and the earth closed with a flash of light. the air is steamy. the murderous heat suffocates. it is silent except for the monotonous footsteps crunching the grass and a distant growling thunder. 

a forgiving wind picks up and soothes the tired walkers. their breathing calms and is lighter, easier. rain begins to fall. thunderheads rise up, closer, closer. the three people continue to walk straight ahead, always onward. they do not turn right or left, but move as if they see something, are following something, in the distance - a point, a beacon, a mark which calls to them, urges them forward.  they see nothing, are blinded by the storm, but they can feel it deep inside. they are determined to keep seeking, seeking....

after many miles the earth gradually changes from burned grass to silken dirt to soft mud. a moist volcanic ash records the trail of their three sets of footprints. the rain falls heavier, steadier. round raindrop dents surround the footprints, black polka dot holes on black ground. then the footprints fade away.

over thousands of years the ash hardens and a short section of foot and rain imprints are encased and preserved forever on the dark, solid ground. or perhaps not forever, only three million years or so, close enough to forever. the legacies of the three, the only part of their story left for us to ponder, are the fossilized remains of the raindrops and the footprints.

today, on the spot in tanzania where the three walkers sojourned, saplings grow. as the trees' tiny roots begin to extend in all directions, they strive to fill in the places on the earth marked by the toes and heels which had long ago begun a journey. these small veins of life move steadfastly along, pushing and cracking the dirt, spreading, seeking, all over again.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

an interior life

after a long, dark, cold maine winter, during the worst of which i must confess i was often in my pajamas right after dinner, the longing to be outside in warm sunshine is almost unbearable. i am sick of the furnace rumbling on and on under my feet, sending up hot, dry dusty air to attack my sinuses. in the middle of winter i am startled at night by a bleak apparition as i walk past the living room's wall of long black window glass, an apparition which turns out to be my winter self  - dry, chapped skin, sun-starved eyes, runny nose... is that really me? - mockingly reflected back.

to be outside with the sun's rays injecting my bones with a kind of heady medicine, and sensing my winter-weary body thawing and rejoicing as it becomes nicely baked, and to feel the deep heat pulsing in my neck and back and arms and legs, grasping and massaging, is pure relief. it is good.

a trip down south into the nourishing moist tropical breezes helps me get my winter bones supple again, smoothes my flakey skin, calms my stuffy nose, and clears my head. to be living in the outside world, to be out beyond the walls of boxed-in buildings and into natural light and warm open air, helps my inside being come alive to fresh beginnings, new ideas, and rubs a spark of creative flame.

the life where i live alone in my head with only my thoughts for company can be rich if i tend to it, cultivate it; i enjoy quiet, reflective time. so some days i turn off, tune out, the exterior distractions - phones, computers, music, the chatter, the running around, the go go go world, and focus on what is inside - to tune in to the inside of myself. to hear myself think. to call up some pensive contemplation. drink tea. read/walk/write. we are, after all, mostly alone with our interior selves, even in a room filled with people. truthfully, this inside life needs care and attention. the natural world helps. and so i go there.

the sea beckons, ignites my mind, sends me on my way. i walk on the beach. wind and sun, sand and ocean. sparkling gems ride the surface of the water and pour into my soul a wealth of rising and falling feelings, buoyed up, spreading out, floating along. inspiration comes with the sighs of worn-out waves as they end their long voyage across the planet and disappear under the cover of the sand beneath my toes, which dig deeply, inquisitively, into the edge of the resting sea.....

Monday, April 25, 2011

once in a meadow of blurry poppies

i had a dream one night, the kind of dream which gets stuck in your head for a long time.

it was one of those dreams, as vivid as a movie, presented in brilliant technicolor, with an orchestral soundtrack running along in the background. i had the dream more than once, in fact it recurred several times over a period of years. sometimes little things changed, and certainly i have forgotten parts of the dream and tidied up others in remembering and retelling it, but what i am about to write down is the basic core of a dream i dreamt while in my halcyon days as an undergraduate.

in the dream i was traveling in europe with some other students. i have no idea what country i was in. i stopped at a small store to buy cheese, bread and a bottle of red wine. i pulled a handful of bills (lire? marks? francs?) out of my bag to pay for my purchases and handed them to the clerk. for some strange reason i needed to pay the exact amount, but in my dream that didn't seem strange at all to me. the food simply needed to be paid for with the exact change.

i proceeded to dump the entire contents of my very large leather handbag onto the counter in an undramatic and unhysterical manner, as if it were commonplace for people to dump their possessions all over the place to search for change while shopping. the people in line behind me were not in the least disturbed by my behavior, but then after all this was my dream and they had to behave and follow my script.

let me tell you, there was really an incredible inventory in that bag, in addition to the normal items needed for traveling, such as a passport, wallet, gum, sunglasses, a bulging change purse, traveller's checks, camera, extra contact lenses, small umbrella, travel books, maps, notebook, pen and so on.

the other paraphernalia was indeed startling. the bag contained a lamp, a rug, a folding l. l. bean type of camp stool and a smallish watercolor painting (hmmm...large items a bit reminiscent of what mary poppins toted around with her in her large carpet bag?). also, there were several volumes of hardcover books and a soccer ball (for a quick impromptu scrimmage after i paid my bill?). and hidden in the depths of the bag was a tiny dog. (what breed? who knows. but it was a healthy and happy pooch. storing a dog in one's handbag was, again, perfectly normal behavior in my dream.)

dear reader, you may be wondering how on earth i can possibly remember these details after so many years. it is true many people forget their dreams immediately upon awakening. i certainly forget a lot of mine.

but not this dream.

to begin with, as i said, i had the dream several times, and i was fascinated by the fact that it repeated itself almost identically each time, so i made a point to go over it in my mind whenever i had the dream to keep it memorized. i have done that with a few of my more entertaining dreams. i think dreams are interesting places to go to and explore, to have a look around. but why i really remember this one is because it still gives me the shivers. it felt so real. it still does. i often wonder about that dream, its meaning, its significance, if any, to this day.

the dream's action continued as follows. at this point, remember, i needed change to pay for my groceries. i grabbed my bulging change purse off the counter and dumped that out on the counter, too. all silver coins, all from various places around the world, clinked out into a pile. i reached into the shiny mound to pay my bill and.......

....then, as dreams often do, the dreamscape changed. the light became brighter, more intense, and colors were vibrantly painted across my field of vision. i was in a green meadow filled with blurry poppies (pardon the interruption, but no, i was not on drugs) which bloomed in spots and splashes and streaks of red and orange, like brushstrokes in some kind of weird impressionist painting. my cousin was calling to me from across the field. she shouted, "when a pile of silver coins appears, someone you know will receive an important message." was this some sort of game? i called back to her, "what does that mean?" and she laughed her lovely laugh and ran away. infuriating. i thought why is she always running away and i need to get back to the store and pay what i owe.

                                                               *     *     *               

ten years later i was married and had a child. my little daughter and i were sitting at the table and i was teaching her the value of pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters. the pile of coins made me remember the dream i had. i have never forgotten it, and i even teased my cousin shortly after i had the dream the first time by saying "but what were you trying to tell me in the dream?" after i told her the dream's story. she laughed almost like she did in that unreal world and said she wished she knew because, of course, she didn't have a clue. after all, it was only a dream.

my cousin flew from her home in california to maine one summer a couple years ago for an extended holiday with me in vacationland. after a day spent hiking up the leisurely morse mountain trails and then down along the ocean, we came home, took showers and went out for dinner. as we sipped glasses of wine she said, "you know that weird dream of yours with the silver coins? well i had a dream with silver coins in it, too." she proceeded to tell me her dream was not at all like the dream i had had, but there were two features which were strikingly similar: the pile of silver coins and the message.

she then told me a strange tale. two days after my cousin had the coin dream she did, in fact, get a message. a message was on her answering machine from a lawyer informing her that her grandmother had included her in her will. i knew her grandmother had died, but i didn't know the details. turns out, in her will she left my cousin a few nice pieces of antique furniture and a large, ornately carved wooden box filled with notes and letters which my cousin recalled had been in her grandmother's house for years. my cousin was touched that her grandmother had been so thoughtful to pass along to her this small legacy.

she put the furniture in her home and placed the lovely box in her bedroom. she had hardly looked at the letters at the time, thinking they were from her great-grandmother. she knew they were very old. the spidery handwriting was beautiful and lavish; lovely old-fashioned inky curls and loops decorated the fragile ivory pages. then for a time my cousin promptly forgot about the letters.

what she didn't know was these were rare letters indeed. when my cousin finally did take the time to sort through and read them she was astounded to find out they were mostly correspondence between a "molly m." and edith wharton. she had letters from molly addressed to edith and edith addressed to molly. the letters made it obvious that edith and molly were friends and they were dated around the beginning of the twentieth century. imagine that - letters to and from edith wharton! my cousin had the wharton letters authenticated; once wharton scholars find out about them all hell will break loose.

but who was molly m.? where did my cousin's grandmother get the letters? what connection did molly have to her grandmother? why did she specifically want my cousin to have the box of old letters? my cousin is still trying to figure all that out.

and you know, the day before yesterday i actually saw a pile of silver coins, not in a dream but right here in town. i was at the laundromat loading dog blankets into a washer when a lady dumped a bunch of coins on the counter and started counting them out - a flash of shiny silver metal piled high right in front of me. i watched with fascination as she pulled out the quarters and stacked them in neat columns, eight silvery quarters in each.....

Thursday, April 21, 2011

painted easter eggs

hurry up..... get out the paints and little paintbrushes and grab some real eggs. quick, quick.

a few of ophelia's eggs, the first ones dating back to around 1973, are still here today. all her eggs are painted, mostly by me and, along with some painted chicken eggs which have been added to the collection, are lovingly displayed on the kitchen counter in a basket, not just at eastertime, but all year. the eggs are simply too pretty, too fragile and too nostalgic for me to stick them in a cabinet.

large chicken eggs are about 2 inches in length. ophelia's goose eggs range from 3 1/4 to 3 3/4 inches!

here's how you have great fun and create painted eggs which last for decades:

*with a large sewing needle, gently tap and prick the shell on the large end of the egg to open up a hole about 3/16 inch wide. do the same on the small end, making the opening somewhat smaller, about 1/8 inch.

*poke and swirl around in the large opening with the largest sewing needle you have (a darning needle works great) to loosen up the egg white and yolk.

*put your mouth over the small hole and gently blow. it can be difficult, and may take a while, like blowing up a very small balloon. keep at it. the stuff inside the egg will start to ooze out of the large hole. pick inside the large hole every now and then with the big needle, and CAREFULLY shake the egg to keep the egg white/yellow moving out. when it's all out, dribble some water into the egg and swirl it around. shake it out and let the egg dry completely.

*now paint your egg. then wrap and glue fine ribbon around the egg to cover the holes. happy easter! enjoy!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

oblio and ophelia

back when i was a kid we always had a dog who barked properly, like any good watch dog should, when people came up the driveway. and for a while we even had two watch geese who honked properly....... at everything! i named them oblio and ophelia because one was male and the other female, and because i liked the sound of all the sweet o's in those two saucy names.

a friend of my brother's had some baby geese hatching over at his house. the family didn't live on a farm, but they had a lovely large man-made pond on the lawn, perfect for geese. we lived on a real pond and suddenly one day we had real baby geese swimming around in it. why we got the two adorable goslings in the first place is a mystery to all of us. did we have a dinnertime discussion about adding two new members to our family? isn't that an important discussion to have? after interrogating my parents thoroughly, neither seemed to have an answer except we thought they might be fun. (why else would you adopt geese?) oh how right my parents were! oh what great times we had with them! we really enjoyed having those two honkers around. oblio and ophelia were sometimes annoyingly noisy, but they were also smart, lovable, loyal, funny, and they were inseparable.

even after they were no longer goslings, they followed my mother around like silly puppies wherever she went in the yard, down by the pond, or on the trails in the woods near our house. ophelia loved to sit on laps. she would burrow her velvety soft sleek head in your armpit and wiggle it around. it tickled like crazy and sent us into giggling fits. imagine snuggling with a large, fully grown, goose baby! she would also move her bill lightly over your arms and neck and give you nibbling goose kisses, causing a cascade of goose bumps.

the two new members of the family always walked side by side, and looked like fat, white, waddling soldiers in a military parade. oblio and ophelia were also stunningly beautiful as they ran, opened their wings wide, and glided low over the pond, their shadows shimmering on the surface of the water as they gracefully landed for a swim. they always swam together; in fact, the goose and the gander always did everything together.

the geese could also be rather frightening as they undertook what they obviously thought was their duty to the family, turning their squawking, blasting duets into a feathered security team assault weapon. anyone who drove or walked up the drive was in for it. those plump, strutting, webbed-footed terrors would begin their organized onslaught by hissing and honking wildly, and then surrounding the "intruder" until they were called off by a member of the family. woe to the person who extended a hand without a proper introduction. those long orange bills could snap at unsuspecting fingers like a mousetrap.

ophelia laid many eggs in the nest she built in the large goose house/pen my dad constructed for the geese. we let her sit on them for a bit, then we took them out. (one of my chores was gathering the eggs.) oftentimes my mother would use an egg or two in cakes, pancakes and omelets. those giant eggs helped to create the most light and fluffy culinary delights. i also painted the eggs for really nice egg decorations at eastertime. i still have some of ophelia's eggs in a basket in the kitchen.
[my next post will tell how to keep easter egg artwork around for a while. some of mine are over 35 years old!]

for almost seven years the oblio and ophelia team were the guardians of our corner of the pond. the geese were cautiously, warily, loved by all. then one winter day, disaster struck.

a large, male alaskan husky showed up at the pond out of nowhere. my parents had never seen him before. when the geese sensed danger, they always flew into the pond for safety. but the pond on that fateful day was frozen solid from end to end. the geese lifted off for some take-offs and landings, hoping to frustrate the dog and send him on his way. but the inseparable pair were, unfortunately, no match for the wily pup. they tired quickly and the dog grabbed oblio as he attempted a hissing and biting ground assault to protect his mate. the dog trotted off into the forest with the valiant goose clenched between his jaws. luckily my parents were home and arrived on the scene just in time to see the husky's backside slinking away. they quickly locked ophelia safely in her cage.

ophelia lived for several more years after she lost her mate, and died peacefully in her pen. but ophelia was much quieter and less feisty after oblio died, as if her fighting spirit had departed right along with oblio when he was killed on that cold winter day at the pond.

Monday, April 18, 2011

moccasin wallow

the problem was we left too late. if we had said good bye to our friends earlier, none of this would have happened.

but it did happen. by the time we loaded the car, the weather decided to get mean.

a while ago my husband and i were heading from florida's southern gulf coast to the northeastern part of the state. once programmed "most direct route" the gps took control and decided to lead us through a piece of boggy hell, a desolate shortcut we were surprised made it onto any map, the likes of which we had never seen before, and hope we never see again.

black killer clouds rose up in the north and swiftly covered us. for a while the navigation system had us taking lefts and rights through drab neighborhoods and small towns. then we drove along a road hugging railroad tracks and dotted with small dusty businesses and clumps of horses nibbling in patches of field. darkness started to descend. soon a deep percussion of raindrops hit the car's roof. the wind slashed at us from all directions. we left the built up areas behind; the gps had slowly led us to the middle of nowhere. there were no longer any buildings or any signs of human life. a dense growth of mature cypress, twisted live oak and gumbo limbo trees edged closer and closer to the road, leaning in, waiting, watching.

my husband drove on, confident of the machine's ability to bring us safely to our destination. the gps demanded we turn right. the tarmac ended. a metal street sign (a wondrous indicator of civilization's arrival, the first sign of any kind we had seen in miles, out here in the middle of crazy nowhere, indicating we were, in fact, somewhere?) clearly indicated this road was called moccasin wallow. we had arrived at moccasin wallow. moccasin wallow? the arrow on the gps insisted we were to keep going straight on this, now dirt, road. i shivered. does the machine know where it is taking us? can this really be the right way?

at this point, sunny happy thoughts were entering my mind. parts of florida are infested with a long, black, venomous water snake called a water moccasin, also known as a swamp moccasin, a black moccasin or a viper. viper, you know, as in a beast which displays long, potentially deadly, fangs. oh, this was just lovely! additionally, couldn't the road simply have been called moccasin street or moccasin road? maybe indicating indians used to make those nice, soft, fringed shoes around these parts? not a chance. a wallow (a similar word is slough) is an indentation, a hollow area filled with muddy water, a place where animals love to hide. put moccasin and wallow together and it becomes a spot deep in the state of florida which is a most delightfully perfect piece of real estate for snakes to inhabit, to call home. many, many snakes. we were in the heart of snake territory.  i thought get. me. out. of. here. FAST.

we noticed water collecting along the sides of the road. suddenly the murky swamp flooded an entire section of road in front of us, and we did what you should never never never do. we kept going. inching our way through the shallow water for what seemed like ages, we finally hit the dirt road again. we drove in silence. i just wanted to be on a paved road, away from this wallow and all those snakes peering out of the mud at us. through the darkness we noticed there were lights coming from the other direction. were we nearing civilization? civilization in the form of a very old, faded, rusted and dirty ford f-150 pick-up truck with enormous wheels (for some reason my eyes fixated on those gigantic wheels) moved slowly past us and was gone. swallowed up by the night.

wind and rain smashed against the car. then things went from bad to worse. my husband saw it first, then in disbelief i saw it, too. my heart started thrumming in my chest, my head, my ears. in the headlights up ahead a huge live oak had fallen across the road. there was no room to get around it. the side of the road was covered in boggy water and trees and undergrowth.

we sat for a while in shocked silence. there was nothing to do but go back the way we came.

as we again approached the place where the road had flooded, we were stunned to see the water in front of us was now rushing wildly across the road, and we noticed it was much deeper than it had been twenty minutes ago. we also noticed the battered truck with the huge wheels parked at the edge of the mud. i rubbed my eyes and closed them for a second as if to wipe away what i saw, hoping when i opened my eyes again the scene in front of me would vanish and it would all turn out to be a very bad dream. i opened my eyes—the flooded road and the monster truck had not disappeared. they hadn't moved; they were still right there.

a man with long, wild hair and a beard and a filthy t-shirt and even filthier jeans, got out of the truck. i hissed at my husband lock the doors.

the man knocked on the window and my husband rolled it down a few inches. the man said, "y'all can't go that way. too deep. the waller always rises up in a storm. best to turn 'round."

my husband told the man a tree had fallen across the road in the other direction. no way around it.

the man spat. "hell. what the @#$%." then he gazed over at me, stared right in my eyes with a piercing look, the rain washing his dirty face clean, the grime flowing in rivulets off his chin. he lowered his eyes and said in a surprisingly soft voice "beggin' yer pardon, ma'am." he turned to my husband and commanded, "foller me. i'll git us out...." and his voice faded away in the wind. what choice did we have? there was no other way out.

when we got back to the fallen tree the man pulled a chainsaw from the back of his truck. my husband hesitated for a split second, pulled on the door handle and started to climb out of the car to help him. i tried to pull him back but his sleeve slipped out of my grasp. when they had cut an opening through the middle of the tree wide enough for our vehicles to get through, my husband leaned over and said something to the stranger. the stranger shook his head and said something back. then my husband ran to the car and climbed in. i pulled a beach towel off the backseat and handed it to him. the car seat squished as water seeped out of his clothes and onto the floor.

"what did you say to him?" i asked.

"i offered him money for helping us."


"he said he couldn't accept money because he was just helping out strangers."

"that's all?"

"that's all. oh, he did say something else."

"what was that?"

"he told me to get back in the he said the moccasins love this kind of weather, especially at night. brings out the frogs."

as we drove away i saw a heavy, writhing blackness on both sides of the road. the road was alive! with snakes! in the headlights the vipers were slithering out of their mucky wallows in search of a meal.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

lovely lulu

ah, lovely lulu. i love lulu. i hope to keep her around for a lot longer.

she is still an attractive thing, you know. for a mannikin, that is. but lulu is starting to get a bit worn out. she is showing her age. her glossy, black duct tape body is struggling to stay together after being tugged at, toted up and down stairs, dressed and undressed a million times, and shoved into corners when out of use. a small split here, a tiny rip there, is all it takes for her insides to begin to fall out.

i am sentimentally attached to lulu. years ago hannah lovingly and carefully crafted her out of this and that. lulu was the belle of the ball, the talk of the town, the cat's whiskers, the bee's knees, the snake's hips, etc., etc. but time marches on and, alas, she could use a lift here, a tuck there, something to smoothe out the wrinkles. couldn't we all?

lulu's body was fashioned this way:

hannah put on a long t-shirt. i wrapped her body, just over the t-shirt, round and round in black duct tape, overlapping neatly. then the torso mold, t-shirt attached, was carefully cut straight down the back. hannah took it off, and with the black duct tape she taped up the slit, formed the neck, and covered the neck and arm openings. then she stuffed the manniken from the bottom with poly-fill stuff (the kind in pillows), cut a piece of cardboard and inserted it to keep the stuffing in place, and taped the whole bottom up smoothly and securely. an old sawed-off metal floor lamp base became her stand. what fun.....lulu had arrived.....

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

dream scale

do you remember, daughter, seeing that land
many years ago when childhood ran ahead, skipped pebbles
along the water and never looked back?
when a castle cut out of imagination
and wood from your father's workshop
led you to a magical world of laughter and joy?

measure twice, cut once he declared
a life lesson with glue and paint on our fingers
and long hours that stretched into night.
the instruction sheet with small scale plans
announced a weekend project, which spanned months instead,
built up into a child's world held tight.

you peered into miniature rooms, and with tiny wise fingers
moved delicate furniture around with care.
for weddings you arranged diminutive chairs
down both sides of a carpeted aisle
along the floorboards in the livingroom.
a yellow vw bug arrived with well behaved guests
plastic cakes and champagne piled up to heaven
and not one tummy growled.

do you remember the day you decided
you would sit with your guests
on a wooden chair the size of your hand?
the chair collapsed under the weight
of your heart - you held it, broken, and were healed with words
don't worry, go play, live.......

and so you did.
your own words allowed you to soar
to another place, flying where your hands and heart
create large scale life revealing
a canvas written with wonder.

color phrases holding up images,
bold imagination dancing
each brushstroke caressing
shadow and light layering
an inner life filled up and spilling out
on a dream scale, the hue of what will be.

~ for hannah elise. happy birthday, dear daughter. ~

Monday, April 11, 2011

along the trail

along the fine veil of memory there are millions of individual threads. these threads occasionally become frayed and some get loose and, over time, wiggle free, fall away, and are lost forever. other threads separate a little from the veil, just enough to get noticed, but they stay attached and remain smoothly intact. the trail of memory threads is often intricate and rich and invites examination.

i see a place in the mountains of new hampshire. it is one of my earliest recollections. i am about five years old and it is the middle of summer. my parents pack up the car for a camping trip to the white mountains. i remember this part so clearly: i am unbearably excited to finally get on the road....the road is boring until we see the mountains....i help set up camp....the next day i am thrilled beyond words to be hiking up mount chocorua on a trail in the very dark spooky woods. (spooky to me, anyway - at this point in my life i am a little city girl from boston harboring the most vivid imagination; believe me, the trail is a perfectly ordinary hiking trail.)

[note: the mount chocorua area in 1963 was not the crowded place it is today. then, as now, the miles and miles of interconnected trails allowed hikers the benefit of exploring multiple trails and summits without ever leaving the woods. in those days there was plenty of space for everyone to roam around and not bump into too many other hikers along the way. it was still a real wilderness; a bit of solitude could be had in those woods back then. the word spread about the chocorua area, though, and now many hikers populate the trails.]

we are all alone. i ask my dad will we get lost? he holds up a small detailed guidebook with trail maps of the area, and assures me there is no chance of getting lost. i am reassured. i skip ahead along the trail, my head immersed in the formation of my own little collection of stories. the trail becomes steep. we are high enough to see the summit in the distance. it looks like a pyramid. my dad tells me how the shape of the mountain's peak changes depending on where you are standing. from the east chocorua is like a camel's hump; from the north it resembles a shark's fin.

we grab at birch trunks to pull ourselves up giant granite boulders. we stop and take a rest and drink big gulps from our silver metal canteens which are covered in dark gray boiled wool with snaps and a loop to hook on your belt or knapsack (back then we never said backpack, only knapsack). i love my own special canteen. we pass through scrubby woods of short pine and spruce and finally get to the top of chocorua. my parents oooo and ahhhh over the view of the swift river valley. i am sweaty and the refreshing summer wind feels good. i cool off and put on my sweatshirt.

on the way back down we head east on a spur loop trail to see champney falls and pitcher falls. one of them (i don't remember which) has flat step-like slabs of granite where the water gently tumbles down into shallow pools filled with smooth stones, and lined with large mossy ones spread out like sleeping, prehistoric beasts, cracked and bumpy gray with pink, green and black mottling. my dad says in the spring, unlike summer, a torrent of water gushes down the mountain and hurtles over the falls forming deep, dark, icy pools. i take off my sneakers and socks and stick my hot feet in with the stones in one of the chilly pools.

we are tired so we decide not to take a side trip along the trail over to middle sister today. we will hike again soon. we go back to camp and get a campfire started. it gets dark and i catch fireflies and put them in a jar.....but just for a while.....then i set them free.....

Friday, April 8, 2011

the light gets in

walk down any road, in any town, in any country, and there, before our eyes, is evidence of varying degrees of falling apart, tumbling down.

the paint peels, the siding rots, the roof leaks, ants eat away at the beams, stones on the chimney chip and crack and fall away, bombs drop, the wind blows, the earth moves, lightening strikes, waves crash, the whole structure comes tumbling down. in our lives the things around us have a tendency to break and crumble; we are helpless, unable to stop the gradual decay. we, each of us, scramble to repair the damage, to stop the assault on the infrastructure that shelters us, helps us to survive, makes us human, keeps us civilized.

on the nightly news with brian williams we are witness to a demolition project, a fire, a flood, a squall, a tsunami, a snowstorm, an earthquake, an avalanche, a hurricane, a war zone, all contributing to the piles. surrounding us are heaps of rotting rubble, the debris of humanity, either of our own making or created by forces beyond us.

and yet, stop for a minute. see it? through the splinters and shards and piles of our broken lives, light still somehow manages to squeeze past and get to us. no matter what, no matter how bad things become, light gets in, darting into the many gaping cracks and holes. the cracks provide a place where light can move, always illuminating, always finding a way, an opening, into the crevices and the damage, blazing by the shadows, to tumble through and shine the darkness away.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

ella's silver

ella's silver arrived at her parent's home more than a year before the ceremony was to take place. her sterling silver flatware was given to her as a wedding gift by her parents and her married sisters, in 1925 near lubeck, germany. many other items to help insure domestic bliss were purchased in the months before the wedding. at that time in germany it was required of betrothed couples to show proof before the wedding that they had the basic furniture and housewares to furnish the domicile they intended to inhabit. instead of today's online wedding registries, they personally kept notebooks with detailed lists and receipts of what was purchased or received as gifts, and what was still needed. in addition to filling up their future residence, the bride-and-groom-to-be also had to prove that they had, in fact, found a residence in which to begin married life together before the proper wedding documents could be procured.

all of this crazy bureaucratic red tape was to insure that the engaged couple were not some sort of gypsies, or bohemians, or hippies (perish the mere thought!), the idea being that one would be and should be responsible and establish a respectable home. of course, back then the word hippie had not come into the lexicon yet, but it gives those of us living in the u.s. today a frame of reference for how people who deviated from the norm, who did not measure up to the government's notion of "respectable", were treated (rather shabbily, i'm afraid) in a different time and place. no proof of respectability, no marriage license. tough luck. ella and wilhelm, i am happy to say, passed the test, got married, and fruitfully, dutifully, produced children who in turn produced grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

ella was my grandmother. a few years ago, my father and mother gave me his mother's beautiful silver flatware. the silver is heavy and the lustre is warm. originally there were twelve soup spoons, dinner forks and knives. today there are only eleven of each . (i suspect a relative in germany pinched one place setting as a keepsake before it was packed up and sent across the ocean by container ship after my grandmother's death.) there were never any teaspoons or dessert forks. those were collected separately, in another pattern, for use as part of a porcelain dessert, tea and coffee set. how complicated. how old world. i have no idea what happened to all of that.

i like to imagine the many special occasion dinners - birthdays, christmases, christenings, easters, anniversaries, new year's eves, or just meals with friends - those pieces of silver participated in. who was there? what did they talk about? one thing is for sure, ella used her silver. it did not lie unnoticed, in a state of delicate and careful preservation in a drawer in the china cabinet. far from it. my grandmother would never have used her ordinary everyday flatware for a special occasion, and she never had the notion that her silver had to be protected, and remain forever completely unblemished, without a single nick or scratch. (or even without a splatter of pockmarks or a shortened fork tine. more on that in a second, i promise.)

and so ella really used her silver - she got it out of the drawer and set it down beside the plates. that is not to say she was careless with her exquisite forks, knives, and spoons. quite the contrary, ella was such a careful person she never broke or damaged anything. (well, ok, almost never.) the idea was that the silver was meant to be used, to be eaten with, and that's what they did. they put the silver up to their mouths and ATE with it. and eat they did, with gusto! that's why the silver was made.

back to the story of the pockmarks and the dwarf fork tine. i keep my promises. somewhere along the way in the silver's eighty-five year history it looks like a child secretly took one fork and one soup spoon and did some serious scooping and shoveling in gravelly dirt. what fun! such a fancy toy! there are pits and pocks embedded in them. perhaps the same child also poked and stabbed at rocks with the fork, breaking off the tiniest bit of the top of one tine. who knows. what really happened remains undocumented. my own fictionalized account of what might have happened fills in the gaps somewhat satisfyingly, i think.

owning silver can be a pain in the neck because taking care of silver, especially old silver, is hard work. i used to think polishing silver was a hell of a job. my attitude has changed somewhat since ella's came into my possession. i don't use that nasty dipping stuff that is supposed to make your life easier. why would i want to do that? why would i want to make polishing easier? it is a labor of love, pure love. besides, the dipping stuff doesn't clean really well. real polish and a soft cloth work best, and polishing is the key word.

as i begin to clean the silver, slathering on the polish, you know the kind you actually polish with, and getting it all over a fork, i start to feel the heaviness of the metal. as i rub along the surface, lifting off the black tarnish, i am happy knowing other people have polished like this, the good old-fashioned way, before me. i start to get lulled into a daydream by the repetitive motion. i caress the old metal gently, over and over and over again, until i am satisfied with the gleam. each piece takes a long time. but i am not in a rush. i am proud of how good it looks.

the silver, without anybody really realizing it, has been loved. imagine, some hunks of silver metal, loved. it was not, is not, loved because it was costly, because of its value. the silver and its beautiful rich patina, only seen on old silver which has been handled and cleaned hundreds of times, has been loved because it has been out on the table, marking the passage of time, marking family togetherness. it has been witness to so much life, so much living, to good times and bad times, to births and deaths. and not to forget, witness to so much damn good food!

the silver was loved and cherished by my grandmother. now it continues to be loved by me, and because of that love it will be used often to celebrate all kinds of occasions, adding to the fine lines on its surface and increasing its sheen, reflecting the life of the family.

Monday, April 4, 2011

time out, spring

you are in big trouble, spring. you are simply too unpredictable. and impolite. you have also been awfully selfish lately, holding back your normal maine springtime high temperatures, keeping them hidden and all to yourself, not sharing them with anyone.

didn't your mother (nature) teach you anything about offering your friends something in return when they give you something, a little reciprocal favor? especially when your friends sing about you? (the birds have been working overtime to present their gifts of song, chirping splendid serenades to you, spring, here in our woods and fields.) and share their praises of you? what do you have to say for yourself? when are you going to do us a favor, the favor of pleasant temperatures and melting snow?

we sent winter away to make room for you, spring. now everyone is atwitter about you, spring, and heralding you, spring; all we hear is spring, spring, spring, with spring is finally here! i love spring! time to dig out the t-shirts and flip-flops and lawn chairs! chirp, tweet, chirp!

ha! do you deserve these accolades? i think not. what have you done for us lately, spring? not much. okay, so you gave us some measly sunshine, but you really only offered us crumbs when you tossed us two "warm" days which could barely be considered spring-like. thanks a lot.

and before that what did you do?  you blew at us with nasty, cold, practically gale force winds for days and days and days. then after the wind and after teasing us with a little warmth, you dumped heavy snow on us, and more cold and more gusty wind. very rude. honestly, spring, you have been behaving rather badly lately.

i'm not talking to you again, spring, until you improve your behavior. go sit over there in the corner for a while and think about how naughty you have been. it's a time out for you.......