“One Misty Moisty Morning —

when cloudy was the weather —”

One Misty Moisty Morning

 

That refrain ran through my head when I opened the front door this morning and saw the mist lying thick about our lane.

“One misty moisty morning, de dum de dum de dum” I thought, but couldn’t quite come up with the rest until I went back in the house and asked Mr. Google about it.

“One misty moisty morning/ when cloudy was the weather

I chanced to meet an old man clothed all in leather —”

It’s a Mother Goose nursery rhyme of which I’d forgotten all the rest except the first two lines. Turns out to be about an old leather-clad man who goes a-courting. (Yep, in the mist.) Mr. Google provided me with his whole story as rendered by British folk-rock  band Steeleye Span in an interminable folk-song rigmarole that you can find here if you’ve got the time and inclination and you like that sort of thing. (Sometimes I do.)

Anyway, there was no old man in or out of leather walking down our lane. Just a misty moisty morning fog lying low and making our lane uncharacteristically mysterious for a little while. And making the morning’s New York Times in its plastic sheath stand out in full orange brilliance in the grey misty moisty morning —

Good Morning Times

 

Which lasted perhaps an hour longer, and then the romance, like the fog, wore off, and the world and all of us in it went back about our usual business. Good morning, everyone!

 

Posted in Color, Nature, Poetry | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments

Hey, Fat Lady!

“It ain’t over till the fat lady sings….”  

It’s a great phrase, isn’t it? It references what used to be the stereotypically overweight sopranos of Grand Opera. (Since the advent of the Metropolitan Opera’s HD television simulcasts, we’ve been getting glamour girls instead.)

 

Photo by Jon Riley/Getty Images

Photo by Jon Riley/Getty Images

 

In the imagery of the final opera, Götterdämmerung, of Richard Wagner’s opera Ring cycle,  the “fat lady” is the valkyrie Brünnhilde. She’s traditionally presented as a very buxom lady with horned helmet, spear and round shield. Her big closing aria lasts almost twenty minutes and leads directly to the end of the opera. As Götterdämmerung is about the end of the world (or at least the world of the Norse gods), it truly is all over when the fat lady sings.

A sports journalist, Ralph Carpenter, in an inspired moment (March 10, 1976, at which time it is generally warm in Dallas, Texas where he was) wrote it about an athletic contest. Meaning, “Don’t count your chickens till they’re hatched” (circa 16th century) or “Hey, guys, it’s March 22nd, it’s springtime, isn’t it?” (March 22, 2014, said by me and countless citizens of Massachusetts in New England, only to discover how delusional we are).

We are WAY overdue for it to be over, it being this winter that never ends. But the Fat Lady shows no signs of opening her mouth to sing. She’s sulking. Or she’s pissed. Or she’s got PMS. Whatever. It’s pretty obvious, at least to me, that the Fat Lady is an unkinder, ungentler aspect of Mother Nature, the Mother of Us All. And she’s really mad at all of us kids —

Modern Mother NatureI don’t know what your mental image of Mother Nature is. Mine is, or used to be, of a kind, green, gentle, caring lady, something like this. (Wired in a modern fashion, to boot.) But relentless cold and ever-falling snows with no end in sight have ground me down, along with my image. She’s two-faced, this lady. Well, I guess she’s entitled. We’re all two-faced, to some degree. But this winter she’s perpetually been wearing another face, a face not even so benign as the image opening this post. Nope. And what can we do to soften her wrath? I don’t know! Here in Northampton, where they really know from green, we already recycle, solarize, bike ride, pretty much you name it. But her wrath continues. Here, then, is what I imagine as the current image of Mother Nature, March 2014:

images-14

And here is my final plea: We’re sorry! Please, please, let’s hear it from the Fat Lady!

Posted in Angels, Challenge, Etcetera, Life and Death, Nature, Personal Essay, Pioneer Valley, Spring, winter | Tagged , , , , , , | 32 Comments

A Cherry Hung with Snow…

Simply trust,

Simply trust!

Cherry blossoms in bloom

                Japanese haiku poet Kobayashi Issa

Cherry Blossoms

It’s Japanese practice (as I understand it) to display each seasonal decoration, like this cherry blossom bonsai, a little in advance of the actual season. Perhaps to encourage the season? Or to reassure us that it will definitely come?

At any rate, it’s in that spirit that this morning I put out my cherry blossom bonsai, in the teeth of the latest weather bureau prediction for a substantial snowstorm the day after tomorrow.

I look at it this way: Issa’s haiku emboldens us to trust, simply trust! that spring really will arrive. Eventually. But just in case, here’s another haiku I found on the Internet. It’s a Western haiku, by someone named Shellie, and where Issa’s haiku is hopeful, this one is realistic:

In Japan they say,

Cherry blossoms mean it’s spring

But it’s not spring here.

You said it, Shellie!

Posted in Flowers, Japan, Nature, Pioneer Valley, Poetry, Spring | Tagged , , , , | 29 Comments

“She Cleans Up Nicely”

Picasso, Woman Looking Into a MirrorHop aboard today’s train of thought!

It began when I was looking in the mirror, blow-drying my hair with my usual let’s-get-this-over-with attitude because I was in a hurry. We were leaving for the supermarket, and I was rushing because we have an appointment this afternoon, which gives us a terminus ad quem.

(To digress: terminus is, as you already spotted, related to terminal: a station, a point to begin from or arrive at. In this case, ad quem, to which. So, a point to arrive at, a destination point, which is the 2 p.m. movie we’ll be showing this afternoon for our community. Two p.m., then, was our destination point. ((The other end of this coming-and-going continuum is terminus ab quo, a point from which to leave. I LOVED high school Latin, even if there’s no one in the world who actually speaks it. It appeals to lovers of crossword puzzles, which is — But no, that’s too many digressions already.))

Anyway, I was looking in the mirror, trying to kind of fluff up my hair as I blew warm air over it, more like the attention my hairstylist gives it then my usual lick and a promise. And sure enough, my hair began to look more like it does when she’s wielding the brush, and as I looked in the mirror, the thought came to me, “She cleans up nicely.” And I smiled, involuntarily, picturing the friend about whom I first had this thought.

This friend of mine, we’ll call her Z—, can look really really plain. That’s when her hair just kind of hangs there limply around her face, or gets scrunched back mercilessly with a rubber band, and she’s wearing no makeup whatever, and her clothes owe all to comfort and nothing to style, and —- well, you get the picture. When she makes even minimalist effort, though, she’s transformed. She’s really really good-looking. That’s when I first thought, “Z—- cleans up nicely.”

I haven’t thought of that expression in years. It’s an old-fashioned one, the very opposite of effusive, and understated in the extreme. But it says it all. Take a little care, make a little effort, get out the soap and washcloth and everyone can clean up nicely! Just thinking about it makes my grin return. I guess my inner grownup was happy I’d taken a little more time and effort with my hair, hurry and destination be damned.  I guess I’d subconsciously been thinking, not only about Z—, but about the face in the mirror. Look at that, “She cleans up nicely.”

And now we’ve arrived at the terminal, and it’s time to move on with the day. Thanks for riding this far with me!

Posted in Enlightenment, Etcetera, Happiness, Mindfulness, Personal Essay, Wisdom | Tagged , , , , | 16 Comments

All Shall be Well —

It’s a story that should begin, “Once upon a time.” It has that ageless storytale quality. Once upon a time there was a woman who was born on the 8th November 1342 (and how do we know that so definitively?), in or near the English town of Norwich.

Julian of Norwich

When she was still young, this woman fell gravely ill and was on the point of death when she had a series of visions, after which she recovered. So intense had these visions been that she became an anchoress, that is, someone who lives as a hermit, in her case, walled into  a cell attached to a church.

This particular church was Saint Julian of Norwich, and so this otherwise unknown woman became known as Dame Julian of Norwich. The anchoress may have  isolated herself from the world, but the world did not remain isolated from her. People came to her for — what? — wisdom, objectivity, serenity, encouragement, perhaps above all for a glimpse of another world. Because thanks to these “showings,” which is what she called the visions during her grave illness, Dame Julian had a mystical understanding that was like the peace that passeth all understanding. And just as that peace brings comfort, so did her showings and the book in which she gathered them, her Revelations of Divine Love, bring comfort to her visitors.

I was thinking of Julian because of the snow.

For weeks and weeks now it has snowed so hard that old bones dare not venture out. It’s impossible to make plans to do anything outside of the house. Day follows day with little to delineate one from the other. I have nothing to write about in my blog, nothing to photograph, nothing to look forward to. How dwindled is my world, I thought. What a sad diminishment have I come to. And that’s when I remembered Dame Julian.

The first of her showings was of a little nut (I remembered it as a walnut), so small it fit in the palm of her hand. But what that little nut contained was — the whole world.

The World in the Palm of My Hand

 “And in this he showed me a little thing, the quantity of a hazel nut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed. And it was as round as any ball. I looked upon it with the eye of my understanding, and thought, ‘What may this be?’ And it was answered generally thus, ‘It is all that is made.’ I marveled how it might last, for I thought it might suddenly have fallen to nothing for littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and ever shall, for God loves it. And so have all things their beginning by the love of God.”

I had to look up these lines, because I remembered only two things from Julian’s visions. The first was the walnut in the palm of her hand. Well, it turned out to be a hazelnut, but I didn’t have any hazelnuts to hand! A walnut would do. And I took heart from it, for itself, and also because my world — thanks to television and computers and the Internet — is far larger than the palm of my hand, even when I can’t get out and about. It approaches infinity. All I need to adjust is the angle of my vision. And it will not snow forever.

And then I was reminded of the second memorable saying of Dame Julian of Norwich, English anchoress and mystic and Anglican saint. She said, “Sin is behovely, but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

My mantra. It has served me in bad times and worse times, and even, contentedly, in good times. I trust Julian, who was content in her little cell within the walls of a church. I trust her, and she has never failed me. She died around 1413, seven centuries ago. But she still speaks to me, Julian and her walnut/hazelnut and her confidence in ultimate goodness, with the immediacy of this morning.

I hope she may speak to you as well.

Posted in Certainty, Etcetera, Life and Death, Memory, Personal Essay, Quotes, Wisdom, Wonderings | Tagged , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Thanks for the Memory — with Pork Chops Attached

(Note: Vegetarian readers, avert your eyes. This post is NOT for you.)

When I was quite a small girl, a thousand years ago, one of my favorite places to go with my mother was to the butcher store. It had sawdust on the floor, and a huge wooden chopping block, and I watched in fascination as the butcher, wearing his stained white apron, whacked and sliced and carved away at great sides of meat. (Never pork; we kept kosher in our house, and this was a kosher butcher.)

In those days there was no such thing as a supermarket. The milkman brought milk. For cheese and butter, we went to a dairy store, and for vegetables we went to the vegetable store. For chickens, to the live chicken market, and so on and so on. A few products came in cans or boxes, but mostly not! And then, gradually, the world shifted. These days everything comes packaged and measured and wrapped from everywhere in the world, in and out of season, to fill block-long supermarkets. I’d almost forgotten the butcher store of my childhood. Until I read in our local paper about an actual butcher opening a store in Northampton.

This is the real thing, trumpeted the Gazette, a young couple coming north from newly-trendy Williamsburgh in New York City to bring us fresh local meat cut to order. (Never mind that for me, Williamsburgh was the home of my grandmother, who wore a sheytl and never learned to speak English; it was the home area primarily of Orthodox Jews.) So as soon as I drove by the store and saw that it was open, I paid them a visit.

Behind this door lies memories ---

Lo and behold, Sutter Meats IS a real old-fashioned butcher store. (Of course no one can entirely go home again, or even want to. The prize I was seeking today in the new butcher store was properly marbled pork that would remain tender and juicy when I cooked it instead of drying out, as my supermarket purchases always seem to. Kind of my current Holy Grail of food shopping, and the very antithesis of kosher!)

When I described what I was looking far, Terry Ragasa went back into the cold area and emerged with this — who knew a pig was so big!

How big the pig? No little styrofoam pads with Saran coverings here! Terry is about to break down the side. It took a band saw, and a cleaver, and finally a well-sharpened knife to come up with a couple of gorgeous thick rib pork chops for me.

A Proper Butcher

While I watched, still after all these years with fascination, I  was also treated to the spectacle of home made, home seasoned pork sausages being made right in front of me:

Out Come the Sausages

Here’s the meat counter of what was available right that moment.

Today's Meats

There were also sausages, of course, and stock — chicken, turkey, pork — and fancy jellies and sauces. But the meat is the main event. And all locally sourced:

Local Heroes

Terry and his wife Susan call themselves “the first and only nose to tail butcher shop in the Pioneer Valley.” And wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles in the Pioneer Valley: there’s parking behind the store! Visiting Sutter Meats was truly a trip down Memory Lane. One exception: alas, no sawdust on the floor. I’m sure there’s a government regulation against that. But otherwise, really and truly a butcher store.

Oh, and about those pork chops.  YES, they were tender and juicy pork chops to dream about. So welcome and good luck to two new guys in town, Susan Mygatt Ragasa and Terry Ragasa. Long may they flourish here!

Posted in Etcetera, Food, Memory, Personal Essay, Pioneer Valley, Shopping | Tagged , , , , | 28 Comments

Promiscuously, in a Vase

Why have I been sequestered so long, away from my blogs (and yours)?

I’ve been preparing to moderate a seminar on the Cultural Arts of Japan in our local Learning in Retirement program. I’m sure that in a previous life I was Japanese, so the prep is a pleasure, not a pain. But while immensely rewarding, it’s hugely time-consuming!  I’m thinking about every topic all the time.

This morning I was browsing in Kyoto Encounters, ed. Thomas Rimer (one of the many books that permanently inhabit my bookshelves), and came upon this quote from the writer on tea, Okakura Tenshin:

“Anyone acquainted with the ways of our tea and flower masters must have noticed the religious veneration with which they regard flowers. They do not cull at random, but carefully select each branch or spray with an eye to the artistic composition…. It may be remarked in this connection that they always associate the leaves, if there be any, with the flower, for their object is to present the whole beauty of plant life. In this respect, as in many others, their method differs from that pursued in Western countries. Here we are apt to see only the flower stems, as it were, without body, stuck promiscuously into a vase.”

I lifted my eyes from the book and what did they immediately encounter but this:

Alstroemeria, in a Jug

Right there on the coffee table, alstroemeria — flowers, leaves, stems and all — stuck promiscuously in a vase! The very illustration of this Westerner’s idea of flower arranging. Bright and cheerful, yes. Artistic? Hardly.

And then I looked to my side, and saw this:

Before the Blossoms

I’ve placed it on a table so I could show it to you — although normally it lives on the floor by the sofa, its tracery of line and hints of green offering springtime promise especially needed now, when all outside is bleak and black and white and bitter bitter cold.

What could illustrate more directly the difference between two kinds of artistic sensibilities? And provide me a blog post, culled directly from my very own living room, where I thought there was nothing. Perhaps outside, where it seems to me there is nothing, and has been nothing for ages and ages — perhaps even there, there is something, if I will only look.

Posted in About this blog, Challenge, Etcetera, Flowers, Japan, Nature, Pioneer Valley, Quotes, winter | Tagged , , , , , | 22 Comments