Monday Morning Well Check

This bright Monday morning has the auspicious start of a new train schedule for the greater Boston area. For me it means an additional morning rush hour train at (let me check…) 7:35 and/or a two minute shave off my 7:07 for a 7:05 departure from my station. As we pulled away at 7:08, a glance over the marsh revealed 4 bounding deer heading away toward the wood line. It’s going to take us all a few days.

I’d been gripped with indecision about which train to take since taking the dog out at 5:20. Old habits die hard, and there was a “Platform 9 ¾ “ feel to that newly proposed time. Would a 7:35 train really appear? I decided not to chance it.

But this day also brought a new touchstone to the routine based on input from a neighborly gathering on Friday night. This group meets twice a year to share a meal and catch up on our lives. We learned over dinner that one of our neighbors always notices the pizza boxes outside our fence put out for the Monday morning trash collection. Drive-by pizza: he notices; he expects to see boxes.  I hope it’s a small signal all is right in one part of our really small world.

Our group also talked for a while about our morning routines: who left when, drove where, noticed what. I wondered aloud why someone had stopped to take a photo of my house. Someone else’s place remains a bus stop for the kids to keep them off a busy road. Will the new train schedule mean we will see you pulling out of your driveway in the morning? Will we meet you at the intersection?

“Every day’s a Saturday,” exclaimed another neighbor I saw at the next-door winery release party the night previous. Retired, golfing and happy she was;  I know we all can’t leave the day jobs for a while to join that more relaxed subset. The fact is I’m not ready to trade in my commute or take up golf. But I’m happy this neighbor is happy. I’m thankful my other neighbor notices my trash.

The waiting crowd as we approach the Salem train station is four rows deep on the platform. We’re never standing room only at this junction. Yes, it’s going to take a few days.

 

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Piranga olivacea

No, I don’t know the Latin names of many birds, but it seems fitting to use one here to pay tribute to the showman I saw 3 days ago on an impromptu extension of the normal ‘river walk.’ Already I’d seen a very intentional willet stalking the mud flats near the tidal river, and then way up in the treetops I’d caught the first-of-the-season glimpse of that orange flash oriole doing his aerial dance. “You are back!” I thought as I watched, assuming (falsely, as it turned out), that he would be Bird of the Day.

But no way was Nature having her final say with him today. Quite surprisingly I agreed to the dog’s request to cross the road and amble a short while through the woods. And there, 25 yards back from where the tiniest watercourse (if it can even be called that) intersects the path, up in a left-side gap, a brilliant red splash sat calmly, in full view, showing me his black wing and beautiful self.

I froze in place and said the first and only thing that came to mind: “Vermillion Flycatcher!” However, this NOT being Arizona, I fell into a stunned silence of waiting for the right word to come. But since nothing did, I stood still, admired, and tracked him back to a nearby canopy and returned home to dive into Sibley’s.[i]

First I checked on my old Arizona friend, and of course then proceeded to Mr Piranga, aka, you guessed it: the Scarlet Tanager. He’d posed for me in all his splendor, giving me that dash of beyond-red to carry with me through the laundry, vacuuming (is your dog still shedding?), poison ivy pulling, grocery running, skypes with family and all the rest of the duties of the day….I’d been away to my Indiana home for a long weekend, and there were things to do out here in my coastal home.

Thank you, tanager, and thank you, spring day. You are both elusive, but what you show us, when we are fortunate enough to see, burns into our minds the promise of warmth and the presence of joy.

 

[i] Sibley, David A. The Sibley Guide to Birds. New York: Knopf, 2000.

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At the End of Poetry Month

Some days it really is more important to read a poem than to crack out the laptop for yet more email, and this second-to-last-commute in National Poetry Month has just provided such a moment. I didn’t really have intentions to read almost nothing but poetry in April; it just sort of happened that between reading the Poem-a-Day that comes to my inbox (thanks, friend, you know who you are) and my library’s robust borrowing system, I’ve had a slim volume tucked into the short backpack pocket all month. Some inbox poems are deleted quickly, some are saved, and some have enough verve to move me to find a book of that poet’s work.

Today I’m in a second book[i] written by a new favorite. I bought a copy of the book I read last week, and here, now, in the middle of a second, chai latte in hand and in a full train car, I’ve had to stop reading and put the book down…a sure sign of something wonderful. What is a wonderful, remarkable poem, you ask? And how do you know when you’ve just read one?

It’s easy to say ”you just know” and, to some extent, that’s true. But there is more. What is also true is that a wonderful poem pulls you from the page of a book to a page in your heart. It stirs from your memory something that lasts longer than the moment you are actually remembering. The poem I just read, “The Piano Speaks after Erik Satie,” caught my breath in my throat and transported my gaze immediately out the window, across the horizon to look back at a concert at the kids’ school in which a wonderful, classically trained pianist prepared and gave a performance to last a lifetime. I could see her in my mind’s eye: her memorization, the hours of practice, the devotion, the stamina, the desire. I recalled the silence when she finished, the burst of applause and, even more than the long, standing ovation, the awareness each audience member had of the fact that we had just witnessed something much greater than the sum of all our parts. For those few minutes, we had seen the work of a master.

How deserving and right, then, to take a moment before this day begins to not only re-appreciate the performer and performance we witnessed then but also today’s humble poet who, through her hands, wrote down what she heard, never knowing who, or where, or what difference her words would make on a chilly April morning, on a train ride into Boston, during (our 20th!) National Poetry Month. Thank you, dear pianists, for all you’ve given the world. And thank you, poet Sandra Beasley, for helping us hear melody in all the madness.

[i] Beasley, Sandra. I Was the Jukebox. New York: Norton, 2010.

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A Head-High Sheen of Green

This was the scene that greeted us on the Saturday marsh/woods dog walk this past weekend. Pleasant, it was, especially with the impending doom of temperatures near 19 degrees and snow in the next day or two: typical New England. But rather than dwell on that (after all, no one I know has put away scarves or hats or leg warmers), I’d like to think again about how those budding bushes looked as we walked along the path. At the time, it reminded me of searching for constellations. Often when you try to gaze directly at the stars, or even search outside for a black dog on a pitch black night, you can’t see as well as when you look off to one side and let your peripheral vision be queen. That’s how it was with this sheen of green: tiny buds that isolated were very small, but taken together in a wide view, displayed the vision of spring right before our eyes.

Today’s blog title was suggested by my husband as we strolled up the path and through the wood. To him one of the miracles is that this small beginning will take off full throttle, resulting in what will be a full display of exuberant growth in a few weeks. For me, the miracle is that this tiny beginning dares to present itself again and again as each winter ends. It’s like the tide that comes in and goes out, set by and following an ancient rhythm so much older and deeper than ourselves. These are daily, slow and dependable processes in a world where our present days and doings can seem ever the more unpredictable, unknowable, less secure.

Now I steam into Boston on the Monday morning train and look out over snow dappled pastures, horses in blankets and a grey sky that does promise snow. But no worries. Everyone is dressed for success against what the weather will throw at us and soon this view, too, will be a panorama of warm color as nature awakes fully and puts her spring garments on. It’s a joy to see that sheen of green takes its place, filling the in-between spaces left by the evergreens and bringing flower to woody stems and winter weary souls. It’s also a joy to pull my coat back on right here in the train seat, and get ready for what lies down the rails ahead. It’s also a joy that the book in my backpack today is called….Frozen Spring[1] !

[1] Stever, Margo. 2002. Frozen spring: poems. Minneapolis: Mid-List Press.

 

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Bread Near the Water, Then Quite Far

It was good to see the sun this afternoon after a few days of cold, and, perhaps, our final dose of snow. Today’s walk over the Longfellow Bridge in the brisk air went at a quick pace, all things considered. Lost in thought as I often am, it was a lovely surprise to hear the tune being played by the saxophone busker who usually stations himself near busy crosswalks by the hotel. His slow, low notes immediately transported me back to a time long, long ago. Do you remember “If” by Bread?!  Carumba!

Decades have passed since I stood on my high school stage and sang that as a duet during my senior year. The soloists’ only instructions were to a choose contemporary number: I haven’t a clue now what moved me to put this at the top of my list. But there I was, and today it was just as clear: me in my long, homemade pale blue gingham dress, my song partner in his pressed, best dress suit, the piano leading us forward, the eyes of the audience locked onto the spotlights as we sang alternate verses and harmonized their final two lines.

I was still humming in the traincar as I pulled out the laptop to finish the climate change story I’d been reading in today’s Science Times. That quickly ended when I saw the headline of the day’s tragedy in Brussels. And now I’m home, hearing more of the details.

The starkness of this violence grips us.

I think of the many, many affected.

In only a moment we are pulled from pleasant reverie to grim reality.

It will take more than a moment to feel this new weight added, and to watch our next steps.

“If?” If only. The world will not “stop revolving, spinning slowly down to die, “at least (I pray) not yet. But there are stars going out, one by one. Do you agree we won’t, we can’t, simply fly away?

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The Lens of Lent

I need marsh walks to have thoughts, paper scraps in my purse to record them, and train rides to share them. Walking across the meadow today,  I gave voice to what I’ve been pondering for several days: What are the heavy and the light things we carry in this Lenten season upon us?

Recent days have been filled with discussions of life insurance and taxes. They sound so opposite: the former is optional and purportedly helpful. Taxes, on the other hand, are mandatory and not obviously of benefit (especially if we face writing a check to the US Treasury.) We consider and possibly deal with both while we live, but both also carry reminders of our mortality. “The only sure things are death and taxes,” we quip. And indeed, in the process of doing both, we are reminded how unfinished we think we are with living.

I’ve also been returning to one of those thoughts that come to me as if through a mental tickertape. You know the feeling: suddenly dictation comes directly into your brain.  On this particular occasion I could almost hear the keys flying with the incoming message, just like in newsrooms of old. The ribbon read, “We often make the small too big, and the big too small.”

So I ask: are the heavy things in my Lenten backpack big or small? Are they lasting, or temporal? If I name some, will it help me know what I’m carrying?

Heavy things: the photo of the General handing a folded flag to an infant, held on her mother’s lap, graveside, for the fallen husband and father killed in Afghanistan. Also, the anticipated and shared grief I feel for my friends, which reawakens my own, even if briefly. Now, I realize, that grief touches my resolve as well as my sadness. Here’s something else heavy: The long term future of our nation and our politics. I think of my husband who teaches the intersection of faith and politics. Do we need the former to find anything good in the latter?

The light things seem like vapors. I open my pack and out they float, not even staying long enough to give weight to my fingers on these keys, it seems. Things now fading: the wonderful mushroom bisque I made that no one would eat. Doesn’t anyone care I left in the cayenne pepper although I once wrote on the recipe to leave it out, and now I’m sure I should keep it in?  What a nice bite the cayenne brings! Here’s another lightness: not folding the laundry during the final episode of Downton Abbey, and thus being two baskets behind for the boys who shower and (kindly) call down, “Got any clean towels around here?” Here’s a last one:  how about the weariness of my arms after scraping four cars for four days in a row: so what? It’s due to be seventy degrees tomorrow.

Ah Lent. Season of substance and journey, heavy and light, big and small. I think wisdom says we will never be caught up with all the responsibilities and dreams and tasks in our daily lives. Nor will we arrive at a full expression of the love, heartache,  friendship, or gratitude we’ve known along the way. But surely, in spite of this seemingly great limitation, we will experience grace, now and at the end of our days. Grace to know we chose the Real Game, and the Truest Adventure.

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Some Things Beautiful, Some a Bit Odd

It’s been a very full day here and the morning walk through the marsh yielded a view of one of the most beautiful blue skies I have ever seen. The snow of yesterday provided enough of a dusting to winterize the meadow scene but not bog down the dog. Several folks were arriving just as we were leaving. Since no one was searching the sky, it must have been a group hiking excursion rather than a cool bird sighting.

But we took off and did not linger, the dog and I, to run a few errands before returning home to breakfast. That’s when a couple of the stranger events of the day took place. The first is the new construction of a storage unit a few miles up the road from the marsh walk turnoff: it’s going to sprout out of the ground! These structures aren’t uncommon these days, but they do seem to be popping up more often. I’d like to know what’s being stored in these beasts. Are they full of people’s things that won’t fit in an attic? (We have a lot of those in New England, and mine is pretty full!)

The other odd moment was something really small but it gave me great pause. Usually I switch on the radio to hear the weather in the car, but the other day an icon of headphones showed on the display for the station number. No matter what I tried: pushing buttons, reading 4 pages of the car manual, scanning, nothing brought the sound back. Today, however, I had the idea of just turning the knob volume up and guess what? Out came the sound!

Beautiful views, odd moments, full days, quiet nights. Catching up on work for the house, the job, the upcoming tax appointment, learning some tough health news about relatives of friends, these made up the rest of the day up to this moment, which itself is odd. I am sitting here in the living room with the clock screaming the hour is way later than it should be. I’m with one of (today’s) other two house residents, watching the TV wrap up on the day’s politics. I don’t know what is more odd, that I am doing this or the situation on the screen before me. What I do know is that life can be both good and hard and beautiful and odd, all in a mere 24 hours.

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