Ashley’s Imponderables, tempered by beauty and love

Author/artist Ashley Bryan turned 94 last month. We’ve been friends for nearly 40 years, and I can honestly say I’ve never known anyone like Ashley. And Oh, if only the world were populated more human beings like him, for you see, Ashley Bryan is pure love.

As a painter he fell in love with the Maine coast around 1946, the year I was born, especially Little Cranberry Island. It immediately felt like home to Ashley, which it has been ever since — first as a part-timer, then as a year-rounder.

It’s a half-hour boat ride from my house in Southwest Harbor to Little Cranberry. Yesterday morning I strolled down my right-of-way to the Cranberry Island dock and Voila! I was on my way.


Leaving Southwest Harbor, with a view of a few of MDI’s 30 peaks

Last year Ashley was in better health. He read aloud to me from his latest title, “Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan, a dynamic, heart-rending, and essential new book that belongs on every child’s — and adult’s — reading table.



Walking near Ashley’s house I came across an “Estate Sale.” A piece of funky local “Aht” caught my eye. I had to have it…”Try waking up every morning and loving the world all over again. That’s what takes a real hero.” That’s Ashley.


Ahh…that’s one of the imponderables, Ashley said when I showed him my purchase. His lively spirit and great intellect quickly elicited more imponderables:

“I wake up every morning with imponderables,” he told me. Then he began quoting Rainer Maria Rilke:

“Life is heavier than the heaviness of all things.”

“For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we are barely able to endure, and it amazes us so, because it serenely disdains to destroy us. Every anger is terrible.”

Soon it was time for me to leave, although he wanted me to join him for one of his iconic toasted cheese sandwiches, I didn’t want to tire him out. So many people want to see him.

“I’m getting so much love,” Ashley told me, lamenting that he wasn’t giving as much these days. Before I left he wanted to show me the mock-up of his forthcoming book, “I am Loved,” his illustrations of a poem by Nikki Giovanni.

“You’ve given so much of yourself over the years, ” I replied. “I hope you get some rest this afternoon. I’m going to catch the ferry.”

“If you miss it, come back and rest here,” he offered.

“Love you, Ashley.”

“Love you,” Sheila,” he said, as I closed the door behind me.


Returning to Southwest Harbor we passed a boat named “Perseverance.”









Posted in Fight wimpiness, Mount Desert Island/Maine, Old friends, Tucson Festival of Books/good books | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Walk-talking, moving, and growing old(er)

What do Henry David Thoreau, a retired 85-year-old Maine pediatrician, a busy Tucson graphic artist and mother of a very busy three year old, an espresso-drinking theatre couple, and I have in common?

Walking. Up and down hills, mountains, along shore paths and urban nature trails, moving to make our brains and bodies work better, birthing new ideas — either in conversation or solo.


The magnificence of Mt. Desert Island

Yesterday I read “Walking,” a pamphlet by Henry David Thoreau. It was hot and humid in Central Maine where I’m visiting an old friend, and I walked my three miles before settling indoors.

“I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least — and it is commonly more than that — sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements.” — Thoreau

I’m thinking about my Tucson walking pal who’s moving to the big city. I’m inspired by people at least 10 years older than I am who have taken up the walking habit for better health or because they ran marathons their entire lives and can’t stop.

Here, in this small Maine town, my author friend Margy Burns Knight encourages one and all to “play outdoors.” She taught us the basics of pickleball. We ate out at the Liberal Cup and Slates, two great restaurants in hip and historic Hallowell.

I hadn’t spent much time here before, and I’ve so enjoyed swimming — actually lolling about — in Central Maine’s velvet lakes. And we walked.

Today, especially, I’m thinking of an old friend whose dear 99-year-old father died yesterday. She’s the most consistent walker I know; for her walking has provided prayer, therapy, solace, and happiness.


By Georgia O’Keefe, Colby College Museum of Art

This past week I’ve heard about a seeming onslaught of illnesses and mishaps: concussions, cancer, extreme fatigue for no apparent reason, heart attacks, Alzheimer’s, seizures. I and all my friends are getting old(er).

Still, walking uplifts me. Life is about living — moving — no matter what.


Resting by the Kennebec River in Hallowell, Maine


Posted in Baby Boomers, Fight wimpiness, Journalism/Writing, Mount Desert Island/Maine, Nature Girl, Old friends | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Two grandmothers, a mom and dad, a younger brother — and a seemingly composed Bat Mitzvah girl

Before 9 a.m. this morning, I watched a family cadre happily entering Temple E-Manuel, the synagogue down the street from our house. All smiling, they made me wonder. Would I have had a more serene life if I had been a Bat Mitzvah more than 50 years ago, if I were currently more spiritual, more Jewish?

Would a modicum of faith have contained years of anxiety and self-doubt?

Where would this Bat Mitzvah have taken place? I was raised hypocritical-Orthodox. Reform synagogues have always felt like churches, which I immediately slough off.

Would I have more readily found my place in the world with a few spiritual underpinnings? Religion. Who needs it, is what I’ve always surmised.

Yet, I can’t erase this morning’s family’s image from my mind.

Instead of praying or supporting goodness, today I did a few bad things.

Cooked a sirloin steak for dinner, stove-top according to the internet instructions, using lots of olive oil and butter. “This isn’t the healthy way to cook a steak [is there one?] but it’s the best way,” the chef-guy wrote. I can’t remember the last time I had a steak. It was so good I ate the whole thing, along with a salad to make me feel less like a horrible human being.

I’ve eaten breakfast out two days in a row. This morning crisp bacon with blueberry pancakes, before eating the best blueberry pancakes (with real maple syrup) next week at Cafe This Way in Bar Harbor.

Okay, so I’m going to before-I-leave-Tucson-for-Maine places. I’ll only eat fresh seafood there.

Last night I had a cookie with my skinny friend Lori, who’s a lot younger than me, and apparently can eat anything without gaining an ounce.

Not me. What’s with this food thing? Do I not care that I’ve gained 20 lbs. since Brook and Gian’s wedding four years ago? Lost my estrogen. I’m old, I tell myself.

Back to this morning…so what did I do after breakfast? Went to Barrio Bread for a small crackling loaf.

I’m going out to breakfast again tomorrow. I’ve gotten a few mosquito bites in the last few minutes. A Bat Mitzvah wouldn’t have made any difference.










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Listening to dumb rules…

Or not. We go to the Reid Park zoo once a year. It’s a fun spring outing. Ride a bike, wear a helmet and you get in free. You also get a free ice cream cone. A win-win!

Plus we get to see magnificent creatures in the confined wild, even if I felt sorry for the tiger who growled, traipsing around in circles (I’ve never heard a tiger growl, so that was cool). I didn’t complain!


The Andean mama bear and her cub had each other for company. And a lovely turquoise pool to play in. I felt better about their plight.

IMG_0280 (1)

Let them be, I figured. No time for me to take on animal rights.

Although I think of myself as a rebel. I take full responsibility for quashing dumb rules.

Here’s what happened as we were leaving the zoo:

Two exit doors were open. Two women were sitting at a table. In the past we’ve noticed how heavy the closed exit doors are to drag bikes through. No one lurked behind us. One  family of four was entering through the open-door exit.

As we started through one of the women pointed to the closed doors, which didn’t make any sense. We continued to walk through. The two women started to carry on:

“This is an entrance to a private party. You can’t come through this way!”

“Well, we’re just about through,” I replied. “I don’t see any signs, and there’s no one else waiting to get in or out.”

“If anyone sees you going through, everyone else will follow,” one of the women said.

Emerging onto the street, I thought to myself, Ta-da, we’re already through.

WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE DONE? Feel free to reply to the following questions!

Are we lemmings?

Why follow a rule if it doesn’t make sense?

Would you do the sensible thing even if those in charge told you not to?

Or was I just being a bad-ass?




Posted in Bopping Around Tucson, Fight wimpiness | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A few flowery days

I’ve been searching out flowers. Thinking about luck and aging and history…

My father was a florist in Waterbury, Connecticut, where I grew up in the 1950s. Most early mornings he headed to the wholesale market. Schmoozing while selecting fresh flowers that had arrived overnight from Hawaii or some distant sunny place.

I had no way of knowing that 60 years later I would be living in the sunny Sonoran desert around 50 miles from the Mexican border.


Glorious ocotillo

As a kid my job at my father’s store, Cherry Hill Gardens, was to unwrap the protective newspaper around hundreds of poinsettias, hydrangeas, or tulips, depending on which holiday a shipment honored. The plants were unloaded in a dank gray garage, formerly a livery stable at the end of the driveway.

An elderly black man, whom my brother and I called Ike the Pike, helped out during busy times. I liked him. He was funny.


See the bunny ears on the Santa Rita prickly pear?

Later I learned that Ike drank a lot, which I may not have understood back then.

My mother didn’t want me to be alone with Ike.

I always asked her, “Why not?”

She replied, “Because I said so.”

My mother, a Russian immigrant, was always afraid. In the early 20th century she arrived as a toddler with her mother and brother at Ellis Island.

That was more than 100 years ago. It must have taken tremendous courage and perseverance for my grandparents to leave Russia in search of a better life. They were lucky. My grandfather arrived first, followed a few years later by his family.


I don’t get it. We’re all descendants of immigrants. Luckily, a majority of Americans support refugee resettlement. (Here’s a long but illuminating conservative take on our current political mess, including the immigration battle).

I remember, as a kid, not getting the big deal about having plants for holiday celebrations.

Dazzling prickly pear blooms amaze me year after year. Lilacs swaying on branches behind my Maine house, their fragrance wafting through the air, intoxicate me. Now I get the necessity of plants and flowers. It’s about the passing of time. And still being here…and being lucky.


*In memory of Julie Russell and her magnificent smile, her unwavering kindness to all, and her sweet backyard garden.



























Posted in Baby Boomers, Bopping Around Tucson, For Love of History, Nature Girl, Old friends | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

‘Better to have our crazy straight up,’ says Maureen Dowd

“I love your hair!” That’s how Maureen Dowd began the conversation. I was surprised to see her sitting at the Mostly Books autograph table at the Tucson Festival of Books on Sunday, with only a few people hanging around. I stopped. I did a double take.

Maven of the New York Times Opinion Page for 20 years, Dowd was down-to-earth. I would definitely be friends with her if I lived in New York. Hell, I gave her my card. She thanked me.

I asked her how she liked Tucson. ” I like it but I’m so hot, and not in a good way,” she replied.

IMG_0149 (1)dowd

Ms. Purple and Maureen Dowd at the Tucson Festival of Books, March 12, 2017

She admitted her nervousness the day before while speaking at the University of Arizona Student Union ballroom. I managed to get a ticket for her discussion of the 2016 election. No way could I miss that! Hundreds of people were turned away.

Writing about the current White House is, “in a weird way, like a bizarro civics lesson,” she told the audience of around 600 people.  The president’s Russian connection is the strangest thing “we’ve ever seen in [American] politics.”

Trump is probably a psychopath with no empathy, but “I like my crazy straight up,” she said.  Everyone is now “more awake and involved than I’ve seen since the ’60s.”

Comparing Trump to former Vice President Dick Cheney, who lied and disregarded checks and balances behind the scenes, Trump “does it in real time. We can fight back in real time.”

Trump was the most shocked of anyone that he won the election, noted Dowd. Replying to a question about forcing him out of office, she doesn’t think it will happen.

“Trump has reduced all politics to his ego. He will be there unless he’s [led out] in handcuffs.”

Why did the 1999 Pulitzer Prize winner think Hillary lost the election? Partly, it was Politics 101. Hillary didn’t go to Wisconsin and barely went to Michigan, she pointed out (and she’s not a fan of the “Clinton machine”).

“There was an intense hunger for change,” which Dowd said she learned from her  very own “deplorables” (conservative family members), and others.

In two presidential elections — Democratic candidates Al Gore in 2000, and Hillary Clinton in 2016 — Bill Clinton could have saved the day, she opined. Gore didn’t allow Bill to campaign for him following the impeachment debacle. Hillary’s young campaign manager thwarted Bill from campaigning for his wife, despite his desire to reach Southern white males.

Yeah, who holds back possibly the best Democratic campaigner of all time? In hindsight, a big mistake.

Maybe Trumps’s narcissistic cluelessness will contribute to the U.S. finally electing a woman president? (Dowd doesn’t think Hillary lost because she’s a woman.)

And his denigration of the news media?

“Trump has completely rejuvenated the newspaper business,” she said, adding that the New York Times has developed an investigative unit to scrutinize possible conflicts of interest: “We’re all over that.”

Maybe she’ll return to Tucson when her next book is published.

“I love cacti,” Dowd quipped. “I identify with them.”










Posted in Journalism/Writing, Politics, Tucson Festival of Books/good books | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The next chapter…’Say yes to opportunities’

Who knew that people 82 to 85 score higher on happiness scales than millennials?

I’m not there yet, but I am happy. My super adorable grandson Foss was born on Jan. 21 in Minneapolis. I’m in good health, as is the rest of my family.

IMG_0137Foss As much as I love my house on Mt. Desert Island, Maine, as I get older I’m feeling itchy for new experiences — while I can. I’ve been lucky to return to Southwest Harbor every summer since moving to Tucson, nearly 15 years ago.

This year, I’m putting my Maine house on the market. It’s the practical decision. Maybe the relief of not worrying about renters, or repairs I can’t afford, and having a decent stash for retirement will help to alleviate the emotional loss.

Now is the time.


“Say yes to opportunities,” says Marilyn Heins, one of my elder role models.

Maybe this fall I’ll go to Greece on a Smithsonian tour led by a local professor acquaintance. I’ll definitely want to visit Foss as often as possible.

Anticipation is probably more difficult than taking an action itself. I swore to myself that I would never pick up dog poop, carrying it around like some sort of treasure.  In Minneapolis last month with my son and his family, I picked up my grandpuppy Rappy’s poop at least 10 times! I counted because I couldn’t believe I was doing it. It wasn’t so bad.

I’m hoping that selling my house won’t be as hard as I’ve thought. MDI will always feel like my original home. Both of my children grew up and were married there. We’ll still spend time on the island, and I like to think we’ll always be part of the most supportive, loving community I know.

Let the next chapter begin!  IMG_0142





Posted in Baby Boomers, Mount Desert Island/Maine, Old friends, The Rest of the World | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments