March 31….

Lacking any original thought or insight today (I’m cleaning house), I’d like to share one of my favorite poems, which I first encountered while reading The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons. If you haven’t read it, and the other two books in the trilogy, The Summer Garden and Tatiana and Alexander, I highly recommend them. The last three lines of the poem are almost heartrendingly beautiful and haunting, much like the books.

The Embankment
(The fantasy of a Fallen Gentlemen on a Cold, Bitter Night)

Once, in a finesse of fiddles found I ecstasy,
in a flash of golden heels
on hard pavement.
Now I see
that warmth’s the very stuff of poesy.
Oh God, make small
the old, star-eaten blanket of the sky
that I might fold it round me
and in comfort lie.

T.E. Hulme (1883-1917)

This photo seemed like a fitting accompaniment to the poem....

This photo seemed like a fitting accompaniment to the poem….

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Anticipating Spring

There’s a common theme voiced in the social media pages I frequent–everyone is tired of winter. It’s been a long and unusually bitter one. Although the sun is shining today the temperature could be best described as brisk. We’re nearing the end of March, yet when I went out to feed the cats earlier this morning my breath formed a frosty cloud in the air and what water remained in their bowl had frozen.

Each day brings us closer to warmer weather and I’m impatiently searching for signs of spring in the landscape surrounding the house. I scrutinize the trees to see if buds are forming. I check my various flower beds for bits of green poking up into the light. I pore through my flower photos, hungry for the color so sadly lacking in the view from my windows, concluding that it will be some time yet before I can take any new ones.

Spring also signals a return of all the brightly colored birds: orange and black orioles and red-breasted grosbeaks, the tiny hummingbirds like winged jewels. Finches, both red and gold. Our bird feeders explode with a flurry of color and activity and my camera, unused for so many weeks, once again becomes an extension of my eyes and hands.

Perhaps more than any other creature, butterflies symbolize spring to me, although I no longer see the variety I did in seasons past. Swallowtails, both black and yellow, are noticeably fewer. It would be a sad world, indeed, without them, and I hope the day never comes when all we have left is photos, and specimens preserved in museum displays. Along those lines, I leave you with two of my favorites.

L, Monarch on Allium; R, American Lady on Coneflower

L, Monarch on Allium; R, American Lady on Coneflower

Everything I Know I Learned From My Cat

Duck; shot on the deck railing

Duck; shot on the deck railing

I’m a cat person. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike dogs; it’s just that I feel more of an affinity with felines. Here’s what I’ve learned by observing their behavior over time:

* Cats have an innate dignity, a firm sense of self that they don’t compromise. They’re born with it; we humans have to acquire this trait, usually through trial. They’re also tolerant (to a point. I, too, would resist being forced to wear something that made me look ridiculous).

* Cats are particular about those they allow to get close, a valuable lesson as some individuals we encounter can only be termed toxic. We’ll tolerate a lot of abuse before we’re willing to cut someone out of our life, especially if it’s family.

* Cats couldn’t care less what you think of them. Humans care too much, sometimes to the point of pretzeling ourselves to please others. Why are we so afraid to allow others to see our true self? Part of the answer lies in the basic need to belong, to be accepted, regardless of age.

* A cat’s love is unconditional. It’s not based on whether our clothes are fashionable, whether we’re rich or poor, fat or thin, young or old. If a cat is treated with love it will respond in kind–on its own terms, of course. They’re not petty, and they don’t meow behind your back. They’re pretty good at keeping secrets, too.

* Cats come and go; they stay in our lives and move on when the need strikes. Everything has a season, a truism difficult to accept. Humans crave permanence, regardless of how illogical that is.

* Cats live in the moment. Always. There’s no concept of stressing over things past or future in the feline world.

There’s more, but I’m sure you get the idea. If you’re searching for insight or a change in your perspective, look no farther than your feline companion. There answers are all right there.

And you thought cats were just house pets!

I Remember Mama

Mom, Crop, Ex-22      Lunch! 001 (2)My mother was a quiet woman. She lived her life in the background, overshadowed by dad’s more authoritative personality. Home and family–that was her focus. As spring approaches, I find myself thinking of her. That in itself isn’t unusual; even though she’s gone, mom remains part of my life. I think of her often.

When we were small, mom and my two aunts would bundle us into the car for a trip to the woods to pick wildflowers. We packed a lunch, and jars of water for the plants. Scarves for our heads to keep the ticks away. Digging tools, because Aunt Julie liked to transplant wildflowers to her home garden (this was an era before you could purchase bulbs or seeds for almost everything).

I remember the cathedral-like silence of the woods, the smell of damp and exotic growing things. Bloodroot. Dutchman’s Breeches. Anemones, with their delicate pink petals. Lady’s Slipper, Jack-in-the-Pulpit. Columbine; Bluebells. Lacy ferns. And violets. Oh, the violets! Every shade in the purple spectrum and white ones with purple throats. In places, where the two had cross pollinated, we’d find white ones spattered with purple, as if Mother Nature had shaken her paintbrush clean. I hear my mother’s voice instructing me, “Slide your fingers down the stem; don’t just yank them out of the ground. And don’t pick all the blooms from one plant–leave some for next year.” My love of nature had its seed in these experiences; my photography had its beginning there.

In May, our yard is full of violets. Picking small bouquets and scattering them throughout my home is a tribute to my mother. I still pick them carefully, the way she taught me, celebrating the legacy of beauty she gifted me with. And I remember mama.Violet Bouquet, S-32     IMG_2625

Broken Wings

Tattered Wings Poster, Version II      Val's House May 3 2012 082Life is hard. It isn’t fair, either. Bad things happen to good people; the wicked thrive. At times, it can seem like everything is out of balance. Permanently.

When you’re in the trenches, when life is at its most challenging, it’s difficult to see the way ahead. Out of whatever has you in its clutches. Did you ask to have your boat rocked? Probably not. You want to slap the next person who reminds you that all things happen for a reason; you want to learn the lesson and skip ahead to the good part. Living as we are in today’s fast paced world, we’ve come to expect instant solutions. For everything. And life doesn’t work that way, a hard truth we often batter ourselves against.

We’ve all been in that place. We will be again. At the risk of sounding clich├ęd (and earning myself that slap), it’s also true that nothing lasts forever. Not even the good stuff. That doesn’t mean we can’t rise above our difficulties.

Affirmation is all around us, if we open our eyes. See past ourselves. It’s in the butterfly that manages to fly with tattered wings. And we, who have been gifted with so much more strength and inner resources than this tiny creature, can still fly, too.

Even with broken wings.

Matthew’s Lilies

I have been richly blessed with three children, two sons and a daughter, all grown. It’s been a privilege and a pleasure to watch their lives unfold, to see them emerge into the wonderful adults they are today, living lives of meaning and purpose, busy with family and work that speaks to their particular abilities.

Between the two boys, I lost a child. Or thought I did; my doctor disagreed. It was very early in the pregnancy, the baby more of a hope than a reality. Confirmation of my loss came many years after the fact, and in a way I never would have imagined.

In May, several years ago, my daughter had a spiritual reading. Afterwards, she invited me to her house to hear the tape of her session. In the beginning, people who were coming through were acknowledged, as well as their relation to Noelle. At one point, the presence of a very young child was identified. Noelle knew that her grandmother had had several miscarriages, but the reader was insistent–she needed to ask her mother.

The impact of what I’d heard didn’t hit me until I was almost home; I started crying and over the next few days I struggled to cope with the pain. I’d never allowed myself to grieve Matthew’s loss; busy with the needs of my family, I consigned it to memory and locked it away. It remained that way, unacknowledged, for more than thirty years. Noelle encouraged me to open myself to Matthew’s spirit, to let him comfort me. “He’s probably been there all along,” she said, “waiting for you.”

There are no words to adequately describe what it’s like to feel a spiritual presence, to share a connection. It’s a healing experience, full of wonder and affirmation, on both sides. Matthew’s spirit was everything one would associate with a child–buoyant and joyful, enfolding me in love and light. In that moment of communion, he felt so real I could almost see his little round head on my shoulder, as if I were holding him close.

Struggling to come to terms with the loss of loved ones is something we all experience as we journey through life. We miss the physical connection and all that goes with it–the conversations, the interaction, sharing special moments. Making memories together. We often feel we’d give anything to have one more moment, one more day. If only. I’ve learned that death is not the impenetrable barrier we are taught to accept. Nothing is lost, only changed. That’s the first law of thermodynamics . . . but it’s also the definition of faith, which teaches us to believe what the eyes cannot see.

In Matthew’s memory, I planted several daylilies in my garden, in shades of peach and pink, color associated with children, and what they symbolize in our life. It seemed fitting: you can’t pick a day lily, and I never got the hold my lost boy. I think of him often, especially when his flowers are blooming. He sends me butterflies, a sign to me that he’s close by.

This has been a difficult, emotional piece to write. Spirituality is a topic most of us shy away from and I’m not sure why I feel compelled to share this deeply personal experience today. Perhaps an unknown someone needs these words. For me, that’s reason enough.

Matthew's Lilies

Matthew’s Lilies

Blog Tour: My Writing Process

Wendy Karasin (Musings of a Boomer) invited me to participate in this tour about my writing process. There are four questions to answer, so let’s get started.

1. What am I working on?
That depends on when you ask! Today, it’s this blog piece. I have a novel in progress, Wishing On A Star, and am working on my final edit. It’s a story about love won and lost; of joy and heartbreak; of learning the difference between who people really are rather than who we want them to be. Ultimately, it’s about the challenges and rewards in finding our way to an enduring love.

2. How does my writing differ from others of its genre?
Always the tough questions! I find myself thinking the same thing Wendy did: I’m not sure it does. Romance novels are a broad category with many sub-genres. Mine falls somewhere on the “soft” side. Every writer has a voice, a style all their own, and a well of personal experiences to draw from. Writers are also observers–we can’t help it, we’re just wired that way! All of this goes into our writing. While I may write about universal themes I strive to make my writing authentic, to reflect my voice. To tell a story that keeps the reader engaged. It’s what we bring to our writing, as individuals, that makes it stand out.

3. Why do I write what I do?
Writing is the only way I know to stop time, to seize a particularly vivid moment and explore what makes it unique, as well as how it relates to life as a whole. When I write, particularly my blog pieces, I visualize my words as pebbles dropped into the pond of human experience; as the ripples expand outward they touch other lives, and we connect. We become one. This is writing at its best and, for me, the definition of success.

4. How does your writing process work?
I’m not a planner; I don’t work from an outline. I know writers who generate spreadsheets and flow charts and while I admire that, it’s definitely not for me! My blog pieces are simple; I like the discipline of shorter pieces. With a novel, the process is different. I have a bad habit of reading the ending of a book first, so when I begin, I usually know how it’s going to end. Endings can-and often do–change. Characters have their own ideas. I argue with them; sometimes they win, sometimes I do. It’s part of the writing process only another writer can understand, the way a fictional character can grab the plot and try to lead it in another direction. I write scenes as they come to me, then figure out where they fit, filling in the gaps as needed. It’s like working a puzzle or making a patchwork quilt–the end result is the sum of its separate parts.

I’m new to blogging, so I don’t have anyone to introduce on the tour. I started my blog in 2011 as a way to showcase my photography, then abandoned it. When I came back to it at the beginning of this year, my old photos no longer represented where I was in my artistic process, but I still liked what I’d written. I established a goal to write once a week and so far, I’ve done that. I’m grateful and thrilled when someone likes what I’ve written, and takes the time to tell me why. Feedback–even if it’s negative–is so important to writers; it helps us grow.
Whatever your writing goal, I encourage you to follow your heart and keep writing. I’m glad I did.

Childhood Memories
Childhood Memories

Never-Ending Winter

Pannsies, Crop; PS+Orton+Blu Neon F83, Watermarked    Val's House May 3 2012 029It’s been a long winter and as I write this it’s sunny but bitterly cold, with another storm system moving through over the next couple of days. We’re close to tying our previous record for the most sub-zero days over a winter season, set back in the 1970s. Our winter weather pattern has been snow, followed by biting cold, followed by a slight warm-up that brings more snow. I’ve long since lost my enchantment with the Christmas-card loveliness of the winter landscape and it’s limited, dual-color palette of brown and white. My winter-weary eyes long for color: green grass and trees with leaves, pansies and tulips and lilies thrusting impudent faces skyward.

It’s human nature to want what we don’t have, and I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t blessed with an abundance of patience. While not wishing time or days away–they fly too quickly, anyway–I’m ready for a change.

Spring is one of my favorite times of the year, the world waking up and bursting with the brilliance you only see early in the season, before summer’s more intense heat leaches everything of color. Birds singing in the mornings, fireflies winking in the soft twilight like small mobile stars. Longer days, celebrated by outdoor activities–biking and walking, hiking and swimming, grilling out on the deck. Sleeping with the windows open. My heart years for all of this, and more.

We are an impatient people; today’s technology has made us less willing to wait for anything. We want instant gratification and so far, we haven’t found a way to bend the seasons to our will. I hope we never do. We’ve altered so many things already.

I’ve lived long enough to learn that more isn’t necessarily better; neither is faster. All of our collective moaning and groaning can’t make spring arrive any quicker–there’s not an app for that.

If It Feels Like A Tree…

I’ve always loved art and the act of creating, a talent I found uncomfortable at times. I spent most of my year in third grade drawing, with my teacher’s approval. At one parent/teacher conference, Mrs. Hockaday told my mother, “She’s not bothering anyone.” My mother’s concern was well-founded as I flunked math in fourth grade and had to go to Summer school. As a consequence, my relationship with numbers has been rocky all my life. My fascination with art continued, however.

My high school art teacher and I butted heads almost from the beginning. Sister Mary Maurita terrified me; she was a stern-faced, 6-foot tall militant nun who towered over everyone. I did everything I could to avoid her in the halls, to the point of going in the opposite direction, even if that made me late for class. Fate, with its perverse sense of humor, tossed us together in a setting I couldn’t escape from, and the battle lines were clearly drawn.

My art was too representational, she told me. That was what cameras were for. “If it feels like a tree,” she was fond of saying, “it doesn’t have to look like one.” I would do well, she said, in coloring book art.

Somehow, I survived that class with my artistic passion intact. Over the years I tried a number of mediums before settling on photography. More recently, I’ve been exploring digital manipulation, taking a shot and pushing it into a more abstract interpretation. I find that ironic and I can’t help thinking, Sister Maurita would be so proud!

2-Tone Tulip, S-42 T59, Watermarked     DSCF3410 (5)2-Tone Tulip, Slicer, Darken, Watermarked    DSCF3410 (5)
“If it feels like a tulip….”