The Stars Shine Even in The Daytime

Recently, I was asked, “Where do you find beauty?” I didn’t answer right away, but thanks to stay-at-home orders I’ve had lots of time to ponder that question. It’s a good one, for I can think of no other time in my life when I needed the transcendent power of beauty more than in the last few months.  

“A world without beauty would be unbearable. Indeed, the subtle touches of beauty are what enable most people to survive”. 

John O’Donohue, Irish Priest and Poet

Everyone experiences shimmering moments of beauty that catch us off guard and take our breath away. We delight in moments that arrive without warning as suddenly as butterflies that spring from the grass on a summer afternoon or as gradually as blossoms that swell into apples.

When the ordinary suddenly becomes the extraordinary we are filled with wonder, awe, and a heightened awareness that the world around us is bursting with hidden beauty.  Beauty doesn’t save itself for special occasions but is already present in everything.

Beauty is so finely woven throughout our ordinary days that we hardly notice it.

John O’Donohue

The colors of the sunset, the sound of wind through the trees, or the trust in a child’s eyes will be there whether we notice or not, and though we’re almost never aware of it the stars shine even in the daytime. It is up to each of us to pay attention, recognize, and appreciate the beauty that surrounds us. 

Reflections of Star Island, Isle of Shoal, NH

It was serendipity that brought me to my first photography workshop on Star Island off the coast of New Hampshire. I sat in the back of Sandpiper at the end of a long, narrow table, with my tiny Canon point and shoot tucked in my pocket trying to blend into a world of SLRs, tripods, and assorted lenses. Any notion that I actually belonged there didn’t last much longer than the first part of my first question.

“You know that button?  You know the one? The one you push to make things bigger…?”  

As if they were marionettes controlled by an invisible puppeteer a matched set of curly-headed New Yorkers sitting in the front of the room where the good students sit, turned in unison and replied in a single voice filled with great incredulity.

 “Do you mean….the zoom.” 

“Yes,” I replied.”That would be the zoom.”

Apparently, zoom is a basic photography term. I knew immediately that I had somehow matriculated into a master class without taking the required prerequisites. The instructor and my fellow students…especially those two New Yorkers…were kind, extremely patient, and always willing to help, so I returned the next day and the next. I remained in the workshop for the entire week.

It was one of the best decisions of my life.  I have taken subsequent photography workshops where most often, I’m still the one with the most to learn. I continue to use a point and shoot camera…up-graded…but still rather basic and now, too, I use the camera on my phone. 

I delete many more shots than I keep and I miss more shots than I take, but I came away from that very first workshop with something much more valuable than learning the difference between aperture and speed, or how to set the ISO.  I learned to see. To really see the beauty that surrounds me every day.

“Everything that is made beautiful and fair and lovely is made for the eye of one who sees.”

Rumi

During that first workshop, I became very aware of light. “Find the source, see where it falls and place yourself and your subject in relation to it,” Caleb said. “ Move if you need to. Change the light. Direct the light.  Reflect the light.  Be the light.”

Neither my camera nor I am fast enough to capture everything I see, but now I notice the way the light reflects off the water and dances among the leaves at the edge of the river; I marvel at the way the sun shines through the delicate petals of the bearded iris that line my sister’s walkway, and I find much joy in the twice-daily golden hour that momentarily highlights the ordinary with opulent splendor.  Beauty is transient. It doesn’t wait or linger. We must be vigilant and observant. The brilliant sunset morphs and fades even as we watch; the final notes of the song once clear and crisp dissolve into the evening air, and the eagle soars overhead and then is gone.

A few years after I took that first photography workshop I joined a photography group at the local senior center. The facilitator was very fond of Wabi-sabi, the philosophy that beauty can be found in the old, the every day, and the imperfect. Wabi-sabi is seeing the beauty in the worn, well-used, weathered, and decaying. It is seeing beauty in common items and scenes often overlooked simply because it is not where you expect to find it. That philosophy opened my eyes even wider.  

Shortly before his death, my husband and I spent four days in a ghost town outside of Arches National park in Utah.  I brought my camera along on hikes in the park where I was amazed by the natural beauty of the awe-inspiring arches carved in the soft red sandstone by wind, weather and time, but I was also able to appreciate the special kind of beauty that remained in the weathered boards, the chipped and faded paint and the sagging roofs of the once prosperous village in which we found ourselves.  Even in this place, I could still hear Caleb’s voice.  “Crop with your feet.” and paraphrasing Robert Capa…”If it’s not interesting, you’re not close enough”.  Through my lens, I saw the roofs now naked and shingle-less, and the abstract perfection of the staunch and upright nails who still remained at attention with no other purpose than to be beautiful. Streaks of rust from broken hinges, garden gates covered with vines, shattered glass, and tattered curtains also revealed their unique beauty.  What a blessing to be able to appreciate the wonder of such a place. 

Even in this strange time of physical distancing and self-isolation, we are discovering the beauty that has been hiding in plain sight…the light that turns the neighborhood windows to gold at twilight, the still life created by groceries on the kitchen counter, the smiling eyes that look back at us across a homemade mask. We dance, we sing, we write words on the page, we add paint to a canvas, we capture light through a lens, we rearrange pieces of broken plates, we read, we walk in the park, we sew masks,  and we bake loaves of bread. I believe our need for the beautiful…and the compulsion to create it…has enabled us to endure this challenging time of the pandemic.

“Life is amazing. And then it’s awful. And then it’s amazing again. And in between the amazing and awful, it’s ordinary and mundane and routine. Breathe in the amazing, hold on through the awful, and relax and exhale during the ordinary. That’s just living heartbreaking, soul-healing, amazing, awful, ordinary life. And it’s breathtakingly beautiful

L.R.Knost

Learning to see the beauty of the world isn’t the only lesson taught in those photography workshops.  For if you didn’t notice, the rules that Caleb taught me are also lessons for how to live in this world as well. Find the source of light…the source of love…the source of that which you call holy… and place yourself in relation to it.  Move if you need to. Change the light. Direct the light. Reflect the light.  Be the light and kindle the flame for another when their light flickers in the storms of life.   Wabi Sabi entreats us to see the beauty, the wisdom, and the divine in people who are broken, tired, old, and worn, as well as in objects or buildings and if they’re not interesting we’re not close enough.  Crop with your feet. 

“Where do you find beauty?” he asked.

“Everywhere.” I replied, with a smile. Everywhere

Originally shared as part of a chapel service during Virtual Star Arts Retreat. Star Island, Isle of Shoals, NH

June 26, 2020

I Need a Technicolor Coat

“Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar”

Probably not…Sigmund Freud

As a student, I struggled with the use of symbolism. I understood the concept but just couldn’t seem to recognize it in the text. If by some miracle I did realize that the author was using that technique I seldom had a clue what it meant or what message was hidden there. How reassuring when in a master’s level seminar, after the class had spent over an hour prying all the possible symbolic meanings from The Old Man and The Sea our professor warned, “Remember don’t get too caught up in symbolism. Sometimes it’s just about a fishing trip.”

Ducks at Chip-a-Waters Park, 2020

Shortly after my mother died, I began to have a reoccurring dream. It returned night after night. In the dream, I’d grab my computer or my phone and in panic and terror, I would plead a desperate warning: “Don’t delete the program! Be careful. Don’t hit the wrong key. Don’t delete the program! Just don’t delete the program.”

If dreams are merely stories we tell our unconscious selves why did I keep repeating this one? Knowing my struggle with symbolism I surprised myself by how quickly I came to understand the message of this nighttime vision. It seemed obvious. The program I didn’t want to delete was my mother.

The dream returned when Dave died.

It came again last week.

I woke myself up in the middle of the night, grabbed my cellphone and had it in my hands trying to find which keys I needed to push when I realized that I was once again in the dream and there was nothing I could do to keep the program from self-deleting. The symbolism had changed only slightly. It was not my mother or my husband I was trying to keep from slipping away; it was my life as it had been before COVID-19 snatched it from my grasp.

I recalled the dream the next morning when I was fully awake and had to admit that in many ways I am right back in the early stages of grief. This time, of course, I’m not alone with my private pain. This time the entire world is collectively grieving. Each of us, whether we acknowledge it or not is in one of Katherine Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief…denial, anger, bargaining, depression or acceptance.

Being sequestered in my home, I see grief being manifested in the roller coaster ride of posts on social media. Friends share silly videos, humorous graphics, and uplifting messages of hope one minute and posts full of anger and frustration the next. I feel it in my own life too. I am often filled with fury and despair at the calamitous situation in which we find ourselves. At other times, I am nearly paralyzed with sadness; my eyes welling with tears and a lump in my throat that I am unable to swallow away. I am overcome with the mirrored emotions of fear and apprehension, and yet, when I notice small green shoots poking through the pebbles reaching for the sun or watch the Mourning Doves build a nest in the big pine tree I also feel a sense of calm acceptance of things as they are. Grieving is a complicated business.

“In times of grief and sorrow, I will hold you and rock you and take your grief and make it my own. When you cry I cry and when you hurt I hurt. And together we will try to hold back the floods of tears and despair and make it through the potholed street of life”

Nicolas Sparks, The Notebook

As we walk this unfamiliar valley together…at a distance of six feet…we are aware of our interdependence and connectedness. We are all in this journey together…holding each other’s sorrow, listening to each other’s story, and taking turns soothing each other’s bouts of fear and distress. Instead of bringing brownies, lasagna, or pots of soup to assist those in mourning as is our normal custom, we are supported by courageous strangers who perform the unseen but necessary tasks that keep us fed, safe, and secure. Our hearts are full when we consider all the simple kindnesses that grace our lives on a daily basis. We worry and pray together for all of those on the frontlines doing battle on our behalf. It’s such a paradox that as we hunker-down, flatten the curve, and stay inside we are alone and yet the world entire is walking the same crowded path.

Recently, the songs of the early morning birds crept into that space between dream and waking as I tried to squeeze a few more minutes of sleep from what had been a restless night. As I slipped into my dreams once again, as often happens in dreams, one of the birds began to speak to me, “Follow me”, he said in his little bird language which amazingly I had no trouble understanding. “Follow me and everything will be all right.” I watched as the wee fellow flew into a dark, narrow cave. “Don’t be afraid,” he continued to chirp. “Follow me.” I took a deep breath and began to follow. I hadn’t gone far when, although still surrounded by impenetrable darkness, I could see sunlight bouncing off the walls ahead. Then, as in any good third-grade story…I woke up.

Once again, the symbolism seemed quite clear to me. My feathered buddy was telling me that as we enter this time of tremendous uncertainty and yes, grief, we should remember that there is the promise of light up ahead. Spring is here and summer is coming and even in the midst of great sorrow, fear, and disappointment there will flowers blooming, trees leafing out, and moments of great joy.

Hey…I’m finally getting good at this symbolism stuff, however, in case the universe is wondering, I’m perfectly happy to simply savor a night of deep, peaceful uninterrupted sleep.

Please be safe, be well, and do what you can to flatten the curve.

One Foot in Front of the Other

“You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think.”
A.A. Milne, Christopher Robin

Several years ago, my granddaughter and I took a short hike toward a promised overlook. It was obvious that she was really not enjoying this adventure. Her foot hurt, she was tired, and she wanted to turn around. The ‘beware of bears’ sign didn’t help either. We stepped off the wooded trail to rest on a large boulder while we considered what we would do. In this small clearing, the sun’s rays shone down upon us, no longer filtered through the leafy overhang. We could hear the rush of a small stream as it played amongst the pebbles on its way to the sea and wildflowers were peeking through the scrub in their dresses of white and blue and yellow and orange. It was just a brief moment of light in the forest. After this short respite, we stepped back onto the path, into the shadows, and beneath the umbrella of leaves.

Glacier National Park

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.

C.S. Lewis

Grief is like that too. As I hike the trail through this valley, the trees open up more frequently to moments of light and flowers and joy, but without warning, I look around and find myself once again in the gloom of thick underbrush and beneath branches that block the sun. Even so, if I keep myself open, grief continues to teach me her lessons. Fear, courage, and bravery are on the first page of her syllabus. It takes a certain amount of daring to face the disorientation and uncertainty of life after a loss. Nothing is as it once was and it’s difficult to find your bearings. To live without equilibrium takes strength, faith, and fortitude.

Grief is also about becoming untethered. It’s about losing an identity. Losing a map and compass all at once – a way to orient our life.

Samantha Smithstien

“You’re so strong and brave,” people told my friend at the death of her second husband. “I’m not brave or strong,” she replied. ” I just get up every morning and put one foot in front of the other.”

Each day we make the choice whether to pull up our big-kid pants, put our feet on the ground, and take those steps forward…or not. Often, we’re doing well to sit on the edge of the bed and just think about moving and there are days when even that is a stretch. But, with courage, hope, and a great deal of bravery eventually, we shuffle our feet and move to the music of life.

One Foot In Front of the Other and Lead with Love

I decided that this year one of my goals is to consciously work on being brave. “Be brave. Be brave. Be brave, ” I chant to myself throughout the day hoping that at some point it will become internalized and I can change this admonition into an affirmation. “You are brave! You are brave! You are brave!”

For me, being brave means moving forward not necessarily with confidence, but with faith. It is the belief that scrambling over the obstacles life puts in our path will make the next hill a little easier to climb. Being brave acknowledges that we’re all going to stumble, fall, and skin our knees. It also gives us the resilience not to let those set-backs put a halt to our progress. Being brave allows us to laugh at ourselves when we trip and land spread eagle on the ground, our glasses askew, and those big-kid pants on display for the world to see. Bravery reminds us we just need to get back up.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.”

Winston S. Churchill

On my December trip to Vermont as darkness fell and after hours of driving, I accidentally turned off the road I knew, the road I meant to be on, and started down an unplanned route. In that instant with a single right turn, I was facing my top three fears…being alone, being somewhere unfamiliar, and making an error in judgment. The disembodied voice from my GPS assured me that I could indeed go forward on the new road and that it would lead me to my destination. Since I had never approached my destination from this direction I thought perhaps the GPS knew a better way. She didn’t. Following her instructions, I found myself in upstate New York, on the wrong side of Lake Champlain. She’s taking me to a bridge, I thought. She wasn’t. At 10:30 on a Wednesday night, I found myself at the ferry dock which had been closed for hours. I was on the wrong side of the lake, I didn’t know where exactly I was, I had no idea how to find the bridge, I was tired, and it was beginning to snow. In all honesty, it was scary.

Seyon State Park, Vermont
New Year’s Eve, 2019

Don’t be afraid of being scared. To be afraid is a sign of common sense. Only complete idiots are not afraid of anything.”

Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Angel’s Game

With help, via cellphone from my son; after figuring out how to override the GPS that kept trying to take me back to the ferry; and with a great deal of positive self-talk as I drove twisty, snow-covered and deserted back roads I eventually found my way to the bridge and familiar roads in Vermont. I was disgusted with myself for not simply returning to my regular route after making the wrong turn and yet, facing my fears and solving the challenge of the situation was exhilarating and empowering. Half of being brave is just breathing and taking that next step.

“A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is brave five minutes longer.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Be brave. Be brave. Be brave.” Yes, this is my mission for the year. I was never courageous enough to climb the huge pine tree with the rest of the kids in the neighborhood. I missed seeing the world from that lofty vantage point. What else will I miss if I don’t dare to live my life as it is, even if it is still a little out of sync? I’m learning to be brave, so I’m pullin’ ’em up and I’m steppin’ out.

“Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.”

Rainer Maria Rilke with

If You’re a Worm…Sleep Late

The Virtual Jar

As the end of the year approaches and thoughts of the New Year are slipping into our consciousness a simple suggestion begins to pop up on social media. Write your gratitudes on a slip of paper at the end of each day. Put the slip into a glass jar and a year from now you’ll have 365 reminders of the many blessings that you have enjoyed during the year. I immediately liked this idea when I first read about it several years ago, but being in possession of assorted diaries that are blank beyond February, I was aware of limitations…I’m not always that good at follow through. “What if I had friends willing to undertake this idea with me?” I wondered.

And so it was that in January 2014, fifteen Facebook friends, whose only connection to each other was their relationship to me, committed to one year of sharing blessings, joys, and happy surprises with each other in a secret online group. We called it The Virtual Jar. We filled the jar…the virtual jar…with the description of small joys, pleasures, and wonders as well as photos, memes, poems, and paragraphs about the large events in our lives as well. The group commitment kept us all involved and at the end of the year we were indeed able to all look back on the blessings and gifts in our lives. Sharing the riches of our lives, was uplifting and encouraging, but the added bonus of this exercise was listening as these women reframed misfortunes, disappointments and sorrows into a positives worthy of gratitude. By their example I discovered that on the days it’s a challenge to find something to smile about simply changing your point of view could make all the difference.

I’ve been thinking a lot about perspective in the past few months as I went through the process of moving from Vermont to Michigan. Many of my friends…in Michigan and Vermont…knew of my decision, but of course nothing is totally official until it has been posted on Facebook. When I finally made my plans public the juxtaposition of the comments made by my two groups of friends was quite humorous. My Vermont friends left messages of shock and sadness, while my Michigan friends left messages…in the same thread, I might add…of surprise and delight. The same facts, but the reaction was totally based on perspective.

Change Your Perspective

One November, decades ago while Dave was in the UP…Upper Peninsula…of Michigan deer hunting, I came home from shopping to discover that my electric blanket had been smoldering all day and my mattress, while not yet in flames, was also slowly burning. I called my friend and asked if her husband was home. “Yes”, she drawled. “Why do you ask?”

“Well,” I replied, “Could he come down and help me? My mattress is on fire.”

Yes, I know the situation left the door open for all kinds of joke telling…husband away…hot mattress and all…but at the time I was just concerned about getting the bedding out of the house. I also know I should have called the fire department, but…like I said…I just wanted that hot mess out the door. Of course, once the smoldering fabric hit the oxygen of the outside air, flames erupted and it made quite the sight out on the lawn until we doused the blaze.

The next day at work my friend said, “Boy, you were really lucky.”

“Well…I was thinking that if I were really lucky the fire wouldn’t have started at all.”

“But you are lucky,” she said. “You are very lucky that you have a house that could have burned down. Not everyone has a house that they could lose. You do.”

I’ve often thought about that logic and being prompted to look at the situation from another vantage point.

My sister and her husband live on the Muskegon River. Shortly after carpenters had completed a project installing new gutters on the front of their house a large tree fell onto the roof, taking a large chunk out of the brand new gutters. When they surveyed the damage they noticed that although the roof and the gutters would have to be repaired…again…without the tree blocking their view they were suddenly able to see the beauty of the river much more clearly. Like the 17th Century Japanese poet, Mizuta Masahide, who wrote: “Barn’s burnt down –now I can see the moon,” they were literally given a new way of seeing, but more than that, in the case of the poet and also in my sister’s case, looking at the entire situation in the less obvious way gave them a new perspective. Instead of lamenting what was lost they rejoiced at what was newly discovered. Well…at least until they get the bill for the gutters.

Changing the way we look at things can be healing and helpful. Leaving Vermont was like suffering another loss; another grief. I mourned as the Green Mountains of Vermont gave way to the plains of Ontario. For more than four hundred miles I was leaving a place and people I love until suddenly, just as anticipated, my perspective changed. I was no longer sadly leaving Vermont I was arriving in Michigan with a sense of excitement, adventure and looking forward to being with other people I love.

I-89 North of Montpelier

If you don’t like something change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.

Mary Engelbreit

When my son was young we took him to the eye doctor. After the exam, the doctor said, “There’s nothing wrong with this boy’s eyes.”

“But his teacher said he can’t see the board,” I exclaimed in a puzzled voice.

“That’s ’cause Bruce’s head is in the way.”

As far as I know, the ability to change how we think about something is a uniquely human experience. For the most part, we can control where we stand to watch the sunset. We can choose where we sit to gaze at the stars. If Bruce’s head is in the way…just move our desk.

Sunset on Simon Pond, Tupper Lake, NY ADK

Peacemaking, acceptance, understanding and compassion are also the result of a change of perspective. Looking through another’s window might help to explain the way they see the world. We might not agree on what we see, but it is a beginning. At least we’d be looking.

It’s all just a matter of perspective.

Oh, if you’re a bird, be an early bird
And catch the worm for your breakfast plate.
If you’re a bird, be an early early bird–
But if you’re a worm, sleep late.”

Shel Silverstein, Early Bird, Where the Sidewalk Ends

Where We Love Is Home

Where we love is home… home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts…The chain may lengthen, but it never parts!

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
The Little House by Virginia Burton

I love my old house.

The center structure was built in 1810. Veterans of the Revolutionary War must have walked through her doors. She heard the first cars rattle past and listened to the bells on horse drawn sleighs moving past in the winter. A rather unassuming little house she has stood as a silent witness through two centuries of sunshine, rain, and snow.

The first owners and builders came from Scotland. The laid-up stone and granite foundation are a testament to their skills and artistry. Above my head I can see the cut-marks made two hundred years ago by an unknown craftsman as he took his adz and skillfully shaped once sturdy trees into the straight, sharp-edged, hand hewn beams that span the width of the room. In some places in the house evidence of the original paint remains…blue, red, and ocher. The wide boards lining the stairway are a silent reminder of the enormous trees that stood with outstretched limbs collecting the sun’s energy on long forgotten summer days. The village records report…although there is serious debate about the accuracy…that one hundred years ago, the room in which I sleep was a corn crib and more recently a kitchen.

My House on Cassie Street

I often think about all the people who have lived here, loved here, laughed and cried here, and yes, died here too. The previous owner recently shared that he and I are merely caretakers. “This house will be standing long after we are gone,” he said. But it was here we made a life, we made memories, and we, too, became a part of her story.

Both of my granddaughters took their early steps in this house. There were weddings, family reunions, card games, carol sings. book discussions, talks that went late into the night, lots of laughter…side splitting laughter…and plenty of tears too under this roof.

My grandchildren decorated Christmas cookies and dyed Easter Eggs at the kitchen table, played with puzzles and games on the floor, and watched episodes of Curious George from the living room couch and when I listen, I can still hear the voice of my mother and the heavy footfalls of my husband echoing within these walls as well. Leaving this old girl isn’t going to be easy.

Several years ago, I spent time with friends in a rental house near Booth Bay, Maine. One day we paddled our kayaks to a small nearby island where we stopped for lunch and to hike the short trail through the woods. I’m much slower than my friends, so within a few moments I’m pretty much by myself. I rather enjoy going at my own sauntering pace. On that particular hike I was surprised and delighted to find near the edge of the trail a rather crude little fairy house created from the moss, twigs, and smooth round pebbles. It was enchanting. I stood for a while smiling and imagining the creation of this wee abode.

When I was growing up, the kids in the neighborhood spent hours creating houses and forts…communities really…in the grass of the nearby fields and vacant lots. We’d flatten the tall grass into silken little nests that would be our own special, private place. My favorite was on an incline with a slight dip that just fitted me perfectly. Even as children, we are drawn to building and creating houses, hideouts, and sanctuaries…a place of our own…our regular pew, and like Sheldon, on The Big Bang…our spot.

“We may leave a house, a town, a room, but that does not mean those places leave us. Once entered, we never entirely depart the homes we make for ourselves in the world. They follow us, like shadows, until we come upon them again, waiting for us in the mist.” 

Ari Berk, Death Watch

By a curious coincidence, a week before I put my house on the market…the last house that Dave and I bought together…the first house that we bought was also listed for sale. Feeling slightly voyeuristic, I clicked through the picture on Zillow. In the more than three decades many changes had taken place. My cheery yellow kitchen was now a teal blue and the hanging light fixture that Dave insisted we leave had been replaced by two modern ones. Parts of the house were unmistakable and others I hardly recognized.

Our First House
Carson City, Michigan

That house ceased to be ours a very long time ago and yet the home we had created there was still very much with me. I laughed when I recalled the afternoon we experimented with one of the first microwave ovens in town. “Let’s see what happens if we put this in there?” I had forgotten the built in oven, but seeing it reminded me of the morning-after surprise…we were much younger…when I opened the oven to discover that someone at our party had filled it completely with empty beer cans. I remembered hayrides, pool parties, and the time Dave brought the fire truck home to get it ready for an upcoming parade only to back the ladder through our garage door. “Why didn’t you tell me?” he asked incredulously. “I did,” I replied while cracking up with laughter.” “You couldn’t hear me, because you were running the siren!” What little boy hasn’t dreamed of driving a firetruck and engaging the siren? The door got fixed, but the story lives on.

“It takes a heap o’ livin’ in a house t’ make it home,”

Edgar A Guest Home

Edgar A Guest, was the poet laureate of Michigan in the 1950s and my mom was a big fan. I can still hear the first line of his poem “Home” in my mother’s voice. With his words she taught me that a house is just a building, it only becomes a home by the living that happens within it.

Home ain’t a place that gold can buy or get up in a minute; 
Afore it’s home there’s got t’ be a heap o’ livin’ in it; 

Edgar A Guest Home

We may leave many houses over our lifetime, but if we’re lucky the homes we create within them will go with us wherever we are. We leave our mark on the places we live with paint, nails, and adz, but the echo of our laughter, the roadmap of our tears, and the hope, joy, and wonder of simply living our lives also remains. We leave a bit of ourselves, but we take the very best parts…our memories…with us when we close that door for the final time and hand the key to the next caretaker.

Hold Me Closer Tony Danza

It’s official. My house is for sale. There’s a sign out in front to entice casual passersby and to confirm the location for those who are searching. So, it’s definitely happening. All we need now is a buyer.

A buyer and…oh just a few…tiny details to be addressed before one arrives.

The woodchuck. They are normally shy little vegetarians. Not at all as pushy and greedy as the squirrels that attacked my bird feeder last winter. This one, however, decided to take up residence in the corner between the house and garage. Not a wise choice on her part. I’d rap on the window and shout from the porch…and just like Elizabeth Warren..”Nevertheless, she persisted.”

I hired a professional trapper at the suggestion of the Vermont DNR. He was a very quiet, gentle man who was very non-intrusive. He promised that I’d hardly even know he was there. The first day he arrived with two have-a-heart traps and by the next morning one of the traps was occupied by a raccoon. I never saw the trapper come to empty the trap and I didn’t ask what happened to the raccoon, but I’m pretty sure he was sent to a farm in upstate New York. After a couple weeks the groundhog, too, had been removed and his burrow filled with cement. When it came time to pay the trapper in a very Vermont-like manner he explained the bill and said, “I only charged you for trapping the woodchuck. You didn’t hire me to trap a raccoon. The raccoon was free.”

Vegetarian Delight…Luckily Woodchucks Can’t Jump

As part of this house-selling adventure I’ve met some really wonderful people. Shortly after the ground hog challenge. I met Ryan, septic tank man…the first septic tank man. When Ryan arrived I pointed out where I thought the tank was located. He said by the contours of the lawn I was probably correct, but if he had a problem he’d let me know. When he knocked on the door, I knew it couldn’t be good. Without going into too much detail or getting too graphic, let’s just say…there was a problem. “Come see this,” said Ryan. I really didn’t want to see anything that Ryan wanted to show me, but, I can now say that I have…looked…into…the…abyss. I will NOT be looking again, but…get this…Ryan suggested I take photos in case I needed documentation! Ewww! Gross!

The short version of this tale is that I decided the next owners deserve a new septic tank, so next Thursday, Jordan, the second septic tank man, will be delivering a brand spankin’ new septic tank. Who needs diamonds or jewels when you can spend your money on a state of the art septic tank.

The very next day, I discovered a tree out in the back had come down while I was out of town. Only $400 and the tree was cut up and hauled away. Sadly, it was one of the few remaining Ash trees not infected by the Emerald Ash Bore. It just blew over in the wind after losing its grip on the huge rock around which it had chosen to put down roots.

Well…if things come in threes as they say…I’ve met my quota. I’ve even got one in the bank, if we count the slight mishap with a malfunctioning dehumidifier.

Now that I’ve made the decision to sell, I want someone to come to my door tomorrow morning and say, “Please let me buy this house. I promise to love it as much as you have, but I think you’ve priced it too low. Allow me to give you more money. I insist.” Of course, it doesn’t happen that way.

You go through the preliminary steps of which there are many…photos, disclosure statements, de-cluttering, documents to sign, and finally the post on the internet and a sign in your yard…only to reach the most difficult phase…the waiting. All you can do is wait….and wait…and wait…and wait.

So tired
Tired of waiting
Tired of waiting for you

The Kinks Tired of Waiting for You

My house is over two hundred years old and it has been inhabited for nearly every one of those years, so I know that soon someone’s path will lead them here, but in the meantime, I’m going slightly crazy. I hate to admit it, but if you haven’t figured it out by now, I’ll confess. I’m a worrier, a what-if-er, a person easily stressed. Apparently, I also have very little patience and I hate the suspense of not-knowing.

The House on Cassie Street
Barre, VT 2019

During the waiting phase there is very little you can do, but I thought I should try everything possible. I remember hearing my Catholic cousins talk about burying a statue of St. Anthony in their yard when they were selling their house. I’m not sure what he’s suppose to do, especially from that location, but what could it hurt? Of course…I remembered…I don’t have a statue of St. Anthony. Anthony…hmmm…Tony… I’d print a picture of Tony Danza and plant him in the yard somewhere. Shoot! The printer is on the fritz. Maybe it would be just as good if I just sang that Elton John song…you know the one. So…I spent the afternoon singing.

Then the friendly folks at Google informed me that it was St. Joseph… not St. Anthony and he was supposed to go into the yard head first. I do have a statue of St Joseph. I made him in high school as part of a Nativity set, but a couple years ago his head snapped off and I have yet to repair him. So…does he go in headless or do I tuck the head in with him in the approximate position? There’s so much to know.

It’s a good thing from time to time to be reminded that there are some things in life we simply can’t control. We just have to have faith, trust the Universe, and accept the help of friends. As a Unitarian Universalist I have friends from many faith traditions. My Christian friends are praying; the Buddhists are meditating; the Hindus are slipping beads through their fingers; the Pastafarians are heating up the sauce; the Humanists are studying statistics of past sales in the area; someone’s burning incense; and the Pagans are snaking off their clothes and dancing naked around the fire. I don’t actually know if they are Pagans, but a couple of my friends were up for the naked dancing, so what the heck. I want to cover all the bases. I’m breathing in and breathing out and learning to be patient. After all it has been ten days!

Gettin’ In The Water

One afternoon last week, my three grandchildren and I piled in the car and drove up to the neighbor’s for a swim in his pool. We plopped our towels and other paraphernalia down and prepared to enjoy the inviting crystal clear water. I watched as the three children excitedly approached the pool. I watched my grandson gingerly putting a foot into the water at the first step and immediately pulling it back onto the sun warmed cement deck. “Ooooo. That water is cold,” he giggled before trying once again. Our teen decided to sit on the edge and dangle her feet in the water to get acclimated before taking the plunge. This back and forth activity went on for quite a while…first one body part and then another. Perhaps, they thought, going slowly, bit by bit, would be the easiest way to get fully submerged in the cold, but enticing water.

The middle child walked confidently away from the steps to the side of the pool. She adjusted her goggles, took a breath, and then just went for it. In a seven year old’s version of a cannon ball she was immediately wet from head to toe, and after regaining her breath, momentarily stolen by the frigid water, was soon paddling around like a little otter while the other two were still trying to work up the courage to actually get in.

When I was younger I might have opted for the dive-in method, but now it takes me longer and longer to get into the water and adjust to the temperature. With age and experience comes caution. I’ve experienced that shock of frigid water and I carry that memory with me. I want to get in the water; I mean, what’s the point of swimming if you only wade in up to your knees, but yikes! You can put it off, but if you’re going to swim, sooner or later you’ve just got to get past the tender bits and duck beneath the surface.

As I exercise my decision-making muscles, I recognize that I make many choices in much the same way. Sometimes I make a cannonball determination. I run forward, pull my knees to my chest, make a huge splash and displace a lot of water. There’s no turning back and there’s no second guessing. You’re in baby! From head to toes you’re fully committed. On most occasions I’m more of the toe in the water kind of gal; moving slowly toward a decision while weighing every possibility, each step deliberately taken, hesitating momentarily, yet still moving forward down the path toward the beach.

Prince Edward Island, 2018

Several year ago, three women friends and I decided to spend a glorious summer day exploring some of Vermont’s nude swimming holes. Yes, you read that correctly.

Interestingly enough, in Vermont, it is not illegal to be nude in public, but it is illegal to disrobe in public. You can leave the house without clothes, but you can’t take them off in the public square once you leave your house. Skinnydipping is not only permitted in some cases it’s encouraged and expected. Most kayakers I know have at one time or another stripped down on a hot summer day for a quick dip. Getting back in the boat can be a challenge, but trust me, it can be done.

We are always looking for new adventures and nude swimming certainly seemed to fit the bill. It was absolutely something none of us had ever done before. There was a limit to our bravery however and we were only interested in swimming where the bathers would be limited to the four of us and even then there was discussion about whether we’d go in sans undies or not.

All it takes is one brave soul and before you know it you’re at the edge of the pond in the all together, wrapped in a towel, trying to figure out the most discreet way to enter the water. I stepped to the edge of the shore and before I could give my modesty and my entrance any consideration the gravel beneath my feet began to slide and I was propelled backward on my bum and sliding with great rapidity into the drink. No time for uncertainty or indecision. Within seconds, I had lost my balance, my towel, and the internal argument of should I or shouldn’t I. I was in and after the initial shock it was quite delightful.

Skinny Dipping in the Mill Pond
Summer About 2010

I know the adage about not making any hasty decisions when your partner dies…give yourself time to test the new and unfamiliar waters…but a few weeks ago when I decided to sell my house it didn’t seem rash or unwise since Dave and I had been weighing the pros and cons of it together for a long time. It was definitely not a cannon ball leap toward something new. For months it was absolutely a toe in the water situation. Until unexpectedly one day it wasn’t. Without even realizing I’d made the decision I was suddenly at the pond knowing that the gravel was sliding and so was I…feeling vulnerable, exhilarated, scared, and excited. Yep, I was going for it!

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” 

John Lennon, “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)”

Whenever any of us stand and contemplate whether to get in the water or remain on the warm deck, it’s good to remember that most likely the worse that will happen is that we’ll get wet and maybe a little chilly. As I prepare for my next adventure I know that if the water’s too cold or I’m getting a little too ‘pruny’ I can always get out, towel off, and see what else I can find along the shore or maybe I’ll just grab a beach chair and just sit in the sand for awhile.

Standing at the Irish Sea
June 2015

Jump!

“When it feels scary to jump, that is exactly when you jump. Otherwise you end up staying in the same place your entire life.” —

Oscar Isaacs as Abel Morales in A Most Violent Year

While walking through the park the other day I watched a group of little girls running along the top for five picnic tables which had been arranged in a long straight row. The elevation of the tables provided added excitement and the girls giggled with the sheer delight as they dashed from one end to the other and back again. As I got a little closer, I noticed that there were two little girls standing at the end of the last table in line. A girl in a pink and white sundress stood on the ground while her friend remained at the edge looking down at the ground. “Jump. Jump,” the one in pink implored, but her friend hesitated. I wanted to stop and ask the one considering the jump what she was thinking. What was she weighing in her little mind? Was it the distance from table to grass? Was it the fear of a hard landing? Was it peer pressure that caused her to consider jumping in the first place? I walked on while the hesitation and the cajoling continued, but I’ve thought a lot about those barefoot girls in their summer dresses.

Summer Morning
Star Island, 2019

About fifteen years ago my sister, Kelly, invited me to join a group of women on a white water rafting trip down the Gauley River in West Virginia. The morning of the promised adventure the eight of us, in various sizes, colors, ages, and levels of fitness and only loosely connected by a shared relationship to my sister, climbed into the raft together.

The first test came when our guide, young Captain Mike, who at that time was still under the impression that he was in control of a boatload of middle aged women, informed us that we were approaching Jump Rock. “This is Jump-Rock,” he said in his most authoritative voice. “It’s not Climb-Up-There-and-Decide-Rock. Once you’re out of the raft there’s only one way back in. You have to jump.”

I’m usually pretty timid about such things and I hate heights, but as I gazed up at the cliff face I suspected that the tenor of our entire adventure hinged on this decision. I was going to climb up there and jump. When the others who were hesitating saw me…old, chubby, and out of shape…preparing to make the trek up rocky path to the top they too gathered their courage and we all jumped off that rock.

She took a leap of faith and grew her wings on the way down. 

David Brinkley

I suppose you could call my jump…holding my nose, my eyes squeezed shut, and yelling all the way down…a minor leap of faith. I’d watched others do it before me. I was confident in what lay ahead. I knew that eventually I’d hit the icy water, sink momentarily beneath the surface and then pop up gasping for air and, I imagined, feeling exalted. It took a fair amount of courage on my part to move from tera firma, but in doing so I was given the wings of self-confidence, fearlessness, and moxie. From that point on we were bonded; we were invincible! That day was one of my peak life experiences. I sometimes wonder, would that have been the case if I’d remained in the raft and merely watched?

White Water Rafting
Pixabay Photo

Often of late, I find myself standing at the edge of what feels solid and comfortable contemplating whether to jump or not. The loss of my partner has also meant I’ve lost a part of who I am or at least who I was when I was part of a team. I am trying to discover, create, or at least identify who am becoming. That journey involves risk and taking chances. Sometimes the metaphorical jump is just a matter of going to the movies by myself, walking into a restaurant and asking for a table for one, or checking into a hotel and only needing a single key. Do I jump or do I stay in the boat?

A Soft Day in Scotland, 2014

On a trip to Scotland in 2014, Cousin Doug, coaxed and teased me into taking a short hike up a. steeper than I’d like, hillside to see one of Rob Roy’s hideouts. I wasn’t planning to hike that day and was ill prepared, without proper footwear, or my hiking poles. Then it began to drizzle. it was Scotland after all. I was soon wet, tired and the trail had turned to mud. Oh, the evils of peer pressure!

I finally convinced Doug that I was in beyond my skill level and needed to turn back. Taking a different…supposedly shorter…return route we came to a very small stream…a trickle really…that Doug hopped over effortlessly.

“Jump,” he said. “You can do it.”

“No, I can’t,” I replied.

“Sure you can. Just jump.”

“Jump into the middle of things, get your hands dirty, fall flat on your face, and then reach of the stars.”

Ben Stein

Moments later I lifted my head from the mud where I had landed face first, to see my sweet cousin convulsed with laughter.

Life presents us all with choices. Do we stay with what we know or do we take a risk and discover something new? Do we jump and learn to fly or are we content to hang onto the branch for a while and enjoy the way it sways gently in the breeze ?

“The sparrows jumped before they knew how to fly, and they learned to fly only because they had jumped” 

Lauren Oliver, Liesl and Po

The real leap of faith is learning to trust ourselves to know when it’s right to step off and when we need to stand firm. It’s perfectly fine to wait on the edge, contemplate, and step back for a while or to decide not to jump at all. No one is ever forced to climb Jump Rock and we can always just wade through the stream or we simply slide off end of the picnic table. Then again…flying is pretty cool and if you get a face-full of mud it makes a good story.

Jump or not…the choice is ours.

A Time Turner

“Mysterious thing, Time. Powerful, and when meddled with, dangerous.” Dumbledore

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Detail of The Astronomical Clock. ― Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg, France

My granddaughter gave me a keychain replica of Hermione’s Time Turner for my seventieth birthday. Of course, as any fan of Harry Potter could tell you all the actual Time Turners…including Hermione’s…were destroyed during the Battle of the Department of Mysteries. Nevertheless, a Time Turner and the mere possibility of controlling time seemed to be the perfect gift for someone entering their eighth decade.

I do love the idea of being able to turn back time. Think of the possibilities! Perhaps I could return and savor those really precious, everyday, moments that I had taken for granted at the time. Maybe I’d could avoid the hurts I’d caused myself and especially those careless mistakes that cause pain to others. I’d have the chance to study harder, listen more deeply, hug more often, take more risks, and be willing to wait more patiently. However, Dumbledore is right. When meddled with time can be a dangerous thing. It’s impossible to change our actions in the past without affecting the present. It makes me wonder, what part of my present would I be willing to risk for the past?

For a long time, I thought of time as a linear progression; a perpetual “and then” story. Lately, I’ve come to think about time as a labyrinth. We move forward and then circle back. We can see where we’ve been even though we’re not absolutely certain where we’re going. We just keep moving forward hoping to spend some time in the quiet center.

I’m hoping my labyrinth is the meditative type with a peaceful center not the kind with a Minotaur at the end.

I think this blog with be much like a labyrinth. My steps will inevitably take me on paths into the future, but my inner time turner will also encourage me to loop back and spend some time in the past as well. The nature of a labyrinth means I can also greet those who retrace my steps and take courage and inspiration from those who trod the way ahead of me. I’ll share some of their lessons too.

Found on the labyrinth at Los Abrigados, Sedona, AZ.

Perhaps you’ll travel with me for a while. That would be great. Every journey is better when shared with a friend, but I know too that you have your own labyrinth to walk. Let’s at least wave as we pass and may we always walk in peace, hope, and love.

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