Skeleton Dances

Snow, Night, Moon, Cold, Winter, Trees, Landscape

The moon was so bright over the untouched snowscape that I thought I had left a light on downstairs to reflect out. I was half asleep at midnight and it took a moment to turn and look out the window in the other direction and there was the bright moon. The bare trees cast stark and beautiful shadows like skeleton dancers in the night.

The angle of rise of the moon was just right at that moment and it was captured perfectly in my mind. Later the skeletons were gone as the moon evolved and the dance was over.

The winter weather has its own majesty when you are out of the urban or suburban sprawl. Here on this rural New England hilltop there is nothing but us and snow and the skeleton trees. The morning shows us the footprints of our night visitors, raccoons and small wild cats perhaps.

This bitter weather confines all but the hardiest souls, like being in a hurricane or other outdoor disaster. You know it is bigger than yourself and that you are powerless in its wake except now perhaps with a shovel. In the presence of illness we are imprisoned here, hunkered down and warm enough.

The snowfield is beautiful both day and night in different ways. The brilliant moon reflects on the icy crust which glitters like diamonds in the moonglow. The sun brings a different kind of shine. But the sun is a rare thing, only occasionally breaking the shroud like grey of every winter day, giving the illusion of warmth on a 1° morning.

The windows give me a view of the world outside where there are none of the familiar sights, just gleaming white. The inner world is a bit like the trees at night – skeleton dances.

Snakes Don’t Wear Sparkles

So, here I am living in a swamp. I grew up in the northeast where the creatures that roam are very different. Sure, there are snakes and frogs and spiders, but they seem to keep to themselves. They both have bear and deer and raccoons and squirrels and the like. But they seem to behave differently. Here in the swamp called Florida the creatures have no respect for the humans that have taken over their habitat. Imagine that.

Here, the snakes languish, sunning themselves on the warm concrete sidewalks, occasionally biting a curious dog or cat on the nose. Here, the deer eat my rose bushes daily – taking all the beautiful blooms, leaving bare snipped stems that I first believed was a neighbor’s work. I am told that they also eat geraniums but I don’t have any that are accessible for them. The frogs make so much noise during the rainy season that it can keep you wide awake if you can’t accept it as background music. For me this is especially true as I have a wetland next door to my home and the frogs are incessant. It is the summer choir.

Every once in a while a black snake will find its way onto my lanai or front porch. I should say here that my son and I are both snake phobic. I was at work one day when I received a text that said “Mom, I sacrificed the cat.” This seemed improbable to me so I called him immediately. There were two rat snakes in my lanai and my son told me he liked the dog too much to use him to chase them off – wise choice. So he put the cat out to shoo them away. This, of course, did not work. My fat black cat was soundly sleeping next to the snakes. For next time, a broom. As an aside, my best friend found a coral snake in her pool once, eek. And I have learned the behavioral differences between rat snakes and black racers, who look the same. This is knowledge I could easily have done without.

The other night I inadvertently dropped a bookmark with a tail of sparkly beads attached. No, I did not buy it – it was a gift. All of a sudden my daughter in law gave a scream/squeak. Turning, I asked her what was wrong.  “There’s a snake” she said.  I looked down at the bookmark and burst out laughing. Snakes don’t wear sparkles, I said.

The spiders here are the stuff of science fiction. If you are not bitten by a brown recluse and have a chunk of your body cut away, then you will be terrified by the huge wolf and banana spiders that are the size of the back of my hand. I am also spider phobic, sad I know. And they always seem to appear when I am least able to deal, in the bathroom, in bed, etc. And the tiny spiders are everywhere. When I walk out my front door I almost always walk through a thin, unseen line of spider silk.

When I garden, I almost always are bitten by some unseen, unnamed and vicious little insect. I grew tomatoes this spring and while I got a few, the plants were overwhelmed by some mysterious bug/fungus. I recall my father’s constant battle with his tomato plants and now I can empathize.

The lizards are everywhere. And I do mean everywhere. They are underfoot on my front walk, eating my cucumber plants, on my pool screen. Occasionally in the house and sometimes half eaten as a result of the Fat Kitty hunting just a little – he grows lazier by the year. They are often clinging to my windshield when I drive away.

And if you have never lived through the time of lovebugs you really haven’t lived. They are insidious, everywhere. They coat your car, smash by the hundreds on your windshield, fly into your face with no respect at all.

So here we are in the swamp. The tradeoffs – the sun is shining, the beach is close (watch out for sharks), the flowers are abundantly in bloom, there is the occasional onshore breeze, life is a bit slower and snakes don’t wear sparkles.

Notes From Isolation

So I woke up this morning. Did morning things. Said to myself “why am I making the bed?” The cat, being present, had no answer. The question remained.

I have been trying to establish routines, even though they differ from those I was used to. Some days I am more successful than other days. Finding productive ways to fill the time on some days, reading all day on others. I have striven to exercise most days although I am not a super motivated gym rat type. But I know how much better I feel when I exercise, despite the various aches and pains of sixty seven. I am growing things I have never succeeded in growing before – the pleasure of seeing tomatoes ripen, the promise of cucumbers. The cat is my constant companion, always near, begging like a small dog.

Now, as my state goes into phase one of reopening, I wonder what my “normal” will look like. I do not believe it is time to reopen, I do believe the numbers will continue to go up and that more people are going to die. We are not done with this thing here in Florida.

In the land of the free, the camo people believe that their rights trump (pun intended) the good of the majority; although I must say I don’t know who they were going to shoot armed as they were. It is always stunning to me that so many people don’t understand that every right has a corresponding responsibility, or burden. Rights don’t stand alone folks, they don’t exist in a vacuum. But that is a rant for another day.

So frankly, I don’t think my new normal will look much different than my current normal, at least for a while. Maybe I will stop purchasing everything I need, or don’t, on Amazon. Maybe I will go to the store a little more often. I am “high risk” according to the CDC and so I will continue to wear my mask, use my wipes and distance myself from others. I will wait to work until it is safe and continue to struggle with my bills. Maybe, when I can, I will get a haircut.


Get Up, Make Your Bed, Write

During this odd time of isolation, I see people’s posts on social media perhaps more than I ordinarily would. A great many of them talk about spending all day in pajamas, being paralyzed, eating too much, binge watching shows I have never heard of.

And not that I haven’t done all of those things; a little. I think, unfortunately, we are in this for the long haul despite what the talking heads are currently saying. I think normal is behind us and a new normal has to happen, and will whether we like it or not.

And taking the long view, pajamas really won’t cut it, binge tv is fine in the evening and eating all the time will only result in high blood sugar and blubber. So what to do?

Since retiring I can’t say I get up early. One of the great joys of retirement is going to sleep when I’m sleepy and waking up when I’m not, although I try to go to sleep at a reasonable hour just to keep my rhythms intact. But once up I am establishing a routine. I make my bed. A small thing I know but it makes me feel as if I am actually up like a real person with things to do. I exercise as best I can, I am not a super motivated exerciser but I am doing it despite myself – not enough – but doing it. I get dressed in outside world clothes. Yes, it has been a good while since I put on makeup or jewelry and I definitely need a haircut, but I am dressed.

Of course the first weeks of this experience was taken up with arranging bills, finances, long long phone holds with various companies and agencies. Frustrating but necessary. Then there was getting my son and his fiancee home; his job ended. It was complicated and full of drama but it is done.

Then there was tending my plants and my tiny garden. There will be tomatoes! It is pretty exciting. There will be cucumbers. This is all assuming the snails don’t get them, or the squirrels, etc. But all my plants are very happy as the normal benign neglect has ended and they are tended daily.

Then there was cooking. Oh yes, made bread, apple galette, and all manner of other things. Now mostly cooking healthy food for myself, not so creative but less blubber making.

And there is banging out songs on the piano. And there are all those myriad of household chore/projects that I have procrastinated for years. I am slowly but surely getting rid of paper. I am going through clothes. I am sorting through old cooking magazines that I just don’t need. I am catching up on my New Yorker reading, as well as chewing through every unread book in my house. The problem, of course, with reading is that I end up sitting all day and that is not healthy for me. So I try to confine my reading to the later part of the day, I do not easily relinquish a book once I sit down with it.

We have organized the garage, cleaned the lanai, scrub our bathrooms regularly, vacuum, dust, trim the hedges, go for walks. All to fill the days that used to be filled with social activities – teaching, meeting, rehearsing, lunches, dinners, friends.

And of course there is writing, the thing I now have time for and don’t do enough. Sitting still is hard, unhealthy, so this is the hardest of all. Nevertheless – Get up, make your bed, get dressed, do something productive and do something that makes you happy. Don’t sit too still.

Both Sides of Isolation

Isolation is a strange thing. We are in “quarantine”, or at least we are supposed to be, all of us. I find that people are so stressed about being isolated that I am bombarded with invitations to zoom meetings, talks, confabs and telephone calls. I like that I am able to “see” some people I ordinarily don’t get to see, that I am connecting or reconnecting with people I don’t ordinarily talk to often, or at all. I like feeling in touch. But it is an odd kind of in touch. Nevertheless, I am overwhelmed.

When I am stressed I tend to isolate anyway, and so physical isolation is hard for me.  I am single, so there is nobody to fight with, talk to, vent on or sleep with. My roommate is still working and has a life, and a partner, of her own. She leaves here in mere days and then the silence will echo even louder. I am cleaning, cooking, mending, fixing, watering – a lot. I am trying to keep busy with chores at home. My plants look beautiful because unlike the usual sporadic neglect I can tend them every day or every other. My house is ridiculously clean, my laundry always done.

I sing at the piano, I fortunately have a large stack of reading and I am chewing through it steadily, I watch too much TV, I am working on paperwork projects that I have put off for years and, yes, I am trying to write. I find myself oddly resistant to sitting still. So writing is hard. Sitting still makes me feel sad, and lumpy and not well. Hard to articulate it, so that’s the best I can do.

I normally live a busy, full life with a calendar full of events, appointments, rehearsals, classes. And so my house feels like sanctuary when I am able to spend time at home, alone. It feels like a warm bath at the end of a busy day. Right now the house feels like confinement. I go out for a walk, I take my coffee and a book on the lanai in the morning but the walls still feel like a boundary that I am not supposed to cross.

I find myself talking to the cat too much, sometimes he seems to understand. Ridiculous I know. But he is happy to have me home and we have settled into a new routine which includes his being spoiled rotten now that he is an only furbaby.

Isolation also gives me an opportunity to focus on meditation, prayer. The flip side of sitting still is sitting still. Allowing my mind to quiet, to reflect on my life generally and not just in the day to day. That can be painful sometimes but the learning is a growing process. Growing is always painful but the end result is self-awareness which is a good thing and leads me to good things.

In the end I know that gratitude is the panacea for all negative feelings. At the moment I have a beautiful prison with a peaceful and serene outdoor space. I have a safe neighborhood to walk in. I can pay my bills for the moment. I have enough to eat. Everyone I love is safe and healthy for now. Everything else is just dross. I am lucky.