’tis the Season

Every time G hears the furnace click on, he’s right there huddling in front of the floor grate by the big table (where we eat and make) or under the bar by the grate at my feet as I work on the catalog or tap out a post. When the heat is on, we are cozy and dry. When it clicks off, every crack and crevice in this old house leaks the coldest air.

Today it’s Cold. Low twenties with wind chills in the teens and lower. Short bursts of dry snow blow down from Lake Erie. Nothing really accumulates, but yard and deck and front yard mini-boulders are dusted white. The squirrels are frantic; they’ve been so all fall. Browns and greys and blacks stuff their faces with the surplus of maple seeds (a hefty crop of them this year) I can’t seem to fully collect and/or bag with my rake and dustpan. We’ve seen up to a dozen of them at once—some just inches from each other—frantically raking at the grass and dirt with their claws. A particularly rotund brown specimen we named Fatty (I know, creative) will let you get just a foot away from him, but every time I non-threateningly lift my camera, he darts away faster than you’d imagine a rodent of his size could scurry.

We fear this portends a long, cold winter.

2 Days Later:

We’re not really afraid of a long, cold winter. Long as there’s snow.

g happy snowball

j happy snowball

We’re going sledding.


Beware the tender mercies

“Mommy, I jus’ came down to get my lovey.” He trots over and wraps a striped-pajama arm around my neck. “Kissies!” His warm fleshy hand pulls me toward him and we commence our affections, G-style. He is a boy of intense kisses, smashing his face into mine. We are a family of intense everything it seems, especially emotion.

The word ecosystem is kind of the perfect term for the intricacies of family life, which I discovered by flipping on over to my best go-to gal, Wikipedia:

An ecosystem is a community of living organisms (plants, animals and microbes) in conjunction with the nonliving components of their environment (things like air, water and mineral soil), interacting as a system. These biotic and abiotic components are regarded as linked together through nutrient cycles and energy flows. As ecosystems are defined by the network of interactions among organisms, and between organisms and their environment, they can come in any size but usually encompass specific, limited spaces… 

“Linked together through nutrient cycles and energy flows” pretty much sums us up.

“Defined by the network of interactions among organisms, and between organisms and their environment” touches on the complexity, the sometimes seeming-impossibility of living together in the world.

Segue to Tolstoy: “I simply want to live; to cause no evil to anyone but myself.”  (War and Peace)

I’m with Tolstoy this Little Lent, as the Orthodox sometimes call the Nativity Fast. I guess I’m off to a good start with those eight pumpkin bars I ate right before bed last night (I speak of the evil I inflicted on my stomach in the middle of the night).  But of course I’m prone to cause my share of evil toward others—dark moods I inflict upon the fragile ecosystem of our family. To simply live means intense self-work.

I want a tender heart. I know I’m asking for it to say so. Beware the tender mercies.

tender angel

Salt, drift, salvation

While the boys sleep, they turn salty. What’s left of their day’s play and tears rises out of their pores, and every morning when I open the door to their room I’m greeted by their salty dreams. Lucy sleeps there too (it’s a proper sleeping cave), so there can be a touch of the dog-closed-up-in-a-room-for-eight-hours thing, but heck, boys and dogs go together.

The world’s gone golden in this part of O-H-I-O, which is maybe why my sense of all things feels particularly intense. I suppose it’s a good thing I don’t experience the world like this all of the time; I imagine that could exhaust a person, which makes me think about Jonah and his fellow autistics living about in the world. Rather than feel less—which is how autism was/is mistakenly characterized so often—I’m pretty sure he feels more. Of everything. What a charge that must be. Exciting, stimulating, consuming, taxing. Did I say overwhelming?

Our days have been a mix of that intense charge and the ever-need to plow to the end of the row. Good things are happening that I don’t have words to express. Autumn is a working season. Besides the day-to-day maintenance that life requires—laundry, meals, school drop-offs and pick-ups, cleaning (dog hair dog hair dog hair) and toilet mop-ups (when will the G stop missing the hole?)—there’s the obvious winter preparation. The boys and I cleared the vegetable garden and started dumping leaves to compost (So Much Better than Bagging). I had a date with the weed whacker and cleared the native garden John planted out back to stave off the flood waters that inevitably drain their way into our basement otherwise.

Something I’ve noticed, something I’m wondering: the way the wind pools all manner of detritus in the same places—a dip in the sidewalk leading up to the house; up against the back wall of the house on the other side of the black iron gate; along a 2′ x 4′ stretch of the driveway up against the north/south fence; to the west of Denny’s maple, to the north and south of our stand of pines (the tallest of which Gabriel discovered he could climb this week).

I drift back to the same nooks and sinkholes. There’s nothing particularly profound  in that, though acknowledging the reality of my own drift might be useful, if only to stave off the inevitable hypocrisy. The detritus still collects—the better to gather it in for garden compost. What if a small hundred deaths can make something grow? Which Fr. Nicholas said this morning is the miracle of salvation.

Like I said, don’t quite have the words. I’m reaching but still scattered. Better to continue putting my hand to the rake in the yard. These salty boys want to jump, and I like how it feels like Kansas a little, with the wind whipping us around.

leaf plant

g pine

j happy leaves


All Saints

While I might tack on a few pictures of the hooligans doing Halloween this year, the All Saints this post refers to are more along the lines of the Day of the Dead variety. Those gone before and those still here but approaching the ether that divides the dead from the living. Or, as death is portrayed in the Orthodox Church, that movement from life to life.

All Saints

It’s one day past the Day of the Dead, and this has been
a bad year, six funerals already and not done yet.
But on this blue day of perfect weather, I can’t muster
sadness, for the trees are radiant, the air thick as Karo
warmed in a pan. I have my friend’s last book spread
on the table and a cup of coffee in a white china mug.
All the leaves are ringing, like the tiny bells of God.
My mother, too, is ready to leave. All she wants now
is sugar: penuche fudge, tapioca pudding, pumpkin roll.
She wants to sit in the sun, pull it around her shoulders
like an Orlon sweater, and listen to the birds
in the far-off trees. I want this sweetness to linger
on her tongue, because the days are growing shorter
now, and night comes on, so quickly.

“All Saints” by Barbara Crooker, from Gold. © Cascade Books, 2013.

Each Sunday, our priest has this funny habit of mentioning how many funerals the church has held over the course of the year. We’re approaching forty. No wonder he’s a little preoccupied. Between our Fr. Nicholas and the running obsession with graveyards and spirits around here, I’ve been pondering a good bit about death—its imminence and the ways we rage against it, tethering ourselves with the materials of this world.

My grandfather—Papa George—is in ailing health. For several years now his body’s decline has been a hindrance to his mobility and a downright annoyance to his mental faculties. Getting old has not been a pleasant experience.  Unlike the “All Saints” mother, he is not ready to leave. Instead of sweets, he wants barbecue ribs, Quarter Pounders with cheese, steak and egg burritos, sausages.

I love the image of air thick as Karo warmed in a pan, the sun wrapped ’round like a sweater, pumpkin rolls and penuche fudge (had to look that one up—brown sugar, butter, milk and vanilla). Sugar seems a fitting gateway food to the other side. But Papa has no desire for sweet rapture. His animal instincts are fully intact. He ain’t goin’ nowhere, especially not toward that ether between this and the other side.

Of course there is great beauty and necessity in letting come-what-may. But what about the fighters? What do you tell them? Can’t that stubbornness be a road too? A way?

John and I have a recurring conversation concerning spirit/totem animals. Native American folklore is rich with such tales. It is believed that a person and her “life-long” spirit totem animals “share a spiritual, energetic connection in which the animals serves as an ally, guide, teacher, protector, and a source of power throughout the person’s life.” John’s animals are (of course) all very poetic and spiritually rich: the hawk (messenger), the heron (self-reflection, self-reliance), the turtle (Earth Mother, fertility). You know what I keep returning to? The Mule.  This afternoon I looked up the attribute the mule is said to impart: allowance. Yeah. Not even sure what that means.

Except. I have this sneaky suspicion that mules are horribly underrated. This is where Papa and I have something in common, that stubborn tethering to the things of this world. As for allowance, well, the word is rich. Most obviously, it means “to allow.” There’s a leniency and grace about it. A kind of benevolent tolerance. But it also conveys a particular amount, a sense of what will be permitted.

Papa was a boxer in the Marines. He played football for the University of Colorado. He’s not going to just fade away. But I’d like, somehow , to convey to him that making allowance might leave him a little less miserable. Permitting oneself to grow old might sound pointless, but if the mind and the body aren’t in accord, we end up fighting ourselves, and what’s the good in that?

I love my Papa’s will to live. His lust for life is contagious, much like his love of family. Which reminds me—those hooligans. G’s Darth Maul is pretty obvious. J woke up with an itch to be Charles Dickens’ Pointing Spirit (the ghost of Christmas future in A Christmas Carol). As his Texas Aunt Beth put it, it looks like he went marker-crazy on his face, but he was sufficiently spooky. I was just relieved he bypassed the creepy-trashy zombie suit.
pointing spirit crophalloween maul