Saturday, November 21, 2015

Winter in our hearts

It's been a rough week, hasn't it?

I first learned of the Paris atrocities in an unlikely place: the grocery store. Like many shy people, I excel at eavesdropping, in putting together a story from mere scraps of conversation.

The story I put together was a horrible one. I don't have to tell you how awful it was in Paris last weekend. You've read the newspaper and seen the news.


As I continued to listen patiently, it was not hard to discern the opinions of the other grocery-buyers. The man two orders ahead of mine was particularly adamant: "Let's nuke 'em back to the Stone Age," he muttered, apparently unaware that an action like that would probably return all of us to the Stone Age. "It's those Arabs!" his wife exclaimed, lumping in many fine nationalities with a few terrorists. "They should stay in "Eye-rack!" "But they don't," her husband commented, both to her and to the family ahead of me in line. "That's why I've got my gun in the coat closet, all loaded up."

I despair sometimes. Between Coat-Closet-Gun-Guy's being all loaded up, Donald Trump's aim that all Muslims in America should be in a database, and Ben Carson's comparison of Syrian refugees to rabid dogs, I can't help thinking that we are just a few steps from requiring our Muslim neighbors to wear armbands with the crescent moon and star. Just this morning, one of the Republican wingnuts (I have forgotten which one -- they all blend together into a hate-filled slurry in my mind) -- stated that America should be promoting "Judeo-Christian values."

Give me a break. Hear that muffled sound of lament? That's Jesus weeping.

It's chilly outside this morning, with chillier weather expected this weekend. It's chilly in America, too. It's winter in our hearts already. How could this have happened? Of course terrorist attacks are horrible, but will we now pull our heads back into our protective shells, forgetting what we stand for? What happened to open-heartedness and willingness to help the downtrodden?

The heart of America has become like the rock pictured above: closed, hard, and cold to the touch. One of my favorite passages in the Hebrew Scriptures comes from Ezekiel 36:26, and goes like this:

                    A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from
                       your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 

We need those soft hearts, Lord.  We need them right now, before we freeze solid. 

Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Things that move us

Last weekend, my husband and I made a family visit to New York State, where he grew up. When we're up there, we always make a visit to the Colgate University cemetery, to check on the graves of his mom and dad. Elwyn taught French language and literature at Colgate for something like 45 years. He passed in 2006; my mother-in-law, Grace, followed him in 2011.  They were the best in-laws you could ever want, and I miss them a lot. We have started following the custom of leaving a rock on top of the headstone to signify that we came to visit. So we did that, and headed back to the car; rain was threatening. But I had one more stop to make.

For thisis the real moment of sadness. I love Elwyn  and Grace, and I'm sorry they passed away, but i k ow they had happy, productive lives. What really moves me -- what brings tears every time I'm   there --  is the grave of a toddler named Ian, who is buried on the hillside just below them. I've done some research, so I know Ian died at the age of 20 months, and that his death, in early 2000, was unexpected and left the entire Colgate community reeling.

Beneath Ian's  name and dates is the inscription: A HUG THAT NEVER QUITS. I can  hardly imagine the anguish accompanying the sweet words. I have never  been plunged to such a depth, and I pray I never am.

After 15 years, Ian still has regular visitors. On top of the headstone was a choo-choo pull-toy. At the base of the stone was a fresh pumpkin, a small one, the size he'd have loved. I placed another stone among those already there on the top of the marker. I hope, somehow, that the boy whose hug never quit knows that his family's love never quit, either.

Rest well, Ian. I will see you again next year.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

In the late summer

Air clear as crystal
Sunlight a gentle caress
Days of late summer.


Now, I'm not a poet, but every now and then a haiku peeks around the corner in my mind and I have to snag it. While I was sitting on my porch on Saturday afternoon, I caught the one above.

It was as perfect a summer day as I hope to see. The temperature was somewhere in the 80s. The air was clear, the sky a brilliant blue.

The neighborhood was quiet, so quiet. I suppose everyone had left for a last, end-of-summer, Labor-Day-weekend fling. It was so quiet that all I heard was cicadas, doing their buzzing call-and-response. One hummingbird came to the feeder, but didn't stay long. I imagine she is preparing for her trip to a southern place in the sun.

In a week or ten days, I will give up on the hummingbirds, wash the feeder, and put it away till spring. Then I'll haul the heavy bedclothes to the laundromat, wash them, and store them away for that first cold snap.

Because it's coming. Just as, when we're young, we never think we'll be old, we can expect a chill in the air before long. Some morning fog. The typical autumn rains, which we truly need here.

But I'm holding onto my perfect Saturday, and hoping for a few more shining days before autumn sets in.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The life of the party

One of  the things I've been able to do with increased time off is make myself available during the daytime to the hospice organization where I'm a volunteer. Usually I do vigils -- sitting with a patient who has entered the dying process. Death from natural causes is often a lengthy process, as the person slowly winds down.

Vigil service isn't for everyone, but to me it's a very holy time. It's an honor to be present with the patient and his or her family as the transition to the next stage of existence (whatever you feel that is) approaches.

Lat Friday evening I sat with Edward. He was 95 years old, and had only infrequent visits from his daughter, herself just recovering from a painful surgery and unable to drive.

Ed was past talking -- and may not have known I was there. But I held his hand anyway and spoke words of reassurance from time to time. I tried to surround him with a warm, loving aura. It's all you can do, really.

For the vigil volunteer, family photographs are a blessing. Just as all babies bear a certain resemblance to one another, so do many folks who have reached the end of earthly life. Helpless we arrive, and helpless go. So pictures are a wonderful way to appreciate the owner of that hand you're holding.

Edward had two pictures. In one, he was standing next to his daughter at her wedding, beaming with delight into the camera, tall and straight in his dove-gray tux and bow-tie. His graying hair was on the long side, and rather curly. He seemed to be the happiest dad in the world.

In the other picture, his smile is even broader, and there's a distinct twinkle in his merry, blue eyes. On his lap sits a tiny, beautiful little Asian girl of about three years old, looking up lovingly into this face. She's undoubtedly a grandchild, or -- maybe -- a great-grandchild, and she clearly adores him.

I bet Edward was the life of the party, the mischief maker, the prankster. In any case, he was a happy, happy man, and greatly loved.

Edward graduated to the larger life on Sunday morning. I can almost see his smile from here.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Angry birds, or, Don't mess with Mama!

One of the hanging plants on my front porch harbors a new family of wrens. From robins to wrens, it has been a season of wild procreation at our house. Among only the non-humans, fortunately.

The wren parents have been very diligent. All through the holiday weekend I watched them, as they took turns feeding their hungry brood. The wrens were not as trusting of me as the robins were: they developed their own little routine for getting past the chair where I was sitting. They hopped first to the woodpile, then to the porch floor, then immediately dove off the edge of the porch and hopped sneakily along the ground, below the porch's edge, till they reached the path. Then they made a daring flight across the path, and continued along the side of the house until they reached the location of the best food. They made this same return trip, and they must made this circle about 40 times while I sat there trying to read Walden.

All of a sudden, I was roused by a piercing squawk. Looking up, I was just in time to see both wrens dive towards a chipmunk they had seen beneath the wood-rack. Chipmunks are not above raiding a nest for eggs -- or for nestlings. He hopped off the edge of the porch, and the wrens were right on his tail. There were "sounds of a struggle," as the cop-dramas say. Then the wrens returned to feeding their youngsters. The chippie has not been seen or heard from -- he may be licking his wounds somewhere.

I got slightly bogged down in Walden, the afternoon was warm and humid, and I eventually put my head back and began to doze. Not for long, however.

SQUAWK! My eyes flew open, just as a large blue jay alighted on the woodpile. Blue jays are opportunistic, and don't turn up their beaks at the chance of a tasty young bird. The wrens, however, had other ideas, and flew straight at the jay (which had to be three times their size). Outgunned, the jay retreated to the red maple tree, where he proceeded to give us all a piece of his mind.

As for me, I am staying at my end of the porch. I have no doubt that Mama wren would try to peck out my eyes if I ventured near. I'm giving her a wide berth.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Tipping points

And so summer has begun.

Last evening, I sat on my porch, enjoying the long Summer Solstice evening. We had lots of rain over the weekend, but a fresh breeze had blown most of the clouds out to sea, and the sky gradually cleared. The evening light became blue and luminous, and all the songbirds perked up again after the rain and began to fill the air with song. There's one bird, whose song I can't identify, who sings most loudly and beautifully just as dusk falls. It's his last song of the day, and I suppose he wants to finish with a flourish.

I sat on and on, till it was almost fully dark, at about 9:30 at our latitude. It's funny how one's vision changes as the light decreases: as the sky fades, the dark forms of the trees across the road become abstract, black shapes, and the distance seems foreshortened, as if they are perching on the edge of my lawn. Perspective is lost.

It's the seasonal tipping point, of course, which is why I treasure this evening and try to observe it. On this day of longest light, the earth's northern hemisphere begins to tip backwards away from the sun again; the days will oh-so-gradually grow ever shorter now, even as the summer's heat increases. By the end of August, there will be a really perceptible difference in the length of the day. And by the end of September, the night will be longer again than the day.

So that's it -- even in the midst of heat and rampant growth (mainly weeds, in my case), the earth is preparing for autumn and winter. Nature is a process, constantly working, even when we are unaware of her having passed her tipping point.

Lots of things have tipping points. Where is the tipping point for our American society? How many people have to die, while they are doing bible study at their church in Charleston, while they are watching a movie in Colorado, while they are attending school in Connecticut, before we understand that it is madness to live this way, surrounded by guns?

We are the laughingstock of the world. We are barbarians. We have sacrificed our civilization on the altar of the (misinterpreted) Second Amendment. Individualism above all! We're Americans! We shoot things! Animals, birds, people. The NRA is king here.

We have completely lost all perspective, as I did last night in the dusk. How many innocent people will die before we reach the tipping point? I pray we reach it very soon.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Faces shining like the sun

It's the season of celebrations and milestones. In May, our daughter graduated from Rutgers School of Dental Medicine. The same month, two friends were ordained to the Diaconate in the Episcopal Church, in a beautiful service that had most of the congregation in tears of joy.

Now many of my New Seminary friends are reverends, too!

Last Friday I was privileged to attend the ordination of The New Seminary's class of 2015. The service took place in the chapel at Barrytown College, where the entire student body had gathered. After degrees (D.Min. and M.Th.) and prizes were awarded, all those folks to the left were ordained by the Interfaith Temple, and are now interfaith ministers.

I sniffled the entire time. It was very moving -- and I am not much of a crier, as my husband will attest.

A whole new crop of interfaith ministers has been "turned loose" on the world, which will be a better place because of them. Their ordination required no oath of conformation to a set of beliefs, just the promise that they would stay open and loving to people of all faiths, and try to help anyone who approached. This non-doctrinal promise is one I can live with, when it is my turn. Which it will be next June, "God willing and the creek don't rise," as my Granny used to say.

Blessings on these beautiful, loving people as they go forth into the world to provide comfort and service!

Friday, May 29, 2015

LIFE! Happening in a shrub near you!

At left is a robin sitting on the nest which she happens to have built in a shrub near my porch. The back portion of the shrub has died from winterkill; I was annoyed until I realized the nest was right there, and I could look in from my porch chair and see it.

Mama robin was skittish at first, leaving the nest at any sign of movement on the porch, and scolding me loudly from the middle of the front walk. Eventually, we both adjusted: she grew more tolerant of local humans, and I learned to move slowly and to speak soothingly to her.

Last night, when I arrived home from work, Mama was missing -- and I panicked, because I had seen an opossum crossing the lawn the night before. But peeking into the nest, I saw three tiny beaks upraised, waiting for dinner! Three downy babies had hatched!

So I retreated to my chair, and throughout the evening had the pleasure of watching Mama, Papa, or both, feeding their new babies. Worms seemed plentiful, because fortunately we had just had rain. Back and forth, back and forth went the adult robins, returning to the nest and distributing food. Once the brood was fed, Mama settled back down and kept them warm.

And I realized: there's a lot here we take for granted. Snow melts, the sun returns, the earth warms, and life begins to unfold again, as new leaves emerge and new babies hatch or are born to every species. In spring, the time of fecundity, there is new life in every bush. I was there at the right time, and was able to watch.

But we can't take it for granted. Worse climate-change news emerges daily. If we want to be able to enjoy spring birdsong, we'd better takes steps to make sure it can endure.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Waking up with birds

I have to sleep with the window open. It's not negotiable, even in the bleak midwinter when it's 10 above zero -- my window WILL be open, if only a finger's-width. In the summer, I love to hear the night-sounds: crickets, dogs barking now and then, and the occasional falling trill of a screech-owl. This is my bedtime music.

Usually a good sleeper, I've been sleeping very lightly of late. To make up for that, I've been trying to actually go to bed earlier -- 10:30 or 11:00 means early to me, since I'm a real night-owl. My ideal schedule would be bed at 2:00, up at 9:00.

My sleep troubles may have something to do with the early light, as the days grow longer approaching the Summer Solstice. This morning I woke up at 4:30. The square window opening was growing brighter by the minute. I groaned under my breath (so as not to wake J.), rolled over, and tried to go back to sleep.

It was not to be. The minute I had settled down again, a bird began to sing. It was 4:45.

Just one lonely bird, who sounded like he was right outside my window. I love birds, and I can identify by sight most of the birds that frequent my six feeders. But I can't identify them by their songs (except for the screech-owl, whom there's no mistaking). Every time I think I have a song memorized, it goes straight out of my head.

This lonely bird continues singing to himself for a good five minutes. Suddenly, his song was taken up by a more distant bird of the same type, probably a couple of backyards away, and the two continued to sing back and forth to each other.

Around 5:00, other birds began waking up. Soon the dawn chorus was going full-blast in my backyard. Alto birds, soprano birds, a couple of lower voices, too: the choir was all there.

I could have shut the window and (perhaps) had enough silence to sleep in. But, all in all, listening to birds is not a bad way to start the day.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Another thing to learn ... maybe.

I have always wanted to play an instrument. My mother played piano beautifully, but gave it up when she married -- in fact, we never had a piano when I was a child. I think Mom felt this loss keenly, though she would never have said so. When J. and I bought a piano for the kids to play, Mom showed a rush of enthusiasm she hadn't felt in a long time, and bought herself a couple books of piano music. Sadly, she died not long after, without much of a chance to reclaim her musical roots.

When I was in my early forties, my kids took piano lessons, and so did I (briefly). Not only did I lack time to practice, but was totally unprepared for reading bass clef (as a chorister, I read treble clef pretty well, but bass clef might as well be written in Greek). I labored away at it, but never got much beyond "Abide with Me" in my easy book of hymns. That two-hands-playing-different-lines-thing? Not happening. The kids blew right past me, of course. My daughter still plays when she's home, especially if she thinks no one else is in the house.

So when I recently came across an article about playing the recorder, I thought: Hmmmm. Maybe I can do this. So, very hesitantly, I began to price recorders.

The nice wooden ones? Let me tell you, you can blow a few hundred dollars really easily on a nice, handmade rosewood recorder, or a nice burled walnut. Sticker shock set it -- I don't even know if I can learn this! I finally found the right source (Amazon.com, naturally) and found out that decent-sounding recorders come in plastic, too, for the handy price of $35.00,

So now, I am the proud owner of a plastic recorder, and a very elementary play-the-recorder book.

I hope it's written for simple-minded musicians who never managed to learn bass clef.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Nature's first green is gold ....

My title today is the first line from a poem by Robert Frost, and refers to the green-gold color of newly-emerged leaves in the spring.

Spring has finally come to the mid-Atlantic, though it's cooler today than normal. Last weekend the trees really began coming into leaf. I love this time of year because, even on warm days, we don't feel the oppressive, stifling humidity that we will endure in July and August. We've had plenty of rain, too, which has helped to "green things up," in a phrase my mother used to use.

And shade is back, at least in its infancy. Driving along in my town, I could see the faintest shade cast by all the new leaves. The shade is just a faint tracery on lawns as yet, not the full, deep shade of summer, but a delicate webbing, which trembles in the breeze.

Hotter days are coming, of course, when I'll pine for cooler afternoons and crisp evenings. But for now, hello to spring! It was late in arriving, and it will yield to summer in the blink of an eye. Enjoy the mild warmth and graceful new leaves while you can!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Love thy neighbor

I'm having a little bit of trouble with "Love thy neighbor" these days.

My neighbor, whom I'll call Annie, is only a year older than I am, but is a recluse. No, seriously. I have not laid eyes on her in two years, and I didn't see her frequently before that. We have long suspected that Annie suffers from mental illness, some kind of paranoid condition, perhaps, because on her front door are many post-it notes forbidding anyone from knocking for any reason.

She is long divorced, chronically short of money, and her house is falling down on her head -- there's a tarp over part of the roof, and the paint on the rest of the house has nearly all chipped away. The neighborhood regards it as an eyesore, and a neighbor who was once inside (many years ago) told me that Annie is a hoarder, and that the house is so full that she is forced to live in only one room.

Following a back injury two years ago, Annie can no longer drive, and so the car sitting in her driveway has four flat tires.

In all, it seems like a rather desperate situation. Until recently, Annie seems to have been relying on people from her church to do her marketing and errands. Now, for some reason, that help has stopped. Perhaps she was depending on the same people too much.

Now, however, she wants to depend on me.  When I go to the grocery store, I am asked to go over to her house and find money and a list in a cereal box between the screen door and the inner door. The list is always written on several nearly illegible index cards, and her "order" always includes several money orders -- she has no checking account. When I return home everything I have purchased needs to be inserted back between the doors, which she will not open, and I am to phone her immediately to let her know her items are there.

So it's a peculiar situation. Annie really needs to sell the house and move to a place more manageable for her, where her limited mobility and lack of money can be addressed. I don't know how long I can go on being her lifeline. I did suggest to her that she needed more helpers than just myself, but she continues to call and make requests.

So how far does "love thy neighbor" extend?  She's in a terrible fix, and I feel like an enabler. This is a problem I am especially prone to (ask my husband). Is there a graceful exit for me?

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Not quite ready for the rocking-chair .....

Three months from today, I will be starting on a program called "phased retirement." It's a fairly new benefit here at the University, and, frankly, it has received mixed reviews from some of those who have participated. But I'm giving it a shot.

So I will become a 0.6 FTE on July 7. My salary decreases by 40%, but my benefits remain exactly the same. I can do this for up to two years, and then I must retire.

IN THE MEANTIME, I WILL HAVE EVERY MONDAY AND FRIDAY OFF!

I couldn't resist the photo of the two rocking chairs at the left, even though there won't be much rocking in my immediate future. It will be nice, however, to be able to sit on my front porch and drink coffee on those two mornings, instead of trundling off to the commuter train every single weekday. The dogs will appreciate having me home more. And no more having to go to the grocery store on the weekends, elbowing my way through the mob around the string beans. I can go early on a Friday and get the whole mess over with.

And I have a master's thesis to write, after all, so I'd better get moving. More on that soon.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The stigma of mental illness

So we're learning this morning, incrementally, that there's a good likelihood that Andreas Lubitz, the promising young pilot who apparently crashed a Germanwings flight on purpose, suffered from a mental illness of some sort. That his doctor had signed him out of work for the day of the flight. That he flew anyway. And during that flight, something in Andreas's head went terribly, terribly wrong. Now 150 people are dead. Moms and daughters. Opera singers. German schoolchildren. Little babies.

It's all very tragic and terrible. But Andreas wasn't a monster -- he was a person like you and me. And he had an illness which he did not want his employer to know about.

And you know what? Although I hold him responsible for those deaths, I don't blame him for that impulse to keep his problem secret.

In an age when ads on TV deal with issues like painful intercourse after menopause, erectile dysfunction, and overactive bladder (do you see a theme here? We're either worrying about sex or about peeing on ourselves), there are almost no ads for antidepressants. Mental illness is the dirty little secret in the back room. It's Aunt Pearl, whom people tolerate at Christmas but pretty much shun the rest of the time.  It's your neighbor's kid, who had a breakdown during his M.B.A. program and "had to come home." It's that fragility in all of us that we don't want to acknowledge. That fragility can close in on us at any moment.

In many cases, mental illness can be managed well with medications and talk therapy, and a person can pretty much manage to live a normal life. For Andreas Lubitz, however, it might have been a career-ender,  This may be why his employer knew nothing about it. Of course, not knowing Lufthansa's policy, I can't say for sure.

It's all so sad. Over and over, Andreas's  trainers kept telling us: he loved to fly.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Happy endings

I wouldn't ordinarily put a smiley-face into one of my posts, but I really am happy over something, so there you have it. A happy daisy.

Our Head of Reference demonstrated, at a staff meeting this week, how he uses a certain database to track people down through public records (all nice and legal!). So ... I tried it.

you see, at the tender age of 20, I got married for the first time. What was I thinking? I wasn't. The marriage lasted just short of three years, though we didn't live together quite that long. Our divorce became final in January of 1977. I did hear from my ex twice after that, in the summer of 1977, and again in the summer of 1978, as we both moved on with our lives. I moved to Philadelphia, and he went to work abroad.

But I always wondered, you know. And I felt more than a little guilty, because the source of unhappiness in the marriage was me, all me. I went through that marriage like a dose of epsom salts, and emerged pretty much unscathed, I don't think my ex was quite as unscathed as I was, since he really was the injured party. As the years passed, and I finally grew up, I felt the burden of this more and more, especially since my own second marriage has been very happy.

So, over the years, I have resorted to Google, without much in the way of results. My ex was, and is, a very private person, and he seems to have managed to steer clear of the internet. Likewise Facebook -- he's just not there.

So I tried this public records source, and got a nice surprise.

Not only is my ex alive and well, but he has been married for quite a while to a woman who teaches drama in high school. She is on Facebook. And, from what I can tell (no, I did not friend her; I am curious but not totally crass), she seems like a thoroughly nice woman.

So the moral of this story is that lives can have happy endings, even when I have pretty much screwed them up. So it's a smiley-face day indeed.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Winter's last gasp?

Well, let's hope so. In scenic South Jersey, we have had our largest snowfall of the year (so far) -- about 9 inches, in my yard. I took the easy way out and stayed home yesterday, catching up on the end of Downton Abbey's 5th season, and crocheting like crazy on a blanket I'm making for my son.

The snow fell, the dogs reluctantly went outside when asked, and after dark the brutal cold descended again. 5 degrees this morning -- I believe that's a record-breaker for us.

On the subway, all the riders looked cold and tired. We are all tired of this Endless Winter. And as for Boston -- I can't imagine how tired of it they are!

Relief is apparently on the way, and will arrive next week in the form of much milder weather and a lot of melting. At lunchtime, I felt some actual March warmth in the sun (as I foraged for food across the ice).

Let spring come quickly!


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Olde Seminarian's report: I get around ... pt. 1

I get around round get around I get around,
I get around (ooh--OOH--ooh) I get around ....

I'm dating myself, of course, but nobody says this like the Beach Boys. And that's not my car in the picture, either, just one I stole from Google Images. I'm more the humble Honda type than the Mustang type.

Well, the New Seminary has kept this Olde Seminarian on the move. In addition to a lot of writing, first-year students are charged with observing, or participating in, varying types of religious services. Though I was a bit intimidated by this at first (I am Episcopalian, after all!), I've come to love worshiping with people of different faiths.

My first forays were in traditions close to my own Christian tradition, which let me put a toe into familiar waters.

My initial experience was attending a service at Union Church in the Wilderness. They aren't kidding about the wilderness -- the way there took me a long way down an unmarked, dark country road that seemed to have a ditch on either side. "Great," I thought, as my car crept along. "If I get lost out here, no one will ever find my body." But eventually I came to the pastor's house, where the service was held, a brightly lit and welcoming farmhouse at the road's end. The small congregation gathered there was truly gracious and welcoming. The focus of the service was a bit more conservative than I am used to, but the music, snacks and fellowship were excellent.

My next adventure took place in a local Friends' school, where I attended a Fourth Day (Wednesday) Meeting for Worship with several grades of schoolchildren.  As we sat in the silence, the little girls were still as statues (making me think that girls really get silence, something I didn't expect), while the boys squirmed, swung their legs, waved at me,  and heaved large sighs of boredom. But the experience, overall, was a deep, meaningful silence, with wise, spirit-filled contributions made by several of the girls at the close. I would like to go back for a Sunday service; I now see why my southern grandfather remained a devoted Friend his whole life, even when getting to a Meeting in old age became more difficult.

In the next post: putting a toe into Muslim and Jewish waters.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

In a winter landscape

It's been gray and dark here, last weekend especially. The skies hovered close above my house, while the rain poured down. It was so dark, even near the noon hour, that my electric window candles in the living room remained lit.

Then the rain ceased for a while, and the skies lightened. I ventured outside, because it was unusually warm.

The light is different in winter, I think, especially on a gray day. Trees' branches stand out sharply, black skeletons against the sky, and their every movement in the wind is visible. The lawns are bare of leaves now, and the grass dormant, yet every tuft of grass stands out in sharp relief, every undulation in the lawn is now visible. These details are not so easy to see during the riotous growing season, when all my lawn becomes a mass of seething green. Looking around, I saw squirrels' nests in a couple of trees. If the trees were in leaf, I would not have seen them.

And then I saw it, in a neighbor's tree, about three houses down. About two feet high, it looked like a large, tan plastic bag had been caught up by the wind and had attached itself to a tree limb. Luckily, the binoculars were right inside the front door, so I grabbed them.

And the "plastic bag" resolved itself into a beautiful red-tailed hawk, sitting regally on the branch, scouting the ground for possible prey.  We see hawks all the time, but we see them in flight -- I had never seen one at rest. I stood there watching it until the rain started again, when it lifted its gorgeous wings and flew off out of sight.

Another gift of winter.