Monthly Archives: April 2016

Passover, 2016

Sid @ 99 years

Sid @ 99 years

During childhood, the reading of the Haggadah, the story of Passover, every word written in Hebrew, no pictures, was read aloud for three hours by my dad with little patience for a child’s restlessness. “Shh, Faygie,” he would warn as I would burst with a whisper to my cousin Caroline, my cohort in play.

At twenty-three, a recent bride, Marv and I attended our first family Seder at cousin Selma and Lew’s home. Harvard and Radcliffe graduates, liberal and Reform Jews, they convened a Seder of close to forty— family and friends— with ages scanning decades.

That first Seder, I wore a crisp green, linen suit, perfect for spring. The seating, their modern home, the combined living /dining room painted aqua, was set with tables in a large “T” formation. Selma’s effort— the bowls of fluffy matzos ball soup, the massive platters of steaming asparagus and fresh turkey, seemed effortless. Lew, at the helm, holding the family Haggadah , written in English and Hebrew by Selma, called upon each of us to read the ancient story. We sang, laughed, and dialogued. I understood every detail; I was grateful.

Over two decades, the Seder enveloped our children. At some point, a decision was made to share the responsibility with Lew’s brother, Sid, thirteen years younger, who lived in New Jersey. Alternative years, Marv and I were on our own. The first time I prepared a Seder for a dozen guests seemed mammoth—so many courses, each with its own recipe. I recall a morning preparation of the charoset— apples, pealed and cored, walnuts, Manischewitz grape wine, honey and cinnamon— ground in the food processor. I wasn’t prepared for the soupy mix that first try. The trick, I’ve learned, is to mix the type of apples— some dry, some juicy as well as test for texture.

I am grateful for the ritual of Seder, a time of family, of memory, of sharing a significant story of persecution, flight and freedom— all too pertinent and familiar in this decade of refugees fleeing from tyrants, in search of a better life, in too many parts of the world.

This year, I am especially grateful for my cousin Sidney, now 99 years old, who, with his three sons, hosted this year’s family Seder at the Hebrew Center where Sid now resides. The room set up was familiar—three tables shaped like a “T.” Sid’s three sons and wives sat at the head table; the eldest son, David, called upon each of us— children, spouses, grandchildren, fiancés, significant others— to read.

Our son and daughter, and three of our grandchildren joined Marv and me. We read from Selma and Lew’s original Haggadah. I learned that Lew had taught Sid to sing the four questions in Hebrew in late adolescence. They were thirteen years apart. My daughter, Beth, in her angel’s voice played the guitar and lead us in singing Dayenu: it would have been enough for us. We drank wine, savored the familiar foods. I am grateful.

Mystery of the Lone Trillium

spring trillion, 2016

spring trillion, 2016

The unusual attracts me. Early spring, a decade ago, near the ugly-green propane tank where the soil is hard-packed and filled with rocks, a whorling shoot, small and tight, arrived in my garden.

Every fair spring day, I walk the circular flagstone path. The ritual is soothing and deliberate, a slow casting of my eyes to note every planting’s progress in this season of warming and growth. The shoot uncoiled, grew six inches in height and fanned out with three leaves, and a three petal, single flower. The plant’s flowing, mottled leaves, and maroon flower was magical and new.

Grateful for its arrival, I wondered about its name and how it had set root in my garden. I made descriptive notes in my garden book— not knowing that for the next decade, it would return each spring to send her shoot into light and invoke my wonder. She would stay three to four weeks, flutter with rain, until her flower and petals lost energy and died off. Her net-vein leaves remained for weeks until they, too, fell away.

Among naturalists, botanists and horticulturists, the trillium plant is highly noted and studied. During the third spring, a friend, a Ph.D. in Botany, said, It’s a trillium, a member of the lily family. A Trillium! The name was familiar. During the years we had a retreat house in Maine, Bert, a loquacious Maine waitress often regaled me with stories of her childhood and how she picked white trillium in the woods near my house. Although I followed her directions, I never found her white flowering patch.

I searched the literature to try to name and locate the origin of my six inch maroon-mottled trillium. It was not easy. Taller ones with different leaf structures abound in the Pacific Northwest and Michigan. Nearest I could come is Trillium sessile L. or Toadshade.

In researching the botany literature to understand how this plant found its way to my garden, I learned that trillium seed are spread and planted with the help of ants and mice. Trillium seeds can take months or years to germinate and can whither away at relocation.

The plant thrives best in soil with leaf mold, which provides a spongy growing environment. My soil is hard packed and gritty but apparently, somehow sufficient for just the one plant. Could it be because my property is located on a flood-plain and that there are pockets of moisture underneath? Thus far, it has not vined out except for last spring, when a twin emerged.

My trillium’s survival is still a mystery. The “experts” emphasize moist, woodland-compost-based locations and yet my woodland plant—spring after spring—presents her gift of perfect beauty in what appears to be a barren patch. This lone trillium visitor is a gift.  Perhaps, if I add compost, she will generate more sisters. For the present, I am grateful for just the one and in my mother’s words, It’s sometimes best to leave well enough alone.

Not So Foolish Worry


Post Storm Daffodil Bouquet

Post Storm Daffodil Bouquet

The third day of April, 2016, looks like, feels like, a January day. A winter storm blew in during the night— not the light and fluffy flakes of my recent Foolish-Worry post— but a wind driven, watery, stick-to-the pavement snow cover.

My effort at gratitude is fleeting. I worry for the baby tulips and flowering primrose shivering under the flower-pots I put down yesterday. I worry for the lily plants with nubile leaves and of course, the daffodils in full bloom matted down with ice. What will become of them?

By noon, the sun radiant, the lily leaves emerged, unharmed. The daffodils were barely visible, their necks bent, their blooms buried in snow. With gratitude, I watched a well-fed robin, fresh from a snow shower, pivot the plantings.

Mid-afternoon, I dressed for wind, wearing my purple fleece and snug-over-the ear cap. Pruners in hand, I clipped daffodil stems. I was gloveless and surprised at how cold the stems felt in my palm. Many of the blossoms, though frosted, were intact. Grateful, I gathered a bouquet of two-dozen to bring inside. Given that high winds and more snow were in the forecast for the next day, I savored them all the more.

The Alberta Express came through at night, bringing near freeze. At dawn, I checked the front garden from the second floor picture window. The picture was bleak. My garden was shrouded in snow.

It snowed all day long. April 4th might just have well been January 4th except for the yellow flashes of forsythia floating above snow puffs and the bud shapes outlined along tree branches. Yes, we have had similar storms in April. At my former residence, years ago, a magnolia in full bloom was severed by the wind. It recovered, thanks to good pruning. Twenty years ago, that storm seemed like an anomaly. My garden is teaching me otherwise. The warm winter, the frigid spring, the rapid temperature changes. This spring of 2016, so unusual and unpredictable, requires a different mind-set.

This was a week beginning with bare toes and flip-flops, which progressed to winter boots and snow gear. Bottom line, I get it. A little over a month ago, on February 22nd, the headline of The New York Times Science section read—“Seas Are Rising at Fastest Rate in Last Twenty Centuries.”

The article was casual in tone, but alarmingly specific in content. The Times wrote, “The finding are yet another indication that the stable climate in which human civilization has flourished for thousands of years, with a predictable ocean permitting the growth of great coastal cities, is coming to an end.”

I am grateful for the scientists who persist and are transparent in their findings. Denial is becoming less and less possible. As a gardener, I bear witness first hand. Yes, the daffodils survived as did most of the plants; but for how long? We can no longer avoid the presence of climate change or the need to do what we can to deter or remediate it.



Grateful for My Unconscious


Freud, Father of the Unconscious

At 2:05 a.m., during the mid-nineties, my unconscious roused me awake with strange words, We travel on the dice of the mind.

 I’d been asleep for a couple of hours and in no mood to pay attention. I rolled over, only to be awakened again at 3:05; this time, the tone was more insistent.  I told myself to remember and went back to sleep. When I was again roused at 4:05, I felt like my unconscious was in chains, clanging for release. I muttered, all right…all right, slid into my slippers and went to my desk. At the computer, a part of me jumped onto the screen. Line after line, disjointed, my unconscious tumbled down the page. The words made no sense, yet they changed me.

I followed my unconscious for months, rose every morning very early to write lines about my work, my family, the state of the world. In the past, as a teen, I had written poetry as an expression of both gladness and angst, the need to put to paper all the emotions I could not hold. Those poems, like childhood, had been left behind. After six months of writing, I realized I needed to know more, to appreciate and shape what I was writing, to attend workshops with other aspiring writers.

I am grateful for luck, the good fortune and timing that lead me to two summers at the Bennington College Summer writing workshops and Mary Oliver as my first poetry teacher. Mary’s strait-to-the-point approach affirmed my voice, engendered courage. At our first meeting, she said, you have passion.

I am grateful to Mary for her willingness to put aside time to run beside me, to cull over my fledgling poems, to write in longhand in the margins, to mentor me. I was, at the time, a full time therapist, an advise-giver, with facile use of explanatory language. On an early poem, she wrote, see how you are using the slightly intellectual, stilted words and adjectives to do the work.

Mary affirmed the discipline of “showing up for the muse,” the belief that without the discipline of effort, the struggle to put  words on the page, to shape the words into a poem, to rework and revise, to write lyrically, until what is on the page seems right and true.

April is poetry month! I am grateful for poetry—the writing of, the reading of. I had many vicarious mentors—Stanley Kunitz, who addressed love and grief with such splendor and heart, whom I adopted, early on, as my “poetry grandfather.” There were others: Komunyakaa, Yevtushenko, Li-Young Lee, Gary Snider, Carolyn Forche, Joy Harjo, Naomi Shihab Nye and Gregory Orr, whose memoir, The Blessing, inspired me to leap to memoir.

I now have friends and colleagues who are devoted poets: Kathleen Aguero, Laure-Anne Bosselaar, Meg Kearney, the Director of the Solstice Creative Writing Program, who, to this day, although I graduated as a nonfiction writer, reminds me over and over that, at heart, I am a poet. I am grateful, Meg.