Monday, May 31, 2010

We Met in the Garden

I meandered through the 1870’s farmhouse house, trying to ignore her belongings; the soap dish, shower curtain, laundry detergent, cans of tuna… things like that. It was as if she just vanished in the middle of an ordinary day. Nails poked out of the porch gray wooden floorboards. The horsehair plaster walls were painted bright shades of yellow, blue and sea foam green and laced with indiscriminate cracks. The vintage sixties wallpaper that covered one wall in the living room made me a little light headed.

We made our way up the steep stairs and into a lemony colored bedroom. The orange flowered curtains, pulled back with lime green braided yarn ties, instantly reminded me of Nana, my mother’s mother who managed to maintain her innocence throughout her entire life. I smiled and pulled the heavy chain on the vintage tulip light, the same fixtures as the house of my childhood.

I followed the seventies, orange wall-to-wall carpet into the bunkroom, which was to be my favorite room; a large attic with exposed beams and a lot of space. Wood makes me comfortable. I sat down and sunk into an unusually narrow bed and wiggled my fingers through a multi-colored afghan, crocheted by her, no doubt. Overwhelmed by the scent of a combination of pine, cedar and mothballs; I counted five mousetraps, one being so old that it might fetch a few bucks on eBay (probably not).

She died a year before but lived in a nursing home for a few years. Her sons must have made the decision to take her out of her home and just lock the doors and forget about it. Maybe the ordeal was too painful. With the exception of a few high-end antiques, they left the sifting through randomness for someone else, even if it meant complete strangers.

At first, for me – the quintessential Yankee – it was almost impossible to discard her things. Most of the stuff was in fine working order, but it was hers. I rifled through a plethora of vintage bits and pieces, such as fly swatters, cooking utensils, tools and a nifty whistle. I even apologized under my breath when tossing things into the garbage; it seemed oddly disrespectful.

When I couldn’t find my telephone, I plugged in a perfectly good phone that I found in the kitchen drawer. My sister called me on my cell phone and said that she thought it was weird that my land line number was the same as the old woman’s. I questioned her of course, and she told me to listen to my answering machine. I didn’t realize that the phone recording system was on with her voice. I thought I had the standard greeting through the telephone company.

After a few coats of paint, new curtains, my personal effects and my own voice on the answering machine, I began to feel more at home rather than a guest of an old woman I had never met. I am feeling less jumpy and apprehensive.

My bond with the old woman has just begun. In the fall, it was difficult to know what grew outside, but now that spring has arrived, it is evident that she had a profound connection with the earth, leaving her legacy through an abundance of flowers, herbs and fruit trees.

To wake up and walk through the yard every day is like being a child on Christmas morning and opening presents from a mysterious plump man in a red suit. I never know what to expect. I have a great deal of knowledge about herbs and flowers from this area, but I don’t know what she planted. It is purely delightful to stumble upon these earthly treasures. She cultivated multiple varieties of mint, lemon balm, asparagus, onions, chives, rhubarb, red and black raspberries, elderberries, grapes, an assortment of roses, globe thistle, poppies, bleeding hearts, tulips, daffodils, peonies, irises, bee balm, fox glove, hyacinth, phlox, daisies, black eyed susans, lilies, lilies of the valley, johnny jump ups, lupine, gladiolus, yarrow, lilacs, forsythia, jack in the pulpit, violets and there are many more to be discovered.

She worked diligently to grow such magnificence, using each nook and cranny wisely, including delicate purple and white flowers and irises bordering the pond. I eagerly don mosquito netting and gloves and work attentively weeding and caring for her legacy. As I witness each blossom, my bond with the old woman whom I never met is strengthened. I honor her each time I dig into the earth. I anticipate each bud, imagining what it will be before it opens.

Now I know her; we met in the garden. Her flowers and herbs live on and bring joy and beauty into my life. Bees, hummingbirds and butterflies lavish in the sweet nectar made possible by her and each heady blossom offers fresh inspiration in each stage of life and death.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Morning Glory

It is a toss up as to whether my favorite flower is the Daisy or Sunflower. I can’t decide. Next are Morning Glories because no matter how hard I try, I can never mix the paints quite right to get that amazing bluish purple color on my palette. This is also true of Blue Jay and Indigo Buntings.

One morning – in the early days of new motherhood – I sat on the steps of my porch sipping coffee, embracing my exhaustion from being up all night with my newborn son, because he was inquisitive, not sleepy, not screaming, not demanding...We both sort of sat together dreamily thinking..."okay... here we"

My son, cradled on the outside of my body rather than inside the womb, lay with his head resting against my heart… being tired that morning was strangely delicious. I stared at a Morning Glory that crept up the wrought iron railing beside me; it took my breath away as I honestly realized that even on my best day as an artist....the true beauty of nature cannot be duplicated on the canvas...only honored....and imprinted within.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Killing Picasso: Excerpt - "Ballad of a Sandwich Girl", Memoir

A loud shot echoed. I winced and braced myself for another. I put my fingers in my ears. Another shot. The fingers in the ears didn’t help much; I felt it more than heard it. Then one more. God, how can he miss?

I walked slowly onto the back porch, each step heavier than the first. His silhouette stood out against the sun bleached pine boards of the barn. An eerie glow emanated around the visor of his baseball cap as he held the limp rooster upside down by his yellow feet in one hand, and the assault rifle in the other. He turned to look up at the barn, then back to the bird. He placed the lifeless body on the ground and leaned the gun against the white picket fence. A dark red, almost black, circle grew in the patchy snow under the lifeless body. Shiny mahogany feathers blew in the wind, lingering by the fence, and then slipping through the space from the missing slat, before finally landing by my frozen toes.

The others were clucking and running around aimlessly in circles. He kicked at them; they fluttered and scattered, only to run back around him. He kicked at them again, only this time making contact with the buff colored rooster with the feathery feet.

The ramp that led to the coop leans a little to one side; a small red Cochin stood like a statue in the middle of the ramp, her head cocked, listening. The main door to the barn banged against the barn rhythmically, driven by the wind.

Almost all of the windows in the barn stared back at me with black eyes, nothing inside now except for the goats. Their window, on the south side of the barn, was open just a quarter of the way. They were crying with their roman noses sticking out of the bottom of the window. The sun was close to setting behind Carter Mountain; the long shadows of the fences and trees reached the back deck. My barn boots, caked with mud sat waiting by the wooden rocker, the laces still tied. It was getting colder.

An iridescent, dark green feather floated across the weathered wooden floor, resting by my stocking feet and then drifted along towards the apple tree out back. The wind picked up and more feathers, tail feathers I think, followed the dark green feather and got caught on the one patch of grass that was still brown from winter.

Usually oblivious, the black and white bunny in the hutch on the other side of the fence scratched at the floor and vanished deep inside where the hay pressed against the chicken wire. Like maracas, dead oak leaves rattled as they rubbed against each other.

He walked towards the woods behind the barn; the rooster’s head swung back and forth keeping time with his step and the mating call of the chickadee. The rotting spring thaw churned in the air as the dying sun reflected off the barrel of the gun. More feathers floated by, this time soft, downy and white. One of them hesitated before brushing past my feet, following the others in the path of the wind.

He tossed the limp body on the ground with a thud. Killing Picasso was like killing a part of me. Another deep red feather rolled down onto the porch. I picked it up and rubbed it between my fingers.

He approached me, assault rifle in hand. “It worked this time.” He grunted.

“You killed Picasso.” The little girl’s voice was barely a whisper.

“What do you mean?” He rubbed the handle of his gun with this shirtsleeve.

“I mean you killed Picasso.”

The sun departed behind the clouds, behind the mountain, behind the barn.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Homeward Bound

I am traveling – going home to New Hampshire. I will return to my blog around May 21st. Until then, please catch up on my offerings and feel free to become a follower if you aren’t already, and by all means leave feedback.

In Peace,

Maryjane (Mj)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

What Cup?

No matter how parched I am at any given moment, I always try to view the cup as half-full. Somehow, this lesson resonates and I have applied it to most situations and in the past have preached this philosophy to my children and friends.

With today’s headlines, it has become increasingly difficult to view the cup as half-full when it appears as if the cup has all but disappeared. However, I do maintain the half-full attitude and hope for the best. Optimism and hope are what we have left. White knuckled, I am hanging onto every piece of positivity that I can.

Technology has surpassed humans in the way of evolution. It has outgrown us. I believe it to be challenging yet vital to take time to reflect on our relationships and nurture them, as our lives depend upon their existence. Everything moves very quickly, and in this continuum of development, the human element tends to fall by the wayside.

It takes more time to pick up the telephone and speak to a person than to shoot off a text message or email. The risk of having an actual conversation might present the opportunity to expand upon other subjects or have an organic discussion. Who has time?

How many of us look at the caller ID and hit the ignore button? Not now. I imagine being struck by lightening or something when this happens. (For those of you reading this, of course I do not ignore you).

This is one of the inconveniences of being reachable at all times. Not long ago, if you weren’t home, you were truly not home, therefore unreachable. So, what gets lost? In the middle of the communication burnout, are we really getting more or less? With the onslaught of text messages, tweets, IM’s and other various social networking venues, who has time for real communication? And, where is that damned cup?

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Music of Shells - The Gulf's Parting Gifts

The music of shells tumbling over shells blends with thrashing foamy waves. Like meandering snowdrifts – piles line the shore until disappearing into a salty mist. Each cresting wave throws more shells onto the heaps, desperately showering us with gifts of dazzling beauty in skeletons of sea life. It is impossible for me to think that it might end.

The hot breeze dries the sweat from my face as I stare out over the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico. I wiggle while the white sand burns the soles of my feet; I continue to stand still in spite of it. A squadron of brown pelicans flies overhead. I count eight, my favorite number. The first one – the wingman – dives into the water. Two more follow.

When they pop up and bob on the surface, blissfully unaware of what is about to happen to their world, I clear my throat in an attempt to disrupt the tightness in my chest. I squint into the sun to watch two more dive and the others up seat a pair of cormorants on the pilings. That’s not fair; they were there first. I smile at my maternal instincts that emerge in the strangest places.

I finally drop my pails, beach bag and cooler and fiddle with my lawn chair. I shed my purple flowered sarong, not taking my eyes away from the water and begin slathering sunscreen on my already deep bronzed skin.

Finally, I am ready. I grasp the pail that has a mayonnaise container inside of it for shark’s teeth and set out to look for treasure. It looks more like Sanibel Island with the many large mounds of shells. Englewood has beautiful shells, but there are so many more than usual.

I came here last night and collected several 5-gallon bucket loads of shells. I carried them until I could not take it anymore. I am trying to save what I fear may be a lost resource. I have never seen such beautiful shells anywhere as the Southwest Florida Gulf Coast. The shells are various pastel shades mixed with darker purples, browns, reds. Mixed in with these dramatic creamy beauties are mother of pearl and abalone. I quickly became addicted to their beauty. Every shell that I pick up has its own artistic possibility. Sometimes it is impossible to gather them all, they seem to be crying, “Pick me, pick me.”

I started making jewelry and other shell-inspired stuff last year. There is healing and inspirational energy captured within each individual Gulf shell. One of my secrets is easy, simple and should apply always to any natural endeavor. I say a little prayer. I thank the Gulf. I thank Neptune. I thank the creatures who inhabited the shells that catch my eye in the glittering white sand and clear waters. I am grateful and honor their exquisite beauty.

I sit on the water’s edge on top of a pile of shells and run my hands through, sifting and thinking. Every third wave washes over my feet and legs, bringing more gifts. I look out in hopes of seeing a pair of dolphins or a large fish jump and twist before flopping back into the trough of life that whooshes busily before the sandbar.

I drop a pink scallop shell into the pail, examine a shiny black shark’s tooth and lick the salt from my lips. This cannot be over yet. This cannot be the end of life as we know it in the Gulf Stream Waters. My heart rushes; I dig my fingers and toes into the sand. The tide is coming in and the waves are getting closer and continue to throw gifts at my feet. I will collect them until the end. I will honor the life of each shell as a gift of splendor bestowed at a time when the Gulf gave all it could offer, until it simply was not enough.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Sandwich Girl II

Pete Burnham was the dump man. He drove around town in an old station wagon that needed shocks, looking like he was riding waves as he glided through town with his car tightly packed with his treasure, our trash. When he smiled, his lined, unshaven face wrinkled and his kind eyes twinkled, set apart from the dirt.

My mother used to yell out to me, “Don’t take nigger babies from Pete Burnham!” Looking back on that term now is shocking. We actually lived in a community where there was a candy called “nigger babies?” It was the sixties, an all white community in rural New Hampshire. As children we knew no hate or prejudice, without thought, wisdom or awareness, we had candies named “nigger babies” and when doing Eenie, meenie, miney, moe…we caught a “nigger” by the toe. We were clueless. This unknowing state changed radically for me, as I grew older, as soon as Junior High School, I opened my eyes and admire and respect people from all ethnic groups.

As for those sugary chocolate candies? I always took them. After dumping them into my hands with his crude, grubby hands, I would blow the germs off and eat one at a time, saving a few in my pocket. Everyone made fun of Pete Burnham; I liked him.

In the spring, there were so many black flies that we had to wear bandanas. There were clouds of them and they bit us until we were swollen. I didn’t like the smell of bug spray so I just accepted the bug bites.

Following the black flies were the wood ticks. We had to sit at our desks at school while the teacher searched through our hair with a pencil eraser for them. When she found one, everyone would gather around while she pulled it off and lit it with a match until it popped. Then we would go home and go through the same routine, only my mother was more squeamish than the teacher causing us to wiggle more.

In the summer between fifth and sixth grade, we moved to the next town over, Center Harbor. Center Harbor is another beautiful town and on a bigger lake, but it didn’t carry the same honor as being a “Sandwich girl.” I was excited for the change, as I was friends with the girls I had met in the church choir, but I was not thrilled about the school. There were six girls in my sixth grade class; that was it. There were thirty-two kids in the entire school, grades one through six. It was a two-room schoolhouse with two (frustrated) female teachers and a cook.

I was a newcomer and blended well in the student body, but the teachers seemed to think of me as an outsider. When it was time to come inside from recess, my teacher furiously rang a hand bell; her beet red face looked like it would explode. When the two school marms were frazzled, they would throw misbehaving boys over their knees and spank them. It never happened to a girl when I was there, but nonetheless, I was not going to push it.

Even though I moved away from Sandwich when I was eleven, I always considered myself a Sandwich girl and feel complete now that I have moved back home.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Sandwich Girl

What does it mean exactly to be a Sandwich Girl?  Rather than go down the political activist role with the oil spill, I decided to stay with my excerpts and nature writing.  My thesis in grad school was a memoir entitled, Ballad of a Sandwich Girl, which is on the back burner.  It is my goal to publish two historical novels: Etched in Granite, which is to be first (soon) and Embracing Joanna, the story of my 8th great grandmother's transatlantic journey from Sandy New Bedforshire, England to Salem Massachusetts, and my nature journal, The Summer at Duncan Lake, based on my outdoor adventures last summer as I lived on the pristine shores of Duncan Lake in the wild.

I will share extracts from my memoir, which not only offers positive and meaningful experiences, it maintains inner calm for me during the upheaval with the oil spill on the Gulf, for which I will volunteer in the bird and animal sealife rescue, should the oil spill land on the shores near where I am presently.

                         WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A SANDWICH GIRL?

Growing up in Sandwich, New Hampshire is a claim to fame in these parts. The well-groomed historic farms seem to stand still in time. Tucked away in the mountains and bordering Squam Lake, made famous by the movie “On Golden Pond”, it is much like a Rockwell painting.

There’s a sort of notion that if you grew up in Sandwich, that you were an artist, logger, farmer or tree hugger, each respecting the others. Many of the residents of Sandwich pride themselves on living a natural, organic lifestyle, which lends itself to being a true Yankee.

The middle daughter of five, I played in the woods, climbed trees, learned how to whittle, and tended to the campfire at the Coolidge farm at the annual school picnic. I rode my bike everywhere, keeping up with the boys, and I even broke both of my arms. I won countless rhubarb eating contests by quickly eating three stalks without wincing or gagging.

The church bell in the middle of town kept time for us – when to go home, when to meet at the playground and when we were late and had to face the wrath of my mother. We hung out at Glen Smith’s General Store eating fireballs and squirrel nut zippers while we planned our next adventure, riding our bikes with a playing card clipped on the spokes with a wooden clothespin.