Friday, November 26, 2010

Autumn Reverie

The untended tall field grass, stained gold in the long sunset light, swayed gently in the southern breeze as if without a care in the world. Birds flitted hither and yon in an effort to finish final errands before roosting for the night. Our collie, who ordinarily paced on well-worn trails instead lay curled up under the elder silver maple resting up for her evening rounds. This is such a peaceful time to be a spectator. It’s so effortless for my mind to slip into neutral leaving aside anything that tugged at me during the day. My spirit soars across the unobstructed vista, coasting low on the clear prairie air before turning high into the indigo zenith where twinkling stars are waiting to make their entrance. I can’t tell you how long I sat there on the weathered board stretched between two old stumps and enjoyed the reverie because time simply has no relevance. My spirit, refreshed, returned to my body as the sun slipped behind purple clouds on the horizon and left in its place a spectral band of fading color. The frosty air of late November nipped at my cheeks and toes. It was with gratitude for the experience and a sense of awe in the ever changing seasonal landscape that I descended from my vantage point to replace it with the busyness of a shared home.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Musing on a Hot Summer Night...

Summer nights... a cacophony of cicadas and crickets fill the otherwise quiet and humid evening wherein many birds and animals, like myself seek respite. The waxing moon gives way to the nocturnal travelers that arrive on silent wing or glide on tip toe through the darkness. The air is heavy and still as the smallest of breezes tries to bring a modicum of cooling relief, but to no avail. The fan in the window makes noise but not an appreciable difference. It is just too hot to sleep.

These are the kind of nights that make me wish for Grandma's screen porch. I would lie on top of cool, white cotton sheets on the day bed and listen to the sounds of night. Sometimes I would be lucky and the neighbor's back porch light would be turned off allowing me to watch for shooting stars or marvel at the heat lightning's luminous, yet distant, display. The scent of the sea infused those humid nights, slowly stirring the moisture rich air into a dense fog by dawn, leaving everything outdoors damp as if rained upon. Fog doesn't respect boundaries set by the screens and on those occasions I would wake early to crawl inside, where it would be dry, and finish my sleep on the couch.

Seaside summer nights are different than those on the Midwest prairie. The dog days of August would be the climax of summer temperatures and always the heat would be at its peak by mid afternoon, followed by the on shore breezes that brought relief before the stars emerged. Even next to the sea, we had heat waves that made sleeping miserable... but they would never last for weeks on end as they do here. Temps over 100 degrees are just an expected part of summer on the prairie.

Air conditioning is a part of everyone's life -- in the house, at work, schools, vehicles, even tractors and combines now have a/c. I could stay inside for days on end avoiding the reality of the oppressing heat, I dislike it that much. I would go out to gather mail, or take Casey to the local pool or for a play date, or run to the store -- but simply stepping outside was like walking into a sauna, the air almost too heavy to breathe. And if the steamy air itself wasn’t oppressive enough, the closed vehicles were ovens. It was our practice to open every window and door for 5 – 10 minutes before going anywhere, even though cats would rush in just to see if there was anything inside worth braving the heat. The moment we got in to go the a/c would be blasted and windows closed to keep the heat from sneaking back in.

I remember, growing up on the Cape, when cars had no a/c and folks just rolled the windows down. Ladies, who feared ruin of their coiffed hair, would don kerchiefs or brightly colored scarves and big sunglasses. Jackie Kennedy’s influence on summer fashion was clearly evident. Children, like family the dog, would hang out of windows eyes closed and smiling as the wind blew hair back. It was great fun to put our little hands out the window to ride imaginary waves in the torrent of air. Fathers draped an arm out the window and by summer’s end had a driver’s tan – one arm darker than the other. On days too hot to lounge in the shade everyone went to the water, which was never more than 3 miles in any direction. The ice cream man jingled his way through town ever watchful of the dime raised high to get his attention. Summer seemed innocent and blissful when I was a child.

On these torrid Midwest summer nights I think back on those days of youth and all that they have done to weave fond memories for me. I look at Casey and hope she too is weaving good memories that will keep her company in adulthood. She is as much a daughter of the prairie as I am a daughter of the sea. When I seem wistful and full of reminiscing she points out how the wind blows across the tall grass or the endless bean fields making them shimmer like waves on the open ocean. It is a shared gift that mesmerizes us both. In this way we share a common thread, wherein she has found the ocean in Nebraska where the endless sea of grass meets the azure sky.

Saturday, April 3, 2010


When spring breathes whisper soft on the dormant land, she awakens drowsy mayflowers from beneath the blanket of last season’s spent leaves. The tiny white blossoms shyly open to release the sweet, earthy fragrance I hold dear. It is at this very time of year that I call you, dear grandmother, back from beyond the pale so we can stroll together down the sun-dappled sandy back roads of my youth. Do you remember the annual tradition we kept? I would come early and you would be ready, dressed in a faded cotton blouse and your favorite floral apron with a wool cardigan over it to seal out the morning chill, pants pinned to fit your slender frame, and cabled knee socks slipped into worn penny loafers. Your long silvery hair would be braided and pinned up and if it were windy you would wear a blue kerchief. Your calloused hands would carry a old hand basket and the trusty, large fork to scare away any snakes that might be lurking under the leaves, not quite ready yet to scurry at the sound of our footsteps. Our mission was to gather a bunch of the first flowers of spring and place them in the tiniest, but prettiest, glass bottle we could find and place it in the position of honor on the kitchen windowsill so you might have something lovely to grace your humble life. I will always think of you when winter gives way to verdant spring and it is time for mayflowers to bloom.

I miss you, grandma, your gentle touch and voice as soft as rose petals. I am so grateful that I had you to go to, following the worn path that wound through the piney woods to your back gate. The sounds of my feet as I ran barefoot over the sandy way, watching to ensure I didn’t miss a bird calling or squirrel’s chatter, are as clear as if time melted away. Always you greeted me with open arms and a loving heart. You were my sacred island in a sometimes turbulent sea, a magical place where all my troubles dissolved and I was important and appreciated. From your soul, rich in contrast to your lifestyle, you offered up precious gifts of art, poetry, writing, traditional hand arts, and your ability to see the world through the heart rather than the eyes biased by society. I have nurtured those seeds you planted and have kept the garden tended in your absence. You may not recognize me now as I have outgrown my youthful appearance and into a grandmother myself, yet under the white wisps threading through the thinning dark locks, and beyond the crow’s feet I proudly wear… I am still your granddaughter.

I deeply desire to be a similar island to my own grandchildren. They are, however precious, scattered hither and yon around the country -- the distance too great and not a swift run down the woodsy path. I know how very lucky I was to have you those short, but sweet, eighteen years. And maybe, just maybe, when I am thinking of you then we are together again in some parallel world where memories are granted immortality.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

When the student is ready the teacher appears...

What an enchanting verse! Indeed, in my life it has happened over and over. I have needed and/or appreciated all the teachers I've had the fortune to experience. They range in age from a very premature baby, to an elderly gentleman still lucid, though deaf, at age 105. Hundreds, no thousands, perhaps millions have gifted me with insight... often by word, other times by action, and sometimes just by their presence. To all I am eternally grateful.

Not all my teachers were two legged. I have learned much from trees about taking a stand, sheltering others, being flexible in tough times yet willing to allow for new growth when situations beyond our control prune us back. A tree does not live its life differently according to the advance of age, it just follows its original instructions and behaves like the tree it is supposed to be, nor do they feel the need to compare themselves to others. Their magnificence is obvious to us and as such they offer wisdom through their example. If we are lucky enough, they speak directly to our spirit.

I have even learned compassion from the lowly Box Elder bug, upside down and wiggling for all its worth hoping, somehow, to right itself and move on without harm. This drama played out on the back of the sink as I prepared to spray cleaner and wipe the surfaces down. I looked at the bug and was prompted to consider times in my life when I'd been flipped over on my metaphoric back and felt rather insignificant in the scope of things. Would it make a difference if I just wiped the bug along and cast it out with the dirty paper towel? Would it weaken me to care about this bug enough to lift it up in my hand and move it outside? It says a lot about a person when they are given the opportunity to care about something or someone insignificant and rise to the occasion. Some have a word for that... sappy... while others see it as a spiritual experience.

It is both lovely and loving that nature teaches us in so many ways. We do not live upon an inert blue ball floating through space. Quite the contrary, we are part of all that surrounds us, good and not so good. Everything touches us and we touch everything. We are students, learning according to our ability to remain open minded, and at the same time we are teachers in ways we may not even realize, to those we may not even be aware we are touching.

I am tickled by the fact that I have arrived at the noontime of my life deeply rooted in education and finally be able to have earned the title "teacher;" bringing all I have experienced to the table and offering my humble insight to those who turn a willing ear. My story may not have the shine of fame, or the luster of a world traveler, but like every person I. too, have something to share. I still have a long way to go and much to see and experience. In contrast, my newest teachers are my students. They put up with my first year efforts (in a self contained jr. high room) to change the world through education. They let me flounder when I refuse to teach directly from textbooks and find my self using up all my available time trying to figure out how to avoid the usual command like, "please turn to page such and such, read to page such a such, and answer the questions at the end of the chapter." I want us to interact, to struggle for understanding together, to be a community within a community and care enough to help each other out. We are a patchwork quilt, each fabric different but all part of a bigger design.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Winter daydreams near the cusp of spring...

I scan for signs of spring but all I behold is white, pure white as far as the eye can see with only random skeletons of dormant trees and the tallest plants and sturdiest of grasses poking above the snow as if to indicate they still remain in spite of it all... and so do I. This winter has been long and cold. I have yet to walk on the earth, and instead are kept at length by a deep, frozen barrier. I yearn to feel that gentle touch of new grass, the whisper of soft breezes, see life return after the long slumber.

That reminds me of how I talk to children about seasons. I explain that in the fall the trees drop their leaves as they start to fall asleep, and all winter long the energy goes back into the earth and they sleep until the warmer weather wakes them up and growth returns to the land. Robert Frost knew about that return when he penned, "Spring's first green is gold." So true, as all shoots and leaves emerge golden until the sun coaxes the more verdant hue. Trees don't mind being woken, they don't complain, nor do plants whine and refuse to grow. They respect their Original Instructions and do what they are created to do.

Hmm, if people would only take the plant world's example! We are closer to the land than we realize. Winter is our time to become dormant, to lie fallow. No wonder I feel so lazy and sluggish at times.
I know I will feel so energized by the advent of spring. I need to reserve my energy and allow myself to have time to mend the frazzled nerves. Perhaps I should not be so hard on myself when I occasionally want to give in to the lure of winter daydreams.