Friday’s Passing Fancy: Walking the New Woodsy Neighborhood

Adaptation to our new “woodsy life” continues. It is a dream come at least partially true, although there is still plenty of human made architecture and amenities in the area. I have noticed a couple of insects here and there that sneaked inside and the bees are quite busy working.

We have long been fascinated by birds. We spotted two hummingbirds flying high into a spruce and my son, Joshua, his young son and his fiancee noted one that was voicing avian commentary and beating wings even higher while we took a family walk. I just added a good bird feeder on the balcony to see what we attract, as well as preparing the hummingbird feeder. Not that we didn’t have birds (and yet, so many crows) in the city center. And there are moments I miss the old neighborhood with the lush gardens and energized streets. But it is even even more delightful to watch the birds fly, labor and sing in a quiet, more natural habitat. We have binoculars at the ready.

Walking daily on trails that interconnect for miles is a deep pleasure; every day is a surprise. We will discover more this week-end as we seek and find the choice views and paths further from us. In the meantime, here are pictures of a few of the views.

Some of you may recall I eagerly await the births of our youngest daughter’s twins. I foolishly asked her to go on a short walk recently, then looked again at her great burgeoning roundness and her expression… sure thing–but in a few months, as their arrival is imminent! Two baby girls will be fun to chase up and down trails one day!

I hope you all can get out and walk, hike or otherwise have fun within nature or the city–whatever you prefer! Keep all senses at the ready and your spirit open!

Morning Walk

Irvington walk 2-12 042Benjamin had resolved to not look at the sidewalks and ground so much. His mother reminded him daily. He had the habit of examining a tiny alteration in the sidewalk or the curve of downy feather, a twig that had been snapped by others’ feet and now lay forlorn. He admired stones. He saw things others did  not, in fact, whether it was a last starling gathering up steam for the group gossip or the muddy tip of a grey cat’s tail as it slunk home after a night of stealth and thrills.

He wanted to keep the neighborhood clean, too. It was like a hobby, picking up shards of broken glass or a dropped business card, the pamphlet that never made it into a mailbox, the lost sock of a toddler. He thought about the sock a bit. It was late September and he imagined a chubby pink foot turning pale then bluish as the parent, innocent but carelessly so, rushed the stroller back home. Only then would the loss become apparent. So the blue and white striped sock went into a box, one of many where he stored all finds until his mother sneaked in and tossed some of it. She didn’t fully support Benjamin’s need to collect oddities, remnants and cast-offs. He didn’t like her invasion of his space.

“Why do you think nature casts them off?” his sister, Vi, asked impatiently. “Nature sheds feathers, leaves, dandelion fluff and so on when they aren’t useful. They aren’t special! People do the same, of course, but no, you have to pick up what they just let go.”

Benjamin gave her his best superior look which wasn’t hard since she was just eleven and he was going to be thirteen in two days. He knew he was not like other kids. How could he not? He carried a toad around in his jacket pocket when he was four and named it T. Troll. The preschool teacher who discovered T. Troll (T. for Ted but no one asked) found Benjamin smart and sweet, but thought it alarming that he had this relationship with a toad. Talked to named toad often, and knew many things about it she did not. His father told him this story when Benjamin skipped second grade. He was appreciated by a handful but bullied or tolerated more often. Ninth grade was not likely to be any more pleasant than all the others. Perhaps less.

Meantime, it was an ordinary Wednesday morning. He was passing the Gunderson house on his route to the bus stop when he first spotted the beer bottle. He stopped and examined it but didn’t touch it. It was a brand his parents didn’t drink, likely one of the local microbrews the city loved to boast about. He didn’t, as a general rule, take home bottles unless they were unusual or he planned on throwing them away. He had only ten minutes to get to the bus. He glanced at the big house. It took up the whole corner on the south side of the street. Mr. Gunderson was a doctor and he was fussy about his yard. Benjamin found it disconcerting to let it clutter up the grass but he went on.

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On Thursday morning he was studying a slug making its painstaking way to the Gunderson’s fence when he stole a glance at the spot where the bottle had been. It was undisturbed. He bent over it, admired the colorful label and wondered if there might be a way to peel it off but the bottle was none too clean. That was going too far. He readjusted his backpack and ran to the bus stop. He thought about that bottle all day, why it was still there, who had dropped it, if it had beer in it. Who in the neighborhood enjoyed a beer only to toss the empty on grass? Well, moss to be technically correct. It had to be a passerby but not a homeless one; they found and kept them.

Friday was his birthday and arrived sunny and clear; leaving for school felt like good for once. He had tentatively made a friend the day before, a new guy from England who liked math as he did and cycling and, best of all, amphibians and insects. Benjamin didn’t cycle much but he was willing to if needed. He had hope for the first time that the year might be okay.

As he neared the Gunderson’s he hurried, the paused. The bottle had not budged. No one else had thought to remove it. He thought it was time to take action so he picked it up and peered inside, the sour smell of beer wafting up his nose, His upper lip curled. This was what kids at school often talked about, how alcohol made all the difference. He had even been asked to a beer party by the joker behind him in biology but he’d declined. The kid laughed, relieved. The being asked was what counted he supposed; he was the youngest in ninth grade.

But what if? Benjamin wondered. What if he went and a beer was offered and he was the only one who had never drunk a beer? Not even tasted one? They would be able to tell by the way he hesitated. And then they would make him drink it and the nasty stuff would spill on his shirt, maybe make him sick. He didn’t drink because he was not allowed. It wasn’t that he always did what he was told. But it seemed reasonable to him. He could have a drink when twenty-one. He had other things to do until then.

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But he stood there and felt the morning sunshine and heard the wind in the high branches so he wiped the mouth of the bottle, put the bottle to his lips, let cool drops of beer roll onto his tongue. He spit it out. It tasted ten percent less than terrible and nothing to be excited about. He was about to toss the bottle when he caught sight of someone at the brick wall of the Gunderson place.

“Benjamin, I can’t believe you drank that.” Mr. Gunderson cast a large shadow with his six foot, two-inch frame.

“Oh, no sir,  just found the bottle, and then, well…”

“Not so good, huh?”

Benjamin stood up taller and lifted his eyes to the man’s head. “No. Not good at all.”

“That’s what I like to hear. You may learn to appreciate it as an adult. Or not. Hand that over so I can get rid of it. I’ve been meaning to put it in the trash. And better eat a mint on your way to school.”

Benjamin picked up the bottle and gave it a toss; it landed right in Mr. Gunderson’s hands and he smiled.

“Have a good year, Benjamin. I expect great things from you one day. Tell your dad I said so. Don’t worry, I won’t tell. You all should come for dinner.”

“Yes, sir.”

Benjamin watched him amble across the yard and disappear. He wondered if it was possible to retrieve the bottle later. Keep it as a souvenir. If his potentially new friend asked him if he had ever tasted beer, he could say yes. He would pull it out of his closet and show him. On the other hand, it sure stunk. Benjamin took off down the street at a gallop. He didn’t want to be late.

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Under the Baby Grand Piano

IMG_2343Under the baby grand piano was an undisturbed expanse. Sunlight brightened beige carpet and sage green walls. The legs of the piano were mammoth, at the end of which were brass rollers, in case anyone thought to move it. If I lay still and touched the wood, I could feel the vibrations of the chords and melodies brought alive by my siblings or father. I could watch feet at work on the pedals, altering the presentation of notes. I could see the underpinnings of the piano and marveled that it held everything needed for such sounds, especially when the top was propped open. If I was quiet and my father wasn’t giving string lessons, I could stay undisturbed a long while.

I brought pillows to create a miniature home within the small domain. My dolls took their seats or made their way through a maze of textured softness, to the length of curtains, behind which they would wait. They came out to converse, fume and laugh, to smile and bow. Then back they went into their pillowy house where we would listen to the piano’s bountiful voice, enchanted. Sleepy. I put them to bed with brilliant scarves my mother gave me; they doubled as dolls’ clothing and impromptu partitions. I covered my face with a floral scarf, then lay back. This was a front row seat. This was my own hidden world, and I was stage manager, director, actors.  The music surrounded me–piano joined by cello or violin or clarinet– and fluttered or blazed its way into mind and heart. My dolls had to be told what I already knew: this was simply home.

Such found spaces were the start of an obsession with dwellings that stayed with me. As a child, it was the piano space and the hideaway behind the evergreens in the back yard. It included the aging maple tree, as well, for branches could be chairs, leafy limbs could be walls and stairs to, depending on the number of climbers, the treetop look-out.

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I grew up in a three bedroom, one bath home that housed seven persons. It was a household that welcomed neighbors, frequent visitors, or students of my father. My parents entertained regularly and fit a number of people into the modest but attractive dining and living rooms. The Michigan bungalow was less accommodating than what was preferred, especially since it was not as large as the rambling old Missouri house referred to by the street corner it was on, “Trenton and Lamb”, with its many fruit trees, breezeway and larger rooms. But the house I grew up in didn’t feel that crowded to me. The bedroom we three sisters shared was adequate. My brothers were a dash across the hall. We learned patience and fought quietly. There were ways to create space within space, with books or blankets or a closed closet door. Or a piano. And our yard and the tree nursery behind were heaven.

As I grew up I began to sketch houses as a way to challenge myself and indulge a love of design. Rooflines slanted this way and that; living rooms incorporated glass ceilings or streams; screened balconies were big enough for pajama parties in humid summer nights. I drew the houses I wanted to live in when I grew up: cottages on lakes, glass and fieldstone forest homes, habitations that hid in the sides of hills. And an old, narrow brownstone, of which I had read and thought quite exotic. Once, when I was old enough to accompany my parents to the swanky home of their arts-patron friends, I was overcome with glee when I saw a tall tree rising through the rooms, through the roof. Anything was possible, I decided. I saw what could be done, how people could match houses to dreams.

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I lived a lot of places after leaving my parents’ home. As a college student and newlywed, I once inhabited a chicken coop that was more likely a shed. It had, of course, been fully renovated but one could barely walk in and out of the tiny spaces we called rooms. At the peak of the roof in the kitchen and bathroom we could stand up full height but without elbow room to move. I can’t say I was fond of it, but it was unique, and was shelter enough for a time.

IMG_2351By age thirty or so, I stopped counting how many times I moved, either for school or work. Over time there were several children joining us. Then divorces. Buying a house seemed a far-off dream.  For someone who had grown up in one house, it was surprising how easily I adapted. I was, in fact, excited about each new city or town  and with it, the discovery process of making new friends. I had an expansive appetite for adventure; the apartments and houses were part of it, the setting for a life.

Without money to burn or a gift for either decorating or domesticity, I had a few challenges. There were my own paintings at first, then prints and photographs hung. There were ways to make things feel intimate, eclectic, homey. Candles blurred imperfections. Incense camouflaged telltale remnants of previous tenants. Books overflowing bookshelves fixed any dull spot. My cello and a few guitars looked handsome in the corner. Handmade ceramics lent an artistic, earthy feel. Colorful pillows and wall hangings (harkening back to life under the piano), children’s art work, warm color on well-used walls: it could be a place to call one’s own, if even for a short while. Add love and we were set.

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Then we were transferred to Tennessee, where we bought an A-frame house on a half-acre of land. It was built into a hill and from the road the A-shape looked deceptively like one-story. An anomaly in the small, southern town with a village green, it reminded us of northern Michigan homes. With four bedrooms, two baths and two spacious living areas it was large enough for five kids and then some. There was a murky pond which we soon found attracted snakes. There was gardening space which rendered a few good vegetables despite ignorance and weather. Insects abounded, which interested me, except for the black widows in the woodpile–but they were worth a quick look. Facing away from the road, on the ground level, were two bedrooms, a family room, kitchen, all of which looked out onto a large yard and woods. We had a woodstove to use in winter. I kept the fires going while my husband worked long hours. I loved the work, the country- modern feel of the house. I dreamed of getting a big dog but the neighbor’s German Shepherd mix visited daily. The cicadas rasped and buzzed in the deep heat of summer and we watched thunderstorms roll past our large windows. The kudzu vines that grew rapidly were mighty and strange. It was green hilly country coupled with good architecture.

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When we left less than two years later, it was the dog who made us cry. He leapt up and licked our faces as we closed the door. We left too soon, but a career called us to another place and a new start once more: Detroit. Still, we found a place in the outskirts, in a suburb that looked like a village putting on fancy raiment. It was not what we’d hoped, smaller and older and in need of a facelift. There would be changes again in a few years. And more after that.

Today I live in the inimitable Pacific Northwest, where the land itself takes my breath away. If that isn’t enough, my city offers a panorama of structures; it favors both old and new. I remain enamored of structures and gardens–of houses, in particular. I pour over good architecture magazines and books. You will find me walking our distinctive neighborhoods, eyes scanning placement of windows, finesse of a portico, the way a veranda encircles a house to bring the outdoors in but keep family and friends close. I take my camera everywhere. I don’t want to miss the odd element or small detail.

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You might be surprised: I don’t live in a wildly imaginative or beautiful home. I live simply. It is what we need for now and suits me. But I sometimes long for, even dream of just the right house. I still secretly draw, add a warm watercolor sheen, light dappling a courtyard. As we are apt to do as we get older, I wonder if becoming an architect rather than a counselor would have been a good path. Regardless, you and I inspire our dwellings, create whatever we need them to be, and they can inspire us in return. They are, as in my baby grand piano fort so long ago, our places to be fully ourselves. Home.

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Between Earth and Heaven

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Tonight I am walking between ordinary daylight and incipient twilight, beneath billowing clouds against a sapphire sky. Faraway stars shun the darkness. As if on a tightrope, I am moving just above inconceivable grief and below the swell of vertigo where there is no return. I walk in limbo, in the wake of atrocities, adults and children taken from their golden times, of happiness robbed, peace vanquished. Oh, all the families, friends.

The walking takes me into a whorl of anguish and gradually out again.

My old companion, interminable hope, lies low. But how it breeds in the deep of heart despite sorrow or outrage, unable to surrender. It stakes a claim in the fields of abundance or paucity. It talks back when silenced. It yields not to cruelty or grave error, or the pressure to exit. This hope, how it disturbs tonight with its strong back and blameless grace. Hope, like a lion, rests when unnoticed, then raises itself up with stealth and might when called upon.

It is hope that makes us vulnerable. It makes this life break apart with tenderness and recreates itself. It unfurls from many small spaces when there is nothing found to praise. When its power is denied we lose half our selves to these damaging times. Without hope we succumb to woundedness, that anchor that drives us down into cold depths. Even a small bit of it, even a whisper of hope, despite disbelief, will keep us floating. Will keep us close to its lifegiving heat. And so I hold the hope where it matters most, in the rich sinew of heart and that mysterious guide, the soul.

The walking propels me into a torrent of sadness, then brings me back again. May I keep holy the softness of compassion. May I be strengthened with even a thread of hope rewoven into this humaness.

I envision a circle of angels, such a circle as has no beginning and no end, and they are gathered round the world as it heaves and spins,  as it barters and bleeds. They make a ring of light and everything is aflame, their radiant tears streaming.  They are with us now, between this life and the next. Between earth and heaven. May hope look up again.

Whatever Is This

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Sometimes a poem will come fully and clearly. It is startling, a spark from the subconscious or the vast peripheral consciousness. They are not always good poems but they still count. I was taken by this poem as I walked in the rain while darkness fell gently. It finished itself as I sat typing without thinking at my computer. It gave me a dreamy comfort and yet I felt alert, focused so I followed it as though a winding path. I decided not to edit it. I hope you will find something here that speaks to you. (Unfortunately, I can’t seem to get it to save in a format with paragraph breaks between every three lines just as it was written…If anyone can help, please let me know how to do that.)

Whatever  Is This

Whatever is still wears stillness as its skin.

Whatever moves finds energy uncoiling.

Whatever breathes seeks air, earth, fire, water.

Whatever cracks leaves the healing to itself.

Whatever sighs scatters petals on the wind.

Whatever falls intercedes for the beginning and end.

Whatever breaks truce barters with people.

Whatever feeds the world fills it with rust, gold, blood, dust.

Whatever lives in safety camps inside the soul.

Whatever maligns falls over the edge of heaven.

Whatever dreams disturbs science with intuition.

Whatever fades resurrects another beauty.

Whatever creates makes a loose harness for freedom.

Whatever enters the heart of power shakes fear from bones.

Whatever sings unleashes the medicine of love.

Whatever waits needs its own welcome.

Whatever knows loss enters the cellular dance.

Whatever hopes reflects a tear in the light.

Whatever seeks knows the source of all warmth.

Whatever opens disables the lock on the door.

Whatever misses wonder leaves without a backward glance.

Whatever surrenders solves the puzzle.

Whatever lives floats upon the beautiful river.

Whatever is most truly needed will answer your secret  prayer:

This.

Is.

The.

Way.

Home.

Copyright December 2012 Cynthia Guenther Richardson