Zensights provides a space for gentle contemplation in a world filled with hectic action and stressed-out situations.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Grandmother's Window

I can remember being four or five years old and standing before the massive picture window at my grandmother's house as the morning sun streamed in. The sill began where my chin ended, and I often rested my head and elbows on it so I could gaze long moments at the multitude of colors created by the array of knick-knacks set out on the shelves Papa, my grandfather, had erected there. Red, carnival glass goblets cast their fiery passion across the room. Blue Venetian glass slippers dazzled like Cinderella shoes. Topaz yellow, blown-glass canaries perched quietly near pale green, glass salt cellars. Baby blue, cut glass match holders caught the sunlight like prisms, and cast little rainbows all about the room when the sun came in at the right angle. All the while the creeping vines of house plants wove their way about the twinkling treasures that mesmerized my young eyes.

Breakfast was always a cheery time at my grandparents' Texas house. Not only because we children were on vacation, but also because there were fresh-picked blackberries to put on the cereal during those summer months when we came to visit. Here we would break our fast in a dining room with the marvelous window that sparkled like a carnival at night. Here we would laugh out loud with Papa over the funnies from the newspaper that he would read to us. Here we would bask in the love that Grandmama demonstrated with lavish hugs and praise, as lavish as the rich colors of her wonderful window.

No chest of treasure could have been more precious than these pieces of glass my grandmother had collected throughout her life and displayed in the window of my childhood memory. When the sorrowful time came for my widowed grandmother to sell her home and move to a nursing home, she asked for us grandchildren to go through her earthly possessions and take what we wanted. These beautiful knick-knacks were the only things of hers I wanted to keep.

The carnival glass candle holder rests in my morning window sill which occasionally catches the light, but never as spectacularly as the window in my grandmother's house. The yellow canary sits on a shelf in my yellow bathroom, chirping a silent song in the Florida humidity. The blue, Venetian glass slipper stands on my mantle, and the light blue glass match holder holds an array of local fossils on my desk. The salt cellars sit on my counter top near my spice rack.

I don't know what it is that makes me cling to these old things. I find that the older I get the more important childhood memories become. I guess that is why so many people hang on to their "junque." Each item has importance in some distant time and place that we return to when the going gets rough--a time and place where we were safe and responsibility-free. Suddenly, the red color of a goblet reminds us of a simpler time. Suddenly, the Cinderella slippers of our youth return to us the magic that once existed for us. Grandparents live again when we see glass canaries, and laughter fills our heart when we read the morning funny papers in the morning sunshine. We cling to these seemingly valueless pieces of stuff because just-picked blackberries are possible again in our minds, at least. That is why we clutter our lives with so much seemingly worthless stuff--so that we can remember the parts of life that make it so valuable.

Sunday, May 21, 2006


There is no denying that Americans are involved in a multimillion dollar campaign toward the annihilation of weeds--crabgrass, dollar weeds, nut grass and deer grass. My personal favorite is the ever popular dandelion. I cannot deny that a yard filled with the tiny, yellow blossoms fills me with some kind of unearthly delight.

I came around the corner on a walk one June evening and what should I behold but a vacant house’s yard teeming with dandelion blossoms. Happily they bobbed in the evening breeze and caught the sunset’s glow quite magically. It took my breath away, the way it would have done me as a child. If I hadn’t been in my early fifties, I might have run laughing into the midst of the flowers and gathered them up in a childlike bouquet. If I hadn’t been busy with thoughts of sinus woes and hay fever bouts, I’d have breathed in the musty odor of the happy pedals and moved into a distant memory place. I’d be dressed in corduroy overalls and running amok through joyous fields finding flowers to take home and place in empty mayonnaise jars that my mother kept stored in a pantry for my bug menageries and hand picked gifts.

Oh, the garlands that could be made from these precious weeds? I have made countless, saffron-colored crowns, necklaces and bracelets to enhance my little girl’s appearance. Of course, I was careful not to taste the bitter, milky sap that could coat the fingers, unlike the sweet taste of honeysuckle blossoms we would often purposely taste each June. And sometimes I had to intersperse clover blossoms in between when the dandelion season was drawing to a close.

I was also any number of fairy queens in my imaginary heyday. Once I was Guinevere holding forth over all the court with a wave of my weed-draped hand. Another time I was Pocahontas, flower covered and ready for my “brave” to carry me off into the sunset. My bicycle steed was often strewn with blankets of yellow, a poor imitation of the black-eyed Susan blanket Belmont Stakes winners receive. We rode many miles together.

The best part, though, was the wishing--remember? When the time was right, the blossoms turned to fuzzy, gray seed balls. I would snatch the stem of the flower up to the lips and blow with heavy breath, all the while wondering where the little germ of life would be carried on the wind—maybe even going as far as little girl dreams could travel.
“Make a wish,” I had been told by someone older than I, and I wished. I wished with all my heart. I wished for a real pony and a baby sister and all the ice cream I could stand to eat whenever I wanted, even if it meant spoiling my appetite. I wished for other things I can’t really remember, but I feel very certain that with the exception of the pony and a baby brother before I got that sister, my wishes have, for the most part, come true.

Of course, the actual reality of that seed journey was the germination of many more weeds in neighbors’ yards. I can just imagine the really foul words from homeowners when their pristine lawns would produce scraggily offspring. As a child I had no idea this is what my desire for good fortune could do. Only as a teenager and a biology student did I come to understand.

Even so, I try to remember form “whence cometh the weed” as I pluck unwanted pesky plants from my lawn and spray like the rest of my neighbors. Each handful of weed makes me try to imagine a little girl somewhere, yellow garlands in her hair making a good future for herself. Then I try not to mind the weeds.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006


For many years it has been my custom to awaken long before I have to go to work, so that I can sit in the morning quiet and come to terms with the day. In the winter I sit snuggled on my sofa and drink my coffee in the dark, meditating on what has and what will happen to me at my job. In the spring, the summer, and the fall, when the weather and mosquitoes permit, I sit with my coffee at an old wooden picnic table on my backyard deck and watch the world come to life.

Mornings have always held certain magic for me. The majesty of the sunrise is truly a wonder to behold. When there are no clouds, the sky slowly changes from black to dark purple to lavender to pink and then to daylight. When there are large banks of clouds, all the color shifts are accompanied by rays of light piercing the fluff and heralding the day. When there is an overcast sky, the changes are merely from black to gray to white.

Day after day, with no prompting from us humans, the morning comes. Day after day you can find me up before the sun, watching and preparing for its arrival.

One summer morning was particularly magnificent. I sat at the picnic table and sipped my coffee, carefully coming to consciousness. My three cats were near, stretching and yawning after a long night of mousing. Bosco, the biggest, washed his face and whiskers. Jones, the white one, stood out against the fading night. I could barely make out Kitty, my tortoiseshell cat.

The morning stars overhead were still very bright, because I could still make them out without my glasses on. I could see the constellation, Orion, as he stood proudly over the tree shadows that surrounded me, their lacy silhouettes against the brightening sky.

Then, out of the huge dark shadow that was my neighbor's tree, a large mass of darkness suddenly erupted from the shadow's edge. Slowly the mass unfolded into the shape of a great bird with a considerable wingspan. As my cats and I sat there in awed silence, we watched as the shape grew larger and larger, coming closer and closer.

I don't know if it were real or if I had imagined it. The hour was, after all, quite early. I could have been dreaming, I suppose; but I could have sworn that as the creature passed just a few feet over my head, I felt the turbulence of its wings upon my upturned face. I could tell that I was being carefully observed and analyzed. And when the flying animal had made sure that I was neither food nor anything with which he’d care to tangle, his shadow was absorbed into the darkness on the opposite side of my yard. It was glorious.

I'm not sure what the significance of this event was. Were I a Native American I might have ascribed a meaning to the shadow; it was an omen or a portent for the future. My modern day self thought this "sign" to be a good one. After all, it had lifted my spirits. I had witnessed something rare and beautiful.

Later, as I stood at the counter in my kitchen pouring cat crunchies into three bowls, the sound of a hoot owl calling came gently to me from far in the distance. It was going to be a good day.

from Zen Fishing and Other Southern Pleasures (Ocean Publishing, 2005)


The more I write, the more I realize that there many other good writers out there in the wide world. I have had to come to this conclusion even as I have learned the hard publishing lessons of rejection. I have also learned that there are also countless good writers in the past--writers who have and continue to bring the world to tears with their creation of words. Is it any surprise that I have often wanted to throw my hands into the air and toss my pen in the trash? How can I possibly compete with all these wonderful wordsmiths?

During these difficult writing moments, I realize that the point behind all of my writing is not money-making or big publishing contracts, since there are so many others who are going to "beat me to it," so to speak. The point behind all of my efforts then is something far more transcendent--it is the contemplative nature of my writing process that helps me process my world. I have come to see that writing about my world and my experience is an inward journey of discovery and insight.

So, why should anyone else but me want to read my thoughts? The only answer is that reading my words or about my discoveries may reveal to a reader the very answers that someone may need at this point in his or her journey through life. It might just be that I can solve a perplexing problem that had not yet occurred to the reader. I might actually provoke thought on a given subject, or I might have the keys to a kingdom yet unimagined. I might even provide the very piece of peace a frantic person needs.

These "zensights" of mine may not be as profound as those of a Zen Buddhist monk. They are nonetheless meaningful exercises in existence, and that should benefit anyone who chooses to read what I have discovered about the world in which we all move and breathe.