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.

Of Raspberries and Bees

DSC_0563 Bee raspberry nice for web

These hot September days are ripening the fall-bearing raspberries. Their canes arch and nod, and many clusters of fruit are partially hidden by leaves. When I’m out picking berries, I have often held a cane at its tip to lift it up for a look underneath – checking for fruit and for bees that might be feeding there. The berry patch has been especially active with bees these sunny days, and I’ve been picking raspberries early in the morning to keep out of the bees’ way.

Today I got a late start: the sun was well up, and the bees were in full swing of feeding. I moved slowly as I picked, and often stopped to photograph the insects I saw. That unhurriedness gave me time to observe where the bees actually do settle on the plants. I learned that our foraging territories don’t overlap at all – they are after a far different harvest. I am looking for the ripest raspberries, they are only interested in the earliest stages of that fruit, just when the blossom has started to turn in on itself in preparation of creating a berry. In the company of these bees, a few hours later in the day makes no difference: there is nothing to fear.

Early morning raspberry harvest

I lifted a nodding cane of raspberry to check for fruit, and found as well a crab spider crouched there, its light-green, almost translucent coloring a perfect complement to the red of the berries. The spider drew back into the berry, and I let the cane nod back down.

taken october 4 50 degrees 076spider eyes

Last year, to the week, I didn’t see the spider until I had the fruit inside. I took her photograph and released her back into the berry patch.

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.

A Micro-Memoir: Where I Live

Where I live, the day after you decide that most of life has hunkered down to a private realm of winter-slowed heartbeats, a white weasel scales the rough-cut siding outside the kitchen window to perch below the eave, and a Barred Owl hunts the daylight hours on a low branch just the other side of the garden.

Where I live, if you discover on your country road an old half-ton truck stopped in its tracks with a flat tire, and part of its load of split wood strewn onto the road behind it, pull over and, in imitation of the luckless driver, begin to toss pieces of firewood to the roadside. Nod when he explains, “They’re gonna have to unload it all anyway to fix that flat.”  When another person pulls over and bends, wordless, to the work, nod to him as well. Some other day, doing some other thing, each of you would ease your way with banter. But today there is the task at hand for ease, and you three move, quiet, within the measured beat of rural life.