Grounded


Sometimes the world is just a big pile of quicksand. You think you are on solid ground, and suddenly everything liquifies. Your footing shifts, your balance overturns, you find yourself sinking into that pit of quicksand.

I saw a movie once, when I was about ten. A man was chasing someone, and he stepped into quicksand. I can still picture it; the black and white image of the hero, slowly sinking into the sand that silently came up to claim him.

I don’t remember if the hero ever escaped. I only remember how horrified I was at the idea of sinking, sinking, sinking into death.

Now that I’m a grown assed adult, I feel like I have more secure footing. I don’t often fear the quicksand.

Why?

Because now I know what it is to be “grounded”. I know that I have roots that go deep deep deep into those parts of life that give us a sense of being anchored.

I have three adult children who love me, love my husband and truly love each other. What a secure anchor.

I have two beautiful grandchildren who love and depend on their parents. Who trust the love and support of those parents.

And who love and trust me almost as much.

What a truly deep and secure anchor.

I have siblings who love me and support me, even when we get on each others’ last nerve. And I have a Mom who tells me she loves me every time we see each other. And who shares stories of things I’ve done that have made her proud.

I am anchored.

I am secure.

I am married to my first true love. We met in (ahem) seventh grade, and fell in love by listening to each other’s stories and struggles. He’s been by my side every step of the way, through college, and grad school and infertility and babies and kids and teens and the empty nest.

He is “Papa!” to our best beloved grand kids.

I am grounded.

I am grounded because now, at last, after all this time….now I trust myself. I must be doing a pretty good job, because so many people I admire and love have told me so.

I am grounded.

In my garden, where I look at trees I planted two decades ago. When I look at the daffodils still blooming after all these many years.When I look at the new little walk that I crafted two years ago, and at the baby lilacs that line it’s way.

I am grounded.

My feet are firmly on this earth. My heart is firmly held by my love for those who still walk here. My soul feels the roots of the plants I’ve put in, reaching into the very heart of my soil to find life.

I feel so grounded now.

Nothing can knock me off my secure footing now.

Spring Snow


Just…..yuck.

I hate spring snow. I just hate it. The fat, slow falling, dreary clumps of slush that pour down on us, masquerading as snowflakes. The wet, cold, raw air.

The sad little tips of the daffodils poking up through the icy mud.

Yuck.

I hate it.

Today the spring slush is falling on my still snowy yard. The kids and I are inside the house, huddling near the wood stove in an effort to keep warm. Why does it feel so much colder in March when it snows than in January when the frigid winds are blowing?

This weather makes me physically yearn for warmth, sunshine, a dry sandy beach.

But I’m stuck here in New England with spring slobbering its way through the woods.

So I’m casting my mind back, through the many years, to another March day in this very same part of the world.

I’m going back 29 years, to the spring when we had just moved into this house. I was about 4 months pregnant with my second child. It was early in the pregnancy, but I was already awkward and off balance.

One morning I woke up to see heavy flakes of slush falling through the air. The sky was low, gray and forbidding. I didn’t feel like sitting at home in this neighborhood where I didn’t know a soul. It seemed like a good day to drive around, maybe get to know the area a bit.

My daughter Kate was four years old. A happy little sprite who was always up for an adventure. The two of us set off to see the world, trying to ignore the blops of mush on the windshield.

In the town next to ours, I found a big furniture store, housed in an old wooden building. There was a wide farmer’s porch running the length of the building, and rows of rocking chairs were set out for sale. They made me think of summer nights, and I was intrigued.

I got Katie out of the car and we headed up the worn planks of the front steps, onto the porch. The interior of the store, I remember, was kind of dark and felt damp. The furniture was way out of my price range, but it was nice to just walk around a bit. I like the old timey feeling of the place and it made me happy about our move.

There was an “older gentleman” in the store. (Looking back, I’m sure he was younger then than I am now. Still, he seemed old to this young momma!) We chatted a bit, but it didn’t make a big impression.

Then Kate and I headed back out toward the car.

The slush was falling thick and fast at that point, the the wooden steps were coated. As I reached for Kate’s hand, I felt myself slip. My fit went out from under me, and I landed gracelessly and painfully on my rear. Before I could really react, the older man came out of the store and helped me gently to my feet.

“Come sit down,” he said very calmly but firmly.

I was embarrassed, and also soaking wet. My knees were shaky from the shock of falling, but I knew that I wasn’t hurt. “I’m fine,” I said, intending to slink off into the car with Kate and forget the whole thing.

“Momma,” the man said, “You need to sit for a minute. We need to wait just a bit till you catch your breath.”

I remember that he had very blue eyes, and that they looked worried. I realized that he was worried, not about me and my snowy bottom, but about the baby I was carrying.

“OK,” I said. He lead us inside, and I sat in one of the comfortable wooden rockers. I held Kate on my lap. We started to chat again, but this time both of us were paying more attention.

The man asked about Kate, about her age and her name and her favorite toys. I told him that we had just moved to town and he gave me pointers about local stores, parks, restaurants.

I don’t know how long I sat. Not long, I’m sure. After a few minutes, it was clear that all was well and that other than my pride, I hadn’t hurt anything of importance.

I shook hands with the thoughtful man, whose name I have either forgotten or never thought to ask. Kate and I went back home, through the slush, into the safety and warmth of our new house.

A house which now felt cozy and comforting, because I knew that we had landed in place where people were naturally kind.

Remembering that long ago encounter, I am feeling just a little bit better about the stuff that is falling relentlessly from the sky.

Turn around, turn around


Years ago, when I was a very small child, my parents bought a house in a beautiful suburb. The backyard was wild. There was no lawn at that time, but there were lots of rocks.

We climbed the trees that made up the boundary between our house and the ones on the road behind us. We built forts in the forsythia bushes. We loves that place that felt like the wild wilderness to my siblings and I.

But after a decade had gone by, and some of us were teens, my parents decided to put in a backyard pool. It was fabulous. It was heaven. It was the scene of some of my very best memories; my stout Uncle Mino going down the pool slide into a tube and getting his middle stuck. My Dad laughing so hard that he couldn’t even help. One of our best friends jumping into the pool after our wedding. In his groomsman’s white tux.

And memories of my children in that pool, safe in my Dad’s arms, my Mom watching carefully from one of the little umbrella tables. “Watch me, Grandma!!!” “Look at me, Grampa!”

If I close my eyes for only a second, I can hear those joyful cries.

I remember the image of my Nana one hot July afternoon. She was sitting on the diving board in her white cotton shorts. Her soft gray curls waved in the breeze. Three or four of her great grandchildren were perched on the board in front of her, closer to the deep end of the pool. All of them were talking, trying to keep her attention. She was laughing with joy. She was in her element.

And then the years went by. The babies grew. My mother and father got older.

After my father was diagnosed with melanoma, they realized that the pool was no longer a viable play space. Dad had to stay out of the sun.

So, with some sadness and a lot of planning, my parents turned the backyard pool area into a garden. A carefully planned, gracefully and artfully organized garden.

There were a couple of dwarf trees; a lilac and a Rose of Sharon each anchored one side of the walk that meanders through the garden space. There were boxwoods, a couple of holly plants, and some creeping phlox.

And there were roses. Gorgeous, glorious roses.

At first, they were enough to keep the garden a happy space. We still had the patio blocks and the white tables and umbrellas that used to go around the pool. The little white planters that Dad had built were filled every spring with pink geraniums.

And once again, as always, the years went by. In my innocence, I introduced some plants to that garden. Primroses, and tall phlox and Fox Tails.

They took over that lovely space. And it became something of a wild place. My sister’s addition of peonies vied for space with the Japanese Iris that I added one spring. Eventually, the upkeep of the now overgrown garden became too much for all of us put together.

We hired a landscaping crew.

They have been wonderful. They prune the hydrangea just enough to allow new growth. They cut back the gorgeous roses that want to take over the town. They mulch and weed and pull out the unwanted stray oaks and maples.

But a couple of days ago, my Mom and I went out to see the garden. Mom is getting increasingly fragile, and doesn’t venture outdoors all that often. I am a gardener at heart and desperately wanted to look at what the landscapers had done.

We walked around the yard, wrapped in sweaters against the cold. I named every shoot that I saw. “A daffodil!!! Your creeping phlox are greening up! I see the primroses!”

Then we came to a sapling. It had grown up in a spot that had originally held a little water spout. I’d seen the young gray sprout two years ago. I had cut it down, tried my best to dig out the roots, cut into every major taproot I could find. But it had come back last year.

I cut it down again, annoyed at it’s perseverance. I chopped the roots. I growled my displeasure. This was my PARENTS’ garden!!! It should be orderly, sweet, organized, pretty. I did my best to wipe out this pest.

But it grew up anyway. By midsummer of last year, I had given up. I thought that a little maple was coming up in the middle of the damn garden. I was. NOT. happy.

But.

There I was, in the cold April sun, holding the arm of my 88 year old Mother. Looking into her early spring garden. We saw all of the good and well planned flowers coming up to greet us. We saw the buds on the carefully chosen dwarf trees.

And then we stood in front of the interloper who would not be denied.

“What is it?” Mom asked me. I looked up at the slender silver branches arching above us.

“Oh, my God,” I gasped. “Mom. It’s a pussy willow!”

A pussy willow.

One of my very first memories from our yard, so long ago. I remember them growing down by the shed my Dad built for his tools. I remember them in the space between our house and our neighbors.

I haven’t seen one in years.

And here it was.

A sweet, beautiful, sassy, badass, not to be denied pussy willow. Growing right in the middle of the carefully crafted garden. Growing in what used to be the deep end of the pool. Growing even though it had been cut, and pruned and smashed.

A pussy willow.

The best harbinger of spring. And a link to the childhood that I left behind so very long ago.

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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!”

 

Monochromatic days.


My Dream Yard.  Really.

My Dream Yard. Really.

The thing about winter is that it just drains the life right out of me.

I know.  Thanks to global warming, we haven’t really had a good old fashioned New England winter in years.  We’ve been lucky in terms of snowfall, I know.

But it doesn’t matter.

It isn’t the amount of snow (although with good old Nemo we have plenty of that commodity, thank you).  It isn’t the freezing rain that’s falling today or the freezing fog that is blanketing the yard.

It isn’t really about those things.

It’s about the lack of color, don’t you think?

I remember, many years ago, commuting along to work as I did every day.  Looking out ahead at the gray highway, the gray skies, the dark gray branches of the leafless trees.  I remember feeling absolutely desperate for a glimpse of something vividly blue or red or green. Something alive.  When I got to work, I dug through my cabinets until I found a big poster of a Caribbean beach and I hung it where I could see it a hundred times a day.  I yearned for the aqua shades of water and the emerald green of the plants.

It got me through to spring, and those first few precious green sprouts.

Today I am sitting in my living room. Once again a captive of the winter days.  Looking out at the gray sky, gray trees, gray fog.  The snow is sodden and heavy and colorless.  The only hues that I can make out are the dark gray/green needles of the pines and the dark gray trunks of the trees.   My brain is overwhelmed with the boring sameness of everything I see.

So what can I do?

If I were rich, I’d get on my private plane and fly myself to Barbados.  I’d pluck the blossom of a big pink plumeria and I’d gaze deep inside of it to fill myself with energy and life.

If I were rich, I’d take off right now and take myself to Sidi Bou Said, on the coast of Tunisia, where the houses are blue and white and shining in the sunlight.

If I were rich…….

What can I do, seeing that I am so completely and absolutely not rich?  I can open iPhoto, and scroll through my pictures.  I can look long and hard at this:

SONY DSCAnd this:dsc00919.jpg

And this:

SONY DSCAnd I can remind myself that time goes on, even when we wish it would slow down.  Time moves forward, in a way that we cannot stop or change or impact in any way.

Time goes on.  And before we know it, we will be seeing the color and the vibrancy of spring.

The trick is to keep believing that spring will come.  And that we will be here to see it.

 

 

Too fast


It happens too fast.  It happens before I am even ready to begin to get ready. It happens in the blink of an eye.

I wait all winter, through the dark days and early dusks.  Every cold, icy morning as I leave the house, I look with longing at the barren branches of the lilacs.  When the dawn is barely breaking on cold February mornings, I peer so closely at the tips of the silvery branches, sure that I can see the infinitesimal swellings of the buds.

As the weeks slowly pass by, and the sun begins to linger more lovingly in the evening sky, I start to really yearn for those lilac blooms.  I imagine the heady purple scent, the warm breezes, the grass below the feet of the healthy plants.  It seems to me that the sight of those beautiful blossoms will bring me back to life after my long winter hibernation.

And spring inevitably arrives, with the pebbly snow mounds melting away, the robins arriving, the daffodils emerging from the frozen ground.  I watch it all, but I wait for the lilac blossoms.

The sun gets warmer, the kids put on shorts and come to school with their summer buzz cuts. The peonies push up, the irises arise, the daisies spread out.  We mow the grass and breathe in the perfumed air.  We clean the grill and wash the windows and put the snow shovels into the shed.

And still, I wait for the delicate, glorious clusters of lilac blooms to open and bow and send out that crazy, too sweet smell.

Each day for at least two weeks, I watch each tiny bud on each lilac cluster, waiting for the first little gem to open its eyes and start to sing.

At last, at last; the lilac blooms.  The air is almost too intense; the sweet purple scent mixes with the hundreds of lily-of-the-valley that cluster along our walk. The sun comes out and warms the grass, the woods, the flowers themselves.

The lilac have bloomed, and spring is really here.  I sigh in delight.

And then, in what seems like only hours, but what is really days, the blossoms fade and turn brown and fall to the ground. They have been and gone.

How did I miss them?

And so the metaphor is clear, obvious to even the most obtuse.

So often in life, we wait and wait and hope for something that isn’t here. We yearn for something just a little bit sweeter than what we have before us. We convince ourselves that this one little pleasure will make everything just right.

And then it comes to us, and bursts into being. But before we can catch it or name it or breath it in the way we were always sure we would, it has passed us by, and we are back in yearning mode again.

Like childhood, like new love, like a vacation on the beach, the lilacs come and go before we are even ready to get ready to capture them.