Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The seventeenth luminous thing... today's weather. There was some today, clouds to start at least that's what I saw around 5am when I woke up and peered out my window, clouds evolving into light rain and scattered mist during breakfast and by the time we went out driving it was pouring rain, big steady buckets of rain, a wipers full on sort of rain. Over lunch of lobster stew and beer and a biscuit at the Cackling Hen or Chuckling Chicken or someplace like that the rain slowed again to mist, and we seriously considered a hike along the Red Island trail, the one that begins next to the small white church and runs down to St. Ann's Bay, but we drove around another bend and the mist turned back into buckets of rain and so we gave up the idea. In its place we decided to drive "just up the road" to the Cedar House to get oatcakes and tea biscuits for the drive tomorrow. Getting to Cedar House means driving the eleven miles to the Transcanada highway, and then across the big iron bridge spanning Bras D'Or and up and over Kelly's Mountain. Our minds had conveniently forgotten large chunks of that drive, shortening it up to something reasonable instead of the hour and a half of rough, twisting road it actually is. But, off we went. The rain kept pace with us and began, if anything, to fall harder. It pick-picked against the car windows like sleet and had us checking the temperature in a panic. The road was greasy after a long dry spell and furrowed from years of hard traffic, so water pooled in along the length of the troughs and the car hydroplaned and slid even on the straight parts. And there aren't many straight parts.

We disembarked at the Cedar House in the constant rain and a veil of fog that had moved in off the lake. Stocked up with the oatcakes and biscuits we drove back across the lake and up and down Kelly's Mountain and back along the eleven miles of winding trail to the Inn. Roadsigns in English and Gaelic were blurred by water, the river was one slaty streak beneath the foggy tinfoil sky, all of it drizzled from above with silver water. And even here, on this side of the lake and mountain, fingers of mist curled over the green hills, entwined themselves in the trees, and began to tighten their grip.

The weather today was gorgeous!


Basically, the rain kept us inside today, in both cars and shops. We went to the Gaelic College and found out about clans and poked around at Scottish stuff, and a big group of people came in all chattering away in Gaelic! It was very nice and completely incomprehensible to hear it all around us. We went to John Roberts' leather shop; we'd met him at dinner one night at the Inn, and again the next day when he was out gardening. He told us he used to work at the racetrack in Moncton, fixing harnesses, that one way or another he'd always worked with leather and now he was here, with his own shop, working with it all the time. He opened it after getting a commission to make authentic leather buckets for a movie (with Russell Crowe in it, but as far as I know John Roberts did not punch him in the head and no, I do not know what a fire bucket is) filmed at a fort nearby and everything he makes is beautiful and appears to be made with great love and great care. We also went by the art glass studio where a glassblower had just fired up the oven, meaning he could start blowing glass on Saturday. And then we came back to the Inn and had tea and shortbread and watched the hummingbirds dancing in the rain.

Lobster stew at the clattering chicken, along the Cabot Trail 5.30.12

John Roberts' Leather Works shop 5.30.12

Mist coming over the hills, outside the Inn with lilacs 5.30.12

Good to be back! 5.30.12

Dining room at the Inn in the rainy afternoon light, 5.30.12

Brian the chef (left) and Keith the business manager, fire builder, bar tender, and resident funny man 5.31.12

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The sixteenth luminous thing...

...rock, sea, and sky.

Today we drove around Cape Breton's Cabot Trail, a road around the Cape Breton highlands first built in 1926. There were "views"—all of rock, sea, and sky—the main ingredients of everything here (with the addition of trees). By the time we got back we felt battered and oppressed by the endless expanse of gray ocean merging into gray sky, the rock holding everything up and piled everywhere, the sky hanging over us like beaten tin. We were exhausted by the weight of this world.

Home made goat cheese, fresh fiddleheads cooked with the barest hint of honey, fresh Cape Breton lobster, Nova Scotia beer and a roaring fire seem to have revived us....The food here is a constantly luminous thing!

Monday, May 28, 2012

The fifteen(th) luminous things...

...Atlantic puffins, razorbills, black guillemots, great black-backed gulls, herring gulls, black-legged kittiwakes, great cormorants, double-crested cormorants, northern gannets, eider ducks, bank swallows, minke whales, gray seals, harp seals, great blue herons.

This morning six of us went on a boat tour to the Bird Islands out in the Atlantic ocean and there and on the way there saw all these wondrous creatures (plus a few more). The capelin, a small smelt-like fish, is running so the northern gannets and gulls come to feed on it, and the minke whales, and the other birds as well. Puffins, cormorants, razorbills and gulls are all building nests and raising chicks in burrows in the cliffs, or on the cliff ledges. The black-backed gull is the largest gull in the world, and twenty percent of North America's great cormorants nest here. Harp and gray seals come to pup, and we come to watch the miracles.


Evening update: it was 54 degrees and sunny today, we're an hour ahead of Eastern time (Atlantic time) and at the moment sitting in front of a roaring pine fire in the B&B living room watching the twilight settle into night. It gets light early here (4:30am?) and stays light late (9pm). Dinner at the B&B was line-caught halibut from just up the river, local asparagus and wild rice with sesame seeds. To go with was Nova Scotia pinot grigio, homemade bread, local butter. Mom had homemade tomato basil soup to start, I had a salad with homemade goat cheese, and mom had dessert—blueberry creme brulee made with local eggs and milk and tiny local blueberries. 

Enjoy the photos! My camera battery died, so all these were taken with mom's iPhone camera out the window of a moving boat...

Getting ready to board  (mom on the right) 5.28.12

heading out to the ocean 5.28. 12

Bird Islands 5.28.12

View from the dock, looking up Bas D'Or (saltwater lake) to bridge 5.28.12

Razorbills near the water, 5.28.12
More razorbills, 5.28.12
Razorbills near nests on right, 5.28.12
Gray and Harp seals, black-backed gulls, flying puffins and razorbills 5.28.12
Nests in the cliffs--gulls, razorbills, puffins, cormorants 5.28.12

One of the island cliffs 5.28.12

Birds nesting in cliffs, sitting at opening of tunnels 5.28.12

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The fourteenth luminous thing...


Josh talked to our new neighbor about trees—rather, the new neighbor talked to him about trees, and which trees were hers and which were ours, and which she could cut down.

I'm worried about this, even though I'm far away and on vacation and not supposed to worry. I think I know the trees she means, four or five cedar trees growing haphazardly on our side or her side or both sides of the property line. I'm not a lover of cedar trees, I think they are ugly and ragged-looking, but I've learned that the birds love the cedars, especially the cardinals and bluejays, and the trees provide nice cover and shade as well as food, especially in the winter. So I've learned in the four months we've lived with them to love the cedars because the birds love them, and I love the birds.

I'm trying not to be outraged or worried about this needless killing of trees—they are possibly not my trees, after all—but aren't they more the birds' trees than anyone's? How can she decide to cut them down before even living in the house? I've done that myself, and regretted it.

But, today, I'm in Nova Scotia. More specifically, on Cape Breton Island, so far north and east that we've gone back in seasonal time. The trees, some of them, are just leafing out and just flowering. But—the trees! There are trees as far as I or anyone can see. Conifers, white birch, flowering fruit trees, others I can't identify—forests so thick with undergrowth we can see only a few feet into them. Trees undulating up the hills, trees growing on solid rock, trees growing from the tops of these hills all the way down to the edge of the cobalt blue water that is all around and in between them, water dark blue except in the shallows where it's blue-green like turquoise.

I think, well, there are more trees here than anyone knows what to do with, more than needed to go around, what is a few cedars? But that's not right. How can the planet ever have too many trees? And what will our birds do, back home, without the trees they use for food? Without the shade, the shelter, the protection? There is more to trees than we think or know: shade from the summer sun, a break from the wind, oxygen for our lungs, food for our birds, songs for our hearts when the winds whistle and moan through their branches. To kill them is to destroy all of that, and decades of life. I don't know our neighbor, so I can't interfere, I can only hope she waits, and thinks, and thinks better of her plans for destruction.

In the meantime, in these two weeks in the far north, I will bask in the shadow of the endless trees.

And now, a word from our sponsor, Nova Scotia. On Sunday we drove from Moncton, New Brunswick, to Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. Here are a few images from along the way:

The Dining Car Inn, Tatamagouche, 5.27.12

Where we ate lunch! 5.27.12

Inside the dining car 5.27.12

Lobster roll and salad, homemade bread 5.27.12

Just finishing lunch 5.27.12

View from the top of the driveway at our B&B, the Chanterelle Inn: nothing but trees and sky! 5.27.12

Interlude: where we are, what it looks like

A morning note: here is where we are (New Brunswick, Canada, in red)

And here is pretty much what our scenery has looked like. We're inland now, but today we'll leave NB and drive into Nova Scotia, where we'll be, mostly, surrounded by water. Messing about in boats is sounding more and more appealing, to paraphrase Water Rat's conversation with Mole.

Photo by Gordon Kenna

A p.s. to Josh—I miss you!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The thirteenth luminous thing...


Mom and I are spending a few weeks in Atlantic Canada—New Brunswick and Nova Scotia—so the blog is going to be mainly photos from the trip. I was driving today, so not a lot of photo time...still, this will at least get you in the right frame of mind.


Mom and I flew from Washington, DC, to Bangor, Maine, rented a car and drove to Canada. It's gorgeous weather—in the 80s in Bangor but breezy and not humid, all sunshine and blue skies. Lilacs are blooming, lupines and purple wildflowers waving on the roadside, and there seem to be marshes and bogs and odd wet-place vegetation every few miles. Towns are only a few houses, there are fewer cars. Great exposed metallic-looking boulders and seams of craggy fractured rock run alongside the road, pine trees grow along the tops of them in what must be only a few inches of soil. Fields are dotted with piles of boulders like some kind of neolithic stone monuments.

The border crossing was easy--a short bridge, a short line of cars, and Adam, the smiling Canadian border crossing guy who wanted to know if we had any exotic fruit.

5.26.12 Calais, Maine/Canada

 Then the highway to the northeast—more pine trees, distant hills, sweeping vistas, marshes, "attention moose"signs, and glimpses of the Bay of Fundy. We practiced our french (sortie, barrage, converges). We calculated km into mi in our heads and lost an hour crossing into the Atlantic time zone. We stopped for fish and chips and clam and chips—fresh and really really good and exactly what we needed--and then on north.

Clams and chips at Comeau's 5.26.12

In St. John the fog came in or, rather, we drove into it and the view closed in. The Bay was just next to us and all we could see was a gray wall of damp. The temperature fell from 82 to 57. The air coming in smelled of mist and seaweed. On the other side of town we swept back into the sunlight.

Another two hours of pines and green fields and deer and maybe a badger and then Moncton, New Brunswick—our first night in Canada. A soft pink sunset, green all around, a chilly evening. Tomorrow, on to Nova Scotia!

Sunset behind Hampton Inn, Moncton, NB 5.26.12

Friday, May 25, 2012

The twelfth luminous thing...

Josh Pachter 5.25.12

I'm packing for a two-week trip. Beer helps.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The eleventh luminous thing... crows!


Fish crow at Huntley Meadows, Virginia, by  Larry Meade

"...the Fish-Crow, always a little before sunset, seeks the interior high woods to repose in," wrote Alexander Wilson in American Ornithology in 1820. His fish crows were in North Carolina.

Here, they roost in the tops of the tulip poplars and oaks behind our house and across the street—the highest places in the neighborhood.

I listen to them in the mornings and at sunset, their voices often the first and last sounds I hear each day. I especially like their gruff, guttural conversations when the weather is closing in. In the dark, dank, wet air, in the stillness before storms, their calls take on a big, rolling quality, deep and echoey in the heavy air. They talk back and forth in a relaxed and casual way, sometimes stopping to fly over to a new tree nearby. They seem comfortable and familiar, and their voices wash over me like a chuckling lullaby.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The tenth luminous thing...

Public domain image the memory of dancing. 

"Spanish Bombs" was playing in my coffee shop when I walked in on this lovely, bright morning, so rain-washed and clear and feeling just on the edge of real summertime. Walking over from my office I almost felt the city had been newly built, the dirt and dark clouds lifted away with the sunrise. I felt lighter, quicker, and clean like the air.

The coffee shop door was propped open—it was the sort of morning that everyone wanted to let pour in. There was the prospect of tea ahead of me, and fresh, green-tinged bananas, and of course there was The Clash. I'd gotten the album (London Calling, in real vinyl) my freshman year at college. Like my first Springsteen album, the music felt immediately familiar, as if I'd had a space waiting for it inside where it socketed in and locked itself home. Hearing it took me back to hard studying in narrow dorm rooms, to learning to drink, to feeling free for the first time. Best of all were the parties we had on Wednesday and Saturday nights when we danced for hours, and the happiness and absolute abandon I felt moving to this music. I miss that dancing, I've missed it every year and maybe even every moment between then and now. I've tried dancing since but it's not the same, it has steps, it has rules and partners and special shoes. All I want is to join a roomful of people moving to music in any way they want, to move with them into that wave of shared joy.

Instead, I walk back to my office holding onto my tea, and hanging on tighter to that luminous memory come flooding back through one single joyful song on a clear, bright, new morning.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The ninth (and everlasting) luminous thing... Tessa.

What is it about the love of a dog that transcends, well, everything? Evil, horror, fear, wretchedness, sadness, loneliness. With a dog, you get back all the effort you put in, multiplied by a number too large to understand. You get back their trust, their love, their loyalty, their heart and soul. Dogs love with their entire being, they give their entire selves. If you are lucky enough to share your life with a dog, then you know—you just know. My dog Tessa is an incandescent being, the purest light in my life, and she brings me a fierce and shining joy every beautiful day she is in it.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The eighth luminous thing... tea.
Hot tea.
Green tea.
Jasmine tea.
Organic spring jasmine green tea, my tea, the tea that gets me out of bed every morning.

I think about it all the way to work, especially on the damp, cold mornings, the ones when it's hardest to get up, when I don't feel entirely awake even when I get to my office. Six in the morning and I have an hour before the coffee shop across the street opens. I have a system: if I leave my office right at 7a.m. I can make the gritty city walk in about five minutes and be there just about when they unlock the door. The place is all concrete and old brick inside, narrow, bare, nothing to write home about, and they have the most wonderful jasmine tea. I order a cup to go and sometimes some sort of all-butter-and-caramel-sugar-pecan pastry. The guy who's really into tea tells me to make sure I take the tea bag out after exactly three minutes—jasmine is one of those delicate green teas that taste awful, he says, if you brew them too long. Sometimes he sets his stopwatch.

But, as I mentioned, I have a system. I get my tea (the clock starts), I put an extra hot sleeve on the tall paper cup, and put on a lid, not hurrying, and gather up my gooey sticky pecan bun that smells of heaven, and head back to my office. Usually I get stopped at the traffic light, that's 55 seconds. Then it's a long block and negotiating the front doors and the security desk and the elevator, and sometimes that stops on all the floors between one and five. Then there's a long hallway and another medium-long hallway and I'm back in my office, and sometimes another few minutes go by when I forget the tea (a bad habit of mine) and check email but then, then it's been seven or eight or nine minutes and the tea is absolutely perfect, a whisky-dark elixir as strong as ten men, its scent of bitter tea leaves laced with just the faintest trace of spring jasmine.

Years ago I started making tea mistakes. I started pouring the hot water over the leaves and going off and forgetting I'd done it for fifteen minutes or so. The results were, at first, terrible—strong is not nearly the word—bitter and quite a bit like mainlining caffeine mixed with road tar. I drank it, mostly, because I didn't want to waste the tea and after a while I started liking it. Delicate tea, the way green tea is supposed to taste, the three-minute green tea, tasted to me like watching the world from behind bulletproof glass. You got the sense it was there, and real, but you could never actually be part of it.

And so it came to pass that I take my tea powerful strong. It's tea you'd hand to sailors weathering a midwinter gale, and it smells like a warm blanket and a best friend, and it tastes like morning and clarity and consciousness.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The seventh luminous thing... friendship.

We had a housewarming party yesterday afternoon We were careful not to bill it that way, we didn't want people to come with gifts, the point was to see them, to get them all together, and anyway we have quite enough stuff already, thanks.

They came bearing gifts anyway, of course, their arms full of food and flowers. They came with a carrot cake from Ohio, a pink hydrangea, peppermint brownies, chocolate covered cherries, four bottles of red wine, a pot of delicate purple bell-shaped flowers, a birthday card of a chicken playing an accordion, a pear tart, gourmet cookies, a fruit salad.

They came and got comfortable and stayed, mostly out on the screened porch in the backyard, which I confess is a magical oasis of peace and birdsong and flowers and shade that charms absolutely everyone, even the most uncharmable. We kept bringing out more chairs until the porch was full of friends and food and both spilled out onto the patio when Josh fired up the grill.

We'd hung a note on the front door--Come On In!--and in they came, showing up out back and handing over gift bags and platters of food. The ranks of friends swelled from five to twelve to eighteen to over twenty. Bratwurst smoked on the grill, we replenished the Mexican beer in the cooler, people got to know each other over cookies and conversation and guacamole.

All the while our backyard magic kept working: the birds sang and flew back and forth, the squirrels ate the mulberries on the mulberry tree, the wind whispered soothingly in the pines, the neighborhood ticked over. And inside that everyday magic something even more magical was being born of these people, of this coming together. Fueled by friendship with either me or Josh, people expanded and opened and came out of themselves, and the small friendships swelled into something far bigger that roared through the crowd like a prairie fire, laughter and life stories blowing out ahead of it, sowing the seeds of new relationships.

I watched this companionable force flow and hum through the crowd and thought of the gifts everyone thought they had brought us, all the flowers and the food and the wine, and then thought of the gifts that had followed quietly in on their heels, the gifts of laughter, stories, warmth and wonder, noise, smiles, loneliness, news, history, themselves. The real gift they brought was friendship, and it warmed our house, our hearts, and our world.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The sixth luminous thing...

Couch, Karen J, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service a bivalve. Isn't that a lovely word? All those soft, sultry sounds, bees and vees and els? My friend Melissa told me she googled "bivalve new jersey" and right away I thought "clams mussels oysters" and wondered if they have a lot of those in there, but Melissa told me it's actually the name of a town on the northwest edge of the Delaware Bay. Bivalve, New Jersey, is the home of the Delaware Bay Festival and a tall ship built in 1928.

Who knew?

My friend Melissa is going to be near Bivalve or maybe Ventnor (Monopoly!) or possibly Cape May at the end of June, where she is going to look at thousands of red knots devouring baby horseshoe crabs.

Red knots are not bivalves, rather they are a sort of medium-sized sandpiper that breeds in the arctic and then flies 9000 miles to the end of South America for the winter and then flies back again, stopping to eat along the way. Besides the baby horseshoe crabs, red knots eat bivalves and sometimes spiders.

Horseshoe crabs aren't bivalves, either. Bivalves are those tasty mollusks I've always loved to eat—clams mussels oysters—filter feeders with hinged shells that typically bury themselves in the sand or anchor themselves to a rock. I'd really like to see thousands of red knots in New Jersey devouring bivalves by the carload but I'll be in Nova Scotia, devouring bivalves myself. Nova Scotia—in particular the Bay of Fundy—is also a migration stopover for shorebirds, some two million of them, some of them red knots. I'm sad I'll miss the red knots in Nova Scotia, but I'll be thinking of them, picturing the sheer volume of them and the amount of food they must need to eat to fly 9000 miles.

I'll try to leave them a few bivalves.

Bivalve. What a lovely, tasty word.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The fifth luminous thing...

Public domain image the red-tailed hawk taking flight next to my car as I drive to work—her heavy struggle to get those first few feet off the ground, those first slow, powerful wingbeats. She is as big as a small dog. I can see her dark back speckled with white, her strong shoulders, her tail feathers spread in a wide, rust-red fan.

I'm startled by the size of her, the burst of wings and lift so close, the cars flying by on both sides. I notice she is carrying her prey, a dark rag of blood and fur and bone the size of a woman's shoe. I see all of this in just a few seconds, and then I'm gone and she's gone.

But the birds are here. They were there when I first woke up this morning, right around 4am. Birds, I thought, singing in the dark? But when I looked—yes, there was just the tiniest bit of light in the east, a feeling more than a seeing, a sense that whatever it is outside, it isn't quite night anymore. Anyway, the birds were singing, just a few to start, a wren perhaps, and maybe some sparrows. The fish crows were next, and by a quarter to five they were talking anxiously from tree to tree in that muttering way they have, like a mob of old men waiting for a bus in the rain.

By the time my car reaches the river I know it's a good day: the hawk is flying off with her breakfast, the sun is spinning orange flame across the sky, and there are birds everywhere—dark ruffled rockets blasting up from the fields and the trees in twos and threes, boisterous, singing their celebration of light, of wings, of the morning.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The fourth luminous thing...

                                                                  L.Pachter 5.17.12 memory. Afternoon sun is flowing through the window over my desk and embracing the far-flung flotsam of my past—a string of buddhist prayer beads, a small zuni fetish, a vase of birthday peonies.

The beads are from the Toda-ji temple, the size of English peas, brown and marbled. I remember so fondly my solitary trip to Nara, the temple with its enormous buddha, the Kasuga shinto shrine with its deep moss and 3000 ancient stone lanterns.

The fetish is a wolf, carved from selenite, clear and hard but shot through with misty fractures. It came out of the Arizona desert and I can still smell the desert's pervading odor of spice, feel its dust in my nose, see its sky overfull of stars.

The peonies are pink confections of petals like the disheveled feathers of a swan's wing, cut from a suburban garden. My memories are full of gardens—well-planned, well-worked, well-loved, anticipated, abandoned.

But in this sunny moment of afternoon, I'm abandoned by nothing at all—all my gardens are here with me. So is the desert, and so is that oasis of a Japanese shrine. The fetish glitters like a jewel, the beads look soft as warm earth, and the peonies glow as softly as a lantern flame in the moist twilight. I sit and watch the sunlight move across my desk as the day fades, I watch the light abandon my souvenirs one by one, and I know, too, that one day the light of these memories will wink out. But not now, not yet. And so I sit, embraced by sunlight, surrounded by my past, with memory flowing through me.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The third luminous thing...

Public domain image the waning crescent moon. I'm unwillingly awake and starting my drive to work in that cold and still time just before dawn, when the sky isn't night sky anymore but the dark is still dominant. I turn the corner and there is the moon, hanging just above the dark trees and even in this first faint bit of light it's night-sky bright, a huge hook low in the eastern sky, lighting up this dim space between darkness and dawn.

The waning crescent moon, I read, is high overhead at 9am local time. Whose local time do they mean? Mine? And everywhere, all over the world? I always did have trouble with astronomy, trouble sorting out the positions of things—too many moving parts, objects circling objects circling the sun, orbits and risings and settings. I can grasp the poetry of moonrise far better than its math.

I turn the page, and read on: the waning moon is a time for spells that banish and release, a time of intuition and divination. But I can think of nothing to intuit, and I'm not very interested in spells. There's just me, alone in the dark car, and the moon—the only divine thing here—alone in the sky.

The sliver of moon rides with me along the dark roads. I can see now the low flame of true dawn in the east, and I'm clear of the trees. But the night mist lingers in the low places, like ghosts not yet absolved by morning, and the moon is fading to a thin glimmer, its sinuous hook dissolving, releasing me into the day.