Back in Business

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It may not look like much yet…

Spring has fully returned to north Texas. That means repeated visitations from wind and tornado warnings, thunderstorms that lead to flash floods, and threats of baseball sized hail. More often, though, it means warm temperatures and plants seeming to grow 50% taller in a day. And it brings on bud, leaf and bloom with a flourish that reminds me how showy and productive a Texas garden can be at its—however brief—peak.

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Will you think me impertinent if I show you my bloomers?

A Saturday outing is splashed with roadside waves of Showy Primrose, Paintbrush and Bluebonnets, and the trees are bursting with a dense, cheering liveliness that belies the likelihood of a relatively short span of such intense lushness.photo montage

Our own garden is reawakening, sending up promises left and right of everything from capsicum and tomato, parsley and kale to the same primrose standard-bearers ushering in roses, Salvia and Echinacea. The saplings garnered of the city’s largesse in the annual tree giveaway—redbud, Mexican Plum and Texas Ash, to date—are awakening as well. Though the odd temperature fluctuations and ice storms this winter hindered their bloom, they are leafing out in style. And as much as I’ve been known to vilify and slander all of squirrel-dom as thieving rats, I will grant them all manner of amnesty for their one generous act of planting acorns across our property and providing a welcome lagniappe of oak seedlings in my planters for the increase of our little backyard grove.

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I’m up to my irises in spring bloom…

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Can you blame me for being dazzled?

For shorter-term flair, it would be hard to argue with iris as my chief fancy at this time of year. Always a favorite flower for both my partner and me, it was the centerpiece of our wedding design, courtesy of Mom’s garden, and an indulgent purchase last fall in the form of a self-gifted bunch of fans for the garden here. Along with the classic lavender bearded and highly perfumed variety given us by a dear friend, the newcomers are flourishing in their bed in the front corner of our lot, and I am wholly enamored of their flashy, curling flounces and the radiant tendrils of their beards. The graphic drama sustained by their swordlike leaves after the flowers pass is a pleasing bonus of irises’ appeal, but the magnificence of a bed in full bloom will always be one of my most beloved signs that this season of nature’s great exuberance is in full swing, a grand hurrah in floral form.photo

If You don’t Like the Weather, Wait a Minute

photoHave you ever seen a pigeon flying backward? I did today. This phenomenal occurrence was not because I spotted a mutant genius helicopter pigeon; that really might be a matter for tales of magic and fantasy, given the modern pigeon’s brain.

It was that windy. The pigeon was making a valiant effort to take off from the edge of a roof and, blown instead straight backward, finally saw the same edge directly under him and came right back in for a landing. What’re you gonna do?

The wind is giving us a good whack here in north Texas today. Two days ago, it was over 80°F/27°C, brilliantly sunny, and calm as a sleeping cat. Tonight, we’re told, we can expect freezing temperatures and should cover all of our tender plants in the garden. A couple of days before our balmy pseudo-summer day, we had a storm pass through. Parts of our town had a little thunder and lightning and a fair amount of rain with a little bit of hail mixed in it, but nothing extravagant by local standards. Our house was in that lucky sector, and so was our car while we drove home in The Weather. Just across town, others were not so fortunate: some had hail the size of golf balls or larger, and tornado-like gusts, and among the downed trees and limbs there were homes where the roofs were destroyed or caved in, cars were damaged or totaled by metal-dimpling all over and glass smashed through, and interiors soaked with the rain and debris thrown in through the broken windows.

We’re torn, in more ways than strictly the physical, around here.

We crave every drop of H2O that we can squeeze out of the sky; even after a relatively mild number of months, our lake levels continue to be well below their norms, some still fully in drought status. It’s not considered a plus if you can drive directly to where your boat is moored, in case anyone wondered. All the same, if the moisture is dumped all at once as though shot through giant firehoses, it doesn’t always stay where it’s needed but instead causes flash floods, undermines foundations, uproots vegetation and breaks down buildings and roads left and right.

Doesn’t matter what you call it—climate change, global warming, a thirty-year cycle, or evil pixies run amok—the weather all around this wonderful, messy planet is more extreme than it had been for much of recent history. The extremes are more extreme, the heat and cold, the wind and dead stillness, the flooding and droughts. Only the inconsistency of the weather seems to be more, well, consistent.

All somewhat amusing, if the worst one experiences is the occasional sighting of a pigeon flying backward. But of course, that’s the least of it. Ask our neighbors who sustained major damage to house, car and property all at once last week. Ask the people—the peoples—displaced by tornado and typhoon, those who have lost home and family to the floods and famines that massacre everyone in their paths throughout whole regions.

I don’t much care about whether we’re partly to blame for the seeming extra intensity of nature’s capriciousness and fury at this point. It’s not all that different, in my mind, from all of the displacements, distortions and destruction in history that we can absolutely attribute to human invasion, conquest, greed, prejudice, ignorance and evil. As horrible as that stuff all, genuinely, is, it is: it exists, already. What matters is what we do now in order not to perpetuate the ills, and better yet, to mitigate them as best we can. We can’t undo history, and we can’t control nature. But we can and should change our attitudes, practices and beliefs (and the governing processes needed to support those societal improvements appropriately) in whatever ways will support a far better world, one where wars, rape, murder, slavery, thievery, violence and all sorts of other horrible human actions are not only universally condemned but undesirable to enact.

And, since we expect that we, and those generations who succeed us, will continue to need to live on this specific planet and its resources, hadn’t we better think up some less selfish and more practical ways of easing the effects of nature just as much as our effects on it? We won’t likely figure out how to stop the wind from blowing with great intensity, floods from filling valleys, hail from pelting like rocks out of the sky, or lightning from searing and exploding whatever it can lay its fiery fingertip on, but if we put our minds to it, maybe we can think up some reasonable ways to protect more people, and care for those who are affected, better.

I didn’t really start out with the intent of rambling on about this stuff, but it’s on my mind. Probably not so different from the pigeon’s reaction when he discovered his original flight plan wasn’t viable. Can I fly backward? I don’t know. But I’ll bet it’s worth trying, if I find myself needing to make an emergency landing. No matter how the wind is blowing.photo

Clouding My Thoughts

As a cloud-gazing aficionado, I know I’m in good company. It’s hard not to be intrigued by the astounding amount of information, meteorological and otherwise, that one can read and guess and even predict from close observation of clouds; it’s easy to become rather obsessed with watching them and seeing what’s found in them beyond the mere factual.

And you know I am drawn to all things that invite invention.photoOur summer peregrinations offered vast quantities of opportunity in this lovely form. As passenger on 99% of our 6000 mile road trip (just as I am in our everyday life) I was free to stare into the sky whenever I wasn’t on intensive watch duty for a specific exit or landmark, and the sky when seen from the vast American plains is a grand theatre indeed. While ‘Big Sky Country‘ is one state’s nickname, and Montana is indeed a region of wide open views of the sky, even from the rugged-not-flat high plains, the US has millions of acres of land that lies relatively flat under the heavens and allows views across the miles that rival the telescopic.

I would be hard pressed to agree with those who find extensive mid-country travels boring from a viewing standpoint. The landscape may, in places, be no more varied than one kind of wild grass giving way gradually to another over wide sweeps of seldom changing topography, one tumble-down farm very much like the next, but besides that even these have their subtle differences, they are all capped by this apparently limitless height of sky. Mostly, I find this mesmerizing, even meditative. When the weather is cloudless, the intensity of the hot blue depths above, looking as though they never did and never could have anything in them change, have a kind of cobalt stolidity to them that can be oppressive but, when broken by the least irruption–a crop dusting plane coughing out its own skinny clouds, a crow chasing a hawk straight up out of a stand of mowed weeds–suddenly becomes backdrop for high drama. Indeed, as one who grew up before the special effects masters of film took to using the more popularly familiar green screen to allow the insertion of infinite inventions in CGI, I was accustomed to chroma key blue screens, so now the sky has become mine.

Still, as much as I love the clear beauty of a bold blue sky and the endless space for spectacle that it represents, when clouds come into the picture the possibilities are multiplied exponentially.

Not only do they serve as messengers of what sort of travel conditions lie ahead when I’m on the road–especially when observed from so many miles away as is possible in an open landscape–they tell stories and evoke romances tirelessly, keeping my mind a-spin with the permutations and portents I read therein. Much as I find driving in the most intense storms, day or night, a stressful challenge to my technique, never mention my eyes, the colors and textures and patterns in the clouds rarely cease to amaze and delight me, even in the center of the maelstrom. And when things settle down and the clouds begin to part and thin and allow through them those fugitive rays that remind me more truly of both the size of the clouds that it takes to fill such a hyperbolic height of sky and of the power that mere collations of mist can have when they converge for battle? Then I see again the beauty of clouds altogether, and I am on cloud nine.photo

The Road Worrier

digital photoThere is this thing called ‘Playing Chicken‘ that crazy, thrill-seeking adrenaline junkie drivers do, where they drive directly toward each other at top speed and see who can swerve the latest (or not at all) and win over the Chicken that swerves first. To me, the only logical form of this would occur in the middle of a vast desert; everyone in and cheering on the race would crash into instant atomic smithereens and then be roasted to a nice medium-rare by the resultant fire, feeding any passing buzzards and desert rats before the remaining debris became a handy rusted shelter for them from the noonday sun.digital photo My personal version of Playing Chicken is simply the act of getting behind the wheel for any driving at all.digital photoWhen my anxiety was untreated and had free rein in my limbic system, this was effectively an internal game exclusively, but it convinced me that everything visible to me from my perch in the driver’s seat was aiming directly for me and moving at the speed of light. After some useful therapy and medication, I learned that my life as a free-range chicken didn’t have to be quite so dramatic, as my perception of danger changed to what I’m told is more Normal or at least more realistic.digital photoBeing healthier did not, however, make me give up every semblance of being Chicken Little. Recognizing that the sky was not falling helped me to focus more clearly on real dangers. There are still genuine potholes for me to avoid exploring too deeply, signs and speed limits to obey, idiot lights on the dash warning me of troubles inherent in the auto itself. And there are those cocky driving fools out there who don’t have any limbic inhibition or a concept of any limits on them or their privileged status as rulers of the road.digital photoAll of this in mind, you know just how meaningful it is to me that my spouse likes, is good at, and is willing to do almost all of our driving. He’s perfectly willing to be Driving Miss Lazy [or Crazy] 99% of the time. On our summer road trip, this meant that day and night, rain or shine, on the flats and through the mountains, my favorite chauffeur was at the wheel. Not only did this free me up to be the [so-so] navigator, the [marginally better] comic relief with my goofy car songs and pseudo-conversation, and the camera-in-hand travel documentarian, it made me able to stay closer to calm sanity whether we were on the beautiful Pacific Coast meanderings of old 101 or crossing the hypnotically still stretches of rural West Texas.digital photoThat makes me one happy traveling chick. With all of that safe and comfortable road behind me it did mean that on the last couple of lengthy days heading ‘back to the barn’ I could reasonably  put in a few hours as driver myself, even during blinding thunderstorms, and not fall apart at all. And now, back home, I’m free to look back on the whole cross-country venture as great fun rather than fearful, a golden egg in my memory’s treasury. Maybe I’m not such a dumb cluck.

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Hey! Turns out the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t a train coming at me head-on, after all.

The Sun Always Returns to the Sky

digitally doctored acrylic painting on canvasThis week that is far from a fatuous statement, even from a happy-go-lucky bit of fluff like me. I am always well aware that my life is, was and (I hope) ever shall be a dance party, a dessert buffet and a self-indulgent lounge-by-the-pool compared to most others’ lives. I am grateful to be such a spoiled, blessed or insulated–depending upon your definition; I would admit to all of them in vast quantities–person and like to think that I would never take such wealth for granted.

There are always sharp reminders for me in the family, friends and friends-of-friends who are doing valiant daily battle just to be alive, and if able, to maintain a modicum of quality and dignity in that life, when they are the unwilling hosts of those unwelcome shadow companions of chronic illness–physical, mental, and/or spiritual. I do wish that there were some magic wand I could wave that would miraculously lift away all of those torments and remove the dense dark clouds of them forever, from all people. That is simply a dream, and I know it. But this week I have particular reminders quite close by, and in many ways, of how fortunate I am, and yet also how resilient and remarkable the people and the world around me are as well.

I mentioned yesterday’s storms: the tornadoes that shredded roofs, trees, tractor-trailer trucks and neighborhoods as though they were so much tissue paper. The hail that shattered shelters and windows and destroyed crops. The rain that immersed the already open wounds of the storm-beaten regions in additional water damage. And of course the early high temperatures in the area that will contribute to faster decay and more difficult cleanup and repair work to follow. And not one little iota of the damaging aspects of that touched our home or us personally. Even my tiniest dainty garden sprouts are still thrusting their green leaves upward today. In brilliant sun.

As oversized as All Things Texan can be, the moods of the weather at its wildest are for the most part quickly forgotten by the broad Texas sky, which today is intensely blue and dotted with the mildest of cotton-wool clouds and polished with blazing warm sunlight. The trees, following a light pruning by the winds that mainly took off deadwood and weak twigs in our neighborhood, are lifting their green crowns in thirst-quenched pleasure once more. Barring nuclear winter, it seems that the sun in north Texas always tends to return rather quickly after the darkest and angriest of nights.digital painting of acrylic painting on paper

The thunderclap that affected me more directly this week was not from the stormy skies of a tornado system but via a telephone call from ‘home’: Mom’s recovery from her pair of spinal fusion surgeries hit a serious setback. Her pelvis cracked in a stress fracture. What does it mean? Many more weeks of immobility and pain for someone who has already endured years of it. Another surgery–tomorrow–for the installation of yet more hardware to stabilize her fragile frame. Total bed-rest for what must seem an eon to someone who has been a virtual shut-in for a long time, the woman famous for a lifetime of being out and about taking care of all the rest of the world before her stenosis, scoliosis, Parkinson’s, and joint inflammation all combined to beat her into submission. But whose telephone calls have never ceased to be mainly aimed at reassuring those around her that she maintains her love and concern for themus–and is bracing for whatever the next phase of her fight brings. I hang up from the call and rather than going to pieces in sadness, frustration and anger over the cruelties that her health has dealt her incessantly in these last years, I am weirdly comforted that her doctors are keeping a close eye on her and have a plan for dealing with the current circumstances; that she and my father are, however nervously it may be, committed to seeing through yet another surgery and recovery process; that my sisters and relatives living nearby are keeping a close eye on them and my aunt yet again stepping in willingly to assist with Mom’s care. And that across the world we have a collective host of family and friends who are all cheering them on, willing her well, hoping and supporting in the one way that we can when we are not physically on hand or trained surgeons either one.

In the midst of all of this, the choir-conducting member of my household has the particular and specially challenging time of year that so many western musicians find mighty intense: Holy Week. Never mind that my spouse is in rehearsals for several major upcoming concerts with his and other groups at the university: yesterday afternoon he had rehearsal at 2 pm for next week’s concert with his Collegium Singers (early music choir) that will join them with the university’s Baroque Orchestra, so at the end of that rehearsal he went straight to conduct the orchestra’s rehearsal; when that one finished at 6 pm, he dashed straight over to conduct a rehearsal of the Grand Chorus, which is a combination of his Chamber Choir and Dr. Jerry McCoy’s A Cappella Choir for a major concert on the 25th of this month. Amazingly, he still made it (just) in time to meet me at 8 pm to attend A Cappella’s own concert with Dr. McCoy.

And, oh yes, I was talking about Holy Week. Because of course as my husband is still the interim choirmaster at the Anglican church, he had last weekend’s Palm Sunday services (and Evensong) to conduct, tonight’s Tenebrae service (a ‘service of darkness’ that may have special meaning for many after yesterday’s intense weather slamming the region), tomorrow’s Maundy Thursday evening service, these all interwoven with the usual things musical and administrative continuing at the university; midday and evening services on Good Friday, Easter Vigil to fill with music on Saturday evening, and Sunday morning Easter services. And all the while, day becomes night, night passes, and the sun takes over the Texas sky once more. That’s how it goes.

I merely follow in the wake of all these events and life dramas, taking up the slack in the sails of our little boat as I’m able, and keeping us provisioned with food, clean clothes (keep plenty of black shirts laundered for concerts and services!), and my numerous and sundry checklists of what to do, where to go when, and things we mustn’t forget to bring along. It makes me tired to think of doing what everyone else around me is doing; I’m just glad if I can keep fairly close as I follow them. But I suppose I’m just a little bit like the elephant-following sweeper who is reluctant to ‘leave show-business’, as I wouldn’t trade this Job, however modest it may appear, for anything else on earth. Because the sun, when it shines on me, is so incredibly life-affirming and bright and joyful that I can’t say no to its urgings to come out of the dark and Do things, however small they may be.digital + mixed media