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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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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.

*****

read DAVID’s thoughts this (i suppose it’s) NOT-SO-FLAWED WEDNESDAY


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peter and company. [k.s. friday]

peter is a welcome visitor.

he just sat there watching us watch him. no fear or aggression, he was peaceful and calm, even appearing gentle. we’ve seen him a time or two before – or perhaps a possum that looks like him – since they are individually hard to discern between. we’ve seen him waddle down our driveway and cross the street. we’ve seen him down by the corner, where the neighbor puts out seed and corn.

but the allure in our yard was the golden-corral-like smorgasbord we were providing in the small compost pile we have out back. i sent a picture of peter and a description of what he was likely eating to a friend who wrote back that it wasn’t golden corral. “that’s the four seasons back there!” a little research showed that opossums love fruit and vegetables, among other things, so we were right on target with our spread. it’s sweet to know that the compost is aiding this beautiful creature in its survival during this cold winter.

we try to keep our birdfeeder full and we generally set out the crusty ends of bread or the last bits of tortillas on the potting bench. the squirrels have discovered it and leave menus with items checked off they’d like to see more often. we haven’t seen our chipmunks, so they must be hibernating under the deck or living in the volkswagen in the garage – who knows – waiting for spring. they won’t be fooled by false starts; i’m certain they’ve enough birdseed from our feeder to last until the temperatures don’t hover near freezing anymore. i know that fox and raccoons, rabbits and skunks are out there, foraging and waiting.

it’s darn cold. and as february drones on and on we seek comfort from warm soups and stews and nourishing foods. i’m grateful that the wild critters in our neighborhood have a fighting chance.

and i swear that peter, gazing at us from the fencepost, seemingly waiting for buffet hours to open below him, telepathically said thank you.

*****

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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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a festival of branches. [k.s. friday]

long island’s ice storm of ’76 was a doozy. crunch was over, hanging out at our house when it started. though we encouraged him to stay, his big green four-wheel-drive truck made it to his home through what was heavy slush at the time. in the middle of a snowglobe world, magically coated in sparkle, he was back the next day and we wandered the neighborhood, taking photographs of everything encased in ice. it was stunning. the graceful mimosa tree, tall stately oaks, forsythia bushes, azalea, rhododendron, rose of sharon…all wrapped in crystal, the sun’s glare making sunglasses an absolute.

i can’t remember an ice storm like that here, at least not in the last three decades since i’ve lived here. wisconsin is more of a sub-zero-temps/snowfall state than an ice-storm state. but there was a pretty devastating winter storm in 2020 when everything along the lakefront was frozen, trees bending to the pressure of wind and water.

in predictions for this next week or so, accuweather uses terms like “limited outdoor activity recommended” and there is the emotionally wrought overuse of the word “bitterly” used next to the word “cold”. negative windchills are prevalent and even miracle mittens aren’t enough.

so when you look outside and see blue skies only interrupted by the artful limbs of trees, you are fooled. it may appear to be the perfect day for a walk, but warnings not to be outside – “hypothermia likely without protective clothing” – are pause for thought.

we haven’t walked on the lakefront path past the marina lately. when the water starts churning from north and northeast winds, the lake pounds the shore. ice forms along the coastline – sometimes in those circles called ice pans or ice discs – and the metal railings jutting out over the lake along the walk have collections of giant icicles. we’re not sure what’s there right now.

in this neighborhood of big old trees and above-ground power lines we hope ice storms continue to be a rarity. each time a huge beautiful limb is down or a tree succumbs i feel a sense of sadness. though i believe the soul of a tree is somehow left behind and surrounds us with the wisdom of the ages, i wonder how the squirrels will move about. for here, in our ‘hood, there is a festival of complex travel high above the ground, branching every direction. savvy squirrels scamper from tree to tree to high wires to tree – squirrel highways.

out the window next to me, even now, i catch the shadow of a squirrel running south down the line parallel to the driveway. it makes me smile every time.

*****

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pristine. [not-so-flawed wednesday]

it all looked pristine for a while, after it snowed. a fresh blanket of white covering our yard and its blemishes. for the time before the wind started blowing and the snow started shifting, you couldn’t tell that the front yard was all torn up, that there is a large grassless mound – like a dune on the long island coastline – that stretches from our house all the way to the street.

the backyard also. pristine. a white canvas, dotted with tall old evergreen trees, ornamental grasses gone to brown, feathery plumes waving, the pond frozen and still.

there are folks whose yards will continue to look that way – pristine. the snow will remain untouched, smooth, perfectly showcasing shadows as the sun peers through tree limbs and plants in fallow.

the moment we open the back door and dogdog runs out, the illusion of perfection ceases. pawprints obscure the shadow art as he tears into the blanket of snow, nose down, gleefully devouring it as he goes. he is a winter dog. there is no doubt about it. he comes in reluctantly – laden with snow – after laying on the deck on top of snow, surrounded by snow, under new snowfall. it is his time.

sometimes i wonder if we can just save the front yard, just not walk in it, just not let it be disturbed. we can look out the window and gaze at that which makes everything profoundly beautiful.

but then there are squirrels dancing about in the snow and the tiny footprints of birds. there are prints of a stray cat and maybe a raccoon or two. the grasses dip under the weight and the gusts, brushing aside snow like small brooms. there are bootprints of the guys who installed our temporary sidewalk and shoeprints of our postal, ups, fedex, amazon delivery people bringing us mail, cards from people we care about, packages of things we need. the wind has blown off the straw-covered mound, exposing the filled-in trench of a new water service line, a tiny winter miracle in itself.

and i realize that as stunning as pristine is, it is perhaps illusory and most definitely ephemeral.

instead, we celebrate the messy, the prints in the snow, the elated dog, the windblown fresh snowfall, creatures seeking food and shelter, the interrupted shadows.

*****

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magic fluff. [two artists tuesday]

though we are not ‘good’ at many plants, it seems, we are ‘good’ at ornamental grasses. maybe it’s the soil, maybe it’s the sun, maybe it’s location, but grasses have given us a sense of garden-accomplishment that nothing else (shy of mayyyybe the cherry tomatoes and basil and lavender this year) has bestowed upon us.

we won’t cut them down. no pruning. they will stay through the winter, magnificent plumes golden against the drear, against the snow, reminding us of good fluff of the day.

i imagine tiny animals sheltering in their masses, dense bush allowing warmth and security and invisibleness. maybe tiny chipmunks, with pantries of birdseed they have stolen from the finches and sparrows, waylaid from intrepid robins and scarlet cardinals. we’ll just keep filling the birdfeeder. judging by the birds partying in our backyard yesterday, i think we may try and find another birdfeeder to hang as well. i have turned into my parents.

dogdog comes inside each day now, laden with seed pods. if wishes were granted on seedheads, we would have so many magical dreams coming true. he seems to not mind these tiny hitchhikers tucked into his very-furry fur. we pick them off, one by one.

and now i think, who’s gonna stop us from wishing on each one? these grasses grace us in more than one way. let the magic commence.

*****

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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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through it. [k.s. friday]

it comes in stages. there is no easy route to the other side. just through.

the unexpected snow – after most had melted – though, indeed, a beautiful blanket of quiet – was also a stark and cold reminder that winter was not done. somehow it was a reminder of people gone, of the lack of interaction with others, a reminder of the invisible fence between us all, somewhat devoid of color and warmth. the pandemic we are living through has provided us with historic missing. so much lostness. someone asked me yesterday if i had had a vaccine. when i replied yes, she asked me why, then, was i wearing a mask. i stared at her above the piece of cloth i, like many of you, have diligently worn everywhere for about a year and replied that having a vaccine doesn’t abdicate me from responsibility. it is my job as a decent human being to continue to do my part – not just until i am vaccinated, but until the country is on track and there is little chance of others becoming ill because i, or anyone, was negligent. not wearing a mask herself though not vaccinated, she replied angrily that it wasn’t fair, that i shouldn’t have to wear a mask. i withheld the retort that quickly sprang to my lips and instead just said that this is hard. we are all lost together and foundness will be somewhere on the other side of all we have missed, somewhere in the spring of healing, in whatever season that falls.

when the tradesmen installed the patio, they carefully and artfully chose pieces to fit together. they slowly and tediously laid out a spot in our backyard where we could sit and sip wine in adirondack chairs, where we could hang our hammock, where we could build a bonfire late at night and dream dreams in the fireflies of sparks it sent out. the snow crystallizing on the rock accentuated the spaces between the pieces. though clearly defined as edges, it reminded me that all these pieces do fit together, perhaps nothing is really missing. every emotion – lostness and foundness and all inbetween, a jigsaw puzzle of sorts, the title of which, were there to be a box that would contain all the cardboard pieces, might read ‘life is like this’.

up against a pile of pillows, i sat in bed with coffee a few days after we lost babycat. with sadness and unwilling to greet the new day, i hadn’t yet opened the miniblinds. yet in the window to the east, the sun was insistent. it found its way through the tiny cracks between the blinds, the tiny holes that hold the string, as if urging me to open-open-open up. it didn’t change my missing when i opened them. i still missed babycat. i still missed all sense of normal. i still missed my children-all-grown-up, my parents-in-another-dimension, my family-far-apart, my friends-separated-by-covid-responsibility. i missed security and good work well done. i missed laughing and all things carefree.

but, in opening the blinds, i did not have to miss the sun and i stood in its warmth streaming in, looking at the spot on the bed where babycat would have laid in the soft rays from the window. and i realized that in yearning for all that on the other side i would have no choice but to go through it all, all the stages, snow, crystal flakes, sun and all.

*****

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