What dazzles you?

Small glimmers of light, days of sun in the midst of ongoing wintry weather.

Early morning. I’m sleepy after waking early to the cat’s cries, cat feet treading up my body, cat nose sniffing my face. I get up, make the coffee, and lounge on the couch. At the bird feeder out front, cardinals, wrens, finches dart in and out and sometimes perch, waiting their turn.

Afternoon. Lunch with friends on a bright day. We want to sit outside but there are no tables available so we sit on a glassed in porch, looking out at the brightness, the sun, the wind. In a few months there will be flowers. Now the people are flowers, families, lovers, friends turning their faces to the sun. We talk, I dip my cheese laden bread into tomato soup, drink iced lemon ginger tea. We walk back to our cars, wind whipping my hair across my face, pause by our cars to continue the conversation, wind, sun, friends.

Later another friend and I head out for a walk but are stopped by the wind, stronger IMG_0227now, requiring effort to walk into it. Still bright. Still sun. We detour to a garden shop. Look at row after row of plants, tender, small, green, earth smelling. We think about buying pansies but decide to wait. My friend buys a basil plant, thinking summer, thinking tomatoes, thinking pesto. On to another garden store, the pull toward summer strong in us now. We buy dahlia tubers, imagining strong stems, big blossoms, bouquets on porch tables. Last year the rabbits ate my dahlias when they first came up but I’ll try again and if I end up feeding the rabbits, so be it.

What dazzles me? I want to say life dazzles me. I can feel those words forming in my fingertips, ready to appear on screen, but that’s more a wish than a truth. Life does dazzle me, when I let it in—the moments, snippets, breaths, in and out, in and out.

Spring Is Slow in Coming

Spring is slow in coming this year. I sit in the living room early in the morning, early April. Out the window I see blue sky, bright sun. It looks warm but the furnace was on when I got up, there’s frost on the grass, and the rhododendron leaves were curled as they are after chilly nights. The first days of April have been marked by repeated snow, cold winds. This is often the way.

Easter ushered in this wintry pattern. Easter Sunday, I met a friend for a walk under gray skies. Walking and talking with a long time friend seemed like the perfect way to acknowledge the day. I’m never quite sure how to celebrate Easter but always feel the pull to do so. I’m not religious, don’t go to church, but there’s something deeply rooted in me that wants to pause, praise, celebrate. A human need to mark the seasonal shift, celebrate the return of sun and warmth, mark the season of growth and rejuvenation.

And there’s also a pull to tradition. I grew up with new Easter clothes, church, Easter dinner. The first year I lived in my house, the house I bought a few months after my mom died, I invited friends for Easter dinner. Not only was it Easter but also my mother’s birthday, April 3rd. I served the meal on my new dining table, placed near the picture window looking out on the back garden.

I set the table with my grandmother’s china that I’d brought back from my mother’s Plateshouse, fine china, white porcelain with tiny springs of pink roses. I bought a pink tablecloth to use with the china, used the sterling I’d also brought from mom’s house. I don’t remember what we ate, I just remember the table set with china and silver, set with nostalgia, set with continuity and memory.

But there was also some way in which that dinner felt like playing dress up. That Easter dinner, with the formal place settings, morphed in subsequent years to a more casual Easter brunch, often on my back porch, glassed in for the spring season, heated with a space heater and guests warned to wear sweaters. This was a potluck meal, served on my everyday stoneware that I bought in a discount store when I tired of eating off of mismatched plates left behind by roommates.

The brunch tradition lasted for a number of years and then ended as people’s lives moved in different directions. Since then I’ve found different ways to mark the new season. Many years I go to a friend’s Passover seder—I appreciate the ceremonial meal, the connection with friends, the deep joy I know my friend feels as he brings friends and family together. A few years I’ve joined another friend for Easter services at a monastery in Vermont. And often all I need is an hour or two raking in the garden, a walk with a friend, a trip to Andrew’s Greenhouse to buy flats of their field grown pansies, which I plant in pots and place by the front door.

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Late February

Late February and changeable weather. Mild days hinting of spring turn overnight into wintry sleet and rain. But one cold, damp, gray morning recently, I stepped out the front door and heard the shift in birdsong that always says “spring.” I’ve been searching the garden beds near the house, looking for those first green nubs thumb_IMG_0884_1024of crocuses and snow drops. Yesterday I spotted about 1/4 inch of tender green foliage —the first sign of early blooming crocuses.

I haven’t posted for several weeks—the world has felt heavy, especially after the Parkland school shooting. I alternate between feeling deep sadness and anger. I read, I absorb, my heart sinks, aches—not again, not again. At meditation group recently, we listened to a guided meditation from Tara Brach, titled Resting in Reality.  “Greet each moment with kindness,” she says.

I find that challenging right now—but as the days move forward I try to travel gently through the world, to rest in this here and now.

As I do, I notice:

The moon between tree branches on a cool, bright late afternoon walk.

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Sun coming in my front window, glinting off a blue pot, blue mug, blue book cover—an accidental still life

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Sensory memory that kicks in when I make bread for the first time in years—the feeling on my hands of sticky, elastic dough as I knead and later punch it down, shape it into loaves; the fragrance of baking; the crumb and taste of the first warm slice slathered with butter.

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The ease that washes over me as I listen to a musical setting of Wendell Berry’s poem “The Peace of Wild Things.

Winter days

Winter days drift slowly. On bright days, sun pours in the front windows of the house IMG_0856and I bask in the light. More frequently, the windows frame a dark green, gray, and white landscape. On the railing out front I’ve placed a blue pot filled with branches of red berries. I put it there wondering if birds would like the berries but they ignore it so I’ve hung a feeder from the plant hook where a fuschia lives in summer.

A week ago we had warm and rainy weather before the onset of cold temperatures again. The accumulated snow from previous storms melted in the rain and I walked around the gardens last Saturday, snipped branches off my discarded Christmas tree and used them to insulate the crocosmia from the predicted low temperatures.

I used to interact with winter more, plunge through the snow to fill distantly placed bird feeders, strap on my snowshoes to explore the field behind the house or rake snow off the roof. But gradually, a combination of aging joints and weather patterns that bring mixed icy precipitation has kept me inside more, viewing the world through glass panes, scurrying from house to car to office or store then car and home.

My only New Year’s intention this year was to show up in my life, but I’m not sure what that means in winter, when the pull is toward hibernation.

I look for things that delight my senses. Hot chocolate made with a dark chocolate cocoa mix and drunk from my red mug. The feel of the cat’s soft fur, her warm body weighting my legs. A dark red poinsettia in a dark blue pot. The smell of a new book when I first open it. The sharp hot bite of chili. Music, like this piece from Caroline Shaw, which both startles and satisfies me.

I saw a short video recently, The Monolith, about the NYC artist Gwyneth Leech and her response to several losses, including a skyscraper being built right outside her studio window, blocking the view that had been inspiring her art for years. She came to terms with the “monolith” by seeing it as colors and shapes and painting all the stages of construction. It’s a story about the creative process, about loss, about life, about showing up.

“…to be alive is something holy, fierce, and precious,” Jena Schwartz writes in a FaceBook post. Through the short winter days and long nights, I try to remember those words.

Finding my way

From my back porch, I see a bank of rhododendrons that have soaked up sun and grown almost as tall as the house. Above the rhododendrons, there’s a strip of blue sky, seen as though looking through a clerestory window. It’s a glorious day. …

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This is the beginning of an essay of mine that was just published by The Sunlight Press . Please go on over to their site and look around.

A good walk

I went for a walk yesterday afternoon at around 5, taking advantage of lingering light at the end of daylight savings time. I tried to stay in the moment as I walked, seeing, noticing—a pattern of fallen leaves on the road, a few quince lingering on a bush and one salmon colored flower, a flame red shrub. But the act of noticing and naming took me out of the moment and I started this blog post in my head. Often as I walk, drive, simply sit on the couch looking out at the trees and sky, words swim in me, swirl, settle, and swirl again.

I set out on my walk planning to goIMG_0802 to the end of the block then turn left and left again and finally home, all on a level route that’s easy on new knees. But at the first turn I looked right and saw the sun bright and golden through a crack in dark clouds and turned toward it, up a hill then down to a road that borders a field and the clouds, streaming sun, distant hills.

It was a good walk, an image and word filled walk if not a mindful walk. I want my days to be full of such moments, weaving in and out of present time, noticing, appreciating, sometimes choosing the harder route, breathing it all in.

How do we rest?

 

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Life is ticking over relatively calmly in my little corner of the world. Autumn has arrived slowly and gently, with warm sunny days and cool nights. Nasturtiums and roses are still blooming, leaves are just now turning and falling. I’m back at work and figuring out how to juggle work, exercise, writing, social time.

But I’m all too aware of back-to-back catastrophes—shootings, hurricanes, wildfires fill the news and hover on my peripheral vision. It feels trivial to write about my daily concerns but I have no new words to add to the cacophony of world events.

I’m not sleeping well. I fall asleep easily enough. In fact, bed feels wonderful when I first settle in, pillows piled just so, the duvet tucked around me, the cat snuggled next to me, softly purring. The air is cool, the bedroom is quiet except for the cat’s soft purr which slowly dissipates as she sleeps. I read on my Kindle, its backlight turned low. My eyes start to feel heavy so I close them, put the Kindle aside, pull up the duvet, and slide into sleep for three or four hours before I wake, restless and unsettled.

When did sleep become such a challenge? There was a time when these middle of the night wakenings weren’t a problem, I’d surface and then quickly slip under again and in the morning, barely remember waking at all. Now I get up and wander down the hall to the bathroom, then back into bed, rearrange the pillows and duvet, shift around until my body finds just the right position. The cat stalks away in a huff to find peaceful sleep elsewhere.

I close my eyes, maybe put on a sleep mask in anticipation of morning light. I tell myself a story—I have a cache of them to draw on, imagined scenes that I revisit over and over. Or I focus on my breath, in and out. Sometimes the story, the breathing acts like a hypnotic spell and I sleep again. But I have to be careful not to acknowledge that I’m teetering on the edge of sleep. The minute I notice the imminence of sleep, I’m awake again, eyes open and looking at the window across from me, wondering if the sky is finally lightening up.

I started this post thinking I’d write about the phrase “hare’s corner”—words I learned from Robert Macfarlane’s daily Twitter and Instagram contribution. Hare’s corner—a section of a field that farmers leave unplowed and uncut as refuge for small animals. And it struck me that we all could use a hare’s corner these days, a place, figurative or real to retreat to, a place to regroup.

A quiet walk through woods, my attention in the moment, noticing the leaves on the path, the glint of sun on water, a rustle in the underbrush, the roll of an acorn underfoot. IMG_0724Or a quick pause in a busy day, when I look up from the computer and out the window, letting my eyes go into soft focus. A chat with a friend, laughter, a hand on a shoulder. A meal shared with friends, ingredients carefully chosen and prepared. Words on a page that take me away from daily concerns and into another world, open images in my mind. Hare’s corner. A brief respite, a safe space.

Where does sleep fit? Deep, delicious, restorative sleep? Here’s the thing—sleep requires surrender, vulnerability. In deepest sleep we’re unprotected. The hare, quivering in that unplowed sanctuary, won’t be asleep.

And so I wonder is my insomnia about a fear of surrender? An unwillingness to let go? In this time of personal transition, in this horribly unsettled world how do I–how do we–rest? 

In a Yoga Nidra for Sleep meditation, Jennifer Piercy talks us through slowing the breath, noticing the “waves of respiration ebbing and flowing” like the ebbing and flowing of all life, like the flow of a day. Notice the transition spaces, she says, as morning flows into night, as summer flows into winter, marked by the transition spaces of autumn and spring.

I listen to her soothing voice, the calm words, and I try to make peace with the transitions, the unsettled ebb and flow, to breathe, to sink into the breath, to allow the breath to breathe me, to sleep.