The Fox at Dawn

9.22.20 The Day Dawns
End of Summer 1

Monday evening, September 21st 2020

Ruth Bader Ginsburg died a few days ago and like so many, I’ve been battling the waves of darkness that threaten to pull me under. It’s a truly awful time. I am not alone in feeling that our democracy is in real peril. I have taken it for granted all my life. I believed our system of checks and balances so carefully constructed and time tested that it could withstand anything, anyone. But I am wrong. The constellation of evil, the triumvirate of greed, bigotry and ignorance that is holding sway in positions of power, is sweeping all balance away. Every day we grow sicker, angrier, more divided as a nation.

I cannot write of it anymore this evening. I remind myself to breathe. I make myself look around, see where I am, see the goodness that is all around me. It’s grown dark. I sat outside in the dying light drawing until I couldn’t see my marks anymore. A clear cool night, the insects sing and bats take to the sky. The hummingbirds have not all left yet, but soon. Inside now, I sit in my dad’s leather armchair, the one he bought when we lived in the grand old house on Cherokee Parkway. I remember it was a big purchase, a long considered one because of the expense. It has a matching leather ottoman too. He bought it for the library where he could sit and read his papers, his endless line of Civil War books, Lonesome Dove. He was an infamously slow reader but a steady one. Dedicated. He always said that his reading was ruined when he took Evelyn Wood’s speed reading course in college. It took him two years to finish Lonesome Dove, but he kept at it. It makes me happy sitting in his chair, the worse for wear, the better for memories.

The Palette

Drawing brings comfort, especially the land drawings. It was my friend Reba Rye who first showed me it was possible to gather up things around you with which to draw. You needn’t be dependent on what you can buy in a store. Such a simple idea and yet it was a revelation to me. You can take leaves and petals, press and pull them across the paper. Charcoal from fires, red dirt, certain rocks are good too. Lately I’ve been gathering plants on my evening walks- flowers that grow in the alleys, leaves along the railroad tracks. Sometimes I surreptitiously pull off the heads of flowers that grow on the edges of my neighbors’ yards and slide them into my pockets. I only take them if they won’t be missed, if they are drooping and ready to fall, part of a profusion of cosmos, sunflower or crepe myrtle. I’ve some to know which flowers and leaves make the best color, (weeds are the most generous green). Rose of Sharon and day lilies are too watery , they ruin the paper. Zinnias are too dry. You can only make marks with your thumbnail scraping an imprinted line. Roses are wonderful, and cosmos and sunflowers. Black eyed susans are terrific because you can draw with the hard brown head of the flower as well as the yellow petals. Poke weed berries are amazing- such a dark purple stain. You have to be careful or it will take over the page. I love the leaves of the hearty begonia because one side is green while the underside is red and you can do a beautiful blend with it.

 When I get home from gathering, I lay my palette on a table. It’s hard to put into words why it is so satisfying to draw with this gathered beauty, to see their color transferred from petal to page. I draw imagined landscapes with the landscape itself and I am completely absorbed by it. It is a deep meditation that allows me to rest. I take my ink pens to define the shapes, add shading perhaps, shapes of its own. I don’t think, I let the color lead the pens. It’s another layer to the meditation, another part of the labyrinth. I may leave the drawing for days before coming back to it with the pens or to add more color. It feels effortless. It’s a conversation I’m having with myself, with the land, with being, simply being. There is no argument.

It is fully night and I need to turn my thoughts to bed, the book I am reading before sleep, the rest, the dreams that will come whether I want them to or not. The school where I teach is gearing up to have students back in the building for the first time in over six months, in a wildly different school day as we try to keep everyone safely distanced. There is much craziness to navigate involving the simultaneous teaching of students in the room, on video to different pods of the same grade level and students opting to stay at home on Zoom. I cannot begin to describe it all tonight. If I try, I’ll never fall asleep. If I check the news on Twitter, I’ll never fall asleep either. Better to move the pen across the page. Better to finish the landscape drawing. Better to read the words of a generous soul written long long ago. I am simply being tonight. Tonight I will not argument with myself.

            This is the solace I have been seeking as of late. 

Tuesday September 22nd. Walking the dogs before dawn, I see my old friend Orion in the sky and I know that the season is turning. It’s the turning I hold in my mind as I drive my daughter to her job at sunrise. My city is about to explode. Today is the day that Kentucky’s Attorney General announces whether or not there will be charges filed against the police officers who killed Breonna Taylor. The downtown has been boarded up again, troops have been called in to surround federal buildings. Businesses have announced they are closed today. The courthouse is closed today. Everyone expects that it will be announced that there are no charges being filed. Everyone expects there to be a violent collective protest in response. The city holds its breath this morning. So much pain, anger, anxiety, fear everywhere we turn. On the drive with my daughter we are quiet for different reasons. She is still half asleep, facing her long day only a moment at a time. I am thinking about the sky, the changing light, what I wrote last night, what we are facing today. I know now what I am seeking when I put petal to paper, I know what it is that I love. It’s being part of the great circle for a moment, where creator and creation are one.  The energy of the sun brought the flowers and trees into being. The art I make from them becomes part of the circle, my impulse to create makes me part of the circle too. The earth spins on its axis as it circles the sun in a solar system that travels as one of millions or more in a galaxy that circles with numberless others within the ever expanding mind of God. The act of drawing (drawing out what? Beauty? The essence of a moment?) helps me step out of human time, that loud clockwork affair, and into God’s time. That which remains when all the clocks are broken, when there are no verdicts to return. I am not powerless there. There, I am home.

The End of Summer 2

L’Heure Bleue

On Monday night, close to midnight, I began a new book- The Blue Hour, a biography of Jane Rhys who wrote The Wide Sargasso Sea, a stunning and disturbing book that has haunted me since I first read it last month. In the preface, Lilian Pizzichini describes L’Heure Bleue, a perfume by Guerlain that figures in Rhys’ first novel Quartet and that was her favorite fragrance. “The scent itself is dusky, as though bought from an old-world apothecary on a forgotten street in Paris. Its hints of pastry and almonds make L’Heure Bleue a melancholic fragrance, as though in mourning for a time passed by. The curves of the Art Nouveau bottle, the stopper in the form of a hollowed out heart, allude to the romance of the years leading to the First World War.”

            I put the book down and picked up my tiny research assistant- L’Heure Bleue was created in 1912 (my year!) by master perfumer Jacques Guerlain as a way to capture that magic blue hour in Paris before the sky finds its first star. That’s what I found out. And that you can still buy it. And suddenly I wanted that scent more than anything. I, who never wears perfume, was suddenly certain that this was my fragrance and that it would be mine the rest of my days. I ordered a bottle of eau de parfum from my bed before turning out my light to sleep.

            In the days while I waited for it, I watched a video of someone reviewing the perfume. Nine minutes of a beautiful French man talking about what this perfume means to him, how it smells and how he wears it whether it’s for a man or not. I read up on Guerlain and the inspiration for the perfume. I thought about how much my relationship to my body has changed. How for decades now I have abused it, ignored it, hid it, and felt ashamed of it and how it looked. How with no one to love it, it has gone unloved and uncelebrated. I’ve taken so little care with my appearance- how I dress, what I do with my hair. I’ve stopped wearing jewelry and make up. I slumpf around in overalls, an old farmer. I don’t recognize myself in the mirror and don’t even care.  Sweet, hardworking, talented, strong, resilient old body. I will do better. This perfume I’ve ordered feels like a secret I can keep with myself. I may look like a farmer but if I ever let you come very close, you’ll be reeling with the discovery of the secret garden that is in me.

            Yesterday it came. I took the package along with my library copy of The Blue Hour out to the porch. I took some photos of the two together, the bottle still wrapped in its box. I took my time removing the plastic- when would I be able to smell it? Would it come through the box once the plastic was gone? A little, a very little hint. I opened the box and pulled that beautiful bottle out. Could I smell it now? A little more. I took more photos, delaying the moment I would finally know if I made a mistake or not. Then I did it, I pulled the stopper and breathed it in. Heaven. All I had hoped for. I sprayed my wrists, misted my neck. Oh my. I love the liveliness as it first makes itself known. But then it settles on you, settles in you. Becomes something else. Throughout the day I am called to tenderly smell my own wrists- ah, then the sigh of release. I did not expect to find the smell so comforting. It is achingly lovely, yes melancholic, the vanity table of a long ago lady, evening falling, the tinkling of crystal prisms hanging from my grandmother’s lamp. 

I have been wearing it two days now and no one in my small family has noticed or at least remarked upon it, so that is reassuring. It is not obnoxious. It is my own secret with myself after all. I have fallen for this scent and its remembrance of loving and being loved. It fills my heart with longing and somehow answers that longing too. It tells me my own story of a lifetime of love. It is a reminder to love myself, to cherish this sweet old body, honor its journey and delight in its present. I was right to order this perfume at midnight, I’ll be wearing it the rest of my days.

2/16/20 In Defense of Jesus: Letter to a Reverend
February 16, 2020, 10:38 pm
Filed under: Faith, memory memorabilia re-membering, Teaching | Tags: , , ,
Morning Sadhana

Dear Reverend,

Not for the first time have I come out of a worship planning meeting troubled and puzzled. I’ve been thinking about it for days now and need to put some thoughts down on paper so I can look at them and share them with you, if you don’t mind. What I am troubled by is the dismissive and even belittling tone of the comments made by worship ministry members about the Christian tradition, specifically Easter and Christmas Eve Vespers. I have heard these remarks before, in other meetings and in the halls, often accompanied by a knowing laugh as if to say ‘Yes, well, we know better than to believe in all that’ and I have to say it hurts my heart and makes me sad. I don’t believe those remarks are consciously made to make anyone feel bad, but that’s just it, isn’t it? Isn’t this an inclusive community, isn’t the Unitarian church consciously welcoming everyone? All faiths and beliefs and lack of beliefs are welcome here, except those who follow the teachings of Jesus? I am puzzled. Remarks made by the Worship Ministry on Wednesday seemed to suggest that the inclusion of the Gospel stories at Vespers is done only to placate those who ought to know better and that’s plenty of Jesus for the whole year. It is an attitude of superiority that makes me very uncomfortable.

No room at the Inn or the manger.

At the same time, I am grateful for the discomfort because it leads me to reflect on my own beliefs and I am surprised at my own warmth of feeling for Jesus and his teachings. I have been a spiritual seeker since I was a child, first embracing the teachings of Jesus in an almost progressive Presbyterian church. I went on to absorb lots of teachings from varying faith traditions, making it a point to attend different services whenever I could- from Pentcostal revivals in Eastern Kentucky to Sikh Gurdwaras in New Mexico. I’ve studied Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism and Sikhism academically as well as spiritually. In my mid-fifties now, I suppose I’m more of a Sikh than anything (the word even means ‘seeker’), I embrace Guru Nanak’s teaching that all rivers lead to the ocean. Every morning before dawn, I practice my sadhana with Kundalini yoga and meditations with Sikh prayers. But I also observe Christian liturgical holidays and have found the richness of biblical scripture to be an endless source of reflection and inspiration. 

 I also understand the frustration many people feel with the seeming nonsense of a lot of Christian churches- the holding on to the ancient patriarchal language and dogma, the outrageously ornate and cryptic masses, the ‘my way or the highway’ road to salvation, the unforgivable use of cherry-picked scripture to judge and condemn others. Every time I attend a Catholic mass and the priest, all decked out in gilded glory, ponces over to the golden garage to get out the host to share exclusively with Catholics in good standing, it takes everything I’ve got not to stand and shout with my finger in the air “I protest!” I feel so very angry. And I cannot help imagining the dismay of Jesus if he were to walk into such a spectacle. I imagine him saying ‘This isn’t what I meant at all’. But see, maybe I’m guilty of fashioning Jesus in my own image just as others do. I could be totally wrong about what he meant when he broke bread with his friends the night before his betrayal. Whatever he may have meant, the communion I shared with my church in Chicago, the small but mighty Wellington Avenue United Church of Christ, was so powerful, so dear, so transformative that I crave it still and judge other communions by its standard. 

My fireplace hearth.

I understand having opinions about the way the image and the words of Jesus have been used and abused over the centuries. I certainly have my own. I also have my own relationship to his image and words. To me, he was one of the ultimate teachers, a powerful yogi, so connected to the source of spirit that others were healed simply by being in his presence. He was a rebel. He embraced those who were outcast and considered unclean, not just with his words but with his body. He was a person of action, he made his words manifest. Love one another. Don’t judge each other. Don’t tolerate hypocrites and those who profit off the needs of others. Like a great work of art, his life and death raise far more questions than they answer. That’s why I like observing the liturgical year, taking time to ponder these things over and over, holding them up in the light to look at them from a new stage in my life. Take Easter Sunday. I never could reconcile the Easter bunny with the betrayal, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. It’s an awkward fit, this trying to piggyback the ancient church’s idea of what Jesus’s death meant on top of the even more ancient pagan rites of spring. Frankly, I like thinking about them both. It’s easy to embrace the pagan rites- thank you Earth! Not so easy to stomach the insistence of certain Christian churches that ‘Jesus died for your sins, so either you’re scott-free or you owe Him, depending on how we feel about you’. Of course, it’s not so simplistic, it’s a huge question to ponder. What did he die for? One way I have thought about it is that he died because of the sins of those around him. He allowed it to happen, did not run away from it, He used his own suffering, his own life, to expose those sins for what they were. Jesus, the ultimate performance artist. For me the greatest miracle is that at the peak of his suffering, he forgave everyone, he asked God to forgive them. And in doing so, freed his own spirit. It is hard, so hard, to truly forgive injury and wrong. Am I capable of that kind of forgiveness? I don’t know.  It’s why I celebrate Easter, so I can think about it.

A postcard my great-grandmother received shortly after my grandmother was born.

Remarks that dismiss the richness of Christian teachings are thoughtless, I think, and they can alienate congregation members who have their own relationship to them. Such a mindset doesn’t serve anyone. Yes, Unitarian Universalism is a thinking, rational faith, but I don’t believe we have to throw the baby out with the bath water.

Thank you Reverend, for reading all of this, I’ve enjoyed thinking about it. I’ll continue to keep my mouth shut in worship planning meetings as best I can, but the day may come when I stand up with my finger in the air and say “I protest!” Perhaps I am a protestant after all. 

12.13.19 In Remembrance of Dashiel
December 13, 2019, 8:10 am
Filed under: Art of the Day, memory memorabilia re-membering | Tags: , ,
It’s a terrible drawing, but I haven’t the heart to work on it.

It’s been pressing on me a month now. The loss of this sweet soul. Life barrels on, this last month especially, but he is never far from my mind. I came home late afternoon that Monday and opened the patio door to the cats as always, only there were only two. Oh no, I said out loud. I remember saying that out loud, I remember feeling my heart sink. I gave my Dashiel call, watching for him to fly down the hill as he always did, but there was nothing. I fed the others, walked the dogs in the darkness, calling and looking, calling and looking. I felt pulled towards the neighbor’s large yard, kept feeling like I was just on the edge of hearing Dash’s little voice. I strained to hear it. Nothing. The weather was turning awful, the temperature was plummeting, the rain was turning to ice and snow. Around the neighbor I went, calling. Front and back of the house. I went out again in my bathrobe, calling. I set out boxes with blankets in them in case Dashiel came to the door in the middle of the night and needed to keep warm. Several times through the night I got up and checked- was he there? Not in the night, not in the morning, not when I snuck home from school during my planning period so I could look in the daylight, not when I got home from school. Still I felt drawn to the neighbor’s large yard, thought I heard Dash calling from there. I texted my neighbor and sent him a picture, asking if he had seen him. The neighbor called right away. He was sorry, oh so sorry. He didn’t know it was my cat. Early in the morning on that Monday, my neighbor found Dash lying dead in the middle of their yard, being sniffed by their massive dog Tiny, a Great Pyrenees. Not mauled, just dead. My neighbor had one of his workers take the body out to their farm to be buried, he said. He didn’t know it was my cat. Dash had shed the collar I tried to make him wear. My neighbor was so very sorry.

Dash came to us, my daughter and I, in the early summer of 2017. I had just finished another bruising, punishing school year teaching theater in a school that used people up. It was a dreadful year for reasons both personal and national. I prayed and meditated for change within and without and it came in the form of a new place to teach, a place that I cherish. I needed to do some healing that summer. I needed rest and recharging and remembering who I was. I needed to get ready for a new incarnation.  But the summer took a couple of turns. The first turn came when my friend Connie called and asked if I would consider fostering three kittens that she didn’t have room for but who urgently needed a home. I knew of one them already- a black kitten that other friends had seen being tossed out the window of a moving car in front of their house. My friends fished it out of the bushes where it had run to hide, but they couldn’t keep it because they were leaving on an extended road trip the very next day.  So they called our mutual friend Connie, the animal rescue saint who works with the Shamrock Foundation to find homes for dogs and cats.  The other two kittens were brothers, lured out of a derelict empty house in the Portland neighborhood. They were quite young and appeared to be all alone. Connie’s ark was full, over full I have no doubt, so she called me. How can anyone say no to kittens?


            I love naming things. It’s a compulsion, an act of creation or more accurately, of recognition. Clearly the kitten tossed from the window of  the car barreling down Story Avenue needed to be called Story.  He certainly had one. Sleek, black, three to four weeks older than the brothers, Story was loving from the start. The brothers looked nothing alike, but they held their heads exactly the same when listening to interesting sounds. One brother was black with tiny flecks of light hairs, short haired and the smallest of all of them, the most timid too. He was called Speck. The last was our dearest boy. Fluffy, gray and taupe tabby markings, I suspected he would turn out to be a long haired cat. He was the one who pioneered hiding up inside the box springs of my daughter’s bed, to her horror. He was the one who darted to the door first when I came through to feed them. He was called Dash, short for Dashiel. 

            The kittens lived in J’s room until the stink from their litter box proved too powerful for her super smeller nose. They were moved to the TV room, shut away from the dogs and the other cats, who were none too pleased at this unpleasant development. And then the kittens were moved to my room (further alarming the resident cats) when the summer took its second, even stranger turn. Amos, a neighbor whose family I only knew casually from small talks in front of their apartment when I walked my dogs, came to talk to me, begging for immediate help. He and his family were being forced out of their apartment by a landlord who no longer wished to deal with them. People from his church were helping to secure another apartment for them, but it wasn’t ready yet. He showed me a worn manila file folder full of letters, receipts, contracts. He, his wife Patricia and their five year old daughter are from Nigeria and had only been in this country a short time. Amos is enrolled at the Southern Baptist Seminary, an institution I admittedly respect very little. His dream is to return to Nigeria in an evangelical capacity to bring the word and also community planning and stability to rural areas where there is so much turmoil and suffering. They live very modestly, unable to work much on student visas. They are supported by their meager savings and by the generosity of the church they joined in the US, their sponsors. Amos came to me to ask for shelter, a place to live until this new apartment was ready in a few days. My head swirled, the ground tilted, of course I said yes, how could I do otherwise? Still, I installed a lock on my daughter’s bedroom door, more to keep little Precious from being too much in there than from any other danger, but better safe.  Amos and his family moved into the TV room and the kittens moved to my room.

            It was only to have been for three days or so but it stretched into six weeks. This is a whole story unto itself, needing its own time and space in the telling of it. In short, the family slowly took over the house- the downstairs bathroom that had been my daughter’s was now theirs, the kitchen became Patricia’s domain, the house was permeated by the smells of the oily fish and meat stews she made which turned my vegetarian stomach, but hardest was the daily witnessing of the parenting philosophy at work on Precious who was never played with, never read to, never cuddled. There were a lot of tears.  My daughter and I both did what we could to help Precious, and it seemed that her parents were relieved for us to play the role of her caregiver, but again, that is another story.  We ceded ground. My daughter retreated to her room and then her friend’s houses and then went on their family vacations with them. I retreated to my room upstairs, eating there, spending time with the kittens. I shuttled them to their vet appointments, the Snip Clinic, played with them, fed them, slept with them. Dashiel fell in love with Mr. Darcy, the dog rescued by Connie who found a home with us in 2011. And Mr. D loved him back. I found homes for Speck and Story- Story went to the friends who rescued him in the first place and Speck went to a friend I had taught with. But I knew I could not be parted from Dashiel. 

            What was it about him that made it unthinkable to give him up? Perhaps it was his own insistence that he belonged. This was his home and we were his tribe. From the beginning, Dashiell adored Mr. Darcy, another refugee from Portland. While the other cats shied away from the dogs, Dash ran to them, especially Darcy. Dash would climb into the dog bed and knead Darcy’s stomach as Darcy looked up to me helplessly- What do I do about this? He bore it patiently. Over and over, Dashiel curled up and slept with him, tucked into Darcy’s curves. 

            Story went to his new home, Speck too and eventually Amos and his family left for their long awaited apartment, finally ready. Dashiel remained, expanded his domain to the whole house. Is there anything more delightful than a kitten exploring their world? It is a gift the young give the old- the chance to remember what a miracle the world really is, the chance to remember joy and feel it again.

            Looking back I was always worried and fearful for him. Always it seemed he needed extra protection. He had a couple of viruses that required emergency trips to the vet- he sneezed, he ran fevers, he was lethargic. Then he was suddenly limping, his back end giving him trouble- had he fallen down the basement stairs? No one knew. Then he rebounded. I tried hard to keep him an indoor cat and succeeded for over a year. Dashiel always charged towards any life in the house. He tried to play with the older cats, ambushed them, ambushed the dogs, ambushed us, played with Darcy, tried to engage Johnny, our other dog. The other cats, who go freely in and outside, bore him no love. Piper Rose would have none of it and required a private place in which to eat her meals. But Henry gave in and accepted Dash as a playmate. So when Henry went out, and there is no keeping Henry in, Dashiel would try to go too. I did my best to block him, retrieving him when I wasn’t quick enough. Eventually I lost the battle. He went in and out with the others. Such joy was his! He quickly proved his prowess as a hunter and as an explorer. He did what the other two cats never managed- he found a way to get on the roof and reenter the house through second story windows. And when I had to set a live trap in the attic to catch the possums and raccoons coming in through a hole under the eaves, he managed to find that same hole, get in and get himself trapped, baited by his own cat food.  Oh how that made me laugh.

            He grew into a grand cat with the softest fur I ever felt, so lush and long. He spent a good deal of time grooming. He was fastidious, unlike his adopted brother Henry who really can’t be bothered. Henry wears a collar and tag that reads “I really do have a home” lest some well-meaning person takes him in when he’s out on one of his gallivants, thinking him some poor lost soul. Dash, in contrast, was a dandy through and through. His tail! As grand as a snow leopard’s, he carried it high, his proud flag of dandyism. He slept always on the bottom right corner of my bed on the folded Billy Bragg quilt, and it was a special joy to me to come into the bedroom to find him already there, his front legs stretched far out in front of him, one crossed over the other, as he was want to do.  What a prince.  He graciously let me stroke and kiss him, breathe in the smell of his fur.

One night he didn’t come back in from the outside and wasn’t there for breakfast in the morning. I had to go to work, but J found him later in the morning hiding under the chest of drawers outside the art room door. She texted me he was fine. But he was not fine. He could barely walk. He huddled under a piece of furniture in my office. He wouldn’t eat. Nothing seemed to be broken but his back end seemed to cause him pain. He had little pieces of bark in his fur. Had he fallen from a tree? Been clipped by a car? Had he been roughed up by a dog? I fed him broth and soupy wet food through an eye dropper. I watched his temperature. After a couple of days he was eating on his own, starting to move around. When he used the litter box I rejoiced. He got better daily. He showed little interest in going outside, until he recovered himself and remembered what was out there.  And once again I couldn’t keep him in. 

I trained him to come in the house in the evening by feeding him the much coveted wet food that I used to only parse out at breakfast.  I would go out on the patio and call him in his special way, high pitched to carry up the hill ‘Dashy! Dashy!’- within seconds I’d here him crashing through the leaves as he flew, and I mean flew,  down the hill to the door. I have never had an animal come to me so quickly when called. He was a blur, a streak of cat. No matter how dreadful my day had been, that moment was pure joy- him racing down, me swooping him up to hug and kiss, carrying him in to dinner. Such joy. And now he’s gone.

I fed him breakfast that Monday morning along with the other cats, and when Henry went out, he made a dash for it too. He ran right over into the neighbors, climbed their fence and probably ran to the dog who was running toward him, believing that dog to be his friend. Minutes later I walked right by there with Mr. Darcy and Johnny. In the darkness I saw Tiny over in the middle of his yard bending down to sniff something with interest. He must have something very interesting, I thought to myself, if he is not running to the fence to bark at us as he always does.

Oh Dashiel. I’ve been laboring over this post, been turning it this way and that, over writing, over thinking, trying to get a handle on why the pain of losing you is so very sharp and why it shows no sign of letting up. I guess it’s because there has been much darkness these past few years, navigating financial stress, too many jobs, my daughter’s mental illness, intense loneliness and fear. And there you were, flying down the hill to meet me or waiting there on the end of my bed at the end of long days. You were such a light. It’s your joy I miss, your headlong youthful joy at living. I will be on the lookout for that joy. If I can just keep looking, I will find it again. That was your great gift to me, sweet boy. Thank you.

10.27.19 Junk Pick-Up

Piled high by the curb were most of my neighbor’s belongings, it seemed, set out ahead of the scheduled junk pick up. Set out for all to see, set out for strangers to pick over what might be wanted. I never knew her name though we spoke often as I passed her house on my daily dog walks. Her pin headed dog was named Sugar. It was a dreadful little dog. Its middle grew and grew while its tiny head seemed to shrink. It snarled and growled from its doorway like a miniature hellhound every time the dogs and I rounded its corner. I lived in dread of the day it would finally burst through the storm door, but that day never came. I could see the signs that my neighbor was failing. And now, there were her things piled high- clothes, family photos, furniture, framed embroidered pictures asking God to bless this little home, all things no one in her family found worthy to keep, the opposite of a burial mound.

My mother has been carefully, methodically, clearing out drawer and closet and shelf. She gifts treasures to us, a little at a time, or gives away to Goodwill or St. Vincent DePaul. She is in good health, but at eighty, she cannot help but think of closure. There will be no pile on the curb for her, none of us could bear that, least of all her. Recently I’ve been gifted boxes of postcards, written over a hundred years ago to my Great-Grandmother and her daughter, my grandmother. I’ve sorted and put them in an album to pour over at odds times, wondering about the hand that wrote them, the hand that received them. To whom will I gift them? Will I have the forethought to do it before I am gone?

I hope to be like Callie Rudy, who was closer to God than anyone I’ve known, full of twinkle and strength and patience. She lived her life in service to others and when she died at eighty-three, they found she had boxed up and labeled all her things so they would find their way to whom they were meant for. Not a thing left undone. She was found in her backyard one morning, after her final act of taking out the garbage.

10.12.19 First Fire

You do not know this, Mr. van Tine, but I think of you every time I light October’s first fire. The morning’s temperature has at last fallen enough to warrant the season’s first hearth fire. It is a holy event, a rite really. I build it carefully- newspaper saved from last year, kindling I gathered from the yard throughout the summer, logs that have been waiting in the wood pile a long time for their turn at transformation. I build the layers, the easiest to burn at the bottom, and strike the match. It never ceases to be a wonder, how flame springs into being and takes over paper, pinecone, twig, branch and log. How flame has no mass and yet I can see it. How it releases energy from the sun that trees have converted over decades to trunk and limb and leaf. I stare into the flames and think of the first and second laws of thermodynamics, yes I do, Mr. van Tine.

I remember how my mind was blown in the lessons you taught in 10th grade biology, over forty years ago now Mr. VT, and we are still here! How energy is neither created nor destroyed, how there is a tendency to go from order to disorder, to entropy. This second bit distresses while the first is a comfort. We humans want so much to be assured that something lasts forever, that we, somehow, will last forever. But we have most certainly tipped the balance towards an ever increasing rate of entropy, throwing earth’s whole beautiful system of creation, growth, decay, renewal into jeopardy. The third principle states that systems which use energy best, survive. It is both a personal and a global challenge to keep this in mind. I think of all this Mr. VT, every year I build the first fire. I will not even begin to tell you how often I think of Darwin and the theory of natural selection, how it has driven enormous collaborative art projects and given me much to think about as I follow my solitary paths.

How marvelous is this world! I’m sitting in a rocking chair made of hand bent wood by a Polish Appalachian craftsman, my feet are resting on a wooden stool my uncle, now gone from us, made years ago from a tree on his Indiana farm, warmed by the tree stored energy of the sun in the hand hewn stone fireplace I am so very lucky to live with, and I wonder about love. It too is neither created nor destroyed, or so I believe. It is an energy that can be absorbed, stored and released over and over again. I believe it is possible to live in the uninterrupted flow of love, I have the saint’s ambition to do so. Though I fail again and again, I do keep trying. So say I to the flames this morning.

It is a wonder Mr. van Tine, isn’t it? On mornings like this, I cannot hold the world close enough.

I still have this book, Mr. van Tine, lest you ever despair you were teaching into the wind at that tiny Victorian girls school all those years ago.

6.15.19 Boldly going where I went long ago

Among the discoveries from the Great Possum Invasion (more on that in another post) and the subsequent destruction of cardboard boxes storing much of my evidently long life’s ephemera, was a long neglected collection of writings printed off my sister’s computer, back when she was in medical school and had the only computer in the family. Seems I used it a lot, to write letters, scripts, scraps of things- long long banners of work printed on that porous paper that connected end to end. Remember how that fed into the printer? What I have read so far is simply strange, it is quite as if someone else wrote it. And I supposed that’s true. All those lovely long letters I used to write! Back when my attention span was not compromised by my overuse of screens, small and large, and the seduction of social media. Back when I had time to think.  

What I share here made me laugh, reading it again all these years later. I do not remember writing it. I do remember the circumstances. I spent a great deal of time helping my mother care for my grandmother, her mother, who lived in our family home since I was 12. Toward the end of her life, Mama was pretty much confined to her room, if not her bed, and required someone to be with her at all times. This was sometime in 1994 or ’95 I think, putting me in my early thirties. Though Mama has been long gone now, reading this makes that time present again. Mama is just in the other room about to call me.

Sitting at kitchen table with the baby monitor, clothing catalogues and Star Trek Next Generation action figures.

Loren: This is so ugly.

Data: Yes, I concur. Is that a catalogue from the Earth period known as the incredibly tacky seventies?

Loren: No, this is a catalogue from the desperate nineties reselling the tacky seventies.

Data: I see.

Loren: This one is kind of nice though, what do you think Data?

Data: It appears to be very practical, made of a fiber that could serve as a transition between fall and winter, even between winter and spring.

Loren: Yes, but it has no pockets.

Data: A drawback to be sure. But are pockets absolutely necessary in a dress?

Loren: I can never be absolutely at ease if I don’t have somewhere to rest my hands.

Data: Very interesting.

Loren: Yes, it is true. I think other people feel the same way, ask Dr. Crusher.

Data: Dr. Crusher is the only person on the Enterprise with pockets. If your hypothesis is correct, one could conclude that she is the only one on the Enterprise completely at ease.

Loren: It’s possible. She’s the only one who can carry around a Kleenex or a breath mint. She is the only one who can make fists when she is frustrated without anyone seeing.

Troi: Is that why you need pockets, Loren, to hide your frustration from others? Do you find it difficult to express anger?

Loren: Oh, not particularly, Deanna. 

Loren smacks the Deanna Troi figure down.

Troi: I’m sensing some hostility. I’m sensing a broken arm. Troi to Dr. Crusher, medical emergency on the kitchen table.

                                                                        Dr. Crusher beams in.

Dr. Crusher: Deanna, what just happened?

Troi: I’m afraid we’ll have to put Ensign Crawford back in the brig. Her violent outbursts have returned. She may be in for a court martial.

Dr. Crusher: Well, your arm is definitely broken. Here, that should be better. This is very unusual behavior from Ensign Crawford, she has always been so kind and caring. Perhaps I should examine her.

Troi: Be careful Beverly, whatever you do, don’t mention anything about pockets.

There is the sound of a toilet flush over the baby monitor. Loren bolts up from the table and runs out. The following conversation is heard over the baby monitor.

Loren: Mama, why didn’t you call me?

Mama: I didn’t know where you were.

Loren: I’m right down in the kitchen Mama, where I always am. I have the monitor, all you have to do is call. You know that.

Mama: Turn on that light.

Loren: Did you have a good nap?

Mama: No, I couldn’t sleep.

Loren: Do you want some juice?

Mama: I always want juice after my nap. Always thirsty, always have to go to the bathroom. It’s a vicious cycle.

Sounds of Mama sitting down, groaning, turning on the TV

Loren: There you are. I’ll be right back with the orange juice.

Loren re-enters the kitchen, pours a little glass of juice, gets the mail, exits again. Voices over the monitor.

Loren: Here you are.

Mama: Thank you.

Loren: And here’s the mail, nothing exciting, some catalogs…

Mama: Get me my emory board. Thank you.

Loren: OK, I’ll be downstairs. Call me if you need to get up.

Mama: Alright…You’ll be downstairs?

Loren: Yes Mama, in the kitchen.

Mama: Is the front door locked?

Loren: Yes Mama.

Mama: Alright.

Loren re-enters. Stands blankly in the kitchen. You can hear Oprah over the monitor.

Dr. Crusher: Yes, her personality has changed, ever since her last shore leave to Raisa. A medical scan is definitely in order.

Loren: Next on Oprah- Do inter-species marriages really work? What about the children? Up next: a Klingon man who was raised by humans and a woman who is herself the product of a mixed marriage, human and betazoid. Can it really work? What about the sex thing? Yes, we’ll let it all hang out after the next commercial break.

Picard: Deanna, Lt. Worf, have you lost your minds? Starfleet regulation 247c3 expressly forbids any appearances on daytime television. Oprah, Geraldo, One Life to Live, I don’t care, it’s not Starfleet.

Loren: (Singing) I’m so bored I’m so bored I’m so bored. What’s for dinner What’s for dinner What’s for dinner…She’ll be asking soon….(In a French male voice) Once upon a time, you were so beautiful, so fascinating, you had the world at your feet, and now, now your best friends are action figures. (In a female French voice) Allo, Je m’appelle Dominique. Je suis une etoille de la cinema Francais. Peut-etre vous me connais? Non? I have made many many films, well, deux films anyway- Tattoos Are Forever and its sequel fantastique Tattoos Two. I have been called the French Meryl Streep, in fact, we are currently working together on a remake of the classic Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.

Picard: Dominique, you are more beautiful than I remember, your pictures do not do you justice, you are far too rich, too complex to be confined to just two dimensions. Please, will you dine with me in my quarters this evening?

Loren: On one condition.

Picard: Anything. 

Loern: That you wear your sexy pyjamas, I cannot resist your little PJ’s Jean-Luc. Jean-Luc, why is it you have a French name and a British accent?

                                                                        Voice over the monitor

Mama: Loren! Loren!


Yes, I still have the action figures.