Thursday, September 29, 2005

Listening to London

Today I saw so many faces but less joy and more of the busy of business. I expect there to be noise in the city. But you know the amplitude doesn't impress me. The variety of noise catches me. The beep, beep, beep, beep...of the pedestrian traffic light. A girl bumps me with her rucksack. I hear the sound of my English and the sound of her Dutch. I barely notice the underlying scuff of shoes against a concrete sidewalk. It is the undertone of the city as the sound of katydids in a field in July. I would notice it more if it stopped. I didn't have to worry about that in McDonalds at 12:30. I looked around in Mc Donalds and didn't see smiles. I didn't see contentment. I didn't see leisure. People sat and ate. Maybe they were thinking there was more tasks -ones that came after lunch and before home. I couldn't tell. I was a part of this time somewhere between lunch and dinner and someone offered me a seat next to my son. He was grabbing lunch a literal quick bite and took time to shift down a seat as someone left and offered it to me. No eye contact, no reply to my thanks as he continued biting his Mc Chicken. His action is what I heard loudest today. Bet he never guessed.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Autumn Gardening

One thing that I miss here in London in the Autumn is picking Macintosh apples. Having a crisp apple straight from the tree is amazing--especially my favorite macs. So this year I planted an apple tree in my garden. Not macs but if it grows I should be able to get some cooking apples from it each autumn. Today I went out to give my sapling some attention and remove the brambles and other intruders from its immediate area. It took awhile as I tried to avoid the dozen spiders and their webs. Spiders in London are much fatter and more numerous than in Massachusetts (hence the smaller amount of mosquitoes-a fair trade).

Clippers in hand I looked from the pile of clippings which needed bagging to the clippers and decided the bagging could wait a bit longer. I'd rather clip than bag.

My garden is lovely but it is the last owners' garden. They set out a 3 foot perimeter around the square of green grass filled with an assortment of bushes and trees each flowering at a different time so there is always colour in the garden. The first summer we moved here I was in awe of the blossoms and variety. I just removed the brambles and removed some rubbish from the corners and got to know it. The following year we made a few additions like a grapevine and the apple tree. My dog Dude deleted a few items to suit his tastes and created a few bald patches on the grass to make things homey. I can't bring myself to cut anything down so started giving a bush at the corner a trim as the kids have had to duck beneath it to get their bikes. As I clipped I realized there was a whole lot of space under that tree so I kept clipping. This branch seemed interconnected with that branch so if one went the other had to. I found an old birds nest and thought I better keep clipping now rather than in the spring when I would disturb a new nursery. I did find a lot of space under that tree and it does still have a few leaves left at the top.

I looked at the clippings again. This is always fatal as who wants to pick up clippings. As long as I am making a pile of clippings I might as well clip the pine tree branches away from the shed door. So I got my heavy duty clippers out. The ones that have expandable handles and whose blades can take down a small tree.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

A story for Shana

Once there was a tree. She was big, gnarled and spoke quietly when the wind blew. Once there was a child who could hear what the trees said when they talked on windy days. That child listened often and grew up loving the trees. She remembered many of their stories including this one.

"I was a sapling ever so long ago. Next to me grew a pack of trees bigger than me but only just. They stayed green in the summer no matter how dry it was, green in the winter when I was bare and green in the autumn and spring. People came each year to put lights on them and sparkling bits that reflected off the snow. They loved the greenest trees.

I was small,gangly and barely green. No one noticed me much.

As I grew a bit taller I saw another tree in the garden next to mine. She was covered with pink blossoms in the spring and was the most elegant tree I had ever seen. The bees sang to her each day and hummed in her blossoms. By autumn she had made glorious apples that the people gathered round to collect and treasure.

They loved her. I didn't have flowers or fruit.

As I grew each year I saw a bit farther a field and saw a magnificent strong tree. Its dense green foliage provided the safest homes for the starlings and sparrows, cardinals and robins. Its strong arms barely swayed in the highest winds and its solid trunk never failed. Its confidence and strength were its beauty. I even heard that people would draw pictures of its leaves and collect its sap to make a coveted nectar.

I swayed with every passing breeze and didn't have its strength. People did not admire my leaves.

One day you children came. You couldn't climb the bristly pine. The apple trees limbs' broke when you sat on them. The Maple tree was too tall to get a leg up. So some of you children came to visit me.

My branches were low enough and strong enough to climb. I could help you find new heights. You ran your fingers through my long trestles and created houses and games beneath them. And I realized they could shade you in the summer. I was spooky and creaky enough to tell ghosts stories beneath at Halloween. I caught the snow in my boughs for you in the winter. And in the spring I sheltered you from the rain. One child called me willow and said that I was a great tree. Me?A great tree?

I am not evergreen like a pine. I do not have beautiful pink blossoms like an apple tree. I am not as strong as the Maple tree. But I am a place to nestle and dream and share. Now I know I'm special too."

With a sigh the willow was still.

After listening to her story and with her head leaning close to the tree's trunk,the child whispered back to the willow. "I am glad you are you."

Friday, September 16, 2005

Turning of the season


One of the things I enjoy most about London is that we are a short tube ride from the heart of the city and yet when I walk my dog I can lose myself in a green fields and trees. The country is at my doorstep. I frequently walk the dog at a place we call the Reserve. We speak of it as if it is a well known spot for tourists yet really it is one of many quiet reserved spaces located in every borough where nature can get on with it. It is truly a gift to all the locals not only dog walkers. Dog walkers just find these places a little more often as our ramblings are driven by our dogs energy levels .

On Wednesday of this week the reserve still echoed the trill of the surviving cicadas and grasshoppers from the summer months. When the sun peaked out of the clouds I stripped off my sweatshirt and was still warm in a tank top. When the path lead beneath the trees I appreciated the coolness and thought it better than central ac. The last of the bramble berries were fermenting and a fruity smell drifted around . The mud in the old watering hole was becoming baked and fields were browning The 4 foot sticks that had once been towering lush weeds made me sure that there wasn't much water left in these once wet lands.

Thursday the reserve had a chance to begin its change back to the wetlands. Rain fell and cascaded from the trees especially while I was under them. As nature does get on with things in the reserve there was a wild array of weeds. Some of these grew over 5 feet high this summer. I know this as they were distressingly taller than me at some points around the path. There are the usual nettles and brambles and a immense number of varieties of green I can't name. But on Thursday there was one in particular that stood out. It was a reddish tinged plant, whose multiple stems were slight and each ended in a triad of round tips (once flowers). These tips caught the water droplets and held them so this weed was a shimmering vision. A red skeleton decked out in glittering droplets.

It wasn't the only thing shimmering as Thursday was also marked by the return of the spiders. First I noticed a stickiness across my face when I walked between two bushes. I looked frantically around for hitchhikers at that point. But the real webs were strung between stalks and weeds and the biggest catch today had been raindrops. The webs had a spotted spider sitting right in the middle just like I've seen in National Geographic pictures and documentaries on the BBC.

Today I walked in the reserve past the mud hole that now had a small amount of standing water. The first mud of the season!! Even more exciting was the fact that my dog didn't find it. He is white. The cicadas and grasshoppers were all quiet but what replaced them was the movement of hundreds of thousands of leaves rubbing against each other as a fresh breeze blew. It is an incredibly big sound. Like waves crashing on the beach fills me with an awe of the sea, the breeze forcing its way through the trees filled me with awe. Walking under the trees today I zipped up my fleece and I realized within the past few days autumn has arrived.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Should you stand under a tree in the rain?

It is a rainy English day and the beginning of a very long season of rain. It will rain a few times a week now progressing to more like 90% of the time by January. Sometimes you can prepare for things. If you live down south during the summer months in the US you get air conditioning if at all possible, make sure your ice maker works and have a plan to get to a large body of water be it the local pond or backyard pool. It seems that here I ought to have a plan for the rain. Umbrellas and waterproof raincoats (not just the water resistant ones) should be on my priority list. I drove my children up to the train station after we all had listened to the news that it would rain all day and verified this looking out the window. Yet everyone entered the car to go to the train station without a rain coat. It is only when we picked up another group of friends with raincoats that it occurred to me that my kids had no common sense and I had been a negligent mother. To redeem myself I ran home-grabbed the water resistant coats and got them to the children before they hopped on their train. Maybe subconsciously we figure denial is best.

There are many words to describe rain--soft, drizzle, lashing, pelting, pouring. I have to say that we are between soft and lashing today and as I walked the dogs it was only pleasantly moist. The first thing I passed was a muddy pit that is usually a small watering hole brimming with water and tadpoles. It hasn't been like that since April and suddenly the rain felt good. As the soft rain moved to lashing I walked beneath some trees. A slight breeze stirred the leaves who had been collecting rain for the past 5 minutes. They tipped just enough to make major drops dump upon me. I think there should be a name for this phenomenon. Dumping? No the picture that conjures is smelly. A waterfall perhaps? It wasn't that bad. Drenching? True but not poetic. Since I am in London I should sound more polite. Cascading seems to fit. The rain cascaded down upon me. You know the rest.

You would think there are obvious easy answers to some questions in life. But when it comes to the rain I think you should face it right on as hiding from it usually means you get wet anyway-at least if you stand under a tree.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Comic relief in my Day


My dog's name is Dude.

As the "dude" of the house he gets to lounge for hours at a time preferably on the leather sofa. His leisure is broken by two walks a day. He has trained us that these walks occur about 9 in the morning (except on Sundays) and 6 at night. Deviating from these times means a disappointed Dude and the negative reinforcement that follows is messy at best. Today I delayed our walk by an hour to visit with friends and returned home to find that luckily there was not too much negative reinforcement.

I opened the door. He sat staring at me somberly. Slowly he started to shake - little tremors down his back and legs until he no longer was able to contain himself. He leapt. First in circles in front of me and then at and around me. Next he looked for something to grab (today-a child's PE kit) and bolted.

It really was time for Dude's walk. I put on his lead. He sat seemingly patiently at the door until it is opened. I managed him into the car to pick up his friend Bran, his walking mate. We got to Bran's house and through the door I see this small black and white terrier leaping 3 times his height up the door frame to the window. He has heard the my car pull up.

After coaxing Bran into his halter and lead he trotted out to the car and in through the passenger door. Dude leapt upon him desperately searching for Bran's lead which he grabbed to haul him around the back of my mini van. Bran snarled a greeting and a quick nip on Dudes ear said, "Get off the lead!". In the meantime I raced back to the drivers seat to start the car moving before the inevitable.

Dude barked.

He barked and barked and barked at Bran as if to say this is the best thing in world. I rolled up all the windows as we drove past neighbor's who stared at the mysterious Barking Car. He continued to bark loudly and enthusiastically unable to contain his excitement. Bran occasionally gave a high yip but generally ignored Dude as an embarrassment.

A mile later (seemed like more) we arrived at our dog walking hot spot. This is the place for dog walkers who need to contain their animals who may not come when called. It is usually devoid of joggers, bike riders and small children. The occasional fox and squirrel that cannot be caught frequent the field. It is perfect. I opened the car door. Dude stopped barking and searched for any lost balls in the car. Bran began a litany of piercing yips leveled at the ball thrower which holds the BALL--that prized possession which Dude and Bran secretly know has a life of its own.
Bran continued to Yip in high excitement anticipating or demanding the ball's release. Dude however would not leave the car until a nonexistent ball could be found beneath the seats. Yip, Yip,Yip, Yip,Yip...After a few moments he decided the ball in the thrower is a good substitute for the one he cannot find and exited the car.

Finally the Ball was released and so were the hounds. A typical walk with the dogs.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

My Heros

Two stories define my past week.

My 11 year old daughter started at a new secondary school last Monday. Her first day was great as she came home full of adrenalin and excitement. By dinner time the adrenalin was wearing off and she went off to bed early. Next day she awoke with a fever and vomiting. She went on to miss the next two more days in her new school. As classmates made new friends and found their way around the school and met new teachers, she laid in her bed. She tried going back on Friday where she vomited in class by mid day and came home. She sported a high temperature over the weekend and had to stay home again on Monday.

Cara never lashed out at others over her predicament.
I did. I worried and fretted on her behalf.
She didn't wallow in self pity or concern herself with what she was missing out on during the week she was sick.
But I spoke with whispered anxiety to my husband and friends about how hard it was to miss the first week at a new school.
She was bored more than once but never complained even when going to bed for naps.
I admit I didn't mind the naps.
She was concerned about returning today only over the point that she never wanted to vomit in class again.
Who can blame her.
While I worried and fretted on her behalf she calmly faced what life had in store and patiently let herself heal. I guess you can say Cara is "laid back" (may she forever be) but her way of accepting what comes day to day without the baggage (worry, pity,guilt) or in spite of the baggage is heroic.

I am an oncology nurse and my second story is in remembrance of a long term patient who died this weekend on my shift. This young husband and father had been fighting cancer for well over 2 years. I watched him on various readmissions and could see his road was full of the intense disappointments at times. He never had a cross word--really-- though I would have expected more than a few as the treatments failed and options ran out. While in hospital he never withdrew into himself and always had a smile for nurse and fellow patients. This last admission he was matter of fact as he realized there would be no going home. I am sure he was afraid. Where do you get that kind of bravery to accept your immanent death. He didn't give up but reached that rare state of acceptance. He died peacefully and quietly after saying goodbye to his wife and children and having planned his own funeral. He is not my only patient that has died with such dignity.

I've been a mother and a nurse for over 15 years and am realizing what a privilege it is to be a part of peoples lives at defining moments. I see heros and they inspire me. My daughter and this patient's story is a tribute to the greatness in people. It is locked inside each of us and sometimes on rare occasions and at a defining moment in life it is unlocked.

Monday, September 12, 2005

My escape pod

Today I am deciding to make my life even fuller--probably overflowing the cup a bit and taking time I don't have. Reflecting on the fact that my second 40 years will begin soon and on the fact that my bank account will not allow me to become a ski bum, I have decided to try to write that novel I always wanted. So some of my future blog sites will include excerpts of a new world I hope to create. My only goal is to create something unique but vaguely familiar and above all entertaining.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

London Portrait Gallery

Yeaterday my daughter and I visited the BP portraits exhibit at the National Gallery in London as part of her sixth form homework. The display was truly impressive and the artists unique and inspiring. I began to think about what a portrait of myself would portray. Would I exude confidence or compassion or shyness? What would my self portrait portray in contrast to anothers view of me? I once had a pencil drawing done by a street artist in Leicester Square--half price as I would be the last one of the night. I never thought it captured me but maybe it cpatured what I don't see. It is rolled up under my socks somewhere.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

A Rolling Stone Gathers no Moss

The kids are almost all back to school today except Cara who is home with a stomach bug. I love my children but I have to say my personal space has been obsolete this summerwith all 5 home and one or another taking turns being bored or worse succombing to playstation and computer games for hours at a time.. They needed to be challenged again and I need time to blog.

I am turning 40 this year and suddenly all that confidence I felt in my 30's is melting away. You see I had gotten my head around communicating with kids, teachers and parents. I knew my role and felt secure in it. Now I have rejoined the work force and am learning that communicating with adults again in a professional manner takes effort, confidence and self promotion. It is rough to get your thoughts across in a non threatening way and even harder to get lots of other insecure and overworked people to see your point.

Suddenly at 40 I find myself feeling 18 (and like my 16 year old) making choices about the next 40 years. My mom is 84 and always says she feels like she did at 18 but is trapped inside a body she doesn't recognize. Maybe we never stop being teenagers with all the insecurities and questions about our futures. I guess maybe that is a good thing and keeps life interesting. No moss growing over me.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Starting 6th Form College

My daughter turned 16 recently and is starting sixth form college. She came home with an array of courses and opportunities and questions about what to do with her future. A blast from my past 22 years ago.