Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Snow on Snow

"Snow had fallen snow on snow, snow on snow..." the words from the carol "In the bleak mid-winter" are kind of stuck in my head these days. Fifteen inches on top of four inches on top of an ice coating on top of a dusting, or something like that. That's where things stand in our neighborhood. Yesterday I had to laugh at the car I had left in our driveway half cleared; it looked as if it were sporting a high mohawk when I returned.

I hate to admit it, but some days I forget to admire the beauty of the snow, when figuring out what to do with it all moves up on the priority list. The birds, meanwhile, seem grateful for our feeders and our bird bath heater, and we are rewarded with a large flock of juncos, lots of gold finches in their duller winter feathers, and the many black, white and grey (in various patterns and combinations) birds: chickadees, titmice, nuthatches, woodpeckers, and such. Today three blue jays dwarfed them all. 

And I am grateful for the wood stove: there's nothing like that radiant warmth. Add a cup of tea, a favorite Christmas CD, and maybe even the length of the sofa...a perfect way to spend an hour.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

In memoriam, again

If it seems just a short time ago that I wrote here in memory of our cat, Calvin, that's because it was--less than three weeks ago. And here I am, writing a tribute to another family pet: this time our rabbit, Gandy. More formally known as Gandalf, and more fully as Gandalf the White. I remember when Gandy was a wee bunny, just over five years ago, when I took him to our vet for a first (and until this weekend, only) check up. From the exam room, I could hear the vet tech tell the vet herself what this bunny's name was when he had been carried back to be weighed. 

"Gandalf," the vet tech said. 

"Ohhh, Gandalf the White," the vet had said. And I smiled in approval that our vet (who has kids the age of ours) knew her Tolkien well enough to know the difference.

Gandy's first day at our house was in the midst of an early December blizzard. His last was the day after a mid-December ice storm. When we tucked that small bunny into his outdoor hutch for his first night alone, assured that outdoor living is what most rabbits are built for, we were nervous. He seemed so small and vulnerable. Bekah, not one to mince words, said: "That rabbit will be a block of ice by morning." He was fine.

This time we were not so fortunate. Rabbits are impervious to most pests and diseases, but they are, we now know, highly vulnerable to respiratory infection. We didn't catch the first signs of Gandy's infection until he was a rather limp and listless guy. And the Saturday night trip to the emergency vet wasn't enough to save him. He died some time in the night at our house. I had been pretty sure he wasn't going to make it when Anna and I put him in a specially prepared place for the night. The nearness of Calvin's death and my post-ice storm fatigue washed over me; "I just can't handle another animal death," I sobbed. Anna gave me a quiet hug to comfort me. (David was away; we were on our own.)

But this entry is intended to be a tribute to Gandy, handsome guy that he was, with long, silky, soft as you can imagine white hair. Rabbits are pretty quiet creatures. They don't vocalize much. No regular bark or meow or purr. Some rabbits speak with their percussive back feet, but Gandy wasn't much of a thumper. I've heard that if you cut too far when trimming a rabbit's claws or when cutting a mat of hair, they will scream an unforgettably horrible scream. I never heard Gandy scream.

I often worried that he was lonely or bored, since he spent a lot of time in his outdoor hutch, with occasional sojourns into the house, where he was generally quite well behaved (toilet training-wise). His only vice was an occasional chewed lamp cord, thankfully with no resulting electrocution. Only some ruined old lamps, lined up somewhere in our house waiting for repair. I hope he enjoyed the breezes and the birds, the seasons and the sunlight.

One of my favorite memories of Gandy happened one summer not long after the movie "Because of Winn Dixie" had come out. Bekah had two friends over, and a whopping summer thunderstorm came through. One of us brought Gandy in from his hutch, and he was hopping around the living room, along with dog Digory, cats Calvin and Lily, and maybe Anna's two guinea pigs, Chuckles and Eddie. It was just like the scene in "Winn Dixie" in the pet store (in the movie, the pet store clerk was played by Dave Matthews) with all the animals out of their cages, mixing and mingling and making their own kind of music. 

So, with two animal losses in less than three weeks, I feel a bit scoured out. As if forces are in motion telling us to simplify and let go. A Zen haiku comes to mind: 
Barn's burned down--
now I can see the moon. 

Farewell, Gandy. Maybe we'll plant parsley over your burial place.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Wild and Crazy Wins the Day

The zebra print leggings nudged me as I was deciding what to wear today. And the words "wild and crazy" nudged me too. I bought the leggings about twenty-two years ago when I was still a new priest in Concord, Massachusetts. A woman from the Netherlands came to visit my boss's family, I think, and she sported some zebra leggings that I loved. So I gave her some money so that she could send me some from Europe when she got back there, which she did. I thought at the time that it would be good to spice up my days-off wardrobe, and I do remember I wore them once to the New England Flower Show with the rector's wife(!). I was exceedingly self-conscious and tense the whole time. I think I may have worn them once or twice more in public before they took up residence in the bottom drawer of my bureau. That is, until my teenaged daughters (and even a friend now and then) decided that they were good for certain occasions, Halloween among them.

Seeing them this morning (I had actually worn them to bed last night), I thought, "Perfect. I think dressing wild and crazy is what I need to do today." And putting them on, my bearing and my outlook perked up considerably! This was going to be fun; I just knew it. And I quickly decided to put together some truly outlandish combination of clothing, things that really don't "go". I found myself remembering many many years ago, as perhaps a sixth grader, having my mother and my sister react to my chosen outfit on some school days when I came downstairs for breakfast, suggesting that perhaps my stripes and plaids weren't really meant to be worn together. I can't imagine I went very far outside the lines. But today I had the pleasure of putting together a wacky wardrobe and then wearing it in public. Even Anna tolerated being with me in one store (and chose to stay in the car at the next, though she swears that wasn't the reason!). And Anna has willingly taken my photo with her camera.

I so much enjoyed wearing my zebra leggings with Anna's polka dotted rubber boots, topped by my multi-colored handmade sweater with six different buttons (buttons by Lacey Goodrich, sweater by me), and two mismatched earrings in the style of my beloved friend Sarah, that I may just have to do it again soon. I may even wear the leggings every day between now and Christmas. I think they may be magic leggings after all.

And it just may be that dressing wild and crazy, or doing something else a bit outlandish with the potential for being thought unseemly for a fifty-four year-old, strengthens one's "core muscles" of joy, delight, and happiness. 

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Winged Things

Last weekend I was passing through our backyard doing some long-delayed yard clean up when one of those sudden "bird invasions" happened. Chickadees, titmice, white breasted nuthatches, downy woodpeckers, and goldfinches started arriving at our feeders, darting here and there, back and forth, in a flurry of winged activity. I stood still, hoping I wouldn't scare any of them away, even though I was barely three feet from one of our biggest feeders. The fluttering and ruffling of wings of these rather small birds was loud in my ears, like a soft rapid drumming. It was exciting simply to stand and watch while the brief frenzy lasted. 

Yesterday I was among much bigger birds, and not nearly as close, on our local beach just after sunset when the Canada geese come "home" for the night in the shallow, protected salt water cove. They spend their winter days at the golf course. Really! I know it sounds silly, but I honestly think that's where they go, heading off in the mornings for a day of recreation. Actually, I'm sure some of them go to farm lands and some to the golf course, then back to the seaside for their overnights.

Some days, about twenty or so minutes after sunset, their raucous arrival is audible inside our house even with windows and doors closed. To be outside when the geese come in is even better. To be on the beach and hear the whistle of their wing beats (if they're not honking too much) and then the chhhhh sound as they land in the water is the best of all. Sometimes I try running along side them just for the heck of it; they're fast. 

I've noticed that sometimes a skein of geese will start to unravel as the geese near their destination, the formation no longer important. Sometimes the individuals start toppling and tipping as they come down. It looks as if maybe they're just having fun, veering to one side then another; or maybe it's a way of slowing down. And then they settle in, with greetings exchanged between the newcomers and those already floating somewhere in the dark.

Friday, November 28, 2008

In memoriam

We buried a beloved friend and teacher this morning, just as the rain was starting to fall. Relatively small of stature, weighing in  at twelve or thirteen pounds, Calvin was nonetheless a big presence in our household. I often referred to him as my Zen teacher, since his example was often of that kind of single-minded attention to the present moment at which cats, and most other non-human mammals, excel. I loved watching him wash, methodically and thoroughly, never in a hurry, as if just this endeavor at just this moment (and string of moments) was the only one that mattered. Until something better caught his attention, that is. 

Calllie, as we called him, was a lover of cozy places--under the wood stove, on an open lap, and especially on the best, most comfortable chair nearest the heat. I will miss his company in my lap and even his way of stealing my  body-warmed seat that I would often have vacated for only a matter of seconds, to find it occupied on my return.

To be honest, Callie did have some annoying habits, but it's amazing how quickly those fade with a sudden loss (sadly, he was mortally injured by a car). When we buried him this morning, we remembered his ready purr; his playfulness; his leaping several feet off the ground to try to catch the leaves on low-hanging maple branches; his way of walking with us around the block, his bell jingling as he darted onto and around the stone wall near the Ferlands' house, and often racing with an impressive homeward sprint through the Cloughs' yard, across the Porters' yard, and straight to our back door. I liked to think he was an honorable descendant of the fastest big cats of the African plains.

So, with thanksgiving for a small and relatively short life, that reached farther than we ever knew (as we learn from neighbors their own enjoyment of his antics), we bid Calvin good bye. Next spring we'll plant some catmint over his burial place in the garden.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Piles of Money: part two

A few weeks ago I began making piles of money. This may come as a surprise to the people who know me best, since they also know that I do not exactly have a lucrative paying job or a rollicking career in full swing at the moment. After the finding of the wad of money described in "Piles of Money: part one" and after drawing the drawing posted there, I got very fond of that little drawing. One day I decided to see what would happen if I made multiple copies of it in different sizes and even colored them in a little bit. (American money is such an odd hue of green, I had to use three different colored pencils to get close!). And I rather got a kick out of the process and even more of a kick from the fact that I could actually say to myself (and to the air around me), "I'm making piles of money!" and be telling a kind of truth. I made one for myself and one for a friend, so that I was truly making more than one pile.

Now I know that this hand-made money will not buy groceries or pay the mortgage. And yet I have to say that on certain days making another pile of money, or even just looking at the ones I've made, lightens my heart about money, which is quite an accomplishment given the economic news these days. I only make more money (sometimes just a little at a time) when I am reasonably confident that I will enjoy it, rather than feel stupid about it or let it cause me more worry. I even colored in and cut out some new bills the other day when I knew I would be on hold waiting to speak with the financial aid office of my daughter's college. It was a great antidote!

If you'd like your very own pile of money for cultivating financial light-heartedness (or whatever other positive attitude you might choose), let me know. I'm sure we can work something out. I could provide a ready-made pile of money--either in the "traditional" pile form, as pictured, or in the newer "cascading" form of bills strung together with thread to hang where they will move in the air, as if falling from above. I could even set you up with a "make your own piles of money kit" complete with some blank drawings and a few colored pencils. That way you too can say in all honesty, no matter what your financial circumstances, "I'm making piles of money!"

And if all this sounds just too wacky for you, and you can't imagine how a born-and-raised- Yankee-WASP-former Episcopal priest got to this point and you'd like to know, ask! And I'll try to remember.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

November Skies

David recently commented that he loves November's skies. They certainly can be dramatic, fast-changing, and wear intriguing hues. I tend to think of the skies in Maine being pretty dramatic all winter long. 

But even in summer and fall (and spring, too?) I am often dumbfounded, as on the day in mid-September when I made this painting looking toward Portland from Mackworth Island. I think you can tell that the sky was the part I really wanted to paint and enjoyed the most!

P.S. If something about this looks familiar, it's because the top third of the painting is the backdrop to my blog's name.

P.P.S. I promise I'll get to "Piles of Money: part two" very soon.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Piles of Money: part one

"The universe provides," my friend Mary said as she handed me a bag of food to take to Anna, who had left a message on my cell phone hoping for some food when I picked her up to go to the bus station, headed for New York City. 

"That's for sure," I said, noticing as I did so that the wad of money I'd found just a few hours ago was still sitting on Mary's table. If Anna hadn't forgotten to bring lunch money and hadn't called me, if I hadn't found the message at the right time and asked Mary for some bars and fruit, I'd have left "my money" behind. 

As it was, I had only found the money--two twenties and a ten--because the car was running out of gas and I happened to notice the dashboard indicator blinking at me just before reaching the one highway rest stop with gas before I would get to New Hampshire. I admit that I did grumble a little at the empty gas tank, yet I also registered some grateful amazement at the timing of it, being so near to the rest stop. So I had called Mary by cell phone to tell her I'd be a little late, and just as I started to speak, I looked down at my feet and saw the wad of bills. "Hey! I just found $40," I said into the phone as I picked it up. "No...make that $50!"

Now just a few hours later, it was as if I more or less found the money again, just before heading out the door to return to Maine. Somehow I think that wad of money must have wanted to spend some time with me or something. 

So I honored it with the loving portrait you see above.

Stay tuned for "Piles of Money: part two."

Monday, November 10, 2008

Still Reverberating

Six days later, and the event that was last week's election still reverberates and works on my imagination. Right now, for instance, Barack and Michelle are being greeted and shown around the White House by W and Laura. What will Michelle and Laura talk about while Barack and George get down to work? There's so much to look forward to with Barack and Michelle in the White House. Among all sorts of possibilities, I delight in what Nicholas Kristof pointed out in yesterday's New York Times: that Americans have just picked a president who is "an open, out of the closet, practicing intellectual." And the future first lady, too! A return to brain power at the White House--imagine that!

I, like so many others, find myself still savoring election night and the day after--the rich tumble of images from home and around the world, the faces radiating joy, relief, near disbelief; the interior realization that this election was and is about so much more than I might have dared to think, so much bigger than one guy (the Democrat for a change) beating the other guy. It is a story worth savoring and remembering and retelling, in part because it reminds us how often we spin and believe and give power to stories that aren't necessarily true in the present, even if they were once true in the past. Stories like the "Bradley effect." Stories like "this country isn't ready for an African-American president." So part of this election story is about the power to rewrite the stories we believe in and invest with power to shape us. It's about taking back some of that power when we dare to hope differently and to stake some part of ourselves on trusting a different story.

The painting doesn't really have anything specific to do with any of this! It was painted in September in response to (what else?) trees in the backyard. Maybe it feels right for today because it's an image that's a reverberating-in-the-imagination kind of thing, or maybe just because I like it.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Exhausted Elation

Kind of tired, today...can't imagine why. Up past midnight for the best of reasons. Yet elation and exhaustion are not a bad mix. A light, joyful, grateful, relieved heart gives strength to a weary body. One of Anna's friends said this morning: "It was as if the air seemed cleaner this morning!" Lighter, too.

Bekah reports that the District of Columbia was whooping it up, singing it up, dancing it up, honking it up all through the night. Serenading the White House, and Lincoln, who sits calmly as always, smiling wisely, from his lofty seat looking toward the Capitol. Thinking of Lincoln there's a deep sense of the circling of time, the mantle passed from one Illinois senator to another, by and through so many along the way. Emancipation!

We (that would be millions of us) did it! And now there's lots to be done and lots to look forward to.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


There are limits to what one person can do, and at the moment my limits seem to be in the realm of taking the photos of my paintings to get into the blog. It's just one thing that doesn't seem to come easily for me: either too much time passes since I last used David's too complicated digital camera, and I can't remember or figure out something important. It even happens with Anna's very simple camera. 

Today I had hoped to post a photo of a sketch of a wad of money that I found the other day, along with a story, but I can't seem to get a photo. That'll have to wait. 

But, since I'm on the topic of limits, I'll post a photo of one of my paintings of our backyard fence. It's a limit of sorts (although after a section got blown down in the wind the other night, it's an even more permeable boundary than before). Sometimes I ignore it completely and paint the trees beyond as if it weren't even there.

Monday, October 20, 2008

All Trees All the Time

Today I decided that if I were a radio station, my tag line would be "All Trees All the Time"--at least as far as my painting goes. I am smitten by trees, the light in trees, all colors of trees, not just the fancy red ones. I love looking at trees, admiring them, painting them, enjoying them, sometimes even talking to them. (Which reminds me of another college story which I'll tell another day.)

Today when I was cleaning up after painting, I came back to my palette to find that a leaf had fallen onto the palette in a wonderful art-imitates-life-imitates-art kind of way. Almost like a hidden picture or tromp l'oeil. Way better than anything I could have planned or painted. Sometimes, it seems, art happens.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Early September. How different the light in the trees is now. When the sun's out, the light is as sharp as it comes, clear and piercing. And then there's the light diffused through yellow, ochre, and orange foliage.

For some reason I remember walking through yellow leaves in college (Trinity, in Hartford), pushing my feet through them, savoring the sound while also marveling at how much light radiated upward from the fallen leaves. As if there were two primary sources of light, one up, one down, and it was hard to decide which one I liked better.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Election Season Fears

Not long ago I read that people in South Africa, when facing the unknown future between apartheid and a new order, used to gather in groups to offer up their positive visualizations of a peaceful South Africa. This was not just a matter of words and thoughts, but of engaging all of their senses and their fullest imaginations to envision a peaceful and prosperous future. Some would even say that their communally shared imaginings made a real difference. Even if you're not willing to believe that doing this helped to shape the future reality of South Africa, perhaps at least you can imagine that it helped to allay people's fears and  allowed them live from a more positive and hopeful place.

I began thinking about this as a personal (and potentially communal) strategy for dealing with my own pre-election fears shortly after the announcement of Sarah Palin as McCain's running mate. I remember all too well how I was gripped with fear four years ago,  how exhausting it was to live yo-yo-ing between panic and buoyant hope, and of course how utterly devastating it was to experience yet another W victory (never mind that it was actually W's first true victory). Inspired by the story of South Africa, I decided to make this a personal practice until November 4: whenever I feel the cold claw of fear begin to close in on me, I will stop and take a few deep breaths and invite myself to imagine election night with all my senses and cylinders firing. Where will I be watching the returns? Who will be my companions? Think of the food and drink, perhaps there's music playing as well as the TV--Jim Lehrer, Gwen Ifill, Judy Woodruff and the PBS gang--and the voices of friends and neighbors. And especially, what will it look like, sound like, feel like, taste like, even smell like when it is announced that Barack Obama is without a doubt the next president of the United States!  Imagine the cheers, the tears (of joy and relief!), the excitement and exhilaration--I can SO get into it!! And you know what? It makes a difference. It removes the cold claw, or at least pries loose its grip a little bit. Perhaps that in itself isn't enough power to turn an election, but it sure beats fear and panic. With a few companions, it could even be fun! (Everyone can pitch in a piece of the imaginary picture.)

Today I was asked by a small group of friends to lead an impromptu "positive visualization," so we simply stood in a circle and held hands, and I offered the briefest guidance, even briefer than what I've written above. The only "rules" are that you don't have to believe anything; you don't have to have a clue how this is actually going to come about--no fussing about the electoral college map or who wins Florida; and you don't even have to think that doing this will have any impact at all on anything other than your own (and your close others') state of mind at the moment. And that's enough. It sure beats fear. 

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Ecuador, Sweet Ecaudor

Four years ago at about this point in the presidential campaign, I was one of the many people making noises about moving to another country--Ireland, England, Canada all seemed like decent possibilities. This year, I am decidedly NOT entertaining such thoughts myself, preferring instead to redirect fears into positive visualizations of an Obama-Biden victory on election night (I can hear the cheers, feel the excitement, even shed an anticipatory tear of joy). But today I found my new home country if ever I need one: Ecuador. 

Why Ecuador (since I know little about it and speak no Spanish)? Here's why: Ecuador has recently approved a new constitution granting inalienable right to nature. Among other things, the new document declares: "Nature...where life is reproduced and exists, has the right to exist, persist, maintain, and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions, and its processes of evolution. Every person, people, community, or nationality will be able to demand the recognition of rights for nature before the public bodies."

That's my kind of country.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Harder than it sounds

I'm starting over, for the second or third time. To blog, that is. I'm hoping that in the intervening months since my last blogging attempt my voice has gotten stronger and clearer, which is to say that my vision has gotten stronger and clearer. Which doesn't mean that it's all clear all the time by any stretch of the imagination.

So...about the title that I plunked in the rectangular box on the posting page: "Harder than it sounds." I meant that "trusting delight" is harder than it sounds, and so is blogging, really, or else I might have stayed with it longer the first time. What was hard for me then was simply blogging, simply saying what I felt like saying without thinking in some way of my "audience." I think that comes from having regularly  and predominantly and for twenty-two years written stuff that was designed to be spoken to a live "audience" (aka, congregation) and always having them in mind, even particular people--imagining how they would hear or receive what I wanted to say, and sometimes of course changing what I wanted to say because of my imaginings. 

This time, without pretending that I will never even think about who might be reading this, I am going to try not to, to try instead simply to put down what seems to want to be put down.

And trusting delight will be a recurring theme, sometimes overt and always somewhere in the background. More on that soon.