Falling Again

As I sit here in front of my open second floor window, the delightful smell of wood burning in the distance is wafting into our home office, a signal that colder days are surely right around the corner. Although today it’s mostly sunny and 75. A little lizard is happily basking in the sunshine streaming in through our screen. The neighbors, way across the fields, are the ones burning wood. I’m not totally sure why, but I love the smell anyway. The acres in between us have been buzzing with tractor activity as the farmers work, day and night, to get seeds in the ground before the cold arrives.

IMG_0348

 

IMG_0364

Just this morning, as I was hanging a few things out to dry on the line in the backyard, a military-looking Land Rover with the windows banged out, drove up onto the adjacent field, one that was overflowing with chick peas just a month ago, and out jumped Luca, the guy responsible for all these crops. He whistled a melody loudly as he walked towards me, in an effort not to startle me in the quiet of the morning I think. Once we saw each other, he yelled over a cheery “Bongiorno Gina!” (Good morning Gina!) I told him I had noticed all the hard work going on all over the property this last couple weeks and he shared that the fields around our house were being planted with wheat today. On cue, a tractor, driven my his brother, went by in the distance, dropping seeds out a giant funnel. “In bocca al lupo!” (Good luck! or literally “In the mouth of the wolf!”) I shouted to the fields as he continued on. “Crepi!” (“May the wolf die!”) he said giving a quick glance back at me.*

IMG_0345 IMG_0328 IMG_0343

But back to my sunny window, the seasonal reminders visible from my perch over an active farm are varied and plentiful. Aside from the nonstop planting that’s going on now, there were the apple and pear trees just beyond the backyard that provided buckets of delicious fruit in September. (It would probably take us a few years to figure out how to really take advantage of it all, and how to do it before the calabroni (giant bees) beat us to it.) Then, there were the wildflowers of September that lined all of the gravel roads throughout the hills. Red poppies, cow parsley, dog rose and spear thistle were the ones we recognized. The vendemmia (grape harvest) that I mentioned last week, and the harvesting of all the other crops happened as Fall officially began. The Persimmon tree in the front yard blossomed in October, just like last year, when we were surprised by its dark orange fruit after returning from Halloween in the States. It’ll be the last fruit that we’ll see until Spring brings back the cherries that freaked us out earlier this year. But the pink, red and magenta roses that still cover what used to be the horse stable and barn are still blooming this month, and should be going until the first frost.

IMG_0335 IMG_0350

You can’t help but be moved, emotionally and physically, by the rhythm of it all. And I don’t just mean that the beauty of nature can effect me, although it definitely does. Being this enveloped by it, seems to have strengthened the notion in my head that we’re just another part of this giant creation, one that is just as susceptible to its seasons as these crops and trees. And when I’m truly in sync with this truth, I feel less stressed, more calm, knowing that I’m following a cadence that’s existed for milennia. Simultaneously though, nature’s  incredibly efficient time-keeping, propels me into action, much better than any clock or calendar ever could. In the sense that I feel compelled by it to get out there – get those hikes in, eat on the patio, ride my bike, pick that fruit, wear those skirts, etc, etc, before the next season ushers me indoors for months!

Screen Shot 2014-10-21 at 9.31.52 PM

Leave it to the Italians to have the brilliant idea of placing Stations of the Cross all along a rather steep and arduous path in Parco della Chiusa, a lovely public park near our house! (Click to enlarge.)

Before we know it, Halloween will be here. And for this family, it’s usually a downward spiral of activity from there, one that we usually recover from in March some time. This year, it’ll start with Halloween in the Czech Republic, then Thanksgiving (if we can find some willing Americans to share it with us!), then four important birthdays, followed by a family trip to Paris, then back home to Philly and New York for Christmas and New Year’s with the family and friends. My normal tendency is to see all of this before me, and start to panic. Instead, however, I might try taking a lesson from Mother Nature as I sit here breathing in that wood smoke, and note that each of these things will happen in its turn. In between, the plants will keep growing, the seeds germinating, the sun will go up and the sun will go down, over and over again. There is space to breathe in there somewhere, so that all of that goodness can be enjoyed instead of just worried about.

So here’s to a beautiful Fall everyone! And hopefully a nice, slow entry into winter and all the holiday merriment that comes with its start.

* (The internet says this Italian way of saying good luck may have come from rural life in another time when a wolf would have been a danger to a farmer’s animals. Going into the mouth of the wolf would have been about going towards or being in danger, so the appropriate response is to hope the wolf will die, so the danger will go away. There’s another popular way to wish some one luck that involves going into the business end of a whale. No idea how they came up with that one!)

 

Autumn’s Arrival

A former yoga teacher I once studied with, while attempting to guide our class of restless New Yorkers through a pranayama (breathing/meditation) exercise, likened a full breath cycle to the sequence of sunlight in a 24-hour period here on Earth. He wanted us to pay attention to the two obvious portions: the rising part (the inhale) and the setting part (the exhale), but more important, we were to notice the less obvious spaces that separated those two–the metaphorical equivalents of dawn and dusk. We were to observe the brief intervals of time when our breath seems suspended–just after an inhale and then again after an exhale–and to investigate what happens in our bodies and to our minds when we really focused on those parts. Try it now; I’ll wait.

repiración2

So…? I’m sure you didn’t do it, but give it a try the next time you’re laying in bed and can’t sleep. It’s a pretty interesting practice. I remember getting nervous and even a little bit panicky at first as I waited in, and even courted, that in-between time. It was a sensation that made me breathe quicker and more urgently–not the state of mind that that yoga teacher was trying to cultivate in students who were desperate for a way to calm down.

I remember, too, wanting to get back to the marquee moments of breathing as quickly as possible. I felt safer there because it was what I knew. We gulp for air when we’re winded. We try to breathe easy when we’re scared. We run, we breathe. We swim, we breathe. Childbirth seems like one big practice in controlling your breath (and your body fluids). Usually we only think about taking breaths and releasing breaths when it’s the transition times that are the most compelling and, dare I say, transformative.

Once I started practicing slowing down, once I actually made a point of noticing what was going on with the parts of my breath that weren’t active or obvious, I actually began to relax and hold off my more rapacious instincts. It was almost as if, during those brief intervals when my breath was on hold, that my mind got turned off (in a good way), too. And that, for all who know me and have had the pleasure (i.e. the pain) of listening to what goes on in my mind, is the definition bliss.

IMG_4111

I mention this now because of the change of seasons that we’re in the midst of; a change, mind you, that I’m not taking very well. I don’t like the fall. Sure, it’s pretty and it is a bit easier to sleep at night on account of the cooler temperatures, but it being fall mostly just marks the beginning of me being cold for the next five months. And wearing socks. Coming off the grouchy-pants year I’ve just had, however, I’m trying to appreciate, if not enjoy, this time of year…which is how I got to thinking about the breathing thing.

See, the calendar year is broken up into four parts, too, and right now we’re in one of those in-between times: fall.

Not that fall doesn’t have a temperament and actuality all its own. People here in the northeastern United States are very demonstrative and vocal about Autumn being their very favorite time of year. It’s high wedding season in the HudsonValley (an even more popular time to get hitched than in June) and every Saturday and Sunday brides, clutching bouquets of dried hydrangeas wrapped in burlap twine, stand with their grooms for photos all along the river’s edge. Our hiking trails are teeming with Brooklyn hipsters and other city folk. The frenzied squirrels in our yard are gathering nuts and seeds at a frenzied pace, as if their lives depend on it; which, of course, they do. What with all of that activity and its natural beauty: the crimson and cadmium leaves, the crisp air laced with the sweetness of ripened apples mixed with smoke from newly lit chimneys, it’s a lovely time of year.

IMG_4150

For all of its unique qualities, however, fall–like that pause after the inhale–is a space between. Acquaintances never ask “How was your fall?” or lament about “What a long autumn it’s been!” It’s like fly-over country for seasonal-speak. Fall is the time between the two gaudiest and blatant seasons and is composed of a temperature gradient as inconsistent as it is variable. It’s days reflect both summer and winter: not uncommon are 75 degree late-October afternoons or frost warnings in early September. Fall is an amalgamation of what came before it and what we imagine will come next.

IMG_4179

If fall serves as the culmination of summer (the harvest, the end of the life cycle for certain plants and insects/a dormant time for others) as well as a time when we humans prepare for the intensity of cold and snow and what will come, than isn’t it the very best time for silence and reflection, too? In the fall we put the patio furniture away, ready the flower beds for latency and put snow tires on our car (or, in Gina’s case, chains on the tires). It’s a time when we’re required to clean up from the three month fiesta of sunshine and bare feet and gird our loins in anticipation of the drop-kick into wool skivvies.

At its very essence fall is the moderation between two extremes. At its very essence it begs us to stop. To wait. To take note. To set an intention. We’ll be moving as soon as winter arrives. We’ll have no choice. We have to stay warm.

So, I’m keeping careful watch of myself this week, lest I get too nostalgic lamenting the exiting warmth and ease of summer, and too concerned about the impending trials and tribulations of winter so much so that I miss out on the quiet respite and beauty and tranquility that fall provides. By pushing this metaphor to the limit today–and I’m sorry about that–I’m hoping that I will learn to appreciate autumn for what it is. I’m hoping that I can rest in its quiet and absorb its moderation and be, if not happy, than content.

IMG_4916

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Midsummer’s Mirth & Melancholy

800px-Oberon,_Titania_and_Puck_with_Fairies_Dancing._William_Blake._c.1786

‘Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing’ by William Blake

Today is July 15th so technically it’s well past midsummer here in the Hudson Valley. When the term is used correctly, midsummer denotes the celebrations and festivals that mark the summer solstice and the longest day of the year–an occurrence that falls at the end of June. Today–three weeks after the longest day of 2014–the earth has already begun to tilt its northern hemisphere away from the sun, incrementally adding minutes to our nights and steadily marching us towards winter and darkness. Midsummer, at this point, really is just a dream.

But forget science and poetics for a minute. I’m taking license with the term and using it to describe the fact that today feels to me, psychologically anyway, like the middle of summer; the safest, best part of the year. It’s equidistant from the end of the chilly spring and the arrival of the chilly autumn. We’re living inside the few weeks of the year when it is completely and truly Summer.

Here at the riverside we’ve fallen into a slow and soothing routine–no school for Noah means long, relaxing mornings in our pajamas when we make waffles and Nescafé and walk the dog together before heading out to camp or on the day’s errands. Some days we’ll have a fancy lunch outside and coax Ray out of his office to join us for a little while. Afterwards we’ll water the herb garden, check the tide and maybe go on an afternoon paddle. Longer, brighter evenings mean late dinners in the gazebo, sunset swims with Luca and candlelit games of chess accompanied by pizza and wine. Even though Ray’s work is busy and I’m still (frantically) looking for a job, the pace of our days is unhurried, and I find myself bursting with contentment, especially on nights when it looks like we’re doing nothing at all.

IMG_7613

Checkmate.

There’s magic in the air right now–and not only because of the canopy of blinking fireflies covering the yard and all that birdsong at dusk. Sitting outside at 9pm, barefoot and wearing a sundress, IS the very definition of summer to me. It’s that simple. The humidity pressing against my skin is healing and the cool flagstone underneath my feet is comforting and the  gentle purple twilight creeping in over the river melts away all of the stress from the day’s job search and softens the worry about paying next week’s bills. Peace descends with nighttime in the summer. And surrender. During winter, night falls like an ax, violent and deadly–uprooting all of my anxiety and leaving it exposed and writhing at my (sock covered) feet.

Laughter is easy during summer, too. Even when storms move at us across the river and threaten a perfect evening. We always stay outside until we hear the first rumble of thunder and then Ray and Noah and I quickly blow out the tea lights and gather the dishes and the chess board and run inside, trying (and not trying) to dodge the fat drops of warm rain. We race around the house closing the windows and comforting the dog (who hates storms) and eventually end up on the couch together, damp and laughing and out of breath. These are moments when lightening seems like a blessing. Or an answered prayer.

clock

“15” is half of something, right?

But each passing day, as lovely and mirthful as the cumulative moments of them might be, is just bringing us closer and closer to the inevitable season(s) that come next. Three of them. Three of them that are mostly made up of days and nights that are dark and gloomy and cold.

This reality came charging at me the other day when I went outside to water the garden and noticed that one of our tomatoes had turned red. Ripened tomatoes on the vine, along with the early corn you can now find at farmers’ markets around here, are a sure sign that summer’s song is coming to its inevitable end. After all, the ripening of said fruit is the final stage in the life cycle of this plant; and of this season. All that’s left is the thing falling to the ground and decomposing or, you know, me cutting it up and eating with a nice fat wedge of mozzarella and a sprinkle of salt.

Harrumph.

tomato

first tomato

It takes a pretty cynical soul to lament the arrival of a garden’s bounty, but the folks who know me best won’t be surprised by my perspective. Maybe I’m extra sensitive to  summer’s mellowing because of the very long, very snowy winter that we endured this past year and I just don’t want to be cold again. Maybe in my older age (I’ll officially hit the ‘mid forties’ next month) I’m simply more aware of the passage of time.

My suspicion, though, is that my melancholy is the result of something else; specifically my inability to recognize and feel gratitude. Yep. Gratitude. I mean, sure, I say “thank you” when it’s socially appropriate–I’m not a exactly a heathen–but the thanks I give is, at best, intellectually driven. I can be obsessively polite and self-denying to a fault, but the “thank yous” I offer seem lifeless and gaunt and, at times, insincere. Like my appreciation (or, rather, my lack of) for that tomato and the soil and all that sunshine and rain. My suspicion is that I’m mistaking sadness for gratitude. It’s midsummer after all, and not time to lament. We’re heading to New Hampshire to see my brother and his family this coming weekend and Gina will be here, sitting at my kitchen table, very soon. In a few weeks we’ll get to party in Philly with my favorite adopted family and then, just a day later, we’ll party at the Cape with my real one.

The thing is, it is summer NOW and it’s high time I realized that before it’s not anymore. Thank goodness I have half a season left work it out.

Invincible Summer

Screen Shot 2014-06-18 at 3.38.55 PM

Screen Shots of my phone weather app from March 1 and yesterday.

2014 has been a year of weather extremes and the recent change to the climate here seemed to come overnight. After a very long, very cold winter, summer entered swift and fierce. Not that I’m complaining. That May and June arrived bearing copious amounts of sun and above normal temperatures (tonight we have fans running all over the house–a necessity that doesn’t typically occur until mid-July) is just fine with me. Sure, it means that Ray & I will start arguing about air conditioning sooner than usual (he’d live in a climate-controlled environment 365 days of the year, I like fresh air–even when it blows through the window at the temperature of a dryer exhaust), but an early, hot summer also means that our basil and tomato plants are already thriving and that I get to wear sundresses for a few extra weeks.

On my hikes these past days I’ve marveled at the rocks that I climb and and the groves of trees I pass through and the river I admire–astonished at how just a few weeks ago (really, like less than a dozen weeks) the scenery around me seemed to be from an entirely different world. Last night when Noah & I took Luca for his last-pee-of-the-night-walk in our lightest-weight pajamas we remembered, without regret, that same walk in January…when one of us had to put on mittens and boots and a hat and a heavy coat, just to walk to the tree at the end of the driveway.

The expeditious arrival of the new season has made me covetous, too. Especially because of the glacially slow changes happening inside me and around me–the way my writing aspirations seem stuck and it feels like I will never, ever get a job. Why, I’ve been supposing in the back of my brain, do some things seem to take so long? For today, I’m feeling buoyed by the warm air around me, hopeful that if I marinate it in long enough I will internalize some of the transformation I see happening around me. Until then, I’m pretty delighted to enjoy it just for what it is.

(Click photos to increase their size.)

 

Screen Shot 2014-06-18 at 3.45.51 PM

Our backyard and the gazebo. We eat out there almost every night, which seemed impossible–which WAS impossible–just a dozen weeks ago.

 

Screen Shot 2014-06-18 at 3.46.36 PM

One of the paths I follow on my morning walk with Luca. Today I wore sandals and a tank top; the memory of my ankle length down parka and wool-lined boots was far from my mind.

 

Screen Shot 2014-06-18 at 3.41.05 PM

Storm King Mountain during one of last winter’s blizzards…and not.

 

Screen Shot 2014-06-18 at 3.40.20 PM

Foundry Brook, which runs through the West Point Foundry Preserve, in late winter and then in late spring.

“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.

And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.”

~Albert Camus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

temp

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.

lucasun

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.

work

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.

 

 

rose

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