“Do you know," Peter asked, "why swallows build in the eaves of houses? It is to listen to the stories.” ~ J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan


At My Doorstep

This morning, the ghost of a flower at my doorstep.

Last November, the shadow of a star.
i am still looking for words


A Moment of Robins

You get moments.

That's it. That's all. Nothing more. And the thing is, that's all you need. Yes, I wish I'd had a longer lens, a better lens, a faster lens. I wish the grass was green. Neither really matter. I got a moment.

The robins arrived this week. Monday afternoon they discovered the back yard. By Tuesday morning, it was an invasion. I know it doesn't look like it here, but there were robins everywhere, and taking the trash out felt like I was walking through the final scene of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds. They were back again this morning.

The last few days have been hard. My body is finally exhausted by the emotion of the final month, and wants nothing but to lay in front of the tv - even reading requires too much effort. I am up before the sun, taking care of Maggie, feeding her, letting her outside, and then I find the couch, computer in front of me, and search for something to write about, but I have so little to say. So little. I open the blinds and wait for daybreak to show me the fallen tulip tree blossoms across the street, a trail to follow to spring. There are white blossoms on the pear tree. A moment here, a moment there. And now the robins. It won't be long.

The weather forecast is 80 degrees by tomorrow,
with a cold front moving in again this weekend.
If these robins are still around,
they will be having their own moment.
i have so little to say this week, so little to say


The Year of Catching Magic

My niece has just turned 12.

We are graduating into a different conversation.

She recently sent me one those emails that requires you to send 12 copies out to 12 friends in 12 minutes if you really love them - or some such thing - including the person who sent it to you. Instead of just forwarding it on to her, I replied with this added message: "I am sending this back as a reply. I have loved you since BEFORE I met you - remember, I knew you then!"

The next night I received this message from her: "though i didn't actually meet you in the hospital, if babies had that kind of intelligence I'm sure I would have loved you, too! :-)"

Be still my heart.

Change happens.

One year ago tomorrow, the 23rd was a Saturday in a leap-year February. I'd had another panic attack, another one that made me ill, another one that made me mad. I'd taken my medication, grabbed my "panic attack bag" (Yes. I am not afraid to admit I have such a thing, full of crossword puzzle magazines, pens, Boxcar Children books, trash bags, toilet paper - you never know! - extra Pepto Bismol) and headed for my office, where the computer was, where I could be not disturbed, where I could fight this thing with everything it required, play Tripeaks, try to keep a handle on the rising panic & sickness until my medicine took effect, try to distract my thoughts from the overwhelming fear that it would never go away.

That Saturday, I got lucky. As I began to feel better, I picked up the copy of Artful Blogging I'd bought a few weeks earlier - the copy with Bridgette & Maddie - the copy that had so astounded & bewitched me when I'd opened it - the copy that contained some kind of magical spell, leading me to believe that I, too, could do this. And that Saturday, fortified with medicinal bravery, I did. Oh, I thought, this will make me take my art seriously, and if I take my art seriously, I will be able to address that protective-girl part of me who thinks I need protected - she who perceives things as dangerous when they're not, she who sends all that extra adrenaline flooding into my belly. I'd named that part of me, that little girl who fought so to keep me safe, but I was unable to let her go, to say goodbye. I'd given her permission to push that panic button, and if I let her go for only doing what I'd told her to do, what kind of a person was I? And if I did let her go, then who would I be? I'd always been The Scared Girl - if I let that go, who was hiding beneath?

So I'd made a plan - an homage to her. A piece of art. A collage, an assemblage, an altar. But I couldn't do it. I would just freeze - I could see it in my head, I knew the pieces it might require, but I couldn't do it. So, I thought, I'll start a blog. I won't tell anyone, no one will know, but perhaps if the words are out there . . .

So I picked a name, and EmmaTree was planted, with the first branch posted before I left for my niece's basketball game. I was absolutely giddy. And of course, I had to tell someone, so I emailed Christy. She'd been through this anxiety business with me & would not only understand, but I knew she would support me. Later in the day, I called the ever-wonderful Michael. I emailed my brother & sister-in-law. A couple of days later, I told Katie & Robert. I kept playing with the banner, until I got what I wanted, and I kept writing.

And therein lies the big change. The writing. I'd always been "a writer" - I'd won awards at school, I'd never had a letter to an editor or magazine go unpublished. Writing had always been "easy" for me, so I never took it seriously. Until I began to blog. And while I've made more art & sold more art, I admit that the writing has become the reason I blog - I have graduated into a new conversation with myself.

So it's been one year tomorrow - the 23rd. So many changes. So many changes. I've learned so much about about myself, my world, about the people around me. I've gained so many new friends - I still can't believe someone would take time from their busy life just to see what I have to say today. And I've been published!

But I still haven't built that altar. At least not physically. Sometimes, however, I think of this blog that way. My protective girl is here, and my scared girl, and they whisper in my ears while I write, and I give them a nod, and promise them new pairs of yellow shoes, and I pat them on their lovely little heads, but I keep writing.

I keep having this new conversation. And I am lucky - now I am having it with y'all. But there are too many thank-you names to list here, and there is a cat across the street in an empty house, waiting to be fed. I know you will understand. Thank you all.

Above is the painting that started it all.
I have been catching magic for a year.
and now I am crying


The Road to Normal

I just want to think about normal things this weekend.

I want to just buy cat food & paper towels. I want to sit at Los Gueros & read the book I bought last week & have a bowl of rice, a plate of sliced avocados. I want to visit my mother, watch Emma play basketball, browse Target, stock up on Cokes. I want to sprawl on the couch, Maggie next to me, and happen upon some wonderful movie on tv. I want the phone to not ring. I want to spend time in the sun, have a smoothie, clean the house, do laundry. I want to fold clothes & put them where they belong. I want to spend the rest of my Christmas gift card at Barnes & Noble, make tuna salad with Granny Smith apples & boiled eggs and splurge on flowers. I want to go grocery shopping and read the ingredients on everything I buy, I want to begin shopping for Easter basket goodies, I want to rent Chocolat. I want the phone to not ring. I want to think about cleaning the back porch. I want to take pictures. I want to sleep. I want this week to be behind me, I want the calendar to tell me I am here now, that I need to pay the electric bill, that the Jeep needs an oil change. I want to buy garlic & spinach pizza at WalMart & be annoyed at the hordes of children and people in my way - I want to just go back to normal.

My map is in my hand.
i want to stop thinking about loss & death & goodbyes - I want a hello


Real Love Means Changing a Burnt-Out Bulb

This really looks more like love.

Forgive me for using another heart ornament image, but really, don't you think?  That this is more love-like than the other? The other was about that first bite, that falling, that euphoric-I-can't-eat-there-are-butterflies-in-my-belly feeling. This, however, looks like real, enduring, ongoing  love on so many levels. First, all those little lights that look like us  inside - oh, I think we are just full of light! - lights that come & go from our heart, keeping us breathing & walking & dreaming & loving. And second, it just looks messy, does it not? And goodness, love is just about as messy as it gets, isn't it? Things get so tangled up, a bulb goes out here & there, a fuse blows. But we keep untangling the cords, keep straightening them out, we replace those burnt-out bulbs - we even keep extra ones around because we know  we're going to need them. How optimistic  is that?  We don't throw out a perfectly wonderful string of lights when it just needs a little care. We keep fuses just in case, and if we're really lucky, we can even fix the cord if there's a problem, replace the plug. And as messy as it is, we're oh-so-willing to do it.

A funny, messy,
wonderful thing.


The joy of every moment

Taking Maddie's advice & dancing around all silly this morning.

And being all brave & posting an actual image of myself doing so.

My Zen calendar quote said
Seize from every moment
its unique novelty
and do not prepare your joys.

I bought coffee cake for breakfast.
I am not hungry, but I am taking a bite.
life goes on & mary would tell me to dance, dance, dance


In Which I Take a Bite

There it hangs - right there in front of us.
Love, sweet love.
Us daughters of Eve who just cannot resist.
And so, we reach out.
We grab it.
We take a bite. We are hooked.

I remember those nights of wondering if he would call, wondering why he didn't, wondering why I said that (how stupid of me), wondering what to wear, wondering if those red heels were just too too, wondering, wondering, wondering. I remember wondering if I would ever meet The One, and I remember when I did. I remember where he was sitting, feet propped up on a desk, I remember meeting his eyes and knowing. It took a few years before a casual - very casual - friendship - evolved into something else, years of others, years when I would forget that first meeting until I ran into Him again, and then I'd remember - it would all come back. I always knew. And I knew when we finally took that irrevocable step that I was lost - it was too late, even though it had always been too late.

So here's to that first bite.
Here's to knowing.
Here's to red high heels.
happy belated valentine's day


We say goodbye

Mary E. Burton
January 28, 1914 - February 15, 2009

What else is there to say?
We end in joy.
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx~ T Roethke
you will be missed


The morning of three raccoons

Another gift brought by rain.

I'm crazy about this nod to fall,
long past now,
with a hello to early spring.

The neighborhood is all upside-down, mixed up, spring with fall, life with death, goings that are not yet final, comings that are not yet here, and just this morning - yes, truly, as I sat here with this computer in my lap, a raccoon scurried by the glass doors in broad daylight, skittered across the street, and was gone. And as I was pondering that, here he came, back again, in the opposite direction, faaasssssst by the doors, and so I followed - past Katie's staircase & behind the little house in the backyard, there were two more. They were scooting under the back fence & quickly skedaddled under the little house in the neighbor's backyard, only to be followed by my raccoon, running late, and can I tell you how I could not stop smiling - how very Alice in Wonderland that seemed? I fully expected that third raccoon to pull a pocketwatch from some hidden pocket, mutter to himself how late he was, and disappear down a rabbit hole. Oh, this must be the day, I thought, for Mary to say goodbye. What better day than one that begins with 3 daytime raccoons? Tricksters all. Mischievous little things. Oh, so very Mary.

Robert told a story the other night - and I am stealing his story & telling it before he does - of the time, long ago but not far away, when he was a fledgling photography instructor at the community college here in town, and while taking ID portraits for students & staff, was convinced by Mary (who taught English at the selfsame place) to put J.Y.'s photo on her badge, and her photo on J.Y.'s, and how that started a flood of other teachers who decided that their ID photos should include Mary. He told of the tongue-lashing he received from one of the people in charge, but nonetheless, the ID badges were made, and for the rest of the year Mary's name was next to J.Y.'s photo. Trickster, indeed. The raccoon is a perfect spirit guide for her - she loved shiny, gaudy things; she was an amateur actress in our local theater, always eager to don another personality, a mask; she was a night person, a party person; there was always a naughty little twinkle in her eye. Yes, the Raccoon.

I feel at peace.
Odd how those three raccoons brought
that gift this morning.

But I will take it.
robin will smile at the fact that i am a story-stealer today


To everything - turn, turn, turn

Across the street a friend lays dying.

sit here in the blessed silence of my house.

Stop reading right here if you must - I don't blame you; I would turn away if given the opportunity. I wonder if I should even mention this at all - part of me just wants to write a list of all the things that bring me joy, to weave a spell with magical words & phrases that will make this okay, but across the street a friend is dying. It seems to be spelled out in capital letters right out there in the dark early morning air that separates our houses. She is in that in-between place I write of so often, much more there than here, and while she is not alone, she is alone.

. . . tulip trees, sweet olive trees, magnolias, camellias, hackberry trees, azalea bushes, daffodils, hydrangea, cherry laurels, climbing yellow roses, robins' nests, guardian owls, pear trees, pecan trees, wisteria vines, paperwhites, oak trees, turkish caps, red cannas . . . I chant these birds & plants to myself, sitting here in the midst of them all. I can see myself from above, warm & cozy with the fire spluttering behind me, a clock softly ticking . . .

A clock softly ticking. It is still dark outside, but daylight is stealing in - I hear a bird calling; I still don't know what bird it is, and despite my earlier promise to myself to find out, I may not. I may let its identity remain a secret. Another bird is singing now, and there - another. They welcome the day. But across the street a friend is dying, I want to tell them, hush, and as I think that, they sing more loudly, and more join in. She would like that, I think. She would want the birds to sing her to a new place, she would tell me that some silences are different than others.

And so this silence is full of birdsong.

It is full of the beginning of a new day.

and if i die before i wake . . .


The rain leaves a gift

It rained last night.

And left this beautiful carpet of red camellias as a surprise. There are pink & lilac carpets under the tulip trees, and pink & white camellias strewn about, but this little stretch of ground was the best. Hidden from sight, in Mary's side yard - I was walking about, camera in hand, stealing images of flowers still sleeping, flowers kept awake all night, dealing with this little storm. Some were still on their sides, snoring, oblivious to my presence - daffodils seemed especially exhausted; they will no doubt be unhappy to hear that they were photographed in such a disheveled state. I won't tell them, but the paperwhites were up & yawning & stretching & I've heard that they are quite unable to keep a secret, so I'm sure the daffodils will know all about it by noon.

"People from a planet without flowers
would think we must be mad with joy the whole time
to have such things about us."
~Iris Murdoch, A Fairly Honourable Defeat
and we are


A February Spring

See how warm it is?

No real socks needed.
Only cute ones,
ones to take a spin in,
to twirl about the yard in,
to act shy in.

I took a thousand pictures of the tulip tree,
blooming now,
pink blossoms everywhere,
with namaste hands reaching for the sun.
Impossible to capture how it makes me feel.
And so I turned to the lovely, lovely Katie.

Me? she seems to be saying,
all shyness & giggles.
But what you can't see,
what the secret is,
is that her hands are also reaching for the sun.

Welcoming our February spring.
the sun's gonna shine on my back porch some day


The Language of the Moon

I cannot find the words for these pages.
I have looked & looked.

This is the cover - see the shy little moon?
The white moon?
I know this book is about that moon.
My companion.
A wanderer.

But the pages feel too fragile for the words.
They are wounded enough.
The words will hurt more.

And so the book stays silent.

There are traces of the moonlight that touched me when I danced with the angels.

But no words.

The birds & leaves are fluent in moontalk.

There are flowers that wait for the brightness of a full moon to call them to blossom, and there are flowers that wait for the moon to say goodbye before they rouse their heads.

They speak the language.

They know the words.

I do not.

and so no words here - just bask in the moonlight


In which I TRY to be less introspective

I have a thing for gloves.

If in doubt, I always tell my family, you can give me gloves for Christmas. I have a shoebox or two full of them. I have a couple of pairs laying around here at work - I keep coming across some purple fuzzy ones in one of the back rooms. Every jacket I own has a pair in a pocket. When winter comes around each year and it's time to start wearing coats & jackets & hoodies, I'm always surprised - oh! that's where those blue ones with no fingers went! It's like finding a five dollar bill tucked away where you forgot, but, unlike that five dollars, gloves will keep my hands warm. I have lots of black ones, blue ones, some green ones, leather ones, those trimmed with lime-green feathers that I've mentioned before, white ones with black thingies that fit just over my palms, pink ones, the striped ones above, gray ones, and on & on & on. Expensive ones or cheap ones - I don't care. Fingerless gloves with attachable mittens. Just plain fingerless gloves. I'm lately lusting over arm warmers, but since spring is on its way, and since I really don't need them, I haven't bought any yet, but there's no doubt in my mind that by fall, I will own some.

and pale pink fingernail polish


Seeing over the Edge

These tulips don't grow on a tree.
You pick them from a case inside a grocery store.

Such a crazy weekend. Silliness everywhere, annoyances everywhere, but lots & lots of sunshine outside - the first time in quite a little while that I was awakened by sunshine & birdsong. I looked & looked to see what kind of bird it was - I am so bad at knowing which song equals which bird; I hereby vow to change that - but could not quite see over the edge of the roof to where it sat. That little phrase - I could not quite see over the edge - seems to hold a deeper meaning that it first appears, does it not? To be able to see over the edge of things, events - would life be easier, or only more dull? For instance, last night's Superbowl party. (Trust me, I will tie these thoughts together.)

Last night's Superbowl party. In the woods, mind you. Like a gypsy caravan stopped for the night - motor homes & travel trailers parked in a circle, tents covering an outdoor kitchen with running water, tables & tables of food, a fire pit, a big screen tv visible from almost anywhere you sat or stood. Steaks for the asking - how do I want mine cooked? I was so-kindly asked, a plate of boiled shrimp, potatoes, corn on the cob, salads of all kinds, desserts (including rumballs & orange sherbet pie), plenty of ice & beverages (Katie was drinking The Other Woman wine), friendly people, a dachshund in a pink sweater/coat, other dogs, a puppy, a storm threatening, lights hanging about. All in the middle of the woods, like I said. At some point during the 3rd quarter, a question - who wants to take the 4-wheeler down into the creek bottom? Yes, the creek bottom. In the dark. Not really much of a creek, just a very much lower place in the woods. I volunteered myself & the lovely Katie - she being the driver, although she hadn't driven one in years, since she grew up, but with a minute of instructions from the ever-wonderful Michael we were off into the unknown. Over that edge we couldn't see. (See? I told you this story would tie in with that little Saturday morning bird.) I'd been there before, but Katie hadn't, and all I really remembered was a very steep spot in the trail, taking us down, down, down into the woods, and there we were, the temperature much cooler, the moon overhead, stars a bit more visible for some reason, hoping we'd see a wild hog or a deer skittering away from us. We didn't however & were back up to the gypsy circle much too soon, but ahead of the storm and in time to see the rest of the game. Tents were secured against the wind and everyone moved in closer to the tv - plenty of room, rows of chairs - as lightning flashed overhead & the rain began.

On our way home, an almost-collision. Someone in my lane, heading the wrong way on the road. There was no time to even stop - they appeared from nowhere - but I swerved around them on the wet road, held my breath for a moment as I felt us begin to slide, then the tires caught & we were fine, we continued on, and truly, truly, my heart rate increased not one whit. If I'd known that before setting out - if I could have seen over the edge of the evening & known about that car in the wrong lane, would I have gone? Probably not - I know me. But I didn't know & we had a great time & it turned out to be nothing - an almost-collision is only that.

None of this, however, has anything at all to do with those tulips at the top of this page. Except, perhaps, that they, too were part of a great weekend. They were waiting on me when I got home last night.

"I had a compass from Denys.
To steer by, he said.
But later it came to me that we navigated differently;
maybe he knew, as I did not,
that the earth was made round,
so that we would not see the way too far ahead of us. "
~ Isak Dinesen / Out of Africa
denys said he didn't always want to know where he was going