white flowers of the night

mykolapymonenko-ukrainian-night-1905
“Ukrainian Night” by Mykola Pymonenko

But here there was not a sound, and the air was scented with the white flowers of the night. It was a night so beautiful that your soul seemed hardly able to bear the prison of the body.
~ W. Somerset Maugham
(The Moon & Sixpence)

Night, the beloved. Night, when words fade and things come alive. When the destructive analysis of day is done, and all that is truly important becomes whole and sound again. When man reassembles his fragmentary self and grows with the calm of a tree.
~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
(Flight to Arras)

blossoms and bluebird babies

6.10.17 ~ Connecticut College Arboretum ~ mountain laurel

So… there were other treasures waiting to be discovered while we were on our long hike Saturday. In 1907 the mountain laurel, a lovely native American shrub, was designated as the official state flower of Connecticut. They are just starting to blossom and we saw loads of them.

6.10.17 ~ Connecticut College Arboretum ~ wild geranium, another native wildflower

I was raised by the melody
Of the whispering grove
And learned to love
Among the flowers.
~ Friedrich Hölderlin
(Odes & Elegies)

6.10.17 ~ Connecticut College Arboretum ~ eastern blue-eyed grass, another native wildflower
6.10.17 ~ Connecticut College Arboretum ~ ferns and saplings filling the edge of a meadow

Now, the staff at the arboretum is keeping a meadow open for habitat for several kinds of animals and birds. They also erected several bluebird houses and we did see a few bluebird parents feeding their young ones. They were moving too fast to catch on film but I did manage to get a few shots of a baby waiting for the next food delivery from its folks.

6.10.17 ~ Connecticut College Arboretum ~ bluebird and orbs

These shots were very hard to get because they were taken from so far away. I didn’t have a tripod to stabilize the camera and the zoom lens. I climbed a bank on the side of the trail, through a thicket of plants and saplings, and then leaned one arm on a tree to steady my grip, trying to avoid the gypsy moth caterpillars. (I wound up bringing at least one tick home – I hope I won’t find any more…) Even though I had to delete most of the shots I took it was a thrill to get home and find that these three came out!

6.10.17 ~ Connecticut College Arboretum ~ bluebird and orbs

Sing strong and clear, O bluebird dear!
While all the land with splendor fills,
While maples gladden in the vales
And plum-trees blossom on the hills:
Float down the wind on shining wings,
And do thy will by grove and stream,
While through my life spring’s freshness runs
Like music through a poet’s dream.
~ Maurice Thompson
(The Bluebird)

6.10.17 ~ Connecticut College Arboretum ~ bluebird and orbs

I love all the orbs I captured, along with that adorable little bluebird head. My guess is that it will fledge soon.

6.10.17 ~ Connecticut College Arboretum ~ mosses and grasses

We were just thinking of turning around and retracing our steps when Beverly was beckoned by yet another tree growing through the rocks. So we left the path and carefully navigated our way through uneven terrain of rocks and bushes. I found a spot to take the picture. More orbs!

6.10.17 ~ Connecticut College Arboretum ~ tree with orbs
6.10.17 ~ Connecticut College Arboretum ~ looking up the same majestic tree

After finding our way back to the trail I finally put away the camera, took a long drink of water, sprayed on some more bug repellent and enjoyed the long walk back, hands free.

deep in the woods

6.10.17 ~ Connecticut College Arboretum

On Saturday afternoon my sister and I did some hiking in the uncultivated part of the Connecticut College Arboretum. It was like being in the woods we played in and rambled through as children. We encountered a doe along our path, she stopped short when she spotted us and then darted off sideways into the woods.

6.10.17 ~ Connecticut College Arboretum

Nature — sometimes sears a Sapling —
Sometimes — scalps a Tree —
Her Green People recollect it
When they do not die —
~ Emily Dickinson
(The Poems of Emily Dickinson, #457)

6.10.17 ~ Connecticut College Arboretum ~ gypsy moth caterpillar, an invasive forest pest from Europe

When I was at the doctor for a check-up last week he said it seemed like he was treating nothing but rashes from these little villains. Why do people even touch them, I wondered? But they can dangle from invisible threads and I was startled when I walked right into one. No rash, so far…

Death is like the insect
Menacing the tree
Competent to kill it,
But decoyed may be.

Bait it with the balsam
Seek it with the saw,
Baffle, it cost you
Everything you are.

Then, if it have burrowed
Out of reach of skill —
Wring the tree and leave it.
‘Tis the vermin’s will.

~ Emily Dickinson
(The Poems of Emily Dickinson, #1783)

6.10.17 ~ Connecticut College Arboretum

For some reason I am drawn to trees that seem dead, but sculptural, and yet still have a few green leaves up near the crown. Sometimes dying is a very gradual process.

6.10.17 ~ Connecticut College Arboretum ~ this feels like a carefully composed still life to me

And this, our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.
~ William Shakespeare
(As You Like It)

6.10.17 ~ Connecticut College Arboretum ~ roots

One will see roots while looking down (photo above), of course, but also when looking up (photo below). The tree below decided it could grow sticking out of a rock face, high above the ground. There must have been just enough soil between the layers of rock for it to sustain itself. Maybe it is strong enough to move the rock some to give the roots more space.

6.10.17 ~ Connecticut College Arboretum ~ tree growing out from between two layers of rock

One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.
~ William Wordsworth
(The Tables Turned)

6.10.17 ~ Connecticut College Arboretum ~ ferns and mosses on the rock face

Ferns (above) with visible roots growing on the rock face. Plenty of moss to soften the surface, too.

6.10.17 ~ Connecticut College Arboretum

A tree (above) seems to have been blown over in a storm and left with a large cavity between its roots and the rock below. Stones and boulders, dumped by receding glaciers eons ago, are so ubiquitous in Connecticut and it seems the trees have no choice but to grow above, below, around and between them.

6.10.17 ~ Connecticut College Arboretum ~ two more of Emily’s “scalped” trees
6.10.17 ~ Connecticut College Arboretum ~ a stone benchmark?

I wondered if someone might have set this stone deliberately pointing up as a benchmark for future hiking adventures. It’s amazing to contemplate that these stone walls deep in the woods once surrounded fields and pastures in colonial days. Farmers used the stones cluttering their land to build the walls but in the end, growing crops was difficult. Many eventually abandoned their homes and headed west for better farmland. The woods slowly came back and claimed the landscape once again.

a point of connection

6.2.17 ~ Eastern Point, Groton, Connecticut ~ great egret by Timothy Rodgers

The camera is an excuse to be someplace you otherwise don’t belong. It gives me both a point of connection and a point of separation.
~ Susan Meiselas
(Whitney Museum of American Art: Handbook of the Collection)

6.2.17 ~ Eastern Point, Groton, Connecticut ~ black-crowned night heron (?) by Timothy Rodgers

One evening last week Tim took the camera down to the beach and the salt pond and came home with these beautiful shots! I’m pretty sure the bird above is a black-crowned night heron, but if I’m wrong I hope someone will correct me…

6.2.17 ~ Eastern Point, Groton, Connecticut ~ swan by Timothy Rodgers

The swan, like the soul of the poet,
By the dull world is ill understood.
~ Heinrich Heine
(Early Poems, Evening Songs)

6.2.17 ~ Eastern Point, Groton, Connecticut ~ swan and cygnet by Timothy Rodgers

When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.
~ Ansel Adams
(3000 Astounding Quotes)

6.2.17 ~ Eastern Point, Groton, Connecticut ~ double-crested cormorant by Timothy Rodgers

Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still.
~ Dorothea Lange
(Ancestors in the Attic: Making Family Memorabilia into History)

6.2.17 ~ Eastern Point, Groton, Connecticut ~ courting pair of double-crested cormorants by Timothy Rodgers

living by voices we shall never hear

5.19.15.6701
5.19.15 ~ Neu-Anspach, Germany

We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature, and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.
~ Henry Beston
(The Outermost House)

Farewell, Auntie Lil

Lillian Elizabeth (Chomiak) Rioux (1915-2016)

Last autumn we lost our aunt, who lived to be 101 years old. The various stories behind the above drawing presented a puzzle for us but after comparing memories we finally decided that the sketch was probably drawn on one of Auntie’s cruises. She kept it hanging above her bed for as long as I can remember, flanked on either side with the senior high school pictures of my sister and me.

Following is the obituary I wrote for the newspapers:

Lillian Elizabeth (Chomiak) Rioux, 101, of Storrs, Connecticut, died on October 27, 2016, at Mansfield Center for Nursing & Rehabilitation, after a short illness.

Lillian was born on January 30, 1915 in New York City, the daughter of the late William & Katherine (Fusiak) Chomiak, both immigrants from Ukraine. She married Leo Oscar Rioux on November 30, 1934 at Montville, Connecticut. Her husband died on June 5, 1957, leaving her a widow for 59 years. Lillian was predeceased by their two sons, Leo Adrian Rioux (1936-1984) and Lance William Rioux (1950-1979).

Lillian was also predeceased by six siblings, Mary Riback, Jon Stephen Chomiak, Augustine Chomiak, Augusta Jean Hereth, Olga Chomiak, and Theodore William Chomiak. She is survived by her sister, Ludmila Sabatiuk of West Virginia, her grandchildren, Leo Rioux, Jr. of Montville and Sarah James of Tennessee, seven nieces and nephews, four great-grandchildren, and a great-great-grandson.

Lil was a graduate of Norwich Free Academy and was a seamstress employed at Hendel Manufacturing Company in New London for many years. She was a long time resident of Montville and later moved to Juniper Hill Village in Storrs to live closer to her brother. An avid traveler, beach bum and shell collector, she loved to sew, cook, grow orchids, do jigsaw puzzles and work with her hands.

A memorial gathering will be planned for next spring. Memorial donations can be made to Mansfield Town Senior Center, 303 Maple Rd, Storrs, CT 06268.

We had our memorial gathering for her on May 6, spreading her ashes on the graves of her parents and her husband and two sons, as she had directed. My Aunt Em read to us her memories of Aunt Lil’s earlier years.

Grave of Aunt Lil’s parents, William Chomiak (1882-1965) & Katherine Fusiak (1887-1943), Comstock Cemetery, Montville, Connecticut

Every year on Memorial Day, my father would drive Aunt Lil to these two adjacent cemeteries, so she could plant geraniums in front of the headstones, each one a different shade of red or pink. When my father could no longer drive, my sister and brother-in-law stepped in to take her. As he has been doing for years now, John once again planted the geraniums that meant so much to her, this time with family spreading ashes and telling stories.

Grave of Aunt Lil’s older son, Leo Adrian Rioux (1936-1984), St. Patrick Cemetery, Montville, Connecticut.

The story Auntie told me was that it was not permitted for her to be buried in the Catholic cemetery with her husband and sons because she never converted to Catholicism. But she married a Catholic and had her sons baptized in the church. It was her wish to join them in the cemetery by spreading her ashes on their graves.

Grave of Aunt Lil’s husband, Leo Oscar Rioux (1913-1957), and their younger son, Lance William Rioux (1950-1979), St. Patrick Cemetery, Montville, Connecticut.

At the last grave Tim read a poem my sister Beverly wrote in memory of Auntie for the occasion.

They were worker’s hands, never soft, never still.
It took me fifty years to catch them, hold them, keep them safe and warm.
A thousand times I watched them go:
knit and purl
peel and chop
turn the pages
stir the pot.

If hands could talk what would they say?
It took me fifty years to hear them, know them, find out how they spoke.
A thousand times I felt their love:
show and tell
hug and pat
acts of kindness
pet the cat.

I’d come to love her knobby hands
that always showed me what to do.
How those hands have touched my life!
They’ve one more job before they’re through:
stitch and mend
my broken heart.

~ Beverly Chomiak
(Her Hands)

Then we all went to eat at one of her favorite restaurants, Old Tymes in Norwich, finishing the meal with dishes of Auntie’s favorite black raspberry ice cream. ❤

impaired executive function

Most people on the spectrum have some level of executive function impairment, but how that impairment impacts our lives can vary greatly from person to person.
~ Cynthia Kim
(Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate)

The most fascinating aspect of autism that I have encountered so far is the idea of impaired executive function. It’s not something that usually gets listed with other features of autism and I had no idea what “executive functioning” could possibly mean.

Executive function is a broad term that refers to the cognitive processes that help us regulate, control, and manage our thoughts and actions. It includes planning, working memory, attention, problem solving, verbal reasoning, inhibition, cognitive flexibility, initiation of actions, and monitoring of actions.
~ Cynthia Kim
(Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate)

I have trouble with all these things! I’ve long considered myself to be inept, clumsy, absent-minded and inflexible — to think how long I’ve desperately tried to force myself to be flexible and easy-going. Even my children tried not to spring things on me, not wanting mom to get hopelessly flustered.

It’s difficult for me to finish a chore if it has too many steps. Sometimes I have to write down each and every step if I want to have any hope of getting the job done. Lists are my friends, I think.

Driving is overwhelming because there are too many things going on to pay attention to. I use my left foot for the brake because the right foot is for the gas pedal. One foot can’t seem to handle two different assignments. When I finally got my driver’s license at the age of 21 the person who tested me decided to pass me if I promised to work on using the one foot for both pedals. He said if I used both feet I would get mixed up and push the wrong pedal sometimes. Now I am glad I didn’t listen to him because I have never gotten the pedals mixed up doing it my way. Now I know why — my brain works a little differently.

I also have many difficulties with problem solving. Often it just doesn’t occur to me that doing something a bit differently would be faster or more effective. And very often I don’t even recognize a problem until someone points it out to me. (I do appreciate the helpful hints, by the way, humble being that I am.) And sometimes when trying to do something familiar in a new setting or at a different time or with different people I simply freeze. In fact freeze is my automatic response when faced with the anxiety of a fight-flight-freeze situation.

When I was a child we often went to visit my widowed aunt who needed my parents’ help with home maintenance and yard work. She always had a stack of gift catalogs — like Harriet Carter, Lillian Vernon, Carol Wright, Miles Kimball — but I called them problem-solving catalogs. My parents never had these fascinating resources! While Auntie was cooking a Sunday dinner I used to study them carefully, amazed at all the clever gadgets people invented to solve problems I never imagined existed!

Something more recent now… I have two tall bookcases with glass doors that I need to move to finish painting the living/dining room. I wanted someone to help me by standing on the floor while I stood on a chair and emptied the top shelf, handing them the items to put on the table. I wanted to do it this way because I didn’t want to have to keep getting up on and down off the chair. That’s pretty much how I always tackled the problem but when I was younger there was always a child available to help me out.

Then one night about a week ago I was sitting on the couch looking at them and it suddenly occurred to me that I could take things off a lower shelf and then move the things off the top shelf onto the lower shelf while still standing on the chair. I was amazed at my sudden and unfamiliar brilliance! Why didn’t I think of this years ago?

What is unusual here is that I figured this one out by myself. To do things my way is usually tedious at best. Most of the shortcuts I’ve learned over the years for doing housework have come from how-to books or from friends and relatives pointing things out to me. I still remember how enlightened I felt when my aunt told me about felt circles I could stick to the bottom of the kitchen chairs to muffle the loud noise they made when moved across the floor. Who knew?

Frustratingly, an executive function deficit is not something you can fix by simply trying harder. Often, other people will look at the symptoms of impaired executive function and assume the autistic person is lazy, spaced out, or disorganized. If only they would make more effort, everything could be fixed. In fact, I think most autistic people — including me — think this of themselves at times.
~ Cynthia Kim
(Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate)

making sense of my life

lesserury-woman-at-writing-desk
“Woman at Writing Desk” by Lesser Ury

If I could, I would always work in silence and obscurity, and let my efforts be known by their results.
~ Charlotte Brontë
(The Life of Charlotte Brontë)

I’ve acquired many labels in my sixty years: highly sensitive person, introvert, obsessive-compulsive, painfully shy, homebody, bookworm, social phobia, agoraphobia, chronic depression, chronic migraine, chronic anxiety. But none of them got to the crux of the matter more definitively than autism.

Feeling like an odd-duck for all of my life I started suspecting autism (or Asperger’s syndrome) a few years ago. Little hints in the occasional magazine article. (Caring for elderly relatives for most of my adult life I’ve spent countless hours in medical and hospital waiting rooms reading magazines.) But last October I read an autobiography written by someone who had been been “diagnosed” late in life. His experience compelled me to read a few more books on the subject. And then a few more. My curiosity finally led me to consult with a neuropsychologist who confirmed my suspicions in December, one month shy of my 60th birthday.

Talk about a paradigm shift! The news actually came as a huge relief. So many things about my life until now are finally making sense.

It can be harrowing to see life through the surreal lenses that warp and tangle and convolute the most simple of activities; activities that the neurologically typical consider ordinary, things like shopping and driving and studying and keeping a job and paying bills and visiting with friends. It can be sad to find that no matter how deeply committed the effort, tenuous results may be all that follow.
~ Liane Holliday Willey
(Pretending to Be Normal: Living with Asperger’s Syndrome)

Reading the above quote for the first time deeply resonated with me. I’ve often tried to figure out how most people can simply hop in the car and run out to the store. For me it is a major and exhausting expedition that needs careful preparation and planning and a lot of recovery time afterwards. I’ve never been able to explain why this is to anyone — and still can’t. For me, so many things don’t respond to the ‘practice makes perfect’ philosophy. Now I know why. Now I can make the allowances I need without feeling so badly about it.

No doubt I will be writing more about this astonishing discovery in the coming months.

my ancestors’ souls

“A Lady Reading” by Gwen John

Moreover, my ancestors’ souls are sustained by the atmosphere of the house, since I answer for them the questions that their lives once left behind. I carve out rough answers as best I can. I have even drawn them on the walls. It is as if a silent, greater family, stretching down the centuries, were peopling the house.
~ Carl Jung
(The Earth Has a Soul: The Nature Writings of C.G. Jung)