Banners waving in the wind, high up, seen from a distance across a valley or a field.

The colours begin bright. The threads still woven tight in the weave, the ribbons whip and snap in the breeze. Against a cloudless sky they stand out in bold relief, their crimsons, their purples, their indigos, their emeralds. Silks, velvets, brocades. When the sky is grey, tufted with low cloud and riddled by rain, they signal intensity, splashing a palette of movement and gesture in the careless winds. A landmark, a clarion call. A declaration of presence.

Time unthreads them, tatters them. Their fortissimos are leached out by sun and washed away by storms. Frost renders them stiff, breeds brittleness in the cloth. Winds fly away with their brilliance. Magpies steal strands for their own delight.

Softened, muted, their whip and snap become a whisper and shush. They melt into the landscape instead of marking it.  And still they stand.

What is Present, not precious?

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Unedited, as it arrived on the page:

Caves make me think of solitude. Natural shelters from the wind and rain. Hidden crevices.There’s one called Hell’s Hole near my own hometown. Caves behind waterfalls. There was one in Texas, in the Hill Country, that I remember exploring with Bob and Matt that Labor Day weekend when Bob borrowed a TransAm from someone in his research lab and put close to 1200 miles on it over the 3 days. Bitchin’ Camaro he seemed to be saying every time I turned around. What were we doing in that cave, that crevice, inching our way in, as far as we could go? At one point, I remember having to turn sideways and stoop to keep going as the cave closed in. It was one of those times I probably should have been scared but wasn’t, felt foolhardy and safe for no rational reason.

Plato’s Allegory of the Cave says something about ignorance and unknowing. But I prefer to think of caves as places of deep knowing, of solitude, stillness, silence. The dark has its own dimensions that become apparent only when we move out of the light, away from the cold intensity of exposure and brash brightness.

Sleep is a cave, feathered by dreams. Caves in time. Silence is a cave. Caves hold what cannot be said or seen. Storehouses of song before voice, of memories who have not yet found a resting place, of blankets, of acorns.

I remember climbing up the wooden ladders to Ceremonial Cave in Bandelier. They call it something else now – but to me it will always be Ceremonial Cave. There is a sacred Kiva built in the cave. A manmade cave within a natural cave.

I am no stranger to the curve of a cave, having learned young how to scan the border between the foot of the mesa and the rise of the hills for caves – naturally formed in the volcanic rock, enlarged by man’s hands with stones scraping away at the soft ash, ceiling blackened by fires, making a space, a home.

What is Present, not precious?

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Bricks. Simple, solid, humble. Like cells, like atoms. Like letters of the alphabet, or the digits from 0 to 9. A dictionary is a storehouse of language bricks, a quarry; take what you need to build your story. Can be arranged in so may ways. Stack them, stick them together, create a whole greater than the sum. There is so much latent in a pile of bricks; unwritten potential, untold disaster.

Will this pile of bricks be a shelter or a wall? Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.  The walls go up, the walls come down. The bricks stay the same – like atoms, like letters. It’s all in how you put them together.

What is Present, not precious?

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This one was tough!  This morning I thought, ‘Right, fiction today.’ And fiction, pure fiction, is an untravelled country for me. So I wrote a little longer than usual – more like 15-20 minutes – and edited a bit more than usual to get something that just might hold together.  Anyway, here’s to rough new landscapes.


It was a duty that Polly took seriously, a chore that felt like an honour, not drudgery, but as important as keeping the sun rising and setting each day.

Every evening, after the linen had been laid and the silver was set, when dusk was lingering in eaves, she came to the dining room and unwound the hemp rope hidden near the curtains. She gripped the rough rope, anticipating the sudden weight of the wrought iron chandelier transferring into her hands once she worked the rope free of its pegs. Slowly, slowly, she lowered the ring until it hovered just above place settings. With an old dented butter knife, no longer fit to be used for dining, she dug out what she could of the cold waxy remains of last night’s light from each candle cup, carefully collecting the bits of wax on a small plate. These would be used for more light, added to new candles.

She opened a drawer in a wooden sideboard and carefully counted out twelve new tapers, wicks still white, wax still smooth. Fitting one into each candle cup felt like planting a forest of light, soon to be aglow. From her pocket she pulled out an old candle stub with an uneven burn and lopsided top. Using this, she caught a flame from the hearth at the other end of the room. Sheltering the small light with her hand, she relished the heat on her palm in contrast with the chill in the room. The new ring of candles, silent and slender, were waiting to be set alight, set alive.

One by one, she woke each candle with a touch from the short flame. When the dozen lights were glowing, the light darted onto the silver and ricocheted off the crystal, it ventured into and out of the mirrors, populating the room with warmth, with movement.

Polly stepped back from the table to blow out the stub and watched the smoke tendrils rise in memory of the flame. She then laid the short candle on the sideboard and returned to the rope. Hand over hand she raised the ring of light until the candles were at just the right height to shine down and illuminate the evening.

Wrapping the rope around its pegs, she felt the satisfaction of knowing the chandelier was secure. She picked up the candle stub, the plate of old wax and the butter knife and slipped out.

The room was ready.  The evening could begin.

Version 2
What is Present, not precious?

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One of our main ways of getting to and fro around here is the bicycle. The first 5 months we lived in Cambridge, we had no car, only two bicycles and a toddler seat on the back of one. They served us well. We got into and out of town in the fresh air. My son, then not yet 3, like so many Cambridge kids, learned this city with a view from the back of a bike.

We would have carried on without a car except that I was pregnant and getting rounder and rounder.  One day, a particularly strong gust of wind blew all 3 of us over (me, my son, and the baby in my belly). We were all okay, but shortly after that, we got hold of a second-hand Volvo from a doctor who was returning to Canada in a few days and needed to get rid of his car quickly. That Volvo had heated leather seats.

Although we have a car (not the Volvo anymore), bicycles are still a preferred mode of transport. At the moment, I count six in our garage. Only four people live in this house. What does it say about a family when the number of bicycles exceeds the number of humans? We don’t have as many as we used to, some have rolled along into other families.  We have had our share though: a couple of hand-me down bikes, a balance bike (a wooden one with no pedals), a tag-along half-bike, a shiny new red bike that appeared one Christmas morning from the grandparents, a bike with blue sparkly ribbons and its own teddy-bear sized baby seat, a folding bike that was stolen from my daughter’s nursery and, miraculously, found by the police and returned to me!

A vivid moment in my memory as a parent is that moment with each of my kids when I let go of the seat on their two-wheelers without stabilisers and instead of toppling over to one side or the other, they, with a little wobble, start to move away, getting smoother and stronger, evening out the pedalling, and keep going, keep going.

What is Present, not precious?

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Postcard. For a few years in my early twenties, there were a lot of postcards in my life. Written, sent, received, read, stuck on the wall of my dorm room, tucked between pages as bookmarks. When I was travelling in Europe as a university student, postcards were a cheap souvenir and writing them a good excuse to sit on a bench near the bird sellers along Las Ramblas in Barcelona or on the steps of the Paris Opera with bread and pigeons and send a short message faraway. The thrill of buying foreign postage, figuring out the details of yet another currency in yet another country, and the sound of the card as it dropped in the postbox and the squeak of the metal slot closing after it were all a part of the ritual of sending these little flying carpets.

You could send a postcard to your family to say hello and that you were safe and happy. They traced your steps through different lands with a time lag that sometimes meant you made it home before the postcard got to their hands. You could send a postcard to someone you knew only glancingly and wanted to know better, wanted their attention, but didn’t want to risk the intimacy of a written, sealed letter. Flirtation by postcard can tell some good love stories, I’m sure.

Once I had a friend who was famous among us for his postcards. He seemed to get interesting summer jobs all over the country and made a point of visiting local attractions and sending us postcards. The images were always stunning and the back provided just enough space for one philosophical thought. I liked these tiny bits of metaphysics. Eventually, we had a falling out – this kind of thing happens – and the postcards stopped. I have no idea what has happened to all those postcards I already had.

What is Present, not precious?

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Nothing else in the world sounds like the noise, the din of the school cafeteria at lunchtime. And, like a thing so unerringly itself, all school cafeterias at lunchtime have the same merry chaos when filled with kids at long tables, collapsible, with reddish-coral coloured formica tops, benches running down either side.

If the benches are occupied, the surfaces are covered with food wrappings, hardboiled egg shells, open lunch boxes, drink-boxes, peanut butter and jelly mingling with ham and cheese, cheetos traded handily for oreo cookies. Carrot and celery sticks present, but rarely eaten. Conversations elbowing into each other, shouts tossed with glee that would only be passed like forbidden notes, like sly looks in the classroom.

If the benches are empty, the surfaces are either scattered with crumbs and small spills or recently wiped and still smelling of cleaner. The damp circles where the lunch lady or custodian wiped the table are an echo of the motion, cleaning up all the mess left behind with a gesture quick, efficient, not without love, but not wholly patient either, shuttling uneaten crusts of tuna sandwiches and sticky liquids of lunchtime diplomacy into the trashcan with a clean sweep. With a similar wave, the kids are swept out the door and on to the playground to continue this hard work of playground politics.

Posted in Kidstuff, Present, not precious - November 2016 | Tagged | 1 Comment