Saturday, May 25, 2013

Scottie and the Apple

Not far away is a "farm" with animals for children and others to enjoy.  We take the grands there occasionally and they especially like Scottie -- pictured here -- and his mate, Fiona, the Highland cattle. I admit I especially like them too although the baby lambs are very delightful little creatures. We were there on recent at evening feeding and snack time. Watching Scottie and Fiona devour a grocery shopping bag full of treats was our treat. They received a great vegetarian repast: cucumbers, celery, green beans, apples, and grapes, one by one. The following poem grew out of the event.  (Note: this photo was taken a month or more ago, before the spring rains and warmth brought abundant grass to the meadow.)

            Scottie’s Bliss

The spring grass grows taller every day,
Thicker, brighter green, more luscious.
If I were a grass grazer I’d browse the pasture
As happily as I lick ice cream from its cone.
Do Scottie and Fiona, the Highland cattle,
Appreciate this succulence after winter’s short,
Dry grass and months-old hay?
Animals have memories–we know they do–
And emotions too…well, is that true?
Is there bovine bliss or boredom?

I thought I saw bliss on Scottie’s hairy face
Yesterday when the farmer gave him an apple,
A large Golden Delicious apple, a goodly mouthful.
Scottie tipped his head back, nearly closed his eyes
And chewed and chewed and chewed and chewed.
I too have eaten Golden Delicious apples,
I know the crisp crunch. I know the juiciness
And sweetness when saliva and apple blend.
As I watched Scottie, I knew, in my mouth
What he knew in his. We are both mammals,
Our taste buds and brains are wired the same.
Scottie has no words--but I do--to hone
an edge on bliss, to sharpen a memory.

I came home and fixed sugar snap peas,
briefly boiled, lightly buttered. One by one.
I chewed and crunched and savored sweetness.
My bliss, I believe, was enlarged by our kinship
Made precious through word-formed memory.
Words define our bond. I love words
the progenitors of empathy.  And poetry.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

We're not in tornado alley

The clerk in the quiet store was watching news clips from Oklahoma where the tornado did so much damage. "Why don't aren't they required to have shelters?" he asked as if we were in the middle of a conversation although, in fact, I do not stop in that store very often. I don't know him and he doesn't know me.

"Well, at least the schools should be required to have storm shelters," I said.

"They call it Tornado Alley," he said.  "You'd think there would be laws. Here you can't build a tool shed in your backyard without getting a permit.  What's wrong with those people."

I nearly said, they're Republicans.  But I don't know that man -- we do have some Republicans here on Cape Cod, after all. Only my friends would smile at that bit of wit. "Different parts of the country has differnent ideas about what kind of laws are acceptable," I said. We decided the so called 'hurricane alley" is about 500 miles wide and 1000 long. Yes, he and I think every school should have a  hurricane shelter big enough for all the students. Imagine the amount of money that would cost all those school districts.  But aren't the children' lives worth it?  The people of Moore, Oklahoma can answer that.

We are in a period of increasingly unstable weather.  I don't think anyone can argue that's not true, it must be taken into consideration.  Last spring brought terrible tornadoes too.  Last fall brought hurricanes up the East coast. Forest fires, drought, floods, blizzards.  All the natural disasters will happen.  No on can say "It won't happen here."  We live on this earth and this earth's ecology is in turmoil.

Monday, May 20, 2013

A Bit of Summer

Yesterday's warm sun, sparkling water and gently lapping tide was a teaser.  I walked the beach barefoot because I had seen barefoot prints off and on for the past two weeks.  I went down to the beach with shoes I knew I would not walk in--they would be full of sand immediately--and walked barefoot.  While I timidly walked on the warm, dry sand a couple came striding past me, both barefoot, along the edge of the tide where the damp sand is packed, making walking easier, but chillier.

Soon my thighs said they were tired of all the soft sand--it's a good workout for them but they protest--so I went down to the water's edge. It wasn't so chilly after all.  The sand was firm enough to leave only light prints--summer is on its way... but today the skies are gray, the grass, which needs mowing. is silvered with raindrops.  For another six weeks, I suppose, summer will come in fits and starts.

Yesterday I came home, pulled the sandals out of the trunk where they wait out the snowy seasons, and put some of the winter shoes in their place. Now I'm ready when the sun is ready.  Even the long sleeved turtle necked shirts have been put away and the short sleeved tees have replaced them in the drawers. I'm ready.  Sun, come back!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

What to Beleive?

I'm a compulsive reader of pop science news.  Today's front page info in the NYTimes is that the recommendation that just about everybody over 50 should drastically cut down on salt in order not to have heart attacks an strokes is exaggerated. Newer studies show that extremely low levels of salt are not beneficial.

Time and again I read "revised"recommendations.  A couple of weeks ago the NYTimes Sunday Magazine had big article about the breast cancer brouhaha that's been rift for 25 years; and today I see a note saying Angelina Jolie has had a double mastectomy as a preventive measure since she has a "breast cancer" gene and this may spur other women to do the same. Jez!!!

The papers are full of it.  (Take that comment however you wish.) Another article is about the benefits of gut flora in helping disgest our food.  Oh, it goes on and on and on.  'These articles are like chocolate for my curiosity.  I think seeing the ebbs and flows, the hypes and horrors about health issues keep me fairly level headed. I firmly believe that moderation in all things is the best advice. All this reading also gives me a healthy skepticism about every new fad and every new product. 

I am happy to have begun seeing a few articles pointing out that the multimillion dollar hand sanitizer industry is doing more harm than good by killing healthful bacteria that in small ambient amounts teaches our immune systems to withstand the big bad germs.  It's a bit like the over use of antibiotics that continues to be rift which makes the big bad germs mutate so that we need ever different antibiotic and some have become super-germs resistant to whatever is sent in to shoot them down.  Oh... I could go on, it's an enormous topic.  It provides jobs for a lot reporters who love combing all the medical literature and bringing us the sound bite without the substance.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Renoir, a new movie

The new bio-pic about Pierre August Renoir is just as beautifully pink and golden and full of sunlight as his paintings. It's one long immersion in gorgeous semi-wild countryside in the South of France during World War I where the aged painter, crippled with arthritis nevertheless paints compulsively while he is cared for by a household of women, many of whom have been his models and stayed on as caretakers and cooks and maids.  A new model appears, a spirited girl with just the right strawberry blond hair and wonderful body covered in creamy skin the old man loves to look at as he paints.

He has three sons, one young and semi-feral it seems, the oldest has lost use of an arm in the war and the middle son, comes home to recuperate from a thigh wound -- obviously a set up for a romance between new model and son.  Not a  lot happens, and the beauty becomes cloying to me -- as are most of the Renoir painting's I've seen.  The movie will be memorable for it relentless visual beauty.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Suite Francaise, Irene Nemirovsky

Serendipity is at work in many things I do, especially the book I happen to be reading at any moment. I don't remember why Suite Franciase was in my books-to-read shelves but it's the one my hand landed upon a week ago and it was a pleasure in many ways -- and awe inspiring too.  I now find it was a movie some time ago but I didn't see it. I don't think a movie could have done justice subtle social commentary in the book.

The story begins as the Germans enter Paris and many Parisiennes flee to the country side, in autos, trains, on foot. I normally wouldn't choose a book about WWII but the writing was graceful and pulled me into the lives of several families, their pettiness, their fears, their mishaps, their selfishness, courage and silliness. Always the style had a satiric bite describing the social classes.  

The second half was many months later and set in a small farming town occupied by the Germans who were billeted in various homes.  People were making do, resenting the invasion, hording, theiving, grieving for family members who have died and sons or husbands taken prisoner. The Germans are shown trying hard to be fair and likeable --in fact a couple of women fall in love with the men lodged in their homes.  The balanced view of French and Germans was a surprise and beautifully played out  up to the final pages when the soldiers leave, having been reassigned to the Russian front.

The surprising thing the discovery of Nemirovsky; her other novels and life story. She was a Ukranian Jewish woman who had lived in France most of her life. Shortly after she finished writing this novel, in a journal, in extermely small hand writing (to conserve both ink and paper) she was arrested and soon died in Auschwitz. Her daughters fled and became refugeess, but they held onto the journal which they thought was a diary until they decided to give it to a museum some twenty years later. One decided that she wanted to make a typed copy  -- and discovered it was a novel.
Discovering this was wonderful -- one of those almost miraculous stories of a work of art saved and resurrected. 

Saturday, May 11, 2013

All Around Us

Three million years is a long time -- today's NYTimes, on the front page, tells us the amount of pollution in the atmosphere is greater now than it was three million years before there was human life on earth.  Climate change is not going to happen -- it has happened. We talk about "global warming" -- it HAS happened. We have had unstable weather in every part of the world for many years already.  We are small individuals, we cannot deal with these big numbers and big ideas.  The front page also talked about a worldwide ring of theives who have stolen many millions of dollars from ATMs and a group of eight young men who couldn't resist going on spending binges.  How do these fit together?  Only that people live their lives as best they can,  possibly think they should enjoy themselves how and when they can and leave the big concerns up to others -- others who are just as human as the theives, just as petty even when they have the statistics in hand. Others who meet and cannot agree on anything to do to curb the increase in pollution -- not only of the atmosphere but out water (our oceans) or earth. 

Beasts of field and forest live day to day, moment to moment.  We, the big brained ones who have learned to think abstractly, some of whom seek to find answers to large questions -- how big and old is the universe? what makes this planet of ours habitable for life like ours? Did we ever -- and will we ever -- live harmoniously?  As one curious enough to want to know about those thoughts and discoveries, but well of aware of my powerlessness in the face of large questions, I ponder in quiet moments and then turn to my every day life and enjoy it as best I can, do the best I can.  Awareness is not power but it provides balance when I think of the big news and the small me.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Weekly winning flash fiction

 In the sidebar is a  link to The One Minute Writer. I've been going to that site most mornings for a few years  and writing a three or four sentences inspired by their daily prompts.  A little mental exercise.  On Fridays they have a fiction prompt and allow more time than one minute.  It is to be short fiction but may take longer.  Sometimes, both daily and Friday, the prompts don't suggest anything to me.  Usually I take the prompt and do "free writing" without planning where the story will go.  Now and then my piece of fiction is chosen the best for that Friday. That happened for last Friday's piece.  The prompt was "I've waited for this day."

I'm sharing it here because it seems fitting for my general theme of aging.  In fact I've never been with anyone when he or she died and I certainly don't have a wealthy grandparent to leave everything to me. What surprised me was the end that evolved. So here it its:

Today is the day I have been waiting for! I have dreamed of it as long as I've been able to understand what it would mean. This morning Grandfather died. He was a dear old man who loved me very much -- not as much as he loved mother but after mother and father's little Cesna went down in the Sierra Nevada, I have been the object of his affection. Do I sound happy Grandfather is dead? No. I am not happy. I am heart broken. He was sweet to me. When I was small he read books to me and later took me on long hikes in the mountains. Of course he paid for my schooling and everything I needed -- or didn't really need, like the Audi he gave me for my 16th birthday. Yes, I loved him.

But I always knew that when he died, I would inherit everything. What would I do with it? I used to dream about that: a trip around the world. An expedition to climb Everest, setting up a clinic in Nairobi to cure malaria. Oh, I dreamed selfish and I dreamed philanthropic. Oh, how I dreamed! All the world would be mine. Girls -- then when I grew older, I realize it would be women -- would flock to me. Whether I flaunted my wealth or was modest and did good works, I would have my choice of women. So I truly loved grandfather but I often dreamed he had died.

He has died! I was with him last night at the hospice when he breathed his last. But before that he opened his weary eyes, he hadn't spoken for a week but his eyes were as clear as ever. They looked at me, deep into me, He reached out and grabbed my knee with a skeletal right hand and clasped it like a hawk grasps a sparrow. "It's all yours. It's all maya, money is only an idea. Only life is real. Do you understand?"

"No," I said. "No, I don't know what is real."

Friday, May 3, 2013

Louisa May Alcott and Orchard House

 Yesterday's trip included Orchard House, the modest house shown here. For twenty years it was the home of the Alcott family.  This was after the ill-fated utopian experiment by Bronson, the pater familias, who moved the family to a farm he called Fruitlands where he lost most of his money, and the family nearly went hungry from lack of success at sustaining an ideal community.  The house looks small - it IS small, yet it has enough rooms, small though they are, to have been a comfortable home for Bronson and Marmie, Louisa and, at various times all three of her sisters or only some.  Ralph Waldo Emerson  generously paid many of their expenses, at least until Louisa had a great success with Little Women and supported the family with her writing--many now forgotten  additional novels.

In the upstairs room on the right (from our perspective) a tiny white desk is built between the two windows.  It is the desk at which we see heI d sitting in this picture. Do not understand how she could have sat there at a very low desk, writing.  Her back must have hurt, or maybe she had somehow learned to write at a surface almost at lap level.

She was not the only talented one.  Her sister, Mary, was an artist so adept at watercolors she copied and sold Turner paintings.  Mary painted in both watercolor and oils many painting, including one in the house of Louisa shortly after she returned from nursing Civil War soldiers, ill, looking much older than she was at the time. Mary also gave art lessons; one of her students Daniel Chester French, the man who did the bronze statue of a Minuteman that stands on Lexington green and has been reproduced in endless history books. He also, most notably, did the Lincoln Memorial statue that is equally well known.

Our docent at Orchard House was one of the most knowledgeable docents I've ever heard speaking -- she had answers to every question.  She did not give us great indigestible globs of facts, but was even willing to look up an answer to a question I had about a table covering.

With Emerson living next door, Thoreau stopping in frequently, Hawthorne on the other side, all of them dropping in often for an evening of checkers or family dramas or a bit of music on the Chickering piano or the melodean and talking -- oh, surely talking and talking and talking, this tiny house was vibrant with a quality of life that is enviable and rare. 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Field Trip -- Lexington and Concord

 Our guide yesterday, in full "reenactor" regalia plus an eccentric golden ostrich feather, is a regular lecturer at the Academy for Lifelong Learning.  Yesterday a busload of us went up to Lexington and Concord, less than two weeks after the anniversary (April 19th) of the battle that began the American Revolution.  Sol, our guide, aka Ebenezer Knox, Jr., has reenacted the battle so often he knew where everyone was at all times.  His costume was handmade. I'm sorry I didn't get the rosy pink stockings he has on, nor the taselled sword hanging on his left side.

The day was as perfect a spring day as anyone could want. The picture above is in Lexington and below, is a picture (from the back -- sorry) of the famous Minuteman statue. I was delighted to learn later in the day when we visited Orchard House, the home of the Alcott family, that Mary Alcott (Louisa's artist sister) was the teacher of Chester French, the artist who not only did the Minuteman statue, but also the Lincoln Memorial.

I am not a history buff and especially not a battle buff so much of Sol's lecture was lost as I stood about here and later on in Concord at the Old North Bridge and gaped at the trees. They are old, graceful and VERY tall.  This is remarkable to me because here on Cape Cod the soil is sandy and not very deep (there's rock underneath).  When I used to come up on the bus from NYC to visit, I knew I was on Cape Cod when the trees became short.  It's a perspective I am not accustomed to but there on those historic sites the trees soared into the sky.  They were truly grand even this early before their leaves have burst out. The current header is a  great tree on the green in Lexington

I used to marvel at the precious elms in Central Park's promenade which were grand in the same way.  Measuring ourselves by the nature around us affects our attitudes, I do believe.  I think that's why I found the Sherpas in the Himalayas are so gentle and kind (along with their Buddhism)

In Concord, after the history lessons were finished and we had our lunch. We went to Orchard House.  More about that in the next post.