Sunday, December 21, 2008

FIELD NOTES: “Celebrate! Starting tomorrow, the days get longer”...

Winter Solstice what it says on my Old Farmer’s Almanac gardening calendar today. Small comfort when outside my window our second dose of snow falls. First it was Austin and now it is Brooke laying a blanket of snow. Sheets of snow thud from the trees like miniature avalanches. On Friday, the stores were bereft of bread and milk, as if we would never get out again. Instead of a walk, there will be shoveling and scraping. I hear the voices of the neighbor boys, the voices that aren’t concerned with ramifications and exhaustion other than how long they can romp outside before they have to go to the bathroom - a play-consuming effort best avoided. I still remember that ‘oh, goody’ feeling of seeing the snow piling up and school cancellations. Here in Connecticut we used to have a showing of ‘Snowbound Theater’ that featured some old black and white movie (like “Heidi” with Shirley Temple) to keep us amused while Mother worked around the house. That was in the days before cable television and videos, Velcro and lightweight polar fleece, microwave popcorn and Cream of Wheat in a pouch. In some ways winter was heavier then…but lighter in our hearts…

Friday, December 19, 2008

FIELD NOTES: Hey, that can in the woods looks familiar!

Through the kitchen window’s the one that I keep on the deck, handle locked and bungee corded! It’s still lightweight because I haven’t filled it up yet with a fresh forty pounds of black oil sunflower seeds…and someone just couldn’t wait. The wild ones have carted it off and made fun with the lid like kids in a cookie jar. The first snowstorm is predicted today – a BIG one – possibly followed by another, so I should haul the can back, clean off the dirt clods, load the feeder and hang the suet cage as soon as I can. When the snow does come, I will be entertained by the chickadee and cardinal, nuthatch and tufted titmouse, junco and wren, sparrow and yes…even the blue jay…and woodpecker…and squirrel. There is no point in being angry with instincts and clever survival skills…after all, if you open up a “soup kitchen”, they will come. I verbally fuss about the deck being a mess with excrement and shells...but I think what I am more annoyed about, is that I failed to wake up to the racket and gypped myself out of watching their antics…

Sunday, December 7, 2008

FIELD NOTES: When I heard the snowplow in the early morning...

Afternoon, top of December

...I thought about being able to take my first snowy walk of the season, easy to think of in a warm, cozy bed on a Sunday morning. But when I do get to Harrybrooke at three with the temp on the dashboard reading 33, I am surprised by a powerful slap of wind and consider turning back. Not wanting to be a fair weather friend, I think “maybe, just once around” and doesn’t the ice trimming the waters’ edge look beautiful…like white lace? Then my stiffened cheeks mound up at the sight of a tiny snowman atop the post that holds up a small metal trash can. There is playfulness in winter, though the brisk wind continues to test my friendship as the huge white pines swoop down to flap at me like some fraternity initiation. The wind sounds vast and hollow and searching. The earth has turned one cheek away from the sun. Through cold-induced tears, I blink up at the sun that is no longer a radiant sunflower yellow, but so pale that if a sunbeam were to reach me, it would break over my head like a thin pane of ice. Over the river and through the bare trees, the flags on the golf course still standing in their holes bring soldiers to mind – so incredibly dutiful in their discomfort. I pass a few hearty souls…women walking…the passing greetings are less warm and more earnest, mostly an acknowledgment of what we must continue to do. I walk by a pair of lanky, layered, knit-capped figures blending in with the tree trunks…except for the cigarette and cell phone. A different purpose. After one mile around the park, the wind calms for a moment and, as if I have proven my mettle, Harrybrooke grasps me with steely arms, acknowledging my admiration, my respect and…that I am still here. My fingertips are warm now; the blood circulates under my frozen outer core like the mud of hibernating ponds. I feel as if I have been swallowed into the warm belly of a beast, welcomed now, although my body’s survival strategies are not nearly as ingenious as the frog’s with its antifreeze and adaptable metabolism that allows it to sleep winter away. The only sound today is a rhythmic whacking – firewood being split? In the periphery I see the movement of two sweatshirt hooded figures on a back deck. I guess it’s the whack of a staple gun installing Christmas lights – more dutiful discomfort. I have to watch my step on the way out; the wet pavement is icing up before me. Returned to my car, I find I don’t really need to crank up the heat because, except for my exposed face feeling like a drawstring is tightening around it, in the warmer interior there is enough contrast to feel the comfort. I am a lucky one; I can choose to survive this climate, I can choose to challenge myself in the cold because…I am not homeless, because there is certain warmth awaiting me. Really, I am only toying with survival …at least for today….

Thursday, November 27, 2008

FIELD NOTES: Maybe it is a feeling of history repeating itself...

Thanksgiving, 2008

...the dizziness of bobble-heads with lessons not remembered wobbling around Wall St. and beyond, that it has occurred to me for the first time in my fifty years to ask how my grandparents celebrated Thanksgiving when their children were young, when there was the Great Depression. But my grandparents are all dead. I find that my parents and their remaining siblings do not remember celebrating Thanksgiving as children. President Lincoln declared it a national holiday in 1863, but it was only randomly celebrated until FDR fixed it at the fourth Thursday of November in a controversial move to create more shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I see commercialism has been around for a long time, the economy being at the heart of everything – that is, the heart of the machinery - the “everything” that keeps the manmade world in the constant motion of production, decline and redevelopment. Thanksgiving up until now has had no beginning and no end for me. It always was…and now I find…it wasn’t always. My grandmother was fond of repeating her favorite advice to “not get old” but I try to counter that with words from one of my favorite James Taylor songs “the secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.” I step outside to fill the birdfeeder with black oil sunflower seeds and look up at the sky – yup, still there.…a constant in the heavens and constant thanksgiving…

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

FIELD NOTES: From a distance, they look like broken eggshells...

After school

...the brown and beige and brittle oval leaves on the pavement scattered in the pattern that their tree chose to let them go in. With childish curiosity, I purposely walk on them to test their strength, to see if I can crush them, make them crunch, but their lifecycle complete, they seem to be apathetic to my footsteps. Some of Harrybrooke’s privacy has disappeared with the leaves; I feel as if I am in the shower tub with no curtains or standing by a bare window, exposed as the early dusk descends. The skeleton that supported the body of summer is now forced to show itself. I still find beauty, albeit coarse and gray and dry. It’s different and takes the sophistication of the senses to appreciate. Bony fingers try to point it out, but passersby linger less and find it necessary to keep warm with rapid movement. I read the Lake Lillinonah announcement of the annual draw down for seasonal service and dam maintenance, but nevertheless it is disappointing to find the Still River wizened. I sense an omnipresent dryness in the air and smell wood fires burning, feel my ears pinched and notice my nostrils dripping. I hear a far-off leaf blower and suppose there is a man at the end of it, earnest in his belief that he can control nature, at least a little part of it, at least for a little part of a day, at least from a distance...

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

FIELD NOTES: Just for the record, I voted today...

Election Day I always do. But I don’t always get to vote for hope. Or change. Or for a man of black ancestry. I voted for history. I voted for the next generation that includes my own children. I don’t usually mix politics with my field notes, but in a way politics is always underfoot because in some way I talk about it daily, because I notice when it gets stuck to my shoe or obstructs my path. Because when it gets me discouraged, frustrated, confused or weary I take a walk. Because I find clarity in nature, in motion, in feeling my heart pump blood through my veins, in making my lungs expand to take that glorious breath of fresh air. Because "When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world” as John Muir said so insightfully many years ago. Just for the record, I admit I voted for Barack Obama today, knowing it will be for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, and knowing that, I did not vote for perfection, but for transparency and compassion that extends beyond personal ambition…I at least voted for the hope of all that…

Sunday, November 2, 2008

FIELD NOTES: The eulogy came from the television weatherman...

The top of November

...“the growing season has ended” and today I awake an hour ‘too early’ because my body does not know that Eastern Standard Time has now begun. The ancient Celts, 53 latitudinal degrees north from the equator, simply called it the dark time, or Samhain (SAU-en), one of the two great doorways of their year. This Celtic ‘calendar’ of two seasons seems more authentic in design as anyone who has grown up in New England knows there are not four seasons that abide by the division of our mathematical grids. Although I am not a participant in pagan beliefs or rituals, I am intrigued by historical origins and mysteries, like Stonehenge, the Pyramids, Easter Island, Machu Picchu, Pompeii, and the Etruscans. The older I get, the more I relate to the ‘nature’ of nature - its lightness and darkness, its warmth and coldness, its growth and dormancy, its cycle of life that includes dying. I don’t exactly look forward to ‘the dark time’ as I do the summer, but now I can welcome it. For, as written by Mara Freeman, a leading teacher of Celtic spirituality, “…it was understood that in dark silence comes whisperings of new beginnings, the stirring of the seed below the ground.” So, I can welcome it like an estranged relative, the rejected or the ignored, the unaffiliated ones who keep their irregular beauties under covers that often require too much effort for society at large to bother with. The time of light is more pleasant and less challenging to welcome. It is joyful and giddy and less potent. We do not kick up our heels at this time of year. We gather and store. After a pot of strong coffee during this writing, I will cook some bacon for myself, dress and go out to my ‘estate’ (as I like to call my little half-acre!) and rake and prepare to hunker down. I will stuff my jean pockets full of tissues for my sensitive nose that runs like a spigot at temperatures below 50 degrees. There is a kind of devilish pleasure this time of year in putting tingling toes and fingers to hot cups of cider or tea or wood fires or baking ovens just as there is, conversely, in sweating in the sun and plunging into a cold lake. Having memory of senses and observation and inquiry take the edge off the coming of the dark time because I know there will be a time of light.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

FIELD NOTES: "Breakdown garden"...

Columbus Day Weekend on my list because not only do I have a few extra days off from school, but the weather is glorious for October - 70 degrees and sunny! The necks of the sweet basil hang down with the burden of going to seed, two green tomatoes the size of golf balls (and just as hard) still cling to life inside their cage, the Kentucky Wonder green beans are beginning to wonder if there is any longer a point to their existence, there is little evidence left of the pickling cukes and only the parsley remains forlornly looking around for its companions until I break it off at its base and stand it up in a large glass of water to await the supper salad. As I untie the bean poles and prepare to remove the mass of yellow, brown and green vines to the compost, I spy a couple of green pods suspended vertically. They are still tender! I find myself stuffing them into my mouth like a primate in the wild or a person without a home. I go down on my knees into the dark and dry garden soil pawing through the tangle to find more late bloomers. I eat them – maybe four or five – biting off their umbilical tips and spitting them out with no sense of etiquette or propriety while relishing the snap and crunch and green juice inside my mouth. A person of the twenty-first century can still sow a seed, harvest a garden and survive even in the midst of Wall Street collapsing under its virtual importance.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

FIELD NOTES: “Please stay away from the snapping turtles”...

...are the words printed in marker on the copy paper sign posted at the entrance road in Harrybrooke. “No colords” are the sprayed words that had to be scrubbed off the Sri Chinmoy Peace Mile sign on the exit road in Harrybrooke. Cautionary, incendiary, directional, instructive, restrictive, prophetic…..signs.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

FIELD NOTES: There is a regatta and sprint...

Sunday morning through the car window

...that I happen upon this Sunday morning. A small sign at the end of the road tells me so. The weather is as crisp as a fresh Macoun. Spectators are walking along the road from the designated parking areas to the site of the local rowing center on the riverbank of the Housatonic. There are men and women comfortably dressed in shorts and windbreakers wearing expressions of delighted anticipation and I am oddly envious, wishing I could join them even though I am not acquainted with any rowers in the meet. On my drive here, I notice many joggers and cyclists earnestly progressing along the roadside. Leisure, discretionary and purposeful leisure, is all around me. There was a time when I sped along this road each Sunday morning with neatly-dressed children seat-belted in, hurrying to church, hurrying to set up my Sunday school classroom, often questioning the joggers and cyclists and boaters for putting their bodies before their souls even though I already had a pile of weekly sale flyers from the morning paper stacked on the seat next to me with thoughts of the afternoon schedule diluting the intent of where I was going before I even got there. But today I am driving my oldest son to the hospital to complete his month-long course of daily IV antibiotics and, like the cinematic orphan wistfully gazing into an inviting cafĂ© window, I am resigned, my consciousness harboring the thought that leisure...(and money)...(and worship)...are most enjoyable when they are discretionary and purposeful. In the direction of my peripheral vision I say out loud, “I want to be a part of that; I must have more of that in my life…” There is life inside the car and I am suddenly aware that I am driving right through the point of it.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

FIELD NOTES: In the middle of the night, Hanna and Harrybrooke were wed...

Hurricane season

...and late in the afternoon I went to their reception only to find the green groom still engorged, glistening under the waters that she had poured out over him with no restraint, her rain of passion turning him into an enormous puddle. I could not complete the mile loop and instead walked back and forth avoiding, almost with a sense of embarrassment, the post-coital pond where sky and land had made love with such ferocity. Pent up and bent on fulfilling my two miles, I headed for the bridge. I could hear the Still River roaring uncharacteristically, then saw it tumbling all over itself under the grate, foaming and spitting and thrashing as I quietly made my way out to the road. The road, now closed to through traffic, used to be the main route for commuters looking for a path of least resistance. It felt peculiar walking where automobiles once dominated and as I crossed over a defunct bridge back to my car, I noticed how the trees and weeds and grasses had narrowed it, vigorously reclaiming their territory, thin green blades determined enough to break open the black asphalt and stand in witness: “I, Hanna, take you, Harrybrooke…”

Monday, September 1, 2008

FIELD NOTES: A hum briefly hung outside my writing window;

Labor Day, the first seconds of September, 2008
...I thought it was a bee or my garden pinwheels oddly spinning without breeze. It lasted only seconds…brrrrt…but luckily sound pulled eyes from computer screen to window screen in the very instant a hummingbird hovered at the window box. Both the bird and I were delighted and deliriously hopeful for a split-second until, as it so often happens, fascination turns to disappointment. We both returned to our quests, astutely aware of our powerful senses, but now, all the more possessive of them because the bright red geraniums in the window box were fake.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

FIELD NOTES: The pineapple sage is closed down like an umbrella...

“Sick” Day, through the window

...due to my unintentional neglect. I called in sick to work because I feel similarly. I rinse the breakfast dishes in the sink and wonder, what now, has blown into the backyard. Sometimes it feels as if I am deliberately placed downwind from the debris of others. But not today, it is not a bright pink candy wrapper, but a lone impatiens blooming in the middle of the lawn! Last summer the deer availed themselves of my hanging baskets as if they were salad bowls and now perhaps they have brought back one of the flowers (albeit with less than delicate means) as a peace offering. I am reminded of my father's wit in the story he liked to curb my wishing moods with, the one about the little girl who wanted a pony and all she got was manure, but her optimism was so great that she declared "Oh goody, goody! I almost got a horse!" How lucky I am today to have gotten a flower. Thanks, Dad.

Monday, August 18, 2008

FIELD NOTES: There are dolls on the side of the road...

Through the window, 84 West to New York City

...little plastic arms and legs, some with pieces of dolly clothing. The happy yellow-pink-teal of playthings streaming past my driver’s side window refresh my anxiety. I wonder if traveling before me there is a sad small face or a large angry one on the road ahead. How do significant belongings ever get to the side of the road: accident, carelessness, over-indulgence, domestic violence, anger, reaction, revenge, crime, punishment? I am a country-road girl and it does not seem real, this driving to the City to see my 23-year-old son in the ICU after emergency open-heart surgery. The strange image of dollies on the side of the road comes along like a random poke in the stomach and I can't explain why I feel sympathy for the child who lost a suitcase of toys except for the idea that perhaps my own child's anxiety has a great deal of company in the universe...both big and small.

Friday, August 8, 2008

FIELD NOTES: Death came with humor...

Through the (car) window

...when I drove out of the neighborhood this morning. Transporting my oldest son to yet another doctor’s appointment, the inside of our car was filled with an air of concern, yet a hint of resolution with the sun shining and the radio tuned to NPR for edification. We were interrupted by a coffee klatch of mourning doves congregating on the road. As the flock reluctantly dispersed in slow motion, one bird still sat in the middle of the pavement as if he assumed that no one would have the audacity to run him over. I assumed that no creature capable of flying would procrastinate himself to death. Continuing to talk while automatically glancing in the rear view mirror, I saw feathers pouf up into the air like a pillow bursting open...and a laugh came out like a cannon ball...its black humor surprising me.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

FIELD NOTES: Freedom came not from learning to ride my bike, but from leaving...

August afternoon yard and driving on the mother-forbidden street! At Harrybrooke today there are lucky children, lucky because they have parents who brought them here. A toddler boy jogs alongside his stroller. The preschool teacher in me smiles when I hear the dad ask his boy to count the Canada geese. Although liberated from his stroller, he was not liberated from his parents’ fears: “Don’t go so fast, that’s how you fell last time. Slow down, slow down! That’s how you fell! Don’t go near the geese. Geese are very, very mean. They will bite you!” A helmeted elementary-aged boy learning to ride a two-wheeler is cheered on by his parents until he tumbles in the pathway. As I approach from behind in my power walk, I prepare to root for the boy myself and tell him to keep it up, but Dad is sputtering next to Mom: “Don’t stop pedaling! Come on, pedal, pedal…aw, not again! Don’t stop pedaling! (sigh) He KNOWS how to do it!” I close my mouth not wanting to go into the fray of family frustration. Instead, I notice how the cattails have evolved into their coveted state, brown and velvety and oblong, the frankfurters-on-a-stick of nature and how the voice of Harrybrooke has deepened from the soprano of spring peepers to the bass of bullfrogs. So will the voices of the young boys I notice today. It’s true that geese can bite and boys often don’t learn their lessons as fast as we’d like, but the streets of nature have often taught me to stand back and watch with my hands behind my back. Some things...water, wind, storms, weeds...will take their own courses anyway. And it is I that needs to find freedom in this loss of control. (Sigh)

FIELD NOTES: Ill-will came upon me like a sneeze...

First weekend of August, 2008 rite of ownership reacting to a perceived irritation and briefly closing my eyes to the rite of nature. The mower rolled up the bank by the side of the driveway and I let it roll back over a small gray movement. I had once seen my father stomp on a mole that had percolated up from the earth where we were extracting some woody overgrown yews. My mother and I had winced and screamed while my father asked if I liked the mole tunnels heaving up my lawn. Well, no, but I didn’t have the World War II navy training that conditioned my dad to weigh in a split-second the future consequences of his current actions. So with that in the back of my mind, I now let the mower roll back over the small gray movement. I had once accidentally mowed over a garter snake with bad timing, the result being instantly fatal and not at all pretty, so it surprised me that I would now seek out such an act. In horror I saw the small gray movement was not a mole at all, but a good little toad, eater of garden insects and the sign of a healthy habitat. I peered over the side of the mower as I saw him hopping away and tried to count his little limbs and fingers and toes. He appeared to have them all! I was grateful that I keep the mower blades high because I don’t believe in stressing the lawn with buzz cuts and I was relieved that the most damage I had done that day was to scare the heck out of a toad…and probably make him a little deaf.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

FIELD NOTES: If you can feel like a color...

Sunday morning at the window, July, 2008 colors today are sage and periwinkle, all earth and sky, palely trying to hang onto what I love about summer – a refreshing, sweet-smelling breeze tumbling over the sill and through the sheer bedroom curtain, birdsong and baby-song in the near distances because the window can be left open today as the remnants of a pre-dawn thunderstorm sink down into the yard like a giant body on a chaise lounge, fresh plums, vine-ripened tomatoes, a Vidalia onion and one aging peach like a spilled still-life on the kitchen counter…and toast and coffee on the deck ...and I feel like painting the blue sky and puffy clouds (lost due to repair) back onto the hallway ceiling.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

FIELD NOTES: I blow my budget in the first row but...

Sunday morning in July at Elephant’s Trunk Flea Market

at the end of my tour, I confirm that if I had to choose two things, it would be the two things that I am actually walking out with – a Tibetan bracelet and a recycled caterpillar garden ornament. I found the bracelet sitting on top of a heap of delicious looking blue and green jade necklaces in a wooden box. I have a small wrist that is difficult fit to because anything of quality clunks around annoyingly like a free weight. I look for serpentine designs that can coil and cling at any portion of my arm and this one is slim like silver wishbones jointed by black faceted beads with gold flower bead caps, finished at either end with soft silver tassels of fine chain link that gently brush my skin. I should have bargained – that’s expected at the flea market – but I made the fatal error of being an enamored buyer. “Fifteen,” he said, “and the necklaces are ten apiece.” I could have looked skeptical, it was still young in the day, but I fell into enchantment. As soon as I pulled out the twenty from my pants pocket, I knew I should have asked the dealer to throw in a necklace, too. In a short distance, I found myself enamored again and chatting with a welder with five daughters. He uses re-bars and tool parts and grates and – well, NOT junk, he emphasized, but recycled material – to craft tables and benches and shelves and decorations. He quips that when he was a young man, he wished to always be surrounded by beautiful women, so be careful what you wish for! “Oh, yes,” I concur, “you have to be very specific!” He also relates the story of how one daughter asked when she could start working with him and he replied ‘right now!” as he handed her the broom. I couldn’t resist a souvenir. The caterpillar is made from two metal rake heads, a broken bed knob and two bent screws from the furnace in which he burns scrap to heat his home. His thirteen year-old daughter welded it with him, curving its tines into a body and then painting it green and yellow. “Well, thanks for hanging around!” he says as I leave with the caterpillar, picturing it in my garden as proof of the power of girls and wishing I knew how to weld! Another row is like another country. I wonder about the display of over-sized brushes and the dealer materializes to explain that they are calligraphy brushes from China. “So large?” I say. “Why, yes, they are used on walls and banners. And the crowds will make a clearing in the square where political messages are written with water.” I ask what they are made of and find out the brush is horse hair and the handles are carved from wood or stone. They feel absolutely beautiful in my hand, a fine addition to my studio, but they are seventy-five dollars. My youngest son’s tuition bill and the home heating oil bill in the same day’s mail give me pause. In light of the Beijing Olympic Games beginning in a few weeks, I look up at the dealer and comment that here I am in America, holding a Chinese calligraphy brush in my hand with a Tibetan bracelet wrapped around my wrist. He nods with uplifted eybrows, a chance moment of mutual clarity found at a flea market.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

FIELD NOTES: I made a point of finding my way back to the hammock...

A Saturday evening, July 12th, 2008

...dinner done. Saturday nights are usually the only times when I can cook leisurely. I do not come from a ‘cooking’ family and only pull off the illusion of cooking to my family because I get a kick out of messing around with herbs and spices (either fresh from my garden or more reliably, ordered from Penzey’s whom I consider to be one of my kitchen gods). My younger son left the hammock out, so before I take it in away from the chance of rain, I sprawl on it. I lay on my back like a flipped turtle, nowhere to look but up. The lanky, overgrown locusts are almost able to hold hands with the ancient oaks on the other side of the yard. The breach in the canopy has gotten disconcertingly smaller over the years; branches frequently tumble down and one night, a giant oak collapsed entirely, thundering down like Goliath for no apparent reason! I have taken to planning an escape route every time I recline in the backyard, calculating whether it would be safer to run toward the falling tree or away from it. Or, if I don’t have time to slip on my flip-flops, will I be able to leap over the split-rail fence into my neighbor’s yard without getting scratched up? But tonight I wonder about something different. Birds are traveling overhead. Their dark silhouettes appear from the south side of the canopy and disappear into the north side or appear from the north side of the canopy and disappear into the south side. It is a veritable freeway. Where are they going? A medium-sized pair urgently flaps straight across as if they are late for some engagement. A tiny couple randomly circles around a bit, the aviary version of cruising on a Saturday night. A large party of birds (perhaps starlings) fills the sky like a gang spoiling for trouble. Where are they all going? I am not going anywhere.

Monday, July 7, 2008

FIELD NOTES: It was the skirt that gave me buoyancy...

A Monday for fun, July 7, 2008

...a simple Willie Smith design bought on discount at TJ Maxx, and I noticed I was smiling to myself with absolutely no reason to. Except, the skirt is new to me…and also never-worn. The cotton fabric is crisp because it hasn’t been laundered yet. The yellow-black-white-grey graphic floral with the self-tie belt at the side fits perfectly around my hips, gently flares out and ends at my knees. In the kitchen…and in front of the hall mirror…I spin in it. It might attract the bees!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

FIELD NOTES: I stooped on my way, the front path was...

July 6th, 2008

...sprouting weeds again and, again, I remembered I had forgotten to write myself a sticky note about clipping the peaking lavender at evening for drying and there on the white pea-gravel and flagstones was a dead bumblebee, curled and dry, lying among all my inattentiveness.

Friday, July 4, 2008

FIELD NOTES: My pretty bell-shaped verdigris path lights stopped working...

The eve of the 4th of July, 2008

...seasons ago and, lacking the energy to dig up the wires to find out whom perhaps chewed the electrical wires that run under the thick mat of pachysandra, the shade garden remains dark. I stepped out on the deck to admire my recent session of weeding, trimming and mulching my ethereal walkway to the kitchen compost. Above all the lush greenery – the hosta I divided, my fern collection, the accenting columbines and bleeding hearts – fireflies were standing in for the dysfunctional path lights, quiet fireworks in a miniature world, a world that seemed more my size, more at my level of management. It was something to celebrate.

Monday, June 30, 2008

FIELD NOTES: I removed the nest, reluctantly and somewhat remorsefully...

The last day of June, 2008

...because this was not the first time the nature of birds has come into question around my house. Last year, I was teaching in a first grade classroom where it is traditional that birds are studied every spring. With little effort, you can fascinate this age group with eggs, nests and especially hatching, so it was with great enthusiasm that each day I told a little story about the progress of my robin’s nest with three….no five!... pale blue eggs. At first I hoped that the eggs would hatch before the end of the school year, but when joy turned to tragedy I hoped their short attention spans would spare me from inquiries or else…..I would have to lie. The nest had been situated in a hanging fern plant on my deck just outside the kitchen window above the sink where I could easily keep up with the comings and goings of the young mother. One day, she did not come with strings of worms draped from her beak and the fuzzy peeping heads with giant gaping mouths stopped popping up. Should I investigate? My plant had not been watered except by random rain. I stepped up on the wicker and wrought-iron bistro chair to take a peek. An apparently un-hatched egg had been vandalized, shell remains of the hatchlings were still strewn about the nest and it smelled of death. Tiny shriveled corpses, their oversized heads and eyeballs dangling, met my eyes. Exposed to attack, set up for abandonment, it had been a poorly situated home. Rather than disposing of the whole plant, pot and all, I extracted the nesting material from the fern like shredded wheat from long hair, buried it, hosed down the hanging plant and left it to recuperate in a corner of the patio. So this year – same plant, same place – different bird (a wren I think, judging by the domed stick nest with a side entrance). My back door is too busy; the poor bird would be kept in constant flicker and me in constant startle – too stressful! I tried to keep the nest intact and set the bundle on the child-sized Time Out bench that I use as a garden decoration and anchor for my mosaic frog and potted parsley. And there it sits – a reminder of our choices.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

FIELD NOTES: If I repeat myself, it must be good.

June 29, 2008

Coming upon a complete yearly cycle of making notes, I’m not planning on looking back to see exactly what I made note of. I don’t think I see things the same way twice anyway. I plant my favorite flowers and vegetables, but not always the same way and I often experiment with new varieties. The bugs and critters visit, the weather delights and tortures, but not always with same modus operandi. So if I repeat myself, I figure it must be something really noteworthy, something worthwhile. After all, to notice something more than once, to marvel at something all over again, is not mundane or demented, but like the delight of seasons and the youthful expectation I always want to remember.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

FIELD NOTES: So, all of a sudden, a daddy longlegs is crawling across my dashboard.

June 25th, 2008

I am a little late for work and taking Jerusalem Hill to try to avoid the traffic and road construction on Route 7. Kind of absurd that an old farm road (read: roller coaster) with hairpin turns designed for tractors at the turn of the last century is the quickest alternative route, but that’s New Milford. Although I am not particularly afraid of spiders, they do always seem to give me a little start and this one is quickly ambulating my way. I lecture my kids on multi-tasking while driving, but here I am trying to fish a tissue out of my pants pocket, keep an eye on the path of the spider and, of course, keep the other eye on the twisty road! I have the capacity to kill…or I could roll down my window and demonstrate my stewardship of nature. I might also be explaining how I went off the road and missed work altogether: “So, all of a sudden, a daddy longlegs is crawling across my dashboard….” Choose your own adventure.

Monday, June 23, 2008

FIELD NOTES: Speaking of backyard murder-mysteries...

June 23, 2008

...I buried my third squirrel this morning after nearly running over the corpse with the lawn mower. The neighbors must wonder what I keep yelping about because I just can’t help reacting loudly when discovering some sort of crime or violation. Not two weeks ago, I saw something white in the lengthening backyard grass. I wondered what it was; maybe a bag blown into our yard? Upon inspection, my son and daughter inside the house heard my yelping: AAAKH! Oh oh oh oh oh! AAAKH! The white was the underside of a squirrel belly-up on the lawn. My eyes trailed up the ancient oak trees where a labyrinth of dead and dying branches exists and I thought perhaps, like the first squirrel I think I wrote about some time ago, he had fallen from the weak canopy. So today, shovel in hand again, I went to dig a hole at the back of the lawn where brush and leaves are left to mulch naturally and discovered the grave of squirrel number two had been breached. Ah, the animal world, driven by a combination of self-preservation, compulsion, survival and instinct rather than morals. And yet, not always so very different from our own as my active mind raises its inner eyebrow…did these squirrels fall…or were they pushed??

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

FIELD NOTES: It's a great position to lie in because...

from a hammock you get a new perspective on your own backyard. There is intrigue, detail, small stuff that is important (to the small) and even the murder-mystery. There is a particular cat – a white one with a black fur cape thrown over his head and back - that frequents my yard, stalking my beloved birds but earning redemption by rounding up the rodents. I think it his cache that I have uncovered under the shed. An old picnic table I use as an outdoor potting bench sits atop a set of wooden pallets where I store odd containers along with seasonal bags of soil and peat. A loose board and the hole underneath bequeathed a lip-curling collection of bones, furry pieces of tails and a shriveled up bird carcass. I know there is an underground system of tunnels from sometimes having the lawn sink beneath my feet and I have seen Mr. Blackcape watching the entrances and exits. I’m lying crosswise in the hammock and spy two pointy ears periscope up, then quickly down, behind the wood pile. I imitate a friendly purr to draw Mr. Blackcape out. Maybe we could be friends? But he interprets my overture as artificial and reacts in either mistrust or condescension. I accept his rejection as a condition of nature and like a lion in the wilderness, we will live parallel lives, respecting an invisible, silent boundary and considering each other’s actions with a pinch of suspicion. I have to do something about not getting enough hammock time.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

FIELD NOTES: Just a week ago, I wrote about planting a 'memorial garden'...

June 1, 2008

...and it is in more ways than one, not just as my Memorial Day ritual, but as a memory of many things - of earth, of my maternal grandmother and even of me. I have a habit of gardening in flip-flops. I do end up destroying them which is why I sigh to myself when I’ve forgotten to slip out of my good flip-flops and into the two dollar ones from the drug store. I don’t do it on purpose, I run out just to do water maintenance and, before I know it, I’m pulling a weed which turns into a hundred weeds. My nails fill with dirt and dinner is delayed, but no matter, it’s summer and dinner can be eaten at eight without much consequence. And that is the memorial to my grandmother who, in the days before jellies and crocs, fashioned her own backyard footwear out of flip-flop bottoms and ruffled elastic lace from the five and dime store because she did NOT like a thong between her toes. She trimmed her toenails with a pocket knife that fascinated and startled me at the same time and her size six shoes were just right for little girls to play dress-up with. I remember her feet brown with soil from walking around her make-shift gardens – the sunny strip behind the garage where green beans crawled and horseradish, rhubard and sour grass for schav (Polish sorrel soup) squatted wherever they could and at the end of the hedgerow atop the steep bank were tomato plants or little cukes in old metal tubs. By memory or design, I pretty much grow the same stuff. And my feet sink into the soft fertile earth, my toenails fill up with garden dirt and I swing my feet, one at a time, into the bathroom sink to scrub them. It would be easier to wear sneakers or garden boots, but it wouldn’t feel nearly as good, it wouldn’t have that glorious connection to ancestors, to earth…to me. It happens to be my fiftieth birthday…and it feels good.

Monday, May 26, 2008

FIELD NOTES: There is never enough of what we love best...

Memorial Day, May 26, 2008

...early morning is too brief in my case. Especially at this time of year when cardinals (and company) wake me and sunrise is just the right temperature for those of us who have perpetually cold hands and feet. I don’t celebrate Memorial Day the way I used to or, by some standards, the way I should. I sleep a little later and am not fond of public gatherings in New Milford that invariably require a plan of travel, where to park and how to jockey for a seat from which you can actually see something. Our town harbors the delusion that it is still small, but an event here is more like the privilege of saying you were at a ball game or concert in person and yet coming away having seen and heard less than if you had watched it on TV. When my children were little and we lived on Main Street in Terryville across from the town green, they played with their toys in the living room until we could hear the marching band up the street. Then we’d grab some chairs and go out on the front lawn with our elderly landlady. My late uncle, one of a dwindling group of World War II vets, would march by practically within touching distance, wink at us and we’d wave back. The parade was just long enough for the attention spans of my children and to get the point across, then we’d usually have a picnic at my parents’ house at the other end of Main Street. Saying that, I just now realize that it is possible to live inside a Norman Rockwell painting! As a school child, Memorial Day in my hometown of Terryville was a key event. All of us scouts lined up with our troops at the grocery store parking lot in the north end of town. It was a big deal who would be asked to carry the flags for each troop and who would get to read the poem Flander’s Field when parade participants and spectators stood in respect around the war memorial on the town green. Back then, the parade took a much longer route around town (several miles that were unkind to the 1960’s penny-loafers we all wore with our Brownie skirts and white ankle socks) and after the reading of the poem, the older scouts would continue on to the cemetery to hear Taps. If you made it through all that and still had your uniform on, you could go down to the Eagle’s hall where they handed out free vanilla Skippy cups with wooden spoons. Today, I will observe Memorial Day perhaps not so reverently as I have in the past, but in the closest way I know right now at this place in my life. I will plant a garden. I will regenerate, protect and perpetuate. I will try to be a soldier for our earth. I will try to be a good one.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

FIELD NOTES: My dearest Harrybrooke, there must have been a battle;

March, 2008

...just as good and evil are found inherent in us, it is found in nature as well. I was astonished to see how many branches (not just kindling, but limbs of size) were so widely strewn. It was your Gettysburg, a family fighting itself, the force of nature wielding itself against the beauty of nature. I can imagine the booming rite of Stravinsky, the art of war and so many unknown battles. You will repair and reinvent yourself and I might see your progress week by week, season by season, if I care to pay attention. As I stepped around your lost members, the day’s brief sun was chased away by outbursts of wind and tossed pillows of gray. But the little rivulet was trickling and its sound, even more than the proverbial first sighting of a robin, signaled to me the persistence of spring.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

FIELD NOTES: There are stars on the water...

Wednesday (after school), March 26, 2008

...flashes as bright as mirrors on the afternoon river, perhaps the original impetus for the belief in fairies… like Tinkerbell on the Disney wristwatch I am wearing; I experience after-images for some time as I blink my eyes and continue walking. I try to count their points – are there five… or six…or eight? But they move too quickly and if I standstill, they disappear; they are only visible with the movement of my body. Most days the water’s reflection is all-of-a-piece - a length of moving moirĂ© – but today each reflection is individual and singular in appearance. Are these the wishes released from comets…or snowflakes in the afterlife? Is it silly…or naive…or hopeful…to put aside simple science or complexities of faith…and believe…(no, delight) in the magical? The same wind that ripples the river pushes me up the rise in the road like an over-eager classmate behind me in line. An ordinary day becomes extraordinary, when I am not just pretending to re-live childhood enchantment, when my mouth makes up a soundtrack of peepers and gurgling water and an awakening nest of frogs to use the next day with my little students, when I forget the need for explanation, when it all comes naturally upon me in a flash. It feels peaceful to be so awed in middle-age and yet a burden because there are those who may not appreciate that I see stars on the water after school….that I am so easily amused...that I can pose the question: is Earth the heaven of stars and snowflakes?