CLYTEMNESTRA’S LAMENT – GUEST POST By KARIN LAINE MCMILLEN

Introduction

Many of us have the mental image of nature as somehow kinder, sweeter, more gentle than the lives we lead. On a fundamental reality level, I knew that wasn’t true, but as long as all I saw were flying birds and leaping squirrels, I could ignore the rest. Even knowing that the large eat the small, and the strong kill the weak, that nature is fierce.

Nonetheless, the rattlesnake and snapping turtle have as much a right to their dinners as the bright yellow finch or the ladder-backed woodpecker. I didn’t realize how many of the creatures in my own backyard bore significant scars from hawks and foxes and bobcats until I got a distance lens and saw it myself.

A hurt squirrel

With the camera, I see many of the animals I photograph bear significant scars and damage from attacks by other creatures. Some have healed, others have disappeared and probably didn’t survive.

This is a story about love and nature.


Clytemnestra’s Lament: The Story of the Swans – By Karin Laine McMillen

We bought our swans, as all the bourgeois do.

They came in the US mail, in boxes with pointed tops. We had a swan release party. Restricted beauty reigned as pinioned swans flew across our one acre, man-made, engineered and certified pond.

A swan on the lake at the farm

Relocating swans is a precarious commitment. An unexpectedly large rectangular enclosure needs to be built in advance, part of it in the water and the remainder on land. This is so the pair can acclimate to their habitat, lest they try to walk back to Illinois from whence they came.

Named Illich and Odette after the heroine of Swan Lake by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, they acted as guardians of my gentleman’s farm and performed their duties of chasing geese and eating the algae with instinctual vigor.

Every spring our female, distinguished by her slightly diminutive size, built a large, perfectly round nest which always reminded me of Big Bird’s nest from Sesame Street. The first year, she just built it. I don’t know if she had eggs or not, but if she did they didn’t hatch.

Illich, Odette, with cygnets

The second year, my family arrived for the weekend from New York to discover four baby swans on the pond with their parents. We quickly discovered, or more accurately researched, that baby swans are named cygnets. We disseminated that information to anyone who would listen.

The following weekend I was saddened to see only two cygnets. My toddler was fascinated by who might have “eatted” them. I grabbed my camera to be sure to capture the fluffy whiteness and inspiring family unit in action. I unrealistically fantasized about having two sets of swans forever gracefully adorning our pond.

I don’t remember how long the last two babies lived, but at some point in the spring, I heard that one of the cygnets had been dragged out of the pond and eaten by a snapping turtle. I was furious, and have been trying to kill those prehistoric looking creatures ever since.

Swans with cygnets

The following year I became excited in the early spring as Odette started constructing her nest and proceeded to sit on it for weeks on end, for a gestation time I never fully researched.

On May 4th, 2007 the French National Orchestra was touring with Kurt Masur on the podium. The date stuck with me due to my bird-loving grandmothers anniversary of birth. New Yorkers turned out in droves to see their former popular conductor. I was seated in one of the side boxes at Carnegie Hall with a fellow musician. We were beyond excited to hear Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony as the highlight of the program.

Our familiarity with the work was such that we glanced nervously at each other when the horns flubbed their perfect fifths in the first movement. We knew that the difficult horn solo at the beginning of the second movement was extremely exposed, and would dictate the success of the evening.

I went to bed on a high that I am convinced one can only get from music and had an unnerving and unexpectedly feverish dream filled with violence and unrest. Black and white converged; blood, death, and fear prevailed. I woke in a sweat and shortly got the call.

It happened that the previous evening. My darling Odette was ripped to shreds by a bear. She was guarding her eggs.

When haunted by the violent passages of Tchaik 5, I still reflect on my culpability. Did I doom this mother by naming her after a heroine who dances herself to death?

 

Illich survived. He graced our pond for season upon season. I often wonder if he sang in mourning for his bride and offspring, while I sat ninety miles away in a red velvet adorned box at Carnegie Hall.

Years later, on a spring morning, I got a call informing me that the body of Illich was immobile on the land beside the pond. I envisioned him with his beautiful neck resting on the ground. I begged our sensitive caretaker to bury him appropriately on the property.

Last spring a single grey swan grace our pond for a little while. He did not stay. This spring another has been spotted and I am nearly desperate for him to stay. Precariously, I follow the new swan with my camera as I stroll around the pond on Memorial Day.

My nearly white golden retriever and the white swan seem to have come to an equilibrium. My retriever seems to inherently understand the complex relationships before him. My mind weaves restlessly between questions and wishes.

Do I dare name him? Will he find a bride? Will they stay?

Suddenly peace washes over me with the warm breeze and I hear a whisper: “Nature, as is her habit, will forgive.”

JUST ONE DAM THING AFTER ANOTHER – Marilyn Armstrong

Someone asked me what was the busiest day I can remember over the last ten years. Last ten years? You’re kidding, right?

The asker was lacking enough decades. She didn’t realize this was an impossible question. When you are 20, your memories are crisp and sharp and you know you will never forget them.

Unless you die young, you will forget them. I can personally guarantee it.

HumbleBeaver

I can’t remember what I did yesterday, much less in the course of an entire 10-year period.

Hectic? What’s hectic? The decades have all been riddled with crises. Financial, medical, personal. I don’t remember the sequence of a particular day, not even yesterday. Or this morning. It’s nearly one in the afternoon. I’m still answering email and trying to get this silly little post written.

Maybe I should think about this in bigger pieces, like decades? Anyone who asks this question obviously hasn’t lived for many decades. I’m sure having fewer decades to remember might make the whole memory thing more … memorable. By the time you’ve survived seven or eight decades, you would never ask this question. You would know your friends feel lucky to get to the end of a sentence without having to pause to remember what word comes next.

I can tell you — I think — which period in my life was the most hectic. It started in 1963 and slowed down … when was that? Wait for it. I’m thinking. Okay, got it. It hasn’t slowed down. But it would be okay with me if it did.

Life, as the beaver said, is just one dam thing after another.

beaver mafia

 

ANY KIND OF HOUSE IN BLACK & WHITE – Marilyn Armstrong

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Any Kind of House
Beacon Hill, Boston – a classic apartment
Beacon Hill brownstones in a row
Tepee
House and shed
The farm by the lake
Brookline
Arches in Roxbury
The old Inn in Amherst, mid-1700s 

THE CHANGING SEASONS: MAY 2019 – Marilyn Armstrong

The Changing Seasons, May 2019

Photography: Garry and Marilyn Armstrong

It has been a weird month of May. A lot of rain, a lot of cold days with and without rain, then a couple of hot muggy days. Immediately followed by cooler dry days and then wet, quite cold days. It’s only in the low 50s right now and will be in the mid-40s tonight. That is cold for this time of year.

Flowers – Marilyn Armstrong

Weather forecasts these days are closer to guesses than they used to be. There’s so much very bad, dangerous weather rolling across the continent. Tornadoes, flooding, violent thunderstorms only a few miles south of here. As long as the winds don’t change, all we are going to get is drenching rain.

Mumford Dam and River – Garry and Marilyn Armstrong

The gardens look pretty sad. There are flowers, but everything, even the Hosta, is droopy and no really fully developed. Except for Solomon’s Seal — which is happy in gray rainy weather — everything else looks like it wishes it could have stayed in the ground.

The Village – Garry Armstrong

There were a few good days and we went out for one, and Garry for another. Otherwise, it was some of the flowers and of course, the birds.

Boys and the River – Garry and Marilyn Armstrong

The pictures make it look like we’ve had a lovely, sunny month. The truth is that all of the pictures were taken over a period of five sunny days. The rest of the months was gray, rainy, and mostly, cold.

The following pictures of the birds may tell more of the story because the birds get really hungry when the weather is cold and rainy. When it’s bright and sunny, they tend to ignore us. Also, they aren’t happy with us right now because we bought cheaper food. It’s not bad food, but it has less of the more expensive components because rain or not, there’s real, live food all over the woods. There are bugs and fruit and nuts to eat and they don’t need to depend on our buffet.

Birds – Marilyn Armstrong

Except for the squirrels. They have completely given up finding their own food. As far as they are concerned, they own us and expect a good, solid meal every single day. They ate ALL the food in two days this week. I mean down to the last few seeds at the very bottom of the hanging feeder. And they did it while we weren’t looking.

The Red Christmas Cactus – Marilyn Armstrong
Macro red cactus

Murderer’s Row – Marilyn Armstrong

They have figured out when we are around — and when we aren’t. They are smarter than people think!


About The Changing Seasons

The Changing Seasons is a monthly challenge where bloggers around the world share what’s been happening in their month.

If you would like to join in, here are the guidelines:

The Changing Seasons Version One (photographic):

      • Each month, post 5-20 photos in a gallery that you feel represent your month
      • Don’t use photos from your archive. Only new shots.
      • Tag your posts with #MonthlyPhotoChallenge and #TheChangingSeasons so that others can find them

The Changing Seasons Version Two (you choose the format):

      • Each month, post a photo, recipe, painting, drawing, video, whatever that you feel says something about your month
      • Don’t use archive stuff. Only new material!
      • Tag your posts with #MonthlyPhotoChallenge and #TheChangingSeasons so others can find them.

If you do a pingback to Su-Leslie’s post, she will update it with links to your post.

AN ILLUSION OF THIEVES by CATE GLASS – Marilyn Armstrong

This is a world where magic has been banned. Anyone displaying signs of ability to perform it is drowned, murdered … or worse (yes, there IS worse). Amidst the terror, a group of secret magic users discovers one another. Collectively, they have the talent to do amazing things, though the law forbids it. If they are caught, they will die and likely their entire family with them.



Unlike the author’s earlier writings, this series promises to be ongoing. Somewhat emotionally less intense, it is nonetheless breathtaking in its complexity and originality. Beautifully written. I consumed the book in two long evenings. Give me a week and I probably read it again. Carol Berg, all of whose books I have read as hard copies or on Kindle is — in my opinion — a very underrated fantasy author. She creates characters who, by happenstance, bad luck, politics or some bizarre law, have been beaten down to near nothingness, yet survive, find their power and are greater than before. You cannot steal or crush their greatness.

She hadn’t written anything in a few years and I have been hoping she would emerge with a new set of stories. She has.

Under the new name of Cate Glass, “An Illusion of Thieves” has the feeling of a (hopefully!) long series. A bit more upbeat than earlier works, the story is exciting and highly complex. For the entire book, it’s as if these folks are tiptoeing through a vast minefield where even a minor misstep would mean destruction for all. How many secret magickers live under the constant threat of terror of death and ruin? We can only guess, but I’m sure there are many and laws notwithstanding, many other secret practitioners exist on all levels of society.

If you have not read any other of Carol Berg’s books … well … given the state of our world, could there be a better time to start? She is a wonderful author and I highly recommend all of her books to anyone who enjoys these kinds of stories.

These days — since my eyes are not quite what they were — I prefer audiobooks. I listened to this the day after it was released. All of her previous books I read first in print, either on Kindle or as a hard copy … and later as audiobooks.

Carol Berg’s (Cate Glass) books are not like other fantasy novels. Her characters are not typical fantasy characters. Her stories aren’t long quests to save the world from a dark lord or prince. They are profoundly personal, deep, and sometimes, heartbreaking … yet good in the end, great events. You’ll meet dragons, lords, prisoners, sorcerers and many more. If you’ve been looking for something new — Cate Glass’s new book is a fine start, after which, you can joyfully dig into Carol Berg’s earlier series.

You will not be disappointed.

NOTE: As part two of this prompt — which is prompting me to review this book which I meant to do before now! — I’m including another review of a book by the same author. The secret word is DRAGONS.

RDP Friday: PROMPT – Part 1

SONG OF THE BEAST By CAROL BERG – Marilyn Armstsrong

“Song of the Beast” is available on Kindle and Audible.com.

Song of the Beast | [Carol Berg]After years of waiting, the book finally came available as an Audiobook. Since I have the book on Kindle, Audible.com let me buy the audiobook for just $4.49 I was delighted. A steal!

Narrated by Claire Christie and Jeremy Arthur, I was reminded again at how much more I get from an audiobook than from print. I think it’s because I read so fast. When I listen, the pace is that of human speech, perhaps slightly slower than standard talk. I absorb more of the story and I give my aging eyes a well-earned rest.

The dual narration works well. Aiden and Lara having their own voices and perspectives.

Song of the Beast is a standalone book. I wish it were a series. I have it on good authority that another story (short story — not an entire book) will be coming out based in the same world, though not featuring the same characters. I would prefer more books, but I will settle for whatever I can get. If Carol Berg writes it, I will read it. I think she’s brilliant and not nearly as well-appreciated as she deserves.

I came to love her fabulous dragons.

I found the story’s characters well-drawn and three-dimensional. Many relationships are between different species because, unlike her other books, not all characters are human. The relationships are logical extensions of the cultures from which they come. The slightly abrasive relationships between different peoples are fundamental.

The main character — Aidan McAllister has been imprisoned and tortured. His beautiful voice has been silenced, his hands brutally destroyed. His music, which offered solace and hopes to war-torn Elyria, is gone. The god in whom he never lost faith and nurtured him and his music since he was a child seems to have abandoned him.

Yet no one has yet told him what his crime was. He has no idea what earned him such punishment. He has emerged from prison a broken man, battered beyond endurance, wanting nothing more than peace and safety … and the end of pain. Having lost himself, he must find his way back to himself, remember who he was because that’s the key to what happened to him, what is happening to the world and the dragons. There is, of course, a beautiful woman.

Through it all, Aiden remains a gentle soul in a cruel world, a man to whom violence is abhorrent no matter what was done to him. He’s neither vengeful nor mean-spirited. Music is his magic.

I wish there were a sequel to this book. I wanted to know what happened next, how this society evolves. The book left me with lots of questions. It isn’t a cliff hanger — not exactly — but it didn’t seem quite finished to me. There’s plenty of room for more stories as this world realigns and reconstructs itself in the wake of a new understanding of dragons.

I liked the book so much I was sorry it ended. I never want any of Carol Berg’s books to end.

Song of the Dragon is available via Audible download, on Kindle, and as a paperback. It was originally available in hardcover and I have that, too. Next up, Rai Kirah in audio! I have the first volume and this month will get another.

Please don’t miss part one of this prompt, Cate Glass’s (Carol Berg) “Illusion of Thieves.”

RDP Friday: PROMPT – Part 2

MODERN CAPITALISM AND CORPORATE CORRUPTION IN ONE MEME – Marilyn Armstrong

I don’t usually publish stuff I find on Facebook, but there’s an exception to every rule. This made me laugh and I really need a laugh. It didn’t get to me until I got to Canadian Capitalism. Then, I lost it.

WARNING: This is a meme, not reality. Don’t go there. Just don’t.

capitolism-explained

DOES IT GET MORE HUMDRUM THAN THIS? – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Humdrum

All photography Garry Armstrong

Today is another doctor visit, the follow-up to the follow-up of the tests which were the follow-up to the original meeting — and all the other tests. None of which have provided any significant information. But she is the best-looking neurologist Garry has ever met and he would be terribly disappointed to miss this appointment.

Main Street, Uxbridge
The Uxbridge crossroad where Route 16 dis-angularly crosses Main Street. Note the single traffic light.

You know how the doctors on television shows have these smashingly gorgeous physicians? She is one of them. Ready for television now — without extra makeup.

It’s probably worth the $40 copay to watch Garry enjoy the view.

Our brand spanking new crossing sign! Isn’t this exciting? It’s educational. Of course, if you stop to read it, you’ll miss your crossing. Not to worry. There’s not very much traffic anyway.

But this isn’t about our humdrum doctor’s visit. No, this is about the overwrought traffic sign we have in the middle of Uxbridge.

Downtown – the center of the excitement!
Route 16 heading for Main Stree, past the dam and the cemetery.

Remember that we are a one road town. Two lanes, one in each direction. There is a crossroad, though the two ends of it are about a block apart. I’m sure someone knows why, but I am not one of them.

Recently, the decision was made that what we really need to spruce up little old Uxbridge was an especially complicated pedestrian crossing sign. It’s so long, I doubt anyone has read it except us because Garry took a picture of it. This morning, looking at the picture of it again, I wondered where the town got it and how much it cost.

So if you need one of your own, this is where you can buy it. It’s less than $20, plus shipping and you have to find somewhere to nail it up. I notice this is considered an “educational” traffic sign. Will it improve our children’s reading scores?

It took me four different traffic sign companies before I found it, but I did. I am relentless in the pursuit of trivia. If that isn’t humdrum, I just don’t know what is.

It was not even expensive, so I still don’t know what they do with our tax money, other than repaving the same section of Main Street every year for the past 19 years. Maybe it’s trying to figure out what’s wrong with the town water.

THE FIRE TRUCK WHO SERVED AND GOT SAVED – Marilyn Armstrong

Old Number 2 was one of the long-serving fire trucks in our town. Almost 20 years ago, she was replaced, but no one could bear to scrap her, so she was put out to pasture … literally.

Her rusting hulk stood for years in the empty field across from the post office — where she remained until they decided she was too rusty, old, potentially dangerous and needed to be scrapped — at which point she was adopted.



OLD NUMBER TWO FIRE ENGINE

Undergoing rehab! Photo: Garry Armstrong
Photo: Garry Armstrong
Photo: Marilyn Armstrong

WHEN DO I LOOK LIKE ME? – Marilyn Armstrong

Considering one thing and another, I have always been sure I could not possibly be related to the people who raised me. I suspect everyone, especially as a child, is sure they are a misplaced orphan. Sadly, there was always one problem from which I could never escape.

I look just like them. Both of them. They didn’t look alike, so how could this be?

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Apparently, you change as you age. So you can look exactly like dad when you’re three, but exactly like mom when you’re sixty. Periodically, depending on how the genetic package rolls, you can resemble one or the other — or both  — at any given point in time.

I used to look like my father, but I got older. Now, look like my mother.

I wonder if I’ll ever look like me? Whatever that means.

I know nothing about what brought me into the world any more than I know what will take me out. Probably, that’s just as well. I think I lack curiosity about my fate which others apparently have a strong need to know. I never felt any serious desire to research my ancestry or get my DNA checked. When I did it, it was a fun birthday present for Garry and I.

What was, is. What will be, will occur. I’m not in charge and never was. I am okay enjoying as much of the now as I can while I’m still part of it.

Yet, every now and then, I wonder if it’s possible I was actually put here by a transiting starcraft. An intergalactic seed dropped from the sky that somehow, wound up in this world. In this peculiar place. A bit of pollen falling from a drifting craft on its way to somewhere in an infinite beyond.

It could be true.

PROVOCATIVE QUESTION – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s Provocative Question #25

It’s existential question time for some of us, not so existential for the rest of us. Because the question is:

So today’s provocative question is all about the before and after:

“Where do you believe you were you before you were born and what do you believe will happen to you after you die?”

For me, it’s pretty simple. Before I existed, before I was born, I wasn’t anything. After I die, I’ll be gone. Dust to dust.

What will happen? Damned if I know. Maybe something, probably nothing. Will “my soul” become a new soul in a new body? Karma? Oh please, be kind. This life has been rough enough and I have no urge to do anything like this again.

Photo: Garry Armstrong – As close to heaven as I can imagine.

So the answer is “maybe, or maybe not.” I don’t know. Because there are a million theories around. Some of them are charming, some not so charming — but none of them can be proved. If there is a God, he hasn’t dropped by to discuss the matter with any of his billions of adherents and definitely not with me.

Regardless of dogma, if he or one of the many adherents have conversed with any of us, none of them have dropped by to reopen the conversation. It’s the same mystery it always was.

If there is some kind of heaven, I’d like to assume that all good people will be there, regardless of what (or nothing) that they believed before their passing. If there’s nothing afterward? Then we will all go into that great nothingness. Finally, at long last, there will be full equality for everyone.

Heaven is what you make of it.

I personally would love to believe in a beautiful afterlife, so I leave open the option that there may be one, even if I don’t know anything about it. For the hedge-bettors amongst us, you can always be religious now and if it works out to be true, you’re a winner. If it doesn’t, you’re no worse off than you’d have been anyway. Some would consider that a win-win.

As for me, I will just live as I have lived, deal with life as it comes, hope that whatever happens after we die is at least peaceful — and finally, there won’t be any more bills to pay.

#FPQ

HOW GO YOUR YEARS? – Marilyn Armstrong

When I was in college, two of the women with whom I became friends were suicides. Neither of them was happy, but I would never have guessed either of them was suicidal.

One of them was just 19 when she killed herself. The other was 21.

For this reason, I have never assumed “everything is fine” for anyone. Even when you ask, you will only know what you are told and that is rarely the entire truth. People are secretive about their deepest fears and thoughts.

“How are you?”

“Everything is fine.”

“You don’t sound fine.”

“No, really. I’m fine.”

How many times can you ask before you realize you aren’t going to discover more? When people mention that aging makes them “think about mortality” I realize I began thinking about mortality when Karin died and then again when Anna jumped. Also when a young couple, just married, crashed their car into a truck and died on the highway.

Yet again, when my first husband got kidney cancer at 34 and lived, but still died young of heart disease and medical errors. Then my brother died of pancreatic cancer at 61. One of Garry’s colleagues — in her early 40s — died while waiting for a bus in Cambridge. When my first husband’s father died of his second heart attack at 52, I was pregnant and sorry he never met his grandson. For that matter, Jeff died at 53 and never met his granddaughter.

I knew a young person who died of a heart attack before age 21. Another internet friend, Rosa, died last year of a heart attack. I only found out when her mother called to tell me. She wasn’t yet 35.

And of course, there are all the friends our age who are battling cancer, dementia, heart conditions, not to mention the ones who have “beaten” cancer, but of course, you never really beat cancer. You are remitted and that will have to do.

When people complain about not being as active as they were when they were many years younger, I think they are missing the point. Age or disease can do you in at any point in your life. You don’t have to get old. You can be 21, an athlete, and collapse on the court.

The Dark Lord will have his way. When and how it hits you is partly how you used your body and your DNA. Depending on your constitution, your ability to walk, run, ride, or whatever you do may be compromised. Even eliminated.

Then again, are you breathing on your own? Do you get out of bed in the morning, even if it is a struggle? Do you find joy in your life? Do you laugh? Are there people you love who also love you? Is life interesting? Are you still curious to know what’s going to happen?

If any of these things are true, yay for you. You are alive.

Mortality is always with us, whether we are old or young. We may not be paying attention to it, or we may be under some delusion that we are exempt from “the end” because we exercise and eat right. But there will be an end.

Maybe, as Jeff used it say, it’ll be a runaway beer truck. Or something unexpectedly medical. It may be tomorrow or in 60 years. Whatever time you have, be gracious and grateful. Many people don’t get a life full of years. Others get the years and manage to be miserable anyway.

Enjoy your years, however many you have. And while you are at it, be nice to the people you know and especially those who love you and who you love. Kindness is the least expensive and most valuable gift we have to give.