It seems to me…..


Have you ever had a word just strike you as funny?  Just the way it sounds, not its actual meaning.

“Seem”.  “Seems”.  “Seemed.”

Its just a funny word.

Sometimes I wonder how I “seem” to others.  You know what I mean?  Like, do I seem as cranky as I sometimes feel? Do I seem old? Do I seem happy?

I had a funny experience today, and I got a glimpse into the image that I project to strangers.  It made me laugh.

I was meeting a friend at a small state park. I had never been to this particular park, so I was driving along slowly, trying to find the entrance.  I saw a sign that looked right, and pulled slowly into the parking lot.  There was a little wooden building there, like you’d find at the entrance to a beach or a campground, and a pretty young girl was standing in the doorway.  She raised her hand in a wave, and I waved back.

“Good morning”, she said, approaching my window.

“Good morning!  I’m supposed to be meeting a friend, and I’m hoping that this is the right place. Is this the main entrance?”

“Yes”, she smiled and nodded, her shiny auburn hair glinting in the morning sunlight. “This is where you park to enjoy the lake, the picnic area or any of the trails.”

I had noticed a sign on the door of the little ticket booth.  It said, “Full day fee: $8:00”  I had my right hand in my purse as I chatted with the young lady, but it was coming up sadly empty.

“Oh, dear”, I told her with some embarrassment, “I don’t think I brought any cash.”

She looked at me with sympathy in her brown eyes. “Oh, I’m sorry….I…..”

I found my check book in the front pocket of my bag, and held it up to her. “Can I write a check?”

“Yes!”, she was clearly relieved that she wasn’t going to have to kick me out of the park on this hot summer day. “But…….”  She was looking at me closely now, and I saw that she was biting her lip.  “I’m not sure how to ask this. It’s tricky.  Um…..”

Her words trailed off, but I held my smile as I waited for her to gather her nerve.  What on earth was she planning to ask me? Did she want to search the trunk?  Was she worried that the clear liquid in my bottle was vodka instead of water? Was this part of some anti-terrorism measure or something?  What could it possibly be?

I saw her take a deep breath, and she knotted her hands in front of her.  “OK”, she stood up straighter, “I’m just going to come right out and ask.  Are you 65 or older?”

I couldn’t help it.  I burst out laughing.  THAT’S what all the stammering and ahemming was about?     Here I was, afraid that I looked like a shady character or a terrorist or a pervert of some kind.  And she was wondering if she could charge me the Senior Citizen rate!

“No,” I answered, through my giggles.  “But thanks for asking me that! I know I have white hair, but I’m only 59.”

“And your hair is beautiful!”, she gushed immediately.  “I mean, I didn’t think you looked 65, but…..”  I interrupted her with another laugh.  “Don’t worry!  I’m not insulted!  I guess it takes some nerve to ask that question, doesn’t it?”

She grinned back at me, relief all over her pretty face.  “Some people get really upset if we ask.  But you just seem so friendly, I figured I’d give it a shot and see if I could save you some money!”

I wrote out my check,  handed it to her with another round of thanks, and headed into the park to meet my friend for a morning walk.

I guess I “seem” different on the outside than I “seem” to myself!

And that’s probably a good thing.

Do I seem friendly or scary in this picture?

Do I seem friendly or scary in this picture?

A Hidden World


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A humpback whale in Stellwagon Bank

I went out on my very first whale watch today.  My German student, Lucas, had given me the tickets for Mother’s day, and we had chosen today as the best weather day of the week. I woke up this morning excited but nervous: I don’t go into the big city very often, and the prospect of Boston traffic was mildly daunting.  But Luci and I put on our sunscreen, grabbed water bottles and cameras and headed into the rush hour madness.

We made our way down the Mass Turnpike and onto the city streets.  We wound our way through the throngs of pedestrians who mobbed the streets of the city.  We parked, way way up on the sixth floor of the huge, packed parking garage, and made our way toward the dock where we would board our giant catamaran.

“Please move down the dock!”, called the young crew member from the Harbor Cruise Lines, “Please push together! Take up as little room as possible!”  Like cattle on their final walk, we crammed ourselves together with the strangers all around us, our tickets clutched in our sweaty hands. I stood shoulder to shoulder with a tall blond woman in ragged grey sweat pants, leaning slightly away as she shoved handfuls of popcorn into her mouth. Her children were at my hip, two of them whining about being too hot. I felt the press of people at my back as I did my best to “take up as little room as possible”.

Now I must explain; even though I am a fairly kind and warm person, I don’t always like humans very much.   I am OK with them when they are small, and I generally do well with small groups of familiar humans.  But put me in a big crowd of strangers, and I am suddenly NOT the most loving of women.

So I held my breath, and we wound our way down the gangplank.  And onto the boat.  And up to the third deck.  Where we stood at the rail as the big boat slowly made its way from the frenzy of the dock and out into the crowded harbor.  We chugged out past the pleasure boats, past the harbor islands, and further and further toward the blue horizon.

Little by little, we left the modern city behind us.

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Boston fades into our wake.

The boat picked up speed, and I began to relax.  After about an hour, as I stood at the rail, facing into the wind and watching the open, empty water before me, I could almost imagine myself here at an earlier time. I could look back at the islands, at the shape of the harbor itself. I could imagine, almost, how welcoming that harbor must have been to the earliest settlers back in 1620.

I turned my face back to the horizon, back to the open water.  Back to a view that held no humans.

And then we found ourselves on the edge of Stellwagon Bank, a long, narrow glacial deposit that lies off the coast of Massachusetts, catching the cold ocean currents and forcing them upward toward the summer sun.  Stellwagon Bank, which in the warm months of spring and summer becomes a feeding ground for dozens of species of marine life.

Stellwagon Bank, where we stood in absolute awe for over an hour as groups of humpback whales fed and splashed and swam and played all around us.

We watched one adult female named “Echo” as she used her huge right fin to smack the water, over and over, making a sound that could most likely be heard for miles.  We saw her roll onto her back, showing her belly to the sun. We saw her arch her back and flare her tail fin as she dove into the cool blue water.  And we watched her rise, over and over again, to lift that one ton fin and drop it onto the surface of the water.   Why was she doing it?

The naturalist gave us the theories. Perhaps she was trying to communicate with other whales.  Perhaps it was an attempt to knock barnacles from her fins.

I don’t know.

But to me, it looked like she was having fun on a sunny day.

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Echo having very noisy fun.

I took as many photos as I could take without giving up my opportunity to experience the amazing spectacle before me.  We saw mother whales and calves, breaching the waters together, feeding and diving and disappearing beneath the surface.

It took my breath away.  It left me uncharacteristically speechless.

It filled me with awe.

Because it made me realize that all around us, every single day, the world is filled with life that does not worry about us or think about us or even notice us puny humans as we rush along in our own strange patterns of behavior.  It made me realize that even as I mow my grass and dust my furniture, this beautiful earth is filled with giants who glide through life under the sparkling oceans, unaware of my existence.  They rise to the surface to feed and to breathe deep of the clean air.  They arch those beautiful, graceful flukes and slide deep deep into a part of the earth that I will never ever know, where they can play and roll and dance and sing to each other to their heart’s content.

Somehow, as I think about the crowded, frantic life of the humans in the city, I am comforted by the idea that in a place we cannot see, lives of grace and quiet beauty go on every day.  And I love the idea that those who live those lives do so in complete ignorance of our existence.

That magical moon


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It was a normal morning. Boring and prosaic, completely devoid of magic. A shower, a coffee, the long commute. The students, and math and emails and correcting. Busses, a hair cut, home to feed the dogs and sweep the floor.  An unremarkable dinner and a glass of unremarkable wine.

And then the day was over.  I yawned, stretched, trudged down the hallway to my bedroom. Wrapping myself in my furry red robe, I rubbed my tired eyes and stepped onto the deck.

And magic poured down over me like honey.

The moon was full, or near enough to make no difference.  I slipped into the hot tub, and the briny mist rose past my face and reached into the sky. The black tops of the pine trees made a curtain of lace in front of the moon’s silver face.  I lay back in the water, watching the sky above me.

I know that I can’t describe it. I know that I lack the special talent that it would take to let you see and feel and hear the wonder of tonight in the skies above my house.

I don’t have the words to catch and hold it, but I can tell you that the sky itself was further away than I have ever seen it. It was stretched above me, so very far above. It was a deeper, richer blue/gray, and tonight it looked like the vault that it is so often called.  And up there, so far up, there were glittering, dancing stars, high, high up. Clinging to the deep blue velvet sky.

Below them, in the magical air between the moon and stars, great piles and pillows of the whitest clouds were rushing northward, moving up and over me as I lay there in silence below. The moon was closer to me, just rising at this evening hour.

I could see the layers of the sky!  Closest to me, closets to earth, were the tips of the pine trees, tossing back and forth in the wind. Dusted with silver from the moonlight that lit them. Above them were those rushing piles of stacking white clouds, running away, brightly lit from below by the huge white moon.  And then the farthest layer, the so distant sky, displaying its tiny diamond chip stars. So far away!

The stars were still, held in that blue ceiling. Below them the clouds were moving, marching, flying north. They raced past the winking stars, giving a rare depth to my view of the sky.

And far below, nearest to my view, the strong old pines stood tall, held to the earth by their solid roots. As the stars winked, and the mountains of clouds marched on, they reached out their lacy hands and waved goodbye.

That, my friends, was a true glimpse of nature’s magic.

Sudden Sunset


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It’s early fall here in New England.  As is typical for this time of year in this fickle place, we have been swinging gently between cool, crisp air and the heat and humidity of summer.  The air smells of late summer; browning leaves, cooling earth, a breeze from the north.

Today was a steamy day.  My classroom was thick with heat and moisture and excited fifth graders. I came home with my blouse damp and clinging, my hair lank, my spirits slightly sagging.

The sky was a uniform slate gray; we desperately need rain, but we seem to be limited to occasional cloudy days.  Rain has been glaringly absent for the past couple of months.

I made dinner, cleaned up the house a bit, checked my email.  I set up tomorrow’s coffee and made my lunch. Paul came home and we ate supper quietly. The air stayed damp and warm, the sky stayed gray.  I thought for sure that rain was coming.  I thought that the solid silver cover over us would be there for a long time.

When dinner was over and all cleaned up, I sat on the couch, ready to do some lesson plans.  The news was on in the background, but I wasn’t fully tuned in.  The big bay window on my left showed the yellowing leaves of the trees against the dark metallic sky.

But all of a sudden, without any warning, the sky turned the most beautiful shade of rose gold. The clouds lit up, the air suddenly felt cool.  I ran outside to try to take a photo, knowing that I couldn’t possibly capture that beauty with a smartphone.  Still, I gave in to the powerful demand to capture and hold the image of that sky.

I was right.

I couldn’t really grasp it. I couldn’t hold onto the shifting shades of pink and salmon and mauve.  I couldn’t find a way to frame the golden leaves against that amazing backdrop.

Still, I had to try.

A sudden, unexpected burst of glory like that has to be grabbed and held and described, no matter how feeble the effort.

Otherwise, how can I be sure that it was even real?

What I gave up……


Sometimes I look back at those Mommy years and think that everything was sunshine and roses.  From the vantage point of “they aren’t here any more”, my kids seem pretty darn angelic.

Sometimes when I am sad and lonely and I miss those hugs and kisses, I delude myself into thinking that it was easy to raise three children while working full time.  Sometimes it seems like I didn’t have to sacrifice a thing!

Then I look in the mirror.

Now, I was never exactly a high maintenance woman.  I came of age in the 70’s, so my idea of fashion began and ended with jeans and a flannel shirt.  My idea of “make up” was tinted lip gloss.  And as for hair? Don’t even go there: the only mousse I ever mastered was chocolate.

But still, when I was in my thirties, I was a relatively attractive young mother.  I was never skinny, but I had a waistline and some curvy parts above and below it.  I wasn’t too hard on the eyes, that’s all I’m saying.

Now? Not so much.

And I want to be clear: I never actually decided to “let myself go”, as they say.  I didn’t exactly make a decision to become frumpy.  In fact, I thought that everything was going along fine while I was in the middle of my mothering life.

It’s just that it can be really hard to find time to exercise when you work 50 hours a week and have an hour and half commute every day.  That thirty minutes to yourself just doesn’t seem to appear when you rush home to three little kids who need dinner, baths, homework help, bedtime stories and lunch made for tomorrow.

And after you drive everyone to CCD, girl scouts, boy scouts, hockey practice, birthday parties, soccer practice, guitar lessons and a track meet, you don’t have a lot of energy for facials or manicures or yoga or pilates.  In fact, you kind of don’t even have time to brush your teeth thoroughly before you fall into the bed face first, thereby making even more of a mess of your formerly glowing skin.

So now that I am an empty nester, I know that I can blame my physical decline on my kids.  The jowls? Hey, I must have been at a hockey game when I should have been doing those firming exercises.  The wrinkles? I definitely got those while squinting into the sun at baseball/soccer/football games.  The flabby middle? Well, jeez, if you are going to be making homemade bread, real Italian meatballs and lots of chicken pot pies, you have to expect some of that to stick to your ribs, right?  The bags under the eyes that now lie like empty sacks on my cheeks?  Totally caused by high school curfews and those who failed to meet them.

I loved my mommy years. You know I did!  And I didn’t mind the little daily sacrifices that I made while I was in the middle of them, either.

But I want to be clear that if I hadn’t made so many sacrifices for my best beloved babies, I would no doubt be slim, smooth and sleek right now, instead of looking a whole lot like a sack of wet cement.

So kids? If you’re Mom isn’t as pretty as she used to be?  Just remember: I blame you!

Why I think I’m an elf.


I first read “The Hobbit” in the fifth grade, and “The Lord of the Rings” when I was in the seventh.  I fell in love with the characters, and I wanted to be a hobbit for a long time. Like a hobbit, I love comfort, I’m always ready to eat or take a nap, and I have thick wavy hair. I love to grow flowers, and I’m a good cook.  All I needed, I thought for many years, was a house with a little round door.

But now that I am older, and have owned my own home and yard for many years, I can see that I was wrong. Now I’m pretty sure that I am an elf.

Oh, I know. I’m not tall, blonde or graceful, and I sure can’t shoot an arrow. But I most definitely feel an affinity for the trees.

This beautiful sugar maple stands just off my deck, at the spot where our yard meets the woods. I have watched its leaves open for 22 years, have enjoyed its shade every summer, have admired its golden orange foliage every October.  Paul and the boys used to tap it in February to make maple syrup.  It’s like a beautiful guardian of our property. Like a lovely old friend.

Yesterday I was home alone, because the kids and Paul were hiking for the weekend.  It was early evening, and I was on the deck, grilling my dinner.  As I stood there in the silence, with the sun setting behind me, I looked out into my woods.  I was struck by how the sugar maple had grown.  When we moved in here, it was a medium sized tree, and I could look over its head into the sky above the forest.  Now it fills that area of sky, spreading its branches over what used to be part of our lawn.

I looked around the yard, thinking of how the trees have changed in the time that we have lived here.  They grew up with my children.  And some have gone just as the children have.

I remember when this pine was taken down, after we realized that it was too old and too unsound to remain where it might fall on the roof.  I remember how sad I have been each time we have had to bring a tree down.  The loss that I felt as each of our sentinels crashed down to earth in a shower of broken limbs.

We have lost branches to ice storms, wind storms and even a hurricane or two.  Like an elf, I suffered the pain of each break, feeling it deep in my own heart. Each snapped branch has felt to me like a broken arm, but one I can’t soothe or cast or ease in any way.

Like one of Tolkien’s elves, I also celebrate the new growth of my trees.  Yesterday, as I walked around the yard, I was aware of how steadily the woods are growing into the yard. There is a beautiful stand of hemlock on the edge of the woods in a spot that used to be all grass. There is a group of new young white pines, clustered together like the children of the trees we have lost.And everywhere I look, I see new saplings rising.  Maple saplings grow on the stumps of old pines.  Hemlock, pine and even a spruce or two pop up in every sunny break in the woods.  There is such a feeling of “life goes on”, of renewal, of hope in the future.  The trees keep coming, keep growing, keep filling in the spaces.

Like Legolas Greenleaf of Middle Earth, I am happy to see each baby tree. I greet each one with a smile and some words of encouragement.  And I let them grow, even when they are in the middle of my daylillies.