Walking the Marginal Way

My grandmother told me that I had angel faces in my knees. She gently pressed her finger against the angel’s eye and traced the chin of the angel at the bottom of my kneecap. I looked at her, solemn. The strap of my navy-blue swimsuit inched down my left shoulder. My arms hung loosely at my sides. I trusted her.

All these years later, I trace that angel’s face as I contemplate how to haul myself out of the beach chair. My body not as supple, my joints a bit cranky. I manage to rise gracelessly. “Look,” my husband says. I raise my eyes to see a heron in needle-nosed flight across the dunes towards the marshes. My eyes lower to meet Ed’s. “You ready for lunch?”

We flip the beach chairs onto our blanket and grab our shoes. My feet press into the warm sand. Breathe, I tell myself, take in this moment. We make our way across the pebbly asphalt to the car. Ed lifts the hatch and we perch, brush off our feet and discuss what to leave behind. We will walk the Marginal Way for a late lunch in Perkins Cove.

The Marginal Way is a 1 ¼ mile walkway that threads the coastline between Ogunquit Beach and Perkins Cove in Maine. Seven years ago, walking the Marginal Way was my pilgrimage to a place of deep family memories, a connection to my matrilineage. A place to remember the few summers my sisters and I vacationed with my parents and my grandmother. A pilgrimage to view the icy blue sea with its dark line of horizon. “The Acklantic,” my grandmother chuckled as she told us how her mother declared that the family crossed the Acklantic from Queenstown, Ireland aboard the SS Cymric in 1913.

In this moment, with my husband, I am walking the Marginal Way as a pilgrimage to the rocks.

Rock formations along the Marginal Way, tan-colored quartzite and darker phyllite, are crosscut with basalt. Threads of granite and feldspar, and glints of mica appear in an irregular pattern. Most stunning is the angular basalt. Dark and dense, this volcanic rock is commonly found on oceanic islands.  The ocean waves break upon the sharp edges, and sends skyward a white foam.

As we walk briskly along the Marginal Way towards Perkins Cove, we chat about the rosehips fattening in the autumn sun. The intrusion of bittersweet. The day is warmer that we anticipated, and my mind is distracted by the discomfort of my jeans and dark shirt. I pray for a shady spot to sit, thinking more about patio dining in Perkins Cove than the white foam smashing against the dark basalt. Relief washes over me as we are seated at Barnacle Billy’s, well-shaded by magnificent butternut trees. The lacey leaves gently fan us.

We people-watch, and remark on the bustle of the wait staff. “Claire,” says Ed, and I think he is talking about his sister. No, Claire is our waitress. Ed pays close attention to name tags. After all these years, I should know this. We split an order of fried clams and linger over our brews. A local beer for him, iced tea for me. As we head back to the Marginal Way, I tell my husband, “I promise to slow down.” “You’ve been walking fast all day,” he confirms.

Midway back to Ogunquit Beach, we find an empty bench. I sit.

Breathe.

The wind caresses my face. The waves roar as they approach the basalt. Seawater slaps down on the flat surface. Rhythmic. Again, and again.

Still, my mind is too busy. I am remembering the Paul Simon disc that Ed slipped into the CD player during our drive from Massachusetts. In the first track, Simon sings “I am a Rock, I am an Island. And rock feels no pain, and an island never cries.” Several tracks into the compilation disc, Simon tells us that his mama loves him like a rock. Which is it, Paul Simon? Do rocks have no feelings? Or are rocks our most steadfast friends?

In the second tune, Simon references the Christian hymn “Rock of Ages”.

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy riven side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Cleanse me from its guilt and power.

Breathe.

Below me, the basalt cleaves. The sea water rushes in. My grandmother’s hand presses my head toward her breast. Her nails scratch my scalp. Loves me like a rock.

I breathe steadily. My thoughts rush into the crevices and rush out again. Slap down hard and rise skyward. Glint in the sun before returning to the icy blue sea.

Breathe.

The wind on my face. The roar of the waves. The slap on the basalt.

Rhythmic.

My mind steadies. I take one more deep breath and stand.

“Ready to head back to the beach for a nap?” I ask Ed. He nods.

He loves me like a rock.

Black Letter Days

On Thu, Sept 29th, I lost my job.  I was notified that my job was eliminated in a wave of layoffs at Baystate Health.  A blow.  I had sense enough to know that I am one of the lucky ones.  I am not going to lose my home.  I will not be destitute.  But, I will take a financial hit as Baystate Health is a generous employer.

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I worked for another five weeks, alternating between sadness and boredom.  Much of my work involved making contacts and planning events.  Without those tasks, I did not have much to engage my mind while I sat at my computer.  I took short walks 2-3 times during the work day.  I watched the brilliance of October dim toward the rusty colors of November.  My thoughts turned to St. Martin, whose feast day is November 11.  Dropping myself into the rabbit hole of Google, I found this passage in Sermons on the Black Letter Days Or Minor Festivals of the Church of England, by John Mason Neale.

The days are getting short, and the wind cold, and the leaves have nearly all fallen; and everything reminds us that the year is very near its end…

There is but one thing that I know of that can comfort you now, and keep you safe when [your own] end really comes. It is the same thing which made Martin able to do his mighty works,–Faith. Faith, we are told in Holy Scripture, is the gift of GOD; and of Him therefore we are to ask it. So, if when your hour is come to depart out of the world, Satan should try to vex and distress you, as he did of old time to Martin, you will be able, like Martin, to say, “What dost thou here, cruel beast? Thou hast no portion in me: I am going, to Abraham’s bosom.”

I thought to myself, what would it mean to me to rest in Abraham’s bosom in my hour of need?  This is Hades, or the resting place where the righteous await judgement.  A place of comfort and fellowship.  Raised Catholic in the 60’s and 70’s, the Bosom of Abraham is no place I’ve given much thought to.  A place of comfort.  I have memories of laying against my grandmother’s bosom, her red painted fingernails scratching my scalp as we watched Lawrence Welk on black-and-white TV.  I have rested my head against my husband’s chest listening to his heartbeat.  A more intimate fellowship.

In the days following the notice of my job loss, I discovered fellowship among my colleagues near and far.  Condolences, handshakes, hugs.  Offers to put in a good word.  I tapped into the teachings of my favorite Buddhists and mindfulness teachers. I found myself steadying in this time of passage.

I listen to the water filling the tea kettle in the morning.  I watch my hand measuring oatmeal into the saucepan, as if I were watching an indie film.  I inhale the scent of decaying leaves as I gather kindling for the woodstove.  I catch hold of the warm towels tumbling out of the drier.  And, I taste… I taste… gingerbread.

On my first Monday home, I pulled out one of my favorite recipes.

Boston Gingerbread ~Fanny Farmer

2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp powdered ginger
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup molasses
1 stick butter
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg

Mix dry ingredients together. Melt butter and stir in molasses. Beat egg into the buttermilk. Blend all ingredients together and beat until smooth. Pour into greased square pan and bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

The best gingerbread in the world.

 

What treasure is this dug up?

Thanksgiving table

The day after Thanksgiving, and Ed was up and out to work by 4am. I heard the car leave the driveway. Unable to fall back asleep, I tiptoed downstairs, poured myself a 1/2 cup of coffee, grabbed a handful of granola and headed back upstairs with my battered copy of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I’d put this novel aside after our return from Europe in July–140 pages to go.

Our Thanksgiving celebration was fabulous. Food, family, friends. For me, the magic began the day before. The house clean and ready. I took a breath after running a few errands to the Leverett Co-op and Stop & Shop. Texted my my sister Julie. Are you home? I’ll bring coffee and we can have a little chat.

Back at home, I resumed my preparations for our overnight guests: pillows, blankets, towels. What to feed them tonight? Shortly after 6pm, they arrived and the kitchen was lively. Within two hours, almost everyone was headed to bed. Natalie and I watched “Mississippi Masala”, reprising years of mama/daughter movie-watching.

Thursday morning was DYI breakfasts, fueling ourselves for furniture-moving.  Making space for the folding tables, end-to-end, that would seat 16 people. The bird in the oven at 11am. Undertaking the task of peeling and boiling 15 lbs of potatoes. Enough potatoes for potato-sausage stuffing, mashed potatoes, and leftover potatoes for potato bread. My recipe is based on the stuffing recipe in my grandmother’s Fanny Farmer cookbook. Her comments for doubling the recipe were penciled in the margin. I’ve boosted the amount of potatoes and added the instructions to save out 3 cups for potato bread.

Family Potato Sausage Stuffing, my version

8 lbs potatoes, boiled and mashed
1 lb breakfast sausage, cut into 1/2″ pieces
1 onion, finely chopped
1 lb “stuffing bread”, torn up
2 eggs
1 T sage
1 T salt
pepper

*save 3 cups of mashed potatoes for potato bread
Brown the sausage, and add onions. Cook until onions are translucent. Drain. Mix potatoes, sausage, onion, bread, eggs, sage, salt and pepper. Grease ovenproof bowl and fill. Cover and bake at 350 for 30 minutes (while the turkey sits).

At lunchtime, we opted for hot dogs and veggie burgers on the grill. Family and friends began showing up at 2pm, with armloads of food, drink and folding chairs. Regina brought out her cut-glass wine glasses and we placed them alongside the cheeses and stuffed peppadews. As darkness fell, we lit candles and gathered everyone around the table for a moment of silence and 2 poems. I read the first:

Come Inside Now  ~David Budbill

Come inside now.
Stand beside the warming stove.
Watch out through the windows as
a cold rain tears down
the last leaves.

The larder full of dried herbs,
hot peppers, chutneys,
jellies, jams, dill pickles,
pickled relishes,
pickled beets.

The freezer full of frozen greens–
chard and spinach, collards, kale–
green beans, basil, red sauces,
applesauce, and
smoked meats.

The woodshed dry and full of wood,
winter squashes stashed away.
Down cellar: potatoes, carrots,
crock of sauerkraut.

Come inside now.
Stand beside the warming stove.
Listen. Wait.

Ed read the second, a poem found in the Tassajara Cookbook:

Who Knows What Thus Comes? ~Ed Brown

Picking up an onion,
what is held in hand?
How many dusty miles
and blazing asphalt truckstops,
hidden in darkness, locked in steel?
How many cups of coffee and tired-eyed
waitresses greeted the driver?
How many minutes of country music
and rambling thoughts helped onion here?
How many days at home, in ground,
intimately connected, embedded,
nestled unseen, rapt in absorption,
knowing just what to do
with earth and water, sun and wind,
to make them onion.
That everything thus comes
at once as onion, what
treasure is this dug up?
Who knows what hand holds?

We are grateful for all the hands who brought food to our table, and the natural elements that conspired to bring us onions, sweet potatoes, turnips, spinach, cranberries. God’s bounty.

***

Here I am, on the day after Thanksgiving. An owl calling at 6am. I opened photo (4)my window to listen to the wise one.

After another hour, I headed downstairs.  Meghan and the baby joined me–the baby round-eyed and mouthing everything he could get his hands on. We pulled out the griddle for pancakes with maple syrup and leftover cranberry sauce. By mid-morning, the house was lively again with bluegrass tunes and packaging up leftovers for the overnight crew. I said goodbyes to everyone, filled a bowl with potato-sausage stuffing and settled on the couch by the woodstove. After this soporific lunch, I lay down and fell into a hard sleep for 2 hours.

An afternoon of assessing the leftovers–my greasy hands cracking apart the turkey carcass so that it would fit into the soup stock pot. Pureeing the leftover Gilfeather turnip dish with Mum’s creamed onions for a soup to serve with potato bread. Eating slices of Valerie’s apple and pumpkin pies. My hands full of bread dough.  My heart full of gratitude.

Potato Bread Recipe (4 loaves), from The Tassajara Cookbook

2 T yeast
3 1/2 c warm water
1/2 c honey
6 c flour
3 c mashed potatoes, cooled
1 T salt
6-8 c more flour
egg, beaten for wash

Dissolve yeast in water with honey. Beat in 6 c flour. Cover and rise for 1 hour. Add potatoes, salt and enough flour to knead. Knead for 10 minutes. Rise another hour. Punch down (25X). Divide dough into 4 parts. Shape into loaves, place onto greased pans and rise 20 minutes while oven pre-heats to 350 degrees. Brush with beaten egg and bake for 50 minutes. Delicious toasted.

Falling from the Tree

Apple resting the the crook of a tree
Apple doesn’t fall far from the tree

Long gone are the days when September meant school buses and lunchboxes. No more field trips to local apple orchards. Not gone from me is the urge to warm the kitchen with roast chicken with thyme and garlic, to be served alongside cooked vegetables. For dessert: apple pie, spiced with cinnamon and topped with wicked sharp cheddar cheese. A glass of wine? Last night, after a long day of work, some errands, laundry and emptying the dishwasher, we greeted the Autumnal Equinox with a well-poured black-and-tan. To celebrate the equal measures of dark and light. Maybe I’ll get to that chicken dinner this weekend.

For two years now, we’ve attended the Fresh Grass Festival in North Adams, MA. Is this our new Equinox ritual? We camped at Savoy Mountain, a bone-chilling experience on Friday night (temperatures dipping into the 30s). The days were filled with bluegrass music and running into folks that we knew. A glorious drive back home via the Mohawk Trail–trees dipped in new color and the clouds pastel with sunset.

I am filled with gratitude for this life. I do struggle with what social researcher Brené Brown calls forboding joy. I start thinking about losing what I have.

“Joy is the most vulnerable emotion we experience,” Brown says. “And if you cannot tolerate joy, what you do is you start dress rehearsing tragedy.”

Brown urges us to lean into our vulnerability when we come face-to-face with the joy in our lives. To build our tolerance for joyful experience by practicing gratitude. In my brief reading of Five Element Theory, the experience of taking stock of what we have is very autumnal. Metal. The glorying in our riches and the courage of letting go. Fall. And, the key to falling is gratitude.

Sometimes ~David Budbill

When day after day we have cloudless blue skies,
warm temperatures, colorful trees, and brilliant sun, when
it seems like all this will go on forever,

when I harvest vegetables from the garden all day,
then drink tea and doze in the late afternoon sun,
and in the evening one night make pickled beets
and green tomato chutney, the next night
red tomato chutney, and the day after that
pick the fruits of my arbor and make grape jam,

when we walk in the woods every evening over fallen leaves,
through yellow light, when nights are cool, and days are warm,

when I am so happy I am afraid I might explode or disappear
or somehow be taken away from all this,

at those times when I feel so happy, so good, so alive, so in love
with the world, with my own sensuous, beautiful life, suddenly

I think about all the suffering and pain in the world, about
all those people being tortured, right now, in my name. But
I still feel happy and good, alive and in love with the world
and with my lucky, guilty, sensuous, beautiful life, because

I know in the next minute or tomorrow all this may be taken from me,
and therefore I’ve got to say, right now, what I feel and know and see.
I’ve got to say, right now, how beautiful and sweet this world can be.

Beautiful Place by the Sea

I arrived in Ogunquit at 8:30 pm from Springfield.  The last stretch through NH to Maine was a task.  I checked in at the Norseman and gave Ed a quick call.  “I’m here!  All safe.”  Then, I did battle with a split of merlot while watching the Red Sox/Yankees on the small TV.

Straining my bicep, pulling and pulling at the synthetic cork, trying heat on the neck (as advised by wikihow), shredding the cork and finally pushing it in (plop!), I poured myself a glass.  I had picked up a fattoush salad with grilled lamb from Nadim’s in Springfield.  I unpacked that.  With my salad, glass of merlot and my cross-stitch, I settled in.  One small X after another.  And, a grand slam for Saltalamacchia in the 7th inning.

I woke up at 4:47 am—probably just minutes after my husband, 150 miles away.  I tried counting backwards from 100 to get back to sleep, but to no avail.  I opened a window to hear the ocean.  I learned that visitors to Maine rise early.  Walkers, runners, cars pulling into the parking lot before 6 am.  Raining slightly.  I saw the sun peek through the clouds for an instant as it rose up out of the sea.

After breakfast (oatmeal and real maple syrup), I headed to the beach.  First, wrapped in a blanket on a Norseman-provided Adirondack chair, doing my cross-stitch.  The sun decided to shine.  I took an hour-long walk up to and back from Footbridge Beach.  The beach of my late-1960s childhood.  I settled down at the edge of the dunes with blanket, snacks and a book for several hours.  When the sun was out, the day was hot and sunburn-worthy.  On a dime, the clouds rolled in and I was reaching for my sweater.

In the afternoon, I walked into town for a clam roll and iced tea.  And, a bit of shopping.  Food shopping.  Those who know me best won’t be surprised that I did not go into any of the boutiques in Ogunquit.  But, I did go into the fancy food market.  I purchased garlicky chicken and a Greek salad for my dinner and a 4-pack of O’Hara’s stout.  One bottle for me, the rest to bring home for Ed.  After dropping everything at the hotel, I took a walk on the Marginal Way.

During this walk, waves of emotion started to rise up in me.  Like the ocean, rising.  Sometimes cresting, with the sunlight glinting through the spray.  Rolling toward the shore.  Receding.  These waves accompanied me through the rest of my time in Ogunquit.

Marginal Way, September 14, 2013

I felt the first wave as I rounded a bend on the Marginal Way and saw that people had created stone sculptures along the rocky coastline.  Dozens of them.  At one point, I saw a family in the process of creating—placing rocks upon rocks.  Creating.  Playing on the seashore.  Oh, people!  Good for you!!!

The second wave hit me later in the evening.  In a major $90-splurge on myself, I bought a single ticket to see West Side Story at the Ogunquit Playhouse.  The depth and clarity of Ross Lekites’ voice in “Something’s Coming” reached into my soul.  I knew I was in for a major treat.  The entire show was spectacular, yet it is Tony’s enduring optimism, played to perfection by Lekites, that buttresses the storyline.

Will it be? Yes it will
Maybe just by holding still
It’ll be there!

Ogunquit Playhouse, September 14, 2013
Ogunquit Playhouse, Sept 14, 2013

I experienced the third wave on Sunday morning. At 6 am, I was suddenly alert.  If the day was clear, I realized, I could see the sun rise today!  I jumped out of bed, pulled on my jeans and a sweater, barely brushed my hair and didn’t brush my teeth.  With sneakers in hand, I walked across the parking lot to the beach.

Sunrise over the Atlantic, September 15, 2013
Sunrise over the Atlantic, Sept 15, 2013

I was amazed to see about 50 people, from all walks of life, waiting on the beach for the sunrise.  I sat down in the sand, emotion rising within me as I waited with strangers.  All of us here, to witness the daily miracle of daybreak.  After much teasing, the sun finally popped out of the Atlantic.  Cameras clicked up and down the beach.  I closed my eyes and felt the sun’s warmth on my forehead.  Calm your mind, and your heart will follow.

Sun worshippers departing, September 15, 2013
Sun worshipers departing, Sept 15, 2013

As the sun ascended into the sky, I rolled up my jeans and walked down the beach.  I noted the footprints of today’s sun worshipers.  One person had drawn a quartered circle, with the East located toward the sunrise.

Sun Circle, September 15, 2013
Sun Circle, Sept 15, 2013

Yes, of course, it is nearly the Equinox.  True East.  Again, I found myself settling at the edge of the dunes.  This time, I spent 20 minutes meditating.  Picture a beach…  Ogunquit is the beach for me!

Picture a beach... Ogunquit, September 15, 2013
Picture a beach, Sept 15, 2013

Sunday morning breakfast, an egg over easy with rye toast and coffee.  I gathered all of my things together for an easy departure and headed to the beach for the last few hours of my visit.  The book I brought with me, The White Witch by Elizabeth Goudge, was a present from my grandmother to my mother in 1958.  “To my baby, of whom I am so proud”, Grandma had written.  My mother was 19 at the time.  My grandmother was 55, just a few years older than I am now.

To my baby, of whom I am so proud--Mother, August 1958
To my baby, of whom I am so proud–Mother, 1958

This book seemed like the perfect choice for my Ogunquit trip.  I thought it likely that I had read this book years ago, but I was amazed when a bookmark, placed by me on page 92 sometime during my early adolescence, fell out of the pages.  Here I am, picking up where I left off.  After reading for a bit, I got out my Tarot cards and played with a couple of spreads.

I took a final stroll.  I had cut the bottom of my foot during my weekend.  My grandmother told me that the sea heals all wounds, so I stood in the ice cold waters and felt the pull of the tide.  The sun, the sand and the sea.  I’m here.  All safe.

My feet
My feet, Sept 15, 2013

Stay Wild, My Soul Child

I last saw Miss Ivy on July 7, 2010. She went into the woods on a hot, sultry day and never came out. I did not worry too much for a day or two. She is an experienced huntress and is Queen of her territory. She ritualistically heads out after nightfall and is waiting at the door at dawn. She sleeps all day. But, she did not appear on the third morning. I started to worry.

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So strange to mourn a cat whom many people tell you might come back in a week, a month, or a year or two. Fantastical stories pour forth. These stories have competition from the tales of coyotes roaming the riverside and the number of cats that have gone missing in these hills. “We used to have cats,” some say, “not anymore.”

I placed my small statue of St. Francis on my bedroom window sill. He is facing out into the woods. I followed the advice for searching for an outdoor cat (as distinct from an indoor cat that escapes, or a cat that has recently moved). I notified neighbors for 1 1/2 miles. I called the police and Ed stopped by the animal shelter. I put my dirty laundry in the garden and on the porch, hoping my scent would call her home. I tell myself that I need to let her go, but I am still watchful as I pull into the driveway. I expect to see her bounding for the door. I have auditory hallucinations of her meowing in the early morning.

So, today I am preparing. For what? Not a funeral. I don’t know what to call it…

Where dips the rocky highland
Of Sleuth Wood in the lake,
There lies a leafy island
Where flapping herons wake
The drowsy water-rats;
There we’ve hid our faery vats,
Full of berries
And of reddest stolen cherries.
Come away…to the waters and the wild…with a faery, hand in hand, for the world’s full of weeping…

Where the wave of moonlight glosses
The dim grey sands with light,
Far off by furthest Rosses
We foot it all the night,
Weaving olden dances,
Mingling hands and mingling glances
Till the moon has taken flight;
To and fro we leap
And chase the frothy bubbles,
While the world is full of troubles
And is anxious in its sleep
Come away…to the waters and the wild…with a faery, hand in hand, for the world’s full of weeping…

Where the wandering water gushes
From the hills above Glen-Car
In pools among the rushes
That scarce could bathe a star,
We seek for slumbering trout
And whispering in their ears
Give them unquiet dreams;
Leaning softly out
From ferns that drop their tears
Over the young streams.
Come away…to the waters and the wild…with a faery, hand in hand, for the world’s full of weeping…

Away with us she’s going,
The solemn-eyed:
She’ll no more hear the lowing
Of the calves on the warm hillside
Or the kettle on the hob
Sing peace into her breast,
Or see the brown mice bob
Round and round the oatmeal-chest.
Come away…to the waters and the wild…with a faery, hand in hand, for the world’s full of weeping…
(apologies to W.B. Yeats for altering “The Stolen Child”)

Here is a more faithful rendition of Yeats’ “The Song of Wandering Aengus”:

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when the white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire aflame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And some one called me by my name;
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

In closing, I’ll paraphrase Shawn Mullins… Ivy, stay wild, my soul child, and don’t you let ’em bring you down.

Aus Einem April

550332_2878309117322_1560236551_nThis year’s Easter celebration began with a question. What do we want to do, now that our children are grown? I pulled out my notes and keepsakes spanning the last fourteen years (at least!) to see what might appeal to me. At the library, I checked out books by Rainer Maria Rilke, Thomas à Kempis, and Annie Dillard. Ed and I sat under the near full moon, gazing into a meager fire, and listened to the rush of Sawmill River. How do I encompass all the elements of Easter– the joy, the anguish, the mandate to love? How do we celebrate Spring?

Again the forest is fragrant.
The soaring larks lift up
aloft with them the sky that to our shoulders was heavy;
one still saw the day through the branches, indeed, that it was empty–
but after long, raining afternoons
come the gold-besunned
newer hours,
before which fleeing on far housefronts
all the wounded
windows fearfully beat with wings.

Then it grows still. Even the rain goes softer
over the quietly darkening glint of the stones.
All sounds duck entirely away
in the glistening buds of the brushwood.~ Rilke

The following morning, we flipped pancakes to “Palm Sunday” and other songs from Garcia’s Cats Under the Stars. We talked about food and poetry. We joked about baptisms in icy waters. How about a hot tub and foot massages? WWJS?

Here is a fabulous post about Wood in 5 Element Theory. I feel the rush of Wood Energy this year in the unseasonable warmth that short-circuited the maple sugar season, in the swollen rivers and streams and flooded basements of family members, in the high emotions of old hurts brought to the surface. At a time of year wherein I’d expect to be full of energy, I am burnt out.

That hot tub doesn’t sound like such a bad idea.

Easter Sunday and we are up early (of course!) We are out of the house just after 7:00am and heading up the hill. We reach the vernal pool and spread out a blanket. Our plan is to be silent for 20 minutes. I count my breaths and occasionally open my eyes to gaze at the early sunlight dancing along a spiderweb. A woodpecker knocks. My mind stills. In a moment of great coincidence, our 20 minutes ends with the bells of the Montague Congregational Church chiming at the top of the hour. We look at each other. My laughter rings through the forest.

Back at home, Ed pops the cork on a split of champagne while I try my hand at a Hollandaise Sauce (“There is no reason to fear”, says Fannie Farmer, “this classic sauce, yellow with butter and egg and tart with lemon.”) In truth, the poached egg gave me more trouble.

Use a double boiler or a metal bowl placed over hot, but not simmering, water. Put 3 egg yolks in the boiler top, and beat with a wire whisk until smooth. Add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and gradually whisk in 1/4 lb. melted butter, pouring in a thin stream. Slowly stir in 2 tablespoons hot water, and a dash of cayenne and salt. Continue to mix for 1 minute. The sauce should be thickened. Serve immediately, or hold over warm water for an hour or two. (Note: keep the heat warm, not hot!)~The Fanny Farmer Cookbook, 12th ed., p.272

Gustav Mahler and Lindt Gold Bunny. Need I say more? The musical backdrop and sensual exclamation point of our breakfast of Eggs Benedict (no pope pun intended), asparagus, pineapple & strawberries, champagne, and coffee. We were blessed with lovely weather this Sunday. We worked outside, raking and hauling. My back and arms are speaking to me now. We took time to read on the porch. We spoke with some of our family members, and read emails/looked at Facebook postings from others.

I’ll close with one more German–whose spiritual teachings I hope to meditate on in the next few weeks. Both Ed and I faced some crazy weeks at work lately. This passage spoke to me, in a somewhat ironic way. In the 15th century, Thomas à Kempis wrote:

It is no great thing to associate with the good and the gentle: for this is naturally pleasing to all, and everyone preferreth peace and lovest best those that have like sentiments.

But to be able to live peacefully with the hard and the perverse, or with the undisciplined and those who contradict us, is a great grace, and a highly commendable and manly thing…

He who best knows how to endure, will possess the greater peace

~ from “Of the Good Peaceable Man” in Imitation of Christ

Let it be.

Talking to Dead People

Hallowe’en is the absolute entry point to the dark time of the year. As such, Hallowe’en is celebrated by dark things– witches’ potions, rattling bones, haunted houses, jack-o-lanterns, and scary stories. This is the time to commune with the Dead. Gaelic traditions include inviting your beloved dead family members to join you at the table. I’ll admit to placing photographs on the table with my pumpkins and candy corn, and honoring my family members by telling stories about them, but I’ve drawn the line at talking to dead people. This is something I am attempting to change.

“Why?” you might ask. Well, when I was in New Orleans this year, I decided to have a tarot reading. During the session, the reader asked me if I conversed with my dead relations. I said no. She seemed surprised by this (I guess it is de rigueur for her!). I told her that I was scared of dead people. This made her laugh. She agreed that death does not make a person any less fallible (as in, this isn’t like talking to God), but she encouraged me to give it a try. She explained that there are dead people who care about me and who can assist me from the Other Side.

OK.

So, six months later I am home. Bemused, I find myself well-positioned for a promotion as a medical librarian at a facility where my maternal grandfather (who died nearly twenty years before my birth) was a medical intern. I never envisioned myself as a medical librarian. I had more than a dozen years’ experience working in public libraries. But, last year I needed a job. I was relocating and looking at any librarian job within a reasonable commuting distance. This is the job that I was offered. And now there is an opportunity for a promotion.

My grandfather holding my mother, with my uncle alongside in 1939.
My grandfather holding my mother, with my uncle alongside in 1939.

Yes, I’ve been working outside of my comfort zone. For months I felt completely inept. I do count my blessings that I managed to find a job during such a crappy time for our economy. So, I entertain the idea that my grandfather, who never made it to a grandfatherly age, exerted some influence in order to secure me a position. Also likely– the idea that my grandmother, who focused intensely on her family needs for decades, exerted her influence on my grandfather.

My grandmother at a summer party in 1985.
My grandmother at a summer party in 1985.

I have tentatively approached my paternal grandfather, who died when I was three. I was the first grandchild, and family lore has it that he just flipped over me. I’ve asked him to help get me in a position wherein I can provide for my kids’ college expenses. I know that is a cause that he could get behind. And my Nana? She’s my constant inspiration for moving on when it is time to move on.

My mother, Nana, and F.G. holding me in their home in 1961.
My mother, Nana, and F.G. holding me in their home in 1961.

Lastly, I do think of my maternal great-grandmother. I do homage to her for all that she endured to love and raise her family. And, to scare the bejesus out of them. Grandma told us that her mother would tell them ghost stories, and then go outside with a sheet over her head and rap on the windows.

My great grandmother holding me in my grandmother's kitchen in 1961.
My great grandmother holding me in my grandmother’s kitchen in 1961.

Now, there’s a Hallowe’en goddess for you!

Glimmerglass in August

For our first roadtrip in a year, we headed West. Fittingly, we watched the sun’s slow descent as we wound our way out of the Pioneer Valley and into the Leatherstocking Region of New York State. The Empire State. “Why Empire?” I asked Ed. He wasn’t sure. Since returning home, I’ve learned that on April 10, 1785, George Washington referred to New York State as “the Seat of the Empire” in a letter to New York City mayor James Duane. (Klein, Milton. The Empire State: A History of New York. 2006) News like this is always hard to take for those from Red Sox Nation. What was Washington thinking? Well, OK, be the Seat of the Empire. Massachusetts remains the Birthplace of a Revolution.

To prepare for our trip, I actually made my way through The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper. After a few chapters, the action did pick up and made it much easier to read. Still, it wasn’t like watching Daniel Day Lewis leap down a waterfall. As we drove through the green hills, I did wonder at the boldness of the early settlers.

We arrived in Cooperstown as dusk fell. After putting up our tent under the headlights of the Subaru, we tilted our heads back to see thousands and thousands of stars.

Campground at Glimmerglass
Campground at Glimmerglass

Cooperstown is assuredly a “guy” location for a vacation. The Baseball Hall of Fame (and its attendant gift shops) as well as two breweries made for lots of happy men. Even a tour of the Glimmerglass Queen proved to be a place of comparing hard-won opportunities to play in the World Series. Fortunately (for me, at least, needing more than bats and jerseys to hold my attention), the location is breathtaking. Our drive out to the Ommegang Brewery was amazing. We learned the next day that New York was a hops growing haven. I wonder, with the new emphasis on going local, if Ommegang and The Cooperstown Brewing Co. will encourage all those dairy farmers to plant a new crop.

The following day, we visited Hyde Hall, a 19th century estate that is in the process of restoration. And, I mean seriously in the process. For anyone interested in seeing the inside of the walls, or in smelling the mildew that the estate battles with, here’s your opportunity. I know that might not seem appealing, but honestly it was fascinating. Our tour guide was knowledgeable and able to go “off script”. We continued our history theme with an afternoon’s dual reading of Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

The next morning, we broke camp in the lovely morning sunshine and headed to Howe Caverns. Bundled up for the 50 degree temps, we descended into the Earth for a walking tour and a boat ride! Yes, it was wicked cool. We got to squeeze through narrow passageways. But, we didn’t need to crawl on our bellies. Plenty of airspace.

We arrived in Williamstown, MA at 3:00pm, with enough time for a quick dip in the Berkshire Hills Motel pool before the sun disappeared behind the pines. In the morning, we toured The Clark. Lovely show of Georgia O’Keefe and Arthur Dove. The hanging of the show was incredibly tasteful.

We finished our roadtrip with a drive up Mt. Greylock. Given that we had only an afternoon, and it was 90 degrees, we agreed that we’d hike around the top of the mountain instead of up it. Regardless, we got hot and sweaty. And, yes, I was wearing a dress because of our museum plans earlier in the day AND I wanted any opportunity to catch a breeze.

On top of Greylock
On top of Greylock

All in all, a fabulous way to celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary.