Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A Pocketful of Beechnuts…

This has been a long, cold October with an abundance of rainy, overcast days. Friday afternoon, we finally had sunshine and just a chill in the air, so we decided to go see the new baby at the neighbor’s farm. “Going next door” takes on a whole new meaning on this rugged country lane. After a steep hike of about ½ mile, Haiku, Sijo, Tanka and I arrived. Our hostess, let’s call her Peppermint, approached us with a handful of beechnuts. I can’t remember ever trying beechnuts before and I knew the children had not. Peppermint showed us how to peel back the husk with our thumbnail to get to the sweet little nutmeat inside.

Then it was time to meet the new baby, who has not been given his name yet. “Harvest” is high on the list because he was born early in the month of October and there is already an “Autumn” in the gang. Peppermint pulled opened the gate and we stepped in to meet the newest guy in the llama herd. Cocoa, the friendliest of the llama’s approached us - eager for chunks of apple and a really good scratching on her neck. Her big dark eyes were welcoming and her demeanor, as always, very sweet. The other llama’s held back a bit, but eventually came forward to have their photos taken and to get a better look at the interlopers in their field. The baby hovered near his Mamma, but watched us with very curious, bright eyes until we left the pasture.

Afterward, Peppermint decided to give us a lesson in beechnut gathering. It was a perfect day to sit under the giant beechnut tree, which is probably 80 to 100 years old, and search through the thick mat of fallen leaves to find the triangular nuts hiding below. Our hostess explained that this type of tree was sometimes called an Elephant Tree, and looking at the textured silvery-gray trunk it was easy to see why. As we sat, stuffing our pockets, the day was lively with country sounds. A light breeze flirted with the leaves and a soft rain of beechnuts fell around us.

At last, we headed back down the hill. I had a pocketful of beechnuts. The vista of fields and lakes was incredible as we descended, a perfect picture postcard of autumn splendor. At home, we were greeted by 3 fat round pumpkins sitting on the green bench on our front deck. The children had selected those earlier in the day at a local farm market. We also brought home a big green gourd shaped like an apple, a bag of our favorite Honey Crisp apples and a quart of clear, amber honey from a nearby farm.

On Sunday evening, we carved the pumpkins and scooped out the seeds. Limerick carried the pumpkins to the porch and lit them for a “trial run.” Little Tanka was thrilled to see that his entire pumpkin, with its rather thin shell, glowed with an eerie orange light. I took a quick look at the spooky luminosity of the pumpkins and then headed back indoors to roast pumpkin seeds, drenched in butter and garlic.

And now, the “big day” is here. A wild wind is blowing leaves into the air, limbs are breaking off the old willow up the road, and there is a noisy roaring in the space between the window panes and the screens. As it is most years, the Halloween vibe inside our house is more “bountiful harvest” than ghosts and goblins. Instead of cobwebs, we have gourds and tiny pumpkins, and a gaggle of “good witch” rag dolls sitting on the entertainment center.

Though it is early morning as I write this, I can predict how the evening will unfold. We won’t get children knocking on our door. Instead, we will make a drop-off of little goodie bags for the neighbor children as we head to town for “trick or treating.” After touring several blocks of homes in various states of Halloween adornment, we will take the chill off our cold fingers by a stop at the fire station for hot chocolate and a few moment’s shelter from what will certainly be a very brisk night.

We will head home after that, but will make a final stop at the fire-station that is closer to home. Limerick will gab with his fellow “on-call” fire-fighters while the kids play in the mist generated by an old fog machine. At home, with their costumes askew, our children will exclaim over the candy in their bags, their version of a “bountiful harvest,” while Limerick and I smile at the antics of our children, the greatest harvest of our intertwined lives.

photos by Aisling, October 2006 (birch trees, Cocoa the llama)

Monday, October 23, 2006

Life Set to Music...

Much to my amazement, I live in a house where the television is on most of the time, though I have been a “music person" for as long as I can remember. As a young adult, if you had asked me to predict what my daily life would be like at “Forty-something” I would have definitely mentioned music playing when describing the atmosphere of my tidy, well-decorated, home. I guess I was wrong on a few counts! We’re not as tidy as I would have imagined and my decorating is done based on what we can afford, and what we inherit or just stumble across, rather than on some overall vision for our home environment. But, despite budget or time-constraints, having music playing often is something that I should be able to achieve.

Recently, I was listening to a classical music program in my car and I heard a song that made me reflect on a few of the many moments in my life that were set to music. When I was about five years old, a baby sitter played piano and sang “Jeepers Creepers where’d you get those peepers?” providing a flashback to the late 1930's in our late 1960's living room. At about the same age, my cousin and I sang “Jesus Loves Me” in church. Years later, I broke down while singing “Amazing Grace” at my uncle’s funeral with another cousin’s wife.

I saw many chaotic, energy-filled rock concerts with friends during my young adult years. There were moments when I lifted my voice in chorus with other singers in great classical works, and times when I joined the sound of my guitar with other instruments in a rock band with a very “Eighties“ sound. I sang a song that I had written for my husband, then my fiancĂ©, at the piano... just the two of us, lingering in the foyer of the remarkable house my family moved to when I was in college.

As a young mother, I spent hours sitting in the rocking chair singing song after song to a fussy baby, and then singing for a while longer after the baby had fallen to sleep. Over the years, the face of the baby in my arms changed and grew. There were other babies, just as sweet…just as precious. And there was a breathtaking moment when I first heard my oldest child, Senryu, sing in public, her confidence and bold spirit bringing tears to my eyes.

One year when Senryu was very small, I sang "I know Who Holds Tomorrow" in my straight-forward, mid-western accent at my Grandparent's church. At the same service, my Grandfather sang "Uncloudy Day" in his exuberant Mountain Music style while his banjo filled the room with joyful tones. It was heartwarming to hear some of my Grandpa's friends tell him that his granddaughter had inherited his gift for music.

Some songs make us think of a certain summer or a certain someone. This simple song, Music in My Mother’s House, made me think of all the ways that music has connected me with other people. It showed me how vividly music plays through my memories, like the soundtrack of my life. And, it made me wistful for more music in my home.

Music in My Mother’s House

There were wind chimes in the window, bells inside the clock
An organ in the corner, tunes in the music box
We sang while we were cooking, or working in the yard
We sang although our lives were really hard
There was music in my mother's house
There was music all around
There was music in my mother's house
And my heart still feels full with the sound
She taught us all piano, but my sister had the ear
She could play the harmony to any tune she'd hear
Now I don't claim much talent, but I've always loved to play
And I guess I will until my dying day
Those days come back so clearly, although I'm far away
She gave me the kind of gift I love to give away
And when my mother died, and she'd sung her last song
We sat in the living room, singing all night long
Singing la la la, la la
Singing the front porch songs
Singing the old torch songs
Singing the hymns to send her home
words and music by Stuart Stotts - copyright 1985

This song was playing as I pulled up in my driveway. I sat in the car and listened until the last notes faded away, resolving to be more like the mother in the song. I think I have shared my love of music with my children to some degree, but too often this house has been filled with more noise than music. As I write this, my daughter is listening to modern music that we both love. The compromise is that she is watching the music video that goes along with it; I can live with that. I’ll close this now, to go and sing along with Haiku and Amy Lee of Evanescense.

photo by Aisling, October 2006

Note: You can learn more about the composer, Stuart Stotts, by visiting his website at: http://www.stuart.stotts.com/default.html Some great stuff if you follow the "goodies" link (sheet music, MP3s, etc.)! What a wonderful way to make a living!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Twilight Nocturne…

When the sun sinks into the turquoise depths of the lake and darkness settles over the hill, the night sounds begin. Always, the wind sings, but there are other songs in the night as well. Often we hear the coyotes cry… more “yip” than “howl” …. a choral nocturne that pierces the night. When they are quiet, and I think about the night sounds, it is wolves I hear in memory, rather than the little coyotes that inhabit our forests. What is it about wolves that haunts my psyche like no other creature? If cats are the wee bits of luxuriant, purring, comfort in my home and in my real life, then wolves are the companions of my dreams… the wild-hearted spirit-guides in solitary moments of contemplation.

The pacing of the timber wolves in a local zoo tugs fiercely at the ribbons of my heart. You can’t see these ties of empathy and kindred-ship, but they hold me entrapped at the cage that confines these restless spirits. Years go by when I cannot force myself to go back to the zoo, fearing the ache that will linger in my heart long after I’ve gone.

When my daughters were small, I read to them the native American story of The Jumping Mouse. This story came to life in my mind, inspiring me to write several simple songs to accompany the story. I then retold the story, in my own words, many times to eager up-turned faces and intently listening ears. Every once in a while, I pull out those sheets of quickly scrawled lyrics and rough chord structures and let my “wild heart” cry with the wolf in the story, who has lost his sense of smell. My sense of smell is intact. I can smell dinner simmering on the stove and the scented candle that flickers on the table… but perhaps my heart cries for some other loss… something I can’t quite define. The wolf in the story has lost a vital sense for a wild creature, but I always imagine that wolves today are crying for the loss of their Wild Places. Am I, as well?

During a long walk with Haiku through the “Enchanted Forest” at the end of our road, I wrote this poem to the rhythm of our footsteps:

I’d like to walk into
one of the deep secret places in the world,
so softly that the wild things could not hear me.
I would sit and breathe their wildness,
into my lungs,
into my being…
so that when I walked back out again,
I would be new and changed,
and something wild would flicker in my eyes.

A few counties over from here, wolves now wander through fields and forests that they have not roamed in many, many years. I try not to wish too hard for their presence in our own county, since these predators would be a hardship for the small farms that still survive here. But can I help it if I hear, mingled in the twilight nocturne of coyote chorus and rushing wind, the sweet keening of a wolf? Though the wolf-song I hear is only imagined, I sing along: “The wild heart of a wolf cries to the night. Senses are alive with sounds of delight. But, oh… my wild heart cries tonight.”


Post Script:

A dear friend, who has a very strong affinity for wolves, recently had a very personal encounter. She wrote about it in her blog: http://rapunzelscastle.blogspot.com/2006/09/laloba.html

One more note: I loved this eNature.com article on “Creatures of the Night” which arrived in my email box just as I was working on this post about wolves: http://enature.com/articles/detail.asp?storyID=379

Sunset photo by Haiku, 2005

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Quick Wardrobe Change...

Here is Autumn dressed for warm days and chilly nights, in seasonal colors.
And here is a sneak-peek at what the well-dressed garden will be wearing this winter!

How things can change in only six days time! The first photo was taken on October 5th. The second was taken this morning. The wind blew fiercely and the snow fell relentlessly for much of the day. Only the warmth of the earth kept the snow from accumulating significantly. In my gardens, icicles dripped from rose-buds and snow bent the heads of the sunflowers as if in they were in earnest prayer. Perhaps, like I have been, they were praying for a few days of bright, glorious Indian Summer before October ends.

photos by Aisling, October 2006

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Lyrical Names…

In a blog-tradition (or is blogging too new to have traditions?) that a good friend told me about, I am going to re-christen my family with nicknames, so that I may tell stories about them in my writing without “giving too much away.” Just for the fun of it, all of our new names will come from the lexicon of poetry.

My oldest daughter will be Senryu, the Japanese term for an “haiku with an attitude.” This form of poetry is usually about human nature with a satirical twist, much like my daughter’s prose, or her witty commentaries. My second daughter will be Haiku. A haiku is often considered a snapshot of a tiny moment, and since she is an observer, a photographer and a nature lover it is particularly appropriate.

My usually humorous oldest son will be Sijo, after the usually humorous Korean version of the haiku. My second son will be Tanka, after the flexible, variable Japanese poetry form which often includes an element of the unexpected.

My dear hubby, bless his half-Irish soul, will be Limerick. For myself, I will use the name Aisling, from the Irish term for a dream, or vision, poem. There are my dreams… and then there is real life. Every once in a while the two cross paths, and those are the times I like to write about.
photo by Haiku, Oct. 9, 2006

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Autumn Cherry Blossoms…

After several cold rainy days, the clear sky and almost-warm air lured me from the house. I began my autumn garden clean-up and dug a bit more in the daylily bed that I am preparing for planting next year. A favorite flower is still blooming, as it has much of the summer. My Cosmos sway in this October breeze on their delicate ferny foliage, bright flags of pink, rose and pure white. I am at the stage of letting them go to seed, to ensure that they will grace my garden again next year.

In Japan, the seasons are given special attention. Spring brings cherry blossom time. The busy scurry of life is suspended for a time, while picnickers escape the cities to dine in orchards beneath the splendor of the blooming cherry trees. Sukura, sukura, the children sing, celebrating the sweetness of cherry blossom time.

In the early summer, Japanese school children and dedicated gardeners alike sow tiny seeds in tilled soil and in the autumn it is the delicate blossoms of the Cosmos which they planted that symbolize the season. Festivals, complete with scarecrows and “foot bath corners“, are held near vast fields of gently swaying cherry, pink, and white blooms. The Japanese call the Cosmos “Autumn Cherry Blossoms.” The season when leaves change color and fall from the trees, Kouyou in Japanese, is also celebrated with special sweets made in the shape of maple leaves.

In this rural northern locale, we celebrate Autumn with trips to the local orchards for crisp apples and long, slightly-confused meanders through the corn maze. Later in the month, we will select pumpkins for jack-o-lanterns and maybe give in to the temptation to buy just one more Hardy Mum that is too pretty to pass by. We return to simmering big pots of soup or stew, and do a bit more baking as the air grows chill and the first frost threatens.

I engage in all of those typical northern seasonal activities with great enthusiasm. I love Indian Summer and enjoy long walks on “sweater weather” days. I love the autumn mist that settles over the fields near our home between bouts of cold, drizzly rain. And, with a respectful nod toward my Asian kindred-spirits, I love to photograph the sweet Cosmos which tower delicately above my humble mums. How lucky I feel to have “autumn cherry blossoms” to delight me with their dance while I “tuck the garden in” for the year.
photo by Aisling, 2006