September 2005


Today’s Photo Friday theme is Darkness. Given I’m basically a diurnal photographer whose digicam takes disappointing nighttime shots, I have very few photos of darkness. Dipping deep into my photo archives, I settled upon this shot from last year’s Community Night: the night before October’s annual Pumpkin Festival when crews are still setting up the huge jack-o-lantern towers and only the locals are cruising the Friday night streets. If you compare this nighttime shot of the Pumpkin Festival with the daytime photos I’ve posted, you’ll see that the mood after dark is definitely different. The nocturnal scene is more primal and atavistic, as if Keene’s “community” were really a primitive tribe gathered around a pagan campfire.

In a word, I really should get out more. Downtown Keene after dark is a quaint scene, with white lights sparkling from Main Street trees and well-kept shop displays beckoning, beacon-like, from windows. Instead of cruising Keene’s darkened streets, though, I’m usually home in my cocoon, curled cavelike in my clean, well-lighted nest while darkness prowls outside alone.

Virginia creeper

Even the mightiest invasion starts with a handful of leaves intent on spreading. In May, this brick wall was a field of green (click here and scroll down to the sixth picture); now, it is an uneasy truce called between opposing forces, red and green, each contained within their own ranks. Although they are outnumbered for now, I have an inkling the Redleaves are going to win this war. As mortal as their Green fellows, the Reds have the habit of remaining just long enough to be proclaimed The Winner before succumbing to gravity’s pull.

    UPDATE: If you’d like to read the profile on me and my online teaching that was published in yesterday’s Keene Sentinel, you can find it (for the time being, at least) here. And if you’ve been following my ENG 202 students’ class blogs, you can find this week’s picks for Best of Blog here. Enjoy!

If you were basking in the slanting sun like this bullfrog at Goose Pond, yesterday afternoon was pleasantly warm, not hot. If you were a short-sleeve shirted, shivering dog-walker taking a photograph from the forest shade, though, you would have felt the nip of autumn in the air. Yesterday I wore full-length pants, a short-sleeved shirt, and a denim jacket when I walked to school in the morning, and when I returned to campus in the evening, I wore the same with both shoes and socks. Now that my sandal days are numbered, I cherish the usual summer sight of bullfrogs soaking in sunlight: presumably they too know in their bones that a long winter is this season’s Coming Attraction.

I wasn’t expecting to see bullfrogs or red efts on yesterday’s dog-walk at Goose Pond, but I’ve learned to accept anything. Dwelling as they do on the shaded, leaf-littered forest floor, red efts lead a slow-moving, chilly life, their cold-blooded bodies moving to the tempo of the temperature: slow when cold, fast when hot. I assume that red efts, like frogs, bury themselves in mud or burrow under submerged leaves before winter’s first hard freeze, but I don’t know for sure: they simply disappear with winter’s arrival and re-appear in the spring, old friends who hearken back to sunnier times. In the meantime, both frogs and efts are making the most of these in-between days, imbibing whatever food and sun they can find before settling down for winter’s long sleep.

I wasn’t looking for either frogs or efts as I walked the dog at Goose Pond yesterday; instead, I was looking for an acorn, a single acorn: just one small thing. I don’t know why I wanted to find a single acorn: this time of year, at least, the squirrels are seeking acorns in abundance. But in my scavenger’s mind I latched upon the thought–one small idea–that I’d like to photograph a single acorn prominently displayed by chance: not an acorn I’d set upon a pillow of moss, but an acorn that had fallen just so, like a found poem stumbled upon through serendipity.

And so here it is: one small thing sought after and granted, a tiny gift as perfect as Julian’s hazelnut. Soon enough some squirrel will find it, gathering it into a winter cache or gnawing its sweet hidden kernel right on the spot, ever-aware. But in the meantime, this one small thing lingers in my heart as a treasure placed purely for my enjoyment, a token from an ever-abundant Universe that every fall showers Small Things from the heavens while curious creatures (like squirrels and me) scamper and scavenge below.

I’m posting these pictures of my brand new pink Eeyore pajamas for two reasons. First, Pajama Weather has arrived here in southern New Hampshire. Although it isn’t yet cold enough for last winter’s flannel puppy pajamas, I am thinking of switching to flannel sheets, just as I did this time last year…and there’s nothing like a cute pair of mid-weight pajamas (and socks) to keep you warm on those in-between nights when flannel pjs are too much and a lightweight cotton sleepshirt is too little.

But more importantly, I’m posting these pajama pictures to prove a point: I don’t hate the color pink, and I’m not vehemently opposed to all instances of cutesy corporate marketing. Ever since I posted my mini-rant on those princess TVs I saw on sale in Ohio, I’ve been thinking about the slew of comments that post generated. Really, what was it that I found so alarming about those TVs? Am I more of a Raging Feminist than I let on? Am I violently opposed to all conventional gender roles, the color pink included? Am I opposed to the widespread marketing of cutesy kids’ stuff that will eventually end up littering the landscape with Disney detritus? Judging from my current taste in sleepwear, the answer to these questions is No, No, No.

Reading through the various comments on that post, I realized several things. First, something about pink princess televisions really hits a nerve with people. Whether you love them or hate them, you probably have something to say when pink TVs (and subsequent talk of socially conditioned gender roles) appear in bloggish conversation. Second, I don’t have a problem with all things pink or the girly-girls who love them. When I used to work at a toy store in Boston, I had no problem selling dolls and even pink frilly princess costumes to girls and their parents. If a girl wants to dress like a princess, I say more power to her: in fact, I’ve been known to covet a tiara myself on occasion.

I think the thing I found most alarming about those pink princess TVs was indeed the fact that they were TVs. Now, before you start zinging comments my way about me being an anti-TVite, I do own a TV; it just doesn’t work, serving solely to play DVDs. But whether or not I watch TV, I don’t think it is always necessarily evil…but I do question the need for a child to have their own television in their room. Whatever happened to watching TV with your parents or even (gasp) your brother? Whereas the thought of a family (or siblings) gathered around a TV evokes a warm, loving picture in my head, the thought of a Little Princess alone in her room watching a pile of Disney DVDs gives me pause. It’s bad enough that I have to watch my stack of Netflix DVDs all alone, just me and mopey ol’ Eeyore, through many a cold winter night. Tiaras or no, why would we wish such a lonely fate on our Littlest Princesses?

A good thing is soon snatched up

Take it from this Arrow Street antique dealer: good things might come to they who wait, but good things never last. In the used goods business, where one person’s trash is another person’s treasure, it’s best to grab your treasure while it’s hot.

Antiques

I personally think time is the most precious collectible around, being as it is both priceless and irreplaceable. One person’s waste of time is another person’s time well spent, and the older I get, the more quickly time gets snatched up. For all the time I’ve spent trying to save time, things have come out a wash: whether wasted or hoarded, seconds pass like so many beads of quicksilver, sparkling and ungraspable. The more you chase time, the faster it flows.

This morning dawned foggy but promised to be partly sunny, so I did something I’ve been meaning to do for months: I made the two hour drive down to Boston to attend the mid-morning long sitting at the Cambridge Zen Center. Yes, spending two and a half precious hours staring at a Dharma room floor might be most folks’ definition of Time Wasted, but in my mind it was (and always is) time well spent. When you consider the amount of time most of us spend rushing and worrying through our lives and through our days, spending an hour here and there simply stopping isn’t such a bad idea. For me, doing formal meditation practice at the Zen Center is one way of consciously slowing the pace of my life: a time to re-connect with body and breath in a setting purposely set aside for such practice.

Antiques

The other perk to practicing at the Cambridge Zen Center is, well, Cambridge. Once Sunday’s mid-morning practice session is over at 11:30, there’s still plenty of time to head down to Harvard Square and soak in the sensory overload that is the Big City. Traveling to Boston or Cambridge from humble little Keene is always a treat for the senses: in the course of an afternoon, I can see more colorful people and overhear more accents and languages than I could during a month or more here in New Hampshire. Moving from the intentional silence of the Zen Center, where even the rumble of passing trucks and the wail of city sirens don’t disturb the prevailing serenity, to the hubbub of Harvard Square is like jumping from the refrigerator straight into the fire. During walking meditation in the Zen Center’s Dharma room, I meticulously heeded the angle and arch of every step. Walking among the huddled masses in Harvard Square, I had to keep on my toes to avoid getting run over by the teeming throngs.

Since the afternoon was overcast and I was more intent on watching and listening than I was on shutter-bugging, I didn’t take many pictures. However, one particular diptych says something about the dizzying array of options that greet you when you come down from the hills of New Hampshire to hit the streets of the Big City. No sooner had I left the tranquility of the Zen Center and then “pahked my cah neah Hahvahd Yahd,” I was bombarded by this pair of signs: the first promising sex from one side of the street…

Sex Every Night!

…and the second asserting from the other side of the street the unreliability of earthly pleasures.

Unreality

I’ll leave it to you to decide who wins the debate between Carrie Bradshaw and Mary Baker Eddy. As for me, I later discovered that I probably had wasted the morning meditating, since it would have been much easier for me to have bought Peace of Mind from a gumball machine rather than trying to earn it on a meditation mat and cushion.

Peace of Mind

Forget about Sex Every Night…it’s Peace of Mind that’s a precious commodity in Cambridge these days: get it while it’s hot.

It appears my dear, sweet dog has a substance abuse problem. His name is Reggie, and he’s addicted to Indian Tobacco.

Okay, “addicted” might be too extreme a term. But I’ve never seen Reg tear into a cluster of plants–and refuse to budge from said cluster of plants–like he did with this bunch of Indian Tobacco (Lobelia inflata) we saw while hiking the Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway to Eliza Adams Gorge this morning.

Reggie isn’t typically a lover of greens. Like any dog, he’ll eat grass or selected herbs when his stomach is upset, the foliage either calming his stomach or having the opposite effect, causing him to vomit whatever nasty thing is causing the trouble to begin with. When he does “graze,” he’s surprisingly dainty, nibbling off tiny bits of greenery with his tiny, barely bared incisors: “Look Ma, no fangs!”

There are some herbs, though, that Reggie simply loves. Whenever we happen upon a bunch of Common Cinquefoil (Potentilla simplex), Reg will stop and consume leaflet after leaflet, choosing the most tender or sweet-smelling and leaving the rest for the next, less-choosy dog. In the case of Indian Tobacco, though, Reggie’s manners go out the window: as I crouched to photograph the above-pictured cluster of blue-flowering stems, I could hear the lip-smacking sound of Reg wolfing down a bunch right behind me. Although I’ve never eaten Indian Tobacco, knowing it as a powerful herb used in some cases to treat respiratory problems and in others to induce vomiting, Reggie insists it’s damn good stuff.

While Reg was enjoying his impromptu woodland repast, I found nourishment of another sort. While my dog stopped to smell, er, eat the flowers, I spent some time poking around the trailsides admiring the still-green ferns and gradually changing foliage. As Reg has grown older and slower over the years, I’ve learned to adopt my pace to his, stopping to explore and take pictures while he sniffs, pees, and ingests the occasional bouquet of wildflowers. It seems silly to rush Reg when the whole purpose of going hiking off-leash is to enjoy the outdoors without worrying about schedule, destination, or the time it takes to get there and back. On beautiful day like today, you’re only concerned with going while the going’s good.

After I’d taken my fill of fern photos, I coaxed Reggie from his Indian Tobacco fix and we made good progress down the trail…until, at least, I stopped to write in the trail register at the turn-off to Spiltoir Campsite, where Reg raced ahead, suddenly in a pup-like hurry to go swimming at his usual spot at Howe Reservoir. When I started walking again, Reg was no where to be found…until I crested an upswell and found him standing in the middle of the path ahead, facing me with alert ears and an expectant expression: “You coming, Ma?” Stopping to smell, er, eat the flowers is fine and good…until you come to your favorite swimming hole. Then you throw caution to the wind and charge on ahead without Ma, knowing she’ll catch up in good time when she’s done with her own poking and sniffing.

Although this photo isn’t exactly appropriate for today’s Photo Friday theme of Burn, it does capture the state of southern New Hampshire foliage these days: still mostly green, but with an occasional glimmer of the eventual conflagration that is autumn in New England.

Every September I’ve lived in New England, I get a bit anxious right before the leaves turn: what if this year’s colors don’t live up to my year-long expectations? Autumn in New England has a high reputation to live up to, and the travails of northeastern winters make fall a bittersweet time, residents’ last chance to feast their eyes on natural color before winter’s gray descends. For some reason, right about now every year I worry that the leaves won’t turn vividly enough to satiate my craving for the spectacular: how would I be able to make it through the drabness of winter without one last dose of richly saturated color?

But while some autumns are less stunning than others, every year the leaves do something before they fall, and every year (at least so far) Mother Nature’s striptease has been enough both to titillate and satiate my senses. Still, the paranoid part of me had to check my blog archives to make sure this year’s fall colors are on schedule, and it seems they are: one year ago today I blogged the pumpkin pile outside the local Wal-Mart, and a little more than a year ago, I spent a weekend in Bar Harbor, Maine, where the leaves were just starting to turn.

So while I’m fretting about the passage of time and waiting for leaves to turn, let me send you on a quick trip around the blogosphere, where virtual leaves are turning in their own inevitable way.

Those of you who have been following my Expository Writing students’ blogs can find this week’s batch of the best here. Reading new-ish bloggers is a bit like watching leaves turn as you feel yourself waiting for the moment when Voice appears as a writer hits her or his Narrative Stride.

My good friend Ji Hyang Sunim has just begun a blog of her own. I’ve known Ji Hyang since my early days in New England, back when I first started practicing (and for a time living) at the Cambridge Zen Center. You might remember Ji Hyang from the picture I blogged when my Zen-friends Jen and Stella had their baby shower last summer, or you might remember the sand mandala that was constructed at Wellesley College by Tibetan nuns whose visit Ji Hyang Sunim organized. Long before folks here in the blogosphere called me Zen Mama, Ji Hyang tagged me the “Dharma Queen,” so it’s good to welcome an old friend into the blogosphere as she chronicles her journey as a Zen nun, freshly matriculated graduate student, Buddhist chaplain, and all-around Dharma Goddess.

And lastly, a bunch of bloggish friends of mine have begun “an experiment in online literary and artistic collaboration” called qarrtsiluni, a blog whose name comes from an Inuit word meaning “sitting together in the darkness, waiting for something to burst.” So far, inaugural posts by Beth, Dave, and Rachel have chronicled the pregnant pause that precedes political upheaval, spiritual awakening, and natural ripening. As the trees here in southern New Hampshire are on the brink of burning, it seems that many corners of the blogosphere are similarly waiting for something inevitably to burst.

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