Tuesday, December 4, 2012

payment, please

one day it's warm, the next day it's cold. a little bit of rain, then a dusting of snow. the grass is green, the trees are naked. i have to stop to let three wild turkeys cross the road while en route to my annual mammogram appointment.

i pull into the parking lot of the new medical building in yarmouth. the macadam in this lot was rolled out black and slick onto a farmer's derelict field. a red barn still stands as proof of the old ways, a beacon hailing from more than a hundred years ago in the middle of tall, withered grass. without the barn, i would have no idea that this had been land that produced, that made something out of nothing. the farmer's acreage still produces, only now it produces housing developments, a gas station, and the medical office i am about to go into. the red barn is in good condition, obviously loved by someone. a smidgen of pastureland remains, clinging to the old barn like a child afraid to let go of its parent.

have you noticed there is no photo to go along with my story today? the powers that be at blogger have informed me that i am out of luck, i am at the end of the road, that i have run out of space.* odd thing is, i never knew i had space to begin with, let alone that i could run out of it. they are demanding payment for photo storage. don't quite know what i'll do next.

my medieval torture session over, i harbor gloomy thoughts as i exit, maneuvering along the pavement of the parking area under dismal gray skies.



*has anyone else been told they are out of space and will have to pay up to post their photos? one blogger i know has been doing this a lot longer than i have and has always posted photos, too. she received no such notice.




Thursday, November 29, 2012

in the room with raphael


crowds of people pulse on all sides of me, their body heat pressing into me, hearts thumping, their fingers pointing at walls alive with color and history. wide-eyed, they sigh and speak a babel of languages, their heads and necks tilting back—snap, crack—for a better view, first in the pinacoteca, and then in raphael's rooms. there it is, the school of athens and, oh god, higher still, heaven in a ceiling. at times i think i cannot breathe. there are too many people. i remind myself inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale.

i attempt to take a few pictures with my iphone—after all, how often does one encounter the stanze di raffaello?—but i am not really in the mood. am i coming down with a cold? a raw rain runs clear rivulets across the vatican museums' windows. i position myself by backing away from the throngs toward an empty area near the wall, being careful not to touch the wall. (i have already been chastised once for touching by roman guards in the castel sant' angelo.) the window area is cordoned off, but i feel better with a view of the damp day beyond the crush.

my blah mood starts to disperse when i notice a couple intent on studying the artwork. i try not to stare, but they stop right in front of me. i pretend to be interested elsewhere, yet i am curious. my eyes can't help returning to them, to her smooth white skin and wavy reddish-blonde tresses, to his intelligent eyes and shapely bald head. there is nothing outstanding to behold in these ordinary people, but something about the strangers that i can't quite figure out gives me the sudden urge photograph them. that's the odd thing about it—i am rarely moved to take deliberate snapshots of people i don't know.

the second i see them, i realize they are unusual subjects. he leans into her, gently, slowly, his hand touching her hair, his head touching her head—but no, it's not a tender moment he seeks, it's the audio guide—while she looks up. after he gets close enough to her to hear, they do not move. they stay frozen in the spot they have claimed for themselves, her eyes fixed on the ceiling, his eyes fixed on me (well before i even lift my phone). it's as if they are simultaneously posing for me, but not posing for me. yet that can't be, that's not it. they are listening, absorbed by a voice in their ears whispering a language they understand, explaining the details of what their eyes witness.

i try not to be obvious; i turn and take photos of the frescoes—but what to focus on with this overload of detailed stimuli coming from walls and ceiling? so i just do it; in the blink of an eye, i do it, i do what i have wanted to do all along—i turn back around and touch the camera button.

there is this uncanny sense i have—an idea, a ridiculous idea, perhaps, but a fun one and one that seems like it could be true—that this man and this woman make their living as actors, not because they are dramatic or seem to be striking a pose, but quite the opposite—because they are relaxed and comfortable and, above all, quiet in their own skin, in their own space. it is as if they are alone, not a tourist in sight, in the vast, ornate, renaissance chamber, as if they belong standing where they are standing, and they themselves are on view, an audience sitting in darkness just beyond the walls of raphael's room waiting to applaud.

the man and woman are in position—they just are. they inhabit—more than that, they own—this piece of air.

i can't help clapping in my head.

Monday, November 19, 2012

our house


with thoughts of home, family, friends and the holiday season in maine.....

our house is a very.....(excuse me, but i could almost insert the word very two more times and then you could, maybe, hum to the tune of the crosby, stills, and nash song our house "....is a very, very, very fine house, with two cats in the yard, life used to be so hard, now everything is easy 'cause of you...." except i won't and you needn't hum because it's not exactly what i mean right now anyway, but it's a wonderful sentiment—and a true one, except for the two cats, although in the past we have owned cats....), as i was trying to say before i interrupted myself, informal house.

i don't want to leave the impression that our house is some sort of idyllic paradise where one is free to do as one pleases—where anything goes and extreme and somewhat louche informality rules—where one can, metaphorically speaking, sleep all day, lounge around in one's pajamas, guzzle six-packs of maine's best IPA, roam through the house in muddy boots, and leave a trail of wet towels and dirty underwear and socks on the floor.

no, no, no, not that kind of informal. far from it. we are ordinary people trying to live a simple lifestyle, and we have the usual list of things that conspire to give us headaches.

this sounds confusing—it's actually quite simple. it all comes down to one thing: i think i am a wretched hostess.

oh, i can cook, and i am most welcoming, but after the first round of food and drink i frequently neglect to offer my guests more food and drink. (that's where the husband comes in. he's a great jeeves—he tends to these details...well, mostly he does.) i get so involved and distracted by fine people and interesting conversation that i forget to play hostess. that said, now this can be said: a lot of times around here if you need or want something you have to ask for it, and because of this deep flaw in my character, i tend to prefer (except at thanksgiving) serve-yourself pot luck or casual buffets.

but, come to think of it, maybe i'm not that flawed, not that wretched a hostess. maybe it's a means toward the informality i love, a subconscious tactic to get family and friends to relax and feel at home. translation: dig through the fridge, open random and unfamiliar cupboards, rummage where you will but please, if you need something, don't ask me—just help yourself.

at the heart of my concept of casual, at the core of my notion of laid-back, is the centrally located, historically significant, front door knocker.

hereabouts, the nonexistent front door knocker.

we don't have one, never have, probably never will. (although i like interesting door knockers—that  stern one up there looks as if it might bite. what, exactly, is that thing? a not-so-welcoming-looking, part human/part beastie which appears to have come straight out of dickens' a christmas carol?)

we don't have a doorbell either at what is technically the front door (it broke, we never fixed it). we hardly ever use the so-called formal front door entrance anyway. instead, people go around the side of the house on a curving path through the garden and into the screened porch to the back door.

once upon a time, a time in the days of yore—and if your house was large enough—the back door, or side door, or any door that was not the front door, was considered the entrance for servants and trades people only, to be used for the daily drudgery of domestic tasks alone—upper crusty people would never have entered there.

i don't view the back door as a lowly door. it is the only door (other than the garage) that we use, that family and friends use, on a regular basis. around here there is no stiff ceremony, no tradition of the traditional front door. (by this i don't mean to imply that people who use their front doors are stiff, formal traditionalists—most people i know use their front door most of the time. oftentimes it's the only usable door. our use of the back door is only meant as an example, a symbol, of our informality.)

so that's it. holiday or not, we'll greet you—and our sweet black dog will greet you, too—at the back door, the door for all people, with no fuss or formality, just an unpretentious and friendly welcome into the heart of our home.


Friday, November 16, 2012

the readers


in these days of ours, these crazy days of ours, when they make an announcement along the lines of yes ma'am, it's true, the big box stores will be open on thanksgiving day (for the first time in history—i'm actually surprised it took them this long to conquer the holiday), i can do nothing but sigh and sigh some more.

does everything, everything, in our society have to be linked to the marketing of products and the spending of the green? i need it, i have to have it, it's the latest, it's the biggest, it's the best, it will be on sale that day, it will be sold out if i don't grab it now and on and on. society's psyche, our very souls, coaxed in specific directions—aided and abetted by those persuasive entities that are paid to get inside our heads—causing us to believe we need to possess a surplus of material objects.

i've decided that instead of ranting about this any more than i already have—i really have no patience for rants, especially after having endured so many nasty political ones lately—i will go on a love spree.

i say, if you have to buy something, buy books. or take turns borrowing and lending books with friends and family. for the love of books, for the love of beautiful words, enchanting art and nourishment for the mind, get books for your children, your spouse, your grandchildren, your parents, your siblings, your nieces, your nephews, your friends.

ye gods, for the love of those you love, be still, stay home, snuggle and read a book.

just like kevin and aidric—hang out together. lift open the covers of books and turn the pages—kevin and aidric highly recommend the giving tree or tiki tiki tembo or fox in socks or chicka chicka boom boom or curious george or make way for ducklings or time of wonder—to name a fewand lose yourself in the vast landscapes that you will discover in there.

we'll see you when you find your way back.


~ photo of my grandson by aidric's mommy, alexandra mcaleer

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

stuccoed


it wasn't until the next day, after jet lag had subsided and i could properly take in the neighborhood where we were staying, that i noticed dense stucco-like patterns spattered on objects in very specific areas around the ponte sisto, along lungotevere dei vallati, up via arenula and into the park near our hotel.

i like to think of what i saw as organic graffiti, but these graffiti artists didn't arrive stealthily in the middle of the night armed with spray paint. they arrived promptly at 4:45 in the afternoon and their work was brazen and bold and loud, loud because there were so many of them.

what were they called? where did they come from? why were they here?

i should have noticed the clue—a foretelling right there on the wall—when i opened my eyes after that first delicious sleep. a previously unnoticed golden hued print of a flock of black birds (no artist's name given) hung near the left side of the bed.

after a day of gorging on seeds and bugs, anything in the fields outside the city, tens of thousands of starlings could be seen, and heard—this is called murmuration, the indistinguishable blending of all those bird wings and voices which, the first time i heard it, i thought was rain—heading back to rome to roost in the large plane trees that lined the tiber river and the park outside our door.

the birds swirled and glided, swooped and dropped over the rooftops like sooty snowflakes, each movement in their ever expanding and contracting ballet fascinating and mysterious to those for whom it was a novelty. to the locals, the birds were merely messy pests.

truly wise people opened their umbrellas when walking for more than a minute under a canopy of trees vibrating—yes, and i mean vibrating—with starlings. the birds' bellies were, after all, full from a day of feasting.

unless, that is, they didn't mind becoming stuccoed like the sidewalks and cars, and the occasional head or handbag.




Monday, November 12, 2012

use or freeze by


what remains are tall, straight-backed trees—dark statues on view until may—displayed in the hushed gallery of autumn's forest. the bright colors vanished (although this year, due to a lack of cold nighttime temperatures, the usually fiery colored maples in our yard were merely a ho-hum-so-so-washed-out red) right along with the built-up anticipation of the season. how i looked forward to those colors and to sweater weather, to the crisp tang of mcintosh apples, hot cider, and the snap-whoosh of fall wind spinning the leaves in a whirling carousel of motion.

colors i don't look forward to with eager anticipation are the insidious shades of gray and green that are hiding—make that residing—in my refrigerator. they're inhabiting what's been pushed toward the back, living and multiplying in forgotten jars and plastic containers containing the dregs and leftovers from weeks and weeks ago (how many weeks ago, i am ashamed to say) that i have ignored with a scrupulous avoidance similar to my avoidance of edges—edges of high places like cliffs and the tops of tall buildings. (although years ago i crossed the aptly named knife edge on mount katadin, facing my fear of precipices by staying as close to the middle of the narrow pile-of-rocks trail as possible. i tricked myself into believing that there was a middle when, in reality, no such place exists along most of the dizzyingly narrow ridge between pamola and baxter peaks.)

one of my favorite things about maine and new england is the change each season brings. call me crazy, but i think i would be bored senseless in a perfect paradise world of forever hot and warm and green and nothing else, no in-betweens, no extremes (except scorching heat), no variability, only the same brand of tropical sun and air day in and day out. what grows in tropical climates stays visibly growing for four seasons. that's it. not much anticipation for what comes next.

in maine, though, anticipation for what comes next is always ripe, even if, for now, the dormant kernels of life are hidden and will remain hidden for some time to come. they must wait—and i must wait with them for winter to have its turn—before waking up and announcing their appearance, making a grand show-stopping entrance into yet another season of change.

in my refrigerator the storyline is different.

dynamic new life forms are at this very moment hard at work, increasing their numbers by patiently building sprawling colonies of puke-colored fuzz in a few tablespoons of leftover rao's tomato and basil sauce, or cabot farm cottage cheese, or on top of boneless chicken breasts well past the "use or freeze by"or "best by"dates. these densely packed communities—a biology experiment unfolding right in my kitchen—live in an ideal environment, a utopia of jars and packages. they have no idea about the cataclysm that's about to annihilate their population. but i do, as i clutch a giant hefty trash bag and—grimace! shudder!—force myself to swoop into the depths beyond the open refrigerator door.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

connecting the dots

If you sit down at set of sun
And count the acts that you have done,
And, counting, find
One self-denying deed, one word
That eased the heart of him who heard,
One glance most kind
That fell like sunshine where it went—
Then you may count that day well spent.

But if, through all the livelong day,
You've cheered no heart, by yea or nay—
If, through it all
You've nothing done that you can trace
That brought sunshine to one face—
No act most small
That helped some soul and nothing cost—
then count that day as worst than lost.

—George Eliot, Count That Day Lost



walk with me, if you would, through the old, narrow cobblestoned streets of the centro storico—historic center—of rome.

look here, along via giulia, where aristocrats lived, as well as famous artists who created great works for some of rome's palaces and cathedrals—men like raphael, cellini and borromini—for a close-up view of renaissance urban planning. what mankind accomplishes! the year 1508: this street would be the longest (1 km) and straightest rome had ever seen.

look up. michelangelo's arco dei farnese. the arch was supposed to connect the palazzo farnese with the villa farnesina directly opposite across the tiber river, but that feat of grandeur never happened. maybe the money ran out. who knows. now there is only this lovely, ivy-covered section of michelangelo's impressive design spanning the street above our heads.

further along via giulia, a stone face mounted on a wall, also from the renaissance—as is so much in old rome—the interesting fontana del mascheroni, fountain of the mask. the chin and lower lip are stained a sick green like a verdant vomitus from the mouth where water spews out. they say the fountain flowed with wine in the old days when via giulia was known for its street parties.

see that heap of clothes on the park bench in the piazza benedetto cairoli on via arenula (benedetto was once prime minister of italy)? in front of another burbling fountain? it's a man. men sometimes sleep here during the day, sometimes at night. when it rains they disappear. the unmistakable odor of urine permeates the exterior of a shed in the corner of the park.

on the ponte sant' angelo, be sure to notice a head-to-toe bronze metallic statue man sitting with a bronze umbrella over his head. another guy with a large brimmed hat is spray painted entirely black. unmoving. they really look like real statues. human statues in this city of statues. i saw them yesterday near the forum on the via dei fori imperiali.

don't miss the man—it's always men, never women—who plays "drums" on many various-sized plastic pots and buckets. he's quite good. the sign beside his money jar reads donations for a real set of drums.

in the campo de' fiori square, location of rome's oldest outdoor produce market (since 1869—it was previously used for public executions), observe a talented musician who strolls among the market vendors and serenades the tourists with his guitar. after a few songs he walks toward the ristorante tables and around the scurrying waiters to where tourists sit with their cups of espresso and glasses of wine. he smiles and holds out a cup of his own. i offer a few coins—grazie, grazie—and smile right back at him.

humanity in a foreign city. foreign, but the same. linked points of humankind—everybody, anybody, me, you, him, her, them—connected to one another under the same setting sun.










Monday, November 5, 2012

there once was a wall

bayham abbey, united kingdom. june, 2011.

a long, long time ago the roof tumbled down, as did most of the walls—not all at once, of course, but gradually—after the place was dismantled, abandoned, and left to decay. but because it was set in such an idyllic spot, people cleaned up the debris and—with great foresight—left the ruin in its natural state to be enjoyed by those who might find their way to the abbey one day in the future.

wild rabbits were among the first to arrive. they made themselves at home—witness the many rabbit holes!—and multiplied in what became a well-tended park surrounding the abbey.

they were the only other visible life forms besides myself, my husband—who i no longer actually saw, as he had disappeared into the ruins—and the young man minding the gift shop and collecting the entrance fee. at first i didn't notice them—the wild rabbits blended in perfectly with the browns and grays of tree trunks and rocks and woody bush stalks and ordinary dirt that were fixed at rabbit level around where the abbey stood. i picked out one of the descendants of the original rabbits and as i watched it, it watched me, its head in constant motion bobbing in the grass, its eyes simultaneously on me and the sweet green vegetation comprising its late afternoon snack. this went on for some time—we were both equally patient.

while the rabbit grazed, i leaned against a wall and enjoyed my reverie in the sunshine.

sanctuary—i sensed it under the dome of the sky. the remains of the walls that once surrounded a house of worship now surrounded me. within the pewless wreck, little hints of glory and joy. i shaded my eyes against the sun and scanned upwards. i imagined a choir loft filled with chanting trees—evensong in leafsong—as hymns of summer wind strained through outstretched branches. i read words of praise in a book, the book of crustose, lichen etched over blocks of stone. once, inside of what had been whole walls, a long-vanished altar had proudly claimed a spot on this earth. years later, opportunistic roots dug into ancient slabs of rock—rocks with a determined faith that, even in decay, held fast. once an altar stood where animals now deposited their own offerings.

the rabbit stopped nibbling choice shoots of grass. suddenly, it turned and fled.

as i walked under archways and lingered in the outlined shells of former workrooms, i saw the shadows of hooded monks laboring, baking their daily bread, brewing the daily beer. i wasn't inclined to compare the shambles i observed with exalted spaces boasting fine stained glass, paintings, and statuary, hundreds of flickering candles illuminating precious gold and silver, cold inlaid marble floors, perfectly white altar cloths and heavy chalices filled with blood-red wine.

i had no need for the established trappings of respectability—no. i was satisfied being a congregant in a broken place, a place that had been humbled and brought down. it was here, that spirit of peace—that unchangeable old thing—and remained with me in the land of crumbling rocks and snakelike roots and countless creatures. it held me the way nothing else could.


~ when i got home from italy over the weekend i was glad to find the house exactly where i'd left it—that beast, hurricane sandy, hadn't blown it down while i was away (although, sadly, on the jersey shore houses were blown to smithereens). except for a lot of sticks and oak leaves littering the yard, there was no evidence a monster storm had streaked through here. the power didn't even go out in our neighborhood like it usually does. (jim, our electrician, joked a bit after he finished installing a generator for us. he said the generator was probably the best insurance against power outages.) with travel on my mind, i wrote this piece about a previous jaunt before i left on this most recent one.









Friday, October 19, 2012

the day the earth roared and a baby smiled


on tuesday night, the second night of my trip to vermont, the earth stirred. then it roared.

we missed it, though. didn't hear a thing. didn't feel the ripples radiating out from the epicenter three miles below ground, in the crust of the north american plate, twenty miles west of portland, maine. but much of new england did.

within a minute of the 7:12 p.m. earthquake there was even more rumbling. online rumbling. my daughter's facebook page came to life and vibrated with exclamations: wow, did you feel that? that felt like an earthquake! and we thought our furnace was exploding and sounded like a freight train tearing past the house. a friend of hers from down south knew about the quake before we were able to confirm that it was an earthquake. she wrote just heard maine had an earthquake. that had all of us—my daughter, my son-in-law and myself—checking our iphones for the latest news.

close to the epicenter in maine, hanging lamps swayed to and fro. silverware rattled in a drawer at my niece's house in portland. elsewhere windows shook as if poltergeists had risen out of the ground to cause a ruckus—a little preview of halloween. in freeport ed told me our dog, lille, ran to the door, hackles raised, and barked and barked. people felt and heard the earthquake in boston and new hampshire and in towns south of us in vermont. in the hills above richmond, though, everything was quiet. did the mountains surrounding us, and hills under us, act as a buffer and cushion the tremor?

on the day the earth roared i watched my grandson smile, and i smiled, too, as i listened to him coo his baby songs. the day the earth roared i took care of him while his mother was at work. the day the earth roared i fed him bottles filled with his mother's milk and wiped spit up off his chin and poop off his bottom and settled him in his bassinet and folded his newly laundered baby outfits into neat piles.

on that day, deep under the earth, rocks more than a billion years old—give or take a million—scraped against each other, heated up to the point of melting, split, and made a lot of noise.*

on that day, my grandson had been in this world for exactly three months.



*a scientist was on the maine show "207"after the quake. he brought in rocks found along maine's shoreline that had cracked and melted in earthquakes. they originated deep within the earth's crust, rose to the surface as mountains were formed, and were dragged to the sea when glaciers scoured the land. the rocks were marked with fissures and smooth dark lines where they had melted all those eons ago.


Monday, October 15, 2012

feathers

miniature replicas of gamla stan (old town) architecture in stockholm, sweden


One's destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.  —Henry Miller

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.  —Mark Twain




maybe the deep down anticipation and thrill of travel—enthusiastically packing that scarred old suitcase over and over again—is hereditary. my parents liked to travel, i like to travel, and it seems my kids like to travel, too.

i have been fortunate in my life thus far, if you count as good fortune the freedom to cross oceans in search of something different, something revelatory. from the time i was quite young i have had opportunities to see—and one time to live in—foreign lands. i will always be grateful for that.

wouldn't it be great if more people had the chance, and the ability, to venture beyond their backyards (in my dream of dreams, i envision something beyond couch surfing where everyone, not just students, would be required to swap countries with someone else for a short time and become a kind of life exchange student), to see farther than their own every day worlds. what if eyes could be opened early enough in life to gain a sharper perspective on the immensity of the earth—and yet the incredible interconnectedness and common ground we share with others—for it to make a difference (i'm thinking of the twain quote), a difference in how people view themselves in relation to other human beings in the world. we, in our villages, towns, and cities, are so small compared to what is out there in regions unseen, unknown, unimagined.

when people visit a place they usually like to pick up a memento or two, for themselves or someone else, as a reminder of time spent away from home. i am no exception.

ten or twenty or thirty years later i revisit mementos—both gifts from others and gifts to myself—that make up a life.

i go through the accumulations, the collections, the remembrances of times past, some of it useful and displayed (small framed pictures and drawings, wooden carvings, a teapot, a doll, brightly painted wooden horses, bits of pottery, an antique chinese jewelry box), some of it forgotten in corners of cabinets and closets (a necklace and bracelets made of beads, seeds and nut-like things and a huge colorfully woven "kenya" bag that my parents brought home from—where else—kenya; two strands of cloisonne beads and little cloisonne jars from china; black lacquer boxes, small fabric change purses and two kimonos from japan; a child's purse with reindeer fur from finland; booklets, brochures, ticket stubs.) if i was ever planning to paste the papers in a scrap book it never happened, and i guess it never will.

a realization: i hold on to things which are broken and/or useless. one time in stockholm we got caught in what we thought would be a quick downpour (it ended up lasting the rest of the afternoon). when we realized the weather would show no mercy, we ducked into a shop in gamla stan and bought a large umbrella—a lovely striped gray and turquoise affair with a curved wooden handle and tip. we also ended up with twelve whimsical little gamla stan buildings. (in those days i toted larger suitcases and could easily pack the umbrella away for the flight home. today i travel much lighter—that umbrella would never fit in my carry-on l. l. bean suitcase.) twenty-five years later the umbrella has a hole in it, though the buildings survive. and all those brochures....why do i keep things which have outlived their useful life?

since my suitcase is smaller these days, i don't accumulate many trinkets for myself, or others, anymore. i mostly return home with dirty, rumpled clothes and not much else.

yet even for someone who doesn't mind living out of a suitcase, eventually the time comes to wind up back in the place where it all started. there is no doubt about it: the best part of a journey is coming home, followed by crawling into one's own beloved bed. the real comfort of home lies in small, oft-repeated, unconscious acts: fluffing up the goose feathers in a familiar smelling pillow until the pillow seems—thank you, goldilocks—just right, and gently lifting off into dreams of faraway while remaining quite stationary and ensconced under a cozy comforter.








Friday, October 12, 2012

twelve



A room without books is like a body without a soul. —Marcus Tullius Cicero



twelve is a good number.

i'm not a superstitious person, nor do i believe in numerology, but for some reason i have always liked the number twelve. (i also like the number thirteen—i'm completely free of irksome triskaidekaphobia—it was the number i chose as my jersey number when i played field hockey in high school.) it is a good number because......well, it just is.

can't think of too many things having to do with the number twelve that make it stand out for me, but there are a few.

of course, the twelve days of christmas come to mind, and those are certainly wonderful. i like the song about the twelve days of christmas, too—twelve lords a-leaping and other very specific numbers of maids-a-milking, swans a-swimming, drummers drumming, ladies dancing and solitary partridges in pear trees, etc., etc, etc. lots of aerobic activity going on in that ditty—and lots of fun to sing horribly out of tune.

i can comfortably seat twelve people around my table. it's a bit tight—a comfortable elbow to elbow affair with twelve—but it's certainly cozy. twelve and cozy together are a satisfying combination.

eggs. i like eggs—especially in the form of vegetable omelets. eggs are mostly arranged and sold in dozens. twelve again.

how about a dozen? i could list a dozen favorites of this and a dozen favorites of that—gerbera daisies, cupcakes, peonies, lobsters, beatles songs, days of vacation, scarlet tanagers in the crabapple tree—ad nauseam.

one very special twelve is the day my last child was born. when she was little, there was this funny craze going around about "half birthdays." you were supposed to acknowledge the sixth month mark, halfway to the child's next birthday, with a happy half birthday! greeting and a teeny tiny present. (i wonder, are half birthdays religiously "celebrated" elsewhere, in other communities in the states and around the globe? i'd never heard of it when my two older children were growing up.) today, the twelfth of october, is her half birthday.

finally, there are my bookcases.

the truth is, i don't lust for clothes or jewelry or electronics or cars—i lust for books. we have twelve bookcases/shelves—built-in and free standing and one that's a ledge formed by a beam that runs along the top of a wall—in the house. we used to have thirteen but hannah took hers out of her room to free up some space. they're mostly my books (i include my favorite children's books with my books), but hannah and ed have books, too, so i politely share some of the shelves with them.

i think books on bookshelves are the heart of a home. books give a home warmth and life and tell so much about the occupants. the very book titles themselves—and the answers to the why, when, and where of the books—can yield interesting stories about the lives of the people who dwell within the house.

for me, browsing along those bookshelves (or some other spot in the house where writing can be found) for a story or poem or essay to read—and rev up my brain—completes the day. (sometimes i even discover little surprises tucked within the pages of a book, bits of paper with a poem or quote i've squirreled away.) books call to me. always have. i find pulling a solid volume out from between its mates is a satisfying act, as is sliding it back in again and selecting another.


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

shapeshifting


a quiver, a shiver
first one, then another
cast away on the floor.
a careless—a thoughtless—
peeling of garments dropped 

from your long, hard limbs—
can't you go slower, make
the moment last?
at my feet the heap grows 
my blister stings

my shoulder aches
as i scrape the rake
across the ineludibility
of change, smell frigid
winter in curling woodsmoke,

squint my eyes against
diminishing days, search
for summer unloosed
in the remnants
of shapeshifting hours.




Saturday, October 6, 2012

sisters


as day turns into night i light the candles. that afternoon i had shopped and cooked taking a little extra care, putting some additional thought into my preparations. i don't see her that often; when i do, it pleases me to make the evening special.

from the time we were young girls, we have been the best of friends. i always look forward to talking and laughing with her when she visits, two middle-aged ladies giddy as schoolgirls whispering ghost stories—and boy stories!—at sleepovers.

plates and stemmed glassware sparkle in the candlelight. dinner for two. i pour red wine. there is something about a long, shared history—the bond between us is strong. we don't need to start out slowly with small talk and polite conversation. we don't need to ease our way into what's on our minds. we are reckless and dive in head first without a moment's hesitation. we talk about the mundane and about matters of consequence and many topics in between. we don't hold anything back. we are unafraid to reveal our deepest thoughts because we know they are safe. there is no judgement—only someone who listens, listens well. it's like free therapy, to have a friend such as this.

oftentimes i can't help being a bit envious of women who have close relationships with their sisters. my friend has two sisters, i have none. i feel a little sorry for myself when i think about that, but not for long.

i say to her you are the closest i will ever get to having a real sister. then i amend that to you are the sister i never had. she nods her head and drinks her wine and i am content .


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

magic in a mushroom


after three days of rain, beautiful mushrooms began popping out from under the mat of pine needles and moss below the eastern white pines. they looked a little magical, like something out of a fairytale forest. i don't know a thing about mushrooms so i consulted a book and also the internet to find out what they were, but mushrooms, with highly descriptive names like turkey tail, black trumpet, hedgehog, puffball, chicken fat and oyster—which, by the way, were of no help at all—are tricky. they have lots of parts like gills and caps and teeth and veils and numerous gill attachments and cap morphologies, etc.

several different mushrooms appeared in the woods behind the house.

i thought a few were horse mushrooms—the photo of my mushrooms looked a lot like the horse mushrooms on the internet. they were even "scaly below the veil and smooth above." as i continued reading the lengthy and detailed (and boring) description of horse mushrooms i became more convinced that i had identified them correctly.

soon, though, i began to have serious doubts. horse mushrooms, the article said, were found in grassy fields. it also said beware of mushrooms where the base was thicker than the top of the stem (as in photo #1) because they were usually poisonous. then some more horrid words jumped off the page at me and made me realize i will never ever ever ever eat a mushroom directly out of the woods—not that i was intending to anyway.... i was merely admiring the potentially deadly lovelies—even if a mushroom expert said it was safe (well, maybe a mushroom expert could convince me....).

the article said "if the mushroom has white gills throw it out!" the italics and exclamation point alone—never mind the words—were frightening. they screamed so loudly i winced. sure enough, several of the mushrooms out back had pure, lily-white gills. (i read that toadstools and mushrooms are not scientifically different, so these were, in fact, real mushrooms—real poisonous mushrooms.)

i felt let down. i thought i might have had a special mushroom growing in my yard, a mushroom i could have bragged about. but was it possible that maybe some of my mushrooms weren't poisonous? that maybe i had hallucinogenic ones growing out there instead? magic ones? hmmm.......but magic ones were fancy and colorful and speckled and spotted and mine were plain—lovely, but plain. wait, that's not right. happy mushrooms were always kind of brown and shriveled and ugly—it was the poisonous ones that were pretty. also, maine was too cold for wild magic mushrooms, i thought.

like i said, i don't know a thing about mushrooms.



Sunday, September 30, 2012

hungry women



what i put before you today—which, it turns out, is not actually today but the day i started scribbling hungry women in my head on the way to the grocery store and then finished up at home later—are some thoughts about eating (always a good thing, right? if the food is decent and satisfying, or you're hungry, or both?) and the silent, not-so-silent, always lurking, subject-of-many-jokes "battle" between men and women (i'll let you decide if that's a good thing or not).

a praying mantis, specifically that one up there on a window in new jersey, got me thinking about food and battlefronts (of sorts). ed and i were having a peaceful breakfast at an inn overlooking a marina on the navesink river when he noticed the large beastie. she was not in her usual "praying" position, but stretched out and taking what i will call a rest (do bugs rest or are they always working, patient opportunists keeping an eye out for their next meal?) halfway down the floor-to-ceiling window. because she was interesting and good looking—i do so love a good looking insect—i took her picture and then promptly forgot about her.

later that night at a wedding reception we attended, they were toasting the bride and groom and the matron-of-honor asked the groom to put his hand on top of the bride's hand. then, as part of her toast, she announced with unwavering conviction—rather too seriously, i might add, as if it was not meant as a joke at all—that this was the last time he would ever have the upper hand in their marriage. her remark got a lot of laughs. personally i thought it was an immensely tired and worn out load of......syllables. but maybe i was just nit-picking; my expectation for originality was too high and my sense of humor too low. i quickly forgot about the toast and the joke and, as it was late and my stomach was growling, enjoyed the delicious wedding feast.

the always hungry—imagine a sixteen-crickets-a-day kind of voracious—pious lady mantis who never, it seems, can get enough to eat, will participate in a lovely and tender courting ritual with a potential mate which includes dancing in circles and serious antennae stroking. occasionally (meaning not as often as the australian redback spider), if her mate doesn't get away fast enough after the act of mating is complete, the praying mantis will ambush him. it will happen so quickly he'll never see it coming. the female will turn around and snap off the male's head and proceed to devour him.

it would seem that sordid tales of sex and violence and who has dominion over whom in this world—a sorting out of who actually "wears the pants" and has the power in a family or a society or whatever—started in the vicinity of the insect kingdom and rapidly moved up the food chain into our neighborhood at the very top. (i am reminded of this fact by some of the movies ed and i watch—yes, the truth is we have game of thrones at the top of our netflix queue.)

i will take some small comfort at this point. i am positive—maybe 95% positive?—that humans, for once, are not to blame. men and women who thrive on sex and violence in reality or who watch it on HBO are not to blame for how low we can sink. humans didn't start the power struggle. no they didn't. it's the fault of the big green one—and others like her—as she sits on a fat, juicy leaf and lures her man with provocative flicks of her antennae, smug in the certainty that she will snag him and he will taste sublime.




Thursday, September 27, 2012

what happens to my bones

the ledges near portland head light. august 2012.


Soul. The word rebounded with me, and I wondered, as I often had, what it was exactly. People talked about it all the time, but did anyone actually know? Sometimes I pictured it like a pilot light burning inside a person—a drop of fire from the invisible inferno people called God. Or a squashy substance, like a piece of clay or dental mold, which collected the sum of a person's experiences—a million indentations of happiness, desperation, fear, all the small piercings of beauty we've ever known. —Sue Monk Kidd, The Mermaid Chair



what happens to my bones, my eyelids, my nails, my feet, my sinews, my lungs.

what happens when the remains of my existence are tipped by familiar hands
into the sea—this is what i have requested, this is where i believe
i belong, in the place where it all began—what happens then.

a question?—it is beyond that. a method, a transaction in my mind,

negotiating between what's a beginning and what's an ending-that's-not-an-ending.
white ash like coarse beach sand, calcium phosphates and sodium and potassium
momentarily suspended, scattered, adrift in the soft memory of an awakening

rivers    beating    crimson    body    rhythm    remarkably like this sudden peace

percolating salt spray, the grains becoming smaller and smaller, infinitesimal like
iodine, a journey of light and heat.

i am i    am   always am.

a simplified rarefied form, turned
churned, being delivered—there is no reaching, no

yearning. in this landscape sandpipers walk over me, crabs pluck at me

rocks and wind and water and sky are in me, under me, beside me,
through me. i am being reworked by the sculptor, carved into forms
like folding breath, distant thunder, remembered scent, the strata of time

blue, white, yellow, orange, red slipped into a small forever

calling forth this love, this ecstasy ablaze
in fiery display. countless pinholes of light

blinking in, then one by one, blinking out.








Friday, September 21, 2012

go on and catch that little thing




Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play and pray in, 
places where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.  —John Muir



i don't know why it is, why some little, hardly noticeable, almost insignificant—although not to me—things in the natural world astonish and startle me, so much so that they actually can, at times, startle me silly. (what kind of an expression is that, startle me silly? it's ridiculous, that's what it is, but it's also accurate. when you feel silly you get all ticklish and giddy and wound up, don't you? now add a startle. that is my point exactly.)

in general, i don't think i startle much, or easily—i am not by nature a jumpy person—but if i turn my head or change direction, or if i bend down and this thing suddenly appears on the periphery of my vision, i realize with some surprise there is something i've not seen before, and it happens. it is when i am faced with a novel situation, say, i come across a place where light is striking an object just so, or something in nature seems different, like seeing a living creature where i least expect to find one, where i've previously never stumbled upon one, that i get that feeling of wow.

my garden. early august. early in the day. day lilies explode in every hue. an ordinary day. an extraordinary amount of weeds. bend down. pull up some of those impertinent weeds. then, on my way back to an upright position, there is this—my own sharp involuntary intake of breath. i am caught unaware and i can only muster a sense of delicious discovery because of—can you believe it?—a tiny wood frog. he's lovely and he seems so fragile, shyly peeking out from within the yellow throat of a tall, extra large peach colored lily.

maybe the simple scenario above is boring enough to prompt many people to yawn and fall asleep. maybe it's beyond boring. (i can understand that. after all, i didn't discover a mountain lion in my backyard.) maybe this type of thing happens a lot, is nothing new. but it's new to me. i have never witnessed a frog nestled inside a flower before.

at this point in my life i could easily fall into a deep well of cynicism—a nasty election season could also help nudge me right over the edge—and say i know all about this crazy world. i could say there is nothing left under the moon and sun that moves me, that surprises me. i've seen it all, done it all, there's nothing new and nothing really changes—it's all just life endlessly repeating itself.

but i don't fall; i don't even stumble. for some reason, i don't trip. i stand firmly on two feet and catch this small precious thing—a common, ordinary wood frog!—out of the corner of my eye. i stand there gawking like a nitwit and try to memorize the moment i first saw his small tan face.

because of the likes of him, i am still able to be made woozy—yes, even silly—with astonishment. i am happy with the discovery that there are things that continue to move me, get to me, that blaze with beauty inside a darkening world. it's such a little thing, but i get the message—there are a few surprises yet to be uncovered on this harassed old earth.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

balm



hard to believe, but by the time early september arrives in coastal maine an evening fire in the fireplace or fire pit not only looks good, but also feels good. the nippiness of some down east end-of-summer evenings points out the fact that burning logs is not always just for the fun of it—for the loveliness of the crackling flames' red and orange displays—but for the practical matter of warmth, even in september, even if you have on socks and fleece.

i always feel a little—just a little—wistful as summer winds down, but i don't miss the high humidity and i do love fall. until recently i hadn't had socks on for months. a pair of flip-flops slipped between my toes and beneath my soles were the preferred, the most enjoyable, companions to my feet; but i say hooray to the possibility of an indian summer and then the crisp days ahead.

our summer visitors have long since packed their bags and suitcases and headed home to go back to their lives and their autumn routines. leaves are already starting to turn and, in many spots, dried and crinkled yellowish and brownish ones litter the lawn. boats will soon be hauled out of the water—sooner rather than later if a hurricane barrels up the eastern seaboard and gets uncomfortably close—and they'll be shrink-wrapped or stored in boathouses; the big yellow school buses rumble down the roads.

at its peak, this summer's monarda was a stunner—it grew to 60 inches—as were many other of the garden's blooms. somehow, though, the deep red naturalizing effect of the bee balm made it my favorite. not only the color, but the minty, spicy, oregano-ish scent was glorious—the bees and hummingbirds thought so, too.  i loved it when the scarlet flowers were filled with hordes of fuzzy noisy bees. it was like the balm had moving body parts and was chanting and swaying and stretching its limbs. but it was the bees doing all the work—little puppet masters buzzing from blossom to blossom— forcing the bee balm to perform in jerky motions as if it might just reach out and offer you a green hand.

what i was not thrilled about were the caterpillars that sneakily blended in with the leaves early in the season. they had me downright miffed because i thought the plant might be in trouble from the start. then came the beetles and tiny white worms—or some kind of larvae?—many of which i dispatched with a quick, efficient pinch. (i did a lot of hand washing this summer, that's for sure.) even with all the crawly critters, the plant did fine—more than fine, it was spectacular.

but the bees are now gone from the balm, and the stems stand as if frozen—a vision of things to come—topped with black, dried-out seed pods and crimson bits—the leftovers of summer. no more fiery display, no more razzle-dazzle. the buzzing has moved into the seven shades of phlox, where the bees and hummingbirds are finishing off the last sweet taste of summer before it finally comes to an end.

Friday, September 14, 2012

what word shall it be?



after astrid and willa went back to texas i discovered a piece of creased notebook paper written in pencil and submerged in a pile of odds and ends. as i held the paper portion of the accumulated stuff over the recycle bin—ready to release my hold and let it all slip away—i stopped. i decided to leaf through the detritus to verify that it was, in fact, junk, and not something of value in need of being saved. i'm glad i took the time to do so because under the advertising circulars, magazines, and envelopes enticing me with offers of credit cards, vinyl siding and replacement windows, i found this small gem, a gem from the mind of a young child on vacation in a place she had never before experienced.

astrid had begun to form ideas off the letters that spell "maine" (is there a name for doing this? an acrostic or something?) and then, at some point, seems to have been abruptly interrupted. she might have left her writing behind to eat dinner, or to head out on a fun excursion, or to get ready for bed; or she might have been distracted by her sister or the dog or the lure of a campfire and s'mores. whatever the case may have been, she never resumed her writing and the paper was forgotten and abandoned.

as i read the words i had found, i smiled. the girls had only left two days before, but already the events of the previous fourteen days had formed themselves into a prized collection of memories, the kinds of memories that are sweet and persistent and insist on being mulled over.

for your information, maine, it turns out, is "mainly cold"and yet it is also an "amazing place"; it is where imaginings and dreams are sparked, and the "not a warm sea" stretches to the horizon.

but then what? what about the last letter of the word m-a-i-n-e? what about that final "e"? astrid's writing suddenly ends, leaving the sorry looking "e" hanging there, and leaving me wanting more. what else were you going to say, little girl? the incomplete "e" stands by itself, lonely and unfinished at the bottom of the page. what could have come next in her thought process about maine? what might she have been thinking? what would the "e" have become? what else could she have added?

perhaps the "e" might have started off the word enjoyable. or energetic. or easygoing? or how about exquisite, extraordinary, eventful? maybe excited to explore someplace new. maine overflows with all these words.

or eating perhaps—we did a lot of that. the girls tasted lobster for the first time, although willa didn't particularly care for it. but that was fine with me—i love lobster and got to devour her leftovers.

i have taken the delightful piece of work and, for the time being, have tucked it away in a safe place. perhaps the author might finish it at a later date—at least i hope, i really hope, that's what will happen.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

p.s. i miss you

~ the wobbly bridge sent from hannah's iphone ~


september arrived and a daughter left for england and italy; shortly thereafter we left, too—for sea bright and sandy hook—and there was simply no time to feel sad. our friends' son got married on a beach to the music of the crashing surf—an excellent choice, in my opinion, courtesy of hurricane leslie—which played on and on. from new jersey we drove to old saybrook, connecticut, and dropped by katherine hepburn's old neighborhood to visit friends from college.

then, at last, the time came. the time to feel sad. the time to allow myself—to indulge myself in—sadness. home again. my gaping suitcase spewing forth dirty laundry and small pink packets of tissue, one of many wedding souvenirs, labeled for your tears of joy, stared me in the face. i sat down in the middle of the floor in the girl's bedroom and pulled out one of those—mislabeled!—tissues; her belongings haunted me and wouldn't leave me alone.

yup, it was time. a little cry was in order.

once i shed the self-pity and left my wallow of sadness, i was myself again. i am not the type of parent who would—or even could—hold my kids back or pressure them to do or not do something because it's what i, selfishly, want. i say, let them go, let them fly.

and fly they did.

and fly she did. while she was at it, hannah sent me a photo of the wobbly bridge that spans the thames, with st. paul's above one bank and the tate modern on the other. a few years ago we crossed that same bridge together after spending the afternoon at the tate. we never experienced the wobble, though—too bad, that might have been fun—because of course they had fixed the bridge by then. (we used to have our own very tiny version of the wobbly bridge, known as the "crikety" bridge, here in freeport. but they fixed that one, too, and now it is no longer rickety and it doesn't creak. personally, i kind of liked the old one better.)

the days and nights are getting cooler, grandbaby is getting bigger, and i am getting the hang (again) of dealing with a quiet house.

and there is just one more thing i have to say: p.s. i miss you.




Thursday, September 6, 2012

from the top



there it is up there. see it? the catch-it-while-you-can-summer? summer vacation that seems like it was oh-so-many weeks ago, and yet it wasn't really that long ago at all, was it? summer 2012, when the air at 3800 feet was clear, and the warmish/coolish wind naughtily whipped our hair into little tangles and it looked like those steely low-flying clouds might somehow be menacing, but they weren't—thunder storms blew by overnight heading east toward the ocean—as they inched near us and then away from us.

the tram at jay peak in vermont delivered the nine of us, plus a dozen others, smoothly and quietly to the top. and when i say quietly i mean it—not a squeal, scrape or grind from the engine or cables, or from wind teasing the cables, or from the compartment's shifting glass or metal or anything. no sign of gravity, just floating straight up the mountainside surrounded by silence. even the people inside the tram, when they spoke at all, used hushed, unmodulated tones, their voices as well-oiled and precisely maintained as the austrian-made mountain riding machinery.

once at the top we surveyed the vistas in every direction. we looked southwest toward big jay—connected to jay peak by a ridge—where back woods skiers can make their own way down the mountain without the hindrance, the nuisance, of trails. (a few years ago two brilliant, local guys were arrested and charged with clear-cutting a section of big jay in an attempt to secretly carve a ski trail on private land without anyone's knowledge, let alone permission. i ask you in all sincerity, how dumb can people be?)

after viewing some of my summer photos i wondered where did summer go? i know, i know, you're right—summer's not technically over yet so stop acting like it is. go enjoy what's left.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

the behavior of fire


All fiction is largely autobiographical and much autobiography is, of course, fiction.  —P. D. James


I write fiction and I'm told it's autobiography, I write autobiography and I'm told it's fiction, so since I'm so dim and they're so smart, let them decide what it is or it isn't.  —Philip Roth, Deception



before mr. and mrs. H moved from the heartland of nebraska to the waspy suburbs north of boston in order for mr. H to take up his new position as an assistant professor of english at a small college on the outskirts of the city, they both liked the idea of making their new home on a pond. they envisioned a smallish garden overlooking the water, and stone walls and a bricked patio surrounded by english daisies, columbine, peonies, lavender, yarrow, day lilies, and delphiniums, some of which they would bring with them from their nebraska garden. (it should be duly noted that some of those, in turn, had originally been smuggled into the country as small cuttings from mrs. H's mother's garden in yorkshire.)

the land they bought in '55 was—relatively speaking—cheap (land on the edge of town— undeveloped, mosquito infested, deep woods/dirt roads kind of land—which had once been part of a large estate) allowing them to afford to build a larger house than originally anticipated. mr. and mrs. H would raise four daughters, ranging in age from two to twelve in the summer of '68, with another baby on the way—that one would turn out to be the longed-for male, the legacy keeper of male surnames (in those days, unlike today, who would have given a baby his mothers's surname alone?), thus bringing an abrupt halt to the production of more babies—and the extra space was, to say the least, put to good use during the years they lived on the pond.

but as is always the case, both then and now, time creeps and things change and in that summer of '68 mr. and mrs. H decided to move back to the midwest for somewhat murky reasons having to do with a death in the family and an inheritance. so they sold the cottage and loaded a few roots and shoots from the daisies, day lilies and delphiniums, etc., along with their noisy brood, into the back of one old station wagon and one newer sedan, and headed west again.

next in the chain of events, mr. and mrs. N (mr. N was also a professor at the same college where mr. H had taught) bought the property at a reduced price due to the house, which hardly resembled a cottage at all, having fallen into disrepair—the gardens, thankfully, remained in perfect condition. they had been meticulously maintained and were a green perfection. mr. and mrs. N (who had a six-year-old daughter) proceeded to expand the garden, ripping out the brick and replacing it with stone. mrs. H's plants were dug up and rearranged like pieces of furniture to suit the new owners.

property values such as they are, eternally dependent on location (which translates into the best schools,  well-maintained properties, the appeal of the town to a certain socio-economic strata and the added bonus of the presence of several hundred feet of water frontage), the smallish seeming—at least compared to the neighbors' newly-built mcmansions—refurbished house, and its highly desirable acreage, were on their way to becoming worth a bundle.

some years later the elderly mr. N headed into an assisted living condo (mrs. N had long since passed) and the house went on the market again. the property was quickly snapped up by a slick 21st century tycoon who took a look around, decided the place needed to be lifted to grander heights—the grandest in the neighborhood, he decided with satisfaction—and immediately instructed his assistant to call the local fire department.

in due course, fire trucks rolled down the lane and the firemen gathered around their chief to listen to a reiteration of the safety laboratory's goals. the goals were as follows:

1. gain knowledge from a realistic demonstration of fire behavior

2. develop an in-depth understanding of search and rescue procedures

3. provide instruction in command and control principles

4. highlight the finer points of fire training

while the flames licked and spread and swallowed the house down like some kind of wild, ravenous animal, the firemen sweated and toiled and persevered in the hellish heat; they sensed the demo fire was greatly enhancing their knowledge of how a blaze works. the day would prove to be a great success.

at the end of the training session the firemen boarded their firetrucks to head back to the station. one fireman could be seen tenderly carrying the small clumps of english daisies and lavender he had rescued from the edge of the inferno. other men in bulldozers started their engines. they were eager to get on with the job of burying the sodden ash into the dust from whence it came, and, more importantly, to make it home in time for dinner.







Friday, August 24, 2012

nothing but this



in the afternoon light i walk past the fractured greens that appear mirrored below the
dock. bleary pictures go unnoticed as charts and gas levels are checked, gear, food and
beer are stowed. the anticipation of spending hours offshore is wide and measurable.
tide fills and spills over eel grass and mud, driftwood, bent, broken, knows
no other path, only the urging of the sea. it'll pull you with it if you let it.

i will let it. even if i don't, it can't be stopped.

the glint, the way over repeating wavelets, where you go where
you want to go, dark, unseen, plunging straight and deep and sharp,
water purled in halves, fourths, eighths, sixteenths, a formula
that confronts what is known and leaves the unknown for who knows
who to dissect. will people always live in separate universes? will they always be

divided?

the wind grabs, the waves demand. before i know it, what was once

part of my world is lifted, toppled

blown into the sheen, murk, and mold of forgotten sneakers,
doorknobs, bottle caps, favorite hats, cellophane, wire, mesh, nylon
rope, fenders, bumpers, bud light cans, lampshades, pieces of rubbermaid,
shopping carts and baseball caps, all sunk, saturated, slurried
caught between this place and that. above

my head the ceiling of light is so bright i feel it will blind me
if i rise too quickly; bubbles, tiny fish, plankton float
away, up and up, cutting a swath of graceful motion
through the water. i cough, i sputter; my eyes sting.
now i've been there, now i know.

make a note in the book of restless days and salt:
what we call life is what we've come back from,
scathed, our eyes pried wide open,
unsighted no longer.



Monday, August 20, 2012

full throttle



on land or on sea, those two words may be used to describe how we might—if we choose—live our lives in maine, or elsewhere for that matter, where both the expected and the unexpected can pop up at any time. in maine we have bears, and we have pirates—oh yes we do—and we have lots of waves. i also have it on good outside authority that maine is an amazing place and that it stimulates all kinds of imaginings.

to some people—especially small visitors from the warm south—that's the good news. the bad news is that the summer air may feel a tad too cold (80 during the day, 60 at night—but just wait a few months!), and the sea may not be quite warm enough (66 degrees in the middle of casco bay in the middle of summer). oh well, you can't please everyone.

our gaggle of guests observed many wild beasts during their visit, beasts which presently live in maine, such as moose, bears, lynx, bobcats, foxes, coyotes, owls, and bald eagles, and those which once inhabited the state, such as mountain lions.

the animals were viewed—some "sitting pretty" with their eyes masked!—in their natural habitats in the large, forested maine wildlife park in gray. many of them are being rehabilitated, and hopefully will be able to return to the wild someday, and others are being relocated, having been rescued from precarious situations (raccoons stuck in chimneys, skunks slinking around under porches, bats inhabiting attics).

on another day a large population of pirates was spotted aboard a pirate ship. in particular, a pretty and very—argh, matey—tough pirate hung on for dear life in the wildly pitching crow's nest while attempting to hoist the skull and cross bones at the portland children's museum.

and then there are the people who can never get enough speed, and for whom "full throttle" is a somewhat meaningless concept because it merely states the obvious to them—they believe as much of life as possible should be lived at full throttle. i must say, i concur.

and that, my dears, is just a small sample of the simple pleasures which may be experienced on a wild ride in the fabulous state of maine.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

three girls from texas



Spend the afternoon. You can't take it with you.  —Annie Dillard



there were once three girls from texas. one afternoon in july they (and james!) landed quite nicely upon our doorstep. i was glad that megan, astrid and willa (as in willa cather—is that great or what?—whose stories and novels about frontier life, and the early settlers on america's great plains, are rich and authentic and populated with intelligent and resourceful pioneer women) came to maine to spend many afternoons; they stayed with us for two glorious weeks.

when the girls (and james!) first arrived, it seemed as if the days stretched out forever in front of us and that we had all the time in the world to see and do the things we wanted to see and do: the portland waterfront, the children's museum, the maine wildlife park, some shops in freeport, a cruise around casco bay on denny's boat, a pool party, the all-day gentlemen of the road concert overlooking the ocean on the eastern promenade (that james and megan, and hannah and her friends, went to) and featuring mumford and sons and fireworks in the evening, a hop aboard mike bretton's lobster boat to watch him haul up a few traps and help him measure some lobsters to see if there were any "keepers", a backyard lobster feast, highly competitive games of ladderball, and a trip to vermont to visit the new baby and spend a couple of activity packed days at jay peak.

i had forgotten the boundless energy, curiosity, and high-pitched chatter of the five and seven year-old crowd, and even though i was exhausted every night—the second my head hit the pillow i immediately sailed into dreamland—i loved hearing the giggles and the make-believe play, and even the inevitable squabbles. the two little girls were completely delightful and endearing.

it never ceases to amaze me how children—and some adults—use their imagination and create a time of wonder for themselves. astrid and willa announced i had the biggest flower garden they had ever seen (an example of their sturdy imaginations—it is hardly that big). it seemed as if every few minutes during the first couple of days of their visit they were asking me if they could pick flowers. they wanted to fill jars and vases with bouquets and "make things pretty." i had to firmly but gently quash that idea and instruct them that the flowers, for the most part, were to remain attached to their stems so that we could enjoy—and be surrounded by—the garden's colors, instead of having to look at a barren backyard displaying sad decapitated stalks.

on their last day in maine, i made up a scavenger hunt for the little girls. they were to find things belonging to the natural world (bugs, a yellow finch, a hot pink flower) and also garden related objects (a blue flower pot, a garden sculpture, a watering can), all of it outdoors. astrid's and willa's powers of observation were wonderful. willa noted that there were little brown swimming things in rainwater that had collected in a stone pot. are those tadpoles? she asked. nope, those aren't cute tadpoles, i answered in an ominous voice as i peered into the water. i informed the children that the squiggly critters were in fact hundreds of baby mosquitoes, and, seeing as we have plenty of mosquitoes participating in the forest food chain around here, i promptly dumped the water out.



top photo credit: david stall

Monday, August 13, 2012

what we might eat



this summer has been one of extreme comings and goings. we leave for days at a time. we return home. the house fills with family. they depart and more arrive. then the house empties itself out again. we load up our days—on the bay, at the mountains, in town, in the backyard—so they overflow in an endless tide of activity, and through it all we must, of course, find nourishment and be fed....


in the morning i wonder what we might eat
during these dog days of summer—
it's too humid for casseroles or baked potatoes
or simmering stews. in the heat those foods
seem unappetizing; they'll have to wait
until it's cold enough to put our sweaters on.

it appears to me to be a day for something crisp
and cool—a day for salad—and so
i purchase—since i no longer grow vegetables—
a few tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers
& other things that may form a salad.
i glance out the window toward a large pot on the sunny

deck and remember the basil plant from texas
that arrived by mail for mother's day—
only three inches high in a miniature terrarium—
now it waves tall and lush in a small breeze,
a few tiny holes visible between the leaves'
veins where bugs have snacked.
i pluck a—bug-free!—handful

still hot with light

and move inside to wash, peel, chop and toss,
a flurry of movement—streaks of color, flying hands—
fingers like winged creatures fluttering through
a door toward something just beyond the opening.
i listen to clink, clink—salad servers and forks—chords
rising ecstatic against pretty blue pottery plates,

the cadence of evening voices

tendril notes of family gathered 'round a table,
crunching, gnashing, chomping by the shadowy
light of melting candles that flicker
and weep wax.

but outside in the world of bright, unwavering moonlight
i know there is another kind of comfort, a small silence
demanding nothing, not even to be fed. an infinity
of stars over us, an oasis of dew on the grass
under us, all of it moving, going somewhere, as beetles
alight on sweet tender growth, pause a moment
in between bites, and confirm that it is good.




Thursday, August 2, 2012

circle



my hands, my pulse, my sea breeze, sudden sneeze,
    never mind, once again, row the boat, finch's

song, dragonfly and silver sky, garlands of neem,
    meandering stream, quiet grace, gra-mere

lace, lock of hair, eyelash kiss, single pebble, feather
    pillow, sand, arugula, skin, tagua nut, tulip

shell, harbor bell, azure shimmering like a dream, sunburn
    rash, lightning flash, looking glass, beanstalks,

trip-trap bridge, jabberwocks, bowls of peas, following
   seas, snapdragons, pickles, pistachios, then

it's breathe, breathe, hold them tight, close the circle
and gather in all those things that could have been.

Monday, July 30, 2012

yo ho ho and a bottle of rum



some things never get old. some things are always fun.

when little amelia comes to visit, the first toys she usually pulls out of the toy basket are the baby-hand size, square duplo blocks. she loves to click them together into tall, wobbly towers and take them apart again, one block at a time. my kids played with the same colorful plastic squares and rectangles she plays with—such sturdy and long-lasting toys, good stuff, these chunky danish blocks for toddlers.

we went to legoland in denmark when the kids were little and the opportunity presented itself. we'd always had a house full of legos, so what fun it was for them to walk through miniature lego villages and see those intricate plastic creations made entirely of snap together bricks, and then to drive a legoland car and get a legoland driver's license. that was the time we were visiting our danish friends and business associates who lived a short distance away from the theme park. (today their son, martin, actually works for lego.)

then there was the time the danes came over here, intent on heading into the wilds of maine. i remember when ed, city-boy bjorn, james, martin and a few other guys (including two more danes) went on a father/son, canoe/camping trip in "our" wilderness. that was the second time (the first one was also a maine canoe trip) and final time bjorn ever did anything quite as, shall i say, rustic and primitive as that in his life. (five days of no showers—but there was great swimming—no outhouses, and rough spots along the beautiful river, with just enough room under the trees for tents and a campfire, to call home for the night.) early in our marriage i also enjoyed doing this trip a few times, paddling along the remote west branch of the penobscot river and down wind-whipped chesuncook lake. i wonder why we could never get bjorn to set foot in the maine woods again. two visits that included roughing it were enough, i guess.

but back to the legos. james was addicted to legos and played with the smaller bricks until he was about eleven, building his way through the age levels, patiently putting together many boxes of intricate pirate and space and technic sets. once, when he was home from college, i looked wistfully into a box filled with the broken-apart, mixed-together colored bits of two wrecked pirate ships and asked him if he could please reconstruct them into their original glory. james was happy to do so. he rebuilt one ship (with hardly a glance at the instructions) and promised to do the other one soon. (that was almost ten years ago—i really need to get after him to rebuild the second one when he's home in maine.)

i like to look at the pirate ship, that remnant of fleeting years—complete with scruffy little eye-patched pirates ready to fire a canon or pistol in your face—from time to time. occasionally i run a dust cloth over it, but i quickly lose my patience. the spaces between the round connector bumps are impossible to get completely clean without picking at them for an hour with a Q-tip, or soaking the whole thing in water. (who the heck has time for that?) the pirate ship remains, as always, displayed on a shelf—dusty but intact—a relic from the past lives of children, a reminder of halcyon days spun from seemingly endless childhood.




Friday, July 27, 2012

my life is a tote bag



my life is a tote bag, carefully packed up and ready to go, constructed
in sturdy canvas featuring an array of bright, optimistic, well-mannered
colors and trims. it gets the job done. it is open to suggestions. it is broad-minded.
i pick the portions of myself that i need each day and haul them off—

post office, town hall, recycling center—butcher, baker, candlestick maker—
i make tidy rounds wrapped, tied, boxed, bagged, zip-locked, compartmentalized
to last, sealed against fear and doubt, tupperwared and prepared for any contingency/
catastrophe/emergency in well-made natural fibers with contrast-color handles in

your choice of regular or long over-the-shoulder length, woven from premium short
staple American cotton, a variety that's inoffensive—sharper and cleaner and kinder—
more tolerant than others available on the market today or yesterday or the day
we fell into an inevitable impasse and you told me to stop analyzing—there's no fixing

this frayed existence. you announced that's it and retreated behind a stonework
facade of denial, an effigy of hands waving away truth, dissatisfaction inevitably
guaranteed. you who vanished through the door remained unavailable for comment,
never to be disassembled into any container bearing either the living or the dead.