Category Archives: writing

Lost…and Found

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Lost and found seems to be the underlying theme of my days lately. I blame my failing memory, a lack of care and too many distractions. Whatever the reasons, the facts are undeniable.

A month ago, I went on a house-wide search for the little device whose sole purpose is to retrieve photos from my camera’s SD card. I spent several hours over as many days looking, and thinking about where I might have put it, and searching some more. I know I wouldn’t have thrown it away, but I was running out of places to look. I finally gave up.

Near the first of September, close to the last page in my morning journal, I went to the bookcase to pull out another. Though the journal is a simple composition book, I am particular about the ones I use. I like wide-rules pages, sewn binding, and a marbled black and white cover. I usually order them in a multi-pack, so that I always have them on hand. I use the journal each morning for my gratitude practice, random thoughts and observations, dreams that I remember, and notes from whatever book I’m studying. Each journal lasts from several weeks to a few months. That, it turns out, is plenty of time for me to forget whether or not I have another composition book waiting.

When I couldn’t find one, I went on-line and ordered three more. That should have been plenty of time to get them here before I ran out of pages. It wasn’t. Though the order, when I tracked it, said it was delivered, it was not. I contacted the seller, who asked if I’d like a refund or a replacement. “Please re-send the product,” I replied, “as quickly as possible.” By that time, I was at the end of my journal. Two days later, a reply came from the sender saying they had issued me a refund. Ugh!

The grocery store here on Beaver Island used to carry composition books. Though pricier than the ones I usually order, I was willing to pay…but they had none. So, I went back to the computer and placed another order for three composition books. Due to arrive here in four days, delivery was delayed twice. It shouldn’t be so difficult!

Then, I lost a pile of cash. I’ve been looking at possibly buying an electric bicycle; my house needs a new roof; I was hoping to be able to travel downstate to attend my niece’s wedding. Money deposited in my checking account is quickly absorbed into regular necessary spending, so I’d been keeping some cash out, set aside for one of these “extras.” Before I took my day trip off the island, realizing that was too much cash to carry around, I took the money out of my purse, and put it “somewhere safe.”

Then, I forgot where I put it! I thought I knew where it was, but when it wasn’t there, I had no idea where to look. I’ve been searching for it for weeks! I’ve gone through every file in every file drawer. I’ve gone over everything on all of my shelves, including emptying every basket and shaking out each book, in case I might have tucked the money between the pages.

During the search, I found my SD card reader, tucked into a seldom-used briefcase that sits under my desk. I found my stash of extra, empty composition books, not far from where I had already searched for them. I found my good binoculars that have been tucked away for so long, I forgot I even had them. And, after a prayer to Saint Anthony, patron saint of lost items, I finally found my money! And took it right to the bank, before I could misplace it again! I’ve had enough of “lost and found!”

Fixing the Dryer

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A day of rain at the first of last week gave me the incentive I needed to finally fix my clothes dryer. It’s a terrible job that I’d been putting off. Something had fallen into the hole when I was cleaning the lint trap. It was rattling ominously against the fan whenever I tried to run it. So, the clothesline has been getting good use!

I don’t mind using the clothesline. The process is rewarding in many ways. There’s the extra exercise built in to simply getting the wet clothes out to the backyard, and the repetitive act of hanging them. I sort the clothes as I hang them: pajamas, underwear and socks – in pairs – go in the back; shirts, folded in half over the clothesline are next; and slacks hang on the front line where the clothesline pole will keep them from dragging the ground. I fold the dried clothes as I take them down. Things dried on the clothesline hold onto a fresh air scent that no fabric softener can compete with. Sheets and towels are especially wonderful after hanging outside.

Still, there are disadvantages, too. The clothesline doesn’t remove wrinkles the way the dryer can. Unless it’s an especially breezy day, it also doesn’t remove the dog hair that seems to coat everything. The dryer tends to tighten up the weave in jeans and sweaters, making them fit me better right now when I’m between sizes. And then there is rain to contend with. And, inevitably, winter.

Fixing the dryer, though, is not easy. It involves first wedging myself through an eight-inch space between wall and appliance, to get behind the machine, so that I can unplug it and push it out into the room. Then, the vent hose has to be disconnected, the back removed(seven machine screws), and the vent guard taken off(more screws). A million things could go wrong! Screws drop to the floor, roll away and sometimes disappear. The vent hose is difficult to remove, but even harder to reattach. And, there is always the possibility that, one of these times, I’ll get hopelessly stuck between the wall and the dryer!

But, with cold weather coming, it would have to be dealt with eventually. The rainy day gave me the motivation I needed. I had work clothes in the washing machine, and I needed them. So, with plenty of cursing and pacing the floor, I tackled the job.

In this case, the offending object was a short pencil from the golf course, that I had evidently found in a pocket and thoughtlessly tossed on top of the dryer. Once it was removed and everything reassembled and pushed back in to place, the dryer works like a charm. And, though I chastised myself for the carelessness that caused the problem (and repeated promises to myself to not let it happen again!), the completed job gave me a huge sense of accomplishment. Success!

One Author

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As a person who loves to read, I go through a lot of books. Though I have a list of authors that I know I can depend on, I’m always on the lookout for others. When I come across a book that intrigues me, I’ll look for others by the same writer. That’s an over-simplified explanation of how I came to read Kate Atkinson’s books.

First, I read Life After Life. I saw it in a bookstore. The image – a rose – on the front cover caught my eye; the description on the back cover drew me in. It was an easy choice for my “next read,” and it did not disappoint. I’d never read a book quite like it before and, though the story line intentionally jittered around, it held my rapt attention all the way through. I hated for it to end!

Next, I read A God in Ruins which, though not exactly a sequel to Life After Life, had many of the same characters. As the style of the two books was so decidedly different, it gave me an idea of both the scope and the talent of the author. That put me on a quest to find more of Kate Atkinson’s work. I read Behind the Scenes at the Museum, Transcription, and When Will There Be Good News?

Then, after a pause where I was catching up on new books by other authors I follow, I kind of got confused, forgot Atkinson’s name, and started reading books by Kate Quinn, instead. Quinn’s books are well-researched, and often set in World War II. Like Life After Life and A God in Ruins. I’d read a couple of them before I realized that the authors, both named Kate, were two different people. Kate Quinn is also a very good writer, and I’ve now read many of her books as well.

Then, I came upon Case Histories, by Kate Atkinson. It is the first of her Jackson Brodie mysteries (there are five), and I loved it! I followed with the second in that series, One Good Turn, which was also wonderful. The third is When Will There Be Good News? I was going to skip it and jump to the fourth in the series, but a few years had passed since I’d read it, and I’d learned more about the Brodie character from the first two books, so I re-read it.

I’m so glad I did! For whatever reason, on the first reading, I’d missed a lot of the nuance and subtle humor injected into every page. I had also forgotten quite a bit of the story, so was held in suspense just as much as when I’d first read it. With the history of many of the characters gained from the first two books, I understood them better, and loved them more.

Next, I read the fourth Jackson Brodie book, Started Early, Took My Dog, and the the fifth and final one, Big Sky. And, though it didn’t detract a bit from my enjoyment of both of them, I was more than a little surprised to realize that I’d read them both before. When?! I have no record of them in any of my lists of “Books Read,” so that tells me it has to have been at least five or six years ago, before I started keeping book lists. I can only guess that I read them before I knew the author from Life After Life, so I was not appreciating them as much as I would when I knew her capabilities.

Anyway, Kate Atkinson has provided me with a good summer’s-worth of reading material. I’m now listening to Behind the Scenes at the Museum, to see what I missed in that treasure the first time around, and looking forward to her next book, Shrines of Gaiety, that will be delivered to my electronic reader in September.

Rain

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Today is my day off. I had a few things planned, but on top of my list was getting the lawn mowed. I call it lawn, but it’s actually just a mown field. If left to its own devices, it goes back to its true nature: a collection of various grasses, wildflowers, juniper, and blackberry brambles. That is what surrounds the area I’ve dedicated to lawn, and I’d be happy to let it all go, if circumstances were different.

As it is, I need to maintain a yard. The little dog becomes hesitant to go outside even when the grass is only a bit overgrown; from her vantage point, it must seem daunting, with grasses waving over her head. I walk the field, and I know how difficult it can be to navigate, in areas where the long thorny blackberry branches reach out to snag clothing and any exposed skin. I wouldn’t want to maneuver through it on my way to the garden, clothesline, or car. Also, there are all the critters – snakes and mice and mosquitos – that harbor in the long grass. I’d rather have some discouragement between them and my back door! So, I mow the lawn.

After a few days of rain in the last two weeks, it is ready. In August, the grass is slow growing, but the weeds thrive in summer’s heat. My yard is polka-dotted with long, tough stems rising up out of the grass. The blossoms of Queen Anne’s Lace are opening up randomly around the yard. Long grasses are crowding the rocks that border walkways and flower beds. It is definitely time to get the mower going.

So, that was my plan. I had already sabotaged it a little, by forgetting to put a gas can in the car yesterday, so I could stop at the station after work and fill it. So, that would mean a trip to town today, to get gas. To make the trip “worth it,” I would plan a trip to the bank and the post office as well. The bank had been unexpectedly closed the last time I stopped; I’ve been carrying around two small checks to deposit since last Thursday. I’d write a check for the phone bill that’s sitting on the dining room table, and drop that in the mail. Maybe, since I’d already be in town, I’d take myself out to lunch…or stop in at one or two of the little shops…or pop in for a visit with a friend. Because that’s just how my mind works.

By the time I got home, I’d think, “No sense is starting a big project now; this day has been wasted.” So, I’d take the dogs for a walk, or maybe for a drive down to the lake, and everything I had planned to get done today would be put off until tomorrow. Except, I woke up today to pouring rain. There will be no lawn-mowing on a day like this! All of my good intentions…that I would have probably frittered away on my own…have been set aside by circumstances beyond my control. Hurray! This is my day off!

Just One More

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I’ve been a little preoccupied lately with lapses in my cognitive function. Many folks have stepped up to assure me that it’s “perfectly normal,” “nothing to worry about,” and “happens to everyone.” Thank you! It really does make me feel better.

Still, I live alone. When you live alone, there are a few things you have to be especially watchful of. Choking is one. That’s unsettling even when it happens in a public place where there is more likely to be someone to pound me on the back and/or perform the Heimlich maneuver. Home alone, choking can be terrifying. Falling is another. Once, when I was much younger, I came home a little bit tipsy. Headed upstairs to bed in the dark, I accidentally walked right off the side of the steps, landing in a heap in the kitchen. Then, my only thought was, “I’m glad nobody saw that!” Now, whenever I take a fall, no matter how minor, my mind is running through what I know of skeletal anatomy, trying to assess the possible damage. And, living alone, the thought of losing my mental faculties is especially worrisome.

I do what I can. I try to be mindful when I’m eating, chew each bite thoroughly, and not rush through meals. After too many middle-of-the-night trips up and down the stairs, due to my own and my dogs aging bladders, I have moved my bed down to the main floor, to lessen the chance of a fall. And when I notice, as I have recently, that I’m not remembering things as I should, I pay attention. First, I help myself out where I can: I try to be more alert to what is going on around me; I write things down; I plan reminders. Second, I keep track of my lapses. I somehow feel it will be better if I figure this out on my own, rather than have to have someone else inform me. So, I have one more story to document.

This happened a couple weeks ago, and within just a few days of the other major forgetting incident that I’ve already told. I’m pretty merciful in my judgment about isolated occurrences. I’m busy, after all, and have a lot of things on my mind. It’s when the incidents of absent-mindedness start to pile up that I get concerned.

After several diversions and quite a bit of procrastination, I had finally – at the eleventh hour – gotten all the paperwork completed, and turned in my application to a gallery, for consideration for an art show. I was so proud of myself! I called my friend Linda (who knows well what an accomplishment this was) to tell her. She didn’t pick up, so I left her a message. While I was talking, not even to an actual person, I was preparing dinner for my dogs.

Rosa Parks has a “slow-feeder” dish to prevent her from eating too fast. It is bright green, shaped like a broad platter, with high nubs all over the surface. In it, she gets a measured one-quarter cup of dry food designed for small, senior, over-weight dogs, and one tablespoon of wet food, with her medicine mixed into it. I serve her on a fluffy pink rug around the corner from my desk.

Darla has a standard 2-quart stainless steel dog dish. She gets two scoops – like the scoop you’d use for flour or other grain – of her chunky dry food, plus a tablespoon of wet food with her medicine mixed in. Because she’s a big dog, I put her dish on a short stool, to cause less strain on her neck. Because the only thing my dogs have ever fought about is food, Darla is served away from Rosa Parks, at the other end of the kitchen.

It’s a little bit of a process, but I’m used to it. I had no trouble grinding up their medicines in the mortar and pestle, mixing them into the wet food, and measuring out the dry food while talking on the telephone. I put down the dog dishes, finished leaving my message, hung up the phone, and sat down at the computer. In no time at all, Darla came over and, with a big groan, dropped her head onto my lap. “What’s wrong,” I asked her, “why aren’t you eating your dinner?” I looked around the corner, and immediately saw the problem.

I had put the dishes in the opposite locations! Darla had lapped through that quarter cup of food in no time at all, “slow-feeder” notwithstanding, and determined that I was trying to starve her to death. Meanwhile, Rosa Parks probably thought, “Oh, it must be Christmas,” and tucked in to that gigantic bowl of chunky food without question. By the time I got it away from her, she had wolfed her way through half of it…which was more than five times her usual portion! She didn’t argue when I took it away, just lay right down for a nap, looking every bit like a big stuffed burrito!

Luckily, neither dog showed lasting ill effects due to my mistake. Still, it’s not something I’d want to make a habit of! It’s just one more thing I have to be more thoughtful about. One more thing to add to my “incidents list.” I hope that’s the end of it, for a while, anyway!

And Furthermore…

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I forget things all the time.

I lose things regularly.

Just today, I’ve wasted an hour searching for a little device that allows me to move images onto my computer from the little card in my camera. The camera, purchased more than ten years ago, is a bit old by today’s standards, when sharpness of imagery seems to be constantly improving. For a couple years now, I’ve been using my small tablet to take photos, instead. The tablet has books downloaded on it, for reading or for listening to, so I have it with me most days, anyway. The same cord that charges the tablet will plug in to the computer for downloading photos.

For no particular reason, in the last few days I have taken my camera with me, in walks around the yard and down the road, to snap photos of the dogs, summer greenery, and blooming things. Sometime in the last two years, I moved that little seldom-used device for retrieving pictures from the camera off the desk, and put it away. But where? I have now searched all four drawers in the file cabinet, every possible shelf, and one box and two baskets where I sometimes stash things. No luck.

This is frustrating, but not worrisome. Other than having to choose a different photo than I’d planned for this blog, it’s not a big deal. Even big things, like forgetting about meetings I scheduled myself (as I wrote about a few days ago) are understandable, as long as they are isolated incidents.

Years ago, when the hardware store also had a lumberyard, and I still worked at the hardware, we got a call from a customer who needed lumber. We didn’t have full time staff at the lumberyard; one of us went up there whenever needed. I left the hardware, and got into my car to drive the quarter-mile to the lumberyard. I backed out of the parking spot, and made the necessary turn onto Donegal Bay Road. Then, muscle memory kicked in (while my brain, evidently, zoned out), and I turned left onto the King’s Highway, right onto Paid Een Ogg’s Road, left onto the Fox Lake Road, and left into my own driveway before I remembered. I was not supposed to be going home! I should be at the lumberyard!

Foolish, yes. Inconvenient, undoubtedly. But also, not the end of the world. And, fodder for a good self-deprecating story. An extreme, but isolated incident. I’m sure there have been other similarly ridiculous lapses over the years…but I can’t think of any specific examples. It’s when things like this start to occur regularly that I get bothered. I’m not quite worried yet, but I do believe it’s time that I pay more attention to things. I need to write things down, for a couple reasons. First, to keep me from forgetting things, and second, to help me remember what I have forgotten!

Keeping Track

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I’m pretty good at keeping track of things. Obsessive might be a more accurate term. At a glance, I can tell you how many books I’ve read so far this year (40), and how many miles I’ve walked (172). I have daily records of my weight, work I do for myself and for others, and phone calls. It might take a few minutes to find the information, but I have records of Christmas gifts going back more than forty years. Gifts, recipients, and cost. Now, I feel like there’s something else I should be paying attention to.

Lately, it seems like my mind is slipping. In the middle of a conversation, I can’t think of the right word; I forget the reason I walked into a room; I get the names of my dogs mixed up. Most of it is nothing to worry about. I’m nearly seventy years old; I’m busy; I have a lot on my mind. This stuff happens to everyone, even people much younger than me. A couple recent incidents make me wonder, though, if it’s not time, at least, to start keeping track. Here is one of them:

A few weeks ago, a couple came in to the Community Center to see me. They were here on the island for the first time, or the first time in many years. They introduced themselves. I cannot now remember either of their names. He was the grandson of my Aunt Lizzie, who was an older sister of my Grandpa George. He was here with his wife, and they were on the island looking into his genealogy. Aunt Lizzie had, I think, two or three sons, and at least one daughter. I knew two of the sons, Walter and Hubert. They were maybe close to my Dad’s age. The man was the son of one of them, though I can’t remember which one.

Anyway, in between me preparing food and otherwise helping other customers (because I was at work, after all), we had a nice chat about family history. Though none of us had much information, it can be enlightening to compare notes, and it was a topic we were all interested in. Our mutual great-grandfather, whom I had always known as Henry (Heinrich, when he first arrived in this country from Germany), he knew as Caspar. I’d never heard that before!

Anxious for the opportunity to continue the discussion, I invited them to meet me at the family farm when I got out of work. I told them there are pictures hanging on the walls of Henry and his wife Elizabeth, as well as photos that included Aunt Lizzie as a small child. We’d have a chance, then, to exchange research and contact information, when I was not being pulled away by my job. They liked that idea, and assured me that they had transportation and directions. “I’ll see you just after seven,” I told them as they walked out.

Then, I forgot all about it. I finished work and drove home. I walked the dogs, fixed dinner, did my chores and went to bed without a single thought about it. The realization didn’t come to me at three AM, as sometimes happens with things like that. I didn’t think of it the next day, or the day after that, either. In fact, a good two weeks had passed when my cousin Caroline, whose grandfather John was an older brother of my Grandpa George, invited me to meet her for a drink. As I drove down the King’s Highway, past the family farm, headed for the pub, it all came back to me. Oh, no!

That poor couple! I imagine them waiting there in the driveway, expecting me to show up at any time…and I never came. I have no way of contacting them, to tell them I’m sorry. I can’t even remember their names. I would never intentionally do something like this. I was horrified! But, also, a little nervous. This is bigger than just daily run-of-the-mill forgetting! Maybe I’d better start writing down, for the record, these major slips. Though if Aunt Lizzie’s grandson and his wife had a say, they might suggest I apply my energy to keeping track of my appointments, rather than documenting the lapses!

Summer, Still…

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Three weeks ago, near the first day of summer, I wrote about my childhood memories of this season. I could have chosen to write about summer days when my daughters were young: long walks to the park, outings to local swimming places, and long hours spent on the white, sandy beaches of Beaver Island. I could have written about summers when my grandchildren visited here: mornings at Iron Ore Bay, days full of adventure, and evening drives to see the deer. In my memory, this warm season meanders slowly along, allowing me to savor every sensory summer offering.

But, here I am, in real-life summer. The days speed by. How can we be halfway through July already?! And all I feel, most days, is exhaustion. It’s not only that it’s busy, though it is. There are hoards of people in the shops and on the streets. The harbor is filled with boats, and the beach downtown is full of people, every time I pass by. There is also the tiredness that comes from the long list of “to-do”s that are not getting done.

Always, there are things to do, and I’m behind in almost everything. My income taxes have still not been filed; there are galleries to contact regarding future shows; I have to follow up on some paperwork for the state. My flower beds are weedy, and the lawn is ready to be mowed.

I gave up on the garden when July got here. If I did manage to find the time to clear the weeds, turn the soil and plant, there would still not be time left in this short season to see results. So, my vegetable garden, this year, consists of three tomato plants, a few kohlrabi, four hills of summer squash, and one row of beans.

I’ve closed the door of my studio. Expecting company, and needing to clear space upstairs for them to sleep, I used the studio – which was already over-full – to store two totes, three big baskets and a large piece of exercise equipment. Those things can now be moved back out, but it doesn’t solve the problem: there is too much stuff in that small space, and I don’t have time to do anything about it. Even if I did, I don’t have time, this summer, to work in the studio.

Last week, My daughter Kate came for a visit. I expected her, plus her husband and two of her sons, but at the last minute, work conflicts got in the way of any of the men making the trip. What a treat! I love my son-in-law, and seeing my grandsons is always wonderful, too, but I almost never get to enjoy Kate’s company alone. I loved it! Having her here gave me a reason to stretch beyond my little world, as well as a perfect companion.

We visited all the gift shops. We walked the dogs together. We took a drive around the island, and I got my feet in the sand, at the beach at Iron Ore Bay, for the first time this year. We went out to lunch, two days in a row! We had simple suppers at home, and spent the evenings playing games. Having come from a big, competitive, game-playing family, that’s one of the things I miss most, living alone. Kate and I got in enough Boggle and cribbage to satisfy me for a while!

Kate’s visit was short, but enjoyable. It reminded me what summer can be, if I allow myself to relax and take part in it. I intend to do just that…before this summer, too, is just a memory.

Jumping In

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This summer, like any other, is a mash-up of good things and bad. Some stretch around the world; others at least nationally. Others are very close to home. Today, I’m jumping in to talk about some of them.

I am continually horrified by the war in Ukraine. I’m reading The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn, a well-researched historical novel set in the early years of the second world war. It is told from the perspective of a young Russian soldier, a female sharp-shooter, as the Nazis – violently, horrendously, and without provocation – push through their country. Now, in real time, the Russians are the invaders. Their actions are the ones that are unbelievably heartless, cruel, and that they have to lie to try to justify. How can we humans be so awful? How is it that we can’t seem to learn from our own suffering, that inflicting suffering on others is not the answer? This is only one conflict in a world that is full of them.

In this country, there is continuing gun violence. We have no time to recover from one devastating incident, before we are faced with another. The politicians rant on about the loss of our second amendment rights while the funerals are still going on. And our judicial system has just made it easier for folks to carry concealed weapons.

The dust from that news had not even settled before the Supreme Court went on to reverse Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that ensured a woman’s right to choose to terminate a pregnancy. That feels like a “punch to the gut” to all, including myself, who have worked hard in the fight for the women’s rights and equality. I know this is a highly controversial topic; conflict-avoider that I am, I hesitate to even bring it up. But I think the time for measured silence is long past.

I can’t speak as knowledgably as many. I don’t have a medical background. Psychological, medical, economic and ethical reasons for needing to terminate a pregnancy are wide-ranging. I can’t quote scripture, but I know that scripture can be, and has been, used to energize and support whichever point of view you want. I can’t even accurately talk about the historical precedents, when laws have been invented, passed, repealed and changed to suit the whims and needs of men, and to keep women “in their place.” But all of this information is out there. I am not pro-abortion; I don’t think anyone is. But I stand firmly with science, and a woman’s right to make that difficult choice.

My friend, Paul, has always read everything I write and has frequently offered me his opinion. Over the years, I’ve learned that we share a love of learning and quite a few political opinions. We have often commiserated over current events and the condition of the world. I know that he appreciates some abstract art – though not mine – and that his preference lies in realistic paintings of beautiful scenery.

Last week, I started my blog with a Mary Oliver poem. Paul stopped in at the Community Center to tell me that he was glad I had found time to write, and that he prefers poetry that rhymes. I didn’t argue. At more than 90 years old, I think Paul is welcome to his opinion, whatever it is. We spoke for a bit about the state of the nation, this busy season, and the wonderful cadence of E.B. White’s poetry. Unlike today, that was as controversial as I was willing to be. On Saturday, Paul suffered a massive heart attack and died. I’m glad for the time I spent listening. For Paul, a rhyming poem:

Village Revisited

(A cheerful lament in which truth, pain, and beauty are prominently mentioned, and in that order)

by E.B. White

In the days of my youth, in the days of my youth,
I lay in West Twelfth Street, writhing with Truth,
I died in Jones Street, dallying with pain,
And flashed up Sixth Avenue, risen again.

In the terrible, beautiful age of my prime,
I lacked for sweet linen, but never for time.
The tree in the alley was potted in gold,
The girls on the buses would never grow old.

Last night with my love I returned to these haunts
To visit Pain's diggings and try for Truth's glance;
I was eager and ardent and waited as always
The answering click to my ring in the hallways,
But Truth hardly knew me, and Pain wasn't in
(It scarcely seemed possible Pain wasn't in).

Beauty recalled me. We bowed in the Square,
In the wonderful westerly Waverly air.
She had a new do, I observed, to her hair.

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Summer!

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Just As The Calendar Began To Say Summer

by Mary Oliver

I went out of the schoolhouse fast

and through the gardens and to the woods,

and spent all summer forgetting what I’d been taught—

two times two, and diligence, and so forth,

how to be modest and useful, and how to succed and so forth,

machines and oil and plastic and money and so forth.

By fall I had healed somewhat, but was summoned back

to the chalky rooms and the desks, to sit and remember

the way the river kept rolling its pebbles,

the way the wild wrens sang though they hadn’t a penny in the bank,

the way the flowers were dressed in nothing but light.

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I love all of Mary Oliver’s poetry, but this particular one spoke to me today. As we dive in to another busy summer here on Beaver Island, and I quickly get caught up in the rush, it is the summers of my childhood that appeal to me. In a perfect world, my days would be designed to mimic the hot, long and lazy out-of-school days that I remember.

Of course, I know that my memory is both faulty and selective. That’s what nostalgia is all about. I can set aside the garden chores that I hated, and the tedious, scorching days trying to entertain myself outside. I’ll choose my remembrances instead from the wonders of a childhood summer.

There was the swing set, and the big sand-pile next to it, always freshened with a new truckload of sand in the spring. And the hours spent swinging, or just laying on the warm metal slide, to bake in the sun. There were willow trees that offered cool shade: one in the back yard, one in the front yard, and one behind the house next door.

There was the orchard, just beyond my grandparent’s garage. Still within our allowable range of travel, but out of my mother’s sight, it allowed for daring and dangerous escapades that we couldn’t otherwise get away with. We ate green apples and pears, practically as soon as they appeared on the branches, in amounts that should have made us desperately ill. I don’t think we ever got so much as a stomach-ache. I still prefer un-ripe fruit, though not quite as green as when I was a child.

We took a million chances climbing the trees there. We always tried to navigate the high branches – by swinging on them, or crawling to the very ends of them – to access the flat roof of the garage. That was the challenge, and the ultimate goal. I don’t know if we ever succeeded.

There was a grape arbor, and a snowball bush whose growth provided a cool, sheltered space under its branches. There was often a playhouse in the yard. In the field beyond, there were thickets that could be made into forts or make-believe homes, depending on the storyline of whatever game we were playing.

Water could be found in buckets and kiddie pools, squirt guns and squirt bottles. Often, we hooked the sprinkler up to the hose, and kept it going until the grass was oozing mud. Sometimes, we took the long walk down to the Hilltop beach, herding younger brothers and sisters, lugging towels and snacks, and one pack of matches for the dreaded encounters with “bloodsuckers.”

The garden was beside our yard, and matched it in size. Some of its care fell to the children (as a child, I would have sworn all of it fell to us), and part of almost every day was given over to weeding and watering. Still, there is magic in watching things grow, and my childhood was filled with that enchantment. I could pick a tomato, and eat it warm from the sun. I could fill a large bowl with fresh peas, and take them into the shade to enjoy them. Strawberries gave way to raspberries as the summer marched on.

These are the bright memories that hold the essence of what I believe summer should be. I know it’s possible…I lived it!