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, 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.