Friday, September 24, 2021


People on Facebook are forever posting videos of animals. At any time of day or night, you can log in and watch hunters — or passersby — rescue a deer/moose/bear/duck from some dire situation. Manmade hazards are at the root of most of these disasters. A bear’s head gets stuck in a pail. A deer is entangled with fencing. A duck’s beak is clamped shut in the vise grip of a plastic carrier. 

The videos are only a couple of minutes long. But there’s drama aplenty! A single hunter tries to grab and pull the pail, but oh no! The bear is fighting and trying to escape. Three other rescuers show up. By now the deer is frantic, eyes rolling, legs flailing. 

Somebody arrives with a saw/tin snips/knife and begins trying to cut through the prison. The animal may die of pure fear by this time. Finally, two of the rescue team hold the animal still. The sawing/cutting continues until…AT LAST! The animal is free and runs off into the woods. The bear doesn’t stop and wave. The deer never looks back. This is not a Disney movie. 

 Why do we find these stories so mesmerizing? And, by the way, who’s filming all these rescues? Or was it all a set up? Did somebody entrap the bear ( for instance) with honey in the pail? (Wasn’t that a Winnie the Pooh story plot?) 

 Only 2% of animal life on this planet is “wild.” I don’t know why that feels relevant here. Maybe you can figure it out. 

 I stopped at a red light intersection last week. Utility wires crisscrossed overhead and when I looked up, a mother squirrel was running down one section of wire. Two adorable baby squirrels were following several feet behind her. 

 Mom came to a wire junction and turned 90 degrees and continued on toward the trees but when babies got to the junction, they came to full-on stop. They didn’t seem to know what to do. Or maybe they suddenly got scared. 

 By now, mom was a distance down the wire. Then she stopped and turned around. I couldn’t hear from inside the car if she made any noise nor did I notice any other signal. But she certainly waited for the babies. 

Sure enough, they figured out how to make the turn and came scampering across the wire toward her. The light turned green. When I looked in the rear view mirror, the three squirrels were nearly across the wires to the trees. 

 I didn’t video anything.

 ```` My new favorite word: senesce….I am deteriorating….elegantly.
Our barn, 2012
The barn, summer, 2021

Friday, September 3, 2021


Yesterday at Starbucks, Beverly asked me about “hope.” Actually, she didn’t exactly “ask” — she said (and this is a broad paraphrase:) 

“Medical professionals are finding that people who have hope manage illness and trauma better than those who do not.” 

You might wonder if Beverly is a particularly philosophical, well-informed woman. (Yes.) 

You also might wonder if this is usual conversation for us to have in a Starbucks over a decaf Latte with extra foam. (Yes again) 

You might ask yourself, “how would I respond to that statement?” 

In this particular case, I mentally rushed off with some flight of word excrement. I do that a lot. I wish I could be smarter. Nearly always that means shutting up and thinking before spewing. 

I’m not the only one who suffers from this disease. I notice it a lot, especially among men who don’t seem to have a knack for casual (or philosophical) conversation. Instead, they are geared for presenting solo recitations. 

I don’t mean to be sexist. It simply appears to be how men are taught. Women are taught to apply make up.

I stopped by Beverly’s house this morning. Twenty-five years ago, she planted a forest pansy redbud tree in a small garden space beside the entry to her house. It outgrew the space and was cut down last year. 

Beverly is an excellent gardener but after twenty-five years, plants sometimes need to be thinned or even removed. This isn’t wasteful. Nor is it evidence of having made an error in space planning. It just is what it is — part of the gardener’s — and plants’ — life cycle. 

People’s too? Although I don’t know about the “thinning or removing” part. I would like to lose 10% of my body weight. I read that thinner old people are generally healthier. The “happy fat person” is a myth. 

A thinner me might have fewer arthritic pains. Do plants have “growing pains?” They certainly stop thriving when they get too crowded — a certain similarity, don’t you think? 

The tree stump was left in the ground at Beverly’s house. Sure enough, forest pansy tree sprouts are coming up from the stump and now they are about sixteen inches high with the tell-tell mahogany heart-shaped leaves. 

Beverly is waiting for another full-on, forest pansy tree which she is sure will grow — it’s only a matter of time. She will water and fertilize. Redbuds are notoriously quick growing trees and this one might become a good sized — bush? 

Beverly is my age. She doesn’t have enough years left to observe the miraculous resurrection of a statuesque tree standing in the corner garden in place of an abandoned stump. 

That’s hope for you! 

That’s a gardener for you!

This is a forest pansy redbud tree.
New leafs

Thursday, August 12, 2021


 Wild thistles grew up in my back garden — the same garden that gets mostly ignored each Spring while the maintenance frenzy is targeted in the front of the house — the “Show Gardens." 

Near the end of June, I force my way into the weedy patch, yanking and swearing under my breath. On this hillside berm, only a smattering of the hardiest perennials are still alive, the ones we planted with such optimism eight or nine years ago from $24 pots of nursery stock — specimen flowers and special grasses.  

By now, I expected a hillside swimming with intense yellow Black Eyed Susans, punctuated with purple coneflowers and stands of waving ornamental grasses, all corralled within regal rhubarb leaves — edible space fillers.  Instead, Creeping Charlie, wild ginger, plus an army of other weeds took over.  I begin the exorcism but leave the wispy Queen Ann’s Lace and wild thistle, the iconic image of Scottish souvenirs.

Thistles, it turns out, come in all varieties and many are edible, especially the genus Cynara, a.k.a. artichokes. The thistle in my garden is Cirsium or “bull thistle,” identifiable by that well known shaving brush “bloom” of short purple spikes. It’s a biennial — that is, it only appears every other year, and it turns out that most parts of this prickly plant provide nutrients for humans who are brave enough to dive past the sharp thorns. 

Not me. Now, in August, the plant is brown, and the purple brush has gone to seed. Every day a bright yellow goldfinch arrives. He perches on the top and eats seeds from the bulb head. I look forward to his visits with much more joy than a hillside of black eyed susans ever could provide.  

Watching this little bird picnic ritual is more fun than fussing over any perfectly groomed flower bed. Why did I ever try to insist otherwise? It’s that old devil “control.” If growing old changed anything about me (O.K., not counting the sagging skin, gray hair, arthritic joints…AND I CAN’T SING NOW! And don’t even talk to me about memory!), it’s the willingness to give up control.  I’m still a detail fanatic.  I “notice” but I don’t feel compelled to correct and that’s a major personality shift.

I confess that I spent much of my life saying “I can’t.” “Why don’t you?” “They won’t.” “Why can’t they?” "Do it my way.” “Don’t do that EVER.” 

Why did I spend so much energy trying to control all things — all these people, all these parts? How did I ever expect to juggle it all — not just events and people within my reach but pretty much worldwide?! Is that the sin of arrogance? I wonder how things might have been different had I learned this lesson fifty years ago — or maybe even last year?

Is this new found acceptance a gift of age or a side affect of the Covid year?

The Road to My House

Sunday, July 11, 2021


Glenstone Museum sprang from the bank account of businessman Mitchell Rales and his art historian wife, Emily.
During the 1990s, the Rales’ amassed one of the largest privately owned collections of post-WWII art anywhere. They bought up 300 acres smack in the middle of horsey Potomac, Maryland, a stone’s throw from Washington D.C., built home and museum and proceeded to open for public visits in 2006 (Wednesday thru Sunday — reservations required). Phase 1, the 50,000 sq. ft. gallery. 

Chip and I visited in 2016. July 8, 2021. I visited Glenstone again — after its $200 Million “renovation.”

What do you get with a $200 million renovation? A lot!!! Begin with 9,000 trees (55 native species) planted among the carefully constructed “natural landscape.” Last week, the orchestrated meadows were frosted with white and yellow wildflowers. I can’t imagine a better time to visit except maybe earlier in the Spring when the hundreds of American dogwood trees are in bloom. Fall probably isn’t too bad either — all 9,000 trees bursting into color. 

Enter Glenstone grounds and park in the granite gravel parking lot. Obsession to detail starts here. Hint: look at the lighting. One of an army of assistants wearing matching gray uniforms (with a small minimal sterling silver barr pin on the breast pocket —something straight out of Star Wars) directs you to check in.

From here, you’re on foot and there’s a certain endurance necessary if you are to hike the nearly-two-mile trail system. Trails (a bit like rustic sidewalks) meander through the grounds, past significant outdoor sculptures and to The Pavillions, cafe and Gallery. 

The Pavillions is actually a cluster of independent buildings joined by wide hallways and walls of glass, all dodging in and around an 18,000 square foot water court. The “court” is full of intentionally placed colonies of plants. Did I already tell you that the Pavillions cover 204,000 square feet comprising 11 rooms illuminated by natural light? The entire campus is LEED Gold and LEED Platinum Certified. 

Color in Glenstone World is compressed into only the natural landscape and the artwork. All manmade surfaces are covered by very blond maple flooring or perfect expanses of white drywall. Buildings have a skin of individually poured concrete blocks — each block, 6 ft. long, 1 ft. high, 1 ft. deep — installed like tile. And of course, glass …panels that are 9 ft. wide by 30 ft. tall that fit flush to the concrete into stainless steel channels.

If you haven’t already guessed, I was gapping at the landscape while my touring partner had the vapors over the art collection itself. (You know that trio of wonderful Ruth Asawa knitted sculptures on the U.S. “Forever Stamp?” The originals are at Glenstone. Also one of the Duchamp “Urinals.” I couldn’t say which one. The original was lost but Duchamp authorized copies in 1950, 1953 and 1963. In 1964, an edition of 12 were cast — but not signed.) 

Aside from the exquisite setting and architecture, what catapults Glenstone into its own level of excellence is the pure luxury of space. The specially commissioned Brice Marden 5 -panel painting “Moss Sutra” is nearly 40 feet long. It’s installed in a room all by itself with plenty of space to spare. The three or four rather small Cy Twombly multi-media sculptures (I didn’t even know Twombly made sculptures — and I’m a Twombly fan!) — a room of their own. (Room #7 is empty but for a sensuously carved maple bench at least 15 ft. long pointed out through a wall of glass to the rolling meadow. This is for “rest and contemplation.”) 

Throughout Glenstone, art communes with sky, meadows and architecture, not as afterthought, the “jewelry added to the little black dress,” but as an integrated partner. There are no jarring commercials — no underwriters in big bold letters — no patron lists anywhere. Just incredible space, natural beauty and art — art to be liked or ridiculed or puzzled over but above all else, respectfully presented, naturally lit from heaven.

Thursday, June 24, 2021


 “Here’s to the ladies who lunch..

everybody laugh!”

Patti LuPone. Stephen Sondheim’s 80th birthday concert. (YouTube) I listen about once a week. She’s brilliant. The words to that song drop from her mouth like razor blades. She’s exactly what people mean when they say “a true stage performer.” You hear every syllable of the lyric. She expresses more in that 4 minutes than most screen actors manage in a two hour movie. 

But those lyrics! Sorry, Stephen. I think the song is a little out of date. Maybe the image of useless, society women spending their days schlepping between fittings and lunch dates — martinis in the tank — was true once upon a time. At least, in the Doris Day movies. 

Or maybe that image was never true. True upper society women during the last century more likely met at a museum fundraiser — or maybe a horse or dog show (dogs that they bred and trained). They went to lunch at their social clubs to listen to lectures: Parasites in Ocean Mammals, Growing Food in Window Boxes, Statistics on Eastern Immigrant Graduate Students (whom they sponsored with an annual rummage sale.) 

Meanwhile, mid-level women without domestic help were probably canning strawberry jam, going to their monthly book club and quilt making circle. They ate the crusts off peanut butter and jelly sandwiches left by the kiddies while standing at the kitchen sink!

Then the century rolled over and everybody got careers and jobs! 

Oh my! How easy it is to paint these pictures with such broad brush strokes! 

I had the ladies for lunch yesterday. Mostly, we are “retired” from art careers or teaching careers (those just happen to be my friends — not too different from women who retired from law offices or non-profit organizations.) We ranged in ages from late 60 something to near-eighty. 

Two still actively work. Two have only this year given up careers; Covid made the decision easier. 

And me. 

Conversations ranged from “have you decided what you want for end of life?” to “what should we buy at Ikea? the best choices from Trader Joe’s? Travel plans now that the world is re-opening. And most importantly: how has the Covid year changed you, me, and our culture?”

I like ladies who lunch — especially those at a certain age. Our view is different. We are less competitive and more tolerant. I like that about us. We read and we laugh. I like that too. 

I’d love to invite Patti LuPone to lunch  — introduce her to my friends. I’ll bet she has some dandy stage stories. Or maybe she would simply join in with “my end of life plan — I’m giving my body to a medical school — right after I have all the tattoos sanded off” or “I always buy frozen rice at Trader Joe’s.” 

We’d certainly all laugh. 


MYSTERIES, YES (a poem by Mary Oliver)

Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous

to be understood,

How grass can be nourishing in the

mouths of the lambs,

How rivers and stones are forever

in allegiance with gravity,

while we ourselves dream of rising,

How two hands touch and the bonds will

never be broken,

How people come, from delight or the

scars of damage,

to the comfort of a poem.

Let me keep my distance, always, from those

who think they have the answers.

Let me keep company, always, with those who say

“Look!” and laugh in astonishment,

and bow their heads. 

Wednesday, June 9, 2021


I go to estate sales. 
Not garage sales. 
Not church bazaars. 
Never fund raising auctions!

Estate sales are held in houses — places where lifetime accumulations of objects are still in the closets. 

Objects in estate sales are arranged, priced and sold by professional agents. Agents are totally neutral. They have no history of association with the stuff. When they sort and price, they don’t sit down to leaf through old yearbooks. Nor do they hold photographs and cry over past memories. And they never see the value in bottles of sand brought back from a honeymoon trip to Tampa. 

It doesn’t matter to agents that the owner paid hundreds of dollars for a “collector edition” of anything. Current prices are determined by their experience and comparative prices at other estate sales. Most of all, ebay, that arbiter of all things marketable. 

Buyers can sometimes negotiate for lower prices. Or they can wait out the sale: prices are usually cut in half on the second sales day or toward the final hour of the sale. Nobody wants to pack up the unloved. 

Twenty years ago, estate sales were advertised in a special section of the local newspaper. Now, if you are a subscriber, they are posted every day into your emails along with political pleas for money and medical ads for erectile disfunction. Progress! 

The listings include the location of the sale with a map, dates and hours of the sale, any special “conditions” and photographs of actual merchandize! Conditions include forms of payment accepted, where to park and how buyers will be grouped into the sale. 

Nearly always, buyers are required to bring their own moving muscle. After all, loading up a 1920 credenza is hard! In my experience, however, people are nearly always nearby ready to help. I’ve had perfect strangers hoist heavy garden pots into the back of a pickup truck on the fair exchange of a heart felt thank you and the certainly that next time, it could be me helping them. 

Like most things in life, sharing sales with a partner lightens the load. My estate sale partner always heads straight for the closet with the shoes. I don’t do basements unless they are full of treasure — she scouts first. I put restraints on her clothes buying: “no, you won’t wear that EVER” and “you cannot buy another t-shirt for your grandson.” Lately, my grownup daughter has joined me. I’ve learned a lot about her. She can’t resist beautiful table ware. I’m learning to observe without comment. 

Estate sales divide themselves into a few categories. Nearly all are sad passages. If the goods are fairly new — furniture from Stickley or West Elm, say — they point to a marriage breakup. The partners are liquidating assets. The “Sold” sign is already on the lawn. I hope children weren’t involved. (Curiously, I rarely see contemporary toys or children’s clothing. I imagine that means mom and dad are trying to spare the kids separation from the familiar. Too late. The kids are probably onto you!) 

The other venues are sadder still. These are the homes that are giving up histories…wedding dresses, vintage baby clothes and old-fashioned toys — decades of cookie jars and mason jars — trunks with marriage albums and college certificates — well used tools in a crowded workshop and kitchens full of multiples. 

These artifacts open the portal to touchingly personal stories — families raised and scattered, the caregivers now requiring care — or beyond care, now passed. Who made the decision to liquidate? One or the other partner who can’t manage now? Grown children looking out for mom now that dad is gone? 

It’s the decision part that always stops me in my tracks. I want to be in control of my place. Separation may be forced on me by circumstances — poor health, or failing finances. One day, I may look around, turn to Chip and say “I’m never cooking again. Start packing.” Even worse: “Living alone is too hard. I need ease now.” 

But I still want to make the decision. I know where the valuable pieces are. Ebay may think this is only a $50 cookie jar but I know better!

Tuesday, May 11, 2021



I’ve been thinking about the story of the boy who traded his cow for magic beans. It’s a fable that needs some unpacking.

First, according to the fable, he and his mom live alone and are poor. She’s a single mother. Is he illegitimate? Where’s Dad? Nobody ever asks.  Curious. We know a lot about Cinderella’s father. And Snow White…Sleeping Beauty…Beauty (Belle. Really? Couldn’t come up with a more original name?) and the Beast. Come to think of it, most fairy tales featuring beautiful girls (and they are always beautiful.Ugly girls never get the Prince.) have much to say about their parentage. They are never bastard children.

So poor Mom gives the cow to her son and trusts him to take Milky White (Was that the cow’s real name or was that only in the Stephen Sondheim version?) to town to make a fair trade. 

Would you? If you were so poor that the only thing standing between you and starvation? Would you entrust your one asset to a boy? Wouldn’t you go along? The fable doesn’t say that Mom was physically disabled. Sick. Weak. All we ever know is that she’s poor. Illustrations (and the movies) show her cleaning. Would any sane woman chose to CLEAN rather than hit the market to drive a hard bargain?  


Mom had something else in mind. I think she needed to say to the boy, “It’s time. You need to see and move into the grown up world. I’ve done all I can to prepare you. Now it’s up to you. No more games. Here’s the cow.”

(Granted, Mom, kinda’ looses it when he comes home with magic beans! But Moms…we are not perfect. When our kid says…


“I’m dropping out of medical school to try out for the All-Male Olympic Synchronized Swim Team.” 

Or “My buddy’s dad’s friend will hire us to clear timber in Alaska. All I need is an airline ticket and a pair of snowshoes.”

…we are apt to hit high C.)

So Son comes home with magic beans. AND THEY WORK! 

(The rest of the story gets a little weird…a stalk to the sky, Giant’s home, golden harp and/or goose/and or eggs. Somewhere along here the story plot dissolves into pure silliness. That’s what happens when a writer plays to the masses.)

But first, all kinds of truisms…planting for the future, nothing is ever a ‘sure thing,’ sowing seeds…you get the gist.

My three grandsons are facing the “take the cow” stage of life. It’s scary. Their parents want them launched but only if they (1) don’t take risks (2) don’t do anything dangerous…which really means  #1 all over again or (3) don’t go so far away that they can’t be rescued. 

But that’s not the way life…or fables work. They are ready. They get to take the cow.  And they might get magic beans.


“I have found only two types of non-pharmaceutical ‘therapy’ to be vitally important for patients with chronic neurological disease: music and gardens.

In many cases, gardens and nature are more powerful than any medication.”

(Oliver Sacks, Doctor of Neurology, in his international best selling book, “Everything In Its Place.”)

What about art? Theater? Literature? 

No, Dr. Sacks is pretty clear. Music and gardening.

I wonder if Dr. Sacks ever suffered from arthritis? What about a degenerative back? He was well into his 70s when he died. Surely, his knees were shot.  

All bad but not nearly as stressful, neurologically speaking, as dementia or Parkinson’s or stroke — the big worries at my age. My skeleton may not work very well but I hold out hope for my brain.

Every seed planted is magic.