Susan Chute, one of the founders of Next Year's Words and the coordinator of the evening this week, is an artist with words, and she wrote a very affirming and encouraging introduction for me with information she drew information from writing I have done in workshops with her, and from my blog and art website. She has given me permission to share that introduction here, which I do to show Susan's way with words and also to comment on what her words did for me.
For some time I've been puzzled about how I can best combine my interests in writing with my sketching and painting, and Susan's words were like a key that unlocked that mystery for me. After hearing how Susan perceives my words and paintings, I have a clearer picture of how I would like to move forward with my artistic endeavors. It is a gift to have insights and encouragement from others. Thank you very much, Susan, for this wonderful intro and also for inviting me to read!
After we admired Broken Arch we continued on the trail, which turned out to be much longer than we had expected. We passed by some marvelous formations that begged to be climbed on, and the children and I climbed way up. The view from the top of some tall fins was fabulous, and I felt like a mountain goat as I stood in the wind with my hair flying around my head. —Journal page, Melissa FischerTo say that Melissa Fischer is an avid observer of nature is a colossalunderstatement, like saying New Paltz has a little college. From my 30-year-NYC urban perspective, Melissa Fischer IS nature. She is a goat, she is acreature “launching herself down the eroded hill, leaping from rock to ridge,ricocheting to the next narrow ridge beside water-gouged gashes.” Like many inthe kingdom of fauna, she has a wide and keen field of vision, which she uses towrite and draw, and her words and watercolors visualize on paper what I movedto New Paltz to notice. If you want to see what I mean, find her blogs on theweb, and you will enter an exquisitely rendered marriage of word and image.
Melissa spent many happy childhood hours immersed in the world ofnature and animals that she found at a nearby wildlife sanctuary and at homewith her devoted pets: passions that have only become more intense in her adultlife. In recent years, Wallkill Valley Writers has inspired her to reconnect withthe realm of memory. She has exhibited her artwork in many libraries and galleries and shortly will be leaving for Acadia National Park in Maine, where she has been selected as an artist-in-residence.
Turn to your right and follow Melissa and her dog on wide, dirt trails tounexpected places. You will see things you never noticed before. Pleasewelcome Melissa Fischer.
Here are the pieces of my writing that I read:
I am going to read five short pieces I wrote that are my musings about times either at or near my home or my parents’ home. I’ve ordered them according to the time of day they are about, starting with the wee hours of the morning.
The soft sound of rain lures me from my bed. Never mind that it’s 2:53 AM, or perhaps because it is, I’m drawn outside. With dark pajama bottoms, raincoat and Muck shoes, I’ll be pretty much invisible in the warm, wet night. Petra is the obvious choice of a walking companion. The quietest of my dogs and with almost no white fur, she also will be invisible and unobtrusive.
I flip off the motion sensitive outdoor lights so they won’t intrude on the darkness, slip into the night and look around, Petra quietly by my side. Fireflies twinkle over the swamp… not many-- they’re just getting started for the season, but a sight that always fills me with wonder and that I can’t bear to miss. A pinprick glows in the grass at my feet – glowworm?
I walk slowly, Petra padding by my side with an occasional foray to sniff where some animal has crossed. A Tree Frog trills as I walk by the maple and another answers from across the stream. Then another, from farther back in the woods and yet another from the lilacs. I’m surrounded by animal life, mostly hidden from my sight, but going about their lives on their land. The night is theirs; I am just a visitor in their world.
Fall in a Field
I grumbled a bit as I grabbed my keys and headed out the door. Why, oh why does some neighbor have to play a saxophone by an open window starting at 6:30 every morning? I didn’t really feel like going out, but I wanted to find out who was so inconsiderate, so we could ask them to please shut their window before practicing.
Well, I didn’t find out who our morning musician is, but I did decide that, since I was already out anyway, I might as well go lay a track for my Beagle Milo. In theory I love going out to lay a track for my dog first thing in the morning. In practice, it’s hard to get dressed to leave the house, when I’m usually still padding around in pajamas and bathrobe with a steaming mug of tea. And actually, I scarcely qualified as “dressed” this morning, which I realized when I got back home and looked in the mirror to see my hair unbrushed, my shirt askew, with the collar cockeyed, and my nice blazer now covered with stick-tights. I don’t normally wear a blazer to lay a track. In fact, I don’t normally wear a blazer at all. It just happened to be the nearest thing when I grabbed for something to keep me warm in my not-quite-awake state. I was also wearing crocs, not hiking boots.
The field was heavy with dew and had a magical feel in the early morning quiet. Apricot colored clouds piled high in the sky, shimmering in the sunrise. Given my atypical garb, fortunately I was alone in the field—always a plus for this nature-loving introvert. I looked at the distant trees and found two points I could line up to help me lay a straight track and I walked, then looked back to see my path clear and dark green through the lighter-colored wet grass. Choosing two more points, I walked in another direction, laying a second leg and then another and yet another. Birds called, but otherwise the morning was quiet. Too cool for insects to be on the move yet, but scattered wildflowers were raising their pretty faces to the sun. I lost myself in the joy of being out alone, and didn’t notice the stick-tights or the wet pant legs and socks until I got back to my car. And I didn’t care then; it had been the perfect start to my day.
Three and a half hours later I returned to the field with my happily dancing Beagle, both of us eager to run the track. The fields were now dry in the sunshine, the fragrance of fall-on-a-warm-day filling the air. A fragrance that instantly brings a kaleidoscope of memories to mind—riding my bike through leafy paths as a young child; running through cabbage fields for cross-country practice in high school; toting a heavy bag of apples across campus from an orchard to my college dorm room. I paused to relish my memories, then was brought back to the present by my gleeful Milo, who could hardly contain his excitement.
We ran the track, Milo tracking enthusiastically and well, me enjoying the connection with my dog, the connection with nature, and the connection with the part of myself that thrives on the simple pleasure of being outside fully immersed in the present moment.
Perhaps tomorrow I’ll find our saxophone alarm clock and lay another track.
I wrote this next piece sitting on a bridge over the stream that runs by our house.
The water strider works his way upstream with effort-filled jerks, then turns and strides gracefully back down, each tiny foot barely dimpling the surface of the water in little bowl-shaped depressions and casting shadows on the streambed—darker ovals on the golden brown mud lining the stream. He repeats this endeavor over and over. Once when he nears me, I glance down to look more closely at him. Instead I notice two tiny eyes pointing in my direction… miniscule eyes moving slightly from side to side on the tips of small stalks down under several inches of water.
It takes me a moment to determine what the stalks are attached to, since their snail is covered with algae and is moving very, very slowly, across an algae-coated rock under the water. He is moving so slowly and apparently gently that he doesn’t even disturb the pearl-like bubbles on the rock’s surface. I watch, engrossed, over the next several minutes, as the snail moves about a centimeter closer, first sliding his foot a millimeter or two, then pausing before hitching his shell along to catch up with his foot, all along slowly moving his eyes on their stalks. Is he watching me watching him?
I hold my cell phone down by the water to take a close-up of the snail in hopes that I can see him better that way than I can from my perch on the steeply sloped stone of the stream’s bank. I carefully align the phone and snap a photo. The snail’s stalked eyes still watch me, moving slightly in the current. The water strider strides purposefully upstream again, his shadows, magnified by the water, moving along the golden brown mud.
Rocking back on my heels, I lift my phone to look at my photo of the snail and the shadows …and look again… There is no snail on the screen of my phone, no golden brown shadows… Instead the screen is all blue and white…
I look again at the stream and there is the snail and the golden brown, oval shadows now moving downstream. I look up; blue sky and clouds. I look back at the stream. Water strider, snail, shadows. Looking again, I slowly draw my focus up from the bottom of the stream and finally see blue sky and white clouds, perfectly reflected from above on the surface of the water.
My Chestnut Stump – This next piece is about a favorite childhood spot where the stump of a chestnut tree stood. Almost all American chestnuts had been killed by a blight before I was born, but until then, much of the Northeast was covered with chestnut forest.
I approached the stump slowly. The skeleton of an old chestnut tree, it stood with smooth, curved ribs pointing to the sky. Hidden deep in the woods, far from any path, my stump rose high above a precipice, the evening sun making the grey wood glow golden.
I always felt a sense of awe as I approached The Stump. I had never seen a living chestnut in all its glory, but this stump stood with a dignity not common among the trees in the sanctuary. Majestic even in death, my chestnut stood with purpose, connecting heaven and earth for me.
I close my journal, lay down my pen and turn off the light. Bedtime after a full day. But… I cannot resist the call of the night, so I step out, quietly shut the door, and slip into another world.
The half moon shines bright over the heavy silhouettes of the maples flanking the orchard. The Evening Star—Venus—is still hanging above the western hills, brighter than any of the stars that shine from unimaginable distances. I scan the sky until I come to the Big Dipper, a familiar friend I’ve known since childhood. Tracing a line through the two end stars of the dipper and beyond, I meet the North Star, and from there find the Little Dipper. Some of its stars are almost too faint to see; I can only discern them because I know by heart where they have to be.
I search the sky again and think that perhaps I’ve found Cygnus, the Swan, but I’m not sure. It’s odd how I barely remember the constellations I learned in more recent years but know well the ones Papa taught me so long ago. Thank you, Papa, for this, among many other things you taught me of the world of nature.
The nearby rushing of the creek draws my attention, and I listen—to the water running endlessly over smooth rocks between mossy banks, to the crickets singing in the night, to the lack of traffic noise. This last pauses my mental meandering, and I savor the absence of noise and the clarity of the sounds of nature—the music of creation with my ears tuned to its subtle melody.