I’ve come to concur with my late friend, Peter Matthiessen’s dying observation about people (and he didn’t even live to see the current election) “We are a crazed species, destroying our habitat,” he said. And we must be crazy, to do the things we do. But here’s an interesting tidbit–our craziness could be genetic.
Recently, I watched a PBS show on Neanderthals. The Neanderthal species (whose DNA we all have, except for a tiny sliver of population in sub-Saharan Africa) were a peaceable, home-loving type, who kept to the turf they found most comfortable, eschewing adventurous exploration. A concurrent species–Homo sapiens–weren’t such homebodies. They were, well, wacky. They would set off to sea on some lashed-together log raft, with no land in sight, just to see if there was anything out there. That’s strange, destructive behavior for a species. But sometimes they got lucky, and there was something out there. The raft would lurch up on a foreign shore, and if it were a pleasant climate, generally someone else would be already living there and that someone may have been a Neanderthal. Birds and bees and DNA later…
As we all know, Homo sapiens survived and flourished in the new lands they had stumbled onto by being crazy and so the crazy gene was, like Darwin’s finches, replicated.
We haven’t got any habitat left, but we still have the crazy gene, and perhaps that’s what’s preventing (some of) us from being able to process the end game of our destructive behavior.
When Al Gore started talking about climate change forty or so years ago, I remember thinking, what are we even arguing about? It’s not like we hold any of the aces in this game. There’s nowhere else to live. There is no Planet B. But we’re still arguing.
The other evening, about cocktail hour, I sat on the chaise in the backyard of our house near the village, looking at the tree swallows wheeling and chittering high up in the sky. It reminded me of when I lived in the woods not too long ago, and I was comforted to see these birds here, too. What else have I seen, I asked myself? Ospreys and egrets, since the river is so close. Catbirds, wrens, bluebirds, cardinals, house finches.And bald eagles. I have heard thrushes on those soft mornings they love so much. Plenty, to feel like I’m still surrounded by nature.
Living here has advantages to living in the woods. There’s the Tour de Crumb Cake, for instance. This is when I ride my bike down the river road until I get to Not Ken’s Coffeehouse, where I buy two crumb cakes and one coffee (one of the crumb cakes is for Richie, of course.) I arrange them all in the bag on my D.E.B. bike (intelligently designed and made by Kris Henry for just such a purpose) and pedal until I get to an entrance nearly obscured by large hedges, where I turn and coast past the gravestones to a bench overlooking the water. Here I sit and eat my crumb cake and drink whatever coffee hasn’t spilled out, and I am soothed.
One day, I was disheartened and annoyed to see a small group of people at the overlook near the bench where I always sat. Grumpily, I biked to a different bench and munched the crumb cake, but it was not the same. Obviously other people had discovered the peace and beauty of this place, and now it would be ruined forever; it would be a destination. I cast baleful glances at the group as I munched, until small details pierced through my irritation. I felt sheepish.
It was a funeral.
And so, the cemetery remains a safe destination for rest and peace,
and not just for me.
I am starting on my blog again, posting monthly, and I’m going to do it without reconnecting with Facebook or Twitter. I’ll post them on both my WordPress blog site and my website and the inestimable Richie will put them on his vast social media empire, too. But please, if you like reading my posts, go ahead and press that little “follow” button in order to be notified of my new posts. I really appreciate it and as I do your interest and your support.
So this month’s post falls under the heading of buy my beautiful notecards why don’t you? It is, after all, the season for sending out little cards. Sure, I don’t have theme- specific ones, but you can use your imaginations. I’ve got pears and aren’t there partridges in pear trees for one holiday? I’ve sheep, lots of sheep, and that says to me Thanksgiving, hands-down.
The little landscapy ones can be used for all sorts of themes. I just can’t think of which, exactly, at this moment, but I’m sure you can.
And of course there’s the pigs and the horses. Now that I think of it, the pigs, although I think they are lovely, might be a tad insensitive for, say, Thanksgiving or Christmas or Hannukah. Okay, ixnay on the pigs for the holidays. But the horses would work. You know, “over the river and through the woods to grandmothers house we go, the horse knows the way…” etc. And that Robert Frost poem about stopping in the snowy woods and the pony does that little shake of the harness thing.
So go here and check them out. And thanks.
Buddy went to his first cyclocross race of the season in Rochester, in that lovely Olmstead designed park. Buddy is fond of children, the smaller the better, although I suspect he likes the babies in strollers primarily for the stuffed toys wedged in the stroller with them. He is gentle, though, as he roots out the toys and tugs them from their dark corners. Some babies think this is funny and gurgle with delight as they see their stuffed alligators or teddy bears making their way in Buddy’s careful mouth to the light of day; others become upset as they see their toys changing hands. They are probably future Republicans.
Buddy had satisfying exchanges with three sets of children that weekend. The first was a tiny infant being carried by its mother in a front-harness baby holder. I had Buddy in his own backpack, on my back. In case you haven’t seen it, Buddy sits in the pack with his head and one leg visible, looking like, as someone observed, “a cabby with his arm hanging out.” When the infant saw Buddy on my back, his neutral expression creased into a slow, serene, appreciative smile. Really, it was just like having a Buddhist monk smile at us.
The second was a group of three siblings. They asked (as most children do these days) if they could pet Buddy, who had trotted right up to them. He nestled himself into the center of the three as they crowded around, gently patting and exclaiming about how soft he was.
“I like how his mouth does this,” said the littlest boy and made a small moue.
“I wish we could have a dog. We might get one,” said the middle child, a small boy, with an Arab name.
“We won’t get one,” said his older sister, who had early adolescent pimples and braces but who seemed full of joy. She hadn’t said it to be mean, I could tell. There are disappointments in life, she seemed to know already, and there was no point in pretending otherwise. I really liked those kids.
The third encounter was a little four-or-five-year-old who marched up, and asked to pet Buddy.
“Sure,” I said. “He likes people who are little.”
As soon as I said that, I knew it was wrong and the child set me straight at once.
“I’m not little,” he said without rancor.
“I know,” I said. “I’m sorry, I don’t know why I said that.”
Facts restored, he proceeded to pet Buddy. “What’s his name?”
“Buddy,” I said.
He paused, his face wrinkled in puzzlement. “What’s his nickname?”
I cracked up. Because, really, he had a point.
“Little potato,” I said, and now the boy cracked up.
An hour or so later, Buddy and I were near the finish line and I heard a shrill, piping
voice behind us, getting louder, “His nickname is little potato.”
I looked around. The not-little kid was ushering a group of friends over.
“His nickname is little potato,” he informed them again, bending down to pet Buddy proprietarily.
Not a fan of the inauguration. Not a fan of whining, either. So here’s what I’ve done, to both help and help feel empowered.
I donated to three organizations that will most likely be negatively impacted by the incoming administration.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, for justice for minorities, the National Resources Defense Council, for the environment, and Planned Parenthood, for women’s rights.
Kindness is important.
Last night I read through that little gem, The Elements of Style. Updated, its core nonetheless remains as sound as a ninety-year-old yogi.
In today’s children and young adult books, there is a fixation on “voice.” “Voice” is what is most often referenced when agents are asked what they look for when reading a manuscript. “A fresh voice” they say, whatever that means. Based on the books I review, “a fresh voice” is often on par with the flat, loud volume of commercials or the exaggerated drama of reality shows. It exhausts the reader with its neediness.
Here, by calming contrast, is Strunk and White’s advice in the chapter titled “An Approach to Style.”
Place yourself in the background. Write in a way that draws the reader’s attention to the sense and substance of the writing, rather than to the mood and temper of the author.
If the writing is solid and good, the mood and temper of the writer will eventually be revealed and not at the expense of the work. Therefore, the first piece of advice is this: to achieve style, begin by affecting none—that is, place yourself in the background.
A careful and honest writer does not need to worry about style. As you become proficient in the use of language, your style will emerge, because you yourself will emerge, and when this happens you will find it increasingly easy to break through the barriers that separate you from other minds, other hearts—which is, of course, the purpose of writing, as well as its principal reward.
Fortunately, the act of composition, or creation, disciplines the mind; writing is one way to go about thinking, and the practice and habit of writing not only drain the mind but supply it, too.
I’ve taken myself off Facebook and twitter, not that hardly anyone would notice. Except of course, me, which was the point.
I have shut the door to the party. Once, when I was a teenager, my mother and I were driving into Hartford and we passed by the huge brick Aetna building, I said to her: “I would like to live there so that I could have a party in this part—“ I indicated the vast right-hand wing, “but my room would be here—“ I indicated the equally vast left hand-wing “so I could be alone.” Naturally, she looked at me oddly. But what I was trying to say was that I love people and I love doing things to make them happy, but I find them overwhelming.
So that’s that. Despite FB telling me that so-and-so really misses hearing from me (doubt it) I’m sticking to my decision. Fact is, I don’t miss the party. I do wonder slightly if I am like the ostrich, but then again, I do my bit in my own way, so I feel okay about that.
Interestingly, E.B. White felt the same way about the effect of television: “When I was a child,” he wrote in One Man’s Meat, his book of essays published in 1938, “people simply looked about them and were moderately happy. Nowadays they peer across the seven seas, bury themselves waist deep in tidings, and by and large what they see and hear makes them unutterably sad.”
I thought I’d tell you about how my life has changed since the election outcome. First, the good news for me, is that I’m white, albeit female so a certain part of my anatomy is apparently up for grabs, but at least I don’t have to worry about Neanderthal types yelling racial slurs or hitting me. So that’s good. But what’s bad is that I am stunned we humans are so tribal, so ignorant, and so full of base hatred for The Other. So I have to try to reconcile that.
But a very good thing has also happened, and it is that I feel united with the majority and I feel a sobering awareness to use my white privilege to stand up for the vulnerable. My sister-in-law told me, “My headscarf is ready if they start registering Muslims.” She is Jewish. But how wonderful to contemplate one hundred million people registering as Muslims in the United States.
There is a power in behaving with decency that is less obvious than the shock-value of barbaric outrageousness, but decency is the far stronger power, since it is based on values that enrich the soul, rather than corrode it.
“Against eternal injustice, man must assert justice, and to protest against the universe of grief, he must create happiness.” –Albert Camus
This morning I watched two squirrels go back and forth, back and forth, leaping from branch to branch with mouthfuls of leaves, dressing up their nest. Yesterday I walked with a friend along the winter beach; the sun sparkled against the dark water, the sandpipers clustered, the marsh hawk silently soaring and the colors of rust, yellow, purple blending into a song of November.
There is still beauty. We humans are love and hate, kindness and cruelty. But the natural world—the natural world just is. And there is a great peace in that.
…Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled–
to cast aside the weight of facts
and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world.
I want to believe I am looking
into the white fire of a great mystery.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing–
that the light is everything–that it is more than the sum
of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do.
Excerpted from The Ponds, by Mary Oliver
I thought it might be time for something beautiful.
In Blackwater Woods
Look, the trees
their own bodies
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
the long tapers
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders
of the ponds
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is
I have ever learned
in my lifetime
leads back to this: the trees
and the black river of loss
whose other side
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.