Signs of Spring

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signs of spring

It is an April evening sometime in the past, and I am standing outside on my back deck. The air is chilly, but it has lost much of winter’s cutting edge. As the light slowly fades, I am suddenly awash in waves of sound. It is the high-pitched trilling of the spring peepers.

Hallelujah, spring is here!

I’m a spring baby. My March 21st birthday falls either on or adjacent to the official first day of spring. But living in New England, I scoff at those who believe in Punxsutawney Phil’s February prediction, or even the date on the calendar. Spring’s arrival is much later and more nuanced than all of that.

In fact, long, hard experience tells me that waking up on my birthday means I’ll be facing another 4-6 weeks of winter. It often isn’t until late April or even early May that I can bear to shed the layers of wool, fleece, and cashmere that protect my neck, hands, and ankles from cold, outdoor air.

When spring finally does arrive, the first buds appear slowly, almost reluctantly, until they gradually gain momentum and then, like the peepers’ loud and insistent declaration, the season asserts itself all at once in a flush of cheery, Easter egg colors.

The earliest signs of spring have gained a more personal meaning over the twenty odd years I’ve lived in my house just west of Boston. Their yearly return has become a reminder of my own resilience.

It begins with the daffodils. When we first moved here, they were far from my favorite flower. Yet I’d dutifully buy several bunches of the straight, yellow-tipped stalks when they arrived at the office each spring during the American Cancer Society’s annual campaign.

I’d plunge them into a vase of water, set them on my desk, and pretty soon the buds would open into daffy yellow schnozzes that reminded me of mole snouts, or some exotic creature from Down Under.

Then, one September I bought some narcissus bulbs — their more restrained colors and less prominent proboscises made them seem more sophisticated than the lowly daffodil. I planted them alongside a patch of day lilies and promptly forgot about them.

That winter, I had a health scare that required an unexpected medical intervention in late March. A few weeks later, I noticed the dark green stalks of narcissus pushing up through the frosty soil. “Welcome to the other side,” they seemed to say. My shoulders relaxed and for the first time in many weeks, I believed that I’d be okay.

Six years later, there was another medical procedure — this time a surgery in early December, scheduled months in advance. Remembering how much the last batch of bulbs had meant to me, I bought an even bigger bag that fall, and planted them under a willow tree in full view of the kitchen window. The act was a promise to myself. I would make it through the tough winter to come and when the plants emerged from the ground, I’d be here to welcome them.

Eight years later, it is April again. A few weeks ago, I celebrated my 60th birthday, and right now I am standing outside on my back deck. Until just recently, the yard was knee-deep in snow. Today, however, I can see clumps of green shoots around the base of the old willow tree, and I strain my ears, eagerly listening for the opening notes of the peepers’ joyful chorus.

When I hear it, I’ll know. Spring is here.

daffssun

This post was written in response to An April Invitation at Women’s Voices for Change.

“Talking Art” with Photographer Reuben Radding

One bright spot in what has been a rather long and isolating winter was interviewing and writing about Reuben Radding — a photographer and musician who I met through my older son.

Reuben and I not only discussed his photographs, he also shared some hard-won wisdom about his goals for making art. He notes that the road to bitterness is paved with expectations that one’s work must follow a specific trajectory, and that failing to develop an audience beyond one’s fellow practitioners is a trap. With that understanding, his goals are clear-cut and simple,

“The core of my ambition is to make good work. To find an audience for it that feels genuine. I don’t care about fitting into a pre-established path.”

After a winter of taking my own “pretty” pictures of snow-laden trees, and looking at visions of human, culinary, and architectural perfection on social media, examining his work took me to a truer, more essential place.

At first, his images ask you to look, and then, they make you look again.

“Controversial Beauty, A Street Photographer Exposes the Urban Wilds,” Talking Writing, Spring 2015: Nature Tech.

February Whites

Oh, hello!

Have you seen Judith?

Looking_colorShe must be somewhere in all this snow….

Thereshe is!

Wait, I think I hear her coming!

Ahh, yes. Here she is!

Thank you Karina for keeping me cheerful in this snowiest of winters. As I write this, our house sits in a sea of snow. Two major storms two weeks in a row have left us with at least three feet of the white stuff.

The snow is so deep, we wear snowshoes when we take Karina for her morning walk. There have been some mornings when the temperatures have dipped into the single digits or lower, and it’s unsafe for even the pup to spend much time outside.

It was snowing lightly as we set out this morning, every twig refreshed by another layer of fluffy white. As I began snapping photos, I found myself warming to winter’s chilly charms.

grandebleu

blancdeblancthe way in_red

Rules of Engagement

IcedSmoke1

A few weeks ago, the dried blossoms on our smoke tree froze into spidery orbs of  ice. They hung from bare branches like fragile Christmas tree ornaments. And then, just like the real stuff, the iced smoke drifted away into the cold, steady, rain.

Life’s moments, whether they are filled with pure joy or something more complex and challenging, are just as precious and transitory as nature’s spontaneous beauty. Every one of them is worth noticing and savoring.

To notice, to savor, to argue, and, especially, to listen, are all acts of engagement. When we do those things through every kind of moment, even the ones that bruise our ego, or try our patience, they are also acts of love. I’ll do those things for my husband and sons every moment and for all time.

But, because I also love this world, there are moments I will no longer engage with. Those are ones taken up by voices that say we can’t or won’t make things better.

Instead, I’m turning up the volume on those who want to build, create, improve and are proud to turn their desire to save the world into action. That’s where my time is going in 2015.

When you think about all of time—past, present, and future—we each have only a few moments. And then, poof, they float away like an icy wisp of smoke in the rain.

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Apologies for the multiple postings. WordPress is not my friend today :-)

Cruising the Willamette with Henry and Bob

ice circle

It is an icy Monday morning here on the East Coast. Bundle up as I might (right now Karina and I are both under a down comforter) fingers, toes, and everything in between are in a constant state of chill. The days are short and dark, with occasional glimpses of sun. I could have named this post Frozen, after the movie, but let’s not go there.

Instead, let’s take a boat down Oregon’s Willamette River with our friend Scott and his able crew members, Henry and Bob.

two sailors

Here they are, two boat-worthy swains who hop right up on the gunwales and walk around. Following their example, landlubber Karina had no choice but to be brave, though she stuck close to the humans. Just in case.

brave Karina

Henry has the warm, welcoming personality you would expect from a super-sized golden retriever. Don’t let the grey hairs fool you, he truly is forever young.

Henry

Happy to be with us. Happy wherever he is, whether it was hanging out with Karina on the kitchen floor or following her nimble, mountain goat feet as she danced her way through the lush Oregon forest.

rest time

Log walkers

Bob’s is a quiet, somewhat mysterious, behind-the-scenes presence. He’d wander in and out of view, prompting the oft-asked question, “Where’s Bob?”

Once we landed on the beach by the river, he seemed to have disappeared altogether. Scott pointed to a black dust mop moving swiftly through the water just off shore. Who knew that dachshunds were such prodigious swimmers? A dog after my own heart, who swims to his own drumbeat, and who possesses the most noble of profiles.

noble profile_bob

Karina and I feel warmer already.

Thank you Leslie and Scott for a September weekend that will warm us for months to come. And, oh yes, thank you to a certain someone, who brought us together from her far away perch in Arles.

The NW Portland pack.

The NW Portland pack.

And speaking of canine friendship, please cross your fingers and toes for a friend of mine. She has been looking for the right dog for months and months. This weekend, we are checking out a pup who we hope is THE ONE. I’ll keep you posted, and thank you!

The Essence of Home

essence of home

Thanksgiving is this week. As we enter the 2014 holiday season, thoughts of home — the good, the bad, and the ugly — are inevitable. I hope that all of my readers are able to relax into their own sense of home, whether the feeling comes from reenacting old family traditions, or from creating something new.

Today, I want to share my just-published “Talking Art” column, inspired by the work of writer and urban forager, Marie Viljoen. In it, I explore what it means to create a home, whether it is a physical space or an image that you hold in your mind and heart.

To read it, please click here.

Fighting for the Light

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espalier_long

Last week we had an election. The results mean that those of us who view things like clean air and health care as basic rights are going to have to work harder and speak more loudly and clearly than we ever have before.

espalier_closeup

We have to wedge ourselves into the cracks, take root, and push through the wall of short-sighted self-interest.

breakingfree

Last week’s election results were dispiriting, but we can’t give up, we have to get through to the other side of that wall, and climb that fence.

Fence

Until we can light it up from the inside out.

lit from within

Camping at Alice Lake

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trailview

“Am I crazy?” I asked the approaching paddle boarder. “Not at all,” he said. “The water is the warmest it’s been all summer.” His white hair and British accent gave him an air of authority. I wanted to believe him, but my big toe told me that my concept of “warm” was a world away from his.

It was mid-September at Alice Lake Provincial Park in British Columbia. The air temperature was in the mid-sixties, and at 6 pm, the sun was on its way down. I was perched at the edge of the dock, dressed only in my Speedo. No heat to be found anywhere.

Still, I willed myself to take the plunge. I hadn’t been swimming in weeks, and I thought stretching my legs in the water would feel good after the day’s long hike. The paddle boarder disappeared and I was alone again. There was no one around to witness my bravery—or my lack of it.

I jumped in. As the icy water closed over my head, I was transported back to summer camp. Memories of night-time dips and swimming lessons in a lake rushed in as the scent of fresh water filled my nostrils. Gasping from the shock of cold water, I managed to swim out to the beaded line and then back to the dock. Not exactly the 20 laps or so I had hoped for.

Today, as I sit wrapped in wool at my desk back in Massachusetts, the memory of that aborted swim—undocumented and mine alone—and of the visceral, unexpected feelings and scenes from my youth that suddenly flooded back, fills me with joy and nostalgia over and over again.

The rest of our time at Alice Lake is a blur of blue sky, mossy woods, and the amputated stumps of mighty trees felled by loggers. In this case, however, I have documentation.

LakeTrail

stump_rusticMossy1stumpplanternotches

Mossy2

Back at the campsite, we ate salmon and vegetables grilled over an open fire with mashed potatoes. Dessert was s’mores.

Tent

After three nights in the tent, two longish hikes, and the aforementioned swim, we headed south, exhilarated and exhausted.

exhausted

Morning Walk

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color

Karina and I had some time alone in the woods this morning. It’s a dampish day, no actual rain but the air is full of water. That cushion of soft, gauzy air made me feel a bit wraithlike — as though I was wrapped in the spirit of the woods.

The two of us padded lightly over the leaf-strewn trail. Walk with us, will you?

herewego

deeper

We stopped, we listened, we noticed:

Soft grasses, and how their verticality matched the trees around them;

vertical grasses

verticals

the fragile nests of dew in the pines;

dewynests

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and the sound of water dripping and leaves falling. Can you hear it?

listening The muted colors created a bubble of calm all around us.

stone wall

bare limbs

And man-made totems added an air of mystery.

totems

With only the woods whispering in our ears, we were able to focus on the details. The cloud-filtered sun lighting up these copper-colored leaves, for example.transparent copper

Or the shine on these leaves — can you see it?

shine

This evening the air is set to turn colder and wetter, but I am still cloaked in the warmth of the everyday, extraordinary beauty of today’s morning walk. I’m letting those woodsy spirits nestle deep in my bones. They are my armor against the chaotic bluster of the winter winds to come.

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