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)

Monday, May 31, 2010


sunrise:  4:54

All of my photographic options dried up this morning, so I'll have to paint the day in words. 

The air was chilly and fresh outdoors.  A great, blue-gray, cloudless dome of sky displayed only the bright gibbous moon in the west.  There was a very light mist over the pond, where the bullfrogs burble and water bugs make various light speckles on the surface.  A pair of ducks flew overhead, in the midst of the usual avian symphony.  My walk now takes me through a lush green world - tall, thick grasses, flowering trees, expanding spans of fragrant phlox, leafy branches arching over my mowed pathway, daisies beginning to pop up all around, and in the field above the pond, our first lupines!

Very strange and exciting coincidence to see the lupines.  I have always loved them, but there were none on our property.  A couple of years ago we tried to get some to grow in the field above the pond by strewing seeds that we got from a bunch of dried up lupine pods that we found on the side of the road.  No sign of lupines last year, and I assumed that they didn't take.

At a farmer's market on Saturday we met a farmer who specializes in lupines.  He sells them every week, but he was sold out by the time N, T, and I arrived.  On the way back from driving N halfway to Connecticut yesterday (we met A halfway, and off they went to move in to a new apartment together - first time those two sisters will live together in five years) I stopped by the Snakeroot Farm in Pittsfield - the lupine farm.

I came home with three huge, healthy lupines in wild colors, ready to be planted in the upper pond field.  As I returned from my walk this morning, I passed the field and looked - and there are at least three lupines already there, looking very erect and healthy in the high grass.  Our seeds took, after all!

Not sure where I'll put the new ones now.  Nature is full of surprises.

As usual with a cloudless day, the sun rose in quiet subtlety over the brightening horizon.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

surround yourself with a white light - or - son under the moon

sunrise:  4:54

The other day I drove my son to Logan airport to catch a plane to Texas, then to Argentina.  Car rides are always a wonderful time to spend with people you care about.   Even with the intrusion of cell phones and ipods, it is still a contained space with limited distractions.  And even though S. slept for much of the way after a late night packing and early departure, it was still lovely to be with him.  I like to be his mom taking care of him while he sleeps, keeping him safe.

Keeping him safe is an illusion, of course.  Life with grown children means a constant letting go and just hoping and praying that they will be okay.  My sister, interfaith minister and family counselor, both deeply spiritual and highly practical, offered me a great tool for handling worry.  “Surround yourself with a white light.”

In idle moments I am a worrier.  Lying in bed, I sometimes worry about my physical state -- that weird feeling in my chest or my head.  Sometimes walking alone somewhere I get fearful of attacks in the dark from strange animals or strange people, or something completely indefinable.  When that happens I think of my sister's suggestion.  I conjure up an image of myself surrounded by a crystalline, white light, a glow of protection, an aura of confidence.  It is really just a tool of distraction, in a way, but my credulous side really believes that I can make a difference in my vulnerability, somehow, through that positive visualization.  Whatever the reason, it helps.

On a lighter note – I tried positive visualization on the tennis court last week when my partner and I were losing by a lot.  I saw our winning score in my head and focused hard on it.  And we won!  With that score!

But, anyway – back to the white light…

I use the white light tool on other people that I fear for as well.  If someone is very ill I do a kind of meditation, focus on them in their sick bed, with a white light of peace, comfort, healing all around them.  Or when one of my children is on the road to somewhere, I close my eyes and create a white light around the car speeding through the night. 

So when my precious son flew to Argentina under a full moon on Friday night, I hardly had to visualize much.  I pictured his airplane flying through the clear sky, bathed in the light of the moon. 

He is there now, safe and sound.  I guess it worked.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

perfect morning

sunrise:  4:55

Whenever there are triple digits in the hour - like 5:55 - my kids always say, "Five fifty-five! Make a wish!" (or two twenty-two, etc).  At the moment of today's sunrise at 5:55, I was wishing for a lot more mornings like this one.

My camera's reproductions can only begin to do the day justice.  Besides, it wasn't any particular visual beauty that made this morning so striking.  It was just...perfect.

The air is fresh and tantalizing as it plays across your face, and it is just cool enough to be comfortable in an open jacket.  The birds are in full twittering chorus (and I recognize a few more, having attended my first bird walk the other day).  Bullfrogs are sounding their deep bellows with gusto.

Wildflowers carpet great spans of field, or fill smaller shadowed glades under trees.  Clouds drift in magisterial splendor across the sky, changing colors in the expanding light of day.  And of course, there was the full moon.

No bugs, no rain, perfect temperature, sublime symphony.  I had to sit in the chair by the pond for a while and just be in it.

 (editorial note added on May 30th:  For the last three days I have been an hour off on my posted sunrise times.  It was not 5:55, but 4:55 this morning.  I've corrected it now, which will make it confusing for future readers.  But I'll leave the rest as is.  Call it a permanent record of my vagaries and silliness.)

Friday, May 28, 2010

mate for life

sunrise:  4:55

My routines are a bit thrown off these days while J is off canoeing in Canada - an annual event now, and one of the few times he gets to hang out with a bunch of guys.  Though I will admit that it's nice to be able to let the alarm ring longer, stay in bed for stretching in the morning, and let the dogs make noise, I wouldn't appreciate those little bonuses for long.

I had two separate conversations over the past year with men in their 50's who questioned the human cultural contract of mating for life.  What do men and women join together for?  they mused.  They get together to procreate and raise their young.  After the young have grown and gone off on their own, how is there any evolutionary advantage to staying together?

As the average lifetime of human beings has expanded, they argued, we have started to live beyond the usefulness of the custom of mating for life.

Interesting theory, but missing something.

My three older children are all in long term relationships right now.  Finding someone to spend your life with is a big deal, and they may not be there yet - but you never know.  Sometimes I wonder if a lot of people choose a partner without putting a lot of thought into the long term, but I am grateful that my children seem to be extraordinarily thoughtful in the process that they are in.

Some of the best relationship advice I read was in a book by Madeline L'Engel, called "Circle of Quiet."  Some relationships pull you away from your family, away from your studies or your work, away from your friends and interests.  Those are not the good ones.  Of course there will be change when you invest time into a relationships - no one has unlimited time to give to everyone and everything.  But in the broad scheme of things, a good relationship enriches and enhances everything else that you value in your life - it doesn't force you away from them.

I add some of my own thoughts:

Do you laugh together?  Do you enjoy spending time both alone together and out in the world together?  Can you be happy spending time by yourself for a while, knowing you'll be together again before long?  Do you encourage each other to grow and develop and be the best that each of you can be?  Are you both willing to make some changes in your lives in order to make them work together?

Love and respect are essential.  Essential.

But notice that I add them at the end of my list.

That is just relationship advice.  Before marriage there is a lot more to consider.  Do you share values? history? family aspirations?  Will you work well together as a team (owning a home, running a household, raising children)?  Can you work out differences?  Usually one or the other is the more adaptable - do you know which one you are?  Are you willing to accept your role in the give and take of this relationship?  Are you sexually compatible (important - not to be underestimated)?  Do you look forward to middle age, old age together?  Are you happy to take on this person's history/family/background as a part of your own and your children's for life?

I am not someone who believes that a marriage should be preserved at all costs for the sake of family.  Some marriages start off well, but life's unpredictable vicissitudes can make two lives veer so far apart that they can no longer enrich each other.  A marriage that has become negative or destructive does no one any good, and can do a lot of people harm. It should end.

On the other hand, I think a lot of marriages that break up could be fortified and rebuilt to become even stronger if the two parties are willing to put the necessary work into them.  And that work is essential from the very outset.

Relationship = Work.  period.  Too many people forget that.  They also forget that the rewards of working your very hardest for something and succeeding are supreme.

The years of raising children in a marriage are distinct.  It is an entirely different undertaking than simply working on the marriage itself.  But it is not the sole purpose of marriage by a long shot.

Marriage leads to better health and longer life - studies have pointed to this finding for years, though a conclusive explanation is still elusive.  In my frivolous wisdom I will submit that security, companionship, consistency, and love are all key ingredients to good health - good mental, physical and spiritual health.

The rules all change when the kids grow and fly the nest; I can already see it evolving.  The marriage goes through a dramatic transition, much more so than the gradual evolution of first pregnancy, growing baby, etc.  Suddenly, you are on your own again.  But only sort of.

Your offspring continue to be an enormous part of your life both on the sidelines and your shared heart of hearts.  You still carry that same torch together;  the torch just sits in its bracket on the wall more often.  Meanwhile you can recreate a two person life - remind yourself of what fun you have with each other, maybe put some of that time and energy that you've devoted to supporting your children's lives all those years into supporting your spouse's life.  Remember?

I think I'm going to have a blast with more time on my own - and a blast with more time with my funny, clever, game, and often off-the-wall husband.  He might make me crazy from time to time, but one thing I know for certain -- he will never be boring.

My own children have plenty of time to keep exploring the challenges of relationships.  When it comes time to consider something in the long term, however, I hope that they will aim to mate for life.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

if you can't take the heat...

sunrise:  4:56

Whew!  It feels like the Bangor region got a hot flash that lasted for a couple of days, but today it has passed.  It was chilly enough to want to close the windows back up in the kitchen this morning.  Hot, humid weather sucks all of the energy out of my being.  I feel like one of Salvador Dali's melting clocks.

I guess I chose the right latitude to live in.

I spent the summer of 1981 in Cambridge, Massachusetts at Harvard summer school.  I was studying French to prepare for a semester abroad, and thank goodness the language labs were air conditioned.  The dormitories, sadly, were not.  There was a killing heat wave in the US that summer, and it showed in Cambridge.  I remember being struck by how the pace of life slowed down.  No one wanted to make any unnecessary movements that might create even the slightest elevation in their body temperature.

Widespread air conditioning is yet another way that we humans have created unnatural environments for ourselves (see my living in the zoo post).  Surely it has increased our productivity in those regions where the heat could shrivel you up in no time.  But -- is an increase in productivity always the best thing?  Maybe climate was designed to slow us down in the summertime.  We consume so much industrial energy trying to keep everyone cool.  The net gain for the planet might not be so great.

Would it be so terrible if we all just slowed down?
It was a great day for clouds - cameras cannot translate to my satisfaction.  This little collection has some particularly striking shapes -- what do you see?

I see -- rearing horse, winged rabbit, swimmer seen from under the water's surface

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

twin beds

sunrise:  4:57

Yesterday morning I was upstairs tiptoeing around the third floor for something in the bathroom while the house slept.  We're in the midst of a flash heat wave right now, so N and S both had their doors wide open and their sheets pushed away, tangled around their feet.  I realized that they are in two wooden beds that used to be attached as bunk beds, where they slept about 17 years ago.  From the hall I could see both of them sleeping, hear their peaceful breathing.  I had to pause for a minute or two.

A mother has to seize these secret moments when she can.  I am well adjusted.  I accept and embrace and adore the young adults that my children have become, and I genuinely celebrate their world travels and explorations into life.  Still, when they are home for a few days in between episodes of their blossoming lives, I occasionally allow myself a little nostalgic indulgence.

N. spent last fall semester (about 5 months) in Buenos Aires, studying and traveling and cooking.  It is not entirely a coincidence that her twin brother, who has been wanting to live abroad for some portion of his college years, has decided to spend his summer in Buenos Aires.  They don't get to see each other a lot, so this few days of connection at home base is nice for them too.  I watched their two heads together, poring over a guide to the city of Buenos Aires that N pulled out to give S before his trip.  That was another little moment - watching those two faces, distinct but certainly related, close together studying something.

When they were first home from the hospital we put N and S into a full size crib.  Each was laid to sleep horizontally at either end of the bed.   When we would go back to pick them up after a nap or in the morning, they had usually wriggled over next to each other so that they were touching.

I have a brother and sister who are twins too.  They weren't always friends, but they have always been close.  There is something unique and magically wonderful about the twin relationship.  Even though N used to complain about having to share her birthday every year, and how she was always lumped together with someone, she loves being a twin and hopes for twins herself some day.

There is something magical about giving birth to twins as well.  About watching them interact and grow both separately and together.  Their twin identity is interwoven into their individual selves, so they are really almost like three offspring - my daughter N, my son S, and my precious twins.

This weekend they will go their separate ways again - one to Connecticut, one to South America.  Their beds will be empty, and I won't weep.  But I'll allow myself a little lump in the throat; I'll let that wave of longing wash over me.  I don't wish for the past back again, but I can still miss those two little sleeping faces.  I still appreciate the opportunity to conjure those faces in my heart and mind by looking at the faces of two 21-year-olds, sleeping in their old twin beds.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

living in the zoo

sunrise:  4:58

One might think I've referenced the zoo because we've had a fuller house recently - N and S are home (hooray!), old high school friends are stopping by, back from school; a nephew was here for a few days.  Or maybe you think the zoo reference is about three dogs tinged by skunk milling about the house.  Both good possibilities, but not my thought for the day.

I have been thinking once again about our human disconnection from the natural world.  Taking a daily walk in an increasingly lush landscape, overgrown with the relentless emergence of life, I cannot help coming back to it.  That is the world that gave birth to our human nature, the one we were designed for, and we don't really know it that well any more.

All of these buildings, and cities, and bunkers, and walled communities of one sort or another are just so many forms of cages.  Some cages are stark, sterile, and barren.  Those lead to poor resident health - both mental and physical.  Some of our cages are pretty fancy, with an attempt to create a natural habitat for improved well-being.  The lucky residents of those zoo environments are better off.  Either way, though, we have put ourselves in a zoo.

I read about zoo habitats on an American Veterinary Medical Association website.  In the 1970's we moved from the stark, tiled wall enclosures to more natural habitats that would be more "hospitable and stimulating."  "Although this approach worked well," reported a zoo design specialist, "it did not stop animals from growing bored with their environment.  Boredom can have harmful effects..."

There is increasing evidence, the report goes on, that behavioral and physical problems can grow out of "a lack of physical activity and inhospitable habitats," which includes lack of choice, variety, and novelty.  A pretty setting, in other words, is not enough.  The animals need to be challenged, need to have responsibilities to take care of themselves - forage for food, create a shelter, wander around and find good company.  "Rotating habitats" are one new innovation.  Animals get to move around, travel, if you will, between environments throughout the day.

I can't help feeling that what we have created is just one big zoo, with habitats that are all too often unstimulating and unhealthy - disconnected from the world that we were made for.  Perhaps battling for the shortest line at the grocery store could be construed as competition for food, but I don't think it's really quite the same thing.

I'm afraid that the vast majority of human specimens would not survive a reintroduction into the wild.  We are mostly bound to continue living in the zoo of our own creation. 

Might as well enjoy this lovely habitat.

Monday, May 24, 2010

defense mechanisms

sunrise:  4:58

It is a world of green and gray outdoors this morning.  In the fog everything is muted.  "Blanket of fog" is an apt expression.  The world really does feel muffled - sound and sight are enrobed by the fog and gently dulled.  Scent, however, becomes more intense.

Our skunkish friend must have had some more run-ins with fear and defense through the night.  The scent of skunk lingers everywhere, 10+ acres of damp, skunk drenched atmosphere.  Hard to detect anything else - flowers or mown grass or cut pine - skunk is a pervasive aroma.  You become kind of inured to it after a while, and of course none of it is as intense as the direct hit. The dogs' odor lingers on from yesterday, but it's hard to tell at this point where they leave off and the general atmosphere comes in.

The powers doled out to nature's various beasts are kind of bizarre.  If you had to come up with some defense systems, would you come up with these ideas?  "Okay, you get to have spikes all over your body so no one can bite you; you get to fly; you get a stinger, and if you use it, you die, but, whatever; you get to be huge and strong, or fast, or have sharp teeth; you cart a really hard shell around on your back that you can hide inside; you change colors to blend in; and you get to squirt really stinky stuff from your butt to deter your enemies."  Who thinks of this stuff?

Our human defense is both the simplest and the most complicated.  It is our brain.  Our ability to use technology - from the club to the H-bomb - in order to "defend" ourselves.  The biggest flaw in that system is our inability to defend ourselves against ourselves.  We have come up with protective strategies that destroy our habitat, from the production of food and shelter to the global battle for dominance.  Some day we may wreck the entire planet, at least for humans. 

We might have been better off if we had just been given the ability to squirt really stinky stuff out of our butts.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sunday skunking

sunrise:  4:59

Sunday morning.  Since I just finished mowing all of the trails out back yesterday (I love to mow, especially on our shiny new ride-on that we bought last fall), I thought I might wax philosophic about choosing one's path. 

Unfortunately, on my way back to the house the dogs encountered a skunk under an apple tree.  All three of them.  It is comical, from a distance, to watch them react.  Shaking heads, foaming mouths.  Kate did a move I'd never seen before - running along low to the ground like a vacuum cleaner with the side of her face pressed into the grass.  When that didn't work she went into the pond. 

They sit locked in the barn and await me and my bottle of SkunkKleen.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

the company of hot women

sunrise:  5:00

Two birds enjoying today's morning light:

T. and I watched a movie last night –“It’s Complicated” with Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin.  Pretty good film.  There was one small detail that I especially appreciated.  The character played by Meryl Streep, a mid-life divorced woman with college and post-college aged kids, experiences two hot flashes during the film, though nothing is ever stated about it.  It was handled so subtly that I wonder if most viewers don’t even notice.  It came through loud and clear to me.

“Is it hot in here?  Or is it me?” is the title of a terrific book about menopause that I read cover to cover a couple of years ago.  Inevitably it returns to my mind whenever I feel that rush of heat to my face and the bloom of lava that starts in my chest and flows out over my body.  This time of year especially, when sometimes it really IS hot in here, I don’t always know the answer to that question.

As I expect is the case for most women, I am alone in my household as a menopausal woman.  The rest of the family is sympathetic; they help me laugh about it.  My Dad called my mother “Flash Gordon” for years.  But no one can really get it like another menopausal woman can.

I do not spend a lot of time with women my age – probably not enough.  I definitely have strains of the introvert.  But now and again I am filled with appreciation for the company of women who are my peers in age and experience.    The subject of hot flashes, menopause, adolescent children, empty nest, or shifting body parts can set off of a cascade of anecdotes.  It is usually a descent into hilarity, even as it is sharing the misery.

My friends knew before I did that my turtleneck days were over.  You have to be able to get to exposed skin in a hurry.  “Layers, Honey, always have layers.”  Everyone’s husbands have been awakened by a wife who is hot with something other than passion in the middle of the night.  Off fly the covers.

There are amusing hot flash “first time” stories, and extreme hot flash events.  My most memorable was waking up with that panicky feeling of escalating heat while I was tightly bound inside a sleeping bag at the base of Mt. Katahdin.  Another particularly inconvenient one came while I was accompanying the show choir during the district competition.  My page turner deftly jumped into the job of valet as I frantically tried to shake off the sleeves of my jacket between measures.  A woman at a tennis gathering recently moved to Maine from the southwest “just in time.”  “People ask me if the cold weather is hard for me, but I LOVE it!!  A hot flash in Florida could kill you!”

As we edge our way toward summer I look forward with some trepidation to the hot weather, already planning to spend as much time as I can near cool water this July and August.  Rumor has it that some women continue flashing for decades, so I’m just going to learn to live with it.  Enjoy my early morning walks.  And always wear layers.

Friday, May 21, 2010

sour cream and onion books

sunrise:  5:01

I got a phone call this morning at 4:35am from my 23 year old daughter.  No - it wasn't an emergency, or sickness, or sorrow.  She had just finished the fourth book in the Twilight series and wanted to say hello to me.  "The birds are singing.  I figured you must be getting up pretty soon."

If you don't know, this is the series of vampire stories that took the country by storm a year or two ago.  Now they have been made into movies and are wildly popular.  I read the first one.  It was a page-turner for sure.  It tapped into that ecstatic, overpowering passion of an adolescent crush exceedingly well.  At the same time...well, A. said it best: "I am so embarrassed!"  Some books are so engrossing that you just can't put them down, even when you know they're not that great - no elevating literary qualities.  And yet - you can't help it.  My sister calls those the sour cream and onion potato chip variety of books.

I've had one 20-something child call at 6am, knowing I'd be up, but 4:35 was pushing it.  I was in between my two cell phone alarms, not out of bed yet, and next to her sleeping Dad.  Anyway, it was still nice to hear her wide awake, animated voice. 

Our whole family are readers to some degree.  One of my favorite events of childhood (my kids' childhood) was a library day.  We came home with 5 books apiece, 20 books, and the rest of the day would be devoted to a "book fest."

When the Harry Potter books first came out, all of us quickly became addicted.  As each new book came on the market, we would get one of the first copies (at Sam's Club, or BJ's, or Spag's in Worcester) and flip a coin to see who got to read it first.  J read them out loud to T before she was old enough to read them herself.  It was a great family event.  We started buying two copies later on, leaving the spare copy out at our summer house - where there is no TV and no computer, at least until very recently (computers kind of work there now, for better and for worse).  Books ruled.


Blackflies have come out in force!!!  Yesterday evening the dogs were surrounded by clouds.  After they came in we found sated flies all over the kitchen table, walked crookedly across magazines.  Gross.  They find any hint of exposed skin and come in for the attack.  It's a great reason to walk in the morning, because they were not out at 5am.

Here are dogs illustrating grass:   seeds shedding,

and the deepening green jungle

Here is my shadow over a misty pond...

Thursday, May 20, 2010

natural connections

sunrise:  5:02

I wonder what it's like to be on a space station for months at a time?  Unique and unfamiliar would wear off after a while - then could human life develop indefinitely?

I have been reading and hearing a lot about humans' dependence on nature for their well-being.  My father is a staunch believer.  So much so, in fact, that he has devoted the last 15 years to the founding of a natural history museum in upstate New York.  The Wild Center, in Tupper Lake, NY, is now a thriving testament to that conviction:  the natural world of the outdoors is a treasure of inestimable value to the world, including to humanity.  (You really must go some time - bring the whole family)

In Diane Ackerman's "The Zookeeper's Wife," a non-fiction story of World War II, the author used one woman's journals and lots of research to document Warsaw during the German occupation.  Part of what sapped all of the life out of the Jews confined to Warsaw's ghetto, she writes, was their complete disconnection from the natural world - trees, grass, animals.  They shriveled and turned gray and dull.

In order for human beings to thrive, to find their depth, to feel their connection to their mother Earth, they must have some contact with a growing, living world. But I wonder how that would apply to someone, say, who is born on a space station, and grows up there.  Do we only need to feel connected to Earth if we live on it?  Could humans survive, in some distant place in the future, without Earth?  Hard to imagine.

As far as all of us who are living here on this planet, I am a member of the nature club.  I think people lose an important element of themselves if they are too long deprived of contact with the living world.  We lose our animal awareness, our sensory attention, our ability to feel and interact with the world intuitively.  We become more like the structures of steel and concrete and electronic circuitry that we have invented, and lose touch with our breathing skin and our beating hearts.

Take a deep breath of the fresh May air.  Hold onto a tree.  Watch a bird, or some ants.  Dig some dirt - take off the gloves and run it through your hands.  Feel the breeze on your skin.  You are a part of all of this.