Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Season of Remembering and Forgetting

Arguably we start dying from the moment we are born, but we choose not to think about that. You could say we forget about it, or as long as there is life there is hope. Age, accident, or illness can remind us of those daily little deaths. It is never a welcome reminder.

I got two last week. The first was the logical, expected outcome of a long illness that has been dubbed the long goodbye. My brother's Alzheimer's can no longer be held at bay in his home by hardworking, devoted family and friends and carers. It is time. It is right. It is a good decision, and my brother has a very nice place to go where he will be well cared for and his family will remain active in his care. I said--I hope-- the right things to my family and offered what help and support that I could and then I cried for two days.

The photo below is from my wedding. He walked me down the aisle and he, my sister and I were all genuinely happy and together then. It is good to remember that. When I stopped crying, I looked at these and other photos and tried to keep those good times foremost.

The same day I received news about my brother, I learned of a neighbour--former neighbour, since we have moved away, whose past two years had been spent in that mysterious world of dementia, who had passed away. Although my head accepted that it was not a sad death because he had been so ill for so long, nonetheless my heart failed to oblige me. The thought that I would never see him again out in his garden leaning over his hoe kept jangling my heart strings.

He was one of the first people I met in my new life over here. Lean, quick-witted, slow talking, a hard-working, gentle, kindly man.
He has passed these things on to his family, so it is a relief to see that legacy live on, but even with my brief acquaintance, it hurt to say goodbye.

It is the lambing season here now. Driving around the county the fields are dotted with the first sets of lambs with their mothers. It is certainly a hopeful, Easter-season sight, but hoodie crows, aggressive gulls, foxes and cold cruel winds also are part of this season. Out of the corner of my eye last week, I noticed a hoodie crow flying around a pair of tiny twins nestled up against a stone dyke; their mother perhaps just a bit too far away. I stopped, reversed the car, and waited until the crow moved on. Grief is like that. We can banish it for a moment, but, like the crows, it is all a part of the season and will be back in its own time.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Nesting Curlews and La Rocque and Roll

Sound. I often talk about the things I see but not as often the things I hear around me. I was obliged to think about sound recently by two disparate events--but life is never a tidy narrative.

Curlews are large birds, so I discovered. Although normally wading birds, they come a long way from water to nest. All this I discovered first by happy accident--a large curlew-beaked bird was walking in the gawky way of a land bound heron in the field above the house. Could it be a curlew? Well, off to find the bird book. Sure enough curlews are big--at least by the time they are ready for romance and reproduction--this guy is nearly as big as a pheasant. He can give my getting- tamer-every-day-farm cats a run for their money.

The bird book explained that the smaller curlew-beaked bird (a 5-7 inch skinny beak bent slightly down in case you don't have a bird book close by) is a whimbrel. Whimbrel is a word that needs to be said aloud for the fun of the tickle. It reminded me of a young woman years ago whose favourite word was wimple. I ownder where she is now and if she remembers that was once her favourite word.

I have a fondness for curlews because my daughter's birth announcement sported a water colour arctic curlew--Inuit art. Every time I see a curlew I think of her. Because I am so far away that now makes me happy-sad as so many recollections do.

OK back to sound--if I had heard what a curlew says I might have picked another card. The call is supposed to be something like coo e loo or some such, but it had another intriguing entry made in passing about their "wild whistling". I heard that wild whistling his morning. More of them have wandered away from their pond to the nesting grounds so there is now quite a chorus. I cannot begin to replicate that here. You will just have to find your own curlew and have a listen.

The other sound event is trying to get Skype to work. I have faffed about with settings and plugs and Wizards--of the electronic variety--and I can hear things, the message that tells me my microphone doesn't work, for example, but I can also hear music on the computer which had not been working for some time. Hence, I am listening to one of my favourite CDs from my previous life.

Indianapolis has an annual early music festival. It had been going on for years--a handful of people put it on and over the years it grew a faithful audience. Even though Indianapolis is not a cultural hub, early music groups loved to come there for the festival because after many years there was a dedicated and knowledgeable audience. So La Rocque and Roll is the title of a CD by Baltimore Consort, subtitled, "popular music of Renaissance France." It was worth faffing with the settings to hear this again.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Snowdrops by the Roadside

I was so busy looking at my lovely lichens that I nearly tripped over these snowdrops in a lonely wee clump by the gate into a field. I don't know if they were planted by purpose but they look like a happy accident.

A happy accident twice over. I had seen on my walk a lovely set of snowdrops in a field by a house. I was thinking how I might screw up the courage to knock on the door and ask if I could dig up a few of them in exchange for helping them divide the many clumps that have grown too initmate for flowering.

I was practicing these scripts in my head and trying to find my confident self when these wee orphans appeared nearly underfoot. Galanthus nivalis--the little green edge is the defining touch.

So tomorrow I'll take a couple bags with me--one to collect some bits of roadside flotsam and another to collect a few of these treasures. I miss the sweep of snowdrops in the walled garden at Isauld.

The few bulbs that I can take without spoiling this little island of garden escapees will take some time to make a sweep, but they are treasures in their own right and all the more cherished for their surprise arrival.
This week has been full of pleasant surprises. An orchestra concert last night included an original composition based on the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu. Tonight, as part of the International Science Festival, I heard a slide lecture on the solar eclipse in 2006 in Egypt. It was a lovely blend of big and little stories--planetary alignments, broad sweeps of history,
and personal anecdotes and coincidences. The opening piece of the concert last night was entitled "The doorway to all understanding." That doorway might as plausibly be nestled inside a snowdrop as in the great temple.

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Over the Hill to the Loch

I usually walk down to the moss in front of the house. I have walked up the hill a couple times for a breathtaking view from the top, but today I kept walking to the loch and a bit down the other side of the hill.
If I had been a bit less distracted by the view and faster with my camera, I might have had a wonderful shot of some of these large white birds flying overhead from one loch to another. Sadly I relied on my digital zoom to get this close, so you'll have to take my word that they are big.

Lichens move slowly enough that I can take my time photographing them. It was that kind of a day, so here are a couple classic lichen shots.

Lichens are a marriage of convenience between a moss and an algae. One of the mysteries of the universe is how they find each other. As I stood holding my breath to steady the camera against the wind an image of a newspaper personal columns --Moss Seeking Algae--came into my mind. I am easily amused sometimes.

I spent a day with a lichen expert wandering around the woods looking at all the variety in the lichens. I don't remember their names, but I love looking closely enough to know that there are at least three different species--oh, no, four, on this branch. I actually met someone who said they didn't like lichens. I find them fascinating in their variety and tenacity and soft lace-like shapes.
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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Not as Smart as a Baboon

Hanging around with anthropologists in my uni days left interesting facotids lodged in my brain. Among them, that baboons can count to five. Apparently this was determined by sending men into a field and then having them leave one by one while baboons watched safely from the shelter of the trees. When 5 men left, apparently the baboons thought all the men were gone--or, perhaps they got bored waiting for the men to leave. At any rate, I'll take as a good working hypothesis that our primate cousins can count to five. Apparently I cannot count to 8, even in multiples of 4 plus 4, ergo I am not as smart as a baboon.

I really do try to do what I am told. It is not in my nature to be a straight line compliant person, but I do try. I mention that to explain how it was that everyone else in yoga class knew that they did not need to be told to exhale. So I was lying left arm in air, lungs filled up like a puffer fish because I did not realize that I could count for myself up to 8 for the inhale-exhale cycle. I opened my eyes and discovered all the other arms going down gracefully and tried to look like everyone else knowing full well that I was not as smart as a baboon.

So my ego took another battering when I realized just how foolish I had been about hyacinths. Like breathing, you wouldn't think there could be that much that could go wrong, but I managed. First of all, I got in a hurry. Plants, small children, and computers we all know are not to be hurried. That was my first mistake. I put the bulbs perched precariously on top of some grit. I meant to get compost or some decorative material later, but as I should have known, later never comes when it comes to Christmas frenzy, so these bulbs grew like tryffids--as if they could walk out in the middle of the night or when your back was turned and devour you--well, not that bad, they are small after all and they did still smell good.

But I gave those tryiffid-like bulbs to a friend who not only enters and wins bulb competitions but judges them.

Now I can relate these ego-busting events because they happened with folks who are nice enough not to call to your attention that you are an idiot. In part, this is kindness; in part this is acceptance of what is self-evident. In either case, it gives me time to practice counting all the way to 8 and forego making hyacinths into tryffid-lookalikes. No doubt there are other ways of playing the fool and I will find at least some of them.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Glasgow and Back Again

This is the central motif of the armorial insignia of the city of Glasgow. I found this one on the lamposts outside Kelvingrove, but it can be found in various forms and media all over the part of Glasgow they like to call the Style Mile.
The architect for this building, Kelvingrove art gallery and museum, was also a sculptor, so the inside and outside of the building are chock a block with three dimensional features like this prow of a ship.

The exterior of the building is red sandstone, which makes sure you are gonna notice the building. She sits proudly in the middle of a green space in Glasgow.

We had a great trip down and enjoyed the stitchery show (sadly I left my camera in the hotel that day). The trip to Kelvingrove was lovely and we were then keen to be home but wound up spending time in Perth after car broke down and we had a bit of a wait by the roadside. But every road trip involves diversions of both the amusing and the not so amusing kind.
I can't help but think sadly of the very different Glasgow experience of the three asylum seekers who took their own lives at the Red Road flats.