A Great Big Lark

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Picnic Man

From an old family photo.  Subject/date unknown.
Picture I know nothing about, maybe 1920s.  A bright sunny day in a clearing with trees in the background, looks like a line of trees with another clearing, field, or roadway behind.  A group of people wearing various hats is gathered under the trees, and a child in white sits near an old car parked under the trees.
A man near the edge of the clearing is holding a partly-folded cloth that reflects the sun.
In the foreground, facing sideways/diagonal to the camera, stands a man in a white suit and dark hat.  His entire face is in shadow and his hands are clenched loosely at his sides.  He wears shiny, dark leather shoes.  He stands on thin grass in sandy soil, in a well-trodden part of the clearing.  He's wearing a tie, and something soft is wadded in the pocket of his suit jacket.  A bandana or tobacco pouch, maybe.

My question for the world around me:  Is there something you're not telling me?

Wednesday, November 01, 2017




Make us an offer!

Conveniently and perfectly situated for loafing, lounging, sunbathing, enjoying the waters of the Upper Chesapeake Bay and its rivers; puttering in the garden, fishing, beach combing, and forgetting about work.

Enjoy breeze from all directions:  the salty south, the balmy Atlantic storms of early fall, watered-down winter from the West and tame little nor'easters filtered through the forests of Pennsylvania and Southern New Jersey.

Do you like people?  You will love the flux of Southern Pennsylvanians and day-trippers from the countryside all around that begins on Memorial Day weekend and ends when the kids go back to school.  Tuesday is 'Amish Day' when a busload of plain people arrive to swim in old fashioned attire.  As fall was on, snowbirds leave for Florida soon aftre the geese come back.  Those of us who are less disposed toward fellow humans can now breathe a sigh of relief and take back the beach, streets, and alleyways for solitary twilight walks with the dog.  You never know what you might find, see, or hear on each short adventure.

They don't build them like this any more.  Solid wood balloon framing, topped by a pyramid- shaped attic space with dormers facing all directions: north, south, east, west, heaven, and hell.  An airy covered porch on two sides will roast you only on late summer afternoons and shade you the rest of the time.  This porch, along with a deep backyard, offer quaint stages for all the pleasures offered by Maryland climate, flora, and fauna.  Oh the unhurried conversations you will have with your dearest, most annoying and lovable friends and family members, hateful or suspicious neighbors, and quirky folk, and the various neighborhood cats, squirrels, owls and mockingbirds who return to the same nesting places in your yard and neighborhood year after year.  The people who live here are lucky, and unlucky, and everything in between, and they always have been.

The Knot

The Knot

You learn that death is inevitable and final.
You learn that death happens after harm to the body, either from illness, trauma, or age.
You learn the importance of care during illness, from close relatives, friends, doctors or nurses.

You are sick a lot as a child, mainly with allergies leading to respiratory illness.

Thinking about infinity too intently causes panic.
Thinking too much about time passing causes anxiety.  (Dust in the wind.)
Fear of illness (and by extension, death) causes anxiety.

Because you realize that it's important (vital!) to have people who care about you around you, you seek security in your relationships with people, starting with your family, but extending to friends and other people outside the home.  You strive to be cooperative, friendly, funny and interesting.  A people-pleaser.
This doesn't always guarantee harmony between you and the world.  These times of disharmony cause anxiety and sometimes panic, so you try to avoid any situation where you risk not fitting in or disappointing someone, or embarrassing yourself.

Find the flaws in this 'logic' and break the spell.


A Black Dog story from Jezebel's annual call for scary stories

Woman’s Best Friend by Tara (submitted via e-mail)

My husband lost his job and we ended up moving to a mobile home his parents own in the S. California desert where he grew up. After living my entire life in the liberal enclaves of PNW/N. Cali mountains & forests, an unexpected and unwanted move to a red zone where I knew literally no one besides my in-laws (who don’t particularly like me) was highly stressful to say the least. Add to the situation that our 6 year old was experiencing major culture shock and homesickness, I was about four months pregnant, and my husband was being a major taint crumb—just to give you an idea of the level of stress in the house. Oh, and did I mention we moved in the middle of July when temperatures were hovering around 120°F and my father in law neglected to tell us that the AC in the house was broken and there was no flooring in half the place? Yah. Waking nightmare.
After about a month of the three of us living in my FIL’s tiny study, the house is finally livable. It’s located on the fringes of a tiny town that is about 45 minutes from the closest city. We have a truck stop gas station, a fire station, a corner store and a smattering of houses. Our street dead ends at and is is surrounded by BLM land and is tucked in between low hills/backs up to mountains. Half the other houses are uninhabited. My husband found work near his parents house in the “city” and since his parents were willing to help with childcare our kiddo started school there as well. This left me at home alone with no car for long hours, which I secretly loved because it gave me time to unpack emotionally and physically and also meant I had limited interaction with my in laws, so I could enjoy being radiantly pregnant without jabs about how fat my face was getting.
One day, about three weeks after we moved into the house, something felt off. I was sitting down in the living room —which has no windows to the front yard —and suddenly had the overwhelming feeling that I had to go let my dog in NOW, even though she’d only been outside for a few minutes. As I walked into the kitchen, I realized that it was eerily silent and still outside. Keep in mind, it was late August in the desert so the windows and doors were all closed and the AC was on, so I’m not sure how I knew it was creepy outside before I opened the door to call in my dog, but somehow I did. Usually there’s a breeze or bugs buzzing or hummingbirds hitting up the feeder on our deck, which had been the case when I let doggo out. But when I opened up the sliding door to call for my dog, there was absolute silence. And when I looked out into the yard I realized why.
Sitting at our gate was a gigantic black dog. I don’t just mean a big dog: the top of this dog’s head was just below the top edge of our 8 foot chain link gate. It was easily as wide as a Mini Cooper, and looked like a cross between a Newfoundland and a grizzly bear. My dog is a sharpei-pitbull mix and she only came to about mid chest on this huge beast. She’s sitting there, maybe ten feet from it with just flimsy chain fence between them, watching it quietly. Tears immediately started pouring down my cheeks (I don’t cry easily) and suddenly it felt like I was carrying two full sized adults over my shoulders. It took every ounce of energy I had to walk to the edge of our small deck. I tried to very quietly whistle for my dog, and nothing really came out or if it did it was swallowed by the silence. Still, right as I ‘whistled,’ both my dog and the black dog turned their heads to look at me. My dog slowly stood up and calmly walked over to me. You have to understand: she is the derpiest bounciest collection of happy squish face love and never does anything less than bound across the yard with her tail up, tongue out, and ears perked when she’s called, so this was completely out of character.
When she reached me, she turned and looked back at the black dog, then back at me, then started to walk back towards it like she wanted me to follow her. I made a lunge for her and grabbed her harness. The dog stood up, and we locked eyes. I was then hit by the deepest sadness I’ve ever felt. Worse than when either of my parents died, it was a like a cold wave crashed directly in the center of my heart. I was sobbing uncontrollably as I dragged my dog inside.
When I looked back, the black dog had begun to walk down the street towards the mountains. It went behind a large Palo Verde shrub, and disappeared. I sat on my kitchen floor sobbing and shivering for a good hour despite the searing summer temps.
I finally calmed down and worked up the nerve to take my dog out again later that afternoon. When I checked the area around the gate for paw prints there were none, but there was a giant void in the sandy tire tracks my husband made when he left for work. My dog remained subdued for a while, but was back to herself by the time husband & kid got home. I didn’t say anything to him (things weren’t really great between us and he was in a bad mood), but he noted later on how funny it was that our dog kept pacing back and forth in front of the gate.
About a week later I went in for a prenatal appointment. I’d lost my baby. The doctor said it was a failure to thrive/nothing I could’ve done/sometimes these things happen situation. I’d been feeling off for about two weeks, but had just chalked it up to how stressful life had been—I honestly would’ve marked the black dog off as a stress induced hallucination or something had my dog not ...interactacted?... with it so extensively.
About a month later, I was hiking on the south end of Joshua Tree with my husband. We turned around to follow a hawk that had flown overhead and there on the trail we’d just walked was a big black dog. Not as big as the one at the house—this one was closer to the size of a normal Newfoundland. It sat down and—as funny as it sounds—sneezed, then got up and walked off. My husband tried to follow it, but lost it. The area we were hiking was all low plants, nowhere for this dog to have come from or gone to without us seeing it for quite a while. Before it appeared, we’d been talking about our baby and had actually settled on a name for him, even though we’d never meet him.
I guess you could see the black dog as something malicious or blame it for losing the pregnancy, but I don’t. I think it came to escort the little soul I had onto its proper place in the universe, and it gives me great comfort to think of a little boy resting in the guard of a big, fluffy dog. My husband still thinks the one we saw while hiking was a stray, but whenever my dog meets someone new she sneezes as a sort of “I’m friendly!” gesture. I think the dog was letting me know that the little guy made it to where he needed to be safely.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017


Across-the-street owls began hooting at 6:52 p.m. last night.


It continues to be a challenge to schedule time for writing, and to stick to that schedule.  I know that if I had the self-discipline to honor the commitments I make to myself, so many things in my life, not just writing, would go much more smoothly.

Growing up, I always had morning and evening routines.  These were fostered and encouraged in my house because, well, it's good parenting!  As soon as I had children of my own, my natural tendency to follow certain routines started to disintegrate as I became almost wholly focused on taking care of small children, and establishing routines around their needs.  My own needs, for food, rest, and things like showers came last.  When the children were older, and I returned to work, it became even more complicated, since they now had school needs and obligations to contend with, and I had to be somewhere else for a huge chunk of each day, performing a whole new set of duties in a timely and efficient way.  You would think that now, when both daughters are in their twenties and haven't even been fully resident at home since 2008, I would have been able to reestablish efficient routines for myself, but that has not been the case.

Somewhere along the line, in those days of raising small children, I necessarily had to take a new attitude about obligations and expectations in general.  I was diagnosed with clinical depression, which forced me to focus not only on my children's needs, but on my own physical and psychological  self-care.  Obligations to others and activities outside the home took their places at the end of the line, to be met or participated in when I was feeling 'up to it.'  It has turned out that the tendency toward depression is chronic, and will require treatment and consideration, most likely, for the rest of my life.  I tend to want to avoid social situations, but on another level I also crave social connection and company.  The tug and tension between these two feelings is something that is always present.

As a result of all of the above, I have become used to thinking of everything as being flexible and malleable, subject to the needs, whims and feelings of the moment.  (to be continued)


Dreams of My Grandparents

Bottles, seashells, artifacts on the beach.  Dark and dusty interiors.  Jumbled and neglected kitchen.  Desks and attic spaces full of old papers and household items.  A cold feeling in the back of my skull, and the shade of my grandfather or grandmother somewhere nearby.



We barely know it, but every day each one of us is fully engaged in steering the course of the universe. Or swept up in the tide of the universe. Or both.




I woke up in the middle of the night and it was light out.  The sun was in the west.  It was very warm and flowers in the garden were sprouting and growing.

Went to the beach (ocean beach, not ours) to look for shells and rocks and stuff.  Instead found books scattered about.  Old books, sandy and some damp, all over the beach.  Browsed through like at a library.  Picked up Ernest Hemingway small green old with gold seashells on the front.

Dreamed that in the woods behind my parents' house there was a steep hill.  When you climbed to the top you were on Kent Street in Chestertown (the street with the pink & purple house.)  Oh, good, now we can walk to the library!

Pulling beech trees out of the ground.


Parked in old historic town - to tour some houses.  History of slavery and cruelty.
Back formal garden.  White flowers.  Torture re-enactment - large swinging crane-like structure.  I am afraid I'm going to get hit by it - "Only a fool would be here."
Back to the house.  Remember descending into lower floor of a side wing of the house, a pale blue room.  Haunted.  The Blue Boy room.  Very strong presence - I am afraid.  There's a door in this room and once you exit you cannot return.  I do not exit.  He is alive - "And who is this?"  Leo. Angelo.

Angelo is the father. Leo is the son - who always gets called by his father's name.


The wayward gnat will soon discover that a candle is different than a lightbulb.


Monday, May 22, 2017

Notes from Leslie Marmon Silko's Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit

 It is remarkable to sense the presence of those long passed at the locations where their adventures took place.  Spirits range without boundaries of any sort, and spirits may be called back in any number of ways.  The method used in the calling also determines how the spirit manifests itself.  I think a spirit may or may not choose to remain at the site of its passing or death.  I think they might be in a number of places at the same time.  Storytelling can procure fleeting moments to experience who they were and how life felt long ago.  What I enjoyed most as a child was standing at the site of an incident recounted in one of the ancient stories that old Aunt Susie had told us as girls.  What excited me was listening to her tell us an old-time story and then realizing that I was familiar with a certain mesa or cave that figured as the central location of the story she was telling.


Before the arrival of Christian missionaries, a man could dress as a woman and work with the women and even marry a man without any fanfare.  Likewise, a woman was free to dress like a man, to hunt and go to war with the men, and to marry a woman.  In the old Pueblo worldview, we are all a mixture of male and female, and this sexual identity is changing constantly.  Sexual inhibition did not begin until the Christian missionaries arrived.  For the old-time people, marriage was about teamwork and social relationships, not about sexual excitement.  In the days before the Puritans came, marriage did not mean an end to sex with people other than your spouse.  Women were just as likely as men to have a si’ash, or lover.


All places and all beings of the earth are sacred.  It is dangerous to designate some places sacred when all are sacred.  Such compromises imply that there is a hierarchy of value, with some places and some living beings not as important as others.  No part of the earth is expendable; the earth is a whole that cannot be fragmented, as it has been by the destroyers’ mentality of the industrial age.  The greedy destroyers of life and bringers of suffering demand that sacred land be sacrificed so that a few designated sacred places may survive; but once any part is deemed expendable, others can easily be redefined to fit the category of expendable.


…..These cowboys believed in action, not words, certainly not the printed word.
Hundreds of years before, proclamations, letters, and edicts came to the Americas from monarchs and popes admonishing the settlers to obey the laws.  In the Americas, the settlers were to reap the riches they all desired.  If you could not read the king’s or the pope’s edict, then you could not be held accountable.  If you were ignorant of the pope’s edict then you were blameless before God.  So illiteracy and the aversion to books that is found through the Americas descends from colonial times.  Ignorance was blissful and profitable.


(On Photography)  The origin of waves or particles of light-energy that may give such a sinister cast to a photograph is as yet unexplained.  Fields of electromagnetic force affect light.  Crowds of human beings massed together emanate actual electricity.  Individual perceptions and behavior are altered.  Witnesses report feeling an “electricity” that binds and propels a mob as a single creature.  So the greed and violence of the last century in the United States are palpable; what we have done to one another and to the earth is registered in the very atmosphere and effect, even in the light.  “Murder, murder,” sighs the wind over the rocks in a remote Arizona canyon where they betrayed Geronimo.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Nehemiah Fitzgerald's Death

Nehemiah Fitzgerald is a 3rd great-uncle of mine who was born in Hampton, Virginia in 1841.  He was the oldest of 10 children.  He served in the Civil War with the Richmond Howitzers, finished his education, and left Virginia to seek opportunity elsewhere after the war.  His first stop was Louisiana, which he found "just as bad" as Virginia, so he took a ship to San Francisco in 1867.  He had teaching jobs in Chico and Rio Seco in 1868, Quincy and Live Oak in 1869, Cherokee Flat in 1870, and Gridley's Station in 1871 before arriving in Lake City in 1872, in what is now Modoc County, CA.  At some point, he bought sheep and established a homestead, before becoming the first county clerk of Modoc County in 1874, when he moved to Alturas (then Doris Bridge.)  He married Melissa Garrett, and continued to teach, raised sheep and cattle, and did some merchandizing.  The following letter was written by his daughter Phebe to his youngest sibling, Charles Fitzgerald (in Virginia), after his death.  I have the original letter, which I found in his sister Martha's family Bible (which is actually a salesman's sample Bible, and is full of family memorabilia.)

Alturas, Cal.
July 30 – 1905

Dear Uncle Charlie: -

No doubt ‘ere this you have received the card, announcing Bessie’s marriage and we little thought when it started on its way to you that it should so soon be followed by another telling not of a happy union but of a sad parting, but it is so.

Poor papa has gone from us and gone so suddenly that at times it seems it must be some terrible dream.  Bessie was married at noon, leaving for her new home at 4 o’clock, happy of course, but before night had come, all our joy had been turned to sorrow.

The heat had been extreme and papa had suffered from it, complaining of the weakness he felt – still all the week he had kept the store books holding the position for me.  He slept poorly Saturday night – because of the heat and excitement he felt over Bessie’s marriage – but Sunday, save a slight dizziness in the morning he seemed to feel as well as usual and thinking back now I can recall nothing unusual in his talk or manner – there being quite a number of people here.  He talked more than was his custom and largely of his ailments but that was his usual subject of conversation and to us it did not seem strange.

Shortly after five o’clock he ate a dish of ice cream, sat reading a while and then went out to do the evening chores, carried some water and went to the shed to get the grain for the chickens.  In a few moments Baby ran out there for something, saw him, was frightened and came running to me and said there was someone in the wood shed.  I tried to tell her it was some of our folks, for her not to be afraid to go and get what she wanted but she insisted she could not go alone; so I started with her and there I found papa lying cold in death as I knew the instant I saw him.  I ran to him, called him and tried to rouse him and then hurried to the house for help.  But papa was past all help before I reached him the first time.  Dr. said life had gone before he reached the ground, that it was instantaneous and without any suffering.  That is consolation for us and I hope will be for you.

Papa was not under the Dr’s care at the time but he had made a study of the disease and told us we should be prepared for this at any time – but you can know how we felt that it must be, if at all, sometime a long, long way off.  We never suspected the end was so near nor do I think he did tho’ he may have realized it more than we know.

The services were held here at home Monday at 4 o’clock – I wish you could have seen him then, it will always be a pleasant memory to me to know that all the careworn, tired looks pains and suffering had brought was gone and in its place was a faint smile and rest.

I will send you the papers, and try to write more fully another time.  I know you will share our grief with us and may it be lighter to you than it is for us.

Your loving niece