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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Storm Story

A little over a year ago, we discovered Fort Revere, (if you are interested, read more here) located a twenty-five-minute, view-from-every-angle drive from our house that we have made several times since. Most recently, we took family visitors out there Sunday, anticipating their gasps over the 360 degree images of Boston Harbor and Hingham Bay.

About twenty minutes into the ride, all six of us inhaled as we turned a corner and faced a defined grey-green cloud that cut the sky in half and foretold an ugly thunder storm. It appeared as if a pelting rain would arrive at the Fort the same time we did.

Sure enough, as we climbed out of the car, the wind bent the high grass down and throttled us, tugging at our clothes and flattening our hair. As the temperatures plummeted to goose-bump inducing levels, the adults looked at each other with “we are in for it" glances and the teenagers ran back to the car. Then we watched, as the cloud cut across the harbor obscuring the view of the sail boats racing to beat the storm, merged with a bank of thunderheads across the horizon, and disappeared.

Not a single drop of rain reached us, but oh, what a photo op.

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Friday, June 25, 2010

Our Festival of Trees

Yvonne Osborne at The Organic Writer is hosting the Festival of Trees for July. I’m all for trees, so I thought I’d try my hand at a post.

Here in New England, it seems that we are always waiting for things. We wait for the first snow and then pray for it to melt. We wait for the weather to warm, for the high pitched bleat of tree frogs in the marsh, for the green fingered daffodils to fork in front of stone walls, for the smell of lilacs. We long for perennials to bloom, tomatoes to ripen, and then temperatures to drop. We hope for plowed roads in winter, for the damp to fade in the spring; for rain to replenish the gardens. We anticipate dry snow for skiing, hot sun for the strawberries, the taste of just-picked blueberries in August. We look forward to the aroma of damp leaves and the first fire we light in the fireplace.

But of all of these things, there is probably nothing more deserving of our expectation than the annual transformation of our trees, the explosions of red, yellow and orange fireworks that blast off through thick woods during autumn’s foliage carnival. This party though, seems to creep up on those of us who live here. Fall seeps in via the patch of burnt-umber on the tree by the market in mid-August, through the crimson poison ivy vine twisting around a pine deep in the woods.

On our highways though, it’s all about awareness. Tour buses stack up, heading to New Hampshire and Vermont, to the mountains where curving roads ribbon through passes splashed with buckets of dye. Prudent New Englanders know better than to attempt a weekend drive to the places these leaf peepers frequent; when possible, we stick to back roads, or travel during the week. Starting in September, local news broadcasts include foliage reports. Websites are dedicated to leaf updates and newspapers print colored diagrams predicting “peak color.” This is how we locals learn where not to go.

As hordes of visitors gaze out our overlooks, snapping up bottles of maple syrup and cracking their first lobsters, we wait, going about our lives, while scarlet filters across the tops of maples and yellows drift through stands of birch and ash. Until one day, when driving down a road, up a hill, or walking past a clutch of trees, we stumble upon a luminious pallet and realize that this is it. This is as good as gets. We take a moment to breathe in a waving patchwork of color, then cross our fingers that we get one more glimpse. After all, the next big wind will eliminate the show.

It happens some years that an unexpected storm hits before we look up, and we miss the illustration. So I’m an advocate of packing a camera for every trip to the grocery store, because you never know. On the way to finish the weekly shopping, it’s just possible to chance upon the perfect tree.

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Bridge of Sighs

We have lived in the same place for over eighteen years now, in the town my husband’s family moved to when he was thirteen. Sometimes I wonder when it will stop feeling new--except I hope it never does--primarily as a result of my reaction to one winding stretch of street that cuts along the edge of our little burb.

There, thick trees and rambling stone walls hide mysterious homes somewhere beyond a blockade of green, all of which possess reaching views of the Atlantic. If it weren't for mailboxes at the ends of long driveways though, you'd never know most of them were there. The narrow road greys to twilight under the impenetrable vegetation that protects these secret gems--until you round a curve to an open graphic, where Cunningham Bridge, a 1950’s remnant, crosses a tidal river that spews the ocean into a salt water inlet.

For the three years we dated before we got married, I’d visit my husband here in town, and every time we encountered the area around the bridge I’d marvel: “I can’t believe people live here.” During our first eight years of marriage, when we resided elsewhere, we’d visit on the weekends. By that point, I'd seen it many times, but remained compelled to interrupt conversation with that same phrase when we drove over the bridge, always a little shaken by the unrelenting beauty.

In truth, our town hosts too many stunning views to choose a favorite, but there is something about this particular one that twists my insides and fires up a longing to stop and freeze the video--something about traversing a dim and shadowed road to burst out to drifting aqua on one side and churning blue on the other--two distinct worlds of water divided by an ordinary bridge.

On the sea side, a jagged current sifts between a set of rock-strewn banks, ebbing and flowing on schedule with the blue swells surging beyond the cut. Once the water passes under the bridge though, it stills to a placid glide inside a huge saltwater pond. On calm days, perfect reflections of the granite monoliths that grow up from the middle rest on quiet water. Fish nibble expanding circles, the dark leaves from the surrounding trees stare back at themselves; egrets and moaning seagulls dip down for food.

After crossing this bridge hundreds of times now, I have managed to turn the volume on my awe down some, keeping the comments to myself. Yet, each time the bend in the road before the bridge appears, it’s a surprise, like stumbling on a painting I’ve never seen, a watercolor of wash and drift and grain and flow framed on the edge of the earth. Inevitably, I take a long breath and sigh and shake my head while a refrain forms in my brain; “I can’t believe I live here.”

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Between Stations

Brakes hiss, trees slip, chain link ribbons
vacuumed up, sun flickering
bottle-brush pines, scrub oaks
sky-washing maples,
one white
red lights,
crossing gates,
idling traffic,
feathered Sumacs
fence slowing,
couplings thump,
asphalt parked cars,
squinting mirror light,
brakes squealing, steaming,
gasping, shuddering,
exhaling, heaving, pausing—

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Fields of Dreams

I’ve never been to Europe, much less France, so Provence is only a name to me, one that that conjures up images of cornflower skies reaching to fields bowing down with lavender and yellow flowers. They sell the country sophistication of Provence through blue and gold linens in some specialty domestics stores and when encountering samples, I finger the cloth; imagining a distressed wood table in a stone farmhouse hosting a ceramic pitcher of cool water, or maybe some homemade wine.

My first experience with blue and yellow came at age fourteen, when my mother allowed me to select a new bedspread to match the elegant beige and grey wallpaper she’d already had installed in my bedroom. She cringed when I chose a yellow and white checked pattern; “Wouldn’t you like the blue instead?” she asked me. At my firm “no” she made the best of it, running up matching drapes on the sewing machine, but hanging blue and white antique plates on the wall above a navy upholstered chair where I sat to do my homework. She liked things “just so.” In truth it was probably a miracle of restraint for her to cope with that that bedroom, where her refined pallet clashed with my immature styling, but she made it work.

That childhood retreat has been redecorated into a welcoming guest room now. My brother and his family live in the house where we were raised and I’ll be the first one to admit that it looks better. In fact, typing this, I chuckled to realize that the antique plates from my old room stand on the hutch in our current dining room, where the walls are painted a beige-and-grey blend from Benjamin Moore called “Warm Spring Stones.”

But that doesn’t stop me from waxing nostalgic because my pink foxgloves failed to thrive this spring, so the color combination below is all that has popped up in the way-back garden so far.

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Aspirations, Take Two

The boat that floats above this type on the Middle Passages masthead raises and lowers with the tides in a salt-water marsh split by a narrow causeway, a five minute drive from my house. For years it drifted alone, its only companion a sailboat tied up at a cove in a far-off inlet. Someone pulls the rowboat in the winter, but other than that, I’ve never seen the dinghy used. It’s simply there, a piece of lowland scenery, a quiet canvas of morning mist and carking seagulls, sometimes drifting, often mired in the mud flats, always a gift as I walk by.

Some of you may recall that last year; the beauty of the picture compelled me to photograph it over and over again, seeking the perfect mirror shot of the boat resting on its image in still water. I took so many pictures that even I started questioning myself. How many times can you photograph the same thing after all?

That's a trick question though. The scene is ever changing--in the color of the light, the reflection of the sky, the direction of the chop, the ribbons the ducks trail as they paddle through brown water.

And then someone adds the clean lines of a refinished dory to the mix and moors it twenty feet away.

Looks like I have another summer of chasing the ultimate image in front of me.

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Monday, June 14, 2010

Digital Words

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In a quest to focus on some non-blog related activities this week, for the next few days I'm going to let pictures speak for me. This one says: "What I love about June."

Happy Monday.

Friday, June 11, 2010

It Happens in a Blink of an Eye

Except in my case, it doesn’t.

Now that I am on the other side of Wednesday, I’ll admit that the April visit to the eye doctor scared me. During that appointment, no matter what combination of lenses he held in front of my eyes, the doctor was unable to correct my vision, so he sent me down the hall for a test I’d never had before. When the tech handed him my results, a printout covered with bright oranges and reds, they both left the room in a hurry. I may be vision impaired, but the look on the doctor’s face was crystal clear. “Houston, we have a problem.”

Returning to the room, he treaded lightly on a (serious) term Keratitis, finishing with: “We won’t worry about that yet,” and sent me home for six weeks of rest and NO EYE RUBBING. After a nasty 24 hours dwelling on every way in which I rely on my eyesight, I packed my worry into a box of denial and waited for my June 9 appointment.

Wednesday I learned that I do NOT have permanent damage to my corneas. My (correctable) vision has returned. "What we have here, is a failure to blink properly."

Who knew there was any other way?

As a result, my eyes remain chronically dry, which temporarily (thank God) changed the shape of the corneas and altered my vision. Assured that the condition is manageable, I submitted to squirts of yellow dye into my eyes, additional drops that stung, examinations under ultra-violet lights and a video of my “blink,” before scheduling a series of follow up appointments with a cheerful receptionist and heading home.

With two hours to kill before my train and the sun warming a clean spring day, I decided to walk across town to the train station, strolling down tree-lined Commonwealth Avenue, past the towering arches of Boston Public Library. Trekking around the vendors lining the edge of Copley Plaza, I crossed Arlington Street into the cool shade of the Public Garden, stopping to watch a gaggle of kids climb onto a swan boat at the lagoon.

Along the way, I entertained myself by smiling at the people who approached me and guessing who would acknowledge me (worker-bees no, tourists, yes). Climbing the inclines of Boston Common, past bronze statues and school children playing an earnest game of Duck, Duck, Goose, I veering through the early lunch crowd at Downtown Crossing and made it to South Station in time to chat with a woman at a pretzel push-cart from whom I purchased a snack before jumping on my train. Upon arrival at my stop, I drove to the supermarket, conversed with the cashier as I purchased milk and returned to my house.

There I caught a look in the mirror.

Folks, those stinging drops back at the doctor's office? Well they must have been blue, because as you know, yellow and blue make green and that’s what color goop had leaked out my eyes, dribbled and dried all the way down to my chin. This was the lovely makeup I wore as I scheduled my additional eye appointments (thank you for telling me receptionist) purchased coffee at Starbucks, grinned like a mad-woman at about a billion people throughout the streets of Boston, yakked to a pretzel vendor and chattered to the clerk at Stop & Shop. You betcha New Englanders are a closed-mouth bunch. In over three hours, no one said a thing.

Do you think if I blink hard enough, say, like Elizabeth Montgomery in Bewitched, I could make that little block of history disappear?

Oh, I forgot. I don’t know how.

Anyone care to match that embarrassing moment of the week?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

As I See it

By the time you read this, I'll be clackety-clacking on the train to the big city Wednesday. During my regular eye exam in April, the doctor discovered something peculiar about my corneas. After referencing an intimidating Latin term and telling me not to worry about that, he instructed me to do nothing and return in six weeks for more testing. Did I look up that Latin word on the Internet? Hell no. I’m big into denial here. So much so that instead of telling you how I feel about this appointment, I’m going to focus (No pun intended but let's keep it in anyway, okay?) on positives.

Awards, to be exact.

Last week, both Ro, at Soft Winds and Roses and Robin at Your Daily Dose gave me the Sugar Doll Award.

Now, here’s the thing. By the time I grew up, my father had over 100 rose bushes on his property. In his honor, I try to cultivate about six in my shady plot of land, with limited success. I can tell you about aphids, black spot, Japanese beetles and powdery mildew. There are blooms yes, but never enough sun and I don't win the war. So the gorgeous roses twisted around a cartwheel on Ro’s masthead swallowed me in, from there it’s been good fun and fantastic pictures.

As for Robin, well she says it like it is. You have to check out her “Here’s to you Thursdays.” She’s thoughtful in her selections, kind and sensitive…and I don’t say that just because I was a previous honoree! Check out Your Daily Dose.

The rules of the Sugar Doll award are to share ten things about yourself and pass the award on to ten bloggers you admire, but I’ve already spilled just about every pseudo interesting about me in Middle Passages. After all, waking from a snooze on the driveway to a neighbor who wants to call an ambulance? That’s kind of interesting, right? That said, if you can’t restrain your burning compulsion to know more about lil' ol' me, click here, but I will harbor zero disappointment if you move right along. If you like the little do-hicky and want to post it to your sidebar, feel free to snap it up--the ten interesting things are optional.

Next, John Paul over at Where Sky Meets Ground bestowed the Journey Support Award on me.

JP, the amazing helicopter pilot who, up until recently was stationed in Afghanistan and is now on the way to an assignment in Sicily with his family, gets a huge shout out for the links he includes and the lessons he writes. The award from JP highlights what I’ve been saying for several months now. Writers are nice. The insight, compassion, ideas, thoughtfulness and empathy that emanate from so many writers out there in the blogosphere drill down about as deep inside me as you can get.

I have benefited from many more, but below, in no particular order, are a group of bloggers and/or aspiring writers I'd like to honor, all of whom have helped me to stop, reflect and learn:

Jody at Author, Jody Hedlund
Carol at Carol’s Prints
Simon at Constant Revision
Glen at Differences with the Same Likeness
Bridget (who I miss) at JBChicoine—Aspiring Novelist
Sharon at Musings of a Mercurial Woman
Helen at Straight from Hel
Suzy at Extraordinary Ordinariness
Tricia at Tailspinning
Tabitha at Through My Eyes

Thanks to all. I wish you continued success.

"See" you in a day or two.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Reptilian Habit(ats)

In typical New England fashion, the glop of humid air that descended on us this weekend exited amid a rush of twisting trees late yesterday. To the north, thunderstorms tore limbs and stopped traffic on the highway. At our house, thunder muttered and coughed, but once a dry squall mustered the leaves into a quadrille and departed, it left us with today, the kind you pray for when your daughter is getting married, there's a special graduation to attend or you plan to walk twenty miles for charity.

My agenda involved none of the above; instead, I served coffee and pastries to seniors in an antique house doing business as a function room located on a hill above our breeze-dimpled harbor. The sun hung from the sky; a professional calendar picture stacked with bright cumulous clouds on the horizon. Shifting winds set branches tossing like the heads of aging horses on their way out to pasture, but the air heated up anyway--I threw my sweatshirt aside while clearing dishes and wiping down counters. When I returned home though, our house, nestled in a shady street under pines and hundred-year-old-oaks, was freezing. Shivering, I walked down the driveway, the only place on our property with sun at that hour, and sat down to the hot tar of memory.

When we were growing up, three times a week in the summer, our mother trekked some combination of her six kids to swimming lessons at a man-made beach on a small lake in our town. Petite and underweight, we were all stick-like wraiths with an unswerving affinity for water; playing in the pond long after the lessons ended, until we shuddered and our lips turned blue. Then, wrapped in towels, mom packed us into the car for a ride to the next town and a shady farm stand where she’d purchase fresh produce, corn, carrots, or peas, before delivering us home for lunch.

Though as much as a half-an-hour could go by between the time we passed the raucous waterfall on the road to the farm, yanked on the clanking scale where customers weighed paper-bagged goods and our arrival back home, we’d step out of the car still shaking. The quickest cure was to spread out our wet towels on the hot asphalt driveway and lay down like soft snakes. The blistering blacktop steamed the dampness from the towels and fed sauna-like moisture into our frozen cores. Sometimes we fell asleep and woke blinking and confused when mom called us in to eat.

It’s been a long time since I’ve attempted warmth via driveway. Something like twenty-plus years ago in a house with a driveway that climbed at a 35 degree angle, we experienced a similar day to today. I wandered out, sans towel, and planted myself down for a warming snooze, only to startle awake to an anxious neighbor idling her car at the bottom of the driveway, asking if I needed an ambulance.

Perhaps it was the lack of towel that caused her concern; in retrospect, the presence of a striped mat might have communicated some planning to my nap. Recalling that embarrassment and sensitive to the parade of cars that ribbon down our street, today I relocated myself out of sight on a bluestone path at the side of the driveway and lizard-like, absorbed the heat.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Day One. Again.

In typical fashion, I joined the party late.

At sixteen, a dear grown-up from my past called me a “late bloomer” and that, my friends, has never changed. I chuckled at the continuity of this concept as I “followed” an “Over Forty Blogger’s Club” at Never Growing Old today.

Do the math folks. Not only am I over forty. I’m over the next one too. In the early stages, sure, but not just over it either. And for those of you who think the idea of being fifty-something is a distant happenstance for you--just wait. God willing, one day, you too will turn around and say, “How in the hell did I get here?”

That said, I have discovered the bonus about living through this landmark age arrives on board an unswerving conviction that it is no longer a good idea to waste time. In all likelihood, life is more than half over so it's imperative to get cracking—in a manner additional to those cap-gun explosions that occur between the joints.

To some degree, I’m a cliché. Twenty-three years with a company and kicked to the curb at fifty. As soon as I landed though, this writing thing hollered from behind locked walls. When it yelled, “Who the hell cares if you’re 50? I've been trapped in here for ever, waiting for you to produce a key. In case you didn't notice, they handed it to you, dummy, use it,” I decided to listen.

So here I am, surrounded by these lush words ripening in me, and I brush through them, trying to find the sweetest ones. Like someone tending a first garden, as I encounter a plump, berry of a word, it charges me up, makes my mouth water and I reach out, pluck and taste, rolling my eyes at the succulence.

The thing is, these last sixteen months have been such a time of growth and discovery that when I step from that garden and remember that I'm not new, that my upper arms jiggle, (my darling daughter loves to set them swinging) and my eyelids droop (thankfully the glasses hide that most of the time), I’m surprised. How can this aging exterior be mine, when inside, I’m fresh and shaking with eagerness?

A further dose of reality appears in the words of so many other aspiring writers, years younger than me. Through their styles and use of idiom, it becomes ever clearer that as green as I may be, I am of another time, of a previous generation-- someone who would be mocked at for using words like “squee” and “awesomesauce," no matter that they make me smile. I mean, let's be honest here. Half the time I have to resort to Google to understand text-speak acronyms. ROTFL, right?

On bad days, this makes me feel more out of it, as left behind as ever.

But then I straighten my shoulders, in spite of the fact that they may be creaking, and slog ahead. Some people accomplish their goals at 20, 35 or 42. Some people reach them when they are 70, or 83. Here's to learning that it doesn't matter how old you are. Just keep dreaming the dreams and then slap on some Bengay and limp on out there and reach them.

A quote from Buddha on the header from Never Growing Old says it all: “Each morning we are born again. What we do today matters most.”

So I may be 51, but today, I’m brand new. And I’m going to write.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Just This

I wish you could see the hummingbird,
oscillating wings invisible
against the red glass feeder.
Hanging suspended, parallel,
a needle puncture takes a sip.

They really do hum--
the playing card clipped to a bike spoke,
folded paper threaded through a fan,
a garden windmill spinning on the breeze.

Finished, he sews a zigzag stitch,
looping up to stab himself
into a cotton-cloth sky.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

What the Wind Blew In

Smoke wafted down from Quebec and descended us yesterday. On what seemed like a clear day, a tinge of haze floated between the trees in the back woods. Peering down the holiday-quiet street, I saw more. We have all been sneezing from billowing clouds of pine pollen that coated everything over the last week, but this was different; the air heavier, settled, and though it is not unusual for a sea breeze to blow in a fog to us, this cover sank lower, laced with a tinge of yellow.

Nervous, I looked to the acres of paint-brush pines and aging hemlocks lining the land behind us. Straight back from our house, at the edge of property we don’t own, a small cliff tumbles down to the marshy remnants of a pond that dried up some thirty some years ago--engineers altered the flow of water to create our town reservoir. Sometimes on a tramp through the woods, we'll encounter evidence of late night parties by the swamp, the sooty remains of campfires and crushed beer cans scattered around. Once my husband’s brother, out on a walk with his dog, discovered two youths deep in the forest, frantically trying to extinguish a brush fire they accidentally set while lighting off firecrackers. There’s no access back there for a fire truck. He made a panting dash home for an extinguisher and a shovel, and contained the blaze before the entire wood went up.

This is what came to mind at the faint aroma of ash yesterday. After checking around though, we saw nothing amiss. We drove to town to wait for our daughter to march while playing her flute in a five-minute parade, and at Memorial Day ceremonies down by the harbor. Catching up with her there, we realized that the low lying fog out to sea sank our plans for a family boat ride after the parade. In the end, a friend informed us that a northwest wind had delivered the ominous smudge on the horizon, not fog at all, but smoke from raging lightening fires 400 miles north of us in Canada. Today I feel a faint soreness in my lungs, as if I sat too close to the fireplace.

In spite of the delay to the season’s inaugural ride in our little dingy, the poor visibility conveyed one of those bonuses you never plan on. My husband finished reconstructing a yard cart, a to-do he was eager to accomplish from his project list. I sat on a rock in the garden, reading The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet by Colleen McCullough, shifting from warm spot to warm spot as the sun cast longer angles, then dropped behind the trees. The teenager, well, she took a nap.

We rendezvoused over leftovers, rested, at peace, grateful for a day of memory and relaxation, only slightly disappointed in the lightening-stoked fires far away that forced this change in plan.