April crow in the snow

April 2, 2018: it’s snowing outside, at least four inches’ accumulation by 9 a.m., no April Fool’s trick here. Yesterday a woodpecker caught me by surprise, a beautiful bird despite the damage it can do. Winter storms had blown away the strips of foil pinned to the column of wood that rat-tat-tatting bird has a taste for and which actually deter it, so I went looking for them in the yard—only to discover more miner bees than last year making nests in the soil. Otherwise known as ground nesting bees, you see them hovering near the little mounds of dirt that mark the entrances to their underground nests (no hives) and several females may nest in the same vicinity. They’re docile and they do lots of good pollinating and they don’t stay around for too long. But I can be forgiven for fearing an imaginary sting.

Today it’s the solitary crow in the snow demanding my attention.

A Yahrtzeit candle burns on my window sill. Lit at sundown last night, it’s a memorial candle marking my mother’s death according to the Jewish calendar, 17 Nissan, the second day of Passover.  A gorgeous full moon, a blue one this year, lit up the sky during Saturday night’s seder.

Well maybe not a full-scale seder since I opted to make it simpler this year.  I try, really I do, to keep the spirit of the Jewish holidays, not to mention my mother, alive, and I’m grateful for the friends and family who gather around the table each year.

 Even without a traditional seder, I need to mark what brings us together by reading from some Haggadah recalling the wonderful story of freedom from slavery in all its Cecil B. DeMille splendor.  This year’s choice was the New American Haggadah, translated by Nathan Englander and edited by Jonathan Safran Foer. It was a gift from friends who come every year. They know I’m a sucker for a beautiful book with a literary duo at the helm.  Here are some random passages that we read:

We live in a broken world . . . Exile—another name for brokenness—is not just the current condition of the Jewish people, according to the Kabbalah, it is the fundamental condition of the universe and of God.

Kafka once wrote in his journal: “You can hold yourself back from the sufferings of the world. That is something you are free to do and it accords with your nature. But perhaps this very holding back is the one suffering you could avoid.”

Passover is a journey, and like most journeys, it is taking much longer than it ought to take, no matter how many times we stop and ask for directions.

By no small coincidence, the fiction I’m caught up in right now is Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles. The novel casts a spell mostly in its reimagining of the heroes at the heart of the Trojan War.   There are slaves here, too, women taken in raids by the Greeks as a prelude to the war and it’s hard not to be taken with the humanity of Achilles and Patroclus in doing what they can for the few in their charge. Then there’s the war itself, as epic and classic as it gets, with its reminder that there’s no escaping the appetites of men for glory and greed, not to mention revenge. We get our archetypes from myths. We get some understanding of human foibles and the way gods have played with them. There may never again be a war of a thousand ships waged in the name of a beautiful woman. But there will, alas, always be wars, more often than not in the name of nameless things.



Groundhog Day

I love Groundhog Day.  It’s a silly tradition but it manages to work its charm. I always wake up on February 2nd filled with anticipation about all the implications of a shadow. (Did that funny-looking creature with an equally odd name see his shadow? Did he not see it?) The shift to more daylight, so incremental since the winter solstice, suddenly feels dramatic. Winter is on its way out; spring is on its way in.

I know Punxsutawney Phil doesn’t always get it right, and I don’t care. I may be less forgiving with my local know-before-you-go meteorologist whose forecast promised clear skies and left me running for cover in a downpour—just the thing that got Bill Murray’s character in trouble in a cult classic movie that celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. What better way to mark the story of a weatherman caught in a comedic time warp with existential implications than for Starz Encore Classic to have round-the-clock showings today?

Putting aside the clever spin ‘Groundhog Day’ (the movie) brought to this very day, for me it’s more about continuity, and the whys and wherefores of legends.

One legend links Groundhog Day to Candelmas, an ancient Christian tradition marking the midpoint between winter and spring during which candles were blessed by clergy and handed out. A sunny, clear day signaled (superstitiously speaking) a long, rough winter; a cloudy sky meant warm weather was on its way.  The legend of Punxsutawney Phil as we know him, seems to derive more directly from German lore in which a hedgehog seeing his shadow on a sunny February 2nd was a sign of a six more weeks of winter.  Early German settlers in Pennsylvania made the groundhog a stand-in for the hedgehog.

This February brings more than a spring alert. As many of you may already know, that novel you got a glimpse of when I asked for your support in a Kindle Scout campaign (which did rev me up even if it felt a little like ‘American Idol’ for book lovers), is coming, April 10th to be exact.  Publishing is a quirky business that demands a great deal of tenacity and faith from a writer.  We write, we revise, we chuck what we think doesn’t quite cut it or we tuck it into a folder if it has some vestige of possibility.  We crave validation, we cry at disappointments that make us question why we do the very thing we could not live without doing.

At the heart of my novel is a young girl’s special relationship with a doting gay uncle and her coming of age during the ‘80s, which were nothing if not a threshold decade. Think about it—AIDS. Ronald Reagan. Glamour and greed.  My fictional mind took me to an era marked by innocence lost. And my metaphoric soul took me to a month on the cusp of spring, the shortest month of the year.

Now it’s here, the novel and the month for which Just Like February gets its name. Leap Year plays its part in reminding us there’s something more at play in how we measure our days. And, yes, the groundhog makes a brief appearance.





An autumn morning, window open to the cool air. I settle myself on a gray cushion that puts me in the mindset of meditation, choose my music. No sooner do I close my eyes than I hear a thud (or two or three) that sounds alarming. How can I possibly stay put with Henny-Penny running through my brain? I get up, look out the window open to the deck below. Turns out what I’m hearing is the sound of one (or two or many) hickory nuts falling. Branches are dropping, too. I look up at the tree. A squirrel is flying from branch to branch. Another squirrel has landed on the deck railing. Autumn is their rush hour.

A few days of that thump-thump and it feels like old hat. I can do what meditation appears intended to help me do. Acknowledge the sounds, take in the thought, get back to the breathing, the moment.

So often so much easier said than done. I reassure my chattering brain with a story that speaks to my dilemma.

A student tells her master about her morning’s meditation experience. “My mind was clear,” she says. “Thoughts did not get in that way.” Her master’s response: “That is good.” The next day she has a different experience. “My mind would not quiet down,” she says. “I couldn’t stop thinking.” Her master’s response: “That is good.”

There’s a part of me (the expansive one, I call her) who trusts the wisdom here. Sit long enough to let the chattering brain slow down and you know it’s only good. No need to be hard on myself if one day’s attempt at meditation doesn’t quite bring serenity. It’s not about goals. It’s not about judgment. It’s about simply being in the moment to the best of my ability. Every day is different. Change is the only constant.

There’s another part of me (the contracted one, I call her) ruled by a mind afraid to lose even one thought.

Some days, the face of that horrible man with orange hair slips out of my consciousness almost as easily as he seems to have invaded it. Some days, the anxieties surrounding the future of our world, the anger and tears fueled by calculated acts of mass murder dissipate. This is not about denial. This is not about feeling helpless, a word I’m hearing too much lately. This (I think) is about giving in to a larger reality that knows everything changes. Day by day. Month my month. Year by year.

On any given day, when I’m out for a walk, there’s a certain tree on the road whose large leaves I marvel at, especially the way they appear to be shooting off branches from the lower end of the trunk. I think it’s a linden. Only when I finally decide to stop for a closer look do I see that this is a tree of two trunks, one truncated and giving rise to its own network of branches. Appearances can be deceiving.









Even with unnatural fluctuations in seasonal temperatures, leaves are turning. Soon enough autumn’s peak moment will come and go.  Trees will become a lacework of bare branches, though this winter will bring to my home panorama spruce and boxwood touches of green.

Then there’s the lawn itself, a long time coming. I marvel at how quickly seeds become grass.

 I look forward to a yard without mud puddles from melting snow. This has not been a situation of neglect. It’s more a question of living with a man for whom interior and exterior design are all of a piece. If you’re going to finally get around to the lawn, you do it with a vision. You do it with a sense of landscape as an extension of what you see through the windows and glass doors. My house has always been a work in progress, major renovation when we first moved in (1995), followed over the years by an addition (2008), more interior/exterior repairs and updates, a new kitchen just this past summer, and last but hardly least, landscaping.

Everything in its time.

Everything takes time—unloading the dishwasher, reading emails, checking in on Facebook and Twitter. Sorting real news from fake news. Doing laundry. Reading. Doing yoga. Going out for a walk. Sitting down to write. Some things feel as if they take too much of our time. Some things feel as if they’re never done. And how is it that those moments and events we look forward to months ahead of time—a concert, a visit from an out-of-town friend, a wedding, publication of book—seem to have arrived in a flash?

Everything changes.

Right now it’s raining. The wind is blowing. And those hickory nuts are falling fast and furiously. I’m tempted to take a break from writing, snap a few more photos. It’s what these times have programmed into us: capture the moment, iPhone at the ready, with or without ourselves in the picture. Because we can. If we wait too long the moment will pass, something will change. And in the instant it takes to snap a photo, how often do we stop to think about what we might be missing?
























Back to school

Seasonal lore tells us that March conjures the lion and the lamb, September those back-to-school rituals some of us loved, others not so much. The other night a mountain lion surfaced in a dream. I could give any number of reasons why this strong, sleek, beautiful creature paid a visit to my unconscious at this particular moment in time. More important, she (or he) got me thinking that the king of beasts has moved on to a different season, with a vengeance. With or without climate change to explain the ferocity of Harvey and Irma, hurricanes are a given in September.

Leaves have already begun to lose their vibrancy, which always brings on a touch of melancholy.  The Jewish New Year, with its message of repentance and renewal and all the memories evoked, is around the corner. Known as the Days of Awe but informally referred to as ‘the holidays’ in the solid, middle-class Jewish world I was raised in, they would either be early or late. That’s what you get when dates marked by a lunar calendar are measured in relation to the Gregorian (solar-based) calendar that rules our day-to-day secular lives. So be it. We live our lives according to the rituals that ground us. The calendar is a construct of convenience.

Even with the ache for all that’s gone from my life, I’m energized this time of year, revved up by the crispness of autumn. Ingrained patterns die hard. Those lazy, hazy days may have always been a welcome break from school days, but come September I’m headed (in my memory) to that windowless shop around the corner from my home, filled with the particular scent of fresh school supplies. Shopping for notebooks and briefcases (no backpacks back then), pencils and pencil cases meant a clean slate of things to learn.

As summers go, this one in the Northeast has had very few days, relative to summers past, of hot, sticky weather. We may still get a hurricane, hopefully not, but we’re bound to get a spell of summery days in late September, so often around ‘the holidays.’ If I can’t find a satisfactory answer to why we call it ‘Indian summer,’ I accept it as a Mother Nature’s reminder that shifting seasons are fluid.  This year brings a ‘late’ Jewish New Year, a day shy of the autumn equinox but always in sync with a full moon.

Memories are fluid, too, If you’re lucky, you get to soften with age and the hard memories that make the body contract with bitterness or anger loosen their grip. There’s no real wishing them away, there’s just the acceptance that the past may inform the present and future, but it doesn’t have to rule it. Maybe it’s true, you can’t go home again but you can pick and choose the memories that nourish the soul and soften the heart.









Several years back, I answered the back-to-school call by taking a graduate-level refresher course at Sarah Lawrence College on how to read a poem. We analyzed poems, delved into prosody, which brought new levels of insight into familiar and unfamiliar poems.

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness . . .

The very first lines of Keats’s “To Autumn” forever have the ring of a tongue-twister, and I think that’s the point. Cold air mixed with warm brings on the mist and with it the smell and taste and crispness of those first apples of the season. Senses are heightened with great poems, whether or not things make sense. The more I read this ode, the more I can’t help see the mix of emotion this time of year as part of the fabric of autumn.

Where are the songs of spring? Ay,  where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music, too—

Leaves are dying, yes, but before they drop, the trees become bouquets that can only be classified as glorious.
















The Circle Game

Change may be the only true constant but it always takes some getting used to. A few days ago it hit me—the shift in light that seems so sudden but really has been incremental, one day invisibly shorter than the one before. One more summer slipping away, autumn around the corner, ready or not.

Every one of those six wonderful years my daughter spent at sleepaway camp got my husband and me on a road trip, the ritualistic visiting day weekend I always looked forward to. In the way that she bonded with bunkmates, we did a little bonding of our own with the parents who became friends, too. On the way home we spent a night with good friends in the Boston area.

In a flash, it seems, those years have gone: the kids grow up, move out, move on. Sure, I get a touch of the blues when I think about how nice it would be to have her around the proverbial corner instead of living on the other coast. Then I read her reflection about her years at camp, and changing times, and the power of friendship—all of which has me thinking that distance is no real measure for closeness when it comes to the ways in which a mother and daughter can bond.

Mixed in a jumble of trinkets I keep in a wire basket is a small ceramic pin in the shape of an elephant. I bought it years ago, along with a few others designed to look as if they were pulled from a box of Barnum’s Animals. These were animal crackers to wear, not pop into youelephant pinr mouth. I kept the elephant, made gifts of the lion/giraffe/bear to a few of my closest friends at the time. Just this year I bought three of the same bracelets for myself and two dear friends.

Something to be said for ritualizing long-standing friendships. In the days before email and Facebook, I’d be on the phone a couple of times a week with my closest friends. These days we call when we can or simply need to hear each other’s voice. By the same token, if e-communication diminishes the kind of personal contact we sometimes find ourselves missing, it also allows us to make up for lost connections.

Intention in the Buddhist/spiritual realm is really a very specific thing, even if it has become an overused metaphor, and I do think we’re basically well intentioned: a friend I haven’t had contact with in a very long time sends an email out of the blue; anoOld friendsther one finds me on Facebook; we start the back and forth, eager to catch up, determined not to let the renewed contact dissipate. We may even meet if geography allows.

But somehow, within a time frame shorter then we like to admit, the emails become few and far between, the Facebook conversation becomes more intermittent. It’s not for lack of interest, though it may be for lack of time in a world that demands so much of our day-to-day, up-to-the-minute attention. We scroll through newsfeeds, skim emails (more than half the time missing at least half of the message), get on with our lives.

Maybe it’s this simple: some knots are tight, others loosen with time.

Sometimes you open a box of animal crackers and those lions/tigers/bears (koalas now, too) come spilling out mostly intact; other times not so much. But even if they’re more broken than whole, doesn’t a bite into what may (or may not) have been a monkey’s head hold at least some of the same  power as a madeleine?



And the seasons they go ’round and ’round . . .

The month of April is playing tricks on me. No sooner do I shed the fleece jacket for a morning walk one day, a sweatshirt all I need, than I find myself putting it on again the next day.

Expectation really resists being defied.

Okay, so the groundhog screwed up, promising an early spring; instead we got lingering cold and snow, to boot. For one Ohio lawyer (with a sense of humor I hope) there’s only one thing to do: bring a lawsuit against Punxsutawney Phil for misrepresentation; he wants punishment by death. A more enterprising legal mind might take it to the next level, sue the companies that are the most egregious offenders when it comes to emitting those noxious gases linked to global warming.

So much is out of our control.

Buds start to emerge from the branches of trees, a crocus (still closed) pokes through the ground. There’s reassurance in the songs of birds and peepers filling the air.

What a fine line between captivation and feeling captive on that carousel of time . . .

April, with its fool’s beginning, taunts me. Is there some poignant, poetic message in being reminded of everything coming back to life in the very same month that my mother died?  She loved when I brought her fresh flowers.

Spring demands its very own kind of cleaning. I find myself pulling clothes from my closet, suits and dresses I will no longer wear, not because they’ve been worn to death but simply because it’s time to let them go. Most often I’ll donate clothes to the local community center, but I get it in my head that these particular garments – an elegant coat and dress ensemble, a classic pants suit, a designer dress – should go to a consignment shop. It’s as if I’m infusing them with a life they really don’t have, a prideful place that asks me not to just drop them off to be picked through on crowded racks. By virtue of a transaction, they attain a certain value.

The consignment shop I’ve chosen makes it all very easy: just come by, no appointment necessary. The owner has a policy I like: items that don’t sell within sixty days are donated to any of several charities.  Maybe I’ll make some money, maybe I won’t; either way, there’s a satisfaction that comes with passing on things of value and sentiment. All of  which really is beside the point when I drop the clothes off, and they’re tossed in a bundle, not closely examined  while I’m there so I can tell the stories.

Of the few items I have relinquished it is the coat and dress ensemble that cuts to the heart. Deep navy blue, with a ruched trim on the coat, it looks almost as new as the day I first wore it (more than ten years ago), when my daughter became a Bat Mitzvah.  I would wear it several times after but never with the sense of some synchronicity at play when I put it on in celebration of that rite of passage: too many years earlier to count, a fourteen-year-old girl would sport  a grey pinstripe coat and dress the day her brother became a Bar Mitzvah. I can still see that  stylish Peter Pan collar of the dress. I can still feel the pride that went with being the big sister.

As I leave the consignment shop I imagine my offering catching the eye of someone with taste, a keen shopper on the lookout for something a cut above.  At the same time, a sinking feeling takes hold at what I have left behind.