Tag Archives: Connecticut

Earth’s Second Chance

photo by Paul Mayer

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

“A culture is no better than its woods.” W.H. Auden

 

Even in fiction, trees seem to be leading characters in every book my friend, Diana, and I are reading lately. One book runs into another, no, it grows into another and gets passed back and forth. I see no end to it. We are on a tear, Diana and I.

The Golden Spruce, by John Vaillant

Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren

The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben

Barkskins, by Annie Proulx

The Living, by Annie Dillard

The Overstory, by Richard Powers

 

You have to remember: one third of the earth’s land was once forested.

Many of us have a tree we remember from childhood, when trees really were main characters in our lives. It was an apple tree for me in Connecticut. Its branches were as familiar as the fingers on my hands. Being up in the tree was nothing less than Swiss Family Robinson in my mind, until I was called down for dinner.

Two trees in particular captured Diana’s imagination growing up in Pittsburgh. One was a neighbor’s large mulberry tree with branches reaching into her yard. She and her friends constructed tents, “sort of girl clubhouses,” by hanging sheets from the branches. “Late in the summertime, there would be blue/black mulberries all over both yards, and we’d always have stained feet and shoes from running around back there.”

“The other personal tree was a tall fir in front of my grandparents’ summer cottage in Slippery Rock. As a young girl, I used to climb high into that tree, and just perch up there. It smelled like Christmas, and I loved being up in that tree. Nobody knew where I was, nobody could see me up there… my own private getaway.”

Decades later, Diana is once again fortunate to have a certain tree in her life, known as Grandfather Tree. “What can I say about him?” she asks. “Well, it starts with thinking about how long he’s been here, keeping watch over everything… It’s weathered storms and heat, it once held a treehouse where kids played, it survived the awful chainsaw “trimming” of limbs, it’s a favorite perch for bald eagles when they are in the neighborhood, it’s got families of ants running up and down its trunk all day, and it just feels sacred to me.”

In white hands, most of our trees were cut down east to west and on both sides of the US/Canadian border. With a few old-growth exceptions such as Grandfather Tree on island, most of our woods today are second-growth. Today we respect our forests as we do our gardens, but the early twentieth century woods witnessed unbridled logging much like whaling at sea.

“When a colonist looked at a pine tree he saw a ship’s mast; in an oak he saw barrel staves.” (Michael Pollen, Second Nature)

Native Americans knew how to look at trees, how to live with trees, and love them. “The Indian landscape was animated by all manner of spirits, and trees were thought to possess venerable souls one was careful not to offend. In the shade of certain trees one found insight. Trees had feeling, eyes, and ears… and you did not cut one down unless absolutely necessary. Even then,” continues Michael Pollen, “you took the trouble to explain your reasons to the tree and beg its forgiveness.”

Second-growth forests are earth’s second chance, so to speak. And another opportunity for us to recapture, as my friend has, what we knew when we were young.

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The Story of a Rug

photo by Paul Mayer

 

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

When I moved west and married and had children, my parents figured I might not be coming back to New England afterall. Thus, when my grandparents died and their estate was divided, my parents shipped a beloved piece of furniture to me, a Philadelphia Highboy, in solid mahogany. It arrived in one piece. In my thank you note I enclosed a photograph that prompted my father to say, “You remind me of the old pioneers posing with their eastern possessions. The ones that made it out there.”

I would have had my arm around it if I could, but it’s a monstrous piece.

Since then we moved countless times, and in every house hunt one of my first considerations was always: where will we place the highboy? In dining rooms it held linens, tablecloths and such, ironed and folded. In a master bedroom or two it served admirably as my husband’s dresser—as he’s the only one tall enough to reach the highboy’s top drawers. Currently parked in our guest room, it’s my “wrap station” holding reams of grosgrain ribbon and rolls & rolls of gift wrap—its drawers are that broad.

This year a large silk rug from the same estate in Connecticut came to join us in the islands. What a tale this rug could tell, from Gram’s front parlor in Connecticut to its place today in a cedar shingle house in an old growth forest on the waterfront in the islands of the Puget Sound.

Threadbare and full of holes, I didn’t have to climb over any sisters to inherit this rug. But I treasure its vintage qualities. Indeed I have been known to flip over rugs that weren’t old enough, preferring their backsides. This one truly is, old enough.

I called my dad. I needed to tap his memory at 95 years of age as he grew up with this rug. It’s a little sketchy whether the rug had been in the dining room or the parlor, but dad and I decided to place it in the parlor. Either way, each room tells a different story, delectable or funereal.

Naturally we chose funereal.

Dark and overly wallpapered, high windows overly draped, it wasn’t that Gram’s front parlor was off limits to us. Not at all. It’s just that nothing seemed to happen in it. A grand piano displayed large silver framed photographs. Sadly, no one in the family played the piano. Victorian furniture lined the walls, upright and stiff with tufted upholstery and I can’t say I recall anyone ever sitting on any of  it.

If this silk rug had been in that parlor, in my grandmother’s day and in her mother’s day, no one could have possibly appreciated its colors—a brilliant fuchsia field with a border of bright French Blue—as the parlor always seemed dark to me. No wonder. According to my dad, the room had once been used for lying in wakes, a common occurrence in an era when deaths were all the more common too.

On its last leg perhaps, the rug has come to light. Northwest light. It is safe with me. No one is going to trip on its holes—as this rug will never know heels. Moccasins have become me, and all our friends wear comfortable shoes. One day we may have to worry about babies learning to walk in our living room, but then I can cut it into massive vintage pillows, and upholster a bench or two. I will see that this rug lives forever.

A woman on island, Mary Walley Kalbert, recently wrote a novel around kilim rugs. In Stone the Goat, women’s strength and resilience is reveled through the dyeing and weaving and the stories their rugs tell. I figured if she could do that, I could write a simple blog post about a rug. While Mary Kalbert’s tale takes you on a journey with a nomadic tribe to the yayla, a high plateau in the Taurus Mountains of Turkey, I only brought you into a Colonial front parlor.

And what could possibly come of it? In Mary Kalbert’s case, a beautiful novel. In my case, after peering into the parlor with my dad, revisiting the home of his childhood, he declared yesterday, “I’d like to learn to play the piano.”

Turns out, it’s always been on his to do list.

 

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Bird Park, San Diego

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

I remember my uncle’s visit in Southern California. We were living in Laguna Beach at the time, and, recently widowed, he was traveling to New Zealand from New England. We were a half-way resting place and ever so happy to have him.

My uncle looked upon it all incredulously. From Connecticut to California it must have been like landing on the moon. Main Beach is to Laguna Beach what “The Town Green” is to New England. In Laguna, a well-tended lifeguard tower stood in lieu of a white gazebo. And sand and surf where there was usually a lawn. Main Beach bustled with people, tan, fit, and half-clad.

I was seeing all this through my uncle’s eyes.

“Everyone’s in motion, aren’t they?” I asked. He could only nod.

Today our daughter lives across from Bird Park in San Diego. Bird Park is a part of Balboa Park, the famed legacy of Kate Sessions. Balboa Park may be to San Diego what Central Park is to New York City.

There is something so timeless about this scene from our daughter’s front door: a child and a swing, families picnicking. Strollers, bikes, rollerblades, scooters. Stretching routines and soccer practice.

Constructed in the shape of an enormous bird, Pershing Drive is the “branch” on which the “bird” stands. Employing native plantings to attract local birds, Bird Park is the brainchild of San Diego artists Robin Brailsford and Wick Alexander.

I raised my children not far from here in this climate when they were very young. Out every day, all day, is how I remember our time together. We were card-carrying members, regulars at The Wild Animal Park, now Safari Park. Strolling The Kilimanjaro Trail, lunching at picnic tables, napping in a double stroller while still moving.

A short jog off The Kilimanjaro Trial, we liked to cut through an Australian Rain Forest exhibit for the girls were fond of wallaby’s and kookaburras—as amused by the names as much as the animals. For me it was the vegetation, a green respite from the dry brown heat of the African-based trail. In the shelter of the rain forest I pointed out bronze signs in braille to two little girls who were learning to read English at the time. Their fingers running over and over the raised dots in each sign.

Sometimes you are all of one place. The climate became us. The park, wildlife, and horticulture, became us. I could see my daughters in khaki uniforms one day working summer jobs there. But then we moved. How did we ever move to the desert when San Diego was desert enough? I ask myself this now.

I live on an island now, and I have become it. I hear from friends that the bulbs are pushing up, and I must return.

Life moves in mysterious ways. Sometimes in circles, sometimes in avian shapes. But never in a straight line.

 

Perching birds of San Diego, in no particular order: Black-chinned sparrow, California towhee, Common yellowthroat, Horned lark, Western wood-peewee, Vermilion flycatcher, Western bluebird, Barn swallow, Blue grosbeak, Yellow warbler, Savannah sparrow, Loggerhead shrike, Northern rough-winged swallow, Red-breasted nuthatch, Rufous-crowned sparrow, Gray vireo, Marsh wren, Fox sparrow, California thrasher, Lark sparrow, Black phoebe, Tree swallow, Dusky flycatcher, Sage sparrow, LeConte’s thrasher, Lawrence’s goldfinch, California gnatcatcher, Tricolored blackbird, Say’s Phoebe, Wrentit, Bell’s vireo, Yellow-breasted chat, Red-winged blackbird, Lucy’s warbler, Chipping sparrow, Western tanager, Spotted towhee, Dark-eyed junco, Hooded oriole, Song sparrow, Brown-headed cowbird, Rock wren, Olive-sided flycatcher, Yellow-rumped warbler, Black-tailed gnatcatcher, Bushtit, Verdin, American robin, Lesser goldfinch, Green-tailed towhee, Black-headed Grosbeak, Western kingbird, Violet-green swallow, Cassin’s kingbird, Black-throated sparrow, Phainopepha, Cactus wren, Purple finch, Scrub jay, Bullock’s oriole, Grasshopper sparrow,  Scott’s oriole, American goldfinch, Purple martin, Pacific-slope flycatcher, Lazuli bunting, Western meadowlark, Ash-throated flycatcher, Great-tailed crackle, Blue-grey gnatcatcher, Orange-crowned warbler, Brewer’s blackbird, Willow flycatcher, White-breasted nuthatch, Hutton’s vireo, Canyon wren, Crissal thrasher, Steller’s jay, Plain titmouse, Northern mockingbird, Bewick’s wren, Warbling vireo, Pygmy nuthatch, Bendire’s thrasher, Warbling vireo, Pygmy nuthatch, Bendire’s thrasher, American crow, Brown creeper, Mountain chickadee, and Common raven

 

 

 

 

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Crazy Making

Garrison Bay 2

Moving is crazy making, especially when we bring it on ourselves. Anyone who knows me or has been reading me, knows how fond I am of Seattle. But in all our excursions to the San Juan Islands, we found something. So I am leaving the city I love for a little home in the woods on a bay. In a perfect world I’d have a pied- à -terre in the city too.

Preparing a home to go on the market, on one hand, and remodeling another house with the other, I lost my stride of a weekly post in blogging. Other bloggers are running circles around me, and because I must jump back in, here it goes:

I have to try this. My romance of living on the water and writing in a hut down by the water’s edge. The wind in the pines and water over rock. The fresh smell of cedar. The smile of a rope hammock hanging between trees. The quietude of kayaks. The grilling of fish, and the taste of the ocean in each raw oyster and boiled crab. Growing our own everything, and what we don’t grow, purchasing from people who do. Adirondack chairs circling a stone fire pit. Watching the fire and watching the stars at night.

This is not going to come by staying put.

It is important to note whether one is moving-towards or moving-away. This is a moving-towards. Only a couple times in my life have I felt the need to move away. Once was from St. Thomas U.S.V.I., and had nothing to do with St. Thomas or The Virgin Islands. The other was from Los Angeles, and had everything to do with LA.

Long ago I set off on a journey with my little neighbor, Tony, into the woods behind our homes. We couldn’t have been more than five or six. I was sure it would lead to somewhere. That we’d come to some place magical like Oz, if we just persevered. Tony, however, turned around and headed home.

This girl kept going. And before long the woods did come out somewhere, but it was just another nice neighborhood in Connecticut. One that looked much like mine, but wasn’t. I was lost. So I did what Dorothy did and knocked on a front door.

It was the age of women at home, and so I was in luck. A kindly lady invited me in, seated me at her kitchen table and fed me milk and cookies. I didn’t notice, but she must have slipped out of the room to call the police and report a lost child. For it wasn’t long before an officer arrived at her house too. How cool was that? I got to come home in a cruiser! 

Look at all Tony missed by turning around.

 

I recently wrote my daughter:

I am sixty-two years old and live, as you know, on one of the “hills” in Seattle in a lovely little English Tudor home where a chandelier is reflected in a Venetian mirror. And I just bought a waterfront house in the islands that’s a total rehab with a trailer dumped on the lot. And all I want to do is go out there and clear brush! Am I nuts?

And she answered:

The best kind of nuts! You’ve lived in plenty of lovely neighborhoods, but you’ve never lived by the sea on a remotish-island. I am so excited for you.

 

 

 

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Rosemary for Remembrance

If I could live my life over again, I’d start gardening at an earlier age.

My first mentor in the gardening world was a woman we called “Mere.”  (My grandfather loved to work the land and grow things, but Mere was there when I was ready). And for all her horticultural knowledge and experience, she could not be accused of being a garden snob. I like to think I inherited that too.

Mere, or Marge Potter, was my grandmother’s friend, having grown up together in Connecticut. Marge recalled the day grandma’s father surprised his little girl with a pony in the kitchen on her birthday, as she was coming downstairs to breakfast. My grandmother lived her entire life in that enormous house, whereas Marge moved with her husband to Cleveland, and later, retired in San Diego. And that is where I was living at the time with my husband and our two young daughters. As a courtesy to my grandmother I went to call on her old friend, never guessing I would become so enamored with her too.

Marge is the one who threw me out of the house and down the garden path. She believed in herbs the way a witch or an old medicine man believes in them. Herbs had meaning and health benefits and a prominent place in her garden always. We spent many a late afternoon and early evening sitting on her terrace where a weathered, wooden St. Francis sculpture held court in the herb garden, my daughters tumbled about on the lawn, and the sun set over purple hills.

Today in Seattle, and everywhere we have lived since knowing her, I have made an herb garden of my own. My herbs grow in pots that have become wonderfully mossy and white, and perch upon a black wrought iron etegere that looks decidedly French. A St. Francis stands on my terrace as well. We use the herbs in cooking, enjoy the scent, and as much as an herb garden is a part of our lives now, it is also a memorial to Marge. I think of that every day I water.

Many of the herbs, such as the vigorous mint and oregano, hop around and seed themselves between pavers on the terrace. Marge would approve and say something like, “They know where they want to go.”

So I water them too.

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Days That Never Go Away

For days now I have had an unshakeable identity I hadn’t felt for a long time, and that is that I am a Connecticut girl born and bred. However much I ventured off and adopted other regions, it all came back to Connecticut for me this week with the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School. I think everyone felt this way. We all became Connecticut citizens at that moment.

I thought I could see my old neighborhood in the images. It looked familiar enough, all the parents and children, houses and trees. I saw my bucolic childhood. A time when no one locked doors. When no one other than hunters owned guns, and they took them away to wherever it was they went to hunt. While we were growing up the only guns we saw were in television shows, cop dramas and westerns, Dragnet and 77 Sunset Strip, Rawhide and Bonanza. In other words, when you saw a gun, you knew it was a toy.

And that is where I reached the end of the road in resemblance. No home then would have possessed assault weapons as this one did in Newtown, Connecticut. The Right to Bear Arms has become unbearable. Our children deserve the right to be safe. The British aren’t coming, and hunters can hunt in designated reserves where their arms are checked in, just as we leave our boats in marinas.

Gun control has long been an issue in my house. Twenty years ago when I was despairing over all the guns that were already out there, even if we could stop the sales tomorrow, my seven year old at the time said, “That’s easy, mom. They just have to stop making bullets.”

I knew she was right; if we wrap our heads around it, we can do anything. Now a woman of twenty-seven, nothing has happened in our nation in this regard. Nothing with the exception of more casualties. But just this week in the intro to her blog she wrote, “It seems like there is enough momentum to create some real change in the coming years.”(http://amadcity.com/2012/12/14/hope-take-two/).

Let’s topple the gun lobbyists who have held this country hostage for far too long. Let’s put our technology to the task. And let’s see that our country runs more like a National Park, realizing that we are at once both the caretakers and the precious wildlife.

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Filed under assault weapons, childhood, gun control, gun lobbyists

Tracing Our Life Stories

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the very first time.” T. S. Eliot

Summery children’s voices through open windows. Wagons, scooters, and strollers–all the apparatus of play. A brother and sister squeeze into a pint-sized motorized car on a sidewalk which is well off the road. The littlest fellow across the street sports an electric bike. He had to have that, I suppose, as his dad rides a motorcycle–to Amazon everyday, where he’s a manager in cloud computing. An Amazon server was recently effected by thunderstorms in the area, but it’s all back up and running, the boy on the electric bike, the man on the motorcycle, and all the companies reliant on Amazon’s cloud service.

One evening in book group we realized that all of us are originally from the East Coast. Our individual paths, however, took us all over the map as we actively shaped our life stories into the tales we can tell today. Though some folks take a more direct route to where they are going or draw no map at all, they are probably not people I know. The people I know tend to be complex, which has me thinking there are a lot of labyrinths walking around amongst us.

I am careful not to call us mazes. A maze is a more crazed path with built-in trickery: dead ends, roundabouts, and decisions to be made at every turn. It’s doable, but usually with difficulty. Lucky are the labyrinth meanderers amongst us! Endlessly winding and understanding that there is only one path and it is your path and you are following it, going forward. Following a labyrinth course, and seeing one’s life as such, is a right-brain activity. It quiets the mind. There is but one choice and that is to follow it, however indirect or circuitous. “A labyrinth is a place you go to get found,” notes writer Sally Quinn, who commissioned to have a 50′ labyrinth built for her walking/meditation purposes in a clearing by the woods at her home in Maryland.

Well, maybe our paths have not been altogether labyrinthian either. Labyrinths are whole and circular with a center. Where you go in is where you come out, and its paths turn and gently fold alongside themselves much like brain matter. I drew my life journey by placing a piece of tracing paper over a map, starting of course with where I began, where I was born. From there, a line drawing of a mythical creature began to evolve and put down legs–if only to spring from. In it I see a deer in flight, a kangaroo, or wallaby, bounding off hind legs. Or possibly an ostrich or emu, sprinting off and landing here, in The Pacific Northwest. The Southern points on my map (St. Thomas, San Diego, and Tucson) were primarily for pushing off, as I know now that I had to go there to get here.

I have been living out West for half my life and my mother in New England still expects I will “move back home.” I am at home, or rather, where I am meant to be on my life’s journey. Whatever the animal/bird pictograph that is my life’s line drawing, it was always heading here. How many times in the woods I’ve remarked, “If I were a deer I’d live here!” And as bald eagles glide at tremendous height over the Puget Sound, “If I were a bird this is where I’d come to live!”

Maybe my mother knows something I don’t. That family plot down by The Connecticut River reserved by my grandparents so long ago for all the clan…. I haven’t decided. I may get lost in the woods yet or fall into the sea, but that plot, I suppose, would make this life story all the more labyrinthine.

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