Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Sure on This Shining Night

Sure on this shining night
Of starmade shadows round,
Kindness must watch for me
This side the ground.
The late year lies down the north.
All is healed, all is health.
High summer holds the earth.
Hearts all whole.
Sure on this shining night
I weep for wonder
wandering far alone
Of shadows on the stars.
~ James Agee (1909-1955), "Description of Elysium" from "Permit Me Voyage"

This poem was unknown to me until I heard my daughter sing it, extemporaneously, at her cousin Molly's memorial reception. The melody was composed by Samuel Barber (1910-1981). The song just popped into her head when she was trying to think of a piece of the right tone for the occasion. I'm not sure I have a clue what it means, but it was sung beautifully and I love the imagery.

At her aunt's request, she sang "Rock of Ages" (yuck) during her grandmother's funeral service a week earlier. May all future a cappella performances be joyful.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Today is my daughter's 36th birthday. Happy birthday, sweet Jodi! This poem is for you!

In the "olden days", when I was in 6th grade, kids had to learn and recite Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. Apparently, rote memorization and public speaking were an even larger part of educating my mother's generation; she had to learn and recite dozens of poems. It used to drive me nuts to listen to her. Somewhere there is a tape recording of her reciting poems with us kids in the background making fun of her. (We were so bad! )

However, there was one poem I secretly loved to hear, but after my mother died, I couldn't recall the name of it - it was misremembered as "Bright Blue Skies of October", and I never could find it books of poetry. I finally searched keywords "October's Bright Blue" and voilá!

I hear it in my mother's voice...

October's Bright Blue Weather

O sun and skies and clouds of June,
And flowers of June together,
Ye cannot rival for one hour
October's bright blue weather;

When loud the bumblebee makes haste,
Belated, thriftless vagrant,
And goldenrod is dying fast,
And lanes with grapes are fragrant;

When gentians roll their fingers tight
To save them for the morning,
And chestnuts fall from satin burrs
Without a sound of warning;

When on the ground red apples lie
In piles like jewels shining,
And redder still on old stone walls
Are leaves of woodbine twining;

When all the lovely wayside things
Their white-winged seeds are sowing,
And in the fields still green and fair,
Late aftermaths are growing;

When springs run low, and on the brooks,
In idle golden freighting,
Bright leaves sink noiseless in the hush
Of woods, for winter waiting;

When comrades seek sweet country haunts,
By twos and twos together,
And count like misers, hour by hour,
October's bright blue weather.

O sun and skies and flowers of June,
Count all your boasts together,
Love loveth best of all the year
October's bright blue weather.

~ Helen Hunt Jackson 1830-1885

Friday, October 27, 2006

My mother-in-law died Sunday, October 15, 2006, at the age of 89. Alzheimer's had stolen little bits of her mind over the last three years until, finally, there were gaping spaces where so many memories used to be. At the end she rarely recognized the four children she raised to adulthood, or her beloved grandchildren and great-grandchildren; even her husband was a stranger who scared her when he helped her into bed at night .

The Tuesday before she slipped away, I cleaned, trimmed, and painted her fingernails. She didn't know me; instead, she thought she was back in her beauty shop in St. Louis, having her hands tended to by an employee. She asked me about Karley Bee and Lexie Lee: did they still live over where they used to? I pretended: "Oh no, they moved a long time ago." I blew on her nails to dry the pale pink polish, and then I held her hands and worked some moisturizing cream into her skin. I planned to cut her hair when I finished with her hands, but she nodded off before I reached that point. I had a fleeting thought of cutting only the hair on one side of her head and finishing the job the following Tuesday. All that saved her from being buried with a seriously botched version of the lop-sided Sassoon cut of the '60s was my being drenched with sweat from sitting in her sweltering living room for an hour. The absurd image of her lying in her camouflage casket with my interrupted tonsorial efforts is what got me through the savage days ahead.

Yes, you read that right. She was interred in a RealTree casket selected by her husband and daughter. I am almost certain that neither understood that it was actually marketed as camouflage; they probably focused on the nature theme. Her three sons would have known better, but they didn't bother to look at the selections - a casket is a casket, right? I understand that it is against state law for an undertaker to attempt to steer a client toward or away from a particular casket, but I do think this was carried to a ludicrous consequence. He could have at least asked, "Oh, did your mother like to hunt?"!

I couldn't bring myself to take a picture at the funeral, but I found a similar casket on the internet.
Befitting the mighty hunter Volene might have been, hers was crafted of the strongest oak, instead of the more delicate cherry wood pictured above. I am happy to say that hers didn't have a liner with an embroidered turkey; nor did it have the optional hidden gun sleeve. Sheesh!

That was but one of the quirks. I opted out of the funeral planning; she wasn't MY mother, after all (though I'd have been honored to help if I'd been asked). My sister-in-law decided there should be calling hours, even though her father insisted that they not be publicized because of "all those people who go around to funerals." (Say what?!) So, the cost of the funeral included two hours of visitation in five beautiful downstairs rooms of an 1879 Victorian house cum funeral home. Because it was by invitation only, only about 25 people showed up, including family members. (On the plus side, this afforded me the opportunity to admire the marvelous craftsmanship of the home: intricate scrollwork over doorways, stained glass windows, delicate moldings, curved plaster walls, amazing bookcases, fabulous antiques.) My father-in-law stayed home because he claimed he was never informed of the arrangements and didn't have time to prepare. My sister-in-law prepared a photo board representing her mother's life. There were 5 or 6 pictures, none of which included the sons or husband. One of the pictures was of Mom and an elderly woman who not only wasn't a big part of her life, but was actively disliked by her! Bizarre.

Also bizarre: Karen requested to do her mother's hair for the viewing "because Mom did her mother's hair when she died." I guess it didn't occur to her that the reason she did her own mother's hair was because it was her profession! I don't know, maybe it's not so weird. She did a wonderful job. But I can't help wondering: Would she have offered to do the embalming if her mother had been an undertaker? [Incidentally, the nail polish I had lovingly applied on Tuesday had been scoured off. I didn't ask who did it or why, but it made me sad.]

Volene's passing should have been a peaceable, loving event, but it was fraught with anger at my intransigent, paranoid father-in-law who, for reasons known but to him and his imaginary friend, refused to allow his wife to be buried in the beautifully treed old cemetery on the hill overlooking their home. Out of his butt he suddenly produced great-grandparents who were some variety of Quaker in Pennsylvania; this was offered as reason for her to sleep for all eternity in the Quaker cemetery a few miles away, where she had specifically and emphatically said she did not want to be buried! I was so angry with him that I couldn't sleep, couldn't look at him during the funeral, didn't approach him at her burial, didn't contact him for days afterward.

Then Molly died and put my anger in perspective.

Molly was my 15-year-old niece. Exactly a week after her grandmother died, Molly chose to end her life by hanging herself in her bedroom closet. (How do kids learn how to do things like this?!?) We were not close -- her family spent the last two years living in California and moved back to Rochester only two months ago -- but being close is not a prerequisite for caring for a tender young life. We sat across from each other at lunch following Mom's funeral, and I was taken with her vivacity; I admired her sarcastic sense of humor. She would have been so much fun to know as she grew up. There was no clue that she was unhappy, never mind desperate. We will grapple with the enormity of her loss for a long time. My heart breaks for her parents, her brother and sister, but, most of all, for Molly.

May 9, 1991 - October 22, 2006

To Molly

I wish I had known.
I would have held you
and whispered, "Everything will be all right,
just take it one day at a time,
and call me if you are afraid."
I wish I had known.
I would tell you
how beautiful you are, how bright,
that the whole, wide world is
waiting to know you and be known.
I wish I had known.
I would have cried: Wait!
Just wait 'til you have loved
and lost, and loved again --
to learn that the dark is deep,
but dawn will come again.
I wish I had known.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

I think I have finally figured out how to place photos where I want them - thank you, Dawn, LOL!!!

Above is the very center of my North Garden, so named because I have no imagination. The blue is my newest hardy Geranium variety, "Spinners". It is everything I hoped for; must remember to cut it back after the first flush of bloom next year!

In full bloom above, Alchemilla mollis makes a fabulous textural statement. I must remember to interplant something blue (Dutch iris?) for a spring companion, and to plant 'Wave' petunias after bloom...

The pond in early summer, before the lilies have taken off. Now that I have an out-of-pond filter, I don't have nearly as much trouble with algae blooms. Nevertheless, I need to find a new source of water hyacinths, Crassipes, to provide cover for the fish and to cut down on the amount of light that reaches the water. I had to rely exclusively on the waterlilies this year, and they have become a major pain in the ass. I have trouble lifting the tubs and dividing and fertilizing. Next year I'll concentrate on finding more floaters!

The lovely cirque, planted with sempervivum, California poppies (Escholtzia), low-growing lemon thyme, and Heuchera americana. Behind it is a variegated willow, Salix integrifolia 'Hakuro Nishiki'. I have to coppice every three years to keep it within bounds, but it is a sight to behold in July, when the tips turn a shrimpy pink. This is one of my favorites in all plantdom, and I share it around.

Another view of the cirque, with Siberian irises blooming in the upper terrace. In the foreground are rudbeckia not yet in bloom. In another month it will be a sea of golden yellow and deep red-brown, surrounded by shorter Lavendula 'Hidcote'.

Tradescantia is a pretty complement to the spires of Digitalis ambigua. The thready stuff in the foreground is sea lavender Limonium vulgare; in another month it will become a purple haze.

Another spring and summer come and gone, and autumn soon will join them! My dad says this is nothing - "wait 'til you're MY age!"

In the early days of summer 2006 it appeared we would have a stellar growing season. We had a protracted and gentle spring rather than our typical, sudden, early, tulip-blasting May heat wave. A little about the tulips, and then I'll get back to the growing season...

I am normally loath to lay out a tulip smorgasbord for our abundant field mice, but Breck's managed to catch me at a weak moment when they sent out their Spring 2005 catalogue. I quickly ordered three dozen of their boldest beauties and forgot all about it until they arrived in the fall. I planted them in a cold and driven late October rain, dropping a bulb, and a curse for my misspent vernal optimism, into every hole . Lo and behold! they survived the winter in spite of miserably inadequate drumlin valley drainage and great hordes of scavenging field mice, and then Old Sol smiled benignly upon my corner of the earth instead of toasting blossoms into premature age. Spring has never bloomed more lush and sensual.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Larry the Cat

1990 - 8 February 2006

One hot summer day in 1992, a boy cat crept into my yard and declared squatter's rights. I already had two cats. I didn't want a third, and I especially did not want one that would fight with old Phoebe and middle-aged Lily. But the squatter persisted. He slept every night in the grass by the deck and told me in other subtle ways of his intention to stay. Phoebe and Lily eyed him warily, but he did not aggress, so I took pity and started feeding him on the deck. He would not approach me, and slinked away if I approached him, but the handouts always disappeared.

As autumn came and dwindled, I began to worry about what would happen to the skittish little boy cat when winter arrived. I decided, reluctantly, that he would have to become a house cat and, as such, he would need to be vaccinated and neutered. I tricked him with food into a crate and hauled him off to the vet. He yowled like a banshee the whole way. He was wild with fright when the vet opened the crate - he literally launched himself across the room and threw himself at the screened window. The doc had to don gloves to handle him, and I left feeling sad and guilty. When I returned the next day to bring him home, a miracle had occurred: he was a changed cat, mellow and friendly, and for the first time I was able to touch him! I named him Larry. He was a lover boy, liked to cuddle and purr, never got into trouble, didn't climb on the counters or tables, needed no training. We lived contentedly...old Phoebe died...and Larry and Lily spent the next five years catching mice and lounging together in the gardens.

And then, in March 1997, 10-week-old Ruby Basenji came to live with us. (Soon afterward Lily had to be euthanized.) Ruby was such an upstart! At hers and Larry's first meeting, she thought we were giving her a new chew toy and went gamboling right up to try him out. Lightning Larry shot out a paw and gave her a quick swat across the chops. So surprised was the pup that she screamed, scurried beneath the kitchen table, and threw up! From that point forward she had a healthy respect for Larry the Cat and they soon became fast friends.

Through the years they basked together in puddles of sunshine, shared sleeping spots and toys and, on occasion, even ate out of the same bowl at the same time. They played thrilling games of chase, did the Dog & Cat 500 at break-neck speed, and went on long off-leash hikes in the woods and fields that surround our house. In fact, I had to make sure Larry was in the house before Ruby and I headed out for our daily walk down the road, as Larry was wont to follow. I flooded the basenji e-lists with stories and photos of their antics and adventures; in time Larry had his own fan club among subscribers.

This fall Larry ominously began to lose weight. Blood tests indicated that he had some type of liver disease. At his age, I opted to not put him through more intrusive tests to find out precisely which of the three it was, because all were fatal. I wanted him to enjoy whatever time he had left, and I made sure, as well as I could, that he did! Our mantra became "Whatever Larry wants, Larry gets." I fed him as much as he would eat of anything he favored. By Christmas he had gained back 2 pounds and I began to hope the vet was wrong about the diagnosis. But, sadly, he wasn't.

By mid-January, Larry's appetite had begun to flag again. I tempted him with literally every item in our fridge, cupboards, freezer, and supermarket that might possibly appeal..to no avail. In the last week and a half he quit eating entirely. It was agonizing to feel his every bone and watch him disappearing. Thinking to save him an awful trip to the vet, I hoped that -- surely! -- he would expire in his sleep, yet he woke every morning. In the end I just couldn't bear watching him starve to death. I called the vet on the afternoon of February 8th, and got an appointment within the hour. I brushed Larry one last time -- he always loved being brushed -- and set him in the sunny window until my dad came to pick us up. He and Ruby nuzzled each other before I wrapped him up in a warm fleece blanket and walked out the door into the winter sunshine..

Maybe Larry felt very secure in my arms, or maybe he was just too weak to object, but he never made a sound during the usually-hated car ride; he just pressed his head to my cheek, and I cried into his just-brushed fur. The vet assured me that it was the right time to say goodbye, neither so soon that I deprived him of pleasure, nor so late that he was in pain; I can only hope he was right. Larry lay in my arms as the doc inserted the catheter, and his eyes looked into mine as the phenobarbitol was injected. He slipped away very peacefully, without protest or whimper. His were the only dry eyes in the room.

It has been a mild winter in the northeast and the ground was not yet frozen. I began to dig when we returned. Doug finished the job when he came home from work. After dinner, the three of us -- Doug and I and Ruby -- went out to commit his little body to the good earth. I made sure Ruby said goodbye to her old friend. Larry is buried beneath the flowering maple tree where lie our other cats. Someday, I pray not soon, Ruby will join them there.

Friday, July 22, 2005

I've been away so long, it took me nearly five minutes to figure out how to access this bleeping account! There just aren't enough hours in the day to do everything I need to do, and I'm burning the candle at both ends trying. The last thing I should be doing is trying to maintain a blog. I haven't been able to maintain my diary since my mother died in 1998, so I doubt I'll be any more successful with an online version of same.

Anyway, what's taking up so much time these days? My gardens, mostly, at least during the day. I'm beginning to wonder if I am bi-polar ;) - wake up one day absolutely thrilled with the way my garden vision is progressing; the next I am in the depths of despair because it's so...yawn...boring. When I'm not delighted or depressed, I'm just overwhelmed by weeds and the necessity of spending hours every day lugging water to my new plantings.

I think I need to look at my efforts through new eyes. Maybe if I don't come back here for a few days, I'll be look at these pics and think, "Hey, that's not bad!"

Are all gardeners dissatisfied with what they have wrought? I go to the garden and either see what I project it to be someday, or I see all the weeds I missed or haven't got to yet, or all the color mistakes that need to be corrected.

The picture above shows the latest addition to my garden. Of course there's a story.
Ruby basenji and I found it as we took our daily constitutional. We started out heading north, walked about 3/4 mile, and Ruby stopped to poop on a neighbor's lawn. I always carry a bag just in case, so I picked it up. At that point on this very hot morning, Ruby decided she'd gone quite far enough, so we turned around and headed home.

When we got to our driveway, she changed her mind and wanted to continue south...so, rather than continue walking down the road with a Baggie of dog poop swinging in my hand, I stuck it in my newspaper tube at the end of the driveway and we went merrily on our way.

About a half-mile down the road I discovered that one of the neighbors had put this metal bed out for trash pickup. A glowing light bulb appeared over my head :) I tested the bed to see if I'd be able to carry it home. I could. Of course it was not going to be easy, since it's almost as tall as I am! I had to be careful to keep the legs from scraping the road as I walked, while also preventing Ruby from dragging us to our deaths under a fast-moving motor vehicle! Picture an old, short, fat woman struggling down the road in 92º heat with a metal headboard hoisted over her head with one hand, and hanging onto a dog straining at the end of the leash with the other!

When we finally got to our driveway, I remembered the Baggie in my newspaper tube. Good thing! My newspaper delivery man always leaves two biscuits for Ruby when he delivers the paper. I'm pretty sure he wouldn't have liked the "gift" he thought I left for him.

Hmmm. Thought this picture thing would be easy, but I can't figure out how to place them exactly where I want them. Rats!