The sun in winter.

Growing season

for icicles.

It is an exercise in patience to watch icicles slowly melt in the tepid rays of a winter sun only to freeze again into a larger version before nightfall. There might be a lesson in there; that drastic change helps us grow. For icicles, the only way they can grow is by totally transforming themselves from one state of matter into another, from liquid to solid, then solid again.

In observing icicles I discovered that the way I see them depends on my mood, or the lighting, or the time of day. Sometimes I see pretty, sparkling decorations reminiscent of Christmas, at other times I’m reminded of EKG readings, and every now and then I am taken aback by the menacing teeth of a great shark or of some prehistoric monster. All the while, the icicles remain just icicles.

When the Music Died

The Music Died

The pond, once alive

with geese and ducks and frog song,

shrouded in silence.

When we first moved into our neighborhood ours was one of the first homes on our street.  The geese would traipse from the retention pond at the back of our home through our yard, then cross the street to the other newly built homes. No doubt this was their territory for a while.

Several families of ducks had made their homes on the farther bank of the pond, and we would often see them swimming leisurely across it, parents leading ducklings all in a row. Occasionally a heron would visit, posing as a statue until suddenly it would swoop and rise again with dinner in its mouth. My favorite pond residents, however, were the frogs.

I never saw the frogs but at dusk, in late spring into summer, the singing would begin. The higher pitched chirping and gurgling would be punctuated by the deep bellowing of bullfrogs, the banjo like sounds of green frogs, and a splash or two. I looked forward to the symphony nature provided each evening, conducted by an unseen hand.

During the first two summers the chorus was so loud that we could barely hear the television, even with the windows closed. Then the volume of the concerts began to diminish as more houses were built and more lawns were treated to grow lush and green.

After a while I only heard the bullfrog, bellowing its lonely solo in the absence of the rest of the orchestra.

Then one summer, the music died.

Fire on Ice

Fire on Ice

A flame, brilliant red,

shoots out of the icy ground.

The cardinal soars.

Not surprisingly, bright red cardinals against a backdrop of pure snow is a common theme in holiday cards. The contrast of color and the symbolism of hot and cold, fire and ice make for arresting photographs.

With cardinals, the onus of looking great so that the bird can win over a mate is squarely on the shoulders of the male. His color needs to be bright to show that he is healthy and thus would be a good provider for his mate and brood. Females would choose the most brilliantly colored male to ensure survival of their family.

Male cardinals would attack other males of the species to preserve their territory and family. Sometimes the other fellow is its own reflection. We once had a cardinal peck so aggressively at its reflection in the glass door of the deck that he would have certainly hurt himself if we did not manage to shoo him away. Beautiful, but not too brainy, I say. But then, that is what he is genetically wired to do.

In humans, the role of looking attractive is reversed. As we know, it is mostly the woman who gets adorned to attract mates. Although this may often feel like a chore, I appreciate that we are able to be comfortable and drab at times, but then can get dressed to the nines when we decide to do so. I would neither like to have to be looking wonderful all the time, or to be forever drab.

The Last Laugh

The Last Laugh

The mighty wind blows,

the pliable reed bends low.

Bowing or mooning?

The holidays are over and soon we will be back to work or school, and likely dealing with snooty, sarcastic, bullying co-fellows. Unless they have made resolutions to become better people, but you’ve known them long enough to be wary. But let’s say they did no such thing and continue to be the proverbial thorn in your side. What do you do? Seeing as how you have vowed to change for the better, to be less weak and succumbing, to be nice, not naughty, to be gracious in your actions.

Whenever I think of the so-called weak being overpowered by the so-called strong, I am reminded of Aesop’s fable of the oak and the reed. We are taught that it is better to bend and live another day rather than stand proud and be knocked over by whomsoever is trying to floor us. This is a good life lesson, and I see myself as the reed. Yes, I tend to bend rather than stand proud and break. I bend so that I can live another day rather than be obstinate and dead. What is the point of that? Unless you are sure that you can come back in spirit and make things right. That would be good, but I prefer to make things right in the here and now. Even if my enemy has no clue that they are being humiliated it is enough for me to know that they are.

I think of this fable as being more about the wind and the reed.This is what the reed was thinking when it was being blown about. I know because I am the reed. The reed, being pliable, acquiesced when the mighty wind demanded that it bend. The wind, being all brawn, felt triumphant that it made the reed bow low, but it failed to take note of the direction of that bow. The reed, being all brain, bowed as low as possible so that it could present the wind with a full moon as it said to itself, “in your face, blowhard”.

Can you apply a similar strategy with your co-fellows, minus the bowing, if all other traditional attempts at making peace fails? Maybe disarm them with an enigmatic smile and a look that says, “oh you poor thing, you poor, poor thing.” They may become obsessed with the secret behind that smile the way others are obsessed with the Mona Lisa’s. Was that a smile or a smirk? What is behind it? What is she thinking? I’m sure you may be more creative in your disarming measures as suits your case. Measures that involve no harsh words or physical confrontation or embarrassing displays but yet achieve the desired goal, eventually. Measures that will keep those ninnies confused and puzzled and maybe even become a brain worm that keeps niggling at them, until they figure out it is best to behave themselves.

Even though the reed could not whip the wind it triumphed in the way that mattered most, it lived to see another day and had the last laugh. So can you.

New Year’s Resolutions

Perfect Timing

The perfect moment

to make a change is right now.

Not just New Year’s Day.

Many resolutions are made on the first day of each year. We examine ourselves and determine how we need to change so that we can be our best selves. We make pledges and are committed to make those changes. We aim to eat healthier, to exercise more, to become more financially responsible, to be better parents or friends or colleagues. We set weekly, monthly, or yearly goals. We know that this year it will be different, that we will succeed in achieving the goals we set for ourselves.

Does that sound familiar? It does to me. And how well do we do in keeping our promises to ourselves? At what week or month do we relapse, have a huge slice of birthday cake, or overspend, or bypass the gym for a cozy date with Netflix? And how many of us at that point just give up? We become disappointed, see ourselves as weak, as not having the strength to do what we knew was right. We caved in, but instead of trying to get back on track we tell ourselves that we will do it next year, for sure. Come January 1st next year I’ll start again, we tell ourselves, and I will stick with it, for sure. Next year will be different.

Do we even remember that January 1st is just a convenient starting point but that every moment presents us with an opportunity to change for better or for worse?  (Let us keep our focus on better here). There is no reason we cannot make a resolution at nine in the morning on February 10th or any other random hour on any other nondescript day. We can then either get back on track if we relapse after January 1st or make a new resolution if that makes us feel better and helps us forget that we failed to keep that January 1st vow.

So, there is no need to have to wait until next year to start over if we slip up; every new moment, every nano second gifts us the chance to begin anew.

Happy 2022 everyone!

Holiday Blues

Holiday Blues

When dark clouds gather,

when fear sets in, remember

your light. Let it shine.

Statistics from respected sources such as the American Psychological Association and NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, show that stress, anxiety, and depression increases during the holidays. These feelings tend to linger even after the holidays are long past. This comes as no surprise to many of us.

Some of the reasons given for the short-term increase in mental illness are lack of time, financial pressure, gift-giving, and family gatherings, and the wintry weather. The pandemic has also added to the level of stress. It is ironic that gift-giving and family gatherings would be a source of stress and depression when this is what we expect would help make the holidays merry and bright.

One NAMI survey shows “a tremendous need for people to reach out and watch out for each other in keeping with the spirit of the season.” This is where we can make a difference.

We can reach out to those whom we think could use a kind word, a visit, or a helping hand. Perhaps an unpopular family member, elderly or otherwise, or a coworker, or that grumpy neighbor. Even a small act can convey the most important feeling – that they matter, that someone notices, that someone cares. And those you reach out to would not be the only ones whose spirits would be uplifted by your actions, you will too. Those heartwarming commercials on television warms the cockles of our hearts if we have loving families and friends but would have the opposite effect if it reminds others of what is lacking in their lives.

Now what if you are one of those who need some holiday cheer and company? The Mayo Clinic suggests you seek out community, religious or other social events. They also recommend online communities, social media or virtual events that can offer support and companionship. Know that you are not alone and know that help is available.

Some 24/7 sources recommended by NAMI are:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – Call 800-273-TALK (8255)
If you or someone you know is in crisis—whether they are considering suicide or not—please call the toll-free Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) to speak with a trained crisis counselor 24/7.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline connects you with a crisis center in the Lifeline network closest to your location. Your call will be answered by a trained crisis worker who will listen empathetically and without judgment. The crisis worker will work to ensure that you feel safe and help identify options and information about mental health services in your area. Your call is confidential and free.

Crisis Text Line – Text NAMI to 741-741
Connect with a trained crisis counselor to receive free, 24/7 crisis support via text message.

Have a wonderful 2022! Let your light shine!

Confused about the Truth

The Whole Truth

We cherish the truth,

the whole truth, and nothing less.

Then there is Santa.

I hesitate to draw any conclusions about these thoughts. Too much gray area. Maybe you can help.

Firstly, I know and love many law-abiding, conscientious citizens who believe in upholding the truth, who take the Ten Commandments seriously, who do not believe in the existence of Santa, yet have no compunction about telling their children the legend of Santa. Some even let others know, in no uncertain terms, that they should not shatter the image of Santa for their little ones.

Granted, no harm comes from this action, as far as I know, but do these folk hold the same idea about other untruths that do no harm? Or do we pick and choose what lie suits us to support?  And is it a good idea to always tell the truth? Obviously, those who propagate the idea of Santa do not believe so.

Even the Bible makes exceptions to the ninth Commandment. Rahab, in the Book of Joshua, hid spies sent by Joshua and said she did not know where they were when the king’s men came and asked after the spies with intent to kill them. Rahab was rewarded by God for doing this because she saved the good from the evil. So, is it acceptable to lie if it is for the greater good? After all, the ninth Commandment reads “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor” which could be loosely interpreted to mean “do not lie if the lie will hurt others”, but what about if the lie will help others?

Many good, kind people lied to save their Jewish friends during the Holocaust. Was this wrong? If a friend makes something she is proud of and asks your opinion, do you compliment it even if you do not think it is attractive? What about one who asks you if she/he looks fat in a favorite outfit, and you think they do? What do you say then? Especially if this person is insecure and sensitive.

Like I said, too many gray areas. Maybe it is best to follow your heart and say what will do no harm but will lead to a greater good.

When Life Gives You Snow…

Earlier this year, our part of the midwest was impacted by a snowstorm that wreaked havoc in some towns and made for difficult commutes throughout the area. Those who needed to drive were no doubt on edge as they tried to navigate in the less-than-ideal conditions.

One neighboring community decided to work together to make the situation a little lighter; together the residents, many of whom were most likely working from home because of the pandemic, built more than two dozen snowmen to line their street. Those commuters who drove through were treated to the more pleasant aspects of being dumped on by a mountain of snow. They slowed down, took in the smiling faces and no doubt went on their way feeling a bit lighter and brighter because a neighborhood decided to turn a snowstorm into happy snowmen.

When the story was featured on local news outlets, many drove through that street just to admire the snowmen.

This haiku was born out of that neighborly effort.

When Life Gives You Snow …

Traffic jam frustrates,

until the sight of snowmen.

Slow down now welcome.

The Mark of the Serpent

One day I thought of how my heart raced at the sight of someone I loved, as well as when I was fearful. This haiku grew out of that contemplation of two polar opposite emotions that each caused the heart to speed up.


My heart races

at the sight of those I love,

and the serpent.

I have a deep-seated loathing for snakes. When someone dismisses a slithering creature as just a garter snake that does nothing to quell the venom that rises up in me. There is a reason for this.

When I was about nine a friend and neighbor was bitten by a rattlesnake and died a few days later. This experience has left an indelible mark in my psyche, and the sight of a snake releases the fight or flight, mostly flight, response without fail.

At that time, we lived in an Amerindian village called Orealla, in Guyana. The Amerindians are the indigenous people of that area of the world. In Orealla the chief tribes are the Arawak and Warrau. Errol was of Arawak descent.

Although the presence of snakes was common, and we knew they were deadly, the sight of snakes did not repel me with the force that it did after Errol was bitten. We would often find the common labaria (pit viper) coiled in cool places under the house or in the outhouse, or the venomous parrot snake camouflaged in a bush. Apart from the flash of fear at the sudden encounter these left no lasting impression. But then, I had not yet known anyone who had suffered a snakebite.

I described the day Errol was bitten in my memoir. That excerpt follows.

The crowd had grown, and several people now formed a barrier between the cassava trough that sat just outside the hut and the low, wooden bench at the edge of the open floor. They were riveted to the spot looking down at the floor with rapt attention. Some of the women had a hand over their mouths, never a good sign. I could not see what was going on because of the mass of bodies before me, but I had the advantage of being small and wiry. Soon I had a front row view. Errol was lying on jute bags spread on the bare earthen floor. Owah Moshe, his grandfather, had his mouth to a spot near Errol’s ankle. He was sucking at it and spitting out blood. Errol’s father seemed to be holding on tightly to something in front of him. I assumed it was Errol’s leg because of his position but his back was to me and blocked my view.

I inched my way further to the right until I was able to see Errol. His mother cradled his head in her lap as she dabbed at his face with a cloth. The look on Errol’s face scared me; it was twisted in pain and had become darker, and he had a strange look in his eyes, as if he was not seeing anything even though they were open. When his mother raised his head and wiped the corner of his mouth there was a bright red spot on the cloth.

The crowd had grown and now formed a circle around the four. I was being squeezed against the bench, but I had seen enough and did not want to be there any longer. I felt sick and needed to get away, so I wiggled my way out of the mass of bodies and headed for home. The strange knot in the middle of my stomach that threatened to empty its contents was new to me.

Delia caught up with me. She and my sister had seen the crowd and had left their chores to come see what was going on. She took my hand and walked back to the house with me.

I was too caught up in watching what was happening with Errol to hear the whispers of the crowd behind me. Delia filled me in. She told me that it was a snake bite and that my sister was talking to Roy, my nephew, who was with Errol when he was bitten. The two had gone up Sand hill to fetch branches to make stands for smoking the excess fish that Errol’s father had caught that day. It was a good catch, and they were going to slowly smoke what they did not use up right away to preserve it.

As Roy told it, he and Errol had already gathered enough branches and were about to head home when they heard a strange sound. Before either boy could react, the rattlesnake struck Errol. In a panic, they tossed the branches and ran down the hill. Breathless, they tried to explain what had happened, but they did not need to say much. The family knew through experience. Owah Moshe was summoned, and he immediately began his treatment. Roy, in a state of shock, retreated to the church steps. He could see them treating Errol until the crowd blocked his view. That was where my sister found him.

Delia dried my tears and assured me that all would be well, and that Errol would get better like his sister Tucko did when she suffered that bad cut on her neck. Delia was an Orealla native who helped us with the housework and cared for the younger children. She had witnessed many snake bites and recoveries through her lifetime and told us that Owah Moshe and many of the elders knew what roots and leaves and tree bark were good for drawing out snake poison. They also knew special ceremonies and prayers that would help Errol recover.

That night I added my own special prayer and hoped that Delia was right.

Senryu, Haiku’s Comic Cousin

Kimiko Hahn, in an article on senryu, describes this poetic form as haiku’s comic cousin https://poetrysociety.org/features/on-poetry/senryu-the-haikus-comic-cousin . Although both forms of poetry share the same unrhymed, three-line, seventeen-syllable format, the subject matter and mood of the forms differ. Haiku focuses on nature while senryu explores human nature. Unlike the seriousness of haiku, senryu has a humorous tone that takes a tongue-in-cheek look at humans. It has been described as satirical at times.

Hahn quotes the scholar Makoto Ueda’s who succinctly describes the senryu poet as one who “keenly studies various aspects of the human condition and reports his findings in a humorous way.” It has been noted that much of modern western haiku is really senryu in that the focus is mostly on human behavior.

Some examples of senryu that made me smile, all from https://kokoro-jp.com/culture/2571/  are:

I am told I look young

That is how I know

I am not young anymore

I would like to switch

To remote work

But I don’t have a job

I go by car

To the gym

To ride a bicycle

I take great pleasure in composing senryu as well as haiku. When I am in zen mode the words of a haiku flow, when I sense the humor in our foibles then I am ready to poke fun, in seventeen syllables in three unrhymed lines, at the eccentricities that make us different and interesting. Shakespeare’s “brevity is the soul of wit” is what comes to mind as I write senryu.

This senryu was composed on a visit with a physician.

Cura te ipsum

Doc says to lose weight

for my health and well-being.

Then his button pops.

The more condensed version, which I prefer, of Cura te ipsum:

Doc says lose weight

for better health.

His button pops.

 Have fun with senryu!