“Autumn that year painted the countryside in vivid shades of scarlet, saffron and russet, and the days were clear and crisp under harvest skies.” ~ Sharon Kay Penman, from Time and Chance

Autumn Enveloped, Spring Grove Cemetery &; Arboretum, Cincinnati by David Ohmer

“The heart of Autumn must have broken here,
And poured its treasure out upon the leaves.” ~ Charlotte Fiske Bates, from “Woodbines in October”

Saturday afternoon, partly cloudy, hotter and humid, 85 degrees.

Any day now we’re going to get a break in the weather and have nice fall temperatures. Any day now.

Corey is working on the fence again. Somehow, the goats and horses have all found ways to escape from the pasture, which I know is frustrating the hell out of Corey. At the moment, Beric and Daisy are in the back pasture, and the rest of the goats and the two horses are in the large pasture, or at least they’re supposed to be. At the moment, they’re on the front porch.

Autumn Reflection Spring Grove Cemetery & Arboretum, Cincinnati by David Ohmer (FCC)

Early this morning, after letting all of the dogs out, Freddy returned smelling of skunk. Fortunately he seems to be the only one who was sprayed directly, but boy did he get the full treatment. It was hellacious. I sprayed him with one of those dog calming sprays that I keep on hand, but that was only a temporary measure until we were out of bed. Corey gave him a bath, and that seems to have taken care of the eau de skunk.

“Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.” ~ George Eliot, from a
Letter to Miss Lewis, October 1, 1841

Anyway, I had something in particular in mind for today’s post, and it’s an offshoot of my griping about the hot temps, but in a good way, if that makes any sense at all . . .

Climate experts (weather.com) say that 2019’s warmer than usual September means that leaves will change color across the U.S. about a week later than usual. I was unable to download the interactive map showing nationwide fall foliage peak dates, but I did manage to capture two dates showing peak time in our area, which is supposed to be somewhere between October 26 and November 2. Corey’s mom likes to try to catch peak foliage, so I’m hoping that this tool will be of value to her.

2019 Fall Foliage Map & Nationwide Peak Leaf Forecast (10-26-2019)
2019 Fall Foliage Map & Nationwide Peak Leaf Forecast (11-02-2019)

Apparently, each year since 2013, smokymountains.com publishes this interactive map for those looking for peak leaf viewing around the country. Wes Melton, a data scientist and CTO with smokymountains.com, told Travel + Leisure:

“The predictive fall leaf map helps potential travelers, photographers and leaf peepers determine the precise future date that the leaves will peak in each area of the continental United States . . . We believe this interactive tool will enable travelers to take more meaningful fall vacations, capture beautiful fall photos and enjoy the natural beauty of autumn.

Although the scientific concept of how leaves change colors is fairly simple, predicting the precise moment the event will occur is extremely challenging . . . The major factors impacting peak fall are sunlight, precipitation, soil moisture and temperature. Although we cannot control Mother Nature and ensure 100 [percent] accuracy, our data sources are top-tier and each year we refine our algorithmic model achieving higher accuracy over time.”

Moving the slider at the bottom of the actual interactive map (found here), will display the best opportunities for when and where leaves will be near peak, at peak, and past peak in the coming weeks.

“How beautifully leaves grow old. How full of light and color are their last days.” ~ John Burroughs, naturalist

There’s nothing quite like a hike in the Blue Ridge Mountains in autumn. It’s something that I first began doing right after Caitlin died, and I’ve tried to do so as often as possible over the years since, in particular along Skyline Drive, the historic 105-mile National Scenic Byway, which traverses Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. There are nearly 70 scenic overlooks along this north-south route. I have stayed several times at Skyland Lodge, which is located at the top of the drive. Go here to see available lodging in and around Shenandoah; I would recommend the cabins for a more rustic experience.

A view of Skyline Drive in late fall (NPS image)

Another beautiful route for viewing fall foliage in the mountains is the Blue Ridge Parkway, which traverses 469 miles through 29 Virginia and North Carolina counties and spans the southern and central Appalachians. The Parkway links Shenandoah National Park to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Lodging here is varied and includes B&Bs, lodges, cabins, and hotels, among others; we stayed at Peaks of Otter Lodge the year I was pregnant with Brett.

Bittersweet memories . . .

By the way, since I always get this confused, I thought that I’d offer a clarification: The Blue Ridge Mountains (Eastern US) are part of the Appalachians (eastern counterpart to the Rocky Mountains), which are a system of mountains forming a barrier to east/west travel and extending 2,000 miles from Newfoundland to central Alabama. The Great Smoky Mountains (SE US) are a subrange of the Appalachians and a part of the Blue Ridge Mountain Range. Shenandoah National Park is in the Shenandoah Valley, which stretches 200 miles across the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains. The Allegheny Mountains are part of the Appalachians.

  • Mountain range: series of mountains
  • Mountain system: group of mountain ranges
  • Subrange: seen as parent-child relationship (Appalachians parent to Blue Ridge child)

Got it? Me neither. More later. Peace.


Music by September’s Birds,”Honey, You Don’t Know”


Autumn

All day I have watched the purple vine leaves
Fall into the water.
And now in the moonlight they still fall,
But each leaf is fringed with silver.

~ Amy Lowell

 

“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.” ~ Norman MacLean

  

           

“Many a time have I merely closed my eyes at the end of yet another troublesome day and soaked my bruised psyche in wild water, rivers remembered and rivers imagined. Rivers course through my dreams, rivers cold and fast, rivers well-known and rivers nameless, rivers that seem like ribbons of blue water twisting through wide valleys, narrow rivers folded in layers of darkening shadows, rivers that have eroded down deep into the mountain’s belly, sculpted the land, peeled back the planet’s history exposing the texture of time itself.” ~ Harry Middleton
Currituck Sound, NC

Sounds of soft rain outside the window, punctuated occasionally by quiet birdsong. Much cooler temperatures. The perfect day to read a book . . . or perhaps not. 

I have been thinking about water—rivers, lakes, oceans. I was reading Janson’s blog today, and he was talking about his affinity for the Atlantic Ocean, how it is so much a part of him. I can relate to that. The Atlantic is my ocean. I have lived on both sides of it. I have seen its brown-green hues to the north and its amazing blues to the south. I have swum in it, floated in it, dived beneath its waves, and traversed it in different crafts. 

I have sat on the shoreline and let the waves roll over my feet, tickled by the froth of receding water. I have watched fiddler crabs scurry away from the waves, and open-beaked pelicans dip below its surface to catch food. 

No matter where I go, I always feel that I am home when I exit the Hampton Tunnel and see the Chesapeake Bay spreading out before me. No other air smells like sea air; no other air feels like the salt-infused spray of sea air. 

“Rivers are magnets for the imagination, for conscious pondering and subconscious dreams, thrills, fears. People stare into the moving water, captivated, as they are when gazing into a fire. What is it that draws and holds us? The rivers’ reflections of our lives and experiences are endless.” ~ Tim Palmer
Dark Hollow Falls, Skyline Drive, Virginia

It is no coincidence that when I choose to go somewhere for vacation, it is almost always to a destination that is near water. Even in the foothills of Virginia, I can get the two things I love to see the most: water and mountains. Peaks of Otter in Bedford, Virginia overlooks Abbott Lake. This mountain retreat is located along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Guests can sit on their porches at sunset and look out on the beauty of the lake and the surrounding mountains. 

When we go to Skyline Drive, I love most those paths that lead to water, like Dark Hollow Falls, a small natural waterfall. Chincoteague is an island on the Eastern Shore of Virginia where Corey and I have spent a few long weekends. A short drive to the south is the Outer Banks, a favorite day-trip to see the dunes of Kitty Hawk where hang gliders try their skills. 

I know that I get my love of the water from my father, whose hometown in the Philippines bordered on a powerful river. My mother is terrified of the water and cannot abide boats. Yet one more way in which they were opposites. 

My father taught me to swim in the Chesapeake Bay. My mother would always worry that I would fall into a sinkhole and drown, which actually does happen. 

But it’s more than just bodies of water. I love rainstorms, thunderstorms. One of my favorite memories of my father was sitting on my parents’ back porch with my dad, both of us silent, just watching the lightning and listening to the rain and thunder.  There is something mystical and magical about water. It holds the power to create and the power to destroy. It nurtures, and it kills. 

“But I also know that in places, the river still runs deep, and though I’ve floated it in these places, it hasn’t revealed itself in such obvious ways. I know that it might be months—years, even—before I understand what it has to teach me. I still need to give myself over to the flow and pattern and rhythm of it to learn its lessons and hear its messages. The river is inside me now, I know, and I need only wait and see where the current takes me, and what lies beneath it.” ~ Jeff Wallach
Mountain Swimming Hole Similar to St. Mary's

I know that I’ve mentioned diving naked into a deep pool of mountain water while hiking on St. Mary’s trail near Steele’s Tavern, Virginia. It was probably one of the most sensuous moments of my life—sensuous, not sensual. All of my senses were heightened: the feel of the cool, clear water on my skin, the way that mountain water has a smell like no other water. It was like being bathed in the water of life. I mean, who knows how old that body of water actually is, when it was formed. 

Water is timeless, which is what is meant by the saying that you can never step into the exact same body of water in the same way because the water has moved, shifted, traveled, and so have you. Neither is the same as at the first meeting. Still, water never seems to forget those who are at home in it. Slipping into a pool of water is completely natural to me; for me, there is nothing to fear. 

The human body is between 55 to 78 percent water. Almost 71 percent of the earth is covered by water. The human brain is 70 percent water, and the lungs are almost 90 percent water. 

Water of life. Water is life. The two are inextricably intertwined. 

“No, life cannot be understood flat on a page. It has to be lived; a person has to get out of his head, has to fall in love, has to memorize poems, has to jump off bridges into rivers, has to stand in an empty desert and whisper sonnets under his breath . . .We get one story, you and I, and one story alone.” ~ Donald Miller, Through Painted Deserts
Cascades, Virginia

Water has been the source of inspiration for writers, painters, and poets since time began. Claude Monet devoted years of his life to the water and water lilies surrounding his home in Giverny. His water lilies paintings ranged from small to room-sized. The hues and shading in this series are so deep and luminous that it is not hard to imagine seeing what Monet saw. 

Water is infused into every part of our lives: songs (“Cry Me a River”), books (Peace Like a River), poems (“At Blackwater Pond”), movies (Titanic). One of the books that I used to teach in my literature classes was Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. It’s a lovely little book about one woman, Edna Pontellier, and her gradual awakening to life and its possibilities. Throughout the book, Edna undergoes a series of encounters with water that leave her both enervated and rejuvenated. Water and Edna’s relationship to it is the primary liet motif of the novel. 

In one of my favorite movies and books, Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient, the two main characters are destroyed by their all-consuming love. Katherine dies in the desert, but in the last lines that she writes, Katherine speaks of life and death in terms of the senses: “We die containing a richness of lovers and tribes, tastes we have swallowed, bodies we have plunged into and swum up as if rivers of wisdom, characters we have climbed into as if trees, fears we have hidden in as if caves.” 

That description has stayed with me for years. The people who have come into and left our lives throughout the years are like rivers of wisdom, each of them teaching us something, not necessarily something we wanted to learn or to face, but some piece of knowledge nevertheless. We swim through the waters of our own experiences, each day, each month, each year, moving with the flow of time, not smoothly but like water over rocks. A force that cannot be stopped.  

“I am one of the searchers . . . We continue to explore ourselves, hoping to understand. We like to walk along the beach, we are drawn by the ocean, taken by its power, its unceasing motion, its mystery and unspeakable beauty. We like forests and mountains, deserts and hidden rivers, and the lonely cities as well. Our sadness is as much a part of our lives as is our laughter. To share our sadness with one we love is perhaps as great a joy as we can know—unless it be to share our laughter.” ~ James Kavanaugh 
 
 

Sailing on the Chesapeake Bay 

In my life, I have walked beside many waters, tasted the brine and the sweetness. I have sailed atop the water in small 16-foot sailboats and aboard huge ships. I have dived in fearlessly, and I have stood back, content to watch the ebb and flow of the water in its endless movement.  I have decided that when I die, I want to be cremated and to have half of my ashes spread on the Atlantic Ocean, and the other half spread on the foothills of Virginia, the places I have loved the most. 

I do not desire to be planted in the earth, to take up space in some container. I wish to return to the soul of the earth, to the very hollow of existence, to become part of the ever-changing beauty, the evolving mysteries, the eternal rhythm that is the essence of nature, this life, this world. 

More later. Peace. 

Music by Great Lake Swimmers, “Mariner’s Song” 

                                                                                                          
At Blackwater Pond
  
At Blackwater Pond the tossed waters have settled
after a night of rain.
I dip my cupped hands. I drink
a long time. It tastes
like stone, leaves, fire. It falls cold
into my body, waking the bones. I hear them
deep inside me, whispering
oh what is that beautiful thing
that just happened?
 
~ Mary Oliver

  

“It is not by muscle, speed, or physical dexterity that great things are achieved, but by reflection, force of character, and judgment.” ~ Cicero

Male Cardinal in the Snow by synthman19872003

“Whatever you do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius and power and magic in it.” ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Blue Jay in the Snow

I’m cold, tired, and my back hurts. What better time and frame of mind to hammer out some new year’s resolutions. Let’s get started then. I resolve to do the following in 2010 (in no particular order, just as they come to me):

  1. Write more—more frequently, more regularly, more faithfully, and with more purpose.
  2. Read more, well, just because it’s something that I love, and it relaxes me.
  3. Try to get along better with eldest son even though his personality is so much like my ex-husband that sometimes the lines blur.
  4. Get back into a regular exercise program. This is one that I’ve been wanting to do for a long time, but let’s face it: I don’t exercise at home. It’s just not a conducive environment. I need to get back to the gym, a place where I will be shamed into working harder.
  5. Do more with my photography, as in, not just take pictures and leave them on the memory card for months. I love Photoshop, so I should use it more.
  6. In conjunction with Number 5, I would love to get a photo printer, but that’s at te bottom of the priority list.
  7. Get that new Logitech mouse that I’ve been eye-balling for two years. The price has to have come down by now.
  8. Work on our credit score; of course, this one is dependent upon Corey starting a new job and no major problems occurring, but both of us want to accomplish something with this.
  9. Paint my bedroom. No. Still hasn’t been done.
  10. Be a better friend and stay in touch on a more regular basis with everyone who has moved away.
  11. Work on finding a literary agent by the end of 2010. That gives me a year.
  12. Pay back Corey’s parents the money they have loaned us. Must do this.
  13. Try to be more patient with my mother. This is a hard one.
  14. Find the perfect squooshy leather purse so that maybe one day I can purchase it.
  15. Plant flowers in the spring. This used to be so important to me. I need to get back to it.
  16. Go to the Virginia foothills and Skyline Drive. It’s been too many years since we’ve done this, and it doesn’t involve spending a lot of money.
  17. Get a pedicure or two or three. Sweet indulgences are a necessary part of life.
  18. Give up chocolate. Okay, so maybe decrease my chocolate intake. I was able to do this once before, so I have no excuses.
  19. Help to support Corey in his goal to register for college classes. The irony is that if we’d known he be out of work this long, he could have registered a long time ago and already be finished with at least a year of school. Bitter irony.
  20. Female Cardinal in the Snow by Dovey
  21. Get a bird feeder to hang in the back yard where the dogs cannot get to it. I miss my backyard birding.
  22. Be more patient overall. I have gotten more patient and less bitchy in recent years, but I still would like to make fewer assumptions and be less prone to getting upset.
  23. Take my vitamins. No-brainer.
  24. Play the piano more. I am so out of the habit, and this, too, relaxes me. 
  25. Try to get on a regular sleep schedule, you know, like normal people.
  26. Declutter. This is a big one as it means that I have to let go of some things, which I don’t like to do, but the decluttering must be done.
  27. Smile more. I’m not a person who smiles a lot, and it’s not because I’m unhappy or angry, I just don’t smile, so maybe I should make a concerted effort to try more, as long as I don’t end up looking like some kind of idiot.
  28. Give back more. Our trials and tribulations have been heavy, but so many others are facing the same and worse. Giving back is the right thing to do.
  29. Go on a retreat. I promised Brett that we would do that this past summer, but then we didn’t have a vehicle or any cash. This year, for certain.
  30. Read more poetry by new writers. I’ve let myself get behind, and there are so many great poets out there just churning out work that needs to be read and shared.
  31. Finally, continue to work on letting go of things from the past. I’m getting much better at this, but I still need to work on it.

“Tenderness and kindness are not signs of weakness and despair but manifestations of strength and resolution” ~ Kahlil Gibran

Cedar Waxwing on Icy Branch by johngomes

Admittedly, none of my resolutions are earth-shattering. That’s the whole point. I wanted to create a list of things that are absolutely possible to do within the next year. Nothing on my list involves spending a lot of money; more things involve dedicating time. I have nothing but time, and I need to get back to doing productive things with my time.

Notice that I didn’t put the big one on there about losing weight. I’ve decided that if I start taking better care of myself, stop eating so much chocolate, and get back into exercising, then the weight thing should balance itself. More of that attempt to be realistic.

I wish you luck with whatever resolutions you have made, whether or not you share them. May the coming year be filled with good opportunities, moments of insight and grace, and abundant love and happiness.

More later. Peace

I really wanted to feature Coldplay’s “The Scientist,” but had a hell of a time finding just the right video. I settled on this one with scenes from the movie Wicker Park (which I haven’t seen yet) as it seems to fit the song better than any of the other ones:

 

 

                                                                                                                                       

XVII from Pablo Neruda’s Still Another Day

The days aren’t discarded or collected, they are bees
that burned with sweetness or maddened
the sting: the struggle continues,
the journeys go and come between honey and pain.
No, the net of years doesn’t unweave: there is no net.
They don’t fall drop by drop from a river: there is no river.
Sleep doesn’t divide life into halves,
or action, or silence, or honor:
life is like a stone, a single motion,
a lonesome bonfire reflected on the leaves,
an arrow, only one, slow or swift, a metal
that climbs or descends burning in your bones.

Let us give thanks . . .

 

Shadows and Reflections

 “Once you have tasted the sky, you will forever look up.” ~ Leonardo da Vinci

I’ve written several posts on the subject of being thankful, including the Grace in Small Things series. Today, I thought that I would focus on things, events, and people that I have encountered in my life that have helped to shape me into the person I am.

  • Having the opportunity to see original masterpieces by Renoir, Monet, Glackens, Bernini, Van Gogh, Klimt, Morisot, Wyeth, Hopper, Sargent, Kadinsky, Pollock, Caravaggio, Tiffany, Manet, Leighton, Rembrant, Tissot, Matisse, Veronese, Rothko, as well as ancient Ethiopian art, tribal masks dating back to the 12th century, real Samurai armor and weapons, and photography by Brady, Stieglitz, Bourke-White, Mann, Strand.
  • Walking through a tropical rain forest in Africa and seeing shades of green that I never knew existed. Crossing a hanging rope bridge that was situated high in the air above a stream.
  • Sitting in the dark and listening to live performances by Yo Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, and the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Seeing Nureyev and Margot Fontaine perform.
  • Hiding in the trunk of a car to get into a drive-in movie for free and then not watching the movie because it was too scary.
  • Going snorkeling in the Caribbean
  • Walking among the ruins of Tulum amid the huge iguanas and then eating fresh guacamole with cold Sol atop a small mountain.
  • Seeing the volcano in Baguio, Philippines
  • Riding up a mountain to get to Baguio in a bus very much like the ones you see in the movies, which was filled with villagers, chickens, a pig, old women, and my very American mother.
  • Reading some of the best literature ever written: all of Shakespeare, Michael Ondaatje, Marlow, and far too many others to mention.
  • Meeting some of my favorite poets and writers in person at literary festivals, including Chris Buckley, Mary Oliver, Tim O’Brien, Barry Lopez, Caroline Forché, Bruce Weigl, and many others
  • Working in a newsroom right at the crest of computers. Watching the paper be printed, smelling the ink.
  • Attending three wonderful universities: The George Washington, Virginia Tech, and Old Dominion.
  • Doing on-camera interviews for the museum, which sometimes meant being at the studio at 5 a.m, but still fun.
  • Performing for the Queen Mother in London in a Dances of Asia program.
  • Starring as Rizzo in Grease.
  • Participating in a drum-making ceremony with a drum master.
  • Working in a donut shop for a few months during high school and getting to bring home the leftovers.
  • Dancing on the runway at a go go bar for a story on the Norfolk nightlife.
  • Hanging out over the water in a trapeze while sailing on a catamaran in the Chesapeake Bay
  • Going cave tubing and not feeling the least bit claustrophobic
  • Hiking on the trails at Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway
  • Getting my four-cylinder Pontiac Sunbird up to 80 mph while driving home from Blacksburg one Sunday night
  • Attending grade school in London
  • Going to a military tattoo in Scotland and sitting in the outdoor stadium wrapped up in blankets because it was so cold.
  • Seeing huge statues in the mountains of Spain as we drove through the country.
  • Seeing live concerts by The Who, Bruce Springsteen, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Sarah McLachlan, The Beach Boys, The Doobie Brothers, Sugarland, Norah Jones, and a bunch of other people I can’t remember.
  • Playing Chopin and Mozart on a grand piano at a recital in front of 100 people.

These are just a few of the highlights. I deliberately did not include anything personal about my children, husband, family, or friends as that is an entirely different list. But putting these things down in words makes me realize how very many opportunities I have had in my life to travel, to embrace other cultures, to see stunning natural and man-made beauty.

I have done things that I never thought that I would do, and I have seen in person things that I had only dreamt of.

I have not led a life of privilege, but I have been privileged to have had these experiences. There is nothing on this list that is earth-shattering, nor is there anything that changed humanity. But individually and collectively, these moments in time have changed me in ways seen and unseen. They have moved me to tears and made me cry with delight. Trite as it may sound, I have had a wonderful life.

More later. Peace.

 

Itzhak Perlman performing Massenet’s “Meditation from Thais,” a song that I performed in recital at Virginia Wesleyan College.

 

Lives in Pieces: Vale et memini (Goodbye and I Remember)

yellow_roses_from-ramsey-art-gallery1
Yellow Roses by Michele Tramontana from Ramsey Art Gallery

Part 5: Yellow Roses

We put our daughter in the cold November ground on a Thursday. I had called Kathleen on Monday when Caitlin died and asked if she could come. She replied that of course she would be there.

On the Tuesday after Caitlin died, Paul’s mother took the two of us to make arrangements. We purchased a lot in the infant cemetery at Forest Lawn, an old cemetery in Norfolk. We went to a headstone place, and Paul’s mom said that she and Paul’s father would like to buy the headstone for Caitlin’s grave. I asked that the following be inscribed under Caitlin’s birth and death dates: “God hold you in the hollow of his hand and give you peace.”

We made arrangements to hold the funeral service in a funeral home in Ghent in downtown Norfolk. We chose this particular place because it was close to the hospital and medical school, and only a few miles from ODU. We knew that people would be coming from work and many would need to go back to work immediately after the service.

Since her coffin was so small, we only needed two pallbearers. We asked Winn, Pat’s husband, and Chris Hunt, one of our best friends since grade school.

On the day of the funeral, I was handing out Valium like they were Sweet Tarts. We did not have an open casket or a viewing. Caitlin had already been through so much that Paul and I thought that it would be intrusive to put her on display. We did request that the casket be left open before the service so that all of the family could say goodbye. I remember looking down into this small white casket and seeing my beautiful brown-haired daughter lying there. It felt as if the ground beneath me were going to open up and swallow me. Part of me wished that it would.

We had given the funeral home one of Alexis’s dresses that she had worn on her first Easter. The white dress had a very thin band of pink piping, and it had an accompanying bonnet that was very large and trimmed in white lace. Part of the reason for choosing Alexis’s dress was my attempt to tie the two girls together in my memory. They had spent so little time together in real life.

However, I did not want Alexis to come to the funeral. Her preschool teacher volunteered to watch her until later that afternoon. Perhaps it was the wrong decision, but at the time, I really did not feel that Alexis was old enough to handle what was sure to be a very emotional atmosphere at her sister’s funeral. I mean, how could a small child handle what her two grown parents could not?

Before they closed the casket, I put one of Caitlin’s small stuffed animals in the casket with her. Then I kissed her for the last time and walked back into the family waiting area.

My mom and dad had bought the spray for the top of the coffin. Paul and I also requested a vase of yellow roses be placed next to her coffin. I had come to associate yellow roses with Caitlin, but to be honest, I cannot remember why.

The minister from my mother-in-law’s church who had baptized Caitlin performed her service. It was a very personal and moving service. He recalled how when he had visited Caitlin in the hospital the few times before she went into PICU, she would smile at him. Then I read a poem that I had written for Caitlin. At first, I had asked Kathleen to read the poem, but on the actual morning of the funeral, I realized that it was something that I needed to do. I made it through the entire poem without breaking down. Then I sat down and began to weep.

So many people showed up for Caitlin’s funeral: people from the medical school, doctors and nurses from the hospital, all of our family and friends. It was amazing, actually. I remember standing in the little bathroom with Kathleen before the service and watching the people park and get out of their cars. I never expected such a turnout. I also remember hearing the organ playing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in the background. I turned to Kathleen and said, “That song should never be played on an organ,” even though it was one of the songs that I requested.

The drive to the cemetery afterwards seemed to take forever. Kathleen drove Paul and me. I sat in the front with Kathleen, and Paul sat in the back. I rambled on about inconsequential things, but Paul was silent.

The service at the graveside was short. And then afterwards, kind of spontaneously, I stood to the side so that I could be in the sun. People started to line up to talk to me. We hadn’t expected this, and Paul had already walked off a little to the side to speak to a few of his friends. I just remember hugging so many people, and then, out of the blue, Johnny, my former Catholic boyfriend, was there.

He took me in his arms, and I began to weep uncontrollably. I hadn’t expected to see him, but when I did, I was overwhelmed.

After the funeral we went home, and many people came to the house. My uncle ordered an entire spread of Chinese food, on top of all of the food that other people had brought. I ate nothing. Instead, I sat in my Bentwood rocker holding Caitlin’s bear, and drank wine.

As people left, I pressed food on them, assuring them that Paul and I did not need the extra food. Pat and Winn stayed until the end. Chris and his wife also stayed a long time. Sarah was there, and people from work. After the final guests left, Kathleen told me that she was going to drive back to Alexandria. Part of me really wanted her to stay, but another part of me just wanted to be alone.

Finally, when there was no one left in the house, Paul went for a long run, and I laid down on the bed with my black Lab Mokie and wept. I was certain that I would run out of tears, but it was as I had suspected in the hospital: my tears were endless. You see, while we were still in the hospital those last few days, I was on the verge of tears all of the time. Different people, doctors, nurses, friends, would tell me to go ahead and let it out. I would tell them that I was afraid that once I began to cry that I wouldn’t be able to stop.

The next morning, Paul and I realized that we could not stay in the house a moment longer. I packed hastily, and we drove to the mountains. We stopped by the cemetery on our way out of town, and I pulled a carnation from the flowers that still surrounded her grave. We ended up on Skyline Drive. It was our first time there together. At one of the scenic overlooks, I tossed the carnation over the side, but the wind caught it and blew it back towards me. I had wanted to give Caitlin to the mountains symbolically, but my attempt had failed.

We drove and drove and ended up in Front Royal, Virginia, the other end of Skyline Drive. We stayed in a horrible hotel because we couldn’t find any other lodgings. When we got up, we headed for home and uncertainty.

We picked up Alexis from my parents’ house, and we drove home.

I went into the girls’ bedroom and ritually touched everything that had been Caitlin’s. I was trying to absorb her into my body in any way possible. Some of the clothes that we had brought home from he hospital still smelled of her. I took the outfit that she had been wearing when she was first admitted to the hospital and put it in a sealable bag. For months afterwards, I would open that bag and inhale deeply.

I slept with Caitlin’s bear at night. I moved through the days as if I were surfing on quicksand. I honestly don’t remember very many details about the first couple of months after her death.

I remember finishing up the semester at ODU. My students, some of whom had attended the funeral and sent cards, were incredibly kind when it came time to do my evaluations. My colleagues also very gentle with me.

Christmas came, and it was all that I could do to force myself to make merry for Alexis. Somehow, we managed. I had only bought one present for Caitlin for Christmas, and this was early in September when we all thought that she would be coming home. It was one of those baby gyms that an infant can lie under and kick at and pull on. It remained under the bed.

Our lives had been forever changed. We had no idea how to move on except to move through the days as best we could. We went to one group therapy session for parents who had lost children. The pastor from the hospital had invited us. I spoke; Paul did not. After it was over, Paul looked at me and said that he never wanted to go back. We didn’t.

For parents who have lost a child, life becomes a task of mere survival. Some people are better at it than others. Most marriages do not survive such a loss. Ours survived another 10 years and two more children. We really thought that we had beaten the odds, but in the end, we became another statistic.

Next: The final chapter: A Time for Keening.

                                                                                                 

Part One: Young and Seemingly Immortal (https://poietes.wordpress.com/2009/03/14/)

Part Two: Anamchara, My Soul Friend (https://poietes.wordpress.com/2009/03/14/)

Part Three: I Dream of Oranges (https://poietes.wordpress.com/2009/03/14/)

Part Four: When Life Was Forever Changed (https://poietes.wordpress.com/2009/03/15/)

And Now . . . For Something Totally Different

flickering20fireflys
Lightning Bugs

Reflections on the Letter L

I saw this on someone else’s blog, and for the life of me, I cannot remember whose. So if it was yours, please jump in and remind me so that I can give you credit. The idea is that you choose a letter of the alphabet to ponder, and then once you have chosen, you think of ten things that that letter signifies for you and write about them. I thought that it was an interesting writing prompt, and since I am not up for anything too taxing today, I thought that I might try this.

The letter that I have chosen is . . . L. Surprise! I know that you are absolutely dumbfounded, as was I. But it was the first letter that popped into my weary head, and so I thought that free-association may come easier. I’m going to try to find new subjects to write about so that I’m not always writing about the same, predictable things.

  1. Lies: I have a very hard time with lies and liars, and I think that it’s because of my nature to trust too easily and too quickly. As a result of this, I frequently find myself encountering people who lie as easily as they breathe. I find this to be a deplorable trait as what is the point in trying to have a relationship of any kind if it is not based on truths that are shared? Too many people in this world get by on façades which they hide behind, never letting anyone see beyond the persona they have created.
  2. Labradors: I have never made it a secret that labs are my favorite breed of dogs. They are quirky, funny and have incredible senses of humor. Just don’t ever buy one as a guard dog. A lab is more than likely to welcome an intruder and lead them to the cookie jar than to attack them. But they are wonderful family dogs and protective of their little humans. Just don’t leave lab puppies alone to their own devices or you will probably find that they have begun to teeth on your best pair of boots or a piece of furniture. 
  3. Loneliness: I am one of those people who can be very lonely if a loved one is away, or I can relish the time alone in the peace and quiet. It really depends upon the circumstances, as in exactly how long I am going to be alone and why. I do not equate being alone with loneliness. Sometimes, it is very nice to spend time alone; while other times, it is infuriatingly tedious. 
  4. Learning: I am a believer in life-long learning. If it were possible, I would stay in school all of the time earning degrees in different subject areas: anthropology, sociology, political science. Since I can no longer teach, it would suit me just fine to be on the opposite side of the lectern listening and devouring. I know that my sons think that I am some kind of freak for thinking this, for actually wantingto sit in a classroom, but I don’t care. I’m not much for online learning. I like the face-to-face time too much. 
  5. I was offered a job teaching English online for an online college several years ago, but I just could not do it. I was supposed to write scripts for other instructors to use to teach literature classes, but when I sat down to do it, I realized that there was no way that I could put down in a script what I do in a classroom. I ad lib too much, depending upon the mood of the class, my mood, the reading material. And what I do depends so much on the immediate feedback from the students. I literally feed off them. Learning, and teaching, are creative processes. A script does not allow for independent thought.

  6. Lantana: In Mexico, lantana grows wild in between the rocks, and it’s everywhere you look. Corey planted lantana in the front yard, and it’s the centerpiece of the miss20huff20lantana201butterfly garden. The plants, when in full bloom, are almost four feet tall and just as wide, and full of orange and yellow and purple and pink blooms. Like our lilac bush and fresh lavender, butterflies love the blooms and the scents, but the lantana also attracts large bumble bees. When I look at the plants, I am always reminded of the plants in Mexico. 
  7. Lightning Bugs: When I was a child, we used to catch these little beacons in jars and watch them light the jars in which we imprisoned them, never having the first idea that we were harming them. When the boys were young, I used to read a book to them by Eric Carle, I believe, about the lonely lightning bug that was looking for his family, and on the last page, he found them, and there were all of these blinking lights. I loved those books. I remember there used to be so many lightning bugs (or fire flies)in the summer time; they were never hard to find. Now, I hardly ever see them. I wonder what happened to them all. 
  8. Leaves: I love to see the changing leaves in the fall, particularly on Maple trees. The best place in Norfolk for beautiful foliage is Forest Lawn cemetery off Granby Street near the Naval Base. There are so many different kinds of trees planted in that cemetery. I remember that right after Caitlin died, the first few years, I would ride through the cemetery every day, and in the fall, there would be this wonderful path of yellows and reds lining the narrow lanes between the sections. Other than there, Skyline Drive in the foothills of Virginia is a lovely place to drive and look at nature’s autumn pageant. 
  9. Loons: Loons are lake birds, larger than mallards but smaller than geese. They can live for up to 30 years and have been known to mate for life, but what is so distinctive about loons, and what I find so intriguing about these water birds, is their call, which has been described as haunting. In some native legends, the loon is a bird of magical power. To me, the sound of a loon calling, and the water lapping is the epitome of a natural concerto.

  10.   
  11. Lockets: Lockets are wondrous things, and you don’t see them much anymore. I’m talking about the sizable lockets of the Victorian era in which small keys and shakespeare-sonnet-locket-based-on-va-museumlocks of hair could be enclosed from prying eyes. Lockets could also contain powders, poisons, and other secrets. Made of sterling, gold, aluminum, brass and copper, the lockets of old were much more interesting than today’s lockets, which tend to be flat, with only enough room for pictures. Round and heart-shaped Victorian lockets were often set with seed pearls and jewels such as rubies, and were often monogrammed and worn close to the heart.
  12. Li-Young Lee: I’ll bet you thought that I was going to finish with love, didn’t you? I told you, I’m trying for new topics tonight. Li-Young Lee is one of my favorite poets, and his poem “The Gift,” one of my very favorite poems. I will close with the first two stanzas of that poem because it always reminds me of my father, his hands, the great care that he took when he was doing something gentle with them:

 
The Gift

To pull the metal splinter from my palm
my father recited a story in a low voice.
I watched his lovely face and not the blade.
Before the story ended, he’d removed
the iron sliver I thought I’d die from.

I can’t remember the tale,
but hear his voice still, a well
of dark water, a prayer.
And I recall his hands,
two measures of tenderness
he laid against my face,
the flames of discipline
he raised above my head.

(from The City In Which I loved You, 1990) 

More later. Peace.

Photographs as Amaranthine Tranche de Vie

 limda-river-film-grain3

 Ottawa River, Ohio (with film grain effect), L. Liwag

 Through My Lens Cap

“Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still.”  ~ Dorothea Lange

Quite accidentally, I stumbled upon a gem of a site today: “The Absolutely Innovative Photography of Glenn Losack” (click this link to go to the site: http://www.glennlosackmd.com/-/glennlosackmd/default.asp).  Dr. Losack’s photographs have appeared in National Geographic, and it’s easy to see why. His images are amazing and moving. I would include one here, but they are copyrighted, so if you have an interest in really amazing photography, visit his site. He manages to capture emotion and pain in his subjects’ eyes without being exploitative.

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Old Cemetery, L. Liwag

Just as with the piano, I have never considered myself to be an artist with the camera. However, I do think that I’m a better photographer than piano player. I find things with my lens that I never found with the keyboard. I do own a digital camera now, a very nice one, but I still have the 35mm camera that I obtained while working at the newspaper years ago. It needs a new spring, but I have no intentions of letting go of this cherished possession. I have taken some of my favorite photos with it. I also have my father’s old 35mm camera. It too needs some TLC, but I have kept it.

My father shared my love of photography. He used to buy used cameras from pawn shops and have them cleaned. The same with a lens. He had an ability to find a good lens at a pawn shop, and get a great deal on it. I think that it was because of his accent. The people in the pawn shop used to think that he didn’t have any idea what he was doing, and they would try to sell him crap, and then he would surprise them by pointing to the classic Konica or Pentax and looking it over with a jeweler’s glass. No fool, my father.

Unfortunately, I have never had enough room in my house for my own darkroom, but there is a very good local developer here.  One day, if I get a big old house in the mountains, I’ll have a dark room in the basement. I’ll have to reteach myself how to develop, but that will be a good thing.

Like many creative things in my life, I don’t shoot much black and white film any more. When I was younger, I never went anywhere without a camera, just in case I came across something worth shooting. Then when the children were born, it became more about taking family pictures. I would still go out once in a while, just me and my camera and shoot a couple of rolls of film.

“Your photography is a record of your living.” ~ Paul Strand

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Snowfall on Firewood, L. Liwag

If you’ve never seen the foothills of Virginia, you should. Granted, they aren’t like the Colorado Rockies, but they have a beauty all their own. Skyline Drive was created as one of Roosevelt’s WPA projects. Skyline Drive is 105 miles long if you drive the whole thing; it runs through Shenandoah National Park through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. We usually get on at Rockfish Gap in the south, which is just past Charlottesville. The speed limit is only 35 miles an hour because the whole point is to take your time and see the sites. There are 75 scenic overlooks, some much better than others, and if you begin the drive in the early morning, you’ll see lots of natural wildlife, everything from deer to bobcats. At some point about two thirds on the drive, I think, is a man made tunnel, cut through the rock, very cool. If you go all the way to the end of Skyline Drive, you’ll end up in Front Royal, which is closer to Northern Virginia.

At Rockfish Gap, you can also get on the Blue Ridge Parkway if you turn right instead of left. But again, driving on either of these roads is dependent upon weather. It can be treacherous if there is snow and impossible if there is ice. The best time to do Skyline Drive is during the fall when the leaves are turning, and then you can stay at the Skyland Lodge, which is still open. The lodge closes at the end of November. If you go on the Blue Ridge Parkway, there is a beautiful place to stay called Peaks of Otter which is on a lake, and there are also hiking trails. We went there when I was pregnant with Brett, so I wasn’t able to do much hiking, but sitting out by the lake in the early morning, watching the mist on the lake was incredible.

I really miss our annual trips to the mountains, for many reasons, not the least of which is the film that I brought home with me. I’m hoping that once I get this whole back situation straightened out or at least made better, I will at least be able to do day hikes. I know that Tillie the Labrador will enjoy that. And now that the price of gasoline has become reasonable again, a trip to the mountains might be feasible next year. I suppose I had better get to work on the old 35mm cameras. My Dad would not appreciate the disrepair into which I have let them fall.

And like my feelings about older cameras, my feelings about photography tend  to fall in line with those of the originators of the medium:

 “Photography is not documentary, but intuition, a poetic experience”

~ Henri Cartier Bresson

 More later. Peace.