I hope everyone reading this is safe and healthy, despite a pandemic that has tossed our expectations of summer and its relaxing days like a trash can full of empty bottles. Continue reading
Winter Walking through Grief
This afternoon I did something I seldom do when it is cold outside—I went for a walk in my neighborhood. The snow crept in overnight, and when I got up this morning the lawn was blanket of white, and the intersection near my house had the fresh tire tracks of the early risers on their way to work.
I had planned to walk today but when I first saw the snow, I was resistant and did not want to go through the routine of bundling up so that I could walk. So I put it off, one hour, then another, until it was noon. And then I remembered what I learned during my retreat last month. Continue reading
French Lessons – Exploring Nice
There are places I have been drawn to and France has always been one of those places. I studied Latin in high school for three years and then switched to French because I wanted to learn a language that was spoken on a daily basis, not just in church or classrooms. In college, when friends departed for other countries in study abroad programs, I realized that immersion might be the best way to experience a different language and culture.
I was fascinated by Josephine Baker for a time, and admired her taking leave of the states and forging a career and life abroad. James Baldwin, a brilliant and prescient writer, also made his home in France. And the fact that my family had roots in Paris, although it was Paris, Kentucky, was a source of amusement for me. It had been over 20 years since my last trip to France and this year I decided that it was time to return. Continue reading
More or Less
Summer is almost over, the yellow school bus stops in front of my house each morning and afternoon, and one day soon I will wake up, the morning will be chilly, and I will know in my bones that it will not be getting much warmer for months. I’m okay with all of this because the summer has been pleasant—travel, family reunions and visits, long walks along the river. I began this summer with a few goals in mind and I have met most of them.
Setting some goals was helpful, and through this practice I examined how I spent my time and which things I said I wanted to do but did not finish. I felt a shift, a prompting to change direction and I am clear about the stuff I do not want to do, or at least that I won’t do for the next few months. Here are just a few: Continue reading
Yard Work is Meditation
As I get older, I am becoming more like my grandfather. I needed a break after writing and went out for a walk when my true inclination is to get ice cream. It is hot today, in the 90s, and my day started early, probably in the same manner that my grandfather would have started a sweltering summer day — early, and in the garden.
Like a farmer or gardener who has learned to become familiar with rain forecasts and the path of the sun as the day passes, I know that if I want to work in the lower part of my backyard, the section filled with daisies, hosta, violets and peony leaves, I need to be out there early, before the sun has swept over the tall trees and the neighbor’s fence. Today’s project was simple — weed the flowerbeds, yank up the vine with its slender tendrils that thicken and choke the less resilient plants. I had chopped some limbs off a bush a few days ago, but left the shorn branches in the yard, so those need to be carried off to the yard waste bin.
On days like this I recall my grandfather’s yard, his backyard in particular. The lawn, though small, was always neatly trimmed, the geraniums and petunias spilled out of pots and whirly-gigs spun around at the slightest of breezes. He had summer parties there until the year before he passed away. He was always busy in that yard, tending to a plant, painting a chair that needed a refresh, working a little bit every day. If I happened to stop by, he would offer me a drink of something cool and there were always nuts or candy in the dish on the cocktail table in the living room.
Always a fine dresser, on those days I would catch him in his work clothes, a pair of old chinos, a tee shirt, worn but never raggedy. I wonder if working in the yard was as meditative for him as yard work has become for me.
I could call what I do gardening, but I prefer the phrase yard work; it captures the honor of simple labor and tending to nature. Every time I go outside, I feel a deeper connection to the earth, and to God. When I was little I played outside but never got really dirty; childhood allergies and asthma gave me a pass from outside labor.
But now I love the work, the dirt under my nails, the recognition of what is plant and what is called weed, the sharp tools, each one designed for a purpose. I like my three pairs of gloves, red, yellow and gray, and know that on some days I will be so immersed in my work that two pairs might get soaked from working in a dewy patch or digging in the moist soil. No bother, I simply set them out to dry in the sun and grab the third pair.
I am learning to accept the bugs, bees, and butterflies that coexist to make my little patch thrive. I laugh when I remember how I jumped the first time I saw a toad sitting in a cool spot near the back fence, too sluggish to move away, but seeming to say, this is my home too.
After a morning in my backyard, as the sun rises to the point where the shade is no more and the rays are making me sweat, I decide that I have done enough for one day and it is best to stop before I get too hot, too tired, or the work becomes a chore and the element of calm dissipates. I have learned that this translates to other areas of my life, learning when I have done enough, and can stop to rest.
I take a shower, have a light breakfast and then I am ready to work some more, only this time at my desk. I can write now. And when I am done with the day’s writing, I will walk again. When I think of my yard work and walking, that is when I feel connected to my grandfather. He never owned a car, preferring to take the bus, walk, or when he was older, had his children drive him to the grocery store or run errands.
Tomorrow I will start my morning in the front flowerbed, picking out the plants that will otherwise overtake the others, watering the roses, sniffing the basil that is in a small container on my front step. I will fuss over the two pots of ornamental grass that I rescued from the twenty-five cent rack at the garden store, and look for a small sign that they are recovering from a lack of water and too much sun.
I will be grateful for this small connection to the earth, remember my grandfather and begin the day’s work.
My Favorite Love Poem
Last week I was walking along the St. Joe River; it was early morning and the day was not yet too hot. My walks are restorative and invigorating and I always come away with ideas, things about which I would like to write, or a general plan for what I want to do when I get back home.
Some mornings I prefer to walk in silence, with only the sound of the occasional passing car, a cyclist alerting me, “On the left!” or the squawking geese that make their home on the river’s banks. This morning I listened to Gretchen Rubin’s Happier podcast. Gretchen is a happiness and habits expert; you may have read her books, The Happiness Project or Better Than Before. Her podcasts, which she hosts with her sister Elizabeth Craft, share tips on how to create habits that foster happiness. They also take listener calls.
A woman called in because she wanted suggestions for a reading for her upcoming wedding and she was willing to take ideas from Gretchen or her listeners. Her request took me back to my wedding 10 years ago. I was excited because as I planned the wedding, I remembered a poem that I had always loved. I shared it with Tony before we were married, decided to use it in the ceremony, and asked my father to read it for us.
I don’t know what reading or poem the listener will use for her ceremony—I hope she finds something that she will remember for all the days of her marriage. I wanted to share the poem I selected with you. Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906) wrote the poem; he was a poet, lyricist, and wrote short stories and novels. He was a black man, born in Dayton, Ohio and unfortunately, died much too young. Here is his poem, Invitation to Love.
Invitation to Love
Come when the nights are bright with stars
Or when the moon is mellow;
Come when the sun his golden bars
Drops on the hayfield yellow.
Come in the twilight soft and gray,
Come in the night or come in the day,
Come , O love, when’er you may,
And you are welcome, welcome.
You are sweet, O love, dear love
You are soft as the nesting dove.
Come to my heart and bring it rest
As the bird flies home to its welcomenest.
Come when my heart is full of grief
Or when my heart is merry;
Come with the falling of the leaf
Or with the redd’ning cherry.
Come when the year’s first blossom blows
Come when the summer gleams and glows;
Come with the winter’s drifting snows,
And you are welcome, welcome.
– Paul Laurence Dunbar