Tuesday, April 27, 2010

hummingbirds and orchids

The picture attached is a painting by Martin Johnson Heade.I am struck by the lovely pink of the orchid and the fuzziness of the background.This is a quiet,restful painting and it brings to mind the hot summer of 2007 that I spent in Georgia hosting 13 hummingbirds.

It was wonderful to watch them swirl and dive towards the two feeders that I put out.I had to clean and replenish those feeders every day and eventually,I looked foward to their departure to Mexico or Peru where someone else would take care of them.More than likely they would find jungle flowers to sustain themselves.

What has always surprised me is the way a hummer will come back to the very spot where the feeder was although now nothing is there.How do they remember?They always manage to arrive before I have even thought of putting the red feeders out.

That year,all but two left for points south.I thought the two would never leave but I did have more time between cleaning and feeding.Two things happened that year that caused me to be concerned for these tiny birds.

One lodged in the screen of our porch and I had no idea what to do.Is the beak strong enough for me to poke it out?He flapped and whirred frantically before getting loose.The other close call happened when a spider web in my garden began to swing madly back and forth .I looked and something large was caught and the spider was already starting to wrap the body up.How awful for a hummer to die that way.Closer inspection revealed the body belonged to a cicada who would die soon anyway.I left them alone.

The hummer in the picture is very still looking towards the other bird.I know they are at their winter feeding ground,my yard looks nothing like this .I do have honeysuckle and they seem to favor the yellow flowers of the bougainvillea raintree but they are only temporary here.I am sure they prefer the jungle.If I move will they still come?

This painting suggests languid heat ,muted color and peace.I rest in its beauty with the orchids and hummingbirds.

dinner with Linda

Last night, we went to our favorite Chinese restaurant to discuss my husband's Ghana trip and other things.The last time we were there we met the owner's daughter who is ten.Her name is Linda and she had told us about this boy who keeps poking her on the bus.We advised her Mom to tell the teacher.

We found out that the teacher is now keeping this boy under control.Linda's mother told her to tell us.Well, I burst out laughing when she pulled up a chair and joined us for dinner.We chatted and she showed me her favorite book .She is going to be a scientist.We also found out that her father was very poor in China and that Linda's older two brothers speak very little English.This means that Linda, at ten, is the family spokesperson,because her parents speak very little as well.

Well, "the best laid plans" as they say...we spent the evening with this talkative, sweet girl and had a bunch of laughs.She is very bright and wanted to know why my husband was drinking a beer.Didn't he know that it would make him walk sideways? She then demonstrated to our amusement.

When I go to the Salvation Army for used books this week, I know I'll be looking for a kid's book for Linda.A new friend in an unexpected place.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

listening benches

It's been cool and breezy in Helen,Georgia where I have spent a few days in solitude.I love that word.April is a good time to come up to the North Georgia mountains as there are few tourists.

Today, I drove to Anna Ruby Falls.From the parking lot,it is a quarter of a mile hike to the viewing area and it is quite steep.The rhododendrons haven't bloomed but there are wild violets of deep purple and white,feathery white flowers called foamflowers and some trillium with reddish purple flowers.It was an invigorating hike and the crashing falls, two of them, are things of beauty.

On the trip back to the car, I took pictures of the stone benches that are next to the trail.I thought, these are poet's benches where you can waste time,muse and try to paint a picture with words of what you see around you.The enormous ancient trees shading the trail, the hemlock somehow growing out of a huge boulder,the wildflowers adding color to the grey and brown of the hillsides,the sound of the water rushing over the rocks.

As I went to my car, I noticed a separate trail along Smith Creek.This trail was placed by the Lion's Club.It is a path for the blind.At the entrance, a metal board has Braille and English messages welcoming walkers.There are posts down the trail that hold a thick metal cord that a blind person can follow.It takes them along the trail and here and there, a plaque in Braille will suggest that the person lean down and touch the log to his left. He will be told that this was a chestnut that used to grow profusely before the blight killed most of them.Another sign suggested that the walker touch the bark of the tree behind the plaque and see how smooth it is and this is a beech.What stuck me however, was the sign that suggested the walker step 4 paces back.He will find a bench where he can sit and enjoy the sounds.It's called a listening bench.How marvelous.A bench to sit and just listen.

Then my mind went off wandering as it does and I thought that there should be listening benches in every major town and city but for a different reason.This would be a place to sit and someone would listen to you.A volunteer listener would be assigned to be there for a couple of hours a day in case someone wanted to talk.Everyone would know about the benches and where they were and anyone who needed to unload would come by;especially the elderly and shut-ins.They would be brought and given a volunteer's undivided attention for however long it took.What a gift.

I know what you're thinking.This is crazy and dangerous and they'll be lawsuits.I know.If there can't be listening benches then the next time someone is talking to me, I'll pretend to be on a bench and give them my undivided attention.A small gift.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

a small white hand

My first memory is of a small white hand being thrust under the green lake water in my direction.We were in Winsted,Connecticut on a dock at my aunt's house and I am four years old.I don't know where my parents were.I had leaned over the lake too far and fallen into deep water.The person on the other end of the white hand was my sister who reached down and pulled me up.She was eight years old.

Before she died in 2008, I sent her a card with an angel on the front and thanked her for saving my life.We weren't speaking and hadn't for four years but I think she read it.I told her that she was a hero because at that young age she could have easily just run to get my parents.Instead, she acted.

When she was in the hospital ,I went to see her.My husband and niece stood outside the door in case screaming started.All she said when I entered was ,"Oh."I took her hand in mine and refused to let go until it was time to leave.It was a different hand, cold as marble,and if I had held it for a week it wouldn't have warmed.Her heart was failing.

My sister left us on December 13, the feast of Saint Lucy whose name means "light" and I think of the sunlight that shone through the green water that day in Winsted and the hand that was the only one around to save me.

Monday, April 12, 2010

loving the languor of lakeland

My sister,mother and I are surrounded by luggage on the platform at Penn Station in New York City.We are about to board the East Coast Champion for a two day train ride to Florida.It is the middle of the school year and it's either January or February.I am 6 years old ,my sister, almost ten.My mother's double pneumonia is not clearing up so we are headed for warmer climes.We will not see my Father for months.I have no idea if I welcomed this change or not.

My childless aunts and uncles live in Lakeland,Florida and that is our destination.This city is in central Florida and when we arrive we will be enrolled in a Catholic grammar school and finish first and fourth grades there.I am a stranger in a strange land.

The sisters at the school are delightfully mellow .We have hot lunches every day ;I can still see rice and gravy.Since the teaching is behind where we were in the school up North, we find school relaxed and very easy.Conversation with new friends is slow and comfortable.People smile alot.The attached picture shows our first day of school and another liberation;we don't have to wear uniforms!

At that time, the city aerated the water supply to purify it.This was accomplished by shooting it into the air and to my eyes, this display looked like wonderful fountains.I was enchanted.

Lakeland is so named because there are over 38 lakes in the city and I recall 3 of them ;Lake Bonny,Lake Parker and Lake Beulah.They must have been the ones closest to my aunts' houses.They are fraught with terror,these lakes, as every year a few people disappear ,grabbed in a careless moment by alligators.On Long Island, where we live, there is no place that a six year old could pass or be near where a 15 foot creature might leap at you to devour your body.And yet, this danger is part of the wonder of being dropped down into another world.

Palm trees speak when the wind hits their fronds.The pink and purple bougainvillea
take over trellises and red hibiscus grow everywhere.The highways are lined with pink or white oleander.Spanish moss hangs from the tall trees and sways in the breezes. And if you have never driven passed an orange grove in full flower,you must stop everything and head South.The scent is subtle, rich and unforgettable.

My relatives are patient and so kind.As I type ,something I hadn't thought of surfaces.They don't drink ,so neither does my Mother.The people you sit down with at breakfast are the same ones that show up for dinner.Nothing has happened to change them into surly,slurring aliens.In the evening there are no arguments, just canasta under the whirring fan on the back porch, with my dear aunt saying, "Oh boys,"each time she gets a bad hand.This is a languid land ,dreamy ,colorful and slow; I blossom there.

What I felt about going home is lost to my memory but I think I carried the colors,easy smiles,warm days,the ease of it with me.When my husband said we were moving to Georgia from Denver in the '70s,it felt right.Moonlight through the pines has replaced oleander and the sun is on kissing terms with the earth.Always on my mind.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

missy and I by the sea

We walk slowly up the sandy path bordered by petunias that catch the breeze.It is our first day in our new home, these cottages at Saintes-Maries.They are small and not too rich in windows ,in my view ,but we are as happy as kids.We have come here to write and to be.

Saintes Maries is noted for being a meeting place for gypsies and that is what we are.Missy is my alter ego.My writing leans to the serious ,hers is full of humor and wonderful insights.We met at Bellsouth Mobility in 1996, where we struggled to satisfy irate customers and wrestled with emotionally unbalanced employees.Not a day would go by that we didn't dash into each other's office,shrieking,"You're not going to believe this!"She got me through.

Missy is about twenty years younger than I and we met when her son was 6years old. She brought his youth into my life with pokemon cards and beanie babies.

Missy is the perfect friend.She reads my stuff, makes me laugh, is a spiritual being and knows it and she posseses the whimsy that I lack.This is a friend that gives me children's books for my birthday because she likes them and they turn out to be such a joy.She loves the writings of Ferrol Sams and swooned when I told her he was my General Practitioner.I gained great friend status that day.When I gave her a book by Sams, she clutched it to her chest like the Grail.

On La Mer,where these cottages were in Van Gogh's time, we are going to get up early and have prayer time.Then, a lovely swim in our bikinis(not);after that refreshment, we will begin our 3 hour writing session at crude tables by the windows.The tables have to be crude and have uneven legs for the muse to be present.

Her room in the cottage will be neat except for the sand.Her desk will have little boxes of various shapes and sizes and underneath on a shelf will be old games.On the wall will be pictures of her 2 loves and her siblings and she will write of them often in various stories in different guises.Her favorite themes will be family and growing up.

On a shelf above her desk is her camera and her excitement at capturing the sea in all its moods will often be frenetic.I share her love of taking pictures so I see us racing down the beach over the dunes to get the first picture of the day,the sun coming up over La Mer.

I don't recall a single time in the years that we have been friends that we haven't gotten along but living together is another matter.When the lean ,tall beach boys come to call, (carrying Sangria)after noticing us on the sand ,we better have rules for sharing.Sorry, this is ,after all, fiction.

We will go to market,observe and collect stories.She will find humor and I, lessons.

Evening will find us at peace and feeling that a day of writing is a day well spent.
We will drift off to sleep with hopes of a vivid dream that will turn into a story.Everything is grist for the mill.

Bard,the owl

The first time I heard a barred owl was on the day we moved into his neighborhood by the Flint River.The floodplain behind our new house is thick with trees and it darkens earlier than does our back yard.That night...hoot...hoot..hoot came from the dark and it was more than a little frightening.What was that?

Today, I hear the owls calling to each other in the woods in mid-afternoon and they have become one of the many voices that sing to me of Georgia.The Cornell University Bird site notes that their numbers are increasing and I am glad to know that.This information would have been of little comfort on that sad spring day when my youngest son came back from canoeing to tell that in the woods he found a dead barred owl on its back with its feet cut off. This was so upsetting to him,the lover of all living things,the defender of snakes,the naturalist.

Was the bird killed for his feet? For what?This was 15 years ago and what happened perches in the back of my mind and festers there.And I didn't even see the poor creature.What I do recall is the utter powerlessness that I felt to say anything to make it better.To make sense of it.

I remember reading about a woman who wrote to a local paper advising that no one should look for the first robin of Spring because she had just found him shot by the creek.Why do people do these things? Look at those brown eyes encased there in that beautiful feathered head, all innocence and majesty.We are privileged to share space with such a wonderful creature.Do I hear an "Amen?"

Monday, April 5, 2010

that one moment

I have carried this memory around with me forever it seems; sometimes it is a small yellow stone heated by a warm fire and other times I look at it with mild suspicion.I am five years old and my mother is hanging the wash on a clothesline in the the back yard.I have just finished my cheese sandwich and I run out of the kitchen on my small legs.I want permission to go out to the front yard and beyond that to play.My excitement knows no bounds.It is a lovely spring day.The apple tree is awash in blossoms that fall like snowflakes when the breeze stirs.

My mother is in a house dress,those drab,cheap dresses that women wore before shorts and pants liberated our sex.Her hair is brown and permed and she turns as she hears me running up behind her. As she turns, she starts to smile in a way that can only be described as beatific and she says,"Sure and have fun",with a love that I cannot describe.As I turn to leave, I am floating above the ground,my shoes grazing the tops of the dandelions,my heart swelling.

I found this experience described in a book by Fae Malania ,"The Quantity of a Hazelnut", when she recalls an encounter with her great grandmother at a screened door on a blistering hot day in Southern Illinois.She was two at the time and kept what happened to her in her heart for all her years.She says.." I remember her presence, and a deep still happiness to be in her presence....so there was nothing else to do but look at her and grow in the warmth of her sun." Yes, that is it !

For many years, I inspected this moment;I turned it upside down and battered it with logic.The reason,I thought, that I remembered it so vividly is because it was so unusual.The usual was much less warming as my mother's unhappiness grew and she became a different person.The daughter who has taken child psychology classes,told me that a child's first memory is of the thing that is different ,unique.I suppose I was right in my judgement.And yet,the fact that I remember it 60 years later may be because it was perfect.

I have read that in order to have a belief in the transcendent ,a person must have experienced a numinous moment.There in the small grassy yard, in the shadow of the lilacs, I was smiled on by the Almighty.Cynicism is not a good fit for me in this Easter season when daffodils shout out yellow praise and birds call to their loves .So, I hold the warm stone to my heart as a gift and a promise of things to come.