pull up a chair

where wisdom gathers, poetry unfolds and divine light is sparked…

Category: springtime

the truth behind one-handed gardening

one handed gardening

it so happens that at long last — and after hours of thinking perhaps the springtime would never come round again — we are at the dizzying height of the garden shaking off her winter slumbers and exploding every which way.

it also so happens that three weeks ago my exhausted stockinged feet — shuffling up to bed, late on a saturday night — smacked into a slick spot on the hardwood slabs of the family room floor, and, before i could muster the faintest of yelps, i went spiraling through mid-air and kerplunked wrist-first on the wide pine planks of the kitchen floor, several yards from the slick spot.

blurry-eyed, and in advance of assessing the twisted architecture of my inside-out-and-spiraled-around left arm-wrist-hand-thumb, i heard a noise i’ll not soon shake off: krrk, krrk, went the sound of my bones, snapping in twos.

springtime’s garden explosion + left arm strapped in a not-so-sexy black velcro-snug number = an exercise in one-armed gardening.

which has its merits. and not only because it gets you out of the hard work of whipping the beds into shape, reminding the dandelions they are not on your growing list, and generally over-taxing the wee little muscles that run up and down the length of your spine.

why, i thought, this here is a very fine thing. an unavoidable doctor’s order to slow down and, well, deep breathe the springtime’s intoxicants.

in my imagination, i’d penned a quiet pensive missive about how one-handed gardening was, hands down, a blessing. how it forced the slowed-down gardener to do a lot less mucking about in the dirt, and more or less straitjacketed her into the often elusive art of paying attention.

try squeezing the felco pruners with but one hand. try tying back the disobedient anything-but-climbing hydrangea.

try anything other than slowly meandering along the garden trail, observing the wee globes of dew as they dangle from furled fronds of fern. inhaling the knock-you-over perfumes of the lily-of-the-valley, bursting in white-bell clouds this week. savoring the soft morning’s warmth in the thick of the flowering crabapple’s vernal effusion.

in my imagination, i’d gathered up notes, and scribbled pithy wisdoms.

but then this week happened.

and because the chair is a place where we pull up honestly or not at all, i can’t quite quiet myself enough to pen that tranquil dispatch from the one-handed gardener.

truth is, this week is about as far from tranquil as a a week can be. i mention this not for sympathy, certainly, and not for worry, oh heavens no (i’m positively allergic to anyone worrying about me, although i manage to do it in spades all the time). but all in service of this being a sacred place where we can be whoever we are in the moment, no excuses necessary.

fact is, the arm that is now in four parts (two bones, now broken in two) has been throbbing. and one morning this week, i had a nice tete-a-tete with the anesthesiologists as they dozed me to sleep for a quick repair of a body part that had managed to spring a leak. add to the mix, the college kid home for a mad flurry of final-paper writing. and the regular line-up of seventh-grade worries and tummy aches and questions that demanded hard answers half an hour past bedtime.

so my thoughtful musings on one-handed gardening will have to wait for another year. or another thwop on the hard kitchen floor.

and instead of lulling you into tranquility, and slowing down long enough to notice the incremental beauties of the vernal thrust through the earth, i will offer this bit of recycled chair, an essay penned a while back, and one which just this week was published in the pages of the chicago tribune.

it was and is titled, “the sum of infinites,” and it goes something like this:

Mothering: The Sum of Infinites

By Barbara Mahany

The last time I’d seen him, when I tucked him into bed, blew a kiss and closed the door, he was fine. Just really tired, he said, worn out by soccer. And very, very hungry.

But next morning, as I walked out of the downtown parking garage, fumbled for the ringing rectangle in my backpack, tried to find a place to plop the coffee mug, so I could walk and talk and think out loud, I heard the words, “Mr. T is not feeling so good. He’s pretty hot, actually. And his throat, he says, is killing him.”

A series of rearrangements were duly rearranged, numbers dialed, summons plead, before I even spied my desk.

Given precise instruction, exact latitude and longitude of where he’d find the white-and-orange-and-azure box on the bathroom shelf, his papa dispensed the first round of fever-queller, tucked him back in bed, then kept finger in the dike till dear Grammy could ride to the rescue.

Miles away, I was but a distant player, so my part had me checking in every chance I got. Or so we’d scripted. Till I got the call mid-afternoon, and a squeaky little voice informed, “I’m dizzy.” Then asked, “When can Mama come home?”

NOW! was pretty much the word that popped into my head, so I cleared my desk and drove. And once through the blue front door, I dropped my keys and lunged and kissed him on the head.

Oh, the look in those empty eyes told me all I needed in the medical-data department. Those of us who’ve tread this ground, need no compass, no thermometer; we know by heart these dark and murky woods, know by gut just how deep we’re in, and how the road out will be a slow and bumpy one.

And thus began, again, the work of one mama tending to her achy, fevered little person.

By rapid – and rough – calculation, I’d guess this might have been the 90th such round, each one with its own odd particulars, since I’d first put on the mama robes, since Boy Number One was born, nearly 17 years before.

And as I spent the long night dispensing care in the ways my boys have grown to know, to count on, I began to contemplate how love, especially motherlove, is the sum of infinites.

Minute, and barely perceptible, although wholly definable and defining, they are the accumulated brushstrokes and palm presses and finger squeezes that imprint, somehow, on the souls of those whose care – whose fevered limbs, swollen glands, fractured bones, woopsy tummies – we cradle.

Until the fever lifts, the gland goes down, the tummy stops its gurgling, we dole out and dispense our ministrations without surrender to our own bodies’begging for unbroken sleep, or just a chair, or even a bowl of oatmeal that’s not gone cold.

It is the umpteen blankets and pillows you’ve piled on the floor, in that certain way you’ve come to call “The Nest.”

It is the 181 washcloths hauled off the shelf, doused under cool water, wrung out, folded and laid on fevered brow.

It is the 99 rubberbands stretched round just as many glasses, each one so marking it, a badge of courage for the sick one, and off-limits besides – lest you hastily find yourself tending a whole flock of fevered lambs.

It’s the way, without a moment’s pause, and no thought given to germs or contagion, you’ve climbed 3,000 times right into bed beside the hot one, so you are there, should there be a whimper in the night, should you need to climb the stairs one time, or ten, to fill a glass with ice, with honey, with 7-up, with gooey purple fever-buster. Or just because the ailing one left a certain pillow on the couch – and cannot sleep without it.

It is the who-knows-how-many baths you’ve drawn at three in the morning, because the fever won’t go down, and the little arms and legs you once marveled at, now barely ever eyeball beneath the sweatshirts and the soccer shinguards, are shaking like a leaf that barely clings to the branch amid October’s bluster.

Next morn, as you hear the doctor speak the words, “Go straight to the ER,”– thank God, you can count (three) the times you’ve heard that command – you realize that your well will never run dry, that you will pierce the microbes with sharp spear, given half a chance. That you will climb on the gurney, slide your own wobbly self through that CT scan, stick out your own arm to take the IV needles, you will wrestle to the mud whatever pokes and prods come your little one’s way, as you wipe away the alligator tears, and kiss the red-hot cheeks, and hold your breath and wait for all-clear whistles from the ER nurse, the one you now worship because she was so tender in her poking of your little soldier’s brave, brave arm.

And you realize, as you count up the hours of the week, and lose count of ice cubes and teaspoons of germ-killer, that the highway to heroics is paved, pretty much, of the same stuff as the potholed backroad.

That in the end, when all these flus and streps and bacterial pneumonias are past, we will have loved our way to triumph, in a race without a ribbon, a contest with no starting gun, an Olympiad we enter with our heart.

It is through the sum of infinitely loving, and infinite signature touches, that the little ones whose flesh and blood and coos and cries we were handed not so long ago, will grow up wholly defining how it is to be ministered to, to be loved, to be – yes – mothered, no matter who the motherer.

And –as you’ve maybe glimpsed once or twice already, when you’re the one who’s down and your little ones begin to mimic all your ways – they in turn will love as you have loved, will fold the same cool cloths, draw the baths, pour the gingerale, stir the chicken-noodle soup.

And thus our unmeasurable infinite acts will go forth into infinity.

A mighty sum – born, simply, out of love.

so that’s the news from my not-so-tranquil garden trail. tell me what unexpected blessings you stumbled on this week. or spill, once again, the infinite sums your mama once plied on you, or that you’ve doled out to your little ones when they were under the weather…

crouching-down season

crouching down season

for weeks now, i’ve been pausing at my kitchen window, gnawing my lip in gravest consternation, increasingly convinced that all that remained from the long hard winter was a bramble of hollow sticks and empty vines, all dead on arrival at springtime’s doorstep. it seemed their only occupation going forward, this drab tangle in shades of brown, without a hint of pulse, was to poke me in the eye, as i rambled by on my daily constitutional of hope and prayer.

i’d been examining. up close. all but fondling all the nubs and tips, an alchemist and dreamer’s feeble-hearted formula of massage + vesper = resurrection.

alas, morning after morning: blhhhk. nada. nothing. as if the once green-leafed darlings had packed their inner vigors and ditched the premises. (and who could blame them, really? why stick to land of ice and snow, when just a few time zones south, they might employ the verbs of growth: engorge. swell. unfurl. stretch out. pullulate. fructify. climb toward the sun.)

deep inside my heart, i waffled. part of me would not give up. part of me was certain that the weary sticks and naked vines had merely overslept the vernal alarm clock. snoozed straight through weeks one through three of april. but part of me worried: this might have been the winter that did them in, poor over-taxed citizens of middle-american landscape.

i’d begun to plan a mass funeral — shovel and compost bin, key attendants.

ah, but overnight, dear Lord in heaven, they’ve stirred. they’ve greened. they’ve surged beyond the confines of their sticky-ness and taken on the curves and frills of a season that begs you bend your knees, drop your bum, and crouch to down where the dew-drenched blades of grass tickle your behind, and leave you spotted when you rise, go about your ways, not minding what the neighbors think of your moistly speckled derriere.

and so, mad woman that i am when at last the pullulation comes, i can barely contain myself in the early morning’s light. i’m tumbling out the door before the coffee’s gurgled even once. i am drinking in the dawn’s overnight attractions. and in the cloak of morning silence you can all but hear the supple-throated sweethearts — the knobs of peony thrusting from the earth, the butterballs of daffodil shoving off the dirt, the tenderest furls of fern and forget-me-not lining up on stage — you can all but hear them warbling, “look at me, look at me. see how much i’ve grown!”

such show-offs, there in the loamy beds. but wouldn’t you? if you’d survived winds that howled like packs of wolves, and temperatures that flash-froze you into icy blocks of bulb?

and isn’t this, the turning of the season’s page, once again where we’re all but grabbed by the shoulders, and commanded to stand still, to look around, to absorb the lessons of the earth, the sky, and all that flutters in between? isn’t this when metaphor awaits, at the tip of every branch? when mama bird re-teaches patience, and diligence, just in case we’ve lost our place and need remedial tutoring in the truths of seasonal rebirthing?

it’s as if the Grand Designer of the spinning globe, the One who turns us on our axis, knows all too well our abbreviated attention spans, and how, every few months, the lesson plans must be pulled from the pile so we can stumble once again over Seasonal Wisdoms 101.

this year, with winter in third or fourth overtime, and spring in game delay, it seemed the lesson on the chalkboard, the one we were inking over and over in our college-ruled, spiral-bound notebooks, was the one that tested faith, the one that made us think long and hard about the fallow spells in our lives when we’ve lost all hope of growth or resurrection. when we’re down to our last fumes, and can’t for the life of us figure a way forward, toward the light behind the clouds.

so here’s the pop quiz: when, week after week, there is no sign of change, not a bare iota’s indication that something deep is stirring — in the earth or in our soul — shall we a.) give up all hope, pack our bags and wave the “i-surrender flag,” or b.) mumble words of flickering devotion, strap on our mukluks, and plop ourselves beneath the climbing hydrangea, certain of its — and our — eventual return to glory?

here’s a peek at the answer sheet:

crouching down climbing vine

and, just in case you need your seasonal wisdoms in living color, here’s what the heirloom hyacinth had to say about hope in the early hours of this morning:

crouching down hyacinths

spelled out in depths of delft blue, and perky furls of newborn green, the truth of course is this: rebirth will surely come, once the long hard work of winter’s deep-down concentration, and intricate re-distillation, is finally, finally utterly and messily complete.

and then the soul-filled springtime comes in gallops. you might get dizzy trying to drink it in.

what, pray tell, is unfolding in your vernal syllabus? or simply in your corner of the globe, where you crouch down to study springtime’s oft-repeated wisdoms?

because yesterday was “poem in your pocket” day, and because a friend i love sent me a poem of wisdom from meister eckhart, i happened to scroll to the bottom of the page, where i found this little morsel, apt for this meander about the slow-unfurling of the springtime….(and of course, eckhart is far more profound in 23 words than i could ever hope to be in nearly 900…)

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
— Anais Nin

it’s the light

it's the light pillow

like the birds in the bushes who’ve flicked on their vernal soundtrack, and the flower heads who nod toward the arcing solar orb, i too follow the light.

and this week, as i dragged through the dregs of my soul, fearing i might never emerge from my doldrums, i finally, miraculously, felt an uplift inside. as if a spark plug was at last being triggered. as if, just before the final sputtering out of what was left of my oomph, something deep down went kerplunk, a sort of holy rejuvenation. i took it to be a hand extended from on high. i all but felt the Divine yank me out of the murk and into a passing-by sunbeam.

it’s all the wonder of a globe that spins on an axis, a globe that moves us into and out of shadow. and our time out of shadow is coming, is inching our way. minute by minute, hour by hour, we are leaning into the light.

and while i love winter as much as anyone — save for the moose or the elk who stay out all night and romp to their hooves’ content — and while, even amid the mountains of charcoal-gray piled-high snow cliffs, i am still able to marvel at the ice-crystal diamonds scattered across the morning’s white-scape, i admit that all these long months with not enough sunbeams had taken its toll on my spirit.

i was lagging. was heavy with worry and doubt and confusion.

and then the flutter came. the flutter of lightness, deep down just under my heart. suddenly, my feet weren’t so heavy. nor my shoulders so flinched.

hope was the thing that stirred. hope that the lightness was coming. that, soon, the bare naked branches would slip on their vernal green gloves. the nubs of resistance would push through the hard frozen crust of the garden.

spring would arrive, would demonstrate the power of birth after death, after long winter’s doubt.

it’s as if the message is distilled into each of the light beams, the ones that now spill through the smudged panes of glass. the ones that pour across floorboards, daring us to look down and notice. to pay attention. to remember: light follows shadow. even deep down in our souls.

especially deep down in our souls.

because, year after year, spring after winter, the truth comes again and again: there is light. and there’s life all over again. all tender and fledgling and new.

and if you keep your eyes and your heart attuned to the heavens, and what spills from above, you — like the sprouts reaching up from under the snow — will come to know, once again, the holy exhalation of being deeply alive.

its the light daffodiland so we turn a page, and turn forward our clocks. it’s time for more sunlight to seep in to the cracks and the crannies so starved in so many ways. any hour now, my house is filling with faraway and deeply-loved family, so i’m bustling along. scooping up light beams wherever i go. 

blessings to you this light-filled week. anyone else at the end of their dim-lit ropes before this week’s saving grace reached in and rescued?


bathed in birdsong & other stirrings of mama earth

crocus stirrings

dispatch from 02139 (in which, despite snow clouds that scuttle across the sky, the determined among us set out to scratch up vernal offerings….)

all week, at a mere 20 minutes past the hour of five, i’ve been catapulted from my slumbers.

once or twice by the fat cat launching into his basso morning rumble (always a sign of impending doom and certain need for rug-cleaning spritz-spritz-spritz). but more often, and more insistently, it’s the mad chorus of matin birdsong that up and lifts me from my lumpy pillow, and sets me sailing for the windows.

there, ear to glass, i drink in all the early-morning world of cambridge has to offer me. i marvel that amid the cobblestone streets, and the colonial lean-to’s, amid the screech of 21st-century brakes and the occasional ambulance roaring by, whole colonies of bird have fluttered in, hunkered down, and think nothing of opening wide their throats and letting loose with heaven’s warble.

there are those in this house who grumble thusly, who reach for my swift-abandoned pillow and make of it a helmet, a sound-shielding barrier, one that muffles pre-dawn birdsong.

ah, but that is not me.

no, i’m the girl who drinks it in like coca-cola through a straw.

i was, you see, born and raised on bird.

(that cinematic signature of suburban america circa 1960, the family movie, regularly took time out at our house from birthday party, graduation, backyard frolic to pan up to the trees where, for a good five-minute stretch, mr. scarlet tanager, or sir indigo bunting would hold the frame, while abandoned children must have wondered why their markings ever paled to celestial feather. as recently as yesterday, The Original Mama Nature, as we sometimes call my mama, sent out one of her “nature notes” informing all five of her brood — spread all across the continental US — that “The Ducks are back,” as urgent a missive as you’ll ever get from her.)

when you grow up knowing in a blink the orange breast of the robin, the red flash of cardinal, and the iridescent blue of said bunting, you tend to not only pay attention but feel the hard-wired zing of ornithological amazement, in whatever form it brushes, wafts or flutters by you.

and this week, the signal that it sent — loud and clear and unshakably — was that the winter world would soon be melting, and once again the globe would spin toward full-throttle rebirth.

the birds don’t always wait for mercury to make it comfy cozy. they’re impelled by slant of light, by intensity of wattage. and, according to their inner-clickers, it’s high time to get this springtime show on the road.

a girl who pays attention has little choice but to play along. so one of the amusements with which i amuse my wandering eye is one i call spot-the-crocus. as i dilly-dally off to reading room or lecture hall, i pay no mind to cracks and heaves in the sidewalk (always a dangerous distraction). rather, i scan the sidelines in search of anything but brown or gray or muddy-olive-drab.

and, more and more these days, i am hearing the bing-bing-bing of hitting the crocus jackpot. now that the last mounds of snow are melting into oblivion, the sweet nodding purple heads are rising up and offering resurrection. “you’ve made it through the long, hard winter, through howling winds and winter boots that weighted down your feets like so many pounds of ore,” they seem to whisper. “’twill soon be the day when you can bound down the stairs and out the door in little but a sweater. a pink sweater, even. rather than the charcoal gray and black you’ve worn since winter solstice.”

i am feeling hope. but this year, too, with warming winds, and vernal light, comes a hard-to-ignore wince deep down inside. we’ve been told that it’s a common ail of spring for all the nieman fellows. our year of sumptuous living is, undeniably, inching toward the final chapters. and at the speed with which the weeks whiz by, inching is hardly the proper verb. more like avalanche-ing. swallowing us whole. leaving us little time to gasp, to catch our breath, to realize just how soon we’ll be grabbing for the rolls of tape, packing boxes filled with books, and heading home to sift for months through these holy blessed hours, and try to figure out how in the world to live up to all we’ve learned and dreamed and promised.

but that’s the puzzle for another day.

today, this holy silent day of somber friday, i will go deep within. i will wrap myself in sunlight and birdsong, i will watch the sky, and feel the rumble of the earth beneath my knees. i will find my way to the monastery. i will unfurl prayer. and, as i always do, i will let the noisy flocks carry off my hopes and fervent whisper to that up-high station on its way toward heaven.

do you, too, scan high and low for peeps of spring? and how do you go still — if you do — as we enter into these holiest of days in the roman christian calendar? 


of promise, once again

they beg no attention.

they are, simply, bent. bowed in humble salutation, yellow heads drooped, petals clasped in chilly huddle. there beside the soot-stained crust of snow.

they neither stamp their feet, nor clap their wee appendages, calling scant attention to the fact that they defy the icy crystals, heave big load upon their tender shoulders: they are the harbingers of heartbeat, of promise, once again.

“there will be stirrings just around the dreary bend, what is bleak will end,” they whisper, should you put your ear to where the words emerge.

oh, i never can remember what their name is, at least according to the botanists. instead, i call them “miracle,” balm for winter blahs.

as these last gasps come from all of us, come from earth, come from sagging spirit, as the wonder of the winter white turns to mucky brown of spring-that-will-not-come, i seem to forget every year to watch for them.

they leap out while i’ve not noticed, have done their work beneath the snows, labored in silence, unfurled without witness.

they are, like so many gracenotes along the way, that hushed brush of the divine–so often cloaked as mother earth–that present themselves at the very moment when otherwise we might succumb, throw up our arms and flop defeated to the couch.

there is, if you keep watch, a holy vein of resurrection all through life.

just when we think we’re broken, along comes someone, something, to haul us back from the empty brink.

so it is with the fellow on the el car who spies our weary face, our nearly-buckled knees, and leaps up to give his seat. he and his tattooed neck showing gallant empathy.

or the boychild who spies you wincing at the kitchen sink, and rushes over to rub your achy back, tells you in 8-year-old bravado, “go sit down, i can do the dishes.”

or, for those of us who count on bird and tree and sprig to offer counsel, dish out therapeutic session without the hefty fee-per-hour, there comes this time of year a subtle tapping on the shoulder, urging us on, giving reason to believe.

there is, for starters, the sun coming up each morn, the dawn arriving earlier and earlier as if the burning ball of gases realizes fully there is work to be done, a whole half planet needs its thaw; the list of chores, endless.

trees must bud, erupt in blossom. birds, any week now, will catch the wind, fly northerly, land in our branches, weave nests, lay eggs, pluck worms.

bulbs, already wakened, will push their way through dirt, make us swoon with all their cobalt blues and oyster pinks, golden trumpets, in a thousand shades of butter.

the light itself is purer now, lands on the countertop in ways that call us to attention, make us glance out the window, notice, return to task, emboldened.

and then, there in muddy crevices, knots of green poke through. unfurl. offer moment’s tingle, make you stop as you fumble for the keys.

once again, the promise comes. the earth has turned, the seasons haven’t frozen in their tracks. something’s stirring, gently, defiantly, persistently.

once again, winter thaws to spring, and so too we glean the vernal message: after months and weeks of slogging through the knee-high drifts, the mounds, the muck, when shoulders sag and heartbeats flag, alert your eyes, your ears, and soon your nose……

you’ll be wrapped, presently, in the envelope of resurrection. what has slept, will wake. what was still, will stir again.

the way hasn’t been lost, merely hushed before crescendo.

march gives way to promise, once again.

have you spied a sign here or there of reason to hope? is the long winter wearing you down? have you given in to the clump of $2 daffodils at the grocery store, hauled ‘em home as if essential vernal tonic?

blue patches worth the wait

i am drawn to them the way i stumble to the bathroom sink in deep of night. when my throat is parched, and i am not awake so much, except to feel like i am choking on the dryness. and then the waters come, cool ones, wet ones. and the choking goes away. and back i stumble, into sleep. my throat no longer aching to be soothed.

it’s what it feels like, especially at the close of this long winter, when the patches start to sprout. first, like measles made of blue, the spots come here and there. scattered. hardly connected. a little bit of cobalt. another little bit.

but then, suddenly, it’s spreading. whole pools and puddles, patches. old yards, right now, show their age. in the best way i can imagine. they spread out in blue. as if whole blankets from the attic have been taken down the winding stairs, shaken out of all their accumulated winter’s dust and left to air, where thirsty ones like me can drink them in.

it is the single thing of spring, the scilla, or Siberian squill, that sends me soonest to the moon, has me down and on my belly, taking in the endless waves of nodding heads of blue.

they come, the scilla does, where earth is undisturbed. it is, like gray locks on a wise old lady’s head, a crown of age.

oh, you might tuck a bulb or two into the ground. and, should the squirrels not binge, you might find just one or two breaking through the crust, come spring.

but if it’s a swath of blue you’re after–a river, really, blue on blue on blue, paying no mind to where one yard ends and another starts, barely yielding to the street, popping up again just beyond the curb–then you will have to wait. ten, twenty, fifty years, when, squill by squill, they multiply, take up every inch of old and tired real estate.

i’ve nearly crashed the car in this accidental season. can’t keep my eyes on this here road. i’m always scanning for the scilla pools.

and when i come upon them, it’s not enough to merely notice, and keep along my way. why, no, i’ve been known to pull a U-ey, screech the brakes, drop to hands and knees. it’s why, i think, God gave me a belly, the perfect launching pad for taking in the earth at eyeball level.

you might have seen me, sprawled. you might have thought, oh, that lady’s had a stroke. or perhaps she’s lost a ring, and is making like a snake, turning over leaves in hopes of finding gold.

gold, shmold. i am seeking blue. inhaling it. licking it. basically, consuming it through every pore. getting my annual allotment, and then some. i fill my belly now, or else, i wait.

through may and june, when there are, praise be, distractions to occupy my eyes and nose. through july and august, when all i do is sweat. through the whole of fall, when i make do with swirling leaves and pumpkins, too. to december when the tree lights twinkle, and somehow seem to mesmerize me. back to january. february. on to march, the slow road to mental decline if there ever was one. by early april, without a bit of blue, i am nearly sunk. so blue inside i might as well give up. call 9-1-1, come get me.

but then, as if my inner blue is on the loose, the spots appear before my eyes. at first, i think i’m seeing things. could this be a blue mirage? is someone playing cobalt tricks?

and that, my friends, is why you find me, at the height of april, flattened. on the ground, stretched out. rolling in the scilla. seeing if, perhaps, i can stain my skin the blue i thirst for. so the wait won’t be so anguished.

it is a silly thing, how sometimes these meanders go where i’d not one bit intended. i had set out in one direction, but my fingers on the keys took me elsewhere. oh, well, that’s how it is in spring, this season that we wait and wait for. i’ll be back, i guess, to lolligag my way along some other route some coming day. because it seems the squill took over here. do you have something in the spring that makes you go a little gaga? do you have squill where you live? or what is it that lures you over the fine edge?

doesn’t take much

there is one skinny window in my kitchen that i look out a lot. it’s near the coffee gurgler, for starters. and i never start without coffee. not sure i could start without coffee. pretty much the gas to my lawn mower. oh, wait, i don’t have one of those; i have one of those old-fashioned pushing kinds, with the blades that whirl in sharp circles, and spit out the grass from the sides. makes me think of a shortstop with a mouth full of chew.

hmm, but that wasn’t my point in the first place.

so, back to the point.

all right, then.

back to the window.

just outside that ol’ window is my flowerbox, one of the ones i forget to water in summer, and spend the rest of the year–thanks to the disheveled row of dehydrated stubs–being reminded just how guilty i am.

beyond that, though, is a tangle of bushes that i pretend is the woods. oh, sure, if you look up and not down, you can see the brick of the big house next door. you might see the gutters as well. and that might signal your brain, something like this, “psst, this is not the woods. this is suburbia. and you are no more than the length of a stretched-out tall someone away from the people next door.”

but i make sure i look down. i don’t like the noise in my head that tries to shake loose all my cobwebs and gauzy-edged dreams.

far as i care, i am in the woods. and the tall skinny window is that of my fairy-tale cottage, and there in my woods, the seasons and birds muck around in that bramble, close enough that i can keep watch.

so it was, that the difference between monday and tuesday was rather quite something. on monday, i swear, i had nothing but sticks out the window, but tuesday, oh my.

as you can see up above, in that little picture i took just so you could see too, i had the stirrings of life.

now, i admit, it’s not much. and it’s hardly dramatic. why, you could be barreling by and not even notice. not unless that proud little branch with the nubs on the end, and the first sprouts of leaves, reached out and poked you in the eye. said something like, “hey, look, i’m not just a stick anymore.” then, as you cussed and patted your teary old eye, you might notice.

but i–maybe like you–have been on the prowl. i have been combing the earth, hiking the woods. i’ve been down on my knees, practically begging, dear mama earth, please please fork it up. puh-leez give us some sign that all is not lost, and we are not stuck in perpetual whatever this is. not quite winter. sure not spring. a cold mucky preamble that might never get to the story.

so there it was, maybe. the answer to at least one of my prayers. nothing big. just a little green. a little more nub than the day just before.

it was enough, though, for me to stop and to let down my jaw.

and that’s when i made the connection. life is like that, 99 days out of 100. the growth that we’re looking for isn’t dramatic. won’t bang us over the head with its sparkle and fizz. might even be drab, not fuchsia and cobalt and knock-you-down yellow.

sometimes, it’s just a few sweet leaves on the end of a twig on a very old bush. they unfurl. they inhale the light and the sweet notes of warmth that blow every once in a while.

they stir.

they put forth.

all over again, a life force is tapped. the cycle of birth, of bloom, and of fade, is set back in motion.

we are, all of us, a part of that flow. we grow in barely perceptible bits. we are not like our children, those swift sprouting beings whose legs, i swear, grow in inches, from the time we tuck them in bed till they rise the next morning.

and sometimes it doesn’t take much, just the barest small measure of growing, of quarter-inching toward life, to make all the difference in the whole world.

sometimes the chasm between hope and hopelessness is barely as wide as the breadth of a new blade of grass.

sometimes it comes in measures you might overlook: the deepening red of the cardinal; the early brown push-ups of sprouts through the crust of the earth, the flitting of sparrows with string and fuzz in their beaks, a nest in the making.

sometimes, we, too, start to unfold. forgiveness seeps in where heartache once held its tight grip. the ache in our heart lightens. the words we were groping for, the ones we needed to whisper, out loud, they come to us, at long last.

sometimes, it doesn’t take much.

but there it is, the barely perceptible sign that the thing that we prayed for, the thing that we needed, is coming to life.

now, we keep watch and we wait. and we try to believe. what is good, what is right, what is life, will return.


doesn’t take much.

are you like me drumming your fingers, counting the hours for the full chorus of spring, and all that it stands for? it is indeed the season of hope. and after this here winter, these days of endless gray and chill and forecasts for snow, it comes achingly slow. but while the spring always comes, so too it reminds that all we await, might come as well. what do you yearn for this day? and are there signs out your window of hope?

drumming my fingers for spring: the sequel

not to whine (which are the three surest indicators a whine is in the offing, the immediate offing), but they promised.

oh, sure, they said. snow melted by wednesday. warm winds aswirling. heck, i had visions of little spring things poking their sweet nubile necks out from under the insistently dripping-away ice crust.

i had visions of sweaters, and only sweaters. i thought boots would be shoved to the back of the closet. i thought i might be able to skip again–or at least ditch the old-lady shuffle that keeps me from breaking my neck, and my hip, or merely my spongy old wrist.

dang, i had visions of calling this dispatch, giddy. as in, i thought i would be.

but noooooooooooooo.

here it is, wednesday, all right. and out my window i see this: snow snow snow. not white snow, or not much of it anyway. but rather whole gobs and piles and tundras of gray snow. black snow. snow that has, sorry, worn out its welcome. be white, be fluffy. but do not loiter long past the due date.

don’t know about you, but it’s all gotten me a little bit grouchy. like once when i was little and someone promised the circus was coming and i could go, too. but then the day came and went and not even a whiff of an elephant swishing its tail did i get.

i know i’m the one who said i liked my winters the real way. the pioneer way. hard and fierce, and pounding right on my windows.

but that was way back in february, before my inner hopscotcher-and-jumproper had fully awakened. this here is march. and they promised, is all.

it’s just all a big tease, is the problem. the light whispers spring. the big papa cardinal’s out there singin’ his lungs out. and the weather maps over the weekend showed bright shining arrows pushing the cold right up to some canadian lumberjack camp, where at least they’ve got the beards for these things.

geez, someone even thought it’d be funny–hysterically funny, i’ll bet–to flip all the clocks forward, trick us into pretending, what, it was the third week in april. ha. some joke.

here it is four whole days later and i am still thinking its lunch time when really it’s time for the dinner to bubble away there on the stove.

so what if my children are slurping their soup at quarter till eight, and then rolling to bed, because the clock says so. and only because.

far as i know, i’m not the only one grumpy. even the sparrows, the ones outside my window, they’ve given it up. ditched the whole plan for that egg-hatching nest. they seem to be huddled instead under a dried grassy blanket. chattering their little bird teeths.

my cat apparently catches their drift. i open the door, the way i usually do, he looks bothered, darts me a glance. “you must be joking,” he apparently thinks, as he tucks his tail right back under his haunches and refuses to budge.

it is all rather hopeless.

i mean, what is the point of all those deep stirrings inside? the ones that want to break out the pink and the soft seafoamy green. the ones that drool for a fiddlehead plucked from the woods. or a fat stalk of asparagus. or a strawberry that oozes its shirt-staining juice down your chin and onto your so-called bosom.

i, for one, am employing desperate measures: i saw in the store, two bucks for a handful of daffodils, deeply imported indeed. i grabbed ’em. paid no mind to the fact that their overseas flight might add an inch to the size of my old carbon footprint.

i cheated as well in the produce department. snared me a fistful of spears, asparagus spears. so far, i’m holding off on the berries. i’ve no need for ones flown halfway around the world. from a place where the sun truly shines, to here where it’s all a big hoax. (and besides, they are hard as rock those faux fruits, stripped of whatever it is that gives them a right to their juice-through-a-straw-sucking name.)

oh, goodness. i’m so sorry to take up your time with all this here whining. perhaps like the groundhog i should return to my lair. or whatever it is you’d call an underground hide-out where the sun never shines. and when it does, it’s still cold as cold gets.

hmm, sounds like i’m due for spring break. too bad that too could prove to be rather wrenching. i’m staying put, while the rest of the world i’m pretty sure has flights to places that don’t mess with your head. places where spring is what it is. and not simply a season that teases and taunt.

sign below if you too are bothered by all this recalcitrant weather. the winds that won’t warm. the snow that won’t go. the ice that refuses to melt. sing your sad song below. and maybe we’ll find solace in each other’s deep undying misery. and maybe some of you folks who live in sensible places–places where warm is warm, and not maybe–perhaps you can blow us some promising weather.

into the woods

leave it to the italians. they have a name for today. they call it “pasquetta,” or little easter.

why, they wonder, after all the deprivation and darkness of lent, the shadow that burst, finally, into light, into the unbridled exuberance of easter, why, they wonder, why pack it up like so many leftover baskets, and tuck it on the shelf ’til next year?

mais non, they would say if they were french. but, of course, they say it in italian. dag nab it, is what they mean, though, again, they don’t say it quite that way.

those smart italians, they do a very smart thing: they grab one of those baskets, they pack it with leftover yummy things from easter, and they take to the woods. specifically, they set out in search of a watery place.

water, on pasquetta, is key. there is, depending on your level of gusto for this little easter, some splashing involved.

in fact, all over europe today, there are folks splashing. they are not being mean to each other. as a matter of fact, they are partaking of the little easter blessing.

in hungary, apparently, boys knock on doors. girls answer. boys splash girls. girls invite them inside. they feast. they send boys home with wildly painted easter eggs.

on easter tuesday, the girls return the favor. they knock and splash.

it must be riotous, all this knocking and splashing and heading to the woods with your leftover pink and green eggs.

but, besides the fact that it’s quaint, there is, it seems, something rich about the european approach to little easter. to all of life, perhaps, but certainly to little easter.

it is about taking linear measure of time, peeling back the ordinary, extracting mystery and sacred, raising simple hours into the realm of the extraordinary. it is about pushing away the rock of workday expectation, exploring the cavern of the deep unknown, the unexpected. reveling on a monday.

because a friend i love has been telling me for months i need to, have to, must not sleep until i read, “to dance with God,” (paulist press, $14.95) a poetic, eye-opening 245 pages on family ritual and community celebration written by gertrud mueller nelson, i finally cracked the cover over the weekend.

she is very wise, this deeply jungian, deeply spiritual woman, who in 1986 wrote this book while living in california. she says this of what she calls “holy time out”:

“holes are created in time through the creation of holidays–or, indeed, holy days–where the ordinary and everyday stops and time is set apart and not used. every seventh day (sabbatical) since the story of creation is a day of being, a ‘day of rest.’ that is what a feast is. the feast has its origin and its justification in its dedication to celebrating and worship. it belongs to the gods.”

she goes on to tell us that plato, of all thinkers, put it this way: “the gods, taking pity on mankind, born to work, laid down a succession of recurring feasts to restore them from fatigue and gave them the muses and apollo, their leader, and dionysis, as companions in their feasts–so that, nourishing themselves in festive companionship with the gods, they should stand again upright and erect.”

the feast–or holy day–then, is, “the very act which makes the transition from crawling beasts to the upright and conscious human,” nelson writes, “a transformation which makes what is human equal to and a companion (comrade) of the gods.”

i don’t know about you but we don’t spend a whole lot of time around here even noticing feast days, let alone packing our baskets and heading to the woods.

apparently, gertrud does. she says that on easter monday she always let her children stay home from school. they went off to church early in the morning, but then they took off to the woods, often to a marshy place. through binoculars, they watched the water birds, the mating birds, doing their springlike thing. they inhaled the woods, the little tips of tender green budding on all the branches, turning the gray of winter woods into the lacy green of early spring.

getting wet, she says, was always part of the picnic. back to the baptismal waters, and the holy sprinklings, that are so very much a part of easter.

immediately, i found all of this a notion i could warm to: an excuse for picnic. tromping through the woods. stopping time for one more day. stealing children from the classroom, for the sake of exuberating spring (i know, i know, it’s not a word, but i just made it one, so now it is).

so last night, well past sleeping time, i tiptoed in the dark to the bedside of my almost-man-child, the one who loves the woods and who also had just flicked out the light when he heard me coming up the stairs. i told him my little easter idea. at first, he broke out in a grin (he turned the light back on, that’s how i know that), but then he thought about the school day, and thought, not even for a lunch hour picnic could he leave the load at hand.

oh, well, i sighed. fact is, we might have done our little easter backwards. we had taken to the woods already, on big easter. taken kosher-for-passover-for-easter picnic to the woods, in our glorious mixing of religions. it seemed the place to be, the woods that is. for all the reasons up above.

but still, i think, i might take the little one on a pasquetta picnic. or maybe in the twilight, i’ll take my boys by the hand, and take them off to where the gods urge us to recline. just one more day, a holy day.

a holy day for splashing in the woods. i think i like this little easter.

all right, all you wise people, do some of you already know and do this little easter? have you been splashing away for years without me? and what of the notion of not confining the holiday to one day, but extending exuberance? might we do well to weave more holiness and more exuberance into our ordinary time? are the italians, and all the europeans, not onto something? something much larger than little easter?

photo credit: my sweet will. taken on big easter. we both spotted the moss island amid the marsh; my camera said it was busy reclining and couldn’t be bothered, so will came to my rescue, once again.

p.s. it’s monday, the lazy susan spins afresh…

being e. bunn

when i signed up for this being-a-mama thing, there are many points i failed to adequately ponder.

(we’ll not dive, not today anyway, into some of those matters that i might wisely have run through the almighty thinker, that mass of cells between my ears, that might better have equipped me for this madre job. we’ll leave that for a less auspicious day. this, after all, is countdown week for judy garland belting song of easter bonnet and said parade.)

certainly, in days b.c. (before child, that would be), i never grasped the charm, the pure delight, of packing joy, delivering it, complete with jelly beans, in a straw-braided basket. the easter basket, of course.

the santa thing, i might have given thought. you know, some winter’s afternoon, as a pouty post-believing child, flung (with requisite drama) upon my bed, legs cocked at the knees and crossed, kicking foot up in the air. thinking: when i grow, i’m going to be one heck of a santa. i’ll not forget the china teaset, the one with tiny painted flowers.

but easter? who spent much time considering the occupational upside of mr. e. bunn, esq.?

the basket, while i do recall a spectacular sponge paint set when i was 5, was, in the house where i grew up, more pure sugar rush, ten grubby little hands racing to the pink-and-purple plastic baskets, inhaling beans, then dashing off to rest of resurrected morning.

i failed to grasp the paschal possibility.

i would say i rather stumbled into the rabbit hole, into the unexpected magic of tiptoeing through the night, leaving trail of cut-out bunny feets, and hiding the basket of just-hatched tenderness in a place that, come morning, little feets would have to find.

there is something, something far beyond charming, about slipping inside these make-believe, oversized, dispatchers of joy, be it the one with wiggly tail or the chap with jiggly belly.

there is something that almost takes your breath away when you realize, poof, you’re all grown up, and you now are the one who, with your brush of many hues, shades and colors the someday stories, the memories, of what it was to grow up in the house where you preside.

it’s up to you, you realize, you who tucks tenderness in a basket, to tenderize the hearts of those who traipse through the land where children romp. at least in your house.

but, indeed, i have discovered, and now, myself, i practically jiggle with the wonder that it brings, that nowadays i get to pack the baskets for those little sparkling eyes, the ones that, certainly, will be up and out from under covers, rubbing, shouting some early-morning merriment, as they stumble down the stairs and round the bend, ultra-sonic easter radar leading them without wrong turn straight to where the sugar, in several forms, awaits.

before we get too far on that sugar thought, let me toss this sad disclaimer, admit this thing that might make you sigh a sigh; say, phew, thank heaven i wasn’t born to that ol’ mama. here’s the sorry truth: i don’t do unending sugar at easter. it’s not about sugar in this house.

it’s about something far, far sweeter.

and that, i think, is why i love it so.

i have a someone, a sandra sweetpea, who taught me how to do easter. instructed me in easter basket 101. like many things she taught me, she hasn’t a clue, really, how deep the lessons she imparted. there was no hand-out. no quiz, or chapter review.

instead there was a little shop, a shop called sweetpea, a shop of natural toys and classic books, a shop where imagination unlocked the door and set the stories spinning. sandra was the shopkeeper. and if you studied the way she gathered things, the tender, earth-spun beauty she gathered in her shop, in baskets, on antique bookshelves, tucked in woodland scenes that you swore the fairies might have visited, then you learned a thing or ten about quietly offering a whole other sort of being a child.

being a child–or a mama or a papa or a someone with child heart–who listens to the rhythms of the season, who understands the gift in playing richly with simple child’s toys, who breathes in the magic of a beautifully spun storybook.

it was like a refuge and a respite from the worldly, that little shop on southport in chicago. i’d pull back the door, a bell would tinkle, and then, surely, sandra would appear from behind a curtain, all sparkling eye and wisdom. quietly, without words sometimes, she’d lead me by the hand to something full of beauty. she would laugh her marvelous grown-up-little-girl laugh, and i would see the magic. then she might spend a minute telling me about the marvelous soul who tromped the woods, carved the elfin house, spun the wool, dyed the cloth from flower petals or vegetable scrapings. i would stand there, spell-bound.

my children’s toy chests were never stuffed. but they were rich in things–an elf’s tree house, rows of books, simple blocks–that will last forever.

and so it was sandra who taught me easter baskets, too. to go to sweetpea for easter, my pilgrimage each holy week, was to come home with a finger-sized bunny so sweet i’d want to carry him to bed with me (or feed him itsy-bitsy carrots). a book or two, the pages splashed with springtime colors. some little pack of seeds, forget-me-not, or carrot. just enough to whisper, the earth is waking up from winter’s slumber. all life is new, rejoice.

and so it was the other day that i wandered back to where sandra now presides. the sweden shop, it’s called, but i like to think of it as the swede pea. for it seems she’s transplanted plenty of her magic there. (her sweetpea, sadly, closed.)

the little bunny smiling from above–sandra, who is quite something with thread and needle, made him. stuffed him first with lavender, real lavender, from someone’s garden. then she stitched him up. when you rub his belly, lightly, with just the press of your finger, the lavender wafts. i bought two. one has little button eyes and nose. of course, i bought a book. a book from green tiger press (collectors of breathtaking, knee-buckling illustrations from days past), a book called, “the truth about easter rabbits.” of course, i bought a pack of carrot seeds. and a big fat orange carrot stuffed with all orange jelly beans.

come saturday night, when all is clear (i can’t promise quiet, since my littlest rabbit has made quite a habit of hopping out of bed in recent weeks), i will make like e. bunny himself, and gather my new-life wares. i will tuck simple magic in a basket. i will smile all the while. it is hard not to melt when tucking easter in a basket.

i will make one basket for each boy in this house, and then i will tiptoe to a hiding place. when all is finally still, i will sprinkle pink construction-paper rabbit feet and baby carrots from edge of beds through the hall, down the stairs where the trail will then diverge, one branch south and one southwest. each boy is on his own to find what easter brings.

and i’ll stand off in a corner, softly soaking in the joy. no one told me how sweet it is to play the easter bunny. and that, perhaps, is the sweetest secret ever. one i’ll not stop, ever, believing wholly in.

oh, if only i could, i’d make a lovely basket for every one of you. the house would be so filled, there’d be lavender wafting everywhere. and plenty of old-fashioned carrot bunches, complete with carrot tops, those leafy greens that are, perhaps, the crowning glory of every bam-made easter basket.
do you, or you, or you, find joy in being a big invisible bunny? and do you have any secret things you always search for in a basket of your own making?