Petrichor

Photo from Downgraf.com

Photo from Downgraf.com

Two of my sisters and my niece, Amelia, and I email each other, on a rotating basis, a word of the week, every Sunday.  It was Amelia’s turn this week and her word — petrichor — was a revelation to me, a word for what I’ve been I’ve been trying to describe for years, the pleasant smell of rain after a long, dry spell.

A citrus tang layered over an earthy sigh of musk, a release of heat you can smell.  More than a dozen words to describe what can be said in a word. Petrichor.  

As the word sunk in I remembered I had two poems published in the Petrichor Review a year ago.  How did I not notice the meaning then?  I always study journals I submit to, carefully looking for a fit between my poems and what they publish.  I looked again and saw I hadn’t read past the etymology of the word on the website “about” tab:  “Petrichor (pronounced /ˈpɛtrɨkər/; from Greek petra “stone” + ichor the fluid that flows in the veins of the gods in Greek mythology)”

I missed “the scent of rain on dry earth.”  No wonder, after reading about a stone fluid in the veins of Greek gods.

The editors of the journal sent me the nicest acceptance email I’ve ever received, saying my poems are “an excellent exercise in poetic restraint; they’re succinct, unpretentious, and casually deep.”  (Okay, yes, a bit of brag there.)  And they’ve known all along about petrichor, a word I needed and didn’t know exists.  No wonder my poems fit in the Petrichor Review.

Posted in Outdoors, Poetry | 1 Comment

Nachas

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“You have so much nachas ahead,” the rabbi said to me when I went to see him after Eric died.  I was reading a lot by then, and death was my constant topic, whether what actually happens when we die (How We Die by Sherwin Nuland) or trying to cope with grief (A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis), which I was learning felt like an unremittingly slow slog through the bottom of the sadness bucket which was turning out to be a really, really big bucket.  The rabbi, I assumed, would have an answer to my question of what Jewish writing would be most helpful, or most instructive anyway.

At the time I could hardly understand what the rabbi meant, because looking at the future was too painful, but he was right.  (He refered me to the Memorial Service in the siddur for the Days of Awe, which I didn’t find that useful at the time but which I continue to read on Yom Kippur every year).  The rabbi was trying to give me a glimpse of all the happy occasions to come in my life, because he knew my children and believed there would be many and there have been — weddings, graduations, jobs, family vacations, the simple pleasure of all being together on the porch on a summer evening telling stories and laughing.  Eric not being here to experience all these moments is such a given at this point it’s become a much smaller wave in my mood.

Last Friday night was a nachas moment — Ava being named in the Reform Temple of Forest Hills, where Matt’s parents Carrie and Tim are members.  Aharonah Tziporah. Aharonah for Matt’s grandfather, Aaron, Tziporah, which means little bird, because Ava was chirping as she was born and kept up a constant stream of chatter for over an hour as if commenting on all the newness — What?  What just happened? What is all this light?  And the smells?  Noise!  And wait!  Breath in my lungs?

Ava is still a chatterbox, chirping and cooing and even starting to laugh.  Like her big brother Emilio, she’s a joy magnet.  Almost nine years ago now my rabbi could look at the blessings in my life and see there were many more to come.  Given the perspective of grief, I couldn’t see it, but I hung on to that hope and it helped.

(So what is nachas?  Yiddish for joy and pride, especially from children and grandchildren.)

 

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Snow Surprise

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This morning I woke to a new winter coat on the grime, the real dirt of living that’s been etched on snowbanks everywhere for the last week now hidden in a fresh, if wet, three inches.  I’ll take it, as long as it melts fast.

Driving home from Long Island yesterday afternoon we expected snow showers at the end of the drive but it wasn’t predicted to amount to much.  But by the time we got near Concord there was a steady, heavy snow that whipped into our faces when we stopped at a rest area.  Still, the snow was melting on the road, which was wet like it was raining, no problem.

Until we climbed the Chichester ridge to the east of Concord, headed to Northwood. Suddenly there was snow on the road at the top of the hill, and a good bit of it.  Three inches at least, and dense and sticking to everything.  The last 10 miles of the drive turned in to a slow moving train of cars as we all crawled along the slick road, snow still swirling. The car splashed up mud as I turned in to the driveway, but otherwise, uniform white.

It was a bright morning so I got out on the snowmobile trail to ski early, before the sun could warm the snow to too sticky, before the melting began.  There were spots of sticky snow, but there was also fresh powder on every branch and needle and twig, a wonderland of white again, a glimpse back at a spectacular winter of snow.  And then I was gliding along the tracks, maybe for the last time this year.

 

 

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Kitchen Table Wisdom

MedicineHands

“Can you read,” I asked my friend.  She recently lost her life partner of 34 years and I know how searingly painful acute grief can be, how the day can feel like an impossible bag of cement blocks you have to drag around, how hard it is to feel settled enough to read even though you’re exhausted.

“I can’t really focus,” my friend said and I knew exactly what she meant.  One of the things I remember most vividly after Eric died was my inability to read.

One of Adrienne’s childhood friends, Leila, came to the shiva service for Eric the week after he died. Leila had also lost her father to cancer, about a year before, and her mother, who I knew from all of our daughters’ years of play dates and high school events and parties, sent along a book for Leila to give me.  As another member of the widow club I’d just joined, she hoped it would be helpful to me.

But I was a reading snob in those days.  I read literature, not self-helpy feel good books like Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories That Heal.  The book, by Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D., is a collection of very short, true stories about life written from Remen’s perespective as a pioneer in the mind/body health field, and told with an invitation to the reader to “listen from the soul.”

Scanning the book I saw chapters with titles like “Life Force,” “Opening the Heart,” “Embracing Life,” and “Mystery and Awe.”  I was grateful to Leila’s mother for thinking of me, but inwardly I scoffed.  I would never read a book like this I thought, which was comical on one level because at the time I wasn’t reading anything except emails, sympathy cards and snippets from a grief book a friend gave me.

From the tiny bit of reading I’d done I knew that not being able to read is common in early grief and I mourned that loss also.  There was no book to bury myself in, just moment after moment of the ever present absence of Eric.  I craved being taken away by a good novel or memoir, a story besides the sad one I was living, but I had no capacity to read one.

A few weeks later, when the post-death visiting and attention were beginning to die down and I found myself with more quiet evenings, I thought I’d try reading again.  I found Kitchen Table Wisdom on a book case and picked it up.  The first story in the book was only three pages.  Surely I could read that much.  I did.  The next story was five pages long. I read that story and the next and the next.  Well into the first chapter I realized I was reading a book.

I began to take the book to bed with me, reading before I fell asleep, a life long pleasure I’d lost along with Eric.  And here was that pleasure again and the book I was reading wasn’t literature.  It was a book from the Self Help section of a book store, a book I would never buy and certainly wouldn’t read.  Except I was reading it and enjoying it and it was actually making me feel a bit better.  It was helping.

The memorial service for my friend’s life partner is this week and I’m going to bring the book with me.  She may not like it and I don’t think it’s her kind of book, just like it isn’t my kind of book.  Except it was and it is.

 

Posted in Grief, Moving On | 5 Comments

First Thing Ski

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Waking to 4″ of fresh, fluffy powder on the snowmobile trails that cross our yard calls for one thing, first thing.  A quick cross country ski, before the snowmobiles are out, while we have the trails to ourselves and get to make the first tracks.  Our skis catch the new snow just enough to climb the hills and then is slick and quick on our downhill runs.

David and I do double hills.  There are two good slopes on our regular route and as we climb each one we turn around then shoot back down. Climb again and continue our ski, then get to do the downhill again on our way home.

This morning we were out early enough that the sun was just starting to light the trees, a peach sky above the beech leaves that are still hanging on, hung with snow.

I have a lot going on right now (when don’t I?) with commitments and lists and tasks I have to get done on deadline.  But there needs to be room in my day for a ski, first thing.

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Wind and Snow

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Clouds of loose snow blow across the fields and past the house.  As long as there’s any dry snow in the world to the west of me, it makes its way past my windows.  Every path I shovel gets packed with hard, dry drifts that lift like bricks as I shovel again. 

We came home late at night two weeks ago after a windy storm and a snake of drifted snow curled out of the walkway to where we parked the car.  I stepped over the first, knee-high drift on my way to the porch to get a shovel  The next ridge was waist high and I plunged up to my thighs.   It was impossible to tell from our yard how much snow had fallen in the storm.  It was all drifts and mounds and long lips along ridges of white.

Our ski tracks across the field filled in this morning in the hour we were out.  It wasn’t snowing, just blowing.  We’d skied though woods to the edge of another field where the wind had sculpted pockets around the trees where we stopped.

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Now gusts grab chunks of packed snow from the roof and fling it down into the stream whipping through the yard.  The whistle and whisk of the wind turns into a long murmur and then a slap, slap, slap and bang as the shovels on the porch slip around.

The maple in the yard loses another dead branch.  The hills in the distance are foggy with their own wind storms and above it all the sun has come out, last night’s storm has swirled itself out to sea and here on the edge of the great circle the wind keeps turning the corner and scrubbing my world.

Posted in Outdoors, Seasons, Weather | 2 Comments

Another Story

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A flock of robins has been flapping around my yard this week, lifting off from the maple outside my study window to fly to the garden and pick at shriveled globs that used to be apples, still hanging from bare branches.  They’re also eating the berries on the barberry bushes, leaving bright red splotches of bird droppings in the snow under the maple tree. Puffed up against the frigid temperatures and wild wind, as if making their feathers into bulky coats, their orange breasts are a welcome touch of color in the monochrome landscape of bare trees, white pines harboring darkness under their boughs and snow.

Anyone who lives in the southeastern part of New Hampshire knows that snow and snow and then more snow has been our story for the last couple of weeks.  I went to a Martin Luther King Day Commerative at the University of New Hampshire last week, to hear Natasha Trethewey deliver the Commerative Presentation, which turned out to be her talking about how she came to write her poems, a selection of which she then read. Stunning.  And encouraging to realize a woman of color could be so highly celebrated, even appointed U.S. Poet Laureate, for writing direct and accessible poems about our country’s history of racism and power imbalances.

So what does that have to do with robins and snow?  One of the speakers before Trethewey said that courage has been called the willingness to tell your story wholeheartedly.  That got me thinking about stories, in particular my story, or stories, as I think about the next steps in my writing projects — getting back to my novel to get it in shape for readers, and then reengaging with my memoir.  I was at a meeting a couple of weeks ago and we were discussing someone who had mentioned she was writing a memoir.

“She’s writing a memoir?” a woman at the meeting said.  “As if her life is that interesting.”

“I’m writing a memor,” I said and the woman replied with something about my life being interesting enough to write about.  She was covering herself, because she hardly knows me and has no idea what my story is, or what part of my story I’m putting in the memoir.

And it also made me think about this blog and the blogs I follow.  They tell stories, some large, some tiny, the most successful translating some part of a life into a narrative interesting enough that others want to read it.

So what is today’s story, or the story of the last couple of weeks when I haven’t managed to post anything on my blog?  I’ve been busy being Mimi to another new baby.

 

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I’ve been working on both volunteer and consulting projects that always seem to chew up more time than they should.  I’ve not been writing much (as evidenced by the lack of blog posts) but I did go to a party with bigger-than-life-size super hero balloons and spent time batting Spider Man up in to the air to float above me.  That was a first.

 

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I’ve been skiing every day I can and shoveling snow every day I have to, which has been most days.

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I’ve been watching the robins try to make it through this very wintry weather and anthropromorphisizing their regret at not having migrated this year.  Does this make a story?  It’s made for a very full couple of weeks anyway.

 

 

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