WE AGE ALONG THE WAY

Being mindful of what’s right in front of us can always be a challenge. Here are 10 new items from my end.

~*~

  1. One definition of high summer for me: going to the beach for a swim at low tide and then stopping at the commercial fish distributor on the way home to pick out three lobsters followed by a stop at a farm a bit down the road for a dozen ears of corn picked just that morning. We’re soon feasting in the Smoking Garden, no problem making a mess. You know, the one-pot cooking thing for starters.
  2. Someone’s cell phone goes off during worship, insisting “Please say a command.” On the page of the open Bible next to me is an answer, “That your joy be complete” (Jesus, in the gospel of John). Who’s to argue? Not a bad command, is it?
  3. Falling walnuts hit the roof of our kitchen and sound like falling limbs or falling wooden boxes. Just where are our squirrels?
  4. The joys of a sharp black fountain pen, excising a draft to lace.
  5. There’s a restless in the core of our Seed. Usually, we try running from it. In silent worship, we stop to face it.
  6. As a writer, I’m an orphan. And yes, so is the Lone Ranger, once unmasked at the mirror.
  7. How deeply productivity is built into my psyche!
  8. Inspired by Richard Brown Lethem’s painting “Wink/Blue Table,” I like the idea of a poem or story being its own table rather than representing something else. Even as its own Table of Contents. (Where he’s a monkey, I’m a squirrel – rather than the hawk I’d envisioned.)
  9. “Closure victimizes thought” – Donald Revell on John Ashbery.
  10. Step on a nail in the garden. What a sore sole the next day! In contrast to sore soul.

~*~

They're everywhere.
They’re everywhere.

 

 

CELEBRATING ‘HIGH SUMMER’

I’ve long been fond of collage as an art form. These Tendrils continue the stream.

~*~

  1. Tomatoes are in! Real tomatoes! Nothing like the ones in the supermarket all year, no way! Julienne is our workhorse variety, small but firm and reliable from the beginning to the end of the season. We dry and freeze many of them to use well through winter. Even while raising a dozen or more varieties, we find New England’s susceptibility to blight has erased most of our favorite big heritage varieties from our rounds. Hurrah, though, for some of the hybrids. For the big juicy reds we’re relying on Bobcat, Brandywine, and Cherokee Purple. Any other suggestions?
  2. “High summer” is what I celebrate once the oppressive heat and humidity of July break, rather than bemoan the few weeks remaining. …
  3. How tasty/zesty the wild blueberries on Mount Major!
  4. Dog Days, indeed. Swimming at what I call Fort Lobster. The water, choppy with a rip. A short swim can be exhausting. I can see how panic would set in. Meanwhile, she sleeps on the warm pebbles of this beach. Back home, we grill steak and corn on the cob.
  5. I really do have to learn to play bocce. Or bocci, as I usually see it spelled around here.
  6. At yearly meeting and other big Quaker gatherings where we rent a college campus for a week, we use golf carts to ferry folks from dorms to dining hall to the auditorium or classrooms. Has me thinking of amusement parks with their kiddie-car courses. Especially the faces of the volunteer drivers reliving a highlight of their childhoods.
  7. Still, I wonder about those who publish a short story and are then approached by an agent. Especially considering how difficult short-story collections prove in the marketplace. Short fiction, remember, is a whole different beast than a novel.
  8. Wandering through galleries of maritime paintings, she became fascinated by the way waves are depicted. Turns out to be a good way to traverse the collection.
  9. Before her, I had no real conception of house repairs! All these things that need to be done! Is it really endless?
  10. One-pot meals can be classic. To wit: I boil a pot of water, add corn on the cob. Remove the corn, replace it with lobster in the same (now seasoned) boiling water. Serve with butter and lemon and beverage of choice. All yummy!

~*~

Wild yarrow betwen staghorn sumac.
Wild tansy between staghorn sumac. Here I’d thought it was yarrow.

TEN THINGS I LIKE ABOUT THE NEW HENRY LAW PARK PLAYGROUND

My favorite feature … the granite alewife.

Dover has long played second fiddle to neighboring Portsmouth, but that’s changing. Back in 2008, after being repeatedly rebuffed it its efforts to relocate in its own city, the Portsmouth Children’s Museum packed up, moved north into a larger site beside the Cocheco River in downtown Dover, and changed its name to the New Hampshire Children’s Museum. We offered them an old gym for a dollar a year – what a deal! And it’s been a popular draw ever since, putting the town on the map for many families throughout New England.

The museum sits at one end of Henry Law Park, a long lawn and esplanade following the curve of the tidal river. While the museum shares part of its building with the Dover Indoor Pool where I swim, for years the park has been rather nondescript. Then, a few years ago, a hurricane fence went up beside the pool’s parking lot, the old playground was ripped out, and designs for an innovative new playground were posted.

Some of that blueprint had to be modified – the stream meandering through it, for one, simply became too problematic. And the opening, set for summer of 2016, was delayed by a full year. But, oh my, it’s worth it.

Created in a collaboration of the museum and the city, what’s officially called the Dover Adventure Playground is a magnet for kids and their parents and grandparents from all over New Hampshire and neighboring Maine.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The playground on a rare uncrowded day in summer. Not the splash pad and hand pump.

Here are 10 of my favorite things about it:

  1. A gundalow: A kind of flat-bottom barge unique to our region, these boats hauled heavy-duty goods and products from town landings and over inland tidal flats, linking settlements to each other and the ocean. Each vessel had a large sail that could be dropped to pass under bridges, when needed. After new Coast Guard regulations prevented the existing replica from continuing to offer tours on Portsmouth Harbor, Dover officials snapped up the opportunity to bring it to town. After being stored forlornly for several years in the weeds of the public works parking lot, it now sits up in full display at one end of the playground, where children can run along its deck, climb over its cabin, and, best of all, man the wheel. Visually, it defines the playground from the rest of the park.
  2. A big green tower: The vertical centerpiece of our new playground pays homage to the city’s 76-foot-tall observation tower atop Garrison Hill, a Dover landmark that presents great views in all directions – including the White Mountains to the north. Now the kids have one of their own – it’s the right color and shape, but it’s shorter and safer, with places where they can slide down poles or take other routes beside the stairs.
  3. Two hand pumps for water: I remember having to use these to get drinking water when we went camping or visited our cousins at the farm. The ones in the park, though, are proportioned for kids – shorter handles, for one thing – and they’re intended as a source for water that flows into hollowed-out logs used as troughs for playing before flowing on to the ground. Go ahead, get as wet as you want.
  4. The magnificent splash pad: When it comes to playing in water, though, nothing beats this. It looks like nothing more than a cement circle until someone presses the button on a stand at its edge. And then? Hard to predict exactly where or when, but jets of water will start dancing. Maybe one spray over here, and then another over there. Maybe all of them all over the place. Sometimes they’re big and tall, and sometimes, short. And then? Everyone’s surprised when they stop.
  5. Chimes and drums: Kids like to make noise, and here’s one place they’re encouraged. As a musician friend remarked, all of the notes harmonized. You can’t hit a wrong note. And they send such beautiful sounds wafting over the entire playground.
  6. An innovative swing set: Forget the old ones. This set has a few of those plus one that allows a little one (perhaps a baby, if you wish) to sit facing a larger person seated below. Another one has something resembling a living room chair, which is good for people with physical challenges. And two swings don’t have seats at all – they’re like big drumheads, where kids can sprawl out, if they like – and these are especially popular.
  7. A giant granite fish: Personally, my favorite touch. Seems the city had a big block of granite and a local sculptor said if you give it to me I’ll carve something for the park – and that’s how we got this alewife, a much larger version of the little fish that migrate up the river in vast numbers every spring. I love the eye and smile, especially.
  8. The serpentine brick walkways and related landscaping: Simply nice design.
  9. The 18-foot-tall brushed stainless-steel humpback whale tail sculpture that’s going to be erected on the roof of the indoor pool. Somehow, I love the sense of humor here … I just wish we can come up with the rest of the whale inside, somehow. A mural maybe, as the aquatics director suggests?
  10. And, yes, Portsmouth has nothing like this. Nothing at all. In fact, Dover’s becoming the family-friendly alternative in the seacoast region.
Anyone else want to climb the green tower?

ALL OVER AGAIN. OUT OF NOWHERE

Why wait for the dust to settle? Here are 10 bullets from my end.

~*~

  1. A bit of gardening before Meeting for Worship. A round of picking raspberries, peas, string beans. Blueberries and currants are next to ripen.
  2. One foot in the present, the other in the past. Not just a pattern for dreams. It’s intrinsic to the process of writing. Add to that smells, sounds, touch, taste.
  3. I love the concept of the Commonplace Book – a kind of scrapbook of observations of a personal journey. It’s related to the tradition I discovered in whaling ship logs.
  4. The logbooks, by the way, had a specific form, which by 1840 came in printed versions with columns H, W, K – hour, wind, knots – plus course and comments like “lost sight of land” or notations of birds seen. Across the bottom of each page are other notes, such as latitude and longitude or the distance traveled in a day, where I saw up to 140 miles recorded. Turns out the entries also helped determine or justify extra rations for the crew and so on, depending on the conditions. Wonder how that format would work as a personal journal.
  5. What do we make of rounds of thunderstorms, interrupted by bursts of sunlight, knowing more weeds and garden slugs are on the way?
  6. The Portsmouth Greek Festival differs from ours in Dover. Their event has two food lines, rather than one, and an outdoor tent for dancing. It all takes place behind the church, rather than miles away. I’m surprised how little interaction there is between the two Orthodox congregations.
  7. Been meditating for 66 years now, one way or another upholding the spiritual discipline. More than half of that time has been as a member of Dover Friends, worshiping in our 1768 Quaker meetinghouse. Some of the members have been there the whole time with me. (How could that be? Already!)
  8. I’m not a big fan of comparative religion, looking for commonalities and similarities. I’m more interested in vital differences and nuance. How far this is from what I’d envisioned, back when I was largely agnostic.
  9. In a very fragile condition, a snake having just shed its skin.
  10. What was the biggest mistake in my life? (Or in yours?)

~*~

Doesn't everyone have a stone wall for the pots?
Doesn’t everyone have a stone wall for the pots?

A BIT OF SWEAT, EVEN IN THE SHADE

The mind dances here and there, rarely in a linear fashion. So what’s on my mind these days? How about counting on these fingers?

~*~

  1. Picking peas and raspberries. Then mow the lawn.
  2. The Hour of Visitation: that moment you have to decide. Accept Jesus. Agree to marry. Call the sale. Or it typically slips away. The door closes, sometimes ever so silently. Reopening it may be far more difficult.
  3. On the street, a fat porcupine pondering his shadow.
  4. How many strange events transpire unseen? A sense lingers after a chance observation, a moment of revelation suggesting a much vaster possibility of reality at hand.
  5. My goal is no longer to collect but to cull. I’ve been decollecting as much as I can, one sweep at a time. Recordings, books, notes, clothing … amazing to revisit so much that’s already here! Trail markers from a long journey to now.
  6. She’s often thought I’d be more at home in an earlier era. Well, maybe if I had some wealth and privilege. There, I’ve said it. That edge that’s too often been lacking.
  7. Watching bridge construction in tidal waters, I’ve wondered what keeps the cranes from swaying in the daily rise and fall of the current. Spud Legs, I’m informed, are sunk into the river bottom for stability. What a funny term! As in potato? Naw, more like spud bar. However the name ever originated.
  8. Sometimes life’s a whirlwind. Just what do we do with the calm?
  9. Teaching or translating as their source of income. The world is bigger than that. And so should the literary horizons.
  10. Looking back on your life, can you point to any work you’re truly proud of? Or does even the best somehow fall short?

~*~

So typical of New England, these overlapping neighborhoods. This one's just over the river from us, in South Berwick, Maine.
So typical of New England, these overlapping neighborhoods. This one’s just over the river from us, in South Berwick, Maine.

TREADING WATER, TO CATCH UP ON ALL THE REST

Being mindful of what’s right in front of us can always be a challenge. Here are 10 new items from my end.

~*~

  1. Just as we settle in at the beach, two busloads of day-campers march in, all wearing Camp Wanna Iguana tee-shirts. (No serious writer can make this stuff up.)
  2. Hot, hazy, humid, lazy at last. Full leaf.
  3. Revisiting photos of trails in the high country of the Pacific Northwest, I almost smell a spicy edge in the air or taste that incredibly blue sky. All of this imprinted, somewhere in my soul. Those days we headed to the high country for relief from the sweltering valley. Now we head straight to the Atlantic, hopefully free of the day-campers.
  4. We wonder what’s happened to the couple who had the amazing garden a few blocks over. For years they both inspired and shamed us. But more recent years have shown far less effort. Could it just be too much for two? How much food do you need, anyway?
  5. The Cold River in North Sandwich, New Hampshire, passes through a rocky stretch known as the Kettles before turning into the Grotto under the highway bridge. It’s a most glorious place to swim. But beware, it can be very chilly and after a big storm upstream, the current can knock you off your feet, especially on slippery rocks.
  6. Vanilla Bang is a misreading, of course, of what looks like a fuse.
  7. An army must be clothed and fed as much as armed and fortified, and that’s where the trouble begins. Think of all those farmers, fishermen, and merchants.
  8. The kid never, ever, accepted the word No, not from anyone. She did – and does – what she wants.
  9. In too much of what I’m reading in literature, all the Manhattan or MFA settings. Well, even I do have one that takes place, in part, in New York City.
  10. Just what is a marriage, anyway?

~*~

Hey, it's summer!
Hey, it’s summer!

UNDER THE SIGN OF CANCER

Just a taste of what’s popping up. In case you were looking for a prompt.

~*~

  1. Hard to believe we’ve entered our 17th summer here. The garden’s looking gorgeous, even stunning, in its simplicity of blocks and clumps rather than straight, unbroken rows. Our soil is so much livelier than it was when we arrived. The house and barn have undergone many renovations, too – with much more remaining on the to-do list. That is to say, this bit of land has become home. I return to the old lesson from Boy Scouts – leave a campsite cleaner than you found it. And she even dares raise the possibility of moving?
  2. Asked when he knows a poem’s finished, Gary Snyder replies: “When I lose interest.” Or I might add, “Energy.” Just what is it in a text that energizes, anyway? Smolders. Seduces. Dances?
  3. The point of my writing fiction, essentially: I want to make sense of all this. Or even some corner.
  4. It’s so clear – so painfully, embarrassingly clear – I’ve needed permission to feel anything. All my emotions, being repressed, generate my mask!
  5. I’ve forgotten how to read an astrological chart. What are all these strange symbols?
  6. After recasting a novel, I recognize a pattern that requires two more sweeps of revision, even after a proof-read. One looks for repeated words that could be changed to synonyms. The other inserts slang and more color.
  7. Nothing like a rainfall to bring forth the dreaded garden slugs.
  8. My psychic color this decade? Barn red! Traditional New England barn red.
  9. You can’t expect a bolt from the blue. (There is a responsibility.)
  10. We need to get praying. Any way we find fitting.

~*~

A Purple Line doubledecker awaits departure.
An MBTA Purple Line double-decker awaits its call for departure.

Whenever possible, I love taking Amtrak’s Downeaster to North Station in Boston. Or the C&J bus to South Station. It beats finding parking — expensive parking — in the heart of the city. Alas, most of my forays wind up in the suburbs, where driving makes much more sense.

At South Station, Amrak connects to New York City and points south and west.
At South Station, Amtrak connects to New York City and points south and west.