Tag Archives: past

beech treesThe beech tree forest by my house

Into the Woods

We have such a brief opportunity to pass on to our children our love for this Earth, and to tell our stories. These are the moments when the world is made whole. In my children’s memories, the adventures we’ve had together in nature will always exist.
― Richard Louv

The house I grew up in was near a small river surrounded by some woodland. It was actually called Turtle Creek but in Southern Minnesota no one would every pronounce it creek and we always just called it „the Crick“. We skated on it in the winter when it froze – my younger brother lost his front two teeth playing hockey there – and I remember playing in the long grass and on the bank in the summer. There was even a swimming hole in one bend but I don’t remember ever swimming there. I think my mother thought is was dangerous. I just remember thinking it was too scary to swim there and watched other kids do it with the hair standing up on the back of my neck.

We never played down by the crick at night. There were animals in the area, mice and deer, I am sure, opossums, I think. I know there were at least grass snakes because I kneeled on one once and got my sock all full of blood. I promptly burned my sox because I was in the long grass smoking my mother’s cigarettes – I must have been about 8 at the time – and I didn’t want her to know I had been there. Somehow she never noticed the missing sox. At least I don’t have a memory of getting yelled at.

I remember climbing trees and playing hide and seek and watching the water. I think we spent quite a bit of time there, at least when we were younger. At some point the marsh and river lost their mystery and we played mostly in other peoples yards – kick the can, capture the flag and war were the usual choices. I only remember that we didn’t go down to the crick anymore. No real idea why not.

Now I live again near a woodland, this time with a small stream. Again there is wild life in the woods, foxes and deers. There is also wild boar but they mostly sleep all day. And mice and snakes but the snakes aren’t poisonous. There are also large toads and salamanders because there is a marsh around the stream where they breed. And all the other miriade of creatures that populate nature. What there are not is children. In the five years I have lived here, I have never seen any child playing in the woods. Not a single one. And I walk in the woods a couple of times a day.

Some of the teenagers in town go into the woods to drink but rarely. I sometimes see their garbage laying in out of the way clearings. Maybe they don’t need to hide their drinking from their parents as much as we did. Underage drinking seems to be tolerated in Germany maybe in part because they can only get a driver’s license when they are 18. At any rate, of all the children in this little town who are the age we were when we spent virtually every free moment outside and racing through the woods, none of them do it.

Has the world changed that much? Are the things you can do at home, watch TV, play on the computer, talk on the computer, are all of these things more interesting to children these days than they were all those years ago? Is the fantasy and mystery of nature something you only see from the comfort of your living room even if the real thing is just outside your door?

Or is parent’s fear of what could happen to their children if they are not within sight gotten so great that they don’t allow their children to play in the woods? There are „dangerous“ wild animals and the local hunter seems to hunt pretty often but still. I never see them at the edges of the forest, exploring the stream, looking for salamanders, catching toads. Never. It might be a cultural thing. German housewives (can you use that term anymore?) are very conscious of dirt. Actually, I mean OCD about dirt. Our neighbor behind us hoses his dog down in the yard every time he takes it for a walk because otherwise it would bring in too much dirt. (Imagine that in an area where it basically rains every day so all the paths are mud tracks and you know how much work that man takes on!) Maybe the kids aren’t allowed in the marsh because they would come home covered in dirt – God forbid!

It is for me a „puzzlement“. But maybe the world has just changed so much I don’t recognize childhood anymore. Could be.

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Small World on a Fence Post


When I was a child I was afraid of ghosts. as I grew up I realized people are more scary. – Sushan R Sharma

I realized last weekend that I am and always have been what the Germans call “a-zi” (pronounced ah-zee), which means “anti-social” but implies much more than that, more not nice things. I was at a class with a friend and she was surprised how fast I was out of the seminar room. She even thought I was going to leave her behind (I drove us both). She suggested the people in the class were probably thinking I don’t like them. That rang a bell because just a couple of weeks ago, someone else told me that friends of his who had attended a concert for my students thought that I didn’t like them. I hadn’t exchanged a word with them but they were very sure I hated them.

All this brought up to me how I have behaved all of my life. I would have told people that I was shy. In fact, I think I did sometimes but I stopped after a while. Nobody seemed to believe me. I have realized that deep inside I am scared to death of people. Funny enough I only realized last year at a different course that I fundamentally don’t trust people. Maybe that is why I am afraid. This fear is very deep seated and has caused me to do things that other people find funny or weird or awful or – “a-zi”. I don’t see people to greet them when they greet me; I turn away from people at parties, I walk away from companions (a friend screamed at me and told me he would never attend a concert with me again because I left him in the dust when exiting the hall). The thing is I don’t “get” it at the moment. Later maybe, when I think about it, or somebody complains to me about how I have behaved but not while I am behaving that way. I just feel impelled to do what I am doing. The truth is I am lost in thought, obsessed with my own inner world. Do I have a slight case of Asperger’s?

It’s a funny thing that I chose such a “public” profession when one of the things I hate most in the world is to meet new people. Oh, the number of times I should have been chatting and making small talk at parties and events to forward my career and all I was doing was measuring how long I would need to stay and when and how soon I could leave, measuring my escape plan and thinking of how to avoid saying goodbye.

At any rate, I believe that I have burned a lot of bridges in my life unintentionally by this kind of behavior. Over time, I have worked hard to learn to speak to people at parties and events, to at least be aware where my companions are when in company and I succeed most of the time. But when I am tired the only thing I can think of is “get me out of here”. Thank goodness my husband makes a joke out of it. At least most of the time.

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Rose HibiscusRose Hibiscus

Old Soul, Young Soul

Getting older is a struggle. I always feel that just under the surface of acceptance and enjoyment of the ageing process is a terrible hysteria just waiting to burst out.
– Michael Sheen

There is this idea that people are reincarnated, that they have lived other lives in the past. And there is this idea that there are some people who are “young” souls just beginning this path and that there are “old” souls who have gone through the cycle many times. I don’t know if I “believe” in reincarnation but I have always had the feeling that I am a “young” soul. Every time something would happen in my life it came as such a shock. Small things, big things, more likely than not I would be totally surprised as if I could never have imagined it would be as it was. And I am not talking about a slight surprise consciously or emotionally. I am talking about an existential bomb going off for me that fundamentally shakes what I think about life.

In a way, I “aging” is like that for me and I observe it as if it is happening to someone else. I have to admit that my intellectual connection to my body has been a tenuous one. I mostly feel like a brain that is being carried by a machine that I hardly know but seemed to always “work”. But now that things are starting not to work so easily, I find it surprising and confusing in a way. I mean, I know that I am getting “older” and some of these things one should “expect” from getting older but still. Some of this is weird.
For example, I have been watching my knuckles grow for years. I noticed a long time ago that there were deposits building up and I used to try and massage them away. Now on some of my fingers, the knuckles are disproportionately large and the first knuckle of my left index finger has taken on the family gene and bends extremely to the left. And the end of my nose has changed. It used to have corners that I really hated. Now it is nearly round and it isn’t from drinking too much or scars. It has just changed. Weird.

Mostly, when I look at myself in the mirror it feels exactly to me like Liv Ullmann once said in an interview, “My mirror is very kind to me” and what I see in the mirror is not very different from what I have always seen. It is when I see myself in a photograph or out of the corner of my eye in a shop window I think, do I really look like that? One day a couple of years ago, I looked in the mirror and noticed that my stomach had dropped several inches. I was shocked! I thought something was terribly wrong and I would need to go to the doctor. After a few minutes, it occurred to me that it was probably just “old age droop” but it seemed to happen not gradually but over night. Weird.

And when I lie in bed and look at the skin on my arm that is paper thin, almost translucent and starting to wrinkle like crepe, and I observe this as if it belong to someone else. Not as if it is a part of me. I think, who does that belong to? Who is this old woman, who I have become? When did she turn up? I am totally surprised.

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The Counted Crossstitch my mother made the year my Dad died.

Stitching with Mom

“Share your knowledge. It is a way to achieve immortality.”
― 14th Dalai Lama

My mother was a very creative person. When she was younger she would paint decorative designs on cupboards and trunks with designs and she did a lot of handwork. When she died, there were several boxes of fabric and several unfinished needlework projects left over, some of which I am planning to finish for her.

When I was young, she tried to teach me everything she knew but I wasn’t an especially good student. I still remember the first sewing “lesson”. We bought a beautiful glazed cotton and cut out the dress together. Being the impatient person I was and still am, it was all going way too slow for me and so I tried to finish it on my own, ending up sewing together pieces that weren’t intended to be together and generally making a mess of it. My mother lost patience with me at that point and sent me to my fraternal grandmother – who worked as a seamstress out of her home – to help me repair the damage and get the thing done. She complained bitterly that I was frantically trying to finish the outfit I planned to wear for my wedding just the day before. Definitely not her style of doing things.

My mother was a master at embroidery and would always sigh very loudly over my French Knots (still can’t do them and so I avoid them altogether). For knitting, we started a sweater together when I was 13 or 14 but again it all went way too slow for me and I gave up somewhere in the middle of the front piece. There were still the arms to go. I don’t know whatever happened to that yarn or the pieces. I did finally get the hang of knitting when a co-worker in New York who used to hide behind her cubicle wall knitting with needles about the size of pins explained to me that knitting is something you do with your hands to pass the time and at some point you end up with a garment. That seemed to make sense and I have happily knit quite a few things since then.

Needlepoint and crochet I learned from friends. My mother knew how to do those things too but maybe she was just too frustrated to try and teach my after the other experiences. But when I was older and was doing my own handwork, she loved showing me her newest projects and the kits she was thinking about buying from the stacks of catalogues that she received. These are memories I cherish. The needlepoint pillow I made for her a few years ago with her colors of moss green and rust and covered myself with cotton velvet came back with me to Germany when we emptied her house.

Back when I was young, doing handwork was still something to be proud of, at least I never thought of it any other way. I’m not so sure that anyone really appreciates it anymore. At least that is how it seems to me. But maybe that is just the crabby old lady talking.

Ann Johannsen died on June 5, 2011. Love you Mom.

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