Journal Reflections From New Hampshire

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My “journal snippets” are popular hereabouts, though I can’t think why: they are even more rambling than my regular blogs! Still, they couldn’t be easier to write, so here are thoughts from the first days of my autumn retreat to my little house in rural New Hampshire:

black and white quiet hills

Quiet Hills

Oct 2

Welcome, Mel! Welcome to a flooded cellar, no water, no heat, mildew on everything, and a dead mouse in the toilet. Very dead. But that was last night – this morning the cellar has drained, so I got to the water pump and now have water. The oil burner flooded out, though, and it’s not working. One thing at a time – at least I have a fireplace.

Oct 3

I’m feeling a little down and need to connect. Isn’t it funny that I feel as if I’m connecting to something, someone, in these pages? Is it me – my true self? God? The world? A future reader? This book is a friend, a true friend. What if it talked back? Would it give me advice? Would it say, “Now Mel, we’ve been through this before,” or some such thing? No, you feel safe and wise and welcoming, Book, like a dear friend.  You would say, “Are you OK? You look down today,” and I would answer, “I kind of am.”

Oct 5

I’m officially taking the day off, as Biff (my deceased brother) used to say when he was depressed. I will not try, and I will not feel bad about not trying. Read, write, maybe go to town for some food. Early dinner and a fire? Sounds good. I had to laugh – kind of – as I was sorting through stacks of books I got at the used book store last year and left up here. Too many books about grief! I’m enjoying digging through recipe books. Windy today.

Oct 6

Really, God? Really?? {Here I share a friend’s personal tragedy, another seemingly senseless and untimely death.} And another campus shooting – this one killed 9 in Oregon; the U.S. bombed a hospital in Afghanistan ON PURPOSE and doctors describe patients burning in their beds; landslide in Guatemala kills hundreds. Really, God? Really?? I feel like I should not come to NH – is it just because I’m alone here, or do dreadful things always happen when I’m here? My poor little human mind, frantically looking for meaning, patterns, reasons – isn’t there anything I can do? I must do everything in my power to bring love and kindness here. I must not waste what God has given me.

The beauty and the darkness are sometimes one and the same

The beauty and the darkness are sometimes one and the same

Oct 7

I’ve lit a beeswax candle and put on Baroque music. Tea. Filled the birdfeeder, took a hot shower, sat for a sleepy twenty minutes of Centering Prayer, had lentil soup & toast. Today is better. I scrubbed a little mildew, but mostly simply read. I haven’t written anything since I got here, and that will just have to be OK.

Oct 8

Lovely fall day, slept ten hours. I love reading the Bible. Today I will do what is pleasing to God. That is my goal. I love thinking about God, reading about God, writing about God. In the book of James, it says “Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you.” Today I will draw near to God and try to do what pleases Her. Take a walk in her lovely creation. That will help with the funk that’s been lurking in the shadows of the house. Lots of ghosts here.

Oct 9

I’m looking forward to Jeff & the kids getting here (nephew). Jeff doesn’t have to work, so he’ll be on real vacation. Nice drives through the foliage – yay! Plus, he’s up for the climate rally in Manchester, so I will really enjoy that – talking about the issues with the kids, making signs, chanting together. I have to laugh at how carefully I cleaned the house the first time the kids came, on the lookout for every sign of mouse, every speck of paint, every spider web. Now it’s like – OK, this rug was vacuumed 3 months ago, next?

Oct 11

The leaves are peaking here, very pretty. So a drive tomorrow is in order after the family arrives. Putney farmer’s market, Walpole ice cream? We’ll see…

A painting of Quiet Hills done by Great Niece #1

A painting of Quiet Hills done by Great Niece #1


Terror in Mexico, Hope in Paris



When the United Nations was founded seventy years ago, nobody but a science fiction writer could have imagined that human beings would one day threaten the very climate of the planet. Too ridiculous to think about. Yet seventy years later, the largest Pacific hurricane in the history of the hemisphere is roaring towards the coast of Mexico, set to claim the latest victims of climate disruption.

Larger, more frequent, and more intense storms – just as predicted. And, as it happens, 2015 is shaping up to be the hottest year in recorded history.

At the groundbreaking for the U.N. on October 24, 1945, U.S. President Harry Truman said that the challenges of the day were no longer “impersonal natural forces,” but human relationships. In the 21st century, the two have combined: human hubris and short-sighted greed have made natural forces very personal indeed. Just ask the victims of Katrina or Sandy.

Truman’s words that day are just as true today: “The real dangers confronting us today have their origins in outmoded habits of thought, in the inertia of human nature, and in the preoccupation with supposed national interests to the detriment of the common good.” He went on to say that the U.N. could promote “a spirit of reasonableness” that would address these challenges. He had hope, he said.

I want to have hope, I really do. It’s too late to stop Hurricane Patricia from slamming Mexico, but some scientists think we still have time, time for humanity to demonstrate “a spirit of reasonableness” and leave our great grandkids a habitable planet. I pray that’s so.

I don't have grandkids, but I have a nephew with kids and they are doing their part...

I don’t have grandkids, but I have a nephew with kids and they are doing their part…

At the end of November, world leaders will gather at a U.N. conference in Paris to – once again – discuss taking action to slow the climate crisis. Politics and corporate greed, much of it American, have colluded to stop meaningful U.N. action thus far. Secretary of State John Kerry says that this time, “failure is not an option.”

Except that it is. Corporate money talks.

For the love of God, and in honor of the Mexican people who will surely die in the storm tonight and in the flooding over the days to come (the only other category five storm ever to hit this area killed 1,800 people in 1959), can we please, please stop the madness?



“Where’s your happy place?” I am asked today.

Of course my answer is, “Right here, right now at my little retreat in New Hampshire.”

It's Real Here

Here, Now

And yet, if you read my journal over the past week since I’ve been here, you’ll see that “happy” does not always apply.

Oh, there are times of unspeakable joy, joy that God has even made such a place — and such colors! And joy that this is my little plot of land and that I can spend time here and write. Happy dance!

Still, it does seem that every time I get here, something dreadful happens. Mass shootings are common, landslides and earthquakes, young black kids being shot dead in the street, Robin Williams ending his life. This week, in addition to yet another mass shooting (thank you, NRA), two dear friends of mine lost their beloved nephew: A cheerful, promising twenty-two year old goes to bed and never wakes up.

Really, God?

I think the impact of such shocks and losses is exacerbated when I’m alone up here. I have friends that I see in town, and wonderful neighbors who welcome me into their families and often ask me to dinner. But mostly I’m alone, and I like it that way. I consider it my reward for being an introvert called to a very extroverted lifestyle. It’s my escape.

I can spend more time praying and meditating and reading spiritual literature when I’m here, and I’m better at living in the present moment than I am at home. Perhaps that’s why I feel more intensely, the happy and the sad. I’m more connected with God and with my true self and my true feelings.

Here, now, me.

But also, there, then, them.

Never Really Alone

As much as I embrace the present moment here, I am also immersed in the past, surrounded by ghosts. I’ve spent summer days here all my life, and the house is full of echoes and spirits, laughter and tears.

Of my grandmother, who bought the house in 1940 after her husband died in a dreadful fire at sea; of my Mom and Aunt Val, who painted and repaired and cherished this old place until they passed on; of tweedy uncles smelling of pipe tobacco and patronizing their sweet-smelling wives all dusty with face powder; of my cousin Averil who grew up in the house, died at fifty, and is buried under the apple tree out back.

And now of my brother Biff, whose active imagination bubbled over in this place, like a fine champagne released from its bottle. So many memories of him decked out in safari hats or top hats, red velvet smoking jackets or army uniforms, brandishing swords or walking sticks or African spears, and spouting Britishisms. One-of-a-kind Biff who could always, always make me laugh.



Always Room For Laughter

The memories can make me  happy, but there’s an undercurrent of grief in this place. I’ve always felt it. The fellow who lived here in the 1700s was kicked in the head by a cow and died. I think he still roams around, too.

My Mom stopped wanting to come here when she got old. Too sad, she said. But she didn’t like being alone — I do. I just have to take care of myself. When I get depressed or anxious (a remnant of Biff-grief that’s gradually lessening), I go out for a walk, or I light a fire and read one of the dusty antique books shoved into every nook and cranny of this house.

Life is real here; I’m real here. Happy and sad, sometimes both at the same time.

It’s surely a happy place when my nephew arrives with his noisy kids, which is happening this weekend. I expect there will be safari hats and African spears and Britishisms, because life goes on, silliness seems to be genetic, and this old house always has room for laughter.


So – where is YOUR happy place? Check out some others at this week’s photo challenge.

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