Sunday, November 12, 2017

Flowers of the Heart: Doug Williams



Cosmos on my kitchen table October 2011

***

Flowers of the Heart Seven November 12, 2017

For Doug Williams

He’s a quiet man, not much for
direct speech, but he has been
a loving friend to me for thirty years.
He came first to my Roadmap classes
in the Durham Library. He’d been
trained as an electrical engineer; 
computers were his specialty. As a
writer, I depended on them, 
especially after the nineties. He
became my fix-it man. I opened
the literary world to him. He wanted
to learn ancient Greek, and I loaned
him a grammar and a dictionary.
He studied Proust with me, and
he took several lifestyle courses
in which we asked ourselves
hard questions about our goals
in life and how we’d meet them.
He liked to read about American
presidents and the lives of poets.
He wrote some poetry, but mostly
he liked to talk over what he was 
reading and thinking. Once I had
a publisher for my grandmother
Grace’s China diary, he helped
with formatting which bewildered
me.  He laughs now at how he
invented a program to deal with
some footnote problems. Then
the computer he’d installed wouldn’t
turn on. He sent it back because the
warranty was still running and put
all the China files on a tiny computer, 
so I could get the formatted book 
to the publisher in a timely manner. 
I try not to bother him, but computers
defy my understanding, and I
write to Doug, and he comes down 
as soon as he can. I always offer
lunch or supper, but these days
he usually has other plans. He
likes to treat me for my birthday 
at a good restaurant and have a chat. 
His trust and care are a great gift.
Where would I be in my writer’s

life without Doug on stand-by?

Sunday, November 5, 2017

A Flower of the Heart: Mary Susan Heath


Mary Susan Heath and Judy at Goldsboro reading May 1, 2015

***

Flowers of the Heart Six   November 5, 2017

For Mary Susan Heath

She said she used to think she was Mary,
but now she knows she is Martha. Her
husband Tom has been fighting cancer
some years and growing tomatoes. They
eat a lot of tomato dishes, which also
fights the cancer. She gets out of the
kitchen when he’s canning. Her mother
is in her nineties, and she helps her with
shopping and doctor appointments. Her
Durham grandchildren often visit, or she 
goes there. When I go to Goldsboro to
read and do a workshop, Mary Susan 
helps Katherine with all the arrangements,
and we three have a meal together. A few
years back she began driving to my house
for my Thursday afternoon “Life Story”
class. She had already worked ten or more
years on the book about her uncle’s life
in the army, but she began the editing
process. On winter days I’d have the
woodstove burning, and I offered hot
lemon balm tea. I also sold my homemade
breads, and she bought the cinnamon loaf
and ate it on the drive home. She also
brought wood. The last year she took
the class, she got the other students to
chip in and brought me a cord of wood.
I still have some, and she’s preparing
to publish her book. When I go to
Goldsboro, I take cinnamon bread,
and she gives me canned tomatoes.
I was in her home for breakfast and
watched her manage the dogs and the 
cat. Kind but firm. Once she brought
me a whole wardrobe of Thrift Store
clothes. She chooses well. They all
looked new to me, and they all fit.
I told her I was like Thoreau. I have
my favorites and I wear them until
they’re worn out. She said Thoreau
didn’t even have window glass to keep
out the cold. I was overwhelmed,
but now I look through all my choices
before I go to court about stopping
the coal ash, visit the Department
of Environmental Quality in Raleigh,
or give a poetry reading. Some outfits
are already favorites. Others are 
waiting for the right occasion. We’re
having a very warm fall. The fire is
laid in the woodstove, but the house
hasn’t gotten cold enough to light it.
My wood bin holds enough logs for
the winter when the Arctic blasts
sweep down on us from Canada. We
communicate by email, and sign

our letters “Love.”

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Emma Smith: A Flower of the Heart


Emma and Robert Smith at the Mason Ball

***

Flowers of the Heart Five October 29, 2017


For Emma Smith

We met nineteen years ago. I was buying
this house and land, and she and Robert 
lived next door. I came with Liz, my real
estate agent, who was black. Emma said,
“You’re like us.” Robert is black, and she’s
white. She welcomed me from the first, as
did her three-year-old grandson, Demetrius,
who hugged my knees. Robert was more
cautious, but before long I talked him into
going to get horse manure with me. When
puppy Lucky came to live with them in
2000, when we had our big snowstorm, 
Lucky and Demetrius came over to watch
me plant flowers in front, and vegetables
in back. People asked Harold, who was
working with me against a low-level
nuclear dump, if I were Emma’s mother.
He said yes. It was Emma who did the
mothering. She told Robert’s friends
to bring me firewood. One cut down a 
dead tree for me. She’d come over and
tell me about her life. Robert was
difficult, but she stuck to him. When
he got cancer, she was right there
through surgeries, chemo, radiation.
Robert kept moving and held off
dying as long as he could. Emma was
always ready to give me a ride, to my 
mechanic or to the hospital. Once she
loaned me her car. When it was time
for her to sell their house, she stipulated
that my new neighbor had to promise
to help me. Emma said I should still
call her if I needed a ride. When I fell
in the road near my house in July,
she heard about it and came to check
on me. She has her health problems,
but they don’t slow her down much.
She always says what she thinks, even
more than I do. For that I love her, and
for her impulse to help other people. She 
lives for her grandsons. We lost Demetrius
when he was only thirteen. Emma grieved
but now that new baby has her glowing with
with pride, and Omari. She makes sure he 
does well in school, and she goes to all his
games. How lucky I am to have Emma in

my life: a few miles away but still close by.

***

Demetrius Alston with his father Kenny and his mother Novella (Missy)

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Elaine Goolsby, A Flower of the Heart


Flowers of the Heart Four  October 22, 2017

For Elaine Goolsby

Her voice was never loud, yet
she stood firm when it mattered.
She listened well and then asked
penetrating questions beyond the
skill of most social workers, trained
though they are to get to the bottom
of things in other people’s souls. I
first met Elaine when her poet
sister Virginia visited me. I came to 
know and love her when I taught a
writing class through Durham Tech, 
and asked my students to bring in
a letter they, or someone else, had
written. She brought her pen pal’s, 
from when she and Graham began
their correspondence right after
World War II. This first letter,
recovered, set off what she called
her “letter in a bottle.” She wrote
to find him, and he called her up.
Their correspondence came back
to life. She showed me the letters,
and we decided to publish them, 
and did.  Graham came for the
occasion. Later she would go
to England, and I would meet him,
too, when I was in Wales. Elaine
and I became close and had lunch
together every few weeks, first at
the Greek restaurant, Mariakakis,
and later at Nantucket, both in
Chapel Hill. By the 90s, at Fortune
Garden or their Thailanna, near where 
she lived in Durham. Elaine, a good
listener, was occasionally fierce,
but only when it mattered. She knew
more about me than most people did,
and then she was always helping me.
In the 80s, my Carolina Wren Press
became a Durham Arts Council
affiliate, and all those boxes had to be
moved several times, and her husband
B.D. would help, too. When I left the
house on Barclay Road to move to
Saxapahaw, she and her son Chris helped,
despite icy rain, on January 1. One very
hot July day in 1995, she and B.D. moved
me from the room I rented in Saxapahaw
to a storage unit. We ate watermelon for
electrolytes. When I flew out of Raleigh-
Durham they’d let me sleep on their 
couch and then take me early to the airport.
When B.D. got sick, I’d call a cab. She
took nearly every class I offered, and
kept writing poems. She lost B.D. and 
other good friends. She has had a lot of 
losses, but she’d talk to those dying
and offer comfort. Slowly her mind
has drifted into early dementia, but she 
keeps reading. When she couldn’t take
care of her daughter, Heather began taking 
care of her. Now they have her quarantined
because she might have tuberculosis. No
one can go into the house, and she can’t 
go out until they know. As long as I could,
I took her to Thailanna and brought her
library books. She’d still ask those
penetrating questions, but she’d forget
my answers. Anna and Gif came to love
her, and we all miss her. She’ll soon be
eighty-eight. She doesn’t complain about
all her losses. Sometimes she laughs.
A very sturdy, sane friend, who, through
these years, has found the grace to accept
what she can’t change.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

A Rare Poet: Jaki Shelton Green


Christmas Cactus in my Kitchen Window.

***
Flowers of the Heart Three October 15, 2017
For Jaki Shelton Green

We live in racist times. It was bad
here in the early seventies, but Jaki drove
to our old farmhouse set off away from
the farmer’s new brick one, with a
briefcase full of poems. Slight, but 
determined. Brave, undaunted. I’d had 
a postcard: “We are two black writers. 
Are you interested in our work?” I wrote
back to send it. They did, and then Jaki
arrived alone. I was shocked to read:
“The moon is a rapist peeing in my
window,” but I recognized a different
cultural take on the moon in the Ku Klux Klan
South. I published her first book Dead on
Arrival. She had two young children, as
did I. Sometimes I picked up Segun when
I got Ginia from the Victory Village Daycare.
Once I hosted local poets for a potluck at
our farmhouse. Another poet’s teenaged
son, when Jaki was working with a wok
in the kitchen, thought she was the maid.
We laughed. It has been forty-four years. 
She has won so many honors: Piedmont
Poet Laureate, North Carolina Award, North
Carolina Literary Hall of Fame. Once she was
angry when I refused one book, but I published
Dead on Arrival and New Poems. Later,
those who took up Carolina Wren Press, 
brought out newer ones. When her daughter
Imani died, after a short and terrible fight
against a raging cancer, her sun went into
a shadow realm. She was terribly sick, even
paralyzed. Finally, a holistic doctor helped
with diet and other treatments. Jaki began
to heal and once more gave readings. Now
she has a major art show of remembrance
for her lost Imani. Years ago she was
invited to a poetry event in the mountains
for the Fourth of July. We had her third baby
with us, little Eva. We sat outside, and
Jaki wrote a poem in her notebook;
“Simmering in blood. Simmering in blood...”
Those lines repeated over and over. I published
it. Her candle has burned bright these forty-four
years, except for that darkness when Imani died,
and grief imprisoned her. Our friendship held.


Sunday, October 8, 2017

Someone I can always count on


Flowers of the Heart 2 October 8, 2017

For Katherine Wood Wolfe

Katherine drove to Durham from her 
home in Goldsboro every week to my
writing classes in the late 1990s. I was
selling bread, and Katherine always bought
a cinnamon loaf and ate some driving home.
When she stopped commuting those ninety
miles, she worked with me by mail. She 
had been crippled by arthritis, but her 
spirit was so strong and determined, we 
forgot to notice. When I taught Proust, 
she had re-married, and I mailed her notes 
and my comments on her writing. She 
helped another woman write and publish 
her book. When my first mystery 
Killer Frost came out in 2012, she 
arranged a reading in Goldsboro and 
pulled in all her friends. I’ve been
each year since with new mysteries and
books of poetry. I go next Tuesday to
talk about my grandmother Grace. She
always indulges me, gives me flowers, 
prepares snacks for the occasion, and
late at night we talk about our lives and 
our writing. She publishes more of her
own work now. Her voice is strong
but not loud. She imagines the feelings
of children and gives them voices. She
notices things other people skim over. 
We were both born in 1937, I, in May; 
she, in September. She’s someone I can
always count on. Other people’s needs
don’t frighten her. She quietly adds
them to her “to do” list.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Flowers of the Heart


Cosmos from my garden October 2011

Flowers of the Heart

One. October 1, 2017

For Marja-Sisko

We met in 1981 on a boat train out of London
to Harwich. I had waited hours for my standing-
room-only ticket. You had one, too, came over
to ask if I’d like to board with you, find a couch
in a lounge where we could spend the night.
You were twenty-one, had toured Europe and
North Africa on a youth pass. You pulled out
a sleeping bag, and slept at my feet, giving me
the couch. You were a teacher of learning-
disabled children, and my son was one. You
held onto me when we parted at Hoek Van 
Holland. I got cards: “It’s spring. We go
ice fishing.” and “Come to Finland!” In
1985 I visited you, Matti, and baby Eero for
two days. We picked berries and fed them
to Eero, made coffee from a clean stream,
ate roasted hot dogs. You taught me the
sauna ritual and explained it was a place
and time to speak of everything, even God
and sex. We visited an art gallery. In 1988 
I took Ginia, a vegetarian who wanted world 
peace. Ossi and Timo had joined the family.
We picked strawberries and went to an 
outdoor play while Matti bathed the boys, 
made supper, and even a pie. If world peace
begins at home, you and Matti were the
models, and your sons were learning to
make peace. They rarely quarreled. You 
and Matti shared the home chores and gave 
each other vacations. He went to Lapland to
fish, and you went to Russia, to Karelia,
where your roots were. We celebrated
Ginia’s sixteenth birthday with a berry
cake. In 1990 I took Tim, twenty-one
by then. We were traveling to Russia
for the first time. You took us to an
exhibit of Russian paintings, and I understood:
the Russians did not want war. I returned
in 1992, after two months in Russia. Always
there was the sauna, berry-picking, open talk,
fresh fish, even caviar, and very strong coffee.
In 1995 I came on my way to Russia for four 
months, and you had invited me to spend January-
April in your summer house on Maxmo Island, 
so I could write. I worked on my Russian books
and told also of my Finnish family. The boys
spoke English by then, and they helped with the
chores: making the sauna, laying out breakfast,
making the fire, going ice-fishing. You called me 
your window on the world, treasured me, and 
listened to my love song. Now I’m eighty, and
and you’re sixty. Your boys are grown. Matti
will retire, but you want to keep on working.
When a therapist asked me if I had any friends
who were my equal, I named you. In 2007 we 
went to Russia together. You entered gladly into
all our meetings. The Russians had seized Karelia
in World War II–your homeland--but you wanted
peace with your big neighbor. All this richness

began because I had a standing-room-only ticket.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Way the Universe is Made


Those Eternally Linked Lives 30 September 24, 2017

I’m the vessel, the way our story
will be told, is already being told.
Two books in print and more coming.
You can’t help except maybe by
your voice planted deep in my
memory. “We were fools, Judy,
and miracle-workers.” Now my
country makes out your country
as an enemy. Yuri was worried:
what if Americans used nuclear
weapons against Russia? I write
to save one human experience
that will make war-mongering
irrelevant. The human race has
brought on itself huge and 
devastating storms; floods,
drought. Yet we two believed
God helped us. Not a personal
god, but the way the universe
is made. Evil exists, but it wins
only if we let it. The universe’s
binding of our two souls taught
us where the real power lies. We
are helpless only if we say we
are. We get reminders of our
frailty and then of our strength.
The zinnias I planted barely 
survived, but the lantana and
the small sunflowers took over,
and the forgotten naked ladies.
Pink morning glories ran over
the back porch railing. Cosmos 
leaped into the air from the 
unweeded garden. I set my
worries aside. Rejoiced when
editors I’ve never met want to 
read about my love for a Russian
man that leapt over all the 
boundaries of time and distance,
language, lifestyle. Metaphors
carried us past all the gate-keepers.
We had our wings–in-spirit--and
our souls fused. If the spirit is happy 
in its dwelling place, the body will 
keep up as best it can. After all, what 
is eternity but that which flies beyond 
all the human definitions of stopping 
places. Let me die only when my 
story–our story–is alive for the whole 
human race to treasure and save.







Sunday, September 17, 2017

You Know How To Go It Alone



My bumper crop of zinnias back in October 2009.

***
Those Eternally Linked Lives 29  September 17, 2017

When you have an inner guide, be
thankful. You know how to go it
alone. You listen to those who
care and worry about you, but
ultimately it’s up to you as you
enter that stage of your life when
more losses will come your way.
For eighty you’re not doing too
badly. As it gets harder, you find
the grit you need to hold your own.
“A day at a time” is always a good
approach. Keep listening to your
deep wisdom. It has never let you
down. Your own individual path
is well-marked now, but such paths
always throw up something new.
Not everyone is up for the wholly
new, but you are. Keep yourself
fit and happy. Enjoy the orange 
zinnia that survived the dog’s vole
digging and being bent down by
the wind only to rise and flourish

anyway. Take a leaf out of that book.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Every Reason to be Happy and Brave



Those Eternally Linked Lives 28  September 10, 2017

The answer is 
simple and obvious: in our deep
souls we know we can’t be seriously
harmed if we refuse despair. Insights
will arrive. Courage will appear
against the odds. The grain of the
universe doesn’t go away. Furthermore
other people gather around us, one 
at a time. If we ask, we receive, and
not infrequently, we receive the help
we need before we ask.
–Those Eternally Linked Lives 19

Slowly I clear weeds, pick grapes,
cook out the juice and make Muscadine
jelly. The hens get the grapes. They
lay better. The zinnias rise again
and bloom. The spider lilies make their
annual surprise and throw up exultant
pink petals and whiskers. The next door
cats make friends with Wag. Are they 
keeping warm together at night?
Arching over the garden weeds are
sunny yellow flowers. I forget their
name, and the rainbow lantana. The
high grasses aren’t dwarfed but have
competition. Reckless blue and purple
morning glories cover the porch
railing, determined to cheer me up.
My heart is pronounced normal.
I heal and resume more work as
the air cools. I tackle the high
grass a little at a time. My students
bring laughter and comfort. Observation
wins over theory. I have every reason
on earth to be happy and brave.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

You Know How to Weather Storms


Indoor zinnias from 2011. Not to plentiful in 2017, but here.

***
Those Eternally Linked Lives 27 September 3, 2017

When I can’t see
very far ahead, I hold on. I’ve been in 
so many dark places before. Light 
always finds me sooner or later if 
I keep myself from despair.
–Those Eternally Linked Lives 16

This life is not for
the faint of heart. We let go only what
we must; hang on for a rough ride, remount
our courage and listen to our hearts. It’s 
the only way to stay whole and keep our 
true Selves in tact until we die and see 
that Death is still some distance off.
–Those Eternally Linked Lives 17

Sun is back after our storms
that flung down dead branches
but watered the grapes, zinnias, and okra.
I revel in three zinnias, their petals
fanned out to imitate suns, and I eat
five okra, some so tough only the seeds
are edible. I make tea from my huge
crop of lemon balm, and the dog and I
resume our normal walk. We both
sleep hard these days and have less
patience. I can tell I’m healing. I’m
not ready to be put on a shelf. It’s
up to me to keep up the yard,
check on the hens, keep my active
healthy lifestyle. Aging takes courage
in a new way. Other people worry
and need reassurance. When she took 
my heart’s pictures, I could hear
its steady beat. I’ve had doctors
try to slow me down before, but
the wise ones listen to me. Trust
myself. I feel good, normal. Worry
wears down the soul. Let it go.
Move the dead branches. Watch
for the zinnias to rise again. Check
the grapes and okra. You know how
to weather the storms, in the sky,
and in your soul.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Courage Found and Rewarded


Those Eternally Linked Lives 26 August 27, 2017

Everything I do counts
in the long tabulation of the 
centuries. “Be of good cheer,”
sounds in my ears. Sun reigns.
–Those Eternally Linked Lives 14

I heal. Again. Courage found and
rewarded. I rise to my problems.
One at a time I’ll overcome
both my new and my old fears.
We have cooler days and nights.
I can work outside more often.
Sun is less of a threat. My son
calls to say he may be able to 
move here sooner rather than
later. I rejoice. I am confident
we can work out and through
the minor problems, if he finds
his way to returning home. I
Already have good help, but the
thought of his near presence
comforts me in a new way. He
has respect for my independence,
but he wants to help. I stayed
unbiased while he wrestled with
it, but finally said, “If you can
work it out, I’ll be glad.” The
mysterious partner inside me
is grateful. This counts, too, and
helps me finish my work on earth.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Some Things the Memory Won't Let Go Of


Those Eternally Linked Lives 25 August 20, 2017

Finally, a letter from Yuri–three
typed pages, but my Russian is
half-forgotten. I get out my big 
dictionary. When I wrote to him
in late June, I’d been reading my
diary pages from when I’d stayed
with him and Vera twenty-two years
ago. He congratulates me on my 
Jubilee–eighty years–most of them 
writing. How they nurtured me back 
then, and they’re still alive. We both 
lost Mikhail, whom he calls Misha, 
and sends me a note he wrote Misha 
a month before he died. They both 
longed for their childhood villages–
gone now but never forgotten. Yuri 
remembers the yellow flowers under 
the cottage’s window. Mikhail remembers
being put upon a horse and seeing a 
pink sky, then falling off the horse. 
A recurring theme everywhere I went: 
the lost village, the rodina, birth village, 
lost and never forgotten. A holy grail 
to those who remember. He kept taking
me to see the village houses. Once I 
stayed in one. He took me into the taiga,
the wild forest, where his village had 
been until lost because of the push for
communal farms, and then the war
when twenty-seven million died
in battle or in prison camps. Some
things the memory won’t let go of,
as long as we breathe. We still love
those who loved us, and to whom
we opened our souls. It’s called:

reaching the heart.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Things Change All the Time



Judy with reluctant hen, early spring 2010, during chicken workshop

***
Those Eternally Linked Lives 24 August 13, 2017

We forget: things change all the time.
People change their minds. Our
weather changes. Chickens like their
routines, but they change where they
roost, sometimes hide their nests.
On an old farm, despite neglect,
things grow. A Rose of Sharon leans
through the fence to say hello. Little
blue flowers appear on the Wandering 
Jew. Figs ripen and some spoil from
all the rain. After a slew of problems,
a respite: a gift I’d given up on,
forgotten. I got hurt, but I’ve been
healing. I spoke some hard truth,
and was invited to speak again. I’ll
have students in September. My soul
settled in for my older age. I have
to consider my heart, my balance, and
how easily I forget. The weeds feel
impossible, but I know how to summon
helping hands. Wag and I do our daily 
walk steadily. I work on manuscripts
I’m determined to publish; plant a few 
more beans, find enough figs to sell.
My life resumes its normal rhythms.
Rain replaces the heat wave. 

My soul is peaceful once again.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Outwitting Other People's Worries


Judy with new books at book party May 21, 2017. 
Photo by Johnsie Tipton.

***
Those Eternally Linked Lives 23 August 6, 2017

Banishing fear has 
become a habit. Every time I outwit other
people’s worries, I stand taller in my own
view. All it takes is courage, helping those
who let me, and taking in gratefully those
loving hands that give me a reason 
to stay alive. –Those Eternally Linked Lives 18

I do keep staying alive. I could have died 
on Monday. Instead I fell as I raced 
across the road to avoid a speeding car. 
She wasn’t looking, she said. She stopped,
pulled me off the road, called nine-one-one.
Other cars stopped, including a sheriff’s
deputy. Then the fire department and
two ambulances. I recognized the voices
of David and Jerry. Claudia came up. 
I asked her to put Wag behind the fence.
Later she came back to pray with me. 
The phone kept ringing even during the
prayer. I did hit my head. A scalp wound
bled. John Bonitz called. Was I okay?
He heard a car hit me. No, I fell, but
she could have. I’m okay. Sheila called 
to say she and Rhonda were coming 
over. Then John and Wayne Cross
stopped to check on me. Emails and
phone calls. Rhonda checked my scalp: 
“It will heal.” Jeff took me to pick up
my truck. Emma stopped by, having
heard the rumor. Sally wrote from Alabama.
Katie, from Asheville. Then Keely, Donna, 
and Terica brought me groceries. Maybe
I couldn’t get to a store? Fruit and other 
things I never buy on my simple diet, 
but I’m enjoying them. Angelina says, 
“You could use this in a novel. I keep
telling people the car didn’t hit you.” 
What did hit me was people’s care:
 I had to be all right. I am. Healing 
well; reminding my children I want 
to stay independent, follow my deep
wisdom. Falling’s no fun, but once
again I learned: people love me. 



Sunday, July 30, 2017

It Takes A Long Road to Reach the Heart

Geese Flying. Drawing by Mikhail Bazankov, 1937-2015

Those Eternally Linked Lives 22  July 30, 2017

The tree we made between
us seeded itself and new flowers
open like white dogwood in North
Carolina, tight knobs while Spring 
hesitates; then open-handed once
She makes up Her mind, their
petals reminding us of where, once,
the hands of a good man were
nailed to a tree. Goodness is always
going to suffer in our world, but if
goodness seeded itself, and new
trees grow, and new flowers open,
and new springs give new cause
to laugh and delight in one another,
to speak the heart’s truth knowing
the other listens and cares, it is
enough. . .
You said that one must travel
a long road to reach the heart.
How far have we come now?
I can’t remember very well the
beginning. We opened our souls’ doors
to each other freely then. We laughed
and we were sad. You said, when
I left, “It’s only a light sadness, 
Judy.” Soon I leave again. For me
the sadness I feel has never been
light, though I carried it easily.
What choice did I have? No one
knows how much we say to one
another when we don’t speak a word.
From Sun 20, December 1995

Did we reach the heart? I think so.
We both had many claims on our lives, 
but from the first hours we wanted to
give everything we had to give. Later we
learned our limits and the long road
appeared. We said nothing would
hinder us–neither the thousands of mile,
our lifestyle differences, nor the language
barrier. Yet all those had their power to 
impede the flow of a love we could
neither deny nor let govern our lives. 
It’s one way for souls to fuse: when 
there’s no other alternative. Our love
became a powerful force in fostering
 understanding between two distinct
and very different cultures. Despite
our suffering we did not only reach
each other’s hearts, we stayed there.
The little wooden bird you gave me
still flies. When the light is right, its
shadow dances on the filing cabinet.
I still see you in my mind’s eye, feel
your tight hug as you whisper: “You’re
a hero.” Hear your laughter: “We were
fools!” Then you added: “And miracle
workers.” I can ask no better gift
than to have traveled that long road
to rest safely in your heart.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

An Island of Sanity and Love



My figs back in August 1911. Not quite so plentiful now, but they're coming along after hard freeze set-backs a few years ago.

Those Eternally Linked Lives 21 July 23, 2017

I want to root myself here, create an island of sanity and love around me, draw my children, grandchildren, and friends here to see me, and contribute as I can to my community. 
From my goals stated in 1996-2012

It will be nineteen years in December
that I have lived in this small house in
Moncure, with a garden, an orchard, and
a small flock of hens. I’d already then 
been given many gifts: by a banker, who 
outwitted the mortgage rules; by friends
who helped paint and weed-eat and
move a big pile of bricks, which became
my flower garden. Even before I moved
in, I joined the fight to stop a low-level
nuclear dump. We did stop it. Then we
stopped three attempts to site a landfill
and ended ten years of bad air pollution.
I worked to elect more careful county
commissioners, then to keep out fracking,
and since 2014, coal ash. This time
they pushed in before we could stop
them. It took a judge to halt that, but
they’re holding off our justice again. 
I hold steady, but more problems have
surfaced: my water heater quit; my 
heart began racing; now it’s high
heat warnings keeping me inside
while the weeds flourish. Yet people
turn up to help me: Mike, to challenge
the water heater’s diagnosis; Harold
to mow; Merle, bringing tomatoes
when my bushes stopped producing
shortly after they began. Then two
men from my electric coop, got
the water heater back on track. Many
helpers when I needed them. Everyone
has annoying problems, but I’m older;
so is my water heater and my farm.
Despite unruly weeds and heat, 
the figs, grapes, and apples are plentiful. 
Some rain would help, and cooler weather.
All this help puzzles me, though I’m very
grateful. Then it hits me. I wanted to
create an island of sanity and love. Looks
like I did, despite the weeds, my aging
body and what belongs to me. The big
world does grow more difficult, but in my 
world there definitely is sanity and love.


Sunday, July 16, 2017

You can't have enough courage


Full summer, flowers and brownies, 2010.

Those Eternally Linked Lives 20  July 16, 2017

Even if the brakes are being put on
slowly, we know the end of our lives
will come. We can’t be blithe as
once; yet we can live as normally
and joyfully as possible. The doctors
are not worried. Their tests reassure
them that my heart jumping around 
and out of its steady rhythm for an 
hour can be lived with. For me it is
an unmistakable sign to pay attention:
walk, yes; work, write, dig. See to 
the hens, mow and weed-eat; lead
my village in the fight to stop a 
coal ash dump, but rest and eat
well, stay alert, respect the signs
as you accumulate years. You 
can’t have enough courage or of
the vision that shows you your way, 
a step at a time. You’re still here,
aren’t you? Still thriving, loving
those who let you, filling each
day with work completed? Your
conscience is clear; you see all
too well into the hearts of others

whether they imagine yours or not.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

If Need Be, You Win Again and Again


Zinnias on my kitchen table in August 2011, after Hurricane Irene.

Those Eternally Linked Lives 19  July 9, 2017

Evil men are doing harm,
but we will stop them, one at a time.
When you have justice on your side,
sooner or later you win, and if need
be, you win again and again. 
–Those Eternally Linked Lives 11

I knew, when I wished to live
a long time, that, as I approached
a hundred years, living would
become more difficult. Even as
my body ages well, it is more
vulnerable, needs more care,
its regular exercise, healthy diet,
and for its sleep budget to be
balanced. I have my commitments
I can’t say no to, for myself and
my writings, for my children and
friends, and for my community
here in Moncure. It has always
been a balancing act–never moreso
than now. I hold my own, but it
takes more ingenuity to outwit 
my gradual aging and the deadly
poisons let loose in our twenty-first
century world, out to kill us and
destroy our hope. The answer is 
simple and obvious: in our deep
souls we know we can’t be seriously
harmed if we refuse despair. Insights
will arrive. Courage will appear
against the odds. The grain of the
universe doesn’t go away. Furthermore
other people gather around us, one 
at a time. If we ask, we receive, and
not infrequently, we receive the help
we need before we ask.


Sunday, July 2, 2017

Hope Over Fear


This photo of my figs from August 2011, after Hurricane Irene

***
Those Eternally Linked Lives 18 July 2, 2017

"Every single day, we need to choose hope over fear, and diversity over division.
Fear has never fed a family nor created a single job.
And those who exploit it will never solve the problems that have created such anxiety."
- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
in address to UN --From Louise Penny’s July 1, 2017 NL

From childhood you were sheltered
and nourished by a grace mysterious
and never named, but it opened 
doors most people never see or 
if they do, fear to open. –Those Eternally Linked Lives 6

In all this growth of green–vines, grasses,
fig leaves and tiny figs, the tall swaying
tulip tree, the grass I need to cut, the iris
and daylilies holding their own against
bamboo grass–where is the grace that will
hold me steady on my own course, the one
I chose, not going against the universe’s
grain, but having to tolerate fear in others
for me and hatred when I succeed; even awe
when I defy the doctors’ wisdom. How 
can I be still young, my flesh still firm; my 
heart holding its own. Banishing fear has 
become a habit. Every time I outwit other
people’s worries, I stand taller in my own
view. All it takes is courage, helping those
who let me, and taking in gratefully those
loving hands that give me a reason 
to stay alive.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Hang On For A Rough Ride


Those Eternally Linked Lives 17 June 25, 2017

The tallest tree–the tulip–shimmers in
a world of green. Vines climb the fences.
My flower garden weeds are three feet
high, the annuals higher. Daylilies had
to fight off bamboo grass. The figs have
so many leaves I can’t see the dead 
branches, and I know those infant knobs
are swelling. A day finally dawned without
rain. Soon I can mow, and tackle the
high weeds. The hens took it all in stride.
Muddy, bedraggled feathers were clean
and white again when the new day arrived.
Even in human beings life renews itself.
Sleep heals; dreams restore our cells and 
our souls. We are new again every day.
One look out the window, and we know
what we have to do. This life is not for
the faint of heart. We let go only what
we must; hang on for a rough ride, remount
our courage and listen to our hearts. It’s 
the only way to stay whole and keep our 
true Selves in tact until we die and see 
that Death is still some distance off.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Light Always Finds Me Sooner or Later

Early spring, 2011, thyme in bloom, and oregano behind it.

***
Those Eternally Linked Lives 16  June 18, 2017

It rains, and green surges. Again I can’t
keep up. I engage with deeply rooted
weeds and mud. The work I need to do
is everywhere visible. The orchid is casting
its blooms. Ten months until they come
again. Human effort feels so small against
that tide of growth. Simple sun and rain
send green hurtling forward. Sweetgum
stars obscure my view out the window.
Yet the self-heal blooms; the daylilies
make each day new. Later too much heat
will slow things down. Wet soil helps
me yank out the worst weeds. The hens
are happy, making their straw into new
nests, the wet earth sending more bugs
to the surface. Sometimes it’s hard
when so much is up to me. Yet I flourish,
walk, eat, and sleep well; thread my way
through difficulties; ask help; do my
part as the days allow. When I can’t
see very far ahead, I hold on. I’ve
been in so many dark places before.
Light always finds me sooner or later
if I keep myself from despair.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Such Intangible Communion


At Judy's book party, but notice the Finnish hand-crafted bird.

****
Those Eternally Linked Lives 15  June 11, 2017

We each had a hand-crafted Finnish bird–
mid-flight. Snow goose or swan? You bought
two. One for me in my village; one for your
apartment in town, which I saw when we 
drove home from your village. You had been
cruel and angry, only a little less as we
traveled. That day the bird told me everything
I needed to know. It still does now that I
live in another house, another village. Sometimes
what’s tangible reinforces what we can’t
touch or know with absolute uncertainty.
Belief is all we have and then that knowledge
that makes proof irrelevant–some direct
seeing that passes all the roadblocks and
doubts. Of course there are skeptics and
sometimes we’re assailed by doubts, too.
But the bird persists. One look reminds
us. You’re not there in your town or village 
any more, but this bird here has its 
continuing message as it moves in the
fan’s wind: “I’m still here. I’m inside you.
Heart to heart is what matters.” For us
that part was easy. The hard part was
opening such a truth to other people
when they can’t imagine 
such intangible communion.