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Category: weather change

picking up the pieces

picking up pieces

it’s april in the flatlands. and that means twister season. and so it was that yesterday blew across the plains. blew mightily.

for long hours of the day, the sky was charcoal gray, was roiling. every once in a while, the clouds opened wide, let loose a gusher. early in the morning, when i stepped back into the house, after driving my sweet mate to the train amid thundering downpour, i heard what sounded like a shower running.

now, i live with some mighty forgetful folk, but i’ve not lately known them to forget to turn off the shower. so i poked around. more like dashed. followed the sound of splish-splash-splosh till i got to the top of the basement stairs. there i leapt, two stairs at a time, a mighty lope, if i dare say so.

the in-home waterfall — the one i’d not ordered — it was gurgily demonstrating its hydro powers. water fell, all right. poured from the ceiling down the wall, and rolled threateningly toward the electrical outlets where i’d yet to pull the plugs.

i marveled. or maybe it was more like gawked. (you’ve had, perhaps, those elongated seconds where your brain cells and synapses are trying to connect, are trying to understand just why it is the bead-board wall is making like a shower head.) before too many seconds ticked away, i grabbed a stash of towels, a bucket, a mop. heck, i might have grabbed a fly swatter had there been one in sight. (i’m not sure why; i was grabbing anything on a stick, anything long enough to reach and plug the hole. as if i could keep the avalanche from coming.)

in time, the gushing slowed. became laconic drip. but all day i kept vigil, kept my ear tuned for the susurrations of a leaking basement.

by then, the skies darkened, and the weatherman interrupted the broadcast to flash rainbow-colored radar maps onto the TV screen. awful tornadoes tore western and northern illinois to bits. a 50-mile swath, one half-a-mile wide, set new records for hell on earth. gashed the state, and everything in its path, from rockford clear north and east into wisconsin.

out my own windows, the winds picked up. the glass panes rattled. and then the howls and whistles started in, the sound of hurling air in swift pursuit of havoc.

i must have been asleep by the time the worst of it whirled through. i heard nothing but the cat’s meow at 3 a.m. i let him out but i couldn’t see through the dark of night. couldn’t see the fence blown over. couldn’t see the bird house poles that had been plucked up and torpedoed, steep-roofed projectiles, flying arrows through the night.

but once the morning came, once i stepped outside, it was clear, was evident. the yard was not what it had been. something fierce had shattered things.

and, come morning, there was only the picking up of pieces to be done.

it’s uncanny sometimes, the way the outer world aligns with what’s inside. deep down inside. it’s uncanny how, on this becalmed morning after, i roam the soggy grass, i search for shards of wood, and splintered bird house parts. i pick up the pieces of my storm-splattered yard, and deep inside i try to re-assemble shards of my heart that, too, have been shattered in these recent hours.

some days, in the aftermath of storm, it’s the rounds we make, the assessing damage, the gathering of brokenness, that serves to make us whole. whether the brokenness is from the weather’s wrath, or that of someplace deeper.

did you stay safe last night? what are your healing rituals the morning after something’s torn you to pieces?

the blessing of an eeyore day

eeyore day

count me in the company of arthur wellesley, 1st duke of wellington, and eeyore, the donkey with the pinned-on tail. mistake us not for misanthropes of the first order, but rather aficionados of the rainy day. the gloomy day. the day when it seems the heavens have dropped down an afghan the color of soot, and punctuated it with the drippings of a long and leaky pipe.

wellesley, you might recognize, was the fellow who thought to rubberize his war boots, back in the early days of the 19th century — voila, “the wellie.” eeyore, well, hopefully, you know him from the early pages of a.a. milne’s “the house at pooh corner,” the titular house being the one constructed of sticks and twigs to give poor gloomy eeyore a place to cower from whatever poured from high above.

it’s been months and months since anyone around here woke up to the ping-ping-ping of precipitation pouncing against the downspouts. or rat-a-tat, hard upon the windowpanes. and when’s the last time the squawking voice in the radio box spewed the onomatopoeic forecast “drizzle,” all morning long? pureed with fog and mist.

to borrow a line from john hersey’s “hiroshima,” maybe it’s merely an “irresistible atavistic urge to hide under leaves.” or maybe it’s the irish in me, most at home when the thinning between heaven and earth is all a blur, and we face the day cloaked in skein upon skein of sheep sacrifice.

i fear i might have been the little child who, when faced with a crayola super pack of 64 waxen sticks, grabbed straight for the shadowed hues, charcoal gray and periwinkle (colors added in 1949), ignoring altogether the sunnier, carnation pink and aquamarine (both ’49ers, as well).

it’s the depth of texture i find in gray days, in sodden days. there’s something to sink into, to rub up against — even if it waterlogs your socks.

perhaps it’s my fondness for worms, which come out to play when sidewalks slick and water gurgles up from the thawing terrestrial ooze.

but i’ve a hunch it all circles back to page 11, of pooh’s corner, the page on which the world of children’s literature, and generations curled on mama’s and papa’s laps, first met the sad-eyed donkey, in this little exchange that might be the battle cry of the glass-half-full brigade:

“hallo, eeyore,” said christopher robin, as he opened the door and came out. “how are you?

“it’s snowing still,” said eeyore gloomily.

“so it is.”

and freezing.”

“is it?”

“yes,” said eeyore. “however,” he said, brightening up a little, “we haven’t had an earthquake lately.”

who could not fall hard — and forever — for a four-legged prognosticator who works so hard to find a shard of light amid the endless shadow?

no earthquake lately, indeed. nothing but the silent falling snow. and cold that takes your breath away without a word. so what’s not to delight with the noisy brand of precipitation? the pit-a-pat that lulls you into dreamland, and syncopates your morning’s rhythm?

it’s but a whisper in the world beyond our windows, but it’s one that draws me in, and holds me close. and i consider it a blessing. the blessing of an eeyore day.

short, sweet, simple. more like weather dispatch with a bit of muse. or maybe just excuse to pull an old favorite from the bookshelf. i’m headed out for worm patrol any minute now, that long-held mission to save all squirmy things from dry-docked death. 

when you were little, what color did you grab primarily from the crayon box? and what might that say about your natural-born palette? and in the silly questions department, who was your favorite character from the 100-acre wood? pooh? piglet? christopher robin? or, mine, eeyore? (truth is, i love them each and all.)

nose pressed to the window pane

nose pressed to the window

dispatch from 02139 (in which “epic” — yes, epic, say the headline writers — hurri-blizzard blows in off the atlantic, and the winds begin to whistle their warning cry…)

it is a posture that pulls us back to long-ago days, days when you woke up to the cackle of a radio telling you school was closed, when you heard your mama down in the kitchen, not rustling the brown bags of school lunches in the making but rather cranking up the griddle for stay-home vittles.

it’s the posture of nose pressed to the window pane. it’s the posture of waiting. heart pumping. peering into the far-away-but-coming-closer.

it’s the posture of knowing adventure’s tucked behind the not-so-distant cloud. it’s awaiting mama nature. mama nature who, in the end and after all, rules over all her globe and sky, and every once in a while, reminds us of our humble place on earth.

so it is that i sit here, with windows east and south, keeping watch. the sky’s gone sooty gray. all shadow’s slipped away. the bird-seed tube that dangles just beyond the sill is rocking back and forth, making me a wee bit seasick if i stare too long.

this is the perfect perch for storm patrol, peering out beyond the rooftops, through the limbs of trees. i see smoke tendrils twirling up from chimney pots. i’ll soon gasp as tree trunks practice yoga bends.

winds at 85 miles per hour, the weatherman predicts. snows falling at the rate of four inches per hour. tumbling till they pile to three-feet-and-counting.

but, deary me, whooshing air at 85 m.p.h. up against flakes that weigh in at nothingness, it’s the equation for drifts the likes of which i’ve never seen. sounds like being a speck of milk inside a whirring blender. when someone clicks “puree.”

no wonder the sky-readers turned to their thesaurus to pull out a label for this blizzard. at last — after much office to and fro, i imagine — they decided to dub it “epic,” so epic it is, and epic we shall see.

it seems fitting, so fitting, that in this year of living sumptuously we — our little triangle of cambridge explorers — should endure spells of sumptuous weather. why, in just six months, there’s been one hurricane, one earthquake, and now this epic blizzard. good thing i packed my yellow rubber knee-high galoshes. i’ll be out trekking before this day is done.

for it’s one thing to inhale a storm from behind the glass, and wholly another what-the-heck to plant yourself amid the whirls and whoops.

why, you didn’t think life at veritas university would slow for any old avalanche of snow, did you? mais non! classes are marching on, clear through the morning. and at high noon, we’re being called to what promises to be a spine-tingling talk with a mexican journalist who risks her life — and aims to protect her compatriot periodistas — telling the truth about the drug wars that have torn apart her homeland.

for marcela turati, who dodges death threats and machine gun bullets on a daily basis, i can dodge a few flying snowflakes. even if they whirl at never-before-observed velocities.

other than that one arctic exposition, we’re hunkered down for the duration. we’ve all the essentials: popcorn, apples, soup. extra blankets, just in case. a fat cat who loves to curl beside our undulations. we’ve neighbors down below and just across the way, should we need to draw in the wagons — or trade one last drop of milk for one slab of vienna pastry (the doctor down below happens to be a fiendish baker, and the buttery vapors that slink up through the floorboards are enough to have me drooling at his door).

fact is, if you’re going to call yourself a bostonian for the year, you’d better weather a tried-and-true nor’easter’. i’d hate to amble home a pretender, head bowed in shame for having shirked a little tussle with the snow clouds that whirl in off the atlantic.

so far, with 14 minutes till the bewitching hour, there’s not a flake in sight. i’ll sit here for a few more hours, tomes piled to my left, eyes trained on the graying skies, waiting, waiting.

alert to what the heavens offer up today. and tuned in to how the human spirit pitches and dives along with all the whirling, swirling, dumping.

it’s front row to one celestial theatre. and right now, the players must be in the wings, clearing throats, slipping on their costumes. any moment, the curtain’s due to rise…

do you love snow days? odd weather days? what is it about the chance to draw in, simmer kettles of soup, slither into our snuggliest sweaters? three stories off the ground, i feel as if i’m in a tree fort, with the best seat in the house. if it gets outlandishly exciting here, i’ll be back to record the weather dramas. for now, be safe, be warm, and thanks for pulling up a chair.

in the spirit of my beloved helen vendler poetry class, perhaps i ought to dig for a poem to mark this snowy occasion……any submissions out there?

yellow snowy nightduring the night, under the street lamp out my office window….that little bump down there, that’s a car on its way to being buried…

snowy deckand come morning, here’s what befell the back deck. those chairs are hard-edged, with sharp corners. until the snow, they had no undulations. now they do….

the gift of ahhhhh….

the morning around me, at last, is gray. like an old cashmere blanket pulled from a chest, it wraps me.

the dirt in the garden is dark again. puddles pool at the curb. the leaves, nearly every last one of ’em, are beaded, are shimmering, what’s left of the wee-hour rain.

holy respite this morning. as if the whole globe let out a sigh. started to breathe again.

too many days in a row here, even at dawn, it’s been bright white when you awake. the sun, working overtime. as if someone shuffled off to bed, forgot to turn down the thermostat. ol’ sun, just cranked through the night.

when you start out the day dodging the heat, plopping ice in your coffee, mapping your walk to the train by tracing the shadow, sticking close to the side of the street where the shade falls, you know it’s an uphill of a climb.

and now, as with so many sieges, it’s taken a pause. given all of us mortals, or at least the ones who get prickly in heat, a chance to inhale, to shake off the sense we’d entered inferno.

i’ve been holding my breath all week, knowing, trusting, the end would come.

all day yesterday i was tracking the cold front. so much so that the people who type all around me found themselves wholly amused by my weather refrain.

thing is, i grew up with a mama who lived and breathed for that cold front, when the winds took a hook, made a drastic, resuscitating U turn. stopped their unrelenting howl from the south and the west, where, fueled by the desert and infinite dry, dusty plains, they’d reached insufferable digits, and then, without flutter or warning, they’d turn right around, come off the lake, that long lean ever-cool lake that is chicago’s cooling station.

why, my mama would yell, closest thing to a hallelujah i ever heard, “cold front! cold front! open the north windows!”
and we’d all start the cold-front dance, all of her hot little chickadees. we’d bang up the stairs, shove open the double-hung panes on the side of the house nearest the wind-change, then we’d whirl into the yard where we’d stick out our arms, making like bi-wings parked at an airfield, and we’d spin and laugh till the last drop of sweat was absorbed.

then, to polish it off, we might troop back to the kitchen, where we’d plop the last of the frozen kool-aid cubes, the ones poured as bright-colored potion into the clanky old metal ice-cube tray, the ones we had to wait for for hours, the ones that made your tongue and your lips and your chin and your knees (if they dribbled that far) an odd shade of red. a red that wouldn’t go away without scrubbing.

seems me and my brothers just grew up believing in the cold-front refrain. we knew it was coming, sooner or later.
and once it came, all frolic came out.

our house growing up wasn’t necessarily filled with frolic, but that cold off-the-lake air, it made my mama dance. and we leapt right along.

not a bad lesson, when you think about it. knowing full well that the hot air will end. that if you endure it long enough, that sense that someone’s kicking your head, and you’re about to buckle right at the knees, that odd knowing your poor heart is trying so hard to keep ticking, it all up and evaporates.

once the cold front comes. once the winds turn around.

and so it’s been this week. we put up with hell to get here to the reprieve. where gray, and not bright, is a beautiful color.

hey, someone open the windows.

how did you survive the heat siege, which seems to have swept the whole country, ‘cept for marquette michigan where the weathermap tells me, they clocked a measly 78 degrees?
and, speaking of lessons, was there one particular lesson you learned over and over, one drummed in your head when you were a kid, one that comes in handy now that you’re all grown up, and the one now charged with deep understandings of the rhythms of life?

in the dark

no one had a clue it was coming.

then, stumbling through a monday morning’s making of coffee, i heard some chatter on the radio about high winds that had halted two trains, a coupla counties away. i glanced out the window, saw nothing but sunshine, felt the start of another hot day.

hmm, i thought, what station is this, did someone jiggle my dial? there’s no storm for miles around. is this some other state they’re talking about?

then, from the little box that sits by the knives, came word that this so-named “ferocious storm” would be hitting yet another town, a town i knew to be, oh, 30 or 50 miles from the first ones they mentioned, in a mere 10 minutes. i did the map in my head, thought, no way, short of a ramrodding locomotive–or a hellbent tornado–could any winds sweep across that many miles in so few minutes.

and then, just as i was cocking my eyebrows, beginning to gather the message, they mentioned that a mere five minutes after that incredible span, the storm would be rushing the lakefront. and they named the leafy town where i live.

why, we had a boy out on a lagoon at the very instant these words came over the wires. another boy, the little one, had woken up early and helped me dash to click on the TV in time to see a picture, on the national weather channel, mind you, from our very own not-so-far-away airport, where the winds were all whirly and quite smoky gray. egad.

not a minute later our sunshine was swallowed by black clouds. clouds that somehow cast an eery green-yellow, like the rim of a bruise after a day or two, when the deep purple bull’s-eye of the place you got bumped goes the color of neptune, or the mold on your overdue cheese.

before i could yell, “get to the basement,” the winds started howling, the trees bent, nearly snapped. lights flickered once, then twice, then kerpluey, lights out.

for the next 56 hours.

which, when your nice warm refrigerator is turning your larder to ruins, when you cannot open the windows for the stifling heat outside, when you take to the car to crank up the A-C for a short drive to nowhere, is a very long time.

once i’d surrendered the food, either tucked it away in the ice box of my elderly next-door neighbor who happens to have a back-up generator, or the freezer of a dear across-town friend who was lucky enough not to live on our blown-out grid, and chalked up the rest to nature’s merciless toll, i settled into the mystery of this pioneer moment.

made like a girl on a black-out adventure.

i discovered, of course, the beautiful buried beneath all the darkness.

it didn’t take long.

a few hours after the sun finally dropped beyond the horizon, a few hours after my eyes had seen anything bright, i happened to glance up over the tree line. i saw the brightest, most heavenly orb i’d studied in a long, long time.
it was the moon, of course, and i marveled.

realized once again, as i traced its beams across the ruffled leaves of the trees, across the sharp-angled shingles of the roof, and down to the brick path where i stood, just how majestic that moon must have been in a long-ago world where every night brought blanket of darkness.

i whispered benediction, and made a promise i hope isn’t futile. “dear moon, don’t let me take you for granted.”

not long after, i saw that the fireflies were blinking more boldly than in a long, long time.

it’s not often, i realized, that power goes out in the summer. so instead of studying ice crystals by moonlight, i got the gift of the firefly flicker.

quite a pile, the bright lights of darkness.

then, later still, i stepped outside to see if i could catch a breeze. i was chomping a midnight apple, and let my eyes roam all around, drinking in the layers of shadow. i must have looked up right away, because right away i was struck by all the extra stars studding the sky that very dark night.

and on it went.

when i happened to be tiptoeing around, somewhere near 3 o’clock in the morning, i noticed for the first time ever, i think, that fireflies pull all-nighters. they keep up the flicker, it seems, till the dawn shooshes them off to their beds.

and so it went.

all week, it was candlelight and conversation. the first night, in full little-house-on-the-prairie mode, it was lanterns and dinner, and whatever we could salvage from the warming-up fridge.

the next, when the little one and his papa high-tailed it to our freezer friend’s fully-operating telly (the better to take in the all-star game), the college-bound boy and i sat in the dark at the kitchen table and sipped prosecco, our words lit only by one flickering candle and the magic of a whole evening alone, with no blinks or beeps to disturb us.

i drank deeply, i tell you, of that rare gift, knowing full well that all too soon the boy would be off a thousand miles away, and i’d be longing for such a night, alone in the dark with my deep-thinking child, there at the shadowy table. i knew right then the terrible winds had brought me a forever treasure.

in the end i wound up with my fridge purged of bottles and condiments that had long exceeded their statutes of limitation. who needed the maraschino cherries from three summers ago, the ones i’d never quite managed to toss, but now had to?

and once all those overdue jars and bottles were gone, and the milk and the cheeses dumped, sadly, into the garbage, i scrubbed that fridge–and the basement freezer–top to bottom, inside and out.

i am back in business now. lights, once again, go on whenever you flick the magical switch (and i am still marveling, two days later).

the fridge is stocked with whatever we need to get by. the freezer awaiting my generous contributions.

i’ve hauled out the vacuum, and sucked up a week’s worth of grit clomped in on the bottoms of baseball cleats. i caught up on the loads of laundry piled high in the soon-musty basket.

and now my sweet little boy, the one quite bothered by all of the darkness, he’s come down with some germ that is making him all hot and achy.

this very long week has come to an end.

and i’ll not soon forget the beauty i found in the darkness.

were you in the dark this week? where did you find the beauty? and if this week wasn’t one that brought you darkness, where have you found it on the dark days you’ve known?
p.s. i always hate it on days when my writing has to come in bits and spurts. it’s hard to spin lines when nursing a sick little child. so please see through the bumps, and pardon the lack of a flow……

garden emergency! garden emergency!

it appears that after you’ve dwelled under the same roof as moi for, oh, a few weeks, or, heck, your whole lifetime, you get used to the regular punch of the panic alarm.

might be the smoke billowing up from the stove. might be a critter whimpering by the backdoor, come lookin’ for a spoonful of sugar, or a wrap in a blanket. might be me reading the news, tears rolling down my cheeks. or might be a phone call, one that sets me to frettin’ and gasping.

whatever it is, you learn to take it in holy stride. “oh, that’s mama,” they mutter, “ridin’ one of her heart-yankin’ roller coasters.”

so it was the other afternoon, or honestly, it was inching into the dinner hour.

that’s when i up and shot from my typing room, where i’d been tethered all day, tap-tapping away on the keys. never mind that tummies were growling, the kiddies pining away for a plain simple supper. a cold boiled potato, in fact, might have been all they wished for.

oh, well. chalk one up for the department of children and family services’ checklist: mama abandons her kids, chooses the trowel over the cook pot.

why, with nary a second thought (save for the swift pang of guilt as i jabbed toward the pantry, called out, “how ’bout a pretzel?”), i slipped into my pink rubber garden clogs and shot into the beds.

over my shoulder, i let out a whoop, my way of explaining: “garden emergency! garden emergency!”

the emergency, in case you are starting to wonder, was this: the nice weatherman was forecasting, in no wishy-washy words, one of those hell’s-on-its-way scenarios, in which temperatures would shoot to a shrieking 100-and-something by daybreak, and my latest adoptees from the big-box nursery would be dead in their pots if i did not get them safely into ol’ mother earth, who tends far better than i do to her sweet growing things.

sure enough, when i got to the site of impending doom, where three wee delphiniums sat gasping for water, itching to kick off their hard-plastic pots and let out their roots, i hollered back for assistance. “yo, can i have a pair of hands, please?”

on demand, as i started to dig my delphinium trenches, the tall muscular man-child trod out to quell the commotion.

with nary the skip of a beat, he cranked up the full-throttle mockery, one of his signature charades in which he slips into voice, into character, and makes out like a visiting thespian, or simply an unsuspecting body-snatcher who slithers into the form of my firstborn. this time, he made like he was the surgical assistant, and i was the mad doctor, hooked on plant-booster potions.

all i’d done was ask–all right, it was rather high-pitched and panicky–if he could please pass me the osmocote, those wee little pellets i shake into every plant trench i dig. mere fat yellow bits–think oversized dandruff–they somehow manage to supercharge the roots of the tender green darlings, give them the boost they need to get growing.

as that boy-man stood serving my rat-a-tat pleases and thank-yous, passing me vials of root-booster, taking hold of the trowel when i tossed it his way, he whooped it up big time, mimicking my heightened state of emergency. with the flip of some invisible switch, he’d slipped into a riff in which i was some sort of garden-y addict (all dolled-up in pink shoes and pruners), and osmocote was my hallucinogen of choice.

wasn’t long till we both nearly buckled (or at least i did; he’s pretty good at not breaking face), our knees shaking from laughter, me seeing certain and clear my pure, utter foolishness.

it’s a beautiful thing, the gift of a child who sees through to every last one of your foibles, and loves you anyway. makes you see your quirks and eccentricities as part of the formula that makes you the wall-banger you happen to be.

God love the all-purpose balm that is laughter. God love those with the gift of shoveling it deeply into each and every day.

once the hysteria cleared, though, and my babies were settled in their beds, the rich loamy covers pulled up over their roots, i couldn’t help but notice that i do, in fact, think of my garden as a blanket of bliss that covers my slice of the globe.

i have, in fact, come to tend to each sweet growing thing as if her life depends, to some feeble degree, on my care and attention. and when, for instance, a once-dying fern is up and moved and springs back to life, i can’t help but breathe deep the satisfaction of life finding a way to keep at it anyway.

i don’t mean, really, to abandon my hungry children. it’s just that i’ve come to think of all the trying-to-live things in my life as part of my big moppy crew. and every last one, i hold quite close to my heart.

somehow i doubt i’m the only one with quirks here at the table (and believe me, the ones up above are merely the start of it). do you have one or maybe even two? are there folks in your world who’ve taught you that those silly things you do, you insist on, are really a part of the whole equation, and, like the soft spots in an apple (where the bees bumped into the wee baby fruit) just add to the overall sweetness?

worm rescue

the rains pelted hard all morning. ruined any notion of lobbing balls out back, or sliding into home. canoeing, maybe, from home to first, but no knees-first, belly-flopper onto base. not without a periscope and flippers.

when it slowed, at last, came more like the dribble from a cranky faucet that won’t quite shut off, the two of us–one of whom had been pouting at the soggy windowsill–decided it was the perfect interlude for the age-old constitutional: the walk, just after rain.

in fact, i told the little one, as we slid our arms into the yellow rubber sleeves of our water-fighting armor, as the little one insisted he make the duck umbrella burp and stretch out her wiry ribs, this was a made-to-order meteorological moment for a pair of sidewalk crusaders.

it’s nouns like that, i tell you, that perk up a little boy’s ears. he looked right at me with that umbrella already doubling as a sword. crusaders, i could hear his little brain gears crunching in dismay, what does she know about crusades?

“it’s worm rescue weather,” i told him, stepping out the door and over the rivulet running east along the stoop. “this is when the worms come out, thinking they’ll just grab a little gulp of rain. but then, sometimes, the rains dry up and the poor worms are stranded, right there on all the sidewalks.”

i leapt right in, waited not for him to play along. or even sign a waiver of intent.

“here wormy, wormy, wormy,” i called, scanning here and there for a waylaid invertebrate, a worm who’d lost his way, a worm, by golly, who’d had far too much to drink, and could not slither home. or just gave in to wormly je-ne-sais-quoi. ennui, perhaps. of the earthworm ilk. up and called it quits in the middle of a concrete wasteland.

the little one–too young to drop me by the hand and sprint, too old to merely play along–interrupted.

“hey, mom, i don’t think that’s gonna work,” he said. “i think that just works for a cat or a dog. but then you have to say their name, the cat’s name or the dog’s name. doggy, doggy doesn’t work. and wormy wormy doesn’t either.”

oh.

he had a point, but i had little option. no worms i knew had names. or not that i’d been told. so i kept my eyes to the task. scanned all the way to the corner. but didn’t see a worm. only a stick, that i thought–from far away–might have wiggled once or twice, but upon close inspection, didn’t.

it was then, faced with sidewalk north or east, that i asked: “which way has the most worm potential?”

to which he answered, proud with logic: “why would i know that? i’m not a worm.”

have you noticed that kids these days have surrendered their imaginations? ah, but then, he came through with plain old common sense, imagination’s reliable–if not inventive–relation.

“anyways, mom, can i tell you something?” he asked, not slowing for an answer. “there’s a robin. so, bingo, there must be worms somewhere.”

crouching down, the boy who claimed no insight into worm brainworks, began talking to a peachy-breasted bird: “robin, find a worm for us.”

on command, the bird bobbed down its head, and came up with squirmy object, as requested. the robin, though, failed to cough it up, instead feasting on its over-sodden insides.

it took three more blocks of worm patrol before, at last, we found a spineless wonder stranded on the walk.

it had inches to go before it made it back to dirt and grass where it stood a chance of escaping errant tricycles, or big flat soles that paid no mind to where they landed.

as i knelt down to teach the tender art of lifting on a stick, and plopping on the grass, my trusty sidekick kicked in, all right.

“oh, worm,” he started in, “just to tell you, you’re disgusting.” and then to robin on a limb: “oh, robin, here’s a worm.”

it is slow teaching, this curriculum of tenderness toward all things living, and even those that aren’t.

as long as they’ve been watching, the boys i call my own have known their mama to be some sort of creepy-crawler ferry. on a mission from God, perhaps, to let no winged thing, or multi-limbed one either, suffer crushing fate, or die in wad of toilet paper.

why, heck, they tell their friends, she carries ants and flies, and even bumblebees, out of doors, to set them free. in the dead of winter, egad, she lets them loose down in the cellar where it’s warm enough for a cold-blooded critter.

and now, in turn, i watch the older one do the same.

the little one, though, is waffling. on the fence about these here creatures from the deep and darkside.

but there’s hope, i sense.

stay with me here, as we leave the world of bugs and travel to a new car showroom.

just the other night, we found a wee sedan, a shiny black one, to replace the only one my little one had ever known.

when the man in shiny pin-striped suit spelled out the deal, said in no uncertain terms we had to turn in the old and not-so-shiny auto, the little one broke into tears that would not stop.

half an hour later, the tears still poured. not even lemonade and kisses squelched the flow. not even big screen tv, with baseball nearly big as life, squawking in the little room where they make you dawdle while they write up all the zeroes.

his face all red and splotchy, the worm-resistor whispered in my ear: “can i go give the car a kiss goodbye?”

and so, by the hand i took the boy i’m teaching to be full of heart. we walked into the greasy place marked, service. where they stripped the trusty car of its old plates, and emptied out its trunk, with nowhere near the honor, by the way, that it deserved.

my little one leaned on the hood, blessed the car with tender kiss, then stretched his arms as far as he could reach around the grill. he laid his cheek onto the hood. and squeezed with all his might.

he might not have mastered the fat and squirmy earthworm, but he showed the other night, there’s quite a heart inside that little chest.

next time it rains, we’ll try again to beat the robins, and rescue stranded nameless creatures who have no legs to get them where they’re headed.

who taught you tenderness? in what form did the lessons come?
oh, by the way, forgive the squirmy photo up above. oops. hope it didn’t make you spit your coffee out. if only i’d had a camera at the car shop. but in my mind, it’s a picture i will never ever forget. the boy who ached to leave his first, best car.

storm’s comin’

i don’t even need to turn on the news to hear the squawkin’ ’bout the weather. don’t really need to turn to the back page of the newspaper, the one with all the arrows and the polka-dotted map and the adjectives to scare the dickens out of any sorry soul who’s lost her woolen mittens.

all’s i have to do is look to where the sky is turning marbled gray, the color of the pigeons who, right now, are gobbling up all the seed that they can wrestle in their beaks.

or, before the pigeons came, shooshed away the cardinals and the jays and all the sparrows, there was the buzz in the grocery line. you can tell a lot about the day looking at what is rolling down the check-out belt.

today there was not a lot of fuss over, say, artichokes or lamb chops. oh, no, this was a milk-by-the-gallon, and orange-juice-too sort of day.

this is a day to batten down the hatches, simmer soup, crank the oven, stock up on sidewalk salt. you can feel it in the cracklin’ that’s making hairs, and fur, and feathers, too, stand on end. you should see the squirrels vacuum-cleaning crumbs and crusty donut bits, as if there’s no tomorrow.

you see, here where arctic winds hurl their bowling balls of snow and ice down the alley called the great lake of michigan, here before the towers–hancock, sears and all the rest–do their muscled best to block the mighty gusts, we stand ready to shiver and shiver hard, as day turns to dusk turns to stormy whirling night.

worst drop in temps in a quarter century–fiercest, fastest downslide, they are saying–is due to hit any hour now, with winds whipping up to 50 miles an hour (“punishing winds,” my weather page tells me). it’s enough, they warn, to turn rush hour into a hefty bowl of blanc-en-blanc potage.

and i, a girl who loves some drama in my winter doldrums, say bring it on.

there’s nothin’ that gets me stirring quite like the hurl of howling winds. snow pelting on the window panes. the whiff of snow day in the air.

i woulda made one fine pioneer, i tell you. i hunker down, i brace for storm, like i am annie oakley’s long-lost sister.

i caught wind of what was brewing early on today. i made my way straight to the store. stocked up, i did, on milk and popcorn kernels, the two staples of extended hibernation.

before i unzipped my coat, flung my mittens to the pile, i was chopping, sauteing, starting me a toothsome corn-and chicken zoup.

i’ll not let my children starve, not let them shiver either. i’ve got blankets at the ready, and muffins in the oven. oh, lord, this day is a day for making like a mama bear bolting for the cave. we will bathe in what is warm and fortifying. we’ll not let the storm, well, take us by storm.

while stirring onions, beans and broth, i mused a bit about this winter blessing. the forecasting of winds and cold that gives us quite a warning.

what of life, though, i thought, that we don’t know, ever, when a storm is just around our bend.

in plain old life–not the life of weather maps and wind chills–we pick up the phone, and poof, there’s a winter storm on the line. we are driving here or there and, kebang, we just skidded off the road.

life gives no warning, unlike arctic rustlings.

and so, in life, we are left to be always stocked deep down inside with whatever it takes to weather whatever life throws our way. be it a broken neck on growing child. or an email baring threats. one day we think we’re basking in the balm of spring, and, kaboom, the next we are chilled and shaking in our wintry boots.

it is resilience, then, that we must line our inner shelves with. and unswerving faith, stored in gallon jugs, that we need on hand to make sure we can ride out any storm.

i’d say we do best with a host of friends, the ones who appear, as if by blessed magic, at our front door, the hospital bedside, or even as they rush our broken, bloodied child to the ambulance.

we need to live, this makes me think, stocked and ready, for what ever roiling winds come our way.

what a blessing, then, that when it’s merely ice and snow, we’ve got all the warning in the world.

oh, there’s the buzzer now. my muffins–chock full of apples and cranberry and a good dose of mother love–are golden brown, and ready to emerge, just before the winter storm starts swirling out the window.

do you like winter storms, or any brewing, bubbling weather as much as i do? and what would you say is essential to keep in the larder of your life, so you can weather winds that blow far harder, far more fiercely sometimes than any arctic puffer?

when chill, er, arctic winds blow…

with all its might that mercury is push-push-pushing, trying with every ounce of january muscle to get up to where the one meets the zero, calls itself a brisk ten above.

even the rhododendron leaves, just outside my window, are curled tight into a rod, curled as if their life depends upon it, which in fact it does.

the feathered traffic at the feeder is slow to none, and, mostly, sparrow shiver in the pines. i think they’d like to call for carry-in, or better yet delivery. but the lines, i fear, are iced.

the morning when the world is frozen is a morning when you’d prefer, perhaps, to catch the nearest plane to tahiti. but, dang, that would entail walking to the curb–at least–to catch the taxicab.

so instead, why not do what i love best, and make yourself a list. a list is a beautiful thing. a romantic thing. you sketch your hopes and dreams. tick them off in little snippets. barely even have to finish your thought. you know what you mean. it’s you, for cryin’ out loud, making that there list.

so, then, with no ado–it’s too cold for adoing–here is the way i’d like to spend a ch-ch-chilly day at the end of a long, long, long, long week:

*crank the brand-new tunes my manchild made for me, the soundtrack, perhaps, from “once,” the movie a dear old friend told me months ago would inspire me. he was right. and now i can’t stop mumbling with all the words, my own odd version of pretending i too can sing along. which i can’t. just ask my boys. even the cat took to under the bed.

*fill the troughs, pour hot water into bowls for all the critters. there is nothing so satisfying–for this faux farmer girl–as making sure that all God’s creatures are duly fed and watered. i’d distribute little blankets if i could, but instead i put out extra christmas trees so they could harbor in the branches. more real estate, the better for those birds, way i figure it.

*grab the mcdonald’s coupon books, and drive to where it’s dark and even colder. pass out books to every hungry hand that reaches your direction. give the folks on lower wacker drive a place, and means, for getting in and out from this coldest cold. God bless my mama who gave me those books for just this purpose. God bless the soul who inspired her, whose story we found out only when he died, how he spent his winters doling out hundreds of dollars in vouchers for a hamburger and fries, and a hot, hot coffee that bought a seat where heat was all but guaranteed.

*once back home, grind the beans and get your own hot coffee going. stoke the steel-cut oats, while you’re at it, too. i’ve got the grandest formula these days: scottish steel-cut oats, 1/4 cup; water, 1 cup; sprinkle of salt (don’t ask me why, all i know is it works); flaxseed, 2 tsps.; sprinkling organic raisins, cranberries, apricot, chopped; 1 walnut, 1 almond, chopped; dry milk, 1/3 cup; cinnamon, a good stiff shake or three. now, get the water and the salt a bubblin’, stir and dump the oats, then all the rest. let it simmer half an hour. dump it in your favorite bowl (mine is red with fat white stripe), grab a porridge spoon (mine is wooden, and it sailed in from old vermont). take a seat at the kitchen table, staring out at birds, who might be staring back at you. invite them in, for heaven’s sake. they might love the porridge.

*whisper benediction for the oats, the birds, and all the souls far colder than you have ever been. pray to God that warmth blows in, deep and boldly to their souls. don’t let them die, God, frozen to the city’s underbelly.

*and, besides all that, the best idea for how i’d like to spend an arctic day is invite a house full of folks i love. cook all day the day before, and fill the vases with blooms galore. stack the logs to make a fire. putter here and there, making it a house that shines, and shouts: warmth dwells here. come in, come in. leave your cares outside, where chill winds won’t stop blowing.

peace i wish you at the end of this long week. and warm toes besides.

do you like lists as much as i do? what would you do on a chilly arctic day when the poor old mercury makes it up to 10, then dwindles back to less than zero?

red alert

i didn’t notice the first day. and not really the second day. but, by the third day, the third bitter cold day in a row, the third day when the unfurling of scarlet as it darted from pine bough to naked magnolia was decidedly absent, i started to worry.

now, worrying, in case you don’t know, is something i do exceedingly well. comes naturally. like breathing, only in staccato. only in spending the morning with an eye out the window, watching, combing the sky and the branches. on fullest alert.

as i watched without reason to hope, as i thought of the bitterest cold, i remembered the words of my mama telling me how so many birds from her flock had been lost, in the deep snap of cold.

“couldn’t survive,” she declared in that way that she does, unspooling for all of her nestlings all the mysteries of nature, of life and of death. she seems to know things that come from a long life of breathing in sync with the birds and the woods and the clouds.

and so, as the image of a little red bird, fallen somewhere, on the unforgiving crust of the snow, made the hairs on my neck rise, i thought of climbing in boots, commencing a search. imagined the crunch through the snow, pulling back branches, poking through all of the grasses, now frozen and matted and frankly quite knotted, that i’d left in the yard for the winter, for the birds who might savor their seed, or their harbor, on a day not too cold to put wind to their wings.

then i thought of the hawk. the great cooper’s hawk, the one with the tail so big and so thick i once mistook it for an owl–and that was merely the tail. add the head and the wings and the muscle-bound chest under all of those feathers and you’ve got a bird you should fear.

and fear it they do, all my fine feathered friends. one mere swoop of the hawk through the sky, clears all of the branches of birds. they scatter, i swear, when that hawk is a mile away. they know, before i see a thing, that death in the clutches of indiscriminate beak, or in talons the size of a three-penny nail, is a death to avoid.

and then, always, there is the cat. the cat that i feed twice a day. the cat who curls up on my lap, and purrs like a chevy with ’58 fins. that cat, i pretend, knows better than to touch a red bird. if that cat crosses that line, comes home with a dried bit of feathery red there where he does all his licking, that cat will be dispatched to the dungeon. and i like to think–though i’m sure i’m kidding myself–that he’s too tender-hearted to torment me so cruelly, to partake of papa the cardinal.

while all these horrible endings swirled in my head, i ached for the red bird–papa, i call him–who, whenever he darts through my day, brings me a deep knowing that i’ve been touched by a something divine.

i can be pouring a tall dose of coffee, there by my little side window, and, poof, there’s papa, his bright scarlet frock nestled right there in the bushes just inches away.

or, as i haul out the trash, or dash to an errand that should have been started nearly an hour before, there’s papa. cheer-cheering from top of the oak. or playing peek-a-boo in the pines.

wherever he comes, whenever he flashes his colors, my soul breathes a sigh that makes me feel wholly at home. he brings the divine down to the earthliest minute.

now, i know that a bird is not mine. these birds all around me belong to the heavens. and the trees they inhabit, just happen to be near to me and my four-walled nest.

but, over time, a particular possessiveness creeps in the equation. they are mine, i am theirs. together we do a fine dance. a dance i’m not willing to end.

and so, in the hours when i’d noticed his absence, when i raked all the limbs, when i scoured the ground, i felt the depth of that dance in my heart, realized the intricate wiring between me and my red-banner bird.

it is, perhaps, the shock of the color itself, heart-stopping, really, against the bleak gray of the winter undressed, or the white of the winter, fully attired.

it is that sign from above that amid the humdrum, the everyday, there comes, without warning, without siren, the scarlet cloak that whispers, “your day was just touched.”

it is hope when i need it, a charge when i’ll take it. it is, some lonely hours, as if the Holiest One is tapping there at my window, the answer to an unwhispered prayer.

and so it was, when, after three days that felt like three weeks, that flash once again caught me unawares. i was minding my business–i’d forgotten if only for a bit of a while that i needed to worry–when, suddenly, there at the feeder perched papa.

i moved close to the window, as close as i could without startling my too-long-gone friend. close enough to see his little heart pounding, there under the reddest of breasts. my heart pounded as well.

for a minute there, the other day, me and a bird from somewhere on high, we beat the same song with the whole of our hearts. papa was home, was safe, wasn’t buried, stiff in the snow.

his absence now over, i’ve not yet let go of the sense that i–and he–was saved from a terrible sorrow.

sometimes it takes a bit of a scare to remember how blessed we are.

sometimes we don’t feel the depth of a plug in our heart, until it is pulled. until there’s a hole and it’s gaping.

only then, sadly, do we realize that without that something we love, that something we count on, our breathing is not wholly ours. it depends on grace all around us. it depends on the touch under the sheets in the night, on the peck on the cheek in the doorway, or the flash of a wing in the branches.

the red bird out my window taught me that lesson this week. gentle bird, messenger bird. bird in heavenly red. bird that beckons attention.

have you seen a sign lately? a celestial sign? some sign from above that reminds you the earthliest truth? have you come to know, only too late, how deeply you miss some grace note you’d taken for granted? any one else feel a particular kinship to the reddest bird in these parts (save for the tanager who seems too scarce for everyday musings)?