Waking Up, Trying To Focus, and Wondering Why

Amazing how unexpected little things completely derail all my plans. In this case, the little thing was two wasp stings on the top of my middle toe, early last Friday evening. The stings burned like the dickens when they happened, but ice and cortisone cream seemed to keep a major reaction at bay for Friday night and all day Saturday. But on Sunday morning the assaulted toe and both its neighbors were swollen, itching, and angry red. Out came the Benadryl tablets, which successfully tamed the itching and swelling, along with disconnecting me from all higher cognitive functions.

So I’ve not done any real harp or recorder practice. I’ve tried to get my fingers to stretch and wrap around my new tenor recorder, with limited success. I’ve not written anything about my week at Mountain Collegium. Not posted a photo for the weekly photo challenge. Not worked on any of my house or yard or garden projects. But I have slept well and often – oh, so very, very well!

It’s been a good week to live in a dimly aware haze. Temperatures are once again in the high 90’s with humidity to match. I couldn’t get a shoe on my right foot until yesterday, which was all the excuse I needed to avoid the hot early morning dog walk. But yesterday the foot consented to being crammed into a sneaker, and the dog and I ventured forth about 7:30 a.m.. We returned 30 minutes later dripping and sweat stained. At least I was. Charley immediately resumed her belly-side down position on the hardwood floor in front of the air conditioning vent, so I suppose that if she could sweat, she would have been dripping and sweat stained as well.

Today is no better. The morning walk was even hotter. Watering the garden feels akin to trying to create a water hole in the desert – no matter how much water I pour on the vegetable beds, the squash and cucumber plants are drooping before 10:00 a.m., and the tomatoes are shriveling and drying on the vine, giving a whole new meaning to “sun-dried.” The late maturing blueberries fall off the bushes still pink and unripened. Even the okra, that tropical hibiscus relative, refuses to grow or flower in this heat. The atmosphere feels explosive, but we’ve had no heat-relieving afternoon storms so far. It’s beginning to look like it will take a hurricane to break this weather pattern and bring us rain.

A week later, my toe is back to its normal size and is only a mottled shade of magenta, so I’m bidding a fond farewell to the Benadryl and its accompanying unconsciousness. I hope to be back on the harp bench tomorrow. But this afternoon, I think I’ll have just one more blissfully air-conditioned nap.



It’s So Hot My Eyeballs Are Sweating – And Other Summer Complaints

It’s only the end of June, and already I am done in by summer. My brain is sucked dry by the heat. My body is drenched from humidity that keeps even the smallest droplet of sweat from evaporating. My lungs are cooked from the ozone pollution that renders the air in this city unbreathable.

I am out of patience, out of inspiration, out of any will to accomplish anything. I don’t want to practice, I don’t want to garden, I don’t want to walk, or write, or paint, or do anything creative. I only want to join my dog, who is stretched out in front of the air conditioning vent with her belly pressed against the cool of the hardwood floor. Alas, I’m not willing to endure the embarrassment of getting into that position and being unable to get up again.

I recently e-mailed a friend with my realization that I make a lousy Buddhist: I am so very attached to not being hot. And I do not welcome any of the current opportunities to work on ridding myself of this particular attachment. I am addicted to being at a comfortable temperature.

Yet even as I write this, I know what a whiney-butt I’m being.  My house has air conditioning – something I grew up without and lived without until I was in my mid-twenties. I can afford the electricity that runs the air conditioner. I don’t have to work outside. I don’t really even have to go outside unless I choose to. My schedule is my own, so I can walk my dog before the sun rises and starts the bake cycle for another day.  So many people have no choice and no recourse but to endure the heat, without any hope of comfort in their nights or their days.

Next week I head to the hills, to what I hope will be cleaner air and cooler temperatures. I am going to the Mountain Collegium, a weeklong early music summer camp in the North Carolina mountains. (I always wanted to be one of those kids going to a summer music camp; now I finally get to go.) The camp information list says to bring a sweater for cool nights. I doubt that I will – I think I’d rather enjoy shivering.

Wild Weather

I’m bleary-eyed today, having spent far too much time yesterday afternoon and last night watching The Weather Channel and the radar images of the storms and tornadoes that ravaged the Southeast.

My Birmingham family’s neighborhood was hit with 90 mph straight-line winds yesterday morning, but was spared the afternoon’s direct tornado hit. The house made it without damage, but trees and power lines are down throughout the neighborhood, with no hopes of clearing and repair until sometime next week.

When I finally turned off the television at 11:30 last night, another super-cell storm with tornado was barreling towards my friends in La Grange, Georgia. I’d spoken to them earlier in the evening to make sure they were monitoring the storm heading their way. They were already prepared, having gathered water, blankets and pillows into their “safe room,” an interior closet. When I called this morning, they reported that the storm hit about three miles away, and they were unscathed.

The storm cells hit us around 3 am with thunder, lightning, and torrents of rain, but without the wind and tornadoes that scoured so much of Alabama and Georgia. Though the noise of the storm woke me up, I made it through the night without being compelled to herd the household to the window-less basement laundry room.

In the face of yet another demonstration of nature’s power, and knowing that so many people lost their lives, their loved ones, their homes and livelihood, I am grateful to have escaped these storms’ destruction, and grateful that those I love are safe and unharmed. Earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes: potent reminders that every day we live on this earth is a miracle, and that not everyone is granted the gift of a long life.

Awash in Spring

The world is awash in spring, which announced its arrival with a fine, mustard-yellow coating of maple and Bradford Pear pollen on my car yesterday morning. No matter that astronomical spring is still three weeks away. The winter colors of brown tree trunks and deep green holly leaves are replaced by the yellows of daffodils and forsythias, the burgundy of maple tree blossoms, the pink and magenta of the tulip magnolias, and the sudden virginal white of the star magnolias.

According to my garden journal, the tulip and star magnolias are blooming a solid month earlier than they did last year. We’ve set record high temperatures this February, topping 80 degrees on several days. The warmth is a delight after this icy winter, but bodes ill for what summer will bring. And we’ve once again reached the stage of “severe drought” according to the National Weather Service. Winter rains never came, and the snow melt was insufficient to recharge groundwater supplies. The beds in my garden are bone dry, despite their layers of mulch. I’ve emptied half of two rain barrels carrying water to broccoli and lettuce transplants and to newly planted seed beds.

For the first time in many years, I have the time to plant an early spring garden. I cheated the seed-starting calendar with the purchased seedlings. My pre-sprouted peas are tucked into their trenches, still too shy to make an appearance in the spring sunlight. This past weekend, I direct seeded tiny red and black periods of kale, nearly transparent commas of carrots, and tiny white and black exclamation points of lettuce.

Each seed, carefully positioned in its furrow, can provoke a crisis of trust. What if this is the year the seeds don’t sprout? What if this is the year that the miracle stops? What if this is the year that the center does not hold, and all that we count on fails us? But a deep inhalation, full of the scents of daffodils and garden soil, eases my mind. The cycle will continue. It is not under the jurisdiction of man, despite all that we do to make it more difficult on this earth for this new life to emerge. Life is bigger and stronger than we are; the future that is contained in these tiny seeds will have its way.

Last week, my friend Catherine read this poem to her Soul Collage class participants, a poem so perfect for this time of seeds and hope:

You know that the seed is inside the horse-chestnut tree,

And inside the seed there are blossoms of the tree, and the chestnuts, and the shade.

So inside the human body there is the seed, and inside the seed there is the body again.

Thinkers listen, and tell me what you know of that is not in the soul?

A pitcher full of water is set down on the water –

Now it has water inside and water outside.

We mustn’t give it a name, lest silly people start talking again about the body and soul.

If you want the truth, I’ll tell you the truth;

Listen to the secret sound, the real sound, which is inside you.


And last night, it rained.


A Sign of Spring: Seduced by Peas Again

Winter’s back is broken here. We could get a late, March snowstorm, but the likelihood that we will be ice-bound and house-bound because of it diminishes with each day that temperatures are above 50 degrees. The earth is warming. Owls croon for their mates both day and night. Lone hawks on the neighborhood thermals are replaced by hunting pairs who call to each other with new, low guttural sounds. The Dianthus under the blueberries, sturdy survivors of repeated hard freezes, burst with magenta blossoms. Bluets peek out from under spring-green wild onions and chickweed. And I am planting peas.

Give me any week of sunny and warmer weather in February, and I am drawn to my garden like the moth to the flame, pea seeds and soil inoculant in hand, ready to open a trench and settle each wizened, wrinkled seed into its own spot in the earth. I cover each seed with a handful of dark loam, pat it gently, and sit back on my heels to await the miracle.

This year will be different, I’m sure of it! There won’t be last year’s flooding rain, 5 inches in two hours, that washed seeds out of the soil before they ever sprouted. Or an April heat wave to bake flowers off the replanted peas just as they begin to open. And I’m certain that we won’t have a return of the previous year’s Easter freeze – the one that killed not only peas, but every peach blossom for a hundred miles around me.

I know that the new, stronger electric fence charger will keep the rabbits out of the garden, so they can’t eat each pea shoot as it emerges from the ground. And the soap bars, hair, and coyote urine now deployed on the garden perimeter will repel any neighborhood deer that think peas only two days short of being ready to pick are delicious.

And I’m equally sure that this year, Charlie Brown’s kite will fly unimpeded by the kite-eating tree, and that Lucy will not pull the football away. I am a gardener, after all!

Iced in – and practicing sight-reading again

The predictions were right. On Monday night, our 6 inches of snow was glazed by a thick coating of ice due to overnight sleet and freezing drizzle. Temperatures have yet to climb above freezing, so no melting so far. I found some strap-on ice cleats in the back of my closet, so this morning I added them to my boots, and ventured to the end of my driveway to get the morning newspaper and yesterday’s mail. For the first time in the 15 years I’ve lived here, I saw a snowplow on my street. Of course, it was totally ineffective at removing any of the hard-packed ice. The blade just skittered along without digging into anything frozen. I cleaned off cars yesterday, but my driveway is in total shade thanks to the neighbor’s 12-foot tall Leyland cyprus trees, so I doubt I’ll be driving anywhere today. The community college is closed for a third day, so no chorus class today, anyway. I hope to at least bust up some of the ice in the driveway and rake it off. (Don’t laugh –  that’s what my neighbor across the street did yesterday, and it seemed to work.)

At least I’ve had lots of time to practice. I started sight-reading for 30 minutes as a part of my daily practice, which according to my teacher is the minimum time required if I want to get any better at it. But my brain is screaming after 20 minutes, so I’m not sure if the last 10 minutes is actually accomplishing anything. Today I found a music theory website that has exercises for identifying notes, intervals and chords, among other things: Ricci Adams’ musictheory.net . Since identifying intervals really slows me down when I’m trying to read, I’m going to try these exercises as the last 10 minutes of my sight-reading practice. Perhaps I can successfully click my mouse to identify an interval after my brain is done with trying to read from an actual score. We’ll see……..

Snow (again!)

After the last several years where winter made light of its role in the December – March calendar, we have our second major snowfall in two weeks. The last four days of meteorological broadcast hysteria was apparently warranted. The snow started about 4 am, there were 2 inches on the ground by 6, and as the song says, “. . . it doesn’t show signs of stoppin’ .”

We are promised ice and freezing rain later, and I don’t doubt this prediction. My friend in Birmingham (Alabama) says they are coated with a 1/4 inch of ice. The city is under attack from falling trees and tree limbs, and is coping with resulting power outages. The ice part of this storm is set to barrel up I-85 to North Carolina and arrive by this evening. After our last ice storm we had no electricity for a week. So I have a fire laid in the fireplace, wood stacked on the front porch, candles and flashlights at hand, matches ready to light the stove burners when the electric ignition fails. All I have to do now is enjoy the sight of the comparatively benign snowflakes, which are falling so densely that I cannot see my back fence in the back yard.

Birds are taking cover in the azalea by the patio, waiting their turn at the feeders like planes lined up for take-off on the tarmac, which is the only place planes would be today had not all flights in and out of the airport been cancelled. There are robins, cardinals, juncos, black-capped chickadees, rufous-sided towhees, goldfinch in their winter plumage, titmice, purple and non-purple finches, some wee wrens, and for the first time at my feeders, bluebirds. My yard is home to several bluebirds, but I typically see them catching their preferred insects on the wing, or plucking blue-black berries from the cedar tree. In this snow, they wait their turn at the feeder, then fly in and delicately grasp a single black-oil sunflower seed in their beaks, fly to the evergreen hedge, and crack it open and eat it.

It’s strange to feel like the this storm has given me a day off. I’m retired. I no longer have to call the employee weather line like my working friends, who at 6 this morning were on their phones, hoping to hear that county offices were closed due to inclement weather. And I no longer have to struggle to make it to work when against all common sense and good judgement (for a city that does not plow neighborhood streets,) county offices remained open. Trekking to the end of the driveway to fetch the morning paper is the extent of my mobile adventures today.

But the snow creates a completely unscheduled day and evening, which is still a lovely gift. The community college is closed, so I won’t be starting the new chorus class today. The Monday evening yoga class is cancelled, and my teacher delayed the start of spring semester harp lessons until next week. So there is this luscious, unfilled time stretching before me, an unplanned holiday.

I have bread rising in the oven, a domestic pleasure I don’t enjoy often enough. I’ve read my friend Catherine’s entire blog, Listening for the Whisperings, which transports me to a world where the workings of soul and light are treasured and entwined. I have new music on the music stand and time to slowly work my way through it, phrase by phrase. My cat is on my lap, purring her approval of my writing as I type. This day could not be more perfect, or contain more joy.