Inside Out

I’ve noticed that in winter, pieces of outside come in –

willing contraband in mourning arms.

There are rocks on the kitchen windowsill,

fossils in the bookcase,

a bulky basket of cord wood hunkered at the hearth,

and a tall twig standing sentinel in a corner of the dining room.

There is a piece of bark tucked behind the weft in my weaving

and a clam shell full of translucent sea discs on the dresser shelf.

Nearly every jacket in the closet has a rock in its pocket.

A fist full of craggy eucalyptus – remnant from a fall arrangement – stretches from a vase on the kitchen table,

and seedy thistle stalks poke from a jug on the wood box.

Winter is not a favored season but

it’s not so much the weather,

it’s that walls are so necessary then.

Come spring and summer – when confines disappear and outside floats in again

on its own breezy merit

through open windows and doors

to soothe the eyes as a vase of flowers

or drift toward ears as cicada choruses

or tease the nose as fresh cut grass,

well then

there is no want for outside in.

We’ll be inside out.

First Canvas

A senior oak lifts latticework to dusky sky.

A sunflower beams a perfect center circle,

pollen-coated seed tips arranged – just like that.

The conch shell, belies a spiral swirl within,

but not for me to see

or touch,

and the zinnia bobs a circle of stars on its face-

tiny outstretched arms and yellow touching hands.

A globe to hold in the palm of your hand is the stone

of the avocado,

and the cherry leaf

asserts its zigzag edge to all who care to notice,

while

daffodils sway in unison

announcing spring with boisterous bugles.

Nature offers stars and stairs

and spirals and blares

without fanfare.

You might notice and be awed,

by the shapes that nature draws.

Beautiful Bison

Huge hulk

two tons

wizened warrior

unphased ungulate

underneath

shag hair –

crusted brambles adorning

winter weather layers

atop.

Roaming sages

grazing greenery just so

for new life,

hollowing behemoth puddle prints –

concave craters

of pressed earth

that offer an

inadvertent

bird bath

for feathered friends

and a drinking hole for others.

Boulder-built

light-footed

blipping over

herculean heights

with ease,

outrunning

all adversaries

save one.

Bereft of allies with influence,

terrorized and

helpless

against

ignorance and arrogance

you were

expunged.

Yet,

an enduring notion of

silent grit

and

profound patience

is your gift

in return.

You are

all that

and more.

You

are

beautiful bison.

Extending Family

Pink nectarine ‘Fantasia’ flowers on the tree in early Spring

The two least predicted are the two most in need of a trim, and they are the plum trees – one Sunburst plum, and one Bluebird plum. I originally thought that they would struggle the most because of their penchant for sandy soil over clay, but perhaps the leftover patio sand tossed into the bottom of their planting holes fooled them. They are currently out-of-control renegades whose craggily arms attempt a ghoulish canopy over the driveway.

The other two more refined individuals in queue for a weekend trim are the two apple trees out back offsetting the short winding path to the patio. They are the Harlequin apple – rounded and plump like an upturned apple itself, and the Liberty apple, whose limbs grow straight out, then boast right-angle offshoots straight up. Two of a kind, but completely different in shape and growing pattern.

Our fifth tree was the heartbreaking casualty of the five and it was all my fault. She was a nectarine tree with the most beautiful flowers of them all. We lost her last summer to my enthusiastic over-pruning too late in the season.

The trees were our gift to each other four years ago for our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. We picked them out at the co-op and planted them that spring. They are Harley, Libby, Reenie, Sunny, and Toby, named after the strain of fruit they each produce, and they are – coincidentally – in alphabetical order from east to west. Four of them produce beautiful blossoms that beckon to birds and insects in spring and summer, then evolve into a delicious banquet for the squirrels come fall harvest. Reenie still adds woody contrast to the lot in her own way.

This weekend will be the first spell outside with spring attention in mind and heart, and that is a welcomed thing. Pruning, puttering, and pondering about how much, what to plant, and where.

Prune, putter, ponder.

Apportioned peace.

Seasonal Order

Four times a year we pay homage to life-sustaining predictability by lauding the new season en masse. Our neighbors host the equinox celebrations and we the solstices. Each event requires a festive gathering replete with food, drink, and some sort of primordial fire, be it a host of candles on the table, or a bonfire out back. For our solstice tributes, we convene around the fire pit.

Last summer’s pinnacle had us grilling branzino on the coals then sitting around the groaning board until late evening, savoring fading rays of the longest day. The more recent winter solstice found us huddled in early dark of winter, closer to the flames than six months prior, not for food this time but for warmth. A couple of raucous toasts for good measure, a genial cheer to the coming of the light and then back inside for blessed warmth. Yesterday, we ushered in the first two minutes of spring with a virtual face time toast, mindful of social distances, but heartily refusing to let our quarterly tradition lapse for these vexing circumstances.

As the fates of equilibrium would have it, two of us prefer winter, and the other two – summer. No matter what the season, someone is always delighted to be upon a chosen one, or at least headed in that direction. Two of us celebrate mums, waning light, and falling mercury, and the other two exalt courageous crocuses, dinnertime daylight, and peeling parkas in relief of too many layers.

It is a gift of uncommon grace to share life with those who help you notice hidden beauty in unpleasantries such as an annoying outside temperature or too much precipitation or the wrong kind. The accidental joy in discovering a silver lining there makes drudgery bearable, and even downright fun.

Yesterday we toasted to coming around again – marking time with seasons of delight and seasons of – well, not so much. To that and to the rhythm of life.

For all of it, I am grateful.

Heart Rocks

I used to take my dad’s hammer out to the backyard to look for good rocks to crack open. Scratching through the leafy detritus in the woods behind our house or in the azalea bushes which held promising specimens among their gnarly roots, I would heft a few hopefuls onto the driveway and strike them repeatedly with the hammer, the vibrations coursing up the wooden handle into my arm, sharp metallic strikes splitting the air, assaulting my ears. Eventually, a crack would fall open to reveal the core. Some offerings would be just what one would expect, much the same inside as on the outside, rusty brown gray with flecks of earthy color here and there. Others revealed the surprise I was hoping for. Nondescript smudged buff exterior belied a spectacle within, as if someone had taken a snow globe and poured its glittery crystals inside an ordinary rock, hidden from all but the most curious excavators.

I recently surmised that rocks might be my favorite non-living thing, and memories of driveway geological forays gives me reason to note that my fascination is not new. Along those lines, my family was recently persuaded to accompany me to a rock and fossil show at a local convention center. There I settled on two specimens out of thousands to take home: a swirling, speckled orb of Ocean Jaspar – reminiscent of a dappled planet, and an egg of butterscotch-burgundy Carnalite – both harvested from Madagascar.

Returning to the show the following day I roamed the banquet, this time choosing 14 polished hearts – one for each of my students.

That Friday, the day before spring break, I invited my students to choose a heart rock at the end of class. They oooh-ed and aaah-ed, looked, touched, and each closed fingers around a small, dense parcel of earth tucked in the hollow of their palm. Perhaps unnoticed by most, it was a brief encounter with Mother Nature, offering herself to anyone who cares to notice beauty in an ordinary rock and the comfort of a smooth stone in hand.

Victorious Vantage Point

“I should have known the temperature would be cooler here,” I thought as I hunched lower, pushing my way through the headwind toward the water. Lifting my head briefly, full into the wind, I could see the rise about a half mile away – that’s where I was headed. I was hoping to get to the top in time to catch the sunset to the west over the river, and the moonrise to the east, behind me. I had calculated to be there in time, having left shortly after dismissal to make my way across the water and up to my vantage point between moonrise and sunset. They were to occur within thirty minutes of each other today.

I had been been ruminating on whether to make the trip all morning, but once I committed, my anticipation grew with each passing hour. Although I had no one to accompany me, I was excited to go, nonetheless. I wanted this day to be different. After all, how often does the advent of spring and the rise of a super moon coincide? Hardly ever, as far as I could tell. I was going to do my best to honor two momentous occasions that Mother Nature was offering today.

Pressing into the bluster, I reached the base of the incline near the water’s edge, and climbed quickly to the top. The wind was considerably stronger at this altitude. Turning north, I pushed forward, the chill buffeting my layers. I went on, glancing upward at the threatening haze in the waning light.

As the temperature continued to drop and the sky grew increasingly overcast , I realized that my reason for trekking here tonight was not meant to be. The view of sunset and moonrise was slipping through my fingers as quickly as the clouds were rolling in. Even so, making the trip across the river had earmarked this day as unique. Just being here – on the High Line in Lower Manhattan – had made it a day set apart.

I paused on the path, once an abandoned railway track, now embraced by silhouettes of trees – and took in the sights around me. I was one story up, on a nearly-two-mile-long suspended, forested walkway directly above the busy streets of Manhattan. I squinted across the Hudson River at the coastline of New Jersey due west. “Home,” I thought, and probably time to make way way back there, before nightfall.

I didn’t get to see the super moon rise over Manhattan, nor did I catch the sunset over the eastern shore of New Jersey. I had hoped it would work out just so, but sometimes the best moments are completely different from those originally planned for. This was still one that will be with me for a long time. The day I crossed the river to the city, ushering in my fifty-ninth spring.

It’s a keeper.

Balance

Joy and I used to sit on the ground near the front wall stacking rocks into tall cairns, monuments to our patience and nimble fingers. Biggest to smallest from the ground up, thirteen tall was our best attempt ever, starting with a smooth round base and ending with the tiniest of pebbles perched on top. The stones are still out there scattered on the wall and when I go by, I sometimes set them upon each other again, a few here and a few there just so, perhaps a testament to the virtue of balance.

In thinking about balance I have made attempts to cultivate more of it in my life: setting my alarm later than I used to, because that if I sleep that late, I probably needed it. Choosing a walk every morning instead of anything else because morning outside is the best time of day. Attending not to every next thing that presents itself – and living a stream of consciousness, drifting from one distraction to another – but pausing to ask myself if this is the best option for my attention right now.

At the wall I place rock upon rock, gingerly releasing the topmost, testing if it will hold true or topple. Even when it sets, it is not there for long. Unattended, the tower topples by squirrels, wind, or rain. It might be like that in life, too. This notion of balance needs paying attention to so that it stays. Taking a moment or two to set the stones now and again, I keep trying. If it doesn’t hold, I’ll likely go out there to try to put it right again.