Monthly Archives: March 2012

Then Came Dolphins

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Gloom, doom, sorrow… I admit to feeling all of these. Though the morning was beautiful and warmed by a sun that slanted softly through the trees, nothing seemed right in the world. For here in my hand was a newspaper article about a teenager shot to death in Florida, shot for no apparent reason except that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time and that he happened to be an African American.

Shouldn’t we have learned by now that prejudice is wrong? the worst form of bullying? Years ago I’d felt compelled to write Candle In the Wind  after a  young Japanese exchange student  was shot on Halloween night by a suspicious house owner—killed while he was walking away from the shooter. The parallel between that tragedy and the one in Florida was too strong to ignore, the message too awful to set aside. We have not yet learned to look through differences and see the human being within, I thought, sadly. Perhaps we will never learn.

And then came the dolphins.

They arrived by way of a short video clip sent by my good friend ‘up north,’ a clip that related what had happened on a sun-bright beach in Brazil. People were strolling, enjoying the day, relaxing on that peaceful, far-away beach, when suddenly….  what was this turmoil out in the ocean? Waves had begun to churn and roil, and suddenly I saw that at least a dozen disoriented dolphins were plunging shoreward. On they came until beached, helpless, the great creatures flopped and twisted desperately on dry sand.

What a tragedy!  But before I could fully process what had happened, people on the beach leaped into action. Young men rushed to the dolphins and began to lift and pull them back into the water. Within minutes, the dolphins had been rescued! Turned toward deep water, they were swimming vigorously out to sea.

They leap joyously,

            Great fish, once doomed but now free,

            Swimming toward home.

Everyone on the beach cheered and clapped, and watching, I thought… we are never helpless; we can change things. If we can be taught to fear or hate people who have different eyes or skin or who believe differently from us, we can also be taught to accept, to appreciate, and to see with clear eyes that we are all members of the human race.

Recently, I read an article by Suzanne Morgan Williams in the SCBWI Bulletin (March/April 2012) about the importance of writing for and about children from all countries, backgrounds and cultures. So much work has already been done in this field, but the task is never ending and opens the door for those of us who are writers and artists! The teachers and librarians among us can choose to read and discuss such books, while showing by word and deed that to embrace a difference is to discover similarities. Parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, friends… all of us can walk the walk that children will follow.

If only we could demonstrate by our work and by our lives that the great goal of our time is to see people clearly, what a world we could make! And in such a world  children everywhere would be able to travel into the deepest waters, travel in safety and with joy.

To free captive minds

            Is like breaking clouds apart

            To bring back the sun.

 

Three little girls in China

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Spring Thoughts

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Spring came early this year, morphing from an unusually warm winter into summer-like temperatures that refuse to give way to more moderate days. Even so, it’s officially spring, a time for the rebirth and the growth of new things. The trees are bringing out new leaves in a wonderful, ethereal green, the maple trees are busy pumping out baby airplanes, and Yoshino cherry trees are covered with clouds of blossoms that shift from white to shell-pink and back again.

Do they seem to glow

Against that blue dome of sky?

Yoshino blossoms.

I can’t think of anyone who dislikes this season, but for us it is an especially joyous time. In March we celebrate three birthdays: that of a grand daughter, a daughter in law, and a son.

Isn’t that reason for joy? Yes, and yes, and yes again!

The youngest of the March trio was born a full dozen years ago on March 10, an especially propitious day because my Uncle Harry (of whom I have written many times) was born on March 9 back in the 19TH century. I remember that as I held this small, compact baby girl for the first time, I thought of the jonquil, which is the March flower. Small, elegant in gold and white, feet planted gamely against March winds… yes,  that was our new grand daughter.

Our March daughter in law is the family sculptor—apt for a season full of  promise and energy. For Spring is nothing if not imaginative, painting azaleas the color of snow or fire and urging lazy streams to gurgle into life. It torches up Carolina blue skies to make them crackle with lightning yet delicately tints Robin’s eggs blue. What better season for our artist?

And then, there is our older son. Like all families, we spin a long-winded tale about his birth. We speak of how my husband was then stationed with the military in Bangkok, Thailand, and how I joined him when I was seven months pregnant. We describe how we were car-less and lived miles away from the hospital. We relate how, in anticipation of The Day, we borrowed a car which could not go over twenty miles an hour without developing an alarming shimmy. We laugh at how that car rattled and banged and shook on that day, how the gate of the hospital was locked, and how the old gatekeeper had misplaced his keys, and mumbled and clanked and kept us waiting for fifteen stressful minutes!

All of this is family history. We don’t often mention, though, that within the commonly told version of the story is another one that is as miraculous and as sweet as spring itself. This is the story of how, on March 21, 1963, a small and howling baby boy was placed in my arms. With him came a sense of wonder. Here was a new being, unique. He had a headful of dark hair and there was a soft peach-fuzz all over his body. I didn’t need to take inventory to know that he was perfect!

So in this season, while the world gives thanks for the end of winter, our family celebrates three birthdays— each a gift and a thing of wonder. And I marvel anew at the beauty and the mystery of this thing we call life.

Soft rustle of wind,

            Gentle murmur of water…

            Yes, spring is reborn.

On Atoms and Hermit Crabs

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Walking along the beach today, I am thinking of a program we watched on the Science Channel. It proposed a theory that each atom could contain its own universe. An  infinitesimal object, a million times smaller than a human hair, might house an entire universe! It staggers and delights the imagination and also proves that everything has its unique importance.

So today on my walk I am concentrating on the small and humble things I see on the beach. Sand, for instance. Nobody thinks about sand unless it is creeping into bathing suits or gritting up sandwiches, for what can be more self-effacing than sand? And yet this is the stuff that Blake immortalized when he wrote about a “universe in a grain of sand” in a poem which pre-dates the atom theory by upward of two centuries. Sand is also the origin of glass—including this little bit of sea-glass that glistens at my feet. And isn’t a speck of sand responsible for irritating the unfortunate oyster into producing a pearl?

Golden stretch of sand

            Dances to the call of wind

            And sings underfoot.

            Lying on the sand are shells washed up by last night’s high tide. The Atlantic cockles are large and perfect, and olives glisten with their subtle sheen. But today I am watching as a hoard of tiny shell-shapes no larger than half my fingernail come rolling in with a wave and then begin to furiously dig down into the sand. These coquinas are humble adventurers of the ocean, riding waves to shore, digging down to hunt for food, and then riding another wave back to the sea. Our grandchildren used to call them ‘Bye-Bye shells’ because they would so swiftly disappear into the sand, and for many summers we gleefully watched for them. Sometimes we would fill a bucket with sand and water and collect an armada of small mariners, then release them back into the water.

These brave sea-farers

            Have no fear of great waves…

            Tiny coquinas.

Like these coquinas, ancient mariners heard the call of the sea. Without benefit of modern technology, maps or knowledge, they sailed their small ships bravely into the unknown. It isn’t about size, I think, as I watch a tiny shell-creature disappear into a hill of sand. It is about determination and moxie.

Now I walk on and watch a formation of determined pelicans as they swoop low across the waves. They glide so easily with the wind, these splendid birds with their oddly shaped beaks and their round, golden eyes. Seemingly fearless, they plunge into the waves in search of dinner, then soar upward to rejoin their flight mates.

Pelicans look so strong and sure—but here on shore are the little sand pipers who teeter on the edge of the ocean waves . They are much smaller than the pelicans and waves frighten them. I watch one bird as it runs forward, pecks furiously in the surf, then dashes wildly back to safety inches ahead of the next breaker. I understand and sympathize with their fear, for often what we want comes cloaked in uncertainty. There might even be hints of danger. Supposing I fail? Supposing nothing works out right? We humans hesitate and often draw back from an opportunity. The sand piper deals with this fear every minute of its waking life… and  hangs in there.

Huge wave is coming

            Run fast, little sand piper…

            It will ebb away!

 

My walk is almost over, but now I stop as something moves on the sand. Here is a hermit crab that has been washed out of its tide pool. No worries about mortgage payments or the housing market for this fellow—he carries his living quarters with him. As I watch, he inches along the beach, carefully navigating his way toward shallow water.

The shell that houses him is not of his making; the sand crab found it abandoned and took possession. Eventually, when it grows too tight for him, he will find another empty shell and claim squatter’s rights. The hermit crab doesn’t over think this process. He doesn’t agonize about the right neighborhood, or the right job, or whether he will be happy once the choice is made. For hermit crabs life is more elemental, and his main problem is survival. If there is no food nearby or if the shell doesn’t fit, he moves… and gets on with his life.

As I make my way homeward, I think back to the theory about atoms and wonder if it really is remotely possible that worlds exist within them. And I smile to think that someone— perhaps even someone like me— could be plodding along a beach unseen to the naked eye wondering at the wisdom of things small and humble.

This small broken shell

            Has sailed through a wild, wide sea

            To rest in my hand.

           

 

 

 

Dialing Up Dialogue

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I confess it… I’d make a terrible trial witness. I’d be blotto about the make or color of a car, and I wouldn’t know if the person seated in the third row of the theater was acting oddly during intermission. But ask me about tones of voice, or dialect, or the nuances of someone’s speech…

Listen to voices

Of people hurrying by…

Possibilities!

The way we speak sets us apart from the crowd, and of course fiction mirrors life. Characters may look the part, act the part, but the moment that character opens his or her mouth spells success or doom.  Writers of excellent fiction can put down a page of pure dialogue involving many different characters, and the readers won’t miss a trick. The rest of us have to work at it, perhaps by playing with this dialogue-dealing exercise. In it, the writer places characters in a scene and makes them declare their individuality. Do you want to try your hand at it with me?

The four young people starring in this little exercise want very much to go to a concert. They have to convince their parents to let them go. The young people are:

Sara Monody, 14

Rachel Davidson, 14, Sara’s best friend

Kareena Jules 14

Maddy St. Germaine 14

Maddy: Guys, we have to go. Pauline Tree is totally the coolest. And I have tickets. Which cost a hundred bucks apiece. My dad got them from the office. For free. He always does.

           Sara: I know, I know, I know, but Mom will never let me go, I mean, she will go, like, orbital if I tell her I want to go to a concert on a school night.

            Rachel: What she said.

            Kareena: Even if you have tickets, we need transportation. Who do we know that has wheels?

            The four girls have speech patterns which shed a bit of light on their characters. Now, let’s fast-forward a few days and catch them as they come out of the concert… only to find that their ride for the evening has left without them! This time, no names. Can we tell them apart?

            *Ohmygosh, he’s gone, he’s gone and left us, just took off without even thinking about us, and now what are we going to do? I’m going to be grounded like forever and forever.

*Me, too.

            *I can’t believe it. He has to be around here. Somewhere.

            *We need to call a taxi. How much money do you guys have?

            This dialogue might be exaggerated, but it illustrates a point. If you want to give each of your fictional people a distinctive voice, try putting them in a situation so that they can develop. You will see how speech patterns begin to form, how certain words or grammatical nuances emerge to fit each individual.

Give it a try… it works for me!

"Lorelei" watercolor

Travels With a Quilt…and Haiku

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When one of the members of our quilt group travels to another country, she brings back fabric pieces for the stay-at-homes. We have all have taken turns to find and ferry back these much-welcomed souvenirs, with the result that I have a drawer full of  this largess.

Of course, I could use the bits of cloth in an art quilt, but somehow this doesn’t seem respectful enough. So today I’ve launched into a new project—to create a travel quilt. My plan is to sew some nine patches and have the small stand-out squares remind me of countries, friends, and memories.

Here, for instance, is a square that came all the way from Nepal. Actually, it did not come to me via the quilt group but through a young friend who was in the Peace Corps there. Imagine—she was close to Mt. Everest, the tallest mountain in the world!

Rising like thunder,

Dwarfing all else in grandeur…

Snow capped Everest.

Look… over here is a bit of cloth that came all the way from Africa. I have never been to Africa, but one of my friends in the quilting group journeyed to that far-away land with her choral group. Looking at that square now, I dream of a pride of lions prowling across the veldt, or of a great bull elephant at the waterhole while the sky blazes with sunset and birds racket out news that dark is approaching.

Roar, you proud lions,

For warm, velvet dark comes fast

And time to hunt nears.

Other squares tell of countries where I myself have traveled: Scotland, Bermuda, and of course Bangkok, Thailand, where our boys were born. In those days Bangkok was still unspoiled by pollution and traffic. It was an exotic and energetic city where water buffalo were driven to market through the streets, and where the dusky evenings were scented with frangipani and ginger blossoms. Here also is a square bought from a small quilt shop on Rokko Island, Japan. Japan, too, has changed immeasurably since I brought this fabric home, but on that visit there were cherry blossoms everywhere, their petals falling around me like pink snow.

Who now is watching

Those cherry blossoms open?

Remembered springtime.

This little striped square? It’s from Switzerland. If you look closely, you will notice the small edelweiss, the Alpine flower that is beloved by the Swiss. My aunt loved them, too, and she sometimes let me touch the flower she had carefully pressed in a book. It had, I remember, furry petals.

This square came by way of Belgium, and this one is from Germany—a country of great industry, the homeland of Beethoven and Goethe and the birthplace of Einstein. Next to it is a small piece of Hawaii, with its azure water and orchids … I remember how we danced on cool sand whenever I see this square.

To ukeleles

And the pound of surf on sand

We danced, feeling young!

My around the world quilt is almost complete, now. It needs a binding, so I think I will use fabric bought here in Raleigh, North Carolina. For no matter how much I love to travel the fascinating world around us all, I  am always glad to come home!

All that world offers

Can be found within these walls…

Warmth, comfort, and joy.