Checking In

It’s been almost two months since I last wrote a post and even then I had become rather slack in my once-a-week intention. My recent knee replacement surgery helped me to rationalize a summer hiatus and this morning after I checked email and FB, my curiosity took me to the MT Ink site.

I considered whether to just leave the site as it was – after all how much of what I have written is really that important – or should I dip my toe back into the inkwell, so to speak. It was less my desire to inform or contact others and more my need to write in itself that propelled me to this post. Writing fires up areas of my mind that art does not.

Part of my abstinence from writing has been due to my absence from the inspiration of the neighborhood park. Since last January my knees have been so bad that I have been physically unable to drive to the park, pull out the lawn chair and just sit. But this week I will not only sally forth to the park but to the local grocery store.

In any event, September is inviting thoughts of new beginnings. In December I will have the second knee replaced and I have several mandala art classes scheduled at a local senior center. Hopefully, by next fall I will be able to take a last trip back to Pennsylvania to see the beautiful Autumn-colored hills. The ‘older’ generation of my family is now gone and I am now one of the crones. It will be a time of leave-taking on many levels.

One of the beauties of aging – and perhaps the most poignant – is you must always be ready to leave. Thus each day, each activity can be filled with unexpected beauty and meaning. I am caring for my little cat as she enters her last year. She is very slow and walks with great deliberation. She is content now to watch birds from the window and does not object when a neighborhood cat comes on the patio. She purrs frequently and easily. She is at peace with herself and brings that contentment to all who are near her. What more can any of us wish for ourselves?

The Cusp of Autumn

I hear the honking of the geese flying overhead on the way to warmer climes and the morning now has a crisp pinch in the air that fortells coming frosts.

I have not visited the park often this summer as I have in former years but today I place my chair in view of the dog park. The smaller dogs are preoccupied with scents and the threat posed by passing dogs which they meet with high pitched barks and aggressive stances.

In contrast it is play time for the large dogs. A recent arrival in the shape of a mid-sized black and white terrier has the shepherds, hounds and Great Dane in an uproar. This bi-colored bullet of speed drops into the pack with the subtlety of a firecracker and immediately had the other seven trailing in his wake as he tears in great circles through the field. Long legs scissor rapidly but are no match for the terrier who often looks back tantalizingly before putting on another burst of speed.

The larger dogs periodically drop off one by one, long tongues hanging out, sides panting and pumping. When a dog revives enough to rejoin the race it does not jump into the fray but takes up the last position as the pack speeds by. When the terrier calls a time out the dogs plop down in the cool grass with large smiles and wagging tails.

Then the romping begins and consists of bouncing jumps and hops. At times a dog flops down and invites another to wrestle. Is this where the expression “boundless joy” derived – the leaps and bounds of dogs at play is the personification of joy.

Meanwhile, the air is pierced with the ringing tones of “Little Brown Jug” playing incessantly as a rusting white ice cream truck slowly circles the parking lot. I wonder how appropriate it is to have a song about whiskey as the theme song for a children’s treat. As the truck passes by I check to see if the driver is wearing ear plugs as a precaution against insanity.

A young woman pulling a set of golf clubs briskly walks by and compliments me on my choice of seating and view. Moments later a man eating an ice cream bar asks me if I am drawing to which I reply that I am writing, and he quickly loses interest as writing is not a spectator sport.

Six dogs are sitting in companionable silence in the shade of a tall oak while two sniff the perimeter of the compound when the noon bells of St. Philomene chime. Nearby, the small dogs are sitting up, paws waving, for the small treats tossed by their owners.

In the larger playing field a large, lean black dog plays fetch with her master who flings the ball far down the open field, the dog flying in pursuit, her eyes measuring just where the ball will land and the trajectory of the rebound.

Soon, one by one, the dogs are escorted to waiting cars and trucks, all ready for a long afternoon nap in front of the TV while the family watches large men chase each other up and down the field trying to catch the flying football. Is this the human form of boundless joy?

Autumn Quietude

autumnThe fall has slid by with uncanny quiet and it was only last week that I realized the trees had already reached and passed their peak of color. In contrast to other autumns in which I visited the park several times a week, this year was interrupted by intermittent physical challenges that left me often at home.

Today, knowing it was the last week to enjoy the beautiful foliage, I go to the park early in the morning and take up a new vantage point for reflection. This time it is on an uncomfortable park bench midway between the duck pond and dog park in an area I remember for the many orange and red leafed autumn trees.

The air has a sun-warmed, dusty smell of dead leaves and heavy dew and the light brims with a golden radiance that is only seen in the fall. The sturdy baritone of the church bells from St. Philomene’s ring out a call to prayer and give balance to the high soprano of the twittering birds, the bass of the airplane overhead and sharp staccato of a barking dog.

A small flock of dark birds rush in and settle excitedly on a nearby small tree, setting loose an avalanche of orange and yellow leaves that first tremble, then shower down, making me wish I was beneath that tree with face upturned and being touched by those tumbling leaves. The birds depart as nervously as they came, wings flapping, shrilly calling to each other across the sky.

A gray pickup truck swiftly drives into the lot, full-sized American and State of California flags fluttering from stands locked in the truck bed. It stops, swings into reverse, then confidently backs into a parking spot. A man emerges dressed in army camouflage and is joined by a woman wearing casual Land’s End attire. They stuff the multiple pockets of their canvas vests with small items, pull a variety of fishing rods from the back of the truck, grab tackle boxes in each hand, and set off towards the small stream which has a local reputation for good fishing, at least by city stream standards.

A large doughy man wearing sagging jogging pants and an oversized sweat shirt climbs out of an old white panel truck that is tucked away in the corner of the parking lot. He stretches, scratches his stomach and with a lumbering gait sets off towards the tennis courts where the public bathrooms are located.

His departure is followed by the arrival a family van. A moment later the area is filled with shouts, laughter and the scrambling of children. A toddle climbs up on the curb and jumps down repeatedly, seemingly delighted by his accomplishment for balance and daring. A sibling thumps a basketball across the pavement while an older brother sticks buds into his ears and dips and dives to an unheard rhythm. Two school-age children start a game of tag and race through the trees towards the playground. While the mother struggles with the baby in the stroller, the father calls out commands in an African-sounding language.

As the family begins their day at the park, a small gray hatchback zooms around the parking area, nose down as if following a scent. A alert German shepherd rides shotgun and then looks back longingly as the dog park is passed and left behind is a fog of exhaust.

A large white 4 x 4 arrives and stops across two parking spaces. By default it is the King of the parking lot this morning, not only by its size and presence but by the sparking chrome hub caps that spin and rotate even when the wheels are still. An equally large and impressive brown man emerges and is led by a small tan Chihuahua down the path to the pond.

Meanwhile, the sleepy man from the panel truck has returned looking fresher and more agile. After opening the passenger door and positioning the side mirror to his satisfaction, he lathers his face with cream and begins to shave. I can almost hear him whistle as he twists his cheek first this way, then that.

When I return to the car I find slender orange and yellow leaves piled over the roof and windshield. Three have blown through the partly open window and are resting, like invitations waiting for a response, on my seat. I pick them up and silently read their quiet announcement.

Autumn Day Dream

maple leavesI looked out of the front door and saw the sunny, leaf-covered yard of my childhood home. A small sob rose in my throat, “Oh, mama!” The scene instantly vanished and my eyes flew open. I had just been sleeping; it was only a dream in an afternoon nap, I realized as I sat up.

As the vision that had rested in my mind’s eye began to fade, the strings of my heart were stretched taut and pulled back into other memories; to a time when the big maple tree ruled the small front yard of my family’s home; to a time when the dry autumn grass would be buried under the bounty of its golden leaves.

Each year my mother would complain over the seemingly endless chore of raking of them and each day more and more would fall. Who would have thought the old tree had held so many in its arms, had been so rich. In my dream as I had looked out on that leaf-filled yard I knew that mother was gone and that it had now fallen to me to brush the ground clean and ready it for the coming winter snows.

In that instant I felt a stab of love for the long departed mother who had been both a support and burden to me throughout my life. “Oh, mama,” was the cry of a child who awoke from a frightening dream with arms outstretched, the cry of a sad girl who felt alone, the cry of a woman asking for forgiveness for her selfishness and neglect. “Oh, mama – love me, protect me, hold me, forgive me. I’m sorry,” all tangled and braided together in one long strand of yearning backward through time like a blind root seeking sustenance.

And while my heart was reverberating to the chord of the past, the maple stood composed and patient as trees so often do while it waited for me to pick up the rake with its worn wooden handle and rusting tines, to continue the yearly ritual of life, to accept the responsibility of its care as had been bequeathed to me – if only in dreamtime.

“Oh, mama,” my heart says as I rake up the scattered pieces of the day and ready myself for the long winter nights to come, “how I miss you.”

Autumn Afternoon

IMG_0761When I drive through the intersection where the Mexican lady sells watermelons and the corner house has with all the pigeon coops on the roof I see the reclusive old Sikh walking down the street towards the neighborhood park wearing his signature orange turban and white beard. Although I recognize him I refrain from waving as I pass by for we do not have that kind of relationship.

A few minutes later I am placing my lawn chair on the grass mid-way between sun and shade and hear rock music playing from the radio of one of a pickup trucks parked behind me that hold city workers, carpet cleaners and handymen who are eating their paper bag lunches.

Today is one of those near perfect autumn days when the temperature is in the 70’s, the sunlight golden and the breeze carries the scent of dry pine needles and leaves as it puffs by every now and then. I notice that several trees have, in the last two days, turned from dark green to shades of brown.

I am surprised because our nighttime temperatures have yet to dip below 60. But the trees know and are already preparing for Indian summer – at least that’s what we called it when I lived back east – those two weeks in October when the countryside is transformed into stained glass colors of red and orange and yellow – a last celebration before the Big Sleep.

Which brings to my mind a story I heard a few days ago that claimed mother bears gave birth to their young while in hibernation only to awaken in spring with a ready-made and hungry family. It seems too remarkable to be true but why would anyone make up something like that.

As I assess my gullibility I look across the field and see two unattended German shepherds sitting beneath a tree, heads tilted upward towards a squirrel that sits on a high branch and mockingly chatters to them. One dog whines in frustration and wiggles back and forth on its haunches while the other, whom I am sure is the female and more deadly, maintains an unwavering stare.

Meanwhile, from the other end of the path a cocker spaniel comes bouncing along. On turning the corner and seeing the shepherds the cocker freezes in mid-stride, fearful of attracting their attention or interest. Luckily, the spaniel’s owner scurries forward, snaps on the leash and makes a wide detour. While the restless shepherd deliberates between squirrel and spaniel, its steely-eyed mate is undeterred.

A rusting blue van driven by small man with a gray goatee pulls in and parks under a tall pine. The double back doors are covered with decals of national parks and conspiracy organizations, and the license plate reads Wyoming. The side windows are veiled with a combination of thin cotton curtains and cardboard, and the rooftop carrier holds a miscellany of plastic crates and black boxes that look like old batteries. A small American flag hangs limply from the antenna.

Over the next half hour I hear the pickup trucks start their engines and slowly the parking lot empties of all save the van from Wyoming whose owner now sleeps on a blanket in the sun. Then I see an old man with an orange turban tapping his cane along the path to the duck pond. I start to raise my hand to wave but remember in time that we do not have that kind of relationship.

September: The Second New Year

birds on wireThis morning is very quiet and subdued after yesterday’s unexpected torrential rains. The storm front moved in from the Pacific in early morning and the clouds suddenly released their heavy burden, the rain falling in thick, impenetrable sheets. After the long summer silence roofs were once again rackety with the pelting water, the leaves of the trees again slick and shining, the streets now glistening in the odd gray light.

The storm continued off and on throughout the day, each time, for me, a welcome visitor. After several weeks of humid weather, unusual for this time of the year, the spell has been broken and this morning a cool, clear atmosphere abides. From the patio I watch five small birds silently perching on the telephone lines, black dots scattered like notes on a musical staff. What song are they playing in their birdy minds?

All children are now back in school and the park seems to breathe a great sigh. It seems somewhat tired after all of the summer exertions; the trees seem to be composing themselves, shaking their leafy skirts and settling into a new, quieter rhythm that will soon result in the splendor of autumn colors.

In two weeks we will touch again the equinox and be headed at an ever-quickening pace to the end of the year. That time will be spent in preparing for a series of holiday that traditionally celebrate a time of gathering in, of harvests and abundance.

The more measured pace of autumn brings with it a reflective state of mind in which we can look back and evaluate our progress, and make course corrections in our direction. Perhaps as a holdover from all those years of schools, September marks the start of the ‘second new year’ of the year, an opportunity for one final push before the pregnant silence of winter descends.

Glad to be back writing again. There is a new post on the art blog for those interested at http://marietaylorart.wordpress.com. Also, I have been developing a blog on spiritual topics at http://sacredgate.wordpress.com; and a poetry blog at http://blueatomicfunace.wordpress.com.

THE FOURTH DAY

For the fourth day in a row I sit beneath a small maple tree at the local park. Its gold, yellow and orange leaves create a canopy of color, an exultation of life, a last great “Yes” to the life of autumn. The air is filled with a golden vibrancy that warms the fresh cut grass and sweetens the air with a green perfume. The park is glorious today.

After an unseasonably warm fall, the first rain since last April fell two weeks ago and the temperatures finally started to drop. As the nights cooled, the trees turned inward and began the yearly journey back to the core. The mighty oaks which just last week were full of green leaves are now coyly dropping one after the other, showing a bare limb here and a dark branch there. Soon they will stand exposed, tall, proud and darkly powerful.

I sit near a crossroad; the dog park and tennis courts before me, park trails all around. People pass and rarely notice as I remain as motionless as the trees and silent as the clouds that are circled by Canadian geese who call out cadence to the beat of their wings as they slice across the southern sky.

At the dog park, owners sit and smoke cigarettes around the picnic tables as five large dogs chase each other within the fenced field. They gallop in wide swinging circles like young ponies. The leader feints right, then left, with the others close behind.

A new dog enters the enclosure and they all set off at a run to investigate this visitor, eagerly sniffing mouth and tail to ascertain what has been enjoyed. The dogs bark and snarl and woof, tails wagging, hips swinging in happiness while their masters idly chat.

In a nearby field a small dark dachshund is let off the leash, speeds across the ground like a bullet and chases a laughing girl whose long blond hair flies behind her. In the foreground, a slender black woman carrying a large plastic bag filled with empty cans slowly walks with a jerky military precision down a dirt path. Each time her right leg lifts and descends I hear a clicking of metal, a ratcheting of gears.

As she marches into her horizon, I shift into dreamtime where long forgotten memories are released, unnoticed desire flow forth and unhealed wounds lie exposed for warm tongues to lick. I sense the need to acknowledge these internal energies for the solstice is soon to come. This dark night of the shortest day is the time of seed planting and conceptions. It is the time to prepare for virgin births.

The noon sun cuts through my reveries with a hot intensity. The lens of the coming afternoon has sharpened its focus and my legs burn in its rays. I slowly fold up my lawn chair and look one last time at this apex of autumn. From now on, each day will be a little shorter, a little dimmer; the trees a little more bare and dark. Soon all will feel the cool lavender touch of winter.

What seeds shall I plant in the soil of my soul tonight? What door shall I open and what guest admit? What shall I bring forth in the year to come? And what is it that waits in your heart to be born?