Winter’s End

I cut-up the last of my firewood and am ready for the final cold nights of the season. Here’s my firewood tip: check size and seasoned status before they drop 2 cords of wood in your driveway. I did not and the pieces were too long for my wood stove and much of it was not seasoned. But what was I going to do, have the guy reload it all? Not me, I’m a sucker. I’ll be more careful this year. Meanwhile, this season my chainsaw skills have improved and I learned some tricks to speed up drying.

I appreciate all the steps that go into heating my house with wood – from stacking logs, collecting small branches for kindling even cleaning out the ash. I sprinkle this around my blueberries, hydrangea and pine trees and they thank me for it. The outside activity on a cold day feels productive and invigorating and the resulting crackling fire brings me joy as well as warmth. A stove or fireplace will be a requirement for any future home I may live in.

There’s enough chill predicted in the week ahead for me to fire up the stove but the light is changing, days are longer and daffodils are in bloom. Spring is showing up. I pulled the plastic off of one window downstairs to let fresh air in and was reminded that along with breezes and fresh air comes a lot more noise. The thrum of traffic on nearby I-95 can sometimes sound like a roar and how I hate the relentless grind of leaf blowers! But it was sweet to hear the birds again and soon there will be the rustle of leaves – a good trade-off.

There have been some recent mornings warm enough to sit outside on the porch steps with a cup of tea. Through the bare branches of the Norway maple I can easily watch nuthatches, chickadees, downy woodpeckers and plenty of other birds as they poke and peck around. But the tree is now heavy with buds and soon my bird visibility will be limited.

Yes, I’ll miss these easy views of bird-life and the lights of houses two streets away as layers of green grow in and hide it all. I surprise myself with how much I have come to appreciate naked, cold aspects of winter. In years past I’d be irritated by these lingering cold days and now, I feel almost wistful. And I no longer feel like I can change into my pajamas at 6 PM. I’ll miss that.

Are you sorry to see winter go?

The Weekend Blizzard Report

Without a dog to take out I was able to spend all day yesterday inside. After writing that I thought I really should go out at least for a minute, so went on the porch to fill my lungs and looked around. I am glad I did. A glorious sunset was cracking through the grey of the day and the cold air felt exhilarating. I looked off across the yard, smelling, feeling, and hearing what was going on out here. For two days I had only been looking out my window missing the full experience of nature that I used to have regular doses of, even if just for a quick step-out with the dog. And listen to the wind!

Blizzard Sunset

The sound of wind through trees is one of my favorite things. Nature communicating loudly here – trees, wind – whose voice is whose? Together, they’re magnificent, if a little terrifying. I’m pretty sure the pine trees up in that patch (although not visible in the video) are the main noisemakers.

I’ve been checking out evergreens a lot recently. Maybe one day I’ll get to hear the wind whipping through the 3 foot White Pine I bought as our crooked Christmas tree this year. I felt quite virtuous buying a live tree but did not think through where I might plant it on my .24 acre already crowded with 8 very large trees and many more smaller ones including the 2 pear and 2 peach trees out back. I took this shot of the not yet planted, snow-logged darling from my bedroom window. If I’m still here in 12 years or so I will have a front seat to wind-through-pine tree concerts.

White Pine Tree Buried in Snow

I grew up in a 7th floor apartment in the Bronx but when I was still in elementary school, my parents bought a country house in the Berkshires that we’d drive up to on weekends and summers (my parents were NYC school teachers and had off). There was a White Pine tree on the property, perfect for climbing and I did so, sitting and daydreaming or sulking, depending on the day. I’d have to pick the stubborn sap off my hands, arms and legs for days. It was there in Canaan (yes, really) that I became a nature lover, learned to identify trees and birds and became a devotee of Euell Gibbons, fascinated by the idea of foraging my own food and living off the land. I regularly wandered into the woods behind the house saying I was ‘going up the hill!’ rather than my apartment call of ‘going downstairs!’ as I left the house. In these woods I learned to walk quietly, to listen and watch. I read nature books like crazy, including one on animal tracks. I was reminded of those days when I ventured out into the snow today.

Bird Tracks

Yesterday’s ‘red sky at night’ (sailor’s delight!) definitely delivered and while it’s cold, it’s bright and not a cloud in the sky. Coming down the stairs to make my tea this morning, I peeked out at the back deck. I often see creatures there, usually the big old groundhog, that I’ve resigned myself to being my tenant, will be sunning itself. Across the deck were tracks. After donning my boots and coat I went out and found proof of many little creatures who have been wandering around my estate. My friend who lives in the woods upstate recently set up a camera and captures some great footage of coyotes and a gorgeous bob cat passing through. Even in this city of more than 88,000 there have been coyote and bobcat sightings. But these prints are mostly wee ones of chipmunks and there’s obvious bird activity although there’s not much action at the feeder today. I suspect my feathered friends are still hunkered in their nests. I couldn’t identify whatever crossed and went under the deck but I doubt it’s groundhog who must still be asleep.

Rufus at the Airport

So yes, I miss having little Rufus around to force me into the world but I am adjusting. And somehow, because I have to be intentional in my outings and he’s not here to distract me with his cuteness, I think I pay better attention. And in case you’re wondering, while he hates flying, he is embracing his new life of peeing on palm trees and being utterly adored by Molly and her dear roommates in sunny California. And as any parent knows, when they’re happy, we’re happy. Although, I do consider fostering some sweet old dog…

A Welcome Visit from a ‘Plague’

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This first morning of this new year is shrouded in fog and wet with drizzle. Rufus made it only as far as the hedge to lift his leg before heading back inside. The gloomy weather suits my inclination to draw inward. I have faith the sun will break through soon enough with warmth and light so I am grateful that today, nature has provided this close-up lens to better see what’s outside and within me.

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I write this from my bed, luxuriously and without guilt. The three windows in my bedroom have the best view although I mostly stare at this screen until distracted, then inspired, by bird activity. Who is zooming back and forth? Tossing off my quilt, I pad barefoot into Molly’s room for a view of the driveway and front yard. I peek down at the feeder where a squirrel, upside-down and glommed on, is successfully keeping the sparrows and downy woodpeckers watching from the hedge for the rodent to be done. The birds that roused me out of my own perch, are grackles. A group of grackles is called a ‘plague’ and a few dozen cover the lawn and driveway busy getting tipsy on fermented crabapples. I watch until they lift off together, their wings flapping so furiously in unison, it sounds like a gust of wind! Watch and listen!Listen! At the end you’ll hear the gust as they lift off!

I could spend my day bird and tree watching and would consider it a good one. This is who I have always been and am increasingly embracing: content to watch the wildlife, the seasons, the light. It is almost noon and I might remain here even longer to watch the slow drama of rain droplets, glistening like ornaments on branch tips, hanging on even with the swaying of a breeze or the raucous swarm of birds. I admire the fractal genius and grace of these branches, even the tiniest lifting towards the sky. Curiosity? Longing? Joy? And imagining down below, beyond my view, magnificent roots mirroring this reach – but into the darkness, for sustenance, history, love. A marvel.

It is a good morning after a good night. In past New Year’s eves I have set expectations for myself – to do the ritual cleaning, make some meaningful food like lentils or noodles, black-eyed peas – whatever good luck meal I’d read about that sounded delicious. Likely, I would spend the evening drinking and eating with generous friends, forcing myself to stay up to midnight for the countdown with not-my-music blaring, noise-makers at the ready. Not this year. In bed before 11, I read before turning the light off to sleep — only vaguely aware of the amp-up of firework explosions marking midnight. Cozy, so content to be doing exactly what I wanted. It feels like a gift of aging that has been hurried along by the restrictions of this pandemic: ignore the expectations of others and (harder) myself and follow my true nature. I know that more social beings have been suffering in this plague and I am sorry for that.

My wish for us all in this new year is joy, LOVE! and so much laughter – but also plenty of contemplation, flora and fauna filled hours!

A Welcome Visit from a ‘Plague’

This first morning of this new year is shrouded in fog and wet with drizzle. Rufus made it only as far as the hedge to lift his leg before heading back inside. The gloomy weather suits my inclination to draw inward. I have faith the sun will break through soon enough with warmth and light so I am grateful that today, nature has provided this close-up lens to better see what’s outside and within me.

I write this from my bed, luxuriously and without guilt. The three windows in my bedroom have the best view although I mostly stare at this screen until distracted, then inspired, by bird activity. Who is zooming back and forth? Tossing off my quilt, I pad barefoot into Molly’s room for a view of the driveway and front yard. I peek down at the feeder where a squirrel, upside-down and glommed on, is successfully keeping the sparrows and downy woodpeckers watching from the hedge for the rodent to be done. The birds that roused me out of my own perch, are grackles. A group of grackles is called a ‘plague’ and a few dozen cover the lawn and driveway busy getting tipsy on fermented crabapples. I watch until they lift off together, their wings flapping so furiously in unison, it sounds like a gust of wind! Watch and listen!

Listen! At the end you’ll hear the gust as they lift off!

I could spend my day bird and tree watching and would consider it a good one. This is who I have always been and am increasingly embracing: content to watch the wildlife, the seasons, the light. It is almost noon and I might remain here even longer to watch the slow drama of rain droplets, glistening like ornaments on branch tips, hanging on even with the swaying of a breeze or the raucous swarm of birds. I admire the fractal genius and grace of these branches, even the tiniest lifting towards the sky. Curiosity? Longing? Joy? And imagining down below, beyond my view, magnificent roots mirroring this reach – but into the darkness, for sustenance, history, love. A marvel.

It is a good morning after a good night. In past New Year’s eves I have set expectations for myself – to do the ritual cleaning, make some meaningful food like lentils or noodles, black-eyed peas – whatever good luck meal I’d read about that sounded delicious. Likely, I would spend the evening drinking and eating with generous friends, forcing myself to stay up to midnight for the countdown with not-my-music blaring, noise-makers at the ready. Not this year. In bed before 11, I read before turning the light off to sleep — only vaguely aware of the amp-up of firework explosions marking midnight. Cozy, so content to be doing exactly what I wanted. It feels like a gift of aging that has been hurried along by the restrictions of this pandemic: ignore the expectations of others and (harder) myself and follow my true nature. I know that more social beings have been suffering in this plague and I am sorry for that.

My wish for us all in this new year is joy, LOVE! and so much laughter – but also plenty of contemplation, flora and fauna filled hours!

Where in the World? (Suggestions Welcome)

Forgive me for not being faster about updating you on the results of my previous post, but as you probably gathered, alas, I did not win the contest for an all expenses paid month in Portugal. A heartfelt thank you, for voting and kind words of support. It was actually quite a fun little adventure! And the winning couple seem perfect – both are writers and she’s already a travel blogger. I look forward to their insights on Portugal. And yes, I think I will also go see for myself – although winning would have given me the kick in the pants to get started.

It’s exciting being in the running for things, don’t you think? I love a good raffle and will buy the occasional lottery ticket for the thrill of a chance. Similarly, when I used to send queries to agents about my memoir, the let-down of rejection was less than the excitement of possibility. Entering the Portugal contest reminded me of the joys of having my hat in the ring. And I’m not giving up on the move overseas-for-retirement notion.

I’ve had this idea percolating for over a year as I try and figure out how life can be less expensive so I can stop working sooner than later. Where would be a more suitable place for the next, increasingly creaky chapter of my life? I look at Europe because I love so much about being there and because I have Irish citizenship.

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Anyone else have photo albums of weirdly colored photos from the 70s?

I have mostly been looking at Italy because it’s familiar to me and has always brought me (mostly) comfort and joy. Even my daughter Molly decided it was the place to be, appearing almost 2 months early rather than sticking to our birth plan for Cambridge, England. My very first taste of Italy was at 18 when, halfway through a solo 4 month trip around Europe, exhausted and lonely in cold and grey Germany, I hopped on a night train to Venice. I can still conjure the heat of the stone beneath me as I stepped out of the station and sank down on the steps to marvel at the canal, the light, the warmth and a palpable joy. Neil and I used to drive from Zagreb to Italy to escape the weight of the war, even for a night and once just long enough for lunch – and as soon as we crossed over the border from Slovenia to Italy, everything seemed brighter, including our spirits. It’s a place that has always made me feel good. And the food can’t be beat.

Always, the question is where? Ostuni the village in Puglia where Molly’s name is written into the book of births is stunning, but I’d need a car there. I’m more drawn to northern Italy for living. Trieste, an elegant city on the edge of the water is a maybe and of course who doesn’t adore Florence? On another break from the war in Bosnia, I hitched a ride on a French transport plane out of Sarajevo to Ancona and took a cab to a place called Senegalia with sweet beaches on the Adriatic. I like the sound (and apartments) of Livorno and the Mediterranean coast too. I am more of a sea than a mountain gal. And I want to be close enough to a big airport that getting to my loved ones here doesn’t seem overly arduous. So no Greek Islands for me, I’m afraid, as much as I’m tempted.

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My sweet porch. But I’d have to keep working forever to keep living here.

I like to be cozy in my home and want to ultimately live in a place kind of like I live now, (if my house was paid for and if there was national healthcare, I could consider staying – I mean… look at that porch!) or where I lived in Kyoto or in Zagreb or Brindisi. On the outskirts of, or in a not-too-big city because – practical for my aging self. Preferably with even just a small outside patch so I can plant things, have a bird feeder and putter about with a cup of tea or evening drink. And I need to be able to walk or bicycle or bus/train everywhere as I will never, ever be able to drive stick shift. (trust me, I have tried!) I would do a little vespa. Can you see me with my grey hair blowing in the wind?

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Climbing the 100 plus steps to our amazing flat in Zagreb. 1994

I spend a ridiculous amount of time scouring the real estate listings in Europe including Cheap Italian Dream Home. More than once I’ve fallen in love like with this place – yes, it’s cluttered and crazy looking but look at that fireplace! More practical because of space might be this one. I’d need at least one extra bedroom for Molly and other visitors. I must have light. Lots of light – a view. And a fireplace or wood stove.

So where should this sweet flat or house be? Scanning the listings I get sent by this newly launched site I subscribe to Bargain Homes Abroad, Scandinavian houses really appeal to me – but that part of the world flunks on sun and food and, well … brrr! France also has some beauties but my terrible high school level attempts make me feel inept in a way that Italians nor the Spaniards made me feel while butchering the language. Spain? My friends who are the most inspiring and joyful couple I know, just bought a place there. Ireland wins on delightful people and of course being able to speak the language plus the bonus of wonderful family — but while the light is pretty when the sun shines, it doesn’t do that enough for my ‘SAD’ inclined soul. And it’s not cheap. Same goes for England – where I count friends and beloved family – dearest Zoe and Gemma and their beautiful broods.

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Loving sisters play the who’s tallest game. (aren’t they beautiful?)

Maybe the Portugal venture was my prompt to explore a place that ticks so many of my boxes, with no memories that might inspire melancholy. Someone who has done more recent traveling than me said her vote is for Portugal – saying that everything works better there. And a writer I know who moved there from these parts a few years ago says she knew immediately it was right and it still is. Politically and socially it’s more progressive than the other southern European countries and certainly, more than we are and that’s important to me. And it sure looks pretty. Time to add Portuguese to my language learning app? Now if only this damn pandemic would settle down…

Okay friends, what do you have for me? Taking all suggestions!



Fruit and Labor

My daily clock is managed by our dog and I don’t hate it. Yes, I’d rather get at least 7 hours of sleep a night and I grumble when I hear that nudge-bark at 5:30 in the morning, but once I’m up and on the street, I appreciate the early start. This is precious time I claim for me before work or house duties take over my life. With Rufus’s help I move into the day yawning out of a fog of quickly fading dreams. I throw a jacket over my pajamas, fill the kettle, snap Rufus’s leash on and wander down the street. He walks slowly, sniffing the weeds for clues of who might have visited during the night, then lifts his leg to reclaim the neighborhood as his.

The early summer mornings are light as we meander besides a stretch of city land, overgrown with bittersweet and poison ivy. Last year we had regular face-offs with a fox and though disconcerting, I miss those mystical encounters. Lately there are only bird and bunny sighting as we wander only half way down the street because I am in my pajamas after all.

We turn back into our driveway and take a detour up the three steps to where the blueberry bushes are heavy with fruit. So is the mulberry tree and the garage roof is covered with smooshed and decaying berries. Look up and you can spot at least 3 birds between the branches, gorging themselves before flying off to leave their purple waste on our cars and always, the white laundry on the clothesline. I leave the mulberries to the birds but will compete for the blueberries. Lifting branches, I find a small handful to throw into my yogurt. Last year we covered the bushes with netting but not a day went by without having to release catbirds that always found a way in but not out. And we still didn’t get any more berries than now. Besides, I adore our resident catbirds and am happy to share with them.

I am a little annoyed about our pears. There’s not a single piece of fruit left on our two trees and there were at least 50 perfect little (still green) pears. The peaches, while diminished in number, are still there. In an attempt to taste at least a few, Molly and I are trying a trick that her friend Lily shared with us. After months of saving plastic fruit and salad containers, we taped them around a few of the peaches as protection from critters.

We’d like to at least get a taste of a few fruits off these trees. We’ll see how it works. Do you think it will?

Today is my final day of vacation so I climbed back into bed to drink tea, maybe read, maybe fall back asleep. I’ll do whatever I want! Bliss. It took 6 days to detox from work-mind and I can already feel it creeping back in. I am grateful for my job and the paycheck but I need to remind myself that my job is not who I am. Working from home is a pleasure but my boundaries have blurred. Ten hour days have become normal and even during down time, my mind is full of thoughts of what needs doing. During my first days off, my inclination to check emails was overwhelming and it took all my self-control to let the phone battery die and not open the computer. Day 6 and the work anxiety is now a simmer, not a roar. I remind myself I am not a heart surgeon and no one will die because of what I do or do not do. Still…

I vow to guard my life and soul as I guard my peaches – save some fruit for my own pleasure and sustenance.

If you have a job, how’s your work-life balance? Do you have boundaries? Any tips on fruit, labor or both?

A March Salute

I’ve always considered March, my month. My birthday is only one day but I claim the entire wild month, famous for gusty winds, changing clocks, unpredictable weather and betrayal. Even in the darkest days, there is a promise of light and warmth. Frigid temperatures and the threat of snow may still be in the forecast where I live here in New England, even into April — but the end of winter is well in sight and any fluke-flakes soon melt in the warmer rays of the sun.

Yesterday, strange hot winds gusted through in the afternoon, as if to shift the seasons, pushing the last of winter’s stale air out. This morning on my sunrise walk down the street with Rufus, I gathered branches blown into the middle of the street as a neighborly deed and as kindling for cold nights yet ahead. I’ll hold off pulling the plastic off the windows as March is a fickle month and there are still cold days and nights ahead.

But signs of spring appear rapidly around the garden. Like victors in the battle of the seasons, crocuses, daffodils and hyacinths push through decaying leaves. Branches are softening, new buds pushing through in reds and greens, softening the look of shrubs and trees. Of course I’ll love the return of leaves to the trees, the sounds like voices as they move in the breeze, the dappled light through their canopy – but I have come to love what bare branches have to offer. Better to admire fractals and easily spot a bird and see off into the distance.

March is the month that cracks winter, starting slowly, some days fooling us that spring is here on schedule before drawing back again as cold and gloom settles in for another stretch. We worry about the survival of crocuses and daffodils in night frosts. And then, like a bicycle spinning faster and faster down a hill, the weather shifts and before we know it the lawn needs mowing, tulips are spent and it’s too hot for a sweater. April and May are gone in a blink. But in March, things are still going slowly, the shift over is gradual – even teasing us, reminding us with taunts of winter-cold that now is our chance to savor renewal, re-birth and the warmth of the sun.

Stardust Memories

I have decades worth of journals I never read. Today, curious about what I used to write about and if I would recognize myself, I randomly pulled a ragged blue spiral-bound notebook off a shelf.

Neatly written on the second yellowing page is December 2, 1975. The final entry is April 8, 1976. This was the winter and early spring of the last year of high school and also of any semblance of ‘family life’ with my nuclear family. I’d spent most of my childhood growing up in apartments mostly in the Bronx with my 3 siblings and parents and a dog that bit. The truncated version of our family – my parents, one of my brothers, the vicious dog and I – moved when I was 15 from our apartment on Broadway to a white, wealthy suburb in Connecticut. A few months after my last entry in this journal, my father unexpectedly left my mother and moved out of our lives. At the end of that summer, my mother sold the house and moved to a wall-to-wall carpeted apartment in Stamford. I went to college and on to my life from there.

All entries in this journal are in only lower case letters. No doubt an E. E. Cummings inspired affectation. I wrote (of course) bad poetry with apparent ease, often about the stars. I was observant, scrawling pages of overheard conversations heard on the train to NYC or in the noisy school cafeteria. I noted a school trip to see Sam Waterston play Hamlet and went to a Joni Mitchell concert in New Haven. I went on a few college visits to snowy New England towns that I wrote about half-heartedly because I had grander fantasies of traveling the world. I wrote that all I wanted was, “… a hunk of time for me — for romance, to read, paint and draw bad picture and write bad poetry.” Yes, I’d still like that.

While mostly these pages are excruciating, I appreciate how often my entries became poetry-efforts. Of course they’re sappy and bad but there was a fluidity to how I wrote down my thoughts and images that that feels true to the creative process of diving in. When did I decide I was no good and should stop? Now I rarely read and never attempt to write poetry telling myself it’s hard and I don’t understand it. That it was a phase. And yes, I think it is a phase that young creatives go through – bravely trying out different mediums, digging our way to the soul. I gave up on that one – probably because I thought I wasn’t good enough. Squashing life experiences pile up as do demands on our time and energy and we lose the sweet momentum of youth, don’t we?

I was busy. Besides school and literary magazines and school play productions, I waitressed in a tiny Indian restaurant. It was just the cook and me and while I worked there, we were friends. Singh told me that he was from a small village in the Himalayan mountains. He’d been living in the US for a few years when I met him, his wife remained in India and no longer wished to join him. He had a daughter. He sat on a step-stool in the kitchen exhaling smoke from one of his endless cigarettes, (the 1970s – people smoked everywhere) he told me he couldn’t remember what she looked like any more and in 3 years, a child changes. Singh was always sad and drank and smoked his sorrow. At night he blasted the Average White Band as we cleaned up.

Between delivering plates of curry, I filled my blue notebook. I wrote about the customers. One of them courted me — successfully, writing love notes on corners he tore off the yellow placemats. These days, he could have been arrested: he was 24 and I’d just turned 17 and I was willing and smitten.

However I was not interested in the teacher, the advisor for the literary magazine I worked on, who showed up on my doorstep. “I was in the neighborhood and thought I’d stop by and say hello and offer you a creative writing deal.” He wanted me to go to a bar with him “for a coke” to discuss some writing and would I edit it? Next, he is in the living room. I perch on the edge of the couch – he sits next to me and reaches over to move my hair out of my eyes and asks if I’d ever heard of Veronica Lake? No, I say, grabbling my hair away, hands shaking, biting the skin on my fingernails wondering when either of my parents would get home. I remember his breath smelled of liquor and he took off his glasses to show me a scar on his face.”What’s your weekend schedule? I was hoping we could get together and you would read this piece I’d written.” In my memory, he is old – in my journal I wrote that at least 45 years old. Old – when you’re 17. I answer him again with a NO, I have to work and have loads of stuff to do for school. “Where do you work – should I come and eat there?” No – it’s awful. He notices the piano that no one plays. He gets up, squeezing my leg before sitting on the bench, running his fingers across the keys before banging out what somehow I knew was “Stardust”. I see my mother’s car pull into the driveway. I’m shaking and my eyes blur with tears. My mother comes up the stairs of the split level and I give her a horrified look. No surprise registers on her face, instead, as if she’s heard her cue, she begins to sing. “Though I dream in vain
In my heart it will remain, my stardust melody!” I don’t remember any discussion with my mother about how strange and wrong this was and the teacher never approached me again. Things like this simply happened back then. Apparently my mother thought so too.

Throughout the pages, scribbled notes of homework assignments, history readings and math assignments and this: “Psych. – brown bag. one side showing you as you’re expected to be, 2nd side – you as you think others see you and on the inside – as you want to be or think you are.” I wish I could look at that bag now. Who did 16-17 year old me think she was?

What compelled me to write things down over the years? I used to fear that until I wrote it, whatever happened did not exist. Floating at the top of one page, perhaps from my mind or read somewhere – this: “Writing is my need to rework life – or at least say something right.”

Late Summer: Sunset and Moonrise Magic

moonrise kayaking

Yesterday Molly and I went for a sunset kayak — a stunning finale to a beautiful breezy day with a bittersweet hint of autumn. We are nearing the end of this season of light.

Low tide meant a short paddle would land us on a grassy sandbar that only surfaces for a few hours a day. We spotted the little empty beach and made straight for it. After ten minutes of paddling we pulled our boats onto the rocky shore, spread a towel and settled in for the sunset show. No sooner had we clinked glasses when a rowdy trio of adult boys pulled up in small motorboat. Without so much as a ‘are we disturbing you?’ they unloaded their cooler and a gigantic speaker blasting bad music feet from where we sat. Rolling our eyes at each other then giving them side-eyes they ignored, Molly and I rolled up our towel and left them to the shrinking patch.

Back on my boat, I imagined what might have happened with different company – thinking who might have angrily engaged the inconsiderate nincompoops escalating the experience and our blood pressure. And surprised that I did not. Instead I felt lucky to be with good-natured Molly, peacefully exiting while exchanging jokes and laughter about the rude interlopers. Then, we felt glad to be sitting on the water instead of beside it. As the sun fell beneath the horizon, a full moon cast another kind of glow on the Sound. Intoxicated by the cocktails we sipped from mason jars and from the stunning scene unfolding all around us, we let ourselves be jostled about by the incoming tide. The sky took over.

The sun left a skirt of pink fading in the West. I looked East and in what seemed only a blink, I felt a shift, a change to night and something more — another season, another state of being. So simple and quick I might have missed it — whatever that moment was — no more, no less than a sense of something. Slipping my paddle into the water, I positioned my kayak head-on into the trail of moonlight as if I might follow it to somewhere beyond the horizon. Jupiter and Saturn appeared twinkling like the stars they might be mistaken for.

Closer overhead, flocks of birds passed across a stretch of sky as if on a feather highway. First came half a dozen egrets, long legs dangling behind them. Following the egrets came a larger flock of frantically flapping terns. The birds silently followed each other into the deepening blue night and I felt a reverence in their flight as if they might feel as grateful for the day as I. Were they off to sleep on one of the islands? Turning my gaze back to the water, shimmering like giant fish scales or sequins of dark blues and blacks,  heaving beneath us in giant breaths. And at the center of it all, a hypnotizing path of moonlight.

Molly’s boat was too far away for us to talk to each other but we were both content in our own meditations. But as the flash of blue and red police lights from shore signaled the beach was closing, we called to each other — agreeing it was time to paddle back even as the pathway to the moon enticed me away.

I’d been on the fence about going kayaking – laziness and a little chill in the air as my excuse. What I would have missed! Out on the water I marvel, dream, think and wonder  — about life — the present, the future. Last night I considered where to be and how to live this (last!) leg of life. But do we get to curate our own lives, really? So much is a crapshoot, the luck of the draw or whatever version of God or not, one believes in. Having moments like last night are enough for me. In spite of – or maybe because of the goofs who drove us out into the water, their Lord of the Flies like howls always audible as we communed with the poetry of the night.

Disaster Preparedness

Tree damage in graveyard

Nature is boss. In case we’d forgotten, she recently blasted the Northeast with gale winds and a few tornado touch-downs. Uprooting trees and knocking out electricity and even taking off the roof of a local (unoccupied) house, she reminded us that we are kidding ourselves if we think we are in control. Heeding this kick in the ass, I am both practically and spiritually rethinking how I live.

When the whistling wind turned to a roar and our cell phones blasted a tornado warning, Molly and I descended into the dark, old-house basement with dog, water bottles and flashlights. We felt sure the house would blow down on top of us. It did not and except for a few downed branches we made it through intact. Power was out for 3 days — a minor inconvenience compared to many who are without almost 2 weeks later. We were without internet for 11 days and since I work at home these COVID days, that was tough in a first world problem way.

I have lived without electricity and water for long stretches, including in winter during the war in the Balkans. Nothing like being in the cold and dark with the rattle of machine guns and an occasional thud of mortar fire shaking the walls. But not having water is the worst. These recent days in the dark, even as I stumbled to the sink, I felt grateful as I turned on the faucet or hopped, gasping into a cold shower. Temporarily losing these conveniences I take for granted is a great exercise in gratitude. So many around the world, because of war, poverty and injustice, (thinking here about poisoned water in Flint, Michigan and Navajo Nations with no running water!) lack this basic necessity and it’s criminal.

It seems a little crazy that we are so electricity dependent and all of that can be undone in a flash. Even in my life with wood stove and clothesline, I found those few days challenging. I am, like many, addicted to the internet. My phone is never far away from me and for no particular reason. I am rarely expecting a call. But there are so many pictures to look at! News and gossip to follow! I still had phone service and while it was charged squinted at the little screen for updates on my corner-of and the rest of the currently sorry-world.

Solar light shot

Evening entertainment during electric-free days, we enjoyed light-pollution free star-gazing and reading on the front porch. Only days earlier, I’d presciently installed solar motion-sensor lights so we settled in the evening breeze with our books and took turns waving our arms every few minutes to reactivate the light. (photo above)

Have you ever read The Road by Cormac McCarthy? I wasn’t reading that on the porch– in fact, it’s a book I tried and abandoned years ago because it was so bloody bleak. I mean, I appreciate dark but I can’t do apocalypse. But I’m still haunted by what I did read. Too real? Too possible? These days, I’d say yes. But I’m a practical gal and a survivor and I’ve started to plan.

What I missed the most during the 3 day blackout was my own food and cups of tea and the electric bidet toilet seat. (you mean you don’t have one?)  I’m working on preparing solutions for next time. In my Kyoto kitchen there was a hatch door in the middle of the floor that opened into a little ground storage space perfect for keeping food cool.  Isn’t that brilliant? I won’t be digging any holes outside but I might get another cooler and lots of ice. As for cooking, I don’t have a grill but am researching little hibachis and for morning caffeine fixes, a butane burner with shelf-life milk. And there are simple bidet options that don’t require electricity. Note: all bidets online are currently sold out – no surprise after COVID scramble for toilet paper.

Now that I have internet back, I’ve been able to do a lot more research on how to weather storms and in considering other possible catastrophes, what countries in the world I could escape to. Frankly, I’d rather stay here in my country in my sweet house, but I know it’s better to be prepared. 

Any suggestions on preparing for storms, elections and other possible disasters?