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.
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?
The marine hypnotist sails
* * *
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.
Sharp scissors scraping
Endlessly to make blazing
Christmas ribbon curls
* * *
Christmas at my grandmother’s house was an over-the-top, magical miracle for us grandkids (my adult family would perhaps agree with only the first descriptor). You cannot even dream of the number of Christmas-themed stuffed animals and nutcrackers that littered the house. I have yet to see as many presents addressed to me sitting under a tree as I did for many years as a child, nor have I helped wrap as many.
You see, Nanny loved to cook and decorate and shop for her family, securing a line of brilliant hostesses behind her, but she tended to take on more than she could carry. So, she would employ her young granddaughters in the wrapping of all the gifts she hadn’t quite gotten to by the time Christmas night rolled around. We would sit together on the big bed in the Red Bedroom (so called after the solid scarlet hue of the 70s-style full carpeting in those quarters), surrounded by gifts, paper, and ribbons, and we would get to work.
It occurs to me now that this must have been a thought-through strategy. I’m pretty sure she always wrapped our presents first, so that when she ran out of time for wrapping, only the boys’ gifts were left, and we could finish the job without spoiling our own surprises.
Nanny’s big claim to fame is ribbon curls. Each present had dozens and dozens of ribbon curls, and there were dozens and dozens of presents, so you do the math. She taught us at a very early age how to do it, carefully tying many ribbon pieces of different colors in a crisscross pattern, and then one-by-one sliding the blade of a pair of scissors along the bottom of each piece, until you were left with an explosion of shiny, colorful curlicues – often dwarfing the present underneath.
With so many beautifully wrapped presents (and, let’s be honest, some badly wrapped ones done by a few eight year olds), perhaps the most striking thing about the whole event was not the sheer number of packages, but the love, beauty, and detail put into the wrapping itself.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about a trip I took with my sister a couple years ago. I visited her at her flat in Vienna, and then we traveled together to Rome and back to Vienna. It’s taken a while to process the trip, and it’s only now becoming a monumental and formative part of my memory. I suppose I needed time to sift and dull the memories of travel stresses and weary fighting (have you ever taken a long trip with your sister?!). I’m now left with amazing memories of ancient streets and ruins and delicious bruschetta and real cappuccinos and navigating a foreign city by myself while my sister was at work. (“Kann ich einen Kaffee haben, bitte?” I did try, albeit pathetically, and the barista would give me a look of pity [disgust? amusement? strangled patience?] and reply in English. He was very hip, though, with his long white hair pulled back into a ponytail.)
I’m sure I will, at some point, write more at length about our Vienna/Rome trip, but today I want to focus on the rather modern experience of traveling by plane.
There’s something about a place that is utterly lost when you’re flying high above it. The things that make each area unique get swallowed up into vague lights, shapes, and shadows. This reduction turns farmland into patchwork during the day and cities into Christmas lights at night. It’s beautiful – sometimes breathtakingly so – but it is too removed from daily reality to be quite living.
I stumbled across a poem that I wrote on one of my flights during this trip. It touches on the feeling of eerie yet peaceful detachment that comes from being above the world rather than surrounded by it.
* * *
A perfectly silent sea above me
Another sea below
The one above is glassy smooth
The other, ragged snow.
From my hyperterrestrial limbo
I count the sleepy cities beneath –
Isolated pockets of snuffed lights
Above and from whom frothy milk clouds
Peel away the nights
West to east
Like a caravan returning home,
Not in the least
Bothered or aware
Of the double seas soundlessly raging
Above them there.
Sweating through sweatshirt
But shivering in shadows
That October sun
* * *
Today I stood in line to vote. It’s chilly – when in the summer we kept the door between the kitchen and the rest of the apartment closed to keep the heat out, now we’ve started closing it to keep out the cold. I didn’t wear a coat, but it was brisk enough for a sweatshirt. While I was standing in line outside the senior center where early voting is being held, the strong autumn sun beat down on our civically-minded heads. My upper body started to sweat, and I heard a couple older ladies talking behind me. I began counting syllables. “It’s hot out!” and, “That October sun… I like it.”
* * *
waiting for Ginkgo’s
bright yellow Autumn display –
lemon drop cascade
* * *
Last week a friend and I took an extended afternoon walk together around the residential areas of town, down by the water. Despite having lived here for about five years, he showed me some streets I had never walked down before. We spent quite some time sitting at a quiet little park at the end of one of the roads, watching ducks and other birds take off and land on the water, and judging the architectural successes and failures of the expensive waterfront houses.
One of the roads I had been down before. I remember it because there’s a house with an enormous ginkgo tree in its back yard. A couple years back my partner and I came across it right during its turning time, probably sometime in November. A strange thing about ginkgoes is that their leaves turn all at once from dark, deep green, to slightly paler green, to brilliant yellow. It’s very easy to miss, but we caught it that year at the optimal time. The branches of this tree extend over the entire yard, and its leaves, once entirely yellow, fell in a solid yellow carpet over the yard, the road, and even a few roads over.
But when my friend and I walked by last week, the leaves were only just turning an anemic sort of green. I tried to describe the golden scene to him, and I think I failed, as I am failing now, so I’ll leave you all with an encouragement to find a ginkgo tree in your area this fall, or at the very least google “ginkgo yellow”, and you will see what I can’t seem to describe. Perhaps rereading the haiku will help.