Monthly Archives: October 2013

Learning From the Autumn Beach


Autumn is a seasons that wears two faces; one is warm and friendly, glorious with color and the plenty of harvest while the other brings harsh wind and  cold portents of winter to come.

It has been a busy week, and I have  longed for this walk on the beach even though today the wind is laced with bitter cold. It kicks up the sand to sting my cheeks, and it flirts with the hat that I have jammed onto my head. Ears burn, the tip of the nose quivers with a need to sneeze, and hands are wailing for gloves.

Still, the beach is beautiful. On the fringes of new dunes sea oats stand proud and tall, and the sea is so calm that waves hardly break as they roll toward the shore. The water is a steely blue unlike the summer’s translucence, turning silver only when sunshine finds a chink in the clouds. And the sand is fresh and clean…

Oops… what’s this?  I have almost stumbled into a deep rut in the sand. Now that I look around me, more  ruts crisscross the beach, turning it into a walking hazard. Trucks, I think balefully, fishermen’s trucks. The town needs money so the trucks have a right to drive on the beach and dig these mini-trenches with their wheels from September until April. Grumbling, I stumble toward the shoreline, and the bite of the wind feels as grouchy as my mood.

There is a loud screech. On my left a gray seagull is squawking, hunched over a bit of fish. He is daring the world to come and take what is his, and he viciously chases away a smaller, thinner bird that wants a bit of dinner. Gray is puffed and practically snarling—until suddenly, a much larger seagull alights next to him and begins to calmly eat the fish. Hunched, angry, squawking but frightened, Gray gives ground and shuffles away.

Pretty grim stuff—but wait, for  ahead of me have appeared three long-legged, curve beaked  birds—curlews, perhaps? They strut together, so dignified in their stilted gait that they are really comical. Their heads are close together and they appear to be conferencing about—what else? Food.

A trio of shorebirds

Are stalking ahead of me

Like the three stooges!

The curlews are not alone. Birds are everywhere. Tiny sandpipers are bustling about their business, and one little guy who has somehow lost a foot is feeding as gamely as his cousins. Gliding over the ocean, pelicans skim the water and then rise up to take their ungainly, deadly plunge for fish. Awkward they might seem on the ground but in the air and in the water they are masters. Seasons do not seem to matter for them. Nor do they seem to matter for a pair of surfboarders dressed in wetsuits they ride their waves.

“Hey, ma’am, how ya doing?” A burly fisherman shouts. Cold, I say. “Well, at least you’re moving,” he grins. Red nosed from cold, he looks so friendly  that I stop and ask him about his catch. “Nothing this morning,” he admits, “but my boy over there caught a flounder. A beauty!”

He points to a youngster in waders who, face screwed up in concentration, is thigh-deep in the cold water. “Just likes to come out here, you know?” he goes on, and I nod because I really do get it. We all come here for the magic that this ageless ocean weaves. We come for sustenance or for renewal of body and spirit. Whether we seek food or serenity matters little, really, because in the end it is the same thing.

The fisherman’s truck is parked behind him, but now I can’t begrudge him the tire tracks that score the sand. After all, sand will be wave-washed away and brought back clean and fresh. The pelicans, the surfers, the gulls and shorebirds, the fishermen and I are all a part of this autumn day… and part of this beach.

Though the wind stings raw

Those sea oats dance so bravely

To autumn’s music.

Waves at Emerald Isle, North Carolina




Turning Sixteen


Ben turned sixteen on October 20.

Sixteen by any count is a landmark year, the year in which one can drive, get  a part time job, and begin to look toward college. It is a rite of passage year, a hopeful, busy, happy year.

Sixteen years ago when this first grandchild was born, we clustered about his crib and spun our dreams. No wishes given by Fairy Godmothers could have topped ours! We fairly swamped this tiny, sleeping being with hopes, aspirations, and good wishes. If we had our way, no evil thing would dare come near while good and happy events fairly smothered the road ahead of him. And of course I did what every doting grandmother would do—I made him a gift.

This gift was a cloth alphabet book. I scoured the fabric stores for suitable images for A (alligator) and B (butterfly) and so on down the line. Then I sat down and wrote what the letters meant and how they would form words that might transform the world. Words, I said, carried in them the history of civilization itself and a hope for the future, too, because through them could come a magical adventure that would never end. I ended my little homily with a heartfelt, ‘Bon voyage!”

All voyages begin with baby steps. Then come games of hide and seek and follow the leader and songs and stories told and retold… memory-makers, all! But years pass, a child grows, and let’s pretend are usurped by the magic of computer games,  i-pads, and cell phones.

Sixteen years—in that  young lifetime the world has turned for good— and evil. The twin towers were struck down, wars and unspeakable violence and terrible wars have stolen young lives full of promise.  Tsunami, hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, floods and political chaos continue to wreak havoc.

And yet the tired old world has seen wonders, too, kindness and integrity have risen to counteract much that is evil and sorrowful. Medical miracles abound, for look, here is a man whose face was destroyed but who has been given a successful facial transplant! Progress is being made even as I write so that a special exoskeleton can allow the paraplegic to walk again someday. Once fatal, many diseases are either curable or in check, and researchers work tirelessly to conquer others. Artists of every discipline imaginable continue to create beauty while writers tirelessly spin words into magic. So many people volunteer service and time to help those less fortunate, and disasters are followed by healing outpourings of love and help.

Technology flourishes, too. In Ben’s time, there surely will be travelers to our sister planets. And—who knows? Perhaps ships, riding the winds of space, will learn the secrets of distant stars. The diamond rings of Saturn? The moons of Alpha Centauri? Oh, it is a wondrous new world that our grandson inherits.

Of course he is not thinking about any of this. Why should he? His mind is busy with a wished-for car and  cash-flow from employment and—yes, school and college to come. His sixteenth year will be crowded with music and sports, books, studies and, of course, romance.  So his adventure continues, and we who have held those hands when he took his first steps can only watch and hope that he will be always safe and well.

Bon voyage, Ben, with love.

In this room you took

Your very first baby steps

And stood, unaided!


Now, that’s swaggy!


There is a new language which often leaves me scratching my head and muttering. You may have been blindsided by this new lingo, too, by a young person expostulating, “I’m not reaching Lindy’s party tonight, man. She’s one of my mains, but she’s flexing too much. Styll, right?”

If you think a translation is in order, you are not alone. In confusion I have had to seek comfort in the internet ( which is still, to my mind, a source of black magic) where I read off a number of mind-boggling new words that are used by the younger generation. In this compendium of unknown words, reach can mean you are attending an event, flex means to show off or have too much cash, and styll for some unaccountable reason means you agree with someone.

In the same context, a yute (youth) could flex by telling one of his linguistically adept peers, “Yo, I went bungee jumping and got merked. Cray-cray, eh?” To which his friend might reply, “ Hundo P, dude!  Swaggy! YOLO!”

Completely confused? Allow me to translate. Merked can mean anything from being high , tackled, knocked out, or… who knows what. Cray-cray is just what it sounds like—crazy. Hundo P simply is a contraction of hundred percent and means that you approve. Swaggy means being or having something cool. As for YOLO, this acronym  for You Only Live Once is considered the worst new word or phrase of 2012. Not that this has stopped it from being used.  Cray-cray.

I wondered how new words got into proper parlance and took refuge in the Merriam-Webster dictionary where, I was sure, sanity would prevail. The dictionary gave me a simple answer: usage gets a word into the dictionary. Editors carefully study the language that is used, diligently monitor how often a word is used. Editors scour texts for new words, for the ways existing words are now utilized, and for spellings that might vary. The size and type of a dictionary also limits the number of new words that are admitted into the hallowed halls of dictionary-dom. For instance, a large unabridged dictionary would have more room for words that have become wedged into everyday parlance.

There is also the Oxford Dictionaries Online which each month adds approximately 1,000 new entries. In 2012, omnishambles (a situation that has been mangled and mismanaged) made the ranks. So did apols, an informal variation of apologies. Some of the more interesting words were  dappy (silly,lacking concentration), grats (congratulations), and babymoon (a holiday taken by parents to be or a time after the birth with parents concentrating on bonding with the new arrival.)

Words have always seemed magical to me in that they can create worlds or demolish them with a simple sentence. So I suppose that the creation of new words for new situations can only be the result of that same sorcery. It need not be said that sorcery can both transform the bleak into the wondrous or cause a complete muddle.

Perhaps this a portent of the future. Even so, while I may appear dappy to the younger generation, I still judge them to be a terrific lot. Hondo-P!

How to understand

Words that skate across the mind

But leave no impact?

002 (1) 008 (2)

Searchers All


The unseasonably warm weather last week (oh, yes,  change is on the wing!) found me looking for shells on the October beach. There were few shells–  the result, I suspect, of offshore dredging.  My friend, an avid shell collector, told me that she was remarking on this the other day when her young grand daughter replied, “But, Grandma, the fun is in looking.

It seems as if humans are always looking for something or other—for shells that will enchant us, for music and books that will transport us, for knowledge, for pleasure or the  jeans that will actually fit—and believe me, I know about that. When I was little, I sought the perfect toy only to discard it for a better toy. Later, like so many of my friends, I kept looking for the fairy tale ending to a perfect love.

Searching still takes up a lot of my time. That’s part of being human, I assured myself as I walked along the beach. The Search continues to be a wonderful adventure. Tireless researchers have sought and found cures for terrible illnesses; curious inventors have given us light and sound and technology through countless hours of seeking. And scientists were always on the lookout for new species.

But sometimes searching drifted into obsession, you could point out. True, there would always be people who tended to be inveterate searchers who drifted from one thing to another, always looking for the perfect ‘fit’ but never finding it. Carried to an extreme, searching could cause us to roam through jobs or relationships, always dreaming  of the next ‘right’ one and never finding the gold at the end of the rainbow.

Oh– a lovely shell!

But look, it is very small…

Best find another.

There are always goal-seekers among us, those intrepid souls who set a goal and pursue it with single minded conviction. Pretty awesome, right?  But here’s the thing—sometimes goal-seekers achieved their brass ring and then right away set off to catch another. Did they ever enjoy what they had worked so hard to attain? I’ve wondered about that.

I myself am a waffler. My searching often takes side-trips because what I am after never stays on a single path. The story I am writing or the art quilt I am constructing would suffer because I find a better idea. The project I am looking for suddenly morphs in a new direction or turn into a dead end, forcing me to seek new routes to my goal. And there are times when I have to stop and consider, because that new and better idea I just discovered meant abandoning so many other ideas, disrupting carefully laid plans…

“Excuse me!”

The dark-haired woman was standing in front of me. She was frowning. “Excuse me,” she repeated, “but have you seen my husband’s sun glasses on your walk?” I regretted that I hadn’t. “I can’t believe it,” she snorted. “This is the second pair he’s lost. He’s as blind as a bat without them. So now he gets this new pair—a really expensive pair— and what does he do? He wears them when he goes looking for shells. Of course the stupid things fall into the water and a wave takes them!”

She walked away muttering, and I watched her go thinking that this really had to be the caveat for all us. While we were out looking for that special  something, we had to be careful that we didn’t lose what’s really important along the way.

The way we travel

Can truly be beautiful…

Should we stop and look?

"Window To the Sea" watercolor

“Window To the Sea” watercolor


The Man From An Island Far Away


“My parents live on a very small island,” he is saying, “it lies off the northern coast of  Sicily.  That’s where I was born.”

We are waiting in the same checkout line in Home Depot where Mike is buying wire, and somehow we have started talking. Outside it is sunny, and people are hurrying by. The parking lot is thick with cars and trucks, and someone is talking loudly on his cell. Yet here is a man telling us about a place where there are no cars, where the only gasoline-driven machinery is farm equipment.

“There are less than 7,000 people living there.” He is of medium height, a pleasant looking man on the cusp of middle age. He has brown eyes and hands that dance when he speaks. “You know, there was once talk about building a bridge between the island and the mainland—it’s really not far— but the people voted against it. They voted to keep cars off the island, too. Once,” he chuckles, “my grandfather cannibalized some discarded tractor parts and built himself a convertible. Nobody liked it. It was frowned upon. So he took it apart and built a cart instead.”

It’s hard to imagine in busy Raleigh that there is such a place. Not, he says quickly, that the conditions are primitive by any means, for on this island there are homes, many with modern plumbing and television sets—not new, mind you, but TV sets nonetheless— connected to the mainland. There are radios, of course. And nearly everyone has a cell phone.

But life on this island is definitely different. It’s an agrarian society, and each Saturday the farmers take what produce the community doesn’t need or use to the mainland. “People on the mainland are waiting for them,” he tells us, hands mimicking baskets and boxes of produce. “Their grapes and peaches are amazing, and the vegetables they bring are top quality, so the farmers make a good living.”

He sounds nostalgic, so Mike asks why he left. “My parents sent me to Canada to go to school, learn something.” A shrug. “When I went home, there was nothing for me—no future. So I came to America. I visit when I can, but I have to fly into Palermo and then make my way to the island, and it’s expensive these days.”

During our busy daily lives, I think, we meet so many people but hardly ever learn anything about them. A pity, indeed, for everyone has a story to tell—like this man from a little island near Sicily. A part of me envies the life I picture there: no snarls of traffic, no outrageous prices at the service pumps, no hurry—and in the evening the serene hush of a twilight that harks back to another, simpler time.

I want to ask if he has found the American dream, or whether in his heart he wishes for the rolling acres of farmland, the steady clip-clop of cart-pulling donkeys and mules’ hoof beats on the road. But we have reached the cash register, so there is no excuse to linger.

We say goodbye and prepare to leave, but then he calls us back. “It really is a great place, that island,” he says. “And there’s a terrific view of Mt.Aetna. When it starts to throw up smoke, let me tell you, it’s something to see. Better than TV anyday!”

I suppose that there has to be some excitement even on a small, faraway island.

In my mind I see

Stars and a peaceful twilight…

Faraway island.

 Sunset and a Fair Wind