“Be the Scout.” “Attend.”

This about sums up my recent conversations with the dog on my walks this past week and a half. He’s older now, and dawdles down the path sniffing his familiar places (everywhere) and taking his own sweet time. In the early days he was the one running forward with abandon, leaving me trailing behind and shouting for him to slow down, wait, stop…all manner of directions that meant “stay close” (that was another command.) I realize the beauty of the recent warm days beckons us to a slower pace, but…really?

Thus I found myself saying “Be the scout, Probie” as we headed across the flat tidal marsh area where the sandpipers like to find their morning snacks. We dialogued: “Aren’t you supposed to be the scout for me?” “Aren’t you supposed to lead the way and protect me?” That day we left the conversation there, content as we were to enjoy the breeze and proceed more or less in fits and starts and stops all the way back to the car.

The next walk some days later, quite near the same wide place in the path, I was deep in day dreams and had not paid attention to just how far back the dog was behind me. It was though I heard his voice instruct me this time, with this one word: “Attend.” And yes, I thought, I should come forth from my cocoon of the “undone” at work, at home; the thoughts of family far and near; the errands and tasks I was queuing up for the day ahead. Instead of all this flotsam, I should be attending to all that was around me: the dog, yes, but also the noisy jay, the mown field, the water strider.

Fast forward to the workday of today and the on-campus presentations I attended all morning. The plan had been to stay all day, but after the provided lunch and a walk around the exhibits, something just told me to go back to the office.

When I entered the library one of the desk staff hurried over to me with a student in tow. I hadn’t been on email all day so I’d missed her note asking if she could stop in for a research tune-up at 2:30. And wouldn’t you know it? A glance at the clock revealed: 2:30pm and here we were in an unplanned meetup that actually happened without electronics.

Or was it unplanned, really? Only one of us knew it would (hopefully) take place. The other of us was lost in the day. Yet I’d like to believe that sometimes, even when we don’t realize it, even in the smallest moments, we can hear our intuitions and act. Perhaps it’s just called listening. Perhaps, it is to Attend.


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Humble Chai

Today I was reminded of the joy of unexpected surprises and finding out we know something we didn’t know we knew. And in light of recent national and international events, it feels both light and perhaps not-right to share such a small story while huge shadows remain. So I share a story from this morning knowing its smallness up against enormous pain all around.

It began in the stop at the local coffee shop to buy treats for the students I’d be teaching later in the day. Today Bruce, who minds the line and keeps it moving, asked me in a whisper if I knew the answer to his trivia question, posted in small letters at the register. “It’s for a free drink!” he added, enticing me to try.

Usually I don’t know answers to the questions Bruce posts. But today’s was worth a try.

“What two cities have the statue of Make Way for Ducklings?”

My mind raced past the obvious, of course: being a local but also a fan of Robert McCloskey was upping my chances. So I replied, “I’ve got to go with…

Moscow.” Which was met with a smile and Bruce, still whispering… “That’s IT!”

I’ll admit we shared some mini-fanfare in hushed tones (not to deny others in line the chance, after all). Soon the bag of treats appeared and I moved on down the line, amazed that somewhere in my mental files I had tucked away a fact like this. But not to gloat: not only did Bruce have to remind me of the particulars (who gave this gift, and when, and why), it also seemed to be taking a very long time to create this free drink.

So alas, I had to approach the counter again. My drink had gotten missed in the hub-bub, and now would have to be made ‘out of line.’ The roster of names continued to ring out: “soy Americano for Nick,” “mobile order for Allison,” and then, sure enough, “chai tea latte for No-Name.”

I left with treats for others and one for me, happy to have surprised myself in a very small thing, and also at once aware of its little place in the big things. Many of us are in an OK place, and many of us, someplace else.

I’ll be thinking of these as I try to read the paper tonight about what’s happened in our nation these last 2 days. That won’t be anything like the wonderful story of how our ducklings were protected, guided, and then helped home. Not even close.

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“Reach for the Red”

There was a time, if I am not mistaken, when this implied reaching for the sports section of USA Today.

But today I realized this carries a new meaning for me, because now down in my handbag (there’s nice old-fashioned term) sits a smartphone, my first, in its new dull red case. Yes: I have joined the ranks of flat phone carriers, or should I say owners, since all our phones use carriers?

Thus too begins a new chapter in my connectivity, and to “reach for the red” will mean digging out the buzzing or ringing device with someone I know (hopefully) on the other end.  I admit I am not as comfortable with this as the myriad of folks around me on this train, to take just a small sample.  There’s someone who can hold a tall coffee drink and scroll through messages. I see a few using two hands. Another person has a stylus poised, and today, I note, there are two print book readers visible!

Perhaps my communication adaptation is somehow like the cormorants I just now see taking off from their posts in the marsh at GE Riverworks. Touched by the morning sun, they awkwardly manage to flap their wings and rise just above the water. They also avoid the soaring great blue heron, the real master of these skies who drops and blends into the reeds to find his fish with the greatest of ease. Perhaps I, too, am taking off in a slightly erratic fashion. Will I become airborne with this now ubiquitous technology?

It’s early days and given the present workload of September and the jostle of home logistics in full swing, I know I need to give myself more time. Surely I will get to the place I can find my contacts as fast as before. Maybe I will understand and come to appreciate some of the icons I have not yet touched on the home screen. It may take longer for me to feel casual about this, however, coming from grandparents who had party lines and boxy crank phones. Those certainly didn’t fit in the back pocket of anyone’s jeans! But….since it’s only Monday, I think I’ll indulge just a little bit, and imagine my paternal postal carrier grandfather, and my other farmer, one-of-two-identical-twins grandfather, carrying such phones in their jeep and tractors in and around their rural lives. Out at the croquet game or down in the tobacco barn, they could have been early adopters, those two.

Now that I think about it? Definitely.

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I Took a Moment

The dog walk on the marsh yesterday coincided with a slow, ebbing tide. I marveled as the ripples steadily headed toward the sea: how could this gentle movement of water be so different from the enormous amounts now flooding so much of Texas? Standing on the woods path, I took a moment.

I took a moment to look at this small tidal river, walked a step and then took another moment to think about the people whose lives are soaked and completely uprooted. Here, in my town,  we are in a near drought.  Why can’t we engineer a solution that transports excess to deficit? Is it impossible?

After this moment my dry day went on its way: visits with friends, work from home, closing out the Atrium from last year’s classes (washing chalkboards, throwing out papers, all very satisfying), and then dinner: a sub sandwich grabbed from the store with ice cream to follow at the local stop. Even the Red Sox won.

And today, thanks to an improvised schedule change, I had the unexpected chance to walk said dog again on the very same path as yesterday. This time there was no motion on the water, tidal or otherwise. The moment I took this morning showed a completely still surface on the river; it was a perfect reflection of the scene above:  skyscape and treetops framed by grasses. Then, another surprise: a bit further on, high in a tree sat a raptor, right in the canopy’s gap, waiting, just like us, for the warmth of the morning light.

My prayer is that those in Texas will see in the water’s reflection, not only moving water and despair but the faces of those who have come to care and help, both now and in the days ahead. As they keep watch may they also keep hope. And may we take some moments to remember and help however we can, too.

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Old Habits Die Hard

The truth is, I don’t quite know where to begin, but I think last night’s trip to my local office supplies store is as good a place as any.

If I still have any faithful readers of this nearly invisible blog, they will know it’s been months since I’ve written any thoughts in this space. They’ve been months full of gain and loss, of travel and home, of joy and sorrow. Life seemed youthful when chasing my children’s children and well up in years as I relived and released some of our family ties to England.  I’ve been running just to enter the ON ramp of life, never mind travel down the fast-moving highway. It was good to take a little slower road to my errand of last evening.

The quiet, orderly aisles of folders, pens, paper, markers….all served as a poignant reminder of so many trips taken these past 20+ years. My kids and I would easily fill a tote or two with supplies from the various school lists that had been unearthed from backpacks and waved across the kitchen table. One might ask, “Surely you don’t need school supplies now that your youngest is a rising junior in college?” But can’t my answer still be yes? Why can’t I pick up a couple (of those sometimes elusive) graph paper notebooks, or a box of unremarkable black ink pens, or the (predictable) thin box of 12 more colored pencils? I could add those in fairly good conscience, right? Wasn’t I also adding two really great pens and very cool gum pencil-top erasers for myself, and crayons for the grandkids? Those erasers are going to rock.

I returned this year with a smaller bag but the treasures inside were no less valuable. They make me contemplate the passage of time, this present intensity at home and at work, the gift of two more babies due and the miracle of each day. What troubled times seem to greet us each morning, or when we return from a day at the office!  I pray for this world. And perhaps, just perhaps, now that I’m restocked for the start of the academics’ new year, I can begin to look down to the bottom of my dry well. I know there will be some life-giving water: the time and rest I need to water this blog, and I hope, to still myself to hear all that I have been shown, given, and received.

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Make Way for Goslings?

This post was supposed to be entitled “UpTick,” a nod to my husband and to signal the increased vigilance now required on pets and selves after all this rainy cool weather. But a sighting this morning out the shuttle bus window as it wound down from the Station usurped this idea. It was a picture-perfect moment that inspired both fear and hope. Where else but in Boston could one find a live enactment of that classic Make Way for Ducklings,[i] with just a slight substitution from among the class Aves, phylum Chordata?

The intersection where this parade of parent geese and 8 goslings occurred is one of the busiest on the route. At least 4 roads join under one of the antique trolley bridges for the Green Line. I didn’t notice the proceedings until two riders pulled their smartphones to capture the odyssey. Thankfully the geese had chosen a moment when most of the traffic lights were red; a Boston cab was staring right across from their small line. Where could Michael the policeman be? Would some other native Bostonian leap from a car and hold the traffic until they crossed? Perhaps a tourist or two would come to the rescue: they must have read the story, right, or perhaps they even made a pilgrimage of their own to the statues in the Common yesterday?

Since our bus turned the corner, I may never know.  I had to look away anyway: even the idea of harm to animals gives me a knot in my midsection and it’s only getting worse with age.  I squeezed my eyes shut and prayed hard the little family would make it back over the roads to the Charles for their morning swim. Surely everyone nearby would have noticed what was happening. They would know the book, right, and be ‘read in’ enough to recognize the scene and pause in their journeys to do their part, to wait and let the geese walk by?

Please tell me it happened that way. We need some light and hope and goodness on these darker days.

[i]  McCloskey, Robert. Make Way For Ducklings. New York: The Viking Press, 1941.

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High Tide and Slow Pace

Today the sun shines some light and, I hope, some warmth into our small patch even if only for a day. It’s been a whirlwind of weather and ‘doings’ and most people would like to shed their rain gear and heavy outerwear. At my house we’ve been slowed by a sprained calf muscle, a rolled ankle, and general malaise. But the dog walk before the rolled ankle provided a wonderful sighting: there atop a tree, a bald eagle sat, just watching and waiting for the next thing to happen.

The tides on this week’s walks have been very full, and something about their appearance and our enforced slower pace has caused a few moments for reflection. It’s like the world needs some rest…just to catch its collective breath, and ensure that we really are moving forward from Easter and not backwards through Lent again to another Ash Wednesday. I thought I had my periscope up, looking for Easter people and the season of light, but on most days since, I’ve had head down, shoulders drooped and am just trying to take the next step.

So on this sunny day, I hope the high tide lifts a few more boats than just mine, and that this enforced slower pace will spur me to do the next task only, free from the sense of the other ten waiting my attention. It will warm up, yes?  We will hope for less violence in our world, right? May this late cold spring turn to early warm summer soon, and may our steps be put right and carry us forward.

Bald eagles really do rock.

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