A cup of everlasting beauty

I spent a quiet, thoughtful day yesterday as the first snow of the season sifted down — wet, white flakes gorgeous against boughs of oak and maple, the backyard a patchwork of fallen leaves, our gardens dozing. Daylight dozed, too, wrapped in thick blankets of low-lying cloud…

Days like this used to evoke a certain wistfulness in me. Something inside felt lonesome when November skies darkened and days grew short and chilly. But my perspective shifted…. Once upon a November night, (thirty-one years ago last night, to be exact), a miracle happened: In a hush of snow while frozen gardens drowsed all through our town, a tiny new rose unfurled — a rose perfect for my husband and me, a tender rose in the form of our first child, our precious newborn daughter. We were smitten. And because of our sweet Margaret, Novembers always blossom for us now. They will never feel lonesome again…

To celebrate the arrival of her first grandchild, my sweet mother gave me a wonderful gift. She selected one of her mother’s bone china teacups, a pale pink one embellished with roses, and filled it to overflowing with fresh flowers. There were delicate sprays of pink mini-roses, and baby’s breath, and stems of English ivy. The result was decidedly Victorian, the most charming teacup bouquet ever to brighten a hospital maternity ward. I was enchanted. When the fresh flowers faded, Momma said she’d like me to keep her mother’s teacup and saucer. So the lovely china cup and saucer once owned by my grandmother became the first, and by far the most treasured, piece in my vintage teacup collection.

What’s not to love about vintage teacups? To me, each one is a work of art, a dainty reminder of times long past, when daily life was slower, simpler, and certainly more genteel… When I look at a teacup, I think of hand-embroidered linen tablecloths and lace-edged napkins, of afternoon teas and delectable cakes. Teacups serve as a transport for me. Each one I see whisks me away to a place of my imagining, a place filled with warmth and beauty and laughter and delight….

I’d like to share with you a few of the teacups in my collection. This one is painstakingly hand-painted and dates back to the 1850’s. I found this treasure in an antique shop two years ago, and it’s a particular favorite of mine.

 

Here’s another of my special favorites. It’s an Italian demitasse cup, complete with mermaids on one side and muses on the other. It’s perfect!

I found this hand-painted Jacobean beauty in a shop in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada. Its soft colors and design are enormously appealing to me.

Here is another cup from the same antique shop in Niagara-on-the-Lake. This one dazzled me with its rich cranberry color and gold embellishment.

As my mother so artfully demonstrated thirty-one years ago today, vintage teacups aren’t just for tea. They also can serve as containers for fresh flowers. Below are two of my favorite teacups, in which I arranged cut flowers from our gardens. I’m passionate about English transferware. This little transferware demitasse cup holds the last blossoms from our November garden.

I acquired this little beauty of a teacup last summer. The butterflies in this design turn me inside out. I filled this cup with cuttings from our late-spring gardens. The cup rests on hand-tatted lace my mother made. (Momma was Victorian to her very core.) Everything about this photo makes me smile…

Although my vintage teacups impart joy to me strictly as a collection, they clamor to be used on special occasions. One such opportunity arose last spring, when my far-flung, grown daughters, Margaret and Clare, happened to be home on the same weekend. To celebrate both girls’ belated birthdays, Margaret’s best friend, Addie, offered to bake a special cake, if I would kindly make arrangements for the tea. Happily, I agreed. But oh my! When the day of our party arrived, I was unprepared for the gorgeousness of the cake our dear Addie had made! She lovingly created a stunning cake in the shape of a teapot, from whose spout poured the loveliest sugar flowers imaginable.

The flowers cascaded into a teacup belonging to Addie’s maternal grandmother. And! …the cup actually held a mini-cake, just the right size for Addie’s young daughter to enjoy. (Because what tea party could be complete without a child to share it with? It’s a special joy to pass down a tradition as lovely as this to a member of our future generation.)

Addie’s cake was so flawless, so perfect, we hated to cut it. But oh, we were glad we did! The cake was as succulent and delicious as it was beautiful — a true feast for the senses, and certainly an elegant companion to my teacup collection.

For those of you who live locally, Addie is starting her own cake-baking business. Her artistic talent, marvelous creativity and attention to detail are already thrilling her lucky customers. If you’d like Addie to create a special masterpiece just for you, she can be reached at this email address: adriannacorby@gmail.com

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It’s another overcast, chilly November morning here. As leaves of russet and gold whirl past my window, I recall the birth-day of our beautiful Margaret, and I bask in that glow…. The heirloom teacup Momma gave me thirty-one years ago today links four generations of our family, uniting past and present. It is a cup of blessings, a cup of sweetest memories, a cup of everlasting beauty.

tears without end

Today is the sorrowful fourth anniversary of the unspeakable horror at Sandy Hook, a moment forever seared into my memory. In remembrance of the many lives so tragically lost that day, I’m posting a piece I wrote just one day after the tragedy took place…

tears-without-end

I am wakeful with the rain.

Beyond my window, our backyard oak lifts empty arms to a leaden sky; every tree holds a posture of profound supplication. Oh, please, please, let this not be so…

It’s getting late, but how can I close my eyes? Incomprehensible violence has visited Newtown, Connecticut, and sorrow keeps sliding down the windowpane. The rain began as evening fell on Friday, the day of the terrible shootings; it pattered on the rooftop all night long. Morning dawned grey, tear-spattered. I barely slept, if I slept at all. Rain continued all through the day, tears without end.

When the dreadful news reached me, my first thoughts were of the Holy Innocents. How could any person, past or present, look into the clear eyes of a little child and brandish a sword or pull a trigger? With the rest of the nation, I wrestled with my emotions. No, no… please, not the babies, not the little darling ones…

Later, a pile of letters to be mailed and other necessary errands put me behind the wheel. Renewed sorrow clawed my heart at Hamilton Elementary as I passed a line of parents sitting in cars, waiting to pick up their living, breathing, precious children. Gratitude and grief collided, welled up, streaked down my cheeks.

At Butterworth Center, I met a bright yellow school bus. I suppressed a half-crazed impulse to leap from my car to embrace every child on that bus.

As I turned down 16th Street, several parents were walking hand in hand with their children. A glance in my rear view mirror revealed a scattering of children walking home from school, a commonplace sight at this hour of day. But not everywhere… I thought of the sweet children who would never come home again and wept my way to the post office.

Next stop was the high school, where I was volunteering to set up for the next day’s Speech Tournament. I caught sight of one of my daughter’s friends at the end of a long hallway. I opened my arms to her and she came running, arms flung wide. I hugged that golden child to my heart. Dear God, make my arms a protective circle to surround all children everywhere…

But it was when I returned home again that I came entirely unglued. My son texted these simple words from Des Moines: “I love you, Momma.” Memories of him at age five, at age six, sprang to mind… my gentle, dreamy-eyed boy, now a young man. Reading his words, I paradoxically began keening over his sweet life as if he, also, had been lost. Never one to pose the question mathematical, I dared in that moment to multiply my love for him by twenty-six; the staggering equation of loss in Connecticut broke over me and swept me under. I sobbed again when our oldest daughter phoned from Minneapolis, yet again when our youngest phoned on her way home from work…

The woeful, grey day sank to its knees and faded to black while the rain kept its vigil, tears from a star.

How fragile we are…

love gathered softly to place in her hands

love gathered softly to place in her hands

It’s spring again, miraculous spring. Every street in town is lined with flowering dogwood, crab, pear – everywhere, boughs are in riotous bloom. In my gardens, something new unfurls daily. The woods are awash with wildflowers, and all along the driveway, violets gem the grass…

For me each year, the first violets of spring bear on fragile stems the weight of perennial tenderness. I stoop down to hook a finger beneath a bowed purple head. As I study the contour of this familiar face, I’m amazed by the power one simple flower wields over my heart and mind…

From the time I was old enough to toddle off to woods’ edge, I kept my mother in fresh-picked wildflowers. The first bouquets I carried home to her each spring always included several long-stemmed wood violets. One year, when I was seven or eight, Momma sent me off to the woods on a special mission to select only the choicest violets. I returned with dozens of flawless specimens. Together, we washed the flowers, a delicate task. We shook them gently dry and arranged them on clean white dish towels, taking care not to bend or bruise any petals. We snipped blossoms from stems. Then, after using tiny brushes to paint the flowers with a wash of egg whites and water, we sprinkled each one with a shower of sugar crystals.

Later, the house filled with the aroma of angel food cake pulled fresh from the oven. When it cooled, Momma frosted it with a white sugar glaze into which she pressed a pattern of sweet sugared violets. It was simply a vision, that cake, and young though I was, I was limp with the romance of a cake covered in violets…. (Alas, no photos were snapped of that eye-popping confection, but in my heart’s album, it glistens on a page all its own.)

Twenty years of violets bloomed and faded…

Then came a day like no other, a day I could never have imagined when I was a child wandering among the wildflowers – the day I held a newborn flower in my arms, a blossom fresh-plucked from heaven: our first child, our sweet Margaret, a precious baby girl newly home from the hospital, bathed and swaddled and dressed in a long white hand-smocked gown Momma had made for her. Margaret was just a day or two old when I looked from her face into Momma’s eyes and said, “I so look forward to all her firsts – her first smile, her first words, her first steps…”

My gentle mother had more poetic firsts in mind for her granddaughter. She said softly, so softly I barely could hear, “Imagine showing Margaret her first violet, her first star. . .” Momma looked at me, yet somehow right through me as the words fell from her lips. For a heartbeat or two, time stood still for me, just as it does when I chance to read a line of perfect poetry: the words ring and resonate – beautiful, mysterious, fleeting, bells in the wind…

When the snows of winter melted away to reveal Margaret’s first spring, I showed her her first violet with deep emotion. I showed her her first star. Sang her every beautiful song I knew, read her every good book I could find, pointed her toward every lovely thing I could think of, filled her days with as much beauty and poetry and joy and mystery as I could – love gathered softly to place in her hands, like the wildflowers I carried to Momma so many years ago…

As Mother’s Day nears, I have asked myself, what does it mean to mother another soul, to nurture another life? I believe it is to pluck from one’s surroundings the good things, the beautiful, the eternal, the true, and place them in another heart, like a bouquet of violets.

A leap of faith

She squints in the sunlight, shades her eyes, stands on tiptoe in the rambling front yard of the old Iowa farmhouse. Even when she looks along the fence line as far south as she can, to the place where the gravel road bends west, she can’t see them, but she knows they’re there – hay bales almost twice her height, hay bales resting row on row in the fallow field where red-winged blackbirds build their nests. It’s a long, dusty trudge, but she’s going there today. Along the way, she reaches up to clasp her daddy’s hand, just to be certain he’s there.

She finds the hay bales even more imposing when she reaches them and stands in their towering shade. Around her, the thrum of insects; above her, limitless blue; within her, something that compels her to grasp thin twine, bury fingers in clusters of fragrant hay, hang on for dear life as small feet flail in search of a toe hold. It’s an upward battle she’s determined to win.

When at last she gains the summit, she’s rewarded with a breathtaking panorama. Verdant summer fields undulate before her and fade away into far forevers. This spot is the highest elevation in the county, and it feels like she’s standing on the shoulders of the world. The vista is indeed spectacular, but she hasn’t scrambled up here for the view. She has come for the jump.

It’s a family tradition, hay bale jumping. For years she has watched her siblings, five and eight years her senior, stretch much-longer legs to leap from bale to bale down the length of the field, a thrilling sight to behold. This year, she’s finally big enough to join them.

And this first jump will be the hardest.

Because hay bales need space to dry in sun and wind, the long rows do not touch. In between each row lies a two to three foot gap where tall grass grows. Hidden in the grass below, she knows, are sticky webs and worse, the spiders who spin them. Knowing they’re there is a powerful incentive not to fail.

If she hesitates, if she lingers too long, her fears will multiply – the gaps between the bales will widen, the shadows grow more sinister, the spiders’ ranks increase. She’s made it this far; she’s not going to back down now. She can’t look down, she mustn’t. Instead, she quiets a fluttering heart, summons her courage, holds her breath, and leaps. . .

A leap of faith

Like a young gazelle, she arcs through the air, braids flying. She’s suspended between earth and heaven, momentarily weightless. . .

And joy waits to catch her with outstretched arms.

Fling wide the door

It’s the last day of 2015, a simple, peaceful day here. As I write, our woods are white with snow; each tree wears an elegant poet’s sleeve or high frilled collar bedazzled with ice crystals. No wind stirs, and apart from the non-stop activity of furry and feathered visitors who frequent our feeders, the world seems hushed and still.

With two surgeries behind me now and one yet ahead to repair the ankle I shattered in my tumble down a dewy riverbank last October, all my days have been rather hushed and still, quiet and contemplative. Having no other choice than to sit quietly in a cast, ankle elevated, might seem a hardship – particularly this evening, when people will assemble at private soirees and other festive gatherings to pay tribute to the New Year. But not so for me. It’s my nature to be contemplative and my preference to ring in a quiet New Year at home.

A year ago, I posted A snow globe of memories, a loving look back to what Christmas was like for me as a little girl growing up in the early 1960’s. Since I’ve time on my hands and nowhere special to be, perhaps you’ll indulge my urge to reach for my snow globe and give it just one more gentle shake. . .

ANV 1963

A photo of me, circa 1963, fresh from a hot bath and ready to lounge by the fire.

It’s the last day of the old year… I am four or five, maybe six. (In this memory, I’m stitching together several years of a similar experience.) Fresh from a steamy hot bath, I lounge on my stomach by the fire in a flannel nightgown and a long, cozy robe, turning the pages of my new storybook or coloring with my latest box of Crayolas. Oak logs hiss and pop on the heavy, black wrought iron grate. I glance up often to feel the heat touch my face and to study the undulating greens and purples and white-hot blues that animate the heart of red-orange flame.

Daddy sits at the piano, playing selections from Rodgers and Hammerstein or Rodgers and Hart; Momma rustles about in the kitchen, putting away pots and pans from our evening meal; our calico kitty, Cleo, slides a friendly tail along my shoulder as she passes by on her way to curl up for a long winter’s nap beneath the Christmas tree. I watch her for a moment, then return to my book or my coloring, feeling happy, safe, and snug.

Quiet minutes tick by until Momma tells me it’s bedtime. Tonight, I know this means it’s time for our New Year’s Eve ritual. I jump up from my spot by the fire and walk with her through the kitchen to our back door with its bright crystal handle. Momma says, “Go ahead, open it! Let the old year out, and don’t forget to tell it goodbye!”

With a grin, I tug on the handle. “Goodbye, old year, goodbye!” I call, flinging wide the door. My small voice rings out over the frozen hills. The two of us, Momma and I, stand in the chill night air, gaze up into starlit skies, or perhaps an amethyst sky dotted with fast-whirling snowflakes. The night is so close, so perfect and still, I feel I might reach out and capture a star of my own to keep forever – a star of snow, or a star from heaven.

I’m too young to feel wistful about the onslaught of time. What I feel is a sense of peace, of reverence, a sense of kindly hospitality and courtliness, squiring the old year to the door as an honored, departing guest and bidding it a fond farewell.

In the morning as soon as I stir, Momma rustles me out of bed and down the winding stairs to our front door. She allows me the privilege of opening the white wooden door with its shiny brass handle to invite the New Year in. My New Year doesn’t officially begin until I pull open the big door to let the bright morning air sting my cheeks with pinpricks of cold and wild wondrous possibility. I feel elated, fresh and new, aflutter with all the good things that must surely be on their way. How I adore the prospect of a brand new year, what a thrill it is to swing the door wide to welcome it…

Momma sleeps now beneath the winter snows, but it’s only her body that sleeps. Her wise, blithe spirit lives with me still, and the lessons she taught me at New Year remain.

Fling wide the door

Maybe we all need to stand at our own back door to bid goodbye to what is passing, to stand a while and remember, to gaze out over the geography of our lives and allow peace to settle there, soft around our memories as flakes of sparkling snow. Maybe we should keep our old year company, then allow it the freedom to fade off into the distance, knowing we can keep what is precious and let go what is not.

Perhaps, after a good night’s rest, we can find it within ourselves to go with a child’s openness to the front door and tug it open to welcome a new day, a new year, a new now, fresh with the free air of what-might-be…

It’s there, now, in peace, in acceptance, in stillness – this moment, this life. Hold tight to sweet memories: they are yours to keep. And whatever you need to let go of, whatever you choose to let into your life, may today be the day to fling wide the door.

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Today marks the second anniversary of this small blog of mine. It scared me nearly out of my wits to begin, in part because I didn’t yet know you, my wonderful friends and readers, were out here in the ether, ready to welcome me. Having had two lovely years to form deep and lasting friendships with many of you, I cannot now imagine a time when you were not a part of my life. Thank you for being here with me in this quiet space, sharing thoughts and dreams, walking this star-strewn path. I so appreciate the gift of your presence.

A happy, blessed New Year to you, my friends, and much love. x o x o

~Amy

 

Shall we dance?

My favorite task of the garden year is pruning back the faded blooms of my lavender plants. Each snip of the shears fills my nose with the delectable scent of lavender and spirits me back to a precise moment in time. When lavender’s in the air, the year is 1963, and I’m an impressionable five year old, worshipfully watching my mother dress up for a dinner-dance…

While I perch on the bed, she swishes around the room in her elegant gown, leans close to an oval mirror to apply lipstick and smooth waves of dark hair. She chooses a pair of pearl earrings from her jewelry box, clips a shimmering cluster to each lobe. Out comes the beveled stopper from her bottle Chanel No. 5; she sets the stopper on a mirrored tray, places a finger over the bottle’s small opening, up-ends it, then traces a droplet or two along her collarbone, a droplet to each wrist. She pulls open my favorite drawer, the one I love to peep into when she’s not around. It’s filled with dainty half-slips, full slips, and dress gloves for every occasion, around which are tucked a number of aromatic lavender sachets. From this fragrant treasure trove, she draws a pair of elbow-length, black gloves with jet black beading. She slides slender arms into each glove, tugs softly at the base of each finger to ensure a snug fit. She slips into a pair of heels, gives me a smile, gathers up her black satin clutch, and floats downstairs to wait for Daddy, who’s putting on his tux. In a state of total enchantment, I trundle down after her.

0183_Shall we dance? 2When my parents meet in the living room, they beam at one another – so happy, so in love. While Momma gives last-minute instructions to the babysitter, Daddy, ever the gentleman, cordially asks me, ala Oscar Hammerstein, “Shall we dance?” With a grin, I accept.

He offers a steadying hand as I place first my right, then my left foot on top of his size 13, black patent leather dance shoes. As we glide around the room together, my feet slip on his shoes’ shiny surface, and I can’t stop giggling. He takes small, measured steps to accommodate my much shorter legs and never once lets me slide off. For a few giddy moments, I’m the belle of the ball in my white robe and slippers.

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Momma’s all ready now, so Daddy twirls me in a circle, plants a kiss on my head, bids me goodnight, and goes out to the car. Momma blows a kiss into a gloved hand, presses a lavender-scented palm to my upturned cheek. She is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. She drapes a stole over her shoulders and rustles out to the car. Daddy waits at her door, closes it after her, strides around to the driver’s seat, gives me a wave before sliding behind the wheel.

My small heart, filled with dreams of dancing and music and beauty and romance, feels the pang of an evening’s impending separation. I press wistful hands to glass, watch my lovely parents recede from view, red tail lights fading to pinpricks before vanishing altogether…

Time is a peculiar thing, something I don’t suppose I’ll ever get used to. It’s an astonishment to realize the evening I describe took place over a half-century ago; that I, the baby of the family, am now twenty years older than my parents were in this photo; that my precious father –my living, breathing, perpetual font of love and security– is 90. How is this possible? Moments ago, my parents were young, and I was their littlest girl…

0183_Shall we dance? 1

Nudged by a photograph, or an old song, or a certain aroma, memories of life’s loveliest moments flit through our days on diaphanous wings. One whiff of lavender is all it takes for me to dance again in my daddy’s strong arms and feel the lasting tenderness of my momma’s touch.

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This post is the last in a series of five in a 5-day Photo/Story blog challenge, to which I was invited by my friend, Kristine, who blogs regularly at candidkay. (Thank you, Kristine; this was fun!)

The challenge: Post a photo each day for five consecutive days and attach a story to the photo. It can be fiction or non-fiction, a poem or a short paragraph, and each day nominate another blogger to the challenge.

Rather than nominate a particular group of bloggers to this challenge, I prefer to open it up to any who would like to participate. If you’re interested, step right up, and give it a whirl!

the sweetest hours I knew

A couple of years ago, my son sent me an unexpected text message I loved so much, I took a screen shot of it to squirrel away in my Forever File. Why? Because this was no mere text message; for me, this was a special delivery, a momentous occasion.

In November of 2013, while doing a bit of early Christmas shopping with his sweetheart, my son, James, wandered into a little gift shop where a pair of handmade, felted wool creatures happened to catch his eye. A dapper owl, sporting a bow tie and straw hat and clutching a tiny guitar, was seated in a small boat beside an elegant feline in pearls and a fancy dress. Stepping closer to examine the tag, James drew back, snapped a photo, and fired it off to me with the following text:

191-the sweetest hours I ever knew 1

Oh, how I rejoiced in this text – words that made not only my day, but my week, month, and year. My dear James knew his Edward Lear!! Right here, on my phone’s tiny screen, was proof! I didn’t take gymnastics back in school, but let me assure you, my heart turned a back flip with a half twist when this text chimed in.

I have countless cherished memories of motherhood, too many to enumerate here. But surely, the sweetest hours I knew as a mother were those I spent reading to my children. We sailed away for a year and a day with The Owl and the Pussy-cat, vowed with Peter Pan that we’d never grow up, frolicked in the Hundred Acre Wood with Pooh and Piglet, marveled with Lurvy at the miracle of words woven into a spider’s web. Yes, we knew the Muffin Man; we sailed on a river of crystal light into a sea of dew with Wynken, Blynken, and Nod; oh, how we loved to go up in a swing, up in the air so blue!

Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing ever a mother can do – to read to her children….

My precious three are grown and gone now. Each one of them, I’m happy to report, has grown up to be a bona fide bibliophile. I like to think I had a lot to do with this. I still stop to admire children’s books in bookstores and continue to add new titles to my ever-growing collection. These books, like my children, are my treasure.

I reach for the shelf, pull down our worn copy of The Owl and The Pussy-cat, thumb through the pages. And suddenly, perhaps by magic, here on my left is a golden-haired girl with intelligent green eyes; on my right, a wide-eyed boy who twirls my hair while I read; in my lap, a long-lashed, rosy-cheeked toddler who knows these words by heart. They’re here with me, all three of them. They always will be.

And right here in my memory, hand in hand, on the edge of the sand, we dance by the light of the moon, the moon, moon, we dance by the light of the moon.

191_the sweetest hours I knew 2

(This post is the first in a 5-day Photo Challenge to which I was nominated by my dear friend, Kristine, who blogs regularly at candidkay.)

 

voices in the rain

The first half of June has been a steady progression of rainstorms lumbering up through the valley like a herd of traveling pachyderms. Day by day, nearly hour by hour, thunder’s heavy footfall rattles the windows to signal the approach of a new storm. Black clouds blot the horizon, dwarfing farm and city alike. Daylight is lost as the stampede passes overhead, trampling sky, shaking earth, pounding rooftops, flooding streets with great spouts of torrential rain, jolting sleepy creeks and rivers straight out of their beds.

0174_voices in the rain1

Today, rain falls with such furiousness, I can’t see across the woods. Beyond rain-pebbled glass, an English sparrow waits out the worst, while a pair of nuthatches huddle, beaks downward, on a sliver of dry bark beneath an arching canopy of rain-glossed oak leaves.

“Seven inches of rain in six days,” mutters our drenched postal carrier as he delivers the day’s dripping mail. “I could grow rice in my back yard.”

Returning to my reading chair, I’m snug and dry in a circle of yellow lamplight. I lose myself in my book of poetry, let the storm pass.

After a while, the staccato drumbeat of raindrops decreases, the sky’s low ceiling lifts, a robin begins to chirrup.

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I lay aside my book and slip out on the front porch to watch swift-passing clouds. Our Japanese maple’s slender wrists wear delicate bracelets of shimmering droplets that wink in the light of an emerging sun.

Rainwater gushes down the sloping curve of our court, racing toward the heavy iron gutter in the turnaround. In bare feet, I pick my way across spongy, saturated grass, step off the curb and into rushing water. How glorious it feels…

Time’s forward march slows just enough to let peals of childish laughter echo back to me from rainy days gone by. I see them in mind’s eye now, our darling children: big sister, little brother, littlest sister twirl bright umbrellas, hold hands, leap into puddles, splash with joyous abandon in a steady downpour, call out to one another, to me…

Treasured memories, these voices in the rain.

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Sunbeams peep through overhead boughs as parting drops splash and spread ripples across puddled water.

My neighbor, a youthful woman in her seventies, spies me from her kitchen window and comes out in bare feet to say hello.

0174_voices in the rain4

Following my lead, she eases her feet into the waning curbside flow. We stand together and swap stories of our latest successes and failures in the garden, talk about what’s new with our children, speculate as to when or whether the next storm will strike.

0174_voices in the rain5

After a while, we part ways, she to her sewing, and I to my flowerbeds. Before I return to the house and the poems that await, I lean close to revel in a few more moments of rain-rinsed loveliness. Everywhere, blossoms and leaves glisten in the light.

I breathe a sigh, close my eyes, lift the petals of my heart in gratitude for nature’s gifts, for earth and sky, for sunlight and showers, for springtime blossoms and summer’s plenitude, for the seasons of my life, for sweet, remembered voices in the rain.

The still point at the center of my life

0032_The still point at the center of my life

This slumbering hillside forms the backdrop of my childhood. This frozen pond, these winter trees are part of the small wilderness I consider home. I grew up here.

In the spring of 1959, when I was just nine months old, my parents sold their small bungalow across town and moved to their new home: a two-story colonial nestled among the trees on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi. Apart from the time I spent away at college, this house, where my dear father still resides, is where I lived until I married and moved to a home of my own.

From the dawning of my awareness, these woods have welcomed me. When I was small, I’d stand at my bedroom window, rest my chin on the white wooden sill, and gaze up at the budding oaks, whose unfurling leaves waved to me with hundreds of tiny, pink hands. When the cool breath of evening wafted in through my open window and billowed my white curtains, I’d drift to sleep to the soul-filling sound of tree frogs trilling beside the pond.

I spent my childhood wandering these woods, and I still know them by heart. I can find the places where spring beauties and wood violets grow. In summer, I can walk the winding gravel road that curves around to the pond and spot the turtles that sun themselves on half-submerged logs. Chickadees still sound an alarm if I venture too close, and the turtles still splash their hasty escape. In autumn, when the wind brings rumors of the coming chill, showers of leaves spiral down to form a lush tapestry for my feet on this woodland floor. The sun slants in through bare branches in winter, spilling pools of golden light across the snow-covered pond, painting long shadows on the blue-washed hills where I used to sled with my friends.

Like woodland creatures that retreat to nests, thickets, and burrows, I have always sought refuge in quiet places where I can let the busy world pass by. My favorite childhood hideaway was under the low canopy of bridal wreath bushes that bordered our property. Invisible to passersby beneath slender branches that swept the grass, I’d make myself as small as possible and hide there during neighborhood games of hide-and-go-seek. I loved to sit under the bending branches in June and shake their clustered blossoms, causing a storm of white confetti petals to rain all around me. In this out-of-the-way place under the bridal wreath, I’d listen to robins and cardinals sing in the oaks overhead, feel the wind cup my face, watch a ladybug explore a leafy world. Perhaps it’s just my temperament, or perhaps it’s because I grew up so close to nature’s heart; whatever the reason, I’ve always had a need to be quiet, safe, and alone in a place where I can give myself over to uninterrupted thought.

Once, when I was three, Momma lost me. She had sent me upstairs for my afternoon nap, but later, when she came to wake me, I was nowhere to be found. She looked for me upstairs, then downstairs. She went outside and called. I didn’t answer. She made a second search of the house, then ran to the woods, terrified I might have wandered down to the pond alone. She asked our next door neighbor to please help look for me. They called my name across the woods, walked down to the pond, came back to the house, growing more and more frantic. I don’t know how long they searched, but I was discovered at last, sound asleep on the cool floor under my bed. I was safe, and I wasn’t scolded. I wasn’t trying to be naughty; I had simply isolated myself in a quiet place.

All these years later, I’m still this way. During the growing season, you’ll find me outdoors, tending my flowers, listening to the crickets, watching a hawk circle overheard. If I can’t be outside, you’ll find me somewhere indoors in a quiet spot. As the years have gone by, I have come to understand how deeply impressionable and sensitive I am. Life has such an impact on me that I require hours of stillness to restore my senses and process my thoughts.

This is why I love these woods: they were my first sanctuary, the still point at the center of my life. They’ll always be part of my heart’s terrain, and I’ll forever be a child of this place, as rooted as the trees that have grown up around me.