To Have A Friend Takes Time

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In a way, nobody sees a flower, really; it is so small. We haven’t time, and to see takes time—like to have a friend takes time. ~ Georgia O’Keefe

It was the last bell, of the last day, of my last year of classroom teaching, and the last thing I expected was Finnegan.

Amidst the cheers, and hugs, and goodbyes, and promises to keep in touch, and the bustle of children hurrying into summer, in walked a parent with a basket full of kittens, fresh off the farm.

Her daughter excitedly took hold of the basket and carried it over to me. “Ms. O.! Look! Would you like one?”

I had two one-year-old puppies at home, Riley and Clancy, and two aged cats, Sally and Tess. I didn’t need a kitten, really, just then, but there he was, the tiniest, with the biggest paws. A great farm cat, built to hunt mice. Would he be happy confined in a home with two puppies and two old cats, the odd man out? It was already too late; I held him and he was mine. Finnegan. He was so small, but I saw him; he saw me; we became friends.

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He was such a mellow kitten, content to play alone, or to snuggle with his much older sisters, or to profess his love for Riley. He adjusted to all of us happily.

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 When he was quite young, he traveled with us to Atlanta to see my family; I can’t remember why, but I have a picture of him in my mother’s family room. He looks quite content, so it must have been a happy adventure for him.

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Finny and I created daily rituals: He developed an affinity for playing in sinks, so I would leave a trickle of water running in the bathroom sink every morning, where he could play, drink, and relax. He liked to grab me and comb my hair with his paw. He waited (in the sink) until I’d get out of the shower, stand on the counter, and grab at my head, wanting me to shake my wet hair over him. After more than 20 years together, Phillip no longer waits, excitedly or otherwise, for me to emerge from the shower (nor I for him, to be fair), so Finny’s daily, faithful, and eager anticipation of my 60-year-old self stepping blindly out of the shower was a kind of special comfort: I’m still here; still beloved!

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He loved to smooch, and he enjoyed sitting on my lap and bouncing while I sang “our song” to him:

Oh, Finnegan, again, again,
I’ll tell you that I love you;
Oh, Finnegan, again, again,
Please say you love me, too!

For a time, after Sally and Tessy died, he was our only cat, and a little lonely, but he adjusted yet again, and I think he began to think of himself as our third dog. He loved to escape out any open door—or window—and then run under the decks to roll in the sandy earth, ignoring my pleas for his return. I’d simply have to spend the next hour in vigil, waiting for him to be satiated with freedom, all his senses filled, before he’d grandly emerge, and always with a look that said, “What are you so excited about? You knew I’d come out.”

Eight years ago, we went to the Humane Shelter to find a sister for him, and came home with two brothers as well. Once more, Finnegan adjusted well to being the big brother, showing them the way to behave and belong. We started our Morning Party tradition, gathering in a circle, singing a song (of course), and celebrating the new day. Finny always sat on my left, my loyal helpmate.

He grew into a beautiful cat. His leonine look made him appear fierce, even threatening. Guests sometimes mistook his affect, and cuddled instead with the always-adorable Murphy, but I knew Finny’s deep affection, playfulness, and gentleness, as he knew mine.

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When Fergus followed me home one day a few years ago, Finny wasn’t certain this was such a great idea. He conferred with me quite often, initially, making sure I had enough love to go around. But he adjusted. By now he was The Boss, and once Fergus understood this, life sailed on, usually smoothly.

Last year, both Clancy and Riley died, and Finny’s grief was real and touching. His love for Riley had only deepened over the years. He sat at her place on the window seat, and took a long time adjusting to this loss. But he accepted the change, helping me accept it, too.

In October, I brought Malarky home. Finnegan retreated to my lap even more than usual, or to a quiet cat bed in the back bedroom. I worried about his energy level and mood, and tried to give him extra attention when I could. He tried to please me with his acceptance of Malarky, but I could tell his heart wasn’t in it. I thought, with time, Finnegan would adjust as he always had.

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We noticed a more pronounced change in Finnegan’s energy and joy last month, and took him in for a check-up. The veterinarian found an abscess and thought some teeth would likely have to be removed. On March 15th, I took him in to the surgery early, then came home to clean, walk the pup, and continue the usual daily round.

I’d just started to make a little nest for Finny’s healing in the guest room, figuring I’d sleep with him for a couple nights, till he felt able to be up and around again. My phone rang, and I knew, as fast as I’d fallen in love with him, that something was wrong with my Finny. It was way too early for his surgery and recovery to be over.

Our doctor said an x-ray had revealed the abscess was, in fact, a tumor, and the cancer “very aggressive.” A few minutes later, I sat beside my Finnegan and whispered my goodbyes to him. And a half-hour after that, I was home again, without him. Forever.

Our partners and very close friends, but especially, our 4-legged companions see us when we are as we really are, when the phone is off, the internet unplugged, the doors closed, the curtains drawn. Our private face, our instinctive behaviors, our nakedness—they hear our prayers and laughter and tears; they know us better than the world ever could, our better natures and our demons. And they love us. That is true intimacy.

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What a relief it is to be as you are and (still) be loved. When they die, our beloveds take with them that relief we came to know in their presence. All those secrets shared, all those holy moments. Finnegan’s special gift to me had always been his sensitivity to my sadness; he knew when I was grieving and remained faithfully present. Without words, we had some of the deeper conversations of my life.

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I am grateful for memories, though they come with a fierce sting, initially. They begin to weave the stories of our loves back together and, in their way, allow them to continue.

I fell in love with Finnegan the moment I saw him, but, as O’Keefe says, a friend takes time. Finny and I created a 14-year relationship that was authentic and mutual. We gave each other our time and it gifted us in return, infusing both of our lives with light and love.

John Leonard wrote, “It takes a long time to grow an old friend.” I miss my old friend, Finny. He blessed my life and enriched it profoundly. He taught me so many things, and I tried to be a good student but I’ve not yet mastered his ability to go with the flow.

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His brothers and sister are making peace with Finnegan’s absence. At times, Mulligan keens through the house, searching for Finny, but the energy is settling and who we are now as a family seems to be knitting back together.

Mostly.

I’m still adjusting.

Happy Birthday, Finny!

April 3, 2002 ~ March 15, 2016

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Lions and Lambs

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There comes a time near winter’s end when the long breath of darkness is finally exhaled and the new green inhalation of spring has not yet filled the lungs. These are the gray days, the days of colorless doldrums, the days when the earth seems anemic and drained utterly of cheer and song and laughter. “February,” by name, refers to the “month of purification;” in our neck of the woods, it certainly empties one of energy, which I guess is a kind of preparation for whatever may come next.

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So, after enjoying a vivid sunrise on March 1st, Malarky and I headed out on the trail, wondering if March would arrive as a lion or lamb. We were ready for anything different from gray. Although, had she arrived as a gray elephant, that would have been OK, too.

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A gentle snowfall floated down from dark clouds as we stepped out, but high winds whipped up and about rather quickly, and the snow began to fall more heavily, swirling, stinging, and obscuring.

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Just like that, the trail became magical. We both reveled in the roaring, tingling wildness, even though our faces had “ice cream headaches” in short order. March had made her entrance. Definitely a lion.

The temperature that day was about 10 degrees below the old normal, but climbed daily over the next week. We enjoyed sunny walks on a trail of diamonds and shadows. Vole tunnels revealed mysterious worlds, and Malarky was intrigued by everything. Dazzling days indeed.

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It was still cold enough to enjoy cozy fires and naps, as Murphy, Mulligan, and Finnegan demonstrated for me one fine morning.

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Fergus likes to explore hallways on his own, and Fiona…well, being the only girl has its privileges, and one of them is catnaps that are private and elevated, as befits Her Highness. Malarky is her obedient servant, a bit in awe and equally afraid, as befits the Younger Brother.

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Exactly a week after the snowstorm, the temperature was 30 degrees above the old normal. Blues and infant greens, birdsong, and warming earth filled our winter-drained senses to the brim. Definitely a lamb.

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Dizzying spangles of light and music and aroma and color exploded before us, through us, and around us. Malarky hopped and climbed excitedly. Ice melted and water opened, offering more jeweled sparkles, and the slushing, smooshing, and crashing of ice floes into the bridge pediments fascinated him every time we crossed the river.

One day, we watched this young family and were amused by the sibling interactions, or their absence. We were too far away to hear them, but actions certainly tell us stories, don’t they? The older child, walking the calf, completely ignored the rest of them, while the younger boy taunted his even younger sister, who needed comforting from her father…a summary of childhood in a few photographs, indeed.

It’s fun to be with Malarky during this “first year” and experience the seasons through his filter of “Wow! What’s that? Wow! What’s that???” I can only imagine the new smells that will beguile him as spring takes center stage.

We’re settling into our walk routine, which includes treat parties when we pass the “holy” tree and the “funny-face” tree.

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One day, 3 red-tailed hawks circled over us, around and around, calling and floating majestically. It was hard to get a good photo because we were deep in the woods (and, as always, I was trying to take photos with one hand, holding a leash with the other, and being and pulled and circled by a pup at the end of this leash), so we just sat on the trail and enjoyed the gift together.

I want to flee the world so often these days: the preening crudeness and bullying of politicians we used to look to for leadership; the fear mongering and sensationalized hype from media we used to look to for intelligent and objective reporting; the disrespectful screaming and insulting at public debates we used to look to for reasoned discourse; and the greedy appropriation of resources we used to consider worth protecting and conserving…it all seems too ugly and imbalanced.

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How healing and comforting, then, to have close friends, a loving partner, stimulating art, good books, warm blankets, beloved 4-leggeds, the magic of the trail, and waiting gardens to bring me back to my Center. The awareness and pursuit of counterpose is life-giving.

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March has been lovely so far, allowing us to wander in wildness and rest in the stillness of sunshine and birdsong. The cosmic calendar, the seasons and their comforting, continual rotation remind us that the dance of the universe invites balance, however chaotic and turbulent the present time may be. We live in close-up, but we can imaginatively always pull the camera back and see the bigger picture, revolving, back to where we’ve been before, but fresh and new, and, if we choose, full of hope.

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Happy St. Patrick’s Day and A blessed Easter to all.

 

Healing What Ails Thee

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I haven’t written in a while.

I have an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. The primary complication associated with this disease is that having it increases the risk of developing other autoimmune disorders. It’s a drag on the spirit, because the ways my disease might blossom into other autoimmune dysfunctions is unpredictable, and different from the ways Hashimoto’s will progress in other people.

I’ve been on hypothyroid drugs for about 20 years, but the Hashimoto’s component (which, looking back, I’ve had for most of my adult life) was just diagnosed last summer, when I was experiencing so much muscular/joint pain that I couldn’t walk well or far. And, over the years, I’ve had many “mysterious” health problems that I now understand stemmed from this and not from my “imagination,” as so many physicians like to suggest when they haven’t a clue.

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There’s an extremely restrictive diet, initially followed for a month or two, that can help reset the immune system. The disease isn’t cured, but it can help it be better-managed. So, I’ve been following this for a few weeks and keeping up with my regular exercise. I miss my coffee and glass of wine; I miss boiled eggs and popcorn. The diet eliminates dairy, gluten, nuts, beans, a lot of fruits, coffee, cocoa, and any foods from the nightshade family (potatoes, tomatoes, peppers). But families are running for their lives all over the globe. Terrorism, disease, and warfare are daily companions to many; I think I can stick with salmon and an organic salad and do just fine.

The learning curve regarding this has been steep and deep, and it’s tiring in itself, just to educate myself without becoming either tedious to others or overwhelmed by the research. Stress, of course, exacerbates any autoimmune issues, so it’s important not to feel overwhelmed.

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Things were going along fairly well, and then, a couple weeks ago, we learned a dairy conglomerate hopes to build an almost-CAFO (concentrated animal feed operation) in our community, near our home, the bike trail, and the river. The owner wants 9000 goats on this farm; a cozy home for 7000 does and 2000 kids. Legally, there would have to be 10k goats to qualify as a CAFO and meet stricter regulations than a mere 9000 goats will demand, although with the loosening of the environmental laws in our state under our current and disastrous state government, it’s all a bit of a sad, hollow laugh.

The farm will send goat milk to a distant Wisconsin town’s cheese factory to create goat cheese for a company owned and managed in California. But our community will deal with the air pollution, groundwater poisoning, road repairs, smells, and the fertilizer production, sending who-knows-what chemicals spewing into our endocrine systems. We have dairy and chicken CAFOs in operation here already.

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Unfortunately, the Enbridge Pipeline also runs through our state, and also close to our home. It’s the largest tar sands pipeline in the world; every day 1.2 million barrels of toxic tar sands oil flows through our county, and Enbridge hopes to increase that, with another line, to 2 million barrels a day.

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I don’t usually write about these kinds of things; if you’ve read The Daily Round, you know how dearly I love our home, our gardens, the land, and environment. I love the river, and birds, the foxes, and raccoons, and yes, even the mice and squirrels who are also part of our community, as are the trees, wildflowers, and the fish who manage to survive the poison already in the river. We’ve been enjoying eagles flying up and down the river this winter, and have been looking forward to fox kits in April… I worry about having to leave Full Moon Cottage and abandoning all of these companions so I can stay as healthy as I can. I worry about those 9000 goats. No one will know them or love them. They’ll be “production units” and “discontinued” when they’re no longer capable of lactation. I worry about the world we are becoming.

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No one needs to cram 9000 goats onto a bit of acreage. The universe doesn’t need that much overpriced goat cheese. I don’t understand how anyone can continue to willfully destroy the earth so rapaciously, when we’re told, over and over and over what this is doing to our atmosphere, air, resources, and quality of life. It doesn’t matter to me how “green” the technology will be; the earth is better off without it altogether. Small farms, sustainable living (within our means), community welfare, and an environment that doesn’t destroy our immune systems make so much more sense.

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Greed alone is driving the frightening, rapid increase of factory farms. And in our state, as in the greater world, greed is always connected to wealth and power. How to respond?

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Well, a merry little band of activists is creating itself and working, researching, learning, and planning to mount an opposition. Full Moon Cottage will be welcoming some of them here tomorrow…it’s not the usual way one celebrates Valentine’s Day, but if we are to heal ourselves and our world, it’s a grand way to start.

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Blessings on your Valentine’s Day. I hope that when you list your loves, your name is on the list. May you be gifted with any healing you are seeking, and may you be the healer you’ve come to be.

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A Fondess For What Is

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Winter has arrived, with a cold snap or two, snowfalls, icy roads and the glorious sunrises and sunsets that ink the sky in indigo, purple, pink, and gold, making the world’s entire substance seem all and only mystery and magic. I do love winter. One morning, I watched the warm river kiss the cold air…normal evaporation made visible, and I was enchanted.

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I’ve come to welcome January and the ways it stitches together its days with silence, offering a lovely long pause between the high spirits of the holidays and the electric energy of spring. I’ve pulled out my four favorite books on meditation and am trying to deepen my practice by reviewing their suggestions and wisdom, and am whittling away at the pile of bedside books, something I don’t have time to do as much as I like during the bustle of activity between Halloween and New Year’s Day.

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I’ve realized I don’t have a favorite month, but harbor a fondness for the special gifts of each. January offers a lovely respite of stillness and silence, and the days are still short enough that we can enjoy evenings by firelight, making Full Moon Cottage cozy and bright. Malarky is able to settle a bit by nightfall, and the cats are gaining the confidence to join our circle once again.

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We’ve had a steady flow of guests this month, and that’s been a wonderful way to ease the post-holiday sea change. Last week was the second anniversary of Henry’s death, so we gathered at Full Moon for a meal and the chance to share memories, a gift of an evening altogether. Phillip’s older brother was a remarkable person, and it felt right to honor him and name the ways he blessed our lives. We all noticed how Fergus found contentment on the lap of Henry’s wife, and thought either he sensed her grief and offered special comfort to her, or that perhaps Henry’s spirit had nudged Fergus a bit. Some special energy was present, since Fergus is generally most reluctant to settle in anyone’s lap, let alone stay there.

Phillip and I have been planning adventures for the weekends we don’t have visitors, too. We recently toured a local coffee mill and enjoyed learning more about buying and brewing coffee, and sampling all the different varieties. Naturally, we came home with several blends to try, and they’ve made our morning coffee time a sweeter ritual before Phillip has to leave for school.

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And then it’s time to check the bird feeders, toss cornmeal in the yard, and keep the suet containers full, for my sweet guests have come to rely on Full Moon Cottage for their (several times a day) seeds and meals. I worry about them during storms; goodness they’re tenacious.

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The art room continues to benefit from Phillip’s gifts when he isn’t working on jobs for others. I’m excited for it to be finished. I was casting about for an art project when a friend encouraged me to create a piece around the themes of love and compassion, for a calendar contest. Now, she’s an actual artist, so I had originally sent her the notice calling for submissions, but she prodded me to try as well. I have no illusions about my talent, but it was fun to play, and so I thank her for the nudge, like Henry’s to Fergus: “Try it, and enjoy yourself!”

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There are darker days, of course, when I think about Riley and Clancy, and look at photographs from a year ago, when they were still both so integral to our daily round, but the sadness visits less often, and their spirits seem more a constant, loving presence in our home. Malarky’s happy energy and my dear cats bless the daily round for now, which is all we have, and I realize I feel a deepening fondness for what is: January, sunrises, firelight, friends, family and four-leggeds. It’s not just, “Be here, now,” but love being here now. I do.

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We are hallowed by our memories and our days are holy, and I am blessed.

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Naming Blessings

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While I am not sad to see the backside of 2015 (“Too much loss; too many lessons,” as I told a dear friend), I am overfilled with gratitude heading into the new year, due to the way the old year and I parted company…Malarky’s arrival in October changed the energy in our hearts and home, and we’ve continued to be inundated with blessings, simple and surprising, the way we love them.

We spent a quiet, peaceful Christmas, enjoying old movies, good meals, hikes and—hooray!—a snowstorm.

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Friends visited, called, e-mailed, and texted, blessing us with their presence, their conversation, and their good wishes, reminding us that relationship is where our real wealth begins and ends.

We gave and received gifts, small tokens of love and gratitude for these precious connections in our lives. So many lovely surprises and thoughtful presents came our way and decorated our past few weeks with joy: a sister’s chocolate-filled Advent Calendar; a neighbor’s tray of elegant sweets; delicious, authentic Milwaukee-Polish pierogi; a magic wand for cooling wine; cozy quilted pet blankets (love these!); nostalgic, retro Chritsmas light covers (pine cones! my favorite!); unexpected gifts for the 4-leggeds; and surprising gifts from afar. We never knew what the day’s mail, or UPS, would be delighting us with next: books, artwork, flower seeds, many tokens of a generous friend’s dedication to this animal rescue. (I mention this, too, if you are seeking an organization worthy of your own donations, because they would be so welcome and your gift would help so many.)

There must have been quite a star shining over Full Moon Cottage, because so much love gathered here, offering joy and contentment.

 My own true love gave me a fused-glass plate with poppies (another favorite!) that I’d wanted for a long time, and he received paintings I made for him.

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 There are many things I’m looking forward to in the New Year:

*Making art in the new room Phillip is building for us:

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*Continued détente between the cats and Malarky, perhaps even deepening to true companionship. Here, he’s trying to mimic their relaxed poses on the back of the couch, and, despite Mulligan’s withering critique of these efforts, we live in hope:

 *Travels and visits; the changing seasons; new gardens; hiking; biking; paddling; dog-walking and cat-cuddling.

*Reading new and old-favorite books

*Baking and cooking with new recipes. (I’m going to try pierogis, for starters!)

*Full moons and quiet retreats

The list goes on and on, and—of course—remains open to wonder, mystery, and surprise, as always.

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I know the phrase commonly used is “counting our blessings,” and it’s meant to reinforce the notion that we’re far more blessed than we realize, but counting seems tinged with both ownership and a competitive stance that I loathe. (“I’m more blessed than s/he is!”)

I’d rather name my blessings, for the unique gifts they are and the gratitude they engender, and I hope to continue being mindful about sharing these with you in the blog posts ahead.

Our attitudes and the ways we use our gifts and our energy create our lives and contribute to the lives others are creating…I hope this year will be one of joy, for us, and for you. I wrote a friend that I want to look back on 2016 saying, “I laughed more than ever this year!”

May I make it so. And may I live so that others name me as a blessing in their lives.:)

Joy to you, and gentle peace.

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Christmas Presence

 

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It seems I fall more deeply in love with Malarky, as I do with each of my four-leggeds, every day. These tiny pulses of warm fur come into your life, and you feed them, and tend them, and hold them close, and then one day, mysteriously, you discover you are forever connected—rooms, or fields, or worlds apart.

Of course, love and laxity, tempting travel companions that they are, won’t help Malarky integrate peacefully into the family of people and cats he’s joined, so we continue (trying to) devote conscious time to his training, especially now that we’ve entered his, “No, I’m the boss” adolescence.

He’s doing well-ish. 

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Yesterday, Malarky and I went on our first trip to the wonderful local dogpark complex. 60 acres have been subdivided and intentionally created for our 4-legged companions’ pleasure and learning, so I took him to one of the areas designated as a playspace for small dogs.

He tentatively explored this new world, looking to me for assurance that he truly could run free. We had the park to ourselves, cold and windy as the day was, and that seemed a good thing for his first adventure.

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Then, a very large woman entered the same playspace with her older schnauzer-terrier. The woman was bundled in a quilted down coat, gloves, scarf, and knit hat. All I could see of the person so thoroughly winter-wrapped were her smile and twinkling eyes behind shining glasses. She carried a book, so I greeted her and met “Dungee,” and then, sensing the woman’s desire for solitude, I turned my attention back to Mr. Malarky’s anxious attempts to befriend 12-year-old Dungee.

The older, bigger dog pursued his own interests, allowing Malarky to chase and sniff and run beside him. I watched and then relaxed as they played together.

My mistake.

A large-dog acreage runs adjacent to one side of the area where Malarky was playing, and it was beside this fence that Dungee’s Mom had chosen to sit at a picnic table, engrossed in her paperback. A huge hound walking with his person passed on the other side of the fence. He howled and bayed at Malarky and Dungee, who—of course—were between him and the reading woman. (I—of course—was a few acres away staring at a plant or who-knows what, pretending to be a photographer.)

The wailing dog and its proximity alarmed Malarky. I heard his little bark and turned to see him leap to the picnic table’s bench, then tabletop, then up the woman’s quilted down-swaddled shoulders, and, within seconds, to the crown of her wool-capped head, where he perched, clinging like a circus dog atop a rolling ball.

The woman was trying to reach him, wildly swinging her cushioned arms overhead, but Malarky dodged and clung, steadfast, as she flailed and twisted. I admit, I really wanted to take a picture, but propriety won out and I dashed across the field to retrieve my boy, apologizing profusely, and expecting outrage and a well-deserved dressing down for my negligence.

 But she just laughed and laughed.

Dogs’ companions are so often the nicest people you’ll ever meet.

After I’d detached Malarky from her skull and he’d run off with Dungee, we conversed for a while. She told me about her recent job loss, worries regarding employment, the apartment complex where she and Dungee live…her life sounded to be on the brink of imminent upheaval, but there she was, taking time to exercise her dog, sit and read, and laugh at the unexpected intrusions and circus acts life throws at us with regularity.

I drove home wiser and more chastened than any angry reprimand might have left me. Four-leggeds and their people have been some of my best teachers. What a blessing they have been to me, especially as I seem to need to relearn the most basic of life lessons over and over…

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I’ve been doing some spring winter housecleaning, I suppose because there are dandelions blooming, woolly caterpillars crawling, mosquitoes buzzing, and my lilacs are budding. We’ve had so much rain that the river’s overrun its banks, so it even looks like late April. My daily round is seasonally-confused.

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Anyway, sorting through china and glassware, family hand-me-downs, books, old craft tools, or works-in-progress that seem to be in eternal unfinished states…it’s hard to sever the memories and dreams with which these things are encrusted and infused, from the lifeless objects they actually are. Am I giving away my family and personal treasures, or can I keep the treasure in my heart and give away the things?

Letting go of things is easier, I find, if I take the time to hold each item or box that presents a struggle, and allow it to conjure the times and places it evokes. Just to sit with the images and the feelings, set the objects down, and realize the images and feelings are still “there,” within, is helpful. Then, I imagine a new family enjoying these things, creating their own happy memories. It’s a tiny ritual of farewell that tangibly and emotionally reorders my sense of ownership. The memories are always mine; the object needn’t be.

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I’ve also been baking, and cooking, and candy-making, as though I were expecting a family that could populate a small country for the holidays, when really, a few friends and family members are passing through. Examining what’s fueling this bustle, I discovered I’m again trying to conjure the people and feelings of 1950-or-60-something, because everything precious that Christmas has come to mean for me involves those people and those memories.

On our way to the dogpark, an old Christmas song and the gray, cold day so vividly brought my childhood winters to mind that I could feel my parents and brothers beside me and almost had to pull the car over to let the sweet yearning and memories settle.

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So, I was blessed to meet the down-coated woman and Dungee. (It’s interesting how we dogpark people know each other’s 4-leggeds’ names, but rarely each other’s.)

The encounter was pure gift, reminding me that attentive presence to the moment I’m in is where the magic and joy of life generate. If you consider the creation of your life an art and yourself its artist (as I do), then what is there but the present and what we make of it? Love only happens, only comes alive, in the present, which seems the elemental lesson of Christmas. Love this moment for the gift it is.

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And then set it down and create the best of the next. Now, now, and now. There’s the treasure of life, right there, right here.

I wish you Christmas presence and—if you’re lucky—the four-leggeds (and their people) to keep you in it, always.

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 Many of us, at least internally, do not live in the here-and-now. We are consumed with what was or with what might be. A great deal of the spiritual anguish we experience is because we are not content to be, to live in the present. We are of the present, but not in it. It is by attentiveness in the present moment that we encounter God. ~ Bonnie Thurston, To Everything a Season: A Spirituality of Time

I can feel guilty about the past, apprehensive about the future, but only in the present can I act. The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness.   ~ Abraham Maslow

Not the attendance of stones, nor the applauding wind, shall let you know you have arrived. Nor the sea that celebrates only departures, nor the mountains, nor the dying cities. Nothing will tell you where you are. Each moment is a place you’ve never been. You can walk believing you cast a light around you. But how will you know? The present is always dark. Its maps are black, rising from nothing, describing, in their slow ascent into themselves, their own voyage, its emptiness, the bleak temperate necessity of its completion. As they rise into being they are like breath. And if they are studied at all it is only to find, too late, what you thought were concerns of yours do not exist. Your house is not marked on any of them, nor are your friends, waiting for you to appear, nor are your enemies, listing your faults. Only you are there, saying hello to what you will be, and the black grass is holding up the black stars. ~  Mark Strand, Black Maps (adapted from the blank-verse original)

Live in the present. Do the things that need to be done. Do all the good you can each day. The future will unfold.  ~Peace Pilgrim

Welcome the present moment as if you had invited it. Why? Because it is all we ever have.  ~ Pema Chödrön

You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.  ~Thomas Merton

The slow life allows for the release of anxiety, to better focus on the gifts this fantastical moment offers. Choosing to go with mystery’s flow makes the present our continual destination. ETA: Now. No point in resisting what is. Gardening—and life—are always co-created with the surprises Spirit and nature offer; the best we can do is bring attitudes of joy and gratitude to the journey. Hospitality isn’t just something we offer guests; we can offer it to every moment of our lives. Hello! What have you come to teach me?  ~ Catherine O’Meara

All is Bright

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It’s hard to believe that tomorrow is St. Nicholas Day. As kids, we’d make cookies for Santa and hang our Christmas stockings on the night of December 5th. We’d hear a story from Daddy and go to bed excited about the enchantment imminently expected to overtake our home: a visit from St. Nick! (Technically, Santa Claus, but we didn’t question magic. Why question anything that brings chocolate and gifts? Just be grateful!)

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The stockings held our precious letters for Santa that outlined our Christmas wishes and promises of continued good behavior. The next morning, we’d discover an empty cookie tray, small treats in our stockings, and an elegantly-scripted note from Santa. These memories always conflate with images of snowfalls, sledding, skating, snowmen, and icicles…

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This year, my poppies are leafing out in spring viridity and the lawn is ready for the Easter bunny to come hopping along. Chickadees are singing spring songs and, although our mornings can be frosty, our afternoon temperatures have been climbing to 50° F/10° C.

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We had a beautiful snowfall just before Thanksgiving, and Malarky’s excitement and wonder as he explored this new phenomena made it almost as magical for me.

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We even enjoyed our November full moon midnight-potty-excursions (his, not mine). Somehow, being roused from sleep isn’t so bad when the outside world is sparkling with snow and stars.

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So the current experience of climate change is odd, but not without its blessings. Although I’m not transplanting anything in the garden, I can remove the dandelions and other weeds that are taking advantage of the warmth. Getting my hands muddy in December is an adventure. I received this link from a friend last week, and better understand why mucking around in soil is good for the spirit. Much better than a bout of winter-induced seasonal affective disorder!

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Our home is decorated for the season, too, so indoors, it looks like Christmas, even if outside, it looks like we’ve moved to the South.

The 4-leggeds are blissfully content, another reminder that letting go of expectations for how things should be, or hanging the joy of now upon its conformity to memories, even happy ones, is pointless. I’m grateful for a happy childhood, but I’m happy for now, too.

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All is bright.

I hope it’s the same for you this lovely, wonderful holiday season. Happy St. Nick’s!

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Aremus

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I collect quotes and snippets of wisdom wherever I find them. This usually results in happy synchronicity, when I rediscover scraps of paper in drawers, pockets, purses, and books, upon which I’ve scrawled sources of inspiration. The words I saved and tucked away months, or even years ago, often so perfectly describe or deepen my current experience that it’s like receiving a perfectly-timed gift from myself.

This morning, as Malarky took a blessed nap, I cleaned out my top desk drawer. I’m addicted to “neat,” but my top desk drawer is like my psychic shadow, where all my secrets are shoved and stored until I confront, assess, and reorder them into a semblance of intentional and meaningful wisdom. Again. This happens only when I can’t actually close the drawer. Again.

Today, I came across a piece of paper that held this sentence: “The Wabanaki Confederacy of Native Americans called their dogs, ‘aremus,’ an honored reference that meant, ‘the one who walks with us.’”

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I have no idea where I first encountered this, or if it’s true, but I love its identification of the way I’ve deeply experienced the companionship of all of my 4-leggeds as we’ve traveled through our days and years together. Their physical and spiritual presence colors my memories, which would be incomplete without them. 

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Malarky is proving to be a “good boy,” who takes to training happily and isn’t shy about exploring and realizing his own personality as well. I conveniently forgot, after 15 years with Riley and Clancy, what a great amount of energy and attention puppies require, but we’ve settled into a fairly reliable rhythm, dancing mainly around the needs of puppy’s bladder, puppy’s need for exercise and play, and puppy’s naptimes. My free time to write, photograph, shop, garden, cook, bathe—you get the picture (but not from my camera)–has diminished greatly, but I know it’s a phase, and a worthy one we trust will result in a healthy, happy companion. Hopefully, when that time arrives, I’ll still be mentally capable of being his companion, because right now I’m not so sure.

I’ve developed a new-found love for Tuesday nights, because that’s when Malarky goes to Puppy Kindergarten with Phillip, and comes home ready to spend most of Wednesday in recovery from all the fun he’s had. Yes! Thank you, God of Puppy-Training!

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He seems to enjoy practicing commands, which is encouraging, but responding to them when one of the cats is approaching is probably the best test for all involved. In casting about for the “gift in all things,” let us say that establishing these feline-canine relationships will strengthen and improve my patience considerably. We’ll leave it at that, for now. (Sit, Malarky…SIT, Malarky…SIT, MALARKY!) I’m supposed to use a high voice when I praise, and a firm voice when I command, and they get mixed up and have even been directed at Phillip, at times. Oh, dear. (But he sits like a charm.)

We’ve been held in the spell of an El Nino weather system for the past two months, which allowed us to set out on a warm, lovely canoe ride last weekend. Malarky seemed to enjoy it, although we kept it brief for his benefit.

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Phillip is great about thinking of little field trips to broaden Malarky’s experience and social skills. We went strolling through a local park filled with effigy mounds a few weekends ago, and he’s accompanied Phillip on weekend remodeling jobs, too.

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He helped us (finally) clean the gardens, on Sunday, and his obvious delight with everything he encounters continues to renew our own delight with life. I’m excited that we might receive several inches of snow tomorrow night. I can’t wait to see Malarky’s reaction when we step outside Saturday morning. Every day, his wonder lifts my heart.

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I’ve been baking for Thanksgiving in fits and starts. Family will be visiting and making merry with us next week, my favorite time of year, and this year we have so many blessings to celebrate!

The last time we gathered was the day before our sweet Riley died, and so the turning from sorrow to joy marks the holidays as especially sweet this year. That, and the “Dina Tates” we harvested this autumn. They are named for a friend who encouraged me to plant potatoes and relish the taste, compared to store-bought spuds. She was absolutely right!

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Yet it feels like we’re traveling into the holiday season with heavier burdens of anxiety, fear, and sadness regarding humanity’s failure to forge lasting, loving relationships. I continue to believe humankind’s currency can be kindness and our common language compassion, but the fires kindling these hopes are dying down, due to the violent and angry choices so many seem to be making. It breaks my heart to see a world of such magical and miraculous potential lack the imagination, energy, and love required to be realized.

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But my darling aremus continues to pull me along into joy, each tiny miracle revealing itself and reminding me that there are mysteries of endless delight to be uncovered every moment. And each time I open a book, a desk drawer, a purse, there are words from another traveler to inspire my journey, while the one who walks with me is at my side kindling fires of hope.

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May hope, grace, gratitude, and compassion bless all your gatherings and partings. May your journeys be safe and your love returned, in abundance. May hope grow and fear depart; may peace live joyfully within your heart. May we dream and then create a new world, fiercely and deeply aware of the great good possible, and believing it’s already being accomplished.

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Hope is not optimism, which expects things to turn out well, but something rooted in the conviction that there is good worth working for.  ~Seamus Heaney

Hope is the deep orientation of the human soul that can be held at the darkest times.  ~Vaclav Havel

There are stars whose radiance is visible on Earth though they have long been extinct. There are people whose brilliance continues to light the world though they are no longer among the living. These lights are particularly bright when the night is dark. They light the way for humankind.  ~ Hannah Senesh

We can start from where we are, with what we have, and imagine and work for the healings that are necessary. But we must begin by giving up any idea that we can bring about these healings without fundamental changes in the way we think and live. We face a choice that is starkly simple: we must change or be changed. If we fail to change for the better, then we will be changed for the worse.  ~ Wendell Berry, Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community

There is no way to peace. Peace is the way. ~A.J. Muste

If planetary peace seems beyond our reach, recall: Miracles are natural when we rely on the Source of All to carry our burdens with us. Then, even peace is possible. ~ Nan Merrill with Barbara Taylor, Peace Planet: Light for Our World

It may sound trite, but using the weapons of the enemy, no matter how good one’s intentions, makes one the enemy.  ~ Charles de Lint

You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.  ~ G. K. Chesterton

There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.  ~ Albert Einstein

Gratitude is so close to the bone of life, pure and true, that it instantly stops the rational mind, and all its planning and plotting. That kind of letting go is fiercely threatening. I mean, where might such gratitude end? ~ Regina Sara Ryan

No culture has yet solved the dilemma each has faced with the growth of a conscious mind: how to live a moral and compassionate existence when one is fully aware of the blood, the horror inherent in all life, when one finds darkness not only in one’s own culture, but within oneself…If there is a stage at which an individual life becomes truly adult, it must be when one grasps the irony in its unfolding and accepts the responsibility for a life lived in the midst of such paradox. There are simply no answers to some of the great pressing questions. You continue to live them out, making your life a worthy expression of leaning into the light.  ~ Barry Lopez (excerpted from Arctic Dreams)

All Hallowed

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We’ve had some frosty mornings this past week, the world glittering at dawn and sun-fired, gradually warming the carpet of diamonds and rolling it back for a new day.

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I’ve been fallow for a season, it seems. My spirit, my art, my relationships…nothing’s sparked my best effort or finest energy; my words have been encrusted with sorrow and loss, or dwindled down to unspoken altogether. The room around my heart has felt dusty and closed.

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But while spring is often the called-upon symbol for rebirth, every gardener knows that autumn works to crack the hardest seeds and shells, and plants green life deeply, to be uncovered when the time is right.

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Last Saturday morning, the garden’s dew-scrubbed, vivid brilliance invited my gaze for a time. The shining river flowing beyond provided a pathway for crow gatherings, departing geese, and choirs of red-winged blackbird.

The music of autumn is reverent and mysterious. It beckons.

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I went for a walk early enough in the new day’s life that the only others I met were two men out for their morning run, hushed by the dazzling views, and pausing to share exclamations in stage-whispers, as though full voices would shatter the magic of this enchanted world. “What a morning!” one cried softly, and then, “Oh, wow! Look at the raccoon tracks on the bridge!”

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Such beauty this autumn morning offered up; the former ways of knowing and perceiving could not sufficiently meet it or absorb the utter loveliness of the encounter. A new way to be and breathe and pray was needed. I heard God with my eyes and saw God with my ears and felt so held by the love of the glowing world that I sensed transformation and quiet invitations. A holy language moved through me and I knew I would have to harbor its music and puzzle it out later, when thinking became important again…

For the moment, it was enough to witness and enter the light.

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You wouldn’t have thought the day could be improved upon…but it held greater surprises.

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Malarky came to join our family, and we have spent our first precious week together at Full Moon Cottage. Routines have altered. Sleep comes in the form of naps that are the end punctuations to long bouts of exploration, play, learning, eating, piddling, and sitting for hugs and kisses.

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He is a smart boy and a dear one. He is my heart’s newest resident, crowded beside so many others who nestle within my love and grace my spirit and days. To be over-brimmed with gratitude is a fine, fine feeling.

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Late, late on the night of the full moon, we stepped outside (good boy!) and took a moment to listen to the owls and watch the glittering stars. The entire yard was lit by the moon’s soft glow.

My expectations and weariness regarding the old world are breaking away; all is new, soft, enchanting. Everything must be explored and renamed. 

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That holy language flowing through my heart began to find form.

Malarky’s first full moon smiled, shining through the pines and blessing us with hope. My puppy seemed silenced by the view and by something deeper as well, as all newborns carry that connection to mystery we seem to shed as we grow, forgetting the sacred we come from and yearning, always, for the home of our creation. But infants come to teach us the music again: we’re still connected, still held, still being created, here and now.

I will relearn the language; I will study and ponder and bring my finest, fiercest energy to mastering its music in this new year of surprising revelations brought by Malarky, like all the little ones who come to our world reminding us it is all hallowed.

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Happy Halloween! May your parties be surprising and fun!

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Giving Up the Ghost

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Autumn has shaken out her flaming hair, lowered herself upon the hills, and settled in for her season’s reign. Yesterday presented one of those moody gray, metallic days that oversaturate the colors along the trail. The air was damp enough to deepen the perfume of a fallen tree smoking down to ashes. The scent flowed along the trail like incense, consecrating my walk. A strong wind clattered through the aspen and ash trees, and farmers’ combines rolled through the cornfields, harvesting food for livestock.

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Abandoned nests reminded me of spring’s bright eggs, hatching to chicks that grew to fledglings who have now flown away to warmer homes. The blue herons have migrated and the ghostly white egrets are passing through, another sure sign of autumn.

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My gardens will be dying back in the coming weekend’s frost; all the lovely blooms and vegetables have been harvested. This year’s turkey flock has matured and travels daily through the yard, feasting on seeds.

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All around me, it felt as though the spirits of the woods, gardens, and fields were rising, their annual works of art complete and their fruits ready to harvest.

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The expression, “Give up the ghost” passed through my mind, and, while I imagine it’s a euphemism for death, I thought about the ways the spiritual journey calls us to continually surrender our self-image, casting away what we’ve learned is false regarding who we thought we were, and trying to become more authentically true to the self our experience and seeking has revealed. This is a journey of compassion, delight, and gift, as we try to open to our eternal essence and live consciously from its light.

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It seems right that the bounty of autumn leads to celebrations of gratitude, feeding our bodies and preparing them for winter, just as our authentic life’s work is meant to nourish our spirits and those around us, to propel the circle of creation towards another cycle of excavating the truth of who we are meant to be: uniquely blessed and blessing.

I’ve been reading a reflection on Jung’s understanding regarding the “second half” of life, when we’re called to turn over the garden of our souls, weeding through the labels we’ve assigned to ourselves and digging deeply, sifting for the authentic meanings hidden in our choices and their outcomes. We can uncover the wisdom our lives have yielded and shine it back to the world, recognizing and living from the in-dwelling Presence that is unique, universal, and eternal.

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For Jung, and for me, this is deeply spiritual work, the most challenging, creative, and courageous of our lives, requiring us to encounter our shadows and all the unconscious ways we’ve eluded naming and becoming our true self, so that we may accept and make whole (as fully as possible) who we are, while we are.

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Although Jung speaks of life’s “halves,” I’ve always imagined this creative healing and whole-making to be accessible from birth, traveling in a spiral through all our years. Some hear the music and engage at a very young age, and some never perceive the song, or see the colors, or imagine the possibilities of becoming Who I Am…or they fear and avoid the invitations to explore around the corners and below the surface of the identity they’ve constructed. Self-generated masks protect us, after all, until we’re ready to set them down and become more authentically who we are, in essence.

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I believe that part of our human responsibility to each other is to take the time to lovingly extend the invitations to know ourselves better, through a companionship of presence, listening, and encouraging one another’s gifts.

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Autumn teaches me that giving up the ghost—the self-image I’ve fashioned and that no longer serves my growth or my gifts—is a way to become more fully who I am, as a rounded, evolving flash of creation. It’s a lovely season to search through my past year and name the times I’ve felt most and least like “myself,” and figure out why.

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Such lessons are the true bounty of life; the fruits and soul-food they yield help us to isolate the seeds our spirits need to plant and tend for the next part of the wisdom journey.

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Spinning Straw Into Gold

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A hard summer of loss has eased into a colorful autumn full of comforting signs and wonders, like the love and presence of supportive family and friends, a hummingbird’s kiss, encounters with a visiting butterfly, walks on the trail, and last night’s amazing full moon in eclipse. 

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A good friend asked me what was getting me through all this loss…and had I perceived any spiritual invitations? (I am blessed with many friends who are chaplains, healers, and spiritual directors; these are the types of things we ask each other: how cool is that?!) Another dear friend asked when she could come and hear stories about the pups, another profoundly loving response to loss.

It took time to discover invitations, and I’m still working on it. But the question brought to my mind the tale of Rumpelstiltskin, who helped the bragging maiden spin straw into gold. Rumple bartered for her firstborn… but she learned his name, spoke it, and sent him packing.

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Straw is dried grain, and so many tales and parables tell us bread made from living grain is the staff of life. Straw, then, seems a natural symbol of death, loss, and grief. I’ve imagined the grief that marked this summer as straw, piling into mountains before me, waiting…

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So I’ve entered the grief and it’s entered me, and I’ve sat with it and listened and wept and watched, and now, finally, I’ve begun to spin…

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If I wove a tapestry with these golden threads, it would include images from the day my sister-in-law dropped everything, drove over an hour, arrived with a bouquet of sunflowers and zinnias, and remained tenderly present to my grief. At one point, we sat beside each other on the steps of the deck, watching dozens of butterflies flitting so energetically around and within the great purple aster that it seemed it might fly away.

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We spoke of “visits” we’ve experienced after losing those we love, that felt sense that the one who has died is able to be present in new ways. I said I’d received a few feathers from Riley and Clancy so far, nothing more. “But,” I said, “these visits never happen when I ‘expect’ them; they just seem to gift me when I most need them.”

No sooner had I said, “…need them,” than a hummingbird flew to the space between our heads and froze there, for 30 seconds or longer. Neither of us moved as the tiny bird “hovered and hummed,” its wings beating mightily, nearly brushing our cheeks. After a long while, it flew off, its message deeply held in our hearts. We hugged and then sat in silence for a few minutes, both of us tearful. Such a sacred experience, and all the better because someone I love shared it with me. Someone who also believes the proper response to mystery is awe, and silence.

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Spinning straw into gold…All the daily routines that stemmed from the dogs’ needs have vanished, and–as with any loss–there are now many holes in the day when I miss them especially dearly. If I’m home during the day, I take my camera and go out to the gardens, seeking diversions from the constant and tiring “missing.” This butterfly visited the garden another day, and stayed for a few hours. Her company offered delight and peace. When you’re grieving, such hours of respite are truly restorative. She let me follow her all around with my camera and seemed to enjoy posing from every angle.

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It’s been challenging to head out on the trail without Riley and Clancy. I tend to check both directions for bikers and walkers, and when I’m sure I’m solo, I talk to the pups, as if they were with me. I grew quiet watching this heron in the river last week. He looked like a monk doing a standing meditation, calling me to deeper reflection. One of the great gifts that comes with grief is this call to go to the center of the center of our being and houseclean, in a way. All of our values and goals and beliefs come up for inspection and reassessment. Certainly, this is another source of gold on the journey of transformation that grief creates: Grief creates.

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The pups and I celebrated our walks with parties up and down the trail for over 14 years…I’d break little treats in pieces and we’d have routine and spontaneous parties that always ended with Bridge Party. They’d each give me a paw and I would thank them for coming on the walk, and then they would get the last treat before we ran up the path to our home. A little holy communion, like our morning party.

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So it seemed fitting that Phillip and I bring wine, cheese, crackers, and our cameras down to the bridge last night for a perfect viewing of the eclipse. What a lovely Bridge Party, with owls calling, frogs and toads singing and distant coyotes howling. Their cries rose and tangled as the moon became fully eclipsed and shadows disappeared. Then it seemed that everything fell to silence. Definitely a keeper, as far as memories go, and the sense that the pups’ energy surrounded us made it all the more special.

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Something in my heart was woven back together during those magical hours on the bridge. I felt my spirit, eclipsed and resting in darkness, was ready to begin moving back towards the fullness of light again.

I’m still spinning these last piles of straw, still weaving, still healing, but so grateful for all the blessings in my life that are helping me turn the straw into gold.

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We never want to lose those we love. But we do; we will. And what saves us is the rest of those we love, and who love us. They carry us through our grief and help us see the glints of light that guide us towards greater light, until we can stand again in the sun, in joy. Gradually, we’re led towards those wonderful moments in the world when we can see its devastating beauty and the eternally renewing cycle of life. Through the love of others and the love of the world (all of which, to me, is the love of the Sacred) the grief, in its time and the time of our hearts, transmutes to golden memories, a lifetime tapestry that tells us who we are, finally, as lovers and loved.

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Farewell to Riley

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May 12, 2001 – September 13, 2015


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 And can it be that in a world so full and busy, the loss of one small creature makes a void in any heart, so wide and deep that nothing but the width and depth of vast eternity can fill it up?    ~ Charles Dickens

Yes. Yes, it can.

 

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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.

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The Forest, Having Blown Up

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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

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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.

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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

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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. Sweet 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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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, and Riley, and our precious four-legged felines will always be that circle’s heart.

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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

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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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Bless all who nurture life,

in all its forms…

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Those who choose to create, to generate,

to care and protect,

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to foster beauty and joy and peace,

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to call forth truth and growth,

to speak against power without justice,

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

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to love,

and love,

and love

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and never lose hope

that all will nurture life,

in all its forms.

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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