fourteen

Suspended, supine,
Inches above earth, dangling
Pendulous suspense

*       *       *

For Christmas this year, and for the sanity of the adults involved, we decided to buy my nephews presents as usual but draw names for each other. My dad was the lucky soul who drew me, and he won the day by getting me exactly what I most wanted: a camping hammock.

The only problem with getting a hammock for Christmas is that there’s still a lot of winter to wait through before you can use it. But, thanks to the temperate nature of the mid-Atlantic, my own temperance soon paid off, and I was able to set up my present last weekend during a hiking trip my partner and I took on Sugarloaf Mountain.

If you don’t have a hammock, get one. You can easily find inexpensive ones that do the job well; no need to get a super fancy one. Then all you have to do is learn a good knot or two, let tension and gravity do the rest, and you’ll be swinging in paradise in under five minutes.

IMG_6745
Relaxing before the place swarmed with teenagers
IMG_6742
Until next time!

thirteen

sit under milky way sky
permitting the dark circle
beyond ember glow

*       *       *

This unseasonably warm weather has been taunting me almost more than I can bear. All I think about is the quiet crackle of firewood, crackle of frying eggs, crackle of leaves being stepped on gently by forest friends. When can I go back?

16508289_10208547769866924_6761465896644760911_n

16508420_10208547768466889_5309058369742585374_n

16508812_10208547771146956_7147238573255958138_n-1
Home sweet Camp

analog

On my parents’ living room wall hangs a large clock made from the highly polished, stained, and glazed cross-section of a cypress tree. The outline of its spidery figure never looked like a tree to me, and it was a very long time before I even knew that’s what it was. Instead, I always thought it was deliberately made to be in the shape of a very squat chef wearing a chef’s hat and oven mitt. I perhaps even experienced some confusion over why the clock’s home was the living room instead of the kitchen.

But there was another layer to what I saw with my child’s eyes – something that my mom to this day can’t really see, but I, on the other hand, cannot unsee.  Inside the clock, where the tree’s rings and clock hands are, lives a dancing Arab man.

Disney’s Aladdin came out the year I was born. I imagine my young life was much influenced by this movie, not least of all because of Robin Williams’s undeniable talent. One of my most beloved piano books was the reduced score of this instant Disney classic, and I played and sang “A Whole New World” (both voice parts, of course!) multiple times, daily, for probably several years. My piano was situated next to the wall with the clock with the dancing Arab man.

He wears a white robe and a white turban that has a long, white feather sticking out the top. His beard is long, dark, and pointed. He appears to be dancing a jig, and far in the background a lady attendant stands, a white scarf draped over her head.

When I was growing up, I thought this curious scene was intentionally put there by the clock maker. That’s how conspicuous the picture was (and is) to my eyes. Even looking at him now, I still have a hard time admitting to myself that the dancing Arab man is naturally occurring, or at the very most brought forward by the wood stain.

For a long time, the clock as a functional timepiece was not very useful to me, as it only has small hashes for most of the hours and Roman numerals for the rest, so when I looked at it I hardly saw a clock at all, although I knew it was one. What I did see was a strange little chef and a strange little Arab man, and I don’t even remember questioning why the two were paired. They just belonged together, living in joyful unity above the piano, listening to the repetitive serenades of a ten-year-old.

IMG_3670.jpeg
The chef and the dancing Arab

rebirth

As he was packing up and moving out last year, my roommate walks up to me, holding the saddest potted plant you ever did see, and says, “Do you want this?”

I have not yet turned down a houseplant that has been offered to me, nor have I left an abandoned one an orphan.

My roommate had been gone for a large part of the year, giving him little chance to water a languishing peace lily. If I had known about it, I would have gladly taken over its care in his absence, but I didn’t get my hands on it until months later. By that point, the lily had survived a severe drought and, later, a flood. Do not expect everyone to know that a houseplant needs drainage holes at the bottom of its pot.

I am happy to say that after immediately repotting it and being a little more temperate with my watering practices, I succeeded in nursing the poor thing back to health. Within several weeks it was growing new leaves. And within six months it started to bloom. I told my roommate and he said, “It’s never done that before!” (Really? You don’t say!)

img_6495
Rebirth
I’d always particularly disliked peace lilies. I’m not a fan of really leafy plants, much more preferring plants with lots of blooms. I still don’t like peace lilies, but I’m thrilled every time mine develops a new leaf, and when I saw it unfurl its single pure white flower, I was surprised at how lovely I thought it was.

Let me be clear: I do not have a green thumb. I have killed more plants than I have brought back from the brink of death. For all my effort, that mint plant I wrote about months ago has returned to its anemic winter state, though I still can’t bring myself to throw it out. But I find it extremely cathartic to have plants around to care for, and I think that helps me prevail in keeping a few alive at a time.

It’s been about a year since I rescued the peace lily. The once-lovely bloom droops and has turned brown and yellow – a truly hideous remnant of its summer glory.

IMG_6496.JPG
A thriving plant with a healthy, dying flower
Like plants, people have parts of them that bloom brightly and shortly die away; but this doesn’t necessarily indicate a problem or a disease. It can be a sign of flourishing to leave a talent or trait behind that had once served you well, making room for a new and different beginning.

A dying lily blossom means the plant was healthy enough to bloom in the first place. May it rest in peace until next summer.

twelve

Mesmerizing charm
The marine hypnotist sails
Jellyfish garden

*       *       *

My fifth grade class took a trip to the New England Aquarium, a trip I would obsess over for years to come. The part I recall most vividly was a small display with tiny bioluminescent jellyfish, which to my mind looked like small light bulbs with a warm, glowing filament inside. When I finally made it back to that aquarium, about ten years later, the place was sad and rundown, and the display that was so indelible to me was long gone.

One year ago, I made my third voyage to an aquarium – this time to the National Aquarium in Baltimore. After viewing all the sea creatures on the upper and ground floors, my partner and I almost made the horrible mistake of leaving before we discovered the jellyfish room downstairs.

The whole aquarium is impressive, but the jellyfish displays were superb. Hushed awe prevailed in the darkened room as handfuls of enchanted humans gazed at these graceful, alien beings. So many shapes and colors and varieties, silent, fluorescent, and dangerous behind their glass walls.

IMG_6443.JPG

supermoon

The event of the supermoon this past month was, I must admit, underwhelming. This is not entirely surprising, considering that widespread popular news tends to blow actual events way out of proportion by highlighting facts whose sole purpose is to raise your expectations unreasonably. Biggest Moon In 68 Years! Never Again!!* (*until 2034.) However, it cannot be denied that the moon was very bright and rather big and reddish at moonrise for almost a week, and where I live was lucky enough to have clear skies at the time.

Something I miss most about living in a rural area is the nighttime sky. Now that I’m surrounded by urban centers, all but a handful of the most prominent stars are allowed through the heavy light pollution, so when I do make it up north, I try to spend some time stargazing.

In winter this is easy because the sky gets dark there by around 4pm. I remember lying on the crusty top layer of snow in my back yard as a kid, staring up at the night sky. I can still feel the sharp air circulating through my nose and mouth and lungs and the chill of the air on my eyeballs with every hard blink. The surrounding woods make a frame around the northern sky, and the Big Dipper spins brightly within that frame throughout the year. The Dipper and Orion were – and are – like old friends, so easily recognizable even to a child, and so very bright when given the chance.

One of the drives between my house and church growing up brought you along a small ridge with an incredible view of the White Mountains. On really clear days you could even make out Mount Washington (especially identifiable if it had just snowed). But my favorite time to drive past that vista was at night. Sometimes in the winter we’d be driving back late from a church event, silently riding together in the car, maybe with Christmas music playing on the radio. I would press my forehead against the cold window so that I could see the huge, black expanse above me, unobscured by trees or streetlights, and scattered with thousands of visible stars. I say thousands – but how could I know? I would like to say a million, but I have no idea what a million of something looks like, so I compare those vivid pinpricks with the half dozen I can normally make out where I live today.

This past summer some friends and I went camping in New Hampshire and spent a long time lying on the beach. The sky was pitch black but for the stars, and we were completely alone, dwarfed by the sheer number of galaxies above us and grains of sand below.

Without looking up the science of it all, I always feel like I can see more stars when it’s cold out. I vaguely remember reading that the northern hemisphere faces more stars, or at least more bright stars, in the winter than it does in the summer. And I imagine there’s less interference from hot, hazy air, too. (I really am being very lazy by not verifying this for you. But you can do a bad google search just as well as I can.)

On the evening of the supermoon, my partner and I walked down to the water, to the end of a pier. The moon was bright and clear (just like most of the adjectives in this post) and cast a long, wavy reflection in the water, like a path across the bay’s surface. We identified Venus and Saturn.

A couple days later we went back again. The moon was still bright but waning at the top, as though it were looking down. Maybe it was the right time of year, or maybe the light pollution was less than usual, or maybe it was just cold, but we could see about a hundred stars – entire constellations – more than I had seen in months. And although I will always want more stars in my sky, it was wonderful to greet once again the Hunter and the Great Bear.

ten

In light of the election, I felt like I both had to and could not write a post. I wanted to and didn’t want to. Don’t worry – it will not be political. Turbulent times, no matter the reasons behind them, always need moments of rest for those they toss.

I have a staggering number of friends and acquaintances who are afraid, and although I have no power to assuage their specific fears, I can, I hope, do my part to relieve some of the general darkness they feel. One excellent way to do that is with art.

For some reason, I have always been timid to say that I like a piece of art, or to declare that it’s good. There are plenty of people who study art (I do not study art) and they’re the ones who I assume have the authority to make such declarations. I’m afraid of being laughed at for saying that I like a painting when its subject is mundane. I’m afraid of being sneered at for saying a painting is good when maybe in reality it’s shoddy work. I wouldn’t know. But there is one piece of art that I saw years ago at the MFA in Boston that I still think about a lot. I even had it bookmarked on my browser so I wouldn’t forget it. It’s called Farmyard by Moonlight by Jean-François Millet, and it has many cliche things that draw me in: a moon, a pastoral scene, clouds, no people. It has a gate in almost the very center of the piece, which I know is a trope in art for drawing attention to something, but I also vaguely remember hearing that it’s an amateur way to go about drawing such attention. But I really like this piece and think you should look at it, and also look at other works by J.F. Millet, because they’re very peaceful and – I’ll say it – very good.

And now to leave you with a contribution of my own, which you may judge as you please.

*       *       *

a candle quivers
momentarily expunged
darkest before dawn