Sunday, May 20, 2018

Middelburg Memory

Because I was having ‘mobility issues’, I separated from the rest of the group and went into Middelburg (the Netherlands) on my own. I wanted to see Middelburg’s ‘Abdij abbey complex’ and had a map indicating that getting there would be easy. 

I wandered the town square, enjoying the bustle of a little flea market and admiring the city’s magnificent town hall. It was raining but I had waterproof gear and was content, if hungry. A restaurant on the square had a table where I could eat and watch the town’s activities. 
Sated, I walked the few blocks to the complex—dating back to the 12th century. There were two places of worship now connected by what we would call a social hall (where coffee could be served).
The lovely interiors included the oldest altar piece in the Netherlands. 
Eventually, I opened a heavy wood door to enter a corridor enclosing a garden of hedges and other plants. To the left, a barrier prohibited entry into part of the cloister. To the right, interesting sounds echoed off the ancient stone walls. 
I walked around the corner to discover a group of high school aged kids practicing movement and song. After a while, they were still and silent as a slim young woman began singing “We’ll Meet Again” in crystalline soprano. 
It was magic. 
Noting my interest, an adult leader explained that they were practicing for a World War II memorial event to be held in Middelburg in a few days. I was invited but my tour would have moved on by then. 

I have no regrets. The poignant song resonating through so many layers of history is permanently lodged in my heart.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018


There’s a reason Holland is practically synonymous with tulips. These flowers thrive in that country’s soggy land and climate. And they are spectacular. 

On tulip farms and at the rightly world famous Keukenhof Gardens, the Netherlands is resplendent with tulips of every shade and configuration.

At Keukenhof, three million tulip (and other) bulbs are planted each year for a spectacle that is open to the public for only eight weeks.

 But everything seems to have a shadow side. My tour visited a tulip farm. Unable to walk with my fellows into the fields, I lingered behind. When I asked my guide about these buildings, she revealed they were housing for the ‘seasonal workers’ – usually from Poland – who helped harvest the bulbs for processing and shipment. Migrant workers are apparently treated the same the world over.

I can only hope some of the beauty seeped into their souls and gladdened their hearts.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

An EARTH DAY message

Have you ever seen one of these? It's a button braid. I found it when I opened a trunk containing family memorabilia. It was made, presumably, by one of my female ancestors and reflects a time when nothing (or very little) was wasted. 

People used to save string. Take one bath a week. Darn socks. Use ink in fountain pens instead of buying [then throwing away] disposable ballpoints. I'm sure you can add to the list. 

I'm not sure how a button braid might have been used. Was it a way to keep buttons in one place, available when needed?  Or was it just a way to use old buttons as decoration? That's how I use it, on the north edge of the west-facing window in my guest room, which I call my ancestor room because the walls are adorned with photographs of preceding family. The room reflects not only the people but also the attitudes and practices of those who came before me

I decided to post the photo on EARTH DAY. 

We live in a world with an exploding population and diminishing resources. We could learn from our predecessors. We could become more aware of profligate consumption and excessive disposal. Find ways to use less, reuse more. We all could do something, even if only taking shorter showers.

If a gazillion or so of us became a little more careful with the resources we use, next year's EARTH DAY we be a grand celebration indeed.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Stubby and Scruffy

This is a bird feeder. 

This is a squirrel stealing birdseed. 

For months – well actually ever since I put the bird feeders up – I have considered squirrels my arch enemies. Triumphant arch enemies. 

Sometimes when I open my back door, as many as seven of the furry rodents scamper away, up my tree, over the roofs of my neighbors’ garages on the east and west sides of my yard. 

I leave. They return. 

One day, I noticed a squirrel with a tail considerably shorter than most squirrel tails. I decided to call him ‘Stubby.’ Another day, I noticed a squirrel with a tail that looked as though it had been attacked by a lawn mower. I called him ‘Scruffy.’ [I don’t actually know the squirrels’ genders, I’m just guessing.] 

Once you start giving squirrels names, you are doomed. 

Creatures with names are no longer arch enemies. They are individuals to which you pay attention, which you tolerate, which you sometimes find amusing. Acknowledging individuality means acknowledging worth [or something roughly the equivalent]. 

I wonder if the same thing might apply to humans.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Amen and Amen

“It will be a lonelier place relative to our natural world.” 

This quote -- by Robert Watson, chairman of a study team at an intergovernmental agency reporting that animals and plants are in decline across the globe – was published in the bottom left hand corner of page D2 of the Tuesday, March 27, 2018 New York Times

Such a tiny news item. So small, many people probably didn’t even see it. 

Everyone should see it. Everyone should think about it. Everyone should do something to reverse the trend. 

Save a tree. Or a river. Or a tortoise. Or even a stray cat. 

We need them. When our lives are wrapped in plastic and electronic images, we cannot breathe. At least our souls can’t. I know I can’t. 

I need crocuses and rain and the Norway maple in front of my house and Herbie my cat. I need the mountains to the west of me and the ocean far to the east (and south). I need the remaining (if shrinking) glaciers and the tropical rain forest. Even just to know they are there. 

Each of them sustains us. Not just by providing oxygen or beauty. But also expanding our understanding of reality. 

Amen and amen.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

And So We Carry On

Last week, Stephen Hawkins and Toys Are Us died, hundreds of United States high school kids walked out to protest gun violence, and a few of the neighborhood crocus started blooming. 

Meanwhile, war in Syria has been going on for the last seven years leaving an estimated 400,000 Syrians killed and 11 million displaced. 

And the war in Afghanistan, which has been going on for 17 years, has left 1.5 million Afghans dead; 4,500 U.S. dead; and 100,000 U.S. wounded. 

Right now, 65.6 million people around the world have been forced from home. Among them are nearly 22.5 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18. There are also 10 million stateless people who have been denied a nationality and access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement.

Nearly 20 people are forcibly displaced every minute as a result of conflict or persecution.  
In the United States, homelessness is endemic. 

And yet, and yet. Last week, hundreds of United States high school kids walked out to protest gun violence, and a few of the neighborhood crocus started blooming. 

And so we carry on.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Lopsided Progress

Over the past 300 or so millennia, there has been significant progress. The shift from cave to computer is astounding. 

 Technology is one thing. Society quite another. 

 I don’t believe humans have changed that much. We need, I think, to discard the notion of our ancient ancestors as dull-witted brutes. They were smart enough to figure out fire and agriculture and weaving and art and one thing led to another and now we have smart phones. 

What has not evolved, in my opinion, has been our societies (local, national and global). In fact, we may have regressed. 

We’ve gone from circles of people with an acknowledged consciousness of their relationships with the rest of existence (stars, plants, seasons, animals) to a hierarchical pyramid schemes that discount three fourths of our species. Under the latter, we have serfs, slavery, and homelessness. Progress has been lopsided – like our society. This is not what Pangloss told Candide – "all is for the best" in the "best of all possible worlds". Nor is it true that ‘every day in every way, things are getting better and better’. 

We need to stop being smug about the progress of our species and start working toward re-forming our circles. 

Then we can be smug.