The stars are out there. So is the moon. And Jupiter. Look up. Look up! LOOK UP! Find a dark place and look up. Get a sky chart, like this interactive one from Sky & Telescope. It's a wonder out there. Just look at it.
It's a little bird, come to visit, wings folded, beak sharp but shut. Nice bird. Little bird. What is it? A wren, a sparrow, something made-up. This is not an original, really. I saw something like it somewhere and decided to see if I could do the same sewing machine drawing. I don't draw too well, so this is cartoony, but cute, eh?
Do terrorists ever find that anything is cute, do you think?
Think of what has gone away. The Dodo. Martha, the last passenger pigeon. And many more that we don't know. That woods I played in. The lake I swam in. And other plots of land changed. The air now filled with truck noise. And silenced frog voices. The dark sky lit by neighbors' so-called security lights. And people growing up not even knowing what the stars look like.
It is autumn, now. The air is crisp at night, time to bring the plants indoors to spend the winter that they wouldn't survive outdoors. The colors out there seem to try to distract us from the diminishing sunlight and the increase in cold and the coming snow and ice. The reds and golds and oranges are like nothing the rest of the year. Enjoy us, they seem to say. Enjoy us now, because the white and the silver are coming, the colors of the cold and the dark.
Out of nowhere, again, comes the tug of the road. It doesn't help that taking a van full of students to Syracuse and back was the day's major event. They sat in workshops, I sat on a bench in the glorious sunshine, wishing to have been driving anywhere else. Or at least somewhere more after this stop. And not with the students, but alone, delightfully alone, going down the red-lined roads of the atlas, going somewhere to look at something different from what is the usual.
Oh dear, she thinks. Should she go out? Try her new shoes on the dance floor? What if they hurt the backs of her heels? That's a horrible feeling; it makes her limp, or rather, walk as though her shoes hurt her feet. That is just unacceptable. She should be elegant and presentable, and bad shoes just do not do that for her. Goodness! It's hard enough finding shoes and a purse to match anymore, much less to get a dress to fit without having to wear so much lycra that she looks like Dolly Parton without the basketballs. How does that woman sleep?! Certainly not on her tummy, unless she . . . no, don't go to imagining any special mattresses. What a digression?! She wants to go dancing. There's an open dance—swing!—that she can go to. There are no refreshments, though, so she can't get a glass of wine to loosen up her shyness enough to actually accept an invitation to dance. Should she smuggle a flask in? That might be too-too, though. And she certainly doesn't want to unbalance herself so much that if she were to be asked to dance she wouldn't fall all over her partner, giving him the absolutely wrong impression! Oh, my! Not that!
Maybe staying home is the best option. Too many things to worry about out there.
Bunny rabbits don't have great senses of direction, except for those times when they are trying to run away from something, and then they go every which way, so any direction is right and no direction is left. They manage to elude even car tires this way, often, not always, but many are very lucky. They also have a good record of scaring the car drivers into thinking that they are going to be run over by sitting very still, looking directly at the driver with that one eye, then, just when the driver starts swerving to miss the damn little bunny, the bunny zig-zags away. I believe that rabbits hold zig-zagging rallies, just to see how many accidents they can cause without dying themselves. They all get together on a Friday night, sit around on the edges of the highway, and dare each other to jump out there, scare a driver to death, and live to collect the money. Ha! What they forget is where they came from because that sense of direction that they think they have, they really don't, so they get lost, can't find their buddies, lose the winning prize, and die getting home, unless they are really and truly lucky, and then that last happens after another rally.
Equal amount of day and night. But the next day has less light. So does the one after that. And another. And that's how it is after the Autumnal Equinox. This just continues and continues for three months when the Earth stalls in its travels around the Sun. It has to take that left-hand turn around the end of its ellipse, and that curve causes the amount of daylight to stay about the same until—until—it lengthens again. And so it goes, around and around, and around again. This is what we do.
When bored, all critters must do something to keep interested in life. Why else do anything but to keep interested?! Doing nothing is not in these genes, hence the house full of imps to keep all busy. Sometimes, hiding and finding is best. Other times, hiding and giggling is better. And there is always the garden to retreat to where the shrubbery leads its own active life. The feuds! Goodness! You'd think the roses and the mock orange would be more respectful of each other. But then, anything with the name "mock" to it has just got falsehood right there in the name, so what can one expect, eh? Then there's the twittering that can, and often does, inspire unending teasing. Teee-ze, teee-ze, chipchipchipchip, teeee-zeeee.
Harumph. Don't let the squirrels get in on the action. There will be nothing left for anyone else. But you can't tell the sock monkeys anything, can you.
Once upon a time, she lived in a place where the weather was never extreme, except when she didn't have to go anywhere, so there was always enough rain and snow and cold and hot sun, but she was able to avoid it because the weather cooperated with her plans, and she always cooperated with the weather. In this way, all was in harmony. They had worked hard to get to this balance; she, in particular, had special needs that required following the negotiated terms to the letter. Her special needs were her wardrobe. She had to, just had to, be able to wear what she wanted without having to cover it up with raincoats or umbrellas, to be too hot or too cold for her planned outfits. The shoes were important. Very important. And it all worked well. She was perfectly dressed and coifed and shoed. And because she was so, the rest of the world lived well, for she and the weather had their arrangement, their organized system to keep all in place.
They go swimming about, tootle-ooh, around and around, just swimmingswimmingswimming. They eat and talk with each other and tell stories and complain and give presents and grow older. They were once young, and now, having learned some things about their world, they tell more stories. And they have learned to be friendly; it's nicer that way. It's a good place they're in. They have found the safe waters and that is a good thing, a very good thing. It's good to be happy, to be safe, to know what they know.
Yup, for a few more days, it is still officially summer. Only a few more days, though. Notice that the sun sets just a bit more than 12 hours after it rises. Relish these last days of summer. Go! Look around, pick a bouquet of fall flowers. Come over and get some of the huge hydrangea clusters I've got. Fascinating plant, that. The flowers will dry up and last all winter, rustling in the wind and ice. Nice things.
The Centers for Disease Control say that those who were born before 1957 might be carrying some immunity to the current H1N1 flu because of outbreaks of related viruses in the 1950s. Meanwhile, the rest will be ready for an outbreak in 50 years. The CDC also has images of the virus, seen here in blue (the other option was black and white, which means grays). The CDC is a very interesting place.
This summer, at the Bloomfield Public Library, I filled out a Bingo-like piece of paper with what I had read during the summer. The point was to get people to read, which is the library's reason for existence, really. I forgot about it. Then, this day, I went into the library to return things, maybe pick something else up to read, when the library director and some of her staff presented me with a tote bag FULL of things. I had won the random drawing of those summer pieces of paper!
Now comes the really, truly, wonderfully remarkable part: everything in the bag was something that might have been chosen especially for me, except that they told me that it wasn't, that everyone who won got the same stuff. But it was just perfect for me: Staples gift card, note paper, more note paper, sticky notes, soap, tape measure, pen, pencil, iced tea, can cozy (however that's spelled), colored pencils, drawing paper, my favorite chocolate, and two children's books, each of which is illustrated with collages! How good is this?! And, here's the coolest thing, really: it's only the third time in my life that I have won something, twice in a random draw. Whew!
What can be said about fish who swim through a woods, where one tree dominates the landscape? These trout-like fishies wanted to go on an excursion, so they left their cozy watery homes and gathered together to see what the forest—through which their stream flowed—looked like out of the water. They were happy doing it. This one day, they could breathe in the woods; it was the same oxygen, they rationalized, and that rationalization made it so. They went looking for what there might be, and they went and went. Eventually, something was going to happen to them. I suspect that they got tired and hungry, and although there was oxygen for them, the bugs were the wrong kind, so they found their way back to their water, ate a meal—they were hungry from their adventures!—and went to sleep, dreaming of their very satisfying day in the woods. And that is what happened.
We need flowers and bugs and scissors and thoughts and air and water and more flowers and trees and fish and birds and grass and wind and rivers and shrubs and frogs and cats and ideas and friends and wine and chocolate and many pretty things. Add to the list, see what really matters.
A newspaper, of course. But the riddle works only orally. Once written down, it gives itself away or it is ridiculous, with no real answer. Sort of like life when I have a cold. I can't hear well out of one ear, so I miss some things. Then the runny nose requires that I blow it, which in my case means making noise, over which I can't hear either, especially with only one ear. And the sneezes are sudden and frighten both the cat and the bird, who yelled all day because there were people working on the house next door. Yesterday, there were children there, too, and boy! he really didn't like that, so I moved him to the other side of the house, which didn't help all that much since he was now closer to the front street with all its traffic. He screamed. He also bounced and rattled the bell and generally behaved badly. The cat rolled his eyes and chewed his foot. I blew my nose. Again and again. Exhausted from all this, I took a nap which turned into a deep, deep snoring sleep. In the midst of a very complicated dream, I started to hear a noise that was confusing things even more than they already were; it was sort of squeeky, going "Eow, ow, eow," until finally, in the dream, I realized that this sound had nothing to do with what was going on in the dream, and I woke up a bit. It was the cat, sitting next to the bed, doing his Wake-Up-It's-Time-To-Feed-Me-And-The-Bird meowing. Annoying, especially because I was still so very tired. But it had been a two-hour nap, so yes, it was time to feed the animals. They got their regular food. I had popcorn, then ice cream. And then I realized that it was time to find a free newspaper because the bird's cage really needed cleaning.
My friends and I travel, separately, in interesting ways. I drive an SUV filled with books, a sleeping bag and pillow, and art supplies. Others keep their cars empty of everything until the day comes to fill them with suitcases and bags of snacks. And yet others take even less; they ride motorcycles, so can bring only what the saddlebags and tankbag can take: rain gear, extra undies, another pair of shoes, something to read. Some of these folks go for miles and miles simply for the going, then they write about the adventures. Check out John Ryan's trip around Manhattan and Melissa Holbrook Pierson's 1000-miles-in-a day project. Keep checking in on them, because they will continue to move and move some more. I will continue filling my little truck with things that help me understand what I am seeing. It is a wonderful life we have that we can go in our many ways.
Bob was afraid of the wind. He would spin in circles in the yard looking for whoever was trying to touch him. Donkey was Bob's mother and was sort of dumb and nasty, except that she was an excellent hunter and kept the house empty of mice. Annie was blind in one eye, had a stump of a tail, and was tormented by Lizzie. Lizzie Borden was a Violet English Blue—or something like that, with no papers, of course—who tortured Annie. When I had to give them away, I separated them. Lizzie died soon after of unknown causes. Annie lived for a long time and, according to reports and photos, was happy and relaxed. Motor had one eye (the other was surgically removed, although no one knows when or why, especially because he came from a neglectful household), couldn't meow, but whose purr could be heard three rooms away, hence his name. He was smart, skinny, could do the 3D things necessary for a cat to be happy, and was just the bestest critter. I had to have him put to sleep, and the vet let me help with a necropsy to see why he died, but nothing was definitively wrong. I think he was much, much older than we all thought because he was so little and agile and lively until he couldn't stand anymore. Lumpy got very sick and wouldn't eat anything. He spent a couple of weeks on my bed, waiting for me to come home from this summer's travels. After a few days in the hospital, he finally got depressed and didn't want to look at me. He got put to sleep, too. The hospital sent me a condolence card signed by everyone who had had something to do with Lumpy's care.
The lizard was a toy that Motor wanted to play with, but I didn't let him. However, when Lumpy showed up, he claimed it, and I gave in. He would go "kill" it, then bring it to me as though it had been alive and was now his gift. Nicky, who is still alive, brings real animals up from the basement. I don't know what he thought of Lumpy's hunts. Lumpy thought they were real.
I don't like onions. I have even been heard to say that I hate onions, but really I just resent them for how badly they make me feel. Of course, I have to use them to cook with, because foods cooked without onions that should be cooked with onions just taste horribly. And if they are cut up into very, very small pieces and they are well-cooked and are inside something—like meatloaf, mmmm—then I can eat them, but not if they are just sort of cooked or are deep-fried or are raw. Yikes! Raw is the worst! But drive up to the muck fields on the Lake Ontario shore when the onions are ready to be harvested and smell the wonderful air: earthy, oniony but not cooked, rich, fresh. Stop to breathe it in, to know where these bulbs come from. Then find the garlic fields and know that life is good.
Wow, a president wants to tell schoolchildren to stay in school, to get an education, to make good, and their parents don't want them to listen to someone other than themselves. I'm trying to make this light, but can't. I have to take education seriously. I see the results of those parents, bringing up young people to take no responsibility for themselves, wanting—expecting!—everyone, anyone, to do their thinking for them. "My brain hurts," one tells me. I say, "Yup, that's what I make you do in my classes: use your brain, think for yourself."
The moon is waning and sleeping is a bit easier without that huge orb shining its wonderful light in my face. Yeah, I know, I could put up drapes to block out all the light, the kind of drapes that I use in hotel rooms because they have lights right outside the windows! Notice that?! They also have those bright red or green, depending on where you are staying, lights on the smoke detectors shining down from the ceiling, which, of course, now that I had closed the drapes, the room is pitch-black, or so I think it will be, but then all the other lights start showing up, like the smoke detector. And then there is the hair-dryer doubling as a nightlight in the bathroom, brighter than necessary to find the toilet in the dark. But the worst, once I've closed the drapes and gotten all the outside light out, is the crack under the door with the lights from the corridor shining in, shining as though someone is out there with a flashlight, pointing it right under the door and into the room! So I unplug the hair-dryer/nightlight and stuff a towel across the crack under the door. Whew! Nothing to be done about the smoke detector point of light except keep the blanket or pillow in the way. Don't get me going on the rooms with microwave ovens and their blinkingblinkingblinking clocks and what I do about the bright alarmclockradio! Drapes at home. I like knowing when it is morning, and those black-out drapes do too good a job of keeping the light out, so when the sun actually rises, I can't tell. So I don't want drapes at home because the only lights—really—that are bothersome are when the neighbors forget to turn out the floodlight in the driveway. What the hell is that all about anyway?! The light just makes it easier for whatever thieves might want to steal anything. Sure, light the way! Who is going to see them and say anything! It's harder to do stuff in the dark. Which is why we are afraid of it and light it all up to make it go away, even though it is easier and better for us to sleep in the dark.
One of my daydreams is that, one day, when I come home from work, the cat and the bird, with the help of the magic mousies, will have scoured and cleaned and dusted and vacuumed and mopped and dusted some more. I would like the house to have no dust bunnies—as much as I like bunnies, these are not very friendly ones. No cobwebs, either. Spiders are fine, actually, and every year there is some female who spins a little web under the sink in the little bathroom downstairs and gets fat, not just because she eats a lot, but because she is pregnant, which explains why she eats a lot, I guess. Then one day, there are teeny tiny little spiders all around. Really cute little things. And the mother goes away, the babies grow up, and build nests and it all continues. However, there is a limit to how many of them should be in all corners of the house, so they should be herded down into the basement, where a corner could be set off for them. The basement, too, needs an especially deep cleaning, something I will probably never ever get around to doing. It's enough to do the dishes once a week, so that each Sunday I have my Sunday mug clean and ready for coffee.
What a thing the moon is, hanging up there, moving from east to west, sometimes really high, other times only halfway up from the horizon. And when it is full, when it is the substitute for the sun, opposite it somewhere out there in space, then it is the magical, luminous center of our souls.
My great-grandmother lived with us when I was growing up. She was an independent woman in her own way. She would go for walks and pick flowers from whatever gardens she passed. She would come home with great bouquets of roses and daisies and lilies and whatever else had caught her fancy that day, not paying a mind to having trespassed and stolen. She had some sad moments, too: she would forget where she put her cane and I would have to go looking for it. It was often hanging on a doorknob, but not always the same one.
And she had a lust for travel; she would sigh when she heard a train whistle. My mother told me that it had always been this way. My great-grandmother would have loved to get on any train going anywhere. My mother had inherited that (we don't know about her mother; she died before my mother got to know her well). And I have it, too. Instead of the train—although it can do it to me, too—it's the highway and the car that let me loose to go, just go. Have I written about this already? Of course, it is a constant thread. There is no nowhere.
I look out in the yard and see oranges and yellows soon turning to browns. Some echinacea-purple is still out there, but those cones are drooping. The hyacinths are still blooming, as they will until they dry up and then murmur all winter in the wind, reminding us of their prime. The grass is that green that comes before the brown: lush, dark, getting the last photosynthetic processes going as the sun's path shortens and loses height.
Several years ago, I figured out that if I wore black pants, white or black shirts, and red or yellow jackets, then I would look appropriately dressed for work. Some days, those days when I have to perform, to engage people in thinking, I even wear some lipstick. I have found that that way people find it easier to focus on my mouth to see what they are hearing when I am saying it. Other days, when I have meetings with administrators, it pays to wear something red to let them see that I am not afraid of standing out. Yellow works, too, but red is more traditionally powerful. Yellow is fun or is necessary when, deep in the winter dark, the sun has not shone on us. And then there are days when I just do not care and that's when I wear my jeans and whatever shirt I want to. Phffft on society's expectations of adult behavior. Today I wore jeans.
Oh, and a good way to get people's attention is to wear cool, colorful shoes.