#I Love Where I Live

The hashtag #ilovewhereIlive is a favorite of mine on Instagram, because I post a lot of beautiful photos from around my house, and because I really do love where I live.

Part of that is the cows. I’ve lived with cows as neighbors most of my adult life. In my 20’s, when I moved a lot, the houses Eric and I rented often bordered pastures. This house, where I’ve lived for 37 years, has an active dairy pasture across the street and again, there are the cows, out of the barn and into the field, a couple of new, tiny ones among them.

There has finally been some rain and the tall grass has a wet sheen, seed heads bent. As I walked home from a friend’s house yesterday I looked for the newest calf and only her ears showed, patches of white on brown, through the overwhelming green where she was lying down.

There are also cows on the other side of my house, owned by a family with three children. The oldest daughter is training one of the heifers for show and when I see her walking the cow down the street, hand on her halter, I remember the others I’ve watched do the same over the decades, including the girl’s father. I’ve watched boys and girls teach cattle to pull a sled, to walk led by a halter, to stop when commanded and to hold still.

I know when the heifer is out being trained without having to see her and the girl. One of the cows left behind bellows nonstop until the heifer returns. Her plaintive cries fill my yard and even seep into the house, a reminder I live among animals who have something to say.

At one point walking home yesterday I passed a patch of Lady’s Slippers, pink scrotums of flower dotting the pine needled hill. How lovely, I thought, to be in the country, in the quiet beauty of a unusually chilly spring afternoon. The packed dirt road sloped downhill, bordered by a stone wall silvered with age and under a grand old maple starting to fall apart, as the maple in my yard is, as many of the maples in this neighborhood are.

Like us, maples age. They loose limbs and leaves and hollow out and fall, then  saplings takes their places. When I moved here the maples at the corner of my road and up at the cemetery were still grand, tall and full and thick, with no edge of decline yet showing. But 37 years is a long time. Trees get old. My achey legs and creaky back after long days of gardening and long runs let me know I’m getting old too.

Still, walking that road, under the old maple, listening to birds sing and cows moan, was exactly where I wanted to be, with the misted light, the lush vegetation, and a world pulsing with life around me.

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Falling In Love With Lilacs

February 16, 2009 — An Island Journal*

Eric and I found a lilac bush and a house to go with it. It was 1981 and we needed to move. For the past five years we’d moved around New England as Eric built his career in food service management. I didn’t care where I lived, as long as I was with Eric. I was a poet, I could write anywhere. The shifting landscape of Eric’s work had landed us in New Hampshire two years before. We rented a house and got married in the backyard. Adrienne was born in our bedroom. We settled in. But after a year the couple who owned the house needed it for her parents. We wanted to stay in New Hampshire, Eric had a good job, it was time to stop moving. We began looking at houses to buy.

Eric fell in love with the lilac bush by the front door of the house we bought, the only house we ever owned.  When we first saw the house it was a mess. Old, wide-reveal aluminum siding left smudges of white on your skin or clothes if you rubbed up against it, metal gleaming through in patches like a bald skull under thin hair. The rows of windows on the porch running along the south and west sides of the house had peeled to bare, raw wood, the glass barely held in place by dried caulking that flaked off in chunks. There had been a grease fire in the kitchen the year before and black soot still crawled up the walls to the ceiling, an echo of the flames. An old corner room had been turned into a bathroom, a toilet and free-standing sink and tub spread across the space. It was an upgrade from the two seater outhouse in a corner of the barn.

But the massive lilac bush was in full bloom by the front door and the air was sweet with scent. We stepped over the threshold into the living room and looked at each other.

“This is it,” we said to each other with our eyes.

In the week after Eric died, the lilac blossoms burst open and I sat on the porch, next to the bush, and wrote and listened and watched. The world was all new again, focused around absence. A catbird I wanted to believe was speaking to me for Eric sat on the wires crossing through the crown of blossoms, and sang over and over. The songs varied in pitch and melody, as if the bird was trying out for parts as other birds, other beings. A pair of sparrows was nesting in the yew hedge on the other side of the porch, and when the catbird wasn’t singing I listened to the chicks squawking as the parents brought them food. Birds became my porch companions. They occupied my grief and gave me a new language, one I didn’t have to write down or try to remember.

The passage above is from the The Island Journal, the first iteration of the memoir I recently completed — a book I intended to write only on islands, in a handmade journal David gave me in the first months we knew each other. There are many reasons there are very few traces of that original Island Journal in the finished draft of the memoir (the primary reason being that people who read it couldn’t figure out what was going on), but there are so many memories packed into that journal that come to me at different times.

Like right now when the lilac bush is coming into peak bloom. I still live in that same house, the lilacs still make me think of Eric, and I still bring a bouquet to Eric’s grave every year. I’ll bring one tomorrow.

“Every Day I Have to Figure Out How to Detach Enough

to have a life that isn’t consumed with anxiety and terror.”

“How’s it going,” Jon Lovett asks.

“It’s difficult, man.”

So says Marc Maron in this week’s podcast of Lovett or Leave It. Maron goes on to counsel that you do have to figure it out. Trump thrives on making us mad and scared so when you let the unprecedented unprecedentedness of the terror of his presidency keep you from enjoying the clear blue of a cool autumn day in New Hampshire after spending two days playing with the unspoiled and precocious children of your child, then he’s won. Resistance is enjoyment of simple pleasures and there’s nothing better than a rainy Saturday morning entertaining beautiful children so their parents can have a rare morning of sleeping in together.

I have to say this over and over in order to write blog posts. What difference do my experiences make, as sweet as many of them are? Well, they make a lot of difference to me and then I have energy to at least try to do my fifteen acts of resistance a week (way off that average recently having taken over a month more or less off). And my frequent emails to Mitch McConnell (go here and join in the fun) telling him I’m afraid in a way I have never been as an American (fear is a core motivating message of Republicans so I love being able to honestly use it to oppose McConnell’s unconscionable behavior) are actually renewing.

Life has been good to me recently and horrifically hard for a number of people I love. So all that makes sense is to share the extra generosity of my life. Mortality and change and rain then sun, zinnias and eggplant running into colder weather but no frost yet, bouquets in the house still and all the colored paper clips put away from Ava “working” at my desk this morning.

Ava loves to help put things away and clean up. Emilio has an arm that’s astounding for a six-year-old. Really. We measured our football throws this morning and as I thought he can throw twice as far as me.

I’m ready for the next week.

Peony Porch

 

 

Home, on my porch, as gray storm clouds pitch across the sky and peonies poke through the balusters. For a change I’m not going to miss peony season in my yard. The last couple of years I’ve been away during the peak of peony blossoming. To extend the season, I wrapped buds in newspaper and stored them in the refrigerator. When I took them out weeks later, once I was home for awhile, they bloomed.

This year I’ll get to pick the heavy heads as they open their extravagant faces, petals tucked in petals tucked in petals in silky folds that seem like forever. The house smells like heaven. I have such peony bounty yesterday I brought a bunch to a family gathering in Massachusetts.

This morning I sat on the porch of the beach house my siblings are renting, watching sun begin to brighten the ocean out near the horizon, the never ending in and out of the waves, white water on white sand. Beautiful.

But I’m happy to be home. Instead of the hot, dry, empty, full ocean beach view, now I face a green world of rampant vegetation and peonies so thick they become part of the porch. I live in a beautiful place and it’s a treat to be here in the height of the light season.

I’ve been away a lot. Last week I was in New York playing with Emilio. We had a blast — a ferry ride to Fire Island, wave tag on the beach, ice cream every day, a DIY water park in the backyard with Ava, timing how long it took to round the bases of a ball field and run the smallest circle on the running track at the park. Short distance, Emilio is faster than me. Youth is a powerful thing.

Now I’m sitting still on my porch as the rain approaches and wind begins whipping the tall grasses in the field across the street. Most of the coming week ahead I’ll be home. Next week too. And the next and next and next until I’ve been home the seven weeks I don’t have to be anywhere else for longer than an overnight. I’m delighted.

I’ll bring in a fresh bouquet of peonies every day. Then it will be zinnias and cosmos, marigolds and nasturtiums, salvia, rudbeckia and poppies. Plus lettuce, kale, peas, beets, squash, cilantro, basil, peppers, and dill.

Yes, I’ll say it again. I’m happy to be home.

 

Returning

The last month may be the longest blog break I’ve ever taken. It wasn’t intended, but it happened. Which is life, right?

Or maybe it’s my reflexive response to the current political insanity. Yes, I’m still obsessed with the news and spend a lot of time working to keep myself centered and using my energy to resist the dismantling of so much of what I’ve taken for granted as norms of democracy and living in a country inching its way towards true social justice.

At a party this weekend I talked about how meaningless my blog seemed to me after the election. How could I write anything that wasn’t directly political and pushing back against the madness engulfing us? Why write about the apple blossoms filling the trees and then salting the ground around my garden as the flowers start to fall apart?

“Because that’s exactly what we need,” one friend said. “We need to read about apple blossoms.”

It has been an extraordinary year for blossoms. From the forsythia bushes to cherry trees to apple trees to dandelions to lilacs, everything is having a bumper year of flowering. There are maple trees on my running route that have such thick clumps of red seed pods (also called samaras, maple keys, helicopters, whirlybirds or polynoses) they look like tropical blossoms, heavy and full as they nod towards the ground.

Yesterday afternoon I sat on the back deck steps for a few minutes, looking across my garden beds to the lilac bush intermingling with the largest of my apple trees. I could hear a catbird and finches singing. Every time I walked towards the small wood shed on the side of the barn a robin screeched from its nest at the top of one of the posts, trying to distract me from what must be a clutch of pale, blue eggs. The yard is an unbounded aviary (which actually would make it not an aviary at all, but you know what I mean), full of birdsong and nests and the flash of wings.

The world is still beautiful. I’m still resisting (15 acts of resistance a week — phone calls, emails, meetings, discussions) but I’m also still writing and drawing and turning over the soil and planting and picking bouquets for the house.

I’ve learned this before but have to keep learning it again. Bad things happen, but birds and trees and bushes don’t care. The sun comes up and spring comes on and the grass gets green and then grows again and the cows return to the pasture across the street, as they did today, right now come to the corner right across from my porch, as they do most evenings.

That’s reason enough to celebrate.

 

 

 

Zinnias & Sisters

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Zinnias with garden spider

Bold and bright, sturdy and upright, zinnias have long been a favorite in my garden. They’re simple to grow, add splashes of magnificent color and vary in their design — from a single row of petals surrounding a protruding center of yellow stigma florets, to a dome of overlapping petals making a smooth surface of blossom.  These very different shaped flowers often come from the same plant, which is puzzling but delightful.

Zinnias are so not fussy and so satisfying.  White, chartreuse, orange, scarlet, peach, pink, fuchsia and lilac and too many shades in between to name.  Every year at least half my flower bed is devoted to them.  The summer Adrienne and Matt got married I grew extra. The table decorations at the reception were glass globe vases of zinnias, and there was at least one zinnia from my garden in each bouquet, a sweet touch. My sisters and I put the bouquets together the morning of the wedding, pulling stems from the florist’s buckets, and then one or two from my supply.  Jeanne, Chris, Meg and me, working together to decorate a happy day.

It was time for our family to have a happy day.  Eric had died two years before and Adrienne, quite wisely, had resisted my pleas those two years before to get married right away, have a baby, make something good happen.  As it turned out, everything happened exactly when it seemed it should, following the natural cycle of sorrow and recovery and beginning to understand how life flows on in its unrelenting dailiness, marked again at some point with bright days of joy, splashes of zinnias in a garden.

Yesterday I was home again from several days with Chris and her husband Jon.  Jon has been sorting through decades of photographs and gave me a picture of my sisters and me from a happy day several years ago, the four of us in a clear frame with the word “sisters” in varied fonts inscribed in silver around the photo.  I propped the photo in my study so I can see it from my desk, and went out to pick bouquets for the house.  Zinnias first.

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Why?  Zinnias pull me into appreciation.  This summer has been tough for my family, and a whole lot more than tough for Chris’s sons and their partners and Jon and my parents. I’m there to help as often as possible and home soaking up the colors of flowers when I can, remembering the bouquets I made with my sisters.  A room full of zinnias, a garden of bright blossoms, tables with joy in the center.

Nine Bouquets

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Being part of the support team for someone in hospice is a hard business, but nothing that comes anywhere near what it must be like to be the one who’s dying.  I watched Eric do it, and now I’m watching my sister be taken further and further away from any control over her body and mind as metastatic cancer gets the upper hand in every measure of balance in her life.  It looks excruciating, and she’s told me as much.

Last Friday evening I came home after another few days of being with Chris, holding her hand and talking to her, propping her head upright as my brother-in-law fed her slices of fresh tomato (which she clearly enjoyed), cooking, shopping, reorganizing photo albums that were uncovered when clearing the den to make way for a hospital bed, chatting with visitors, walking to the end of the street to a small field planted with a riot of annuals to pick a bouquet for her kitchen.  I was exhausted by Friday, and because this isn’t happening to me, or to my life partner, I could afford to take a break.

So I did.  I weeded my gardens and froze fresh peaches, grilled veggies for dinner and went kayaking, sat on the porch with David and watched rain clouds move across the sky, slept and read and visited a friend.  But the first thing I did on Saturday was pick flowers, eight bouquets for the house and the porch.

During a time of such hardness, surrounding myself with the New England summer bounty of beauty wherever I am makes a difference.  I know Chris found being in the present to enjoy flowers important, as she wrote in one of the essays on her blog:  Not knowing how long I have to live, but being warned to make my end of life decisions, my goal each day is to live in the present.  Appreciate what you can, like the foliage I planted in my deck boxes coming up with beautiful, delicate, lavender blossoms.  I didn’t even know that they flowered.  I like to go out to my front porch each day to look at the plant on my porch with so many pinkish red blossoms they are hard to count.          

Nine bouquets for both of us, though Chris will never see eight of them.       

Maple Flowers

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David and I spent the weekend in New York and the streets there are lined with flowering cherry trees, crab apples, forsythia, magnolias.  Some hardwoods had tiny leaves emerging from their buds, lighting up their crowns and making the world feel softer.  The splashs of color and blossom were delightful; the evidence of spring growth was reassuring and made me happy.

Then home, to tighter buds, grayer days and temperatures that have me wearing wool again when I sit at my desk.  But from that desk I also look out the west window to some branches of the maple tree in our front yard, and every day I notice how much bigger the buds are on the tree, how the balls of red brighten the landscape.

Two days ago I went out to examine those buds and realized what I’ve been looking at are flowers, not buds.  Really gorgeous and even trippy flowers.  Balls of fuzz puzzling enough that David and I spent a good bit of time reading online about maple buds and blossoms.   We learned a lot.

Maples have both male and female flowers on the same tree, the male with the sperm needed to pollinate the female.  As the leaves start to emerge so do the seeds, wrapped in the papery-winged helicopters I stuck on my nose as a kid, peeling open the seed pocket and using the bit of juiciness to make it stick.  The seed pods — samaras — are shaped so they spin in wind and can travel, sometimes a long way.

Yesterday we were in Portland and there were no flowering trees, though the magnolias looked ready, long flutes of bud with just a slip of blossom showing on a few.  I missed the clouds of blossoms we’d seen lining the streets in New York.  Spring in cities can be so pretty, I wanted to see it again.

We went down to the waterfront and in the parking lot saw some maples flowering.  I went to get a closer look, these flowers tamer and less flamboyant than those on my tree, fewer stamens, less fuzz.  Today it’s gray again and not particularly warm, but the maple flowers are still popping and pollinating and getting the whole spring thing going.  Here it comes.

 

 

Views Far and Near

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Yesterday was finally the day I got to linger and enjoy looking far into the distance from the top of Mt. Moosilauke.  The summit is broad and open, and sitting to the west of most of the White Mountains, has spectacular views of the Franconia Ridge and all the mountains beyond.  Every other time I’ve hiked to the top of Mt. Moosilauke there has been some sort of unfavorable weather to deal with — mist or scattered rain or snow, and most often hard wind that makes it too cold to stay at the top for long.

Yesterday was warm, sunny and bright, with little wind and no bugs.  This was the Moosilauke hike I’ve been waiting for.  I hiked with a group of friends and we spent a long time at the summit, enjoying the view, the fair weather and the satisfying stretch of our muscles after our first serious hike of the season.

But even when the views were near rather than far yesterday it was beautiful.  The rivers and brooks we crossed and hiked along were running clear over speckled rocks, glinting in the sun, and there were beautiful flowers along the trail — trout lily, tiny white violets and trillium. There was also a broad bush with lacy white blossoms we couldn’t identify.  When I look at the ridges of the White Mountains from any summit I can name the peaks.  When I look at flowers in the woods I want to be able to name them too, so I looked up the flowering bush — hobblebush viburnum.

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I’ve been thinking about view and perspective a good bit the last week, because I’m taking a break from working on the memoir.  Having spent three months working through several drafts, I can’t see it as a whole piece right now.  I can edit individual sections and see where a word or phrase or sentence needs to change.  But I’ve gotten too close to be able to see how the pieces work together and whether those pieces make sense as a book.  Time to step away for a bit and see if I can come back to it with a wider view.

Getting to the top of Mt. Moosilauke on a sunny day, enjoying the trailside flowers and tumbling water along the way, was a good lesson in perspective.

 

A Good Week

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Last week was a good one for so many reasons I want to keep track.

  • My neighbor’s yard of riotous crocuses started to bloom.
  • The sun came out and it was above freezing.  I can’t overstate how sun-starved everyone I know is at this point.  It’s bad enough that there’s so little daylight in Northern New England in the winter (and I was in even northerner NE most of March), but when almost all of that daylight is cloudy and gray and it’s very very cold, people get cranky.
  • I not only met my Momentum Writing Goals for the week, I exceeded them.  And didn’t immediately turn that excess into new, harder to maintain goals.  A steady focus is what’s going to get this book I’m so engaged with done and I’m staying with my plan until I know a faster pace can stay as steady.
  • Three poems were accepted by the Chagrin River Review, a fine online journal I’m delighted to be part of.  Four of the five poems I sent out a couple of months ago have now been taken by journals.  Time to take another look at that fifth poem.
  • I was able to run for three miles twice.  Nursing a knee injury that’s kept me from running for months has not been easy.  Running is my go to stress reduction and standard work out.  Even I’ve been getting tired of listening to my knee complaints.
  • My houseplant that blossoms once a year for one day did its thing.  And a beautiful thing it is.

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I’m hoping for a repeat good week.