Author Archives: rebsuebauder

High Summer

High summer - 108.10.20

“Oh, the summer night,
Has a smile of light,
And she sits on a sapphire throne.”
–  Barry Cornwall

The sunsets always get more grand in August.  If you happen to be inside the house, that flood of unique golden light with its long shadows–evidence of high summer– draws you quickly outdoors, and already you see that the sun is slowly sliding south.  Sunsets feel more precious now.  After several weeks of hot days and nights, a cold front came through with a bit of rain and blustery winds, and temperatures for the upcoming week look to be a pleasant mid 70’s.  I know I’ll soon be talking about the hint of coolness behind even the warmest days.  I’m already talking about how dark it is at 6 a.m.

But, I’m letting August just be August, which is often filled with nostalgia and a touch of melancholy, with summer’s end just around the corner.  Both Sarah and Joy were born in the month of August, and as Joy turns 48 tomorrow, I wonder where the years went, and miss what seemed to be such an innocent time.   I remember those summers as slow, carefree and full of hope, finished off by back to school shopping, and the sweet smell of new pencils.  I know I sound like a ” in the good old days” grandmother, but there is no denying the tempo of life was much different before the digital age, and going back to school in the fall did not threaten the lives of teachers and students.  Covid-19 accentuates all of the losses we’ve ever had.

In his book Consolations, David Whyte writes that “Nostalgia is not indulgence…but is something we thought we understood but that we are now about to fully understand, something already lived but not fully lived, issuing not from our future, but from something already experienced; something that was important but something to which we did not grant importance enough, something now wanting to be lived again, at the depth to which it first invited us…”

Happiness

by Joyce Sutphen

This was when my daughters were just children
playing on the rocky shore of the lake,

their hair in braids, their bright-colored jackets
tied around their waists. It was afternoon,

the shadows falling away, their faces
glowing with light. Whatever we said then

(and it must have been happy; it must have
been hopeful) is lost as I am now lost

from that life I lived. This was when nothing
that I wanted mattered, though all I wanted

was happiness, pure happiness, simple
as strawberries and cream in a saucer,

as curtains floating from a window sill,
as small pairs of shoes arranged in a row.

A quiet house

Quiet house - 108.02.20

Our house is now empty and quiet.  Val and the boys drove home to Berkeley on Thursday.  After seven weeks, I found myself just staring at the curtain gently moving in the cool early morning breeze, realizing I had absolutely nothing I needed to do today.  I could just sit at the window, staring, all day, if I wanted to.  It was nearly six months ago when we drove to Seattle for the flight to Finland to visit Joy and her family.  Seattle had just recorded their first death from Covid-19 on that day.  Now, it is August and half a year has gone by.

As I think back over all these months, I know I’ve been an anxious Mother Hen, scratching and clucking, nervously hovering and herding my chicks in search of safety.  I was terrified for Anna when she went to the hospital in Finland, and fretted over how Joy could get back to this country, and when they made it, and quarantined nearby,  I left food and supplies on their doorstep for two weeks and waved at Joy through the picture window.   I regularly talked with Valerie to see how Fletcher was doing, how was he managing, after he suddenly left his college campus when they shut down, and moved in with his Berkeley relatives.  The calming balm of each week, back then, was the week end Zoom calls which Sarah organized with us so we could  play silly games together, see one another, just talk about it all.  And, then, in early June, Valerie’s family of five fled the city to stay with us here at the lake for the summer, taking the risk that Mark and Norah might need to return if Norah’s camp counselor job came to fruition.  It did, they left after two weeks, and until Thursday, we were our own family of five with Val and the two boys.  It feels today like Part One, of a long novel, has come to a close.  There are several more parts yet to go, and the ending is not clear, but in the interim, I’m taking a rest.

In the quiet of this moment, I feel like I’ve come so far already in this story.  I’ve shedded any expectations for a known future, and let go of “normal”.  I’ve learned to cook without constant trips to the grocery store, and I don’t even think about going to a restaurant anymore, nor do I expect a trip west to the sea (but, I do wistfully think about it).  We’ve managed to get by with a malfunctioning smoke alarm system which awakens us regularly in the middle of the night, for months now.  We’ve had two refrigerators fail us and one freezer, right after a $600 Costco food stock up.  We’ve learned to ration toilet paper.  Fletcher contracted Covid-19, with mild symptoms, but the rest of his family was spared.  It’s been quite awhile since I cried myself to sleep, mourning the losses my grandchildren do, and will experience.  We’re making it through.  And, in my best moments, I remember to be profoundly grateful for the blessed and privileged life I am lucky to live.

HOT weather, finally, arrived, with a vengeance.  It was a record 83.5 degrees a few nights ago, when we went to bed at 10:30 p.m.!  It’s felt like the dog-days of summer from my childhood days in Ohio, where you slept with just a sheet and tried not to move.  Rather than closing all the windows at night to keep the furnace from coming on, we are opening them up throughout the house for relief.  By Wednesday, things are expected to be back at seasonal levels, and long-range forecasts for the month indicate it may even be cooler than normal.  Already, it’s a hazy and bleached August sky, and the trees are paused as they slowly begin to send sap back down to their roots far below.  Crispy golden shrubs are beginning to line the highway.

But, I do not intend to rush Autumn–I have many books and naps in the hammock stretching out before me.  And, one of these days, I’ll go upstairs, change the sheets in the dormitory room and wash their towels.  Already, I am discovering the notes we adults left for one another: “I’m out for a walk/I’m on a bike ride/I’m in a Zoom meeting/I’m doing yoga.”  There are menus and grocery lists sitting on the table in the breakfast nook, and a list Eamon made of the chores he did and how much money he earned.  The badminton net is still up, beach towels are draped over the porch railing, and nerf footballs are scattered across the yard.  I really need to rest a bit before I give in to the sweet heartache of this privilege.

…We find that having people knock on our door is as a much a privilege as it is a burden; that being seen, being recognized and being wanted by the world and having a place in which to receive everyone and everything, is infinitely preferable to its opposite.  From “Besieged” by David White in Consolations

 

Starshine

starshine - 1 (2)07.15.20

I’d like a cup of starshine please
mixed with milk and honey
and when it comes to soup
can I please
have some that’s sunny?
By Romesh Gunesekera

Here we are, mid-July, moving into the backside of summer.  It’s been bright and sunny, though still quite chilly.  I hear the furnace come on as I write this morning.  Not quite one month past the summer solstice, sunsets are already earlier and the dawn’s light arrives a bit later.  While we’re not really talking aloud about it, our time together with the California family, is moving towards its inevitable end.  We’re starting to tick off the list of things on our to-do lists.  Valerie is going into the office, which Mark rented during his short stint here, for a day of zoom meetings, then turning in the keys.  Tomorrow, Don and I and the boys are spending the day in Missoula, Cormac’s dream town.  He’s not been there before, but has a list of Zillow homes for sale he wants to drive by, as well as the various schools he’s been researching.  In his nearly 13-year old mind, all the woes of living in the time of Covid-19 will be gone, if only he lived in Missoula, where he imagines wide open spaces for playing with friends, and schools that somehow have escaped the virus, and riding his bike anywhere, just feeling free.  Eamon said last night that there has not been a single day in which Cormac didn’t mention Missoula.  It’s a lovely drive along the 30 mile long shoreline of Flathead Lake, through broad green valleys, and the towering peaks of the Mission Mountains, still showing their snowpack.  Even with summer tourists, it will be wide and open compared to the highways in his Bay Area home.  We’ll drive by the schools and the houses for sale, and have a walk along the Clark Fork River trail in the University District, and a picnic lunch. Then we’ll drive home, having checked this off his list.

A few nights ago at dinner, Cormac talked about how he would now be at Mountain Camp, in the northern California mountains, had the pandemic not changed everything.  He had gone for the first time last year, and said it was the best time of his entire life. He wistfully described days jam-packed with activities, the fun of living with new friends in a dorm, and the most wonderful food ever.  Valerie said that when he returned home and got off the bus, he seemed transformed and was positively glowing.  Eamon replied, “He looked like starshine.”

In this time of loss which hovers low over our house, we are blessed to have nine-year old Eamon, who sees starshine.   He doesn’t talk about what he’s lost, and spends much of the day reading his books, in bed in the mornings, then the chair in the living room at the French doors after breakfast, into the hammock in the warmth of the afternoons.  He makes a daily schedule of when and where he’ll read, broken up by games of badminton, a sailboat ride here and there, watering my geraniums and beach cleanup.  Cheerful and chipper in every single moment.  I am tearful when I think of the Billy Collins poem, On Turning Ten:

The whole idea of it makes me feel
like I’m coming down with something,
something worse than any stomach ache
or the headaches I get from reading in bad light–
a kind of measles of the spirit,
a mumps of the psyche,
a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that is because you have forgotten
the perfect simplicity of being one
and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.But now I am mostly at the window
watching the late afternoon light.
Back then it never fell so solemnly
against the side of my tree house,
and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
as it does today,
all the dark blue speed drained out of it.This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,
as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.
It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,
time to turn the first big number.It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.
I think they will be gone before it’s time to pick raspberries at the farm, and definitely before the cucumbers are ready for the salad I make which they love so much.  But, according to the Amazon shipping notice, our new badminton rackets are set to arrive this afternoon.  And, Friday pizza night is a few days away, and then the week-end, when Mom doesn’t have to work, and we pretend we are all on vacation together down at the dock, in the beautiful days of mid-summer.

 

“Invitation”

July - 107.07.20

It’s cold and rainy this morning and the winds are blowing in a passing low pressure system, but that’s all right.  We’ve had a string of gorgeous warm days with endless blue skies and sunshine, arriving just in time for the 4th of July, as is the tradition.  We toured the lake on the motor boat, sailed, sat by the water in the bright sunlight with our books, and ate late meals on the terrace under the red umbrella.  Don put the badminton net up across the yard.  It felt like happiness again.

We had thunder and lightning in the wee hours this morning that lasted to daybreak.  It’s always an otherworldly experience to sense there are flashes of light behind closed eyelids, and feel the vibration of thunder, and wonder what has bolted you out of deep sleep.  In this ‘broken world’ we live in, I was frightened, imagining that I would succumb to COVID-19, and I made lists in my head of all the things I need to get in order at my house.  By counting the seconds between flashes of lightning and booms of thunder, I finally fell back into sleep at some point.  Lying in bed at dawn, it felt particularly hard to get up, get moving.  In my version of the emotional roller coaster of our time, mornings these days are always the low point for me.  I’m a great sleeper and love the adventures of night-time dreaming and watching the stars out my window, moving in and out of consciousness.  It is so effortless, but then you wake up, and must get on with it.  You must find your way into the gift of another day, even if it wasn’t the day you were looking for.

Mary Oliver reminds us to see the new day as an invitation–“It is a serious thing/just to be alive/on this fresh morning/in the broken world.”  After having coffee and a walk in the rain, my plan for this day is to make one of my delicious soups for simmering on the stove, and go from there.

Invitation by Mary Oliver

Oh do you have time
to linger
for just a little while
out of your busy

and very important day
for the goldfinches
that have gathered
in a field of thistles

for a musical battle,
to see who can sing
the highest note,
or the lowest,

or the most expressive of mirth,
or the most tender?
Their strong, blunt beaks
drink the air

as they strive
melodiously
not for your sake
and not for mine

and not for the sake of winning
but for sheer delight and gratitude –
believe us, they say,
it is a serious thing

just to be alive
on this fresh morning
in the broken world.
I beg of you,

do not walk by
without pausing
to attend to this
rather ridiculous performance.

It could mean something.
It could mean everything.
It could be what Rilke meant, when he wrote:
You must change your life.

 

 

 

Moving along in June

Late June-2 - 106.28.20

The Californians have been here two weeks now.  Our bubble has shrunk by two as Mark and Norah started their journey back home this morning, after picking up a rental car at the airport yesterday. We hoped it would be different, with Mark settled into his rented office in downtown Bigfork for summer’s duration, but it turns out that Norah’s counselor job at a day camp in Berkeley is happening after all.  We suspect it will have to shutdown–as with so many other things in this time of coronavirus–and the two of them will need to go back into quarantine in their own home.  So be it, it is what it is.  Despite lots of cool and rainy weather during these two weeks, there were days and evenings, like yesterday, when it felt like summer.  Norah took her final frigid swim out to the sailboat and back last night.  We’d had a couple of sailboat rides, read our books in the sunshine by the water, kayaked, painted with Carol, and enjoyed some lovely conversations–a light touch of summer together, in spite of it all.

I was sad to see them go.  I’ve been sad a lot this past week with the virus on a menacing rise, and our disastrous president who wears no clothes.  I’ve been sad to see how the pall of Covid-19 shrouds our young teens.  They’ve not left their home or seen friends in four months, and they do not believe Berkeley schools will open for in-person classes this coming fall.  They retreat into their screens.  Cormac, nearly 13, used to spend much of his California days in endless hours of baseball practice and games.  Now, he told Don, who keeps asking him to play catch, “What’s the point?  There isn’t even any baseball anymore.”  On my morning walks, I find that a certain smell can make me so melancholy for days that felt halcyon in my youth and I built hideouts, alone, in the Ohio woods, or when I once felt strong and powerful and my hips didn’t ache.  I keep remembering that article which passed around on Facebook a couple of months ago– “That uncomfortable feeling you’re having is grief.”

Well, we move on, do our bit, and, here it is, almost July.   The Fourth of July is always the traditional start of summer weather and we’re looking forward to more time in the water, s’more campfires, and some hikes in the mountains.  Val has announced that the transition period is over and there’s going to be a change in the pattern of  the boys’ days.  I believe that today includes a family house-cleaning session.  For me, I plan to buck myself up, and just keep showing up I guess, like we all must do.  And, I’ll be on the watch/the gods will offer you chances.

The Laughing Heart

your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
know them.
take them.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
in you.

— by Charles Bukowski

Long summer days

long days - 106.13.20

“Though it was past ten o’clock at night, the sky still clung to and retained some lingering skirts of light from the departed day; and the sullen heats of the torrid afternoon broke up and rolled away at the dispersing touch of the cool fingers of the short midsummer night.”  –-The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham

We have not had “torrid afternoons”–in fact, we are something like 258% over normal for moisture so far in June and temperatures have been 10+ degrees below normal.  But, when the clouds do part at bedtime, and the sun begins to set over the northern edge of the lake, there is a peaceful release–even if just momentarily– from all the anxiety and fear I may have suffered throughout the day.  And, when I sat at the shore and watched the Canada Goose family, with seven new goslings, glide by in quiet silver-blue water, my saddest spirits were lifted from another coronavirus roller coaster day.   I count my blessings.  “Who could be so lucky?  Who comes to a lake for water and sees the reflection of moon.” -Rumi

Big changes are coming here to the lake on Monday.  We are expanding our shelter in place bubble to include Valerie and family from California, for who knows how long.  After all these solitary months hunkered down, the life and energy of grandchildren filling the house is such a happy thought.  We were talking the other evening about how it’s time to clean out the fireplace and bid farewell to all those evenings we cozily spent by the fire, with the remains of winter out our windows.  We do that quite well together.  But, just as the light has returned to the sky, and the trees have leafed out, and the flowers are in bloom, we are ready for summer’s arrival of warm and long days.  The sailboat is tethered to her mooring ball and the old motor boat is on the ramp, and weather or not, now it is time.

Why I Am Happy

Now has come, an easy time. I let it

roll. There is a lake somewhere

so blue and far nobody owns it.

A wind comes by and a willow listens

gracefully.

I hear all this, every summer. I laugh

and cry for every turn of the world,

its terribly cold, innocent spin.

That lake stays blue and free; it goes

on and on.

And I know where it is.


— William Stafford

 

 

June of 2020

June 2020-2 - 106.03.2020

I woke up at 5:30 a.m. on Sunday, having a dream that they were rearranging furniture above my head up in heaven.  Strange, as I haven’t any concept of a “heaven,” but what awakened me was house-shaking thunder and bolts of lightening that caused me to see halos of light behind my closed eyes.  Fierce rains slashed the windows, trees violently bent back and forth and the power flickered, for nearly three hours.  I had plenty of time at my computer, waiting it out, reading the stories of protests and violence in our cities, and looking at photos of so much pain and suffering, in a country which was imploding.   With the storm raging outside, I thought of all the times during major earthquakes and hurricanes and tsunamis, it has seemed like Mother Earth has just had enough of us and the mess we have made of things, and is trying to spin us out of her orbit.  I had watched Saturday’s live coverage of Space X as it began its journey to the International Space Station, and, like the commentators, was overcome by emotion when they beamed down that first image of the beautiful blue, perfectly round planet we call Home.  What we humans have wrought to her in our short time as residents…

Like the 1960’s defined my generation, I would guess that my grandchildren will also be defined by 2020–a story just now being written.  John texted me the other morning, “How do we as our children’s and grandchildren’s elders somehow maintain hope through these times so they don’t become cynical and despair?”  I don’t know, I wrote back, I don’t know.  In other times of despair in my life, I’ve sometimes found solace in Wendell Berry’s poem, “The Peace of Wild Things”, with his instruction to go and lie down where the wood drake rests…

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

Yet, I think solace is different from hope.  John and I are both fortunate to live in places where the peace of wild things is right outside our windows, inviting us in.  But,”It is hard to have hope,” Wendell Berry writes in A Poem on Hope.  Perhaps our work as elders is as simple– and, as hard as– remembering that, “When the people make dark the light within them, the world darkens.”

A Poem on Hope

It is hard to have hope. It is harder as you grow old,
for hope must not depend on feeling good
and there’s the dream of loneliness at absolute midnight.
You also have withdrawn belief in the present reality
of the future, which surely will surprise us,
and hope is harder when it cannot come by prediction
anymore than by wishing. But stop dithering.
The young ask the old to hope. What will you tell them?
Tell them at least what you say to yourself.

Because we have not made our lives to fit
our places, the forests are ruined, the fields, eroded,
the streams polluted, the mountains, overturned. Hope
then to belong to your place by your own knowledge
of what it is that no other place is, and by
your caring for it, as you care for no other place, this
knowledge cannot be taken from you by power or by wealth.
It will stop your ears to the powerful when they ask
for your faith, and to the wealthy when they ask for your land
and your work.  Be still and listen to the voices that belong
to the stream banks and the trees and the open fields.

Find your hope, then, on the ground under your feet.
Your hope of Heaven, let it rest on the ground underfoot.
The world is no better than its places. Its places at last
are no better than their people while their people
continue in them. When the people make
dark the light within them, the world darkens.

 

Mustering hope & good cheer

mustering home and good cheer-3 - 1

05.25.20

I wonder if on the other side of coronavirus, scholars will write papers and create graphs to illustrate the predictable emotional trajectory our lives took over the course of this crisis.  Like the “Cultural Shock” graph Joy put on her blog, during the time they lived in Finland, maybe there will turn out to be a pattern of emotions and behavior that many of us experienced in the same way.  My sister told me last week that she, and everyone she knows, was experiencing a severe case of the “grouchies”. My week was also an irritable one in which every little decision became a problem that required advanced calculus in order to find a solution.  Things like what to make for dinner.  For the first time, after nearly three months, I entered stores and faced strangers who were not wearing masks, when I shopped for my flowers at the greenhouses.  I went into a small liquor store in which there were no other customers, but the man at the cash register was not wearing a mask, and at the dry cleaners drive-up window, I mistakenly used her pen to sign the credit card slip instead of my own.  I don’t know how many times I wiped everything down in my car, my purse, the steering wheel, and drove home with all the windows down despite 52 degree temperatures.  I was so emotionally and physically wrecked that I was in bed by 7:30.  I felt just like the old Peanuts cartoon that showed Charlie Brown lying in bed next to Snoopy, with the caption, “It’s too peopley out there.”

The whole experience sent me down a rabbit hole for a couple of days in which all I did was walk around the house doing nothing, despite the short list I create each morning for focus.  It was another rainy and cool week–in fact, the totals coming in for this month show we’ve had double the usual amount of rain and temperatures are 10-15 degrees cooler than normal.  Just one of those weeks.  It’s still cloudy here on Memorial Day, no boats on the lake, and rain coming in again tonight.  But, the temperatures are forecasted to be flat-out summer by mid-week, and Don is preemptively worrying that the snowpack will melt too fast and there will be forest fires come August.  I can’t believe he can even think that far into the future.  My sister and I regularly exchange emails with inspirational quotes, and in one from last week, there was the line, “mustering hope and good cheer,” and I thought about how tiring it is to “muster”.  But, we do.  And, as you can see from my photo, there was some good cheer in gathering up my lilacs this morning.

On the Other Side by Lynn Unger

Through the looking glass,
down the rabbit hole,
into the wardrobe and out
into the enchanted forest
where animals talk
and danger lurks and nothing
works quite the way it did before,
you have fallen into a new story.
It is possible that you
are much bigger—or smaller—
than you thought.
It is possible to drown
in the ocean of your own tears.
It is possible that mysterious friends
have armed you with magical weapons
you don’t yet understand,
but which you will need
to save your own life and the world.
Everything here is foreign.
Nothing quite makes sense.
That’s how it works.
Do not confuse the beginning
of the story with the end.

Stalled out

stalled out - 105.18.20

Our weather has stalled out.  Here’s the NOAA report for this week.  In the forecast discussion, they say that next week we’ll likely have even more rain, and there is no global indication that things will change before the end of May.   It’s like the coronavirus–we are in a holding pattern, stuck in limbo, waiting for a positive change, fearful there won’t be one.

The weather icons actually don’t tell the whole story.  It looked much like this last week, and many mornings it rained or had dense fog, but by late afternoon, it turned into a warm and sunny day with the bluest of skies, white clouds, greenest new leaves, and it was 7:00 before I could drag myself inside to make dinner.  At bedtime last night, after a beautiful afternoon, there was lightning and thunder, which is always incredibly exciting at the lake.  So good things are still happening, and June is on its way.

It’s the time of lilacs and I’m beginning to spot hints of pale lavender on bushes, which I will stealthily cut in the weeks ahead in vacant fields and deserted alleyways.  Born in the month of May, they have always been my flower.  There was that famous tall birthday cake my mother made me, frosted with purple lilac flowers, when I was a lonely teenager.  And, in the years I lived in New England, the days were perfumed for the entire month.  Everywhere you looked, there were weather-beaten lilacs that looked to be a hundred years old, bent over by heavy arms full of blossoms.  It’s Fletcher’s birthday today and I always think of the lilacs which were in bloom in Colorado, where he was born.   I stayed at my sister’s house in Eaton, and each morning I drove on a narrow farm road, west to Ft. Collins so I could help out the new Mom.  The setting sun would be at my back when I returned, and I often stopped to break off a branch from an abandoned lilac bush, and set it on the dashboard.  Its sweet scent filled my tender heart, broken open by the astonishing love I felt for my first grand baby.  Rain or shine,  in this crawling, anxious, slowed down time, here come the lilacs, which can fill an entire day with the smell of all summers/the loves of wives and children.

Lilacs, by Amy Lowell

Lilacs,
False blue,
White,
Purple,
Color of lilac,
Your great puffs of flowers
Are everywhere in this my New England.
Among your heart-shaped leaves
Orange orioles hop like music-box birds and sing
Their little weak soft songs;
In the crooks of your branches
The bright eyes of song sparrows sitting on spotted eggs
Peer restlessly through the light and shadow
Of all Springs.
Lilacs in dooryards
Holding quiet conversations with an early moon;
Lilacs watching a deserted house
Settling sideways into the grass of an old road;
Lilacs, wind-beaten, staggering under a lopsided shock of bloom
Above a cellar dug into a hill.
You are everywhere.
You were everywhere.
You tapped the window when the preacher preached his sermon,
And ran along the road beside the boy going to school.
You stood by the pasture-bars to give the cows good milking,
You persuaded the housewife that her dishpan was of silver.
And her husband an image of pure gold.
You flaunted the fragrance of your blossoms
Through the wide doors of Custom Houses—
You, and sandal-wood, and tea,
Charging the noses of quill-driving clerks
When a ship was in from China.
You called to them: “Goose-quill men, goose-quill men,
May is a month for flitting.”
Until they writhed on their high stools
And wrote poetry on their letter-sheets behind the propped-up ledgers.
Paradoxical New England clerks,
Writing inventories in ledgers, reading the “Song of Solomon” at night,
So many verses before bed-time,
Because it was the Bible.
The dead fed you
Amid the slant stones of graveyards.
Pale ghosts who planted you
Came in the nighttime
And let their thin hair blow through your clustered stems.
You are of the green sea,
And of the stone hills which reach a long distance.
You are of elm-shaded streets with little shops where they sell kites and marbles,
You are of great parks where every one walks and nobody is at home.
You cover the blind sides of greenhouses
And lean over the top to say a hurry-word through the glass
To your friends, the grapes, inside.
Lilacs,
False blue,
White,
Purple,
Color of lilac,
You have forgotten your Eastern origin,
The veiled women with eyes like panthers,
The swollen, aggressive turbans of jeweled pashas.
Now you are a very decent flower,
A reticent flower,
A curiously clear-cut, candid flower,
Standing beside clean doorways,
Friendly to a house-cat and a pair of spectacles,
Making poetry out of a bit of moonlight
And a hundred or two sharp blossoms.
Maine knows you,
Has for years and years;
New Hampshire knows you,
And Massachusetts
And Vermont.
Cape Cod starts you along the beaches to Rhode Island;
Connecticut takes you from a river to the sea.
You are brighter than apples,
Sweeter than tulips,
You are the great flood of our souls
Bursting above the leaf-shapes of our hearts,
You are the smell of all Summers,
The love of wives and children,
The recollection of gardens of little children,
You are State Houses and Charters
And the familiar treading of the foot to and fro on a road it knows.
May is lilac here in New England,
May is a thrush singing “Sun up!” on a tip-top ash tree,
May is white clouds behind pine-trees
Puffed out and marching upon a blue sky.
May is a green as no other,
May is much sun through small leaves,
May is soft earth,
And apple-blossoms,
And windows open to a South Wind.
May is full light wind of lilac
From Canada to Narragansett Bay.
Lilacs,
False blue,
White,
Purple,
Color of lilac.
Heart-leaves of lilac all over New England,
Roots of lilac under all the soil of New England,
Lilac in me because I am New England,
Because my roots are in it,
Because my leaves are of it,
Because my flowers are for it,
Because it is my country
And I speak to it of itself
And sing of it with my own voice
Since certainly it is mine.

 

Happy Birthdays

Birthday month - 105.12.20

After this dazzling sunset last night, it’s raining this morning and looks to be that way all day, as well as tomorrow.  We’ve had lots of good sunshine in recent days, so this is an okay change.  You would think that after these weeks and weeks of sheltering at home, reading books, and doing much of nothing, a rainy day would not be so welcome, but, I didn’t mind seeing the rain pouring off the roof when I opened my eyes early this morning.  It’s a great day for soup making, more reading, more of nothing, and an excuse for a cozy fire and candles.  Such a day, in the life of coronavirus, doesn’t ask much of me.

We have five family birthdays in the month of May, starting with me, last Friday.  My day began with a beautiful early morning walk on the lake bed, just the two of us, out there on the vast expanse of sand.   After a night’s misty rain, the budding cottonwoods along the bank filled the air with their heavenly scent.  We watched a pair of eagles, heard Sandhill Cranes, and a Wilson Snipe’s constant call.  When we got to the Flathead River, we could see how it was now beginning to flow over the lake bed, filling it up with melted snow from the mountains in the background.  There was something so magical to actually watch it happen, in real time.  I spent the day in Happy Birthday phone calls, text messages, emails, funny videos and cards, which literally filled the entire day.  I don’t think I read the day’s bad news–at least that’s how I already remember it.  For dinner, Rita had a little pizza birthday party on her front porch.  It was a happy day.  Don’s birthday was yesterday and he spent it mowing the lawn, and roping himself up on the roof so he could sweep off pine cones and needles.  It was also Rich’s birthday over in Billings, where it was snowing.  I think I won.

In a few more days, it will be Fletcher’s 19th birthday (NINETEEN!) and Duncan’s 16th, which fills me with memories of having been there on the days they were born, and the profound joy it’s brought to my life to love them.   Fletcher has just been back with his family in Billings for a little over a week, after spending nearly two months in Berkeley with Val and her family, when Western Washington closed due to Covid.  My youngest grandson, Eamon, adores his oldest cousin, and was always thrilled to go for bike rides and walks with him.  When his Mom asked what they did on their walks, Eamon told her that they tried to name the spring flowers–which, of course, is what grandmas always teach on walks with their  young grandchildren.  On my birthday,  Duncan texted me a photo of an allium flower that had budded in the backyard of the rented house in Billings, which they’ve recently moved into.  Years ago, when he and Anna had just started elementary school, I would walk them there in the mornings on my visits, and in springtime, we would look for budding flowers.   Once, there was a tall spindly purple one, which I didn’t recognize, and told them I would google it, and report back when I walked them home.  It was an allium gladiator, and we three sat at their kitchen table and each drew a picture of it.   I didn’t mention that it’s from the humble onion family and its Latin translation is garlic–we all thought it was beautiful.   In Duncan’s text, he wrote, “it’s our flower and I’m so glad I can look at them every day and think about you!”  I’m telling you, here in the time of coronavirus, when something makes me cry every day,  it was the happiest of birthdays for me.

The Ponds, by Mary Oliver

Every year
the lilies
are so perfect
I can hardly believe

their lapped light crowding
the black,
mid-summer ponds.
Nobody could count all of them —

the muskrats swimming
among the pads and the grasses
can reach out
their muscular arms and touch

only so many, they are that
rife and wild.
But what in this world
is perfect?

I bend closer and see
how this one is clearly lopsided —
and that one wears an orange blight —
and this one is a glossy cheek

half nibbled away —
and that one is a slumped purse
full of its own
unstoppable decay.

Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled —
to cast aside the weight of facts

and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world.
I want to believe I am looking

into the white fire of a great mystery.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing —
that the light is everything — that it is more than the sum
of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do.