Anne Notations

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


In my early 30s I had pneumonia. For the better part of a week I thought I just had a bad case of the flu. Essentially I was prostrate with fever and low oxygen and dehydration. I lay in our darkened bedroom on sweaty, twisted sheets. I didn't eat for days and drank but little sips of water. I drifted in and out of sleep. Basically, I was too sick to realize how sick I was.

One feverish day I dreamed that I was sitting in a hospital bed on white sheets in a white room filled with brilliant, ultra-white light that streamed in through gauzy white curtains. Seemingly from nowhere, my former colleague John appeared and sat in a white wooden chair at the foot of my bed. That would be the same John who had died a half-year earlier of malignant melanoma.

He gazed benignly at me.

"What are you doing here?" I asked.

"I heard you needed company."


When I awoke, I asked Michael to drive me to the doctor across town. Dr. MacDonald said I had a bad case of pneumonia. He put me on antibiotics, and within a few days I was restored.

The dream stayed with me and does to this day. It was vivid, real, eerily tranquil. It was not a nightmare … more like a vision in which I was free from fear and any other strong emotion.

Perhaps the veil – the wispy cosmic membrane between temporal life and vast eternity – had torn a bit as my condition declined. While he'd been a great guy in life, apparently I was not ready then to join my friend on the other side.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

BAWWWK! Or, Life as a nursery tale

"Sally Henny Penny gets rather flustered when she tries to count out change, and she insists on being paid cash; but she is quite harmless."

Recently an online customer-service agent answered my email query and commented about my e-address, which has the word hennypenny in it: "I see you're a Beatrix Potter fan."

Now, I love me some Beatrix Potter, especially that bad boy Squirrel Nutkin, but I had never known a Hennypenny connection to Potter's work. So I Googled. And there, in a Potter story called "The Tale of Ginger and Pickles," was a feathered character named Sally Henny Penny who owns a shop.

The Henny Penny I was familiar with was the one in the very old English tale of an fearful fowl who, upon being bonked on the head by an acorn, leapt to the conclusion that the sky was falling. In later print versions, she tells her friend Chicken Little, and they are joined by all manner of panicked barnyard denizens in apocalyptic feather-flapping and hysterics.

My email address derives from a high school nickname bestowed by my best friend Reese. She affectionately morphed my maiden name, Hinman, into "Hinny" and thence to "Henny," from where it was but one small chicken-scratch to "Hennypenny." So Hennypenny I was for a year or so in my late teens. Decades later, when I got my first home email account, I brought the moniker back to life to rep me on the Internet.

Last night on the Web I found some illustrations and book covers for the acorn-bedeviled Henny Penny, and I had to laugh: My nickname might be apter than I'd realized.

There runs the squawking lady chicken, freaking out that the sky is preparing to fall and bring life as she knows it to an end. And here I am, assailed by periodic anxiety attacks and jumping to catastrophic conclusions at every rupture of a kitchen sink pipe, every unwelcome phone call from a high school dean. If I can laugh at that silly Henny Penny, I'd better be able to laugh at myself.

The sky is falling, indeed!

Monday, November 16, 2009


I was on a gilded boat floating on a copper river toward purple hills and an apricot sun.

No. I was on an ebony steed bounding noiseless on a blazing trail past emerald meadows and illuminated trees.

I was airborne, gliding, senseless with the shining. Ahead the fabled mountain exhaled gold – unearthly incense.

I drove home last evening from Edgewood, headed west into a sunset that suffused the air around me. The little homes I passed were like a fairy town, like shrines. Everything was magic, or do I mean holy.

Oh, let it be like this when my day comes. Bear my soul in clouds of knowing; bathe my eager heart in love.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Lights. Camera. ... Tree

When I was around 25 years old, in the midst of my mind's awakening (the one that was supposed to happen in college, but oh well, I was always a late bloomer), I became something of a freestyle autodidact. I tore through books about spirituality, mysticism, nature, philosophy, more nature, physics, religion, nature. And then I read the book that changed everything: Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard.

Aside from being gutted with envy that Dillard had written such a masterpiece when she was not much older than I at the time, and won a Pulitzer for it no less, I was captivated by the book. It seemed that with every turn of a page, my socks got knocked off by a description, an observation, a tying-together of seemingly disparate anecdotes or qualities that yielded some stunning insight. The thing about chlorophyll and human blood? Whoa. The giant water beetle sucking the frog dry before her eyes? Damn. The long riff on fecundity and the lavish redundancy built into reproduction of most species: yikes.

Seriously, if you haven't read Pilgrim yet, please do so now. If you like it, move on to Dillard's slim volume Holy the Firm and then her essay collection, Teaching a Stone to Talk.

Late this afternoon I saw something that made me think of Pilgrim for the first time in a while. Dillard had written about the sudden blazing sight of a tree in the sunlight, and used this anecdote about a blind girl who regained her sight as a guidepost for seeing the world afresh:

Many newly sighted people speak well of the world, and teach us how dull is our own vision. To one patient, a human hand, unrecognized, is "something bright and then holes." Shown a bunch of grapes, a boy calls out "It is dark, blue and shiny.... It isn’t smooth, it has bumps and hollows."

A little girl visits a garden. She is greatly astonished, and can scarcely be persuaded to answer. (She) stands speechless in front of the tree, which she only names by taking hold of it, and then as "the tree with the lights in it.”

No lanterns hung in that little girl's tree, nor in the one Dillard saw in West Virginia back in the 1970s. Nor was electricity involved in lighting this towering golden tree that stood out from among dark pines in the setting sun this evening.

I was in the parking lot at Stop & Shop. I had a long shopping list, and it was growing dark. But there was time – there had to be time – to stop and see. To see the tree. The tree with the lights in it.

If you click on this photograph, you won't be sorry.

What did you see today?