When the Planet Shifts

My daughters are both on another continent today, celebrating my elder daughter’s birthday together. Last year’s birthday sunset sky swirled into an enormous bird. I had forgotten that another birthday post, “In the Beginning,” described different facets of the same day. As with all our children, her dad saw her first and so I first visualized her through his words.

Love in the Spaces


Before we married, Jim promised me we would have five boys.

Because I was very young, somewhat gullible, and only took college laboratory courses because I had to (notwithstanding my lack of scientific skills), I believed him.

We had two boys in under two years. Promising start.

On a windswept January day the following year we had a few extra hours on our hands: my scheduled delivery had been moved to make way for an emergency one.  (I did not prove much more successful in the childbirth department than I had in the hard sciences.)

We took our toddlers to breakfast at a riverside restaurant where I managed–just barely–to slide my mid-section behind a sturdy stationary pine table where the boys laughed and gave us sticky kisses before we dropped them off to play with friends–and Winston, the venerable bulldog.

Jim had only sisters and I had only brothers, and…

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My Own Private Penguin


2016’s nine favorite stateside phone camera shots include nine geese-a-flying, six ports, four seasons (heavy on autumn), three states, two sunsets and sunrises, and one heart-shaped bivalve immobilized by the weight of burnished sand.

At the center of my array is a moonless super moon. I caught a single sailboat in its immense silvery shimmer long after the eager ocean photographers had captured their more traditional images and headed home.

(I think Jim would have stuck around in the quiet dark as well, though he would have had a tripod and the right lenses and his shots would have been crisper.)

Only two interior shots, and not a human in sight.

You’d have to know my own interior thought processes awfully well to discern what you can’t see in these pictures: I wasn’t crying when I took any of them (though there was some light weeping on the way to the spiral staircase, but that’s a long story having to do with the last time I had been in Damariscotta, Maine); the autumn tree is in a stunning cemetery in which I walked in work heels through ankle-high crunching fallen leaves; one was the first sunset I sought out in what is now one of my favorite secret sunset spots. And the lighthouse stairwell shot didn’t look quite right going up, though objectively it was nearly identical to the shot I took looking down towards the roiling sea. (“The moments when you’re in so deep, it seems easier to just swim down,” sings my earworm.)

Or maybe it’s my traditional no-one-in-sight landscape photographs, when I’m alone at the lens with my thoughts, which are my interior shots.

Even when outside on New Year’s Eve, packed and pressed by the movement of thousands of people with, let’s say, more traditional human companionship, I feel I’m alone in the dark and inside some weightless barrier.  I’ve looked at others’ photographs from New Year’s Eve: crowds hundreds deep looking towards fireworks, hatted heads and red-cheeked faces poking into frames, selfies miniaturizing seasonal displays.

My shots were different.

I slipped through the maze of a boisterous crowd at least six deep around barricades protecting newly-carved ice sculptures. Alcohol vapor already lingered in the air, and appalling unpleasantries floated from across the street, where a handful of men sat on a curb in a swirl of cigarette smoke.

I found a spot where the crowd melted away into the night and a street-level spotlight became a perigee moon over the shoulder of an ice penguin it turned into mottled gold.  If it’s possible to make eye contact with an ice sculpture, I did.

I get you, little penguin.



Among my nine photographs I also see myself in that one goose who’s a little off-kilter, a little nick in the spearhead formation as his brethren resolutely hurtle forward.

I was surprised to have culled any interior shots among 2016’s favorites, and more surprised still to discover this year that I was not alone–uber alone, given my proclivities for rising far too early and wandering far too deep and away–when taking every one of them.

The scalloped lemon and gold glass bowl, rimmed in rust (with the somewhat heavy hand of my beagles’ natural eyeliner), was in an art museum I visited with a friend on his birthday.

It’s a start.

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Birthdays of the Dead

Six years ago today Jim celebrated his last birthday with us.

Love in the Spaces

Iceland 1430

Earth-smoke and rue. Ashy gusts burst and thin and billow again, like those trick candles that can’t be blown out.

Today is Jim’s birthday.  Our birthdays, in different years, fell only ten days apart, both feeding into holidays our family now celebrates more in miniature.

We now live in a small house on a postage-stamp lot. My vehicle has shrunk considerably, the mighty mom van traded out for better gas mileage, fewer seats, and barely enough space to hoist a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. Even the beagle has downsized.

The Lilliputian scaling is apt for a surviving spouse of my fairly petite dimensions.

Jim was more than a foot taller than I. His mark on the world remains large.

I just had follow-up x-rays at the hospital where Jim worked and was a patient. The orthopedist was checking on the status of healing bones (a story for another time, having…

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Like a Burning Spear


It’s about 1:30 a.m. and I’m thirteen hours into a ten-hour trip in the dog days of August.

I’m alone in the baby blue mom van, lost off a highway, pulled over in a dingy industrial park somewhere in Connecticut–either because or in spite of a quirky and outdated GPS. A smart phone is a few years away.

A day earlier, with my youngest daughter riding shotgun and providing the musical score, we made a seamless drive from New England, skirting across the top of New Jersey and meandering along to Pennsylvania.  I was moving my baby girl into her freshman year at college.

The dormitory into which I helped hoist her belongings was bedecked with cherry red balloons.  She has a redhead’s temperament, a mathematician’s mind, and a dancer’s body, the latter sporting a sleeveless cream top and a swirling aubergine skirt as she gently shooed me away.  Lovely.

I’ll be fine.  

A pause. I looked at her, tilting my head slightly upward to get a direct line into those amber eyes.

You’ll be fine, too, mom.  I love you.  ‘Bye.  



I was still well within her new city’s limits when I took my first wrong turn.  Without my daughter next to me to provide entertainment I relied on the radio and a handful of CDs.  But by the time I pulled over, long after deep dark, in that abandoned industrial park I had given up on scanning for stations within range and was weary of even my Mumford & Sons.

That’s when I rifled around in the mess of miscellany in the pocket of my mom van’s driver’s door.

That’s when I caught a glint of gold, deep among ancient receipts, vintage paperwork, and expired Barnes & Noble coupons.

It was a CD, labelled in Sharpie in Jim’s distinctive writing: “John Hiatt.” My husband had burned me a CD.

The thing is, he had died two-and-a-half years earlier.


I took in a fathoms-deep breath and popped in the disc as I tried to find the interstate again.

It’s like I got two hearts with you, baby
Like I got two ears
It goes in one and out the other
Whenever you are near
A train of smoke and dreams keeps coming
Like a burning spear
And I know you, you watch me go
Even as I’m standing here

Doppelganger caterwauling
Notes trail off low
Love comes and love keeps going
That’s really all I know
You hear the sound of a lonesome town
You want to let that whistle blow
But it gets there before you do
And it leaves before you want to go

He had made me a soundtrack of the grief he knew was coming . . . like a burning spear. Three of the songs he chose for me had been titles of posts in the blog I would start more than a year after he died.

A false move here, a stumble there
A box of letters and a lock of hair
That’s all that’s left when I turn out the light
I count the missing pieces every night




And I realized, listening to this collection of songs on the highway in the dark, heading back to a home that would be empty of children for the very first time, that I couldn’t have listened to it before then.

The songs captured me so well–the me he knew and the me who had precariously evolved in more than two years without him–that he managed to make me laugh aloud, alone. There I was, surprising my ever-unflappable husband after I’d slept off some out-sized   grudge:”I’ve seen you when you felt like running, I’ve seen you with your gun/ A single bullet in the barrel/Midnight chamber’s spun/ A morning kiss, an unclaimed fist/ And you laughing at the sun.”

There I was in my enduring Grammar Nazi incarnation, tackling misplaced modifiers (he would sometimes call me from work for an authoritative decision on a grammatical point): ” I was thinking back to the first time we met/Over plangent chords in a sad vignette/You were waving goodbye in a cherry red Corvette/And your lips were too/Cherry red that is, with the sky so blue/It was almost mean and your eyes were, too/So blue that is, now I am too/And my heart burns cherry red for you….”




The last song on the CD is “Circle Back,” from the album”Beneath This Gruff Exterior,” just about the most upbeat tempo and magnetic beat you’ll hear in a song about loss–including the very particular loss experienced by a parent dropping off a child-no-more at college.

Well it’s 99 in Topeka
The wind is blowing hot
Blowing through my oldest daughter’s hair
With everything else I forgot
I drove her out to college
Drove back to an empty space
Thinking back to when she was a baby
Trying hard to see that face

I got to circle back
Touch something near
Find out which way to go
Just to get on out of here….




Jim knew me better than anyone else ever will.  He introduced me to most of the music I love.

He knew that when he was gone, gone away, my mom van would continue to be a mess for as long as I kept it.

He knew our youngest daughter would graduate from high school  and go off to college somewhere, and of course that I’d be the one taking over all the driving and helping move in and settle all of our children.

He knew I’d continue to get lost, both in my own head and in unlikely and foreboding places in the dead of night.

He knew I’d have inadequate directions and an insufficient supply of music for a long trip.

He couldn’t have known I wouldn’t find the CD until I was finally ready to listen to it.

He couldn’t have known I’d happen upon it on my way back from dropping off a daughter at a school farther away than I’d ever driven by myself, a place he had no reason to know she would one day attend.

He couldn’t have known I’d get just far enough off course that I’d choose that moment to fish around in my car door, when there was just enough flickering light to make the gold CD call to me.

But somehow he knew.

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