Most of all the Light

The light of Spring thrills me as does the scent of hyacinth, the jolly daffodils and softening fractals of  tree branches in bud. But this morning, propped up against my pillows not yet ready to get out of bed, I basked in the abundance of morning sun and decided that most of all – it’s the light I love. The sky is clear of clouds so my bedroom will be bright all day right up until 12 hours from now when it will shift to the other windows in golden angles before slipping into night.

My garden is slowly waking up. From beneath the brown of leaves and winter detritus are leeks I planted last year – through the winter they stood skinny green spears enveloped by snow- now thickening enough that I might get a soup or two out of them. There are two perfect, bright little bouquets of parsley. Grape hyacinth area scattered across the lawn. My peach trees are positively pregnant with buds and for the first time in years it looks like I’ll have an abundance of lilacs – judging from what look like teeny bunches of grapes at the tips of the branches.

Spring brings such possibility, doesn’t it? I’ll plant a garden again this year – although last year I barely harvested a tomato, the chard never appeared, nor sunflowers. But I’ll still try again because I like that there’s a chance. With nature, there’s always a chance. She is my guide and comfort. Hang in there through darkness and we’ll get to the light.  Enjoy the warmth.

Dark Season

Just a week ago we set the clocks back an hour. I’m not crazy about this time switching. Sometimes I pass  all my hours in a windowless office with barely a glimpse of nature’s light. Those are sad days. The beat of my heart is connected to the sight of clouds, birds, the changing light. I need to see the sun, to feel even the wannest of warmth from winter rays on my face. I don’t do well in the dark.

But I will learn to function in the new reality of this season, to embrace this chance to shift inward, to reflect. I’ll make it work. When necessary, I will rage against the night, plan for the future. Spring will come. I will gather what I need to enrich the soil in my garden. I’ll gather friends and fill my house with laughter, ply them with good food and drink to sustain us through these dark days and take comfort and strength in our solidarity. And tonight – there’s a promise of an extraordinary moon to light the way through the dark. I’ll take that as an offering of hope.

A Summer Sunday Morning

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I love the light of a Summer morning, remarkable through the greens and yellows of the trees. And the sounds, different on a Sunday. While not visible from here, the noise from I-95  is constant at this hour, just a hum from a stream of mostly cars with rare moments of quiet when no one seems to be passing. So much anonymous humanity passing.  Going or leaving home? So many imagined stories vibrating through the trees.

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A cool breeze blows and for a moment, feels almost Autumnal. As if on cue, a Mourning Dove coos – a sing-song call of melancholy as Summer days disappear, the sun shifting closer towards the opposite end of earth. I used to feel desperate when the warmth and light began this slip away but have grown to appreciate the change. I don’t like being cold and prefer the light to dark – but savor the warmth of my home, the fireplace and longer hours to read and reflect. There’s something about the warmer months that makes me feel like I must DO. And I like DOing nothing quite a bit. Well, not exactly nothing – but sedentary things like reading and writing. Winter is good for that.

Summer is a time to get things done outside and we’ve been productive around here recently. Four trips to the dump last weekend, taking away piles of rotting wood and leaves that sat in corners of our yard for too long. It’s been dry, so there’s always watering to be done – a task I enjoy. And my Zinnias are lovely.

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From where I sit now, I look past cluttered table (remember – it’s a good time for outside tasks!) to 3 windows. To my left I look out at a new Hydrangea planted last weekend. Straight ahead, onto our little porch and the laundry line. A perfect day for drying clothes in the sun – the air dry and fresh. I’ll get a load in soon. We’re just high enough to catch a breeze and so many trees surround us that we have our own little microclimate a few degrees cooler than anywhere else in the neighborhood. To the right, out the living room window I see a branch of the Butterfly bush that could use a good session of deadheading and through the canopy of leaves, a patch of still Summer sky.

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Making Space for Light

2014-04-12 13.30.43Yesterday we chopped a tree down. There were 5 Maple trees all growing out of one small spot – so we took this one out to give the rest a better chance to thrive. Plus, our vegetable garden will get more sun. And we’ll have firewood for next season. And R will build a charming little reading nook nestled into the other trunks.  Okay, it’s this that really sold me on taking it down – imagining this sweet place to read.

Still, it took some time for me to agree, to let go, to get ready to – well… grieve a little. I’ve lived in this house for 17 years so of course there are memories attached to everything.

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I held a rope taut ready to guide the wood away from the hedge and road as R cut a wedge of trunk first on one side, then the other. With a huge crack, the tree fell to the lawn as if it was shot. Prone, it appeared more massive, a daunting crush of wood.  We spent most of the day cutting branches and logs, turning our tree into pieces. “We need to have a ritual bonfire.” I said. We cannot simply trash these twigs, bundle them off to the town brush dump. We’ll burn them in our fire-pit, perhaps with neighbors or just the two of us will raise a glass and stare into the flames recalling years of shade, the different voices of wind and rain channeled through foliage and fractals. These branches were visible from our bedroom window – a best seat to watch squirrels scramble between limbs, Woodpeckers banging, Chickadees tweeting. We need to herald this wood off with a blessing.

2014-04-12 13.30.50Now a weird emptiness lingers in that space. Perhaps it’s like Phantom Leaf Effect – when a part of a leaf is cut off, it is still visible using a special photo technique that captures energy. Amputees experience this too, feeling sensation and even pain long after losing their limb. So the energy remains, some essence invisible to the naked eye. I’m anxious for the remaining trees to leaf, perhaps easing this sense of nakedness in our garden. How can I not be mourning a little, the absence of this tree. Or to think about death?

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I cannot avoid it, especially in Spring even as everything around us promises new life. For me, the sweet scents, the vivid morning light, remind me of a terrible morning on May 1st. This year is the 10th anniversary of my husband’s suicide. Enough time has passed that I mostly remember the man I loved, my daughter’s father, rather than the often frightening shell he’d become at the end. The mourning of possibility never goes away when someone dies too young – like a phantom limb, sometimes, inexplicably calling to us.  Grief brings such darkness in the early days of loss, yet I’ve heard from others and experienced myself, there comes a light like we’ve never seen before, made all the brighter by the shadows.

Cleaning up this downed tree on an impossibly brilliant Spring day, I honor darkness and make space for light.

A Tast of Spring

Finally, that endless crush of snow has melted!  For a few hours today, in the cold air and bright sun, I raked leaves and discovered —

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At last! Keen to find more, I made my way around the yard to every patch where I know spring bulbs are ready to burst, to clear away blankets of rotting leaves. Sure enough, there are plenty of emerging crocuses (croci?) in different stages of bloom – some still torpedo like, others, sweetly opening up to the sun.

We don’t take autumn clean-up very seriously around here (truth is, we don’t taking any clean-up seriously around here!) and as a result, there’s a lot of good compost material to be had. Sure, we end up taking some to the town leaf-dump, but mostly we throw it in to the vegetable garden – in-place-mulching, if you will.

I ventured up in to the vegetable garden I’ve mostly abandoned to the greedy groundhog these last years – who shockingly, doesn’t seem to enjoy asparagus. I’m hoping that this year’s yield will be enough for more than a meal or two. I cleared away the matted, dry grass that had encroached on the patch to more easily spot the lovely spears.

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These scraggly sprouts are Horseradish plants that have multiplied from one that I planted years and years ago. Horseradish spreads just enough to be a handsome, leafy addition to the garden without bullying other things out of the way – not like the damn mint that would swallow the house if I let it. I dug up a root to grate. Fresh horseradish is intense – but then, that’s kind of the point, isn’t it?

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I’d forgotten how much I love working outside. I think better with my hands in the dirt, I see things – well, differently. I become absorbed in a way, transported into a zone – very like the place I aspire to be in when I write.

With the changing, warming light, I can feel my winter-torpor fading. It’s time for me to get efficient and disciplined again. In the garden, in my work! Enough of this lounging about in front of the fire! I’m ready to feel the ache of my body after a day of gardening. Ready to feel the heat of the sun on my body, to get my vitamin D not from a pill. I’m ready to savor meals (outside!) with fresh sage, basil, oregano.

Yeah, I’m ready. Are you?

Some Winter Joy

snow tree

I have always identified myself as a Winter-hater. When the rich Autumn light thins into icy-grey and nights grow long, I fall into a funk. I mourn the passing of warmth and resulting ease of moving from inside to outside – no coats necessary.  As the garden gets lost to frosts and buried in banks of snow, I miss plucking flowers and herbs from my garden. I hate slipping and sliding down the streets. But this year as we edge towards Spring, I’m beginning to savor aspects of this usually dread season about to end. There are things I love about Winter.

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My pajamas. I change as soon as I get home from work into flannel-y, soft pants. They’re my ‘I ain’t going anywhere’ garb matched with fuzzy socks and a sweatshirt. How decadent to be dressed for bed at 5 PM!  I’m ready to climb into bed with a book. What I do instead is lovelier: I snuggle up with a blanket on the corner of the couch in front of the fireplace. R is the master of fires and we have a blazing one every night, cranking our heat down and keeping this baby stoked – this room heats up quickly. Once settled in front of these sweet flames, it’s impossible for me to pull myself off the couch so I nod off in place, prodded up to bed when only the glow of embers remains.

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We’ve had a crazy amount of snow this year – a tough one for the birds. Our feeder has been a popular spot for visitors like this. Bliss is sitting by this window with endless cups of tea, pretending to write while a flurry of feathered friends visit us. When I’m too old to do anything else, I’ll still be happy if I have a view of the birds.

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Winter allows me to read guilt-free. It’s so miserable outside, I can’t do anything else, can I? I better just finish a few more chapters. When things warm up there will be so much to do outside, I won’t let myself just disappear behind a book all day. There will be garden beds to clear and so much to do to get this place in shape not to mention the veggies to plant for the groundhogs. For now, these patches are buried in snow and we are cloistered here inside, windows shut tight. The silence is lovely – no sound of the highway traffic, usually our background noise during the months of open-windows.

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While it is still February and the temperatures remain frigid, the light is changing – growing warmer and the days, longer. The branches on some of the trees are beginning to swell with the suggestion of buds. It won’t be long. So for now, I savor these last harsh days in the warmth of my home walled in by my piles of books and a view of the birds.

My Canine Love

Weekends, even when I’m inclined to linger in bed a little longer, Tetley, my Cairn Terrier, gets me up. Now that he’s an older dog, he’s more of a sleeper himself, staying curled at the foot of the bed later than he used to. But he’s still going before 9, sidling up beside me, nudging me with his wet nose. I can buy myself more lazy time by scratching his ears and usually, he’ll rollover onto his back so I can rub his belly. Soon, squirming upright, he shakes and starts pawing at me, sometimes punctuating his gentle punches with little guttural pleas to get the hell out of bed.

Tet color profile

Especially during these winter months, I’m inclined to hibernate, but Tetley gets me outside a few times a day – at least for a walk down the street. I feel the weather, taste the air, notice the changes of the seasons, the comings-and-goings of the neighborhood. I pay attention. This morning the roads were slick with black ice so I stepped carefully, walking only on the snow covered part of the street.  He pees his way up and down the street, sniffing and sometimes barking at phantom or real squirrels. These days, with the branches bare, I watch the birds – Nuthatches, Cardinals, Woodpeckers – darting around the wood. Mourning Doves were perched around like clergy waiting for their flock to show up on this Sunday morning – I still hear their insistent cooing an hour later. I look up at the sky – today, beautifully blue and clear after yesterday’s snow. At night, I watch the stars, where the moon is, whether waxing or waning. These little jaunts, I notice the world in a way I might otherwise not. Thanks to my beloved dog, these walks become a kind of meditation.

Tet on wintry walk

Tetley is getting old. Molly was in second grade when he entered our lives and now she is in college. He’s the only dog I’ve ever owned – my only canine love and as true a love as I have ever felt. I purposely forget his actual years – we’ve been saying ‘about ten’ for awhile now.  Small dogs can live quite long lives and I trust (and pray) Tetley lives to a very ripe old age. He’s still fit, although his teeth aren’t great and his breath smells like a swamp. He prefers not to have to leap up on the bed anymore, (I lift him) and he sports a distinguished white goatee. Recently, we’ve noticed he gets underfoot and I’m beginning to wonder if he’s just a tad blind. That’s okay – I’ll lead the way, aging too with my aching love for him.

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The Light of Venus on a February Dawn

There is a bright glow in the dawn sky on this cold morning. At first I think it is the light of a plane passing and I imagine the sleeping passengers heading home to loved ones or departing on adventures. I watch, waiting for the plane’s glow to disappear across the sky but instead the light remains, slowly rising away from the horizon as the earth turns towards the sun and fading only as the morning light moves in. Venus.

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The planet Venus, named for the goddess of love, after the Sun and the Moon, is the brightest planet in the sky. Only slightly smaller than Earth, and with densities and chemical compositions similar to ours, Venus’ surface is so windy and hot, speculation is that any water once there, all boiled away. Venus is sometimes called the morning star. That’s what I thought, this early morning when I realized I wasn’t looking at a plane. Maybe it’s a Nova – one of those stars that burn so hot they explode. Like people sometimes do.

It’s Philip Seymour Hoffman’s kids I can’t stop thinking about. The older two are about the same age Molly was when her father died. A tough memory from that nightmare blur of a morning, when I told her that her father, who she’d been watching a movie with before she fell asleep, was dead. How? She wanted to know. Rather than tell her that he’d put a noose around his neck, I said: drugs. She knew about his drug problem – we’d been living with that struggle for years and she’d known for at least this last one. Tough stuff for an 8 year old. That morning it seemed liked ‘drugs’ inferred an element of accident rather than stating the truth of his intention to die.

Besides, I wasn’t lying. His addiction did destroy him. It took me years to finally step away, to stop trying to find a way to fix him. Eventually, to even let go of hope. That was the hardest. I rode that roller coaster of hope and disappointment until it was one too many times. Yet even in deciding to finish the marriage, I harbored a touch of magical thinking that in doing so, I was giving him the ‘bottom’ – the wake up call he needed to finally get clean. I still deluded myself I might possess that kind of power. I still hoped.

So I look at those kids and I think of mine. And, I think of their mother, his partner, and remember myself. I remember the dark months, weeks and days leading up to my husband’s end. I lived for so many years with lies, sometimes even knowing I was making a choice to believe them, as if that might make them true. Did she do that? What ultimatums did she give him? Did she feel relieved when he moved out of their home, feeling that bitter relief of not having the risk of drugs in the house, of being better able to protect their children from being with him when he was high?  Of, while heartbroken, relieved not to have to wonder why he wasn’t coming to bed yet? Or worry why he was still in the bathroom? The not-knowing. Ever.

After all, if this can happen after 23 years of sobriety. Once there, even if for a glimpse, how can we ever trust our addict is clean? Our addict. We all have at least one addict that is ‘ours’ because we love them. They can never really be ours.

And we wonder why? Why our love, why the love of our children provides no cure? As much as I learn about addiction and accept that it’s a disease, there will always be that tormenting truth that nothing I ever did was enough. So yes, as the death of yet another celebrity throws a spotlight on addiction, I welcome the attention being paid to this complicated issue, although there are no answers here, we have to keep asking the questions. The heartbreak continues, with only a terrible comfort in the knowledge we are not alone. The loss of this great actor and good man saddens me too, but it’s those kids and their mother that I think of as I watch the morning star of love fade away at the break of another day.

Inspired by an Unseen Eclipse

It’s almost sunrise. I force myself to leave my warm bed on this Sunday when a lie-in is possible. Glancing out the window, the clouds in the East are discouraging but the grays of the dawn sky are taking on a yellow glow and there are hopeful breaks of blues. Hidden behind those clouds, the Sun is about to be eclipsed by the Moon and I’d like to see it.

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There’s not an open view to the East from my house so I think about driving to the beach but instead, I just walk around the neighborhood searching the sky. Shuffling through the leaves in my driveway, I pull my hood up against the damp chill. To my right, the hedge twitters and beeps with Chickadees and Nuthatch and a squirrel scrabbles up the Oak tree. The neighbors are quiet – no leaf blowers, no cars warming up. In the distance, I hear the hum of the highway traffic and sweetly, a church bell tolls from across the river.

As I turn the corner, a drizzle fogs my glasses and the clouds have turned back to dull grey, closing off sky-views behind a dense wall. There will be no views of this morning’s rare solar eclipse, no glimpse here of the Sun with a Moon shadow. Not in my neighborhood. I turn back to the warmth of my house.

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I like to see these unusual celestial events, to gaze up at the sky and think about spinning through space in a universe so much bigger than ourselves. I like these visual triggers to ponder the mystery of existence, to climb out from under the mundane crap cluttering my mind: my desk at work piled with paper, the bills that need paying, the house and yard that needs cleaning. Oh, there are infinite ways I get lost in minutia every day, the lists and worries. But this morning, these things shrink away. My thoughts are in a bigger place: the miraculousness of Earth spinning around the Sun.

I remember that right now, in time and space, my friends in Japan are in their night even as I watch this day’s beginning. With pleasure I think about a dear friend in Tasmania celebrating the warmth of Spring as I ready, reluctantly, for winter. Everywhere around this earth, humans – asleep or awake – experiencing joy, sorrow, birth, death, so fast and endlessly moving yet present, now. Incredible.

I need these reminders of the vastness of the Universe so that my paper-strewn desk, the leaves on the lawn recede, at least for a time, to the appropriate corner of my being. Even as I missed the personal visual, I feel the joy of an expanded consciousness created even by imagining the shadow cast by the Moon over the Sun, behind a bank of clouds.

No Solace in a Secret

I’m not one for secrets. (Don’t worry, if you’ve told me yours I’ll keep it.) But I prefer to not shut troubles away in the dark. Light brings clarity and that’s where, having lived with my share of shadows in the past, I choose to be. Thus, David Sheff’s passage, “The Peril of Anonymity” from his chapter on Alcoholic Anonymous in his book Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America’s Greatest Tragedyresonated with me.

Sheff acknowledges that the proliferation of AA is partly, given the stigma of addiction, because of the promise of anonymity. He agrees privacy should always remain a choice but points out that this very requirement reinforces shame and isolation for the addict. But Sheff makes the point that “The history of other diseases shows dramatically how closely linked openness and health are.” He cites the power of AIDS activists and ACT UP’s Silence = Death slogan in so effectively drawing attention, funding and research to AIDS that an HIV diagnosis became, in a remarkably short time, no longer a death sentence. Until addiction is brought out of the shadows, choices and solutions will continue to elude us. Dangerous failures like “The War on Drugs” will persist.

In Japan in the 1980s, I used to meet doctors at a hospital for English conversation classes. One evening, a young woman doctor choked back tears as she told me she had broken a rule of the Japanese medical profession by telling a patient they had cancer. At least at that time, (I suspect this has changed) it was believed that to tell the patient the truth about their cancer diagnosis was equivalent to a death sentence – that knowing their disease would destroy their will to live.  And (this always got me) that they would feel ashamed. Seems archaic, doesn’t it?  But think about it — how is this so different from our attitude toward addiction?

Some will say, “it’s a choice!” To my very core, I know all sides of this debate as does anyone who has lived with an addict. We have all wondered why they do not stop? Why do they risk everything – job, friends, family, their very life – for a drink, a pill, a line?  It’s difficult to understand and accept that it’s not about ‘choice’.

Do you know a family, do you know anyone who has not been affected by alcoholism, by addiction? Tell me readers, that you cannot speak to at least one experience of struggle with this disease first hand or with a loved one? Still, like the unspoken cloud of fear and shame that hovered over cancer not so long ago, secrecy remains sacrosanct by the very groups offering up hope and successful stories of sobriety. I agree with Sheff that it’s time to open up, let the light in and reject, to rail against the stigma. Perhaps fewer will then end like my husband — never finding a way out.