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


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.