Friday, July 26, 2013

Back from Oz and the Bing

Many mornings after I've leashed up Riley and start out, I say, "We're off to see the wizard." Of course, there is no yellow brick road, and we're usually just heading off to work, but the lines, images, and themes of that classic movie The Wizard of Oz  are a part of me, and, I suspect, most of us.

Last week I watched it again for the first time, for like all great stories it is new each time. Sometimes it's the lessons of brain/heart/courage that stand out for me. Sometimes it's the longing for "Over the Rainbow" (still my favorite song). Sometimes it's the contrast between black and white Kansas and the brilliant Technicolor of Oz. This time I was particularly aware of the fact that this film was released in 1939 during the Depression.

After Dorothy's first encounter with Miss Gulch, she runs to Auntie Em for help, but Auntie Em and Uncle Henry are busy counting chicks. As a child sitting in the Bing theater, I didn't have much sympathy for the adults. How could they not see that Dorothy needed them to listen? 

All these years later I see two adults (two adults who are not her parents) trying to eke out a living in the middle of the Dust Bowl.  Every chick was essential to survival. Miss Gulch was wealthy and powerful. Em and Henry didn't have to be carried off in a tornado to understand that life was precarious. 

Now that I've watched it again, I find there are lots of themes to delve into in this story. You may hear about this again.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Dealing With Weeds

It's interesting what happens when you try to read on a dark morning with old eyes. I am reading Christian Wiman's My Bright Abyss where he writes about "grace through words," but I read, "grace through weeds." Maybe I had weeds on my mind, having pulled a few yesterday, both literally and metaphorically.

The real ones are profuse, following a week of intense heat, preceded by lots of rain. My friend Ken showed me how the thick stem of one unnamed intruder was able to store water enabling it to thrive in the heat. How clever nature is!

When I moved into this house 31 years ago, my next door neighbor, Sunny, was an inveterate gardener. She had all sorts of flowers and plants growing all over her small yard. She told me how to identify a weed: "If it's growing where you don't want it, it's a weed." Fields of dandelions growing on the sides of the turnpike--wild flowers, one persistent dandelion growing in the middle of my lawn--weed.

I thought of Sunny yesterday as I was working on a poem about trying to get to the essence of trees, but being frustrated by all the chatter in my mind. Words, ironically, were getting in the way of my poem. I started out using the image of music and trying to hear the melody beneath the lyrics. Then (maybe I was getting angrier) I started to look at these words as weeds, and I wanted to yank them out. The result was a poem starting with one image and ending with another. I had to sacrifice one. I decided on pulling the weeds out of the poem. They weren't growing where I wanted them.

Grace through words, it seems, comes from being open to recognizing what is grace and what is weed.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Waiting for Enchantment

The man at Wild Birds Unlimited in South Yarmouth assured me that this was the best hummingbird feeder, and that if I filled it with a 1/4 sugar water mixture, the hummingbirds would come. I bought it, of course, then bought an appropriate hanger from Brown's in East Longmeadow. I hung the torenia on one side, the hummingbird feeder on the other, and placed it by the honeysuckle near the window where I could see it while eating my oatmeal.

It's only been one day. So far, no hummingbirds, but I'm patient. What I want to know, and the man at Wild Birds couldn't tell me,  is how the hummingbirds know it's there. I have, in the past, planted flowers reportedly more attractive to hummingbirds: bee balm, phlox, salvia, but to no avail.  What sort of communication system do they have to get the word out that there's something new and sweet in Jane's yard?

Though attracting hummingbirds to my home in Springfield has so far been unsuccessful, I did find them once in another part of the country. My friend Beverly and I were visiting Taos, New Mexico. It was a rainy night, and we went out to dinner at a lovely place whose name I don't remember. When we finished, the rain had stopped, so we decided to go for a ride, following the trail of   the Enchanted Circle, a route out of Taos, up to Angel Fire, Red River, Eagle Nest, Questa, and back to Taos. The trail, as the name suggests, is a circle, except, well, we missed the turn back to Taos and kept going almost all the way to Colorado.

During this unplanned excursion we saw a bear, a herd of elk, and sadly a deer who didn't run fast enough to miss our car. Fortunately for us, the car was still drivable. Fortunately, because there was NO ONE else on the road, aside from the wildlife, and even if we had brought a cell phone, it's doubtful there would have  been any reception.

Eventually we figured out the mistake we'd made and turned around and got safely back to our B&B in Taos. The next day I went to the State Police to report the deer, but when they sent someone out, it was gone. I like to think it survived the encounter, but I don't think so.

Anyway, earlier in this adventure when it was still light, and there was still some civilization around, I needed to find a bathroom. We came upon a gas station somewhere between Angel Fire and Eagle Nest. It wasn't open, but there were porta-potties, and any porta-potty is a storm.

When I got out of the car, I heard a low dull sound, like a muffled engine. When I looked around I found its source--clusters of hummingbirds--maybe 100 of them--feeding off the several feeders there. I just stood there. Seeing one hummingbird is a delight, but this was beyond anything I ever imagined. Because our road trip had been a spur of the moment kind of thing, I didn't have my camera, so the image lives on only in my memory.

However these hummers communicate, the word had certainly gotten out about this spot north of Taos. I never thought to check what kind of feeders they were, but  I don't think I could see them very well anyway for all the hummingbirds around them. May my new feeder be even a fraction as effective. 

OK, hummingbirds, I'm waiting.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Stray Heirs

Please excuse this little diversion into family history; the point of the story has less to do with family than with what--stupidity? incompetence?  I don't know. Read on and you decide.

My family has deep roots in Springfield. My great grandfather Emil Schneeloch (that's him with the beard) came here from Germany about the time of the Civil War. He worked for many years at the Springfield Armory. Then later he moved to "the country" (the land along Allen Street west of Bradley Road) and started a farm. The brook that ran through the farm is still known as Schneelock [sic] Brook Many years later Sumner Avenue would be extended passing through what had once been my grandfather's rhubarb patch.

When Emil died in 1928, he left no will, so the property was divided among his children, those who could be found. My grandfather George (the cutie with the white bow tie standing to the right in the back row) was the executor of his estate. When Grandpa died in 1953, there was still one little piece of land left--a very small pie-shaped piece not suitable for anything except maybe growing rhubarb--and because some of the heirs had disappeared, there was no way to get clear title to the estate and sell the property.

My father (also George) consulted a lawyer, his friend Stuart Waite. Stuart recommended just forgetting about that land. He said that the city would eventually take it for back taxes. My parents would have forgotten about it except that every year they would get a tax bill from the city addressed to the Heirs of Emil Schneeloch. They called, explained the situation, yet still the bill kept coming. Eventually they just ignored it.

When my mother died in 2008, I started getting the bill. I decided 80 years was long enough to deal with this nonsense. I called, talked to people, was referred to others. Eventually I was connected to the city's lawyer. After some back and forth, he assured me that it was all taken care of. When my tax bill arrived that year, it was alone. No more bills for Great-Grandpa.

Then the day before July 4th this year I got another letter--this time from a collection agency warning me to pay all Emil's  back taxes or else. Back to City Hall. The man in the Assessors Office couldn't help me, but he did print out a copy of a map of this little piece of land. He sent me up to the lawyer's office, but he wasn't in due to the long holiday weekend. I left copies of the letter, the map, and my card.

Bright and early on Monday morning the lawyer called and assured me that the city was indeed in the process of foreclosing on the property, that I shouldn't worry about the letter, than no one was going to come to arrest me.

I might rest easy if I didn't know all the history of this property, so now I'm going to console myself with a piece of rhubarb pie.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Cuchulainn and Sand Sculpture

I have always been attracted to sand sculpture, beautiful creations built with the knowledge that they can last only as long as the tide stays out. Despite that reality, something in me wants to  hold onto them. Throughout the town of Yarmouth on Cape Cod this summer there are a variety of sand sculptures displayed as a part of Yarmouth Summer Celebration. As might be expected, there are lobsters,  dolphins and shells, but my favorite was this one in front of  the  Keltic Kitchen on Route 28.

The name on the sculpture is Cuchulainn. I remembered that he was an an Irish mythological hero, but I had to go to Wikipedia to be reminded that it was prophesied that he would  have everlasting fame but a short life. What an appropriate subject for a sand sculpture--something strong and attractive that must eventually give way to the tide.

Evidently the folks in Yarmouth feel like I do, as they have taken measures to keep these around for a bit longer. First they are erected safely away from the beach where a wave could easily sweep them back into the sea. Each sculpture is covered with a tent to protect it from the rain. (hence the shadow in my picture). Then every week they are sprayed with a mixture of water and Elmer's glue. Bill, our server at the Keltic Kitchen, told us last year's sculpture lasted until January. But even glue can't keep it around forever.

Robert Frost said, "Nothing gold can stay." These things we so value are not permanent, and yet that is what makes them all the move valuable, so go out and enjoy your sand castle while the tide is out.

Friday, July 5, 2013

At Work in the Mill

Although I'm still musing over my oatmeal, I also have a new writing space. This is the view from where I'm sitting now in the old Judd Paper Company building along the canal in Holyoke, MA. The building was opened in 1883, destroyed by fire, then rebuilt in 1922. I'm not sure what the building is across the canal, but likely another paper company. Holyoke used to be known as the Paper City. Vitek Kruta has done an amazing job recreating this space to become Gateway City Arts--"flexible, affordable co-working space for artists and creatives."

I am loving this space. First, it's a place away from most of the distractions that keep me from writing more consistently, but, even more so, because of the building itself. The history is everywhere from the beautiful hard maple floors to the bronze plaque commemorating the appreciation of the employees to the Judd family.

Today I'm appreciating the ivy-covered walls across the way. I've always loved the look of them, how the green softens the hard brick, how the leaves dance in the breeze, but I had thought they were bad news for brick buildings, but I just read in an Oxford University study, that the ivy actaully acts as a thermal shield and insulation, and also protects against pollution.  It seems the damage comes only when there is already some crumbling of the brick or stone work. This allows  the ivy tendrils to get into the wall, and that is how damage is done, but if the wall is solid, it's a benefit.

It's 92+ degrees today, and I'm thinking the mill workers back in the days before air conditioning likely appreciated the green insulation.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Left-handed Whelks

In Mary Oliver's Blue Pastures she talks about finding a left-handed whelk among the shards, lost fishing line, and plastic bottles at Herring Cove on Cape Cod. I was surprised, as I didn't know whelks had a dominant hand, or even a hand at all. After a bit of Wikipedia exploration, I found that these sea snails, also called lightening whelks, open to the left rather than the right. They can be as long as 15" and have been around for 60 million years. Whether for their lengthy history or their left-handedness, they have been named the state shell of Texas.

This set me to wondering why being different can be a cause for honor in one instance and exile in another, left handedness, itself, being one example. The original meaning of the word "sinister" was left-handed, yet today most Major League Baseball managers prize a good "Southpaw" pitcher.

Texas has honored this lowly snail because it is unique, yet it continues to exclude persons who love someone of the same gender from the institution of marriage. Now that sounds sinister to me.