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


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


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


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


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.