Adjusting My Focus


Photo by Matthieu Pétiard on Unsplash

I don’t know about you, but I have been feeling increasingly hopeless these days. I have been struggling with the realization that I have virtually no control over what will happen in my life in the next few years.

I can’t stop the climate crisis, no matter how many “plastic free” soaps I buy. I don’t have a way to slow or stop the Covid pandemic, other than wearing my mask and getting my shot. I can’t control the flow of lies that is sweeping the country, or the twisting of reality that I see every day on social media.

I can’t stop myself from aging. I can’t control the growth of the microscopic cancer cells in my breast. I can’t control the weather or the midterm elections or the price of gas or the supply chain.

I feel as if I am in the middle of a vortex of terrible outcomes, and that leaves me breathless with fear and sorrow.

So I am trying my best to adjust my focus. I am trying every day to look at life as if I were peering through the lens of an old 35 millimeter camera.

And I am finding that this shifting focus is both encouraging and enlightening.

Last night, at the end of a beautiful clear September day, I sat outside on my deck. I rested my head against the back of my chair, aware that we are in the waning days of summer. I lifted my eyes to the bright blue sky above me, and watched a line of clouds, beautiful and gentle, as they slowly drifted over our house.

And I started to think about the fact that those clouds look just exactly the same as the clouds that have drifted over my head for all of my 65 years. I have no doubt that they look just the same as the clouds that floated lightly over my parents and my grandparents and the grandparents who came before them.

No matter what wars rage below them, clouds continue to slip from west to east across this continent. In spite of the anger and fighting that goes on below them, clouds are formed and clouds are lifted and clouds are moved along the current of earth’s winds.

As my head rested on the back of my deck chair, I found myself comforted by the serene and distant movement of those clouds.

“When I die, ” I realized, “those clouds will not mourn. They will not react. They will continue to coalesce, and form and rise and float along the path that earth has created for them.”

I love that thought.

My focus had shifted, away from myself and my little life, to a wider and more expansive view, in which the survival of the earth seemed assured.

I was relieved and calmed by this wider focus.

This morning, after a night of intense thunderstorms and heavy rain, I went out onto my deck once again. I stood leaning on the bannister, a cup of hot coffee in one hand.

My yard is overgrown, slightly unkempt, and looking more like an emerging forest than a suburban garden.

It made me feel bad. It made me feel as if my world is out of control.

I stood there for a minute, feeling sad.

And then I noticed that one of my overgrown bushes was shaking. The branches were moving up and down, although there was no wind.

As I watched, a tiny chipmunk emerged from under the drooping leaves of a daylily. It’s nose was twitching rapidly, and it’s little hands were moving up and down. I leaned in a bit, to see what the little creature was doing.

I realized that as I stood watching, this bitty little animal was happily gorging on the berries of a sapling that I had considered to be a pest. I smiled a bit, and settled against the warm wood to watch.

As my eyes adjusted, I realized that most of the newly grown “forest” was shaking, and I saw chipmunks, squirrels and even one teensy mouse working swiftly and efficiently in my overgrown garden. They were gathering seeds, gathering berries, clearly feeling wonderful about life in general.

I had to smile.

My unrestrained and overgrown garden bed, which had seemed to me to be nothing more than an eyesore and a condemnation of my laziness, was actually a wonderfully stocked pantry for the many lives that share this bit of land with us.

My focus shifted again, from myself and other humans, to the tiny creatures with which we share our space.

So I am calmed. I am encouraged.

While I mourn for the struggles that we humans are enduring, my fear that life itself is meaningless has been assuaged.

I may be helpless to change the course of events around me, but the clouds will continue to float. The mice will continue to gather seeds.

Life beyond our reach will go on, and I find that to be enormously encouraging.

Sitting on the Deck on a Summer Night


I am sitting outside, on our deck. The sun is slowly sinking behind the pine trees. The sky has gone from pale blue to a deep and peaceful navy.

I tilt my head back, breathing in the summer smells of pine needle and grass. A hermit thrush is singing in the oak tree right behind me.

This is a peaceful moment. A calm and gentle pause in the panic that has become our reality. I want to embrace it, to hold it against my stuttering heart, to use these smells and these sounds as a buffer against my fear.

But as hard as I try to block out the world, my memory jumps up and ambushes me. I find myself sitting on this quiet deck, with my eyes closed, fighting against the flood of tears.

I remember Paul and I sitting out here, a couple of months after we’d moved in. We were a young couple then, with a baby girl and a boy on the way. This was our first and only home. We sat outside on a beautiful summer night and we looked up at the stars. Every promise, every hope, every dream was right there in front of us. With our arms around each other, we we secure that our future would be joyful.

And I remember lying out here on this deck with my three young children, gazing up at the Perseid meteor showers, watching the magic as it appeared above us.

I remember parties and dinners out here on this deck. I remember my first collection of potted herbs, arranged carefully in the corner, catching the rain and filling the air with their nurturing fragrance.

I remember our first dog. I remember when that dog ate a pair of expensive hockey gloves. And I remember when he was too feeble to walk up and down the stairs of the deck into the yard we had so lovingly fenced in just for him.

I sit quietly on this deck, with the summer air hot and wet around me.

My mind wants to hold onto this moment, but it keeps wandering back to other summer days.

I remember how excited and happy we were to put a hot tub on this deck, and how many wonderful ice cold evenings were soothed in it’s hot embrace.

I remember.

The old hound dog is gone now, no longer in pain as he made his tender way down these steps. The hot tub is gone, it’s inner workings lost to a leak and the ravages of New England winters.

And those children are grown, up and out and on their own.

So I sit here, looking up sadly at the branches of the oak tree that has sprung up like magic in the place where my favorite white pine used to be. I look into the woods, and see that the clearing where I used to watch the hawks circling is now completely closed off by the branches of maples and birch.

It is a beautiful summer evening. I still have this sturdy deck and these lovely trees. I reach out with all my soul, looking for some peace and a sense of security.

I try.

But, missing the past, and the false sense of security that it gave me, I give up and go back inside.

Maybe the fall will bring me a better feeling of hope.

Finding Joy in Small Moments


It’s really, really hot outside. It’s so humid that going outside feels like taking a nice long walk through a bowl of soup.

A hurricane is on its way up the coast, washing away our planned boating trip off of Cape Cod.

My local hospital and doctor’s offices have been completely screwing up the first potentially serious procedure I’ve ever had to have done.

And I just finished an 8 week excruciating process to wean off of a medication that helped me with pain, sleep and anxiety.

I’m cranky, kids. I’m wicked cranky.

But you know what?

We got bunnies this year!

I’ve lived out here in semi-rural Massachusetts for over thirty years. I’m used to seeing deer out there. Don’t get me started on the ever present squirrels, chipmunks, moles, voles, mice and raccoons. We see skunks, foxes and coyotes. We’ve even had bears a few times.

But this summer is the summer of the bunny rabbit. Adorable, soft, bright-eyed little bunnies are everywhere, twitching their little bunny noses and flashing those little white puff ball tails. We have bunnies living under fallen brush, beneath the branches of our overgrown rhododendron and snuggling in the tall grass at the edge of the yard.

And they make me smile every time I see one.

Sure, having a tiny ball of fur hopping around has been known to turn my dogs into slavering, howling beasts, but even that is kind of funny.

Just now one little bunny friend, whom the kids and I have named “Lily”, was calmly working her way through a patch of clover about two feet outside of our dog fence. Bentley and Lennie were hysterically barking, racing back and forth along the fence, threatening to tear her limb from limb.

She just kept munching.

I had to laugh. The dogs were determined to get her. She knew they couldn’t.

I loved it.

For a few minutes I forgot that the Gulf of Mexico caught fire this week. I stopped worrying about the ever increasing number of clinically insane members of Congress. I even forgot to be mad at my doctor.

Just a fluffy little bunny, but her sassy attitude sure turned around my bad mood.

Now I need to go see if I can find some turkeys. Those things are freakin hilarious.

“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.