Good Morning, Irene

So far, so good. No longer just a rainy day; the wind bends the trees on the horizon and I begin to think I won’t have to pay anyone to take down that huge white pine that blocks my view of the mountains… Several trees on my property have fallen and snapped in less wind. As I stand in my screen porch and take in the action outside I begin to entertain thoughts of my powerlessness against nature. I realize the value of a roof. While my certainty that all will be just fine begins to erode I am calmed a bit by the sight of tiny songbirds who continue to swoop between the apple tree and the kitchen window feeder. Really? How are they able? Guess it’s not much worse than your run of the mill summer storm for now. Ok. It’s not that bad. Or is it? Will it be? As I write the lights dim and flicker. Power outages in Greenfield happen routinely, even through fairly uneventful thunderstorms. Hmm. Another flicker. I’m ok. I consider the things I might want to do now that require power. Flush? Make coffee? Ok. I’ll make some coffee. Another flicker. I won’t have wi fi. But my mac is charged, I can still write. Hell, there’s a lot I could do, a lot I really should do, but I’m mesmerized. I sit and listen. I almost wish the power would go out – then I’d be motivated to sort through the crap that sits in the living room awaiting replacement in Elihu’s bedroom. But I can’t move. I sit in my chair, computer on my lap, waiting. So much for a cozy day just reading on the couch, my focus is on the action outside.

Ok. The clocks are flashing 12:04. Must’ve lost it for a second. But the power’s still holding. Let’s see, what else? The chickens are in and safe. The rooster isn’t even crowing. Thankful I have a real coop now. Hmm. How about downstairs? I make a quick check of my basement. The usual puddles for a rainshower. I lift the floats in the sump pump wells and force the standing water out to make room for more. My vintage suitcase Rhodes sits on the floor. I consider moving it, as I’ve seen it in water before, but it’s just so big. I pass. I check the heavy outdoor metal doors to the cellar and a scene from the Wizard of Oz passes through my head. The doors are secure. What else? Upstairs, looking out of the kitchen window I notice that the pond form – a huge, 10 foot long thing that I got for free through Craigslist – has been upturned and threatens to sail away. How is that possible? My heart sinks – I’ve spent upwards of ten hours hand digging and getting it just so – it had been perfectly level with the ground and I’d already filled in around it. Now it has been hoisted up and out of its hole and sits, half filled with water like a small boat ready to drift off down the creek and over the hillside. Damn. That was a huge, heavy and difficult job. It’s all for naught now. Before I descend into a gloomy episode of self pity I consider how much worse others no doubt have it. I’ll fix it. Just won’t happen for a while. I decide to throw on my parka and go out to see about making sure it doesn’t fly away.  The rain isn’t so bad, but the wind is loud and once again it reminds me of my human vulnerability. I lean over and try moving the pond. It’s heavy. Probably ok. Then I place a large rock inside it to keep it there. I laugh at myself. Yeah, right. That aint gonna keep it down if a huge gust comes along. I give it up and go in. Not a thing to do but wait, watch and listen.

The lights continue to flicker. I charge up my cell phone. Oops. The lights dim, go off and come on again. That one lasted longer. I hear the pumps in the cellar rumbling on and off. My coffee’s probably brewed by now, glad I did that. I’m going to pour a cup and sit on the couch. Don’t think I can tear myself away from the show. The wind is loud now. I think I hear a truck straining up the steep hill road, but realize that was the wind. Ok. I’m getting my money’s worth now. I’m glad that my son is safe in Chicago.

Hello Irene, nice to meet you, but I hope you don’t stay long.

Here She Comes…

The rain has just begun. What a wonderful sound. Living so close to the edge of the woods and so far from the road, the rain seems to feel more alive here, more exciting, more real. At midnight I opened my window to listen for the coming storm, and shortly thereafter the first drops began to fall. It’s starting slowly. With all the talk on the media I admit I’m listening with peaked interest. How does a really big storm evolve? How long will it take to reach its fury? Will the winds really be 65 mph here? It still sounds innocent enough. In fact now the drops are slowing.

I’m slowing too – it’s time to crawl into bed with a book and just listen…

Storm Before the Calm

Folks are gettin ready for the big storm that’s coming. I almost wonder if all the preparation will eclipse the event itself. I met a friend today who worked for an insurance company; she’d just spent a long day at work getting ready for it and faced an even longer day on Monday, the morning after the weather is due to hit. Really? I find myself thinking, is this really going to be such a big deal? It was advised on the radio to stash all outdoor furniture. To batten down the hatches and hunker down. Yesterday Walmart was sold out of batteries and camp lanterns. Really? Wow. Lots of activity, yet outside the crickets sing as usual, the air is still, the weather quite nice.

This week has been a busy one for me. I’ve been sanding furniture, painting walls, drilling holes and hanging shelves. My son’s bedroom has been evacuated of all its contents. Artifacts from the last three years of his life, much of it having been forgotten under the bed and in the closet, now sit in piles around my living room. It looks like my own house has been visited by a hurricane. I have secured my outdoor chairs, fed and watered my chickens and closed them safely in, filled my larder, set aside extra water, located the candles and matches. For the moment my storm is over.

The wind and rain may come, I’m ready. I have a few books to read, a piano to play and a couch to cozy up on. Come tomorrow I’ll be in the peaceful eye of the storm…

There’ll Be Some Changes Made

There was a time when change of any kind would throw me into a fog of sentimentality. Now, not so much. On my recent trip to Chicago, a place I’d lived most of my life but had not visited for several years, I was quite surprised to see so many places so radically transformed. I understood the growth around Wrigley field; I had already witnessed the change beginning years before, yet nonetheless it was rather shocking to see the giant shadow of brick that blocked my view from the el as our train passed the ballpark. Neighborhoods that had been run-down and forgotten for years upon years had been rediscovered and revitalized so much so that I didn’t even recognize them until I passed them a second time at street level in a car. This would have sent the old me into a tearful episode. The old me would have taken all this very personally. I would have lamented the lost, original character of the place. But now it’s just not as tragic to me as it once would have seemed. Maybe my changed perspective comes in part from living in a part of the country with a longer history of such man-made changes, or maybe it’s because of my age and the way in which one’s middle years temper the self-righteous character of youth, probably both and more, but for whatever reason I find myself observing the changes in my once familiar world in a thoughtful, measured and slightly detached way. I guess it’s because my personal world was so rocked and transformed over the past few years that it’s made me realize that in the long run it hurts more to resist the change than to accept it. And what ultimately allows me to accept change is the knowing that no amount of physical or experiential transformation can remove the truth of the places and experiences that once existed. They exist for we humans as long as there is a memory, a story.

“In the end, you still have your story”. One day it came to me just like that. I had had an exhausting day of trying, but not succeeding, to better understand how my partner could have changed so. How could he have been that same person to have shared all those years with me? Here he was, now, a different person from the one I had once known. In the end it was fruitless to speculate on how or why he had changed; I needed some way in which to regard our years together such that they were not the loss they seemed to be. The only way I could begin to make peace with my situation was to know that in the end I still had the story – and in it all the good things that it had added to my life. I might not have my husband with me any more, but I do have my memories, my story. And really, after all, just about your whole life is the story. Even what happened five minutes ago is now the story. And whatever it is that no longer exists for you in your present does still exist in the story, and it’s a story you get to keep forever. And in having that memory, that story, you still possess the essence of what it was that pleased you about that person, place or event. For me, knowing that an experience still lives within me is comforting. It’s like I’ve backed up all my files. My house can burn down, but I still have it all inside me. (I sure hope the universe doesn’t put me to the test on that – I do have a friend whose house burned down not once but twice! And he is a musician who lost a lot of precious instruments, writings, music, recordings and mementos from a lifetime of travel. If I were him I’m not so sure my thinking would offer a lot of comfort, yet perhaps he too has reached a state of acceptance. He’s still active and upbeat – I’m guessing the lesson was integrated pretty well.) It’s scary to let things hold such power over you as to render you heartbroken and sick at their loss. It’s a lot healthier to consider yourself lucky to have had the experiences, lucky to have enjoyed the objects while they were yours and feel the gratitude for these things having added to the fullness of your life.

Change has never been easy for me, yet I’m getting better with it. Today I painted a room in my house which held some sentiment for me. It was my son’s room. Shortly after we moved here I has chosen the colors for his room with great care. I’d wanted his room to be easy on his Achromat eyes; not too bright yet with some visual interest to make up for his not seeing color. I chose a green for the bottom third of the walls, blue for the top. Funny thing was, in the end Elihu could not even detect the change in colors for I’d matched the values so well. He would have to examine the wall up close to even begin to see the line. The colors of the walls represented to me the first thing I did here in this house to make it ours. They carried with them the story of his not being able to see the difference in the two colors. They carried with them the story of a mother’s love for her son. The walls carried with them the story of all the books we’ve read together at bedtime in this room. The blue and green walls reminded me of The Story. Today, when I had the walls painted over in dove white, although I knew that the story wasn’t in any way diminished or forgotten as a result, I was still surprised – and pleasantly so – that the change was so easy for me to make. Hmm. Interesting.

The blue and green still shows through a little bit so tomorrow I’ll give the walls another coat of paint. A fresh new color for a fresh new story.

Coming Home

You know that feeling that lingers in your gut when a piece of correspondence sits far too long without a reply? That’s the feeling I’ve been living with since I arrived back home after my recent trip to Chicago. Elihu is again back in the Midwest with his father for two long weeks, and it seems I should have ample time to respond to friends, to return calls, to make at least a brief post on my blog. Yet somehow, life adds up, and the cracks and crevices fill with unforeseen events.  I apologize for my long absence, and hope to make up for it with something of an update.

The night before I’d left for Chicago we held the final concert of my father’s 52 year-old  Festival of Baroque Music. (The day before we’d just concluded our first run of kid’s art classes at the Studio.) That Sunday Dad had been honored by fans and friends for his esteemed career as a harpsichordist and supporter of early music. Some of the concert goers had even been in attendance for Dad’s very first concert back in 1959! It was the lovliest of evenings. The weather showed mercy and for the first time in many summers it wasn’t too hot. The musicians played so beautifully, and the room was simply filled with love. I couldn’t have hoped for a more wondrous way in which to conclude my parents’ half century of hosting musicians and holding concerts. And afterward at the house the food was fresh, delicious and abundant as usual, and dear friends stayed with us into the night enjoying it all.

The next day Elihu and I were off to visit Chicago. In just a few hours it seemed we were standing on the Howard el platform with our bags, marveling at the sights of a real city. While our visit was mostly relaxed and free-form, it did at times become rather hectic and jam packed. We made few structured plans in order to accommodate the serendipitous nature of life. Catching up after three years’ absence was a daunting task, yet I did see many old and dear friends. I even managed to sit in with a big band I sang with years ago as well as do a night with my beloved Prohibition Orchestra of Chicago. (With a mother’s great pride, I report that young master Elihu stood beside me and confidently belted out a couple of songs as well.) We enjoyed the beach as I introduced my son to what I will probably always regard as the most enjoyable bathing experience to be had anywhere on the globe. Smooth, sandy bottom, clear water with the awe-inspiring expanse of sea and sky before us, the skyline of downtown reminding us (or at least me, as Elihu could not see it for himself) exactly where we were.

I had a personal revelation upon my return to upstate New York. When I got on the plane I felt relief to be going home. My heart looked to this place as its destination. And that was new to me. For the three years I’ve been here I’ve not quite felt I lived here. I’ve kept Chicago in my heart as my home. I’ve yearned for it, compared Saratoga unfairly to it, expressed my disdain at all my current location’s inadequacies. Yet after having revisited many familiar places, I had come to feel that my old life there had been played out. Satisfied, fully lived, completed. As I stood in these places that I knew so well, I could feel with certainty that my purpose there had been fully expressed and there was simply nothing left for me to do. My work there was done. Looking out of my window on the plane, down onto the very neighborhood in which I grew up – the Baha’i temple clearly visible, and my own childhood home just houses away from it – I didn’t feel the sorrow I’d expected. Instead I felt a warm sense of gratitude for all that it had meant to me in my life. I blew a kiss to my beloved old home, and then a new feeling began to well inside of me; the urgent desire to get home and get to work.

As with any wave of inspiration or revelation, its energy often diminishes with time. I suppose that lifting of my heart, that resolve to hit the New York soil with renewed purpose and vigor has waned a little in the days that have followed my homecoming. Once home, life hit with the force of a huge, breaking wave and I was carried away in the current of to-do lists and new situations to attend to. For the next week I’m working to complete all the unfinished projects on the farm and garden front so that come school time I can put my household concerns behind me and concentrate on creating this arts center. For now I’m tending to matters of the home.

And I’m happy to report I now know where that is.