Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Though most of the leaves here in Vermont are slowly giving way to a red, yellow or orange hue, we’ve still plenty of green to go around. For me this month has been filled with community gatherings. Each in their own way have lifted my spirits, made me laugh, and made me pleased to be part of a larger whole.

Definition 1 green~ A pop culture term to generalize all of the environmentally beneficial and sustainable means of mitigating the impact of human industrial development and the damage of previous degradation of the environment.

This Columbus Day Weekend, instead of heading to the beach, I headed to the hills. Cedar Circle farm held their annual pumpkin festival and I was asked if I wanted to volunteer my services as a photographer. I couldn’t say yes fast enough. The benefits are great (free shirt, free food!) and it was a chance to see many of the children who have since grown out of my library storytimes. I was amazed at all of the offerings: music, crafts, face painting, cider pressing, horse-drawn wagon rides, great local food and a field of pumpkins just waiting to go home with over excited children to be carved and lit. My camera was never far from my side. I clicked and clicked, pleased to be there amidst the harvest. There were over 1800 people who attended this year’s festival, with only two and a half bags of garbage collected. Everything else was recycled or composted. That’s definitely a commitment to the environment that we can all try to adopt in our own way. I can’t wait for the strawberry festival, I hear it’s just as much fun.

Definition 2  green~ A common or park in the center of a town or village

The center of our town serves as a gathering place throughout the year. We host many events, including picnics, May Day, concerts, and the Fair. Every other Fall we host an event called Giving Bowls. The premise is this: local artists make ceramic bowls, the children (and other community members) glaze the bowls and bake bread. Local businesses donate soups and we gather on a beautiful day in October to eat, drink and be merry. The money raised goes to a different charity each time. This year I volunteered to work in the silk screening both. Seeing that there were many capable hands ready to turn blank t-shirts into works of art, I grabbed my camera and proceeded to capture as many images as possible. I love seeing so many of my friends and neighbors together in one place. This is the event I eagerly anticipate, even more than the Fair. (Which I certainly love; but a good bowl of soup, in a beautiful bowl that I get to take home gets my vote every time.)

Definition 3 green~ a color whose hue is somewhat less yellow than that of growing fresh grass or of the emerald or is that of the part of the spectrum lying between blue and yellow

For years my fellow knitters have talked about the October sale at Yates Farm. On Saturday they serve a breakfast, and their yarn is displayed throughout their old farmhouse. I have always wanted to go, for it sounds like a version of Christmas that truly must be experienced rather than just imagined. This year I managed to swap my Saturday work schedule in order to see the sale for myself. It was even more lovely than I could have possibly imagined. The farm, the house, the yarn—I didn’t know where to look first. I got the tour and then decided I had to have my camera. I desperately needed to take some of these images with me, maybe even more than I needed the yarn. (Who ever thought I would write that sentence ?!?) Everything was so thoughtfully arranged, both the yarn and the furnishings. The whole family was there helping out with the sale. The daughters were ringing people out, the grandsons were telling the adults when the yarn was low, and one of the granddaughters had spent the morning putting the colorful skeins just so onto the table. It certainly was a labor of love, for the whole Yates family, and the community certainly appreciated it.  As I sipped a cup of coffee I watched people go by loaded up with yarn, the open skeins slipped over their arms. Each person that went by seemed so happy, and I realized it was because they were planning, and dreaming of possibilities. Of the sweaters, scarves and hats they would make for their family and friends. I managed to limit myself to a few skeins. I chose a beautiful blue-green yarn that will be perfect for a sweater I have had my eye on. This winter as I knit (and knit and knit) I will remember my time at the Yates Farm, as well as the day spent at the Giving Bowl and the Pumpkin Festival. I will trust that white snow will certainly one day give way to the verdant green grass. These are the thoughts that will keep me warm.

For more images from each of these events, please visit Flickr

Sigh.  Holidays can be tough in our house.

Take Halloween.  Friday night was the cub scout Halloween party and when you are three and a half, the cub scout Halloween party is a really big deal, up there with Christmas, your birthday, and your first trip to the dentist.  But the party starts at 6:30 and you have been up since 5:30 (in the morning) and have had no nap so, of course, when you are three and a half, you fall asleep on the way there and stay asleep stretched out on the floor over by the janitor's closet where other parents give you and your mother weird looks.  Even though your mother loves you so much she gives you her own coat for a pillow.  Until she gets cold and has to take it back, but the floor isn't THAT dirty.  And then, when you are three and a half, you wake up on the way out to the car and wail, "Why are we leaving?!" because for you the party has just begun even though for everyone else, especially your mother who needs a glass of wine, an aspirin, and a few hours of Modern Family, it is really, really over.

Poor B.  He was confused and his feelings were hurt.  But he did rally enough the next day to wear his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle costume for several hours and make great use of a green glow stick brought home by one of his brothers.  I know, Halloween is still days away and chances are very good that his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle costume will rip, burst, tear or shred before we go trick-or-treating, but I don't think he would care, and he likes to practice being...a mutated turtle with enemies.

Apparently, though, since he missed the party and only knew the glow stick in daytime, he had no clue of its true powers.  After tucking him into bed Saturday night, after reading him a story, kissing him, kissing his plastic spiderman and finally turning out the light he called me back in with a voice half-panicked, half-bewildered.  "Mommy," he gasped.  "It glows!"  His sweet face was lit (in a sickening sort of way) by the clammy green light of his glow stick and I was struck anew by the true meaning of Halloween.  It's not about goody bags, gorilla suits and fake blood.  Well, it is, but it's also about that shivery fear of the otherworldly.  The gruesome potential of might-have-beens.  It's about being a kid who believes in both the benevolent and malevolent sides of magic.  And glow sticks.  It's about glow sticks.  Which are just cool and do not even explain to me how they work, I don't want to know.

Next Week’s Word: Salt

Sunday, October 16, 2011


We don't do quiet in our house. We do rambunctious, crashing, shrieking (both joy and anger) and laughing. We do multi-leveled simultaneous conversations. A friend once mentioned our house reminded her of that fable in which a wise man councils a complaining man to bring in a cow, a rooster, another something loud and another, and then to get rid of all of them so the house will be silent in comparison. Only we can't escort the loud makers out the house until they're eighteen.

Quiet can be better found outside our walls. Especially in winter when all sound freezes. But fall is quiet, too. Leaves make little sound when they crumble to the dirt road. Spring is loud with the world gone melty, and summer's sound is a buzzy one, but fall – you can clear your head with fall.

We don't take advantage. We usually fail to engage in long walks. We neglect to spend hours on the porch. Afternoons that could be spent hidden in the leaf pile are instead filled with mental and physical detritus – errands, meals, cleaning, chores. Slowing down is hard. Listening to the quiet and asking nothing of it is harder. Soon it will be winter and outside quiet won't be an option - freezing is a danger. Certain days I look forward to that excuse.  Other days I notice golden passing by and shudder for not snaring it in some kind of web.

I say to myself “Do not go quietly into that good night.” And so when I need to be I am loud. When it’s called for I am boisterous. I stand up for what I think is right. Yet this is the way of everything these days, the bombardment is constant. As if to be louder and more outrageous is always better. It certainly gets you attention. Or at least that’s how it used to be.

Now I find myself wanting to unplug, disconnect, tunnel under and be still. These past few weeks have been cacophonous, jarring and discordant. The stress has become a constant pounding that would not be silenced. Our world has fallen apart and we are putting the pieces together again in a new configuration. Through it all my camera has become a lifeline. Each shutter click a step towards calmness. Looking through that lens the rest of the world falls away. To overstate the obvious, the camera gives me the ability to truly focus on the image that’s right in front of me. Not the one that was there or will be, just the image that is present.

This is the time of year we normally we visit our ocean. Due to circumstances beyond our control we’ve had to reschedule. Instead of making the trek southward, I spent some of the time with friends and made an attempt to distance myself from my weekly routines. My dear friend S took me on a walk this week. Not just any ramble, but a special meandering that you can only do with companions and their cameras. We took the time to enjoy our surroundings and really look at the details, instead of quickly passing them by on the way to somewhere else. Each time I pick up my camera without any real intention I am always amazed at the results. Once I get into the motion of looking and clicking I remind myself that the only real way to do anything is to actually do it—be it writing, painting, dancing, or playing an instrument. Wishing doesn’t make it so. There is an effort and involvement required. Without it there is nothing.

Patti Smith is on the cover of the latest New York Times magazine, which features several of her gorgeous silver gelatin prints. About her photography she says. “My dream is simply that they would have a place of honor over someone’s desk. When someone is reading or writing a letter or contemplating, they can look up and they would find a moment of serenity or a moment of centering from one of these little pictures.” I feel the same. If someone looks at these photos from the past two years and for a short time is transported out of their busy life, then the chance to spend a quiet moment is a gift I have received when I took the picture and one that I am then giving to those viewing the image I captured. Think of a photograph that captures your attention like a trip into Narnia through that beloved wardrobe. Be quiet, be still; look and listen.

Nest Week’s Word: Green

Monday, October 10, 2011


Virginia Woolf wrote about a room of one’s own. I have dreamt of such a luxury, space that was mine to do with as I wish. Every time I put any serious thought to the matter, the details change shape and the specifics shift. Sometimes it’s just four walls, other times it’s over the top elaborate. But overall the idea is that I would have a place for all of my artistic endeavors. I once toured Eric Carle’s studio and I was in awe of his flat-drawered filing cabinets. These are the type that would hold maps flat, only he used them to store his beautiful handmade papers. I would certainly put a set of these to good use.

There would be cubbies for yarn, tall pots and jars for knitting needles. Rubber stamps displayed on a small set of shelves, ink pads in their own bins. Paint brushes, gluesticks, beads, and stickers all in a spot designed just for them. A repurposed card catalog would probably be perfect for this. My film cameras would be there somewhere on display, while the typewriters would sit in a place of honor. My latest idea involves a magnetic strip above my desk, the kind chefs use in kitchens for their knives. Such a space would allow me access to each of my scissors when I needed them: the orange-handled heavy duty pair, the tiny ones that cut so sharply and my favorite ones that produce a deckle edge.

Somewhere in the room there would be a bookcase filled with the works of inspirational artists. And hanging above it would be my new calendar featuring my most recent fixation—Nikki McClure. I’m not the type to buy a calendar in September but after years of wanting one, I finally decided to do it. More inspirational than practical, each month is a work of art unto itself. Nikki is a paper artist who starts with a piece of black paper and then cuts out the parts she doesn’t need. Every time I see one of her images, or look through one of her amazing children’s books, I am blown away. I would love to be talented in that manner, but more importantly I wish I had the ability to see images the way she does; to possess a perspective that confidently allows you to take away what you’ve started with, much as a sculptor clears away stone. Cutting those unneeded bits away allows you to see what’s been hidden, and to let the beauty shine through. If I could buy a pair of scissors (or any tool for that matter) that would allow me to trim the unnecessary pieces—instead of holding on for dear life because I will surely need each and every tiny scrap for something later—then I would do it. To toss them aside might actually be freeing. How does one make that leap? How to decide what to toss and what to keep?

Maybe someday I will have a room of my own; where I can sew, knit, paint, cut and create to my heart’s content. A girl can dream.

In our house we have a problem with scissors.  We run with them, we toss them across rooms, we hand them to each other blade first.  But mostly we lose them.  "Where are the [insert expletive or potty word here] scissors?!" is a common refrain, especially around the holidays or in May, when three of our five birthdays fall.  Scissors, nail clippers, mechanical pencils, barrettes - someday we'll stumble upon a gleaming pile in the basement.  Until then, we rage and weep for lack of scissors.

But - a few nights ago while feeding horses by headlamp I came upon these lying innocently on the ground, no idea they'd been searched for the past week.  They'd been buried under a pile of hay raked out from the garage floor - or maybe they'd been on the garage floor and came along for the ride.  The chickens had unearthed them earlier in the day.  Those same chickens I'd sworn at for their pooping habit.  I suppose if they insist on hiding their eggs at least they've earned part of their keep by finding the scissors.

Yesterday I used those scissors to cut pumpkin stems.  Over a dozen pumpkins grew in our garden this year, which is weird since I planted watermelons.  I severed the stems and hauled them to the front yard and L aimed the hose at the clumpy dirt that coated the waxy orange underneath.  M, T and B stuffed old clothes with fresh hay to make three scarecrow boys that now stand at the end of the driveway, frightening passersby with their headless torsos.  I keep catching sight of them through the window and wondering for a moment who's come into the yard.  The pumpkins are curing now in these last sunny days.  Soon there will be pumpkin pie, pumpkin soup, pumpkin bread, jack o' lanterns.  Thanks to the scissors, thanks to the chickens.

Next Week’s Word: Quiet

Sunday, October 2, 2011


One year for Christmas, Santa left a telescope under the tree for me. I was...young.  Eleven?  Twelve?  Old enough to not quite believe in Santa but young enough that I pretended to be a spy when I took the different lenses out and attached them to the viewer, unscrewing lens caps and blowing imaginary dust off the glass. I never pretended to be an astronomer. Until I made it outside under the stars and whispered the names of constellations under my breath.

I never saw much when I looked through the telescope. I must have used it sometimes in the summer but I only remember frigid air and frozen fingers, lashes that stuck when I pressed my eye too hard to the metal. I remember crusty snow, painful breath. I remember being mostly alone. Except once when my grandfather came out to look.  He was the kind of grandfather who took pleasure in things. My father's father, he was also my mother's sixth grade teacher and thus boasted he'd had a hand in shaping both their minds and that's how they got along so well. When I knew him he was retired and deeply concerned about money, which did not stop him from taking me out to eat occasioanlly at expensive restaurants. He taught me what eccentric meant; he taught me that if I ever wanted to be a writer it was up to me; he was my first exposure to Bill Cosby.  And he followed one night to take a peek through my telescope.

I suspect he saw as little as I was able. But he admired the instrument, he made suitable ahhh sounds when he looked up at the moon. We stood in the cold and shared an appraisal of the nighttime sky. Then he went back inside and I stayed out a little longer, trying desperately to discover a comet.

I still like to look up when I'm outside at night. We all do, don't we? We need those reminders of vastness. Our common disappointment, rage, hope, success - none of it comes close to filling the space around us. We've only got each other to impress; the universe doesn't much care.

As the crisp Fall winds start to take up residence in our neighborhood, the days find excuses to end earlier and earlier. The sun leaves the sky before too long, and the moon makes an appearance at what seems to be an ungodly early hour. How did this happen, summer gone in the blink of an eye.

The moon for me has always represented a magical place. I knew that you could get there by flying like Peter Pan to the third star to the left or in a rocket like the brave astronauts of my childhood. If only I could see for myself if it was actually made of cheese, or how the man in the moon occupied his time when he wasn't gazing down at sleeping children.

When I first read Homer Hickam's “Rocket Boys” I felt as if my childhood had come back to greet me, the depressing air of a coal mining town swirling off of the page. Eventually Hickham's childhood memories went beyond the printed form, were made into a movie and renamed “October Sky.” When he was old enough T and I watched it together. As unfamiliar as my son was about the time period and the place, he laughed and enjoyed it overall. Despite their obvious differences, I think T found in Homer a curious, kindred spirit. My underlying, motherly hope had been that some of the movie's messages would seep into his bones: That hard work pays off, that school isn't all about sports, sometimes science can save you and wishing to go to the moon instead of a dead end job is not an impossibility.

These days I feel like the three of us are thinking about “What I Want to be When I Grow Up”-- some more intent on finding an immediate answer than others. In the grand scheme of things a job can be what pays the bills and what gets you through.  But to discover what you love, what you really feel passionate about it, then the sky's the limit. Until then we'll put up with rainy days and the trees losing leaves as one season overtakes another. Knowing that a sunrise can bring about a new day, second chances, another shot at getting it right. A moonrise though, especially when it's full, can be otherworldly-- illuminating the dark, and making light the path where the shadows threaten to overtake you. By putting one foot in front of other you can stumble onto the stuff that our dreams are made of. With enough stubbornness, perseverance and faith you can somehow find a way to turn them into a reality.

Next Week's Word: Scissors