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Garden, Home, Nature

A lazy, meandering month

I’m sliding in just under the wire with my August blog post—but that’s August for you, a lazy, meandering month, a doldrum month punctuated by storms. I’m sitting on the back porch; Mr. Bell lolls on the chair next to me. The overhead fan spirals the air down on us. Sun, high puffy clouds, just hot enough to still feel like summer.

We’re emerging from another heat wave—I think this was number four for the summer—last week’s temperatures were in the 90s with high humidity. I spent most afternoons indoors where it was stuffy but cooler. I felt resentful, caged, knowing that long indoor winter days are not that far off; brief ventures out to the garden quickly sent me back inside. A cloudy cool weekend brought relief and the local weather guru promises a more fall like pattern once we navigate the tail end of Ida when she sweeps through later in the week. 

August is a bittersweet time, a month of paradoxes, contradictions. Slow indolent summer lingers but days grow shorter, nights cooler, a few leaves show fall colors. I feel sluggish and irritable in the hot days but I also grasp at that summer heat; I long for autumn briskness and regret not savoring the long light of July evenings; I want time to speed forward and I want to grab hold of now, not let go.

The garden is weedy, phlox and clethra and cone flowers fade but still provide food for pollinators, asters and goldenrod are not quite ready to bloom. The overgrown cutting garden is the one spot of bright color—orange and scarlet nasturtiums overflow the raised bed, zinnias bloom hot pink and orange, Lemon Gem marigolds are a haze of bright yellow. I could harvest the nasturtiums and marigolds for salad garnish but I leave them be. 

I make the rounds of farm stands gathering peaches, blueberries, corn, greens, tomatoes, vegetables. A month of BLT indulgence, buttery corn delights, peach crisp, pasta with fresh tomato sauce, tender new potatoes. But peach season also opens a seam of sadness. I imagine my sister exclaiming over the juicy wonder of a sweet ripe peach or my friend Jean savoring the peach salsa I made for her August birthdays. To honor these peach scented ghosts, I slice up a peach, add some blueberries, warm in the microwave, top with sweet lemony ice cream. 

Meditation, Nature, Writing

Rain, meditation, writing…more rain

For the past few months, I’ve been in a creative writing group led by poet, fiction writer, and memoirist Doug Anderson. He emails out an assignment, we write our poetry or prose and upload it to a Google drive folder for other group members to read, and then meet on Zoom to read our work aloud and respond to each other. The assignments have always been interesting and have often pushed me out of my writing comfort zone, which is a good thing. The most recent assignment said to write something that veers off from its starting point but always stays connected in some way to where it began.

I wrote something in my head, sitting here in my favorite chair, listening to the rain. I thought about how this assignment reminded me of my meditation process, how I start with my breath or with listening to the world around me or I count to ten over and over but my mind spins out and I pull it back and it spins out again and I gently tug it back and repeat and repeat. I imagined myself meditating and wondered what thoughts would float through then opened the computer and made a quick note—meditation, mind drifting, last night’s dream about being in a crowd, article I just read about joy coming from contact with others, wondering when group joy turns to mob mentality. I left the note to percolate while I washed the dishes, talked to a friend. I didn’t return to writing that day or the next but the writing task hovered in my mind.

Sunday was a quiet day; I read and daydreamed and went for a walk before the rain moved in again. I walked the loop around the stadium at the university. On Saturday all the sunlit playing fields had been filled with teens and families taking part in a lacrosse tournament but Sunday the area was empty except for red-winged blackbirds, a few chipmunks and squirrels, an occasional dog walker, a runner, and an elegantly dressed woman—pristine white pants, colorful scarf at her neck—pushing a walker along the track. As I strode along in jeans and t-shirt, hiking pole in my left hand clicking on the gravel surface, I admired her tenacity as she slowly maneuvered the walker through the grass at the side of the track. We nodded to each other, two women in motion. The damp air was thick, palpable; walking, even on level ground, took effort. Later, at home, rain falling outside, I stretched out on my bed to meditate, guided by Tara Brach’s voice cuing me to listen deeply and I listened and drifted and dozed. I didn’t write on Sunday.

Yesterday I opened the computer and reconsidered the note I’d made on Friday. But those tendrils of thought didn’t entice me. Instead the upright purple hosta blooms that stand so proudly along the front walk, called to me. I wanted to march off with them saying rain and sodden air be damned; I wanted to bend in the rain and rise up again, catch the drops in my upturned palms like the leaves of the rhododendrons then fling them into the air, watch them scatter and fall, I wanted to gather all the wet headed phlox, the hot pink and rose and white, the sweet scented flowers, taste the rain, feel my hair plastered to my head. And so I closed the computer and went for a quick walk near the pond. The Mill River was gushing and roaring, disgorging with force into the pond and over the falls. I entered this wet, gray, green world, walked kindly and softly within it, and knew this was a good thing, a way to step more easily though my life. And when I got home, I wrote these words.

Family, Poetry

Fishing with Dad

A repost from my previous blog, slightly updated.

*******

On this Father’s Day, I’m thinking of my dad who died over 30 years ago at age 75. He had a heart attack, sitting in his chair, 5:30 in the afternoon, watching 3s Company reruns on TV and probably sipping a Manhattan while my mother made supper.

Dad’s eyesight was failing due to glaucoma that he’d had since he was 40. He had a heart condition; the heart attack was a surprise but in some way also expected. He’d had a pacemaker for a few years and problems regulating his heart medication. He was slowing down and having a hard time accepting this.

He had a group of men friends—the Old Goat’s Club they called themselves. My dad, the ex banker; Hubert, who used to own the drugstore in town; Dick, who was also a banker; and Jack, an insurance agent. They met each Tuesday morning at a coffee shop off the town square. I wonder what they talked about as they navigated retirement and aging.

Dad was an avid photographer—I still have carousels filled with his slides documenting trips and family events, including many silly pictures of me, little ham that I was. My sister and I said we would sort through them, scan some onto the computer and toss the rest but we never did. I kept his camera and used it for many years until it needed a new part and turned out to be too old to fix.

I also kept his yellow cardigan sweater, one of his favorites. I remember its texture under my fingertips and on the inside of my arms where I’d press against him in a hug–he was good with hugs.

I wish I’d known my dad better. That sounds like an odd thing to say about a man I saw every day for more than 18 years but he was a very private man, who was, I think, easily hurt. I remember one blow-out fight we had when I was in my 20s. I don’t remember what the topic was–I just remember yelling at each other–a rarity in our family–and I remember thinking that beneath his anger, dad was deeply hurt that I thought so differently about something.

We were up in Maine, in a cottage that my parents owned for a few years right after dad retired. I was living in the Boston area and came up a lot on the weekends in the summer. I suspect we were arguing about decisions I was making about work.

We yelled. I probably cried. Mom intervened and it was over. At times I wish we’d kept going–gotten to something deep and honest that needed saying–but I also wonder if one of us–probably me–would have said something irretrievable.

That one fight aside, the times I spent with dad in Maine are some of my best memories of adult time with him. The cottage was on a lake. He had a rowboat with an outboard motor and we’d go fishing for long hours, puttering down the lake to find a good spot and then casting our lines and waiting companionably for something to bite, which it rarely did. Here’s a poem I wrote about that time:

Fishing with My Father

Our boat drifts through light and shade.

We sit angled, bow and stern, poles poised

for elusive fish, no sound but the slap

of water on the boat’s hull, the whipping hiss

of a cast line. We are caught there,

drifting the length of the lake.

We pretend knowledge of underwater geography,

the habits of fish; disturb the places hidden by rocks,

push our way through lily pads and weeds,

seek the warm currents.

Family, Nature

Sunsets (for mom)

In honor of Mother’s Day, I’m reposting a short piece from my previous blog, At Home on Harlow.

I don’t have a view of full-on sunsets from my house but on summer evenings I can see a faint rosy glow, the edge of the sunset, through the branches of the evergreens at the back of the yard. Sometimes that faint glow draws me out of the house and down the block to the field at the end of the neighborhood where I can watch the full display across the valley.

My mother loved sunsets. She kept a journal, beginning in 1966–she would have been in her late 50s then. She wrote in it sporadically, an entry or two and then a gap of years before another entry. The last entry was dated 1976. She wrote several times about the sunsets she could see from the kitchen window. In the first entry, written on a January afternoon, she describes a sunset that was a delicate rose in color with black tracing of tree branches. She goes on to say how frustrating it is that my father and I didn’t see this beauty: “I say, ‘Look at the sunset–it’s fabulous.’ They say ‘yes very nice’ and they don’t really see. It’s so beautiful it hurts.”

And she’s right. As a teenager I didn’t see the sunsets–or at least I didn’t see what she saw–the painful beauty of them.

I wrote about sunsets in my own journal once a few years ago. I’d had a string of conversations with friends who were dealing with illnesses of various kinds. I wrote about driving home from work along the river one winter afternoon. The sun was setting behind the hills across the river and it took my breath away–the hills, the scarlet sky, the reflection in the river. I wrote that I wanted to give this sunset to my friends as an antidote, a balm, something to hold onto when all else seemed to be giving way. The redemptive power of sunsets.

Maybe that’s what my mother saw in sunsets, those many many years ago. I wish I could come up behind her, circle my arms around her waist where she stands at the sink, rest my chin on her shoulder and see the sunset along with her. Yes, it’s gorgeous I’d say.

Friends, Garden, Home, Meditation, Nature, Writing

Spring and tulips and hope

Just as we lose hope
she ambles in,
a late guest
dragging her hem
of wildflowers,
her torn
veil of mist,
of light rain,
blowing
her dandelion
breath
in our ears;
,,,

From “Spring” by Linda Pastan

I’ve been reveling in spring days, especially sunny days when the gardens glow. I wander through lush grass dotted with dandelions and violets and grape hyacinth that have escaped from the garden beds. A couple of weeks ago I scattered seeds for blackberry lilies in one of the front beds. A friend harvested the seeds from her plants last year—they’ve lived in a pill bottle in my kitchen cabinet for a couple of months. Maybe they’ll germinate—on a tour of the gardens today I spotted a few green shoots poking up—but no matter what happens, there’s hopefulness in the act of loosening dirt, scattering seeds, covering and tamping knowing that rain is coming then more sun to warm the earth.

Tulips dot the middle and rear of various beds. I haven’t planted bulbs in a few years and don’t remember planting any in these particular places. Maybe some burrowing critters have done some garden redesign. I’m loving the surprise of tulips in all their fluttery white and orange striped and frilled purple glory.

Hope lived in the initial autumn planting of these bulbs some years ago. And as I key that in I remember my friend Fran planting bulbs in her last autumn hoping she’d be alive to see them emerge but knowing she most likely would not.

I recently found a piece of Fran’s writing when I was looking through writing files. Writing was one of the things that sustained her through three painful years living with cancer. She joined a writing group sponsored by Cancer Connection and faithfully attended meetings up until a few weeks before her death, scrawling her fear and hope and rage and wonderings onto page after notebook page. I had the privilege of reading through a few of the notebooks to help choose some pieces to include in an anthology of writing from the group.

In the short piece I stumbled on recently, she wrote about lying in bed, exhausted and ill, listening to the spring rain outside her window: “It said ‘Listen to me, listen to my softness, listen to my steady rhythm, listen to me fall onto the earth, soak the earth, cool it and refresh it and let it live.’”

Listening. One of my favorite places to sit and listen is at the top of a field in my neighborhood. The field, which slopes down behind a university building, is maintained as a bird sanctuary with mowed walking paths. I walk to the end of my street, across the top of another field and then up the long slope to a bench at the top where I sit and look out across the valley to distant hills. As I sit, and listen, some kind of stillness settles in me.

For a recent meditation session I chose a Tara Brach guided meditation that focuses on deep listening—to sounds in our environment near and far, to our minds, our bodies, letting ourselves be part of the world around us, just as it is in this moment. My mind skittered around—it always does—but I kept returning to that home base of listening, as I now listen to the words in my head, the images, the vague ideas that lead these words.