Ephemera

PEI + bockle 2008 059

Ephemera

‘The day I was born, I took my first step on the path to death.’ Thus spoke Francisco de Quevedo, the Spanish poet born in 1580, died in 1645. “Am I going to die, Father?” “We’re all going to die, Patrick. We just don’t know how, where, or when.” This from the Sharpe’s Rifles Series. I can’t remember which show, but I remember the scene.

Ephemera / ephemeral: butterflies on a rock, on a flower, in a summer garden, blown away in a puff of wind. And that’s what we all are. “For whether we last the night, or no, / I’m sure is only touch and go.” Dylan Thomas: Under Milkwood. Or under Idlewood, Island View, as I like to rewrite it.

“Mais où sont les neiges d’antan?” / “Where are lost year’s snows?” François Villon.  “No hay pájaros en los nidos de antaño”“There are no birds in last year’s nests.” Miguel de Cervantes.

One of my friends, twenty-five years younger than me, wrote to me today speaking of how fragile he felt. Another friend wrote me last week, mid-forties, going into another round of cancer. How long do we have? How do we face our individual end? How do we pass through that door that opens for us, and each one of us alone? I have no answers. I remember pushing my father in a wheelchair around the cancer ward. I remember sitting with my mother, needles inserted in her arm, her arm a sunset of bruises.

Where do we go? What will become of us? What will we do when the dandelion clock runs down and that last puff of wind bows us into eternity? Horas non numero nisi serenas / I count only the happy hours. These words come from the old Roman sundial. I first read them in a children’s book: The Puppy Who Lost his Wag. Does anyone remember that book? Or was it just an ephemeral publication, lost in the tides of time? Villon, Cervantes, and anonymous author … pobres poetas de hoy: polvo seco de tesis doctoraltoday’s poor poets: dry dust of a doctoral thesis. (José María Valverde, a very good friend).

Et ego in Arcadia vixi / and I in Arcadia have lived. It is, and has been, a wonderful life. I feel the sands of time trickling though my fingers. I feel the waters running dry in Antonio Machado’s  clepsidra / his water clock. And I am not afraid. I rejoice in who I am and what I have been. My puppy dog life has regained its wag and the sun shines on my sundial.

 

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Reyes

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Reyes

The Spanish Christmas comes on the Twelfth Day after our traditional Christmas: January 6, today. 32 years ago, we spent Reyes in Madrid. We arrived in time to see the Christmas Parade and what a sight that was, with the three Wise Men, los reyes magos, riding on their camels at the end of the parade. It had just snowed and the city, streets and squares, shone white.

It’s funny what we remember and how we remember it. “Mira, mira, mira!” “Look, look, look!” Then, in the distance, descending from the Puerta de Alacalá, the Three Wise Men. Behind us, a little boy screamed at his mother. “Don’t you want to see los tres reyes magos?” she asked him. “No,” he yelled. “I don’t believe in the three wise men. I want to go home and watch soccer on the telly!”

I wore a white sweater that evening. When I got back to the hotel, I discovered that every inch of sweater that had emerged from beneath my coat was now grey. Even the air was filthy and pollution lay in ambush everywhere. “Every time I cough, I get a mining souvenir,” Max Boyce used to sing. Well, after a couple of days in Madrid, I too was coughing up souvenirs, but they didn’t come from coal dust underground. They came from the very air I was breathing out in the city streets.

Later that week, we took the train out to the Casa del Campo to see those same three camels in the zoo. In the distance, the Guadarrama stood out clearly against the sky. The zoo welcomed us and we enjoyed breathing in the fresh air and seeing the animals in the wide open spaces behind the invisible bars that allowed us to view them in a more natural habitat.

Christmas / Reyes: a magic time for remembering things that seem to have vanished, yet that sneak up on you and shake you awake when you least expect it.

 

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Butterflies

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Butterflies

Here today and gone tomorrow. Ephemeral. Like all of us ‘poor creatures, born to die’ (as Dylan Thomas once wrote in Under Milkwood). It seems strange to look back on last summer’s photos and to remember that yes, they were here, those butterflies. Outside the window. Perching on the flowers. Showing their varied colors. Alive. Vibrant. Raising and lowering their wings.

Once upon a time, a long time ago, when I wore a grey suit and lived in a concrete, four-walled cell that they called an office, I was asked if I would edit a new journal for one of the institutions with which I was involved. ‘Sure,’ I said. ‘That would be great.’ ‘We’ll need you to submit a title and a theme,’ they said. ‘Sure,’ I said. ‘Of course I will.’

I thought about many things: titles, themes, topics, writers … Then I thought about other journals with which I had been involved in various capacities. Then I considered walking in the footsteps of the Journal of Higher Education with all of its cutting-edge articles and high-powered inspiration. I breathed a sigh of frustration, then of relief. ‘Got it,’ I said, and the Journal of Lower Expectations was born.

Alas, it was a butterfly that never spread its wings. ‘Your services will not be needed,’ came the curt reply when I submitted the title.

Think about it: a couple of years back, there were no bees in the garden: CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder). Last year, there were no birds. The feeders stood empty, and bird flu was the cry on everyone’s lips and the plague on every bird’s beak. Ephemeral. Butterflies on a rock. Australia burns and people are rescued from the beaches where they have taken refuge in the sea. Everyone, everywhere, now needs to live with lower expectations.

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Butterflies and birds and bees: will they be back next summer? Who knows? I certainly don’t. But then, I am a true agnostic. I have no scientific background worth speaking of and neither ax no knife to grind on this topic. I genuinely do not know where we are heading. But I believe least those who protest most, especially when they bluster and bluff and try to pull the cocoon of disbelief over my eyes by shouting loudly their point of view. I have eyes. I can see, even if there are no butterflies, birds, or bees to be seen. Alas: I can still see and suffer their absence.

Please
will ye no come back again?”
Poor kangaroos, kookaburras, koalas,
wallabies and platypus ducks.

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We will miss you so much if you any of you,
let alone all of you,
along with the butterflies, birds, and bees,
go AWOL.

Let it snow ….

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Let it snow …

A New Year, a new snowblower, and the same beautiful handy-person. Luckily I can cook, so when the hard work is done, that handy-person can sit down to hot tea and buttered crumpets. Oh the joys of retirement. Some never retire, though, and a handy-person’s work is never done. Mind you, cooking, for me, is a joy, not a chore, so I don’t ever think of it as ‘work’, that nasty, old-fashioned Anglo-Saxon four-letter word. In fact, come to think of it, teaching and research were joys, never chores. As a result, I have never done a day’s work in my life. Nor did I ever want to.

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And that’s what I wish you all for the New Year: brave blossoms that stand out against a snowy background, joys that make each day a pleasure and never a grind, happiness that drowns out the daily sorrows of this Vale of Tears through which we are passing, and a clock without hands, so that you never have to count the hours as the days tick slowly by.

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May each morning fill you with joy, happiness, and a sense of adventure. And may the evening sky fill you with peace and contentment for a day well lived.

Going, going …

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Going, going …

… and soon they’ll all be gone, save for the lucky ones that Clare gathers and sticks in pots to winter over in the house-warmth. Over the coming months, if you visit us, you’ll find these flowers in corners, on tables, in places that are touched by the low winter sun. Clare keeps lots of geraniums and they do winter over very well. She makes a selection of colors and then places them in sunlit spots. They bring color and light to the darkest days and help keep winter at bay. They are also great to photograph against snows and crows, and I often use their window reflections in my indoor photography.

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Here are some red and white geraniums getting their last touch of fall sunshine as they cling to the back porch.

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This little group await their fall prune. Clare will trim them down and then bring them in. They will be slightly dormant for a while and then start to flourish once again. By the time next spring comes round, they will be ready for their outdoor adventures, a day at a time, back in overnight, and nursed and nurtured until they are ready for their full summer blossom.

It’s Thanksgiving this weekend, so a Happy Thanksgiving to all, and may you all have flowers to brighten your life and bring you some beauty and peace.

 

 

So sad

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So Sad

It’s so sad to see the flowers passing. They lose their color, dry up, fade. Seed pods rattle. Squirrels carry away the sunflower heads. Birds migrate. Speaking of birds, we have not seen many this year. Crows, oh yes. We have been invaded by crows. And by Blue Jays. They nest in a neighbor’s yard and have been irregular visitors. While the crows are here every day, the blue jays come sweeping in, four and five at a time, shrieking loudly.

The woodpeckers have been regular visitors, downy and hairy. Not the Greater Pileated though. I have only seen one, very small, later this summer. The chickadees have been regulars, but we have seen very few sparrows and only a couple of mourning doves. No Eastern Phoebes, a few juncos, no Grosbeaks of any kind, Evening, Rose-breasted, or Pine. And scarcely a sign of swallows, martins, night jars, cat birds, cow birds … so many friends missing and passed on. Even the yellow-bellied sapsuckers seem to have neglected us. We had robins in earlier, but just passing through, an occasional American Goldfinch … very few hawks, no starlings … an occasional nuthatch …

I can remember the washing line with sixty to seventy mourning doves hoo-hoo-hooing away. This year: two. So, something is happening. Whatever it is, I don’t like it. Where have all the birds gone? 

A couple of years back. we hardly saw a bee. This year we had bees, and hummingbirds. We also had some wonderful butterflies, the like of which I haven’t seen before. Here’s one that Clare caught, sunbathing. Rear-view, it looks quite frightening. Great orange eyes. Colored fangs. Wonderful. I want our world to heal. I want to see these wonderful creatures returning to visit us. I live in hopes to see them … but, who knows? Have we passed the turning point already? Who knows?