SOL: Blue Jay Gratitude

slice-of-life_individualI owe such a debt to the birds–maybe even my sanity these days (that’s assuming I still have it). However I’m feeling, watching the birds takes me out of myself and lifts my mood. It’s a combination of meditation and treasure hunt.

At this time of year, newcomers abound at the feeders and through the yard and there’s so much to see. Orioles linger at orange halves, red breasted grosbeaks sing in a nearby apple tree. You might see a finch flapping his wings wildly to woo his lady love, or a hummingbird arcing through the sky in a pendulum flight display. Some days I’m rewarded with a glimpse of a migrating warbler hopping through trees or shrubs. Recently, I delighted in seeing a chestnut sided warbler and a black and white warbler within minutes.  All this in my own yard.

I sometimes feel guilty about the blue jays, though. They are here year-round, so I tend to overlook them as loud and pesky regulars. Familiarity breeds contempt, they say, and it truly is so with blue jays. If I’d never seen one before and one flew by my window, I’d be rapt–delirious with joy at the beauty of the brilliant blue, the raised crest, and the bold black and white markings. Since they’re here daily though, I tend to disregard them.

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Yesterday, however, I looked up from my computer at the insistent call of a blue jay. I nearly turned away again–not much to see there. Just a jay. It’s so easy to overlook or disparage this common bird with its gluttonous, swaggering behavior. It swoops in like it owns the place. Big, bold and brassy! But yesterday, my eyes lingered.

Have you ever watched a blue jay squawk? Really watched? I’d never noticed before, but it invests its entire body, lifting and stretching with each call. This jay sat on the platform feeder squawking away, bobbing up and down. Sun filtered along its back, highlighting the softer blue, then illuminating the lower brilliant blue, black and white feathers like stained glass. The jay stopped squawking only to eat the choicest seeds. It cocked its head, contemplated its choice and then tucked each one away. I wondered at its capacity–how many could it fit!?– reminded that jays had a role in reforesting the land with oak trees after the glaciers retreated. Amazing! Finally, the jay retreated to the tree tops where it commenced squawking again, its momentum setting the thin branches swaying. Other jays joined it in a raucous chorus that literally set the treetops into motion.  

I often think of how much I miss by simply not paying attention. There are so many things to amaze and delight within the commonplace. Yesterday I was grateful to the blue jay for reminding me.

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blue jay enjoying peanuts at a different feeder

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Non-standard Units of Measure

slice-of-life_individualI’m measurement challenged. I simply can’t envision distances or lengths well. You say 10 yards, I say, “What?” Sure, I can do the calculations and translate to feet–10×3=30 feet– but that still doesn’t mean anything to me. So then I always translate to Kurts, my non-standard measurement unit of choice.

Let me explain. Kurt, my husband, is about 6 feet tall. After 37 years by his side, I have an innate understanding of what 6 feet looks like. So, I translate all measurements into mental images of Kurt lying down or standing one atop another. You can laugh, but it works! You say 10 yards…well, that converts to 5 Kurts. Oh, now I can envision it. 20 feet? About 3 1/2 Kurts. I got it!

At any rate, call me slow on the uptake, but I just realized that the most touted Covid 19 social distancing length is 6 feet, or one Kurt. I’m not exactly sure what to make of that. With all my practice, I’m certainly well positioned to determine a safe 6-foot distance now, but it’s a bit unsettling to have it linked to Kurts, my own personal measurement system, not to mention my for-better-or-for-worse life partner.

Just a random thought on this random morning…

Balancing the View

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Looking at downloaded pictures the other day, I realized that I hadn’t taken any scenic views recently or even pictures that gave much context by including surroundings. In fact, during the past few weeks, I’ve been using my zoom lens almost exclusively.  It struck me suddenly that this reflects my experience of the world these days.

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I mean, honestly, who wants to spend a lot of time checking out the bigger picture right now? It’s pretty daunting. So, I’ve been choosing to deliberately narrow my focus rather than look at the big picture. My survival strategy, in large part, has been to focus exclusively on what’s immediately in front of me. Getting through the days, moment by moment.

By necessity, we’ve all done this a bit. Most of us are at home most of the time, and seldom head out. At our house, it was noon today before we even noticed that a tree had fallen and blocked our driveway during last night’s winds. There was no sense of urgency about taking care of it. I mean, who’s going anywhere?

Apparently this limited lens has transferred to my photography as well. So now, even when taking pictures, I’m avoiding looking at the bigger picture.

As I pondered this, it struck me that when you look only at what’s right in front of you, you might lose your perspective. You might also lose track of the journey, or the path you’re taking and its ultimate destination. That struck me as problematic.

So, when we went for a walk on Saturday afternoon. I purposefully changed lenses, literally and figuratively. I challenged myself to look at the big picture. Not to ignore the fascinating and distracting small details, but to lift my eyes more often to the bigger view. To keep an eye on the trail ahead and pay attention to the scenery around me.

Ultimately, I suppose, it’s all about balance. We don’t know what the future will bring, but living life exclusively on zoom seems a bit limited and maybe not too healthy. It is helpful to have some idea of the approaching landscape, after all. So, I’ll begin with my photography and see if it transfers over to my daily life. Then, if I get really brave, maybe I’ll start listening to the news again.

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SOLC Day 31: Thank You

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March 2020 SOLC–Day 31
A huge thank you to Two Writing Teachers for all that they do to create an amazing community of writers and a safe, welcoming space to write, learn, share and grow.
http://www.twowritingteachers.org

I saw it first on Facebook.

Ohio Man Uses His Company’s Bucket Truck to Visit Mom Quarantined on 3rd Floor of Nursing Home

items.[0].image.altYou can read the article here, but the title really says it all. I didn’t read the article closely, but was touched by the lengths this man went to to connect with his mother during this time. I remember thinking how heart warming it was, and how it was a great example of how we’ve all been pushed to think creatively, to connect in new ways.

Then I got an e-mail from my cousin with the subject heading, “Julie and Charley– fabulous article in news.” It contained an article from a different newspaper with the same picture. It turns out that it was my cousin, Charley, who had gone to such lengths to visit his quarantined mom, my cousin, Julie.

This story doesn’t stand alone. Our days are filled with compelling stories right now. Even if some of them are ones we don’t want to dwell on, many are inspirational. I’ve been touched over and over again by the lengths so many individuals, groups, schools, and companies have gone to during this pandemic. People are thinking outside the box, pushing themselves to do more, to think more creatively, and above all, to connect with each other.

All of this reminded me of the slice challenge–this challenge that always pushes me to do more than I think I can, to reach deeply and write. To find a new idea. To capture the heart of a small moment. To show up and “do the job.”

Obviously, I’m not saying the SOLC  is as difficult as facing a pandemic, but there are some parallels. It’s all about taking it day by day, making it through and doing so in the best fashion we can manage. It’s also about building a supportive community, leaning on each other, celebrating with each other, and commiserating as well.

We’re facing unprecedented challenges (Ugh…I’m sick of that phrase!) and it’s unsettling not to have a concrete time line or even a clear picture of where this is leading. But overall, I’m learning, as I do every year through the challenge, that we are capable of more than we think we are. It might not be pretty, and it might be dotted with moments of despair, but there are also moments that lift your heart and shine a light on what is the best in all of us. Those are the moments to focus on. Like Fred Rogers’ mother told him, “Look for the helpers.”  And if those words aren’t enough, consider the ever-wise Winnie the Pooh’s.

Winnie the Pooh quote: "You are braver than you believe, stronger ...

Thank you to all Slicers for a month filled with sharing, grieving, celebrating, supporting, encouraging, and more. This year the challenge, more clearly than ever, transcended its boundaries. We may not have a bucket truck at hand, but going forward, we do have Tuesdays and this community. Let’s continue to connect.

Keep writing, my friends. Be well.

SOLC 2020: Day 30: Draft Diving—Mowing the Lawn

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March 2020 SOLC–Day 30
A huge thank you to Two Writing Teachers for all that they do to create an amazing community of writers and a safe, welcoming space to write, learn, share and grow.
http://www.twowritingteachers.org

The well is running dry for daily slices as the month draws to a close and remote learning takes on a life of its own. Most years, at some point during the challenge, I resort to draft diving. I have quite a pile of saved drafts on my blog (127!), ranging from a line or two or a photo to a nearly complete post. Today, I dove in,  revisiting posts from long ago when life seemed so much simpler. (Oh! If only I’d appreciated it then!) Eventually, I pulled up a piece I’d started last summer about mowing the lawn, and finished it off to share it today.

Last summer, I read Amanda Pott’s slice, “Driving Greens“. She talked about following Rob Walker’s strategy of observation–essentially observing 10 things about the world without using metaphors. She then demonstrated how to beautifully do that on her road trip. I thought I’d try it while mowing the lawn. It didn’t work as well.

  1. I hold my breath when I yank the cord to start the lawnmower. When it starts on the first pull, I let out my breath.
  2. Lawn mowers are loud. I wonder how well electric lawn mowers work. I should look into that.
  3. Freshly mown grass smells amazing. But, wait a minute! I just finished reading Hope Jahren’s Lab Girl and she talks about the signals that trees send each other when they’re stressed. VCOs or VOCs. Is all that wonderful smell really grass screaming?
  4.  The sun is bright and it’s hot out here. It’s very hard to think without metaphors. For example, I keep thinking, When I finish mowing, I’ll be a human salt lick.
  5. Mowing words into the lawn takes a lot of extra time and isn’t nearly as much fun as I’d hoped.
  6.  Nature has its way. It’s constantly edging in. The limits of the lawn move closer to the house unless I relentlessly press those boundaries out every time I mow. The vegetation is poised to take over.
  7. Blackberry bushes are especially invasive.
  8. While I don’t think I’m particularly bloodthirsty, killing horseflies is immensely satisfying. Whack! YES!
  9. I’m back to thinking about how loud the lawn mower is. If it’s that loud to me, is it that loud to insects? Am I deafening moths and crickets?
  10. Even when you try hard to feel positive about mowing the lawn, it’s still a lot of hot, sticky work. In other words, you still have to mow the lawn.

SOLC Day 29: Treading Water

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March 2020 SOLC–Day 29
A huge thank you to Two Writing Teachers for all that they do to create an amazing community of writers and a safe, welcoming space to write, learn, share and grow.
http://www.twowritingteachers.org

I have a really poor memory. It’s so bad that when I can’t remember a person or event, my sister asks me, half kidding, “Are you sure you didn’t do drugs?” There are certain rare moments though, that shine intact through the blur of past events. It’s as if they’ve been coated in varnish and are impervious to the ravages of time.

I’ve been thinking about one of those moments a lot lately. I don’t know how old I was, but I distinctly remember taking a five minute “treading water” test in a pool. This was one of the prerequisites for heading into the hallowed deep end, something I longed to do.

On the day of the test, the lifeguard squatted by the side of the pool with the timer and I jumped in, then moved back to the wall.

“Ready?” she asked.

I nodded and turned around, poised to move away.

“Set!”

I pushed off the wall and into the water.

“Go!”

Immediately, I began to tread. I started out confidently, briskly treading away. I was a decent swimmer and very comfortable in the water. I wasn’t too worried about the test.

At first.

After a while, maybe a minute or two, it dawned on me that five minutes might be a lot longer than it initially sounded like.

I waited as long as I could, longer than I wanted to, longer than I thought I could, and then, I gasped out, “How much longer?”

Surely it must have been at least four minutes already.

“Less than three minutes left,” she answered.

Three? Almost three minutes left? It’s only been a little more than two minutes?!!! 

I kept going, automatically moving my arms and legs, but along with my energy,  my confidence was ebbing.

I might not be able to do this.

Time slowed down to a molasses trickle. My arms and legs moved slower and slower.

“You’re doing great, Molly! Keep going!”

When you tread water, you’re constantly moving, yet staying in one place. My focus narrowed to that small circle of water around me. My arms. My legs. My breath. My arms. My legs. My breath.

I don’t remember the moment I decided I couldn’t do it any longer. I’m not sure it was even a conscious decision. I just found myself heading to the edge of the pool.

“There’s only a minute and a half left,” the lifeguard called.

I kept moving forward, desperate to stop. To hold onto something solid.  To have the test over, even if I had failed.

Finally, I came within reach, and she stretched out one hand. I reached my hand toward hers, and as soon as our hands met, she pushed me back into the water.

What!?!

“You can do it, Molly!” she called. “You’re almost done.”

I was shocked. Utterly shocked! I kept treading, because what else could I do? She wouldn’t let me quit!

Would she let me drown?

My arms and legs were heavier and heavier in the water, and I was just barely keeping my head above the surface. I didn’t have the energy to argue. But I was done. Finished. I truly felt I had nothing left to give. I remember feeling scared, feeling I couldn’t possibly go on.

Yet ultimately, I did.

“Time!” she finally called. “You did it!”

I ducked under the water, and wearily kicked to the side. I came up, hair streaming and clung to the gritty pool edge with wrinkled fingers, exhausted. I remember having such mixed feelings. I’d passed the test, but I also felt betrayed. She’d pushed me away! I wonder if the shock of that is what etched this moment in my memory. Still, I’d passed the test. I’d made it for the full five minutes even though I didn’t think I could. I didn’t feel triumphant though. Mostly I felt dazed.

I think of that moment now as I deal with the fallout from recent events. I already felt overwhelmed with teaching before all of this happened–so often struggling to keep my head above water. Now I’ve really been thrown in the deep end. I’m trying to figure out how to do my job in an entirely different way while adjusting to a whole new way of life, and a whole new raft of worries.  I’m so thankful that I still have a job and that I can connect with my students and their families. Yet, I feel uncertain, vulnerable and exposed (Video lessons? Ack!), and at times, overwhelmingly inadequate.

I keep telling myself this is an opportunity to grow. To learn more about myself. To recognize that I can do more than I thought was possible. I’ve learned a lot already and I know I’ll learn more, but there are moments when I want to give up. When it all just seems like too, too much. When every atom of my being screams for me to head to the side of the pool.

Instead, I have to keep treading water madly as the edge of the pool moves farther away. No one’s pushing me back in (Thank God!), and it isn’t a physical endurance test (again, Thank God!), but I’m having to push myself further than I thought I could and in so many different ways. It feels like I’m being tested on teaching myself new strokes while simultaneously trying to keep my head above water with the ultimate goal of moving myself and my students forward through the now turbulent waters to reach some far-off yet-to-be-defined edge.

I wish I felt as confident in my abilities as that long-ago lifeguard did.

We’ve only been doing this for 8 days?

How much longer? 

 

SOLC Day 28: Waves

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March 2020 SOLC–Day 28
A huge thank you to Two Writing Teachers for all that they do to create an amazing community of writers and a safe, welcoming space to write, learn, share and grow.
http://www.twowritingteachers.org

Laura Shovan is sponsoring a month-long Water Poem Project. Each day a different poet offers up a water-related prompt. Today’s prompt came from poet, Heather Meloche, who asked writers to create a concrete or shape poem about waves. This prompt seemed especially appropriate since nearby beaches closed yesterday morning.

My husband and I both love walking on the beach. The closest beaches are about 45 minutes away, but we go several times a month during the winter and more often when my schedule opens up in the summer. We usually go early in the day or late in the afternoon. We’re not there to lie in the sun or even to swim (We do live in Maine after all! Brrr!). Instead we walk together, gather shells, watch the sandpipers play tag with the surf, and listen to the call of the seagulls. We scan the water for seals or unusual ducks. We admire newly deposited driftwood and intricate water-etched patterns in the sand. Often we stop and simply stand at the water’s edge, breathe the salt air and watch the waves.

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SOLC Day 27 and PF: And the Beaches Have Closed…

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March 2020 SOLC–Day 27
A huge thank you to Two Writing Teachers for all that they do to create an amazing community of writers and a safe, welcoming space to write, learn, share and grow.
http://www.twowritingteachers.org

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This week’s Poetry Friday Roundup is hosted by Tabatha Yeatts, at her blog, The Opposite of Indifference. She’s sharing a lovely original poem about acceptance.

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I woke this morning to the news that many Maine beaches are now closed to the public. Some people are ranting and raving about this on local social media. I get it. I hate that the beaches are being closed. But I also accept the sad necessity.

Nevertheless, I feel bereft this morning. The beaches and time spent walking alongside the ocean sustain me, especially in times when I feel adrift. I had intended to head to the beach later this afternoon. I know that I’m very fortunate to have tremendous access to nature even without the beaches. Still, I’m grieving.

The Solace of the Ocean: A Sonnet

When I feel overwhelmed and tempest-tossed
and crave perspective and serenity
when life feels like a battle I have lost
I take myself to wander by the sea

‘Midst drifts of fog or dazzling rays of sun
in dawn’s soft hues or evening’s golden glow
one breath and the enchantment has begun
allegro transforms to adagio

Susurrant surf or tossing, tumbling tide
The redolence of rose in briny air
Such wonders nudge my worries to the side
a heartfelt sigh escapes my lips like prayer

And slowly as I linger and explore
I feel myself become both less and more

©2018 Molly Hogan

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SOLC Day 26: …and now for some comic relief aka Not My Finest Hour

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March 2020 SOLC–Day 26
A huge thank you to Two Writing Teachers for all that they do to create an amazing community of writers and a safe, welcoming space to write, learn, share and grow.
http://www.twowritingteachers.org

I admit it wasn’t my finest hour. I’m still not sure what got into me. In the interest of escaping the stress of the current time, I’m willing to throw myself under the bus and relive this moment with you. I cannot reveal names (obviously!), but I will attest to the accuracy of this moment, and I will confirm that it happened a couple of years ago.

Don’t judge.

It was after 5 pm and I had been attempting to leave school for well over an hour. You know how that goes. It’s never a linear process. So, determined to finally actually leave, I was walking down the hallway to the bathroom to make a final pit stop.

As I neared my co-worker ‘s room, I heard her talking to someone. Then I heard a voice respond.

“Oh, she’ll like that,” it said.

Wait! I knew that voice! It was the voice of one of my student’s father.

This father, an involved parent (and that truly isn’t code for anything else!) had been working hard to support his daughter’s learning. Apparently, he’d stopped by to check in with my colleague about an upcoming unit. (We switch classrooms for Social Studies and Science content, and my class was about to begin a new Science unit with her.) This parent was nice. He was caring and concerned. But he talked a lot. A lot. He was one of those parents you’d never schedule last for a parent-teacher conference. And it had already been a very long, very challenging day. 

So, not even knowing if he intended to speak with me (and in my defense, we were in regular contact, so there was nothing new to share), and with nary a second thought, I threw my colleague to the wolves (or to the wolf to be more precise), and moved into stealth ninja mode.
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Immediately, I became one with the air around me. I held my breath, moving quickly, with exaggerated, sweeping, silent steps, passing the classroom. Adrenaline coursed through my veins. Step by step, I eased my way further along the hallway.

I had just passed the room, the corner and freedom in sight, when I heard the parent’s voice getting louder. He had to be moving toward the door.

Oh, no! He was going to enter the hallway at any second!

Unfortunately, I was still clearly in sight.

Like I said, I still can’t explain why this next part happened, and the whole time it did, part of my brain looked on, jaw agape, and an astonished and slightly horrified little voice said, “Molly, what are you doing!?”

As I already noted, it wasn’t my finest hour. I guess I was just plain old exhausted. I heard that father’s voice nearing me and something snapped. I just didn’t have anything left to give. I knew that seeing him would mean a long, involved conversation and a long delay to leaving.

So I ran.

Really.

I burst into a full out, arms-pumping, skirt-flying run, raced around the corner and flung myself into the nearest bathroom.

“What are you doing?” that voice asked again.

Once inside the bathroom, I started giggling. Well, that was totally ridiculous! Not to mention utterly undignified! Completely unprofessional, too!

Then a thought struck me.

OMG, the hallway cameras must have caught me in action!

The idea that someone in the office might have watched my headlong race down the hallway simultaneously horrified me and cracked me up again. I could only hope that no one had had their eyes on the video stream at that moment. I had no idea how I would explain myself if asked to do so. I laughed even harder, careful to muffle the sound. There might have been a wee note of hysteria in it.

Finally, I calmed down. I was committed now though, so I waited. After a little time had passed, I tentatively opened the door.

Was the coast clear?

The hall had that echoey sort of end-of-the-school-day quiet. That empty-squared feeling. I exited the bathroom, edged along the hall, and peeked into my colleague’s room. She was nowhere in sight. My shoulders relaxed and my steps grew more casual. Phew! 

I shook my head at myself, still marveling at my recent actions. Clearly the year was taking a toll on me. I entered my classroom to gather up my bags, happy to finally be heading out the door.

“Hey, Mrs. Hogan!”

What!?

I jumped and my hand flew to my chest.

And there he was. The father. His grinning head popping up like a jack-in-the-box from behind the bank of cubbies.

“S. forgot her book, so I was just getting it for her.”

“Oh,” I gasped, heart racing, “You startled me!”

He apologized and then we talked.

“Don’t stay too late,” he called over his shoulder as he left. Fifteen minutes later.

I stared after him for a long moment.

“Well, Molly,” I thought ruefully, “You can run, but you can’t hide.”

Then I gathered up my things and finally headed home.

 

SOLC Day 25: Late This Afternoon…

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March 2020 SOLC–Day 27
A huge thank you to Two Writing Teachers for all that they do to create an amazing community of writers and a safe, welcoming space to write, learn, share and grow.
http://www.twowritingteachers.org

Late this Afternoon…

after hours of stuffing baggies
with papers,
books, and
assorted school supplies…
after hours on the computer
learning,
answering questions, and
exploring technology…
we drove to the river,
then walked.
Along the way,
mergansers swam, and
we saw two bald eagles
perched in a tree.
Then two more flew in.
“There are four!” I cried,
utterly delighted.
We watched them
circle and soar.
Four of them!
Then two flew off
but there were still
two eagles left,
perched in a tree, and
common mergansers
still swam on the river.
And still, we walked.

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