Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter is new life, new hope

Many years ago, a friend of mine told me that her parents would wake her every Easter morning with the words: “Arise! The Lord is risen!”

I thought it was a beautiful tradition, and I began waking my children the same way.

Today in churches around the world, Christians will marvel at the 2,000-year-old retelling of the Resurrection story from Matthew 28:1-7:

“After the Sabbath as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene came with the other Mary to inspect the tomb. Suddenly there was a mighty earthquake, as the angel of the Lord descended from heaven. He came to the stone, rolled it back, and sat on it. In appearance he resembled a flash of lightning while his garments were as dazzling as snow. The guards grew paralyzed with fear of him and fell down like dead men. Then the angel spoke, addressing the women: ‘Do not be frightened. I know you are looking for Jesus the crucified, but He is not here. He has been raised, exactly as he promised. Come and see the place where He was laid. Then go quickly and tell His disciples: He has been raised from the dead and now goes ahead of you to Galilee, where you will see Him.’”

Every year I pin an old Easter card on my bulletin board with the message:

“Easter is … new life, new hope – that all things can change, that we have another chance to glow and grow and share the life of the Lord with each other!”

Eggs symbolize new life, and they are everywhere. We dye them spring colors with our children and hide them in our yards for the little ones to find. We bake them in our breads.

Beautiful flowers also remind us of springtime and new life. Easter lilies adorn our church altars. Daffodils and tulips poke through the earth and brighten up our landscape.

In addition, new life is depicted by baby animals – downy yellow chicks; soft cuddly bunnies; and sometimes playful puppies.

Last week my husband visited the local shelter looking for a large dog to fill our kennel, vacated by the loss of our Jack Russell terrier last fall. But instead he rescued a tiny 21-week-old, 8-pound Yorkie mix that he named Buddy.

He had dirty, long, matted, white strands of hair and sad dark eyes.

The caretaker of the pound told my husband that the Yorkie was abandoned, found in a box by the side of the highway.

As I write this, Buddy is curled up nearby.

All things can change. Easter means a second chance for Buddy and for us.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Spring fever strikes winter weary

I dream of sandcastles, sun-drenched weekends, balmy breezes and barbecues.

But winter still holds us in its cold, hard grasp.

A week before Easter in late March, I see little signs of the new season, although the groundhog predicted an early spring.

Leaving work Thursday night in a blizzard, I prayed all the way home.

Pelted by wild, wind-driven snow, my sports car crawled. There was little visibility or traction; and the lanes of the highway were obscured by several inches of snow.

Yet the forecast was flurries. Go figure.

Today is sunny at Fogland State Beach, belying the biting gale outside the truck window. It feels more like a day in January.

We watch the surf slam the shore for a few seconds before we hear it. The angry wind is sandblasting our vehicle.

My husband cranks the starter, and the powerful Dodge Ram Hemi propels us in breakneck speed atop the frozen sand.

We like our navy blue paint just fine.

Heading up High Hill Road to the summer place, we park in the backyard and immediately notice something is wrong with the boat.

The black cover for the Tohatsu engine, that was duct-taped and tied with rope, has gone missing.

We scour the yard and search the farmland that abuts the property – all to no avail.

During our last visit here, we found the boat antenna had snapped in half. It hangs eerily overhead as we contemplate this winter’s escapades.

Tree limbs still decorate the lawn, and I notice a tabby cat weaving her way around them. Her yellow coat is a bright spot of color in the dull grey-brown backdrop of broken branches, stunted lawn and drooping sea grass.

We begin to back up when I see the daffodils waving furiously, as if to catch our attention. Holding onto their roots for dear life, they seem confused and in utter amazement at the world they’ve grown up into. Snow still clings to the trunk of a tree nearby.

As we drive away, the summer house looks forlorn; and it’s hard to imagine that in less than two months we will be back for another season in the sun.

But in the interim, we will continue to wear our woolen coats, fur-lined boots, scarves and gloves. Snow is predicted for Monday.

Nevertheless, we’ve learned an invaluable lesson: Never trust a groundhog.





Saturday, March 16, 2013

Pope Francis makes a world of difference

Just before twilight, we hike to the mountain lake. It is bitter cold, and the lake is an endless field of virgin snow.

A bright blue ice house sits on the surface, and I wonder if the occupant is safe inside.

As night falls, we climb the steep hill to the country inn and yearn to be warm again.

I imagine the huge keeping room, the logs burning brightly in the fireplace, the plaid wingback chair that I long to sink into.

On an anniversary weekend getaway in New Hampshire, we are three hours away from home; but distance will not erase the workings of my mind.

No matter where I go, I cannot escape the happenings of this past week.

It is a great time to be a religion writer.

Moving the red and black checkers on the other side of the table, I set my laptop down and begin to write in the midst of the busy lobby, while guests check in and children race back and forth.

A woman settles onto the couch with her grandson. She speaks French to the child, and the beautifully sounding words are like music, so foreign to my ears but yet so natural.

The people of the world came together this week in a way I have never experienced before.

Awaiting news of the new pope, all eyes were fixed on the Vatican; and in Latin, Italian, Spanish, English and thousands of other dialects spoken around the planet, word finally came.

The new world leader and successor to the See of Peter is Pope Francis.

Seventy-six-year-old Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina had been elected by the conclave.


And then the reporters went to work:

The first Jesuit … the first non-European in a millennium … the first Latin American … the first Argentinian … humble … compassionate … devoted to the poor … an advocate for social justice … a scholar and teacher … lives simply … rides the bus … a man of the people ... unpretentious … wears a white cassock and simple wooden cross … slips out of the Vatican to pay a bill and then again to visit an ailing priest in the hospital … preaches from the pulpit like a parish priest rather than sitting and reading in the tradition of his predecessors … the first pope to choose Francis (with no Roman numeral after his name) in honor of the saint, a servant of the sick and poor …

And the people rejoiced.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

‘Till even the comforting barn grows far away’

A view of our barn from the house during Friday's storm.

Surveying the damage from yet another nor’easter, I think we were pretty lucky.

A tree near the dog kennel snapped from the burden of snow and tug of wind.

The accordion truck bed cover on the Dodge Ram collapsed from the massive weight of water, snow and ice.

Looking around the yard, there are so many broken limbs that we’ll have to wait until the snow melts to unearth them. Two logs still cling to the snow-covered roof from the last storm.

Yet overall, we view this latest onslaught by Mother Nature as just another chapter of this highly unpredictable winter.

Shoveling the brick front stairs and path to the driveway, I have plenty of time to think about the extra work and hardship the recent bouts of wild weather have caused: days without power, a dwindling wood pile, empty cupboards, traffic accidents, coastal flooding, downed trees, delays and loss of wages.

But as I see the artistry around me, the puffy white cotton clinging to tree branches, dusting evergreens and creating fields of virgin snow, I am spellbound by its beauty.

The sky is blue, the air crisp and clean. Everything sparkles wearing its fresh new coat of snow.

A few years ago I spent some time at The Frost Place, Poet Robert Frost’s 1915 farm homestead in Franconia, New Hampshire.

Tucked in the White Mountains, the house offered a spectacular view; but as I gazed from his covered porch in October, I pictured what it looked like in winter.

Off the beaten path or in the words of the poet, somewhere along “the road not taken,” this place must have been cut off from civilization in wintertime.

Many of his poems are set in this remote backdrop, including “Dust of Snow,” “Fire and Ice,” “Looking for a Sunset Bird in Winter,” “The Mountain,” “An Old Man’s Winter Night,” “Snow,” “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” “A Winter Eden” and “The Wood-Pile.”

But Frost, who was aptly named, also felt the dread of a nor’easter. He captured these feelings in “Storm Fear”:

“How drifts are piled, / Dooryard and road ungraded, / Till even the comforting barn grows far away, / And my heart owns a doubt / Whether ‘tis in us to arise with day / And save ourselves unaided.”

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Signs of the times

It is officially March, but little has changed with the turn of the calendar page. There is still snow in our backyard, and downed trees and broken limbs are scattered everywhere, tangible reminders of the fierce February nor’easters that blew through here.

Early this morning temperatures hovered near freezing, as I ventured out in my wool coat, hood and gloves.

One of the best descriptions of March I have ever read is in “The New England Butt’ry Shelf Almanac” written by Mary Mason Campbell from her white eighteenth-century farmhouse in Salisbury, New Hampshire.

“March is a play actor, an Indian giver,” she said. “March is a warm soft spring day and a sudden blizzard; a balmy breeze from the south and icy blast from the north; a sudden downpour and a blaze of bright sunshine. March is a night sky of intense black and sparkling silver, or an awesome aurora borealis of shimmering color, or a flash of lightning and a crash of thunder."

Leaving our Massachusetts' home, my husband and I drive over the bridge at the end of our road and notice the river racing swiftly downstream, the abnormally high water level the result of Wednesday’s constant rain and the surge of melted snow.

When we reach Seapowet Bridge in Tiverton, Rhode Island, we once again marvel at the incredibly high water level, this aberration probably more the result of the high tide than recent rainfall.

Geese congregate in the wetlands along Neck Road, happily paddling around the new waterways that have formed within the trees.

As we turn into Fogland Beach, we notice that the road is filled with rainwater. Wading through the stream, we feel like we’re inside a boat rather than a truck.

Parking near a picnic table, my husband can’t wait to walk the beach; but I stay inside gazing out at the panorama before me, looking for signs of spring.

The sea and sky are mirror images of each other, a steely gray; and the brisk wind, cold and unforgiving.

Within minutes my husband is back in the truck, and we head up High Hill Road to the summer house.

Driving into the backyard, we notice that the weeping willow has carpeted the winter grass with its many branches.

My husband gets out of the truck to check his boat and finds the antenna broken in half.

But then I see them along the stone wall. Poking through hard, cold earth and dodging stones and twigs, the daffodils wave in the wind.