Nov. 30: Cretan

In an oak grove where we used to camp
as Girl Scouts, several decades later a young
Boy Scout outlined a labyrinth behind
the church where we’d attend Girl Scout
Sundays and my sister eventually married,

and all that came rushing back as I
walked the seven-circuit path whose
origins lie in ancient Crete—not a maze
but a single circular path leading to and fro,
bringing the wanderer back to the place
where she first began—

which is perhaps why visions of girls
in sleeping bags landed on me like oaks
releasing acorns and trefoil leaf clusters,
of learning how uncomfortable it was
to try to sleep on the ground, colder
than expected, of my Girl Scout buddy
tugging on me in the night because she

had to use the bathroom, and your buddy
had to accompany you everywhere,
and, as I walked the concentric circles
backward into my life, I found myself
apologizing to that long-ago buddy
whom I refused to accompany, not
wanting to wander the chilly night,
green flashlight in hand, more than
a half century later ashamed of my
selfishness, murmuring I’m sorry
to the trees rustling in autumn
shade, until I returned to the beginning,
having no idea how I’d gotten there.

(Photo / Jan Haag)
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Nov. 29: Earthrise as seen from Orion Spacecraft

Oh, there should be a waltz playing
behind this slow reveal—the Blue Danube

or a delicate Chopin piano tune—as
the moonshadow lowers at an oblique angle,

exposing the tiny blue dot seemingly
alone in the inkiness of space:

our home planet beamed back to us
like a dazzling smile, the place that holds

everyone we have ever known, ever loved,
which is why a gentle, lilting song might

remind us that all this fussing and fighting,
my friends, makes no sense. Here’s this

manmade creation sent into space for
a close moon flyby, looking over its shoulder

like a kid finding his balance on a two-wheeler,
pedaling off on a big explore. Its electronic

eye focuses backward on the third planet
from the sun silently emerging into its

star’s dazzle as if to say, Look: Home.
The only one you will ever know.

It’s not too late. Cherish it, and, while
you’re at it, each other.

Artemis/Orion selfie (Photo / NASA)
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Nov. 28: Etomology

(the origin of a word and the historical development of its meaning)

Though I don’t play, I love
to peruse lists of new Scrabble words
that have entered the game:
hangry
onesie
spork
horchata
skeezy

which make me smile, but then the mind twists over
grawlix
which I should know because we use them all the time
typographical symbols used to replace words,
often swear words

and
embiggen (to increase in size), which makes sense
when you think about it

and the ones we’ve recently learned, not knowing we were
embracing new language:
pageview
subtweet
unfollow
unmute
vax

and I love that
guac (the yummy green avocado glop)
has made it in
along with
zedonk (a cross between a zebra and a donkey)
and
Jedi (at long last!)

And new abbreviations that I hear from young ones:
Here’s the sitch, one might say.
Let’s have a convo, about that, maybe a Zoomer?

To which I might add (as Scrabble has)
Yeehaw!

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Nov. 27: Sparky

in memory of Charles Schulz on his 100th birthday

Never thought I’d meet and interview him,
let alone have a hot dog with him in the
Warm Puppy Café,

but as long as I live, I’ll cherish the ride
on the back of a Zamboni around his ice rink
with the man who made the ice resurfacing

machine famous, as if he had all the time
in the world for a young reporter trying to
disguise her devotion to his characters—

not least the beagle atop his doghouse
typing stories—as we cruised the ice,
my cheeks and fingers red with cold,

watching the newly smoothed surface
pass beneath us, as clean and shiny as
Charlie Brown’s sweet head.    

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Nov. 26: All cleared out

How good it feels to empty a space
that stored my stuff for far too long—
a good seven years—for which I paid
for far too long, really a good-sized
walk-in closet a mile and a half
from home.

But Dick and I cleared out the last
of it the day after Thanksgiving—
two car loads, trundling box by box
to the garage where I will eventually
sift through it, discarding, if I am
motivated, more than I save.

Everything I need is here, at home,
along with much I don’t, the stuff
of a lifetime. This existence does not
need to be so deeply archived, though
I still have papers—so many papers!—
and books that will—let’s face it—
never be enshrined in a library.

Fall falls over us now, the last
ginkgo fans fluttering to earth
as the month swings into December.
I admire the trees’ annual letting go,
how effortless it appears. They don’t
cling to what needs to be released.

I close the garage, walk to my favorite
ginkgo that lives down the block,
scoop up some of its cast-off gold fans
to last me through winter, hoping,
somehow, to absorb a bit of this elder’s
equanimity.

Leafed or bare, the ginkgo
stands tall amid delicate breezes,
blazing sun, pelting rain, mindful
of all that passes, all that grows
and lives and dies, not taking any
of it too seriously, understanding,
somehow, that everything that
comes and goes, delightful or
tragic, is all just
weather.

Photo / Dick Schmidt
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Mixed feelings on Black Friday

(not for the squeamish)

An hour before leaving for my family’s
Thanksgiving gathering at my sister
and brother-in-law’s house, I heard
Diego’s hunting trill and went
to investigate. Sure enough, the big
dumb orange boy cat had the big rat
cornered behind two boxes I’d
moved to the kitchen.

“Wait here,” I said to them both,
hurrying to open the back door,
hoping to make a clear path to
freedom, then moved Diego, tail
swishing in annoyance, out of
the kitchen.

But the rat I’ve been thinking of
for ages as “her” did not take the hint,
dashing under the Brand New Stove
to encounter a devilish sticky trap
placed there as a last-ditch resort.

I texted Jason the rat guy
(“sorry to disturb your holiday;
this can wait till tomorrow”)
with a photo of her stuck on the trap,
eyes wide, both of us horrified that
it had come to this. Jason texted back
a big thumb’s up, and I took my
heavy heart to my sister’s house
with a new rat tale in the long saga.

This morning Jason came to retrieve her,
expired under the Brand New Stove.

“I can’t watch,” I told Jason, stepping
out of the kitchen, as he deposited
what I hope is the last bit of rodentia
in the house in a white plastic bag.

“He’s a big one,” Jason said as he
went out the front door.

“Not a she?” I asked.

“I doubt it,” Jason said,
which didn’t make me feel better
about the calculated demise
of a long-term housemate.

But after he left, I sighed with relief,
listening into the silence,
a weary veteran of this years-long
siege, daring to imagine that
it might finally be over.

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Nov. 24: Gratefully, joyfully, abundantly

thankful I am—moreso every year
I live on the planet—that I can rise

on a pearly day of gratitude to walk
with thousands, whose every step

benefits those who hunger, from
those of us who generally do not,

who will turn to tables laden with
every manner of food and feed,

if we are lucky, with loved ones,
thinking of the ones we love not present,

joyfully grateful for them, too
and all the abundance that graces us

as we remember to not simply walk
by those in need, but to reach out

a hand, extend a little genuine kindness,
every chance we get.

Photo / Jan Haag
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Nov. 23: Sue’s 65th b.d.

To me, fair friend, you can never be old,
For as you were as first your eye I eyed…

—from Sonnet 104, William Shakespeare

Because your eyes are the same as those of
the 8-year-old next door, whose neighborhood
next to a lake, amid oak trees, was now mine,

and how you welcomed my sister and me,
you, the cherished only child, acquiring two
sorta sisters next door in the blink of a summer day,

whether you wanted us or not, and I,
lucky girl, without knowing it, had found a
best friend nine months older and a head taller,

who, still, now and always, is the one I think
of first when someone asks about childhood
memories. Your eyes, still hazel, your capable

surgeon’s hands, your heart grown more
generous with age—still you, still Sue,
and we lucky ones, so many of us,

to have you in our lives, who cherish you,
thank you for all you’ve brought to our lives,
wish you well and send you great joy.

Dr. Susan Lester, Four Paws Animal Clinic, Nevada City, CA,
with birthday cake and lunch kindly provided by the excellent staff (Photo / Jan-babe)
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Nov. 22: Schlepping

Did I learn the word from Marty Weisinger,
my father’s Army buddy who traveled 400 miles

ages ago to introduce my sister and me to the only
Jewish deli in Sacramento, to experience giant

kosher pickles and pastrami for the first time?
Or perhaps my father used it, he the Lutheran

raised outside Chicago, it and other Yiddish
words making their way into my vocabulary.

And there’s really no better word for it as I
begin to clear out a storage space I’ve paid for

for far too long, with help from the 79-year-old
sweetheart who should not be schlepping but wants

to lend a hand and take photos, and the 28-year-old
assistant, a master schlepper/organizer (bless her).

I claim my lifelong habit as an acquirer, now
doing my best to un-acquire, shed a lifetime

of acquisitions—or at least the ones of lesser
importance, the what was that for? and

the easily let go. And so we three schlepp
and load, drive home, unload, adding,

for the moment, to the garage collection
waiting for sorting, stirring in me, at least,

a desire for good pastrami and (thank you,
Marty) don’t forget the pickle.

Dick, Jan and Dani / photo by Dick Schmidt
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Scooter

for Kevin and Lauren

My sister and I had an antique
inherited from who knows where—
a heavy metal, fat rubber-tired
model that our father refurbished,
a slowpoke model that made it
harder for me, the klutzy one,
to fall off, but a form of transport
that neither of us clamored to ride.

Today, an ample half century after
we looked for wheels to carry us
around our rural neighborhood,
I walked a sidewalk that circled two
playing fields a couple miles away,
hearing a rhythmic clack-clack-clack
behind me, something coming lickety-split,
(clearly not another sneaker’d senior walker),
so I pulled right and paused to see
what could possibly—

and there, in red helmet and on a sharp
silver scooter rocketed my nephew—
or a kid who looked just like him
when he was about ten—rolling over
sidewalk sections and laying down
a percussive beat I could’ve marched to.

The kid zoomed by, saying nothing,
focused on what lay ahead, and I could
not stop the word or the laugh that
burst from me—Kevin!—because it
went by that fast for me, his childhood
and his sister’s, both of them now
grownup teachers, one of them still
scootering, both soaring into their futures,
always looking forward, wind in their faces,
advancing onward, Aunt Jan happily
applauding from behind.

Photo / Aunt Jan
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