A Waking Ramble

In moments of almost-waking what a stream of images I recall! Sometimes a kind of story line with drama, emotion and characters. What’s going on in there? Where is this stuff coming from? Our subconscious is wild. Don’t worry, I will not tell you about my dream. Other people’s dreams are not interesting.

I did clock some hours with a therapist who found dreams rich fodder and asked me to remember and tell her mine. During those months I got pretty good at recall and would write them down but I am lazy about trying to interpret them. I just wanted her to do it and give me my insights. We are the author of our dreams, she would say. In fact, I rarely remember mine and since I stopped seeing her, I don’t much. But there’s no doubt, there’s a lot going in the night and it’s not a bad idea to cultivate value. At the very least, the freedom and imagination.

As if I were in a new exercise regimen noting my slimming and strengthening body (that’s next!) there are changes I see in just 4 days of this practice. Room has been made in my psyche that was previously filled with mostly thoughts about work or worry or food. I don’t want to jinx a good thing so I’ll stop there.

But the richness of slumber and how to roll into wakefulness without shutting out the crazy creativity, imagination, memories, spirit of those sweet hours of being checked-out of this world. Where do we go when we close our eyes to sleep?

First Dog Walk of the Day

Our little black pup Rufus, sleeps in Molly’s bed. As I’ve already told you, I don’t share my bed easily although when my daughter is away for the night I allow him to sleep at the foot. He tries to sneak under the blankets because Molly lets him snuggle under hers but I’ll have none of that, thank you.

I’m on morning dog-duty. By 6:30 or so I hear the double scratch and thud of his paws hitting the wood floor as he jumps off her bed. That’s my cue to get up fast and open Molly’s door before he leaves a puddle by the door of her bedroom. He can be a little bratty like that.

Thus I get out in the early hours of the morning. And a little bit out of myself as well. I appreciate stepping  into the breaking day. I look at the morning light, the new growth, taste the air and in a sleep daze, watch Rufus explore the same old shrub. This morning, off in the sky to the South I saw a large bird that glowed white in the sunlight or maybe it actually was a white bird. Perhaps it was an egret.

This morning I was wearing pajama bottoms with ducks on them, my bare feet stuck into really ugly old UGGS, a belted black jacket and a scarf wrapped around my neck although it was not cold after all. My hair was unbrushed but there are just 3 houses facing a wood on the street we wander down and all of us neighbors have seen each other in every mood, hour and season over the years. I don’t feel self-conscious. A perk of getting old.

Rufus knows the morning jaunt is a short one and turns back towards the house after taking care of business. By then, the kettle is boiled and I make tea.

Spring View From My Windows

It happens so fast. Only days ago my three bedroom windows framed bare branches and sky and just across the way, houses and flashes of car passing between them were still visible. This morning in the early light, all that has changed. Blurred by a range of new-leave-greens, I barely make out the houses. I watched the woody limbs of my trees grow thick with buds and now the Maple tree closest to my window drips spider-like flowers. The cars in the driveway will soon be dressed in pollen.

The privet hedge is filling in and I remember the daunting task of pruning the damn thing. It’s messy, exhausting work taking a full day and then more to pick it all up. I don’t hate it and always feel accomplished and strong when I’m done although my arms ache for days after. The lush length of wall it creates between the street and our yard is worth the effort. We sit on our porch in privacy, summer into fall.

There’s an insidious ivy that pops up everywhere and creeps over everything. I imagine it will swallow all of this when I am too feeble to yank out the vines. The patch besides the driveway is mostly cleared of it after a day of pulling it out this weekend. I transplanted day lilies, hosta and other tough perennials in the bald spots hoping they’ll spread and beat out the pesky stuff. People buy this plant – I see it for sale at the garden center. Don’t: I have plenty – come and get it!

When I climbed into bed last night, it was cold and rainy and I kept my socks on. This morning, I kick off the blankets and open the window. The sky is clear and the day promises to be warm and sunny, speeding up this Spring business even more. Not only the view but the sounds are changing too. The almost comforting white noise of highway traffic will muffle and breezes will become audible in the rustle of leaves. I’ll miss easily watching the birds in the bald branches but they are such vain things, wanting to be noticed, they’ll sing louder to let me know they are there.

Cleaning Closets

It’s easier to get up early now that the weather is warming up and the light starts breaking by 5:45. That’s when I woke this morning, limiting myself to only one hit of the snooze button. The winter cold disappeared last week so when I sit up in bed I don’t have to pull blankets up around my neck and can’t see my breath.

I used to get up and out of bed to sit downstairs and write, settling in at my desk with a cup of tea, then hammering away at the computer keyboard. I didn’t want to disturb Rob by writing in the room. I am happy to stay put in bed now, fluffing up the pillows behind me and even turning on the light if I need to.

I sometimes miss having a man I love beside me in life – but not so much when I wake up in the morning. Certainly I miss the good times, when the guys I loved were healthy and their breathing or sleep-twitching didn’t seem suspect. While it would be nice one day to fall so in love again that I want to share my bed, it’s hard to imagine actually liking someone so much I’d want them in my queen snoring beside me every morning.

And share my closet? How did I do that for 20 years? Especially with Neil. He loved and had more clothes than me. I spent part of the weekend purging and organizing my closet. I have before and after photos but they’re not loading so you’ll have to believe me that I had a lot of stuff plus more in there. It’d been years – or forever, I can’t remember which, since I pulled everything out. Then I washed the crevices and even vacuumed the ceiling. If I really had my act together, I would have painted but I decided not to get crazy. Why did I think I had to keep plastic bins of tax papers in my closet? That shit’s now in the basement! Get moldy, I don’t care. Twenty-two years of sharing my limited closet space with tax returns and supporting documents. Marie Kondo, I need you! Did you read her book? I didn’t find it compelling enough to get beyond a few chapters but the gist of it is helpful and I still swear by her folding techniques.

What got me into the closet was the need to swap out seasons. I always prefer the winter to summer swap. I have way too many of both seasons’ clothes even after purging the no-spark-joy pieces. Maybe I need to read another chapter or two. Yes, I still have the book years later even though it doesn’t particularly spark anything for me except maybe guilt. It’s a book I may want to look at again so I kept it. Along with the other hundreds I have all over this tiny house. That might be where Kondo-san lost me.

I did purge some clothes channeling the Queer Guys. Have you watched that? I’m a fan. I want them to remake my life. Although I don’t think I’m that much of a mess, I did add my capri length pants to the Goodwill pile because I heard their voices in my head chastising all of us older women who still wear them, not too. They’re right: it’s not a good look. Be-gone! Besides, they were a little tight. The thing about all the clothes hanging in my closet now is that they all need ironing. Cotton and linen. The need to iron is the only downside to what is otherwise for me, the preferred seasonal wardrobe change. I have to now allow for ten extra get-ready minutes required in the morning but I’ll take it over woolies and cords.

What do you keep in your closet?

Launching a Daily Practice

Years ago I blogged weekly, then it became monthly. Like in many things that feel good but require discipline – meditation, writing, exercise – my practice has become slapdash. Laziness is the only reason. My alarm goes off at 5:30 AM just like it did when I diligently got up to write the first draft of my memoir for more than a year without missing a day. Yes, I did do that, I remind myself. Now I hit snooze and seize an extra 15 minutes of slumber – about 3 times before getting up – now with only enough time to get ready for work.

There’s another reason why I posted less: self-doubt. Is this interesting to you? Am I being self-indulgent sharing on here? Do I think I’m Karl Ove Knaussgard or something? I’ve abandoned many drafts with this kind of thinking, wrestling with why should I blog? Why I should even write anything, anywhere – period?

Yet I like knowing about my fellow human’s day-to-day lives – moments, glimpses, meanderings. What are they thinking and talking about, what are they eating? Reading? What’s the view from their window when they woke in the night, the encounter on the street they live on? Who do they live with? What we each do with our time on this planet fascinates me. As my own time grows shorter, even more. So what the hell.

Here’s the thing: my aspirations and illusions are few but I like writing. The process helps me think and when it’s good, I feel as if I’m wake-dreaming or something. And in this space I have both my beautiful solitude and a community, connection. And I want to get my writing muscle back and I know that exercise is the only way. So I’m going to do that here by making myself accountable to this space and you.

I’ve become less inclined to raise my hand to challenges, less willing to push myself out of my comfort zone. And every time I hit ‘publish’ it’s a little bit of that jump off the cliff. In that spirit, as well to get my writing discipline back, I’m going to (try) to blog daily. Not long pieces, just something every day. I haven’t figured out the particulars yet, morning or night and what and all that. We’ll see.

I am inspired by a wonderful author, blogger and champion of other writers Cynthia Newberry Martin who wrote about one true thing about herself every day for a year. She too wanted to push herself out of her comfort zone. I looked forward to and loved reading those daily posts and remember the pleasure and interest I took, years later. (Check them out here.)

So now I’ve written what I’m committing to, I’ve dilly-dallied and edited all day, anything to avoid actually posting this. But I’m ready to close out an Easter Sunday of rain and clouds, flashes of sun with a glorious finale sunset – by going ahead with a promise and ‘publish’. Thanks for reading.

In Praise of Rivers and Walking (Dogs)

We were dog-less for at least a year after beloved Tetley died. Without a dog, I rarely wandered around the neighborhood, particularly not in winter when I’m inclined to be a slug. Now we have Rufus. We think he’s a chihuahua-scottie, pretty darling and an easy, sweet dog. While sometimes I complain, I’m grateful he gets me outside even during a recent cold snap. Walking behind his jaunty strut, him pulling a little too much on his leash, it’s hard not to smile.

Molly and I have worked out an informal labor sharing system. I do morning, she does night walks. Either one of us tries to get a good long one in during the afternoon. The morning one is a quickie to just take care of business. I throw a big coat over my pajamas and let him sniff around the street while I yawn and wake up, thinking about my dreams, clearing sleep from my lungs with deep breaths. These days, the sun is just about rising and the morning planets hanging around on the Eastern horizon give me their last twinkle before fading into the day sky.

The good long walk is when I get home from work, if it’s still light enough. I need it as much as Rufus does. My favorite walk is along the river because there are no cars and because – river! I love rivers – the sense of always coming from and going somewhere. As I write, my cheeks are cold because I just got back from a jaunt on this sparkling, bracing winter day. The long way takes about 40 minutes if you factor in Rufus’s pit stops and smell checks. Today I took pictures.

The mouth of the river leading into the Long Island Sound is not very far, so high and low tides are quite noticeable. The tide was out when I got down to water and I thought about hanging around to hear what I suspect might be some nice cracking sounds as the incoming tide shifts the ice around. One very cold winter,  I lived a block off of Riverside Drive in Manhattan and heard, from blocks away, the ice cracking on the Hudson River. Strange and alarming, almost like little bombs going off, and then exciting to be reminded of the force of nature even in that metropolis. Today I settled for the crack and crunch of a little frozen puddle beneath my shoe.

I like this walk as much for the industrial stretches as the glimpses of bird life, rose bushes and a well placed bench. It’s real like this diverse city. The Norwalk river is a working one and there are even a few barges. Not like the monsters that travel the Ohio River – another river I once lived near and am fond of. There are stone lots and an asphalt plant, stretches of the river are blocked by huge piles of dirt and machinery. Some people think all this is ugly and I guess it kind of is, but I think it more interesting than an endless view of condos even as I enjoy the benefits of their lovely open walkways. I like the grittiness. And I’m not alone. I don’t know if this huge machine works but Osprey come return here every year. See the glimpse of last year’s nest where the antenna is?

There’s also a rowing club along this stretch. I’m sometimes tempted to try this. I like the way sculls move through the water, swifter and more elegantly than my little sea kayak. In the warmer weather this stretch is often filled with rowing kids – white and wealthy judging by their private school swag and the fancy cars waiting to pick them up. It seems a shame that the neighborhood children who live by and pass over this river daily don’t get to do this stuff. To see their city from the water, sometimes making that exit into the salty mouth to the sea. What a great way to ignite imagination and a sense of possibility. Too bad it’s mostly a rich-kid sport. I think about this when I pass the big boat tent and docks. Today I didn’t see a soul.

Up river there isn’t much ice. I’m not sure why. Deeper water? The tides are not as apparent as down river. The pathway stops here so Rufus and I leave the riverbank, cutting up through the grounds of an historical museum. One day I’ll go inside but it’s never open when I pass. There’s a well maintained herb garden in and a very old cemetery. I like to read the fantastic early American names. Here it turns pretty and feels like New England. I salute these old souls as we pass through. I think about time and the land and the river. They were digging up the road nearby here not too long ago, revealing cobblestones and trolley lines. From my car I never would have seen these details, this glimpse of the past.

Back to the streets we cross the busy one to the quieter roads of the neighborhood. Sidewalks disappear when we get off the main drag so I have to stay alert. But that’s the thing about walking: I pay attention to everything. The weather, the seasons, the neighborhood. I chat with people who have other dogs or want to meet Rufus – he is very friendly. Like the tides, a great ice-breaker.

Mouse Tales/Tails

 

Last Sunday, my intention was to write about food. It was so rainy miserable outside and I looked forward to puttering in the kitchen and maybe share my recipe for homemade granola. I was excited by the idea of venturing away from my usual dark subject matter. Ah, best laid plans!

Oats tossed in coconut oil and molasses toasted in the oven, filling the kitchen with cinnamon smells. I might even have been humming Christmas songs when… I discovered signs of mice. Apparently they’d been enticed by the regular bounty of Rufus’s dried food he often leaves untouched for hours. A veritable dish-worth was tucked between the napkins and dish towels in one drawer, another stash in the tea drawer, a few nuggets hidden in the hollow handle of the hand mixer. Gross. The day turned into pulling drawers apart, washing dishes, cutlery and gadgets. The kitchen remained a mess for days with counters and table covered with drawer and cabinet contents waiting for the all-clear.

The only kind of traps we had were the horrible sticky ones but I still set them leaving one of the uglier napkins in a drawer as a decoy lest they suss out the danger. Monday morning I could hear the frantic scratching sound from the living room. Yay! Success! Ugh! I couldn’t just let it die slowly, possibly gnawing one of it’s limbs off to escape. I went into the garage and found a small garbage can and in the bottom of it was a rock. Thank you Rob who collected them and left them all over the place like this one, miraculously appearing — I needed to sink the mouse. He once called me in tears because a bird had smashed into his windshield on the highway but he had no problems murdering rodents.

I woke my accomplice Molly, who with much commentary and horrified noises, gamely accepted her assignment and pulled out the drawer. Don’t look at it! I said as she followed me out the door to the hose spigot. I filled the garbage bin, then, with more ewing and squawking and fighting back tears, she dumped the sadly, pretty-cute mouse we were torturing, into the plastic bag with a rock in it. I pushed it down into the water. We both went off to work a little late and a little traumatized.

Of course, there’s never just one. The next day I found more droppings where yesterday there had been none. My local hardware store had more sophisticated and humane traps that kill quickly and you don’t see it – well, except for the tail of number 2. Not moving though so we knew he’d been squished.

It’s been a few days and so far, the other trap is still empty and there’s no scat in sight. Rufus will have to learn to eat when the food is out.

When I was a conscious child and then a teen and maybe for a little bit longer past that, I was a vegetarian. I could not bear to see dead animals and would shake my fist at cars with deer carcasses on top of them during hunting season. I have become more hard-hearted. I do not weep when the neighbors’ dog makes a dent in the groundhog population. Sometimes I find carcasses – maybe just a fluffy tail with a bit of skin – of one of the millions of squirrels who entertain Rufus. I get a shovel and feeling a little like I might throw up, I fling it into a nearby wood. I am still thrilled by sightings of live deer and saddened by dead deer killed by cars although they are pests in this corner of Connecticut. But I’m tough and practical in my old age. Everything has an expiration date and every day that we live, we draw closer to our own. Sorry-not-sorry about those cute brown mice.

So much for not writing about death and darkness. Hey, and let me know if you want my granola recipe!

Day Lily Days

The shelves at the garden center are almost empty. Only leggy, ragged plants with roots packed into their little containers like leftover spaghetti, remain. I wonder what’s next? Chrysanthemums and pumpkins? But wait – it’s only early July! Time for harvesting lettuce, maybe tomatoes if you were an early planter without greedy pests. At my place, there’s basil tucked behind my makeshift fence. Also arugula, thyme, oregano and cilantro. I picked up some new guinea impatiens – never my favorite but the only flower the groundhog ignored. I buy five at a dollar each. Walking out of the greenhouses past the once full space, now left only with boxwood and hydrangea shrubs, a tiny knot of sadness pinches my stomach.

I was in high school when I first registered a sense of melancholy around time. Not because I was happy and wanted the days to slow. I recognize now, I had long felt invisible at home and this probably inspired my urgency to capture my days. I filled journals, recording events, scrawling my angst and bad poems. I drew. I played music. Art gave me a sense of being able to own time. In creating, I felt I might claim it, especially in writing. It was as if unless I wrote about something in my life it did not exist.

The faded flowers in the picked over garden center triggered a flash of familiar poignancy. The sweetest seasons pass in a blink. In every perfumed inhale of lilacs, pinch of mint, nip of autumn air, I sense the finite. How many chances at such pleasure we get remains a mystery and too many I have loved long lost theirs. I want the daffodils of spring to last a little longer but appreciate the day lilies, rough and ready in a sprawling, wild summer explosion, a better reminder to seize today.

Building Fences, Causing No Harm

Molly called me at work on Friday, freaked out. An animal she couldn’t identify was trapped in the rusty old milk can by the back deck.

Just kick it over so the thing can get out, I told her, and film it running away so I can see what it is. She demurred insisting she’d wait for me to come home. Lucky for the critter, I’d be there soon.

I peeked over the side of the jug, wondering if I’d see bared teeth. Instead, there was this.

A wee groundhog. I hate groundhogs as I’ve written about here every summer. (Put in groundhog in the search – you’ll see!) They devour everything I plant and they multiply like crazy. Yes, they’re a little cute when they play beneath the pear and peach trees I planted in the sunniest, best garden spot. The garden spot I gave up on because they eat everything, undeterred by fences and other foils. I thought I was clever to plant these trees, determined to still be able to get some harvest off my little patch. Groundhogs can climb trees. I’ve seen them. And they love peaches.

So here, here was a baby – my prisoner. One less pest. I didn’t immediately free the poor thing. I considered trying to move him elsewhere, out of the neighborhood so he couldn’t come back. I certainly couldn’t kill it – that’s not in my makeup unless there’s a threat to me or my loved ones. I’m a catch and release kind of gal. I wasn’t about to kill this baby. Finally, Molly kicked the the jug and the thing scampered away and then back towards us, right under the deck I thought I’d varmint proofed.

The next day, I strategized my planting. Where could I place flowers where our resident beasts couldn’t get at them? And at least a few tomato and basil plants. I had luck last year with a table with a jerry-rigged fence around it. First I had to somehow get the table outside. Molly was working so it was just me to tackle this project. You know how, once you have an idea in your head, you just want to get it done? That was me. I dragged the table through the kitchen, hoisted it over on to its side and began shimmying it across the threshold where it promptly got jammed. Banging my shin on it triggered a flash of self pity and a choke of tears as I thought of the ghosts of  the men who should have been here. But I felt them cheering me on. There was a knock at the door – certainly an extra set of hands miraculously showing up!

Jehovah Witnesses. I invited the two women out of the hot sun, offered them a cool drink (declined), watched the short video on their Ipad, told them I was fascinated by their faith but felt unmoved by the video. But don’t you want to know more about how to learn about courage from the Bible, one of them (Rose) asked? I told her I was pretty good on the courage front and that right about now, hearing anything about the Bible makes me mad because of the way passages are being bandied about by the current administration to justify so many despicable policies and practices.

They nodded. Both African American and certainly more vulnerable to injustices than I, they did not disagree. Turns out, Rose is a neighbor from my city so I told her about the storytelling I help to organize in the community and suggested she come – although only to tell a story, not to proselytize. I took her literature and she took mine and she said she’d like to come back and talk with me more and I’d welcome her onto my front porch for a chat although I highly doubt she’ll be converting me. I think she just wants to talk again and I would too and maybe we can take to the streets together, sharing our outrage side-by-side.

Meanwhile, there was a table to move. Refreshed by my chat with the ladies, I managed to move said table out onto the deck. I hammered wood posts to hold up the fencing. I like the feel of swinging a hammer, the connection with the nail, the tightening of wood to wood as the weight of the hammer drives it together. I’ll have to get a ladder to harvest from my little table plot but I did it. I made a new friend, built my little fence and no groundhogs were killed or separated from their parents.

How was your weekend?

 

Mornings the Moon and a Wood Walk

Mornings are still dark when I wake and recently I opened my eyes and saw the moon just outside my window. My head still on the pillow, I spent a few minutes staring at it clear and silver in the sky. Full or close to it, waxing or waning, I’m not sure and it doesn’t matter. It’s the same moon and always there even if we cannot see it and that’s a comfort to me. I thought of the distance, all that space between me and the moon and about the incredible spinning involved to keep us all here. Thinking so much beyond what will I wear today or make for lunch was a great way to start the work day.

Looking up at the sky, thinking about space, casting my gaze at the stars or the sun or even a passing plane – my brain seems to expand. It feels as good as a stretch. A psychic stretch. My imagination gets charged by this simple exercise of thinking beyond where I am while being where I am. Realizing the vastness of being in the present. Does that make sense?

Meanwhile, back on earth on this Sunday morning, I went with my friend Tracy for a hike. We tramped on a path through the woods – nonstop talking because we always have so much to catch up on and even later, I think of something else I meant to tell her. She’s that kind of dear friend. We walked through the intermittent rain across a field and down a nice wide trail and through wetlands full of skunk cabbage and fiddleheads, past boulders and ponds. We were welcomed into this wood by a magnificent pileated woodpecker – gigantic and noisy. Cool and damp, smells and sounds (the birds!) of Spring. The just emerging leaves creating a soft green wash across the landscape.

We saw only one runner, a dog walker and 2 women – our age and gabbing like we were. One of them under an umbrella. Tracy and I both had hoods and weren’t worried about getting wet and she also didn’t care when I got mud in her car. And on the drive back, she asked what that noise was without being too worried and I suggested it was the wind through her car’s skylight. But when we stopped for coffee, I opened the car door and discovered that the sleeve of my jacket had been flapping outside. We laughed hard because it was so silly and we were happy. The coffee was good and I feel grateful to be spinning along and out on this planet during the morning hours in the sweet early greening of Spring.

What did you do this weekend?