Last Fall on the Blacktop

 

For a stretch of about a hundred meters,  down Double Bluff Road, I like to drive like a crazy person might.  I’m careful. I check to see if anyone’s about, but then I make an effort to  slow the car and steer all over the road as much as I can before I get to the end of the section.

The audience for these shenanigans is made up of serious looking, black suited, pointy faced corvids.  Perched on low-hanging power wires, they look like bobber weights deepening the scallop between worn T-poles.  But they are observant and focused in their beady-eyed attention, watching  my progress carefully.  Which nuts my tires smash is a matter of significance to this crowd, for they have  placed them with apparent forethought.

I love running this corridor  of crows.  Since I daily travel this piece of road, I began to notice a pattern in late summer.  As I’d round the corner coming from work in mid-afternoon, the road ahead was crowded with birds.  Crows were stalking about on the  blacktop, conversing and  socializing.  More crows lined the wires at odd intervals and still others hunkered on fence rails in bunches.

The whole scene had a casual air and as I approached, no one hurried to get out of the way.  They had my speed and their movements expertly timed to coincide and insure safety.  The birds moved just far enough toward the verge to allow my passage.  Nobody ruffled a feather or hustled in the least.

I was so busy watching the birds and their progress or lack of same and driving near the middle thinking  to miss them all, that I failed to grasp exactly what they were doing on the road in the first place.  At the corner stop where Double Bluff  crosses the main road, I glanced  in the rear view mirror and saw the entire crew reassembled on the paving.  Strange. Bent to paying attention to traffic and moving into it, I let go of the mystery.

It only took a few passes for me to understand the routine and that the birds were hardly interested in what I understood.  They could and would use me and my vehicle whether or not I was a willing participant.

Because I wasn’t always thinking about crows when I left work,  I regularly was caught unawares as I turned the corner: “oh yeah, the crows”.  By then the first hundred meters were gone and I was on them, taking care in how I drove.  But now I slowed considerably and noticed the filberts.  I laughed. I laughed outloud and louder, then chuckled, shook my head and muttered “clever rascals”.

It all came together as I realized Sheriff Hawley’s filbert grove was behind the fence on the south side of the road. His failed walnut grove (only three trees remained) grew just east of the filberts.  All four strands of barbed wire fencing meant to keep out deer were perfect bleachers for crows in cheap seats.  Overhead wires were for swoopers,  and serious nutters kept to the grassy shoulders.

Hunched schemers  placed their nuts carefully as casino bettors and watched for cars to smash them.  They left their booty unguarded as little time as possible so as to give swoopers and poachers no quarter.  In this game, timing is everything, including your life.  And it gives new meaning to “keep a sharp eye out”.

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Mrs. Pinnell’s Pansies

Nana’s big car oozed to a stop under trees hanging over the narrow driveway and she folded her hands in her lap after pulling on short white gloves which had ridden between us on the seat. “So, Ginny -lee,” she said as if we were continuing a conversation, “we will remember that twenty minutes is a call and Mrs. Pinnell is getting on.” I’m sure I nodded.

Nana came around the car to open the door and brush the skirt of my ironed cotton frock into place, smoothing down wrinkles in the back where I’d crushed it against the seat. I walked importantly beside her, chubby legs trying to match her stride, back out the drive, around to the right to enter the yard through a white garden gate.

The walkway to the house was a narrow one of old cement with moss growing in cracks and I lagged behind on the way to the tiny landing which served as a porch. Nana was brisk as usual and drummed her knuckles on the door while I dawdled, enchanted by Mrs. Pinnell’s garden.

It was tiny, a perfect fit for everything else. The little square of front yard enclosed by pickets had no grass, just pansies where grass would be in a regular plot. They were surrounded by a border of iris, not yet blooming in the cool of the year, which made a spiky green fence within the pickets.

I heard Mrs. Pinnell rattling the door handle and looked up in time to see Nana flick her gloved hand my way, but she wasn’t looking. I dawdled some more, barely moving toward the house, knowing what awaited me inside. I would get to sit on the footstool and try to make two Vanilla Wafers last while Nana and Mrs. Pinnell had tea.

This was a planned call so maybe the tea things would be laid and maybe making tea wouldn’t take so long, but that hadn’t always been the case when Nana took me with her to make calls. It was my first time here, so I was hoping the house was interesting inside. Maybe there was a nice cat.

I was only halfway down the short walk when Mrs. Pinnell opened the door and the tiniest lady I’d ever seen smiled so sweetly and said “Oh Virginia! How lovely you’ve brought your Ginny-lee.”

She barely came to Nana’s shoulder even with piles of white hair crowning her. The top of her body bent forward a bit and her hands fluttered like birds flitting when she talked . Her eyes were really blue, just like my china doll. She made me think of fairy godmothers except she was wearing a house dress under her starched apron. I knew the apron was fresh for tea because it had no bib and no wrinkles. Maybe Mrs. Pinnell’s house would be interesting after all. She did have a pretty voice.

Inside, it was dim. I’m sure if I had been older than almost four, I would have noticed how cramped the cottage was, but I wasn’t and I didn’t. Everything seemed about the right size for me and of course I didn’t know I was just standing in the entry looking about the place. Somehow, the grown-ups took my hanging back as reticence and sought to coax me into the room.

“Come, Ginny-lee. You sit here and we’ll see if Boots will come visit with you. Virginia tells me you’re very good with kitties.” I loved Mrs. Pinnell’s voice. It sounded like a storybook voice, but what she said made me look to Nana for confirmation. Really? Did she say I was good with kitties?

At home she was always scolding me to not tease, even though the cat thought I was playing. And she said I could only pet with one finger so as not to be too rough. I was never rough, but I still had to use one finger when anyone was looking. Nana didn’t look my way, and Mrs. Pinnell was talking again.

“Boots is a girl, but I didn’t know that until she had babies. I would have named her Pansy if I had known.” She went to get the tea tray and I thought about that. I knew that some girls had flower names, but I’d never heard of a Pansy. Maybe it was just for cats. Surely dogs couldn’t be called Pansy.

When Mrs. Pinnell came back with the tea tray, she was smiling and said right to me as if Nana wasn’t even there “Would you like to pick some pansies for me? I need them for my little vases.” Without even stopping to reflect, I hopped off the stool. I could hardly believe it. Never before had I been allowed to pick any flowers except in Nana’s garden and I surely didn’t want to miss a chance to go back outside.

I glanced over to see how I should answer and Nana was all leaned back in her chair with her legs crossed. She had her elbow resting on the arm and her cigarette was lit. She smiled and nodded a little and I scooted toward the door in front of Mrs. Pinnell who was already headed in that direction with three very small vases. She shifted them to one hand to open the door and cool air rushed in as Boots dashed out.

With the door closed behind us, Mrs. Pinnell handed me the vases and pointed at the edge of the stoop where I could set them down. Then she reached in her apron pocket and pulled out a tiny pair of scissors, handing them to me loops first just as if we did this every afternoon. She straightened a little and said, “After you cut me some for the vases, you can choose as many as you want to take home. Just put them in the basket, alright?” She pointed at a little trug near the vases and went in leaving me in the yard, in fields of pansies. All their faces smiled at me, begging to be picked and it took a very long time for me to do the job.

All the way till the end of tea.

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Take Two on “They Say”

Be Mindful

It is the key to so much. I first heard it and learned the term in yoga class in the late seventies. I took it to mean “focus” or “pay attention” and ran with it. In the last few years I’ve heard it more and more as “awareness,” but that only complicated my fumbling outside formal meditation. How in the busyness which surrounds us most of the time, do I bring that focus on the breath which so quiets us in meditation to the world’s chatter?

There are choices to be made before I focus. So many things clamor for attention, just being mindful and aware of it all will scatter me dreadfully, no matter what kind of multitasking skills I have developed. (And that is another matter entirely!)

So for me part of bringing a mindful presence to my time involves choosing what I want in my present.

My teacher then and many since have guided me to come back to the breath when when my skittering mind chases monkey trails. “Don’t get cross, just come back.” I learned pretty well not to bother with recriminations once I heard that is something everyone learns. My busy brain doesn’t need more work trying to corral the monkeys. That was a relief and eventually the quiet I so wanted was there for me.

None of that however, was of much use in the hurly-burly of a day’s work. I could use the breath for a moment or two of calm, a re-start, but sustaining it in everyday activities was beyond me. So I used what I had for years and it got me through raising two young ones more or less alone.

After they fledged, I spent long years incapacitated by illness and in an effort to get well and stay well, made an all out effort to simplify my life. I reprogrammed my Pavlovian response to answer requests immediately and in the positive. I learned to focus on what I understood I wanted and needed to thrive. A modicum of simplicity and quiet have given me a new kind of life and I am nourished by a discipline of gratitude. Lucky me.

Mindfulness has become key for me as my understanding of how to use it every day evolves. I usually resort to questions to help me sort and shift.

I ask myself:

  • “What are you doing now? Right now.”
  • “What else is going on in your mind?”
  • “What of that doing and thinking stew do you need right now?”

Then I remind myself:

  • That anything else can wait
  • That worry uses energy and changes nothing
  • That things will unwind as they are meant to do regardless of my fussing
  • That I’ll be getting on with whatever it is more expeditiously if I stay present.

So for me to be mindful, I must first decide about what and pick it out of all the welter for focus. Sometimes that takes a little more sorting, but often it is straightforward and if I resolve to stay in the present, to keep the skittering brain busy in its own yard, mindfulness is there for me.

Now when I hear “be mindful” I hear the corollary I’ve gained from experience “…to the focus you’ve picked for the now”.

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Memories of Sleep

Sometimes Memory is the most comfortable place to be. I can choose the one I want and go there at will. The ones popping unbidden to mind are not always the comfortable ones, but when I choose, it’s likely to be the sweet or funny one which gives me a chuckle or a moment’s respite from what seems like an ever speedier swirl of change.

I’ve always heard people my age now grouse or at least comment that change is everywhere. And I think as I always have, “that’s our job.” From babyhood onward, we are constantly adapting to the changes and perhaps we just don’t move as quickly later on in life and so feel the pace more keenly. I love to dilly dally along the path and notice all the bits, familiar and otherwise, but then I can’t remember not being a dawdler.

I prefer to hang around the booth with the beads or fibers talking with the makers even if I miss a good deal of the market that day. So spooling back to the sweet or interesting times which have stuck to my psyche is one of my favorite patterns of daydreams. Weaving the threads I find into a little different pattern is a pleasing pass time as well.

What I’ve come to know in the recent years about the past was given to me by cadres of wise women who said “you cannot allow the past to rule you or define you and expect to keep growing.”I bridled. And it took a lot of mulling to figure out why.

I understood words like “letting go of the past” to mean leaving it down by the road and not looking back. I equated all the old habits and ways of going with the bundle of baggage we carry unnecessarily sapping our energies for the journey. I am a skipper so I like not to be too weighed down.

The rub came with my belief that we are made of our pasts. I didn’t want to be all new. I wanted to bring the parts I cherish with me and still be ready to go on with adventures. Eventually I found my error. No one was talking about denying or leaving the past behind; what I heard was filtered through my own experiences and fears.

What I gleaned was this: if my choices now are made because of past habits, choices or beliefs, without seeing they can be made in a present context, then I am steered and even ruled by the past. The door to my box is still closed and I am inside.

If I can see each choice fresh in the present and still apply what I’ve learned, I get the benefits of both experience and a new chance. And it has been easier to know I am the one who chooses what to bring on this road. My bundle is much lighter now.

One of my favorites, especially in the full moons is going back to being read the Dutch Lullaby by Eugene Field. Our copy (1940) was illustrated by Malthe Hasseliis and I have adored it for as long as I can remember.

It was a snuggle poem, always read aloud and last. I recall the words could make pictures to carry me off with sleepy eyes under heavy lids. Indeed, Field was the poet who taught me the word “counterpane.” Love it still. See if this doesn’t rock your boat softly.

Wynken, Blynken, and Nod one night
Sailed off in a wooden shoe —
Sailed on a river of crystal light,Wynken Pic
Into a sea of dew.
“Where are you going, and what do you wish?”
The old moon asked the three.

“We have come to fish for the herring fish
That live in this beautiful sea;
Nets of silver and gold have we!”
Said Wynken, Blynken, and Nod.

The old moon laughed and sang a song,
As they rocked in the wooden shoe,
And the wind that sped them all night long
Ruffled the waves of dew.
The little stars were the herring fish
That lived in that beautiful sea —
“Now cast your nets wherever you wish —
Never afeard are we;”
So cried the stars to the fishermen three:
Wynken, Blynken, and Nod.

All night long their nets they threw
To the stars in the twinkling foam —
Then down from the skies came the wooden shoe,
Bringing the fishermen home;
‘Twas all so pretty a sail it seemed
As if it could not be,
And some folks thought ’twas a dream they’d dreamed
Of sailing that beautiful sea —
But I shall name you the fishermen three:
Wynken, Blynken, and Nod.

Wynken and Blynken are two little eyes,
And Nod is a little head,
And the wooden shoe that sailed the skies
Is a wee one’s trundle-bed.
So shut your eyes while mother sings
Of wonderful sights that be,
And you shall see the beautiful things
As you rock in the misty sea,
Where the old shoe rocked the fishermen three:
Wynken, Blynken, and Nod

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How it is now (being a swinger)

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Learning to catch the rhythms of me has taken a lifetime. As you may know I’m a pendulum swinger of the extreme variety and after all this practice there is no difficulty staying in the moment of focus at the busy exciting end of the swing. Intensity is built in out there. By the time amplitude’s fullness is reached (the coveted caesura), and intensity again noticed, it is an entirely different sort. I must recognize it all over again. Aye the rub.

At the quiet reach of my pendulum, I learn each time I’m there to stop the search for rhythm; there I don’t need to look, to organize, to move stuff. I remember I have brought what I seek with me and will not “find” it while looking. Looking and searching is too noisy, for the rhythm is the universal one of resting in quiet. Even the noise of searching may obscure it. I need to be very still.

Even the racket of a waiting mind may hide it. I need to be as quiet as a sally sinking in muck for a winter: no straining anticipation, no watching for visions, no interruptions to just being.

The rhythm is there and it echoes a quietly beating heart. Resting in the liminal space makes room for the ultimate force to be heard. And it is heard first in the heart.

Part of my nature was born the raucous two-year-old. And that obstreperous, bossy, wondering soul is never far from the surface. Such a being faces some serious learning in order to give space to a very opposite self and it has taken a lifetime for me to bring the two together. “Together” is perhaps a misnomer and hence the pendulum solution. It’s a way of going which seems suit over and over and accepting that is another hurdle to inner peace which took some practice to clear.

Now, because I’ve come this far in perception, how to proceed is the question as I want to use what I’ve learned and be less concerned with the learning of it. I’d like to use what bits I “know” about me to grasp the new; to just start here and let me be good enough to function as is and get on with it. (y’all hear that two-year-old speaking?) I give myself kudos for getting such a little firecracker to this point!

The point being?
That I am coming back, along the pendulum’s track. The stretching and yawning and blinking of the last months represents my spring which doesn’t conform exactly to the calendar.

What I’ve learned about the track (the amplitude or swing) is that it doesn’t represent a backtrack as I used to fear. In truth, I’ve never been this way before and it is more a switchback on this mountain or a hairpin in the river if you like. I can see where I have recently been and though a compass says I’ve been here before, really my path is a few degrees different by virtue of changes in me. What is the same provides the comforts of familiarity on the journey.

While I know the metaphor breaks a bit here, I am foremost a visual learner and it helps me understand my need for quiet and lots of it in an increasingly speedy world. The reality for me is that my bright pinging brain must rest and won’t seem to do so until the two-year-old is nearly hibernating. And that, being antithetical, must be imposed.

The season wheel has turned.2crows copy
I’ll see you in June.
Watch for me.

 

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Trompled Tulips

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Habits. Twitches. Looks. Phrasing. Responses.

Often I see small or large things which irritate me. Some say that happens when I see a reflection of something I dislike in myself: sort of a skewed reflection of something I’d rather not see.

The advice to those of us moving toward less judgement of our fellow humans is to “look in the mirror;” notice what in yourself is reflecting and causing that unease. We can decide to make it more comfortable or not. Sometimes finding our own comfort, with ourselves as we are, can be arduous. Not changing things feels more reasonable. With another nugget of self knowing, though, we can choose to be less judgmental. Perhaps.

It looks from inside my eyes, that the person assailed by another for being fat might answer “that is my business” with the strong implication of “mind your own business.” More directly “I am the only one walking in my skin” with the implication of “you cannot know my story.” That’s a big obvious example.

The principle applies any time I stray from my own yard. Ruptures from needlessly inflicted hurts happen when I have a poor sense of emotional boundaries, both mine and others’. It’s as if I’ve allowed my puppy to run up and down the neighborhood tearing up tulips. That’s done in an instant and though the damage might be repaired, it may take several seasons. The memory of all those tromped-on petals will not soon be erased. It might be difficult for neighbors to see me, pup or no pup, and not think of my carelessness and lack of respect.

There’s more than a tiny tear in the trust-colored fabric of our lives and we can all see the mend.

Not all running amok is dramatic and large as swathes of wrecked tulips. It’s the quick word, the cocked eyebrow to one who so well knows its meaning, a shrug of the shoulder or less. But it is the same thing; a piece of trust is ruined. And the antidote to these behaviors, so habitual and prevalent among us humans, need not be particularly dramatic either.

Each tiny prevention counts.

In the space of one or two purposeful breaths I can make the instant response, the quicksilver snakebite, wait. I can leash the impulsive pup, allowing my amazingly fast brain to guess how the other feels and then decide if I want to let fly. Any answer is correct if it is what’s I intend.

Responses, thoughts, judgements can almost always wait the space of two breaths and that space might just make a difference many times its size. Perhaps even the difference of a season or two of repairs to the tulip beds . . . the bridges of beauty between us.

Two breaths, a moment of care, can preserve the connection which lies in the spaces between us.

2crows copy

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