Iduna: Keeper of Apples

“Brita as Iduna” by Carl Larsson

According to Wikipedia: “In Norse mythology, Iðunn is a goddess associated with apples and youth.” Iðunn is “a keeper of apples and granter of eternal youthfulness.” (Idun, Iduna, Idunn, Ithun, Idunna)

A few words following about October and apples, which we are enjoying daily since we went apple-picking last weekend. Nothing like crunching into a juicy McIntosh fresh from the tree! An old saying keeps popping into my head: an apple a day keeps the doctor away.

Now’s the time when children’s noses
All become as red as roses
And the colour of their faces
Makes me think of orchard places
Where the juicy apples grow…

~ Katherine Mansfield
(Autumn Song)

There is no season when such pleasant and sunny spots may be lighted on, and produce so pleasant an effect on the feelings, as now in October. The sunshine is peculiarly genial; and in sheltered places, as on the side of a bank, or of a barn or house, one becomes acquainted and friendly with the sunshine. It seems to be of a kindly and homely nature.
~ Nathaniel Hawthorne
(The American Note-books)

When my father was a boy growing up on a New England farm during the Great Depression, his family picked as many apples as they could and stored some of them in a barrel in the root cellar. Of course he ate as many as he could while picking them, but his parents had a rule about the ones in the barrel he found exasperating. If anyone wanted an apple later in the fall or winter, he was required to take one that was the least fresh. By the time they got to the fresher ones they had also become much less fresh! So all winter he was having to make do with eating not-so-great apples. If only he had known he might have called on Iduna to keep the apples fresher longer!

To appreciate the wild and sharp flavors of these October fruits, it is necessary that you be breathing the sharp October or November air. The outdoor air and exercise which the walker gets give a different tone to his palate, and he craves a fruit which the sedentary would call harsh and crabbed. They must be eaten in the fields, when your system is all aglow with exercise, when the frosty weather nips your fingers, the wind rattles the bare boughs or rustles the few remaining leaves, and the jay is heard screaming around. What is sour in the house a bracing walk makes sweet. Some of these apples might be labeled, “To be eaten in the wind.”
~ Henry David Thoreau
(Wild Fruits: Thoreau’s Rediscovered Last Manuscript)

“Apples & Leaves” by Ilya Repin

in a flower bell curled

New London, Connecticut
lilium medeoloides, taller than Janet
7.2.10 ~ Connecticut College Arboretum
New London, Connecticut

Now the meadow was full of flowers and dragonflies and we really enjoyed our few minutes there, but the sun was hot and we longed for the cool shade again. So we left the meadow on the other side, and wandered through the woods for a while until we stumbled across the woodland garden we found in May. No Cheshire cat to host us this time, and no other visitors. There wasn’t as much blooming as there was on our earlier visit, except for tall meadow rue, wild leek and lilium medeoloides. But the rue and lily were so lovely they more than made up for the lack of other blooms!!! In the picture above, Janet is examining an insect who was busy devouring the lily’s leaves.

lilium medeoloides ~ 7.2.10 ~ New London, Connecticut
lilium medeoloides
lilium medeoloides ~ 7.2.10 ~ New London, Connecticut
lilium medeoloides

The woods were made for the hunters of dreams,
The brooks for the fishers of song;
To the hunters who hunt for the gunless game
The streams and the woods belong.
There are thoughts that moan from the soul of pine
And thoughts in a flower bell curled;
And the thoughts that are blown with the scent of the fern
Are as new and as old as the world.

~ Sam Walter Foss
(A Trail for All Seasons: Wisconsin’s Ice Age Trail in Words & Pictures)

7.2.10 ~ New London, Connecticut
tall meadow rue
7.2.10 ~ New London, Connecticut
wild leek

I will be the gladdest thing
Under the sun!
I will touch a hundred flowers
And not pick one.
~ Edna St. Vincent Millay
(Afternoon on a Hill)

On our way back to the exit we spotted a cactus with a few yellow blooms left on it! And, yes, we then headed for Ruby Tuesday again for those luscious strawberry lemonades! Looking forward to Shakespeare-in-the-Arboretum next week…

7.2.10 ~ New London, Connecticut
prickly pear cactus

natural internet

7.2.10 ~ New London, Connecticut
contrast of bright sunlight and shade for a mushroom
7.2.10 ~ Connecticut College Arboretum
New London, Connecticut

Every time I see mushrooms I think of Paul Stamets and his theory about mycelium, “the vegetative part of a fungus consisting of a mass of branching thread like hyphae.”

I see the mycelium as the Earth’s natural Internet, a consciousness with which we might be able to communicate. Through cross-species interfacing, we may one day exchange information with these sentient cellular networks. Because these externalized neurological nets sense any impression upon them, from footsteps to falling tree branches, they could relay enormous amounts of data regarding the movements of all organisms through the landscape.
~ Paul Stamets
(Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World)

7.2.10 ~ New London, Connecticut
7.2.10 ~ New London, Connecticut

I first read about Stamets a few years ago when I was waiting and skimming through magazines at my aunt’s dentist’s office. The idea of the earth being conscious was something I already believed in and the article I was reading mentioned something about the connections between fungi physically resembling the neurons in human brains. I was captivated and ordered his book that night. At some point I found a talk he gave on TED, 6 Ways Mushrooms Can Save the World.

7.2.10 ~ New London, Connecticut
tree with burl

I have to admit that I began reading the book but couldn’t continue because it was scientifically way over my head. I brought the book to my Dad, the microbiologist, and my brother-in-law, the botanist, and they devoured it and were impressed by the theory as well. My brother-in-law commented that the idea was in line with what they were researching when he used to work at The New Alchemy Institute, before it evolved into The Green Center.

But I digress and must return to our walk. Yesterday I was having a lot of trouble organizing the post and accidentally published it before I was done. Wasn’t sure if I could un-publish it without deleting it so I decided to call it a day.

Janet and I kept leaving the trails in pursuit of getting a closer look at some of the more unusual trees. The first one had a benign tumor, or a burl. The burl could have been caused by an injury, infection, or an unformed bud gone haywire. Any of these things can trigger the cells to grow excessively and unevenly, leaving it with unique shapes and ring patterns. Woodworkers and artists often find creative ways to use the patterns found in burled wood.

7.2.10 ~ New London, Connecticut
close-up of burl

We saw a lot of poison ivy and thought we did a pretty good job of avoiding it. But it would seem I got zapped somehow and within 48 hours broke out in a mild rash. Apparently as we age there is a tendency for the reaction we get to be less severe, which seems to be what is happening with me. Benadryl is keeping the itch pretty tolerable. One thing is puzzling though, the rash is on my neck and arms. I’ve had it on my neck another time – four years ago after we attended outdoor concerts two nights in a row at the amphitheater in Saratoga Springs, New York. We were in the woods but stayed on the sidewalks. On our way home the rash broke out so I went to the walk-in clinic here and they said it was poison ivy! Such a possibility had never entered my mind.

I wonder why it broke out on my neck that time and this time, too. The only other time I’ve had it was when I was a kid and it was all over my face and arms. That time I could logically trace it to the fact that I had been crawling around on my hands and knees playing hide and seek in the bushes at a picnic. It was a crummy way to start the summer, and it was much worse than this episode.

7.2.10 ~ New London, Connecticut
a closer look

Janet noticed a tree which seemed to have four or five trunks reaching up from the main trunk. So off we went to get a closer look, leaving the trail behind us – somewhere…. Goodness knows what we were walking through…

Still can’t figure out what was so mesmerizing abut this tree. I just had to touch it. It has a very strong energy and I bet we couldn’t find it again if we were required to. (I’m still looking for another tree I saw there last winter…)

A Murmur in the Trees – to note –
Not loud enough – for Wind –
A Star – not far enough to seek –
Nor near enough – to find –
~ Emily Dickinson
(The Poems of Emily Dickinson, #433)

After meandering around, not really that lost, we spotted a bright sunny clearing beyond the trees! So we forgot about locating the trail again, and headed off to discover what we might find in a  summer meadow. Maybe dragonflies?

7.2.10 ~ New London, Connecticut
a glimpse of a sunny meadow

The meadow chapter of the story will have to be put into the next post…

He walked and he walked, and the earth and the holiness of the earth came up through the soles of his feet.
~ Gretel Ehrlich
(Legacy of Light)

sultry midsummer

6.20.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
dewdrops of grape leaf ~ 6.20.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

Yesterday Bernie and I went for another walk… It was so clammy outside, though, that after he did his business he decided not to take his usual trek through the woods. All the greenery was drenched with moisture even though it was early afternoon. He headed for the fenced-in garden (to keep the deer out), a place I rarely enter.

6.20.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
Bernie meditating? ~ 6.20.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

Once inside the enclosure he sat very still by the fence for what seemed like an eternity. The sun was beating down on me and I was getting restless. So I began to suggest that we move on, but Bernie ignored me completely. I found a shady spot and took a peek into my brother-in-law’s little greenhouse. Bernie still hadn’t moved. So I ventured into the greenhouse to satisfy my curiosity…

6.20.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
inside the greenhouse ~ 6.20.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

After poking around I peeked outside and Bernie was still lost in contemplation. I sighed. It was so muggy! He looked over his shoulder and decided to move. Yea! But as soon as we left the garden he plopped down on a small spot of semi-shaded bare earth… This outing was so strange, he rarely sits or lies down when he’s outside! Maybe he’s grounding himself, I thought, and decided to lay down near him and annoy him by taking eye level pictures…

6.20.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
Bernie grounding? ~ 6.20.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

After this Bernie decided to go back inside, where my brother-in-law was installing the window mounted air conditioners. Phew! Even Dad was hot, and he’s “always” cold.

Dad and I watched a little opera on TV. The word “doge” popped up in the subtitles. “Doge?” asks Dad, so I reached for the dictionary. It might seem a little weird, but Dad and I both love etymology and looking things up is still a pleasure he can enjoy with my help.

(Doge = chief magistrate in the republics of Venice and Genoa, Latin and Italian)

When the opera was over we switched to golf. The ocean scenery at Pebble Beach made him recall the one time he stuck his toes in the Pacific Ocean. With the air conditioning now doing its job it was turning into a nice Father’s Day. Dad also told me about the one time he ever played golf. He was having a stroke of beginner’s luck when the guy who invited him to play got mad and quit the game.

Then we got a huge thunderstorm! I opened a door to see outside and took the picture below, which I’m guessing is mostly raindrops, but I think I see a couple of orbs in there, too. Or maybe they’re all orbs? The camera was not out in the rain. That will have to be a future blog.

6.20.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
orbs during thunderstorm ~ 6.20.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

Later, when it was time to go, I discovered a gift that Thor or Mother Nature left on my car.  🙂

6.20.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
after the thunderstorm ~ 6.20.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

Happy Midsummer!!!

Fathers Day

~ Papa and me ~

Tomorrow is the 100th Anniversary of Fathers Day, a day set aside to honor and remember our fathers and forefathers. This year music is on my mind.

My father discovered his passion for music when he heard Woody Guthrie on the radio for the first time. He learned how to play the guitar as a young man and when I was little, apparently I loved to dance when he was singing and playing. Dad also taught himself how to play the piano, and many nights I fell asleep to the soothing sounds of his simple tunes. We had Peter, Paul & Mary records in the house, and his favorite piece of classical music is Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.

~ me ~

I look at the picture of me next to my father playing his guitar, and even though I don’t remember that far back, I somehow think that this is where it all began. My love of troubadours playing their guitars and singing their own songs… My dad’s gift to me.

My paternal grandfather was twenty-eight years old on the first Fathers Day, and in this country only a year. He was a Ukrainian immigrant who bitterly regretted coming to America. He lived with us until he died, when I was in third grade. I have no memory of Pop ever showing us any affection. He spent his days cutting and clearing the brush in the woods around our house. My sister and I were afraid of him because if we bothered his neat piles of wood he would furiously wave his axe at us and shout at us menacingly in Ukrainian. I suspect it was a good thing that we had no idea what he was saying.

So… I was very surprised several years ago, when my father happened to mention one day that when his father was a young man in the Ukraine he crafted his own fiddle and played it at the weekly dances in his village. (I wonder if this was what attracted my grandmother?) It gave me a new dimension of his personality to consider…

John Philip Sousa

The difference between a fiddle and a violin? There’s really no difference, but the old saying is that the violin sings and the fiddle dances.

My adored maternal grandfather was five years old on the first Fathers Day. I wonder how his family celebrated the new holiday? Oh the questions we never think of asking until it is too late! He played the trombone and his favorite musician was John Philip Sousa. When Grandfather was a young man living in New Canaan, Connecticut, he played the trombone in a marching band and he often spoke of those days as some of the happiest ones in his life. It was always a treat when he pulled out his trombone to play a few notes for us. When he hummed he even sounded like a  trombone!

Woody Guthrie

As Dad slips further into dementia I am happy for the days we spent listening to Woody together. I gave him The Asch Recordings, a box set of 105 Guthrie songs. We also watched at least four different Guthrie DVDs over the past few years. Good memories for both of us…

I’m looking forward to seeing my dad tomorrow. I hope he will be having a good day, but even if he isn’t we will make the best of it. Play some music… Talk about the things he can remember…

more waiting

Mid-May I started re-reading The Master of Hestviken tetralogy and this morning I finished the last volume, The Son Avenger. (see Changing Perceptions) My reason to begin reading it again was that I remembered loving the descriptions of the natural surroundings and the inner thoughts of the characters living in medieval Norway. Or so I thought. What stood out quickly to me in the first volume, this time around, was all the waiting Olav & Ingunn had to do to get matters settled so that they could finally be together.

In my “Eternally Terminal” post I commented on the waiting again, and connected it to the waiting theme in my current life situation. Little did I realize that the theme would keep coming around again and again in the four volumes. Waiting. Some things cannot be rushed.

Like many of the other characters, Olav was not to have a quick or easy death. He had a stroke and could no longer speak or use one side of his body. His son and daughter-in-law did their best to care for him as he lingered on for a few years. When Olav felt his death was near he struggled, inch by inch, to drag himself outdoors near dawn one morning without his family hearing him. He wanted to see the fiord once more. He finally climbed high enough to find a spot where he could see the water and the sky and be with nature. The next two paragraphs took my breath away:

The immense bright vault above him and the fiord far below and the woods of the shore began to warm as the day breathed forth its colours. Birds were awake in woods and groves. From where he lay he saw a bird sitting on a young spruce on the ridge, a black dot against the yellow dawn; he could see it swelling and contracting like the beats of a little heart; the clear flute-like notes welled out of it like a living source above all the little sleepy twitterings round about, but it was answered from the darkness of the wood. The troops of clouds up in the sky were flushing, and he began to grow impatient of his waiting.

He saw that all about him waited with him. The sea that splashed against the rocks, rowan and birch that had found foothold in the crevices and stood there with leaves still half curled up – now and again they quivered impatiently, but then they grew calm. The stone to which his face was turned waited, gazing at the light from sky and sea.

What a profound moment of intense awareness… It reminded me how when playing in the woods as a child I never felt alone, sensing and delighting in the energy of the trees, my friends. I now feel I was led to read this book again so I could pick up on this message about waiting. Patient waiting is definitely not one of my strong points! I’m impatient for my father’s suffering to end.

I’m also impatient for menopause to arrive, because I’ve been assured, by older women who have been through this and by my neurologist, that my hormonally triggered migraines – and they are the worst of them – will disappear. Every time I go several months without a period my hopes climb a little higher, only to be dashed as they were yet again last night.

Both these things I wait so impatiently for are part of nature. Maybe like Olav I can learn to become more aware of all of nature waiting with me. To let nature calm me down and soothe my frustrations.

Poor Olav. When his family discovered him missing they came looking for him and when they found him unconscious they carried him back to his dark little bedroom and there he died a couple of days later. They meant well…

eternally terminal

5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
wheelchair ramp built by my son and my brother-in-law ~ 5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

Whenever I make the hour drive north to sit with my father, I use the time to listen to my iPod play list, set on shuffle. It’s kind of like drawing cards, I listen for messages in the string of songs it “selects” for the day. Since I have 1,328 songs on my “car” play list, there is always something “new” to contemplate. Or, if Dave Matthews’ The Best of What’s Around comes on (I have fourteen versions of it, including studio demos and live performances), I might hit the repeat button again and again to energize myself with the sentiments expressed for dealing with an often discouraging situation.

Yesterday I started connecting some dots… Last week I wrote about changing perceptions and mentioned the tetralogy by Sigrid Undset, The Master of Hestviken, a story about the lives of Ingunn and Olav, set in medieval Norway. I mentioned all the waiting the characters had to do. This week I started and finished the second book, The Snake Pit, and started the third, In the Wilderness.

5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
woodland garden ~ 5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

I’ve noticed that most of the blogs I like to read have a theme or a focus, like art, history, nature, photography, places, poetry, quotes, writing, etc. And at times I feel left out because I can’t seem to find a theme for my blog. Others seem to have more time to pursue their interests, careers and dreams. But at this point in time my energy is focused on waiting!

Last month, when writing about the volcano in Iceland I observed that years ago people used to respect the power of Mother Nature and they did their best to live in harmony with it. It seems like today we are determined to carry on with our plans with no regard whatsoever for the weather, the seasons, the climate, or natural disasters.

5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
dianthus ~ 5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

Well. Isn’t dying a part of nature? Doesn’t it sometimes take a very long time to die? Am I doing my best to live in harmony with this reality? In The Master of Hestviken, when a character became incapacitated or gravely ill, his or her family would take turns “watching with” the one who was bedridden. Sitting by the bedside of a dying loved one was an honor and not considered a waste of time. Surely other pursuits were neglected and other plans put aside, but that was the way it was done. Even if a person lingered near death for years, like Ingunn did at the end of her life.

So I think this will be my focus, what I think about and what I observe around me as I “watch with” my father. Emotionally refreshed, I arrived at the house my parents built themselves when I was a preschooler, and went inside.

5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
captain’s bell ~ 5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

After greeting everyone, I went to use the bathroom. I couldn’t help noticing next to the toilet what appeared to be a plunger made out of a silver-toned metal. Huh?? Could not comprehend what I was looking at… So I picked it up to move it out of the way and it started ringing very loudly! It was a huge bell!! It struck me so funny – what on earth was a bell doing next to the toilet? The more I laughed the more it clanged and I heard my sister asking, “What is she doing?” and then my brother-in-law teasingly inquired, “Do you need some help in there?” Haven’t laughed so hard in ages!

Turns out it is Dad’s new bell to ring when he’s alone and needs someone. The little bell he had previously just wasn’t loud enough to wake anyone up and it was getting to be too hard for him to pick up and grasp. Beverly found this “Captain’s Bell” somewhere and now he’s back in business.

Now that I had arrived my brother-in-law took off for parts unknown and the grocery store. As he is the primary care-giver, a trip to do errands and go food shopping is a real break for him that he enjoys. My sister had been up much of the night with Dad, so she went upstairs to take a nap. And I brought Dad’s bell back to him and began “watching with” him. We talked for a little, he’d ask about the book I was reading and I’d tell him a bit about it and then he’d fall asleep. Twenty minutes later he’d wake and ask another question and then he’d fall asleep again.

5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
Bernie ~ 5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

After a while, the cat, Bernie, started yowling to go outside. Dad suggested I take him for a walk in the woods, so I did, knowing that monstrous bell would wake my sister if he needed anything. Bernie and I had a splendid walk! I had hoped to encounter Harriet, a wild turkey hen who has been hanging around lately. I think we heard her, but I couldn’t see her.

5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
spruced up space to store canned foods ~ 5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

Something else was new in the house. My parents had always used space between the studs in the wall of the stairway going down to the basement for storing canned goods. I did a double take as I walked past the opened basement door. My brother-in-law had dry walled and painted the stairway and added shelf paper under the cans! I thought of Kathy’s ‘playing with your food’ blog and snapped a picture of it.  🙂

In the evening we were all amused by the antics of two adorable baby red squirrels who couldn’t figure out how the adult red squirrels made the jump from the tree to the bird feeder. No good pictures – they’re fast little things!

The joke in our family is that Dad is eternally terminal. (Fear not, he finds this very amusing coming from a family with a delightfully dark sense of humor.) His “little” sister, who is 80, came to visit him from Maryland last week. She says he’s like a potted plant. Every time it seems to be almost dead it revives with a little watering and/or plant food. Maybe he’s a succulent. There’s no way of knowing when the end will come, but I feel a little more settled now about making the best of whatever time there is remaining, the best of what is now. “Watching with” Dad.

5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
potted succulents on stone wall built by my dad ~ 5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

It Might Get Loud

Storytellers… I love listening to musicians and writers talk about their lives and the creative process. Last night we watched It Might Get Loud, a documentary about electric guitarists Jimmy Page, The Edge and Jack White, representing three generations of great music. All different in their approaches yet appreciative of each other’s experiences.

Jack White, The Edge, Jimmy Page

Some of the clips featuring songs from Jimmy Page’s Led Zeppelin brought back memories of listening to the radio as a teen in the 1970s. The Edge’s stories about the strife in Northern Ireland tugged at the heart. And Jack White, the youngest of ten children, is such a quirky, inspiring and intense personality. (Yes, I’m a fan!) I used to read the lyrics from White Stripes album notes to my elderly father, who loves music but vehemently objects to electric guitars. Dad loved the lyrics and said they sounded like they would be great for the messages on the inside of greeting cards.

My patience was rewarded at the end of the movie, when they collaborated to play and sing The Weight by Robbie Robertson.

Take a load off Fanny, take a load for free
Take a load off Fanny,
And… and… and… you can put the load right on me.

Watching, I could not help making comparisons to a writer’s forum we went to a few years ago when Kurt Vonnegut was still alive. He was on stage with Joyce Carol Oates and Jennifer Weiner, again three generations, discussing how they go about writing. Following are Tim’s thoughts about that night:

It was interesting that the older the author the less they used technology. Kurt Vonnegut bemoaned not being able to find a typewriter and more, and on the other end of the spectrum Jennifer Weiner has a blog and uses her computer exclusively  It was fascinating also the differences in how they viewed the creative process. Kurt said he just did it for the money and that delivering a manuscript to the publisher was like getting rid of a large tumor. Conversely, Joyce said that she feels the words flow out of her and that she has to stop now and then and remind herself that there were other things in life besides writing. Jennifer seemed to have fallen into writing, but was neither pained by it nor obsessed by it.