Joys Feed

The Light'll Be On

Dusk, especially summer's dusk has always held magic for me.  Even our words for this time lost between day and night are beautiful: twilight, gloaming, owllight, le crepuscule (to the French). 

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Fresh hay, baked all day by the sun perfumes the air.

Haying Lincoln 2011

The air wraps softly around me, and the bats put on an incredible aeronautics show for free.

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Just sitting, watching the world shift from the white hot glare of noon, to cool darkness lit by a rising moon. Nothing to do but wait for firefly sightings.

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Crickets celebrate, Mourning Doves coo and somewhere a baseball game plays on a radio.  The opening line of a Robert Frost poem comes to mind, " I have been one acquainted with the night".  I choose to take it literally. 

Outdoor light 2011

The outdoor light's turned on, a reminder that someone at home is thinking of me. 

When I was a kid I was ambivalent about that light and what it represented.  I knew the house would feel stuffy and mundane after the night air: the joy I'd known outside, would dim.  But it was nice to be welcomed home too. 

All these years later, I still pause before crossing the threshold - tired, often thirsty, but not wanting to break the spell. 


Dandelions are Dandy

Where have all the dandelions gone? During our oh-so-soggy spring, these little tufts of gold were everywhere, often the brightest spot on a very brown landscape, but now that summer is in full swing they've all but disappeared.  I realize that this is good news to many people and that there's a whole industry devoted to the eradication of these shaggy, golden orbs, but I miss them.

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Dandelions are just as bright and cheerful as daffodils, that other golden sign of spring.   The dandelion is not as tall as the daffodil, in fact it's usually about the same height as the grass around it.  Could height be the reason why one is adored and the other hated?  If so, then why aren't buttercups reviled?  They, like dandelions, grow along roads and across lawns but I've never seen a commercial for a product promising to leave your lawn buttercup free. 


Buttercup 2010
Maybe people's frustration with dandelions is that they are so uncontrollable.  I was surprised when I learned that dandelions were actually brought to North America by English settlers.  They wanted the flowers for their nutritional properties.  Of course, like energetic children, the flowers refused to just stay put.  Each flower becomes a ball of mini seed-gliders, perfectly designed for maximum spread, sometimes traveling several miles.

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Of course, as anyone who has ever planted tulip or daffodil bulbs knows, these plants have a way of migrating as well.  It's not uncommon to see a single bloom in the woods, far from a tended garden, or in the middle of a yard.  I like to call these transplants "squirrel gardens".  

  Squirrel garden 2010

I think the common dislike of dandelions can be traced to the adage "a weed is a plant growing where you don't want it to".  I'd go so far as to say a weed is a plant you didn't have to buy.  We'll spend large amounts of time and money to plant swaths of flowers across our property, but a flower that can do this on its own is unappreciated. 

Contrary daffodil 041611 A most contrary daffodil

So aside from its incredible survival skills and gorgeous color, what's there to like about dandelions?  I read in Yankee magazine this spring that dandelions greens, especially those first tiny spikes are for many people a taste of spring.  I was all set to try them this year, and was scoping out locations where I'd be likely to find ones which hadn't been chemically treated, when I read in a recipe, "If you love bitter greens like arugula, you'll adore dandelions".  I do not love, I do not even like arugula.  Eating dandelions was clearly not for me.  Which leaves all the reasons I liked dandelions as a kid.

  • Like daisies (which are much less common) they can easily be made into chains - bracelets, necklaces, and crowns.
  • Did kids at anyone else's school pick dandelions and sing "Mama had a baby and its head popped off"?  Of course we used our thumbs to make the flower-head pop off.
  • You can pick dandelions with your toes.  Yes, I spent a lot of time barefoot as a kid.
  • They make a neat cross between a paintbrush and a stamp.
  • No one ever tells you to stop picking the dandelions, so you can use them to decorate your bike, have water races, color your skin yellow, you name it.
  • Birthday wishes only come once a year, but there are infinite dandelions to make a wish on and blow.

Codman farm tree 051311



 

 

 


Spring Peepers

Tonight there's a slip of a moon,

so fine it could be mistaken for a curl of butter

on a great indigo plate. 

The air smells of sodden earth,

rich with life, both past and potential.

And there it is. 

A voice nearly forgotten, for being silent so long.

A chorus of frogs serenades the darkness, and winter is a memory.

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I heard my first spring peepers of the season tonight.  The person I was with said that even if the weather gets warm, they won't come out until it has rained at night.  I haven't verified that, but it sounds plausible. 

If you'd like to hear the spring peppers, there are a lot of recordings on-line.  The Fairfax County school system in VA has a great Spring Peeper page complete with photos and recordings.

 

 


Collecting - Mailboxes

Growing up, my older brother was always collecting something.  He collected bottle caps (I can't remember why), coins, stamps, Star Wars action figures, and baseball cards (Topps, not Fleer).  I'd listen to him rattle off what made one item more valuable than another, how they should be handled, just how many he needed before he had a complete set, and I wanted to have a collection too.  I was fascinated by the planning: where to get the next one, how to organize the ones you have.  And I loved the guidebooks full of arcane minutiae set in endless tables. 

I love glass, so I started a collection of old bottles, the sort that can be found in the woods near deserted cellars.  I picked them up at flea markets and tramping through the woods, but I never wanted to look in any of the guidebooks I brought home from the library.  I liked the idea of all those facts and guidelines for collecting much more than the reality of studying them.  So I stopped collecting anything that anyone else might find valuable.  I had a collection of itty, bitty pencils (ones with working erasers were the top find), rocks that looked like animals (I still have my first, a hamster) and teardrop shaped glass sun catchers.  

Today my urge to collect manifests itself in the pictures I take.  There are certain images that I never tire of: weather vanes, hollows in trees, squirrels, animal tracks, shadows and most recently, mailboxes!  This latest collection started when I took a wrong turn and ended up on a road with some of the brightest owner-decorated mailboxes I've ever seen.   I say owner-decorated because there are all sorts of companies making unique mailboxes, but what caught my eye was the DIY nature of these mailboxes.  Let me show you what I mean.  

Tiger mailbox 040311.jpg This tiger striped mailbox was the first one to catch my eye.  You just don't expect to see something like this in Lincoln, a historic, rural, New England town. 

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Further down the road I spotted this cheetah mailbox.  Could their owners be friends?

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This Canadian goose mailbox is a bit more traditional.  I liked how the goose on the front seems to be daring you to come any closer.

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This one intrigues me.  I'd love to talk to the artist.  Both sides show fungi on a desolate landscape.  It felt sci-fi inspired to me. 

  Mailbox attached to tree 040311


In addition to alien-world look of the painting, it has a lucky horseshoe underneath.  I don't know if it's intened to bring luck in the form of good tidings, or if the homeowner was just trying to preserve the mailbox from the snow plows.  All up and down the street I saw trees with gouges from plow blades, and mailboxes which had clearly been knocked down a time or two.   This winter the snowbanks were so high that on some streets all you could see of the mailboxes was the tiny mailbox-door sized holes their owners had made.

All of those plow mishaps have lead to some creative solutions. 

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The base of this mailbox is surrounded by concrete blocks.

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These brightly painted mailboxes have been secured to a stump in addition to having metal supports. 

  Milk crate mailbox 040311
And my favorite plow-war veteran would have to be this one.  The original support only goes so far as the first milkcrate at which point it ends in a splintery mess.  So the mailbox is actually being supported by two milk crates attached to a dolly with a web of bungy cords.  Now that's Yankee ingenuity (and thrift).

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This old rusty ol' dinosaur has seen a crash or two.  Wouldn't it be great if they actually painted it like a dinosaur?  The door just needs a tongue and razor sharp teeth like a T-Rex.  A couple cold reptilian eyes on the side and it would be perfect!

Red fox folk mailbox 040311
This fanciful, red fox out for a moonlit run is my absolute favorite.  The simple lines and bright colors look like something out of a children's book.  I look at it and imagine the rest of the fox's adventure, and then I start to imagine what sort of story I could paint on my own mailbox. 

I think I'll collect some more mailboxes (for inspiration of course), before I take that leap. 

 




Is it Meditation or Flow?

I've been curious about meditation since I was in high school.  From time to time I've sought through books and video how-to's to learn how to do it.  I've focused on my breath, imagining it filling and then emptying from every part of me.  I've slowed my breath to the point of getting a little light headed, and wondered how this could possibly be relaxing.    I've made lists of potential mantras, have tried sitting, lying down, even lying down with my feet raised above my head and in the end concluded that it simply wasn't for me.  I could not meditate and that was OK.

In the last fewmonths,  I've been surprised several times to hear some of my favorite activities called "the new yoga" for their ability to induce meditation.  This came up again and again in Tom Ashbrook's On Point episode on the resurgence of knitting.   When knitters talk about losing track of time and feeling like their mind has been set free from their body, I know just what they mean.  The same thing has happened when I'm out on a walk.  Once I'm warmed up, my legs and arms find their rhythm and suddenly I realize I'm several miles from where I was the last time I took notice of my surroundings.  I've often thought this was an example of flow, but maybe I was wrong and it's actually meditation.   My previous attempts had convinced me that meditation was something that required an exhaustive struggle to tame the mind. If meditation can be achieved through fun activities, that's like finding out that dark chocolate is actually good for you (in moderation of course, but still, that's something). 

I tried to research the difference between flow and meditation and found myself more confused than ever.  One source said that one is a state of mind and the other is an activity.  I found flow described as something that happens during meditation and distinctions being made between flow and mindfulness.  I finally decided that correctly naming the experience wasn't relevant to my enjoyment of it, and stopped the search.

However, before I gave up, I stumbled on a review of a study on the calming effects of yoga (specifically in relation to anxiety and depression).  Susan Seligson of Bostonia Magazine (Spring 2011)  did a great job summarizing the study for the non-psychologists of the world, so I'd like to share her introduction here. 

"Even the most mainstream psychiatrists might agree that yoga is like chicken soup - it can't hurt.  But researcher Chris Streeter has gone a step further toward validating yoga's potential to help treat depression and anxiety.  In a recent study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine...[Streeter and colleagues] scanned the brains of yoga practitioners and found that compared with that age-old stress reliever, walking, yoga brings a greater improvement in mood and decrease in anxiety" (Seligson 9).

Did you notice what activity the researchers chose for their control group?  Our good friend "that age-old stress reliever, walking" (Seligson 9).  The researchers had previously found that GABA levels  of yoga practitioners were higher than in a reading control group.  This is really interesting because low GABA levels are found in people with anxiety and mood disorders (including depression).  In this study they wanted to check if it was physical activity or yoga specifically that was responsible for the change in GABA levels (Streeter et al. 1146).  

One of the many things I found interesting about this, was that the researchers actually had the means to ensure that the activity both groups (yoga and walkers) experienced was equal.  They used a list of metabolic equivalents (METs) created by the American College of Sports Medicine to determine the physcail demands of each activity.  It makes sense that such a thing would exist, but it's so outside my realm of knowledge that I found its existence surprising.  Based on this system, they knew that one hour of the specified type of yoga was equal in to one hour of walking at 2.5 MPH on a flat plane (Streeter et al. 1146).  To ensure the equivalence, I assume the walkers were on treadmills, which instantly takes away the joy of walking in my opinion.   It is however, a sure way to know that the walkers' mood is purely related to the mechanics of walking and not what they're seeing and feeling along the way.      

Which brings me to how Chris Streeter addressed the question of whether or not their study was saying that yoga was better than walking.  Streeter replied "In this study, in this population, walking didn't prove to be as beneficial to mood as yoga.  It doesn't mean that yoga is better than walking, in other populations and other situations" (Seligson 9).  I'd be curious to know what the GABA levels of someone who has been out walking in the heady early days of spring would be.  How would those results compare with the treadmill walkers (and yoga practitioners)? Is it the action of bone, muscle and sinnew or the sights and sounds that make walking so enjoyable?  It wouldn't be a scientifically accurate comparison, but it would certainly be interesting. 

If you'd like to know more about flow, watch this entertaining and informative  talk given by the creater of the term. This video  comes from Ted.com, where you can find talks given by "the world's most fascinating thinkers and doers" (Ted.com)

Works Cited

Seligson, Susan. "Your Brain on Yoga: Calmer, More Content." Bostonia Winter-Spring 2011:Print

Streeter, Chris et al. "Effects of Yoga Versus Walking on Mood, Anxiety, and Brain GABA Levels: A Randomized Controlled MRS Study." Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine 16.11 (2010): 1145-1152. Academic Search Premier. Web. 3 Apr. 2011.

 

 

 

 


Going to the Birds

On a recent walk I saw what I thought was a dark garbage bag caught in the high branches of a tree.  I took a second look and realized it was a turkey, approximately three stories up!

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As I watched he spread out first his tail feathers, then his wings.  It was early in the morning, so I  wonder if he was stretching after a good night's sleep.   The rest of his clan was waking in the trees around him.   I could hear them calling softly to one another.  Occasionally one would stretch a neck or puff up some feathers, then settle back in to roost a little longer. 


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I don't know if the photos can really convey just how large and out of place these birds looked. Birds around here, especially the ones that stick around through the cold months tend to be small.  A blue jay looks (and acts) like the school bully at the bird feeder.  He arrives with much flapping and squawking, scattering the diminutive juncos and chickadees like leaves.  So a turkey, a bird that stands as tall as a kindergartner, is truly a sight.  To give you a better idea of their size, a couple years ago I was driving to work and the traffic had come to a stand still.  There on the center yellow line of the road was a turkey.  He looked completely unfazed by the cars inching past him and wandered haphazardly first into one lane and then the other. Every now and then he'd walk up to a car and look in one of the windows.  That's how tall turkeys are.

More turkeys 020311
A few days after the tree sighting, I was walking down the same road and saw the turkeys congregating in the center of the road.  Occasionally one would straighten up, flap its wings and then settle down again.  There was one tom (male) that had its head down low and kept circling like a dog herding sheep.  Wikipedia says that mating doesn't start until March, so I'm not sure what the circling behavior was about.  You can see his antics, along with turkeys taking flight in my little video below. 

 

Did you hear that cry as the turkey took off?  Apparently (thanks again Wikipedia) turkeys have several calls.  I wasn't close enough for the camera to capture the softer coo-like sounds that the birds were making as they milled about. 

Turkey walk 020209
Today I was on the same street, hoping to see the turkeys and they did not disappoint.  There they were, taking advantage of the sidewalks like good little citizens.  Then the door of a house opened up, a man stepped out with a bag and the birds mobbed him.  They scurried like creatures half their size, slipping on the ice and banging into one another trying to get at the seed he was throwing.  I wish I'd caught that on film!

 

 


All or Nothing

(To the tune of "My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music)

Rain drops on ice and slush in my socks,

Inky black darkness and cars that can't stop,

Soaking wet mittens, my windshield's all gray,

These are the reasons I won't walk today!

It was only a few months ago that I swore to myself that this winter, I would fight the nearly inevitable winter blahs, by among other things, taking a walk first thing every morning.  My doctor prescribed this regimen last year and it really helped.  I took the postal carriers' motto as my own and was out there in almost every kind of weather, allowing myself to skip only a few truly foul mornings.  I felt good and I was proud of myself for saying I would do something and following through.

As I drove home last night I realized, not only had I not gone for a walk in days, but I had absolutely no plans to break that streak by going out in the slush and rain.  Where was the stubborn fortitude I'd summoned up last year?  Just how wimpy have I become?   I certainly have the appropriate gear to make such a walk reasonably safe and dry, if not actually fun. 

And there it was.  I walk for many reasons, but enjoyment is top on the list.  Why should I turn something that I love into a chore by forcing myself to do it when my heart isn't in it?  Because I said I would.  The answer popped into my mind almost before I finished forming the question.  With that the opposition rested.  I said I would walk every day.  I made a promise to myself, and even mentioned it here on the blog.  What possible rebuttal could there be?

I was fighting with the lock of my door, rain and roof melt pouring down the collar of my coat, when I asked myself, how important is it?  How could it possibly matter, to anyone, if I took a walk in this mess or not?  If I wanted some exercise I could clean house, or better yet, do some yoga.  Adjusting the plan to fit the needs of the day is not failure; it's healthy.

 

 


Let It Snow

I stepped outside Saturday night and the air smelled like snow.  How water that hasn't even fallen from the clouds yet can alter the smell down here on earth is just one of life's more pleasant mysteries.  The sky was a woolen blanket with a milky pool of light where the moon attempted to break through.  The air was crisp and dry, and the wind had a sense of expectation about it.  As I stood there, a couple tiny flakes sparkled under my porch light. 

I woke up Sunday morning eager to get out and try my brand new snowshoes, except of course that there was no snow.  In fact the dusting we'd collected before I went to bed had mysteriously disappeared, as if a giant had come through with a broom determined to clear away any mess.

For you to understand my disapontment I should explain that my snowshoes were officially brand new 13 months ago, when I got them as a Christmas present.  But the weather and my schedule have just never come together, so all these months later I've still never used them.  In fact, I've never even been on snow shoes, it just seemed like the logical next step for someone who loves walking and being out in nature. 

So even though snow on a work day means getting up early to dig out, figuring out what to wear that is both practical and professional, white knuckle driving down the less travelled roads, and fighting to keep your windshield clear on the more travelled ones - I'm still hoping the weatherman is right about a snow storm coming our way Wednesday. 

Keep your fingers crossed and dream with me of snow.

Snowy day 121708



Start As You Mean To Go On

October has always been when I sit back and take stock of what I've accomplished (or not) in the last year and consider what I'd like to change moving forward.  September is full of hope and the promise that a new school year offers, then October's change in weather and growing darkness remind me that time is short.  "Gather ye rosebuds" as the poet reminds us.  By the time New Years comes around I have a sense of having "been there, done that" when it comes to assessment and resolutions.

Clementines 120710


So why is it that each time I've sat down today to write, I've felt that I should be writing something else entirely?  I've attempted to revise unpublished blog posts, create lesson plans for the spring, even write To Do lists, and each has felt impossible due to this sense that I should be spending my time spinning the wisps of plans that have swirled in my head all fall, into solid goals.  

Putting my goals for the year  into black and white is the first step toward actually accomplishing them.   And as with many great ideas, the work required to make it a reality is daunting, or at least potentially uncomfortable.  So I've put it off.  I watched part of Long Way Round, Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman's journey around the world on motorcycles.  It's a terrific show, but not the sort of thing that makes you feel better about putting off something because it might not be easy.  I've eaten a bit of chocolate.  Perfectly enjoyable, but not the least bit helpful.  I'm still not sure how to make sense out of the miasma of ideas fogging my brain, but I know how to get the process started.  

I'll see you after my walk.

"Me thinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow".

~Henry David Thoreau

 


The Thanksgiving Stroll

There's joy in watching people do the same things you enjoy doing.  I love watching people do crafts, or even better, spend time pouring over book s.  So it should come as no surprise that it makes me happy to see people out for a walk together, a stroll really, the sort of walk that has no purpose other than the chance to be outside and together.

Thanksgiving morning,  I stopped at Vij's Convenience (the absolute friendliest store in Lexington) for some pre-pie-baking caffeine and found it packed with a family buying hot tea and coffee after a cold morning ramble.  Their cheeks were as red as the old timey candy the kids were asking to buy.  They were joking with the owner and having such a merry time it reminded me of the nephew in Dicken's A Christmas Carol.  Thanksgiving and Christmas are the only times I can think of when brothers and sisters, their spouses and children would get together and go for a morning stroll.  There's a stillness to the streets on those days, when the stores are closed and people have left their routine to be with one another, that's perfect for walking.

  Gibsons summer 1872

My family, circa 1872

I can find holidays rather infuriating due to all the expectations and stress that surround them, but a family stroll is the absolute opposite.  It hearkens back to what we like to consider "a simpler time" without seeming forced or prescribed.   What could be more natural when family comes together and the small talk has dried up, and the kids are both restless and excited, than to get outside and take a walk?  Suddenly there are things to see and comment on.  Conversation resumes.   And if it doesn't that's OK too, because now instead of sitting, staring at each other, it's possible to enjoy each other's company whether you're talking or not.

Couple walking 110710
As I drove to the house where I would be enjoying Thanksgiving dinner, I smiled to see so many people walking the streets of downtown, peering in the shop windows.   I drove past three cyclists, protected only by spandex from the gusting wind, and imagined their dinner bubbling in the oven at home and just how good it would taste after their frigid ride.  I even saw a couple girls out for a walk with their grandparents and their goats.  Yes, goats!  The goats were on leashes and walked behind their little masters as docilely as dogs.

Later in the day, after my friends and I had eaten heartily, I'm happy to say we joined the ranks of the Thanksgiving Day walkers.  We waved to neighbors enjoying a drink on their porch, and we glimpsed a raucous family football game.  We called hearty hellos and Thanksgiving wishes to the strangers that we passed, and I felt grateful to be out walking surrounded by the people I love.

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  • I had the song "Over the River and Through the Woods" stuck in my head yesterday as I drove to and from Thanksgiving dinner.  It turns out that that it has a local connection.  There's an interesting post about it on the New England Folklore blog.
  • If you've never actually read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, or would love to hear it again to help get in the holiday mood, a great audio version is available for free through Craftlit.  You can stream it online or download it to a variety of gadgets.