Saturday, January 19, 2019

Happy Birthday, Edgar Allen Poe and Good-Bye Mary Oliver

photo from wikipedia
His life was haunted and uneasy, his stories even more so. I read his tales with fear and delight when I was in my early teens, and came to appreciate his genius, and his darkness, later in life.

A friend posted this on Facebook, and it is one of Poe's poems  I had not read before. What mastery of language. Happy birthday, Mr. Poe. I hope eternity has provided you more rest than life on this troubled earth provided.

A Dream Within A Dream

Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow-
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand-
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep- while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?

~E. A. Poe


photo from 
This week we lost another great poet, the wonderful Mary Oliver. In some ways, I want to dedicate Poe's poem above to her, and yet her writing tells us that she would not have viewed either life or death as a "surf-tormented shore." She embraced the joy of life, and accepted the awe and inevitably of nature.

Morning Poem

Every morning
the world
is created.
Under the orange

sticks of the sun
the heaped
ashes of the night
turn into leaves again

and fasten themselves to the high branches ---
and the ponds appear
like black cloth
on which are painted islands

of summer lilies.
If it is your nature
to be happy
you will swim away along the soft trails

for hours, your imagination
alighting everywhere.
And if your spirit
carries within it

the thorn
that is heavier than lead ---
if it's all you can do
to keep on trudging ---

there is still
somewhere deep within you
a beast shouting that the earth
is exactly what it wanted ---

each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
every morning,

whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy,
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray.

--Mary Oliver

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Graveyard Plants

A friend recently posted on Facebook about periwinkle vine covering the ground in a cemetery. Around here people call periwinkle "graveyard vine." With good reason. the pretty, dark green vine is often found in cemeteries. In Spring it will bloom a violet-blue five-petaled flower--hence the name periwinkle for the color of its blossom.

Why was it planted in old graveyards? I asked a neighbor that question. She replied that it was because the plant was a good ground cover for graves, staying green all winter and growing low to the ground so it was not an impediment to walking or mowing. Makes sense to me.

Yucca in cemetery at Jackson's Mill, WV
Another plant often found in cemeteries is Yucca, also called Spanish Dagger. Seems an odd one for a graveyard, doesn't it? But yucca has another name: Eternity Plant. This spiky, arresting plant can live for hundreds of years.
Yucca protects a grave at a cemetery in Benwood, WV

The plant is also referred to as Adam's Needle--I would love to know the origin of that title!

Evergreens in cemetery in Shepherdstown, WV
Cedars and evergreen trees are another favorite in graveyards--often we'll spot a cedar tree in a sseemingly open field and sure enough there will be a cemetery beneath the tree. In England, pagans of old considered evergreens to be a sign of everlasting life, proof that life can continue even after winter's "death" of other plants.

Boxwoods overtake a grave in a cemetery in Sistersville, WV

An evergreen in a cemetery--holly and yew are also graveyard favorites--symbolizes the eternal life we are promised by the Bible.
Blue spuce in the National Cemetery in Grafton, WV

You will find other perennial plants too: iris, daylilies and peonies are commonly planted on old graves. It is easy to see why these old perennials were favored for grave plantings. They returned every year, bloomed beautifully and in the case of iris and peonies, had heavenly scents. All of them spread but not as rampantly as some other plants might.

Next time you visit an old cemetery, look around and see what plants are growing there. And think about the hands that so carefully dug the soil and planted these on the graves of their loved ones.

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Being Alone and Loneliness

Larry and I were talking the other day about how some people, as they age, get to feeling lonely, depressed and useless. We are often alone here, just the two of us--although that is certainly a better situation than many who have lost their mate. But still, I can see how sometimes older people feel left out and even useless when they retire and are no longer part of the hurley burley of the rest of the world. I have seen reports that indicate the elderly have surprisingly high rates of suicide, and the main reason is depression.

Where we live, we seldom get visitors. We're off the beaten track, out of the way, and to come here means that we are the destination, not a stop along the way to someplace or other. Right now our driveway is pretty busy with home health and phyical therapy coming to see Larry every other day, but this is certainly not the norm here. Sometimes weeks go by without anyone stopping by and it's just us two old people rattling around.

I have to admit, I am not one who "drops in" on family or friends either. For one thing, most of our friends and our family are a good distance away, the closest being at least a half hour drive--and like us, they're not on the way to anywhere we might regularly travel. The other thing is that this world really isn't a "drop in" kind of place any more, is it? I remember my mother and her friend Mary Lou--Mary Lou would come over every morning for coffee and a chat. Then there was Patsy who also stopped by often, Doris and her husband who came weekly to play darts, and many others. Living in the center of town had its advantages with close neighbors and people passing through.

But these days, do people still do that? Having not lived in town for years, I don't know but I suspect that these ways have died out as women went out into the workforce and few are actually home during the day. And if they are, they are home-schooling, caring for someone, or working a late shift and trying to sleep and keep up with housework, etc.

For many years we had no telephone, and when we got one so many places were long distance that calling was limited. I haven't quite gotten out of that mold; I call my sons occasionally but rarely do I pick up the phone to call friends. Then there were the years when I had no vehicle or limited access to one, so I didn't go out much. Saturdays were a big deal for me back then because that was go-to-town day, and it was such fun to go to the feed store and the library and the grocery store. Then when I began working my jobs were all long commutes from home, and my time her so limited I cherished the quiet and sanctuary of this place.

I suppose I have lived up on this hill for so long that I actually prefer the quiet and the aloneness. Because even though we have so few visitors, I never feel lonely. I am always busy, and my house is filled with books and other things to occupy my mind. Larry gets out more than I do, and he will drop in on his friends occasionally. But he too says he has never thought he was lonely, and neither of us ever feel useless.

I can imagine how one could get to feeling that way, though, if one had no real interests and didn't read. And as mobility becomes more of a problem with age, going out becomes more difficult. Families grow up, grandchildren move on with their lives, and everyone assumes the old ones are enjoying retirement. Sometimes that's the truth, but other times the elderly relatives are just...lonely.

For now, we're enjoying the comings and goings of the young medical professionals who come to see Larry, and I am enjoying not going anywhere and working on storytelling and writing projects, exploring new recipes and reading some of the hundreds of books on my shelves. I somehow doubt that boredom or loneliness will be a problem for me anytime in the near future.

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.
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