Category Archives: Of Lesser Things

Moments


I was thinking tonight that our lives are lived in moments, not days or weeks or years but in single, solitary moments. Many are remembered, some are cherished, and a few holding so much pain and grief that we try to bury them. Some are life changing and others come and go with no more than a glance.

I’ve been struggling a bit lately trying to decide what I want to be when I grow up, tinker, tailor, soldier, spy….the jury’s still out but I’ll keep you posted. In times of personal unrest, I find that I have the greatest need to seek moments of beauty in my world, anchors if you will. My posts that include images of what I call “shop art” are good examples – mundane things that catch my attention and deserve recognition, things that jiggle my senses and make me stop and hold my breath.

Tonight, the ground is covered with a dry cold snow that crunches under my step when I walk over the areas that are packed down by tire tracks. It’s a lovely cold sound that can’t be replicated by anything else on earth and once you’ve heard it, it will be seared into your memory. You will be able to conjure the sound in your mind at will, no matter the season or the temperature. 

As I was taking my late night walk in the dark, I noticed the sky that was a perfect cover of black velvet and it reminded me of a cape I once saw my mother wear to an evening formal dance with my father. It brought back a sliver of a memory, forgotten until I had looked at the sky. Such is the power of a moment.

As I got back closer to the building, I spied tiny diamond chips sitting on top of the snow as the ice crystals caught light from the overhead vapor lamp. Fairy dust perhaps?

I heard the absolute silence of the night, broken only by the sound of my breathing and boots crunching in the snow. I enjoyed hearing those sounds and, although I was getting cold, I didn’t want to go inside, I didn’t want that little moment in time to end.

Not every moment is beautiful – that middle of the night phone call, a goodbye, the sound of a cry or the feel of tears on a cheek, a final breath, or the heart stopping fear that we have all experienced at one time or another. These are the moments whose memory we tuck aside and try our best not to remember and when they come unbidden, we push them away as if they still had power over us.

I think of myself as the memory keeper because I remember moments. I may forget days and names and phone numbers, but I remember moments. They are the thread of my life.


His Final Breath


There are moments when time stands still, moments when the earth seems to stop revolving on its’ axis, when the sun disappears from the sky, the stars are extinguished and the moon drops into the abyss of a far off universe; times when the air we breath ceases to exist as we hold our breath, waiting, just waiting. There are moments frozen in time and burned into the personal history of our lives.

But we live with courage and we survive, changed forever but going forward for those who cannot


Walking in Moonlight in Winter


One of my favorite things to do is to take a walk in the moonlight. I tend to work late into the night, usually arriving home in the wee hours of the morning when the moon is at it’s brightest. During the winter when the trees are bare, no matter how tired, the soft light of the full moon overhead in a cloudless, star filled sky and moon shadows before me, gently draws me to walk in the woods following paths I have known since childhood. In the summer, the canopy of leaves overhead makes the woods dark and hard to navigate , even with a full moon, but on a winter night, it is as bright as dawn and as silent as a world unoccupied by others.

That’s where I do my clearest thinking, my most precious dreaming, my sweetest remembering, and my best decision making, in those woods, in the middle of the night while the rest of the world sleeps.

I often hear the howl of coyotes and the footfalls of the deer, sometimes seeing them drinking from the stream. I’ve witnessed skunks foraging and once, an unidentified animal that turned out to be a Fisher Cat so it’s a good thing I sat still and avoided crossing it’s path. There are ornery opossum and lumbering raccoons to be seen while listening for that haunting sound of the ever-present but usually unseen owls.

I hear my grandfather’s voice beside me, and see myself walking hand in hand with him as a child, making discoveries that have stayed with me through the years. He taught me to strip the bark from a sweet birch sapling for a special treat, to catch frogs in the stream for lunch, to make a slingshot from an old piece of bicycle tire inner tube, and he taught me to love this land and learn from it. He taught me that I had nothing to fear. The memories are as keen as the shadows before me. I can see him kneeling down to feel the temperature of the ground for a reason that I have never understood – I’m sorry that I never asked him.

Eventually, spurred either by the cold night air or common sense that tells me I have to be up again in a few hours, I put aside the memories and wander back to the house with the sense of contentment that I always find there, in my woods, in the middle of the night.


Longing for Summer


491975___alone__It’s not been a bad winter by New England standards. We haven’t had deep snow or sub-zero temperatures but rather, occasional spitting storms and days in the 30’s and 40’s with more blue skies they gray. Maybe that’s why the mild cold we’ve had this week seems so bone-chillingly raw that I can’t seem to get warm. 

I’m longing for days filled with hot sun and warm breezes; nights that hold the sweet smell of my potted gardenia wafting through the windows. I’m anxious to hear the sounds of bumblebees as they warm their bodies and the incessant demands of newly hatched chicks. I want to feel the small beads of sweat that will drip between my breasts and the cool shower that will wash away the grime of working in the garden as it begins to bear the fruit of my labor. I can see myself in a wispy summer skirt, bare legs and feet, feeling the grass with my toes. I will eat berries off the bushes and at night, lay outside on a blanket, watching the night sky and drinking wine from the bottle. I can’t wait until I need to squint a bit and shield my eyes from the sun as I survey my realm. I want to lay on the moss-covered boulders that edge the stream and doze off with sweet dreams filling my mind. I want to stop at a child’s front yard stand, enjoy a slightly warm but still refreshing sip of too-sweet lemonade while dropping my quarter into their hands and seeing their delight. I want to walk in the woods at dawn and smell the aroma of wet rotting wood from the downed trees that are dotted with brightly colored fungi.

I can’t wait to relive all my memories of summers past and make new ones to add to the collection.

blackberries black-eyed_susans bumblebee butterfly2 Lemonade river_rapids skirt_twirling windinherhair


A Temporary Life


Growing up in a military family, life was always temporary, impermanent, and home was where every we happened to be at any given moment. When I gave the eulogy at my mom’s funeral, I said that she was our home. She gave us roots, a sense of permanence, a place to land on our feet and rest without fear or uncertainty.

I learned some valuable life lessons by that existence. I learned to walk into a room of strangers and make a place for myself. I learned that a smile will bring strangers to your side and they will want to be your friend even if their approach is out of nothing more than curiosity. I learned not to become too attached – to anything. That is the only lesson I have allowed myself to cast aside. I learned that you have to rely on yourself first and foremost because, sometimes, that is all you will have. I had to take care of myself, fill my own needs, entertain myself, and find activities that were fulfilling in themselves. Maybe I am a solitary person as an adult because as a child, I had to learn to be.

When I grew up, the thing I wanted most was a permanent home in a small community where I would know everyone and live for 50 or 60 years. I wanted friends with whom I could share memories instead of just pictures of people pasted in an album, their names long forgotten.

I managed to find the home of which I had dreamed only to discover that it too was temporary. It shouldn’t have come as such a surprise. But, as I slide down the far side of the mountain I struggled so hard to climb, I’ve come to enjoy a life of anonymity with the permanent connections reserved for the few souls who reside in my heart rather than brick and mortar. They are our true home, after all, the only one that really matters.


A Legacy from My Mother


When I was about 13 years old, just coming into womanhood, in a very ceremonial atmosphere, my mother presented me with a carefully typed manuscript which she had prepared on her old Royal typewriter. The document was “The Subjugation of Women” by John Stuart Mills which he wrote in 1861. She had bound it in a red satin ribbon and I knew immediately that it had great importance but at the time, I was too young to fully comprehend that she was telling me that the world would not treat me equally unless I was willing to live my life by my own rules and on my own terms.

My mother was raised in a traditional French family where the husband/father was the definer of their lives. Every decision outside of the household was his to make, without questions. I recall that my grandmother never wore a pair of trousers until after my grandfather had died because he disapproved of women in pants as much as he disapproved of dresses that might reveal any part of his wife’s legs beyond her ankle. So, I grew up seeing my grandmother clad in ankle length dresses with long sleeves, no matter the season nor the work she was doing, housework, mucking the barn, working the garden, or milking the cows.

What was most strange to me was that my grandfather seemed to treat my mother as an equal and I never quite understood the dicotomy. He was a carpenter and taught her to use tools to build what she needed. He was a home builder and taught her to roof a house. Together they built stone walls and layed fencing amd they seemed to work in a comfortable partnership.

My father had come from a poor family of Irish immigrants with a father who drank more than socially and a dour mother of six children. I have no memory of every seeing this grandmother smile or speak softly or gently. She was stern, unforgiving, unloving, and I believe, generally disappointed in her life. I never knew her very well so my thoughts about her are supposition rather than fact.

It doesn’t surprise me that my father was taken with the girl with strawberry blond hair, who was always ready to smile; the girl who would fill the surrounding woods with the sound of her beautiful singing voice and the house with the music of her grand piano.

Because of his military career, our home was often without my dad’s physical presence so fathering as well as mothering was what my mother did and there was nothing she couldn’t do.

When they were together, at the drop of a hat they would dance in the kitchen as frequently as they would discuss politics. She filled his life with music and he filled hers with words. They were best friends and intimate lovers, of that there was not doubt. When she died one Christmas Eve, he lost his will to continue his struggle to live and joined her a few short weeks later. I became an orphan with no one left to share my memories.

When I wrote her obituary, I said she was a feminist before it had a name and a feminist after it became a label. She was the model for the woman I wanted to be and hopefully became. She drew me the blueprint for a good life and as I have tried to follow her plan, I have drawn my own little squiggles in the margins.

I’m drawn to these thoughts today because I was cleaning some old boxes this morning and came across those typewritten pages, still bound with the frayed red ribbon, the legacy from my mother.


From Music


It surrounds us, it takes us back in time, it cements moments of the present and is our dream of the future. At its best, we allow ourselves to be swallowed up by the sheer joy or the sadness. We tap our fingers to the rhythm, whisper the words and feel our breath swell in our chests.

I spent my time in the womb hearing the strains of Chopin, Beethovon, and Puccini and I truly believe my first conscious thought was of music. By two, my stubby little fingers were picking notes out on the keyboard, ones that made me giggle in delight, middle G, E flat, or pulling my thumb my arm’s length across the keys, my first music.

While my friends were listening to Johnny Angel, I was just as apt to fall asleep with Segovia or Madame Butterfly or later, Willy Nelson on my stereo.

As the years went by, I learned that it was music to which I turned when grief, disappointment, sadness, contentmentment, happiness, or excitement descended upon me. It carried me away from the moment, sometimes a canoe ride on a quiet stream and other times, in a kayak through the rapids.

Not being among them, I’ve always envied those who could sing and I’m drawn to the sound of character. For me, pretty voices are only that, pretty voices singing words on a piece of paper but lacking the dimension and depth that I need to hear to be satisfied. I enjoy Celine Dion the way I like frosting on my cupcakes but I let myself be filled by Janis Joplin and the overwhelming passion for life that came out of her. With her, I will laugh and I will cry but she could never be background music. There isn’t a song recorded by Grace Slick that hasn’t given me something. I am carried away by the rawness of Joe Cocker, moved by the energy of the Stones, and, like every woman, want to hear a voice like Leonard Cohen whispered in my ear when making love.

I once said , when referring to my preference in men “I like to see a little character on their faces, a little living on their bodies and a little humor in their eyes. I like to see hands that have known hard work and have a little dirt under the nails to prove it.” I like my music the same way.

When I can’t hear words, I can hear music and sometimes, it says all that needs to be said.


A Rich Full Life


Early one morning last week, I was enjoying a few minutes of tale telling with one of the women who works for me. She’s a few years older than I, if that’s possible, and has led a traditionally female life ruled by either a father or a husband, sometimes both. She’s a wonderful, generous person and I truly enjoy her company.

She said that some day, we should run topless through the field that abuts the shop. She heard me chuckling to myself and demanded, in that prim and proper New England school marm way, that I fess up! Nothing too dramatic to tell, just that I had run naked through many fields in my life and the one next to the shop wasn’t a prime spot for a couple old women with sagging breasts and pudgy thighs that would create the sound of gulls flying over. We laughed at the image and got back to work.

The next morning she said how lucky I was to have lived such a rich and full life. I was a little taken aback by the statement and murmured agreement although I had never thought of my life in those terms but it was food for thought.

I’ve come to the conclusion that my friend was more perceptive than I. I have led a rich and full life. I have know laughter that couldn’t be contained, smiles that warmed my spirit, grief so deep I didn’t think I would survive, the sound of music, the feel of creating a painting or a sculpture, the satisfaction of a body exhausted by hard physical labor. I have known motherhood by example and by experience and I have been a father when there was no one else to fill that role. I built my life in the same way that I built my home, on my terms. I have swum in oceans and rivers and lakes and felt my body cut through the cool water that surrounded me without letting it swallow me. I have loved, deeply and passionately and have been loved the same way in return. I have know friendship that is like the other part of me, separated at birth. I have been blessed with a spirit that needs to keep learning. I have slept under stars and on boats and in beds shared with a variety of creatures, most of them invited. I have read through the night, great books and trashy novels, until I was forced to reluctantly put the book aside because it was time to leave for work. I have shed tears alone in the bathtub but seldom in front of others, my pride I guess, and my reluctance to appear vulnerable in the eyes of anyone, myself included. I never really noticed when my hair turned to silver, when my blue eyes changed to a pastel facsimile or when my skin began resembling that of my mother. I have written my own rules, created the woman I have become, lived deliberately and tried to carry out my dreams without intentionally hurting others, and I’ve never looked back.

Yes, I have lived a rich and full life


Reflection


New Years morning, an appropriate time to review the successes and failures of the year just past and resolve to do more, do better, do things I didn’t get to in the past 12 months.

Like everyone else, its been a year of ups and down but pretty much in balance even though its been a yo-yo year.

My daughter remarried, I took a couple fun trips, I had moments of creative rejuvenation and a few where I felt I was caught in the doldrums one minute and the next, in a jetty, unable to get my bearings. I didn’t break any bones or chop off any digits which pleases me to no end but I’ve broken a few of my own rules, the only ones that really count, and that has taken a toll on my psyche. And I’m thinking about joining the Army because they promise to make me all that I can be.

I replaced my old deathtrap truck with a slightly newer one. The old Ford had gotten to the point where I feared my emergency “I’m broken down on the side of the road” calls to my son in law might cause him to rethink his marriage to my daughter. There was one week that he had to get on his white horse three times and he even brought the cavalry along with him once.

I’ve worked too much but enjoyed most of it. Trying to reduce my workload so I fired a couple of my clients. I used the old 80/20 rule. 20% of my clients produce 80% of my income so I got rid of the problem ones who tended not to pay anyway. I felt a little guilty over the first couple but it got easier and easier when I discovered they could survive quite nicely without me. I guess my over inflated ego led me to think they would have a difficult time replacing me but they’re all still in business – imagine that. I even declined to take on a new client who came to me last week. It had all the earmarks of being a very profitable arrangement for me but I knew my heart wouldn’t be in it and it seemed unfair to the client so I passed. I’ve gotten to the point that I only want to keep the clients I really enjoy. I still work for food but instead of settling for pigs in blankets, I’m seeking more steak.

I discovered that should my daughter’s father predecease me, I can collect survivor benefits from his social security even though we haven’t been married to each other in almost 35 years and I have always worked and contributed against my own SS number. In addition, when I’m eligible to collect social security, I can collect on his rather than my own if his are greater than mine. Interesting! And people wonder why the social security program is nearly bankrupt.

I split a small boulder coming up through my driveway by drilling into it with a ½” drillbit meant for concrete then pouring water into the holes and waiting for it to freeze which split it enough so I could get a log splitting wedge in then let it freeze again, pounded the wedge deeper, etc. Of course, getting it out of the pavement and underlying ground is an ongoing project that my not be completed until spring.

I traded a friend a wood chipper and all the wood from one of my big trees that fell during Storm Sandy – all he had to do was get it out of my yard. That, too, has been an ongoing project. He made great progress one weekend but hasn’t touched it for the past 6 weeks or so. Hmmmm – hope its gone by spring or I’ll have to finish it myself.

I got rid of my television and I’m surprised that I don’t miss it at all. I’ve returned to what was first an adolescent crush, then an all consuming passion, my first love – reading. Through the years, TV crept into my life like a primordial ooze until I didn’t feel ready to face the world until I heard the early morning news and couldn’t sleep until I knew exactly who was bombing whom around the globe. The only thing I can honestly say I miss is the weather forecasts. High drama two or three times a day, sometimes all day if anything of significance can be used to keep people glued to the weather channel, as if a half hour could never cover every possible permutation that might occur. Now, I rely on my trusty window, outdoor thermometer, and my old barometer, resurrected from its hiding place in the basement. And when I go to the market, if I see the bottled water shelves almost empty, I know something may be on the way. Not very scientific but it seems to be pretty reliable so far.

Insomnia hasn’y miraculously cured itself, in fact, it may have gotten worse but after all these years, it’s just the way it is. If I’m going to pop a pill, I prefer to be awake to enjoy the effect – remember that I’m of the old drugs, sex and rock and roll generation and I have fond memories that I wouldn’t mind reliving every now and then.

I wanted to get another pup but I let fear of loss overrule my need. Probably not the best way to make a decision but its what happened.

So that about sums up 2012, some laughter, some tears, some joy, some disappointment. But I survived it in better emotional shape than I might have at a different time in my life. As for 2013, I’ll just take it one day at a time and see what happens.


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