Monthly Archives: February 2013

Snow Whimsy…

 

Snow GhostsEnchanted by the art work of Jon Klassen, I thought I’d make my own Snow Ghost. Well, a family of them. They appeared rather spooky at twilight, and the Parrish blue atmosphere only added to the eerie quartet.

Before...As the four ‘ghosts’ began to melt over the course of days, I got another idea of what to do with them. The result is my giant hand. As that too began to melt, it looked like an ancient Greek ruin of sorts.

...AfterThe snow around here is rapidly disappearing, but if we are to have another blast of winter, I’ll be out there creating something out of the ordinary. Why settle for the ubiquity of snowmen.

Do you, too, enjoy letting your imagine run wild with winter’s white offering?

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Vestigial Views…

“Thoughts are the shadows of our feelings—always darker, emptier, and simpler.” ~ Nietzsche.Woods

A splendid sojourn in the small town of Wilmington Vermont allowed me a respite to relax and ruminate upon varied writings. I had just finished the first draft to my novel, and I was in the midst of adding a few paragraphs here and there to other manuscripts, mere passages tossed into the pages, something at least, written.

The house was nestled high in the mountains, tucked between copses of birch and towering old growth pines. The dense woods emitted only feeble light. Come dusk the interior of such snow-covered sylvan surroundings cast deep impenetrable shadows within. Light was imperceptible. Darkness consumed all.

 “To rid ourselves of our shadows—who we are—we must step into either total light or total darkness.”

~Jeremy Preston Johnson.

Woods at DuskWhat unseen creatures haunt these darkled woods? What fauna frolic in the gloaming recesses of these groves?

I stood on the deck and peered into its depths. Unknown tracks stretched into the thickets. The trees swayed and groaned in the frigid brumal winds. Branches rubbed and squealed. Mere yards away, a twig snapped underfoot. Or was it underpaw? Of what nocturnal beast, who knew? Best to take photos from inside, safe and warm against the stygian shroud that cloaked the landscape.

NightThe night held sway to ferocious winds and straining boughs. Gazing into the blackness, the forest was silhouetted by the soft glow of a gibbous moon, subdued by a scrim of silver clouds. The pines danced in unison to nature’s ancient rhythms.

BirchComforted by a roaring hearth and red wine, I wondered how early man survived such winter severity.  Shivering in their caves, sentinels to their niche in granite, their portal open to skulking carnivores. A small, pitiful fire kept at bay these unseen nightly terrors.

Back home, a small tree gives weight to its twilight shadow. The sun, huddled along the horizon, creates wonderful, blue-hued shadows on a snowy world.

(One long shadow…)

 005 (2)006 (2)007 (2)“The other day when I was walking through the woods, I saw a rabbit standing in front of a candle making shadows of people on a tree.” ~ Stephen Wright.

What shadows do you see in the clutches of winter?

 

 

Pondering Pre-Adolescent Perplexities…

The mind of youth is always perplexing. And yet,  were we not once so young and green? How is it that we forget? Can you recall when you were ten, eleven, or twelve, and how you maneuvered amongst the ‘Big People’, the grownups in your life?

As adults now, we expect so much from our children. Not quite tots, not quite adolescents; the realm of the ‘in between’, or tweens, and all that it encompasses.

Try to reach back and recall such moments; a time, a place, the people. What comes to mind? What coursed through your young noggin then? Was it worry? Was it sadness? Fear? Shyness? A combination of all four, and maybe more?

A tough age, to be sure. Especially if one has older siblings. And especially if the age differences are significant.

I was lucky, in a way. I had three older brothers, separated by two years and one year. Twins. And I had  three younger siblings, one two years difference but the other two, a tremendous chasm. Perhaps that is why I rarely hear from the very youngest. He cannot possibly relate to his older, more ancient ‘bros’, and so he chooses to live his own life, far removed. Much like the ‘tweens’ mentioned earlier, I cannot fathom what goes through the mind of my 40 year old brother. Thirteen years is another life time. (But surprisingly, I am quite close to one of my younger sisters, an 11 year ravine.)

So the four of us brothers, close in age proximity, hung out. We did everything together. And as for my own ‘thinking’, as an 11 year old? It’s tough to recall.

But I look at my own 11 year old, and perhaps I was like him. I must admit that at times I am rather flummoxed by his sense of logic and chain of thought. I find myself repeating the same word,“What?”, to the point where he simply gives up and says, “Never mind.” Maybe I was like that, too. I’ll have to ask my Mum.

It is not that we are not listening to our child. My wife and I try valiantly to understand every word that escapes his thin, beautiful, tomato-ripe lips. His words are either at a decibel only heard by canines, or they come out as a stream of mumbles.

“What? You want a stray poodle for summer?”

CAN YOU MAKE NOODLES FOR SUPPER!” would be the correct answer, bellowed from the back seat of the car, replete with the ubiquitous eye roll witnessed in the rear view mirror.

Who knew?

Or just the other day I was driving him to GameStop, one of his favorite haunts. We were going down a muddy, rut-filled road and it was a quiet ride. Just to get a response from him I asked, “Do you like mud?”

He looked over at me and replied, “No.” And a minute later he added, “What kind of question is that?”

I like to break up a silent ride with some wacky questions or comments, just to see his reaction.

When at home, assorted screeches and howls and laughter emanate from the thin walls of his bedroom. Earlier on, we used to check up on him, to make sure he was safe. He’d look at us and say, “What?” and we’d reply, “Oh, just checking to make sure you’re ok, that’s all.” “I’m fine. Can you shut the door, please?”

And now, with the latest technological devices, we can’t tell if he’s playing video games, or he’s on a group call (or whatever they call it in kid lingo), or just simply playing with his legos. Who the hell knows?

When our 19 year old is home for college for a few days, he just doesn’t understand his sibling’s grunts and groans and giggles. He’d be sitting with us, watching TV, and we’d hear a shriek from the other room. “What was that?!”he’d say with alarm. But we’d quell his concerns by saying,  offhandedly, “Oh, it’s just your brother, having fun.”

Our nineteen year old doesn’t possess a high threshold for such pre-adolescent outbursts. And we have to remind him that he was just like that, that he was once eleven.

We are, after all, talking about an eleven year old brain. How much can that brain have possibly grasped at such a tender age? How much can he possibly know?

We all have to cut him some slack. It can be incredibly irritating, and challenging, and monstrously vexing, but a deep, deep breath usually helps diffuse the sudden rise in blood pressure. He’s eleven. He’s playing. He does what 11 year olds do.

Even though we may have lost the ability to conjure such youthful memories, we cannot banish such tender moments from his childhood. There are too many tragedies in the world, too much misery, too much strife to have us add to that collective sorrow.

So when our youngster, our bright, beautiful, blue-eyed, lovely boy, engages in such seemingly incomprehensible actions, we just have to step back and allow him to be that child, to keep him safe, and warm, and have him know that we love him dearly. Even though at times he does seem to speak in tongues.

Despite his varied antics and mood swings, I think we’ll keep him around. For a very long time.

Boys Will Be Boys…

Men. Utterly predictable.

You find them clustered, a coven of confused characters, all crowding the card aisle. Perplexed by the sheer volume of Valentine cards on display, they ultimately pick out the most expensive, the most garish, the most trite and syrupy greeting they could find. “Hell, it cost $6.99. It must be good!”

That episode took place at Wal-Mart. And just across the street, at the Stop & Shop supermarket, another bevy of befuddled men huddled near the flower department, eyeing preposterously priced bouquets of red roses past their prime. With petals in full bloom, they were sure to fall off in a matter of days. The men queued, and pondered their selection, and vied for flowers that would simply not last. “But it cost me $29.99 for a dozen roses. They must be good!”

I, however, was not one of those men. Okay, granted, not all men are so clueless when it comes to Valentine’s, or any other celebratory occasion. But you have to admit, it is quite comical to watch these hapless chaps, hemming and hawing, scratching their noggins on whether to buy this wilted bouquet here or that equally dying bunch of roses over there.

For My Beloved

For My Beloved

Me? What did I do for my Beloved on Valentine’s? I usually make a homemade card, but this year I found a lovely card at Trader Joes’, for a paltry 99 cents. It had a nice message inside. But  I made it better by writing a poem for my enchantress.  I festooned the envelope with a multitude of hearts. I made a rose out of pink poster board, a stem of holly, and reconfigured the holly leaves with a glue gun to achieve the desired result.

I took a picture of the whole ensemble, as evidenced by the photo above, replete with candle and chocolates. Then I sent it as an attachment to my lovely wife. When she opened her email and saw the photo, I beckoned her to the kitchen and there, waiting for her,  was the exact set-up.

All in all it was fun making the rose and writing a poem and putting it all together. Doing something original. Not bad for all of ninety-nine cents. The rose and the poem will last indefinitely, and I didn’t have to jostle hordes of harried, huffing men for outrageously priced sentiments.

And what did you do for your Beloved on this day of love and romance and chocolate?

Relentless…

The forecasters were right; we got clobbered with snow last night. The storm began around 2pm, and did not let up until 10am or so. I ventured out to shovel last night, but my efforts proved futile. Twice I braved the elements and  managed to scrape six inches of snow from the driveway. This morning, though, was an entirely different story.

DrivewayDonning sundry winter gear, I grabbed my shovel and gazed at the herculean task before me. It was daunting. I tried to open the sun room screen door, but it wouldn’t budge. I had to exit via the garage. The snow was above my waist.

My wife gave me a tape measure and here, in Sturbridge, if you count the six inches I shoveled last night, we received 36” inches of snow. Three feet. Ugh. There was nothing else to do but put shovel to snow, again and again.

It was a great workout, and eventually I vanquished the white stuff. The hardest part was trying to find places to toss the damn stuff. (The photo below is where our cats like to perch and watch birds. But not today.)

Outside Basement Window

Outside Basement Window

There was a driving ban in effect, so only plows plied the roads. They were few and far between so mostly silence embraced me.

Taking many pauses from my exertions, I allowed myself to become enveloped by nature. The snow swirled, the wind whipped fine mists of snow on me, and in places where I just shoveled.

Just standing there in the frigid grip of winter was, surprisingly, comforting. I was part of winter, attuned to the wind and the snow and the silence. It was therapeutic.

Two hours later, the job was done. I stomped snow from my boots, peeled off ice encrusted garments, and joined my love on the sofa for a deliciously warm and healing cup of joe.

Back Door of Sun Room

Back Stairs of Sun Room

So even though we got whacked by Ol’ Man Winter, it was still a pleasure to immerse myself in the vagaries of the storm.

The storm proved relentless, but it allowed moments of being in the Moment.

Observing the Observer…(Part 2)

After my lovely birthday of yesterday, today I drove my beautiful wife to her job in Springfield. We are to get pummeled by the white stuff this weekend, so I thought it best that I accompany her to work and wait while she toiled. She works in Reproductive Endocrinology, a rather fascinating discipline.

I sat in a café within the medical complex. A tiny TV blared dire warnings about the imminent storm. I found the remote and muted the offending appliance.

Peace of mind.

Withdrawing books, magazines, and legal pads from my satchel, I set about to write and read and write some more. I regretted not bringing my laptop, but sometimes it’s good to write in longhand. Ideas seem to flow differently when putting pen to paper.

With the TV silent, and no one else present, I reveled being present. I observed myself being in the moment. Sometimes that is hard to come by. But I try every day to attain a semblance of it. Even if it visits for only a few minutes a day, it is always welcome. Perhaps you have managed to access the present, and have been doing that for years. Good for you! It’s always a pleasure to be enveloped in quietude.

To curtail a long story, I came to his concept years ago when I lived in Boston. I was going through a ghastly depression and spent many spare hours shuffling through the Brookline Booksmith, a wonderfully comfortable store and a perfect place to lose yourself amongst the aisles.

I found myself in front of the Self-Help section, and immediately thought it was a rack for losers. ‘Hell, I don’t need these books,’ I grumbled to myself.

But I picked one out anyway, just to see what kind of books pathetic souls perused. The book was called, ‘Thoughts Without A Thinker’, by Mark Epstein. I thumbed through it, read a few passages, and put it back on the shelf.

I pulled it out again.

I read some more, and it started to make sense. I bought it.

Going To Pieces Without Falling Apart” by Epstein again was next, along with Stephen Batchelor’s fine tome, ‘Buddhism Without Beliefs’. All three allowed me to eliminate the self-flagellation that had plagued me every day.

I lost my depression.

The key tenet to Buddhism is being aware, of being in the moment. And it works. It is a very difficult concept to maintain, but it is attainable. And once accessed, an incredible calm can be experienced.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

So there I was, sitting in the café, watching the first few flakes fall from the low bank of gray clouds, and I was present. I was there. With my books, my pad and pen, a lukewarm coffee, and my mind working on angles to many stories. I was present.

The internal Observer was observed, and it allowed me to concentrate on my words. Every day is a challenge to find that peace of mind. But once attained, it can give you a moment of bliss. Your own observer is waiting for you. Try it. Try to be present.

After all, what have you got to lose?

A Cookie for Pops…

Heron's RoostToday is my birthday. I am now 53 years old. My lovely wife gave me a warm hug and kiss this morning and wished me a happy birthday. She went off to one of her two jobs, and once again I was left to my own devices. What to do, what to do.

Yesterday I celebrated my birthday early over my Mum’s house. We played scrabble near the hearth. The wood-burning stove, at times, emitted a semblance of heat. If one strayed too far, a chill was ready to wrap itself around you.

I huddled near the fire.

We played two games, she gave me presents, a bottle of wine, oatmeal raisin cookies, and then I went home. It was nice.

Today as I was puttering around, doing laundry, walking by my laptop with my manuscript staring back at me, doing the dishes, making the bed, passing by my still staring WIP, I had an idea.

Today, I thought, I would visit Dad. I would hoist a drink to him and wish him well. It has been two years and six months since he died. He’s buried in multiple places; ashes here, ashes there.

Cookie & LiqueurBefore I took off, though, there was a rap at my door. It was Mum, cradling a present in one hand. It was from my brother Joe. I opened it and it was a 750 ml bottle of Grand Marnier. Perfect! I knew then that I would gently put it in my rucksack and bring it to my Dad’s site.

I rode my bike to one of his favorite haunts, near a pond where herons roost. Some of his ashes were strewn there.  It was chilly, still in the teens, but not terribly unpleasant.

I also brought two homemade chocolate chip cookies, baked by my thoughtful sister, Hansie, who had mailed them from Maine. That was very nice of her. The cookies are really tasty.

I placed one cookie on a pile of ‘skimmers’ that I brought along. I thought Dad might be hungry. I poured a shot of the orange liqueur and held it up to the swamp. “Cheers, Pops!” I said, and drank it straight down. I poured another and set it on a rock.

Winter ShadowsThere was no one around. A soft wind swept over the thin ice. Near the edge, cattails and common reed grass swayed gracefully in the slight brumal breeze. Only the trickle of water from a beaver dam could be heard. It was soothing.

For some reason a few of my photos came out blurry. Perhaps the lens fogged over from the cold. But it was still nice to take a few pics of this wetland at winter. It added an atmospheric touch, I think.

Brumal BlurI stayed for a bit, drank the second shot, packed up, and bid goodbye to Pops. The swamp rumbled beneath the ice. I thought it was Dad, wishing me a happy birthday.

Come spring I’ll have to repair the plaque I placed there in his honor. If Dad doesn’t take the cookie, I’m sure some swamp animal will gladly nibble it for sustenance.

Honoring PopsSo far, it has been a good birthday. My Beloved came home earlier than expected, laden with gifts; a bakery box with decadent delights within, and another box that contained a calming vanilla-scented soy candle. They came with a lovely card, and another welcoming birthday kiss.

We sat on the couch, layered in blankets. I was blessed by her presence, and by the lovely presents bestowed on me.

We are to get walloped with snow tonight. I’m glad I stopped by to say hi to Dad. The skimmer rocks will get covered, and maybe the cookie, too, but that’s ok. Winter will cloak the wetland, and in the stillness of snowfall Dad will have been warmed by my visit.

I miss having a glass of wine with him. Tonight I will toast him with a glass of Malbec and wish him comfort, wherever he may reside.

Take care, Pops. I love you.