So much to be thankful for

IMG_4475Beauty everywhere.  Look up, look down, look all around.

Days like today remind me how lucky I am, and how much I have to be thankful for.

Here’s just a few visuals for this Thanksgiving Day, of the things in my life that bring me joy:

IMG_4702Lamp lights, clock lights, and holiday lights, in this darkest time of year.

IMG_4532Old favorite books, like friends lined up on their shelves.

IMG_4725Oak trees that hold fast to their foliage, all winter long.

IMG_4590Concerts by well-dressed performers, right down the street.

IMG_4401Lovely neighbors of all architectural styles.

IMG_4312A glorious museum nearby, free to all with a library card from Our Fair City.

IMG_3918Owls in the art (this by Jamie Wyeth, at the MFA) and owls on my walks.

IMG_4823Sunsets that demand I dash up to the roof to fully take them in.

IMG_4826A local Donut Emergency Squad at the ready.

IMG_4831A nice warm home, well renovated and well lit, ready to enfold my loved ones and their friends.

Happy Thanksgiving, one and all.

IMG_4832Horrible photo, but I can’t resist.  That’s the view out my bedroom window, from last night. Memorial Church in the background, behind the lights of the design school closer by.  Oh, and that lump in the tree,  tail feathers sticking down, just above and to the right of the Mem Church steeple? A wild urban turkey, hunkered down on a snowy Thanksgiving Eve. Stay safe, bud.

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The light this time of year, yet again

IMG_3866The light this time of year.  Golden and lovely and gone too soon.

My first job, post-college, began in the autumn, the year I turned 22.  Needless to say, I was new to the whole workday commuter routine when that first Monday after the end of Daylight Saving’s Time arrived.  And every autumn since that year, when the reminders pop up about setting the clocks back, I think of that long ago late afternoon–sitting at my desk and watching the sun set and the street lights flicker on, hours before quitting time. And me, blinking back unbidden tears.

Because here’s what I also distinctly remember realizing, on that first dark workday Monday–I’d spent nearly every moment of the available daylight indoors, at my desk, on the phone, in a meeting.  It was a first brush with the reality of working life that I didn’t much care for.  I was an outdoor girl, after all, small town and sporty. I hadn’t expected to end up in a city, riding subways, living in a dingy apartment on the back side of Beacon Hill.  Until that particular “Fall Back” Monday, I’d never faced the notion of an entire day without a moment to at least feel the sun on my face. I remember wondering if I’d ever be old enough to not be taken by surprise by the Monday in November when the the sun started setting around tea time.

IMG_4539Sometimes, when I’m not expecting it, I catch that last light, shining in, upstairs.

Well, here I am, lo these many years later.  And I have to say, it still shocks me, that first post-daylight-savings Monday evening.  The Sunday sunset, the night before, slips by unnoticed somehow, but when the sky goes gray around 4:30 on Monday–ouch. It’s just so abrupt, so definitive.  A week ago, you could see where you were going, you could go for a bike ride, you could make dinner without turning the lights on.  This week–boom.

Yes, the shock remains.  But what I’ve gotten better at, over the years, is coping with the dark. I’ve learned, for instance, that it pays to make excuses to be outside while the sun is setting.  If I’m fully aware of the sun slipping away, I can make peace with its early exit.   It’s a whole world better than just glancing up from a phone call or an email, and realizing that the light left while I was otherwise engaged.

IMG_4335Between the sun low in the sky and our new greenhouse kitchen window, I’m getting new shadows in the oddest places.  Odd and delightful.  Those are silhouettes of my $5.00 orchids.

Anyhow, that’s my plan, these days.  Get out while the getting is good.  Be one with the sun.

Here’s just a little of what I’ve seen, this first fortnight back on Eastern Standard Time:

IMG_4056This shot was dumb luck.  I walked to Porter Square and missed the bus heading back to Harvard Square.  It was one of those sunsets that didn’t hold much promise at first, lots of low clouds, probably wouldn’t amount to anything…and then, wow.

IMG_4198Twice last week I dropped everything to get to Mount Auburn Cemetery for a quick walk before the sun set.  That, and to get in and out before the gates close, at 5PM.  I took this photo at about 4:45, and all but needed a headlamp to make my way out before the sky had gone from pink to black.

IMG_4341Here’s  an image from a bonus visit to Mt. Auburn, courtesy of an errand in nearby Watertown (Bon Ton Rug Cleansers, remember them?) and a chance encounter with an open gate on the far side of the cemetery.  The long shadows, the carpet of Japanese maple leaves–achingly beautiful in that light. A lovely calm carmine puddle of autumn foliage, before the wind and the maintenance guys intruded.

IMG_4418Aha!  The silver lining to these dark late afternoons.  If you get up early enough, the light paints wonderful morning landscapes and cityscapes.  Worth peeling out ahead of the rest of the world, to see the day dawn. Which happens an hour later than it did in October!

* * * * *

Bottom line: there may be less of it, but the light this time of year–the gold light through yellow leaves, the sun low in the sky and brilliant early and late–is its own gift.  You’ve just got to make sure to get out in it, and soak it up.

things I notice along the way

IMG_3750Everybody sees foliage.  Am I the only one who notices foliage prints on my windshield and hood?

I don’t know why, but things tend to present themselves to me in recurring bunches: from finding people’s wallets on my Sunday morning walks, to seeing silhouette after silhouette of roadside foliage that happened to be in the way when the line painters came through, to discovering headstones with a long-ago birth date and a dash, but no death date—that sort of thing. I can’t account for how these random items repeatedly end up on my radar, but it’s always amusing to see what comes after my awareness has been heightened with a first observation, the one that opens the floodgates.

IMG_3573This sort of thing.  Who else does that lack of an end date jump out at, besides me?

IMG_2772Seriously.  You see the first leaf silhouette, then dozens more pop up. This was a particularly artistic pine cone shadow.

I remember watching a documentary (the one on HBO a few years back, about birding in Central Park, if you happened to see it) where a late-to-the-game birdwatcher described the difference from his life before, when he’d cross the park only vaguely aware of pigeons and sparrows, and his life after, once his sister had introduced him to the creatures he’d been missing. “It was as if the trees had been decorated with bird ornaments, but they’d been invisible to me, because I’d never known to look for them them before.” There’s a special bonus when you discover the little wonders that are hiding in plain sight.

IMG_2597See that shadow of the out-of-the-frame skyscraper?  Well, I do…

Noticing: being aware, searching for details, paying attention–these are skills and gifts, simultaneously. They require some slowing down, plus a willingness to not be so ambitious about multi-tasking. I used to plug in and listen to music or NPR on my weekend morning perambulations; I wouldn’t think of it now, for fear of missing the cry of a kingfisher or fledgling red tail hawk. There’s a delight in the possibility of encountering the unexpected that trumps the value of doing two things at once. That, plus I’ve pretty much convinced myself that I really do have time to do one thing at a time. Or maybe, as my mental wiring frays,  I function usefully only when I’m not trying to two things simultaneously. Whatever the cause, I feel like I’ve returned to a place that I occupied when I was very young, back when I lived for this time of year. Because autumn was when drives up north provided long stretches where I could stare out the  window of our station wagon, peering through the naked woods, sure that if I paid attention and was very lucky, I might see something magical.

* * * * *

Here’s the thing about things you didn’t used to notice that start popping up all over: you can’t un-see them. Which sometimes leads to a heightened awareness of things that make it hard not to worry about the state of the world. There’s the panhandlers in Harvard Square, the acid rain damage on those headstones, the missing immature night herons from this summers’ Black Nook offerings. What happened? What changed, to make an environment uninhabitable, unwelcoming, disintegrating? You can’t not wonder, once you’ve start noticing.

IMG_3419So tiny, I thought it was a baby something or other.  Such pretty tail feathers. Sigh.

And now, this. An outgrowth of my ramped up attention to the birds is the fact that I have started noticing particularly beautiful ones lying on the ground. The first was on my back porch, a victim, I’m sad to report, of our professionally squeaky cleaned windows. My poor friend JZ got my inevitable cell phone photo with the message, “What was this?” She knows birds like nobody’s business, and she always shoots messages right back. “Ruby Crowned Kinglet,” she replied in a trice, “Fluff up the feathers on the top of his head.” She admitted she likes to investigate such things; I’m a little more squeamish. But boy, it was a beauty, that little kinglet.

IMG_3737The Chrysler Building was mesmerizing.  How did I even notice what was right by my feet?

A week later, sigh once more. I surely wasn’t expecting to encounter any fauna while I was walking in the concrete canyons of midtown Manhattan. I was looking skyward, enjoying the view of  my all-time favorite skyscraper, lit up in autumn’s late afternoon glory.  How I managed to take that view in and this sad sidewalk vignette, I’m not sure.  But I did.

IMG_3726I mean, honestly.  What were the chances that the first woodcock I ever saw would be on a sidewalk in NYC?

As usual, I took a photo and shot it off to JZ.  As usual, she reported back posthaste. Poor little creature, a victim of those shiny windows, just trying to get from summer home to winter home.  On the train ride back to Boston, I did a little google research.  “Woodcock displays are given at dawn, dusk, and all night when the moon is full. Male rises in the air in wide circles.  After he reaches about 50 ft., his wings start to make a twittering sound as he flies higher.  At 200-300 ft. the twittering stops and he gives a canary-like flight song while starting a zigzag descent.”  Somehow, knowing that that creature was capable of such dramatic displays  both amazed and saddened me.  I found myself hoping that this remarkable woodcock had at least gotten a pleasant stopover in Central Park, on his great migratory trek. I suspected that such displays don’t take place en route from here to there, but still, I fervently hoped that this bird had had his moment to shine.

Okay, true fact: I’d prefer to be oblivious to dead birds in my daily life.  But that’s the thing–once you start noticing, these things stick.  And beyond thinking that it’d be okay if a decade or so went by before we get around to having professionals come around to our house to clean up our windowpanes, I don’t know what to do with this phenomenon that I’ve become altogether too aware of.

It turns out that being observant is both a gift and a burden.  The little things can make my day, and can also make me weep.  Being aware can cause sleepless nights.  But somehow, being aware makes me feel more alive, and more actively human.  And lord knows it can be both a gift and a burden, to live life keenly, to pay attention, to not turn away or mute the realities before us.  Which, I suspect, is a small price to pay for the moments that make our hearts soar.

Some people say the devil’s in the details.  Some say God.  I suspect it’s a bit of both. Either way, I’m planning to keep paying attention.

IMG_1937A little bit of quartz that repeats in the new granite curb in front of the Fogg Art Museum.  I’d like to think someone hand picked that slab of stone for the beauty of this vein, echoing down the sidewalk. Probably not…