Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Morels!

April 17, 2020

It’s a compulsion I haven’t been able to indulge in for at least five years.

I realize this isn’t the greatest picture.  My tiny flip-phone, which already doesn’t take amazing pictures, downsized the image when I sent it.  Bah!

My obsession with morel hunting began in 2005.  I’d returned to Virginia the previous year and was working with a co-worker whose husband’s family had farmed along the mountains of what would come to be known as Shenandoah National Park.

When she shared this helpful rule, I was hooked:

“When the poplar leaves are the size of squirrel’s ears, it’s time to start hunting merkels.”

squirrel ear sized poplar leaf

We didn’t find morels that year although we raced through various landscapes trying to locate what we imagined would be the perfect environment for them.  That was part of the problem:  racing.  When you’re hunting for morels, you have to allow the world to narrow to four or five feet and slow to a glacial crawl.  What I recall of that first attempt was how we would crane our heads up to check if we were walking beneath tulip poplar trees and then look down at the forest floor.  It’s a surprising that we didn’t hurt ourselves during these dizzying tries, but we were younger then.

Another friend and I literally stumbled over morels 3 years later.  We ended up harvesting so many morels that I don’t really ever need to eat another one.  One night my boyfriend was late (again) to dinner so I ate the entire pound of morels in cream over croissants as a sort of revenge.  (see previous note on being younger)

These days, pandemic or no, I’m simply grateful for the gift the forest gives when a perfect morel reveals itself, its giggling barely muffled.  After a long winter and before the crowded vivacity of summer, the woods are a special domain, giving me the chance to stretch my muscles – slowly – and thrill in the signs of renewed life.  One of my favorite John Muir quotations captures this uniquely human understanding:

In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.

guardian spirits

reminders on how to breathe during an airborne toxic event

April 6, 2020

Salomon saith, There is no new thing upon the earth. So that as Plato had an imagination, that all knowledge was but remembrance; so Salomon giveth his sentence, that all novelty is but oblivion.

Francis Bacon: Essays, LVIII quoted in Jorge Luis Borges’ “The Immortal”

 


 

“How was class?” Denise said.

“It’s going so well they want me to teach another course.”

“In what?”

“Jack won’t believe this.”

“In what?” I said.

“Eating and drinking.  It’s called Eating and Drinking: Basic Parameters.  Which, I admit, is a little more stupid than it absolutely has to be.”

“What could you teach?” Denise said.

“That’s just it.  It’s practically inexhaustible.  Eat light foods in warm weather.  Drink plenty of fluids.”

“But everybody knows that.”

“Knowledge changes every day.  People like to have their beliefs reinforced.  Don’t lie down after eating a heavy meal.  Don’t drink liquor on an empty stomach.  If you must swim, wait at least an hour after eating.  The world is more complicated for adults than it is for children.  We didn’t grow up with all these shifting facts and attitudes.  One day they just started appearing.  So people need to be reassured by someone in a position of authority that a certain way to do something is the right way or the wrong way, at least for the time being.  I’m the closest they could find, that’s all.”

Don Delillo, White Noise

 

Babette, Jack’s wife and Denise’s mother, teaches a community class to the elderly in posture.  It seems just another layer of ridiculousness, but I’ve begun noticing how so many of us during this moment are doing … exactly the same thing.  It rather reminds me, sweetly, of the way our primate relatives pat each other in touching simplicity, sending the message that we are all in this together, that who you are matters to me, that your cares are mine and while I may not be able to make them disappear, I can utter familiar things that allay your anxieties for now.

Or as we murmur to each other and ourselves the ubiquitous expression, “You’ve got this.”

my quarantine

April 4, 2020

coronavirus

With special thanks to Gabriele Rausse

I remember you

March 31, 2020
apple blossoms

apple blossoms blooming at Monticello

After last week’s snow, the tall daffodils that had just begun to open were left with their sweet open faces pressed toward the earth.

When I’d lived in Ivy, there were masses of daffodils all over the 18 acre property.  As my cats George, Bandit and I took our walks, Bandit would sneak behind the masses of green stalks in order to effect pouncing manuevers upon hapless George.  He’d perfected the Daffodil Bandit act a few years earlier, when we lived in town, repeatedly assaulting my old gal Clarabelle in this manner during her last spring.  One wanted to scold him, and did try, but there was something so hilarious in the entire set-up and execution, as if Wile E Coyote had come east and had to work with something other than dynamite, anvils, and precipitous cliffs.

In a quasi-heartbreaking moment, days before the snow, I saw George crouched out by the daffodils.  I wondered if there was some memory in his heart of his friendly nemesis.

After the snow, seeing the bowed daffodils, I went out to cut some.  Over the three  springs I’d lived in Ivy I’d hated seeing my landlady’s visitors do this.  It seemed so pointless.  Why couldn’t they just appreciate them in situ? But now, watching their descent toward the earth, it seemed the only sure way to continue enjoying them.  As I type this, they are beaming their innocent, yellow cheer at me.  Bringing them in didn’t only lighten my interior visual field, however.  By sitting so closely to them, I have noted for the first time their light but distinct fragrance.

Of course, George, if I could ask and he could answer, would be able to tell me this.  Surely it was the scent of the flowers that triggered his memory of his best friend.  How silly to think animals can’t remember love, that they can’t feel the seasons shifting and recall happiness.

Spring is a particular pitfall for me.  The very energy that the buds must summon in order to break into flower and leaf challenges me to rise to the occasion.  To be a passive observer seems preferable at moments like this.  How easy it is to marvel at the beauty and leave it at that?  But my conscience won’t allow me to remain stuck in the contradiction of quarreling with the various screwed up elements of the status quo and doing nothing to change it.

The global shutdown occurring at this moment appears to me as a logical consequence of a human economy based on the wrong values.  Here we can apply the image of our pal Wile E Coyote again, running over the cliff and into the air until he looks down to see nothing is truly supporting him.  I have wished for a righting of this ecological and spiritual wrong for a long time without being able to comprehend how devastating the consequences would be for everyone, me included.

So … an additional level of contradiction to wiggle myself out of like Houdini with his handcuffs, chains, boxes, and what-have-you.  The quality I long to develop for myself, as the rug of ordinariness has been pulled out from under me and change is rumbling, is patience.  It takes, after all, a long time not only to change one’s self but to change the world.  Many won’t survive the changing and most people will fight it tooth-and-nail.  The seasons will come and go and those of us who remain will remember this time and what came before.  What will stop us in our tracks and take us through columns of time in the blink of an eye or the inhalation of a scent will be memories of love.

autumn song

September 26, 2019

Out of a kind of desperation to avoid rifling through the list of my personal woes, I’ve started reading a copy of Virginia Woolf’s Moments of Being I purchased from the friends of Richmond County Library a month ago.  I was drawn to it since it was the first collection of Virginia Woolf’s writing I acquired some few years earlier than my senior year at UC Berkeley where/when I would write my honors thesis on The Waves.  I think it was the title which, combined with the patina of Woolf’s high-brow literary rep, drew the “young” me to purchasing it those many decades past, although I can’t recall feeling much affinity with her writing at the time.

What is ringing through me now is a section from her “A Sketch of the Past.”

From this I reach what I call a philosophy; at any rate it is a constant idea of mine; that behind the cotton wool is hidden a pattern; that we – I mean all human beings – are connected with this; that the whole world is a work of art; that we are parts of the work of art.  Hamlet or a Beethoven quartet is the truth about this vast mass that we call the world.  But there is no Shakespeare, there  is no Beethoven; certainly and emphatically there is no God; we are the words; we are the music; we are the thing itself.

Awake this morning sometime around 5:30, I went out to greet the Moon & Regulus rising over the river.  As I sat with my 2 black cats in the dark, I was entranced by the songs of the night insects.  I thought of how few the days and hours that they have left before winter arrives.  That they know or don’t doesn’t signify:  they sing because they are here.  They are the music, while they’re on Earth, just as we are.  When one – or all – are finished, the next generation will take up the singing.  A listener such as myself may not notice the relay, but that act too is part of the symphony.

Over three decades ago to this very day, I began a friendship that most likely will not last another year’s journey around our modest sun.  What the insects’s song reminds me, however, is that my friend’s magic existed in the world before he arrived.  It awaited him to take up his role in weaving the song, to make his contribution, and it will be carried on by another after he is gone.  What is most precious about him – what compelled me to treasure him from the moment we met and to continue despite the ups-and-downs of our complicated relations – cannot disappear because it is inseparable from the essence of beauty and truth in this world and cannot be lost.

Of course, my sadness is ultimately, and embarrassingly, for myself.  My inability to grasp what chords I am going to contribute becomes more apparent when I view my life through the lens of my friend’s imminent passing.  Such questions as what will my song be and how much time will I have once I have found my voice tug me into wakefulness and push me out-of-doors at strange hours into the only world we have ever – and will ever – know.

wide open

January 19, 2019
One of the regular sites I go to has an editor that ends his weekly round-up of madcap news stories (all political because that’s where the crazies most regularly perform) with an excerpt from something he’s reading.  He posted this a week ago.

“To be a good human is to have a kind of openness to the world, an ability to trust uncertain things beyond your own control, that can lead you to be shattered in very extreme circumstances for which you were not to blame. That says something very important about the ethical life: that it is based on a trust in the uncertainty, and on a willingness to be exposed. It’s based on being more like a plant than a jewel: something rather fragile, but whose very particular beauty is inseparable from that fragility.”

from The Monarchy of Fear: a Philosopher Looks at Our Political Crisis by Martha C. Nussbaum

This week he had a quotation from Hunter S. Thompson.
“We are turning into a nation of whimpering slaves to Fear—fear of war, fear of poverty, fear of random terrorism, fear of getting down-sized or fired because of the plunging economy, fear of getting evicted for bad debts or suddenly getting locked up in a military detention camp on vague charges of being a Terrorist sympathizer.”
You can see the drift.  I think fear provides the terms of courage, but we can’t deny ourselves the chance to talk about the fear not only for healing trauma but more importantly in the off chance that there are people who need to see how life works from the inside-out.
Since the horrific holiday I endured many small kindnesses have been bestowed upon me  I don’t mean to diminish the significance of all of them by sharing a story of one in particular that ended up being … perhaps … a gift I wouldn’t have accepted if I’d understood the terms in advance.
Without dredging up the murky details, I needed another vehicle and a person in the middle of the week without almost no advance notice possible to get me out of the house I’d been renting.  If I hadn’t met a former NPS co-worker in a grocery store parking lot on Christmas Eve, I would have been out of luck.  Furloughed by the government shutdown, near by, and still harboring kind thoughts of me from our brief time working side-by-side in the late summer of 2017, Chris had assured me he’d be there when the time came.  And he was.  However, in circumstances he would never have allowed himself to get into, given his overall conservative, if not downright timorous nature, he couldn’t help but feel that his vehicle loan & mediocre stacking assistance also required a large portion of advice on how to live my life going forward.
This attitude had been seeping out in the short time I’d rushed around packing and shifting my few belongings into his truck and my car.  But it was when we finally got to my new apartment and I offered to buy him lunch as a thank you that he pronounced his final act of largesse.
“You can thank me by never talking about this to people,” he answered.  “If you meet a man, don’t start talking about court cases and suing your landlord and this and that.  He’ll label you as a ‘drama-mama’ and stay as far away from you as you can.  Just forget about what happened and put it all behind you.”
What I had endured in the almost three weeks since an alcoholic landlord had gone to the magistrate and secured an emergency protective order against me based on lies he wasn’t required to prove deserved more than this.  I hadn’t required my former co-worker to sympathize – I had friends who were there for that – just to help me move with a minimum amount of judgment.  He had fallen short, and I felt bad that I was unable to be 100% grateful for the little he’d been able to offer that I had indeed needed.
After he left, my thoughts were now not only oppressed by the recent reign of terror but also that this person was sincerely convinced that by counselling me to keep my mouth shut he was doing me a favor, one greater than providing a truck.  That this person had been witness to another instance of my being bullied out of a job the Autumn we worked together and that he was currently furloughed due to the government shutdown — another manifestation of the bullying now in full ascendance everywhere — made it more dispiriting.  His advice distinctly implied that I was drawing these unfortunate events to me by my behavior and that to stop them I must never speak of them to anyone.  Was there no possibility of making connections in this increasingly hostile world that were based on solidarity against the oppressors?  Did we all have to cower in fear, hoping the storm would pass over us and devastate someone else — hopefully someone we didn’t know so we could pretend we “deserved” our near-miss?
Well, the mind, if cultivated assiduously, is there to find or create some form of survival mechanism, whether it’s a tattered life raft or an elaborate long-range escape plan.  It didn’t take long for me to realize that I wasn’t required to buy into the fear he was shoveling.  Buying into it, in fact, was the one sure way to make it grow bigger, stronger, more dangerous.  Testifying about the fear, about the trauma, was one avenue to finding out who was willing to stand beside me and say “Me too.”  It was a way to remind others hiding in the dark places of their mind, in the most depressed moments of their — and our nation’s — lives, that it is because of fear that we are able to express faith and hope and courage.  To be, in essence, a human being, one still capable of openness and trust, the only species I’m a card-carrying member of and the only species capable of creating a way out of this mess.