TMI

I’ve taken myself off Facebook and twitter, not that hardly anyone would notice. Except of course, me, which was the point.

I have shut the door to the party. Once, when I was a teenager, my mother and I were driving into Hartford and we passed by the huge brick Aetna building, I said to her: “I would like to live there so that I could have a party in this part—“ I indicated the vast right-hand wing, “but my room would be here—“ I indicated the equally vast left hand-wing “so I could be alone.” Naturally, she looked at me oddly. But what I was trying to say was that I love people and I love doing things to make them happy, but I find them overwhelming.

So that’s that. Despite FB telling me that so-and-so really misses hearing from me (doubt it) I’m sticking to my decision. Fact is, I don’t miss the party. I do wonder slightly if I am like the ostrich, but then again, I do my bit in my own way, so I feel okay about that.

Interestingly, E.B. White felt the same way about the effect of television: “When I was a child,” he wrote in One Man’s Meat, his book of essays published in 1938, “people simply looked about them and were moderately happy. Nowadays they peer across the seven seas, bury themselves waist deep in tidings, and by and large what they see and hear makes them unutterably sad.”

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Mary Oliver Reminds Us in These Harsh Times

I thought it might be time for something beautiful.

In Blackwater Woods

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
everything
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the trees
and the black river of loss
whose other side
is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

Mary Oliver

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Thick and Thin

Yesterday I decided to make my version of Thai noodles and so I brought out the old Cuisinart food processor, remembering as I did so, the woman who gave it to me. Lisa and Nick are my husband’s oldest friends—really his mentors and surrogate parents. They decided to move north after retirement and she, an enthusiastic cook, wanted to start fresh with pots and pans and such in her new kitchen. So she gave me some of her old stuff.

At that time I had a view of meal creation that was less about creation and more about check-off-the-box. I had lived on a farm where I grew most of my food, meat included, and the growing and processing of it took up most of my time outside of my going-to-work job.

My favorite cookbook then was a Mennonite cookbook and it was all about large quantities and efficiency. I would prep ingredients for the week on Sunday and stick them in the freezer. When I got home from work (a fifty mile each way commute) I would look at the schedule (yes, a schedule!) on the refrigerator, (“Monday, chicken casserole, Tuesday: veggie medley, etc.) pull out the appropriate packages from the freezer and assemble it.

But life goes on and the farm and my life on it became history, and now here was Lisa, giving me some really nice kitchen things. There was the Cuisinart, copper saucepans, and Le Creuset skillets. I didn’t know how wonderful these things were at the time, being more familiar with meat grinders and such. But over the years, as I continue to use these substantial, solid kitchen tools—the very antithesis of planned obsolescence—I marvel both at Lisa’s generosity and at her intuition in knowing that someday I would expand my creativity into cooking.

There are gifts that are brief moments of thought, and gifts that are a fulfillment of an obligation, and then there are the gifts that abide through time and thick-and-thin, and enduring friendship is the best of those.

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The Night Sky

One night not long ago, I woke up at 2:00 am. I lay there listening to Richie and Buddy breathe. I listened to my brain rushing through all its thoughts of what to do, when to do it, and what has been done. Our window looks out on the water and for the first time in at least a week it was a clear night; I could see stars reflected in the still water and Orion dangling.

Stars. They settle me—settle my restless brain with their steadfastness. A long time ago, I read a poem by the nineteenth century English poet, Matthew Arnold. It had me at the first two lines:

              ” Weary of myself, and sick of asking

                What I am, and what I ought to be,”…

Ah, isolation, confusion. I could relate.

 

…”ye stars, ye waters,

On my heart your mighty charm renew;

Still, still let me, as I gaze upon you,

Feel my soul becoming vast like you!

 

From the intense, clear, star-sown vault of heaven,

Over the lit sea’s unquiet way,

In the rustling night-air came the answer:

“Wouldst thou be as these are? Live as they.”

 

Live as they. Calm and belonging in the universal sense.

It was the answer I was looking for those many years ago and it was the answer that renewed itself to me that sleepless night.

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The Firebird

I am in Tucson now for a bit, and the other day I decided to try to do a watercolor of the mountains at sunset. With their vast swaths of deep blue shadows it seemed, visually, like a simple image to capture. I retrieved my travel watercolor kit, 3 x 5 watercolor block, HB pencil, and squishy eraser and walked to the park where there was a view of mountains beyond the highway and power lines. I balanced my cup of water on the rough and not terribly flat surface of the wall, poised pencil over paper, stared at the mountains hard and tried to look artistic, rather than suspicious to any passersby.

When I opened up the watercolor set to begin painting, I noticed that the popular colors—and the colors I would need—were mere scraps of paint clinging to the sides of the pan. Oh well, I thought, it’s only a 3 x 5, surely I’ll have enough paint for that. I unsheathed the tiny travel brush and dipped and dribbled water into each cake of dry paint. But when I started painting, I quickly realized that brush was way past its sell-by date as my husband is fond of saying. It had lost its spring and now resembled, more than anything, a tiny dispirited scrub brush. I plodded onward, painterly speaking, but the deep dark blues of the mountain shadows looked anemic on my paper. I let the painting dry before folding everything back up, because sometimes a painting that I think is awful doesn’t look so bad, given some time and space. (This one didn’t, so you’re not going to see it.) I had began my disappointed trudge back to the house when a flash of hot-coal caught my eye. I stared. What kind of bird was that? Much too red to be a cardinal. Disappointment forgotten, I followed the bird from tree to tree, weaving from one sidewalk to the other. I certainly looked suspicious now, but I needed to see that bird. Back at the house I went on the internet and learned that it was a vermillion flycatcher.

Vermillion–now that’s not a word you hear too often outside of painting. It’s a pigment, made from ground cinnabar and it’s a brilliant, nuanced red. The saturated color of the vermillion flycatcher contrasted, in my mind, with the anemic colors of my watercolor attempt to capture the rich beauty of the mountains–and my dissatisfaction about it.

And then I got it. There is transcription, and there is the thing itself. And that firebird had just reminded me not to forget to rejoice in the thing itself.

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Amaryllis! Amaryllis!

What with the world going to hell in a hand basket, I thought maybe you’d like to read about something uplifting this week.

Two years ago, I took all my individual amaryllis bulbs (always save your amaryllis bulbs; they are very easy to grow to re-bloom) and planted them, with plenty of space between them, in a big blue ceramic pot.

I let the bulbs grow their foliage in the pot all summer, in full sun and I watered and fed them occasionally. When the frost nipped, I cut all the foliage back to the bulbs. Said bulbs, I noticed, were making new little bulbs and now generally being obstreperous and crowding with each other. I hauled the pot into the cold area of the dining room where it sat in the dark, with no watering, for about six weeks. When I saw the bulbs beginning to grow on their own, I hauled the pot (I keep saying ‘hauled” because it is a heavy, large ceramic pot and I want you to appreciate my strength and effort) to the sunny windows of the living room and began to water. And now look. Each bulb has sent up one to two stalks and each stalk has six flowers. That’s a lot of blossoms, each six inches across, and more coming. It’s been blooming for three weeks now.

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So. Save your amaryllis bulbs after they’ve had their flowering. Plant them all together in a big pot. In the summer, let the foliage grow like crazy. Keep the pot watered and feed it once a week with a balanced fertilizer. (I use, I’m afraid, the blue stuff. It just works better for flowering houseplants.) When the nights get nippy in the middle to end of October, cut all the foliage back (ALL of it) to the bulb. Don’t cut the bulb. Put the pot in dark-ish, cool-ish spot. Don’t water. After six weeks or so of this rest, the bulb will start sending up a green leaf or flower stalk. As soon as you see this, bring it out to the light and begin to water. Don’t feed, since the bulb supplies all the nutrients now for the flowers. And sit back and enjoy your own Amaryllis! Amaryllis! (While the rest of the world largely ignores the beauty that is theirs to create.)

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Dark Matter

“Oh, I LOVE winter,” younger me used to say. “It’s so much fun, you can cross country ski, and snowshoe and make snowmen and it’s so cozy.”

I suppose it was last winter that did me in. So now, winter has become my time for escape. And my escape in winter is reading about physics and astronomy. As the white stuff piles up and daily living is more of a chore of shoveling snow and hauling wood, to curl up and read about the tiny world of quarks or the vast world of galaxies is delicious.

Right now I am reading Lisa Randall’s new book Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs (selected by Maria Popova of Brain Pickings as one of the top 15 books she has read this year—a list, BTW, guaranteed to make you feel inadequate.)

Randall talks about dark matter, the concept of which I couldn’t quite grasp for a long time, but now I do. We can’t see dark matter because it doesn’t reflect light and we can’t feel it because its force is too weak to have an effect on us at its level in our everyday lives. But we know it exists because in greater densities it exerts a gravitational force. And not only that, but there is much more of it than the matter we can see. So the truth is, we are literally surrounded by dark matter.

Love that.

As I grow older, more experienced, less sanguine, and more settled into convenience, the awareness of the vast mystery of our Universe is a tonic. And that, perhaps, is the real fountain of youth.

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Housekeeping note, please read: I’d like to encourage readers of this blog to migrate over to my website and hit that thar follow button. Right now I publish my blog mostly on both sites but at some point in the future, it will just the website.