schirin oeding

under a peregrine star

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Landing Again

This is day two of being back from more than three months away. It feels a bit like a crash landing, being back here, and suddenly there it all is again: work, errands, to-do lists, memories of the at times beautiful yet incredibly difficult spring of this year. Everything that challenged me is, of course, still in me. But after the amazing summer that I had, I do kind of feel like I’ve won the lottery. So what do you do when you’ve won the lottery? Celebrate? Go into shock? Knuckle down and figure out what to do with the winnings? I guess I am the type to go for the latter option. And so: where to, from here?

I am working on my list. Joining a choir is next, actually. I’ll keep you posted. And, as soon as the jet lag wears off: running again (which I am looking forward to, especially this new experience of autumn-running). And writing: pitching a few new pieces, getting to work on an article that I have been looking forward to almost all year (for Taproot), and enjoying coming home to find a copy of Pure Green—with my piece on working by hand in it.



Hey you,

Moon-bound unhinged beauty,

Wake up to sun-found, earth-sound roots,

Plant star-seeds underfoot!

More soon. For now, xo.

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On Looking Ahead

Looking inside.

Looking inside.

One of the childhood memories that comes back to me most frequently is the memory of declaring, to my mother, that what I wanted above all in my life was to be good. This replaced a previous need to be famous, which I thought was essential to changing the world. “Define world,” I might say to my younger self now, “Define change.” But it doesn’t matter, anyway. What I realised, somehow, provoked by an insight I can’t remember, was that what I really wanted was to be a happy person, with enough happiness to go around to anyone and everyone. Yup, it’s a vague goal (but noble, right?!).

I’ve been thinking a lot about plans, lately. A small handful of my friends are excellent planners. They seem to be blessed with an intensely clear vision of what their lives should look like, and, most importantly, what they must do for it all to fall into place. I always thought I wasn’t like them. What I thought about myself was this: I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know! And when I occasionally felt that I did know (know what to do, what I wanted, where I wanted to be, etc.), I frequently found myself in a situation where the universe/fate/circumstance seemed to have something else in mind. I have never really suffered the existential boredom that lots of people I know swim into at some point in their lives—which leads them to make unexpected decisions and journeys. Even as a kid, I don’t recall being bored much (I’ll have to ask my mother to confirm this). I wasn’t like the writer Joseph Epstein, whose mother replies to a complaint of boredom that a person ought to, “[…] knock your head against the wall. It’ll take your mind off your boredom.” (An apt metaphorical epithet for what some people might characterise as the problem of my generation…) Ok, so knocking your head against a wall won’t get you anywhere—though it might shake loose some more productive ideas a few seconds before a self-inflicted concussion is suffered.

I guess the main thing to pull out of the jumble above is this: I wasn’t bored, because there was always something to do. But I didn’t think I was a planner, because I rarely sat myself down and considered what I really wanted to do with my life.  (On an explanatory side note I’d add this: one of my regular dreams is to have a house with a large garden to call my own, and large amounts of time to spend turning that garden into something magical, and then spending the next years, decades, watching it grow. It hasn’t happened, yet, and maybe the reason why this wish is so strong is that I want to feel settled, and stop feeling as though time is always at my heels.)

And still, all the while, plans and ideas and visions and dreams have been fermenting away somewhere inside of me. I clearly wasn’t letting life just “happen” to me.

I’m an extremely, frequently irritatingly, impatient person. I am impatient with others, with the pace of change, with the change of the seasons, and above all, with myself. I often find myself falling into the trap of believing that something I want to do won’t ever happen if it doesn’t happen right now. That’s why running has been such an achievement in my eyes: I always wanted to run, but the initial pain and discomfort always dissuaded me. I wanted to feel good! Now! But now I realise that good things are often slow to materialise. Especially those good things that are made to last, or those that bring changes that leave lasting impressions. Sometimes, I remind myself now, I just need to wait and wait some more.

Making plans for my life (even though, as they say, “Humans plan and god laughs”) and working toward them, and enjoying the journey, is a stronghold against impatience and frustration. Both of those are inevitable in my life, I know this for sure—but maybe the strength of the journey will help overcome the fear of not knowing.

One more thought on impatience and boredom (again via Joseph Epstein’s essay on the subject): ‘”I have discovered that all evil comes from this,” wrote Pascal, “man’s being unable to sit still in a room.”‘ Not sit still forever, I might add, but just for a moment, just while the dust settles. xo


Looking back.

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Running With a Gal From Brooklyn, Potential Sugaring & Stitching It Together

The gal from Brooklyn is, in fact, a sixty-ish ex-marathoner, psychology professor who I almost ploughed into while running this morning. I slowed to a walk beside her and we got to talking. And ended up crossing the river, and walking through the woods, chatting—not running, just walking quickly at this point—before parting ways half an hour later. I love these chance encounters. They lift me right up ever time. Just a few days ago, on my way home from work, I stopped to pet my favourite neighbourhood dog, a lassie names Laddie who lives with a very old woman with a beautiful, big garden. During the early spring, she had tapped an ancient maple tree that flanks her land. Walking by and seeing the sap flowing always left me feeling elated, light, so happy to see that even in a city, people like to live with their hands in the soil and their hearts with the trees. (I should also start keeping count of the number of backyard chicken coops I’ve come across!) So recently, when I was petting her dog, she came around the corner and we said hello. I asked her about her tree, and she shared with me that it has been there since 1915. Since before the telephone lines were strung from the central posts to the adjacent houses. Today, the phone line snakes its way around and through the upper branches of the majestic maple. An afterthought. We talked about maple syrup, sugaring, drinking sap cold, right from the bucket. She offered that I could tap the other maples in her yard, if I am here next winter. One is plenty for her, she told me, but I was welcome to make good use of her tiny, urban sugarbush. Sweetness of maple, kind words.



I’ve been teaching myself to sew lately. Thankfully, I work with a group of helpful, experienced sewists, who are always willing to advise me. So far, I’ve made three tank tops, a dress, a voile t-shirt, and an enormous linen travel bag that will accompany me on board a few planes this summer. I also snagged some Liberty print quarter meters last weekend, and hemmed them into scarves. Liberty carries a certain intrigue: my grandmother, I’ve been told, used to make the trip from Germany to London, where she would stock up on the classics. I found my first Liberty fabric, in the form of a blouse, during a beautiful trip to San Francisco a few year ago—in a thrift shop. A lucky find! I relish the experience of sewing. I’ve been a knitter for a few years now, having been well-taught by my mother and a fiber-artist friend and former college teacher of mine, Jody Stoddard. Now knitting and sewing have taken on almost the same kind of satisfaction. The ability to make something wearable, usable, something with longevity, beats out lots of other ways to spend my time.  I’ve been sewing mostly for myself these days, getting the hang of things, and wearing my mistakes. Knitting, on the other hand, is something I do for other people, most of the time anyway. When I knit something for someone else, I think about them while I work at it. Hope that whatever I make them will protect them, keep them warm, and give them the feeling of being held. One can never have enough people to knit for. xo


My next sewing project with be out of this sunny stuff.

PS- Things have suddenly turned to deep spring here. The weather gods have forgotten the subtle transitions they usually tempt us with. Instead, bare feet and short sleeves are on the agenda these days. Magnolias, tulips, daffodils, forsythia, and many other spring flowers are exploding into bloom everywhere I look. People are sunbathing by the river, sitting on their sweaters, shed eagerly as they soak up the sunshine. We need this, beauty all around, warmth, life. I know I do.



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Urban Ecotones & Other Music

Yesterday I did my running along some old railway tracks in my neighbourhood. The tracks are old, older than most of the houses that line them, and are still in regular use. Trains, mostly freight trains, rumble their way over these tracks on a daily basis. Right next to the tracks are backyards, hugging each curve of the rail-line, like they’re trying to eek out some space for themselves. Between yards and tracks there is a narrow paved path—an urban success in our car-focused culture— a bike trail, or walking/running path. Some good souls (the city, perhaps?) have planted a foot-wide strip of earth with black-eyes susans and daylilies. The tracks are a place where two worlds meet. Studded among private homes are old industrial buildings that served the railroad at some point in the past. Most of them are still operating today, producing steel beams or street signs, but have been reduced to the status of mom-and-pop factories, the kind that have ten employees, and are housed in buildings from an era when industrial structures still has some beauty and human-scale to their design. I feel most at peace far from traffic and houses. In a meadow, or in the woods, or in the places where both meet, the ecotones, the in-between places that are hard to define and even harder to recreate, once lost to settlement. And still, as I try to make a study of this small city in which I find myself, the language of nature comes up again and again in my mental descriptions. Humans, I think, still have a deep-set tendency to imitate the patterns and rhythms of the natural world. That is, if they allow themselves freedom from preconceived notions of industrial efficiency and “modern” design. It’s special, too, to see the way people interact with their landscapes in an urban setting. Planting the tiniest gardens between tracks and fences, sunflowers that eventually tower over these fences start conversations between passers-by. Yesterday, my running route led me by several backyards where signs had been stuck into newly greening grass: Idle No More. Put there for who to see? Runners, bikers, walkers, train conductors. Thank you. When people take ownership of their homes and neighbourhoods, even in small ways, magic happens.


Last year’s pictures of the tracks. It’s not that green yet…



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Newly Minted

I resisted doing the blog thing for the following reasons:

1. It’s been done. And what could be worse (and more unavoidable, apparently) than being unoriginal?

2. I was lazy. I say “was” simply because I am no longer lazy. I’m not. Really. Ever.

3. I couldn’t figure out how to make my blog look as fancy as all the other nifty blogs I read. I still haven’t figured it out, but I am working on getting over it/not having blog-envy/being satisfied with (hopefully temporary) blog mediocrity.

4. I run out of things to write about.

Whatever the case may be. I am happy you’re here. I’m here, too, and so that makes two of us. It’s a party. I just celebrated my twenty-forth birthday, and by way of celebration, I made all kinds of resolutions (like you do), and this blog is step seventeen or something in keeping them. Another one is running three times a week. I am well on the way to success on that one, actually. Though I have yet to get over the pointlessness of running nowhere. I’m not very zen. Nevertheless, springtime is providing a variety of entertainment on my tri-weekly runs: green grass, flowers, melted ice. And the feeling afterwards is fantastic. As they say, it’s “type two” fun: the kind that’s great when it’s over. I’m preparing myself physically for a month of haying by hand (with scythe and rake) at 45˚ slopes in the Swiss Alps. That is not a joke. This will be followed by wall building as well as long-distance bicycling. The “long-distance” part may be up for interpretation. I say 200km is far. Like everybody else, all my resolutions are three parts self-improvement, and twelve parts self-entertainment. Adventure-seeking. Thrill-seeking? Perhaps. (Though Tuesday morning jogging is far from it, I admit.)


Switzerland (2011): Tools of the Trade