Post #74: Summer Swevens (Visions and Dreams)

IMG_1306SUMMER SWEVENS (VISIONS AND DREAMS)

It’s so early that somehow I expect the blackness to be heavy and  thick and inky dark. But it’s not. The trees are flat as black paper cutouts, a sfumato mist hovers in the air.  I shouldn’t be out of the house. But I am.

I find a soft tussock of grass and first touch it gingerly with my toes.  The plants are cool and vertiginous and pliant.   I hesitantly sit and then in a few more moments, luxuriously stretch out.  My eyes wink. Then they flutter. I remember.

***

The Sprinkler

Not to the lake. Not to the pool. Not to the pond.  Not for us! Pushing through the screen door, we are bathing suited, our bare feet burning on the pavement. Hot enough to fry an egg on it?  Should we try?  Jump on the grass where it’s cool then!

We squeal as suddenly a waterfall of what feels like icy tears cascades from above, pelting and peppering us.  Just as quickly the jit jit jit of water arcs back and above, hitting the cherry tree with spray before coming around to us once more.  We are like the tigers at the circus leaping bravely through flaming hoops!   Jump in, jump out, jump in!

Wrapped tight in damp towels, double-sticked grape popsicles clutched in our fingers, our tongues proudly, and perhaps permanently, purple.

***

The Ice Cream Truck

Did you hear it? I heard it!  Run run run! 

Arrive with your dollar clutched wet and tight in your fist.  Wait and wait and wait. Will it ever be my turn? My turn!  With a satisfying katchoonk! the tiny door opens and a whoosh of arctic blasts us back almost across the street.   Bold as Robert Peary himself, the white shirted ice cream man nonchalantly thrusts in his arm into the cold, chips away at the ice floes and pulls out buried treasure:  King Cones, Chocolate Eclairs, Strawberry Shortcakes, and Eskimo Pies.

Solemnly I hand him my doubloon in exchange for real jewel.

***

Riding Bikes

Like a velvet toppered Olympic equestrian, I am tall in the saddle, proudly astride my green, banana-seat Schwinn.  Around and around the circular drive, faster and faster and faster.  This is fine, but you and I  have a plan, don’t we?  You hop on the bike, I’ll clip on the roller skates. Tie the jump rope to the back bar and around and around and around, swing free, swing fast, swing out!  DO. NOT. LET. GO.  But of course,  I do!

***

Our Pool

A run and a leap and a flying cannon ball right  from the board, stretching high enough to touch the trees.  There is a moment—just a moment!—where I’m sure that I’m truly taking off, a hovering second before I plunge deep dark and down to the very bottom.  My eyes open with a start.  How could I be here?  I was sure I could, I knew I could, I thought I could fly.

My head bursts through the surface, water streaming from my nose. But when I breathe in I am  suffused by the alluring scent of hot dogs hissing and splitting their casings as the roast on the grill.  Add mustard and onions and chips.  Sneak bites of brownies from the bottom of the freezer.  Orange soda, red pop, or rock ’n rye?

My Dad says, “Get me a cold one.” I do, adding  ice to his glass of beer.

***

Sparklers

The day drags on thick and hot as pot of pea soup.   But for once, we don’t want it to linger.  For this we need the night.  Hour after hour we wait,  the air scorching and the hot sun pressing against us.  Eight thirty and then nine? Is it dark?  When will it ever ever be dark enough? 

Count three stars in a sky that spreads wide like an ear to ear grin and it’s finally time.  Hold out your hand and it’s solemnly lit.  With a sibilant swish, a crackle, a blaze and the sparkler lights up, a universe igniting in my hand.

Over too soon. Another!  Oh please!  And another!

***

Slowly I open my eyes. The light is edging the sky, becoming soft, changing everything around me imperceptibly but surely, as it is with growing children.  I hear the first tweet of the early morning. A robin.  I see her as she caroms around the trees, swooping and gliding, a skater on air. A ruffle of leaves and she’s momentarily disappeared.  Inside the bush her hungry babies wait in a nest she’s carefully  lined with twigs and feathers. I glance at my house, one I’ve lined with words and books.

It’s time.

A fantasia of early morning spreads like a fan to cool the rising heat of day. Like a  sunflower, my face follows the golden orb as it moves across the sky.  I sigh. Because at last, at long last, once again, it’s summer.

Much warmth and happiness to you all.

Post #73: KATASCOPOS

IMG_1238The dream, of course, was always in place.   A tiny wooden fortress, a look out, safely nestled in the branches.   A rope ladder to be shimmied and then quickly hoisted aloft. At last I’m here!  In my dreams my knees curl talon tight around a branch.  I am an owl, solid and solitary amidst my branches quiet, contemplative and ever so watchful. My eyes grow wide and my heart swells.  A sharp intake of breath.  The world is spread before me as a summer picnic, soft and ripe and full as a sun warmed peach. I feel I can reach out and touch it, yet the distance flattens and somehow makes the whole feel close. I am up and above and at one with the world.

So many years later but in a way,  I am finally here up high, enrobed clouds.  There is no rope ladder but still this little room is stilted upon a high perch, walls of windows welcoming the world outside, framing images that continuously dart and swirl  like a pinwheel.  I am level with the crowns of the surrounding trees but in their majesty there is no sense of kingly distain.  Their gnarled arms reach out, surround and embrace me. I am soaring, sweeping through the air! The wind ruffles the leaves like butterflies tethered to their perch.  I always crave that arboreal embrace.

If I stay very still I can feel the trembles from a susurus of sound,  layers of hum one on top the other, of birds, of insects, even the somehow comforting lull of distant traffic, rising up to my perch.

This is where I want to be.

In his lyrical introduction to the equally exquisite The Peregrine by J.A. Baker, naturalist and writer Robert Macfarlaine speaks of katascopos, a Greek word referring to the supremely lucky “looker downers” who possess the view reserved only for the gods—or the birds.  Or those who scramble up mountain peaks.  Or perhaps those who dream of  perching in tree houses.

I don’t think of this as an omnipotent god-like view at all. Rather it feels remarkably generous and expansive to see all spread before me, the view wide and  open and limitless.  This is not just what I want to see. It’s what I want to feel.

But soon enough I’ll descend once again from up high, gather up my papers and books and bags, to trudge through my day, jangled and jinked.

So to the question: how can one’s spirits soar while one’s feet remain rooted firmly to the ground?  The answer, like some of the most beautiful things, is both clear and simple.

Quietly look and see.   Quietly listen and hear.

Instead of seeing the leaves shiver and tremble in anticipation of a coming storm  I’ll try to catch the momentary blink of uncertainty that shades someone’s face before they speak.

Instead of struggling to discern the tweets and twitters of the early rising birds, I’ll try to truly focus on each word someone is saying instead of silently formulating my own wished for witty response.

What will I learn, what will I hear that I otherwise might miss?  If I try, can I then bring my marvelous treehouse down to earth, the most beautifully wondrous aspects of katascopos to the every day? 

Perhaps!

Post #71: Shehechyanu Moments

FullSizeRenderAnxious and jittered I shudder through my days, fizzed and cocktail shakered from top to bottom. Splash me out into an iced goblet, gussy me up with a speared pimento’d olive, a square of sugar, a paper parasol. Ready to go.

Right the ship. Hold fast. Steady on.

I cling to my books like talismans and like life preservers. I carry them from room to room, sleep with them under my pillow, hide them in my purse. Richard Jefferies, Mary Webb, W.H. Hudson. Jean-Henri Fabre. Like a hummingbird dipping it’s beak full of floral nectar, a line or two gleaned as I wait for the morning announcements. a page absorbed while standing in line for a sandwich. A few more inhaled as I wait for a train.

Then too I peep through windows, hoping to catch a sparkling glimpse. Leaves shimmying on their branches undulating with the wind? An elegant caddis fly hovering just out of reach? The shiver of air left by a bird in flight?

A few moments. Just enough. But never enough.

In the classroom we talk about Marcus Aurelius, the man who so beautifully explains himself to himself in Meditations. The book that was never meant to be read has been read a million times over, over the centuries. Do your duty honestly and faithfully. Be virtuous. Aim for tranquilly. Live— and live for the moment.

To be aware and in the moment is essential, as we steer our course. But to remember? We have the right I think to choose our moments. To grab at the happy ones, allowing the others to recede and creep back to the shadows, leaping from peak to peak and from joy to joy.

Once upon a time I had a favorite prayer, one I only heard once a year. First night of Chanukah, the third prayer. The gorgeous chant for that prayer always made my heart soar and my spirit sing.

It wasn’t until much later that I learned that the Shehechyanu is not meant for just once a year.
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech haolam,
shehecheyanu, v’kiy’manu, v’higianu laz’man hazeh.

Our praise to You, Eternal our God, Sovereign of all:
for giving us life, sustaining us, and enabling us to reach this season.*

This season, or this moment in time. Or in other words, one is blessed to recite the Shehechyanu at so many happy moments in life. At a holiday that comes around once again. When you see a friend that you haven’t seen in such a long time. When someone you love achieves something never achieved before.

Life is filled with Shehechyanu moments waiting to be experienced and savored again and again. Here’s wishing for many Shehechyanu moments for each of us.

*translation from http://www.reformjudaism.org

In honor of JRF

Post #60: Darwin on the Porch

img_1469I pry my eyes wide open. For safety’s sake  I’m sleeping in my glasses. I always sleep in my glasses.  I need to see. I desperately need to see.  But it’s so dark I might as well have kept my eyes closed.

It’s so dark! It’s so, so dark!

I catch my  breath. Then the little thoughts  begin to pelter me like hailstones, icy little balls rat-a-tatting  at me.

I should have called him.

I started to read but I stopped.

Why didn’t I do the dishes last night?

That picture has been crooked on the wall for a week.

The crags of unfolded laundry are piled higher and higher. Unputaway

The cobwebs reach delicately, achingly from corner to lamp and then arch back again.

“I want this!  I need this!  You’re late!!”

I’m already afraid for the mistakes of the day I’m yet to make.

I struggle from the swirled tidepool of my bedsheets.

Down the stairs, into my coat, out the door,  onto the porch.  Once there I stop. For a moment or two I can’t even breathe. But I can hear it.

It’s so long since I’ve really heard silence.

The air is moist, comfortingly heavy and sweetly enveloping.  Each breath feels as if I’m swallowing rich mouthfuls of a malted. I breathe slowly — not to be too greedy.

I know this place so well.  The ragged hedge, the tufted and tousled  grass, the barebranched trees jubilantly stretching their limbs, grateful to  at last shaken free the leaves that form a crunchy carpet below.

It’s all solid, all respectful, all tolerant. How can a place feel patient?

But here for a few moments, nothing is asked of me. I am not judged. I am quietly welcome.

That’s all there is. But then, that’s all I wanted.

***

In December of 1831 Charles Darwin boarded The Beagle to begin a five year voyage of discovery that would take him from the Canary Islands to the Galapagos to New Zealand.  Was he equal parts exhilarated and exhausted,  roiled by the ocean, burned by the equatorial sun, embraced by the arms of the sky?  The only naturalist on board FitzRoy’s vessel, he was separate from the seamen, always alone, straining to hear the sounds of quiet.  Away from the onslaught of the world, through jungles and trauma and terrors,  he still possessed one of the greatest luxuries: he had time to think.

After returning home in 1836  Darwin spent rest of his life was spent sorting his thoughts. His period of separateness and quiet was the seedbed of his greatness, of all that came afterwards.

I have not traversed oceans, nor clambered up mountains, nor soared through the skies. So many times , like today,  I cannot make myself step further than my front porch. But for me, at least this time, it’s far enough.

A few moments of quiet and my mind leaps forward too!

Post #55: The Sweetness of Nearness

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“The insect does not aim at so much glory. It confines itself to showing us life in the inexhaustible variety of its manifestations; it helps us to decipher in some small measure the obscurest book of all, the book of ourselves.” Jean-Henri Fabre

They are all surrounded by sweetness. Diligent, caring, and oh so industrious. They burrow and they buzz, their soft fuzzy bodies bely their stingers as they nuzzle and cuddle together. Stacked in hexagonal bunk beds that lock together like legos. All equal: they eat, they rest, they live, they love.

Flying far afield they swoop and swerve, pirouetting from flower to flower. Sated, consumed, exhausted. Even so, they know they always have a hive to come home to. Sweetness at its source. It oozes thick and slow, enrobing and ennobling them, caressing them all. So very, very sweet.

Their hearts and souls beat as one.

***

I buzz busily through my day, day after day. I rattle and I roar from place to place, nervously tapping and thumping and bumping and bungling. Sated, consumed, exhausted. But there are always tiny drops of honey. I guzzle them greedily: a nod, a smile a door held open. But eventually I do come home. If I wait, if I am patient, someday soon we all will all alight here, nipping together at the honeycombs, tasting the sweetness of nearness. We are here, whenever we get here, for each other. We always will be.

No matter how far away any of us fly, the hive remains. It always remains. Welcoming to loved ones, again and again. For always.

But I miss you all. I miss you. I do.

I dream. We are all together, enrobed and ennobled in sweetness.

Soon.

Post #48: Night Itself

IMG_1374You hear it first. Really, how could you miss it?

It sweeps through with the breathtaking blur of Gene Krupa’s flailing sticks badgering and barumphing at the skins, cajoling wave after wave and whoosh after whoosh of sound. Millions of tiny jubilant splashes in a muscular trill, a cacophonous drumroll of rain.

The truth is I wasn’t expecting the storm at all. As always, it was night itself I was after.

***

Drive-in Movie: 1965

it was the pajama ride of our dreams. The three of us rattled around the expanse of backseat like kernels sizzling in a popper. We had pillows but no one was going to waste time sleeping. It was just getting dark as my Dad pulled into a parking spot and fitted the receiver onto his window. We made it! The dancing hot dog on the screen said there was just enough time to get to the snack bar. Hurry, hurry, hurry! We wanted Good ’n Plenty! We wanted Milky Ways! We wanted Raisinettes! We got a box of popcorn. For the three of us. To share.   If I stood up I from my spot in the backseat I could almost see the bottom half of Mary Poppins through the front window. No, we were not going to lay out on the hood of the car like those other people.

I turned my back to the movie and instead looked out the slanted rear window. I could see the whole sky, black as licorice. There were stars. They sparkled like Sno-Caps.   My very own snack bar, my very own show.

***

Oak Park Boulevard: 1967

It was all wrong, completely wrong, totally wrong. Which of course made it feel so very right.

A quick scissor kick (I was learning to swim) and I was free of the covers. The summer darkness in the house was damp and foggy. I gingerly felt my way to my hearts desire, left conveniently on the floor. There it was! I had it.

Light sliced from the bathroom and slanted through my doorway just so. I was drawn to it like a nightgowned moth. Very carefully, very quietly I cracked it open.   Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle! I loved this so much. I couldn’t wait until morning. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle had an upside down house.   You could jump over doorways! You could swing down stairs! You could sit around her chandeliers and pretend they were campfires! An upside down world where everything was just right.

Looking out at the comfort of the darkness I wished that night was day and day was night. An upside down world where everything was just right.

***

Wawa, Canada: 1972

We were not exactly roughing it, unless you consider roughing it taking an overnight on the camp bus and pitching a tarp in a local trailer park. Grudgingly we took a walk into town to forage for food, proudly procuring a few Coffee Crisps, several Mackintosh Toffees, a whole salami, and a can of Pringles. We hoarded this stash shamelessly. But it was going to be okay. We just might survive our time in the wild.

I waited until it was dark and everyone else was asleep. Silently I untwisted from my sleeping bag and crept from the bus. With small, stealthy steps I quickly made my way down the path to the lake. The dark around me was dense and verdant, packed with muffled sound. I kept my flashlight beam low. Then I snapped it off. Why would I need it? The whole sky above was massed with stars, a swirling and twirling marching band before my eyes!

No one would ever believe it. I had found Van Gogh’s The Starry Night in Wawa, Canada.

***

Dominos Pizza, Ann Arbor, 1981

He pounded furiously, stretched gently, then casually flung them into the air and then down the line. Dough after dough. Never missed!   I was the toppings girl, plunging my hands into various vats of pepperoni and onion and mushrooms as if I was playing a never ending game of Whackamole. Sausage was awful and sticky. I had to keep plunging my fists into the olive juice just so I could scrape it off my hands.   I dreamed of graduating to saucing and cheesing. But not just yet.

I got off at 2 am.  It wasn’t at all quiet. Let’s get real: here at night any night percolated with adventure! But I headed for home. My plan was to be up and out by 8 am. Because that’s the quiet time here. I grabbed it.

Had my Piggle-Wiggle dream come true?

***

Riverside Drive: 1993

They are so tiny, so very small. “I’ve bought chickens bigger than that!” someone squawked as I hurried anxiously past with the double stroller. I know. They were identically fed from droppers, one boy in my arms, his brother in a rocker. I switched their places every 15 minutes. It took over an hour to feed them, each time every time. They had to eat every three hours around the clock. They took turns sleeping but they were too small to know that there was no turn left for me. Day and night blended to charcoal.

Around the corner, Big Nick Burger lit up the dark. Everything you could wish for hot and ready 24 hours a day. I wanted it. We were, after all, in the city that never sleeps! All I had to do is get off the couch…

***

Our House: Just now

The storm itself has taken a breath but the rain continues, a ready steady strum. At last the night is what I was looking for, deep and velvety and enveloping.

There is no noise to speak of. There is so much to hear. I’m listening…

Dawn always catches me by surprise.

Post #45: Sfumato

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I fell in love with a book. And through that book, I fell in love with the world.

It was a gentle summer city night. City dark isn’t really dark at all but actually more of a sfumato, mysterious, entrancing, and lit by the soft buzzy glow of streetlamps. The Strand, that warm and inviting forest of books, beckoned and as always I was enraptured and ensnared.

It was in the relative gloom of the subterranean levels that I found it.

The cover, pedestrian. The title, bland. The book, heavy and ponderous.

The Green Treasury

I wanted it.  And so I bought it.

***

I live in a lovely, idealized checkerboard world, each precision piece in place. No moves without proper consideration.   Squared up, spruced up lawns all mowed to a brush cut precision. Color-coordinated flowers and precise, paint by the number backyards. Double jumping is frowned upon.

What is there wild and wondrous to see here? Nothing, I am certain. So I curl up inside and allow the pages of my book to cleave open a view to magnificent, pulsing worlds, from the rainforests of Peru to the gardens of Japan, from the mountains of the Sierra to the marshes of England.

*John Muir clings to a branch to ride out a windstorm in the forests of California.

*William Henry Hudson dreams of thistle down on the South American Pampas.

*Richard Jeffries wanders the still wild natural world at the doorstep of London.

*Gilbert White listens to the sound of crickets in Hampshire.

*Theodora Stanwell-Fletcher hears the calls of the wolves in remote British Columbia.

I want it. I want it all. I want it desperately. But there is nothing to see here.

***

On Sunday afternoon I glance out the kitchen window and spot a dense and ponderous sky above. At last! I pry myself out of the house, and wedge myself in a corner of the porch. Glass of wine in hand, I am ready for the show.

The air is moist and anticipatory and the charcoal clouds are thick and wooly, so low I feel as if I could hold them, squeeze them. If I did, would it open a deluge, a spray or spill?

Nothing is moving. Or is it? The wind is coming in gulps and sighs, shaking the branches and the leaves like row after row of beaded curtains, like a hula dancer’s hips, like so many maracas in a mariachi band.

The branches jitter and twitch, anticipating the thrum of the rainfall to come.

But not yet! The clouds bend and curl through the sky, a long twist of old movie film, a wordless soliloquy, coiling above. Suddenly, the wind exults and breaks free like a mass of children released from a day of school, with a power that makes ripples through the grass and re-parts my hair.

It’s time! I am so ready for the rain; eyes squeezed shut, face turned upward. But it doesn’t happen. Instead I feel warmth on my cheeks. Instead, the sun cleaved through he cloud cover. The blast of wind is now a mere breeze.

I catch my breath.

I sit very still, here, in the place I was certain there was nothing of interest to see, nothing to feel, nothing to experience. I am wrong. Here it is. The sky has come to me. Or perhaps I’m just ready to see it.

“There is no need for a faraway fairyland, for the earth is a mystery before us.”

–William T. Davis

But of course.

And at last I too am caught up and embraced by the sfumato of the clouds, right here, right outside my own doorway.