ordinary wigeons



A couple days ago I went for a walk around one of our little urban lakes. I am trying to walk more as after six months of either overuse injury or hard impact injury, walking seems the only reasonable exercise for the moment. And this locale was a nice change from the trail on which I have walked a lot these past weeks.

As it’s been raining a lot, in the blueberry fields across from the lake there were little puddles everywhere and pairs of ducks were investigating each one. Some of the puddles were in the middle of the path and required a bit of navigation in order to keep dry feet.  Along the path, headed in the direction opposite from me was an older gentleman with a pair of binoculars hanging around his neck—clearly a birdwatcher. As we passed each other I asked, “Seen anything interesting?”

His response, “I’ve seen lots that’s interesting, but nothing out of the ordinary.”

Then, as if to appease me, he informed me of about thirty wigeons snacking in the flooded blueberry patch further on.

But I loved his first response, because it made me think. Too often I think that only something out of the ordinary can be something interesting, and I go off seeking it hither and thither. If there’s anything I’ve started to learn from my regular walks on my neighborhood trail (the one I didn’t have to drive to before I could drive again), it’s that the ordinary can be interesting if I only pay attention to it. One week the willow branches are bare. A few days later the fuzzy pussy willow pods poke their heads out. A few more days after that and the pods have expanded and put out their yellow pollen fluffs.

One day there’s only one cherry tree thinking about blooming and a couple days later she’s convinced a couple more. Nothing earth shattering. Nature does this every year, but so often I’m too busy and not paying attention.

About the time we left Switzerland to move back here, I felt like I was finally slowing down enough to enjoy Nature as an ongoing show. The hawk soaring to look for a mouse. The wheat that was green yesterday turning golden today. I forget so quickly. The bird watching man reminded me.


a seat to watch the show


mallards and wigeons


this is a wigeon feather

In Pursuit of Light Enough

In my second to last post, from only…say…six months ago. I wrote about stuff and the need to keep it light enough to travel. My mantra today is: Stay Light Enough to Travel and to Be a Blessing to Others. This is not as easy as it sounds.

Since that post a number of significant things have happened. My mama did die, just a few weeks after the last blog post. That merits a series of blog posts in itself, and I kept writing them in my head, but time to sit and write was fleeting. Maybe they will stay there and ferment for awhile and then appear.  My husband also got a job, which is rather life changing in a good kind of way — Hooray income! And we also bought a new house and moved into it. With our stuff. And the stuff we shipped from Switzerland. And the stuff that waited patiently in our storage unit for three and a half years.  It was fun to open boxes not sure which group this stuff would be from, find homes for things and then to see our old stuff sitting right next to our new old stuff. I was quite pleased to see how well it all blended — like maybe I have an intrinsic decorating style after all!

But still I thought often…Why did we keep all this stuff? For some things there’s a good reason. I kept the crib my babies all slept in in hopes that one day I’ll have a grandchild who can sleep in it and I can tell them stories of their mother or father. Other things I kept but in three years kids grow up. The toys that you play with when you are four aren’t the same ones you play with when you are eight. Except for Duplos of course. We have a huuuuuge box full, and nothing one might say can convince the Papa that we shouldn’t keep those for the grandchildren, too.  So I kept thinking, well, in this large house that God has given us for now, there’s room enough to get it all out and see what we’re dealing with and then we can sort and move along.

And then we added Grandma’s stuff. Brother and his wife had been keeping it for the time being, but now they are preparing for a remodel. And we have the space. Woe betide those who have the space! So we have lots of boxes of rather vague contents. Lots of old family photographs and yearbooks. Some lovely old books. Lots of not lovely books. Family heirlooms and knick-knacks. Business correspondence from my great grandfather, the patriarch who got his entire family to move out from Vermont and set them up homesteading out in the San Juan Islands.

Some of it is quite interesting, and I keep wondering if the germs for another novel are hidden there somewhere. I’m sure they are, but I also wonder, is that the novel I want to write? I’m not sure. Maybe I want to clear out this space in my storage room and in my head so I can finish and sell the novel I have written. Again, it’s that feeling of gratitude just riding the edge of feeling bogged down by all the family history.

In one box, there were some letters and papers all neatly tied together with string and with a label in my Grandma Leda’s handwriting:  “little red table.” As they were letters addressed to her mother and given the date, I deduce that when her mother passed away, she tidied up and put those letters, neatly labeled into a box to sort later. Hmmm. As my husband said, “Well, now it’s later.” I can’t help being a little miffed at the two generations before me who could have dealt with this sooner. It’s not like I don’t have more children than either of them did. What shall I do? I could just rewrap them up with another neatly written label, “From Grandma’s Stuff — to sort later — like in 2050.” But that just doesn’t seem like the kindest thing to do if I love my children. And I do.

So slowly and surely I will try to work my way through. It’s hard though. Some things are museum worthy. Many are not. How to tell the difference and how much time to spend on it.

But this afternoon I did manage to take four boxes to donation. Unless I’m mistaken, nothing museum-worthy there, but possibly real -ife-worthy to an intrepid thrift shopper. And that little accomplishment feels wonderful and makes me ready to sort some more.

6:30 Train

When I was in college, and even
later, when newly married, this train ride filled me with expectation, with
promise. Either the coming here to the valley of l’Allaine or leaving it. Now,
this morning, riding the rails through a frosty valley along a steaming river
under a crystalline sky of promise, I feel it again. Going off somewhere on an
adventure, off to chase something. While hopefully having learned the lesson
that the best adventures are also found close to home, hidden in the packaging
of everyday life.
But sometimes, it is a good thing
to see something familiar from an unexpected perspective. And that is why I
like the train. The villages are all the same ones I drive through, but seen
from a different angle they take on a new charm. The sweep of the white touched
fields up to the neat rows of sleepy-eyed houses, smoke lining up out of
chimneys, and the gray tall forests beyond. Gray now and looking like if I
could brush my hand over the tops the trees would be soft, like the fuzz left
on a dandelion blossom, or the soft gray fur of my rabbit. 
In Courchavon there
is the cemetery chapel, perched up on the hill, three stories high, unlike any
other cemetery chapel I’ve ever seen, looking for all the world like a small
child craning up on his tip-toes to insist, don’t forget about me!  I want to draw it each time I pass. This is
the closest I’ve gotten to that.
In a few weeks all the mole hills
in the field will be plowed under, replaced instead by furrows as deep and dark
as chocolate cake that always make me hungry when I see them. The docile forest
will sprout springtime from the tips of its fingers and the soft gray give way
to green, first shy then in-your-face, in a “I am springtime, hear me roar”
kind of way.
In Porrentruy even the half-torn up
railway barn looks beautiful in this light, and it makes me wonder why I don’t
opt for early morning all the time. The people getting off the train and
walking to their lives seem purposeful and beautiful too. Of course, the
weather helps. The world, and everything here has mutually agreed to begin
again. Not that we have much say in the matter, actually. Perhaps  better said that God begins us again today
and we are closest to His intentions when we go along with it with an expectant
So I am expectant right now, for
this day, for my life. Despite my last minute dready thing that I always do, I am
joyfully expectant about  connecting to
my tribe of writers today in Geneva and trusting it will be worth the long haul and expense to get
The sun is now just peeking through
a gap in the mountains (I’ve learned to call them) behind Cornol. It’s going to
be a gorgeous day.  The contrails of early
morning jets reflect the light and glow like pond skimmers on water’s surface. Funny to think of the people
on those flights — Flying from where to where? Not, obviously, to here, but travelling
like me, but with a completely different agenda. I could almost feel sad for
them because they won’t see the frosty Allaine in the morning light just before
sunrise, but it’s silly I know. They’ll see something else, and maybe today
their praise is in the grand, while mine will be in the small. 


A few days ago, a friend here had her baby. And to celebrate I went for a sail, alone, on a little catamaran on a little nearby lake. I was alone with the water, the wind and God. And He and I talked.

Once, months ago, Marie and I talked about how being pregnant and feeling your baby moving around inside your belly, is like having two conversations at once, or like living in two separate worlds at the same time. All the while you are living your life, doing your shopping, talking with people, you are having a quieter but also very real conversation with your baby: You’re awake now. Ooo, that’s a big stretch for such a little person. Why are you playing hopscotch on my bladder? No one else hears, no one else knows, and there is nothing else quite like that sweet intimacy. The duality of those two simultaneous conversations, one very normal, one very private, is probably the one thing I miss about being pregnant.

So it struck me, as I was sailing around on the little lake, talking to God, that our life with Him can also be thought of in terms of the same metaphor. Prayer life, at its best, is a private conversation that I have with Him as I go through the normalcy of everyday life and have the conversations of every day. Oh, Lord, thank you for that tree, it’s so pretty. Lord, Help me speak a kind word to that person; I don’t want to. Lord, I’m sleepy now, thank you for bringing me safely through another day. 

I am like the little unborn baby, stretching my muscles, jostling, hiccuping, banging on the walls. And as I do, I am talking to my Father through all the moments, quietly
telling Him about stuff that no one else will hear. He listens, He loves me and He answers me quietly with words just for me. 

L’ecole – Week Three

I was going to post on Monday that we were starting week three of school, and now suddenly today is Friday and we are nearly at the end of it! We’ve been working mostly on survival. I am happy to say that my homeschool mom career is far from over – or I can say, at least, that it has morphed into super-hands-on-homework-helper mom: translating, explaining, figuring out: here’s how you say ‘direct object’ in French; when you have a direct object in German it takes the Akkusativ case;  here you must plot these points on x,y axes and then color the ensuing picture, Yes, I believe 47 is a prime number; conjugate the verb ‘etre’; here’s how to say ‘crustacean’ in French; Latin? – who knows, you’re on your own. Good grief! My head spinneth. I am glad to say though, that yesterday was a pretty good day. I cannot say that there were no tears, because I have just had a confession that there were some upon awakening. But everyone made it through the day in decent spirits and didn’t have as much of that hit-by-Mack-truck look about them that they have had. Maybe, just maybe, we are finding the first inkling of a system in the midst of the big, tiring mess of school. They don’t really like it, but at least they are finding it. Or maybe they are just learning to be stoic. One of the biggest challenges is logistics. If Artemis leaves the house by 7:25 she can catch the 7:36 train and have time to lock her bike. She arrives back in the village for lunch on the train at 12:21, and if she hasn’t appeared at the house by 12:27 we’ve agreed that I’ll go drive and look for her, because she’s got to be back on the return bus which leaves at 12:59. If I drive her, we can leave the house at 12:53. If she’s biking, she’d better leave by 12:50. And it goes on and on — times four! We’ve got things worked out to the minute, and I’ve become a chronic watch checker. Now this is quite ironic, to which anyone who knows me well can attest. I’ve always been a believer in a healthy cushion of about 10 minutes either way. Which makes me often late, but hey, if you are 10 minutes late to my house, that’s fine too! Hope you feel the same way! 10 minutes doesn’t really show up on my radar! Until now. One day in the first week of this, as I sat with the kids around the table trying to work out the logistics and feeling my head starting to burn, one of them exclaimed, “Now we know how Papa got the way he is!” It’s an interesting thought: are Swiss people naturally punctual or are they forced to develop that way because of The System? In any event it is good for me, because I’ve been convicted the past few years of the annoyance my lateness may cause in my social circle. I really do believe that chronic lateness is the theft of other people’s time, and I want to change. So like Puddleglum I am thinking that these are the just the chaps to get me to take a serious view on life. My, will my acquaintances back home ever be surprised! We’ve got time for exactly three more inhalations of air and then I’ve got to scoot! On a completely other note, today I biked to France! Because I could! In the exactly 105 minutes that Hermes was at preschool, I hopped on a bike and rode to the pedestrian/bicycle border crossing. It took about 5 minutes. No one was there – just surveillance cameras – and so I crossed unencumbered. It’s the same small town where we often go grocery shopping; I was there by car this morning in fact; I had just never gone on a bicycle. I did not take my camera, so no pictures this time. It’s a sweet small French town complete with remains of medieval ramparts as well as examples of unfortunate French architecture of the 1970s. But a nice looking cafe in a town square where I shall return someday for coffee. It would be nice to bike there with a friend. Anyone? On another note, amidst the travails of the school start and life in general, we have been greatly encouraged by our visits with friends and family via Skype and similar media. It’s not quite like being in the same room, and yet it is so much more like it than a phone call. You can make silly faces, for one thing. Last night, as I was preparing dinner, we got a video call from Uncle Chip who after giving greetings, put on a puppet show for Hermes and kept him occupied while I put things on the table. Then we sat down to eat and put the “him” (the laptop) up on the microwave where he could be at the head of the table. Then Uncle Chip said grace for us and drank his morning coffee while we ate our dinner of soup and salad. Skypeing always makes me think of the Jetsons. We are video-calling like George Jetson! The future is now! How grateful I am for the technology that make it possible, that makes sharing our life via this blog possible, that makes your comments and encouragements possible, that makes us feel not quite so lonely, and our loved ones, though far away, not feel quite so far away. I want a life that’s got the best of all worlds, old and new: high on electronic communication, low on mindless internet drivel; high on handmade art, but also high on digital photography and photo sharing; homegrown food, but a big fridge and a good dishwasher; travelling to see the world, but being able to walk to school. I feel very blessed; I feel like I get a lot of what I want.