compassion

So when my brother and I were in high school, he at a boys’ school, I at a girls, we each had similar but different tastes in music. I went for some Rolling Stones, Doors, Led Zeppelin, both of us Grateful Dead and Allman Brothers, but he had some interests that appealed to me as well… Humble Pie, James Gang, Jethro Tull…

“Aqualung”

“Feeling alone, the army’s up the road, salvation a-la-mode and a cup of tea. Aqualung, my friend, don’t you start away uneasy. You poor old sot, you see, it’s only me…. “

We were not hard rockers at all but we did enjoy some of everything. Among of my favorite classical pieces were Dvorjak’s “New World Symphony”, or Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”.

About 20 years ago my dad made a gift to me one summer to study at Oxford University. This was a fascinating little town, not just for its ancient history but the people. Nowhere else have I ever felt more separated from a people who basically speak the same language.

Up early one Sunday morning I walked to a nearby pastry shop for some coffee. On my way there I passed a homeless gentleman swathed in tattered blankets against the lee wall of a brick building just wakening to the sun’s early rays. It was first of June, warmer now and I gently stepped around so as not to startle him.

I bought 2 coffees at the shop, and a small pastry for myself. I added a much larger “pasty”, something like a big kolache, and headed out.

Sitting fully upright now he was awake and I slowed as I neared him, he suspiciously eyeing me with puffy slits for eyes, a toothless mouth slightly agape.

I slowly bent down to hand him my offering.

“I cahn’t drink milk!” he exclaimed.

“It’s coffee,” I replied, softly.

He took the nourishment, tucking them protectively to himself and I wandered on.

Two days ago I stopped in to the grocery store for a couple of items, and added canned goods, some peanut butter for the food pantry box by the door. As I left the store a man on an electric cart rushed me. “Can you spare some change for a sick veteran?”

Surprised I lost the presence of mind to go back into the store and purchase him some food. No idea whether he was either a veteran or sick. He reeked of cigarettes and squinted at me with bleary, bloodshot eyes. So I pulled out a bill and before handing it to him launched into a lecture the likes of which I’d no idea where it came from:

” Ok,” I said, “you are going to set this on fire, aren’t you?” He looked thoroughly confused, shaking his head no as I forged on:

“You will burn this up  by using it to buy cigarettes! I worked hard for this and if I give it to you you’ll just burn it up, won’t you?!”

Still shaking his head he said, “Doctors told me I have 6 months to live, I can’t eat pork, I know I shouldn’t smoke… ” his voice wavered and broke as it faded in futility.

So at this point I’d no choice but to give him something. You see, he could be telling me anything but I engaged in this ridiculous argument with him probably because I knew I should do something and this wasn’t it, but what I needed to do –buy food for him– was not forthcoming. So I handed him the bill and said, “I love you.” After my scathing remarks it was all I could think of. He asked for a hug and I leaned over and carefully circled his frail shoulders asking God to bless him.

How does God bless someone who doesn’t know what that means? Or has so long forgotten kindness and comfort there is nothing left and hope’s ray has turned inward to a bleak heart?

So, my Aqualung, whether you are in Oxford, U.K. or the suburbs of my little coastal town, know you are loved if not by the likes of pitiful me then by the likes of a Power greater than this universe Who loves us all. I pray for the clarity that however I use His resources it is because of His love.

God Bless You.

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Aqualung, Jethro Tull. Island Studios, 1971

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Wind

Fall is pretty short-lived over here. Summer malingers squeezing the last bit of humidity into our lungs, then a brief spell of cool, drier days and pretty leaves.

The wind blew all night last night, and is still blowing. It’s warmer, spatterings of rain showers. So this signals the beginning of what we know as winter here in coastal NC. Not too cold, not very long, snowfalls that don’t stick around for more than a few hours, if that.

I love the wind. Whatever it blows in, or blows out. Maybe because my grandmother loved it. She would recite a poem by Christina Rosetti,

“Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you:
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.
“Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I:
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by.”
Here where I live we basically have 2 kinds of pine trees, longleaf and loblolly pines. You can tell the difference because the longleaf have 3 needles to each “bundle”, loblolly has usually 2. And longleaf cones are very large. Most pine cones are about 3 or 4 inches long, maybe (except pinions which are really small, or hemlock which are even smaller).
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longleaf cone, about 9 inches tall
My mom used to love these pinecones piled in a basket on the hearth at Christmas. Now you can buy them soaked in cinnamon oil which is lovely and fragrant, if you happen to love the smell of cinammon.
Birds have a harder time foraging in the winter so I will load up the pine cone leaves with peanut butter and roll it in birdseed. The birds really love this (so do squirrels, possums and raccoons so if you try this hang it from the branch of a tree or the bird feeder, preferably with a baffle). One winter when my brother and I were little our mom thought it would be fun to do this project only she used suet (beef fat). And it was fun, except we only did this that one year because our mom had a thing about touching raw meat or meat products of any kind and she could not get us to do much of the assembling of these cones.
It’s kind of amazing to look at these cones. When they are young and green, still in the tree they are closed up tight. Their seeds form above each leaf so when the cone ages the leaves will open and eventually drop the seeds. Squirrels, being the impatient creatures they are, won’t wait and will chew off the leaves to get to the seeds, leaving the skinny “cob” of the cone. If you look at the cone when it has opened you can see the spiral pattern of the leaves swirling up toward the top. Amazing to me what the Great Designer did when He decided to create the plants and trees, each of which has a property that can help heal in some way.
3When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
4what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?”
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Rosetti: The Golden Book of Poetry, 1947; Psalm 8:3,4

Autumn, finally

It’s been summer hot for so long fall colors completely surprised me this week. We went for our usual walk in the woods, rescue dogs Lily, Lulu and I. Foggy morning, but we came to the millpond…

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Eerily still, drops of mist plinking into the pond, no crickets, no birds, no frogs.

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Lily, always looking for something of interest

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Lulu quite ready to move us along

So still, as though waiting for something. The autumn, a flash of brightness, the days grow shorter with brilliant reds, yellows, orange to show for it in maples, sweetgum, dogwood, cypress. Lighting our way through the onset of the dimmer winter, such as it is here, before they fall, those leaves, to carpet the forest floor. Then sleep. Dying to rest, waking in a few brief weeks to bring newness of life again.

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Enshrouded like this almost ashamed they’ve lost their summer’s glory, giving way, saying goodbye to this year’s offering of shade, food, nesting homes, the grace of the air we breathe. Cleansing our atmosphere for us, now losing their power to begin the long sleep.

Yet still, life emerges, continues amid the preparation for rest….

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barely visible on the leafy ground a turtle looking for a safe spot to dig its winter haven.

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no, Lily, don’t think he needs our help.

Summer, 2017, signing off….

interludes

I have lived with daylight savings time all my life and have never gotten used to it. By the time it goes back to standard time I have simply learned to go from day to day with one less hours’ sleep.

I really don’t like it.

I can remember my father returning home Fridays after his week’s commute to New York setting his watch because the time was different there in summer. You’d have thought I’d have more interesting memories than watching my father set his watch, but I doted on him. Since he was gone every week he was the magic parent. He was not home enough to be ordinary so I’d carefully watch and listen to everything about him.

Except when I had ponies.

I never caught the tennis bug or the golf bug or the tanning bug. So summers, except when I had a good book to read or went to a friends’ house or a movie, weren’t too exciting. Oh, I loved the freedom like any kid. No school, no early mornings, I went barefoot and wore shorts and t-shirts every day. But the summers of the ponies were transportive.

I learned about these ponies from a neighborhood friend. Mr. Robinson had all these ponies and he rented them, if a family had an appropriate place to care for them, enough yard, a place for shelter. Our house where I grew up had a detached 2-car garage. We only used one side for a car, the other side housed the lawn mower and various other dusty items that kind of blended into the grey-brown of the inside of the garage. Next to that was an old but sturdy chicken coop, complete with surrounding small fence. It was fine, Mr. Robinson said. So he brought  my first rented pony named Claudia, a couple of bales of hay and a bridle. No saddle, just bareback.

I found some other neighborhood girls who rented ponies at the same time and we rode all over the place. These ponies weren’t shod so we were careful to keep them on the grass. This was true freedom.

So every summer for I guess 5 or 6 years one or two weeks I rented one of these ponies. I never met one I didn’t like, or more to the point, that did not like me. Ponies can be mean little creatures if they take a dislike to you. My brother came to the elementary school playground across from our house where we all mostly rode. It was about 4 acres of wide open space. He wanted to try riding, he said. I slid off and handed him the reins. He looked at me. So we walked the pony over to the concrete picnic tables where he could give himself a leg up. On he went. Something about this the pony did not like.

Off went the pony. Fast. And off went my brother, right in the dirt. I probably should have given him a few tips on how to ride but I figured he’d watched us enough and figured it out. He hadn’t, on top of which he’d had the wind knocked out of him. So I had to stop first and make sure he’d be ok.

The thing about ponies is when they start running if nobody’s riding they don’t stop. So having the assurance my brother would live and somehow not find a way to get Mom after me for his injuries, gritting my teeth I took off. Last I’d seen she rounded the side of the school to the front of the building. Right after that would be a street. Not a highly traveled one, but still.

I pumped around to the front of the school to find her there on the lawn, calmly grazing. So relieved I nearly cried, I slowly walked up so as not to spook her off again and gently picked up her reins. Crisis averted.

There were 4 or 5 of those ponies that were my favorites… Claudia was the first, Vera (she shared more than one summer with us), a little strawberry roan named Peaches… Peaches I got two weeks one year, for the price of one. Mr. Robinson liked the way we cared for those ponies, and she’d gained a little weight…

Fun times.

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