February 2009

Waiting for the puck to drop

J and I joke about the number of face-off shots we each take at any given hockey game. After a penalty call or other stoppage in play, the face-off offers one still moment when players from both teams line up, face-to-face, waiting for the linesman to drop the puck. It’s a easy photographic shot because the players and linesman are all standing still. As soon as the puck drops, though, players scatter like quicksilver on ice as one team gains possession of the puck and the other team switches into defensive mode.


As easy as face-offs might be to shoot in theory, I tend to snap my shutter too early or too late. If you shoot a face-off too early, some players won’t be in position or the linesman will be standing, not yet crouching with the puck at ready. If you shoot a face-off too late, the players have already darted off and you’re left with an image of empty ice where neatly aligned players used to be. The magical moment in a face-off is that split second after the linesman drops the puck and before it actually touches the ice. A puck in mid-drop is the ultimate freeze-frame: the illusion of time standing still.


This weekend I find myself wishing life had a shutter-button you could snap to stop the drop of time’s puck in mid-air: a face-off, frozen. This week marks the end of one online teaching term and the immediate start of another, and I’m juggling end-term grading with the midterm paper-crunch from my face-to-face classes. When life gets busy, I find myself wishing I could hone my reflexes to freeze life at one still moment were I could squeeze more productive hours out of any given day: right here, right now, stop! Instead, time skates by like a lightning blur, never stopping for any linesman’s whistle. Life moves at the speed of quicksilver on ice, and only the eagle-eyed can spot the split-seconds of tranquility in its smooth passing.

Click here for the complete set of photos from last weekend’s hockey match-up between Boston College and the University of New Hampshire. It tells you something about the speed of life these days that I’m only now getting around to blogging photos from last weekend.

Bunny the cat

Now that I have a digital camera that takes decent indoor shots, I can post more images of gratuitous cuteness, this one courtesy of Bunny the cat. Enjoy!


Given my geographically bipolar existence, I have not one but two morning routines: one for my weekdays in New Hampshire, and the other for my weekends in Massachusetts. The one thing that both of my routines have in common, though, is the paired ritual of walking and writing.

Buddha with roses

During my weekdays in Keene, I go to bed around 11:00 and wake around 5:00: a hold-over from my early-rising Zen Center days. On a good day in Keene, I do bows and then meditate first thing upon awakening; on busy days, I might tend to last-minute teaching tasks instead. When I meditate in Keene, my mat and cushion face a drafty window, so I sit with a folded blanket on my lap, both my legs and my mudra warm under the cover of fleece. After sitting, I get dressed, having bathed the night before; after dressing, I take Reggie for a walk. Only after walking do I settle to the business of breakfast: plain Jane oatmeal followed by morning pages at my kitchen table.

I call them “morning pages” even though they don’t follow Julia Cameron’s insistence that one’s journal pages be written first thing in the morning. Although I typically write my morning pages early, on busy days I might not get around to writing them until evening, and I almost never write them first thing. How exactly does Julia Cameron expect me to write, I wonder, on mornings when I haven’t yet walked? And so with all due respect to Julia Cameron, I’ve settled into my own morning routine: first I Wake, then I Walk, then I Write. JC and her disciples are free to practice in their own way, and I’ve settled upon mine.

Madonna with blinds

During my long weekends in Massachusetts, my morning routine is significantly different, but both the walking and the writing remain the same. In Newton, J and I keep west coast hours by going to bed around midnight and waking up at 9:00. While J tends to the previous night’s dishes, I walk Reggie then return to my morning pages, written in bed with J’s yellow lab lounging beside me while Reggie snoozes on the floor. Only after I’ve filled anywhere between two and four Moleskine pages with random scribble do I turn on my laptop to check email, online classes, and blogs. During my long, homebody weekends in Massachusetts, I shower right before lunch, and after lunch I sit with the dogs, my Zen Center fastidiousness about the proper time and place for meditation replaced with the mundane practicality of life in the outside world.

What I find noteworthy here isn’t the fact that my morning routine in Keene differs so dramatically from my morning routine in Newton; instead, what interests me is the fact I’ve established an almost religious ritual in each place. Through trial and error, I’ve come to realize I live and die by my morning routine, and it doesn’t much matter if I’m following my Keene routine or my Newton one: either one works in its appropriate time and place. After years of grappling with my own morning woulds, I’ve boiled things down to the bare essentials: meditation whenever I can get it, and walking and writing before much anything else. Having begun the day with the things I need, I can move onto the things I’d like.

This is my several-days-late contribution to last week’s Photo Friday theme, Morning Routine. The roses in the second photo are my after-Valentine’s Day windfall: a bit of Buddha bounty.

Sleepy dog

Although this contribution to the Photo Friday theme “Pet” is more than a week overdue, I purposefully waited until I got my new camera (a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28) to shoot a flash-free, indoor shot of Reggie in his usual “snooze” mode. Who could refuse a face like that?

Reggie on railtrail

It sometimes happens that I spend an entire day speaking to no one other than the dog, and then only rarely: just the two of us, without words.

Too lovely to toss

“If you like roses,” the cashier at Trader Joe’s in West Newton said this afternoon as she lifted the last bag of groceries into my cart, “you can select a bouquet to take with you.” On the floor at the end of her counter was a brimming bucket of flowers, and there were similar buckets lining the aisle to the exit.

“Leftover roses from Valentine’s Day,” I asked, the answer being obvious. “Yes,” she replied, “but you shouldn’t look at them as leftovers.” She’s exactly right. These aren’t this weekend’s trash but lonely flowers in need of adoption. Not being particular, I grabbed the first bouquet my hands fell upon: a double-dozen long-stemmed roses that would have cost a pretty penny a few days ago.

On my way to my car, I saw several women exiting the store with their carefully selected bouquets cradled like babies: one carried a mixed nosegay of roses and tulips, and another carried a small handful of still-closed rosebuds. Each woman was smiling, as I suspect I was, at her unforeseen good fortune.

Pines with sky

Late last night, after J and I walked home from another Boston College hockey game and as I stood by the the backyard dog-pen waiting for Reggie to finish sniffing and peeing before we all turned in for the night, I heard a great horned owl hooting low and near in the fringe of tall pines separating J’s house from our neighbors: a sound deep and throaty, like the night’s own purr.

Tall pines

It’s not uncommon to see red-tailed hawks in Newton, so I shouldn’t have been surprised to hear their nocturnal counterpart. If there are enough squirrels in the Boston suburbs to feed red-tails, surely there are enough skunks, squirrels, and other edible things to feed great horned owls. But still, the sound of deep woods in one’s own backyard seems uncanny and odd: where is it, I wonder, that I’ve been living, and who’s been living alongside me, unseen? If I were superstitious, I’d wonder what sort of omen an owl offers when he calls late at night on Friday the 13th at a house with three black cats, but fortunately the naturalist in me triumphs over the triskaidekaphobe.

This morning, I could find no owls in the towering pines that fringe the dog-pen, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t (or haven’t been) there. Now that I know Reggie and I aren’t necessarily alone when I take him outside for one last sniff-and-pee before bed, I’ll be more aware of my surroundings, on alert for the things that go wooooooh in the night.

No parking

There’s always a Christmas-morning kind of thrill when I start a new Moleskine, the page under my pen feeling crisp and fresh. What pleasant excitement there is in the expansive possibilities of a fresh new notebook waiting to be filled! It’s like starting a new semester, where you have the possibility of doing good on past promises: a fresh chance, the opportunity of a do-over. Maybe this time won’t be a re-hash of past missteps: maybe this time you’ll get things right.

National Registry of Historic Places

I have a ritual for the start of a new Moleskine. I open and discard the cellophane wrap and take off the paper band, pressing sharp creases to preserve the folds left by the notebook’s edges. I put this paper band and the “history” pamphlet that comes with every new Moleskine into the back pocket. Then I sort through the stuff from the previous notebook’s pocket, taking out duplicate ticket stubs and the envelope of perpetual carry-overs I faithfully transfer from one notebook to the next: a calendar, leftover money from past trips to Canada and Ireland, and a handful of pictures of J and Reggie. I put these into the new notebook’s pocket, thereby initiating it. This is a kind of continuity, assuring that even a new notebook has some history behind it, like starting a new fire from embers of the previous.

Because I use my Moleskine pocket to store ticket stubs, I end up with a kind of scrapbook or time capsule of good times. When I sort through the old notebook’s pocket, I’m revisiting recent adventures: museum visits, sporting events, films. It’s a reminder of things I’ve done and places I’ve been, an implicit promise that these good times will continue in this new notebook’s “next chapter.”


If I didn’t have this way of keeping track of days–of literally keeping time–I’d have to invent one, but this method works (for me) as good as any. Now that I keep my daily to-do lists in my notebook, I have that additional kind of daily record–an account of how I spent my time. Although I hardly ever go back to revisit a truly old notebook, they’re all there on the shelf I want to dip into my own history: a silent record of days past.

I like keeping notebooks for their own sake, even if I don’t go back to “use” them. Like a time capsule, my notebooks exist as artifacts in the layered archaeology of my own life, each day piling atop its predecessor. Someday, perhaps, I’ll go back and be amazed at how I used to live my life; someday when I’m older, I think, even this record of mundane to-do’s and their accompanying dramas–these daily obsessions–will fascinate like windows into an age then forgotten. What was it like, I’ll wonder, to be a month over 40, in mid-winter, writing and alive? My notebooks (if nothing else) will remember and be able to tell.

I wrote these paragraphs in my journal this past Saturday on the occasion of filling my latest Moleskine. I always feel a surge of satisfaction when I’m able to turn the page from one notebook to another, and this particular page-turning marked a noteworthy milestone: the 20th Moleskine I’ve filled since I started using them in August, 2002.

Two teams, one anthem

As much as J and I have enjoyed the half dozen Boston Bruins games we’ve already attended this year, there’s something refreshing about watching a good college hockey team.


When we walked to Boston College for a men’s hockey game against Northeastern last year, I noted some of the differences between college and professional hockey. Boston College doesn’t serve beer at athletic events, so fans don’t come to get drunk. College referees strictly enforce rules against rough-housing, so fans don’t come to watch hockey fights. And although the BC pep band and mascot “Baldwin” are on hand to keep fans entertained, there are no Ice Girls. Fans at a college hockey game, in other words, are actually there to watch the game, which is a refreshing phenomenon in a town where championship-winning professional sports teams attract a lot of “bandwagon” fans who sit chatting or texting on their cell phones, clearly oblivious to the game.

Post-game congrats

They say there is no “I” in team, and lots of fans are fed up with professional athletes who lobby for higher salaries or pump themselves full of performance-enhancing drugs. Although some college athletes dream of making it to the big leagues, most realize their college degree, not their athletic ability, is their ticket to success. I wouldn’t root for professional teams if I thought all of their members were arrogant assholes; still, there’s something refreshingly sweet (if I dare use that word) about college sports. Before Friday night’s hockey game, all the members of both teams (not just the starters) lined in solemn rows for the national anthem; at the end of each period of play (not just at games’ end), players filed from the bench to fist-bump their goalie before heading to the locker room. At the conclusion of play, each team lined up to shake hands with their opponent: an official hat-tip to sportsmanship. There is no “I” in team, and even if you never make it to the majors, the lessons of teamwork and fair play will take you far in the game called “life.”

This is my belated contribution to last week’s Photo Friday theme, The Team. Click here for more pictures from Friday night’s Boston College men’s hockey game. Enjoy!

A spot of spring

It’s a red-letter day when you see green grass in February. Although most Newton yards are still covered in at least a foot of snow, on this morning’s 40-degree dogwalk I spotted one south-facing slope that sported a patch of bare earth like a tonsure.

The forecast calls for a return to freezing temperatures tonight and tomorrow, but even a spot of almost-spring renews flagging hope in the sandal-starved. Every year, we weather a brief spell of above-freezing bliss that stays just long enough to whet our seasonal ambitions and encourage colds in those who dress too hopefully. Once we’ve bared our boot-entombed ankles and stretched out our necks in long-sleeved T-shirts, the snow and cold will return to remind us that it’s not spring yet. Eventually, yes. Now, no.

Almost-spring is a perfect lesson in present mindedness. Tonight and tomorrow, today’s snow-melt will freeze, but right now, the air smells musty with mud and wet dog. Even our backyard Gorby is delighted to be bareheaded within his blanket of snow.


Next Page »