When I was a Child…
When I was little I swore to myself that I would not be one of those grown-ups who told children “When I was a child, I walked 10 miles back and forth to school every day in all weather– blizzards and ice storms, and I carried 15 pounds of books on my back and I took care of my eight little sisters and brothers and such and such and such and such.” But here I am, not telling it to my grandchildren, but worse, writing it in a blog post. My excuse? I feel almost an obligation to tell young people what they are missing and point the finger at the cause. There seems to have been a fundamental shift in reality as we know it. Maybe every generation feels this and that is why there are these older people going around saying: “When I was a child…”
When I was a child, I remember autumns so brisk you could feel the frost on your cheeks in October rather than a sun beating down 80 degrees in “unseasonably warm” weeks of extended summer. I remember Thanksgivings so cold the grown-ups drank hot toddies at the Thanksgiving Day parade and we children would go home with frozen fingers and red cheeks and warm by the fire before the grand feast began. It was never 70 degrees in November or God forbid in December!! And I remember ice skating on a frozen pond in January and going home with toes so frozen they hurt when you put them near the radiator to warm up. And swollen red fingers. But the hurt felt good and the fresh air felt good and the icy cheeks felt good, for you knew you were really alive, with a keen mind and an invigoration that rivaled any cup of Frapaccino from Starbucks. And I remember springs so cool you needed to have a spring coat or jacket. Winter did not just stop one day and summer begin the next with 90 degree days in April. My memories are precious and the young today may never know such memories in great thanks to Global Warming. Now it is approaching normal to have 70 degrees in November and 90 degrees in April.
And most of all when I was little I remember looking at the night sky and seeing a phantasmagoram of stars. Some readers may remember 50 years ago looking up at the Sputnik passing overhead and they may recall the stars seeming brighter then. They were. Today thanks to light pollution we see “less than one per cent of what Galileo would have been able to see without a telescope” as David Owen writes in his recent article The Dark Side. This light pollution is called “sky glow” and basically it means that because of air pollution the atmosphere is more reflective rather than being transparent making it harder to see the stars.
Of course this brings up the outrage and perils of air pollution which clouds the skies night and day!!!
On top of that so much illumination from the earth has faded the stars above thanks to things called “glare bombs” which are light fixtures that spread light sideways right into our eyes. Owen explains that the “eye adapts to the brightest thing in sight… when you have glare, the eye adapts to the glare, but then you can’t see anything darker.” It has to do with the rods and cones in our eyes. Rods are what allow us to see at night and cones give us color vision. The rods are very sensitive and can take an hour to readjust to the dark after being exposed to a light. The brighter the light, the longer it takes to adjust. So we are making it harder to see with these bright light packs that Owen points out make it easier for crime to occur because it is harder for people to see in the dark areas. This is why deer, who have superior night vision due to a greater concentration of rods, are blinded by headlights of cars. It has nothing to do with their intelligence and again, like all of this, plenty to do with man’s so called “progress.” And these light packs are so bright, Owen reckons they could probably be seen from earth with a hobbyist’s telescope if they were put on the moon. He points out that in a “truly dark sky” one can see more shooting stars than one can count. I have never seen a shooting star. My husband saw one as a child in camp in Wisconsin.
“I need a place where I can see the stars,” my husband said when we decided to buy our renovated barn in Stanfordville. And when we gaze at the night sky it sometimes takes our breath away and indeed on some nights we just stand outside gazing upwards speechless. It is the “awe” factor and seeing ourselves within the perspective of the infinite. But in the 5 years we have been here, the sky has become brighter and the stars harder to see. Poughkeepsie is a bright glow on the horizon and just a few weeks ago some sort of electrical transformer was installed on our road with a piercing green light maybe one inch in diameter that illumines the road and the whole front of our house at night. My husband calls it “the green eye of Mordor.” This light makes star gazing more difficult.
I mourn the frosty falls, the cold winters, the cool springs and the brilliant night sky. But at least people of my generation have their memories. The young people of today have been short-changed by my generation who have squandered nature. The youth of today have grown up deprived of some of the most brilliant shows of natural beauty and variety in climate. Global warming and pollution are the criminals here. They have robbed today’s children of some of life’s greatest treasures– treasures that turn into warm memories, themselves treasures, of “When I was a child…”
Welcome to samples of my writing showcasing “Eye-locks and Other Fearsome Things.” “Eye-locks” is a Bipolar/Asperger’s memoir in narrative form that describes the triumph of love over mental illness.
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It is an overcast day. Brightly colored birds stand out like jewels in the greyness. The winter birds– jays and cardinals, juncos, black-capped chickadees, white-breasted nuthatches and downy woodpeckers flock to the bird feeder and it has to be filled up almost every day. The red berries on the bushes are nearly all gone and the feeder is becoming a matter of survival. On our walks we see empty nests held in the bare arms of winter trees. An empty robin’s nest is filled with snow– the hatchlings and the mother long gone to fairer climes. The trees are stripped down to their souls. With ice storms they become tinkling chandeliers. In the rain the few remaining dead leaves drip icy tear drops.
Occasionally a dove visits the feeder. The chipmunk, who gathered scattered seeds under the feeder all fall, is not to be seen. He must be in torpor in his den. According to Bernd Heinrich in: The Winter World: the Ingenuity of Animal Survival, the eastern chipmunk builds a twelve foot storage system with a nest chamber some three feet down and a tunnel system which includes a food storage chamber. Heinrich says chipmunks go in and out of torpor. He reasons that they would not gather food if they were to be in torpor all winter long. We will probably not see our chipmunk for the rest of the winter for, in his stuporous state, he would be easy prey. However he can be roused to eat and venture outdoors if need be, especially in March when there still may be snow on the ground but mating season begins.
The grey squirrels are busy clearing snow from branches as they run along tree limbs. On the ground they dig through the snow for the walnuts we watched them bury in the ground with their noses this fall. They do not need to hibernate for they have food stores which they built up in the autumn and leafy, well-insulated nests. The red squirrels survive winter by putting on a thick, insulating fur.
The back yard is a maze of tunnels. We think they are deer mouse tunnels as many have tunneled their way into our house. But they must get by the feral cat who sometimes waits out a snow storm under our deck. In the woods, the occasional deer waits out the same storm under a squat fir tree. The tracks in the snow tell the story of how they weathered a Nor’Easter.
Beneath the tracks in the snow, in the frozen leaf litter, the insect world is dormant. Some hibernate. Others fill their bodies with antifreeze, glycerol, to stay alive. Heinrich talks about woolly bears hibernating but they are also capable of freezing solid and surviving, coming to life again as they thaw in the spring. The pupae, however, don’t survive being frozen.
In Winter: an Ecological Handbook, authors, James C. Halfpenny, Elizabeth Besiot and Roy Douglas Ozonne, tell us that the reptiles and amphibians pick out a “microclimate for hibernation that does not freeze” for their winter, such as the “bottoms of ponds, streams, or deep in the ground.”
Our stream flows out back in the marsh under ice and snow and one can see the elongated bubbles of running water. In the pond next door the turtles lay beneath the ice in their hibernacula. At the end of the book, The Year of the Turtle, David M. Carroll, the naturalist, author and artist, has his watercolor of a spotted turtle hibernating. This picture is hypnotic and in its spell, I think of all the animals hibernating beneath our feet in lugubrious gloom. It reminds me of the penguins in the film, The March of the Penguins, in the dead of an Antarctic winter, huddled together for warmth in the harsh, strong winds and snow, taking turns being on the outside of the huddle. Winter can be magnificent in its transformations yet tragic in its harshness: hibernating animals who freeze to death and deer starving to death in the snow among the victims of its violence.
Carroll’s drawing shows the turtle all alone, withdrawn into its shell under less than two feet of water lodged firmly in the mud under ice under snow in a sunny winter’s day, a far better clime than the penguin’s– and yet it evokes a certain sadness for this little creature all alone beneath the snow, in a torpid state. The turtle is missing out on a sunny day, sleeping a deep sleep in a “half year of stillness.”
Carroll’s writing is sheer poetry as he describes the turtle’s hibernation: “Mounting layers of snow silently cover the ice. Night after night in the harshest depth of winter, as Orion and the Pleiades burn distant and brilliant in the black sky and strong winds howl off the mountain to the northwest, the turtles rest beneath the ice. With the life in them nearly suspended, reduced to its most tenuous hold, all but extinct in the vast, inhospitable regime that reaches above them to the limits of the universe, they lie within their shells, waiting for the earth to make its required turnings and return them to the sun that will awaken them to another season.”
I think of the turtles below, along with all the other beautiful creatures. I wish them a kind sleep from which they will safely stir with the life force surging through their veins as the sun brings them to the fullness of life again. The death of some, and the half life of so many, proffers the poignancy of winter.
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Welcome to samples of my writing and art work showcasing “Eye-locks and Other Fearsome Things.” “Eye-locks” is a Bipolar/Asperger’s memoir in narrative form that describes the triumph of love over mental illness.
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Bontecou Lake Swamp, Millbrook, New York
Every year what budded in autumn blossoms full blown in the weeks before official winter– my love affair with trees. Trees that were drop-dead gorgeous in their fall colors are now bare, with the exception of evergreens and a few stray deciduous trees that refuse to relinquish their leaves. Now the trees are stripped down to their souls and their souls sing a siren song to the universe.
The tops of trees lift my spirit; brushlike they paint the sky the baby pinks and blues of mornings, and the majestic magentas and violets of day’s end. Each tree has its signature shape against the sky, like a fingerprint or a snowflake, similar yet each unique. Some treetops in their bare state are shaped like a fancy coiffure; others look like wrought iron filigree. On distant mountains, against the snowy ground, some look like stubble on an old man’s unshaven face.
It is the cold, colorful pre-winter sky showing through, and showing off, the bare branches that woos me. The bare curvaceous branches are stark, dark lines against the bright of day and the inky sky of night. These resplendent creatures are living lines that explode. Branches tangle like the lines in a Jackson Pollock painting. Others curve in the sensuous lines of a Brancusi sculpture. Buxom tree trunks stand strong surrounded by their colorful, dead blossoms amid the ground cover and their burgeoning berries, the offspring of a Renaissance Madonna. In truth these trees are not like art at all. Rather art imitates them– their beauty provides the timeless inspiration for artists, writers and poets of all ages and styles.
Trees not only inspire, they themselves are paragons of diversity. One look out of a car window while driving on the Taconic and one can see squat pines alongside towering majestic firs, birches interspersed with maple and oak. And together the different brown and tan barks interspersed with evergreens create not only a mosaic of contrasting colors, but display an example to inspire humans to live together in peaceful unity.
These beneficent beings carry the heavy, dark grey clouds of winter. When it snows the tree trunks become canvases for the abstract patterns of windblown-snow, while the serpentine branches are outlined in white. In ice storms their branches become chandeliers, each enveloped in glassine ice. While in the melancholy of a winter rain, the branches become oiled skins of snakes weeping to the ground below. And finally, in the night sky, the branches hold the stars in their arms, those with leaves holding them in their hands, as they nurse the moon.
All trees, no matter what their species, age or height, stand tall in proud humility, their arms reaching up to the Heavens to our Creator in prayer– soft-spoken beings of peace and tranquility towering over us, while we wee, little creatures race around distractedly below.
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Hammond Road, Millbrook, NY
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Autumn Next Door in Millbrook, NY
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Autumn in our Front Yard, Millbrook, NY
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At age 35 I found someone who was more afraid of closeness than I was. I understood him almost from day one. This understanding came out of years of therapy that followed my breakdown at age 28. Before the breakdown, I didn’t know that I was depressed. Before the breakdown, I didn’t know that my failed relationships were due to my fear of closeness. Before the breakdown, I didn’t know I was Bipolar. I learned a lot of things in therapy that helped to change the direction of my life.
And then one day Thomas walked into the library where I had been working for 10 years. He got a job as a library assistant. He was a graduate student and wanted to work part-time. I took the first steps towards asking him out because it was obvious he never would. I had learned a thing or two after a stint at being gay. We bumbled our way into a relationship and, after 4 years, into marriage. We didn’t know that either one of us had Asperger’s Syndrome, a neurodevelopmental disorder on the Autism Spectrum, until much, much later. We just thought we were very, very shy.
After some 33 years of marriage we are still shy with each other. Our instincts are still to run away from closeness, but now we are able to override the first gut feeling. We have grown together, becoming very, very close. So close that now my biggest fear is of losing Thomas. So close that sometimes we communicate without talking, as if we are on the same radio frequency. In fact talking often confuses things.
We have pushed each other along life’s path. Tom became a clinical social worker and I became a writer and artist. The road has been bumpy in spots. My being Bipolar has been hard for Tom at times. Many times. But there have been many more moments of joy that make it all worthwhile. We both feel the other is the best thing that happened to us, and the journey continues. New lessons are learned. There are still new magical moments and new epiphanies.
It is 3A.M. I lay beside Thomas in bed listening to his breathing as I watch a silent light show outside our bedroom windows. This is not a 3A.M. awakening born of despair as some are. At the moment I feel the Presence and that Presence fills me with love.
The moonlight beckons to me, and I respond by getting up and gazing at the twinkling stars and the hushed light of flickering fireflies. In the quiet stillness of a country night I am stirred by the music of the silence. My ears hum, the sound of the nervous system according to my husband.
The cool air is intoxicating. I go to the den to write and sit in a moonlit cathedral, watching the seemingly random flashing flames of fireflies flying in a frenzy of love. The madness of desire. Well do I know how love possesses one’s spirit and makes one fly through life, manic with emotion.
Yet sometimes, beneath the energy that stirs one’s blood, lies a silent union—a momentary glimpse of eternity in a loved-locked gaze into the eyes of one’s beloved. It is fleeting, at least for me. Gone in a flash, and yet it leaves me wondering just whom I am seeing. The inner voice says that God has touched my soul through Thomas, for the best of human love is merely a sampling of the Divine. Eye contact, so problematic for both my husband and me, is wondrous in this context. For a second, eternity beckons like the moonlight, whispering of another life, another world, something beyond the here and now.
(Click http://www.independentauthornetwork.com/ellen-stockdale-wolfe.html for information on, and to purchase my Bipolar/Asperger’s memoir.)
It’s 4:27… 4:28… 4:29 AM
and I miss you
I hope to God you’ll awaken
and bring me coffee
and tell me something funny and I will laugh
and you will be so pleased to see
someone “get” one of your thousands of spontaneous jokes.
I miss you…
you with the beautifully streaked-with-grey, fuzzy hair
and hundreds of lines, going up, down and sideways
around the corners of your shy blue eyes.
You don’t know I am awake
missing you… your suddenly taking my hand
in yours and holding it on the sofa as
we silently watch our country self-destruct.
I hope to God you’ll awaken and all will be okay
for another day
for it is not promised
for it is not guaranteed
The wonder that is you
that I found so many years ago
after being alone for so long and through so much.
Unadulterated joy you bring me
as I worry about your every breath
God keep you in his arms
and protect you
for it is 4:38 AM and I am missing you
as you lie in the arms of Morpheus
and I see lights on across the street
Others are awake
as you slumber
Time drags on as I am alone
I cannot wait for you to awaken
to see the twinkle in your eye
and the tousled hair.
I miss you
as I sit here typing and
reading of other’s lives.
It is 4:45 AM
about two more hours
for you lie
in our bed of 33 years.
It is 4:46 AM
and time goes so slowly
as I count the hours
until you awaken.
You with your gentle voice
the pleasant voice
that helped so many
as you listened to their anguish
A healer I always said you were/are.
Almost 5 AM
and I miss you.
If I miss you this much now,
oh, and here come the tears,
what of the day or night
God takes one of us away.
Or could we be so lucky
to go in each other’s arms?
My morbid mind
destroying the present with
fearing the future
It is 4:54 AM
and you have arisen
to make water.
You will stop by to see me
and ask why I am up
and ask me when I will come back to bed.
You are gone again
having returned to
the embrace of sleep
For a second the thrill of you
all tousled and concerned
shot through me.
I will come join you
and look at the lights across the way
and wait if I can’t sleep
for you to awaken
and greet me with another day
as our shared time together
zips by with a vengeance now
my time with you.
the pain in my throat and head
I should lie down
but it has been so long
since words have come
5:05 AM…5:10 AM
I feel chill
I feel pain
Let me go
lie next to you
and think of the wonder
of your presence
in our marital bed.