Monday, October 03, 2016

The Butterfly and the Plumber's Assistant

 Asking me to go to Home Depot is akin to asking the OC to go and buy me some thread in a Quilt shop. I'll go if I absolutely have to, if all the lightbulbs in the house have burned out, or I need batteries, or we're pricing new washing machines. But, as a place to go and browse? For pleasure? Low on the list. In fact, very close to the bottom.

But occasionally I find myself in a hostage situation. We'll have gone out for a seemingly innocent errand and suddenly, mar dhea, he remembers something he urgently needs from the big box store. It's too far and too hot to walk home, so I try to remember to bring a book along, just in case.

Saturday we went. I was lured into it by the need to replace some houseplants I had recently murdered.  The OC was in handyman mode, putting in a new sink in the laundry room so he needed plumbing supplies. Since I'll be the one benefitting I wasn't exactly in a good arguing position.

He assured me it would be a quick stop and why don't I go to the garden section and select some house plants to replace the two I had recently murdered, oh and get a cart. The garden section is the one redeeming thing about HD. The OC can cruise up and down the aisles, pausing and rubbing his chin over these screws or those nuts, or the other bolts, while my knees begin to buckle and my pulse slows and I think if he doesn't get on with it I'm going to collapse right there on the cement floor from the boredom of it all.. And God forbid we shouln't stop to drool over the latest, ridiculously large and complicated barbeques. For all the wild and crazy parties we throw in our back garden, don't you know.

Off he went to Plumbing and me to Garden. I weighed the benefits of one house plant after another. Looking for those that thrive on neglect. This one needs low light, this one bright; this one needs to dry out between waterings, this one likes to keep its toes damp; this one is pretty, this one looks like a weed ..... Hmm. Decisions made, I meandered over to the flower section, ablaze with red pentas and purple somethings and lots and lots of yellow. And what should flutter past my eyes but the most amazing, huge butterfly!  With a wingspan as wide as both of my hands. Oh joy! I set down my plants, got out my phone phone and gave chase.  And this was my reward --- culled later from the forty eight shots I took --- yes. Forty eight. And yes, I did get some strange looks and yes, if I'd stuck around longer they might have summoned the men in white coats --- but what's the matter with everyone? Not only should we take time to smell the flowers but we should also take time to notice things of staggering beauty fluttering right past our noses instead of head down, shuffling along, oblivious.

Suddenly I remembered the OC and turned to look for him only to find him standing right behind me, arms laden with plumbing supplies, rolling his eyes and wondering where the cart was. I was chasing a butterfly --- and I caught forty eight. In my books that's a very good day. doesn't seem adequate but the truth, as they say, will set you free. Not to mention that it was obvious.

Note: The largest photo is the one I chased that day. The others are butterflies I "caught" at various times over the summer.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Random Thoughts on "The Yearling."

 We interrupt (ir)regular blogging to bring you some thoughts on a recent read. Probably everyone of my generation who likes to read has read The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. Everyone except me. It had been on my to-read list for forever but kept getting bumped in favor of newer books. Maybe I had the idea in the back of my head that, since it was originally published in 1938, it wouldn't have much relevance today. Well, hat in hand, I was wrong. I often am.

So what prompted me to finally pick it up? I had sent it as a present to this young person a while back and on our recent trip to see him and his family. I found it on a shelf among some of their other books. Sad to report, I don't think grandson B has read it yet though he is an avid reader and always has his nose in a book.

School had already started when we visited so there was ample time for me to bury my nose in a book. I picked up The Yearling just to read a few sample pages and could not put it down.

Why do we read? I read because I love stories and because I am constantly awed by the myriad and magical ways good writers put words together. I also love to write and, by reading the works of talented writers, there's an outside chance some of their magic will find its way into my writing. The talent of the writer is what carries the story along and I became lost in Rawlings' world of life in earlier times in Florida.

Her characters did not come to Florida for the sunshine, for Spring Break or the beaches, or to live out their declining years in air conditioned comfort. They were born here or blown here by circumstance. Life was hard and rations scarce.  The native animals struggled to survive from one season to the next just as the people did. If a hungry bear killed your heifer, life got even harder. If you were bitten by a rattlesnake you'd better hope the doc was home, and sober, and that you could get to him fast. And if a hurricane happened by it was touch and go if you'd survive to pick up the pieces. It was a lonesome existance out in the swamp for young Jody, his dad, Penny, and Ma Baxter. But he was loved, and he loved nature and all its wonders as much as his dad did. Penny had grown up working hard from early childhood and wanted to make life a little less harsh for his only son, so when Jody found an orphaned fawn, Penny persuaded Ma Baxter to let him keep it though she, of the sharp tongue, thought it was enough of a struggle to feed themselves and their animals without taking on the care and feeding of a wild creature. Penny however knew that the belly is not the only part of us that needs feeding. He knew that caring for that orphan fawn would feed his son's soul.

I had to leave the last few chapters unread when our visit came to an end, and the book was not immediately available at the library here. I have now read to the end (and wept, as I remember my middle son doing when he watched the movie as a little boy). It made us weep, but her writing is never maudlin. The heartbreak in the story was just part of life. I wouldn't hesitate to call this one of my all-time favorite books. Read it B! You'll be glad you did.

 A few days after I finished "The Yearling" I happened to read in the newspaper about another, totally different writer, Sebastian Junger, a journalist who has been a war correspondent in conflicts around the world. He directed the documentary "Restrepo" and has written a new book, "Tribe, On Homecoming and Belonging," which explores social alienation and lessons from tribal cultures. In explaining why soldiers and Peace Corp volunteers often find themselves depressed when they come home he says "... humans are social primates....wired to live and operate and feel secure in close groups. Wealthier societies are more individualized and we are not really wired for that.......As societies get wealthier the suicide rate goes up. Depression goes up........people come home and find themselves depressed..........stemming from the transition from a close, communal living situation to (an) alienated, individual one back home."

Are you with me still? I know I seem to have wandered from the point. I do have one, though it is bit woolly.Maybe because I had so recently finished The Yearling, Junger's thoughts seemed connected to what I had gleaned from that book.We are wealthier and better educated than any of the characters in the book but the fact that the story resonated with me so much tells me, as if I hadn't known this already, that many of us would forego our modern toys and conveniences for a simpler life, closer to the earth, and with deeper connections to each other.

In explaining some of the harsher aspects of living (his mother's sharp tongue, for example)to his son Penny has this this to say ---

"You kin tame a 'coon. You kin tame a bear. You kin tame a wild-cat and you kin tame a panther." He pondered. His mind went back to his father's sermons. "You kin tame anything, son, excusin' the human tongue."

 We have not changed from the times Rawlings wrote of. We all yearn to belong. Ease and comfort don't make us as happy as we think they should. We miss our tribe. Even though Jody, Penny and Ma Baxter teetered on the brink of poverty most of the time, they were not depressed. They were too busy staying alive, too tired at the end of each day and too happy to have made their way successfully through it to be depressed. They also had wealth beyond the material. They had the love and support of each other, mutual respect and co-operation with their neighbors, and an appreciation of, and respect for, the boundless beauty and natural resources of the world we live in. In today's fractured society how many of us are that well off?

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Smoky Mountains' Majesty

Scenic view from the highway - Smoky Mountains

The usual pace around here is sedate. The OC is retired. The most urgent things on his agenda are taming the encroaching jungle, mowing the lawn, and regularly beating the covers off little white balls on the golf course.

 All this tends to make a guy sweaty and hungry so stinky laundry must needs be done and nutritious meals prepared. And what's a guy to do then but repair to the couch, crossword in hand, feet up, to watch football/golf/soccer/hockey/olympics, you name it. If there's a ball involved he'll watch it and, most likely, fall asleep, at which time the sport of the hour turns into a lullaby. But, woe betide anyone foolish enough to change the channel or, perish the thought, turn the blasted thing off. You may hear gentle snoring, but one ear is always alert for such dangers.

Fortunately I am not without options. My favorite hideout is the sewing room wherein also lies my computer and a satisfying array of books should I opt to hole up in there for an extended period. Meanwhile, phone calls to and from the far flung children, a vast selection of half-finished sewing projects, writing the occasional blog post and attempting to organize decades of photographs all conspire to fill whatever waking moments remain. And there is always yoga to stretch the bones and quiet the mind.

A fairly typical description of life in retirement? As mentioned above, you might call the pace of such a life sedate. Dull even, though, having marginally survived the raising of five children, whom, I hasten to add, I dearly love, dull is a very good thing.

That's how it usually goes down around here.

Old Mill Reflection
August, however, was not a usual month.

August we turned into gadabouts.....

Friends visited from far away and we crisscrossed the state showing them our favorite places and exploring some new ones, and when they left we made our annual road trip to visit oldest daughter, son-in-law, and alarmingly tall grandsons. All of which makes for good blog fodder. But first it has to sit in the pot and age a while.

 The Little Blister and I made a commitment recently to blog at least once a week. She is excused temporarily due to an exciting, life changing event which I will leave to her to divulge. A little pencil chewing was called for. What to write this week?. Hmmm.  Before I choked on the chewed up pencil, the cavalry arrived in the form of my cousin, who, having seen one photo from the Smoky Mountains, wanted to see more. So, Aislinn, these are for you. And for anyone else who cares to spend a few more minutes here.

Our annual trek north takes us through the Smoky Mountains. Since that's about the halfway mark, we usually stop for a day or two. This year it was rainy so most of these pictures are from last year. But it is equally beautiful any year! You could spend a month or more, hiking around, taking a billion photos, but I got what photos I could in the time available, many snapped on the fly, through the car window. Asking the pilot to land on the side of the road every five minutes is not conducive to peace within the vehicle.

Cade's Cove is a beautiful part of the park. We had started out early in a blanket of mist....

Breakfast in the morning mist

 and gradually, as the mist burned off, every curve in the road brought a picture perfect scene into view.

Someday, maybe, I'll spend more time there --- me, my camera, a raincoat and a pair of stout boots, but no complaints. It was great to be there at all. Having seen it, briefly, a couple of years in a row, I know it's a place I want to go back to for a longer spell.

We spent a week visiting with daughter, son-in-law, grandsons and the fearsome hound who protects them from marauding bunnies and cheeky squirrels.

We are back now to the usual routine, though the past week has been anything but dull due to the ugly weather. Lots of debris around the garden had to be picked up before the lawnmower-meister could do his thing, but we had no flooding, and no damage, though not all FL residents were so lucky. And now the sun is finally out, the sky is once again blue and the pace has returned to "sedate."

Sunday, August 21, 2016

On The Road with Molly and the OC

I spend too much of my life away from the present moment, something the practice of yoga is helping me cure. If I'm living in the past or speculating about the future I'm depriving myself of the present. And aren't we always hearing that the present is all we have?

We've been on the road the last few days, making our annual trek to see oldest daughter and family --- grandsons who will soon be taller than us --- and I'm no midget!

Today was a "rest" day. We went exploring around Smoky Mountain National Park. The pilot was on his game but the navigator was found wanting --- seriously wanting. Forty five years later you'd think I'd no longer have to keep turning the map upside down to know where I'm going, but hah! You'd be wrong! And don't even get me started on navigating with Mr. Google's assistance. And what is that saying about doing the same thing over and expecting different results?Obviously there's insanity in the air! Tempers were a little frayed but we managed to suspend hostilities and enjoy a delicious supper at The Pottery House, a lovely little restaurant we come back to every year.

Arriving back at our room we kicked off our shoes to relax. But I decided more stodgy sitting was the last thing I needed. Armed with thick towels as a mat substitute, I headed out to our little balcony for some surreptitious yoga. It turned out to be a mixture of stretches do-able in a small space and sitting, gazing around, being, you guessed it, in the present moment.

We're in the Smoky Mountains. The air is velvety, the sky a pearly gray, the movement of the air hardly a breeze, merely a whisper, and deliciously cool. The grass in front of me is emerald, raindrops balancing tremulously on the ends of each blade. The rain makes steady music in the downspout nearby. A cat moves sinuously into view, barely discernible in the fading light. He emerges from some bushes below me and stands a moment surveying the scene. Gracefully he lowers his hind quarters to the ground and looks around. Making a decision, he rises and sets off down a grassy embankment and disappears. I return to contemplating the layers of trees of multiple shades of green, some even fading, already, into yellow.

I watch the famous Smoky Mountain mist descend over the treetops and and breathe in the peace.

A good sleep tonight,then onward to those gangly, beautiful grandsons. The navigator is retiring.

The GPS should be able to handle it from here....

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Whacky Wednesday

We came down to the water to watch the sunset. The parking lot was full so the OC dropped us off and went to find parking further away. A man pulled up beside us, saw that there was no parking but, nothing daunted, turned his SUV around and maneuvered it neatly into position under this sign, climbed out and hurried off towards the water. He was seventy-ish, distracted, and alone.

I hope he never goes here......

Friday, July 22, 2016

When God Made Time......

 "When God made time He made plenty of it." I heard that so often growing up it took root between my ears. I don't like to rush. I don't like to race from A to B with blinders on, focused solely on getting there. I like to smell the flowers along the way, pause to admire a gnarled tree, gaze at the moon, spy on lizards and frogs, chase butterflies with my camera.

This relaxed attitude towards time has gotten me in plenty of trouble. My dad was a patient man. On Sundays he'd issue the five minute warning, calling it up the stairs to me. Then he'd give me a bonus of another five. But when I still did not appear, he'd slowly start driving up the hill so, when I did emerge, I'd have to run to catch up, hair and coat flying. Not the best way to prepare for church. The OC is not so patient. "Same day rules," he cautions when we're preparing to go anywhere. "But wait!" I say. "I just saw a lizard eating his lunch, I'll be there just as soon as I take a picture...." He sighs. I'll train him yet.

 I'm trying to be a more consistent blogger and to post at least once a week, but time got away from me last week. I'm thinking that, for this life at any rate, there might not be as much of it as there used to be!

While I was busy chewing the end of my pen, Riseoutofme surfaced after her three year sabbatical. We have an agreement. We'll each post once a week. And I'm sure the world will not screech to a halt if we're off by a day or two. She has informed me it's my turn,  no pressure of course.

It's been quiet around here. No shootings to report. If you want to read about that sort of horror you know where to find it, plenty of it, sad to say.

But not here. This is a horror free zone.

We watched an interesting film at our creativity workshop at the library recently --- Being In The World, a philosophical guide to a meaningful life.

We'd all like a lead a meaningful life, but I've always considered philosophy the business of intellectuals. Since I don't belong to that club, I was a tad apprehensive. Not being one for pondering the mysteries of the universe at great length, I expected it would be a struggle for the old brain cells. And I did have to pay close attention and stretch cerebral muscles that don't often get a workout. We didn't solve the riddle of who we are, or why we are here, but, I was delighted to find that the film was about real people, not just academics spouting incomprehensible theories.

I'm not about to climb on a butter box and expound on the nature of knowledge, and quite likely make a fool of myself, but, as we watched and listened to people who live fuller and more interesting lives as a result of their "mastery of physical, intellectual and creative skills," I wondered if most of us travel through life only half living.

There was the chef from a New Orleans restaurant of whom those who knew her said "she doesn't use recipes, she is the recipe!" My mother-in-law was like that - a smidgeon of this, a soupcon of that, more or less if you think it's needed. I used to follow her around the kitchen, frantically trying to measure her smidgeons and soupcons. It made going out to eat something of a let-down as nothing ever tasted as delicious as what she made at home.

 Then there was the Japanese master carpenter who reminded me of my brother who can "talk" to wood and make it "talk" back, both of them so in tune with their tools and materials. Just by the grain of the wood, its texture and its smell, they can tell how old it is, where it came from and, most importantly, if it will work for the project at hand. When they use a tool, the tool seems less a tool than an extension of their body.

Likewise with the musicians, their music a love affair between player and instrument. And once again, regret that, even though I grew up in Ireland, for heaven's sake, I never learned to play the harp, the flute or the fiddle. Something to do with my mother being tortured with piano lessons as a child......I have mastered one instrument though --- my voice. And while I'm not much in demand for singing engagements, I will happily talk to anyone.  Instead of applauding and encouraging me though, there are those who believe I talk too much. Imagine!

 I feel their pain, but not enough to be silent.

When we lived in Belgium a man at our church played the tin whistle. I would sit and listen, spellbound. You could not tell where the whistle ended and he began --- they were one. He was world class, even on such a humble instrument, and hidden away in a small Irish church in Belgium. Excited at the prospect of producing such heavenly sounds, I bought a tin whistle, but, alas, the only sounds I've ever coaxed from it are those of a crow being strangled.

Watching the musicians reminded me of a little six year old Japanese girl who was a first grade classmate of my oldest son. She had learned to play the piano by the Suzuki method, and at the school's end of year concert you could hear a pin drop as she played. She had the advantage of lessons, true, but she was six! There was something more at work - genius perhaps? I wonder how many Mozarts are wandering around out there, oblivious to the the talent buried within them? How many Fontyns? Hemmingways? Picassos? How many Flatleys? YoYo Mas?

We didn't watch the entire film. We paused frequently for discussion. One thing impressed me and it was that to be an artist, or master of any craft, after the study and the apprenticeship and the practice, practice, practice, the really great ones take an extra leap. My mother-in-law took that leap - off the pages of cookbooks, into an understanding of the nature of food. I'm a better cook now than early days but I still need those pages!

My brother was apprenticed for years to master cabinet makers. He soaked in everything they had to teach him and became an expert craftsman, but he had such a passion for his work, and was so electrically alive when absorbed in it that he too made that leap. People came to him from miles around, dragging their dilapidated antiques, and he restored them to their original splendor.

And so with writing. We're not all as disciplined or as talented as the Shakespeares and the Hemingways who write for hours, every single day, no excuses. They carry notebooks everywhere so when inspiration strikes they can capture it, cage it and take it back to their desk. They practice, practice, practice and, for every hundred pages they write, ninety nine go in the rubbish bin. Maybe it's that constant practice, that striving for perfection, that finally makes them soar above the rest of the scribbling world into the rarefied reaches of masters of their craft.

And way below in "the misty flats" us bloggers slog sluggishly along, hoping to, once in a while, evoke a smile of recognition at a shared thought or experience. Considering ourselves lucky if we can scratch out a few words at least once a week, give or take a day or two.

 We're not all destined for greatness but, as they say in Ireland when God made time He wasn't stingy. Everyone can live a more meaningful life. We all have the option to use the time we have, while we have it ( it might be gone tomorrow,) to pursue what we love, be it painting or writing or chasing butterflies, and become great at it. The trick is discipline, and practice, practice, practice. A trick I'm still struggling to learn..

It was a thought provoking film, great discussions, everyone went home happy

Even if we still don't know why we're here!

Friday, July 01, 2016

On Blogs and Frogs and Flirty Lizards

It dawned on me recently that it's been ten years this summer since I started blogging.

Ten years --- holy mackeral! One sixth of my life.

Sometimes the ideas fall over each other inside my head in their haste to get to the page. More often it looks like the Gobi desert in there and I wonder "Why am I doing this?" The answer is always the same. Desert or rain forest, I have found that if I just get all the gobbledygook down on paper, where I can see it, and slowly move the words around, they will eventually  make sense. The Little Blister and I were talking a few days ago, I mentioned this and, to my guarded delight (she's made similar noises before,) she is about to administer CPR to her blog. Since that ten year milestone has inspired me to continue into my dotage it would double the fun (or is it torture?) if she were scribbling alongside me. She started after me and, for a year or two, we egged each other on, but life got hectic and her blog was one of the casualties. So, fingers crossed!

There's a little lake in our neighborhood, a couple of gardens over. You can't see it from here but me and shank's mare can get there in three minutes. It's a great place to think, to stargaze, to read a good book, to play at being a photographer, and a stellar place to just sit and think.

 Molehills were turning into mountains one day recently so I came to the lake to sit awhile and clear my head.

Lizards flicked to right and left as I walked along the boardwalk. They have the place mostly to themselves so they get pretty territorial about it.

They move just far enough not to get stepped on, then sit and watch me, all the while flexing their muscles and doing pushups. But I'm bigger than you, Squirt! Unimpressed. I think this little guy was flirting with me. He made a great show of stretching out his colors for me to admire. "Go find a lady closer to your own age and size," I advise him.

The sun is low behind the trees, glowing golden between their trunks. Great banks of dark clouds, sitting along the horizon, are fading from grey to a taupe-ish pink but, don't close your eyes 'cause it changes every minute. There's whispering in the pines as a breeze wanders by.

Suddenly the air is rent with raucous honking.  A trio of sandhill cranes prepare to land in the rushes but, oh-oh, they've changed their minds. Warned off by honking from others already settled in those reeds, they climb again skywards as two more fly overhead, squawking loudly. Must be a crane convention going on.

Meanwhile, piled high in the west, more grey clouds shot through with pink, the color of a rose.  The reflection of an old, fuzzy jetstream zig-zags through the ruffled water,. Straight out from where I'm sitting at the end of the boardwalk is a raft of waterlilies, no flowers yet but beauty enough in the leaves alone.

What looks like an old brown leaf appears among the ripples, dark, almost black against the water's grey. As I watch, it moves, then ducks beneath the surface and I realize, that's no leaf, that's a turtle!

Belly down on the raft at the end of the boardwalk, I watch this tiny spider catching the last rays of the sun.....

Big blue dragonflies zoom about, intent on going --- where? What's on the to-do list of a dragonfly?Does her nest (if dragonflies have nests) get claustrophobic so she feels she must get out and come to the lake to clear her head? And while we're at it --- why is the sky blue? If I had such beautiful, irridescent wings I'd fly down into the rushes where the water is squishy and brown and spy on those frogs who make such a racket and sound as large as dogs but are, somehow, invisible.

Guess I should go home while I can still see the way. The silver jetstreams high above have turned pink now, the clouds in the west are an even darker grey, and, best of all, my head is clear. The cranes have resumed their inelegant song and the wind is whispering "go home! Go Home!"

I went back to the lake last night to take some photos. It was earlier, and sunnier, so no dramatic clouds but all the usual suspects were present. Those loud, invisible frogs were as noisy as ever and I wondered idly who decided that frogs say "ribbit"? Sounds more like chirping to me. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe those loud, invisible creatures are not frogs at all but birds that hide under water! The sandhill cranes were having another domestic dispute but the sun was sinking and they sounded halfhearted.

You never know what new drama Life has up her sleeve so it's comforting to come to the lake knowing it will be different every time but reliably and serenely the same.

Such an ordinary place but, when you sit and think and watch, you find ordinary places can be full of extraordinary peace and beauty.