Forcing Spring and Myself

Peach blossoms

I hibernate. From reassuring texts and emails exchanged with friends who are also in a kind of dormancy, I know that it’s not just me and the groundhogs lying low. We are all tired and inclined to burrow deep into our own nests as dark closes in too early these winter months. I certainly am. At the end of the day or on a weekend, after a full work week, I want to light my wood stove, pull the curtains closed, crawl beneath the blankets with a book or the remote and talk to no one.

It doesn’t help that I have a job requiring I be outgoing, seek out strangers to try and convince them to buy lots of books. I like my company, love what I sell, am interested in other people and am socially adept – but like many book people, it’s not my natural inclination. As an introvert in an extrovert job, I definitely crave solitude after beating the bushes.

But it’s a fine line. Sometimes I feel like I have gone too far down the alone rabbit hole. Especially during winter, I tend to hide out in my own world, almost forgetting the pleasure of connection. It’s easier to stay in. But statistics show and I believe, that we humans need each other to thrive. I don’t mean through social networks – I want contact — to laugh, feel the comfort of a hug, hear a story, share a drink, a meal.

I’m so grateful to the many dear ones who make social overtures to me and accept mine. We take care of each other that way.¬†Getting out with others can be more of an issue for us single people – particularly when you were once part of a couple. Venturing out requires more energy, motivation and confidence when you’re alone, particularly at first. It’s a skill worth honing because… well, you know. I certainly wish the men I once believed I’d be spending my life with were still here with me. I miss that. (To say ‘men’ rather than ‘man’ sounds weird – but there are two loved ghosts in my life.) Still, I enjoy my own company and have become quite content in my solitude. But the danger is how much easier it is to burrow down deeper, venturing out less. And I believe that for my health and well being, I need to resist the inclination to retreat. Do you know what I mean?

As always, I find my best life cues in nature. Last week I pruned my peach and pear trees, putting a few branches in water. And blossoms are already emerging — a reminder to the reclusive me, of the beauty that may come from forcing things along.

Ruminations on Autumn Clean-up (or not) and Time

I share my little plot with 8 trees large enough that I hope none fall on my house. They make a lot of leaves. If the spirit moves me I will rake them into mounds alongside the hedge or into my raised garden bed where they do their beautiful business of rotting.

My neighbors across the street have no trees and I wonder if they hate me when the wind blows in their direction? We are friends so I doubt it – but I’m sure they feel a tad exasperated by the mess my arbor-love makes on their tree-less property. And I wonder a little if their intention is to torture me every Saturday when the landscaper comes with a blower to blow mostly my tree’s leaves off their perfect lawn. There are not many sounds I hate more than the sound of a gas blower as it goes on and on and on.

My gardening… philosophy? technique? I search for the word that best describes my intentional laissez-faire attitude around autumn clean-up. I believe and there is much proof, that left to itself, nature takes better care of itself than when we meddle. The decomposed leaves enrich my property so it doesn’t make sense to stuff them into bags to be picked up by the noisy trucks emitting additional carbon gases into our atmosphere while they do it.

There is some clean-up I eventually get around to. I twist the thorny vines and weeds into cans to be picked up by those same trucks or smash them into the back of my car to drive them to the brush dump myself. Every year invasive weeds like Japanese knotweed and bittersweet win the battle in at least one corner of my yard. Every spring I have high hopes that this will be the year I’ll keep said corner clear of growth. But as we move into summer and the heat and bugs amp up, I give up, conceding until autumn when I can more easily pull and snip at the recently frost-killed invasive plants.

I think about time and how it makes some things easier. Of course body aches and wrinkles alert me to the challenges time can bring = aging. But mostly I see time as my ally. With time (and effort) things that once were entrenched in my actual and metaphorical ‘patch’ become easier to deal with. A few short months ago, I was daunted by an overwhelming green mass full of thorns and worse — ticks. After a few frosty nights, the thicket shrank to skeletal twists I could tackle.

In the garden on an unseasonably warm day, I brace myself with bent knees, heels dug into the earth, inhaling a deep breath of mint (my advice: grow only in pots!) while yanking on a resistant tangle, I think of old resentments, anger, grief – pulling harder, feeling the strain into my legs until with a snap, release down to my core, my soul. Looking closely at the branches of the fruit trees saved now from being swallowed up by this wild growth, I see the teeniest, tightest little buds. Hope.

 

New to the Neighborhood

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Dawn and dusk have drawn closer and shorter days means that on the 5 days a week I work, there’s less light for long walks with dear Rufus. Morning outings are always short – just quick forays down the block with just enough time to sniff around and lift a leg a few times before heading back inside so I can get ready for work. When there’s enough daylight left on my return home, I like to take him either to the dog park where he trips over his own little legs running so hard and fast, or for a 2 mile jaunt I call the river walk. Either way, it’s a welcome outing for both of us. And even more fun when Molly joins us, her and I gabbing as we trade off on holding the leash of our tugging pooch. (we are lax on training)

The dawn walks are just me and Rufus. And lately: a fox. The first morning I saw him from a distance – a creature sitting in the middle of the road. I didn’t have my glasses on and couldn’t quite make out what it was but certainly it was bigger than one of our known-residents – neither rabbit nor groundhog. It sat very still with it’s back to us, smack in the middle of the street. I squinted to try and make out – was it a dog weirdly sitting there so still? Then it stood up and leapt into the woods. hmmm.

A few mornings later, we met fox face-to-face. It wasn’t frightened and in fact, stepped towards us even as I stamped the ground and cried ‘scat!’. It seemed more curious than threatening but it’s bigger than Rufus, who didn’t make a peep. I scooped up our wee dog and dashed back home. Fox did not follow. At first I wasn’t sure if it was fox or coyote – but it’s tail is very bushy and body slender. A beautiful creature! But I was shaken, imagining it attacking our beloved little dog.

Rufus and I have encountered fox 3 more times, sometimes days in a row. Fox is fearless, stepping towards us – never aggressively – perhaps wondering about Rufus’s fox-like ears. Maybe this youngish-kit thinks he’s a cousin. He probably wants to sniff him to find out – or to see if he wants to eat him for breakfast. I called animal control to ask their advice, whether I should be alarmed. They said it might be a young cub, alone and indeed curious – although fox will eat a cat so if our dog is that size (yes, he’s smaller) then I should carry a stick and make sure Rufus had had his rabies shot – just in case. I’ve taken to carrying an umbrella or rake during the low-light hours. I’m sure the neighbors think I’m nuts.

Interestingly, Molly has yet to encounter fox and teased me that I was imagining it but now is spooked about taking him out when it’s dark. My sister suggested the fox is my spirit animal and in fact, these encounters have begun to feel a little magical. I went down the internet search foxhole of what fox encounters might mean – and of course choose the positive interpretations — especially seizing on the Japanese symbolism of longevity and protection from evil. Just please, dear fox, do not eat Rufus.

PS: My neighbor shared this great photo of said fox.

A beauty, no?

Tuesday Morning Chill

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

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.

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.

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?

Slow Walking the Neighborhood

I love the thrum of a summer night – cicadas and crickets and mystery making the darkness vibrate. As a child I was terrified of the summer night racket, sure that whatever made those noises must be huge and awful. Now I am enchanted by their crazy chorus – different at night from day when under the scorching sun the cicadas seem to speed up their crazy chant with the heat.

Have you seen the leaves are beginning to fall? The other day, a yellow leaf from the Tulip tree rocked slowly through the air, floating, floating down – a quiet reminder on a still-hot day that summer is almost over. And the moon tonight was lovely – waxing and bright with a few stars I don’t know shining not far from it’s light.

These are just a fraction of the rewards I’ve found in my recent walks when not gazing at the new love in our lives: Rufus.

This little man is actually full grown – adopted 2 weeks ago from WASA Westport. Last we heard, his two brothers are still available. I’d almost forgotten the joys of a dog. And Molly – well, she’s smitten with Rufus and he, with her.

So I’m slow walking the neighborhood again and it’s very sweet indeed.

On the Water Again

Freckled legs, thrift-shop crocs and my new ride.

I arrived at the beach just after 9:30 AM, determined to get out on the water before the holiday weekend boaters took over. Ten minutes after leaving the house, I pulled into a spot close to the boat launch — rolled my kayak down off the car, slung it over my shoulder by the seat strap and teetered down to the water. High tide was around 7 so the water was still close enough that I didn’t have to navigate too many slippery rocks. Wading into the water with my boat beside me, I slid aboard, scooted against the back rest and began paddling towards the Norwalk islands, grinning.

Twenty minutes from my door: heaven.

It’s been 2 summers since I’ve been out paddling and I refused to make this a 3rd. Fairly priced kayaks are the first thing to go at tag sales and last year, I never scored one. It didn’t help that I wanted something very specific. I am not a confident water person and had gotten used to the impossible-to-tip-over ocean kayak I’d paddled with my ex. Last year I searched tag sales, Craig’s List and asked friends – to no avail. This year, riding the wave of excitement and satisfaction and yes, financial freedom of Molly being done with college, I went to Dick’s Sporting Goods. For just over $300 for kayak, oar, jacket and straps to tie the thing down on top of my Subaru. David, our salesperson, was a prince – guiding me towards the right boat, attaching foam to the rack on the top of my car and showing me how to attach it tight.

My present to myself for Molly’s graduation.

The first few times out, I loaded up with Molly who thoughtfully stood by trying not to help. I wanted to know I could wrestle the thing myself. Finally, she couldn’t bear to see me struggle and with a flip of an arm, threw the boat up on my car. While she’s around, I’ll welcome that help. But this morning, I did it myself from start to finish. I doubt it looked pretty, but damn it, I did it.

I swam here. Briefly. The water is cold.

And this is where I went. I floated, I paddled, I watched the birds, telling them how lovely they were. It’s cooler out there with a sweet breeze easing the heat of the sun. Pulling up to a spit of land that disappears at high tide, I pulled the kayak up and swam, marveling that this sweet beach was all mine. I wonder how I let 2 years pass without this dreamy experience so close to home!

A spit of beach that disappears and appears with the tides.

On my first solo venture out, I alternately felt thrilled and terrified. Nervous that no one was behind me navigating, paddling when I got tired. If I go under, it’s only me and my fierce whistle! But even as huge motorboats bore down on me, I smiled like a buddha. On my own, blissful with the birds skimming across the rolling waves, the odd splash of a fish and yes, the roaring motors of boats. In fact, once I think they see me and will probably not mow me down, I love rolling in the heaving wakes they leave. And I wave, imagining they must envy me – moving so sleekly along, quietly moving towards the egrets in the tall grass, so very happy in my solitude. I would.

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