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On the Second Day of Summer

On the second evening of summer, from here at my desk and with the house all closed up against the heat, I could hear cicadas singing. I love them. I love them very much and as far as I had observed, this was their first chorus of the summer. I usually try to also notice their last song of the summer, but I’ve never yet been successful at that.

I stepped outside to my narrow balcony and they settled back down, as they do. Birds were carrying on and at the back of the yard, the barred owl took up calling. My neighbors were playing fiddle and guitar. And then, in the distance, I could hear the barred owl’s mate answering the call. As I turned my head in the hope of seeing it, I saw the tiniest sliver of a crescent moon in the Western sky. It must have risen very early. Next, a couple of fireflies lit and the cicadas made a false start at singing again.

Well, I don’t know that I need to say that I just stood there against the railing shaking my head and smiling in wonderment. I mean, wouldn’t you? One loveliness after another within a span of five minutes. Oh sure, these are all small things. The hum of life. The music of summer. The little pretties. All these things that make my heart glad.

I want to be that person who needs nothing more than these small things, ever. I want to to be the one who lets all grievances and petty irritations flutter on by. I want to remain unruffled by whatever little thises and thats wave in my face, trying to get a rise out of me. I want the kind of equanimity that keeps me sailing smoothly along, moment to moment, past the moments of beauty, all the way through the other decidedly not beautiful ones.

I do have equanimity sometimes. There are definitely moments, minutes, even hours or days when these small things are enough. I had no petty grievances right then, that evening. I am unruffled at times. And shouldn’t that be enough then, along with the cicadas, the owls, the crescent moon, the fireflies, the music? Just right then? No one is unruffled always. No one is consistently possessed of equanimity, not even the Dalai Lama. Where would the passion be? The life! The humanity.

So, since we are humans, these small moments of beauty and of contentment, brief or lasting, simply have to be enough. They are the gifts. And then we bumble along through the rest and we wait patiently for the next round of gifts that truly do come. And polite as we are, we say, “Thank you.”

“While getting lost in all those little things that seem so important, don’t forget the little things that matter . . .”― Virginia Alison

“The small things of life were often so much bigger than the great things . . . the trivial pleasure like cooking, one’s home, little poems especially sad ones, solitary walks, funny things seen and overheard.” ― Barbara Pym, Less Than Angels

“I live to enjoy life by the littlest things . . . Just the feeling itself of being alive, the absolute amazing fact that we are here right now, breathing, thinking, doing.” ― Marigold Wellington

If you’re looking for my cards or art, you’ll find all of that on my website. If you enjoy these letters, feel free to forward this one to anyone you think might like it. And if someone forwarded this one to you, you can sign up here to receive the letters right in your Inbox. Finally, you’ll find past letters and poems here.

Thanks for listening,

P.S. MerryThoughts is the name of my first book, out of print at the moment. The word is a British one, referring both to a wishbone and to the ritual of breaking the wishbone with the intention of either having a wish granted or being the one who marries first, thus the “merry thoughts.”

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Perfect Things

Have they gone, this summer’s cicadas, unnoticed by me

after the pact I made to note each day their noisy presence

so that I would know, in the end, the last time I heard them sing?

Folly on my part I suppose as, truly, do I remember (no)

the last kiss of the lover who one day to shock and chagrin

called the whole thing off, the unimagined last words spoken

by that distant friend now passed on, the final toothy grin flashed

by the little white dog I dearly loved, the last time my

chubby toddler spoke with his sweet little boy impediment,

the last time his brother’s adolescent voice cracked

before it went forever deeply male?

Even aiming to know and hold them close,

I’ve lost those perfect things even as they passed.

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And so we trip along the paths of wood and meadow

taking in everything, the call of the pileated woodpecker

sending a ruffle of ahhhhh! through my body

the light in the trees the cool touch of the morning air

the rasping of cicadas, the scampering of my two dogs

the wild devotion with which they apply themselves

to this quotidian place as if they have never ever ever been

here before, as if every leaf and stem is brand new

as if Life itself has just this moment burst open in them

and sent them rocketing down the path.


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Thoughts on Cicadas

No cicadas singing this wet morning and I am learning

some things about them possibly two of which are that

a) cicadas unlike Gene Kelly do not sing in the rain and

b) perhaps even when wet cicadas are simply not in the mood

for mating unlike beautiful young people in films who

find themselves overtaken by romantic urges after skipping

and laughing through a drenching rain and therefore

I feel that cicadas must not be very much like us after all.


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Triple Luck

A smidgen of rain and the cicadas

have fallen silent.  In their stead I heard

a pileated woodpecker, followed its call

and caught a glimpse after all these months

considered myself once again quite lucky

only to then spy a pair of indigo buntings

as we came out of the woods.

Double luck on this day oh triple luck

as we must oh we so must count the rain!

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I wonder why and how cicadas sing in unison as they do

their loud hum rising and falling as it does almost

as one, as if led by a tuxedo-wearing conductor

a flash mob of them hidden in their various perches

in tree and shrub joining their voices in chorus.

I wonder too whether I will notice their

closing performance before autumn falls

whether there is an actual last day and if so when

it might be and finally whether or not I will

ever stop my wondering and if so why.