And thinking about those meandering paths…

A conversation I had recently about purpose in our lives has been buzzing quietly in the back of my mind. I had the conversation this past Sunday, a quiet rainy day at the end of a quiet rainy weekend. I’d drifted a bit through the weekend as sometimes happens when I don’t have much scheduled. On these drifty days, I read, relax, putter in the garden, connect with friends in person or by phone, and am mostly content but there can be a nagging sense that I should be more –well, purposeful with my time. And the person I was talking with on Sunday echoed this thought in talking about her own day-to-day life.

For me this buzz is mostly background noise since my days are filled with going to work and maintaining my life outside of work. But the low buzz is there and gets louder on weekends and other stretches of leisure time. “What can I do that’s purposeful this weekend?” I wonder. “How can I be productive?” All too often, this wondering turns into fretting.

As I type this I think about my previous post on garden paths and my appreciation of meandering, whimsical paths. And this leads me to thinking about writing, which requires frequent strolls along those meandering paths. So, sitting here on a bright late June morning, I wonder if, for myself, I should shift the internal conversation. Maybe it’s less about purpose and more about simply being awake and receptive.

IMG_0036In order to write, I need to wake up and let myself see, not just what’s going on in imagination but also see the detail of my small world. The Japanese iris with its silky fall of petal, the waves of daylily bloom, orange and yellow and burgundy.

Right now the crows are busy and noisy–I suspect there’s a cat or a raptor out there somewhere. Sun is filtering through branches, lighting up the top of the maple tree and the big pine. Everything else is shadowed. The sky, glimpsed through trees, is clear and blue.

In order to write I need to let myself see without purpose. It’s all too easy to wander around the garden noting what needs to be done rather than simply noting the shapes, textures, colors, scents–Monarda and phlox about to bloom, roses pink and cream and the glistening backs of Japanese beetles feasting, bristly prickly nettles, fine blades of grass grown thick in the rain.


IMG_0384“I’d like to put in a couple of paths,” Tom said. He led me around the side of the house and gestured to the grassy path that leads between the rhododendron and the daylily bed toward the back porch. “Here’s one place–get the sod up, put down some bark mulch with rock edging.” “Sure,” I said. “Less to mow.” He then headed toward the area with the raised bed. There’s already a dirt path of sorts that cuts around the edge of that bed toward the side where the water faucet is. “And here,” he said, “put some bark mulch here, make a real path.”

In fact I don’t know if this will happen this year, especially the path that requires digging up sod–it might end up being more $$$ than I want to invest in garden projects. But it got me thinking about paths. These would be useful, logical paths, places I already walk regularly, sensible paths.

IMG_0383But I’m intrigued by whimsical paths. I’ve created a few of these over the years although they’ve all ended up overgrown. When I put in the bed in front of the maple in the front yard I made a path curved through the middle. It was partly practical–gave me weeding access–but it was also a path to nowhere and that entertained me. It soon became home to Siberian iris volunteers and is now just part of the bed. There was another path I made into the middle of the circular bed in the front—I even put down paving stones and placed a bird bath in the middle, hidden from view unless you walked along the path–but that path too became overgrown and the bird bath now sits in the back yard.

And this is all an interesting metaphor, of course, for paths through writing—or simply through life.

Fishing with Dad

20599-R1-31-31On this Father’s Day, I’m thinking of my dad who died over 30 years ago at age 75. He had a heart attack, sitting in his chair, 5:30 in the afternoon, watching 3s Company reruns on tv and probably sipping a Manhattan while my mother made supper.

Dad’s eyesight was failing–glaucoma that he’d had since he was 40. He had a heart condition–the heart attack was a surprise but in some way also expected. He’d had a pacemaker for a few years and problems regulating his heart medication. He was slowing down, physically and mentally, and having a hard time accepting this. We all knew that we’d soon have to have that difficult conversation about driving.

He had a group of men friends—the Old Goat’s Club they called themselves. My dad, the ex banker; Hubert, who used to own the drugstore in town; Dick, who was also a banker; and Jack, an insurance agent. They met each Tuesday morning at a coffee shop off the town square. I wonder what they talked about as they navigated retirement and old age.

Dad was an avid photographer—I still have carousels filled with his slides documenting trips and family events, including many silly pictures of me, little ham that I was. My sister and I say we’re going to sort through them, get the ones we want to keep onto the computer and toss the rest but we haven’t done it yet. I kept his camera—and used it for many years until it needed a new part and turned out to be too old to fix.

I also kept his yellow cardigan sweater, one of his favorites. I can still feel its texture under my fingertips and on the inside of my arms where I’d press against him in a hug–he was good with hugs.

I wish I’d known my dad better. That sounds like an odd thing to say about a man I saw every day for more than 18 years but he was a very private man, who was, I think, easily hurt. I remember one blow-out fight we had when I was in my 20s. I don’t remember what the topic was–I just remember yelling at each other–a rarity in our family–and I remember thinking that beneath his anger, dad was deeply hurt that I thought so differently about something.

We were up in Maine, in a cottage that my parents owned for a few years right after dad retired. I was living in the Boston area and came up a lot on the weekends in the summer. I suspect we were arguing about decisions I was making about work. Dad wanted me to find a respectable career like his, banking, but I wasn’t interested in something so conventional.

We yelled. I probably cried. Mom intervened and it was over. At times I wish we’d kept going–gotten to something deep and honest that needed saying–but I also wonder if one of us–probably me–would have said something irretrievable.

That one fight aside, the times I spent with dad in Maine are some of my best memories of adult time with him. The cottage was on a lake. He had a rowboat with an outboard motor and we’d go fishing for long hours, puttering down the lake to find a good spot and then casting our lines and waiting companionably for something to bite, which it rarely did. Here’s a poem I wrote about that time:

Fishing with My Father

Our boat drifts through light and shade.

We sit angled, bow and stern, poles poised

for elusive fish, no sound but the slap

of water on the boat’s hull, the whipping hiss

of a cast line. We are caught there,

drifting the length of the lake.

We pretend knowledge of underwater geography,

the habits of fish; disturb the places hidden by rocks,

push our way through lily pads and weeds,

seek the warm currents.

Of peonies and other flowery musings

Here’s the view out my living room window for June 1. JuneViewThis is what I see when I sit to drink my morning coffee. You can see the winter damage on the rhododendron closest to the house–more pruning is needed.

The bloom color at this time of year is pink, purple, blue, white. Yellows and golds will come soon and then in mid-summer the hot colors–the flame of crocosmia and hot pink phlox.

The tree peony only had 2 blooms this year–winter was hard on it as well. The blooms were deep magenta, big and blowsy, reminiscent of the tissue paper flowers I made when I was a kid. The plant always blooms in late May and inevitably the weather turns hot just about the point that the blooms appear.

These blooms are short lived in the best of conditions but the heat propels them along even faster–the buds open, flowers spread their petals out, and whomp they’re gone, in the space of a hot day. I wanted to get a picture of them this year but didn’t move quickly enough.

Sometimes I clip off one of the flowers and bring it in to float for a few days in a shallow dish of water but this year the 2 flowers bloomed and fell in less than a day. Once the bloom has passed, this is an unassuming plant with fairly ordinary green foliage–but for a day or two in spring, it prances and preens–look at me, look at me.

The regular peonies, which are dotted around the various garden beds, are slower to bloom and they retain their blooms in full glory for longer–the challenge is knowing when to cut a big bouquet before a pounding rain, again inevitable at this time of year. So far only one flower has appeared and I cut it yesterday to put in a glass vasepeonyvase on the mantel. Hopefully the buds that cover the plants will survive the rains to come over the next couple of days.

There wasn’t much of a garden here when I moved in–some foundation plantings and a small bed in the back. But this modest array of shrubs and plants got me started on my gardens and many of the plants have lived on: a peony; 4 rhododendrons; an andromeda; several lilacs, including one with deep purple blooms; an azalea with hot pink flowers; a patch of white Siberian iris; some Jacob’s Ladder, coreopsis, and Ozark sundrops. I’ve lifted and divided and replanted in new locations and it’s all going strong.

Although life in a garden is often a story of transience, of beauty that blooms and fades quickly, falls prey to pests or storms, it can also be a story of continuity, of resilience. I don’t know who planted everything originally. Maybe the couple who were renting the house. I like to think it was the original owner–a single woman like myself who had the house built in the late 50s and lived here for many years. There was once a deck on the back of the house—I like to think of her sitting on that deck sipping coffee before work, looking at the rhododendrons in full bloom.