Lemon trees and sunshine

My former neighbors sold their place and headed back to California last year, refusing to take me with them. Maybe three’s a crowd, but I tried to explain that I’d be at the beach all the time anyway, or taking walks, or eating al fresco. They held firm. So I was left here amid yesterday’s two feet of snow and teeth-chattering temperatures dreading the shovel-out, which really takes all the fun out of having a snow day, you know? So I broke down and hired someone on Craigslist to shovel my driveway, and spent half the night wondering if he’d be like most posters on Craigslist: people who promise to meet you to buy that thing and then flake out. But he arrived this morning in a 4-wheel drive vehicle ready to work, and  while there was some guilt in watching every shovelful blow back in his face, there wasn’t enough to guilt me out of my pajamas to help. Instead, I am gorging on Scandal and about to watch multiple full-seasons of every show ever positively reviewed thanks to Santa’s gift of Google Chrome and my stunning ability to set it up, despite online comments rife with warning.

Then another neighbor came by with a gift; he and his wife had been out to visit my former neighbors who had fled to California.

“This is from her lemon tree,” he tells me, as I stare dumbfounded at the white piles of snow and these two perfect, plump little lemons.

“Her lemon tree?” I ask. “Her lemon tree?” It strikes me that I am not sounding very grateful.

When life gives you lemons, better to make hot chocolate.

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Yard sale finds

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A few weeks ago I bought a pine tree. Just a small one–an indoor Norfolk pine. Someone had bought the other one or I would have gone home with a pair. Just as well. My house is turning into a jungle. Better to collect plants now and stock up on oxygen before Boston goes all Beijing. Anyway, it’s doing well after transitioning from a pampered home where it was probably fed fancy fertilizer. Here, it just gets water. It seems to like looking out the window though.

pine tree

For the record, I went to this other house sale with the cool door back in August, but no one answered the knocking fox. I even tried the door, but it was big and heavy and stuck or locked. I bet they had good stuff. 

Cruisin’

My friend and I took a cruise last weekend. Not the kind of cruise that involves lido decks and midnight buffets, but a sweet glide through the pristine Essex River Marsh. The kind of cruise that would disappoint Captain Stubing and Gopher but that delighted two ocean-loving beachgoers. And while we enjoyed the green marsh against the blue sky, the occasional heron, and boat passengers waving as we went by, we were surprised to discover that the tiny pontoon boat had both a bathroom and a bar. Nice amenities for a long day at sea, but kind of odd for a ride that lasts an hour and a half.

While the bar might be a welcome treat for passengers, it is not when one passenger imbibes and then proceeds to talk so loudly as to drown out the riverboat guide who is giving a little history of the area. SOMEONE WHO TALKS THIS LOUDLY FOR THE ENTIRE CRUISE. I started to understand why some women weren’t offered a lifeboat when the Titanic went down.

As for the bathroom: really? A tiny port-a-potty on a boat was exactly that–the kind of place you’d only go if you were truly desperate. Apparently, 80% of the cruisers were truly desperate. I know because we sat by the bathroom. Astounded by the number of people with weak bladders, I was more astounded that the culprits were not the older folks you’d imagine might need a bathroom. They were antsy people and kids and bathroom lovers who I think used the facilities with a saloon-like door for the novelty of it. I was very, very close to making a public announcement about USING THE BATHROOM BEFORE YOU GET ON THE BOAT and REMEMBERING THAT THERE WILL BE A BATHROOM WHEN YOU GET OFF THE BOAT. But then I remembered that I’d be trapped on a little boat with angry people who might pee on me or toss me overboard, which, in retrospect, does not sound so bad; I might have enjoyed a leisurely sidestroke back to the dock with the soft chirping of birds and the gentle lapping of water on the shore.

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Essex

Thwarted by the weather, my friend and I gave up on our planned beach day and had fried haddock and clams by the Essex River marsh. This duck, thinking deep duck thoughts, took advantage of the muggy overcast day to contemplate his life. We stopped at a colorful, cluttered farm stand where the chatty Greek owner told us in great detail how to cook everything and chastised the women in front of us for never having tried heirloom tomatoes. Rookies.

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Landlocked sailing

I don’t like to brag, but I went out on my tricked-out luxury yacht last week and sailed around (and around) tiny Redd’s Pond in Marblehead until I realized it was not the open ocean. This guy in a rowboat was in my way, so I didn’t get very far. Also, a little boy was fishing and I was afraid he was gonna reel me in. Then I realized this was a race of model yachts and that my giant yacht could take out the whole fleet of toy yachts in seconds. I stood at the helm yelling “I will crush you!”

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Seaside

I think what you will take away from my day trip to Annisquam, Rockport and Gloucester is that the sky was very, very blue. Boats bobbed on the river and boys jumped off a bridge but only when I turned my head. Let this be your moment of tranquility before fall begins and you are tugged in different directions. Maybe you’re a student or teacher beginning a new chapter which will be unrelenting until the holidays. Or maybe you’re just someone sniffling softly at the waning of summer. I’ll keep this spot here for when you need a moment.
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Summer of sunsets

This is a summer of lavender and tangerine sunsets. Beach trips and warm water. Ice cream for dinner, two nights in a row. New flavors. Outdoor concerts. Long lunches al fresco. Waterfront walks. Farmers’ markets. Road trips. Heat waves and autumnal days. Ferry rides. Breakfast on the patio, under the umbrella. Gardening. Cookouts amid twinkly lights. Disc golf antics. Day trips. Musings at picnics. And an August with plenty more room for summer.

Sunset at home

Cape Cod sunset

Sunset at Bard

Peace and love

I head to Woodstock not as a pilgrimage (though Jimi Hendrix is playing on the local radio station and I wander through the village) but to see the animals of the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary. From the cat that greets me assertively at the gate to the steer that, allowed to be full grown, is imposing yet sweet, I fall in love with every creature. Miss Piggy jumped off a slaughterhouse truck in North Carolina. Ducks Brian and Kath were saved from a foie gras factory. Goats and sheep sidle up to visitors for petting or a snack as volunteers provide a tour packed with anecdotes about the animals–their personalities and history of abuse or escape–and info about factory farming and how to be a successful vegan.  If I didn’t live three hours from here, I would volunteer at the farm and muck out the barn just to be with the animals, whispering to them how glad I am that they found their way to a sanctuary.

sanctuary sign

Cat greeter at sanctuary

steer

steer hide

shaggy sheep

sheep face

toy farm animals in rice

grains of rice

Woodstock sign

Woodstock flea market

Ride a bike sign

In Hudson, I buy antlers

Hudson is a not-yet-comfortable mix of super high-end antique stores and families living in poverty on the next street over. A tough mix but a reality of so many towns converting their old buildings downtown to lofts and studios. It’s a destination for Manhattanites furnishing their summer homes and for me looking for a treasure under $50. The Red Chair, a beautifully curated shop of Belgian and French antiques and textiles, invites visitors to linger, but the prices reflect the time and energy it must have taken the owner to scout out treasures in the French countryside and lug them back to the States.  The street is one long stretch of colorful shops and cafes, and it feels like scouring a flea market with air-conditioned pockets; a view of the Hudson awaits at the end of the street.

The work of artist Lee Musselman graces numerous storefronts along the main street, many in the form of doll head figures the artist calls “spiritual guides.” The shops are showing support for an artist who celebrates found objects–a man now in failing health. One shop where Lee worked has two deep bins of his art scraps: antlers, bones, dolls, tin. I dig out a pair of antlers with a tuft of fur still attached and buy it; the money will go to his caregiver. I spend a moment thinking of this artist I’ve only just learned about and about the deer who shed its antlers, unaware that a piece of it might the next day become art.

Hudson shops

Lee Musselman art

Country mouse

My friends give me a hard time because I don’t have curtains on my windows. They’re just . . . too much. Yes, I suppose someone walking by could see me half-naked, but the chances are slim because I live across from a cemetery. I’m cool with ghosts checking me out. So when I arrive at my vacation rental and see a wall of windows, I am in heaven (ironically, where all the ghosts are). It’s like staying in the Philip Johnson Glass House. The only difference is that my house is not in the middle of the country so when it’s lights out on vacation, it’s the darkest darkness I’ve ever seen. Fireflies are welcome little flashlights.

As you might imagine, it’s also very quiet, aside from moths batting themselves against the windows and really, really big beetles that hurl themselves at the door so fiercely it sounds like someone is knocking. Which is a scary thought in the middle of the night. In the middle of nowhere.  Insect static aside, the quiet and stillness are welcome in a world filled with noise. And serendipity being what it is, I happen upon a fantastic podcast, On Being with Krista Tippett and the first episode I hear is an interview with Gordon Hempton, an acoustic ecologist trying to preserve the few remaining quiet places in the world. The man really listens. Also, is that not the coolest job? Anyway, he doesn’t define quiet as the absence of all noise, but the absence of man-made or non-natural noise. Even in the quiet woods there are leaves rustling and water dripping and birds singing. I hear it all this week.

Red Hook windows

House at night

The same view at night. And this is with an exterior light on.

Dark dirt road

 

The daylight trickles in, dampened by thick tree cover that keeps the house cool in the midst of a heat wave. Maple roams the house sniffing everything, while I appreciate the well-appointed house and its mid-century modern charm. I pretend that I live there, enjoying the Bose system and walk-in shower, and devour weeks of New York magazine. I’m stealing a lot of their ideas–an old hospital cart that holds toiletries, taxidermied animals that are not as creepy as they sound, and this fantastic suitcase idea:

Suitcase of books

I have a suitcase, books and magazines too. This will happen pronto.

Maple on washer

Maple finds it is coolest on the washer

Rural life

Why didn’t anyone tell me about the Hudson River Valley? What a beautiful, well-kept secret. Now that I’ve brought it to your attention, visitors by the millions will flock there–aside from Manhattanites who do seem to know about it, buying up old homes in towns along the river and renovating them into stylish weekend retreats. I rented a house in Red Hook for my birthday week, packed up the cat (no, into the crate) and headed west. A mere three hours later, we turned onto a dirt road with no street sign, signaled by a row of mailboxes on the main road, and bumped a slow mile to the end and where the house stood nestled in the deep woods. A deer welcomed us into the yard, then bounded away down to the creek flowing under an old trestle bridge. The place promised solitude and darkness and delivered both. The instructions said to bring a flashlight if arriving after dark; had I arrived in the dark, I probably wouldn’t have made it halfway down the road before turning around, terrified.

I took a leisurely drive (while it was still daylight, mind you) around the area dotted by farmland and thick with wildlife. Painted homemade signs announced farm stands or baby goats every few miles. Fresh farm breakfasts and pies abounded. Well, when in Rome.

Greig Farm

Gigi Market

Farm chickens

Deer in the backyard

Where the wild things are

On a perfect, sunny, dry, tick-filled day, I explored the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary, an Audubon property chock full of birds, birdwatchers, bridges, and beavers. You had to walk quietly and really look though. Animals weren’t exactly basking in the sun, craving human observation. They hid around every lone reed . . . standing tall, waving boldly–sorry, You’ve Got Mail diversion. It was easy to feel like John James Audubon himself, except that I’m not a male and I have close to no bird identification abilities. I’m good with sparrows, mockingbirds, crows, mourning doves, robins, nuthatches, and probably couldn’t mistake an eagle if one landed on me, but that’s about it. Thus, a duck:

Ducks in the reeds

Find the animal

Test your creature spotting skills: find and name the animal.

A volunteer at the visitor’s center told me late afternoon was not prime time for beavers that come out at dusk. But every time I lingered on a wooden bridge, a beaver came gliding by, darting into a narrow clearing in the weeds and heading for a dam, a virtual rush hour of beavers heading home. Turtles sunned themselves on logs, and herons stretched their wings in flight, casting enormous shadows. And just as I emerged from the path into a small section of woods at the end of the day, four deer crossed just in front of me, a meadow of sweet grass in view. I held my breath as they crossed; perhaps they held theirs too.

Beaver

Monet's bridge

Spiraling tree branches

Rookery

Garden club showdown

I like supporting local garden clubs rather than the giant Home Depot mass-produced plant department, and usually find a couple of interesting plants that I’ll manage to let wither in the sun by season’s end. I’m looking at you, lamium of cheerful yellow blooms.

I end up at the Driftwood Garden Club of Marblehead (say it with a heavy Down East accent, dahling) where plants are plentiful, artfully arranged, signs separate the annuals from the perennials, and hoards of helpful ladies who lunch are ready to answer questions about the best light and soil for the fanciest plants in Marblehead.

“I can’t believe they’re selling loosestrife,” a man tells me, clutching a bunch of pots. “It’s illegal because it’s invasive. Oh, this isn’t the illegal type,” he decides. I move away from him and the contagious plant.

Couples line cardboard boxes with their selections and $50, $60, $80 is exchanged. I have a heart-to-heart with myself (You’ll kill them. Don’t overdo it.) and buy some violets and the lamium, which a woman tells me nearly glows in the dark. I keep forgetting to venture out at night to see if it’s true.

On my way home, I stop at another plant sale in the more middle-class Salem. In a small church hallway, there’s a variety of greens–nothing in bloom yet–and admit it’s a bit of a sad scene after the fauna of the garden club in the neighboring town. I buy something because I feel bad, but for a dollar, it will probably outlive us all.

Also, these petite pink English daisies are now my favorite flower.

birdhouse and plants

Swans at rest

Because it’s spring and I work a block from the Boston Public Garden, I head over for a mini-retreat after lunch some days. When the swan boats are launched and the real swans return, it’s officially spring. No matter that scarves and gloves are still needed some days, it’s spring. Overnight it will be summer and kids on their last field trip before school ends will wonder why the swan boats aren’t air-conditioned.

Boston swan boats scene

swan boats

Literary collage workshop

I like me some good collage therapy–an art outlet disguised as life mapping or vision boards that allows for perusing beautiful images that I collect like a magpie for what I pretend is a work of art. But I rarely find the right images or collect too many disparate images, or don’t have time to arrange them all just so. But in a literary collage workshop at the MA Poetry Festival last weekend, I grabbed materials from trunks of colorful scraps, photographs, stamps, sheets of music, and lines from poems, and realized a sort of jungle theme had emerged organically: a bird, a bunch of bananas, trees.

Time was running out as it usually does when you’re knee-deep in art-making, but the pressure worked. With only five minutes before the next workshop would begin, I started slapping down images on a board in places that felt right, that all worked.

Instructors Missy-Marie Montgomery and Trish Crapo (check out her collages here) shared their own beautiful collage creations inspired by lines of poetry and encouraged us to layer both literally (materials) and figuratively (ideas and themes); one participant said she makes a drink and a collage every night; one young girl emerged with a masterpiece. I’m putting mine up on the wall and telling visitors it’s a rare work by a local artist.

jungle collage

 

collage with peach

In addition to pages ripped from books (shudder!), the artists brought some pages that had undergone a process using Citra Solv, a cleaning agent-turned-art material that blends the ink on a page to create colorful, abstract designs. You can read it about it on this artist’s blog.

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With a minute or two left, each workshop participant introduced their collage, and I had the sudden feeling that everyone had been secret collage prodigies. Still, I loved the workshop, the creative process, the artists let loose from their poet selves. I’m eyeing my books with a new sense of possibility.

collages on display

Musings

* At last, a genuine flip-flop day. Not a day masquerading as a flip-flop day (and working at a college, I can attest that students think every day in a flip-flop day until the snow bites their toes and they break down and break out the Uggs), but a bona fide sunny day that calls for the least amount of shoe you can wear.

* I lunched on pork buns from the Fugu food truck, plunked down in the park in Post Office Square, and dug into the buns and a book. The fact that the semester ended last week and that today was the perfect spring day, combined to form a dangerous vortex in which returning to work was, let’s say, a challenge.

Post Office Square

* Rational for today’s post-dinner snack: guacamole does not keep and those pork buns were small. I will finish off the tub with half a bag of tortilla chips.

* Tonight, even from the humble and not-particularly-beautiful parking lot of Target, the sun set stunned in shades of lilac. Just picture it.

Spring musings

* We’re on the cusp of that season when you come home to a stuffy house and realize I can open the windows and snow will not drift into the living room.  To say it’s a revelation is not to overstate the situation. Soon, the curtains billow in ecstasy and the cat rediscovers her window perch, and all is right with the world. Or, in this tiny corner.

* Walking through Beacon Hill this morning, I take a deep inhale of bread and think, even the toast smells better in this quaint, historic neighborhood. And then I realize that the aroma is coming from the Subway on the edge of the neighborhood where fresh bread is baking every day. So they say.

flowers

* Do you remember when May Day meant dancing around the maypole and homemade paper baskets filled with flowers left on your door? I miss that.

* A pigeon pecking at bread crumbs in the park tried to woo me with its iridescent green neck. I am a little beautiful, he says, and he is right.

Healing hearts

Today I took a walk because I could. Yesterday at this time I was at the finish line with some friends in the very spot that’s on the news, playing over and over again. We were cheering for our friend and her fiance as they approached the finish line. They finished side by side at 2:37. The first bomb went off at 2:50. Proud of her accomplishment, we were more grateful for her speed. Just one bathroom break or leg cramp later, we might have had a very different story to tell.

I may have been trying too hard to see something good on my walk today, but two hearts jumped out at me, lopsided as they are.

Lopsided heart rock

Tree bark heart