A Seat In the Woods

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Yesterday’s bright sun and hard wind (though not as hard as today) called for a walk in the woods.  Which made me think of the Great Brook Trail in Deerfield, a three-mile walk through a variety of woodlands and wetlands, past beaver ponds and along the Great Brook, and up and down hummocks of granite ledges.  There are bridges to cross, delightful hand-lettered signs pointing out side trails to vernal pools and overlooks, and best of all, a bench set on a rock outcropping halfway along the trail, positioned to look up Great Brook as it runs through a small gorge.

A seat in the woods is an invitation to be present.  Present to what?  To whatever has brought me outside, or even better, to what is in front of me now that I’m out.  Often it’s simply the need to have more space around me, to let some of the energy radiating from my body be absorbed by the wind and rocks and trees.  In my last blog post, I described my project last year at this time to write 300 — 400 words each day of the two weeks leading to the winter solstice.  On the second day I wrote,  I need to be outside moving around.  There has been too much moving inside me the last several months, and expanding this churn of energy into a greater sphere has come to feel essential.

Whenever I pass this bench along the Great Brook I imagine coming here some day with a book and a journal and just sitting.  Observing, reading, writing.  I think the same on many of the hikes I do, imagining an afternoon on a favorite ledge with no ambition beyond being in that spot for as long as I can manage to stay still.

I never do it, always moving on, with some place to get to or some place to be.  But yesterday I did stop long enough to sit on the bench and watch the water coming down through the rocks, noticing how light was falling into the woods through the bare trees.  I walked and sat and looked.  Present.

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Sisters and Bluebirds

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More happiness?  Saturday I was walking with my sisters Meg and Chris and my brother-in-law John when we crossed a bridge over the Assabet River.  Meg stopped and pointed to a bird among the branches of a small tree on the river bank.  “I think that’s a blue bird,” she said and Chris and John and I all stopped next to Meg and leaned over the railing to look at the bird. “It looks brown,” Chris said and just as I was about to agree, I saw a glimpse of blue.  The bird opened its wings and flew to a bush a bit upriver.  Blue wings.  “It is a bluebird,” Chris said.  “Good luck,” said Meg.  John said he hadn’t seen a blue bird in years.

I saw a flock of blue birds one morning last fall, and began writing 300 to 400 words each day for the next two weeks leading up to the winter solstice.  Seeing a patch of blue birds cross my path running that morning made me decide to enact an idea I’d read about in The Sun.   A small press had invited 30 writers to write 300-400 words each day during November, 2010.  Chapbookpublisher.com then produced hand-bound books, one for each day by each author.  That’s 900 books.

The decision stuck.  I loved having a project that got me to my computer every day and that focused me beyond the light diminishing each day as we progressed to the darkest. And I was fascinated by the hand crafted books.  Almost any type of paper crafting is satisfying to me, and nothing more so than making a book.  The absorption of a creative project, whether writing or printing and folding and binding paper to make a book, is a circle of positive reinforcement.  Letting the flow of creation take over, making something appear that wasn’t there before, that only existed in my head, makes my head feel lighter.

Looking for a new way in to that creative circle earlier this fall, I decided to make books of the haikus my family all wrote as part of our annual Labor Day weekend gathering this year. Meg had emailed and asked everyone (four generations) to write at least one haiku about summer (many people wrote more, including my father who wrote 14).  As encouragement to get everyone writing, I offered to make a book for anyone who contributed a haiku, a collection of all the haikus that were shared. After the weekend was over, a number of family members still hadn’t contributed a haiku.  As a further inducement, I asked everyone to make a cover for a book, and if you contributed a cover, you would get a book, even if you didn’t write a haiku.  In the end, of course, I decided I’d make a book for every household in the family regardless of whether they wrote a haiku or made a cover.  That’s 16 books.

Making the books has been a wonderfully absorbing project; it took me weeks of fiddling with the word document to get the poems set up to print on back-to-back pages correctly. I spent a conference call I was on last week standing at the kitchen counter as I cut the 13 pages for each of 16 books, neatly slicing the paper cutter’s razor roller up and down, making printed paper into pages.

But Saturday was the most fun.  Meg and John met me at Chris’s house, and we spent part of the afternoon folding and glueing the pages of the books, then putting each set of pages into a cover.  Not everyone in the family made a cover, but we had enough.  Again, my father’s production outdid everyone.  He made seven covers.

We’d gone on our walk before we started working on the books.  The blue bird indeed seemed like a good sign, since we’d just been talking about the ever cycling reality of worry and difficulty and the utter messiness of life, and how much better we all felt being outdoors and walking.  Some of the afternoon’s sun was still settled in our shoulders when we sat down to fold and glue. We quickly figured out faster ways to do every step of the book assembling process than what we first tried.  We made mistakes and laughed, then fixed them.  We were absorbed and focused.  Meg and Chris and I have been doing this for 56 years, the first people I sat with at a table, working in the flow.  How sweet.

The Metaphor of New Glasses

Photo by Grover Landscape and Design
Photo by Grover Landscape and Design

Getting accustomed to progressive lens glasses, that correct for both up close and distant vision, isn’t easy.  If your eyes have been used to no correction, or just reading glasses, it takes a bit for the eye-brain coordination to come back into sync once you change what you’re looking through.  Which is why I’ve been putting off getting progressive lens for years, making do with reading glasses, even though my mid-distance vision has been deteriorating, and it’s meant taking my reading glasses off and on constantly.  Which has meant spending a good part of every day walking around the house, looking for my glasses.  I lost them for an entire day two weeks ago, finally finding them when they tumbled out of my pajama tee-shirt when I put it back on to go to bed that night.

I made the leap to new glasses last week, and I’m still adjusting.  The young man who helped me pick out frames at the optical shop, and who talked to me about managing the transition, told me, “You really have to look at what you want to see.”  Meaning, in order to bring something into focus through the right part of the lens, you need to point your face right at the object and look.

What a metaphor.  Looking to see.

David and I have been negotiating yet another unexpected left turn in our lives.  We’d been talking about how nice it was to go for months and months without one of those phone calls that turns everything upside down.  Then last weekend, another one of those phone calls came.  Navigating a tough week with new glasses has been both disorienting and good timing.  Disorienting because the world has literally looked different; good timing because I’ve had to pay attention to how I’m looking at things.

So this morning as I was running I was thinking about how I’ve been looking at things figuratively, reminding myself to remember all that is right in my life.  I was also really looking at the seasonal shifts in the landscape, particularly noticing the winterberry bushes so full of red this time of year, when most of the color in the landscape has dropped away.

I’ve been reading through essays I wrote a few years ago, looking for pieces that seem worth editing.  Paying attention to winterberries, seeing these flashes of brilliance in a dull season, is something I’ve been doing for years.  Two years ago I did a blog post about these red berries, and included a poem that features them from The Truth About Death. And here is what I had to say about noticing winterberries six years ago, again in the context of struggling to stay focused on what endures in life, what continues despite difficulty and loss.

I give up trying to keep track.  So much happens every day, and at first when Eric got sick and died so quickly I felt compelled to write down all that was happening, so he could catch up when he got back.  So I could catch up.  But it got to be much too much. There were all the details of death, the event, the paperwork, the telling people over and over, Eric is dead.  There were red berries on a bush along a river with sun on them, lit inside and out.  The unrelenting urgency of life just wouldn’t go away, all of creation and destruction churning along in its usual pattern, water moving downhill over and over.

Life is as urgent as ever, and if I remember to look directly at it, it comes into focus.

The Metaphor of Underpants

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Do you remember the first day you wore underpants?  I certainly don’t, but I spent yesterday with Emilio and it was his first day in underpants.  He was so excited.  First I helped him change into different pairs numerous times because he wanted to experience them all.  Then he showed all of us that he had underpants on by pulling down his sweat pants and displaying the colored elastic bands.  Next we looked up the Justice League, so he’d know all “the guys” pictured on that set (Superman, Batman, Green Lantern and Flash). As the morning went on there were lots more changes of underpants and pants and socks and shoes because it’s hard to remember, on your first day with underpants, that they don’t work like diapers.  After a while, Emilio was happy to get back into a diaper.  Enough change for one day.  But driving back from visiting a friend, he held a couple of clean underpants in his lap while he fell asleep in his car seat.