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Garden, Nature

October light

On warm fall days, with their golden light, I make my way outside as often as I can. I wander around the yard, looking at the garden beds that are mostly past flowering, tall stalks gone to seed, bladed foliage flopped over, hosta leaves nibbled, edges turned brown. The garden looks tired, except for the butterfly bush, which still shows spikes of deep purple, a late-blooming cleome, and the nasturtiums and zinnias that continue their colorful bloom. 

I look for the beauty in this dried up, past-its-glory garden. I pause to study the seed pods on the Siberian iris, the small delicate cups filled with tiny black seeds. I pick one and scatter the seeds over a bare patch. 

I used to cut much of this foliage back in the fall and pile the beds high with chopped up leaves for winter protection in case we have a low snow year. But in recent years I’ve left most of the stalks and foliage in place so the seed heads can feed birds and the flopped over foliage can provide protection for beneficial insects and other little critters. That means more to do in the spring but I’m ready for garden work then, eager to chop and rake, see what surprises lurk in the newly revealed beds. 

But back to that golden light. I wander the gardens, sometimes several times in a day, just wanting to soak up the light and warmth. In the late afternoon, I sit on the sun-warmed front porch with a cup of tea; sometimes I move to the blue chair in the back, where I sit facing those bright flowers. I could live in this light forever but it’s so fleeting. Days grow shorter, colder, soon I’ll seek warmth and light from furnace and lamps, wrap blankets around me, and wear many layers to step outside where I look from afar at the foliage that pokes through the snow cover and I breathe toward spring.

Family, Home, Nature

New Harbor and Pemaquid: Familial Echoes

I recently spent a few days in New Harbor and Pemaquid, Maine, a favorite get-away spot. Every time I make this trip, ghosts and memories ride along.

Mom and Uncle Bud, 1930

My mother’s family spent summers near Boothbay, which sits at the end of a neighboring peninsula. She and her siblings regularly came to Pemaquid Point and I have pictures of her and her brother and later of her with my dad or with friends picnicking and playing on the rocks. Later in her life, she wrote about the delights of those summer visits, including excursions to Pemaquid:

When Cap’n Newell Gray could leave his haying he would load his boat, the Osprey, with people of all ages and take us to places like Damariscotta or Center Heron or Pemaquid and there we would scramble on the rocks, explore, and gorge ourselves on picnic fare. I was always amazed at the fact that Cap’n Newell could find his way home in a thick fog without any trouble. He would stop the boat and listen and he could tell by the sound of the water just where we were.

Mom and me, early 1970s

I first came here with my parents after a long drive east from Ohio when I was 9 or 10, then again as a teen. In the 1970s and early 1980s my parents spent extended summer/fall stays in New Harbor and I’d come for regular weekend visits from my Massachusetts home. 

Since then, I’ve come up every few years, sometimes alone; sometimes with friends. My last two visits, in 2015 and 2016, were with my sister. We rented a cottage on a cove with its quiet light and birds darting and swooping.

I haven’t been back since Barbara died; I expected to feel some sadness as I moved through spaces I’d shared with her. And I did feel the prick of tears as I drove north on the Maine turnpike, crossed over the bridge from Wiscasset to Edgecomb, continued north on 1 to the Damariscotta turnoff. But mostly I eased into—and was eased by—the familiarity and a sense of coming home.

Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, Boothbay Harbor

I spent a leisurely few days, revisiting favorite places and exploring some new ones. A highlight was a visit to the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, where I spent several hours immersed in color, texture, and scent. 

And each day I made my way to Pemaquid Point—a big pile of rocks spilling into the sea, a lighthouse, a small cafe.

Pemaquid has long had power for me. I remember many years ago sitting for long stretches huddled against a sheltering pile of rocks, shutting out the sounds of other visitors and sinking into the crash of waves and the smell of salt and seaweed. I came there one evening when I was in my 20s and caught up in some sort of tumult—there was a full moon and a high tide—magic, an easing of spirit. I came again the spring that my dad died and 10 years later, the summer my mom died, needing the touchstone of a place that has familial echoes. 

On this visit I sat on a bench at the top of the rocks and watched the shifting moods of sky and ocean, the sun glinting a path across the water and as I sat there I imagined my mom and dad, my sister sitting with me, taking it all in. 

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.