Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Spring breaks

Saturday, March 24, 2007

When Nature Calls

If you’ve spent most of your time living in a city, as I have, you can come to regard nature as something quaint but archaic, like royals or covered wagons. You make plans to visit it on occasion, like the zoo or the library, because it makes you feel like you’ve done something wholesome. You carry it home in pots for your patio. Your knowledge of it may extend to the care and maintenance of St. Augustine grass, weed killer, doggie parks and the produce section of Whole Foods. You might then, in times of stress and exasperation with traffic, noise and crowds, imagine yourself sleeping peacefully out in the country, a cool, clean breeze ruffling through fields of tall grasses before it reaches the curtains of your open window, crickets chirping and birds trilling soothingly in the soundtrack. Guess again.

For the past week or so, our windows have been open to catch the incipient spring breezes and I’ve never startled to more spine chilling sounds. Whatever decidedly non-Disney creatures perform the howls, screeches, screams and wails that pierce the dark of night, other than the consortium of coyotes on the hill behind the house whose howls suggest human sacrifice is being performed, I can’t imagine. The other night I was convinced one the antique dolls I’ve been collecting lately had been activated and was speaking in a Chucky-like voice behind me. But then it came from the window in front of me. I decided not to investigate. In the supposed either/or instincts of fight or flight, mine is to play possum. If I act like I’m not here they won’t see (hear, eat) me.

So it has become more than a luxury for my rattled nerves that our house came with a screened-in porch. It’s been a bit of a hodge-podge of a room but, seized with the nesting instinct that possesses every pregnant woman including, apparently, Mother Nature, I have continued in my nightly and weekend frenzy of potting, planting, and, last night, conscripting the whole family in assembling a complete set of porch furniture. Let the creatures roar. The screen door has a lock. Only the breeze can get in.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

A Rude Awakening

Yes, last week we romped in t-shirts and capris, teased by warm breezes and the scents of budding greens almost to the brink of packing away the salt stained snow boots, gloves and coats. But I became too busy, almost frenzied, potting vivid tulips, orchids, pansies and ivies to herald our first spring. For three nights I hauled in pots, scouring out old dirt and shriveled stalks and refilling them with pungent fresh soil and newly blooming petalled things until our house blossomed in color and fragrance. I served suppers outside on the deck as the sun slid down behind our field like a melting lozenge. We slept with windows open to the wind chimes and the trills of insects and woke to the hoo of an owl and a woodpecker already at work. And this is what greeted my bleary eyes this morning.

But after returning from a day's stint at a girl scout event, I found the snow had already gone though it's still chilly enough to require a coat. The packing and the planting will have to wait. Meanwhile, I think I'll read a book.

Two recommendations:

The Resurrection Trade by Leslie Adrienne Miller
I took a poetry workshop with Leslie in the early 90's which largely inspired me to pursue poetry writing myself. It was a treat to see her read last night in my new hometown, which was for awhile her hometown (she is a Stephens College and Mizzou alum, not mention an Iowa and Houston alum) and to say hello. This new book mines early anatomical studies of women's bodies to write about women's lives in a larger sense. Her reading was accompanied by slides of antiquated and disturbing anatomical illustrations and medical notes from which she drew her inspiration. I particularly enjoyed learning that certain afflictions of women might be attributed to a "dislocation of the womb" or "wandering uterus" (for example, according to Hippocrites, when the womb moves toward the liver the woman will suddenly lose her voice, her teeth will chatter and her colouring turn dark, the remedy of which includes pushing down below her liver while filling her mouth with sweet-scented wine and burning foul-scented vapors below her womb). Try this a home, ladies.

A lovelier thought: a woman is born with all the eggs she will ever have and, until birth, everywhere she goes she carries them with her. About her son, born late in life, she says in "Cherries":

The egg he was heard the voices
of everyone I desired and held itself

in some deep hormonal bloom,
taking whatever was remarkable
in my life into its possibility.
We learned not to hurry in Balinese rain,

to listen for the rumble of wild boar
in the Malvan woods. We climbed
into planes bound for cities we'd never
visit again...

And if fiction is your cup of tea, my newfound friend Stacy Barton's book of short stories, Surviving Nashville came out this week. Read the post of Dec. 20 to see how I got to "know" Stacy. I borrowed my friend Anthony's advance copy of the book and returned it afer I finished. My own copy is coming in the mail so I don't have it on hand to quote from. If you like stories with a twist, or a bit twisted, in a Flannery O'Connorish sort of way, you'll enjoy this book. Stacy has a real knack for character, place and voice, that sort of Southern Gothic thing, sometimes as weird, grotesque and sadly ironic as real life can be. This is her first book so support an emerging artist and buy a copy. She also has new stories in the current issues of Ruminate and Relief Journal.

Happy reading.

Monday, March 12, 2007


The snow has been gone for several weeks now and the warming days have definitely become tinged with spring. This past week it seemed the world stretched and creaked, and finally got out of bed. Suddenly people were everywhere and in very good moods. Giddy even. Especially me. Although the work day continues to keep me running from morning coffee to quick fix dinners in unrelenting overdrive, the evenings, once I've unwound, have sweetened and the weekend's offerings reminded us of why we moved here in the first place.

On Thursday night we heard poet Scott Cairns read from his wonderful new spiritual memoir A Short Trip to the Edge at Cherry Street Artisan. Anthony and Dyan were there as well as several friends we've met along the way. I met Scott last summer when I took his poetry workshop at The Glen in Santa Fe. Coincidentally (?), I found he lives and teaches in Columbia and subsequently we've become friends. He read some poems as well as the first chapter of the memior of which I read three more chapters that night. I finished it yesterday. It chronicles Scott's three journies to the "mystical Greek penisula of Mount Athos," home to twenty Orthodox monasteries and numerous "sketes". Only monks live there and only male pilgrims may visit. He goes to seek guidance on how to live a life of prayer to the extent that his life becomes prayer, to attain not silence, but stillness, to ascertain the indwelling presence of God. It was timely reading for me in that life of late has seemed chaotically out of control with me as the helpless, hapless victim of too many demands. So I am trying to be mindful of the things I know, or used to know, about how to order my life and priorities. Stay tuned.

The next night Scott and his wife Marcia had us to their home for some of Scott's fabulous Greek fare (spinach and feta pies, fish with vegetables, Greek salad and a tasty dish we dubbed giganticus beans) and to meet some artist/writer/professor friends of theirs, one of whom is a Buddhist monk. It was an evening rich in food, wine and conversation, after which we were sent home with gifts of "komvoskini", Orthodox prayer bracelets, for each of us. I got the sense that sometime in the perhaps not too distant future, this place might just start to feel like home.

Saturday held another treat: a all day writing retreat at Carmen's Cottage in Boonville, the next town over (I told you we'd moved to the Boonies) down an old highway that, once it gets past Rocheport, runs through flatlands until it crosses the Missouri River, upon which you take a left, go two blocks and you're there. About once a month, Carmen opens her turn of the century Victorian house to anyone who wants to come write for the day and share work with other participants. Her house offers seemingly endless rooms, nooks and crannies for the writer who desires space and solitude. The upstairs bedroom I tucked away into looks out to the street in front of the house and beyond to the Missouri River. I met a couple of new friends, joined them for a lunch of jambalaya at Emmet's in Fayetteville, and went humming homeward with the beginnings of a poem.

We headed for the Katy Trail on Sunday, mild and warm, stopping in first at the General Store where we greeted people we hadn't seen since December. The mood was festive and we carried that with us as we hiked the trail that, the last time we'd seen it, sported autumn leaves. The Canadian geese were making their way home but they, too, wanted to stop in first at Rocheport. The slightest green was seen leaking back into the foliage.

We've been initiated into the seasons. After a winter described as hard even by native Missourians, this is our first spring. I'd be so bold as to say we deserve it.

Monday, March 05, 2007

The meter is running

Numbers boggle me. The how many and how much: the number of grains of sand on the shore or stars in the sky, miles to the sun, speed of light, dollars of national debt, victims of genocide, heartbeats in the span of a life. The scale of things: the large (as of August 12, 2006, Voyager 1 was over 9.3 billion miles from the Sun) and the small (Planck’s length: a millionth of a billionth of a centimeter). I can no more wrap my tiny mind around these things than an agnostic can the Godhead. Not that I’ve figured that out either. On some things you let others do the math and simply stand there with mouth (and mind and heart) agape.

We had family in from England this week and as we cooed over the 2 year and 4 month old children of Wayne’s cousins, who just a minute ago were doing the same over ours, I was again taken aback by the speed of time and a great yearning to roll back the clock. Despite the mindblowing discoveries of quantum physics and its time/space paradoxes which might have you assuming such a possibility might exist, time moves in only one direction. Onward. The cream will not unpour from the coffee. The days of our toddlers toddling are over. Apart from checking out a DVD someday from St. Peter’s library and watching a replay of those days of our lives, all that is left of them is what my miserly memory deigns to ration out. Which is, maddeningly, not much. And certainly not enough.

So I find myself anxious about what is fleeting by all too fast and mourning the passing of events almost before they’ve dawned. A bit of a quandary when you are attempting to savor the moments of your life. I think that is the sadness that dogs our heels as soon as we are out of adolescence, if not before. The perpetual relinquishment: everything heading toward its end even as it arrives. Nothing sits still. And always the regret that you didn’t quite milk the occasion for all it was worth while you still could. As if that were possible.

We had a long awaited family visit this week but so much work to do that we barely spent time with guests who most likely will not be able to make it back for quite a long time. Time together was pushed to late nights and the weekend by the obligations of our continually overloaded schedule. We hosted a small, impromptu gathering of friends in their honor on Thursday evening and by late Thursday night I had the beginnings of a sore throat which bloomed ferociously by Friday morning. I dragged myself through the last couple of days we had with them, trying to keep my head from exploding. And now they are gone.

The idea in moving to a rural area was to tamp down our place in the rat race a few notches. So far it has not panned out; if anything we’re busier than ever. I learn what my friends are up to electronically—via their email, blogs, photos uploaded to websites. Who has time for a phone call, much less a visit? It’s a far cry from days I didn’t know were soon to be extinct—when women had time to hang out with each other and their kids. I’m sure there were days when my stay at home mom (SAHM) was stressed and busy (in which vacuuming inevitably played a part but whether it was the chicken or the egg is as yet undetermined) but what I remember is coming home from school and flopping down in a kitchen chair eager for the neighbor ladies to mosey over, once their own children had been greeted and turned loose to play outside, for their daily round of coffee, cigarettes, refills, gossip and giggles.

There was usually a table full, haloed by hazy smoke and affection that expanded until the last chuckle, when they had to go get supper on. Each day I wanted to prolong the minutes before they carried their cups to the sink and slid their lighters back into the cellophane wrappers of their cigarette packs, wanted to sit there forever listening to their stories, to Betty’s jokes in her Georgia drawl and Jan’s scandalous escapades, to watch Ruth’s eyes crinkle when she laughed, to remain in the happy fog of those fond and familiar fixtures of my adolescence. They each knew the others’ kids, our skinned knees, our first dates, our fevers and broken bones. There was an ease and fullness about their interactions that doesn’t replicate in lunch dates shoehorned into lunch hours or multitasking over kids’ playdates. How could I have guessed the tenor of those careless days would become as exotic as ______ ? (it occurs to me that nothing once considered exotic is still exotic. You can get anything from anywhere now, really. Only time has grown exotic.)

These manic days are the moments of my life ticking by, irretrievable tomorrow. I moved across the country in hopes that life would slow down enough for me to notice it before it's gone. Apparently the problem is not a matter of geography. A pewter bowl sits on my kitchen table holding walnuts and a nutcracker. It takes time to crack a walnut and chase the meat from all its chambers. An appropriate wedding gift from two of the ladies who graced my mom’s kitchen table for many a rowdy hour. One day I’m going to figure out how to order my life in such a way that I might find a few good friends sitting around my table in the late afternoon while I refill their coffee cups and we giggle at nothing much and our children store up fond memories of the ladies who laughed and the ladies who loved them.