Ponder this:

Sunday, May 31, 2009


Photo by John Yuill

About once every year I am graced with the sight of a scarlet tanager. Four days ago I saw a male in the full regalia of his breeding plumage.
I recognized him only as he vanished into the roadside brush, so that I had to examine my memory to see him. I can see him still, his body brighter than living blood, opaque black wings on the backsweep.

A dozen years ago I worked with Bill, an attorney whose office was lined with his photographs of animals he had seen on his worldwide travels. I asked him about the photo of a soulful-eyed mountain gorilla. He had gone on a Rwanda trek, had seen the gorillas. Bill took some pictures and as the guide led them onward, a young male gorilla rushed out of the leaves and brushed his knuckles against the back of Bill’s hand.
“Barely a touch,” Bill said. “It was his handshake. He was greeting me. It happens . . . so fast . . . that you have only the tactile memory.”

A few years ago in this season, I turned into my driveway and caught a glimpse of pink where there had been fresh green the day before.
I drove down to the house, parked, walked back, Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers in hand, to compare leaves and blossoms to photographs in the book. I judge it to be a mountain laurel.

Every year I forget that gentle surprise, until the next May when one day I enter the driveway and there it is again. Never one or two blossoms: the whole thing is green one day and the next covered with delicate pale flowers. As with most wild shrubs, the flowers won’t last long before the plant withdraws once again into green anonymity; that’s part of the blessing.

So many natural events are visible for just a moment. My photograph is not a good one; I took it through the rain, through the open window of the car. But it will recall to me one ephemeral vision of spring.

I don’t know what this is about.
Is it about the joy of a momentary contact with a wild creature through whatever sensory means, or about the wonder of the memory of such moments? Is it about the useful tool of photography to recall a memory?

Annie Dillard wrote the way you live your days is the way you live your life.
“If one day I forgot to notice my life, and be damned grateful for it, the blank cave would suck me up entire.”
~An American Childhood

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Even the best needles are not sharp at both ends. ~Chinese Proverb

I agonized for years over the imperfections in my personality.
I remember telling a junior high school guidance counselor,
“I want to be perfect!” Well into adulthood, fear of imperfection crippled me and I was so happy when I accepted that nothing is perfect.

I work in the same building for the same employer all day. Since January I have had two jobs and two bosses: a Morning Job/Boss and an Afternoon Job/Boss. In the Morning Job every week and every month has scheduled dates for specific step-by-step tasks that must be finished within specific periods of time, and it is all about perfect ending balances.

I am awed by Morning Boss’s skill and knowledge and her patience with her work. Like M*A*S*H’s Major Charles Emerson Winchester III, M.D., she does one thing at a time, she does it very well, and then moves on.
Morning Boss keeps perfect records.
Not a pencil mark or a speck of eraser lint on any of the perfectly hole-punched and bound records that, in compliance with state law, will
be archived for fifty-five years.

A few weeks ago, I prepared and checked some of that paperwork, making tiny pencil checkmarks next to the figures. When I was ready to put it away in its fifty-five-year binder, Boss asked if I wasn’t going to reprint it. “It’s going to be around for fifty-five years: You might want it to look pretty!” In response, I thought (and did not say), “Why? Nobody’s going to look at it ever again.” I've been around for more than fifty-five years and "pretty" doesn't matter so much to me anymore. But I reprinted it before I filed it because Pristine and Perfect is the rule in the Morning Job.

I am not a number cruncher: If I’m $4,000 off, and I find $3999.93 of it, that makes me happy. The first time I said “Yippee!” Morning Boss sent me a shocked and astonished glare. There was not a second "Yippee!" Also [literally] frowned upon: Talking; humming; too-noisy tapping of fingers on keypads; leaving seven cents unfound. At noon, when my four hours at the Morning Job are over, I leave with a huge sigh (silent, sighing also being a frownable offense) of relief, feeling as if I have spent the morning failing.

The nature of the Afternoon Job is different and there could be no two people with more different work styles than my Morning Boss and my Afternoon Boss.

The Afternoon Job is all about laws and schedules, but it’s also all about people. I never know when or what number of people might come through the door, or what issues will arise, or how they’ll develop. Every application, every applicant, every project is different. So in the afternoons, I work differently. When it’s busy I work faster on more things. When it’s slow I fill in the blanks that got missed while I was serving the person in front of me. There is no slow and steady in the Afternoon Job.

In the afternoons I usually work on five or six things simultaneously. Preparing a Certificate of Occupancy, I return a phone call to someone about the zoning of a parcel. While I’m on that call, I’ll reach over to my fax/copier and make photocopies of an application for distribution to board members for a meeting. With one ear I listen to my boss talking to someone at his desk and I call over the name or the telephone number that he can't bring to mind.

If a taxpayer comes to my desk I shove everything to one side and chat with him about his building project or his complaint about his landlord or his neighbor. At any given point, I would be hard-pressed to stop and say exactly where I am with all of the tasks I’m working on, but I know I’m progressing.

We laugh a lot.
We joke.
I break into song.

A few days ago, I got a call at my Morning desk about an Afternoon Job issue. A woman wants to open a new business and I asked her some questions about her plans. After I hung up, Morning Boss said, “You’re so supportive! What enthusiasm!” Unknown to Morning Boss and to the applicant, what I was doing was determining, via interested conversation, if the business suited the zoning in the area where the woman wants to locate. It’s easier for people to talk to me about their plans than it would be for them to answer questions on a checklist.

At the end of the afternoon I always have a million threads to tie up. The tying-up is a signal to my brain that I have accomplished a great deal with great enthusiasm. I leave my desk happy, drained and satisfied.

Even the best needles are not sharp at both ends.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Observations of a casual birdwatcher

I have turned all of our trees into orange trees for the benefit of the Baltimore orioles, beautiful and the exact color of the oranges they eat, with the sharp contrast of glossy black back, wings and head. Acrobatic, they don't mind perching practically on their heads so long as it gets them in position to nosh on orange slices.

By accident my orange sections attracted a red bellied woodpecker who arrives with several dry little coughs, and whose kookaburra-like sound I didn’t know until I saw him produce it just before he flew off. He doesn't know he's eating oranges from Hannaford supermarket; according to my Audubon book, he thinks he's eating wild fruits.

I hope he doesn't have a taste for plums, pears, and cherries, now that I've habituated him to finding food in those trees.

The hummingbirds delight me, tiny territorial warriors that they are. During any watching session there is always one who takes control of a feeder, flying off a short distance to lurk in the birch tree and swooping in to chase away any others who chance by. (Read others' interpretations of "Warrior" at Inspire Me Thursday.)

Often a male will perch on the shepherd’s crook that holds a feeder, skyward-angled head abruptly turning right and left on the watch for competitors, a miniscule FDR with cigarette holder.

The swallows have returned to their sturdy, but to my eye, inartistic nest in the woodshed. Last night the pair entertained me for an hour with their balletic moves. I went indoors for a few minutes. When I returned MiMau sprawled triumphantly next to something that looked horrifyingly similar to a felled swallow, with one bird menacing her by deeply plunging dives. I wanted to go see, but didn’t want to know.
I sat and looked for ten minutes from my chair forty feet from the scene, and finally had to go find out if there had been a killing. It was not a dead swallow, but a piece of bark. Jubilation.

Not so jubilant a story…

When I originally opened the bluebird box I thought it was already abandoned, and started to pull out the nesting material before I saw the eggs. After reading about Northview Diary’s baby robin, my envy inspired me to recheck the bluebird box, hoping to find that the four blue eggs would have become four tiny widely-gaping mouths.
The nest remains and there is evidence that efforts were made to reinforce it against predation: the front part has been built up into a sort of wall.

Two eggs remain.

But I believe it has been abandoned because of my intrusion. I feel terrible about that, and won’t be nosing around in future bluebird nesting sites.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

There is a solution

There is a solution
for Three Word Wednesday

There was an old girl name of June
Who found she was quite out of tune.
She talked with some friends,
Spoke of means, not of ends,
And spent quite a nice afternoon.

Peers sagacious and kind
Helped her find her right mind
And these nuggets of wisdom were mined:

To avoid feeling wretcherous
Stay away from the treacherous.
You can’t optimize
If you still agonize.
You can’t be efficient
If you dwell on deficient.

Sunday, May 17, 2009



Prompted by Sunday Scribblings

My name is June and I’m an alcoholic.

I don’t write about it here because I am more than an alcoholic. Nevertheless, the fact of my disease underlies all the rest of what I am. In Alcoholics Anonymous, the club of which I am a member, the club to which no one aspires to belong, one of the mantras is: To keep [your sobriety], you have to give it away. The point is that once one has gained the wisdom to live life without alcohol, one is advised to share with those still struggling how that might be achieved.

An alcoholic, I have a penchant for standing alone. When it’s working, I call it “enjoying my own company.” Excessively indulged, it’s called isolating, and it leads to disproportionate introspection. I begin to feel that I am different, special, alone, disconnected. My comfortable world diminishes in size until it is no larger than the room in which I sit, and the room is filled with fear. My ego grows larger than it should be.

Yesterday, writing about the miracle of spring’s return, I wrote:
I can understand why suicides peak in the springtime. After the long dead sleep of winter, the world’s rebirth reveals my insignificance. My removal would have the same effect as a hand lifted from a bucket of water. As much as I am uplifted by this renascence I am here solely as observer.

It’s true, but it is a symptom of my disease that I think of my own importance in that way. I left it out of yesterday’s entry because it turned the whole mood dark smoky gray instead of joyfully radiant.
I didn't want to go there, but apparently I already was there.

It's not how good you think of yourself or how badly you think of yourself; it's how often you think of yourself.
An alcoholic is someone who wants to be held while isolating.
I may not be much, but I'm all I think about.
The three most dangerous words for an alcoholic: "I've been thinking."
My best thinking got me drunk.

Most people haven’t had the experience of an AA meeting; I expect they still think the members are stinky old men muttering down their stained ragged shirtfronts. Not true.

This is what an AA meeting is like: The Rooms are full of regular everyday people in regular clothes. Some are very well-dressed and expensively accessorized. Somebody starts the meeting, and either calls on people at random to talk about whatever’s going on with him or her, or the order follows the seating around the room. Each person’s contribution is newsy or matter-of-fact or melancholy or very often, hilarious. There’s nothing funnier than hearing somebody who knows better relate how he fell prey to his stinkin’ thinkin’ and handled a situation like the drunk he used to be.

The most uplifting times happen when a newcomer, lost soul, drifts in full of discomfort at the new situation, not knowing how to make himself appear to be in control (if it looks good on the outside, it must be good on the inside). To see a faint glimmer of hope begin to flicker deep in his eyes is a wonder, and it happens as he hears people talk about what it was like, what happened, and what it’s like now.

You never know how much fun life can be until you’ve spent some time having no joy at all day after day. We aren't a glum lot.

For several months I haven’t been attending meetings.
I believe that I will go to this evening’s meeting.
I need to get connected once again.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

In the northeast spring is in a hurry.

For a few weeks the season's moment-by-moment explosions of renascence have buffeted my senses; the input goes straight to my heart and bypasses any application of language.

Last week one ruby-throated hummingbird returned. I saw him lilting from blossom to blossom at the peach tree and hurried to make nectar and fill the feeders.

Yesterday morning I found one of the feeders on the ground, the previous day’s wind having blown it off its hook. I brought it in and cleaned it and while the fresh nectar was cooling I went outdoors. One of the little guys buzzed around the corner of the house and stopped three feet from me, hovered, glaring: “Where is it!?!?”

The lilacs have been budded for a couple of weeks, and their fervor apparently demands that they ignore the rules: One branch of the dark purple lilacs is blooming pale blossoms.

On the day of the hummingbirds’ return I heard the bobolinks’ techno-music call for the first time this season. I can discern no repetition in their calls, but know them by the bubbling metallic twang.

F. Schuyler Mathews’ Field Book of Wild Birds and their Music describes it perfectly as “…a mad, reckless song-fantasia, an outbreak of pent-up, irrepressible glee." Bobolinks will be here only for the length of time it takes to nest and get the chicks flying and then clear out again before the first haying.

I need to get back outdoors to bask in all this glory.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Wordless Wednesday on Friday

Wordless Wednesday is open all week now!

The dogs were happy to accompany me into the early morning fog in search of a worthy submission: the sundial.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Gathering with basket

Immediately upon my return from work, I divest myself of some pieces of my apparel. Shoes are left at the door, necklaces and other items are placed on the handy newel post for taking up on the next trip. On the next trip upstairs, however, my hands are filled with the evening’s water glass, downstairs towels headed for the upstairs washing machine, and sometimes a small poodle who will get up the stairs more quickly if carried than if under his own power.

Every night I take a glass of ice water upstairs to my bedside to sip while I read myself into sleepiness. In the mornings I am commonly on a mission to get myself to the coffee and the dogs to the great outdoors and don’t think to take the water glass downstairs. In this way, I accumulate drinking glasses on my bedside table. Sometimes I finish the evening’s water before the ice has melted and, pleased with my efficiency, I pour the water remaining in the previous night’s glass over the ice. I try not to think too much about the probability that the cat has been sipping from the supply. She likes company while she eats, and for a few months I kept her bowl of kibble on the bedside table and she would snack at night while I read.
Very cozy.
When I realized that she was crunching kibble and guzzling from my glass, I moved her dish back to the dressing table where her happily waving tail aids in the morning application of mascara. Sharing a water glass didn’t disgust me so much as it struck me as just a trifle too cozy. Truthfully, the thought of kibble backwash was offputting.

Most mornings I leave whatever book I was reading the night before on the night table. Lately I haven’t been reading anything riveting enough to warrant an early-evening trip upstairs simply to retrieve it, so I have an upstairs book and a downstairs book.

My earrings stay on until bedtime cleanup, at which time I remove them and put them in the small area of the toothbrush holder that’s meant for a tumbler. There they stay until an entire wardrobe of earrings begins to crowd the toothbrushes.

The problem is that this spoor I trail along behind me metamorphoses from a thing here and there to a complete jumble wherein all the rooms of the house become my dressing room.

I have found the solution.

I have begun to carry with me a high-handled shallow round basket large and sturdy enough to accommodate all my detritus. Upon retiring, I pitch in clothing, towels, books, and, sometimes, a snack nestled among the flotsam. Jewelry is collected from the newel post as I round the stair landing. I take my basket with me upstairs at night and downstairs in the morning, filled with things meant to be elsewhere.
I no longer have three or four water glasses on the bedside table.
I stay with one book until I’ve finished it.
The jewelry is in the jewelry box.

It’s working very well for me. One night soon I might try putting a dog in there to see if he’ll permit himself to be basketed upstairs.

I doubt he'll like it.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Sunday Stills

For Sunday Stills, the next Challenge:
Black and White with a twist!
This was a real lesson for me in "contrast."


...in admittedly not much color...

...and in black and white....

Flowers and plants.

Trillium in color

...and in black and white.
Do fungi count as "plants"? I hope so because this, I think, is the best of the bunch.

In color...

...and in black and white...

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Sunday Stills

For Sunday Stills, my plum tree in full bloom, complete with, if you look verrrry closely, a honeybee at the nine o'clock position on the middle fluffball.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

I live to serve

I mean to be a regular contributor to my own blog, but I can think of nothing to write about. Some book that I have on my shelf advises:
“If you want to write, write! Just sit down and start writing.” I have been feeling crabby all day. I have been unproductive and uninspired and I have not been feeling the love. I am annoyed by complainers.
“My this or that hurts.”
“I’m so lonely . . . but I can’t stand to be around anybody I know.”
“Big Brother tells us when to go to the bathroom these days!”

Therefore, be forewarned: This will not be the kind of floaty positive isn’t Life grand entry to which I aspire.

Lemme tell y'about working for Big Brother’s tiniest little brother, the municipal government.

People call all day long for telephone numbers that they could look up in their own telephone books. Not even government numbers. They call for the phone number of the newspaper, or of the gas company, or of the attorney who handled the closing on their house.

One man regularly calls our office to rant about the neighbor who, on garbage day, puts his garbage four inches too close to the man’s lawn. Not on his lawn; the garbage is at the curb. But this man has to look at those garbage containers for as long as it takes for the trash collector to get there and pick it up.

One woman calls every spring because twenty years ago her neighbor paved his back driveway and the water runoff makes her back yard soggy. Every year, she calls to tell us that her back yard is wet.
It’s spring. Things are wet.

Another woman, voice like a knife, calls to see if it is legal for her neighbor to put up a clothesline in his back yard. She thinks it’s unsightly.
Yes, a clothesline is permitted.

Somebody calls because his electricity is out: Do we know why?
No. We don’t. Have you called the power company?
Well, no. He thought he’d call the village office instead. (Probably knows the phone number by heart; he’d have to actually look up the power company’s number.)

I expect that soon we will begin receiving complaints that the full moon is too bright and the weather forecast was wrong.

We receive near-daily faxes from a local attorney: He thinks the streets are dirty.
“Now that the snow is gone, you can really see how dirty Main Street is. Why isn’t the street department sweeping? Is the village too broke to fix the machine?”
In twenty-five years the street department has never run the street sweeper before Memorial Day, but this year the guy wore them down and they got out there and swept up all the dirt and gravel that they had put down all winter to keep people from complaining that the village streets were slippery.

The same attorney faxes us to let us know that there’s litter on somebody’s lawn.
Not piles of trash we’re talking; the codes officer went out and inspected and found that it was a couple of Kleenexes that had offended the barrister's sensibilities.

Our building houses the municipal court.
Directions to the court are posted: on the exterior entrance door to the building; on the interior entrance door; on a big red sign on the door to the court itself, directly in front of anyone entering the main hall. The court's office hours are posted on the door to the court.
Twenty times every day somebody shambles into the clerk’s office or the planning office asking us to take their payment of court fines.
We direct them to the proper door.
They plod off and two minutes later, return: “There’s nobody in there.”
We direct them to the sign on the court door that explains the days and times that fines can be paid.
They plod off and two minutes later, come back.

They explain to us all the circumstances of how they got their ticket and why they didn’t find out about the ticket until two weeks later because they’d been driving their uncle’s or brother’s or neighbor’s car. We stop in the middle of some complicated accounting process or in the middle of explaining an application to somebody, listen sympathetically and tell them to come back when the court’s open. After long blank looks, they shuffle out.
I guess if they could read and follow directions they wouldn’t be going to court.

Somebody’s store window got broken. It’s a local outrage: “Main Street looks like a slum!” The village takes the [uninsured] store owner to court for not repairing his window. The local paper reports the event and a week later steams with indignant letter writers’ castigation of the village’s spending tax dollars to enforce the law. “Why doesn’t the village just replace the windows for him?”


The mayor, paid a whopping fifty bucks a week for his part-time position, is not in his office every day. Constituents demand of us to know his whereabouts and when he will be in. We don’t know but we’ll certainly leave a message for him. They want to know when he’ll get the message. Well, I guess that depends on when he’s next in the office. And . . . we don’t know.

Listen. I try to keep a positive attitude. My years of waitressing provided me with skills to remain outwardly patient and pleasant and soft-voiced to all these hoo-hahs.

But I gotta tell you: When browsing through blogs and answering comments, I see “Big Brother tells us when to go to the bathroom these days!” I want to respond, “If that’s the case, maybe it’s because you wouldn’t know when to do it!”

I’ll just put this soap box back in the closet now.

Thanks for dropping by and, hey! Have a nice day!