Monthly Archives: September 2013

The Thrill of Twilight


Do you remember the childhood thrill of playing outside at nightfall?

I was sitting in the hammock bemoaning the fact that it was only 7pm and the dusk was rapidly turning to darkness. From down the road I heard the excited shrieks and squeals of children playing outside, and the memories flooded back. Often when my parents had friends over for dinner, the grown-ups, distracted by free-flowing wine and conversation, would leave us children to our own devices.

Out into the twilight garden we tumbled, the dewy lawn cold underfoot and the wet grass sticking to our bare feet. A pale rock suddenly took on a ghostly hue. The silhouetted woods sent a delicious shiver of fear down our spines. Surely there was a witch lurking in there, or a wolf? All it took was one sudden creak of a bough, or croak of a crow coming home to roost to set us running, running fill tilt, arms outstretched to ward off shadowy objects. Our exaggerated shrieks of terror filled the air. Each circumnavigation of the garden ratcheted up the excitement until someone stopped to spit out a gnat, or scratch an itch, or wail over a stubbed a toe.

Cheeks flush from the chilly air, we’d sneak inside to run our fingers around the remnants of the grownup’s pudding bowl, sure that our giddiness was due in part to the rum in the chocolate pudding. Whispering and giggling, we’d shove snacks for our midnight feast up our sweaters and head out into the full-blown darkness. Flashlight bounced across the garden ahead of us, adding an eerie shadow-filled glow to our surroundings. We all knew that fairies were lurking in the roots of the hawthorn tree, or under the weeping willow, waiting to spirit us away to their magical world. Clutching each other, we’d creep into the vegetable garden and raid the raspberry patch to complete our feast.

We were never ready for it to be over, but at some point the adults would call us in to bed. No tooth brushing, just under the sheets with muddy soles, sticky fingers, raspberry and chocolate stained cheeks, and magical dreams.

The Stolen Child

WHERE dips the rocky highland
Of Sleuth Wood in the lake,
There lies a leafy island
Where flapping herons wake
The drowsy water rats;
There we’ve hid our faery vats,
Full of berrys
And of reddest stolen cherries.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Where the wave of moonlight glosses
The dim gray sands with light,
Far off by furthest Rosses
We foot it all the night,
Weaving olden dances
Mingling hands and mingling glances
Till the moon has taken flight;
To and fro we leap
And chase the frothy bubbles,
While the world is full of troubles
And anxious in its sleep.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

–William Butler Yeats (excerpted)



Mellow Fruitfullness


There’s a turkey gobbling in the woods behind the house, and condensation on the windows. There’s a low-slow cricket trill coming from the stone wall, the blue jays and crows are serenading the first frosty morning, and the squirrels croon to themselves in the black walnut as they fuss over their nuts. And so the slow countdown to winter begins. It seems like only yesterday I was marveling at the new foliage, fresh and hopeful, like clean laundry. Now the leaves of the maple outside my window are curling and faded to an anemic yellow. Melancholy is a good word to describe the feeling of September. Seasons of mist and mellow fruitfulness, as the English poet John Keats wrote. It leaves me with an ache in my heart for the glorious, carefree summer days, real or imagined.DSCF0528

Yet at the same time a steady candle flicker of excitement burns in me. It’s time to refocus my energies on new projects, and reenergize the old ones. My brain that gets muddled by the soporific heat of July, and lazy in the enervating humidity of August, has clicked into gear. The days and night aren’t long enough for all the things I want to do. Like the birds and the bees, I have replenished my store of energy over the summer and am ready to get my fingers stuck into a cool, damp lump of clay and see if the magic happens. I’m itching to sketch up a new design to knit, and experiment with the bounty of the season in the kitchen. I feel ripe to bursting with ideas. I’m chomping at the bit to crank out the outline of a middle grade novel I’ve been dreaming up, and research a new picture book. My new camera is begging to be to taken for a hike. There are friends to visit, and trips to the city to take my freshly minted college student out to lunch. I think I’ve caught the squirrel fever—Quick, get it done. Get it done. Now if only the dwindling morning light would make it a little easier to get up in the morning.

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.
-John Keats, excerpted from To Autumn, September 19th, 1819


Golden Moments

Yesterday was one of those crisp September mornings you could bite into like a perfectly ripe Macintosh apple. My youngest son, having started first grade the day before, was off for the Jewish New Year holiday. It was too good an opportunity to miss. We grabbed our cameras and headed out to our local stretch of the Appalachian Trail.DSCF0381DSCF0377

Our first leg of the trail runs alongside a dry summer meadow filled with purple aster and golden rod. My son marveled at the insect orchestra. I pointed out the different pitches and rhythms of the grasshoppers and crickets. We watched goldfinches flitting from seed head to seed head, stuffing their beaks. Trios of cabbage white butterflies danced around a mud puddle. A monarch flapped and drifted, seeking out the last flowering heads of milkweed. The air was sweet with the scent of virgin’s bower, the native wild clematis.

When we reached the woodland, the dirt path was packed, dry clay. But pushing up through the leaf mold, we spied several species of toadstool. When I told Milo about the extensive mycelium network that spreads underground from a mushroom colony, his imagination ran riot. He began inventing Rube Goldberg machines powered by mushrooms that sent secret messages down these connecting tubes.DSCF0370

We reached the boardwalk over the marshes and marveled at the variety of late summer flowers—turtleheads, purple loosestrife, jewelweed, bursting pods of milkweed fluff. At the suspension bridge we gazed down into the slow moving depths of the Pochuck Creek, looking for small trout. I think the herons had got there before us, but we did find an owl pellet stuffed with hair and delicate mouse bones.

At Turtle Bridge we counted nineteen Eastern Painted Turtles, and a water snake.DSCF0367

As we walked back through the woods, it dawned on me that at exactly this spot, six years ago, it had finally sunk in that I was going to have a baby—my youngest son. At 41, with two almost teens, the thought of another baby had been far from my mind. And yet, here he is, six years later, my late summer golden moment. What a gift.

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So what’s the problem? It’s a misty, early September morning. A thunderstorm has just rolled through, leaving yellow leaves from the black walnut littering the lawn. The grasshoppers are zithering in the tangle of meadow grasses that I call a garden. My daughter has made it through her first week of college with ease. My sons are enjoying the last few days of freedom before school. My husband is getting a well-earned lie-in for Labor Day. And I’m in a dither. A hand grenade has exploded in my writing life.

Yes, I expected the saggy schedule of summer to play havoc with my writing habits. But what I wasn’t expecting was the complete and utter unhinging of my focus. My butterfly brain dips and swoops from one brightly colored flower to the next, barely alighting for more than a second—certainly not enough to produce any significant work.

And now that the return to normalcy is looming, I’m scared that my writing muscle has gone flabby. I’m bracing for that moment when I sit down in front of my computer and it will feel like a slow, painful jog uphill after months of couch-potatoing, with all the bits of my brain jiggling. I’m afraid that in my absence, my characters will have slipped into bad habits. I’ll look at them and realize that they too are weak and flaccid from lack of exercise.

So what’s to be done? Stop feeling sorry for myself. Strap on the gear and put one foot in front of the other until I’m up to tempo, until the muscles feel taught and responsive, until I can read a paragraph and go, hum, not too shabby.