The Year is Complete!

Please feel free to look back through the 365 days of 2010 sunrises, but "a year of getting up to meet the day" is officially completed. There will be no more new posts.


Thank you so much for visiting.
A one year blog project in which I share a process of transitions: emptying of the nest, reacquainting with my rusty intellect, plowing onward with my first full length book, entering the second half of my first century, and generally reflecting on life.

(see Dec. 29th, 2009 entry for further explanation)

Sunday, January 31, 2010

sunrise, moon set

sunrise:  6:56

We had a wolf moon on Friday night, the biggest and brightest moon of the year (since the moon was both close and full).  After a couple of weeks doing the night shift, the moon finally lingered around long enough for me to see it again during my morning walk, so I was treated to a very beautiful orb about to set.
  It almost made me forget to turn around and see the sunrise.

The moon sets this morning over the end of my first month of sunrise walks and daily writing.  Every little milestone helps!  And the sunrise...we'll say today that the sunrise stands for a new writing "job" I have just accepted.  It is one of those online news sites with reps all over the country.  Doesn't pay much ("That's not a job, that's volunteer work!"  exclaimed a friend.), and may demand too much, but I have to give it a try.  It is a writing platform, discipline to keep working and get my name out there.  We'll see.

I have been guilty too often of enumerating in my head all the possible problems with an idea, so I never give it a chance to get off the ground.  When you never make up your mind, you've made the decision NOT to try by omission.  So -- three cheers for trying new things.  Yikes.


On the home front, I am spending a quiet weekend with T., just the two of us and dogs.  The cast list for the spring play goes up tomorrow, and she is filled with nervous tension.  We're doing what we can to keep her mind off it. 

It is both wonderful and worrisome to have a child with whom you share such a friendship.  We laugh together every day, a lot.  There is not much that we keep from each other.  She is confident, a successful student, active in sports, music, drama, and more, but the high school social scene has not been her bag.  Sometimes it bugs her, but to her credit, she doesn't fret over it too much.  She has great out of town friends, fewer local ones.  I suspect more of those local connections will blossom during the course of this final semester of high school.  Maybe I fret more than she does.  Maybe I should just enjoy her company while I still have her around, and anticipate all of the great things that will come her way.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

a dose of dog happiness

sunrise:  6:57  cold

I have spent a fair amount of time in this blog writing about sources of inspiration.  My original purpose grew largely out of the realization that I was finding it difficult to get out of bed in the morning, all too often.  Delineating one's sources of happiness - counting your blessings - seems trite.  It is.  Nevertheless, it works.

I am almost finished with Eric Weiner's The Geography of Bliss, and it has been the perfect book for me to read as I embark on this venture (and in the dark days of winter).  For what am I doing, if not pursuing happiness?  What is anyone doing?  Why are people around the world happy, or not?  Is happiness even the goal?   It is a book of exploration, cultural comparisons, introspection, and hilarity. 

I'm tipping my hat today to dogs.  The love and affection and loyalty that they offer is a treasure.  Tales of selfless heroism abound -- see Jasmine the dog and the highway hero.  

But dogs are also the consummate embodiment of joy.  If you look closely, you'll see Clara the lab mix bounding into the sunrise in the photo above.  And here's Guster the hound on ice. He's lucky to be included today since he's been banned from a few morning walks; incessant hound baying at 6:00 in the morning is not popular with neighbors or sleeping husbands.  But none of that has any relevance for Guster - there he is, tail wagging, immersed in the moment. 
That is the key to dog happiness - they don't think about it.  They are fully immersed in their present, and never dwell on the negative.  And without even trying, they imbue happiness on their human companions.  There are a few dog behaviors which I would prefer not to emulate, but when it comes to loving life, dogs are my role models.

Friday, January 29, 2010

worry management

sunrise:  7:05 

A few minutes out of sequence today because I met dawn further west than usual. 

After a 2am arrival and a 6am rising, it was tempting to cheat and take a sunrise photo from the hotel window. But - the challenge I took on calls for me to be outdoors, so I took a walk around the hotels, gas stations, Planet Fitness and Dunkin' Donuts.  Got just a couple of pre-dawn photos before my battery died.  Even amidst the generic commercial sprawl there are vantage points from which you still find beauty.  The rising of morning light has not lost its wonder for me yet, even here.

a few minutes later the sun showed itself, but alas, no more power. Had to keep it in my mental memory.

I just saw off my husband and middle daughter, N., on a flight out west for a few days of skiing.  It is an unprecedented treat for both of them who love skiing, exercise, the outdoors and adventure.

I suppose it is a common phenomenon these days, but every time I fly, or someone I love flies somewhere, there's a part of me that is held in suspense until a safe landing is confirmed, back on the ground.  We Americans have been generally fortunate to feel safe most of the time, pretty much anywhere.  Now there is that shade of concern - it may be exceedingly rare, but horrors happen.  These are those times when an active imagination feels like a curse rather than an asset.

The art of compartmentalizing the mind is important.  You have to learn to live with fears and worries and the occasional panic, yet carry on with life as usual on the outside.  You just tuck them away in a corner, where they throb occasionally, demanding attention.  But if you let them take over the room you'd go crazy, or at least live a very closeted life.

Once again, the routine of walking outdoors, looking for beauty, actively engaging in the day, and taking time to write are all a helpful distraction.  It helps me feel I wait for the safe re-grounding of those pieces of my heart that are still in flight.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

music to my ears

sunrise: 7:00

Here is a new sunrise view.

It's taken from the driveway of the middle school where I will be the piano accompanist for a show choir at 7:10 twice a week.  I've done this for 7 or 8 years now, but I imagine it's one of the things that will end when my last daughter graduates from high school.

Playing the piano is another one of those things in my life that serves a therapeutic purpose.  I've never achieved anything like professional ability, but I can make music beautiful enough to please me, and sometimes other people as well.

When I was a child, I had an uncle who sometimes came to our house and played our piano with overwhelming passion.  He was a brilliant musician and composer, but a troubled man.  I didn't really understand either of those things when I was 6 or 7, but I was entranced by his music.  And I'll never forget finding him one day sitting at the piano, quiet.  He was leaning over the keyboard, his head laying on his hands where the music usually goes.  I asked if he was all right, and he said he was just resting.  He sounded so weary.  A few years later he took his own life and I always felt sad that I couldn't have done something for him when he was sad at the piano that day.

Who knows how much that influenced my piano love, but by the time I was 11, I was begging for lessons.  The piano is an outlet for emotions, a place to get lost, to be moved, to let off steam, to express joy or anger or crazy love.

Three years ago, when my twin son and daughter were about to graduate, I knew I needed to start thinking about creating a new life for myself that did not involve parenting.  Writing and piano playing were my top choices, and I felt that writing demanded too much uninterrupted time.  So I started lessons again.  It has been immensely satisfying to see that I can still get better at something even when I'm pushing 50 years old. 

Having an audience every month or two when I play for church services is the perfect motivation to keep working on pieces.  There are few things that I have done that feel better than creating an atmosphere that impels people to close their eyes, or smile, or sway, or sing along, or put a hand to their chest, or take a deep breath and feel.  I love to help people feel.

Sunrise is another facilitator to feeling.  That's the best part about it.  Do you suppose this crow has any concept of beauty around him?

I doubt it - birdbrain that he is.  But still, he's a facilitator to feeling.  Don't you wish you could see a sunrise from a bird's perspective?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

on call in the house of ups and downs

sunrise:  7:00

I asked my mother one time if she ever thought about getting a paying job while we were growing up.  I’ll never forget what she said to me.  "So many days," she said, "one of you kids (there were 5 of us) would come bursting in the door after school with some triumph, or indignation, or distress.  If I hadn’t been around at the time, the moment would have passed and I might never have heard about it."

I know that my mother’s presence in my school years, and her thoughts about it afterwards were a powerful influence on the choices I made as a mom.  Yesterday was a perfect example.

It was a half day at school because of mid-terms.  T. came home and we were just hanging around together for a while.  Then she got talking.  A fight with a best friend, big plans thrown out the window, worries about upcoming auditions, concerns about a test, frustrations with high school social life…nearly two hours of blowing off steam. 

What a privilege it is, to me, to be able to be there.  Even if I were present, but had my own job or other obligations hanging over my head, I would have been looking at the clock, perhaps feeling impatient, pulled in two directions.  As it is, I am free to be a mom first, almost any time.

An hour later the phone rang.  It was a college admissions officer returning T.’s call about whether or not all of her documentation had arrived.  Unexpectedly, he told her that not only were all of her papers in order, but she has been accepted to their school.  After a very gracious and poised response, T. finished her conversation with the man, hung up the phone, and burst into tears of joy and relief on my shoulder.  She’s an emotional being.  It may not be the college she attends, but it could be.  It's a good one.  She's in somewhere, has a place to go!

There have definitely been times when I’ve questioned the “at-home mom” career choice, especially with only one child left “at home.”  All of that time when I might have been cultivating a career of my own…  Then there’s an afternoon like yesterday’s.   My mom’s words come back to me.  No regrets.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

after the rain

sunrise:   7:01

Here are some pictures to go with yesterday's water musings.  Last night, an incredible downpour of about two inches of rain transformed the look of the landscape from deep winter to spring.  Of course, spring is a long ways away, but this was a preview.  

Over a foot of snow washed away and allowed me to get the goat pen open.  Heidi was happy to get out and about.

There were dozens of animal trails uncovered, meandering little furrows that must have created a labyrinth under the deep snow.  Mist curled over the ground, the air so moist that it felt like breathing  over a cold air humidifier.

One of the the most prominent sensory experiences outside today was the ROAR of the stream down the back hill.  Given the mild temperature and diminished snow cover, I ventured down the bank to take a look.

Water's power should never be underestimated.  Most of the time, this is a pretty sleepy little stream.  Surely there are a lot of flooded basements around here today.

Every kind of day seems to have its own beauty.

Monday, January 25, 2010

submerged in thought

sunrise:  7:02       38 degrees.  a drizzly, damp day.

Last time we had this weather I said to my husband, "Rain on top of snow is depressing."  Then he pointed out to me all the possible benefits to all the living things that don't go skiing or drive cars.  Food sources are uncovered and more accessible.  It's not so cold.  Water seeps into the soil, good for everything. 

Water is good for everything (except when there's too much of it too fast...).  That gets me thinking...

My sister is an interfaith minister and deeply reflective soul.  She has pointed out the universally spiritual role of water in so many religions - baptisms, purifications, celebrations of life.  It is also thought to be symbolic of matters of the spirit when it shows up in dreams; it is generally interpreted as a manifestation of emotions, intuition, or "things below the surface."

It's no wonder, then, that I get some of my most meditative escapes when I am in the water.

Swimming, for me, is a time for unfettered mind wandering.  Having learned to swim practically before I walked, water has always been a realm of total comfort for me.  My favorite medium for immersion is lake water, but swimming laps in a pool suffices.  There is no phone, no dogs, no doorbells.  Since I can't see much without my glasses and I wear ear plugs, it is like being immersed into a sensory deprivation tank.  Then off I go...

...I am eight years old in an Adirondack lake,  I am going through my to-do list for the day, I am with my parents at a summer cookout, I am flying, I am giving birth, I am composing songs, I am a future grandmother.  I remember, I project, I imagine, and sometimes I disappear.  There are no boundaries.  And yet, I’m able to keep track of the steady counting of laps.

It is important and therapeutic to dive below the surface with some regularity.  That is part of what this whole one year blog challenge is about.  Each of us has that inner voice, usually behind closed doors.  We just need to find those places, activities, states of being where the door opens up and we can listen. 

Sunday, January 24, 2010

new life, wild life, barn life

sunrise:  7:03

Some nice, young neighbors of ours are new parents as of December.  I checked in to see how things were going yesterday, and they said how strange it felt to go out for an hour without the baby when grandmother was babysitting the other day.

"Yes, it's funny how you become more like a collective unit than an individual person, isn't it?" I remarked.

"Well, it's not so much like a unit.  It's more like everything is just him," came the reply.

Ahh yes, I remember.  My father-in-law, who was also our doctor, used to call after we had our first baby and ask about her: "How's the boss?"  He had that right.  So when I talk about my life still being led in part by my children's lives, I have to remember how far things have come!


Some more life in the back yard - I made this large so you can see the birds...

...then there were rodent tracks in the snow
and the daily visit with Heidi and Pepper, who should finally be introduced in my blog:

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Saturday musings

sunrise:  7:04   temp. 1 degree F. 

 My mind was wandering before I got out of bed this morning.  Why didn't I say I'd see sunrise every day for a year except Saturdays?  was one thought pummeling my brain.  Then it occurred to me that I might take a vacation to Iceland next month.  I could sleep until almost 10:00am and still be out for sunrise.  Then I was holding my eye open, and started thinking about how awful it would be to have your eyelids removed...  at that point I decided I'd better get out of bed.

My camera sent me some messages to ponder today: "BATTERY EXHAUSTED" it said.  Then, "OUT OF MEMORY"  Is it trying to tell me something?

I can definitely relate to the exhausted part, but once I was outside it was hard not to wake up, especially since I couldn't find my underlayer today and my legs started to go numb.

Here is the last gasp of my camera before it became exhausted - fog over the Penobscot, and the tiniest glimmer of the sun about to peek over the trees:

I think my memory is still okay, however.  To be out of memory would be a particularly torturous affliction to me.  I suppose it is the treasure of many writers. Memory and imagination.  Those are the things that offer perspective, allow us to learn and adjust and evolve over time.  And then pass it on in some form.  Two things to be thankful for today.

I can still feel negativity creeping up on me, so here is today's "looking on the bright side of menopause" tip:
  • If you're having trouble getting up in the morning, a well timed hot flash can facilitate one's arising.

Friday, January 22, 2010

a bit about my career... reacquainting and reinventing

sunrise:  7:04

One of the challenges in this transition from running-a-houseful to back-on-our-own is weaning myself from the habit of letting outside forces determine my direction.  Over time in my early mother years I adjusted to turning the focus of my days from myself to my family.

It wasn't easy at first, but it was relieving in a way.  I used to be one of those people who frets all the time about where my life was going, what paths to pursue, how to find a meaningful occupation.  My fretting persisted after one baby.  I took classes, tried out career paths on the side.  Then I got pregnant with twins and gave in to my new identity.  With a husband in medical residency training, we agreed that I would take charge of the home front, for as long as it worked for me (Knowing that he was willing to make a change if it DIDN'T work for me was always helpful.).

Eventually we had four busy children, and even added a fifth one year when my nephew came to live with us (5 teenagers!)  I got into the habit of leaving my schedule fairly free, because inevitably some member of the family (human or canine) would have a need, errand, appointment or event that would become the focus of my day.  I kind of enjoyed the idea of "home-making."   I didn't clean house or do domestic projects, but I did work to create a home base of operations that was happy, dependable, supportive, and nourishing to developing young hearts and minds.  In between I'd fit in enough of my own pursuits to keep me happy. 

I know it's not enough for a lot of people, but it felt like a worthy calling to me.  It became my career, and I'm happy with the very lovely people that have emerged from this home.

Now, I am reacquainting with the pursuits and ambitions of that woman I was before, picking up the threads of things that I've tried to sustain in the background over the years.  Of course, I am still a mom of one resident teen and several 20-something kids away, who will always be a part of my heart and mind and worries and plans.  So it's a reacquainting  and a reinventing of a self and a life at the same time.


Had to free myself from the tyranny of the camera today.  It is a mixed blessing, this facility of image reproduction and distribution.  On the one hand, it makes me look at the world with an artistic appreciation.  I stop and take notice of light and shadow, lines and composition.  Plus, I get to share my enjoyment -- hey!  Look at this!  On the other hand, when a camera is hanging from my neck I am constantly interrupted.  Wow!  Got to stop and take this shot.  I think I miss out on just being present, just enjoying the experience in my own head without thinking forward to future enjoyment in reproductions.


There has been an increase in bird activity in the back yard.  Yesterday I heard a chirp in some bracken, then a glorious ruby-red bird flew out and away.  I did not see a crest, and it seemed to be a darker red than a cardinal, and the whole body was red; I'm not sure about the wings.  Any ideas?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

reflections on a winter's day

sunrise:  7:05
In case you can't read the icy thermometer, it's about 15 degrees this morning, and so breathtakingly lovely that I was mesmerized. Had to drag myself inside to get my daughter to school and myself to exercise class.

There are a lot of things in my mind today.  First, here's a link to a New York Times article my oldest daughter sent me as a follow up to my post on MLK Jr.'s birthday. Very thought provoking stuff.

Reports of a powerful aftershock in Haiti were on the front page today.  The horrors and agonies of that small island are...impossible to fully conceive.  We can send money and goods and prayers; we can ache for them.  Then what?  Try to overlook the small things in our own lives, perhaps, and make the world a better place every day, in any tiny way that we can.

In lighter news, I read about the importance of standing up and moving around as often as we can.  Easier said than done for a lot of occupations, but not impossible.  I particularly liked this remark:  "Don't just send your colleague an email.  Walk over and talk to him.  Standing up."

That brings me to another sequence of thoughts that have been circulating in my mind.  History will have to sort out all of the profound changes that electronic communications are having on the world.  I am a newbie blogger, and a big fan of the forum for such a free and rapid exchange of ideas.

I am particularly happy about the connections I have been able to sustain with friends and cousins whom I rarely get to see.  One in particular, a multi-year blogger and my blog mentor, had this to say about blogs:
"...although I go through stale periods from time to time I keep it going for a bunch of reasons.  First, once you have readers you really do not want to lose them.  They become part of your connection to the world, a whole base of partial one-dimensional friends that think they know you at some level (and they do).  I have had beers with a fair number of them over the years, and in a few cases made actual friends..."

he goes on:
"I was never particularly creative -- colorblind, tone deaf, and lacking in motor skills, the arts were not for me.  But then blogging software came along - it is like an instrument invented for me.  It unleashed a heretofore undetected creativity...."

How could anyone argue against that kind of a testimonial?  On the other hand, we are all sitting down too much, and forgetting to connect with real people (she writes at her computer, alone).
So many things, taken too far, lead to ill health and negative repercussions.  As in so much of life - it's a question of balance.  Everything in moderation, including moderation, my father likes to quote from Lost Horizon

Make connections by computer, but don't forget real, physical, visual human contact.

And by the way -- don't forget physical, visual contact with that world outside as well, on our feet, standing up, in the snow.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

snow day

sunrise:  7:06

No sun today - but this kind of landscape has a beauty all its own...
A very happy daughter is sleeping in this morning, instead of taking midterms.  Snow days still give me that little thrill inside, which was sometimes frustrating as a kid.  I was so excited to have a snow day that I couldn't get back to sleep. 

When my siblings and I were young it seems we spent entire days outside in the snow.  Building forts under trees and in the mounds left by plowing next to the driveway.  We used to love to create the most original sledding runs.  If they went through some kind of tunnel, had banked curves, or sent you airborne, that was the best.  It was also nice that you didn't feel all those scrapes and bruises until you got indoors to thaw out.

One of the best parts of having children has been the opportunity to relive parts of being a kid, like having snow days.  Of course, you have to relive the bad parts too -- peeing in snowsuits after a fruitless struggle with straps and buckles, frozen mittens that keep coming untucked from your sleeves,  snow down the boots, snowballs in the face thrown by your brother. But those recollections are helpful too when I get overly nostalgic for the old days when the kids were little.  Phew!  Thank goodness THAT'S over!   Memory is very useful when used selectively.

The dogs were full of frolic today.  Snow days never get old for them -- and no snowsuits!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

get up and yawn

sunrise:  7:07

There are some days when I get up in the morning full of energy and opitmism, and it's hard to even sit still for long before I dive into things.  Today wasn't one of those. 

Even on good days the dogs put me to shame with their get up and go.  Isn't it kind of annoying when it takes us 20-30 minutes to get up, do our %#* stretches because of our %$# back, get dressed, find clean socks, lace into boots, don extra layers, coat, hat, gloves -- go outside, loosen snowshoes, put on snowshoes, tighten snowshoes... and meanwhile the dogs wake up, stretch for 10 seconds and bounce out the door?

Well - T. is playing "Good Day Sunshine" on the piano, which is probably my cue to stop grumping and meet the day --

Monday, January 18, 2010

race matters

sunrise: 7:08
a wintry morning.  No sun, but a fresh coat of white to cover the dulled, rutted ground, and lovely highlights on every branch.

I was a lay speaker at yesterday's church service in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.  One might say it's pointless for a virtually all white congregation in the whitest state to talk about racial matters, but I think not.

We started with a poem by Pat Parker, and then a little meditative exercise.  Think for a few minutes about who you are.  What defines you?  What characteristics - five to ten things - describe the person you are?  Try it before you read on.

Here's the poem, followed by the story I told about an experience in my past.

For the White Person Who Wants to Know How to Be My Friend
by Pat Parker

The first thing you do is to forget that i'm Black.
Second, you must never forget that i'm Black.
You should be able to dig Aretha,
but don't play her every time i come over.
And if you decide to play Beethoven -- don't tell
me his life story.  They made us take music
appreciation too.
Eat soul food if you like it, but don't expect me
to locate your restaurants
or cook it for you.
And if some Black person insults you,
mugs you, rapes your sister, rapes you,
rips your house, or is just being an ass--
please, do not apologize to me
for wanting to do them bodily harm.
It makes me wonder if you're foolish.
And even if you really believe Blacks are better
lovers than whites -- don't tell me.  I start thinking
of charging stud fees.
In other words, if you really want to be my friend -- don't make a labor of it.  I'm lazy.

Learning that I am white 
by rcw

When I was in my thirties, living in Rochester, N.Y., I went back to school for a master’s degree in English.  It was a time of exploration for me.  After four children, and 6 years of being a full time mom, I got to be a full time student for a year while my husband took time off.  We referred to it as my sabbatical year from motherhood.

When it came time to register for classes, in the interest of expanding my literary horizons, I signed up for a class called “African-American literary criticism.”  I knew so little about literature outside of what was called “the western canon,” or, DWM literature (that’s “dead white males”), so I thought this class would give breadth to my literary education.

The class certainly did help me to expand, but it was more than just my literary horizons that were opened up.  What I did not anticipate was how far the class was going to push me beyond my personal horizons. 

It was an undergraduate course, so I felt conspicuous because of my age.  It was also the first time in my all too narrow experience that I had been in a classroom where black students were in the majority.  The professor, a very poised and articulate woman with a commanding presence (and younger than I was), was also black.  Even so, my observations of the classroom failed to translate into the awareness that should have shown in our first assignment.

On the first night our teacher sent us home with a task similar to the exercise you just did as a congregation.  In order to explore the perspectives from which we would be interpreting what we read, we were to write a brief essay about 10 things that define who we are.  I focused on my age, gender, family relationships, interests, and life experiences.
The next day the professor canvassed the class and found what she had expected -- not a single white student in the class had mentioned their race in their essay.  For the black students, race was at or near the top of their defining characteristics.  Our professor, a brilliant, successful scholar and teacher, candidly told us that not a day goes by when she does not wake up in the morning with the full awareness of being black.

For the rest of that term we talked a lot about writing, but also about identity.  Many class discussions evolved into stories about personal experiences -- how our experiences had formed us, formed our opinions, formed our assessments and judgments.  We talked about how our life experiences affected our interpretations of what we read, how we think, and whom we meet

I learned a lot about a body of literature during that semester. But far more important, I learned about race, and identity, and the enormous power - like it or not - the enormous power that outward appearance has on every person’s life. 
When I was a child in suburban New York, any time I walked down the street, stepped into a store, played at the playground, or sat in the school cafeteria, I had an automatic, unthinking assumption of belonging.  No one looked twice at me; no one questioned my presence.  I lived in a happy fog of expectation that I was an accepted member in a world of my peers.  The developmental effects of living with those assumptions cannot be overestimatedMy race determined my sense of place in the world, my sense of belonging in my (white dominant) community. 

The other powerful effect that my race has had on me is something I’ll call the privilege of anonymity.  The ability to get lost in a crowd, to blend into the background, is another underestimated privilege belonging to members of the racial majority. 

This privilege is a paradoxical companion to that sense of belonging.   When you are part of the --  appearance majority --you feel automatically accepted and included.  And yet, you can also be left alone.  You can hide when you want to, fade into the masses.  You can be private in public.  This, too, is no small thing in the formation of a human being.

So many of us in the racial majority go through life in the mistaken notion that, although we are very sensitive and open-minded about race and racial matters, race doesn’t have a personal impact on us.  What I discovered, I was embarrassed to confess, was the obvious fact that my race had been one of THE MOST SIGNIFICANT factors in my experience of the world ever since I was born.   In short, the most important thing that I learned in that class about African-American literary criticism, was something about myself that I had somehow never really understood.  I learned that I am white.
So what difference did that make, that enlightening knowledge that I am white?  In many ways, of course, my life didn’t change a bit.  Especially since my family moved from Rochester, NY to central Massachusetts, and then to central Maine.  Our hometowns have grown progressively whiter. 

But even though it might be easy to continue being oblivious to race, I believe --- I HOPE --- that my revelation of 17 years ago did change me.  In realizing my own racial identity, I recognized the degree of privilege in my life -- automatic, unspoken, inadvertent privilege, based solely on my race.  I recognize that race is something that affects EVERYONE, for better or for worse. 

Another result of my changed self-awareness is that I do NOT believe in being “color blind,” pretending that race doesn’t matter, because I most surely believe that it matters a lot.  But of course, I DO believe in striving to treat everyone equally.  How do you treat everyone as equals, while acknowledging that they’re all different?  It is a conundrum like the one in Pat Parker’s poem:

The first thing you do is to forget that i'm Black.
Second, you must never forget that i'm Black.

Sunday, January 17, 2010


sunrise: 7:08

today's sky show was all about pre-dawn, more than dawn itself:

...when the sun actually showed itself, it was rather subdued and unobtrusive:
I like developing this familiar relationship with sunrise.  My newly developed associations with the outdoors made a passage in the book I'm reading catch my eye.  It's The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner (very entertaining so far).  He introduced me to a new word, though it's not a new concept - biophilia.  Literally "the love of life" or of living systems, biophilia suggests that there is an instinctive, biologically based connection between human beings and all other living things on the planet.

A lovely idea.  But I'll take it even further, because I don't suppose that the sky and all of its various atmospheric and meteorological phenomena are considered living systems.  I do feel that human beings are far more woven into the interplays of the natural world - living and non-living - than we realize.

I have been a spiritual explorer for much of my life.  Though I love to talk about religion, I hesitate to talk too much about God, since that human, English word has so many different meanings to so many people.  I believe deeply in the concept of a divine, spiritual center that is accessible to humans, and beneficial.  Many of those moments in my life when I have felt closest to that divinity have been on mountaintops, or standing at the edge of the sea, or on a frozen lake, or watching the sun rise, or set.

Someone once told me that "tree-hugging" wasn't just a sarcastic term for those crazy nature hippies; hugging a tree really makes you feel grounded, connected to the earth and living systems.  I tried it out in the back yard the other day, but before I could feel my connection to the earth a dog jumped on me.  They get worried when I do strange things.

In any case, Edward O. Wilson's (the man who proposed the biophilia hypothesis) theories may be controversial, but I am a believer. 

Saturday, January 16, 2010

halleluia sky

sunrise:  7:09


Sorry -- this may seem like going overboard, but THE LAST COLLEGE APPLICATION EVER just went out last night!  It's been seven years since it began with child number one of four.  So many months of traveling, touring, researching, hand-wringing, late nights, looming deadlines, panicked mistakes, uncertainty, tears, battles, rages.  And that was just ME!  (only joking...sort of)

It is a frustratingly grueling process.  You want your children to be confident and self-assured, but how do you help them to be realistic at the same time?  You want her to see herself as a synthesis of positive character traits and experience and abilities, and you watch as she gets reduced to numbers.  You want to tell them that it's not THAT important, but a part of you is saying inside that it IS.  How much do you help?  When is advice necessary, even when it's not wanted?  How do you keep them on top of the process so they have time to give it their best, without taking away their own sense of ownership in the process?

Well - we've done it.  T. pushed the "submit" button on her last 3 of 14 (!) applications yesterday.  With a heavy line up of many competitive schools, we encouraged her to send out a lot, in order to have some choices (we hope!) when the results come in.  And we are hoping that she is well armed to take the results with equanimity, no matter how the chips fall.

The sky this morning fit my mood.  You can see the looming, muddy-gray cloud bank to the left that seemed to be getting pushed away by the rising blue.  There was also a beautiful flock of birds whose wings caught the morning light as they circled the back field, the best display of wildlife so far this year. 

So - on from here.  Having just had a conversation with a frustrated and burnt out daughter the other night about graduating from high school early (since she has the necessary credits after first term - next week), we're not under any illusion that the tough times have gone.  We gave her proposal full consideration, but feel strongly that she needs to see through this last term, and will probably have fun with it in the end.  It is hard to see your children sad and disheartened.  You want to fix everything, but you can't live their lives for them.  You just have to buoy them with whatever love you can, and hope they find their own way.  Meanwhile, I will find solace in an occasional halleluia sky.

Friday, January 15, 2010

people of the first light vs. power

sunrise:  7:09

thirty degrees today and a hatless walk.  That also meant more navigable snow for paws, and only one stick-happy dog that stayed by my side.

I saw "Avatar" yesterday.  There was something almost eerie about returning from that movie to an alert on my email about the currently embattled Wampanoag people of Massachusetts.

Avatar, if you haven't seen it, is all about a civilization of beings on a distant planet who live in a network of perfect spiritual harmony with their world.  Evil, profit-minded humans are determined to invade the planet Pandora in order to get access to the valuable mineral "unobtanium."  Unfortunately, in order to obtain the unobtanium, they have to wipe out the most sacred tree to the natives of Pandora.

The Wampanoag's situation is not quite so dire, nor so black and white.  Wampanoag means "people of the first light."  Greeting the sunrise off of Cape Cod is an important part of their spiritual traditions of thousands of years.  A proposed 24 square mile wind farm off the coast will obstruct the eastern view and impinge upon their sacred ritual.

A quote from a Wampanoag, cited on a Boston Children's Museum webpage, could have come just as easily from the inhabitants of the planet Pandora:

"We have lived with this land for thousands of respect and thanks for each and every thing taken for our use."

If only we could all live that way, maybe we wouldn't need all that extra power. 

I haven't studied the problem beyond the Jan 4th and Jan 13th New York Times articles, but it's not an easy one for me.  Proponents of wind power aren't aren't just trying to make a buck, they're trying to be more environmentally responsible.  But building 130 turbines, each 440 feet tall, in the path of a sunrise ritual that has gone on for thousands of years sounds as bad as wiping out the sacred tree on Pandora (and that was a disaster!).

And I have to admit, although I recognize the importance of clean power to feed all of our consumptive habits, I am also particularly attuned to the immeasurable power of an unobstructed sunrise.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

survival skills

sunrise:  7:10      minus 2 degrees (!)

 In the most recent issue of Bangor Metro magazine there was a nice article by Brad Eden.  It's all about various examples of how wildlife in Maine adapts for the rugged winter weather.  It got me wondering, not for the first time, where all the wildlife in my back yard is these days.  I know some are hibernating, some are spending the winter in their vacation homes down south.  But I usually see more signs of life - small rodent trails, deer tracks.  It could be that they rotate their wintering grounds.  Last year there were areas underneath old apple trees gone wild that looked like Grand Central Station -- they were so trampled down by feasting fauna.

I'm afraid my three canine companions might be the culprits.  Their barking and sniffing around might be too much of deterrent.  I'm sure the critters are around, biding their time until nicer weather, or until the dogs are inside.

In the absence of prey, the dogs have resorted to foraging.  It is pretty amazing to see them stop suddenly before a pristine patch of snow, take a few exploratory sniffs, and start digging with enthusiasm.  Here's Clara going for crabapples:
I did hear an alarmed CHIRP! come from an apple patch yesterday, and I was afraid Clara had captured a chipmunk or vole.  But no, she was only after old apples.  I expect Mr. Vole was only angry at the competition.  Here's Guster with an old, rotten, frozen apple prize:

I have never thought of dogs as fruit eaters, but clearly not all of their wilderness survival instincts have disappeared.  They are programmed to find whatever food may be available.  Well, some of them are.  Kate is oblivious to both apples and frozen whiskers.  She is interested in one thing only:

It is humbling (the instinct to forage, not the obsession with sticks).  I may be getting more familiar with sunrise and natural light, but I think it will be a long time before I can smell apples through the snow.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

the psychology of no

sunrise:  7:10  2 degrees Fahrenheit

They call it child psychology - that thing where you tell a kid they can't do something in order to get them to do it.  The funny thing is, the same tactics work on grown people.  Myself, for example.

If anyone had suggested a year ago that I go outside to witness sunrise every day for a year, I'd have laughed.  Good luck trying to get me out for ONE sunrise, I might have said.  But something changed when I was faced with an injury and the diagnosis "unstable core," when they told me NO carrying heavy objects, NO tennis, NO strenuous activity.  On top of that, there was the voice in my own head saying NO - you're never really going to finish that book.  NO - you don't write every day, and you probably won't, so forget it.

Something woke up inside me.  I didn't like being told no.

So here I am, going to exercise classes, stretching every morning, walking out to see sunrise when it's 2 degrees outside, and so far in 2010, writing every day.

A similar thing happened to me at age 18.  Three days before leaving for my freshman year of college I fell water-skiing and tore ligaments in my knee.  I had been lukewarm about playing college sports, though I was expected on the field hockey team.  But when I was suddenly faced with NO to sports, I became a rabid athlete - physical therapy several times a week, swimming, weight training.  I got into better shape than I had ever been in before.

Perhaps I am childish.  I believe, though, that the stubborn inclination not to give in to outside controls is a strength.  Is it especially American?  We who won't be pushed around, who want the freedom to do and make of ourselves whatever we choose?  I'm not sure, but my guess is that it is a rather universal human trait, for humans with enough confidence, hope, and opportunity to cultivate their egos.  So -- never mind the children.  If you really want to get yourself to do something, just say no.  Then see what happens.