Autumn: A Season of Letting Go

The cats wake me up at 6:00 am, demanding to be fed. The soft, warm weather of Saturday has yielded to a seasonably crisp current. The only way I know this is because our apartment window has been left cracked open about six inches. Directly below us, the enclosed courtyard serves to create a kind of wind tunnel, causing air and voices and cooking fumes to waft up into our living space. In the city, the transition from one season to the next can go unnoticed because of so many urban distractions. Cairo and Feejee wind around my ankles, hoping to get their bellies filled, mewling more loudly than usual. They sense it’s time to pack on provisional fat layers.

I can tell by the bright slip of light over the Citicorp Building that the day will be bright and clear by lunchtime. I will not be able to enjoy it on this busy Monday morning at work, writing ad copy in my cubicle. So for now, I comfort myself by thinking about the forthcoming weekend, when we will reclaim our little cottage from the renters who have lived there all week.

It’s been a real lesson in letting go, this opening our home to strangers—and a surprisingly fulfilling adventure in some ways. From the get-go, we acknowledged that having a weekend home was a luxury for people like us, and we have always counted ourselves lucky. This summer, we could no longer justify letting the place sit empty for long stretches of time. Such is the continuing struggle to find balance in our lives.

By this weekend, my birthday weekend, the maples upstate will be nearly done shedding their leaves, and I will be curious to see how much color still blankets the Taconics, particularly after an eerily premature spring. I’d like to know that the renters enjoyed the place as much as we do. It’s always satisfying to know that like-minded travelers have found their way to our door.

Meanwhile, I look forward to being back in our house, to buying pumpkins and baking apples and shuffling my feet in the leaves at the edge of our wetlands, and to enjoying the little bit of liberation we derived from practicing non-attachment.

Happy Columbus Day!

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Forever Summer

After the days have long drawn in upon themselves, and the White Witch has cast her somnambulant spell over Smallpeace, I will remember these things about summer in no particular order: The heady, black pepper and anise scent of Ooms … Continue reading

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Surfing and Self-Realization

**Sorry for the silence, but I have been tending to my health and well-being with a long-overdue trip to my hometown of San Diego, where I had the most wonderful time visiting with family and friends. It should come as no surprise that I managed to find an abundance of Smallpeace in beautiful, sunny Southern California. I think they must grow it there. Anyway, couldn’t get any photos of the surfers of which I write, as we were too far away, but suffice it to say that this was one of the more memorable images of my trip:

From the highest point in the gardens of the Self-Realization Fellowship Temple Meditation Gardens in Encinitas, California, the view of the Pacific Ocean is a site to behold. There is a raggle-taggle row of surfers bobbing in the water below. It is Friday morning, around 10:30 or so. On each board, a surfer waits, some talking, some staring out at the offshore break, some lazily paddling into a more strategic position. The beach along the shoreline is empty. It is a quiet section, and the air is full of anticipation.

Abruptly, the wind shifts and the surfers hustle into place. Any double-parked boards separate and fall into line, and then the poetry happens. The surfers angle for optimum positioning, sinuously, expertly, just ahead of where the swell has begun to build. Then, all at once, with Zen master focus, they all set off, synchronizing their strokes in time with the rhythm of the rising swell. The most practiced—or just plain lucky—among them get the timing just right, springing feline-like into an upright position, sinking their weight into their hips, softening their knees, and training their gaze in the direction they want their boards to go. It occurs to me that the relationship between surfer and sea is not unlike the alchemy that can occur between the best riders and horses, and I begin to see them as mini Poseidons rising from the depths, brandishing their tridents, in full command of their destinies, completely awake in the moment.





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Marking Time On the Laundry Line

In July, 86 degrees feels like a fine enough reason to hang out the laundry. There is a surprising pleasure in carrying out this simple task on a breezy summer afternoon. I find myself walking back and forth across the yard, laden basket in hand, not as annoyed as I usually would be that the fuse in our electric clothes dryer chose peak visiting season to go kaput. The repetition of spinning the drying umbrella, reaching for a garment, then clipping it to the line reminds me that most of the good habits we develop—just like the bad—take time, like learning to appreciate the simple things.

Still, there is something disheartening about the broken clothes dryer sitting dismantled in the basement, as if it were just one more thing in a long list of things that have recently begun to exceed their warranty. I think of it now because when I turn the line, it feels like I am marking time. Six months since my cancer surgery…Six years since we bought Smallpeace…Seven years married…Twenty-five years living in New York! Incredibly in August, I plan to attend my 30th high school reunion. How can that be?

Handling the soggy sheets, I notice some wear and tear around the edges. And when I stretch them across the wire, I catch a glimpse of sunlight peeping through a tiny hole that wasn’t there before. It’s like hanging up a cotton chronicle of my body, and I think to myself: Some of these sheets aren’t even old enough to look so worn. And yet somehow, they just are.

I have women in my life who make a big production out of ironing sheets. I used to think it was a mark of good breeding and fastidiousness, and that one day I would take up the practice myself. What I do instead is to hang my linens in the country air the old fashioned way, and sometimes spray them with lavender oil. It always makes me rest easier. On rare occasions, I actually do take the time to pull out the iron and give my sheets a press. I am discovering that even gently used sheets tend to look better when you show them a little extra loving care.


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Peonies: The Floozies of the Garden

I read somewhere that peonies are often referred to as “the floozies of the garden” because of their scene-stealing beauty. These images, captured at blossoms’ peak, are on my desktop, so I can refer to them over and over again and again. I am simply weak for peonies! How about you?

The Passion of Paeonia

Each new
May morning
beauty is flaunted
against the blazing

crimson of the garage
the cool
undergrowth of the dawn
ruptures into a thousand propositions

fastened on extended necks
nodding like flirtatious geishas
as the fragrance wafts
like 12-year-old scotch

from parted lips.
If it is your proclivity
to be seduced
you will pause along the path

as Apollo did, your eyes
confiding ardent yearnings.
But if your heart
sustains within it

the hesitation
that is lonelier than death
it is perhaps more prudent
to be on your way

never turning to look back.
For lovely Paeonia
in all her capricious zeal
will be long gone by the end of June.

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Barn Red and Apple Blossom Pink

In our town and for miles all around, farmers long ago cleared away fallen trees and wrested out boulders from the soil to plant acres upon acres of apple trees. This was their legacy to their children and their children’s children, to carry tiny seeds or fragile saplings in calloused hands across the fields, drop them into sunny places, traipse back for another, and then another, until an orchard was made.

I do not need to wonder why barns are red when I look at the blossoms on an apple tree.

Have a beautiful weekend, everyone!

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The Impermanence of Trees (and Everything Else)

Call me a Chicken Little, but trees scare me. They grow while you are sleeping, and they can come crashing down at any time. Right now, a sugar maple is lying partially across our roof. I’ve considered leaving it there as proof to my husband that I can indeed foretell disaster, a talent I would not wish upon my worst enemy.  The damage certainly could have been worse. The impact took out our aluminum chimney along with a rain gutter for good measure. At least the tree didn’t fall on our new kitchen, or on us for that matter.

“Why can’t you use your witchy powers for good instead of evil?” B implores me as I nervously pace the property, turning my gaze upwards to the stand of old-growth pines out back. “Maybe we can call in a lumbering company to take them all away,” I say without a hint of remorse. “Let’s not get crazy,” B says. Too late.

Tree removal is expensive, and therefore must be carefully considered on our Smallpeace budget. Oh, did I mention, we just spent a wad of cash having two “unsafe” trees cut down last fall…so they wouldn’t fall on the house!

Thank goodness for the neighbors who drive by and gawk, for they are the ones who usually get the best photos for the insurance adjustor in our absence. Not all of them stop to gloat, mind you. There are the compassionate ones, valued friends who shake their heads in disbelief at our recent spate of bad luck; or good luck, depending on how you look at things. Hey, we’re still here, aren’t we?

Going forward, I will try my best to use my witchy powers for good, letting the chips—and the trees—fall where they may. But like so much else in our lives, anticipating the worst is a very difficult habit to break. All the more because, when I close my eyes at night, I remember the catastrophic health crisis I just survived.

Meanwhile at Smallpeace, life goes on in spite of my hyper-vigilance, as though the next disaster weren’t lurking around the corner, as if lightening couldn’t strike any one of us at any moment! Out on the lawn, my industrious husband is getting busy chopping up the ill-fated sugar maple. We will have more firewood this winter than we know what to do with. Our contractor Jay will come by to mend the chimney. He knows where we hide the key. And eventually, inevitably, all will be put right again.

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