Monthly Archives: September 2015

Looking Closely

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At this very moment, I have ants rebuilding their homes in my driveway, after a heavy dew. They are piling the sand into high mounds that rise from the top of their low ant hills. I can’t decide if they remind me of natural land formations, primitive structures or modern architecture.

Right now, the spider that continues to persistently leave a web stretching from one side of the Fox Lake Road to the other, destroyed daily by the first traveler each morning, is probably (I imagine) heaving a sigh as he once again sends that first silken line across the road.

Today, leaves that were green yesterday are showing color, feeling brittle…dropping.

Mushrooms growing in my yard provide an ever-changing show among the grass.

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When my friend,  Les, was a student at Central Michigan University’s Biological Station on Beaver Island, he found himself in the position, for a few days,  of teaching a science class at the community school here.

He took his students outside, to study one cubic foot of earth.

First, everything on the surface was listed, from inert matter to living plants, insects and other organisms. Next, below the surface, where roots, grubs and earthworms kept company. On like that, through the layers, working twelve inches down. It became evident under those watchful eyes that loamy layers gave way to sand and then to gravel, that most life was close to the surface, and that there was a long list of things to be identified.

How many cubic feet in that school yard…in my driveway…on the beach…in this world…go unnoticed?

I don’t have the impetus of a scientist or even a student, to study the world around me. I am usually rushing from one thing to another, paying little attention to my surroundings. Still, as a participant in this world, it is important to take notice. When I do, I know it is also a source of great wonderment and joy.

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Waking Up Slowly

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Usually, I wake up fast.

I have to.

After hitting the “snooze” button several times (which gives me, each time, an unsatisfying extra five minutes of rest), i have to rush out of bed. I drink a big glass of water with a couple small pills, while coffee is brewing. I slip into shoes and take the little dog for a quick stroll around the yard, in whatever combination of sleep clothes I am wearing. I check my Email over my first cup of coffee. I pour a second cup, fill the thermos and sometimes pack a lunch for work, crush the dog’s medicine onto a tablespoon of soft food in her tiny dish (which makes her start anticipating my departure), shower, dress, put the dog’s dish down (“Take good care of things, Rosa Parks,” I tell her) grab up purse, thermos and lunch bag, and head out the door.

Still, I’m always late.

When Denni used to write up the schedule, she’d add “ish” to whatever time I was supposed to be at work. God, I loved her for that! When scheduled for eight-ish, being on time is easy! Now, it states an unwavering eight o’clock…and I almost never make it.

I get right to work, though, when I get there, and that continues through the long day. Yesterday, after my work day at the hardware store, I went to my aunt’s house to get the upstairs ready for company, and do the rugs and floors. I came home and – after walking the dog and making dinner – worked at the computer until ten.

This day, though, is my day off.

No alarm clock! The sun coming through the window roused the little dog this morning, and she roused me. Ear scratches, belly rubs and cuddles for Rosa Parks, then I lay there, with the sun streaming in, to plan my day.

It will be a full day. I have household chores and baking to do. I have to get to the grocery store and the bank. I have writing and editing and at least one interview on the agenda. I will meet the boat this afternoon, as my friend Donna is arriving for a visit. She and I plan to fit lots of walking, reminiscing and catching up into the next couple days. I have a seven PM meeting to attend.

We’ve had a nice little walk, the dog and I, and I just poured my third cup of coffee.

Today, I’m waking up SLOWLY.

Time to Write; Time to Pause

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I write just about every single day. Letters, often, though brief Emails outweigh traditional correspondence these days. Sometimes it’s editorial content or news items. Often it is editing and minor “re-writes.” None of it is as satisfying as the totally self-indulgent writing I do here. I can tell when it’s time to sit down and write something. As I go through my daily activities, if I am hankering to write, I find myself composing sentences in my head. Rather than just experiencing, I convert it to the written word.

“Two spotted fawns, with their mother, raised their heads to greet me as I drove past them on the Fox Lake Road.”

“Are the squirrels exhibiting bravery when they – at the last possible moment – dash in front of my car…or is it something darker?”

“A planned day off, filled to capacity with things I needed to accomplish, turned into another day at work, and my long list had to be saved for another day.”

This morning, as I sliced, with my fork, into a piece of french toast, I noticed the pat of melting butter looked like a large eye, and the cut I had made was a mouth.

“A mottled gnome snarled up at me from my breakfast plate this morning…”

I knew it was time to write.

Yesterday, plans had to be put on hold to attend to my paying job. Our summer help is gone. Though business has slacked off, as usual, after Labor Day, we are still short-handed on many days. I went in to work because it was necessary, not because I had nothing better to do.

I was feeling the pressure by the time I got home. With all of my long list of jobs being delayed (which means they are all now crowded in to this one day), and a dinner engagement last evening, my first inclination was to dive in head first, and try to make some progress. I had about an hour before I had to leave.

For the Beacon, I could pull up that one article and begin editing, or send off those obituaries; I could return a couple phone calls and respond to some Emails; I could begin my piece for the next issue, plot out the questions for an interview or write up the article on advertising; I could work on billing for the classified ads or the vendors; I could begin filling out subscription reminders. Too much!

I could rush out to Aunt Katie’s, to try to get her floors vacuumed, swept and mopped before dinnertime. Not enough time.

I could tackle a few jobs that are on my list here, but that list is long, too. Laundry, clean the bathroom, shake the rugs and sweep the floors, clean windows and scour sinks. Outside, the raspberries need to be pruned and the back yard needs mowing…and that is just the bare necessities.

The little dog reminded me that she’d been neglected for another long day, and would like to go outside.

What I needed was a pause.

We headed out to the fields that surround my yard.

My only goal was to pick one hundred blackberries. Of course I would count…I count dishes when I wash them and towels as I fold them…but I had no other plans. I did not bring the bucket, to collect them for pie or for the freezer. I didn’t even bring the small bowl, to save them for a midnight treat with milk and sugar. It was only later that I brought the camera out to photograph them. Pick them; eat them: that was my plan.

It developed into something a little more, in that hour I gave myself. I noticed the sunshine, and the play of the shadows. I breathed in the fresh air, and noted a hint of autumn in the breeze. I tasted every berry as I ate them, one by one: some fully ripe with winy sweetness, others bright and tangy on my tongue. Now and then, one for the little dog, who wagged along beside me.

When I got to twenty berries, it seemed their season was almost done, and I’d never find one-hundred. I crossed the yard to the north side, where wild blueberries and blackberries enjoy the shelter of the old maple trees. At fifty-one, I climbed the fence into the old horse enclosure, to get the big berries in there. At seventy-four, back into my own yard. At eight-five, I thought I was done, until I turned and saw what the bright sun had hidden from view. At one hundred and six berries, I decided I was not dressed to force my way into the center of the wild junipers, to get to the vines that grow there.

I spent the last five minutes just sitting…in the grass…with my dog…and felt that it was a perfect conclusion to one of the best hours I’ve had in a long time!

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63 Aspirations

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“Three grand essentials to happiness

in this life

are something to do,

something to love

and something to hope for.”

(Joseph Addison)

My birthday rivals New Year’s Day for reflection, planning and resolutions. It always seems like a milestone. Some years I look back on what I have, or on what I’ve accomplished. Other years, I look to the future.

This year, having just turned 63 years old, my plan was to come up with sixty-three things I would yet like to do in my life.

That may be too many. My sister Brenda reminded me right away that I’m already too busy, and stressed out because of it. As usual, she’s right. Beyond that, my resources (and my years!) are limited; why set myself up for disappointment?

My thought is this: it is better to look ahead to things yet to do, than to look around and think, “is this it??” One of the saddest songs, in my opinion, is the one that says, “Life goes on…long after the thrill of living is gone…”

I’ve had moments where that seemed true of my life…maybe even whole, sad days…but that is not my life! I won’t have it!

Sometimes, it is a matter of noticing and taking pleasure in little things, or finding the joy in necessary tasks.  Often, it means making a conscious effort to appreciate the many wonderful things in my life. Today, it involves setting down a list of aspirations for the rest of my life. It’s good to have goals, right?

My list begins with six items of importance, compiled by Nancy Roman and published on her blog (notquiteold.wordpress.com). It is the list she ticks off in the evening, to determine if she’s truly had a good day.  She calls it the Good-Day-Do-Good Checklist. Every day:

  1. Do something good for my Home.
  2. Do something good for my Body
  3. Do something good for my Mind
  4. Do something good for Work
  5. Do something good for Someone Else
  6. Do something for Sheer Pleasure

Brilliant, isn’t it? A simple guide for making each day a good one.  I wish the next 57 aspirations were as simple…but if I employ the first six, everything else may come easier.

  1. Get organized
  2. Finish reading James Joyce’s Ulysses
  3. Learn to dance
  4. Complete the “Native American Moons” collagraph series
  5. Form a daily drawing habit
  6. Form a daily exercise habit
  7. Make twelve paintings in the “Subverting the Calendar” series
  8. Finish one year’s worth of daily collages
  9. Write every day
  10. Learn (well, actually relearn) Spanish
  11. Become more social
  12. Pay off my mortgage
  13. Build a wood-fire kiln
  14. And a studio space to work in clay
  15. Get a little boat to keep on Fox Lake
  16. Get a bicycle…and use it
  17. Become better at writing letters (I write good letters, but not often)
  18. Visit art galleries in major cities. The Museum of Modern Art, the Louvre and the San Fransisco Art Institute come to mind
  19. See the Pyramids
  20. Visit New England in the fall
  21. Travel across Canada by train
  22. See Ireland
  23. Have my work in a Chicago gallery
  24. Keep chickens
  25. Learn to identify the constellations
  26. Get pine floors in my house
  27. Have new light fixtures installed
  28. Woodwork finished throughout the house
  29. Outlet covers on all outlets
  30. New windows (that open!) for kitchen and dining room
  31. A big round (soft, too, suggests my little dog!) rug for the office space
  32. A soaking tub
  33. Get my garden spot cleared
  34. Build raised beds
  35. Repair the fence
  36. Get rid of the old shed, that the tree fell on, that is now overgrown with wild roses
  37. Support myself with my art
  38. Support myself with my writing
  39. Support myself comfortably
  40. Find opportunities to teach
  41. Decorate for the changing seasons and holidays
  42. Share meals more often
  43. Find opportunities to play cards and games with others
  44. Reconnect with my dear friend, Huey Chu
  45. Take a trip with my daughters…a cruise, maybe?
  46. Take a riverboat cruise down the Mississippi River
  47. See a Broadway show
  48. Do the Mackinaw Bridge Walk on Labor Day
  49. See the desert…perhaps New Mexico
  50. See London
  51. And Paris
  52. And Pompeii
  53. Reread, in order, all of the books by Louise Erdrich
  54. And the first two books by Maxine Hong Kingston (The Woman Warrior and China Men)
  55. And finish the many books I have started, even though some have taken a very scary, sad or boring turn, just so that I can move on
  56. Then read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
  57. And apply it!

And that comes full circle, bringing me right back to my two #1 goals: “Do something good for my home” and “Get organized.”

So, that is 63 aspirations. With my penchant for procrastination, distraction and forgetfulness, that should keep me busy for the rest of my life!