Next Year’s Words

I had the privilege of reading a selection of my writings two days ago at Next Year’s Words: a New Paltz Readers’ Forum. This was my first time reading any of my writings in public, and I was a little nervous beforehand. Once I started reading, though, I stepped back into the worlds I was sharing through my observations and musings, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Susan Chute, one of the founders of Next Year’s Words and the coordinator of the evening this week, is an artist with words, and she wrote a very affirming and encouraging introduction for me with information she drew information from writing I have done in workshops with her, and from my blog and art website. She has given me permission to share that introduction here, which I do to show Susan’s way with words and also to comment on what her words did for me.

For some time I’ve been puzzled about how I can best combine my interests in writing with my sketching and painting, and Susan’s words were like a key that unlocked that mystery for me. After hearing how Susan perceives my words and paintings, I have a clearer picture of how I would like to move forward with my artistic endeavors. It is a gift to have insights and encouragement from others. Thank you very much, Susan, for this wonderful intro and also for inviting me to read!

After we admired Broken Arch we continued on the trail, which
turned out to be 
much longer than we had expected. We
passed by some marvelous formations that begged to 
be climbed on, and the children and I
climbed way up. The view from the top of some tall fins 
was fabulous, and I felt like a mountain
goat as I stood in the wind with my hair flying 
around my head. —Journal page, Melissa Fischer

 To say that Melissa Fischer is an avid
observer of nature is a colossal
understatement, like saying New Paltz has
a little college. From my 30-year-
NYC urban perspective, Melissa Fischer IS
nature. She is a goat, she is a
creature “launching herself down the eroded
hill, leaping from rock to ridge,
ricocheting to the next narrow ridge
beside water-gouged gashes.” Like many in
the kingdom of fauna, she has a wide and
keen field of vision, which she uses to
write and draw, and her words and
watercolors visualize on paper what I moved
to New Paltz to notice. If you want to see
what I mean, find her blogs on the
web, and you will enter an exquisitely
rendered marriage of word and image.

Melissa spent many happy childhood hours
immersed in the world of
nature and animals that she found at a
nearby wildlife sanctuary and at home
with her devoted pets: passions that have
only become more intense in her adult
life. In recent years, Wallkill Valley
Writers has inspired her to reconnect with
the realm of memory. She has exhibited her
artwork in many libraries and galleries 
and shortly will be leaving for Acadia
National Park in Maine, 
where she has been selected as an

Turn to your right and follow Melissa and
her dog on wide, dirt trails to
unexpected places. You will see things you
never noticed before. Please
welcome Melissa Fischer.     

 Here are the pieces of my writing that I read:

I am going to
read five short pieces I wrote that are my musings about times either at or
near my home or my parents’ home. I’ve ordered them according to the time of
day they are about, starting with the wee hours of the morning.
3AM Walk
The soft
sound of rain lures me from my bed. Never mind that it’s 2:53 AM, or perhaps
because it is, I’m drawn outside. With dark pajama bottoms, raincoat and Muck
shoes, I’ll be pretty much invisible in the warm, wet night. Petra is the
obvious choice of a walking companion. The quietest of my dogs and with almost
no white fur, she also will be invisible and unobtrusive.
I flip off
the motion sensitive outdoor lights so they won’t intrude on the darkness, slip
into the night and look around, Petra quietly by my side. Fireflies twinkle
over the swamp… not many– they’re just getting started for the season, but a
sight that always fills me with wonder and that I can’t bear to miss. A
pinprick glows in the grass at my feet – glowworm?
I walk
slowly, Petra padding by my side with an occasional foray to sniff where some
animal has crossed. A Tree Frog trills as I walk by the maple and another
answers from across the stream. Then another, from farther back in the woods
and yet another from the lilacs. I’m surrounded by animal life, mostly hidden
from my sight, but going about their lives on their land. The night is theirs;
I am just a visitor in their world.
Fall in a Field
I grumbled a
bit as I grabbed my keys and headed out the door. Why, oh why does some
neighbor have to play a saxophone by an open window starting at 6:30 every
morning? I didn’t really feel like going out, but I wanted to find out who was
so inconsiderate, so we could ask them to please shut their window before
Well, I
didn’t find out who our morning musician is, but I did decide that, since I was
already out anyway, I might as well go lay a track for my Beagle Milo. In
theory I love going out to lay a track for my dog first thing in the morning.
In practice, it’s hard to get dressed to leave the house, when I’m usually
still padding around in pajamas and bathrobe with a steaming mug of tea. And
actually, I scarcely qualified as “dressed” this morning, which I realized when
I got back home and looked in the mirror to see my hair unbrushed, my shirt askew,
with the collar cockeyed, and my nice blazer now covered with stick-tights. I
don’t normally wear a blazer to lay a track. In fact, I don’t normally wear a
blazer at all. It just happened to be the nearest thing when I grabbed for
something to keep me warm in my not-quite-awake state. I was also wearing
crocs, not hiking boots.   
The field was
heavy with dew and had a magical feel in the early morning quiet. Apricot
colored clouds piled high in the sky, shimmering in the sunrise. Given my
atypical garb, fortunately I was alone in the field—always a plus for this
nature-loving introvert. I looked at the distant trees and found two points I
could line up to help me lay a straight track and I walked, then looked back to
see my path clear and dark green through the lighter-colored wet grass. Choosing
two more points, I walked in another direction, laying a second leg and then
another and yet another. Birds called, but otherwise the morning was quiet. Too
cool for insects to be on the move yet, but scattered wildflowers were raising
their pretty faces to the sun. I lost myself in the joy of being out alone, and
didn’t notice the stick-tights or the wet pant legs and socks until I got back
to my car. And I didn’t care then; it had been the perfect start to my day.
Three and a
half hours later I returned to the field with my happily dancing Beagle, both
of us eager to run the track. The fields were now dry in the sunshine, the
fragrance of fall-on-a-warm-day filling the air. A fragrance that instantly
brings a kaleidoscope of memories to mind—riding my bike through leafy paths as
a young child; running through cabbage fields for cross-country practice in
high school; toting a heavy bag of apples across campus from an orchard to my
college dorm room. I paused to relish my memories, then was brought back to the
present by my gleeful Milo, who could hardly contain his excitement.
We ran the
track, Milo tracking enthusiastically and well, me enjoying the connection with
my dog, the connection with nature, and the connection with the part of myself
that thrives on the simple pleasure of being outside fully immersed in the
present moment.
tomorrow I’ll find our saxophone alarm clock and lay another track.
wrote this next piece sitting on a bridge over the stream that runs by our
The water strider works his way upstream with
effort-filled jerks, then turns and strides gracefully back down, each tiny
foot barely dimpling the surface of the water in little bowl-shaped depressions
and casting shadows on the streambed—darker ovals on the golden brown mud
lining the stream. He repeats this endeavor over and over. Once when he nears
me, I glance down to look more closely at him. Instead I notice two tiny eyes
pointing in my direction… miniscule eyes moving slightly from side to side on
the tips of small stalks down under several inches of water. 
It takes me a moment to determine what the
stalks are attached to, since their snail is covered with algae and is moving
very, very slowly, across an algae-coated rock under the water. He is moving so
slowly and apparently gently that he doesn’t even disturb the pearl-like
bubbles on the rock’s surface. I watch, engrossed, over the next several
minutes, as the snail moves about a centimeter closer, first sliding his foot a
millimeter or two, then pausing before hitching his shell along to catch up
with his foot, all along slowly moving his eyes on their stalks. Is he watching
me watching him? 
I hold my cell phone down by the water to take a
close-up of the snail in hopes that I can see him better that way than I can
from my perch on the steeply sloped stone of the stream’s bank. I carefully
align the phone and snap a photo. The snail’s stalked eyes still watch me,
moving slightly in the current. The water strider strides purposefully upstream
again, his shadows, magnified by the water, moving along the golden brown mud. 
Rocking back on my heels, I lift my phone to
look at my photo of the snail and the shadows …and look again… There is no
snail on the screen of my phone, no golden brown shadows… Instead the screen is
all blue and white… 
I look again at the stream and there is the
snail and the golden brown, oval shadows now moving downstream. I look up; blue
sky and clouds. I look back at the stream. Water strider, snail, shadows.
Looking again, I slowly draw my focus up from the bottom of the stream and
finally see blue sky and white clouds, perfectly reflected from above on the
surface of the water.
 My Chestnut Stump – This next piece is
about a favorite childhood spot where the stump of a chestnut tree stood.
Almost all American chestnuts had been killed by a blight before I was born,
but until then, much of the Northeast was covered with chestnut forest.
I approached
the stump slowly. The skeleton of an old chestnut tree, it stood with smooth,
curved ribs pointing to the sky. Hidden deep in the woods, far from any path,
my stump rose high above a precipice, the evening sun making the grey wood glow
I always felt
a sense of awe as I approached The Stump. I had never seen a living chestnut in
all its glory, but this stump stood with a dignity not common among the trees
in the sanctuary. Majestic even in death, my chestnut stood with purpose,
connecting heaven and earth for me.
Bedtime Musings
I close my
journal, lay down my pen and turn off the light. Bedtime after a full day. But…
I cannot resist the call of the night, so I step out, quietly shut the door,
and slip into another world.
The half moon
shines bright over the heavy silhouettes of the maples flanking the orchard.
The Evening Star—Venus—is still hanging above the western hills, brighter than
any of the stars that shine from unimaginable distances. I scan the sky until I
come to the Big Dipper, a familiar friend I’ve known since childhood. Tracing a
line through the two end stars of the dipper and beyond, I meet the North Star,
and from there find the Little Dipper. Some of its stars are almost too faint
to see; I can only discern them because I know by heart where they have to be.
I search the
sky again and think that perhaps I’ve found Cygnus, the Swan, but I’m not sure.
It’s odd how I barely remember the constellations I learned in more recent
years but know well the ones Papa taught me so long ago. Thank you, Papa, for
this, among many other things you taught me of the world of nature.
The nearby
rushing of the creek draws my attention, and I listen—to the water running
endlessly over smooth rocks between mossy banks, to the crickets singing in the
night, to the lack of traffic noise. This last pauses my mental meandering, and
I savor the absence of noise and the clarity of the sounds of nature—the music
of creation with my ears tuned to its subtle melody. 

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