Meg Noble Peterson

Author of Madam, Have You Ever Really Been Happy? An Intimate Journey through Africa and Asia

PORTUGAL, AT LAST!

Stepping onto the plane to Portugal on May 5th!

Part 1, Lisbon and Sintra

Ever since I studied the early European explorers in grade school, I have been drawn to Spain and Portugal. I managed to get to Spain during my early days in Europe before I became fascinated with Asia and trekking in the Himalayas, but there has always been a subliminal longing for Portugal that has hung over me all these years. Here was a country about the size of Indiana, which had ruled the waves and sent out explorers in the 15th and 16th centuries long before the New World, as we know it, had been discovered. Portuguese explorers led the way in European overseas exploration. They reached India, established multiple trading posts in Africa and Asia, and settled what would become Brazil. It’s hard to believe that the peaceful little country I wandered around had at one time created one of the most powerful empires in human history.

When Covid finally lifted her heavy veil, my daughter, Martha, and I leapt in. Hooray, we made it! On May 6 we settled into the Dom Sancho Hotel in the center of Lisbon for the first four days of our two-week exploration of Portugal. After that it was Airbnb’s all the way.

How changed travel had become. I felt that I had just emerged from the Middle Ages and there was no going back. Everything, including the search for restaurants, could be done on the phone (I guess the expression is “digitized”). This is something we spent hours doing, since I’m allergic to fish and we had to find places that served interesting alternatives to seafood. All you needed was the $10/day purchase of data, and you were good to go. You could buy tickets to a funicular, tour bus, river trip, or train, and just show the ticket on your phone to enter. As long as you were a technical genius, the world was at your feet. Well, I should say Martha’s, because I just tagged along and let her do the work. How on earth did I circle the globe three times solo those many years ago with only a backpack and a camera…no internet or cell phone?!

This, my first overseas trip in three long years, was one of exploration, discovery, and appreciation. I was immersed in a land of friendly, happy people, who savored their ancient landmarks and thrived on beauty, both natural and creative. An atmosphere of relaxation prevailed. It was palpable! If we misjudged the time of a castle or a palacio opening, we laughed at our mistake and sat on a bench or the grass and watched the sea, talked, and grooved on the gorgeous balmy weather and lush scenery. We did not rush, we set no strict caveats. If we dawdled and missed a tour bus, we explored the town and took the next one. Seldom have I felt so free, so unburdened by schedules, and so at ease.

Imagine emerging from your hotel on the first day, still jet lagged at 10 am, just as most restaurants or cafes are opening for breakfast, and walking onto a magnificent boulevard lined with apartments, many of which were brightly painted or decorated with colorful tiles  (azulejos), a famous specialty of Portugal. Some facades told a story in murals while others specialized in mosaic or neoclassical designs. Our eyes were popping as we walked down the elaborately-tiled sidewalks and roofs, past busy outdoor cafes…yearning for our morning cup of coffee.

(Click on picture to enlarge)

We noticed that the buildings in Lisbon are mostly limited to five floors, each floor with a different style of window, uniformly artistic whether oval, square, rectangular, curved, or tapered. Sometimes the top floor looked like a series of single dormer rooms. The variety was intriguing and the artistry stellar. Beauty reigned. And with the buildings so low, this gave us a chance to walk around town and groove on the sun, clouds, and blue sky.

Lisbon has an elaborate system of walk and don’t walk signs regulating its labyrinth of streets and boulevards, which takes a bit of getting used to. But after a few days we became free spirits like the rest of the populace ignoring the signs when it was safe!

After a sumptuous breakfast (my favorite was a poached egg dish called avocado smash served on nut bread and accompanied by a large latte), we wandered the back streets, and made our way to the Central City. It was amazing to me how many different sizes of tile and designs and colors were used as pavement. Here is just one example.

Thus began four days of our love affair with Lisbon. Naturally, we had to get used to the difference in eating habits in Portugal. It reminded me of Spain. Meals were slow and casual. Never a rush. They were a social experience. A time for conversation and connecting. Breakfast started around 10 am, which was hard for us. The only help for early morning coffee was from Google, whose information was often not up-to-date, one of our only frustrations. We sometimes skipped lunch due to getting immersed in a bus tour or other activity, so that by 6 pm we were desparate for dinner. It didn’t take more than a day to realize that most restaurants didn’t open for dinner until 7 pm, so we’d better grab something at lunchtime (2-3 pm) if we wanted to survive. Each night was a new gustatory adventure and chance to reach out and connect with others, and each day was the unfolding of a new area to explore.

The remainder of our first day was spent roaming the boulevards and side streets, walking along the river, and enjoying the numerous wide staircases leading from one street to another.

 

By 5 o’clock we started to look, with great urgency, for any restaurant open for dinner. We ducked into a small bistro and were greeted by a jolly bartender and an hospitable waitress who sat us down by the front window and proceeded to set the table. How lucky can you get? It seems that they had just finished a big party, which is why they were open for business. The bartender brought two medium-sized bottles of white wine and in perfect English said, “You will like this!” He wasn’t kidding. And here began our romance with Portuguese wine! As Martha put it, “I never used to drink white wine, but this goes down soooo smooth….” We didn’t even ask the price and it was incredibly reasonable. Best fish in years and a special salad for me.

It’s interesting that the wine in Portugal is identified by the region where it’s grown, not its type, such as Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, or Riesling. And each region has its specialty. I’m sure you’ve heard of some of the most famous, Vinho Verde (from the Vinho Verde [Green Wine] region in northern Portugal), and Douro, centered near the Douro River Valley. And when we got to Porto it didn’t take us long to discover where Port wine is from. Nor how powerful it is!

As I’ve mentioned, we could buy tickets at many locations for whatever mode of transportation we desired. Here we are waiting in the center of town for the popular 28 tram to take us on a steep and winding journey to the Alfama district, overlooking the ocean, where we got off to view the Costa de Lisboa, the varied and extensive coast of Lisbon. At any stop along the way we could get off the tram and get back on when the next one came along, thus giving us a chance to explore a variety of interesting neighborhoods. Whenever we got onto any tram, bus, train or taxi we were required to wear a mask and this was strictly enforced.

 

Take a look at some of the glorious views from our walk, beginning in the historical Alfama area.

 

On our wanderings we came upon Largo de Carmo Square with the entrance to Carmen Convent and the famous Archaeological Museum, the gothic ruins of the 14th century Igreja (church) Convento do Carmo. It is a lively square, known for its terraces and full of happy people and historic landmarks. It is also a very important place in Portuguese history where, on April 25, 1974, Arcela Coetano, the replacement for former dictator Antonio de Olveira Salazar, was defeated in a bloodless coup called the Carnation Revolution, which introduced democracy to Portugal. He stepped down after taking refuge in the main Lisbon military police station in the square, and General Spinola took over. After 50 years of Salazar’s rule, a democratic government was finally installed.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After we came out of the ruins we were greeted by lively break dancers in the square.

For me, the highlight of the Lisbon area was Sintra, a World Heritage site with majestic forests and amazing wildlife. On our third morning, we took an Uber from the center of town and in no time arrived in Sintra. We were able to grab an open-air tuk-tuk to take us to the famous Palacio Nacional da Pena, which included an extensive park. The ride, alone, would have made our day! A steep road winding through what seemed like miles of lush forests, deep and dark…a forest primeval right out of Longfellow’s Evangeline. And we were being blown by the wind as we bounced over the rugged road, laughing with our fellow passengers and hanging on for dear life.

How could such a fancy edifice be hidden so deep in the forest? Check out the color and artwork. Hard to believe!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Unfortunately, we stayed too long in the palace so arrived too late to enter the park grounds. But that would come another day. We had to return to Sintra!

We took a leisurely walk down the road, enjoying all the sights we couldn’t see on our bumpy drive up the hill.

Near the middle of town we happened upon the Lawrence’s Hotel, the oldest hotel on the Iberian Peninsula. And there was a charming outdoor restaurant open for dinner. Here we discovered another specialty of Portugal…Sangria, red or white, fashioned by the delightful manager, Carlos, and served by charming Joana. It was not to be believed and fit perfectly with the accompanying Magret de Canard and seafood dishes.

I never knew that a true sangria included not only wine but Cointreau and brandy!

On our final day in Lisbon we concentrated on the beautiful area of Belem, one of Portugal’s most historic districts, filled with monuments and located on the bank of the Tejo Estuary to the west of Lisbon. It’s the location of Lisbon’s shipyards and docks, and it was here that the 16th century explorers set sail and discovered the sea routes to East Africa, Brazil, and India, routes that brought incredible wealth to Portugal.

The Belem Tower and fort was closed but we had a wonderful time lounging around on the grass and people watching.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Belem is also the home of the Pastel de Belem, the original Pastel de Nata custard tart. We stopped in a cafe and bakery known for serving this Portuguese specialty, and waited, patiently, with other curious tourists who longed for a taste of the famous confection. And it was definitely worth the wait! The outer layer was a flakey crust that we had watched being made, and inside was a creamy, but not-too-sweet custard unlike any I’ve ever tasted. Superb! There is a lot of folklore around this delicacy. Seems that only three people in the world are allowed to know the recipe. It’s a fascinating story.

Jeronimo’s Monastery is one of the most prominent examples of the Portuguese Late Gothic Manueline style of architecture in Lisbon. It was classified a UNESCO World Heritage site. We walked all around it, but it was on a Monday, and we didn’t get to see the famous cloisters. Next time.

By late afternoon we had already walked our usual 6-8 miles up and down tiled sidewalks, and finally found a restaurant that was open. As so often happens in these cozy outdoor restaurants, we connected with people from many countries, swapping stories and broadening our horizons. This evening it was a most congenial couple from Germany, Hildegard and Siegfried, and Margaret, a woman from Bend, Oregon. What fun we had getting acquainted! Coincidentally, they were all celebrating their 32nd wedding anniversaries. Margaret’s husband became ill and couldn’t come, so she was seeing Portugal for both of them. What a great way to spend our last evening in Lisbon before leaving for Porto the next morning.

 

In my next post, we visit Porto and Nazare, and then return to Sintra to roam through the spectacular Quinta da Regaleira for our last day.

 

 

 

 

 

WHAT’S NEXT?

I seem to be full of questions these days. My kids say it drives them crazy, but what about me? I’m the perplexed one, the one who doesn’t know what’s around the next corner and wakes up every morning wondering what new catastrophe or maybe even great pleasure is in store for our civilization…what war will be waged, who will be the next population group to face starvation, or who may face justice, finally, for perpetrating a heinous crime. Then there are those who keep chipping away, making things better, getting married, having babies, remaining optimistic about climate change solutions. Just look around. They may be your neighbors. I’m all for them. Get thee behind me, anguish, and go about making a difference, however small it might be. Just look at the amazing things Dr. Paul Farmer did in his short life, if you’re looking for hope. I read Tracey Kidder’s book, Mountains Beyond Mountains, about his work in Haiti twenty years ago and have been following him ever since. So, I guess I know in my heart What’s Next. Gratitude, compassion, acceptance, and, above all, participation. That’s a tall order for the best of us! It’ll sure keep us busy and it beats complaining.

Can you imagine coming home from peaceful, very warm and hospitable Palm Springs, after visiting your youngest son, Robert, and his lovely wife, Gwen, to wake up two days later to this? And just three weeks after you’d gone through the ritual of bringing in the New Year by burning your Christmas tree?

Click on the photos to enlarge.

 

I spent a relaxed and WARM week in Palm Springs, writing, reading, and relaxing during the day and enjoying the hot tub and pool in the evening. It doesn’t get much better than that! Rob and Gwen are going strong with plans for expanding their business in golf range automation, using Rob’s targets, which he installs for night golf throughout the country. Learn more about them HERE. This adds a new, exciting dimension to the sport.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Sunday was a day of exploration in the mountains and a visit to the famous Integratron in Landers, CA. It has an interesting and somewhat controversial story behind it, but I can vouch for the efficacy of the hour-long meditation and Sound Bath that I experienced. Daughter Martha corroborated the restorative quality of sound and music in her work in somatics and how various tonalities can, indeed, affect your body in a healing way. I am grateful for the experience.

Next time, Joshua Tree and a return to the rotating aerial tramway.

Back on Whidbey, I’m taking my usual walk in the woods each day, but have been trying other trails as the weather permits. Here is a relatively new area for me, Deer Lagoon, not far from the beach on Double Bluff. I was there in January as the sun was just setting.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Many of you have had the privilege of seeing the extensive immersive Van Gogh exhibition that is being shown throughout the country. I had the privilege of experiencing it in the warehouse area of Seattle. It is an enormous, very imaginative display. You are not just viewing the paintings, but you are walking among large digital images, interspersed with stories of the artist’s life, accompanied by exceptional music. It cannot replace the intimacy of the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam, Holland, which I visited shortly after it opened, where you get a close view of the original paintings, but you do get a feeling for the depth and breadth of his work and his troubled life, cut short so tragically.

 

 

Wonder of wonders. I am hoping to make a short trip to NYC to check on Broadway as well as relatives and Jersey friends, and enjoy the usual late March or early April snowstorm. But don’t hold your breath. Ask Covid. After that, Martha, her partner, Doug, and I plan to go to Portugal in late spring. Stay tuned and stay safe!

It’s always wonderful to be welcomed back to Washington by Mt. Rainier!

 

WHAT SHALL I DO TODAY?

“What shall I do today?” This was the urgent question my friend, Claudia, told me was her morning mantra during the twelve days she was in voluntary lockdown at her snow-captured home the last week of December. The gods allowed Whidbey Island a glorious Christmas, but couldn’t resist topping it off with something only skiers and snowboarders would relish.

I don’t live alone, and have a joyful cohousing community to make me feel alive, so my isolation was less draconian. But not Claudia’s. She found that she was chatting to herself, as if waiting for the men in the white coats to pay her a visit, and when she finally made it to the Goose Grocer for a quart of milk, she all but grabbed every stranger in sight, like a masked bandit frantically looking to share the spoken word. Then she circled around town and after a couple of days drinking coffee at the nearest bistro, went back home. I’m glad to report that all indicators point to a speedy recovery.

As for me, for the first two days I was in heaven! Back in Jersey, again, grooving on snowdrifts. But when I decided to venture out and visit with a friend a few miles away, who challenged me to rescue him after his car refused to tackle the roads, I realized that my car was a flop on hills as well, and I knew that I had no hope of getting help from Langley’s solitary snowplow. I, too, resigned myself to isolation for the duration.

So, it is with a great deal of awareness and compassion that I view my fellow-citizens. Whether you are suffering from an unspeakable natural disaster or an uptick in the endless Covid catastrophe, you are not alone. Keep your phone charged, plenty of reading material handy, and, finally, take this opportunity to cull through your storage locker or garage full of memorabilia, face what you have postponed for years, and make those hard decisions. Before you know it 2023 will be here.

Which brings me to the next subject. For those of you who read my December 30, 2020 blog post, you know that New Year’s Resolutions have been a longstanding obligation, if not an unpleasant thorn in my side. I can’t let another year go by without tending to them, agonizing about them, and telling them to get off my back and leave me the hell alone. Even after determining never to go near them again, here I am back on the old hamster wheel. Must I join New Year’s Resolutions Anonymous to kick the habit? How can I turn this liability into an asset once and for all, and die in the knowledge that my Karma will not be damaged if I don’t reach perfection? Haven’t I fulfilled my Protestant struggle of living life to the fullest in a resisting medium, knowing that the only way you coast is downhill? Have I forgotten that the year has only 365 days and you can fill them with only so much? Your thoughts and prayers will be gratefully accepted, and any suggestions to help me overcome this bothersome addiction will be seriously considered and wholeheartedly appreciated.

We celebrated Twelfth Night by walking a star made of luminaries, a tradition my daughter, Cary, and her friends have been doing since 1990. This year it was accompanied by a gentle snow. We do a star walk which for me is a walking meditation where you silently pass your fellow participants on your way to the next glowing star point, repeating the walk as many times as you wish. It is a fitting end to the Christmas season that also celebrates the return of the light. At the end we all gather to eat pieces of “bean cake”, which Cary has baked from a family recipe called Hobo Bread. It’s delicious, full of dried fruits and one bean, which some lucky participant will come upon, making him or her the king or queen for the year. Cary got the bean this year!

THOSE WERE THE DAYS, MY FRIENDS….

With all the talk about the commercialization of the Christmas holidays and the laments about being inundated with tinsel and lights from Thanksgiving on, I began to reflect on my own experience over the years, and wondered whether the magic and meaning of Christmas no longer spoke to me. Was the stress of coming up with the perfect gift worth the time and effort, or could I persuade my beloved family members to put a moratorium on this obligation and let me enjoy bringing gifts to them from my travels, whenever the spirit moved me? And give them freely at whatever time of year? Of course, the moratorium did not apply to the great grandchildren. After all, I’m not Ebenezer Scrooge!

I remember spending most of the last ten years in Nepal during this time of year, and there were some charming children’s Christmas pageants in Boudhanath, near Kathmandu, and a few decorated trees at the guest houses, but it was subtle and not overwhelming. One year, at the Shechen Guest House next to the temple, where we were staying, a guest put up a line across the main lawn and hung stockings for all the children of the employees. It caused a great deal of excitement as well as some hearty laughs when one of the monks mistook it for a clothesline and started hanging up his wet socks.

Santa, Buddha and the angels

Christmas took its place along with other religious celebrations and there was a warm feeling of fellowship that filled me with nostalgia. Now, after two years of relative isolation, and a move to a co-housing community here in Langley, I can see that Christmas has no obligations. If you feel like wrapping up a piece of cake or a silly hat, and giving it to your neighbor, you do it. If not, you enjoy the voluntary brand of each individual’s generosity. It is charming and it is spontaneous. I’ve finally been able to weed out and laugh at the commercialism without becoming a part of it, and to retrieve the old-fashioned spirit that brought me joy for so many years. I wish this for all of you.

There are not many photos on this posting, but how many pictures of rain can you take? Instead, I want to share with you a chapter from my new book, I Love You To Death, But…. yet to be published. It seems especially relevant to our society at this time.

GIVE ‘EM WHAT THEY WANT

I’m ashamed to say that I always gave my children too much for Christmas. My rationalization: as a child I got almost nothing. Well, one, maybe two presents at most. Christmas was a religious celebration at our home. It was wonderful, heartwarming, and somewhat dull…except for all the wonderful cakes, cookies, and fruit baskets the parishioners showered on my father, a Methodist minister. And the traditional midnight candle service. I finally got to stay up past nine!

One year our big present was the LP (that’s old-speak for long playing record) version of Peter and the Wolf. My mother was sure the surprise would be revealed, since my father whistled Peter’s theme interminably. Not a problem. We were none the wiser and it was, indeed, a splendid gift. But we were three girls, and one record and a wood burning set just didn’t do it, especially when we compared our gifts to those of our friends. Oh, yes, Aunt Bea relieved the monotony by sending a pair of frilly panties to each of us, but that, too, became all too predictable. Still, I never complained. And we did have fun planning an afternoon Christmas concert for the family. I played the violin while my two sisters took turns accompanying me on the piano. And then we wowed everyone by sitting together on the bench and playing a three-part piano arrangement of the E Flat Minuet from Mozart’s Symphony #39. The scene was right out of a middle-European salon a la Haydn. At the end we all sang, “Oh, Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel,” while Grandpa slept and Grandma sang lustily in her calliope voice.

I wanted my children to have a little more excitement, but I overdid it. Every single thing they’d needed all year long arrived under the tree. Clothes, toys, educational games, school supplies, you-name-it-I-bought-it. I spent hours in the old wine cellar in the basement every evening for weeks, wrapping and labeling and looking for places to hide the gifts. I tried to make things equal. If one child seemed to have more, I raced out and bought something else to even things out. It was ridiculous and it was exhausting.

But that was just the beginning! Imagine the difficulty of transporting this raft of presents from the basement to the center hall, where the tree stood in all its glory…and doing this quietly so eager children, supposedly sleeping, would not discover the largesse until morning. Once again, the eldest child, who never really bought into the Santa Claus story, took it upon herself to arise very early and stand guard at the upstairs landing to keep the younger ones at bay until the parents, bug-eyed with fatigue, came lumbering down in search of coffee. Then the fun began, if you can call chaos fun. In less than an hour the work of months lay at my feet.

All this changed in 1970 when I read that all you ever need to give to a child for Christmas is the one thing he or she has been asking for, silly as you might think it is. A Barbie doll? No way. I hated everything Barbie stood for! But if that’s what Martha wanted, and probably all she wanted, give it to her.

NOW YOU SEE IT, NOW YOU DON’T….

TO MASK OR NOT TO MASK….
HERE TODAY, GONE TOMORROW….
EASY COME, EASY GO….

Do you ever feel as if you’re not right here when you’re here…or maybe it’s because you’re actually not here, but there? Are you up one minute and before you know it, down the next? Do you ever think that you’d better change your vitamin supplements because they may be causing confusion within your body politic? Or stop drinking that cheap wine, because with global warming going all-out, a good vintage might calm the soul, or at least the nerves? And what are you saving your money for, anyway? Profound questions bombard us with every passing day, which helps us in our cultivation of the art of procrastination and ennui. One cannot survive without the other. Why bother?

What a summer! We went into it thinking that we’d licked Covid. We danced in the streets, went to restaurants, enjoyed plays at WICA (Whidbey Island Center for the Arts) and the Outcast Theater, shopped like the “good old days,” and went just about anywhere so long as we were vaccinated. Then, almost before we’d gotten used to our newfound freedom, the Lockdown Monster returned. Covid cases rose as tourists flooded onto Whidbey Island, the Delta Variant started rolling in at the same time, and we are now experiencing the “Return of the Mask” in spades. But we’re getting wiser. Many more people are seeing the results of anti-vaxxing propaganda and are realizing the need to be vaccinated. Yes, there is hope…tenuous, but on the horizon.

I might add that my friends in Asia, especially India and Nepal, are scratching their heads wondering what is wrong with “you Americans,” who have the vaccine and refuse to be vaccinated, while they would give anything to get it. Does make you wonder, doesn’t it?

If it weren’t for the few redemptive and optimistic segments at the end of the PBS News Hour, and my compulsive need to know what’s happening in the world, I might decide, as so many of my friends have, to eschew the news entirely. International as well as what’s happening right here in the USA. It’s anything but uplifting, and the extent of suffering worldwide is appalling. So, we buckle down, pick how and where we want to make a difference, and do the best we can. We don’t know whether praying for the well-being of all sentient beings is helping, but we do it, anyway, and we make sure not to neglect the needs in our own backyard. And we try to stay positive. Any suggestions?

Way back in July I took off for my first trip to the East Coast in two years. Now what would possess me to do that? You guessed it…a wedding. My grandson, Adam Bixler, and his fiancé, Allie Francis, were getting married after having postponed the nuptials for a year. That’s a century when you’re young. Although they live in a lovely, recently purchased, home in Boonton, NJ, they decided to celebrate in the woods of Pennsylvania, and housed the family by a peaceful lake in two exquisite homes belonging to friends.

What a glorious setting! It was worth the trip, ‘though I wasn’t so sure as we were winding around country roads in Pennsylvania at 1:30 AM. (Hey, anything counts as an adventure these days!) But once we recovered from the trip, it was heartwarming to see the entire family gathered for a splendid celebration! And guess what? After more than a year I got to go swimming in a lake. What a treat!

 

 

We had two big dinners, one before and the other after the wedding. That’s when we cut loose and danced like crazy. But some of us had to retire to the outdoor balcony to avoid losing our hearing. The higher the decibels the better the dancing…they say. Even the great grandkids joined in.

Just before the celebration began, the guests of honor and close family walked into the main hall two-by-two, and after being announced, did a short dance they had contrived together as a greeting. I found this fun and quite charming. I was also glad I didn’t fall over while attempting to project my idea of a pirouette.

 

The day after the wedding we had a relaxing family dinner.

 

Then on Monday, we traveled to Allie and Adam’s house and hung out around the pool, and walked around the leafy NJ suburb. What fun!

In September, Adam and Allie went to Greece on their honeymoon and what a beautiful trip it was!

 

 

After the wedding, I spent two days in Maplewood, NJ, visiting my forever friend, Cheryl Galante, and her husband, Steve Gorelick (see their wedding in New Orleans HERE). She has a glorious garden. Here I am taking advantage of the peace and quiet. The next day my friend, James Wilson, with whom I’ve traveled in Asia, came in from New York City, as did Barry Hamilton, a friend since his high school days in Summit, who now runs a children’s theater in NYC. How great was that? Shame on me for getting no pictures. We were too busy talking and testing out some very good Maplewood restaurants.

Next came my first train ride in a century, or so it seemed, as I headed for New Haven on Amtrak, to spend a week with Judy Wyman Kelly, another forever friend dating back to her climbing days in the White Mountains as one if my honorary children. She drove me, first, to my sister, Anne Magill, in Peterborough, N.H., and her daughter, Margaret Magill.

In early evening we headed for the Berkshires to visit Carol Goodman, an old friend from Morristown, NJ, who is a well-known writer under the name of J. Carol Goodman and a painter par excellence specializing in oils and pastels. She now lives in Williamstown, MA. a place that brings back happy memories of childhood visits with my father, to see his alma mater, Williams College.

We decided to find a place to stay between our two stops, and what an adventure that was! Luckily, we stumbled upon West Marlboro, MA, the site of classical music’s most coveted retreat, and stayed at an authentic old-time inn at the edge of the festival. It has been years since I delighted in the steep stairs, communal breakfasts, and old-fashioned allure of one of these unique establishments.

 

After breakfast we wandered a bit to look at the adjacent lake and experience the hospitality of the New England woods. Unlike many summers I’ve spent in this area, the weather was delightfully sunny and cool.

We relaxed in West Hartford with the Wyman-Kelly family on Monday and drove to Joan McDonald’s home in Southbury, CT, the next day. Joan, my niece, and one of my sister, Cary’s, four daughters, took me to Valhalla, NY, for a visit with Cary. It was wonderful all around. I got to see my sister and her husband, Don, and catch up with Joanie as well.

On the wall of her home was a copy of the August 10, 1940, cover of the Saturday Evening Post. Cary had been the model for Douglass Crockwell, one of the famous artists who was known for his covers. It looked. Just like her!

I enjoyed relaxing in Joanie’s lovely garden before dinner. Like all gardens, it is a work in progress.

 

I also thoroughly enjoyed talking with Joanie’s partner, Roy, who drove me back to Hartford that evening. Again, I was remiss in not taking photos of my hosts.

Two days after our return to Whidbey Island, we hosted Scott Bennett, my Godson, and his lovely daughter, Sarah, for several days of exploring Seattle and Whidbey Island. It was the perfect ending of their western trip up the coast of Oregon and Washington. They loved the gorgeous vistas of the Cascade and Olympic mountains and, of course, grooved on Ebey’s Landing, our go-to hike for all first-time visitors to the island.

 

 

Scott is a well-known artist and can be viewed on scottbennettart.com.

We’ve come full circle and have already lived through glorious spring blooming with more of Tom’s spectacular succulents, orchids, and unusual plants and shrubs. I’ve stopped trying to remember what they are. I just enjoy them. So will you!

Tom and I also managed some interesting walks through the Whidbey woods and the cemetery across the road, and enjoyed the changing colors and trails covered with pine needles. You know I can’t resist a few forest shots in every blog!

 

I was amazed at the number of white pine trees we encountered. These are not native to the Northwest and have been dropping their needles in large quantities during this dry spell. When I approached my first pine, unexpectedly, I experienced the same feeling that I had in Marlboro, MA…a kind of peaceful, cozy intimacy, so different from the sturdy firs and cedars I’ve become so used to in recent years.

As I finish writing this, we have just experienced the first onslaught of rain and cold weather that marks the beginning of fall in the Northwest. We had a blissful September, but our thoughts were also with those hit by disastrous storms and fires, much of it due to unsettling climate change.

In conclusion, it’s hard to believe that I could forget my birthday…whether consciously or unconsciously. I’m beginning to believe some of my friends who swear that Covid causes memory loss, whether you get sick or not. But I remembered just in the nick of time! Here are a few pictures of the celebration.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I’m looking forward to a post-COVID large gathering for my 95th birthday! Save the date — June 3, 2023!

THE TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGIN’

In late June when I was in Colorado, I planned to write a blog telling how wonderful it was to be rid of THE MASK for the first time in over a year. And to walk down the street and smile and make small talk. To mingle. And to see how interesting humans were when they unveiled their lower face and you didn’t have to depend on the eyes, alone, for communication. Those sparkling, sober, sad, questioning, sometimes disapproving eyes.

And then I stepped off the plane in Denver into a wall of 104 degree heat. There went the brain. There went the will. There went the energy. For the first four days friends and family were treated to Meg, the Zombie. I felt as if I were swimming upstream in a river of molten lava. Have faith and be patient, they all said. You’re a mile high and it’s hot (no kidding). You have to acclimatize.

“Who me? I’m used to 18,000 ft. in the Himalayas. What’s a paltry 7,000 ft. You’ve got to be kidding.”

But they weren’t. They would simply have to be satisfied with monosyllables and wan smiles until, miraculously, I was reborn. And the irony of it is that the temperature plummeted to 62 on the day I left and I flew into 95 and climbing temperatures in Seattle. And into the next week we were treated to 100 before returning to normal. A little taste of global warming. If only “forewarned is forearmed” were true.

Here are some photos of my visit to my friend Bonnie Phipps and her husband, Bill Moninger, in Boulder. She is not only an autoharpist par excellence but also the designer of this exquisite garden.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Doug and Martha

I enjoyed a lively visit in Arvada with my granddaughter and great grandchildren en route Manitou Springs, where my daughter, Martha, and her partner, Doug Hammond, live. They bought a charming Victorian house on a hill (the whole town is hills!) with a view of Pikes Peak, and are surrounded by woods and greenery and lots of steep walkways. Because of the heat the hiking was curtailed, but there’s always the future. We did take a stroll in the famous Valley of the Gods, as prelude to future walks in the valley and hills of the Rockies. And, BTW, the restaurants are superb in the area. Especially in the cool breezes if evening.

My photographs are greatly limited because of my heated “vegetative” state. The fellowship was wonderful, but I would have preferred having it in the Arctic!

Martha has been creating a terraced garden that the local deer are also enjoying.

 

And here is a short slide show to let you know that Whidbey Island is still blooming and weathering the summer heat.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

I would like to end with a poem that flowed out of me during the darkest days of the pandemic. Humorous with a touch of pathos. I had totally forgotten it, but I think it says what many of us felt as we attempted to circumnavigate the new reality of the past year. Lots of lives were upended but lots of soul-searching also took place. True. It was not all bad. But for many it was the end.

Senior Pandemic Blues

The children are worried. “She seems so disorganized…even more
Than usual,” they say
Then there’s the book, oh, no, it’s no longer relevant. Was it ever
Relevant? Yes, it’s hilarious. I know I’ll finish it after I tweak
The cast of characters.
Don’t talk about dinner, I can’t think about dinner, please
I’ll take a walk in the woods if it would only stop raining. You know I hate
The rain and I need to see that play being streamed from New York.
I miss the theater so much but I don’t mention it. I’d be accused
Of complaining. Nothing is settled. The new phone, so complicated, the camera, health insurance,
It all takes so much time. I will die “on hold’ with Verizon. Let them pay
For my funeral.
NO I’m not depressed. The cedars are beautiful, their feathery leaves dripping
With water, the ferns in their crispness, resisting the 40° weather and
Lifting their fronds to meld with the fog
The interminable fog….
No, I am not complaining.

The computer calls. The New York Times. The Washington Post
I must read them all and oh, the TV and
YouTube have so much I can enjoy…don’t you want me to enjoy
During this dreadful time? Winter is coming, some call these the
Dark days. I used to be free, but my life is now curtailed; I can’t travel, I am beholden
To a mask for my peregrinations. Is this not a cause for worry?
Does my mind ever stop, for meditative bliss is at my
Fingertips. Dinner. Don’t speak to me about dinner, again.
I am lucky. I am not unemployed. I am not homeless. But I am
Not happy, not fulfilled any more. I miss friends, groups, crowds,
Parties. What gives life meaning? Do I still have a reason to exist? I am a hermit.
I can sit all day and sort memorabilia and
I can go mad. Now why don’t I play my violin or finish my book?
Let’s sit on the beach and watch the sun go down;
The beach is deserted. The beach is peaceful. Only lapping water.
The world turns, chaos continues, the sun goes down.
No, I am not complaining.

I’M STILL HERE (with apologies to Stephen Sondheim and Elaine Stritch)

Lest my children start receiving condolence calls and cards from friends who have assumed that such a gap in my blog must surely mean that I have given up the ghost, I hereby announce that as soon as I can muster something more interesting for you to read about than my daily walks in the woods, and the usual philosophical yearnings for a better time, and hope for relief from the inertia that plagues so many of us who miss our buddies and our hugs, I will be back in earnest.

I may slip in a few photos of flowering bushes and plants, assuring you that spring is well on its way despite the cold weather of the past two weeks, logs covered with bright green moss, impish mushrooms on a bed of grass that refuse to believe anyone would step on them, or the blessed sun coming through the cedar trees outside my kitchen window.

Remember, this is not Denver, Palm Springs, or Phoenix. For many months our sun is not an everyday thing and, thus, incredibly precious. You may also notice that we talk about it a lot. And because of our latitude and Daylight Savings Time, it comes early and stays late…when it comes. With all the chaos and suffering going on in the world today, Whidbey Island is where you want to be as spring and summer approach. And since I wrote those last few lines, it is upon us in all its glory!

I decided to start with a few photos from early January, including my Christmas tree in full regalia and our one snowstorm, and bring you up to date with the burgeoning spring foliage. Just imagine gorgeous magnolia and dogwood with a variety of rhododendron in fast pursuit. Who ever said there wasn’t light at the end of the tunnel?

Remember my surprise Christmas tree? Well, it finally got fully trimmed! And stayed with us until its ceremonial burning in January.

There were even bunnies in town for Christmas!

Walks in the woods…from this (snow)

. …to this. I’ve been doing more exploring and finding more places to walk on the island.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

I go mad for mushrooms! They’re everywhere and usually adorned with moss.

 

On Whidbey Island there are bunnies galore and they’ll eat right out of your hand, especially if you have a bunch of carrot greens. But they’re beginning to think they own the place as you can see by a few of my friends.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Cary found these bunnies at the Fairground, just waiting for a handout. Too bad we had nothing. I took this one for my two great grandsons.

I’ve often mentioned the cedar trees here in the Northwest, for they have become my favorites…so complicated in their branch formation and so expressive as they wave their feathery plumes in the air. I could watch them for hours. Here is the tree outside the kitchen window…

And here are others next to my upstairs porch. They’ve become part of my family.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I promised you pictures of Tom’s flowers last year, but they didn’t seem appropriate for December. Now I offer you a few samples, all of which survived the winter. Well, why wouldn’t they? He took them inside every night to warm up! Now they stay outside 24/7, a sure sign of spring!

Click on photo to see slideshow.

 

Gratitude and compassion are also big in our present environment. All you have to do is watch the PBS News Hour to see people hungry and desperate, without homes or jobs. And think about the thousands who have lost loved ones in the past year. My youngest son, Robert, had a close brush with death a month ago when a car careened into him on a California highway at 4 AM, going over 100 mph and being chased by the police. Those close calls make you count your blessings a hundedfold. And in those moments of intense gratitude, most of the old complaints fall away.

In the midst of all our troubles, however, there’s one thing that we can’t let get away from us…our sense of humor. It’s right up there with love and compassion. Supposedly we have all this time to analyze ourselves and examine our faults and make changes, but I have found it heartening to know that some of the faults pinned onto old age, like crabbiness and puttering and forgetfulness, really have nothing to do with that. It’s all because of the pandemic. Isn’t that wonderful? Now let’s see if they go away soon. As you can see, delusion also goes well with humor.

I had all kinds of New Year’s resolutions last December, you may remember, one of which was my attempt to overcome vanity by letting my hair go white. But I was concerned about the chemicals inherent in dye and asked my hairdresser, Anthony, whether he thought it might cause brain damage. “It’s too late for you, Meg,” he answered. If I weren’t a fervent believer in honesty, that would have been the end of him!

Well, my good intentions lasted about three months until a friend asked me what was wrong with vanity. I was mulling that one over, when I tried on the white wig I told you I was buying, as a test run.

Which one do you like better? Please don’t inundate me with negative comments, for although the wig didn’t turn out to be Dolly Partonesque, as I had expected, it sure made a lot of people laugh. And, as you can imagine, it gave me the necessary cold feet to reverse my resolution…at least for the moment. I may reconsider when December rolls around.

A lie, or shall I say a popular bromide that is being spread throughout our land by computer geniuses, who want to salve their consciences about the story they are feeding all of us, and is causing dire consequences in the older population, is that learning each new iteration of technology is good for the aging brain and will keep us alert, on our toes, happy, and satisfied. A feeling of great accomplishment will fill our hearts as we master each minute change in Windows or WordPress, and, unscrambling dropped messages and solving the disappearance of treasured manuscripts and photos will challenge us as never before. It’s either that or ending up in a mental institution spending our days pressing keys and shouting, “Now what did I do? All I did was press ‘open recent’ and the screen went dark!”

We all have friends and acquaintances who extol their virtue by pointing out that they do not have cell phones, emails, or Facebook (I’m with them there), and certainly would not waste their life on the internet. They prefer to be in the 20th century, they say. It was plenty good enough for them, thank you. I listen and, at times, sympathize with their misguided naivete as they strive to keep life simple, but also wonder if they’d feel the same way should they need a heart transplant. Nevertheless, on the other hand, there has to be balance. As the vernacular goes, a computer can be a time suck, but it sure is great if you want to look up a word, google an obscure fact, download the thesaurus, find out who is married to a particular celebrity at the moment, bask in the largesse of YouTube, or just find the latest news. In fact, it can get you to your bank account in a jiffy if you remember your password and know how to x out all the ads and miscellaneous information. And that comes with time. And isn’t patience a virtue? You see, we’ve come full circle.

But moving right along. The discussion among a percentage of Americans as to whether they will take one of the vaccines available to fight Covid-19 has no credibility with me. Just a I supported the vaccines that rid us of such killers as smallpox, polio, and tuberculosis, I feel that we owe it to ourselves and our community to participate in eradicating this scourge. Let me tell you, I was mighty glad to get mine, FINALLY! And getting the vaccine in the initial wave was difficult and time-consuming. It felt, at times, like Black Friday at Best Buy. Pharmacies sent frantic emails instructing you to get your appointment NOW and by the time you jumped through all the technological hoops, there were no appointments left. At the same time, you were calling other sources and sitting on “hold,” listening to someone’s idea of music, repetitive ads, or the news you had already read in the morning. After bonding with your phone for longer than you care to remember, you hopped into the car, attempting to persuade the pharmacy of choice to find a slot for you. It was dog-eat-dog. Friends became competitors, especially if you happened to see one of them in line. How could they get an appointment and not think of you? They could have signed you up at the same time. Well, you say to yourself, inwardly, in a rare moment of sanity, just think of all the intrigue, the anticipation, the excitement you would have missed. Yeah, turmoil is just what you need to help you forget the weather and keep from being lonely. As if you could really be lonely with YouTube, TV, Zoom, and your cell phone to take up hours while you sit waiting for a representative of an understaffed company, whether your cell carrier or your doctor’s office, to answer. And there are numerous shows, plays, operas, lectures, and dance programs offered online at minimum prices. And many of them are superb. But the big difference is that you see them alone. There is nobody next to you to confer with, laugh or cry with. No personal touch, no real communication.

Small things in the past become big deals now….

It’s hard to put our finger on why it’s so difficult to get on an even keel and regain the balance in our life. And haven’t we all been considering traveling again? There’s that postponed wedding to attend, the invitation to spend a week at a summer cottage on the lake with friends, or a long-overdue visit to a sibling or an ailing relative. Traveling is something I’ve done with ease my whole life. I had a routine, and I had several credit cards that racked up frequent flyer miles. I knew what I needed to take, and off I went. Now I don’t even remember where I stashed my suitcase or my essential toiletry bag. It all looks like so much work, and just think of wearing a mask for six hours at a stretch on a plane full of masked bandits. Am I up for that? These are not considerations I would ever have entertained in the past. So along with the change I’ve been yearning for comes an underlying fear of what? You tell me.

And then there’s this unease about the radical adjustment in how we will dress, for most of us have worn the same “outfit” every day for months, at least in the cold Northwest—long underwear, long pants, and a plain sweater under a fleece jacket. Add your layers of rain gear or a down jacket on to that. No makeup (remember, those masks can get mightily smudged) and nothing fancy. Earrings are used once in a while to be sure the holes in your ears don’t grow back together. And, on the plus side, you’ve had a chance to wear out the clothes and shoes you have because who wants to go to a store all masked up and try anything on? Not I. Ah, life has been so simple. Now, all of a sudden, you’re going to be in society, again. You won’t be on Zoom. You’ll be in a room with people. Think of it!

All those activities that you took for granted, including browsing through a shopping mall, doctor’s visits that have been postponed, and dinner parties, are starting up again. Exciting? Yes. Formidable? They can be. Daunting? Only time will tell. Good luck!

For those of you who are into gardening or those who are starting out and finding it incredibly satisfying and important in our world today, I recommend my daughter, Cary’s, videos. Here is her YouTube channel. She runs the garden program for the South Whidbey school district, and this past year has been a most unusual challenge for her. Children are now coming back to school, but when school was closed, families received “starts” of numerous vegetables like lettuce, kale, tomatoes and many more to grow in their home gardens, so the students could continue their education about the earth and its miraculous ways.

An outdoor classroom was built by volunteers so classes can happen safely in rain or shine. Check it out. Remember, however, that growing plants in the Northwest is not the same as on the East Coast. Each area has its special parameters. But you’ll find that out soon enough! Another one of those fun challenges in life.

My final message to you is a poem written by Rumi at the end of his life, which I quoted at every slide show or presentation I made about travel and living life off the beaten track. The poet, Judith Adams, reminded me of it at one of her Friday afternoon poetry discussions. And it is especially applicable to the unsettling time we’ve been going through. I hope it brings a smile to your face and a recognition of what is really important in the crazy, unpredictable, fearful time in which we live…and points out the perks that come with a long life.

Run from what’s comfortable. Forget safety. Live where you fear to live. Destroy your reputation. Be notorious. I have tried prudent planning long enough. From now on I’ll be mad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHAT I DIDN’T DO THIS YEAR AND WHAT I PROBABLY WON’T DO NEXT YEAR

Here is my guide to helpful, productive, and realistic New Year’s Resolutions from someone who has a list second to none and has learned more from her recently incorporated organization, Procrastinate Now, than all the uplifting motivational TED Talks of 2020.

I have kept notes from 1945 to the present and often browse, nostalgically, through my admonitions to be more respectful to my parents and stop teasing my baby sister, who is now 89 years old. I also have jettisoned the ones that encourage me to practice my violin four hours a day in the hopes of replacing Heifetz in the event that he dies. That goes hand-in-hand with my vow to save the world by lining up with Clifton Fadiman’s World Federalism Now, and getting a doctorate in political theory from Harvard.

But that was long ago and none of my setbacks (getting married, having children, knocking myself out to earn a living in music education) have deterred me from resolving that next year will be better. And, truth be told, there have been many wonderful “next years” filled with travel, love, journaling, writing a travel memoir but not the great American novel, and trekking in the Himalayas. Still, there is this feeling that no matter the nobility of my resolutions, I experience a lack of accomplishment, spending too much time on frivolous, unproductive, superficial, everyday activities (cooking, cleaning, organizing the front porch, retrieving lost emails, and fighting with Microsoft Word) that will never change the world in any profound way or get Trump to give me the Medal of Honor, one of my biggest disappointments, and, now and forever, a lost opportunity. I will have to be satisfied with the Autoharp Hall of Fame.

But the past is the past and ever shall be, world without end, Amen (you never get over being a preacher’s kid).

Obviously, I’ve managed to survive the pandemic so far, for which I’m grateful, and also survive the many phone calls from long lost friends who, when they hear my voice say, “Oh, is that you? Uh, how are you? Is everything alright?” Translation: “Are you still alive?”

I started out the year with a bang, removing from my large storage locker my plethora of boxes, old furniture, miscellaneous detritus and old college papers attesting to the fact that I once studied Russian and Constitutional Law, using my youthful brain.

All of this was moved to daughter Cary’s extra cabin, not far from my house, which had heretofore been used as a Buddhist meditation room and library. This was her gracious contribution to her mother’s sanity, and, very definitely, to hers.

Here are my resolutions and what I hope will be helpful suggestions for living in this most unusual time in our history.

Goals I set for 2020 that were not entirely attained:

Resolution 1: Clean up that mess! Sort the old letters, put the pictures in albums, make a Shutterfly album for each child, decide what to do with the art work of five elementary school children, the youngest of whom is now 60, and cull those ancient papers.

  • Did I do it? I leave that up to you….

 
Resolution 2: Walk up and down hill and dale and into the woods for at least 5 miles a day. Use your iPhone to check number of steps and heartbeat. If heartbeat gets too high, come back later in the day—if it doesn’t rain, which it probably will.

  • I cannot tell a lie. I was lucky to get two miles in, because I was still recovering from the unintended broken back in 2019 that inspired Resolution 3.

 
Resolution 3: Try to stay upright when running, to avoid crashing into the fender of a parked car, and breaking your hand and your 5th lumbar vertebra, which you did last year. Lower the possibility of further dramatic episodes that ruin your life and impact negatively on your children.

  • I was doing fine until July 21st when I fell backwards into the garden shed and fractured my left arm at the shoulder. I honestly don’t know what I’ll do for an encore.

 
Resolution 4: Finish the family memoir which you started when you were 80 or so and forgot about when you moved from the lights of Broadway to the fog of Whidbey. Pray once a week for the muse to return.

  • I did make headway. This should be off the list by 2022.

 
Resolution 5: Take all your Master Classes, which were the generous gift of your second daughter, Martha, even the ones about Jamaican cooking, hoping to expand your world and become the Renaissance Woman you have always wanted to be.

  • I’m still not a Renaissance Woman, but that doesn’t deter me. I’m making strides.

 
Now to start over on a more optimistic note with the thought of an exciting New Year and a new America on the horizon, and a new president in the White House, but, unfortunately, a very old and unwelcome virus terrifying the world. I, like so many of you, have been doing a lot of soul-searching, which, if not regulated, can turn into wheel-spinning, with its layers of fear and anxiety. As I see it, this is the challenge: to keep our eyes on what’s really important at this very moment, do our part to make things better no matter how small the deed may seem, and trust that in the long run we, as a nation, will have learned some difficult, but essential lessons.

Goals I set for 2021….Hope springs eternal:

Resolution 1: Study more about poetry, and experiment with various forms, expanding your expertise in doggerel to rap, stream-of-consciousness, and something that will be bad enough to be accepted by The New Yorker.

Resolution 2: Spoiler alert! Publish your family memoir, now in its third iteration, on your website, and hope that your friends on Facebook will give it the accolades that will put it on the NYTimes Best Seller list, even though you are not selling it, but giving it away.

Resolution 3: Return to Nepal with your daughter, Cary, and hope that she is still game for trekking and singing you up the trail with her Buddhist mantras. God bless Tara! And Cary.

Resolution 4: Do not look for another dramatic “break.” One more shattered humerus is unacceptable. Try going in a more productive and enlightened direction. Slowly and carefully and mindfully!

Resolution 5: Make this the year that you jettison some of your major faults, but not all of them, because your children have to have something to talk about. The one that strikes me as an ongoing cross to bear is vanity. And the longer I live on Whidbey Island the more I realize that I stand out as the only prehistoric Valentine without white hair. It’s almost embarrassing, especially since both my daughters are silver-haired. So, to get with the program, I have decided to dispense with the color and see what turns up. Or rather, what shows up. To help me transition, I went online and ordered the cheapest white wig I could find and decided that I would try it for awhile to see if I could adjust. I imagine I will look a little like Dolly Parton with wrinkles, which wouldn’t be half bad. Yes, it’s that kind of wig. Keep tuned and send me your words of encouragement. I’m sure there are more difficult decisions I will be called upon to make before the Grim Reaper comes for me, but giving up a favorite cornerstone of one’s vanity is not to be underestimated.

Resolution 6: Accept the fact that you’re not perfect and neither are your children. Become more non-judgmental and give criticism a rest. And it would help to add a little equanimity into the mix.

I’m looking forward to next December. Not only will I have some answers to my hopeful resolutions, but I may be in the kind of shape where I can add a few push-ups and sit-ups to my list of healthy habits that I believe are so necessary for coping with this crazy, frantic, exciting, and interesting world.

I wish you success with your resolutions and a marvelous 2021 in every way!

$100 FOR A CHRISTMAS TREE? YOU’RE OUT OF YOUR MIND!

“$100 for a Christmas tree? You’re out of your mind!” These were the gentle words I used when my daughter, Martha, told me what she paid for a tree in Manitou Springs, Colorado. And she was so excited about her “bargain.”

“When did you last buy a tree, Mother?” Hmmm.

“Well…not since before I moved here. Say, seven, maybe ten years ago. I’ve been using the small artificial one we bought for Chris when he was in the hospital in 2001.” Oops, I could see where this was going. Not hard to realize that I was way behind the times.

The next day my son, Tom, Nature Boy, presented me with a humongous poinsettia that dwarfed the dining room table, along with a huge fir tree for the bargain price of only $52.00, tax included. “Don’t worry, Mom. You only have to pay half.” He’s always been a stickler for fairness.

Where have I been? What planet am I living on? When will this insane inflation stop? Cool it, Meg, it ain’t gonna.

Tom bought a stand at the thrift store for $3.00 and secured the tree, which reached to the ceiling. It was gorgeous…dense, dark green, fragrant. I sat down in the living room to read my New Yorker, but after a few pages I stopped. The tree held me. It took over. There seemed to be nothing else in the room. And it was completely bare, as if it were still in the woods. Just the tree.

I had retrieved my decorations from storage, but they sat on the deep window sills, unopened. There was no hurry. No children coming, no stockings, no family gathering, no presents under the tree, and not even a white sheet for snow. But I was too taken by the serenity and aloneness of this natural wonder to care.

The next day Tom bought two strings of lights and wrapped them around the lower part of the tree. We needed more, but this would do for today. The lights shone through the needles while outside the fog of Whidbey Island rolled in, and I sat and meditated, letting my whole body relax into the silence.

It is now my fourth day with what has become the unspoken symbol of Christmas, solstice, new beginnings, change, hope. I can see growth and promise emerging from what has, over the past year, been a dreadful disconnection for most of us and a painful loss for many more. This singular meditation for these few days has opened me up and calmed me down.

And filled me with gratitude and love, which I share with you, my dear friends.

May each of you find your own special tree to carry you into the New Year.

THE LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL WAS NOT AN ONCOMING TRAIN!

After four years of chaos, conflict, and confusion, (and I would add contumely for all you lovers of Shakespeare…it’s a perfect fit), it’s wonderful to face what we all hope is a calmer future, despite the spectre of rising cases of Covid-19. We have a chance to repair a shattered government, work together to mend a divided populace, and once more take our place in the family of nations to promote desperately needed climate control and the peaceful solution of major conflicts. Yes, this is a tall order. But we’ve hit bottom, and now it’s time to come together and rebuild.

During these past months I’ve had the same ups and downs experienced by most of you—the lack of socializing, the shutdown of the Arts, the curtailing of many activities, the dependence on Zoom, the deep concern for those who are suffering, and the intermittent feeling of isolation and ennui. It’s during these times that our imagination can be our strongest ally. And it’s a challenge to keep it on the light side, exercising our sense of humor rather than giving in to scenarios of darkness and despair.

With that in mind I have been experimenting with verse and fantasy. I usually write a type of humorous Ogden Nashian verse, but have recently branched out into Rap…a result of enjoying a magnificent performance of the musical, Hamilton, on Disney Plus (well worth joining for a month!)…and blank verse, which is my attempt to turn stream of consciousness into poetry. I have to admit it’s fun, and I urge all of you to try it.

One of my favorite indoor locations for work and contemplation looks out at a deep forest of cedar and pine. Cedar is a tree with very expressive leaves and branches, feathery and light, easily captured by the slightest wind. To my eyes they can quickly morph into any number of animals or people: a nodding sea captain clutching a pipe in his teeth, a dolphin jumping out of the water, two whales facing off with open mouths, a yapping dog with wagging tale and floppy ears. It’s all there in your imagination, ready to be your friend and provide a story. Sounds a bit willy-nilly? So what! Welcome to life in 2020.

Now you’ve gone over the edge, Meg, you say. Ah, but what fun! Here is my latest buddy, who has been with me most of the summer, and is getting ready to hibernate for the winter. Squint your eyes and see what I see…a protective bear watching over me and telling me to get on with my life.

And here is what he means to me….

My protective bear stands between two fir trees,
One robust, the other rail thin
He leans to the right, gently brushing the bark’s deep ridges with one giant paw
While the left arm hangs lightly so as not to disturb the woody stem of the tender one.
Fifteen, twenty feet he looms, sometimes swaying, his cloak of leaves shimmering,
Opening up a small patch of bare chest

Eyes that never stop watching, sometimes laughing at my intensity
Sometimes disapproving and moving his head slightly to the left
Putting an end to further communication
But he is there for me, assuaging loneliness, encouraging tranquility,
Allowing me to believe

A sturdy truncated cedar bole some say, with tangled branches forming
Animal features. No nerves, no arteries, no voice, only the anatomical structure
Of a dying tree.
But they do not see what I see.
It is a fool who sees only what is directly in front of him
He is not fanciful, he does not squint his eyes, he does not imagine,
He does not let in the unknown

My bear is always changing, sometimes deep green with highlights, sometimes pale and forlorn,
Flattened by the wind,
Sometimes pushed back into the forest by unforeseen forces
In an attempt to loosen his grip. But that unshakeable glance gives me courage
He stands composed, peaceful, almost placid.
His message is clear…I am always here, whether you see me or not.
But I will check him in the morning, fearful that he has gone away, left me
For his winter home, discarded his fading green mantle, revealed his cedar trunk
To those who don’t believe in his existence

One night an imperceptible lowering of the eyes occurs as light fades.
They no longer seem bright and piercing.
I feel relaxed. Breathing is easier. No pressure from my vigilant
Companion. I will miss the twinkle, the secrets that connect us,
The promise of fresh ideas,
The endless possibility…
The narrow head remains immobile
I stand up to watch it recede into the darkness

Until I am ready to resume travel, I do my exploring in the woods around Upper Langley and the myriad trails on Whidbey Island. I’m outside, the air is fresh, and I hardly ever meet anyone, so a mask is not necessary. Since rain is too often my companion, I have found myself taking a closer look at the intricate underbrush, the ubiquitous mushrooms, the tangled vines, the ancient trees. And, of course, in this kind of unpredictable weather, there are always beautiful skies and inspiring sunsets. Maxwelton Beach is my favorite evening spot. Here are a few pictures of my wanderings.

Forest walks…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Maxwelton Beach…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Ebey’s Landing…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Sky…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

One very positive side of these past nine months has been some of the excellent poetry readings and inspirational programs in Langley that are available on Zoom. They help me move out of the “poor me” rut into all the creative possibilities at hand. PBS, YouTube, Prime, and Netflix have probably never been so busy. There have also been numerous plays from TDF and other NYC venues and many operas available from the Met repertory. A play that I especially liked, On Becoming Shakespeare, starring the terrific English actor, Simon Callow, comes all the way from London and is free. What could be better?

I leave you some photos of the morning view from my upstairs window. I keep them handy to cheer me up when the rains come.

 

 

Page 1 of 30

© 2022 Meg Noble Peterson