Parenting, Poetry

Side Way

hidden-door

Tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.

– William Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act ii, Scene 1

In case of paralysis, break glass. Out there
is here. Stairs, a whining thud, fat-bellied
cicada trapped in a breezeway
flings itself from wall to wall
until it surrenders
to defeat, so much like gravity.
Even with its trident of five eyes,
it is blind to the way through.
Corridor becomes vault. Had it been born
a bluebottle butterfly, it might stand a better chance,
its photoreceptors detecting
a million colors
more than those five eyes,
and far beyond what our feeble pair perceive
(and so believe). We are as wary of spectrometers
and their evidence of hidden hues
as we are of quantum wavefunction
and infrared snapshots of the Kuiper belt. Continue reading “Side Way”

Music, Outdoors

Echo Location

She scrapes bow across strings whose low moan rises to a shriek.  Her elbow a piston, it turns the wrist in a blurred ellipse that frees a cry, a frenzy.  Two boys appear from behind the stage, leaping sideways across the brush that separates this place from the garden plots where an old woman in a headscarf shambles between rows watering broad petals of cabbage.  One of the children waves a stick like a flag.  His face is a wide grin that says, see me, see me.

Another boy in a man’s body perches on the edge of a chair on this portable stage.  Shaggy hair falls across his forehead as he leans into the music.  He is from Ireland and lives in Portland where he has his pick of women.  He does to the accordion what Kobe Bryant does to a ball.  We call this thing “playing,” this version of play unlike anything the rest of us will ever experience.

Bent at the waist ever so slightly, he gazes far off towards what must be the west where a weary August sun peels back the day’s skin and exposes the pink, swollen flesh of dusk.  The grown boy’s fingers are dervishes in harmonious riot, balletic and blind, somehow whirling an unbroken ensemble piece on that tiny stage of keys.  I look where he is looking — in the direction at least because what he sees is all his own.  I want to imagine his eyes fixed on a montage of hills, rain, soil-scarred hands lifting open a latch and reaching for him.  Just as likely, behind his eyes growls a gauntlet of fractured traffic between the airport and the next gig.  Or a dim wash of notes.  When I look that way, I see only the deep outline of trees against a sky now a garnet throb.

Then the breath, the snared half-second of surprise when bow and key and string and drum, all stop —

it’s only a pulse of the heart yet it stretches, stretches like the still air across embouchure, its reverberation through a valley of brass.  It stretches like a quantum measure that is neither real nor measurable.  Swelling up into that pause (which may be the end of all history and also may not contain a single new beginning) surges the cry of cicadas thick in the shadowed branches.  Through the crack too flaps the leather wing of one bat dipping for a moth then careening off, this also in the direction our accordion boy looks but doesn’t see.  Not what I see see anyway, and certainly not what the bat sees, though his vision may be closer to that of his chiropteran brother, a sightless echoing that delineates a terrain through sound, through a chorus of shape and motion.  Maybe he draws a whole universe like this, one round, rapid beat after another firing across a field of night.


 

Adventure, community, Outdoors

Think Global, Hike Local

CCT

You have no engagements, commitments, obligations, or duties; no special ambitions and only the smallest, least complicated of wants; you exist in a tranquil tedium, serenely beyond the reach of exasperation, “far removed from the seats of strife,” as the early explorer and botanist William Bartram put it. All that is required of you is a willingness to trudge.


– Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods

With a little vacation away from work and my kiddo off canoeing at day camp, it’s time for a fix of woods.  I pull up Hiking Upward to find something near enough to hit in a few hours but far enough for solitude.

This is the goal: solitude.  And its accompanying quiet.

Humans are social creatures, sure, and we need to be in proximity to people as much for a sense of connection as for all the stuff — the supermarket and hospital, the auto mechanic and school.  To survive, we need to be in community.  Even so, too much proximity to too many others can take its toll.  The buzz of engines and clang of machines, the soundtrack of urban and suburban life, can jam the signals.  When I start to notice myself too focused on the clock and task list, too alert, too aware of every demand and every passing vehicle, I know it’s time to seek out a forest. Continue reading “Think Global, Hike Local”

Living in the Moment, Outdoors, Poetry

Counting Country

blackberry farm

2 hawks burst from the upper branches

1 doe steps, pauses, steps again into the brush

1 neon-green bug skitters under the cover of a fallen leaf

On its back, 1 tiny frog pinwheels its legs until I toe it upright and it springs into the weeds

3 patches of vines curl around their stash of not-yet-ripe raspberries

5 fingers of thorns twist across the frothy pink blush of not-yet-ripe blackberries

1 pond plucks and echoes with the calls of rubber-band frogs

2 tractors packed with children and parents wave and rumble and sway and wave some more

12 rows of new corn cascade up and out, as high as a goat’s belly

1 creek warbles along its stone bank, becomes another as it bends into shadow, another as it reappears in a cut of morning light

100 blades of grass tickle four bare calves

1 lone cow glances up and continues to chew, 1 ear flicking at a half dozen flies

1 roller truck with 2 steel wheels makes 6, 7, 8 passes over the gravel lot pressing its noise over every other word

3 children sit in 3 patches of shade eating 3 mounds of shaved ice in 3 meting stripes of flavor

4 children in helmets lead 4 stoic horses into a barn

8 children with bare heads ride 8 plastic horses in lazy circles

2 women step between damp sponges of earth into the cascading chiaroscuro of leaf and web and wing


Image: Walt Curlee, “Appalachian Blackberry Patch Farm” from Walt Curlee Art

 

 

 

Living in the Moment, Outdoors, Things I Can

97. Things I Can Redraw: The Boundary Lines

resistance

I remember to look up. The reason I remember is because I have been so busy looking down.

Down, yes, but looking as in actually seeing.

Vision is an unexpected discovery, like a forgotten scent stirring in a place of dead things. Like yesterday when I caught myself singing as I ironed my purple shirt for work. I’m gonna let it shine. . . The silvery thread of music startled me to a shiver.

My song. Still here. My sight. Always, again.

I have been looking down and so noticed for the first time the thick ropes of roots pushing up the sidewalk. This is why I’ve stopped and let my gaze slide up the gnarled skin, up and up into the turning leaves.

“What?” Bug says. He almost plows into me. Then he too peers skyward. Cars rip past us on the clogged road. His is an all-wheel-drive school. Walking is forbidden because keeping the children a safe distance from these thin-lipped, texting, whiplash drivers trumps community concerns about obesity levels and global temperatures.

It’s rare these days that this stretched-to-splitting mama has the guts or gas to rebel. Oh, but it is a tasty little thrill when she does. Because sometimes we have to step right out in front of absurdity. Sometimes we even have to let it run us down. How else do we keep the winners from winning it all?

Once in a while when the train arrives two minutes early or the traffic parts like the biblical sea two blocks from my neighborhood, a gash opens in the choking press of late hurry go more go hurry late. It is a bright gust, it is mountaintop air.

It is opportunity.

I get to flout that stupidest of stupid policies.

I get to walk.

And here we are doing exactly that. Bug is wearing his backpack and his first sweatshirt of fall. I’m wearing my Wellies. Hurricane Joaquin in bearing down on us and we are taking the slow route home.

We gaze up together.

“Have you ever noticed how big this tree is?” I ask.

He considers it. “Big how?”

“Look at these roots. The whole sidewalk is a hill. It’s growing right under us.” We nudge our toes at the knobby knees pressing through concrete. “It probably goes all the way across the road.”

Bug lifts his gaze again to the towering branches far above. “It would be hard to climb.” We circle around it and take in the grade of the sloping grass. Then he peers across the grounds of the hulking telecom sales center that abuts our neighborhood. “That one.” He points to a drooping, naked thing with one arm. “That’s a good climbing tree.”

We cut across, striding right through the chain of “No Trespassing” signs. Bug tosses his backpack on the soaked ground and gives me a sly grin. “You first.”

I consider my twinged back, the slick bark, a throbbing current of sleep deprivation. Oh, the warm couch waiting. Then I shrug. “Okay.”

I shimmy and slide, hooking my knee over a knot and swinging myself up. Bug tries but his shoes keep slipping. He peels off his sweatshirt and ties it around the trunk. “If it’s dry, maybe I can get up.” This is an imperfect plan. After his third try, he leaves the jersey limp and tethered like an abandoned prisoner. He races off towards another stand of trees. “That one!” He cries and leaves me to collect our things.

Inside a sheltering arc of boughs he ranks them, 1-2-3, from easiest to hardest. I go first again, contorting my limbs to fit. I haul my mass onto a branch and perch there under a damp canopy. He gets partway up too before we both sort of spill off. I laugh and show him my hands. Mud has worked its way deep in. Laugh line, love line, all in bold. He holds up his grimy palm and I give him a high five.

Near our heads dangles a bulbous seed cluster we notice now for the first time. From tumorous, split husks gleam half a dozen cherry-red zombie eyes. They look like they might actually blink. We step back and decide to forgo a deeper investigation.

As we circle the parking lot for the shortcut home, I glance up again. “If the hurricane does come, we may lose all these leaves before they even change.”

Bug kicks at some that have fallen. He stops at the edge of a cracked tree whose branches on one side are entirely bare. The other side is draped in rust foliage.

“The rain is coming,” he says.

“How do you know?”

“Feel that,” he says. “There’s a gust.” He lifts his face. I do the same.

“It’s darker too,” I say. “Storm dark.” We both watch the steel sky churn.

“Whenever there’s a gust, it rains,” he tells me. “The rain is probably like 30 seconds to 5 minutes away.”

“We’d better get home quick.”

“Okay,” he says. “And we can make a fire and wait for the flood.”

Image from the Cheap Art collection of the Bread and Puppet theater in Glover, Vermont

community, neighborhood, Things I Can

88. Things I Can Offer: A Playdate

Castle Fort 2

My doppleganger lives at the opposite end of the hall. She is also a single working mom with a little boy, a squealing pup, and a sort-of-manageable custody arrangement. We both teach. We both have moms in the area who help us out but we both still struggle with childcare and doggy care. We both are juggling about 15 things too many.

We even share a first name.  Continue reading “88. Things I Can Offer: A Playdate”

Change, Poetry, Relationships, Things I Can

85. Things I Can Hold: The Promise

Honeysuckle Tag

Months after the last blossom
wilts and lets go, a tendril
of scent unfurls
among the parched weeds
and knotted shrubs edging
the broken road.
Only at night the perfume steals
out to stretch its cramped
wings and lean
into the hum
of cricket’s legs
and streetlamps. It will be gone
by sunrise, tucked
under winter straw
that falls in summer, swathing
thirst and throb in a jacket
of silence.