May 22, 2015 § Leave a comment
Late April 2015
Some ‘thing’ cries out again and again. It is a haunting, almost terrifying, lament. Or, am I dreaming? Yet, the dream feels real and unending. The veil between the rational world of reality and the imaginative world of illusion is very thin. I wake and realize there is, indeed, a raw, painful wail coming from the woodlands outside my apartment. I sit and listen, trying to discern the nature of the sound. Is it an animal in great distress, a mating call, or a requiem for the dead? Whatever it is Abbey jumps on to the windowsill facing the source of the mournful cry. Placing my head close to hers, believing Abbey’s feline instincts located the mystery, I look out but see nothing; yet the sound is eerily close. I finally stop searching the forest floor for movement and look up through the still-bare trees where a full moon shines its glaring presence through leafless limbs. Without preamble on this calm, cold night, the wind suddenly whips up a fury, transforming slender tree limbs and branches into a balletic flow of night dancers. The wailing stops. The experience is mysterious as well as unearthly: a full moon with nightime wind dancers and an unknown being that cries out a requiem before dark becomes light.
This event woke me earlier than usual, so I fed Abbey while brewing my mug of Scottish breakfast tea. I sat listening for the sound of the criatura. None occurred other than my morning birds, already singing before dawn’s light makes her entrance. With the tea finished and Abbey settled into her morning nap, I gathered up my camera and a warm jacket to take my walk. Winter lingered and I wondered what I might discover in the barren landscape. What we see and do not see in winter and early spring, this interval of contraction and hibernation, is Nature’s framework for the living presences that will be reborn — in their rightful time.
I headed towards the Hudson River. We have a wonderful riverfront in our small village and it never disappoints. The shoreline across from my side looked bereft of life; I thought how some might find the absence of color rather bleak. I know this shoreline and its trees well, for we are old friends. In the moments while I set up my image, I recalled this shorline’s continuing cycles of death, rebirth, and life. I framed and steadied by hand-held camera for the shot. There was beauty in the tranquil, arresting scene: what needs to be here now in order for the soft hues of summer and the explosion of autumnal color to “become.” I was enamored with this unadorned, monochromatic landscape: Nature’s blueprint revealed its soul.
More images emerged as I observed and listened. The abundant birdsong from doves, robins, and crows among many other feathered species were in an uproar. I believe they sensed an impending storm for boundless, darkening cloud formations seemed to extend into infinity as the birds flew to their hidden, safe harbors. The River Walkway, with its iron railing and one of my most-loved weeping willow trees, presented a mere hint of spring about to bloom.
(Note: Upon my return two days later, the willow had morphed into an extravaganza of a bright new green seen only in spring. Her tender leaves were fully open; now cascading down her long, graceful branches. How glorious. How sacred too.)
There is a large, beautiful village home that overlooks The River, and it is a house of many gardens. While it is vacant most of the time, it is well cared for. Since it was currently unoccupied, I decided to look for flowers that may have begun to bloom. I was taken by surprise, though, by this stunning black and white feline. He walked up to me with considerable poise; then sat on the back porch steps. I discovered days later, that his name is Oberon … King of the Faeries, according to myth, and consort so Titania in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Oberon, with a discerning eye, looked at my camera, then me: Of course you will photograph me. That’s why I’m here. Use your camera woman! And so I did.
The house’s gardens revealed spring’s first official offerings in the scent of a grand magnolia tree and her lush, sensuous blossoms; a butter-yellow daffodil; one white daffodil with a hint of apricot at her center; and brazenly colored tulips. These new flowers and blossoms were absolute affirmations of the cycles of life, for just weeks before they lay dormant under brown earth and within barren tree limbs.
The walk was splendid and productive too. When I entered the apartment, Abbey was at the door to greet me. I opened the windows just enough so I could hear more of the birds that are as much my companions as is Abbey. I brewed another cup of tea, but with a furrowed brow: I was still disturbed by the requiem cry of the night. I finally sat with my tea while Abbey settled on my lap, lending me the warmth of her body, and her soothing, reassuring purr. Is there anything better than that?
The Book of Abbey — May 15, 2015
Mom was right about a requiem cry that absolutely, positively raised my hackles! I knew it was an animal because I’m an animal, a feline no less, and I’m supposed to know these things. Well, I won’t spend more time on it other than to confirm that I too heard the lament and, for reasons unknown to me, felt a deep sadness.
Mom wanted to write about death and rebirth — Nature and its cycles. I’m intrigued with these concepts, but she’s deceived herself and you too just a little in this Journal entry.
Here’s the scoop: My feline soul sister, Lily, was put down almost a year and a half ago. Her bones, now ashes, are contained in this small, bejeweled butterfly that sits at the feet of our family Buddha.
Mom performs a morning ritual, blessing our home, me, Lily, others, and now Charlie. Who is Charlie you might ask? Charlie was Mom’s dog for eleven years until darkness and illness entered her life. She could hardly take care of herself, and her sweet Charlie became ill and lonely due to Mom’s absence. It’s a long story and I’m not the one to tell it. BUT, two Angels came into Mom’s life and adopted Charlie. They became good friends and Mom promised Charlie and his new Angel-Moms that she wanted to be there when it was The Time for Charlie to leave this life.
Well, he took his time: the Angel-Moms filled his life with love and an abundance of companionship, not only from them but from their friends too. Charlie eventually became blind, deaf, and could hardly walk in his final years, but soldiered through until it truly was The Time. Oh my, the tears flowed as Mom told the story. She cried into my fur as I licked her hands and fingertips with my sandy tongue to comfort her. The two Angel-Moms, my Mom, and a compassionate vet held and stroked Charlie as his heart beat its last beat. He was seventeen years old, well loved, and cherished by so many. The Angel-Moms and Mom agreed that she would take his ashes, for she knows a beautiful place where she says even God comes to rest. I felt it only appropriate to say my prayer for Charlie, the Angel-Moms, and my Mom.
I have to be honest and tell you that I believe this Journal entry was influenced by Mom’s recent mourning for Charlie and her remembrances of a sweet kitty that had no chance of surviving. Even so, it changes nothing of what Mom has written, for it’s her truth and that comes from her heart.
Now, to sum up: I want to say life is grand. The windows are open, I have much to observe every single day, plenty of food, and my fur is fluffy and shiny. I am one happy kitty.
Until next time,
The mournful cry from the unknown criatura returned two more times until the moon began to wane. Each time I woke but no longer got out of bed to search for it. I have only Abbey, who sought it out the first night, to assure me that it was not an illusion. No one else in my building heard the cry; it remains a mystery.
I know this: A rare occurrence unfolded during a cold, late-April full moon outside my bedroom window. I believe that whatever the criatura was with its piercing cry, it was performing a requiem for the dead. And, where there is death there is rebirth at some point and some place — in its rightful time.
Thank you all who faithfully read and comment on my Photo-Journal Chronicles. I love hearing from you and wish you happiness and peace …
February 15, 2015 § 5 Comments
It was sub-zero that night. The icy breath of the Arctic blast pummeled our frozen landscape for two days. I was in a deep sleep when jarred awake by what I thought was an explosion, or crash; it was close enough to rattle my windows. I reached for Abbey to see if she heard the crack and thud. She slept soundly at my side. Upon my caress, still in a sleepy stupor, she rolled over on her back for a belly rub. I gently stroked her, she started to purr, rolled over again, and sank back into her feline world of sleep. I reluctantly rose from beneath my warm bed quilt to look out the window. I saw nothing; it was black as pitch at 3 o’clock in the morning. When I woke a few hours later, it was all but a dream: I was greeted by a winter wonderland. On the heels of the Arctic blast, the snowstorm arrived during the night, settling into steady, lacy falling flakes the rest of the day.
There was no place I could go until the storm passed. We already had one foot of snow on the ground by seven o’clock. I brewed my morning tea, grabbed my camera, and began taking pictures.
The Constant Cardinal
I observe my forest through the four windows in my apartment. I feel a bit proprietary about what I look out upon: I am the only one in my building whose apartment is situated so that each window provides a different view of this modest forest and its plethora of wild life that resides within, or journeys through, each day.
We see many cardinals, especially in the winter, but there is one whom I believe is the same cardinal, visiting time and again. I’ve named him Dickens. He literally poses, usually on the same two branches, long enough for me to capture an image. Moreover, Abbey becomes spellbound observing Dickens for he resides on his branches for these long periods while staring into our windows! This image was taken the day before the storm.
When the storm was at its peak, Dickens was the first of many birds who appeared for what was to become spectacular theater. He surprised me by taking up residence on a limb I had only seen him occupy once before. However, there he was perched between two trees with snow flying about, gazing into our warm, cozy world. He was announcing, I am sure: Here I am; others will follow. And they did.
Later, joined by some friends, I marveled at Dickens’s extravagant beauty: the blaze of his scarlet color and his round, robust body.
Birds of all species, sizes, and colors flocked into our forest for The Gathering. They fluttered about, leaving bursts of snow puffs while landing with flourishes and blithesome takeoffs — all antics filled with present moment rapture in the powdery snow. Here are a few I was able to capture with my camera, during their brief respites.
Creating a Zen quality to the monochromatic scenery, this is my personal favorite.
This petite being with its orange belly rested ever so briefly, taking flight within seconds.
After the frenetic Gathering, one bird lingered for a few minutes, perhaps to contemplate the beauty of the moment. I am so grateful for her serenity.
As the birds flew off to other trees and limbs out of my forest and into another, I did not expect this beauty! I thought he was an apparition: alone and serious about his task at hand.
As my camera took the image, he transformed into a streak of action: I thought it was a chimera. Thankfully, though, my camera confirmed he really was there. He never did return, while the others have for each subsequent snowstorm.
A Tree Falls in the Forest
Did you think I forgot about the loud crashing thud I spoke of at the beginning of this narrative? After the day’s storm eased into a full stop, all was still. The following morning I discovered the source of what I thought was a dream: a tree did fall in the forest.
I find this image quieting in its simplicity; inspiring too. We pass scenery such as this every day without too much thought. Yet, it speaks so eloquently to the immutable Law of the Universe — impermanence.
Change is ever present: life and death form the foundation. From that reality comes joy, sorrow, sickness, health, wealth, poverty, suffering, non-suffering, sunshine, rain, clouds, no clouds and — more. Our mind’s thoughts create our happiness, peace, or unhappiness and suffering. I personally struggle with this, but have come to more willingly accept the inevitability of change.
I was presented with a theatrical snowstorm and visits from colorful, feathered friends. What occurred in that twenty-four hour period was a meditation on impermanence while watching the birds’ fanciful flights, flirtations, arrivals, and departures. I observed my own mind as it attached to these beautiful beings and the sense of loss when they departed. I saw impermanence too in a powerful graphic: a tall tree that once stood straight and strong lying on the ground to become some new form of life or energy.
The Book of Abbey
I speak for Abbey in this Journal post as she recuperates from surgery. She is doing well, but it is a longer recovery than she or I expected. Abbey asked me to share with you what she considers (as do I) her best “tigress look” ever! Abbey will return soon to these pages.
I leave you with a quote from the Buddha:
“So watch the thought and its ways with care/ And let it spring from love born out of concern/As the shadow follows the body/As we think so we become.”
In Memory Of
This Journal entry is dedicated to the memory of my Mother who is in a world beyond this world of time and dust and forgetting.
(Thank you Dean Koontz for these lyrical words.)
I send Abbey and all beings healing light and only positive thoughts.
Blessed Be ~
December 30, 2014 § Leave a comment
Hello! I am called by many names: Abigail, Abbey, Sweet Pea, Butter Bean, Doodlebug, Princess-of-Mine, My Sweet Angel, Little Healer, and it goes on. The latest is Snow Lion. I will tell you more about that name later. My preference is to be called Abbey, thank you, spelled as you see it here.
Okay, so you now know that I am Abbey. You also know the name I prefer to be called by, and even how I like to see it spelled. Yes, I am fussy, but only about certain things: my name, and that all the fur on my body lay in the right direction. Hence, I am clean and beautiful; but please dear reader, do not think me vain or pompous. I am feline. We are, most often, elegant and graceful. That is fact. Moreover, we are not aloof and wholly independent: but opposite. It is reported that one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century, Albert Einstein, said, “Music and cats offer the only escape from the miseries of life.” Winston Churchill adds the reason why in my opinion saying, “A cat is a riddle, inside an enigma, inside a delightful pelt of cuddliness.” Based on my shabby beginnings, I hardly think of myself as superior, or narcissistic.
Mom’s past Journals included brief, meaningful nods to me titled “The Book of Abbey.” I am my human Mom’s cat: her companion and guide as she is mine. We have been together for one year. I wish to share my insights and thoughts about my experiences these past twelve months; especially those of the past few weeks.
A Sad Beginning
In October 2013, I was abandoned on Route 9 W, tossed into a mud puddle near McDonalds, forced to eat greasy scraps of food, and all sorts of unsavory things too foul to mention here. I also had to fight for my life. I was dirty and severely scratched from these fights, mostly with others of my kind. I bear my feline fellows no ill will, for it was about survival. I myself do not like violence. After living with my Mom this past year, I have given great thought to my inherent nature: that of predator. Mom reads about non-violence, reverence of life, compassion and freedom from suffering for all beings and creatures. This is a conundrum for me in so many ways that I … Oh my, I want to tell you more, but Mom would not like this digression, nor my leaping ahead in my narrative. Not … At … All!
Okay, back to the back-story: A woman from a local animal shelter spotted me rummaging through garbage for food, recognizing that while I was not a lofty full-bred, for I am a Basic Model Tabby Cat 101, my demeanor was welcoming, inquisitive, and polite. This kind woman picked me up and I sunk into her arms. She begged the owner of the shelter to take me in. However, they were filled with kittens to adopt for the Holiday Season and had no more room. I was accepted, though, due to my sweet, loving nature. They fed me, cleaned me, and placed me in the front glass room with all the wonderful, cute, cuddly kittens. I feared I would not stand a chance for adoption given I was one year old: those sweet, beguiling balls of fluffy fur were too adorable for anyone to notice me.
December arrived and so did my human Mom-to-Be. She ventured into my shelter the very same day she had put down my soul sister, Lily, whom I never knew when she was alive. I know Lily now, for not only do her ashes remain in our apartment; her gentle spirit graces us too.
When Mom-to-Be walked into the glass room, I was sitting on a shelf, observing the kittens’ antics. At first, she looked at all the irresistible kitties: held, admired, and cooed at them as everyone else did before her. I was not jealous: just resigned. I sat still as a statue, trying for an aura of elegance and wisdom (something cute unworldly kittens don’t possess), when she spotted me and walked over to my shelf, which was level with her shoulders. I couldn’t help myself; I knew I wanted her. There was a blend of sadness and joy in her energy. I gently reached out with one paw and then the other, when she in turn reached for the rest of me and said “Oh my, you sweet child.” That was it. We sat for twenty minutes: Mom holding me to her chest, while I felt her fresh, raw grief through her warm heart. I nuzzled as far into her shoulder as I possibly could; presenting a resounding purr of gratitude that rivaled that of a large lioness. It was done. Someone picked ME, and she took me home.
Life With Mom
Wowee! Mom’s apartment has four good-sized windows with sills to sit, or lay upon. Each overlooks the woods with varying views. I like this one where our family Buddha resides on a table below the window. I sit there a lot if I’m not next to Mom on the windowsill to the right of her desk watching her work. I keep close tabs on her time working on the computer. When I sense she is weary, I pad across the desk to distract her. When she ignores this, I try padding across the keyboard. This usually does it. Well, it always does it. I do get a loud NO, but my strategy works every time: she leaves her desk with me in her arms.
The wild life outside of my windows is amazing, and alas, tantalizing too. I try, I truly do, to contain myself and meditate on the beauty of these beings rather than the consumption of them. This is one of my calmer moments-in-meditation.
Yet, I am not always calm. I am two years old this month and still have a goodly amount of kitten in me! I run away with my Mom’s glasses and hide them. I lie on my back and slide across the floor wiggling my hips. She loves this and I giggle, moving so fast she is unable to take a picture. If she doesn’t pay attention to my eating time, I will nuzzle up to her and then gently bite her ankles. Yikes! How bad am I? I also like to scoot and fly through the apartment, taking death-defying leaps to a chair, then a table, the bookcase, a windowsill or two, the Buddha bench, and then flop into reverie, or … torpor.
Mom’s a photographer, so she often ventures out early morning to do her work. In late November, Mom came back from one of her walks and said, “Abbey, I found a miracle. There was one white flower left in our neighbor’s garden. Look!” And, I did … after she uploaded it to her computer.
This year’s Thanksgiving, our first together, brought a winter wonderland snowstorm. Mom and I were inside all day watching the first large, juicy flakes of the season cover the ground, trees, and limbs. It was snowing such a beautiful snow, all fluff, making the world a magical storybook for that moment-in-time. Mom decided to put up the Christmas tree that day.
When it was all done, the most amazing vision was presented to me: a petite frisson. I sat for hours pawing at ‘colored beings’ just outside the window. No matter how much, or how gently I would pat, pat, pat, they remained still, not reacting to my presence. Nevertheless, it was a delightful exercise in mindfulness.
Okay. Forget the mindfulness. I was, shall we say, a bit slow about those ‘beings.’ It took me one day to realize that the colored beings outside were a reflection of our tree’s lights. However, I had a great time just patting away on the window. I eventually found a favorite resting place under the tree. I like this picture because I’m all blue! I think that’s really cool for a Basic Model Tabby Cat 101.
Months ago, I understood Mom’s rhythm: when she wakes there are things she will do before tending to me. Oh, make no assumptions: I do not go hungry. Mom rises before I care to, so it’s a mere half hour before I’m fed and she settles into reading with her hot mug of Scottish Breakfast tea. She always reads a book having to do with philosophy, religion, or Dickens … Ooh, I must digress and tell you that she read Dickens’s “Christmas Carol” aloud to me. How wonderful, wonderful that truly was … Marley’s ghost, the three Spirits, old Scrooge becoming human and humane … delicious characters with whimsical names, and those delectable Dickensian words. Oh my. What a treat! There are poems too that she reads especially for me; oft times a meaningful Buddhist or Celtic prayer.
One icy, cold morning, following the Thanksgiving snowstorm, darkness prevailed while Mom lit candles and incense. This is part of our morning ritual, and I have to say I love the warm glow, pungent Tibetan scent, and serenity of it all. We began our morning reading when Mom finally sat in her chair by the window, while I positioned myself on the windowsill. (I believe she was thumbing through “Evolution of the Word” by Marcus Borg. This is quite a tome and I am so totally grateful she is not reading it aloud.) In moments, there appeared on the horizon an unmistakable beginning of a mystical sunrise: a convergence of the sun’s first appearance; the pristine white blanketing the forest floor; black tree trunks and limbs with immovable white crystalline snow clinging to the entirety of the landscape. Sitting together watching the sun’s ascent, I experienced a peacefulness and quietude within: as if we were the only two beings in the world to witness this event. I knew in that grace-filled moment how blessed we are to be able to see these wonders of nature. Mom gently massaged my ears throughout.
Do you remember when I was expatiating about the myriad of names I’m called? And, that Snow Lion is one of them? There’s a reason, of course. Mom is reading “The Dalai Lama’s Cat,” by David Michie. Her name is Snow Lion. She too was a rescue in the streets of Delhi. She is a beautiful Himalayan, though slightly crippled in her hind legs. Snow Lions in Tibet are celestial animals, representing unconditional happiness. They are animals of great beauty, vibrancy, and delight.
I believe I am all those things to my Mom, but am thankful she no longer refers to me as her Snow Lion. Celestial? I’m not so certain about that. I am Abbey: Basic Model Tabby Cat 101, providing devotion, companionship, love, and great joy.
I want to share one of my favorite Celtic prayer-poems that Mom reads aloud. I hope that some day I will achieve humility and compassion enough to be a healing light in world:
“Open my senses to Wisdom’s inner promptings
that I may give voice to what I hear in my soul
and be changed for the healing of the world;
that I may listen for truth in every living soul
and be changed for the well-being of the world.”
~A Celtic Psalter, J. Philip Newell
I am content. I’m healthy. The bloody scratches and missing patches of fur when Mom first brought me home me are gone. They’ve been replaced with a plush, silky coat due to Mom’s good diet for me. I play; I laugh; I love. And now, dear readers, I have said enough.
It is time for my nap. Sort of.
Dear snoozing Abbey. It’s your Mom darling. You are my healing light. I give gratitude each day for your presence in my life and the well-being you’ve created for me. Sweet dreams my little Snow Lion (oops).
There are many notable books, including the Dalai Lama’s Cat cited earlier, where animals of all types and species have communicated to us: thoughts, fears, humor, sweet joys, and silent sorrows. There are several though that inspired Abbey and me to write this piece (for she sits on my desk even now up to this final moment), not the least of which was recently written by a dear friend and colleague, Stephen Fajen: The White Lash.
Watership Down, by Richard Adams
The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein
Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame
And, though the dogs in this particular book, do not speak per se, there is one, Almondine, whose thoughts are clearly and elegantly expressed: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, by David Wroblewski.
“Read, read, read. Read everything.” ~ William Faulkner
Wishing all of you a healthy, happy, peace-filled 2015!
October 9, 2014 § 3 Comments
On 3 June 2014, I walked into the conference room of the Independent Living Center of the Hudson Valley in Troy to teach a ‘personal photojournalism course’ — written essays with related photographs. The focus: write about how your disability affects your life.
I readied the conference room-cum-classroom for the next six weeks: cameras, notebooks, and pens were set at each seat. The participants — Barbara, Shameka, Robbie, Carolyn, Walter, Kimberly, Denise, and Janet, ranging in age from eighteen to sixty-five, arrived with a variety of disabilities: speech and learning, spina bifida, polio, scoliosis, epilepsy, mild retardation, severe ADD, and muscular dystrophy. Some never held a camera or spent time writing; others did a lot of one or the other.
I thought the process I developed to achieve our goal was easy. I was wrong. It is neither simple, nor painless, to walk into past and present wounds, and then tell the world. An action with potential to re-shape minds and hearts? That is heroic.
For six weeks we talked, took pictures, and wrote themes inching towards the final essay. We laughed and we cried: probably an equal amount of both, though the need for Kleenex tissue boxes increased as the weeks rolled on. I could write a thousand words, and more, about injustice, humiliation, biases, disregard, ignorance, and impoverished awareness concerning consumers with disabilities.
I fell in love with eight people. Normally I would use an adjective and describe them as “exceptional.” I dare not! They would wag their fingers at me, saying, “We are normal: not anything more; certainly not anything less.” Yet, I saw and felt their wounds and witnessed bravery. These are my heroes. I asked them to reach for the stars. And they did.
Robbie, full of desire to free himself from harsh labels,
writes an indictment of the system that creates them.
Denise, ever the activist, speaks
for justice while decrying injustice.
Carolyn, filled with beauty and magnanimity,
writes through constant pain for the love of writing.
Walter, brilliant with a camera, shows us beauty-in-precision
with a touch of whimsy.
Janet, with a wink-and-a-smile,
demonstrates what perseverance accomplishes.
Shameka, stoic yet strong for everyone,
tells us why love is important.
Kimberly exemplifies truth-well-told,
and what ‘walking-the-walk’ means.
Barbara, filled with equanimity and compassion,
writes her story with warmth and humor
peppered with stark realities.
The Mockingbird Quote
Why is it a sin to kill a Mockingbird? In Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, To Kill A Mockingbird, we learn that the Mockingbird lives solely to sing, never harming a crop, flower, or tree. It symbolizes two vital characters, both disabled: Boo Radley and Tom Robinson. Each gentle, neither caused harm, both were unfairly and unmercifully discriminated against. Ignorance and resistance to understanding the unfamiliar prevailed.
SEE THROUGH OUR EYES. HEAR OUR HEARTS.
On 21 October 2014, from 5 p.m. – 7 p.m., The Independent Living Center of the Hudson Valley will host the Opening Exhibition of the photographs and writings of the participants in this groundbreaking program. Come and meet the artists … and truly see through their eyes and hear their hearts. I guarantee it will be a life-changing experience.
This past July, “independent living” for consumers with disabilities
moved from being a mere program into an “administration.”
THE INDEPENDENT LIVING ADMINISTRATION was
established on 22 July 2014 when President Barack Obama
signed the Workforce Innovation
and Opportunity Act into law.
It is time for me to stop and for you to read Our Stories.
September 20, 2014 § 1 Comment
It is a season of change: crisp, cool mornings; cars covered in dew; evenings demand a light blanket; phantom-like mists wind around forest trees and hover over meadows; the harvest is abundant with apples and pumpkins. These are the signposts: our landscape and mountaintops will soon be draped in blazing color and frosty nights.
Following an early morning ritual of reading (currently it is Dickens’s Pickwick Papers), writing, and consuming a good quantity of freshly brewed Scottish Breakfast tea, I embarked on my daily walk at about seven o’clock. My path took me through the charming, historic streets of the Village of Athens. My plan: complete the last quarter mile at the Riverfront.
Once there, I was stunned. The River, and the River only, was enveloped in a fog so thick it blocked out the sun’s warmth I felt just moments before. I thought I was living in Maine again; or, I had unwillingly been transported into a Stephen King novel to be terrorized by some horrific clown event that could only emerge from King’s mischievous yet fiendish imagination. (I’m a fan of both the man and his writing.)
There was no terror; only fog and the mystery it conjures. Standing there wrapped in mist, I thought of questions I’ve asked myself for months, maybe a year now, common to many of us at one point or another in our lives: who am I; what do I really do and why do I do it; what have I contributed to the world in my seventy-one years; have I made a difference for betterment in some small way?
I’ve been haunted by a passage in Isak Dinesen’s, “Out of Africa:” Will the air over the plain quiver with a color that I have had on, or the children invent a game in which my name is, or the full moon throw a shadow over the gravel of the drive that was like me, or will the eagles of the Ngong Hills look out for me? An eloquent way of asking: Will I be remembered?
Neither fog, nor River, provided answers; I didn’t expect them to. Questions with no answers are what Age carries in her satchel as she dispenses dichotomies of joys and sorrows; glory and humiliation; wisdom and wandering, lost minds.
This one morning, though, presented a Divine Intervention for me as I studied the breathtaking sight: the struggle between the fog’s determination to shroud the River; the sun’s inevitable supremacy, which would erase the fog.
I love these images. I hope you do too.
I completed my photo shoot and walk. I felt alive. I felt whole. Equanimity was mine; though, for too brief a time. I often abandon that which feeds my soul in the name of busyness, meaningless gossip, superficial activities, and the need to put food on the table. The latter, a reality. The fog eventually evaporated; so did the feeling of serenity.
Impermanence is the Law of the Universe. So be it.
The Book Of Abbey
Abbey is well, thriving, and more accepting of cuddling. She loves a new game I created called belly-blow-kisses. She rolls and wiggles and, dare I say, looks like she’s laughing. This image, though not of her laughing, was taken during an iPhone experiment. I like it. I used the Noir filter. It was fun to do.
More To Come
In a few weeks, I will be writing about a life-changing experience for eight courageous people and me. Look for Mockingbird in the title!
I’ve said enough.
Thank you for your willingness to take this virtual tour with me …
One Morning in the Fog.
July 13, 2014 § 3 Comments
Days of Rain
Rain. Seemingly ceaseless. Our landscape presents a lush, green world of heavily leafed trees and flora with blooming flowers that span, even surpass, the widest spectrum of hues possible on an artist’s palette. Tree limbs, weighted with an extravaganza of viridian growth, bend over our country back roads nearly connecting one side to the other, creating Nature’s cathedral ceilings. The superfluity of birds that reside in the small forest outside my windows, normally blatantly vocal raising their songs in high hosannas, sing soft hymns during this steadfast cleansing of the land.
I love rain. Since my working time is flexible, for the most part, a solid downpour offers me permission to enter into Siddhartha’s time — a time of nameless quality. Days of rain provide an opportunity for me to detach from life’s daily rounds and bring to fruition here what has dwelled in the pages of my hand-written journal and the confines of my camera far too long as well as immerse myself into the number of ‘working books’ I have scattered about.
I just finished an exquisite Dean Koontz novel, Innocence*, that surprised me in its elegant, oft times poetic style, and the sheer poignancy of a story concerning light and dark, the beatified and the cruel, and the sanctity of love. Koontz opens with a quote from Petrarch’s De Remedies: Rarely do great beauty/and great virtue dwell together. Yet, his skillful story telling, well-drawn characters we grow to love while fearing others, his apparent passion for, and articulate use of, words and phrasing, lyrical at times, shows us how beauty and virtue can intertwine.
I am delving in and out of Jung’s Red Book. Jung wrote about a self-experimental period in his life that became known as “confrontation of the unconscious.” This pivotal period began in 1913 and continued through 1930. He wrote about his dreams, fantasies, and techniques to “get to the bottom of [his] inner processes,” later calling this method “active imagination.” Jung first recorded these fantasies and dreams in his Black Books. After some revisions of the texts, and added reflections, he copied them in calligraphic script no less, accompanied by his paintings, into a book entitled Liber Novus bound in red leather, which became known as the The Red Book. Jung wrote of this transcendent period:
The years of which I have spoken to you, when I pursued the inner images, were the most important time of my life. Everything else is to be derived from this. It began at that time, and the later details hardly matter anymore. My entire life consisted in elaborating what had burst forth from the unconscious and flooded me like an enigmatic stream and threatened to break me. That was the stuff and material for more than only one life. Everything later was merely the outer classification, scientific elaboration, and the integration into life. But the numinous beginning, which contained everything, was then.
It is hardly coincidence then that in addition to my fascination with Jung’s Red Book, I have added once again to my morning ritual of reading and writing my well-worn copy of Herman Hesse’s, Siddhartha. Hesse and Jung were friends and corresponded over a period of years. (Miguel Serrano, a Chilean diplomat, writer, and poet, wrote a book titled, C.G. Jung and Hermann Hesse, A Record of Two Friendships, which is still available, providing yet another lens through which to see the greatness of these two scholarly, soul-filled men.)
Siddhartha is one of those remarkable books that haunts. We can return to this slim volume again and again with each cycle of our lives, uncovering another layer of insight, another reason to pause and take personal inventory. My connection to it now, perhaps, is not only that I am in my seventh decade of life and these matters of soul and spirit and quality of being become more relevant as there are fewer years ahead than behind, but also, simply, that I live so close to the Hudson River, which I photograph endlessly as my own form of introspection. My time at the river’s edge is a constant reminder that Siddhartha finally found his true inner-peace at his river’s shore:
Above all, he [Siddhartha] learned from it [the River] how to listen, to listen with a still heart, with a waiting, open soul, without passion, without desire, without judgment, without opinion.
Ah. There it is. Serenity — love in the absolute.
For years when I came to this passage in the book, tears slowly formed rivulets down my face. I so wanted to be in that place ‘with a waiting, open soul’ Siddhartha reached after a lifetime of Saṃsāra: wealth, starvation, pain, loss, gain, pleasure, suffering again, and then — freedom from suffering, living so simply at the river’s edge, ferrying people from one side to the other and listening fully, deeply to them, to the river, to his soul.
Days of Seeing, Hearing, and Being
I often sense the anima of Hesse’s Siddhartha accompany me as I take my early morning journeys to witness the unfolding of flowers and hear birdsong as more than mere background; to see a lone dove on a wire (what a moment!); to observe a white lily pure as pristine snow, knowing instantly I will render it in black and white; to be drawn to ordinary remnants of a collision of fallen flowers still colorful, still with reason for being — my camera; to be captured by a simple flower and its creamy yellow hue, appearing to dissolve like the butter its color echoes; to witness the moods and sounds of my river and watch diamonds fall and dance upon it at just the right moment and in yet another to observe the swaths of the whole landscape — the river, land, and sky; and, finally, to be with me while I sit on my cushion in front of the Buddha that resides on an old weathered bench in my living room, observing the smoke of incense dance its dance in graceful, spiral forms I had not wholly seen before.
The Path Continues
It is unlikely I will ever attain Siddhartha’s serenity. As with most of humanity, I am flawed and subject to my humanness. Therefore, hurt, fear and anger can, and do, come upon me like tsunamis at times. Not as frequently as in the past, but they arrive at my door nonetheless. Yet, my path continues. As Siddhartha’s journey unfolded, he discovered that once one enters onto the path, digression is assured. However, it is inevitable too that we will renew our journey, placing our feet, heart, and souls towards seeking something deep within that we finally recognize as our authentic being.
Though through different disciplines, Jung and Hesse dedicated a substantial amount of their respective life’s work to understanding the sum and substance of the soul; searching to illuminate where and how it manifests in our lives — that nameless, perhaps elusive, quality of being that is serenity; that is absolute love.
Koontz continues this theme in his contemporary exemplum, Innocence, with a poetic, powerful statement from the story’s protagonist, Addison:
But with one exception, all things pass from this world and time erases not just memories but entire civilizations, reducing everyone and every monument to dust. The only thing that survives is love, for it is an energy as enduring as light, which travels outward from its source toward the ever-expanding boundaries of the universe, the very energy of which all things were conceived and with which all things will be sustained in a world beyond this world of time and dust and forgetting.
The Book of Abbey
Abbey and I have lived together for eight months now. We have adjusted to one another’s rhythms and music of our daily lives. She continues to sit on the windowsill next to my desk as I write. She still audaciously walks across my computer and stretches her body full length upon the desk when she needs to be loved up. Though I gently scold her, I have clearly failed to train her in this matter. Therefore, I have no choice but to stop to scratch and pet her and in so doing Abbey provides me with a moment of release from the intensity of my work. She knows me now, but I doubt I will ever fully know her. She amazes me with her petits frissons délicieux de la performance that make me laugh aloud as she recognizes my sheer delight in her very presence.
Thank you again for making time to join me on this particular day. I am continually grateful to those of you who are loyal readers and appreciate my impressionist, painterly images. And, I welcome the many new arrivals from around the world that have subscribed to these Photo-Journals!
*ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: My friend and neighbor, Joe Stefco, publishes special edition books under the moniker, Charnel House. Joe designs each book, from font creation to the selection of handmade paper, to every facet possible involved in the publishing of a book. He has worked with Dean Koontz for decades along with other significant writers. Joe unexpectedly surprised me at lunch one day with a gift of one of his lettered editions of Dean’s novel, Innocence. Today, where books are read electronically on a hard, cold piece of plastic and metal, it is a tangible wonderment to hold a book and to turn each hand-stitched page, knowing it was a labor of love for the hands that touched it. Thank you my dear friend. And, thank you Mr. Koontz for writing a mesmerizing, eloquent, and important allegory about authentic beauty, virtue and love … in a world beyond this world of time and dust and forgetting.
March 1, 2014 § 2 Comments
This is a story about my maternal grandmother. Granny was born poor and died poor, yet had a heart overflowing with love, a spirit that soared higher than the heavens, and a deep, quiet source within from which sprang abundant courage.
Granny was five years old when she traveled across the Atlantic Ocean from Austria to America in 1899. She was not schooled but taught herself to read, write, and speak fluent English. When I was old enough to understand the spoken word, I never detected a hint of an accent though I knew Granny spoke Russian, Polish, and German in addition to her mastery of the English language.
The new images presented throughout this narrative are not of her, or the times and places of events shared. Sadly, these were lost in the innumerable decades of the past. Nevertheless, these winter scenes, recently photographed during our successive snowstorms (taken in the historic Village of Athens, New York where I live), kindled cherished memories of a remarkable woman.
When the snow falls, I remember her the most. Everything smells the same. The scent of snow emanates from crystalline water cradled in the wombs of steel gray clouds, as nature stands poised for the right moment to birth juicy, white flakes. Wood smoke emerges from wood stoves and fireplaces, wafting through the air from known but also unknown places with untold stories. And, as the snow begins its descent it gently burdens the limbs of trees while sketching outlines of ordinary things normally overlooked. The elusive cardinal, like Baryshnikov, flies from limb to limb with ease and grace; grave sites and possibly haunted mausoleums in old cemeteries are christened and warmed in a pure white blanket of snow at the hour when dusk makes its entrance; and when the snow comes to rest on the forest floor, it fashions a serene, ethereal landscape in which it seems no living being has ever inhabited. Yes, this is the time, when the snow falls, I remember her the most.
Cleveland, Ohio circa 1948
Trolley car tracks carved serpentine patterns into the streets of the northeast Cleveland, Ohio neighborhood where my grandmother lived. As I plodded along the snow-covered cobblestone walk to my Granny’s house and stepped on to the wide-planked wooden front porch, I stamped the snow from my boots and slipped them off before entering her living room through the dark oak entrance door inset with an etched oval glass pane. I passed through the mahogany arch into the dining room and walked a long hallway that led to my grandmother’s sanctuary: her kitchen.
There were few things that thrilled me more as a child than the many aromas sent forth from the kitchen where Granny performed the healing of souls through her culinary arts. Sixty-five years later, the mere thought of her homemade Scottish shortbread comprised of those simple but decadent ingredients of creamed butter, sugar, and carefully sifted flour baking in her Franklin wood cook-stove, spark a memory I hold dear: She offers me her large, well-used wooden spoon — the one that stirred so much in so many bowls and belonged to her mother and her mother before her. I lick the last remnants of sweet, grainy dough: the embryonic essence of the shortbread.
Granny was a force of love, offering warmth and light in my life as a child and young woman. She had a salty sense of humor, was whimsical, irreverent, and flirtatious. Ironically though, she was also a devout Roman Catholic and prayed three Rosaries daily. She added a fourth Rosary one fine summer’s day after releasing through her kitchen window a particularly nasty, noisy bird — a gift that Grandpa Joe brought home for her that past Easter. So, not unlike an accordion, she added and subtracted Rosaries to her daily prayer routine. This depended on whether she thought she failed, or succeeded, with the Lord that day, hoping that the Blessed Mother would intercede for her. While her faith sustained her to a point, she was most serene when preparing and serving a meal. Her Austrian, Polish, and Russian heritages created a culinary alchemy for delicacies still not well known to too many people: liver dumplings and soup, which took two days to prepare — and, her unsurpassed perogi.
For the uninitiated, a perogi artfully created is a spiritual experience. Granny’s perogies were perfectly round pouches, three inches in diameter, of carefully rolled dough filled with pure ecstasies for one’s palate. My favorite filling was Farmer’s cheese that she seasoned with salt, pepper, a hint of sugar, thinly chopped onion and a beaten egg to hold the mixture together. She would also fill these round orbs of dough with prunes, or sauerkraut with caraway seed, or a pungent meat mixture.
So, I sat watching this artist at her work as she gathered the many and varied ingredients needed to begin the painting of her particular canvas. The food: flour, spices, sugar, meats, cheese, prunes, potatoes, cabbage, green peppers, onions, eggs, butter, salt and pepper. The tools: a rolling pin, flour sifter, potato masher, meat grinder, one large rimmed glass three inches in diameter, waxed paper, rubber bands, cleaned (and ironed) kitchen towels, mixing bowls — all six of them in graduated sizes but not matching, Granny’s largest black iron cauldron in which to boil water and her large iron skillet, more waxed paper, and … the Wooden Spoon.
The last task to complete before the cooking process was set in motion was the preparation of the large, square white enameled kitchen table. Granny wiped it spotlessly clean. She then removed her thin gold wedding band, and put on a fresh, crisply ironed apron. Finally, she would place the kitchen stool at the table for herself and remove all but one of the six chairs. The concession of the one chair was for me. Granny wanted no encumbrances around the table when she prepared perogi. But, I was her honored guest.
For Granny, the perogi event was a journey. To the five-year-old girl sitting at her table, mesmerized by the unfolding of this grand performance, it was the end result that counted most. Granny stored many of the pierogi in her short, square icebox for eating at our holiday dinner. But, she reserved a few to be consumed immediately and I had my choice. I could simply eat the perfection of her perogi as they emerged from the boiling water in the black wrought iron cauldron, now front and center on the stove, tossed with butter, salt and pepper. Or, she would turn to the large iron skillet into which she slathered even more butter and slowly sautéed the perogi to a light, golden brown. The skillet sizzled and spat when the perogies were placed into it but it soon settled. The result was a transcendent experience. The ingredients of butter, salt, lightly fried dough, and a spicy-yet-sweet cheese and onion filling, were all interdependent: one single ingredient could no longer exist in this exquisite state without the other.
Cleveland, Ohio circa 1956
My grandmother cooked for all occasions: birthdays, graduations, births, communions, confirmations, holidays, colds and flu, and for no reason at all but for the pure pleasure of creating and healing. (The latter being a result of her genuine efforts and not a conscious goal.)
Granny also put on her apron and took to the stove during times of great sorrow, the most vivid of which for me was when her husband, my Grandpa Joe, succumbed to lung cancer resulting from his many years of work in the coal mines of Ohio.
After leaving the sterile smells and bleak atmosphere of the hospital, I knew her thoughts were only of her husband, friend, lover, and nemesis at times, as she walked into her now empty home. Granny had to be thinking that Grandpa Joe would walk through the door at any moment. Freshly brewed coffee as well as his much loved beer with a raw egg floating in it should be at the ready. (Grandpa Joe was a tippler.) As she entered her kitchen, she reached into a small closet for her apron and wrapped it around her plump waist. I stood watching not knowing what to say or do. I too felt the raw sense of loss and emptiness. I saw Granny withdraw a hand-embroidered cotton handkerchief from her dress pocket to wipe the tears that finally surfaced and trickled down her face. She then turned to me following the long silence and said, “I absolutely must make a pot of chicken soup with homemade noodles.” And so she did.
My memories are eternal reminders that the contentment of Granny’s open heart, consisting of simple, elegant acts of love and work, was far more important than any luxury and wealth that she would never know, or desire.
Granny’s riches were in her calloused, square hands, her thick strong arms that could roll dough for great lengths of time without tiring, and her intuitive sense of touch, taste and innate sensitivity to what was good, or not. Creating culinary delights was in joyful service of others and emanated from her authentic spirit. This was her art form as well as her medicine and it could not be captured or repressed. Not even my grandfather’s death could accomplish that. Her unwavering inner spirit, even in the saddest moments, are legacies of great wealth that have sustained me and continue to enrich my life today.
The Book of Abbey
Abbey, introduced in my previous Journal post, has grown to be a constant friend and companion. She is at the entrance door when I arrive home, and greets me upon waking in the morning with a soft purr, offering her plush, silky fur for my hands to gently pet and scratch. She is coquettish in her playfulness and yet a tigress — all seven pounds of feminine feline form. With a reverberating purr, she walks delicately across my computer keyboard when I have been too long at the screen for she seems to know I need a break. I have, thus far, discovered that she does two things really, really well: sleep and meditate with my crystals.Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy. ~Rabbi Abraham Heschel
With the deepest gratitude, I thank you for spending this time with me, sharing my memories of a wonderful grandmother, viewing my latest impressionist painterly images and following the Book of Abbey, which will grow with time.
Blessings and Namasté …