Window shopping


Fresh flowers

Today J and I went to the Boston Public Market, a year-round, indoor market for local farmers, foodies, and artisans that recently opened at Haymarket, where farmers have been selling fish and produce for years. The outdoor stalls at Haymarket are loud and chaotic, and the indoor stands at the Boston Public Market are equally busy, with passersby browsing, tasting samples, and otherwise enjoying the ambiance.

Sweet Lydia's

Although J and I were technically “just looking,” we ended up buying chocolate bars from Taza Chocolate, candies from Sweet Lydia’s, and a jar of wildflower honey from the Boston Honey Company. J also bought a fieldstone coaster from American Stonecraft: now, whenever he sets a cup of tea on his desk, he’ll remember the story of how the stone beneath his mug was dug from a New Hampshire farm field, then cut and polished into a work of art.

American Stonecraft

It’s funny how knowing the story behind a stone, chocolate bar, or jar of honey makes that thing more valuable: instead of miraculously appearing at the grocery store, a square of Sweet Lydia’s maple bacon caramel was made by a real human being. Although we weren’t in the market for fresh flowers or locally brewed beer, J and I enjoyed browsing the Public Market’s embarrassment of local riches. A public market is a feast for the senses, regardless of how much you buy.

Layered

It’s been just over a week since we put Reggie to sleep, and I’ve noticed that the tears now come unbidden and unexpectedly, inevitably when I least expect them.

Mysterious

I can do the dishes most mornings now without looking out on the dog pen and weeping, after having spent so many mornings checking for Reggie outside before our morning walks, wondering over the previous night’s dishes how long we’d make it at his slow, unsteady pace before turning back for home. I can, most mornings, do yoga in Reggie’s favorite resting spot–a sun-soaked segment of hardwood floor that still feels like it’s “his”–without tears streaming down my face like the first few mornings. And I can meditate now in the spot where Reggie’s food and water bowls used to be–a spot that feels empty and open now, somehow perfect for meditation–without tears, just gratitude for another sunny morning with open windows and birdsong, and the memory of the countless times I’d meditated in my apartment in Keene with Reggie lying a few feet away, waiting for me to be done with sitting so we could get down to the business of walking.

Shady

The times I might expect to weep for Reggie, in other words, aren’t necessarily when the tears come. When I get home from campus on Tuesday and Thursday nights, for instance, I now know not to look for Reggie lying in the bedroom as I ascend the stairs to the second floor: I know to brace myself for his empty spot. But it’s those random moments when I’m not expecting to be broadsided by grief that catch me unprotected, like this morning when I was folding laundry and casually caught a reflected glimpse in the mirror of the Empty Spot where Reggie used to lie, or those moments in the middle of the night when I get up, half asleep, to go to the bathroom, taking care not to step on a dog who is no longer there.

Reflective

This morning I found myself suddenly weeping over a passage in Diane Ackerman’s A Slender Thread, which I’m still reading (slowly) after having first mentioned it here last December. Ackerman describes a visit to Walt Whitman’s birthplace in Long Island, which leads her to recount the familiar story of how Whitman volunteered as a nurse during the Civil War, providing companionship and comfort to injured and dying soldiers. It was Ackerman’s description of Whitman embracing one soldier while telling him that death is nothing to fear that drove me to tears, the image of one soul helping another go gentle into that good night ringing too close to home. How great a gift it is to provide companionship to the dying, and how great a mystery is dying itself?

Still the King

I’ve learned–I’m learning–to be gentle with myself during this tender and tenuous time, recognizing that just as Reggie’s final days were precious because I made a conscious effort to be mindful of every moment, so too do these days of grief deserve their own attention. I’m learning not to fight anything: not the tears, not the memories, not the moments of sadness, relief, or gratitude. Whatever arises, I try not to fight it; I try not to judge it; I try just to watch it, open-eyed and attentive. I tell myself not to miss even a moment of this experience, because this too has worth and value: an emotional legacy that cannot and should not be denied.

I’m learning to be gentle with myself…and having learned to be a little gentle, I continually learn how to be even more gentle, letting go, gradually, of how I think grief should be or how it ought to progress. If you cast aside even the notion of “process,” all you’re left with is this present moment, this present emotion, this present teardrop, none of which has an exact comparable, ever.

Purple finches

This year’s window displays at Creative Encounters in downtown Keene have a decidedly avian theme, with purple finches and a wise-looking owl taking the place of last year’s masks and mirrors. I shot these photos last week, when I was collecting end-term papers from my students at Keene State; now, those papers have been read and grades submitted, and all that’s left of Fall semester are two more batches of online papers to read before Tuesday’s final grade deadline: a spell of relatively Silent Nights.

Great horned owl

Although J and I don’t celebrate Christmas in any obvious way, quietly exchanging cards and enjoying whatever new gadgets and trinkets we’ve chosen for ourselves over the past month or so, Christmas Eve always seems particularly special and even sacred to me. Acutely aware that many find this night to be special, I find myself thinking of the quiet ones who feel left out of that companionable joy. Tonight, some children will lie antsy in their beds, eagerly anticipating the gifts Santa will bring; tonight, other children will shiver in slums and shelters, their parents wondering whether Santa will show up empty-handed, if at all. For many, Christmas is a particularly sweet time, but I’ve always found Christmas Eve to be a little bit sad, knowing that a holiday so many find joyous is particularly bittersweet to those who are in some way left out.

Christmas display

I recently started reading Diane Ackerman’s A Slender Thread, which describes her experience volunteering for a suicide prevention hotline. In the book’s opening pages, Ackerman speaks to human suffering, noting the way our lives are perpetually in transit:

Towns are like railroad stations, where at any moment hundreds of lives converge–people carrying small satchels of worry or disbelief, people racing down the slippery corridors of youth, people slowly dragging the steamer trunk of a trauma, people fresh from the suburbs of hope, people troubled by timetables, people keen to arrive, people whose minds are like small place settings, people whose aging faces are sundials, people desperate and alone who board a bullet train in the vastness of nothing and race hell-bent to the extremities of nowhere. In time, everyone meets everyone, either by repute or in person.

Purple finch

What better metaphor of the Christmas season than this? Into this world of coming and going, God himself set down his satchel, being born as a child of want. Into this world of human suffering, God himself took lodging among the lowly, walking among the sick, the outcast, and the demon-driven. On this night before Christmas–a night Christians see as being more holy than most–it comforts me to know that someone, somewhere, is sitting in front of a phone, invisible as God, ready to offer an empathetic ear to the lonely, lost, and distraught. What better vigil for a Silent Night in which both finches and owls fluff and hunker against the winter chill?

Coffee talk

Two women chat in a coffee shop, their conversational gestures warmer and more invigorating than any brewed beverage.

This is my Day Four submission to a river of stones, a month-long challenge to notice (and record) just one thing every day. I’ll be posting my “stones” both here and on Twitter, where submissions are tagged as #aros.

Care to join us at any time during the month of January? Click here for more information. Enjoy!

Christmas window display

Now that Thanksgiving is past and December is imminent, I’ve begun listening to Christmas music on my weekly drives between Massachusetts and New Hampshire. I have a handful of CDs I listen to during the Christmas season, including Sting’s “If On a Winter’s Night” and my friend Frank Wallace’s “Joy: Carols and Songs.” But the recording I listen to time and again during December is the Vince Guaraldi Trio’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

Christmas window display

When most folks my age remember the soundtrack to “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” the song they’re most likely to remember is “Linus and Lucy,” the upbeat jazz number that is the Peanuts’ theme song. “Linus and Lucy” is catchy and infectious, with a tempo that causes beagles to dance…but it’s not my favorite song on “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” The reason I play this particular CD so often during the month of December has nothing to do with dancing beagles but with a relatively downbeat song called “Christmas Time Is Here.”

There are two versions of “Christmas Time Is Here.” The vocal version features a choir of children singing slow but sweet lyrics:

Christmas time is here
Happiness and cheer
Fun for all that children call
Their favorite time of the year

Christmas window display

The instrumental version of the song, however, is the one I love…and what I love about it isn’t the fact that it’s sweet but the fact that it’s sad. Like all the Charlie Brown television specials, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” focuses on a lonely, loser kid; as I’ve said before, “As a ‘weird kid,’ I always related to Charlie Brown with his loser ways and ‘blockhead’ inferiority.” The instrumental version of “Christmas Time Is Here” captures the melancholy mood of being the one weird, lonely kid who sees Christmas as being a bittersweet time.

The instrumental version of “Christmas Time Is Here” sounds like a Christmas song, but it doesn’t sound like a children’s song. That’s what I like about most of the tunes on “A Charlie Brown Christmas”: they sound like songs grown-ups would listen to. To my ear, “Christmas Time Is Here” is the kind of song you’d listen to if you found yourself alone in a bar on Christmas Eve, a bartender and a stiff drink your only companions. “Christmas Time Is Here” acknowledges that the holidays are a sweet and happy time for most people…but it also admits that the holidays have a melancholy edge for folks who don’t have families, or are separated from their families, or are otherwise alone or outcast.

Christmas window display

What I don’t like about the Christmas songs that are played incessantly in shopping malls and on radio stations right about now is their forced frivolity. Yes, the holidays can be happy, but must they be? What about all the folks who aren’t happy over the holidays, or what about happy folks who occasionally like a break from general merriment?

Shopping mall Christmas songs always strike me as having an ulterior motive, as if they are designed to keep people manically happy, happy, happy so they’ll keep shopping, shopping, shopping. Songs like “Christmas Time Is Here,” on the other hand, allow room for bittersweet introspection. The song isn’t outright depressed or depressing, but it admits that grown-ups might face the holidays with mixed feelings as they remember with nostalgia their own childhoods and face the loneliness, disappointment, and other downbeat emotions that Christmas can inspire.

Christmas window display

I have nothing against dancing beagles, but this time of year more than ever, I find myself relating to the kind of kid whose best friends include that aforementioned beagle and a sensitive, blanket-toting philosopher. Charlie Brown is the kind of kid who chooses the puniest, most pathetic-looking twig for his Christmas tree just because it needs a home, and “Christmas Time Is Here” is the kind of song you’d listen to, stiff drink in hand, while you decorated that kind of tree.

Today’s photos come from the always-lovely Christmas displays at Creative Encounters in downtown Keene. Enjoy!

Blue Christmas

This year, it seems I’ve been remiss about showing you the November shop windows in downtown Keene. Exactly one year ago, I showed you the always spectacular Christmas display at Creative Encounters, an art-supply and frame shop on Main Street in downtown Keene where I’ve taken lots of pictures in the past. Earlier last November, I showed you the marvelous mannequins at Miranda’s Verandah, another of my favorite photo subjects.

True blue cookware

Whereas last year, Reggie and I regularly took two walks downtown–one in the morning and another in the evening–thereby giving me plenty of chance to window-shop, this year Reggie and I have been sticking closer to home. Now that Reggie is one year older and that much slower, we still take two dog-walks a day…but these slow-puttering, long-sniffing strolls usually center around our immediate neighborhood rather than venturing all the way downtown and back. When you walk at the speed of an old dog, you learn to measure your walks by depth rather than length.

Yesterday morning, however, Reggie and I walked all the way downtown and back, taking our time and making a point to check out the sights along the way. It was before sunrise, so Main Street’s illuminated shop windows were particularly eye-catching.

True blue Christmas tree

Since last year, several of the shops downtown have changed, or at least shifted. Cool Jewels has gone out of business, its colorful facade now fronting an empty store. Pocketful of Rye has moved to Main Street from its previous spot at the Colony Mill, as has Your Kitchen Store, which moved into the space left vacant when Cheshire Music moved to the Center at Keene. Walking downtown this November feels like a game of musical chairs, with familiar faces suddenly sitting in new places. Yesterday I was happy to discover that Your Kitchen Store features Christmas window displays that rival those of their neighbors, this year’s theme featuring stacks of blue bakeware and a blue-illumined Christmas tree decorated with shiny utensils and kitchen accessories: gift ideas for the chef who has almost everything.

Cleanliness by the bottle

Today’s Photo Friday theme is Cleanliness, so here is a shot of some of the cleaning supplies for sale at the local grocery store. It always amazes me to consider the wide range of brands, colors, and scents available for even the simplest cleaning task. Next to these various glass cleaners, for instance, the shelf of dishwashing liquid looked like a rainbow with bottled detergents in every conceivable hue and perfume. If Zen cleanliness is too bland for your tastes, you can always find a more exciting elixir for whatever dirty deed you face. The only cleaning product not for sale at the local grocery store is that old-fashioned standby, elbow grease.

Next Page »