Back porch snow

Yesterday, in the aftermath of this week’s blizzard, I took a photograph of the earthenware jug sitting on our back porch. I’ve had this jug since I lived in Toledo, Ohio as a fresh college graduate. I bought it as a gift for my ex-husband before we were married in 1991, and it somehow survived all the moves and downsizings of an almost-thirteen-year marriage: from an apartment in Toledo to apartments in Malden and Beacon Hill, Massachusetts; from a room at the Cambridge Zen Center to a rented house in Randolph; and from a house in Hillsboro, New Hampshire to an apartment in Keene.

Morning light

Through all those moves with my ex-husband, we always kept the jug despite all the other things we jettisoned: unused wedding gifts, countless books and CDs, and almost an entire houseful of furniture. Through all these moves, we kept the jug—or, more accurately, I kept the jug, since I was invariably the one packing housewares, and I liked it. It’s a sturdy thing that doesn’t take up much space, and I would pack other, more fragile things inside it, wrapping the whole thing in a towel and wedging it in a box with our pots and pans.

This jug has never had a practical use in any home I’ve brought it to: I’ve never used it to hold milk, water, or comestibles of any kind. Instead, it’s a purely decorative thing, a container for dried flowers that always added a sense of settled décor—a homey touch—to any apartment or house I’ve displayed it in. I got to keep the jug in my divorce, as it was one of the things C left behind when he moved out, thereby underscoring a point I guess I already knew: the jug I’d bought for him was really mine all along. When I remarried and moved back to Massachusetts from New Hampshire, the jug necessarily came with me, an artifact from my past holding so many hopes and heartaches.

Fence with snowblower snow

I sometimes wonder about the maker of this jug, someone who formed it back in Ohio some twenty years ago. Could they have known when they held the wet clay in their hands how far this jug would travel once it was thrown and fired, or how many heartaches it would hold? When I bought this jug in a now-forgotten shop in Toledo, Ohio, could I have imagined how far I’d wander with it or how my journey would differ from what I’d originally envisioned? I bought this jug, after all, for a soul-mate I’ve since severed, and I ended up with it in the end: a jug I always liked, and one I ultimately bought for myself. Twenty-some years ago, I was still pliable clay, messy and malleable, but now I’ve hardened and settled into a place and shape I would have never predicted.

Snow on screened porch

The jug lives outside now, on our screened back porch, safe from the cats who knock over any tchotchkes we display inside. It still holds dried flowers and is mostly sheltered from the elements, except for occasional windblown rain or snow. This jug has proven to be a sturdy thing, withstanding a handful of moves between three states while witnessing countless life changes. Along the way, it’s become precious to me as only an ordinary object can: a simple piece of pottery that holds so much of my history. When the weather is mild, I sit beside it when I read or work outside, and year-round, I see it when I stop on the porch to put on or take off my shoes, which is several times a day. I don’t always notice the jug—it is, after all, an ordinary thing I’ve lived with my entire adult life—but when I do, I’m always glad to have a humble reminder of where I’ve been, from Ohio to Massachusetts to New Hampshire and back to Massachusetts again. This humble little jug has been with me, unassuming, through so many changes and upheavals, and it’s never cracked or broken. I wish I could say the same about myself.

No more boring graff

It’s still raining from yesterday and last night, although “rain” is perhaps too strong a word for this mist that falls without the sound of raindrops. You can see it in the air, and you can see it in the drops and rivulets that gather on impervious surfaces. But you can walk through it, like a cloud, without feeling you’re getting wet.

Two faces

It’s a metaphor often used in Zen that meditation practice is like walking through mountain mist: without realizing it, you get soaked clear through. And I guess that’s how things have been with my own Zen practice: as I do it, it doesn’t feel like it’s working, but all these years later, look at how wet I’ve become.

I think many things are like that: if you do something daily, you get better at it without really knowing it. As Ken Kessel JPSN once said, we become what we practice, or as Malcolm Gladwell writes, it takes 10,000 hours of doing something diligently to become proficient at it.

Wink

I know that over the years, I’ve probably spent 10,000 hours on my meditation mat, and as many hours (at least!) scribbling lines in cherished black notebooks. And I’ve probably spent the equivalent of 10,000 hours blogging, or snapping photos if you could somehow tally the total time it takes to snap, snap, snap day after day, taking bad shots along with the good and gradually learning how to sort one from the other.

It’s not a mystery, this method of doing something every day whether it seems to be working or not. It’s simply the wisdom of mountain mist: an imperceptible influence that cannot be denied.

This is a lightly edited version of this morning’s journal entry, illustrated with images from yesterday’s misty-morning walk down Modica Way in Central Square, Cambridge.

Table & chair

Not long after I’d questioned the merit of short picture-posts, real life pulled me away from my laptop, precluding even those. But this week’s Photo Friday theme, Shiny, is an excellent excuse to share this image of the shiny metallic tables and neon-bright chairs at the new neighborhood ice cream parlor, a place which provides tasty treats for the eyes as well as the tongue.

The Potluck

David Fichter’s murals look better on a sunny day…but it was raining when I arrived at the Cambridge Zen Center on Sunday morning, and I’m in the habit of taking a walk before sitting down to meditate. So despite the drizzle, I left my purse in the car and walked with just my camera and a raincoat: just me, the rain, and a neighborhood full of images.

The Potluck

In response to Rurality’s comment on yesterday’s post, today I’ve been sitting with a question: what is wrong with quick picture-posts? As a writer, I feel guilty when I post “just” a picture, yet I continue to stockpile more photos than I could ever blog, even if I posted “just” a picture a day. So what am I waiting for? Why am I saving images for a proverbial rainy day when I know the secret to successful blogging is simply showing up?

So here I sit on the evening of a sunny day sharing pictures from a rainy day. This is how Central Square, Cambridge looked on a wet Sunday morning, before I arrived at the Zen Center to meditate to the sound of raindrops. What better way to spend the morning of a rainy day?

If these rainy-day images of David Fichter’s “The Potluck” have left you hungry for more, you can revisit my sunny-day photos of “Sunday Afternoon on the Charles River,” another Fichter mural in Cambridge, MA. And if you still haven’t gotten your fill of photos, I’ve finally uploaded a photo-set from the May 3rd soccer match between the New England Revolution and the Houston Dynamo. Enjoy!

Lily of the valley

This past week I haven’t felt like taking the time to blog; instead, I’ve been doing other things. But I’ve still carried my camera with me everywhere I’ve gone, snapping photos here and there as I feel like it. These aren’t photos I took with some specific bloggable purpose in mind; they are simply photos I snapped because at the time, I saw something that struck my fancy.

Lily of the valley

Many of the photos I’ve snapped over the past week have been images of flowers: shooting pretty pictures of flowers in May is like shooting fish in a barrel. It occurs to me that snapping pictures of flowers for no good reason is a bit like gathering spring bouquets: you don’t do it because handfuls of flowers are “useful,” but because handfuls of flowers are lovely. The purpose of your gathering, in other words, is purely aesthetic: you see something, you admire it, and you want to keep the memory of that lovely, admired thing.

I’ve been itching, as I always do at the end an academic year, to get back to blogging “for real”: part of why I’ve stayed away this week is my desire to start writing longer, more meaningful entries again rather than simply slapping up quick picture-posts as I do at the end of a long semester. And yet, I haven’t found (or, more accurately, made) the time for such posting. So in the meantime, while I settle into whatever kind of bloggish stride makes sense for the summer, here is a bouquet of lovelies to admire. Sometimes you don’t have a real reason for gathering flowers; you simply do it “just because.”

Bloodroot

Suburban Newton is the last place I’d expect to see bloodroot blooming, but here it is, sprouting from the crevice between a residential stone wall and the city sidewalk. Has bloodroot bloomed perennially from any available nook since this too was forest? If so, its blood-red sap pulses more powerfully–and with greater persistence–than I’d ever imagined.

Looks like a lampshade?

“What’s a flower like you doing in a place like this,” I’ve wondered these past few days on my morning dog-walks. And yet, suburbia turns out to be wilder than I’d thought, a world of surprise fringing every inch of sidewalk. What is this never-before-seen flower sprouting from a garden I pass every weekend? What crazed creator dreams up flowers that look like lampshades, their innermost parts visible only if you put your camera on the ground and shoot upwards, blindly. Even something as tame as a domesticated crabapple is wilder than I thought, sprouting buds that look more like voracious aliens than anything I’d gladly stick my nose into.

Crabapples, eventually

It’s a jungle out there, and in spring you never know what sorts of oddities will show up in place like this.

Click here for a photo-set of images from yesterday’s dog-walk. Enjoy…and if anyone knows what the lampshade-like flower is, please enlighten me.

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If you’ve read the news, you know that Ethiopia’s Deriba Merga beat Kenya’s Daniel Rono to win the 2009 Boston Marathon earlier today. From where we sat, cheering, near the corner of Chestnut Street and Commonwealth Avenue in Newton, Merga was just starting to pull ahead of the competition.

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Having started before the men, the women front-runners passed our vantage place first, with first-place winner Salina Kosgei of Kenya preserving her strength near the rear of the pack while defending women’s champion and eventual second-place winner Dire Tune and third-place winner Kara Goucher of America enjoyed an early lead.

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Our vantage spot was about 18 miles into the 26-mile race, and before greeting the men and women runners, we’d already cheered a pack of wheelchair-competitors racing their way toward the uphill challenge that give Chestnut Hills its name.

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South African Ernst Van Dyk won the men’s wheelchair competition, and Japan’s Wakako Tsuchida won her third straight women’s wheelchair medal. These are the names you’ll hear in news reports as having “won” the marathon, and they certainly deserve the awe and admiration of spectating fans.

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From where we sat near the corner of Chestnut Street and Commonwealth Avenue in Newton, however, there were just as many cheers for the anonymous competitors far behind media-darlings who led the pack.

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Who, for example, could fail to cheer for the smiling faces on Team Noah, who pushed 30-year-old Noah Zack the entire marathon in order to raise money for special needs residential programs?

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Or how about Richard Whitehead, who proved once more why he is the Marathon Champ by running 26 miles on not one but two prosthetic legs.

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From where I sat near the corner of Chestnut Street and Commonwealth Avenue in Newton today, everyone who ran in today’s marathon is a winner, regardless of where they finished in the race.

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Click here for a photo-set of images from today’s Boston Marathon. Enjoy!

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