where my bicycle, my feet, my mind wander & wonder
Author: Kate Hemenway
I like to explore, to observe. I like to be within what is around. There is always something to wonder about and to ponder. There is always something.. My favorite ways to get to places are bicycling and walking; or reading, or thinking, or asking. Please feel free to ask back, as I continue to wonder out loud, express joy or concern, or, sometimes, talk through my hat.
Good afternoon, this November 1st, 2022. It may be a bleak day, in keeping with the reputation November holds, but I am not bleak today. I hope you, too, are on the upside of down.
October closed out so beautifully, there was no down to sink into. Yesterday, October 31st, I walked the beaches and cliff walks of Ogunquit, Maine. It was an unmatchable beauty of a day.
Perhaps you can tell, perhaps not–the various mollusks are underwater. I lucked out, and arrived at lowest tide. So they were in puddles, and I could be close. A couple of hours later and these would have been inaccessible to me and the hovering seagulls, until, of course, they became accessible again in the next cycle. This thought brought me to the thought of the cyclicality. Is there such a thing as a straight line in the created universe? So, two divergent thought streams flow out of my brain simultaneously: Is anything as it seems? And, is anything irredeemable?
I wanted to categorize these two questions: One physical and the second philosophical. But it quickly became obvious that I could not. To limit them to these categories limits them to the realm of human intellect, and human intellect is only an element in the physical; and the philosophical search of any thought is incomplete, as incomplete as the scientific, as the mathematic, as….
And, to, say, delight in a place, a person, or a thought experienced or observed, I don’t have to know the complete. Which is good, because if I thought I had to, I would never be able to delight in.
I delight in the fact that, for instance, Gingko trees are ancient, pre-ancient in their origin, and they prevail. And in the realization that the elements from which they arose, so did I. Everything in its time out of the same stuff. And everything redeemable. These are pat sentences that say everything or that say nothing, depending on the hearer’s receptiveness. The delight of creation: He who began a good work in you…
As a final word. If you are of a mind, sit down and read Job 38 & 39.
In the cool of the evenin’ When everything is gettin’ kind of groovy I call you up and ask you if you’d like to Go with me and see a movie
In the cool of the evenin’ When everything is gettin’ kind of groovy I call you up and ask you if you’d like to Go with me and see a movie
First you say no You’ve got some plans for the night And then you stop, and say, all right Love is kinda crazy with a spooky little girl like you
You always keep me guessin’ I never seem to know what you are thinkin’ And if a fella looks at you…
This is the first four stanzas (minus one final line) of the Classics IV sung song, Spooky, written by James B. Cobb, Jr., Harry Middlebrooks, Buddy Buie, and Mike Shapiro.
Did anything come to mind when you read these lines? How many of you could hear the song sung in your head? How many remember it from your youth? You don’t have to answer.
How much of a day do you spend remembering your past? How much of it involves joy? How much regret? How much I wonder/what if? What do you do with your remembering? Do you use it? Do you slough it off? Does the thought come to mind–how many more memories will I have before (a) I can’t anymore, (b) I’m not anymore, (c) they take over my present, (d) [you fill in the blank]?
How often do you purposely reraise a memory? Why? Would that we did that only to relish, or smile, but how often is a bitterness that asks you to call it back up, a resentment, a hurt, an urge, need, desire to rewrite or repay or reassert? How often is it the regret of its ever occurring that dredges it up again-how can I make this that I did, thought, said, and shouldn’t have–right?
How big is repentance in each of our lives? How much of it do we (I) need to complete? Why did I do what now needs to be repented? Am I likely to do it again? Is it preventable?
How big is forgiveness in each of our lives? Of others. Of ourselves. If I do not forgive, what will I be like for the rest of my life on earth?
If I do forgive, how will that define me going forward? If I do forgive today, will I still tomorrow? And if not, why not?
Last question: the other day I was looking at a trove of trees and wondering at their closeness to each other, their height, their variety even as they were all tall, brown trunked, green leaved (mostly, some were reddening and oranging), and the calm they instilled in me as I stared. We are undermining trees very roots, and disassembling their bodies and lives. So much we do this to. Why were humans created? In the fact of us, what good do we bring to this earth?
Fill in your own captions.
If you have made it to this bottom line. Thank you. Not all days delight.
Now, I could mean anything by that often used phrase, coined originally, at least for the majority of us, in a dark comedy movie with Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn. And I could mean anything simply for the verb-“becomes”. Because as a body, a physical presence, it becomes, ultimately who each of us–animal, mineral, vegetable, “solid” or “liquid” or “gas”-becomes, no longer actively impacting earth. While also it (darkly) compliments one, somehow, in another one’s eye (viz, “is becoming when displayed by her”). And again, be it anthropo or any other human-defined life form.
Today I am thinking of autumn leaves.
On other recent days I considered clam shells and mussel shells, just “empty shells” of their former selves, but thus because they provided sustenance for seagulls at the beach I show below, Plum Island, where I recently returned with my friend, Lynne, and we watched black-backed and herring gulls, as well as a cormorant, and a handful of piping plovers chase and consume sustenance.
I wonder at the persistence of death into life. I wonder at the miracle of it.
I wonder, too, all, all being combinations of the very same elements (such incredibly wise creation!) if death is even possible. Life becomes her.
You know what? Read Genesis 1. All starts and all that comes from the start, Comes from the start, emerges from the start, is of the start. Is.
I have just figured out why I keep not writing a blog post when I expect I will. Weather.
When it is warm. When the sun shines. I am out and not writing.
When it hot and humid. I am drained and not writing.
When it is precipitating, likeliest time that I will be writing.
It is raining. It has intermittently since midnight poured, rained, stilled. I am so grateful for this rain here. Also that the basement, which is well settled within a high watertable, and is equipped with a sump pump, a dehumidifier that runs all summer (and the outflow of which as mentioned in a previous post, waters my vegetable and window box gardens), and a wet dry vacuum for when the previous two means are overwhelmed, is so far today, dry floored.
The geography of weather seems to be ever more extreme, perhaps still predictable in its type, it is no longer anticipatable in its extent. We are all participants in a wild world.
And it seems I can’t stop talking about it. Oh for the days when weather was local. Oh for the times when life was local, and self-sufficiently so! Those times, I admit, well preceded my personally fairly urban-centric lifetime. Perhaps if I had been raised on a farm, or in one of those small towns through which we occasionally pass on the way to vacationing in some other far-flung where (where, passing through, in the long ago 20th century and first two decades of the 21st century I used to wonder, how do they make a living?), those times may have been more current for me.
But can we live locally anymore? Many, many of my fellow townspeople in our 110,000 population, magnificently diverse city do manage to raise admirable summer vegetable gardens in tiny plots owned, rented, borrowed, or purloined by them. I have even consumed from my own garden abundant arugula, some tomatoes, some cucumbers, some beets. But other than vegetables, what else? What else in anyone’s life these days can be provided, produced at one’s homestead or close neighborhood? By the way, the hoped for buttercup squash I wrote about last time was not. It is gourds. Perhaps one of you can use them to decorate? I am at a loss for what to do once I tire of seeing them draped colorfully over the fence, stakes, and other obstacles that they in their persistent crawl forward latch onto.
We cannot. We live and breathe and have our being where we are, but not without enormous input, not without provision from somewhere else, be it the copper in our electronics, the lithium in our batteries, the variously provided cloths in our clothes, the growing elements that comprise our clothes, furniture, food, the chemically produced, extracted, extruded items that comprise our same clothes, furniture, vehicles, possessions (from what are these chemical elements derived? yes, something somewhere not here, or here, and depleting).
Perhaps, as I reread this post, I shouldn’t write during rain. I might be more cheerful on a day of sun, low humidity, moderate temperature, with a sweet breeze, and on the heels of days with just enough precipitation to make earth Eden.
So! Will I not post this? No such luck. I will post it. I will hope you are still reading to this point. I will hope you have found cause for delight today, and that it is unshakeable. Taking a cue from myself, I will say that I delight in the friendships with which I am graced. I also delight in your patience and kindness, and how each friend also is a provider of wisdom.
And, just because I am so enamored of so many trees, including and notably, tulip poplars, here you go.
Don’t tell my neighbors, and don’t tell the squirrels, chipmunks, rabbit, opossums, blue jays that I have planted a couple of hickory nuts, a white oak acorn, a scarlet oak acorn, and a beechnut variously in my copiously growing, rather wild albeit tiny backyard. Maybe one will grow up and fill in where the very sadly aging, failing dogwood becomes more and more a host to and housing for woodpeckers (downy, hairy, and red bellied), nuthatches, sparrows, purple and house finches, blue jays, cardinals, and titmice, with occasional visits by carolina wrens, and like all things, ages and sags within its skin. I love that dogwood. So do all the above! It makes for a busy backyard, and will until it no longer can.
May you have joy today, in whatever way, in whatever surprise, may you have joy.
My intent was to write a second July post. I assured myself I had time and energy. I did not. How often do we say and say and then it becomes we said, because the time has past.?
And so it is August the first. Or as an acquaintance of mine, who is just learning English calls it Augustus. Which came first in the history of our language–August and thus the child born to a king perhaps emerged ruddy and ready to conquer and thus was named Augustus, or Augustus, perhaps a king so ruddy and ready that persons demonstrating that leadership trait were termed august, and the month named it, blows in so powerfully hot that it, too, was termed this term indicating ruddy and ready to conquer.?
I am growing a rather august vine in my backyard this year, it has enormous leaves, enormous flowers, the non-fruit bearing ones of which I include in my backyard sourced salad and they are succulent! It has been growing and stretching and attaching by tentacles to all manner of grippable surface for a month, and until a couple of days ago, provided me only leaves, vine, flowers, tentacles, and great awe. But then fruit began to grow!! A squash, I think a cucurbita maxima, based on the leaves and flower. If that is so, that means it is a buttercup squash, and it and butternut squash are my favorite!! Here are two photos, one including the first fruit of note. What do you think?
In keeping with the words to here, I am pretty sure this vine insinuated itself into my garden. Its roots are right in the middle of the space in which I tossed wildflower seeds, and so growing around and under and with it are a few daisies, cosmos, and tiny white flowers and tiny pink flowers and others (perhaps next year I will try to learn the names and reasons for the names of some of the wildflowers in my yard, along the rail trails, in the empty urban lots, and jutting from cracks in the sidewalks, among other places). And also ripening among the squash vines are ground cherries, one is actually in the picture above, but short of mastering insertion of pointers to my attached photographs, I could never really direct you to the particular leaves in that photograph that are they. Nevertheless, a delicious fruit. If ever you find some, I recommend partaking.
How, you may ask, in this drought the world is passing through, except, as I write, in Kentucky, am I watering these plants? Every morning I carry out to the backyard my newly collected dehumidifier water, straight up from the 1915 stone walled basement. The miracles of humidity even in this summer of dry, this summer of dry, so dry that my rain barrels rattle emptily.
And the river is low. The mighty Merrimack is mighty, nakedly rocky.
I am on the North Canal walkway, behind the fence my bicycle leans on is the Merrimack rock garden, usually known as a river, floating haplessly above in the background right is the University Avenue Bridge.
So August is begun. Join me as we explore. For why life if not to search, find, learn, love?
It has been, so far, for the most part, dry this July.
And this is not good for any part of the earth, nor for any participant in the life of the earth, in the long run. Yet in short spans, it speeds up my bicycling pace, because the air weighs less, presses less, and billows more, so like a sail in a good breeze, I carry my body faster with less effort. A mixed blessing? What is a mixed blessing? I think a blessing either is or it is not. So I won’t go with that colloquialism. A mixed metaphor? What is a metaphor? I think it is a way of illustrating an idea through equating it with an object that may not have ever been thought of in the way the idea uses it, but once the idea is equated with the object, the object takes on a more detailed face, more lines define it, like narrow ruled paper enables more words on a page than wide ruled paper. So, then, what is a mixed metaphor? What do you think? Is dry air being both beneficial and detrimental a mixed metaphor? Or is it just two actualities of the same force?
Where am I going? Don’t know. Perhaps, whichever way the wind blows…
I bicycle often these days (as usual), often for pleasure, but often I time my tasks, my chores to coincide with good air and wind conditions, conducive to good bicycling experience. I like that it is possible to mix up the order of tasks according to conditions. In my life these days, I can usually do this. Would that all of the world could go when it is good to go, and stop when it is best to stop. So often these options are not able to be part of a plan. If they were, would there be more peace? I ask because I think much of what we fight over is due to the existence of time and task schedules set by gain objectives, or even less desirably, by self-preservation, self-promotion, or self-protection motives. They take time out of our hands, they take, therefore, choice out of our hands and gift it to–generally–not common, not personal, and therefore not natural good. They disturb the possibility of joy of being.
Do I sound a nay sayer? Do I sound a glass is half emptier? Do I sound like the Eeyore moaner? Or do I offer a visual that, when observed and considered, can encourage, even enable, reordering of what seems to matter toward what does–that which benefits the largest number of impacted beings be they insects, trees, consumers, producers, waterbodies, all fauna, all flora, all air–all that exists and can enable not disable all else to exist.
Today while pedaling, I paused to watch a father squatting in the center of a dead end street jutting off the urban street I was on. He squatted with two young children, I am guessing his, showing them how to hold a ball in a baseball glove, AND, how to keep the cumbersome glove on their small, very mobile hands. And I watched a mixed-breed puppy watching them, squirming while practicing sitting still, the desired stillness encouraged by soft commands-verbal and manual. It caused me to smile, and pedal a little slower so to see more of what I passed along the way.
So, I worry at the extremities of weather, and I worry about the intensity of time and energy allotment.
May I tell you how beautiful is the silence of this night? How grateful I am to be in a place of peace? Oh, so many are not, for causes huge and causes incomprehensible.
I would like to take you on a delightful small journey I get to make numerous times each year for the past, I think, five years, now. For six weeks, spanning parts of May and June I go, usually by bicycle, usually in the morning, although sometimes late in the afternoon, to count how many herrings course a fish ladder in the Concord River. I do this for 10 minutes of an hour. Sometimes I do one stint in a day, sometimes, like Saturday past, I do three consecutive stints, 10 minutes per hour. Today it was two consecutive watches. It is peaceful. It is noisy with water rushing and falling, redwing blackbirds calling and grackles grackling and song sparrows and warblers of all colors and voices and robins and cardinals and finches all singing and talking and whispering, phoebes shouting, and breezes shushing through the tops of cottonwoods, aspens, silver maples, ashes, white oaks, lindens, tulip poplars rippling their new and vibrantly green late spring leaves. And it is pure pleasure.
To reach this spot I bicycle a route that climbs and descends four hills. I am proud to say I do not huff and I do not puff, just pedal steadily up one asphalt ascent and whistle down its other side, and another, and another and a fourth, mindful of grit and glass (causing, respectively, slips and slits). And cresting that fourth hill, surrounded by concrete and asphalt passageways, and brick, concrete, steel, and sawn and planed lumber structures, I imagine this hilltop down from which I will fly to the riverbank, as it once was, river water alternately resting and rushing by the foot of this hill, that holds, as I imagine it, hundreds of centuries-old trees–red and black and white oaks, red, sugar, striped and silver maples, white and green ashes, towering tulip poplars, towering aspens, towering cottonwoods, taut and touchable beeches, locusts, elms, quivering willows, and swaying birches, pines and firs and spruces nudging in where windsweep has conquered aged hardwoods. Underbrush of past years’ leaves and berry bushes and shrubs tangling with tree roots and the myriad small mammals who scurry through, and wrangling with larger mammals who skirt them or lumber among them, who rest beneath their arbors in the heat of day in the depth of night. Rich earth formed with the help of thousands maybe millions of insects and tiny creatures whose life work is to compost the largess of the land. And through and under all this the mycellum (sp?) the fungi who support and are supported by these wonders.
I imagine and I wish.
Life is precious. Life is short. Life can be so beautiful.
And then I return home, each time, to my pals, Maria and Stella. Even in loss there is light.
This is my promise in affliction, your promise that gives me life. Psalm 119:50
This is the month of awakening. And of watching what is tired, rest.
I raked out the oak leaves from the vegetable garden beds, and from the beds wherein slept the hyacinths, tulips, jonquils, which are now standing tall (jonquils), stretching tall and beginning to be the flower they are, every year meant to be (tulips), standing, some, and leaning on each other as they become too heavy for their legs (hyacinths), and wherein just rolling over and thinking of rising, sending out arms to check the air, irises awaken. And from the grasses that comprise my back and front yards, a couple of rogue crocuses have emerged and past their time, and dandelions pop up willy nilly, and violets are beginning their spawn, across free spaces, and all manner of wildflower is pushing upward at their various paces to show face tomorrow, next week, next month, three months from now. The dirt under the grasses is so busy.
The hostas under the dogwood tree are standing tall already. I am never sure when they will begin to take precedence over the dirt under that dogwood. Some years it seems like they sleep late, this year I think they were up before dawn. I would say the same about the jonquils, except my phone gave me one of those unbidden memories from previous years “on this date” and last year, 2021, they were up in great number by April 12th, and this year only began to pop out of their green top-of-stem cocoons six days ago, April 16th.
Sometimes technology, which flourishes on so many “precious” metals and perilous labor to come to being, offers the unexpected that can send one’s mind wondering. There is, I guess, nothing on this earth that is purely anything. Every item alive has a dark side.
Even glorious, many-hued, lovely to touch skunk cabbage. Oh how smelly.
And the trees. Ah the trees. The weeping birches are greening.
What will spring out today? Tomorrow? The dirt is so busy!
I wanted to go somewhere else with this post. But I could not.
I will stay here, remembering a poem I have quoted in a previous blog, e.e. cummings: the first lines:
So many meanings to and from this word. March. And so many are contextually driven. I will not list. I will let you follow the associative wonderings of your mind. I believe I may have subjected you to this mind game in a previous March (march), and will not continue.
But there are days, and they are readily identifiable, and they are more frequent, are they not, when we shrug? Where I wonder and why? is my guiding principle as I compose these posts. These days often I wonder, why do I wonder? I will leave you to ponder wonder and to wonder if pondering wondering is worth.. or, on a more hopeful note, why do I wonder, why do I wonder where and why do I wonder why? There is something somewhere the exploration of which does not bring regret. I trust this.
Although beauty that preceded human bodily existence remains despite human bodily imposition through the access of human mind on this beauty; this beauty that enables us to breathe, to swallow, to grow, to wander, to, well, inspires us to sing, to dance, to float, to dream, to wonder. And I have faith that this beauty can outlast our imprint, it will not be, as it has not been without pain and great diminishment.
Why do we not see that when we reach beyond the delightful stretch of ourself, when we stretch to exceed ourself, as if we had created ourself and are responsible to our self alone, and are the only authority over our self alone, and ourself is free by dint of being to be wherever we choose, whenever, mindless of the diminishment by some acts by, by many thoughts held by, our self to any and all that is not our self, that we are the damage we intend to protect our self against.
The very word, against, makes me tremble. I feel remorse.
It assumes and thus, empowers, enmity. Can there be something better? Can there be something appearing once again, that is better?
Here is a poem I would like to share
It is the animals beginning to return over the soft belly of the earth.
They have walked a long time under the same sky with no country,
the dark stream of their bodies rising into the wind. And they remember
exactly the way, their long shadows stretching now into the fields,
into the rivers while we watch all day from our windows, what we thought
was weather or the world in her fever shaking up on the cleared hill,
a certain thunder gathering underfoot. Do you not hear it yet?
Look at that man listening. Something in him is waking up.
This poem is from A Quarter of an Hour which is a book of poems by Leanne O’Sullivan published in 2018
Or, at least, I would say it. You may have noticed this as well, when the weather interferes with stepping outside for a walk or bicycle ride, I seem to either read a book, write a blog post, or clean house. As it doesn’t happen all that often, you might conclude that my house is in dire need of cleaning, and that my pile of books to read is never shrinking. However, I have made a specious connection at the outset of this paragraph, because inclement weather is not the only cause nor inspiration for me to read, nor (but less frequently than reading!) for me to clean my house, though it is for me to write a blog post.
So, yes, my house is moderately clean–it is a challenge to accomplish that when (1) you don’t get excited by the act of cleaning the house, although you enjoy the results, and (2) it is a very old house, 106 or 109 years old and like any entity as it ages, sheds a lot just standing in place. And, yes, I read a lot. It is a favorite of mine along with walking, bicycling, thinking, and being with friends–all of which, I must admit, take precedence over vacuuming and dusting.
This morning as snow falls I watched a hairy woodpecker as he consumed thistle seed, then suet, then thistle seed, then suet, and then sit absolutely still and shoulder hunched against the thistle seed feeder and under the shelter of the suet feeder house avoiding the fast falling snow. His stillness lasted three minutes, absolutely. Then, as if an alarm sounded, he began nibbling at the thistle, then the suet, thistle, suet…. again. After awhile a house sparrow came along and gripped to the thistle feeder beside the woodpecker. Woodpecker was having none of that!! He pressed against that sparrow, shoving him aside, and then pecking at him, until they both tumbled to the ground, squawking. I waited for an eternity–5 seconds–and then up returned the woodpecker to the feeder and into the azalea bushes escaped the sparrow. I will go out later to see if any feathers were dropped into the snow below the feeders (although I am not likely to find any as the snowfall is immediately and thoroughly covering all). I had never seen that activity before. Usually it is sparrow vs. sparrow. They are scrappy! But this woodpecker had more than food to protect this time, he was in shelter against the storm. That mattered more.
Now here is an ongoing challenge — just what is my neighbor building in his backyard? It is not a “shed” as the door is not large enough to enable entry of a lawn mower, never mind a snow blower, etc. And so I wonder, a dwelling? A hideaway? A workout room? Whatever, I am unhappy with its encroachment, but that is the plight of a semi-urban homestead. I pray daily that he does not tire of the magnificent oak that stands in the back corner and supports so many of the birds that grace us daily with their visual and audible presence, and that provides me with the leaves that cover my gardens all winter and enable the dogwood, birch, maple, cherry, and plum leaves to heat and become dirt over the winter, enriching my soil daily.
Hopefully, come spring warmth, the neighbor’s construction savvy friends will return and the building will receive a cover over that paper. And then they will neither build nor deconstruct anymore. Grouse, grouse, grouse.
But today. The snow! Yesterday, pre-snow day, I walked through one of my favorite “wild” corridors and came upon a dozen or 18 red wing blackbirds, and a dozen grackles. They peppered the tops of a stand of trees — oaks, maples, aspens, and a couple of beeches — and they just talked, and talked, and talked. They could care less that I stood there binoculars to eyes watching, watching, watching and listening, listening to their crowd conversation uncomprehendingly but with such joy. Closer, at foot and knee level among the ample brush were countless juncos flitting and flicking their grey with startling white stripes tails, and sparrows ranging the grasses and reeds pulling seeds and weeds, chuckling between tugs.
I also crossed paths with a fallen tree, supported for I don’t know how long by a second tree, and surrounded by young and middle-age trees. The heartwood of the fallen tree is beautiful!! See here.
Would that the world could enjoy such peace, always, everywhere.