DSCF9553

Legacy
It comes for everyone, doesn’t it?
The inevitable end of all this, the flower petals
falling, the leaves falling, the day falling into night.
Here’s what I’ll remember, though:
Sitting in the garden on your last morning,
holding your hand, breathing,
watching the butterfly’s wing-tattered
body-battered flight
through the holy colored brilliance to the pinkest bloom,
where it came to perfect stillness
and drank deeply of life
as though it would last forever.
And in that moment
everything I’d ever loved in you came clear—
this was the theme of your life, your constant song:
Choose joy, take it in, share its light.
And as it rose again, and your spirit, too,
leaving,
illumined within and without,
you (I know it was) brushed against the poppy’s ghost
and I saw
I saw the tiny seeds
falling.
I should have expected this:
you always left me gifted
and blessed.

DSCF9569

DSCF9690

DSCF9721

The Forest, Having Blown Up

DSCF8425

We’ve had an unexpectedly dramatically dramatic summer, and I would be most grateful if the energy that’s hurled us thus far through the green-flowered and golden weeks would flatten out a bit into some semblance of balance and peace.

But, there is too much, so let me sum up:

Part One

My soul is a broken field, plowed by pain.  ~ Sara Teasdale

DSCF6839 - Copy

I guess we’re always, most of us, both prepared and unprepared for loss. We’re full of intellectual wisdom and knowledge about death and grief. We believe we’re fortified by these words and the stages and steps they describe.

And then we step into the land of loss, and the barren, rough landscape opens up, and every surface we encounter in this new world scrapes away at our sense of the known and bloodies our fragile attempts to touch and learn, and sucks the words out of us, and the walls that encompassed the reality we’d come to recognize and rely upon utterly fall away.

Of course, they were only made of paste and cardboard to begin with, but we had so carefully constructed the stage set that encompassed our lives for so long that we disregarded the potential for its devastation.

And how easily, and quickly, it can all collapse and be blown away.

The utter strangeness when a circle of love is broken and the presence of that circle’s heart is removed, requires tricky navigation, and, for a time following Clancy’s death, I chose not to move at all. A week after his death I turned 60 and it meant nothing but that I’d existed for another week.

I didn’t know it then, but I was ill. I had lost contact with my senses, sheltered—or hidden–so deeply within my grief that I didn’t understand that something “out there” was wrong. When I tried to move through my yoga, bicycling, and trail walks with sweet Riley, I felt like the tin man in need of oil. Every joint and muscle hurt, first a bit, and then unbelievably. I stopped trying.

DSCF8391DSCF8575 DSCF8572 DSCF8534 DSCF8475DSCF8617 DSCF8553 DSCF8542

Phillip, family, friends, the four-leggeds, and the gardens helped, as they always do.

We focused on tending Riley’s loss of her lifelong companion and littermate, began to adjust to our own sadness, and I met with my wonderful physician, who helped identify the disease that had taken up residence in my body. Some knowledge does lend power, and over the past month, prescribed treatments have largely eliminated my pain. It’s being “managed,” as they say. (I say, “Hooray!”)

Gratitude always walks with grief, a partnership that, if we choose to recognize it, helps to make us whole again.

Part Two

Little by little God takes away human beauty:
Little by little the sapling withers.
Go, recite, “To whomever We give a length of days,
We also cause them to decline.”
Seek the spirit;
don’t set your heart on bones.
~Rumi

DSCF9022

Since I felt stronger, we traveled to an area Phillip had already explored for our retirement. Never sure if that should happen now or later, we visited the communities we found most attractive. We looked at some homes for sale. Mostly, we hiked and sat, and listened. Riley’s ability to join us on the trip proved a wonderful opportunity to reconfigure our circle of intimacy, settle into each other’s energy, and learn more about the family we are now, without Clancy’s physical presence. Knowing the felines were in good and loving care, we relaxed into the healing offered to our spirits by a landscape we love.

DSCF8715 DSCF8763 DSCF8810 DSCF8819 DSCF8839 DSCF8854 DSCF8902 DSCF9003DSCF8859 DSCF8895 DSCF8977

On the way home, we looked at another home that intrigued us, and made an offer to buy it. It was a Friday afternoon, so I called a realtor in our hometown and arranged for her to visit Monday morning, to list Full Moon Cottage for sale. How exciting, to make a change, we thought…perhaps this was the new path Clancy’s death had created for us.

The universe had other plans. Early Monday morning, a storm propelled straight-line winds speeding across the area, and twirls of small tornado tails bobbed down, here and there, twisting bits of the world into unrecognizable designs.

A single kind of thunderous crash caused us to leap out of bed, adrenaline lending us a rather impressive athleticism. Phillip grabbed the flashlight and, through the darkness, assessed that possibly a tree or two had fallen. As the sun rose and daylight scattered across the yard, we saw instead that, without warning, and in an instant, the forest beside our home had exploded.

Part Three

My barn having burned down, I can now see the moon.  ~  Mizuta Masahide

DSCF9188 DSCF9169 DSCF9131

Through a fog of dazed shock, I began to clean the decks as Phillip saved what he could of the front garden. Several of our trees had fallen, but the more dismal reality was that about 30 or 40 of our neighbor’s white pines had crashed across our front yard. There was no way we could clear the havoc ourselves.

A few hours later, covered in dirt, mud, and pine needles, we greeted the realtor, an impressive false smile frozen on her face as she stepped over branches and bravely proceeded to draw up the contract, assuring us that when the home actually came on the market, 10 days later, all would be well.

Home insurance doesn’t pay for storm damage, except for that sustained by the physical house, and we miraculously had little of that. But that’s where the miraculous aspects of the story stopped, we felt, since we did have about 40 trees, in a hundred thousand pieces, that had to be removed.

The morning after the storm, I watched as the two turkey hens we’ve come to know over the years paraded their new chicks through the rubble, over and under branches, accepting of the changed landscape and inviting me to be as well. A doe and her fawns leapt across the yard nimbly. Easy for you, I thought. Can’t you see the world’s been upended?

A few days and a small fortune later, we were left with what we called a muddy “trail of tears,” and worked about 80 hours between us lugging, raking, tossing and scraping together branches and limbs, in 91° heat and a sour funk. I mourned the little crab tree that had anchored my front garden, the vegetables and berries we’d lost, the lovely old hickory tree. A sad business indeed.

DSCF9255 DSCF9264 DSCF9223 DSCF9269DSCF9276

Still, Riley seemed happy to be home, reunited with her cat buddies, and unfazed by the need to jump over or circle around trees on the trail, or stop and re-route altogether, so that was a blessing. And I was feeling physically stronger every day, another light in the darkness.

DSCF9241

By Friday, we decided to put off buying a new home, moving, or selling Full Moon Cottage. We were fairly spent, almost on empty, and fully exhausted.

We set down the rakes and shovels and took off our gloves and sat on the deck, sipping ice cold beer and surveying the altered scene before us.

DSCF9275

And we began to laugh. And, of course, we counted the many blessings that had equally fallen all around us. We had been spared injury; the house was minimally damaged, the gardens would recover, and many were still growing madly…

I shared that I’d had the Masahide quote running through my mind all week. And then I told Phillip, making a sarcastic joke, that, at least we could now receive better internet and phone reception, which the wall of white pines had always prevented. He replied, “The forest having blown up, I can now receive three bars,” which really set us off…and I knew we would be OK. Better able to see the paste and cardboard of life for what they are, we can set them aside and focus on what’s really real and lasting. Like the turkeys, and the deer, and sweet Riley, we will make our way across these losses and come to new places, feeding on the blessings that are all around us, and loving the memories of all that’s come before. Our family’s circle of love was never broken; I see that now. It’s only changed, and Clancy will always be that circle’s heart.

DSCF9309DSCF6839

Clancy, the Heartbeat at My Feet

CLANCY

May 12, 2001 ~ June 10, 2015

clancy in the snowlight How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.  ~ A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

DSCF2803I knew when I met you an adventure was going to happen.   ~ A.A. Milne

clancy and mom 013What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.  ~ Crowfoot, a leader of the Blackfoot Nation

DSCF3866

My little old dog
a heart-beat
at my feet
~ Edith Wharton

clancy 001

DSCF0012

Perfectly Content

DSCF7761 It’s hard to believe May is already flowing into June. It’s been a lovely month for gardening, one with that rare balance between rainfalls and sunshine, hot and cool temperatures, time to relax and time to keep up with the weeding and mulching. DSCF7188 DSCF7224 DSCF7247 DSCF7272 DSCF7536 DSCF7558 DSCF7596  This weekend, we’re celebrating our 18th year at Full Moon Cottage. 001 002 003 There were over 4 acres and not a garden to be seen when we took over as caretakers of this piece of earth. The house was in dire need of “renewal.” As every homeowner knows, this is an ongoing-forever process. But Full Moon needed a down-to-the studs-and-back-again facelift. It was hard to know where to start, so we kind of started everywhere at once, tearing up blazing red carpeting, and tearing down walls, and tearing out creepy cabinetry, and tearing off hideous wallpaper. Then, slowly, but steadily, adding wood floors, wainscoting, bead board to the ceiling, new windows, doors, a roof, geo-thermal heating and cooling, an addition and a new garage. Phillip has done almost all of the construction, and I have been his loyal assistant. 001 002 That first summer, we painted the exterior, and I threw a couple packs of annual and “wildflower” seeds into a patch of earth, just to have some color and beauty outside while we deconstructed the inside of the house. 005007 The next year, we added our first big garden, which is still being redesigned, decades later. That’s how it goes. 006 DSCF7769 Then we added a vegetable garden, fruit trees, and gardens in the back yard, by the river. DSCF7771 DSCF7674 DSCF7676 DSCF7703 DSCF7527 DSCF7404  Every time we had to cut down a tree, we built a garden around what remained of her trunk. DSCF7547 DSCF7548 When he edged the gardens every spring, Phillip took the earth he removed and set it in a new space, then covered and mulched it to create a new garden we’d tackle the following year, a practice we continue. DSCF7471 DSCF7488 DSCF7732 DSCF7562 DSCF7645 All those years ago, when first they saw photographs of the house we bought, friends and family thought we’d lost our minds. Until they visited. Then, the magic of this thin place affected them as it had us. Holy ground and sacred space; we made a commitment to Full Moon that we would bless her with our gifts, and she would bless us in return, and that has held true all these years. It has been a relationship and labor of love. DSCF7677 There are so very many things I wish I could change about the world and the state where I live. There are so many things I wish I could change about my health, or my income, or the pie crust I continue to try to perfect (getting closer on that one). DSCF7630 DSCF7700 DSCF6625 But there is nothing at all I’d change about our decision to take over the care of Full Moon and call her our home for these past 18 years. She has been our sanctuary and an altogether grand place of hospitality. She has welcomed and fed our spirits and harbored our families, friends, and beloved 4-leggeds.  DSCF5523 When we feel beaten by the things we cannot change, Full Moon Cottage has renewed us, and reminded us that, over time, dreams come true. DSCF6798 A kind friend asked after my spirit this week, and I searched my heart and answered that I was content. Phillip generally concurs. Our life together is not perfect in a fantastical sense, but we are perfectly content. We owe that to many people, the 4-leggeds, our own work, and our chosen, as well as gifted, experiences, but we also owe our contentment, in large part, to the spirit of Full Moon. So, we are grateful, and celebrating. Perfectly content. DSCF7302

Any Morning

DSCF6909

It’s the first day of summer vacation for me, and I feel so full of the school year and so empty of motivation to tackle garden chores, that I think I’ll take time to relax, a rarity at Full Moon.

DSCF7051 DSCF7064 DSCF7099 DSCF7110 DSCF7161

We celebrated the end of the school year with a bowling party, and then a class party, with treats, yearbook-signing, a movie, and sweet hugs. One of my darling girls gave me a card in which she had written: “Dear Ms. O’Meara, I love you because I love you,” a tautology I find brilliant in its simplicity and truth.

DSCF6987 DSCF7034 DSCF7155

The gardens are doing well, despite the need for rain (which may come this holiday weekend), and we’re gearing up to settle down into longer days of spontaneous adventures, garden time, hiking, canoeing, biking, reading, and doing nothing, as the songs of the day teach our hearts to listen well and more deeply.

DSCF6832 DSCF6887 DSCF6912 DSCF6883 

Summer blessings to all my friends! I love you because I love you.

Any Morning

Just lying on the couch and being happy.
Only humming a little, the quiet sound in the head.
Trouble is busy elsewhere at the moment, it has
so much to do in the world.

People who might judge are mostly asleep; they can’t
monitor you all the time, and sometimes they forget.
When dawn flows over the hedge you can
get up and act busy.

Little corners like this, pieces of Heaven
left lying around, can be picked up and saved.
People won’t even see that you have them,
they are so light and easy to hide.

Later in the day you can act like the others.
You can shake your head. You can frown.

~ William Stafford
Ohio Review (Vol. 50, 1993)

 

 

 

Mothers’ Day

DSCF6819

Bless all who nurture life,

in all its forms…

DSCF6686 DSCF6660DSCF6752

Those who choose to create, to generate,

to care and protect,

DSCF6540 DSCF6495 DSCF6493

to foster beauty and joy and peace,

DSCF6773 DSCF6744 DSCF6558

to call forth truth and growth,

to speak against power without justice,

Rally 3.12.11 119

to listen and to heal, to dance and to play,

DSCF6391 DSCF6393

to love,

and love,

and love

DSCF6400 DSCF6490 DSCF6436

and never lose hope

that all will nurture life,

in all its forms.

DSCF6723 DSCF6619 DSCF6469DSCF6545

Fellow Travelers

DSCF6284The sunrise shouted me out of bed like a réveillé call this morning, and I had high expectations of posting some photos and a few paragraphs by 8 A.M.DSCF5800But that’s not how it works this time of year, and I should know better. Any day may find me migrating far afield with my camera, following winged, two, or four-footed fellow-travelers. So, by 7 A.M., I’d looked through a few photos, sipped coffee, chatted with my Beloved before he headed out to a remodeling job, and then wandered outside with my camera to see if any tulips had blossomed yet. DSCF6251 DSCF6311They had not, so I roamed a bit, and eventually found myself three miles east along the bike trail, resting at the Rock River bridge. Thankfully, I was not still in my pajamas, although I’m getting to the time of my life where it wouldn’t matter all that much if I were.DSCF6301The Crawfish River, upon which Full Moon Cottage is situated, right on the curve of a drumlin, flows into the Rock River, a 300-mile river that is a tributary of the Mississippi, joining it south of us, in Illinois.DSCF6082In spring, bird migrations follow the rivers to find their way to a kind of grand gathering of the clans at Horicon Marsh, about 40 miles north of us. The migrants offer all kinds of varied bird-watching treats, if we happen to be looking in the right direction, at the right time, and on the right day, because some are here and gone very quickly.DSCF6067DSCF6009DSCF6203This week, the bit of river overflow opposite Full Moon Cottage has seemed to be taken for a temporary, but welcome, wetlands hostel of sorts, as every morning has revealed different guests, who have flown to Horicon or points north by late afternoon. Blue-Winged Teal ducks stopped over, as did shorebirds like Sandpipers and Snipes. (Sorry, my photos aren’t showstoppers because I was too far away, and didn’t want to wear waders and slog down to the guests’ resting place, disturbing them for a better photo, but you get the idea.)DSCF6114DSCF6271DSCF6276DSCF6265 Flocks of American White Pelicans soared above Riley, Clancy, and me, during our walks this week, also headed to Horicon, to nest until late September. Their numbers have increased since the beginning of our current century, having largely disappeared during the last. Their 9-ft. wingspans and interesting flight patterns always delight me; they shift and flow in horizontal, then vertical lines, then V-formations, gathering clusters, and then shooting off with partners. Somewhere, I imagine a pelican flight choreographer named Randall or Jonathan, clacking his bill and snapping directions at their migration rehearsals. “One-two-three-and…Oh, shit; this is hopeless! Partner up, people! More jazzwings! We’ll never be ready for opening flight!”DSCF6272Their black and white coloring, and long, ridged bills are stunning, and always remind me of Audrey Hepburn in the “Ascot Gavotte” scene in My Fair Lady.

The little wetlands is drying up, due to our lack of rain, but the migrations continue. This week, I’m hoping to see hummingbirds, orioles and grosbeaks; they’re usually here the first week of May. I’m always excited to see them, maybe because of the many migrations I’ve made in my own life; it seems a natural impulse to seek the home that meets one’s needs, and it seems right as well, that strangers should be welcomed for the gifts, color, and variety they offer our lives.DSCF6193DSCF6290So, I set out feeders of sugar water and slices of oranges, as I hope I set out compassion and kindness; hospitality naturally invites such beauty that I would otherwise have missed. As others have welcomed me, I want to welcome others. One of my teachers said, reducing the philosophy of servant-leadership quite tidily, “It’s all about relationship.” We’re all of us coming from our home or going to our next home, sometimes both at once, and the least we can be in passing is generous in our embrace and wise in the recognition that we’re more alike than different.DSCF6105DSCF6328DSCF6262Ascot Opening Day

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.

sss

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

DSCF5253

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

DSCF5220

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

DSCF5526

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.

DSCF5489

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.

DSCF5523

DSCF5531

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

DSCF5599

DSCF5571

DSCF5546

DSCF5574

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

DSCF5552

DSCF5580

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.

DSCF5537

DSCF5622

DSCF5612

 

 

 

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.

DSCF5160

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.

DSCF5108

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.

DSCF5042

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.

DSCF5151

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.

DSCF5159

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.

DSCF4870

 

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:

DSCF4918

DSCF4920

DSCF4924

DSCF4933My fellow creatures and their endurance:

DSCF4901

DSCF4907

DSCF4861

DSCF4984My gardens:

DSCF4951

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,

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­_______________

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.

DSCF4883

 “…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.

DSCF4645

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.

DSCF4013

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.

DSCF3798

DSCF3804

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.

DSCF3850

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.

DSCF3997

DSCF3999

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

DSCF3936

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.

duck eggs and birds april to may 2012 039 - Copy

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.

DSCF4774

DSCF0111 - Copy (2)

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.

DSCF6297

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

DSCF3692

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.

DSCF3455

DSCF3489

DSCF3521

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.

DSCF3565

Sing, Anyway

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

DSCF2894

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.

DSCF2675

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.)

DSCF2041

DSCF2174

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.

DSCF1527

DSCF1528

DSCF1530

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.

DSCF3205

DSCF3222

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:

DSCF3234

DSCF3235

DSCF3237

 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.

DSCF2823

DSCF3273 

 

Walking Each Other Home

DSCF2795

“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.

DSCF2710

DSCF2712

DSCF2717

DSCF2721

DSCF2749

DSCF2760

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.

DSCF2793

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.

DSCF2781

DSCF2768

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.

DSCF2641

DSCF2658

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.

DSCF2660

DSCF2662

DSCF2649

DSCF2583