Tag Archives: writing

Country Morning

IMG_7781Hamden, NY. Upstate.

Honestly, I was scared when I got here last night.  So dark! A porcupine greeted us as we arrived, trundling along, his plump body and prickly quills undulating as he walked. He glanced back at us, and I quickly shut the car door in case it threw its quills at us.  Everyone else jumped out.

I lingered in the car, dreading the cold and the dark and the hectic shuffle of bags and belongings being transferred from trunk to porch and to farmhouse. Steeling myself, we got out, Buster in his sheepskin coat and me in my purple one. We headed toward the house, looking out for the porcupine and feeling safer now with the house lights on.

Julian reported that the porcupine was slowly climbing the tree in the front yard.  I wanted to see but was too scared by the all-consuming blackness to do more than take a quick glance. No sign of her.

I headed inside where I was pleasantly surprised to find it warm and cozy; the furnace had apparently been on for a couple hours. Jon and Dad began working on the fire in the wood-burning stove in the living room while Liz and I began unpacking the Thanksgiving leftovers.

I gave Julian a $20 bill to keep taking Buster out so he wouldn’t tinkle on the floor out of nervousness. “I’m scared of the dark,” I whispered, confessing my weakness. He accepted that without comment, just glad for the cash as any 17-year-old would be.

With Julian in bed before I was, I forced myself go outside one more time with Buster, turning on all three front door lights. I stood on the porch while he stretched out the leash down the front steps to the frosty grass below. I could see the stars through the trees and wished the lights were off so I could see better, curiosity fanning my courage.

Darkness stayed very close throughout the night as Buster and I camped out on the couch, close to the warm fire and its faint glow. Neither of us moved much, though I had to unzip the sleeping bag a couple times as hot flashes caused sweat to pool on my chest.

I waited until morning light had crept in enough to see the furniture outlines before slipping on Dad’s coat and stuffing my hands deep in the pockets. Not too cold outside, and I felt alive. Dark branches contrasted against light blue sky with streaks of pink and orange. I took photos while Buster meandered about, and we both kept an eye out for the porcupine. I half hoped, half dreaded to see her, but she was gone.

The chickadees across the road began their morning scold and I looked around at the many tree shapes emerging against the lightening sky. The grass felt crunchy under my feet, the frost stiffening their spines against my foot steps, the sound like breaking glass.

No one was stirring inside the house yet. I added a log to the stove and opened the vent; flames snapped and crackled as I settled onto the couch again with a cup of coffee and my journal. Fortified by the country morning, I felt brave again, knowing the darkness is really only in my mind, and that fire, and a blank page, can banish it.

Here.
In the country garden.

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Surprise: Rose-Breasted Grosbeak

IMG_6335What a joy it is for me to see a new bird at the feeder!

Yesterday morning, a male grosbeak appeared on my feeders. Despite it’s muted fall colors, the triangle of red breast is unmistakable. The eyebrow streak is prominent, the black and white spotted wings definitive.

Apparently grosbeaks migrate through my part of Florida in September and October, usually as solitary birds. I got a photo to reassure myself: I know what this is.

What else will surprise me today?

I finally talked to my son yesterday. I was frustrated I had not been able to reach him for several days. I complained; he grew angry and resistant. This is an old pattern for us, often because I insist on my way. Sometimes I’m right, but often I need to take more gentle approach. That works better with him.

To be honest, it’s been challenging to raise a son as a single mother. Growing up in a household of girls myself, I’ve felt disadvantaged at times. I find I either hold him far too close or let him drift out too far. Thankfully, I’ve had help from many different wise advisors along the way.

This time, when I insisted he set a time for him to call me back, his voice rose in anger in frustration.  “You can call me, you know!” “I have called you, “ I retorted, “hundreds of times since last week!” On that note, he hung up on me.

Wait! This was not the loving, kind, caring, compassionate, understanding, nurturing phone call I’d planned! My resolve must be stronger than my anger to communicate effectively with him.

Sigh.

So, what I supposed to learn from this? What is the message of this migratory visit from the rose-breasted grosbeak? Do I know what this is?

I’ll look it up, but I’m guessing it’s something like, Life is unpredictable. Keep watching, and take advantage of connection opportunities when you can. They will be there.

That reassures me slightly, if not entirely.

Here.
In the single mother garden.

~~~~~~

From: Animal Speak:  The Spiritual, Magical Powers of Animal Creatures Great and Small 

  • “This beautiful little bird can teach us much about proper family relationships. It can help us in healing family hugs and restoring family love.”
  • “It will help you in seeing family patterns that you have brought over into your present life, along with your present family members.”
  • “The grosbeak awakens a new pride and nobleness in the family process.”
  • “The grosbeak has on its chest a rose-colored triangle that looks like a bleeding heart.  This totem can help teach us to heal all of the old wounds and hurts of family origin.”
  • “The grosbeak helps us to see our family relationships as a true melody, each note separate but part of the larger whole.”

Reflection:
Wow.  I’m astounded that’s the symbolism of the grosbeak! A clear indication from the Universe that the time is now to begin the work of healing old family wounds, whatever they may be.

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Longing For Landscapes

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North Dome on the left and Half Dome on the right, with the Merced River dividing the two: Walking in the Yosemite Valley this summer.

“To experience a place, I need to walk in it as often as I can. Abenaki native poet Joseph Bruchac says, ‘We need to walk to know sacred places, those around us and those within. We need to walk to remember the songs.’”
—Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge

Inspired by my recent trip to Yosemite, I decided to ask the incarcerated women I write with on Fridays to explore their own inner and outer landscapes; to share the special places they’ve been, to reveal their own travel dreams and experiences.

We began, as always, with a poem; this day it was The Sound of a Train:

“Even now, I hear one and I long to leave/without a suitcase or a plan; I want to step/onto the platform and reach for/the porter’s hand and buy a ticket/to some other life…”
—Faith Sharon

This generated yet another poem, constructed from readback lines I gathered during our opening words:

Even Now

Even now, I long to step into big landscapes./ I long to step into a new way of life./ I long to step into the living room of my own home./ Even now, I long to step into reality, into memories; to get back what’s lost./ Even now, I long to step into this new sober life that I started to create./ I want to see my children again./ Even now. —Collective Poem, Community Transitions Center Writers, July 14, 2017

Each of the stories that followed became another collective poem I constructed from their readback lines:

Travel Longings

I traveled to North Carolina./ It was so beautiful./ It was a big change for me, but a good change./ I was not ready to come back.

I went to Baptist./I remember it like it was an hour ago./ One minute apart./ I couldn’t sit straight up. I had to get on all fours in the front seat./ He didn’t know what to do./ At 12 a.m./ Chris stayed with her the whole time./ Just because he’s gone doesn’t mean he has to be forgotten.

It was very far from my heart./ I wouldn’t deem it special just yet./ Especially to a 5-year-old, sitting with stories inside of her./ I don’t know my real name./ There’s a new life to claim./ You can change you but not your experiences./ My honesty amazes me./ I was unwanted and lived my life like that.

A penguin./ And yet it still thrives./ The penguin mates for life. / It’s love is loyal./ Love and loyalty means the most to me in this world.

A journey inside myself./ Banning away the fog./ Trees surround me./ A marble archway and a red door./ A little black kitten emerges./ She brushes my leg./ My world disappeared.

—Collective poem, CTC writers, July 14, 2017

I’ll share my own travel story in my next entry.

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Captured Moment on the Journey

IMG_6496.JPGWe were on the boardwalk, looking over the savannah.  We’d just spotted two birds in the tall Florida grasses, just beyond a tree trunk and a clump of bushes. We all paused, trying to identify these two brown, long-tailed birds.

I could not make them out. What were they? Curious, I followed them when they flew away, startled by our movement. The others continued down the boardwalk, but I went in the opposite direction, hoping to get a closer look.

I did!  There they were, one clinging to the grass, the other perched in a bush. I tried to find it in my binoculars, confused at first by the clumps of leaves on the bush, until it’s round breast came clearly into view, proudly flashing in the sun.

White throat.  Slightly flat brown head.  White beak…not real long.  It occurs to me, this might be a migratory bird, since I didn’t know it right away.  Maybe it was a shrike?  But no; too brown.  Maybe an oriole?  No, wrong color scheme.

I puzzled for awhile, and finally, worried the others might get too far ahead, I moved on.  The boardwalk stretched out ahead of me, empty, bare, warmed by the sun.  I quickened my step, wondering how far they had gotten, then calmed myself, hearing their voices.

I slowed down again (at least in my own mind), wanting to hold on to that moment: The open savannah, the warm sun, the light getting a bit stronger as it rose higher in the sky.  I was aware of that in-between state of the present, with the pair of birds  behind me and the small flock in front of me, clutching cameras, binoculars, jackets.  They were in the future, this moment was the present, the unknown birds already in the past.

Such are the combined pleasures—and insights—of hiking on a trail, looking for birds, and slowing my stride to capture a moment of time.

Here.
In the bird-watching garden.

P.S. Bird list from the day: White-eyed vireo, yellow-rumped warbler, two great blue herons , red-wing blackbirds, mud hens, tri-colored heron, kingfisher, flock of ibis, pine warbler, voice of the pileated woodpecker!

(P.P.S. see more pictures and watch a video on our WWf(a)c Facebook page.)IMG_6493.JPG

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Interruption

IMG_5339About a month ago, I left my journal at a friend’s house, so I had to start a new one.  When I got the old one back, I started writing again where I’d left off.  I noticed a lot had happened in a month’s time.  So I wrote about it.  (Note: Journal technique: time capsule)

IMG_6135May 29, 2016

A lot has happened since I lost my journal.

  • I planned my first street protest.
  • I went to Santa Rosa, Florida, for a reunion with three dear friends, where I photographed purple flowers.
  • Despite our protest, the Zoning Committee of City Council voted to approve the zoning change to my neighborhood
  • I took the Journal to the Self series for the fourth time, this time facilitated by my friend and newly certified JTTS facilitator, Meg Rohal, so we can work together to expand the expressive writing community here in Jacksonville.IMG_5745.jpg
  • City Council also voted to approve the zoning change, with the exception of five key votes.
  • We began filing an appeal.
  • I went to Kanuga, North Carolina, for the 2016 Journal Conference and heard Pulitzer-Prize-winning poet laureate Natasha Trethewey.
  • My kids came home from college for the summer.
  • Camille got a job and is writing an article for Edible Northeast Florida!
  • Matt survived his freshman year at LSU!
  • I joined City Beautiful Jax as a board member.
  • I held a writing circle in the woods for a Write + Hike + Eat at Down to Earth Farm.
  • I wrote a table of contents for my new book idea.
  • I learned three new bird calls:  yellow-throated warbler, Eastern phoebe, song sparrow.
  • IMG_5836The downy woodpeckers in the back yard fledged the nest.
  • I decided I’m ready to finish setting up my bedroom, the last room in the house to get my attention since my move.
  • I’m helping to start a non-profit to help give citizens a stronger voice is our City’s zoning decisions.
  • I got closer on the redesign of my business brands (I’ve got four of them).
  • I planned my trip to Belgium (and Luxembourg, and Ireland, and Paris), for this summer, kicked off by Camille’s study abroad program in Paris.
  • Camille’s passport finally arrived in the mail!
  • I began planning ANOTHER street protest.

Now I’m headed to brunch at Community Loaves with Camille, where we will eat homemade bread and walk in the garden.

Life is good.
Here.
In the Riverside Garden.

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East Wind Blowing

IMG_4878The robins are coming to life.  The loose flocks lurking around the neighborhood are now moving in, feasting on the red holly berries that just turned the proper degree of ripeness after January’s crisp nights.

The activity in the backyard this morning caught my eye as the robins darted from pine to holly and then back again, like trapeze artists in a circus performance.

A plump, speckled one suddenly landed on the fence, eyeing me as I came out the back door for a closer look.

Round, red breast.
Beady, black eye.
Fast, firm grip.

She contemplated me, pausing for a moment in the work of her life: to pluck ripe berries before making her way up North for nest-building time.  It’s a natural process that can’t be stopped; a force of nature that can’t avoided.

“You better be ready for a growth stage,” she seemed to say, eyeing me steadily.

I’m a bit surprised to find that I am.

IMG_4383As I look at the photos of the new house I covet—a cute cottage, just the right size, in just the right neighborhood—I realize I’m actually looking forward to change.  I’m not holding on to this place.  The bright red door of possibility is as warm and welcoming as the robin’s breast.

“Change is coming,” the robin told me. “You must learn to tolerate the strain.  Don’t let Change stomp all over you with clumsy work boots and thick soles.  Let Change gently blow you to your new destination, like the East wind that brought Mary Poppins to #17 Cherry Tree Lane.”

It’s true that change is inevitable, like the turn of the seasons, like the robins’ need to eat and  migrate, like the balmy spring that will follow the frozen winter of my heart.

Spring is my favorite season, after all.  Perhaps I can tuck its blooms into my own red breast and get ready to migrate to my new home.

Here.
In the garden.

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Forsythia

IMG_5595I bought some forsythia blooms yesterday.

We had a giant forsythia bush on the farm up North, right off the back porch, tucked between the pantry and the lilac bush.

It was the early harbinger of spring.  In the cold, gray Pennsylvania winters, I looked eagerly for those first signs of awakening life to break the dreary landscape.

First, I’d notice the ground getting mushy, half frozen, half thawed. I’d step off the back porch, over the little stone ditch, and my rubber boots would sink into the squishy ground, the thin brown grass under the snow just holding both soil and tread.

A quick left turn, perhaps a slight slide in the mud, and the forsythia would be on my left as I rounded the corner, picking my way toward the Springhouse. The dark stand of bare branches stood silently, and I’d notice the swelling buds. Just a few more days, perhaps.

Soon, a tiny burst of yellow would burst open, like popcorn, and then another, and then another, and suddenly the bush became a cloud of yellow, with a bit of green mixed in among the blossoms. The neat, square, four-pronged blossoms smiled as they gently waved in the breeze.

The wind took their spring message and sent it to the daffodils on the nearby pasture slope.  Their thin green prong leaves and tight buds poked out of the still-wet earth, and soon burst into an echo of yellow color, nodding “Yes!”

Weeks later, among heart-shaped leaves, the luxurious mini-piles of lilac flowers would unfurl, each bloom stacked like the full skirt of a swirling ball gown, elegant, scented, lovely.

By then, the forsythia blooms had melted into soft green leaves, and waited, once again, for their turn, their chance to dance in springtime winds again.

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