Time passes. Listen.

Bees' first winter

Pedants will tell me that it’s not officially winter yet, but let’s not quibble. Zero degrees F on the thermometer this morning, snow and ice solidly gripping the ground, Elliot the blueberry bush up to his neck in snow, another nor’easter roaring up the coast tomorrow.

Let’s call a winter a winter.

Today I watched the shivery sun sprint for the western horizon as if, like me, he just couldn’t wait to be in bed, under the covers, with a pile of books laid by. I swear he was behind the hill by 3 pm. And I know tomorrow I’ll see even less of him, minute by minute.

Watching the light rise and fall this time of year, a person can’t help but be obsessed a bit by the ticking by of seconds, to become a hoarder of sunlit minutes, to think of time as something solid you can put in your pocket and rub your thumb over during the day, wearing it down grain by grain.

This time of year, the night is an ocean. You can’t see the other side. But you can sail its surface. A story is like a puff of wind in your sail. This weekend, we went to our local theater to hear a story: Dylan Thomas’ “Under Milk Wood.”

I can try to describe to you how the play mesmerized me, how the chewy-lyrical language lulled the audience, then made us laugh, then cracked our hearts. I could tell you how we watched the minutes of a day in the village of “Llareggub” slide by, night to dawn to noon to dusk to night. I could tell you how we lived a day through the night, then, outside, how the moon was hidden but the poem was a light reflected in the snow.

But I can’t tell it anywhere as well Dylan Thomas and Richard Burton can tell it. So why even try?


FIRST VOICE (_Very softly_)

To begin at the beginning:

It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless
and bible-black, the cobblestreets silent and the hunched,
courters’-and-rabbits’ wood limping invisible down to the
sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboatbobbing sea.
The houses are blind as moles (though moles see fine to-night
in the snouting, velvet dingles) or blind as Captain Cat
there in the muffled middle by the pump and the town clock,
the shops in mourning, the Welfare Hall in widows’ weeds.
And all the people of the lulled and dumbfound town are
sleeping now.

Hush, the babies are sleeping, the farmers, the fishers,
the tradesmen and pensioners, cobbler, schoolteacher,
postman and publican, the undertaker and the fancy woman,
drunkard, dressmaker, preacher, policeman, the webfoot
cocklewomen and the tidy wives. Young girls lie bedded soft
or glide in their dreams, with rings and trousseaux,
bridesmaided by glowworms down the aisles of the
organplaying wood. The boys are dreaming wicked or of the
bucking ranches of the night and the jollyrodgered sea. And
the anthracite statues of the horses sleep in the fields,
and the cows in the byres, and the dogs in the wetnosed
yards; and the cats nap in the slant corners or lope sly,
streaking and needling, on the one cloud of the roofs.

You can hear the dew falling, and the hushed town breathing.
Only _your_ eyes are unclosed to see the black and folded
town fast, and slow, asleep. And you alone can hear the
invisible starfall, the darkest-beforedawn minutely dewgrazed
stir of the black, dab-filled sea where the _Arethusa_, the
_Curlew_ and the _Skylark_, _Zanzibar_, _Rhiannon_, the _Rover_,
the _Cormorant_, and the _Star of Wales_ tilt and ride.

Listen. It is night moving in the streets, the processional
salt slow musical wind in Coronation Street and Cockle Row,
it is the grass growing on Llaregyb Hill, dewfall, starfall,
the sleep of birds in Milk Wood.

Listen. It is night in the chill, squat chapel, hymning in
bonnet and brooch and bombazine black, butterfly choker and
bootlace bow, coughing like nannygoats, sucking mintoes,
fortywinking hallelujah; night in the four-ale, quiet as a
domino; in Ocky Milkman’s lofts like a mouse with gloves;
in Dai Bread’s bakery flying like black flour. It is to-night
in Donkey Street, trotting silent, With seaweed on its
hooves, along the cockled cobbles, past curtained fernpot,
text and trinket, harmonium, holy dresser, watercolours
done by hand, china dog and rosy tin teacaddy. It is night
neddying among the snuggeries of babies.

Look. It is night, dumbly, royally winding through the
Coronation cherry trees; going through the graveyard of
Bethesda with winds gloved and folded, and dew doffed;
tumbling by the Sailors Arms.

Time passes. Listen. Time passes.

Come closer now.

Only you can hear the houses sleeping in the streets in the
slow deep salt and silent black, bandaged night. Only you
can see, in the blinded bedrooms, the coms. and petticoats
over the chairs, the jugs and basins, the glasses of teeth,
Thou Shalt Not on the wall, and the yellowing dickybird-watching
pictures of the dead. Only you can hear and see, behind the
eyes of the sleepers, the movements and countries and mazes
and colours and dismays and rainbows and tunes and wishes
and flight and fall and despairs and big seas of their dreams.

From where you are, you can hear their dreams.

Till it shines

General fog

On a wire

A prettiness

We got the call at 5.30 this morning: Wintry mix. Dangerous roads. Two-hour school delay. Oh heaven, back to bed.

Ever since, though, I’ve been out of sync with the day. The sun rose, but you’d never know it for the fog. I ate my breakfast at 10 and still haven’t had my lunch at 4. I keep waiting for the day to start and here it is, dusk, and there’s dinner to be figured out.

Work was frustrating in an insignificant way. The fires never felt warm enough. My progress on my holiday to-do lists is abysmal. (You weren’t expecting cards from me, were you?)

When I went out to see the goats they seem untroubled, cozy in their run-in. It smelled good-and-goaty in a good way. I hugged Willow and she closed her eyes and if you could hear a goat hum with happiness, that’s the sound I felt. Bright goat eyes all around when I fed them cookies.

Everything outside was grey, yet somehow sparkling. Drips of ice had melted to water and were clinging to branches, the snow’s pebbled surface, the electric wire on the goat fence, the rose hips. A million reflections of a reluctant sun gathered up into a shimmer.

I walked back to the house to bring in another load of firewood, singing under my breath, Take the chip off of my shoulder, smooth out all the lines. Take me out among the rustling pines, till it shines.

Everything shines

Let’s raise a glass

The cocktail

The citrus

The drowsy cranberries

Here we are again, my old friend November. You’re a formidable foe, but you’re on the way out for another year and I’m still writing.

So, here’s to you, November, and your relentlessly grey skies, your bare branches, your frozen water bucket mornings, your summerish deceptions, your early dusks, your inevitable lurch towards winter. I raise a glass to you.

Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

For this Thanksgiving, M concocted a festive little cranberry punch for us, the very which I’m sipping as I write this.

We’ve tentatively named it the “Thanksgiving Cranberry Spatchcocktail” (spatchcocking being an old technique—renewed in popularity recently—for preparing a turkey where you remove the bird’s backbone and flatten it like an open book before cooking it).

M has graciously written up the recipe for us (below). May you drink it in good health. And may it make you pleasantly spineless for an hour or two.

Thanksgiving Cranberry Spatchcocktail

Yield: About 8 drinks

To prepare the drowsy cranberries

Note: If possible, make the drowsy cranberries a day or so ahead of time so they’ll be nice and potent.

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 cinnamon stick
8 whole cloves
3 tsp orange zest
3 tsp grated ginger
1.5 cups fresh cranberries
1 cup light rum

  1. In a small saucepan combine the sugar, water, cinnamon stick, cloves, orange zest, and grated ginger.
  2. Cook over low heat until the sugar dissolves.
  3. Add the fresh cranberries to the sugar-spice mixture.
  4. Turn heat to medium and cook until the cranberries pop.
  5. Remove from heat and let stand for an hour.
  6. Use a slotted spoon to move the cranberries to a sealable jar.
  7. Use a fine strainer or cheesecloth to pour the syrup over the cranberries (discard the cinnamon, cloves, and ginger/zest bits).
  8. Add 1 cup of light rum to the jar.
  9. Seal the jar and let steep as long as you like.
  10. Chill well before using.

To prepare and serve the cocktail

1 bottle Prosecco
Light and dark rum, to taste
1 orange
1 lime
1 lemon
Mint leaves

  1. Pour the chilled syrup into a pitcher or bowl (reserve the drowsy cranberries).
  2. Add 1 bottle very cold Prosecco.
  3. Top punch with alternating small glugs of light and dark rum, to taste.
  4. Serve alongside: ice, mint leaves, the drowsy cranberries, thin slices of orange, lemon and lime.

The moon’s watching

Winter Trees

Earlier this evening I spied on the moon through the branches of the huge Maple tree in our yard. Now, when I’m here at my desk, wondering what on earth to write about, the moon is spying on me (M told me so just a minute ago).

What can I possibly write that the moon hasn’t already read?

What can I do but describe the cold blue-black night, the dying glow of the fires, the dogs lying like moored boats in a moonlit harbor, another load of dirty dishes piled in the sink, the stereo playing some piece of music I feel I know but can’t name, the moon sailing her orbit while we sail ours, the end of the day.

Same old story, says the moon in a comforting way. Time to turn out the lights, pull the night up to your chin, feel quiet and planted, like a Maple tree on a November night.

Winter Trees

All the complicated details
of the attiring and
the disattiring are completed!
A liquid moon
moves gently among
the long branches.
Thus having prepared their buds
against a sure winter
the wise trees
stand sleeping in the cold.

–William Carlos Williams

The little things

Good morning

More leeks?


The gang's all here


All afternoon

It’s easy to be thankful for the big things: healthy family, food on the table, four sound walls, a roof, and heat. Tonight, to be sure, I’m thankful for all of those. And then some.

For the turkey that took hours longer to cook than we expected, but turned out delicious anyway.

For the dogs underfoot, stealing my seat every time I got off the sofa, and then putting their soft heads under my hands for affection.

For the cheese, oh lord, the delicious cheese.

For the duchess potato recipe that went horribly wrong and yielded what looked like tiny white cow patties.

For the dinner roll recipe that also went wrong, but we laughed.

For the family members who enjoyed dinner even when it was late and not perfect.

For the goats fighting each other for a taste of leek and brussels sprouts trimmings.

For the clumps of snow that came in with the dogs.

For the intoxicating cranberry spice punch that M concocted. And the one with gin and roasted lemons that L mixed up.

For board games and Doctor Who Yahtzee.

For singing “American Pie” with my sister and my daughter, and doing the dance we made up thirty years ago.

For leftovers wrapped in corn tortillas.

For plentiful hot water and soap.

For listening to the old songs.

For Burton Cummings making us howl with laughter, singing:

When I was a boy I dreamed I was a jeweler
With a family business that was free and clear
Selling golden earrings to Mrs. Mickey Mantle
Trying to be gentle while I stuck it in her ear

For words, hands, brains. For salt, butter, wine. For hearts. For voices. For the quiet moment gathering firewood. For laundry. For the puppy playing catch with himself. For pecan bars. For the snow plow. For smoke curling up from chimneys.

For the half moon, the high clouds, the shy stars. The headlights passing by in the darkness, cars holding tired children in back seats, watching the moon follow them all the way home.

For each and every one of you. Thank you, oh thank you, oh thank you.

Too many to list


A List of Praises

Give praise with psalms that tell the trees to sing,
Give praise with Gospel choirs in storefront churches,
Mad with the joy of the Sabbath,
Give praise with the babble of infants, who wake with the sun,
Give praise with children chanting their skip-rope rhymes,
A poetry not in books, a vagrant mischievous poetry
living wild on the Streets through generations of children.

Give praise with the sound of the milk-train far away
With its mutter of wheels and long-drawn-out sweet whistle
As it speeds through the fields of sleep at three in the morning,
Give praise with the immense and peaceful sigh
Of the wind in the pinewoods,
At night give praise with starry silences.

Give praise with the skirling of seagulls
And the rattle and flap of sails
And gongs of buoys rocked by the sea-swell
Out in the shipping-lanes beyond the harbor.
Give praise with the humpback whales,
Huge in the ocean they sing to one another.

Give praise with the rasp and sizzle of crickets, katydids and cicadas,
Give praise with hum of bees,
Give praise with the little peepers who live near water.
When they fill the marsh with a shimmer of bell-like cries
We know that the winter is over.

Give praise with mockingbirds, day’s nightingales.
Hour by hour they sing in the crepe myrtle
And glossy tulip trees
On quiet side streets in southern towns.

Give praise with the rippling speech
Of the eider-duck and her ducklings
As they paddle their way downstream
In the red-gold morning
On Restiguche, their cold river,
Salmon river,
Wilderness river.

Give praise with the whitethroat sparrow.
Far, far from the cities,
Far even from the towns,
With piercing innocence
He sings in the spruce-tree tops,
Always four notes
And four notes only.

Give praise with water,
With storms of rain and thunder
And the small rains that sparkle as they dry,
And the faint floating ocean roar
That fills the seaside villages,
And the clear brooks that travel down the mountains

And with this poem, a leaf on the vast flood,
And with the angels in that other country.

–Anne Porter, from Living Things. Copyright © 2006

Thank you, Mr. Turner

Tonight's Feature

Thanksgiving eve and the snow’s coming down like it thinks it’s Christmas eve and maybe I should be writing the obligatory post about all I’m thankful for. Maybe I’ll do that tomorrow. Or maybe I’ll just think it and you’ll know it already, because aren’t we all thankful for mostly the same things?

The kitchen is smudged with evidence of the day’s preparations: drips of brown butter ice cream (for this, I am truly thankful), puffs of flour, scattered crumbs, steam from the simmering pot of stock. At 7.30 this evening, I kicked off my shoes and flopped onto the sofa and turned on the TV.

We’ve had TV for a year now. It mostly doesn’t figure into my life, but I tell you, here’s something I’m thankful for: Turner Classic Movies. What a pure joy. Old movies, day and night. No commercials. Brando and Bogart, the Barrymores and Bette Davis. Hitchcock, Huston, Hepburn. Astaire, Ginger, Bing.

Cary Grant, for goodness sake.

Black and white, technicolor. Romances, musicals, mysteries, westerns. Given the chance, I’ll gluttonously feast on them all afternoon.

If only I had a snowbound holiday weekend coming. Can you even imagine how delightful that would be?

Before the storm

Black & Tan

Today was one of those days I was grateful to have work to tether my mind to. Sometimes I think my brain might just float away on a river of nonsense, scattered distractions, unnamed worries, named worries, enticing memories. But work is there, calling the wandering mind to heel over and over.

Disobedient brain, here’s a cookie.

For instance, I went to bed last night thinking about Ferguson, Missouri and a community with a broken heart. And my brain reminded me how lucky I was for that bed, those clean flannel sheets, that thick wool comforter, that solid roof, my family intact and alive. And when I began to settle into sleep my brain scolded me for being too comfortable when there is protesting in the streets. Cars on fire. People without jobs. Lost children.

I woke up in the dark this morning, thinking about cranberries and turkeys and that my child was safe in her bed. And that a snowstorm, borne on a nor’easter, is headed our way. Should I pick up the turkey today instead of tomorrow when the roads might be stopped with snow? My brain reminded me that I hadn’t figured out dessert yet.

Snowy roads. Families packed into station wagons and mini vans, headed though those hills and woods to grandparents’ houses. Families with lost grandparents, lost parents, lost children. We should have scheduled a hay delivery for last week; now we’ll have to contend with the snow. We should have been kinder to each other. We should have filled the car with gas. We should have held on tighter.

When I was small, first and second grade, I went to a school where my sister and I were two in a handful of white children. My best friend was black. Most of my friends there were black. Except for Sharon who lived in the apartment above ours and who had a box type camera (the kind that you looked down into to take the photo) and who let me use it to take my very first picture (it was of her).

Work to do. There’s work to do. Bend your mind to it.

My teacher at that school was Ms. Hunter and she was a force. She was scary and loud and the kindest teacher I ever had. She had her hands full with a mixed class of first and second graders and when she had had enough of our rambunctiousness she’d tell us to sit down and button our lips because she was on the WAR PATH.

Outside the walls of our classroom, there was a little dirt path worn into the grass where we kids would scamper behind the bushes, playing hide and seek. I wasn’t sure what a war path was, but I pictured that path and Ms. Hunter pacing it back and forth, pretending to be angry when all she wanted to do was hug some sense into her unruly pupils.

Oh yes, Thanksgiving and the shopping list, and that email I was supposed to send last week. And a friend is coming over today with her three splendid dogs to walk the wooded path behind our house.

We left that school in the middle of a school year. At that age, you didn’t exchange addresses and phone numbers. I often wonder what happened to Ms. Hunter and my classmates. Did she have a happy life? What happened to my classmates? Did they end up in sunny suburban classrooms the way I did? Are they safe?

Okay, enough wandering. This project needs to get done today. Clients are waiting on me.

This evening we lingered after dinner and talked about Ferguson. The fifteen-year-old at the table feels injustice keenly and oh do I love her for that. I hope she holds on to that fire and does something good for this world. She knows for sure what we all knew as children: that fairness is worth demanding.

I finished that work somehow. And got the turkey and the cranberries and chestnuts. The coals in the fire are glowing blue, they’re so hot. “Uncle Albert” is on the stereo and my mind is speeding back to another time and another place, far from Ms. Hunter’s war path.

Snow’s expected tomorrow noon until night. The reports say we could get up to 16 inches.

Please, everyone, be safe.

On this warm November day

Nature (1/5)

The Birds

are heading south, pulled
by a compass in the genes.
They are not fooled
by this odd November summer,
though we stand in our doorways
wearing cotton dresses.
We are watching them

as they swoop and gather—
the shadow of wings
falls over the heart.
When they rustle among
the empty branches, the trees
must think their lost leaves
have come back.

The birds are heading south,
instinct is the oldest story.
They fly over their doubles,
the mute weathervanes,
teaching all of us
with their tailfeathers
the true north.

–Linda Pastan, from The Imperfect Paradise. Copyright © 1988