Posted by: ktzefr | March 17, 2017

Foto Friday: Angles — Looking Up

“A vivir que son dos dias”  (old Spanish saying — “Life lasts just a couple of days” or “Life is short” i.e. Enjoy!)

Playa del Carmen; Photo:KFawcett

 

“Two reeds drink from one stream, one is hollow, the other is sugar-cane.”  ~ Rumi

Medio Mundo, Merida, Yucatan; Photo:KFawcett

 

“I love this world, but not for its answers.” ~ Mary Oliver, “Snowy Night”

New York City; Photo:KFawcett

 

Have a good weekend!

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Posted by: ktzefr | March 13, 2017

Treasures, Memories, Migrations, and Beans

The forsythia and daffodils are blooming and the trees are full of buds.  Soon the wind will carry the sweet scents of the flowering trees and the tulips will bloom.  Well, my tulips won’t bloom.  The squirrels have eaten the bulbs and left a dirty mess on the porch.  That’s NOT a pretty picture, so here’s one of tulips from another place/time…

 

Tulips; Photo:KFawcett

Tulips.  Holland.  Windmills and Dikes.  The stories I heard as a child — the boy who stuck his finger in a hole in the dike and saved Holland, the Dutch girl rhymes we jumped rope to in the school yard at recess.  Years later, I remember standing on a boat in the rain in Amsterdam.  And eating cheese.  Wonderful cheese.  Growing up in Kentucky I had never tasted such as assortment of cheeses.  Years later, in Mérida, Yucatan, I’m eating chiles rellenos and a dozen other dishes smothered in hot, melted cheese.  Delicioso!  And I have to ask — what kind?  The reply: “Edam.”

Edam?  Dutch cheese in Mexico?  Turns out it’s a basic ingredient in many traditional dishes of Yucatan — from chiles rellenos to sweet papaya with shredded cheese to marquesitas (those wonderful rolled wafers filled with cheese and covered in caramel that are sold by street vendors in the Plaza Mayor) — all made from a special Edam-like cheese ball imported from Holland (Queso de Bola), but not available in the rest of Mexico or the United States.

In the 19th century Holland was a trading partner with Yucatan.  This, when all the world needed the sisal rope made in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and Mérida became one of the richest cities in the world.  Boats came across the Atlantic to the Port of Progreso bearing goods to swap for sisal, and the locals loved the Dutch cheese.  They still do.  Me, too.  It’s one of those memories that sticks to the taste buds.

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When I was growing up in Kentucky the grownups often talked about the day the uncles, aunts, and cousins left for Detroit.  It was sometime in the 50s, after the war.  Cars packed, pulling all the belongings in trailers behind them, they left the hills with the kids leaning out the windows, waving good-bye.

Birds migrate thousands of miles.  Butterflies migrate.  Elephants migrate.  Appalachians migrate, too.

It’s all about having a better life.  Not so elusive to birds and butterflies and elephants — the better life is “here” for awhile and then it’s “there.”  Not always so, if you ask the Appalachian people.  There are trade-offs.  The things you gain, the ones you lose, and the struggle to replace what you left behind.

I suppose this happens in immigrant communities, too.  That need to reach back and retain something good from the other life.  It’s hard to give up language and customs and traditions.  It’s giving up identity, really.

“You can’t have everything.”  I heard this a lot growing up.  I didn’t take it seriously.  Having it all was a matter of finding the right place, right job, right lifestyle.  Young people are stubborn, innocent, believers.  Until they’re not.  Love, values, beliefs, friends, meaning…there is no place to purchase a box or a book or a bag filled with all those treasures that money cannot buy.  There is luck involved.  And hard work.  And keeping one’s mind on track.  There is joy in re-invention, so long as one is able to recognize treasure…

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Sifting through my notes…there is a reference to Mare Nostrum, a Roman name for the Mediterranean Sea.

Rapallo, Italy, 1972.  Outside my window stands the Castle on the Sea with the blue-green wash of the Mediterranean tickling its stone feet; the tide comes and goes, as tides are wont to do.  And sometimes people, too.  Here today, gone tomorrow.  But this image stays: the fireworks start, like flowers of light filling the black sky, and I watch the lit debris falling, falling into the sea.  I’m standing on a balcony drinking cognac with new friends I will never see again.  We’re celebrating some event that I can no longer recall…

“There are places I’ll remember all my life, though some have have changed.  Some forever, not for better.  Some have gone and some remain.  All those places have their moments with lovers and friends I still can recall.  Some are dead and some are living…In my life, I’ve loved them all…”  (The Beatles released this song on my birthday in 1965.)

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The late afternoon sun is pouring into the living room.  Round, lighted dots dance on the walls and ceiling.  I search for their origin and find it on the hearth.  The green cut glass candle holder, sitting in a slant of sunlight, is catching the rays just right to reflect around the room in a dozen or more points of light, and I think about what happens when two disparate things, like the sun and the candle holder, come together and produce something new, something that does not resemble either one.  On cloudy days the points of light don’t exist at all.  They are not merely hidden, waiting to be found.  They simply do not exist without this kind of moment, these conditions.  As the sun drops further west, the light shifts and the dots fade.  Temporary: a bright, shiny…moment.

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When the uncles and aunts and cousins all went to Detroit to work in the car factories in the 50s, my dad and mom stayed home.  They ran a store, tended a garden, bought a cow.  They told us to go to school, do our work, and “Don’t bring home Cs.”  I’m enormously grateful for that.

My dad said the Bible promises the “first will be last and the last first” and I wasn’t quite sure how this happened, but I was always looking forward to moving up the line.  “A step at a time,” he said.  Don’t worry about the odds.  Odds are made to be defied.  Odds don’t amount to a “hill of beans.”

Now, for those who don’t speak Appalachian, a “hill of beans” means one bean plant, not a mountain of beans.  A “mess of beans,” on the other hand, means enough freshly-picked beans for supper.  And someone who is said to be “full of beans” may or may not have eaten.  Supper is beside the point.  Suffice it to say that beans, in this case, have nothing to do with food.

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And so it’s Monday.  Odds are it’s going to snow!

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Posted by: ktzefr | March 3, 2017

Rain, Tea, Poetry

Tranquility –

Rain on the palapa roof

Tea on the porch

Sarapiqui Neotropical Center, Costa Rica; Photo:MFawcett

Sarapiqui Neotropical Center, Costa Rica; Photo:MFawcett

I love the way our minds make associations and jump easily from here to there in space and time, connecting people and places and moments in life that otherwise may not seem to be related at all.

The poet, Mary Oliver, says it best: “Of all the reasons for gladness,/what could be foremost of this one,/that the mind can seize both the instant and the memory!”

This week I’ve been reading the zen poetry of Ryokan, the Japanese hermit-monk who grew up wealthy but chose to spend much of his life in poverty and alone.  I realized after reading part-way through this collection of poems (One Robe, One Bowl) that it was always raining.  Was this a reflection of Ryokan’s loneliness?  Just a few of the images flipping through the book…

“Lying in bed, listening to the sound of freezing rain.”  “…all night a steady rain pours off the banana tree.” “Sparse rain: in my desolate hermitage at night…”  “Light rain — the mountain forest is wrapped in mist.”  “…the autumn wind blowing a light rain that rustles through the reeds.”  “I have mistaken the sound of the river for the voice of the rain.”

Winter, summer, spring, fall — poems for every season.  And rain.  I like this one:

“Late at night, listening to the winter rain,

recalling my youth —

Was it only a dream?  Was I really young once?”

*****

Windchimes; Photo:KFawcett

Windchimes; Photo:KFawcett

Associations — When I started reading this collection it was sunny and in the 70s.  I was having tea on the porch.  But the further I got into the book and the day and the “rain” images, the more the wind picked up and the clouds rolled in and I eventually had to pack up everything and head inside to keep from getting wet. 

By then I was thinking about rain in Kentucky — the way the clouds dropped over the hills above the river (wrapping them in mist, like the images in Ryokan).  I knew to the minute how long I could stay outside before the rain would reach me.  Well, most of the time I knew.   

I remembered rains in other places, too — from the Eastern Shore to the Caribbean to the mountains of Mexico and the rain forests of Costa Rica.  I’ve often heard others fret about the rain, especially if they’re on vacation or planning to go.  But I actually like rain at the beach and especially the “morning after” the night rains in the islands and the jungle.  Everything seems fresh and alive and new again. 

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Years ago, when this photo on the Sarapiqui River was taken, I was sitting on another porch, watching rain drip from the palapa roof, trying to absorb the incredible beauty of my first experience with rain in the rain forest.  Long before then I was reading Ernesto Cardenal, the revolutionary Nicaraguan poet who had studied for awhile with Thomas Merton at the Trappist monastery in Kentucky.  His poetry was known for its political messages, but I was drawn to the cultural traditions revealed in his writing and the beautiful images of a country he obviously loved.  It was easy to fall in love with Central America…

“Thousands of fireflies in the black foliage

and the Southern Cross

deep in the black sky…

And there was a clamor in the air:

the cry perhaps of a strange bird,

answering another cry like it farther off.

Sarapiqui!:

The water so clear

it was invisible.”

~ Ernesto Cardenal, “19th-Century Traveler on the Rio San Juan”

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So, I was sitting on the back porch beneath the bare maple reading the poetry of a monk living in 18th century Japan who was writing about rain, and my mind hopped and skipped around all over the place to the rains I’ve known and the poets I’ve read and how it all is somehow connected.  I was feeling that gladness that Mary Oliver spoke of when she said the mind is able to “seize both the instant and the memory.”

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SarapiquiS Neotropical Center, Rainforest Lodge

Posted by: ktzefr | February 25, 2017

Slipping Away Home: Appalachia

When I was growing up it was easy to find a space and the time to be alone — to disconnect from the world in a way that seems more difficult for kids these days.  I am glad to be alive in this century with all of the “toys” of modern technology, but I’m glad I was born in the past one. 

Barn in KY; painted by a family friend, Ed McGrath,sometime in the 80s

Barn in KY; painted by a family friend, Ed McGrath,sometime in the 80s

Home

I still recall, sometimes, the old barn loft

on the farm in Kentucky, the ladder steps,

the scent of hay, and that feeling of being

far away.

 

Wasp nests hung in corners where

the roof arched, the old wood raw, never painted

and the floor boards with wide spaces,

where I could peek down and watch the cows

eating hay.

 

From the flung-open door, I could see

all the way down our lane to the road, across

the neighboring fields to the river,

the hills beyond.

 

It was a place to daydream, to slip away

on rainy days, to curl up in the hay, to be

someone else entirely, in some new place

not-yet seen. 

 

Until Mom called me home for supper.

*****

Did you have a favorite place to slip away?

Posted by: ktzefr | February 24, 2017

Favorite Foto Friday: Cenote Xlacah

Cenote Xlacah at the ruins of the ancient city of Dzibilchaltún on the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico.  The cenote connects to an underground river system and is home to a species of spiny fish found only in the Yucatán.  It’s part of an eco-archeological park a few minutes north of the city of Mérida, and there’s a terrific little museum (Museo del Pueblo Maya) on site.  Full of lily pads and fish and a fun place to swim.

Cenote Xlacah, Dzibilchaltún, Yucatán; Photo:KFawcett

Cenote Xlacah, Dzibilchaltún, Yucatán; Photo:KFawcett

Posted by: ktzefr | February 21, 2017

Butterflies in Winter

img_1199I spend most of the winter thinking about spring and the return of hummingbirds and butterflies.  Though I prefer heading south to Mexico or the islands in autumn, along with the migrating critters, the next best thing is a visit to the Butterfly Pavilion at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum.

This past Saturday was sunny and mild outside and it felt almost like the tropics in the flower-and-mist-filled Pavilion.  Here are some favorites…

Butterfly, Mariposa; Smithsonian Natural History Exhibit; Photo:KFawcett

Butterfly, Smithsonian Natural History Exhibit; Photo:KFawcett

The pavilion is filled with exotic plants and live butterflies from around the world.

 

Butterfly, Smithsonian Natural History Exhibit; Photo:KFawcett

Butterfly, Smithsonian Natural History Exhibit; Photo:KFawcett

The sphinx moth looks like a hummingbird buzzing around the blooms.  It’s also called the hummingbird moth.

 

Sphinx Moth, Smithsonian Natural History Exhibit; Photo:KFawcett

Sphinx Moth, Smithsonian Natural History Exhibit; Photo:KFawcett

 

Butterfly, Smithsonian Natural History Exhibit; Photo:KFawcett

Butterfly, Smithsonian Natural History Exhibit; Photo:KFawcett

 

Monarch butterfly, Smithsonian Natural History Exhibit; Photo:KFawcett

Monarch butterfly, Smithsonian Natural History Exhibit; Photo:KFawcett

The beautiful Blue Morpho is the one that got away.  Though there were three or four floating around the pavilion, they didn’t stay still long enough to get a good picture.  One of the Blue Morpho liked to park himself on the tile floor — a dangerous spot with so many feet coming and going and not the best background to show off his lovely blue metallic wings.  Maybe next time…

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Posted by: ktzefr | February 10, 2017

Friday’s Fotos: Hiking in the USVI

One morning I was hiking here…

Virgin Islands National Park, St. John USVI; Photo:KFawcett

Virgin Islands National Park, St. John USVI; Photo:KFawcett

When I looked up and saw this…

Argiope Argentata (silver argiope spider); Photo:KFawcett

Argiope Argentata (silver argiope spider); Photo:KFawcett

She was BIG!  (And what a loot — I counted more than 25 trapped flies.) No, I did not have to examine the spider up close to determine the sex.  The argiope silver female is much bigger than the male.  Beside her, he is a dwarf.  She has more interesting coloration as well. This spider is an orbweaver  and the web is easily identified with its conspicuous zigzagging white silk banner; this decoration is called stabilimento–as seen on zooming.  The spider’s body looks similar to a seashell.

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Orbweavers are busy workers.  Many of them rebuild their webs every morning.  They also keep their eye on the prize.  If a flying insect (moths, butterflies, flies, etc.) are caught in the web, they are bitten quickly once trapped so they don’t get away.  Other prey, bugs that can’t easily flee, are wrapped in silk before they’re bitten.  The silver argiope is not particular about mealtime.  Mosquitoes, grasshoppers, flies, moths, and any other critter small enough to get trapped will do.  

I’m not a spider fan, but with the Zika virus and other nasty bugs being passed along by mosquitoes, it’s nice to have a critter around that likes to eat them.  The silver argiope is not a pest, not endangered, and not a threat.  Though the spider will bite if threatened, the bite is not generally serious unless the victim is a very young child or older adult. 

I only stood beneath the web long enough to take a photo, however, just in case she didn’t like my looks. 

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Posted by: ktzefr | February 6, 2017

Krazy for Kumquats

Kumquats are ripe!

Kumquats; Photo:KFawcett

Kumquats; Photo:KFawcett

“For however many kumquats that I eat

I’m not sure if it’s flesh or rind that’s sweet,

And being a man of doubt at life’s mid-way

I’d offer Keats some kumquats and I’d say:

You’ll find that one part’s sweet and one part’s tart:

Say where the sweetness or the sourness start.”

~ from “A Kumquat for John Keats” by Tony Harrison

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Kumquats are like inside-out oranges — sweet rind, tart flesh.  But they are bite-sized like grapes.  Eat the whole fruit — seeds and all.  But don’t buy green or yellow fruit!  Ripe kumquats are brilliant orange. Their color symbolizes wealth, and they are a traditional gift for the Lunar New Year in China. 

teaspoonThe first time I bought raw kumquats I treated them like little oranges and meticulously peeled away the rind and removed the seeds.  I was left with a small blob of sour pulp that was not the least bit appetizing.  Adding an inordinate amount of sugar didn’t help.  The fruit concoction was tasteless. 

How one should eat a fruit is sometimes the most important thing to learn.  I grew up eating apples and oranges and bananas, but I have since learned how to scoop out the insides of a pitaya, a zapote, or a passion fruit, and that a ripe cherimoya can be broken apart by hand, and that all mango species were not created equal.  Picking the right fruit at the right time and knowing how to eat it properly makes all the difference.

Decades ago I bought a jar of preserved kumquats for a recipe called Hong Kong Sundaes.  I’m not sure what happened to the recipe, but I played around with it over the years and still make a variation with a number of different fresh fruits.  (Cook ripe kumquats until they soften a bit in a simple sugar syrup, and then add brown sugar and butter.  Turn off the heat and add some Grand Marnier.  Serve warm over a slice of pound cake and a dollop of vanilla ice cream.  Amazing!)

chile The wonderful, sweet little fruits pictured above are Frieda’s Adorable Kumquats. 

*****

Posted by: ktzefr | January 19, 2017

10 Flowers of the Virgin Islands

Outside my window on this rainy, cold day — bare branches and a few scattered evergreens against a gray sky.  I have one of those lamps with the energy light that’s supposed to make sunny weather people feel better on dreary winter days.  I’m waiting for it to work.  Meanwhile, I have starfish on my window sill, a painting of a favorite hillside on St. Thomas perched above a perfectly blue sea, and a treasure trove of photos from warm places.  Today, I’ve been looking at flowers of the Caribbean and reading poetry from around the world.  Here are a few favorites:

“Each white blossom/on a dangle of white flowers holds one green seed –/a new life.  Also each blossom on a dangle of flowers/holds a flask/of fragrance called Heaven, which is never sealed.”   ~Mary Oliver, from “Honey Locust”

Frangipani, St. John, US Virgin Islands; Photo:DFawcett

Frangipani, St. John, US Virgin Islands; Photo:DFawcett

The poet refers to the blossoms of the honey locust tree.  I think of frangipani.  Frangipani is most familiar in white and yellow, but the closer you get to the equator, the more colors you find.  The Virgins, at just 18 degrees north of the equator, have flowers in a variety of colors.  There’s nothing quite like their early-morning, heavenly scent after the night rains.   

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Haiku, in a handful of words, can give the reader something to think about all day.

“Villages may lack

Sea bream or flowers

but they all have tonight’s moon.”

~ Ibara Saikaku (A haiku master in Japan in the 1600s, he was also a pioneer of popular fiction and detective stories.)  Sea bream refers to red snapper; the fish is a good-luck symbol.

Frangipani, US Virgin Islands; Photo:DFawcett

Frangipani, US Virgin Islands; Photo:DFawcett

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“The ant climbs up a trunk/carrying a petal on its back,/and if you look closely/that petal is as big as a house…compared to the ant…/Why couldn’t I carry/a petal twice as big as my body and my head?

Ah, but you can…”boxes full of thoughts/and loads of magic hours, and/a wagon of clear dreams…”

~ David Escobar Galindo (El Salvador), from the poem “A Short Story,” translated by Jorge D. Piche

Royal Poinciana, "flame" tree, US Virgin Islands; Photo:DFawcett

Royal Poinciana, “flame” tree, US Virgin Islands; Photo:DFawcett

The Royal Poinciana or flamboyant (flame) tree is my favorite flowering tree in the world!  It’s worth a trip to the Virgins, especially in late spring and early summer, to see these fiery trees in full bloom. 

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“I want every instant/to be lovely as crayons./I’d like to draw — on chaste white paper…/eyes that never wept,/a piece of sky, a feather…/I want each breathless moment to beget a flower.” 

~Gu Cheng (China), “A Headstrong Boy”

Powderpuff tree, US Virgin Islands; Photo:DFawcett

Powderpuff tree, US Virgin Islands; Photo:DFawcett

Hummingbirds, bees, and other insects are attracted to this plant, though the spiky flowers have no obvious scent.  Critters must see, smell, or know some secret that is hidden from humans.  Powderpuff is a fun name for the Calliandra, but so is the name it goes by in the tropics — fairy duster.   

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“…their golden bodies –/I could not help but touch them–/and dashed forth their sleek pods,/oh, life flew around us, everywhere.”

~ Mary Oliver, from “Touch-me-nots”

Golden Shower Tree, US Virgin Islands; Photo:KFawcett

Golden Shower Tree, US Virgin Islands; Photo:KFawcett

The poet here is talking about touch-me-nots, but the image for me is the golden shower or golden chain trees of the tropics.  I used to love riding a bike along a trail on St. John and dashing beneath a cluster of golden chain trees, reaching up to touch the petals, and watching each day as they covered the ground like yellow snow. 

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“Today let’s take the laundry basket down/to a clear summer stream where we’ll bleach/our memories clean./Sweetly surround me with fragrant shrubbery,/Little white flowers sprinkled on a tree./Like the soapsuds made while washing clothes,/Reflected in a bubble, my laughing face/a song.”

~ Chang Shian-hua (Taiwan),  from “An Appointment”

White Spider Lily, US Virgin Islands; Photo:DFawcett

White Spider Lily, US Virgin Islands; Photo:DFawcett

There are a number of species of spider lilies, but this one is native to only a few countries in the Caribbean, including the US Virgin Islands.  It is believed to be indigenous to Peru as one of the most common names for the plant is Sacred Lily of the Incas.  In Mexico it’s called the Lily of Life.

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“When it is night in New York,/the sun shines in Dhaka,/but that doesn’t matter./Flowers that blossom here in spring/are unknown in meadows of distant Bengal–/that too doesn’t matter./There’s an enormous comfort knowing/we all live under this same sky.”

~ Zia Hyder (Bangladesh), from “Under This Sky”

Bougainvillea, Virgin Islands; Photo:KFawcett

Bougainvillea, Virgin Islands; Photo:KFawcett

Bougainvillea trivia:  It is believed that the first European to discover bougainvillea plants was Jeanne Baret, an expert in botany.  She disguised herself as a man in order to board the ship of French navy admiral and explorer Louis Antoine de Bougainville on his voyage of circumnavigation of the globe.  Though women were not allowed on ship, she became the first woman to circumnavigate the globe.

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“Between the sunset and the eucalyptus tree/Paint peeling walls.  The windows gleaming red,/Lights in the bedrooms.  Hibiscus, quisquailis,/and dry earth moistened…/Hushed brushed wings of sleepy birds,/A stillness rising to the stars./Between the dark night and the eucalyptus tree.”

~  Nasima Aziz (India), from “Home”

Hibiscus, Virgin Islands; Photo:KFawcett

Hibiscus, Virgin Islands; Photo:KFawcett

I’ve been taking pictures of hibiscus flowers for more than forty years — blooms on perfectly manicured hedges, blooms on bushes in big clay pots, blooms in tropical gardens.  But this one is special — not because it’s the prettiest of the lot; it’s not.  It’s special because it’s wild.  It was taken on an early morning hike after the night rains on a trail in the British Virgin Islands.  The flowers were a little droopy and covered in raindrops (see if you zoom), but the sun was coming out and the morning was headed toward perfection. 

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“He said every morning found him here,/before the water boiled on the flame/he came out to this garden,/dug hands into earth saying, I know you.”

~  Naomi Shihab Nye, from “The Garden of Abu Mahmoud”

(If you enjoy gardening, you know the feeling of first digging your hands into the spring soil.)

Ixora, West Indian Jasmine, US Virgin Islands; Photo:DFawcett

Ixora, West Indian Jasmine, US Virgin Islands; Photo:DFawcett

At a distance the flowers of the Ixora bushes look like balls of red and orange; up close they reveal themselves to be thousands of little stars.  How often do we define something by the way we see it from a distance and don’t take the time to have a closer look?

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“A spring breeze makes everyone laugh…/Rose and thorn pair up…/The orchard king from his secret center/says, Welcome to your hidden life./They move together,/the cypress and the bud of the lily,/the willow and the flowering judas./Ladders have been set up/around the garden,/so that everyone’s eyes lift.”

~ Rumi, from “The Dance of Your Hidden Life”

Bougainvillea and Ginger Thomas, US Virgin Islands; Photo:KFawcett

Bougainvillea and Ginger Thomas, US Virgin Islands; Photo:KFawcett

 

Just like each US state has its own state flower, the Virgin Islands also has this custom.  The territorial flower is the Ginger Thomas.  The photo above was taken out the back door of my friend’s house in St. Thomas.  It sits on a steep hillside with the front porch perched above the sea and the back tucked below the neighbor’s yard.  Mango trees drop fruit on both sides of the fence.  Ladders are handy for gardening here as one must look up at the flowers.  

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Looking up is good.  Lifting eyes.  Poems and flowers have the power to lift spirits.  What is YOUR secret to bringing sunshine to gray winter days?   

 

 

Posted by: ktzefr | January 13, 2017

12 Ways to Look at Soap

bunnyWhen I was in elementary school the kids raved about Ivory soap.  It was great fun, they said, because the bars float in the bathtub.  We didn’t have a bathtub.  “We use Camay,” I told them, “It’s pink and smells better than Ivory.”  Years later, I moved to the city and rented an apartment with a bathtub.  I bought Ivory soap and watched it float.  Still later, I showed my toddler son how the Ivory soap could float right along with the yellow rubber ducks.  It seemed important at the time.  I remember my mom saying that when she was young and had no money she saw so many beautiful things she wanted to buy, but when she finally had the money to get what she wanted, it didn’t matter anymore.  Timing is everything…and, in case you’re curious, Ivory Soap floats because it’s pumped full of air bubbles.

*****

As a teen I tried every kind of soap I could find for acne, but nothing helped.  It took a long time to accept that breakouts went along with adolescence, at least for some of us, and soap was neither the culprit nor the answer.  Sometimes what we think is the “fix” doesn’t work, no matter how many times we try nor how much effort we put into it.

*****

Why are soap operas called soap operas?  They have nothing to do with soap and they’re certainly not operas.  But, in the 1920s, everyone listened to radio and daily serials aimed at women became popular.  So the stations decided to find sponsors for these programs.  The first major sponsors were soap manufacturers — Procter and Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive, Lever Brothers.  Thus, the media dubbed them soap operas.

*****

Cashmere Bouquet reminds me of the beach.  In my mind the flowery scent mingles with the salt air and the sound of wind chimes, the rush of waves, and the shouts of children.  It brings back memories of crab cakes and straw hats.  Of red noses.  Of that flushed, tingly-all-over feeling after a day in the sun.  Of porpoise sightings and flying kites.  Every few minutes in summer a small plane would fly along the coast trailing a banner that said “Paul Revere Smorgesbord, all you can eat $4.95.”  Imagine that.  Four ninety-five.  Today, $4.95 won’t even buy a bath bar of Cashmere Bouquet, a “favorite since 1872.”

*****

Soap is not always for washing  — whether it’s real or fake.  My mother kept a dish of little soaps in the shape of rosebuds on a shelf in her bathroom.  They were blue and pink and white and smelled like roses.  But we had to remind the kids that the rosebud soap was “just for looks” — not for washing dirty hands.  Several years ago we were looking at a model house in a new development and my young son was surprised to find that almost everything in the house was plastic — the fruit in the bowls, eggs in the basket, bottles in the refrigerator, and the soap in the soap dishes.  “I don’t want to live in this house,” he said, looking anxious.  “Everything is fake.”

*****

When bars of soap become thin slivers of themselves I toss them in the trash.  But some people save the leftover pieces, melt them down, and make new bars.  If only one could take the pieces of a life, rearrange them on occasion, and make a brand new person.

*****

Laundry soaps used to be bought for the prizes.  Cheer had a dish towel inside every box and my mom collected them the way I collected Cracker Jack prizes.  She saved money by turning cow feed sacks into dresses and jelly jars into drinking glasses and she always hung the laundry outside to dry.  My clothes smelled of soap and sun, wind and rain.  One of my favorite places today, far removed from my own childhood but where I feel eerily at home, is an old hacienda in Mexico where the sheets and towels are hung to dry every day on a rooftop in the sun.

*****

“Cleanliness is next to godliness,” Ms. Valentine said.  That’s what they taught us in school and we would all steal looks at Jimmy Doan in his dirty clothes.  His family was on relief, but we felt that was no excuse.  “Anybody can afford a bar of soap.”  That’s what our teacher said.  But she didn’t live in Jimmy’s house.  I had been there and I knew it wasn’t a matter of money.  Jimmy Doan’s family simply didn’t consider cleanliness to be next to godliness the way Ms. Valentine did.  He stayed an outsider at school until he finally quit.  Would a bar of soap have made any difference?

*****

Years ago in the tropics we stayed at a place that used Riley’s soap and I always brought back the tiny samples.  During the rest of the year, the scent reminded me of all that I loved about being there — the night rains and cloudless morning skies, the wild donkeys that stirred in the woods at the edge of daybreak, and the constant chatter and songs of the rain forest birds.  I used the soap sparingly so I could stretch its magic and get as many “trips” as possible from it.

*****

Lava soap.  Construction workers and coal miners liked it because it would clean anything — lift grease off a frying pan.  (In the 60s they advertised using Lava soap to prevent the spread of polio though there was no evidence that this was the case.)  I wonder if anyone ever blamed themselves for not washing with Lava when a family member took ill.  False advertising, like fake news, can bring false hope or unwarranted anger, fear, or sadness.  It’s amazing how much more staying power it has than the truth.

*****

Lye soap.   Every Thanksgiving we butchered hogs and Mom and my Aunt Thelma made lye soap in a big black kettle that hung on a rod in the center of two poles in the backyard.  The kettle rocked back and forth above the fire and they stirred the pot with long wooden paddles.  Later, when the soap cooled, they cut it into large chunks the color of mottled honey. It looked bad and smelled bad.  We didn’t need it.  We had pink Camay.  But Mom and Aunt Thelma had been brought up to make lye soap.  It seemed the older they got the more they needed to do such things.  I suppose it was a holding-0n of sorts, to tradition, to the past, to their own childhoods.  The soap-making process once a year brought back memories, old stories, family secrets. 

*****

The other day I checked out the different brands of soap at the store and was amazed by all the paraphernalia that goes along with bathing.  There’s a big market today in soap and related products.  Curious, I googled to see what the 10 top selling brands were in 2016.  Here they are: Dove Sensitive Skin, Paul Mitchell Tea Tree, Aveda Rosemary Mint, DHC Pure, Pangea Organics, Dove White, Chanel Coco, Beessential All Natural, Badger Organic, and Caswell-Massey Goat’s Milk and Honey. 

There’s no reason on earth for a human body to smell like a human body anymore.

*****

 

 

 

 

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