what happens next…

Piping Plover by Mike Morel/USFWS

piping plover by Mike Morel, Puerto Rico

The details don’t matter – they belong to all of us – and loss, after all, is mostly a story about what happens next. What’s next for me, it seems, is the story of realizing that if there are answers at all, they might not be found in the broadest expanses. I find myself mostly lowering my habitual gaze-out-to-sea and settling down to rummage in these greenish-brown, often stinking, bug-infested wrack lines, the likes of which I must have skirted or stepped over thousands of times in my younger-me rush to get to the water. Sometimes I notice what lies tangled within them: the moon snail with its grotesque foot, trash turned into sea glass, driftwood, egg cases, jellyfish. And sometimes I notice what’s gone. Not just my grandiose quest, but also the vanished tangible.
~ Barbara Hurd
(Walking the Wrack Line: On Tidal Shifts & What Remains)

cease to recollect…

"Houses of Squam Light, Gloucester" by Edward Hopper (1882-1967) American Realist Painter & Printmaker

“Houses of Squam Light, Gloucester” by Edward Hopper

The Props assist the House
Until the House is built
And then the Props withdraw
And adequate, erect,
The House support itself
And cease to recollect
The Augur and the Carpenter -
Just such a retrospect
Hath the perfected Life -
A Past of Plank and Nail
And slowness – then the scaffolds drop
Affirming it a Soul -
~ Emily Dickinson
(The Poems of Emily Dickinson)

Great Black-backed Gulls

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The seagulls know the truth of it
And scream it overhead
~ David Gray
♫ (Nos Da Cariad) ♫

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Growing up visiting the beaches of Cape Cod I never paid close attention to seagulls, taking them very much for granted.  But in 2011, after reading the book, A Time for Everything, by Karl O. Knausgård, I’ve been drawn to these interesting sea birds. However, it wasn’t until April of last year (2012) that I noticed that there are different kinds of seagulls, when I saw a pair of black-headed gulls perched on a dock at Cumberland Island National Seashore in Georgia.

Now I’m pretty sure the gulls we commonly have on our beach here in Connecticut are ring-billed gulls. One day last August (2012), Tim & I were having a light supper sitting at a picnic table on the grass at our beach.  We were chatting away and I was watching a gull behind him, who was loitering on the grass, hoping for a handout.  (We never give them anything, however, because our food is not good for them.)  Slowly it dawned on me that this was the biggest gull I had ever laid eyes on!  And yet he had the speckled coloring of an immature one.

Thankfully I had my camera, but when Tim turned around to see what I was so excited about the gull took off.  He came back, however, and began strutting along the sidewalk as if he owned the place.

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Eventually he walked up onto the rocks and posed for me.

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In the pictures above and below I was trying to capture this huge baby standing as close to an adult “regular” gull as I could, to illustrate the difference in size.  There were two of these large gulls present that day, but this was the one that came closer to us.

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Ten days after this gull encounter at the beach we had to take Tim to the hospital in the middle of the night.  At dawn I came home to shower and then return to the hospital.  As I started driving down Bank Street in New London there was a seagull in the middle of the street, feasting on some roadkill.  He didn’t move out of the way of my car until it was almost too late.  When he did take off he didn’t fly away, though.  He kept flying just a few feet in front of my car, flying very low, all the way down Bank Street to Parade Plaza.

If seagull shows up it means it’s time to clean up your home environment and let go of and recycle as much as you possibly can. … Spend a significant amount of time at the seashore meditating, allowing the rhythms of the waves and the wind to be your guiding pulse.
~ Dr. Steven D. Farmer
(Animal Spirit Guides)

It wasn’t until late September, when we took a day trip to Block Island, that we got a clue about the identity of these giant seagulls.  Our tour guide asked us if we had ever seen a great black-backed gull, the largest of all gulls.  Apparently they are showing up on Block Island, too!

After Tim came home from the hospital, but before we went to Block Island, son Nate came up from Georgia to help “clean out our home environment” after Tim’s hospital stay. While he was here we took him to the beach one evening, all excited about showing him the big seagulls.  But they weren’t there that night.  However, we sat with him there for hours, soaking up the healing power of the sea and talking about the wonders of the universe – a memory I will treasure forever.  The following sketch reminds me of some of our conversations, Mr. Logic and Ms. Wonder, chatting with their son…

DougNeill.exoplanets

image: Sketchnotes: Natalie Batalha on Exoplanets & Love

Since Nate left to go back home we have spotted the great black-backed gulls at the beach again many times, even after Hurricane Sandy and Blizzard Charlotte, so it looks like the two of them are planning to stick around for a while.  And my sister has reported seeing them there a couple of times, too, when she’s gone to the beach to eat a peaceful lunch in her car.  Beverly thought I had to be exaggerating until she saw them for herself!

Vegan ♥ Paleo

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To look for a “healthy” diet can be as discouraging as a search for the “true” religion.  I spent many years extricating myself from a belief system which had at one time seemed to have all the definitive answers my teenage self was yearning for.  One would think I might have learned a lesson or two about words and ideas that sound too good to be true.

Some of my readers may remember a few passionate posts I wrote back in October of 2011, when after reading several convincing books by cardiologists I decided that Tim & I should become vegans to try to reverse his heart disease.  In my mind it was a done deal, the final answer.  But in the months following our change to a vegan diet, Tim wound up in the hospital twice, which left me feeling demoralized.  It was as if eating plants was making things worse, not better.

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One day last fall, I happened to catch another cardiologist being interviewed on TV, and he was talking about the evils of gluten and wheat, and how consumption of grains leads to obesity, heart disease and diabetes.  And so began another round of research for me, more books, more websites, more theories to contemplate.  To make a long story a bit shorter, we have switched to a paleo diet, or caveman diet.  Wild game, grass-fed beef, pasture-raised poultry.  Lots of vegetables.  Nuts and berries.  Hunting and gathering.  No wheat or grains. Keeping our fingers crossed.

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This time around I’m not looking at this change as The Answer carved in stone.  It’s an Experiment to see if anything different will happen.  I’m the daughter of a scientist after all. Maybe the food we choose to eat has nothing at all to do with heart disease, though somehow I still think it might.  But cardiologists don’t seem to agree on the best diet for heart disease, so I won’t list all the authors of the books I consulted.  Staying off of the bandwagon for the time being.

Last week we did have some encouraging news after Tim went in for a checkup.  He lost some weight and his progress pleased his doctor for the first time since his original heart attack five years ago.  Let’s hope we’re finally on the right track, although I am keeping myself carefully skeptical, just in case…

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photos by Barbara Rodgers

wanting the sea…

“Connecticut Shore, Winter” by John Henry Twachtman

Searching my heart for its true sorrow,
 This is the thing I find to be:
That I am weary of words and people,
Sick of the city, wanting the sea;

Wanting the sticky, salty sweetness
Of the strong wind and shattered spray;
Wanting the loud sound and the soft sound
Of the big surf that breaks all day.

Always before about my dooryard,
Marking the reach of the winter sea,
Rooted in sand and dragging drift-wood,
Straggled the purple wild sweet-pea.

~ Edna St. Vincent Millay
(Exiled)

 Where Mermaids Arrange their Hair

a sacred zone…

shell by Keith Shannon
Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge, Cape Cod, Massachusetts

Not a day goes by that I don’t take a walk on the beach. The beach is truly home, its broad expanse of sand as welcoming as a mother’s open arms. What’s more, this landscape which extends as far as the eye can see, always reminds me of possibility. It is here I can listen to my inner voice, shed inhibitions, move to the rhythm of the waves, and ask the universe unanswerable questions. That is why when I found myself at a crossroads in my marriage and my life, I ran away to Cape Cod and spent a year by the sea, I was sure this place, so full of my personal history, would offer clarity.

The beach to me is a sacred zone between the earth and the sea, one of those in-between places where transitions can be experienced – where endings can be mourned and beginnings birthed. A walk along the beach offers the gift of the unexpected. Scan the horizon and glimpse the endless possibilities. Stroll head down and encounter one natural treasure after another. Tease the tides and feel a sense of adventure. Dive into the surf and experience the rush of risk.

~ Joan Anderson
(A Walk on the Beach)

Farewell, Aunt Betty

On Friday November 9, Tim & I drove up to Cape Cod for the day, to attend a memorial service for my Aunt Betty in Harwich.  The last time we were on the Cape was in the spring of 2009, far too long to be away, but so much has been going on in our lives the past few years.

It was so wonderful to see and hug my uncle (my mother’s brother) again, and two of my cousins.  Two of my mother’s cousins were also there with their wives.  We had some great conversations with them all about fond memories and genealogical discoveries.  And my grandparents’ elderly neighbors from across the street were there, too.

As I mentioned before, my Aunt Betty was a woman of very strong faith, and a lovely, gracious, generous lady.  I think she would have been pleased with the simple memorial her son arranged for her.  On a table in front of the altar there was a picture of her, a single rose in a vase, a pencil, and her Bible, complete with her notes in the margins and many underlined scriptures.  My uncle recalled how much she loved roses and how he made sure she received one for every birthday and every wedding anniversary.  And he felt the pencil was a fitting token of her love of writing.

After the reception Tim & I went to the cemetery at the First Congregational Church in Harwich, where a number of my ancestors, my grandparents and my mother lie buried.  I left them each a white rose from the bouquet we were given to take home after the service.  Of course there were tears, there had been tears off and on all day, but also a deep feeling of peace and connection.

We couldn’t leave the Cape without visiting the sea, and so decided to go to the West Dennis Beach, and there felt anew the truth of Isak Dinesen’s words, The cure for anything is salt water – sweat, tears, or the sea.  The first picture is looking southwest over Nantucket Sound, the second is a bit of the wrack line, and the third is seagull footprints in the sand.