Homecoming day

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What a grand homecoming it was on our first day back from California!  I think I am crying harder now when I have to say goodbye to my family, so the peace and serenity of home is more soothing than ever.  The kitties were still here–Gary is out there on the end of the dock, and Chatpeau was at my feet as I took this photo.  The white buoy, waiting for its sailboat, didn’t get torn away in the winds.  All was well on the home front for our return.

It was quite a shock to be in full-on blooming in Berkeley.  After their record rain this winter, roses and hollyhocks were everywhere, pink and red and purple amidst the green-green grass and trees, and the pale pink magnolias.  The California poppies blanketed the hillsides.   And, there was that amazing scent each morning of Night-blooming Jasmine.  I ended up taking the daily allergy pill, which everyone in the household popped in their mouths, before school and work each day.

But, on the first day of being home, there were noticeable incremental changes in our long, slow unfolding of Spring.  Forsythia were in bloom on my morning run and some of the daffodils had opened their yellow blossoms.  There are big green buds at the tops of the bushes, where they capture the most light.  Burger Town has removed the “Closed for the Season” sign and they have put their white picnic tables out on the deck.  Even our Hutterite friend, who sets up his little farmer’s market on Fridays, in front of the car wash, showed up.   He had set up his table, next to a white-sided panel truck, and when I drove by in the rain, I could see him sitting inside the truck in a folding lawn chair, eating a bowl of something, most likely, hot soup.  He was wearing his customary black suit and hat, with a blue shirt, like he always wears in the summer.  I could see big bags of carrots on the table, but I can’t imagine what else could be ready for sale so early in the season.  The first time Don stopped by the farm stand, years ago, the farmer said, in his German accent, “What can I help you with, my friend?”  So, we try to never miss an opportunity to buy something from his little stand of produce, including, the best spicy pickles, come August, you could ever imagine.

There is nothing but rain icons in the forecast for the days ahead.  That’s what we expect for this final week of April, into May, into June.   But, there will be those breaks, like this sunset, and the little daily signs of a new season, to keep our hopes and spirits high.  Yep, it’s nice to be home.


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The Peace of Wild Things–Wendell Barry

When despair 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.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Inbetween these days of spring rain, yesterday was a “still water” afternoon.   And, even though its only 50 degrees, if the sun is shining and there is no breeze, it’s divine to sit on the bench at water’s edge, and rest, from fear or grief, or whatever weather has darkened me on a particular day.   This quiet time on the lake conveniently arrives about 5 p.m., making it a lovely cocktail hour.  As I spent my hour there yesterday, the Barn Swallows suddenly returned, swooping low over the dock and soaring to the top of the chimney.  We tend to find them annoying, after a while, with their frenetic darting and flock mentality, but, it is a comforting flow of the Universe that they return each year at the same time.  The only other sound was a pecking flicker, who has been in a nearby tree for weeks, rhythmically boring a hole in the same spot.

And, then the swallows and flicker flew away, and there was total silence.  The kitties were stretched out in sleep on the dock, the water had not a ripple, and it was so quiet I could only hear the blood rushing in my ears.  I had recently copied Neruda’s poem, Keeping Quiet, into my notebook, so I knew to count to twelve.  Then, I heard the first spring call of a loon, which is always a sign from beyond to me that, “all shall be well, and all shall be well…”

Keeping Quiet, by Pablo Neruda

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

This one time upon the earth,
let’s not speak any language,
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be a delicious moment,
without hurry, without locomotives,
all of us would be together
in a sudden uneasiness.

The fishermen in the cold sea
would do no harm to the whales
and the peasant gathering salt
would look at his torn hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars of gas, wars of fire,
victories without survivors,
would put on clean clothing
and would walk alongside their brothers
in the shade, without doing a thing.

What I want shouldn’t be confused
with final inactivity:
life alone is what matters,
I want nothing to do with death.

If we weren’t unanimous
about keeping our lives so much in motion,
if we could do nothing for once,
perhaps a great silence would
interrupt this sadness,
this never understanding ourselves
and threatening ourselves with death,
perhaps the earth is teaching us
when everything seems to be dead
and then everything is alive.

Now I will count to twelve
and you keep quiet and I’ll go.

“4 Life!!!”


We’re home from a quick week-end trip to Billings.  We had not seen our family there since Christmas, which is way too long an absence.  While Joy, Anna and I were together at the Women’s March on Washington, the rest of us have not been in one another’s company, and we’ve been aching to be with them, to see how they’ve changed, and to hold them close.  Sure enough, Fletcher has grown three inches and is now taller than I am.  Anna has glasses and Duncan has grown lanky and strong.

Duncan and Anna have created a new hide-out for the two of them, and best friend, Sydney, in the dormer closet of Duncan’s bedroom.  It used to be his actual bedroom, before Fletcher moved to the guest room in the basement,  and was decorated in all things under the sea.  Throw pillows in the shape of fish crowded his little twin bed, and he had painted colorful murals of coral and deep water fish on the walls.  Now, the walls and ceiling are painted everywhere with emojis, and the space is filled with bright yellow emoji pillows and bean bag chairs.   There’s a little “altar” with a stuffed Patrick pillow (of SpongeBob fame) which is draped in an orange sequined robe, and three battery operated candles are placed in front.  And, there’s this sign, hanging on the wall, which made my heart ache.

Their old hide-out used to be in the loft of the detached garage, but just a day before the New Year was about to begin, the three of them were poisoned by carbon monoxide and rushed unconscious by ambulance to the hospital.  Fletcher took charge of the rescue, instintively knowing just what he had to do, and, miraculously, in the nick of time, the three little buddies survived a terrifying brush by the wing of a raven.  We adults swallow hard and blink back tears when we talk about it amongst ourselves, these three months later.  When the kids gave me a tour of their hide-out, I wondered if maybe they’ve come up with their own way to integrate that near tragedy into their young lives.   The smiling emoji, which peeked out from the edge of their sign, spoke of deep gratitude and hope to me.  Life goes on.

It’s Anna’s last year at McKinley Elementary.  She’ll join Duncan at the middle school in the Fall, and Fletcher will start his junior year in high school.  Joy and I commiserated about how fast the years have gone, and I was teary-eyed on my morning walk through the neighborhood, remembering all the walks we had made together to school, on the look-out for spring flowers.  I passed by the various small houses I used to fantasized buying, so I could cook dinners for the busy family and be available for all the babysitting.  Fletcher’s tennis competition on Saturday took place in Pioneer Park, at the end of their block, with the now-revitalized playground which we used to go to on those scorching summer days, when the metal slide was too hot to go down.  I was reminded of how it used to feel, twenty years ago, when we’d return to Colorado Springs for a visit, and I’d walk around our old neighborhood and be in tears on that memory lane, thinking of when my children were little girls, and time seemed like it would go on forever, unchanging.

It was snowing when we left Billings yesterday and off and on snow showers here today.   But, we’re off to California at the end of the week, and, hopefully, to some of its famed sunshine, for a visit with my other two daughters and their families.  It’s been way too long there, as well.  It’s always too long.  Yet, how profoundly grateful I am “4 Life!!!” with these loved ones, as time keeps races along, way too fast.

Farewell to March

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This was last evening–at 8:45 p.m.  One of my weather blogs predicted on Thursday:  “A beautiful day on Friday after one of the worst Winters in years.”  And, a beautiful day it was.   March truly went out like a lamb, after having had twice as much rainfall as normal.  It’s hard to fathom that June, still two months from now, is our rainiest month of the year.  Never mind.  If nothing else, Spring teaches us gratitude for every bit of warmth and sunshine which finds its way to us, after the long dark Winter.  It reminds me of how I feel when I think I’ve lost something important, like my phone or a credit card, and when I re-discover it, the joy and elation is so profound that it was almost worth the pain.

March is such a messy transition between seasons with its snow and rain and mud and wind.  Once we hit April, remembering the nursery rhymes about April showers bringing May flowers, it feels like we’ve hit our Spring stride.  Every day, the daffodil and tulip leaves grow higher and higher out of the ground.  The pussy-willow fuzzy seeds are puffing out at the tips of tree branches.  The grass gets greener by the day.  The last of the ice is off the ponds and we have a bet going in our house that the dirty snow piles will be gone by tax day.  According to NOAA, we are in an “active spring pattern”, which calls for 36 hours of rain, then 24 hours of clearing, then 36 hours of moisture, and on and on, so on and so forth, as far out as they can see.  But, there’s real reason for hope at this point, even as poets have called April the “cruelest month”.  I don’t want to be over-confident, but Don’s going to take the snow tires off and I think I’ll remove one of the blankets from our bed next time I change the sheets.  Daring to say it aloud, I think we’ve made it, once again, to the other side.

“The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day.
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You’re one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
a cloud come over the sunlit arch,
And wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you’re two months back in the middle of March.”
–  Robert Frost, Two Tramps in Mud Time, 1926

Spring rains

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I had planned to talk about Spring this morning, by posting a photo I took on Sunday.  It was a cloudless blue sky morning with bright sunshine on the snow-covered peaks which surround Flathead Lake.  But, then came yesterday, and this was my view when I went into town for yoga class.  When I left the studio, deep splashing puddles were everywhere, but the rain had turned into one of those mists in which you’re not sure it’s really raining, but you can’t see out of your glasses.  Driving back home, early in the afternoon, the fields were shallow lakes with green poking up in rows,  and the ditches next to the highway had become little ponds, full of Mallards, and black birds crowded together on the bordering shrubs.  The lake was covered by dense white and gray clouds which were absolutely drenched and sagging with moisture, but sunshine high overhead gave them shape and definition.  And, sure enough, as I sat by the fire before dinner, with two soggy kitties on my lap, the sky became lighter and brighter and the clouds moved east, and at bedtime, I looked through the slats of my shutters and saw a clear pink and cloudless sky.  Such are the surprises in a spring day.

Another surprise this year has been that the lake is filling up much sooner.   Heavy rains this month have filled the rivers, well ahead of melting snows, and they can’t release water any faster down at the dam, for fear of stream flooding.   Our NOAA forecasts, which used to be colored in the blue, pink and purple colors of winter weather storm warnings, are now various shades of green, announcing flood warnings and hydrology reports.  All of this has been bad news for Don, with his plan to get the sailboat mooring ball firmly anchored into position, in a dry lakebed.  The lake just hasn’t dropped enough, so he moved to Plan B, which means that the 400 pound anchor rests in two and one half feet of water, and needs to still be moved seven feet further out.  Also, there are two struggling Douglas Firs at water’s edge, which need to be cut down while there is still room in the lake bed to buck them up and get them out of there.

In the meantime, the robin, who makes a nest every year on the outlooker beam on the porch, is back this morning.   We have to sweep the nest away each year, before there are eggs, to prevent kitty malice, but for now, he sits on the Aspen branch, than hops up to the beam, down to the porch railing, and back to the branch, pondering a strategy for his project.  Much like Don, standing in chest waders in the lake, with his crow bar, looking down at the heavy anchor.  I’m thinking we need these long slow Springs up here in the North Country, as there is much to do after a long Winter.  And, we probably need to come out of our hibernation at a somewhat slower pace than in warmer climes, not too much at once.  As Mary Oliver says it her poem, “Not enough is a poor life/But too much is, well, too much.”  We certainly aren’t exhausted by Verdi or Mahler around here in springtime.

Every spring
I hear the thrush singing
in the glowing woods
he is only passing through.
His voice is deep,
then he lifts it until it seems
to fall from the sky.
I am thrilled.
I am grateful.
Then, by the end of morning,
he’s gone, nothing but silence
out of the tree
where he rested for a night.
And this I find acceptable.
Not enough is a poor life.
But too much is, well, too much.
Imagine Verdi or Mahler
every day, all day.
It would exhaust anyone.
― Mary Oliver, A Thousand Mornings


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by Maya Spector

It’s time to break out —
Jailbreak time.
Time to punch our way out of
the dark winter prison.
Lilacs are doing it
in sudden explosions of soft purple,
And the jasmine vines, and ranunculus, too.
There is no jailer powerful enough
to hold Spring contained.
Let that be a lesson.
Stop holding back the blossoming!
Quit shutting eyes and gritting teeth,
curling fingers into fists, hunching shoulders.
Lose your determination to remain unchanged.
All the forces of nature
want you to open,
Their gentle nudge carries behind it
the force of a flash flood.
Why make a cell your home
when the door is unlocked
and the garden is waiting for you?

Mary asked me the other day how I keep from being depressed by the long winters, and the even longer cold springs.  I told her it’s all about the water, the life-giving precious water.  I fully admit that after leaving arid Colorado twenty years ago, with its 364 days of sunshine, this weather was a depressing shock.  It’s taken time to appreciate the water, and a conscious effort to give in and accept the rhythm of winter’s darkness and summer’s midnight suns.  And the midnight sun days are a fraction of the over-all experience.  That’s just how it is, so might as well be part of it, if this is to be Home.

I told her that everybody’s saying, “well, at least it’s not snowing”, and there’s a real sense of community when there are a few hours of warm sunshine in the midst of it all.  Rita sends me photos of the first snowdrops she’s spotted on her walks, and reports of buttercup sightings.  There’s a lot of “shutting eyes and gritting teeth, curling fingers into fists, hunching shoulders” as Spring approaches, but once it comes into view, this force of nature changes us.   It seems everybody that we know, who is our age, is gone to Hawaii or dragging their little trailers behind them to deserts and Mexican beaches, and sending photos in which they have turned into hippies.  “It’s time to break out–jailbreak time”!

Even our NOAA weather reporters are displaying this “force of a flash flood”.  Yesterday, one of them wrote that we might have a “clap of thunder” in the afternoon.  A single clap of thunder.  He/she felt that was important to report. (We did, BTW, have a single clap at 4:05 p.m.)    There’s a stirring, a lightning of the spirit, a hopefulness, that comes with unlocking the force and grip and darkness of the long cold Winter, and, at some point, I think we “lose our determination to remain unchanged” and just “punch our way out” and look for every single sign of Spring to open up, and we go for it.  Kinda like the worms that are flooded over the roadways and the lethargic spiders on the rocks down by the water.  How often do you get to notice that “all the forces of nature want you to open”?  Well, we do here.

Celestial skies

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Tomorrow, at just about the time we wake up, is the vernal equinox, and the sun will cross the celestial equator and travel from south to the north.  Poetically described on the EarthSky blog, here in the northern hemisphere, “we’re enjoying earlier sunrises, later sunsets, softer winds, sprouting plants.”  Indeed, a lot has changed in the week we’ve been home from Switzerland.  Last Sunday, I walked down to water’s edge in deep crusty snow and now it has gone, leaving bits of “dirty laundry”strewn on the edges, as a poet once described.  The fat robins are singing their hearts out with all of their tunes.  Bright white Tundra Swans are flying in big flocks across the moisture-laden gray clouds, and the pair of Canada geese, who come E V E R Y single year to nest on Johnson’s pond along the highway, are back, standing on the ice, waiting for it to melt.

Spring is somewhat startling to me, at this stage of my life.  I’ve written on my blog long enough now that I can go back several years, and see what was happening then on this date.  It’s always identical and I always respond with the same surprise, even wonder.  This year, an occasional waft of melancholy has drifted in on Spring’s cold breeze.  It’s been raining–a lot.  And, I’m still settling myself down into my nest after a long trip away from home.   Maybe, I’m counting my own tree rings, as Philip Larkin talks about in his spring poem,  “The Trees”.  Or, maybe, I just need a little sunshine.

Here in the north country, Spring is a very long season and it is wet and cold.  It is so easy to want to rush it along, but Larkin cautions, “Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.”

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old?
No, they die too,
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.