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.

Win this Subaru

As a satisfied Subaru-owner, I always notice other Subarus on the street: it’s like recognizing fellow members of a fraternal organization through a secret handshake. This particular Subaru, parked along Main Street in Keene this afternoon, grabbed my eye, though, because of the decal on its back window: a Reggie look-alike!

Reggie lookalike!

Surely the designers of the vehicle decals advertising Subaru of Keene‘s current car giveaway were inspired by this photo of Reggie in the backseat of my own Subaru, for the resemblance between the decal-dog at left and the real thing is too striking for mere coincidence. Apparently Reggie has a twin, and that twin also is a fan of Subaru car-rides.

As much as I love my Subaru, Reggie might love it even more than I do, for he contentedly sprawls across the entire backseat whenever we drive anywhere, whether “anywhere” refers to our frequent commutes between Massachusetts and New Hampshire or our annual trips to Ohio and back. What dog wouldn’t love having the vehicular equivalent of a couch on wheels while Mom zips to and from any given adventure?

Big poppy

It’s a phenomenon I’ve noticed now that cell phones have become ubiquitous. Whereas people used to ask “How are you” as a way of starting a phone conversation, now people ask “Where are you?”

Poppy bud

It’s an interesting substitution. In the old days, you automatically knew where a person was when you called them on their land-line: they were at home, work, or wherever the phone was physically located. In a large house with several telephones, you might ask whether a person was in the living room rather than the bedroom or kitchen, but you knew they were somewhere in or around their house.

With cell phones, though, all bets are off. When you call someone on their cell, they might be in their house, at the office, in their car, at the grocery store, or even on the toilet. (I’m always horrified when I hear women answer their cell phones in the ladies’ room: do we really need to be “connected” at every waking moment, even when taking a break for the “business” of bathrooms?) When you call someone on their cell, you can’t even know for certain if they’re in the same region as you are: the first time my father tried to call me on my cell phone, he couldn’t understand why he had to dial my New Hampshire area code even though I was visiting Ohio at the time. In his mind, the “area code” of a phone was tied to its physical location, so the thought of calling a phone number in New Hampshire in order to talk to his daughter in Ohio was completely mind-boggling.

Big poppy

I wonder whether this recent tendency to ask someone where they are versus how they are is simply a cell-phone-inspired quirk, or does it point to something more profound? Is a person’s geographical location more important–somehow, more telling–than her or his physical or emotional state? Can we tell “how” a person is simply by determining “where” that person is?

This past weekend, I found myself among the junked cars and porn shops of my parents’ seedy Columbus, OH neighborhood: my home turf. Earlier this week, I returned to the green lawns and well-tended gardens of J’s upscale neighborhood in Newton, MA, and yesterday and today I snapped pictures of poppies in quiet Keene, NH. So, where am I and how am I now? I always experience a kind of culture shock when I return to New England from my parents’ neighborhood: there’s far more than 700 miles separating where I now live from where I used to live. I’ve written before about the sensation of being betwixt and between I feel whenever I move between the working class world where I was raised and the educated elite world where I currently live and teach. If we are defined in part by the places we’ve lived, what does it do to our individual sense of how and who we are to move between places?

Welcome Alumni

Originally, I had planned to attend a conference in Victoria, British Columbia this week, meaning I would have gone from Ohio to Massachusetts to Victoria in the space of several days. Considering how disorienting it is for me to travel from gangland Columbus, OH to the lush suburbs of Boston, I can only imagine how out of sorts–literally lost–I would have felt had I arrived in Massachusetts and then immediately hopped a plane to Victoria. Most of my friends and professional colleagues are far more traveled than I am: most of the compatriots I would have seen in Victoria are combining the conference with other west-coast travels. For a homebody like me, driving to and from Ohio–and then leaving Newton to venture up to Keene for a few days–is wandering enough. When I ask myself the coupled questions of where am I and how am I, I find my personal contentment is often rooted in my ability to say with certainty that I am right here now. The precise location of “here” might be arbitrary, but having arrived, I quickly settle and find myself loath to travel “there” from “here.”


Every spring, you’d think I’d never seen baby beech leaves before. Months of bare-branched winter will do that to you, so that in spring the merest glimpse of green drives you to ecstasy. There’s something simply magical about the fresh, furrowed, and furry leaves of spring as they unwind from their leaf scales: a summer of promise stretching toward its first light.


Yesterday afternoon, after springing from the containment of the classroom, I took Reggie walking along the Ashuelot River, where we both went wading. The first doggy dip of the season is always a milestone, and I had new sandals to baptize, wading up to my ankles as I tempted Reggie to muddy his toes. Reggie always seems timid the first time he goes wading in the spring, and I always forget how alien newly unfurled leaves look. We might credit both to “winter amnesia,” a seasonal disorder whereby those of us in colder climes forget almost entirely the pleasures of summers past.

Spring's first dip

But only almost. Once Reggie remembers that river-water is cool and refreshing, he doesn’t need additional urging, sniffing out the tried, familiar spots where the river bank slopes gently to sun-warmed shallows. In all the years we’ve gone wading together, I’ve never seen Reggie swim; instead, he’s content to wade to his belly, sniffing and lapping water as he walks, before clambering onto shore again, his underparts drenched and spectacularly bedraggled. Why do you need to swim, Reggie seems to say, when it feels so good just to wade?

Sessile bellwort

Yesterday’s walk and wade along the Ashuelot was short: I had (and have) a river-long to-do list, and the afternoon light was already slanting toward sunset. But the lesson of baby beech leaves is that even a small spot can provide ample room to unwind, the small space of a single leaf seeming expansive after the crowded clench of winter buds. This won’t be the last time Reggie and I will wade in the Ashuelot; you can, it seems, step into a similar river twice. We’ll be back, after and even while I ride the white-water of my river-long to-do list, an afternoon walk and wade offering a cool, refreshing respite for dog and dog-walker alike.

Click here for a photo-set of images from yesterday’s afternoon along the Ashuelot. The close-up shot of sessile bellwort shows the blooming “after” version of last week’s budding “before.” Enjoy!

Budding trillium

Although most of the ground atop Beech Hill is still brown with last year’s leaves, the buds of both wake-robin (Trillium erectum, also known as purple or red trillium) and sessile-leaved bellwort (Uvularia sessilifolia, also called wild oats) are thinking ahead. I know from past years that the wildflowers atop Beech Hill will be blooming by May Day, so yesterday I took a quick dog-walk up the hill and back to catch a sneak peek at spring in the making. Sure enough, I found buds amongst the brown: a foretaste of next week’s flowers.

Budding bellwort

This is my quick and dirty contribution to this week’s Photo Friday theme, Brown. Given that I wanted to blog these pictures anyway, I figured the fact that their background is brown qualified as ample excuse.

Almost, but not quite

I walked Reggie early this morning, in the respite between yesterday’s and this afternoon’s rain. The local lilacs are only thinking about blooming, their buds tightly closed against chilly mornings and soggy afternoons. Unlike the golden trove I enjoyed this past weekend in Newton, my neighbor’s sprawling forsythia hedge in Keene hasn’t bloomed yet, although its buds are steadily yellowing like a smoldering fire. Isn’t it funny that such a fiery flower will erupt from a world so wet?

The whole world in a drop of water


Flowers aren’t the only things to sprout in spring.

Bee on crocus

Being busy isn’t bad if what you’re doing is worthwhile. I snapped this photo on my way home from campus yesterday, after a full teaching day. “Full” is the word I prefer over “busy.” “Busy” suggests hectic commotion, and “full” suggests the satisfaction of having enough: the sense of accomplishment you feel at the end of a productive day, like a bee heavy with pollen flying home to its hive.

Three umbrellas

This afternoon one of my teaching colleagues remarked on the seemingly miraculous ability of our students to shed clothing at the slightest sight of sun. He’s right. The temperature when I dressed this morning was in the 30s, so I left my house in a fleece jacket, turtleneck, jeans, socks, and shoes whereas students in my afternoon classes arrived in T-shirts, shorts, and flip-flops.

Three umbrellas

Already, the campus quad has been claimed by Frisbee-throwers and at least one sunning student with a blanket, despite the still-soggy ground underfoot. Students just can’t wait, it seems, to enjoy sunny days lazing on the lawn, lumping their sun-worship and open-air naps under the category “studying.”

I can hardly blame them. Although I didn’t spend any time today lazing on the lawn, sunning myself, or napping in the fresh air, I was happily hurrying toward home when that colleague of mine remarked about our amazing, spontaneously shedding students. Home at last, I shed my coat, swapped shoes for sandals, and took Reggie for a long anticipated stroll in the afternoon sun. My student days are long over, but the sun is good for walking in any season, and spring shadows wait for no one.

Construction webbing shadow, with triangle

Spring shadows seem harsher than those from any other time of the year, as if the newly bare earth and pavement have been lacerated with light. In these bleak, blasted days of cold mornings and mild afternoons, the landscape is still monochromatic, with only planted crocuses and snowdrops offering a respite of color. In a starkly black and white world, shadows seem shocking, gaping wounds on an otherwise whole world. The ground seems scarred with striations as the sun shifts from one horizon to the other: wounded and waiting for the healing cover of fresh vegetation.

Click here for the complete photo-set of “Light and Shadow” images, shot these past few days in Keene. Enjoy!