Posts Tagged ‘christmas’

Call Me Invasive

December 18, 2019

I’ve discovered a new/old wonderment in my sunrises and sunsets:  the murmuration of starlings.

This is what the above photos attempt to capture:  a giant car pool of birds, all of them having arisen from their night roosts and gathering en masse in order to cross the river into the grain fields that will provide them energy to survive.  Raptors are not unaware of the starlings plans, so these long ribbons of birds, foaming like smoke and creating their own microclimates as they wheel to and fro, are also protective devices to confuse predators and minimize loss.

Last Sunday collected along the small town’s streets to watch the illuminated holiday parade.  Strands of lights detailed the local speedway’s monster car float and adorned various farm implements that chugged down the street.  I could smell the diesel fuel from my perch a block away.  Prior to the parade’s start, I watched as volunteers lugged bags of candy intended for the crowd and wondered why people would bother to drive into town to watch decorated flatbeds and grab for cheap candy but they wouldn’t step out each morning and night to gaze up at the masses of birds.

Yesterday I walked to the post office and saw quantities of unwanted candy and discarded wrappers littering the parade route.  Perhaps this trash is similar to the legs and feathers of starlings I’ve been spotting in the past month or so.  People will tell you the European starlings are invasive, introduced by some hapless human during the 19th century, and causing, like many invasive species, a certain amount of havoc in their adopted environments.

I’m not sure who has more to learn about invasive species and their capacity both to captivate and repulse:  the parade spectators or myself.  I can only say I’m still in the running, trying to learn on the fly and continuing to marvel at how much life has to reveal.

This Christmas will not be televised

December 23, 2018

“The candle is not lit
To give light, but to testify to the night.”

— Robert Bly

For the past few mornings, I’ve been lucky to spy Mercury and Jupiter in the eastern sky.  Messengers of hope during (yet another) dark time.

Last night I lit a lightly cedar-scented candle, hoping it would hold its own against the horrible chemical fragrance arising from downstairs and pushing its way into my room.  In the dark I tried comforting myself with the thought that the scent was a residue from cleaning up another mess from landlord’s aging toy poodle and would dissipate by morning.  When I arose to find that they’d managed to hit on the one thing that could drive me out of a hole – a plug-in unit emitting Febreeze – I felt desolate.  The police officers they called 3 times last Tuesday evening would not do a thing to me, but this might well do the trick.

It’s a dreary time here in what was once my refuge, as my landlord and wife have returned.  Knowing the facts of how he bullied previous tenants long-distance and how easily any good will my behavior accrues over time gets trashed when the other person’s value system is premised on zero compassion, I looked but failed to find a temporary lodging for me and George.  A few friends counseled that I was overreacting: “they might be lovely people,” they opined.  I knew this translated into “shut up with your stupid anxieties” but decided that I might well be underestimating my abilities to endure what was supposed to be a brief layover before they moved into their Maryland condo.

But time speeds up when vast quantities of vodka are involved.  Within 24 hours I knew this was one of the prevailing factors behind his previous e-mailed rants.  But what did this knowledge matter?  I am in the soup, and it stinks of Febreeze.

I have about a week to go before my new apartment is painted and cleaned.  When the quotation above came to me this morning, minutes after I’d stepped back into this Bed-Bath-and-Beyond-scented hell following my communion with the planets and the river at dawn, I thought, “This is another gift.”  Art reminds us of our best abilities: not merely those that allow us to endure punishing humiliations but those that find the gleaming threads connecting us to others across time and space, that allow us to grasp them, and hold them close in our darkest hours.


Christmas on the Potomac

December 25, 2017

I am typing this entry out on an 11 year old laptop.  After many years of devoted service, my iMac’s video card up and died this September. Then a crummy tablet that still was better than this poor old dinosaur decided it owed me no more favors and went kaput in November.  I’ve been lugging this heavy thing around because it holds all my music and I didn’t know how to rid myself of it.  Now, although it freezes periodically like one’s brain after eating popsicles,  it’s still helping me interface with the world.

The world is a tough place, and we all hide from it in our own ways.  I try to take my computer failures philosophically.  Because it’s no longer easy to surf the internet, I rarely do.  This morning, however, I pulled up Glenn Greenwald’s The Intercept and started reading a piece on Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher whose managed to get away with his anti-government radicalism more than once.  Reading about how the Justice Department bungled their case against Bundy after BLM agents had heroically tried to bring him to heel made me so depressed I had to stop.  Standing up to hardened, self-righteous bullies like Bundy is no easy task, especially for BLM employees who make their home and raise their families in the rural communities where those sorts run rampant.  To try to do the right thing and then have their government not come through for them must be devastating.  I don’t know how people come to terms with that kind of betrayal.  Maybe that’s the story I want to read.

With my computer still complaint, I turned to my modest little blog.  What had I been thinking the past few Christmases, I wondered.  Over the years, my rants against commercialism have lessened, not because the commercialism or my disdain for it has decrease but because I rarely go out in the weeks before Christmas.  The past few years I’ve considered the stars and wondered.  So that’s some progress.

It has been hard-won, this growth, an effort involving a wrestling with my demons that I don’t suspect is valued much in our culture.  Heck! I know it isn’t valued in my family!  There are probably a few more demons who need to be thrown.  But my dreams tell me that time is running down, that there’s only so much preparation that can be accomplished before I miss my chance to catch that plane, train, or bus, and get to where I need to be next.  Stepping up, offering what we hold to be true to a world that might turn its back and offer no comfort when our offerings are rejected — those are the risks we all must take.  At some point, as our Christmas iconography reminds us, that baby has got to be born, whether it’s in a clean bed or in a stable.

So my Christmas message this year has moved beyond the stars and wonder.  Like the anti-commercialism, those values are still there, deep inside, forming part of the structure upon which everything else I do stands.  On another Christmas day in the future, I hope I’ll have a better understanding of the possibilities this moment held for me and a story of how I rose to take them in hand at the right time and place and with the best intentions: love, peace, and justice.



solstice meditations

December 19, 2016

This morning as the dawn began to lighten the sky, I noticed a star bright enough to be noticeable not only in the approaching day’s light but also from inside my warm home. Earlier I’d ventured out to spot the Moon with Jupiter and Spica and knew Arcturus was watching over them too. But I had to guess at what star I was seeing now. I had a suspicion it was Vega, third brightest in our Northern hemisphere, and one of the three stars that comprise the Summer Triangle, that recognizable asterism high in the sky during the short nights of June, July, and August.

As I settled down to meditate, the thought that this could be Vega rising remained. Here I had almost made it to the darkest day of the year. Changes too numerous to recount have occurred over the past 12 months which offer both the opportunity for congratulation as well as for anxiety. Where will all this momentum deliver me? After all my efforts this year and with a deep knowledge of how difficult and draining this work can be, will I rise to those occasions that will be set before me next year and beyond?

My thoughts returned me to earlier in the year when I witnessed another set of familiar stars rising before dawn. As I stood in the cool August mornings awaiting sunrise, I would observe Orion climbing into the sky over Yellowstone and wonder: where would I be when the Earth made a few more revolutions and Orion was no longer haunting the dawn but traveling across the winter nights’ skies?

Now when I go out to hunt for answers in the New Mexico dawn, Orion is slipping low to the west as if exhausted by his long night’s trek. By the end of next April, he won’t linger long before he follows the sun’s setting, but in early August, he’ll return to the dawn’s skies no matter where I might be standing.

So Vega’s promise of summer is a whisper I can hear and feel deep in my bones. It reminds me that time doesn’t only run straight; it also runs in cycles. It reminds me that there are things I do know – the stars; how to recognize beauty and love; how to be patient with myself in order to allow every thing to unfold as it needs to. What wonderful gifts the night skies offer, especially on these long dark nights. They are shining affirmations of how we are connected to the universe, to our human cycles of ritual and tradition, and to those memories of ourselves that lie deep within.


What’s wrong with socks?

December 27, 2015

While most of my friends know I don’t exchange Christmas gifts, one or two still give me small presents.  One friend is so reliable in posting his gift that anticipating its arrival in the days before Christmas ensures I’ll be making more than one trip down to check the mail.

The last time this particular friend and I lived within five miles of each other was 29 years ago.  Despite the distance between us, I like to think we manage to remain connected to some inner, essential part of ourselves and that it’s in this space where we understand each other, free of the many changes time has effected.

Of course, if my friend is giving gifts to a woman he first met 29 years ago, he’s also giving gifts to others he’s befriended in the intervening decades.  One way he navigates this difficult task is by compiling a cd of his favorite music for the past year.  It is natural that our musical preferences, which once ran parallel to each other’s, have diverged.  And while each year there are a few songs where I note, “My god, I can’t believe he likes this,” on the other hand, there are a few selections that I gladly add to my own music library.

And it’s true that sometimes the books he’s included with his cd don’t always hit the mark.  He must be the only person in my circle of friends who’s never heard my rants against Elizabeth Gilbert, so when he sent me her most recent novel a few years ago, I didn’t sneer too loudly in his general direction.  It’s like people assuming that because I enjoy jazz I like Norah Jones.  I can, and do, correct them on this assumption, but I try not to blame them.  For some reason beyond my ken, people who otherwise seem perfectly normal think that woman has talent.

This year’s book, however, has left me at a loss on how to draft my requisite thank you note.  To believe that I would ever entertain the notion that this book should have been published, let alone that I read it, strikes at the heart of what I thought the few confidants I’ve worked hard to maintain in this wayward world would understand about me.  In fact, not only don’t I give a shit if the damn thing made the bestseller lists or if the untalented, exhibitionist bitch who wrote it made the some of the most viewed TED talks in internet history or has an astronomical number of Twitter followers, those are the very points that would sink just about anything in my opinion.

And then there was a recommendation from Elizabeth Gilbert on the cover.  Aargh!

Still, in the interest of trying to figure out why my friend thought I would want to read The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer, I gave it a brief skim.  I’d come across her name since looking up Neil Gaiman some months earlier.  However, upon quickly realizing that the entire exercise had been founded on some literary agent watching the TED talks and getting Palmer to commit to a book that regurgitated the same meaningless garbage so that every talent-less bore associated could pocket some easy cash, all I was minimally interested in was learning more about her relationship to a considerably more talented artist.  Everything else, as far as I could see, was on par with the same media-whoring that motivates people who have never done the hard work of sitting down, in dread and silence, to summon something inside themselves worth offering.  They seem to think that merely the act of offering possesses its own value and that, turning Palmer’s thoughts ruthlessly against her, the gift lies in the audience swallowing their proffered crap.

I haven’t been this shaken up by a Christmas gift since my father sent me John Bradshaw books.  Because I was broke at the time, I carried them, unread, to the downtown second-hand bookstore where the sharp-eyed proprietor refused to buy them.  Although I could have used the cash, my respect for the man multiplied ten-fold.  “You can put them on the free table if you’d like,” he told me.  “And if no one takes them, I send them to the prison.”

It’s one thing to have my father possess no idea who I am.  The man, after all, is an ego-maniac from way back, expecting me to remember his favorite foods and sports teams, and unable to recollect anything accurately about his daughter’s childhood.  But this is a friendship I’ve cherished in the belief that my friend understood the most vital elements of who I am.  What I worry most about is that somehow he might think that this titular “art of asking” is something I need to learn and/or that I too could, with just the right amount of encouragement (a TED talk? a Twitter feed? a rich and famous husband? a deep and abiding lack of talent that I am able blissfully to ignore?) produce a memoir couched in new age bullshit and make a mint.  Does he think that I simply lack the gumption to get my act together?  Does he not comprehend that my on-going and most important struggle, at least in my mind, is demanding of myself that I not speak until I’m certain that I have something worth another’s attention?

Am I at fault for not communicating this objective better to my friend?  Or is it a difficult objective to grasp given our culture?  What can I salvage from this experience?  And how can I urge him, with love, to just send me socks next year?





small town gifts

November 18, 2015


I live half-way between Charlottesville, a small city, and Crozet, a big town. Charlottesville’s traffic is a nightmare, so if there are errands I can accomplish in Crozet, I head west.

One of Crozet’s delights is an IGA.  A long-time resident, my friend pronounces the final part of its name, “the Great Valu,” as one pronounces the bear’s name in Kipling’s The Jungle Book, “Ba-loo.”  It is one of those small town groceries where the owner, the workers, and the towns people have combined forces in their determination not to lose it, and when I go there, I know high school and college sports statistics will be in the air and all manner of people will be chatting amiably with the clerks and each other.

When I left the store yesterday, I wore my usual smile after wishing the owner, who was working the cash register, a good day.  Passing the door’s threshold out into the parking lot, I heard a soft noise that had a rhythm and a tone unlike conversation.  Curious, I turned around to see a man standing between the store’s doors and the bundles of firewood, wearing a shy smile on his face and singing “Yellow Submarine.”

My smile widened, and I lingered to watch other customers’ smiles light up as they came within hearing distance of what is one of the dumbest but admittedly catchiest tunes in the Beatles repertoire.  The man wasn’t busking, didn’t appear in need of medication, and no one felt obliged to join in.  The song was simply a blessing shared with whomever happened to pass by.

Before I returned home, I was lucky to catch my friend at her cake shop.  While I was there, a neighbor stopped by to leave quiche and salad, and my friend and I caught up over tea and a light lunch.  As I was leaving, I wished her a peaceful Thanksgiving, which isn’t always in the cards for her since she is forced to spend it with her zombie mother-in-law.  Her frustration over not having control over her holidays prompted her to exclaim, “I just wish there was some thing I could do, once a year, to give back.”

“Well, you know, it’s very simple,” I replied. “All you have to do is stand outside the Great Valu and sing.”