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.

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.

Nature

Snow

Although I’ve lived in New England for over 40 years I don’t think I’ve ever quite come to terms with winter’s ice and snow. I moved here from southern Ohio in the mid 1970s. My soon to be ex-boyfriend and I lived on top of a hill in a ramshackle old farmhouse and I commuted into town each day for work, sliding down the winding road in my blue Chevy Nova and skidding back up again at the end of the day, the car’s rear wheel drive barely keeping me on the road. I hated that drive. But I learned the value of studded snow tires, learned to drive into the skid, carry a sleeping bag, sand, shovel, warm boots with me, learned how to survive winter driving, survive winter. 

And that first winter wasn’t all roadway terror. There was the night I borrowed snowshoes and under a full moon went for a midnight tromp across potato fields. The moon reflected off the snowy fields with a bright blue-white light and my body cast a long shadow. For those moments it was just me and the cold air and my strong body, the moon and the snow and I could forget how unhappy I was in the falling down farmhouse and the falling apart relationship. 

I bought my own snowshoes, the old fashioned kind, long and webbed, with straps that were impossible to buckle with cold fingers. I used them on a first date with a promising guy. We bushwhacked through the woods, looking for tracks of all the wild creatures. That relationship faltered and died but I still remember crouching low to look at the marks in the snow, reading the story of the forest’s winter life. 

I held onto those snow shoes for many years and would occasionally strap them on to make my way around my property in snowy winters. I’d rake the roof, fill the bird feeders, go explore the field behind the house. The cats would hop along behind in the big oval tracks. 

I gave those old style snowshoes away in a recent garage clean out and haven’t replaced them. In the past few years I’ve acquired titanium hips and knees and I’m not sure how they’d respond to the knees-up gait of snowshoeing through fresh powder. I appreciate the beauty of freshly fallen snow, especially early in the winter season, but I’m soon ready for it to just melt away.

Family, Garden, Grief, Home, Nature, Poetry

Yes, and…

In our writing group recently one of the prompts was Jane Kenyon’s poem “Heavy Summer Rain” in which she writes about missing someone “…steadily, painfully.” This poem felt particularly poignant as we move into late summer/early fall days when the quality of the light, the feel of the air remind me of my yearly visits with my sister either here in New England or at her home in England. I miss her deeply, especially when I sit in the garden in the late afternoon. The following is what emerged in that writing session, with just a bit of editing to make it readable.

*****

A pervasive ache of missing weaves through my days. Missing far flung friends, missing places, missing you. Missing Maine and the view of Damariscotta as we drop down the hill from Route 1, then the road out to the coast, the tang of sea air, the porch overlooking the cove, sitting there with you in late afternoon light as birds skim the water. Or missing your little piece of England, the view of the village up on its hill, the church where you and Peter are buried, the village hall and cricket field, the winding lane that curves in front of your house, your garden that slopes up to a fence and field, your house with its multileveled roofline, its stepped and staggered rooms, its worn upholstery and pooled lamplight.

The shape of loss changes with time, the space it occupies waxes and wanes. I go for days without much thought of you and then…I’ve written about this before, how turning from Route 116 onto the road toward home jolts me back to the turnoff to your house or how a particular bird call tugs me back to your garden in the late afternoon. Small seams of grief. 

I recently re-read Unless by Carol Shields. I took the book off your shelf the last time I was in your house, before all the books were packed up to be sold or given away. I remember your admiration for her writing and your small pleasure in having known her. She was a year ahead of you at Hanover College and preceded you on a junior year abroad to study at Exeter University. You told the story of how her safe return from this trip convinced our father that it was OK for you to head off to England, where you met Peter and fell in love with him and his home, how she set you on a course that took you around the world. 

A friend emailed me a recent New York Times article about Carol Shields. As I read I felt your absence tip-toe in. I wanted to call you and tell you about the article, send it on to you. 

A pervasive ache of missing threads through my days but I’m not, on the whole, unhappy. Tired of this viral existence? Of course. Worried about the future, the election, the course of the pandemic? Oh, yes. But day to day small pleasures abound, details I wish I could share with you in a Sunday phone call—a meal with friends at the end of the day, a pot of hot orange zinnias in the garden, an egret wading in the river, a small boy in yellow shorts and orange sneakers running down the path, a rooster that crows at me as I walk by his driveway domain, the white flowers on the chives glowing at dusk, like small stars hovering close to ground. Grief and delight. The “yes, and…” of life.