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Saturation

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SATURATION

Nine hours of interstate and my car sloshes into the two muddy ruts that pass for a driveway. I step out into the rain expecting the usual scent of pine, but am instead blessed by a breeze saturated with lilac and lily of the valley.

I am early this year — I’ve never seen the lilacs bloom; never seen the lily fronds petaled with fallen apple and quince blossoms.

Birdbath with apple blossoms

It must have been raining for days. The bushes and trees hang heavily, and the ground is soggy beneath my bare feet as I traipse back and forth, back and forth through the wet grass, blue jeans rolled to my knees, carrying my cats, my books, my cooler, my clothes.

Unpacked, I return to the car and head to the spring in the glistening dusk. I drive slowly, windows open, and breathe.

And breathe.

Every small hollow is full of water and bursting with song. I’ve never heard the spring peepers here, either, and I swerve drunkenly to miss the scores of sex-crazed frogs leaping wildly across the road.

Across from the spring, bits of mist drift down the dark mountain and promise a heavy morning fog. Below, the Ashuelot River dances giddily along its banks dressed in decorative white foam, as if rushing to a rendezvous downstream.

I fill my bottles with fresh water and nature fills my soul with springtime scents and songs.

I am here.

 

 

Moving Van

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MOVING VAN:

My neighbor Van is moving. I was surprised to find myself fighting back tears yesterday when he stopped by to bid farewell. I have several real friends “on the hill” here in New Hampshire, but I’d considered Van more of an acquaintance — the guy who owns the pet cemetery down the road. I had not realized that I actually love the old fellow.

Over the years, I’ve spent countless hours sitting on the porch of Van’s little barn chatting about this and that, because that’s what folks up here do. This and that is front and center. Weather, wells, winters, tractors, pig slop, poison ivy . . . this and that.

Van occasionally beckons me inside the barn, a  country-style man cave, where he offers me a Budweiser and shows me his newest acquisitions, treasures like chicken-slaughtering implements, giant broken freezers that he’s going to fix one day, or burlap bags he’s stitched together to hold turkey feed.

We stroll in his garden and he points out what’s coming up and where the bugs have gotten to the squash and would I like some mint and basil? He shows me the latest improvements to his outdoor rainwater shower that he’s cobbled together from plastic pipe and a rusted industrial drum that once held God-knows-what.

Every week or so, I hear, “Anybody home?” and there he is at the back door, hands full of fresh eggs, cucumbers, and tomatoes. Occasionally he forgets I’m a vegetarian and brings me fresh bloody chicken breasts which I graciously accept and then quietly pass on to my other neighbors.

So that’s our relationship.

That, and politics.

Because here’s the thing: Van is a conservative. And not just a conservative, but a Trump-loving, NRA-supporting, “live free or die” New Hampshire conservative. The kind I’ve spent my entire environmental career fighting against. And I love him anyway. We tease each other, purposely provoke outrage, and shake our heads at our battling bumper stickers. And we laugh. Van has a glorious laugh.

Maybe that’s why I’m so sad that he’s leaving. In the time of trump, I wonder — will friendships like ours ever again be able to take root and grow?

My Friend

 

Wonder Woman, For Real

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WONDER WOMAN, FOR REAL

I met a remarkable woman yesterday, fittingly just after seeing the new Wonder Woman movie. I was standing in front of her in the checkout line when my great niece and nephew jostled past her, trying to get their last-minute acquisitions of peanut butter and jelly on the conveyer belt with the rest of our groceries.

“You guys, you’re being rude — apologize!” I demanded to no effect. “I’m sorry,” I said, turning to her.

“That’s OK,” she said. “I raised twenty-six foster children.”

“What??” I stopped arranging groceries and gave her my full attention.

“Yup, imagine having nine teenaged girls in the house at the same time. I was a single mom, too.”

I glanced at my nephew’s four teens, who always seem to generate a slight cloud of dust and a not-so-slight barrage of noise wherever they are, especially if food is in any way involved.

“Oh my God,” seemed the only appropriate response.

Me, after an average day with four teenagers

“Yup, I had a nasty divorce and I moved my three girls to a big farm in Maine with all kinds of animals and then started getting bonus children — I don’t call them ‘foster,’ I call them ‘bonus.’”

Twenty-six in all, she said, over five years. “Animals are the best therapy for abused kids,” she declared. “I had each each child choose one animal as their own. They had to do everything to care for it. It was great for them and great for the animals.”

I asked if she still heard from her grown “bonus” children.

“Yup, I’m a grandmother many times over,” she boasted. She was quiet for a few moments and then said, “Course, I couldn’t do it anymore. I don’t have the energy. I’m seventy-eight now.” She brightened. “I’m cooking for an assisted living group now and I love it. Best job I’ve ever had, and I’ve had plenty: I retired six times! Got the cooking job on my way home the same day I retired from my hospital job.”

I think at this point I was probably just gaping at her, wondering if she was about to shed her grey fleece jacket and reveal a Wonder Woman outfit underneath.

“I like to keep busy,” she said unnecessarily, and followed that with, “Someone told me I should write a book, so I did. Poems and rhymes, but every word of it is true.”

Surprisingly, I did not resent this as I often do when someone just tosses out, “Yeah, I wrote a book.” For an aspiring author who has spent years cycling through random ideas for a first memoir but has yet to land on a framework or theme, these can be hard words to hear. But from this woman, it was OK. If anyone deserves to have her name on a book, it’s her.

Advice From a Tree

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Today I am (supposed to be) rushing around, closing up the house for winter, hauling in the picnic table, cleaning out the frig, scrubbing toilets, vacuuming rugs, packing bedding and silverware in plastic to deter the field mice who generally move in for the winter when my cats and I depart.

I picked up my winter supply of New Hampshire honey and goats milk moisturizing lotion on the way back from Willa’s grave yesterday, but I forgot to visit the Post Office so I have to go back into town.

Today is also the deadline for sending in my sermon on gentleness (done, at last!) and I so, so want to be finished with all of this in time to watch the debate with my neighbor tonight!

All to say that I don’t have time to write, but I found this wonderful message from the Sierra Club that I thought you might enjoy.

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Dig your roots way down underground into the richest soil of life, hold on, and enjoy the view today!

Waiting for Willa

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Today I’m headed to Jaffrey, New Hampshire to wait for my muse. She often visits me at the grave of author Willa Cather.

Willa never meant much to me growing up, just a writer that my father liked, but I’ve developed a deep appreciation for her since writing an odd bit of memoir/biography about her in grad school. Our lives meshed in my mind. I tried to understand who she was, what motivated her, what she feared, why she wrote. I think she appreciated my respect and curiosity — bordering on obsession — and she has since come to live in my heart with my Dad.

So I’m off on my pilgrimage. The forty-five minute drive is glorious in the fall, even on a dreary day like today. I will sit on the stone wall that surrounds Willa’s grave and talk to her about my life, about my writing, about my aspirations, about my frustrations.

She listens. So does Edith, her life partner who is buried next to her.

And I’ll wait. Because Willa usually answers me. No kidding. And I need talking to, most especially about my writing and where it’s going. Or not going.

Here is the story of my first visit to her grave, taken from the grad school essay that I have yet to publish:

As I step into the Old Burying Ground and pull the gate closed behind me, I am completely alone. There must be a thousand monuments covering the hillside, and I wonder how Ill find Cathers grave. I begin wandering among the granite slabs, some standing askew, others lying broken in pieces. Small American flags flutter in a slight breeze, and a few polished stone obelisks reflect the setting sun. I read the worn names underneath patches of gray and green lichen: Spofford, Pierce, Worster, Brigham. A large square stone marker standing in the lowest corner of the cemetery catches my eye, and somehow, I feel certain its hers. As I walk toward it, I can see dozens of small rocks lining the top of the gray marker, and I know Ive found it. Admirers have left talismans to honor her. I realize its quite possible that my father made his own pilgrimage to this simple shrine during one of our stays at the farmhouse down the road.

Her grave is next to a low stone wall that marks the southwestern corner of the cemetery. Just outside the wall grow gnarled rhododendron bushes and towering pine, beech, and maple trees. The marker itself is about three feet tall and the same across. Around it is a small garden of impatiens, encircled by rectangles of cut granite. The sun casts shadow branches on the face of the gravestone, and I have to lean in close to read the words:

WILLA CATHER

December 7, 1876 April 24, 1947

THE TRUTH AND CHARITY OF HER GREAT

SPIRIT WILL LIVE ON IN THE WORK

WHICH IS HER ENDURING GIFT TO HER

COUNTRY AND ALL ITS PEOPLE

“…that is happiness, to be dissolved

into something complete and great.

From My Antonia

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A Trump-Free Day. Kind Of. Not.

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Finally a day where I’ve done what I was supposed to do! Except for the daily blog, that is. But here’s my offering, just under the wire. Day fifteen.

For purposes of mental health, I’ve committed to creating some psychic distance between myself and Mr. Trump, so I won’t be blogging about him. I spent the day in prayer & meditation, reading the Bible, and working on my sermon.

OK, OK, I checked for new political polling a couple of times, and yeah, I read a few articles about the implosion of the Republican party. And yes, I did check Twitter to see what his fans were saying about his latest escapades. (Wow, do they live in la-la land.) At any rate, I did not spend the majority of the day musing about Trump. Only some. A little.

This evening I’ve been making phone calls on behalf of the Democratic Senate candidate up here in New Hampshire, and that feels good. It’s a super-close race and it’s nice to actually be doing something productive.

So as I say, I won’t blog about Trump. I will just share a psalm that particularly struck me this morning, which has nothing to do with Trump. Absolutely not a thing.

It’s Psalm 52: 1-7

Why do you boast of evil, you mighty hero?

    Why do you boast all day long,

    you who are a disgrace in the eyes of God?

You who practice deceit,

    your tongue plots destruction;

    it is like a sharpened razor.

You love evil rather than good,

    falsehood rather than speaking the truth.

You love every harmful word,

    you deceitful tongue!

Surely God will bring you down to everlasting ruin:

    [S]he will snatch you up and pluck you from your tent;

    [S]he will uproot you from the land of the living.

The righteous will see and fear;

    they will laugh at you, saying,

“Here now is the man

    who did not make God his stronghold

but trusted in his great wealth

    and grew strong by destroying others!”

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Please note the little box in the lower right-hand corner of the blog: click to register to vote.

Day fifteen: daily blogging pursuit

Recovering From My Social Media/Trump Addiction

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RECOVERING FROM MY SOCIAL MEDIA/TRUMP ADDICTION

I’ve decided to take another fasting day from social media and Donald J. Trump. Yesterday I got just a glimpse of what I’ve been doing to my psyche. I felt as if I’d been set free from an abusive imprisonment after just a few hours away from Orange Man and his tweet-world.

I read the Bible, read a book called Courageous Gentleness, and took time for prayer and meditation and napping. I prayed for Haiti. Every five minutes, I would absentmindedly flip open the cover of my laptop and see written in pencil across the top: “How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.” (Annie Dillard.) Then I would close it.

Yes, I watched the VP debate, and then I and stayed up late watching pundits and tweeting about it. Not at all how I want to spend my life. I’m not even going to add to the ruckus by commenting on it here.

This morning I am journaling, which I neglect more and more as I get sucked into this social media/electoral addiction. I will share with you a few snippets from my first week here at my little haven in New Hampshire:

September 28

Arrived & well-settled at Quiet Hills. I took off Monday, watched the first presidential debate over pizza and wine at the Scottish Inn in PA and then made it here with an hour to spare on Tuesday evening before the Garrison Keillor show with E.

What a gift for story he has! It’s beautiful and touching. He started out just by humming a note and without using hand gestures or anything, he soon had the whole theatre humming it and then started us all in singing, “My Country Tis of Thee,” or whatever it’s actually called. Lovely. He went on for two straight hours, digression after digression but somehow tying it all together. No notes, all memory, flawless. He talked about the beauty of words and language, went from high-brow to low-brow, sonnets to limericks, funerals to urination. Remarkable.

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On the way home, E & I saw an owl standing by the side of the road (probably over an unfortunate mouse) and it took off and flew right over our windshield. I am here.

September 30

I’ve started my time up here not too well — too much computer, obsessing over political articles and polls. I’ve committed to post a blog every day while I’m here. Yipes. Tomorrow the calendar turns over its page and I can see the end of my time here already. Mustn’t think that way! I have three weeks left. Smile. What a stretch!

Kind of funky weather. Cloudy, rain possible for the next four days, in the fifties. Humid. Not good house-airing weather.

October 1

Honestly, I am the luckiest. Quiet, early evening. The sun sets twenty minutes earlier here than in D.C. — 6:30. It’s 5 now, tea time. (When is it not?) Want to light a fire, but I’m going in to town for a cello/piano concert at St. James.

I’m thinking about doing a story on Badger Balm. At the pizza party they hosted last night, I met Bill, the founder. I joked something about “All you need is a dream right? No work at all,” and he responded, “There are invisible forces at work.” What a fun interview that would be! KInda want to do it, pitch it, and get it published in one of those “good news” magazines. Lot of work, but it would be good to get back into practice. Know what? I have the chops for this.

October 4

Dearest Book, how I neglect you! That dreadful laptop takes all my attention. Today I am fasting from it, and hence from Donald Trump. This morning I checked polls (Hillary 72% chance of winning) and headlines: Trump & Hillary stuff and nonsense and a massive hurricane hitting Haiti right now. Really, God? How much farther into the ground can those poor people be driven? I read that they don’t want to evacuate because their few belongings will be stolen. Hard to fathom. I am so grateful to have been to the slums of Nairobi so that I can *begin* to fathom and empathize. Prayers.

I have kept my commitment to blog every day. Not even sure why. I thought it might get my writing muscles moving each day, but it clearly peters out and turns into wandering the internet and falling into social media.

So very ugly in the Twitter world. I fear for my country. Such contempt & disdain & viciousness. I felt it from the Hillary people when I supported Bernie; now I feel it from the “still Bernie” people because I support Hillary. And the Trump people, OMG. It’s like a bunch of sociopathic middle schoolers have taken over adult Twitter accounts.

Afternoon:

Oh, this is *so*  much better! I can’t believe I’ve been living like that, trapped inside my computer, held hostage by mental busyness. I was mistaking that for life. I’ve read the Bible some, written prayers for church after reading the upcoming sermon, and read a bit of Frederick Buechner. 

I note in my gmail that there’s a debate going on about race and police on my Facebook page, but I have not clicked to see what’s up. Have at it. I think it might behoove me to turn off the modem. Gmail is also unhelpful.

Oh! There is the sun on green-gold maples leaves out the window! And that sweet goldfinch song. And a pileated! It’s been drizzly and dreary for days, but we’re at the beginning of a nice stretch.

I have a candle lit, signifying my intention to be present to Jesus, and I’m going to meditate now. Sweet.

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Day Eight in my daily blogging adventure

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