AGING, NATURE

THE MAGIC HOUR

“No, I will not look at my phone. I will not look at Facebook,” I said to myself on this early morning. I use my phone to listen to podcasts before I go to bed and for the clock when I arise. It seems as if everywhere I look these days word is out that keeping a phone charging by the bed or anywhere in the bedroom should be off limits as it impedes sleep.

My sleep is seldom impeded unless there is a full moon or I have a crazy dream. The phone is always turned over so there is no blinking blue light getting into my pattern. I also never have my phone on for sound, so consequently, I never hear a ring, a bing, or a swish or any other cell phone sound that is part of what seems to be a fully accepted surround sound wherever we are.

Today, though, I woke up with a circling brain- scattered thoughts, hard time concentrating. Maybe the phone by my bed is causing this and I should buy an old school clock. Maybe I don’t even need a clock anymore since I wake up with a, no pun intended, alarming regularity. Five, five thirty, sometimes four, occasionally six, seldom seven. For my whole life, since I was in ninth grade, I have never been a late sleeper.

The morning is my magic hour.

Without my morning time, I lose my balance. As a matter of fact, now that I think about this, I have unconsciously designed my entire life around keeping my mornings sacred. I am fortunate- lucky, some people would say, that I have this glorious option when I wake up.

Should I work out, go for a bike ride, write, tinker in the garden, sit, or listen and stare at the world? This is not luck, this is choice. I have built a business to support my life and my lifestyle. Owning my own company for almost twenty years has given me this ability to control my own way I spend my time.

This is ironic in some ways because being a business owner usually means that work is 24/7. No question. I am always working. At least my brain is- there is no luxury of locking up at the end of a day, walking away and not thinking about the job. But even when I had “a job” I thought about work. I always had owner brain which is why I likely turned into a business owner.

But this writing today is not about work; it is about the morning, that magic hour of five — seven am. When sounds are just nature, not traffic, only car doors opening and the truck engine of my neighbor starting so he can leave for work. The morning is the routine of my day which is about the only stable routine I follow. Wake up, take some slow deep breaths, open the curtains to take a peek at the weather, head to the bathroom for some teeth brushing, face splashing and moisturizing, throw on my old lady clothes consisting of a gardening dress, a Life is Good tee shirt, socks and Ugg clogs, no fashion show here, but pure fifty four year old, live alone comfort. I then make my way to the kitchen to start the coffee. Most mornings these days I make myself sit on the pillow and meditate while the coffee perks, but today, the sounds of my yard were calling me.

I poured my coffee in my new favorite mug given to me by a new favorite friend and made my way to my garden to greet the new blooms with a big happy “Welcome!” I talk to my entire garden. “Hello!” I joyfully exclaim to each of the plants that are my old friends. “Good Morning!” to any plant that decided to bloom for my personal pleasure. I walk around the garden noting what is in need of some assistance. Some of the lavender and thyme I planted last year is struggling. “I must trim the dead wood,” I say to myself, always having a checklist popping like rice crispies. Owning a magic kingdom from 1865 commands a perpetual checklist. Worth every bother most days, though, when I am able to allow patience to prevail, a constant source of work and pleasure.

The fragrance of the morning blossoming honeysuckle puts me in a trance. The rose bush each year that, according to my eight four year old neighbor, was planted over sixty years ago, is blooming like it is coming of age and just discovered its own beauty. My forty packets of zinnias and cosmos I threw cares to the wind and sprinkled like fairy dust are popping up everywhere. No systemic gardening design now, just wild color everywhere is my hope for August if all goes as planned.

All goes as planned…. What does that even mean? Planning is all I have ever done. I never tire of planning and crafting ideas and parties in my head. But nature is the counter balance for this busy spirit. Without it, I would be way off the rails instead of just partially a little wacky.

I stand in my gravel driveway after inspecting my pots of zinnia sprouting like magic. I look up to find the song sparrow singing to me again as she does every single day like clockwork, happy to have her serenading me. I listen for my familiar cardinals and as I look up, I see five or six seagulls headed towards the sound of a motor boat on the bay likely a quahoger out on the water at his job, hoping for some free breakfast. (Not the quahog, the seagulls). I look towards my bright fiery pink roses starting to wind down, wishing I had planted more, and notice out of the corner of my eye, one of the two baby bunnies that now reside on my property.

I stand as still as a mannequin. I watch, thinking for a brief moment that if anyone saw me at this moment, they may think I have lost my marbles in the get up I have the balls to stand outside in. I notice the petals of the roses that have fallen to the ground and watch the bunny sniffing them. She then takes one in her mouth where I am sure she will realize it is not the food she was looking for and spit it out, but to my luscious surprise, she eats the entire petal. Then another and another. My thoughts are this. “She likes the taste of rose as much as I do!” followed by, “I am so happy I didn’t let Mike, my landscaper to spray round up in my driveway.”

This is what i call self confidence.

I watched for a few more minutes appreciating the stillness of this magic moment and thought how happy I am that the honeysuckle’s aroma this morning traveled like the swirl of a magic Genie coming out of her bottle the way Barbara Eden used to in I Dream of Jeannie back in what seemed like a simpler time in life.

Nature in the morning is gift that so many pass by and take for granted. Just a brief stop to smell a rose blooming or taste the smallest drop of the sweet honeysuckle on the way to the car to work can be a day changer. We are running and running. Nature is our excuse to stop and smell the roses. Let’s do this. #Timetolookupindeed.

6am. yep.
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WHAT A DIFFERENCE A YEAR MAKES

WHAT A DIFFERENCE A YEAR MAKES

Big plans this morning as usual. I have a lot to get into my schedule because I have to work at 9 today. Gardening, writing and a bike ride are in the forefront of my plans. Waking up at 6am, a little late for this early bird, coffee already brewing thanks to Michael C. and I am off and running. Well not really running, moving. Brush my teeth, wash my face and oil it up, throw on my gardening dress and those trusty red plastic gardening Birkenstocks and grab my compost bucket to get my ass outside where glory awaits. If I don’t start watering and weeding at the early am, the computer calls to me and so does my writing. I love that part of my morning ritual, but my garden does not and life and the plants that are its bounty deserve my first awakening once gardening season is upon me.

I manage to balance my turquoise metal compost bucket on one wrist, my Life is Good black coffee filled mug in the other and make my way from my second floor habitat to the fragrant beauty that lies before me. I bring my bucket to the back compost area created in memory of my dear friend and compost expert, Ros and add to the pile, opening the homemade bin that works just fine now that I have some compost wisdom under my gardening belt. Buying a compost bin is almost laughable now that I have taken a gigantic trash bin, drilled holes everywhere for the air and water and for less than fifty dollars, I have a golden pile of joy steaming and working like nature simply does when you stop trying to control it.

But these are the lessons of nature and gardening. And life, actually. Leaning in, accepting, allowing and most importantly cutting back. I have noticed that the more I cut my plants, the more they come back with a vengeance as if to say, thanks for the haircut, I am stronger and more vivacious with the energy you have bestowed upon me. So I march forth to the hose and turn on the water while Michael sits on the back deck reading the NYT. The cardinals are quiet today as I begin my almost daily routine of watering my immense beds and pots. I am filled with peace as the shoots have tripled since yesterday, the soon to be bright red hibiscus is growing at a pace that I can’t comprehend. Where does their energy come from? Yes I know science 101, sun, soil, worms, light, water, oxygen = growth, but what makes this all work? I contemplate the workings of life and nature as I water happily, taking sips of my coffee that follows my path placing my cup on the various resting places when it is not in my hand. I bend to notice why some of my basil and tarragon is not doing so well when the oregano and bay leaf plant is growing at a rate that gardeners dream about. I am at peace, completely and utterly present to myself and I think back to last year at this time when I couldn’t really even bend to garden because I was recovering from a double mastectomy. Last year at this time, gardening was a chore, something that overwhelmed me and I had to allow it to just be what it was going to be along with the help I had to ask for. I reflected back on how I had made the commitment to be part of a garden tour for the Bristol Art Museum and somehow managed to pull this off. Was that only last year?

Each gardening season reminds me of last gardening season and the season that is ahead as I make note of what will be cut and moved for the fall. Divide and conquer more like it. Purple iris’ need to be shared in the back left where I could swear last year had a full bed. This year lots of empty space. My lambs ears, usually a super easy plant that makes me so happy decided not to return this year. To do, to do, to do. The lists are endless as I contemplate my day realizing that the porch and my writing will usurp my bike ride today as there is only so much time in the early morning to fit in all I desire.

Today I am reading a eulogy that I wrote for a young woman’s funeral who died from an overdose. Heroin. Another great spirit taken by addiction. I had known her since she was three and I dated her dad when we were both far too young to be doing anything other than dating. She was thirty nine when she died and I hadn’t seen her for well over twenty five years since her addiction became her best friend.

As I gardened this morning, I am filled with moments of poignant memories of a time in my life many people who know me now would not recognize. But these are the formative years that build the character of these later ones. The whys and the whats are all part of who I have become today. I sit here this morning rereading the eulogy for the tenth time to practice the momentum of its pace and its pauses so I can try to contain the emotion that it will likely bring as I look into the eyes of my past life. The unique view I have the privilege of being part of today is that I get to be a bookend for her life. I was there at the early days, like a new planting and I am here today at the end like a plant that can’t be saved even though you want it to come back next year. Sometimes nature has just run its course and it is time to go. Funerals are like bookends. They bring together the past and the present with the old faces from my childhood that were once young and breathless and are now filled with lines and etchings of the past thirty five years. Sadness coupled with the joy of seeing old friends are the only part of the funeral experience that make it bearable. I sit here today as I finish my writing with the bittersweet feelings of looking forward to going and also the intense sadness of the loss mixed up like the compost in my backyard. Just as I finish, the waft of the first smell of the blooming honeysuckle that reminds me always of my young life in Jamestown, makes its way into my nose and my heart. Besides this, there is silence. The cardinals and the birds are not singing to me today because it is like they know that a life has been taken too young to sing about.

Lesa with an E instead of an I in her earliest days way before her addiction. Yes that is Robert Plant she got to meet him in Newport as he was visiting and she and her Dad just happened to be there at the same time.
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THE MORNING BREATH

THE MORNING BREATH

“Do you have any honeysuckle?’ I asked the woman working in the perennial section at my local garden center.

“NO.” she stated with a pungent tone. “We try to get rid of honeysuckle, frankly.” Meaning that it was one of those pesky plants this particular garden center found to be a nuisance in a garden.

“Hmmfff. Go fuck yourself.”

That’s what I wanted to say. That was the bubble over my head, but I didn’t of course. I strutted out of there vowing for the millionth time to boycott yet another place on the planet with bad service. (and like all of my self imposed rules and regs, I broke the rule and went back and got way better service, second chances are kind, I am kind, right?)

This was two gardening seasons ago and as I left there with her snotty attitude towards my quest for a honeysuckle plant in hand, I thought about her nerve and of course her inability to be a great saleswoman. Afterall, she had no idea why I would be asking to buy a honeysuckle plant and her tone was insulting off the bat. Does anyone selling plants really know the behind the scenes reason for specific inquiries?

Fast forward to this early am. I am sitting on my back deck with my coffee cup after waking brightly at 4:15am ready to start the day with the cardinal voices outside my window. Reliable, my cardinal friends, they are there every morning for me and my friend, Dottie who I live next door to. Notice I did not say, ‘She lives next door to me,’ because Miss Dot has lived in the house next door to me for over seventy years and is the matriarch of the street for sure. We became fast friends the moment I met her over six years ago and we are huge cardinal fans (the birds not the team, please Red Sox forever for us) and being in our yard fans.

It is super bright and sunny back here at this early morning light of 7:14am. I have already done a boatload of things around my house, folded and put away laundry, straightened up a few things, talked to my aunt and my partner for my daily morning chat and now just basking in the glory of my garden feeling grateful and content in the moment.

Then out of the blue as I took that delicious deep breath, you know the one that reminds you of the power of the present right here right now, the pale yellow fragrant sweetness wafted right into my inhalation. Perfumey, bright, and soft, the honeysuckle plant I managed to find at a much cooler garden center two years ago has finally grown flowers and decided that I was worthy of the release of their sacred smell. Just when I was remembering to take that deep diaphragmatic breath, just when I was remembering in my busy brain of to do lists for my day to shut it the hell off and appreciate the here and now. Like the sweet chirp of the morning cardinal reminding me that yes, everything is going to be alright, the honeysuckle fragrance is the sound, the reminder in my olfactory system to be here. NOW.

I looked at its viney potential as it is working its way up my side railing to meet the wisteria on the other side and I smiled. I smiled because honeysuckle is not about a plant at a garden center two years ago. Honeysuckle is about Jamestown, RI in the summer with my brother in 1976. It is about the happiest time in our young lives when our parents still seemed happily married and we led a relatively normal life. It is about being outside until dark every summer night being surrounded by its nighttime fragrance. It is about the morning walking to school and seeing it growing wildly and learning to bite the end off to suck out the nectar. It is about teaching my son and the neighborhood children to do the same.

Honeysuckle is so much more than walking into a garden center to buy a plant, it is a childhood connection that is sweet and viney and messy and hard to control. It is about good enough, and imperfect. Honeysuckle is about not expecting the smell and then smelling it. It is about waiting for the flowers for two years and then like the magic that nature is, they appear just in time to remind a busy brain to rest and feel the love.

Death of a loved one especially such a young one is a traumatic experience. The thing I love about honeysuckle and all it represents to me is that I can call the memory of my brother back in a nanosecond just by seeing a honeysuckle plant or smelling one. I sit here this morning with my coffee feeling his warmth and his sweet smile, listening to the birds, seeing them fly around my garden knowing that at some point I will be sitting here and I will see a hummingbird at this nuisance of a plant that a bratty garden gal didn’t want to sell me. As I look up every few minutes from my writing today and look at the plant, I am so happy I kept looking for this plant two years ago. Even sweeter is knowing that I planted it after my first surgery and it is blooming after my second one. Blessed and grateful again for nature’s timing and its humble gifts when I look up and breathe. Imperfectly perfect.





Some garden moments this beautiful June 15th of a morning.