When the Tether Snaps

This poem was inspired by Mary Oliver.

Writing tethers me to the world.
To myself.
 What happens when the tether
snaps?
When words won’t come.
When loved ones fail us.
When friends betray us.
The tug of the abyss
is too strong?
 Sylvia Plath put her head in an oven.
Hemingway put a gun to his head.
Langston Hughes swallowed lye.
Virginia Woolf walked into a river
with rocks in her pockets.
 What will I do if the tether
snaps?
Whatever I do if the tether
snaps
and I fall
to lie and rot
like a tree in the woods.
I hope green things lean over me
and caress me.
Grow on me and feed on me,
like any nurse log.

Author Review: Elin Hilderbrand

The island of Nantucket is the primary setting for most of Hilderbrand’s novels.

The Rumor is the book that got me hooked on Elin Hilderbrand’s beach reads. I like the theme of an author in search of a plot. An author who is desperate enough to meet her deadline that she cribs happenings from her best friend’s life. 

Hilderbrand’s style seduced me into reading the majority of her books. So did her major settings, Nantucket Island, off the coast of Massachusetts, and St. John, in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Many of her characters are obnoxiously wealthy, but they’re troubled, which makes them more relatable. However, I’m giving her a mixed review as a writer. I eagerly awaited the delivery of Troubles in Paradise, the book I finished yesterday; the third volume in her Paradise series. Despite that and the fact that I have at least half a dozen more of her books to read, I ordered a book by a different author when I’d closed the cover of Troubles after reading the last page. I’ll probably read the last six of her books, but only when I can get to the library to borrow them.

Old house on Nantucket. The island was once the center of the whaling industry. The home of seafarers. Now it’s a playground for the wealthy, like many of the characters in Elin’s novels.

What I like about Hilderbrand’s writing is that it has energy. Usually. I like her vivid details in order to visualize the characters, Nantucket’s charming old houses, and landscapes, and St. John’s beaches where the sand is like powdered sugar. However, she can really, really go overboard with details. In Troubles in Paradise she has her characters go out for a celebratory breakfast. I do not need to know who was in the restaurant, what drinks they all ordered, and what they ate.

I’m mostly charmed by Hilderbrand’s similes and metaphors. I like the setting sun that resembles a pink hibiscus. One character has hair like a Chinese silk weaver. A delightful, original, and memorable simile. However, yet another character has eyes the color of weak tea. Also memorable, but hardly sexy, which the guy is supposed to be. 

The backstory is part of character development. I enjoy a certain amount of it. Knowing how characters got to be who they are and what in their background motivates them makes them easier to like and identify with. Yet again, Hilderbrand can go overboard. I don’t need to know how a midwife, who shows up only long enough to deliver a baby, got to know the child’s step-grandfather-to-be. 

Beware, Hilderbrand’s novels are told from multiple points of view in alternating chapters. When you have six to eight major characters, detailed background information can get very tedious. Too often the reader gets treated to the backstories of even minor characters in walk-on roles. In addition to the nurse/midwife in Troubles, Hilderbrand drags in a character from the Winter Street series and we get to know about her husband, her retirement from TV news broadcasting, and her un-retirement, so she can show up on St. John to report on a hurricane. It and the havoc it wreaks is also superfluous. We can see that one the news. The only reason I can think of for including the reporter is to promote this four-book series.

Not St. John, just a tropical beach with sand like powdered sugar.

In my least favorite of Hilderbrand’s books, she includes the investigation of mysterious deaths by drowning. The investigations are perfunctory. The solutions lame, unworthy of the time it takes to read them. She should leave mystery solving to mystery writers. In The Castaways, the plot revolves around the friendship of four couples, one of whom is dead. The characters who are not dead are so repugnant, I figured the dead couple must have deliberately drowned themselves in order to get away from these people. In The Perfect Couple, the bride-to-be is such a wimpy mama’s and daddy’s girl that it’s hard to imagine why her boyfriend ever proposed.

All authors have their tropes. Hilderbrand’s are detailed descriptions of lavish meals. Islands. Ginger-haired men. Adultery. Cancer. Hedgefund managers. Real estate brokers. Jeeps. Controlling mothers. One dead mother has left behind a notebook in which she has planned out her daughter’s entire wedding in minute detail, down to the cocktail napkins. Another of her tropes is name dropping. Lots and lots of name dropping. It makes me wonder if the author is getting paid for product placement. St. John seems to have more eateries and bars than palm trees.

There’s not as much picnicking on the beach as you might expect, but plenty of sipping.

Speaking of names…one of Hilderbrand’s habits that annoys me most is giving her characters ridiculous names Calgary, Swan (could be worse) Altar. Bluto. And many, many more.

Just in case the reader misses her symbolism and message, Hilderbrand hammers them home. There’s no doubt as to where the relationship is going when the character accidentally drops her cellphone into the toilet as she’s about to retrieve a message from her boyfriend.

At their best, Hilderbrand’s novels are immersive escapism. I like her writing well-enough that I’ve tried to emulate her style in my own writing while avoiding her flaws.

Scenes from Winters Past, II

Photo Essay

My topic today is ice. Scenes from Winters Past may turn out to be Scenes from Winter Future. The weather forecast mentions the “s-word.” The one that ends in “-ow.” It’s certainly cold enough for snow, especially in the evening. But is it damp enough? Maybe tomorrow. The weather is notoriously difficult to predict around here. The forecasters often get it wrong.

Both weather phenomena, snow and ice, bring to mind poems by Robert Frost: “Fire and Ice” and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” Of course, neither poem is solely about natural phenomena. The first poem is about the destructive power of human emotion–desire and hate. The second seems to be about the enchantment of watching snow falling in the woods on a dark night, but is also about the journey of life and how duty pulls humans away from enjoying the wonders of nature.

On his radio show, A Prairie Home Companion, Garrison Keillor once said that it was snowing in Minnesota and that people all over the state were writing poems. Snow and ice make me want to write poems, too. I think I’m a bit better with photography than poetry.

Here’s a brief pause to enjoy another often overlooked natural beauty.

Despite being next to two busy arterials and partly under a state route, this nature center is quiet and serene. Trees do a great job of muffling traffic noise.
Ice on Snake Lake at the Snake Lake Nature Center. One of my favorite places to walk, any time of year.
Ice freckles on lake ice.
This photo was taken in January four years ago.
Sunlight on ice.
Abstract in Ice.
Leaves trapped in ice. Some of us humans are also trapped in ice.

Word Press’s algorithm decided what size my photos should be.

https://poets.org/poem/fire-and-ice

https://poets.org/poem/stopping-woods-snowy-evening

Scenes from Winters Past

A Photo Essay: A Wintry Story of Beauty and Loss

Winter is a month old. No sign of snow, except on the mountains. Mount Rainier has snow year-round. It’s the most heavily glaciated mountain in the lower forty-eight states. Even though I don’t have to drive anywhere, I’m not eager for it to come. I’m content to see snow from a distance, shining in the sun on mountain peaks. And looking at it in my photos from previous winters.

What’s so fascinating about watching snow fall? But when it does, I’m drawn to my window every time to stand and stare, as if I’d never seen it before.
This snowy scene was photographed from my balcony two years ago.
Also from my balcony in 2019
For four years this tree grew by my balcony. I called it Tibby (Tree By My BalconY) A winter evening, a snow moon, but no flakes dancing down from the sky just yet. Maybe it will fall on another evening.

Tibby protected my shade-loving plants from the sun. She shaded me when I sat on my balcony on warm summer days. Her branches provided a resting and nesting place for birds. In winter Tibby was gorgeous in her white coat. She always leaned. I suggested to management at my apartment complex that the tree needed to be braced to keep it from falling over. It did no good. Too much effort and expense, I guess. What’s one more tree? It’s not as if we’re lacking them.

Watching snow is even more fascinating at night as it falls on the trees by my balcony.
Isn’t Tibby beautiful all covered with snow?

One morning, two years ago, I woke up and came into the living room. It took a moment for the realization to register. There was no more tree by my balcony.

This is what I saw when I went out on the balcony and looked down. Alas! Poor Tibby! I’ve missed her ever since. So do the plants on my balcony. So do the birds. I miss them, too. They no longer have a tree close by where they can land and rest.

The halfway point of winter, February 2, is less than two weeks away. Plenty of time for the white stuff to come. It’s been known to snow here as late as April. I can’t remember the last time that happened.

This is how winter looked today.

Stopping to Pet Moss

Musings on Today’s Walk

I live in a rainy place. Moss is everywhere, but I never get over its wonder and beauty.

When I go for walks, I try to pay attention to things that get overlooked. 

Moss. Dead leaves. Blooming flowers. Wilting flowers. Raindrops. All sorts of small and seemingly unimportant things. 

I love this leaf even though it’s old, brown, and dry.

And, yes, I stop to smell roses and to pet moss. My hands like the feel of moss. It’s like botanical velvet. A carpet for fairies. I touch bark, feel the roughness. Like a child, I pick up leaves and pretty rocks and take them home. Is that because I never grew up?

I chose not to crop out this wilting rose. It has its own beauty. In Japanese flower arrangements, one wilted blossom is often included to remind us that life is finite.

As people get older, they too get overlooked and dismissed as unimportant, with nothing to offer.

I’m hardly the only person who has discovered the beauty of small, overlooked things, but the faster the world goes, the faster time flies, we forget to stop and look. Stop and to touch. To listen. And think.

Writers notice even the smallest details and describe them. Walt Whitman watched “A noiseless patient spider” and compared the filaments it casts to his soul, flinging gossamer filaments, hoping they’ll catch on something. Another soul. Another heart. Some of us cast gossamer filaments that never catch anywhere or catch on the wrong thing. Because of Whitman’s spider and Charlotte, I’ve never looked at spiders the same way.

Robert Frost noticed “A Considerable Speck” scuttling across the page where he’d been writing. How easy it would be to drown it with a drop of ink. The speck is so tiny it seems to have no room for feet, let alone a brain, yet it moves with purpose and seems aware of the threat represented by Frost’s pen. Of course, the poet doesn’t drown the speck but lets it go on its way. I no longer drown or squash specks. Most of the time. Fruit flies don’t count. Spiders do.

I fell in love with Japanese culture when I was in high school. I can’t remember if it was in my creative writing class when I discovered haiku. I was enchanted by the three-line, seventeen syllable poems. Or maybe I fell in love with Japanese culture at the Seattle Asian Art Museum while gazing at netsuke, tiny exquisitely sculpted fobs that fastened inro boxes to an obi. I love how the artists often depicted tiny creatures, frogs or beetles, in remarkable detail.

I just like the way this plant looks with its fuzzy white edges. I think it might be an artemisia. It grows in a planter next to the entrance of an apartment complex. People just drive or walk past it and its companions.
This picture appeals to me because of the contrast of colors and textures and the way the ivy looks like it’s embracing the rock.
Just because. Some people consider ivy to be a pest, but this one is helping hold a grassy slope in place.
A Noiseless Patient Spider
Walt Whitman - 1819-1892

A noiseless patient spider,
I mark'd where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Mark'd how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launch'd forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.
And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,
Till the bridge you will need be form'd, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.

(This poem is in the public domain)
The creation of a tiny architect.

“Plink,” A Short Story”

A story of abandonment and loss. A broken family. An uncertain future.

When I published “Plink” on Amazon, I had to pick categories to describe it. Amazon decides whether a story is a “short read,” so I didn’t have to worry about that. But what other category would “Plink” fit in? Even though the story’s told from the Point of View (POV) of a blue, blue shirt, fantasy doesn’t really fit. No swords, no sorcerers, no dragons. No fairies, so it’s not a fairy tale. Like “Plink,” surreal fiction takes place in the “real” and “sane” world. (The latter is a debatable description for our world) but the story is shocking, psychedelic, twisted, even macabre. That’s not my story at all.

I finally settled on Magic Realism. Fans of the genre may argue that “Plink” isn’t Magic Realism, either, but it’s the closest fit. Magic Realism according to Wikipedia “paints a realistic view of the modern world while also adding magical elements.”

I love this sort of weird little story. I’ve read quite a few. They’re fun to read and fun to write. I hope you’ll enjoy “Plink.”

99 cents.

No, You Can’t Get it at Walmart.

Follow-up: Crafters’ Responses

Chemo cap by RBKCrochet (used with permission) She made it for a dear friend who is going though chemotherapy and losing his hair. I haven’t look for an amazing cap like this at Walmart, but I’ll bet it’s not there. I’m sure not even Nordstrom has it. What this cap has, besides this gorgeous, intricate design, that store bought hats don’t have is love crocheted into every stitch–thousands of stitches.

Recently I wrote about not offending crafters by insulting them with thoughtless remarks about their work. I posted a link to my essay on a social media page for crafters.

My post had an amazing number of views on my blog and comments on the creators’ site, most were positive thanking me for writing about this issue. However, some unthinkingly said the same sort of thing to me that people say to crafters–why bother to write? Well, because writing is what I do. It is as much of an art and craft as knitting or crocheting or any other handiwork. It’s what I love. It gives me as much pleasure and sense of satisfaction and accomplishment to finish an essay, an article, a story, or a novel that it gives a knitter or a crocheter to finish a pair of mittens, a sweater, or a blanket. 

People take writing for granted, too. I guess they figure that if they can write a comment on a social media site, an email, or a report for work, they could also write an essay, a short story, or a novel–if only they had the time. I’ll paraphrase what some of the crafters say to those who scoff at their work–in that case, why don’t you?

Here are some of the quotes, which I culled from the crocheters’ group. All are unattribute and are lightly edited for clarity..

“..if one’s raised in a good way and have good manners one also knows when to shut up and keep certain opinions to oneself, or to a certain group of people. But also, one must understand that not everyone has got social skills – some people will say clumsy things and not even understand that it hurts other people’s feelings.”

It seems to me that there are people in the world who are unaware that others have feelings, that there are people who are much more vulnerable than others.

“Mostly I tend to ignore most of the negative comments. However, on days when your autoimmune body decides it doesn’t like itself and lashes out with either anger or deep depression, those comments can really hurt even when they aren’t meant to.”

It’s easy to tell others to ignore hurtful comments, for some people not so easy to do. No one should have to hear belittling comments in the first place.

“Crafts keep you inspired and creative, out of the box thinking and many other things.”

Many crafters have more than one skill. Doing different crafts cross-fertilize the other. One craft can give you inspiration for the other.

“…after the Apocalypse, they are going to want a quilt, a sweater, a blanket, some soap, homemade bread, [to] know how to do carpentry, or electric [work] if there is any. All of these are talents that we know are taken for granted but in the long run, they will be the backbone of our society.”

These days the Apocalypse seems too close for comfort. If it comes, crafters of all kinds will have to band together to help each other survive, as no one person can possibly have all these skills. We will have to live in communities and get along with each other. I’m beginning to think I can’t wait for the Apocalypse.

“The perfect comeback for people who say or imply that you are engaging in a ‘mindless’ activity is as follows: “When I get through with my “mindless activity”, I will have a beautiful heirloom item that can be handed down from generation to generation. What is your mindless activity I wonder? Texting? Tweeting? What will you have to show for your time when you’re finished? Maybe you are the one that should consider a more productive use of your free time?”

I call this my Pippi Longstocking sock. BTW, the toe of the other sock is blue and the heel is red. Why? Just because I felt like it.

Sure, you can probably go to Walmart and get a sock like the one in the picture above.

But this sock, and its mate, were made to fit my feet. The toes conforms to my toes; I don’t have to fold the toes under to make them fit. The heels cups my heels; they do not bunch out of the back of my shoes, like the socks that “fit” sizes 9-13. My feet are size 6.5. Very few store-bought socks fit me. When you buy your socks at any store, you have to take what they offer or go without. You don’t get the joy of creating something beautiful and useful with your own hands. You don’t get to design the item to your own taste. You don’t get to hear people say, “Wow! You made that?” and you don’t get the pride and pleasure of saying, “Yes, I did.”

What’s more appropriate to end this post than with “Crown of Skulls”? I love this piece. It’s creative and original, vivid and distinctive.

By Yvette Meador. Used by permission. Yvette says, “This one is “crown of skulls” by Ann Wanamaker, which I helped to test. This is one I did for Dia de los Muertos

Winter, Limbaži, Latvia, Early 20th Century

A photo essay

Limbaži, Latvia. My mother’s hometown is a small city in a small country in the northeast corner of Europe, across the Baltic Sea from Finland. Over the centuries, the town’s fortunes have risen and fallen like the tides. When Limbaži achieved city status in 1385, its population was six thousand. By 1622 that number was reduced to twelve. The Svētupe river had become too shallow for ships to navigate so trade went elsewhere. The Black Death returned to Europe in both 1390 and 1400; that no doubt had much to do with the decline in the number of people living in Limbaži. The population rebounded to 549 in 1773. Currently, its population is nearly nine thousand. During the Middle Ages Limbaži was a trade center and part of the Hanseatic League, kind of like an early version of the European Economic Community. During its years as a Hanseatic city, the town’s population may have been as large as twenty thousand. As the river waters and trade fell, so did the town’s population.

During my trip to Latvia during the late years of the Soviet occupation I was able to visit my mom’s hometown and see the house where she grew up. Her younger brother’s family lived there. He and his wife are both gone now, but their son and daughter still live in the house.

Winter in Latvia is a long, cold, and dark season. Not as snowy now as it was in the early Twentieth Century. In winter the sun rises as late as nine a.m. and sets before four. I once asked my mother if the short days depressed her. She replied that with all the snow reflecting light, nights weren’t as dark as they would be without snow. I wish I could travel back in time to Limbaži before the Second World War before the economy was decimated under Soviet rule when Latvia was a peaceful, prosperous country. I’d like to have had a chance to get to know my grandparents and great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. I had a whole tribe of them. I’d love to have join the winter fun, sledding, ice skating, building snowmen and having snowball fights. Everything we were all robbed of.

Sine the Eastern Orthodox liturgy is very different from what is heard in Western churches, I have included below a link to a video of the Bulgarian National Choir singing the Lord’s Prayer. I think it’s very beautiful.

This is Parka iela, the street on which my mother’s family home still stands.
This pretty bridge lead to St. John Evangelical Lutheran church, which my mother and her family attended. Where she was confirmed.

Market, 1935. Steeple of St. John Evangelical Lutheran church in the background.
Winter fun, sledding. 1920s.

ras iela, 1920s.


Russian Orthodox church of the Transfiguration of Christ. Out of curiosity my mother and one of her cousins attended a service there. There are no pews in a Russian Orthodox church because they believe sitting in the presence of God is disrespectful. No organ, either, as only the human voice should glorify God. The Russian Orthodox liturgy is amazing.
Joyful celebration on ice at Christmas time more than 100 years ago. The firefighters brass band played. You could hear the rustle of ladies’ long dresses and the swish of skates on the ice of Mazezers Lake.
Jūras iela, 1930s. Part of winter fun in Limbaži. They were still using horse drawn wagons when I visited in the mid-eighties.

All photos courtesy of Limbažu Muzejs (Museum)

The Lord’s Prayer. Russian Orthodox liturgy. By Nikolay Kedrov, Sr.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p3iYnHx8P0s







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Happy New Year

The new year is a half hour old. Fireworks are still popping, crackling, and booming, even though fireworks are illegal within the city limits of my town. Maybe I’ll get to sleep before dawn. But for now, sleep is unlikely, so I might as well write. The Muse often won’t let me sleep until I’ve met her demand to write.

Helen Hunt Jackson, “New Year’s Morning” (1892)

Only a night from old to new;
Only a sleep from night to morn.
The new is but the old come true;
Each sunrise sees a new year born.

Dawn of a new day. Dawn of a new year.

Every new year dawns with hope. Hope for better things. Hope for health, especially this year. Hope for happiness. There are so many things to hope for. Each person has his or her own. I hope 2021 will not disappoint us, the way 2020 did. But hope always remains.

I’ll leave it to Emily Dickinson to sum it up.

Hope is the thing with feathers (254)

Emily Dickinson – 1830-1886

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

Hope is the thing with feathers. I hope we have some peace this year.