Archive for ‘Senses’

Always Again

March 1st, 2009

I’m always utterly amazed when the cherry tree in my front yard blooms. It takes me by surprise every time. All last night and all day today, dramatic storms rolled through my neighborhood. Rain and thunder, thunder and rain–my favorite weather. In the midst of all that sturm und drang, the pink petals stood out like a neon sign that said “spring is on its way back.” I’m sure most of them will be knocked off by the violence of the wind and water, and the temperature plunge will finish the rest, but it still bowls me over to realize how much we depend on these little messages from nature. We pave over the earth, scar it, deplete it, poison it and lock ourselves up in office buildings and schools with no windows, and still it survives and calls to the wild places in ourselves that cling to our souls like those tender, tough blossoms on the cherry tree.

Breathing Spaces

February 21st, 2009

I took this photo during a walk along the canal towpath in D.C. last fall. The water was so still and dark that I felt my soul shimmer in response. These magical places in nature are vanishing so quickly that I fear my grandchildren will be thirsty for spiritual H2O as they grow up. Every day when I drive to work I pass a pond that lies between an office building and a busy four-lane highway. I don’t know how it has escaped being filled in for more brick office fortresses, but somehow it survives–a tantalizing remnant of what this coast used to be. There’s usually a Great Blue Heron and a large white egret wading or simply standing in silent communion by the edge of the water. I look forward to it every day — it helps make the transition from home to work, work to home easier. I automatically slow down to see if the birds are there, and it puts all my stupid work worries in proper perspective. It’s like looking in one of those Easter egg dioramas and seeing a whole other miniature world inside. It’s a small hidden treasure in a landscape that has been developed in a deranged kind of way–because of course we all need another Comfort Inn or Taco Bell in our lives. As long as the pond survives, it gives me hope for the land, for the future, for the return of two birds to the same spot every morning. Fragile hopes for a big planet.

Eyes of the Soul

January 15th, 2009

The gate to my backyard used to have this round opening cut in it before I had to replace the whole fence and the contractor decided it was a mistake to be rectified. When I looked through to other side, it was like a magical viewfinder, framing a slice of my prosaic property in a brand new way. I wish I could remember to use that framing device more often during the course of a day. The “eye” was there when I bought the house, and I loved it because it reminded me of a Chinese moongate, which was conceived as the opening to a spiritual garden. My backyard is far from spiritual unless my fight against fire ants and sandspurs is a metaphor for my ongoing battle with my worst character flaws. But when I first moved into my house, I began planting  bamboo, a plant that symbolizes strength and resilience–qualities I long to have. From small plants, they have quickly grown into luxurious trees. My dream is eventually to have a living wall of bamboo around the perimeter of my property, swaying and rustling in the wind, casting shadows of poetry under the full moon. One small spiritual step at a time.


December 31st, 2008

Several years ago, I threw a New Year’s Eve party with one of my very best friends, a creative soul mate with whom I later shared a transatlantic blog. We put together a little booklet based on the 5 senses to give our guests: our favorite scents, our favorite music, our favorite blogs, etc. My post tonight is an homage to that party:

Tonight’s Scent: the wood smoke from an outdoor fire at a back yard oyster roast on a South Carolina island on New Year’s Eve.
Tonight’s Taste: salty ocean juice bathing the oysters pried open to yield their secrets.
Tonight’s Sound: fireworks exploding in my neighborhood–begone evil spirits!
Tonight’s Touch: the soft hug of my North Face down jacket on a chilly night.
Tonight’s Sight: a gold sickle moon hanging in the sky like a dream boat to carry us out of ‘o8 into ’09. 
Happy New Year!


Christmas in Fridaville

December 22nd, 2008

I keep strings of fairy lights on my porch all year long, but they are so special at this time of year. The neighbors across the street have put up their lights, and this ordinary street suddenly seems hemmed about with magic and mystery when night falls. I wish the big live oaks that line our street could bloom with glowing Japanese lanterns and that there were spangled nets of lights strung above the roadway the way they do in the San Gennaro festival in NYC or in the shopping districts of London at this time of year. I’ll be digging in my closet to try and find the Pottery Barn lanterns I bought last year to hang from the crape myrtle tree by my gate and since we are having a warm Southern Christmas, I might sit on my porch, drink Champagne and get stars in my eyes.

Speed Bumps

November 25th, 2008

I fear being on the bridge I commute over if an earthquake comes up out of nowhere. I’ve seen movies of the Golden Gate Bridge during an earthquake and the waviness and buckling that happened to the roadbed give me cold chills. Sometimes that happens in my life and then I have to stop the motor and wait it out or just gun it and hope I get to the other side in one piece. This morning I set aside 30 minutes to meditate, picked a good chair, put on the guided meditation cd, sat down and fell apart. I couldn’t keep my mind on my breathing. The more I tried to focus on meditating, the more my pulse speeded up. Instead of being here and now, my mind was racing around the room touching base on grocery lists, recipes, the face of an old love, the smell of a tweed jacket in the rain (my face pressed against it in a goodbye), a scene from a tv show, wondering if I’d have time for coffee, the tick of the clock–click, click, click–my dead grandfather, that snowstorm in 1967, the woodpecker in the dead tree, a sudden urge to get up and bleach my teeth…all bid for my attention. For 30 minutes, I twitched and tried to get more comfortable, felt like my breathing was fake and forced and worried about how fat my stomach was. By the time the chimes went off and 30 minutes was up, I was so agitated that meditating had probably raised my blood pressure. But in some ways it was one of the best sessions I’ve had because it forced me to recognize that neither life nor meditation is always going my way. That when things aren’t working according to my plan, just sitting still for 30 minutes is all I can expect of myself and it might turn out to be a major victory.

Missing the Music

November 22nd, 2008

It was so cold in the old city of Prague on the Sunday afternoon I took this photo that it makes me shiver to remember it, but walking through the narrow, winding streets, turning a corner and coming upon someone playing a violin was like being in a fairytale. And every day, I went out into winter with the friend I was visiting — bundled, layered, walking and taking the tram, watching my breath make clouds in the air, stopping for wine or coffee, unlayering, bundling back up, taking photos of snow falling. I leaned into the cold, accepted it, lived it. Today at home in Charleston, it’s 48 degrees, nothing approaching that week in Prague, but I am flinching from the cold, recoiling, running home to escape it. Instead of walking through my neighborhood or in the downtown city streets, I layer on pajamas, fuzzy socks, a long-sleeved tshirt under an old cashmere sweater. If I were in a fairytale, it would be about a woman who turns into a bear at the first frost. When Persephone goes underground and everything on earth is waiting and storing energy for the spring, why can’t I embrace all the lovely bare, spare planes of her winter face? Why don’t I expect a violinist around every corner in my own hometown?

Stop, Drop and Curl Up

November 19th, 2008

I’ve been lying in bed for four days with a tooth implant jammed into my jaw bone and throbbing hard enough to launch itself out of the top of my head. I considered calling my friend Joe the Contractor to come over and pull the implant out with a pair of pliers, but thank god the dentist ordered up some drugs before things got out of hand.  Between doses of hydrocodone, I managed to get the cover prose written for my magazine day job right before deadline or I expired. Type type type/doze off/type type type/doze off. The art director loved it, so maybe I should always write high. I can see how Rush Limbaugh became a junkie, because I couldn’t WAIT for my next dose and I loved how slow and easy it took me under and made both my physical and existential pain go away. I cocooned in my bed with a novel by Wendell Berry (Hannah Coulter) and slid in and out of soft sleep and a slow journey around Hannah’s Kentucky farm that was so like the one I grew up on, only more prosperous and peopled with kindly characters who were close to the earth–okay, so it was more like the farm I wish I’d grown up on. Then being all doped up, I shed a tear or two about my vanished past and then got really depressed (more side effects of the drugs?) about how tractors made horse-drawn plows obsolete and then decided to text coworkers with garbled instructions about god knows what. Text text text/doze off, doze off, doze off/text text text/dose up, dose up, dose up. Today was my first day back at work, back to “normal,” and I’m grateful to feel so very much better. But a little part of me misses locking the door on the world, with no alarm clocks, nowhere to be, no expectations to meet because I was an invalid. This little interlude made me realize that I’m so hungry for a respite from the bullshit that bombards us day and night that there was an up-side to taking sick days. Just think of how many things during an ordinary day keep us running away from ourselves. Toward what? I’ve always been a ferociously ambitious person, partly because I felt invisible during so much of my life. Everything I’ve achieved had a goal of giving me an outline–“look at me, I’m here, I exist”–and of making sure I didn’t miss anything. It was the path I had to take and I learned a lot and it shaped me into the person I am, a person I mostly like. Now, though, I want to stop/slow time so that I can just sit still long enough to think. It sounds so frivolous, doesn’t it? But I am ever on the move, like a gadfly, and I crave a long stretch of time to stretch my mind. I want to light somewhere and sit a spell. Do you ever feel that way?

A Long Winter’s Nap

November 13th, 2008

I love the orange-flavored sunsets of winter, but not the shorter days and cold mornings. Driving home from work in the dark, I start to crave tacos and chili, cornbread and collard greens, apple pie with ice cream, beef stew or anything cooked in a crockpot (and I don’t even own one!). What I really crave with the onset of winter and the bleak prospect of a recession is the comfort of a tribe. I want to retreat to a cave and build a fire to keep sabre-tooth tigers at bay while my tribe cooks something on a spit and fat drips and sizzles in the flames. Afterward we might draw pictures on the cave wall or wrap up in bear skins and smoke wacky tobaccy while someone plays a flute. I want to go to sleep comforted by my family and friends gathered around me for safety in numbers, because the numbers that comforted us with the illusion of security–a rising Dow, low interest rates, high returns, 401Ks, annual raises–are gone. Can’t we just hibernate for awhile?

Ground Level

October 8th, 2008

For a clumsy non-athlete, I’ve spent a lot of time lately dreaming about kayaking. I love the way it puts me on eye-level with the earth–it’s like coming home. Instead of walking around all day in a two-legged hurry to get from the car to the coffee shop or the grocery to the car, toting bags or clicking my keys to open the door from yards away, I’m swaddled in a womb-like craft, drifting along among ducks, egrets and fish, listening to the pop and suck of water in the mud instead of an iPod strapped to my arm. For a couple of hours, my ego gets
Botoxed by beauty and the sheer absurdity of trying to work my little will on the world. Maybe if you’re a competitive kayaker, all of the above is null and void, but I go onto the water to get rid of my self, to be blessed by the sky, the marsh hens, the drone of a plane overhead that mirrors the buzz of insects in the marsh, by the rhythm of the creek that irons out all the creased and wrinkled places created by living in an upright world. I only wish I could learn how to carry that peace with me when the boats have been put away, but I forget so easily and before I know it, I’m going crazy over all the things that two-leggeds think are life-and-death important: the extra 10 pounds I can’t lose, the billing problems at work, the font that is all WRONG, Sarah Palin, a deadline I might miss, the boots I can’t afford, the book I never wrote. Today in yoga, the teacher “wrenched” my stiff frozen shoulders into a semblance of alignment, and I realized that I need someone or something to do that to my soul on a regular basis because I can’t spend my life in a kayak!