30 April 2013

Loveliest of trees....

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now

Is hung with bloom along the bough,

 And stands about the woodland ride

 Wearing white for Eastertide. 

from A Shropshire Lad by Alfred Edward Housman

23 April 2013

When Women Were Birds

When Women Were Birds - Fifty Four Variations on Voice
I am fifty-four years old, the age my mother was when she died. This is what I remember: we were lying on her bed with a mohair blanket covering us. I was rubbing her back, feeling each vertebra with my fingers as a rung on a ladder. It was January, and the ruthless clamp of cold bore down on us outside.  Yet inside, Mother’s tenderness and clarity of mind carried its own warmth. She was dying in the same way she was living, consciously.
“I am leaving you all my journals,” she said, facing the shuttered window as I continued rubbing her back. “But you must promise me that you will not look at them until after I am gone.”

I gave her my word. And then she told me where they were. I didn’t know my mother kept journals.

A week later she died. That night, there was a full moon encircled by ice crystals.

On the next full moon I found myself alone in the family home. I kept expecting Mother to appear. Her absence became her presence. It was the right time to read her journals. They were exactly where she said they would be: three shelves of beautiful clothbound books; some floral, some paisley, others in solid colors. The spines of each were perfectly aligned against the lip of the shelves. I opened the first journal. It was empty. I opened the second journal. It was empty. I opened the third. It, too, was empty, as was the fourth, the fifth, the sixth—shelf after shelf, all my mother’s journals were blank.

The next 6 pages of the book are blank... as if to instill in the reader the sense of panicked emptiness she faced as she turned the pages of one untenanted journal after another. 

With this startling beginning, Terry Tempest Williams brings readers on a remarkable, magical, thought-provoking, soul bearing quest.  Her book is set down in small pieces: Fifty Four Variations on Voice.  It is a number that corresponds with her age at the time of her mother's death. Coincidence?

While the chapters are no more than a few pages long, their brevity is misleading and I found myself reading these close-packed morsels over and over, wanting to savor each word and let the impact of what she was saying soak into my mind and heart, finding different meanings with each reading.  As she guides us (and seemingly herself) along on her journey, it becomes apparent that her mother's empty journals put her on the path to finding her own voice. 

I do not know why my mother bought journal after journal, year after year, and never wrote in one of them and passed them on to me.
I will never know.
The blow of her blank journals became a second death. 

Williams is a marvelous storyteller, setting down recollections of her childhood in an unsentimental but entirely evocative manner. Each ‘chapter’—both the long and the short—ends similarly: with a reflection on what her mother’s journals meant, what they symbolize, what they didn’t mean. Tempest’s conclusions shift, dance-like, as the book progresses...  deeper  and more pointed here, sympathetic and illuminated there.... each one reflecting her own growth in the multitudinous ways she comes to interpret her mother’s blank pages. She speaks eloquently of silence, of space, of what is needed to find one's voice, and how important it is to recognize and then fulfill the need to write down what we think and feel.  

When I opened my mother’s journals and read emptiness, it translated to longing, that same hunger and thirst Mother translated to me. I will rewrite this story, create my own story on the pages of my mother’s journals. 

If I had the money I would buy this book for every woman I know... my mother, my child, my friends, my aunts. There is not one woman who would not be moved, and changed, by this treatise on what it means to discover, develop, and use one’s voice.

19 April 2013


My son-in-law and grandchildren are behind locked doors in Boston. 
All Boston public transportation is suspended. 
Boston Schools are closed. 
My daughter is in lockdown at Beth Israel Deaconess hospital.  
(The first bomber is currently lying in her morgue.)

As Margaret Hamilton once said:  "Oh what a world, what a world...."

18 April 2013

Hanging Out Day - April 19th

The sweet scent of clean laundry. 
The touch of the wooden pegs in your fingers. 
The sound of the breeze snapping the sheets and pillowcases. 
The way the clothes look as they hang in the sunlight,
like colorful pennants or sweet white flags of surrender.
The cool freshness of the dry clothes as you fold them. 
The heft of the willow basket as you carry everything back into the house.
The hypnotic pleasure of hanging, waiting, taking down, smoothing,
and then folding everything in piles.
(This one is ironing, this one gets folded and put away, this one is put on a hanger...)

And the energy you save by letting your laundry dry in the sweet Spring air.
Don't forget!

16 April 2013

At last

Goddess Maia—Primavera (Allegory of Spring) by Sandro Botticelli

Despite the passing of March and the arrival of April, winter continued to hold her ground, remaining onstage like an ignominious dowager, huffing and puffing across the boards and preventing youthful Spring from making her entrance.

The First Day of Spring—March 20—came and went, but nothing really changed, meteorologically speaking. Yes, there were the occasional two hours of brilliant mid-day sun that drew me to the front steps like a cat, with nose raised to the sky and eyes shut tight. And there were hopeful signs here and there, heralding Spring's protracted arrival: one or two brave myrtle blossoms by the stairs, blooming ahead of their cousins; hyacinth greens pushing through the chilly earth by half-inches; a handful of miniature daffodils ready to blossom; and crocus with their oval petals opened wide like egg cups.

But even these vernal manifestations could not thwart the 20 degree nights or my constant urge to turn on the heat. The calendar could say what it liked.  It was not Spring.

And then it happened.  A transformative weekend of balmy breezes and healing sunshine, the likes of countermanded whatever harshness we had endured.  I knelt by the hearth and swept up a winter's worth of ash, happy that there would be no more fires unti next Autumn.  I brought out my collection of bird nests—abandoned and fallen from trees into various garden beds over the years—arranging them inside the hearth with bracken and small birch twigs. I opened the verandah doors, amazed by the stuffy warmth that greeted me.  Soon I would be able to change out the windows for screens and breath in the fresh air, but for now, this welcome closeness would do. 

Yes, there is still the occasional brisk ocean wind that blows down from the Maritimes and has me reaching for a flannel shirt or shawl. But Spring has finally arrived, blessing us with warmer days, warmer rains in the night, and soft earth waiting to be toyed with and planted.

For lo, the winter is passed,
the flowers appear on the earth,
the time of the singing of birds is come.

01 April 2013

Gardening Rule No. 37

Apparently stepping on the tines of a rake
and having it come up and whack you in the shoulder
does not only happen in cartoons or Three Stooges re-runs.