Massachusetts


Eeyore

Yesterday after months of secret angst, I turned fifty. Now that I’ve passed that venerable milestone, I realize what I had been dreading wasn’t being fifty by turning fifty. Among women of a certain age, there is a widespread expectation (spoken or implied) that you should Do Something Grand for milestone birthdays, and my usual low-key celebratory style felt completely inadequate, at least in my imagined build up to The Event.

You are enough

But now that the auspicious occasion is officially over, I can say I celebrated as I (if nobody else) saw fit. In the morning, I went to the Zen Center, left after one meditation session, then walked to Harvard Square, where I explored the old burying ground–there is nothing like visiting graves of the centuries-ago deceased to put your life in perspective–before stopping at Burdick’s, where I treated myself to half a slice of raspberry-chocolate cake and a small dark hot chocolate. And under the combined influence of meditation, a brisk walk, and high octane chocolate, I did something I love to do but hadn’t done in ages: I sat in a cafe and wrote, starting with nothing to say and eventually finding words to describe why turning fifty has been unsettling. I wrote my way, in other words, into my own sort of clarity.

Street salamander

This is how I’ve navigated the first fifty years of my life, so why wouldn’t it be an apt way to celebrate the commencement of the next? After that first decadent treat, the rest of the day unspooled like any other Sunday: J and I walked to lunch at our favorite Thai restaurant, where our waiter surprised us with ice cream, and then we played with the dogs in the yard in the afternoon, as we normally do.

It was a quiet and contemplative day–no grand trips or parties or eye-popping spectacles to advertise on social media–but it was a day with all the things I love: walking and meditating and time with J and the dogs. And it was a day, too, with not one but three deserts: Burdicks cake and hot chocolate in the morning, Thai ice cream at lunch, and a slice of chocolate peanut butter cake in the evening. It was a day, in other words, with an abundance of delights.

Pooh and Eeyore

At some point, I’ll blog the journal entry I wrote yesterday at Burdicks, but for now all that’s necessary is to note I had a quietly delightful day and couldn’t have wished for anything better. If the way you spend your birthday is the way you’ll spend the coming year, please sign me up for fifty more.

Meteorological terms

For Christmas, A (not her real initial) got me a weather observer’s notebook. A knows I love both nature and notebooks, so something that combines those two loves is a perfect present. And because I can’t let a blank notebook go unfilled, I’ve been trying since the New Year to write a short description of the weather after each day’s dog-walk, along with an account of birds I saw.

Kinds of clouds

Writing about the weather is nothing new for me: meteorological conditions are a frequent theme in both my blog and handwritten journal. Weather is, after all, both ephemeral and omnipresent, so if you have nothing to write about on a given day, you can always describe what’s going on outside. But having an entire, separate notebook devoted to The Weather is something new. It’s one thing to describe the quality of light falling upon your journal page and another to chronicle each day’s temperature and precipitation.

Snowflakes

So far this year, we’ve had weird weather: we’ve fluctuated between warm, cold, and wet without any snow (currently) on the ground. Today has alternated between rain and drizzle, the sky a monochrome shade of gray; earlier in the week, we had partly cloudy days that were glaring-bright with the harsh, low-angled light of winter. Tomorrow and Monday are supposed to be dry and partly cloudy; on Tuesday, we’re expecting either rain, snow, or both.

Writing the weather

I don’t know how long into the New Year I’ll remain faithful to this new habit of writing down the weather: once I’m back to teaching, I’ll have much less time to write, and even less time to maintain multiple notebooks. But for now, it’s been fun to chronicle each day’s meteorological mood swings, New England’s ever-changing weather inevitably giving me something to write about.

Millet

Yesterday J and I went to the Museum of Fine Arts to see an exhibit of French pastels. Pastels are a fragile medium: fine paper is vulnerable to light, and chalky pigments are prone to fading and smudging. For a short moment of time, these works were taken out of protective storage and displayed for all to see, and I appreciate the opportunity to admire them.

Cassatt

All works of art are handmade, but these pastel drawings seemed more immediate and tactile than paintings or sculptures. A brush stands between an artist and her paints, but pastels are held directly in an artist’s hand. The smudginess of pastels make them a perfect medium for landscape and portraiture, as they handily capture the fuzzy nuance of clouds, foliage, and skin tones. Looking at the blurred lines of these drawings, I could easily imagine the hands–indeed, the very fingers–that drew and blended them.

Mary Cassatt's pastel box

My favorite item in the exhibit wasn’t a drawing but an artifact: a well-used box of pastels formerly owned by Mary Cassatt. J is a long-time admirer of Cassatt, and before I knew him, he decorated his guest bathroom–now my bathroom–with prints of her paintings. You have to get your hands dirty to draw with pastels, so seeing tangible proof of the mess Cassatt made with her drawing supplies was thrilling, like seeing Virginia Woolf’s ink-stained hands in The Hours. Fine art can seem like an abstract or heady thing, but any individual artwork was created by a flesh-and-blood human. Mary Cassatt’s pastel box was a tangible reminder of the actual hands that drew her works.

Click here for more photos from the MFA’s French Pastels: Treasures from the Vault, which closes this weekend.

November carpet

When I walk in the woods, I spend a lot of time looking down. Maybe it’s because I’m short, maybe it’s because I spend the spring and summer months looking for wildflowers, or maybe it’s because I let my ears alert me to birds overhead. But in November, looking down makes sense, as many of the brilliant leaves up above have already fallen, leaving a thick, crunchy carpet underfoot.

Above

But even these days when the dog stops to paw and sniff, rooting through leaves for whatever treasures she smells underneath, I remind myself to look up, where the remaining leaves shimmer against a sunlit sky. Soon enough, all there will be above will be the veiny lines of bare branches. In November, I remind myself to remember the gleam of golden maple leaves before they fade away.

Honey locust

Maple leaf

Front yard

Once a year, usually in November, the Japanese maple in our front yard turns bright red. The leaves on this tree are reddish year-round, but once a year, J and I are reminded of the huge difference between merely “reddish” and truly “red.”

Maple and maple

Some years, it’s rainy or foggy when our Japanese maple ignites. But today, after days of drizzle, the sun showed up and the entire landscape gleamed. On bright November days, the sunlight doesn’t shine from any particular direction; instead, the air itself seems illuminated, as if the earth itself were a light bulb and each of us a glowing filament.

Bathroom view

This morning while I showered, there was a red glow on the bathroom wall from the maple outside, and when J and I walked to and from lunch, the streets and sidewalks glinted with the golden glow of Norway maples. Soon enough, these tree tapestries will be stripped bare, but for now, an afternoon when both the sun and the trees shine together is a red-letter day.

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