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

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Post #70: Spectacles

FullSizeRenderThe world was a watercolor wash of cerulean, sapphire and emerald, the blurred edges soft, entrancing, embracing. Ever shifting in the light there was so much to look at, so much to see! The tops of trees blended into sky, houses undulated into lawns, sidewalks dreamily rolled and buckled and puckered under my regal gaze. Were things near or far? Hard or soft? I didn’t know. I didn’t mind. I moved slowly. Why rush? The world was a kaleidoscope of softness, the lines beautifully and comfortably blurred.

When I was seven my father the optometrist gently curled the arms of a pair of spectacles around my ears and took a step back. A blink. A sharp intake of breath. And my world jumped sharply into jangly focus. I could see.

But that other world was still there and I knew it. If I took off my glasses I could still see it.
***
Unquestionably it was one of my oddest assignments. And yet, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

At last we had reached my long longed for moment: the tour jete leap, high, higher, highest from the heart stopping canvasses of Cezanne, and his explosively condensed blots of color that led to the rocket launch into twentieth century painting and beyond. How could I explain the brilliance of one who did not impose his vision on the world so much as unmask the visual world itself?

I had only a few heartbeats left of class time. So there was only one thing to do.

The assignment: I sent them all outside.

Walk and walk alone. No earbuds or other electronic distractions. Just look closely at the world around you. See the familiar in an unfamiliar way. See whatever it is that there is to see.

Give one one photograph seeing something in a way you’ve never seen it before. Give me one paragraph describing your experience.

Fifteen minutes to relearn a lifetime of visual experience? See the world anew? Absurd. Impossible. Ridiculous.

And yet…

The assignments trickled in, slowly at first and then tumbling over each other like school children finally released from the classroom on a hot May afternoon.

—“The grass seemed to get greener the longer I looked at it.”

—“The sky glowed with streaks of pink!”

— “I looked and suddenly my street was a mass of angles and curves.”

Is the world as it is or is it remade anew viewed through our own individual lenses? What do each of see when we really see? Go and look. Outside, through the window the world is waiting for us, to be discovered and rediscovered again and again.

***

PS For a fascinating look at vision through the eyes of a child, find Ellen Raskin’s marvelous  and beautifully illustrated Spectacles.  And if you like puzzles and mysteries, you might like her Newbery winning The Westing Game as well.

Post #68: “These Are Not Just Any Floors.”

IMG_0660Oh how typical of me!  I was besotted with this place, before I’d ever actually seen it, before I’d ever even been there.  I hungered for it and yearned for it.  As solid and sweet as a bar of chocolate, as warm and as inviting as hug from your beloved, an unending waterfall of information tumbling right into my arms.  I knew I’d be safe there. I loved it, loved it loved it from the start.  A helter-skelter sprawling tumble of a place.

The American Museum of Natural History on Central Park West, New York City. My heart’s home.

***

Greenhorn

I am a ravenous  bottom feeder, deep in the subterranean bowels of this marvelous place! Scurrying  past the gigantic slice of Sequoia though the Halls of New York Forests, twirling around  the massive mosquito, ogling the poor dead Dodo,  I am the Goddess of the Information Desk. Even though I am so new to New York that there is a foldable map permanently crushed into the bottom of my purse, I spray fans of guide books and point my fingers with impunity, as I now know the exact route to the Whale,  to the dinosaurs  to the canoe!

Every Saturday I spend hours traveling up to the museum by subway from Brooklyn. I could be anywhere but I am here, just to be here.  Where else?

***

The Spring  Thaw

“I buy chickens bigger than that.”  They were so tiny, the identically burbling, undersized indoor captives of the wildest white winter in memory.  At four months we could count on one hand how many times they had been outside.  But now it was March and the massive ice cliffs that reached the tops of the street signs on the corners were melting into rivers that ran down the avenues.  Stuffing them into their oversized snowsuits, side by side in their stroller, we defiantly pushed through the revolving doors and out to the street.  Two blocks over, seven blocks up. The Museum.

I had been waiting for this!

We rolled past the trumpeting elephants in the Akeley galleries, dragged through the Serengeti Plain, huddled with the Muskox.  And last and best of all to Hall of Ocean Life to stand under the belly of the whale!  I was agog. They were asleep.

Snug in their snowsuits, in the dim light of the museum they slept deeply and contentedly, on and on.   Could they absorb the aura of my best loved place with their every sleeping breath?  Just to be sure, I bought them their own tiny dinosaurs.  Ah. And Ah.

***

Herding

And now there are three.  Belted into the back,  the curly-haired one car seated in the middle, we are ready for adventure!  Charizard, Pikachu, and Blastois  clutched in their fists, DK Eyewitness Oceans on the folded down screen, dreams of Dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets tantalizing their tongues, we know where we want to go.

Once there we bounce from Birds of the World, to Primates, to the long awaited Margaret Mead Hall of Pacific People.  The Giant Turtle, the Corythesaurus, the Passenger Pigeons!

And always we end at Rocks and Minerals, rolling, rollicking and running  up and down the ramps our paths sparkling with rubies, emeralds, sapphires, and the Star of India itself.  All  glinting, and glowing, and glimmering.  For us.

Bang out a tight fisted drum roll of joy on the petrified wood!  This place belongs to all.

Go you Game Boys!

***

So Close to Travel So Far

To the loll on the beaches of the Bahamas?  Or ski the slopes of the Smug?  Perhaps for some but not for us.  Why fly?  Instead we travel the world simply by hugging the edge of Manhattan as we fling ourselves into the flow of the Westside Highway. You know our destination.   From the Hall of Planet Earth to The Hall of Biodiversity we are here and we are there.  Through this place, we are everywhere.

***

Science Rules

Heretofore off-limits, the gateways of science open to them with a warm welcome to the mysterious 5th floor and beyond.   Presentations and publications, research and REU.  Walk longest hallway in the world with no end in sight.  They are back again. And as with me, part of them will never leave.

Oh, I could make my way through this place blindfolded! But why on earth would I ever do that?  As Roy Chapman Andrews once said, “these are not just any floors.”

As always, thank you, for having me. Thank you for having all of us.  As ever and as always, I will be back.

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.

READING THE CLOUDS: The secret to telling time by the sky. Post number 28.

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If tales are true, my great-grandmother, Rachel Leah (z”l) could tell time simply by looking at the sky. She knew the time right to the minute just by a glance at the clouds.

What a marvelous, wonderful, amazing thing! What would it be like, I wondered, to be so in tune with the world, so keyed into its rhythms, that you could literally read the sky? There had to be a secret! Of course there was a secret.

I didn’t know how she did it. I never had a chance to ask Grandma Rachel Leah how she learned to tell time by the sky, to read the clouds. But I so wanted to do this. There just had to be a way.

Part 1.

On warm summer days when we were small my sisters and I would lay out on the grass in front of our house and watch the soft, puffy clouds lazily move across the sky.  Of course there was a game: you had to be first to spot a shape in the cloud and point it out before it drifted apart. Did we play for minutes or was it hours? I never knew.

Part 2.

Staring at clouds? What an utter waste of time.   Pretending a cloud was a bunny that morphed into a cowboy that transformed into an ice cream cone was of no use whatsoever. I was too old, too dressed up to lie in the grass anyway. I could get a reasonable weather forecast, and pinch a few jokes, from Sonny Elliot on Channel 4 instead.

Part 3.

If you look carefully you’ll see that my left forearm is deeply tanned. Not so my right. I spend so many hours driving this one and that one from one place to another that the sun has baked my left arm into what’s known in select circles as a true trucker tan. But I am not a trucker—just a mom behind the wheel.

I rarely look up. Why bother? I have my watch. I really love my watch. Besides. I can’t risk misreading the time—I can’t let anyone down by being late.

Part 4.

How odd that I can’t stop looking at the sky. I love the clouds the best. It’s a proud parade, a stunning Shakespearean drama, a breathtaking pageant that is so enthralling I’m afraid to miss even a moment.I sneak glances, and then find myself staring up at the clouds throughout the day. I can almost feel the texture of certain clouds; I love the interplay as they dance across the sky. I love that I can recognize cloud types but the array of clouds across the sky is constantly changing. I’m afraid to stop looking or I’ll miss something once-in-a-lifetime magnificent.

Old habits die hard. I search out and study the names of the clouds, Altostratus, Contrail, Fibratus. I learn what they mean. Some sightings such as Cumulus and Stratus are quite common. Others, like the Kelvin-Helmholtz or Asperatus are so rare that one could live a lifetime and never spot them. I think about the works of Jean-Honore Fragonard and J.M.W. Turner, two of the greatest painters of clouds and know that as beautiful as their works are what they were interpreting was far more astounding. I look up and think about the scores of people who have been swept up by the beauty of clouds since the beginning of time. But really I don’t want to pontificate on the clouds, I want to luxuriate. So I do.

In his book, The Story of My Heart: An Autobiography (1883), English essayist and nature writer Richard Jeffries says, “for artificial purposes time is agreed on, but really there is no such thing.”

If tales are true my Grandma Rachel Leah could tell time just by looking at the sky. I cannot. But then maybe her secret was that with an appreciation of clouds, of nature, of the world itself, time has no real meaning.

Look up and see the sky. Beauty suffuses—it lingers – it lasts.