Tag Archives: life


I have always believed in the existence of two worlds.

First, there was the one for which the blame could be placed at humanity’s feet. It is messy, contentious, sometimes graceless, oftentimes not. Its gears wheeze like a quarrelsome factory.

The other world is the natural one – the verdant, growing and once the only one – that began millennia before man made his debut, his awkward challenge. This is the world that witnessed battalions of formless creatures crawling out of the sea, gasping before their gills disappeared forever.

Now, I find much in our combative world that disappoints; the things that bear the scar of mankind’s twisted humor. This year has been bloated with its indignities.

But to despair, to complain is foolish: for the other, older, world waits outside. All it asks of you is one sense – sight, touch, scent, taste, hearing – in order to share its manifold gifts. It asks that you look at the stars, touch the earth, smell its growing life, taste the air, listen to the beguiling animals.

Can one world outweigh the other? I think so. Nature has her clever ways. Her wit and creativity, her ever-busy mind, will always be an encouragement and an inspiration.

So what can you be thankful for on November 24? Or on any day? Has mankind let you down? Then look to the lady spinning her wonders outside, and she will comfort you.

Then go inside and eat a hearty dinner.

Happy Thanksgiving.




The Invitation

The dead seagull lay huddled in the rocks                                                                                 Its head curved beneath its wings                                                                                                 In a solemn, moribund prayer                                                                                                       The air pricked at its feathers as if the bird still lived                                                           And could feel the salty, impudent fingers

Nature tried to interrupt the corpse’s devotions:                                                                   The air, the ocean                                                                                                                                 Refused to let the deceased blood,                                                                                                 The slowly evaporating DNA                                                                                                           Disperse amongst the shoreline’s lonely cathedrals

I did not take a photograph of the body                                                                                     To create a memory of its sadness                                                                                                 But the grief stays with me:                                                                                                               Of the soft creature prodded by the wind                                                                                 Inviting it to join its salty ranks once more


Forever Amber

Throughout the temperate climates there are trees that hold on to their spring and summer greens throughout the later, demanding months.  They wear them as stubbornly and foolishly as one who wears a favorite coat in July or refuses to take an umbrella into the rain.  They live their evergreen lives eternally, proud of their verdant blood and the succulent life that will not blink in the face of the shifting seasons.

But there are some trees that pay attention:  to the altering temperatures, to the shadows that lengthen before noon, to the greedy night – Nature’s subtle hints that it is time to change.   Their leaves become melting prisms, with colors that undulate and flow:  creating microcosms of sunsets within a dying morphology.  Garnet, ginger, bronze and scarlet, they are as pure and fluid as the stained colors in cathedral glass.  The tints of Chartres, Notre Dame, Cologne are reflected in their autumnal DNA.   The air is bright with their departure; the earth and streets are crisp with the trees’ brittle sacrifices.

In the mid-17th century, Spanish naturalists stumbling through the Americas took note of a pretty tree with leafs shaped like clipped stars and a clear, perfumed gum that looked like liquid amber.


350 years later their happy discovery is alive still, in backyards and cities, celebrating the cyclical weather, the migratory temperatures.


Liquidambar styraciflua is known for its fluid colors and fragrant liquor.  It bleeds a clear or tinted resin reminiscent of the musky scent of burning amber.  This aromatic hemorrhage is what gives the tree its name.

The Amber’s round seed pods create sheet-music when superimposed against telephone lines.  Its roots are discreet.  Sidewalks do not buckle or erupt into mountain ranges that wait for pedestrians to stumble over, like unsuspecting gods.

It is used for decoration; above succulents and firs, cedar, oak and spruce its colors wink with whimsical flamboyance.  During the summer its canopy is lush with green youth.  By year’s end breezes rustle the crisp leaves like a mother running her fingers through her child’s tousled hair.

It drinks from the subterranean rivers that tumble through the earth in a web of fertile tributaries.  The green elixir permeates the body of the tree, creating an ornament that glories in the year and celebrates the four changing quarters.  It is a reminder of the comfort of change; the knowledge that beauty does not end but renews itself in perpetual rebirths:  that it lasts forever.


My Theory

The natural world, amazingly, is not perfect.  When something alarming buzzes or crawls by, I wonder how it came to be.  I wonder how it passed under Mother Nature’s gentle sight.

For instance…insects.  Surely, we could have done without them.  Their ride on the food chain could easily have been replaced by some other, equally tasty object.  The idea of a world of tiny monsters serving no purpose save to populate menageries of grotesqeries is madness.   I can only think that Mother Nature was nodding when these creatures were given leave to roam across her earthly dominions.

Was she?

That is my theory.  First, I must explain:  I believe that Nature created her  world the way Santa Claus creates toys…that is, it was not a hands-on procedure.  She had helpers – I don’t know what form they took…I think that they worked in a hidden, dream-like state – who put together blueprints of future creatures and then offered up each plan for their wise Mother to accept or reject.  And as there were so many drafts to go through, I imagine Mother Nature sitting by a type of conveyor belt to make the process go easier and to save her feet. 

She had the ability to stop the appliance, but not to put it into reverse.  If a beastie was approved, it passed by.  If not, it was stamped “reject”.  And if the qualities indicated on the blueprints were not to her liking, she of course could edit.  Who knows, perhaps bunnies originally had antlers, and the jackalope would have been a reality. 

Edit, Please

Or perhaps she scribbled – in a slanted, elegant hand – “No horns…just long ears.  Looks cuter.”

And so the entire natural world passed by, a seemingly endless cornucopia of ideas, thoughts and whirling imaginations to be observed and balanced.  It must have been wearying work:  and even such a loving mother as she became tired.  Petals fell from her hair as her head drooped; her pastels faded…and she slept.

Spoiled For Choice - Spoiled Choices

Time passed…and then she awoke with a start.  She looked ahead, into the future, towards her accepted creations and was filled with alarm, for the sake of her pride, and for the pretty world she was decorating.  She saw spiders, millipedes (whomever was responsible for the Giant Millipede got a strict talking down, I hope)…and was in despair:  she was going to be remembered for that

But there was work to be done.  She looked in front of her and saw a curious object.  She stopped the conveyor belt and read its description.  It had large wings, two of them – as clear as glass, and as delicate as frost.  Its body was slim and fragile.  She read the description:  “Feeds on nectar”.  She liked that…such a sublime little thing should only get its strength  from sweetness.  But there was only one.  Disgustedly, she estimated that in her sleep she must have inadvertently given thousands of spiders their place on earth.  And yet there was only one…she consulted the description again…Butterfly?

Sighing, she thought briefly.  Her imagination roamed and soared.  Then she started to write.  Pages and pages were filled with diagrams…new shapes, patterns and colors were devised, so that the single butterfly became thousands.   She wanted her skies filled with  color and transfigured light…besides, she was feeling a little guilty.

However, in her haste, she did not think to alter the structure of the wings themselves.  So these changes in hue were quickly painted on in powders and frosts.  This explains the colored dust that comes off on our fingers after we capture a butterfly:  it is chiefly due to Mother Nature’s miscalulations.  Beneath it all are the clear, original wings.  

So whenever I flinch away from a horrible crawlie, I sense Mother Nature’s guilt…but when I see a butterfly,  I see her apology, her eloquence dazzling in the sunlight.

Birth Marked

The shadows grew flustered with color.  Their depths became lurid, pulsating with hidden meaning.  Trees shifted nervously as they felt their bark become an agonizing skin.  One's suffering was particularly dreadful.  The cold air, fragrant with the earth's seasonal decay, had comforted it for hundreds of years.  But suddenly it had become humid, drumming with the activity of invisible fingers – fingers that stripped the bark away, that polished the raw flesh until it was smooth, rounded and white.

Roots recoiled out of the ground.  Branches merged together and lost their splintered netting:  birds, carrying building materials in their mouths, flew elsewhere.  The canopy of leaves exploded, tearing apart the living embroidery.  And the sun illuminated what the modest trees had been hiding.

The surviving buds and leaves wafted down, settling on the white figure that was stiff with pain and the fear of separation from the forest and the maidens of Artemis.  Knots in the bark disappeared except for two – and they became parallel and uniform:  liquid, living galaxies of light.  This chosen unfortunate felt its sap become thin and quick, running down a filigree of paths that marked a fleshy interior.

When the trunk split, it cried.  And the sound drove the homeless birds flying through the torn ceiling.  Around each piece there were vines and lianas, grasping fruits and spinning tendrils.  It dragged behind it the emblems of its former life:  clouds, mangroves, tropics, forests coniferous and evergreen.

However, its new circulation, its sparks that seemed to fire everywhere and nowhere, were insistent.  And it walked forward, poised and praised, marked with triumph and transition.

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A Nest Flies Away

When I was walking home, I saw a curious thing rolling towards me.  It was small and light; it was blown across the sidewalk like a bite of tumbleweed.  Or it could have been spools of dust drummed up from earth by a confused wind – bursting into confused shapes as it bounced off the sidewalk.

I walked towards it – it was momentarily still, shaking and weary in the indeterminate breeze.  I looked closely.  It was a bird's nest.  Made of countless threads of dried grass and stripped twigs, it was a woven home, a knit of natural things, gently made through the diligence of two sparrows.  Little bursts of life, with songs of boldness and pride, they built their nests every Spring, following the commands of the DNA coursing through their veins.

And now the results of one couple's homemaking lay at my feet.  The nest was the color of dried flax, and it was the size of a cupped hand.  The middle was hollowed out and lined with pale, winsome feathers.  Down, plume, semiplume:  the parents had dug deep into their breasts to tear out a cushion of warmth that would complete a bed destined to protect a chorus of helpless lives.

Once part of a sparrow commune hidden in the shadowy, airless eaves of the welcoming houses, an errant wind had lifted it from its moorings like Dorothy's prairie home, and taken it for a ride of confusion on the airy columns, streams and currents.  Only instead of stopping to crush a witch, it stopped in front of me.

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Blossoms of Birds

I was walking back to work, from the bank – congratulating myself that my purse hadn't been stolen (I held on to it, white-knuckled, all the way back).

At one point I passed a type of box hedge, dull and olive – its flat, sheared top just reaching to my shoulders.  In its interior there was a lot of activity:  I saw the leaves vibrate; I heard delicate rustles as the tiny inhabitants jumped from branch to branch.  There were groups of twitterings rising to the surface and breaking free, the notes taking their place in the sky as if it was an endless, blue lyric sheet.

I really didn't understand anything that was being said, but surely the discussion was an excitable one.

Suddenly, pop!

From the top of the hedge there sprouted a flower.  It had wings.  It grew with quick, nervous movements.  It had a beak which had once freed it of its childhood home, when its petals were still curled and weak.  Its roots were not visible, twisted tightly around one of the branches which formed the dark labyrinth within.

Then:  Pop!  Pop!  Pop!  Pop!  Four more appeared – an entire featheration of flowers.  They spun on their stationary stalks with sharp, little turns:  like the tiny ballerina dancing inside of a music box.

This garden, alive, breathing, driven by rapid flickering hearts, was growing only a foot or two away from me.  But not a single blossom took its floating flight.  They were in constant rotation:  maybe they were looking for the sun, and were having trouble finding its warm reassurance on such a cluttered, dirty afternoon.

I walked away smiling.  If I had dared to pick them, what a charming bouquet they would have made.

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Vox Hunt: Give Thanks

Show us what you're thankful for.

 I am thankful for good times, with friends and family…

 …for fruit juggling, and pink Kool-Aid martinis.

If you don't celebrate Thanksgiving, well, on November 22 do as we do:  love your family, love your friends, and eat yourselves into a blind, stupid, stupor.

To my Vox friends – you know that if I could I'd invite you (and all pets) to the palatial Aubrey residence.  I have a feeling that we would have the most famous of times.

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Hearts Of Stone

"I know of a place where we can go where we please; and live like gypsies."

This quote was taken from the mini-series "The Buccaneers".  It's only partially remembered and possibly entirely made up, like the novel this series was based on (Edith Wharton died before the novel was even half completed). 

However. These words were uttered in a placating whisper by the governess Miss Testvalley to her impatient and impetuous charge, Nan St. George.

And where did they go?  To a castle.

I remember the following scene:  Nan running across bridges – her white skirts escaping behind her – dashing up towers, gasping over turrets, loving every brick of every shattered wall, every savaged battlement, every crumbling crenellation.  Her arms were outstretched, as if she wanted to embrace every inch of architecture, every ghost of every past inhabitant.

But you can't.  Atlas can straddle worlds, but can you envelop lives…history?

I know the way Nan felt.  I've known those emotions – dazed by the sheer beauty of ravaged walls, of dark and still silhouettes.  I love castles.  I study them. I learn them.  I climb them. I know them.  I feel for them – during the 'slighting' of all defensive fortresses after the English civil war, when Cromwell ordered that they be shot and dented and made useless for any escaped Royalist…their solid and statuesque beauty was pocked with cannot shot.

But I love their ruins too – they aren't ugly; nor are they eyesores.  I find their shattered outlines fascinating and graceful.  I've seen their stray turrets, their isolated, incomplete walls set in the green hillsides like jewels.  I can draw them by heart.  Because they're already there.

Now, it's Aubrey's rule that she must walk to the very top of every castle she visits.  I've nearly slipped and broke my neck on the rounded stairs of Caernarfon Castle, trying to execute this edict.  I've got lost in Dover Castle (such sublime confusion!).  I climbed the 180 steps to Tintagel Castle, wheezing in the sea air and Arthurian legend.

I've gazed through arrow slits, imagining my aim.  I've peeked through acres of battlements, nearly swept over them by the winds crouching and waiting at the tower's very tops.

I've visited Beaumaris Castle, one of Edward I's handful of perfect fortresses (Caerphilly, Harlech, Conwy, Caernarfon) built on the English border to keep a stony eye on a temperamental Welsh population.

I've climbed the stairs of the keep of Rochester Castle – the tallest in Britain (125 feet).  I've always enjoyed its baleful 'windows', which stare at me like massive blinded eyes.

I've come close to history:  I roamed the inner courtyard of Framlingham Castle.  In 1553 Mary Tudor gathered her loyal troops there – Edward VI had just died, and she needed to escape London, which had been taken over by the traitors who had forced the Lady Jane Grey to marry Guildford Dudley.  Pathethic Jane had been proclaimed Queen, against her will, against statute and every law of royal inheritance.  I was walking where the future Bloody Mary had paced:  deep-voiced, determined, bitter, equally pathetic.

I've been overwhelmed by the past, by former lives pressing close as I walked through centuries-old hallways.  How can the vanished become so real?  I've been moved by cold walls and crumbling brick.  How can a deserted pile of stone inspire a heart?  

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