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Clothing Our Spirits in Feathers and Ashes

Vogue Cover, Red Rose, August 1956 by Norman Parkinson

Vogue Cover, Red Rose, August 1956 by Norman Parkinson

When I was ten, I decided it was time to show that I was growing up by wearing an elegant, lovely outfit to school. My mother and I went to the local department store and bought a stylish pantsuit. The next day, my teacher promptly banished me from school to go home and put on a proper dress. Apparently, my teacher thought that my powder blue pantsuit would cause a social and cultural revolution among the other students. She had to stop my polyester call to arms!

At that moment, I became a tiny feminist keenly aware of the power of clothes. If you don’t believe that our garments have such a power, then wander down to the closest newsstand and check out the new gazillion-or-so-page September issue of Vogue. A lot of trees were sacrificed to enlighten adult women as to what they should wear this fall. Even more telling, consider these senseless clothing taboos and maxims I was taught when growing up: Do not wear white before Memorial Day or after Labor Day. Respectable women never dress in red. Real women stumble around on three-inch heels that cause untold strains, falls, fractures, and permanent foot damage. Would so many nonsense rules be made without a purpose? Continue reading →

The Weeping Cherry Tree

Weeping Cherry Tree

Weeping Cherry Tree

Three years ago we bought our house, a 1980s cul-de-sac standard with three-bedrooms and a one-car garage. It’s nothing really to write home about except that it cost a fortune during the housing bubble. It had a sunny southern exposure and hardwood floors, both selling points, as well as a wetlands buffer bordering the backyard. But the front was planted with typical landscape variety shrubs that, to this day, still needs updating.

When we first looked at the house, it was hard not to notice an overgrown tree planted too close to the brick walkway and entrance. The tree’s roots had cracked the driveway, and long, drooping branches dangled onto our heads as we got out of the car. Looped and oddly shaped branches wound their way around the drooping branches; it was the strangest looking tree I’d ever seen. Continue reading →

Suckers

Summer Riverbank by Timothy Sorsdahl

Summer Riverbank by Timothy Sorsdahl

In my garden at noon, it felt as though some cosmic joker held a gigantic magnifying glass between sun and earth. The leaves on the trees hung limp, and flowers faded to crisp brown paper in the concentrated heat. My skin burned as I rescued the laundry before elastic turned to powder and all color was sucked up into the sky.

North India is enduring the longest, hottest summer ever. While the experts debate whether this is proof-positive of global warming or just a run of bad luck, we suffer. Continue reading →

As Crumbs from the Apron

Miscellaneous Plumbing Connections

Miscellaneous Plumbing Connections

It is a Saturday evening at my parents’ when I pour the wine into a jewel-toned glass. I wear a crisp white blouse and designer jeans, my brunette hair at a uniform shoulder length. The clear liquid licks the sides of the glass to a polite level. I splash in just a bit more.

I leave the bottle to chill in the wine fridge. Whites from California occupy a different shelf than those from Italy. I check the labels, and notice they are all from the same region. Sighing, I glance across the granite countertop and glinting custom cabinetry. So typical. As in my childhood, everything is still spotless, perfect, enumerated and categorized according to style. Continue reading →

Beauty’s Revolution in a Rose

Wild Roses by Anna Flores

Wild Roses by Anna Flores

A shoot rises from the wet, fertile-scented earth, crisply green and strong. Soon exuberant pink, in the shape of the sun, bursts from the stalk. The bloom does not live to be admired; it is simply perfect, as are all the flowers, grasses, and ivies that gloriously come forth around it in their mustardy glow and wandering curiosity. And so beauty grows in a field in northern Michigan.

Every summer for four decades, I have vacationed in a cabin across from a field that is home to grass, poison ivy, and dirty golden wildflowers, except for one year only. One August, a single wild rose bloomed all alone in a corner of the field. It was the only patch of florist-bouquet color there and the lone wild rose I could find in the area except for a sister flower on a resort island ten miles away. That island is renowned for its bountiful, well-mannered gardens, but it is the field’s single wild rose that I have remembered all these years. Continue reading →

Song from Childhood

Lightning Fills the Night Sky Near Walton by Joel Sartore

Lightning Fills the Night Sky Near Walton by Joel Sartore

“There’s been a lot of storms lately,” Aunt Ida said at her ninetieth birthday party on the day after high winds ripped across the Iowa landscape. Oak trees stood splintered and torn asunder—witness that even the sturdiest eventually come down. “The best place to be in a storm,” Ida said, “is in the center of God’s love.” Lately, I’ve felt as if I’m in the eye of one of life’s storms. I’ve been dealing with death, one of life’s most brutal storms to face, one that pelts your heart with heavy rains and assaults your mind with ferocious winds.

~~~~~~~~~~

“My mother’s dead,” Robert, a ten-year-old neighbor sobs into the phone at 5:45 a.m., awakening me to an emotional eclipse. Continue reading →

Stepping Away

Sunset Viewed from the Frozen Surface of Walden Pond

At first, I only heard pines sighing in the crisp breeze and snow squeaking underfoot. Birds soared and the sun glinted on the frozen pond. Such peace. The path rounded a corner and a middle-aged couple came toward us, walking resolutely. “Hello,” they said, with neighborly nods, and we smiled and replied as if we knew them. We didn’t, nor they us. So, they couldn’t know that I was ecstatically revisiting snow in my native America after many years on the snowless Indian plains, or that my husband was refreshing memories of the white stuff from a few stray storms that occurred while he attended boarding school in the lower Himalayas. Continue reading →

Do You See Your Face in the Mirror of the Sun?

Crocuses in Spring Snow, Braintree, MA

This time of year always makes me think of the day almost twenty years ago when I was wheeled into a community hospital during a blizzard to give birth. After three days of labor, a delivery, and the amazement that I had brought an entire human being into existence, I emerged into the resurrecting embrace of springtime to go home. As ten-foot piles of snow melted, the roads were finally clear of ice, and the gentle sun sent rays to the slowly warming earth. When I think of that day, I most clearly remember crossing the threshold between the hospital’s boxy, dim interior and the boundless blue of the sky outside. At that instant, I was transformed from my childless, self-focused and contemplative self into one side of a family triangle, a bond between endless generations, and fierce mover on my child’s behalf in the outer world. In all my months of planning everything I needed to care for a newborn, never once did I think of how to prepare for this exquisitely personal and powerful rite of initiation in my own life. Continue reading →

Joyful Noise

Family at Table for Thanksgiving Feast

A decade ago, my mother-in-law Maria’s parents welcomed me, the xeni, the little Amerikanitha, to Greece with open arms and an aromatic kitchen. A bud vase with a single bloom brought cheer to my room. Towels lay folded on an easy chair. A small package awaited me on the bed. I was asked to call them Yiayia and Papou, Greek for Grandmother and Grandfather.

Maria’s parents, Evangelia and Efstratos, wear their history in the wrinkles on their faces, in the strength of their hands, and in the fullness of their laughter. Papou was a butcher for most of his life, and Yiayia helped him run a restaurant from the front of his shop. Hard workers in their small village at the foot of the Taigetos Moutains, their life had not passed easily. Continue reading →

Winter Sighting

Wolf Spirit II by Isaac Bignel

Wolf Spirit II by Isaac Bignel

When my children were babies, my husband and I rented a farmhouse on a mountain. We worked in shifts, dividing our time so that one of us always was home for them. It was a lonely time on the mountain for me. Before the kids were born, I found peace and solace by hiking the forested hillsides and farmland meadows. But once I had children the mountain felt isolating. Continue reading →