Saturday, July 23, 2011

Life Among the Trees

I live in a forest. It is similar to a rainforest with very tall trees that provide a canopy almost like a cocoon. The lush green of the leaves on our deciduous trees is always a welcome gift from nature in April after a long, cold winter. They have provided a shade over our driveway and house for 26 years. When we acquired our land to build our house, we only cut down the trees necessary for the house and driveway. It broke my heart to have to cut down a huge ash tree that grew where the driveway was planned. 

 In the heat of summer, our trees absorb the heat and give us a shaded relief from the hot rays of the sun. Our cocoon is usually five to ten degrees cooler than the temperatures on the street at the end of our driveway. We have learned to live with the ferns, lichen and algae that come with life among the trees. Algae grows on the brick siding, the deck, the roof and parts of the front walk and driveway. It's a small price to pay for living among trees. In the late summer, the wild cherry trees leave little purple berries on the front steps and we watch the wild birds feast on them. The red cardinals and the blue jays are a great contrast against the purple berries and green leaves.

  There is always dead wood in our forest if we want to gather the hardwoods for the fireplace. If we don't gather it, the forest degrades and absorbs it. Nature turns it into rich, dark soil/compost/mulch. In the fall, when all the leaves come down, we only blow away a small part of them, away from the house and back into the woods to be recycled over the winter.

We have dappled sunlight peeking through the canopy so our house has some dark rooms during the summer, but we have become used to it. If we want a lot of light, we can walk into the sunroom where there are skylights with plenty of sun. I like to take my tea and my book to read in the sunroom. I can watch the deer, squirrels, hummingbirds, hawks and a red fox from my south windows.  


Even on a still day, there seems to be constant motion among the leaves and near the tops of the trees, there is a gentle swaying. When there is a storm, the dizzying heights of our trees are a bit scary because they bend so far. I always hold my breath and hope for the best. Most of the time, life among our trees is very peaceful and quiet, but we have become very attuned to its subtle changes.

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein is one of my favorite books.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Far, Far Away

As I watch the evening news on ABC, I have to close my eyes when they report about the plight of the Somali people fleeing the unrest and war in their country to walk fifty miles to a refugee camp. It is hot and they have no food. Some refugees don't survive the trip. As I watch the evening news coverage of the Afghans struggling with oppression in their country, knowing that it won't get better when the Americans leave, not that it is what they want with us there, I shudder to think what will happen to that country. As I watch the evening news in the countries where populations are fighting for freedom against dictators, I get a scary feeling that war happens in so many places and it is a feeling of hopelessness. It isn't really far, far away and like a lot of Americans, I hope we never have to face those circumstances again in this country, and it is easy to forget we actually had wars on U.S. soil, just not in my lifetime. I wish there was something that could be done for those countries far, far away, but it doesn't benefit my health to excessively worry about the war torn countries around the world. I take the coward's way out and try to limit my exposure to the reports of war and political discord. The consequences of war to citizens everywhere is so devastating. Is it beyond human ability to learn to live on the planet in peaceful accord? Greed, intolerance, and the quest for power isn't worth the suffering it produces, in my humble opinion.

With those issues weighing heavily in the back of my mind, it was with a great deal of trepidation that I approached The Soldier's Wife by Margaret Leroy. Since it is about the period of time during World War II and I know how that turned out, I thought I would see if I could finish it without unduly stressing my sensibilities.

The Soldier's Wife is about Vivienne who lives on Guernsey, a Channel Island near the coast of France, during the years of World War II when the Germans occupied the islands. 

Her husband, from the marriage that she regrets, is off at war and she is left on the island taking care of their two young daughters and his dying mother who has dementia. Vivienne worries about the war coming to the islands and her friend, Gwen, assures her "Nobody bothered with us during the Great War." World War I happened far, far away but World War II lands in their community.

She is torn between her own needs, her family duties, and her community's ideals of patriotism when several German soldiers move into the empty house next door. Vivienne struggles with daily survival and providing for the family when supplies are rationed, but is tempted into accepting coffee, and chocolates from the German soldiers. When she engages in an affair with one of the soldiers, she learns that they are just like the people on the island and don't want the war either. One is a doctor, one an architect, and she befriends a run-away prisoner of war who is a musician and maker of  violins. Her lover reveals that they are just doing what they are ordered and have no more control over their lives than the people whose countries are under occupation. Her lover also points out how easily corrupted people are with power and how easy it becomes to kill others.

The Guernsey community experiences many of the cruelties of war and the uncertainty of who would win and how long they would suffer under the occupation. Vivienne survives the war and she learns she can manage on her own. Vivienne had shared with her lover a book of poetry with words by Gerard Manley Hopkins:

A nun takes the veil

I have desired to go
Where springs not fail, 
To fields where flies no sharp and sided hail 
And a few lilies blow.

And I have asked to be
Where no storms come,
Where the green swell is in the havens dumb,
And out of the swing of the sea.
--Gerard Manley Hopkins

Those words come back to haunt her after the war is over. It was a predictable ending with much sadness, but the island residents are relieved when the war has left their shores. They are left picking up the pieces of their lives and hoping that war will stay far, far away.

I'm a fan of World War II books and I thought this one was a good view of struggles on the home front. I felt it necessarily pointed out that the women of wars are left picking up the pieces of society long after "peace" has been declared. Not to minimize the damages to soldiers, but the viewpoint of women shows that families and communities are also heavily damaged by these conflicts. Nobody wins. So here we are in 2011 approaching the anniversary of the Great War, World War I, which began on July 28, 1914,  with how many wars currently on the boards?

Monday, July 18, 2011

They Said It Better

After spending a great Sunday playing with my two grandchildren, it is a pleasant tiredness and the knowledge of time well spent.

I can't say enough about the joys of spending time with grandchildren. They are exhausting, require great patience but give the wealth of their presence. They are one of the best experiences life has to offer.

Having grandchildren is my compensation for having missed having living grandparents.

I like to read the eloquent musings of others about grandchildren and grandparents:

Do you know why grandchildren are always so full of energy?  They suck it out of their grandparents.  --Gene Perret

 What a bargain grandchildren are!  I give them my loose change, and they give me a million dollars' worth of pleasure.  --Gene Perret

A grandmother is a babysitter who watches the kids instead of the television.  --Author Unknown

What children need most are the essentials that grandparents provide in abundance.  They give unconditional love, kindness, patience, humor, comfort, lessons in life.  And, most importantly, cookies.  --Rudolph Giuliani

A house needs a grandma in it.  --Louisa May Alcott

Our grandchildren accept us for ourselves, without rebuke or effort to change us, as no one in our entire lives has ever done, not our parents, siblings, spouses, friends - and hardly ever our own grown children.  --Ruth Goode

When a child is born, so are grandmothers.  --Judith Levy

Being grandparents sufficiently removes us from the responsibilities so that we can be friends.  --Allan Frome

When grandparents enter the door, discipline flies out the window.  --Ogden Nash

If I had known how wonderful it would be to have grandchildren, I'd have had them first.  --Lois Wyse

Grandfathers are for loving and fixing things.  --Author Unknown

The reason grandchildren and grandparents get along so well is that they have a common enemy.  --Sam Levenson

Grandchildren are God's way of compensating us for growing old.  --Mary H. Waldrip

If nothing is going well, call your grandmother.  --Italian Proverb

Grandmother-grandchild relationships are simple.  Grandmas are short on criticism and long on love.  --Author Unknown

Grandparents are there to help the child get into mischief they haven't thought of yet.  --Gene Perret

I like to do nice things for my grandchildren - like buy them those toys I've always wanted to play with.  --Gene Perret

A grandmother pretends she doesn't know who you are on Halloween. --Erma Bombeck

My grandchild has taught me what true love means.  It means watching Scooby-Doo cartoons while the basketball game is on another channel.  --Gene Perret

Nobody can do for little children what grandparents do. Grandparents sort of sprinkle stardust over the lives of little children.--Alex Haley

Elephants and grandchildren never forget.  --Andy Rooney

Friday, July 15, 2011

Background Music

I love music as much as anyone. I like a great variety of music--fast, slow, vocals, instrumentals, classical, or modern. When I listen to music, I really listen to it and enjoy it. I like hearing music in shops, elevators, or places like art museums. I'm not demanding about the kind of music played, I enjoy it if it is appropriate and not overpowering.

When I hear music in movies or on TV shows, it isn't the main reason I watch the movie or program. A lot of TV shows and movies have great themes like I remember from the old programs from the sixties that everyone recognizes such as Peter Gunn, Mr. Lucky, Hawaii Five-O or the Pink Panther. The most recent theme that I have really enjoyed has been the intro music to Southland, a TV series broadcast on TNT, and it has been renewed for a fourth season. The photos in the intro are as haunting as the music and sets a perfect mood for the drama to follow. It's a great intro.

When I watch a movie, or a TV show, I want to hear the dialogue and the music should be in the background. That seems to have been reversed for some weird reason that I fail to understand. I know music sets a mood and contributes to the atmosphere of the action. When music is so loud and overpowering, it is no longer in the background. Usually there is a lot of action and you can't see the actors' faces sometimes to try to figure out the words they are saying. Their lips are moving but all you can hear is the dramatic music. Then there are the actors who don't move their lips and seem to talk like ventriloquists. No, I don't need hearing aids--I have perfect hearing.

When I was in school plays, we were instructed to articulate, to speak clearly and project, and not to mumble. People have become so used to modern technology, they seem to have forgotten to articulate, enunciate, and not mumble. Unless a performer is a ventriloquist, they need to move their lips. Not even the best microphone in the world is going to clean up mumbled dialogue.

Note to Flashpoint staff: I don't need blasting drums and horns to tell me that a swat team is about to shoot someone if they don't give up the hostages.

Remember the first Hawaii Five-O? I don't remember having to shout "Turn off the music--I can't hear the actors."

Memo to Combat Hospital music mixer: We all know it takes place in a war zone. MASH managed to let us hear the dialogue and we were better for it. They never needed to cover the dialogue with sounds of bombs and enough panic music that we needed ear plugs. It needs to be Background Music. If we can't hear the dialogue, why would we want to watch? 

Back to my previous mention of the Southland intro and  theme song. This video is of the original music:

Canção Do Mar is a Portuguese song (meaning “Song of the Sea”) by Dulce Pontes