Archives for January 2016

Winter Canvas

Jack Frost at my window

The house I live in is more than 90 years old. It has been renovated many times and its windows are a patchwork of brands and types and ages.  There’s hinged casement windows by Anderson at the house’s front and back, a pair of single-hung Pella Energy Stars along one side. A four-pane bay fronts the street, and there’s even an old transom window, with its painted-over brass latch and chain in the mud room off the deck – the only window still original to the house.

But the ones I am most conscious of right now are the older, double hung type, with cheap sliding screens and storms – those with the spring-loaded catches that break your nails and scrape your knuckles each spring and fall, wrestling them into place for the coming season. On the one hand, they remain the least efficient, most drafty of all my windows.  On the other hand, these are the windows that still provide a winter canvas for Jack Frost.

Jack Frost's handiwork

These crystal-covered panes take me back to childhood. The magic of the winter-scapes painted in the night and dissolved by prismed sunlight’s invisible eraser, always fascinated me. As a child I thrilled to see the complex, fractal patterns of these crystal veils and the perfect single snowflakes that edged the ice-lace borders.  Lace, yes, but better and more intricate than even any Point de Gaze or Duchesse lace could ever be.

It was terribly tempting to make my own mark on this crystal canvas – write my name or just leave my fingerprints as an interaction, a participation in the alchemy of frost. I was disappointed in myself whenever I did, though.  It was an intrusion that did not improve the experience – like having your mother ‘fix’ the icing on the cake you had just finished frosting all by yourself.

As I write, it has been snowing steadily since yesterday. All my neighbors are out shoveling, the snowplows gun themselves up and down each drive and I’ve gone out to clear the front walk for the mailman.   And as necessaryDSC00518 as these actions are, I miss the pristine blanket of the snow that lay across the neighborhood as I looked out this morning before dawn.

There is a beauty that the winter brings to everything, and I am just a little sad that the busy-ness of all our lives require that we erase its magical perfection.

At least my drafty windows will  remain a gallery for Jack’s frosted handiwork, unspoiled, until sun or rising temperatures wipe his canvas clean.

Touchstones and Bridges

Some years ago, after what I thought at the time was a major life disaster, I bought a small green juice glass from an estate sale to mark the start of a new beginning. Salvaging something beautiful that had survived another’s lifespan seemed important at the time. DSC00498-001 Last week the glass slipped from my hand and shattered, scattering emerald shards  across the white porcelain of the sink.

I’ve broken many glasses over time; crystal wedding gifts, acid-etched water glasses thin as paper, fancy stemware from my menagerie of antique-store orphans, bottom-heavy Dansk tumblers from an old boyfriend who didn’t like to drink his beer from my fancy Pilsner flutes. But somehow this mishap left me more distraught than all the rest.

I am not a particularly sentimental person. In my earlier life as a working artist/potter I lived quite acceptingly with the regular shattering of cups and platters, casseroles and teapots. Perhaps the fact that I could make them – or similar things – again, removed their preciousness and I had no problem letting go. I have let many, many things go over the years – things that gave me great pleasure or were important at one or another stage in life. Still, there are a few things, the loss of which continues to resonate wistfully and on occasion, painfully.

Things come into our lives and some aquire a value far beyond their intrinsic selves. They become symbols, carrying great weight of meaning. And when they go missing or are destroyed, they seem to take a piece of us with them.

Thirty years ago I lived in a small apartment in the inner city. It was an exciting time of independence and enormous personal growth, when I felt I was doing and being just exactly what and who I should. While away for a week-end, the apartment was burglarized. Expensive stereo equipment and some other quite valuable things were stolen. But the only thing I really miss from that time (still) is a small black leather jacket. That jacket fit so perfectly. It made me feel powerful and protected. In an odd way, the jacket was me—the me of that time and place. It had become a touchstone for an important transition into a new and joyous phase of life. Perhaps I remember this now as I face another transition, from a long, productive cycle of service to others, to retirement and all the questions of “what next?” that are before me.

When I broke my little green juice glass, my lucky charm, my touchstone for bridging the gap of a critical past life transition, I felt the need to replace it as I face the next. Foolish, perhaps. One can’t create a lucky charm. Still, I went right out and found a small, green, hand-made chased-glass tumbler in a local antique store. DSC00500But it’s not the same. It is lovely, and I will enjoy using it. But each time I do, I know the memory of the other, and all it symbolized, will arise and I will feel a pang of loss.

I can’t know what might become the touchstone for this transition into the next “who” I will be and “what” I should be doing. The bridge to the next landing site is still being built. It is a process; uncomfortable and scary at times, exciting at others, still early in its construction.  Perhaps I’ll pick up a new touchstone as I make my way across that bridge.


Confrontation with the Moon

Full Moon732X520This morning, as the crescent moon sailed up the sky from the east, it pulled bright Venus and Saturn in its wake.  All three climbed, in straight-line order, through the bare-branch ladder of my neighbor’s front lawn tree, winking on and off as they advanced past each twiggy rung. Earlier, when I first rose, Jupiter shone through my bedroom skylight, with the tiny ruby of Mars in tow.

January 6 AM

Four planets and the moon in formation, marching up the January sky. The website EarthSky says that Mercury is there as well, just above the eastern horizon, but the structures of civilization block my view. I expect the brightening sky will make this planet invisible by the time it rises above the housetops.

I have come to love the dark early mornings of winter, when the sky is cloudless and the air, clean as crystal. With a dusting of snow, as there is today, everything seems more sharply defined—more open and exposed.  There’s no barrier between me and the cosmos.

Tonight I am taking my first of four classes at the Natural History Museum: All Things Moon.  And I am remembering the first time I saw the moon through a telescope, about 30 years ago.  When I put my eye to the eyepiece and the moon floated into view – so clear – it actually scared me. I could see the craters, the mountains and plains so razor sharp, right there-in front of me.  The distance between us disappeared and I was confronted, face-to-face, with the moon. Apollo 17

Confronted.  It felt like a confrontation; so powerful and immediate and undeniable in its detail.  The moon became real to me that night in a way it had never existed before. It became an impossible thing, a magical and deliciously frightening thing, hanging there in the night sky.

My mind could rationalize all I knew about how and why it was there – the gravitational attraction that created its intrinsically linked orbit, and the sun-earth shadows that engineered its shifting phases.  But the primitive in me was touched and the moon’s existence in my world suddenly became both impossible and frighteningly necessary, all at once.

I understand that our earth is alone among planets in its possession of a large moon so closely linked to and influencing the daily environmental activities of the planet. The tenuousness of life on earth – how thin the line is between what makes life possible or impossible in the universe is both wondrous and scary.

earthriseIn confronting the critical necessity of the moon’s existence to our own, here on this fragile planet—how can we continue to deny the impact of our influence on that tenuousness?




Photo credits: NASA Moon Gallery

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