Friday, January 29, 2016


Between my brother and I, we likely read every book held in our teeny tiny town library. I remember the layout of that building perfectly, and what it smelled like when you entered it.  My mother would sometimes drop us there for a few minutes while she drove down the block to the post office.  I remember the day that we dropped my brother there, older and judged acceptable to leave alone at the library for a few minutes, and I stayed in the car with my mother.  We headed to the post office but never actually mailed her letters that day.  Instead we sat, stunned, in the parking lot while we listened to the breaking news report on the radio about the assassination attempt on President Reagan.  I remember my mother clicking off the radio, once she realized what we were listening to.  We drove back down the street and my mother nervously ran in to find my brother, and get us all back together again, a response to difficult news that I recognize now in myself as a mother.  That library, now no longer the town's library, those books now held in places I have never been inside, holds many such memories and many such pivotal moments of my childhood.

When I was old enough to be left there as well, my brother and I would walk in together, but we typically went our separate ways once inside.  We were often alone in the library, and it was so small that we could call to each other, even when in different rooms.  My brother was a science fiction/fantasy nut and therefore he turned right once past the circulation desk, which was sometimes self serve if the one librarian was busy, or outside smoking, or just generally not there.  His room was a large open adult books room and it held what is now considered young adult literature as well, though I don't think it was called this back then.

I turned left after the circulation desk and walked down the dark hall to the children's room.  There I would search and search for a book I had not yet read, clicking the light on when I entered, a small bedroom sized room filled with books, the back window looking out at a forest which is now a gravel pit.  Eventually over the years, I came to look for books in the larger room where my brother searched, trying my best to like his likes, but never really getting into his genre.  I was a realistic fiction reader and struggled to find the right books for myself after I aged out of the children's room.

When I was in 4th grade, the same year that moments such as the one that day at the post office began to trickle into my awareness about difficult and scary aspects of the world, of people's capacity to do bad things, of the existence of evil, the complications of mental illness, a teacher put a book in my hands that would rock my world.  It was A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle.  I devoured that book and the two next books in the series, connecting with the story and characters, making good use of the story's metaphor for evil, the black thing, and who I was at that moment when I read it, and what I was beginning to grapple with and understand on so many different levels.  I then discovered L'Engle's books she had written about the characters as they got older, and therefore the content was, as my mother worried, of more mature content.  They were tame. Very tame.  But I was reading ahead of my personal maturity.  Those books were held in the larger room, and I began heading right instead of left, walking away from the safety of the children's room and toward the larger, more open space of the adult books, pulled by the idea of new stories, richer stories, and characters I grew to love.  Stories that gave words to my growing awareness of the larger world around me.

At any rate, A Wrinkle in Time makes me think of this library, no longer there, that teacher who placed it in my hands, of finding a book that blended both my own and my brother's interest so we could both read it and play at its story and have deep thoughts about time travel and evil and mind control.  But mostly, I remember the idea of tessering, of time travel described as creating a fold in the time/space continuum, allowing for movement between two points of time that skip over the wrinkle in between.  As explained by kindly old and magical women to a young struggling girl finding her voice and her strength.  And I remember sitting in the back seat of our car with my brother, a piece of paper between us, creating the wrinkle in the paper as we drew two points of time close together, to move from one moment to another.

It's such a good story to me.  And I have been thinking about how this story has moved on to each of my children.  Julia was handed the book by her teacher, also in 4th grade, in the first week of school during a quiet moment when Julia was trying to find her footing in her new class and adjusting to the new school year.  She read some of it, and then borrowed it as an audiobook from our library, and moved without skipping a beat from the first book to Wind in the Door to Swiftly Tilting Planet before I knew she had even finished the first book.  If you talk to her about the books, its all about Meg, the main character, and how she feels about her.

Nicholas read (well, listened as an audiobook) to Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me, a fabulous book inspired by, based on, connected to, its main character's love of A Wrinkle in Time. He loved the story's end, the aspects of mystery, relationships, and unfolding characters in that book.  In efforts to interest him in then reading A Wrinkle in Time, I purchased him Hope Larson's graphic novel version of the book when it was published a few years ago.  He read that, but I never heard much from him about it, more of a Percy Jackson-type fan is he.  But there it sat on his book shelf, next to his graphic novels about Percy Jackson and Lunch Lady and all things graphically good.

And then came Elliott.  Who was looking for a new book to read for his independent reading assignments at home, having just finished Space Dumplins by Craig Thompson.  This boy is a reader, and he wants books with a good story, a bit of humor, preferably some animals, and as much visual content as possible, please.  He is as much a lover of and as influenced by the rise of the graphic novel during their childhoods as Nicholas is, but he is even more of a visual reader.  Nicholas used the graphic novel to launch into reading more and more text heavy books.  Elliott would like it if those authors out there writing the good story using visual information as well as text would get on it and write more.  And do so a little bit faster, please.

He found A Wrinkle in Time on Nicholas' shelf.  And jumped in.

Battie has kindly stepped in and brought a bit more animal to the story to keep Elliott perfectly satisfied.  And though she likes to pretend to be indifferent, I can tell she likes the story too.

Elliott has carried that book with him to many a sibling appointment and happily passed the time.

And I snapped a quick shot of his weekly doodle in his reading log.  When I saw it, I knew that this story had worked its way into Elliott's library of stories as well, just as it has for each of his siblings, and for me as well.  And now this story includes for me, in addition to everything it meant to me before, the way each of our children have connected to it, in their own individual ways, the story in a form most accessible to each of them, across people and years.  Bringing two points together that would otherwise be separate.  Helping a growing mind make connections and grapple and have bigger thoughts as well as contain and simplify what might otherwise feel too big.  Another act of tessering.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

sledding til dark

We have been skiing a good deal at Pineland Farms this year, and every ski has ended with some time on the sledding hill.  It is a motivator, that promise of trading in your confining equipment and movement mostly in a controlled and forward direction, for flopping and jumping and sled tranferring and general silly hootenanny on an awesome open and fast hill, that keeps tired legs moving forward.  Well, that and the chocolate milk jugs back at the Market at the visitors center.  

We arrive just as the light is fading.  And usually stay until either the cold drives us back to the car, or someone needs the bathroom, or until I can't even see their profiles when they stand at the top of the hill anymore.

And even then, they are usually begging for one more ride.

Friday, January 22, 2016

air math

It only lasted about five minutes, but amidst homework and practicing and lunch making and waxing skis, and dinner, when I was deep into my fourth load of dishes for the day, I heard dog claws scrambling across the wood floors, the distinctive sound of furniture being jumped upon, things being crashed into, and chatter between Nicholas and Elliott.  And a good deal of giggling.  I dropped my scrub brush and peeked into the family room to see what was going on.

It turned out that the hootenanny centered on a leftover party balloon.  And tape. And random things from the craft cabinet.  These were, I was told, being used to find exactly the right amount of weight to allow the balloon to sink, at just the right speed.  Nicholas was, after all, memorizing the formula for speed for a test the next day.  So somehow this all made perfect sense.

And a good deal of air was required.  Specifically, air being blown.  In what turned out, as best I could surmise, to be a game of balloon tossing in which you could not use your hands, and the balloon could not touch the floor, as well as something I never quite figured out about passing this balloon back and forth, or not, and trying to make the balloon touch your opponent.  I am not really sure.  But it was funny.  Really funny.  And apparently just what everyone needed, this bit of frantic silliness to break up the evening routine.  And what that balloon needed was four googley eyes and a pencil.  Nothing more, nothing less.

Yes.  That is Julia trying to get her homework done.  Doing her very best to ignore her brothers, who were making excellent decisions such as standing on chairs with wheels that also spin.

It was all a form of calculating.  Calculating just how hard to blow, just how many googley eyes make a balloon sink, just how much height difference five years creates, just where the line would be this evening between frantic silliness and someone ending up with a head bonk and in tears, just how much furniture destruction and safety risking behavior your mother will overlook, just how tolerant your studious sister will be and when she will start complaining. Or join in.  

Nicholas gave the balloon one more push with his pencil and returned to his homework, and Elliott played on.  Until height became an issue.  And Nicholas was happy to help out again.

I think some important lessons were learned here. Somewhere in that unexpected sweet spot between dinner and dishes, between waxing and work for school, between practicing and packing lunch.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

balance in the garden

Girls.  Come on.  Let's do some Yoga in the garden.

Okay. I can work with just you two.

Look.  Inner peas. Now find your center. That one place where you and the ground connect.

Wait.  Something's wonky here.  I have two.

Hey, guys!  Guys!  You have to come see this.  It's cray cray.

Friday, January 15, 2016

moving ice

We often forget that we are nature. Nature is not something separate from us. So when we say that we have lost our connection to nature, we’ve lost our connection to ourselves.

Andy Goldsworthy*

* Note: All quotes in this post are from Andy Goldsworthy

Just down the way from us, the river that runs behind our house is dammed. And though I keep meaning to learn more about it, I do not completely understand the hows and whens and whys the dam is sometimes open and sometimes not. What I do know is how much that dam affects the river up our way. Especially when a bit of wet weather has come through.
Earlier in the week, the day before six inches of snow fell here and completely changed what everything looked like outside, we had a day of hard and fast falling rain. The river flooded, the rain was deafening in the attic, and our basement flooded nearly completely. We have a system in place to keep it dry in the best of conditions and to pump and dry it out when the amount of water overwhelms this system. But the sump pump ran for days. And the river rose and flooded. I could see it spilling over its banks on the other side, where the terrain is lower. And then we had a hard freeze. I wondered what all this wetness and water and quick changes in temperature would do to the river banks and the trails beside it.

Despite the frigid temperatures, some parts of the river are still completely open and unfrozen.  Perhaps movement helping it to remain free flowing.  Logs were still being carried down the open water and as you stood there, you could watch and hear them slowly crash into the bend where there was an ice dam.  

On the edges of the river, you could see where the water had been higher the day before, and where, at that height, the ice had formed when the temperatures hit freezing.  And then, when the water level went down again, with the opening of the dam or just as the rain stopped, the icy surface had lost the water from beneath it, and that thin ice had been held up in some places and shattered as it fell when its support moved away.

I needed a bit of exercise, so I headed out to take a look.  The dam, usually trickling, was gushing.  Dirty muddy flood waters.  And the temperature was about 18 degrees.  Cold enough to solidify some of that water as it ran over the dam and slowed down long enough to collect in ice formations.

My art is an attempt to reach beyond the surface appearance. I want to see growth in wood, time in stone, nature in a city, and I do not mean its parks but a deeper understanding that a city is nature too-the ground upon which it is built, the stone with which it is made.
From there I headed over to the trail on the other side of the river.  I met a woman out for a walk just returning.  She was carefully stepping around the icy patches, and she noticed my camera, and said: Oh, good.  I am glad someone is going to capture it down there.  It is beautiful.  And the sun is coming out and pretty soon it will be gone. But be careful.  The walking is treacherous.

I think the squirrels had the right idea, staying up in the branches and above the ice.  It was crazy slippery.  And the thorny bramble down there made off trailing a dangerous risk to your parka's integrity.  The snow on the trails had been hard packed by walkers and then the rain on that packed snow had made the perfect ice trail. Well, perfect if you are trying to skate like a Québécois. But I found myself crawling on my knees at several points, trying to keep from falling, and gripping with my fingertips to get across some of the giant sheets of ice with no traction.  Luckily I was the only one down there.  I am sure I was quite a sight.

The water had spilled high over the banks, and had frozen, a thin surface on the ice forming around the tiny saplings and grasses and brush.  When the water moved out, that thin ice remained, held up in some places by just stems and wild grass, and if you stood still, you could hear the thin ice breaking, like gently shattering crystal.

In one area of the path I stomped my way through, intentionally breaking through the surface so that my boots found land, and traction.  Looking back at the trail I had just smashed my way across, it was less pristine, but showed that someone had been here.  Someone had seen this.

People also leave presence in a place even when they are no longer there.

In one spot the ice was much thicker, inches thick rather than paper thin, perhaps a cold spot where it had more of a chance to freeze or where the water had been higher.  

As the sun hit that ice, it was melting and the sheets were falling back into the river in a sliding crash and then floating down to add themselves to the ice dam down at our bend of the river.

The conditions for this ice were unusual, I think.  Flooding in the winter in an unfrozen river, with very little snow.  And then the fast freeze.  Leaving traces of leaves, debris, swirling river mud, and rogue ice crystals behind.  The ice varied, from clear to cloudy, clean to gritty, sheets to clumps, some stranded in the woods or floating atop moving water.

In one area the ice held the leaves and the sunlight and the drips of river mud.  All suspended in one spot.  And as I stood there and looked at that ice, I could hear and smell it all moving and shifting and falling back toward the river.  
Movement, change, light, growth and decay are the lifeblood of nature, the energies that I try to tap through my work. I need the shock of touch, the resistance of place, materials and weather, the earth as my source. Nature is in a state of change and that change is the key to understanding. I want my art to be sensitive and alert to changes in material, season and weather. Each work grows, stays, decays. Process and decay are implicit. Transience in my work reflects what I find in nature.
If I had waited a day for the trail to be safer, for the temperatures to be more comfortable for a quick walk in the woods, I would have missed this.  If I hadn't thought to grab my camera to take along I would have only been able to tell about it.  If I hadn't been trapped by the ice, forced to stand still for a few moments to figure out how I was going to cross the next patch, I would have missed the sounds and the smells being released as the sun did its daytime work.  I am glad I didn't miss any of those things.  And part of what makes it so amazing is that it is no longer there.  And I might not see it again for a very long time.

I take the opportunity each day offers.
Read more about Andy Goldsworthy here via His work is a long time favorite in our family.  And it often inspires our play and creation in nature as well as how we observe what we see while out there.