Anne Notations

Friday, April 25, 2008

'Tall, alone'

In a timely footnote to the story of the dying tree (see "Old Sap," below) one of my friend's neighbors slipped two poems into her newspaper early this morning in celebration of "April, National Poetry Month." I love the idea of a poetry aficionado salting the neighborhood, like a literary Easter bunny leaving sweets. We both love this particular poem:

Rainer Maria Rilke

Whoever you are: step out of doors tonight,
Out of the room that lets you feel secure.
Infinity is open to your sight.
Whoever you are.
With eyes that have forgotten how to see
From viewing things already too well-known,
Lift up into the dark a huge, black tree
And put it in the heavens: tall, alone.
And you have made the world and all you see.
It ripens like the words still in your mouth.
And when at last you comprehend its truth,
Then close your eyes and gently set it free.

Old sap

My Connecticut friend e-mailed me today about a doomed tree in her front yard:

It's about 100 years old, 60 feet high, cabled extravagantly, and the pride of the neighborhood. Last week a giant branch fell, shaking the house but not damaging person or property. The tree doctor told us its time had come, and we are in shock and denial about this. It's like putting any other living creature to sleep.

Oh, yes. I know exactly what she means. A mature tree is like an old man or woman: majestic, dignified, beautiful. You can actually love a tree.

Not only that, but there's the whole killing-a-living-thing aspect of tree-felling. The sound of a chain saw in action outdoors can bring me to tears. I have apologized to plants while pruning their stems to encourage fuller growth; indeed, in my 20s I composed in my head a short poem about pinching the central stalks from potted impatiens cuttings, ending with this lament: "Life just begun / is done, is done." (Drama "R" us.)

I responded to my friend with sympathy about the impending loss of her tree:

ME: It’s a death similar to a beloved pet’s death. On an inane level, I have trouble throwing out post-Christmas poinsettias.

HER: I'm getting so whacked out as I age that I can't stand to kill a tree for Christmas! Last year we had a live tree, and it's still alive (but outside).

ME: We’ve had an artificial one for about five years. I started imagining that the fresh-cut tree’s sap was its tears, and that was that.

We then segued into the subject of eating meat and the horror of slaughterhouses. I mentioned Temple Grandin and her efforts to make the farming and killing of livestock more humane. A fascinating wrinkle in this story is the fact that Grandin, holder of a Ph.D. in animal science, is herself autistic.

SHE: I love Temple Grandin. Do you know about the hugging machine she invented?

ME: No! But I want one! Is it for people?

SHE: It's for autistic people who can't stand other people touching them. But the beneficial effects of being hugged are necessary for emotional growth – so she invented this machine she lies in that hugs her.

That's very cool. Grandin knew that as a human being she needed something, and she found a way to get it while acknowledging the limitations imposed by her autism.

As someone whose affect lies near the opposite emotional pole from autistic, I enjoy hugging, and being hugged by, real people. My family is in the living room (a rare moment of shared activity – watching a baseball game on TV), and I am going out there now to collect some hugs. You should get some, too. If you're alone, well, go outside and hug a tree. I believe the tree will realize, in an intuitive, plant-ish way, that you – fellow organism, alive – are there with your arms wrapped lovingly around it.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Round and round

We have photographs in our albums of Michael taking a very young Melinda on the merry-go-round at Roger Williams Park in Providence. (It's always Michael on the rides: I get too dizzy.) Today "Poppop" took Caroline on her first carousel ride in the same park.

Caroline chose a big rabbit instead of a painted pony. And, yes, the bunny did go up and down. Whee!

Afterward, we strolled among beautiful flowering trees in the small Japanese garden. Geese sailed alongside us on the green canals. What a day! – temperatures in the 70s and a whisper of a breeze. When it bothers to show up, spring is almost unbearably lovely.

The sight of a small toddler clutching the hand of a great big dad or grandfather never fails to make me say, or at least think, "Awwwww." When it's your own granddaughter and husband, the sight is especially endearing.

Trust me: you really should click on this photo of Caroline to see it larger.

The last word goes to the incomparable Joni Mitchell, whose lyrics I have alluded to above:

And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We're captive on a carousel of time
We can't return we can only look behind
From where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The color orange

This place (above) is changing my attitude about a certain hue.

Orange has never been anywhere near my favorite color. I love oranges, orange juice, clementines, orangey-red hair, and pumpkins. When I was a kid, I adored Fanta orange soda. But it didn't take long for me to figure out that with my pinkish complexion, blonde hair, and blue eyes, orange apparel washed me right out.

Later, when our daughter came into our lives, I dressed her in pink, purple, lime, turquoise, red... almost anything bright but orange. Melinda has dark hair and tan/olive skin, and she looks fabulous in jewel tones and pastels. But: "When you grow up," I told her, "don't wear orange. It makes your skin look sort of greenish." Melinda nodded solemnly.

The joke's on me. Melinda is bound for Syracuse University this fall. She is going to be an "Orange Woman."

We made the five-hour drive to Syracuse on Thursday to attend admitted-students open house on Friday. I had never seen the university before. The campus's blend of beautiful old buildings and sleek new ones is impressive. The faculty and students were bright and friendly. And everywhere we looked, the landscape was dotted with orange.

Branding pennants along the major campus street: orange.

Balloons guiding visitors to the student center: blue and orange.

The campus store: a sea of orange apparel (some of which came home with us). The Carrier Dome, home to Syracuse football and basketball, and site of our buffet lunch on Friday: blue and orange.

The school mascot: Otto the Orange.

By the third day, as we prepared to drive back to Rhode Island, I was beginning to enjoy the cheerful glow of orange. It's sunny – like our daughter's mood as she anticipates her life on campus. During the long Syracuse winters, orange will add a welcome warmth. At long last, I may come to love orange.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Sweet things

For the last five years, Melinda has enjoyed hijacking the kitchen and producing various baked yummy items. She specializes in holiday-themed sweets, such as the beautiful decorated cupcakes above, which she made for Easter this year.

Recently she perfected The Brownie Recipe(tm). I have had my copy of The Brownie Recipe for some 25 years now, and if you click here you can see the (now heavily stained) copy of it written out in my friend Kathy's printing back in the early ’80s. The recipe came from the New York Times via our designer extraordinaire, Kathryn. It was an office staple for years. Twice in a row this past month, Melinda has baked these brownies so perfectly that Kevin and I were nearly howling with delight as we ate one after another.

When Caroline visits on Wednesdays, she asks for muffins. Melinda or I try to bake a batch of mini chocolate-chip muffins the night before.

As you can see, they are a hit with the two-year-old gourmand in her booster seat!

The sun is racing north

For several weeks now, I've had to walk to the beach at the end of Strand Avenue near our house in order to watch the sun set over the water, unimpeded by telephone wires and other distractions. How quickly our Earth seems to tilt toward summer! This does not, alas, hasten the arrival of warm temperatures, especially when a sea breeze is involved.

One night a week or two ago I saw:

1) A father driving his child around the bike path and the beach in a yellow ATV (all-terrain vehicle). Our city does not allow these on either the path or the beach. You can see the ATV's tracks in the sand at lower right in the photograph above, and again in the picture below. ATVs can cause undue beach erosion by shifting the sand around and also disturb wildlife.

Michael and I have called the police several times about this driver, who lives on the street behind us, and also about a group of young teen boys who race their red ATV on the beach. By the time the police come, the rascals are long gone – except for one night when a cop and I waded in total darkness through the dry brush and pricker-bushes to the point overlooking the channel where the kids were hiding from us. As soon as the officer shined his flashlight their way, they were OFF with a vroooom down the beach, heading inland. I am embarrassed to admit that I yelled, "Stop! Police!" I think the cop was amused.

2) This beam standing straight up on the beach. I have no idea why it is there – I'm guessing it was a support under the old railroad bridge that washed away in a storm. I enjoy its resemblance to a monument and also the way it glows in the evening sunlight.

3) A somewhat phallic and definitely dangerous remnant of rusty, twisted metal, perhaps part of a fence torn away by one of the hurricanes.

3) The sunset. An older couple was walking along the shore when I took this picture. It is nice when others come to enjoy our beach and the views here in a quiet, respectful way.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

How low can ya go?

An unusually low tide in early March revealed this mysterious hulk off our beach. Michael and Daisy (left) check it out.

Hello – long time, no write. When stress and worry overtake me, I hunker down, clam up, bar the door. Lately the need to say something here – anything, really – has tugged at my sleeve. I'll start by rewinding the calendar to early March.

A month ago on Sunday, March 9, we were changing the sheets in our upstairs bedroom when Michael said: "What's that stuff in the water?" Out the window we could see a brownish tint in the bay. We stared, and I finally said, "It's sand. A big sand bar is exposed." So we went out with Daisy and explored a new and strange terrain practically in our front yard.

Daisy on a long stretch of sandbar.

What is normally a deep, turbulent bay had been transformed by a new-moon tide (extremely low) and a fierce northwest wind into acres of rippling sand. We walked out from the beach near our house, out and out and out. Daisy ran crazily on the open sand. Our street, our house, got tinier as we continued to walk south. Note: You can click on any of these photographs to see them full-size.

That's our street in the distance.

Gulls appeared to be walking on water nearby, but actually they were standing on a just-submerged sand bar.

We worked our way eastward to a long, dark object off Oakland Beach proper. What could it be?

Up close, we found the wreck of an old coal barge. The sides had toppled down, and the rusted skeleton stretched bow-first toward the beach. A few other hardy explorers walked over to check it out.

Reluctantly we made our way back to dry land. We had seen parts of Buttonwoods to our west that we'd never viewed from the water side before, and felt close enough to Warwick Neck to walk there, save for a narrow deep channel used by pleasure boats and quahoggers. It was refreshing to get out, chat with other sightseers, and witness this rare, fascinating low tide.

My photo of Michael and Daisy gazing at this normally buried "treasure" ran the following week on Page One of the Warwick Beacon, a twice-weekly newspaper.

This aerial photograph of Oakland Beach shows the shadow of the submerged barge offshore. The water in this picture is at a normal level, showing just how low the tide went on March 9.