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On Meeting Jesse & Margaret

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I run into Jesse and Margaret at the spring, or “down to the spring,” as they would say here in the Granite State. And a more perfect New Hampshire couple I have yet to meet.

Jesse is tall and lean, wearing well-worn blue jeans and a dingy white knit cap. His shirt is even more worn than his jeans. It’s one of those generic green shirts with his name over the pocket that he probably wore back when he worked at a garage or service station.

At eighty-three, he’s not working anymore. “Me and Margaret, we like to go for drives,” he says. “We went up to the Weathervane in Lebanon yesterday — had our Thanksgivin’ dinner there. Ayup. That’s almost an hour away,” he informs me.

Margaret nods her bundled-up head. Her blue eyes are clear and shining with delight at the prospect of befriending a new person. “We get out as much as we can,” she says enthusiastically.

She is a particular type of older woman that you meet up here, the kind that exudes health. Her skin’s as deeply wrinkled as a peach pit from the sun, but it’s got a fresh glow to it and her cherubic cheeks are rosy pink from the cold. She is beautiful, actually.

We chat as Jesse helps me fill my water bottles from the spring. It turns out that they used to live on the same back road that my grandmother’s house is on. In 1955 —  the year I was born and started spending summers here — they moved to the next town over, but they know my house and call it “the old Tainton place,”** as all the old-timers do.

We share stories about long-gone neighbors and agree that Hattie Bunker was the sweetest woman we ever knew.

Hattie and her husband Arthur lived in a little tar-paper shack down the road and were a big part of my childhood. Hattie was twelve years old when she got married, and she carried a childlike simplicity well into old age. Arthur always looked like he was at least a hundred years old. He was struck by lightening multiple times while riding his tractor in the fields. One bolt stole his power of speech. I never heard him utter a word in my whole life.

I tell Jesse and Margaret how I spent hours listening to Hattie’s stories while we milked her cows and harvested veggies from her garden. I ask if they have a garden.

“Not anymore. Our daughter liked to garden, but she’s gone now,” Jesse says.

“Cancer, like my mother,” Margaret says. “You probably knew Carolyn. Didn’t you? Carolyn Wheeler — she was at Prudential for thirty-two years.”

“Thirty-two years,” Jesse confirms.

I nod and say yes, I think the name does ring a bell, which of course it doesn’t but they really need it to, and so I give them this small gift.

“I’m so sorry about that. I’m really glad you have each other,” I say.

“Married sixty-one years,” Jesse proudly tells me. He hoists my crate of filled water bottles into my car and invites me to stop by if I’m in their neighborhood. He shakes his head and laughs because for a minute he can’t remember the name of the street they’ve lived on for sixty-two years. Margaret doesn’t remind him; she lets him remember for himself.

“Center street!” he finally declares. “That’s it. Right across from the old saddle shop. Come by anytime, we’re always there unless we’re out for a drive.”

Down to the Spring

** Not wanting to broadcast the most common security query, my mother’s maiden name, I have substituted my grandmother’s maiden name.

 

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A Writing Conundrum

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A WRITING CONUNDRUM

Today I wrote for three hours. it was tortuous. The whole time I heard a voice in my head saying, “You have no idea what you’re doing, you have no idea what you’re doing.”

And I replied, “I’m writing. I’m writing.” At this point, that is all that matters.

It’s crap. It makes no sense. It probably does not even meet author Anne Lamott’s idea of a “shitty first draft.” But it is written. Fifteen hundred words in some sort of order.

The problem is that I do not know what this book is about. It is a memoir, so it is about me. (Yawning already? Me, too.)

The issue, I think, is parameters, boundaries. What’s in the story frame, what’s out? Why am I writing this anyway?

What belongs inside the frame?

Some things are in, for sure, like this old house in New Hampshire. Quiet Hills is my muse. It seems most integral threads of my story pass through this sacred space. She belongs.

My dearly departed brother probably belongs, although whenever he shows himself, the narrative starts to become about him, which if you knew him you’d agree was par for the course. Only it’s not about him. At certain times in my life, my story did become about him. Not anymore.

They say that the human brain tries to make meaning, tries to find patterns, and that’s never more true for me than when I attempt memoir. “What was all that about anyway? What did it MEAN?”

The story is really about a particular woman becoming herself and the life events that contributed to her evolution. But the older I get, the more I agree with Franciscan author Father Richard Rohr when he says “everything belongs.”

This does not solve my conundrum.

Winter Writing

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I’ve just arrived at my beloved New Hampshire house, where ghosts and God abound. My writing muse is usually quite active here, and I’m hoping that’ll she’ll be romping around the place over the next two weeks. Lots to do to close up the house for winter, but I’m looking forward to quality writing time.

I usually bring a stack of books about writing, but I’ve limited myself to just one so that if I put pen to paper, I’m not just underlining someone else’s words about writing!

I’m excited about reading the copy of If You Want to Write that I recently found at a used bookstore in Vermont, because although the book is one of my faves, I have only listened to it on audio. Brenda Ueland first published this little treasure in 1938 and it was re-released by her estate in 1987. My favorite chapter is entitled, “Why Women Who Do Too Much Housework Should Neglect It for Their Writing.”

While you are awaiting my glorious prose, I will share one of my favorite poems from Joyce Rupp:

Winter’s Cloak

This year I do not want
the dark to leave me.
I need its wrap
of silent stillness,
its cloak
of long lasting embrace.
Too much light
has pulled me away
from the chamber
of gestation.

Let the dawns
come late,
let the sunsets
arrive early,
let the evenings
extend themselves
while I lean into
the abyss of my being.

Let me lie in the cave
of my soul,
for too much light
blinds me,
steals the source
of revelation.

Let me seek solace
in the empty places
of winter’s passage,
those vast dark nights
that never fail to shelter me.

A Peek into My New Hampshire Journal #1

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A PEEK INTO MY NEW HAMPSHIRE JOURNAL #1

Here for your reading pleasure is the latest in my “too-random-to-be-called-a-series” series of snippets from my journal — always some of my most popular posts! Everyone’s a voyeur, right? Plus, I don’t have to edit or revise. ♥

  • August 23 – Quiet Hills

I am here. Here where there is courage and rest and centeredness. I had an excellent drive, just 8 1/2 hours with stops. The house is horribly musty and the mice have been active, so here I sit, windows and doors open, fans going. It’s only 9:30, so I have a few hours to let it air. I’m going to sit on the deck and look at the stars — lovely clear night, and I didn’t notice too many bugs while I was unloading.

Deep breaths. Up here I can pretend that Donald Trump is not president if I stay off the computer. He gave another unhinged speech last night, trashing journalists (“I don’t think they like our country”), threatening to shut down the government to build his damn wall. Really sounded nuts. Very much the way a dictator begins, trying to discredit anyone who disagrees with him. The good news is, the GOP is in total chaos. The bad news is, so is the country.

I get to choose a new novel tonight. I finished Daddy’s old “The Strange Death of Manny Square.” I loved seeing his handwriting in the margins. What a wonderful connection.

  • August 24 – Quiet Hills

Glorious afternoon, cool in the shade and warm in the sun. Just perfect. First mosquito — so few! I came out before bed last night and the coyotes started up their chorus; it felt as if they were welcoming me. Utterly cool. I gathered some flowers for the table this morning: goldenrod, phlox, stock, bee balm. So pretty. There’s a ton of poison ivy in the flowerbed. Lazy day today.

Grandmother’s Garden

  • August 25 – Quiet Hills

Late summer morning with a tinge of autumn already. Cloudless sky, save one flowing line of small white puffs in the north. To have time to watch clouds — imagine!

The seasons up here are much more pronounced. In Maryland it can be sweltering in Sept and even in April now. Here, nature knows what it’s meant to do. No confusion, no argument. When it’s fall, it is decidedly and brilliantly fall and then along comes a big rain with wind and boom!, only the browns are left and then soon a snow, and winter has come.

Today I am celebrating being here. Just being. Listening to the wind in the trees, watching the tired yellow apple leaves flutter down to the deck. The field is frosted with an airy layer of Queen Anne’s Lace. The birds are almost silent, just an occasional twitter. Crickets and grasshoppers.

  • August 26 – Quiet Hills

It was a quiet morning until Bill and the boys arrived on a tractor and bearing chainsaws. I had been writing a lyric poem (of sorts) about the quiet. Doing a little mindfulness practice from my book, Fifty Ways to Pray, and then here they came. The chainsaws are a-blazin’ — he’s cutting a fallen tree in my meadow.

3:30 p.m.

I had Bill cut a huge branch off the apple tree, the lovely one that reached out on the horizontal and framed the garden. It’s been dead a good while and I feared the rot or whatever it was would spread. So now I have a massive pile of logs and branches to deal with. Bill thinks I could sell it to someone who uses apple wood to smoke meat. Probably more trouble than it’s worth. Perhaps I’ll burn some of the smaller logs tonight. It’s going to be cold.

7 p.m.

This day. Just like this. I read for hours, made gazpacho after a run to the spring, and am now chilling on the deck with a glass of wine while perusing a cookbook. Another Moosewood one I found at a used bookstore up here and haven’t spent much time with. Soon the deer will be out — I saw them come from my woods into the meadow last night.

Deer’s Meadow

I’m very happy right now. I’ve been noticing this feeling quite often the past few months, and I’m grateful for it. I want grieving people to know: you will be happy again. I was all but shattered — stripped naked — just 3 1/2 years ago. I still get sad. I miss Biff, and Mom, too. Up here with the ghosts, I miss everyone. But I am happy. Thank you, God.

  • August 27 – Quiet Hills

I checked my computer only once today, I think. Up here, the spell can be broken, thank God. I feel as if I’m on vacation in every way, including from the internet.

The other night I got stuck for several hours watching storm chasers on Twitter during a massive hurricane that hit Texas. Terrifying and no doubt the worst is yet to come. As I write, there are multiple wildfires raging out west and deadly flooding going on in Texas, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Yemen, and Niger. But no, there’s no climate disruption. None at all.

Yesterday I began some notes and reading for a possible sermon on hope for the planet. Or for climate change. Not sure yet. Checking out some “green faith” books I’ve had for ages but never read. One is by some scientist/Christians; looks good.

If I can stay off the computer . . . no, let me re-phrase. Since I will be off the computer, I’ll have time to read, write, and submit. Reading Sue Monk Kidd’s Dance of the Dissident Daughter, Brian McLaren’s The Great Spiritual Migration, Daphne du Maurier’s My Cousin Rachel, and a couple of books on teaching.

How did I become such a book freak? Blessed, blessed, blessed.

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

 

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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Day fifteen: daily blogging pursuit

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