Thursday, April 28, 2011

Off To The Golden State

Off To The Golden State

I was not yet twenty the first time I visited California. From years of Beach Boys songs and old black and white movies, I fully expected it to be a land of palm trees, milk shakes and clear blue skies where everyone looked like Cary Grant and Farrah Fawcett and rode around in red convertibles. Confirming my belief that we do tend to find what we look for, that first trip was indeed a carefree, sunlit introduction to the Golden State. My best friend and I stayed a house in the hills above Marina del Rey, where gardenias bloomed by the front door and sea breezes sailed in through the windows . We ate fresh plums and cheese every day. We paddled in the cold surf at Malibu beach. We went to Disneyland. And it never rained once.

Upon our arrival, when our friends handed us the keys to a little yellow Toyota that was to be ours for the length of our stay, they inquired if we were experienced in driving a stick shift. Naturally, we lied. And let me tell you, that legendary laid-back demeanor that Californians are so famous for can turn on a dime into a horn-blowing, fist-shaking tantrum when confronted with two teenagers whose car goes dead at every single traffic light on Sunset Boulevard. Not the most ideal training course for learning to drive a manual transmission, but it worked.

The next few times I traveled to Los Angeles was in the company of The Songwriter and a great deal of my time was spent in recording studios and restaurants. I went to concerts and kept strange hours. I bought a dress on Rodeo Drive that I don’t think I ever wore. During late studio nights I learned to sleep with my index finger wedged in my ear, a talent I still employ today whenever Edward spots a squirrel out the bedroom window at six in the morning. (Trust me, if you master this ability, you don’t hear a thing, no matter the decibel level.)

My friend from that teenage trip was so charmed with Los Angeles that she still journeys west every chance she gets. Me? I tend to head east, usually across the Atlantic. But tomorrow, I am returning once again to the land of blue skies and palm trees. I don’t know if I’ll indulge in a milk shake, or ride around in a red convertible, but I do plan to see some old friends, and a couple of brand new ones! I’ll share more about that later. Suffice it to say, I’m meeting with two people who feel like old friends, even though we’ve never met face to face. These are a couple of people you all know and, I’m certain, love as much as I do! I’ll share all when I return next week.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Hardly Mata Hari

Hardly Mata Hari

Here in the states, we have been hearing quite a few warnings of late, all concerning the issue of phone tracking. It seems we are just beginning to discover how smart those ubiquitous little smart phones really are. Turns out, whilst we may think they are merely riding along in our pockets or handbags, waiting patiently to be called into service when we wish to phone someone, text someone, take a photo, find a restaurant, or take our turn in the scrabble game we are playing with an out-of-state friend, what they are really up to is much more advanced, and dare we say, sinister. Apparently, up to one hundred times a day, these little guys are reporting back our various locations to .... well, I don’t know who they report to exactly. I guess that’s where the worry comes in.
Now, there are some serious issues to iron out here and I certainly don’t mean to downplay those in any fashion. But sitting here thinking about the information my phone would provide the powers that be, well, it just makes me giggle.
So join me, won’t you?.....

We are in a steel and glass office building somewhere in the northwest. The walls of the building are glowing in the afternoon sun and scores of brown suited men in red ties and weejuns are scurrying to and fro like crickets, scowls being the predominant expressions of all. We zero in on one particular little fellow in an overcrowded elevator on his way up to the 31st floor for a meeting with his superior, Mr. Jobs. The little man’s name is Perkins, and when we first see him, he is nervously rifling through several wrinkled pages of a dreadfully thin file, all the while casting surreptitious glances at his fellow passengers on the elevator, all of whom are carrying files much, much thicker than his own. He spots someone he knows, swallows hard, and speaks:

Perkins: “Um, sorry to disturb, Owens. But might I inquire... um... could I ask... just who are you tracking these days? That looks like a really large file you’ve got there.”

Owens: “Boy, you said it! I haven’t had a moment’s rest in weeks! This Jolie-Pitt clan are always on the go. New Orleans one day, Namibia the next. Lord, Perk... we went sky-diving last week! And all those kids! One cute little girl grabbed me a couple of days ago and I was halfway down the toilet bowl before somebody fished me out. I tell you, it never stops! Fun though, and I’ve recently heard some pretty interesting conversations about our next location. Top secret stuff, and let me tell you, I’ll have stories to tell when we get back. Can’t wait to fill Jobs in, though. This is the kind of stuff he’s looking for, you know. Sorry to rattle on like this, I haven’t even asked what you’ve been doing! Who you tracking these days? I heard Kate Middleton was looking to buy an iPhone. Were you the lucky duck who snagged that one?”

Perkins looks at his shoes and mumbles.

Owen: “What’s that?”

Perkins. clearing his throat: “Um, well no. I’m afraid I’m not working the Middleton account just now. I’m still tracking Pamela Terry.”

Owen: “Ah gee, Perk. I’m sorry. I had no idea you were still on that one. Pretty boring stuff, I imagine”.

At that point the elevator doors open wide onto the 31st floor. Perkins and Owens step out into a hallway flooded with golden light that streams in through windows at least twenty feet high. They make their way along the corridor in silence, Perkins dragging his feet ever so slightly. Soon they enter an opulent office waiting room, dotted here and there with overstuffed red paisley chairs. Perkins sits off to himself, feeling a bit faint. He watches as several other brown suited, red tied men are called into the office of Mr. Jobs, most leaving with smiles on their faces, a few running out as though on fire. Once again, Perkins swallows hard, his throat as dry as a shredded document. When, after several minutes, his own name is called, he gets up shakily and heads into the office.

Mr. Jobs is sitting behind an opulently carved desk, wearing a black turtleneck and eating an apple. He looks up at Perkins and smiles.

Mr. Jobs: “Well hello there Perkins. What do you have for me today. Let’s see now, you are following Pamela Terry aren’t you?”

Perkins: “Yes sir, I am.”

Mr. Jobs: “Well, tell me now, she been up to anything interesting?”

Perkins: “Well, um... she planted a vegetable garden yesterday. Put in some cosmos and zinnia along with the vegetables. That was pretty radical I thought.”

Mr. Jobs looks up and frowns.

Perkins, continuing on in a timorous voice: “And of course, there are those daily, sometimes twice daily (!), dog walks. I tell you, that big white dog of hers is really something. You should see him! Um.... well let’s see... she’s knitting another sweater... a sort of grey blue colour. Really nice. And uh... um... well, she’s really been enjoying the new production of Upstairs, Downstairs. Hasn’t missed a single episode. And well, oh yes, she’s memorizing The Jabberwocky. Lots of unusual words in that, you know. Quite a feat, wouldn’t you say?”

Mr. Jobs’ face begins to change colour, slowly transforming from a peachy tint into something more akin to a thundercloud. Without really thinking, Perkins decides, on the spot, to lie through his teeth.

Perkins: “Then of course, there was that trip to Washington last week”.

Mr. Jobs: “Washington?

Perkins, words tumbling out in rapid fire fashion: “Oh, yeah. And she’s been over to The Hague a couple of times, too. I’m not sure what it’s all about, but she’s up to something big, I can tell you, big!. A real Mata Hari she is. Never a dull moment. Sometimes I wonder how I keep up. She’s a challenge, and no mistake. And there’s something going on with that dog. Why, he might not even be a real dog now that I think about it. He could be a pooka. In fact, I bet he is! Give me another month, and I’ll knock your socks off. You just wait! Why there’s no telling what Pamela Terry and that big white dog, if he IS a dog, will be doing next!”

Mr. Jobs smiles, his colour returning to normal. He takes a big bite out of his apple and offers one to Perkins.

Mr. Jobs: “That's what we like to hear, Perk old boy! You keep up the good work”.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Bit Of Easter

A Bit of Easter

Being born in the month of April means that my birthday occasionally falls on Easter, a fact that confused me just a bit when I was little and which has forever, at least in my mind, wedded my birthday to bunnies. Makes sense really, since on those occasions when my special day arrived simultaneously with Easter, I always received, in addition to my birthday gifts, bunnies. Lots of bunnies. Stuffed bunnies, chocolate bunnies, marshmallow bunnies and books about bunnies. Perhaps my colouring too closely resembles that of Alice, or maybe even that of her famous white rabbit, for even today I seem to get an inordinate amount of cards decorated with bunnies. A neighbour once even left a large stuffed rabbit on my front porch because he said it reminded him of me. Just one more thing in life that doesn’t bear thinking about too hard.

Whether or not it coincides with my birthday, Easter has always been special to me. How well I remember those Southern childhood Easter Sundays, riding to church in a car full of old women who smelled for all the world as though they had bathed in Jungle Gardenia. There I’d be, vaguely woozy from that heady perfume, gussied up in uncomfortable frills with my feet complaining loudly about their confinement in brand new patent leather shoes, standing up to sing with everyone else... “Up from the grave He arose. With a mighty triumph o’er His foes”.
My father always gave me one perfect gardenia at Easter. Now forever a symbol of Easter for me, it's sweet fragrance bore no resemblance to that dreaded perfume beloved by the church ladies. Right up until the year he died, I would hear his car arrive in the driveway on Saturday afternoon, and there he’d be, carrying a beribboned white box up the drive. Sometimes I wore that beautiful gardenia on my lapel, sometimes I wore it in my hair. And I always kept it by my bedside as long as it lasted.

These days, I’m the giver, and I’m not precisely certain how it happened, but each year I seem to be making more Easter baskets than the year before. I start at the beginning of the week with my kitchen table deep in butterflies and flowers, Easter grass and chocolate eggs. Occasionally a lamb can be seen, but usually it’s bunnies. Lots of bunnies. Early Saturday morning is delivery time, when I sneak into the gardens of several favourite children in the neighbourhood, leaving these baskets in the middle of a Lenten rose or underneath the fronds of a fern. I then call the parents to tell them I was just driving by and happened to see a large white rabbit in their garden. “He looked rather suspicious”, I'll say. “Perhaps you should send Dahlia (or Truman, or Harlan) out to see what he’s been up to!" I rather think I have singlehandedly kept the children in my neighbourhood believing in the Easter Bunny long past the usual time of unfortunate enlightenment. I leave baskets on front porches and window sills, on benches and in gardens, to children and grown-ups alike. I have a glorious time.

This year’s baskets are almost done. It will be early to bed for me tonight, and yes, Edward will be my partner on all the deliveries tomorrow. The weather is supposed to be sublime and Edward loves this annual task almost as much as I. If it were possible, the two of us would sneak into your own garden and leave a Easter basket made just for you.
Since we cannot, here are a few special words to wish you all a very lovely Easter Sunday.
See you next week!

Easter Week
by Charles Kingsley

See the land, her Easter keeping
Rises as her Maker rose.
Seeds, so long in darkness sleeping,
Burst at last from winter snows.
Earth with heaven above rejoices;
Fields and gardens hail the spring;
Slaughs and woodlands ring with voices
While the wild birds build and sing.

You, to whom your Maker granted
Powers to those sweet birds unknown,
Use the craft by God implanted;
Use the reason not your own.
Here, while heaven and earth rejoices,
Each his Easter tribute bring-
Work of fingers, chant of voices,
While the wild birds build and sing.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Home Safe

Home Safe

As eerie as the sound of half-starved wolves lifting red throats to the winter moon. Frightening, almost brutal, it reverberated through the restaurant, freezing forks in midair, suspending the chef’s wooden spoon, silencing the most chatty diner. The tornado siren. Lord, how I hate it. We had just ordered dinner when it sounded. I opened the shutter slats on the window beside me and looked out at a scene worthy of Dorothy’s Kansas on that most fateful day. A swirling black sky, tinged with green. And Edward and Apple home, alone.

We did not have a television for the first five years of my life, a fact I am most grateful for today. Those five years gave me time to simmer an original imagination, allowed me room to create unique mental images without the interference of Hollywood. But when we finally did acquire a television set, the first thing I remember seeing was The Wizard of Oz which, of course, sent my already fantastical little mind into hyperdrive.
Strange, tiny munchkins that danced and sang.
Grouchy trees that hurled apples at you.
Fields of red poppies that could put you to sleep.
Snow that could wake you back up.
A good witch with a sing-song voice and most enviable crown.
A bad one with a sharp green face and armies of uniformed monkeys that flew.
And through it all, a little dog in peril.
I was glued to the screen, lost in the colours of exhilaration and terror.
I still shudder when I picture that wicked witch of the west riding past Dorothy’s window on her hideous broom.
But as scary as that green faced witch most certainly was, nothing petrified me more than that 1930’s black and white recreation of a tornado. I’ve yet to see one depicted on film with more power. Like the long-nailed index finger of Satan himself, lazily drawing hideous pictures on the homeland, it cut a quite horrible figure. Though I have yet to meet one of these twisters face to face, the mere threat of their visit retains the ability to send me racing to the closet with my dogs.

As the tornado sirens blared last night, all I could think of was, of course, those two wonderful dogs facing this experience without me. We had to get home to them, now. Our dinner left uneaten, the check hurriedly paid, we ran through the storm to the car, embarking on one of the more perilous journeys in memory. Hit with too much water to be called mere rain, we were driving blind - streetlights out, windshield wipers useless as noodles. Trees were transformed into monsters that twisted and bent into grotesque positions as though under a green witches’ spell. Thunder like cannon fire, lightning like a strobe, icy hail that bounced off the car like tiny white apples thrown towards the dark earth by those Ozian trees. We inched along in total silence, with me in my scary movie pose - hands to my face, peeking out through my fingers - my thoughts back at home with those two furry dogs. Before the car fully stopped in the drive, I jumped out and ran - soaked to the skin in just a few steps. We threw open the door and ... there they were... a big, black and white blur spinning in the entry hall, incredibly happy to see us. The four of us collapsed on the floor of the bedroom, - us, weak and wet - them, dancing in circles. The pack reunited and safe.

At three in the morning, the same dreaded siren sounds once more.
But this time, snuggled down as I am with one white sheepdog on one side, and one black sheepdog on the other, it holds no power to scare me.
Perhaps we shall all awaken in Oz.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Runner

The Runner

I have a good friend whose alarm clock rings at five thirty each and every morning of the year. Though I myself consider this to be a most ungodly hour, she, without hesitation, springs out of bed, grabs her Jack Russell terrier, and the two of them embark on a daily pre-dawn run along the neighbourhood streets. No sort of weather deters her, be it rain or snow or summer humidity. She runs, and wins, marathons and has the body of a whippet.
Now, Jack Russells are marvelous companions for runners. Sheepdogs, not so much. Although The Songwriter and I often run with Edward and Apple across grassy fields and down forest pathways, it would be a mistake to classify any of us as “runners”. And if you asked The Songwriter how fast he can run, he would, no doubt, give you a most average answer. But so often our greatest talents are hidden, even from ourselves - ignored and buried deep in our consciousness.
So it was on a sunny October day in London when The Songwriter made the surprising discovery that he was, indeed, a runner.

The taxi had just dropped us off in front of the Sir John Soane museum. The cabbie sailed away in the ocean of morning traffic, and we’d turned to go up the stone stairs when I heard a strangled sound just behind me. “My camera!”..... “I left my camera in the cab!”. Before I could respond, or even turn my head, he was off. A green-brown blur of turtleneck and tweed, he sprinted down Lincoln’s Inn Fields, bobbing and weaving between sidewalk pedestrians like a capeless superhero on a rescue mission of the most high importance. The cab drivers in the street were witness to his plight and all began to roll down their windows and cheer him on - horns sounding, arms waving. A sea of people began to part before him, everyone clapping and shouting, “Go! Go!”. I simply stood on the stairs, stunned into silence. We could all see his quarry, sitting at the red traffic light at a curve in the road, blithely unaware of the frantic fellow in fast pursuit. The encouraging shouts reached a crescendo. Would our hero make it in time? Never slowing a fraction, The Songwriter reached that black cab just as the light turned green, threw open the back door, grabbed his camera and held it aloft to the cheers of the crowd. Philippides at the finish line! Huzzah!
Now yes, he returned at a much slower pace. And yes, he required a few minutes rest before we continued on our tour. But really, who knew he had it in him? Who knew he could run like the wind?

How much is out there for us all, never tried or experienced because we simply don’t think that we can? Since returning from my February trip to London, so many people have said to me... “You went by yourself?? Oh, how fabulous. But, that’s something I could never do!”
Really? Why not?
What an indulgent treat they are missing.
I have a new friend who is expecting her first baby daughter this summer. On Saturday I gave her a lavender sun hat I knitted myself in cotton and silk, with a tiny green velvet ribbon woven through eyelets and tied in a bow. If I do say so myself, it was a lovely little hat for a little girl soon to be named after Emily Bronte. Two years ago, I could never have knitted that sun hat. Two years ago, knitting patterns made as much sense to me as cave paintings. But I decided to learn. So, I did. Maybe it’s the fevers of Spring, but I now find myself hungry to learn something new - to stretch myself and challenge the limits of my imagination.

It’s a cliche, I know, but our time on this planet is so much shorter than we all realized when we were children. There really is a limit; a cut-off point from which our chances for discovery and exploration will be done, leaving us with only memories. I don’t know about you, but I wish for the sort of memories that will tell me my hours here on earth were well spent, my days were not wasted nor frittered away in indifference. I wish for memories that clearly show I was a friend of curiosity and a stranger to fear.
At the end of my life, I want to close my eyes and see daffodils on foreign hillsides.
I want to recall the way the sea spray felt on my skin as I rode a horse through the surf, or remember how I danced, or sang, or ran like the wind down a London street.
I wish to remember the delight on the faces of those who received a gift that was made from my own hands, or read words that once sprang from the depths of my imagination.
I want to call forth mental pictures of the gardens I tended or the meals I cooked or the journeys I’ve taken.

I’m not yet certain just what I might do next.
But like The Songwriter on that morning in London, who knows what I’m capable of?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Ice Cream and Cake

Ice Cream and Cake

Today is my birthday!
Let's all have ice cream and cake!
Edward and I will be away in the flowers for a few days,
so I'm leaving behind a favourite poem as my birthday gift to all you wonderful readers!
I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
See you next week.

A Blessing

Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more, they begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl's wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.

by James Wright

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Believe It Or Not

Believe It Or Not

This face can be trusted,

to keep my deepest secrets, and he knows them every one - including where the Christmas presents are hidden.

I can trust him to come to my side each and all times I call him, even when he knows there’s a cat in the garden.

He can be trusted to come face to face with an affectionate toddler who is determined to kiss him right on the lips. Forever tolerant, he allows this indignity with a sigh as his only complaint.

I trust him to accompany me to lunches and meetings - to yarn shops, to libraries, to concerts, to church. He always behaves like the most friendly gentleman.

He will guard me on dark windy evenings when The Songwriter is far out of town, standing on his furry back legs to look out each window, stopping to listen at each heavy door, before trotting off to sleep by my side.

He will gladly keep my feet toasty warm whilst I’m knitting, or reading, or writing, or dreaming. And he can always be trusted to jump up beside me in bed when it storms ... just to keep me from being scared, don’t you know.

He will cheerfully come along with me to the beach or the mountains, smiling and pleased to be there. He’ll run by the sea and climb all the hills, with the widest grin on his furry white face. But he’ll always be happiest coming up his front stairs, always so glad to be home.

If I find myself depleted - a bit less stout of heart and unsure of my spunk - he will stick closer to me than any brother, with his brown eyes watching closely, and his furry head resting on my knee.

When my thoughts become cloudy with the state of the planet - the thinning ozone, the sadness, the hate - I look down at that face and I smile in the knowledge that this one sweet, happy spirit is well cared for and loved. And it helps.

And though he might look mischievous in that photo above, I know I can trust kind Edward to take good care of my heart, for he’s owned it from the first day we met.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Somewhere Else

Somewhere Else

It is a stretch of highway best navigated with brain cells made nimble by an over abundance of caffeine. Coffee or tea, it doesn’t matter, just as long those synapses required for snap decisions and fluidity of thought have been adequately electrified by the elixir known through the ages to pierce the torpidity of morning and render the dullard awake. Seven lanes, sometimes more, teeming with cars that zip right along at exorbitant speeds, bobbing and weaving like a school of piranha - it is a thoroughfare for which the timid of heart are most certainly unsuited. I learned to drive on this road and I suppose it is a testament to my unflappability that I continue to travel it on a regular basis, my speedometer registering numbers compatible with those on either side of my little green car. But, ever since my last trip to Scotland, I never travel it alone. There is a face that pops into the front of my mind, without fail, at a certain bend in the road.

I first encountered this face in a small coastal village in Aryshire. We had entered Ballantrae still bedazzled from a stormy night spent in a castle of storybook proportions. An early morning sun bounced off the waves in the Irish Sea, reflecting the gauzy colours of Easter over the lane of white buildings hugging the shore. Soft pinks, warm golds - the tiny village shimmered like a dreamscape. Even the cemetery looked inviting. We got out of the car, lifted our faces to the sun and the spray, trying to breathe it all in. As I had letters to mail, I popped into the village store and made my way back to the post office window where I was greeted by a handsome young man with a Bernese Mountain Dog puppy at his side. Of course, I can never resist a large-pawed puppy, so the fellow and I were soon conversing like old familiar friends instead of what we actually were, strangers. He noticed my accent.. (accent?) and asked where I was from. When I told him, he broke into a grin and told me he absolutely loved my town - loved the restaurants, loved the stores, and particularly loved to drive the highways. Incredulous, I told him I doubted that he actually knew what the highways were like and mentioned the highway I spoke of above. “Oh, I love that stretch of road.”, he exclaimed and proceeded to provide an accurate description of every exit, every bend. “Ah, I love to be in the sixth lane with my exit comin’ up and know I have to get all the way over in a matter of seconds! It’s so excitin’! I’d just love to live there. You don’t know how lucky you are!” I shook my head in utter bafflement and said.. “But you live in paradise!”
“Ah. It’s boring”, he replied.

Dumbstruck, I left the shop and stood outside in that beautiful lane and wondered why we humans always seem to want what we don’t have. I have straight hair, and have always wished for curly. The dancer wants to sing, the painter wants to dance. The one who lives on the mountainside longs for a week by the sea. I wish every day to be on a hillside in Scotland, but in one of the most picturesque spots in that country lives a man who’d change places with me in a heartbeat.

I always regard this vague longing as a strictly human malady, for I cannot imagine Edward wishing to be anywhere other than by my side. But on a morning last week, I was traveling this notable highway and looked up to see a pair of Canada Geese flying low above the rushing river of cars. Just two of them, so far, far away from where they should be. And I wondered. Perhaps we poor humans are not the only ones occasionally afflicted with this vague longing for another place, another life.
Does the lion have dreams of the city, the mountain goat long for shore?