Why write?

It’s been many months of adapting to changes, good and sad. One of the good changes is that we’ve landed in a new living space. We’re moved in and are settled enough that I can work into a new writing routine.

But all the shakeup of endings and beginnings has taken its toll – I come into moments where I find myself stranded – what, after all, is the point of all this writing? This morning, after considering this point for longer than might be healthy, I came to a heartening thought when I considered the writing vocation of my mother. She wrote novels while she raised her seven children, and she wrote poetry always. She didn’t ever try to publish her work: her family were her only readers. So, why did she do it? Why does anyone do it? Because, the answer came to me, story matters. I’ve had this declaration come to me before; it does motivate me, and I clearly need to ‘hear’ it more often. With that need for repetition in mind, I took a detour on my way to getting back to writing and made myself the gift of a reminder. Using one of my photos, I created a new background, “lock screen,” to greet me each time I open my computer. Maybe it will help inspire you, too. . .

Car show fever

Years ago my car broke down when I was far from home, and I bought an old 55 Chevy to get me back. What a car – all I have left of it is the hood ornament, but I’ve had a soft spot in my heart for the 55 Chevy ever since. I cruised around the local annual car show today till I found one -with that great airplane riding the hood.

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Of course, there were many, many pretty cars to see today. The way they are lined up, sometimes the best photo ops at car shows are the rear end shots . . .

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And sometimes the line up makes for quirky, fun match ups. I like to think of these two at a stop light together, revving engines . . .

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I’ve had a couple of great cars myself – a Dodge Dart (pre-1976: that engine would still be going if the body hadn’t rusted off), a 55 Chevy (with that airplane!) and a car whose make I can’t remember, but it was sporty and fast and lasted more years than anyone guessed it would. When it went, it left me high and dry and I bought an old Lincoln Town Car in a pinch. But that’s more stories than I counted on for a quick post, I’ll end there.

What about you? What cars are you fond of?

The Meadow

DSC_1031The quarry man bought the old house and its acreage, scraped the topsoil off the meadow, and sold off the house with two acres of the meadow and its partial border of trees and shrub. In the house, a bathroom went in, and in a child’s room, a fat rainbow – floor to ceiling to floor – was sketched out and painted.

For thirty years, owners kept the meadow mowed. Between mowings, grasses grew, and golden rod, oyster plants, milkweed, and asters. Each late fall the meadow’s summer growth lay itself down, and in that flattened landscape the old disc harrow, stranded in its long-gone farmer’s field, reappeared.

Twenty years ago the clothes line, built with sturdy wooden posts and cross beams, stood on the far side of the cedar tree. Now its northern post is engulfed in branches. The outhouse, still visible in its pile of moldered lumber when I arrived, has long since joined the remains of the wildflowers that grew up between the boards, fell over, and decomposed. It is almost twelve years since the meadow was cut, and it is only in the last two that wild cherry bushes have spread from individuals to patches of isolated mini-woodlands that shelter bird and spider nurseries.

Each winter I cover the rain barrels and shovel the long driveway; each spring I listen for the voice of the wood frog and try to avoid the black flies’ bite. Every other summer or so I get to the task of clearing the meadow, cutting all the box elders’ sprouts to the ground. In the fall I greet the disc harrow and Orion on their return to my view, and wonder which Turkey Vulture sighting will be my last of the year.

Eventually, I will leave this place. The meadow will give way to box elder trees, or not. As I sleep beneath the child’s rainbow, my window open to the night, what is sure for me is the Little Dipper, pinned at its tail by the North Star, circling overhead. What is almost as sure is the topsoil, building. Slowly, slowly.

 

Spending time

DSC_0968 crds for blog post golf

I deleted my Facebook account and took up Golf. My older sister bemoans my departure; my younger sister has just started with FB and beckons me to come back. It doesn’t help my case for staying away that it’s hard to say what I dislike about looking at Facebook – the closest I can come is that it’s like flipping through tv channels with no control over the remote: snapshots of beauty, ugliness, profundity, triviality, scolding, edification, advertising, satire, saccharine. It all splinters out at me, the sublime, the ordinary, and the dross in rapid, nonsensical procession.

I’ve left that and in its stead have taken up an old deck of cards and learned the game of solitaire called Golf. I discovered the game and its rules in an old Hoyle’s Rules of Games book I retrieved from its resting place in the closet beneath the stairs. The book, first published in 1946, owes its name to Edmund Hoyle, who published his first rule book, on Whist, in 1742 and became the last word on games. The cover of the 1983 edition I’m working from is decked with a king of hearts and queen of spades; a chess set’s knight and bishop; white dice with black dots and red dice with white dots; and stacks of plastic gambling chips: blue, red, and yellow. Inside, the book promises “descriptions of indoor games of skill and chance, with advice in skillful play.”

I played many hours of solitaire and double solitaire with real decks of playing cards as a kid, but there is much I didn’t know. I learn as I read that the cards I set out – seven in a row, five in a column – are called the ‘tableau;” the stack of cards I will draw from is called the “hand” in some games and the “stock” in others; and the stack I will create, by drawing one card at a time from the hand and as many as I can from the tableau, is called the “talon.”

I lay down one row of cards, begin to form columns, and as easily as that re-enter a place of calm and reassurance that I had almost forgotten. My mother is across from me, setting out her columns for what I had thought were endless games of double solitaire; my father deals hands of poker and Crazy Eights to my college roommate and me far into the night; my grandmother plays solitaire, Hoyle’s version of Klondike, and goes through her hand just once – a discipline we children, who go through the hand as long as we can, marvel over.

I learn from Hoyle’s that my grandmother’s version was not some impossible version created by a woman who, after all, did the New York Times crossword puzzle in ink, but the real deal. My mother played an adjusted version with us, one in which the play from the hand lasted long enough to justify – perhaps for her as well as for us – the time it took young children to set out the tableau.

It is not only the dead who come to keep me company, but my down-the-road neighbor from two decades ago, with whom I walked the mile down to the corner and back many nights, and with whom I spent, along with her four children, many evenings playing cards – from the years the youngest would sit on my lap for part of the game to the years we talked about college admissions as we played. My friend knew many variations of card games. “Kings in the Corner” is one title I remember, although I have forgotten how to play it.  Sitting at their dining room table, they tried to teach me Hearts, but I grew up playing Spades and was a slow learner.

I am not always so slow-witted, and I’m no stranger to computer versions of card games – one lonely winter I taught myself how to always win at Free Cell. I accomplished nothing else in that endeavor besides killing time by emptying it of everything but the strategy of the game.

But as I sit now at my kitchen table and lay out the tableau with the gentle sush,slap, sush,slap of pulling a card from the deck and laying it down, I am aware of the winter scene outside my window – the  deep snow, the thorny Rugosa Rose stems rising from it with their leaves shriveled brown, their once brilliant rose hips gone or left in remnants as a dulled-red crown. And next to it the tall, many branched burdock stalk, each branch topped with a small, snow-capped, prickly globe – the burdock I kept meaning to get to but left for the butterflies and bees to feed from, and then left in admiration of its success amid the aggressive roses.

I’m aware, too of the reflections within my stout water glass, the slight rocking motion of its waterline as my arm touches the table – a reminder to look underneath to see if screws need tightening. I turn a card over and lay it on the talon. I hear my dog rise and resettle himself, hear the uneven, reassuring rumble of the wood furnace in the basement. Time slows, and fills. Nothing is remote.

First Frost

First Frost Grapes

Last night’s light frost held no danger for the gardens; even the dahlias took no notice. By 7:30 in the morning it was only slight water dripping off the roof gutters into the rain barrel, and a puddle of fragile light the shape of the shadow cast by a berm on the far side of the barn. The fall-bearing raspberries, just thinking of coming into ripeness, were untouched, and the grapes offered no signs that they had noticed the chill that in the house had us bringing out blankets and talking about which day we’ll finally turn the heat back on.

A Micro-Memoir: The “Peent” Call of the Woodcock Returns

In this first week of April, the snow pack that illuminated the fields even on cloudy nights has at last given way to the incessant rain. Last night when I stepped out into the yard with my dog on our last venture of the evening, it was a misty rain that greeted us. I stood a moment to feel the mist, acknowledge the shift in seasons. And was rewarded with the buzzy “peent” call of the woodcock sounding from the field beyond the barn. There has been no return of the spring-warmth that visited us in February, but the woodcock’s arrival assures me – spring has arrived within its beating heart.

A Micro-Memoir: Title IX – Report From the Field

On the 45th anniversary of Title IX, Education Amendments of 1972 

“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance . . .”

Report From the Field: 1977-78

Half a decade after the enactment of Title IX, in my senior year of college, a graduate student organized my university’s first women’s track team. I had been on the first girls’ cross country team at my high school and was glad for another opportunity to train and run, even at such short distances. When I joined the college team, what I knew about being on a team I knew from high school: the boys’ and girls’ teams sometimes practiced together and, when schedules allowed, cheered each other on at meets. And the introduction of the girls’ team meant the introduction of spin-the-bottle at team parties. It was all good.

College was different. In high school our team almost always won our meets – we were one of the few schools that had enough runners to actually qualify as a team. In college the problem wasn’t the size of the team, but the need to enter a minimum number of events. When coach asked for a volunteer to learn to run hurdles and no one else spoke, I volunteered. He was pleased, my teammates were in awe, and I was ready to try.

However, the athletics department wouldn’t give him the key to the equipment room. I was instructed to go to the gym during the men’s practice and use whatever equipment they were not using. Coach had a grad class during the times the men’s team practiced, so he could not go. Instead, he instructed me beforehand on warm-ups, the setting of the hurdles, the placement of my feet between the hurdles, and what to do with my arms, legs, and torso going over them.

My first day of practice set a pattern for every other practice. Because of my own class schedule, I arrived after the men had already started. No one greeted me, no one showed me where the equipment was stored. I found it myself and got out the three hurdles they weren’t using, brought them to one end of the gym, and, with my coach’s words in my head, paced off the spacing of the hurdles, set them up, and began the routine he had prescribed. No one in the gym ever spoke to me – not my classmates, not their coach. I, in turn, never spoke to them. They seemed not to even look at me, and after the first few minutes of that first session, I never looked at any of them.

I have no idea what I was to those young men in that gym, long ago, who did not acknowledge that I shared a sport with them. But I know I made them nothing to me. I was alone in the room, me and my two or three hurdles, with my coach’s words in my head while I counted off my pacing, and with my own words crafting my report to him. In memory, I see only my narrow end of the gym and my few hurdles, and I hear only the sound of my sneakers hitting the floor.

At each women’s team practice I described my latest solo session to my coach, and he offered his advice. Once when I was home for some reason, I walked across the street to the high school’s track that encircled the football field, set up the two hurdles that had been left out, and practiced. Except for track meets, it was the only time I ran the hurdles on a track’s surface. And while I think it is true that the only time my coach ever saw me jump a hurdle outside of a race was during warm ups at meets, I know it is true that the only time I ran a full set of hurdles was during a race.

Running hurdles is an amazing sport. To run at and over the first hurdle is not such a big thing, to land and keep going and set yourself up for the next hurdle is everything. Again, and then again, and again. To line up with other young women and launch out to hurdle myself over those metal bars as they multiplied out in front of me was to experience a shock of physical accomplishment.

On reflection, I know my younger self was fueled by curiosity and desire, and I feel neither anger nor indignation on her behalf. What I feel instead is gratitude for her stubbornness, appreciation that in those quiet practices I learned how to adjust my stride and place my feet, learned how, in midair, to judge the quality of my effort and shift my physical and mental attention so that with each landing I was already at work on the next hurdle. And in my races, when I had run my accustomed few hurdles and began on the others, I learned I was not bound by the limits of my experience. I could take what I knew from three hurdles and go beyond: during my practices I may have learned how to take to the air, but during the meets I was introduced to the deep well of my endurance. It is a well I have returned to, and will continue to turn to, again and again.