Moments Just Before

Despite the warm temperatures that graced us earlier in the week, the world around me here in the Hudson Valley is still mostly grey. It’s the time of year that most closely resembles the short, dark days of autumn (though it is not autumn) because the angle of the sun casts shadows that mirror the ones it throws on the fields and over the river in November, too.

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Piles of matted leaves are clustered in the corners of parking lots and pushed up against the foundation of our basement in musty, moldy waves. The ruddy, brownish grass, still matted and stunned from the weight of all that snow and cold, is starting to mottle–taking on tinges of yellow and green–but most people’s lawns still look, well, dead.

We have miles to go before the trees in northeast U.S. get dressed up in their riot of color and chlorophyll (only then might we allow ourselves to forget, for a time anyway, the ferocity of the winter we just endured) and it is tempting to demand that the summer Be Here Now. We long for green and for warm and for flip flops. We wish, anxiously, to just get on with things already, but no amount of twitching or cajoling or complaining will cause the leaves to bloom.

Yes, I’m talking about the weather again today (if I were to do an inventory of the 50+ posts that I’ve written on this blog so far (which I recently did) I’d realize I mention it often), but I’m not going to complain about the temperature gradient or snowpack. Instead, the weather has gotten me thinking about change and inevitability and the way I’m noticing the elements of this spring this year, and the evidence of its slow but steady arrival (or its arrival closing in on us?) in a different, more personal way.

Sure, sure the metaphor of seasonal change = a person developing internally or discovering a new way of seeing or being in the world is a trope as old as time. See: The Winter of My Discontent. See: Spring Awakening. See: until the rain comes and overstays, we take sunshine for granted. All helpful sentiments. All true. All completely cliché. The wisdom of clichés, of course, being their very banality–an unoriginality contingent on the universality of the experience they describe (if the experience was peculiar or special, it wouldn’t warrant a cliché).

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In this case, all things (people, places, ideas, seasons) change whether we bother to bear witness to it or not.

The thing about staying in a place (a reoccurring theme on this side of the blog) is the need to be on the lookout for change and inspiration, to stay alert for the soupçon because, more often than not, the portions of revision won’t be obvious…or will be so ordinary you might miss them. The familiarity of the happenings of the spring in the northeast (root, shoot, blossom, repeat) makes me susceptible to becoming immune to springtime’s redesign of every branch and plant and shrub in my yard. And most impatient about the duration of it.

The same goes for the internal adjustments we try to make in ourselves. I’ve been attempting, as you maybe discerned from my posts about job seeking and the way I’m foraging around my life for seeds of contentment and peace, to better understand myself. To, perhaps, reinvent myself. To, at the very least, notice what I notice and then head in that direction when I’m looking for What Comes Next.

The thing is, I often miss the minuscule changes that are happening inside my own self, too. Instead, I fantasize about the glory. I yearn to arrive at the promised land, the place that represents the sum of the many infinitesimal adjustments and modifications I’m making along the way. (The poem gets published. The job gets offered. I’m walking around my yard in bare feet.)

Instead of noticing the miraculous, minute-by-minute, transformation happening around me or in me, I often insist on not looking until beauty (or a brass ring) slaps me in the face. I don’t bother to recognize that–forgive me for the additional platitude–the journey is the joy.

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I’ve always thought that sentiment was bullshit (and it might actually be just that). Who appreciates the airplane ride to Paris–don’t you just want to be in Paris? The same goes for writing a poem or designing a more efficient and pleasing cardboard box, or, you know, it Being Summer. I like having written the poem. I like it Being Summer. I’ve never thought about redesigning the cardboard box, but I like the idea of having done that, too.

The steps to that kind of creation (or transformation) are arduous, ugly, lonely actions; the very moments of life we most often want to avoid–similar to these muddy, wet days of spring when the buds are tiny and delicate, the warmer air still carries a chill. Harbingers of eventual triumph, yes, but still pitiful suggestions of the overall potential of things. (i.e. the germ of a poem, the awareness of the desire for a new kind of box, the one or two virescent shoots of grass in an ocean of brown ones.)

Perhaps these are the moments when we are most obligated to look; to see. The moments just before the opus. The breath right before the glory.

 

Another poem:

Part of Eve’s Discussion

It was like the moment when a bird decides not to eat from your hand,
and flies, just before it flies, the moment the rivers seem to still
and stop because a storm is coming, but there is no storm, as when
a hundred starlings lift and bank together before they wheel and drop,
very much like the moment, driving on bad ice, when it occurs to you
your car could spin, just before it slowly begins to spin, like
the moment just before you forgot what it was you were about to say,
it was like that, and after that, it was still like that, only
all the time.

~Marie Howe, from The Good Thief

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“April hath put a spirit of youth in everything.”

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Ahhhhh…….

It’s been 75 degrees in the Hudson Valley these past three days–a temperature that seemed an impossible fantasy Here just a few short weeks ago. The dazzling weather caused quite a commotion around town–the sidewalks of Main Street were teeming with dog-walkers and brunch-ers and antique-seekers. The hiking trails were packed with spandex covered hipsters from the city toting water bottles and maps downloaded to iPhones. Even our local Home Depot–where I made a quick stop early Sunday morning to gather supplies for the yard work Ray & I had decided to do–was a beehive of activity.

A 75 degrees weekend in April is an uncommon phenomenon in the northeast no matter its timing, but this year, after enduring three months of well-below-average temperatures and snow piles that hung around until just last week, we, the people who braved the cold weather together, were astonished by its charms. Unsteadily we opened our doors and windows to the sun and the warm breezes. Cautiously we caught one another’s eyes as we went about our business at the markets and banks. “Can you believe this?” our expressions seemed to whisper to one another, with a not-small trace of skepticism mixed with awe.

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Even Luca enjoyed a nap in the sunshine.

The weather and, thus, the celebratory atmosphere that had taken over our village had descended quite suddenly and folks were dressed in all manner of attire–as if roused from their beds by a temperate alarm (or some kind of siren call). They were unsure about what to wear. Some threw caution to the wind and put on the wrinkled sundresses and crumpled shorts they must have pulled out of the storage bins under their beds and from their basements just that morning. Others, perhaps the more cynical of us, were dressed in clothing intended for the much cooler temperatures of just a week ago: jeans and boots and leather jackets and hats–prophylactics we had been conditioned to layering on to ward off the recently-exited cold.

The garden center at Home Depot is now blissfully free of snow-blowers and rock salt. In their places, shelves are stocked with mulch and fertilizer and rows of deep purple pansies sprouting from black plastic cups. Shoppers were giddy as they bought lawn seed and rakes. The labor involved in getting ready for the coming summer is a joyful jamboree, unlike the daunting and more serious task of preparations one makes in the fall. I picked up a new nozzle for our hose–our old metal one had split down the side during a freezing-bout in February–and a can of teak oil so we could gussy up our gazebo furniture. As Ray and I wiped and brushed and rubbed the chairs to a glossy shine we make plans for summer picnics and romantic dinners on the river’s edge.

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Ray oiling and buffing the gazebo table & chairs. See the green grass? Just six weeks ago there was still a foot of snow on the ground. It’ll probably be August before I stop being in awe of that.

As with all things, good or bad, this weather is not going to last. The forecast for the coming week is for the temperature to moderate. By Wednesday night we’ll even have to watch for a frost. This day, however, is a gift so I’m ending with a poem–I’ve been meaning to share more poetry this month–and here’s one that seems fitting:

Sonnet XCVIII
By William Shakespeare

From you have I been absent in the spring,
When proud-pied April, dressed in all his trim,
Hath put a spirit of youth in everything,
That heavy Saturn laughed and leaped with him.
Yet nor the lays of birds, nor the sweet smell
Of different flowers in odour and in hue,
Could make me any summer’s story tell,
Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew:
Nor did I wonder at the lily’s white,
Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;
They were but sweet, but figures of delight
Drawn after you, – you pattern of all those.
Yet seem’d it winter still, and, you away,
As with your shadow I with these did play.

 

 

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We enjoyed the first glass of rosé of the season in the gazebo after a hard day’s work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

April is National Poetry Month

I’ve never celebrated National Poetry Month in any way, and know very little about this art form, but I do know that for Christine, the poem is {please insert lyrical metaphor that connotes the importance of poetry to said Christine.} I also know that she always has the perfect poem at the ready, and I can’t wait to hear more from her on the topic this month. For more on that, visit the column to the right please. When she suggested that we post a favorite poem to kick off April, I had a giggle and then started to sweat, but strangely, I found what I was looking for quickly, a poem that speaks volumes to me right now as I miss all my people from over there, including my friend, the poet next door.

 

ON FRIENDSHIP
Kahlil Gibran

And a youth said, “Speak to us of Friendship.” 

Your friend is your needs answered.
He is your field which you sow with love and reap with thanksgiving.
And he is your board and your fireside.
For you come to him with your hunger, and you seek him for peace.

When your friend speaks his mind you fear not the “nay” in your own mind, nor do you withhold the “ay.”
And when he is silent your heart ceases not to listen to his heart;
For without words, in friendship, all thoughts, all desires, all expectations are born and shared, with joy that is unacclaimed.
When you part from your friend, you grieve not;
For that which you love most in him may be clearer in his absence, as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain.
And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit.
For love that seeks aught but the disclosure of its own mystery is not love but a net cast forth: and only the unprofitable is caught.

And let your best be for your friend.
If he must know the ebb of your tide, let him know its flood also.
For what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill?
Seek him always with hours to live.
For it is his to fill your need, but not your emptiness.
And in the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures.
For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.

April is National Poetry Month

For those of you who don’t know, poetry is my literary drink of choice. I like a nice big serving of it in the morning and in the evening and whenever I’m feeling sad or mad or glad. For nearly two decades the Academy of American Poets has deemed April National Poetry Month in America, a time when libraries and schools and bookstores around the country celebrate poetry through readings, festivals, book displays and workshops. I’ll write more about poetry in the days to come but today I’ll simply share a favorite poem (it’s impossible to pick just one) to get the conversation started.

 

From Nowhere
Marie Howe
 
I think the sea is a useless teacher, pitching and falling
no matter the weather, when our lives are rather lakes
 
unlocking in a constant and bewildering spring. Listen,
a day comes, when you say what all winter 
 
I’ve been meaning to ask, and a crack booms and echoes
where ice had seemed solid, scattering ducks
 
and scaring us half to death. In Vermont, you dreamed
from the crown of a hill and across a ravine
 
you saw lights so familiar they might have been ours
shining back from the future.
 
And waking, you walked there, to the real place,
and when you saw only trees, came back bleak
 
with a foreknowledge we have both come to believe in.
But this morning, a kind day has descended, from nowhere,
 
and making coffee in the usual way, measuring grounds
with the wooden spoon, I remembered,
 
this is how things happen, cup by cup, familiar gesture
after gesture, what else can we know of safety
 
or of fruitfulness? We walk with mincing steps within
a thaw as slow as February, wading through currents
 
that surprise us with their sudden warmth. Remember,
last week you woke still whistling for a bird
 
that had miraculously escaped its cage, and look, today
a swallow has come to settle behind this rented rain gutter,
 
gripping a twig twice his size in his beak, staggering
under its weight, so delicately, so precariously, it seems
 
from here, holding all he knows of hope in his mouth.