Calling the Dead

selective focus photography of black rotary phone

Photo by Pixabay on

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about something I saw about a week ago on BBC News. On a hill in Japan there is a  white telephone booth where the grieving go to call their deceased loved ones. The phone is located in northeastern Japan near to where thousands of souls were lost in the 2011 tsunami. Lives, whole villages, were wiped out in that nightmare wave. The booth is white and looks to be on a hill in the middle of nowhere and the phone connects to nowhere and nothing except the hearts of the grieving.

You can watch it for yourself here  but grab a tissue first. It’s a brilliant, poetic idea. A universal, non-denominational but literal space and ritual for the grieving. For those of us without a clear faith or physical grave to visit, it’s a beautiful notion.

I’ve been thinking about who I would call, what would I say? Of course, I sometimes ‘talk’ to those who I loved who died – mostly Rob and Neil – usually when I see something around the house or yard that sparks a memory of them. It’s not all sweet words, I assure you but I am heartened that my memories become more loving with the passage of time. But neither left unintentionally, gently and they both left some lingering havoc behind.

I am writing this on Father’s Day and Instagram and Facebook is filled with images of both living and gone dads captioned with proclamations of love and appreciation. I hate to be a spoiled sport since I was lucky enough to get this sweet treatment from my daughter on Mother’s Day and loved it, but these holidays can be hard for many of us with problematic relationships. I hit the jackpot on that – especially with the departed men in my life beginning with my father. Yes, obvious connections there and endless opportunities for the couch.

So what would I say into the telephone on the hill? I have questions. I don’t think I’d be like that dear, sad man calling his lost son, lovingly speaking speaking into the receiver. I imagine myself uncharacteristically quiet on the end of that phone line, waiting, listening and hoping for explanations, maybe apologies. And there would be silence or maybe the sound of the wind. Still, I’d try it.

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Creature Update

The complaint is always that Spring is short – sometimes only days of freshness before the temperature sky rockets into Summer. I am not moaning. Nature does its thing magnificently and I feel exhilarated by the shift out of winter whenever it happens. Mornings are now a pleasure of light and bird song.

A quick walk with Rufus just as the sun begins to light up the street. He tugs the leash to reach his preferred corner of the hedge where he lifts a leg not noticing the chipmunk scurrying off into the wood pile. To my right I see a rabbit on the patchy lawn. They’re all over the place this year and seem very bold lingering like house cats on lawns in the neighborhood, their marble eyes almost haughty as we draw closer. Just try and catch me, they seem to say before turning to flash their cute white tail. No chance with this dog who’s no bigger then they are. The ground hogs are laying low so far this year although Molly spotted one she thinks lives below our back deck.

It’s the birds that thrill me most. My favorites are the catbirds – the crazy songs they come up with. And the wrens are sweet- so teeny with such an earnest song. A family returns every year to the same back corner where we once had a house for them – since rotted away. There are too many trees for a good vegetable garden here but it’s a bird paradise.

Rufus is obsessed with the squirrels. Included in our morning ritual, post early walk, feeding, quiet time for me and then up again to start the day, while I’m making my food for the work day, I put him out on the lead in front. At the door he turns into a screaming little banshee, so crazed to get out to chase the squirrels. He leaps off the porch and scrambles up between the trees, barking, barking, barking. I’ve asked the neighbors if he disturbs them and they say no – perhaps too kind to complain – but I’ll take it. It’s usually only a few minutes of crazy joy as he watches the many squirrels, my peach and pear thieves, scurry and chase each other through the branches and away from the annoying little dog. He will always try but never catch them.


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Making Hay While the Sun Shines

Like a miracle, yesterday the sun appeared for a few hours in the afternoon and I seized the opportunity to mow the knee-high grass. The only problem was my lawnmower was barely functioning last Fall and had been sitting in the garage all Winter. I know there’s Spring maintenance necessary – out with the old gas, in with the new, etc. but I don’t do mechanical very well. I knew that since the thing is a bitch to start at the best of times, there was no way I’d get it to start up for me. But tucked further in the back of the garage was what I call the Barbie mower. It’s electric, very light and plastic like a toy- not a machine. Like if Barbie were to have a lawn mower. A kind neighbor showed up with it a few years ago when I’d asked for help in getting the gas one going. It’s not as powerful as the gas one and the whole extension cord thing is a real pain. But Barbie mower works. In fact, it works very well for my purposes. It’s basic and barrels over everything.

I wanted to mow my lawn is because I needed to add to my ‘lasagna’ plot but don’t want to ask for grass clippings from someone else as most of my neighbors and friends fertilize and use chemicals on theirs. I do not. I am not ashamed of my patchy lawn. You can eat from mine. And that’s what we plan to do.

After mowing, I did something I don’t ever do: I raked up the grass clippings. I usually leave them on the grass as mulch but I bagged yesterday’s bounty and took it to my plot to add another before the rains came. Today it’s been torrential and I don’t mind, imagining my lasagna garden cooking up nicely with yesterday’s added ingredient.

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Fragrant Evidence


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Screen time

I came home from work and started binging on the Netflix Series, ‘Dead to Me’ – a dark, funny, thriller. It’s smart and on the mark about complicated grief, relationships, forgiveness.

“If he did, I didn’t see it.” Boy does that line ring true. Deception is also a theme. Oh, so much deception! I’m ruined for writing anything tonight. Beware of losing many hours of productivity – but seriously- watch it!

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Bloom Report

There’s a crabapple tree in full bloom at the end of my driveway. Out with Rufus for our morning walk, I pause under the white petals just beginning to fall like snow. The daffodils are mostly shriveled but the few tulips that survive the squirrels are sticking around a little longer this year due to the chilly days. But it’s these delicate blooms completely covering the tree that give me a pang, a sense of time moving too quickly. I could spend a day just watching, inhaling the pink tinged blooms. Is The fragility moves me and how their disintegration is so visible. By the end of the weekend I suspect fallen petals will carpet my cracking driveway.

I feel sentimental about lilacs too. My love of that flower inspires me to be a thief. I am planning my flower heist. Neighbors I don’t really know who live across the street have a wall of lilac shrubs. They are out of the country and the tenants they are renting to have yet to move in. I can see from my window they aren’t quite ready but in a day or so I’m going to wander over with my clippers and grab an armful of those beauties. I don’t think they’d mind, do you?

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May 1 – Fifteen Years Later

Neil in Bosnia

Bosnia 1992

I am grateful it is a dreary morning on this May 1. Such a different day than fifteen years ago. That morning the temperature was warm and the early light, spectacular. And that morning, I found my husband.

May 1 – a day celebrating workers, over the hump into a month that really feels like Spring with the promise of flowers from the April rains. A happy day but for those of us who lived, laughed, fought with, prayed for and will always mourn, the loss of Neil, it will always be a sad day: the day he gave up and left broken hearts behind.

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Tuesday Morning Chill

A grey morning but for the glow of the newly green trees visible from my window. I peek out through half opened eyes but the desire to keep sleeping overpowers me and I slip down against the pillows. It’s tempting to go under for another dream but I allow myself only a few minutes before getting up to walk Rufus. I pull on a hooded jacket over a sweatshirt. Rufus pulls on his lead. The birds are singing Spring songs but my breath lingers as a visible cloud. It’s cold and it rained last night. I think of my garden plot across town and am glad I got the cardboard and newspaper down in time to capture this stretch of wet weather. I hold the memory of that work in the ache of muscles in my back from pulling the wheelbarrow through mud. I hear a woodpecker in the trees two blocks over. I love that sound as long as it’s not my house they’re drilling holes into. Rufus does not like a wet day. We turn and go back home. A short walk and glimpse of Tuesday morning.

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Filling Emptiness

I woke from a dream somewhere in France to thinking about the blank page. I spent years studying, thinking about, staring at empty spaces – canvas, paper, blocks of wood and stone. Waiting for magic. Whether working from a live model, landscape or still life, I rarely made a mark until I felt the piece inside me, with a sense the mark, the chisel stroke, I made was already there. I aspired to this state of creativity but sometimes I was lazy or distracted and worked mechanically, just ‘making’ shape, light, dark with shallow results. But working from a deeper state – sometimes called ‘flow’, my teacher called ‘being’, resulted in my strongest work. Writing, I realize, is no different. What interests me is is still what comes from deep within. The mechanical difference for me is that I cannot stare at pages or my computer screen, waiting for words to appear. With writing I must dive in and start. Still, the meditative state is key. And these days, with this practice, I’m finding it easier to carry with me throughout the day like a sweet secret. This is the closest I come to a spiritual practice – writing begins to feel like a kind of prayer.

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Walking the Blog

I left this late – procrastinating with a lot of nothing and a little reading on a cold and dreary day. Then when I tried to get into my usual blogging portal I received an error message. Even after multiple tries, I couldn’t get in. Well that’s that, I thought, can’t write anything tonight. All day (well…every once in awhile) I’d thought about writing so part of me felt disappointed I’d be breaking my streak. So I’m in from another window.

The lazy sloth part of me thought, oh good, I’m off the hook – I can’t blog today and I didn’t know what I was going to write anyway. In truth, it almost always starts that way – staring at this blank screen with a big question mark. And that’s one of the points of this practice I’ve assigned myself: getting it done, working the muscle. So many excuses I can conjure here and for anything I don’t really want to do. This space is like my dog making me get up and out for a walk on a rainy cold day when I’m inclined to stay in my pajamas all day. Instead, he and I walked along the river bundled up against the cold and I was happier and healthier for the jaunt just like I am with little bit of yammering on here. Good night!

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