reverse threading

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cautious discernment. [d.r. thursday]

and the dried grassy flower stands tall, not yet shrinking back, not yet bowing to the wind. it opens its arms to the sun and, equally, to the rain; it intimately knows how each feels. it waits – for there is nothing else to do. it stokes energy – for it cannot survive unless it conserves. we pass by, admiring the firework of its winter bloom.

soon, soon, it will regenerate. soon, soon, a stem will grow, sturdy, tall. soon, soon, a rosette will green. soon, soon, it will bloom, tiny flowers, clusters on its thick stem.

and one might think how lovely it would look in a simple bud vase, on a side table, in its winter simplicity or soon-soon-spring-blossoming.

quick research reveals it could be golden alexander or perhaps queen anne’s lace, not-toxic and somewhat toxic, respectively. a google-photo-search suggests it is possibly wild parsnip, absolutely toxic, invasive, causing severe burns and years-long discoloration of the skin, like queen anne’s lace with a big bite.

“things are [- sometimes -] not what they appear to be; nor are they otherwise.” (buddha)

identification – now – in the fallow – is not easy.

when there are tiny flowers, when there is foliage…maybe then it will be easier. it will, clearly, be an important discernment.

often we gaze upon things that seem to be attractive, seem to be beautiful, that tease us to reach for them.

perhaps a reminder to exercise caution.

*****

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bird by bird. [k.s. friday]

the mallards are back. a male and a female. they were hanging out across the street on the corner in the grass next to the sidewalk by the bus stop sign. i couldn’t help but smile; they are a welcome sight.

the robins have been gently waking us before dawn – their birdcalls, wafting through an always-partially-opened-window, a soft entry into a new day. i wake, listening to them and other early birds, then slip back to sleep for a few-more-minutes.

after what feels like a long winter, accentuated by the pandemic’s limitations, the mallards, the robins, the tiny flowers poking out of the grass and alongside the trail, all harbingers that spring is actually coming to wisconsin. really, really.

there is a temptation to clean out the gardens, to neaten and tidy up. but rule of thumb – wait until the daytime is at least 50 degrees for 7-10 days – puts the nix on this. wisconsin is not 50 degrees even two days in a row yet. the robins and the mallards roll their eyes.

so, the spring cleaning juju goes inside and we spend any extra energy readying our home for throwing open the windows, allowing the sun to stream in, cleaning out the cobwebs and the (ahem!) dust of the past seasons.

we changed our sitting room last weekend. we put up fresh paintings, moved things around, pared down. the sitting room is between the hallway and the master bedroom and, though with a comfy couch and chair, has often felt merely like a walk-through. we pause now. it feels peaceful and inviting. a little re-arranging, a little re-decorating and it is a space luring me to curl up, read a book, write poetry, sit and ponder.

we are moving around the house now, doing the same as last weekend. the dining room has bags and bins and boxes filling up – things to donate. the basement, also. it will take some time. this is not the first time i have written about this lengthy process, nor will it, likely, be the last. it is a journey. i’m taking it bird by bird. (anne lamott)

the next room up is my studio. it has too many remnants of past workplaces, too many packages of stuff, too much in it to feel inviting or peaceful. i stand in the doorway and wonder if the mallards would turn away, grimacing, were this to be where their homing instinct returned them.

i know that the sitting room’s new persona, so to speak, has encouraged me to sit, to stay there a while.

i wonder if the studio will do the same. cleaned out, tidied, pared down. bird by bird.

full stick and an empty piano bench are a powerful invitation.

*****

BABY STEPS

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BABY STEPS from RIGHT NOW ©️ 2010 kerri sherwood


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in the green room. [not-so-flawed wednesday]

well, that didn’t last long.

spring has peeked in, shook its head, and retreated.

it snowed saturday. all day. it was a really wet snow, and, though it did stick a bit on yards and roofs, it was not shovel-worthy. but it did bring out the restless.

we took a walk in it. in the olden days (not too long ago) we always took a walk while it was snowing. here it was – april 2nd – and it was snowing. so surely, we should not be freezing and i would not need my miracle mittens to enjoy the soft flakes landing on our faces.

not.

the snow pelted us as we walked along the lakefront. literally pelted us. it stung our faces; we had to keep looking down to the sidewalk. and, not wearing my miracle mittens was really dumb. this is wisconsin, after all. what was i thinking?!?

i tried to take photographs of the snow as it fell. i think i was really trying to take a picture of our restlessness, of the yearning for sun and warmth, of willing spring to stop taking its sweet time, to actually arrive and not linger in the green room off the stage of winter.

in a desperately intentional cup-half-full approach, we noticed grass that had greened, with snow on top. we noticed buds on trees, with snow on top. we noticed tiny sprouts of plants, with snow on top. we noticed that the streets were not really holding the snow, that the sidewalks were not snowy, that water was running next to the gutters to the drains. these were good signs.

the year my daughter was born – 1990 – it snowed the day before the first whisperings of her grand entrance into the world. it was may 13, mother’s day that year, and in one day i would go into labor and in two days i would be a mom.

but – may. snow. yikes.

after everything, simply every thing, i’m not sure hardy wisconsin souls would be able to take that this year. i think that, perhaps, mother nature might cut us some slack. perhaps a little more green and a little less white. perhaps a little more 50s and a little less 30s. perhaps a little more sun and a little less cloudy.

perhaps i need to get a grip and just ride the roller coaster that is spring in a great lakes state.

i’m guessing the tickets are free for residents.

i remind myself that patience is a virtue and other blah-blah positive, lofty adages. sigh.

i’m going to go hide in the green room with spring and discuss that.

*****

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little by little. [k.s. friday]

“bows and flows of angel hair and ice cream castles in the air. and feathered canyons everywhere, i’ve looked at clouds that way.” (joni mitchell)

it’s march. less bluesky days than gray. more rain than sun. drear > brilliant. march in-the-north is a funny time. it’s neither this nor that. a transition zone. it’s cold. it’s warm. it’s both. it’s never consistent. you just never know.

and so, you realize that you have to grab onto the days that shake you out of cobwebs and from under the quilts of winter. you must go stare at the sky. and those clouds. they hope you.

i walked looking up. watching the play of sunlight. remembering what it feels like to have warm sun on my face and not see puffs of air in front of me as i breathe into it.

in the middle of a time of some worry i drink in the sounds and sights of normal around me. i hold tightly to the returning sound of early sparrows and stalwart chickadees and finches. i stand in blue and fluffy white, grateful for a day that is not a shade of gray.

i sat on the edge of the deck, dogga at my side. we watched two cardinals flurrying about. we listened to the crows and watched for the hawk. there was nothing that had to be done in those moments, no project, no task. it just was. it wasn’t really warm but it wasn’t really cold either.

it’s the grayness that is the challenge. sitting in the question of season. the not-this-not-that. elusive spring. the calendar reads “spring” yet the reality in these parts is not in keeping with the definition of “to leap, burst forth”. an illusion, as there is no leaping, no bursting forth here. it is more of a slow slide into the season. snowpiles struggling to remain in the shadows, shreds of ice on the pond. the good earth will take its sweet time, in bits and spurts, little by little, and, eventually, spring will have arrived and we will glance around and be surprised.

i look at the weekend weather. i’ll turn 63 on sunday. i would like it to be warm, sunny. i would like to gather my children and my family and dear friends and eat birthday cake with lots of candles and singing under a blue-puffy-cloud-sky. wishes.

accuweather tells me it will not be warm. it will be the coldest day of the weeks on either side. and, for many reasons of this time, it will not be gathered with my children or my family or dear friends and i will not be eating cake with candles. i don’t know about the singing. all…little by little.

but it’s supposed to be sunny.

and that counts. every little by little.

“i’ve looked at clouds from both sides now, from up and down and still somehow: it’s cloud illusions i recall; i really don’t know clouds at all.” (and judy collins sings)

*****

little by little (©️ 2022 kerri sherwood feat. dogga)

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the pod of our diapause. [two artists tuesday]

the color of a palomino, the pod of milkweed off the side of the trail captures my attention. though i want to touch it, to feel what looks like a velvety ear, i don’t disturb it. this pod has burst open, its seeds scattered, waiting for verdant spring and the eventual arrival of monarchs. the butterflies left the midwest for the winter, migrating, traveling up to 2500 miles to shelter and hibernate through winter in coolness that is not cold.

their diapause is a period of suspended development. it is common in the insect world, this inactivity: “a state in which their growth, development, and activities are suspended temporarily, with a metabolic rate that is high enough to keep them alive.” it’s a kind of dormancy. it sounds a little like isolating in the middle of a pandemic, a little like a response to a few more-difficult years. a slowing down, an insulating, a turning-in, heartbeats enough to sustain yet not enough for vast inspiration. hmm.

back on our favorite local trail, we are watching it wake. we take note of the changes in color, the changes in the woods, in the meadows. sipping coffee this morning we listen to the new sounds – birdcalls we have missed in the quietude of winter, the middle of our diapause.

we start to feel the pull of the outside more, the draw of places to see, the falling-off of quilts we have wrapped around us. i begin to wonder – with a little more energy – what next and next look like. the sun streams in the window and stays up later, pushing back night like feet on a crab soccer ball.

we begin to break open the pod of our diapause, long after milkweed but before the butterflies come back.

*****

read DAVID’S thoughts this TWO ARTISTS TUESDAY


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a little more promise. [d.r. thursday]

outside the window – just this very second – we can hear the sound of a sweet bird singing its little heart out. mostly quiet out there all winter, except for the sound of the crows chasing the neighborhood hawk, the chirping gives me hope. sans-chirping seemed like a long time, extended – stretch—-ed out like 1960s turkish taffy or 1970s laffy taffy – by this never-ending pandemic and its concerns and restrictions. but today chirped and my heart lifts.

when we first moved to wisconsin we rented a little house. the kitchen was yellow-yellow, which was probably a good thing, as we moved from florida to wisconsin in the dead of winter and i struggled with some giant homesickness (and probably not-just-a-little seasonal affective disorder, unnamed at the time). the bathroom had no shower, just a tub, so we installed a rubber hose on the tub spout and rigged up a shower with zipties. the living room was tiny, especially with a big black lab ranging over the hundred pound mark. the basement was suuuch a basement. and, though it was in a sweet neighborhood, i felt lost.

but each morning, as that first wisconsin spring approached – in its crawling-not-even-baby-steps-kind-of-way – i could hear the birds in the bushes just out the bedroom window, in the very corner of the yard, right by the chain link fence. and those birds brought me back to the birdsounds of my growing-up. and that all reassured me. because sometimes change is hard.

we only spent one winter, one spring and a bit of summer in that house before we moved here – to this house – and i learned the birds of this lakefront neighborhood.

and then today.

this bird, singing outside on a grey morning, may be singing itself to clarity. the lake is changing. the skies at dawn and at dusk are changing, stripes of color. the moon sweeps across the sky. there is a little more sun a little earlier in the day and a little later in the evening. a day here or there that is a tiny bit warmer.

maybe this bird is feeling a little less lost and a little more promise.

*****

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like wisconsin. [not-so-flawed wednesday]

it smells like florida outside this morning. it’s milder and dewy and distinctive. it makes me think of many, many mornings waking up in florida, ready for sunny and warm. clouds hung low in the early day, burning off as the hours passed. here, this day will stay mostly cloudy, rain passing by, the sun not really having a chance. having passed through a couple days of really-cold, a day in the 50s feels like a reprieve. and that smell…

there have been some days in the summer when something in the air shifted and we could catch a hint of fishy from the lake. the air hung a bit heavier and the seagulls were noisy. these were the days i felt long island, images reaching across time and the miles inbetween here and there, beach days, boating days, old bike-hike days, days on the stoop of my growing-up house…

and the days when the leaves on the ground in late fall or the pine forest in the middle of our river trail place me back hiking in our favorite breckenridge, the scent of evergreen forest ever-present. those high mountains…

there are two small bottles of cologne on the windowsill of our bathroom. neither is mine. the estee lauder pleasures was my sweet momma’s and the small travel size marc jacobs daisy is one that my girl left behind. if my son was represented on the sill it would make me smile to see the abercrombie fierce his sister and i bought, long ago, for him to wear – talkaboutdistinctive! just a whiff of each of those…

the memory of fragrance is powerful and emotional.

we have cleared the deck of summer. the outdoor rugs, the table and chairs and new umbrella, the cushions and pillows, the old door and the ficus tree. all are put away. soon the dog’s water bowl will come inside as well and the last two pillows too. the rugs left lines on the wood, which will fade as time goes on. it looks blank out there. it seems like such a short time ago we were planning and shopping ever-so-wisely to make that space the perfect après spot. now, winter is on its way, taunting us even this week.

we left the small firepit on the deck. i figured we could light it outside the window and watch it from the table in the sunroom. it has been our favorite purchase of the summer and too much change too fast is, let’s face it, too much change too fast. we can still enjoy it for a bit more time, tucking it away on the most extreme days. après has moved inside.

but i suspect there will be a morning we wake up…some wintry day…probably soon…when we rise and open the back door for dogdog. we’ll have a burst of cold air and then, a long breath.

the snow will smell like frosted magic, crisp and white, sparkling. the sun will glimmer off flakes that have fallen on the deck. it will conjure up memories of snowmen and holiday decorating, christmas shopping and wrapping stocking stuffers late-late at night, the fireplace and shoveling and snow angels, walks in the woods and the crunchy sound of snow under your feet…

and that morning i’ll think, yes, this smells just like wisconsin.

*****

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the hush. [merely-a-thought monday]

the snow swirled outside the floor to ceiling glass – the city was blurry beyond the wind. it was brief. it didn’t stick. it was a statement. fall was gusting a bit of winter. everyone shivered, glad to be inside during the band of squall.

there is much still to be done. time seems to have raced by and we chose trails instead of pruning, talking in adirondack chairs in disappearing sun instead of packing away. procrastinating, holding onto the last vestiges of warmth and perfect autumn days, we opted to do the minimum, knowing the rest would need to be done in the colder days; the season keeps moving on.

we rise now in early quiet morning, without multitudes of birds out the windows, without sunny-the-chipmunk calling from the fencepost, without the sun beckoning us, “outside, outside.” we check the temperature…24 degrees…we reluctantly turn the heat up a smidge. we re-stock the nespresso pods, choose warm holiday teas for the coffee-pot-canisters over the counter, and seek out new soup recipes. we think about placing the shovel by the back door, its winter home. we crack the window just a bit now and sleep with an extra quilt.

the mums bow in the hush of the brisk mornings, chillier daytimes, less sun, more clouds, frost at night, all delivered by the magic wand of the calendar marching on. they are still beautiful and, from this view, we see the intricacy of the bud, sepals nestling and supporting petals, protecting the pink. we dig out my miracle mittens, his warm gloves, earmuffs, scarves, baselayers.

we talked about the silence this morning. it is still and the sun is trying. it may snow.

there were tiny flurries as we walked on the sidewalks of chicago, down coats and gloves, our heads bowed to the wind. it’s time to be inside more and we recognize – in the way of the universe – that we are much like the mums.

*****

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fuchsia shibui. [k.s. friday]

“rather than being a fall away from beauty, ageing can be the revelation of beauty, the time when the inherent radiance becomes visible.” (john o’donohue)

perhaps i would have noticed these leaves in the prime of their life, clotheslined on the branch, hanging in the sun. their verdant green might have captured my attention and the focus of my camera. but i kind of doubt it. for, indeed, they would have blended into the rest of the woods, the rest of the underbrush, the colors, the shrubbery, the landscape.

in the autumn of their lives, these leaves are ravishing. they gesture to the camera and invite my study. their ageing is their invitation to relish their presence, the visual “hey! look at me!”.

these days it is predictable. there is something – each day – we will say that is a reminder, though gently and with soft humor, of the very fact that we are ageing. we poke at ourselves, with self-deprecating comments about wrinkles or crepey skin or bellies changing or achy joints. we roll our eyes and then one of us reminds the other to be present in it and joyful and grateful, mostly grateful. we are not eloquent in those moments. they involve words like “sheesh!” or “stahhhhhhhhp!” or comparisons “but look at MY wrinkles!”. to suggest we are ageing gracefully is to ignore the american cultural emphasis on youthfulness, with ageing depicted negatively. in contrast, ageing in japan is revered. the elderly have the utmost respect. in the autumn of their lives, turning toward mid-life and beyond, the flaws earned throughout life are considered the very things that intensify beauty. shibui, it is said, is an aesthetic turn toward subtle and unobtrusive beauty, textural in elegance and roughness, diverse in spontaneous and restrained, a balance of simplicity and complexity, understated but not innocent, gorgeous words about meditation over spectacle. (wikipedia)

yesterday, in the middle of thinking about kneeling on the stripes, i found myself stumbling upon hearts. there was the heart – a random piece of ripped tissue – on the hinged lid of the stainless wastebasket. the hearts on the shower curtain, light somehow filtering through the holes holding curtain rings, reflected down onto the curtain itself. the heart leaf on the sidewalk. this morning the heart, shaped from the skin of the potato, on top of the tiny wedge of breakfast potato. it was a little uncanny. but was it?

or perhaps it is some kind of universe message – raising its voice over the din of flaw-noticing and in-the-pause-thinking and liminal-space-white-noise – reminding me of being loved. in this autumn-of-my-life. that the fuchsia is showing up, is a statement in the middle of a dense forest, raising the ordinary to extraordinary, the natural presence of shibui.

*****

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EVERY BREATH from AS IT IS ©️ 2004 kerri sherwood


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out that window. [not-so-flawed wednesday]

first glance would suggest this is a black and white photograph. an image taken through the window over our kitchen sink, a view i have seen first thing in the morning about 12,000 times and the last minutes at night just before turning out the kitchen light and moving into a time for sleep, about 12,000 times. and any time inbetween, in the day as morning marched into noon and noon glimmered into midday and midday waned into evening. each time, gazing out, about 12,000 times.

that is likely paralleling how well ansel adams knew the american west, images of wild and rugged yosemite etched into his heart. how many times this maestro of his art must have studied those vistas, photographing morsels and overviews, contrast and shading in all seasons. striking focus, his work inspires adventure-out-there-juju and, more importantly, an environmental awareness in these times of climate crisis. without color, the attention of the aperture pivots to grandeur, is not distracted, but is challenged by shape and line and form and composition.

taking a photograph through a window is different than taking it without some kind of membrane between photographer and subject. it gives space for other kinds of interaction. the play of reflection, the underside of raindrops, never-minding the swipe of window-cleaner-rags. opportunity to see, a unique peek into the familiar, wherever you might be.

this is not a black and white photograph. it is the stuff of october days heading full-steam toward november. it is the drear of rainy and damp and cold. it’s wishing 65 degrees was not vanishing into the calendar.

and yet, having looked out of that window maybe over 100,000 times all told, i know that the view, framed by a painted cornice, kitchen cabinets and our old porcelain sink, is different each day, that the days are not identical and never really the same, that change is always a constant. and that some days, when i point the camera out the window it will capture intense color, vibrant sun, blue sky, leaves the colors of fire and rust and squirrels running on the wire.

*****

read DAVID’S thoughts this NOT-SO-FLAWED WEDNESDAY