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Autumn’s Red Plastic Ritual

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All summer, it’s a chore. Not a big chore, just something that must be done, like groceries and cat’s pans and mowing. It’s on the list.

But when the sun hits the equator to signal the start of Fall, which it does today at 4:44 p.m. EST, my chore becomes a ritual – sacred because it will soon be no more.

I pick my favorite pot, the small one that belonged to my roommate Eileen back in the seventies. I fill it with exactly two cups of water and watch as the liquid comes to a boil: round rolls that are at first full and viscous turn to thin bubbles snapping and spitting.

As the steam rises, I measure one-half a cup of sugar — honey-colored, raw, organic sugar — and pour it into the water, stirring with a well-worn silver teaspoon that belonged to my mother, the woman who taught me to love nature and to talk to animals.

I add a few ice cubes to the pot and set it by the sink where the red plastic containers soak in white vinegar and Dr. Bronner’s Magic Peppermint Castile soap, the scent of which graced every good hippie group home back in the day.

Hey, man — did you ever read this label? Far out, man!

Mom used Ivory Liquid.

I scrub the plastic with a toothbrush to remove every spot of dirt and mildew, rinse well, and then carefully pour in the sweet water.

By now the hummingbirds are hovering around their vacant feeding spots outside. They look puzzled, shiny heads tilting first this way and then that, examining the empty hanger from one direction, then buzzing over a few inches to see if things might look different from the other side.

It was here a minute ago.

“Coming, coming,” I say, as I moisten a paper towel with Avon Skin-so-Soft and wipe the tops of the feeders to repel the lines of ants that also await my return.

The red feeders are still dripping, and a sticky sugar trail trickles across the kitchen floor as I head out the door.

I never know which will be the last feeding, the last time I’ll see the hummers before their long flight and before my long winter devoid of their bejeweled company.

See if you can see her - she's looking directly at you!

Can you see her? She’s looking directly at you! (Click on it.)

nh2013 005.b

Is this fresh?

Fueling up for the flight

Fueling up for the flight!

Have a blessed Autumn!

Related Links:

http://earthsky.org/astronomy-essentials/everything-you-need-to-know-september-equinox

http://www.defenders.org/hummingbirds/basic-facts

Romping Write Through the Equinox

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Equinox approaches. The hummingbirds have entered kamikaze mode, frantically dive-bombing and bitching at each other as they load up on sugar for their astounding migration from my backyard in Maryland to Central America. Wouldn’t you think that given their insane metabolism, they would be designed to stay put? They don’t seem to store a gnat-worth of energy and have to suck nectar constantly. All that energy invested in endless migration! 

I had a boyfriend like that once. He thought that “settling down” meant being home in the fall and winter “when the kids are in school” and then taking his carpentry on the road for the rest of the year, leaving me with those imaginary kids. He poured his energy into gambling and darting from sweet flower to sweet flower…but I digress.

My point is that the shadows are slanting low, the leaves are beginning to fall, and it’s time to dig out my Fall Writing Plan. (I use CAPS so I’ll take it seriously.) The plan is captured on an Excel sheet, but also involves scraps of paper with colored inks, arrows and cross-outs. It consists mostly of revision, envelope-licking (gotta love literary mags with no online submissions), and assumptions of rejection. Here’s how it goes: I send out my best essays to my favorite outlets in May and June, wait for the rejections to arrive, tweak the essays, and then send them to my second choices. Then third. And so on.

You have to put yourself in puppy mode. You romp out into the world with an essay flapping in your teeth, all vulnerable and excited. As the months go by and reality sets in, you slowly curl up into a smaller and smaller ball and wait for the kick. And then, “Thank you for sharing your work with us. We regret…” Whimper. Then you’re to bounce back, leap to your furry feet with a hopeful smile, dash to the Post Office, and lay your precious words down for another kick.

“Aim for a specific audience,” many people advise. “You’ve got to study the publication. Read the articles, ads, and letters to the editor.”  This worked for me – once. I joined AARP, read their magazine, aimed at their audience and got published. http://www.aarp.org/work/social-security/info-11-2011/melanie-griffin.html#.TrqiPkT6_dg.email Yay!! No pay, but yay anyway. At this point, though, I’ve spent several months of the salary I no longer receive on magazines I’d never read otherwise. (Really, Mel? Martha Stewart?)     I’ve also spent whole days in the periodicals room at the library, taking copious notes about departments, deadlines and editors, only to find they’ve redesigned and let go half their staff by the time I’m ready to submit a piece.

“Screw the editors,” others say. “Just write what you need to write, and it will find a home.”  I like this organic approach better, but it’s not very pragmatic. This is the appeal of a blog, of course.  It doesn’t pay, but it’s a thrill that somebody out there cares enough to click and maybe even “like” or comment.

“You’ve just got to find the right fit.” This is my favorite advice and makes the most sense. It’s a combination of “aim strategically” and “pray hard.” At least I’ve got the prayer part down. I once took a class at the Bethesda Writer’s Center http://www.writer.org/ called The Business of Writing. The speaker said, “To be a freelance writer and author, you need to be disciplined, organized, and focused.”

Oh crap – three strikes.

But c’mon. Half the writers I know or have read about are (or were) heavy drinkers, and more than half are on meds for depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, PTSD, or some combination thereof. A lot have flighty minds like mine, which don’t perch anywhere for long. In the last week, I’ve used napkins in a pizza joint to scribble the next scene of a short story I started two years ago, researched proposal writing for a book of creative nonfiction, submitted one historical essay, and revised a travel piece. Oh yeah, I’ve also written an essay for my Johns Hopkins writing class on what kind of teacher I expect to be. Apparently, undisciplined, disorganized, and none too focused.

Well, I’d better go. I’ve got to rifle through my desk and see if I can unearth my Fall Writing Plan. Happy Equinox!

It was here somewhere…

For more on hummer migration:

http://www.worldofhummingbirds.com/migration.php

And on the Autumnal Equinox:

http://earthsky.org/astronomy-essentials/everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-autumnal-equinox-of-2012

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