Cleaning the Attic

frost-patterns-on-windows-1387971944JG1Again – this is a poem in transition – I started it a few weeks ago on a very cold day. Today it is cold again and I revisited it, working on the warm part of the poem. I am still not happy with the ending or the title but here it is – in process….. Every third year Or When the snow flies off the trees Like white crows Disturbed by wind or intruders bursting up and out; When the doorknob frosts on the inside And bath steam Clings to the window freezing into Tiny rivers meandering always up, Tributaries of ice sparkling like giant snowflakes Caught in the ice age of the storm, In the dark days of winter when shadows Are long at noon, In the blue moon of January I dream of myself as a young woman Walking through damp moss In bare feet. A thicket lit with crepuscular rays; spotlights on fairy rings. The enchanted forest breathes warm soft exhalations Mixing with the must of old paper And India ink. Letters crack at fold lines Splitting the sentences declaring unending love Every day a picnic on the mountain With sardines and red wine Hard cheese on crusty bread cut with pocket knives. The sun burns our skin Frosty paintings melt Running down the glass in drops That sizzle on the wood stove The fire bright and hot Cats sleeping at our feet.

The Secret Life of Holes

The notorious "double hole"

The notorious “double hole”

This weekend my husband and I decided that the little barn needed a bit of sprucing up – specifically, a plant, larger than my perennials, to take care of a bit of naked lawn.  I don’t know why it didn’t seem naked until the little barn was built but, there you go – sometimes you just have to trust your aesthetic sense and go with it.

We spent the morning wandering around the local nursery debating the strengths and weaknesses of dogwoods, cherry trees and hydrangea.  The shrub expert there, patiently answered our questions and showed us various plants until he introduced us to the dogwood that we fell in love with and decided to adopt.

Of course adopting a tree requires a bit of preparation, namely, digging a spacious hole for it to spread its roots in.  The first task was to decide exactly where the hole should be.  We took turns holding a 20 foot board (I’m a visual person) in various places in the yard, standing back and seeing where the new tree should live.  We finally settled on the perfect spot and set about the chore of digging with optimism and shovels.

The hole needed to be about 24” deep and as I got closer to my goal, I was astounded that I only needed my husband’s muscle and the pry bar a couple of times to remove some nasty rocks.  This is the New Hampshire, the granite state, after all.

We took a break in the early afternoon to go for a walk and check out a local trout stream for next spring.  I decided that I still had enough energy to finish up the hole so that it would be ready for the delivery of its esteemed occupant.  At exactly 24” I hit a rock that I thought should be removed and called over the pry bar expert.  Right square in the middle of my beautiful, deep round hole was a rock the size of Vermont.

We tried to remove it.  We really did.  But when the pry bar sings that particular ringing song that means it has hit something immoveable and you can’t find soft soil around even the perimeters of the bottom your hole, even true stubborn New Englanders know that it is time to let the earth be what it is and to re-examine expectations and move the damn hole.

Our tree will find a lovely spacious new hole in the ground to wiggle its youthful roots in when it arrives.  It will grow into its home, spread out so that it too becomes a part of that secret world that hides underneath the sod.  We will enjoy its blossoms in the spring and its shade in the heat of summer.  It will be wonderful, albeit, slightly to the left of perfect.  After all, this is New Hampshire, the granite state.

Not a City Girl

Afternoon sunlight on the bench in the herb garden.

Afternoon sunlight on the bench in the herb garden.

One of the most exciting things about being retired is that I am now able to be spontaneous with my time.  If someone calls and asks me to go on a walk – right now – I can do it!  I don’t have to wait for my lunch hour or the weekend….I can get up and go. 

This week I found out that one of the people who helped me while I was being treated was going to NYC to pack up an apartment and get it ready for sale.  “Want help?” I cried.  Finally, a way to pay back some of the kindness that was given to me.

Wow!  An impromptu trip to Manhattan – down on the train Monday and back on Wednesday.  How exciting to be able to say yes, I can do this with you.  Lingering bits of guilt for not being at home or doing what I “should” be doing melted away as I realized that yes, I was in NYC.

It was a short trip but long enough for me to think about city living.  First was the understanding – I mean really understanding – that people actually live there.  I mean – they are in the city for the bulk of their time; working, playing, shopping, walking their dogs.  The city is novelty for me.  An exciting place to visit, a change of pace; but for millions of people, it is home.  They don’t get up and wander about the garden looking for hornworms, they don’t walk barefoot in the grass on the way to empty the compost bucket, they don’t pick flowers in the afternoon to put on the dinner table at night.

There is a constant noise in the city that I could not find reprieve from.  The streets are noisy with cars, the restaurants are noisy with people laughing and talking and even the apartment was noisy with the sound of air conditioning and the elevator.  I felt like I had a constant pressure on my ears as the native sounds invaded my head.

There is disconnect with the outside world.  Wednesday morning it rained and from the 8th floor of the building we were in, I couldn’t tell it was raining.  I had no idea what the temperature was outdoors although we were lucky enough to have windows that showed us whether the sun was shining.  I couldn’t look at the thermometer and decide whether I needed my sweater.

I had a fabulous time.  The food was amazing.  I watched a very intoxicated man call an ambulance for a homeless man.  I saw napkins that sold for $90 each.  I watched a woman walk down the street carrying a longbow and arrows.  I met a woman who watches the rats play in a nearby park for entertainment.  It was exciting and novel and exhausting.

There was so much more that it will take me weeks to remember it all and right now I want to get outside and pick the peaches.

Around 11

Sometime around 11

Sometime around 11

The sundial in my herb garden reads “around 11” in this photo I took the other day.  The time it reads depends on how careful I was at orienting the gnomon properly.  I suppose it could be more precise if I took my computer out and rotated the stand until the dial read exactly what the computer said – starting with the day of the week, the date, the hour, the minutes…..hmmmm….at least until the next rainstorm when the dial tips slightly in the rain.

Part of the pleasure of the structure of my “new life” is that time has because amorphous.  Days of the week are important because Saturday is the start of the weekend when my husband is home and Sunday is the day before he goes back to work.  Dates are important sometimes.  I have a paper calendar with wild animals on it that hangs in the kitchen.  I write down my doctor’s appointments, the day that some chore needs to be done, or dates with friends.  The hours on the days that I have marked are often important because doctors still follow their watches (although the guys who come to fix the furnace are not so prompt).

The rest of the time and days and weeks?  It’s not about time anymore.  These days, it’s about what I want to get done and who I want to see.  It is important that I finish picking the garden in the morning before it gets too hot.  It is more pleasurable to eat lunch when the shade from the trees out front hits the table and chairs in the yard.  The mail comes sometime after lunch so my walk to the mailbox is in the afternoon.

The sundial works perfectly for my new sense of time.  It is morning or afternoon or hmmmm…. S should be home from work soon or I wonder if the mail is here yet.  Time is much bigger and less precise.  It is harder to be on time and it is easier to get lost in time.  As the shadow moves around the dial, lengthening as the afternoon wears on, my days are filled with the experience of the day and not the marking of time.

 

What Do You Do?

New shelves inside the little barn

New shelves inside the little barn

How do I answer the question “What do you do?” in my new situation?  I can tell people that I am retired although I have a hard time making that word come out of my mouth.  The word retired seems too passive – to retire is to go to bed or withdraw, to retreat or remove oneself.  OK, I have removed myself from the trading time for money world but I certainly have not gone to bed or withdrawn from the world.  The word just seems to be loaded with images of sitting in the living room with my feet up waiting for someone to come visit me so that I will be entertained. 

No – that’s not what I am doing.

Someone offered “refocusing your life” but that seems odd also since I try not to spend my time focusing on my life but instead figuring out how to live each day.

One of the challenges for me has been the lack of routine that was so easy when I got up and went to work.  The clock was very important.  I had to be out of the house by 6:50 to beat the busses so that I could be at my desk at the appropriate time.  Lunchtime was 11:30 to avoid the long line of students and have a quiet table to eat with my co-workers.  There was always a small congregation around the coffee machine in the mid-afternoon where we chatted about our lives, our children, our spouses and the general state of the world.  5:00 was time to go home and try to fit in the personal living part of my life; the part that wasn’t attached to my paycheck.  Days at work looked very similar to each other.

Now my days are filled as I please and I am in charge of what I fill them with.  There are still the daily chores; the ones that I used to do on the weekends or in the evening – cooking dinner, laundry, and cleaning.  A small part of each day is used to “keep the house”.  The rest, I am figuring out.

My energy has been returning as I recover from 6 months of chemo.  The garden is always there and patiently lets me sit or weed as I please.  Last week, the little barn needed shelves.  This week the peaches are ripe.  I only focus on the clock now to see when my husband will arrive home from trading his time for money.

Rather than closing the aperture on my life’s lense to “refocus” on something other than work; it seems like it has opened up to its widest setting.  With this new time, there is also new possibility, there is new light and new energy.  I have only to imagine.

Back Among the Living

The Little Barn

The Little Barn

It’s been quite a summer, this summer of 2013.  I have a new shed dubbed the “Little Barn”.  I have pints and pints of pickles and dilly beans in the cupboard.  The garden is lush and producing as much as we can eat and I can process.  I spent a week on the coast of Maine with my new husband (oh ya – I got married…) and another week with my sister in the Maine woods.  I am officially retired or “re-focusing my life”.  It’s amazing what a bout with cancer will do to shake things up.

I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer last November.  Had surgery, 6 months of chemo and that, thank you very much, is enough of that, for now.  So – in case you were wondering where I have been – there you go.

I’m not sure where my writing will be taking me.  I am jumping in today with the first post in a long time because honestly, it’s too cold outside right now to pick the basil.  No promises here – just day by day.

After the election – Sleeping with the (political) Enemy

The morning after the election there were no high-fives in my house; no tearful hugs, no shared feelings of either elation or defeat.  Instead there were consolatory foot rubs, a decided absence of gloating and a tiny bit of tip-toeing until we figured out exactly how high emotions were running.

Like Shiela Heen who wrote “Sleeping with the (Political) Enemy” for the New York Times earlier this week, the love in my life sits on the opposite side of the political see-saw.  Our first forays into political conversations were polite affairs – each of us patiently listening to the other side, trying hard to understand how this person who we loved, who we respected, who was quickly becoming an integral part of our life; how this person could hold such a different view of the world than our own.

This polite conversation eventually turned into heated discussion, and if I am honest, some arguments, hurt feelings, a good amount of posturing and a decided lack of polite listening.  This was all new to me.

Political discussions before this lovely man walked into my life had been with my friends who sit on the same side of the political aisle as I do.  We mostly talked about how important it was that our candidate won, how the “other side” was obstinate, wouldn’t compromise and so on.  I listened and read media that slanted in my direction.  I filled my time and my head with a world of people who agreed with me.

Ms. Heen wrote “When you marry across the divide, you have to give up things that provide the like-minded self-satisfied comfort. As tempting as it is, we can’t demonize those on the other side as idiots who are out of touch, because they’re liable to reach out across the dinner table to touch you (and rather sharply).”

Funny thing, my sweetie walks on the same side of the political aisle as most of my family.  I’ve learned to deal with them by never bringing up politics and by smiling and holding my tongue if someone insists on putting it on the table.

Like Ms. Heen, my partner and I are “closely aligned at the foundation by love, continued attraction, and from sharing the weight of that gift bag of irritations that comes with any modern marriage. But we continue to part company on most pages of the party-political catalog of how-best-to’s and should-or-shouldn’t-be-able-to’s.”  We agree that there are problems that need to be solved.  We just don’t agree on the best way to get there.

So how is it going?  Sometimes we agree not to talk about it.  Sometimes we can’t help ourselves. It is during those times that I try to remember our common ground and to listen carefully and keep my voice calm.  We most likely will never agree on some basic ideas but we can remember that this is the person that we love and that they deserve our respect and our acceptance.

The election is over.  New officials will take their place at the table to converse and compromise.  They will try to fix the economy, create new jobs and take care of our planet.  I hope that they can remember the common ground; that they can accept and respect their differences and work together to find solutions even though they will never agree.

Published!

The newest issue of Four and Twenty – an online poetry journal – came out today and my poem “Do Fish Dream” is one of the poems they chose.  You can see the journal here:  Four and Twenty

Stupid Cat

Jack in his Carrier

See how happy Jack is going to the vet.

It starts while I am on the phone with my son chatting about the wedding that we both attended over the weekend.  I hear that awful cat wretching noise that means that somewhere, I have partially digested animal bits to clean up.  Yes, Jack has left the remnants of his last meal up and down the basement steps and his lovely sister has participated by leaving a sympathy vomit on the porch.  Yay!!

Fast forward to bedtime where Jack spends the entire night trying to snuggle as close as he possibly can to me and then wretches every hour with loud anguished dry heaves.  Sympathetically, I push him off the bed each time anticipating sleeping in the mess but nothing appears and Jack returns cuddling his furry self up against me for the next round.

The doubt begins – Does he have something caught in his throat?  Has he swallowed a needle left from hemming the wedding dress? Has he ingested one of the pins that he insists on pulling out of the pincushion and leaving on the floor?  And the big question – Does he need to go to the vet?  I have big to does at work in the morning and he is still eating and wanting to go out although he missed his morning ritual of attacking the bath mat and throwing himself against the tub while I shower so I decide to wait.

This morning he seems better but it’s the only window of opportunity to take him to the vet without sacrificing everything I own so off we go.  You can see a picture of how happy he is about this up above.

The vet charges me $60 to tell me that he seems to be getting better (duh – didn’t I just say that?) and she can take an x-ray if we’d like (me and Jack, that is) to the tune of another $65 to see if there is pin or needle inside the cute kitty.  “What will happen if we don’t?”  I ask.  Well, he’ll either get better or he’ll get sicker and we (me and the vet, that is) will know there is something there.  “Let’s wait”, I reply and take Jack home.  Upon release from the dreaded carrier, he runs out back and begins stalking chipmunks.

So far, so good!

Casualties of the Bittersweet Wars (Almost)

This is the arch after the birds have been saved and the bittersweet (at least temporarily) defeated.

I am at war with bittersweet.  This weekend I ripped it out of three blueberry plants, tore roots out of my raspberries and almost killed an entire family of robins by chopping it out of the archway that is the entrance to my garden.

To be honest, the first bittersweet vine in my yard is one that I planted.  Years ago, some friends had made me a beautiful arch for my birthday and decorated it with grapevines and tiny white lights and autumn leaves.  It looked incredible as the twinkly lights invited me into the garden.  The grapevines eventually rotted away and left the bones of the arch.  These are made from old iron fence posts and black plastic tubing.  It was not the most lovely feature in my yard.  I planted trumpet vine gifted from a friend’s garden on one side but it was taking a long time assert itself so, on the other side, I planted the bittersweet.  It grew like a weed.

It grew larger than the arch – it grew across the arch barring entry to the garden.  It grew 12 feet high and then bent down to grab me every time I walked near.  All of this rampant growth required me to arm myself with the clippers weekly and hack away at the aggressive tendrils.  The vines bloomed and fruited with those incredible red and orange berries that just scream AUTUMN! Then the birds ate the beautiful berries (I did make wreaths out of the lovely vines and berries and placed them in tempting spots for the birds).  Through their efficient digestive systems, the birds dropped the seeds all over my yard, planting dozens of vines wherever they perched.

Which brings me back to the present.  This summer I have been watching as a pair of robins nested in the bittersweet on the arch.   I hoped that the bird that Jack ate on my front step was not the mother robin (turns out he chose a different bird family to decimate).

And then, this weekend, I attacked the bittersweet and in a fit of irritation with the efficiency of Mother Nature, forgot all about the nest and hacked down the branches where their home was built and scattered 5 baby robins across my lawn.

Horrified, I did the best that I could to carefully lift the babies back into their nest and prop the remaining bits of bittersweet branches up against the fence where they were in direct eyesight of that feline terror – Jack.  I felt guilty and sad and worried as the parents screamed at me and finally, later that day started feeding their family again.

This was by no means a permanent solution.  The nest was wide open to any and all predators that might wander by including my sweet, adorable kitties with their sharp claws and large teeth.  I let the parents have their temporary home overnight.  The next morning, my partner and I cut the nest out of the wilting bittersweet and carefully placed it into the trumpet vine that remained on the arch.  Then we got out of the way and waited for the parents to once again find the constantly moving nest.

The picture you see here is of the vine that now holds the nest.   The nest is in there (really!) and Mom and Dad robin have found their babies and are busily feeding them in their new home.  All seem well despite my efforts to wipe out the entire family. Thank goodness for the persistence of good parenting and partners who understand the importance of averting crisis!

This is my partner in crime, having helped save the bird family and finished his martini, he is scoping the magazine pages for our next great meal – what a guy….