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The Soul of an Octopus, by Sy Montgomery, makes for a wonderful introduction into the world of cephalopods. From the very beginning, we learn that Montgomery herself “knew little about octopuses,” and we get to accompany her on a very personal, albeit not very scientific, discovery into the world of the New England Aquarium. Montgomery does a fantastic job of accurately portraying a behind the scenes look at what goes on at such a large-scale aquarium as this one, located in Boston. She does such a fine job, in fact, that I found myself boiling over at times, indignant at the thought of a place that keeps wild animals in captivity: breeding them, swapping them with other zoos and aquariums, transporting them, bumbling about until they manage to keep them alive for an extended period of time—only to shake up the whole system by performing a major and disruptive remodel that stresses out all the animals. Such is the lucrative world of animals as entertainment.

But I digress.

I very much enjoyed reading about the author’s interactions with the many successive octopuses that find themselves being held at the Aquarium. It was thoroughly entertaining, and gave wonderful examples of how these incredible creatures can vary in personality and temperament. She brings out the highlights of many of the other animals in the aquarium, giving vivid examples of how fish and lobsters and even starfish can become personable, if you get to know them well enough. And she does proper justice to the amount of love and care given to these individuals by their caretakers and their admirers.

I didn’t learn much in the way of cold hard facts from the hours I spent reading this book. The author makes no “surprising exploration into the wonder of consciousness,” as is promised within the subtitle. But she did manage to make me care, even more than I already did, about these animals, and all sea creatures, as individuals (my outrage at their exploitation notwithstanding). And that is a feat in and of itself.

Sy Montgomery’s memoir about her adventures with octopuses is an easy, fresh, somewhat naive look into the world of captive sea creatures. If you think you might want to learn the basics about cephalopods, this would be a great place to start.

It’s Been Awhile

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“It’s been awhile.”

I start many of my journal entries this way, partly as an atonement and partly as an explanation (to the imaginary reader) as to why I may seem to be skipping over so many important events in my life and getting down to the bare-bones of what has been guiding my thoughts and actions. Here, in my blog that I have neglected for over two years now, I offer the same vaguely apologetic salutation. It has, indeed, been awhile, but rest assured I still have been here behind the scenes, living and waiting for the right time to return.

A couple of months ago I wasn’t doing so great, and was barely getting by in survival mode. As I came out of the worst of my grief, I found myself stabilizing and coming back to center. I stopped having unmanageably difficult days at work. I stopped sleeping in until the last minute every single day and showing up to work a few minutes late and feeling grumpy and disheveled. I’ve started cooking for myself again. I’ve started eating healthy foods again and exercising. I have found pleasure in reading once again. I feel like I have found my balance, and I want to start taking it further, slowly but surely. I have gotten myself into some pretty great habits lately, and I want to continue this trend.

I want to find again the habit of writing. It is something that comes naturally to me (as opposed to all this talking nonsense), and something that I feel the need to do, but like any muscle it becomes lazy with disuse. My interest in getting back into a habit of writing stems mainly from a desire lately to slow down my life: to be more reflective of what I have achieved each day, and more mindful of each moment as it happens. So often I allow myself to breeze through each day on auto-pilot, forgetting events almost as they happen, both good and bad, and when it gets to a point when someone inquires as to how my day/week/life is going, I find myself drawing a blank. My memory is already waning, and if nothing else I want to be able to catch those moments, no matter how mundane, so that I can look back later and see what my life has been. I want to become addicted to writing again. I want to feel that need on a daily basis, so that I can glean the rewards of being more mindful, more thoughtful, more curious, more present, and, let’s face it, more interesting to others. I want to do this for myself. I want to do all of these things, and I am confident that I can do so with some time and patience and persistence.

A good example of the way in which I have been letting time slip through my grasp lately: my reading habits gone haywire. I wanted to develop a good habit for reading, and I have certainly done so. I have read over three dozen books in the past seven months. Some of these books were excellent, and I devoured them whole, while others were mediocre or downright unpalatable and I rushed through them, trying not to taste them or feel their texture. The common denominator here being speed of consumption, I think back and wonder if maybe I shouldn’t have taken more time with some of these stories. Yes I let myself become immersed completely in the stories— I have no doubt about that. But did I live with the characters in a meaningful way? Was I patient with them, letting their quirks unfold day by day as I would when getting to know a new friend? Did I stop often enough to admire a well-written passage, maybe reading it out loud, underlining the phrase, dog-earing the page for a later contemplation? If nothing else, did I make any notes in the margins, or collect any new quotes or vocabulary words?

I did let myself be fully present for these books I have read, but looking back, I wish I had made some more effort to let them know that I appreciated them, or didn’t appreciate them, as it were. How often did I stop to be grateful for the opportunity to take in all those words and sentences, and to interpret a meaning from them? How often do I stop to reflect upon my life in general, and my loved things in particular, to internalize the depth of the gratitude that they deserve? Hopefully, by sitting to write on a more daily basis, I can help retrain my mind not only to be able to recall and reflect, but also to be more aware in the first place.

I have recently finished reading a novel called Plainsong, by Kent Haruf. The book defines a plainsong as a “simple or unadorned melody or air”, and that is exactly what this book has turned out to be.  The image on the front of the book is reminiscent of the plains states, with its massive skies, flat expanses, and rolling hills out in the distance. And indeed, this story does take place among the plains of eastern Colorado, a place I can conjure easily due to the many times I have made the seemingly endless drive through. That country in itself is a plain song, in the sense of the unadorned beauty that can be found there, and in the amount of introspection it invites upon the viewer/reader/traveler.

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Plainsong has solidified my notion of a kind of genre, newly conceived of in my own mind, of a quiet and unassuming story about a small town world and the inconsequential lives of the people who exist there. It has become a type of book or story that I crave now, and when I find one that is well-written, as I have already several times this year, it fills me with a sense of peace and contentedness, as though my own plainsong is becoming validated among the telling of other simple lives. When I read about those places and these people, I feel at home in a very profound sense, and I feel as though I can be happy with being likewise obscure: being no one and not wanting to be anyone.

When I think back on Plainsong the novel, I have a recollection of some uncommonly insightful small-town people that I might never have befriended, but whom I would have gladly and curiously watched from a distance. Their lives and tiny dramas are intriguing in a very quiet way, only big to those who are in the middle of it all, and easy for me to step outside that drama and view from a safe distance. It is the kind of story that I would write about myself and my own world, if I had the patience and the confidence to sit down and do it. It is not at all the type of story (or life) that suits every mind, or even most minds, but it happens to suit me very well. And that is the satisfaction inherent.

Details

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Last week I had the opportunity to fly to Oregon to visit with family. I brought along my trusty Nikon Coolpix S6800 because I knew there would be no end of photo opportunities in what is arguably the most beautiful and ecologically diverse state in the country.

It didn’t take me long to realize that my little camera was no match for Oregon’s sweeping landscapes. Every time I tried to capture the stunning views of picturesque barns nestled among rolling pastures and pine forests, I was invariable disappointed in the results. Even the photogenic coast couldn’t be captured satisfactorily. I can’t fault the camera, though: any image is no match for the experience of seeing the beauty of the place in person.

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What I did end up capturing were just a few of the many details that combine to make Oregon the spectacular environment that it is. And when it comes to detail, my little Coolpix is king.

This friendly traveler was pleased to pose with an ocean backdrop, but I think he was disappointed when we didn’t offer a tip.

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Another coastal visitor is unaware of being photographed, but creates a great view nonetheless.

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Amazingly, these barnacles can be heard, clicking and clacking, living and breathing, even above the constant roar of the tide.

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Perhaps one of my favorite characteristics of Oregon: there is no shortage of amazing trees everywhere you look.

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Photo by Theresa Brown.

Photo by Theresa Brown.

The coastal life is nothing less than profuse.

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I feel as though I could spend a lifetime trying to capture Oregon’s details, and it would never be enough to portray the wonder of the place. You just have to see it for yourself.

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Until next time…

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New Thoughts

It’s been awhile.

Lately I have been idly considering taking up this whole blog idea again. It’s been some time since my thoughts have tended toward things I might actually want to share. (You can be assured, my private journal has not wanted for activity. By my estimates, it has grown by more than 85,000 words in the past 365 days.)

Of all days, today I decided to look up my old forgotten wordpress account and see if inspiration might strike. As coincidence would have it, today marks one year to the day since my last post, and the last time I felt whole enough to share a piece of my world. I wasn’t even sure if I still knew my password.

A year can be an amazingly long time. Worlds can shift. Mine has.

If I haven’t written in the past year, it is not for lack of having experienced anything. In the past year, I decided I wasn’t the marrying type after all, and soon after lost the relationship that meant everything to me (and sometimes still does feel that way). I left the house I thought I would like to live in forever, and I left behind my beloved neighborhood, and half my animals. Needless to say, things were rough for a while. As a consolation prize I decided to return to school and try again for that vet school thing, but it didn’t take me long to realize that I had far too much on my 31-year-old plate to get enthusiastic about memorizing heaps of expensive though useless information. Even workplace misunderstandings almost took away from me a job that I enjoy, doing work that I love. As a daughter, I have finally had to face the concept that my parents are not perpetually 47- and 48-years old, as I imagine them to be, but will naturally begin to require some measure of support as they age. I am starting to feel that this whole adulthood thing is harder than I have thought it has been for the past 13 years.

Nevertheless, some things extremely positive have bloomed from all of this. One of them is that, after lately having passed through a few romantic non-starts, I can now admit, for the first time in my adult life, to being happily single.

It doesn’t sound like a big deal, I know, but for me it really, truly is. I haven’t let myself be single for much at all of my adult life, and the few weeks I can attribute to romantic independence were very far from being considered happy. And yet, here it is: I love living alone. I love doing my own thing. I love being responsible, quite completely and thoroughly, for my own moods. It may sound absurd, but I love going to bed alone, and waking up alone, and in the meantime I can sit up at any hour of the night and turn on my light to read. I love paying all the bills. I love the silence. I love experiencing outings for what they are, rather than as something to do with someone else. At long last I seem to be settling comfortably into my own skin, and into my own introverted nature. I feel like a different person from what I was a year ago, and I feel like a much more complete person at that.

Perhaps this all comes across as too much intimate information, though I think back to my first blog entries when I aspired to the appeal of openness, and my desire to get a little bit out of my head and into type for whomever might like to read it. As part of this realization of contentedness in my new lifestyle, I’d like to get back into the habit of foisting my meandering thoughts and opinions onto the worldwide web. You are welcome to read it if you like, though I can’t promise anything of any value to anyone other than myself.

And I think that’s just about right.

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Some of my most favorite moments involve spending time out in the yard with my animals. When the weather is warm, there’s typically no place I would rather be.

In today’s photo shoot Tiny Mushroom returns, and brings with her the lovable Moose and his foster brother Moose 2 (aka Slow Mo, aka Donegal). Also appearing is the three-legged wonder of Llewellyn the beautiful black kitten, and the wise old Farmer Ollie.

The other half of the family was sleeping peacefully indoors.

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Happy Caturday.

 

Happy Healthy June

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I’m not much of a resolution-maker (my 2014 New Year’s resolution was to “work less and have more fun”), but I do find that setting monthly goals for myself has been extremely helpful in gently easing into new healthy habits. A short-term commitment is not only more endurable (and thus more likely to succeed), but it gives me the opportunity to approach the same aspirations from many different angles throughout the year. Trying to eat healthier could mean giving up sodas in April, or pledging to eat two cups of vegetables every day of October, or setting up an exercise plan to keep me warm in December. I find that this approach keeps me more engaged in finding ways to make changes that I want to see. And if nothing else, it gives me something to blog about, right?

This month, I need to tackle two of my weakest spots: sugar, and the internet.

I’ve always had a raging sweet tooth. As a child I would do just about anything to get money for candy, and candy was the only thing I ever bought with my hard-earned (or craftily-swindled) money. I dreamed of the day when I would be a grown up and could eat as much candy as I wanted.Unfortunately, my inner child still calls out for that daily sugar buzz. I’m hoping she will be satisfied with as much fresh fruit and veggies as I can get my hands on.

As for the internet, well, we all know how I’ve struggled with this beast for quite some time now. It’s like the old Mark Twain quote:  ‘Giving up [the internets] is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I’ve done it thousands of times.’

Or..something like that.

At any rate, I’ve thought up dozens of ways to moderate my internet use, and so far none of them have stuck. So if anyone has any ideas, I’m all ears/eyes. As of right now, my current brilliant plan goes something like this: “I just won’t get online as much.”

In the end, it’s all about the journey. I may never lose my sweet tooth, or the desire to zone out in front of a computer screen after a hard day of work (or as soon as I wake up on the weekends and at least a dozen times throughout the day). But I can keep trying to find ways to be a better, healthier, more satisfied human being.

And I guess that’s what it’s all really about.

 

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Nearly four months ago, on a frigid evening, a tiny ball of fluff was placed into my hands. Rescued that very day from a bad situation, her body temperature was ten degrees below normal, her eyes were blinded with infection, and she didn’t have the strength to hold up her head. Already brokenhearted, I took her home that night and hoped beyond hope that she would at least make it through the night with some help.

The next morning I was overjoyed to see that she had made it. We started calling her Tiny Mushroom.

The next sixteen weeks were a whirlwind of medications, treatments, emergency trips to the vet, bloodwork, belly taps, coddling, an overabundance of hope, and to be honest, a healthy dose of resignation.

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Today, despite my best efforts, Tiny Mushroom is still sick. She has never experienced a fully healthy day in all her short life. All the tests and professional opinions have done little to explain her condition. Perhaps we will never know. What is certain is that we have poured a lifetime’s supply of love into Tiny Mushroom in these past few months, and regardless of her future she has never gone a moment since that cold February day not cherished. And she has never wasted a single moment to live her tiny life to its fullest extent.

She sits beside me as I type this, worn out from her evening in the garden chasing bugs, catching drops of water from the hose, helping me keep the garden tilled, hopping from one garden bed to the next, and in general just looking completely adorable.

I hope you enjoy these photos as much as I enjoy every day that I get to spend with Tiny Mushroom. She truly is a special treasure.

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