Wednesday, June 29, 2011

in a thatch roof cottage

{a sweet retreat in horsens, denmark}
while looking over pictures from our trip i noticed right away that i have a gazillion shots of cottages and flowers. hmmmm.... am i just a wee bit obsessed with cottages and flowers? the thing is, cottages in denmark and england are so cozy and snug looking—especially the tudor style ones—and lusciously  painted in the most delightful colors, i can't resist them. we don't have anything quite as quaint as thatch roofs in the states (i have never seen one here, though i am sure they exist).

i am always imagining that one of those thatch beauties has a fantastic story in its long history. once upon a time in a yellow, thatch roof cottage in denmark (or england).....

a tingly, excited child-like feeling— i have been transported to a fairytale land, to a completely different time and place!—, fills you as you walk past cultivated fields, up a rise, around a corner and suddenly an isolated, old cottage with absolutely no signs of 21st century life anywhere appears. magical. *sigh* a big thank you to henrietta for taking me on a tour of horsens and the countryside around horsens. the picnic at horsens fjord was the best!
{fairytale thatch cottage near soevind on the way to horsens fjord}

{a gorgeous thatch roof in juelsminde, denmark}
{near the center of horsens}
{a hidden courtyard in horsens}

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

pretty denmark

you put on a sweater and grab a beer. you stretch out and look up and notice that the sails, listless a minute ago, are filling with wind, are beginning to dance and play in the air. the journey to juelsminde started with fog and ghostly vessels appearing suddenly in the murk as if out of nowhere, and will end with bright clarity and sun, breezes and a sparkling sea.

you arrive at your destination. the marina is alive with activity as the captain, assisted by his attractive and athletic wife, maneuvers the sailboat neatly into her slip. you help clean up the lunch dishes, pull off your sweater and get ready to haul yourself and your bags off the boat and into the car.

on the drive you are given a tour of the small, picturesque harbor town of juelsminde. it is very clean, very orderly, filled with cafes and shops. the neighborhoods are quaint, comfortable, the gardens well-tended and filled with color. you could live here in pretty denmark.

at grethe's house you walk around the garden with her and then relax on the terrace with a cup of tea and a piece of marzipan. her husband tells you the story of the "eel field" behind the house as you sit and watch the birds in the bird feeders. there are an awful lot of danish birds indulging in a raucous chorus of birdsong out in the backyard. the birds are much noisier than at home. is that possible?

you laugh about the wine box dispenser attached to the house next to the terrace and it reminds you of the story knud told about how he and some friends used a sailboat to smuggle booze out of germany via the sea. they poured hard liquor into empty wine boxes to avoid the extremely high taxes that existed in denmark before the formation of the european union.

soon it is time to go. you say thanks for the great time you had on the s/s mary, and you and grethe give each other a big hug. hellos are so much better than good-byes......

Monday, June 27, 2011

sailing to bogense

we were horribly late because we ended up getting stuck in rush hour traffic around copenhagen. but our danish hosts, grethe and knud, who had invited us to sail up the lille baelt (little sound) with them and spend the night in bogense before heading to juelsminde, were gracious and unconcerned about our tardy arrival and the fact that we wouldn't get to bogense until around 9:30 that night. of course, at this time of year, it doesn't really ever get totally dark in scandinavia so night time cruises are, in fact, perpetual twilight cruises.

due to a complete lack of wind, our evening sail turned into a motoring expedition. curious dolphins and seals popped up near the boat. the sky formed a monochromatic backdrop for us, a smooth sheet of deep gray dipping into the sea and blocking out the horizon line, a scene in which we floated by a flat, solid gray canvas world surrounding our watery stage on all sides.

instead of the busy bogense marina, we tied up alongside the actual village of bogense which jutted out on two narrow slices of peninsula on both sides of the canal-like inlet where our hosts would spend the night on their boat. it was so nice to turn off the motor and hear the water lapping against the side of the 38-foot s/s mary. there were only a few other boats tied up opposite ours and except for a small party at one restaurant, no people were to be seen.

the lovely little danish village consisted of a mixture of newer and older small, two-story buildings, the newer ones in a style i call danish modern, oftentimes with dramatic roofline angles, a sea of long windows and, of course, my favorite red-tiled european roofs. running down the middle of each thin strip of land was a row of houses with grass all around and a sliver of a road on one side. that's all. definitely my cup of tea.

{strib lighthouse enroute to bogense}

knud told us that in order to live in the village a business must occupy the first floor of your house. i was surprised by this since bogense looked very much like a sleepy little hamlet of private homes when, in fact, each ground floor held a shop, restaurant, tiny hotel, or bed and breakfast. (we stayed at friendly lund's, where our room faced seaward and we could open the door, walk across the grass and go for a dip in the ocean, had the weather been warmer.)

i realized they maintained the cozy feeling of the place by displaying only small, unobtrusive signs on the buildings (indeed so small that i didn't even notice them at first). and of course this was a neighborhood filled with families going about their daily routines. in addition, the one road on each side was narrow and the parking areas were really just extensions of driveways, very small by american standards; obviously most of the traffic in bogense was by boat.

in the morning we set sail for juelsminde.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

twenty days

it's good to be home in maine again and back in my little place on the web, my little "blog shop"—as one fine blogger recently put it—adding to the bits and pieces already piled up in here with more thoughts and observations. i am always inspired to do so after fondly inhaling life, picking up the scent the world gives off as it spins 'round and 'round, in one distant, often foreign, location after another.

at the beginning of our twenty days on the road the first delightful scents to be encountered were of taxi cabs, cars, buses, tourists and good old new yorkers in cloudy brooklyn. during our one afternoon spent there, after dropping our daughter, hannah, off for her flight to greece and before flying to denmark and england ourselves, we decided to do something neither of us had ever done before—even though my husband grew up a mere spit away on the other side of the hudson river in new jersey. we decided to walk across the brooklyn bridge.

we admired the structure of that beautiful old bridge, the towering manhattan skyline, the view of lady liberty in the distance on one side of the bridge and the view of the manhattan bridge on the other side up the east river.

but for me the real view to behold was composed of the sights and sounds of the people trudging right along with me across the bridge's expanse of stone, metal and hefty cable: young and old, visitors and residents of every color and nationality; the flowing babble of languages; people on bikes ringing their little bells and shouting watch out to warn pedestrians who constantly, annoyingly, strayed into the bike lane; families with baby strollers; vendors hawking water, ice cream, artwork; people walking dogs, people in filthy clothes and others in thousand-dollar suits, and even a guy on a unicycle.

a cross-section of humanity was represented up there on the bridge's pedestrian walkway. who were all those people? where did they come from? why were they on the brooklyn bridge that day? wouldn't it be interesting to know the answers to those questions?

after we crossed the bridge and came back to the brooklyn side, we laughed as we mulled over the idea that maybe we should walk across all the nyc bridges. perhaps this is no laughing matter because, who knows, maybe we will.

Friday, June 24, 2011

the baker street ghosts

(after a few weeks away i'm back in town and i will start posting regularly again in a couple days.)

back in 2009 my oldest daughter, alex, and her fiance shared their apartment in vermont with ghosts. i thought that was awfully nice of them.

the ghosts lived—if you can call it living—upstairs on the third floor in the dusty, unheated, unventilated, spider-infested attic of their duplex. where else would they live? you never hear about ghosts occupying a nice, clean kitchen or laundry room or dining room, now do you? it's always attics, cellars and closets.

when my daughter called me on the phone the morning after the night she discovered the others who also inhabited their apartment, i asked her are they nice? are they polite? respectable? as with any neighbor, if you have to have ghosts residing nearby you want ones who are relatively pleasant, who do not throw beer bottles in the yard, who are not too loud, and who absolutely don't sell drugs out of the apartment.

my daughter muttered i'll have to think about that.

honestly, her response made me just a little bit peeved.

what do you mean, you'll have to think about it?

i heard a quick release of air through not-too-pleased pursed lips heading loud and clear toward me over the phone line and then i got hit with her snappish response.

slow down. don't ask so many questions, mom. i really didn't get much sleep last night with all the noise going on directly over my head and down the attic stairs, and i'm really not in the mood.....

noises? the ghosts were noisy? that's awful. how rude! what did they do?

resigned to the fact that she'd never have any peace if she didn't fully answer my questions, she fed me the details she knows i love to savor.

let's see. at first they just spoke quietly among themselves for a while, you know, mom, like little whispery murmurings. but THEN they started creaking around up there. and THEN they decided to jiggle the attic doorknob, the one with all my marathon and other running medals hanging on it. THAT is what upset me the most, all that clattering and clinking. and another weird thing. beer bottles have been turning up in the yard lately. it's all kind of frustrating....

during the next few weeks all i could picture from alex's description was a bunch of ghosts drinking beer and having a helluva good time partying up there on baker street. i heard a few other details about my daughter's ghosts, then complete silence. she didn't want to talk about the ghosts anymore. i couldn't blame her. what else was there to say? she bought ear plugs for sleeping and went about her business. in fact, she got very busy indeed, planning her vermont country wedding and deciding where to go on a honeymoon.

one day soon after alex and her husband returned from their honeymoon i got curious. i decided to ask her if there were any new developments with her attic visitors.

no new developments, mom. the ghosts are still up there but they've been pretty quiet lately. anyway, we're hoping to buy a house. we've made an offer on one.

so the newlyweds bought a house and moved to the other side of town.

as far as we know, the ghosts still reside on baker street. if you don't believe me, go ask alex.

{this is a true story. well, everything except the part about the beer bottles....}

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

worm city

the day lilies in our yard have become unruly. their behavior is out of control. technically, fall is the time to thin out the flower beds, but those lilies of mine are strong, stubborn and bossy; they like to jostle the other plants out of the way. i need to tackle their aggressive tendencies whenever i can in order for the other plants to have room to grow.

i was poking around with my shovel in a particularly crazy patch of lilies, trying bring some kind of order to the jumble out there. i dug out big clumps of spindle-shaped tubers with lots of roots attached. as i shook off the dirt and struggled to separate the dense root structure of the plants, i noticed a wonderful sight.

there were delightful worms wriggling around all over the place in the root ball. many, many worms. neighborhoods of worms living in my dirt.

i had discovered a genuine worm city. this made me very excited.

most people say yuck icky to worms and think they are disgusting. those people, of course, are entitled to their opinions. i, however, think worms are grand. they are not drop-dead cute, i guess, and maybe you wouldn't want to hug and kiss one like a puppy, but in the natural order of things they are most valuable.

earthworms aerate the soil with their burrowing. in addition, when they break down organic matter, like dead leaves, stalks, grasses, weeds, insects, seeds and roots, with their voracious chomping, soil nutrients are enhanced. and then there are the highly beneficial worm droppings. the activity of microorganisms is greatly increased due to the fact that those guys really love worm poop. quite simply, life in the dirt is good, it's a happy place, when worms are around.

all i can say is, a community of worms residing right outside my window makes me happy too, ok?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

birth of a wave

here is something i learned about the life of a wave.

it's a fact: waves have lives.

i read a true story in the new yorker a while ago about a wave that changed the course of a man's life. i think the story was called, simply, the wave. in the article, the author, whose name i can't recall, recounted his first-hand experience with a life-altering tragedy involving one killer wave.

i had never thought of waves as being born, as being individual entities in nature, before i read this account of a vacation in mexico gone dreadfully wrong. the author slowly revealed the story of events leading up to the fateful day when his young wife suffered a fatal accident while bodysurfing at a beach they had visited many times.

woven into the story of the recently married husband and wife is the story of the wave, the actual wave which would, after many days or even weeks of rolling toward land, make its way to that mexican beach, on that particular day, at that moment when they were enjoying the gorgeous salty sea with many other vacationers.

the physics of wave-action is complicated and not fully understood. waves are born far out at sea a long time before they actually crash on the shore. wind, sun, gravity, water temperature, and ocean currents contribute to the growing swell. the slope of the shoreline as the wave churns toward land also contributes to wave-action.

what amazed me more than anything in the story was the fact that this killer wave was no thirty-foot monster, the kind you hear about in places like hawaii, the one surfers dream of, and of which surfing spectators are extremely wary, for it can slam into you unexpectedly and do some serious damage even if you are nowhere near the edge of the water.

the wave in this story looked just like any other big, beautiful, picture-perfect wave, but in reality it was an invisible tyrant, releasing nature's unseen power and becoming brutally frightening behind the scenes, below the surface. for the rest of the people swimming and body-surfing that day, the wave was a blast, a thrill; the kind of wave that's lots of fun. no one else was injured, or had ever been injured at that location. and yet....

one wave among many; surges toward one beach; snatches one life.

i will never again look at a wave without thinking about its shore-driven life, without wondering is this wave one of those?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

the sparrows

a flock of white-throated sparrows descended. (there's one hidden up there—like in the book where's waldo—in a messy, untended patch of garden. which has since been tended. i do a lot of tending. can you find the sparrow?) they were very preoccupied with eating up every bit of the bird seed which had fallen on the ground under the feeders. a dozen birds at a time arrived in the yard.

they did a funny back and forth hop dance and scratched in the dirt like chickens as they searched for a morsel to eat. the birds were in constant motion, busy balls of feathers pecking away in the flower beds looking for seeds and insects to gulp down in a hurry. so much movement. as soon as they took in life sustaining calories they burned them up again.

the sparrows treated me to some little songs.

they arrived in our yard in mid-may and hung around for a few days. then the flock flew away.

Friday, June 3, 2011

the electric hours

i looked up. it was almost dark outside. i blinked my eyes and rubbed them. they felt strained and achey. i glanced at my watch; i could barely see my watch. i realized i had been sitting at the table with the computer glowing and a pile of books and papers heaped in front of me, with no lights on. the dogs were fast asleep on their beds on the other side of the room. my husband had a late meeting so there was no supper in the oven or on the grill. a mound of dirty laundry waited to be loaded in the washer; clean laundry lay wrinkled in the drier.

it had been light in the room a few minutes ago, hadn't it?

i had completely lost track of the last two hours.

whoosh! two hours gone, escaped from right under my nose.

losing a couple hours could, on the one hand, be viewed quite negatively. i had two hours less of my life to live. but that's just being morbid. and ridiculous. a woman said to me once she didn't like to get too much sleep because she would get plenty of sleep when she was dead. really now. hmmm.....but that doesn't stop me from catching some zzzz's when i need them! or from getting so preoccupied i have no idea what time it is.

on the other hand, "losing" some time could be a good thing. i "lost" the hours because i was busy with paperwork. i was also reading over other people's fine words. and deciding which mound of papers to toss in the recycling bin. and, ok, i confess, maybe there was a little daydreaming thrown in the mix, too. b.o.r.i.n.g. (except for the daydreaming part; and the reading-over-fine-words part. i love lingering with words, surrounding myself with the shockingly good company of words written by strangers.) but productive, too. not a bad use of two hours. it was quiet and i got a lot done. the hours weren't wasted, but they had certainly vanished.

i pressed a switch and then there was light.

how easy electric lights are. how comforting. you go from dismal darkness into happy brightness. it made me think about the days of yore (like in that friends episode), when adults hung around in the darkness after sunset with not much going on except eye strain and nookie. come on, did everyone just go to bed if there were no dances or quilting bees or card games to enjoy?

i am going to have to think some more about electricity and the electric, electrifying (which means thrilling and exciting, right?) lives we lead today compared to a long time ago. isn't everything way more exciting nowadays because of electricity? since i never lived in the days of yore i don't have any proof that we have more fun now. i only have a thought or two about stumbling around in the dark—and heading straight to bed—versus not stumbling around in the dark.

sorry for all the rambling on and on. do forgive me. i'm about to run off to nether wallop and places like that for a while. i'll collect my thoughts later.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

flesh and blood

i can still hear her after all these years. hers was not a loud or a commanding voice, or even a charismatic one, and yet it had the power to move us, push us, inspire us to challenge ourselves toward greater achievements. for some strange reason i think she affected me most of all. why else would i even be thinking about her now after so much time has passed?

her creative writing course was tough. she was tough. all her students complained about the workload.

except me. i secretly loved the assignments she heaped on us. her encouragement in the area of expanding and stretching our abilities to a higher level was invaluable and helped me at a critical time in my life, saved me later on i think.

in class she used to give us assignments to warm up our brains, writer's muscle workouts in the form of prompts. for example: write about what you see outside the window.

and we're off. pens and pencils scratch on notebook paper. just beyond the large ground floor windows i see grass, a tree, a bench.....

a lush green sweep of expertly maintained lawn intersected by wide pathways. i look off to the right of the highly fertilized and manicured golf course-like expanse where a mature weeping willow tree claims a portion of my view. a little brown dog sniffs around the base of the tree. students wearing shorts, t-shirts, flip-flops and backpacks move steadily back and forth along the paths, sometimes sluggishly, sometimes briskly, on their way to and from classrooms, labs, studios, coffee shops.

a woman sits facing me at one end of a long, hand-made cedar garden bench. she is attractive, well-built, in her early fifties, and dressed in slim black capri pants, pale blue top, black sandals, large silver hoop earrings. her hair is striking—long, loose, flowing, silver-gray. healthy hair. i can't help staring at her hair. i forget to keep writing.

where have i seen her before?

my pen moves again. i look beyond the glass. i know this woman. i have known her for years, haven't i? i watch her, fascinated. she unzips the top of her leather bag and reaches inside. she is searching for something....what? some lipstick? an apple? a notebook? a cigarette? she fans the air in front of her to shoo away an interruption—a bee, a mosquito, a gnat—her hand sideways, regal, like a queen waving to her subjects.

the woman stands, stretches, and one, two, three, puts her hair up in a ponytail. something glints in the sun. a ring.

i stare at the piece of paper on the desk, my left hand pressed down hard and sweaty on the edge of it, the words tangles of black ink.

when i graduated from college my parents gave me a wonderful gift: a ring, heavy, wide and beautifully wrought in sterling silver by a well-known artist, featuring two identical dolphins facing one another, their eyes tiny sapphires. a unique, exquisite piece. my parents are gone now; my sister, too. but i still have the ring. it hardly ever leaves my finger. i feel its good weight; this token, a lasting bond with the past, a reminder of my only close flesh and blood family.

on the bench the woman is writing in a notebook. her ring flashes. is she a writer? is that how i know her? 

i take notice of familiar little things. how she tilts her head, how she puts her index finger up to her lips and bites her nail, nibbles her skin, a nervous habit.

in my mind it is the most beautiful day. the sun. the sun. i can see it now.

we have met. i know where.


i look at my hand, the blood vessels tiny and blue and winding below the surface of my skin, the nails on my fingers bitten. i look beyond the glass. out there the metal shines in the sun for all the world to see. but maybe only i see. it is blinding, but i can see.

it's been so long. i miss her. on her finger is the dolphin ring. it is identical to mine.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

caution: intoxication and bee stings

dearest reader~

please meander on over here and take a walk with me in maine so i might offer you a glimpse of some of the pretties in the garden. in the (finally!) humid air the flower's perfume is strong, almost too strong—if that's possible—and even mildly intoxicating. i think i feel a little woozy. would you mind catching me if i fall over? that's awfully good of you. enjoy your day and don't forget to stick your nose in a blossom and smell the happiness......

oops, just don't stick your nose in one like that one up there.