family treasures

“Bergaporten (The Entrance in the Mountain)” by John Bauer
(a guardian of family treasures?)

The real continuity, what we truly love and cherish, is not confined in the forms. And perhaps there is something infinitely freeing in letting all these relics go. Perhaps holding onto our family treasures is actually painful. Because we know deep down that we are holding onto dust. We are clinging to nothing at all. And yet, at the same time, it is beautiful to have things in my life now that were there in my childhood, things my mother and father cherished and touched, things they found beautiful.

Sometimes people feel obligated to keep family treasures that they don’t actually want. My mother was great that way. She told me repeatedly, “These are my things, from my journey, and you don’t need to keep any of them you don’t want.”

~ Joan Tollifson
(Death: The End of Self-Improvement)

a hemlock tree

4.25.20 ~ Woodlot Sanctuary, Stonington, Connecticut

On the last Saturday in April we took a nice walk through the woods at the Woodlot Sanctuary. It was the first time in the spring that we needed bug spray! We loved all the stone walls.

4.25.20 ~ sign of the times

Three lots totaling approximately 29 acres include a variety of habitats. Much of the central portion is upland forest featuring rocky outcrops and glacial erratics. The landscape shows a history of varied forestry practices over decades. It is now dominated by oak and beech with hickory, sassafras, and scattered evergreens as well, and offers an excellent understory of huckleberry and lowbush blueberry. The eastern border is comprised of wetlands that emerge into a brook that flows ultimately into Stonington Harbor; wetlands in the western portion drain directly into the Deans Mill Reservoir. The preserve is home to a variety of wildlife including several species which have special status in CT. Box turtles and spotted turtles have been found on the property. Red-shouldered hawks and broad-winged hawks are regular nesters as well.
~ Avalonia Land Conservancy website

4.25.20 ~ an inviting turn on the path

When we spotted the huge boulder below I was so surprised by what I found behind it. A hemlock tree! There aren’t too many of these beloved trees left in Connecticut because of the woolly adelgid infestation. You can imagine I spent a lot of time communing with this one.

hemlock tree trunk

It’s not easy to get to the lower branches. I remember getting a chair or a stepladder to help me get to the bottom branches so I could climb my tree.

underside of lower branches
looking up

For a child, the branches are nice and close together, making the climb feel pretty safe. I don’t think I could fit between those branches as an adult! After I grew up my mother told me that she couldn’t keep watching if she looked out the window and saw me climbing my favorite hemlock tree. But she never stopped me.

the bark

How do parents feel about children climbing trees these days? There are so many safety rules, like wearing bike helmets or harnesses in high chairs, that we never had when I was a child.

what a beauty

I would have loved to climb this hemlock! But it was so pleasant spending some time with it and touching it and appreciating its being. I hope it’s okay. I wonder how it survived. When you think of it, trees have suffered from their own pandemics over time. The deaths of my childhood hemlocks were very prolonged and painful for me to witness.

one of many stone walls
4.25.20 ~ princess pine poking through the leaves

We now have 86 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our town. Our county (New London) has 623 confirmed cases and 43 deaths. Still rising. But, I’m starting to feel a little bit of hope.

There’s a chance that hundreds of millions of doses of a potential COVID-19 vaccine could be available by early next year, Dr. Anthony Fauci, a key member of the White House coronavirus task force, said Thursday, even though the federal government has not approved a vaccine against the virus.
~ Brakkton Booker
(National Public Radio, April 30, 2020)

the best of now and here

“Spring in the Valley” by Willard Metcalf

I mourn no more my vanished years:
Beneath a tender rain,
An April rain of smiles and tears,
My heart is young again.

The west-winds blow, and, singing low,
I hear the glad streams run;
The windows of my soul I throw
Wide open to the sun.

No longer forward nor behind
I look in hope or fear;
But, grateful, take the good I find,
The best of now and here.

~ John Greenleaf Whittier
(My Psalm)

We now have 63 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our town. I cannot find statistics on the number of deaths, except by county. For my own future reference, our county (New London) has 498 confirmed cases and 31 deaths.

One model mentioned on NPR thinks June 9 would be a safe date to ease social distancing in Connecticut. Somehow, with these numbers still rising, I don’t think I will be ready to leave my bubble by then.

visit from a mourning dove

4.19.20 ~ mourning dove on my balcony

Mourning doves have been visiting me off and on since my mother died twenty-eight years ago. They seem to arrive when I could use a little encouragement. When I used to garden one would often sit near me and watch me as I worked. Once one walked with me all the way from my garden to the swimming pool in our complex. Lately one comes to sit on the balcony almost daily and coos for as long as an hour at a time. I find her company very comforting.

Sunday morning I decided to try to photograph her through the sliding glass doors and was thrilled with the results. She didn’t seem to mind posing. I know they are plain birds, but that’s exactly why I find them so beautiful! I love them the same way I love my gulls.

In this sad world of ours, sorrow comes to all; and, to the young, it comes with bitterest agony, because it takes them unawares. The older have learned to ever expect it.
~ Abraham Lincoln
(Letter to Fanny McCullough, December 23, 1862)

When I first read the Lincoln quote six years ago, after my father died, I remember thinking how true it was. When my mother died I was so young it came as a terrible blow and I needed therapy to work through the grief. By the time my father died it was no longer such a shocking experience. I deeply felt the pain of loss, but it wasn’t unexpected.

We now have 36 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our town. There are moments I feel terribly anxious about this. It’s starting to sink in that it may be be many months or even more than a year before it will be safe to visit our grandchildren again. As it stands now, I don’t think I will feel free from danger before there is a vaccine. But we are trying to make the best of it and even find a sense of humor at times.

I find myself wondering how my parents would respond to the coronavirus pandemic. I imagine they would probably be just as blindsided as the rest of humanity. But since Mother Nature sees fit to send me such a sweet comforter as this lovely mourning dove I will stay grateful.

It’s not true that life is one damn thing after another — it’s one damn thing over and over.
~ Edna St. Vincent Millay
(Letter to Arthur Davison Ficke, October 24, 1930)

4.19.20 ~ this might be my favorite pose

The Millay quote has been one of my favorites for a long time. It amuses me and helps me to laugh at the ironic situations I think I find myself in. The coronavirus pandemic feels unprecedented, and perhaps it is in my lifetime, but not at all in the history of the world.

In the trilogy Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset, the protagonist, Kristin, dies from the Black Death at the end. It’s one thing to read about plague statistics in history books, quite another to experience what it must have been like while reading the words of an excellent storyteller. It comforts me to know others have felt the same fear.

Being a highly sensitive child, whenever I would lament about the sad things happening in the world my father would sigh and advise me, “‘Twas ever thus.” When my mother was dying of cancer and my heart ached for her suffering he would gently remind me that “every creature struggles for life.” He was a naturalist and scientist who taught us compassion for animals and people, but also prepared us for loss. Whenever one of our pets died he would tell us to “remember the good times.” I am so grateful for the lessons he taught me.

4.19.20 ~ showing off her feathers

‘Twas ever thus — from childhood’s hour I’ve seen my fondest hopes decay, I never loved a tree or flower but ’twas the first to fade away.
~ Charles Dickens
(The Old Curiosity Shop)

the force of happiness

5.17.19 ~ bark of dwarf river birch, my garden

Such is the Force of Happiness —
The Least — can lift a ton
Assisted by it’s stimulus —

Who Misery — sustain —
No Sinew can afford —
The Cargo of Themselves —
Too infinite for Consciousness’
Slow capabilities —

~ Emily Dickinson
(The Poems of Emily Dickinson, #889)

5.17.19 ~ new leaves of our dwarf river birch

We planted this tree in our garden in the spring of 2014 and it has brought me so much happiness. Especially in this season, when the leaves come in and start competing with the bark curls for visual interest. When I open my kitchen shades each morning and see more and more green ~ pure joy. In summer it protects the kitchen windows from the harshest afternoon sun.

Yes, happiness is uplifting, and misery weighs us down, too heavy, impossible to carry alone. Grieving a loss is often a slow process, and might last a lifetime.

I count having the company of this tree as one of my many blessings.

living a life

image credit: pixabay

Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
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)

dinnertime

7.17.17 ~ great egret at Eastern Point Beach

While Tim & I were eating our supper at the beach last night we noticed a great egret fishing for a meal. After we finished I decided to see how close I could get to him for some pictures. He didn’t seem to notice me at all, his attention was so focused on fish in the water.

7.17.17 ~ great egret at Eastern Point Beach

Got it!

7.17.17 ~ great egret at Eastern Point Beach

The fish put up a good struggle but the egret kept at it until he got the fish in the right position to gulp it down.

7.17.17 ~ great egret at Eastern Point Beach

It was really over quite fast ~ my eye didn’t see as much as the “sports” setting on the camera was able to capture.

7.17.17 ~ great egret at Eastern Point Beach

I’m amazed he didn’t drop the fish at some point!

7.17.17 ~ great egret at Eastern Point Beach

Ready to swallow!

7.17.17 ~ great egret at Eastern Point Beach

And then it was gone. Followed by a quick sip of water…

7.17.17 ~ great egret at Eastern Point Beach

Since he was still studying the water I wondered if he was preparing for another strike or if he needed to wait a little to make room for more.

7.17.17 ~ great egret at Eastern Point Beach

My sister and I saw a great egret fishing at the beach back in 2013, but I didn’t have my camera that morning. This is the first time I got a picture of one with a fish in its mouth! I’m still bubbling with excitement. 🙂

For 32 years the concession stand at our beach was run by Bob & Pat Garcia, but sadly, Pat died this past April. We miss them terribly! Their foot-long hot dogs were inexpensive and very high quality. We always had one with sauerkraut on it. Someone else is running the stand now and we’re doing our best to get used to the change. The hot dogs and sauerkraut are not nearly as good. But last night we sampled a handcrafted hamburger and decided we could live with that and continue our summer tradition, slightly altered.

I haven’t seen my gull friend with the mangled foot this year, so that is making me a little melancholy, as well. But having a chance to photograph the great egret catching his dinner brightened my mood considerably. 🙂

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. ❤

fairy tale forest

“The Fairytale Forest” by Edvard Munch

All forests are one. … They are all echoes of the first forest that gave birth to Mystery when the world began.
~ Charles de Lint
(Pulphouse: The Hardback Magazine, Spring 1990)

The realm of fairy-story is wide and deep and high and filled with many things: all manner of beasts and birds are found there; shoreless seas and stars uncounted; beauty that is an enchantment, and an ever-present peril; both joy and sorrow as sharp as swords. In that realm a man may, perhaps, count himself fortunate to have wandered, but its very richness and strangeness tie the tongue of a traveler who would report them. And while he is there it is dangerous for him to ask too many questions, lest the gates should shut and the keys be lost.
~ J. R. R. Tolkien
(J. R. R. Tolkien’s Sanctifying Myth: Understanding Middle-earth)