Devouring Mysteries

DSCF5966How can it be, at my advanced and advancing age, that only four seasons, circling round and round again continue to amaze me each time they take their turn and reappear? Like a church, Full Moon Cottage and the neighboring Glacial Drumlin Trail move through cycles, with attendant mysteries, rituals, sacraments, and an ever-changing choir to accompany these. DSCF5655And, if anything, each year’s cycle of seasons becomes more precious and startling, perhaps because I’m ever more acquainted with the energy required for the transformations they create. A rainstorm, overnight, shook off the bud casings and sang out the tender leaves on our fruit trees and along the trail. I went to sleep knowing the trees held the possibility of leaves, and woke to a realized mass of fluttering green foliage, newborn and tentative. The world is a nursery crammed with infants in spring. I devour these mysteries entirely and delightedly. DSCF5973 DSCF5865 DSCF5943Within a week or two, daffodils and tulips pierced the earth and are now ready to burst into bloom, and, if I don’t survey the gardens every day, I fear I’ll miss them. DSCF5876 DSCF5975 DSCF5870Along the trail, sweet wildflowers have been decorating our walks for the past week. Well, perhaps skunk cabbage is less sweet and flowery than a sure and comforting sign that spring is here for certain. Skunk cabbage is one of the few plants that exhibit thermogenesis, or the ability to heat up the earth enough to melt the snow and ice that may be present, and emerge early enough to attract pollinating insects before they become prey to other creatures. It sends up a purple spathe rather than flowers, and, within the spathe, a spadix emits a decidedly unlovely odor that attracts the insects that will pollinate it. I understand this, but thermogenesis in a plant, however it’s explained, rests upon deeper mystery, to me. DSCF5856The Marsh Marigold is an ancient native plant, having survived glaciations, enduring after the last retreat of the ice, apparently well-suited to a landscape of glacial meltwaters. Why it managed to survive is a mystery, but its cheerful gold shines up from the puddle-filled ditches every April. DSCF5977And the Pink Beauty and Blood Root have ants as helpmeets to spread their seeds, a process called myrmecochory. Their seeds have a fleshy organ called an elaiosome that offers a “come hither” scent to the ants, who carry the seeds back to their nests. I wonder if these are considered a kind of party treat heralding the ants’ spring? Anyway, they eat the elaiosomes, and put the seeds in their nest debris, rich in nutrients, where they are protected until they germinate. And although I can understand the science that explains these plants, their existence and their sacred interdependence with ants remains a cherished mystery. DSCF5811 DSCF5807The winter choir of sifting snows and blustery winds has changed to a chorus of birdsong and amphibian arias; this past week, the red-winged blackbirds were the day-sky stars, but at night, our opened windows allowed the Spring Peepers, Leopard Frogs, and toads to serenade us with their river songs. We haven’t heard the Bullfrogs yet; I hope their solos come along soon. All these mysteries occurring under my nose, all this energy being expended all around me…it makes my daily round look rather unproductive and flat by comparison. DSCF5677 DSCF5669My students and I planted potatoes this past week, and others worked with their teachers to prepare a butterfly garden. I’m not sure we’ll get out in the garden today, as it’s very windy and down about 30 degrees from last week’s surprising warmth, but we may plant some of the lettuces, peas, and other cold-weather vegetables we’ve started, and divide out tomato seedlings into their own 4” pots. The Master Gardeners have also scheduled lessons to teach the students more about Monarch Butterflies and their crises regarding habitat and migration, and plan to establish a Monarch Waystation at the school this spring.

When I’m not at school, I’ve been cleaning up the gardens and, of course, devouring mysteries, both those around me and those in book form. I like the ones I cannot solve the best. I’m re-reading the wonderful Cadfael mysteries by Ellis Peters/Edith Pargeter, and a friend just got me hooked on Donna Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti mysteries, so I’m fully-booked, so to speak. DSCF5877But it’s the mysteries and rituals surrounding me that most deeply feed and fill my spirit. Here is one of my favorites:DSCF5794DSCF5882When they were little puppies, we noticed how Riley and Clancy loved to fall on the grass and roll joyfully, over and over, especially in spring. We could almost hear them giggling. So, we’ve always called this their “Roly-Poly Game,” and the expression quickly became a cue for them. Whenever they heard it, they would fall down and merrily roll while we laughed at them and cried out in mock disbelief. “Oh, no! Not roly-poly!” Over and over, like little children, they seemed delighted in entertaining us with their silliness. A beloved spring ritual.

This past winter, when we received their respective health diagnoses, I didn’t expect them to be here, now, and certainly not with the ability to be sung back to life, like the green leaves, and playing roly-poly. But here they are, in April, celebrating our annual ritual, diving down to meet the sweet green earth, giggling and making me laugh, joyfully devouring the mystery that brought us together years ago and that allows us to share another spring day.  It is a mystery. And a gift.DSCF5797But this mystery has a name, written on my heart for 14 years. It is Love, and I devour it as hungrily as any communicant, and as full of gratitude. DSCF5868

Rx: Spring’s Impossible Green

DSCF5440A week ago, we were worried that drought would keep our spring brown and our gardens thirsty. Then, we were blessed by wonderful storms that brought thunder, a bit of hail, and spring’s annual magic.

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DSCF5319We watched as, within a few days, the dead browns of winter were replaced by spring’s impossible greens.

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DSCF5336(Well, most of us watched. Murphy hid under bedcovers when thunder rumbled.)

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DSCF5301Crocus blossoms opened and spiders crisscrossed the blooms with delicate strands of filament…sometimes, I think these hold the world together.

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DSCF5530The river rose and even spilled over the banks a bit.

DSCF5340This little fellow splashed happily in the ditch, using a puddle as his private spa.

DSCF5510I was under the weather during the tail end of the week. Try as I might, I didn’t escape the spring flu wiggling its way through my students and then through me. I’d looked forward to meeting a friend and sharing lunch before exploring the Wisconsin Film Festival, and was disappointed I had to cancel that adventure. But I did stumble out yesterday for a family gathering and belated celebration of Phillip’s birthday. The morning began with a brilliant sunrise that flashed around the bedroom, refracting in windows and surprising the heart with joy.

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DSCF5492A tentative walk with the pups assured me I had my sea legs back under me and walked once again among the living. That green! What an amazing medicine, shooting straight through the eyes, the body, and spirit.

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DSCF5343We met our family for lunch, and then visited the nearby home of Phillip’s niece, who raises sheep and chickens.

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Surrounded by people we love, the sweetness and beauty of the new life, and the impossible green, I knew I was on the mend.

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DSCF5610And mending renews hope: If the earth can transform from colorless death to wild green life in just a week, well, maybe there’s hope for humanity. Maybe nothing’s impossible, after all.

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Gentle Peace

DSCF5006We’ve been on a break from school this week and, as with most vacations, the time has flown by. Our days have been filled with daily sessions of spring cleaning, followed by long walks, gatherings, periods of solitude, and late afternoon dates with wine, treats, and enough warm sunshine to sit outside and soak up some gentle peace together.

DSCF5080I fiddled around with a few new art projects I can share with my students during our remaining weeks together.

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DSCF5162For the first time we can recall in our decades of living here, the April river is too low for our inaugural canoe ride, but we stood on the bridge and watched those who could enjoy the river do so. This little muskrat seemed to relish his leisurely swim and Narcissus moment of self-reflection and grooming time.

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DSCF5121Despite some days of lovely warmth, we couldn’t get into the gardens just yet, except to cut back the grasses where the local bunnies love to nest. Apologies to Peter Cottontail, but I suspect that beneath the porches and decks at Full Moon Cottage, there exists an entire cosmos of warrens and teeming rabbit life; they are not welcome to my gardens as well, although when long-eared scouts venture out on reconnaissance missions, their hopping-stopping behaviors provide energetic barking workouts for the pups, who live to feel useful and appreciated through their protective guardianship of Mama and her gardens.

DSCF5011I’ve learned over (many) years at Full Moon that it’s better to wait until all possibility of frost has passed before I rake away mulch, and too eagerly dig and till…but I could feel the rising joy in my spirit when I noticed how the tulips and daffodils are growing, and the lilac buds are reaching a ripening fullness. Wild daisies, irises, bleeding heart and all manner of weeds are waving their little green flags, and along the trail, the garlic mustard continues its invasion as the ash trees die back from the beautiful, wicked Emerald Borer destroying them. The wild roses, grapes, and raspberries are as determined to thrive as ever; we shall see what evolves.

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DSCF5082I learned this week, or perhaps relearned, as I’m old enough to forget and then delight in rediscovering so many things, it seems, that trilliums are also known by the wonderful names “wakerobin” and “birthroot;” who cannot be moved by the ways we address and welcome spring?

DSCF7571We added some finishing touches to the guest room, which has offered a good and pleasant pursuit, as we’ve worked to create a retreat of contentment. This week, we’ve been the guests, enjoying the peaceful colors of the room and the night songs from the river and woods that punctuate the stillness. These are the days for opening doors, opening windows, airing and refreshing our minds and spirits.

DSCF5183Happily, too, we had plenty of time this week to meet with friends for breakfasts, and lunches, and card games, and walks along the trail. We browsed salvage and antique shops, watched a few movies, took luxurious afternoon naps in sunpuddles, as instructed by the cats, and lingered over our morning coffee, sharing our dreams.

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DSCF5154And so the earth has turned and we are Winter People breathing into Easter People once more. Wakerobins and birthroots. The dark cocoons are pierced by light and fall away. Again. Always. This week allowed us to emerge in grace, and gently. Stepping lightly into the almost imperceptible unfolding of who we are now.

DSCF5023I’m grateful for the tenderness of the transition, the peaceful companionship of my husband and friends, the restoration and renewal of my spirit, the signs of life and calls of the wild, more music than clamor, a love written in my name and sent as gift, reminding me that all shall be well.

DSCF5046I wish my friends a Blessed Easter, a continued celebration of Passover, and the Gentle Peace of the season.

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A Hope of Bluebirds

DSCF4759The affairs of humanity can certainly make us sad some days, can’t they? I’m trying hard to hang onto hope, a vow I made as the New Year rang in. I’ve promised myself I’ll counter negativity by choosing thoughts and actions that offer my spirit peace, which engenders my creativity more fluidly than giving in to despair or misanthropy, tempting as they may be.

DSCF4720When I feel overcome by the news of plane crashes, wars, crooked politicians, and the relentlessly avoided but vitally necessary triage we must offer our hemorrhaging planet, I’ve promised to look for reasons to hope and actions I can take, however infinitesimally small, to heal the world.

DSCF4729It can be hard to sustain much hope some days.

Trudging through a March snowstorm earlier this week, I was gifted with a sudden downrush and uplift of bluebirds…I don’t know their collective name, but I would offer “a presence,” “a beauty” or “a joy” of bluebirds. Unfortunately, my coat, sweatshirt, gloves, and camera lens were all soaked from the heavy, wet snow, so all I can offer is “a blur of bluebirds.”

DSCF4741But the stunning and unexpected encounter left me lightened and hopeful.

Earlier that morning, I’d come across this recent article, by Eric Holthaus, at Slate.com, which describes dramatic climate change and its effect in the state of Alaska, serving as a kind of bellwether for the rest of the planet.

DSCF4685It seems like every day, more data is published by scientists who are most eager for the rest of us to care enough about the earth that we stop what we’re doing and change, dramatically, the definition of what we need to be happy and how we infinitely produce, appropriate, consume, and cast off material goods on our finite planet.

DSCF4695It’s not as exciting a problem to the general populace, I fear, as Bruce Jenner’s transgender shift, or which team might win the NCAA Championship. Climate change presents an almost-overwhelming amount of data and difficulties, of course, but we’ve become so skilled at giving away our power to solve the challenges we face and at denying the existence of anything that requires us to curb our ravenous consumption, that we use our considerable collective energy and gifts to avoid and run away from truth, rather than facing it, rolling up our sleeves, and doing the hard work of transformation and healing that the earth and our existence require.

DSCF4822We know the time to change is evaporating as quickly as the polar ice caps, but we put it off, anyway. Until when? There is no hero who will save us; we are all responsible for the waste, greed, and self-interest that brought us here, and each of us is vital to its solution.

DSCF4849I do not understand humanity. I sometimes think we’re a virus the earth needs to destroy, and increasingly soon, in order that she and her other inhabitants and systems might thrive.

DSCF4404That’s what led to my blue mood last Monday, when I walked through the (very) late March snowstorm. It’s tricky, living through a Wisconsin March, to know if any given day is “typical,” as the autumnal and spring equinox periods of the year frequently ride into our land like royalty surrounded by the vivid highs and lows of noisy and dramatic courtiers. One day snow; the next, a veritable summer.

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DSCF4886But, we do know that in our part of the state, we’re already hovering between meteorological designations of “Abnormally Dry” and “Drought,” due to the extra 15 inches of snow that “normally” fall during the winter months, and this year, did not. We know temperatures have been “colder than average” these past two months.

DSCF4833We know that species of pollinators (honeybees, monarchs) and plants are diminishing. We know that migratory patterns are altering, to the detriment of fellow species within our earth community, if we could see them as such.

DSCF4816But we do nothing to change or to help. We stomp our little human feet and immaturely cry, “No!” whenever a suggestion of sacrifice or change is made. We blame others. We refuse to imagine and then create new systems that would allow us to live in greater harmony with the rest (the majority, by the way) of the earth.

DSCF4973Seeing the bluebirds refocused me. They reminded me that hopeful actions are far more important at this point than dwelling in a gloom of inactivity. One way I counter my creeping despair is to name things that give me hope.

My students:

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DSCF4933My fellow creatures and their endurance:

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DSCF4984My gardens:

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254850_1904491026042_1654765807_1863734_6018829_nOne way I take responsibility for change is to focus on what I do well and share it. I write effectively. So, here is a template of a letter anyone may copy and send to someone in elected office or a leadership position (an employer, a church official, a queen, a parent, a friend, yourself) to encourage the shift that must happen if we are to cooperate in saving the planet.

 Dear ___________,

Because you are in a position of leadership, you bear the responsibility for contributing to the welfare of those you serve. I’m writing to urge you to use that power by risking its loss through facing the very real threats to your constituents (employees, church members, subjects, children, etc.) and the planet, that are posed by the climate changes now occurring, and those increasingly likely to occur.

Please have the courage to examine the processes of resource procurement, and any production, and waste creation within your scope and responsibility, for ways these might be eliminated altogether, or altered, so as to nurture the health of the earth and all her species.

Please have the courage to create and enforce rules, laws, and systems that prohibit behaviors that endanger the health of the earth and all her species.

Please have the courage to question everything you manage and the choices that govern this management in the light of their impact upon the health of the earth and all her species.

Please have the courage to listen to those who have made their life’s work the study of the earth and her health, and to avail yourself of their expertise when creating and realizing change.

None of these requests come under the banners of easy or popular; none will likely allow you to pay back those who granted you the power you wield; none ensure long years of job security. All, as stated, require courage, which begins in the heart. A true leader loves those served more than the power—or wealth—that come with authority.

My requests do not come without my pledge to support you in making these changes, which I believe are more urgent and in need of discussion and implementation than anything previously faced by those who inhabit our planet.

Sincerely,

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Feel free to edit the letter or write your own, but do send it on, and then use your own unique gifts to alter the course of climate change and/or our response to it. I guarantee you, it will do wonders for your hope quotient and the peace of your spirit.

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 “…You will find greater peace of mind

Knowing there’s a bluebird of happiness.

And when he sings to you,

Though you’re deep in blue,

You will see a ray of light creep through…”

 ~ Bluebird of Happiness: Lyrics by Edward Heyman and Harry Parr Davies; music by Sandor Harmati, 1934.

The Stories We Tell Ourselves

DSCF4452As a reader, I go on historic-biographic benders, becoming fascinated by a specific person or period of time, and then reading everything I can find to round out the picture. The perspectives can be in utter opposition, depending on each different author’s point of view and proximity to the subject. I especially enjoy when a new discovery or the passage of time leads to a revised outlook and therefore, another series of books that will enlarge my own understanding of someone or some event.

DSCF4462Storytelling, of course, occurs every time we put pen to paper, sit at a computer, pick up our phone, open our mouth or engage in thought. We tell ourselves and others stories about ourselves, our families, our countries, our gods, and the infinite and infinitesimal events that have shaped us. They tell us theirs. Often, we are the heroines of our tales; we are the wronged, the misunderstood, the courageous, and occasionally the foolish leading characters, but I’ve encountered people who seemed largely absent from their stories as well, giving the stage over to their parents, or teachers, or voices unidentified yet dominant in their story.

DSCF4575We tell ourselves stories about other people, too, trying to understand their behavior and choices, or trying to justify our own.

Given his scientific bent and inbred humility, my husband’s stories are not nearly as fanciful as my own. In the absence of data, he seeks to discover it; I leap to fantastical explanations, to keep the story exciting and moving along. I give you this recent occurrence as an example.

DSCF4626Friday marked the first day of spring, and so a friend and I thought we should meet to celebrate this fact with wine and a meal and a good long visit.

I decided to wear pants long enough to make me feel taller than I am (or, as tall as I am in my stories) and needed to wear my favorite pair of Eastland leather clogs—the ones with the two-inch heels—to accomplish this. I reached for the pair and discovered only one.

I searched the closet floor, and then another closet’s floor. I looked under the bed and in the other rooms of the house, which, as a neat-freak-hyper-orderly type, began to make me feel frustrated. I always place my shoes on a given shelf, beside each other. The 4-leggeds have never shown the interest in footwear commonly ascribed to their breeds. There are only two humans living in our home…where, on earth, had my shoe gone? Back to the closets.

No partner to the lonely clog.

And then it dawned on me. I had read an article about Birkenstock shoes in The New Yorker this past week. Although ugly, they have remained popular because of the utter comfort they offer the feet lucky enough to wear them. The brand has even become fashionable, for some. I have always wanted a pair, but they are pricey, and I am “prudent.” (That’s my story. Others might say, “parsimonious.” Or “a tight-fisted, penny-pinching miser.”)

But Phillip, along with being logical and humble, is also loving and romantic, so I quickly concluded that he had also read the article and wanted to surprise me with a pair, but had required one of my shoes to check the size. This conclusion, of course, was based on no evidence, but it explained the mystery of the missing shoe and created a pleasing story.

However, even given my impressive ability to suspend disbelief, the story felt a tad implausible. I called Phillip at work to check it out, but sought to gently tease out the truth I’d already surmised. Picture him in a classroom surrounded by adolescents eager for the school day to end.

“Hello?” (High school noises in background.)

“Hi, honey…Have you by any chance seen one of my black clogs?”

“What?”

I pretended to be innocent of his plan to surprise me with Birkenstocks. “Would you happen to have taken one of them? For any reason?”

(No response. Long pause. Then laughter.) “Do I have one of your clogs?  Um, no.”

“I’ve looked all over the house and it’s nowhere to be found, so I was just wondering…” Here is where he should have broken down and admitted he had planned a lovely surprise for me. But no. Nada. Zip. I faltered. My story began to dissolve. There were no Birkenstocks winging their way to me from Germany, or wherever they’re made. I offered a false laugh of my own. “Well, I better get going. See you later.”

He continued laughing. “Yup. Have a good time with Heidi.”

I pulled on some boots with heels and walked down to the basement to check once more for my clog, switch the laundry to the dryer, and get on my way before I became late. Being on time is part of my story, too.

Nope. No clog with the various sneakers and boots in the basement.

I pulled the last bit of damp clothing out of the washer and there was my clog. It had, apparently, fallen from the shoe shelf into the laundry basket and been washed and spun to almost-dry. I brought it upstairs, stretching it back into a shape approximating that of my foot, impressed by the shoe’s ability to withstand a wash cycle. I set it next to its partner, imagining their joy at being reunited.

I met my friend at the pub and told her the story, and we had a great laugh and lovely evening.

When I came home, I told Phillip the rest of the story as well, even, sheepishly, the part about my expectation of Birkenstocks. He followed me into the bedroom and laughed while I changed into my comfy clothes. And pulled on the almost-dry clog to help it again reacquaint itself with my foot.

And then I saw the bouquet of a dozen pink tulips on my desk.

DSCF4640The first day of spring! My beloved always gives me a bouquet to celebrate the equinox! I hobbled across the room and hugged him to bits and pieces.

Sometimes the stories we tell ourselves aren’t nearly as wonderful as what’s actually happening now, right before our eyes. That’s my story, anyway, and I’m sticking to it.

DSCF4649P.S.: Today I noticed this mysterious hole in the riverbed. Phillip says it’s a tire or a tire rim, but I’m thinking it’s probably a portal to another universe…yeah, that’s it.

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Gardeners, All

DSCF4107Such a splendid week we’ve had at Full Moon Cottage! We’ve been breathing gratitude, along with the sweet scent of geosmin, the organic compound released by active little actinomycetes as the earth reheats in spring. Like earth’s signature sachet, it evokes a million memories of gardens I’ve tended and loved since I was a child. DSCF4112The comforting reliable signposts assuring us that spring has arrived and is busily establishing her known rhythms has caused our enthusiasm and energy levels to rise like sap and respond by honoring the rituals this time of year calls forth: opening windows, cleaning and winnowing through closets, washing rugs and curtains, and going outside as often as possible to notice homecomings and welcome back old friends. DSCF4233 DSCF4265The Canada Geese and Sandhill Cranes have been winging in on great southerly winds crying out, “Here we are! Here we are!” The male birds—cardinals, chickadees, flickers, jays–are establishing territories and will be seeking mates for nesting, so I’m scattering pet hair and dryer lint, and continuing to fill the feeders. Our owls make their presence known, as do the bossy crows, and this morning, Phillip heard a robin’s song. DSCF4171 DSCF4173The river’s coat of ice is melting away. A lack of winter snow has caused the water level to be quite low this year, so we’re hoping for rains, but just to see the water sparkle in sunlight touches and begins to thaw every frozen particle lodged in our winter hearts. The long months of chilled confinement have ended; winter’s dark and snarled mind knots loosen and dissolve, allowing our spirits to flow. We’ve been laughing more this week. DSCF4223It’s too soon to get into the gardens, but at least I can see them again, and am trying to locate the very detailed list I made last autumn of all the uprooting, dividing, and replanting I had planned for this spring. Of course, first, we have to wait and see who did, and who did not, survive the bitter cold and lack of adequate snow cover we experienced until late winter. Ever hopeful.

I remember my first garden, when I was about eight, and the deep joy I felt planting my bachelor buttons, moss roses, zinnias, and cosmos. Every morning, for weeks, I dashed from bed to garden, pajama-clothed and barefoot—a habit that endures—to examine the earth for signs of green life. I weeded and watered and spent most of that summer immersed in “my” garden, as I have ever since. Daddy had encouraged this, utterly, and supported my dreams of color and blossom; Mama didn’t garden, but supported everything that gave me joy. I took it for granted that everyone had parents who so lovingly tended their dreams. DSCF4082 DSCF4086 Until I can grab a rake and trowel and get going this spring, my garden jones is satisfied at school, where, led by our intrepid team of visiting Master Gardeners, we’ve spent a few weeks planning, and are now planting seeds for this year’s garden. The little pots will sit in long trays on counters in the school’s basement, warmed by grow lights and watered from the bottom. DSCF4088 DSCF4089It gladdens my heart to see how joyfully and naturally the children connect with these activities. They cannot always name the steps or tools involved in gardening, or even evidence familiarity with the resulting food, but they so merrily dig into buckets of soil and so tenderly plant seeds in tiny, plastic earth-filled homes. I think there’s nothing so healing, creative, or natural as gardening.  

The children’s spirits have been thawing, too, and warmer days have increased their energy, and the need for its release and creative expression. Their city skyline artwork turned out beautifully. DSCF4035 DSCF4037 DSCF4038 DSCF4044I was stopped in my tracks, though, when more than one child asked where in their skyline the jail should be represented, or a child showed me his city and identified a building as “the prison.” Once again, I was reminded that the familial, reliable, and seasonal rhythms in which I have always taken comfort and joy are very different from those circumscribing the lives of many of my students. Sometimes their behavior is angry and puzzling, and then comments like these reveal the missing pieces, and my heart breaks open, creating spaces for new seeds of understanding to be planted.

Phillip and I talk, often, of our students and the ways we might touch their spirits and hearts, and give them hope, or a bit of light to companion their journeys. It’s not likely they’ll remember us, but will they remember that a teacher once told them how special, and precious, and gifted they are? When they doubt their purpose, or lose their way, or struggle to make the right choice, will they feel rooted in courage and reach for a light-filled path? DSCF4229Breathing in the wonders and invitations of spring, I’m reminded that we are all stewards of each other as well as of the earth, and that how we prepare, nurture, and tend one another’s spirits is our calling as humans and, certainly, as teachers. Not everyone was gifted with present and loving parents who cultivated their gifts and wonder from the beginning, and we all have dark spaces that can be filled with self-doubt and self-loathing, or planted with promise and loved into bloom. DSCF4125 DSCF4126 DSCF4129We may never see the amazing blossoms and glorious results we have helped create, never be identified as one of the gardeners, but we must, over and over, plant the seeds of possibility, expectation, and affirmation, and shower them with love. DSCF4066Ever hopeful; gardeners, all.

Merry new spring and joyful planting! DSCF3682

Two Steps Forward

DSCF3920February, as it turns out, is the cruelest month, and, here at Full Moon Cottage, we’re glad to see its back end heading down the trail.

DSCF3922The dance February demanded of us caused stumbling, missteps, and then a repetitive one-step-forward-two-steps-back movement that exhausted us all.

We’d been looking forward to some kitchen remodeling, beginning with new appliances. But just when our savings said, “Yes, buy the new oven,” Mulligan came down with a serious infection, and two days later, Miss Fiona needed extensive dental work. Bam; savings gone.

DSCF3787The past two weeks have been spent chasing these poor darlings up and down and over and under to give them their necessary medicine for healing. Fiona has always been extremely reluctant to share space, be touched, hear sounds, experience life…it takes her a long, long time to become comfortable and feel safe, so this has been an inner ring of hell for her. Locating her in the basement circumscribed a unique abyss for us as well, and created colorful bruises in mighty strange places. I swear, one morning I was half under an old blanket-covered couch—Fiona long fled—and almost elected to just lie there for the remainder of the day rather than deduce the maneuvering necessary to wiggle back out again.

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DSCF4020But now, we’ve come one step forward yet again: Mulligan is enspirited and inimitably present in his distinctive ways, and Fiona has dared to leave the basement and is characteristically hidden beneath the dining table, safely barricaded by chairs and pedestal. We try not to glance in her direction, as that would send her to the depths once more. Anyway, she has passed the date when medication would have eased her pain, poor thing. Excessive shyness and an inability to understand the language spoken to you can cost you needless suffering, it seems. We’re happy she’s back with us, and we hope feeling better every day.

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DSCF3825Winter has been doing the same dance, retreating and returning, but with far more dash and surprising colors than our own awkward shuffle. The sunrises and sunsets have been spectacular, as though winter is kvetching, “OK, I’m going already, but you’ll miss all this!”

 Last Tuesday, we had a lovely snowfall, our last for the season, said the forecasters.

DSCF3917Since the air temperature also danced above and below freezing, the snow turned to mist at times and the resulting crystals were blindingly magical.

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DSCF3866A bit more warmth caused a bit more melt, and then a night below the freezing point glazed the snow-covered earth entirely. The next morning, we walked on brilliant and brittle glass that initially, tentatively supported our weight, then yielded and crunched into sugar-cookie crumbs.

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DSCF4004So, one step back. Oh, winter, yes: You are beautiful beyond compare and offer us delights we savor. Stay, stay forever.

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DSCF3955Well, not that far back. And more than two forward. This week, the weather will turn, has already begun to do so…The fox is back, having burrowed out her den’s door and entered to birth new kits.

DSCF3776The sounds of snow and ice trickling away, and birds wooing mates and nesting, and me sighing at the mud tracking through the kitchen, and the happy dance of two pups and five healthy cats…the cacophony of life after winter’s silence fills our home and hearts.

DSCF3991Let the windows be opened and a new dance commence.

The Season of Black and White

DSCF3627Yesterday afternoon, I sat down to process a few photos taken this week and realized there was nothing new coming from my camera. The late winter landscape still offers the same colorless views.

DSCF3632The occasional red of cardinals is startling. There should be some kind of protective eyewear to withstand it. When cardinals flash in front of me, it reminds of the Polaroid bulbs of my childhood. I stare and readjust my eyes as red spots continue to superimpose themselves on everything, then dissolve, and my eyes readjust to the safe, known, black and white.

DSCF3718Regardless of one’s theological beliefs, this season’s lack of color seems to draw the spirit deeper within, the invitations for exploring our journeys and straightening their flow, or clarifying how and why they turn and twist, and where we’d like them to self-correct follow a natural path, in accordance with nature. The absence of sensuous distractions offers peaceful encouragement and the thoughtful presence of silence to companion our introspection.

DSCF3629As winter pulls us into deeper stillness, how natural it seems to devote greater effort to cleansing, reaffirming, and lightening our spirit through honest examination, forgiveness, and a recommitment of our energy to the gifts we’ve been given, and a journey that more honestly offers them, in service, to the world.

DSCF2459This is my time of year for assessing my journey’s progress and charting where I’d like my spirit to grow and flow in the months ahead. All around me, others are steering their own crafts, according to beliefs that guide them through the great ocean of life.

DSCF2481May we forgive ourselves and each other the grievances caused by our shortcomings and any clumsiness, rigidity, blindness, or cruelties that have clouded our ability to offer love or receive it.

May we hear the invitations for introspection and self-correction offered in these seasons of black and white, and bless the world with the colors they will resurrect in our hearts, allowing our own and other’s spirits to be authentically renewed and to blossom, fully.

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Joyfully Wrinkled

unnamed (1)Let us always meet each other with a smile, for the smile is the beginning of love.  ~ Mother Teresa

We receive a weekly magazine that rounds up the news of the world, condenses it, offers helpful graphics, and adds a collection of art, film, restaurant and book reviews in a reasonably tidy and fairly impartial fashion. On one page, in a sidebar, it offers a few tidbits from tabloids, I think in an effort to leaven all the “serious” updates reminding us that the world is dark and dangerous.

A couple of weeks ago, there was a paragraph about a British woman, now 50, who has avoided smiling “for the last 40 years…to ward off wrinkles.” She says she didn’t smile when her child was born, nor at family celebrations or gatherings with friends, insisting her lack of facial wrinkles has made these efforts worthwhile.

I guess this silliness, which I might otherwise have dismissed with a laugh (deepening my own considerable wrinkles), has lingered in my thoughts because it’s reminded me how many times smiles have made a difference in my life.

DSCF6412Like many women my age, I’ve spent a lot of time and energy offering care to dependent, or dying members of my various tribes, those chosen and inherited, and I’m so grateful for the times a smile has saved my spirit, utterly.

It’s hard to believe in a world where people insist everything costs something, but a smile has more potential power to change a life than few things, if any thing, money can buy. I know this was true for my mother, during all the long years she cared for my father following his stroke. She would tell me story after story of the kindnesses friends and strangers had offered that brightened her days, which could be very dark indeed. And when a nurse, or doctor, or insurance adjuster or gas station attendant–whoever intersected her hectic, often harrowing days—shared a smile, it seemed to ease her burdens so profoundly that she’d “save” these stories to tell me when I visited her.

013Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.  ~ Thích Nhất Hạnh

And there are so very many times each day that my family, friends, 4-leggeds, students, observations, memories, and views from the window or along the trail invite my smiles that I can’t imagine holding back the impulse in order to prevent wrinkles. Smiling makes me happy, as Thích Nhất Hạnh says, or perhaps makes me appreciate more deeply all the sources of joy that exist here and now in my life.

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DSCF3582Keeping vigils at a hospital bedsides, feeling overwrought with worries, enduring losses, suffering harsh treatment by someone for something…we all have moments when a passing smile would ease our hearts. We walk and drive by people every day in need of our smiles. And so often, it seems, our own concerns prevent us from making the effort to offer this gift, which can relieve our own miseries as well. If only for a moment, a smile offers breathing space to both giver and receiver.

2.26.11 002It reminds me of Jacob Marley’s despair, when he realizes, too late, the differences he could have made in the lives surrounding and connected to his own:

 “It is required of every man,” the Ghost returned, “that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellowmen, and travel far and wide; and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the world — oh, woe is me! — and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth, and turned to happiness… Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

Late August to late September 09 026So the unsmiling, unwrinkled woman will, I guess, look very beautiful when she dies, appearing years younger than she actually is, but how sad that no one will recall how her smile brightened their day, changed their lives, or lifted their spirits.

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Let us go forth and smile, joyfully wrinkled and wrinkled by joy!

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February Celebrations

DSCF3572A typical February day, both in my memories and today’s experience, is gray, muddy, and moist. Puddles and the sound of melting snow dripping on the deck are a constant, as are the imprint of paw prints across the wooden floor, requiring several quick swipes with the mop each day.

DSCF3423 For variety, such days alternate with sudden freezes, like the one forecast for later this week, that turn every walkable outdoor surface to ice, and every necessary navigation to a dance with death, or at least a possible broken limb or two. In November, I look forward to snow and ice for all the magic they bring; by February, the melting of all that snow and ice, and then the freezing of all those puddles, become less and less enjoyable. The garden catalogues have become so pawed through the ink has blurred and “gardener’s impatience” begins to mount: Let me out! I want to plant seeds, and weed weeds, and caress the earth.

Garden End of May Early June 2010 036Of course, imagining spring and summer, I project only future bliss. In my fantasy of the coming months, there is no humidity; no chiggers or Asian beetles terrorize me or my gardens; no drought threatens to choke green lushness, nor will constant rains drown it. It is the promise of perfection that contrasts so sharply with the utter dreariness of February, a month whose name means “purification,” not a great selling point. It’s also been called “mud month” and “cabbage month,” also not terrific slogans were we advertising its virtues.

DSCF3547We northern natives survive this challenging month, knowing it leads to the perfectly-placed season of Lent (Yay! Six weeks of spiritual purgation!), by having winter celebrations, heralding the longer days, making fun and sport where clearly Mother Nature and the Catholic Church intended none to exist.

DSCF3562This week, we’ll celebrate Valentine’s Day; the following week, Mardi Gras, and, locally, the Knickerbocker Festival exists solely to celebrate celebrating, I think, although it’s ostensibly dedicated to winter’s unique offerings, of which I am a devoted fan. I love snow and ice, snow-shoeing and hiking, skating, and the way the winter atmosphere and the many crystals it creates refract light like no other season.

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DSCF3542For the local festival this year, some men built a small scale version of Stonehenge, using ice from the lake. Icehenge generated some media attention, and the day I walked down to take a look and some photos, I met people from the Madison and Milwaukee area, who came for the adventure…as I said, it’s a tough month, and any excuse to get out and do something different is welcome.

DSCF3425February celebrations save our sanity just long enough to last till the first mosquito bite.

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Sing, Anyway

DSCF3146Here at Full Moon Cottage, we have been singing up some glorious sunrises this week.

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DSCF2909I should correct that. Riley and Phillip have been singing, gloriously. Clancy and I bark, enthusiastically.

DSCF3089As for the cats, Murphy only sings like Johnny-One-Note when he’s locked himself in another room; Mulligan and Fergus have lovely voices; Finny has an eerie pre-furball ejection song, and Fiona apparently believes life is a silent movie.

But Clancy and I sing, anyway. We enjoy it. We bark at the sunrise and at the dogs’ nemesis, Bertie the Squirrel, and his Gang.

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I was thinking about this during today’s howling blizzard. We felt sorry for Bertie, so we didn’t bark at him today. In fact, we tossed a few extra sunflower seeds out there, in an effort to keep our nemesis going strong.

DSCF3277So, no visible sunrise this morning, but we’ve been cozy, hanging out and making art. I was asked to teach art class to our after school group this year, grades 2 – 5. I love it, although I’m not, by any stretch of the imagination, a visual artist. (Which is why I love photography; I can [try to] capture scenes that take my breath away, but that I can’t reproduce with paint or any other media.)

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DSCF1553I can design; I can teach about talented artists; I can come up with fun lessons; and the fact that my examples are less than stellar removes any intimidation factor: the kids have responded most enthusiastically and with amazing gifts. They can tell how much I enjoy fiddling with color and pattern, and how little I care that I’m not the “best” among our group. We just have fun.

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DSCF1534For many years, I denied myself the joy of playing with art materials because I knew the end result would fall so very short of what I imagined. I had a great, but rigorous elementary education, and it remained rigorous when we had “art class,” once every week. By the end of September during my first grade year, I had learned I wasn’t an “artist.”

But time kind of strips away such self-judgment  and doubts, doesn’t it? And life is so much more fun, as a result. We’re all as capable of making art as we are of making love, and the results needn’t be measured or judged in either undertaking, so much as deeply enjoyed. The pleasure derived from creativity, or making something unique (and therefore, holy) from nothing but love, is a gift no one should be denied.

Today I made some Kandinsky-inspired circle trees, a chalk cityscape, and a paint-blob creature.

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DSCF3215Oh, and—inspired by the storm–I painted these tiny owls in a tree “printed” with bits of cardboard. I can’t wait to see what my students create from these ideas!

DSCF3206And I designed a barn wood caddy to hold these twelve cream jars I bought at an antique store last summer. I wanted it for my dining table, so I can put garden flowers in the jars as a centerpiece. In-between shoveling and snow-blowing, Phillip used our blizzard-day to finish some carpentry for clients, but he also took time to create this for us:

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 Perfect! Hooray for the artist!

DSCF3280I’m grateful for the snowy day and the time it afforded us to make art. Actually, Clancy and I prefer to think we barked down the storm. Who says we can’t sing? We love it, and we’ll sing, anyway.

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Walking Each Other Home

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“We’re all just walking each other home.” ~ Ram Dass

We learned this week that Clancy has cancer that can, for a time, be managed by medicine. He is able to walk the trail, bark at squirrels, eat, drink and be merry, and we will guard against allowing him any loss of these sources of his joy. Timing is everything; stumbling is human, but, of course, we want to spare our beloved useless suffering.

DSCF2051Every day still begins with our Morning Party, to consecrate whatever adventures come our way. True companionship, which, after all, means breaking bread together, has woven our sacred bonds with each of our 4-legged friends.

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DSCF2772Our walks have become even more precious. Thousands of miles covered, over and over, for 14 years, have inscribed our love, our stories, our chemicals, and our spirits on every particle along the way. Our story of deeply-shared love and companionship accrues and circles us; we breathe it in and out with every step. It clings to Full Moon and to every part of the path we’ve covered, day and night.

DSCF2707We have seen the seasons come and go, the river rise and fall, the trees and wildflowers bud, bloom, and die back, and now we face–most compassionately, but authentically–our own family member’s dying and our transforming.

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DSCF2796Clancy knows changes are occurring and seems more determined than ever to keep Full Moon Cottage safe from invading squirrels and perceived threats. We bark along with him and Riley at times. I think we are singing our joy, our memories, our fears, and our grief together. The cats look askance, but forebear these concerts.

I’ve always enjoyed Clancy’s help in the kitchen, although his preference has been to plop down right at the intersection of oven, sink, fridge and dishwasher, so I have learned to be a nimble dancer in my culinary activities. I wonder if, after he is gone, I’ll leap over his imaginary presence. The Clancy Ballet.

DSCF2808I find myself wondering a lot about life without him; perhaps that’s a way to try and soften the reality we’re facing…it doesn’t work, anyway. Images of Clancy-less space and activities fade away before I can get a purchase. Which is good, I think, because I’m pulled back to the moments before me, precious and finite and burnished by the utter gift of loving and being loved.

And I take comfort in knowing that when Riley and I one day walk the trail without him beside us, Clancy will be everywhere we are, forever inscribed on our hearts and walking us home.

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Cirque Du Squirrel

DSCF2596Our sweet Clancy-Dog has been having some health problems this week. He is almost 14 and unable to tell us, of course, exactly what he’s feeling, so the vets and animal hospital are narrowing the source of his troubles down. And we are all trying to listen and wait in patience, but it is hard when one we love suffers and cannot be healed quickly.

DSCF1008Unsure of whether or not Clancy’s time with us is coming to a close–full circle, so to speak–a cirque of another kind has offered diversion and re-balancing.

DSCF2639The forest squirrels are plentiful this winter. Our neighborhood owls, hawks, and foxes seem to have wandered further afield and the resulting abundant squirrel population is enjoying its winter holiday quite thoroughly, if the antics at our “bird” feeders are any indication. The squirrels become especially athletic and amusing when the feeders are almost depleted and they need to work a bit harder to earn their seed.

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DSCF2655This morning, Clancy and I watched the show for several minutes. His almost-constant barking was music to my ears. He has always taken his job as protector and defender of Full Moon Cottage and her inhabitants most seriously.

DSCF2570Eventually, the squirrel tired of his quest and ran off towards the woods. Clancy settled down into a peaceful nap. He didn’t see the smile of gratitude I shared with the squirrel, who looked back and—I swear—winked.

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From Festive to Restive

DSCF2363The long exhalation of January has begun… the Christmas decorations are stored away for another year and have been replaced by new piles of gardening catalogues, decorating magazines, novels, and cookbooks.

DSCF2040And cats. More cats than I’ve recalled tending over the past few months.

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DSCF2406I always liked having two cats. It seemed sensible and within the bounds of social propriety.

DSCF2059But five? Five seems borderline crazy, yet what are you going to do? They each came with a sad story of a now-or-never need for a home; tiny Fergus even followed me all the way down the trail in the cold rain of a dreary November day, as if determined to prove both his worthiness and desperation…He may have paused to wheeze a bit, very Oliver Twist-ish, to tug even more deliberately on my heartstrings. My “Foolish for Felines” sign must have flashed extra-brightly that day. And I do have a weakness for them: I think I carried Fergus the last 20 yards home. (“Sanctuary!” he cried.)

DSCF1116The house is big enough that they usually roam and catnap wherever they like and they seemed to disappear amidst the festive Christmas brilliance. I guess they hid under the Christmas tree or in their strategically-placed cat beds all during the holiday season. But now, in January, they seem to have multiplied and become very present along the back of the couch, or standing near windows, or strolling through the living room and hallways. They remind me of the nuns in my childhood who always seemed to glide around together in groups of two or more. Cat-clusters.

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DSCF2349Not a problem this past week, when frigid temperatures and snowy gales kept schools closed and all of us huddled indoors, except to dash out and refill the bird feeders. 

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DSCF2323Even the dogs, it seems, have been comforted by the cats’ added body heat, content to lie at the window or in front of the fire and tolerate the feline members of the family with mature grace.

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So, we’re settling in for the restive season: time to read, and nap, and dream of gardens-to-come, and soups we’ll have to make, and projects we’ll have to tackle. Cuddling with each other, a couple dogs, and a company of cats, life seems cozy indeed.DSCF2152

 

Green Christmas

 

 DSCF1625It’s been an unusual sort of year’s end. Inside, it looked a lot like Christmas.

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DSCF1617We watched several incarnations of Ebenezer Scrooge’s resurrection to a life of hope and compassion, and caught up on rest and reading, and finished remodeling the guest room. Friends visited and festivities ensued. But outside, the world remained in perpetual autumn. On Christmas Day, after our long walk with the pups, we stayed outside to weed the riverside gardens. An utterly new experience for Christmas Day.

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DSCF1730It was lovely and warm, but we both enjoy winter and missed her coming. I worried about my bulbs and perennials, who depend upon the blanket of snow and the frozen earth; the cold triggers the biochemical process they need to flower in spring. Birds were singing spring songs and everything seemed a bit fantastical. Confused. Out-of-the-norm. I missed the patterns I love and have come to honor: the four-season journey of life into death into life. Then it rained again, and we battled the incessant mud tracks our walks produced, another winter anomaly. But it was our valued vacation time, so…we relaxed, indulged in treats, and watched Harry Potter choose between the light and dark, enter suffering and loss, and live into the new world he’d help create.

DSCF1816A few days later, the temperatures lowered considerably, seizing rain puddles, however slight and visible, and freezing them enough so that my car’s brakes locked and slid through an intersection on a busy county highway. I almost “carked it,” as I heard someone say in an English movie, although at the time and for a few days afterwards, I wasn’t able to laugh about the adventure. I was glad I’d said, “I love you” to a friend before I left home that day, but I was disappointed by the fear I’d felt in the endless seconds it took to be missed by the immense SUV barreling towards my tiny VW Bug. I was bothered by the tears that followed the incident: I’d like to meet death with more equanimity.

Another friend visited that night and we talked about many things, as we always do. She mentioned a wise old nun she knows, who recently remarked on the current death throes of so many of our institutions: healthcare, education, political, economic…all seem to be undergoing the stages of dying, “…and it’s right that they should,” said the woman. Everything dies, including human-designed systems, when they no longer serve the welfare of humans.

DSCF1896And I’ve been pondering these ideas, wondering how to best serve the process of change in my small life/world with the little time left to me…When I helped midwife my dying patients, it felt as though I’d made a tacit engagement with mystery. Beyond faith, there is no tangible proof of what came next for my companions’ spirits. I ushered them to the doorway and remained present while they passed through. More than a witness, less than a dance partner…what a midwife is, I expect.

Sometimes they responded like I did, in the car: not yet ready. Like the weather this Christmas: clinging to autumn. Like the institutions, clinging to their power and its threatened transformation. Fear is natural, even, I suppose, a healthy response to the unknown, but I feel it can’t be the last response.

DSCF1484In all the experiences I’ve been graced to share and engage with death, I can only remember one time that a woman resisted her dying all the way through, and it was the hardest, most wretched death I’ve encountered.

Thankfully, most of the spirits I’ve accompanied to death– my loved ones, patients, animal companions, my trees and gardens–eventually, they breathed into acceptance of their dying, even perceptibly entering a deep peace as it came nearer.

DSCF1630I hope I can help midwife the coming changes, in whatever small ways expected of me, and again trust mystery, the pattern of life into death into life, and have faith that spring will bring flowers. I’m grateful for my many wise-women friends; I’m certain they’ll be beside me, in discernment and in bringing new life to birth.

DSCF1975This weekend, the weather turned cold once more.

DSCF1925And sweet snowfall blanketed the earth. Winter is here.

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DSCF1989Next breath.

DSCF1944Wait.

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Holy Night

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Last June I celebrated my 59th birthday and, as I began my 60th turn around the sun, I felt a need to be present to my life in ways that wouldn’t have made for interesting blog posts, or at least not in ways I wanted to explore in public.

I could say 60 is “just a number,” but I think it’s a number that represents a life shift and certainly signals a new decade is beginning, a kind of chronological beacon reminding me of life’s finitude.

I wanted to assess and set my course into “elderhood” with deliberate and authentic thought, rather than just allow my energy to drift into life’s next stage without purpose or clear intent.

I’ve made some decisions, set some demons running and made peace with others. I’ve gathered in joys, winnowed through relationships and sorted through possessions…I’m feeling lighter and clearer, but am mindful there are six months left to prepare for inaugurating my next decade, and whatever years I have left to “still become.” So, I continue to listen, sift, question, name and chart…

But it’s time for me to re-engage with sharing ideas and unveiling feelings and thoughts in my writing. I enjoy it and am ready to renew my practice.

The daily round has unfolded in darkness and light this past year, as it does every year; perhaps the darkness seems stronger and the blessings more precious because of the scrutiny I’ve brought to bear upon them, but I’m choosing to end the year on this, its holy and longest night, in gratitude and joy.

Despite the anger and violence that swirls through this old world and receives perhaps too much of our attention, I believe there so many, so very many reasons to be hopeful, to celebrate light and to share it, especially with the children inheriting what comes of our choices.

So on this Solstice Night leading to our great celebrations of Love’s rebirth, I choose to honor the light that has shone in my life and throughout the world this year, and pray that the New Year will be even brighter. How else can love set the world on fire but through our choices to share its light, moment by moment, day by day?

I’m grateful for those I love and with whom I celebrated some of my life’s milestones this past year.

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I’m grateful for friends who share their arts with the world and surprise me with gifts.

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I’m grateful for companions who share my days and illuminate even the smallest moments with their spirits.

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I’m grateful for my home and the gardens we’ve tended and the harvests we’ve enjoyed.

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I’m grateful for the wild things who bless my life and teach me deep lessons about presence, coexistence, conservation and compassion.

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I’m grateful for former students who check in and let me know how hard they’re working to tend their many gifts and keep the light shining.

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I’m grateful for the many, many people I know or know about, who share their gifts, their energy, their arts, and their wealth with others, who speak truth to the cruel, the wasteful, the fearful, and the angry and so diminish their power.

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I’m grateful for the children with whom I’m able to spend my days. They keep me young in spirit, creative, joyful, and ever hopeful.

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And I am most grateful for a partner determined to be as honest and intentional on his path as he is in supporting my own journey. I’m especially grateful for the laughter we co-create.

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May we light the fires of joy around us in the coming year; may we love wildly and laugh often; may we be quick to forgive, and to feed upon hope.

And may we be kind.

Blessings upon your gatherings, your partings, your celebrations, your prayers, and the creative use of your energy. And may your New Year be light-filled, delightful and joyful.

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Gliding Into Green Time

DSCF7654We’ve come (finally!) to the time of year when all the gardens, in a brilliance of greens and tender spring blossoms, flash back only beauty and promise. No pests, no droughts nor floods, no diseases have yet appeared to divert our belief that this will be the best summer ever for a perfection of blooms and abundance.

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DSCF7743Sweet friends have returned to Full Moon Cottage, annual visitors who bless our days and inaugurate a new season of life as the year rolls round her journey.

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DSCF7055There is no better time to celebrate life, is there? Last week, my colleagues came to Full Moon Cottage to toast the end of another school year, and my husband’s staff will be here next week to do the same. It’s grand to have guests, and motivating as well. Nothing like scheduled company to get us out to re-design, weed, plant, thin, and clean the gardens!

DSCF7666In July, family and friends will come to help us celebrate our wedding anniversary, so we’re looking at projects indoors and out, that may or may not come to fruition, given the time and money necessary to accomplish them. I’m an inveterate list-maker and recovering perfectionist. I’ve noticed age has helped me better—and sooner—identify the borders between desire and reality. How good it can feel to welcome the loosening, letting go, and blessed release of expectations to allow what will happen to happen. I don’t always manage this with grace, but I can say I’m better than I used to be. I can even manage a “whatever,” once in a while, and mean it. At least some of the time, I’m able to suspend my definition of perfection and see what’s already perfectly perfect.

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DSCF7712More importantly, we’re excited to be taking time to gather with people we love. When you reflect on parties and festivities you’ve attended, what do you recall in their afterglow? Not the hours of work and attention to detail that went into planning and organizing them, but the time spent sharing, listening, laughing, relaxing, affirming love and being affirmed as a valuable and integral part of other lives.

Henry Memorial 7It’s such a lovely time of year to recognize, toast, and encourage creation and recreation. Two years ago, we suffered through a devastating drought, and its effects continue to unfold. Our maples let loose an impossible number of seeds last autumn, in part a response to the prior year’s drought. A flurry of rebellious possibility rained down to establish life before drought could again assail the right to regenerate that is claimed by every living thing.

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DSCF7327The behaviors and choices of humans and their leaders so often deny Nature this right. In spring, her resounding Yes-always-yes-to-life, and the reminder she will likely outlast our stupidity and short-sightedness is both illuminating and humbling.

DSCF7612And worth celebrating, as we glide into another summer and its green possibilities for creativity, for gathering, for affirming life, for knowing when to allow what will happen to happen, and for the gift of entering it with gratitude, knowing too, that the impulse to regenerate never dies.

DSCF7063May you be blessed with long, happy days of recreation and the company of loved ones to share them.

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Entertaining Angels

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.  ~ Hebrews 13:2; KJV

DSCF5803Winter lingered. Just when we thought it had taken its last breath, it gasped and continued to test our hospitality.

DSCF5765But for well over a week now, despite chilly nights, the days have been warmer, or rainy, and coaxed out the greens this late spring offers up as gift to eyes surprised by anything other than black, white, and gray.

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DSCF6145Spring’s winged and 4-legged angels, arriving with all their usual and new messages regarding reasons to hope and deepen our love for the earth and each other, have been sailing, trotting, hopping, or crawling up and down the river bank. Choirs of blackbirds and spring peepers, with guest soloists—grosbeaks, robins, sand pipers, woodpeckers, ducks, geese, pelicans, warblers, finches, and cardinals—alert us to miracles daily and hourly. Today, my first sightings of a Baltimore Oriole and Rose-breasted Grosbeak set my heart dancing. The silence and solitude of winter are definitely over; whatever dreams and seeds were planted in the dark have been called forth most dramatically this spring. It took a while for the stone to be rolled away, but the light is now shining like a drama queen. “Grow!” it seems to command.

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DSCF6820We emerged, tentatively and cautiously, peeking out from under winter’s blanket like the proverbial groundhog, and then began to meet, socialize, fill in the calendar, haul out the garden tools and dig into life with the vigor only pasty-white winter people can summon when spring returns in the fullness of her resurrection power.

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DSCF6612Our pups, Riley and Clancy, who will celebrate 13 years of being next week, had a dicey winter. Age-related health encounters gave us some sad and frightening moments, which time and our saintly veterinarian helped us through, gently. We’ve all made adjustments and adapted. We feared their loss (knowing it will come, but please, not yet, not now) and are therefore utterly grateful they’re still here and again able to amble down the trail with us. Their kennels have moved upstairs; our walks are shorter; their schedule is a bit more closely monitored; at night we protect each other; and—if possible—we celebrate our funky family even more than ever. I guess my years tending dying parents and elderly patients have readied me for this, as well. If so, Full Moon Cottage will be the best damn nursing home for elderly 4-leggeds we can imagine.

DSCF6332One evening we had company visiting and the night became so merry and so filled with heady conversation and children and music that our five-year-old guest crawled into his mother’s arms and softly cried. His mother held him and asked about his tears. “I feel so happy,” he said. So much joy, some needed to spill out a bit, I suppose, to re-balance his mighty little spirit.

I know exactly how he felt.

On Earth Day, my students and I cleaned up the school grounds, washed bits of the refuse we collected and then made art…their sweet hearts and lively spirits feed me, daily. I’ve come to a time in my life where most teachers arrive, if they’re lucky and as blessed as I’ve been: we know that teacher and student are the same thing.

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DSCF5817As are life and death.

 I’m trying to gauge my wealth differently than financial advisers might counsel: How engaged with life, how open to its invitations have I been this day? To what degree have I given and received as I’ve circled through the daily round? How often did I pause and connect with all the angels and their messages streaming towards and through me? How freely did I share those messages with others?

DSCF6708In my life, angels, or messengers who remind me, “This is it! Now! It’s all holy!” have never been pretty men with wings, though some of my angels have been men, and many of my guides have had wings…Only look and listen, they’re everywhere: winged, legged, fluttering, croaking, singing, blooming, dying, laughing or weeping. See! These unique and sacred collections of particles gathering and forming, dissolving and reforming: Be moved to dance, to hobble, to wheeze, to weep with joy by all the ways Love calls you out, every moment, into resurrection and new creation.

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Clancy questions whether he must entertain his sibling cats as angels, especially if they appropriate his kennel.

Clancy questions whether he must entertain his sibling cats as angels, especially if they appropriate his kennel.

 

Winter Spirituality: To See What Is Before Us

DSCF5119Sometimes I wonder if the constant complaints about winter—the cold, the snow, the darkness, the inconvenience—are a form of resistance to winter’s spiritual invitations. They’re challenging; they’re scary, they’re brutal in their honesty. 

DSCF4925They’re so worth engagement.

DSCF4626I’ve come to love the austere revelations winter offers, as I’ve come to recognize the wisdom of loving what I resist, opening to relationship with perceived obstacles, problems, roadblocks and impediments. Limiting my journey to summer’s merry, easy road limits my journey.

DSCF4622In summer, my vision is attracted by everything at once, overwhelmed by the impression of colors, mingled patterns and textures. A summer spirituality allows my mind to perpetually skip from pleasure to pleasure, one sensuous delight and self-affirming thought after another. But, as the season of winter allows me to focus on the singular beauty and unique mystery of the particular and specific, entering a winter spirituality allows me to be with my darkness and find that its augmentation to my spirit, if initially frightening, is eventually healing. Shadow and light are needed for the picture to be full and the spirit to be whole.

DSCF4827I appreciate the generous cloaks winter creates to isolate color and form. I can photograph one tree, one bird, one sunrise, over and over, and always see something new. In winter, it seems the world tells me who it is at its core and asks me if I can respond with my own true name. “Who are you?” asks winter, over and over, paring away, in loving patience, all the usual answers that satisfy such a question in polite, superficial society.

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DSCF4677Winter spirituality helps me meditate more and more deeply on the gift and uniqueness of each part of myself and my life, each partner with whom I dance, each question with which I struggle.

Long years, a lifetime, of encrusting these relationships with projections and desires and hopes and discharged emotions and learned reactions and one-sided memories, can be stilled by winter’s gift of silence and long hours to re-visit and re-vision, The external shudders away, baring what is real, teaching me again that meaning is fluid but essence eternal.

DSCF4817The local meteorologists call this the “coldest winter” in 35 years, and people complain, some unceasingly, about the hardships of enduring it. But I’ve learned to love winter as I love my shadow. They are beautiful; they bring wisdom; they lead me to rare and vital presence. And they are crucial to the springtime’s arrival; crucial, as in “cross,” as in the bloom of synthesis bursting from the thesis-antithesis of winter’s black and white…

DSCF4962I love winter and the spirituality she engenders for helping me to see, even a little more clearly, the truth before—and within—me. By uncluttering all the other seasons’ competing imagery, I can eliminate the chaos of color and form surrounding the pure beauty of a solitary squirrel, by muting all the rival noise muffling one blue jay’s cry, I can hear its once-in-a-lifetime once-ness, by stilling all my swirling mental and spiritual dissonance, I’m guided to focus solely on where I am in relationship to the Holy and all her streaming invitations. 

DSCF5111Spirit speaks uniquely in all of life’s seasons, in all of life, every moment; disregard this, and we miss vital communication, like tuning out another’s conversation. Only listen, says the Spirit, in winter’s guise; listen, and be led to silence.

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DSCF5084And when I can listen more deeply, winter is the one who whispers to my heart those essential truths that keep it beating: I am loved and lover, created and creator, co-conspirator (helpmate of Spirit) in fashioning these sewn-together moments called my life.

Peeling away the layers of projected need, repeated story, and entrained patterns of response, winter teaches me to see what is before me. To see what is. 

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DSCF5121I am still becoming.

 

Counter Posture

DSCF448640 years of yoga practice have yielded gifts I never expected when I started down the path, much, I suppose, like any long-term relationship one consents to pursue will continue to surprise the heart and spirit if attention is paid and the relationship is bound more by love and flexibility than a rigid repetition of steps learned long ago and in all the years since rarely or never opened to inspiration.

DSCF4550Consider, for example, the wisdom and elegance of counter-posturing, balancing in-breath and out-breath, uniting a backbend with a forward bend, marrying a reaching with a contraction. The unfolding understanding of a counter-posture’s gifts has broadened my ability to remain increasingly present and mindful to my life and its core of mystery, to its blessing and suffering, and to its continual flow of dying and rebirth. Life, at its essence, is an unending exercise in counter-posturing. Over and over, life asks that we disintegrate and reintegrate, from our birth, through the breaths enclosing each succeeding moment until our death. If we can enter our life mindfully, co-creating equanimity and balance, how much lovelier our experience of its gifts can be.

DSCF4531Counter-posturing is inherent to the flow of yoga, as it is to the philosophies and theologies we recognize as our guiding wisdoms. For example, it forms the holistic essence symbolized by the yin and yang’s embrace of both the empirical and transcendent. It is expressed beautifully in the Hebrew Ecclesiastes verses that tell us everything must have its season. It pulses at the heart of every line forming the beautiful Prayer of St. Francis.

It is revealed throughout nature’s perfect balance, offering the rounded whole of existence to guide our spirits towards their own rounded fulfillment: Summer’s outward energy and exuberant volume, winter’s inner withdrawal and soundless stillness, the expansion and retraction of spring and autumn. Every force has its equal and opposite force that, if embraced, creates a perfect marriage of balance.

DSCF4544The universe conspires to teach us the wisdom of counter-posturing, to help us choose paths, practices, and actions that keep us balanced and centered, which is to say authentically healthy and whole. When life is flowing easily, these practices may heighten its joy. When life is overcome by suffering, the ability to counter-posture becomes as necessary to our spiritual survival as oxygen is to our body.

Our first breath is an in-breath; our final an exhalation. Whatever we choose between these, whatever existence offers, life originates and concludes in perfect balance. Our choice to counter-posture—or not—all those moments between our human beginning and end determines the degree of elegance, the trajectory of growth, the depth of meaning, and the awareness of the Sacred that infuses our life. 

DSCF4513My beloved brother-in-law died last week.

Days were circumscribed by his rapid decline in health, an accelerated rhythm of swirled energy and emotions, rising hopes and dashed hopes, long vigils and sleepless nights, the gathering and parting of family, the brutal lack of equanimity often offered by the hospital ICU, the sense of everything heightened and held out of time, and moments when reality screamed with unrelenting heart-slamming truths, grounding us in medical minutiae and the process of dying.

By training and inclination, the camera of my perception continually moved in and out, assessing the degree of shock and anxiety within and without each participant, and, of course, myself. When the life of one we love is so suddenly compromised, our emotions, bodies, and spirits are thrown out of coherence. Numbed engagement is often the best that can be managed and also serves to protect us, and so we offer automatic responses that cushion our completely exposed vulnerability from jarring contact with more than this moment, and now this one. 

S0044332If we can listen deeply during such times of spiritual, emotional, and physical trauma, some inner knowing will tell us that our spirits are trying to catch up with us, and if we can hang on, and intuitively counter-posture each moment’s invitations and assaults, we will again find our way home to our center. Until then, we travel with sails tossed by raw emotions, and if we are blessed, love is the one we allow to carry us through to journey’s end.

Years of accompanying others and their families through such experiences have taught me to seek, support, and encourage the counter-postures that will renew balance for all involved in the drama of dying and loss. As a midwife to the dying, I have witnessed myriad responses to the invitations this final journey offers to the one who is dying and to those who accompany him or her. I have felt and considered them all myself when I have lost someone I loved, as I did last week. Every new wave that crashes against us can either be met with love or rejected and futilely battled in anger, fear, anxiety, and despair. 

DSCF4206Here is how it might happen when we surrender to the experience and meet it with intentional equanimity: We can recognize the horror of our individual and collective journey and choose to translate it into sorrow by meeting it with love. We can counter-posture our howling pain by acknowledging that mystery and grace are also our companions. We can embrace our fellow-passengers on this journey of stunning transformation, and through the energy of our words and silence, our actions and stillness, our in-breaths and out-breaths, comfort our own and others’ hearts, subdue the storm, and steady our spirits. We can focus our energy and gratitude upon the one who is departing, on his comfort, his peace, his need to know we will be alright, and that our love will go with him.

These are some of the choices we can make to counter-posture the energy created by such profound storms in our lives, and so guide our spirits back into a substantial presence where they can eventually rest in weary peace.

My brother-in-law was blessed, as he was blessing. His wife and children never once let themselves be unmoored by the ferocity and velocity of invitations to let go into fear, anger, or despair. They embraced each other and all who joined their circle, shining light on their beloved and holding him in love through his final exhalation. They intuited elegant counter-posturing and preserved the fullness and wholeness of this loss and every moment of gratitude and community it offered.

Hallowed life, hallowed death: oh, such gifts we can offer ourselves and others if we choose intentional equanimity and balance.

DSCF4418And as we enter our grief, I am consoled by the beauty of our gatherings to be peacefully present to the death of our beloved one, to his burial and commitment to Love’s turning circle. I’m heartened, too, by the sense that together and alone we’ll dance with our grief, counter-posturing sadness with joy, weariness with rest, sharing with conserving energy, breathing in with breathing out, deepening our recognition and understanding of all the ways our loved one’s death opens his life to our sustenance.

May we continue to honor this great loss and use this great love to create sacred balance in our lives and holy equanimity in the lives of those we love and meet. May we counter the world’s brokenness with our loved one’s example of creativity; may we help heal the world’s hatred with his lessons of love, may we counter the world’s joylessness with his model of enthusiasm, and the world’s sadness with his encompassing delight. May we always hear the invitations to discover and use our gifts, as he did, to bless the world and to assure the Earth, over and over, that she is precious, loved, and worth saving, in all her infinite variety, and work to make it so.

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