“Patience Is a Virtue….”


It’s a virtue that in some ways I possess in spades. I mean, (cough, cough), I spend all day with toddlers and I almost never yell or lose my cool. Truly.

But sometimes I do NOT want to wait. Sometimes I am all about the instant gratification. Sometimes I am not at all patient.

Let me give you an example.

A couple of years ago my sister-in-law gave me a gorgeous orchid. I had never had one before, and I was head over heels in love with its tender beauty. I read the little card that came with my plant. It said to give the plant 1/4 of a cup of water every week.

I was a little bit perplexed, because that seemed like a pretty meager amount of water for a tropical plant. I asked my sister-in-law how to grow it, and she gave me the advice that I later found online. Add an ice cube once a week and the plant will flourish.

Really? Once again, that didn’t seem like much water for a jungle plant. Plus, it was really really really cold water. Wouldn’t jungle rain be warmer?

Still, I did what I was advised to do. Because I hate being cold, I skipped the ice and went with the 1/4 cup of cold water once a week.

My flowers stayed in bloom.

They stayed in bloom so long in fact, that when I went to visit my 87 year old Mom, and saw her orchid starting to wilt, I offered to take it home and save it.

Yay me!

I put both orchids in a sunny spot and watered them every 7-10 days with a little splash.

They both dropped their petals, lost some leaves and keeled over.

I was heartbroken.

I mean, I don’t have a lot of skills to brag about, but I thought I could at least keep a houseplant alive! One of the orchids turned totally brown and began to look more like a tumbleweed than a jungle creature. I sadly tossed her onto my compost pile and turned to her barely alive sister.

“Please tell me how to bring you back,” I whispered sadly to my spindly friend. “Look on Youtube,” she whispered back, her voice so weak that I could barely hear the faint hope it held out. “Google orchids….google….care for orchids…..”

I wiped the tears from eyes and followed her sage advice.

And there I learned that (AHEM) I was right all along. Orchids are tropical plants. Ergo, they will thrive in environments that mimic the tropics. As in: lots and lots of tepid water dumped on them all at once, then long periods of heat, then you repeat the process.

So I did as advised. I moved my weakened limp leafed friend away from the direct light of the window (forest canopy, anyone????) I let her roots rise up from the pot and hang outside like spindly spider legs (orchids grow outside of the soil) and I watered the crap out of her every time the wood chips and bark beneath her felt dry.

Lo and freakin’ behold. One fine day, a lovely, bright green shoot arose from her stem. Up, up, up it crept. It took a full month for me to be sure that it wasn’t just another root.

But at last, this courageous and intrepid plant, sentenced to life in a completely non-tropical New England home, sent up a gorgeous stem filled with buds.

I rejoiced! There was prosecco. (OK, fine, there’s always prosecco here, but still. I was very happy). There was music and dancing and as the formerly limp green leaves of the orchid rose up again in good health, there was much cheering of fabulous gardening Nonni.

Every day the buds grew larger. Every day, the purple and green stem arched it’s way toward the sunlight.

Every day Nonni waited to rejoice at the fact that she had brought this nearly dead exotic plant back to life. Nonni waited with gleeful anticipation for the first glorious flower.

She kept the orchid close to the sunlight, but not bathed in it. She turned it a couple of times a day. She watered it thoroughly with room temperature water every few days when the winter heat dried it out.

Nonni eventually started to sing to her lovely tropical guest. “Oh, beautiful plant, so full of life!!!!” she trilled, hoping to nudge it into bloom. “Where the heck are you, anyway?”

Each day the buds got bigger. And fuller. And more alive with promise.

But. The winter days passed. And nothing happened.

As in. No. Thing.

Nonni was losing her grip.

And Hannaford’s had pretty little orchid plants in full bloom for only a few bucks. Nonni bought one.

Isn’t she so pretty? No ice cubes for this girl!

OK. So maybe it wasn’t entirely fair to bring home a sweet young thing, but I was getting a little bit short of patience. I won’t say that I was hoping to shame my recovering orchid into bloom. But I did think a little competition might be helpful.

Alas.

Here I sit, in front of my not-cold-not-dry-not-too-sunny orchid. I am still singing to her lovely full buds.

But I’m almost out of patience. I mean, come on already!

Give me all the toddlers in the world. I am not sure I have the patience to deal with shy orchid blossoms.

Git out here already, before I replace you with some early daffodils!

Ready. To. Burst. Open.

Oh, Mother Nature…


Have you ever had one of those days when everything just seems to be perfect? One of those days where in spite of the day-to-day stresses of bills, mosquito bites and political overload, the universe seems to be perfectly aligned?

Welp. I have.

They don’t come around all that often, but yesterday was one of them.  I woke up to the realization that my colonoscopy was over, I could eat whatever I wanted, and most of my body was pain free. Huzzah!

The day was warm, sunny, gorgeous.

Spring in Massachusetts, brief as it is, reminds us all that Mother Nature must surely love us. The lilacs were passing, but the peonies were just about to open. The irises were in full and glorious bloom, and the grass hadn’t yet turned brown.

My yard, if I do say so myself, was fabulous! “Holy rhododendron”, I thought as I looked out my front window, “I am a gardening goddess!”

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There were butterflies on every blossom. Darling little chipmunks were racing around the bushes. Robins and Phoebes were singing.

Ah, nature!

It was an amazingly natural day. I loved my dear Mother Nature.

Last evening, my husband and I did something we rarely do anymore. We went out to hear good music. We drove about an hour west to meet up with our kids and some of their friends. It was a blast.

Wahoo! Great finale to a great day, right?

Then, after a truly fun and completely wonderful night of great music from Upstate Rubdown, we headed home.

We made the hour long ride home with glorious silver stars shining overhead. We were in a mood of pure elation.

As we made our winding way through the small roads of Central Massachusetts, we found ourselves commenting on how lucky we are to live where we do.

At one point, the headlights of our little car caught the glowing eyes of a possum, and we slowed to watch it amble into the woods. “Eat those ticks!”, we cried, laughing.

We counted ourselves lucky to have seen the funny little guy.

But there were more delights in store for us before we made it home to our beds.

We were absolutely thrilled to see a beautiful raccoon waddling across one lawn in a nearby town. Next we noted a delicate young doe standing in the tall grass along the road, her fur illuminated by the gentle starlight.

Mother Nature, you give such beautiful gifts! Angels were singing. Angels, I tell you.

And then, just as we turned into our very own rural neighborhood,  we found a little family of foxes playing on the grass. How beautiful! Those little golden red faces! The Mamma fox, rushing her babies out of harm’s way!

Oh, Mother Nature! You wonderful goddess, you!!

We finally got home, and congratulated ourselves on having landed in such a beautiful place, so full of the love of nature. We fell asleep to the sound of barred owls calling. How lucky we are, we told each other, how blessed to live in such a gorgeous, natural, sylvan setting!

We fell asleep.

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And we awoke to another gorgeous early summer day.  I got my beloved little grandchildren ready to play outside. I was just so filled with gratitude toward Mommy Nature!

Out we stepped, into the golden morning sun. The flowers were in bloom. The grass was green. The angels were freakin’ singing in my ear.

I moved happily toward the new screen house that we’ve set up on our glorious green lawn. I moved inside the sheltered room.

I looked up. I saw a few bees and flies attached to the inside of the screen. A few as in roughly 5, 000 bugs. All attached to the INSIDE of my bug shelter.

I gulped.

Oh, well, I thought, that’s just part of nature!

“Oh, my!” I chirped to my baby grandson, who was sitting wide-eyed on my left hip. “The buggies flew inside our screen house, honey! Let’s go outside and knock them off the screen so they can fly away and be free!”

I stepped out of the screen house, moved gracefully across the gorgeous lawn toward the outside of the screen. I thought that I could just knock on the outside of the screen and thereby send the zillion icky buggies out the open front door.

I squared my shoulders. “Nature”, I told myself, “It’s all just a part of nature.”

I raised my right hand, preparing to tap on the screen. “Look!” I said to my sweet Johnny. “We can make the little buggies go away!”

At this point there were still angels singing. Mother nature and all that crap were still humming along in my mind and heart.

I prepared to lower my hand so I could knock on the outside of the gazebo.

And approximately 2 milliseconds before I lowered my palm onto the screen, I happened to notice THIS GUY.

spider

The. Spider. From. Hell.

I did not scream, drop the baby and set the yard on fire.

For which I am extremely proud.

However.

I did decide that the sun was too darn hot for us today. I did bribe the kids with ice cream. I did get us all safely inside where I made everybody strip down, allegedly for a “tick check” but really for a “could the world’s biggest spider possibly be hiding in our underwear” check.

I didn’t lock every door or window, but I did double and triple check every screen.

Holy horror, Batman.

After a nice lunch (eaten up at the highest table and after I checked the floor six times), I got all of us into bed for our afternoon nap. Naturally, I pulled back all the covers and looked under the bed, bureau and bookcase before we laid down. I checked the window screens a few times and stuffed a bunch of pillows between the bed and the wall.

And as we drifted off to sleep, my beloved babies cradled against me, my sweet doggie at our feet, I thought to myself,

“Mother Nature, you fucking old bitch.”

 

A Parable, Perhaps?


Three acorns fell from the oak behind our house.

One landed softly in a pile of old rotted leaves. The second landed half on the soft leaves, and half on an area of pea stone. The third acorn fell onto the driveway.

After two weeks, the first acorn had sent two roots into the ground below its shell. It had simply and effortlessly split that shell and grown its two tender roots to feel the soil and search for moisture and nutrients.

The second little acorn had split in exactly the same way as his brother, and had sent out two little roots to look for life. One root found itself safely encased in leaf mold, but the second root had to struggle and bend and search-reach-search until it finally found a tiny space between the stones, where it desperately dug itself into the earth.

The third acorn simply lay where it had fallen. There was no nurturing earth below it. There was nowhere for a root to take hold. The shell of this acorn stayed whole. No roots were ever sent out into the world.

Six months passed, and winter was giving way to spring.

The first acorn had produced a little tree. It had a thin, straight trunk and three sets of leaves. As the spring sun struck it, it worked happily to make new leaves and to reach toward the sky.

The second acorn had also sent up a trunk, and had managed to make one set of leaves. His trunk leaned hard to the left, because only half of him was supported by good soil. He worked hard. Harder than he thought he’d ever work. Each day was a struggle, but he kept on reaching, reaching, reaching for the sunny sky.

The third acorn sat on the hard blacktop of the drive. It had been frozen, and thawed and frozen again. There was one crack in the bottom of the acorn shell, but no root had come out. There was nowhere for that root to go.

Another six months passed with the seasons. The first little acorn was long gone. In its place there stood a small but sturdy oak. Tiny branches sprouted from its growing trunk, reaching easily toward the sky. It had soil and rain. It had strong roots to benefit from them both. It had taken its place in the woods, and could grow and thrive and one day drop its own little acorns onto the earth below its feet.

The second acorn had also created a little oak, because it landed just on the edge of the drive. This oak was thinner, and not quite as straight as its brother, but it also had three sets of leaves and was reaching ever higher toward the sky. This little tree might make it, if no car drifts off the pavements, and if no new owners decide to repave. It is more vulnerable to drought and wind than its brother, but if all goes well, it could one day be a full grown oak tree, too.

The third acorn is gone now. It never opened, never sent out a shoot, never had its chance to grow into a tree. It simply fell in a place that couldn’t support it, and it died before it had gone through one winter.

So.

Was the first acorn smarter, more caring, more deserving than the others? Was the third one guilty of some unknown crime? Was the little oak that faced a lifetime of struggle somehow at fault for landing in an imperfect place?

Of course not. We all know that. We all know that for acorns and oaks, life or death is just the luck of the draw. We don’t think that there is a God who chooses which acorns will do well and which will end up as food for a squirrel.

So was it the mother oak’s fault that some of her offspring fared better than the others?

Nope. We wouldn’t even ask that question. And we wouldn’t ask why one oak tree dropped its acorns on fertile soil while another only had pavement below.

Life is what it is. Fragile, amazing, random, unplanned.

Just as no God sits on a mighty throne deciding which acorn should survive, there is no God deciding who should have children easily and who should be infertile. There is no God passing judgement on which children will thrive and which land on pavement.

The oak tree isn’t responsible for the fate of the acorns. Every oak is designed by nature to drop those acorns onto the very best soil. But no oak has control over whether or not that happens.

Life is a miracle. Life is a gift. Lift is a matter of where we land, and what nutrients we can reach, and how close we are able to get to the sun.

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A Warm Spring Night


It was a warm, wet, humid spring day today.  There was a low overcast all day. The wind was strong, and the clouds were racing from South to North.  Not a usual New England pattern on April 1st. Not at all.

I took Ellie outside. She sat in her stroller, watching me with her wise dark eyes as I raked up the straw and pine boughs that had covered my perennial beds. The wind blew strong and the pines creaked and moaned. Ellie watched. She watched me stoop and scrape and gather up the winter coat of the garden. She watched the birds darting back and forth and up and down. She tipped her head back and watched the tops of the trees as they swayed back and forth above her.

Tonight, after I had taken Ellie home to her Mom and Dad, I stood on my deck. The night was coming on fast, and rain threatened to fall.  There was thunder in the distance, making my old dog Sadie shiver and quake at my feet.

I looked out, across our property, to the wetlands beyond.  I strained a bit to hear what I so wanted to hear.  And there it was.

The spring song of the “peepers”, the tiny green tree frogs whose voices fill the evening air of New England springtimes.  I smiled, remembering all of the years when my children and I had stood in this same spot, waiting for that springtime call of love and hope.

I thought about Ellie. How funny, I thought to myself.  This is her first spring time!

I thought about the rhythms of life. About Ellie hearing and smelling spring for the very first time in her life. I thought of myself, remembering so many springtimes in the past.  I thought of my Mother, feeling and hearing spring in her 86th year, wondering how many springtimes are still before her.

I stood on my deck, in the damp warm evening. I breathed in the smell of the leaves and the warming smell of the earth. I listened to the peepers in the marsh, seeking love.

Ellie has so much to look forward to in this beautiful life.

Ah, the smell of dirt…..


myosotis

I wonder if perhaps I was a farmer in my past life?  I wonder if I had to stay inside my dark, cold wooden house through the long New England winters, waiting for the first approach of spring, when I could start the long season of growing once again.

Maybe in a past life I was settler in the wilderness of the New World, trying to find fertile soil to start a plot of corn and beans for my family.  Can’t you just picture me, in a mob cap and homespun dress, using a wooden pitchfork to turn the soil on the first warm day of late winter?

Well, I can.

I’m sure that I was totally in tune with the earth in a past life. I’m positive that I was able to turn plain old rocky soil into something so rich and fertile that it fed my growing family throughout the winter.

How do I know this?  Huh.  Easy!

Because I swear to God, I love the smell of dirt in February and March!  I love it.  It’s like the best combination of aphrodisiac and power drink.  I stand outside on days when the snow has receded enough to uncover clumps of semi-frozen mud.  I tip my head back toward the barely warm sun and I breathe in so deep……!! My lungs expand, my oxygen level increases, my brain wakes up from its winter hibernation.  I come alive again.

This morning is one of those mornings.  It is very, very warm outside; almost 40 degrees! Paul and I walked the dogs, and I only had on a sweatshirt.  The snow is nearly gone. Only little piles of filthy ice pellets remain.  There is a thin layer of mud everywhere.  I squished my way through it, loving the thick gooey feel of it under my boots.  I could smell that rich, heavy earthy smell with every step.  Dirt! Good old New England dirt! If I poked it with a stick (which of course I did), I could feel that the earth is still frozen solid.  Even so, there was a layer of thawed muck on top of the frozen ground, and that was full of promise.  The dead grass is even turning slightly green in some spots.

I know that the trees are still completely bare and that there isn’t a butterfly or a bee in sight.  Still, the tips of the daffodils are visible.  I can see shoots of daylillies and iris pushing their way through the dead leaves in my garden.  If I squint my eyes just right, I can see little swelling buds on the tips of the lilac branches.

And I can smell dirt. Soil. Earth.

My pioneer farmer Colonial past self recognizes the smell and rejoices.  “Huzzah!”, she shouts.  “Tis nearly Spring!”

 

Old Mamma Nature, keepin’ me humble


Oy, vey.

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When will I learn?

I am one of those people who truly hate Mother Nature in January, when the ground is buried in drifts of snow and the air is bitter.  I fear the night when the cold seems to chase me from the car into the house, and when the very idea of sitting outside seems like madness.

Which means, of course, that I am one of those people who totally embraces and cherishes Mother Nature in the warm days of the year.  I am someone who becomes absolutely giddy when that first breath of warm spring air wafts across the deck.

I like to think of myself as a young-at-heart, joyful sort, you know? I like to think that I am a woman who is still open to the delightful experiences of the young!

So tonight, after Paul and I had finished our lovely dinner of spare ribs and fresh carrots, I offered to take out the trash, rather than staying inside to wash the dishes. You see, we’ve been in the middle of a pretty significant drought here in Central Massachusetts, and today had been a truly rainy day.  When I offered to empty the kitchen trash and roll the big barrel way out to the curb, I was aware that a steady warm rain was pouring down outside. I could hear the distant thunder, and smell the warm earth through the windows.

So out I went, my wonderful husband having agreed to load the dishwasher and put away the leftovers.

The sun had set by the time I stepped out of the garage and onto the driveway. I was barefoot, as I so often am in the warmer weather.  I pulled the big trash barrel behind me along the 200 feet or so of our drive. I felt the patter of the warm rain on my shoulders as I passed under the pines that line our property.

I left the full barrel on the curb, and turned to head back to the house.  I took three steps, maybe four, and found myself standing on the edge of a good, deep puddle.  I heard a little giggle as it escaped my throat.  I waded happily through the warm, dark water, so proud of my aging self as I rejoiced in the sensuous pleasure of the water on my feet.  I made my way along the drive, breathing deeply of the warm, wet summer air.  I made out the honeyed scent of my tall phlox, the pungent spice of the marigolds, the wet sweetness of the clover.  I put out my arms and raised my face to the sky. I laughed out loud as the rain poured over my face.

Thrilled with the overload of sensation, so proud of my ability to still embrace the world around me, I took a bold step into the garage, where my soaking feet met the smooth cement of the floor.

And right onto my ass I tumbled.  My left butt cheek crashed into the floor, sending a jolt of pain up my aging spine.  My arms flew back to protect me, and my left elbow hit the floor with a crunch.  I hit so hard that I bit my tongue and a muffled “gerg” flew out of my mouth.

I sat for a moment, stunned.  I was afraid to move.  All of a sudden, I felt less like a summer goddess and more like an old crone.  Slowly, carefully, I wiggled my fingers and toes, bent both of my knees, creaked back up onto my feet.

And now I sit on the sofa, an ice pack on my elbow, a glass of wine at hand.  I can still smell the warm summer rain, and hear the gentle song as it runs down the roof.

Next week, I’m letting Paul take out the trash while I carefully place the plates into the dishwasher.

Lesson learned, Mother Nature, lesson learned.

Frog Fights and Teachable Moments


Oh, the best laid plans!

bull-frogs-sing-to-the-skies-the-dark-rift-draws-nigh-all-reptiles-vibrate-the-oceans-and-seas-to-protect-earths-magnetic-field

Yesterday was the first really warm day of the year; we haven’t seen 70 degrees in Massachusetts since October.  We really, really NEEDED this great weather!

And its the day before the stupid, accursed, pointless, boring, way-too-long standardized math tests.  We will be trapped in our classroom for HOURS over the next two days.

So I did what any self-respecting classroom teacher would do: I took the kids outside for some “Ecosystem Review”.

They all knew, of course, that “Ecosystem Review” meant “Let’s get outta here!”, but they pretended to play along when I told them to record their observations and to write a piece of poetry inspired by the experience with the water ecosystem.

They tried to act semi-studious as I herded them out the door after lunch, toward our outdoor classroom.  “Remember”, I told them, “You need to record your observations of the environment today.  Record what it is that you see, hear, feel, smell.”

“So is this extra recess?”, one eager little boy inquired with a joyful grin.

“No!”, I assured him, giving my best serious teacher frownie face.  “This is SCIENCE.”

We headed out into the gorgeous mid day sunshine, feeling the heat on our faces and the warm breeze in our hair. We semi-walked and semi-raced down the grassy hill toward the pond and the pretty spring gardens.  I sat on the wooden benches in the shade as the kids ran out onto the boardwalk that circles the little pond.  I heard them chattering and calling as they ran around, pointing to various bugs, plants and piles of litter.

I wasn’t really paying that much attention to the kids voices at this point: I had instituted “teacher ear”, a sort of “organic app” that allows us to filter out everything other than words pertaining to poop, sex, vomit or guns.   Its a kind of survival technique that we use in the classroom.  Don’t tell anyone about it, OK?

Anyway, there I was, sitting in the warm sun, face raised to catch the full benefit. I was hearing the humming of the bees and the wind in the flowering trees.  All was well.

My “teacher ear” was gently filtering the language of the kids.  This is what it heard:

“What’s that lump?”

“Do you think its a frog?”

Yep! Its a frog!”

“OH, MY GOD! A FROG!!! IN THE WATER!!!”

“Oh, my God!”

“What’s he doing?”

“They’re playing LeapFrog!”

“For real????”

“Yeah, one frog is jumping on the other frog’s back!!!”

Just as my brain began to register this newest bit of information, one of my most savvy, most sophisticated boys let out a gasp of amazement, and I heard him shout, even as I was coming to my feet to head them off,
Oh, my God!!! They’re MATING!!!!!”

common frogs mating

There was a cry of general disbelief and confusion, then the pounding sound of 46 feet racing around the boardwalk.   I stood up and hurried onto the walkway, trying to catch up to the kids.   As I reached the spot where all of them were huddled, looking into the water, I wondered what to say.

“Boys and girls”, I began.  “I think that we………” I didn’t get very far before the excited voices of the kids cut into my “explanation”.

“I think they’re DOING IT.”

“Doing what?”

“Playing leapfrog.”

“No! Mating!  They’re making baby frogs!”

“Gross!” “Awesome!” “Cool!” “Disgusting” “What???”

“Boys and girls,” I tried again, sounding at my most serious and most seriously intimidating. “We are scientists, and this is nature at work.” I thought desperately about how to get the kids to see the serious biological issues of the day. How should I explain this?  What should I say?  I looked into the pond, where I saw one large green frog solidly planted on the back of another, slightly smaller frog.  The top frog’s front legs were firmly wrapped around the other frog’s midsection, and I swear to God, both of them were smiling.

I gulped and turned toward the class.

 “All of nature has the goal of reproduction….” I began, somewhat lamely.

“I know!!”, one boy interrupted.  “And all the boys try to get the girls!”  There was a general outburst of snickers.  “Yeah. Why does that happen?”, asked one serious and intelligent little girl.

“Well, see….” I began.

“Really”, answered one of her male classmates. “Why do all the boys try to get all the girls anyway?”

“OK”, I began again, “We are using scientific words here, like “male and female” instead of ‘boys and girls’. You are wondering why in so many species, the males try to fight for the female’s attention, right?”

“Yeah,” said one little lady, with a little frown. “I mean, on all those animal shows, the male lions fight for the females, and the male deer do it, too.  What’s that about?”

I stood sweating in the hot spring sunshine with 23 pairs of innocent eyes fixed on my face, looking for some answers to one of life’s most pressing questions.  What was I supposed to say?   I started to panic as various answers flew through my flustered brain. “Ask your Dad!” was one possibility, but that didn’t seem like the wisest response.  I figured I’d have to fake the serious scientist bit, and tell them about the male of every species wanting to pass on his genetic heritage.  I took a breath and wiped the sweat off my neck.

“Ah, so, see, the male animals are hoping to pass on the, um, the genes, and the, um, their, ya know, they want to be the ones who have their…..characteristics, and, like…..”  I stammered along, with literally no idea of where to go next.

I was saved from total fake-outery, though, when a shrill voice began to scream, “Another frog!!!  Another frog!!! Its a fight!!!!”

Everyone raced to the edge of the boardwalk, me included, peering into the murky greenish brown bubbles of the little pond.  Sure enough, another bug eyed green frog had appeared on the scene, and seemed to be determined to beat the living crap out of the frog in the “topside” position. As we all looked on in amazement, Mr. Newcomer opened his mouth as wide as he could and attempted to tear the head of Mr. Happy-on-top. There was a collective gasp from the mesmerized kids, and someone said reverently, “Whoah!  That dude means business!”

For the next thirty minutes, the entire class watched the drama unfolding before us.  No one seemed to give a hoot about genetics or natural selection.  But they were completely captivated by the mating ritual in the water. I’m not at all sure of what they learned, but I’ve never seen fifth graders demonstrate better focus and attention. I can still hear those excited voices, echoing over the water.

“I think the males are the ones who sing out of that big bubble on their throats.”

“But they’re all singing.”

“So which one is the female?”

“I still think they’re playing leapfrog.”

“Dude. That’s just dumb!”

“Well, why do you think they gave it that name then? It’s definitely leapfrog.”

“Naw, he’s trying to kill the other guy!”

“Frog kissing frog on hims head.” (This from a student who speaks little English).

“This is the coolest thing ever!”

“What, frog sex?”

“Duuuuude!”

“It isn’t sex. It’s mating.”

“I think that might be the same thing.”

That was the part where I rang the bell.  Really loud.  “OK!” I said in happy teacher voice. “Time to go inside!”

Next year, I think I’ll check out the pond to make sure its all G rated before I take the kids outside to observe nature.

A woman of words


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When I teach my fifth grade students about poetry, I always start with a lovely poem about writing.

“Take a pen in your uncertain fingers”, it reads, “and trust that all the world is a bright blue butterfly, and words the net to hold it.”

I love that idea, the thought of holding all the world within my words.

Maybe that’s why I don’t seem to be able to stop thinking in words.  I try to be “mindful”, to simply relax and rest and be.  I try to turn off my thoughts, my words, my judgments.  I sit in a quiet place, I breathe in deeply.

I look at the warm evening sky, this first lovely evening of spring.  I sit in a quiet place.   I try not to think, to simply look, to observe, to be a part of the moment.

But I can’t stop the words from flowing. “I look at the feeder, at the remains of the suet that I put out last night.  I see the clumps of seeds and fat, piled and spilled across the deck, a reminder of the orgy of feeding that must go on all day, when I am not here. I scan the trees.  No birds.  Did they hear me come out?  Are they afraid?”

I sit, I am still.  I breathe.  “A swoop of wings, a flutter near my ear.  A chick-a-dee, of course!  That bold little bird, he won’t let me scare him away from his dinner!”

It makes me smile to see him, perching on the tip of pine branch just above me.  Cocking his head from side to side.  He calls out, “Chirrup!”

“As soon as his call fades, a flurry of wings and twitching tails, all flowing over the roof of the house and into the pines above my deck.  I pick out each one, watching them as they line up on the branches.  A pair of slate gray juncos, like proper little nuns, waiting their turns to eat.  A nut hatch, his long sharp beak stabbing one bit of suet after another off the railing.  A gentle phoebe, hopping along the deck and finding scattered seeds.”

A tiny flash of brilliance catches my eye, and the words increase in speed. “A goldfinch!  Wearing his bright spring coat, wanting to be brave enough to land, but flying instead from the rooftop to the branch and back again!  Finally, he gets his courage up, and flings himself onto the feeder.  Looking nearly panicked, he gulps down a few quick bites, seems to cast a wary eye my way, then shoots straight up into the sky.”

I laugh to myself.  I wonder why I don’t just grab a camera.

I guess its because, for me, nothing in life seems real until I have tried to capture it in the net of my words.

That Winter Moon


Winter-moon

There is something supremely magical about a mid-winter moon.

It shouldn’t feel like magic, I think. It should feel like a threat.  Like a dangerous, biting creature that waits to pounce. The wind is howling, carrying plumes of snow across the yard.  It feels dangerous out here.  The moon rides high and distant, looking down from far, far above.

But in spite of the icy bite, in spite of the shivering icy fingers that reach for me, I can’t help noticing the magic that shines from that frigid silver face. Magic seems to shiver in the air under the trees.

On a night like tonight, in the darkest part of winter, there is powerful magic in stepping outside when the moon is high and the stars are crisp.  The silver of the moonlight is like dust, sifting down and coating the darkest needles of the pines that surround our deck.  The light is cold and distant, but it reaches into the dark woods, lighting the crust of snow that lies beneath the trees.

I lean on the deck rail, looking out into the forest, seeing the moon’s glow spread out below me. I see  mysterious tracks winding around the trunks of the trees.  Are they coyote tracks? Or deer? Or are they simply the tracks of my dog as she takes her morning stroll?

I don’t know.  I can’t tell from up here, but it doesn’t matter.  The silvery, shivering light of the nearly-full moon is flowing down onto the snowy woods, and the dark shadows of the animal tracks only serve to prove that magic is everywhere on this icy mid-winter night.

There is something magical and strong in the silvery light of a mid-winter moon.

Choosing a lens


When I teach kids to write, I teach them to focus in, to choose a point of view, to pull back for a “wider view”


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or to use the “macro” lens for a narrower view.

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I have to do the same thing when I take photos, of course. What is it that I want to hold in my view? Do I want to see the entire beautiful Atlantic ocean beach, or do I want to keep my eyes on the little shells that have washed up overnight?

This week I have been finding it hard to find my perfect lens. The big wide world has become a bit too scary for me. Terrorism, war, drought, famine, sickness.  I want to pull my lens in a bit: I can’t lie awake at night and worry about Salafi Jihadists.  Maybe I should, but I can’t do it.

And as I pull in closer, to the world of my job, sometimes the pressures and stresses there are too much for me, too. The realization that my district hired a motivational speaker who came in to tell us that the way we are teaching writing is completely wrong, and that what we have been forced to give up in the past five years is exactly what we should have held onto.  I sat in the lecture hall with tears streaming down my cheeks.  I tried! I wanted to shout to him.  I tried to let the kids write about their passions! I tried to let them choose their own topics!

But I wasn’t allowed to do it.  And now I feel like a failure.

I needed to pull my lens in closer.  But my family has been struggling this week, too. The events and emotions of the past ten days are too intense and too overwhelming for me.  I’m pulling in even more.

And so this evening I was out in my hot tub (of course I was!).  I was looking at the trees and thinking of how sad it is that they are so completely bare and barren. They look dead.

But there is one big maple tree behind my house.  It’s branches reach way beyond my roof.  When the sun is setting, and I am in my lovely tub, I can look up into its branches and see how the golden light strikes the very tips of its tiniest twigs.

And so as I looked at the brown and empty branches of the ash and birch and beech and oak, I saw that the maple branches held the tiniest little promises of buds on the very ends of each branch.  I don’t think I’d be able to see them in the full light of day, but with the warm buttery light of sunset hitting them from below, I could just make out the tiny swellings of life that they hold.

What a positive promise!  What a sweet and easy reminder that spring will most definitely come.  The days will get longer, the sun will shine brighter, the ice will melt.

And the pressures and fears of today will melt away as life takes a happier turn.