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.

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?

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.

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.

Days at the Beach

Although the calendar reads February the weather has been mild and when I leave work, the sky is still bright. Aching to move and fill my lungs with fresh air, I have been walking at the beach. Following the sidewalk along the sand on these winter days that feel like Spring, I thrill at the chorus of languages from the chatting couples and families I pass. Spanish, Greek, Urdu, Hindi, Portuguese, Chinese. These are my neighbors and a reason why 20 years ago, my husband and I, fresh from our life overseas, fell in love with this city on the Connecticut coast.

And this beach. Today I walked by the playground and for a moment, I remember myself spending hours on that bench watching little Molly slide down the fireman pole, climb up ladders, slip down slides. And my heart aches with the memory and I wish I could go back in time and be who I am now, watching my beautiful girl at play, completely attuned to joy, absolutely at peace. Instead, all those years ago, for too many seasons, I was lost in a cloud of worry, anger, hurt and terror.

My husband would be home sleeping – no matter the hour. Instead of sitting beside me watching our daughter, catching up on the week, planning our next meal – even just quarreling about things I imagine normal families do, he would still be sprawled across our bed in a drug induced sleep. Often, he would not wake until dinner, ignoring my tears, my pleas and harassment, stuck in the web of addiction that would eventually kill him. On those days at the beach, ever hopeful for the miracle that never came, I watched the cars enter the beach, hoping with some kind of magical thinking, that I might conjure him driving in next. There he would be – the man I’d married, waving and calling out the window, so happy to join us. Instead, Molly and I eventually returned home, the pit in my stomach deeper than ever and Molly not bothering to ask where Daddy was as he still slept upstairs.

Enough time has passed that I mostly remember the things I loved about Neil, a remarkable, beautiful, tortured man. But sometimes dark memories are ignited – like today on a beautiful day as I pass a bench in front of the playground.

Bird Quarrels and Peace

Summer photo - but still windy!
Summer photo – but still windy!

Last weekend, ferocious winds blew in a taste of winter. Bright and sunny with cold gusts that turned the leaves inside out and off their branches. I took my cue to get my winter nest ready and washed and aired flannel sheets and heavy blankets, letting them flap dry in the crazy wind.

A week later it’s summer again and I sit on my porch in shirtsleeves watching two red- headed woodpeckers follow each other back and forth between the trees. I am reminded there is a bright side to bare branches: the birds! Winter is prime bird watching time.

See the little profile there in the left?
See the little pecker-profile?

A drama unfolds between these two birds – one is noisily berating the other who ignoring the complaints without a peep, focuses on worrying the bark. And now a jay has announced himself with a shriek. He lands in the bird bath, eyes the empty feeders and leaves wanting no part of the fracas.

They’re still at it. If they were weaving a web as they flew between the trees, it would be impassable by now – they have passed back and forth between the trees so often.

The aggressive one just attacked the other, falling with a thud onto the lawn beside me. “Whoa! Easy guys!” I called out as if breaking up a schoolyard fight. Another bird – a catbird briefly lands and after noisy commentary, flees the scene. What’s wrong with them? It’s not mating season – maybe it’s time to claim their winter home. I have prime bird real estate in a good size stump snug up against another tree.

Battle for the stump?
Battle for the stump?

My bird show just took a dramatic turn with the sound of heavy flapping wings – I look up just in time to catch a large hawk or falcon chased by a smaller bird. I did not see if the bird of prey had scored a meal but I’d wager the scrappy bird chasing him will not be lunch.

This is what I miss when I leave here every day to go to work. If I won the lottery, I’d be content to report to you on nature’s news from out my window or from my porch and at the end of the day, I’d feel satisfied. Well, I’d punctuate this with walks and beach romps with the dog I would get.

I love observing the buzz of nature. The busy efforts of creatures and plants to survive and thrive on this magnificent earth. I am content to watch the birds and fattening squirrels on my tiny patch of land within earshot of the highway to New York City less than an hour away. An hour or two with this world on my doorstep is enough to bring me back to some essence of life well beyond the hamster-wheel that can be my life: my job, paying bills and worrying about this depressing election. I find peace in paying attention to the feel of the air, the smell of the seasons and the quarrels of birds.

Sunrise, Sunset, the Moon, the Stars and My Dog

 

2013-01-20 15.05.19My breath is visible and a cloud of steam rises from Tetley’s pee as he lifts his leg over a pile of leaves. I look up at the brilliant blue sky promising a beautiful day. I follow the flight of a little bird as it bounces through a shrub with golden leaves – the last foliage left in the wood. Yesterday’s wind cleared most of the leaves and now I shuffle through them as I follow my sweet old Cairn Terrier down the street. He pulls me forward then stops, lingering a long time to smell a suspect rock. So I stand and look around, listen, fill my lungs with fresh air – my initial grumpiness about getting forced out into the world earlier than I wanted fading. Like most of us, although I’d love to, I rarely get to loll about in bed past 6 AM and it’s now just after 8 on a Sunday – a little later than our usual circling of the neighborhood.

2013-01-20 15.06.19

Multiple times a day, Tetley leads me to moments of meditation. He gets me OUT. Even when I’m cranky or the weather sucks. And so I see the sunrise, the sunset, the moon and stars, the passing flock of geese honking through the sky, rabbits, and once even a coyote. He gets me closer to the subtle change in the season, I speak with my neighbors rather than just waving at them from my car. I watch the light, hear the bird songs. We sometimes go to the beach in a neighboring town where he can climb on the jetty in search of rodents and I watch the tides, hear the waves, smell the salt air. He greets strange dogs and I talk to their owners.

Tet color profile

Tetley makes me move when I’m inclined to hide at home, not leave the couch. And once outside, there is no purpose but to be there with him and see the world around us.

A Summer Sunday Morning

tree top

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.

laundry

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.

zinnias

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.

buddelia

 

A Reason to Go is to Come Home Again

pansies and palms

This week, I escaped the crazy-cold of Connecticut. Yes, those are pansies now in bloom in Florida. Although mostly my hours were spent in a windowless conference room, between meetings I practically skipped around the artificial lake outside the hotel. Giddily, I marveled at the bold birds, the flowers, being in shirt sleeves, feeling warm. For 3 days, I went sock-less!

heron

Beyond the thrill of feeling like a prairie dog popping my head out of this veritable tunnel of winter, this was an exercise in stepping out of my comfort zone. I live my life mostly within a 30 mile radius. Driving to work takes me less than 15 minutes. This trip reminded me that if we get out of practice we can lose important life navigating skills and risk becoming timid, even fearful.

I hadn’t been on a plane since taking Molly to England almost 10 years ago. After smiling back at the flight attendants, I rounded the corner to see that mine was a little plane with only 4 seats across. My heart started beating double time. This narrow tube of metal would be flying up into the clouds and taking me to Florida? I disappeared into my book rather than peer out the window at the disappearing winter-scape, rather than think of the increasing distance between me and land. I wondered to myself, since when am I afraid of flying?

streetlight and sun

Once, I considered myself a traveler but for many years, I’ve lived closely within my routine. I love my routine, my family, my bed! After too many years of living in chaos, I appreciate the predictability of it all – cherish the feeling of being relatively safe. But this little get-away – even just to a distant hotel room on an all-expense paid work trip, refreshed me and reminded me of the joys of stepping away.

gull

Winter paralyzes me and this one has been particularly brutal here in the Northeast. Some weekends, I’ll only leave the house to walk the dog around the block. At least now I have the excuse of winter, but honestly, I rarely venture far anymore, even when the weather is fine. It’s pitiful how infrequently I take the train into New York City – a regular commute for much of this community. Even if it’s just to realize that I want to BE in the place I AM, I need to do this more often.

boats on sound winter

Look at this frigid landscape. This is where we launch our kayak from in summer. In winter I rarely  make the 5 minute drive down here to gaze out at the horizon, to watch the boats. The same boats that headed out to work yesterday, fishing or clamming on the Sound. This is their routine.

It’s good to be home again – and that alone is reason to go somewhere: to fall in love again, with where I am – winter and all.

Conjuring Mothballs

umbrella

I prefer ushering summer in, more than I do out.  Packing away shorts, and cotton shirts is a melancholy activity – unlike the joy of pulling all these garments out after a long winter. It seems I wore only half of my summer dresses this cooler-than-usual summer, and now I am folding them up for another year.  From the basement, I haul up the heavier load of winter clothing – darker tones and heavier weaves.

I learned this ritual of switching my wardrobe, from my mother. I remember the smell of mothballs permeating our apartment as she pulled out our stored clothing from the massive suitcases wedged into the top of the coat-closet. I laugh thinking about oh! my dread of my older sister’s hand-me-downs and how now, she and I relish each other’s rejects.

I survey each piece of clothing: to keep or not. This is a good time to purge the barely worn frock with the velvet bits. And certainly the linen pants I’ve been hanging onto with the illusion my waist line will ever be that size again. Times up on that one! I pile my has-beens on the bed, trying to embrace advice from the anti-hoarder experts — something like if you haven’t worn it X amount of time in the last season, it’s time to let it go.

Although I took a good load to Goodwill today, it should really have been bigger. I still cannot part with my faded cotton bathrobe – now ripping in places. It would be a good rag, or if I were crafty, maybe I could turn pieces into a quilt. But I’m not, so it gets packed away so next year, I can find it again and remember when my husband brought it to me, then lovely crisp and too-expensive, the day after I landed in the hospital on a sweltering June in Italy when I delivered Molly 2 months early. That was 19 years ago and I still can’t part with this now tattered robe.

There’s also a very pretty dress, although not really me, that I wore to N’s memorial service.  He’d bought it for me one day for no reason I knew of, about a year earlier. I’d barely worn it even then, because it’s a little too dressy and not the nicest fabric – but I can’t get rid of it. I like to think of him shopping for me, looking for something that I might like, that would suit me. He liked to shop and had expensive taste he indulged, even when he had no money and that was most of our marriage. But, I imagine him lovingly thinking about me — not trying to make up to me or distract me from maybe being coked up.

Anyway, I focused on him that day at the Unitarian Church – remembering him and his life and death on another day in June. It was the first day since his suicide a month earlier, that I was able to move past my fury and shock and begin to think of him with love and to mourn him.

The anti-hoarders would have me get rid of it perhaps, because all summer this dress has hung in my closet unworn. But instead, I’ve packed it away for another year.

The closet and drawers are emptier. I’ve yet to unpack any sweaters, the wooly socks, the corduroy pants. Not yet. It’s still warm enough and for now, I enjoy the space that lies between.

snow tree