Category Odds & Ends

Loss in the Tribe

A Saturday night of edenic silence in the early dark of fall, the season’s first halting, feathery rain seeming to muffle every sound save for the second-by-second tick of the clock hand on the kitchen wall, reminding that this quietude, so reminiscent of the timeless heavens, is itself bound and must stake its own claim for whatever eternity it can muster. I can hear neither car nor cricket nor neighbor near or far; even the refrigerator is joined in the solemnity of this hour, its motor soundless and bowed. Dog to the left of me, cat to the right, our threesome forming an obtuse triangle punctuated only by the silent rising and falling of torsos, accepting without rancor the insistent, intrusive breath that moves the world...

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Big Honkin’ Transitions: Shel Silverstein’s “Where the Sidewalk Ends”

“If I could just freeze this moment!” It’s such a human sentiment, to feel overwhelming joy, peace or contentment and want it never to pass. To hold tight to the bliss. Alas, there is no capturing lightning in a bottle, no holding back the ocean’s tides. Change is the coin of this realm, the only constant. A line from a Shel Silverstein poem, which you can read en toto below, is worth chewing on here:

“There is a place where the sidewalk ends and before the street begins.”

That’s a profound image, that interim between one zone, one solid unchanging thing, and the next. It’s a place of transition, migration, crossing over. When you’re no longer tethered to one place but not settled in the next, either.

That in-between place can have tremendous impact. You have to be careful there: the footing can be dicey, and it’s easy to sprain your ankle and worse.

Attention must be paid.

So now it’s t...

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Transplanting the Catalpa (and Other Notes on Life, Love and Death)

The great illusion is stasis. That what and who we have today will be the same tomorrow. This is ridiculous, of course, when we permit ourselves to think about it for two seconds, but it hangs on with utter tenacity in our psyches, allowing us to face the short-term tasks of our day with relative equanimity while the specter of every last thing’s impermanence is shunted to the background.

Whatever it is—our people, our pets, our homes, our jobs, our health, our wealth—there they are, ready and available and alive in perpetuity. Until they’re not.

That illusion of permanence goes double, it seems to me, for our trees.

Sturdy, rooted, unmovable, voracious, trees upend our sidewalks, shade our homes, drop their leaves then grow them back—season upon season, decade after decade, through heat, cold, and various degrees of neglect from the humans who make use of them.

And there they stand, towering an...

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Light and Dark in the Arts: What’s Your Pleasure?

A small group of us was discussing possible movie choices for the upcoming weekend a few nights ago when one person floated the possibility of “Chesil Beach,” the adaptation of a dark Ian McEwan novel about a rapidly failing, misbegotten marriage, almost shocking in its misery. Someone else, a psychotherapist who spends his days listening to those and many other such woeful tales, brightly asked, “Why would you want to subject yourself to that?”

Now, the therapist can most certainly be excused for abstaining from the prospect of extending the rigors of his day job into his leisure hours. (And paying to do so, no less.) But his question reflected a kind of fundamental “There are two kinds of people in the world…” issue that has always been of great interest to producers of art and entertainment.

Dark or light? Sweet or sour?  Frothy or strained?

Serious and sober or witty and weightless?

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A Visit to Duke Gardens

Like a lot of aphorisms, “Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder” has such perfect pitch and rhythm that we rarely question whether it is altogether true. It is no doubt partially true, given that cultural constructs of the beautiful vary as dramatically as they do in this world. Not to mention the individual sensibilities that can see two people focus on the exact same thing and leave one swooning and the other cringing and backing away.

But whatever one’s unique tastes, some things seem to strike a universal chord of sensory appreciation, causing us to dreamily exclaim, “Oh, that’s beautiful!

Sunrises and sunsets, swans afloat and geese in flight, a perfect plump strawberry.

Ecclesiastes 3, and when it was set to music.

All these seem to elicit universal agreement that they are good and beautiful things.

And, of course, gardens.

“God Almighty first planted a Garden...

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