Life With Horace

poetry & essays


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really

outside my door the guard has changed
a day of wet and gloomy gray
whisked off by racing clouds
abdicated winter steps in minuet retreat
the sullen blue gray glow of rained on slate
is caught by short lived slants of morning sun
and wind, a small all-hands treetop voice
is loath to roar (for now)
the dripping cloak that wraps this house
begins to dry and shed small gleams
the morning raven fly by
lacking winter urgency
green daffy blades push up
brash in return, migrating from the soil
no longer threatened accidents
almost time to prune and clear a way
for the celadon and smell of spring

_________________________________________
I’m mindful that March in New Hampshire is fickle, and for a good long while snow will be a possibility. the path to spring is never straight up here.

Horrie looking intently at something in the grass.


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field notes: when is a swamp a wetland?

The dogs and I get to our wetland walk on average once a week. I’ve been going there for the last six years, getting into the rhythms and seasonal contrasts and year-to-year changes. The first year that everything wasn’t exactly the same as the previous year I remember wondering how that could have happened?

One of many varieties of ferns there, this one in the leafy tunnel of trees at the beginning of the road.

Late summer afternoon light catching one of many varieties of ferns there, this one in the leafy tunnel of trees at the beginning of the road.

It dawned on me that a living, wild place will change (unlike a cultivated garden), certain plants will take over or disappear or diminish, the beavers won’t always be at the same spot. At that point I began to really take notice. And record its ongoing history in my mind and with photographs.

A couple of things make the place almost unique as far as wetlands go. In the first place there is a road right through it, allowing access on foot through its heart. Down the middle-ish.

The Summer Road.

A patch of “captive water” on what used to be a Summer Road.

When I first came there it was a Summer Road (don’t you love that term?) meaning go there at your peril once there is snow and ice because it won’t be plowed! Now it is a Class Six, or completely unmaintained. Farmers and townspeople in trucks, yahoos on motorbikes, and folks on bicycles use it for a passage of sorts. The rest of us simply walk.

The second is that the land is still owned privately. I have gotten to know one member of that family who also walks her dogs there (she is lucky as there is a trail down to it from her sister’s place across the road). From her I have learned that there is at least one bear skulking about in the woods at the north end, and gotten the very welcome sense that this is a family that feels strongly about preserving what is there.

Animal path through the lilies.

“Main Street” through the (yellow) waterlilies in the widewater off the earthen dam.

There are subtle signs of land management, such as placing beaver-cut tree limbs to get walkers across wide areas of wet along the road, or keeping the bittersweet trimmed back. And they do keep a path clear along one side of the road or the other.

There are beavers here, otters too on occasion. Dragonflies and damselflies. Lots of them. Mosquitos, black flies, green flies.

Birds range from year round woodpeckers and jays to seasonal hawks, crows, buzzards, ravens (rarer), red-winged blackbirds, cedar waxwings (new this year for me), all sorts of sparrows, warblers, at least one American Bittern, and Great Blue Herons.

A dragonfly resting. The big "bombers" however rarely seem to rest.

A dragonfly resting. The big “bombers” however rarely seem to rest.

I try to be observant about the birds, but my eye is drawn by the plant life and the water, so aside from large birds and clouds, my orientation is more down than up.

Fall seems to be coming early this year. Many of the Swamp Maples (small maple saplings that live for a few years and drown off) are already turning, not their usual cheery bright red, but a dusty maroon.

A pair of damselflies in an acrobatic clinch.

A pair of damselflies in an acrobatic clinch.


My daughter remarked yesterday that there are no swamps any more. They are all “wetlands”. Semantics, really. I think it all depends… There are some places that look pretty darned Swampy to me, as in the Great Dismal Swamp. The Great Dismal Wetland has much less cachet, don’t you think?

Swamp, wetland or bog it is all wonderful. And Aggie thinks so, most certainly. After all, not too many places that a dog can go that hits the Lab & Newfie trifecta: walking, lovely smelly things, and water.

Aggie loving yesterday's walk waiting for us to catch up on the way back.

Aggie on yesterday’s walk, waiting for us to catch up on the way back.


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no goodbyes, really

This weekend almost didn’t happen for me because my Newfie was barfing. Fearful of leaving her with some malady that might not turn out well, I stuck around, even unpacked a bit, convinced that she was in a bad way. My very practical husband called, once back in cell phone range (up here that’s an iffy thing) and basically booted me out the door. Go, he said. I’m coming home and will keep an eye on Aggie, he said. No news… he said. Yeah, so I threw everything together again and bolted, muttering thankful prayers for common sense.

The drive to the other side of the Green Mountains from here is always beautiful, even with end of summer tourists milling about in the rain. Coming down into Manchester, Mount Equinox loomed in the mist. I love the immediacy of those mountains. Boom, there they are, looming up right away in your face. I live at the foot of a mountain, a big rocky much climbed hulk, but the outward slope of its arms give it some visual distance.

Once through Dorset, with its Inn and history and everything painted white, the road comes out in a valley that I love because it’s “not”. It’s not fancy, it feels like Columbia County, NY. There are working farms, ramshackle barns, unpruned trees, beautiful old houses.

Of course I’m looking at all this wonderful stuff whizzing by as I’m trying not to go 80 miles an hour, to get to meet friends and kindred spirits I’ve mostly never met. The word lemming comes to mind and I dismiss it. This will be a gathering of a clan. Really. A clan of creative, gifted group of wannabe pirates with a wacky sense of humor who have come together because of the opportunity given us by a man with a vision.

Before you start hearing music from the Outer Limits (although if we were to form a rock group that would be a great name), no brain washing, no personal freedoms were harmed in the making of this story. Jon Katz is an author with a huge following, both in print and in the cyber world. He had the idea to form a creative group using the framework of facebook three months ago. A simple enough concept.

The result (after some necessary growing pains and identity consolidation) has been a miracle. That’s how I think of it. Like he came along and opened up a worm hole into a new place, a safe place to create and express and fall flat on your face, and get wonderful feedback from the rest of the Ministry of Encouragement, as he calls it. Or Jon and the Pirates.

So I got to the weekend’s “opener”, at the home of one of the Group, a beautiful place on a hill with sloping fields and horses, a couple of hours late but not too late. Getting out of the car I felt like jumping up and down with excitement with a good dose of bashful thrown in. You gotta realize that I skipped my 50th high school reunion this summer because, hell, I hadn’t managed to lose the 50 pounds of f*-you weight I was convinced was necessary to show up. Not this time! This was about who we are, everything that makes us the talented, caring members of something unique. I had brought Me there. That’s what mattered,

The rest of the time on the other side of the mountains was all I hoped it would be, from the cookout on Saturday night, to staying with a group member and her wonderful family, to the Open House at Jon and Maria’s farm yesterday. We all gradually met each other (are you an Open Grouper?) and passed each new acquaintance along to the rest. Names turned into people who were as interesting and open in person they were in the ether. Conversation flowed, more stories told, hugs exchanged, delight in one another’s company was evident. As we shared the day’s experiences, I was aware of a strong spiritual current flowing. The Farm is a special place, created by the love and energy of two remarkable people.

By the time we gathered in front of the barn for group shots, the connection was pretty palpable. Standing there I had the strongest feeling of linkage to everyone. While I joked about this feeling like the group shot at the end of A League of Their Own, and “there’s no crying in baseball” was bandied about, I felt replete, peaceful, my soul satisfied. What Jon had started was the real deal.

On the way home, guzzling down as much seltzer as I could after the day’s heat, I felt tired and jubilant and exhilarated. Taking a more southerly route back over the mountains, following some powerful rain storms as I went, it did not surprise me to see multiple rainbows over the valley mists and green of the mountain tops. Only fitting I thought, to mark our day. Sitting here this morning letting the words flow and telling my story, it hits me that I felt no great sense of parting, of regretful goodbyes yesterday. I’m pretty certain that’s because I know everyone is right here, in the group, flowing on. And Aggie is just fine.


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getting here from there

On my way home the penny dropped. It was one of those early fall days with a vivid blue sky, the kind that surrounds me with color and sensation, my brain revving up from the joy of it all.

Passing Fitzwilliam Road, glancing at the road sign, I thought no kidding, really? Let’s see now. Driving home, our road is Mountain Road and I’m headed toward Mt. Monadnock. Coming up from Troy, Monadnock Street ends at Mountain Road with a perfect view of the mountain behind our house.

Hmmm, folks from Marlborough call our road Jaffrey Road, because of course, that’s how you get to Jaffrey from there.

And that was it. I was in. I had hacked the country road code. Road signs mean what they say around here, for the most part, anyway.

There is, I’ll admit, a Road Number Four which meanders from Route 12 past a beautiful marsh, woods with streams, some interesting old houses and a farm stand before ending at Templeton Turnpike. So, not all the time.

Chalk that one up to a misguided flatlander. Which I’m not anymore. At least not a flatlander, and I’m fairly certain about the other.

Living up here has been a heart’s wish for a long time. It is obvious to me now that I followed the right signs, one at a time, to end up at the foot of this mountain.

Back in 2005, the one thing I was certain of was the need to leave the city, the house we were in, the life we led, to a simpler place, to be near family. My husband Mike was not well, was not going to get better, so we migrated north.

It was wonderful for both of us to be closer to nature, in a town where offseason rush hours emptied the streets by 6. Better, but I never felt truly at home. It just wasn’t simple enough, wild enough, but I’d accomplished what I set out to do with the move. It was okay.

Fourteen months later life took a drastic turn, when Mike died very suddenly and unexpectedly. He had been sick a long time, and the man I knew had been gone a long time as well, taken by the effects of Parkinson’s and dementia. The long goodbye on a road with no signs.

By the second month anniversary of his death I saw quite clearly that I could either fall apart on the 19th of each month, or use it as a celebration of what was positive in my life, a mile marker of achievement, something to applaud.

So I did just that, each month celebrating the milestones, letting Mike know, as I touched the sign on the memorial bench outside our community center. Hey, Mike, guess what?

And so it went, mile marker by mile marker, to dating for the first time in almost 40 years, online no less. Meeting the man I would marry four years later, moving to New Hampshire in 2009.

Living first in a charming old school house in Peterborough, nice enough but it was temporary. Aggie, our Newfie puppy, came along.

The next spring we found and bought a wonderful old house, built in 1796, next to an iconic pond with the mountain right behind it. The woods full of owls, deer, coyotes, birds, smaller creatures.

A year ago, after much searching, the road led to Horace, my dream lab pup. He is my joy and Aggie’s boon companion.

So here we all are. At the intersection of two roads leading to the mountain. And that’s how I got here, by reading the signs.