Tracks are an ancient, magnetic language — pulling us in with possibility. The elusive poetry of a print, unlike the muscular certainty of a border line inked in an atlas, reveals details of a life being lived. A tracery of passing impressions, tracks can be as delicate as the brushstroke of a bird’s wings, as bold as a hunting fox. They speak a mutable tongue, transforming from the moment they appear before finally vanishing, to be eventually overlaid by another script. But if you happen upon a set of tracks in their brief and fragile time, they can tell you things you never knew. They can take you places you’ve never been, and lend form to a fleeting world.
~ Julian Hoffman
(The Small Heart of Things: Being at Home in a Beckoning World)
I’ve been waiting a long time to take a photograph to pair with this lovely quote. At first I imagined gull tracks in the sand at the beach. One day in North Carolina I found deer tracks in the mud on my way to the community compost pile, and then saw a deer enjoying some newly deposited vegetable scraps. No camera on me, though. But this morning we discovered these tracks on the balcony.
Starling tracks, no doubt. Not my favorite bird, but they spend a lot of time on the balcony, walking around, trying to figure out how to get to the woodpecker feeder. After a few hours of sunshine, the tracks and the thin layer of snow have now vanished.
This may be our winter of no snow. It snowed here in November when we were in North Carolina. It snowed in North Carolina in December when we were here in Connecticut. While we’ve had flurries now and then there has been nothing to shovel!
After nursing our terrible colds for more than a week we’re starting to get back to normal. I finally got a good start on the boxes of family history stuff and hope to keep going all winter and spring. Maybe things have settled down enough and I can actually get through this!!!
Instructions for living a life:
Tell about it.
~ Mary Oliver
(Red Bird: Poems)
I’ve posted this poem before and the words came to mind again when I learned of Mary Oliver’s death yesterday. Thank you, dear poet, for teaching us that the instructions for living a life really are that simple. (Another of her poems, my favorite, is shared in my blog’s sidebar.) She loved Provincetown, too, and many of the things she described in her poems were so familiar to me.
Tim & I have been in North Carolina almost a week now, looking after our new grandson, two-and-a-half-month old Finn, who came down with an awful cold while his dad was out of town and his mom had an extra-busy week at work. But he seems much better today so he got to go back to daycare with big sister Katherine. It was fun taking them there and we’re looking forward to picking them up again.
Of course I have caught the cold. But it is worth all the time I was able to soothe the little guy and I will treasure the memory of him sleeping in my arms for hours. And being with Katherine, who is busy monitoring the hatching of a (pretend) stegosaurus egg in a tub in the bathroom. We’re all a bit astonished. What we thought was a foot slowly emerging from the egg turned out to be a jaw! Now the mystery is wondering how big this dinosaur baby (Steggy) will get.
January down here is different than Connecticut. There are already pansies growing in planters along the sidewalks. Don’t see them in Connecticut until April! I saw a pussy willow starting to bloom on our way walking to the community compost pile. And the Carolina wrens are still singing outside my window.
Life is good. May you rest in peace, Mary Oliver.
(10 September 1935 — 17 January 2019)
Trying to get used to this new editing page with its blocks and new steps I am having a difficult time… 🙁 But I must adapt to changes no matter how challenging this one is for me. It took me hours to create my last post but I will give it another go.
Today was a very emotional day for me. I took all the decorations off of the solstice tree, the best tree we’ve ever had. It was a Fraser fir. It smelled amazing! Its branches were strong enough to hold the glass bead garland my sister made for me years ago. I had such a good time decorating it with Tim, using all my white, silver and clear glass ornaments. A white skirt resembling snow. A white owl on top and a white fox curled up in the snow underneath it.
And while I was at it, I sorted through all the decorations I’ve been hoarding over the years and donated at least half of them. It’s funny when I think I’ve made so much progress simplifying my life and I still find object collections that have yet to be minimized. Now I have kept only the ones that truly “spark joy,” as Japanese decluttering author Marie Kondo teaches.
This holiday season was extra special for us. Nate & Shea haven’t been home to celebrate since they moved to Georgia in 2011, and Larisa & Dima were last here for the holidays in 2014. It was interesting how it worked out because we usually have our niece and her teenagers and my sister and her husband here for Christmas day but this year all of them couldn’t make it for one reason or another. We missed them!
It was wonderful having a house full of children again. I will especially remember the brisk winter walks we took. Also the first time Finn smiled at me, his whole face lighting up when he heard my voice, and holding my sleeping snuggle bug for hours… Getting two temporary PJ Masks tatoos from Katherine ~ Owlette is her favorite character from that show. She also introduced me to Puffin Rock, which has to be the most adorable children’s show ever. (It’s Irish but it can be seen on Netflix.) Katherine and I had some special moments together as she talks well enough to tell me about her life. I love listening to her observations. One time she darted down the stairs and exclaimed, “Grammy’s the best!” Talk about melting my heart…
Nate & Shea brought their nephews Julius and Dominic and they were sometimes here, too, when they weren’t visiting other Connecticut relatives, of which they have many! Julius, in his teens now, loved my meatloaf, which forever endeared me to him, and Dominic is so curious and active, he’s 10 after all, and interested in how families are related, cousins and all that. His main objective for this trip was to see snow for the first time. His chance came at 3 o’clock in the morning one day, and he was awakened to see flurries, but not the blizzard we were hoping for.
Dominic and Katherine hit it off ~ it was fun to watch them interact and listen to their conversations. Nate, Shea and I took them to a holiday light fantasia which they both enjoyed very much.
One night Shea cooked us a lovely pork dinner, and another night Larisa cooked a chicken pie. Dima saved the day on Christmas when I suddenly realized I hadn’t even thought about dessert! All the stores were closed. He scrounged around in my pantry and was able to make some gluten-free chocolate-chip cookies, using a chocolate bar for the chips. It was great having Dima’s parents join us for that day, too. We all enjoyed the crazy gift basket tradition we have. Instead of exchanging presents we fill baskets with little items and take turns pawing through them to fish out whatever we’d like to take home with us. Some gag gifts, some treasures ~ it’s always fun.
And Nate helped Tim with his honey-do list. My pantry door stays closed now, the bathroom door no longer squeaks, the hole in the kitchen ceiling is patched and the dartboard is hung securely.
It was a wonderful two weeks!
If there is any wisdom running through my life now, in my walking on this earth, it came from listening in the Great Silence to the stones, trees, space, the wild animals, to the pulse of all life as my own heartbeat.
~ Vijali Hamilton
(Of Earth & Fire: Poems & Artworks)
Six of us took another family walk in the woods the other day, in Beebe Pond Park. Nate had been there years ago but I had never had a chance to explore it.
Katherine and Dominic loved climbing on the many boulders deposited by receding glaciers millions of years ago.
It was warmish for a winter’s day, but I was happy to have my gloves.
We walked for a very long time and only turned around when Katherine got too cold and darkness was approaching…
When the powers of nature are the focus of your awareness and your thoughts, you come near to spirit, near to the source of all life. This is why most people love to walk in the woods or by the sea: they come close to the original source, and it is healing just to be in its presence. It cleanses you, brings peace of mind, touches your heart and brings you home to your soul.
~ Chris Lüttichau
(Calling Us Home)
The weather report was calling for heavy rain all day on the winter solstice, so my son Nate, his nephews Julius and Dominic, and I decided to go for a long walk in the woods the day before it. It felt so healing to be outside in the fresh air!
We are very fortunate to have this coastal reserve in our town. The scenery is always lovely, but I especially love the light of winter. It’s been so long since I’ve taken pictures with my Canon, so I grabbed it on my way out the door. To my dismay, I discovered later that the battery in it was dead and the spare was dead as well. So I made do with my cell phone. Of course, as soon as I got home I charged both batteries. 🙂
A sly gift it is, that on the year’s
shortest day, the sun
stays longest in this house —
extends the wand of its slow
slant and distant squint
farthest into the long depths
of our wintry rooms — to touch, with
tremulous light, interior places
it has not lit before.
~ Robyn Sarah
Once I realized I was old enough to die, I decided that I was also old enough not to incur any more suffering, annoyance, or boredom in the pursuit of a longer life. I eat well, meaning I choose foods that taste good and that will stave off hunger for as long as possible, like protein, fiber, and fats. I exercise — not because it will make me live longer but because it feels good when I do. As for medical care: I will seek help for an urgent problem, but I am no longer interested in looking for problems that remain undetectable to me. Ideally, the determination of when one is old enough to die should be a personal decision, based on a judgment of the likely benefits, if any, of medical care and — just as important at a certain age — how we choose to spend the time that remains to us.
In giving up on preventative care, I’m just taking this line of thinking a step further: Not only do I reject the torment of a medicalized death, but I refuse to accept a medicalized life, and my determination only deepens with age. As the time that remains to me shrinks, each month and day becomes too precious to spend in windowless waiting rooms and under the cold scrutiny of machines. Being old enough to die is an achievement, not a defeat, and the freedom it brings is worth celebrating.
~ Barbara Ehrenreich
(Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer)
A year after my cancer surgery it seems like a good time to mention a book that tumbled into my life at just the right moment. After my brush with a life-threatening illness, the ideas set forth in Barbara Ehrenreich’s book, Natural Causes, make a whole lot of sense to me.
I spent many years carting my mother-in-law, my aunt and my father around to those “windowless waiting rooms,” getting test after test, some of them downright painful. My aunt finally put her foot down and proclaimed, “Whatever I’ve got, I’m taking it with me.”
She lived to be 103 in spite of refusing all the standard tests recommended for her in the last years of her life. When she died, it was from an infection. After accepting treatment for a day or two, she finally refused treatment for that, too.
Nothing ever came of those countless tests.
In my own case, because my mother died of breast cancer, I have submitted to many “required” mammograms and wound up with three false positives, causing weeks of anxiety. Now I refused to have any more. At this point in my life I am old enough to die, and if I wake up one morning and feel a lump in my breast, so be it.
The endometrial cancer I wound up getting? Well, there is no screening for it. Irony.
Fortunately I’ve found a general practitioner who understands my feelings and treats my “urgent problems” without pushing me into a “medicalized life.” Barbara Ehrenreich’s book has all the facts and figures I needed to convince me that as a culture, we are indeed killing ourselves, or at least making ourselves miserable, in order to live longer. All these expensive, invasive tests have not increased our lifespans.
Therefore, I have chosen to enjoy spending whatever time I have left to me without borrowing trouble.
Home again… After almost two months in North Carolina helping out with the arrival of Finn we are finally back in Connecticut, savoring memories and looking forward to the holidays. I already miss playing with Katherine and snuggling with Finn every day.
One of the many delightful things that happened during my visit was discovering Carolina wrens. I’m pretty sure it was one in particular that kept singing outside my window. And another male answering from a bit farther away. Identifying their territories presumably. Then one day while I was sitting on the couch and cuddling Finn I saw the little bird out on the porch singing the familiar tune. Now I could identify him! I’ve never seen one in Connecticut. The afternoon before leaving I was washing dishes under the open kitchen window when the wren landed on a bush right in front of me and sang once again. A lovely good-bye gift.