Archive for the ‘Home’ Category

That Old House

March 31, 2015

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The email came a year ago. The subject line was “Montclair House.” I didn’t recognize the sender. Angie said that she and her husband had bought my childhood home, and hoped to restore it to its original footprint. She had found a blog post I’d written about it. She wanted to talk to me.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to talk to her. But I wasn’t sure why.

The house is a rambling Victorian built in 1900. A landing in the stairs overlooks the living room. The main entrance isn’t at the front, but, quirkily, on the side. When our parents bought the house, in 1958, the shady hemlocks, dark cedar shingles and wrap-around porch reminded our mother of the Adirondacks. I had just turned one – the last of four children. Until our mother died, in 1999, the house was our family’s gravitational center.

It’s where I learned to read. And write. To ride a bike and drive a car. We carried the black-and-white TV into the backyard to watch Bobby Kennedy’s funeral, and onto the porch for the Watergate Hearings. All three sisters crossed the landing and descended the stairs to get married in the living room. Four generations gathered in the dining room for Passover seders. Each of my siblings moved back at some point, as adults. I never moved back, but the house stayed inside me.

For a long time after we sold the house, I found myself waking up at night longing to search through closets and drawers that had long since been emptied of our stuff and refilled with other families’ possessions. I couldn’t believe our childhood drawings weren’t still crammed into the built-in drawers in the master bedroom, that our broken kitchen chairs weren’t stored in the back attic, that my head comics were no longer hidden behind my bed.

The property has changed hands a few times since we sold it. Early on, the sellers held an open house. My brother went, and took pictures. I pored over the photos, trying to reconcile the freshly painted rooms and neatly landscaped yard with the well-worn, lived-in spaces I remembered. Passing through town, I would idle at the curb, trying to mentally replant the lost hemlocks and replace the new blue siding with the old cedar shingles. Eventually, I learned to let go of the physical building. I knew I would never lose the sense of home that endured in my mind.

But Angie’s email revived the old longing. I sent her a quick note, asking for more information. While I waited to hear back, I tried to imagine how anyone could restore our home to what it had been. Would they bring back the clutter? Re-peel the paint? Rewire the light switch outside the bathroom so it only worked when it was jiggled just so?

Four days later, Angie answered. She wanted to know my favorite memory of the house. But the rest of her questions were architectural. Had the “front” door always been at the side? Was the little room off the dining room ever a porch?

I forwarded her email to my siblings. We swapped memories about staging plays on the landing over the living room, and soaking in the claw-foot tub. We told each other how glad we were that the house was back in the hands of people who loved it. And we agreed that the idea of restoring the “original footprint” made no sense. The “front” door had always been on the side. And the little room off the dining room had always been the “sun room,” where our father paid the bills and we kept the Passover haggadahs.

The next time she wrote, Angie attached old photos from when the house was first built – pictures we had never seen.

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There was the front door, at the front of the house. And there, in the corner where the sun room belonged, was an open porch.

As I studied the photos, trying to reconcile the house on my screen with the one I remembered, I realized what I had always known, but never absorbed. For 60 years before the house was ours, other families had already called it home. If the first owners could have seen how the house looked when we lived there, they would have had as much trouble recognizing the place as I do today.

In one of my emails to Angie, I mentioned those haggadahs in the sun room. She replied that at their seder that year, someone in her family had said, “Next year in Montclair.”

That “next year” is this year. I like imagining Angie’s family celebrating  in the Montclair dining room. It doesn’t matter so much if they open the door for Elijah at the side of the house or the front. I do hope, though, that when they pass the house on, they’ll hold memories of home as enduring and enriching as mine.

Neighbors

May 1, 2014

 

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I used to pass the house that used to be here several mornings a week, driving to and from the gym.

I like to take the scenic route, a tree-lined suburban parkway that curves beside the bay. The houses are substantial, the lawns and gardens well-kept.

Except for the house that used to be here.

I noticed it right away, the first year we lived here. Three stories. Yellow vinyl siding. Attached, two-car garage. Fenced-in yard.

It was a house that had started out very much like its neighbors, but it had fallen on hard times. The lawn was never cut. The cars in the driveway were rusty. The chairs set outside were indoor chairs.

I started watching for it, gathering whatever clues I could catch at 35 mph. I wondered about the people who lived there. I only saw them once, sitting out front on those indoor chairs. I want to say two men and a woman, maybe in their late twenties or early thirties. But I might be remembering wrong. I do know, for sure, that the day I saw them sitting out there was the first time I saw that a Confederate flag they had tacked to the vinyl siding, between the living room windows.

The next time I drove by, I saw that the attic windows were masked with what looked like metallic foil. One of the windows was outfitted with a make-shift vent, sort of like a clothes-dryer vent. But sort of not. I had to wonder what they were cooking up there.

The fire happened not long after that. It didn’t burn the house down, but it did melt the vinyl siding. I want to say the worst damage was on in the attic but I might be making that up to fit my theory. I want to say there was police tape. But I could be making that up, too. It’s been five years, maybe six, and I’ve had other things on my mind.

I do remember that plywood replaced the broken windows, and that a series of official notices came and went from the front door. At least a year after the fire, the garage doors were replaced with heavy metal plates that looked like they were meant to secure a vault.

Driving by, I was glad I didn’t live next door and across the street. I thought about police investigations. Insurance claims. Estate settlements. A tangle of bureaucratic procedure keeping the house in a state of suspended animation, with no end in sight.

And then, the other day, it ended.

I missed the actual demolition, but I did see a shovel scooping cement rubble into an enormous dumpster. Today, all that remained was the garage floor, the garage foundation walls, and five concrete steps.

I wonder who owned the place before life there fell apart. I wonder about the people were who put up the Confederate flag. What was going on in the attic? How did the fire start? Where is everyone now – Locked up? Dead? Baking designer cupcakes for the princess-pink bakery that just opened in Pawtuxet Village?

I could ask the lady at the post office or the guy who cuts my hair. This is the sort of place where people know, and talk. But I’m afraid that the answers they’ll tell me won’t be nearly as intriguing as the ones I’m imagining.

Oakland Cemetery

March 31, 2014

 

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Walking home from Roger Williams Park a few weekends back, David and I decided to explore a cemetery we’d passed by lots of times, but had never bothered to check out.

We like cemeteries – the artistry of the stones, the interesting old names, the epitaphs, the morbid semiology of angels, hands, and weeping willows. As an amateur photographer, I love the monochrome stones in their symmetrical rows, the play of light on the inscriptions, the marks that time and weather and human mischief leave on monuments that were meant to be immutable. And as someone who craves narrative, I like to read stories into the stones.

Oakland Cemetery doesn’t look like much from the road. Entering from the park, the first interesting thing you notice is how many headstones vandals have knocked down, and how much trash has blown in or been dropped and not picked up. No wonder Mark C writes on Yelp (who knew that Yelp carries cemetery reviews?), “This dump is an embarrassment…I wouldn’t bury my dog here.”

 

Most of the monuments are between 40 and 100 years old. Walk on, though, and you find a row of stones dating back much earlier.

 

Mr. James Brown Merchant who died Oct 4th 1775 aged 73 Years. He was born in England: a pattern of Industry and an honest Man.

Stephen Rawson died March 14th 1773 in the 50th Year of his Age. He was of a noted Family of great Repute. His Life was Amiable and Strict Integrity with universal Benevolence justly marked his Character.

Alexander Black of the City of Coleraine in the Kingdom of Ireland. Merchant. He came to America in the Year 1748 and died in Providence Rhode Island on the 12th of Sept. 1767 aged 40 Years.

Mrs. Freelove Bosworth 2nd wife of Mr. Lewis Bosworth

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These much older graves seem out of place, and they are. Brown and Rawson and Black and Bosworth and half a dozen of their contemporaries were originally buried in West Burial Ground, in Providence. They were exhumed and reburied in Cranston in 1870, when West Burial Ground was dismantled to create Hayward Park, which was demolished in the 1960s to make room the I-95/I-195 interchange, which was torn down and rebuilt further south in 2013.

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But Oakland Cemetery isn’t only a place of neglect and displacement. Look a little farther and you see an unexpected jumble of colors cutting through the dead grass. These are graves from the last 15 years, lined up head-to-toe, like a traffic jam of the dead. Beneath the plastic flowers and the home-made crosses, the stuffed animals and miniature Christmas trees, the rosary beads and Red Sox caps, the votive candles and Hennessy bottles and last year’s dead leaves, you notice that the surnames are almost all Hispanic, and a shockingly high percentage of the dead are men between the ages of 18 and 30. Google the names, and another pattern emerges.

John Gabriel Espinal, a 20-year-old dental hygiene student, died in August, 2013 – shot dead by the new boyfriend of Espinal’s former girlfriend, the mother of his 2-year-old child.

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Luis Dominguez, 18, died in July, 2010 – shot dead by a friend who was messing around with a sawed-off shotgun.

 

 

 

IMG_7517Jacob Delgado, a 19-year-old artist, died in December, 2001 – shot dead during an argument that erupted after he jumped the line at a Broad Street chimi truck.

 

 

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Nairobi Acosta, 20, died in November, 2007 – shot dead as he was leaving an after-hours party.

Luis Abreu, 21, died in October, 2007 – shot dead shortly after midnight, as he was sitting in his black BMW outside his apartment.

Omar Polanco, a 19-year-old Walmart worker, died in September, 2008 – shot dead at 3:30 a.m. from a passing car, a few blocks from his family home. The day we visited Oakland, Polanco would have turned 21. Mylar birthday balloons bobbed over his grave.

IMG_7438Among these newer graves is a tall, granite monument carved with the figure wearing an ornate robe. He holds an orb with a cross in one hand, and raises the other hand in blessing. The portrait set into the corner of the stone shows a handsome man with a shaved head, bright eyes and a benevolent smile. Below is an inscription.

Beloved father, son, brother and friend

David J.Catagena

Apr. 13, 1971 – May 31, 2009

Being a streetworker – it’s like being a peacemaker. It’s the thing you want to be.

Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God. Matthew 5:9.

Cartagena died at 38, in a three-car accident on I-95. A former member of the Almighty Latin King Nation youth gang, Cartagena had a history of hurting people and 15 arrests on his record. In 2005 he joined the Institute for the Study & Practice of Nonviolence, a Providence-based nonprofit dedicated to combating gang violence and youth crime. The Providence Journal described Catagena as one of the organization’s “most effective leaders.”

I’m sure there are more stories like these at Oakland Cemetery. But David and I only stayed so long. It was awfully cold out, and we felt self-conscious, walking around and taking pictures, especially when other people came with fresh decorations for their loved ones’ graves. When does honest interest become disrespect? What’s a public park and what’s a private shrine? What am I to make of that little leap of excitement I felt when I discovered Oakland Cemetery’s story?

I was just starting to consider these questions when the impersonal became intensely personal. David’s dad died. We dropped everything and flew to Colorado – an event still too raw to write about here. Back home two weeks later, I picked up what I’d been working on.

When I went back to check Yelp, I found that a new review had been posted while we were away. “My father was buried a year ago this past march 25th,” writes Juan V, “I went and visit the grave and set some flowers (Plastic from dollar store) and today, Saturday March 29, the flowers are gone, don’t guess me wrong but that only happens in the Dominican Republic, and I know who did it, the person is from that country, what a disgrace, I don’t even want to be part of that community anymore. I feel sorry that my father is buried there.”

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Sandy’s Tidal Surge

October 30, 2012

If you prepare for the worst and the worst doesn’t happen, does that mean your preparations were unnecessary? I don’t know.  But that’s our Superstorm Sandy story.

When Hurricane Irene came through Rhode Island last year, the silver maple beside our driveway lost a major limb, and our power was out for days. We wrapped quilts and blankets around our freezer, and eventually dropped in a box of dry ice we bought from a welding supply company. We played Scrabble by candle light and drove to David’s office to plug in our lap tops and charge our phones.

This year, as Hurricane Sandy was churning up the Caribbean, we filled our bathtub, and stocked up on gallon containers of drinking water. We put away our porch furniture and harvested the last of our tomatoes. We bought canned fish and beans, and sturdy produce like apples and carrots. We brought out our boom box and flashlight and bought an extra box of candles. We pulled down the storm windows and plugged a leaky door frame with cellophane and rags. We did everything we could think of doing. And then we waited, braced for the worst.

Here at our house, the worst turned out to be not so bad. While our family and friends in New Jersey and New York lost power and tree limbs and worse, and flooding from the tidal surge forced neighbors just a few blocks away to evacuate, we lost one tile from our roof, and some leaves from our trees. Somebody’s take-out coffee cup blew into our yard. Our electricity blinked twice, just long enough to force us to reset our clocks.

The rain and wind were supposed to continue through today. But the sun is out and the breeze is gentle. I took a walk, to see how the tiny corner of the world beyond our yard had fared.

At Stillhouse Cove, the ducks and swans grazed as if nothing unusual had happened. Never mind the orange construction drum that bobbed in the water, the fire extinguisher and tiki torch that had washed up—wittily—onto the same rock. The shell of a horseshoe crab lay in the middle of the street. A saw horse and caution tape warned passersby away from someone’s broken fence. And all along the shore, an undulating swath of debris showed how high the tide had risen.

I started taking pictures, as I always do. And that’s when I really saw what the storm had left us.

Marsh reeds and plastic drinking straws and scraps of wood were laid out together in perfect waves. The shape of the line recalled the flow of the watery waves that sloshed up and left them there, and revealed the contours of the land. Depending on the force and direction of that final wave, the obstacles it met and the topography beneath it, the line widened or narrowed, hugged rocks, formed piles, or snaked over the grass. Within the line, organic and plastic matter commingled  autumn leaves and cigarette box cellophane paired and positioned according to their shape and weight, and random happenstance.

Once I started looking, I could hardly tear myself away.

With schools closed and many offices shuttered, lots of families were out, doing the same. There was a quiet, holiday atmosphere—our gratitude for the unexpected day off, and for the fate the storm had spared us, tempered by our awareness of what so many other people are going through. Everyone was chatting, in the way people will—even strangers—when they have been through (or averted) a disaster together.

“How’d you do?”

“Not so bad.”

“Same here.”

“Guess we lucked out.”

“Sure did.”

“Finding anything good?” one guy asked me as I brought my camera close to a blade of grass wrapped around a tampon applicator.

“I’m just enjoying the way everything got left,” I told him. “Look at how that line squiggles over the grass.”

“Uh-huh,” he said. “I should come back with my metal detector.”

Construction

September 7, 2012

All we thought we were doing was making the approach to our home safer and more welcoming for visitors.

The three concrete steps between the street and our front yard were already starting to crumble when we moved in, five years ago. At the top of the short flight, a concrete path curved right, towards the wooden stairs to the porch, and left, to the side of the house, the service entry into the basement and the gate to the backyard. That path was pitted and decayed, half-covered with grass and weeds, precarious to navigate and difficult to shovel.

Weeds grew in the steps’ crevices and cracks, and over the sides, where our lawnmower wouldn’t reach and we were too lazy to cut by hand. Every spring, when the snow melted, another chunk of steps was gone.

When visitors went home at night, we would watch anxiously until they were safely out in the street. Friends who were particularly unsteady on their feet we would direct away from the stairs, down the grassy slope.

Only one person seemed to like those crumbly concrete stairs.

The kid who lives across the street from us – the only child on our short block – is a genius at entertaining himself. He can spend hours pedaling one of his many vehicles up and down the dead end, his eyes focused on some imagined vision, his lips silently narrating some.. whatever. Add puddles to the pavement or introduce a new bump, and he’ll explore and redefine the altered landscape all afternoon. When he’s not pedaling back and forth, our neighbor will sometimes sit on our steps with his buddy, their heads bent towards each other, quietly discussing…something.

At least, he used to do that.

When the contractors arrived with their jackhammer and their sledge hammer, and started breaking the old steps apart and tossing the pieces into the back of their truck, our young neighbor watched quietly. I thought he was just fascinated by the process, as kids will be. And as I was. I thought he was simply impressed, as I was, that something as seemingly solid as concrete could be so easily reduced to rubble.

The old steps disappeared into the back of the truck, along with the hammered-apart pieces of the old path. Out of the back of another truck came the three granite slabs and the pile of bricks that would become our new steps and smooth path.

I’m starting to think about what to plant at the sides of the granite steps and on the border of the brick path. I’m looking forward to easier shoveling this winter, and less worrisome farewells the next time friends come over.

Our next-door neighbors have told us they like it, and so have the couple across the street. I haven’t seen or heard from their son. But today, his mom, after saying the steps look good, told me he was disappointed.

“But what about our game?” he’d asked her.

“You can still play on the new steps,” she told him.

“But the old steps had certain … cracks,” he said.

His mom laughed as she told the story, but I felt a little bad. And now I can’t help but wonder about the invisible world I destroyed.

 Where the Sidewalk Ends

by Shel Silverstein

 

There is a place where the sidewalk ends
And before the street begins,
And there the grass grows soft and white,
And there the sun burns crimson bright,
And there the moon-bird rests from his flight
To cool in the peppermint wind.

Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
And the dark street winds and bends.
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And watch where the chalk-white arrows go
To the place where the sidewalk ends.

Yes we’ll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And we’ll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
For the children, they mark, and the children, they know
The place where the sidewalk ends.

Evacuees

July 7, 2012

For a while, it looked like we might have to delay this summer’s visit to Colorado Springs. The Waldo Canyon fire started spreading towards the city about a week before we were scheduled to arrive. Our family here was forced to evacuate to the home of friends on the other side of town. But the fire was receding and the evacuees back home in time. When we got in, the fire was about 50% contained, and still very much on people’s minds.

The smell of smoke came and went, depending on the direction of the wind. The haze that hung over the mountain may have been smoke from the local fires, or it may have blown south from Wyoming.

One day we watched new plume rise from the center of a green patch high in the hills. S kept watching it. J said that after seeing flames rising from the mountains, one plume of smoke didn’t concern him. Plumes like that had been rising here and there for days.

He said he’d felt calm throughout the ordeal, but after they had returned home and finished a lunch of scrambled eggs, he was suddenly jittery. Not physically shaking. More like psychological jitters, he said. And when he was driving around town and turned on the jazz CDs he likes to listen to when he’s alone in the car, he found himself turning them right off again. Too much noise.

After she came home, S looked around her home, where everything was safe, exactly as she’d left it. She had taken a Buddha that has been in the family a long time, and the little stuffed squirrel she has had since she was little. It’s all just stuff, she said. But if she had to do it again, she would take her grandmother’s drawing of a horse.

Meanwhile, the fires kept burning. The day we arrived, more than a thousand firefighters were still engaged. Every morning and evening, when they changed shifts, grateful neighbors stood at designated intersections cheering and waving signs. You could still see some of the signs when you drove by, taped to trees and fences. “God Bless the Fire Fighters.” “We Love The Fire Fighters.” “Fire Fighters Are Super Heroes.”

One night, the friends who hosted our family during their evacuation came to dinner. It had been in the 90s most of the day, but by evening it was cool enough to sit outside. We ate kabobs and corn on the cob, appreciating each hint of breeze. As we were finishing up, we started feeling the slightest suggestion of rain drops. No one moved from their chairs. After a few minutes it stopped. It hadn’t even been enough to register as a trace on a weather report.

Skyline

September 7, 2011

You could see the New York City skyline from the house in Montclair, NJ, where I grew up. Strung across the horizon, a shadowy gray line of type by day and a sparkly necklace at night, it told you which way was east, stabilizing your internal compass. Like Jerusalem or Mecca, it was also a spiritual anchor – where my father went to work every day, where anything worth reading was published, where the museums and theaters and restaurants and concert halls that really mattered were located, where the Yankees played and the TV signals originated.

When I was in high school in the early 1970s, I got nervous about nuclear holocaust. New York City seemed liked the likeliest target, and the thought of how close we lived kept me up at night. One night, I dreamt about the proximity.

New York is so close, my dream-self thought, the image of the skyline stretched across my dreamscape, that I can see every building from my window.

It’s so close, I thought, the visual zooming in like Google Street View, that I can see every window.

It’s so close… I realized, as the visual zoomed in once again, incredibly, to Times Square. In those strictly analog days, the only animated ad in Times Square was the smoker who blew rings made from steam. In my dream, every billboard was a TV screen showing a different, full-color movie. The City wasn’t just close, my dream was telling me. It was the place where anything was possible.

When the city blacked out in 1977, we saw the skyline turn off. First it was there it then it wasn’t, as if someone had simply flipped the light switch.

When the World Trade Center went up, I didn’t like it. The towers were too big. Too rectangular. Too far south. They skewed the scale of the entire skyline and threw off the composition, drawing the eye to the left, away from the Empire State and the Chrysler buildings, where the viewer’s attention belonged.

Eventually, I got used to the towers. When we drove down from Vermont with our kids in the early 1990s, Sam would catch sight of the skyline and shout, “I see the Two Twins!” His older cousins who are twins lived in Montclair. The “Two Twins” seemed a suitable monument.

My parents died in 1994 and 1999. By September, 2001, another family was living in our childhood home. I don’t know whether anyone was there at 9 am that Tuesday. If they had been, they would have had a clear view of the devastation.

I was at my desk in Vermont, writing a picture book tentatively entitled One With the Wind, an idealistic little story about what a small world we live in, and how something as seemingly insignificant as a sneeze can have a ripple effect that’s felt two continents away.

David called from his office and said I might want to turn on the TV. What I remember him saying is, “The whole world seems to be on fire.” As I stood watching the buildings collapse, one of my first thoughts was, “At least Mommy didn’t have to see this.”

After college, I lived in Los Angeles, where west was the Pacific and east was the San Gabriels, when you could see them. When we moved to Vermont, east was the Green Mountains and west was Lake Champlain. Now east is Narragansett Bay. It’s been a long time since I relied on the New York City skyline to let me know where  I am.

But the memory of New York as the shining city out the window — of living so close to, but not in, something so important — still anchors me.

I don’t get back to Montclair much these days. My visits have been infrequent enough so I’m still startled by the way two sets of new owners have altered the family house, and by the lack of World Trade Center on the skyline. I stare at the house, trying to put it back to the way it’s supposed to look. I stare at the space where the towers should be, trying to put them back.

It’s a strange feeling, and by now sadly familiar, this sense of something you love being so close and so beyond reach.

Opening the river

August 11, 2011

Big doings in Pawtuxet Village. They’re taking down the dam above the falls, where thePawtuxetRiverflows into the harbor, and from there toNarragansett Bay. The first dam was wooden, built in the 1700s. The current, concrete dam has been in place since the 1920s. Restoring the river to its pre-Colonial condition will allow herring and other fish to swim upriver and spawn. Better sex for smallish fish will mean better eating for bigger fish and birds.

I’ve been hearing that same story again and again this week – parents explaining it to their children, grown children explaining it to their elderly parents, neighbor explaining it to neighbor, as we all stand on the bridge watching the work going on below. Besides making a good story and providing a nice science lesson, the dam-removal project turns out to be a great spectator sport.

Three men wearing hard hats, safety vests, surfer bathing suits, and water shoes stroll across the dam like high-wire walkers, wade through the water, and sometimes swim as they move orange booms around, attach enormous chains to two-ton sandbags, or jimmy blue steal plates into position. A backhoe rolls like a tank through the water, up rocks and over rubble, tugs and lifts and lowers equipment into place, or scoops debris from the river bottom. When the gigantic pneumatic drill is attached to the arm, it drills into the concrete, breaking it up like a dentist’s drill shattering a rotten molar.

And all the while the river flows around the construction site, glassy-smooth above the dam, and white-water rippling below it. It makes a lovely sound. I’ve stood on this same bridge lots of times before. But until now I never realized how much the contours of the river – the amount of rock exposed, the speed of the rapids – changes with the tide.

The spectators chat, point, take pictures, line up to buy cones at the ice cream shop conveniently located beside the bridge. The atmosphere is festive, friendly, interested. Just about everyone seems to approve of the project. If it’s good for the fish, it’s fine with them.

Who knew you could generate so much excitement just by letting the river flow?

While the World Wasn’t Ending

May 21, 2011

While the world wasn’t ending today, I took my camera for a walk around the garden. Walking with a camera in my hands makes me slow down and pay attention.

Here in Rhode Island, it’s rained almost every day since the beginning of May. While I’ve been staying dry inside, my garden has been growing more and more lush.

The maple tree has produced more helicopter seeds than I can ever remember. They’re everywhere. On the grass, in the garden, and on coral bell and hosta leaves.

Nothing is more satisfying than planting and caring for a perennial and seeing your efforts pay off the next year. We put in an old fashioned bleeding heart last year, and this year it came back bigger and stronger and dripping with flowers.

Our old neighbor was a master gardener. When she moved away and our new neighbors rebuilt their porch, we were the lucky recipients of a mature rhododendron growing where the new steps would go. The builder dug up the bush, wrapped its root ball in burlap, and brought it over to our house. We planted it without really remembering what sort of flowers it had. Turns out they’re pink with pretty black spots, like the sort of thing you might have seen on a hat at the royal wedding.

You can’t really appreciate an iris until you see it up close. So close it no longer looks like a flower. How can pollinators resist?

Every year I think about how much I hate the spirea beside the front steps. It’s messy and sprawling, and it’s taking up prime real estate — the sunny spot by the front door, the first plant visitors see when they come to our house. And then mid-May comes around, delicate white flowers cover the spirea, and I forget all my florocidal intentions.

The ferns are another problem. There are just so many of them. When they die off in the fall, they’re messy and ugly. And yet, how can I resist their primeval luxuriance?

I’m glad the rain finally ended. And I’m very glad the world didn’t.

Swans and flowers

April 29, 2011

On this next-to-last day before May, between putting away my day’s writing and preparing dinner, I took a walk around the neighborhood. It was so warm and sunny — the first day that has really felt like spring. At Stillhouse Cove, the swans were minding their nest. (They do this in pairs. The other swan is close by, though you can’t see him (?) in the picture.)


Down the street, the apple blossoms were in their full, polka-dotted petticoat glory. Apple blossoms always remind me of May at Hampshire College.

The magnolias were a bit past their prime, over-ripe and slightly battered from this week’s heavy rains. But pretty nonetheless.

Before their leaves open, maple trees have flowers, too.

In our yard, the lavender, which has been dormant and grey through the winter, is getting new leaves.

The oregano has come back to life.

The mint has returned, though not where it was last year.

In the backyard, the ferns are uncurling. By June they’ll be huge.

The hosta are also uncurling. I think I prefer them at this Georgia O’Keefe, Imogen Cunningham stage than when they’re fully open.

The bee balm has barely begun. When when you rub against it, you can smell the bergamot. Like Earl Grey tea.

The rhododendron we put in last year is covered with promising buds.

The daffodils are basically over, and those that aren’t got battered pretty badly by the rain. On the other hand, if they were in better shape, I wouldn’t have the heart to bring them inside.

How’s your spring coming along?