It all started at the Ice and Smelt Festival…

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It all started about a year ago at the Ice and Smelt Festival. For those of you who don’t  know, smelt are a kind of fish and smelt fishing is a cherished winter tradition in many Maine communities. Our town has been celebrating ice and smelting for a number of years now with a festival. For last year’s event, there’d been a “call” put out for any photos relating to smelting or winter in our small town.

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I sent a couple of photos in and on the day of the festival, Kurt and I wandered into town to check out the exhibit. I was anxious to see if my pictures were included. Would they be “favorites”?

Once we arrived, my eyes went straight to the display of photographs. I scanned them quickly. Yes! There was one of my photos…and there was the other one! Both were on display. (upper left in the photos below) They had even been enlarged.

“Oh, Kurt! They’re here!” I enthused, grinning from ear to ear. I was absolutely thrilled to see them on the wall with my name below them. Tickled pink as my  mom would have said.

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We lingered, admiring the photos, examining the historical information and enjoying the exhibit. I may have peeked one or two more times at my photos. As I wandered, I noticed a few fabulous pictures. After a bit, I realized that most of them had been taken by the same photographer.

“Oh, I love this one!” I said to Kurt, motioning for him to check out a stunning picture of our local landmark bridge. “This BB takes wonderful pictures! I wonder who he is.”

After a while, a man came into the gallery and introduced himself. It turned out that he was BB, the photographer of those fabulous photos I’d been admiring and also the curator of the exhibit. When I introduced myself to him, he said something along the lines of, “Oh, you’re Molly Hogan. I really liked your pictures. You should think about having your photos in a show down here. I’ve been looking to make more use of the gallery space.”

What?!

We talked for a little longer and at the end of our conversation, he suggested I contact him via Facebook. Kurt and I left to meander over to check out the smelting shacks.

I walked out the door in a bit of a daze, excited and wondering. Did he really mean it? I then preceded to pester poor Kurt with questions for a while. A long while. It might have gotten a bit repetitive, but believe me, it was exponentially more so in my own head.

“Do you think he meant it?”

“Should I contact him on Facebook?”

“What do you think?”

“But do you think he really meant it?”

I went back and forth for a week or so. Maybe two. Contact him? Yes. No. Maybe. Back and forth. Forth and back.

But one of the joys of getting older is that it nudges me to push barriers. It may take a while, but ultimately, it does. I love taking pictures. I love sharing my photographs. If someone offered me an opportunity like this, why wouldn’t I contact them? What did I have to lose? Bottom line…if not now, when?

So, after a bit, I reached out via Facebook. I sent him a link to a recent blog post that shared my favorite photos of 2017.

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A few weeks later, I followed up. And, via a long circuitous route, it has actually worked out. I’m so excited (in between waves of anxious nausea) to share that on February 1st, an exhibit of my photographs will open at our local gallery. MOLLYCARD_WEB_SIZE.jpg

And it all started at the Ice and Smelt Festival…

Savouring the last dawn of 2018

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hWe faced east together, glowing with the light of the rising sun. How many mornings have I stood by the river and watched the sunrise with this eagle companion? Too many to count.

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I snapped a few photos and then turned to gaze at the pebbled clouds and the deep rosy sky. I watched the subtle changes from moment to moment, my camera dangling at my neck. Deliberately, I didn’t reach for it again. For just a few minutes, I didn’t take a photograph. I didn’t scan for a contrast of textures, an interesting reflection, a pattern in the ice. I didn’t wish the eagle would soar across the pinkening horizon. And I didn’t long for a visit from the three bluebirds wintering nearby. I just stood there, as still in my grounded place as the eagle was on his lofty perch. I sought to be content with the what is, rather than yearning for the what might be. I savored the moment on this last day of 2018.

bald eagle and I
patiently await the dawn
morning communion

©M. Hogan, 2018
#haikuforhope

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Flashback: Art

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Last spring we visited the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston with friends. After entering, we wandered here and there, splitting up to follow our own inclinations. I lingered in the splendid courtyard for quite some time, admiring the falls of nasturtiums, the statuary, the mosaics and the fabulous architecture. Then, wandering through the warren of rooms, I admired ancient artifacts, gazed intently at masterpieces, and simply soaked in the atmosphere of the place. It’s a jewel of a museum.

After a while, I bumped into my husband, and we opted to head to the second floor. On the way to the staircase, we passed an older woman who sat on the low stone courtyard walls with a young girl and boy, maybe 7 and 10. Each of them held paper and pencils,  and they were contentedly sketching. As we walked by, the woman held her picture up to the children for inspection.

“What do you think?” she asked.

“I like the arches,” the boy replied decisively.

“Oh, good!” she exclaimed. “I spent a long time working on those.”

Their heads bent together and they continued to sketch and talk.

My husband and I smiled at each other, enjoying the overheard moment together. We’d already visited celebrated artwork by John Singer Sargent, Matisse, and Whistler, but we were just as moved by the amateur efforts and connection of these three strangers, making their own art.

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Kringle Love

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46733586_2117185618365492_3044502690349449216_n.jpg“What’s a Kringle?” Lydia asked.

“What’s a what?” I responded. We were standing in line at Trader Joe’s, gathering up a few extra goodies for the upcoming holiday.

“A Kringle,” she repeated and gestured toward a cart in the lane next to us. In its basket was a pile of three flat bakery packages, each labeled Danish Kringle.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Stay here and I’ll find out.” I walked over to the two women by the cart. They looked relaxed and happy, chatting together, and I was pretty sure they were mother and daughter.

“Excuse me,” I said, “What’s a Kringle?”

The younger of the two turned to me and smiled widely, “It’s the best thing you’ve ever eaten in your life!” she exclaimed.

Her words and her mother’s spilled out, tumbling over each other and filling me in on the wonders of the Kringle.

“It’s a Danish pastry.”

“It’s ring-shaped and it’s super moist with a glaze on top.”

“It should come with a warning label! I start with just a small wedge and soon I’ve eaten my way around the whole circle!”

“It’s filled with a layer of marzipan.”

“Oh, they sound amazing! ” I exclaimed, as they wound down. “And marzipan! I love marzipan! Where did you find them?”

They looked at each other quickly.

“W-e-l-l, right over there,” the mother said, pointing to a holiday display on a nearby table. “But we took the last three,” she continued, sheepishly.

“But there must be more! I’m sure there are,” the younger woman burst in, enthusiastically. “Just find someone and ask them to check for you.”

“I will!” I said, and headed off in the direction they had indicated. Pastry! Marzipan! There was no time to lose!

I quickly located a helpful employee. She was doubtful, but willingly searched the back room. After a minute or two she returned.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “There aren’t any more back there. We ordered 7 cases this year, which is way more than usual, but it’s just been flying out the door!” How had I never heard of these before?

Disappointed, I headed back to Lydia and our waiting cart. I filled her in on the wonders of Kringles and the disappointing fact that they were all gone. The two women were ahead of us and finished checking out. They saw that I had returned and called out, “Oh, did you find any?”

“No,” I replied, “they’re all sold out.”

“Oh, no!” they chorused, and their faces fell.

“That’s okay. It’s probably for the best,” I laughed. “Thanks for telling me about them.”

Lydia and I finished checking out, but somehow our dried coconut strips and mango leather didn’t look quite as exciting as they had moments before.

As we exited our line, the two women were still by the windows at the front of the store. The younger blond woman walked up to me, smiling.

“Here,” she said, “We want you to have this.”

“What?” I responded, confused.

“This Kringle,” she said, holding out a Kringle package.

“Oh my gosh! Are you sure? ” I asked.

“Yes, we really don’t need three of them, and we’d like to give this one to you.”

“Wow! That’s so nice of you!” I gushed. “Can I at least pay you for it?”

“No,” she said, shaking her head, and placing the Kringle in my hands, “just think of it as Kringle love.”

We exchanged goodbyes, more thanks and holiday good wishes. Then, Lydia and I walked out of the store together, feeling warmed by this interaction and the random act of kindness and generosity.  It was such a lovely beginning to our Thanksgiving weekend.

It’s all too easy to become pessimistic about the state of the world these days. Far too frequently, I find myself asking, “Who are these people?” when trying to make sense out of something going on in our country. I forget that there are many kind, generous people out there as well. This moment at Trader Joe’s was an important reminder of that. I loved the Kringle (I mean, I really loved the Kringle!), but even better than the sugar rush, is the surge of optimism that has lingered. This moment left me feeling connected rather than alienated. These two women are people I can understand and appreciate. Now, inspired by them, I’m going to see if I can figure out a way to sprinkle some Kringle love into someone else’s day.

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So Many Questions

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hIt was cloudy on Monday morning and I knew the sunrise would probably not be remarkable, but I headed to the river anyway. I needed to escape. To get out of my own head and the swirling negativity of recent days. To retreat to “the peace of wild things” as Wendell Berry so aptly put it. I’m struggling to make sense of so much these days.

As expected, at the river there is no sign of a glorious sunrise, but the fish leap in silver flashes, and currents lead the moored boats in a lazy waltz, swirling and spinning them in the early morning light. I revel in the reflection of autumn leaves on the water, the pillowing stripes of clouds, and the varied bird calls. My eyes follow the purposeful flight of a circling bald eagle over the fall foliage. I watch it land, grasp something on the other bank, and take off again with mighty wingstrokes. The tension slowly eases from my shoulders. I breathe deeply and relax. Nature’s balm is immediate and immense.

After a moment, I see a flash of large wings and a great blue heron appears, flying low over the water. I walk quickly, following it’s trajectory, hoping it’s landing in a nearby inlet. When my progress is stopped by shoreline and rocky water, the heron is nowhere in sight. Ah, well. I’m still so pleased to have seen it, even briefly.

Then, from the corner of my eye, I spy something white in a nearby bush. What’s that? A bird? I edge closer. No, not a bird, but a discarded tissue caught in a bush, and beneath it an empty plastic baggy and a small cardboard container with a cracked plastic lid. Under a nearby shrub is a discarded paper cup. My shoulders tense again.

Later in the day, when I’m running, I see bottles, cans, wrappers, etc. littering the road. Sadly, this is nothing new, but the turmoil of recent days intensifies the impact. Who are these people who so casually throw their debris into the world? I remember the crying Indian ad of my childhood and want to weep. What is wrong with people? How do we build relationships or work through conflicts when there are such fundamental differences in outlooks and behaviors? I can’t relate to treating the world as my garbage bag or people as my punching bags. How do we find common ground and work through problems when discourse has disintegrated to ranting and raving and making death threats? And this is across the political spectrum. How do we navigate complicated issues when people cheer for threats and intimidation and think that mockery and rudeness is equivalent to plain speaking?  Who think nothing of pumping waste into our waterways and disregard the environment in search of an economic windfall? How do we start meaningful conversations when everyone is yelling at each other and calling each other names?

A month or two ago, my husband and I were talking with a friend of his who’s a veteran. We were lamenting the agenda of hate and division fostered and nurtured by the current administration. After a bit, his friend sighed deeply and said, “I guess America just doesn’t mean what I thought it did.” Those words have haunted me.

How do I get past the anger that I’m feeling? I vote. I march. I call my public representatives. It feels like such a small push back against a huge tide. I fear for our country while simultaneously feeling alienated by many of its citizens and entertaining thoughts of leaving it. What does America stand for these days?

I’m so sickened by the events of recent days (months…years…)–by the political circus, by the lack of empathy, by the tone of discourse, by the appalling lack of integrity, and then, on top of that, by a recent suicide in our area and the fallout from that–for her family, her students, the children who found her body.

There’s such ugliness in our world, yet there’s such beauty, too. There’s pain and sorrow and joy and triumph. I’m struggling to make sense of it all. I’m so thankful I can retreat to the river and seek ease in nature’s bounty. Yet, how long will nature be able to bounce back from our casual abuse? Even as I seek solace there, I find trouble and worry.

For now, I’ll keep going down to the river. I’ll take my pictures and lose myself in the wonderful wild. While I’m there, I’ll rejoice in the water, the birds, the seasonal shapes and colors. Some mornings will offer glorious sunrises and some cloudy skies and more subtle rewards. And I’m sure there will be more trash.  I suppose, whenever I see it, I’ll just keep picking it up. It’s one thing I know I can do.

 

 

A Slice of Memory from the Shark Tank

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hIt’s funny how memories pop up sometimes, emerging in full technicolor detail from the  mists of the past. This happened to me just recently. I don’t even remember what I was doing at the time, but suddenly I was thinking about Lydia and the shark tank.

This happened years ago. We were in Boothbay Harbor, Maine at the small aquarium there. I’m not sure how old Lydia was–maybe 3? If so, Adeline would have been 5 and Connor, 7. We were thoroughly enjoying our visit to the aquarium, wandering through the displays, peering into fish tanks and trying out the interactive exhibits. I remember that in one area you reached your hand through a small circular opening into wooden boxes. Inside the box was a mystery object ,and you were supposed to try to figure out what it was. It took a bit of nerve, but we all enthusiastically thrust our hands into the dark hole and did our best to determine what was within. I can’t even remember what was in there–maybe shells? lobster claws?  It’s all a bit fuzzy now, 17-18 years later. But what I do recall in full focus is the shark tank.

It was a circular tank in the middle of the room, fairly large and maybe 3 feet high. Swimming about in it were a number of sharks. I’m not sure what kind they were, but there was a sign inviting visitors to pet them, so I assumed they must be friendly. The kids were beyond excited at this opportunity. Kurt quickly helped Connor and Adeline get their hands in the water. They reached out to touch the circulating sharks, exclaiming loudly. Lydia was in my arms, pulling toward the tank. I moved closer, struggling to hold onto her as she stretched forward enthusiastically. When I had a firm hold on her, we edged into the side of the tank and she leaned over, her chubby hand trailing in the water, reaching toward the sharks. After a few minutes, finally a shark came by within reaching distance. Lydia stretched and just as her fingers were about to brush the shark, I jerked her back, startling both of us.

She looked at me in surprise, and honestly, I was just as surprised as she was.

“Oh, I’m sorry!” I said, laughing. “I didn’t mean to do that. Let’s try again!”

Lydia gave me one of her patented lowered-eyebrow glares, but thankfully turned her attention to the tank again. I repositioned us and we waited for another shark to approach. Within moments, one swam by. Lydia reached out and just as her fingers neared the shark, I once again jerked her away.

We tried this again a few more times, but I just couldn’t do it. It was the funniest thing. I was literally incapable of letting her hand touch that shark. Each time, no matter how hard I tried to let her touch the shark, at the last minute, I pulled her away. Finally, I handed a disgruntled Lydia off to Kurt.

“I just can’t do it,” I laughed.

Kurt and Lydia settled in by the tank and within moments a delighted Lydia had touched her first shark. I watched her face light up, thankful she had this experience. Still amazed that I hadn’t been able to let her have it. That bone-deep instinct to protect her was just way too strong for me to overcome. Let my toddler touch a shark? No way!

Remembering this now, as she enters her senior year in college, I think about protecting her and how this has changed over the years. I also wonder if there are other opportunities I denied her because of my instinct to keep her far from danger, real or perceived. These days I can’t simply hold her in my arms and pull her away from the sharks of the world. I can only let her know that she’s always welcome in my arms and that I’ll stand in between her and any sharks as necessary. I guess the thing is that now she’s the one who will be identifying those dangers, not me.

Chronicle of a Bird Encounter…Part One

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hKurt walked into the family room, wiping rain from his glasses.

“There’s a fledgling out there. I think it fell out of a nest during the storm.”

“What? Where!?” I asked.

“Right out under the birch tree,”  he replied.

“Where’s Juniper?” I asked, immediately worried about our ferocious beast of a cat.

“She’s out there, too,” he said.

“What!?!” I squawked. Quickly I threw on shoes and ran outside, barely listening to Kurt’s continued comments.

“I don’t think she’s touched her…the bird was upside down under the tree…I doubt it will make it…”

Sure enough under the birch, through the dark and rain, I saw a bedraggled mound of feathers. Nearby was Juniper, our beast of a cat. Luckily, as far as I could tell, she had not yet pounced. I raced over and quickly scooped her up with, I confess, some fear for my continued health and well-being, and dumped her inside. Quickly shutting the door, I walked back out to take a look at the bird. I crouched down in the grass speaking softly to it.

bird.jpg“Hey, baby bird, what’s up? Did you take a spill? Where’s your nest?”

The bird was upright, but still looked pretty pathetic, sitting in the grass with damp, black wings semi-splayed to each side. It was hard to see colors on the rain-darkened feathers, but it looked like there were some spots of white. What kind of bird is it? White spots…big beak…I wonder if it’s a woodpecker?

Slowly I reached my hand toward it and immediately it fluttered, opened its beak and lunged toward me threateningly. I quickly pulled my hand back. (Confession: Lunge might be a bit of an exaggeration, but it definitely poked in my direction. I had a quick flashback to those raptors in Jurassic Park, expecting a loud rattling hiss to emerge from that little throat. I mean birds are related to dinosaurs, right? And that beak looked pretty large!)

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I regrouped and chided myself. Physical bravery has never been my forte, but this wee, soaking-wet, disheveled bird was clearly not going to injure me. Get a grip, Molly! Again, I looked down at it. The poor thing was clearly unable to move to safety and the rain continued to fall. Could its parents be waiting nearby? Should I move it into a tree?

Uncertain what to do, I went back inside and posted on a birding site that I’m a member of:

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After a few minutes of anxiously waiting for a response, I was relieved to see the advice finally start flowing. Many people immediately suggested leaving it alone. One charmer advised me to set the oven to 350 degrees. Multiple people suggested calling Avian Haven, a wild bird rehabilitation center, for help. Unfortunately, a quick call confirmed that they were closed for the evening.

One vocal poster opted to lecture me about having an outdoor cat in the first place. This led to a tangential fire storm of posts as people rebuked him for giving unsolicited, unrelated commentary and advice, and he responded by posting multiple articles about cats and how they devastate the environment. This roused the cat lovers. He then suggested that cat owners who let their cats outside were inhumane and irresponsible, just letting their vulnerable cats out to die somewhere, victims of wild animal attacks. I’m not quite clear what his point was–that cats are killers or that they will be killed. Maybe both? That thread got a little heated and out of control and by the following morning was removed by administrators. I steered clear.

Meanwhile, I focused on the sane portion of the post, trying to figure out what to do.  The bird clearly was vulnerable where it was, but so often the experts say that people tend to intervene when they shouldn’t. Finally, after a bit of research on the Avian Haven site and the consensus on the posts, I posted the following, still uncertain this was the correct course:

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Shortly after posting that, I got a request to accept a private message. When I accepted it, I got this message.

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Change of plans. I wasn’t going to argue with an expert. I scrambled around the house assembling supplies, then quickly prepped a box. Dashing back out into the rain, I gently scooped up the fledgling, careful to avoid its beak. It struggled against my hands, but when I settled it on the soft towels in the box, it sat quite still. Clearly, this bird was shaken up. Poor little thing. I closed up the box and set it in the mudroom, crossing my fingers that I was doing the right thing and that the bird would make it until morning.

To be continued…