Whatever Follows

dogwood on LakeviewWhatever might follow in the weeks ahead I have to say this has been one beautiful season, and in spite of the usual vacillations. Temperatures hit the mid-80s one day and four days later we came close enough to a hard frost that a baby maple I see every day took a nasty fright and went instantly crimson. Now as I write, a big wind is muscling around outside,  giving even the grass blades a stern combing-back.

I sometimes hear westerners say our old New England is just all damp and claustrophobic with lowering skies and too-near horizons.  I don’t see it that way. 

Anyhow it’s sure not that way now on these bright tangy days that have us all feeling happy and energized as we kick through the leaves and set out those jolly toy balloons that the world calls pumpkins. My own personal housemate got to feeling so energized last weekend that he climbed out on two of our roofs to prune the limbs of trees that in actual fact didn’t need pruning at all (but that’s just me.) I watched with my heart in my mouth as he executed one deep squat after another while balancing inches from roof’s edge and then extending to its farthest reach a 12-food pole with a lethal sickle on the end and – SNAP!  pulling the trigger. Here he is first contemplating the job…

dpm contemplating the job

And beginning to execute it…

dpm up hi to prune

I sent our visiting houseguest Machias out to spot him in case he started to pitch forward and fall. (Machias is six-foot-nine with a rower’s mighty legs so I thought he could maybe execute a rescue.)

machias spots him





But “I’M FINE!” insisted  my mate –

and by some stroke of luck he turned out to BE fine as this triumphant look testifies.

smilin' Dave on the roof w machias

Myself, I attempted no such feats of strength and balance that day. I just walked a few miles, set out some seasonal decorations and reveled in all this beauty.

Here was the sun that day, glowing still strong at 5pm, behind one of our front porch columns….

the porch oct 5pm

Then at the top here was the sun only moments later in the side yard, filtered through our little dogwood…

And finally, out back, here was the sun setting our neighbors’ tree even further aflame.

the neighbor's maple.jpg

All this was on the Saturday. Then, on the Sunday, we had the privilege of attending the wedding celebration of a couple who, together with their families, threw one amazing party.

the wedding of alli & angela.jpg

It took place on a hillside farm with 180 guests on hand to enjoy popcorn and cider, adult beverages of every kind and food that never stopped coming.

in the barn

Best of all, the two brides helped make the music. Bride Alli, from all I can tell, plays every instrument on God’s green earth and her band was playing; whereas Bride Angela, by her own admission not a trained singer, took the mic and spoke of the meaning this one particular song has for them both.  Then, at first softly, and then in full and glorious voice, performed “Hallelujah,”  by the late Leonard Cohen.

Here’s my favorite recording of this wonderful song, that today seems to me to capture all the beauty and longing of earth’s seasons, and even of our own too-short lives.

Before It’s Over

novemberBefore it’s over I wanted to stick up for this month in which we still find ourselves. It was way back at November’s start that I made a last-minute dash to the supermarket and passed a house entirely decorated for the glow-fest known as The Holidays.

I have to admit my heart sank at the sight. “What about November?” I yelled, though I was totally alone in my car. 

What I meant was, “How did we go from Halloween’s wild and jokey motifs straight to reindeer and snowmen, without giving November her rightful moment on the stage?” 

Because November has a beauty all her own.

Maybe it’s dark as you read this. If so, close your eyes and picture what lies just outside your window:

  • The branches of the bare trees that make of the sky a span of leaded glass.

  • The leaves that still do cling to the trees dressed now in muted shades of bronze and copper.

  • The green of the grass that, somewhere in the last ten weeks, woke up from its heat-flattened August swoon and returned to the party, looking as fresh and springy as the grass of April.

Only it isn’t April. The grass knows it. We know it. Every living thing knows that one day soon we will wake to find that a hard frost has taken hold of the earth. Then, our long hibernation will have begun.

And that’s fine. It’s fine that winter comes each year. It’s fine too that the soil locks down tight and the temperatures dip so low they make your very fillings.

It’s fine because when winter comes it will bring us winter joys. We will make more stews. We will gather around the hearth, even if that hearth is just one of those nice fat candles that burns for hours. Heck, if we haven’t forgotten how, maybe we will do what they used to call “entertaining” and ask some friends over for a visit.

We have a good 14 weeks of such pleasures ahead, all of which will be ushered in by these bulbs and snowmen and reindeer that I was so surprised to see in the days just after Halloween.

I am more ready to see them now, though, and for sure I am seeing more of them every day on my route to the grocer’s. It was just that it hurt to think of November’s muted beauty going uncelebrated.

November feels to me like that quiet guest at a social gathering who draws no attention to herself and so maintains a silent presence at the edge of things. I guess I just kept thinking: if I were that guest, wouldn’t I want somebody to come over with a smile and greet me too?

bare trees

Is This the SAME PLACE?


The view from my study window
The view from my study window

Right now the air is so damp and sodden!

I feel like I need gills instead of lungs to keep on living.

And the vegetation outside is just drenched with chlorophyll..


Even the inchworms are green, to say nothing of the mold growing on that one clementine that got stuck at the bottom of the fruit bowl.

It looks like a fuzzy green bowling ball for Dopey and Sneezy and pals now.

But seriously..

Can this really BE the same block?

The same state?

Nay, the same hemisphere, that used to look like THIS?


Can this be the same hemisphere where, when  the sun began to set and the icicle below halted whatever dripping it had been doing OUTSIDE the house and instead got busy dripping secretly INSIDE, painting so many of our walls and windows a rich caramel brown?

sunset Feb 10, 2014

I mean can this above picture really be  taken from the same exact spot in my house as THIS?

the ivy from the bathroom window

It can be and it is…. and all I can say right now is Mama Nature she does like to keep us hoppin’!

Where is My Bathing Suit NOW?

the living roomWaking this morning and entering the living room I beheld a kind of light that seemed almost valedictory, almost literally tinged with shades of farewell.  

I can’t explain it but it feels as if the sunlight in September is coming now from a different star; as if the sun we knew all summer called on some quieter, less flashy sibling and said, “You take over. I’m beat.”

Just ten days ago it was all might and haze. A week ago Saturday, September the 6th marked the hottest day we had all summer when even the dogs were looking around for that can of antiperspirant. You walked outside and the sun accosted you instantly. It came and sat on your head and pressed down.

I hear in Colorado this week’s temps went from the 80s to the 30s in a 24-hour period. That didn’t happen where I live north of Boston but something like it has occurred. Tucking in to bed last night by a lake in New Hampshire, the weather alert on my phone told of a frost advisory.

Our sandals will soon be behind us. Flip-flops probably already are, along with sleeveless tank tops and the sarong-style skirts such as women might wrap quick around their bathing suits before running out to buy the groceries.

Bathing suits already seem a faraway concept to me now, and anyway the elastic on the leg of that nice purple one of mine is all shot.

No matter now. I’m not going near any pools. I have a zillion other plans now, all spelled Back At It.

Here is a picture of one of the only creatures you’ll see in most pools now: the cheerful ducks, who are gathering daily and muttering by the shores of city ponds.

They have a plan too and that plan is spelled Going South.

ducks in the pool

The rest of us will stay here and see what God sends. Here are some lines addressed to Him by the composer Francis Wylie in one of my most favorite hymns: 

Thou from Whose unfathomed law the year in beauty flows,
Thyself the vision passing by in crystal and in rose,
Day unto day doth utter speech, and night to night proclaim,
In ever changing words of light, the wonder of Thy Name.

Amen to that sentiment! Now let’s go seize this matchless day!


Summer Morning : Earth

When we’ve all moved lock, stock and candy wrapper to some giant biosphere high up in Space, what will be said of our time on this planet? What will be remembered, say, of a summer day here on Earth?

Will anyone recall the young women riding morning buses on their way to work?

girl on a busEarlier this week, I looked up from the task of wedging groceries into my dented little car, and saw, on a bus idling at a red light, one such young woman perched on the inward-facing seats

She wore a dress scooped low in the back, and I watched as with sure and practiced hands she reached behind her to arrange her hair, lifting and looping sections, disciplining its long braids, until, at last satisfied, she let the heavy whole of it drop against bare skin.  

Where is the video camera for moments like these?

Later that day, 100 miles farther west, at a rest stop on Interstate 90, I wondered that same thing again, as I sat on one of the arc-shaped stone benches encircling the stone tables on the Visitors’ Center’s leafy patio.  I watched as the scalloped edges of the umbrellas sheltering this Stonehenge-like seating danced in the wind and thought, “If I could only paint! I wouldn’t need a video camera if I had the artist’s eye to capture this breeze in a series of brush strokes.”

I looked around more and saw a woman well into her 70s so delighted with the pre-school child holding her hand that she was literally skipping from her car to where I sat, the little boy skipping with her and the two talking delightedly away even as they flitted from the hot asphalt to that cool bower of shade where we outdoor diners sat, paused on our several journeys.

That pause is a big element of life on this Earth in the warmer months I think.

I move through my days, same as I do all year, but find myself lately taking more time to notice each moment.

Yesterday I was trying to clear a sink drain and accidentally dropped the small red cap to the can of the harsh chemical down into the drain too, thus doubly stopping it up, and the irony of that fact made me ponder.

I called the plumber and when he arrived we chatted away about all the small mild ‘reprimands’ Fate sends our way.

 “Look at this,” he said, indicating his reddened left arm. “I was weeding around the foundation of my house when a whole swarm of yellow-jackets buzzed up out of the ground and stung me!”

 “I have eight or ten bites here,” he added, pointing.

 “Yikes!” I said. “And nothing hurts worse than a yellow jacket’s sting!”

 “Oh, but that’s not all! The next day when it started itching like crazy, I realized: That weed patch was full of poison ivy!”    

It seems likely to me that here was a conversation that would NOT have taken place in the hurry-up cold months.

The young woman would have been in a coat for one thing, her lovely back all covered; and the canvas umbrellas would not have even been there to snap in the breeze; and for sure the older lady would not have been skipping over stone-cold asphalt.

Time seems to slow in the warm months and open these small still pools into which we can for once really see ourselves living, the way God sees us and, let us hope, the way God smiles in the seeing.

beach umbrellas flapping


Old Time vs. New

The old timepieces were more forgiving than all the new kind, as this sweet poem testifies. I offer it on this day with its oncoming plunge into early darkness later on.  It‘s called “Time Change” but I have no record of its author. Lovely anyway: 

Time is different with a digital watch.

The minutes that used to limp around

The small dial on my left wrist

Come in early these days

Like the train.


I wound it myself then

But now time has changed.

It jumps up at me



Hours minutes seconds even days

Into then.

My new watch says

It’s now or never, kid.


Whatever became of o’clock?

You could make it last as long as an ice bar

Or another kiss,

Walk in late

And still be on time.

old clock 

These June Days

dick & jane at the farmOn June days like the ones we’re in, now the birds begin talking before 5:00 even. Today I heard them tuning up a good twenty minutes before the old clock had even struck 4:00 down in the living room. And even at 9:30 last night bands of daylight still clung to the horizon.

Every year at this time I feel like I’m walking around inside one of those 1940s children’s book you can still find in second-hand stores, with the perfectly puffed clouds set against skies of heavenly blue.

I look around and think Where are Grandpa and Grandpa who the children visit on their farm? Where is the littlest child with her doll carriage eternally trying to dress the cat in baby clothes?

Every year at this time I feel like I’m back in Eden, that state that all of us seem to dimly remember, before we and the world tilted into brokenness and error.

It seems we inhabit a sort of continual Present tense on any June morning with its blossoms and its birds. There is no future to fear, no past to either regret or pine for.

Maybe it’s the color of the grass, or the proliferation of blossoms everywhere. You’re not expecting all these blooms somehow. I know I’m newly amazed every year all the plants that go to the trouble of flowering, even the small humble one that you picture at the bottom of the ladder, that plant whose mission you thought was to clutch soil merely; even this plant is staging a great show of beauty. It reminds me of the bike parades you went to as a kid, your dented little Schwinn festooned in flounce and sparkle.

The world is so festooned right now. Just walk outside and see.

bike parade

Feeling It

bare treesHey the winter is over, storm or no storm. That old snowpack is beginning to look like the dough the pizza-man tosses over his head so as to fill it with air.

Look at these winds, that are now so strong. Out my window I see the large trunk-like limbs of an oak swaying like the branches of a willow.

Between the winds and this new strong sun,we’re all getting kind of giddy.

At the dry cleaners’ the other day, a woman I have never met turned to me as we waited in line. “I know you!” she cried. “You’re the one whose sister sings opera!”

I am in fact not the one whose sister sings opera and said so as kindly as I could.

“Well anyway, I know I’ve seen you at those summer concerts in the courtyard of the Episcopal Church!”

Wrong again, but why say so when this late-winter thaw brings such high spirits?

For sure it was high spirits that moved the tiny girl I passed at the town pond to bend over and toss her little skirt clear up over her head, revealing a paradise of ruffles on the seat of her little undies.

“Hayley, put your skirt down right now!” cried her mother. “Why would you even DO that?”

Silly question, when it seemed to me she did it because the geese were also doing it at the thawing margins of this chilled champagne-bucket of a pond. Down went their heads into the water. Up came their feathered bottoms, as gloriously arrayed as young Hayley’s ruffles.

All I know is that something is coming and it isn’t more winter, in spite of today’s snow… In spite of the fact that the Great Blizzard of 1888 that brought snow to the sills of the second-story windows began on March 11th of that year.

Even that old oak tree feels it. Day and night now, I watch its great limbs, stirring, stirring the sky like vast wooden spoons.

Made New

This is how lovely the world looked at 7 yesterday morning. It just about took my breath away to see it.

DSC_0033That’s the tangle of branches that by early April are kid-gloved up to their elbows in magnolia blossoms. This tree stands just outside the second-floor room where I write every day.

They were all lovely, those trees, dipped in icy batter as they were. This is the ginkgo, that weeps away its leaves all at once, within a couple of hours come fall. A video of that stunning phenomenon is here.


In sum, every view from every window was lovely. Still, the loveliest, somehow, was the sight of our neighbor’s house on that same morning, from a different window in my study. Take away the cable and phone wires and it could be a Currier & Ives print, couldn’t it though?

view from study window

The Squirrels Know

feel for this guy, who I found trying to raid the hawthorn tree for berries before the poor birds could get to any.

They’re running out of food out there!

It’s been mighty mild for these parts but still: The critters know what’s coming.

I hung around in my bedroom for almost an hour to get this shot. (I have 20 lousy shots.)

There were four squirrels in the tree at the time but this guy seemed the perkiest. And then he turned and gave me his handsome profile.

And I was just close enough, my breath fogging the cold windowpane  – though if you click on the picture to enlarge it you’ll see the mesh of screening.

Just look at him, shoveling it in with those slim little fingers.  

I suppose he’s offering a lesson to us all, but with the holiday aftershocks still bouncing against me, I’m still too fried to figure out what it is.