Hydrangeas and Hay Rows

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Clear, dry and hot, yesterday was a day to save summer.  I took down all the old dried flowers I’d hung on the wrought iron rack in the kitchen, and pitched them on the compost.  The now brown bouquet of hydrangea that stood all winter on the mantel went on the compost heap also.  I wiped up the dust that had accumulated behind the hanging flowers, and on the blue vase my friend Andi made that had held last year’s bouquet.  Brown out, time to bring blush pink in.

Like green beans and tomatoes this summer, my pee wee (panicle) hydrangea tree has produced in abundance.  Many years the blossoms don’t take on their rose blush until some of the flower petals have already turned brown.  Not this year.  The tree is hanging ripe with pink blossoms like a fruit tree.  Drying the blossoms is simple enough that it’s a garden task I get done every year.  Snip the stems at whatever length I want, put them in a vase, or hang them from a rack, and the blossoms dry in whatever shade of cream and pink they held when cut.  Eventually the flowers turn brown, but it takes until the next summer, when the world is full of color again, before I notice that the blush has faded into a uniform drabness.   Still, the conical shape of the flowers holds and makes a bouquet.

As I went out yesterday to pick the last bouquet, I heard a familiar clatter and chug of machinery from the field across the street.  Looking up, I couldn’t see the baler, but the mounded rows of cut hay lay across the field in parallel strips, curving with the slopes of the field, a swirl of dried grasses ready to be packed into blocks.  More summer being saved, to feed horses or cows over the winter.  It was getting late in the day, but the sun was still strong and hot, soaking into blossoms and grass, dried by the clear wind and ready to be harvested for seasons to come.



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“You’re a manifester,” a colleague said to me one day, meaning I’m someone who moves ideas into action and reality.  She’s also manifester, which is why she seemed to recognize it in me.

Yesterday, my birthday, I manifested an idea of Eric’s.  Seven years ago, the summer I was turning 50, Eric and I did a lot of hiking together.  I was trying to finish all 48 of the mountains over 4,000 feet in New Hampshire, which gains you entrance into the 4,000 Footer Club.  It also makes you a peakbagger.  Eric was happy to peakbag with me as I closed in on the last few mountains on my list, most of them requiring long, arduous hikes.  We grew closer than ever that summer, even after 28 years together, spending days and days on long trails, talking, walking, just being with each other.  

Due to a very rainy summer, I didn’t finish the list before my birthday.  But that October, on a fine day, with blue skies and yellow birches dotting the hillsides of spruce, we did a 17 mile hike on the Zealand, Twinway and Bondcliff trails to Mt. Bond and West Bond, my last peak, then back out the way we’d come.  On the hike, we met two groups of people hiking the entire Bond ridge, end to end, which also includes Bondcliff (I’d already done that peak, hiking in from the Kancamangus Highway to the south).  A 19 mile hike, the Bonds traverse provides unparalleled views of the Pemigewasset Wilderness, crossing the wildest part of the state, on a rocky, open ridge.  But it also presents a challenge in having a car ready to collapse into at the end of the hike.  Spotting a car at the trailhead where you finish, then driving around to the trail where you want to start, is over 50 miles and takes over an hour.

“We need to find some friends who want to do the traverse with us,” Eric said that day.  “We’ll start from different ends, pass each other keys when we meet on the trail as we hike, then drive each others cars to a meeting place and have dinner when we’re done.”  We both loved the idea, and started talking to hiking buddies about it, but never made it happen before Eric got sick and died.  We hadn’t realized we had such a tight deadline.  The summer after Eric died, Anne, on of those hiking buddies, made a pact with me that we would do the Bonds traverse as Eric described, in his memory.

So yesterday we started off from the Zealand trailhead to the north, David and Betsy and Cathy and me.  Anne, Ellen and Cynthia started from the Kancamangus Highway to the south.  This only happened after months of planning, and an already aborted hiking date, due to weather.  Being my birthday, Anne was carrying mini-brownie cupcakes, and I had a candle and matches so we could have a mini-party on the trail.  Marsie, my psychic friend, who shares my birthday, told me to watch for magic, since I was manifesting Eric’s spirit on earth.

Early in the hike, Betsy took a short side trail to go to the true peak of Zealand Mountain.  Cathy and David and I waited on the main trail.  Two men, came up the trail from the direction we were heading.  They didn’t really look like hikers — they had no pack, were carrying one bottle of water, and didn’t look particularly fit.

“Do you know Eric?” one of them asked me. 

Taken aback, I simply answered, “There’s no one named Eric with us.” 

“Well there’s an Eric that way on the trail,” the man said, pointing back.  “He told us to look for a group of people hiking together and let them know he’s not going to make it, he’s headed back to the Galehead hut.”

“Where did you come from?” I asked.

“We stayed at the Galehead hut last night.”  At this point, it was about 9:00 a.m., and the Galehead hut was a three-hour hike away.

“Where are your packs?”

“We left them back on the trail,” the other man said.  “We’re just here to grab the Zealand peak, then we’re heading back to Galehead and Garfield.”  Then they disappeared up the side trail to Zealand.

We never saw their packs as we continued on the trail, and we never saw them again.  But we all knew someone named Eric.


Sue met Dennis her first night in Key West.  He was captain of a wine tasting, sunset sail tour , they got talking, she got his number, they went for a sail two nights later on his boat.  She told me about the sail, I said I love to sail, and last night we both went out on his Catalina 42, sailing out of Key West Harbor, into the Gulf. 

I admired his boat.  “I sailed her to Venezuela,” he said.

“What did you do in Venezuela?” I asked.

He looked at me with a quizzical smile.  “I was on a trip.”

Later, when we were underway, I said, “The way you looked at me when I asked what you did in Venezuela makes me think we have very different approaches to how we spend out time.”  He laughed.

Dennis has been in Key West for 11 years.  Before that he “practiced retirement, and was really good at it,” sailing through the Caribbean for a year and a half.   Several years as a boat captain in Key West, then the trip to Venezuela, now back to being a ship captain.  He owns a house in Key West but rents it.  He lives on his boat.

“I’m practicing retirement soon myself,” I’d said and Dennis congratulated me. “I think you’re a good influence on Sue and me.  We work too much.”

Later, with the mainsail and jib both full of wind, the turquoise water slipping by, the water slapping rhythmically against the hull, Dennis smiled and said, “This is the way life should be.”

I wanted to say, “This is the way life is, right now,” but I didn’t.

Later, he showed me a map on his GPS gizmo that had tracked every anchorage of his trip to Venezuela.  The sweeping line of triangles was enticing, the path of a journey across the water. 

Live life the way it’s supposed to be, I thought, and make a sweeping trail of anchorages.  I’m on the right path, I just don’t have a boat and a gizmo to make a picture of my trail. 

Around the Corner

In a strange bed last night, which is not strange for me (I travel a lot), I knew almost immediately I would have trouble falling asleep, so I took more medication, and then overslept.  That included getting up in the middle of the night to pee, and spending almost a minute banging around in the dark bathroom, unable to find my way out.  Door edge, bang!, wall, bang! door jamb, bang!, sink, bang!  It’s one of those hotel bathrooms in a bathroom, the toilet and tub off the alcove with the sink, so there were two doorways to manage.  I made it back to bed, and woke up to David calling.

As I talked to him, I pulled on some shorts, slipped on my flip-flops, grabbed my purse and headed out for the dock-front coffee shop to get some cappuccino.  I’m in Key West for a meeting, it’s miserably hot and humid and I’d planned to get up early to try running before the worst of the heat builds.  Not today.  I walked down the steps and came out a side door of the Westin and turned towards the water, around the corner of the building and there was a wall of cruise ship taking up all of my horizon.  Bang! 

Later in the day, after the meeting adjourned, I walked to a state park to swim at what seems to be the only real beach on Key West.  Surprising, the lack of swimming here.  People come to party, I’m told, not to be on the beach.  It was gloriously tropical — palms trees, deep blue sky, sea water streaked emerald and turquoise and aquamarine against the crushed shell white sand.  As I swam along the beach towards a breakwater that marked a turn of the shore, I came up for a breath and there was the cruise ship again, coming around the corner of the key where the water turns from ocean to gulf.  It’s monstrous white hull was all I could see.  Bang!

What’s around the next corner?


When we got up this morning, there was fog rising from the fields around the house.  It had rained again overnight, pools of water on the porch floor and the furniture on the deck.  By the time our cappuccino was ready and we were out on the porch, the fog had cleared. 

“Look at the sun on the horses,” David said.  The roof line of the house threw a shadow across the small dirt road into the corner of pasture.  The horses stood just past the line, in the sunlight, heads down, eating.

I’m happy they’re back.  The pasture was empty for a few weeks, eaten out in this dry summer.  There’s been just enough rain from storms in the past week to get some grass up again.  Years ago, there was a dairy herd across the street.  After the herd was sold, a succession of farmers pastured smaller herds in the field, then the young men who bought the farmland kept a few steer.  The cows often clustered in the corner of the pasture right across from the porch in the evenings, when I would get home and sit and watch.  Were they greeting me, or catching the last of the sun that hit the small rise on the far eastern edge of the field?

Now we have horses to watch.  “Horses are magical,” my friend Marsie told me, and knowing Marsie, I expected what I found when I looked into what she meant.  Epona was a Celtic horse goddess, linking the horse, the divine and the feminine at a time when women and horses were sacred, honored, and free

The horses were grazing in our corner again this evening, when we ate dinner on the porch.  Lit by the low sun behind him, one of the horses started to walk towards us, his tan and white body swaying as he planted each of his heavy feet.  He looked up at us, his mane ruffling around his face, then dropped his head into the field, continuing to eat.


After two weeks of orbiting in vacation sphere, today was touch down, re-entering the atmosphere of obligations, email, networks, meetings, schedules, deadlines and Droid notification signals.  David and I both kept yawning as we drove home from work, doing our daily download with each other.  “I think we’re yawning because we were so busy at work, we forgot to breathe.”  He yawned again.

When we got home, we changed into our bathing suits and went to the pond for a swim.  The sky was grey, with some piles of clouds that looked potentially thunderous, but we couldn’t hear any rumbles and went in anyway.  Stroke, twist, breath, stroke, stroke twist, breath, stroke, the water slipping over me, under me, filling in all the space around me.  Re-entry space, back at work space, back to swimming after work space, the grey space of the deep water, my hands plunging a burst of air bubbles into the pond with each stroke, the rhythm slowly working its way into my brain space as I swam back and forth and back and forth across the pond.

At one point, lifting my face from the water to breathe, I caught a sharp light among the clouds and froze.  Lightening?  I stopped, pulled my head up and saw it was a slit of direct sun through a fold in the clouds.  I listened.  Still no thunder to be heard anywhere.  The flash of brilliance hung there in the sky, then the clouds moved again and it was gone.  I went back to swimming.

Time Out

Morning Glory

The problem with time is how it marches on, no matter what you’re doing.  However, that’s also the blessing of time.  Vacation days pass on, but so do days weighted with grief or anxiety.  On days when I wake up anxious, I know, from experience, that if I can just get through the day, the anxiety will start to wash out as the day passes.  By evening I can feel the tide of release start to seep in. 

I’m in the midst of a time out.  I’m on vacation, with no concrete plans, no trip itinerary or rental cottage, just days off, time out.  David and I get up in the morning, drink our cappuccino, and talk about what we’ll do for the day, which isn’t necessarily what we’ll do.  I’m handling this remarkably well for me.  There are moments of feeling the time off, time out, slipping through my hands, worrying that vacation is passing, but when I do go back to work, those days will pass too.  

When we sit on the porch to get out of the sun, we can see the morning glories I planted this year, blue throats open to the day, big blue faces on the vine that’s crawling up a string I strung from the eave of the barn.  The flowers open in the morning, then close up by late afternoon.  Glory, glorious, timed to be enjoyed, and then pass.


David and I sat at the kitchen table last night, having our bedtime snacks, talking about beauty.  We’d just watched A Single Man, an exceptionally true and beautiful movie.

“I wonder where my life would have gone if I’d followed my sensory attraction to form and color,” David said.  “The lines of the rear view mirror on the Mercedes in the movie were beautiful.  The body moving in water made me want to draw the curves and angles and lines.”  We were still awash in the visual and emotional depths of the movie —  the stark, haggard grey toned shots of Colin Firth as George, the bereaved gay man in 1962, having to hide his loss, his lost love, his feeble grasp of continued life, the brilliantly colored views of other characters George sees, the fair and youthful skin and soft blonde hair of Kenny, the flouncing red-skirted dress of the neighbor’s little girl, her hair also blonde and tightly braided.  Time slows down and George dives into the eyes of those he encounters in the day the movie follows, Kenny’s round blue eyes, Charlotte’s eyes rimmed with black eyeliner and mascara.

“Beauty brings copies of itself into being.  It makes us draw it, take photographs of it, or describe it to other people.”  Thus Elaine Scarry begins On Beauty, a book I picked up in a bookstore because the cover was so beautiful, a five square of different colored birds’ eggs on a pale green background.  The opening page of the book made me buy it, because of my own impulse to record what I see, to translate my sensual and visual experiences into language, in new and surprising ways. 

“For the first time in my life, I can’t see my future,” George says at the beginning of A Single Man.  I remember the year after Eric died, how my future had dropped away and each day was simply, “getting through the God-damned day,” as George says.  Get out of bed, I would tell myself, go for a run, take a shower, go to work.  Each step was predictable and doable, by itself, but not a string leading into a future that had been sheared off when Eric died.  Continuing on was unimaginable, so I continued on without any imagination.

Except there was still beauty in the world, painful, insistent beauty, setting off chains of language in my head that had to be written down.  So I began writing — about the catbird singing on the wires crossing from the street to the house, about the seasons moving on from summer to fall to winter, about the sheets of snow that fell, filling the yard and driveway.  I wrote about grief and deep sorrow and rivers and demons and tears, because even though grief is hard, it has its own real beauty, the depths of loss connected to the depths of love. 

Next year at this time David and I will have embarked on our year of following beauty’s lead.  I have a future now and it includes creating a year with David in which we wait to see where sensual input leads us.  David to his canvases, me to my pen?  Today we will try some stretch of that.  There is beauty in each moment, the smell of basil from the garden, the dark bark of the trees along the brook peeking through the high summer green of leaves, the marbled clouds against the blue sky, the chatter of birds and crickets, the taste of our cappuccino, the muscles of our thighs as we sit side by side.